What goes around, comes around.
|Jacob Stilber had been riding hard the past thirty hours. The determined posse chasing him just wouldn’t quit. He couldn’t figure out why they were being so tenacious, perhaps it was because he’d killed two of their number and badly wounded a third, or just maybe it was because he’d been overly friendly with the posse leader’s daughter. That is, if you called rape over friendly. The bitch asked for it…he muttered with a grin!
Three good horses had died beneath him in his mad dash to outrun the pursuers and his final horse was definitely on its last legs, so to speak. Hot damn! He like that…last legs! Made him want to laugh out loud.
There’d been no sign of the posse for the past ten hours so and he figured they had either given up or lost his trail in the rugged backcountry south of Tombstone. Most likely they were forced to stop and rest their horses, as they had no remounts like the ones he’d had stolen.
Well, the Mexican border was only a few miles ahead and he knew a little town where the tequila was plentiful and the women were hot and friendly. He also knew that half a dozen of his prison mates would be waiting there for him and they had no love for lawmen either.
As he topped a rise a few miles further on, he was surprised to see a small town nestled in a narrow valley with a dry creek bed running through it. He didn’t remember this town being here but it had obviously been around for quite a while because it seemed like a thriving little community.
He needed food and water and he was bone tired from his lengthy ordeal. A few hours rest, a good meal and a stiff drink would do him wonders. Not only that, the nag he was riding was finished. He needed a fresh mount if he was going to make it to Mexico.
There were several saloons in the small town and he picked the one with the most business. He liked being around people and enjoyed being the center of attention. His tall frame, over six and a half feet, and his beefy good looks always made him stand out in a crowd, usually to his advantage.
As he tied his worn out horse to the hitching post he noticed two things. One was a magnificent black stallion tied up several rails down from him, the other was a scrawny old Apache watching him like a hawk. One thing for certain, when he left town he would be riding that stallion - one way or another.
As he started to enter the swinging doors to the saloon he noticed that the old Apache had crept off the porch and was petting and whispering to the nag he’d just rode in on.
Turning around with a twisted grin he yelled, “She’s yours old man!” He immediately pulled his colt from its holster and shot the exhausted horse between her sad eyes, watching with a smile as she crumpled to the dry dusty ground.
“Skinny as she was she won’t feed you for long,” he sarcastically chuckled as he pushed his way through the swinging doors.
The place was just about what he figured it’d be. No different than a hundred other piss ant saloons he’d been in. One drunk was passed out on the table to his left and another Indian lay curled up in the corner with his arms wrapped around an overflowing spittoon. The place smelled of stale smoke, stale piss, foul sweat and burnt beefsteak. It was hot as an oven and he loved it!
“Bring me a bottle and a beefsteak big enough to choke a horse,” he yelled at the bartender, throwing his saddlebags on a table next to several somber men playing cards. Choke a horse! Ha! That was a good one he chuckled, remembering the three horses he’s just ridden to death.
An hour later he was feeling like a new man. He knew he should try to catch a nap while the opportunity was available, but the whiskey and beefsteak had awakened his senses. He felt vibrant, alive and eager to take on the world for some reason. The card game the next table over was penny ante poker and the players acted like a meeting of undertakers or a church gathering. No action there.
He had noticed one of the painted whores go behind a set of hanging curtains several times carrying tall mugs of a clear liquid. Either vodka or gin he thought and maybe there’s a good poker game going on back there. He snagged her arm as she passed by his chair.
“What’s going on behind the curtains?” He demanded. “Big game?”
“Some locals having a friendly game,” she replied, pulling away from his grasp. “Nothing that would interest a man of your exceptional tastes.”
Someone had to have ridden that stallion to this dump, he thought. None of the other people in the saloon looked as if they had the money to own such a fine animal. The owner had to be behind those curtains with some more wealthy locals.
Well, he’d just join their little group. Who was going to stop him? He smiled as he thought of the losers hanging around the saloon like flies. It’d be fun to lay a few of them out for the undertaker. Might even brighten up the atmosphere a bit.
He chuckled to himself as he walked over and pushed his way through the dusty red curtains. The back room was much larger than he thought it would be and well lit from half a dozen blazing oil lamps. Four well dressed men were sitting around a large oval table with a substantial pile of poker chips in the pot. A fifth chair sat invitingly empty.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked the men, not caring whether they minded. Without waiting for a reply Jake strode over, pulled the empty chair out and sat heavily into its soft cushioned bottom. He glanced threateningly at the four men as he took his time to light a slim black cigar. None of them challenged him.
“My name is Senior Eurytion,” an elegant silver crowned man stated. “This is Mr. Nessus, Mr. Ixion and Mr. Pholus. You are welcome to join us.”
“Bunch of foreigners eh?” Jake asked, wondering what brought four well-dressed and obviously educated men to this hellhole. Gold, he thought, glancing at the hefty pot in the center of the table. Must have struck a rich vein somewhere in the hills around here. Bastards have been keeping it to themselves.
Within half an hour Jake won more than his share of pots. He was no top-notch gambler but these yokels were just about the worst card players he’d ever played with. He also noticed that despite their display of cool reserve they were at least half drunk and kept popping pieces of red meat into their mouth. If he didn’t know better he would swear the meat was raw.
“Where’s the whore with the drinks?” he asked, his thirst revived by his huge winnings. “I could use a drink here.” As if by magic the attractive woman walked in carrying another tray of tall clear mugs.
“This is Hylonome,” the man called Eurytion stated. “She is one of us.”
Another damn foreigner, Jake muttered to himself, reaching for the mug. He was surprised to discover that it was cool as if it had been sitting on ice. He almost spat it out when he took a deep gulp of the clear liquid, then thought better of it. It was not beer and definitely not the rot gut whiskey he usually drank.
“Wine,” Pholus stated, smiling at the surprised Jake. “The best wine in the world. You’ll not find the likes of it in this god-forsaken desert. Comes from a friend of ours named Dionysus.”
The clear liquid was like nothing he had ever tasted. He’d had his share of wine before… a real sissy drink he usually tried to avoid. Nothing a real man would consider. But this was wonderful, smooth, thirst quenching and flowed down his throat like molten nectar.
He couldn’t help himself. He drained his mug and reached for the man’s mug next to him. The man, Ness or Nessus or some silly name, started to shout at him, then abruptly smiled and handed the mug to Jake. Within minutes Jake was drunk as a skunk, as the old saying goes. But, he was fully aware of his surroundings and his senses seemed like they were on fire.
“Where’s the whore?” Jake shouted. “I want more!” Knocking his chair over as he hastily stood up he then rushed over and pulled the curtains wide apart. He stood in frozen shock.
The saloon had disappeared. Before, where the sights and sounds of drunken men had held sway and the ever-present sour smells prevailed, there was nothing. Even the town was completely gone. A lush green valley spread out in every direction he could see. He gaped at the incredible scene. He could see strange looking animals in the distance, half goat and half man. Others he could not even identify or conceive of.
“What’s going on?” he yelled, turning around to confront the strange foreigners he’d been gambling with.
He was rewarded with an additional shock to his already frazzled senses. The four men were standing in a semi circle around the table. The whore had joined them, but they were not what he assumed them to be. They had the torso of a man, and woman, on top of the body of a horse.
“I must be dreaming,” Jake spat, looking back and forth from the strange creatures to the lush land behind them. “Either that or you bastards spiked my drink with some kind of drug.”
“This is no dream,” the man called Eurytion replied. “This is your worst nightmare. We’ve been keeping tabs on you for some time and we are disgusted with what we see. You are an evil man Jacob Stilber. Normally evil men do not bother us because we ourselves are somewhat notorious for our violations of women, our savagery and our drunken behavior. We do not condone mistreatment of our brothers and sisters the horses though, and you are guilty of horrendous brutality.”
Jake started to say that the horses were only dumb animals, then thought better of it. These characters didn’t look like they would appreciate his observation.
“So what now?” Jake asked, reaching for his pistol with a twisted grin on his face. “You gonna kill me or something?”
“No, we are offering you two options,” Eurytion replied. “We think we can influence your ways and you do have some rowdy qualities we truly appreciate. You can either join us here in our little haven, or we’ll send you back to your world. I have to warn you though, you won’t find life back in your world the same as it was.”
“If I join you, how would that work?” Jake asked, his greed and curiosity piqued. “Do I get my own place, own woman, wealth, or whatever I want?”
“You will become one of us,” Eurytion stated. “You will literally become a Centaur in both body and mind. We need to expand our population since it has been a long while since we have added to our numbers.”
“No way in hell am I gonna become part horse!” Jake spat a thoroughly disgusted look on his face. “You might as well send me back to where I belong. I’ll take my chances with the stinking lawmen and Indians.”
“As you choose,” replied Eurytion, a look of disappointment on his handsome face.
A misty cloud suddenly enveloped the area. All of a sudden Jake could not even see his hand in front of his face. A tingling sensation erupted throughout his entire body. He thought he was going to black out for a second as a wave of nausea almost overwhelmed him, then he started to regain his eyesight and senses.
He was riding down a dusty hillside carpeted with rocks and cactus. Ahead he could see several horsemen beating their exhausted mounts down the incline. In the distance the small town appeared as if by magic from a sudden mist.
However, something felt wrong! Something just wasn’t right?
Suddenly it hit him!
He could feel his feet hit the ground with a solid thud. But they weren’t feet they were hoofs. There was a heavy weight on his back, his nostrils were full of dust and sweat and an agonizing pain shot through his butt with every step he took.
He turned his aching neck and looked up and behind him!
A man sat on his back. A tough man wearing a sheriff’s star and a determined look. A look that said he would kill his mount if he had too to catch the man he was chasing.
Jake let out a scream of pure terror!
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