Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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In the Year of Our Lord Have Mercy 1967


by Edward J. Santella





    The smells were delicious. There was something meat-fishy with peas and lots of salt, and a dark, rich liquid, hot, and somehow both bitter and sweet.

    The scent it recognized though, the scent it had followed to find its prey, was blood. Not the prey’s blood, but the scent of the blood of those the prey had killed.

    It raised its hand and with a finger touched a leaf that blocked its view. The hand and fingers were bones. No tendon, no muscle, no flesh. No veins, arteries or capillaries. Merely bones wrapped in shrunken, translucent skin. It wore feathers on its skull and clavicles, a cloth around its middle.

    It moved the leaf and saw.

    Crawford felt the shakes coming on, rising from deep places filled with an acrid fluid flowing and percolating inside him, pulling at him with a gravity greater than the earth. Oceans lay inside him. Lit with the tiniest flame, the fluid erupted like a volcano. Whenever as much as a wave moved across its surface, the shakes claimed him.

    Hurriedly, he finished the can of rations and poured one more cup of coffee, adding sugar, powdered creamer and whiskey. He didn’t have time. The shakes struck sooner than expected. No time to put the campfire out.

    He’d walked the forest for days. When he was a kid, his father had driven him along this road to the cabin by the lake, moving at highway speeds. Each time a bump caused the wheels to lift free of the ground, the two of them would yell out a whoop. His father had died suddenly while Crawford was away in the war. The older man had always kept the cabin well stocked with food and alcohol. He thought he would be safe there. At least, everyone would be safe from him.

    Crawford had been screwed up since the day he came home from the war, long enough ago that his mom and girl had all but given up on him. The VA shrink told him to pull himself together and act like a man. Only the police thought they knew what to do with him.

    Twenty minutes of the shakes left him exhausted and asleep.

    When he next opened his eyes, the sun had disappeared and the fire flamed higher.

    He rolled and crawled to his pack, opened a pill bottle, tossed three in his mouth and poured a few gulps of whiskey after them.
    Only then did he recognize another sensation. He was being watched.

    He didn’t look for the watcher; he looked for his rifle, found it and began a dash for it. He stopped. The most curious figure stood a few feet from the gun.

    “Jesus.” The fire burned between them. Crawford kept blinking, hoping something was wrong with his vision.  He saw a short, emaciated skin-covered skeleton wearing feathers and carrying a bow. Even rubbing his eyes with a fist didn’t make the thing disappear. “What the hell? You a zombie or something?”

    It answered, its voice thin and wheezy.  “I am the Baykok. I have killed more warriors than any warrior in the world. I am immortal. I am here to kill you.”

    Crawford thought this terribly funny and sad. “Really? You should check the more recent record books. You an Indian?”

    “Chippawa.”

    “How’d you get to be the Baykok?”

    “I was the greatest of warriors. My people wanted to kill me. They captured me, but before they cut my throat, the medicine man said he would make me immortal if I would kill all the warriors returning home from war. I agreed. I am the Baykok.”

    Crawford thought he couldn’t have heard right. He told the Baykok to repeat what he’d said. It did.

    “Jesus. I thought the VA was bad.”

    “I will kill you now.” The Baykok reached back, as if drawing an arrow. It pulled back the bow string.

    “Wait a sec. You forgot your arrow.”

    “It is invisible.”

    “You’re going to kill me with an invisible arrow?”

    “It is poisoned. It will make you sleep.”

    “Yeah, well, I’ve had trouble sleeping. What do you do while I’m asleep?”

    “I eat your liver.”

    Crawford smiled a bit, then a bit more, then began laughing.

    “You die because you have no liver.”

    “Look, a real warrior would have to fight me. Bring me my gun.”

    “I am immortal.”

    “Right. But let me get one shot off so I feel I did my part being a warrior.”

    The Baykok bent, picked up the rifle, and hesitated.

    “Come on.” Crawford was thinking hand-to-hand battle with the short skeleton.

    It walked slowly around the fire and stopped a few feet from Crawford. It held out the rifle.

    But Crawford’s mind had been working as the Baykok approached. He’d discovered something important. He felt a sudden calm.

    “I have to thank you.”

    The Baykok continued to hold the gun for Crawford to take. “Why?”

    “Because your people couldn’t deal with warriors returning from war any better than we do now. You showed me I’m not the problem. It’s war. War fucks people up.”

    The ocean inside turned to water. Crawford broke out sobbing.

    The Baykok shoved the rifle at him. “Stop crying. Here, take this. Shoot at me, then I will kill you.

    Crawford looked though his tears. He knocked the weapon away and grabbed the Baykok. He hugged him, squeezed him, held him like a baby.

    The Baykok screamed. Crawford’s tears burned into the Baykok’s skin and bones, setting them on fire. His tears kept coming from the ocean inside him.

    In the morning, Crawford buried the Baykok’s ashes. He hummed a sad tune while he marked the grave with flowers from the forest.



THE END


2014 Edward J. Santella

Bio: Mr. Santella recently self-published an sf novel, The Gravity of Light, which is available on Amazon.  His webpage is http://www.edwardjsantella.com/

In his own words, "I am semi-retired human who formerly worked as a lawyer, now using most of my 'free' time writing. Camus said that anyone wanting to be a philosopher should write fiction. I'd add that sf & fantasy are the most appropriate types of fiction. "

E-mail: Edward J. Santella

 

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