Flash Fiction: The Sheriff, The Priest, And The Killer (Act Three)

{Yeah, yeah, the deadline for this was 0900 PST, 1200 EST, an hour ago – remember the quote I used four days ago?}

Two weeks ago, the Challenge was to write 1,000 or so words that were to be Act One of a four part story. Last week the Challenge was to write Act Two to extend someone else’s Act One, while someone else might take your Act One and add their Act Two.

Needless to say, this week’s Challenge is to take the Act One and Act Two made by two different writers and add your Act Three. Next week…

Two weeks ago I wrote “Beach Rode (Act One)” and it was picked up by both Angela Cavenaugh and Peter MacDonald for the second act. I am most honored to have them both find my work worthy of their attention this week. You can find Angela’s work here and Peter’s addition here. The Peter MacDonald version is being picked up by wombatony — link to be updated when available.

Last week I wrote “The Dare (Act Two)“, adding to Mozette’s Act One. That story has being picked up this week by ElctrcRngr, you can find their contribution here.

This week I’m adding the third act to the first 975 words written by Christopher (with a one-word edit) and the next 1,002 words written by Henry. Both of their pieces are reproduced below with links to their websites in the section headers:

THE SHERIFF, THE PRIEST, AND THE KILLER (Act Three)

Act One (by Christopher)

“This is taking too long, sheriff.  Something’s wrong.”  Johnny held his horse by the bridle, his eyes on the bend in the canyon looming ahead.

“Enough of that talk, Johnny,” Sheriff Cairns said and glanced at the other three men: Kurt and the O’Connel brothers.  They stood together, quiet and tense.  “Rusty knows what he’s about.  If he’s lingering, there’s reason.”

“But we’re losing the light,” Johnny said.

Sheriff Cairns glanced up at the sky.  Johnny was right.  Night came fast in the mountains. They’d only been in the canyons a couple hours but the shadows were already long.

“We give it a quarter hour more.  Rusty won’t like the noise, but if it gets dark we’ll make a helluva rakcet.”

“Riders coming,” Kurt said, pointing back the way they came.  “Two.”

“Damn that boy,” Cairns said, and climbed into his saddle to get a better look.  “I told him to signal if anybody was coming after.”

Riding single file down the creek bank were two men.  They kicked their horses a step faster when Cairns saw them.

“Who the hell is that?” Johnny said.

“No idea.” Cairns waved back.  “Get your guns ready, boys.”

The riders stopped at edge of the rise where the men waited.  “Who are you?” Johnny said, his shotgun crossed in his arms.

The older man looked from man to man, his brow furrowed.  “I thought there’d be six of you.” He was lean with a lined, stubbled face.  His companion was young, with long hair and a serious face.

“I know you.” Cairns snapped his fingers. “You two out of Silverton?”  At the nod the sheriff continued. “What the hell are a priest and an altar boy doing on a posse?”

Kurt removed his hat, and Johnny laughed.  “A few prayers won’t hurt,” he said.

The priest didn’t smile. “We’re here to stop that killer, Matt Quinn.”

The O’Connel brothers both spit at the name, and the elder, Sam, said, “You gonna throw the good book at him, father?” He spoke a watered down old country accent.  His younger brother Billy laughed and spit again.

The priest removed his hat ran his fingers threw his short, graying hair.  He put it back on and sighed.  “Gentlemen, listen to me carefully.”  Cairns felt unease flutter in his stomach at the tone.  “You are all in terrible danger.”

“What you going on about?” Johnny said.

“Your sixth man is out scouting already, isn’t he,” the priest said.

“That’s right,” Cairns said, and saw his boys looking at one another.  “Why?”

“I’m afraid he’s already dead.”

“The hell you say.” Johnny said, twisting his shotgun so the butt rested in his armpit.

“Why would you say a thing like that?” Cairns said, the unease growing to a strange mix of fear and anger. “You don’t know Rusty.  He was an army scout for ten years.  He snuck up on Apache in the wars.  He killed three himself with his bowie knife.”

“I said it because I know Matt Quinn.”

“What!” the boys said together and Johnny pointed his shotgun at the priest.  “You know that sonnufabitch!”

The priest raised his hands slowly, but the boy beside him didn’t even blink, same blank face.  That made Cairns more nervous.

“Hold up, Johnny,” Cairns said. “I know that Quinn is a rabid dog, the way he chopped up that old couple and torched the barn with animals in their pens, but no way he’s sneaking up on Rusty.”

“How long he been gone?”

Silence.  Johnny lowered his gun.  “Don’t mean nothing,” Kurt said.

“I hate to say it, gentlemen, but he’s not coming back.”

He’s right, Cairns realized.  He’d felt it for a while now but wasn’t giving up hope.  The boys saw it too.

“How the hell you know this?”

“Two things.”  The priest held up one finger. “First, because I’ve been hunting Quinn for three years.”  He let the boys look at one another before holding up his next finger.  “Second.  Your negro boy is dead.”

“How!” “Who!” the boys said all at once.

“Hold it,” Cairns snapped and put a hand on his sidearm.  “Unless you and your boy there had a hand in it, what are you saying? Look at this canyon, there’s no sneaking past us and there ain’t no climbing out.”

“That’s what he wants you to think.  That’s why he led you here.”  The priest looked at them each again, and there was no doubt in his eyes.  “You are all in danger.  I’m here to get Quinn before he gets you.”

“Bullshit!” Jonny said, and the O’Connel brothers nodded along, kicking dirt at the priest. Their faces were flushed, but Cairns heard the fear under the bluster.

“Son, that negro boy’s head was cut clean off and his belly sliced open and his insides roped up around a tree.”  He looked at Cairns, and the sheriff saw the grim truth in his eyes.  “Then,” the priest swallowed, “he came back in here to hunt you all down.”

Johnny swung up onto his horse.  “To hell with this.  Sheriff, let’s go.”

“If you run you die.  He’s hunting you.”

“Sheriff-”

“Shut up.  Stay where you are.”  Cairns removed his hat and wiped his kerchief across his sweating forehead.  The sun was almost out of sight.  The canyon was getting colder and darker.  “Father, you saying we’re done?  Why are you here then?”

“I’m saying I’ve got good news for you and bad news, sheriff.”

“Bad news,” Billy O’Connel said through a high pitched laugh.

“Yeah, the bad,” Cairns said.

“Matt Quinn isn’t human.”

Cairns was too stunned to respond.  “And the good?” he whispered.

The priest pointed at his stone faced companion.  “Neither is he.”

The boy finally smiled, and his mouth kept growing, the lips pulling back almost to his ears, revealing rows of jagged, razor teeth.

Act Two (by Henry)

The sun rolled down behind the edge of the cliffs, limning the top of the canyon in light for a moment before it disappeared completely.  The deep gulch was suddenly too dark, but everyone could still see the too-wide smile of the freak that rode alongside the padre.

“Sweet Jeezus,” muttered Johnny, staring at the … thing.  Every man in the posse was clutching their gun, even the Sheriff.  There was a faint click as one of the men levered back the hammer on his pistol.  It was a tense moment, but Cairns felt a horrible certainty that drawing down on the devil and the priest would only end with a sad priest, a well fed devil, and five more raggedy corpses strewn across the canyon floor.  He felt strangely relieved when the priest spoke up.

“Son,” said the priest, barely visible in the sudden twilight but for the little white patch of his collar, “you really don’t want to do that.” Everyone knew he was talking to Johnny with his shotgun.  “Matt Quinn is looking to torture you to death before he eats your souls.  You don’t need to go making more trouble for yourself by angering two fellas as only want to help.”

“Listen to the Father, Johnny.”  Sheriff Cairns spoke up, reaching out to tap Johnny on the shoulder.  “We’re well enough screwed already without bringing more down on our heads.”  He sighed.  If the priest was to be believed, and Cairns would swear the man felt honest, Rusty was already dead.  He had no doubt that this night would get worse before it got better.  “Billy, Sam, one of you get us a torch lit.  We’re not going to be getting out of this dark any time soon.”

Even that faint glimmer of light soothed the men’s nerves.  If the boy-thing cared either way, he didn’t seem to show it.  The priest introduced himself as Father Robert, and claimed the boy-thing was called Daniel.  Father Robert gathered the men in closer into a huddle, while Daniel and Kurt watched the canyon around them, still close enough to overhear.

“The thing you call Matt Quinn is a sick and twisted beast.”  The priest looked at those clustered near him, slowly making eye contact with each of the men in the circle of torchlight.  “You think I’m being pretty with my language, but I’m just telling it to you straight, the gospel truth.  Except the gospel is good news, and this pure ain’t.”  He lifted his hat briefly and smoothed back his hair, looking nervous for the briefest moment.  “Look, you’ve seen that he walks with a man’s flesh, but when no man’s eye is on him he can become something truly monstrous.  I once saw him in a mirror, and I still have nightmares.”  The priest let that settle on his audience, then continued, “I’ve hunted him for too long; we each know the ways of the other now.  Quinn prefers to draw his prey out into dark places, or ambush them.  If he consumes every last ounce of a person, he can take a few hours to change his appearance to look like them.  If you come across him while he’s changing, his skin has the appearance of melting, runny wax.  So nobody goes anywhere alone, and nobody runs ahead hot on the trail.  Because he will lead you into a trap, and he will kill you.  Just for the fun of it.”

“But Father,” Billy whined, only a faint trace of the old country still in his voice, “you make it sound like we can’t take him!  If we don’t hunt him now, he’ll just get away and go off killing and murdering even more folk!”

“Hush up, Billy.”  Cairns glared at the young man.  “The Father was just getting around to that,” he glanced at the priest, “isn’t that right?”

The priest cleared his throat.  “Yes.”  He jerked his thumb behind his back at Daniel.  “That boy is our ace, and we must make sure we can point him in the right direction when the time comes.  Until then, we need to play it safe, keep careful, and lure Quinn in.”

The men looked at each other nervously at the word ‘lure.’  The silence stretched just a little too long.

“Right, well, let’s set up camp here then.  It’s as good a spot as any.”  Sheriff Cairns slapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously.  “We’ve got long sight lines, but in the dark Quinn should be able to approach us from that rock pile off yonder,” Cairns nodded to his left.  “So, unless you suggest otherwise Father, I suggest we set watch and leave that as a not-quite-obvious whole.”

Father Robert nodded, considering.  “Yes, that should probably work.  Daniel needn’t sleep, but he should pretend to so that Quinn doesn’t become suspicious.  I trust you can arrange a camp watch?”  Cairns’ snorted laughter was enough of a response.

“Hah, alright,” Cairns took charge as he stopped laughing.  “Billy, you take care of the horses for now.  Sam and Daniel’ll take first watch, the rest of us will cycle up, and Daniel can sleep closest to the rock pile.”  He looked around, saw nodding heads.  “Right, let’s get to it.”

***

The campfire was burning low, and the tense quiet of the canyon left Sam O’Connel nervous.

“So, uh,” the young man looked sideways at his watch-companion, his lilt coming stronger with his nervousness, “yer a Christian feller then?  What with the travelin’ with the priest-like an’ all.”

Daniel nodded happily.  “Christ-god is very powerful.  He cannot die.  He shares his power with us by letting us eat him, and he still does not die.  I must be a good Christian.  And I will eat this Matt Quinn and be more powerful too.  It is good.”

Sam stared at Daniel, wide-eyed.  Then he turned and stared out into the darkness, very carefully not looking at the thing at his back.  “Right.  Yes.  It sure is good.”

Act Three (by Paul Willett aka MomDude)

From the corner of Sam’s eye he caught sight of light and movement. Swinging around quickly, bringing up his rifle, his heart starting to race, he let out a long sign as he saw it was just a long meteor trail cutting across the sky. The moon wouldn’t be up for another hour and it wouldn’t be that bright tonight, but he would be grateful to get any help he could.

A clatter of stones and gravel in the distance had Sam spinning the other way, peering into the dark, lit only dimly by starlight and the campfire embers. A shape was moving out there somewhere up on the hill, but it was going downstream along the canyon, not toward them. Maybe a coyote.

“You still awake there, Dan? You’re not leavin’ me out here alone, are ya?”

“Not sleep,” Daniel said softly. “Listening. No danger from sky lights.” Without moving his head, he moved his hand to gesture toward the sky, then pointed at the canyon wall. “Desert dog not hurt us. Or night bird.” He pointed up again, where Sam could hear the soft passage of an owl somewhere overhead, now that it had been pointed out to him.

“You can hear all of that? And tell the difference? What are you anyway? Not even Apache can hear those things!”

“Not Apache. Me from far away, there.” Daniel pointed toward the sky near the northern horizon. “Must capture and eat Matt Quinn being.”

Sam shuddered. “Do you know where Quinn is now? Can you hear him or smell him?”

“Matt Quinn very near. Over there. Going away.”

As Daniel pointed again, a scream cut through the night from outside the camp. The screaming echoed through the canyon, becoming all the more terrifying as it reverberated back and forth, before abruptly cutting off and leaving silence once again.

Instantly, everyone in camp was awake and on their feet. All but Father Robert and Daniel had their guns drawn. They stared wild-eyed out into the dark toward where the sound had been.

“Everyone spread out, don’t leave the campfire,” Sheriff Cairns said. “Keep an eye out on the man to your left and to your right. Billy, throw some more brush onto the fire and give us some light.” The men shuffled around to surround the campfire, facing outward, their terror barely kept in check in the darkness.

“Billy, where are you?” Sam yelled as the fire stayed dark. “Billy! Sheriff, where’s my brother?”

Father Robert threw some broken brush onto the fire. As the flames flared up, everyone did a quick head count. Five humans plus one Daniel. There was no Billy O’Connel in sight.

Sam screamed in anger, brought up his rifle, and charged toward the darkness toward where his little brother had last been heard. The sheriff’s command of “STOP!” brought him up short, trembling, balancing between his fury and his terror.

“We’ve got to go get him!” Sam bellowed back over his shoulder. “That’s Billy out there, sheriff. You’ve known him all his life, you can’t just leave him!”

“If he’s lucky, he’s dead,” Father Robert said. “If you or any of us go out there, then we’ll all be just as lucky if we die quickly. But Quinn won’t let that happen. We’ll all die slowly, with as much pain and suffering as he can get out of us. It’s what he feeds on.”

The sheriff pointed at Daniel. “What the hell’s going on with him?” he demanded. The demon was standing beside the priest, arms limp at his sides. His shark-like mouth was open in a wide smile, a thread of drool dripping down from both sides, his eyes slitted half open, a look of rapture on his face.

“He feeds!” Daniel said softly and reverently, before sitting down heavily in the dirt.

With a sound of rushing air, something large arched out of the darkness and flew toward the campfire. Johnny had his shotgun up in a flash, his shot catching it squarely and knocking it to one side, away from the flames. The mystery object landed with a thud, collapsing into a pile.

“Hold your positions!” the sheriff ordered. “Everyone keep your watch out there!” Holding his revolver at the ready, he approached the new threat.

At first it appeared to be nothing more than a pile of clothing. Billy’s clothes from the look of it. But as the sheriff prodded the pile with his toe and started to spread it out a bit, the almost overwhelming horror became clear. The clothes weren’t stained or torn, but holding them all together was a giant, empty sack of skin. All bone, blood, muscle, and internal organs were gone, as was the head.

As the moon started to rise over the eastern canyon wall, Sam staggered over to the fire and fell to his knees next to the abomination lying in the dirt. He couldn’t catch his breath, couldn’t scream, couldn’t find a way to release his grief and rage. He desperately looked back and forth between the sheriff, the priest, and Daniel, finally allowing his gaze to settle on the hellish altar boy.

“He feeds,” Daniel whispered, his face remaining expressionless.

“That’s it, we’re going out after him,” the sheriff said. “Leave the camp, we’ll either be dead or we can come back for it later. Saddle up!”

“Sheriff, it’s what he wants,” Father Robert said. “You’ll die.”

“Tell that to Billy. We’re dying here anyway, let’s at least die fighting instead of trying to hide in the dark.”

“It won’t work.”

“Padre, if you’ve got a better idea, now’s the time to spill the beans. And what’s he supposed to do to help us?” the sheriff asked, pointing an accusing finger at Daniel.

The priest took a long look at Daniel, surrounded by the sounds of men putting saddles on horses and getting ready to die. He looked at Billy’s remains, back at Daniel, and then gave a heavy sigh. “Yes, I guess now’s the time for that, sheriff. Let me show you what Daniel can do and how he’ll kill Quinn.”

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