Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


The Living Dead








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

"Oh, I want to go back to the Rio Grande!
The Rio!
That's where I long to be!"


The words, sung in a soft and musical tenor, died away and changed to a
plaintive whistle, leaving the scene more lonely than ever. For a few
moments nothing was to be seen except the endless expanse of
wilderness, and nothing was to be heard save the mournful warble of the
singer. Then a horse and rider were suddenly framed where the sparse
timber opened out upon the plain.

Together, man and mount made a striking picture; yet it would have been
hard to say which was the more picturesque--the rider or the horse.
The latter was a splendid beast, and its spotless hide of snowy white
glowed in the rays of the afternoon sun. With bit chains jingling, it
gracefully leaped a gully, landing with all the agility of a mountain
lion, in spite of its enormous size.

The rider, still whistling his Texas tune, swung in the
concha-decorated California stock saddle as if he were a part of his
horse. He was a lithe young figure, dressed in fringed buckskin,
touched here and there with the gay colors of the Southwest and of
Mexico.

Two six-guns, wooden-handled, were suspended from a cartridge belt of
carved leather, and hung low on each hip. His even teeth showed white
against the deep sunburn of his face.

"Reckon we-all bettah cut south, Blizzahd," he murmured to his horse.
"We haven't got any business on the Llano."

He spoke in the soft accents of the old South, and yet his speech was
colored with just a trace of Spanish--a musical drawl seldom heard far
from that portion of Texas bordering the Rio Bravo del Norte.

Wheeling his mount, he searched the landscape with his keen blue eyes.
Behind him was broken country; ahead of him was the terrible land that
men have called the Llano Estacado. The land rose to it in a long
series of steppes with sharp ridges.

Queerly shaped and oddly colored buttes ascended toward it in a
puzzling tangle. Dim in the distance was the Llano itself--a mesa with
a floor as even as a table; a treeless plain without even a weed or
shrub for a landmark; a plateau of peril without end.

The rider was doing well to avoid the Llano Estacado. Outlaw Indian
bands roamed over its desolate expanse--the only human beings who could
live there. In the winter, snowstorms raced screaming across it, from
Texas to New Mexico, for half a thousand miles. It was a country of
extremes. In the summer it was a scorching griddle of heat dried out
by dry desert winds. Water was hard to find there, and food still
harder to obtain. And it was now late summer--the season of mocking
mirages and deadly sun.

The horseman was just about to turn his steed's head directly to the
southward when a sound came to his ears--a cry that made his eyes widen
with horror.

Few sounds are so thrillingly terrible as the dying scream of a mangled
horse, and yet this was far more awful. Only the throat of a human
being could emit that chilling cry. It rose in shrill crescendo, to
die away in a sobbing wail that lifted the hair on the listener's head.
Again and again it came--a moan born of the frightful torture of mortal
agony.

Giving his mount a touch of spur, the horseman turned the animal
westward toward the Llano Estacado. So horrible were the sounds that
he had paled under his tan. But he headed directly toward the
direction of the cries. He knew that some human being was suffering
frightful pain.

Crossing a sun-baked gully, he climbed upward and onto a flat-topped,
miniature butte. Here he saw a spectacle that literally froze him with
horror.

Although accustomed to a hundred gruesome sights in that savage land,
he had never seen one like this. Staked on the ground, feet and arms
wide-stretched, and securely bound, was a man. Or rather, it was a
thing that had once been a man. It was a torture that even the
diabolical mind of an Indian could not have invented. It was the
insane creation of another race--the work of a madman.

For the suffering wretch had been left on his back, face up to the sun,
with his eyelids removed!

Ants crawled over the sufferer, apparently believing him dead. Flies
buzzed, and a raven flapped away, beating the air with its startled
wings. The horseman dismounted, took his water bag from his horse, and
approached the tortured man.

The moaning man on the ground did not see him, for his eyes were
shriveled. He was blind.

The youth with the water bag tried to speak, but at first words failed
to come. The sight was too ghastly.

"Heah's watah," he muttered finally. "Just--just try and stand the
pain fo' a little longah. I'll do all I can fo' yo'."

He held the water bag at the swollen, blackened lips. Then he poured a
generous portion of the contents over the shriveled eyes and
skeletonlike face.

For a while the tortured man could not speak. But while his rescuer
slashed loose the rawhide ropes that bound him, he began to stammer a
few words:

"Heaven bless yuh! I thought I was dead, or mad! Oh, how I wanted
water! Give me more--more!"

"In a little while," said the other gently.

In spite of the fact that he was now free, the sufferer could not move
his limbs. Groans came from his lips.

"Shoot me!" he cried. "Put a bullet through me! End this, if yuh've
got any pity for me! I'm blind--dying. I can't stand the pain. Yuh
must have a gun. Why don't yuh kill me and finish me?"

It was the living dead! The buckskin-clad youth gave him more water,
his face drawn with compassion.

"Yo'll feel bettah afta while," he murmured. "Just sit steady."

"Too late!" the tortured man almost screamed, "I'm dyin', I tell yuh!"

"How long have yo' been like this?"

"Three-four days. Maybe five. I lost count."

"Who did this thing?" was the fierce question.

"'The Terror'!" the reply came in a sobbing wail. "'The Masked Terror'
and his murderin' band. I was a prospector. A wagon train was
startin' across the Llano, and I tried to warn 'em. I never reached
'em. The Terror cut me off and left me like this! Say, I don't know
yore name, pard, but----"

"Call me 'Kid Wolf,'" answered the youth, "from Texas." His eyes had
narrowed at the mention of the name "The Terror."

"Somethin' on my mind, Kid Wolf. It's that wagon train. The Terror
will wipe it out. Promise me yuh'll try and warn 'em."

"I promise, old-timah," murmured the Texan. "Only yo' needn't to have
asked that. When yo' first mentioned it, I intended to do it. Where
is this wagon train, sah?"

In gasps--for his strength was rapidly failing him--the prospector gave
what directions he could. Kid Wolf listened intently, his eyes
blazing-blue coals.

"I'm passin' in my checks," sighed the sufferer weakly, when he had
given what information he could. "I'll go easier now."

"Yo' can be sure that I'll do all I can," the Texan assured him. "Fo'
yo' see, that's always been mah business. I'm just a soldier of
misfohtune, goin' through life tryin' to do all I can fo' the weak and
oppressed. I'll risk mah life fo' these people, and heah's mah hand on
that!"

The prospector groped for his hand, took it, and tried to smile. In a
few moments he had breathed his last, released from his pain. Kid Wolf
removed the bandanna from his own throat and placed it over the dead
man's face. Then he weighted it down with small rocks and turned to go.

"Just about the time I get to thinkin' the world is good, Blizzahd," he
sighed, addressing his white horse, "I find somethin' like this. Well,
seems like we hit out across the Llano, aftah all. Let's get a move
on, amigo! We've got work to do."

The Texan's face, as he swung himself into the saddle, was set and hard.

"Oh, I'm goin' back to the Rio Grande!
The Rio!
For most a yeah, I've been away,
And I'm lonesome now fo' me Old Lone Stah!
The Rio!
Wheah the gila monsters play!"


It was Kid Wolf's second day on the Llano Estacado, and his usual good
spirits had returned. His voice rose tunefully and cheerily above the
steady drumming of Blizzard's hoofs.

Surely the scene that lay before his eyes could not have aroused his
enthusiasm. It was lonely and desolate enough, with its endless sweeps
dim against each horizon. The sky, blue, hot and pitiless, came down
to meet the land on every hand, making a great circle unbroken by hill
or mountain.

So clean-swept was the floor of the vast table-land that each mile
looked exactly like another mile. There was not a tree, not a shrub,
not a rock to break the weary monotony. It was no wonder that the
Spanish padres, who had crossed this enormous plateau long before, had
named it the Llano Estacado--the Staked Plains. They had had a good
reason of their own. In order to keep the trail marked, they had been
compelled to drive stakes in the ground as they went along. Although
the stakes had gone long since, the name still stuck.

The day before, the Texan had climbed the natural rock steps that led
upward and westward toward the terrible mesa itself, each flat-topped
table bringing him nearer the Staked Plains. And soon after reaching
the plateau he had found the trail left by a wagon train.

From the ruts left in the soil, Kid Wolf estimated that the outfit must
consist of a large number of prairie schooners, at least twenty. The
Texan puzzled his mind over why this wagon train was taking such a
dangerous route. Where were they bound for? Surely for the Spanish
settlements of New Mexico--a perilous venture, at best.

Even on the level plain, a wagon outfit moves slowly, and the Texan
gained rapidly. Hourly the signs he had been following grew fresher.
Late in the afternoon he made out a blot on the western horizon--a blot
with a hazy smudge above it. It was the wagon train. The smudge was
dust, dug up by the feet of many oxen.

"They must be loco," Kid Wolf muttered, "to try and cut across The
Terror's territory."

The Texan had heard much of The Terror. And what plainsman of that day
hadn't? He was the scourge of the table-lands, with his band of a
hundred cutthroats, desperadoes recruited from the worst scum of the
border. More than half of his hired killers, it was said, were Mexican
outlaws from Sonora and Chihuahua. Some were half-breed Indians, and a
few were white gunmen who killed for the very joy of killing.

And The Terror himself? That was the mystery. Nobody knew his
identity. Some rumors held that he was a white man; others maintained
that he was a full-blooded Comanche Indian. Nobody had ever seen his
face, for he always was masked. His deeds were enough. No torture was
too cruel for his insane mind. No risk was too great, if he could
obtain loot. With his band behind him, no man was safe on the Staked
Plains. Many a smoldering pile of human bones testified to that.

As the Texan approached the outfit, he could hear the sharp crack of
the bull whips and the hoarse shouts of the drivers. Twenty-two
wagons, and in single file! Against the blue of the horizon, they made
a pretty sight, with their white coverings. Kid Wolf, however, was not
concerned with the beauty of the picture. Great danger threatened
them, and it was his duty to be of what assistance he could. Touching
his big white horse with the spur, he came upon the long train's flank.

Ahead of the train were the scouts, or pathfinders. In the rear was
the beef herd, on which the outfit depended for food. Behind that was
the rear guard, armed with Winchesters.

The Texan neared the horseman at the head of the train, raising his arm
in the peace signal. To his surprise, one of the scouts threw up his
rifle! There was a puff of white smoke, and a bullet whistled over Kid
Wolf's head.

"The fools!" muttered the Texan. "Can't they see I'm a friend?"

Setting his teeth, he rode ahead boldly, risking his life as he did so,
for by this time several others had lifted their guns.

The six men who made up the advance party, eyed him sullenly as he drew
up in front of them. The Texan found himself covered by half a dozen
Winchesters.

"Who are yuh, and what do yuh want?" one of them demanded.

"I'm Kid Wolf, from Texas, sah. I have impo'tant news fo' the leader
of this outfit."

One of the sextet separated himself from the others and came so close
to the Texan that their horses almost touched.

"I'm in command!" he barked. "My name's Modoc. I'm in charge o' this
train, and takin' it to Sante Fe."

The man, Modoc, was an impressive individual, bulky and stern. His
face was thinner than the rest of his body, and Kid Wolf was rather
puzzled to read the surly eyes that gleamed at him from under the bushy
black brows. He was more startled still, however, when Modoc whispered
in a voice just loud enough for him to hear:

"What color will the moon be to-night?"

Kid Wolf stared in astonishment. Was the man insane?





Next: A Thankless Task

Previous: The Riding Of Felipe



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 431