The Metal Man

Excerpt from the The Metal Man

….‘What did he look like?’ I wanted to know, careful to keep my voice neutral.

  The old rancher, Henry Jones Johnson, stared at me through hazy blue eyes set in a face with the texture of wind weathered cement. There was a long pause while he studied me, wondering if I was just having him on, stringing him along and setting him up for a good laugh.

  ‘Like a metal man,’ he said shortly. He heaved a heavy sigh and swiped the greasy ball-cap from his head. ‘Like a goddamn man, but made out of metal.’

  His grown son, quiet until now, spoke up, his voice stuttering with emotion.

  ‘We were coming back with the tractor when we spotted him. He was all hunkered down atop one of the cow carcasses, had his back to us. The dogs just about went ballistic. He was, he was….’

  Sheriff Bufford grunted with exasperation. A big man, broad-shouldered and slab bellied with a skull like a bristled cannon ball. He stood with his back to the rest of us looking out the front window and down upon the parking lot. Outside, the rain was slashing sideways against the panes and night was blackening the sky.

  I hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten until Sharky the bartender chose that moment to start turning on the overheads.

  ‘What are your thoughts on this, Sheriff?’ I asked.

  The Sheriff turned from the window and fixed me with a hard look. ‘I think you know my thoughts on the subject, Mister Turner. Like I told you before, I went up there to the ranch with some Deputies and looked the place over real thorough. Didn’t find a thing to suggest anything other than somebody, probably some crankster, broke the Bar-T fence down and did some trespassing. No cow carcasses, no blood. No sign of any wrongdoing.’ He switched his gaze from me to Elder Johnson. ‘Henry, those damn cows will show up tomorrow or the next day. We don’t need this story stirring up problems. Scaring folks.’

  ‘I don’t know what it was me and Jed saw, but it sure as hell wasn’t no goddamn crankster. No sir,’ Henry rasped.

  Outside, the world snapped flashbulb white and hung freeze frame long enough to imprint its image on the backs of my eyeballs. A moment later, the thunder came galloping with the violence of a jetliner landing on the roof. A transistor radio at the end of the bar erupted in a shrieky burst of static, and then fell silent. Even with the lights on, the shadows seemed to deepen amongst our little group of townsfolk.

   I don’t know for sure, but I think it was at this point that the fear entered the room,  first on the faces of the deputies, little more than boys just out of basic. Hands went to pistol butts, gazes shifted uneasily.

  Then in Jed’s voice, who suddenly blurted out: ‘He was eating–like a vulture. His head would go down, than yank back up with a gobful of meat, then it would tilt back and just sorta gulp it all down,’ he stopped to stifle scared tears, couldn’t quiet manage.

  ‘Me and Pa, we were just sittin’ there on the tractor not knowin’ what to do, just watchin’. He, it, looks back over its shoulder at us, like it was just noticing that we was there for the first time. And he gives us a big ‘ol shit eatin’ grin and this kinda half wave. Than quick as a wink, he jumps up and grabs each one of them cows by the scruff of the neck and takes off running for the brush. That’s why the Sheriff didn’t find nothin’. He ran off with them.’

  The Sheriff threw his hands up in the universal sign of exasperation and turned back to the windows. Sheriff Bufford was too big for some little thing like fear. But I wasn’t. I had a pretty good idea as to what might be out there in the dark.

  Trying to quell the tremor in my hand, I withdrew the old Kodak Polaroid I carried of Archie and handed it to Jed. My stomach constricted into a hard hot ball as I watched recognition dawn across his tear streaky face. I had been chasing after the Johnsons’ metal man for almost twenty years, and now I had finally found him.

  Or, he had found me.

  Thinking of all of my killing tools out in the trunk of the rental car, the nitrogen spikes and Raildriver and all of the rest of it, I suddenly felt the raw hand of doom reach out to cup my testicles.

  ‘Sheriff, we have to get out of here right now. We’re all in trouble here,’ I said, jerking the handcannon from its shoulder holster under my coat and crossing to the bar, shoving Sharky out of the way. Suddenly, I wanted the surface of the cigarette burned, polished cedar bar in between me and the front door.

  ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ the Sheriff barked. He hadn’t known I was packing.

  ‘Put that down right now!’ His own pistol was on its way out of its holster. His Deputies, all four of them, stood confused and uncertain.

  The cell phone in my pocket suddenly began to chirrup.  ‘Never mind that,’ I said. ‘It’s too late to run. Get ready to defend yourselves.’

  I opened the phone, listened.

  ‘Hello Dad,’ purred the voice on the other end of the line.

  ‘Hello Archie,’ I acknowledged.

  ‘I did not know if you would come.’

  ‘I almost didn’t,’ I said. I could feel his smile in my ear.

  ‘I left a trail for you, you know,’ he said.

  ‘I just figured that out.’

  ‘I suppose you think you are going to shut me down,’ he said.

  ‘Archie, if I can, I’m going to kill you.’

  There was a long pause, then: ‘All right, Dad. I’ll be there in just a sec. Then we’ll see about that.’

  The line went dead against my ear. I looked up, dropping the phone. The Sheriff and his men had their guns out and pointed at me. The Sheriff was saying something, angry, motioning for his Deputies.

  Then the lights went out, plunging us into utter darkness.

  We all froze, each of us aware of the rain hammering the roof, tree tops scraping and groaning, a stroke of lightning briefly flickering against the front window panes and a collection of hard steel pistol barrels.

  Then the metal man came and the screaming began….

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….


3 Responses to “The Metal Man”

    • My brother has been after me to write a horror story, so this is going to be it–it takes inspiration from Roger Zelazny’s classic tale “Home Is The Hangman” but with an extremely dark edge. Glad you liked the excerpt!

  1. Oh, boy, Jason. This is going to be a humdinger of a good tale.

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