Wood splinters pepper my face as another chunk of the door frame is blown off by gunfire. We barely managed to drag Chubbs in when the shooting started.
“Spider,” I shout over the storm of bullets “get him in the corner and put some pressure on that wound!” She hefts him into a nearby corner and begins inspecting the wound as I throw a table against the deteriorating bank door and take position at the nearest window. Glancing out, I see that Chubbs had dropped the money on the porch after he took that shot in the gut. Just in front of our horses.
“Castillo!” I hear from outside as the thunder lulls. “Why don’t you and your crew just make this easy for once and come on out with your hands up?”
“I heard you were out of town, Sheriff Wells.” I throw back out to him. He was supposed to be out of town at a ranch dealing with some petty land dispute. Looking out the window I see the Sheriff and six of his goons with iron drawn. I guess the land dispute was a ruse to draw us out.
“Doesn’t look good, Cas.” Spider interrupts, pressing a cloth against Chubbs’ belly. I didn’t know if she meant the gun shot or the bank situation.
“I’m gettin’ kinda sleepy, jefe.” Chubbs said, dreamily.
“Hang in there, Chubbs.” I say “You can sleep plenty when we get back home.” I look around the room from my position, trying to figure out our next move. The door and all the windows just lead back to the law-riddled street, and there’s no back door. Great.
“Really wish we hadn’t let everyone go,” Spider adds, “could’a had some hostages.”
“Well,” I nod, “you know what they say about hindsight.”
A voice calls out a street over, and sounds of panic rise up to overwhelm it. Screaming erupts from every corner of the town, and the church bell sounds.
“You do all this for little ol’ me?” I joke out the window, but the Sheriff isn’t facing the bank anymore. He’s turned to his lackeys and seems to be giving them direction. No ones even looking over at us anymore. Now, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I raise my six gun and level it at the sheriff.
A rider rounds the corner and when he shouts this time I can hear him clearly. “Poncho!” he shouts, as he races by.
“Please tell me he didn’t just say what I think he just said.” Spider pleads.
“We can take him.” Chubbs slurs. Eyes closed, and half dead, Chubbs waves his gun around. “Ain't nobody scared of the Poncho.”
“Gimme that.” She orders, as she swipes the gun from his weak hands.
Outside, Wells takes one more look at the bank and swears. He and his deputies run across the street into the nearby tavern.
“We might have a shot at getting out of here.” I say, watching them leave. “Let’s grab Chubbs and head to the horses before Poncho shows up.”
“Chubbs, you’re riding with me today, buddy.” She says, soothingly. “Just don’t fall off. Or die.”
We each put an arm over our shoulders and lift. Chubbs is, as his pseudonym suggests, on the huskier side. He’s been the muscle in our crew for a while now and I’d hate to see him go out like this. We get to the door and kick the table out of the way. We are not making good time. I take a quick peek out the nearby window and my heart drops. Appearing from the next street over is an ink black horse and its unholy rider.
“Hold on,” I say, “I think he’s out there.” I’ve never laid eyes on Poncho before, and not many who have lived to tell the tale, but I’ve heard the stories as much as anyone else. Black horse. Black poncho. Black hat. Check, check, and check. It might be some idiot playing a prank, but the aura of terror around him felt legitimate. Whatever Apache bruja, cooked him up did a helluva job.
“Maybe he’ll go down another street.” Spider suggests, as she leans over to see through the window. As if in reply, the rider turns and trots into the street leading to the bank.
“Did you have to say something?” I ask.
“Let’s get Chubbs back in the corner.” She ignores my remark. “He’s killing my shoulders and it doesn’t look like we have an opening anymore.”
Chubbs breath slows and we lower our friend back into the corner. Spider was right. It really doesn’t look good. We take up positions at windows facing the street, and see the rider still plodding along toward us. The bank is at the end of a T-intersection, so all we have to do is wait for it to come to use and choose direction. Then we go the other, hopefully, unbothered by the rider AND the sheriff.
Poncho’s pace is brutally slow, but mercifully he reaches the intersection. Moment of truth. I motion to Spider to get into position near Chubbs, keeping my eye on the rider. Closer up I can see that the rider has the collar of his poncho drawn up around his mouth in a kind of mask, but I can’t see his eyes under the brim of his hat. I also don’t see any weapons on him. He seems to be unarmed but his air of menace is undeniable. I just wish he would pick a direction already.
But he doesn’t. His head turns slightly one way, and then back the other. Is he waiting for something? Is he listening? Just go left or right, Poncho. Please just go.
He swings his leg around and steps off his horse. I turn to Spider and she gives me a quizzical look. I shake my head. I turn back to the window and he’s still out there, facing the bank.
He can’t know we’re in here right? I hope. No, there’s no way. I think as the corner of my eye catches the horses out front and the bag of cash lying on the porch. Oh no. Is the demon smart? I try to think of all the stories I’ve heard of Poncho. He wears all black. He punishes people for the loss of native land. He… is capable of deductive reasoning? I can’t remember hearing about any kind of intelligence from this thing.
I shake from my pondering by a sound coming from the tavern across the street. Something fell over or broke, I don’t know which, but it made a loud noise. Poncho turns on his heel and marches over to the tavern, and I scooch over to my crew.
“Alright, we might have an opening. Grab an arm.” I whisper as the sound of gunfire breaks out across the street.
“You think we can get him to the horses in time?” She asks. “I’m still outta breath from taking him to the door and back.”
“I don’t know, but we can’t leave him. He wouldn’t leave us.”
“Yes, but he could easily carry both of us at the same time.” She quips. “Besides, I would never suggest we leave him. Maybe we can wait this thing out.”
“I don’t know about that. The horses out front might give us away.”
“I didn’t even think about that.” She concedes. “Wait, is it smart? I don’t remember hearing anything about it being smart.” She adds as we lift our friend once again.
“Wait, put him back down.” I say as I realize something.
“My back can’t keep doing this, Cas.” she groans as we lower him back down. “What’s wrong now?”
“Do you hear that?” I ask, and we listen for a moment to the silence.
“It can’t be over that quick.”
I duck over to the window and look out at the tavern. The gunfire has definitely stopped. Something falls out of the side window and scurries to our side of the street. The sheriff escaped through the window and is looking for a new place to hide. He runs up to the building next to ours and tries the door, but to no avail. The windows don’t budge either. He turns and looks at the open bank window, and at me beyond it. With one more glance to the still tavern he runs for the window.
No, no, no! I mouth, repeatedly crossing and uncrossing my arms in front of me. The sheriff dives through the window and lands in a thud. He raises his head to see my pistol at his nose.
“You shoot that thing and you’ll give us away.” He whispers. I hate that he’s right, but I don’t lower it. He ignores my pistol and moves to another window. “He’s coming out now. I don’t think he saw me.”
“What happened in there?” Spider asks, as I glance out to see the rider heading around to the window the sheriff jumped from.
“I don’t know.” Wells gulps. “We musta shot him a couple dozen times, but it didn’t do nothin’.” Across the street the rider slowly paces the area around the window.
“Are you sure you hit him, Wells?” I turn to gibe the sheriff. “I’ve seen you shoot.”
“Is now really the time for this?” He growls. “I know I hit him, but those Mexican witches conjured something that can’t be killed with lead.”
“Mexican?” I ask. “I heard it was Apache.”
“Nah, it was the Mexicans.” He insists. “To punish us for takin’ their land, I guess. It even wears a poncho.”
“I think he’s heading back to his horse.” Spider informs us.
“Anyone can wear a poncho.” I argue.
“What’s up, Spider?” I turn and see her face, ghost white and staring out the window.
“He saw me. He’s headed this way.”
“Put your head down!” I grumble, and pull her from the window. I grab her shoulders and square her face with mine. “Are you sure he saw you?”
“I saw them.” She shudders. “I saw those eyes.”
“We gotta hide.” Wells chimes in.
“Come on, Spider.” I tug her arm. “He’s right, we have to hide before it gets in here.”
Unnaturally heavy footsteps hit the porch and Spider shakes her head at me. Go, she mouths, and takes my hand off her arm. Boards creek as the too heavy footsteps cross to the door.
“I’m sorry.” I squeeze her hand before rushing over and sliding behind the teller counter as the door squeaks open.
The sheriff sits across from me, gun drawn, and a finger to his lips, as if I didn’t already know to be quiet. The floorboards shake throughout the bank as the rider crosses to Spider. It stops before her and I hear her rise to her feet.
“I’m ready.” She states, resolute. There is silence for barely a moment before I hear the thud of her body hitting the floor. I hold my breath and wait, but it makes no move toward or away from us.
“You don’t look so tough to me.” I hear from across the room. Wells looks at me with eyes wide. Chubbs still has some fight in him I guess. The footsteps start again and, to our surprise, they head away.
Wells and I stare at each other in silence, weapons drawn, as we listen to the sounds of the rider stepping off the porch, into the street, and onto his horse. When the sound of hooves is finally too quiet to hear we finally breath and I scramble over to my friends. Spider is closer so I check her first, but her skin is already cold. I hear Chubbs’ labored breathing from here. Why didn’t it kill him too? Behind me a gun cocks.
“Slide your gun over to me.” He orders, barely above a whisper. “Slide your gun over and we’re both gonna sit tight ‘til we’re sure it’s gone.”
“Nah.” I smirk, standing and turning to face him. “You shoot that thing and you’ll give us away.” I raise my gun again and back towards Chubbs.
“What are you doing?” he asks, desperately.
“This whole thing’s been a wash, so what do you say I just take mine and go? You’re welcome to follow us outside.”
“That thing’s still out there. You’re gonna risk your life for some money?”
“Risking my life for some money is literally my job.” I remark. He stares at me for a moment as I reach the corner.
“Fine.” He smiles. “But he stays.” He motions at Chubbs with his gun.
“Excuse me.” I snarl.
“I’m not gonna stop you from going outside and getting yourself killed. But Big Fella’s stayin’ in here with me.” He steps forward.
“I’m not losing another friend today.”
“Then you’re gonna have to shoot.” He states. “But if you shoot that gun, do you really think you can carry Big Fella out of here before the devil catches up to you? On the other hand, if you try to carry him out now, I’ll just shoot you, and then I just get outta here and I don’t got any friends I need to carry.”
He’s right. Again.
“Sorry, Chubbs.” I state, before firing a round into the sheriff. I bolt out the door and onto the porch. I scan the streets, but there’s no sign of Poncho. Scooping the bag of money up, I quickly loose my horse from the hitching post and hop on. I don’t know which way the rider went, and I don’t have time to figure it out, so I just head straight up the street it came from. There’s a two out of three chance in my favor, so I figure I’ll roll the dice.
I clear the little town soon after, and as I gallop along as a good speed I chance a look over my shoulder to see if any black riders are behind me. No one’s following. I face forward and jerk back on the reins. The horse skids to a violent halt, and I barely keep from falling over. Ahead of me, nose to nose with my horse, is an ink black horse with its unholy rider. I draw and fire a round into the poncho. I hit him square in the heart, but he doesn’t flinch. He raises his chin and I see his eyes beneath his hat. Crimson irises on jet black eyes.
I fall from my horse, and the rider departs, looking for more wicked souls to punish.