Dan Cassidy was having a bad day. He was in Arizona looking for shooting locations, and his rental blew a rod. He had to hike fifty miles to reach any type of civilization. Then, when he got there, everyone ran from him with cries of terror and panic. Dan told himself that was the price for being famous.
“You’re that Blue Devil fella, ain’t you, son?” one old codger asked as Dan tried to get some assistance from the fleeing townspeople.
“That’s right, old timer,” Dan said, more than a little disgruntled.
“Don’t that beat all?” said the codger, “a real life super-hero in Pineston.”
“I wouldn’t say super-hero,” Blue Devil said. Every now and then he still had emotional problems with people expecting him to save the world, just because he was blue and had done it before.
“What brings you to town, Mr. Devil?” asked the codger. “Some villain needs a whupping?”
“My car broke down, and I’m looking for a mechanic to have it towed out of the desert.”
“Nearest mechanic is in Dos Rios,” said the local.
“Dos Rios?” asked Cassidy. “Which direction should I go? The car is a rental, and the lady I rented it from looked like she would bite my head off if I wrecked it.”
“It’s about five minutes that way, Mr. Devil,” said the codger. “It’s probably a good thing you’re here, because they’re having some kind of animal problem over there.”
“Animal problem?” asked Blue Devil.
“Yep,” said the old man. “Something is going after anything that moves at night over there. People are saying that El Diablo has come back to do his business. Poppycock is what I say. I think it’s some kind of puma or something like that.”
“El Diablo?” asked Cassidy. “What do you mean, old timer?”
“Back in the olden days,” began the codger, “when the Wild West was really wild, El Diablo would ride at night and bring hell with him. Many an evil-doer slept their last under the stars before he sent them to the inferno with that laugh of his.”
“Sounds spooky,” said Dan. “So everybody thinks he’s back and open for business?”
“Yep,” said the codger. “It doesn’t make sense to me. The Devil doesn’t need to eat, does he?”
“Don’t look at me,” said Blue Devil. “I’m just a stuntman in a monster suit I can’t get off.”
The old man laughed. “If you need anything else, just ask for Bert Lash. Someone will send you to me eventually.”
“Sure thing,” said the Blue Devil.
Dan Cassidy saw the road sign for Dos Rios. He knew he was miles away from the small city. He decided to call Marla and see how things were going back home. He found a pay-phone and made the call collect to Verner Brothers Studios.
“We had some trouble here, Dan, so I can’t talk,” Marla Bloom said when she came on the line.
“Just wanted to let you know I’m stranded in Arizona and am hiking to some town called Dos Rios to get my car towed,” Dan said.
“That’s good,” said Marla. “Call back when you settle in somewhere.”
“Right, Marla,” said Dan, just as he heard a click on the phone line. “Glad to talk to you, too,” he said, then started hiking down the road. Maybe he could hitch a ride along the way.
Everyone who saw the blue man with giant horns walking by in his Hawaiian shirt sped up instead of slowing down to offer him a lift. “Must be the shirt,” he muttered to himself as he crossed the state line heading toward Dos Rios.
Dan Cassidy wandered into the small town a few hours later. He wondered if Dos Rios could even be considered a town. It had one gas station, a small restaurant, a post office, and a sheriff’s office.
He walked to the garage, where the owner was busy reading a Sports Illustrated with Kory Anders on the cover. He didn’t even look up when the bell rang over the door.
“Could you help me, please?” Dan said.
“What you need, bud?” said the guy buried in his magazine.
Any other time, and Dan would have admitted Kory Anders was spectacular, but his car came first. He pulled the magazine down so that he could see the guy’s face.
“I need my car towed, please,” Dan said, trying to sound friendly.
The guy took one look at Blue Devil’s red eyes and fell back in the chair. The magazine fell to one side, fluttering like a wounded bird.
“Devil!” said the proprietor, trying to scramble away from the former stuntman.
Blue Devil grabbed him by the collar and lifted him off the floor. “Stop that,” said Dan. “I just need to get my car towed. Cut me some slack.”
“Car towed?” said the mechanic as the words sunk in. “I can do that. Where is it?”
“It’s out on the highway on the other side of Pineston,” said Dan.
“Excuse me, and I’ll get right on it. I just have to go to the bathroom.”
“Sure,” said Dan, letting the man go. He scratched his head as the man ran out of the station and around the corner.
A few minutes later, Blue Devil and the mechanic were rolling down the highway at breakneck speed. Dan clutched the door nervously. “It’s still going to be there,” he said through gritted teeth. “You don’t have to go at warp nine.”
“It’s not safe out after nightfall,” said the mechanic. “Some kind of animal is roaming this part of the desert, so I want to pick up your car and get it back to the garage before something happens.”
“This old guy I talked to in Pineston said everyone is living in fear.”
“Not far from the truth, neither,” said the mechanic. “If you weren’t here, I would have just left it out here until the morning.”
“I see your point,” said Dan. “I’ve never heard of something eating anything in sight before. I hope we don’t run into it, because I have enough problems of my own right now.”
The sun had gone down by the time they arrived at the abandoned rental car. Dan waited impatiently as the mechanic, whose name was Bill Fancinez, put his car on the tow bar. A feeling told him someone was watching, but he didn’t catch sight of the guy.
“You’ve been listening to this El Diablo stuff for too long,” he said to himself. “You’re jumping at the way the wind moves, for Pete’s sake.”
Still, he knew someone was there, and he was glad when he and the mechanic were finally back on the road to Dos Rios. Night in the desert was spooky enough without worrying about a mysterious predator.
Dan Cassidy called the rental agency while he waited for the mechanic to finish his once-over. Bill clucked as he walked around the car, then shook his head as he inspected the engine from underneath.
“How bad is it?” Dan asked, the phone receiver to one large ear.
“Busted rod, oil pan, some other stuff,” said Bill. “Somebody hasn’t looked at the inside of this sucker for a while.”
“Can I pick up a replacement?” said Dan over the phone. “I have a lot of driving to get done in the next week.” He frowned as he listened. “What do you mean everything is taken?” Dan said, almost crushing the phone in his massive hand. “You don’t have anything nearby at all?” He sighed and listened for another moment. “I’ll call you back tomorrow,” he said, hanging up abruptly.
“Bad news?” Bill asked.
“I’m stuck here until I can get a new car, or this one is fixed, and they won’t cover the repairs,” Dan said.
Dan Cassidy looked out of the window, sitting in the dark on a battered couch in Bill’s living room. He couldn’t go to sleep for some reason, so he looked out of the window.
He wondered why bad, unusual, or just weird things had always happened to him ever since Nebiros had blasted him. It was a curse, an evil curse, being a weirdness magnet.
Since he wasn’t going anywhere, he decided he might as well look into the case of the voracious omnivore. It would keep him busy, anyway.
Dan awoke in the morning with a loud yawn. It took a moment to remember where he was, but when he did, he remembered his decision, also. Pulling a fresh suit of clothes from his suitcase, he got ready for the new day with as much cheer as he could muster. He admitted it wasn’t much.
He decided to check in with Bill first. Then he could talk to the sheriff and see if he could get a handle on this thing before he had to go back to the mundane world of movie-making.
Walking into town, Dan stopped into the garage, where Bill shook his head at the rental. It was a dead horse needing to be put out of its misery, the gesture said. Dan agreed silently.
Blue Devil walked over to the small sheriff’s office and pushed the door open. He listened as the dispatcher worked her mike, sending deputies all over the county. She must have been eighty at least, from the way her white hair thinned and frizzed from a long braid, and the wrinkles of her skin looked like the shell of a pecan.
“Can I help you?” she said quietly.
“I was wondering if you knew what was going on with this creature that I keep hearing about,” Dan said. “I’m going to be in town for a while and would like to help out if I could.”
“Well, hon, you look like you could be of some help,” said the dispatcher. “Let me get some pins, and I’ll show you where these animal attacks took place.”
She pulled out a canister of pushpins and walked over to a map on a wall board. She began putting in red pins all over the county. Dan could see that most were toward the border, and near Pineston.
“Only hunts at night,” said the dispatcher. “No one has ever seen it and lived.”
“Anyone tried hunting it?” asked Blue Devil.
“Yep,” said the woman. “Never came back.”
“If the sheriff comes in, could you tell him I’m looking into it?” said the Blue Devil.
“I’m the sheriff, hon,” said the dispatcher. “I don’t mind if you poke around at all. You look like you can handle yourself.”
“Oops,” said Dan. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem,” said the woman. “I don’t hang strangers for not knowing. Name’s Cinnamon Savage.” She took Dan’s hand in a firm handshake. “How do you want to begin?” she asked.
“Thought I would look around after nightfall and see if the thing attacks me. Then maybe I could capture it somehow.”
“Do you want any help?” Sheriff Savage asked.
Lazarus Lane sat in his chair. The wind from an opened windowed ruffled his white hair slightly. His face was slightly more lined, but still firm of feature. Only his eyes showed a problem. They were as blank as blue marbles, staring into unseen vistas. Some said his soul was in hell, though no one living knew why or how he had come to this state. He was the oldest man in the area.
Wise Owl had gone to his grave, many years before. Only he had known of Lane’s other side and how to call it forth. His children and their children had taken care of Lazarus as befitting a blood brother of their grandfather.
Each had also passed the warning of Wise Owl along as the caretaker changed with each generation. In times of need, sing the dirge to Lazarus for aid. No one knew what it meant, and looking at the old man, no one wanted to know.