On May 1st, 2021, David Sodergren and Steve Stred will unleash their co-authored novel ‘The Navajo Nightmare.’ Available in ebook and paperback, this western horror story is sure to make fans of dark fiction smile.
‘The Navajo Nightmare’ novel, is based upon the world created in a previous short story written by Steve Stred of the same title. While it acts a prequel, this story does not need to be read before reading the novel, but David and Steve thought it was best to offer it for those who’d like to read about ‘the before.’ The events that lead up to the novel.
This short story originally appeared as a bonus story in Stred’s novella ‘The Girl Who Hid in the Trees,’ but you can read it here for free below. Enjoy.
The Navajo Nightmare
(The Short Story)
The belt hung preposterously low, as though it was being pulled straight to hell by the hands of his dead.
He couldn’t fully close his hands, the nails having been recently removed. Dried blood flaked off as he flexed his fingers, his mouth curled in a grimace as the pain scorched through his nerves.
He knew shortly he would need to strike, but for now he was a shadow, hiding in plain sight.
The revolver stayed coiled in the holster, like a rattlesnake waiting to strike.
“You going to stand and stare all day, or we going to get to some killing?”
The voice yelling from the side of the crowded street had the effect he was looking for; his challenger glanced, for less than half a second, towards the yeller. It was all he needed.
The air was cut through with a crack, as the pistol blasted, and the challenger dropped dead in the street, the middle of his forehead turned into a bay window.
“Arrest that… that thing!”
The sheriff bellowed loudly as a group worked to pull the dead lawman from the dirty road, but it was too late. The Navajo Nightmare was gone, disappearing before anyone could grab him.
The tale of the Navajo Nightmare began with low-whispers in the back of bars. Bandits spoke in hushed tones, telling the story of an outlaw, an Indian with his face painted white with red lines through his eyes, who would suddenly appear. The horse he rode was 17 hands high, and could run faster than the trains across an open plain.
As the legend grew so did the mythology; he had been captured by Soldiers and was forced to convert, only to seek vengeance. Others said that his family had been captured and scalped, so now he sought each person involved one by one. One person surmised that he painted another red line on his face after each kill. The only thing that anyone could confirm to be true was that the Navajo Nightmare was the fastest draw hands down. There was no one even close.
Which is why Robert was contacted. You see, Robert was the fastest gun in the west. Or so the billing on his marquee said. He would travel around, following the circus circuit and make a few bucks in each town. He would do the ole shoot an apple off someone’s head, while they were both blindfolded, and he would shoot five random items thrown into the air before any of them touched the ground.
You see, the Navajo Nightmare’s latest victim was none-other-than Deputy Billy Johnson. And just who was Deputy Johnson you ask? Well he was the son of the Vice President. So Robert was contacted and then contracted to hunt down the Navajo Nightmare and kill him once and for all.
So on a breezy October morning, Robert and four other lawmen met up to help track their suspect, set off, heading towards the unforgiving foothills several miles out of town.
That first day, the five men had high hopes. None of them believed the stories that had been passed around about a ghost Indian, a native walker back from the dead. How could they? For if you were dead, would you not shoot imaginary bullets? No, they believed this man to be just that, a man. A man with face-paint, a big horse and an accurate shot. Robert didn’t even think his shot was very fast. He made the assumption that because people had built the shooter up so much that they simply froze and were surprised with the display before them.
Nope, Robert told the other men, he would shoot the Navajo Nightmare before the man even knew they were there.
The four lawmen appreciated the realism of the showman, but in truth, they were all a little nervous. They were not so sure that Robert himself wouldn’t freeze, when faced with the very real threat of death. They had decided not to tell Robert that in order to find the Navajo Nightmare, they would be heading deep into hostile territory, and worried he might tuck tail and run.
That first night, the men made camp near the base of the foothills. The lawmen had all brought rucksacks to fashion makeshift hammocks. They knew the area was teeming with rattlesnakes and didn’t want to risk being attacked while sleeping.
This was something Robert was unaware of, so he spent the night restless and uncomfortable trying to sleep on his horse.
The second morning of their ‘adventure’ as Robert had called it, was met with the first sign of trouble. For when the group woke up, they discovered that there was now only three lawmen remaining. The fourth had simply disappeared in the night, leaving his horse and belongings.
“This doesn’t make sense, why would he just walk off?”
“Maybe he woke up to take a piss and simply got turned around?” Robert’s presumption was something he had heard could happen, but the other men had none of it.
“He has 25 years of guiding service to his record. He would not simply get turned around. He was taken. Something was here, the air tastes foul.”
The group packed up quickly, taking the missing man’s horse and belongings with them. They couldn’t find any trace of the man, or any tracks suggesting someone else had been there.
“I don’t like this one bit,” said the largest of the lawmen. Robert detested that they wouldn’t tell him their names, but tried to not let it bother him.
The men rode in silence for the next several hours before stopping for a drink and a late breakfast. Finally Robert couldn’t stand the anonymity anymore.
“So tell me,” Robert asked, “why won’t you tell me your names?”
The three remaining lawmen all smirked at the question, before the largest one, and the one Robert now assumed to be the leader replied.
“So tell us, showman, what makes you believe you can ask that question?”
This caused the three of them to burst out laughing, slapping their knees and snorting.
“I don’t find this funny at all. The Vice President has personally asked me to track down and kill the man responsible for his son’s death. And you three laugh at me?”
“Calm down showman. We are just trying to lighten the mood. For the day will grow darker before the night comes, we can assure you of that. Now to answer your question. I was born with a name, but when I went into service training they strip you of it. We are all trained to do one job and that is protect the law and our country. We are all lawmen and as such do not need an identifying name. If you must, you may call me John. That there is William, and the fellow beside you is Butch.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“Now let’s move out,” said John, “the terrain grows rough and the territory will grow dangerous. Keep your eyes sharp and your wits about you.”
The four saddled up and headed off, unaware of the watching eyes from above.
The rain came unexpectedly, but with no worry of a flash flood. The group decided to leave the missing lawman’s horse behind, as the ground turned muddy. They didn’t want to risk it slipping or falling. A broken leg out here was a death sentence for a horse.
Robert found himself lost in the beauty of their surroundings. For the last decade he had been limited to his train car and the stage in each city. His schedule was such that he had very limited down time and any chance of being a tourist disappeared as soon as the show was over. Now though, he found himself mouth agape, staring at the hills jutting up all around them. He was so entranced that he almost didn’t see that the three ahead of him had come to an abrupt halt.
“Why did we stop?” he asked.
“Quiet. Voice down.” John snapped back and then motioned for the lawman behind him to move. The lawman, known to Robert now as Butch, jumped off his horse and made a slow approach ahead of John. Robert couldn’t see what was in front of them, but he could see William was frantically looking around the hills.
Robert leaned over to get a better view and was repulsed with what he saw.
The missing lawman was propped up in the middle of the path ahead. He was still in uniform, but he was missing his face. The grinning skull stared back at the crew, arms pulled out beside him, like a poorly made human cross.
“He did this,” Butch said, as he arrived at the dead man. “What should we do with his body?”
“Leave it. The buzzards will pick it bare and we don’t have time to stop and bury him. Let us say a prayer for his soul and move on.”
Butch and William both said Amen and Butch returned to his horse. Mounting it quickly they moved on. Robert couldn’t take his eyes off of the skull face as they rode by, the flesh completely removed, the white of the bone like porcelain.
That night they decided to sleep in shifts, with someone staying awake, keeping guard. It was agreed that Robert would simply sleep, as they wanted him rested and alert, should his quick draw be needed the following day. To nobody’s surprise, Robert didn’t fight against the motion and went to sleep immediately.
“Great, we are in the presence of a coward,” William spoke, as the three men filled their lips with chew and passed around a flask. “Hush,” John replied fiercely, “any man who saw what was done to our lawman back there and didn’t turn and flee has some courage in him. I just hope he doesn’t lose it when we need it most.”
Robert woke the next day, glad to find all men were accounted for.
“Saddle up. We will eat at lunch. Until then we ride. I suspect our mercenary is stationed near the waterfalls at the old gulch. I have heard reports that some wagons have been robbed near there and the suspect had a painted face.”
The three lawmen and the showman rode silently, focused on ending this, bringing some justice to the murdered son. They knew the Vice President would be forever grateful.
As the sun arrived at the height of its path, the gang of men neared the gulch. Robert had never seen a waterfall before and was excited to see one in person.
A whistling noise pierced the air and William was thrown clear of his horse. The force of the arrow threw him ten feet off of his stead and the projectile went clean through his body.
“Attack! Down, down!” John yelled and Robert and Butch pitched off of their horses. In their haste Robert realized he only had his pistol, his rifle still holstered on the horse.
From above the men rocks began to rain down causing them to scramble, trying to find a safe place to hide. An alcove in the hill offered them refuge from the barrage.
“That can’t be one man,” Robert said, sounding like he was on the verge of crying.
“I don’t believe so, no. But whoever it is doesn’t want us to get to our man. We have been followed for some time now.”
As quickly as the rocks had started they stopped. The men slowly made their way back to their horses, who luckily had stayed.
“Alright, that’s the second sign trying to prevent us from continuing on. I suspect the third attempt will be the most vicious of them all. Butch, kick William’s body into the river. Maybe in death he will rot and ruin their drinking source.”
John swatted his horse’s rear end with the leather strap and started out ahead, while Butch went over to William.
“Until we meet again,” he said, pushing the body into the water. Getting back onto his horse, he gave a quick salute then motioned for Robert to get moving.
Soon they would come face to face with a living nightmare, but once again, none of the men looked above to see the watching eyes.
On the last day of their journey, the men found themselves at a literal crossroads.
“Which way should we go?” Robert pondered, looking at the path to the left and then the path to the right. Neither path looked like it had been recently travelled.
“We will head to the left. I have heard reports of an old miners shack up this way. To me that makes the most sense for a hide-out. There isn’t a lot of traffic coming through this way, most travelers stay to the flats and it’s only a half days ride out, to get more water or if you were going to rob a caravan.”
John spoke with such authority that Robert saw no reason whatsoever to question the man.
The three got their horses moving and followed the left hand path. As they went the path began to gradually grow steeper, working its way up the side of the hill.
“The miners shack is close. Guns out fella’s, we need to end this quick.”
Robert pulled his rifle from the holster. His pistol was always close to his hand and would be pulled from its resting place with the speed of a thousand men. He was confident in his abilities. Over-confident some would say.
As the group approached, the shack was spotted. John motioned for them to stop, and they all dismounted. John waved for them to follow and the two kept close to the man as they ducked down and hustled over behind a row of rocks.
“Someone is in there. See the smoke coming from the chimney and a pair of boots at the door? Butch, you flank the shack around the right side. Robert, you stay put here, while I take the left hand side. When I am in position, I will yell, and when that door opens, Robert, you end this.”
Butch and Robert nodded, understanding the orders.
John went to the left, Robert stayed crouched behind nature’s fence, while Butch took off to the right. Robert found he was breathing heavy now, adrenaline firing through his body. He laid the rifle down on the ground, knowing this wasn’t the gun he was going to use.
“YOU IN THERE! THIS IS THE LAW! COME OUT NOW!”
Robert hadn’t realized it was going to happen so soon. He stood, turned, and the moment a figure emerged in the darkened opening of the shack’s door, he put two bullets between the man’s eyes. The figure dropped dead on the front stoop.
“Yahoo!” Butch yelled out, running from his hiding spot. A loud bang echoed through the close confines of the hills and Robert watched as Butch’s head exploded behind him. He looked around, trying to get eyes on where the shot came from but it didn’t make sense. The shooter would have been right in front of Butch?
“John, are you ok?”
Robert yelled out to the remaining lawman, but got no response.
Ducking low to the ground he shuffled over towards where John would have been, but found nothing when he got to the spot he assumed the man to be at.
“Where are you John?”
A crack echoed loudly and searing pain ripped through Robert’s right leg, dropping him to the dirt. Looking down he realized he had been shot, the muscle blown open and the bone fragmented below.
Screaming he pain, he frantically waved his hand around trying to find the shooter, when he realized that he had dropped his pistol when he fell.
He quickly found it near his side and as he reached for it a large, bare, scabbed foot slammed his outstretched hand to the ground. Looking up he saw John leering down at him.
“John… what…?” He stammered, trying to piece together the man before him.
“Robert. The word is a cruel, bitter place. I actually was growing to like you. Even as a showman. Any last words?”
“You? You are the Navajo Nightmare?”
The man chuckled, seemingly pleased with the nickname. He then proceeded to reach up and peel away the face of the lawman named John, exposing a white painted face with red paint down his eyes. Casting off the clothes, the man was left exposed, causing Robert to gasp.
The Navajo Nightmare was missing large chunks of skin, exposing rotting organs and yellowed, decaying bone beneath. A leather skirt worn loosely covered the man’s groin but that was all he was wearing. Long thick black hair adorned his head, but Robert could see a small line of blood near the scalp.
“Is your hair not even real?”
The living hell before the showman grabbed his hair and peeled it back. The scalp struggled to let go, thick strands of pus and flesh hanging on for dear life. It finely let go with a slurping sound, exposing a yellowed skull and leaving behind chunks of skin.
“Robert. I have been dead for hundreds of years. Ever since my family was slaughtered. A relative of yours was there. He held the axe. He took my scalp and took my life. Now, I take yours.”
“I challenge you to a duel. Let the faster man live.”
“Showman, I would normally accept your challenge. But not today.”
Then the Navajo Nightmare pounced, his Tsenil maul high, crushing Robert’s skull.
Robert died with his hand on his gun, too slow to stay alive.
Reaching down, the man stuck two fingers into Robert’s pool of blood, then brought his hand to his face. Pulling his bloody finger down, the murderer streaked another red line through the white paint.
The Navajo Nightmare then turned and walked by the shack, past the dead miner with two bullet wounds between his eyes and the dead lawman known as Butch. He then stopped, put two fingers in the sides of his mouth and whistled loudly.
A massive beast of a horse appeared from the hills, 17 hands high, missing large chunks of its flesh. The man hoisted himself onto the stallion and kicked the animal’s sides hard. The horse galloped forward, before the two figures disappeared into the shadows, on the hunt for more retribution.
*Copyright 2019, Steve Stred
The Navajo Nightmare Novel can be purchased at the link below;