I picked up the beginning of this piece, titled “The Sheriff, the Priest, and the Killer,” over at ROKTyping as part 1 for Chuck Wendig’s 4-part flash fiction challenge. I had a hard time choosing, but this’ll be my contribution to part 2 of Chuck Wendig’s 4-part challenge.
I was a little confused about our dramatis personae, but I think I’ve got it down as follows: there’s Sheriff Cairns, Billy and Sam O’Connel, and two men named Johnny and Kurt. There’s also a character named Rusty (who was dead, last we knew); the inhuman murderer Matt Quinn; an as yet unnamed priest; and an as yet unnamed boy with a toothy, too-wide smile. There may have been some counting issues, since the priest only references 5 people being present, but I think we can ignore that. Enjoy!
The sun rolled down behind the edge of the cliffs, limning the top of the canyon in light for a moment before it disappeared completely. The deep gulch was suddenly too dark, but everyone could still see the too-wide smile of the freak that rode alongside the padre.
“Sweet Jeezus,” muttered Johnny, staring at the … thing. Every man in the posse was clutching their gun, even the Sheriff. There was a faint click as one of the men levered back the hammer on his pistol. It was a tense moment, but Cairns felt a horrible certainty that drawing down on the devil and the priest would only end with a sad priest, a well fed devil, and five more raggedy corpses strewn across the canyon floor. He felt strangely relieved when the priest spoke up.
“Son,” said the priest, barely visible in the sudden twilight but for the little white patch of his collar, “you really don’t want to do that.” Everyone knew he was talking to Johnny with his shotgun. “Matt Quinn is looking to torture you to death before he eats your souls. You don’t need to go making more trouble for yourself by angering two fellas as only want to help.”
“Listen to the Father, Johnny.” Sheriff Cairns spoke up, reaching out to tap Johnny on the shoulder. “We’re well enough screwed already without bringing more down on our heads.” He sighed. If the priest was to be believed, and Cairns would swear the man felt honest, Rusty was already dead. He had no doubt that this night would get worse before it got better. “Billy, Sam, one of you get us a torch lit. We’re not going to be getting out of this dark any time soon.”
Even that faint glimmer of light soothed the men’s nerves. If the boy-thing cared either way, he didn’t seem to show it. The priest introduced himself as Father Robert, and claimed the boy-thing was called Daniel. Father Robert gathered the men in closer into a huddle, while Daniel and Kurt watched the canyon around them, still close enough to overhear.
“The thing you call Matt Quinn is a sick and twisted beast.” The priest looked at those clustered near him, slowly making eye contact with each of the men in the circle of torchlight. “You think I’m being pretty with my language, but I’m just telling it to you straight, the gospel truth. Except the gospel is good news, and this pure ain’t.” He lifted his hat briefly and smoothed back his hair, looking nervous for the briefest moment. “Look, you’ve seen that he walks with a man’s flesh, but when no man’s eye is on him he can become something truly monstrous. I once saw him in a mirror, and I still have nightmares.” The priest let that settle on his audience, then continued, “I’ve hunted him for too long; we each know the ways of the other now. Quinn prefers to draw his prey out into dark places, or ambush them. If he consumes every last ounce of a person, he can take a few hours to change his appearance to look like them. If you come across him while he’s changing, his skin has the appearance of melting, runny wax. So nobody goes anywhere alone, and nobody runs ahead hot on the trail. Because he will lead you into a trap, and he will kill you. Just for the fun of it.”
“But Father,” Billy whined, only a faint trace of the old country still in his voice, “you make it sound like we can’t take him! If we don’t hunt him now, he’ll just get away and go off killing and murdering even more folk!”
“Hush up, Billy.” Cairns glared at the young man. “The Father was just getting around to that,” he glanced at the priest, “isn’t that right?”
The priest cleared his throat. “Yes.” He jerked his thumb behind his back at Daniel. “That boy is our ace, and we must make sure we can point him in the right direction when the time comes. Until then, we need to play it safe, keep careful, and lure Quinn in.”
The men looked at each other nervously at the word ‘lure.’ The silence stretched just a little too long.
“Right, well, let’s set up camp here then. It’s as good a spot as any.” Sheriff Cairns slapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. “We’ve got long sight lines, but in the dark Quinn should be able to approach us from that rock pile off yonder,” Cairns nodded to his left. “So, unless you suggest otherwise Father, I suggest we set watch and leave that as a not-quite-obvious whole.”
Father Robert nodded, considering. “Yes, that should probably work. Daniel needn’t sleep, but he should pretend to so that Quinn doesn’t become suspicious. I trust you can arrange a camp watch?” Cairns’ snorted laughter was enough of a response.
“Hah, alright,” Cairns took charge as he stopped laughing. “Billy, you take care of the horses for now. Sam and Daniel’ll take first watch, the rest of us will cycle up, and Daniel can sleep closest to the rock pile.” He looked around, saw nodding heads. “Right, let’s get to it.”
The campfire was burning low, and the tense quiet of the canyon left Sam O’Connel nervous.
“So, uh,” the young man looked sideways at his watch-companion, his lilt coming stronger with his nervousness, “yer a Christian feller then? What with the travelin’ with the priest-like an’ all.”
Daniel nodded happily. “Christ-god is very powerful. He cannot die. He shares his power with us by letting us eat him, and he still does not die. I must be a good Christian. And I will eat this Matt Quinn and be more powerful too. It is good.”
Sam stared at Daniel, wide-eyed. Then he turned and stared out into the darkness, very carefully not looking at the thing at his back. “Right. Yes. It sure is good.”