This is it. The grisly demise of one of our beloved (or not so beloved) characters. Read on, and see what Ranger Jim Griffin has done to alter the landscape of this epic saga.
Previous installments, penned by the likes of I.J. Parnham, Jack Giles, Chuck Tyrell, Jack Martin, Joseph A. West, Robert S. Napier, Richard Prosch, Peter Averillo, Paul Dellinger and Evan Lewis, can be found here:
Parts 1-10 on The Culbin Trail
Part 11 on Open Range
Part 12 on Charlie's Tokyo West Blog
Part 13 on Broken Trails
Part 14 on Davy Crockett's Almanack
Who's next? Care to try your hand?
Part 15 by James J. Griffin
Arnside gave up the idea of using that rifle when at least twenty more Apaches topped the dunes, surrounding the erstwhile Camel Corps. In the Indians’ midst rode another figure, dark-eyed, with black hair and beard. A flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, with an enormous feather perched jauntily in the band, topped his head. The man’s appearance was almost exactly the same as an engraving of the pirate Jean Lafitte Walt had seen back in New Orleans.
Surrounded by the Indians, he rode his Andalusian stallion up to the apprehensive group.
“Who are you, and what are you doin’ with these Apaches?” Walt demanded.
“I am Esteban Escobar Bourbon. These Apaches are my bodyguards,” he announced, his eyes glittering. “You seek the ship of my great-grandfather. My family has been bound to guard the ship and its secrets for three generations now, against all interlopers. You also shall not succeed where others have failed.”
One of the Apaches separated himself from the rest, approached Arnside, and clubbed him on the side of his head. Walt crumpled to the sand.
When Arnside came to, he was alone… alone, stripped naked, and staked out, rawhide thongs biting into his wrists and ankles. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, a rawhide strap ran across his hips, holding them firmly in place. He opened his eyes, blinking against the harsh sun.
“At least they didn’t slice off my eyelids,” he murmured. “Reckon they couldn’t find an anthill, neither. Not that it’s much comfort.”
As his vision cleared, Walt realized, to his horror, he wasn’t exactly alone. Silas Bartlett was also there. He’d been skewered through his belly by an Apache’s lance, which held him pinned to a giant cactus, ten yards beyond Arnside’s feet. Bartlett hung there like some macabre scarecrow, his eyes bulging with terror. Arnside’s old partner wouldn’t be coming back to life a second time. Walt’s guts roiled when a zopilote buzzard landed on the lance’s shaft, to pull a chunk of flesh from Bartlett’s face. Others joined it, tearing at the corpse. Bile rose in Arnside’s throat at the scavengers’ ghastly banquet. He forced his eyes shut and lay unmoving. One of the bolder buzzards dropped next to Walt and tore at his ribs. When Walt screamed, the ugly bird flapped away, squawking in protest.
Shortly, the zopilotes had reduced Bartlett’s body to the bones. They remained perched in the cactus, beady eyes watching Arnside with infinite patience.
The sun rose higher, baking Arnside’s flesh. An intense burning between his legs forced him to once again open his eyes. For the first time, he spotted the mirror angled into the cactus just above Bartlett’s skull, a lady’s mirror with an elaborately carved handle and frame. Walt recognized that mirror as belonging to Lola. Rays of sunlight reflected off the mirror, down to a magnifying glass stuck in a mound of sand. The magnifying glass concentrated the beams directly onto Arnside’s groin.
“No Apaches rigged up that contraption,” Arnside moaned. “Hadda be Bourbon’s doin’.”
He writhed in agony. Those rays were frying his balls like Rocky Mountain oysters. When he attempted to shift his groin, he couldn’t move it one inch. Now he understood the reason for the strap over his hips.
With a scream, Arnside tried to pull himself upright, knowing the effort was futile. A sharp pain stabbed into his left breast.
Preoccupied with the buzzards feasting on Silas, and the sun roasting him alive, Arnside hadn’t noticed the thing causing this pain, until now… A Texas Ranger’s badge, its pin driven deep into his skin.