Part 3 of The Lazarus Tremaine Saga
Coming back from the dead once more, Tremaine recalls what had brought him to his current state as an undead ghoul. In the Old West, the outlaw Lazarus Tremaine flees across the Southwest from a feared bounty hunter in the wake of a bank robbery. Coming across a house in the desert, he looses El Diablo on the night and dooms himself to a living death. But can the place he died a century ago also be the key to his salvation?
Tremaine rested in the bag in two sections. One was just his head. The other was the rest of his body. Unable to speak or move, he had been loaded into a rubber body bag by unsympathetic emergency medical technicians.
As the sections jostled together, an azure flame sparked. It caused a switch to close in a random synapse, and he dreamed.
The ghoul hadn’t always been in two, or scarred so heavily. No, he had been a normal man with an ambition to carve a fortune from the growing west. He had been a leader then, he remembered.
But Tremaine wished he had never seen either that book or that hacienda that fateful night. Things would be much different than they were now, bouncing in his rubber shroud, blue sparks leaping when the two pieces touched briefly. He should have known things were going to turn out wrong with the way it all started.
It was a dark and stormy night.
The outlaw Tremaine and his men had been on the run for a while across the Southwest. The reason they were running so hard was because they had attracted the wrong kind of attention.
How was he supposed to know that Jonah Hex would come after them with guns blazing? The scar-faced gun-hawk had already killed more than a few of his gang.
Then the rain came in sheets, threatening deadly flash floods. Thunder and lightning chased each other as the men rode on tired horses.
All of them knew Hex’s reputation. Some of them had even seen him in action. The man had, and he knew he was no match for speed with that killer.
So they rode their horses into the ground, because Hex wouldn’t stop until they were all dead, or he was.
The hacienda appearing out of the darkness had seemed like a godsend. Tremaine had ordered a man to open the gate so they could ride into the courtyard. He ordered the horses to be taken care of as he and several men went in search of the master of the house.
They found a maid reading to a man beside a crackling fire. She looked up, startled by the intrusion, while the man next to her didn’t move, not even a finger.
“Evening, Miss,” said Tremaine. “Excuse the intrusion, but we didn’t think anyone lived here.”
“I just take care of things for Mr. Lane,” said the maid. “He is unable to move, so I read to him sometimes before I go home.”
The bandits looked at Lane, who had remained absolutely still.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked.
“He was struck by lightning,” said the maid, placing the book on the couch with a snap and standing up. “It left him like a vegetable.”
“I see,” said Tremaine. “Tell the men we’re bedding down here for the night,” he said to one of his henchmen. “Tell them we’re not staying long, just until the storm passes.”
“Right, Lazarus,” said the bandit, hurrying off.
“Lazarus?” the maid said.
“Yes,” he said. “Why?”
“That’s Mr. Lane’s given name, also.”
“Miss, would you know where the nearest town is?” Lazarus Tremaine asked.
“Dos Rios is about an hour’s ride away,” said the maid, pointing at the shuttered window. “That way.”
“Thank you,” he said as he threw wood on the fire in the hearth. “I’m afraid you’ll have to stay here until we leave.”
The maid frowned. “I would not stay here if I were you,” she said. “Mr. Lane is said to be cursed.”
Tremaine remembered laughing at that. What a fool he had been. He should left on the spot, but instead he had tied the maid up and left her in a spare bedroom. The only curse he was afraid of was coming after him with six guns and an evil leer over half his face.
Much later, Lazarus Tremaine realized that the failure to leave was his first mistake. His second was picking a book to read by lantern light as he waited for the storm to pass in the night.
There had been many tales in that old book. Each one drew him on, until he was enmeshed in a land of dreams and wonderment. He even began to say the words aloud, even the ones clearly marked that they should not be read.
That was when the pieces of his soul began to leave him as the thunder exploded overhead.
Lazarus Tremaine walked to where they left the girl tied. He had plans for her now, plans that did not include the possibility of her continued existence. She fainted at the terrible light in his eyes. She had known her life was over when he entered the room.
Then a watching form from the rafters fell on Tremaine from above and knocked him to the floor. The new arrival scooped the maid up and ran from the room as fast as his aged legs could carry him. He had hoped he would not have to do what he was going to do next. He knew now he had no choice. His brother must be awakened once more.
Lazarus Lane’s other caretaker was an old Indian named Wise Owl. He watched for things that he knew he would have to call his blood brother back to deal with, even though he hated to do it.
Wise Owl carried the maid to where Lane still sat, staring at the lowering flames. He opened his mouth, and a weird cry sounded across the villa. Wise Owl did not look at the chair as he carried the maid from the house with the help of a window. He didn’t look because he knew when he did that Lazarus Lane would not be sitting in it, or even in the room. Lazarus Lane was gone, and El Diablo walked the night once more.
The bandits received a visitor in the night. El Diablo was among them with a demonic laugh and the crack of a whip. The men awakened, drawing their weapons and discharging them without a clear target. Moans and death rattles accompanied the fuselage.
None went into the owner of the laughter. He vanished from the carnage as swift as any devil.
Lazarus Tremaine got to his feet in the room across the hacienda. His prey was gone for the moment.
Even though he was more than human now, he still suffered from their frailties. Time enough to fix that. First he must locate the maid and her rescuer. He was feeling peckish.
In the present, Tremaine bounced in his rubber bag. Somehow tendrils had joined the two pieces with sparks of blue flame, and he felt movement return slightly to his limbs.
He would have to wait. That was something he was good at, he admitted to himself. Waiting for the one chance to be free again after so many years in the dark. All because of that devil in the house. That thing that walked like a man, but wasn’t.
Lazarus Tremaine heard the gunfire from the other side of the hacienda but thought nothing of it. He was beyond worrying over his cronies. He pulled his pistol. All he wanted was the book and the maid. Then he would deal with his attacker as he should be. Jonah Hex could have his men if he wanted them bad enough.
As Tremaine began to search for his two prizes, mocking laughter erupted around him. New eyes scanned the gloom but saw nothing until a figure stepped from a shadow holding his treasured book.
“Give that over,” Tremaine said, pointing his pistol at the specter.
“I think you have read too much of the things men weren’t meant to know,” said the masked stranger. “It is not too late to renounce the bargain you made.”
“Renounce this,” he said, firing his pistol. The bullets struck the wall. The shadowy visitor laughed as he vanished down the hall.
Lazarus Tremaine chased his tormentor down the corridor toward the den where he had first encountered the maid reading to the other Lazarus, Lazarus Lane.
He dashed into the room, dimly registering that Lane no longer sat in his chair, which now rocked on its own. The other stood by the fireplace, shadow dancing madly on the wall and floor. A cheerful grin was framed by goatee and mustache.
“I want that book,” Tremaine said, leveling his pistol at the cloaked intruder. “I’ll have it, one way or the other.”
“This means so much to you?” the masked demon asked in its chilling voice. One hand tossed the book in the air and caught it.
“Last time I’m asking,” Tremaine said. Even changed, he was afraid to close with this stranger. There was something about the eyes that gleamed, even in the shadow of his hat.
“If you want the book, take it,” said the stranger, throwing the artifact into the fire.
Lazarus Tremaine rushed forward, hand outstretched to snatch the book from the fire. A column of flame erupted the hearth, and the bandit was caught in the inferno.
The flame receded instantly, but Tremaine smouldered on the floor, a husk wrapped around a skeleton. He couldn’t move.
The cloaked intruder pulled the book from the fireplace easily. It appeared to be untouched by the fire. He placed it on the shelf where it belonged.
“Now to give you the burial you deserve,” El Diablo said in his cold voice.
That was all Tremaine had remembered of that night. He had spent untold hours and days much later as he dug himself out of the dirt he had been placed in. The world had changed, and he had, too. Now he was in a bag after an ill encounter with a yellow man.
Lazarus Tremaine grabbed hold of his neck and adjusted it with a wrenching twist. That felt better.
He made sure everything worked before he pulled the zipper down from inside the bag. He emerged from his synthetic cocoon like an unsightly butterfly or moth.
The two attendants were up front of the ambulance. For the second time in a few hours, he reached forward and killed the hapless mortals with pale blue flames from his wretched hands.
He pulled them out of the way for later consumption as he took control of the vehicle. He parked the ambulance as soon as he could and fed on his victims to renew his wasted strength.
Tremaine then decided that he should return to the place of his second birth. Perhaps there was something there that could grant him more than a life of cannibalism.
A man sat in a hacienda staring at a brightly burning fire with a blank expression. His hair had whitened considerably over the last century while his chair rocked without his moving.
It was a posture his caretakers had grown used to as the years had passed, and only one remembered the song that had awakened the devil inside the catatonic man and presented him to the world in shadowy fury.
Lazarus Lane sat in his chair and waited for the Indian dirge to be sounded again — the dreadful song of El Diablo.