“Just a quick drink today Mani. Im in a rush.” Even as Eli says it he starts to grind his teeth. Here in the dark of the saloon its hard to see, but in the harsh light of day his wounds are aching.
“Whats with the face Eli, ya ‘urt”, Mani grins as he says it, as if the prospect tickles him in a funny way.
“Well, it’s a story for a drink, will this suffice”, Eli rubs his back as he starts talking.
We have just left Gaffersburg. Weve been gone for a day, travelling through the heat. Wol Pan has been toodling around in some godless contraption on wheels, and the rest of us are following on our horses. It’s just starting to get dark, with the red sun dipping beyond the horizon when we make camp Just under a small outcropping of rock. It’s a windy place, the desert. As we dig a firepit the wind picks up, throwing dirt around an howling like some deranged beast. Even as we get the fire started we hear something different in the winds. Its nastier, more vile than evil. Deranged even. An too low to catch proper. The last light of the day fades, and we all rug up near the fire for the night to pass. The wind howls for hours, and we while away the night cooking an sharing casual stories. Big W polishes his gun. He’s gazing off into the dark, as if searching for a reason to be. Wol Pan looks as if he wants to be off, but cant because of the dark. Its almost like a scratch he cant itch. Mae sleeps, and Anoleia talks. We while away the night for a time. Eventually though, in the dark and quiet of deep night, we start to hear other things. Giggles from the dark. Murmurs just beyond hearing. It feels like we are being watched, and we all shudder in the night. Noises and sounds come out of the dark, enough that we can definitely hear them and identify them. Some are the noises of lost loved ones. Others are the cries of a jackal, and the giggles of little boys and deranged men. We stand then, reaching for our weapons. Big W steps into the dark. As quick as you like something leaps out of the dark at him. A monstrous beast. Almost like someone stuffed a man into a hyena. As it claws at him, Big W opens fire on the thing. Shouts, crashes and bangs could be heard for miles in every direction, but eventually the beast lay dead at our feet. We went back to sleep then. Or at least, we all pretended to. No one wanted to talk about what had just happened. It was so surreal.
Morning came, and we were all alive. The beast’s corpse was gone. The wind was back. We got on our horses and rode on. A ways down the road we found a sacked caravan. Someone else had been out last night, and now most of them were dead. All but one man, who was clawed and hacked unlike any I’d ever seen, though now I’m not much different than him. His wife was missing. The others wanted to move on. Mae slept. She was hung over something chronic, and decided she’d sleep it off. Slept through everything. An now she slept more. Yet I was there. I couldn’t leave some poor woman to be devoured. Eaten by monsters I couldn’t even name. So I urged our compatriots into the desert. Wol Pan wouldn’t budge, said he’d look after the wounded man. I half think he was lying, but he was their when we got back. So me, Big W and Anoleia headed off into the desert. Anoleia tried to track the beast, and seemed to get some of the ways, but mostly she just followed the blood. There was a fair bit. At the end of the trail was a cave. An in the cave was two more of the devilish beasts. Hey leapt for Anoleia in moments, and she was gored and knocked from her horse. As me and Big W started to shoot the beast, she up an jumps onto her horse and road off into the desert. Right coward fled in the face of the beast. Im sure she wet ‘erself for good measure. Me and W got torn at and rended by the enemy, but persevered. We beat the things back, and shot them to pieces. Then we found the woman and brought her back to her husband.
“Then I came here for a drink, so hand it over.” As Eli said this, he downed the shot of Whisky and closed his eyes. For a moment, he saw what he had been and rejoiced that he’d come this far. Then he was back in the wind and heat, with the pain of his wounds burning into him. It felt good.