Red Junction

by

KileJ

Chapter 5.2: Resurrecting Sterling Penrose

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The JAIL consisted of four cells, an office, and Sheriff Penrose's personal quarters. The Sheriff had led enough men to this lock-up that he was not bothered by the sight of one brother carrying the other into a cell. Yule found it a numbing endeavor – watching those boys shamble along dead-eyed at the end of their run. They settled in quick enough, and that was even worse somehow. Penrose brought an extra cot and the sick Meeks was laid upon it and tucked under covers. They were given hot food and cold water and took it like they were at home.

 

Yule reckoned that was the case, for men who have seen stretches of incarceration do sometimes find the cell something most domestic – and despite claims to the contrary they are most at home therein. They come crawling back again and again. It is an institution they can rely upon.

 

Same as the church, Yule thought – or whiskey.

 

“Sherwin?” The Sheriff was leaving the lock-up but paused to rouse Yule. “Take some coffee with me?”

 

“Sure thing.”

 

They sat across from each other at the Sheriff's desk. The lawman hunkered over a report which would not write itself. Sherwin was similarly engaged with his coffee – struggling to formulate a telling of recent events which did not make him sound so insane. The lawman surrendered first, stuffing the parchment and pencil back into his desk. He punctuated his defeat by saying, “I do not know where to begin recording the arrest of these Meeks.”

 

“There is no fast syntax where sin is concerned,” Yule replied. He cursed his loquacity and blamed the coffee – that great morning agitator of the tongue. The Sheriff's eyebrows rose up like perplexed caterpillars.

 

“You've an odd way Mister,” he chuckled. “But I reckon you are right – and thanks for your help this mornin'. Now what was it you came over here at just past the ass-crack of dawn to tell me, anyway? You said there were crimes which begged reporting?”

 

There was no way around it any more. Yule Sherwin absolved himself of his midnight rendezvous with Misty and their ambush by the Madame's undead son. He confessed even to witnessing Tom Savage come in the night to finish scalping the boy. The coffee purged every detail from him – insane and incriminating alike. Yule spewed out the whole ordeal Misty and her Indians had suffered. He recounted how he had impersonated the law to extract Sam's story. The Sheriff's eyes widened and Yule told him how Sam and Geoff were maimed. Then the story came to the point where the maggoty deputy was wrenched from his earthen tomb, and the Sheriff produced whiskey from his desk and nursed right from the bottle.

 

“Madame's boy Roger was sent out with some of that deputy's fetid remains – to poison peaceful, God-fearing farm-folk at the top of the ravine.” Yule finished his story and motioned for the whiskey. “And then Westman had him killed once the deed was done. They brought him to the bordello – and you know the rest. He returned from beyond death and Tom Savage killed him a second time.”

 

The Sheriff drank but did not share his bottle. He frowned and Yule worried then that the whispering had been true and Sheriff Penrose was merely Rex Westman's puppet. Finally, the Sheriff got up from his desk and went to the door. He opened it and the burro's rank manure wafted inside.

 

“Go,” he said.

 

“What? Why?” Yule asked. “I swear it's all true.”

 

“I hope I have not encouraged your derangement further by granting you temporary deputization this morning.” Sheriff Penrose spit out through the open door and bade Yule farewell. “Trust that I only did so for want of another gun – and not owing to any other quality found in you.”

 

It was high-noon, when the sun overhead shrank shadows and tempers alike. Horse-flies growled outside, orbiting the burro. Yule bit his tongue, collected his rifle and started to leave. The Sheriff would not look him in the eye. His jaw quivered.

 

“I only thought you should know because you are the Law,” Yule said as he ambled past.

 

Before he could go, the sheriff caught him by the arm and shut the door. The lawman had water in his eyes, and it made Yule want to cry, too. Sheriff Penrose mouthed words but only wet breath was expelled. Finally he just whispered, “You are right. I am the law. Yule, there's something we ought go see for ourselves.”

 

They remounted and rode east out of town. Penrose did not speak much, and when he did it was only to inflict foreboding observations.

 

“Buzzards circling up yonder,” he noted. “Going to be near dark by the time we finish up and get back to town.”

 

After a while they abandoned the trail. Off-road, the earth was looser and it melted beneath the hooves. Each trot left a divot. Sheriff Penrose was leading them toward that swirling kettle of vultures, where the mountain wore saplings same as Yule had his five-o'clock-shadow. There were no elder trees here – only those aged but a few seasons.

 

Possessed by something, the Sheriff whipped his horse and churned up along the mountainside. Yule could only watch him go because his own pony was not that kind of pony. Gravel cascaded in the lawman's wake – and Yule realized what they had been riding out for. This was a traumatized hillside, still recuperating from an avalanche. This was the place Sam the cyclops had described – the disturbed tomb of the unclean deputy. Up ahead, the Sheriff dismounted and the buzzard committee crowed. Yule came along to find the lawman on his knees, paying respects at the rim of the grave.

 

Within that cauldron a pale worm slithered. A lone maggot was the Alpha of its tribe and none of the others had escaped its hunger. Other forest things had fallen in and been et up, too. The grave-floor was a bone-yard. The maggot slid glistening across clean, meatless spines and between bare rib-cages. The severed tail of a raccoon was missing fur in places. The alpha maggot was the length of Yule's forearm and nearly as thick, shitting out frothy egg-paste – just as Sam the cyclops had claimed. It never stopped snaking; never ceased eating. Yule Sherwin could not blink. As the worm feasted amidst the rotten carnage, he imagined it coursing through the brains of the Madame's dead boy, too. He saw it with the eye in his mind – saw the boy's sickening hunger mirroring that of the alpha maggot. The worm came out from the boy's dead mouth and acted as his serpentine tongue, blindly yearning for meat. Yule Sherwin could not blink – particularly not that eye in his mind.

 

“Goddammit Yule,” he pleaded with himself. He finally squeezed his eyes shut but to no avail. He could only whisper, “Look away!”

 

“Gadzooks,” the Sheriff managed to murmur.

 

“Sheriff,” Yule burped. “I’m likely to revisit mine morning vittles upon the ground here.”

 

“Go on ahead Yule.” Sheriff Penrose clapped him on the shoulder and said, “I'll fill this hole and we'll head back to town. You just go on and get a head-start. I'll be along shortly.”

 

Yule did as he was told, sniffling and wiping his nose on his cuff. He staggered, retracing the tracks they had just laid. He led his pony by the reins, too dizzy to mount up. That maggot had stirred the stale whiskey in Yule’s belly. It was something like a miracle that he had not immediately retched into the grave. Behind him, the Sheriff kicked soil into the breach.

 

When the job was done he caught up with Yule and they led their horses back toward the road without any discourse. They paused at the edge.

 

“Your belly up for the ride home?” the Sheriff asked.

 

“Reckon not,” Yule answered.

 

“Might be we ought walk the horses back to town, then.” The Sheriff started downhill on foot but Yule stayed put.

 

“Sheriff?” he asked, “what in God’s name have you just shown me?”

 

The Sheriff froze in his tracks. He was quiet a spell with his back to Yule.

 

“You familiar with rattler snakes?” he finally turned about and asked.

 

“That was no rattler.”

 

“Didn’t claim it was,” the Sheriff said. “But I reckon it was something like one, still.”

 

“Come again?”

 

“You ever seen a rattler shed its old skin?” the Sheriff wondered.

 

“Can’t say as I have.”

 

“Well they come wriggling out of their own mouth – a whole new snake,” the Sheriff said. “And they cast off their old husk. The rattler just leaves its old self wherever it lies.”

 

“Sheriff?”

 

“Well, way I suss it, off in yonder pit what we saw was a reborn rattler of sorts,” the Sheriff said. “And I reckon Sterling Penrose is the husk whom did birth it – the hollow after-the-fact.”

 

It was an odd way to address oneself, in the third person – so much so that Yule felt compelled to ask, “Come a-fucking-gain, Sheriff? Are you alright?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“It ain’t ordinary for a feller to call himself by his own name,” Yule said. The Sheriff was leading his horse back uphill, toward Yule. He backed away slowly, dragging his paint. He heard the waver in his own voice. “You better start making sense.”

 

“Are you the same man you were five years ago?” the Sheriff asked. “Or have you changed since then?”

 

“What?” Yule asked. His heel caught a root and he went down on his rump. The Sheriff overtook him and offered Yule a hand up. In his eyes Yule saw no madness. He accepted the Sheriff’s hand and climbed back to his feet. “Much obliged.”

 

“Yule,” the Sheriff said. “I only meant that I am not the same man I was before a few summers back. The Sterling Penrose of recent years is not the Sterling Penrose of the years prior.”

 

Yule was satisfied some by that explanation, knowing firsthand how the passage of time could alter a man, but he still wondered, “What has that got to do with the alpha-maggot over yonder?”

 

Then the Sheriff was quiet again. He scratched his chin and studied the dirt beside his boots. He cocked his head and listened to the woods, to the creek off in the distance.

 

“I owe you an explanation,” he said at last. “It was you who came by mine office this morning to report this gross crime, this grave-robbing. I do owe you some explanation for having brought the deed to mine attention.”

 

“I’d be obliged something fierce if you could help make some sense of these past few days.”

 

“I can, I’d wager” the Sheriff said, “but it is not a simple undertaking. I can explain it to you, but I’ve gotta start a few years back. And I’d ask you to remember what I said: I’m not the same man I was then. First, I need to tell you about Junior Darby.”

 

“Who is Junior Darby?” Yule asked.

 

“That’s what they called him who was buried back there. He killed a man in Texas,” the Sheriff said. “Now do please hold your questions till I am done explaining.”

 

“Sorry,” Yule said. “Go ahead.”

 

The Sheriff resumed the downhill trek with his horse in tow. Yule walked alongside and listened.

 

“Junior Darby had killed a man,” the Sheriff began, “and the circumstances were such that he had no enthusiasm for trial – thus he went out on the lamb. You know what happens then. The call goes out for marshals and man-trackers.”

 

“Bounty-killers,” Yule whispered.

 

“That’s just what you might have called Sterling Penrose,” the Sheriff agreed. “During those yesteryears…”

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About the author

KileJ

  • Colorado

Bio: I'm Kile and I'm excited to be sharing weird stories on the internet. I'm a dad and a husband who gets up very, very early every morning to get some writing in before everyone else wakes up. Thanks for finding my story and hope you enjoy!

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