Chapter 11 / June 1879
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
EXCERPT from BOOK II, Bandita Bonita and Billy the Kid: The Scourge of New Mexico Chapter 11 / June 1879
EXCERPT from BOOK II, Bandita Bonita and Billy the Kid: The Scourge of New Mexico
Chapter 11 / June 1879
Chapter 11 / June 1879
We were about a day’s ride out from Vegas when Billy chose to put us up in a familiar, secreted cave he had found out about during one of his many tours through the territory before we’d met. As far as he knew the cave was concealed carefully enough so that he thought not many could know of the little cavern—if any knew of it at all. He told me that he had come to this conclusion based on the fact that whenever he had a use for it for the purpose of refuge it seemed to remain unexploited by others and was always as neatly intact as nature would have it, though, he explained, it had been a while since he had visited the earthen cavity. This would be our first campout along our way to Las Vegas as we had stayed at the Gerhardt Ranch on our first day out prior to staying in Puerto de Luna and Anton before arriving here.
It was close to the rainy season, and so staying put inside of the cavern was a necessary condition for us should we find ourselves caught in a storm. The day had burned slow and was heated under a clouded, covered sky. Billy claimed that a storm was a real possibility, basing this, he said, on the friction he felt in the air.
There was a natural enclosure positioned just below the cave which was surrounded by sturdy mountain rock outcroppings and boulders with a natural overhang where we could shelter the horses. This would provide them decent enough protection from any rain or should a flash flood manifest without warning—flash floods were always a source of concern out here; they were an easy and near unavoidable death if one were caught and exposed by a merciless desert downpour. Certainly, dangers abounded everywhere out west.
The cave itself was set up high within the mountain, as was the cave in the hills of Patricio (where we had hidden out just before the 5-days-Battle in Lincoln), and it, too, had a precarious ridge one must climb to reach the earthen portico that spread wide before its mouth—the same swatch of land that created the overhang for the horses below. The cave was set back and nestled into the mountainside, and this particular cave boasted something of a fictile shaft made of rock inside that ran up through the mountain like a regular chimney which allowed for a fire to be lit beneath it, the shaft a flue that would suck the smoke right up and out, accommodating the terrene lodging in a way that made it cozy.
We secured the horses and began our ascent of the hazardous, narrow ridge that hitched along the mountain up toward the cave’s portico, our backs sliding against the wall of dirt behind us, loosing earth and scree that fell and bounced on its way down. With his right hand he took my left, guiding me along the dangerous edge as he negotiated it. With his left hand he held his gun aloft.
He dragged me as we climbed, causing us to sidle faster than I had expected along the slim berth of ground. He seemed anxious, wanting to reach our destination and get settled, his gun poised and at the ready, ears tuned to any sound that might come from up above; he was primed for misadventure.
He stopped for a moment, listening. An emerging ray of sunlight glinted upon something on the ground and caught my eye. I lent myself toward it with my free hand, attempting to grasp the object that had seized my attention. Knees and body bent, I reached out. The hand that Billy held kept my left arm anchored upwards as I angled myself toward the item, making my movement awkward. As he began to move again and pull me along he nearly caused me to lose my balance, but I had managed to grab the shimmering object and correct myself nonetheless. It was a pretty locket, covered by a fine sheath of dust. I wiped at it with my thumb as he continued to pull me along.
We were cresting the ridge and approaching the level ground that surrounded the cave—a gaping maw set back by an atrium of dirt and rock. Suddenly, the wind kicked up and Billy turned his nose away, disgusted.
“Oh Jesus...” he sighed.
I opened my mouth to ask what was wrong, but before I could speak I knew. A foul stench enveloped us both, causing us to hunker down into one another against the mountainside and cover our faces in desperation.
“God. What is that?” I yowled.
He only managed to say something incoherently and moan dreadfully into his hand.
He rose and turned back, preparing himself to look upon the place in which we sought. Letting go of my hand he turned to me and told me to stay put. Still crouching, I placed my hands down to steady myself along the ridge while he left me there alone. I saw him disappear around the bend at the top and then heard the firm flapping of wings before seeing black carrion birds scatter off into the air. And then...nothing. I waited as patiently as I could, but when his absence proved longer than I would have thought, the silence caused me to grow uneasy. Still attempting to protect my nose against the rotting stink with my hand, I called to him through my fingers. When he didn’t answer, I decided to make my way up the remaining stretch of path. Rounding the same bend Billy had disappeared around moments before, I saw him. His hand was over his face, eyes horrifyingly wide at the scene before him.
Two bodies lay by the mouth of the cave. I shrieked in shock, causing him to turn and see me standing there. Reacting quickly, he began pushing me back toward the ridge, firmly instructing me to climb back down. After my initial confusion, I was finally able dig my foot in and slow him from pushing. He fought against my stubbornness, yelling for me to move, but I was able to calm him when he became aware that I was deliberately struggling to make him stop.
“What are you doing? Go!”
“Billy, we can’t!”
“Like hell! Go! Move!”
Just then a growl of thunder punctuated my point as it sounded in the near distance.
He seemed to think on this a moment, then shook it off. “We’ll take our chances. Did you see what I just saw?” he barked.
“We have to stay here; you know we have to stay here, unless there’s another place like this we can go—”
His look turned derisive, sarcastically asking me, “Do you think this is likesome damned hotel? That we can just request a different room?”
Frazzled, I hollered back, “Well, I’m sure I don’t know!” I was feeling provoked and uneasy.
We grew quiet together in our shock, and exasperated, I placed my hands to my head, pushing my hat back. So we stood together silently, lost in our own thoughts; Billy considering our situation.
“What the hell are we supposed to do?” He asked out loud, almost as if to himself.
“Move the bodies,” I casually responded. Resolute.
His expression toward me could only be defined as repugnant. For the moment he seemed clearly put off and sickened by my suggestion, and then he looked at me as if I were short on sense.
“You must be out of your cotton-pickin’, east-side mind! I ain’t moving those damned bodies. I ain’t touching the goddamned things—”
“—I’ll help you—“
“—Like hell—no way! If there’s one person between us two who definitely ain’t going near them things it’s you, and I ain’t going, neither.”
He began to push me along again but I held fast to my position.
“We have to do this, Billy.”
I looked up at him, into his unblinking, wide blue eyes. He registered this truth. Twilight was peeking over the desert, and with the prospect of a storm and the sky growing steadily darker, another rumble of thunder closer off in the distance turned the simple possibility of a storm into a devastating reality. He began to nod to himself as if he were mentally gearing up for what he knew needed to be done—teeth working at his lips as his mind worked at the unpleasant task that lay ahead.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay…”
He started back toward the gruesome scene, and as I began to follow, he turned to face me and placed his hand against my shoulder.
“Stay there,” he commanded.
I stopped and let him walk on. I leaned against the mountainside, already feeling exhausted as I thought over the matter and the unpleasant undertaking that lie ahead when I heard him gagging. I moved toward him and peered around to see him sicking up as he knelt close to the body that lay the farthest from the ridge. When his stomach had expended its contents he stood and came back toward me.
“I can’t. We have to go. Now!”
“I’ll help you; we have to do this.”
“Aw, hell no, Lucy. Get going!”
I maneuvered around him and stood directly between both corpses, surveying the macabre tableau.
Both carcasses lay with their guns drawn, the body that Billy had first planned to move lay half in, half out of the cave. The half of him that lay exposed was horribly rotted; the gray-green flesh of the head had disintegrated in places, exposing the skull and desiccated tissue. The face confronted me, its marbled, black and puffy green colored flesh blistered; tongue eaten at, with what was left of it protruding through teeth unsheathed by withered, picked-upon lips; eyes gone. I waved away at the flies that had swarmed, realizing for the first time the churning black veil that shrouded the moldering flesh which should have been impossible to miss; the buzzing incessant and quite loud.
I felt my own stomach spasm at this. I hurried away from the bodies and wretched.
Satisfied, Billy yelled over to me, “Not so tough now, are ya?”
When my own body had quit shuddering, I looked back at the morose sight. Billy stood there, a strange look in his eyes as they flitted back and forth between the two dead men, coat sleeve covering his nose and mouth in an attempt to keep the malodor from entering his nostrils. I knew this had to be done; we could go nowhere else. Thunder lightly sounded again from the east, seemingly just beyond a small mountainous range. I studied the situation some more.
Looking at the angle of the bodies I wondered aloud, “Was it a fight? Did they kill each other?”
“Hell should I know? Looks like.”
“Okay, let’s just get this over with.”
He walked with me back toward the body we had both become unpleasantly familiar with.
“Grab him on that side by the jacket,” He said. “We’ll pull him and slide him over the side.”
I nodded and moved to do what he told me to, then stopped.
“Do you think he has any money or valuables on him?” I asked.
“Jesus Christ. I don’t know. Can we just get this done with?”
Ignoring him, I scampered around and to the other side of the dead man. I was revolted, seeing a new horror of insects as they scurried and writhed over and around the corpse. Cautiously, I gingerly placed my forefinger and thumb on the edge of the dead man’s lapel and slowly peeled back his jacket to look for an inside pocket, eventually flipping the panel over quickly. When I found it, I very warily placed my hand inside. Billy made sounds of aversion and vocally objected at this, but I pulled out a billfold. I looked up at him with a wide smile and nodded my head, pleased with myself. He frowned. I opened the billfold and found some dollar bills inside.
“Count it later,” Billy demanded.
I counted it right then. Nearly fifty dollars! That would do. I dropped the billfold and observed the body, still waving off the flies that consumed me as well, as if I could make them go away. The corpse’s legs lay one over the other and looked to be somewhat intact, but one could not truly tell as the carcass was fully dressed, and so his pants concealed his lower half. The flesh around his exposed hand had grown taught and leathery; the other hand was missing entirely. Thunder sounded again.
I glanced quickly up at Billy and, ignoring him a moment longer, checked the torso and found a clean, gold pocket watch which I hurriedly snapped away from the body for fear of the things creeping about, and then finally, returned to helping Billy. We dragged the body together to the edge of the bluff by the shoulder of its jacket and collar and, despite my dragging a festering dead body, of which I should have found very odd, all I managed to think to myself was how light it was. We slid him over the side and he fell a ways down to the ground but still made an audible thump.
We looked at each other and then at the second body. This one was laid out fully in the elements. His right, near skeletal hand lay clutched by his chest, his naturally decimated left hand lay alongside him as he lie prone, his gun resting on the ground as if it had been dropped there after its owner had been drilled by a bullet. There was a rucksack nearby him. Billy saw me spy this and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“After we’re through,” he said.
I nodded, knowing he wanted to get this over with, but still, I was not swayed from considering the body, looking for anything of worth and seeing nothing. I thought to check his clothing, but this one was by far worse off than the other. The skin of the face was gone completely, the chest appeared sunken in and the rotting shirt had a thick looking, slick stain; the gut hollowed out. Liquefied, I thought. I noticed a sticky-like substance pooled around him; biological run-off. The iron nerve I had initially summoned and maintained fairly failed me at this particular sight and I ran off again, dry heaving, wracked by the discomfort it caused my body.
When finally we had fulfilled our unpleasant deed and pulled this dead man over the ledge, we smiled oddly at one another.
Disturbed and with a strange smirk, he said, “Ghoul.”
He walked off to fetch our things from the horses while I hung back and examined the substantiation of what was here—what remained despite the removal of the grotesqueries. There were brownish, sticky and dry looking stains left behind by both bodies, thinly coated by a layer of grime, but the concentration of the smell had seemed to dissipate. I supposed this might be due to the fact that we had removed its source from the immediate places, but likely it was also because I had grown accustomed