Sunday, May 26, 2019

... even though I hold her tight 2

Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.

… even though I hold her tight.
Part 2

By R. Peterson

“There, just behind those trees …” Jack Walton lowered the lid over his glass eye and wagged his arm across rows of wrecks cars toward the sun just setting behind a wire fence. “I can hear angels coming for me!” He took a drink from the bottle and dropped it back down on the empty cable-spool he was using for a table. “They’re still too far off; I can’t tell if they’re black or white!”
The cur dog he’d locked in the back room when he saw our truck coming up the drive was still barking. Jack banged on the door. “Shut the hell up!”
I turned the bottle so I could read the label. “Mogan David!” I spat on the ground and paused for emphasis and then smiled. “Everyone knows the spirits that get summoned from a bottle of Mad Dog are darker than a basement under an outhouse!”
Walton glared at me, and then used his dirty shirt sleeve to wipe the neck of the bottle. He took another drink. “You grease-apes looking for something?”
Meryl Hicks leaned down so the auto salvage dealer had to look him in the eye. “We understand you got a 1958 Chevy Delray feeding iron to your weed patch with a smashed up rear end. We need some parts!”
            “Row fourteen about halfway back,” Walton said. “I’ll sell you the whole car for seven hundred dollars!”
            “We just need some wiper blade arms and a few other things,” I told him.
            “Pay for what you take,” Walton told us. “Or I’ll let Mike bone your butts!”

It was almost dark when we came back an hour later, lugging a windshield between us. “It took you long enough!” Jack was on a new bottle.
            “The molding was stuck bad …. We didn’t want to break it!”
Walton looked at the windshield and the few parts scattered on the top. “Forty dollars,” he said, “Plus ten for the arms.”
Hicks laughed out loud. “We can buy new glass for fifty,” he said. “You take twenty … or we drop it right here!”
We were standing over a cement pad in front of a battered garage door, the only concrete on the place.
            “Easy now!” Walton could see his profits shattering. “Make it twenty-five and I’ll throw in the wiper arms!”
Walton helped us load the windshield in the truck.

We went to a Café in Missoula and washed down a bag of burgers with beer then found a spot hidden in some trees near the salvage yard and slept. It was after midnight when we idled the truck along the back fence to where we’d tossed over the body parts. The dog only barked once. “Good boy!” Hicks laughed as he fed Walton’s hungry mutt one of the burgers.
I had the parts to repair my Delray … with more than sixty bucks left over for a paint-job.


            “What did you do with my damn money?” The cigar box I kept my cash in was lying open on my bed. All the money, except for some nickels and a handful of pennies was gone.
My stepfather Leston was in the living room watching Gunsmoke on TV. An open case of Coors beer lay on the floor next to him. Mom was upstairs in bed, with another headache. She worked two jobs, at a café and at a commercial laundry. Most nights she was too tired to eat.
            “Easy there Chester!” He glared at me. “I was just collecting the rent!”
 “I give mom twenty a month for food,” I told him. “I don’t pay rent!”
            “You do now,” he said.
            “I need that money for a paint job on my car!” I was frantic. “Please!” I felt like a child.
Just then a commercial for Chevrolet came on the TV. Leston jumped out of his chair and smacked me in the mouth. “From now on there’s going to be changes around here,’ he yelled.
He stood there watching me cry as I lay on the floor. When his western show stared again he waddled back to the sofa. Just before he sat down he lifted his leg and let go a loud fart. “That’s a kiss for you.” He laughed.

I spent the last hour before I closed the Conoco station washing and masking the windshield and headlights. The tires and wheel-wells seemed like too much work. I used solvent to clean out an oil drip pan as well as I could. It was the only thing wide enough that I could find. It was after eleven when Meryl Hicks parked next to the locked pumps in his truck.
            “What the hell?” He yelled when he saw me putting the second coat of enamel paint on with an eighteen-inch wide floor-broom.
            “Black is black,” I told him. “The bristles are clean. I’ll only drive it at night!”
            “This has got to be the ugliest car I’ve ever seen!” Meryl bent over taking deep breaths as though he were in danger of passing out. “Damn!”


Janna was talking to Charles Moyer when I found her in the hall. I didn’t like the way the jock was smiling when they finally separated. “I have the Del Ray running,” I told her when I caught up to her. She looked at me like she was trying to remember who I was.
            “Oh I’m sorry …. Freddy,” she said. “I already have a date for this weekend.”
            “It’s Frankie,” I told her. “I don’t know what kind of car Moose Moyer drives, but I’ll bet mine is faster.”
            “His father just bought him a new Corvette Stingray for graduation,” Janna said. “I don’t know much about cars … but they’re supposed to be fast.”
            “How about Saturday night?”
            “We’re going out both nights,” she sighed. Her gaze flickered over my shoulder, I could sense her praying for someone to appear in the hall and rescue her.
My heart was breaking but at least I wouldn’t have to blindfold her to not see my paint-job.
            “Keep me in mind,” I stammered. “My car really is fast.”


I spent most of Thursday night lying face down in a vacant lot next to Charles Moyer’s house. About twenty past four I used a funnel to pour two pounds of U & I sugar into the Corvette’s gas tank. I think it was the most destructive thing I’ve ever done to a car. I hoped the myths I’d heard about locked-up engines were true.
I was closing up the Conoco Friday night when I saw the Corvette drive by with Janna in the passenger seat. I slammed the man door so hard it cracked the window. Either the sugar didn’t work or else Moose’s father knows a damn good mechanic.
I spent the next two hours cruising up and down Townsend Avenue. Two sophomores in a Nash pulled up next to me at a stoplight and one of them laughed and pointed. The pimples on his face seemed even more offensive when he rolled down his window. “Ever heard of spray paint?” he asked.
I chased them for more than a half hour before I finally cornered them hiding in the back of a used car lot next to the library. I threatened to break the glass and struck the side window twice before Pimples finally unlocked his door. He begged and cried … then even offered me money. I dragged him around the dirty asphalt by his hair and hurt my foot kicking him in the groin before I finally accepted the cash.
It was twenty to one when I stopped at Spare-a-Dime to wash off my bloody knuckles. Janna was sitting at a booth with Moose. There was a line going down the stairs to the bathroom and I could hear them arguing.
“I’ve got two bottles of good wine in the trunk. Let’s drive to Missoula and get a room.”
“I want to drive Canyon Road after midnight.”
“There’s only two miles of pavement on that whole loop! Do you know what flying gravel does to a paint job?”
“I don’t care, that’s where I want to go!”
“If I’d known you were going to be this difficult I would have brought my dad’s tractor.”
By the time I finished in the bathroom, Moose was gone and Janna was just leaving.
“Still want that ride?” I asked.
She smiled.


If she noticed the paint job under the street light she didn’t say anything. I slid the car sideways and smoked both rear tires leaving the parking space behind Spare-a-Dime and was doing eighty miles an hour and almost skidded through a red light at Wallace. She slid over next to me on the bench seat, while I was reversing, and cranked up the radio when Elvis started singing Don’t Ask Me Why.
“Thank you,” she said. “You’re the first guy I’ve ever gone out with who thinks about what I want.”
She brushed her finger over my cheek as we drove and something inside me hurt bad … in a good way. I’d never been in love and I didn’t want the feeling to stop. For the first time I was glad I’d painted my car with a broom. We unrolled all the windows and let the wind blast through our hair. The amplified radio was from another world … and we were rolling.
            I found out something strange. Gravel only flies up and strikes the bottom and sides of your car if you’re going eighty-miles per hour or under. When I took the Del Ray over ninety, the gravel roads seemed to smooth out and bridges became aircraft carrier launch ramps. Janna closed her eyes and smiled. “Faster,” she whispered. The rubber tread on the tires was barely making contact with the rock chips.
            The Canyon Road loop is twenty one miles from the Vineyard Road turnoff and back again. We were making a complete circuit in sixteen minutes twenty-three seconds including a four mile stretch of nasty curves running alongside Magician’s Canyon where I had to slow to below eighty.
Janna had a lot of nerve for a girl. Never once did she try to bury her face in her hands, cry for me to slow down or try to slip on a seatbelt. The radio was playing Jody Reynolds’ Endless Sleep and suddenly everything seemed to be surreal and moving in slow motion. I couldn’t believe the speedometer said one-hundred ten.
Telephone poles flying past under the bright headlights looked like a white picket fence. I could feel Janna’s lips lightly brushing my cheeks and just a whiff of her Baby Moments perfume was intoxicating. We had just passed the place where the Cottonmouth River vanishes into Magician’s Canyon and I was ready to open her up again when we saw a flash of red.
The taillights on a 1949 Roadmaster look like almost-blind librarian eyes with gaudy, lens-free chrome spectacles hanging on the end of a long nose. The red flash vanished almost as quickly as it appeared. “We’re going to have to step things up a notch,” Janna said.
I was almost full throttle on the straight runs of the loop but after another two rounds we were getting nowhere. An ethereal fog was rising from the low spots in the ground and I felt the space between the spirit realm and our own world overlapping. Then the radio began to play the platters Twilight Time and I became someone long dead.
I slid the car to a stop just past the old Walker ranch. “What are you doing?” Janna’s eyes had a wild jungle-look like she’d just discovered she was a lioness riding in a car with a gazelle. “I’m going to try something,” I said with a voice that wasn’t mine … spinning the car around.
We’d been driving the loop clockwise and whatever was in front of us was staying just outside of our event horizon. I barely scored a D in science, now I was an expert. There are things in this world that we can’t explain.
I’d barely made a half a loop when the tail lights came into view again. This time I wouldn’t lose them.
I opened up both carburetors on the straights and with some help from Buddy Holly and the Crickets singing Peggy Sue we slowly caught the classic Buick … and then pulled alongside. I could smell gas fumes coming from under my car hood. The dual throttle linkage was pumping more fuel than it could burn. “Johnny!” Janna gasped. I could see two people in the car it looked like a man and a woman but both were dark flickering silhouettes … ghosts without light. The speedometer was buried somewhere at one-hundred forty miles per hour and I could hear death awake and rusting around in the trunk.
We were coming to the first curve after five miles of no turns. I tried to keep my eyes on the road but Janna was almost hanging out the window. “Johnny!” she screamed. The four venti-port holes on the sides of the classic Buick were vomiting flames like a World War II Spitfire.
I cranked the wheel just as we flew into the turn …. And then the Del Ray exploded!


Sunday, May 19, 2019

even though I hold her tight.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.

… even though I hold her tight.

By R. Peterson

          I never used to believe in love-at-first-sight … I do now. It was my senior year in High School and I’d been on only one or two real dates in my life, if that’s what you want to call the only girls I’d gone out with who weren’t backseat members of the Canyon Roadster’s Car Club.
            I was just taking my books from my locker getting ready for my first hour biology class when everything suddenly got real quiet. The stunning new girl it took everyone a week to realize was just a new Janice Stone, with a makeover from heaven, appeared promenading down the hallway. All the guys fell back against the lockers, legs weak and with hearts slamming against their ribs like sledgehammers. All the girls stared with poison eyes holding their breath until the potential guy stealing bitch was out of earshot and then the claws and insults would come flying out.
            She was an angel and she obviously knew it. The smile on her face was genuine and she was obviously in love … but who with? Roger Doggett and several members of the football team had already asked her to homecoming but I’d heard she turned them down.
“She likes guys with fast cars.” Tony Lemmon nudged me in the shoulder just as Janna passed. “You better get that wrecked cop-car rolling if you want a chance at that snatch!”
            “Plenty of guys around town got fast cars,” I told him.
            “I hear she’s looking for a guy to drive the back roads of Comanche County after midnight looking to run down and catch the witch’s ride,” Lemmon said. “You ever seen the ghost car?”
            “I’ve glimpsed the tail-lights a couple of times … I think,” I told him. “I’m not sure it ain’t a dust mirage.”
            “Old lady Descombey keeps her garage closed up tight,” Tony said. “So you never know when the 1949 Buick Roadmaster parked in there is rolling. I don’t know anyone sane with enough balls to go up to the witch’s door let alone knock.”
We were almost to Biology class when Vice Principal Dunn tapped me on the shoulder. “Principal Wilson wants to see you in his office right now,” he said.
            “I got class,” I told him.
            “Frankie Haskel, class is one thing you don’t have,” Dunn smirked. “Now get your butt in there pronto … or you can forget about graduating.”
I walked back and threw my books in my locker then headed for the principal’s office. Nineteen fifty-eight was starting out to be my bad luck year.

            Principal Leroy Wilson leaned back in his chair and motioned for me to take a seat in front of him.
“You need money?” he asked. He didn’t look like he was going to give me a loan.
            “Who doesn’t,” I told him. “But I’ve got a job after school and weekends working at Roy’s Conoco on the east end of Townsend,’ I told him. “I get by.”
            “I’ve heard from more than one source that it was you that stole the cash receipts from the cafeteria yesterday when Mrs. Moore went to the bathroom.”
            “Me?” I gasped. “I didn’t steal that money!”
            “Then why are people saying you did?”
            “I don’t know,” I told him. “But I know someone you’d better ask.”
            “Who’s that?” Wilson leaned forward looking interested. I knew then that no one had ratted me out. I think the old bull just called me in on a hunch because I was a hood.
            “Tony Lemon,” I told him. “I saw him stuff a yellow bag with Gold Strike Bank printed on the outside in the bottom of his locker,” I said.

I passed Tony when I was leaving Wilson’s office. “I got tapped. What’s going on?” he asked.
            “Some kind of witch hunt,” I told him. “They’re shaking down everyone over the missing lunch-room money. He’ll say it was you … tell him to stuff it.”
            “Sounds like the old bastard,” Tony growled as he opened the door.
I ran down the hall and pulled the empty bank bag from the bottom of my locker where it was hidden under a dirty gym towel. I stuffed the cash in my pocket and then tossed the bag in the bottom of Tony’s locker. I was at the far end of the hall when Wilson and Lemon appeared at the other end, being flanked by the school security guard. They didn’t see me.
            “You can search me, you can search my locker … I didn’t steal anything!” Tony was telling them.
I allowed myself to breath. Maybe this school year wasn’t going to be my best … but for Tony Lemon it was going to be hell.


            There were two oil changes waiting and the pumps were extra busy. It was after eight O’clock before  I was able to drive the 1858 Chevy Del Ray into the second lift bay of the Conoco station. The less than one-year-old four-door was minus the front bumper grill assembly, both fenders, the hood and a windshield. I’d bought the almost new but completely wrecked car at a salvage auction for six hundred dollars after a Montana State Police Captain named Buck Jennings drove it up a pine tree chasing a speeder at sixty miles an hour.
Buck liked fast cars and had added a special intake manifold and two four barrel carburetors to the already souped-up 348 big block Chevy engine. I put in a new radiator, fan, and water pump and the car purred like a kitten. The only problem was getting to the timing and linkage to the duel carbs adjusted just right so the secondary kicked in when the gas pedal was pushed to the floor. It was supposed to exceed 140 MPH on the open road … I hoped it would. Right now the front half of the car was an engine on a frame and wasn’t at all street legal.
That would all change in a few days hopefully. A salvage yard in Missoula was rumored to have a nineteen fifty-eight Del Ray with severe damage to the rear end.  I could get all the parts I needed, including a windshield, for two hundred bucks. I was taking Saturday off and a friend with a truck was driving me to what passed for a big city in Montana. I hadn’t figured out what shade of black I was going to paint the restored car but I smiled as the bell rang and I walked out to the pumps.
Janice Stone liked fast cars huh? In a few weeks, there wasn’t going to be a faster car in western Montana. In  the mean time, I had to figure out a way to ask her out. She was still some what of a loner, all the popular girls hated her because she was breathtaking and she still sat with the fly-strip girls in the back of the lunch room. There was still a chance, but I’d have to work fast.


            Joslyn Crane pulled up next to the Ethel pump in her father’s 1952 Ford. Why the old man always had to have expensive fuel put in his old clunker nobody knew. “Fill it up,” Joslyn said. It looked like Joslyn was babysitting, kids filled the front and back seat. Ten year old Charlie Crane unrolled the back window when I was filling-up the car. He handed me a quarter. “Get me a pack of Camels from the machine would ya?”
I laughed and flipped the quarter back in his punk face. I leaned into the open window and whispered to the scowling brat. “You got to have hair on your nuts before you can smoke kid! Unless you give me two bucks. ”
Joslyn pretended not to hear but I could feel the heat from her hair curlers reflecting off the rear view mirror.
            “I’ve got hair on my balls!” Charlie protested.
            “If you do it’s a hair-piece,” I laughed.
            “Want to bet!” Charlie was out of the car and undoing his belt just as the gas pumped stopped and I replaced the cap.
            “Oh my God!” Joslyn’s curled hair was standing on end as she stared at her little brother standing to the side of the car with his pants down. “Charge this to my father,” she screamed and then peeled away from the pumps.
Charlie Crane chased after his big sister but it was hard trying to run and pull up his pants at the same time. Joslyn stopped and picked him up a quarter block away.
I could hear her yelling as they drove away.


It was afternoon before I got a chance to speak with Janice, Janna as everyone was now calling her. I almost walked to her table twice in the lunch-room but chickened out. I could tell every guy there was thinking the same thing. If I struck out, my shame would follow me like a bad smell for years.
            It was just before last hour when I caught her in the hall. I was standing next to Tony Lemon’s empty locker. He’d been expelled and was doing a week in the crow-bar hotel.. We were almost alone. I stuck a cigarette in my mouth and stepped in front of Janna. In my mind I looked just like James Dean. She stared at me but the smile never left her face. “You can’t smoke in school,” she said.
            “It’s not lit,” I told her.
She surprised me by taking a pink Zippo lighter from her purse and lighting the end of my Lucky Strike.
            “If you’re going to get expelled, you might as well enjoy it,” she said.
            “You’re a real cat ain’t you?” I said with the cigarette dangling from my lips.
            “You just going to stand there … or are you going to ask me?”
My voice was suddenly gone. I had to wait until it got back from the bathroom or wherever the hell it disappeared to. Her enchanting eyes were looking me over like I was a budget piece of meat in the supermarket … some kind of stinky fish. Her smile never wavered, as she took in my greasy pants, my dirty white t-shit and my black leather jacket with Canyon Roadster’s Car Club printed on the back.
            “You into fast cars?”
My voice was still taking a piss. I nodded like the dummy Charley McCarthy while Edgar Bergen drank his nightly glass of water.
Finally when I thought Janna was going to walk away, my voice returned. I hoped that what everyone said about her was true. “I’ve got a 1958 Chevy Delray with a turbo thrust 348 big block,” I stammered like an idiot. “It used to be a state police car until the bear driving it tried to climb a pine tree. If anything can catch that 1949 Ghost master you’re chasing she can. I got some body work to finish up, but then how about going for a ride with me sometime after midnight? I know all the back roads in Comanche County like the back of my hand.”
Janna stared at me for a minute until I started to fidget. If I’d had a gun I think I would have shot myself for talking out of my head. Why did I have to say the back of my hand? She probably thought I was into masturbation. The hall was starting to get crowded. I was scared. She was out of my league, out of anyone’s league and we both knew it. Then finally she smiled. “You get your super-fast car on the road … and we’ll go out.”
I fell back against my locker with my mouth hanging open as she walked away. I couldn’t believe it. I’d have my Delray on the road in one week if I had to work all night long every night and steal all the parts I needed.
I saw Principal Wilson enter the hallway and I picked my smoke up off the floor and flipped the lit cigarette into Lemon’s almost empty locker before he saw it. There was still some crumpled bits of paper in the bottom of the locker and I imagined I could smell smoke as I skipped last period and ran out of the school. I would show up at work at the Conoco a little early. I would need all the money I could beg borrow or steal and there was a lot of work to be done. But things were definitely looking up. 1958/1959 was going to be the year-of-the-hood in Cloverdale.


Sunday, May 12, 2019


Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.

Part 4
By R. Peterson

Collier Jagger searched through the employment records for his new hotel until he found the file on Joseph Wright. His recently deceased clerk listed his next of kin as a brother, Henry Wright, who was currently panning gold on the west bank of the Cottonmouth River. Intriguingly other than a small amount held back for living expenses Joe Wright’s entire pay was being forwarded to The Church of the Devine Light in Grace, Montana.
            Collier stood at the top of the ironwood stairs and stared into the basement. This spirit trouble all started when he installed the stairs he’d recovered from the burnt out ashes of a town called Shade. If I was a betting man I’d wager there’s a connection between my spirit, Joe Wright, these stairs and this church in Grace. Collier laughed. Of course I’m a betting man. No one ever gets rich without risk. Joseph Wright’s funeral was this afternoon. He’d show up express his condolences and find out everything he could from the Wright brother.


            Sheriff Thomas Lang peered into the dark in a bid to see the girl he’d been imprisoned with. She called herself Paget, and at present she was just a dark shape in the corner. “What are you doing?”
            “The good folks in this town expect to roast themselves a witch,” Paget said. “I don’t want to disappoint them.”
In one corner of the cellar stood a wood burning stove that was apparently used to heat the church in winter. As the sheriff moved closer he could see Paget rubbing ashes and charcoal on her arms and face. “You want them to believe you’re a witch?”
            “My sister and I had a black nanny when we lived in Louisiana who was an escaped slave from Jamaica. Mayna used to sing us to sleep with a black magic lullaby that she said broke the chains of her captors.”
            “So you’re going to pretend to be a black witch and use voodoo on these people?”
            “The only thing I’ve got down here is my mojo. Have you got a better idea?”


The funeral was held at the ranch of an African woman who called herself Rose. She’d buried so many cowboys and miners in the field adjacent to her house the locals were beginning to call the place Black Rose Cemetery.
            There wasn’t a large crowd around the open grave: two diggers and a handful of curiosity seekers. Henry Wright stood holding his hat next to a plain black coffin. A beet-faced preacher was stomping toward a buggy. Collier stopped him. “Aren’t you going to say a few words?”
            “I’m not wanted here,” the Methodist minister shook his head. “These heathens read the bible upside down and then shun the words of the one true God.” He tied a black ribbon around his bible and then slipped it into a leather pouch. “May you and your deranged brother both rot in Hell!” the preacher yelled over his shoulder.
The first shovelfuls of dirt were falling on the coffin when Collier leaned forward and whispered. “You were right to refuse a ceremony from outsiders!”
Henry Wright looked up; worry already beginning to vanish from his face.
            “Who are you?”
            “I was your dear brother’s employer and am someone who has great respect for the Church of the Devine Light.”
Henry Wright smiled.


            “You sure this is going to work?” Sheriff Lang and Paget stood at the bottom of the ladder that led upward into the church. Pager looked every bit the Negro with blackened hair, face arms and legs. Her dress was also covered with a mixture of mud and charcoal. Tom thought she looked like she’d just crawled from a grave.
            “No,” Paget said. “But it’s the only idea I have. There are a lot of lies in this world but one thing I know for sure is that my nanny’s magic was real. I hope my mojo is. I’ll distract the congregation and you try to get one of their guns.”
Before Tom could go over the plan in his mind the singing above them stopped. They could hear the heavy piano being rolled away from the trap door.
            “You go up first,” Paget whispered as the hatch began to open.
            “I need to be able to fly!”


            “So you’re offering me a job?”
            “Indeed I am!” Collier Jagger told the young Henry Wright. “Your brother made a valuable addition to this hotel and you’re the best choice to replace him.”
            “I can’t believe this,” Henry gasped as he looked at the contract. “I can make more in a week than I can in two months panning!”
Jagger handed Henry a pen and the young man was just about to sign when he stopped. “There’s just one thing …”
            “The bulk of your pay will be forwarded to the Church of the Devine Light,” Collier told him.
Henry was all smiles as he signed his name. “When do I start?”
            “Right now,” Collier said.
            “What’s down here?” Henry asked as Collier took the chain off the door to the basement stairs.
            “A complete tour of the hotel starting with the foundation and moving upward,” Collier told him.
Henry smiled.


The congregation moved back as Tom climbed from the opening in the floor of the church. Paget was right several of the faithful held rifles in their hands. A wild-eyed Alistair David clutched a Bible as he stood at the front of his flock. “You have been brought before the judgment of God and have been found wanting,” he declared.
            “There’s a lot of things I want, namely to get out of this Hell hole,” Tom told him. “So I guess I’m pleading guilty!”
            “Don’t mock the Lord!” Rebecca David lunged forward and tried to scratch out his eyes. Several of the congregation pulled her back.
A scream came from behind. The sheriff turned just as Paget leaped from the top rung of the ladder high into the air and landed cat-like on the floor of the church. The round eyes in the blackened face looked demon-like as she danced in a wide circle. “Whose blood shall quench the thirst of my master?” she hissed.
            The congregation moved as far away from her as possible. Those who weren’t pressed tightly against the walls were fleeing out the door.
Tom lunged toward the man next to him. He knocked him to the ground and grabbed his rifle. He pointed the gun at Alistair. “You’re going to have to find another way to appease your God,” he said.
Alistair David moved toward him seemingly without fear. When the deranged preacher was three steps away Tom pulled the trigger … click. He pulled it again …. Click.
Alistair David smiled. “You didn’t think I’d allow one of my flock to bring a loaded gun into church did you?”


            “Who’s that?” Henry Wright pointed to the ancient Indian seated on the dirt floor of the special room in the basement.
            “That was our first hotel guest,” Collier said. “He liked this spot so much we couldn’t get him to leave!”
            “I don’t understand.” Henry Wright was just turning when one of Jagger’s men knocked him out with a club.
            “What now?” one of the men asked.
            “Tie him up on the floor next to the Indian,” Collier said. “If I’m not mistaken our little hotel spook will come down here to try to get him. When it does we close the doors and our troubles are over.”


Sheriff Thomas Lang’s hands and feet were bound with rope. It was just before midnight. The moon stared down from the sky like a gas-spotlight in a ghostly opera house. He stood on the gallows defiantly as Alistair David slipped a noose around his neck. “If your God demands a blood sacrifice then you’re praying in the wrong direction,” Tom told him.
Rex Morton punched the sheriff in the stomach. “Shut yer yap!” he warned.
Paget was quiet for the first time since they’d chained her to a post in the center of a huge pile of firewood. “You should have been more careful with your witch costume,” Tom called to her. “The charcoal is rubbing off and I can see streaks of white!”


Collier Jagger and two of his men crouched behind the desk in the lobby of the Jagger Hotel. Just as the Grandfather clock between the elevators struck midnight, the back door to the hotel opened. A shadow without form except for skeletal contours removed the chain and descended the stairs into the basement. After a moment Collier and his men followed. The door to the special room stood open.
            A gaged and wide eyed Henry Wright shook with horror as the spirit from Hell advanced toward him.
With one quick movement Collier and his two men slammed the door to the special room and secured it with a chain.
Collier Jagger smiled. “I think our troubles are over,’ he said.


Paget Hughes began to sing as Alistair David advanced toward her with a burning torch. “Libérer de ces chaînes qui lient nos âmes à ce royaume terrestre !” Her voice rose in volume.
            “That don’t sound much like a lullaby,” Tom called out.
            “This is the spell my nanny used to get herself free,” Paget told him. And she began to sing the same verse again.


Collier Jagger and his two employees were halfway up the stairs when they felt the tremendous heat. The chain that secured the door to the special room in the basement was glowing red. By the time they reached the top of the stairs and fled outside it was turning white. Moments later it fell to the dirt floor.


            “Spring the trap-door under the sheriff with her first scream,” Alistair told the men on the scaffold. “A witch can’t sing the praises of the Devil forever. She must answer the call of her own flesh before she perishes.”
He walked around the huge pile of wood making sure the flames created one large circle.
            “You bastards!” Tom called from the gallows. “You see a world of sin instead of love. You cling to a code of righteousness that corrupts your rotting souls.”
Paget continued to sing.
The flames were inches from her feet and the rising heat was becoming a roar when a ghostly figure darted into the burning inferno then darted out again. Returning over and over. Each time the apparition carried a portion of the fire in its wire-like hands. The stables began to burn, then the general store. A row of houses seemed to burst into flames all at once.
The congregation stared wide-eyed and then tried to run. But the village was burning in a circle. Several of the people caught fire. Alistair David screamed as the Bible in his hands burst into flames.
Paget felt the chains binding her to the post fall away. People were running everywhere but there was no escape. The air was filled with smoke as she climbed the scaffold and released the sheriff. “I don’t see a way out of this,” he told her.
            “Follow me,” Paget told him.
Sheriff Thomas Lang and Paget Hughes descended the ladder into the root cellar of the church just before the entire structure burst into flames.


            “I never realized how good fresh air can feel,” Paget said as they opened the trap door and climbed out into the still smoldering ruins of the church. The entire village had been turned to charcoal. Blacked bones some still clinging to bits of charred flesh appeared as grotesque statues caught in an eternal dance of agony as they searched for escape from the flames that had consumed their religion.
            “I’ll never complain about your singing again,” Tom promised as they shielded their faces and moved away from the heat.


They washed in a cool stream almost a mile from the destroyed village. Two roads crossed next to a clump of trees and ran like the four points on a compass. “I’m the sheriff of South Fork,” Tom told her as he spied Comanche coming toward him at a trot. “You can come back to town with me and I’ll see that you find transportation … to wherever you’re going.”
            “Thanks but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Paget said. “A cloud of dust appeared in the distance heading toward them. She smiled as she rubbed her closed fist against her sleeve showing him how lucky she was. “I’ve been on the trail of  my sister ever since I found that she’d been living in Liberty, Missouri and my mojo tells me I’m very close!”
            “Good luck to you!” Tom told her as the stagecoach driver cursed his horses and yanked on his reins.
            “And good luck to you sheriff!” Paget leaned forward and kissed him just as the stagecoach rumbled to a stop. The driver stared at the prolonged display of affection then finally blurted. “You people need a ride?”
Tom waved as the strange girl vanished in a cloud of dust. Something about her seemed familiar. “Good luck with that mojo!” he mumbled .


The sun was just rising over the low hills to the east when Sheriff Thomas Lang loped into the Walker ranch yard. Elisabeth banged open the kitchen door while he was tying Comanche to the hitching post. “Coffees on,” she said. “Bring a bucket of water with you and you can wash-up while I mend what’s left of that shirt.”
Tom glanced down at the scorched and torn clothing he was wearing. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were expecting me.”
            “I can hear Comanche complaining about the way you ride her a mile off and I could smell you even before those buzzards appeared over the horizon. Don’t you ever swim a river when you come to it? Or does that ornery mare have a set of wings hid under her saddle blanket?”
Tom smiled as he filled a bucket with water. A horse with wings, now wouldn’t that be something!
The coffee was hot and Tom had barely stirred in a spoon of sugar when Elisabeth surprised him and pulled a flat pan of biscuits from the oven.
            “What’s the occasion,” he muttered, wondering how he was going to get out of this new culinary danger.
            “I know my biscuits are usually hard,” she said. “So I’ve been practicing.”
Elisabeth put three large rolls on his plate and smiled as he broke off a chunk with a knife. Her tongue absently caressed her broken front tooth as she watched.  Tom stuffed a piece in his mouth and then quickly drank three gulps of coffee before he began to slowly chew.
“Mmmm … getting better,” he gasped.
“Good,” she smirked. “Jose and the other hands have already eaten and are driving a herd to the north pasture. Looks like all the rest are for you.”
“You ever been to Liberty, Missouri?” Tom asked as he unbuttoned his shirt.
“No,” Elisabeth crinkled her nose as she took the garment and turned away. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Tom told her as he slyly slipped a rock-hard biscuit into his back-pocket. “I was just being a cat.”


Sunday, May 5, 2019


Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.

Part 3
By R. Peterson

Collier Jagger shuddered as he watched the sheriff’s part-time deputy and another man retrieve the swaying corpse of Joseph Wright, his newly-hired night-clerk. It was obviously a suicide, but why? The unmarried Wright had seemed competent, happy, and always eager to help lodgers with their many and assorted requests, especially young women of a betrothing age. Collier couldn’t get over the way the young man’s face looked as they removed the noose from around his neck and lowered him to the floor of the hotel lobby. The coal black hair on the young man’s head was now frosted with white and his facial features, with lidless, protruding eyes, were frozen in a moment of sheer horror. Several veins had ruptured in the man’s nose and blood dripped from his chin. What had the man witnessed to make him want to take his own life?
The newly built hotel was certainly getting off to a rough start. Rumors of a ghost inhabiting the basement were gusting like wind throughout the small town. Several mining speculators with reservations for a week or more had already canceled their rooms preferring to sleep in tents by the river rather than risk a hotel with rumored ethereal room service. Now the two bullets he had shot into the floor had awakened all the hotel’s guests.
“Did you see this?” Deputy Chester Dunn removed a pin from a small note attached to Joseph Wright’s chest and handed the slip of paper to Jagger.
Collier put his spectacles on to read the single word that looked to have been written in red ink … or blood … after the hanging? “I completed the sixth grade back in St. Louis and can read most words but I don’t recall this one,” Dunn explained.
“It’s a French word: Extraconjugal,” Jagger whispered.
“What’s that mean?”
“Trouble!” Collier wiped his brow and gazed at the crowd of people gathering. Many were not even hotel guests and had come in from the street. Where was Sheriff Thomas Lang when you need him? “It means we’ve got trouble!”


As they drew near the building with the strange spear-point steeple Comanche began to sidestep and jerk her head against the reins. “Easy now,” Tom chided the mare. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people we don’t know in this town but this is a church … not an enemy fortress.”
Comanche snorted as if dismissing her master’s talk for foolishness.
The singing stopped just as Tom’s boots touched the ground. He wrapped the reins loosely around a hitching post and then walked toward the intricately carved and black-stained double-doors. The silence was total. The crunch of his boots on a gravel path and the jingle of his spurs seemed magnified. Tom knocked on the door. The lack of sound (silence) became even more tomblike and his unease deepened. The night breeze that always rustled leaves to announce the arrival of dawn seemed to hold its breath and the chirping of morning birds suddenly stopped.
After what seemed like several minutes but was probably only a few seconds one of the doors opened and a horse-faced man wearing a dark coat with a white shirt and black bow-tie gaped as if seeing a stranger for the first time. “Sorry for the interruption,” Tom stammered as he removed his hat and rotated it in his hands. “I’m Sheriff Thomas Lang and I have grave news concerning what I believe is one of your residents.”
The man with the long face moved back as if stunned and then opened the door wide. Tom took a hesitant step inside. All the bench seats on both sides of a center aisle were filled with men, women and children, all of whom had twisted around to stare at him. At least a dozen other worshipers leaned against the walls.
A portly man standing behind a podium stared for several seconds as if looking into the face of a ghost before smiling broadly. “Hallelujah!” he cried. “Our prayers have been answered!”
            The congregation jumped to their feet. Dozens of hands reached out to touch and pull the stranger into the fold. Tom had his back slapped by so many hands it felt like he was taking a beating. Several women kissed him with tears running down their faces. He was busy trying to shake at least some of the extended hands and didn’t see the table leg gripped in a pudgy fist strike his head from behind. There was only dark like a heavy object sinking in deep water … and the singing resumed.


Collier Jagger knew little about the young man he’d hired as a night clerk in his new hotel.  Joseph Wright’s family, if any, would have to be notified. Jagger sent an associate to make inquiries about town and then decided to check the basement. He went down the iron-wood stairs with two burly Irish workers one in front and another behind, each holding an oil lamp. The pistol had been re-loaded and was back in his hand. The sealed room where the singing Indian was captured was still locked and secured with heavy chain. The rest of the basement appeared to be empty. Whatever scared my night clerk into taking his own life must be hiding somewhere in these shadows Collier thought as they searched each dark corner. “What da hell are we looking for?” one of the men demanded with impatience amplifying his voice.
“Something that kills but can’t be seen,” Collier told him.
The man coughed and then whispered something but Collier Jagger could not hear what it was.


            Sheriff Thomas Lang opened his eyes. He appeared to be underground and his guns were missing. The room smelled of carrots, soil and cabbage. Beams of light filtered through cracks in the wood floor above and cast a faint glow on the dirt floor. A woman with dirty yellow hair leaned over him wiping his face with a damp rag. He couldn’t see her face but her voice was soothing, almost familiar, with a faint French accent.
            “Where am I?”
            “In a root cellar beneath the church,” she whispered.
            “Why?” Tom felt his head. He had a nasty bump and his hand came away sticky with blood.
            “Alistair David and his Church of the Divine Light have been praying to heaven for a man to make the sacrifice complete,” the woman said. “Looks like you arrived just in time.”
            “Who are you?”
            “My name is Paget,’ the woman said. “I was put off a Mormon wagon train when I refused to listen to God’s voice speaking through a wagon master. He wasn’t bad looking but he already had three wives!”
            “You don’t like sharing housework?” Tom moaned and then grasped his head. It was too early to start joking.
            “I’ve been looking for my older sister for years. She thinks I’m dead, and I don’t like sharing a marriage,” Paget said. “When I find out my husband has been with another woman I want to shoot him a few times, not ask if he wants more gravy on his potatoes.”
            “You sound like a few outlaws I know. How did you end up giving yourself over to God?”
            “It’s my sister who’s the outlaw. She used to rob banks and trains with a wild bunch of friends.” Paget smiled. “I’d been without whiskey or water for two days when one of Alistair David’s wagons came along. I begged for a drink and the driver asked if I was a witch. Of course I said no and they drove on. They were almost out of hearing range when I yelled that indeed I was! Surprise! They came back for me.”
            “You did right,” Tom said. “Witches always get the whiskey or the water.”
            “You’ve got a smart answer for everything, don’t you?”
Tom tried to stand up and bumped his head on the low ceiling. “I joke when I’m in pain,” Tom told her.
            “We’ve got all the water we want,” Paget pointed to a jug from which she’d been soaking the cloth. “But no whiskey. They’re keeping us alive only until they get the fire-wood collected and the gallows built.”
            “Who they gonna hang?” Tom walked to one end of the cellar where a ladder led to a trap-door in the floor/ceiling above them.
            “You,” Paget said. “And don’t bother with the ladder there’s an out-of-tune piano sitting on top of the hatch.
            “I hate those the most. What about you?”
            “A witch they burn,” Paget said. “This church has had a run of bad luck lately and their prophet Alistair David is looking for an original-sin sacrifice to make things right. It’s always a man and a woman who’ve been together outside of marriage.”
            “I don’t even know you!”
            “I told them we were lovers,” Paget confessed. “It was the only thing I could think of. If I hadn’t, they would have killed you right off. They don’t like outsiders!”
            “Thanks, I guess I owe you.”
            “I’ll collect later … but this is real trouble,” Paget smiled. “Two sweaty men passed through here a few days ago driving about twenty head of ran-to-the-bone steers and the church invited them to stay for supper.”
            “That was nice of them.”
            “The men got butchered right before the cows!”
            “I guess I don’t have to worry about tracking down my rustlers,” Tom mumbled.
            “I’m serious,” Paget said. “We’ve got to find a way out of here.”
            “How many guards do they keep upstairs?” Tom asked pushing against the floor boards over his head with his hand.
            “All of them,” Paget told him. “They have church services twice a day. The only time they aren’t singing and praying is when they’re working.”
From above, a piano began to play and dozens of voices began to sing.
            “It’s nice to know they’re up there protecting us from the devil,” Tom said. The congregation had lighted several oil lamps upstairs and with the extra light he could see some of her facial features. She looked strangely familiar.
            “This is the third meeting of the day,” Paget said. “That means their work is finished.”
            “Now what?”
            “We die in the morning,” Paget said. “And it’s not very fun. I was shot years ago and left for dead in a Louisiana swamp by my molesting uncle Etalon … but at least Elisabeth got away. This time I burn … and you hang. But at least we’ll get to see Hell together!”