Deputy Timmons reclined in his chair in the sheriff’s office, crossing his boots on the mahogany desk. The sun was on its way down outside, and the office was dead silent inside, no drunks in the cells, no impending doom, not even another deputy to keep him company. His first watch had so far proved as uneventful as he had been told it would be. Yup, he thought to himself as he opened the latest issue of the Gomorra Gazette across his lap, things are finally back to normal.
Before reaching the second headline, the front door creaked open. When he folded the corner of the paper down to see the caller, a small shiver ran down his back. A dark-skinned man in rough leather stepped across the threshold, red bandana hanging loosely around his neck. The deputy recognized him immediately as Jonah Essex. The Gazette fell from his lap as he stumbled to his feet, yanking his pistol free.
Behind Essex, two more men entered, each with bandanas of their own and wooden pails at their sides.
Timmons raised his pistol in a shaky grip. “Y-y-you shouldn’t be here!”
“Do yourself a favor, lad,” Essex replied, casually rolling a matchstick between his fingers.
“Leave. Now.”
“I-I can’t do that,” the deputy replied, mustering as serious a tone as he could. “The others will be back soon!”
“Don’t be stupid. Just put down the gun and –”
“We don’t have time for this, Essex!” roared a voice from behind the door. Suddenly, a gaunt figure in a shabby brown duster burst into the room, shoving Jonah aside. He stormed forward with no care to given the weapon pointed in his direction.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!” Timmons cried. The warning fell on deaf ears.
As the figure bore down on him, the deputy squeezed off one round, striking the pale man in the shoulder. The blow barely slowed his gait, as he let out a low growl and continued on. Before Timmons could cock the hammer back for a second shot, the gaunt man gripped the front of his shirt, lifting him easily into the air.
The lawman stared down, wide-eyed, into a pair of pitch black eyes. Thin, dark veins snaked up through ashen skin from beneath the man’s opened collar. A smile crept onto his pallid lips, and before Deputy Timmons knew it, he was crashing through the pane of the side window and into the alley.
* * *
The last piece of glass fell from the window frame, and the manitou watched as the deputy
stumbled to his feet and ran down the street. This body had once belonged to a lawman, too. But Mario Crane was little more than a memory, a shadow pulled too far below the waterline to return.
He smiled at the thought, lightly brushing the leather holster at his waist and inhaling deeply as he felt its power flow through his fingertips. Furious strength coursed through him, a dam with no floodgate to close, beating against his temples and pulsing through his veins, threatening to wrest away all control in an instant.
He gripped the sides of the desk and lifted it high above his head, marveling at how light the wood became in his hands, like a child’s toy. Sheets of paper flew through the air as he
smashed the wood to the floor, sending jagged splinters across in all directions.
“Feel better?” Jonah jibed, as a few wayward chunks of mahogany settled at his feet.
He sighed and slowed his breathing. “Save the jokes, Essex, and be done with this. I grow
The men behind Jonah began to dump the contents of their pails onto the floor. The thick, black oil splashed across the wood, forming small pools near the middle of the office.
“Now,” Jonah said, striking the match with his thumbnail, “go and introduce yourself … Sloane.”
He grinned as Essex flicked the tiny flame onto the slick, blackened floor.
* * *
“So you’re telling me you’re not the least bit bored?” Lucy Clover drained the last of her beer, setting the empty glass on the bar of the Union Casino.
Next to her, Wendy Cheng shook her head and smiled. “No, Lucy, not at all.”
“You know I had to help a man track down his horse today? He got his drunk on and forgot
where he left it. He forgot where he left his horse!” Lucy rested her chin in her hands. “Playing nursemaid to the last of the sick … helping drunks find lost animals … that’s what we’re reduced too.”
“I’ll take a lost horse over demons and plagues any day. You should learn to savor the quiet times.” Wendy held up her own empty glass in the light. “They never seem to last.”
“Oh, where’s your sense of adventure, Wendy? What I wouldn’t give for –”
Both women gasped as a hand came crashing down between them. Turning in unison, they
found Deputy Timmons standing behind them, his clothes a tattered mess. Several small cuts lined his face, and his hair was a tangle of mud and blood.
“That’s it!” he yelled, lifting his hand from the bar to reveal his tin star. “I quit!” The young man brushed himself off and turned to leave, muttering under his breath: “Quiet night, they said! Don’t expect no problems, they said! All back to normal!”
As Lucy and Wendy stared at the departing deputy, murmurs began to rumble through the patrons of the Union, and several began to congregate by the front windows.
Lucy gave her fellow deputy a sheepish look. “Me and my big mouth.”
The two made their way through the crowd and looked outside. A large black plume of smoke rose above the rooftops across the street.
Fighting their way outside, the pair raced down the street and rounded the corner by the General Store, stopping in their tracks as they came upon a crowd of onlookers. Across the street, the sheriff’s office — their sheriff’s office — was ablaze in brilliant yellow-orange light. The flames rose from the front walk, up the pillars, across the angles of the roof, and up into the blue of the twilight sky. The black smoke rose higher still, spreading out in a dark cloud above the town.
In front of the burning building stood a pallid man in a torn brown duster. Behind him, to the sides of the blaze, Wendy spotted several men wearing red bandanas around their necks. Some had them tied around their mouths to shield them from the smoke. Though Wendy did not recognize the figure in the street, she did recognize the face of Jonah Essex, watching quietly, as if he, too, was keen to see what would happen. Wendy quickly counted the men across the way: twelve. Bad odds, even if some in the street weren’t too scared to help. Lucy’s hand darted toward her holster, but Wendy’s was faster, covering the younger woman’s wrist in a firm grip. Lucy struggled for a moment, before Wendy muscled the both of them back against the wall of the General Store.
“Let me go!” Lucy spat, her voice half whisper and half growl. “We have to –”
“No,” Wendy said calmly, keeping a firm grip on Lucy’s wrist. “Not now. There’s too many.”
Lucy sighed and took her eyes from Wendy’s, craning her neck slightly to see past the taller woman’s shoulder.
The man in the brown coat addressed the gathered assemblage. “My name is Sloane!” he shouted, pointing back toward the burning building. “And the law is no longer welcome in Gomorra! Everyone here now answers to me!”
Behind him, Lucy saw the burning roof give a mighty creak and collapse forward, sending a
cloud of debris out onto the street. The crowd took a step back as the soot and dust  illowed forward, opening a clear line of sight to Jonah Essex. Lucy’s eyes widened as Jonah’s arrowed.
She grabbed Wendy’s shoulder and dropped to the ground as several bullets crashed through the windows above them. The crowd began to scatter, and the two women pushed themselves to their feet, ignoring the sharp jabs from the glass that coated the sidewalk. They ran with the crowd, a hail of bullets at their back. Lucy pulled her Colt free and turned her head, squeezing off a few errant shots as she ran, her eyes wet with tears from dirt and anger as she caught another glimpse of the blazing rubble. She stopped and turned as the bullets whizzed by, squeezing the trigger in a daze until all she heard was the click, click of the empty chambers.
Suddenly she felt a hand grip her shoulder and yank her sideways, off the street.
“Lucy?! Lucy!?”
She regained her bearings at the sound of Wendy’s voice. Dropping her empty pistol to the
ground, she looked up into the face of her friend. “What do we do?”
Wendy un-pinned both of their badges and slid them into her vest pocket. “Whatever we have to.”