by Bret Jordan
©2007 Bret Jordan
Sundown approached the little town of Bleakwood, Texas. It was little more than a dot on the map, with a general store, blacksmith, bank, and all of the usual establishments a person would expect to find in a small East Texas town. The saloon was the only place of real interest, and not too much ever happened even there.
You fellas got somewhere to stay tonight? the bartender asked as he ran a rag around the inside of a glass. He was speaking to the three gentlemen sitting in a corner of the bar. The rugged looking group had just ridden into town that afternoon. Other than the bartender, they were the only ones in the saloon.
The scraggliest-looking of the three said, It aint like we could get a room in the Bleakwood Hotel. Y aint got one!
The bartender frowned and put the glass he was cleaning under the bar. Nope. Dont get enough visitors to Bleakwood to justify havin one. Yall got somewhere else you can stay?
What appeared to be Scragglys brother spoke in a low scratchy voice without turning to face the bartender. He appeared to be the leader of the group. You dont worry none about us, fella. Were taken care of.
The bartender smiled as he wiped down the top of the wooden counter. Thats good, cause the whole town will be closin down in about thirty minutes.
Looking awfully disappointed, Scraggly whined, The saloon, too?
Yessir. Bleakwood dont stay goin after the sun goes down.
The bank? Scragglys brother asked while looking down into his beer.
The Bank? What kind of question was that? The bartenders professional smile faded. Yessir. The general store, the little market, the tailor and the bank.
Scragglys brother stood up. This seemed to be the signal for the others to do the same. Scraggly stood while gulping down his half-empty mug of beer. The other fellow stood, and the bartender was awed again by how large the man was. He stood at least six five and probably weighed almost two hundred and fifty pounds. Not much of it fat.
As they began walking out the front doors Scraggly turned back to the bartender and cackled, We got to make ourself a withdrawal before the bank closes.
Scragglys brother slapped him on the back of the head and the cackling stopped.
Big Joe had never robbed a bank before. Hed never really even thought about robbing one. For the most part he just wasnt the criminal type, and hard work had never bothered him.
That was until about a month ago when he ran across Enoch and his crazy brother Elroy. They had big plans to be notorious bandits. Enoch said it was easy: You just walk in, act mean, ask for the money, and make sure to ride far enough out of town so that the local sheriff will give up the chase. Dont get identified. And always hit a bank just before dark. You rob a bank just before dark, why, that delays the chase for a good twelve hoursgives a fellow a mighty fine head start.
It just sounded too easy not to try at least once.
As the three men walked across the dusty street to the bank they pulled their bandanas up over their noses so that only their eyes showed. The wind was picking up a bit, and gusts of sand and dead leaves blew along the road. A storm was coming.
They drew their pistols as they approached the bank. Enoch marched to the front doors without missing a beat and slammed the doors of the bank open. Nobody move!
There were only three people in the bank. The older gentleman in a nice suite looked like the bank president, or at least the manager. He was walking across the small lobby. A younger man, not dressed so spiffy, was behind a barred window counting money. The final man was a tall, lanky fellow with a bushy mustache. He stood in front of the barred window as the younger man counted money out to him. This man wore a badge on his vest and automatically went for his sidearm when Enoch slammed through the front door.
Fortunately, crazy Elroy already had his gun out and fixed on the badge-wearing stranger. Unfortunately, crazy Elroy was crazy and prone to be trigger-happy. So it wasnt a huge surprise to Enoch when a hole erupted in the front of the sheriffs head and gore and brain matter splattered the young man behind the bars. The sound of the shot rang through the room.
As the sheriff dropped to the floor, the young man behind the bars started screaming, and the bank manager put his hands in the air. There was a look of bewilderment on his face. IIm unarmed! Dont shoot!. Then he turned to the young man behind the bars. Michael. Put your hands up where these men can see them. We dont want any more gunfire.
Big Joe was appalled. No one was supposed to get shot! Enoch had promised that no one would be killed. The guns were just to spook the natives, a prop to make the men seem more fearsome. But now a man was dead. They were going to hang for sure. Big Joes guts clamped up into a nervous ball, and the acrid smell of gunpowder was making him sick.
Enochs lips tightened in anger. He shook his head and growled, Dont you pull that trigger again! Not less I say so!
But he was goin for his gun, Elroy whined.
Dont gimme no back-talk! Just do like I tell ya.
Enoch cuffed him across the mouth. Dont say nothin else!
That was enough for Big Joe. Lets just go. This has turned out bad. Then his voice dropped to a whisper as he looked at the body of the dead sheriff. Lets just go.
Enoch grinned at Big Joe. Might as well get what we came for now. Getting the money wont make it any worse.
Big Joe hated the way this was going, but Enoch was right. There wasnt any turning back at that point. Leaving empty-handed wouldnt change anything. If they were caught they would hang, money or no money.
He watched as Enoch walked over to the bank manager and stuck his gun under the mans fat chin. Since you know my name, I guess its only fair that you tell me yours.
There was a quiver in the mans voice as he replied, Rupert. Jeremiah Rupert.
Enoch grinned and with his mouth inches away from Jeremiahs ear he said, Okay, Jerry. I magine a smart feller like you knows what Im here for, so you just walk your dumpy ass over to that vault. Then you and Mike can start filling bags up with money. He accentuated each word by pushing Jeremiahs back with his gun, pushing him toward the vault.
He nodded his head to Big Joe. Big Joe. Lock the front door, put the Closed sign up, and keep an eye out for anyone who looks like they might be comin to cause us trouble. Enoch turned to Elroy. You bring your idiot ass with me, and dont go shootin nobody else unless I say so.
Big Joe did as Enoch instructed, locking the doors and flopping the sign around from Open to Closed. When he turned back around, he and the sheriff were alone. The sheriff didnt seem to mind. His blank stare was taking in every aspect of Big Joes boots. Big Joe felt a chill run up his back. He could hear Enoch barking orders, and some shuffling down a hallway behind the barred window.
He looked out the front window, between the letters stenciled onto the glass. BANK OF BLEAKWOOD, the letters read. The town was quiet. The only living things he could see were the three horses theyd rode into town, tied up in front of the bank.
Didnt anyone hear the gunshot? Big Joe asked himself. Something wasnt right about the town being so quiet. The center of his guts was still all knotted up, but now that knot was freezing into an icy ball of fear. He took a deep breath to calm himself down. I'm just shook up about the botched bank job, he told himself. My first bank robbery, and this is how it turns out? I wont never do anything like this again. Even if we get away with the money, and the law never catches up with us for our terrible deed. Im never doin anything like this, not ever again.
The shadows lengthened as the sun dropped lower, almost below the roof and trees. Big Joe watched the street until the sun finally disappeared altogether. The wind was picking up even more and a few dark dime-sized spots had begun to appear on the porch in front of the bank. The rain was just getting started. A few lights were on in different buildings across the street, but not many. Big Joe found that odd. Hard-working people usually didnt stay up very long after dark, but they usually stayed up a little while. Oddest damn town he ever ran across. He caught himself before he got spooked again. He took another deep breath and relaxed, just a bit.
Big Joe turned as he heard Enoch come around the counter.
Hes taking care of some business.
Big Joes eyes narrowed with suspicion. The icy ball was suddenly back. What do ya mean?
Enoch frowned and spoke to Big Joe as if he were mentally retarded. They know who we are. They saw us shoot the sheriff. They know too much for us just walk out of here with them breathing.
Big Joe started walking toward the vault. With a quiver in his voice he said, No! This has gone too far. I wont just let
There was a roar from the back of the bank. It was a roar unlike any sound Big Joe had ever heard before, a low, deep, growling roar. From down the hall Elroy screamed, What the Hells he doin? What in the Goddamned Hell is he doin? Another growling roar was followed by three gunshots. Big Joe jumped at every one of them.
Big Joe and Enoch both ran toward the vault, with their guns held high.
They only made it up to the barred counter when Elroy stumbled out from the hallway leading to the vault. He was wide-eyed and covered with blood. A huge gash had been opened from his shoulder to his hip. His gun dangled limply from one useless hand.
Big Joe froze in place. This just couldnt be happening!
Enoch ran around the counter and caught Elroy as he fell to the ground. He gently cradled Elroys head against his chest. He began to whisper things to Elroy that Big Joe was too far away to hear. The whispers sounded almost tearful. After a few minutes Enoch lowered his brother to the floor. Crazy Elroy looked toward the ceiling with eyes that werent seeing anything. Enoch closed them with a reverence that Big Joe would never have believed the man possessed.
Enoch stood up while looking down at his brother. Big Joe watched him: There was a fierce, mean look in his eyes, the look of a man with nothing to lose. His head turned toward Big Joe. Big Joe wished hed look elsewhere, because the man had the look of the insane. The look of a man who has turned his back on the world and plans to make it pay.
After giving Big Joe that long, hard stare, he turned to the hallway leading to the vault and lumbered down it. A second later the thunder of six shots reverberated through the bank. There was a few seconds of silence before Big Joe heard Enoch yell, Get in here and look at this!
Big Joe ran into the vault. He saw Enoch kneeling down, next to the biggest dog Big Joe had ever seen. Jeremiah was lying in a rapidly widening pool of blood next to the dog. Both of them had several holes through their foreheads.
Sons-a-bitches musta had this Goddamn wolf hiding somewhere back in here! I figure that bastard over there siced the critter on Elroy after I walked up to the front. He wont be doin that again! Sneaky bastard. Enoch spat.
Big Joe looked around. Wheres the kid?
What kid? Enoch mumbled as he began reloading his gun.
The fella that was at the counter. The guy standing by the sheriff.
Damn! Enoch shook his head from side to side. Theres gotta be a back door. Bastard musta run out when Elroy shot his dog.
It didnt add up. But this guy didnt run
Enoch didnt care. He was beyond reason. He stood up and walked out of the vault, heading further down the hallway. Big Joe followed.
Enoch. We need to get Elroy and get on the horses. We gotta get out of here! Weve already stayed a damn sight longer than we shouldve.
Enoch didnt even turn around to respond to Big Joe. You go if you want tobut that kids gonna get his. He killed my brother, and he aint just gonna walk away from that!
Big Joe continued to follow Enoch to the back of the hallway. The hallway ended in a steel door. All of the locks were still in place.
Big Joe frowned. Whered the kid go? There aint nowhere else he could have gone!
Enoch began unlatching the locks on the door. He went this way. Like you said, there aint nowhere else the bastard could have gone. Betcha he got some kinda sneaky trick to lock the door back from the outside. Tryin to throw us off his scent, thats what hes doing.
Enochs theory sounded a little weak to Big Joe, but he didnt argue.
When all of the locks were unlatched, Enoch stepped through the door into a back alley. Big Joe followed. The storm had well and truly broken, and Big Joe was instantly soaking wet with the rainwater that was pouring out of the dark heavens. To their left, the alley ended in a wooden fence; to the right, it opened up onto the road; a large barrel next to the building. Another building stood directly across from them, a green door in the center. The adjacent building was a two-story structure with some stairs leading up to a door on the second floor.
With water dripping off of his face Enoch said, I bet the sumbitch went in there.
He grabbed Big Joes shirt and pointed to the second floor. Im goin in down here, you get up them stairs and come in from above. You see the bastard, you shoot him. Got it? Big Joe didnt say anything. You got it!?
Yeah, Enoch, said Big Joe. I got it. Though he knew he wouldnt be firing on any other human being, no matter who he saw.
Big Joe was almost halfway up the stairs when he heard the sound, a low growl. He turned towards the street and looked. His eyes widened in shock. In the street was at least five of the biggest dogs he had ever seen. Two of them were standing on their hind legs. As he looked closer he realized they werent dogs at all; they were wolves.
He ran, taking the stairs two at a time. As he got to the door he turned and looked. The wolves were in the alley, one almost halfway up the stairs. Another wolf had joined them from the bank, coming through the door that he and Enoch had used. The new wolfs face was covered with blood.
Big Joe knew that the new wolf was the same one that had been shot in the head in the vault. Of course that wasnt possible, but his eyes told him otherwise.
He fired a shot down the stairs while fumbling at the door. With his sloppy aim, he didnt figure hed hit the wolfbut the shot might buy him enough time to get the door open. The wolf slowed but didnt stop and though the knob turned in Big Joes hand it wouldnt open. His heart raced in his chest.
He slammed the gun back into his holster and gripped the handle with both hands and pulled. The door flew open. He just made it in as the wolf reached the top of the stairs. As he shut the door all he could see other than the rain was hair and teeth.
He backed across a small bedroom as the wolf slammed itself against the door, shaking it in its hinges. As the back of his legs touched a bed he heard several gunshots from downstairs. He jumped. The wolf slammed the door again. A man began to screamed from downstairs until the scream became a gurgle and stopped all together. The door rattled in its frame.
Dont come any closer!
Big Joe turned to see a young lady, in her mid twenties, standing by a dresser cabinet. She stood in her nightgown and held a knife out in front of her. In a shaky voice she said, Dont come any closer.
Before he could reply the door burst from its hinges and the silhouette of a wolf standing on its hind legs could be seen in the doorway. Big Joe backed away, towards the girl. She still held the knife out at Big Joe, not paying the giant wolf any attention.
He saw a door on the other side of the dresser and ran for it. The wolf dropped down onto all four of its legs and began to lope across the room, just a few paces behind Big Joe.
On his way to the door Big Joe grabbed the girl and slung her through the door before going in himself and slamming it shut behind him.
Pain shot through his back. He turned and saw the girl, a bloody knife raised in her, ready to strike again. He grabbed her hand hard and shook it, causing her to drop the knife.
The door rattled on its hinges.
He pushed the girl back against a sink, then put his hand to the gash in his lower back. What the hell you done that for? I just saved your life!
She sat on the edge of the tub, smiled and said, Oh Sugah, it aint me whos gone and gotten into a heap o trouble. Its you, Sugah. All you!
The wound should have been hurting and hurting bad, but what with all of the recent excitement he hardly felt a thing. What do you mean its all me? When that thing The door shook and plaster fell from the ceiling like smoke. When that thing comes through the door, it aint gonna stop with me.
She grinned and calmly stretched out her legs, Big Joe was too scared to notice their shapeliness. Sugah, he is gonna tear you a new one. And when hes finished with you, d you know what I gonna do? Ill just pat him on the head and send him on his way.
The door shook again and Big Joe put his back to it, bracing his foot against the sink to hold it closed. Hes your pet?
She laughed. Honey, he aint nobodys pet. None o them is.
Claws raked the door. Big Joe felt every inch of the nails against his back even though they didnt penetrate the wood. Then why aint he gonna eat you?
She pulled the collar of her nightgown aside, displaying the top of her breast. Big Joe began to blush until he realized she was showing him a tattooa small paw with some sort of Indian markings below it. Ya gotta have one of them Indian witch doctors mark you with this. Its got magic. She pulled her shirt shut again. If ya aint got one of these, ya aint nothing but food for them wolves. Everybody who aint a wolf has one.
The claw raking became more intense, sending icy shivers up Big Joes spine. Are you tellin me everybody in town is a werewolf?
She pointed to the door as it bulged in its frame. Whatcha thinks knockin to get ina dog?
Big Joe looked all around the room for a way to escape. The small bathroom offered none. Only a large bowl, medicine cabinet, toilet, and tub presented itself. As his eyes passed the medicine cabinet an idea struck him. The idea wasnt much, but nothing else would come to mind.
Open your shirt!
The womans mouth fell open and she clutched her shirt closed even tighter.
The door slammed against his back, almost knocking him to the floor. Im not trying to look at you your uh I just want to see the tattoo again.
Reluctantly she pulled her shirt to the side again. The door slammed into his back; in the couple of seconds he had before the wolf slammed the door again, Big Joe dug through the medicine cabinet. He found what he was looking for on his first try, a small grease pencil used as eyeliner.
He jumped back to the door just as the wolf slammed into it. The frame of the door began to separate from the wall.
Big Joe looked at her tattoo and began drawing the paw on the back of his palm. When the woman saw what he was doing she closed her shirt up again.
That was enough for Big Joe. With a snarl that the werewolf would be proud of, he pulled his handgun from its holster and pointed it at her head. Either I draw it with this here pencil, or I cut yours off you. He pulled the hammer back on the revolver. You pick.
She opened her shirt back up and he continued drawing the tattoo on the back of his hand with the werewolf slamming the door at his back. He prayed his plan would work. His tattoo wasnt magical, created by a shaman, or even permanent, but his plan was the only chance he had.
When the tattoo was finished he holstered his gun, threw the grease pencil to the floor, and sat next to the woman on the tub.
He had just barely sat down when the door exploded inward and the creature dove into the small room, snarling and growling. Big Joes heart nearly stopped, because he could tell it was the same monster that got shot in the vault! It looked over at the two people sitting on the edge of the tub. The girl still had the top of her nightgown open, exposing the tattoo to the creature. Big Joe held his hand up before him, palm facing him and tattoo facing the creature.
It crouched down with its front paws almost dragging the ground and sniffed at the womans tattoo. She held her head cocked back and to the side, exposing her throat to the beast. It growled at her for a while. She growled back, which didn't help to settle Big Joes nerves any. When it was finished with her, it noddedthe damned wolf nodded!and moved on to Big Joe.
The monster sniffed around his throat first. Big Joe almost panicked as the hot breath blew against his Adams apple. The creature snarled and sniffed down his chest and across his arm until it got to his hand. There it sniffed again and growled. Big Joes other hand slowly crept to his revolver, as his last shreds of hope died.
With one more sniff the creature turned to go. Big Joe let out a sigh of relief, a sigh that didnt go unnoticed by the werewolf. Faster than Big Joe could believe the creature tuned and snapped its jaws shut around Big Joes hand, biting into the flesh of his palm and puncturing the fake tattoo.
Big Joe screamed in pain and reached for his revolver. Before he could get a shot off the monster turned and dove out of the little room. He turned to look at the woman. Well, now! she said. Looks like you got yourself a second chance, Mister. Best not waste it. She sat on the edge of the tub with a knowing expression on her face.
Big Joe didnt care much for that expression of hers, didnt care much for it at all.