Local Lit: Red Bones by James Wayland

by | Nov 5, 2009 | POLITICS

Not to generalize (well, ok, to generalize completely), but writers are weird characters. Not only do the compulsive manufacturers of written word harbor such standard proclivities as reclusiveness, sociopathy, indulgence in booze and experimental drug use, and general hedonism, but they universally suffer from the delusion that anybody wants to know what they have to say. Since we here at RVA suffer from that delusion as well, we’ve decided to enable the great literary tradition of self-injurious lifestyle and self-deprecation, and present you, dear readership, with a new regular series showcasing the wares of Richmond’s finest wordsmiths. Enjoy! – RVA

Not to generalize (well, ok, to generalize completely), but writers are weird characters. Not only do the compulsive manufacturers of written word harbor such standard proclivities as reclusiveness, sociopathy, indulgence in booze and experimental drug use, and general hedonism, but they universally suffer from the delusion that anybody wants to know what they have to say. Since we here at RVA suffer from that delusion as well, we’ve decided to enable the great literary tradition of self-injurious lifestyle and self-deprecation, and present you, dear readership, with a new regular series showcasing the wares of Richmond’s finest wordsmiths. Enjoy! – RVA

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RED BONES

by James Wayland

I suppose it was only natural that I took to the stranger and his unearthly tales the way that I did. I was a lonely boy with a morbid curiosity and a budding animosity toward my mundane hometown. He was a crazed outsider who whispered of supernatural spooks and seemingly survived on cheap whiskey and foul cigars that coughed up sinister plumes of pungent smoke. Though my parents forbade me from speaking to him and most children were afraid of him, I was always looking for an occasion to ask him about the mysterious creature he was allegedly hiding from.

The first time I sought him out I was nine years old. His stringy hair and his mangy beard were soaking wet as though he had just dipped his head in the trough provided for the horses by the saloon. He stank of alcohol and his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. I had yet to speak a word when he took me by the scruff of the neck and booted me in the seat of my pants, ushering me away with some foul language that was every bit as foreign as Greek to my innocent ears.

Over time, he became more sociable, but the advances came slowly. He told me he had been to a number of cities, including Richmond and Atlanta. He bragged of a rugged past, fighting in the war as a teenager before turning his back on society. According to the old drunk, he had spent much of his manhood surviving in the wild while killing Indians in the Midwest, seldom taking refuge in any town or settlement for long.

Not long after I had turned fourteen, I gave him some money I had earned busting my hump for crabby old Judge Springfield on his enormous farm. It was money I wasn’t eager to part with, but after that dirty old bum purchased a bottle of his beloved cheap whiskey and a pair of stinking cigars, he was eager to tell me more stories.

This was the first time I got him to speak of his superstitions, and I’ll never forget the way his tale captured my imagination. I suppose I knew from the beginning that he was speaking the truth as well as he knew it. Drunks are sure to have faulty memories, and I imagine that old coot filled in a few blanks here and there, but I’ve always known the truth when I hear it. During that hot and miserable summer when my little brother fell ill and died, the only memories I have that aren’t poisoned by grief are those of the drunk and the zombie that pursued him across the continent.

I hope I do the tale justice, but it towers above everything else I have known, so that will certainly be a tall order.

* * *

His name was Will Anderson, or at least that’s what he told me. He was a tough man with a strong spirit and a taste for the dirty work that made most men squeamish. When he was given a rifle and a job fighting on the behalf of the North, they hadn’t stopped to ask him if he had a problem with blood and guts. It was an acquired taste, to be sure, but once a man gave in to the unholy beast, it became damn near impossible to ignore the animal within.

Before long, he grew tired of civilized life, as they called it, and broke from the herd. After years of wandering aimlessly with no money or ambitions, he found a living in the west that he could tolerate. For nearly a decade, he roamed the plains and the desert, finding fresh territories that were anxious to be rid of the red man. Will Anderson survived on scalps, pocketing small sums of blood money and adding notches to his leather belt at a fearsome rate. Few men lasted as long as he did without a run of bad luck, which inevitably resulted in a gruesome demise.

Will was in no hurry to die and held fast to the careful practices and exercises in paranoia that had kept him alive during the war. He was every bit as methodical as a surgeon in his efforts and he always listened to his gut. If he caught a whiff of bad air and felt his insides begin to squirm, he abandoned the job at hand and sought out another.

After a while, he stopped counting, but in his days ridding the rowdy old west of savages, he killed scores of Indians, including women and children. He swore that the vast majority of his kills came by virtue of a headshot. He claimed that he once shot a red man right between the eyes at better than a hundred paces. Mostly he worked alone, but on a few rare occasions he took jobs that required more firepower.

The little town on the outskirts of Utah was one such instance, and it was there that Will found the curse that would become his legacy. There were four other men on the payroll that time, which told Will that were at least thirty Indians to be dealt with. Hopefully they wouldn’t be outnumbered ten to one, but it was possible. It shouldn’t matter in a night raid, but it was still a daunting order. The paycheck was equally noteworthy, and in the end, that was what mattered most.

The men he rode with were all former soldiers, crooks, and lawmen, and most had dallied a little in each field. Everybody was in it for their piece of the pie and no one was eager to make friends. It should come as no surprise that in his last few months on this earthly plane, Will couldn’t recall any of their names.

When they hit the village, there was a ceremony underway in one of the tents, so even though it was dark and quiet, it didn’t take long before what was supposed to be a massacre became a legitimate fight. The old men of the tribe spilled out of that sacred ritual whooping and wailing. Even as the armed men opened up on them, cutting them down in quick succession, braves started to emerge. Some were creeping about in the shadows, searching for an avenue of attack while others came barreling ahead, weapons poised to strike. At once, the night was pierced by screams and gunshots as well as the whistle of arrows in flight and the high-pitched cries of the attacking Indians.

“Hold the line,” Will bellowed, taking aim with his Winchester and plugging away at the charging braves.

Shots rang out as his peers rallied alongside him, using their perch on the ridge to their advantage. They fired, quickly reloaded, and fired again, quickly thinning the ranks of their attackers. Now women and children were joining the rush of survivors, swelling their ranks. As Will took aim at yet another brave and took him down with a headshot, he and his men were hit from behind.

A handful of those sneaky pests had flanked them and now they were firing arrows rapidly.

“They’re behind us,” Will cried, but the warning came even as an arrow pierced his thigh. His precious Winchester fell to the ground and he heard another of the marauders scream an instant later. He reached for his pistols, a raging mob running right at them as the clever braves behind sought to do them in.

Anderson roared as he opened fire, rattling off eleven shots and a misfire in a matter of seconds. He took out half of the force that was assailing them from the rear and spun to face the mob as he deftly reloaded, his hands working so quickly that he didn’t even have to think about the process. It was sheer reflex, his mastery of the weapons he used to kill, a frighteningly pure impulse that dwarfed any notion of self-preservation or righteous anger. Will Anderson was a killer. It came naturally to him and while it didn’t seem easy, it never felt so daunting as the tales would indicate.

The man beside him went down and a leering savage planted a spear in Will’s horse. Before he knew it, he was rolling through the dust, screaming of damnation as he reloaded his empty revolvers and came up firing. He unloaded both weapons without missing a shot, but these savages meant to fight. As they advanced, he holstered one weapon and quickly reloaded the second, emptying it and reloading it again in a blur, the hot metal scorching his calloused fingertips.

One of his peers came riding for him, hoping to retrieve Will and find a better position, but an arrow slammed into his chest and he fell from his horse with a frail cry. Will holstered his gun and dove on the dying gunfighter’s corpse, prying his shotgun away with a grunt. Will saw one of the three remaining men he had ridden in with brought down by a cluster of screaming squaws and he realized the odds were turning.

A young brave came at him with a short knife and Will nailed him in the forehead with the stock of the shotgun, sending the savage’s brains flying. He blasted an oncoming brave square in the chest and slung the weapon at his enemies even as he reached again for the pistols, reloading them a fraction of a second before the next brave reached him.

Will shot this savage once in the thigh, again in the abdomen, and felled him with a headshot, stepping aside as the red man tumbled to the ground beside him. Again the pistols raged, leveling the last three members of the party who had flanked them. Will turned to find the other man who had survived finishing off the last two members of the mob that attacked from the front.

The night was still and quiet.

Will grinned. Only seconds ago, he was sure that they were doomed, but the tides had turned yet again. They were victorious.

“Holy shit,” the other man said. “That was too close. We should have had another five men.”

Will surveyed the carnage. There were dead bodies everywhere. He came upon a crying child and patted the boy on the head before bashing his skull in with a single rap from the grip of a smoking pistol.

Will saw one of the old men lying on the ground at the base of the teepee where they had been performing a ritual just before the raiders attacked. His eyes were wide with fear and his chest was still rising and falling. He had been shot several times and his blood was leaking into the ground beneath him.

Will came over and squatted before him, removing a cigar from his person and chewing the tip off, spitting it to the ground as he fumbled for his matches. He finally lit his smoke and inhaled deeply, enjoying the rich aroma and the jagged rush that accompanied it. “That was a hell of stand you people made,” he said before taking another extended drag. “I give you that.”

The Indian whispered something, but it was gibberish to Will.

Will unholstered one of his pistols and casually reloaded it as the dying old man began to whisper more intensely, straining as he spat out his primitive language in a series of clicks and exaggerated squeals that was almost comical.

There was a rustle from behind that unnerved him and Will spun, expecting to see an Indian attacking him. He was shocked to see the other raider coming at him with one of their spears, but it didn’t slow his hand. Another gunshot rang out and his peer fell at his feet, a savage’s weapon in his grasp.

“You son of a bitch,” Will spat. He shot the man again just for the hell of it. “Dirty double-crossing son of a bitch.”

He returned his attention to the old man, who was now wearing a sinister grin. His chest was no longer rising and falling.

He was dead. They were all dead. Everyone here aside from him was dead. The thought sent a chill racing down his spine and he was suddenly eager to leave.

Will Anderson finished his cigar and retrieved his saddle, swapping it with the traitor’s before setting off to retrieve his bounty on that dirty bastard’s horse.

* * *

When the old drunk I came to know as Will told me about the raid, he was clearly excited, clawing at the air and gesturing fiercely as he spoke. Sometimes his voice grew loud and occasionally he actually yelled, spittle flying from his lips as he shared his exploits. I didn’t share his enthusiasm for some of the details, but his manic joy was infectious. I can remember listening to that story with my jaw hanging open, rubbing my sweaty palms together as my pulse raced. I was seldom farther from the problems of life on the homestead than when Will told me about his exciting past.

Of course, after that one, the tales grew darker and stranger.

That’s when Will began to tell me about the zombie he so feared, the vindictive monster from the past that would not stop coming for him until he was dead. He never spoke of that fiend with such gusto. In fact, it seemed that he grew more and more fearful each time he spoke of the creature.

For me, that’s when things really got interesting.

* * *

Two years after the deadly raid, Will was herding cattle with a group of four men for a rancher named Ryker. They were working in hilly country with an abundance of thick forests. In this unruly land in which thorns and vines thrived, some of which were host to an abundance of poison ivy and sumac, he enjoyed a less violent lifestyle. He didn’t mesh well with his fellow rustlers, soft folk who didn’t know war or killing but could farm and prod animals with the best of them.

He hated the cattle and preferred a boot to the hindquarters to gently persuading the animal to move. His peers probably weren’t too fond of him or his ways, but he was just as effective and he didn’t cause any trouble. Will kept to himself and kept quiet, enjoying the tranquility of this new life when he wasn’t yearning for more bloodshed or reliving past glories.

When they found a town, he strayed from the herd. He didn’t think those simple boys were nearly as voracious in their appetites and he surely wasn’t going to get his rocks off hanging with them. These were his favorite times. He always found a bar and a comely whore with a full wallet and he seldom left until his wad was spent.

He always left with a smile. Of course, last time he had also left with an itch, and it wasn’t getting any better. It had spread from his balls to his asshole, and it grew a troublesome red whenever he had a go at it and scratched himself bloody in a ragged sort of ecstasy.

This time he settled for a petty tavern called The Lord’s Horn and found himself a sully lass named Elizabeth. She was a hefty woman who wore a scant red teddy that left her swollen breasts completely exposed. Her rosy pink nipples were erect and her sultry gaze gave him an intense erection.

“My fair lady, I believe I should attend to your needs,” he grinned, knowing his needs would warrant far more attention.

“Would you do me such a pleasure?” She asked, taking his hand as he guided her toward the room he had taken.

He was panting and plowing away at her supple flesh when the door slammed open behind him and he turned to behold a fearsome spectacle.

A figure shrouded in black robes stood framed in the doorway, a menacing silhouette whose purpose was a mystery.

“What the hell do you want?” Will wondered, his penis wilting within the whore.

The figure rasped something and while it was hauntingly familiar, the silhouette’s speech was nearly inaudible.

“What? You got a mouthful of shit? Speak up, you son of a bitch! What are you doing here?”

Will withdrew from the woman, sliding backward and forcing the sheet to the floor as he scooped up his gunbelt from a chair. A long strand of fluid dangled from the tip of his penis, threatening to drip onto the floor. He removed a pistol and pointed it at the figure.

“Answer me, you son of a bitch.”

The figure laughed.

Will took aim and shot, bringing the silly bastard down with another of his vaunted headshots. He stepped forward and yanked the robe away, stepping back with a gasp as the figure’s face was exposed.

It was the old Indian he had killed in the night raid. He was sure of it. He yanked the material away from the Indian’s abdomen as well. There were a number of crusty wounds, gunshots that had never healed. The Indian’s midriff was a mottled grey, the rotting skin of a corpse.

“My God,” Will moaned, though he had never pledged any sort of allegiance to any celestial being. Even if he had, surely this horrid sight wouldn’t be representative of such a being’s work. No, this was something else altogether.

He remembered that sinister grin the old Indian had sported in death and the strange whispers and gestures that had preceded his passing. The Indian had cursed him. Was there any other explanation? The son of a bitch had cursed him and attacked from beyond the grave, seeking revenge in a final futile attempt at retribution.

Was this the end of it?

Will prodded the corpse, examining the old Indian’s remains intently. He was dead now, but then he had surely been dead before as well.

Will left that shitty town with a sinking feeling in his gut. He had paid the brothel an extra dollar to dispose of the dead Indian, but he sensed that the bastard wasn’t finished with him yet. He had always trusted his gut, but this time he didn’t know how to protect himself from the forces at play.

He quit his job and set off in search of a new job in a new place, far from Texas and the dead Indian buried in a shallow grave behind The Lord’s Horn.

* * *

The next time Will encountered the spook he was drifting, living off of the land in the rugged expanse of Wyoming. This wasn’t a violent life, aside from the hunting, but at times it was desperate. Battling the elements and the seasons was every bit as compelling and deadly as a war with men. It was both intimidating and exhilarating so far as Will was concerned.

Once again he had settled into a comfortable life that met his needs. Once again he was happy, if such a state was applicable for a man such as he. Perhaps it’s better to say that he was content, for that is certainly a better assessment.

Regardless, he was taking a piss by a running brook one cold evening when he felt a familiar sense of dread creep over him. He hadn’t stopped to think about the Indian in some time, but it was the first thing that came to mind then. He strode back to his meager campsite and packed as much of his belongings as he cared to haul and made a break for it, saddling his mare and deciding to head southwest without any real deliberation. Maybe there was something for him there.

The weather would certainly be better, and on this frigid night when he somehow knew the old bastard was stalking him once more that was a welcome consideration. Will decided to keep moving through the night, following one familiar path after another, quickly plotting a course out of this uneven country he had come to know so well. He didn’t push the horse too hard and he stopped to rest at a secluded waterhole shortly after midnight.

The night was unnaturally quiet. Typically the sounds of the surrounding life were enough to make a man feel surrounded, but this eerie silence made him feel exposed. He seemed to be wandering through a lifeless land where he was the only representative of the living. Even the gentle gurgle of the stream was somehow menacing, as though it existed only to conceal the zombie’s footfalls in the encroaching forest.

Will surveyed the treeline intently, his revolver in his hand. There was no sign of the Indian, but he was out there somewhere. Will could feel it.

Later as he picked his way through the forest, following a thin trail that wound through the wooded lane, he studied the ground he traversed. He never thought the old zombie would attack him from the sky. The Indian must have climbed a tree and found a sturdy branch hanging over the path to launch himself from, for he caught Will completely unaware.

One minute he was riding along with fear in his heart, the next found him fending off his wicked adversary as the fiend drove him from his horse and into the ground. The rifle he had been clutching skidded away and he reached for one of his pistols, but the zombie pinned him to the ground. He tried to roll, but the bony Indian was strong and wiry. The smell of rotting flesh was overpowering.

“Bastard,” Will cried, bucking with all his might and sending the old zombie sprawling. He drew his gun as the Indian rose and the gunslinger fired, striking the ghoul in the chest.

The old Indian didn’t fall. He stood there, once again finding it in himself to sport that wretched grin, his black hair hanging in his face. The wound on his head was a squirming mass of maggots and gore. The black robes hung on him in tatters, stained with earth and several slimy patches of fungus and mold.

Will fired again, striking the Indian in the chest once more. This shot had the same effect as its predecessor. Neither of these wounds bled, the bullets having merely opened dark holes in the creature’s decomposing flesh. Neither seemed to have any impact at all on the gunslinger’s foe, for the Indian still stood before him with that malevolent grin.

“What are you?” Will asked, firing again.

The Indian only rasped in that foreign tongue, once again finding the energy to claw at the air and gesture at Will with a flurry of quick movements and sinister hisses.

“Fuck you,” Will grunted, unloading on the zombie. Three of the four remaining rounds found the Indian’s head, shattering his skull and sending his rotting body crashing to the ground. His brains were now leaking from his ruptured head and once again he was still.

“Stay dead this time, damn you. Stay dead.”

He kicked the Indian in the head with all of his might. There was a sickening crunch as the zombie’s head rocked to one side, his eyeballs popping out of their sockets and most of his grey matter splattering the ground alongside him. A huge clump of his decaying brain clung to the tip of Will’s boot.

It took him an hour to find his horse and mount him, but then he was riding again, the sun rising on the horizon. He wondered if there was any chance that he had rid himself of the red man and his curse. In his heart, he knew he would see the Indian again.

He shivered as he rode, yanking at the reigns and forcing his horse on.

* * *

It was six years before Will saw the Indian again, and by that time he had truly started to believe that the whole thing was over. Sometimes he even went so far as to try and convince himself that the ordeal represented some sort of hysteria, but the memories were too vivid and his fear was far too real.

He had just drank himself into a stupor at a pub near his current dwelling. He was living in a growing town within a day’s ride of San Francisco, a pleasant enough place where he was a deputy of the law, a job he didn’t deserve.

He was as crooked as a lawman could be in those days, though that could be said of a large portion of his peers. He made good money for busting heads, satisfying his thirst for violence and his ravenous appetites in the process. On this particular night, he wasn’t wearing his trusty gunbelt, but he had a snubnose holstered on his ankle and a derringer in his pocket, as well as a hunting knife sheathed on his belt.

Will Anderson simply didn’t believe in going about unarmed.

This was a good thing on this night, for the Indian caught him unaware and intoxicated. He had experienced some misgivings in the last few days, but he hadn’t associated them with the zombie. He had been on the take for some time and the new chief was a real asshole. He had been more worried about his job than his life, and he had failed to heed his instincts for perhaps the first time.

On that miserable night, he came stumbling down the street, hoping to make it home before his unruly bladder let loose. He was almost to his apartment when he heard a telltale rasp from somewhere behind him and froze. A streetlamp was burning about fifteen feet behind him and slightly to his right, casting his elongated shadow before him.

There was another shadow as well, a shriveled old figure that was shuffling toward him in a sick parody of a man’s gait.

Will felt a burning in his crotch even as he realized he was wetting himself and turned, charging at the zombie. In his drunken rage, he stumbled and fell, striking his chin on the cobblestone street and dislodging two of his teeth. He spat out a mouthful of blood and moaned, scanning the small pool of light for the Indian.

There was no sign of him and Will couldn’t detect the fiend’s presence in the darkness looming outside of the streetlamp’s glare. There was a whisper to his right and he spun, glimpsing a flash of movement but nothing more.

“You bastard,” he hissed, removing the Derringer and scanning the area before him for any additional hint of motion.

There was a whisper from behind him and he turned, but again he caught only a fleeting glimpse of something scurrying into the darkness. He fired into the shadows and turned and ran, screaming all the way. He ran until he could go no further, the muscles in his legs spasming and his heart threatening to burst as his lungs pleaded for oxygen.

Will bent over, hands on his knees, and vomited forcefully, the contents of his stomach splattering on the cobblestone. It occurred to him that he had lost the Derringer in his haste, but he didn’t care to look for it at the moment.

A constable approached and directed his lamp at Will’s shuddering form. The constable studied him a moment before recognizing him.

“Will Anderson?”

“Damn zombie,” Will muttered, shoving past the constable and dashing ahead toward his apartment.

He reached his lot and quickly strapped on his gunbelt and packed a bag with his most precious belongings before setting out.

He went all the way to the coast this time, hoping to find his way onto a ship. The idea had only just occurred to him as he rode toward the sea, but he was surprised he hadn’t thought of it before. Could the Indian follow him to another continent? It seemed unlikely.

Maybe he would finally be rid of this curse once and for all.

He could see the harbor in the distance when he made his camp on the beach, the waves breaking forty yards from his fire. He sat there, too exhausted to continue on at present, yet afraid to sleep, watching the shadows for his undead pursuer as the sea slammed against the shore to his rear.

At some point he must have drifted off, for when he came to the sky overhead was purple with the promise of dawn. He yawned and stretched, the warmth of the fire subsiding as it dwindled.

He turned to gather his belongings and the corpse was sitting right beside him, that sinister grin the only element of the Indian’s ruined face that was still recognizable. The nightmare that shared the sputtering heat of the dying fire with him was a ghastly sight, a sinewy mass of rotted skin and tissue clinging to red bones that were as crimson as the afternoon sun on a hot day. The mangled skull that regarded him with utter hatred was equally vibrant, and the color was not an indication of flowing blood. This thing had long since dried up and any remnants of the fluid that had once fueled it had hardened and blackened, flaking off in places like paint applied to a dirty wall.

Will screamed and took hold of the grinning monstrosity, dragging it down to the point where the salty water met the surf. He drowned it, as though that would do any good, and then he began snapping those brittle bones apart, breaking the zombie into as many pieces as he could. He screamed all the while, a madman destroying a monster that had come back to haunt him time and time again.

He tossed those red bones into the sea, discarding everything but the misshapen skull, which grinned at him even as he carried it back to his campsite and tossed it into his meager fire. He gathered more brush quickly, a manic grin that almost matched the creature’s tainting his features as he brought the fire back to a roaring blaze. The flames popped and roared, licking the morning sky and casting up a snaking tower of black smoke as the meat still clinging to the zombie’s head sizzled.

* * *

Will never set sail for a foreign land. Deciding that there was no way the Indian could have survived being dismantled and burned, he starting working his way back across the country, once again becoming a jack of all trades. He drifted, taking work when he could find it and living off of the land when he ventured into the wild, away from society and all the trappings that man had manufactured.

The world changed, but Will Sanderson didn’t. His appetites were still healthy, though his body was in decline and the booze kept his thoughts and memories shrouded in a thick fog that seldom lifted.

In time, he came to the dusty hole we called home. It was a town by name, but that description is far too generous. This is a simple place, a small settlement that probably will not last. Everyone here seemingly understands that, for none that call this place home would stay given an opportunity to pursue a greater destiny. Sometimes I think the fact that Will came here to end his days with his legacy in tow is the only meaningful aspect of this place’s meager existence.

He was certainly the closest thing to a friend or an ally I ever knew. He told me a great many stories that occurred after he had rid himself of the bastard red man and his deadly curse, but none carried the same resonance. When I envision Will in his youth, I will forever see a rough and rowdy gunslinger pursued by a zombie that had no goal save to torment him.

Toward the end, when he was obviously slipping away, I set him up a nice cubbyhole in our woodshed. Of course, my parents still didn’t approve of him, but since my brother’s death, it seemed they had little time for me, whether it was to show affection or express disdain. Besides, my father was a tidy man who had taken a job at the bank, where they greatly appreciated his time and effort. I handled most of the work on the homestead, and no one save I made use of the woodshed or the tools inside.

I nursed and fed Will as his days grew short, his vision failing and the bottle he so loved carrying him farther and farther from reason. Toward the bitter end, there were no stories, only grunts and farts that were sometimes accompanied by the spilling of his bowels.

One night I thought I heard a wheezing cackle followed by a scream and I ran out to the woodshed, taking great care that I didn’t awaken my sleeping parents. I entered the cubbyhole I had fashioned for him only to be met with a stench most foul and a sight I will never forget.

Will lay in the floor, his covers wound about him in disarray, his dead eyes bulging in terror. His mouth was drawn open as though he meant to keep screaming, but there was no life within that sallow frame.

He was cradling a red skull against his chest, a rumpled piece of bone with a sinister grin. The Indian had found him one last time and now it appeared that they were both bound for another plane.

As I said before, I had always harbored a morbid curiosity. Even as I grew closer to calling myself a man, that bizarre longing had yet to dissipate. I buried Will Sanderson on our property without telling a soul. No one would ever know that I had housed him, or that he had passed on upon seeing his cursed nemesis for the last time.

I didn’t bury the red skull with him. As you might have guessed, I kept it. I have it beside me right now. I love to hold it, taking in the cracks and gaping holes that mar the smooth red surface. I stare into the ruined sockets, wondering what magic the old Indian possessed that allowed him to rise from the grave. Sometimes I think the skull is whispering to me, but if so, it speaks in a language I cannot understand.

I have prayed to it on occasion as well, but the ensuing silence that serves as a response makes it no different from any other object or deity I’ve prayed to. In all honesty, I don’t understand my affection for the skull or the tales Will shared with me as a child, but then again, sometimes it seems that they are all I have. Certainly there is nothing I treasure more.

In time, perhaps the skull will speak to me in greater detail.

In time, maybe I will find a greater destiny.

Until then, when time allows, I will sit here in my sacred space, studying the red skull and thinking about a man who couldn’t outrun his past. Try as he might, he could never cheat the fate he had earned. In that regard, whatever his sins may have been, I guess Will Sanderson was no different from any man.

_____

James Wayland is the author of Trailer Park Trash & Vampires and has been a regular contributor to RVA since the magazine’s inception. You can find James online thru facebook, myspace, and Amazon where you can purchase his Novel “Trailer Park Trash & Vampires”.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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Is the revival of the 2014 Tumblr girl how the internet copes with the end of the world?  The dissociative pout, also referred to as the dissociative gaze, was first coined by i-D Magazine in the 2022 article “The cult of the dissociative pout” by Rayne Fisher-Quann,...

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