The Gods Have Eyes | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Science Fiction Bookmark and Share

The Gods Have Eyes

THE GODS HAVE EYES Paralysis Dallas G. Releford Sloan pulled his wool blanket over his big frame to keep away the night chill. Nearly exhausted from riding all day, he let his head rest on his saddle. He studied the stars above him wondering if anyone else lived out there amongst those twinkling lights. Apache, his gray mare nibbled on green grass near a stream. Tethered to a long rope to keep her from wandering too far from camp, she seemed content. He sighed and wondered how life could get so bad sometimes. Sloan wasn’t a lawman anymore, not since he killed that young gunfighter in Dodge City last year. He pleaded that it was self-defense except the general population and the judge called it cold-blooded murder. With a double-barrel shotgun leveled at him, the fool kid had gone for his gun. Sloan had blasted him with both barrels. The undertaker had to scrape flesh, bone and blood up from the dusty street with a shovel. Even then, there wasn’t enough of him left to make a difference. The undertaker dumped the mess in a plain pine coffin and nailed the lid down. When an opportune moment presented itself, he ran not wanting to face a hangman’s noose. He had been running ever since that fateful day and the law now chased a man who had once upheld the law. He reached out and pulled his Winchester closer to him, felt his six-shooter by his saddle to make sure it was in easy reach and then pulled his worn Stetson down over his eyes. He always slept with his eyes shut and his ears open. Apache would let him know if anyone came nosing around the camp unannounced. Camp? That was a sorry name for a place to lay your head on the hard ground, he thought. Being unable to light a campfire, he couldn’t enjoy a hot cup of coffee or fill his stomach with beans and cornbread. Since he robbed that bank in Stillwell over a month ago a fast and furious posse had been hot on his trail. They were back there somewhere in those hills waiting for him to light up a campfire or make some other stupid mistake. He was tiring of beef jerky. A man had to have at least beans and bread to survive. Frank Sloan was so hungry he considered killing a deer and eating the meat raw. Except, that would require him to fire a shot. Sheriff Ben Frazer knew how hungry he was. He was sitting back there near a roaring fire on his haunches like an old wolf waiting for Frank to take that shot. Frank had decided days ago that he would not give that old bastard that pleasure. If he wanted him, he was going to have to work to find him. Eighteen thousand dollars was stuffed into two saddlebags that hung from the limb of a nearby tree. He was a rich man and could not spend a penny for food. He had avoided towns so far and trading posts were scarce on the prairie. He would wait until he put more distance between himself and the posse before he took a chance and visited a town for supplies. His eyelids grew heavy. A cool breeze brushed across his face and rustled leaves on the tree above him. Suddenly, the breeze turned warm and his flesh tingled like a thousand needles were pricking him. Cold hands caressed his back chilling him to the bone. He knocked the hat aside and opened his eyes. A bright blue light brightened the sky for several seconds. Before he could recover from his stupor the light vanished. Sloan knew that every man dealt with fear in his own way, except he believed that fear was an incurable disease. The trick was not to let it get the best of you. That was the hard part, as he was now finding out. What had passed over him? He could think of nothing unless the sky had become angry and shot an enormous lightning bolt in his direction. He was standing now looking toward the east, toward the foothills where that damned posse should be. The blue light appeared again briefly and wandered aimlessly through the hills before vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. When he was a kid in Virginia, he had seen foxfire or ghost lights. That was the name local people had given the strange lights they saw in the woods, usually after a summer rain. This light was not foxfire, he decided quickly. This was something quite different, something strange and ominous. Apache thought so too. She had wandered next to him nudging him on his back with her nose. He rubbed her forehead, whispered comforting words to her and assured her the light was nothing to worry about. Leading her to the creek where she drank cool water, he whistled a tune and hoped he was right. Frank crept back to bed, pulled the blankets over him and went to sleep wondering what the bright light had been. A pinkish glow dominated the eastern sky when loud, distant noises aroused him from a restful slumber. He knew right away what they were. They were rifle shots. Had the posse come under attack from wandering outlaws? If so, he needed to know what had happened. Perhaps outlaws would keep the posse busy long enough for him to really put some distance between himself and them. He had only seen the posse once from a distance. He counted over forty armed riders before he rode away. It would take a large outlaw band to rout that posse, he thought with little comfort in the prospect. The sounds of shooting lasted for a long time. Before it subsided like a spring thunderstorm Frank had made a small fire, boiled black coffee and fried bacon. He needed time to think. By the time he finished his breakfast, a red sun hung over the same hills where the blue light had vanished and where the sheriff was probably gloating over all the outlaws he had killed. After washing the few dishes and a small frying pan in the stream, he saddled Apache and mounted her. He rode slowly toward the eastern hills. His curiosity was ablaze. He had to know the situation, the strength of his enemies and exactly what had happened back there, otherwise he would be unsure of how bad his circumstances really were. Apache remained skittish, jumpy and Jack interpreted this to mean that he should be wary also. He had never known the horse to be so nervous, even around gunfire or storms. To avoid running into the posse—just in case they were on his trail again—he rode high into the foothills and circled back confident he would find where they had camped last night or cut across their most recent trail. The low-lying hills were covered with trees, bushes and heavy undergrowth. Animals, deer and foxes mostly, had made numerous trails through the entanglement. Frank followed a well-traveled trail made by men on horses. It was the same trail he had followed days ago with the posse on his tail. Halting Apache near a stream so she could drink, he sat on his horse inspecting the area. Several horses had crossed here, he surmised. From the imprints of horse’s hoofs in the mud, he figured they must have crossed yesterday. A feeling that something terrible was amiss washed over him and he shuddered. Apache sensed it too. Lifting her head, she shook it and snorted. Her eyes looked wild when she looked back at her rider. “Sounds like a fair warning to me,” he agreed. Frank pulled his double-barrel shotgun—the same one he had used to kill the gunfighter—and made sure it was loaded. At close range the twelve-gauge weapon could down four men easily. He didn’t know how many were up ahead waiting for him. Since they would expect him to be in front of them, he hoped to sneak upon them, get a head count and escape before they knew he was there. That was his plan. With the shotgun resting across his saddle, he crossed the stream letting Apache follow the trail at her own pace. They followed the rocky path down the slope and up another small hill until they came to a level area where Apache halted abruptly, and trembled. Shocked, Sloan got off the horse so he could get a better look at what had terrified her. Feeling heavy pressure pushing on his chest, sweating profusely, Frank stood like a marble statute looking at an enormous spider web that had been spun between several tall trees. Mentally calculating he reasoned that it was twelve feet high and at least fifteen feet wide. He shuddered again with throbbing fear—a kind of fear that he never got used to—when he thought how big the spider must have been that weaved that web. Knowing that spiders didn’t normally grow that large, he tried to think of a reasonable explanation for what he was seeing, and couldn’t. As he ventured closer, he stopped dead still staring at a large cocoon-like bundle in the middle of he web. The face was as white as snow. Cold, shallow eyes stared back at him. The sheriff wouldn’t bother him anymore. An enormous spider had made sure of that. Cold ants crawled under his clothes prickling his skin and the feeling that something was awry earlier seemed even truer now. Wanting to turn and run he discovered that he was frozen where he stood. Before he could convince himself that he wasn’t really scared, that everything was going to be okay, a loud, shrill scream erupted from the forest behind him. Thinking it might be a cougar, he let the thought pass. He had heard cougar’s cry and that shriek was from no animal he had ever heard before. It was more like an enthusiastic victory yell, he thought. He began to sense an urgency to get back on his horse and ride away except he had to know for sure if the sheriff was dead. He couldn’t leave any man like that, friend or foe. With the shotgun in his left hand Sloan picked up a long limb and took two steps forward. Up close, he could see the main support strands of the web were as thick as his little finger. Supporting strands were much smaller, but they appeared to be very strong. How could any spider—even a large one—lift a two hundred pound man, struggling for his life, up into the air and confine him in the web? Paralysis? Sloan poked at the cocoon with the stick. The body didn’t move. Frank thought that maybe all the blood had drained from it. A pool of sticky liquid was on the web and on the ground beneath the sheriff’s body. Knowing he was dead, Frank dropped the stick and walked back to his horse. Picking up the reins, he led Apache forward. He wanted to leave this place as soon as possible. Apache seemed to share his eagerness to leave as she nudged him onward each time he stopped to look around the area. “Okay,” he protested not daring to speak any louder than was necessary. “We’ll keep moving. Just warn me next time, will you?” Apache remained silent nibbling at tempting leaves as they walked through the woods. Sloan wanted to scream as loud as he could. About the time he thought he might have his fear under control they came upon a worse sight than he had ever seen before. Three nude men were hanging by their feet upside down from tree limbs directly in front of him. Their throats had been slit, their stomachs cut open and they had been disemboweled. Pools of dried blood had been allowed to collect on the ground below them. Frank felt something drop on his hat. Attributing the disturbance to a bird high in a tree above him he took the hat off, looked at it. The felt hat was covered with blood. It was then he felt cold, sticky liquid saturating his shirt. Stepping back, he looked up into the trees and his heart almost stopped. Several other bodies were dangling from limbs up high in the trees. Frank counted the bodies. Eleven. Some of them were headless. Reluctantly, he finally surrendered to the churning feeling in his stomach. He leaned over and vomited on the ground where his stomach contents mixed with their blood. Frank noticed that there were no flies, and other animals seemed to avoid the area. That fact puzzled him. Sickened, wondering what kind of animal or human had done this deed he pulled Apache behind him as they hastened away from the area. Before they could get out of the foothills and make their way back to civilization, Frank Sloan encountered something that made him wish he had never killed that kid, robbed that bank and run. He had started down a steep slope when Apache nudged his shoulder. When he turned around and looked at her she shook her head violently. Frank forced a grin, patted her forehead and took her warning seriously. “I guess your senses are better than mine. You are right again,” he said. The shotgun felt heavy in his hand and his legs felt weak as he pondered about what to do next. Then he heard a noise like someone humming a tune ahead of them. It was not a tune he had ever heard before. He parted bushes and peered through them. His heart jumped as his eyes focused on a dark figure in the center of a glade. Unlike any creature he had ever seen, he hoped he would never see anything like it again. Almost breathless, he watched as the being knelt over a dozen bodies gutting them and eating their insides as it worked. The creature was tall with broad shoulders and well muscled. The appearance of the thing, looking as much like an insect as it did human, appalled him. Frank had never seen a spider close up before—and had never wanted to—but he could easily imagine that this thing was kin to the loathsome creature. Tentacles protruded from behind its head. While they moved around as if trying to catch or sense a fly, the creature concentrated on its task of gutting its victims. Frank hated spiders and avoided them whenever possible. This one, with a human-like body caused him more terror and fear than he had ever experienced. It only had two legs and two arms. Its body was gray, black and white. Just staring at the thing sent chills down his backbone. This thing, this monster wasn’t any twenty-year-old kid looking to make a name for himself. It was something else entirely. This thing could kill him and he knew it. Its knife-like claws slashed open stomachs like a butcher knife cutting through warm butter. He watched as the creature worked on another victim. The operation nearly paralyzed him. Frank tensed as the creature cut clothes from the body. When the clothes had been removed and the man was naked, the creature spat a white foam-like substance on the body. Using five fingered dark gray hands it took great care to rub the liquid all over the corpse. Next, Frank watched him slit the throat, cut the stomach open and remove entrails. This time he put the guts on the ground nearby. Frank concluded that the thing wasn’t hungry anymore. Frank, despite a throbbing fear that made his legs weak and his heart pound against his chest walked closer leaving Apache behind. With the shotgun in his hands, he studied the enemy as he worked. Was this thing the cause of the gunfire earlier? He stood for a while wondering how he was going to kill something that was almost twice as big as he was. How could you kill a creature that had slaughtered forty armed and desperate men? Frank Sloan thought his heart had stopped when the creature sensed his presence. Turning, he quickly stood facing Frank. Sloan knew that if this was something from Hell or from some other world that it had powers more dangerous than he wanted to think about. He must not let it get too close. Frank got a good look at it in the light of an early morning sun peeping through leaves overhead. He hoped this wouldn’t be the last sun he would see although he thought that might be a good possibility. Staring at that horrible face made him tremble so much he was afraid his fear would get the best of him. Then he remembered that he could not let that happen. It was the most hideous thing he had ever seen. The creature probably thought he was ugly too. Its head was enormous in proportion to the rest of its massive frame. Its eyes were huge and dark like two black orbs. Frank couldn’t see a nose. The mouth was large with four sharp mandibles opening and closing as if it couldn’t wait to chomp Frank’s head off. Franks eyes drifted down to its arms and stopped abruptly when he saw the hands. Its claws were long and sharp. Its skin was dark gray and rough like an alligator. “Who are you?” Frank didn’t expect an answer. By now, he was convinced that this was the Devil and that he had come after him. The posse had just been an added bonus in the Devils hunt for human flesh, hearts and souls. The creature raised its eyes and looked at him. “Who are you?” it repeated in a gruff voice. “I’m the hunted,” Frank said not knowing much else to say. “These men were hunting me.” “Strange,” the creature said its voice so gruff that Frank could hardly understand it. “I’m the hunter.” “I’m impressed,” Frank replied baffled because the being could talk to him at all. “Hunter, huh? What are you hunting? Humans?” The creature pulled a strange black object shaped like a matchbox from a bag on its back and showed the view screen to Frank. It was like a picture frame, except the figures in the screen were moving. Dozens of creatures like the one standing before him were being mutilated and slaughtered before his eyes. “Great hunter,” the being bragged slapping his free hand on his chest several times. Saliva or some other liquid flowed from its mouth. “Amor is the greatest.” “Not quite,” Frank protested. “Around here, I’m the best. So, that’s why you killed all these men, they’re just trophies?” The creature remained silent and shook its head as if it didn’t understand. Frank thought it was sizing him up for another kill. Perhaps he shouldn’t have bragged about being the best, he thought. Frank just knew his intuition was true. Satan was collecting bodies and souls to take back to the dark place. He would not take him, if he could help it. Quickly, Frank pulled both hammers back on the shotgun. Frank brought the gun barrel up aiming it at the creature’s head. Rough hands knocked the barrel aside spoiling his aim. Before he knew what happened he was on the ground with “Ugly” astride him. He was helpless. The thing must weigh a ton, he thought as strong hands held his shoulders against the earth. “I don’t want you,” It said. “What’s wrong with me?” Frank asked. “I have my quota for this trip. My ship is full.” The creature opened its mouth. Its mandibles moved back and forth. Before Frank could make an effort to escape white foam spewed forth from glands in its mouth. The substance covered Frank. He could not move. Then, he knew how the creature had captured most of the men in the posse. Paralysis. Frank watched as the creature stood and walked away from him. Then blackness claimed him. A red sun hung low in the west when he finally came to. His entire body tingled, his muscles ached and his head hurt. He could remember nothing. Apache stood nearby watching him intently. Fighting pain in his arms and legs, he picked up his hat and gun. “Why did you throw me out of the saddle?” Apache nudged his arm and shook her head. Only she knew the real secret of what happened to him. “We better get going before that posse finds us,” he said. Mounting Apache, he road away unaware of a small blue light hanging silently in the sky above. The End
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