By Matthew Senn
Coming to a crawl outside Farrell’s’, a group of us gathered to greet ‘im. He didn’t smile. His face & the cross onnis neck covered with dust. A fresh bullet graze sat right ‘cross his forehead, just under the brim of his worn brown hat.
He hopped down out the wagon & made his way toward the back of it in silence. We did the same, joined by Farrell and the new Preacher that’d come to town. Marshal nodded to the Preacher, flung off a tarpaulin with a crack & the flies scattered like it’d been a gunshot.
Mr. and Mrs. Halloran lay there dead. Mrs. Hallorans’ belly grown almost twice the size it’d been since the last time I’d seen her. Her skin looked about like it was ready to fall right off. Mr. Halloran didn’t look as bad, but his belly had been torn & opened. His shirt and pants turned a brown rose color under the sun.
Marshal waved the Undertaker over as he walked outta Farrell’s. Undertaker come over with a limp and looked inna back a that wagon. He didn’t say nothin’ at first, just looked the Halloran’s over, plain and simple. Finally turned to the Marshal.
Marshal gave a longwinded story. ‘Bout how people, families mostly, been goin’ missin’ up & around Halloran’s Stagecoach Stop. Ranch owner named Mendoza, his place just a little ways away from ‘em, started complainin’ ‘bout a smell whenever his place was downwind from theirs. Marshal had gone out to see for hisself. Found Mendoza dead & burned inna remains a his ranch. Mr. Halloran musta found out he’d talked to the Marshal. Been waitin’ for the Marshal just outta sight too. Halloran took down his horse & thought he’d gotten the Marshal cross the head.
When Marshal come to that night, says he crawled towards Halloran’s.
Stunk like hell, he said. Halloran was sharpenin’ an axe blade in his shed when Marshal’d come up upon him. Surprised him & the bastard fell right on his axe. Rightly so.
When he’d come to the Stop, the smell got stronger. He came inside and found trunks opened up & everything scattered ‘round the place. He said he heard something behind him fall and when he’d come over to the Halloran’s bedroom, Mrs. Halloran was standing over a hole cut in the wood floor which sat over an old well. She was dumpin’ a little girl down that hole.
They’d been poisonin’ travelers with somethin’ that made their bellies swell. Robbed ‘em and sold the goods. Well was giving off that stench. Marshal said it was nearly full.
He trailed off, or maybe I just got tired of hearin’ the story. I looked at the Preacher for a moment. See if his face or some words would give comfort. He’d gone white as a sheet, and before he could speak, Marshal called out to him.
“It’s like I said to you last Sunday, Preacher: you got faith, I got works.”
Matthew Senn is a writer of western flash fiction. He received his bachelor’s from Grand Valley State University, and will pursue his master’s in creative writing next fall at Central Michigan University. His work has been featured in Dime Show Review, Open: Journal of Arts, Fishladder by GVSU, as well as a few upcoming publications. He dreams of moving out West, and teaching writing. Matthew has also been published previously in The Yard: Crime Blog