An old west CHILLER taken from the novel 'Half Past The WITCHING Hour'...
People run from many things; conflict, despair, persecution. The one element that cannot be escaped no matter how stringent the effort, however, is one’s self. As the old adage goes, ‘wherever you go...there you are’. In the following story, there arises that rare, rather bizarre scenario in which the person staring back in the mirror is indeed..... a complete stranger.
So, saddle up your steed and come along for a ride into pure terror, the catalyst of which is named....
“You just gotta let us tag alone, Patch. Took us a month of twenty hour days to track ya down,” the young man pleaded, his badly bloodshot eyes turning towards his sister, who stared at the rocky terrain at her feet while wiping her nose with the back of a gloved hand.
The older man continued to pack his saddle, refusing to visually acknowledge their presence. His steed whinnied as he reached to gently massage its left flank.
“Son, I ain’t got time for babysittin’. How old is she, thirteen? While yer answerin’, what’re you….fifteen, sixteen? Git back to school where ya both belong,” he grumbled while tucking a long-barreled rifle into his saddle’s built-on leather holster.
The girl grunted beneath a floppy, mud-stained hat, running her boot tip through a loose pile of dirt.
“Told you he’d be a greedy jackass, Earl. Jus’ Wants the kill for hisself. Wants the fame for hisself to boot. Now what’re we gonna do-..”
“Hush up, Kerri! You’re ‘bout as useful as tits on a boar, you know that?” Earl shouted, his focus towards the older man never wavering.
“It ain’t fame I’m after, little girl, it’s retribution,’ the elder of the three injected angrily, ‘….damned thing killed my wife, not to mention two of the best blessed scouts I’ve ever rode with. I can’t be distracted with the likes’ a you when the time comes to end its hellish run in these mountains. ‘Sides, since it…gutted my last scout, I ride alone....period.”
The older man eventually turned to face them, his massive frame made ever larger by the thick layers of beaver and rabbit pellets lining his torso. His rugged visage was a virtual roadmap of scars, the lengthiest of which trailed from just beneath his stubble-coated chin to his right eye, ending beneath a circular black patch.
“Now, y’all get back to yore mama, y’hear? This Griz ain’t no Teddy Bear to be trifled with. You two are barely a mouthful to ‘im, but that won’t stop ‘im from gnawin’ yore bones just outta downright meanness.”
Staring into the blazing mid-morning sun as he mounted the horse, Conrad ‘Patch’ Mooring drew a bead on the jagged mountain range to his left and rode slowly towards the thick tree line fronting it.
“We’re gonna follow ya, whether ya like it or not!” the young man bellowed, shoving his sister roughly to the side as he jogged towards his own animal.
“Mount up, Kerri. I ain’t losin’ him…not after what it took to track ‘im down. He’s gonna have to shoot me to keep from sharin’ that reward money.”
Watching the legendary mountain man ride purposely ahead through the morning mist, Kerri Suggs couldn’t help but shake her head in mild disgust.
“He just might take ya up on that, big brother. Yep, he just might at that.”
“Ya might as well crawl outta them damn bushes, you two. I been smellin’ ya for hours,” Patch yelled in a raspy, exasperated tone. He was sipping steaming hot coffee from a tin cup with one hand while turning a freshly gutted rabbit over narrow tendrils of yellow flame with the other. The occasional gust fanned the fire’s coals, sending shards of kindling sailing into the pitch-black night air like tiny specks of starlight. The makeshift camp was positioned in a sparse clearing between a pair of bare, jagged rock formations that seemed to reach into the clouds with their sharpened tips.
As the two figures slowly neared the light of his campfire, pulling their steeds close behind, Patch nodded his head slowly from side to side, his expression sarcastically droll.
“Park yer beasts a good distance from ol’ Quicksilver, boy. Old girl has a tendency to be a might territorial with those of her own kind.”
The young man tied the horses to a nearby elm as his baby sister faced the fire and placed her hands practically into the dancing flames.
“Coffee, girl? Or would ya prefer warm milk and a cookie ‘fore beddy-bye time?’ Patch spat sourly, ‘Truth be told, it just might be yer last meal at that.”
The girl glared at him through wide, fearful eyes, then quickly turned her attention back to the searing warmth beneath her palms.
“Ya might as well quit tryin’ to scare us off, Patch. That two-hundred dollar reward from the state is the only shot of bravery I need to overlook any possibly danger,” Earl chimed in, joining his sibling in rubbing his hands briskly over the slowly dwindling flames.
Patch quickly leaned to one side and spat out a mouthful of coffee, howling with laughter as he straightened up.
“Possible danger? Possible, you said? Boy, ya ain’t got a blessed clue ‘bout the hellfire your walkin’ into, do ya? This ain’t no run of the mill Grizzley I’m stalkin’. This evil SOB is a flesh shreddin’ machine, plain and simple. It don’t just enjoy the flavor of human meat when it accidentally runs across it, no sir. It pursues….hunts; savors the kill and the feast that follows. By paw print alone, I’d say it stands no less than sixteen feet high and probably weighs a site more than ol’ Quicksilver over there. Damn thing has a bite mark ‘bout two feet long. Now, what are you and missy there packin’ that’s gonna bring such a beast down ‘fore it turns yore hide into chopped jerky?”
Whirling about with his narrow chest swollen from a cockiness born and bred in youthful pride, Earl spoke in a husky tone normally reserved for a man ten years his senior.
“I got me a Sharps Carbine Buffalo Rifle that our father owned, rest his soul. Kerri there has a Remington repeater. Don’t let our age fool ya, Patch…we both know how to use ‘em. Me an’ Kerri been huntin’ since we were old enough to yank a trigger.”
Patch smirked as he arose, stepping over to where he had offloaded supplies from his saddle. Grinning devilishly, he displayed the weapon in the full glow of the firelight. The siblings gasped in unison at the mere sight of the double-barreled, thickly stocked rifle that looked comically oversized even within Patch’s considerably wide grip.
“This here, boys and girls, is a Coggswell and Harrison double-barrel, four bore Elephant gun that fires nothin’ less than Forsyth ammo. That’s explodin’ bullets, kiddies. Her Remington is just gonna piss ‘im off. Yore Sharps might slow ‘im down. This here African model cannon will scatter his innards like dry leaves in an Alabama twister. I’ve hunted bear. Taken quite a few of ‘em down. This ain’t no bear. This here is a demon warrior from hell’s darkest jungle walkin’ upright. Children, there's a big difference.”
Reaching over to stroke the rifle’s oil-slicked barrel with a noticeably shaky hand, Earl was obviously awestruck.
“Lord, looks like a pair of civil war muskets melted together. Bet it kicks like a team of mules though.”
“Not if ya know how to cradle ‘er, son,” Patch replied before turning away to replace the weapon.
A hoot owl wailed somewhere in the far distance just as Patch rejoined the siblings at the fire’s edge. He poured himself a fresh cup and kneeled, balanced on the balls of his mud-coated mukluks.
“Is it true about that village south of Red Bank, Patch? We...um....heard…well, I reckon you know what’s myth and what ain’t,” Kerri muttered. She seemed to have calmed somewhat since their arrival, but still hugged herself close as if fighting a severe chill.
“Ya mean the Spartan Ranch a few months back? Darn tootin’, girl. I rode through with the….with the last scout I employed. Crooked Bow...uh, that was his Choctaw moniker, said we probably only missed the beast by a few hours. Can’t honestly say I regret not bein’ present at such an…an ungodly slaughter, though.”
The color in Patch’s cheeks turned instantly pale; his eyes suddenly glazed over as if magically entranced. He no longer gestured when he spoke; his large, scarred hands remaining still and lifeless while propped atop his bony knees.
“Only a couple’a farms and a tradin’ post really. Spartan clan was the largest, so the vil was named after ‘em. Six adults and five children, I believe. The other family lived a few hills to the east of the Spartans; just an old wheat farmer and his wife.
Crooked bow an’ me had tracked the beast through a wide pastureland that led directly into that village. Found....the tradin’ post turned inside out, along with eldest Spartan. Man looked like he’d swallered a stick of dynamite that managed to fire up inside his gut. I ain’t never seen...,’ Patch paused as his lips trembled, staring into the burning embers for a full five seconds before resuming, ‘...anyhow, we found the remain...the remainder of the Spartan’s at their farm a bit later. Front door to the place was ripped off the hinges and layin’ a good hundred feet from the house. The...they must have been doin’ some harvestin’ that mornin’, ‘cause we found ‘em all in the wheat field out back. Limbs scattered about like cordwood...adult sized legs and ki-...child sized arms. Found a woman’s...head near a water well out back...stickin’ out of a wooden bucket like a big ol’ gourd.
I sent Crooked Bow into Spring Lake to fetch the Sheriff, only ‘cause I had decided then and there, standin’ at the center of all that human wreckage, that I was gonna track the bastard myself, and not be responsible for another good man dyin’.
Eight months I’ve followed this demon’s trail. Just lately I’ve felt the end is near. He’s near. He’s near, and he knows I’m close. I can feel it as sure as I know my dear wife Susan is starin’ down at me from heaven’s pearly gates, waitin’ for her man to put an end to the sufferin’ of the souls this damned abomination has already claimed.”
Shrugging casually, Earl’s flighty response was nonetheless laced with anxiety.
“Don’t mind rightin’ a wrong, Patch, long as someone slaps a pile of green in my palm afterwards,” he blurted, reaching over to pat the larger man firmly on the left shoulder. Patch glared up the boy with utter disdain, then turned his one good eye to the younger sibling, who continued to warm her hands in silence.
“Girl, is this young’un as stone-cold dumb as he acts?”
She smiled wryly without meeting his gaze.
“Without a doubt, Mister Patch. Birth defect I reckon.”
Rising with a loud huff, Patch ambled off towards his supplies and began laying out a blanket.
“I’ll say it one more time in case you two decide to snap to and run back to yer mama’s arms; this grizz ain’t killin’ for food. It kills for the pure joy of it. Tearin’ and shreddin’ is what it does ‘cause it don’t know anything else. Re-pack yer gear and git, ‘fore you ain’t got no choice but to stay.”
The girl looked to her brother as if awaiting a final, decisive answer.
“All due respect, sir, but we didn’t follow you through half a dozen mountain ranges to turn back empty handed. ‘Sides, you might just find out you need us, despite what ya think now,” Earl announced stoically before turning towards his own pile of sparse supplies.
Her narrow shoulders slumped in utter defeat, his sister walked over and joined him a moment later.
Patch took a final sip of coffee, rinsed his mouth briefly, then spat it to the side as he lay atop the spread blanket.
“Suit yerself then. Can’t say….I didn’t warn ya,’ he mumbled under his breath while staring into the star-filled sky with a single, unblinking eye, ‘..Lord knows….I tried. I….always do.”
Late that night, Kerri woke him with a light tap, looming over his prone form as if suspended in mid-air.
“Please be there for Earl…for us, Mister Mooring. He...we ain’t got no folks, and Earl...he’s…he’s really scared, jus’ don’t know how to show it. His blasted pride won’t allow him…us, to just walk away,” she had whispered, sounding on the verge of tears. Patch had not replied other than a muted grunt.
Somewhere in the distance, a coyote bayed at a full moon that bathed the misty landscape with an ivory haziness normally associated with the early morning sun. A full moon that seemed to possess an unnaturally reddish glow, creating an aura of mystical malevolence as thick as the accompanying fog.
Just as a light sprinkle began to slap the tree leaves overhead, he knelt down with a hand clamped over his nose and mouth and carefully examined the boy’s remains. The stench of perforated gut filled the crisp morning air in pungent waves. Careful not to place his knee onto the scattered entrails that seemed to envelop the sparse clearing, he stared at the boy’s open left eye and felt strangely captivated at the lifelessness displayed within it’s glazed, dead pupil. The boy’s neck had been ravaged, held onto the ruins of his torso only by a select few tendons. His left arm was missing below the elbow, as was his right leg below the knee. The buffalo rifle lay at least a dozen feet away, at the trunk of a young birch tree. The man seriously doubted the young man had gotten off a single shot. A sob built in the man’s chest as he departed the clearing. It hung in his raw, reddened throat like dry chunks of aged bread as he painstakingly made his way back towards camp.
“Maybe the girl...maybe she....rode off before....,” he mumbled, instantly realizing the idiocy of such brazen malarkey. Leaves and weeds were matted to his bare chest and lower abdomen in thick clumps, and he wiped at them with great fervor, as if slapping away a swarm of pesky insects.
Careful to negotiate around the many jagged rock formations that dominated the terrain, it took him less than a full minute after leaving the boy to arrive at the campsite.
The horses, as was usually the case, were nowhere to be found. He would, no doubt, find Quicksilver in a nearby field, grazing peacefully. The pattern rarely differed. Animals were normally spared, as if the beast felt some sort of obligation to its own kind.
His foolish hopes for the girl’s safety were quickly dashed once he noticed the boot lying atop a pile of ashes from the previous night’s fire. A boot with a severed foot still stuffed inside, a slender, jagged white bone protruding from the ankle like a white flag of surrender.
What little remained of her was tossed about the clearing in thin, crimson strips of soggy flesh and frayed sinew. Once he spotted her butchered, bludgeoned torso balanced at the center of a thick shrub like a half-eaten insect trapped within a spider’s web, the man felt no need to investigate further.
“I...warned ‘em. Warned ‘em several times. Nothin’ else I could...do. I could’a threatened ‘em at gunpoint, but they would’a just ...followed me anyhow. Followed me...just like all the others,” he growled, his voice cracking with emotion. Without further pause, he scooped up his meager belongings, slung the elephant gun over his right shoulder, and headed east. He had rode past and duly noted a series of tiny ponds a few hours before setting up camp the previous night. Water was most likely stagnated, but he could at least use it to clean up. Might even find Quicksilver milling about. The old girl was fond of water, she was.
It would take a few hours to spruce up...to change clothes, to find his horse. From there, he would continue the quest he’d began some six months earlier. A quest to find a territory all his own. A territory void of all temptation. Human temptation. His dear wife of a dozen winters had been the first to pay the ultimate price for her husband’s eternal damnation. So many others had followed; far too many to recall, although such hellish details were rarely dwelled upon to prevent the fevered madness from snatching his ragged soul one fatal, final time.
The Spartan ranch had been the worst, by far, if only because of the children. At least he had spared Crooked Bow from a similar fate. He prayed his old ally remained a stranger to him now, although he also knew the man was the best tracker in the western U.S. Regrettably, it was only a matter of time before they crossed paths once again. The reward was substantial indeed, and the trail of killing would never cease as long as greed bore such foolish seekers of fame and fortune.
“There...has to be a place. A safe hidin’ place somewheres…,’ Patch Mooring spoke to the sky, washing the dried blood from his neck and chest as he stood waist deep in the murky pond water, ‘...maybe a cave...or a mountaintop so high it looks down onto the clouds. Long as I’m alone. Until his...blasted hunger goes away...I gotta be...alone.”
A few dozen feet to his left, Quicksilver casually gnawed on the base of an overgrown weed of unknown origin.
“Lord, show me the way. I...don’t have the courage to end it myself. I’ve tried...you know I have. This damned curse has turned me yellow, as well. Pulled the trigger on many a man and animal in my lifetime, Lord, but I can’t seem to turn the barrel on myself, at least....not with any real conviction. The devil owns my soul, Lord, this much I know. Help me…help me to get it back so’s I can hand it back over to you.”
As he continued to scrub the dark maroon streaks from his pale, pasty flesh, Patch’s thoughts turned to that fateful October night some ten months earlier, when a pack of wolves descended upon his makeshift camp. Waking from a deep slumber, he was unable to reach either his rifle or colt before one of the beasts had torn into his right thigh with razor-sharp incisors. He had managed to beat the animal off with his bare hands and miraculously escape further damage.
Six days later beneath a brightly lit Oregon sky, Charles ‘Patch’ Mooring, master scout and tracker for hire, discovered that it was indeed possible to become both the hunter and the hunted, all within the same fractured soul.
A soul cursed to eternal damnation each time the moon shone full.
'SHREDDER' is but one of twenty-eight short horror tales found in Terry's 2005 release 'HALF PAST THE WITCHING HOUR', on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and BooksaMillion.com.
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|Reviewed by Charles O'Connor III
very much enjoyed this one. Your imagery and imagination are without comparison. You are so dam talented. I look forward to read more of your find gems.
Charles O'Connor ps. check out my new write, "The Curiosity Shop"
|Reviewed by Michael Meisberger
Well done here! Well written and very nicely rolled out to the reader. Great job! Thank you for sharing part of your book with us.
Also wanted to say you make one fine pirate! (Your website is most enjoyable!)
Slay on… slay on!!!
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|Terry Vinson is an author who writes horror stories that can really become the S.O.B. on the mind, and this is the story that really caught me from the beginning to end. I got to read Daddy Long Legs on the collection and the story, "You Are Who You Eat" is on the anthology Reality Check: An Anthology of Horror too, and the story here is one hell of a write and a hell of a ride too. Rod Serling if he was colaborating with either the author of The Howling, or some of the screen writers of the Universal horror films in the 1930s. Gothic Western fiction with an attitude. There is no going halfway when you see Terry write, you know he's going to scare you either drawing out the scare as he did here or do it right from the beginning.|
|Reviewed by Lee Garrett
|A strong cross-genre story showing powerful writing on many levels. Plot was absorbing and the air of realism absolute. very well done.|
|Reviewed by Doug Boren
|Once again, Terry has treated us to a spellbinding tale of lovely gruesomeness. Although I should have know better, knowing Terry as I do, I was a bit surprised at the ending. Here I was expecting a bloody showdown with a grizzly, and got a perfectly good werewolf. Great! The setting of the Old West was perfect. It is always a real treat to read one of Terry's new stories.|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
The Creepmeister strikes again! ARRRROOOO!!! Sorry! LOL Very well done!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D
Heard y'all had snow in Music City. Can you send us some?? PLEASE?? *grins*
|Reviewed by Chrissy McVay
|Gruesome! The top picture is an extra 'terrifying' touch.|
|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
My man, it is good to see you this late evening. Now: am I ever going to sleep comfortably again? I highly doubt it, not after seeing that snarling image and reading your compellingly terrifying words that bite like incisors and slowly...draaawwww...you...in...and consume your mind. All I have to say to you is THANKS. O, and
good God, you know how to tell the tale. Excellent!!
(((HUGS))) and love, Karla. BRAVO!!!!!