by Brian J. Jarrett
Arctic wind howled outside a rickety saloon set within what had once been a gold rush town, but now didn’t have the good sense to know it was dead. The bitter cold outside worked its icy fingers into the room through loose joints where rough-hewn boards had been hastily butted up against one another. A single pot-belly stove burned in the corner of the room, fighting valiantly against the frigid onslaught. Kerosene lamps burned, the dim light staving off the worst of the darkness that had blanketed the land hours before.
A barkeep sporting thick sideburns and vacuous eyes kept vigil in front of a backdrop of unmarked bottles, towel in hand. He was thin, almost gaunt, with the look of a man who’d resigned himself to a life without the golden riches he’d set out for so many years ago.
Inside the saloon, three men sat at separate tables, each sipping on rotgut whiskey in a vain attempt to warm themselves from within. They wore wide-brimmed hats and leather coats as creased and worn as their sun-baked faces. Cigarettes burned between calloused fingers, the tobacco smoke rising in tendrils that resembled coiled snakes before dissipating into the smoggy air. Six-shooters hung from belts, the handles nicked and scratched, the barrels blackened around the end.
As the three men sat, staring into their drinks, the saloon door opened. Frigid air rushed in as a lone figure entered the bar, stepping into the dim light cast by the kerosene lamps. The new arrival had a small frame and short stature, along with a hood that obscured the stranger’s identity.
The barkeep tensed but left his shotgun under the bar. Bandits filtered in and out towns like this one, but only a fool would try to rob a bar with three gunslingers sitting in attendance.
Still, stranger things happened. The barkeep took a step toward the bar, just a little closer to the shotgun.
The men gave the new arrival ample inspection, looking up from their drinks for the first time that evening. The already quiet room now went deadly silent; only the whistling wind daring to disturb it.
They waited with itching trigger fingers as the stranger took a seat at the bar. Gloved hands removed the hood, allowing long hair to spill out from beneath, as black as night.
It was the barkeep who spoke first. “We don’t serve savages in here,” he said. He cocked his head as he looked the visitor over. “And we don’t serve women neither.”
The Indian silently looked the barkeep in the eye, saying nothing. Seconds ticked by slowly.
The barkeep leaned in closer to the woman. “Don’t you speak English? We don’t want your kind in here.”
The woman stayed still and silent. By now, everyone else in the bar had become interested in the stranger. The barkeep looked at the men in the room as if to ask for their guidance on what to do next with the troublesome stranger.
The men only watched, withholding counsel.
Slowly, the Indian woman raised her right hand, motioning for the barkeep to lean in closer.
The barkeep looked to his customers.
Again they held their tongues.
The barkeep swallowed hard. After a few moments of hesitation, he leaned in, pointing an ear toward her. The woman put her lips next to the man’s ear and began to whisper something inaudible to the others in the room.
Those seated at the tables clutched half-full glasses and watched the scene with increasing interest.
The woman said her peace and sat back down on her stool.
The barkeep’s expression changed. His angry face gave way to shock, followed by a look that had to be fear. Or maybe not fear as much as terror.
The barkeep stepped away from the strange Indian woman, backing into the shelves displaying the cheap liquor and nearly knocking the bottles to the floor. His chest rose and fell as he struggled to compose himself, watching the woman as if she were a slithering cobra.
Silence roared in the room as the trio of men stared at the woman.
A lone wolf howled in the distance, the sound nearly indistinguishable from the wind.
With deliberate care, the stranger reached into a leather pouch slung around her neck. She removed three coins and placed them on the bar.
“Drinks for these fine men,” she said. She paused, before reaching into the bag again and producing another coin. She placed the money on the bar. “And for me.”
The barkeep nodded, keeping his distance from the woman. With shaky hands, he retrieved four water-spotted glasses. They clanged together like bells as he placed them on the bar and filled them from a bottle of nondescript brown liquid. When the drinks had been poured, he slid them toward the woman, keeping his distance. He left the money where it lay.
“Much obliged,” the woman said. She spoke English nearly indistinguishable from the white men filling the room.
The woman picked up the four glasses, gathering them two at a time. She made her way to the tables, delivering a drink to each man before taking a seat for herself. She scanned the room and held her glass high. “To your health, gentlemen,” she said, downing the whiskey as if it were water.
The men stared, their eyes narrow and their faces suspicious.
One of the men, a tall and lanky fellow with a thick mustache and a nose red from years of heavy drinking spoke up. “Barkeep!” he barked. “Kick this bitch out!”
The barkeep shook his head, still standing with his back against the shelves.
The tall man stood. “Well, if you ain’t gonna kick the cunt out then I’m gonna have to—”
“Thomas Fletcher,” the Indian woman said, frowning.
The tall man hesitated. “What did you say?”
“They called you Tommy, back when you were a boy. Did they not?”
Fletcher’s lips formed a thin line. “That ain’t my name.”
“Not anymore,” the woman said. “You took a new name, did you not?”
Fletcher glared at the woman. “My name is Butch.”
The woman grinned. “Tommy Fletcher. You left home when you reached fifteen. Gun for hire.”
Now the attention of the remaining two seated men shifted to Fletcher.
Fletcher scanned the room, his gaze landing back on the strange woman. “What of this is any of your business, Indian cunt?”
“My name is Genara,” the woman said.
Fletcher huffed. “Cunt to me.”
“That’s enough,” the second man said, looking Fletcher in the eye.
Fletcher frowned. “Nance, you don’t tell me when it’s enough.”
Deep wrinkles lined Nance’s face, crisscrossing like small rivers snaking across the land. “Is it true?”
“Is what true?” Fletcher asked.
“You know what. Your name.”
Fletcher hesitated. “What if it is? Ain’t anybody’s business what my name is.”
Nance’s eyes narrowed. “Seems you ain’t been exactly forthright with the rest of us…Butch.”
Fletcher returned the scowl.
“Given the situation then I’d say that the least you can do is refer to this lady by her real name,” Nance said. “More than I could say that you allowed us to do for you.”
Fletcher opened his mouth as if to protest, but as Nance stood a solid six inches taller and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, Fletcher lost his gumption quickly.
“Fine,” Fletcher said. He shot a hard look at the woman. “What the fuck is it you think you’re doing here, Genara? Thought we made it clear you ain’t welcome to drink here.”
“But I have already drank,” Genara said. “You, however, have not.”
“She wants something,” the third man said, speaking for the first time that evening. He was shorter than Fletcher and thinner than Nance, with a face that could win elections. “That’s the only reason anybody comes into a bar and buys a man a drink.”
Genara shifted her attention to the third man. “Martin Clendenin.”
“Congratulations,” Clendenin said. “You know our names, and now we know yours. Since it’s clear you came in here to do some business, I’d suggest you get to haggling.”
“What I need from you three,” Genara said, “you will all give me soon enough.”
“Like hell,” Fletcher said.
Genara continued. “You do not remember me, but I remember you. I remember all three of you very well. I see your faces every time I close my eyes.”
Fletcher grinned. “Ah, it’s like that, is it? I don’t need to be paid for that kind of service.”
Genara frowned. “I would rather lay with a dog in the street than to suffer your white cock.”
Nance laughed, a hearty roar that filled the room to the edges. “I like this one!” he said, holding his considerable stomach until the laughing fit passed.
Fletcher snarled. “You’re lucky I don’t kill you right here and now, you Indian cunt.”
“You’d kill me as you did my son?” Genara said.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Fletcher said.
“You took away everything that mattered to me and yet you can’t even recall the event.”
The wind buffeted the flimsy wooden structure, carrying with it that faraway howl of a lone wolf. Genara smiled when she heard the sound. “My son’s name was Helaku. It means full of sun.”
“Don’t ring a bell,” Fletcher said. “Never heard of no Helaku.”
“Why don’t you refresh our memories,” Clendenin said.
“Drink first,” Genara said. “You will need it.”
Nance tipped his glass back and downed the brown liquid, grimacing as he did. He shot a hard look at the barkeep. “Rotgut shit you’re serving in here.”
But the barkeep remained silent, wide eyes trained on the Indian. He seemed not to notice the insult against the quality of his liquor.
“Drink up, Fletcher,” Nance said. “Least you can do is drink what the good lady bought for you. You owe her your attention for that.”
Fletcher eyed Nance, his eyes flicking back and forth between the glass on the table and Genara. After a brief hesitation, he picked up the glass and swallowed the whiskey, coughing loudly as he wiped his mouth.
“You pussy,” Nance said.
Clendenin finished his glass and placed it upside down upon the table before him. “Whiskey’s in our bellies now, woman. You go on and speak your peace and be gone.”
Another howl drifted into the room on a strong gust of arctic wind.
“You hear, do you not?” Genara asked.
“It’s a fuckin’ wolf,” Fletcher said. “Big deal. I’ve shot a hundred of ‘em.”
Genara turned to the barkeep, fixing him with a stare. He clutched his chest like a woman watching a man expose himself on the street corner.
“Leave this place,” she said. “Leave and do not come back.”
The barkeep hesitated, watching the Indian woman’s face. “I can’t just leave,” he said, his voice small in the nearly empty room. “You’ll rob me blind, and I’ll be fired.”
Genara scowled. “I’ll only give counsel once. If you ignore it, you do so at your own peril.”
The barkeep glanced around the room, then back at Genara. He waited only another moment before he leaped out from behind the bar and slipped through the swinging doors, escaping into the cold night.
“Who are you?” Clendenin asked. “Who are you really?”
“You lied,” Genara said, meeting Clendenin’s eyes.
“You’d best watch yourself, stranger. You’re heading into libel territory.”
“You lied about my son. You said he stole your horses, but that was not true, was it Mister Clendenin?”
Clendenin huffed. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The corner of Genara’s mouth turned up. “Of course you do.” She stood and slipped behind the bar, retrieving an unlabeled bottle of whiskey. She poured another glass for herself, recapping the bottle before placing it on the counter top.
“Not only are you a liar, but you’re a thief too,” Fletcher said. “Barkeep’s been gone not a minute, and you’re drinking his inventory.”
Genara turned to Fletcher, ignoring his comments. “You and Mister Nance have some history together, do you not?”
Nance looked at the Indian woman with hard eyes. “We’ve worked some jobs together here and there. What of it?”
“Three years ago on this very day, you and Mister Fletcher shot my son in the back.” Genara pointed toward the door. “Right out there on the street.”
Silence ensued between the men.
Another howl sounded, closer this time.
“I hate to be the one to break this to you, but your boy was a horse thief,” Nance said. “The penalty for horse thievery is death, Indian and white man alike. Law of the land.”
“My son was innocent,” Genara countered. “Mister Clendenin lied.”
Clendenin spoke up. “I told you, woman, be careful who you’re calling a liar. White folks don’t take too kindly to savages accusing them.”
“Your horses, they were stolen, but it was not Helaku who stole them. But you did not care to find the real thieves, did you Mister Clendenin. It was much easier to blame the Indian. The savage, as you say.”
“Your son stole my horses,” Clendenin argued. “What you believe doesn’t change that.”
Genara pointed a crooked finger at Fletcher and Nance. “And the two of you…you pulled the trigger.”
“Look, we just work the bounties when it comes to us,” Nance said. “It ain’t personal.”
“Justice was not served that day,” Genara said. She smiled, her eyes dark, the sockets sunken. “But justice will be served tonight.”
“Lest you be thinking of shooting one of us,” Clendenin said, “I’d advise you reconsider that notion. You got three armed men here. The chances of you killing all of us and walking out of here are slim to none.”
“You need not fear me,” Genara said. “I am but a lowly Indian woman.”
“I’ve listened to as much bullshit as I can stand tonight,” Fletcher said. “That goddamn barkeep wasn’t man enough to throw this bitch out, but I’ll be happy to do it.”
Another long and droning howl sounded from outside the saloon, loud enough to cause the three men inside to glance at one another.
“You hear it, do you not?” Genara grinned. “You feel it too.”
“It’s a fuckin’ wolf, is all,” Fletcher said. “I’ll put a goddamn bullet in its heart if it shows itself.”
“That is not the sound of a wolf,” Genara said. “And that gun you carry on your side will not be enough to save you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Clendenin asked.
“My people roamed this land for generations before you stole it from us. We understand the world in a way you white men do not. There is a spirit world all around you, and yet you do not see it. You cannot understand it. But that does not mean it is not real.”
“Nobody believes in your humbug,” Fletcher said. “Your gods are dead.”
Another lone cry sounded from the darkness outside the saloon.
“It’s coming for you.” She paused. “It’s coming for all of us.”
Clendenin retrieved his revolver from a holster attached to his belt, placing the pistol on the table in front of him. “What’s coming?” he asked.
“He has many names,” Genara replied, “but only one purpose.”
“He comes in here, and we’ll fill him full of lead,” Fletcher said. “You can bet your ass on that.”
“You think your guns can solve all your problems,” Genara said. “They will do you no good tonight.”
A shrill cry echoed through the blackness outside, very close this time. It rose sharply, trailing off after a few seconds. The men glanced at each other again, too long this time.
“Vengeance is a sword with two edges,” Genara said. “It cannot be summoned without sacrifice. It will come for you, for all of you, and it will also come for me. But that is the price I am willing to pay.” She scanned the room, locking eyes with all three men. “I have made my peace. You should do the same while you still have time.”
Nance now retrieved his revolver from its holster, clutching it tightly.
Fletcher looked Nance over, his eyes drifting to Clendenin. He removed his pistol, his hand shaking. He used his free hand to keep it steady.
The howling, louder than ever now, resonated throughout the cold night air.
“What’s coming for us?” Clendenin asked.
Genara only smiled, a twisted grin set below maniacal eyes.
“It ain’t a what. It’s a who,” Fletcher answered for her. “One of her Indian buddies is on his way, maybe with some friends. She’s sicced them on us like dogs.” But the bravado formerly in Fletcher’s voice now seemed to have vanished.
“They better be ready if they decide to step through that door,” Nance said. He pointed his pistol at Genara. “The first thing I’m gonna do if they show their goddamn red faces is shoot you.”
Clendenin swallowed hard. “What’s coming for us, Genara?”
“You don’t actually believe her horseshit do you?” Nance asked.
“Call it off,” Clendenin said. “Name your price.”
Fletcher observed Clendenin, his eyes wide and his face a ghostly white. Both of his hands visibly shook on the table.
“It cannot be undone,” Genara said. “Not any more than you can undo what you three white men did to my son.”
“Call it off,” Clendenin said, fear resonating in his voice.
Another loud howling sounded. A deep, rumbling growl followed.
Nance and Fletcher looked at each other.
“It is here,” Genara said. She stepped away from the bar and toward the center of the room. Nance pointed his pistol at her, but she ignored it as she made her way across the room and took a seat facing the three men.
The growling grew louder, morphing into a loud snarl. A pungent smell filled the air, like the hide of an animal with a hint of rot below the surface.
Another screeching wail pierced the night, wafting in from just outside the door, carried on the frigid air.
Nance pointed the pistol at the door.
Clendenin glanced at Genara. She paid him no mind. Instead, her eyes remained on the door, a slight grin on her lips.
Another deep growl rose, becoming a deafening roar as the saloon door flew open.
The three men stood, pointed their revolvers, and pulling the triggers.
Teeth gnashed. Bones and glass and wood broke.
Thick, red blood pooled on the dirty floor as the sound of laughter filled the air.
And then it, too, was gone.
The room went silent, leaving behind only the sound of the ghostly wind.
Copyright © 2017 Brian J. Jarrett