BUZZARDS

BUZZARDS

Another Weird Western?

By Thomas R Clark

The shootist wished he could see the bounty hunter. It’s not as if the sight of his former friend and adversary would change a Goddamn thing. It wouldn’t. They’d still be tied up with one foot in Boot Hill and hoods covering their faces. Oh, and we can’t forget the decaying, four hundred pound dead body laying on top of them. 

No, the shootist’s motivations were selfish in his delirium. One might say the circumstances warranted this action. He wanted to see his companion, only so he could watch him suffer as they died from exposure-or worse-in the desert. The bounty hunter’s lousy aim landed them in this predicament.

Fuck you, the shootist thought.

The warmth of the carbon dioxide the shootist exhaled created a humid atmosphere underneath. It helped mask the putrid stench of the rotting body lying across their laps. Occasional light passed through the cotton fibers. The cover did nothing to mask sounds, and the bounty hunter’s sobs drove him apeshit.

Oh, shut the fuck up. Fuckin blattin’ over there,” the shootist said.

“Or what?” the bounty hunter replied,  “Is there a fucking thing you can do about it?” The shootist knew the answer. Before his companion could continue, he interjected.

“No, there ain’t a single fucking thing you can do except sit there and rot, you son of a bitch.”

“You shouldn’t have cheated at cards.”

“I didn’t cheat.”

“You fucking cheated. Why else wouldn’t you let me cut the deck?”

“Because you already cut it!”

“I don’t recall cutting it. And besides, who says I can’t cut the deck twice.”

“The cards were already dealt.”

“I don’t recall this.”

“You dealt them!”

“I most certainly did not!”

“Well, you most certainly did!” The shootist mocked the bounty hunter’s nasally whine, “And look where your shit memory got us.”

“My shit memory? You pulled your pistol first.”

“Like Hell I did,” the shootist shook his head. The bounty hunter’s reputation of forgetfulness preceded him. Most folks thought he’d forget his name if it wasn’t repeated, and thus his nickname. At least he remained consistent, the shootist resolved to himself. “You pulled and shot at me and missed. And hit the fatass Brujo sitting by the door. Right between the eyes.

Old Ghost Eye. 

And his three bruja putas put us here with his body.

The bounty hunter screamed. This time, the screech raised in pitch. The shootist could hear him thrashing about, his boots kicking at the rocks and sand. Ghost Eye’s bulk held the bounty hunter in place. 

“Something is on me!” The manhunter screamed again, louder. “Oh Lord fucking Jesus get it off of me!” 

The shootist ignored the man’s screams of terror.

“Did you hear me?” The bounty hunter asked. The shootist said nothing. The bounty hunter screamed more. And then he didn’t scream. The shootist thought he heard a ripping sound interrupt the screaming, but then again he could be wrong. Maybe the manhunter blew out his vocal cords, the shootist didn’t care and didn’t bother to ask. The near-silence was a Godsend, and talking wasted too much energy. Instead, he focused on freeing his hands.

When he closed his eyes, his memory went back to the cantina. The shootist remembered watching the bounty hunter stand up from the table they sat at. The card game went sour, and tempers flared. The shootist stood in response. He pondered, though maybe he shouldn’t have brushed his hand on the handle of his holstered pistol. Be it a reaction out of habit or a nervous tick, how could the shootist have foreseen the escalation? He resolved he couldn’t, and thus the folly of this fell squarely on the bounty hunter’s shoulders.

The bounty hunter pulled his pistol and aimed at the shootist. The hammer dropped on the bullet’s primer, followed by the crack of powder. Smoke and fire erupted from the end of the pistol’s barrel. Reflexes brought the shootist to draw his own pistol from its scabbard. He shifted to the left as he pointed his gun at his friend. He didn’t want to kill the man, only wound him. 

The bounty hunter’s bullet flew past the shootist’s cheek. The shootist pulled the hammer back with his thumb. Before he could squeeze the trigger, the shootist watched the manhunter’s expression turn from one of anger to shock. He dropped his pistol on the table, raised his hands with the palms facing his adversary, and stepped back.

The shootist turned around. Sometime between the moment the shootist and the bounty hunter entered the cantina and now, a tragedy occurred. Between his good eye and his blind white eye, the one rumored to see into the spirit world; the man the locals referred to as Ghost Eye, grew a third eye in the center of his forehead. A rose-colored oil painting, embossed with chunks of brain and bone, decorated the wall behind the obese village elder. 

Brujo. The shootist corrected himself. He was a fucking witch-doctor. 

All the while, The bounty hunter’s screaming increased in volume and urgency. It invaded the memory, reminding the shootist of his dire straits. But it took a shrill squawking to bring the shootist back to the present. He recognized the sound and knew it to be the end game played out by Ghost Eye’s bruja putas.

Fucking vultures. They meant for us to be eaten alive by the birds. Their Zeros. Marries hidden behind veils. Son of a bitch.  

The shootist placed this activity near the bottom of his list of things to do. Especially when it wasn’t his fucking fault. He’d get out of this mess, he knew he would. 

I will not die this day!

The heat of the sun burned down on the now silent shootist and whimpering bounty hunter. Both men wore black hoods, drawing the sunlight to them. As a result, the shootist found himself sweating non-stop. Unable to replace the water he perspired, the shootist felt his lips crackle and his throat go dry. 

The bounty hunter’s incessant whining stopped.  

The shootist thanked God for the silence. Whatever landed on the manhunter earlier, flew away and left after the fuss he made. Now, as dehydrated as his partner in crime, the manhunter sobbed and sniffled ever so lightly.

Bound behind his back, the shootist felt the restraints loosen some as his arms and wrists saturated the rope with sweat. He wiggled and squirmed his hands, hoping to slip a greased hand out.

But nothing happened. The rope’s grip remained tight.

How could he let them tie him up like this?

The question came with a simple answer: Ghost Eye’s brujo Marries used black magic on him. This could be the only explanation. The shootist tried to remember what happened.

Ghost Eye’s body didn’t have time to get cold before his evil fucking putas showed up at the door of the cantina. The trio blocked the entrance, which doubled as the joint’s lone exit. Black robes flowed down their bodies, their faces covered by cowls and lace veils. The wind blew the sand around them, but never touching them.

They raised their arms toward the interior of the cantina. The robes slid back down skeletal thin arms, the exposed hands were twisted and bent, with long digits capped by curving fingernails. A single, crooked finger resembling a talon pointed from each hand at the bounty hunter and the shootist.

A dozen Marries, all locals, surrounded the duo. 

“It wasn’t me, it was an accident!” The manhunter declared. The Marries ignored his pleas. He pushed them away. They came back and grabbed him. He fought and kicked until one of the men pistol-whipped the manhunter in the back of the head, knocking him out cold. The shootist stood still, not wanting to exacerbate the situation any further. He walked outside on his own accord, surrounded by the bar patrons.

He passed the dead brujo. A whiff of something putrid caught the shootist by surprise. He stifled a reflective gag. In his peripheral vision, the shootist could swear the man’s dead eye followed him as he walked by. It looked more alive now than it did when he lived.

The mob of Coughing Marries stopped in the street. They threw the bounty hunter’s unconscious body onto the ground next to the shootist. Dust billowed as the manhunter landed in a clump.

The trio of bruja stood before the men.

Coughing putas with power are a dangerous thing, the shootist thought.

“You speak Ing-lais… no?” One of the women said. The shootist noted her accent was… different. Spanish, but the inflections were wrong. Like it was an older, bastardized form of the language. A weird clicking connected the words like a telegraph. The shootist remained stoic, refusing to answer the witch. “El gato caught you in the tongue, yes?” she laughed, and the other two women joined her, cackling in approval of her joke. “We can make you talk. If we desire.” English was not this woman’s native tongue.

The shootist spit onto the dirt-covered street. It kicked up a small cloud of dust on impact. The wind captured it, swirling about into a dust devil. The miniature tornado spun its way across the street to the women. It dissipated before touching their robes.

“I’ve got nothing to say to you devil fuckers.” The shootist said, and spit again. Nothing arose this time.

“Is it not as your friend says, were you not cheating at cards? He shoots his pistola because you are cheating, no? Our papa is dead because you are dishonest, no?”

“Fuck you and your Brujeria,” the shootist preferred cursing to begging before these hags. He knew the truth. He didn’t cheat at the game. The bounty hunter’s paranoia and stupidity pulled the pistol and squeezed the trigger. The manhunter’s bullet killed their Mojo Man. If they couldn’t see this, fuck them. The shootist found himself in tighter jams before, and he slipped out of them. 

“Chíngate, bendejo. I think not. You are not, our type.” The three witches cackled. “Not right now. Maybe later, we find you for some amor. When you are ready for us. Our brujo’s shell is gone because of you. It needs a new one.”

“Chewpa mi alegro, puta.” The shootist cursed back.

“Si. Someone is going to eat because they are very mucho hungry. They like gringos. We like gringos, too, do we not sisters? They love the taste of your fear. Ia familia.” The lead witch made the sign of the cross.

“There ain’t a Goddamn thing you can do to scare-” Stars erupted in the shootist’s vision… the blow to his head came from no magical source. A repeat of the pistol-whipping the manhunter took knocked the shootist out cold. He woke up sometime later, next to the bounty hunter, hooded, bound and stuffed underneath the corpse of the man his companion shot.

Back in the now, dehydrated and running out of options, the shootist twisted his wrists. To his joy, the shootist discovered things might be working in his favor. He kept at it, working his wrists, fingers, and forearms. The bounty hunter moaned unintelligible gibberish the shootist couldn’t understand, lending a bizarre soundtrack to the task. The sand under his hands shifted. Beneath the small of his back, he found a void of sorts. It allowed him space to wiggle his hands out from the confines of the knotted rope. Releasing his hands brought him one step closer to getting out of this predicament.

And getting as far away from tres bruja and their pet buzzards as he could.

One hand slipped out, then the other. The joints in his shoulders ached from being hyperextended. The shootist almost screamed out loud when he freed his hands. Instead, he ripped the hood off his head. 

“I’m out of here, putas!” The shootist declared. His elation didn’t last long.

His eyes adjusted to the brilliant sun beating down on them. Getting his first glimpse at his circumstances led to a sinking feeling of despair. 

Ghost Eye’s head lolled to the left, and his dead-eye stared the shootist down. the shootist noticed the brujo’s right arm anchored down the shootist’s legs, making it impossible for the shootist to reach them. This made untying them a moot issue. It wasn’t happening.

Sometimes seeing how fucked you are is funny. The shootist didn’t prescribe to that method of thought. He probably should have. The bounty hunter wasn’t much of a help, either. 

The shootist finally understood why the bounty hunter shut up. Something, likely one of the vultures, tore the bottom of the manhunter’s hood off. 

And took the bounty hunter’s lower jaw and tongue with it. 

A crimson bib decorated the bounty hunter’s chest, spreading down onto his lap. Coagulating blood caked around the open wound. At its center, a mixture of bodily fluids bubbled and frothed, hissing with each shallow breath he took. The light moaning, followed close by dying, topped the list of things the manhunter could do at this moment. 

The shootist looked skyward and saw a half dozen of the carrion eaters circling about, riding pockets of hot and cold air.

Watching. 

Waiting.

The shootist punched the dead brujo in the face. His clenched fist broke through bone and cartilage, sinking into the dead man’s fatty tissues. A dark ichor squirted out of the already decomposing nose. 

Jesus. Fuck you!” The shootist shook his hand, flicking bits of black goo on the sand.

The dead man’s body didn’t move. Rigor mortis froze it in place. And much to the shootist’s displeasure, the witch doctor’s blind eye continued to stare him down. He pushed the corpse. It wouldn’t budge. 

A rasping whistle blew next to the shootist. He looked toward the sound and saw his companion in the midst of aspirating. The wheezing droned to silence as the bounty hunter collapsed on his side, away from the shootist. 

A vulture swooped in and landed on the bounty hunter’s shoulder. 

His corpse didn’t protest.

The shootist watched as the bird pecked. There was a ripping sound as the scavenger raised its head. Clenched in its beak, a bit of hairy scalp dripped blood. The bird gobbled down the bit of flesh and struck again. This time the shootist heard something crack.

Another bird landed on the manhunter. It exchanged pecks with its companion already dining. A third swooped down onto Ghost Eye. The shootist and this raptor made eye contact. The avian took ugly to a new level. The bird sported a black coat of thick feathers with a nearly six-foot wingspan. With a face devoid of feathering and featuring perforated nostrils on its beak, the vulture resembled a death’s head.

 the shootist raised both of his hands, along with their respective middle fingers, and pointed them at the bird. It squawked, pecked, and plucked off the dead man’s collapsed nose. Desperation set in. The shootist knew the time to get the fuck out of here arrived. The animal ate its carrion meal while the shootist squirmed under the weight of the dead witch doctor.

And stopped. 

Something dug into his waist and it hurt like a mother fucker. He squeezed a free hand underneath and found the last thing he thought he would find.

The grip of a pistol. 

Holy fuck. There is a God. He thought, not wanting to speak and attract the buzzards. Instead, he focused on retrieving the dead man’s gun.

This better be loaded, he thought. It took a little finagling, but the shootist finally withdrew what turned out to be an old US Navy Colt. 

Loaded with all six cap and ball rounds. 

Thank you, Jesus!

The .36 caliber revolver filled his hand with iron and his resolve to live with gusto. He pulled back the hammer and aimed at the vulture mounted before him. 

“Fuck you.” The shootist said and squeezed the trigger.

Fire and blood accompanied the gunshot. The birds next to him flew off. The one in front of the shootist didn’t get the chance to.

The raptor’s head disappeared in unison with the explosion contained inside the handgun’s steel. Expanding gas forced the lead projectile down the barrel, out of the weapon, and into the turkey vulture’s pea-brained skull. The stench of sulfur and burning flesh followed. The bird’s feathered body fell off the brujo’s corpse and landed on the bounty hunter. 

The shootist looked up. The gunshot scared off the scavengers.

For now. 

He didn’t have much time before they returned to finish dinner and in greater numbers. The howling and yipping of a coyote pack in the distance served to reinforce his determination. With only five bullets, he wouldn’t stand a chance against the birds or the dogs. 

He squirmed as best as he could around the dead man’s head. The negative space under the small of his back grew, giving the shootist the leverage he needed. Pushing off with his hands, he managed to twist his lower body around. The bindings on his legs were in view. They were closer to his ankles than his knees, putting them out of reach by a finger’s width.

Damn it!” The shootist struggled to get closer. He laid the pistol across his lap. He held his breath, forced himself forward, and grabbed one of the ropes. Yes! He kept the elation of his success to himself. He pulled and twisted his midsection and belly, finally freeing himself from the girth of the dead brujo. He slipped the Colt into his empty gun belt.

He was pulling his boot out of the last bit of rope binding him to the witch doctor when three vultures landed before him. They stretched their wings out to their full expanse before pulling them in.

As they did this, the vultures transformed. The birds rose in height, becoming as tall as their wingspans. The black of the feathers became cloth and lace. The witch doctor’s pujas now stood before the shootist. They floated on the sand before him. The shootist stood and pulled his bandanna up, masking the bottom of his face.

This is perfect. Puta roulette time!” The shootist said and drew his pistol. He fired it three times, once at each of the women. He saw the bullets impact the cloth. The smell of burnt flesh and cloth followed as it would be expected.

The witches didn’t fall down like they were supposed to. They remained where they stood as if nothing happened. The shootist raised the pistol again then stopped before pulling the trigger. Two rounds were left. 

A hissing noise grew in volume. Something grabbed the shootist’s leg. He looked down. The bounty hunter accomplished something the shootist never thought possible. 

The manhunter somehow came back from the dead to haunt him. 

The timing couldn’t be worse.

The manhunter’s right hand held the shootist’s heel and ankle. Attached to the bounty hunter’s wrist, his left hand dangled, still tied to the ropes the brujas bound him with. He laid across the witch doctor’s legs, the black hood still covering his face. A chunk of it was missing from the back of the bounty hunter’s head, along with a portion of the gambler’s skull, exposing the pink of his brain. 

Oh fucking no you don’t!” the shootist hissed and aimed the pistol at the bounty hunter’s head. A breath later he pulled the trigger.

The remainder of the manhunter’s head exploded. The hand released its grip on the shootist’s ankle.

A cackle of laughter erupted from the trio of bruja. 

“Sorginak il familia,” they pointed at the shootist and screamed thrice, “Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

It all made sense to the shootist now. They planned this all along, this ritual in the desert. The witches wanted the birds to peck away at them so they could resurrect them as some sort of dead slaves.  

Fuck if I’m gonna let that happen.

“Ez geala, ba geala, el Diablo’s cono estamos,” the bruja trio chanted. The vultures landed about the witches. On the horizon, the shootist saw a pack of coyotes come, the setting sun at their backs. He looked at them. He looked at the pistol.

One round left. 

The shootist contemplated, then remembered what he did to the bounty hunter. He stopped moving after the shootist put a bullet in his brainpan. The headshot put an end to the manhunter’s lease on unlife.

And the shootist knew what he needed to do to get out of this jam. 

El Diablo.

Fuck your devil, putas.

The shootist brought the Colt’s barrel to his right temple. As he squeezed the trigger, the bruja rejoiced. The shootist wondered why for the length of time it took the hammer to fall and strike the powder charge. The explosion deafened his right ear and dulled the left. A force jerked his elbow, tilting the angle of trajectory as the gasses propelled the lead ball into his forehead. The bullet exited his orbital socket, killing the eye as it passed through optical nerves. 

The shootist dropped to his knees in the sand and fell on his side. The setting sun bore straight at him and burned his skin like fire. Visions of a Hellscape filled his throbbing head. 

He watched as the ghosts of those dispatched as a result of his vocation appeared before him. Hundreds of translucent Coughing Marries, incapable of further spreading their disease, hovered around his prone body.

And behind them, tres bruja chanted and danced. 

As the spirits of the dead sewed the eye back together, and he saw into the other side. Fire and brimstone burned and all the horrible things hidden from those without the sight came to life before his … 

Ghost Eye? 

The screams of the damned filled his ears and a grim reality set in for the shootist. 

They didn’t bring him here to kill him.

Tres bruja cackled in delight… 

This clarity rang through his throbbing skull. Then it stopped and he saw them, the witches, for what they truly were. They opened his mind to see what should not be seen. This was their endgame all along. 

He wept at the sight of their majesty.

Fallen angels. Still beautiful and eloquent in the eye of the Lord … 

The Ghost Eye … 

He could not bear to witness them any longer. The shootist pushed himself onto a knee and recovered a swatch of linen from a pocket. He tied it around his head, covering the Ghost Eye and masking the vision.

“Now go, mankiller,” the lead witch told the shootist, extending her arm and pointing to the setting sun, “use the gift we have bestowed you. Sometimes a devil needs a little El Diablo to do his work. Rise!”

He stood, holstered his pistol, and shook his head, holstered his pistol, and walked away. The nearest town might be a day, maybe a day and a half on foot. He’d make it, no problem. And any Coughing Marries? They might want to stay away from him. Tres bruja’s laughter kept him company as the shootist’s shadow fell behind him, blending with the night and the coyote howls of madness.

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