The Stranger

10,000 dollars. That’s how much money it took to set me off towards Santiago. “10,000 dollars” a tattered poster nailed to the Sheriff’s office in Del Rio claimed. Underneath that the words, “BANDIT WANTED DEAD” and at the bottom, “Ask for Shepard at the Pioneer hotel in Santiago”. Nothing else, not even a name. For 10,000 dollars I saddled up for the Mexican desert and set off to kill a man I didn’t know.

I reached Santiago two weeks later and hitched my horse in front of the old hotel. I asked the bartender for Shepard; he pointed to a man slouched over the far end of the bar.

“You Shepard?” He looked up from his glass.

“I sure am. Who the hell are you?” I threw the poster down in front of him. He smiled, standing up and shaking my hand.

“Well why the hell didn’t you say so? You’re interested in the money than?”

“Supposing I am, who exactly am I killing here?” The smile slid off his face. He leaned in close and lowered his voice.

“Well, no one here to tell you the truth.” he whispered, “I’m actually from a small town down south from here. We’ve been having trouble with a bandit; he comes in the night and kills innocent folk. We need you to go down there and shoot him.” “South of Santiago? Why are you nailing up posters all the way up in Del Rio? Couldn’t you get someone down here to do your dirty work?”

He downed the rest of his drink and looked back at me unsteadily; “We did, at first. You ain’t the first to come looking for that ten grand. But the bandit killed all of them, and now words out round these parts that anyone who takes the job ends up dead. We posted up in Texas trying to find more people who’ll come down. So, you still up for that 10,000?”

“You mean 15,000.”

“What?” I lit up a cigarette.

“15,000. You say this bandito has killed everyone else; so I’m telling you I’ll get rid of him, but for no less than 15,000.”

“You dirty son of b-,” Shepard glared at me then turned back to his cup, “Fine. Kill him and we’ll pay you 15,000. Get the fuck out of here.”

“You haven’t told me where I’m headed yet.”

“Santa Maria. It’s three days due south of here; now, get your ass down there and don’t talk to me until that bastard is dead.” I left the bar and set off for Santa Maria as the sun settled below the open plain.

It was a large village, rows of white adobe houses branching off from the main road. I rode into town just as the sun rose in the East, lighting the buildings in a blaze that glared through the dusty sky. Three men on horses sat waiting just outside of town. As I approached them, they waved their hats at me and spurred their horses. An old man wearing a pressed white shirt rode up to me. A metal star glinted on his chest. “What’s your business, stranger?”

“Your man Shepard was telling me you had bandit trouble. I’m here to fix that.”

“Well howdy to you then. My names Jeb, and I’m the last deputy in town. These two Mexicans are Lopez and Costilla, and they’re the last two gunfighters in town.”

“Yeah? And Why’s that?”

“’Cause we’re the last ones still alive,” Deputy Jeb pointed at a row of graves squatting in the distance, “the Sheriff and all the others are buried up there with the rest of them, god rest their souls.”

“That’s a lot of graves up there Dep, you guys been having a plague?”

“Hah. No, half of those graves are full of innocent families the bandit’s killed. Dozens of ‘em.”

“And the other half?”

Jeb grinned. “Why friend, the other half’s full of strangers like yourself who came after that money.”

“That bandit sounds like quite a handful, Dep. Who exactly is he?”

“Well, round the simple folk he’s picked up the name ‘El Lobo de la Noche’. I’ll fill you in when we get back to the jail.” As we trotted through town I noticed the streets were empty, the markets abandoned. Curious brown faces poked out of doors as we approached, then slammed shut. Boards were nailed across the windows and huge iron locks protruded from the doors…

We tied up our horses as Jeb unlocked the door to the sheriff’s office. Once we were inside, he carefully latched it shut again and lowered a thick board behind it. He turned towards me grinning again. “Seems like the jail’s the safest place to be these days. Can I interest you in some whiskey? No? Well don’t be surprised if you change your mind after hearing the story.” he sat down and removed his hat, running his fingers across his balding scalp. “’Bout three months ago, people started dying. Always the same, house broken into, inside destroyed,” he gulped, “and inhabitants torn to shreds.”

“The Sheriff and I were completely dumbfounded as to what could have knocked down the doors and mauled the people inside so horribly. But rumors began to spread of some tall man with glowing red eyes who would bash his way into buildings and rip people apart with his bare hands. Always the same description: black hat, red eyes, long white teeth. We set up a posse and patrolled the town at night, but one by one, men began to disappear. We all saw a black shape running through the shadows, more beast-like then anything. Then corpses began to appear. The men who disappeared would be found in the morning, reduced to bloody lumps of flesh and cloth. On the wall above them would be messages spelled out in their blood, demanding money and food be set out every night. Well, we’re a poor cattle community, and most people barely make enough to eat, let alone give to some unknown demon. So Sheriff gathers up me and the rest of the deputies and we wait outside of town one night for the creature… “Just before sunrise we see a black shape charge up into the cliffs north of town and chase it up to the top of the mesa. There, in the early twilight, the thing ambushes us, killing the horses first and then attacking the men. Oh god, there was blood everywhere; men were firing into the darkness but not hitting anything. The beast tore through us like a cyclone until Sheriff and all the others were lying dead. I’m the last one standing, clutching onto my bleeding stomach. Suddenly the thing appears next to me and grabs my throat, lifting me off the ground. I saw the outline of a man, but two eyes burnt like embers in its face. It was dressed like a man too, but huge, and covered from head to toe in black fur. The thing brought its face up to mine and opened its mouth, revealing shining teeth long as knives. Then it spoke.

“Its voice was a low growl that thundered into my ears. ‘Hey deputy,’ it said, ‘you run back into town and tell all the others what I did.’ Then it dropped me and scuttled off into the rising light. I stumbled into town by midday and told everyone to board up their houses and get off the street. Then I sent Shepard up to Santiago to print up posters and send help back.

“But even with everyone all bunkered up, it still gets in. Why, just last night we found a family of three - mother, father, and son all butchered in their own living room. I swear to god stranger, it looked like they had been half-eaten. Dozens of hired guns have come, but none of them have lasted more than a night. Nobody can leave their homes except to bury the dead. Stranger, if this thing doesn’t kill us first, we’re all going to starve. Most everyone’s to afraid to leave town; it’s a good two nights before the next settlement and no one wants to risk being caught outdoors when the sun sets.”

I pulled a cigar from my pocket and chomped down on it. “That’s quite a story Dep.”

“I swear my soul on it. So, how’re you planning to kill the beast?”

“Well, I was figuring I would go outside, light a fire, wait ‘til night, shoot the bandit, then ride off into the sunset 15,000 dollars richer.”

“You don’t believe a word of it, do you.”

“Oh, I believe there’s one tough killer out there, I just think it’s of the human variety. Crazy, maybe, but completely killable.” Jeb frowned and stood up. He unlocked the door and waved me outside, “I guess I should mention that others have shot it before, but it never seems to care. Well, there you go stranger, your reward awaits. Don’t you worry, the burials free.” I tipped my hat and walked out into the abandoned streets…

I sat around the fire, as the evening wore into dusk, polishing my revolver. Jeb had relented and sent the two Mexicans out to help me, stating that it would be a shame for another man to die alone. I had to admit, even though I knew the “beast” was just some mad gunmen, the look on the two Mexican’s faces set my nerves on alert. They refused to say anything more about the bandit, and I could see their eyes darting into alleyways as the shadows crept across the town. A priest sat with us for awhile, praying and blessing. “Good luck,” he said to me, “may god protect you.”

“Thanks, father.”

“Don’t thank me. I’ve blessed all of them. Tomorrow I will be giving a psalm over your grave.” He stood up and walked back down the street. “You want my advice,” he yelled back, “Lock yourself inside and go back home in the morning.”

Midnight and no activity.

At four AM, a scream tore through the silence of night. With my gun out I wove through the dirt streets, the two men following behind me. At the edge of town, we ran across a house whose door was knocked off its hinges. I crept up to the entrance, holding my revolver in front of me. I swung through the open door and into the house. Jeb wasn’t lying. Blood was splashed all over the walls. In the corner, a body slumped on the floor, its face torn off. I turned back to the doorway where the Mexicans were peering nervously inside, crossing themselves. Then a black shape tore past in the night, taking one of the men screaming with it. I ran outside and fired twice at a black shape running up the street, but it turned the corner and disappeared. Sprinting, I dashed into the alleyway after it, squinting to see in the blackness. I rounded the corner and smacked into a wall. Dead end. Lopez caught up to me and pulled me up off the ground. “Hombre, I think we should get outta here.” I nodded in agreement, but before we could move, a dark shape reached down from above and grabbed the Mexican. Before my eyes, dark hands grabbed him and pulled him apart as he screamed. The thing bit down into his throat and the screaming stopped. The body was flung aside, and two sparks of red light advanced down the alley towards me. A voice in the darkness. “What’s this here?” it rasped, “Another brave man sent to kill me? Soon we’ll see what you’re made of.” As it walked towards me, a sliver of moonlight flashed over it.

The thing was a man, but nine, ten feet tall, with huge arms that hung down almost to the ground. It ran its tongue over bloody teeth that shone like pearl sabers. A black hat sat atop its head and a vest was pulled across its chest, but underneath the body was covered in black, matted hair. As it bore down upon me I fired three more times into its chest. Blood trickled down, but the thing kept walking, laughing in a deep grunt. I fled down the alley as it lowered its arms to the ground and leapt after me.

Hitting a wall, I smashed through a window into an abandoned house. The beast was too large to fit and collided against the adobe frame. But even as I watched, it reached its black claws inside and began pulling the wall apart. “Gonna get you, big man.” the thing snarled. I ran deeper into the house as it broke through and leapt into the room with a howl that shook dust from the rafters.

I spotted a pantry and ran inside. Closing the door behind me, I grabbed the heavy cabinets lining the walls and propped them against the doorway. Heavy blows landed against the wood, but the door held shut. A grunt from outside, “Don’t think you’re safe, big man. I’m coming for ya.” The door shuddered as the sound of splintering wood echoed through the pantry. The beast was digging his way in.

I crouched in the dark as the sound of tearing grew. Finally, a long claw burst through the wood and withdrew. A red eye peered through the hole. Laughing, the beast resumed tearing away at the wood. Minutes later its head stuck through. “Almost there, big man!” the beast growled. It plunged its head deeper into the hole, snapping at my face. In the room behind it, something caught my eye. I drew my pistol and fired my last shot right into the ruby eye. The beast howled in pain and withdrew. A streak of sunlight lanced into the room and across the prone body of the beast. It turned its one last eye upon me. “Well played, big man, I’ll see you again.” Than it charged out of the room into the rising sun, howling as it disappeared.

Jeb met me outside. “Hell, stranger,” he said, “you might not have killed the thing, but you sure did cause one hell of a mess.”

“It’s a talent of mine.” At midday we ran across the twisted body of Costilla. His remains lay piled at the bottom of a white wall, where written in his blood was the message, “Big man, meet me at the mesa. See you at sundown…” Jeb spent the rest of the day trying to convince me to leave town. “You see, stranger, you can’t beat it; no one can beat it. Best thing to do is leave town and hope it doesn’t catch up to you.”

“I don’t think it’s going to let me go so easy, Dep.” I squinted up at the mesa towering over the south edge of town. “Besides, how can I turn it down when it asks so politely?”

“Suit yourself, but don’t expect me to bring your mangled body back.” “Well, at least tell Shepard that he’s an asshole for me.”

“You’re buzzard food, stranger.”

As dusk fell I saddled my horse and set off for the top of the Mesa.

The priest was waiting for me at the edge of town. “Got another blessing for me father?”

“Yes, my son, and more,” he unfolded a bundle in his arms. A bright silver pistol lay on top. Molded rose vines ran along its barrel, and a large cross was burned into the ivory handle, “I want you to take this.”

“Sorry father, I use my own gun.”

“Then you will die! Tell me my son, do you think shooting the demon will kill it? Many men before you have tried that, and now they all lie in the graveyard.”

“Why should that gun be any different?”

He lifted the gun in his hands, its barrel shining red in the low sunlight. “Before I left for the West, I visited a bishop and had this gun blessed. Every day, I polish it with a mixture of holy water. It has protected me through my travels, but now I am too old to shoot it. You are the first to survive a night fighting that beast; I think you have proven yourself worthy of wielding it.”

“How do you know it will hurt that thing?”

“I do not know for certain, but in all of the houses it has destroyed, I have never once seen a broken cross.” He shoved it into my hands. Cartridges of white metal glittered in its chambers. “Besides, I made the bullets myself.” He winked and strode back into town.

By the time I reached the top of the mesa, half of the sun had already disappeared below the horizon. A man stood across from me. His face was weathered, his brown hands nervously picked at the pistol belt strapped across his waist. A black hat sat atop his head. “So,” he grinned, “the stranger has decided to come after all. You’re just in time for the show!” I threw off my coat and his eyes shot down to the silver revolver at my hip. He started laughing; “Oh I see how it is. Okay, you want an old time standoff, I’ll play along.”

“Who are you?”

He flashed ugly rotten teeth at me, “Who am I? I’m just a lowly bandit, stealing my way through life.” We stared across at each other as the sun slowly sunk below the cacti. My hand hovered above the priest’s revolver, the bandit’s fingers brushed over his own pistol. The minutes ticked by. The shadows crept over our feet. Only a sliver of light still spread across the plains below.

We stood frozen like statues.



He laughed again, “Hey muchacho, we wait any longer, it’s going to be night!” His hand drifted towards his gun. My fingers tensed, but at the last second he grabbed his buckle and unhooked his pistol belt. Dropping it to the ground, he grinned at me, “Tell you what, big man, you can use your pistol, I’ll just use my hands!” The sun dropped out of sight, bathing the mesa in darkness. A red glow appeared in the bandit’s eyes. Hair sprouted from his arms as he slowly grew upwards. He opened his mouth, his moldy teeth growing long and sharp, “I gotta say bendejo, you’re making this pretty easy for me. I kinda expected more after our little fight last night.” I stood silently as his hairy arms stretched towards the ground and veiny muscles sprouted across his body. “You even brought a gun! Well I’ve got some bad news for you!” He raised a claw to his chest and traced a line of scars, “Twenty-three bullets, ten shotgun blasts, two knives,” the beast smiled, “and thirty-one nameless men sent to their graves. But I will admit, big man, that shot to my eye has me seeing a little fuzzy.” He pounded the ground with his fist, “For that, I might even kill you quickly.” He glared at me and I stared back into those glowing coals.




With a bellow, he lowered his head and charged. I drew the pistol. BANG. He ducked under the shot and ran closer. BANG. The bullet ricocheted off the ground. BANG. He was only feet away now. BANG. The bullet grazed the beasts arm; it screamed. BANG. It grabbed me in its claws, its fangs bearing down on my neck.


The last silver bullet hit the beast in the heart. It dropped me and staggered backwards, collapsing on the ground. Dead.

Early the next morning I collected my money from Jeb and headed out of town. He stopped me as I walked out the door, “I gotta hand it to you stranger, you saved all our skins. We can never fully repay you.”

“15,000 dollars will do alright for now.”

“Hey wait, what if we need your help again? Where can we find you?”

I pulled the last cigar from my pocket and clenched it in my mouth. Tossing the tattered poster on his table I walked out the door and into the morning light. “Just put some of those up. If the price seems right, I’ll come to you.”

Author Information: Black Fedora
Story Title or Titles: The Stranger
Original Source: Unknown. Added to SCP-Wiki by Kain Pathos Crow
Date: 22 Aug 2008

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