Matt Savage handed the wanted poster back to Jonah Hex, then filled his plate full of beans and sat down. “A couple of the boys said they spotted a feller early yesterday morning that could have been him. Said he was a good sight hairier, not quite as dandified as the picture lets on.”
Jonah folded the paper and shoved it back down in his jacket pocket. “Did they talk ta the gent?” he asked before taking a bite from his own plate of beans.
“Nope,” the trail boss replied. “They said he kept his distance, and he kept an eye on them. One of the boys waved, just to let him know they weren’t looking for trouble, then he waved back, picked up the pace, and kept on walking.”
“The trail can be a lonely place,” Scalphunter began. “It seems strange that a man traveling alone on foot would choose not to seek out human contact, if for no other reason than to find out what lay ahead of him from those going the opposite direction.”
Matt looked at the man and nodded. Something about Scalphunter tugged at his memory, but, to his knowledge, the two men had never met before. He took another bite of beans.
“Crazy lobo got one of our calves the night before that feller was seen,” said the boy who had spotted Jonah and Scalphunter, wanting to be a part of the conversation.
Matt started to ask the boy what that had to do with anything, but Jonah spoke up first.
“I ran across the remains of a deer that a lobo killed… probably the same one, and it was headin’ this way.”
“Maybe you two ain’t the only ones following that feller,” the boy said.
That thought was like year-old jerky in Jonah’s mind and his brain chewed on it all night.
October 29, 1877:
“It doesn’t seem possible,” Scalphunter said as he stood up, “but that is what all the signs are pointing to.”
Jonah rubbed his undamaged jaw. “I’ve seen some purty strange things in muh life, but this beats ’em all.”
Scalphunter nodded. “My people tell stories of such men, but only to scare the little ones into behaving.”
The bounty hunter pulled himself up into his saddle. “Explains how a feller on foot has managed to stay ahead of our horses. By the looks of it, though, he’s headed straight for Sundown.”
Scalphunter climbed up on the back of his own horse. “We need to ride hard if we want to catch him before he reaches town. Lives are depending on our speed.”
The two men lit out across the plains as hard as they could go leaving the copse of trees behind them. They were two days from Sundown. Dark clouds were gathering overhead. Soon, the rain would come and wash away all signs of where the crazy lobo had bedded down and the man awoke to walk away.
October 31, 1877:
Legend had it that the town of Sundown got its name from an old outlaw who was tired of running. He left word for the lawman who had dogged his trail for years that he was going to ride until sundown, and then he was going no farther. When the lawman caught up to him, the outlaw was dead from consumption. The lawman buried his adversary and placed a wooden marker on his grave. “He quit riding at sundown,” was all it said. Using his rope and branches from a nearby cottonwood, the lawman built a makeshift fence around the grave before returning home. Within a year, homesteaders arrived and set up a camp that eventually grew into a town. They took their town’s name from the stranger’s grave.
It was almost sundown in Sundown when Jonah Hex and Scalphunter dismounted in front of Temperance, the town’s only saloon. The ground in front of the hitching post was a thick mud where previous horses had stamped in an attempt to keep the cold away. The two men let their reins hang loose in case they needed to leave in a hurry.
The boardwalk leading into the saloon was as muddy as the street, but the two men did their best to knock the excess mud from their feet before pushing the saloon door open. Inside men gathered, but the liquor remained in the bottles. Several hands went to their guns at the door’s creak, but Jonah had his pistol out first.
When the men saw the bounty hunter and the Indian, Jonah received something his appearance had never elicited before — a sigh of relief. Pistols slid back into holsters, and everyone visibly relaxed.
“Sorry about the greeting, boys,” said an older man wearing a tin star. “We’re a mite jumpy.”
“I think we are too late,” Scalphunter said, just loud enough for Jonah to hear.
“How many dead yuh got?” Jonah asked.
His brusque manner caught the men off-guard and raised their suspicions.
“Two,” the sheriff said. “What do you know about this thing?”
“It isn’t natural,” Scalphunter replied.
“You ain’t kidding,” one of the townsmen spoke up. “Whatever this thing is, it tore poor ol’ Frank Pedigrew all to pieces, and he put up nary a fight. It was like it walked right up to him, then lit in.”
Jonah looked at the sheriff. “I bet yuh found a combination of man and lobo tracks around the body, didn’t yuh?”
The sheriff nodded. “What is this thing? Gunter swears we got us a werewolf.”
A stocky blond man with a blacksmith’s hammer across his lap spoke up. His accent was thick, but understandable. “We had legends of such monsters in Prussia.”
“Did yer legends tell how ta kill these monsters?” Jonah asked. “I reckon a regular slug ain’t gonna do it.”
“Silver,” Gunter replied.
“And we all carry plenty of that,” Jonah said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“These creatures are supposed to be able to withstand a good bit of damage,” Gunter offered.
“And yuh reckon we could give him more damage than he can take?” Jonah asked. “Figures to be as good a plan as any.”
A scream and a howl brought everyone to their feet. Before anyone else could react, Scalphunter was out the door.
“Durned fool injun is gonna get hisself killed,” Jonah said as he headed back out the door. “Grab yer hardware, gents,” he told the townsmen. He stepped back inside — almost as an afterthought — and grabbed an oil lamp off the wall.
The bartender realized what Jonah was thinking and grabbed a couple of lamps himself. Led by the sheriff, he and the other men ran out into the street.
Scalphunter’s war cry let everyone know he had found the monster.
Jonah rounded the corner of the dry goods store just in time to be knocked to the ground by his traveling companion. The oil lamp shattered when the two men hit the ground and its contents began to spill into the mud. The two men rolled away from the fire.
“Got any more durn fool notions?” Jonah asked as he disentangled himself from Scalphunter.
“Let me lie here a moment,” the Indian said. “I might be able to come up with one or two.”
Despite his violent nature, Jonah honestly did enjoy Scalphunter’s company. Climbing to his feet, he silently hoped his friend wasn’t seriously injured.
The townsmen arrived as Jonah started toward the werewolf. The bartender threw one of the lamps he was carrying at the monster. It exploded against the creature’s chest and engulfed it in flame.
The werewolf’s screams were deafening, but it refused to lie down and die. Instead, it grabbed the nearest townsman and tore away half of the man’s arm. He held on to his attacker long enough for the man’s clothes to ignite, then tossed him aside.
The men raised their weapons and began firing. The monster danced like a marionette in the wind before falling face first into a puddle.
The men breathed a collective sigh of relief, but it was premature. The monster, most of the flames now extinguished, raised itself up to its knees and began to rise.
“I will kill you all,” the werewolf growled. The inhuman shape of its mouth and vocal chords made its words sound all the more threatening. “I shall eat your children and have my way with your women.”
Jonah fired his pistol again and put a slug in the creature’s right eye. “Yuh talk too much.”
A blur shot past the bounty hunter, and Scalphunter tackled the monster. Desperation raised his arm and drove it back down again, over and over, as he struck the werewolf in the neck with his tomahawk.
Panic filled the werewolf’s good eye as it struggled against the Indian, but Scalphunter’s attack was relentless. Jonah moved closer and unloaded his pistol into its body at point-blank range. Sensing the fight was almost over, he stepped back and gave his friend room.
Scalphunter raised himself up, then brought all of his weight down one final time. The werewolf’s head rolled free and began to return to its human form.
Jonah held out his hand and pulled the Indian to his feet. Scalphunter smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant smile, and gore covered most of his face, but it was a smile of satisfaction.
“See,” he said, finally calming himself down. “I told you I would come up with another durn fool idea if you gave me a chance.”
The bartender walked over to the body and poured the contents of the second lamp out. He took a match from his pocket, struck it on his zipper, and dropped it. The creature didn’t move.
“I didn’t know yuh had it in yuh,” Jonah told his friend.
“You can thank the ancestors for this victory,” Scalphunter replied.
For the first time, Jonah noticed strange markings in mud covering the Indian’s arms and torso. “Whatever works,” he muttered.
“You have both done well,” a new voice said.
Everyone turned and saw a stranger kneeling down and picking up the severed head. He was dressed from head to toe in black and wore a black cloak around his shoulders. The shadow of his black hat covered most of his face. The only bit of color about the man was a gold medallion hanging around his neck and the silver in his hair.
“Yuh got here awful durned fast,” Jonah said, his pistol leveled at the man he recognized as the one who had hired him. “Yuh ain’t plannin’ on backin’ out on payin’ me, are yuh?”
The stranger smiled. “Your money is already waiting for you in a bank in Austin.” With that, he turned, walked into the shadows with the severed head, and vanished.
Leaving the others to stand in stunned silence, Jonah turned and headed back toward Temperance. “I need a drink,” was all he said.