Out of the shimmering heat of the Texan desert, Alonso appeared on his buckskin horse. He crossed a dried up riverbed where knee-deep water once flowed and followed the empty road up the valley, past an abandoned homestead and mine, trailing four men wanted for murder.
When he reached Gold Canyon's outskirts, Alonzo pulled at his horse's reins stopping outside a broken-down windmill. Nothing to be heard but its creaking wheel spinning in the wind, squicking to a steady rhythm. The dry-raspy sound of its pump echoed the town's troubles: no water. As they trotted on the swaying sign above the vacant Gold Canyon Mine company was evidence that hard times had come to stay. Accumulating sand and rubble on its decaying doorsteps painted a grim history of this once thriving town. Alonso rode past sun-bleached sidewalks, boarded-up businesses, and deserted dusty streets. Fading posters for the 1867 territorial elections flapped limply in the wind. A small dog with wiry white and russet fur approached at the foot of his horse and let out a small bark, but as his horse shuffled its hooves away from the little dog it cowered and scurried down an alley, tail between its legs.
Alonso followed to the road until reaching the livery stable to find a blacksmith beating a molton red horseshoe. Alonso's horse reared its head and snorted from the clamor of his hammer striking the rusted anvil. The blacksmith, a large, graying man looked up from his work.
"Hey there, can I help you?"
"I need feed and water for my horse, how much?" asked Alonso as he dismounted.
The blacksmith walked over sizing up his horse.
"Don't look so he'd eat much. Want him washed and brushed?"
"Just feed and water."
The blacksmith inserted the horseshoe deep inside the forge, sending sparks and flames flying above the amber coals. "How many days?"
Alonso loosened the cinch and slid the saddle off. "Just for a few hours."
A thick black wad of tobacco in his mouth, the blacksmith, puckered and spit on the hot bed of coals, releasing a burst of steam. "I can do minimum six bits for the whole day and night. Pay up when you ride out."
Alonso nodded. "This town got a sheriff?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Alonso slung his saddle over the side of the fence to turned to the blacksmith.
The man repositioned the glowing horseshoe onto the hot coals. "Four men done rode into town yesterday morning, went straight over to the sheriff's office. Called him out of his office, and shot him dead in the doorway. Never even had a chance to draw his gun." He spat another wad of tobacco into the coals. "Didn't care much for the fella. Still, that's no way to gun a man down."
"You happen to know where these men went?"
"After they killed him, they went right on over to the saloon. Been posted up, drinking and busting up the place all night. Never seen nothin' like it before."
Alonso reached into his jacket pocket and held out a WANTED poster "Any chance it was these men?"
He pulled up his breached and walked over to take a closer look. "Can't say for sure." The blacksmith rubbed his chin. "Never seen them close up. What they do?"
Alonso folded the poster and slid it back inside his pocket. "Broke into a ranch a little down south, when the owner walked in on them, and they shot him dead in his ownhome . . . didn't stop there and murdered the whole family, young ones too."
"What are you up here looking for 'em?"
Alonso took a long, slender cigar out of a small engraved case, bit the tip off, and leaned down to light it on the almost-molten horseshoe. "Bounty hunter" he replied before taking a long drag.
The blacksmith pulled the white-hot horseshoe out of the forge. "Well hope you find them sick bastards" He pointed over at the saloon. "Them here horses been tied up with no food and no water since they done rode in. Who does that to a horse?"
After a few puffs, Alonso glanced at the town hall's clock tower. Its worn out hands read three minutes till five. He unholstered his bone-handled Colt .45, checked its rounds, and slid it into its cradle. He tipped his hat to the blacksmith, turned, and headed towards the saloons front door. When he was finally in earshot, the drunken laughter of the amused Alonso. He stepped on the wooden sidewalk, discarded his cigar. On the fourth chime of the clock tower's bell, he pushed through the doors.
The dark wooden saloon was stark empty except for the four men. John was at the bar with an empty glass in one hand and a half an empty bottle of whiskey in the other, Butch was leaned over the piano's tapping keys and actually managing to plunk out a half decent tune. Earl and Wesley were sat around a small table talking and laughing at Butch's piano skills, or lack thereof.
John saw Alonso's reflection in the mirror. "Look here boys, we got us a visitor."
The laughter stopped, and the men turned toward Alonso.
"Get him, Butch," yelled John, dropping the bottle and reaching for his gun. Butch, to Alonso's left side, pulled out his revolver to fire. Alonso drew his gun and killed him before he was even able to shoot. Alonso whirled to face the others and let loose another round, killing John square in the chest. He fell to the floor and shot at the other two, missing Earl and just nicking Wesley. Alonso tried to shoot him once again, but it was too late. Earl and Wesley returned fire, and while one bullet missed and struck the mirror, another pierced Alonso's right in the neck. Alonso lay motionless on the floor.
"I'm hit," yelled Wesley, grabbing his right shoulder, wincing from the burning pain.
"How bad?" asked Earl.
"He just winged me I think" Wesley's ragged shirt, torn above the elbow, had a puncture from the bullet but no blood seeped on his shirt. "We got him good, didn't we?
Earl knelt next to Alonso, his ear pressed to his chest. "Nothing. Yep, he's dead as a doorknob."
"Doornail, yuh idiot" Wesley said. "Hey, check his pockets see what's he got on 'im."
"Just this here wanted poster of us, look it got bullet holes runnin' right through it. HA."
"Lemme see." Wesley grabbed hold of a chair to steady himself and grimaced as he stood up.
"Whoa." He staggered as he moved toward Earl.
"You alright, Wesley?"
"Yeah just stood up too fast, I reckon . . . I'm okay. So, what we gon' do with Butch and John?"
"Put them in the backroom, I guess? And this here one?" pointing at Alonso.
"Dump his ass on the street. I don't wanna' be looking at him."
They lugged Alonso's lifeless body out of the salon and down the beaten hardwood steps onto the dusty road. They walked back through the saloon door wiping their blood-stained hands.
"Wait, who has the talisman?"
"The talisman? Not me." Wesley said.
"Yeah, who's got it?" Earl asked while frantically looking through his pockets. "Wes I don't get it, check the others." Both men grabbed the men's dead bodies and began rifling through their jackets.
"Found it! John had it," Wesley cried. Both men sighed with relief.
"Look if we lose that little rock we ain't coming back from the dead, now are we?" Earl said while grabbing the rock from Wesley's hand.
"Why you, Earl? I can keep it just as safe. We just gotta' concentrate on remembering that damn chant else the talisman won't work."
"I shot the shaman, I'm holdin' onto it ya hear?"
"Just don't lose it, you hear?" Earl snapped.
"Let's cut the wrangling. Help me with Butch and John besides my shoulder hurts somethin' fierce, and I need a drink."
The two men dragged Butch and John's bodies into the storeroom in the back and hauled them behind the beer barrels and dusty crates of bourbon. They returned to the bar and resumed drinking and laughing. Outside the saloon, Alonso's body lay motionless in the dirt, the sounds of their cackling laughter from inside were loud enough that fear kept everyone in the desolate town away, and no one dared move him. The old clock continued to tick as the red sun began to fall in the hazy Texan sky.
Leaning back in his chair his mud-caked boots resting on the bar, Earl's drunken eyes moved from the saloon's battered wooden doors to the bullet holes in the wanted poster. "You know they keep coming for us, must be the fifth time now. Each one's better with a gun too, he musta' been the damn best yet." He looked at Wesley. "They used to come in twos. Kinda strange, though, this one coming alone."
Wesley leaned against the bar with a whiskey bottle raised for a swig. "We ain't got nothing to worry 'bout. We finished this one off good, maybe he's the last of 'em." Wesley turned and looked at his distorted image of something that resembled his former self. Sunken cheekbones pushed from beneath his gray skin, his withering dull hair peeked from under his worn black hat. He continued to stare into the bar's cracked mirror and threw the bottle onto the floor, smashing it to pieces.
"The hell you do that for," said Earl.
"I can't take much more decay on this here purty face o' mine . . . its robbing ten damn years off me each week. Just look at my face! It's all haggard, and I look near like an old man, and I don't think I'm even 30 yet."
Earl and Wesley met as children and after leaving home became some of the most dangerous outlaws in the west, stealing and slaughtering everything in sight. Hearing rumors about an old shaman belonging to the Tonkawa tribe who was said to possess powers that could bring wealth love, luck, and some said he could even bring a man back to life, so they headed down to Texas. When they got there the shaman welcomed the men into his tent, they watched as he healed the near death back to life using the stone placed around his neck. He allowed the men to stay refuge in his home for a few nights and they watched his incredible powers. The shaman warned Wesley and Earl that the talisman could only do so much, and while it would bring a man back to life, their bodies could continue decaying as if dead until he would complete his spiritual journey in the deserts of southern Arizona under the light of a full moon. The men didn't believe the shaman as they believed all the powers were held within the stone. The shaman was insulted they questioned his wisdom as he had given them refuge for the past few nights and asked the men to leave. A fight broke out, and the shaman called for his chief and their warriors. Almost everybody there that night was killed. Earl, laying almost dead on the blood covered ground managed to crawl over to the shaman's body and retrieve the talisman that hung from his neck. Moaning in pain he managed to put the necklace over his head and whisper the chant he had heard the old man say. As his eyes closed and he finally accepted his death he felt a warm rush of energy flow through his body. He reached for his chest and found the stab wound had gone. He sat up in astonishment and went over to Wesley's body. Later that night both men sat silently around the fire, beside the piles of lifeless bodies trying to comprehend what happened. They took what they could and headed north, eager to start their lives as the men who could never die.
"He was right you know? 'Bout the full moon," Wesley said.
"Yeah I know damn well he was, we need to head there before we start lookin' like bag o' bones on top our horses.
"We leave at daylight then." Wesley said as we took the last swig from the bottle of whiskey.