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Eric Red: For a little something different I give you, “THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE”… This is a werewolf western, a tale told in three parts, with a new chapter appearing on the site every two weeks. This isn’t a movie, isn’t a comic, it’s a serial, like the old pulp novels used to be. It’s kind of an experiment, but hopefully a fun one.
The story is 100 proof action western with some pretty twisted and nasty spins of lycanthrope lore. Hell, even Fallon said he was disturbed, so we must be doing something right, eh folks? It’s not for kids. Each chapter will feature a vivid dime novel cover graphic by ace production illustrator and concept designer John Gallagher who provides the startling visual accompaniment to our horror horse opera.
So saddle up and ride hard for the full moon, gang!
Story: Eric Red Art: John Gallagher
PART 2 of 3
The jefe grinned, spurred his horse and the gunfighters rode with the bandits up the paved hill to the pueblo church of Santa Sangre.
They tethered their horses on the rail in the shade behind the cathedral and dismounted. About twenty other horses, saddles and bridles were tied to the same rail. Tucker saw the early afternoon sun moving down the sky in the direction the distant Durango Mountains and by instinct gauged they had five hours until nightfall and the rise of the full moon. The stark sunlight was blinding and bleached the outside of the church blank white, but inside the open oaken doors the interior of the cathedral was pitch black. The bandits stood back to allow their guests enter the doorway.
When the three gunfighters set foot inside, the smell nearly pitched them backwards. It was the disgusting, gorge-rising stench of one-month worth of dead meat, rot and death in stifling enclosed quarters. Tucker, Bodie and Fix stepped into the church with revulsion. Their spurs jingled, ringing the catacombs of the Santa Sangre. Diffused light filtered through the broken stained glass windows into an area more an animal cave than a mission. The silhouettes of more than a dozen bandits hunkered and sprawled in the pews. Some chewed on bones. Others played cards. Still others slept curled up like dogs, snoring loudly. Sunlight glinted on the dull metal of guns and blades of knives and machetes. Decayed and fresh chunks of human meat and flesh were piled everywhere on the tiles. Bones and skulls, gnawed clean, were piled waist high. The blood pooling on the floor was shiny and wet or and black as dried paint. Flies swarmed in a steady maddening drone. Blood dripped. In one corner of the defiled abattoir of the church once known as Santa Thomas, several naked young women sat cowering in the darkness, hugging their knees. They shivered bruised and limp, eyes dead, too broken to care as they waited to be used at the whim of the bandits.
In the murky darkness, shiny things gleamed. The shimmering came from gleaming metal objects placed all around the room. It was silver. Statues. Candlesticks. Plates. The precious metal shined regal and bright in the church, and the reflections flashed in the eyes of the three gunfighters.
It was what they had come for.
But nothing prepared them what they faced and had to get past to get it.
The blasting light from the sun through the doorway behind them silhouetted the three cowboys and cast their shadows thirty feet ahead down the aisle as they walked tall through the grisly pews. The gunslingers’ eyes were riveted on the silver treasures before them. Their lips opened and drew breath at the riches they beheld. The silver beams danced on their faces and they forgot the unspeakable horror all around them as they approached the altar, hypnotized by the glory of the silver, more than they could have dreamed. Then the silver was suddenly swallowed in shadow when a wall of blackness descended as the big oaken doors were slammed shut behind them.
The gunfighters turned, hands by their guns.
The jefe and the bandits stood at the other end of the pew by the closed doors with their arms crossed. On both sides, the other bandits, acting drunk or sleepy, were rising from their spoor to regard their new visitors. It seemed they were salivating. Mosca grinned, flashing rows of gold teeth, and spread his arms wide in generosity and welcome. “Mi casa su casa.”
“You’re a real nice bunch of guys.” Tucker spat.
“Stay and party with us. Have a drink. You want a woman?”
“We’ll pass.” Bodie winced at the sight of the brutalized females. Some of the bandits standing nearby were sniffing the scent of the gunslingers. Fix shot one of them a look that made them retreat fast.
The jefe spoke softly. “I ask you again, amigos, what have you come here for?”
Tucker looked at Bodie and Fix, then looked at the bandit leader and came right out and said it. “Silver.”
The bandit leader walked down the aisle between the pews, nodding, eyeing the treasures of the tabernacle. “Si. Entiendo. Much silver. Mucho dinero. You want this, si?”
“Then take it,” Mosca shrugged affably. “It is yours.”
Tucker kept his hands near his pistols. They were outnumbered ten to one. “Just like that?”
“Si, just like that. Take it and go.”
The gunslingers exchanged glances. “Thanks.”
“With our regards.” With a wave of his arm, Mosca gestured for his men to open the front doors of the church. “Hombres, fetch the saddlebags of the caballeros so they may take the silver.” A group of bandits lifted the beam and the oaken doors swung wide, blasting daylight into the church, as they went outside. The jefe just stood with his arms crossed presiding over the slaughterhouse of a defiled cathedral scattered with piles of human remains, bones and drying blood that festooned the walls, floors and pews.
“What’s the catch?” Asked Tucker.
Mosca shrugged. “We have no use of silver.”
“So we heard,” Fix quipped.
The jefe chuckled. “Or gold. Or dinero. Men like us, we take what we want. Nobody stops us. What need have we of dinero?” The bandito walked up to Tucker, seeming to sniff him. His breath was foul and canine, but his eyes were powerful and primal as a wild coyote and owned the gunslinger’s gaze with the respect of the strong. “You have killed many men, si?”
“And you. And you.” The jefe nodded at Bodie, and then at Fix. “I see this. You are cruel men, yes, and strong. Muy gusta. So I make you this proposition. Ride with us.” The gunfighters exchanged laconic glances. “Join us.”
“Thanks, but we ride alone.”
“Lone wolves, eh?”
“Something like that.”
The bandit leader threw his head back and laughed. His men laughed. It was contagious. Even the gunslingers laughed. “Lone wolves,” smiled Mosca. “We know about wolves, amigos, and because of this I tell you it is true what they say. Lone wolves are easy targets.”
“We’ll take our chances.”
“Join us, amigos! You will never be alone. And you will live forever. Be free. But the choice is yours.” Three bandits came back through the open doors of Santa Sangre carrying the gunfighters’ saddlebags, and dropped them at the floor of their owners’ feet. “Your silver,” said Mosca, gesturing to the tabernacle. “Take it all.”
Warily and incredulous, Tucker, Bodie and Fix eyed one another and the bandits. The offer seemed good. With one hand near a gun, each one of the gunfighters began using the other hand to grab the candlesticks and stuff them in their saddlebags. When they taken all of the candlesticks, they greedily grabbed the shining silver platters, their adrenaline beginning to pump. Nobody stood in their way. Their saddlebags were nearly full and brimming with silver before the cowboys went to the back of the alter and lifted the two silver statues of the Virgin Mary.
Then they heard the sobbing.
There were many voices weeping.
Tucker looked at Fix who looked at Bodie and they put down the precious statues and walked to the small room in back of the tabernacle. There was a door and that door had a small slot and when they opened the panel through the hole they saw the fifteen surviving villagers of the town locked in the room. The people were still alive, just barely, but badly beaten, held captive and imprisoned in the back of the church.
“Damn,” whispered Tucker.
“Damn, gasped Bodie.
“Those sons of bitches. They’re gonna eat those people,” choked Fix.
Crammed in the small room like human cattle in a stockade, the peasants saw the hard sympathetic faces of the shaken gunmen through the slot in the door. They fell to their knees begging and pleading pathetically for help in their native tongue. The unfortunates’ eyes were horror holes. “Please…please….please..,” the gunfighters heard the words over and over, unable to tear their gaze from the miserable wretches and the three forgot about silver.
A voice behind them broke the spell. “Forget about them. Those are not men. They are sheep. They are the weak. We are the strong. The strong eat the weak, as wolves eat sheep.” Mosca shut the slot on the door. “You three are strong. You must join us. Here you belong amigos. With us.”
The gunfighters turned to face the jefe. “What’s going to happen to them?” Tucker asked.
“What happens to all sheep, amigos…the slaughter.”
“Those aren’t sheep. They’re people. You have everything they own. That’s enough. Let ‘em go.”
“Join us or take the silver and go, amigos, before I change my mind.” A malignant threat entered the tone of the pitiless bandit leader’s voice as his grin became strained and tense, disgusted by the cowboys’ sympathy he took as a sign of weakness.
The gunfighters regarded one another. They had seen all manner of human cruelty wherever they rode but had never come across the raw savagery that lay before them in Santa Sangre. It stirred a buried humanity in their hardened hearts. In their minds were etched the faces of the captive villagers behind the door and the gruesome evidence of their imminent fate was splattered all around the church. It was the worst thing they had ever seen. They wanted to do something. They wanted to draw their pistols and murder all the bandits. But the silver statues were in their hands and more money than they had ever seen was stuffed their saddlebags. A terrible choice tore their consciences. But they were just three. The jefe studied them closely, his feral, animal eyes sizing them up, testing them and taking their measure, seeing what they were made of.
Bodie looked at Fix.
Fix looked at Tucker.
Tucker eyed both of them. “There’s too many of ‘em. We can’t help these people. Let’s go.”
Walking to their saddlebags on the floor with the empty clink of the spurs on their boots in the silent mission, they crammed the statues of the Blessed Virgin in the treasure filled pouches and tied them tight. Ready to leave, they were about to heave the saddlebags over their shoulders when they looked up and saw Mosca standing blocking the open doorway, silhouetted against the lowering sun. “Just one thing you must do for me before you go, amigos.”
Tucker lowered the saddlebag and stood upright, facing the jefe.
“Give me a gunfight.”
“You and me?”
“Si. If you are faster then me, then you may go with the silver.”
Lowering his hands to his sides, fingers hovering by the stock of his pistol in his holster, Tucker shot a glance for Bodie and Fix to back off as he stood in the center aisle between the pews and faced Mosca standing with his arms crossed in front of the door. The other two gunslingers braced for the battle they were ready for when they first stepped into Santa Sangre. Each turned to face the army of bandits on either side of the church who were slowly stepping near their rifles and pistols, watching them like a pack of wolves and the gunfighters’ hands hovered by their holsters. Mosca spoke softly, facing off for the showdown with Tucker, but yet his arms remained calmly crossed. “Your move.”
The gunfighters figured they were dead.
Tucker drew first, firing a shot right between Mosca’s eyes. The bullet put a neat red hole in the jefe’s forehead, spritzing a spray of matter behind his head. The bandit remained standing with his arms crossed. The air was taut with tension with Bodie and Fix ready to draw on all the other bandits but none of them made a move. Mosca just stood there, shot in the head and Tucker watched him, the barrel of his raised pistol drifting smoke from the barrel. Suddenly, shockingly, Mosca’s eyes popped open, daylight glinting off the rows of gold teeth as his mouth spread in a crazy grin. “You got me, amigo.” With that, the jefe drew his pistol and Tucker shot him five times, fanning and firing his pistol until it clicked empty, the bullets slamming home into Mosca’s chest in a tight pattern that tore cloth and spurted blood. The jefe was laughing all the time, unharmed. “I let you win again, amigo. Mira. As you can see, bullets do not hurt us. We live forever. We are the strong. You can be like us. Impossible to kill. Men like you should ride with us. Join us.”
The gunfighters were struck speechless faced with men who bullets did not faze. They knew at that moment that every word the peasant spoke about the fiends was true. Tucker looked at his companions. “Grab the silver. We’re getting out of here.”
Mosca stood aside to give them wide berth, giving them his gold grin the whole time. As the gunfighters walked out the doors of Santa Sangre with their saddlebags laden with untold riches, the bandit leader said four final words in parting. “You will be back.”
And the three gunfighters fled the church of the men that walked like wolves without looking back, shaken to their spurs as they tied their saddlebags to their horses, swung into their stirrups and rode out of the hellish place. Their three horses left trails of dust in their wake as they galloped down the hill through the town away from Santa Sangre, hard charging up the ravine and hurtling out into the desert wastes of Durango. It seemed to them that even over the thundering sounds of their hooves they could hear the ringing laughter of the bandits on the wind after they were miles away.
Tucker suddenly reined his horse. “No.”
The others stopped and faced him their saddles. “What are you doing?” Fix demanded, gasping and sweating.
“We gotta go back.” Tucker stated it like a simple fact.
“You nuts? We got the silver! We got all! We’re rich!” Bodie yelled.
“I’m done doing the wrong thing.”
“We can’t kill whatever those are.” Fix’s voice was full of dread.
“Silver bullets can.”
“Give me one damn reason.”
“Those people. We owe ‘em. Gave ‘em our word. We can’t let those sons of bitches murder them people like that. If we ride away now with their silver, we’ll never live it down and we’ll be nothing ever again. I’m sick of things I’ve done, boys. It’s time to stand up. I want to make a difference for a change.”
Bodie looked wildly at Fix. “You ain’t with Tucker on this are you, Fix?”
“Tucker’s right about one thing,” said Fix, his eyes hardening with resolve. “Them son of a bitches back there got to go.”
The peasant had been waiting patiently for hours for the gunfighters by the blacksmith’s shop on the other side of the ridge, where they were to regroup if the men had lived to get the silver. The Mexican had heard the gunshots and knew the hour was nigh, but when he saw the three riders gallop away from the church on the horizon and keep riding south, his heart sank. They were leaving. Sunlight glinted off silver in their saddlebags and he knew the men had the silver and were taking it. They had stolen his people’s only protection and salvation and he and his family were doomed. So this is how it ends, thought the peasant. What had he expected with such men? They were no account gunfighters and killers no different than the evil ones who had taken his people and his church. The peasant dropped to his knees and gripped his crucifix and prayed. He prayed for his people. He prayed for their passage from this world to Heaven. He felt himself of dust and nothingness and in his wretchedness he huddled in the utter emptiness of the desert where all was weakness and brutality and ugliness and death, but he was a simple man and under the hot sun in the dark hour of his abandonment and despair, his faith filled him. His prayer was simple.
Deliver Us From Evil.
Then as he opened his eyes and cast a hopeless glance into the horizon, the Mexican rose to his feet, unable to believe his eyes.
The figures of the three riders were riding towards him.
“I knew you would not forsake us, senors.”
“Aw, shut up. We’re all gonna get killed but we’re gonna take some of those sons of bitches with us.”
The sun was sinking low.
Tucker tossed the saddlebags to the ground and the silver spilled out. “If we’re gonna melt this into bullets we better get busy, we got two hours at best.”
And they worked. They melted the silver. They poured it in the molds for the bullets. They dropped the molds hissing and steaming into cold water buckets. Dumping the rounds out, they used pliers to extract the copper bullet heads from their cartridges and used the bullet press to insert the new slugs. The hours passed swiftly. The pile of bullets grew. By twilight, when they had melted down all the silver and turned it into bullets they had exactly 237 rounds and daylight was a memory.
The sun dropped below the bloody horizon by the time The Guns Of Santa Sangre rode to the doors of the church. They were draped with ammunition belts loaded with silver bullets, and each of them carried a rifle slung over their shoulder and had two pistols stuck in their holsters.
Mosca sat on the step waiting for them, his eyes like destiny. “I said you would be back.”
“Let them people go.”
“And if we don’t?”
“We’ll kill all you son of a bitches.”
The jefe smiled ironically to himself, tossed a pebble, then rose to his feet, brushing off the seat of his pants. “You should not have brought my mother into it, gringo. My mother is not a bitch. She heard how you insulted her and she is very angry. She is here now. With us. Look.” Mosca pointed to the sky and the full moon on the rise, an omnipresent white orb looming like a hallucination in the feverish nocturnal desert atmosphere. The gunslingers saw the moon but looked quickly back to the bandit leader, whose voice had disturbingly changed, becoming guttural and coarse. “Mi madre ve y oye todos, she sees and hears all. My mother, the mother of my men and I, is the moon and we are her children, comprende? The children of the night. Los ninos de la noche. She is full. I love her. Amor a mi madre. Tonight she shall enjoy watching as you die very very badly, gringos.”
Bodie, Fix and Tucker looked around and realized that while Mosca was talking, fifteen bandits had quietly surrounded them like prowling coyotes, closing off the road up the hill. Tall, hulking shadows lurked in the pale moonlight and their eyes seemed to be glowing red.
Mosca grinned, flashing his rows of gold teeth. He closed his mouth, smiling, working his jaw, his tongue moving inside his cheeks. Then he put his hand on his mouth and spat something into it. Reaching out his fist, he opened that hand and in his palm were a pile of gold teeth. The gunfighters looked at the bandit leader who looked back at them, his mouth opening as his lips pulled back in his fat face revealing rows of toothless gums. Then, before their eyes, new teeth pushed through the gums, sharp and white and canine.
To be continued…