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Deadman's Road

by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale writes in many different genres—mysteries, westerns, horror—and in many different formats—novels, short stories, teleplays, comic books. Notable work in television includes writing for Batman: The Animated Series ; in comics, the western series Jonah Hex . His novels include Mucho Mojo and The Bottoms , among many others. A new novel, Leather Maiden, was recently published, and he's currently working on a novel in his Hap and Leonard series called Vanilla Ride . Lansdale is also an accomplished editor, with a number of anthologies published, such as Razored Saddles and the award-winning Retro Pulp Tales . He's a seven-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and has been named a Grand Master by the World Horror Society.

Aside from «Deadman's Road,» Lansdale has authored other important works of zombie fiction, including his Stoker Award-winning story «On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks,» and his cult-classic novel Dead in the West.

Lansdale says that this story features lots of flashing teeth and blazing six guns, and boy, is he right. The story—which features the gun-toting reverend from Dead in the West— jumped into his head full-blown when he encountered a sign while traveling that read, simply: dead man's road.

The evening sun had rolled down and blown out in a bloody wad, and the white, full moon had rolled up like an enormous ball of tightly wrapped twine. As he rode, the Reverend Jebidiah Rains watched it glow above the tall pines. All about it stars were sprinkled white-hot in the dead-black heavens.

The trail he rode on was a thin one, and the trees on either side of it crept toward the path as if they might block the way, and close up behind him. The weary horse on which he was riding moved forward with its head down, and Jebidiah, too weak to fight it, let his mount droop and take its lead. Jebidiah was too tired to know much at that moment, but he knew one thing. He was a man of the Lord and he hated God, hated the sonofabitch with all his heart.

And he knew God knew and didn't care, because he knew Jebidiah was his messenger. Not one of the New Testament, but one of the Old Testament, harsh and mean and certain, vengeful and without compromise; a man who would have shot a leg out from under Moses and spat in the face of the Holy Ghost and scalped him, tossing his celestial hair to the wild four winds.

It was not a legacy Jebidiah would have preferred, being the bad man messenger of God, but it was his, and he had earned it through sin, and no matter how hard he tried to lay it down and leave it be, he could not. He knew that to give in and abandon his God-given curse, was to burn in hell forever, and to continue was to do as the Lord prescribed, no matter what his feelings toward his mean master might be. His Lord was not a forgiving Lord, nor was he one who cared for your love. All he cared for was obedience, servitude and humiliation. It was why God had invented the human race. Amusement.

As he thought on these matters, the trail turned and widened, and off to one side, amongst tree stumps, was a fairly large clearing, and in its center was a small log house, and out to the side a somewhat larger log barn. In the curtained window of the cabin was a light that burned orange behind the flour-sack curtains. Jebidiah, feeling tired and hungry and thirsty and weary of soul, made for it.

Stopping a short distance from the cabin, Jebidiah leaned forward on his horse and called out, «Hello, the cabin.»

He waited for a time, called again, and was halfway through calling when the door opened, and a man about five-foot two with a large droopy hat, holding a rifle, stuck himself part of the way out of the cabin, said, «Who is it calling? You got a voice like a bullfrog.»

«Reverend Jebidiah Rains.»

«You ain't come to preach none, have you?»

«No, sir. I find it does no good. I'm here to beg for a place in your barn, a night under its roof. Something for my horse, something for myself if it's available. Most anything, as long as water is involved.»

«Well,» said the man, «this seems to be the gathering place tonight. Done got two others, and we just sat asses down to eat. I got enough you want it, some hot beans and some old bread.»

«I would be most obliged, sir,» Jebidiah said.

«Oblige all you want. In the meantime, climb down from that nag, put it in the barn and come in and chow. They call me Old Timer, but I ain't that old. It's cause most of my teeth are gone and I'm crippled in a foot a horse stepped on. There's a lantern just inside the barn door. Light that up, and put it out when you finish, come on back to the house.»

When Jebidiah finished grooming and feeding his horse with grain in the barn, watering him, he came into the cabin, made a show of pushing his long black coat back so that it revealed his ivory-handled .44 cartridge-converted revolvers. They were set so that they leaned forward in their holsters, strapped close to the hips, not draped low like punks wore them. Jebidiah liked to wear them close to the natural swing of his hands. When he pulled them it was a movement quick as the flick of a hummingbird's wings, the hammers clicking from the cock of his thumb, the guns barking, spewing lead with amazing accuracy. He had practiced enough to drive a cork into a bottle at about a hundred paces, and he could do it in bad light. He chose to reveal his guns that way to show he was ready for any attempted ambush. He reached up and pushed his wide-brimmed black hat back on his head, showing black hair gone gray-tipped. He thought having his hat tipped made him look casual. It did not. His eyes always seemed aflame in an angry face.

Inside, the cabin was bright with kerosene lamp light, and the kerosene smelled, and there were curls of black smoke twisting about, mixing with gray smoke from the pipe of Old Timer, and the cigarette of a young man with a badge pinned to his shirt. Beside him, sitting on a chopping log by the fireplace, which was too hot for the time of year, but was being used to heat up a pot of beans, was a middle-aged man with a slight paunch and a face that looked like it attracted thrown objects. He had his hat pushed up a bit, and a shock of wheat-colored, sweaty hair hung on his forehead. There was a cigarette in his mouth, half of it ash. He twisted on the chopping log, and Jebidiah saw that his hands were manacled together.

«I heard you say you was a preacher,» said the manacled man, as he tossed the last of his smoke into the fireplace. «This here sure ain't God's country.»

«Worse thing is,» said Jebidiah, «it's exactly God's country.»

The manacled man gave out with a snort, and grinned.

«Preacher,» said the younger man, «my name is Jim Taylor. I'm a deputy for Sheriff Spradley, out of Nacogdoches. I'm taking this man there for a trial, and most likely a hanging. He killed a fella for a rifle and a horse. I see you tote guns, old style guns, but good ones. Way you tote them, I'm suspecting you know how to use them.»

«I've been known to hit what I aim at,» Jebidiah said, and sat in a rickety chair at an equally rickety table. Old Timer put some tin plates on the table, scratched his ass with a long wooden spoon, then grabbed a rag and used it as a pot holder, lifted the hot bean pot to the table. He popped the lid off the pot, used the ass-scratching spoon to scoop a heap of beans onto plates. He brought over some wooden cups and poured them full from a pitcher of water.

«Thing is,» the deputy said, «I could use some help. I don't know I can get back safe with this fella, havin' not slept good in a day or two. Was wondering, you and Old Timer here could watch my back till morning? Wouldn't even mind if you rode along with me tomorrow, as sort of a backup. I could use a gun hand. Sheriff might even give you a dollar for it.»

Old Timer, as if this conversation had not been going on, brought over a bowl with some moldy biscuits in it, placed them on the table. «Made them a week ago. They've gotten a bit ripe, but you can scratch around the mold. I'll warn you though, they're tough enough you could toss one hard and kill a chicken on the run. So mind your teeth.»

«That how you lost yours, Old Timer?» the manacled man said.

«Probably part of them,» Old Timer said.

«What you say, preacher?» the deputy said. «You let me get some sleep?»

«My problem lies in the fact that I need sleep,» Jebidiah said. «I've been busy, and I'm what could be referred to as tuckered.»

«Guess I'm the only one that feels spry,» said the manacled man.

«No,» said Old Timer. «I feel right fresh myself.»

«Then it's you and me, Old Timer,» the manacled man said, and grinned, as if this meant something.

«You give me cause, fella, I'll blow a hole in you and tell God you got in a nest of termites.»

The manacled man gave his snort of a laugh again. He seemed to be having a good old time.

«Me and Old Timer can work shifts,» Jebidiah said. «That okay with you, Old Timer?»

«Peachy,» Old Timer said, and took another plate from the table and filled it with beans. He gave this one to the manacled man, who said, lifting his bound hands to take it, «What do I eat it with?»

«Your mouth. Ain't got no extra spoons. And I ain't giving you a knife.»

The manacled man thought on this for a moment, grinned, lifted the plate and put his face close to the edge of it, sort of poured the beans toward his mouth. He lowered the plate and chewed. «Reckon they taste scorched with or without a spoon.»

Jebidiah reached inside his coat, took out and opened up a pocket knife, used it to spear one of the biscuits, and to scrape the beans toward him.

«You come to the table, young fella,» Old Timer said to the deputy. «I'll get my shotgun, he makes a move that ain't eatin', I'll blast him and the beans inside him into that fireplace there.»

Old Timer sat with a double barrel shotgun resting on his leg, pointed in the general direction of the manacled man. The deputy told all that his prisoner had done while he ate. Murdered women and children, shot a dog and a horse, and just for the hell of it, shot a cat off a fence, and set fire to an outhouse with a woman in it. He had also raped women, stuck a stick up a sheriff's ass, and killed him, and most likely shot other animals that might have been some good to somebody. Overall, he was tough on human beings, and equally as tough on livestock.

«I never did like animals,» the manacled man said. «Carry fleas. And that woman in the outhouse stunk to high heaven. She ought to eat better. She needed burning.»

«Shut up,» the deputy said. «This fella,» and he nodded toward the prisoner, «his name is Bill Barrett, and he's the worst of the worst. Thing is, well, I'm not just tired, I'm a little wounded. He and I had a tussle. I hadn't surprised him, wouldn't be here today. I got a bullet graze in my hip. We had quite a dust up. I finally got him down by putting a gun barrel to his noggin' half a dozen times or so. I'm not hurt so bad, but I lost blood for a couple days. Weakened me. You'd ride along with me, Reverend, I'd appreciate it.»

«I'll consider it,» Jebidiah said. «But I'm about my business.»

«Who you gonna preach to along here, 'sides us?» the deputy said.

«Don't even think about it,» Old Timer said. «Just thinking about that Jesus foolishness makes my ass tired. Preaching makes me want to kill the preacher and cut my own throat. Being at a preachin' is like being tied down in a nest red bitin' ants.»

«At this point in my life,» Jebidiah said. «I agree.»

There was a moment of silence in response to Jebidiah, then the deputy turned his attention to Old Timer. «What's the fastest route to Nacogdoches?»

«Well now,» Old Timer said, «you can keep going like you been going, following the road out front. And in time you'll run into a road, say thirty miles from here, and it goes left. That should take you right near Nacogdoches, which is another ten miles, though you'll have to make a turn somewhere up in there near the end of the trip. Ain't exactly sure where unless I'm looking at it. Whole trip, traveling at an even pace ought to take you two day.»

«You could go with us,» the deputy said. «Make sure I find that road.»

«Could,» said Old Timer, «but I won't. I don't ride so good anymore. My balls ache I ride a horse for too long. Last time I rode a pretty good piece, I had to squat over a pan of warm water and salt, soak my taters for an hour or so just so they'd fit back in my pants. «

«My balls ache just listening to you,» the prisoner said. «Thing is, though, them swollen up like that, was probably the first time in your life you had man-sized balls, you old fart. You should have left them swollen.»

Old Timer cocked back the hammers on the double barrel. «This here could go off.»

Bill just grinned, leaned his back against the fireplace, then jumped forward. For a moment, it looked as if Old Timer might cut him in half, but he realized what had happened.

«Oh yeah,» Old Timer said. «That there's hot, stupid. Why they call it a fire place.»

Bill readjusted himself, so that his back wasn't against the stones. He said, «I'm gonna cut this deputy's pecker off, come back here, make you fry it up and eat it.»

«You're gonna shit and fall back in it,» Old Timer said. «That's all you're gonna do.»

When things had calmed down again, the deputy said to Old Timer, «There's no faster route?»

Old timer thought for a moment. «None you'd want to take.»

«What's that mean?» the deputy said.

Old Timer slowly lowered the hammers on the shotgun, smiling at Bill all the while. When he had them lowered, he turned his head, looked at the deputy. «Well, there's Deadman's Road.»

«What's wrong with that?» the deputy asked.

«All manner of things. Used to be called Cemetery Road. Couple years back that changed.»

Jebidiah's interest was aroused. «Tell us about it, Old Timer.»

«Now I ain't one to believe in hogwash, but there's a story about the road, and I got it from someone you might say was the horse's mouth.»

«A ghost story, that's choice,» said Bill.

«How much time would the road cut off going to Nacogdoches?» the deputy asked.

«Near a day,» Old Timer said.

«Damn. Then that's the way I got to go,» the deputy said.

«Turn off for it ain't far from here, but I wouldn't recommend it,» Old Timer said. «I ain't much for Jesus, but I believe in haints, things like that. Living out here in this thicket, you see some strange things. There's gods ain't got nothing to do with Jesus or Moses, or any of that bunch. There's older gods than that. Indians talk about them.»

«I'm not afraid of any Indian gods,» the deputy said.

«Maybe not,» Old Timer said, «but these gods, even the Indians ain't fond of them. They ain't their gods. These gods are older than the Indian folk their ownselfs. Indians try not to stir them up. They worship their own.»

«And why would this road be different than any other?» Jebidiah asked. «What does it have to do with ancient gods?»

Old Timer grinned. «You're just wanting to challenge it, ain't you, Reverend? Prove how strong your god is. You weren't no preacher, you'd be a gunfighter, I reckon. Or, maybe you are just that. A gunfighter preacher.»

«I'm not that fond of my god,» Jebidiah said, «but I have been given a duty. Drive out evil. Evil as my god sees it. If these gods are evil, and they're in my path, then I have to confront them.»

«They're evil, all right,» Old Timer said.

«Tell us about them,» Jebidiah said.

«Gil Gimet was a bee keeper,» Old timer said. «He raised honey, and lived off of Deadman's Road. Known then as Cemetery Road. That's 'cause there was a graveyard down there. It had some old Spanish graves in it, some said Conquistadores who tromped through here but didn't tromp out. I know there was some Indians buried there, early Christian Indians, I reckon. Certainly there were stones and crosses up and Indian names on the crosses. Maybe mixed breeds. Lots of intermarrying around here. Anyway, there were all manner people buried up there. The dead ground don't care what color you are when you go in, 'cause in the end, we're all gonna be the color of dirt.»

«Hell, « Bill said. «You're already the color of dirt. And you smell like some pretty old dirt at that.»

«You gonna keep on, mister,» Old Timer said, «and you're gonna wind up having the undertaker wipe your ass.» Old Timer cocked back the hammers on the shotgun again. «This here gun could go off accidently. Could happen, and who here is gonna argue it didn't?»

«Not me,» the deputy said. «It would be easier on me you were dead, Bill.»

Bill looked at the Reverend. «Yeah, but that wouldn't set right with the Reverend, would it, Reverend?»

«Actually, I wouldn't care one way or another. I'm not a man of peace, and I'm not a forgiver, even if what you did wasn't done to me. I think we're all rich and deep in sin. Maybe none of us are worthy of forgiveness.»

Bill sunk a little at his seat. No one was even remotely on his side. Old Timer continued with his story.

«This here bee keeper, Gimet, he wasn't known as much of a man. Mean-hearted is how he was thunk of. I knowed him, and I didn't like him. I seen him snatch up a little dog once and cut the tail off of it with his knife, just cause he thought it was funny. Boy who owned the dog tried to fight back, and Gimet, he cut the boy on the arm. No one did nothin' about it. Ain't no real law in these parts, you see, and wasn't nobody brave enough to do nothin'. Me included. And he did lots of other mean things, even killed a couple of men, and claimed self-defense. Might have been, but Gimet was always into something, and whatever he was into always turned out with someone dead, or hurt, or humiliated.»

«Bill here sounds like he could be Gimet's brother,» the deputy said.

«Oh, no,» Old Timer said, shaking his head. «This here scum-licker ain't a bump on the mean old ass of Gimet. Gimet lived in a little shack off Cemetery Road. He raised bees, and brought in honey to sell at the community up the road. Guess you could even call it a town. Schow is the way the place is known, on account of a fella used to live up there was named Schow. He died and got ate up by pigs. Right there in his own pen, just keeled over slopping the hogs, and then they slopped him, all over that place. A store got built on top of where Schow got et up, and that's how the place come by the name. Gimet took his honey in there to the store and sold it, and even though he was a turd, he had some of the best honey you ever smacked your mouth around. Wish I had me some now. It was dark and rich, and sweeter than any sugar. Think that's one reason he got away with things. People don't like killing and such, but they damn sure like their honey.»

«This story got a point?» Bill said.

«You don't like way I'm telling it,» Old Timer said, «why don't you think about how that rope's gonna fit around your neck. That ought to keep your thoughts occupied, right smart.»

Bill made a grunting noise, turned on his block of wood, as if to show he wasn't interested.

«Well, now, honey or not, sweet tooth, or not, everything has an end to it. And thing was he took to a little gal, Mary Lynn Twoshoe. She was a part Indian gal, a real looker, hair black as the bottom of a well, eyes the same color, and she was just as fine in the features as them pictures you see of them stage actresses. She wasn't five feet tall, and that hair of hers went all the way down her back. Her daddy was dead. The pox got him. And her mama wasn't too well off, being sickly, and all. She made brooms out of straw and branches she trimmed down. Sold a few of them, raised a little garden and a hog. When all this happened, Mary Lynn was probably thirteen, maybe fourteen. Wasn't no older than that.»

«If you're gonna tell a tale,» Bill said, «least don't wander all over the place.»

«So, you're interested?» Old Timer said.

«What else I got to do?» Bill said.

«Go on,» Jebidiah said. «Tell us about Mary Lynn.»

Old Timer nodded. «Gimet took to her. Seen her around, bringing the brooms her mama made into the store. He waited on her, grabbed her, and just throwed her across his saddle kickin' and screamin', like he'd bought a sack of flour and was ridin' it to the house. Mack Collins, store owner came out and tried to stop him. Well, he said something to him. About how he shouldn't do it, least that's the way I heard it. He didn't push much, and I can't blame him. Didn't do good to cross Gimet. Anyway, Gimet just said back to Mack, 'Give her mama a big jar of honey. Tell her that's for her daughter. I'll even make her another jar or two, if the meat here's as sweet as I'm expecting.'

«With that, he slapped Mary Lynn on the ass and rode off with her.»

«Sounds like my kind of guy,» Bill said.

«I have become irritated with you now,» Jebidiah said. «Might I suggest you shut your mouth before I pistol whip you.»

Bill glared at Jebidiah, but the Reverend's gaze was as dead and menacing as the barrels of Old Timer's shotgun.

«Rest of the story is kind of grim,» Old Timer said. «Gimet took her off to his house, and had his way with her. So many times he damn near killed her, and then he turned her loose, or got so drunk she was able to get loose. Time she walked down Cemetery Road, made it back to town, well, she was bleeding so bad from having been used so rough, she collapsed. She lived a day and died from loss of blood. Her mother, out of her sick bed, rode a mule out there to the cemetery on Cemetery Road. I told you she was Indian, and she knew some Indian ways, and she knew about them old gods that wasn't none of the gods of her people, but she still knew about them.

«She knew some signs to draw in cemetery dirt. I don't know the whole of it, but she did some things, and she did it on some old grave out there, and the last thing she did was she cut her own throat, died right there, her blood running on top of that grave and them pictures she drawed in the dirt.»

«Don't see how that done her no good,» the deputy said.

«Maybe it didn't, but folks think it did,» Old Timer said. «Community that had been pushed around by Gimet, finally had enough, went out there in mass to hang his ass, shoot him, whatever it took. Got to his cabin they found Gimet dead outside his shack. His eyes had been torn out, or blown out is how they looked. Skin was peeled off his head, just leaving the skull and a few hairs. His chest was ripped open, and his insides was gone, exceptin' the bones in there. And them bees of his had nested in the hole in his chest, had done gone about making honey. Was buzzing out of that hole, his mouth, empty eyes, nose, or where his nose used to be. I figure they'd rolled him over, tore off his pants, they'd have been coming out of his asshole.»

«How come you weren't out there with them?» Bill said. «How come this is all stuff you heard?»

«Because I was a coward when it come to Gimet,» Old Timer said. «That's why. Told myself wouldn't never be a coward again, no matter what. I should have been with them. Didn't matter no how. He was done good and dead, them bees all in him. What was done then is the crowd got kind of loco, tore off his clothes, hooked his feet up to a horse and dragged him through a blackberry patch, them bees just burstin' out and hummin' all around him. All that ain't right, but I think I'd been with them, knowing who he was and all the things he'd done, I might have been loco too. They dumped him out on the cemetery to let him rot, took that girl's mother home to be buried some place better. Wasn't no more than a few nights later that folks started seeing Gimet. They said he walked at night, when the moon was at least half, or full, like it is now. Number of folks seen him, said he loped alongside the road, following their horses, grabbing hold of the tail if he could, trying to pull horse and rider down, or pull himself up on the back of their mounts. Said them bees was still in him. Bees black as flies, and angry whirling all about him, and coming from inside him. Worse, there was a larger number of folks took that road that wasn't never seen again. It was figured Gimet got them.»

«Horse shit,» the deputy said. «No disrespect, Old Timer. You've treated me all right, that's for sure. But a ghost chasing folks down. I don't buy that.»

«Don't have to buy it,» Old Timer said. «I ain't trying to sell it to you none. Don't have to believe it. And I don't think it's no ghost anyway. I think that girl's mother, she done something to let them old gods out for a while, sicked them on that bastard, used her own life as a sacrifice, that's what I think. And them gods, them things from somewhere else, they ripped him up like that. Them bees is part of that too. They ain't no regular honey bee. They're some other kind of bees. Some kind of fitting death for a bee raiser, is my guess.»

«That's silly,» the deputy said.

«I don't know,» Jebidiah said. «The Indian woman may only have succeeded in killing him in this life. She may not have understood all that she did. Didn't know she was giving him an opportunity to live again . . . Or maybe that is the curse. Though there are plenty others have to suffer for it.»

«Like the folks didn't do nothing when Gimet was alive,» Old Timer said. «Folks like me that let what went on go on.»

Jebidiah nodded. «Maybe.»

The deputy looked at Jebidiah. «Not you too, Reverend. You should know better than that. There ain't but one true god, and ain't none of that hoodoo business got a drop of truth to it.»

«If there's one god,» Jebidiah said, «there can be many. They are at war with one another, that's how it works, or so I think. I've seen some things that have shook my faith in the one true god, the one I'm servant to. And what is our god but hoodoo? It's all hoodoo, my friend.»

«Okay. What things have you seen, Reverend?» the deputy asked.

«No use describing it to you, young man,» Jebidiah said. «You wouldn't believe me. But I've recently come from Mud Creek. It had an infestation of a sort. That town burned down, and I had a hand in it.»

«Mud Creek,» Old Timer said. «I been there.»

«Only thing there now,» Jebidiah said, «is some charred wood.»

«Ain't the first time it's burned down,» Old Timer said. «Some fool always rebuilds it, and with it always comes some kind of ugliness. I'll tell you straight. I don't doubt your word at all, Reverend.»

«Thing is,» the deputy said, «I don't believe in no haints. That's the shortest road, and it's the road I'm gonna take.»

«I wouldn't,» Old Timer said.

«Thanks for the advice. But no one goes with me or does, that's the road I'm taking, provided it cuts a day off my trip.»

«I'm going with you,» Jebidiah said. «My job is striking at evil. Not to walk around it.»

«I'd go during the day,» Old Timer said. «Ain't no one seen Gimet in the day, or when the moon is thin or not at all. But way it is now, it's full, and will be again tomorrow night. I'd ride hard tomorrow, you're determined to go. Get there as soon as you can, before dark.»

«I'm for getting there,» the deputy said. «I'm for getting back to Nacogdoches, and getting this bastard in a cell.»

«I'll go with you,» Jebidiah said. «But I want to be there at night. I want to take Deadman's Road at that time. I want to see if Gimet is there. And if he is, send him to his final death. Defy those dark gods the girl's mother called up. Defy them and loose my god on him. What I'd suggest is you get some rest, deputy. Old Timer here can watch a bit, then I'll take over. That way we all get some rest. We can chain this fellow to a tree outside, we have to. We should both get slept up to the gills, then leave here mid-day, after a good dinner, head out for Deadman's Road. Long as we're there by nightfall.»

«That ought to bring you right on it,» Old Timer said. «You take Deadman's Road. When you get to the fork, where the road ends, you go right. Ain't no one ever seen Gimet beyond that spot, or in front of where the road begins. He's tied to that stretch, way I heard it.»

«Good enough,» the deputy said. «I find this all foolish, but if I can get some rest, and have you ride along with me, Reverend, then I'm game. And I'll be fine with getting there at night.»

Next morning they slept late, and had an early lunch. Beans and hard biscuits again, a bit of stewed squirrel. Old Timer had shot the rodent that morning while Jebidiah watched Bill sit on his ass, his hands chained around a tree in the front yard. Inside the cabin, the deputy had continued to sleep.

But now they all sat outside eating, except for Bill.

«What about me?» Bill asked, tugging at his chained hands.

«When we finish,» Old Timer said. «Don't know if any of the squirrel will be left, but we got them biscuits for you. I can promise you some of them. I might even let you rub one of them around in my plate, sop up some squirrel gravy.»

«Those biscuits are awful,» Bill said.

«Ain't they,» Old Timer said.

Bill turned his attention to Jebidiah. «Preacher, you ought to just go on and leave me and the boy here alone. Ain't smart for you to ride along, cause I get loose, ain't just the deputy that's gonna pay. I'll put you on the list.»

«After what I've seen in this life,» Jebidiah said, «you are nothing to me. An insect . . . So, add me to your list.»

«Let's feed him,» the deputy said, nodding at Bill, «and get to moving. I'm feeling rested and want to get this ball started.»

The moon had begun to rise when they rode in sight of Deadman's Road. The white cross road sign was sticking up beside the road. Trees and brush had grown up around it, and between the limbs and the shadows, the crudely painted words on the sign were halfway readable in the waning light. The wind had picked up and was grabbing at leaves, plucking them from the ground, tumbling them about, tearing them from trees and tossing them across the narrow, clay road with a sound like mice scuttling in straw.

«Fall always depresses me,» the deputy said, halting his horse, taking a swig from his canteen.

«Life is a cycle,» Jebidiah said. «You're born, you suffer, then you're punished.»

The deputy turned in his saddle to look at Jebidiah. «You ain't much on that resurrection and reward, are you?»

«No, I'm not.»

«I don't know about you,» the deputy said, «but I wish we hadn't gotten here so late. I'd rather have gone through in the day.»

«Thought you weren't a believer in spooks?» Bill said, and made with his now familiar snort. «You said it didn't matter to you.»

The deputy didn't look at Bill when he spoke. «I wasn't here then. Place has a look I don't like. And I don't enjoy temptin' things. Even if I don't believe in them.»

«That's the silliest thing I ever heard,» Bill said.

«Wanted me with you,» Jebidiah said. «You had to wait.»

«You mean to see something, don't you, preacher?» Bill said.

«If there is something to see,» Jebidiah said.

«You believe Old Timer's story?» the deputy said. «I mean, really?»


Jebidiah clucked to his horse and took the lead.

When they turned onto Deadman's Road, Jebidiah paused and removed a small, fat bible from his saddlebag.

The deputy paused too, forcing Bill to pause as well. «You ain't as ornery as I thought,» the deputy said. «You want the peace of the bible just like anyone else.»

«There is no peace in this book,» Jebidiah said. «That's a real confusion. Bible isn't anything but a book of terror, and that's how God is: Terrible. But the book has power. And we might need it.»

«I don't know what to think about you, Reverend,» the deputy said.

«Ain't nothin' you can think about a man that's gone loco,» Bill said. «I don't want to stay with no man that's loco.»

«You get an idea to run, Bill, I can shoot you off your horse,» the deputy said. «Close range with my revolver, far range with my rifle. You don't want to try it.»

«It's still a long way to Nacogdoches,» Bill said.

The road was narrow and of red clay. It stretched far ahead like a band of blood, turned sharply to the right around a wooded curve where it was as dark as the bottom of Jonah's whale. The blowing leaves seemed especially intense on the road, scrapping dryly about, winding in the air like giant hornets. The trees, which grew thick, bent in the wind, from right to left. This naturally led the trio to take to the left side of the road.

The farther they went down the road, the darker it became. By the time they got to the curve, the woods were so thick, and the thunderous skies had grown so dark, the moon was barely visible; its light was as weak as a sick baby's grip.

When they had traveled for some time, the deputy said, obviously feeling good about it, «There ain't nothing out here 'sides what you would expect. A possum maybe. The wind.»

«Good for you, then,» Jebidiah said. «Good for us all.»

«You sound disappointed to me,» the deputy said.

«My line of work isn't far from yours, Deputy. I look for bad guys of a sort, and try and send them to hell . . . Or in some cases, back to hell.»

And then, almost simultaneous with a flash of lightning, something crossed the road not far in front of them.

«What the hell was that?» Bill said, coming out of what had been a near stupor.

«It looked like a man,» the deputy said.

«Could have been,» Jebidiah said. «Could have been.»

«What do you think it was?»

«You don't want to know.»

«I do.»

«Gimet,» Jebidiah said.

The sky let the moon loose for a moment, and its light spread through the trees and across the road. In the light there were insects, a large wad of them, buzzing about in the air.

«Bees,» Bill said. «Damn if them ain't bees. And at night. That ain't right.»

«You an expert on bees?» the deputy asked.

«He's right,» Jebidiah said. «And look, they're gone now.»

«Flew off,» the deputy said.

«No . . . no they didn't,» Bill said. «I was watching, and they didn't fly nowhere. They're just gone. One moment they were there, then they was gone, and that's all there is to it. They're like ghosts.»

«You done gone crazy,» the deputy said.

«They are not insects of this earth,» Jebidiah said. «They are familiars.»

«What?» Bill said.

«They assist evil, or evil beings,» Jebidiah said. «In this case, Gimet. They're like a witch's black cat familiar. Familiars take on animal shapes, insects, that sort of thing.»

«That's ridiculous,» the deputy said. «That don't make no kind of sense at all.»

«Whatever you say,» Jebidiah said, «but I would keep my eyes alert, and my senses raw. Wouldn't hurt to keep your revolvers loose in their holsters. You could well need them. Though, come to think of it, your revolvers won't be much use.»

«What the hell does that mean?» Bill said.

Jebidiah didn't answer. He continued to urge his horse on, something that was becoming a bit more difficult as they went. All of the horses snorted and turned their heads left and right, tugged at their bits; their ears went back and their eyes went wide.

«Holy hell,» Bill said, «what's that?»

Jebidiah and the deputy turned to look at him. Bill was turned in the saddle, looking back. They looked too, just in time to see something that looked pale blue in the moonlight, dive into the brush on the other side of the road. Black dots followed, swarmed in the moonlight, then darted into the bushes behind the pale, blue thing like a load of buckshot.

«What was that?» the deputy said. His voice sounded as if it had been pistol whipped.

«Already told you,» Jebidiah said.

«That couldn't have been nothing human,» the deputy said.

«Don't you get it,» Bill said, «that's what the preacher is trying to tell you. It's Gimet, and he ain't nowhere alive. His skin was blue. And he's all messed up. I seen more than you did. I got a good look. And them bees. We ought to break out and ride hard.»

«Do as you choose,» the Reverend said. «I don't intend to.»

«And why not?» Bill said.

«That isn't my job.»

«Well, I ain't got no job. Deputy, ain't you supposed to make sure I get to Nac-ogdoches to get hung? Ain't that your job?»

«It is.»

«Then we ought to ride on, not bother with this fool. He wants to fight some grave crawler, then let him. Ain't nothing we ought to get into.»

«We made a pact to ride together,» the deputy said. «So we will.»

«I didn't make no pact,» Bill said.

«Your word, your needs, they're nothing to me,» the deputy said.

At that moment, something began to move through the woods on their left. Something moving quick and heavy, not bothering with stealth. Jebidiah looked in the direction of the sounds, saw someone, or something, moving through the underbrush, snapping limbs aside like they were rotten sticks. He could hear the buzz of the bees, loud and angry. Without really meaning to, he urged the horse to a trot. The deputy and Bill joined in with their own mounts, keeping pace with the Reverend's horse.

They came to a place off the side of the road where the brush thinned, and out in the distance they could see what looked like bursting white waves, frozen against the dark. But they soon realized it was tombstones. And there were crosses. A graveyard. The graveyard Old Timer had told them about. The sky had cleared now, the wind had ceased to blow hard. They had a fine view of the cemetery, and as they watched, the thing that had been in the brush moved out of it and went up the little rise where the graves were, climbed up on one of the stones and sat. A black cloud formed around its head, and the sound of buzzing could be heard all the way out to the road. The thing sat there like a king on a throne. Even from that distance it was easy to see it was nude, and male, and his skin was gray—blue in the moonlight—and the head looked misshapen. Moon glow slipped through cracks in the back of the horror's head and poked out of fresh cracks at the front of its skull and speared out of the empty eye sockets. The bee's nest, visible through the wound in its chest, was nestled between the ribs. It pulsed with a yellow-honey glow. From time to time, little black dots moved around the glow and flew up and were temporarily pinned in the moonlight above the creature's head.

«Jesus,» said the deputy.

«Jesus won't help a bit,» Jebidiah said.

«It's Gimet, ain't it? He . . . it . . . really is dead,» the deputy said.

«Undead,» Jebidiah said. «I believe he's toying with us. Waiting for when he plans to strike.»

«Strike?» Bill said. «Why?»

«Because that is his purpose,» Jebidiah said, «as it is mine to strike back. Gird your loins, men, you will soon be fighting for your life.»

«How about we just ride like hell?» Bill said.

In that moment, Jebidiah's words became prophetic. The thing was gone from the grave stone. Shadows had gathered at the edge of the woods, balled up, become solid, and when the shadows leaped from the even darker shadows of the trees, it was the shape of the thing they had seen on the stone, cool blue in the moonlight, a disaster of

a face, and the teeth . . . They were long and sharp. Gimet leaped in such a way that his back foot hit the rear of Jebidiah's animal, allowing him to spring over the deputy's horse, to land hard and heavy on Bill. Bill let out a howl and was knocked off his mount. When he hit the road, his hat flying, Gimet grabbed him by his bushy head of straw-colored hair and dragged him off as easily as if he were

a kitten. Gimet went into the trees, tugging Bill after him. Gimet blended with the darkness there. The last of Bill was a scream, the raising of his cuffed hands, the cuffs catching the moonlight for a quick blink of silver, then there was a rustle of leaves and a slapping of branches, and Bill was gone.

«My God,» the deputy said. «My God. Did you see that thing?»

Jebidiah dismounted, moved to the edge of the road, leading his horse, his gun drawn. The deputy did not dismount. He pulled his pistol and held it, his hands trembling. «Did you see that?» he said again, and again.

«My eyes are as good as your own,» Jebidiah said. «I saw it. We'll have to go in and get him.»

«Get him?» the deputy said. «Why in the name of everything that's holy would we do that? Why would we want to be near that thing? He's probably done what he's done already . . . Damn, Reverend. Bill, he's a killer. This is just as good as I might want. I say while the old boy is doing whatever he's doing to that bastard, we ride like the goddamn wind, get on out on the far end of this road where it forks. Gimet is supposed to be only able to go on this stretch, ain't he?»

«That's what Old Timer said. You do as you want. I'm going in after him.»

«Why? You don't even know him.»

«It's not about him,» Jebidiah said.

«Ah, hell. I ain't gonna be shamed.» The deputy swung down from his horse, pointed at the place where Gimet had disappeared with Bill. «Can we get the horses through there?»

«Think we will have to go around a bit. I discern a path over there.»


«Recognize. Come on, time is wasting.»

They went back up the road a pace, found a trail that led through the trees. The moon was strong now as all the clouds that had covered it had rolled away like wind blown pollen. The air smelled fresh, but as they moved forward, that changed. There was a stench in the air, a putrid smell both sweet and sour, and it floated up and spoiled the freshness.

«Something dead,» the deputy said.

«Something long dead,» Jebidiah said.

Finally the brush grew so thick they had to tie the horses, leave them. They pushed their way through briars and limbs.

«There ain't no path,» the deputy said. «You don't know he come through this way.»

Jebidiah reached out and plucked a piece of cloth from a limb, held it up so that the moon dropped rays on it. «This is part of Bill's shirt. Am I right?»

The deputy nodded. «But how could Gimet get through here? How could he get Bill through here?»

«What we pursue has little interest in the things that bother man. Limbs, briars. It's nothing to the living dead.»

They went on for a while. Vines got in their way. The vines were wet. They were long thick vines, and sticky, and finally they realized they were not vines at all, but guts, strewn about and draped like decorations.

«Fresh,» the deputy said. «Bill, I reckon.»

«You reckon right,» Jebidiah said.

They pushed on a little farther, and the trail widened, making the going easier. They found more pieces of Bill as they went along. The stomach. Fingers. Pants with one leg in them. A heart, which looked as if it has been bitten into and sucked on. Jebidiah was curious enough to pick it up and examine it. Finished, he tossed it in the dirt, wiped his hands on Bill's pants, the one with the leg still in it, said, «Gimet just saved you a lot of bother and the State of Texas the trouble of a hanging.»

«Heavens,» the deputy said, watching Jebidiah wipe blood on the leg-filled pants.

Jebidiah looked up at the deputy. «He won't mind I get blood on his pants,» Jebidiah said. «He's got more important things to worry about, like dancing in the fires of hell. And by the way, yonder sports his head.»

Jebidiah pointed. The deputy looked. Bill's head had been pushed onto a broken limb of a tree, the sharp end of the limb being forced through the rear of the skull and out the left eye. The spinal cord dangled from the back of the head like a bell rope.

The deputy puked in the bushes. «Oh, God. I don't want no more of this.»

«Go back. I won't think the less of you, cause I don't think that much of you to begin with. Take his head for evidence and ride on, just leave me my horse.»

The deputy adjusted his hat. «Don't need the head . . . And if it comes to it, you'll be glad I'm here. I ain't no weak sister.»

«Don't talk me to death on the matter. Show me what you got, boy.»

The trail was slick with Bill's blood. They went along it and up a rise, guns drawn. At the top of the hill they saw a field, grown up, and not far away, a sagging shack with a fallen down chimney.

They went that direction, came to the shack's door. Jebidiah kicked it with the toe of his boot and it sagged open. Once inside, Jebidiah struck a match and waved it about. Nothing but cobwebs and dust.

«Must have been Gimet's place,» Jebidiah said. Jebidiah moved the match before him until he found a lantern full of coal oil. He lit it and placed the lantern on the table.

«Should we do that?» the deputy asked. «Have a light. Won't he find us?»

«In case you have forgotten, that's the idea.»

Out the back window, which had long lost its grease paper covering, they could see tombstones and wooden crosses in the distance. «Another view of the graveyard,» Jebidiah said. «That would be where the girl's mother killed herself.»

No sooner had Jebidiah said that, then he saw a shadowy shape move on the hill, flitting between stones and crosses. The shape moved quickly and awkwardly.

«Move to the center of the room,» Jebidiah said.

The deputy did as he was told, and Jebidiah moved the lamp there as well. He sat it in the center of the floor, found a bench and dragged it next to the lantern. Then he reached in his coat pocket and took out the bible. He dropped to one knee and held the bible close to the lantern light and tore out certain pages. He wadded them up, and began placing them all around the bench on the floor, placing the crumpled pages about six feet out from the bench and in a circle with each wad two feet apart.

The deputy said nothing. He sat on the bench and watched Jebidiah's curious work. Jebidiah sat on the bench beside the deputy, rested one of his pistols on his knee. «You got a .44, don't you?»

«Yeah. I got a converted cartridge pistol, just like you.»

«Give me your revolver.»

The deputy complied.

Jebidiah opened the cylinders and let the bullets fall out on the floor.

«What in hell are you doing?»

Jebidiah didn't answer. He dug into his gun belt and came up with six silver-tipped bullets, loaded the weapon and gave it back to the deputy.

«Silver,» Jebidiah said. «Sometimes it wards off evil.»


«Be quiet now. And wait.»

«I feel like a staked goat,» the deputy said.

After a while, Jebidiah rose from the bench and looked out the window. Then he sat down promptly and blew out the lantern.

Somewhere in the distance a night bird called. Crickets sawed and a large frog bleated. They sat there on the bench, near each other, facing in opposite directions, their silver-loaded pistols on their knees. Neither spoke.

Suddenly the bird ceased to call and the crickets went silent, and no more was heard from the frog. Jebidiah whispered to the deputy.

«He comes.»

The deputy shivered slightly, took a deep breath. Jebidiah realized he too was breathing deeply.

«Be silent, and be alert,» Jebidiah said.

«All right,» said the deputy, and he locked his eyes on the open window at the back of the shack. Jebidiah faced the door, which stood halfway open and sagging on its rusty hinges.

For a long time there was nothing. Not a sound. Then Jebidiah saw a shadow move at the doorway and heard the door creak slightly as it moved. He could see a hand on what appeared to be an impossibly long arm, reaching out to grab at the edge of the door. The hand clutched there for a long time, not moving. Then, it was gone, taking its shadow with it.

Time crawled by.

«It's at the window,» the deputy said, and his voice was so soft it took Jebidiah a moment to decipher the words. Jebidiah turned carefully for a look.

It sat on the window sill, crouched there like a bird of prey, a halo of bees circling around its head. The hive pulsed and glowed in its chest, and in that glow they could see more bees, so thick they appeared to be a sort of humming smoke. Gimet's head sprouted a few springs of hair, like withering grass fighting its way through stone. A slight turn of its head allowed the moon to flow through the back of its cracked skull and out of its empty eyes. Then the head turned and the face was full of shadows again. The room was silent except for the sound of buzzing bees.

«Courage,» Jebidiah said, his mouth close to the deputy's ear. «Keep your place.»

The thing climbed into the room quickly, like a spider dropping from a limb, and when it hit the floor, it stayed low, allowing the darkness to lay over it like a cloak.

Jebidiah had turned completely on the bench now, facing the window. He heard a scratching sound against the floor. He narrowed his eyes, saw what looked like a shadow, but was in fact the thing coming out from under the table.

Jebidiah felt the deputy move, perhaps to bolt. He grabbed his arm and held him.

«Courage,» he said.

The thing kept crawling. It came within three feet of the circle made by the crumpled bible pages.

The way the moonlight spilled through the window and onto the floor near the circle Jebidiah had made, it gave Gimet a kind of eerie glow, his satellite bees circling his head. In that moment, every aspect of the thing locked itself in Jebidiah's mind. The empty eyes, the sharp, wet teeth, the long, cracked nails, blackened from grime, clacking against the wooden floor. As it moved to cross between two wads of scripture, the pages burst into flames and a line of crackling blue fulmination moved between the wadded pages and made the circle light up fully, all the way around, like Ezekiel's wheel.

Gimet gave out with a hoarse cry, scuttled back, clacking nails and knees against the floor. When he moved, he moved so quickly there seemed to be missing spaces between one moment and the next. The buzzing of Gimet's bees was ferocious.

Jebidiah grabbed the lantern, struck a match and lit it. Gimet was scuttling along the wall like a cockroach, racing to the edge of the window.

Jebidiah leaped forward, tossed the lit lantern, hit the beast full in the back as it fled through the window. The lantern burst into flames and soaked Gimlet's back, causing a wave of fire to climb from the thing's waist to the top of its head, scorching a horde of bees, dropping them from the sky like exhausted meteors.

Jebidiah drew his revolver, snapped off a shot. There was a howl of agony, and then the thing was gone.

Jebidiah raced out of the protective circle and the deputy followed. They stood at the open window, watched as Gimet, flame-wrapped, streaked through the night in the direction of the graveyard.

«I panicked a little,» Jebidiah said. «I should have been more resolute. Now he's escaped.»

«I never even got off a shot,» the deputy said. «God, but you're fast. What a draw.»

«Look, you stay here if you like. I'm going after him. But I tell you now, the circle of power has played out.»

The deputy glanced back at it. The pages had burned out and there was nothing now but a black ring on the floor.

«What in hell caused them to catch fire in the first place?»

«Evil,» Jebidiah said. «When he got close, the pages broke into flames. Gave us the protection of God. Unfortunately, as with most of God's blessings, it doesn't last long.»

«I stay here, you'd have to put down more pages.»

«I'll be taking the bible with me. I might need it.»

«Then I guess I'll be sticking.»

* * *

They climbed out the window and moved up the hill. They could smell the odor of fire and rotted flesh in the air. The night was as cool and silent as the graves on the hill.

Moments later they moved amongst the stones and wooden crosses, until they came to a long wide hole in the earth. Jebidiah could see that there was a burrow at one end of the grave that dipped down deeper into the ground.

Jebidiah paused there. «He's made this old grave his den. Dug it out and dug deeper.»

«How do you know?» the deputy asked.

«Experience . . . And it smells of smoke and burned skin. He crawled down there to hide. I think we surprised him a little.»

Jebidiah looked up at the sky. There was the faintest streak of pink on the horizon. «He's running out of daylight, and soon he'll be out of moon. For a while.»

«He damn sure surprised me. Why don't we let him hide? You could come back when the moon isn't full, or even half full. Back in the daylight, get him then.»

«I'm here now. And it's my job.»

«That's one hell of a job you got, mister.»

«I'm going to climb down for a better look.»

«Help yourself.»

Jebidiah struck a match and dropped himself into the grave, moved the match around at the mouth of the burrow, got down on his knees and stuck the match and his head into the opening.

«Very large,» he said, pulling his head out. «I can smell him. I'm going to have to go in.»

«What about me?»

«You keep guard at the lip of the grave,» Jebidiah said, standing. «He may have another hole somewhere, he could come out behind you for all I know. He could come out of that hole even as we speak.»

«That's wonderful.»

Jebidiah dropped the now dead match on the ground. «I will tell you this. I can't guarantee success. I lose, he'll come for you, you can bet on that, and you better shoot those silvers as straight as William Tell's arrows.»

«I'm not really that good a shot.»

«I'm sorry,» Jebidiah said, and struck another match along the length of his pants seam, then with his free hand, drew one of his revolvers. He got down on his hands and knees again, stuck the match in the hole and looked around. When the match was near done, he blew it out.

«Ain't you gonna need some light?» the deputy said. «A match ain't nothin'.»

«I'll have it.» Jebidiah removed the remains of the bible from his pocket, tore it in half along the spine, pushed one half in his coat, pushed the other half before him, into the darkness of the burrow. The moment it entered the hole, it flamed.

«Ain't your pocket gonna catch inside that hole?» the deputy asked.

«As long as I hold it or it's on my person, it won't harm me. But the minute I let go of it, and the aura of evil touches it, it'll blaze. I got to hurry, boy.»

With that, Jebidiah wiggled inside the burrow.

In the burrow, Jebidiah used the tip of his pistol to push the bible pages forward. They glowed brightly, but Jebidiah knew the light would be brief. It would burn longer than writing paper, but still, it would not last long.

After a goodly distance, Jebidiah discovered the burrow dropped off. He found himself inside a fairly large cavern. He could hear the sound of bats, and smell bat guano, which in fact, greased his path as he slid along on his elbows until he could stand inside the higher cavern and look about. The last flames of the bible burned itself out with a puff of blue light and a sound like an old man breathing his last.

Jebidiah listened in the dark for a long moment. He could hear the bats squeaking, moving about. The fact that they had given up the night sky, let Jebidiah know daylight was not far off.

Jebidiah's ears caught a sound, rocks shifting against the cave floor. Something was moving in the darkness, and he didn't think it was the bats. It scuttled, and Jebidiah felt certain it was close to the floor, and by the sound of it, moving his way at a creeping pace. The hair on the back of Jebidiah's neck bristled like porcupine quills. He felt his flesh bump up and crawl. The air became stiffer with the stench of burnt and rotting flesh. Jebidiah's knees trembled. He reached cautiously inside his coat pocket, produced a match, struck it on his pants leg, held it up.

At that very moment, the thing stood up and was brightly lit in the glow of the match, the bees circling its skin-stripped skull. It snarled and darted forward. Jebidiah felt its rotten claws on his shirt front as he fired the revolver. The blaze from the bullet gave a brief, bright flare and was gone. At the same time, the match was knocked out of his hand and Jebidiah was knocked backwards, onto his back, the thing's claws at his throat. The monster's bees stung him. The stings felt like red-hot pokers entering his flesh. He stuck the revolver into the creature's body and fired. Once. Twice. Three times. A fourth.

Then the hammer clicked empty. He realized he had already fired two other shots. Six dead silver soldiers were in his cylinders, and the thing still had hold of him.

He tried to draw his other gun, but before he could, the thing released him, and Jebidiah could hear it crawling away in the dark. The bats fluttered and screeched.

Confused, Jebidiah drew the pistol, managed to get to his feet. He waited, listening, his fresh revolver pointing into the darkness.

Jebidiah found another match, struck it.

The thing lay with its back draped over a rise of rock. Jebidiah eased toward it. The silver loads had torn into the hive. It oozed a dark, odiferous trail of death and decaying honey. Bees began to drop to the cavern floor. The hive in Gimet's chest sizzled and pulsed like a large, black knot. Gimet opened his mouth, snarled, but otherwise didn't move.

Couldn't move.

Jebidiah, guided by the last wisps of his match, raised the pistol, stuck it against the black knot, and pulled the trigger. The knot exploded. Gimet let out with a shriek so sharp and loud it startled the bats to flight, drove them out of the cave, through the burrow, out into the remains of the night.

Gimet's claw-like hands dug hard at the stones around him, then he was still and Jebidiah's match went out.

Jebidiah found the remains of the bible in his pocket, and as he removed it, tossed it on the ground, it burst into flames. Using the two pistol barrels like large tweezers, he lifted the burning pages and dropped them into Gimet's open chest. The body caught on fire immediately, crackled and popped dryly, and was soon nothing more than a blaze. It lit the cavern up bright as day.

Jebidiah watched the corpse being consumed by the biblical fire for a moment, then headed toward the burrow, bent down, squirmed through it, came up in the grave.

He looked for the deputy and didn't see him. He climbed out of the grave and looked around. Jebidiah smiled. If the deputy had lasted until the bats charged out, that was most likely the last straw, and he had bolted.

Jebidiah looked back at the open grave. Smoke wisped out of the hole and out of the grave and climbed up to the sky. The moon was fading and the pink on the horizon was widening.

Gimet was truly dead now. The road was safe. His job was done.

At least for one brief moment.

Jebidiah walked down the hill, found his horse tied in the brush near the road where he had left it. The deputy's horse was gone, of course, the deputy most likely having already finished out Deadman's Road at a high gallop, on his way to Nacogdoches, perhaps to have a long drink of whisky and turn in his badge.

IV ECHOES | The Living Dead | The Skull-Faced Boy by David Barr Kirtley