J. N. Cameron
I’d become accustomed to the landscape of Mercy, USA, as we all do the places and situations we find ourselves in. That was my greatest fault. I should’ve left when I could’ve. Friends dragged me to their sermons, and I knew what they believed. For some reason, I hoped love would prevail in time.
I was wrong.
On that fateful day, I’d met John in the stables behind the saloon in secret. Our pants were down, and our hot mouths pressed against each other. Afterward, John left before me to make sure all was clear. But when I left, the boys grabbed me. It was Obadiah, Alonzo Givens, and his brother, Bartholomew.
If only I had known that the kiss of my John Brown was the kiss of Judas Iscariot.
Soon, the Sheriff and the Reverend joined my haranguers. They began ringing the bells of the doxology works, and a crowd gathered.
“We caught ye this time, Nancy boy,” Sheriff Goddard exclaimed. “The Pelletier’s kid saw through the outhouse cracks, and John Brown says ye forced yourself upon him.”
And that was it.
My case had no judge or jury, only that statement by the Sheriff, and the good people of Mercy made up their minds. Children plucked the feathers off hens as the adults boiled a tub of black tar behind the farriers.
I was bound to a pillory, and they filed by and spat. Children laughed, and adults jested. Many quoted Bible verses. Levi McAlester played his three-stringed banjo, and some of them were dancing.
Mary Johnson even said to me with a crooked smirk, “Nathan Braggard, your mortal soul is at risk. Someday, you’ll thank us for this.”
Someone brought a ladle over my head, and the tar dripped with the consistency of molten metal. And then a detonation of pain occurred, like a blast of dynamite. A wave of heat and force ripped through my being, each drop a ricochet of red anguish through every nerve. Each splatter sizzled into my flesh and threatened to shut down my conscious mind.
The laughter ceased as my protracted screams caused the crowd to drop their heads in shame. My bowels let loose as I thrashed against the pillory, and my teeth shattered from their gnashing. After only a few minutes, a nothingness engulfed me. For a long period, I floated in a vast ocean outside of time and space and all things material that worry us mortals. I tumbled slow, without effort or need for any impetus.
The real torture began when I awoke. The townsfolk had unbound me and thrown me down the south ravine, near the winding rill. I assumed they’d paraded me through town because confetti, as well as the feathers, covered me in clumps.
Every slight movement felt as if I pushed through searing lava. Every jostle or shift of weight caused my charred, split skin to ooze a brownish-red ichor. They’d poured tar onto my genitals, and a clump of crusted gore was all that remained of my manhood. Tar and burnt flesh covered one of my eyes, but I broke it off so I could see better. It felt as if I were pulling my eye out of the socket. When the crisp piece tore away, I discovered it was my eyelid.
I rolled toward the stream over brittle grass, and it felt as if I pressed into nails or broken glass. Speckled grouse flapped up from the fields as my screams pierced the calm of the valley. I reached the water and stayed there.
Children came to the banks to mock me, pointing fingers and laughing. They pissed in the water and threw stones. For three days and nights, I lay on a flat rock in the center as if I were in my tomb. The cool stream carried my excrement away and brought fresh hydration.
On the third day, I arose. I stood and pushed through the waters to the embankment, and the children fled screaming.
Each tender step sent jolts of hellfire through me. My boots and tatters of my clothes were stuck to my skin. When a group of women carrying laundry saw me, I cackled with the laughter of a demoniac. They screamed and dropped their baskets and ran off.
A white, lace-topped nightgown had fallen over a creosote bush. Grimacing through cracked teeth, I slipped it over my head and pulled it down. At least from a distance, it would hide my grotesque body.
The walk to my cabin was long and arduous. My boots’ soles had melted, and I left bloody footprints in places. Once inside, it took over an hour to pry open the board that hid my inheritance. My father had fought for the Union Army, and he’d left me a Colt single-action revolver and two boxes of bullets.
I waited until night while planning my revenge. In the darkness, I made my way to the ranches where the houses were miles apart. I banged on the Johnsons’ door, and Mary’s father answered.
“I—oh, God,” he said as I put the cold barrel to his forehead. When I pulled the trigger, the gun shifted to the left, taking off the top quarter of his skull. A red mist hung in the air as he sank to his knees, still alive. The furrow through his brains was pink and moist and filling with blood.
“Mother?” he asked, glancing around in confusion. “Mother? Is that you?”
“No. I am the messenger of the Lord.”
I kicked him over, put one between his eyes, and proceeded toward the screaming of his wife and daughter.
There was a poker near their fireplace, so I grabbed it. My intention was to beat Mary and her Ma into broken pulps, but a moment of compassion overtook me. I lined them up and shot them each in the back of the head instead.
Gunshots were frequent at night because of coyotes, and no other settlers noticed as I went about my slaughter. The next person I killed was Doc Jean-Baptiste Orleans, one of the townsfolk who’d spit on me. After making him bite my barrel and painting his parlor with his brains, I searched his study. I was lucky enough to discover his cache of morphine, enough to last for months.
By dawn, I had laid to rest a quarter of the town’s population.
I even let one of the children, little Jerry Abernathy, live. I recognized him from the rill, where he’d skipped a stone at me across the water. After executing his parents and two brothers, I tied him up with barbed wire, threw him over a horse, and slapped it. The beast ran toward Mercy under the rose hue of the rising sun.
Little Jerry would tell the others of the monster that attacked them in the night. It was a thing of charred skin and chicken feathers that carried a six-shooter and wore a nightgown. It used to be Nathan Braggard but resurrected as something else.
And now I wait again in a cave in the desert arroyos. I’ve seen the posse searching, but this place is too vast. I’m going to let a few weeks pass, scavenge some supplies, and plot their destruction. In the nights, I will visit justice upon them.
And if I see John Brown again? His purgatory will be agony like no man has ever known.
I have risen.
J. N. Cameron writes science fiction and horror. J.N.’s most recent stories are in HellBound Books anthologies, Weirdbook, and the Sunshine Superhighway anthology.