My Brother’s Killer

📅 Published on July 5, 2021

“My Brother’s Killer”

Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 27 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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The following is transcribed from a collection of reel-to-reel tapes recently located in the basement of the long-abandoned St. Elizabeth of Hungary Hospital (location redacted).  The reels appear to capture a conversation between one of the hospital residents and an unknown individual (originally believed to be a member of the hospital staff, but recent evidence suggests otherwise).  Attempts to locate if further tapes and conversations were made have so far come up empty, but these attempts are ongoing.

UNKNOWN: There.  I believe the tape is now rolling.  This conversation was made on August 28th, 1962.  Please state your name for the record.

COLTON: Colton Trapper.

UNKNOWN: Your birthdate?

COLTON: August 30th, 1864.  At least, that’s what I was told and what I’m sticking to.

UNKNOWN: This would put you at almost 98 years old, but you barely look a day over 60.

COLTON: Good stock, I guess.  I can’t exactly chalk it up to clean living.

(There is a pause as someone lights up a cigarette.)

UNKNOWN: Please state on the record the reason why we are speaking today.

COLTON: Hell, I can state it, but you’re the ones who want to know.  I’m happy just sitting here and enjoying what time I have left.  I wish I knew how much that was…probably more than I care to know.

UNKNOWN: Just please state it, sir.  For the recording.  We would prefer if this knowledge was of your own free will.

COLTON: Sure, sure.  This is about the bodies you found in Arizona.  And for the record, I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THOSE.

UNKNOWN: There is no need to shout, sir.

COLTON: But you want to know what was the cause.  And you know I was there, and I’m the only one left ‛alive’ from all that.

UNKNOWN: Why did you emphasize ‘alive?’

COLTON: You don’t want to know.  Not right now, anyway.  But yeah, if you want to hear this story, I can start whenever you’re ready.

UNKNOWN: Very well.  Go right ahead.

COLTON:  Ok, then.  It all started when I heard my brother was dead…

I worked in Nebraska as a ranch hand for a few months when I got the news that my brother was dead. I had been writing to my mother back east a few times, so she knew where to send the death notice.

My brother.  Alexander Trapper.  Got himself a doctoring degree, thought he would make it big in the city. But, instead, when cholera hit, he decided he wanted nothing to do with the city’s problems and made his way out west to a small community in the Arizona Territory, where he treated the locals for snakebites, gunshots, and goodness knows what else.  But the last I had heard from him, he was happy.

Now he was dead.  Dying wasn’t such a big deal, really, but something about it didn’t smell right.  The main reason being, the cause of death was not listed.

If my brother was dead, I wanted to know.  And know as damn quick as they could tell me.  So, I wrote back to my mother, asking what had happened.

She said they didn’t want to say. So I sent another letter, but she danced around it again.  It made me suspicious, to say the least.

I wasn’t going to wait around any longer. So I saved up my ranching money and bought tickets to head out west on the train.  I needed to make a few transfers, but I got as close as the train would get me.

I tried to hire a horse, but no one was willing to lend me one…I guess people were less trusting out here that way. So the only thing I could do was spend way more than I had intended (and the little money I had left) on a ragged old black gelding that had seen better days.

He seemed to like me, ragged or not, even if not too many other people around here did. So they called him Ol’ Crabby.  Once I got away from the ranch, I named him Gerry, after my grandfather.  They both had kind of the same face, so it worked out.

The place I was headed to was named Salt Rock, after a large, white rock face that stared out over the valley.  It took me three days on Gerry to get there, but it was a surprisingly nice place for somewhere so out of the way.  They had the main street, a saloon, lock-up for anyone who got disorderly, and quite a few homes off the main branch.

Oh, and then there was the doctor’s office.  It had a board over the door, with a handwritten note that read, “Keep out until further notice.”

I chuckled a little at the thought of people holding off getting injured until a new doctor arrived in town.  But I stopped when I thought again about my brother being the one who was needing replacement.

An elderly fellow in a large hat saw me staring at the door.  “Yep, if you need a doctor, afraid you will need a ride a couple of days north.  Hope you don’t have anything catching.”

I looked at the old man and shook my head.  “Nothing like that.”

I decided to go to the saloon.  It had two entrances, one for the bar and one for the room and board on the other side of the building.  As I headed for the door, a black and white cat darted out from an alley, nearly tripping me.  I tried to kick it, but it was long gone before I could do anything.

The front desk had a stuffed eagle on the counter, a guest book, and a bookish fellow sleeping behind the counter.  He was maybe in his 50s, thick glasses, brown suspenders, smelled like cigarette smoke.

I rang the bell on the counter.  He woke up.

“Hello, there!  Welcome to Salt Rock!  Don’t get many around here, so if you’re staying, you got the pick of the rooms.  What’s your business here?”

“Passing through, but may stay a few days.”  I had long since run out of money, but I reached into my pocket and pulled out my father’s pocket watch and threw it on the counter.  Still in perfect shape, shiny, and with a gold exterior.  “Need to get some cash, but will this do for collateral until I find some?”

He hefted it and whistled.  “Sure will, stranger.  Just sign the book, and you’ll be all set.”

I signed it “Jack Dawson.”  My last few pseudonyms were getting popular, so I decided to try a new one out.  There was no need to give out my real name unless I had to. Of course, it carried a lot of…baggage.

“How’s the food here?”

He adjusted his glasses.  I guessed he was wearing bifocals, the way he moved them as he looked at the guest book.  “Edible.  Sometimes better than that, when we get a fresh shipment.  Since you’re staying, we can just add it to your room tab when you settle up.”

“Works for me.  What’s the story with the doctor?”

He frowned.  My brother did leave an impression on this town, I could tell.  “Yes, very sad.  Real shame.  Dr. Trapper was a real good fellow, treated us all kind and such.  Kept the missus comfortable and well-minded until she passed last year.”

“Sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you kindly.  Yes, Doc went missing, nobody knew where, until the Marshal took a posse up the mountains yonder looking for him.  There they found his body.  Stripped naked, really torn up.  It looked like an animal attack but didn’t explain the missing clothes.”

He looked around, then waved me closer.  “You ask me, it was some group of savages around these parts.  Don’t know who, but you ask me, they’re up to some devilry—murdering for some dark god or something.  I saw the body under the sheet when he came back.  All bloodied up, cuts and parts missing everywhere.”

Murder.

My brother was murdered.  No wonder my mother didn’t want me to know because she didn’t want me to do something I would regret.  Lord knows I had already done plenty of that through my life.

I kept the gun at my belt hidden under my jacket. So no one had to know about that until I had to.

“You said the Marshal found him?”

“Yes, sir!  Marshal Wilkes should be in his office, along with Old Joe.  They were both out there. They could probably tell you more.  What’s the interest?”

“I occasionally write for a variety of newspapers.  Plus, I like interesting local stories.”  The first was a bald-faced lie.  The second was true, to some extent.

“Are you anyone famous?”

“You may have heard my name.  It’s gotten a little attention.”  That was definitely true, but probably not this far out west.

“Well, fine, fine!  A ‛maybe’ celebrity in my establishment!  Enjoy your stay, Mr. Dawson.  The first room at the top of the stairs.

My room a single room, with a bed on one side, a bathtub on the other, and a small balcony where I could hear any and all things going on outside…even at night because the glass was very thin and the door out there didn’t latch very well.  The bed was severely overstuffed, with hay shooting out of the corners, but it paled with the stuffing coming through the tears of the giant buffalo head hung on the wall, or the eagle mounted high up in the corner.  Whoever put this room together, taxidermy was not one of their strong suits.

Gerry was hitched to a post down the street; I’d have to find a livery to keep him if I was here much longer, but I’d also need some coin to take care of that…the watch was the only collateral I had at this point.

I threw down my saddlebag and shoved it under the bed, scaring off a hawk or some other large bird that was sitting on the balcony.  I thought about the time.  Close to noon, and I was tired of trail rations. If I had a tab going, I might as well use it.

I went to the saloon.  Back east, saloons at lunchtime tended to be noisy and busy, mostly depending on who chose to drink at noon.  This place was almost silent, with only a few older gents sitting at the bar and one younger ranch hand in a corner nursing that looked to be a sasparilla.  I sat down in the middle of the room at a table, and a young lady came over to me.  She was probably about my age, in her thirties, and like me, it looked like she hadn’t had a lot of good luck in her life recently, either.  She did try to put on a smile as she served me, though.

“What’s your poison?”

“Nothing alcoholic.  And something with meat in it that hasn’t been dried for three days.”

“Then you’ll want the rabbit.  Stewed or fresh?”

“Fresh.”

She went into the back, brought back a plate with a cut of meat and some pickled vegetables, along with a bottle of Coca-Cola.  I picked up the bottle and spun it.

“You actually get Coca-Cola around here?”

“Not really.  Mistaken delivery, but the courier didn’t want to bother picking it back up again.  I got three more boxes out back if you want more.  How are you paying?”

“Room tab.  Jack Dawson.  And who is serving me, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I don’t.  Millie.  Not that my name would get you anything other than a meal.  What are you here for?”

“Just passing through, originally.  But then I heard about this doctor thing and thought it might be worth a story write-up.  I do some news reporting, freelance.”

“A reporter, out here?  You must be desperate.”

“A little.  What can you tell me about the doctor?”

“Dr. Trapper?  Nice enough.  He’s fixed up all kinds of scrapes for me, like the other week when I banged my knee up on a wagon.  Had a very nice, gentlemanly demeanor when it came to…”  She trailed off, but I could guess what she was referring to.  It wasn’t the kind of thing you talked about openly with a strange man you just met.

“This the kind of place where everybody knows everybody?”

“Yeah, we’re all friendly enough.”  She pointed at the two older men.  “Jed over there does cart repairs. David isn’t really skilled at much but makes a living doing odd jobs.  It’s enough to keep him in rabbit stew.”

A bell dinged, which I had heard on my way in, signaling someone coming in off the street.  The newcomer came in, sat down at the bar,  and waved to the bartender, who nodded and called to the cook in the back.  He looked like he was also mine and Millie’s age, but a lot more weathered.

“And him.  Paul Clampett.  Sad story.  Nice guy, but he hasn’t been the same since he accidentally shot his brother while out hunting.  That would have been-”  She took a moment to think.  “About three summers ago?”

“Losing a loved one hurts.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I don’t have that big a family, and they’re all still alive.  Sometimes I wish my brother wasn’t, though.”  She chuckled to herself.  “Paul, though, I’m not what he does.  He just comes in and eats here for lunch, same thing, every day.  Must be a very lonely existence.”

She got called over to the table in the corner with the young guy drinking the sarsaparilla, so I bid her goodbye and ate my rabbit.  The rabbit wasn’t my favorite, but it beat the jerky and dried fruit I’d been living on getting here.

Once I finished, I gave the bartender a wave, showed him my room key, and then went onto the street, looking for the Marshal’s office.

I checked the lock-up first, but the Marshal wasn’t there.  Instead, there was another man, feet up on a desk, hat pulled over his face. He was being sneered at by the wiry fellow in the cell behind him.  The one in the cell waved at me.

“Hey!  Give you a dollar if you can hand me the keys and let me out of here.”

The man in the chair lifted his hat.

“You know I’m not actually asleep, don’t you? So stop asking people to let you out, Horace.  It’s worse than just sleeping it off and getting back to work.”

The man in the chair was definitely Indian of some kind, but I wasn’t familiar with people from these parts.  He had shoulder-length black hair and wore a dusty leather jacket, and had what appeared to be a deputy’s badge.  Just from looking at him, I couldn’t tell in the least how old he was; he could’ve been younger than me. He could’ve been twice my age.  I’ve never seen anybody who defied age quite like that before in my life.

He also had a very mild accent; his English was near perfect.

He saw me watching him, and he pulled his feet off the desk.  “Can I help you, sir?”

“I’m looking for Marshal Wilkes.  I’m Jack Dawson, I’m a reporter, just passing through, but I thought this murdered doctor story might be of interest to some readers.”

“Got your press pass?”

Huh.  I hadn’t expected anyone to ask about that.  I thought quickly.  “Dropped it on the trail.  I’ll need them to get me a new one once I get back east.”

He looked me up and down.  “If you don’t mind me saying, you look about as much like a journalist as I do a robber baron.”

“I get that a lot.”  I thought back to what the man who ran the saloon had said.  “Would you be Old Joe?”

He smirked.  “Just Joe is fine.  Clarence at the saloon called me that once and won’t let it go.  If you’re looking for the Marshal, he should be back in a few minutes.”  He then pointed at my belt.  “In the meantime, you should register that firearm with me.”

As he got out some paperwork, I rolled my eyes, opened my jacket, and put the gun on the table.  He picked it up, gave it a once over, and then wrote some information down on a sheet.

“Never seen a journalist carrying more than a derringer.  That’s a fine piece you’ve got there, Mr. Dawson.”

I already didn’t want the law asking too many questions about what I planned to do once I tracked down my brother’s killer, and here I was, already under suspicion by one of the last people I wanted to even talk to.  Nevertheless, he handed my piece back, just as we heard yelling from outside.

“Dammit, Svenson, next time you let your horse go wherever it feels like, I’m gonna lock you up for public nuisance!”

Through the open doorway came a grizzled man with a thick but graying beard, along with a pronounced limp.  Despite the limp, he looked as if he could take down an elk with his bare hands or at least crush me if he fell on me.  He was huge, and certainly plenty of it was muscle.

“And who might you be?”  As I told him the same story about being a journalist, he went over to a bent metal trash can, grabbed a fireplace poker leaning against the desk, and started scraping his boot off into the can.

He didn’t answer me about anything until he had finished.  “So, what exactly you want to publish? Dead doctor out west?  Not exactly news.”

“I hear from the people around here it could be murder.”

“Murder?  Ha!  Mountain lion attack.  Simple as that.  Don’t believe everything every drunk around here tells you.  A desert is a rough place, and people don’t make it out of here if they’re not careful.  It happens all the time out here. People go missing on their way elsewhere or turn up mauled.”

I noticed that as Marshal Wilkes shouted his opinion, Joe looked at him with a glare.  Interesting.  The deputy didn’t agree with the sheriff.

“If it’s all the same, I’m sure as a novelty there are some readers who’d be interested to know how to avoid such attacks in the future.  Some of the, shall we say, ‛gory’ details would help drive the point home.”

Wilkes sat down heavily in a rocking chair further back in the office.  “Wouldn’t get much from the body.  We buried him a month ago, up at the cemetery a few streets up.  Did get some photos, if that’s the kind of thing your readers like.”  He pointed to Joe and waved for him to get something out of the drawer of the desk.  Joe did, and I held the photos in my hand.

I truly wish that the last things I saw of my brother would have been happy.  But flipping through the photographs, the stark reality of his death haunted me.  I would never speak to him again, in person or writing.

But even more so, the violence his killer had done to him.  I could see why the Marshal assumed a mountain lion had killed him; his chest and limbs had been viciously mauled, and even I would have assumed an animal attack.

But even accounting for him being naked when he was killed, like what that saloon owner, Clarence, had told me. There was something else I had noticed that had apparently escaped the Marshal’s attention.

There were dark markings on Alexander’s wrists.  Even accounting for the brightness of the room and the quality of the camera, I’d seen those marks before.  Rope marks.

Whoever did this to him had tied him up first.

I began to wonder if just shooting the killer would be enough to quench my growing rage.

Wilkes pulled off one of his boots and massaged his foot, the one I assumed made him limp.  “Think your paper would print those?  Wait, don’t even answer. I know they wouldn’t.  You just go ahead and write that story or whatever it is you’re going to do.  Business wouldn’t hurt this town any, but to be honest, I think Doc Trapper would best be left in peace.  He was a good man, and I don’t want his death to be a circus.”

I handed the photos back to Joe, thanked them both, and left.  I wanted to see this cemetery.

I barely paid attention to the streets, but I found it.  It was hard to miss, with its wrought-iron gate and fencing around it. So I walked in, passing amidst the stones until I came to a stone cross.

Alexander Trapper, April 29th, 1858-May 7th, 1896.  His healing hands now belong in God’s.

I knelt in front of it.  I don’t know how long I was there, but I only snapped back out of my thoughts when another photograph fell in front of me.

It was of Alexander and me, sitting expressionless and perfect when we were both still boys, him just about to go off to medical school, and I just a few years from a…less than a reputable career.

“Your brother and I were very good friends.  Nobody else even knew he had a brother, except me.”

I picked up the photo and turned to Joe, who stood just a little ways off to the side.

“He also told me about some of the things you’d done.  Not all, I’m sure, but enough to know that you being here isn’t just to pay your respects.  You mean to hunt his killer down.”

I looked around.  The rest of the streets were empty.  “So, what do you plan to do?”

“As a deputy, I should send you out of the territory before you do something you’d regret.  But I know what you’re up against, and all I can say is, I very much doubt you’d succeed in what you want to do, and you’d best just leave and forget anything had happened.”

Now he had me interested.  “You know who did this?”

“No.  Not by name or face.  But I know what they are, underneath.”

“I don’t understand.” But, lawman or no, if he knew something, he had better start talking.

“You wouldn’t.  It’s not something we like to talk about.  There are things in this world best kept away from the light of day.”  He started to leave.

“I have to know what happened to him.  Somebody is going to pay for what they did.”  I tried to think of something to say, to see if he would tell me more.  “I want to see where he died.”

He stopped and looked at me over his shoulder.  “I can take you up the ridge, but I can tell you, you won’t find anything.  The killer didn’t leave clues behind.”  His gaze then drifted back over the town. “There never are.”

There never are.

That is the one thing he and the Marshal can agree on.  My brother isn’t the first.

“Show me.”

The waning sunlight drifted through the trees as our horses made their way along the ridge.  I didn’t expect to see trees out here, with all the desert, rocks, and scrub, but here, at the edge of the mountains, it looked just like any forest I’d been to back east.  It would’ve been beautiful if I hadn’t been so focused on where we were going.

I did notice something a little odd, though; it was really quiet.  Other than a huge crow that flew by once on the drive, I didn’t hear or see a lot of wildlife around.

“Is that usual?  I haven’t seen any wildlife around.”

Joe leaned back and looked at me. His horse was far more sure-footed than mine.  “Around this area, yes.  But it is not usual, I can tell you.”

We eventually came out of the trees into a clear overlook, where Joe pulled his horse to a stop.  We dismounted.  The grassy field dropped off to a view to the west.  The sun had long since passed the noontime point, and its light shone down on the valley below us, making the red rocks even redder.

“This is where we found the body.”  He pointed to a large rock covered in scrub brush.

Even a month later, there were still dark, rusty stains on it.

I looked around by it, but other than the blood, there wasn’t much else.  There was barely any sign of a struggle.

“Why would he have been up here in the first place?”

Joe pointed to the valley.  “The view.  And the plant studies.  Your brother had a journal he kept for medical work and drawing wildlife.  It was what he did to relax.”

“Quite a distance just to relax.”

But Joe didn’t have to tell me why.  Alexander always kind of considered himself an individualist, blazing trails like Lewis & Clark.  He loved to go out on adventures, even if it was dangerous for him to do it.

“He would often come up here alone.  I never thought it was a good idea, but he thought he could handle anything.”  He shook his head and continued to dig through the scrub.

“I never knew he could draw.  Do you have his notebook?”

“It wasn’t in his things when we went through his office, and we didn’t find it near the body. So I’m guessing wherever his clothes went, so did his book.”

Further searching in this little meadow turned up nothing, so we went back to the horses.  Joe got on his.  “I really did wish we found something.  I hope you know that, Colton.  But I tell you, it’s best to let it go.”

Joe had been helpful, I wouldn’t deny that, but it did annoy me that somebody here knew who I was…and thought letting it go was something I would do.  “Somebody’s responsible for his death.  I can’t let it go until they’ve met justice…one way or the other.”

Joe tilted his hat, so the late day sun was out of his face.  “Believe me, if there was anything at all, I would’ve found it.  I’ve looked this meadow over every which way, and-”

Joe stopped.  We had moved a little ways down the trail, but he seemed to be staring off at something a distance away.  I followed his gaze, and I saw it, too.

An old rotten log lay on its side.  A twig on the top was bent, which by itself wouldn’t have been unusual, but it looked like there were scratches in the top, not animal markings, but thin and precise, like with a penknife.

Joe and I looked at each other.  Now, I wasn’t aware of my brother being an artist, but I did know he had extensive knowledge of trail markings.  He may not have been cautious about being alone up here, but he knew how to mark the way in case he got lost or to point out things others might not know.

This one did both.  As we approached, we saw it was a marker pointing the way up the side of the hill, but it was also a place where he would have stored something.

Kicking the log on the mark, the wood crumbled apart, revealing a leather satchel that had been shoved deep into the hollow log.

I shook it off, sending wood crumbs and bugs flying everywhere, and opened it, revealing a large, leather-bound notebook.

I held it for Joe to see.  “Is this his?”

He nodded.

I flipped through the notebook. So much of it was field studies of wildlife and plants, and Alexander’s attention to detail was phenomenal.  I could see every feather in every bird, the wrinkle in every flower blossom.

And then I came to the middle of the book.

I don’t know what he had been drawing, but it was vicious, bestial, and nasty.  Horrifically long limbs, an extended face, like a dog’s, but standing upright.  Every detail caught.

Had he seen this?  Had he drawn this while watching it, from the meadow?  What the hell had he stumbled upon out there?

Joe sucked in a breath.  “This is why we don’t talk about such things.  He had seen too much.  And now, so have we.”

Past these pages, the rest of the notebook was blank.  These horrible images were the last thing my brother had drawn.  He must have hidden the notebook so whatever he had drawn couldn’t find it, hoping Joe or someone else versed in trail lore would recover it.

“Joe, what the hell is this thing?”

“We don’t-”

I pulled out my revolver.  I didn’t hold it threateningly.  Not yet.  “You already said we know too much.  If this thing is as bad as you say, then I might as well know all I can.”

Joe sighed, then said something I couldn’t even pronounce in a million years.

“Come again?”

“In English, it’d be known as a skinwalker.  It used to be a person but has given up all that is good in them for power beyond imagining.  By killing someone close to them, someone they love, they gain the ability to take the shape of any animal…or sometimes even people.  They can play tricks on you or even control your mind with only a glance.”

It sounded like a bunch of nonsense, but my brother was a man of science, and what he drew, I knew it couldn’t be a lie.  So, I took Joe at his word.

“You say they can look like people.”

“That’s one of the reasons we don’t say anything.  We don’t know who could be one at any time.”  He swallowed.  “And if you are one, Colton Trapper, then I will let you know.  I will not go quietly.”

Joe had pulled a knife, as big as my forearm, out from behind his back.

We stared at each other for a moment.  Then, he put his knife away.

“All that talk, and now you’re just walking?”

“I spoke your true name.  And yet, you did not sicken. Therefore, you cannot be one.  That is the one known way of combating these creatures.”

Well, that was a relief.  I had a gun to Joe’s knife, but I was likely to shoot past him at this range, and that knife would have gone straight through me and out the other side.  I was hoping not to risk it.

“So, what else did he find, then?”  I pointed to the twisted branch on the log.

Joe shrugged and wandered in the direction the marker indicated.  There we found another mark, which led to another, and still another until we came to a small cave in the side of the mountain.

Dusk was beginning to fall fast.  Whatever was in this cave, we wouldn’t have long to check.  Joe had thankfully thought ahead more carefully than I did and brought a small lantern, which he lit, and we took with us, leaving our horses tied to some trees outside the front.

The cave was not very big, and I didn’t know why Alexander had marked a way to it.  Other than some dried-up animal scat in the corners, there was nothing here other than the rocky walls that made it up.

There had to be something else.  This wasn’t a fool’s trap.  There was a clue here somewhere.

I ran my hands over the walls, looking for another mark, but there was nothing. Finally, in frustration, I pounded the back wall.

Some pebbles fell, and the rock under my hand shifted.

The back wall.  It was false.

I waved and Joe, and moments later, we had both pulled away from several large rocks, too heavy for one person to lift along, revealing a much deeper cave beyond.

And what we found there.

Joe raised his lantern, and within was a burial mound.  Skeleton after skeleton, piled into every corner.

But there were also boxes.  We opened the boxes and found clothes, neatly folded, along with valuables like watches, shoes, fine coats and handkerchiefs, ladies’ handbags-

I looked again at the skeletons.  There was still some dried meat on those bones.  And something else.

Gnaw marks.

Joe gasped and stepped back, away from the scene.  “We’ve found his lair.  We will not get out of here alive.”

I held up my revolver.  “He can try.”

We exited the cave, and I was grateful I had my weapon handy.

Joe’s horse was dead, while Gerry, my old, tired, and not particularly sure-footed mount was fighting like crazy against his rope to getaway.  I didn’t blame him; the mountain lion that was currently ripping strips of meat out of Joe’s horse’s stomach was enough to scare the wits out of anyone.

I aimed it.  The lion looked at me and snarled.

I fired.  With the time I took and my usually decent aim, I should have hit it directly in the flank and sent it rolling.

I never even saw a bullet land.  It was impossible.  It should have hit the dirt or a tree.  But no, the bullet was just… swallowed up.

The lion pushed aside its kill and came stalking low to the ground towards me.  It didn’t run.  And strangely enough, it bared its teeth.

It was smiling.  It was toying with me.  It knew it was in control and was enjoying every minute of it.

I knew then this was no mere animal.  This was something else entirely.

I also knew at that moment, my gun would be useless to stop it.

Joe, who had watched me fire, shouted out something in a language I didn’t know.

The lion turned and looked at him, now angry and snarling.  Then, so did I.  Without wanting to, my arm came up, and my gun aimed loosely at Joe, who was still reciting something.

He saw me and swung his knife, the flat edge of it knocking my arm away.  When he did, the pain returned control of my arm to me, and I blinked.

The lion took advantage of Joe’s chanting to swipe at him.  Its claws caught his shoulder and knocked his knife to the ground.  He held his wounded arm but kept chanting as the lion stepped closer to him.

I picked up the knife from the ground.  The big cat didn’t notice.  I leapt forward and drove it into its back.

It howled, stood up on its hind legs, and danced around, trying to get the weapon out of its back. Finally, its front limbs elongated, pulling the knife out and throwing it aside.

It growled at us, no longer looking like a mountain lion but some thin-limbed creature with a cat’s head. I grabbed the thrown blade, at which the thing flinched but recovered itself.

It then appeared to melt, its form dripping to the ground, then pooling itself into the shape of a small bird.  It then flew away.

Joe got up.  “That knife can wound it, but it cannot kill it. Only if we knew its true name could we hope to harm it permanently.”

“So you said.  Then why did it leave?”

Joe shook his head.  “I don’t know.  But it’s up to something. Make no mistake.  You saw what can do.”

I did.  It took control of my arm and tried to shoot Joe.  I never want that feeling again.

I checked out the wound on his arm.  It was deep and bleeding badly.  I tied it up as best I could, but as I kept reminding him every time he winced when I pulled the bandages, he had the wrong brother taking care of him.

We both got on Gerry and headed back down the mountain; however, I did retrieve what I could from Joe’s saddlebag, including more oil and matches for the lantern.  As it got darker, he held it up so we could see down the trail.

I couldn’t help but feel like the thing, the skinwalker or whatever it was, was watching us the whole time.  I couldn’t shake the feeling, even as we emerged from the woods, but I heard and saw nothing. So I quickened Gerry’s pace once we got back onto flatter ground and took off for Salt Rock.

The town was quiet when we got back.  Sure, it was evening, but even so, you’d usually see a handful of people on the street in any town.  Now, there was nobody on the streets at all, and barely any lights lit.

I turned to Joe, who I could tell was getting weaker by the moment.  “Is it always like this around here?”

He shook his head.  “No.  But wherever it goes, things go quiet.  Just like the forest…”

He was right.  It was just like how eerily quiet the woods were when we were climbing the hillside.

I rode him to the Marshal’s office.  The Marshal wasn’t in, and neither was Horace…well, not most of him, anyway.  The cell door was still shut, but parts of Horace had been pulled through to the other side.

Joe breathed hard.  “Leave me here.”

“It’s not safe, and you’re hurt.”

“Marshal Wilkes may be rough around the edges, but he’s a good man.  I need to know if he’s been hurt.  Besides…”  He opened up one of the drawers and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.  “There’s medicine in here to keep me going.”

I smiled.  So did he.

Leaving the lock-up, I went back over to the saloon.  I didn’t think my gun would work, but I wanted to have extra ammunition regardless.  I pushed open the inn-side door.  Clarence was there, standing up when I burst in.

“Everything okay, sir?”

“Just lock your door, Clarence.  No questions.”

He gave me an odd look but went to lock the outside door while I ran upstairs.

I opened my door, dug out my bag, and shook out a couple of rounds into my hand.  I popped out my spent cartridge and replaced it, then looked up at my balcony.

That thing was there, spread across the glass.  It looked just like the pictures Alexander had drawn.

I raised my gun to shoot at it, but as I did, I noticed something strange.

I could see parts of the street right through it.  It was almost like it was a reflection on the glass, even as it tapped and scratched.

I then realized the scratching and tapping made no sound, even though I could hear everything outside through the door.

Joe said it could trick you.  I lowered my weapon.

The image disappeared.  I was right; it wasn’t real.

But the real one was close by somewhere.

I went down the stairs to Clarence.  “Do you have a telegraph in town?  We need someone to come by, maybe a posse and medicine.  Old Joe’s been hurt and won’t take a ride to the nearest town in his condition.”

Clarence tilted his head.  “Hurt, you say?”

I wasn’t sure if he was confused or just not able to move too fast, but he was just standing there.  I pushed past his desk to pull him to his senses…

I tripped over a pair of feet underneath the desk and fell, looking directly into the cold eyes of Clarence, most certainly dead.

I looked up at the living Clarence, who removed his bifocals, revealing eyes with deep red irises.

“I would have figured he’d be dead by now.”  The living Clarence then began to peel back his face, revealing an unnatural head underneath that couldn’t possibly have fit underneath.  That monstrous, dog-like head.  The thing continued to peel down, removing Clarence’s body and clothes like some sort of wet suit, its thin body pulling itself free, tall and lanky, somewhat hairy, but dripping with evil from every pore.

It stepped toward me.  I did the only thing I could think of.

I turned, fired at the lock on the door, and pushed the door open. Unfortunately, part of the door next to me exploded, and I fell in the other direction, landing in the dirt.

Down the alley, Marshal Wilkes was there, holding a shotgun and pointing it right at me..  “Hold it right there!  Hands up!  What’s with the shooting?”

Before I could answer, the monster appeared in the doorframe.  Marshal Wilkes engaged in some light blasphemy, then fired his shotgun at the creature’s head.  The buckshot made it recoil but didn’t seem to hurt it.  Still, it pulled the door shut, closing itself inside.

“What in the holy name of God was that?”

I stood up.  “Nothing God wants anything to do with.  You seen Joe?”

“Yeah, I sat him on a bench while I checked all the commotion out here.”  He popped open his shotgun to reload it.  “Our first aid kit at the lock-up was a mess, but I know there’s one at the saloon…”

“Then let’s get inside.  It’s not safe here.  Clarence is dead.”

Both the Marshal and I went and gathered Joe off of a bench in front of the saloon.  He was definitely looking worse for wear.

We both shouldered open the door.  It was empty other than the cook, who we could hear cooking something up (presumable for himself) in the back, and Millie, who was wiping down a table.  She looked up when we came in.  “What’s…”

“The medical kit, quickly!”

Millie waved to the cook, who I hoped was looking for the kit.  She then took hold of Joe and led him to a booth, where he sat heavily.

“What happened to him?”

There was a crash in the back of the kitchen, then a howl, then a scream.  We looked over and saw the cook go flying through the air, landing on the counter.  He’d been torn to shreds.  Millie screamed, and then screamed again as something rattled the floor behind the bar.

Two long, thin hands, clawed, pulled themselves over the top of the bar, as the thing slithered up onto its surface.  It came down on our side.  The way it walked…it was on all fours, but walked with a sort of crab walk, head back, and its limbs bent unnaturally as it stalked forward.  Guttural sounds came from its canine lips.

Marshal Wilkes yelled and fired both barrels into it.  It didn’t even flinch, but with a quick swipe, it smacked the lawman into a nearby table, which collapsed.  I wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead, with a hit like that, but he wasn’t moving.

The thing then turned to Joe.  Smiling, it crawled towards him.  Even as weak as he was, I saw the fear in his eyes.  Even so, he had his knife ready, and he signaled for Millie to move away, to run and get out of here.

I tried to think of something, anything, to stop it.  Then I remembered what Joe had said.

Skinwalker.  Powers of evil.  Killed someone close to it.  True name can stop it.

Maybe Joe was too close to this town to put two and two together, but I could.  Since I’d been in town, I heard of two people who had lost close loved ones. Unfortunately, only one was still alive.

“I know who you are.”  And I did, though the name was escaping me.

The creature halted, and it turned towards me.  For the first time today, I saw something other than evil in its expression.

Fear.

Got you.

I stared it down.  And I remembered his name.  I still don’t remember how something so insignificant at the time came to mind so quickly, but there it was.  And I was glad for it.

“PAUL CLAMPETT!”

The creature stopped.  It stumbled.  It gagged.  Black ooze poured from its lips.  It scrabbled on the wood floor of the saloon, then fell over.  It shriveled, twisting in on itself.

It became a man.  The man who came into the saloon today.  The man who ate the same meal every day and seemed so alone.

He looked up at me, pure hatred radiating from clenched lips.  Finally, he screamed and reached for me.

I emptied my gun into him.  This time,  they worked the way they were supposed to.

Nobody but Marshal Wilkes, Joe, Millie, and I knew the real story.  Wilkes got a broken arm when he was tossed, and Joe lost a lot of blood, but both of them made it through the night.  When pressed about what caused all the commotion, it was simply stated that Paul Clampett had been pushed over the edge and had attacked everyone in a drunken, crazed rage.

As for the clothes, Wilkes sent me a letter long after the event that one of my brother’s possessions, a pen with his name engraved on it, had been found during a raid on a black market seller in California. Paul had taken his victim’s things and was selling them off to make money.  It explained how he could eat at the saloon every day, but probably also how he learned who best to murder and hide away.

I don’t know why Paul did what he did.  I don’t know why he sold his soul for powers I hope to never understand.  Millie doesn’t either.  He was just quiet and kept to himself.  But I guess an outsider coming to town who could expose him drove him over the edge and out of hiding.  Otherwise, he might still be quietly doing what he’s doing now.

I think back to all the animals that crossed my path that day and now wonder about every animal I see and wonder if it’s just an animal or something spying on me.

But truly, the best to come from all this is that I know what happened to my brother.  I have found some kind of peace for him.

And as for Paul Clampett?

I’m glad the son of a bitch is dead.

UNKNOWN: That’s quite a story, Mr. Trapper.  And you stand by this, even as outrageous as it sounds?

COLTON: I do. I wouldn’t have told it if I didn’t believe it.

UNKNOWN: So that is your explanation as to the bodies that were found up in Salt Rock, then?

COLTON: Well, it would have been nice to move them, but we thought maybe it best not to touch them. We didn’t know what the best course of action was, and while it would’ve been nice to give them a proper burial, we were just plain old-fashioned scared at the time. But, of course, nobody said we were saints, you know.  But that’s for you to fix now, right?

UNKNOWN: We’re looking into it.  Our time for today is almost up, as is our blank tape.

COLTON: Bring more, then.  There’s more I can tell you.

UNKNOWN: How…how many more?

COLTON: How many tapes you got?

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Seth Paul


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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