Este faz parte de uma série de textos que eu tenho andado a escrever no meu lj de acordo com pedidos que me foram sendo feitos. Este foi escrito para alguém que me pediu "a fantasy western with a dash of mistery".
When the Patterson boy ran into his office and said something strange had happened to old woman McCabe’s cow, Sheriff Doggett assumed the fairies were up to their old tricks again. The people of Freevale had tried putting little dishes of milk outside like the old folk back in Europe did, but the offerings didn’t fare well in the Arizona heat and the fairies continued to make away with the odd cow. Guess they just didn’t like their curds and whey.
As soon as he reached Fortitude McCabe’s house, though, he realised the fairies had nothing to do with it. The cow was still there. Parts of it, anyway.
He jumped over the fence into the pen where most of the carcass still was, carefully avoiding a large chunk of some unrecognisable internal organ, which was already crawling with flies and ants. A piece of torn hide was curled by one of the fence posts like a moth-eaten rug, and most of a hind leg had been dragged past the pen and was leaning against the outhouse. The smell of blood clotted the air. There were no footprints anywhere on the hardened ground.
Doggett stood perfectly still in the centre of the carnage, trying to think, trying to settle his stomach. He was beginning to wish he had stayed away from Drake’s homemade apple brandy the night before. It had made him sleep soundly enough, but he wasn’t sure the headache and the queasiness were worth it. And now this.
He’d been sheriff for eight years, and he’d never seen anything like this. Coyotes would come into town occasionally; just last month he’d killed a really large one who’d somehow gotten into the Rothwells’ basement. A coyote couldn’t have done all that damage, though. A couple of wolves, maybe, if they were especially big and famished, but there were no wolves in those parts.
In fact, aside from the coyotes, there was only one other large carnivore in the Freevale area, and she had been behaving herself lately. Well, there had been that business with that escaped murderer a few months back, but as far as Doggett was concerned that had practically been a public service: just a concerned citizen doing her part to maintain the peace.
As he left Mrs. McCabe’s house and walked up main street towards the saloon, he wondered if maybe Ligeia had gotten too anxious for something with a pulse.
Ligeia owned the local saloon and she was a mermaid. Few people other than the sheriff in town were completely aware of her true nature. It was that darned humming of hers that did it.
She was always humming. Even when she talked the humming seemed to be there, underneath the words. From the vaguely stunned look of the men when they left her boudoir, Doggett was willing to bet she even hummed in her sleep. It kept people around her in a quaint sort of mood; they all seemed convinced she was the sweetest, most beautiful woman they had ever seen.
It seemed to affect people differently, some more than others. There had been a traveller, a strange man with lank hair and a dark disposition, who had been so taken with Ligeia that Doggett had found himself forced to throw him over the back of his horse like a bundled package and take him to the next town. Once away from Freevale, the man, who claimed he was writer, didn’t seem to remember having met Ligeia at all.
Doggett, on the other hand wasn’t affected at all. Ligeia said he was tone deaf. All he knew was he could see the scales. And the fangs.
For years, she had preyed on her costumers. Mostly, she stuck to outsiders and troublemakers; the sort no one would find strange should they suddenly disappeared. And if someone had ever suspected that there were far too many disappearances for such a small community, those suspicions had never touched the soft-spoken, delicate owner of the saloon.
Then Doggett had moved to town and seen her for what she was. When he had become sheriff, he had tried to arrest her. The townsfolk had nearly lynched him.
Eventually, the two had reached an agreement. She shifted her eating habits from raw humans to undercooked steak and he abstained from putting a bullet through her head.
He pushed the saloon door open. Mary McPherson – who he was certain, in any other town, would’ve been protesting the saloon as a den of iniquity – was sitting daintily at the bar, drinking sarsaparilla and making small talk with Ligeia.
The mermaid poured a glass of whisky and, with a smile that had far too many sharp points to be called friendly, came to join him at a quiet table. Even before she sat down, she sniffed a few times like a coyote on the prowl. Her face twisted in disgust.
“You smell bad.”
He nodded and stared at the whisky. He wondered if it would settle his rebellious stomach or just make matters worse.
“I just came from Mrs. McCabe’s. Something mauled her cow. There’s blood everywhere.”
She drew nearer and sniffed him again, quickly retreating, in revulsion.
“I can smell the blood,” she said, licking her lips. “But there’s something else. A musk of some sort. Can’t say I recognize it.”
“So you had nothing to do with it?”
“When I want beef, I go to the butcher and Calvin lets me have as much as I care to bring. Cows don’t respond to my… charm. I’d end up hurting myself.”
He nodded once more and took a sip of his whisky. His stomach growled in protest.
“Something wrong with you?” she asked. “You look sick.”
He was surprised by her concern. Then he noticed she was looking at him like a vulture eyeing a dying steer. He backed away just a bit.
“Oh, even I won’t touch Drake’s stuff and I can digest bone. Have you spit out your liver yet?”
“Why? Looking for a treat?”
“I don’t like my meat marinated, thank you.” She stood up, a pensive look in her face. “That smell… There was something similar in the wind last month. Not the same, but very similar, like it was from the same sort of beast.”
“Could it be a coyote?”
Ligeia paused briefly, then shook her head. “It’s a meat eater, though.”
He finished the whisky in one draught, feeling it burn the sensitive back of his throat and flare up in his stomach.
“I’d figured as much.” He burped loudly.
She wrinkled her nose. “What have you been eating?”
“Nothing. Couldn’t bear the look of food today.”
“Then your stomach may be rotting. What possessed you to take Drake’s poison?”
“Been having trouble sleeping,” he said, as he quickly got up and left. Ligeia was too good at reading people and he didn’t want to get into the matter of his nightmares.
The coyote he’d shot at the Rothwells’ had been bigger and more cunning than any he’d seen before. It had almost ripped his throat open and taken a good bite of his left arm before he managed to put the filthy thing down.
The barber had been fretting about the wound; going on and on about rabies and blood poisoning and gangrene, but Doggett’s arm had healed fast and clean. Then some two weeks later the nightmares had started: fierce, dark things, from which he awoke bathed in sweat and with his throat aching from screaming, remembering nothing but a vague impression of teeth and fur and eyes that were a little too knowing.
He started walking back to his office, and made it almost all the way there before he had to duck into an alley to keep from making a spectacle of himself in the middle of street. As he gasped for air, he stared in amazement at the foul smelling pile of vomit. How could he be throwing up? He hadn’t eaten since supper the previous night. He kicked some dirt on top of the whole mess. Maybe the brandy had interrupted his digestion. Probably why he’d been feeling so poorly. He’d found it funny that he’d have such a bad hangover on only a glass of brandy; even if it was Drake’s stuff.
Doggett leaned against the wall, dizzy and shivering. What he needed to do was go home, have some tea and maybe a bit of dry bread, and get some sleep. He was in no shape to go chasing whatever animal had attacked that poor cow.
He wouldn’t been able to say how he had made his way home, but when he woke up in his bed some time later it was already dark. There was a sharp pain in his stomach and , as he tried to get up, it radiated to the rest of his body like molten lead being poured into his veins.
He fell to the floor in agony. His eyes were drawn to the window; the moon was rising. The pain grew larger, broader, until it engulfed him in a cocoon of torment. And then, just as suddenly as it had come upon him, it was gone, leaving him sprawled face down on the floor.
The sheriff tried to prop himself up and stopped, staring at his hands. They were smaller, they were covered in fur, they had claws. They weren’t hands at all. He turned to the mirror on the door of the wardrobe. An unusually large coyote was staring back at him.
He looked at his left paw where the thin line of a scar could be seen through the fur. Then he looked back at his reflection; fur and teeth and eyes too knowing for an animal.
Apparently, there was a new carnivore in town.