Friday, November 22, 2013

The Walking Fella in Hell: Ishtar and Judas

I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.

I reckon he’d been hauling that saddle for days when he found Hell. In the sweltering Sunday heat he stunk like the grave. An’ his white duster was stained with enough dirt and blood to make him look like the dead risen again. Mebbe he was. The unliving walking through Hell.

Despite its name, Hell was a sleepy little pissant town. Maybe a hunnerd people, counting Negroes and children. A general store, a telegraph office, a livery stable, and saloon. How the townsfolk didn’t go plum crazy, I sure can’t tell you. Weren’t as if farming kept ‘em occupied, not in this bad ground. Most stayed alive selling one thing or another to the stagecoaches passin’ through.

As I was saying, our saddle-dragging amigo, whether it was from the heat or certain recent circumstances, didn’t take too kindly to the parcel of youngsters he picked up as he entered town. Not like a man like the walking fella cares for the tykes anytime—too much like being tied down. But it’s worse when you’ve walked in fresh out of the desert and you’ve got killing on your mind.

One little rascal named Jimmy Vandeusen noticed the blood on the walking fella’s duster. “Hey mister! Hey mister! You been shot or something? You a gunfighter, mister?” All you all know the kind of things an excited boy says. Ain’t like Hell ever had much to get a boy’s mind riled up ‘sides the occasional lynching or barn-burning, and that ain’t of no account. So Jimmy kept on yelling and hollering like beat-all. Then he tugged on the walking fella’s duster. 

I never seen a man move so fast. Why the walking fella carried a fresh horse’s jawbone in out of the desert beats me, but it sure shut the Vandeusen brat up right quick.

The walking fella spit out a wad of tobacco. “Livery. Where?” 

His voice. Gawd be my witness, I hope I never hear his voice again. Sometimes I wake from a nightmare and realize, his voice was growling at me. Like a man strangling to death. Mebbe so. That gob o’ chaw had quite a red tinge to it. 

Jimmy Vandeusen pointed down the street. Walking fella nodded.

Then that walkin’ fella hoofed on past me—ya’ll know where I sit, afront the jailhouse. Waal, I am a deputy, I says to myself, so I get to my feet and I hitch up my gunbelt and I follow on after our saddle-dragging pal. Matched him pace for pace, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t move slower’n molasses in winter. Musta been something real heavy in that saddle. So we walk on down past the general store, an’ I can see folks gatherin’ at their windows. Can’t hardly blame ‘em. Not often you clap eyes on a spectacle like the walkin’ fella. 

Funny thing about him. He never looked up. Just stared at the dust in front of him and kept on plodding along. Like a damn mule. And damned if that didn’t make me the fool alongside. Sorry ladies. I forget my language ain’t suitable for polite company. Old habits break harder than wild horses.

Now, this whole time, I haven’t seen the walkin’ fella’s face. Leastways, not clearly. He’s wearing a brown ol’ Stetson, real low, an’ his chin’s down in his collar. Reckon there were six, eight bullet holes in that hat. 

Wonder if he was wearing ‘er when it got filled fulla holes. Like as not he wasn’t, or he wouldn’ta been dragging that saddle down the streets of Hell.

But, he was. Which made him my problem. Figures the one time we have any excitement in town, the sheriff’s off huntin’ for a wolf. Wolf, my eye. Probably just a coyote. Sheriff just wants to get alone with Miz Parsons, out Fullerton way. Not that I blame him none. Whew! Ain’t nobody could blame him none. …sorry, ladies.

Well. There we are. Him hauling that durn saddle down Main Street, me following him on the boardwalk. He musta heard me. Wasn’t like I tried to be quiet. Hard, with my limp and all. 

But the walking fella never even glanced my way. Just kept on trudging. Almost thought he planned to keep walking right on out of town, but then he turned on into the bar. Right through the swinging doors, pulling the saddle all the way. 

Like an idjit, I followed him in. Sheriff tol’ me to look out for trouble. An the walking fella sure looked like trouble to me. Well… He shore nuff SMELLED like trouble. Never sniffed anything that stunk so bad. Worse’n a dead skunk. Vultures wouldn’ta touched him. But he moseys on up to th’ bar, looks McConnell right in the eyes, and mumbles, “Whiskey. Five bottles.” Five bottles. Of McConnell’s rotgut whiskey. Almost wanted to warn him, but figgered if he didn’t shoot me, McConnell might. 

Well that walking fella takes the first bottle McConnell hands him, smashes it open on the bar, and dumps it over his head. Same for the second and third. Fourth bottle he drains down his throat. Never seen a man tip a bottle so far back. Just kept guzzlin’ and guzzlin’. His Adam’s apple bobbed up an’ down unnerneath his neckerchief. Drank so long I thought he’d drownded. Then he tosses a wad of bills onto McConnell’s bar, grabs the last bottle, and walks on back out. Not even a sway in his step, and he ain’t let go of the saddle yet. I’m shaking in my boots and just glad the walking fella still smells worse than anything I can do in my pants. 

When he slides on past me, I get a glimpse of his face. Good Lord Almighty. I near pissed myself. That ain’t no vulgarity, ma’am, that’s the plain truth. A maggot was eatin’ his face. The walking fella was the closest thing to a corpse Hell’d seen in half a year, not countin’ a couple o' Catholics.

And didn’t I wish I hadn’t a seen him. McConnell didn’t even charge me for the whiskey I drank. McConnell. Not charging for drinks. The man must’ve been rattled something fierce. 

So I follow the walking fella back out into the street an’ he heads for the stables. Jimmy Vandeusen’s roused the whole town by now, hollerin’ about horse jaws and gunmen in the streets. Durn fool child. So the stranger totes his saddle along, an’ I keep on behind him, nice and easy-like. No sense in riling him up. Odd fella like that might get trigger-happy. 

Folks’ heads are poppin’ out of windows on both sides of the street, all curious as to what’s afoot. The walking fella don’t look up. If I hadn’t a seen him drain that whiskey, I’d ha’ thought he couldn’t raise his head. 

Once, his hand twitched a bit, toward his right hip. That long duster of his covered him up good, but I still knew what that little twitch meant. Gunslinger. Oh, lordy. A gunslinger in town. Who was he after? Not me, that’s for sure. I never killed nobody. Nobody that mattered, nohow. Just a fool or two what deserved hanging. Heck, nobody in Hell killed anybody important. So why was a gunslinger here, dragging a damn saddle behind him?

Doubted the walking fella’d be telling anyone. He didn’t seem the type for much chat. 

Real sudden-like, walking fella stopped in his tracks, plum in the cross streets. First he dropped the rope he’d been pulling his saddle along with. Then he shrugged his duster off, down into the dirt. 

God Almighty and Jesus H. Christ. I swear on seven Bibles, the walking fella weren’t no living man. No man can have three bullet holes in his back an’ go on trudging across this earth. No natural man, at least. One big hole—shotgun slug I figger—right at the base of his spine, two small wounds jes below his left shoulderblade. All of ‘em ringed round with ‘nough blood to feed a chupacabra for a week. An yet the walkin’ fella was still standin’. Stock-straight in his scuffed boots, wearin’ funeral finery all black and bloodstained, like a man dragged out of his grave for one last gunfight.

And fifty feet down the street is Hank Driscoll, cattle hand what boards with Miz Lucy when he ain’t on a drive, looking paler than a Klansman’s robes. He seemed like a God-fearing quiet man, but I reckon so did Lucifer before the fall. 

So there we are, the three of us. Me on the boardwalk, watchin’ em both. The walking fella, standing in a crossroads, saddle to his back and no call to be livin’. Hank Driscoll, in his suspenders and bowler hat, not wearing his gun belt, looking like he’d seen a haint. Reckon mebbe he had.

Walkin’ fella growls at Driscoll. “It’s been a while, Reg. Been a long long while.” He hocked out another gob of tobacco and blood. “How long since you put me in the ground? 

Hank stammers for a minute, an’ his hand starts creepin’ for his waistband. One time he showed me the little derringer he keeps hidden there. “I told ‘em it wouldn’t take. Not on an ornery sumbitch like you. I told ‘em. Three years you've been out in that grave. Six bullets an’ a hangin’ an’ a burial, an’ it don’t last three goddamn years.”

“Shoulda chopped me up an’ fed me to th’ hogs, Reg.” Walking fella stomped a bit closer to Driscoll. His boots puff up little clouds of dust with every step. Man musta been putting his weight into it.

They keep moving closer, slow and cautious. I just keep settin’ where I am. No point moving an’ getting shot for my trouble. 

Driscoll takes a step. Walking fella takes two. An’ Driscoll shuffles forward a bit more. And so on and so on. Pretty soon they’re well within shooting range. I’da drawn long ago. But Driscoll hasn’t. Expect he knows the walking fella better’n I do. Or not. Ain’t as if Driscoll expected the walkin’ fella to return from whatever got done to him.

Bang! Driscoll pulls out that little derringer and unloads into walking fella. 

By God, walking fella don’t even flinch. Like throwing pebbles at a brick house. 

Slow, real slow, real casual like, walking fella reaches for his gun. Driscoll shits himself and runs. The walkin’ fella clears leather moving like a snail—Driscoll’s sixty feet away and kicking up dust. 

By now I figure walking fella’s gonna let Driscoll hoof it, take the message to the rest o’ his pals. But walking fella has other plans. He spins the chamber round once, hefts that iron, and fires. One shot.

Hunnerd feet away, Driscoll crumples. Jimmy Vandeusen cries. The walking fella turns to me an’ pops his neck a bit. Black blood’s oozing out a new hole in his white shirt-front, staining his fine black vest—funeral vest. The walking fella grins. “I think I’ll like it here.”