3LBE #1
Home Issues Store Submissions Authors

These Stand For Me

by Gary W. Conner

 

When Snow walked into the room, I knew that things were going to hell in a really cheap handbag. I call him Snow, as do a few other close friends. Most people call him Snowman. I have only known three people who called him by his birth name, Michael. Those three aren’t around to answer to anything.

• • •

Michael. Michael Farnus. Snowman. It all boils down to the same thing, the same end result. There was horror, and there was ferocity. There was unfeeling inhumanity. Whatever. This story ends the same, no matter what is said about Michael Farnus. Snow.

Snow was one of those weird guys who somehow attaches himself to your group when you are all young and defensive. Defensive we were; we had no other choice. There were the general criticisms, the idle banter addressed at us as we passed, and then there were the pointy remarks, the ones I can still hear, the ones about my mother, and the ones about my father. Snow came along, and while we were afraid of him, we admired him. He gave us credibility, if only with a select few.

• • •

He came waltzing in when the rest of us — me, Tommy, and Archibald — were just downing the last of our beers in some vain attempt to call it a night. Tommy was already coughing from deep within his lungs, and that was enough to give me and Archie the jitters. Tommy was looking a little ashen, and Sarah, the barkeep, had suggested that perhaps he was going septic.

To Archie and me, “going septic” sounded like something you did when you had to repair your plumbing, but Sarah suggested to us that it was a little more serious than that. We began to try to talk to Tommy, and he managed a few spurts of spastic rhetoric between coughs. Archie suggested that we might take him home and see if Tanya knew what to do with him, and, after I'd had nine beers, that sounded like too much of a good idea to pass up. We gathered Tommy up in our arms and began the customary stagger to the doorway when the door was tossed open from outside.

• • •

Snow framed himself in the doorway, I swear he did, trying hard to look like some cowboy in a spaghetti western. All that was missing were the swinging doors and the sandstorm stinging your eyes. I have seen only one vision from Hell in my life, and it happened that day. I saw him, his shadow cast on the floor by the outdoor neon sign crowning the doorway, and I knew, I knew, that things were very far out of my control, much farther than I could have ever dreamed possible. Things had reached nightmare status.

I came to my senses as I realized that Tommy was dragging down my out-thrown arm, was in fact collapsing. I reached to grab him, and I managed to snag his belt. Then I heard glass break. Tommy, in all his infinite, drunken wisdom, had set upon himself to leave The Angel Cloud Bar and Grill with his last bottle of Budweiser, and it wasn’tgoing to be pretty.

“My beer! My goddamn beer!”

Tommy lurched slightly, against me, but I managed to hold my ground. “Hey, T, take it easy. I got you, big man.”

Archie — Arch to the inner circle, Joe to the world — ran to help me stabilize Tommy. He quickly got Tommy’s right side, and we had him again. Then Snow decided to chime in.

• • •

Initially, all was silent, completely silent, like it must be in a morgue at three a.m. Funny, it may have even been chilly. That was when Tommy puked. It was, at first, just a little spew-something we'd call “spewage.” In those days, we all spewed sometimes. It was nature. Ours, anyway. Spew might just land on your shoes at anytime, we used to like to say. How could we have been so right?

“Hey, motherfucker! You just blew!” Snow said, then he laughed his laugh that sounded like it came from the inside of a cardboard box. His little laugh.

Tommy began to make his face. Something passed between Archie and me, a feeling, a look, and then Tommy spoke.

“Is she in the truck?”

Snow simply leered at Tommy for a number of seconds, then turned in the doorway.

• • •

Archie and I have argued this at length, but I have always maintained that Tommy had no choice. Not when it came to it; not at the bottom.

Tommy knew Tanya was out there, in Snow’s pickup, and, knowing that, he was compelled by his inherent nature to go to where she was. Besides, he was drunk.

• • •

Make no mistake about it; we knew there would be a fight. Hell, we had money on it. Earlier in the day, the good money had been on Tommy, but the day had grown long, and Tommy’s shadow had shortened up pretty well. As for Archie and me, I'm surprised if someone even thought they saw us. When Snow comes knocking, you have a way of getting lost. If not, there’s always the way of getting hurt — that’s the way that’s easy to find.

Tommy had already gone on his usual rant; the one about how Tanya was nothing but a piece of trash, and how she had just used him for his money — you know, the windfall, and all. Tommy’s mention of the inheritance had made me wince, because it was then that I knew that this particular rant might go on for hours, if Tommy somehow managed to keep getting served.

Our man T had an uncle who passed in '97, and, being that Tommy was one of the last of the clan, as it were, he stumbled into a few thousand bucks. That was the most money Tommy had ever seen in one place, and I guess it made him feel something like a king might feel. You’ve got to remember that, around here, the nearest thing we can call a city is farther than any of us ever really feel like driving. After he got that check, everybody in town was suddenly after his money, to hear him tell it. Everybody but me and Archie, and I had a feeling we'd be on that list before all was said and done.

• • •

As I’ve pointed out before, Archie and I were none too eager to be around when the punches started falling, so we hung inside the bar for a few minutes. Let the storm roll on over, you know. Things seemed awfully quiet out there. We finally decided that something weird was afoot, and so we slunk on out the door.

We saw Tommy standing by Snow’s pickup, by the bed, of all places, looking at something in there. Snow was not far from the tavern door, probably hadn’tmoved as Tommy passed on the way to the truck. He had an odd look on his face, but it was an odd look only by standards you would apply to Snow. It looked like he was thinking, and thinking hard.

• • •

Archie and I stood there for a few moments, long enough to determine that nobody was going to bum rush us. Once we were certain, we sidled over to Snow’s pickup and stood next to Tommy. He was looking down into the bed of the pickup at something shiny. It was a cross pendant on a gold chain. Tommy had given it to Tanya for her birthday; she never took it off.

• • •

We stood there for awhile, and then Tommy snapped out of whatever netherland he had been in. He looked up at me, suddenly, and for one brief moment I was scared shitless. I was scared because, for that one fraction of a second that I looked into his eyes, where his soul was, I couldn’tsee him. He wasn’tquite back, not really.

Snow suggested that we all get in the truck. “I think we ought to go for a little ride. How about it?”

Archie and I kind of stood around to see what Tommy was going to do; he wordlessly got into the passenger side of the pickup’s cab. With Snow and Tommy, both big men, occupying the cab, there was little or no room for Archie and me. Snow, now in the driver’s seat, banged on the outside of his door with his left hand.

“C'mon, men! All aboard!”

Archie climbed up over the tailgate into the bed of the pickup, and I followed suit. We both knew we couldn’tlet Tommy run off into the night with Snow, alone, unsupervised. I noted that Tommy had, at some point, scooped up the chain. Snow gunned the engine, threw the machine into gear, and we were off in a whirlwind of sand and detritus.

• • •

We rode for what was probably twenty minutes, but seemed more like a few long years. We rode out back Texas highways, the only vehicle on a starless desert night. Finally, Snow pulled off the road and brought the truck to a sand-shrouded halt. I coughed on some sand that had found its way into my throat.

Archie motioned towards the side of the road, and I realized Snow had stopped us near the marker for The Battle Of Legrew. Near that marker, some one-hundred years before, over twenty men had battled one another of the honor of a woman, said woman being one Mary Elizabeth Legrew. Most of those men died. Mary Legrew lived to be an old maid, and quite an old hag, as I hear it told.

Snow had evidently just needed to void his bowels, for that was precisely what he was doing. Right at the foot of the marker. While he pissed, he talked to us over his shoulder, occasionally looking back at his urine stream to make sure he wasn’tfouling his boots, presumably. He talked about his father, and how his father used to work in the old chemical plant in town, the one that shut down years ago. How his father was never much of a man after he got laid off, how he hated his father for giving up on manhood. He finished, zipped up, came back to the truck with a shit-eating grin pasted to his face.

“Hey, y'all want to go riding out to the old oil rig?”

After a moment’s hesitation, we all agreed, one by one, that going out to the old rig was not a bad idea. Snow had a plan, and we all wanted to know how it would turn out, if only for our own twisted reasons. We wanted to play this thing out, get answers; hell, we had to.

• • •

Snow jumped in the pickup and put the gas pedal in the only other position it had ever known — on the floor. We rode flying down into the throat of the night, our hair flying behind us, the wind begging us to stop and go back. We would not listen, because it was not our nature. We rode.

• • •

When Snow made his next dust cloud, we were stopped outside the chain-link fence that decorated Bannontown Oil Co. Rig #8. The rig had stood dormant for some twenty-five years, and no one had ever really found it necessary to tear that old girl down. She stood proud in the middle of Texas sands, where nary a fool would ever be bothered by her. Number 8 was bothered by people from town right regular, though. We all found a reason to come out here at one time or another. Some folks brought dates.

I stood up in the truck bed in order to jump out, and it’s then that I noticed the shirt. It hung plainly from one of the ten-foot poles that held the chain-link aloft, and it was right in the headlights of Snow’s pickups. Twelve o'clock, not a minute before, not a second after. It was Tanya’s shirt. The one she'd had on early today, while the sun was young, and we were all just a bit younger.

• • •

Things were quiet for a few long seconds out there at Number 8, and then Snow got out of the truck. He leapt out into the path of the headlights and did what I can only describe as a little dance up to the pole, then stopped beneath it and raised his arms and smiled like some trophy girl from The Price Is Right.

The next sound was completely expected by all of us, especially Snow. It was just part of his plan. Tommy threw open his door, and I half-expected it to fall off the truck in the face of Tommy’s rage, but it didn't. He jumped out of the truck and strode up to Snow. Archie and I watched them there, in the headlights.

• • •

They argued, they gestured violently, but they never struck one another. Finally, Snow pointed to the old maintenance shack near the rig. I noticed, for the first time, that a light was burning in the tiny window. Tommy stalked off toward the shack. Knowing that we must, we followed along at a distance.

When we reached the shack, Tommy had already gone inside, and there was a freakish roar emanating through the walls. As Archie and I debated our options, there were two gunshots from inside, and a scream of pain. Seconds later, Tommy came busting out the corrugated metal door of the shack and fell, bleeding and naked, at our feet. A quick look revealed two gunshot wounds on his left shoulder, one of them only a graze, the other much more serious. We quickly scooped him up and dragged him as fast as we could to Snow’s truck. The shit had truly hit the fan, and we were looking for a home base in a bad way.

Snow stood where we had left him, arms folded, no trace of concern on his face, but I had known there wouldn’tbe. We propped Tommy, still somewhat coherent, on the tailgate of the truck. Snow had followed us back, and I decided it was high time we got some shit straight.

I walked right up to him like I was somehow more of a man than I truly was, and I stood in his face. “We’ve got to get Tommy back into town. Now.”

Snow just laughed, his breath a dank, hellish thing in my face.

“Give me the keys to the truck.”

That’s when he spit on me. He just leaned back slightly, found the diseased pocket in his throat, and launched a ball of spit in my face.

• • •

“What the fuck just happened in there, Farnus?” Archie suddenly screamed, reminding me of where he was, bringing me back just a little.

Snow pulled a pistol out of somewhere in his jacket, a place I might have earlier said wasn’tthere. I had learned long ago to evaluate someone’s shape, see if there’s the possibility of a gun in there, somewhere. My instincts had failed me. Snow pointed the thing at Archie.

“I’ve got something I want to show you. Both of you just calm down.”

He walked up to Tommy, still propped up against the rear panel of the pickup, still conscious, although incoherent.

“You fellows know I’ve been seeing a little of Tanya. Well, four days ago, she told me that Tommy was not quite like us. You see, he’s got this thing where he changes; he gets all hairy, and grows long claws and teeth — ”

“You’re saying he’s a werewolf?” Archie asked.

There was a creaking sound, and we all looked up to see a man emerge from the maintenance shack carrying a rifle. Archie and I must have visibly started, because Snow said, “Now, boys, just calm down. That’s my man, Henry. He’s got no beef against you fellows.”

Sure enough, Henry came up to the truck and stored his rifle on the rack in the back window of Snow’s pickup. He stepped back from the pickup and looked around, probably wanting a beer. I know I did.

“So what gives?” I asked.

Snow walked to within an arm’s length of Tommy and gave him a hard, open-faced slap across his right cheek. Tommy’s eyes flew open, and they began to change color. He began to grow hair all over his body, and he began to convulse. He pulled into a fetus position as his body became furry. His fingernails began to elongate, to sharpen. He made an odd mewling sound. Snow put the pistol to Tommy’s head and shot him. Just like that.

I was stupified for just a moment, and then I felt the rage welling inside me. I bit it back.

“Oh, Jesus Christ! What the hell?”

Snow calmly slid his pistol into a holster under his left armpit, where it got lost in the bulk of his jacket. “That, boys, was a werewolf. Your buddy Tommy could shapeshift, at will, into a wolf.” He looked back down at Tommy. “Good thing it only took the one bullet to finish him. I was afraid I was going to have to melt down another one of Mom’s rings.”

He looked up at us, glanced us over. “You boys are going to take my
creed on this, right? You keep your mouths shut, now.”

“Wh — what are we gonna do with him?” Archie stammered.

Snow smiled, looked over his shoulder at the cold blackness that was the desert night. “Well, way I figure it, justice means leaving him to the wolves.”

“What if people ask after him?” This was what scared me the most about this situation, and I was compelled to ask.

Snow smirked. “Last we saw him, he said something about going down to Mexico, get him some of them cheap whores.”

With that, Snow motioned to Henry and they picked Tommy’s body up off the tailgate and began to walk off into the night, toward the nothing that is the open desert. I looked over at Archie, and he was already looking at me. We knew what had to be done, and we shifted. As we fell upon the two men carrying our brother’s body, we were not merciful, only ravenous.

 

 

Gary W. Conner lives in central Virginia with his wife and several mentally-disturbed animals. He has been writing horror fiction for some fifteen years, and has been published in Dark Corridors, Midnight Zoo, Bloody Muse, and has a story in the upcoming Spring '99 issue of Sinister Element. Visit him onlineonline.


▲  BACK TO TOP  ▲

ISSUE #1

April 1999

FICTION

ART