Only the hindquarters and bits of flesh from the horse’s head remain intact. I pull the reins on Icarus and turn him away. The stagecoach is overturned and there is no sign of a struggle, no arrows, no Apache footprints or spears. All that remains are clothes, hats, furs and other personal belongings. Enemies of the church, smuggling goods to nearby resistant camps no doubt.
A desert wind surfaces from the valley and a pungent presence makes itself known. As the clouds clear and the moon smiles, I can see the trail of blood and remains. All kinds of monsters exist out here beyond the papal states, beyond the realm of decency and morality, beyond dogma. All different shades and tongues walk these lands, terrorizing and frightening God's people. They’re nothing but savages.
I am here to oversee the completion of the New Church of Canterbury. The Pope of England wants his new temple to be a symbol to the heavens and a reminder to the Americans that they lost their sorry revolution. Maps are not very reliable in these untamed lands and I've gone and got myself lost, I am many a days ride from what the natives call the Rockies. Unmarked boundaries and pockets of resistance make traveling difficult and dangerous.
The valley is dark. I dare not strike a flame. Whatever monsters lay over that hill have me on my back before I could manage my pistol. My spectacles offer my eyes little guidance, pray for anything up close. Tonight, as the lord whispers, I will go no further down this path. I passed the town of Jerome a little ways back. I usually try and keep my distance from such places. Out here, where everything is still lawless and out of God’s hands, a man, especially an Englishman, can find himself in trouble quick. I will take my chance and let fate and faith protect me, Jerome, “O good samaritan, come to my aid.”
The little town is etched into the hillside and burns bright with artificial light. A Spanish man brought some new mixture that burns brighter than fire to the outline territory, some talk of him a a wizard, I believe him to be the devil's work. The town glows brighter than the night sky and as Icarus and I ascend the steep and muddy terrain, over my shoulder I sense the darkness from below blacken even further.
As we reach the highest summit of the road, the wind turns my stomach. Icarus plants his hoofs in the mud and refuses to move. The stench is dreadful. I give the trinity a once over and dismount. I smack Icarus on the hind end, he spins in circles, unsure of where to go, perhaps refusing to leave me. Either way, something isn’t right and I take him by the reins again. He is a faithful servant.
Though I bury my nose into the sleeve of my coat, the stink gets through. Up ahead, a silhouette moves towards me, "Hello," I say. "I don't mean any harm. I am lost and looking for shelter."
The blackened figure, backlit by sorcery, doesn't answer. I squint, desperately trying to adjust my sight. It's a woman, her dress plows through the mud and seems to weigh her down. Icarus stomps in protest at the whisper of on-coming snaps and hisses.
“Ma’am, is everything alright?” A woeful moan descends the hilltop. “Ma’am, are you hurt?” She stumbles, but catches herself and in the illumination I see a stiff right arm and a pistol gripped firmly in her hand.
“Ma’am, stay right where you are.” I attend to my pistol. "P
lease stay where you are.” Damn my eyes. She keeps coming. I raise my pistol.
“Say something or I’m gonna shoot.” Her movement becomes more eager. Salty sweat stings my eyes as I fire a warning shot, narrowly missing her leg. The gunshot startles Icarus and he rears back, pulling the reins from my hand and knocking me to the mud. My gun goes off and the bullet opens a hole in her blouse. She is knocked off balance but regains her footing and continues at me. The mud is so thick and rancid with a heavy scent of iron. I try to get up but gain no traction. I cannot stand. Pushing myself backwards I lose my pistol to the earth. I see her for the first time now and I wish I had not.
The woman's face is a chalky gray. Blood, dark and dried, covers her mouth, her teeth snapping wildly like an animal. Her steps are labored and with malice, like a toddler off balance and kreening head first to the floor she falls on me and I feel as if I'm drowning in the mud. With all my strength I hold her up and away from me. Her breath smells like death. Her mouth is black. Putrid pus and bile drizzle from a tongue that only partially remains. How can God allow such monsters?
She lunges at me again, my hands are covered in mud and my grip loses hold and she comes down upon me. I close my eyes tight and clench my teeth, awaiting the unthinkable pain and then I hear it. The sound of her skull fracturing rings loud in my ears. The full weight of the woman sinks me further into the mud and I am choking on ratty, foul hair.
I open my eyes and see mounted on the blackest horse a savage, an Apache clutching a bow. His dark skin is offset by a pale painted face, ghost white like a skull, strange symbols covering him and his horse. He dismounts and rolls the dead woman off of me. I escaped one pursuer, only to be dispatched by another. With his bare foot, he crushes what's left of the woman's skull and removes his arrow. I run the Lord’s Prayer through my head one last time and await my death.
The Apache extends his hand and helps me to my feet. He pulls my pistol from the mud and hands it to me."Wendigo," he points at the women, "dead dead. Kill. Wendigo." He digs the arrow back into the woman's shattered skull. "Kill. Head. Dead dead." He leaps upon his horse. Looks and me and then jabs the beast hard in its side and launches himself towards Jerome. I grab Icarus by the reins and settle myself in the stirrups and we follow the Apache into hell, “O good shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will.”