Curiously nerdy posts.
This is just something I’m playing around with some more. Zombies in a western setting. It’s more fun than I thought.
Mansfield Porter had never shot a man before. He’d served a stint in the Army when he was younger, of course. Back when he was in Texas, and they’d decided to take the state from the Mexicans. But he’d never actually had to shoot his gun – all he’d had to do was march, march some more, and then dig latrines at every stop for the fighting men to use. By the time the war was done, he reckoned there wasn’t a man alive that was better at digging trenches than he was.
Afterwards, he’d taken his learned skills of digging and working around shit all day, and used them to better effect at the noble occupation of farming. He’d travelled north, and carved out a homestead in the rougher plains of Nebraska. Round the parts where he lived, his corn, wheat, and barley was well known to be among the finest in the region, to say nothing of what he brewed in the barn after the sun went down. It wasn’t like he had much else to do, considering that he’d never bothered to take a wife.
Still, the simple life suited him. The sun was his wife, and one he didn’t much mind waking up to every day. He could dig all day, brew in the evening, and then sleep, and then start it all over again. He only broke it up when he had to go into town to sell, or someone brave or stupid enough came through the woods to him, when they couldn’t wait for him to come to them with his product.
All that changed late one night in October. He woke up to the sound of his dogs barking at something outside. At first he shrugged it off, chalked it up to them seeing a wild animal in the trees that excited them. They did that a lot, being territorial and all. But they kept on barking, long after any animal should’ve gotten run off.
Grumbling to himself, he rose from his bed into the cool air, and pulled on a pair of threadbare pants. Reaching for his lamp, and then his shotgun, he cursed whoever was stupid enough to trespass on his land. Probably some deserter from the war, looking for a bite to eat as they got as far from the fighting as they could. Joke was on them this time, though. He’d just gotten back from selling all his crop just two days prior, and he didn’t aim to share what he kept for himself.
He shoved open the rough hewn door to his small cabin, holding the lamp out in front of him to quit the darkness. He expected the dogs to quiet down, once they saw him. But instead, they only got louder, and more insistent. Whoever was out there, they sure didn’t like the smell of him.
“Shut up, already!” he barked back at them, until they reluctantly obeyed him.
“Who goes there!?” he demanded. It was already cold out, and he’d decided not to put on a shirt. His long beard helped a little, but he still was getting a chill in a hurry. He wasn’t quite as wide as he used to be in his youth.
No answer came, but for the bitter autumn wind. There was no moon out, either, which left him with nothing but the lamp for light, and it didn’t have much kerosene left in it from where he’d used it earlier in the night.
As for patience, he had even less of that.
“I don’t know who you are out there, and I don’t much care. But you’d best get off my property while gettin’s good, ‘less you want more holes than you came here with!” he bellowed, shaking his shotgun to make his point. There was no answer. He stood waiting to hear something, whether it was a reply, or feet carrying the intruder far in the other direction. But still, he heard nothing.
With a shrug, he turned to go back into his house, and into his warm bed. But just as he was about to reach the door, a stronger whisper in the wind carried a stink to his nose. A smell only buzzards could love. Something dead was out there, and he didn’t know what. Something was wrong, though. His dogs might sniff around something dead, they might even roll around in it for reasons only dogs would ever know.
But they’d never bark at one, like it was a threat that their master needed to know about.
Some old feeling fired up in him like a chimney between his ears, that soldier’s instinct coming back to him. Something was out there, and he didn’t much like the idea of putting his back to it, or sleeping without running it off.
His dogs started barking again, and this time more insistently. He spun around to the left to yell at them again to keep quiet. But it only took a moment to recognize why they’d decided to bark more.
A pair of red eyes was staring at him levelly, glowing like embers just from beyond where the lamp light carried. He knew many animals had red eyes at night – big cats, birds, foxes, even wolves.
But none of those could stare a full grown man in the face on level ground, like these were. He raised his shotgun to his shoulder so fast he hadn’t even noticed he did it, until he was staring down the iron sight at them.
“You’d better run, ‘fore I put this buckshot right in between yer glowin’ eyes!” he threatened, though he heard his voice crack like firewood. The owner of the eyes ignored him, and kept coming closer. Mansfield could swear he thought he heard a groan as they did.
“Another step, and you ain’t takin’ no more!” he warned, his finger getting itchy around the triggers. The eyes just kept coming.
The old farmer squeezed the trigger, and the shotgun boomed like a cannon in his hands, almost pushing him off his feet. When he earned back his balance, the eyes were gone. Lifting his lamp back up, he stepped carefully over to where they’d been. His breath caught in his throat as his bare feet stepped on something wet.
The body of the person he’d shot was on the ground, splattered in blood. The head was mostly gone; his shotgun had seen to that part easy enough. Only part of the lower jaw and one ear was left. The rest was probably bits and pieces under his feet.
The sight of it didn’t bother him much, though his hands shook from taking a man’s life for the first time. He’d seen his share of dead men back during the war with the Mexicans. He’d even buried many of them, like he’d have to do for this one.
No, what really bothered him was that the body was wearing a blue coat with gold buttons marking him as a member of the US Cavalry. Those fellows almost never deserted. They had no reason to, since all the real war was happening further east.
What bothered him the most, though, was the number of bullet holes in the coat that his shotgun surely didn’t make. They looked more like shots taken from a rifle, or a revolver. This man had been no stranger to getting shot before he ever showed up on the farm.
He glanced up, and met eyes with one of his hounds. The dog stared at him expectantly, like he’d know exactly what to do.
“What in the hell have we gotten into here, Lucy?” he asked softly. The dog answered by baring its teeth, and snarling before barking some more.
“Stop yer yammerin’! It’s just me, for heaven’s sakes!” he snapped angrily at the dog.
Then he felt icy hands on his back.
Spinning around and slapping them off him, he brought his shotgun back up and pointed at the darkness.
“I don’t know how many of you decided to come visit, but…” he said, his words dying in his throat before he could finish. There was at least a dozen eyes of the same red staring at him from the other side, and his shotgun only had one good barrel left full of shot. He’d never gotten past the first grade, but he knew his sums well enough to know one thing as the stink of rotting flesh filled the air around him, the red eyes slowly surrounding him: one shot wasn’t going to be enough.
Mansfield Porter had still never a shot a man. Not one that was still living.
“Heh. Uh, guess you boys didn’t come for a drink?” he managed weakly, just before he felt teeth sink into his shoulder, and drag him down.
His dogs didn’t stop barking until morning, long after he was beyond hearing anything.
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