The Beast at Shooting Creek
Gavin Johnson was squatting behind a black boulder, aiming. The rifle was a cold burn against his cheek and he couldn't get a good bead on them anyway. They were too difficult to make out in the shadows and his hands were shaking, still bleeding from the nails.
The moonlit trees cast a silvery glow, but it didn't help him see them any better. Gavin worked his hands to fend off the bone chills and to keep his trigger-finger warm. He cinched the rags tighter against his palms too. The bleeding seemed to stop for now.
They were laughing. Laying low in a makeshift lean-to. A large campfire roared out front. Wafting embers kept distracting him and making it impossible to figure out where they were. Which lumps were bodies and which were bags of supplies. His supplies. His sacks of canned goods.
Gavin knew that they were all drunk inside. Probably all staring at the fire as well. Telling jokes. Eating. He could wait.
Pretty stupid, he thought. Getting fire blinded like that. He couldn't see all four of them, but they had to be there.
Flickering faces moved in and out of the dark lean-to, catching a bit of fire light. Smiles dripped with his hooch. Liquor he’d found and they’d stolen, being drunk up by them and wasted. Empty cans of meat lay scattered out in front. Salmon, Gavin saw. A rare find these days.
Maybe he should just chance it. Just blast away. No, he thought again, I have to do this right. Can't chance it. It's not just about me anyway.
The girl was tied to stump about ten feet away. She was slumped over, nearly naked, streaked with grime, whimpering softly. Another causality in this post-apocalyptic hell. A common sex slave. Probably taken from some farm up this way or one of the hell cities from the valley.
Gavin steered clear of the valleys.
Usually he'd find the girls dead, along the road, left like trash. Sometimes they were not complete. Used, not only for pleasure, but when it got bad, for food as well. For some reason, the women were used for this purpose -- these reasons -- more often than the men. Children were a rarity these days.
It didn't matter, Gavin realized. She was their girl, until they were done with her. Until she was used up. Then they'd just cast her aside, dead. Maybe cook her up.
Gavin felt a new chill work into his gut. One he just couldn't let go. Not any longer, he told himself. It was time to take action and stop hiding. Stop surviving and start living again.
Surely they would be fire blinded by now, sitting there facing it like that, sipping his whiskey and eating his canned meat. Cans he'd collected. He'd found. Life-giving food.
More laughter. Another can was tossed out. It rolled next to the girl and she snatched at it greedily.
Surviving, he thought again.
He could just walk right up. Shoot them slow. One at a time. He considered it for a moment, but changed his mind.
I'm too cold. Not fast enough. I could miss. They would shoot back. Stupid idea.
They must be from one of the dead cities, Gavin thought. Maybe they had finally run out of people to kill and were moving to another city or town. Just passing through and he got caught up in their little web.
In any case, he needed to wait. make sure others did come.
He should have moved in deeper. Should never had gone into Shooting Creek yesterday at sunset and talked to the drifter. The one with the quick eyes. The one who seemed nervous, edgy, and smelled of rotten meat.
Then he wouldn’t be here tonight. Wouldn’t have to do this again. Wouldn’t need to kill people...or die trying.
Only this time, Gavin was doing the chasing. A role reversal and it was somehow right. Made him feel something again, other than fear and loneliness.
This time, they made it personal too. It was about killing for survival and taking something back. Not a shoot-out in a ghost town between rival groups, but 'a cleansing.'
Starvation, extermination, radiation, disease -- wasn't it enough? Enough dying? Weren't we on our way to extinction, as it was?
Gavin dismissed the thoughts. Stopped reasoning it out. Made a decision. Even in all of this, some still needed killing. The bad seed had to go. Good seed had to be planted.
“North Carolina, is that where this is?” That's what the weasel faced man -- the drifter -- with the quick eyes, had asked him in Shooting Creek yesterday. His stinking breath made Gavin rub his nose.
“Yes, that’s where you are,” Gavin said. “Shooting Creek. Not much here.” That was a hint. It meant get out of my town, I found it first. But quick eyes was ignoring him and he didn't seem to be in a hurry.
It had been a few years since Gavin had seen anyone and it was distracting as hell and welcoming at the same time, even if a bit peculiar. To actually talk with another human, wow. A treat.
Gavin was glad he still remembered how to talk. English anyway, but he'd picked up a little Korean as well, when some of their troops came through a few years back.
A kind sergeant had taken pity on him. He had not revealed the underground pit, where Gavin had hidden for years. The sergeant had stayed and hunted with Gavin, given him medicine. When Gavin had almost died from the flu the sergeant was there.
Gavin knew then that he had abandoned his post. Soon they would come looking for him. But the sergeant did not put him in danger.
One day they shot the Korean sergeant. Taken the deer he had killed and left him there.
The next day the ragtag army had pulled out. A line of tanks and armored cars, escorted by helicopters.
They left the sergeant's body in the street. A message to the troops, as they marched by.
Gavin had buried the sergeant nearby, afterward. Knew that the sergeant had sacrificed himself. Knew that there was still good in this world then.
“Whatcha name?” The weasel faced guy was too curious. Wasting time.
Why had he asked?
Gavin thought about his weapons in his bag, slung over his shoulder. He could feel the hard weight of them. Did he have time to grab one?
“Gavin," he replied to weasel face. "That's my name."
His hairs started to stand on the back of his hand. Tingling. Gavin shifted his gun bag.
“You?” Gavin asked.
The weasel face smirked. Made a funny sound, halfway between a whistle and bird-call. He didn't seem to have an answer.
Small warning bells started to go off then, but Gavin didn’t listen to them. He smiled and casually glanced around. His back was to the old flea market. The streets were quiet, clear. He felt safe for the moment.
Then they spoke of other matters then. An almost casual thing.
The best way to get to Sky Valley. The stranger said that’s where he was headed. The best water source in these parts. The weather. What travelers usually talked about, but something wasn’t right.
Gavin should have listened to his intuition. The tingling hairs on his arms. That weird whistle the weasel faced guy made through his rotten teeth.
Yet, the weasel faced guy was like one of those silver tongued car salesman of old. It made you feel bad to interrupt them.
“What did you say your name was?” Gavin asked finally.
The stranger kicked his boot into the gravel, ignored the question a second time.
Gavin was distracted by the drifter's boot. Was that a nervous tick or something else? He wondered. Bits of gravel skittered away and he recognized it too late.
They descended on him like pack of rabid wolves. They'd been hiding next to a stall in the closed off flea market. It was quick. Boots in gravel -- running -- and hollering.
Gavin reacted. He swung on the weasel face once and missed. Then one of them blindsided him with something hard across the back. It was too hard. It took his breath away and he fell forward onto the gravel, grabbing handfuls of it, pain coursing through him, breath refusing to come, gasping through the aching sputters.
Gavin turned his head in time to see a shadow and a baseball bat. This time it was his thigh. More pain.
He rolled onto his back, still trying to breathe in. Now he was open to attack, his stomach unprotected, and they obliged.
Punching and kicking now. Gavin counted four of them as they beat him. Surrounding him. Swinging. Laughing.
Somehow, Gavin thought through the pain. Watched the beating, as if he was not really there. Saw the blows land.
He tried to open his bag, ignoring the strikes, but it was pulled from his grasp. Now more kicking, but thankfully, less of the baseball bat.
One of them kicked him hard in the ribs and he breathed in for the first time. Choked on his own air, but it was wonderful all the same. Fresh air filling his starving lungs. Washing the pain away in an instant.
But then he was gone from this place. Afloat in a sea of warm delightful pain. And that was bad he told himself. He had to pull himself back to the here and now. Get away from this bottomless void.
Gavin came to. He was crawling on his elbows trying to escape now, but he didn't remember crawling. Like a dying animal crawls to the curb after being run over by a car. Maybe he was dying, he thought. He shoved his elbows deeper into the sharp gravel, pulled.
Too late. They dragged him back, shoved gravel into his mouth and yelled at him again. One tried to ride him like horse. Things began to blur with blood, his mind telescoped inward, withdrawn now, into some blank survival mode.
Gavin yelled, but he did not know what words he used.
“Giddy up, Grandpa! Giddy up!” Then laughter. He heard that part.
Boots to his groin now. But he only heard the empty thumping. Then a white hot pain.
"You're a bronco, Grandpa!" Stares all around. Eyes bouncing. Entertainment for them, no doubt.
Gavin passed out. More delightful pain that throbbed away, into a weird bliss.
Moments passed. They let him recover. The beating and kicking stopped.
Gavin recovered his wits, waited for them to finish him off, but they were quiet now, just watching him. Ghouls of the post-apocalypse, waiting for what? Dinner?
They looked grungy. Dirty. A mean group of killers and eaters, if Gavin ever saw any. Humankind's last repository of hatred.
“Fancy meeting someone out here,” weasel face said, as Gavin came partly awake, head fuzzy, but his hearing clearing up by he second. The buzzing in his ears settling.
Gavin wiped the blood from his eyes, held his sore ribs, and sat up with a sharp pain in his spine.
Words spun through air.
Who was he? Where did he live? Were there more? Were their girls?
It didn't make sense, but then it did.
He must have passed out again. But one voice shattered that black bliss this time. didn't let him escape that way.
“Where’s the water old man!”
It was the big one. He looked like a cross between a baby elephant and sumo wrestler, with the face of a gorilla. But had the soprano of prepubescent choir boy.
It confused Gavin for a moment and that earned him swift kick to the ribs from the gorilla.
Gavin folded to the gravel once more, head throbbing. He wasn't imagining it, the gorilla had a childlike voice. Almost squeaky.
“Jeez, this old cat was loaded. Look at this,” the skinny one said. He was holding up three revolvers in awe.
“A Ruger, a Colt and...what the hell is a Stechkin? Russian? All full of bullets too! Where did you get bullets old man?” Skinny's mouth was agape. Teeth yellow and caked with something red and fleshy. A recent meal.
Skinny kicked Gavin in the leg. Gavin grunted in pain again. Rolled away.
Skinny laughed, spun the wheel guns. “Damn, I haven’t seen one of these in years -- a working one anyways. All shiny too."
“Water, old man. Where is it?”
The first one was talking. Weasel face. He’d appeared like a ghost when Gavin rounded the old flea market with a box of canned meat and three bottles of whiskey and his guns -- deep in a bag where he couldn't get to them. A dumb mistake.
Gavin had been about to cross the highway to hide his stash at the church, one of his hiding spots.
Should’ve stayed in back until night, he thought. Shouldn't waited in the church until then. Getting too brazen these days. Too damned cocky. Striking up conversations with drifters who materialize from the shadows. Only these were worse than drifters.
Gavin didn’t talk and they eventually hit him too hard. A thump from the bat again. Merciful blackness. It seemed endless. How many times could they knock him out? He wondered.
The buzzing in his own head woke him.
Gavin was in the church, his church, his hiding spot. He was tied with ropes to a worn pew, but it was worse than that.
His sides were bruised, caked blood on his forehead and eyes, where he'd been hit with the baseball bat, made it difficult to see. His lips were swollen and one eye was nearly closed. The other eye was working, but achy as hell and gummed up with dried blood. His own.
There was also a new pain, as if he needed more. Both of his arms were stretched out, spread eagle fashion, and each hand was nailed to the pew. Gavin couldn't believe it.
He couldn't move his feet either. He looked down. They were also attached to the wooden floor with nails. Through his boots, but there was no pain there. Just numbness. A warm wetness too.
Gavin glanced outside to see that the flea market across the street was on fire. Red hot ashes were floating by the church window. The night sky was aglow. A fire that might attract others, if there were more about, he worried.
Gavin turned at the shuffle of shoes. Boots tapping on the wooden church floor.
Behind the pulpit stood the sumo wrestler guy, smacking the butt of knife in his palm like he was trying to make up his mind. A gorilla with a smirk, black teeth, a shirt stained with gore, under a ski jacket marked with peace signs, as if a child had scrawled all over it in a fit of anger.
Sumo had a scraggly beard, long brown dreadlocks over pale baby-white skin and it clashed with his white leather slacks, which were tied to his oversized waist, with a string of red bikini thongs. If anything, this guy -- this gorilla of a man -- was the epitome of terror and hell in this new frontier. An old-world Hell's Angel on crack, minus his chopper.
Gavin wondered if the bikini belt was some sort of badge of conquest -- women he had killed an eaten. So many colorful bikinis hung there.
It was growing dark outside now and they, the gang of slugs, had lit the candles behind the Jesus cross. Fire from the flea market and small flickering flames from weak candles in the church.
Jesus was looking rather eerie in the semi-darkness, his arms also outstretched, nailed hands, his face now a grimace in the flickering lights, as if he knew something.
Gavin felt His damnation then. Knew what he had to do, if he survived, but he would. He had already made up his mind he would.
That grimace from the shadowy cross was his message. His order live. His mandate...to kill.
The glow of the out-of-control flea market fire was threatening to cross the street now and engulf the church.
Then it seemed to calm, darken for the next bit. A condition, the gorilla man seemed to take as a message.
“You’re awake?” the gorilla said. He lowered his head.
“Your eyes are open, I think." He leaned down, looked at Gavin. "Thanks for the guns, dude.”
“Uh huh.” Gavin responded. He stretched his neck, tried to work out a kink, but couldn't. His head throbbed. Gavin’s eyes adjusted to the faint light. "What is on my head?"
“Sorry about that,” the gorilla said. “My guys get a little mad when they don’t get a straight answer. They gave you a hat of barbed wire, you know, on account of our Lord Buddy over there." The gorilla waved in the general direction of Jesus and bellowed with laughter.
Gavin looked around the church, but couldn't see the others.
"Do you like my touch?" The gorilla spread his arms.
"Ah," Gavin said. "The nails. Nice touch." The pain seemed to lessen now, almost as if a sense of calm had come over him.
"Well," gorilla said, "I try!" He paused, slapped the pulpit where he was standing, "but my grand finale seems to be a screw up." He nodded at the fire. "I'd hoped it would cross the street -- catch the trees on fire, burn you in your pew! Hey, at least you had a seat at the end of the world -- look at Jesus -- he had to stand!" More laughter and a grunt. He took a swig of liquor from a bottle he had hidden behind the pulpit.
“I won’t tell you about the water,” Gavin spat blood onto the floor. “You can find plenty on your own.” His head wound started to bleed again. The barbwire crown was finding new flesh to rip.
The gorilla walked over, still tapping his knife. Gavin looked around, but the others were not visible. Gorilla held the knife to his rib. "I forgot one thing." He jabbed.
More pain in his side -- his ribs. The gorilla withdrew the knife. Gavin didn't flinch. "I think you were suppose to do that after I was dead."
"Huh?" A moment of confusion as the gorilla wiped the knife on his white leather slacks. "You got lucky, I guess!" Insane laughter, followed by low chuckles and that punctuating grunt. "I stuck you early!"
The gorilla looked at his handy work. "Man, you sure are a bleeder!"
"I have no water..." Gavin whispered through his pain.
Gorilla leaned it. “We can find a lot of water, old man, but I want clean water, not the irradiated crap that makes you go bald and impotent. I have a lot of breeding to do! Too many first born sons to host my new world! I don't want deformed kids man!"
Gavin coughed. “Find a mountain stream, look for a well…”
“Shut up!” the gorilla guy backhanded Gavin. Sparks danced in the air, like a dense cloud of miniature bees over a fire, just in front of his bleeding nose. Then they faded. Only the ringing in his ears remained.
“Now you see what you did? You made me punish you. I hate punishing, but that's a lie isn't it? I love to punish. It's just...it's just great fun!"
He pointed at the fire. "Water or I'll leave you here to cook."
“Stuff?” Gavin asked. He winced, sniffled, then sneezed. A mist of watery blood sprayed the pew in front of him.
“That’s gross old man.” The gorilla guy scrunched up his fleshy face. "Here!" A rag soaked in vodka was shoved into face. Gavin did not react. Just stared at his tormentor, calmly. It seemed to unnerve the gorilla.
“I don’t just want your water, old man. You know that." He wiped over Gavin's eyes. Waited. But Gavin refused to react, no matter how much his eyes were burning now.
"I want your stash man. Not just this little bit of canned meat and cheap whisky? In a church? No man I want it all! Where are you holed up? Let’s make this quick.” He raised his hand, then changed his mind. He lowered it. “Naw, you knock out too easy and I ain’t got all night.”
The recent memory of that incident made Gavin trace the healing knife scar along his forehead. He was still hunched behind the boulder waiting for them to pass-out in the lean-to, but the big one, the gorilla one, was bellowing now, telling story after story.
How he killed this guy. Used bungee cords on this other woman, to strangle her. Laughter.
How he once raped a girl. Many girls, for his first born sons.
Then how he had tied one broad to a tree and when they came back from scavenging in the valley with his last gang, how he discovered that something had eaten most of her.
How he had reacted to that loss, by killing his gang while they slept with this knife. He held it up. The others said nothing.
It was an unending tale of conquest, lust, booze, survival of the meanest and abject cruelty -- by men who had traded civilization for insanity. And more insanely, how they all collected bikini thongs as a sign of sons to come. As a sign of gorilla's new world order.
He had tracked them over the mountain last night, keeping low and out of sight and spent most of the time in the river, water up to his navel. His legs still ached from the chill of it, but it had made his feet feel better.
Gavin had not dared to remove his boots. If they were full of water or blood, it did not matter now, because they were past feeling anyway.
Then he was belly-down in the dirt and gravel, working his way to the ridge, just above them, still thinking about how he was going to do this.
“You know,” the gorilla guy had said, when they were still back in the church and Gavin was tied and nailed to the pew, “I’ll give it to you old jerk, you done pretty good.”
Gorilla was carving something in the pulpit then. Bits of wood flaked away as he worked. Then he glanced at the blade. It still had Gavin's blood on it. The gorilla man sniffed it and then did worse. He licked.
Gavin kept silent, but inside, his humanity roiled. He let his eyes play over the cross in the small church again. Jesus seemed peaceful.
This had to end, Gavin thought. These men had to die.
Inwardly, Gavin apologized to Jesus. For what I am about to do, do not forgive me, Lord. I don't deserve it.
“But you and I know we're in a world of nothing now,” gorilla had said. “Nothing at all. Just dead cities, roving gangs, no rules any longer. No cops. Hell, no nothing.” He chuckled to himself. “My kinda place!”
Gavin said nothing. He heard the others now. They were in a side office and someone else was with them. Sobbing. It was a girl.
“Waddaya think old man?” the gorilla asked. “Don’t mind them, they are just relieving some stress.” He laughed. "I'm already relieved!"
“Think about what?” Gavin asked. He was distracted by the girl’s crying now. It was getting under his skin in the worst way.
"Maggy! Maggy!" they were teasing. "You're such a hussy!" One of them was giggling, slurring his words. "You'd better do as I say..." She screamed.
The gorilla had been distracted by his gang, but he edged closer. Pointed his knife. “Watch your lips old man or I’ll saw them off!” Then he smiled, stuck his tongue out, worked it around his cheek, retreated and began to stab his knife in the pulpit again. He calmed.
“What is going on out there?” he asked.
Gavin hesitated. “In the world, you mean?”
“Yes. Are we still under attack? Was their a freaking zombie apocalypse? What the hell is going on?” Gorilla guy jammed his knife in the pulpit this time. It stayed there, vibrating.
“I’m not sure.” Gavin stared at the cross behind the pulpit. “I don’t think anybody knows for sure.”
“What?” Gorilla guy stared in disgust. “Nobody knows? Bullshit!"
Gorilla guy yanked his knife out of the pulpit. Dusted it off. “Screw you old man. We were attacked. That’s what happened and people like you did nothing so we ended up like this.”
Gorilla guy jumped down from the steps, leaned his face in close to Gavin's. His breath smelled of rotting teeth, booze and sickly sweet tobacco. “I ought to cut you up and leave you out in that street and watch what happens…” He drew back. Knife poised.
The slice across the forehead was unexpected. Immediately Gavin began to bleed profusely, momentarily blinding him. He blinked it away. Hoped it would stop.
Gorilla guy roared with laughter.
The girl in the side office screamed.
Gorilla guy turned. “Jesus,” he said in his high pitched voice. “I told you guys to save her!” He dashed side office door, yanked it open, hurled himself inside. A scuffle ensued, then yelling.
Gavin felt that his ankle was loose. He pulled his boots upward and felt the nail there remain fixed to the floor. He pulled again, with more effort this time, felt a soft pop and his boots were free. He took a breath as hot pain worked into his toes and a warm sticky feeling followed. More bleeding, he knew.
Next he worked his left hand free, over the nail there. Fresh blood oozed, but did not gush out. Quickly, he worked his right hand free. Same scenario. The blood only oozed. Next he worked the elbows, where they had strapped, but had not knotted them over the pew.
Seconds ticked by. The gorilla was still hollering at his gang. Throwing things. Making threats. But he had remained in the side office.
The ropes fell away now. They had been careless. The nails should have held him, but Gavin had been desperate. He didn't look at the nails. Did not want to know what was torn away.
Gorilla guy continued yelling at his gang. “I told you,” he yelled. “We keep this one for now!" A pause. "Gimme that you idiot!" The high pitched voice seemed to boom in the office.
Gavin began to stand and still, gorilla guy was banging around in the side office.
“Fix her up. Stop using those damned things on her. Look at her. We need her till the next one.”
Gavin looked around, but could not see his guns. No bags. They must have them with them in the office. He prayed. Just a few more seconds. Time to go now, he coached his feet. Wobbled to the front doors. Nausea boiled up the back of his throat.
“But you said…” It was one of them arguing.
“I don’t care what I said!” the gorilla guy bellowed. “Clean her up! If we could grab another then you can play I said.”
Quiet sobbing now. It was the girl.
“Have you seen any babes since we came up in these mountains, you idiots?"
Silence, then, “Can we just take care of the old man and roll, I’m tired of this place. No action.”
Gavin was still wobbling toward the entrance, holding his head, trying to stop the bleeding. He made it to the front doors. Felt the heat of the fire across the street as he opened them. He took one last look at the cross. Jesus seemed lost in the darkness now.
Gavin pushed through the smoke. Started to run, the roar of the fire helping to mask his own sounds of pain. He made it to the house next door in a half crouch. The pain was tolerable now.
It was dark, nearly moonless. He kept running. Into the woods. It was blacker in here. Up a hill. He passed yet another home. Also abandoned, unlit. Windows broken. Birds’ nests in the corners of the eve.
Gavin's heart pounded. Felt like it was ricocheting off of his lungs. He ran again. Stopped thinking about the bleeding.
Then he heard them yelling. Gunfire. More hollering. But they weren’t coming his way. They had no idea which way he went.
The yelling faded as he ran deeper into the woods.
He didn’t stop running until he reached the foothills and began to climb Arch Ridge. He’d lost them.
But then he did something he never thought he’d do again. Gavin stopped.
Gavin was empty inside now. Safe, bleeding, probably dying, but empty. He began to circle back. Worried. Worried about what would happen if he didn't at least try. If he was dying, then maybe it could change something. He could trade the rest of his time for someone else. Why the hell not?
The girl, Maggy, he thought. It was always something. Something that needed doing. And besides, they, the thugs, might be a problem in the future. It was their time.
Forgive me, he said to himself. Screw them, though.
Gavin broke into boarded up home on the way back down. Busted in the big bay window, climbed in, scraping already sore ribs on the frame.
He didn’t know the residents in this town. Had never been here before the end times. But it was on his list of small towns to check for supplies, and people. That's how he'd ended up here. How the years came an went in relative peace until the North Korean Army came through. Then the thugs started to sniff about.
Using sheets from a bed, Gavin dealt with his knife wounds in his side and head. He wrapped his hands as well. Found an extra coat and pulled that on. Used bottled water to clean his face of blood, but he felt he was wasting too much time. One eye was still sealed shut. The other would have to do, blurry or not.
Then he searched the home for guns. Found a gun case. Felt it, more than saw it. As he had often discovered, it was rare not to find guns in small town homes.
The former residents had taken time to board them up, thinking they’d be back in a week or so, but hadn’t always taken their weapons. Or if they had, ammo was often left behind. Stray bullets in a cupboard, shotgun shells in a closet, forgotten, gathering dust.
He lowered his head. The residents had never seen it coming. Never understood that they were being systematically exterminated. Marched to the camps never to return.
Later, at least in the big cities, before everything descended into chaos, the various military groups, began remove the guns and other valuables, from the abandoned homes. But they did not search all the houses.
Gavin loaded the rifle he’d found. Put the shotgun located in the garage, in a laundry sack along with four boxes of extra shells. Then he moved. It was critical, he thought, to do this at night. Right now. Get them scared.
Chasing the Moon
It hadn’t worked out, however. They were gone. The church was empty.
Out of curiosity he went to the pulpit. There, carved into the oak, was a symbol. A peace symbol. He moved the bible over the scar, nodded to the cross behind him, put out the candles and made his way out the side door.
This is pure insanity, he thought. Then he looked at Jesus again. Still on his cross, but no longer whole. The glowing flames from the fire across the street revealed it. They had desecrated him. Removed his head, chopped off his hands and in the ultimate act of sacrilege, they had burned his crotch. The embers still glowed there.
The fire across the street had calmed. The church was safe, except for its Jesus.
Gavin shook his head. Why had this bothered him so? He was not religious in the least, but others in this town had been. Others had come here. They had gathered here, as a community. Lived and died here.
He limped to the doors, pushed through and on a hunch, took a right.
He picked up their trail by the girl's screams. They hadn’t gone far. He followed at a distance, keeping out of the moonlight. They were strung out in a loose line. One of them was lagging back, so Gavin kept on him. It looked like the weasel faced guy, but it was hard to tell. Maybe it was a rear guard of sorts.
Gavin followed them and a few hours later they turned into the mountains. Shuffled up between the trees, but not in any hurry. It wasn’t long before they decided to bed down. Why they chose a lean-to, rather than an abandoned house didn’t fit. There were houses scattered about, but houses were iffy at night. A place in the middle of the forest? Probably safer.
Maybe they were trying to get over the mountain tonight and thought a hunter’s blind was a good as anything.
When the laughter started, Gavin knew it wouldn’t be long. They were into the whiskey. No doubt about it. These guys like to stay drunk. No doubt if they had something stronger, they'd be doing that as well.
He worked his way to the ridge, after hiding behind the boulder. He wasn’t noticed. Gavin located a good spot between a rockfall and the scree. Brought his rifle up and adjusted his scope. Five rounds, he thought. I can’t miss. How many yards? Maybe fifty?
Gavin's hands ached where the rusted nails had been. The wounds were reopening.
Gavin checked on the girl. If the gang hadn’t noticed him, she had. There was an uncomfortable moment in the moonlight when he realized that she was staring right at him, holding her fist in the air, shaking it.
He couldn’t make out what she wanted. Then she turned and watched her captors. Face glowing in the dying campfire. She knew. She wanted them to die.
He waited for the fire to die down. After a time the flames lessened and he could begin to see the outlines of the gang.
The big one had finally passed out. The bottle held tightly to his chest. Even in sleep he was worried about the others. He had one of Gavin’s revolvers in the other hand.
The other three were apparently comatose. Lumps in sleeping bags.
Gavin put the red dot on the big man’s belly first. The girl reacted by looking away, holding her ears.
He slowly pulled the trigger, but his finger froze. He pressed his other hand against it, slowly, keeping aim. There was no kick, but the report was a peal of thunder in the quiet forest. Gavin aimed again.
The gorilla had not moved. He had died in his sleep. To bad, Gavin thought now.
It seemed to take a few seconds for the others to understand. By the time the one nearest to the big one rubbed his eyes, Gavin shot him through the chest. He flopped over, dead.
Now panic set in. Gavin tried to put the red dot on the one on the end, but he was moving toward the back.Hollering at the other one. He switched to weasel face, who was desperately searching for something in his sleeping bag.
The next shot rang out. Weasel face fell backward, holding a revolver. His dead finger pulled the trigger once. The shot went wild.
Now Gavin's hand refused to work. He switched to his left. Used his middle finger.
One left. Gavin looked into the lean-to, but the rifle scope had fogged over. If the last guy was there, he was tucked into the corner and he couldn’t see him. Had he escaped?
Gavin looked at the girl. She was facing the lean-to now. No, she was nodding at it. A specific part of it. Then she pointed. Gavin aimed at a pile of bags.
He had two shots left. Maybe the last guy would go for the revolver in weasel face’s hand. Maybe he had one already.
Suddenly, the girl moved back. Her chains stopped her and she fell. A shot rang out. She screamed. “You missed, you bas..." She screamed.
Gavin aimed at the back corner and fired. Immediately, the last man launched himself toward the girl, but tripped in the fire and rolled.
Gavin tried to get a bead on him, but he scrambled up and went for the girl again, pointing his gun at her. She screamed again, held up her chained hands -- then it looked as if she was throwing something. Sand? Dirt?
The man’s hands went to his face. He stumbled back. Caught himself on one knee. Tried to rise, gun still in his hand. He started to fire wildly.
The girl dove to the ground. Bullets sung over Gavin's head. The last man began to curse and slur, still in a drunken crazed stupor.
Gavin's round caught the last man in the back and knocked him forward. He was almost up and had twisted away. Unfortunately, his attempt to rise and the resulting strike from the bullet knocked him off balance. He landed on the fire. His body lay still, as ribbons of blue flames engulfed him. He didn't scream.
The girl was standing now. Waiting. Watching the bodies nervously.
Gavin worked his way down to her. Once there, he released her from her chains after finding a key in the fat one’s pocket.
“They are all dead,” Gavin said.
“Thanks,” she answered. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Gavin said. Then he thought better it. He slung his rifle over his shoulder. "Thing is if I hadn’t made the mistake of going into town yesterday afternoon, like an idiot, well...I guess some mistakes are good ones…”
Gavin started to limp away.
She walked over, after finding a jacket from one of the bags, put her shoulder under his arm and said, "they were fire blinded."
"In more ways than one," Gavin said.
They slowly made their way down the mountain as the sun began to rise orange and fiery over the smoky ridges.
"Where are we going?" Maggy asked.
"I don't know," Gavin replied. "But I'll know when I get there."
© 2017 Jack Shorebird