Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Ain't No Rest for the Wicked
Submitted by Martín N. Aguilar (email)
So, I take it you’re the kid who’s been going ‘round asking about Dustcreek, uh? Heard the stories? Got spooked? Nah, ya ain’t spooked. If you were, ya wouldn’t be going ‘round asking people about this shit. But none of ‘em can give it to you straight, kid. They weren’t there when it all ‘appened.
But I was.
That’s why you’re here, right? Folks told you of the crazy tramp that says he lived in Dustcreek when it all got turned upside down. So, you ready to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth?
Buy me a drink.
You want a story, you gotta pay for it.
Good. Now we can get started.
So, Dustcreek was a regular town. Cosy, tight-knit place, populated by good and simple folk. ‘twas a good life, long as you weren’t lookin’ to quench any of those ambitions y’all city folk usually get. People worked from sunrise to sundown, put their children to bed at night, and went to church on Sunday like all God-fearing men and women do. Or at least that’s how it was for the better part of my life, but now it feels like those memories belong to someone else.
Anyway, it began a few years ago, though I can’t remember any exact dates for sure; seems like it all kinda slowly crept into everyone’s lives, like weeds on a garden. I think a coupla Old McKinnon’s hens went missing, and a few piglets turned up dead here and there, so nothin’ too bad at first. Folks was thinkin’ it was the work of coyotes, so nothin’ a watchful eye and a few rounds of buckshot couldn’t fix. But then the watchful eyes didn’t see nothin’, and the buckshot sat in its shells. We thought whatever killed the animals was gone for good, and it seemed that way for a while…
…until the cow, that is. The first of many.
It was Sarah Willoughby’s boy, Jonah, that found the poor thing one mornin’, inside the cowshed. It had been killed in its pen, the guts torn out of the body and spread all over the floor. I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but word spread ‘round right quick of the queerness of the scene. One o’ the old coots that frequented the saloon I used to own was even yappin’ about how not even a mountain lion, much less no skin ‘n’ bone coyote, can gut cattle like that. Old fool even said that it looked like the thing burst from the inside out, but I paid no mind to none o’ that, thinkin’ it nonsense.
And as I said before, the animal corpses just kept piling up. More disembowelled cows, one every few nights, always inside their pens. You would think such slaughter would involve a mighty racket in the middle of the night, big animals being so violently attacked, but no. Nobody ever heard a sound. Farmers started pulling all-nighters inside their barns, shotguns ready to face whatever was messin’ with their livelihood, but nobody ever saw nothin’. Particularly scary was the account of one Ezekiel Stanton, who swore up and down that in the time it took him to go outside the barn and take a piss, half his girls were gutted like fish. Never heard nothin’.
Barkeep, get me another one! If I’m gon’ get through this, I’m gon’ need some booze.
As you would imagine, hysteria took over Dustcreek real quick-like. Mothers would have their kids inside the house as soon as the sun started to drift into the horizon, ‘fraid of the killer seeking different prey. Hunting parties were gathered, with groups of men wielding guns and pitchforks and axes, ready to pounce upon anything suspicious, but they never found a thing. Even Marlowe Higgins, the preacher man, got caught up in it; his sermons grew darker and more vindictive, speaking of how the Lord up above set loose this scourge upon the town, so as to punish the indiscretions of its inhabitants.
All the while, the thing preyin’ upon the cows went back to its first victims, only now it was starting to grow even more vicious. The chickens that simply used to disappear in the middle of the night now remained sat neatly in their nests, their heads twisted off. Some of the sows were killed as well, forced-fed their own piglets, seemingly alive and whole, until they suffocated. Always in complete silence, and without a single witness. Dogs and cats were never attacked, but that don’t mean they weren’t affected; one by one, pups simply stopped acting like pups. They would lay on the ground, as if struck by a great sadness, refusing to eat or play or move in any way, slowly stewing in their own filth till they died of self-neglect. As for cats, well… one day, they all simply took to the streets and left the town together in one big migration, many of them carrying kittens in their mouths, so as to leave none of their own behind.
Needless to say, that was a bad omen.
After that, it seemedlike not just the animals were under siege. Even stored food began to go bad for no reason, the contents of entire barns blackening and turning to dust overnight. Panic grew; at such a rate, there wouldn’t be any provisions left for the winter, and what then? It was mayhaps too terrible a thought to consider, cause no one dared to speak such things above a whisper, hoping not to call upon calamity to descend even faster. Preacher man Higgins kept speaking of how the men and women of Dustcreek displeased the Lord Our God, and these punishments and tribulations were both test and atonement for the sins of the people. And they started buying into the sermons; someone had to take the blame for the terrible going ons, but who? Who among us could be wicked enough to warrant such plagues and poxes to befall them as well as their brethren?
Barkeep, ‘nother one.
Ah, that’s good.
Alright. Onto the ugly stuff.
Some folk spoke of one lady called Martha Queens, a widow from the wealthier corner of the town, rumoured to lure younger men into her house for nights of debauchery and sin. The most venomous tongues even accused her of having a hand in her late husband’s demise, for no reason other than misdirected malice. A whole group of people went to poor Martha’s house, knockin’ at her door and demanding she answer for her godless ways. They dragged her into the streets by her hair and her limbs, and were prepared to stone her right then and there, until three young men interrupted the mob. They were the Milton brothers, sons of old Jeremiah Milton, God rest his soul. They aimed to stop the townsfolk from committing the unspeakable, and offered another solution instead; to venture into the desert, and search for help in the closest neighbouring town. That’d be Summerset Hill, at a fair distance of three days on horseback; not too long a trek, but certainly not a short one neither. After everyone’s bloodthirst finally died down, it was agreed that the Milton boys would do as they said. They took three of the few horses that hadn’t been killed by that point, and set off to the West, with as many provisions as Dustcreek’s dwindling supply could muster, just in case.
Soon as they disappeared into the horizon, they were seen entering the opposite side of the town. Like they took a whole trip ‘round the globe in a matter of moments.
They didn’t have their horses no more. Hell, they were barely recognizable as the same goddamn people. They were dirty and sunburnt, their clothes tattered and fulla sand. Worst of all though, they were little more than skin ‘n’ bone, as if they had spent weeks weeks travelling the desert with nothin’ to fill their bellies. The townspeople rushed to their aid, but it was no use. The two younger brothers collapsed a few steps into the town, dead, and the older one didn’t live to see that day’s sundown. As they cared for him in his last few hours, the people tried to get an explanation as to what happen’d. Poor boy could barely speak, his throat seemingly ravaged by dry desert winds. He only managed to whisper a single coherent thing, right before his body finally gave out, and it froze the hearts of everyone present.
“We saw the Devil, and he’s coming this way.”
Women cried out in horror and despair, hugging their children tight, and men fought amongst themselves, cursin’ and hollerin’. With everything that had gone down, how could we doubt the words of the Milton boy? ‘course the Devil ‘imself was coming to Dustcreek, come all the way from hell to collect our souls. Trapped, all of us, in an endless nowhere, waiting for the blade to come down on our necks. As for Preacher man Higgins, he had a field day with this; surely, if we dealt with the wicked among us before the First of the Fallen set foot on our town, he would leave the pious untouched. And so did the mob return to Martha Queens’ house, and dragged her into the street, and stoned her to death under the blazing midday sun, cursing her as a whore and a witch and a bride of Satan as the ground drank her blood. A third of the crops wilted that very night, which was taken as a sign that the heathens and sinners weren’t being killed off fast enough.
Just keep pourin’ ‘em out, barkeep. No complainin’. If you’re old enough to hear ghost stories, then you’re old enough to pay for a man’s booze.
More and more people came to be targeted by the violent, desperate mob, for growingly petty reasons. Not a single trial was held, for preacher Higgins spoke of the righteousness of the acts, and of how the Lord’s judgement was made manifest through the actions of His followers. O’er the course of a few days, ‘round a dozen people were targeted to meet their Maker; they lynched Andre Freeman, calling him a thief and a rapist. Wilbur O’Malley was beaten to death outside the saloon, supposedly for gambling and cheating people out of money. Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein had their house burnt to the ground with them inside; Higgins cited their alleged greed and two-faced nature as reason enough for their punishment.
But no matter how many lives were cut short, Dustcreek saw no respite from its scourge. As the blood on the people’s hands grew thicker and fresher, the plagues upped their ante. A mighty wind, like none ever seen before, began to blow day and night, coarse sand making its way through every nook and cranny of people’s houses. The mere act of going outside proved dangerous, after Rondel Patrick got decapitated by a flying barbershop sign. Later, his own brother said he deserved it for being a womanizer and a drunk. And then the rains came, pouring from the heavens and drowning all animals that hadn’t been killed by that point. People sought refuge on roofs and upper floors, trying their best to stay away from the water, but not everyone was lucky. Especially tragic was the case of Marie Anne Prince and her little kids, left to fend for themselves in their little hovel, the walls too weak to stand the push of the waters outside. The corpses had no names though; just a dead whore and her bastards, rightly culled from the flock.
The worst, however, was the fogs. Once the flooding finally stopped, people felt relief at first, thinkin’ it was all over, if for a moment. But then these thick mists started to roll from every alley, every unseen and shadowy corner of Dustcreek, so before you knew what was happenin’, you couldn’t see two damn feet in front o’ ya. And the streets quickly found themselves empty once again, and houses became as cages, once the voices came callin’. Gurgling, whispery, desperate voices, as if coming from the mist itself, begging to be let inside people’s homes and clawing at doors and windows and walls with a feverish zeal. In between the bouts of catastrophic weather and spectral sieges, it was later said that the Winslow family grew so mad with horror that they offered their youngest girl as bargain to the voices in the fog, so as to be left alone. The Winslows insisted that Sherry was taken by force, the family powerless to stop the dark things from spiriting her away, but no one else suffered the same fate.
And then, one day, the sun found itself shining once more. Mud and puddles were the only evidence left on the street of the chaos that had taken place.
Everyone took to the streets very slowly, as if afraid to be struck down by lightning just by stepping outside. But no lightning fell on no one. I remained hesitant to join the rest of the people, and stayed inside the saloon. Slowly, they all gathered on main street, and the voice of preacher man Higgins rose above the crowd, calling upon them to hear what would later prove to be his final sermon.
“My people, people of the Lord God in Heaven, take not this brief respite as the end of your atonement. Surely, Our Heavenly Father has given us this pause as one last chance to purge the wickedness from our beloved Dustcreek.”
Murmurs of agreement among the crowd. Some people started picking up weapons and farm tools.
“There is but one final den of sin that we must cleanse from this earth before our trials can come to an end. A place where intoxication, and lust, and greed, and the clouding of men’s judgment is the norm.”
Screamin’ and hollerin’ and droolin’. A crowd of townsfolk whipped into a frenzy. People turned into rabid dogs.
“We must destroy the saloon, and the merchant of sin that dwells within it!”
Thought that’d be the end of me, for sure. I tried to barricade everything, but it was no use. They kicked down the door, mad as beasts, and began to tear everything down. Tables, chairs, the piano… they tore everything into brushwood so as to build a pyre, all following the preacher man’s orders. I tried to fight back, but there were far too many of ‘em, and they beat me and took me outside. They were getting ready to roast me like a pig, Higgins screaming like a lunatic the whole time about the weight of sin and lakes of fire and the hand of the just punishing the wicked, until someone yelled and pointed at something in the distance.
I couldn’t quite make it out in the beginning, with the blood covering my eyes, but everyone froze in place and went dead quiet, so after a few moments of focusing my sight, I saw it as well. 'twas a man on horseback, making his way through main street and toward the mob, the animal’s hooves hitting the wet mud with a faint splattin’ sound. The closer he got, the paler everyone grew; some people fell to their knees and started quietly prayin’ and weepin’, and a woman fainted where she stood, but none dared move from their spot. Preacher Higgins stood right in front of his congregation, clutching a cross in one hand and an axe in the other, even though he was clearly trembling like a leaf.
A few steps away from the preacher, the rider stopped dead in his tracks, and got off his horse. Closer now, you could see that the animal was a dirty, pale white, with matted fur, as well as badly malnourished, skin sticking to the ribs like wet paper. Its mane was bizarrely overgrown, covering pretty much its entire head, and it made you wonder how the thing could actually see at all. But the rider… he was a whole other thing.
He was the biggest man I ever seen. Think of the tallest man you ever seen in your life, now make him half a head taller. That big. He wore a dark, brown coat, ragged and dusty, and spurs jingled with every step he took. Gloves covered his hands, crudely sewn from something that didn’t look like cow leather, and his whole face down to his chin was concealed by a wide-brimmed hat. Preacher Higgins, not exactly a small man ‘imself, looked like a gnat next to the stranger.
“Y’all must be wonderin’ who I am”, finally spoke the man, after an unbearably long silence. His voice was like gravel and tar being chewed with wooden dentures.
After a moment’s hesitation, the man of the cloth opened his mouth once more. “We knew you were coming”.
“…ya did?” answered the stranger, genuine puzzlement in his voice.
“How could we not? It is of you that the good book warns us, and it is with this knowledge that we have appeased the Lord, so that you may not take the souls of the pious of this town.”
Say what you will about the man, but Marlowe Higgins had some balls.
“…who do ya think I am, padre?”
The crowd exchanged sweaty look of doubt and befuddlement. The preacher’s commanding tone quickly began to degrade as well.
“Are you not Lucifer, Fallen Angel, cast out from Heaven? The lion that prowls the night? The wolf that preys upon the flock?”
And then a sound.
Like a cough. A monotonous, gravely, low cough.
I suspect it might’ve been laughter.
“Well, goddamn. I’m sorry to say, padre, but y’all is mistaken. I ain’t no devil. But that thing o’er there sure is.”
Then the stranger drew out a six-shooter from behind his back, long as a man’s forearm, and shot one Lionel O’Connell right in the chest. A choir of gasps soon gave way to screams of anguished terror, as Lionel’s body convulsed and distorted into a shape almost wholly unlike a man, and all the more obscene for the places where it did resemble one. A twisted middle ground of vulture and goat and fly, clumsily sculpted into the shape of a person, spitting black, oily blood from a skinless, fanged snout as it clutched at its punctured chest and gurgled horrific non-words with its last few breaths.
A revolver went back into its holster.
“Allow me to introduce meself”, said the rider, with palpable glee in his putrid voice. “Name’s Lazarus Walker. Ya probably ‘eard o’ me.”
We had heard of ‘im. Lazarus Walker was the name of the leader of the eponymous Walker Gang, known to terrorize the West side of the county for years. Theft, kidnappings, murder, nothing was too low or too vile for ‘em. Many an innocent suffered and perished at their hands, consigned to an early grave just for crossin’ their path.
“You’s lyin’!”, yelled a man in the back, whom his friends tried to shush to no avail.
“That Lazarus fella been dead fer a while! I dunno whatcha tryin’ pull, mister, but it ain’t funny!”
“’S true!” cried out another voice, this time an old man wielding a pitchfork. “I saw Walker and the other sonsabitches hung for their crimes five years ago! It was big news all o’er the county. You ain’t him!”
The townsfolk began muttering angrily to each other, a sudden surge of bravery born of tiredness and rage coursing through their veins. Preacher Higgins puffed out his chest like a rooster, newfound courage risin’ in him as his congregation regained a righteous sense of anger. “You got some explaining to do, son”, he proclaimed, pointing his axe towards the demon corpse laying still next to him. “I suggest you do it quickly.”
“Well… y’all ain’t wrong. I did die five years ago.”
He lifted the brim of his hat, finally giving the townsfolk a full view of his face.
That was when I soiled myself. Not ashamed to admit it.
His face was hollow. Hollow, as in it was just the skin, wrapped ‘round a non-existent skull, simple, empty blackness where eyes and teeth and a tongue should be. As nothing really held his features in place, his mouth hung agape like that of a dead fish as his voice echoed forth, not spoken so much as projected into the air in front of him. Random strands of dead, white hair cascaded from his scalp and onto his shoulders, like cobwebs.
Screams and prayers and curses from the crowd, still glued to their spots with shock. Higgins dropped his axe and his cross, and fell on his ass, sweat and tears streaming down his face.
“Now ya see, when I got to the other side, after they hung me, it was no pretty picture. Didn’t like it there one bit, no sir. So, smart fella I am, I struck a deal with the big man in charge. He would agree to let me go, after I found and brought as many wicked souls to ‘im as wicked deeds I committed in life.”
I just lay frozen in my spot, unable to process everything that was happenin’. The preacher man managed to stutter out something in between fits of paralyzing fear.
“But… we did your work for you. We got rid of the sinners. Dustcreek is now clean of all evil.” He didn’t believe what he was sayin’.
“Don’t smell clean to me.” Something black and sludgy shot out from Walker’s mouth and unto the ground, like tobacco. But it wasn’t tobacco, because it began to slowly squirm away from his feet as he spoke.
“Boss gave me a nose for evil, like a bloodhound. And eyes for it too.” As he said this, he hooked his eyeholes with a couple of fingers and pulled at them, just for emphasis.
“I came ‘ere trackin’ that there demon after he escaped from the pit, but y’all reek the same as ‘im. There’s blood on y’all’s hands.”
“No, no, no, no! There must be some sort of mistake! We did the Lord’s work! We only sought to please Him!”, outright screamed Higgins. Others followed, but their protests fell upon deaf ears.
“No, no, no…”, kept saying the priest, disbelief and terror in his trembling words.
“Y’all probably know what that means.”
“You ain’t gonna take us!”, screamed a woman armed with a butcher’s knife. “We ain’t done nothing wrong!”, said a burly man a few feet away, shovel in hand. “Dead man or not, you’s just one, and we’s a bunch!”
Laughter again. This time raucous, loud, and wheezing.
“What kind of man d’y’all think I am, that I wouldn’t cut a deal for my boys as well?”
Gimme a moment.
The dead man whistled, and the sound of hooves thundered from all directions. The people barely had time to react before the riders erupted from every alley and every shadow connected to main street; gangly monsters dressed as men, some skinless, some scorched fleshless, some barely more than skeletons atop monstrous steeds. They laughed and screamed and hollered, chasing the townsfolk and grabbin’ and liftin’ ‘em with cold, dead hands or chaining them to their horses as they tried to escape. And as each rider took a man or a woman, they rode straight into the nearest wall, melting into a puddle of burnt pus and sulphur, with nary a trace of the victim left behind.
“And you, padre, you’s responsible for all this. I can smell it in ya. So ya get the special treatment.” It was with those words that Lazarus Walker unfolded, a gigantic sheet of dirty clothes and dead skin quickly enveloping the preacher from head to toe. He tried to break free, muffled screams drowned by the outlaw’s hide pressing against his face, but his struggle proved pointless. As Walker slowly took once again upon the shape of a man, or the nearest thing he could muster, the town preacher’s outline became ever smaller and fainter, until there was no Marlowe Higgins no more. By the time he was fully standing up once again, I finally noticed that all of the other monsters were gone, putrid, acrid-smellin' craters left behind as the only evidence of their presence.
I never moved from my spot on the ground. I had grown numb with fear by that point, witness to things no man was ever meant to see with his own eyes. And as I sat there, with loosened bowels and weak legs, the leader of the Walker Gang got back on the saddle, and as he rode past me, he spoke one last thing before returnin’ to whatever dark pit he now calls home.
“Ya ain’t got blood on yer hands, I know that. But don’t go getting’ no funny ideas… I never forget a face. So you better go and tell people 'bout whatcha saw ‘ere today, and stay outta trouble.”
And with that, he left. Just slowly rode away into the horizon like it was nothin’. Took me a whole two days before I felt safe enough to actually get up from the ground and leave what remained of Dustcreek. Just ran into the desert and didn’t stop, until I found someplace to fall that hadn’t for sure been touched by evil. And as for that damned ghost town, I here it’s still there, slowly rotting under the sun. Rumour goes that people that get too close to the still standing buildings can hear things; wailin’ and screamin’. But I don’t buy that. That place is emptier than a fool’s purse, and all the worse for it. And for all that is good and just in this world, I hope no poor idiot ever decides to set up shop there again.
Stop makin’ that face.
I know how this all sounds, comin’ from some random stranger. I know that face.
You think I’m drunk, or outta my mind, or both.
Well, I am drunk, but I don’t give a shit whatcha think. And besides, you’re the one who wanted to hear this story, so tough shit.
Point is, Dustcreek was a normal town before it all went straight to hell. And no matter what else you get from this tale, you can be damn sure of one thing; it wasn’t no demon that tore that place apart. So if you ever go thinkin’ that you can get away with somethin’ unspeakable, even if you think it’ll save your own skin, well, let me tell ya… you got another thing comin’.
You can bet yer soul on that.