Leaning back in his chair, trying to get comfortable, Murdoch reflected on the day. It had started as a beautiful fall day. Crisp cool air, with nature fanning her brilliant colors reserved only for a few precious weeks of the year. They had come into town as a family for the Halloween Carnival, Johnny on Barranca, Scott, Teresa, and Murdoch in the surrey.
Murdoch was especially proud as he and his sons seemed to be getting along well, and most especially, his and Johnny’s relationship had seemed to progress. Johnny, he could tell, was feeling good, and it gave his own heart a tremendous lift to see his youngest flashing his brilliant smile and seeing the sparkles in his eyes as he joked and teased along the way into town.
Then it had happened, an event that ruined everything. His precious boy had finally found some peace and was enjoying himself, as he should, when a vengeful, hateful animal called him into the street for a gunfight.
He had seen the tired look in his son’s eyes, just before they became dark and deadly, giving the impression that he was a cold and unfeeling man. He never could figure that out, how such sparkling eyes, so full of life, could cloud over like that and turn his son almost into another person, almost a monster.
Waiting inside for the battle to be over, hearts in their throats, it had been almost unbearable. Once again, Johnny won, and the aggressor lay dead in the street. Johnny appeared to have skirted death before being shot in the back immediately after holstering his gun and walking away.
Somehow, his boy still managed to turn, draw, and fire, with amazing speed and precision, while falling. The sniper on the roof fell dead, only the sound of the tin roof giving to the dead weight of his body, echoing down the empty street
Now, once again, here they sat, he and Scott, listening to the fevered ravings of his son whose past was full of horrors that no man, let alone a boy should have suffered through. Again, he and Scott would be an unwilling audience to details that would cross his son’s lips that would never see the light of day if he were well.
Sam had done all he could do, removing the bullet and cleaning the wound, but Johnny had developed a raging fever after the doctor had been called away to deliver a baby. It was up to him and Scott to keep the fever down until Sam could return and help them, but he was afraid that this time, it would be too late.
Johnny sat straight up in the bed, his eyes wide open, yelling Spanish so rapidly that Murdoch could only understand a few words. Johnny’s hands were gripping the sheets tightly. All he knew was that Johnny was scared; something the boy never seemed to be. His chest labored to keep up with his breathing.
Scott jumped up to help his brother, but when he put his hands on him, Johnny took him by surprise with a roundhouse punch that knocked him to the floor, turning over a chair, and his out flung arm taking out the water pitcher and glasses on the table beside it.
Murdoch leaned over to grab Scott and their eyes met, registering surprise as suddenly the room became ice cold. It seemed as though there was no air left in the room, just cold. A damp, pungent, putrid smell overcame them. Rotting flesh.
He saw Scott’s eyes move to something behind him. He felt a chill up his spine and the hair on his neck felt like it was standing straight up. He felt goose bumps break out on his skin. He was afraid to look behind him.
Pulling Scott to his feet, he turned to see what had mesmerized him so. His heart nearly stopped when he saw the dark shadows standing around Johnny’s bed. More seemed to be coming from the wall.
He nearly went to his knees as two of them, one on either side grab hold of his son’s arms. They began pulling him towards the rest. Johnny’s Spanish became louder, angrier, and he began to fight.
They were laughing and the more they laughed the faster and angrier the Spanish flew. He and Scott both moved to get to Johnny, but two of the dark beings turned and he saw the horrors of the dead in their eyes, and felt the iron cold grip of their fingers as they pushed them, slamming them into the wall, knocking the breath out of him.
Scott had fallen, back against the wall and slid down into a sitting position.
Scott turned and looked at him. “Sir, am I dreaming? are we dreaming?”
“I don’t know son.”
“This can’t be real.”
Johnny struggled and fought, but they were too strong. They had pulled him up and forward until he was on his knees in the middle of the bed. His Spanish curses interspersed with sounds of pain.
Try as he might, he could not get to his son. He had never been so afraid, as he was now. He managed to get to a sitting position when the door to the room suddenly opened and in a blink of an eye, the dark spirits were gone. Val Crawford strode into the room towards Johnny’s bed. Johnny collapsed forward into a heap, moaning.
“Christ almighty, what’s the hell’s goin’ on in here amigo? I could hear you out in the street!”
Val turned to look at them, hovered in the corner and Murdoch saw a knowing look in Val’s eyes that made him visibly shiver.
“What the hell ya’ll doin’ over there, get up and help me straighten this boy out.”
Weak kneed, he moved towards the bed and Scott went around it. If the look on his own face was anything like the pale look of Scott’s, well, Val would have to wonder what was wrong with them. The sheriff said nothing, even though anyone could see their hands shaking as they reached for the injured boy.
They eased Johnny around and propped him up on the pillows. Secured against the headboard, he groaned and opened his eyes. His fever had broken leaving him covered in sweat, shaking and breathing hard.
He looked up at them and rasped, “Murdoch? Scott?”
“Nothin’ Johnny boy, nothin’. Ya just had a bad dream is all. Here, I thought you might want this back. I found mine under the bed yesterday.”
Val pulled a silver chain from around his neck, and on it was a small silver crucifix. “Seems to me, you need it.” He cut his eyes toward Murdoch as if trying to read him.
He slipped the silver chain over Johnny’s head and Murdoch watched as his son made no move to stop the sheriff, and even moved his head to help him get the chain over his head.
“Well, quit gawkin’ you two, and get over here and wipe him down, he’s soaked. I gotta get back to sheriffin’. “
Val squeezed Johnny on the shoulder. “I’ll let doc know to come on up here when he gits back. It looks like he’s tore his stitches out.”
“Sleep amigo. I got your back.” Val patted Johnny on the chest where the crucifix lay before he turned and left.
Murdoch turned and stared at his oldest. “What the hell just happened here?”
“I don’t know if I can explain it, sir.”
“I think it’s best if we just keep this to ourselves.”
Murdoch reached over, pulled open the drawer of the bureau, and removed the bible that was stored there. As he opened it, he heard the large grandfather clock downstairs in the hotel lobby strike midnight, the end of El Dia’ de Muerta.
As soon as the clock stopped with the announcement of the end of one day and the beginning of the next, the door opened and Sam stepped in. “One hell of a night I tell you!”