I am thrilled to announce the publication of my short story “The Priest” published May 1st by Gothic City Press. This anthology takes a cool twist on the book of Revelation and specifically searched for stories to illustrate Revelations 5:9. Included in this anthology is an amazing story by my super talented friend Ryan Gish.
Synopsis of “The Priest”
In an old western town, somewhere between here and there, a disturbed man enters Jedediah’s bar. He’s a dead man, come to find out, and his body houses a harlot-demon intent on killing the barkeep. He needs help. A fallen angel gets the call. He fits neither in the demon world he’s trying to escape nor with his brethren above who won’t let him return. But he was once called Vengeance and he believes with enough good deeds, God will take him back. After all, “Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the Lord.
The saloon doors swung open with a creak as heavy winds wailed outside. A man stumbled in, and the bartender never would have thought twice about him or given him a second glance, if it hadn’t been for the squirrelly look in his eyes.
“Sarah,” Jedediah whispered to the young girl standing beside him behind the bar. “Go on in the back and get a message out.”
“To whom?” She stared up with her mother’s green eyes. Dark hair tumbled across her shoulders. Sarah regarded the sweat-covered man as he crept across the saloon floor mumbling beneath his breath. A thin comb-over raked by the wind stood upright as a scarecrow on top of his head.
“Okay, papa.” Sarah turned on her heels and scurried away.
“Hello there, stranger,” Jedediah’s voice boomed. “Can I fetch you a drink?”
The man teetered toward the bar, much in the way most men left it. His darting eyes finally found their way to Jedediah’s face.
“There you go,” Jedediah said, coaxing a baby. “Come on, now. Take a seat.”
Slowly, the muttering man slid – he was barefoot, Jedediah now noticed – across the sawdust laden floor and into an empty barstool. Jedediah set a glass of whiskey before him. “Looks like you need one.”
The man wasted no time slamming the drink back. Jedediah minded the dirt beneath his very long fingernails. “What’s your name, fellow?”
The man set down the glass and Jedediah refilled it on instinct. “It’s Frances Deveaux.” He sipped the whiskey with shaking hands. The wind wailed louder.
“What brings you to these parts, Mr. Deveaux?” Jedediah asked, on account of the man’s northern accent.
The doors flew into the hardwood walls by a heavy gust of wind and Mr. Deveaux nearly jumped out of his skin.
Jedediah motioned for Bobby Ray, a dark-haired kid who worked for him from time to time, to close the doors. “A bit on edge tonight?”
Frances Deveaux turned around to face the bar top. His hands had stopped shaking. The fog shrouding his mind seemed to have lifted. He trained his now clear eyes upon Jedediah’s. “Guess I am.”
He had a good face, as far as Jedediah was concerned, rounded with a long nose and thick brows. A five o’clock shadow covered his cheeks and chin.
“What’s got you so scared?” Jedediah fidgeted with an already clean tumbler, taking a towel to it inside and out. Sweat beaded on his closely shaven head. His handlebar moustache tickled his upper lip.
Frances Deveaux’s hands started rattling again, as if whatever had possessed him earlier had returned. “She…tried to…kill me!” His bulging blue eyes locked on Jedediah’s steel grays. “I had to do it…”
A train horn blared through the air from the nearby station. Wind banged the shutters. The doors flapped with a heavy bang. Frances Deveaux shook his head, maybe trying to remember, most likely trying to forget.
Bobby Ray inched to within an arm’s reach of the man, his Winchester hidden beneath his long coat.
Jedediah reached for the Colt Peacemaker he carried in his holster. “Why’s there dirt beneath your nails, sir? What’d you do to her?”
Frances Deveaux’s smile lurched across his face, demented as the Devil himself. His teeth hung in pointy rows like a weatherworn picket fence. “I gave her what she wanted.”
“What was that, Mr. Deveaux?”
His eyes floated lifeless in his head and his neck bent unnaturally to the side. A new voice rolled off his tongue, and said, “Yooouuuu!”
The thing inside of Frances Deveaux lunged across the bar, swiping his long fingernails at Jedediah the way a honey badger would swipe its claws. Jedediah leapt. Frances Deveaux’s body slammed into the bottle display, which crashed to the ground along with him. Glass splinters, stuck to his face, glinted in the light of the kerosene lamps.
He growled spraying blood stained spittle through the air. Jedediah got off a shot. The bullet sunk into Frances Deveaux’s shoulder, knocked his frame off-kilter, but the man didn’t flinch. He didn’t even bleed.
He just kept coming.
“Good, God,” Jedediah muttered, as Frances Deveaux inched closer. “Sarah!” Jedediah pumped a few rounds into the undead’s chest. “You send that message yet?”
“He’s coming, papa!”
“Don’t you come out here.” Jedediah pulled the trigger to an empty chamber. With no time to reload, he grabbed a chair and flung it. The wood crunched with Frances Deveaux’s nose and broke them both. Jedediah side-glanced the bar. It had emptied.
Except for Bobby Ray.
He was a skinny kid with brown eyes set close together. But, he was fearless. He stood in a wide fighting stance with one hand gripping his knife, the other his gun. He smirked. “Looks like you’re needing some help.”
“What the hell you gonna do with that knife?” Jedediah spat. “You don’t even know how to use it.” He dodged out of the way of Frances Deveaux’s body, which smacked into a table before hitting the floor.
Bobby Ray staggered closer to the brawl, swinging his knife at the creature in long strides. Frances Deveaux snarled, swatting the knife out of Bobby Ray’s hand as if it was a playing card. The knife landed with a clink on the floor. Panicked, Bobby Ray aimed his gun, shooting off six rounds into everything but Frances Deveaux.
“Damn it all, Bobby Ray. What the hell are you doing?”
“Helping.” He eyed the walls where his rounds had wedged.
The wind howled. The shutters slammed. Frances Deveaux screeched inhuman sounds. Jedediah had no more ammo, and wasn’t about to risk Sarah’s life by having her bring him more. He turned to Bobby Ray. “Lay a line of salt in front of the door. This may not be the only one.”
“I got some.” Bobby Ray pulled a satchel from his hip and marked the beginnings of a crooked salt line across the threshold. The saloon doors blew open whacking Bobby Ray in the head and sending him to the floor unconscious.
Jedediah turned, hopeful.
It was just the wind. In the split second when his attention faltered, Frances Deveaux barreled into Jedediah. The air left his lungs as his back cracked against the floor. His whole body screamed in silent pain. The sound on life itself had been shut off. But, the serrated teeth grinding into his shoulder kept him grounded in reality. His eyes rolled back. Jedediah prayed.
He could see in flickers, the way lightning bolts light up the trees and things in the darkness when the heart of the storm passes overhead. In an instant, Frances Deveaux was ripped off Jedediah and flung across the room. He gulped air into his burning lungs. Jedediah’s hearing returned as a constant ping that evolved into muted voices.
The man who had set Jedediah free wore a charcoal gray trench coat and cowboy hat. He carried a flaming scythe in one hand, a glowing rifle strapped tight across his back. In an ancient tongue, brandishing the scythe high above his head, he swung through the air in a wide arc. The flame sliced through the body of Frances Deveaux with a supernatural crack. Frances Deveaux fell dead to the floor. The blade didn’t cut into his flesh.
It fractured his soul.
Sarah ran over to Jedediah. Bobby Ray had come to, and staggered over to help.
“Get him to his feet,” Sarah ordered.
“Watch my shoulder,” Jedediah said. “Hurts like a son of a bitch!”
Sarah slipped beneath his wounded arm while Bobby Ray slipped under the other one. They led Jedediah to a seat that hadn’t been overturned during the fight.
The cowboy knelt before him, pulling back Jedediah’s shirt to scrutinize the wound. His face remained hidden by the wide brim of his hat. He wore hide boots whose origin Jedediah could only speculate and his skin smelled like fire.
“It’s not too deep,” the cowboy said. “Won’t take me a minute.” He pressed his large flat palm against the wound.
Jedediah bit the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming. His mouth pooled with the iron-taste of his own blood.
The cowboy lifted his hand.
Jedediah gazed to where the gaping holes had been and found his flesh completely healed the tear in his blood soaked shirt all that remained. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
“Be careful, bartender. You don’t meant it.” He leaned over the body of what had once been Frances Deveaux, and whatever had tried to eat Jedediah. “This one’s dead.”
“Course he is,” Bobby Ray said. “You killed him.”
“No. This man’s been dead.” The cowboy rolled the body on to its stomach with the steel-tipped toe of his boot. “Was before he walked through those doors.”
“The living dead?” Bobby Ray whispered.
“Of all the unholy things,” said Sarah.
Beneath Frances Deveaux’s shoulder blade lay an empty cavity where his liver should have been.
“Detestable.” Sarah covered her mouth and swept to an empty seat near the bar.
“Did he say why he was here?” the cowboy asked, staring at the body.
“Not precisely. Just said some woman tried to kill him, so he gave her what she wanted.”
“And what was that?”
Jedediah gulped hard. “Me.”
The man looked up, his face in shadows. “You?”
“Did she say what for?”
“Never got to that part.”
The man didn’t say a word as he stared at Jedediah. Finally, he spoke. “Something’s after you, Jed. I’m gonna stay in town a while to figure out what.” He looked up. “You okay with that?”
His eyes shone in a radiant shade of violet. Dirty-blond hair fell ragged from beneath his hat.
“Yes, Simeon. I’m okay with it,” Jedediah said. “I think I’m gonna need some help on this one.”
“First thing to figure out is where this man’s liver went. Hopefully, it will lead to this woman you mentioned.” Simeon stood, walked back to the entrance, and turned in the doorway. “You all better get your feet shod,” he said with a smirk, tipping his hat, “because it’s about to get ugly.”