The Caller from the Stars
In honor of my recent publication in the Western/Sci-fi anthology, "Reach for the Stars" by Rogue Blades Entertainment, here is another short western crossover. Hope you enjoy!
My Dearest Marie,
As I am sure you will soon come to know, my integrity has been under some certain scrutiny as of late. I wish mostly to have my name taken from any record of the strange events it has been associated with recently. My only confidant in this affair, besides yourself of course, has already left my side for greener pastures. It was only just last week that Barney Saunders left for Canada in order to escape from the public eye, yet here I remain in this infamous small desert town. I know you are already well aware of the reasons for which I left Kansas and what I have been doing in this desolate part of the country. I only wish to write my story on paper and exhume it from the vaults of my memory. There are things in here that I am sure even you will come to question, but please know that what I tell you is wholly the truth and not the drunken exaggerations of a lonely cowboy. It was just three short weeks ago when Barney and I became acquainted with what we came to name “The Caller from the Stars”.
We first caught word of the plight of Benjamin Lloyd Fairweather, the son of a wealthy rancher and younger brother to deceased mining entrepreneur on our way through Tucson looking for work. Some thirty years ago Benjamin and his wife took up the family cattle ranch after the death of his father. The ranch lay south east of Tucson in Cochise County at the foot of the rugged Dragoon Mountain Range. Our trip there was not long or arduous by any means and it appeared as though we arrived just in time. We were greeted by a kind, however seemingly distraught woman named Nancy Fairweather, the ranch owner’s wife. She welcomed us with a wide but quivering smile; she told two Mexican men to take our horses to the stable and then led us into the house to meet Mr. Fairweather. I had noticed on the walk to the main house that the Fairweather ranch had very little cattle or even people to tend the area. Juan and Lopez were the only two ranch hands on the place, at the time I thought it strange but did not think twice about it.
Benjamin himself is a very gruff and weathered man. A pair of thin wire framed glasses sat just below his smoldering blue eyes and a bristling mustache framed his lips that never ceased to cradle a heavily chewed cigar. His chin was square and I presumed that when he was younger he was a strikingly handsome man. The years he spent in the desert had chiseled his face into a visage riddled with creases and crags to match the very mountains that he sat at the foot of. We sat at a long oak table and his wife brought us bowls of stew and water freshly pumped from the well. Benjamin Fairweather looked us over with an icy glare as he sipped from a glass of warm whiskey. He told us of his father and the glory of the once booming ranch, he spoke words of his late sister laced with disdain, and within an hour’s time the life story of Benjamin Lloyd Fairweather was known. Next was talk of business. Something was worrying the old rancher and he needed help, with what he would never exactly say. All but the most loyal of his people had abandoned him. His cattle were dying by means unknown and Mr. Fairweather was at his wits end.
He walked us outside and showed us the ranch. Besides his rather luxurious home, there was a large barn, a small stable and outhouse. There were two buildings that lay in splintered piles but he did not go into detail of the accidents that had occurred. Just behind that barn, next to a small patch used for gardening there were three small wooden crosses. I felt it was not an opportune time to bring up that subject of personal loss. He did not tell us what was troubling his decaying ranch; I only assumed it was a particularly nasty brand of rustlers, in actuality the plague was nothing that either of us was able to explain. He walked us to what I can only describe as grotesque display of death. Only about a dozen cattle wandered through a field of brush. All throughout were carcasses dried and rotting and nearly picked clean. The bodies were ravaged and large chunks of flesh ripped away from the bone. It was nothing human that afflicted this man and his cattle, for no human could create such an atrocity. Barney and I could not imagine what the tormentor might be, but as you know, our dire situation called for money, and Benjamin Lloyd Fairweather was offering more than we could ever need.
We were to watch over his meager amount of livestock throughout the night. He would supply us with ammunition, food and tents. Lopez would be joining us on our first night out; he was to make sure that we understood what it was that we were looking out for. By the break of dawn we would know that it was true horror which we faced. We pitched a small tent in the out among the cows and the corpses. A fire was lit and we sat on logs, rifles and scatter guns close. Lopez brewed us a pot of harsh coffee as we sat silently under a blanket of brilliant stars. After nearly an hour of silence broken only by the sorrowful songs of a lone coyote off in the distance, Lopez began to speak of a terror in his broken English that inexplicably seemed to add to our growing fear. He began telling us of an old Indian fable. A creature from the skies with wings so large it would blot out the sun. It would travel on the furious winds of the storms that raced down from the mountains. We knew not what this folklore had to do with the job at hand but the story chilled us to the bone.
There was a strange call from the night sky, a hollow trumpeting scream of sorts. I can hardly find the words to accurately describe what it what it was that I heard. I only knew that I had never encountered a being that could sing such an unholy song in all of my travels. All the while Lopez had kept his eyes nervously glued to the sky.
He said that it came from the mountains. That it fed off of the cattle. That it was a demon, a curse on the family Fairweather for building on sacred land. These were no doubt superstitions put in his head by a local medicine man or drunken teller of tales. The last men that came to the ranch were sitting under the moonlit sky just as we were when a great beast fell from the dark. The men had run to the ranch and sought refuge in one of the old storage sheds. The thing had followed and wreaked havoc on the men and the buildings alike. It devoured all but one of the hired guns and carried the last off into the sky. Just before it disappeared into the stars Mr. Fairweather was able to pull off a shot. Lopez swears he saw the monster waver in its flight to the heavens but the pain inflicted managed only to anger the giant creature. The three crosses marked the empty of graves of the poor souls lost that night.
There was a hideous wail and the sound of wet crunching bone. We rushed into the desert with lanterns and torches waving. What I saw I can hardly even believe existed. It held a large cow pinned to the ground in razor hooked talons. The gut was split and a long pointed beak lined with needled teeth tore the innards from the still screaming animal. Barney and I stood in shock at the scene that was playing out before us. Lopez dropped his lantern and ran to the ranch screaming as if he had just seen the devil himself. The creature spread two leathery wings wide and opened its mouth to release another horrid screech. We drowned the noise in hail of gunfire. The demon faltered and turned and tried to take flight. It hopped into the air but fell to the earth after it could not find the strength to continue. It tiredly lifted itself on its appendages like a monstrous bat and began to awkwardly scramble towards the peaks that lined the horizon. We continued to fire and soon the beast was filled with bleeding holes and the horrid life drained from its body. Barney stood over the wheezing abomination and placed a final bullet into its head.
I have enclosed a photo of Barney and me with our trophy, as well as more than enough money to pay off our debts. I do not imagine that you will believe me even when you see the picture. I am not quite sure how one could create a hoax so convincing but I assure you I have been accused for fabricating these events time and time again. Now with Barney gone and Benjamin Fairweather refusing to speak on the matter, I alone am here to testify on my behalf. This desert is as strange a place as any. If something so abhorrent a concoction can hideaway in the mountains of the west what else lies hidden in the world? If a still photo is so hard to believe, can you imagine seeing the blasphemous thing in living, breathing motion? The membranous wings of a bat, the mouth of an alligator, the fangs and claws of something straight from hell itself. The memory of its shrieking cry still echoes in my ears in the waning hours of the night.
A young Dr.Price from back east claims that he has seen drawings of creatures such as these from the blacks of Africa and the bones of beasts nearly identical hang in museums in Europe. He says that the lore of Thunder birds, as told by the Yaqui, Apache and Hopi, likewise ring true. I fear the strange young man is the only one that believes my story, and if what he says is to be believed, I fear for the souls of whoever next encounters a Caller from the Stars.
Homer Henry Jameson