Red Junction



Chapter 5.4: Resurrecting Sterling Penrose


He woke to a night someplace else but could not open his eyes to see exactly where. The river sounded far away. A campfire caressed his cheek and warm broth was poured inside his lips.


He drank the sweet broth and all-at-once puked it back up. He hacked and his throat was scorched. Junior opened his eyes and Sterling Penrose was knelt beside his head, panting. His penis dangled mischievously. They were still marooned on that sandbar in the thick of the Cimarron. The marshal leaned in and blew into Junior's mouth. It was a sour wind, tinged with coffee and ether – but it had been a life-giving wind. Junior Darby could not believe his luck. He was alive despite experiencing a degree of death – and he had the morally bankrupt marshal to thank for it.


“You saved my life,” he croaked. A bucket of river-water poured out of his gullet.


“I only kept the river from stealing my bounty,” Penrose replied. “So don't mention it.”


“I'm indebted eternal-like.”


“We ain't outta the woods yet,” the marshal said. Junior knew he was right. They were still only halfway across the Cimarron. Penrose had managed to drag him back onto the firm portion of the sandbar. The lawman picked at his groin and thought aloud, “Shame about your bay. That was a fine horse.”


After a spell Junior's lungs dried out some and he could stand. They mounted the marshal's palomino in tandem and Junior didn't even mind that Penrose was still stark naked. He held onto the marshal's slick torso for dear life. They made the rest of the crossing without sinking into any more quicksand. Afterward, Penrose climbed down from the horse and collapsed on the bank. The heroics had exacerbated his sickness. He had a fit of bloody coughing and, when he was done, he wiped his gunky palms on the mud. For a long while he remained on all-fours wheezing, and then he fell fast asleep right there beside the river. The sun was still high overhead but they had gone to hell and back that day, just crossing those five hundred feet of Cimmaron.


Junior Darby made a fire with supplies from the marshal's saddle-bag. He tethered the palomino rather than riding off and leaving Penrose to die. He found dry clothes in the saddle-bag and grub, too – and he went about fixing a meal. Junior dragged Penrose beside the fire and wound him in a blanket. The marshal wouldn't open his eyes but he'd open his mouth a crack to eat and drink. Junior nursed him this way for three nights before Penrose became lucid enough to feed himself.


“How did you catch this fish?” the marshal asked across the campfire on the fourth night.


“I found a knife in your bag,” Junior explained. “Tied it to a branch with twine and speared us a few crappies.”


“Well thanks for not cuttin' mine throat with that knife.” The marshal licked his fingers and said, “Mighty kind of ye.”


“You're not much accustomed to kindness, are ye Marshal?”


“I guess not.”


“I found something else in your saddle.” Junior sighed and pulled a letter from his pocket. He shook it and said, “I know Rex Westman has your daughter, and that I ain't just some bounty to you.”


“It's true.” The marshal's eyes were full of piss-drops.


“He wants you to be the Sheriff in that new boom he's set up – Red Junction.” Junior summarized what had been written in the letter. “All so he can keep the Law under his thumb.”


“Or he'll butcher my little Abigail,” Penrose confirmed. He set down his supper, held out his hand and asked, “Could you fetch the ether from my saddle?”


Under the influence of ether, Sterling Penrose purged his conscience. He apologized for abusing Junior's sister. He explained that Abigail had gone missing over a year ago. His wife had killed herself shortly after the abduction, and Penrose admitted he had fallen into a rotten rut. Abandoning the man he had been, he instead became obsessed with strange twat. His prick made him its captive. The river had opened his eyes, though. Junior's mercy had rekindled his humanity.


Their relationship was turned upside-down. No longer was one man forcing the other on a lonesome death march. They were two men in desperate sympatico. They broke camp and put the Cimarron's baptism behind them, resolving to gun Rex Westman down. The palomino carried both of them to Buena Vista, where Penrose used his marshal's star at the livery stable to requisition a fresh horse for Junior. He pronounced Junior Darby his deputy, and they went to the constable's office to get him a gun of his own.


It all made a little more sense to Yule then, even if it was still a lunatic's tale. He wasn't sure he believed a man could be redeemed by such a hardscrabble baptism – but he reckoned he had no choice but to hear the Sheriff out. They were still half-an-hour out from Red Junction, after all.


“Let me get this straight.” Yule said. “You only came to behave evilly and with perverse designs after Rex Westman stole your baby?”


The Sheriff said, “Something like that.”


“And then the river redeemed you, Sheriff? Is that what I should believe?”


“Yeah, that's right.” There was an impatient edge to the lawman's drawl. “Sterling Penrose emerged from the Cimarron a new man.”


“But with the same old sick of the prick?” The sun was setting and the color drained out of everything. Yule paced along after the Sheriff and demanded, “And are you still so afflicted?”


It was a silent, tense minute until the Sheriff muttered, “Could be we are all afflicted by the sick of Sterling Penrose.”


Yule couldn't stand much more. The darkening woods knotted his heart in hot cords of blood. Was there something groaning out there in the forest? Whatever the case, the Sheriff's enigmatic act had rawed Yule's last nerve. He halted his pony and demanded, “Why in the fuck do you insist on calling yourself by your own name?”


The sheriff turned his mount and faced Yule in the dusk-light.


“It's not that. It's not that I call myself by the name. No sir, it's the opposite – the name Sterling Penrose calls me. I merely decided to heed it.”


The Sheriff was obviously demented. Yule said, “I don't want any trouble. Let's just get back to town. It's getting dark out here.”


“I mean you no harm,” Penrose swore. “But if what I suspect turns out to be true – harm may come to us all.”


“How so?”


“I don't reckon that Meeks boy is merely sick.” The Sheriff stopped, trying to order his thoughts. “After hearing your story I'd wager he's been poisoned – maybe not even on purpose.”


“The deputy...” The Meeks's cabin appeared in Yule's mind, with the creek running close-by. He imagined the Madame's boy, Roger the Feeb, pouring the deputy's maggoty sludge into the Baltimoreans' food-bin. All the day's imagery melded together – cold food-stuffs kept in the creek; sins washing downstream; the Meeks brothers' congested sluice; the unwell Meeks; the alpha maggot and Madame's undead boy – both of which had been born from the long-dead deputy.


“Yes, the deputy,” the Sheriff confirmed.


Junior Darby had become a deputy only a few nights before he perished under the mountainside. In Buena Vista, he and Penrose visited the constable to procure Junior his own pistol. They were dead-set on marching into Red Junction and relieving the High Country of Rex Westman.


They had tied their horses outside the constable's office. From the street it looked to be a plain store-front, but inside it was the wild of the Rockies – frozen in taxidermy. Sand-filled raccoons huddled together in one corner. A decapitated elk glared down from a plaque on the wall. A brown bear sprawled on the floor, hollowed out and flat but for his skull. Various birds of prey hung from kite-string with their talons stretched wickedly to strike. The constable wore a butcher's smock and surgeon's mitts. He set down a hack-saw and greeted them.


“Well howdy there Marshall.” He peeled of his mitts and said, “Welcome to Buena Vista – to what do I owe the pleasure?”


“We're riding into Red Junction where I've accepted the sheriff's mantle,” Sterling explained, “and my deputy here has come detached from his pistola during transit – thus the pleasure is brought to you by our need for rearmament.”


The constable chuckled and looked down his nose at Junior. “I reckon I've a gun to spare.”


The constable dug in his desk and brought forth a lady's two-shot pistol with a mother-of-pearl grip. He handed it over to Junior, smiling. “Took that off a gal at the saloon. Try and hold on to it.”


“Will do,” Junior said. The constable passed him a box of bullets.


“So Red Junction, eh?” Moving on from Junior, the constable addressed Sterling, “Not long-established. Can't say I've heard much good. Reckon you will for a fact find a use for your guns.”


“One can hope.” Sterling offered his hand to the constable and said, “We thank ye.”


“Any time. Take care on that trail – its condition has been to the tumblin' detriment of some men lately.” The constable frowned at them as they left. “And you might see the doc before you head out, Marshal – you look like somethin' shat you out.”


They went outside and untied the horses.


“That's it?” Junior asked. “I am the Law now?”


“That's it,” Sterling affirmed. “Hereafter, any homicide you commit can be justified.”


At the edge of town a hand-painted sign indicated in blood-black letters:



“That's a three-day ride in this steep country,” Sterling said.


The trail was narrow and they went single-file. Each mile took its toll on Sterling. He squirmed in his saddle as if the length of his ass-crack and the bridge of his taint were infested with termites and ticks. His voice was dry as paint flaked from a sun-baked weather-vane. The ether rag came out more often. It was easy to mistake the black, scabby sore at the corner of his mouth for a beetle. He hacked the whole day through, drenching his sleeve in blood-tinged mucus and puss. Junior began to wonder if he'd be forced to ride into Red Junction alone. The marshal's sickness seemed to be encouraged by their march – by their nearness to the end.


By some grace, Penrose survived long enough to make their final camp. They built a fire on the mountainside and et their last supper. Way down below, Red Junction was hidden somewhere by the night and the pines.


“We should ride in early,” Junior said across the campfire, “because morning is when gusto is most-present in the gonads.”


“It is the overflow of mine globes which concerns me,” Sterling said. He picked at his supper. He had become convinced that his illness was the result of his sperm swimming upstream and burrowing into his brains.


Junior knew the routine. He said, “If you need to have another wank—”


“I'm done knuckling out pearls. It is terrible. My prick is inverting – or some formerly internal lining is seeping outward, maybe. I sense it is what a banana undergoes during peeling. My seed rattles in this raw husk.” He stroked his groin as if it were a beloved pet.


“How much ether have you huffed?” Junior wondered.


“I have thrust this bayonet into beasts innumerable and exotically infected!” Unnoticed, a wad of yellow gunk was ejected from Sterling's mouth and splattered on his supper plate. It stayed attached to his chin by translucent strands of ribbon. Fingering more grub into his maw he ranted, “Did I bother to wipe the blade? Fuck no! Just stick it in again! Clean it off in the next gash!” He gagged on his chow and puked in the dirt.


Junior's appetite was long gone. He set aside his plate and went to Sterling. He swatted the marshal on the back and vomit poured out. The gush splashed onto the campfire and sizzled. Junior couldn't help but murmur, “Fuck, Sterling.”


The marshal was delirious the rest of that night. He suffocated himself with the ether rag and passed out in the dirt. Junior tucked him inside a roll of blankets. He left the fire burning. It was a long while before Junior could fall asleep, because every-so-often Sterling had to holler at ghosts.


When sleep did come it was just fleetingly – distinguishable from being awake solely due to its abrupt ending. His heart was hot and massive, rattling his ribcage. His blood throbbed in his throat. Junior sat bolt upright. The fire had burned itself out. The breeze smelled like piss. Had he been dreaming? Had he awakened from some forgotten nightmare with a fight still burning inside him?


Was it still a dream?


The marshal was shrieking, “It et me! It et me! It et me!”


With the fire dead, night was darker than a gallows' shadow. Junior rolled out from under his blanket. He crawled over to where Sterling was rife with histrionic conniption.


“I'm all fuckin' et up!” Sterling Penrose cried loud as he could. “Abigail! Abigail! Abigail!”


Junior's eyes adjusted to the dark, and he wished they hadn't.


Sterling Penrose was gone to pieces. He laid on his back and flailed his arms, but they were just stumps. The hands had been gnarled off and left in the dirt. Stray fingers littered the campsite. Pearlescent bone protrusions jabbed out of the stumps and the skin was unfettered and flapping. The meat inside had been slurped out some. One of Sterling's boots was a few horse-lengths away with his foot still inside. Junior put his hand on the marshal's breast and tried to console him, but just touching Sterling was nauseating. He felt like a pile of wet, mossy stones.


“What did this?” Junior asked.


A loathsome snarl echoed in from every angle. Junior scrambled back over to his own bedroll to retrieve the pearl-handled pistol. He pointed it in the air and shot once.


The cougar's eyes reflected the muzzle-flare. Junior saw it for just a second – a monstrous black cat with a mouthful of murderous knives. It paced, facing him down. It was not afraid of his lady-pistol.


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About the author


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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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