An excerpt from Guns of Perdition,
a novel by Jessica Bakkers
Grace sat back on the dusty ground and went to work rolling herself a smoke. Johnny wiped his lips with the back of his hand and looked over at Kaga. He frowned as he found the wolf’s gaze already upon him.
“He watches me like he unnerstands what’s goin’ on.”
Grace licked the paper and stuck the smoke in her mouth. She scratched a match and lit the end before she spoke. “Pop your corn, boy. Somethin’ on your mind, just say it.”
Johnny scratched his ear and said, “Well, does he? Unnerstand us? Talk, like.”
Grace inhaled and said, “Does Kaga unnerstand talk? What do you think?”
“I think he ain’t no normal wolf.”
Grace’s gaze wandered across to the wolf and a smile crossed her dirt-smudged face. “That he ain’t.”
She seemed about to say something more when suddenly the wolf in question sat bolt upright and sniffed the air. When a rumble emanated from his chest, Grace leaned forward and her hand dropped to the S&W on her right hip. Johnny frowned and sat up straighter.
“What is it – ”
“Hss!” Grace spat, not removing her eyes from Kaga. The wolf silently shifted from sitting to standing and his hackles raised. He swung his head and met Grace’s gaze. The air was filled with tension and Johnny noticed the night song of cicadas and crickets, had ceased. Grace silently shifted from sitting on her butt to crouch on her heels. She flicked the leather tongues free from the Smith & Wessons she referred to as Justice and Mercy and pulled both revolvers from their holsters.
Suddenly Kaga leapt straight up into the air to meet the lunging leap of a wild dog. Or so Johnny thought in those first few confused seconds. Then the gibbous moon slid out from behind a cloud and illuminated the snarling, snapping beast. Johnny gasped and realised this was no feral dog. The – thing – was dog-sized and got around on all fours but that’s where the similarity to a typical canine finished. It was fur-less and overly muscled and had a spine of spikes along the ridge of its back. Its front paws consisted of three massive talons that raked and slashed as it fought Kaga. Its head looked similar to a jackal but its eyes seemed to glimmer red and Johnny wondered if it they were actually red or whether it was just reflected firelight. He heard an unearthly shriek next to him and turned to see a second dog-thing glaring at him. Its hind legs bunched; it was about to lunge. Johnny sucked in a breath and suddenly a roar of thunder deafened him as Grace’s revolver fired. The dog-thing’s head exploded in a shower of red gore.
Grace dropped, rolled across to Johnny and came up firing Justice and Mercy. A scream behind him told him she’d taken down another dog-thing. Grace grabbed Johnny’s arm and she dragged him to his feet.
“Chupacabra!” She shouted and shoved him toward the horses.
Johnny tottered unsteadily and watched wide-eyed as Grace fired off another series of shots. She took down another lurching fiend but the fourth dodged her shots with unnatural agility and leapt at her. The chupacabra slammed into her and its fanged maw slathered and snapped as it tried to rip out her throat. Grace fell heavily on the ground and both revolvers flew from her hands as she grabbed hold of the thing’s thick neck. One revolver thudded in the dirt and the other skidded toward the campfire.
Johnny turned to Kaga and watched the wolf snap at one of the slinking fiends. Two dead chupacabras lay nearby in shredded heaps. Johnny spun back to Grace who wrestled with the demon hound. He heard a thud behind him and as he turned he saw firelight reflect in the eyes of another three demon dogs. They circled him. Johnny’s mouth went dry and he looked around wildly, desperately. His gaze fell on Grace’s lost Smith & Wesson. Johnny dived for the gun and he hefted up the heavy hand canon as one of the chupacabras lunged. Johnny yanked the trigger and the gun barked. The shot went wide and Johnny’s arm felt as though it had been kicked out of its socket by an angry mule. With tears coursing down his face, Johnny squeezed the trigger again. The .44 bullet arced through the night and slammed into the approaching chupacabra and sent it scudding across the desert floor with a yelp. Johnny turned and saw the maddened demon dog on Grace snap at her face and miss by an inch. Johnny wildly pointed the revolver in their direction but before he could act, the chupacabra suddenly shrieked and rose up off Grace’s body. Johnny gaped as he saw Grace’s cavalry sabre burst through the dog’s spiny hind. Grace grunted and tipped the dead hound off her. She sat up, her ivory shirt drenched in dark chupacabra blood, and looked at Kaga. The big wolf savaged the final attacking demon hound and came up with his maw dripping gore. Johnny spun and eyed the two demon hounds who lurked behind the circle of campfire light. He fired off a wide shot and the demon dogs flinched and danced away. Johnny cried and squeezed the trigger again. The revolver clicked uselessly. It was dry. Johnny frowned and squeezed again. Click. Squeeze. Click.
The chupacabras, as though sensing their reprieve, slunk away into the shadows and bounded away.
“No!” Johnny cried. A firm, guiding hand came down on his hand and plucked the S&W from his tight grip. Johnny spun and faced Grace. She panted and was covered with dust and blood. Kaga shook and padded over to them.
“We gotta git em!” Johnny cried.
Grace shook her head. She methodically cracked open the revolver and began slipping bullets into the chamber. Johnny’s eyes were wide as he cried, “But… they’re demons! Don’t you hunt them?”
Grace smiled grimly as she closed the chamber with a soft clink. “Chupacabras ain’t demons, boy. They’re just scroungin’ for grub. Might fight like kilkenny cats but they ain’t somethin’ to be hunted down. Ain’t right for them to come this far north. Might be somthin’ spooked em’ outta their usual huntin’ grounds.”
Johnny frowned. “What? You fill Ina full of lead and call her a demon but these things git away in the dead o’the night? Crimany! Is that a bluff or do you mean to play for real, woman?”
Grace spun on Johnny and grabbed him by his shirt. She dragged him close and he was astounded at the strength in her arms and the cold in her eyes. “Git this through your slow-addled skull, boy. There’s demons then there’s demons. Not everythin’ that looks evil is evil. And not everythin’ that looks fine and dandy is right as rain. There’s things out there that will drop you for your meat and sup on your bones. Don’t mean they’re evil. But there’s things out there that’ll whisper sweet words in your ears, fill your hands with hard tin and promise to cap your climax. Things that cut a good lookin’ figure, speak with a snake’s silver tongue and dress all rag proper. They’re the ones you gotta bed down, boy. They’re the true demons.”
She roughly shoved Johnny away and spun on her heel. She strode to the campfire and angrily poked it with a stick, and stirred the embers into a squalling blaze. Johnny watched her with a cold queasy feeling in his stomach. He dropped his gaze onto Kaga and frowned as he noticed the wolf watching him with those too-smart eyes. He shook his head and said to the wolf, “Don’t think I rightly unnerstand your mistress, friend. All up and ornery ‘bout some things and not others. P’shaw.”
Kaga took a few steps forward and surprised Johnny by brushing up against him. The wolf was soft and warm and Johnny was suddenly overcome at how very weary he was. He patted the wolf’s head awkwardly and headed to the other side of the campfire.
Grace angrily flicked out a thin bedroll over the top of dusty, hard ground. She cast a hard look at Johnny and snapped, “You says you a clean-up boy? Then git to it. Clean up.”
Johnny frowned and looked around at the scattered dead chupacabra bodies. His eyes widened and he said, “You cain’t be serious!”
Grace paused and glared at him. Johnny bobbed his head and held up his hands. “I’m movin’!” He muttered and approached the first dead body. Screwing his nose up and steeling his gut, Johnny grabbed the thing’s legs and dragged it outside of the campfire’s glow. He winced as the creature’s tongue lolled out of its sightless head. The worst was when one of the chupacabra’s legs tore off in his hands and he flung it away with a shriek.
When the camp was clear of bodies and only patches of wet, red ground remained, Johnny sank down on the desert ground and pressed a palm to his chest to feel how fast his heart hammered. His fingers brushed over a bulky shape and he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the notepad he used to tally the inventory in the Bad Hoss. Beside the little book, simply titled Notes, was a lead pencil, halfway worn down. Johnny glanced up at Grace who laid on her bedroll with her back to him. He turned back to the little leather book. The first four pages were filled with his chicken scratch handwriting. Orville had been right impressed when he learned Johnny could read; a clean-up boy who was literate was damn near unheard of. Johnny bit his cheek and tore out the first four pages. He licked the tip of the pencil, hunched over the book and began to write. Papa read to me about Hell on Earth but I do believe I am walking it today. I have come face to face with demons and pure evil and a woman I am not rightly sure is a woman. The world doesn’t make no sense anymore. And I’m still just a clean-up boy.
Johnny shivered as he looked up from the page. Grace rolled over and he couldn’t help but notice how her bloodstained shirt clung to her chest. No doubt he’d have to try and soak the blood out tomorrow morning.
Johnny looked back at the page and wondered if his lot in life was to forever be the clean up boy; cleaning up after Orville’s sins and now after the death Grace had sowed.
I am a creative and freelance writer with over twenty years of writing experience. I have ghost-written novels in the genres of fantasy / romance and paranormal / romance, however my genre of choice when it comes to writing for myself is dark fantasy where I can allow myself to fully explore the anti-hero characters that pepper my stories. I dabble at poetry and write professionally for clients locally and internationally. My first full-length novel, Guns of Perdition, will be released soon. My major love affair is with the written word; specifically creative writing. I allow myself to indulge and rendezvous with this secret lover whenever time allows… and then we make beautiful poetry together!