A sorcerous cult takes hold of a town, and causes unlikely heroes to emerge in this Weird West tale
“Y’all mind putting them things away? I’m apt to get a bit riled at so much fire.”
The cluster of men before Tyner raised their torches, faces twisted and angry and full of righteous fury. Leading them was a short, thin man with a beardless face and an unkempt thatch of black hair. Reverend Jolson orchestrated a flurry of shouts, demanding the men in the bunkhouses.
Tyner responded with a bitter sigh, readjusting the tinted spectacles atop his nose. He towered over the crowd; his muscular frame strolled toward them with menacing leisure. A few of the shouts dwindled, but Jolson pumped his fist, rallying the more zealous souls into louder cries. Tyner snorted, and pushed back his leather duster, unveiling his six-shooter for the crowd to see.
Silence fell quickly. Torches descended to chest level.
“Is that the case, Mr. Tyner?” Jolson asked bitterly. He was older than he looked, but he also wasn’t regarded as the most level-headed preacher. Defiance glowed in his eyes, and he raised his chin for emphasis. “That revolver carries six rounds. How many do you think you’ll kill before you’re done?”
“Truth be told, preacher, I’m not in much of a killing mood this evening, but I can always be persuaded.” A grin split his face. He possessed hard features, framed by a thick set of sideburns that ended at his chin. A derby rested on his head at a jaunty angle. “Way I figure is, I’d kill six of you, and the rest would probably scatter. ‘Cept maybe you. And I don’t reckon I’d need a bullet to stop you.”
“I have The Lord on my side, Mr. Tyner. He felled Goliath. He will fell you.” A few murmurs of assent trickled through the crowd, but not nearly enough to rally them.
“Yeah, well, I don’t doubt that The Lord could do it Hisself, be He here, but all I see is a bunch of scared folks being led by a sawed-off loudmouth. So,” Tyner paused and concealed the revolver beneath his duster, “why don’t you fellas just call it a night, head home to your women, and sleep this one off? Ain’t no need for further problems.”
The men looked at each other with wide, confused eyes. A few waved their hands with disgust and walked away, headed back toward town with shame in their hearts. In little time, many joined the few that began their exodus home, until only Reverend Jolson remained, mouth set and determined. Tyner gave him a considering look.
“This isn’t over, Mr. Tyner,” Jolson growled. He aimed his torch toward the bunkhouses below. “Those blasphemers will not continue to reside here and spread their poison to the people of our town. I won’t allow it. And no big, hairy man with a gun is going to be enough to stop me.”
“Like I told you, friend: I wouldn’t need a gun to stop you.” Tyner shook his head. “Might be that you just want to let this one go, preacher.”
“I won’t listen to the devil’s counsel,” retorted the reverend, but he turned. “We will remove you heathens from this land and save our town. Count on that.”
“Ain’t with ‘em,” Tyner muttered, but he knew that even if Jolson could hear him, he wouldn’t listen. He watched the reverend go; the little bantam rooster strutted away, refusing to slink home with his tail between his legs.
“That was entertaining,” whispered a voice from the shadows, and Tyner whirled. “Peace, John Tyner. I had no intentions of startling you.” But the remorse that was in that voice was sticky and dripping with false sweetness. The handsome young man, dressed in a jeans and a shirt, wore an apologetic grin. “You handled them well, though I must admit, I expect the preacher-man to be back within a fortnight, and with bigger numbers.”
“I’m sure you saw such things in your crystal ball, Callum,” Tyner grumbled. He didn’t like being in the presence of the shaman. Callum made things too interesting. Tyner drew a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, trying to focus on other things.
Callum, of course, was not so easily swayed. “Crystal balls are far too erratic for my tastes. It’s so much more pleasant to speak with the dead on matters of the supernatural.” His dark eyes glowed with malevolent humor. “However, it would take neither of these actions to foresee the reverend becoming quite a nuisance for our little community. He’s hot-blooded and headstrong, and he’s more that willing to be a martyr…making that piece of yours rather obsolete in rectifying this matter once that time comes.”
Tyner blew a wreath of smoke and glared at the shaman. “I’m not too keen on where this discussion’s headed.”
Callum giggled. “My, you are a peculiar creature, are you not? I would think that someone bearing your affliction would be eager for such an opportunity to spill blood.”
Tyner’s lips curled back, revealing pale teeth. A growl rumbled in the back of his throat. “I’m a might particular about who’s blood I’m spilling. It may be that I don’t see why the preacher needs to die while something as vile as you still roams the land.”
Callum clapped his hands with delight and held them before his face, as if in prayer. “My dear John, let it never be said that flattery will get you nowhere with the likes of me. In the meantime, be a sport and make sure there are no further complications tonight. Our fearless leader believes that doomsday is nigh and that our preparations for such are crucial.” Callum circled his ear with his forefinger. “The things that people will believe these days! La!”
As quickly as he emerged from the darkness, the shaman dissipated. Tyner watched the space where Callum had been standing. His nostrils flared. He turned and looked to the sky, just as the clouds revealed the bright moon. He tipped his spectacles down to his nose and stared at the glowing orb.
As the light hit his pupils, they narrowed into vertical slits.