Friday, December 20, 2013

The Walking Fella in Hell: Heretical Murmurings

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

He meandered past my window in that devilish fog, chanting quietly to himself in some heathen tongue. Doctor Henniway told me all about the walking fellow and his murderous ways. Shameful that in a civilized society men should still be killing men over trifles. And now Sheriff Hedge had gone mad and shot the little Vandeusen boy. Such a terrible shame. All this violence. Most certainly caused by the walking fellow. He had brought trouble with him to this little town—though we have long deserved chastisement for our sinful name. Blasphemy and pride! It has called down ruin upon us! 

Now what was the stranger doing? Adjusting my spectacles—abominable fog—I leaned forward in my seat. He had bent down in the dust, and was scratching gibberish symbols with a large knife. Slowly he spun in a circle, sketching out more and more runes, still chanting that uncouth tongue.

For shame. I prayed to the Lord God for the salvation of his soul.

Stooping to such abhorrent practices in order to drive out demons was nigh the same as consorting with Satan itself. Only prayer and fasting could purify the soul and make it righteous enough to banish the great deceiver.

Certainly the walking fellow had not been praying or fasting. I had noted his long excursions to the saloon of that papist McConnell. Drinking and blaspheming, no doubt. At least McConnell had enough decency not to hire dancing girls. Adultery would be too much even for such a dissolute, I presume. Had he attempted to bring such whoredom to our town I should have been forced to speak out in protest, much though the thought is unwelcome to me.

The Lord knows I have been patient with His lost lambs. It is the task of many lifetimes to rescue all the straying souls and I am old. But this abomination could not continue.

Bending to my Book, I opened its pages. The leaves ruffled open to Exodus: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” My purpose was clear. On the wall hung dear Richard’s scattergun, that he had shown me long ago how to load and fire. Slowly, so slowly—my old bones!—I shuffled to the fireplace and reached down Richard’s gun and tamped down the powder and shot and filled the firing pan and shuffled—slowly, my old bones!—to the door. This town would suffer no more heathenism. Before the Lord Jehovah I would purify it of evil as a surgeon removes diseased flesh. As my door opened quietly I breathed a prayer unto Jesus. “Let my aim be true, oh Lord.”

My finger tightened around the trigger and the hammer fell with a click. The walking fellow stood and dusted off his hands. “Not nice to shoot a man in the back, ma’am. Downright unchristian of ya. Seein’ as I’m ridding your town of a demon an’ all.”

His voice was the voice of Satan. A sludge of tar and pain mixed with the jangle of a whorehouse piano. And then he turned and I beheld the face of evil. The walking fellow was not an old man. Rather he possessed the prime of manhood. But it was a dissolute visage, marked with sin and unchecked passion. Unshaven hair matted upon his jaw and his eyes bore the faraway look of one who has gazed upon mysteries beyond comprehension. Not pleasant mysteries, either.

Such a man could bode no good for anyone. I clutched the dangling cross upon my bosom.

“Crosses don’t work on me, lady. I ain’t Ol’ Luke Scratch. Though I rode with him once.” The walking fellow glanced down at his scribblings in the dust and nodded.

A sudden howl broke the town’s stillness. Beloved Richard’s scattergun fell from my nerveless fingers. With a laugh, the walking fellow stood ramrod-straight and spread his arms in invitation. “Come on then, Beelzebub, or whatever your name is! Get out here an’ play! Dontcha wanna play a gaaaaaaaaame?”

Laughing blasphemy! Surely he was a child of the great deceiver. To linger out in this place would be unhealthy. Slowly—my old bones!—I limped back indoors. Once inside, curiosity—oh, sin of my youth!—prompted me to peer through the window. It was my duty to note what transpired. To chronicle the wages of sin and devilry. My burden.

The ticking grandfather clock—Beloved Richard’s handiwork—marked passing time. Seventeen times its pendulum swung. Outside the walking fellow waited, palm hovering over pistol butt.

At first my ears—oh, so old!—tricked me into believing it was a far-off stampede. But then my eyes—not so old as my ears, ah!—saw the tide of horror. Vermin. Vermin of every shape and kind. Rats and snakes and cockroaches and locusts crawling and jumping and slithering and swarming altogether in a tidal mass. Once as a child I saw the Atlantic Ocean crash in over massive rocks. So this wave of abominable creatures seemed to me—all gnashing and hissing and foul.

As seawater had broken on jagged reefs did the filthy things sweep around the walking fellow’s ring of glyphs. Inside his protective circle he laughed again. “’Tis the time o’ plagues, when madmen lead the blind!”

Oh! Such blasphemy in a Christian nation. Truly these were the end times when evil would compass the earth.

Once again the rush of vermin swirled around the walking fellow, before coalescing into—my old eyes! Surely I was deceived!—into a man. Short and stout, draped in a ragged cloak of purple as a king of old, he bore the innumerable lesions and boils of a leper. As my old eyes—so old!—strained I caught a glimpse of the vermin-king plucking a maggot from his hair and dropping it into a maw filled with broken, rotten teeth.

The walking fellow chuckled. “And the worm turns, huh? How’s Papa doing these days, Aplu? Been busy spreading yellow jack and scarlet fever, has he? What brings you out here? Fall out of favor?”

Silently, the vermin-king, Aplu, strode forward, to the very edge of the circle defined by the walking fellow’s scribbling. Roaches and rats fell from beneath his purple garb with every step. I breathed a prayer to the Lord. Through dusty glass, I saw Aplu’s head turn slowly, inexorably, toward me. Words of supplication caught in my craw. There was nothing but my bare soul and the demon Aplu in all the world. I felt my soul laid bare.

As if moving underwater, the walking fellow drew and fired. Each hunk of lead impacted squarely into Aplu’s pimpled forehead, snapping back the demon’s head once-twice-thrice. Aplu howled. The glass of my spectacles shattered.

When, at long last—my old bones!—I struggled to my feet, Aplu in his purple robe had disappeared. Only the walking fellow, draped in a white dustcoat, stood kicking at the dust where his protective circle had been etched. The sky above had cleared. No more purple fog loomed threatening. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Shopkeeper’s note found in old general goods store, Hell, Nevada
“Supplied unknown personage with 60 rounds of pistol ammunition, 60 rounds of rifle ammunition, one Henry Repeating Rifle, misc. food supplies, at expense of Deputy Festus Rothmeyer. Charge: $45.”

Scrap of newsprint found in Hell, Nevada, saloon
“We are pleased to announce that Sheriff Bradleyson has recovered from his fit of delirium and subsequent illness. He will not be charged for the shooting of James Vandeusen.”