Copyright (c) 2016 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.
By R. Peterson
Sheriff Thomas Lang used one of his last two remaining shots to blow the brains out of the reanimated corpse biting Elisabeth Walker’s neck. As the blinding white light of mussle flash faded, she saw that Black Rose’s new graveyard had become a forest of rising dead. “Run!” he shouted.
Elisabeth shook her pretty head as she shot two female zombies lurching toward her wearing what looked like wedding or church dresses. “And let you have all the fun?”
The sheriff thought he recognized the two dead women as the elderly brides of a polygamist Mormon bishop. The man had insisted that he’d found both of his first two wives drowned in a pig trough. Two days later, this pillar of the Mormon Church had brought home a third and much younger bride. One of the corpses opened her craggy mouth and sang … and, though my heart be broken, here is a ring, as token… through rotted-teeth, pitted with holes from pried-away gold fillings, just before Elisabeth closed her eyes and blasted her again.
“I only have one bullet left,” the sheriff pleaded. “Don’t make me use it on you and have none for myself!”
“I said no!” Elisabeth told him. “If I ran now it would be like I killed you myself!”
The sheriff chucked a dripping zombie over his shoulder and then squelched its skull with his boot. Suddenly, he heard a horse’s neigh and turned to see Comanche gallop towards him, all flying mane and thundering hooves. Dust and gravel spurted upwards as she skidded to a halt beside him. “Get her the hell out of here,” the sheriff ordered as he tossed a startled Elisabeth onto the wild mare’s back and forced one of her boots into a stirrup. Both of her guns fell to the ground as she struggled to stop him. The semi-tame horse from Texas sped off again like a bullet, somehow managing to keep a flailing Elisabeth bouncing on her back as she plowed through a sea of rotted and grasping arms.
“Bring him to me!”
All the corpses surrounding the sheriff stopped moving when the old black woman in the doorway pointed a claw-like finger toward him. A smiling long-dead miner, crudely scalped by Indians and with tiny green worms crawling from his eye sockets, pried the gun out of the sheriff’s hand. Tom thought his wheezing breath smelled like tobacco-plants growing in the bottom of an outhouse.
“I selected you before I ever left Mississippi,” Rose said looking at Tom with the eyes of a black widow about to devour its mate. “The seed must be protected and who better than the father.” The old woman laughed as the hideous undead dragged him to the steps of Rose Brown’s mansion. The sheriff was amazed at how the black woman’s gibberish slave-talk had been replaced by an almost aristocratic British command of the English language. “Take him inside and make sure he is comfortable in a chair,” Rose ordered. “We have much to talk about.” She smiled. “And I have more … special tea.”
“You’re not Rose are you?” The sheriff stared at the glowing eyes as the walking dead dragged him past. “And as for the tea … No thanks! My head is still buzzing from the last brew.”
There was almost a metamorphic transformation speeded up a thousand times. The woman hunched and turned as she watched him. For the briefest of moments, she became strangely arachnoid-like.
“I am she who carries the seed … and I am also legend,” the thing hissed.
“Whoa damn-it, whoa!” Elisabeth Walker yanked on the reins frantically but
Comanche refused to stop until she was beside the black stallion that Elisabeth had left tied to a clump of willows earlier. They were a mile from Black Rose’s cemetery. Elisabeth jumped off and slapped the mare’s heaving flanks. “God! You’re as stubborn as he is!”
Elisabeth almost turned toward the cemetery after she mounted-up but she didn’t. As Comanche had bolted from the scene, she’d caught a last glimpse of Thomas Lang. Some of Black Rose’s risen-from-the-dead creatures were dragging him into the old woman’s house. If they were going to kill South Fork’s sheriff they would have done so right off. They wanted him alive for some reason.
Underneath her, Pegasus shuffled and tossed his head in an effort to clench the bit between his teeth and bolt. Absently, Elisabeth reined him in and muttered, “behave,” to the purebred Arabian. Thankfully, Comanche seemed aware that her master was in trouble.
“You get back to that stubborn mule who feeds you hay all winter,” Elisabeth slapped Comanche on her flank and the mare bolted. “If Tom escapes from them grave-crawlers he might not feel like walking all the way back to town.”
Elisabeth thought about her situation. She was without any guns and Black Rose had an army of dead keeping her from the man she loved. If she was to help him stay alive she would need vaqueros and a lot of them. There were more than forty men at her Blue Bonnet ranch that could be quickly armed. Even on the fastest horse in Western Montana it would take more than two hours to get there and back. The tall man with the shy smile would have to keep himself alive until then. “Damn you! Thomas Lang!” she swore as she gave the stallion she called Pegasus all the rein he wanted and they flew into the night. “I can handle anything as long as I know you are in my world but … If I ever lose you,” her voice choked on tears, “my life is over!”
The first thing Thomas Lang noticed inside Black Rose’s house after the dead men left him tied to a chair, was the strange floor-clock was running backwards. He had noticed the exotic time piece earlier while having tea with the black woman. Tom thought the clock was just old before, now he noticed holes all over in the wood that seemed to expand and contract like small working lungs. “It’s made from Artemisia,” Rose said, “Giant Wormwood from the black forest of Germany.” She ran boney black fingers down the body of the clock. “Small pieces are sewn together like skin to cover the clock’s workings … and yes, it is alive!”
“Whoever built it got things all wrong,” the sheriff said. “A clock is supposed to take away time … not give you more!”
“Emest Amsel was the greatest clockmaker in the world,” Rose ignored him. “He made clocks the heads of state all over Europe and many said an Amsel clock was more than magical.” Rose continued talking as she filled up a kettle with water for tea. “Emest was kept busy day and night creating his exotic timepieces … too busy.” She wiped her hands and sat down in front of Tom. “His beautiful young wife Anna, whom many in his village said had to be a witch because of her stunning good looks, felt that he wasn’t spending enough time with her and sought the affections of a young woodcutter named Brunan Krause.
Emest happened to wander into a barn one evening looking for a piece of lead to use as a weight. He caught the two, naked as tiny children, laughing and rolling in a pile of fresh straw. He used a pitch-fork to pin the fleeing Krause to a wooden door before he could escape, but he didn’t have the heart to slay his sobbing and remorseful wife. So he settled for cutting off one of her fingers and he used it as the counter-balance inside one of his clocks. Days went by, but the illicit liaison had awakened an insatiable desire inside Anna. She had multiple interludes with the butcher, a coachman and even a traveling showman. Each time she was caught, she was punished and another part of her body was used in one of his clocks. One day Emest caught her naked inside a carriage, frolicking with a tax collector and with all her belongings lashed to the back of the coach. They were stealing away to Freiburg and the furious Emest killed them both. Later, the poor man was filled with remorse and used Anna’s heart in a special clock that took many years to build. The clock was so finely put together that it would run almost forever without winding, but the gears turned in the wrong direction. One moonlit night a regretful Emest took the clock to the cemetery to where his beloved Anna lay buried to show her the passion that had consumed his life. The hands moved backward on the clock as he cried on her grave. When the hour chimes struck twelve times, Anna clawed her way up through the soil and kissed him as a wolf kisses a rabbit. Villagers found his ravaged body the next morning … but Anna and the magical clock had vanished … some said to Berlin … others said to America.”
“That’s a damn spooky yarn to keep youngsters in a house at night,” the sheriff said. “But what has it got to do with you and the dead coming back to life in your cemetery?”
“Because,” Rose said pointing to her floor clock. “This Uhr aus einem Herzen gemacht that runs backward … is the very last one made by Emest Amsel!
“You speak German too well to just be another freed southern slave,” Tom blurted. “Who are you?”
“I am Anna,” Rose said. “Anna Rose Amsel and I was once blonde haired and with eyes the color of the ocean. The endless years and the searching for centuries has turned my skin as black as night. All I have ever wanted these hundreds of years was to make the seed inside myself fertile … that I might be born again as one once more living and beautiful.” She gazed at the sheriff and then looked at the elaborate floor clock. “The Herzen gemacht is finally running down,” she said. “This is the last time it will ever chime at midnight.”
The door burst open and Ryan O’Borne stood in the doorway flanked by Jim Coots. Yet three months ago, the sheriff had witnessed the death of both men. Flesh peeled off their bones. O’Borne still had the bullet holes where the sheriff had shot him in the chest and Coots’ glistening intestines hung over his gun-belt like a buzzard’s soggy nest. “We got the straw-crib ready,” O’Borne said giving the sheriff a contemptuous stare. “We’ll light the torches when you’re ready.”
“Looks like you and your new sweetheart are going to have yourselves a fine old time,” Coots spat out a wad of tobacco that included bits of his severed tongue and a few teeth as he laughed and capered behind O’Borne.
“What are they talking about?” Tom asked as Rose sat down beside him with two cups of tea. An aroma like jasmine mixed with burnt almonds saturated the air.
“When I stopped in Mississippi I found another seed and another body to transport me,” Rose said. “There are many seeds …The one on the cotton plantation gives you all your worldly desires and is transferred only by men. The one in me gives a new life and must be fertilized by a man who kills others … but with no anger. I have searched for the husband of my child for over four-hundred and nineteen years,” she said. “The drop of blood on the homestead map showed me the way to find you and tonight my long death will be over!” She thrust a cup of the tea at his mouth but he turned his head. Moments later O’Borne forced open Tom’s mouth and the vile brew poured down his throat. Tom gagged and then dazedly watched a vapor swirl across the floor. Outside he heard soft singing. When he twisted his head toward an open window he saw a group of black women all as naked as babies. They sang and held hands as they danced around the house. A flock of ghostly crows flew through cracks in the walls. He looked at Black Rose; her face was becoming much lighter and her eyes were now the color of the ocean. She was smiling. Her skin was soon the color of new snow. The gears on the clock seemed to spin faster and hummed like a metal fork used to tune a piano. Tom was untied and led outside in a daze. The straw crib resembled a huge four poster bed surrounded by torches. Rose’s hair was first the color of straw and then gold. Her voice was like birds singing on a summer morning as she peeled off his clothing … and then her own.
“I have waited for you forever,” she whispered. Inside the house the clock began to chime the witching hour. Each strike sounded strange, like one of Edison’s new-fangled phonograph cylinders turning backward.
“Oh God!” Thomas moaned as his desire was awakened.
Elisabeth was frustrated. She constantly thundered ahead of the vaqueros on Pegasus and then had to wait for them to catch up. It was almost midnight. None of the men with her had ever been to Black Rose’s cemetery and she couldn’t afford for them to get lost. Tucked in her saddle bags were two shotguns, a rifle, and a case of bullets. Each of her ranch workers wore Mexican cross-chest belts filled with ammunition and carried a Winchester rifle and two Walker pistols. She pushed the men ruthlessly, stopping only to let them catch up. A half mile from Black Rose’s place ancient Indian bones emerged from the ground … here and there trees were uprooted. Several of the Mexicans shrieked but continued on when the corpses were blasted into spittle by gunfire. “Es maldita obra de un sacerdote!” her ranch foreman cursed as two corpses tangled themselves around his horse legs. Elisabeth prayed that Tom was still alive … and that he wasn’t being tortured.
Tom lay drugged and naked on the fresh straw. Anna Rose no longer looked like a wrinkled black woman but a disrobed Norse goddess. “You have always been the man of my dreams,” she said.
The clock inside the house was striking for the sixth time when Elisabeth jumped Pegasus across the converted railroad flat car and began firing. A terrible lightning storm had arrived. Both the Walker pistols in her hands roared and streams of St. Elmo's fire flashed from each gun barrel. Jim Coots was just about to shove a wad of tobacco into his mouth when his entire lower jaw was blasted away. A severed tongue sprung from the falling jaw-bone and licked the tobacco wad from between his fingers.
The vaqueros rode into the melee ten seconds later. In the blasting, smoke and confusion Ryan O’Borne somehow got behind Elisabeth and yanked her from her horse. His huge arms were strong even as a dead man. He placed a knife against her throat and bit her ear till she wailed. “Tell them to stop!” he demanded. “Tell then to stop … or die!”
“Detener su tiro ahora mismo!” Elisabeth yelled and a moment later there was silence. The clock inside the house struck for the ninth time and something about the sound made Elisabeth shiver.
Anna Rose Amsel rose from the straw crib glistening with beads of perspiration covering her naked alabaster skin like morning dew on white lilies. “You also seek the seed,” she said glaring at Elisabeth. A naked, slack faced Sheriff Lang rose beside her. The clock struck for the tenth time.
“You’re damn right I do!” Elisabeth whirled and blew away O’Borne’s head with one hand even as she fired the other gun at the Norse goddess. The entire area and half of the cemetery once again erupted in gunfire. The clock struck again as the last grave crawler was blasted to bits and then there was silence. The gears inside the ancient clock groaned as it chimed one last time. A thin trickle of blood ran down the length of the swinging pendulum and then it stopped. There was a dull clunk, the sound of breaking springs and then sparks and smoke as the clock inside the house burst into flames.
Tom was putting on his pants when he saw the old black-as-a-well-bottom woman crawling toward the house. She was bleeding from a just-grazed gunshot to her arm but other than that she looked okay. Several vaqueros tried to jerk her to her feet but Elisabeth ordered them back. Others were carrying water for the house fire.
“Are you okay?” Tom asked as he and Elisabeth helped Rose to stand. Elisabeth tore part of her shirt to make a bandage.
“Lordy I’m don no hows any a yalls can sleeps widt all dis goins on,” she grumbled. “Halp me inta da hause … an I be fixin yall bunch a night-howlers some vittles.” She stared at the carnage and the whites of her eyes, usually two U’s in her head widened to O’s. “Damn n tarnation!” she said looking at the carnage. “I got me a God-awful pack a wild dogs … been digging up all ma done-pass folks!”
It was a week later, when Sheriff Thomas Lang met Elisabeth Walker on what people were starting to call Vineyard Road; they were both riding to Black Rose’s place. I had some of my men stay with her over the last few days,” Elisabeth said. “They got all the bones re-buried and fixed the burnt parts of the house. She sent them all away this morning. I’ll make sure she’s got enough flour, sugar and hanging-meat to last until she gets more business.”
“You’ve always been good to that poor woman,” Tom said.
“Not when I shot her,” Elisabeth said. “And I feel awful. All I could think of was that you were in serious trouble.”
“It wasn’t her you shot,” the sheriff said. “Not really. The thing that was inside her was something called a Herzen gemacht and it carried a kind of seed.”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “I’ll tell you all about it sometime when we’re sitting on your porch drinking our morning coffee. It was a kind of spirit that vanished when the clock was destroyed.”
Black Rose’s house was empty when Tom and Elisabeth arrived. A scrawled note on the old plank and stump table bequeathed the house and graveyard to the city of South Fork. “Where could an old woman like her have gone off to by herself?” Elisabeth worried.
They followed the bare footprints north onto Tom’s land where the Cottonmouth River vanished into a big hole in the ground. Folks were beginning to call the strange sight Magician’s Canyon after a traveling medicine wagon and magical showman who had been so amazed at the spectacle that he’d offered offered (unsuccessfully) to buy the land from Tom.
Black Rose stood knee deep in the rushing water right at the edge of the precipice as it dumped into the swirling hole. “Don’t move and I’ll pull you back!” Sheriff Lang dismounted Comanche and waded into the water.
“You jus stays whar you is an keeps yo feets dry,” Black Rose said. “I kin do dis heer by ma selfs … an a don need no body ta helps.”
“Now what would you want to go and do a fool thing like this for?” The sheriff stopped when he saw her teetering on the edge. He was close … almost … but not close enough to touch her.
“Folks has been mighty kin ta me and yall two has been da best,” she said. “I’m worth about a noder year or so at best … dem I be restin in ma own coffin patch. So I don fret too much bout goin.”
“But why, Rose? You could have a good life at the place you built.”
“It wasn’t none a my buildin’ “ Rose said. “I’ve knowed a ting or two bout Un-kah-gah fo sum time. It mean a debil in da Injun jabberins and a do belib dey has got it insides a me.”
Rose moved her arm and Thomas could see by her swollen belly that the woman was pregnant.
She looked at Tom and smiled. “It bess be dis way … no way to know jus what be comin into dis ol world.”
“You don’t have to do this, Rose,” Tom pleaded. “We can find another way!”
Elisabeth had dismounted and was working her way slowly behind the old woman.
Black Rose looked at Sheriff Thomas Lang one last time and her face lit up like morning sunshine. “We had us sum fine times din we?” Then before Tom could grab her … she was gone.
Elisabeth hugged Thomas as they stared into the swirling water … and they both cried.