Word Count 1,186
Thanks to Terri (Doc) for help with the beta and Diana (Buckskin) for her input
An episode tag for Scarecrow at Hacket’s.
Written in response to Feb/March 2021 Lancer Writers Challenge ‘Regret’
El Potreros de Satanás- Part of an old Spanish land grant where it’s said there’s a barren piece of land where the Devil planted his dead souls until he’s ready to reap them.
Lightning etched the western sky, crackling as thunder rolled, shaking the ground and the small building stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thrown together of wagon parts and clapboard, the run-down two room shack barely stood against the elements.
The wind lifted a thin layer of topsoil from the parched earth, pushing it across the yard, over the dead cornfield, and past the scarecrow staring through empty eyes.
It had been hard watching the boy suffer. Silas didn’t deserve what happened to him or what was going to happen. He should have had a mother, but she was gone the moment the boy drew his first breath. The woman was buried out back, and soon another grave will lie beside hers.
Many had tried to live here, to grow crops or cattle, but this dry, dusty land wasn’t meant for the living. No, this barren land was intended for only one thing.
The sound of pounding hoofs told me Silas was back and he’d brought help. I knew who they were, knew they’d do what was necessary.
Silas ran into the house, followed closely by the three men he’d brought to help.
The desperation could be heard in the boy’s voice, “Pa. Pa, it’s me, Silas.”
“I’d better go for the Doc,” Johnny said.
“Stay here, I gotta say something.” Jerome Hacket begged; his weakening voice carried through the thin walls. “I need you to witness.” The end was near and he knew he didn’t have time to waste.
“Fifteen years ago, I saw a man… a gambler, shoot a man. For keeping my mouth shut, he give me this land. And that was the same as taking a bribe from the Devil.” The regret was evident as Hacket gasped out the next words, “I’ve reaped what I deserved. My wife died… giving birth to my boy. Never a crop. Sickness. No water.”
Hacket’s eyes went to Murdoch Lancer.
“Any ways, Mr. Lancer write down your name as a witness.”
Picking up the paper from the small table, Lancer read aloud, “I, Jerome Hacket, with my dying words bequeath this land back to the… devil.”
“But Pa,” Silas’s voice broke, “you said this was gonna be my land when I grow up.”
With his last, the man breathed, “I love you too much, son.”
The front door opened and light streamed out like a beacon into the darkness. The boy and the dark-haired gunhawk walked onto the porch. Yes, I know what he is. There is always a familiar scent when a dark soul comes near.
Silas’s attention was drawn into the darkness where the scarecrow’s arms fluttered in the wind. “Pa just ain’t thinking right. As soon as he gets better, he’ll tear up that paper.”
There was silence between them. Then as if knowing his father was gone, the boy buried his head into Madrid’s chest and cried out, “Pa.”
There… it’s done. The old man has paid the first part of his debt. Hacket sold his soul for the price of this land. Now, it would wait with all the others until my Maestro, my Master, the true owner of the land, comes to reap what’s his.
He’ll be along any day now. He will have taken a new form and a new name, but I’ll recognize him when he comes. I always know when he’s around.
The Lancers will take Silas to their home, but he won’t stay there long. It’s a shame because the boy doesn’t belong here.
Well, that went well, don’t you think?
It’s all played out now. Weir drew Madrid in like the expert he is, a master of manipulation. Even knowing the history of El Potreros de Satanás, Madrid came and this is the last place the pistolero, a man who’s sold his soul to the Devil, should have been.
It was intense for a while but I could have told Weir the boy was too good, too innocent, and Madrid would fight for him, but you see, he wouldn’t have listened. It was Madrid he was after all the time. The boy was just the bait.
When all was said and done, Weir walked away empty handed. Maybe that’s because something had changed in Madrid. His soul isn’t as dark as it once was. It now balances between darkness and light; only time will tell which will win out.
We all have regrets and deep down, I’m no different. This place isn’t of my doing. If I had a way to change things, I would… maybe.
There are times I want to warn them. I wanted to warn Madrid when he faced Weir, but you see, I’ve been cursed as well: cursed never to speak, only to watch and to do what’s commanded of me.
There’s no doubt the dark souls who tread this ground belong here. So, with open arms and a fixed smile on my face, I’m always here to greet them.
They sometimes come one or two at a time. Other times, like a year ago, a dozen or more bloodied souls trudged across the hill from the estancia next door.
I hear their names, many I recognize – Pardee, Isham, Sexton Joe. I record them in my book, all the while smiling as they weep and wail and raise hell… well, they try to raise themselves from hell. They’ve gotten down on their knees and begged, but by the time they get here, there is no forgiveness, no mercy. Yes, they regret their actions, but it’s too late and there’s only one road left for them to travel.
It’s been hell on earth standing here day after day, night after night, watching and waiting.
I have to wonder if the living even notice me anymore. I know the dead do. I’m the last thing they see of this earth before their souls are planted in this ground. I like that word, planted. Because that’s exactly what I do. I plant them, and someday my Master, Sataná, will come to reap them.
If only the living knew El Potreros de Satanás- Satan’s Garden- was real. And that I, El Portero del Diablo- the Devil’s Gatekeeper, disguised as a mere scarecrow, was always here, always watching and waiting.
Out of nowhere, a howling wind started to whip up. The tattered clothes on the scarecrow rip away, leaving nothing but a slanted cross stuck in the ground. Little does anyone know what’s buried below.
Note: The words in the last paragraph are from the original script written by Sam Roeca in September 1969. Enjoy the script for yourself – scarecrow-at-hackets.pdf (wordpress.com)
El Portero del Diablo- the Devil’s Gatekeeper
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