by Clark Wilson
This is an item that I had originally posted, but decided to revise. I hope all will enjoy
Cuidad de los Muertos
For three grueling days, “Lightning” Johnny Matteson had ridden hard down the Nevada line and across the corner of Arizona into New Mexico. After the nearly botched bank job in Carson City, Johnny alone, now rode for the Mexico border, trying to evade the posse he knew was somewhere behind him. Clem Hawkins and Dave Jenkins, his two partners were both killed in Carson City during the robbery. Johnny had to shoot the bank manager and two deputies just to make it out alive, and even then it was a close thing. Killing wasn't much of a thing for Johnny, he had always been faster than anyone he had ever come across and lord knew he had done it enough times now, he just forgot most of it, but losing his two partners had made Johnny a little wary and wanting to hide out for awhile. He rode past Silver City heading for the border into Mexico. Night was beginning to fall, and Johnny decided to make camp for the night.
No fire tonight. Johnny muttered to himself.
Johnny removed the saddle from his horse and rubbed the horse down. He knew the horse was on its last leg, but if it could just make it across the border, he would buy another one, before heading on down to Chihuahua. After giving the horse some feed from a bag, Johnny sat down to clean his guns and have a bite to eat. With no fire, Johnny settled for some dried jerky and a little whiskey to wash it down. Johnny knew once he got into Mexico, he would be home free, and could have a decent meal, a hot bath, and a good night’s sleep. He had money stashed in Chihuahua, and after claiming it, planned to move on further south to Durango, where he would hide out for awhile. After his not so delicious meal of the shoe leather jerky, Johnny laid back and fell asleep waiting for morning. When Johnny woke, he looked over towards the rising sun and decided he better get a move on. Getting up, Johnny saddled his horse, packed up his belongings and headed south towards the border and freedom.
Johnny rode a couple of hours and figured he had crossed the border. The day was hot already, and the sun came blazing back up, off the hard baked desert floor. Johnny noticed the horse was starting to weave a little and he called a halt to it, and got down from the saddle. He unhooked the saddle from the horse and the bags and set them to the side. Johnny walked around to face the horse and looked it in the eyes and rubs its sweating nose. “You’ve been a good friend these last few days. I’m sorry to see it end like this.” Johnny pulled his Texas model Patterson with the pearl handles from his right holster and steps away from the horse. “I’ll see you in the next life ol’ pard.” A shot rang out across the desert, the sound dying off nearly as soon as it was made. He picked up the saddle and bags and started walking hoping to find a town soon.
Johnny walked for what seemed to be days, but he knew it had only been a few hours. Ahead on the horizon the sun shimmered off the sand and he could see the heat baking up off the ground. After another fifteen minutes or so Johnny saw something ahead of him that might have been a sign of some kind. He continued heading towards it and finally came into view of a wood plank sign and a town just ahead of it. Johnny stopped and read the sign. “Ciudad de los Muertos”. Johnny whispered to no one. “Well, if they’ve got whiskey and something to eat, it can’t be too bad. He passed the sign and headed towards the town. As he entered, he realized it wasn’t much of a town at all. He could see a saloon with rooms above it and a few other small buildings lined up in a row. There was a small general store and a livery, but every other building appeared to be small dwellings. Johnny walked over to the livery and a small, nervous little man with gray hair and a big crooked nose came out to greet him.
“Howdy stranger. Whars’ yore horse? You surely ain’t walkin through this desert.”
Johnny eyed him and shook his head. “Horse didn’t make it. You got any for sale?”
“Of course. Why don’t you set that saddle down and come into the stables and I’ll show ya what I got.”
Johnny set his saddle on the dirt in front of the livery and followed the strange little man into the stables. He spied a beautiful roan mare, that looked quite hearty. “I’ll take that one there. How much?”
Scratching his head, the little man thought, “I’ll take fifty fer her. She’s a fine mare I tell ya. Only had her about a week.” The old man nodded to himself as if in agreement with what he had just said.
Johnny reached into one of his saddle bags and pulled out a wad of bills. Thumbing through it, he pulled a fifty dollar bill out and handed it to the old man. The man quickly grabbed it up and looked at it carefully. Then, like a magician doing sleight of hand, made it disappear into his pocket.“I’ll get her saddled up fer ya so ya can be on yore way.”
Johnny looked at the old man and shook his head. “Just keep her here until I’m ready to leave. I’ll pay you for anymore feed she eats and to clean up my gear.”
The old man eyed Johnny with surprise on his face and something else Johnny couldn’t quite place. “Mister, you tellin me yore plannin on stayin? This here town ain’t much to look at, and it’s worse to live in.”
Johnny cocked his head back and laughed. “Old man, you let me do the worryin about that. I’ll be back for the horse when I’m ready to ride on.”
The old man looked down at the twin revolvers on Johnny’s hips and nodded to him. Johnny turned and walked out of the stable heading to the saloon. A sign above the saloon read, Sally’s Place. Johnny pushed through the bat-wing doors into hazy light and dust. The place was empty except for a man behind the bar, and a woman seated to the right of him. Johnny stepped over to the bar and looked at the man.
“What you got cold to drink?” Johnny asked him.
“We got beer. It’s the coldest thing we got.”
Johnny nodded to him and the man quickly turned around and grabbed a glass from behind him and began to draw Johnny a beer. He slid it over to Johnny. “Two bits.”
Johnny reached into his pocket and pulled the change out and slid it to the barkeep. He looked over at the woman and tipped his glass to her before draining the tepid beer in one gulp. He set the glass down and pointed to it. The barkeep quickly drew another for him and pushed it back towards Johnny. He slid more change over to the barkeep and settled onto his stool to enjoy this glass.
“You got rooms? I need a bath and a place to sleep for the night.” Johnny asked him.
The barkeep looked over at the woman sitting to his right and she nodded to him. The barkeep turned back to Johnny, a strange look on his face. “Y-yessir. We got rooms. H-how long you gonna stay fer?”
Johnny looked towards the woman who only smiled at him and then back to the barkeep. “A day or two probably. I’ve still got some ridin to do, and don’t want to be long from doin it. How much for the room and a bath?”
“Two dollars mister.” The barkeep said eyeing Johnny nervously.
“Sounds fair.” Johnny pulled out a couple of bills and laid them on the bar. He picked up the glass of beer and downed it, then set the glass back on the bar. “I’m going to want to sleep after my bath. What time do you usually serve food around here, and when do people come in?”
The woman who had been sitting quietyly behind the bar now rose and walked over. She was not really a pretty woman, though she may have been once, but she was hard not to look at. She smiled at Johnny.
“I’m Sally and this is my place. We serve supper at 6:00. You can get your bath and a short nap before. I will come and wake you when it is time. The folks usually start comin in around 5:30. I’ll go up with you and show you your room and draw your bath for you.”
Johnny smiled and nodded to Sally. “Thank you maam. I really appreciate it.” Getting up from his stool, Johnny followed Sally up the stairs to a room. She opened the door and stepped into a dim room, with dark curtains covering the windows.. She walked over to the curtains and pulled them back. Johnny could see mounds of dust on everything, but he didn’t care. All he wanted was some sleep and to wash off the grime from the desert. Sally walked over and turned the covers back on the bed.
“You can put yore stuff down and have a seat. I’ll go and get yore bath ready and come git you when it’s done.” Sally then left, closing the door behind her. Johnny put his bags beside the window, and sat on the edge of the bed. He sat there about twenty minutes thinking what a strange little town this was, when there was a knock at the door.
Sally opened the door slowly and looked in at Johnny. “Baths ready.” Johnny followed Sally down the hall to another door. She opened it and Johnny saw a claw foot tub filled with water. Beside the tub was a table with soap and washcloth. Draped over a chair was a towel. “You get out of them dusty clothes and into that tub, then I’ll come back and get yore clothes and get some of that dirt out of em’.”
Johnny stepped inside and Sally closed the door, leaving Johnny alone. He undressed and slipped down into the warm water. Dirt began to wash off of him just as soon as the water touched his skin. Johnny picked up the washcloth and soap and began washing himself. A few minutes passed and a knock came at the door. Sally peaked in and grabbed Johnny’s filthy clothes and left Johnny to bathe. Johnny finished washing and just sat soaking in the tub for awhile. He dozed off briefly until the door came open again. Johnny didn’t hear the knock and his hand instinctively flew to his revolver that was sitting on the chair beside the tub. He looked up and Sally was standing there with some clothes in her hand.
“I thought I would wash yore clothes, so I found some from my last husband I thought might fit ya. I hope ya don’t mind.”
Johnny relaxed his hand on the gun and slid it back in the holster. “I’m sorry to draw on you. I didn’t hear you knock. I appreciate the clothes.” Sally waved it away with and set the clothes on the chair and exited back out the door. Johnny got out of the tub and toweled off and dressed in the clothes that Sally had brought for him. He slung his gun belt over his shoulder and headed to his room to sleep for awhile. Johnny was exhausted and when he climbed into the bed, sleep overcame him instantly. Johnny didn’t know how long he had slept, but when the knock at his door came at 6:00 for supper, he felt much better. Johnny got up, strapped on his guns, and headed downstairs to the bar.
When Johnny entered the bar he saw Sally standing beside a table with 5 men sitting around it. At another table sat 2 men and a woman playing cards. Johnny walked over to the bar and took a seat. The barkeep came over to him. “Whiskey.” Johnny said. There was a mirror behind the bar and Johnny looked at the reflection of the men in the mirror. These were some hard looking men. He had seen their type many times before. It almost seemed there was something vaguely familiar about them, but Johnny figured it was more just the type of men, than anything else. Sally came around the bar and walked into the back. In a couple of minutes she returned with a plate of food and set it before Johnny. He thanked her and began eating. The barkeep set his whiskey in front of him, and Johnny laid out money to pay. Johnny ate ravenously and washed it down with the whiskey. Turning on his stool, he looked around the room. He saw the woman who was at the table with the two men eyeing him. He turned back to the barkeep and ordered a bottle of whiskey, laid the money on the counter and took the bottle and his glass and headed over to the table the woman sat at. “Mind if I join you?” Johnny asked.
The woman smiled at Johnny and nodded toward an empty chair. Pulling the chair out, he sat down with the whiskey bottle. He poured a shot and offered whiskey to the others sitting at the table. Each of them shook their head no, so Johnny corked the bottle and set it aside. “What are we playin?” Johnny asked.
The woman shuffled the cards deftly and dealt out the hands. “Poker. Ante is 2 bits. My name’s Kitty, this here is Chunk and this poor sap is Ham.” She pointed out the men as she named them for Johnny.
“Names Johnny; Johnny Matteson.”
“Oh we know who you are, don’t we boys?” Kitty states and the men nod in agreement.
Johnny didn’t say anything but sat staring at the woman, figuring news must have traveled fast about Carson City. She smiled slyly at him and picked up her cards. Johnny reached down and picked his own cards up. They continued playing for awhile with Kitty winning most of the hands. Johnny heard a chair screech across the wood floor and saw one of the men from the other table heading over. He was a rangy fellow with a heavy beard and walked with a limp. He came over to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down laying his gun on the table. Johnny looked at the fellow for a moment, then decided this didn’t look too inviting. Johnny was about to push away from the table when suddenly the man named Chunk to his right made a sudden move under the table. Quickly, the stranger at the table picked up the gun and fired at Chunk hitting him in the center of his forehead. Chunk flew over backwards in the chair. Johnny sat staring at the man dumbstruck. The stranger looked over at Johnny smiling, offered him a wink, then rose from his chair and headed back over to the other table. Johnny slowly rose from his chair grabbed the whiskey bottle and his glass and walked around Chunk heading for the bar. He sat down at the bar and poured himself another shot. Johnny downed the whiskey and sat wondering what had just happened. The barkeep came from around behind the bar and hefted Chunk under the shoulders and drug him through the batwing doors, leaving his body in the narrow street. Kitty came over and sat down beside Johnny.
“Don’t fret over that. Those two have been going at it for awhile now. You look like you’ve been on the trail awhile, where are you headed?”
“I’m headed to Chihuahua. I’ve got a little place there. Gonna hole up there for a bit, then maybe head further south. I need a break for awhile. Do me some thinkin and drinkin.” Johnny said to her.
Kitty smiled at Johnny and placed her hand on his leg. Johnny was about to say something to her, when the stranger from the other table yelled out.
“Hey you! Stranger! Why don’t you come over here and join us fer a spell?”
Johnny swiveled around on his stool and faced the man. He turns back to Kitty, but she was already getting up and heading over toward where Sally sat behind the bar. Johnny picked up his bottle and walked over to the table. The stranger pushed a chair out from under the table and Johnny sat down in it.
“What you doin in town? You just passin through?” The man looked at Johnny with eyes that could have been pieces of coal that have been stuck into his sockets. There was something cold in those eyes and Johnny didn’t like it one bit. Johnny had never been afraid of any man, and he wasn’t afraid of this one, but there was something about him that would make most men cower in fear.
“I’m just passin through. I’m headin south day after tomorrow. Just needed to rest, a bath, and a hot meal.” Johnny reached for the bottle to pours himself another whiskey, but the stranger took it and poured it for him. The stranger set the bottle back down, and Johnny picked it up and offered it to the other men sitting around the table. Each man declined so Johnny set the bottle back down.
“My name’s Clay. Clay Albertson. This fella here to my left is King. The fella next to him is Henry McCarthy. The fella to yore right is Doc Holden. And this other fella on yore left who looks a little out of sorts, is John W. Harper. You’ll just have to overlook him, he’s only been in town a few days and he ain’t got his bearins about him yet.” Clay introduced everyone to Johnny.
“Johnny Matteson. Pleased to meet you all.”
“You know, we could use another man like you around here. You might want to consider stayin on awhile if you ain’t got nuthin pressin to do.” Clay smiled at him.
Johnny looked at Clay with puzzlement. “Do I know you from somewhere? I feel like I should know you, but can’t quite put it together.”
Clay laughed a little at this. “Nah, you don’t know me. I would remember you if we had ever crossed paths before. In fact, I doubt you know any of us.”
Johnny cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, I’m afraid I need to turn in fer the night. I appreciate the offer to stay, but I’m afraid I have some other things I need to be takin care of, so I’ll be headin out first thing in the morning day after tomorrow.” Johnny tipped his hat to them and stood up from his chair. He walked over to the bar and told the barkeep he was taking his bottle upstairs. Johnny started towards the stairs when Clay said something else to him.
“Well, we’ll see ya tomorrow then. Maybe you’ll change yer mind about stayin.”
Johnny didn’t glance back but heard the men talking quietly and laughing. He didn’t need to look to know that their eyes were on him, and he was the subject of their conversation. He headed to his room and entered closing the door behind him. Johnny sat down on the bed and pulled off his boots. Pouring another shot of whiskey, he stripped out of his clothes. He was just about to get into bed and put out the light when a knock came at the door. “Who is it?” Johnny called out.
A voice behind the door said “Kitty.”
“Damn.” Johnny said to himself. “Just a minute.” Getting out of the bed, he put on his pants and walked to the door. He opened the door and Kitty came bustling in uninvited.
“I thought you might like some company.” Kitty said to him.
Johnny eyed her wearily. “Come on in, I guess.”
Kitty walked over to the bed and sat down. Johnny offered her some whiskey, but she refused. He took the bottle and forgoing the glass, turned it up and drank a long pull from it. Setting the bottle on the nightstand, Johnny sat on the bed beside Kitty and was about to turn to her when she grabbed his hand. “It has been so long since I’ve been with a real man. Please don’t make me leave.”
Johnny looked at her and nodded. She was a fine looking woman, so he could see no reason for her to go. He turned to the lantern, and blew it out.
Johnny woke sometime during the night and realized Kitty was gone. He didn’t remember much of the night, but he saw the empty whiskey bottle beside the bed. His head hurt, and he felt all used up. He rolled back over and went back to sleep. Just before dawn, a nightmare woke Johnny. He wasn’t used to having nightmares and this one shocked him greatly. As he came awake more, most of the dream faded from his memory, but he could remember bits of it. In the dream Kitty and he were making love. He had closed his eyes and was enjoying the moment, but when he opened them again, Kitty had changed. She was like a rotting corpse and the smell of her was awful. Johnny thought it odd that he would remember the smell from a dream, but he got up and put it off as just a vivid dream. He dressed and went down the hall to wash up in the bathroom. After washing up, he headed downstairs to the bar. The barkeep was behind the bar, but Sally wasn’t around. He pulled up a stool and sat down.
“Mister, you should head out of town now. This ain’t a good place to be and you should go.”
Johnny looked at the barkeep. “I’ve been in worse places than this. Besides, I’m leavin tomorrow. Just want to rest up one more day before headin on. How about some breakfast?”
The barkeep shook his head and headed back into the kitchen. He came out 15 minutes later with a plate of eggs and bacon. He pushed it across to Johnny.
“What I owe you fer the meal?”
“Nothin. It’s on the house. I’m tellin you mister you really should….”
Johnny cut him off in mid sentence. “Why don’t you let me worry about me? I can take care of myself.” Johnny looked down at the plate of food and began to eat. The barkeep disappeared back into the kitchen as Johnny sat eating. When Johnny finished he pulled out a couple of bills and laid them on the bar. He picked up his hat and headed through the doors out into the street. Johnny walked down to the General Store and entered. The man inside was probably 50, but from the look on his haggard face he could have been 100. Johnny grabbed a basket and started heaping trail supplies into it. When he had finished his browsing, he stepped to the counter to pay for his purchases. The man took the basket from Johnny and started ringing up his items.
“You sure got a strange town here. Why does everybody act so god awful jumpy?”
“That’ll be $7.50 mister.”
Johnny dug in his pocket for the money and counted it out onto the counter. The man bagged up his items in a grass sack and handed them over to Johnny. The man didn’t say anything only stood there staring at him. Picking up his goods, Johnny left the store. He headed over to the livery where the strange little man from yesterday met him out front.
“You ready to leave now mister?” the little man asked.
“No. I’m not leaving until tomorrow morning first light. Can you have the horse ready then? I want to put these supplies with my saddle for tomorrow.” Johnny handed over the bag to the little man.
“Mister, you should really leave now. This ain’t no place fer you.”
“Why is it everyone keeps tellin me to leave? I don’t git you people. It don’t seem so bad here, other than that fella Chunk gettin shot up. All I want is another nights rest, and then I’ll be on my way.”
The little man shook his head. “Suit yerself mister. I’ll git yer horse ready in the mornin fer ya.” The man turned and walked back into the stable with the grass sack. Johnny walked back over to the bar and entered. He pulled up a stool and waited for the barkeep to come out from the back. After about ten minutes, the barkeep stepped back out of the kitchen.
“Whiskey, and leave the bottle. In fact I may take it upstairs with me.”
The barkeep handed Johnny a bottle and a glass. Johnny pulled out some cash and laid it on the bar with the glass. He picked up the bottle and headed upstairs. Johnny entered his room and pulled the curtains shut blocking out the light. Going over to the bed, he sat down and pulled off his boots. He cracked open the bottle and took a long drink from it. Within an hour Johnny has finished the bottle and laid back on the bed to nap. Sometime later a knock at the door awoke Johnny from a fitful sleep.
“Who is it?” Johnny asks towarded the door.
“It’s Sally. I brought you your clothes back clean. I thought you might want them.”
“Come on in.” Johnny sat up on the bed and watched Sally lay his clothes across a chair.
“Supper will be in about 10 minutes if yer hungry.” Sally said and exited.
Johnny got up and grabbed the clothes and headed down the hall to the washroom. He went inside and sponged off in some cold water, then dressed in his own clothes. He took the clothes Sally gave him and folded them up neatly and heading back to his room, laid them on the bureau. He picked up his hat, strapped on his gun belt and headed downstairs. The bar was empty except for Sally in her usual seat and the barkeep behind the bar. He headed back to the kitchen when he saw Johnny and returned with a plate of food. He set the food on the bar in front of Johnny, then turned and picked up a bottle of whiskey from behind and set it beside the food with a glass. Johnny sat eating his meal and when he finishes he opened the bottle and pours himself a shot of whiskey. Dusk was starting to set in outside and as it fell, some of last night’s patrons started to file into the bar. Johnny continued sitting at the bar drinking shot after shot. He got lost in his own thoughts until he heard someone call his name.
“Johnny, hey Johnny! Why don’t you come and sit with us a spell?”
Johnny turned around and saw Clay smiling at him from his usual table. Johnny picked up his bottle and glass and walked over and sat down.
“Where is the other fella?” Johnny asked Clay.
“Who John W? Oh, he’ll be along in a bit. So Johnny, have you thought anymore about what I asked you last night? You think you might stay on here for a bit?”
Johnny looked Clay in the eyes. Those cold dark eyes. They were much like his own eyes when he looked in a mirror. Somewhere in the back of Johnny’s mind, he was sure he knew this man. Johnny shook his head.
“Don’t mean no disrespect to ya Clay, but I have bigger thinks to take care of elsewhere. Your little town here is okay, but I’m afraid it isn’t for me.” As Johnny finished his sentence, he saw the smile slip from Clays face.
“I’m sure our little town will suit you just fine once you’ve given it a chance. I really do think you ought to stay awhile and see.”
Just as Johnny was about to reply, the bar doors swung open slapping against their frames. Two men were roughly shoved through onto the floor and standing in the doorway were John W. and Chunk. Johnny looked at Chunk in disbelief, then turned back to Clay.
“What the hell is goin on here? I saw you kill him last night. He can’t be alive still.” Johnny looked at Clay for a moment, but Clay only smiled at him and nodded. Suddenly a dawning of knowledge came to Johnny.
“I know you. In fact I know all of you. You’re Clay Allison, and you are Doc Holliday.”
Clay laughed at Johnny. “You sure you don’t know the rest of us too? This young fella here is Henry McCarty, or Billy the Kid. King here is none other than King Fisher. There you got Ham Anderson and sittin next to him is Kitty Leroy. Sally is Sally Skull.” Clay pointed towards the doors where Chunk and John W stand. “Of course, that is Chunk Colbert and the other fella there, that is none other than….”
But Johnny didn’t let Clay finish. “John Wesley Hardin. How can that be? You’re all dead, some of you have been for years. In fact just before I left Carson City, I read in the paper that John Wesley had been shot and killed.”
Clay looked at Johnny and the big smile crept back onto his face. “You see Johnny. I told you, you would like this here town. These are your kind of people. In fact we brought you some friends to join you.”
Johnny had the whiskey bottle to his lips about to drink when he turned around and looked at the two men on the floor. They both raised their heads to look at Johnny and he saw with shock the two men were his dead partners Clem Hawkins and Dave Jenkins. The bottle slipped from Johnny’s hand and crashed to the floor shattering and spraying him with whiskey. Johnny was about to say something when Clay spoke again.
“So Johnny, do you want to stay now? The city of the dead ain’t such a bad place. I think you’ll even grow to like it here.”
Johnny stared for a moment at Clay then shoved back from the table. “I’m gettin the hell out of here.” Johnny was about to turn and run upstairs to get his things when a voice called from behind him.
“Matteson, I’m callin you out.”
Johnny turned to see John Wesley Hardin staring him down. The two men faced each other and the silence in the room was overpowering. Johnny was fast, maybe the fastest man alive, but John Wesley wasn’t alive, and something supernatural, gave him an unnatural speed that even Johnny couldn’t match. Johnny was struck in the chest by searing pain before he could even clear his holster. He looked down in disbelief at the blood trickling from the chest wound. He slumped to the floor gasping for breath. Kitty came running over to him and squatting down beside him, lifted his head up and put it on her lap. Blood started to run from the corners of Johnny’s mouth and he knew he was dying.
“It’s okay Johnny. I promise you will like it here. I’ll take care of you. I like you Johnny. You’re going to do just fine here in the city of the dead.”
At hearing these last words, Johnny closed his eyes.
Authors Note: If you are an enthusiast of the old West as I am, then you may recognize many of the characters in this story. Of course, the main character and the minor ones are fictional. I would highly encourage you to do a little research on some of these fine folks. Some of these people lived quite colorful lives.