What Price a Brother’s Blood? (A Chuck Wendig Challenge?)

Posted: August 11, 2016 in Fiction, horror, Uncategorized, Weird West
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

This week’s challenge. I’m going to admit I cheated a bit and wrote a story I could then fit into the blender, because the first story I wrote went way over the limit. By more than 3,000 words. It’s possible it’ll see daylight at some point, but I’ve decided to hold on to it for the moment, see if I can get feedback on it and get it out somewhere published. Oh, and it was Gothic Sword&Sorcery tale.

So you  get this instead. Which I’m calling Weird West Shapeshifter. With some body horror and Creature Feature thrown in. Very B-movie, I know. As always, your likes and comments are appreciated and valued.

“They say you’re the best tracker in these parts.”

Parson looks up from his whisky, sees a woman standing near him. She’s carrying a rifle, which isn’t too odd for these parts. Looks old enough to be maybe sixteen.

“People say lots of things.” He turns back to his whisky, thinking that’ll be the end of the conversation.

“They also say you’re for hire.”

Parson wrinkles his nose, runs the back of his hand across his mouth. “People talk too damn much.”

“So you’re not for hire?”

He turns back to the woman, takes her in. She looks like the rest of the frontier stock that make it out this way. Hardy. A bit thick around the hips. Plain looking. Frontier doesn’t care about pretty.

“I didn’t say that. What do you want tracked? Deer? A bear? Something else?”

The girl swallows hard, nods once. She looks around at the other people in the saloon. “Not sure I want to discuss it here in front of everyone.”

“Why? They look like they’re paying attention?”

The girl shakes her head. “No, guess not. Something killed my parents. Took the little ones away.”

“Something?” Parson’s ears prick up and he feels that old familiar itch on the back of his neck.

He sees her swallow. “I’d- I’d have to show you.”

“All right.” He downs the rest of his whisky. “What’s your name?”

“Helena.”

The girl’s homestead isn’t far from what passes for town. It didn’t take any kind of tracker to tell that there’d been violence. The door had been knocked off its hinges. Feathers were strewn about the yard, along with at least five headless chickens. Whoever did this had taken the time to butcher the cow and two horses. The pigs haven’t fare any better.

“I-I can’t go back inside,” Helena says.

Parson frowns, but doesn’t say anything. Three bodies lie inside, two older people. Mom and dad, he guesses. Plus an older boy. Bodies ravaged. The weather is cool enough, the bodies fresh enough that it hasn’t started to stink yet. He checks the wounds. He’s not doctor, but he can tell that it wasn’t any sort of blade that made wounds like that. More like claws. Looks like a few bite wounds as well. He hawks and spits.

He comes out and mounts his horse.

“Well?” Helena asks.

“Where were you when it happened?”

“I-I hid in the cellar. I heard Pa yell something, heard a gun go off. I was scared.” She lowers her head, unable to meet Parson’s eyes.

“Smart girl. You didn’t you’d be dead with your folks, or taken with the little ones. That your brother in there?”

She shakes her head. “Ma’s brother. Visiting from Minnesota.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“So you know what did it? You can find it.”

Parson blows out his cheeks. “I can find it. Not sure you can afford for me to.”

“But the little ones-”

“Are hopefully dead if I’m right about what’s got them. You want me to see this through? Yeah, it’s going to cost a hundred.”

“I don’t have a hundred.” Tears well up in her eyes. “Didn’t you have anyone you ever cared about.”

Parson hawks and spits. “Can’t reckon I have.” He points to a trail leading deeper into the woods. “What took your family went that way. No idea how far. How many children did he take?”

“Three.”

“And how old is the youngest?”

“Four. No five. Libby had her birthday last month.”

“It wouldn’t have gone far then. Probably hoping to disappear into the woods. Storing food for the winter like the rest of us.”

“What?”

Parson smiled, a wicked thing that showed too sharp teeth. “You don’t know what took your family, do you? No. If you did, you’d be heading back east fast as a train could carry you.”

“A hundred you said?”

Parson nodded. Helena ran into the house, was gone for maybe fifteen minutes. When she came out, she handed Parson a small pouch. Opening, he saw gold dust inside.

“That about cover it?”

“And then some.” He handed the pouch back to her. “You hold on to that for now. I only ever get paid when the job is done.”

“So you’ll help me?”

“You’re paying me aren’t you?”

They ride for another hour when he leads them off the main trail. It’s getting late, the sun painting the sky crimson and orange. Parson takes a drink from his canteen, offer it to Helena. She looks askance at it.

“It’s just water. I’m not a complete degenerate.”

As she drinks, he points deeper into the hills. “The thing we’re tracking is up there in the hills. Probably not even that far. Don’t have to get much off the trail and no one will even know you’re there.”

“I’ve heard of other raids. People blaming Indian raids.”

Parson spits. “Easier to believe the natives are restless than some monster out in the woods.”

“How do we kill something like that?”

Parson laughs, a sound like gravel rattling around in a tin cup. “That’s what you pay me for. Come on, it’s about to get dark, and there’s no way I’m going into that thing’s lair at night.”

Helena finds herself awake, under a blanket Parson loaned her, staring up at the night sky. Clouds obscure the stars, but she can make out the dark grey wisps against the blue black of the night. She can hear Parson, muttering under his breath. She looks over, but can’t quite tell what he’s doing. A bit of filtered moonlight glints off metal in his hand, and when he looks at her it’s as if his eyes glow. She squeezes her eyes shut and tells herself it’s all a bad dream.

She wakes up when he shakes her, not gently. “Up you get,” he growls. “Thought you homesteader types were up before dawn, full of piss and vinegar ready to carve your life out of the wilderness.”

“And what are you after Mister Parson?”

“It’s just Parson. And mostly I want to be left alone.” He passes her a bit of jerky and some water to wash it down. “With any luck, the thing we’re after is a deep sleeper.”

“And if it isn’t?”

“We won’t live long enough to regret it, probably. We’ll leave the horse here.”

The trail isn’t nearly as overgrown as Helena thinks it should be. Even she can see the marks left by the beast, the broken branches, the claw marks in the soft soil. Her heart nearly stops when she sees a scrap of cloth, realizes it’s from Libby’s shirt. So still alive. Probably.

Parson draws his pistol, a heavy prewar thing he has to manually cock back. He gestures for Helena to stay back as the come round a bend. A shack, decrepit and leaning precipitously to one side dominates the clearing. Sitting outside the shack in the dirt are the children. Libby sees them first, her eyes going wide, but she stays still and silent. The twins, Becky and James look up as well. They open their mouths to say something, but then a figure steps out of the cabin. His arms are caked in gore up to his elbows, but he looks human enough to Helena. Bit on the scrawny side, and he’s let his hair get long and wild. He’s barefoot and only wearing a pair of trousers.

“Look children, seems we have some visitors.” The man stops, raises his hand to shield it from the rising sun. “Why, I do believe that girl there looks a bit like you Becky. Is that Helena? Libby here’s been asking for you.” He reaches down to touch her cheek but Libby flinches away. He smiles, and Libby sees his eye teeth are much longer than they should be. “And who’s this you brought with you? Ain’t nice to bring guests uninvited, Helena. I’ll give you an exception. You want to be with your family. And that’s right and proper. But come on then, who’s your friend?”

“Reckon I can speak for myself, stranger.” Parson stands up. He keeps  the barrel of his pistol pointed down, but he doesn’t holster it. “Name’s Parson. The girl here hired me to find her little ones.”

“Is that so?” The man’s smile grows bigger, then he drops it like a hot coal. “Tell you what, you leave here with Helena and I might just forget I ever saw you.”

“Mighty kind of you. But I can’t do that.”

The man tilts his head to one side. “Oh? Why’s that?”

“Been paid my thirty pieces of silver. Only in this case a pouch of gold dust. What about you? Looking to make these little ones like you, aren’t you?”

Helena hears a growling laughing sound and it took her a moment to realize it’s coming from the man. Becky and James squeeze their eyes shut tight and Becky places her hands over Libby’s eyes.

“Oh, you got it one. The others, they were too old for it. Don’t you see? But these three, and Helena there? Yeah, she’s just young enough.” He taps his nose. “It’s all in the smell you see. The scent tells me all I need to know.”

Parson smiles, and Helena swears she sees his skin redden, sees scales appear and vanish before she can be sure about what she’s seeing. “You get a good whiff of me yet? Yeah, we came at you downwind. But get a good long sniff know.”

The man tilted his head up. “You? What’s one of you doing here?”

“Getting paid.”

The man starts across the clearing, his body changing as he came. Spines erupt along his back, his mouth elongates into a crocodile muzzle. His body gains mass, bulking out with sudden muscle. His nails lengthen and sharpen into long black claws, and thick plates of bone erupted from his skin.

Parson raises his gun and pulled the trigger, fans the hammer back, fires again and again. The bullets streak through the air like arrows of silver, slamming into the demonic form headed for him. The monster stumbles, howling in pain and rage. Parson spits.

“Can’t say I’ve ever been much impressed by your kind.”

He steps closer. The monster was writing and twisting, reverting back to the man shaped disguise it wore.

“But… why, brother?”

Parson frowns. “Told you. I’m getting paid.” He places the barrel of the pistol against the man’s head and pulls the trigger a final time.

He turns back to Helena. She holds out the pouch of gold dust in one shaking hand. “Here you go M- Parson.”

“Much obliged.” He takes it from her. “Think you can get back to town? You can take the horse.” He hefts the pouch. “Wouldn’t want you to think I was taking advantage.”

“Thank you. Come on, James, Becky. We can leave now.”

Helena turns to go, but stops. “He called you ‘brother.’ Why?”

Parson snorts. “All of us monsters have the same mother, you go back far enough. Get on now, your family needs you. I need to bury one of mine.”

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