NaNoWriMo Day 8

In the bathroom, he saw the outlaw reflected back at him, and by now he wasn’t even surprised, really. Nor was he sober or rested enough to be really afraid of it. Instead he stepped closer, looking at the hard narrow face that was strange, but uncannily familiar at the same time. The reflection looked back, cold irritated. Then Phil did feel afraid, a sharp jolt of raw concentrated fear like a taser to the back of the neck, because that reflection quit being a reflection, and reached a hand out through the mirror and snatched a fistful of Phil’s shirt collar, moving quick as a striking rattler.

“Gotcha, you son of a bitch! You are through runnin’ from me, you hear?” The reflection’s other hand punched out as well, taking hold like a vise, and Phil’s hands were completely useless at trying to pry them loose. This spectre had a grip like iron. “You’re gonna start listening, and you’re gonna do what I tell you here on out! Now come on!”

The reflection leaned back and hauled Phil through the mirror in a quick jerk of unbalancing motion, like a judo throw or someone hefting a sack of grain onto a wagon. Next thing Phil rightly knew, he was on his ass at the booted feet of his haunter. On his ass on a gravelly plain, under an endless blue sky. He didn’t have to ask to know that this was the spectre’s place, not his own. He wasn’t in Kansas any more by a long ways, that was sure.

“Ok.” He stood stiffly, brushing reddish dust off himself and looking up to meet his abductor’s flinty gaze. “Ok, I’m listening. I’m past caring how crazy this shit is, I just want to know how to get rid of you. Who the fuck are you, and what the fuck do you want?”

He was met with a smile, a harsh rictus that showed predatory teeth, but also reflected a certain degree of satisfaction. “Takes some diggin’ to get to it, boy, but maybe you got a backbone after all. I’d hope so, you bein’ my seed.”

“Your what now?”

“I’m Harry Branson. Your great-great-great-granddaddy. You are my last living descendant. And because of that, you’re about to get torn apart body and mind by a vengeful ghost, unless you can pull yourself together and figure a way to beat him.”

Phil didn’t guess there was much a reasonable person could say to a statement like that.

“I been kicking around kinda waiting. Got some unfinished business, which isn’t unrelated to your troubles. And one thing I aim to take care of is making sure my bloodline don’t end here with you.”

“So you’ve been ruining my sleep and peace of mind. I’m pretty sure I’m having a psychotic episode or some such shit right now, but either way, you’re kind of a dick.”

“Watch your mouth kid. I’m your grandpappy, I’m dead, and in life I could cut a man in half with a six-gun before his fingers touched his holster. Show some respect.” The ghost produced a hand-rolled cigarette from his hatband and struck a match with his thumbnail to light it. “I been trying to wake you up, which wasn’t any small thing. Take from an outside observer with a good vantage point, you’ve been sleepwalking through life. Eating shit for a living, drifting day to day, generally wasting yourself. And you don’t pay much attention to what’s around you. I’ve done everything I could short of setting you on fire to get you to notice the warning I’m giving you.”

“Yeah, about that. I’m going to be ghost-murdered?”

Branson’s ghost spat on the ground. “I know for a fact you never did learn much family history, and lots of it’s been plain forgot what with one thing and another. But my folks come from Missouri, and when Kansas started to fill up with Abolitionist busybodies, things got ugly pretty quick. Short of it is, I took to the brush to hunt Jayhawkers, and did my share of things a man can’t brag on.”

The two of them weren’t on the plain anymore. Phil looked around at a clearing in a piney wood. The clearing contained a blackened stone chimney that stood as headstone for the charred corpse of a small cabin, and a similarly burned-out barn that was now mostly scattered cinders. The other principal ornament to the scene was the hanged corpse dangling from a tree, bloated almost enough to burst out of his shirt, skin turned a color Phil hadn’t ever thought to associate with human flesh before.

“That up there,” Branson said, “was Nathan Haverly. He was a conjure-man, it was always said, and folks desperate enough would buy medicines or charms from him from time to time. Lot of stories about folks doing so anyway, and none of those stories I ever heard had a happy ending.

“I was riding with the Youngers and a few other boys, just about twenty of us, enough to give real trouble if we kept on the move. We managed to take a party of Redlegs by surprise one day, and cut them down pretty quick. But one of them wouldn’t anyways stay down. I emptied a Navy six at him, and I’ll swear at least four balls went into him, but he didn’t pay any mind at all. Cole Younger rammed a Bowie into him, or tried to, but it didn’t go into the skin, seemingly. He came at me with a hatchet and was about to settle me with it when Mackeson stuck his Walker against the man’s temple, right flush on it, and pulled the trigger.

“That knocked him over, but he got right back up again, bleeding from his head but undeterred. I tackled him, got the hatchet from his hand, and tried that on him, looking to take his neck apart.

“I swear, his skin was about as tough as old oak bark. But I got lucky, because one stroke took and parted a leathern thong he had round his neck. He had a little pouch hanging from it there, inside his shirt, and he lost it then. And right then is when Cole shot him again, and settled the matter pretty thorough.”

“What was the pouch?”

“Magic. Some of it I didn’t know what it was, but there was bird bones, scraps of iron, and a little piece of flint, and some other things. Herbs, and a scrap of paper with some things writ on it in a language I’d never seen before nor since. We figured it to be a charm warding off harm, and it worked right well. Began finding other such things too. Other times, we’d catch Jayhawkers with things like marked bullets, weird symbols graven on their gun barrels, things they said were to make their shots hunt their targets. Bad, bad stuff, at least when you were what they were shooting at. The ones we questioned also told us where they’d bought the things. Old Haverly had struck a new bargain. Well, we went to call on him, and this is what came of it.”

Phil looked away from the swinging corpse.

“With his dying breaths, the old wizard cursed us. Cursed all of our blood. Swore vengeance on us all. Well, we was alive, and he wasn’t, and that was that as far as we were concerned. We might have known better.”

The smell was starting to get to Phil. It came in a particularly clear waft of corruption, and his whiskeyed stomach had enough. He turned it inside out on the charred ground. Branson continued as if he didn’t notice, either through monomania or courtesy.

“We found his books. Ugly things. Not in English, or even anything with proper letters, most of them, but he had a journal, like a ledger, and it had writ in it his contract with Old Scratch, and the particulars of how it was made. There were woodcuts in the oldest ones, of horrible things. Names of demons and worse. We’d seen his power was real, and we’d seen the proof that it was up from Hell. I died ’74 with a Sheriff’s bullet in my lung, but I’ve been hanging around ever since, waiting to finish things I guess. Now you’re all that’s left of any of us.”

Phil was back in the bathroom. The vomit he’d brought up was still there, on the tiled floor, and Branson was still there too, looking real as life.

“Haverly, seems to be, isn’t the kind to stay dead nor buried. He doesn’t have a body, but he hasn’t been idle. I’ve seen some things of what’s coming, and he will surely kill you, unless you put your faith in me.”

Phil looked up at his ancestor miserably. “I guess I’m not getting rid of you tonight. Shit.”


One Response to “NaNoWriMo Day 8”

  1. I love this. Real exciting.

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