What THE HAUNTING OF SHERIFF EVANS is about
In 1866, just after the Civil War has ended, a young Kentuckian, WILLIAM EVANS, is about to marry the girl of his dreams, VIVIAN MARSHAL.
But the wedding doesn’t happen because the beautiful young woman is kidnapped by SAMUEL DRAKE, a tobacco grower and practitioner of the dark arts.
Drake’s original intention is to use Vivian as a sacrificial victim–to kill her for the purpose of gaining power from a demonic source. But he postpones that because he’s overcome with sexual desire for her. Before he can accomplish his intent, however, he finds that the demon–who insists on a virgin sacrifice–has cursed him with impotence.
Refusing to give in and determined to somehow overcome the curse, Samuel takes Vivian with him as he escapes from the local witch hunters.
William trails the evil man and his captive all the way to the New Mexico Territories where the whole matter, including Samuel’s impotence, Vivian’s virginity, and William’s overwhelming desire to rescue his true love, comes to a showdown. This involves not only gunplay, but a violent clash between the supernatural forces of good and evil.
THE HAUNTING OF SHERIFF EVANS, with its fascinating characters and strange action and suspense situations, is an unusual Western to say the least. It will appeal to the less strict readers of that genre, but much more to all those who like thrillers.
Dean Koontz fans, in particular, will be happy to find a writer who can give them a fresh new version of what they want.
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:
PART ONE: WIMPY WILLIAM
ON A BEAUTIFUL moonlit, autumn night, in the year 1866, young love bloomed and struggled somewhat against the restrictions placed on it not only by the culture of the time and place, but by the commands of the Holy Book. For both the young man and the young woman who occupied the veranda swing understood that fornication was not allowed; they would have to wait until after marriage before they could have the big thrill.
Fortunately, that would not be a very long wait, for tonight William had asked Vivian to marry him. And she had answered the question with a yes and a long kiss that, for anyone except the very pure in heart, might have broken that determination to stay on the straight and narrow.
But William and Vivian were exceptionally saintly, so their determination held, and, after sinking back weakly into the swing seat (almost at though the kiss had been orgasmic, although it hadn’t) they looked at each other in the moonlight and realized that it was time to break it up. They would have to postpone the next logical step–the making of wedding plans. Besides the need to prevent a twin explosion, they also had to consider that the girl’s parents were being pushed to the limit. Allegedly they were sleeping; more likely they were tossing and turning and worrying that their daughter might be losing her virginity out there in the moonlight.
Vivian’s dad, Ben, was much more easygoing than the average head of a wealthy Kentucky household, as proven by the fact that he had let his daughter stay up alone with her boyfriend, but there were limits. It may have helped that William had, that very evening, asked Ben Marshall for the hand of his daughter in marriage. The fact that he had asked the father before he asked the daughter demonstrated the inclination that the people of that society had for doing things in an orderly and honorable fashion. Anyhow, there had been no problem getting the old man’s approval; Ben liked William, and trusted him. Now William knew that he must respect that trust.
Vivian, like an angel in her long white dress, walked with William to where he had a half-hour earlier tied his black gelding, Nightwind, to the yard hitching rail. He had done this in preparation for the eventual quick getaway he knew he would have to make from the buildup of passion.
He would kiss her again, he decided, just before climbing into the saddle, but for a moment he held her at arm’s length and let his mind be saturated by her beauty. She was twenty years old, fair-skinned (like other upper-class women, she wore large bonnets when under the sun), dark haired, and blue-eyed, although in the moonlight her eyes appeared to be a shade of deep purple. Her face was slightly narrow, giving her a classic look, like the faces of some of the statues of goddesses that William had seen in one of the books in his family’s extensive library; and, as in the countenances of the mythical goddesses, there was always a look of strength in Vivian’s face, along with whatever other emotions might be there at any particular moment. Like her face, her body was slim, but not without pleasing curvaceousness. William had seen her in men’s pants just once, when they were a bit younger and she had been riding a horse man-style with her legs spread over a saddle, and had thought that no one was watching her. But William, who had showed up unexpectedly to visit, had been hidden behind some shrubs. He would never forget how wonderfully the brown corduroy cloth of those pants had been stretched over her thighs and butt.
And now it was time to say goodnight. They did so and then they came together, lips and body, heart and soul. The kiss ended but the moonlight seemed to have turned to molten gold in which it was hard for William to move–hard to separate from the feel of pliant breasts and firm thighs. With a great spiritual effort, he stepped back out of Vivian’s arms, turned away, unwound a bridle rein from the hitching rail, and got his boot into the stirrup.
She watched him elevate himself into the saddle with the ease of a cat hopping onto a chair, and this increase of distance between them was painful to her. But she made the most of it by letting her vision take over in place of the touch which she had just lost. Tall and youthfully slim, in a dark-gray riding suit with the pants tucked into high leather boots, and his handsome face shaded a bit by a wide-brimmed white hat that glowed in the moonlight like some sort of haloed crown, William Evans appeared to be romance personified.
Vivian watched him ride away along the oak bordered lane, tall in the saddle, noble looking.
There just can’t be anything to those old rumors, she thought. No man as wonderful as he is could be a coward.
* * *
William rode on in the moonlight. In spite of the frustration of unfulfilled desire, he was happy. How could he be anything else? The most wonderful woman in the world had just said she’d marry him. Even his horse seemed to be sharing his gay mood, stepping along lively–although William knew the black beast simply wanted to get home to stall and oats. Well, he didn’t have far to go–only about four miles.
There were three farmsteads fairly close together in this area, although the one that William called home was a ranch–a horse ranch–and Ben Marshall’s place, where he had just come from, was generally thought of as a plantation. Old Ben had raised a lot of hemp, but now that steam was rapidly replacing the sail on the oceans of the world, along with all the rope-work that held the sails in place, the hemp market was collapsing. Ben was struggling to switch over to tobacco, and was having a hard time of it. His plantation still looked prosperous, but William knew that the Marshall enterprise was on a slippery slope.
The third place in the area, headquartered only about three miles from where William now rode, was presently having great financial success. This was the tobacco empire of Samuel Drake, who had taken over from his departed father only about two years ago.
These three rather prestigious enterprises were located on the southern side of the bluegrass region, a few miles east of the Kentucky River. About fifty miles straight to the south stood Bear Mountain, the home of abundant wild life–including a few hillbilly families.
William liked Kentucky, but he had romantic daydreams about going west and seeing places like the New Mexico Territories, and maybe even California. Now he would not have to go alone, for Vivian would go with him anywhere–at least he hoped she would. Surely she would. The real problem was his own dad, who might cut him out of his inheritance if he neglected the ranch to go traveling.
All three original owners of the three establishments that dominated the region had moved up from the south, from Georgia, about ninety years ago, bringing considerable wealth–including their slaves–with them. Later, their offspring had been happy to find themselves in Kentucky, thus escaping the Revolutionary War’s entrance into Georgia.
It seemed that all three families, the Evans’s, the Marshalls, and the Drakes, were not fighters, at least not in a soldierly sense; but when it came to fighting for money and success, it was hard to find their equals.
William, however, thought of himself as an exception to this lifestyle of great emphasis on material success. Others also thought of him that way, and not in any complimentary way. His dad put up with him, always hopeful that someday William would grow up and grab a hold of the three main facts of life, which were, according to Dave Evans, money, money, and money.
Vivian’s dad, Ben, was a bit more easygoing but had the same basic mindset.
As for Samuel Drake, he made Ben Marshall and Dave Evans look like nuns under vows of poverty. By now it was clear to these two somewhat more moderate operators that Mr. Drake had no intention of following the gentlemanly rule about living and letting live. He was more into the destroy-and-conquer way of looking at things.
And everything seemed to be going his way. Ben was in trouble because of the price of hemp taking a dive, William’s dad was sick with some ailment the doctors couldn’t get a handle on, and the banks seemed to cooperate mainly with Drake. Even the law had sided with him in a recent case where a smaller tobacco farmer had complained that Drake was framing him with a charge of mischief against his crops. William had attended the trial and felt convinced that Wesley Morgan had been badly used by the justice system. For allegedly having poured a harmful salt solution over some of Drake’s tobacco plants, Morgan had been forced to pay Drake so much compensation that he was unable to do it without selling most of his land. He ended up selling it all–to Drake and at Drake’s ridiculously low amount of payment. And Morgan, William knew, was a gentle sort of man who avoided trouble at all costs. William could not picture him destroying anyone else’s property. It seemed that the local law authorities had been strangely blind to the well-known good moral reputation of this humble farmer.
Ah, well, thought William as he came to a fork in the dusty trail. It’s not as though I don’t know that Sammy-Boy is evil.
William took the left prong of the fork, for the one to the right led to the Drake plantation.
* * *
As William rode on, his latest thought about Samuel Drake led him into memories about going to school with that wicked person. Samuel, four years older than William, had bullied him thoroughly.
This had started rather abruptly when William was eleven years old and he, together with his family, had just come out of a special church service on a bright fall morning. The service had been special because it was part of a week-long series of evangelical type of meetings featuring a traveling preacher who was out to guide people into “a closer relationship with Christ,” as he put it. According to him, a lot of church people didn’t really know what Christianity was about, and God had called him, Preacher Martin, to inform people about what the Bible really taught, and how, by following the guidance in this Great Manual, they could have their lives changed for the better to an infinite degree. He insisted that they could, in fact, move from living in a world of death to living in a world of eternal life and great fulfillment. All they needed to do, he said, was to repent of their evil deeds (evil deeds being any acts, words, thoughts or feelings that were contrary to God’s will) and accept Jesus, the Son of God, as their Savior, for he had suffered and died for the sins of the whole world. Salvation was a free gift, said Preacher Martin, but for the gift to apply, it needed to be willingly accepted by those to whom it was being extended.
Young William, who was a quiet and thoughtful boy, became strongly motivated to accept the preacher’s alter call–to go forward with the half dozen or so others who were somberly rising from their seats, walking slowly toward the alter rail where they would kneel.
“I want to go too,” eleven-year-old William whispered to his parents.
They showed some disapproval; his mother whispered back, “But you don’t need to do that, Dear. You’re such a good boy.”
William knew better. He had once called his cousin, Bessie, a stupid arsshole right to her face; and once, when he was quite a bit younger, he had purposely stepped on their dog’s tail, just to hear him yelp. He had done a lot of other nasty things too–things his parents didn’t know about, and some that they did. He had always felt rotten inside after doing something bad, for a while, until he sort of forgot about it. But then again he would remember, and hate himself.
Although they obviously were embarrassed about William wanting to make a public spectacle of himself by going up to the alter to get saved, they didn’t stop him. He went, and the Preacher guided him and the others in a prayer of repentance and acceptance of Christ as their Savior and Lord. All of the converts were grown-ups except William and the little Marshall girl who, at about five years old, probably didn’t know what was going on but was led by the hand of her softly crying mother, Matilda.
After the prayer, William knew his sins were forgiven and that he now had a higher, nobler life to live–one of kindness toward all others, even toward his enemies. Preacher Martin had made that last point very clear. Followers of Christ were to love their enemies.
William didn’t have to wait long to apply that.
While horses were being brought out of the church stable and hitched to buggies and wagons, Sammy Drake beckoned to William to join him behind some willow bushes near the men’s outhouse. The church was on the outskirts of town, so beyond the willows were fields and woods.
This attention from Sammy Drake pleased William, for Sammy was already fifteen years old with all the social prestige that such maturity afforded him. Once they were alone together behind the willow bushes, Sammy questioned him about his conversion, urging him to say that it had just been a lark to impress the old folks. And when William insisted that he had been sincere in his decision, Samuel slapped him around a bit and then pushed him hard enough to throw him to the ground. He twisted around as he fell and his face hit a bare dirt spot in the grass.
Sobbing and spitting dirt, and afraid that if he got up he’d be slapped around again, William said, “Why’d you do that?”
“Just so you’d know that I’m your enemy,” said Sammy, smiling. “Now, let’s see if you can love me, like the preacher said you were supposed to…. Well, are you loving me?”
William was in a state of confusion, and plenty scared to boot. After staring up at the mocking teenager through tear-fuzzed vision, he jumped to his feet and scampered to safety among the grown-ups and their horses and buggies. He used his handkerchief to wipe tears off his face before returning to his parents. Over and above the considerable clamor of happily playing children, William could hear the taunting voice of Sammy still reaching after him: “Love me, Willie boy! Love me, love me!” And then he laughed, and that laugh seemed to be a harbinger of more violence to come.
Sitting between his mom and dad in the buggy, William was extra quiet on the way home. His parents, still embarrassed, tried to figure out things to say to him. His dad, a tall slim man of forty years, made an effort with: “Well, boy, I’m glad you’re being godly.” He laughed. “But I’m still hoping you’ll take over the ranch one day … instead of becoming a preacher.”
William’s beautiful mother, who was always tender hearted toward everyone, put an arm around him and told her husband, “Oh, stop it, Dave. That was a brave thing Willie did there in church, in front of all those people…. And it’s good to be religious.”
“I don’t want to be a preacher,” said William in a subdued voice. “I want to be a sheriff out west.”
Dave laughed again. “Some kind of a sheriff you’d make, my boy! I can just see you loving your enemies, bringing in some horse thief at the point of a gun–bringing him all the way up to the gallows, and loving him all the way!” He laughed again.
“Stop it!” said William’s mom. “Can’t you see the boy’s been through an emotional time? He’s still got tear-streaks on his cheeks … and dust. William, didn’t you wash your face this morning?”
“Yes, Mom, but I … fell … got some dirt on my face I guess.”
He did not tell them about Sammy, for he knew he had to go through that experience in his own mind to sort it out before he talked to anyone about it.
In the days that followed, William did sort it out, realizing that he had the perfect opportunity to live the way a Christian should, loving his enemy, in this case Samuel Drake. It seemed almost made to order; here was this fifteen-year-old monster–four years older than William–hovering about on every school day, looking for an opportunity to beat up on the younger boy without being seen by anyone who might do something about it. And those opportunities came, sometimes behind the school barn, sometimes on the way to school, involving beatings of various degrees, and always with the warning that if he told anyone about it, his next beating would be worse.
William seriously considered sneaking up behind Samuel with an axe and splitting his skull; but somehow this seemed contrary to the concept of loving one’s enemies.
He began to question his ambition of wanting to be a sheriff out west when he grew up. As his dad had once indicated, how could a sheriff who loved his enemies be involved in a life-and-death shootout with bad guys. This problem disturbed William greatly; but his first loyalty was to God, so if God wanted him to be a totally non-violent person and make his living by running a store or maybe just helping his dad with the horse ranch or something relatively uninteresting like that … so be it.
And then Sammy Drake apparently stepped over some sort of invisible line in the universe and changed everything for William.
One day on his lonely way to school, on foot, William was apprehended by Sammy Drake who popped out from behind some bushes and ran him down. Although it was not the first time that this had happened, and even though the beating was not one of the worst he had received, what happened after the beating definitely fit into a degree of ugliness in a category all of it’s own.
After tying William to a tree with rope and sturdy shoelaces already there for the purpose, Sammy brought out another item also there ready and waiting–a live rabbit with its legs trussed up so it couldn’t get away.
Sammy then explained that William would be privileged to see a black-magic ceremony. It’s purpose would be to bring supernatural power into the life of Sammy Black.
Before William’s cringing eyes, Sammy–using his pocket knife–tortured the rabbit to death, while at the same time chanting words that William could not understand.
“Now,” said Sammy, after he had killed the rabbit, “I have received great power, over you, Willie boy, and over others–power to have my way with you … to trample you under my feet … to amuse myself by making you suffer … and to channel your belongings and the belongings of others into my hands.” He said a bit more along the same line, and also promised to kill William if he told anyone what had happened. “I could have done this magic ceremony without you seeing it,” he said, “but I wanted you to see with your own eyes what I did so that from now one you’ll fear me like you never have before. Even while you sleep, you’ll fear me, for I’ll send demons to haunt your dreams.”
Then Sammy freed William and they walked the rest of the way to school together, neither of them talking.
That Sammy had stepped over some sort of distinct line in what he had done that day, later became apparent to William, but at first he didn’t understand what was going on.
The day after the terrible rabbit ceremony, as William was fearfully walking the dusty road to school, he heard the familiar sound of horses, harness, and wheels behind him. This was good for it meant that he would likely catch a ride with someone and wouldn’t have to walk the remaining mile and a half to school. His dad or one of the hired hands could have driven him to school every day (as they did in bad weather), or he could have ridden his horse, as some of the other boys did; but William’s dad had always walked to school when he was a boy and he seemed to firmly believe that the lack of such a daily walk in the life of any young lad could result in severe spiritual, mental, and physical problems.
William expected the rig behind him to be that of one of their neighbors, so he was surprised when the team of horses looked totally unfamiliar. They were white horses, and as they drew closer–with William still walking but looking back over his shoulder every now and then–he could see that their black harnesses were decorated with silver-colored medallions and that the topless buggy they pulled held only one person–a man in a white suit.
William liked horses, particularly white ones. There was a distinct reason why white was his favorite horse-color. The fictitious sheriff, Sterling Silver, who was William’s big western hero, was usually depicted on the covers of the monthly dime novels, Heroes of the Wild West, together with his horse–and that horse was white. There were a couple of white horses in the neighborhood, and his dad owned three, but none were as magnificent as that of the two-gun sheriff. In any case, William had never seen a white driving team before.
The driver, who turned out to be a young looking man, pulled up beside William, smiled at him and talked to his horses. “Whoa, Prince … whoa, Princess.”
William came to a stop too. He hadn’t ever seen the man before. He was hatless, which was unusual, and looked to be in his early twenties, was lightly built, and was distinctly handsome with a well-tanned face and dark hair, both of which contrasted nicely with his crisp white suit and shirt.
“I can give you a lift to school,” said the white-suited man, smiling.
William was at once drawn to him. The idea that he could be dangerous, even though he was a complete stranger to William, seemed absurd. “Thank you, sir,” he said and climbed up into the buggy, which he could see was of the highest quality of workmanship–in fact, he had never seen one quite so luxurious. It’s metal parts, including a fancy little railing on the frontboard, glistened as though it was polished silver, and nowhere was there a scratch or a blemish on the equally glistening black paint, and the red upholstery of the seat was thicker than any William had ever seen. When he sat down in it–on the left side of the buggy, for the driver, as usual, sat on the right–he felt as though he had sunk his butt into a cloud. “Nice buggy, sir,” said William and felt he should please the man by adding a little more to that. “You must have paid a lot of money for this one!”
“No,” said the handsome young man. He started the horses into a walk with the rather unusual command: “Let’s carry on now, my beauties,” and they obeyed without him even raising his reins. He turned to William and said, “The buggy and horses were a free gift.” Then he gave William a mule-kick of a jolt by abruptly changing the subject. “I know about how Sammy Drake has been tormenting you. I’d like to talk to you about it, if that’s all right.”
William was immediately confused and worried. The first thing he could think to say was, “You won’t tell anyone, will you? If Sammy found out that you or anyone else knows, he’d … he’d hurt me worse…. Did you see … what he did yesterday?”
“No,” said the man, “but I was told about it. You can call me Mr. White. That’s a good name for someone wearing a white suit and driving a team of white horses, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” agreed William. “But who told you about Sammy and me?”
“God? He talks to you?”
“Sure does. He talks to you too. You know, like sometimes when you have to make a choice between doing something good or doing something bad, and you have this deep knowing inside of you–a knowing that it’s the good thing you should do. That’s one way that God talks to you.”
William thought about that, and decided it was pretty much in line with what Pastor Fullson (not the evangelist but their regular pastor) taught in church from time to time. But it sort of scared William when he realized that even if the pastor hadn’t said anything about that, it would be extremely difficult to not believe this man in the white suit.
That man said, “In fact, isn’t God talking to you right now and telling you to believe what I’m going to tell you?”
William again took a little time to think about it, then answered, “Yes, sir, I wouldn’t feel right not listening to whatever you say.” He realized that wasn’t a complete acquiescence but hoped it would do.
Apparently it did, for the young man in white said, “All right then, I’ll get straight to the point. The experience you had yesterday–you know, that awful thing Sammy did with the rabbit–well, I need to explain a little about that to you, because it was quite an unusual happening.”
“That’s what I thought,” said William.
Mr. White said, “It wasn’t so unusual because Sammy tortured a rabbit to death in a sacrificial ceremony. That sort of thing, I’m sorry to say, happens quite a lot, although it’s usually not done by fifteen-year-old boys. What made this ceremony unusual is that the source of power Sammy happened to pick was more potent than that which is usually used. You know what a demon is, don’t you?”
“Well … yeah, I guess so. They’re sorta bad guys you can’t see, that go around doing bad things to people.”
Mr. White smiled. “That’s a good enough description. Now, if Sammy had called for help from the more normal type of demon, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. You would still have been getting help from God, but in different ways. But Sammy, quite inexperienced about many spiritual things, ignorantly called up a particular demon that was able to give him much more power than the other demons would have. It was a bit of a strange accident, or a mixture of strange circumstances, that brought this about. You don’t need to know the details, but it’s important for you to know that the amount of evil power little Sammy received as a result of sacrificing that rabbit is so great that God saw fit to send me to you to put the matter back into balance.”
“God sent you?”
“That’s right,” said Mr. White. “Sammy, somewhat unknowingly, punched a hole in the dam that holds back evil. There are always holes being punched in the dam by bad people and other bad beings, but this was one of the larger holes. And you, William, whom God loves very much, and for whom he has great and wonderful plans, were standing right in front of that hole so that the dung coming through it would have covered you.”
“Dung?” said William hesitantly. “Isn’t that sort of a bad word?”
“That’s right,” said the young dark-haired man. “It’s a bad word, but not as bad as some. The words, sin, and evil, are worse words, but we have to use them sometimes to label things properly so we know what we’re talking about.”
“So what did you do when you found out this … dung was going to come through the hole and hit me?” He felt kind of brave about having used the word, dung, which his mother had told him he shouldn’t use; but the young man’s explanation seemed so sensible sounding.
Mr. White said, “The first thing I needed to do was to come and talk to you about the matter, and to explain a few things to you. You may be under attack for some time–under attack by Sammy Drake and the power he’s unleashed on you and others. One of the ways I can be of help is to explain to you ahead of time what things you should do and not do. God won’t do everything for you, nor has he sent me to do everything for you. That’s not the way things work. You see, God is building character in you and in others that have come into his family. Do you understand what building character means?”
“Yeah, I think so… It sort of means to get to be a better person.”
“That’s right, and the only way you can get to be a better person is to face problems and make decisions. When you make bad decisions about what to do, and what to think and how to feel in the face of those problems, then your soul shrivels somewhat. But when you make a good moral decision, your soul grows in strength and beauty…. Now, Sammy and the demon that he’s unleashed on you both know that you have certain ways of thinking and doing things, and some of these are your strengths and some are your weaknesses. Sammy and the demon will try to guess what you’re going to do by what you’ve done in the past, and then lay their traps for you accordingly. So I’m going to teach you a few things that will change the pattern of how you do things, and this will throw them off course. They’ll be wrong about what you’re going to do, and how you’ll react to things they set up, and so their attacks will miss the mark. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I think so, sort of,” said William, “but I think I’m sort of scared of the whole thing. I don’t know how to fight a demon.”
“That’s why I’m here, to help you to know. And if too much dung comes spurting out of the hole in the dam I’ll take extra action to fight against it. But so long as it stays on a level that you can handle, I can’t interfere in that extra way. That’s because you need to do some fighting yourself so you can grow in character, as I’ve already explained.”
The buggy rolled along more smoothly and quietly than any William had ever ridden in, the white horses walking with easy, graceful strides. The familiar pleasant scenery of pasture with groves of hickory and red cedar continued to march on by, and the songbirds continued to twitter … but there seemed to be something different about everything. Hadn’t they once already passed that big corner post that marked the end of the Evans property? But there it was, and William knew they hadn’t gone back at any point, and certainly the horses had not been walking backward. He assured himself that he must have been mistaken about the post.
Mr. White continued, “Now, the first thing I need to help you out with is this matter about Sheriff Silver that’s been giving you some worries.”
“You mean … the sheriff in the stories?”
“That’s right–the two-gun sheriff of the New Mexico Territories, Sterling Silver, who rides a big white horse with a silver-mounted saddle.”
“His horse’s name is Captain,” offered William, pleased that anyone besides himself took an interest in Sheriff Silver. He hesitated before he went on. “Why did you say I was worried?”
“You’ve often said that you plan to be a sheriff out west when you grow up, but now you’re worried that because God wants you to love your enemies, you won’t be able to deal with the bad hombres–you know, fight with them to bring them to justice.”
William was shocked again. “Did God tell you about that too?”
“Yes, and he wanted me to help you with this matter. Now, first of all, you do realize that Sheriff Sterling Silver isn’t a real-life person, right? You know that he’s a character that the writer, Wally Western, made up and writes pretend stories about. And, by the way, Wally Western is only his pen name. His real name is Hans Schneider.”
“It is? Well, I know that Sheriff Silver is a made-up person. But there are real sheriffs out west who really have adventures like Sheriff Silver.”
“You’re right, and when they do their jobs well, they help a lot of people. You see, Bill–do you mind if I call you Bill?”
“Oh, no, I like that! That’s what I want to be called when I go out … well, when I was going to go out west and be a sheriff myself. I think Bill sounds more western than William–you know, more like a cowboy’s name, and sheriffs are sort of cowboys.”
“Yeah, they ride horses, and say yeah instead of yes, and pardner instead of partner,”
“And spread instead of ranch,” added William. “Have you read any Sheriff Silver stories?”
“So far I’ve read one, Showdown at Dead Man’s Gulch, in the July issue. I read it in preparation for getting to know you, because I knew you like those stories so much.”
“That was a good one…. Mr. White, did you ever ride a horse?”
“Yeah, I shore nuff have … although not lately. Say, if I’m gonna call you Bill, how ‘bout you call me Slim–I reckon that’s a right good cowboy-soundin’ handle.”
William laughed. “You sound just like some of the old cowboys in the stories, and I guess some of the younger ones too…. You really want me to call you Slim?”
“Yeah, if it’s all right with you. But don’t expect me to keep on palaverin’ the cowboy way–that’s too hard.”
“Now here’s the first thing I want to tell you. You can give up your dream of being a sheriff out west if you want to, that’s up to you. But if you do give it up you should do it for good reasons, not for wrong ones.”
“You mean mine are wrong?”
“Yeah, unless you have some I don’t know about.”
“Which ones do you know about?”
“Only one, really. The one I already mentioned. You think you can’t be a sheriff if you love your enemies.”
“Well, that’s the only reason I’ve got.”
“And it’s not a good one…. Let’s just pretend that Sheriff Silver is a real sheriff for a moment, and maybe we can figure this out.”
“Fine,” said William, “but I’m not gonna quit loving my enemies.” He felt a bit defensive now, and on his guard, even though he wanted desperately for Mr. White–Slim–to find a way around this formidable obstacle. “I’m not gonna quit loving my enemies,” said William again. “God wants me to love my enemies.”
“That’s good,” said Slim. “Don’t you ever quit loving them.”
“Well, I think Sheriff Silver–if we think of him as a real person–also loves his enemies.”
“You do? He does?…. But in Showdown at Dead Man’s Gulch he shoots and kills about … I don’t know … ten people, maybe.”
“Twelve,” said Slim. “But try to remember exactly why he shot them.”
“That’s easy,” said William. “They were shooting at the sheriff and his posse, and the sheriff was trying to arrest them and put them in jail.”
“But why was he trying to put them in jail?”
“Oh, that was because … because the leader of the badman gang–I can’t remember his name–he and his men had killed this pioneer family … and, yeah, now I remember … they had killed them so they could steal their money which the dad had saved up to buy a plow.”
“That’s right. Now, if no one had tried to put them in jail but just let them go on doing what they liked to do … what do you think would have happened?”
“Well, I guess they would have done more bad stuff like that.”
“I don’t know. Well, more stuff like they did–like when they killed that whole family.”
“Who was in that family?”
“The father, the mother, and a girl.”
“Yes, a sweet little five-year-old girl,” said Slim. “This villain, whose name, by the way, was Spike Rowly, fired three bullets into her, spattering her blood and guts onto the kitchen wall. By this time he had already shot her mom and dad.”
“I don’t remember about the spattering.”
“Well, the writer didn’t actually mention that, but if the murder had actually happened, that’s how it would have been, because she was standing beside the kitchen stove when she got shot, remember? So the bullets would have torn through her frail little body, splashing her blood and some of her innards onto the wall behind her. And she would have died in her own pool of blood, screaming for her dead mommy and daddy.”
“Yeah,” said William. The picture Slim had painted was ugly enough to frighten him, but he tried not to show it.
Slim said, “So you think killers like that should just be allowed to go free so they can do it over and over again?”
“Oh, no. Somebody has to stop them…. It’s just that….” William let his sentence trail off because he didn’t really know where to go with it.
Slim said, “Don’t you know that God wants all Christians to love their enemies?”
“So you think that stopping killers from shooting little girls should be left to non-Christians?”
“I don’t know … I guess I never thought about who should stop them.”
“Isn’t it a good thing to stop them?”
“Well, doesn’t God want us to do good things?”
“Yes, but … I don’t know.”
Slim was silent for a moment before he asked another question. “William–I mean, Bill–have you ever considered the possibility that Sheriff Sterling Silver, while putting a bullet between Spike Rowly’s eyes, was loving him?”
William almost let out a little laugh, but controlled himself just in time when he realized that Slim was very serious and intent on making some kind of important point. So he just said, “I don’t see how he could do both at the same time.”
“Well, shooting a man in the head and loving him seem kind of different to me.”
“There’s no reason why they can’t be done at the same time,” stated Slim flatly. “Keep in mind that the sheriff didn’t want to shoot Spike. He was doing it only to stop him from going around killing people…. So you can imagine that the good Sheriff Silver felt very sorry for Spike, even though he had to shoot him.”
“I think I see what you mean,” said William as he remembered an unhappy occasion about half a lifetime ago when his dad had whumped his behind for having been mean to a kid younger than himself. William said, “Yes, I think I understand. It’s like when a dad gives a caning to his boy but tells him he’s sorry but he has to do it. See, because otherwise the kid might do the bad thing again, and maybe hurt somebody worse next time.”
“That’s it,” said Slim, smiling. “Now, say this Spike Rowly had let himself be arrested and put in jail, which was what the sheriff really wanted. The court would have found him guilty of several murders and he would have been hanged by the neck until dead. But, he might have repented of his sins before the hanging, and accepted Jesus as his Savior, and when he got hanged he would have gone to heaven to be with God.”
“But he didn’t repent,” said William, “so when the sheriff shot him, he went to hell, right?”
“Let’s leave that part to God,” said Slim, no longer smiling.
“But how do you think the sheriff felt about having sent a man to hell?” asked William.
“He didn’t send him to hell. A sheriff has nothing to do with sending anyone to hell. What a sheriff needs to do is protect little girls, and others, from monsters like Spike Rowly.”
After this they were both silent for a while. Then William said, “So you think I should be a sheriff after all?”
“That’s something that only you can decide. God may leave the matter open as one of several choices you could make, and be doing his will in any of them. Be sensitive to his guidance so you’ll know what choices you have, if more than one, of what to do with your life here on Earth. But if you give up on the idea of being a sheriff, don’t do it because you think a sheriff can’t love his enemies. If you think honestly about what I’ve said, you’ll agree that a sheriff can love his enemies while doing his duty as a sheriff…. Well, it seems that I got you to school just in time. The bell’s ringing.”
And suddenly William realized that it had been ringing for several seconds, but somehow it had seemed like something in a dream, far away. Yet there was the red-brick schoolhouse with children hurrying in through its two doorways, one in the front and one in the side.
Slim was bringing the white team to a stop near the gate. He said, “We need to talk some more in the days ahead, so I’ll be seeing you again, maybe in a few weeks or so, maybe longer, depending on how things go.”
“All right,” said William as he began to climb out of the buggy but was still facing Slim.
“Just one more thing,” said the young man in white. “As soon as you realize that you can love someone even while you’re fighting with him, you should try to think of some way to fight off Sammy, before he cripples you. Only don’t kill him. And be careful.”
“All right, sir–Slim,” said William, his mind once again slightly off kilter by this latest surprising instruction from the mysterious man in white. How could he fight off Sammy, who was four years older than him and mean as a muskrat with a catfish up its ass? (He had once heard his Uncle Marvin use that expression when he thought there weren’t any women or children around).
Slim was driving away now, carrying on in the same direction, looking back over his shoulder with a wave and a smile. William returned the wave, then hurried toward the schoolhouse. Of the few children who were still outside, only two were looking toward William; these were little Vivian Marshall and her friend, Claudia Burlington. They were both first graders.
Later, during the morning recess, these two girls embarrassed William by coming up to him. Vivian asked him if he had come to school in a buggy pulled by a team of white horses driven by a man in a white suit.
As William had often noted to himself, for a little girl Vivian sure was pretty. But he had to get away from her fast before he got teased by the boys. “Of course,” he said as he turned and walked away. “You should know–you were looking right at the rig.”
Vivian said nothing more, but the Burlington girl called after him. “You’re just making that up! There was no buggy or white horses! You’re just taking Vivian’s side ‘cause you’re sweet on her!” She then broke into a teasing laugh as William escaped around a corner of the schoolhouse.
* * *
William rode on in the moonlight, still thinking about the man in white. That ride to school with him had not been their only meeting. Slim had become a close friend, even though William would see him only once every few months and then briefly. No one else ever saw him, and this had brought about some problems.
The barely audible snort of a horse and the equally distant creak of wheels and buggy springs sounded from behind William, and, just for a moment, he thought it might be Slim–since he had just been thinking about him–although he had not seen him for nine years. But when he turned there was nothing but darkness–until his eyes focused and the moonlight revealed a dark rig still quite far away. Curious about who besides himself was out on the road at this late hour, William neck-reined his black gelding in behind some trees and dogwood shrubs and let him graze; but he stayed in the saddle and strained his eyes and ears toward the approaching traffic. Now he could just barely make out that there were two rigs, one behind the other. He didn’t think they had been with him all the way from the Marshall place, so they must have come in on the side trail just a short distance before the road that led to Samuel Drake’s plantation. Even though William had drifted back in time, his reminiscences had likely not taken more than a couple of minutes, so he knew he was only about a quarter of a mile past the road that led to Drake’s place.
Somehow William had an inkling that the two rigs would turn in on that road, and he was right. He hoped his horse wouldn’t whinny and give him away, for he was beginning to think that he might have come across something unusual and interesting.
Ever since the rabbit incident of boyhood, William had known that Samuel was into the occult and black magic; in fact, William and his elusive companion, Slim, had often discussed this. Yet Slim, who apparently knew quite a lot about the matter, would never give William much detail, always telling him that if he wanted to know more he’d have to find out on his own. But at the same time he had cautioned William to hold back, to wait until he was more mature before he did such deeper investigation.
At first there were some strange incidents that likely involved black magic–while William and Sammy were both still growing up–but things quietened down about the time that Samuel reached adulthood. And at this time the man-in-white stopped visiting William, who then began to hope that Sammy had outgrown his evil bent and that the scary stuff was over. But he missed his visits from Slim.
The Civil War started when William was twenty-one. Kentucky, having good economic relations with both the Union and the South, tried to stay neutral; but only a year into the war the Confederates invaded the state and thus had the effect of forcing the Kentucky government into siding with the Union. This was further settled when Ulysses S. Grant brought his rescuing troops on the scene just a couple of months later. Yet the Union had no overall victory at that time, and the Kentuckians were divided. Although perhaps twice as many young Kentucky men fought for the Union as for the Confederates, thousands lost their lives on both sides of the conflict, sometimes family fighting against family.
Samuel Drake’s family and relatives joined the Confederates, and stories circulated about Samuel in action–some about how brave and heroic he was, and some about how ruthless and cruel he could be. The Marshall family took the Union side and fought with distinction. Vivian lost her only brother. The Evans family also joined President Lincoln’s side, but didn’t see any action, at least not from very close range. The reason for this was that they were kept busy raising and training horses for the Union army.
William believed in the cause of the Union, particularly in freeing the slaves, and, like most young men, had at least some desire to be on the front lines; but he, along with his father and the many men who worked the ranch, was not allowed to ride into action. There were two occasions when the battle raged only a mile or so away, but both times Union Soldiers drove back the Confederates before the ranch could become a battle field. Some of the cowboys expressed the concept that the Union was less interested in protecting the people on the ranch than they were the horses, but William, being highly romantic and idealistic, didn’t join in such negative conversation. For the most part he didn’t discuss the war at all, for he knew there were a number of ranch hands who were rooting for the South, and he didn’t want to get into any squabbling that might upset the ranch work.
Somehow the rumor got started that William had been given a choice to fight or stay on the ranch and train horses, and that he had stayed on the ranch because he was a coward. He thought maybe Sammy Drake was behind it, even though that seemed unlikely because Sam was probably too busy shooting and ducking bullets to have time to gossip; so it seemed more likely that the story had started with one of the South-leaning hands. There were a few of them who fairly smoldered with pent-up hatred against anyone who supported the Union.
Although the story was basically untrue, William, in his private heart, sometimes wondered if maybe he actually was a coward; for while the other young ranch hands regularly complained about being held on the ranch by Union orders when they wanted to be in the front lines fighting–for one side or the other–William found himself more often than not being grateful that he didn’t have to go and face cannon balls. Nor did he relish the thought of having to shoot an enemy. He said nothing about this to anyone. He also did his best to keep the cowboys from expressing their violence-hungry feelings, which sometimes led to fistfights.
The Evans and Marshall families, along with some others in the vicinity, had given up slavery some years before the matter had come to civil war. The Drake family claimed to have done the same–claimed that all their Negro workers had been freed but had stayed on as willing servants–but no one took this seriously. There was plenty of evidence to the contrary, including fresh whip marks on the backs of some of these willing servants. And people who had occasion to do business on the ranch and had seen how Arthur Drake and his son Samuel treated their black workers in general, could not believe that they were free.
Even now, with the war over and the freeing of slaves in general having been strictly imposed, William was not sure that the Drake family had ever completely complied with that rule. Arthur Drake had been killed during the war, and so Samuel came back to run the plantation. Apparently Arthur had been a cruel man; his son’s actions would likely, in William’s opinion, make the old man look like a choirboy in comparison.
However, through the war, and since then, William had to admit that he had no hard evidence of Samuel carrying on with black magic. Still, within the past year, since the end of the war and since Samuel had taken over running his family’s plantation, things had begun to go bad financially for everyone in the area except for Drake. He prospered as never before. The others experienced crop failures, mysterious deaths of animals, and even human illness, although the human natural death rate didn’t seem to go up any. Drake bought out a couple of places to the west of his plantation, then began making offers to the two farms nearest him–that of Ben Marshall and Dave Evans.
William suspected that Samuel might be back to his old tricks, but hated to give in to that idea; he had been only too glad to more or less accept that this rabbit-killing ugliness was a thing of the past. But now the two buggies had turned and were heading toward Samuel Drake’s plantation, in the middle of the night. A secret meeting of witches and warlocks? William had never seriously considered the possibility that others might be involved in Sammy’s evil doings. And why should he think that now? Just because a couple of rigs were heading out to his place in the dark didn’t necessarily mean that there was any hocus-pocus going on. There could be other reasons.
William almost dismissed that matter in favor of heading on home to bed; but something was stirring inside of him–a foreboding that was almost like a warning of some great evil in the works. And, long ago, Slim had told him to pay attention to these inner warnings. Along with that, William felt something else that was much less mysterious. This was the sparkling feeling of adventurous challenge. If there was evil afoot, maybe something needed to be done about it.
Once, when William had been only eleven and Sammy was fifteen and in his last year of school, William had beat the hell out of him (but no one else had ever found out about it)–and this long overdue beating had very much slowed the bad behavior of the older boy. This had happened not so far from where William now sat his horse.
* * *
On that cloudy Sunday afternoon, William had ridden his pony (a little bay mare called Tina) along a creek that flowed from the Drake plantation into the Evans ranch. He had no purpose other than to ride and to enjoy the gloom of the day.
He heard what had to be a cry of pain, but couldn’t decide if it was human or animal, and if it was an animal he didn’t know what kind–but he thought it might be a cougar.
William was still on Evans property, but close to the Drake border where a barbed-wire fence staggered its way through the creek for the purpose of keeping the Evans horses from getting into the Drake tobacco fields.
Young William had no weapon with him. He would have turned and ridden away, but for two reasons he did not. First of all, he got the distinct impression that the cries he heard were cries of distress; secondly, he began to hear a quieter sound that was just as disturbing as the first–namely a voice saying words he could not understand, and saying them in a chanting cadence. It had to be Sammy.
Leaving his horse tied to a tree, William snuk in closer. The chanting stopped and William was just in time to see Sammy use his jackknife to cut the throat of a gray-striped housecat that he had strung up amid branches of a tree. The dying creature, now silent, was bleeding from various parts of its body. Sammy went back to chanting, totally engrossed in his evil work and with his back toward William.
There was plenty of driftwood on the creek bank, and William’s eyes fell on a nearby dry branch that had the look of a sturdy club. William quietly picked up the three-foot-long, gnarly piece of hardwood and moved in behind the chanting teenager.
William lifted the club, hesitated only for a second, then brought it down hard on Sammy’s head. The chanting turned into a sputtering groan as Sammy hit the ground on his face and chest.
William was not yet done. Sammy was still conscious and quickly began a wobbly and futile attempt to regain his feet. William beat at him with the tree branch–several blows to various parts of the young warlock’s body. Sammy bounced about under the clubbing, twisting into various desperate postures, but soon lay stretched out on his back, twitching and moaning. He still retained consciousness, and now begged William to stop hitting him.
William did stop. He looked down on the blubbering teenager and said, “There, now you know what I think of your God-damned witchcraft!” He felt justified in saying God-damned (words he never used otherwise out of respect for God) because if anything was damned or condemned by God it surely included making a creature suffer in a blasphemous act of witchcraft.
William threw his club down on Sammy, then stepped close to the sacrificed cat and checked to see if it was dead and out of its suffering. It was.
Sammy lifted his head but did not attempt to get up as William walked past him and headed back to his horse. He rode home. But he told no one about what had happened.
Neither did Sammy. However, to account for his black and blue marks and the lump on his head, he passed the story around that he had been climbing a tree on a particularly steep part of the creek bank when he lost his grip and fell down among driftwood.
About three weeks later, when he and William happened to be out of earshot from the other children on the school yard, Sammy made an attempt to save face by telling the younger boy: “You’re a coward. You snuk up on me from behind.”
Before William could think of anything to say in reply, Sammy hurried away and joined some other boys.
* * *
Maybe, thought William now, fifteen years later as he sat his horse looking toward the road that led to the Drake yard–maybe the time had come for another head-to-head encounter. But first he needed to investigate.
He waited until the two buggies were out of sight and earshot; then he guided Nightwind back to where these vehicles had turned.
He followed that road, and those buggies, toward the Drake plantation.
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