LAST STAND AT BLACK MOUNTAIN

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Honorable Mention - L. Ron Hubbard's "Writers Of The Future Contest" (1st Quarter, 2021).

A frontier-western-horror-monster tale. One lone outlaw, a train robber by trade, is on the run. At first, he runs from the authorities, hired guns actually, who are after him. But then... later, those who would have a noose around his neck are not the ones he is afraid of. Now the fear comes from something else. Now he runs from a far more ruthless adversary.

LAST STAND AT BLACK MOUNTAIN

 

Jack McCall was halfway up the south slope of Black Mountain. The two beasts lay dead twenty yards down the hillside. Even at that distance, they smelled rank. He was surprised that they were out so early in the evening, well before dark. More would come, he thought. If there were two, there would be a dozen later. He checked the cylinder of his revolver and emptied the two spent shells from the gun onto the ground, replacing them with two live rounds. It was always best to keep his sidearm fully loaded at all times. The barrel was warm to the touch. He slid the weapon back into his holster. Nine shells remained tucked into the array of loops that ran along the length of his worn leather gun belt. The once-full cache of ammo was nearly depleted. Nine shells, he thought. He would have the ability to load the pistol exactly one-and-one-half times. That was it. The Sonoran desert sun was about to sink over the western horizon. It was one hundred and two degrees in the Arizona desert. Jack McCall was an outlaw—not by choice—but by chance. His was not a predetermined, conscious decision to end up where he was at. His current status of being outside the law was one that had been made by a life of poor choices over many years. He didn’t mean to be here. But he was. Jack was wanted in three Midwestern states and as many territories for various robberies and swindles. He was in over his head and things had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.

 

 

********

 

 

McCall was in a tight spot. His provisions were practically gone. He had stopped in the small town of Spur Creek after leaving Wickenburg. Scouring through the abandoned mercantile and the sheriff’s office in Spur Creek, he found nothing. Nothing of value anyway. Most importantly, there was no ammunition to be found. It was apparent that the town had already been looted.

He didn’t waste any time. He got out of Spur Creek and headed toward the mountain. He planned to make it to the top—to the cave—his old hideout. He had passed through the small town two or three times before—back when he was on the run. The last time, the Western & Pacific Railroad’s hired guns—“detectives,” as was their official title—were tracking him with no quarter. They were relentless. He had robbed the railroad two times in one year—quite a bold accomplishment. Malcomb Eustus Wainwright, the owner of the W & P, had had quite enough of that. He contracted the most ruthless men that money could buy. Mercenaries—bought and paid for. They were sworn to track down and eliminate the problem. The last time he robbed the line, about a year ago, he had found the cave near the top of Black Mountain. Hiding out in the cave after sending his horse on without him, somehow, he had eluded the gun thugs. The move had bought him just enough time to double back and get away. But McCall was still on the run. The hired guns would not stop, until... until the end of the world.

But that was then. That was before. The proverbial end had come. The gun thugs were no longer after him. Their pursuit had come to an abrupt halt a few weeks ago. Still, McCall would continue to run. He would run for as long as he had breath inside him. But this time, not from the authorities. He was running for his life from something altogether different. He hoped the cave might work this time, again. Just as it had before. The towns he had passed through in the last several days were deserted. No one was left. Some random body parts would be scattered here and there, but that was it. The world had become a quiet and violent place. He tried to pacify himself with the thought that there had to be others. Other people... surely, there must be others. That one hope—it was enough anyway, to help him to press on... to search for a place to escape to... to just keep living. To hold out until it was all over. He had seen evidence here and there of previous survivors—the looted supplies, spent shell casings, even notes tacked onto doors and buildings with instructions for others to follow. But he hadn’t seen anyone.

 

 

********

 

 

Jack McCall was on the run in the Arizona Territory when it all happened. When everything went very much sideways. In the summer of 1871, the territory was just beginning to be settled. There were a few towns scattered across the harsh western landscape—Wickenburg, Tucson, Globe, Phoenix, Tombstone. The search for gold had opened up the territory. The west had been hit with an influx of easterners looking to strike it rich. However, the desert was not so rewarding. It was a harsh awakening for those poor souls with dollar signs in their eyes. For those who didn’t find gold, but stayed on, scraping and digging to survive was hard. Still, for a man like Jack McCall, the Arizona Territory was the perfect place to get lost. Especially when you were being tracked by hard men who were not looking out for your best interests. Men who would just the same see you dangling from the end of a rope. Or worse yet, catching the business end of a bullet. The W & P hired guns could care less if they brought their man in for trial or not. Brought in alive, fine. Shot in the back and draped over a horse, just as well. The railroad gunmen would get paid all the same. Matter of fact, it was less work guarding a dead man laid across a saddle. The southwest regional office of the W & P decided that McCall needed to be made an example of. He had other ideas. He was headed south to Mexico.

Then it happened. His dilemma went from one of evading the authorities, to one of avoiding a much more capable enemy. This adversary did not carry contract papers nor a sidearm. This opponent, birthed from some other-worldly location, needed no tools or weapons. It had a singular desire, one mission in life—that being, to simply devour any living thing that it came across. Until a few months ago, McCall had never seen anything like them. They were insatiable. One thing about it, now Jack had no trepidation regarding the frontier lawmen or the hired W & P gunslingers who were tracking him previously. He had no concern for the Apaches who had a history of terrorizing the new settlers that had moved into their homeland. These all were being dealt with most violently now. They were all facing this same, formidable opponent that Jack McCall faced. There was a new boss in town. The top of the food chain had been modified. The monsters—the night things—they were the alpha species now.

His first encounter with the carnage that the things were capable of occurred just a few weeks ago. McCall had been a half-day ride from Wickenburg when he came upon the ranch. It was a large-scale operation that, at one time, must have employed dozens of hands. Like other operations in the south Sonoran desert, livestock would be moved from grazing lands up north, down into Mexico. But now, the bodies of man and animal alike had been mutilated and stripped of all flesh and living tissue. All that was left was bones and remnants of unrecognizable body parts scattered throughout the area where some unknown, once prominent land baron had staked his claim. The ground was red where the mass killing had taken place. It was a scene that sent McCall into a state of shock that he did not recover from, nor comprehend, for some time. There was a stench of days-old death that hung in the hot, dry air.

He made it to Wickenburg, and somehow, he had evaded the things—the night things. Luckily, he discovered the way they hunted—their nocturnal schedules and their seek-and-destroy modus operandi. The residents in Wickenburg never saw it coming. The townsfolk were wiped out over three days while the creatures scoured every inch of the town from sunset until sunup. Jack had hidden atop roofs and in cellars. He hid out for several days until he finally figured out the way that they worked. Then, after several days, after their food supply was exhausted, they moved on. But while they were in town, Jack stayed hidden.

He hid out and he watched them. And he saw things. Indescribable things. He watched as the town had been taken apart and devoured. The carnage was horrific. Now, the town was no longer a well-established stopping off point in the southwest. What was before, a sizable community was decimated in three days. McCall remained in hiding for a few more days, just to be sure it was safe to go outside. By the time he mustered the courage to leave the roof of the First Western Hotel, where he had spent most of his time, the monsters were long gone.

McCall decided he would head north toward Spur Creek and Black Mountain. The cave. If he could make it there, he might have a chance. A year ago, he had found the cave near the crest of the mountain. Over the years, Jack had made mental note of several such places—hideouts—all through the southwest. Abandoned cabins, cattle drive sheds, caves—all of them far removed from civilization. The cave atop Black Mountain would make an exceptional hideout now. Not from the hired guns that had been tracking him. No worries there. He had been hiding out in Wickenburg for five days. The W & P’s hired guns would have been here by now. If they were... alive. He knew what fate they had met. All he had to do now, was to avoid the monsters. He wasn’t worried about the railroad thugs who had been tracking him, nor the Apaches. The monsters—the night things—they were no respecter of persons. They killed and devoured anyone they encountered. From what Jack had seen in the last several days, the post-apocalyptic Old West left not man nor beast undisturbed. One afternoon, he had seen a half-dozen of the things devour a horse and rider in less than twenty minutes. The event was burned into his memory—the stuff of nightmares.

McCall had watched them. Closely. While the town of Wickenburg was being eaten alive, McCall was on the rooftops watching it all go down. The things—they were horrible looking. Compared to the height of a man, these things were two to three feet taller. When attacking, they stood on their hind legs, using their front legs to fight with. All four feet were equipped with what looked to be three to four-inch claws that were the size of spike nails. And they could jump. He’d seen several of them go thirty feet, or more, in a single bound. McCall figured the larger ones had to weigh at least three to four hundred pounds. While they stood upright to attack, conversely, they ran on all fours. Galloping like a horse, they were fast on open ground. Jack figured they were as fast as a quarter horse for short distances. Their mouths were equipped with teeth that could slice through muscle and sinew with ease. Their large jaws could snap a large man’s femur in half with one bite. Their hair—it wasn’t fur—but it was coarse black hair. It bristled straight out from their bodies in places, reminding Jack of a porcupine, especially along the ridge of their back. The hair was visibly oily and dirty and matted together with blood. And the smell—the stench of the animals was overpowering. Even from the rooftops, McCall could barely subdue the gag reflex that resulted from the smell of the large animals. And their eyes—they were bright, glowing red. After watching them for a few days, McCall finally figured out—their sense of smell was very weak. They operated primarily on the senses of sight and hearing. And since they only hunted at night, their sense of sight was extraordinary. They came out at dusk. As soon as the sun sank into the horizon, they would emerge. While hiding out on top of the First Western one evening, Jack had seen one of them spot the movement of a small rat from two hundred feet away. Then, the thing took off as if it were shot out of a gun, and snatched up the rodent before it knew what had hit him.

Jack remained out of sight among the wooden structures along the main streets through Wickenburg for several days. Finally, the monsters started to move on as their food source began to dry up. By that time, the population of Wickenburg had been wiped out. After they left, McCall was apprehensive about coming out of hiding, but he knew he would have to leave. He would need to find someplace that was better suited for a longer stay. Finally, he emerged. What had just happened over the last several days was horrific. McCall had no clue as to where these things had come from, the night things, as he began referring to them in his mind. None of it made any sense. It was all like a bad dream. It was then, that Jack McCall decided that he would head to Black Mountain. To the cave. It was his only chance.

 

 

********

 

 

He left Spur Creek by late afternoon. Even though it was late in the day, Jack determined he would have enough time to make it to the top of the mountain and barricade himself in the cave before sunset. Before sunset, he thought. That was key. He had a couple of full canteens, and a large water sack, and enough food that, if he rationed it wisely, he could make it last for several days, maybe weeks. Inside the cool, damp cave, he figured to make the water last much longer. Without a source of food, they would have to move on, Jack thought. All he had to do was to outlast them. Hide out, ration the food and water... just wait ‘em out.

The south side of Black Mountain was a treacherous climb. Finally, he was near enough to the top of the mountain that he could see the rocky outcrop where the cave opening was located. Almost there. He took a break, swallowed one small swig of warm water, and checked his bearings. Far below the mountain, he could see the small town of Spur Creek. It was a ghost town now. The night things must have swept through the town quickly. It was much smaller than Wickenburg. Jack figured they would have wiped out the smaller town in a day or two. Not a man nor animal was left by the time they were finished.

McCall felt a twinge of melancholy, a longing for the old days—when he was being pursued merely by lawmen and gun thugs. At least then, he knew exactly who his adversary was. With these creatures, he had no clue what they were or where they were from.  All he knew about them was that they hunted and killed with no reluctance or hesitation. And they were good at it. The only advantage that Jack had, was that he could travel by day when they were not able to be out. For whatever reason, they could not tolerate the sunlight. But when night came on—then... then, they came outside—with a vengeance. At night, they were vicious.

Jack looked toward the top of the mountain. About two hundred yards, he thought. He was close now. Then, he heard it. The footfalls thundered on the ground below him. He turned. Down the hill, about fifty yards away, two of the things were coming up the hill, fast. Red eyes, teeth bared, they were coming straight at him at full speed. By the time he pulled the Colt 45 from his holster and fanned the hammer, they had covered more than half the separating distance. Jack dropped the both of them. He could smell the rotting-flesh stench from their matted hair. That smell.

McCall quickly scanned the perimeter. There were no others around. He was shaken up. He had never seen them out this early. It was still a half-hour to sunset. They were getting more aggressive. If there were two out right now, there would be many more coming. Soon. Yes... there would be more. If they were near, they’d heard the shots he fired. They would come. They would come quickly.

McCall glanced around the hillside again. He saw nothing. He needed to get moving. He unloaded the empty shell casings onto the ground and reloaded the Colt. He had nine shells remaining. One loaded pistol and nine shells. He holstered the gun and started up the hillside. The cave entrance was in sight. He would hide out and hope that they would pass through the area after a few days.

His footing was unsteady as he climbed the steep, rocky terrain. His thoughts turned to the last time he had been on this mountain. Hiding out in the cave long enough for the Arizona Territory lawmen to pass him by. Hiding out just long enough, and then making a getaway. That was only about a year ago, but it seemed like an eternity. If he could go back... just go back to those days. At least then, his adversaries were men. Now, these... things... whatever they were. They were not out to merely capture him, to take him into custody... or even to kill him. The night things—they meant to disembowel him. To consume him, piece by piece.

The hair on the back of his neck stood up. He had the feeling he was being watched. McCall stopped and slowly looked around. Nothing. It was quiet except for the cicadas and the call of a lone cactus wren nearby. A glowing orange sun was touching the horizon in the west. Jack stood quietly for a moment, listening. Nothing. He turned and looked back up the hillside. He needed to move. The sunlight from the horizon would be gone in just a few minutes. And they were already coming out.

Jack started back up the hillside, his pace faster than before. He wished that he had answers for what was happening. Where did the things come from? Why had they come? He felt a longing for those days when he was simply an on-the-run outlaw. Things were well-defined then. There were no unanswered questions. There was only right and wrong. And even though he had been on the wrong side of that division, at least it was clear where everyone stood. There were no fence-straddlers, no gray areas, and no night things. But now—everything was turned upside-down. There was no civilization now... there was only survival. He wanted to go back.

He neared the entrance to the cave. He was hoping that it would serve him just as well as it had about a year ago. He hoped that the meager provisions he had would sustain him long enough. The setting sun was only a sliver of glowing red. The desert air had cooled off, even in the last several minutes. Off in the distance, coyotes could be heard, howling at the red sky. The cave opening was completely dark inside now. He would have to inch his way back into the opening with the light of a few matches he had in his shirt pocket. He would need to conserve them to get as far back inside the opening as he could.

As he struck the first match, just a few feet inside the portal, he saw it. Two slivers of red light—a reflection, maybe. They were clear and bright, and then they were gone. Gone, obscured, but only for a moment—a split second. And then they were there again, closer. Then two more... and two more—farther back behind the first two sets. McCall dropped the burning match onto the ground. He knew... he knew exactly what they were. Small slivers of red... twinkling red lights that blinked off and on... off... and back on. Like fire—they had red eyes. The things—the night things—they had red eyes. Red eyes that showed up at night, in the dark, like red fire. The night things. They had found McCall’s hideout first. The cave. It was the perfect hiding place—not only for him—but for them as well. They were already there. He could smell them now. They were already there, waiting for him.

He dropped the match and ran. Dashing out of the opening, he leaped over the large rocks that had collected outside the mouth of the cave. Down the hill, barely keeping his balance as he ran, step by step, down the rocky incline. He reached for his holster and grabbed the wooden handle of the Colt. Just as the barrel cleared the leather opening, he lost his grip on it. The pistol flew up out of the holster and off to the right, swapping ends as it flew through the air away from him. It silhouetted against the dark red sky in slow-motion. It flipped around and around, end over end. Landing on the rocky ground, the pistol bounced a few times, sliding down the steep hillside until it came to rest at the base of a large creosote bush. McCall glanced over his shoulder. Ten or fifteen of the things had emerged from the cave entrance like a swarm of angry bees. They had spread out and they were coming, right on his heels. Down the incline on two legs, leaping distances that would have taken Jack several steps to cover, they came. He could smell them. The smell... it was awful... it was death, coming for him. Slow, vicious death, nipping at his heels.

Jack ran as hard as he could. He could hear their footfalls, the shuffling and sliding of the loose rock on the hillside. They were practically on top of him. It was no use. There would be no reprieve from his pursuers. He was dead wrong—the cave would not save him this time.

Jumping from the edge of a large rock outcrop, he looked up to the sky. Through the air he went—arms out, flailing—he felt like he was flying. A few thin, wispy clouds traced the location of the setting sun along the horizon. Jack wondered about Malcomb Wainwright—maybe the millionaire had finally got his wish—Jack would never rob the W & P again. Nope. Probably not. His outlaw days were coming to an abrupt end... he knew that. This line of work that he had been cast into—somehow, it was not a conscious choice, it was just... just the sum of a thousand parts. The answer to all of the poor choices he had made. It had all come down to this. Somehow. This was it. This was the end.

As he was bracing himself for the landing on the rocky hillside, it met him in mid-air. The thing had leaped from ten yards behind him, but it was moving so fast that it caught him at the apex of his trajectory. The thing weighed two hundred and fifty pounds more than Jack McCall, so when it hit him, it hit him like an unstoppable freight train.

In the distance. the coyotes continued to howl. The sky turned a deep red-violet color that allowed the first bright stars off to the east to be seen. The evening was much cooler now. Just for a few seconds, McCall could feel the contrast of the cooling air and the still-warm, rocky ground on his back and his arms. As soon as the thought came to him, it left just as quickly, as his consciousness quickly faded to black. He felt a tingling in his arms and legs and his neck for several seconds. The sensation of pain was gone now. He was numb. A loud ringing sensation in his ears drowned out the sound of the monsters. There was no physical feeling at all as he watched the carnage take place before his very eyes. The night things were gathered around and over top of him. They growled and snapped at each other to gain dominance over the last few scraps of warm, fresh meat. It didn’t take long. The feeding ended abruptly. The black night things moved on, leaving the dark cave and heading east.

Black Mountain was quiet again. The stars flickered and danced in the cool night air. The darkening sky was completely free of clouds. It would be cold tonight. Fragments of bone and cartilage were strewn about the area. The sand was covered with dark shadows where pools of blood had saturated dry ground.

A lone shooting star arced through the stars in the northern sky. The Arizona desert was beautiful at dusk.


Submitted: May 17, 2020

© Copyright 2021 J.D. Wilson. All rights reserved.

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