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By Rob Vaux A tale of Deadlands Weird West

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Sitting at his desk, rifle on his knees, Nate Hunter knew that something would be coming for him soon. Templeton was out gathering the troops, Olsen releasing the last of the prisoners. Rearranging deck chairs while the ship sank beneath them. Out on the streets, chaos reigned. Unspeakable things stalked the town square, devouring those unfortunate enough to get in their way. Rumors of zombies rising from the docks were no longer rumors. A saloon had caught fire, and the lower west side was now engulfed in flames. It was all coming down around their ears. But he was still sheriff. Two days ago, he had asked his remaining deputies if they wanted to quit. None of them did. So when Johnny came back, they would all head out into the nightmare and do what they could before it claimed them.

Meantime, he had to hold the fort - in case any hapless soul came looking for protection. The sheriff's office was a bastion, which meant that someone had to be here. It also meant that any of the things out there could pop in and remove the last vestiges of Gomorra's authority in one meaty slurp. He was all alone; hardly a threat for a supernatural creature from beyond the grave. He tightened his grip on the rifle and braced himself for whatever horror chose to shamble in out of the night. He was almost relieved when it turned out to be Rachel.

"Come on in, killer," he called as the outlaw walked slowly in. Her brown hair hung loose around her soot-stained face, while the burnished steel in her hands pointed right at Hunter's heart. Her cigar butt had gone out she spat it contemptuously across the desk at him.

"Shut up."

"Johnny'll be back soon with Charlie Flatbush and the Chengs, maybe more if the demons haven't gotten them. You want to wait, you can wipe the rest of us out too."

"All I need is you," she snarled, cocking her guns.

"Still angry about the gunfight, are you? Even after everythin' that's happened?"

"You killed my friends!" she shouted.

"I'm sorry. It was a mistake. But frankly, all that means squat right about now. We got bigger fish to fry, Sumner. Or haven't you looked outside?"

"You think I give a dump of manure what happens to this town? All I want is your blood on that wall."

Hunter flicked the safety off his rifle. "Then shoot and let's be done with it."

Sumner's grip on the pistol's tightened…

"Stop Rachel." The voice came from the back door. Rachel's mouth fell open.

"Jackie?"

Black Jack stepped carefully into the office, interposing himself between the sheriff and his former partner. His guns were trained on both, though his left hand was a little more ginger than his right. Hunter froze in his chair, while Rachel turned back to her intended target. Her mouth still gaped however.

"You're not dead…" she gasped.

"Not yet. Put down the guns down and I'll tell you all about it." His words were calm.

"What are you talkin' about?"

"I'm talking about you not shooting Sheriff Hunter."

"Why not?!"

"Because I'm asking you to. And because I'll kill you if you do." Jack's voice never wavered.

"Have you gone nuts?!" she barked. "He killed the whole gang!"

"I know. I was there, remember? That's over now; it has to be. There's something we need to do, and we can't do it with Hunter lying cold and stiff. Please Rachel."

"He's gotta go," she hissed.

"Then so do you," he returned.

"You're bluffing. You wouldn't kill me."

"So help me God, I'll put this right through your skull unless you DROP THE GUNS!"

For an instant, Rachel's hands moved from Nate to Black Jack. Then, slowly and deliberately, she eased the hammers back. The pistols slid silently into her holsters, and she folded her arms angrily.

"Okay boss," she glared. "Fer auld lang syne."

Jackson nodded. "Thank you."

His right arm pivoted to point both guns at Hunter. The sheriff had wisely remained silent during the altercation, but now he sized the outlaw up very carefully. His hands hadn't moved from the rifle.

"What do you want?" Hunter asked.

"Your help."

"Why should I help you?"

"I think you know the reason."

Nate was silent for a moment.

"What's its name?"

"Stoker calls it 'Knicknevin.' The Whateleys brought it here through the gate at Lord Grimely's."

"And to kill it, you and I are gonna have to let bygones be bygones?"

"That seems to the be situation."

Nate grimaced. "You killed Corky."

"And you killed half of my men. You think it was easy, me coming here? I could have let Rachel plug you right between the eyes. We've got to get past that."

The sheriff's knuckles turned white on the rifle stock. "I... I don't think I can do that."

Jack sighed. "Then you're going to bury this town."

"You killed her!" Nate suddenly screamed. "She was in love with me and you shot her dead! Don't you realize that?!"

"It doesn't matter. I killed Corky. You killed Eddie. We could keep this up all night if we wanted." He lowered his guns to the floor. "Shoot me if you like, if you think it'll bring her back. Then Rachel will shoot you; Templeton shoots her, Vic Navarro shoots Templeton… it can go on forever if you like. But if we don't stop - right now - then none of it will matter." He turned his back.

"You want me dead? This is the best chance you'll ever get."

Hunter's hands wavered on the gun. He wanted to bring it up, to blow Corky's murderer across the room. But his fingers wouldn't obey the impulse. With a cry of anguish, he knocked the gun away, spilling the papers on top of his desk to the ground.

"I can't," he whispered. "Not this way."

Black Jack turned around again. "It's not like you expected, is it?"

"There's just supposed to be right and wrong," the sheriff rumbled.

"Not anymore. Not with Knicknevin getting ready to swallow this town whole. I won't make excuses for what I've done; I had my reasons. But you and I, we're the only one's left who can stop this."

He held his hand out across the table. "I've got friends, allies who can help us. I've got what's left of my gang and I've got Rachel if she's with me…" he glanced over at the silent outlaw. "But we can't do this without you Nate. I'm not asking for your forgiveness, but I am asking you to set your hate aside for one night. Can you do that?" Slowly, grudgingly, Sheriff Nate Hunter took Black Jack's hand in his own.

"To do what we gotta," he agreed.

"Can you control your people?"

"If you can control yours." Hunter looked over at Rachel, who hadn't moved.

"How about it?" Jackson asked her. "You in?"

"Fer now," she nodded. "But when it's done…"

"I'll be ready anytime you wanna come lookin'" Hunter intoned. Rachel shrugged.

"So what if we can't stop this thing?" she asked wryly. Jackson sighed.

"Then killing each other will be the least of our worries."

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