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All right – the final story for the next Lone Star Sons collection is almost done! Lone Star Glory, the continuing adventures of Texas Ranger Jim Reade and his Delaware Indian blood-brother Toby Shaw, should be available in ebook by mid-November.

The Borderlands Beast

“It’s the damnest thing,” Jack Hays mused. “Here I have a letter from our friend Mr. Biddle in Laredo, passing on tales of a strange hairy beast supposedly attacking, mutilating and murdering people – and now I read the same thing in the Texas Register and by a completely different correspondent… Is there some kind of moon-madness afflicting people down along the Rio Grande? Or has everyone started eating locoweed stewed in aguardiente?”
“No idea,” Jim replied, as Jack handed him the folded sheets of the Texas Register. They were sitting at a table out in back of a saloon and beer-garden on Soledad Street, in the oldest part of Bexar. The establishment – narrow and dark, presented a fortress-like aspect to the street and ran down to the river edge, fringed with rushes and shaded by immense old cypress trees. The proprietors of the saloon/beer garden had set out rough tables and chairs under the trees. It was just twilight of a mild spring day, and the oil lamps hanging from lower tree branches cast a pleasant golden glow; just enough between their light and sunlight fading from the pale sky to read the tiny print of the newspaper. At the riverbank, lightening-bugs flashed their tiny brief lights among the rushes.
“… fleeting glimpses of an immense, shaggy black shape, nimbly leaping from wall to tree, leaving the victim, one Augustine Santiago sprawled on the ground, dismembered and hideously mutilated about the face, his throat chewed through as if by razor-sharp teeth set in a monstrously strong jaw …” Jim shook his head. “And his right arm torn entirely off his body. It would take inhuman strength to perform that feat. I’ve heard a lot of stories about what the Comanche get up to when the devil is in them and they have an enemy to torture – but I’ve never heard anything this outlandish. I suppose one of those grizzly bears could mutilate a man in that fashion with their great claws, but the description of the beast moving and leaping sounds like anything but a bear. What does Albert Biddle have to say?”
“Only that this Santiago murder is the latest,” Jack replied, unfolding the pages of the letter from Laredo. “And Biddle is a sensible man, not given to megrims and alarms…”
“Who was this Augustine Santiago?” Jim wondered aloud. He had not gotten that far in the newspaper.
“A Mexican merchant with a large establishment across the river in Nueva Laredo … distant kin to Dona Graciela, which is why your friend wrote to me. There is more than has been put in the newspaper, you see. Biddle writes that several young shepherds in the vicinity have been found dead, and also savagely mutilated in much the same manner. The common folk blame the Indians … but the condition of the bodies is so different from we have been accustomed to see in our various wars with the wild tribes. And it seems,” Jack cleared his throat, meaningfully, “That this murderous beast has likewise been preying upon them as well. Those in Laredo of Biddle’s acquaintance who maintain friendly relations with certain of the Comanche and Lipan and others say that the Indians are frightened as well – frightened almost out of their skins, telling tales of flying death bats and cannibal skulls with wings, and child-sized monsters with a taste for human flesh. And significantly, they blame the white man, or perhaps the Mexicans for bringing the monster into the region. The Mexicans and the Americans, of course, are equally eager to blame some mad renegade amongst the Indians – as if there was any excuse needed to set all parties at each other’s throats. I’d like to put out this little bonfire before it grows any bigger. Since you and Mr. Shaw have the friendship of Old Owl and his Penateka folk, I will task you to go to Laredo and see what you can find out about this monstrous man-killing beast … and if possible, put an end to it. Show off the pelt in the market-place, so that everyone knows the matter is settled.”
“Give us a day or so to pack our traps,” Jim replied. “And plenty of lead… do you know – there was a man-killing wolf which supposedly killed and ate a hundred people in Southern France, in the days of one of the Louies. It was eventually shot and killed by a hunter using a special silver bullet which had been blessed by the local priest. Do you suppose I should take that kind of precaution, Jack?”
“If you chose to do so, pay out of your own purse for it,” Jack replied. “In my experience, cold lead with black powder behind it has been fitting enough to do the job.”

The next day, when Toby Shaw appeared at Jack’s quarters in an old adobe house on Main Plaza, Jim’s Indian blood-brother listened to Jack outline the new mission with a wholly impassive expression on his face. When Jack had finished, Toby shook his head.
“This is a monster, such as the old ones of my people called a ‘wendigo’. This is a very dangerous creature to hunt, according to the old tales. I have no relish for this hunt – but as you say – this is a perilous matter. The wendigo is an unnatural thing, leaving no tracks by which a man might hunt it. But it sounds as if this is a living thing – and living things leave tracks by which they may be followed. Only …” Toby paused, and It unsettled Jim, how Toby’s hand had gone to fiddle with the star-iron talisman at his throat, a piece of unearthly metal the size of a pecan-meat, strung on a thong about his blood-brother’s neck, as it had been since the very first day of their meeting – at the scene of a bloody killing in the Nueces strip.
“Only – what?” Jim said, and Toby shook his head.
“Nothing, Brother. Only this matter has the stink of a great evil about it.”

Three days later, Jim and Toby set out for Laredo, bearing with them a letter on heavy paper with Jack’s signature, authorizing them to make inquiries on both sides of the border. Jack had signed it with an especially impressive flourish, with his official title, and the official seal of the Republic embossed below.
“That should open some doors, in Nueva Laredo, at the very least,” Jack said, as he handed it to Jim on the morning of their departure. “Don’t know if it will impress the Penateka or the Lipan, much – for that, you and Shaw need to depend on your own swift wits and clever line of palaver. Good luck. And when you kill this beast … bring me a souvenir; a scalp, or a set of claws, or teeth; something that I can put on the shelf and brag about to folk.”
Jim sensed his blood-brother’s doubtful thoughts about this mission, although forbore to speak of it, until they were well on the trail towards Laredo, and the ramble of Bexar, punctuated by the blunt dome of San Fernando had diminished at their backs. Spring rains falling on the gentle rolling hills and grasslands had brought forth a bounty of wildflowers – blue buffalo clover, purple verbena, pink wild primrose and yellow tickseed in such numbers that in places, the green grass was overpainted with blossoms.
“This is a dangerous hunt, Brother,” Toby said at last. “More dangerous than any search we have undertaken before. Whether it is an evil of this world, the world of men who walk in the light of the sun, or from the spirit world … we must be very careful. This wendigo has greater powers than any of which I have ever heard.”
“I don’t think that the beast is anything other than of this world,” Jim replied, trying to hearten himself as well as his blood-brother. “Of this world in the here and now. Ghostly apparitions do not appear out of the ether, and tear and rend human flesh with anything other than earthly talons and teeth. Depend on it – this is some animal, perhaps a wild catamount, or a wolf with a taste for human flesh. There is no danger to us, being armed and doubly wary.”

 

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