By Mark Tarrant
The low, dull clang of the mission bell sounded. The sky grew dark, as night exerted its control. The moon pale and full crept above the low lying mountain ranges to the East. The church was a small structure made of white adobe brick. Small shrubs and cacti dotted the front landscape. Behind them were solid oak doors with two large cast iron door handles waiting to be used. As the sound of the bell trailed off, a figure in a brown robe opened the door and slowly slid out from the mission. He was a older man, with short black hair and a tan face. He looked around expectantly, but all he saw were the desert sands and dunes around him. Barren and empty.
"Curse his hide for being late! I risk my neck and my parish and for what?" he mumbled.
"You got the patience of an old burro Alvarez," spat a low growl.
From around the corner a figure came into the moonlight. The Dead Walker. His large black hat was bent low, hiding his white bony face. The dim light showing a face of death. His thin white hands swayed leisurely by his twin six shooters.
"If I get caught helping you, I could lose everything!" the old priest exclaimed with a hint of exasperation.
"Did you bring the water?" The Dead Walker asked nonchalantly, standing just inches from the priest.
"Yes, it's right here."
The Dead Walker looked the young priest over.
"You know Alvarez, I still can’t get used to that robe and collar. I think you should have stayed with bank robbing.”
"Those days are long behind me. They are behind you as well, if not our past, I may have not agreed to help you.”
“Yes my amigo, I saved your hide many times in the war with Mexico, not to mention a few bank robberies, but we were young, feels like ages ago. Now I have my wife, my town and this…blessing to keep our people safe.”
“And I have the children to take care of now. Not to mention lost souls along the way. I have a path in life that makes me happy and fulfilled."
"You were always more giving of your time than I." The Dead Walker added, reflecting back on his youth. He stepped up to the priest and pulled a small sack of coins from the pocket of his coat.
"Here you are, for the water."
Father Alvarez hesitated.
"I cannot take money from a creature such as yourself. It is not right."
"Well silver is silver padre! It is not right to have your children starve neither so take the damn silver!" The Dead Walker said with a fair amount of exasperation in his voice.” My new found life is to help the people... so please, take the coins.” His tone changed.
Alvarez looked over his shoulder and then quickly took the small pouch.
Looking at the ground, the priest muttered, "I don’t know what I will tell the others when they ask about it."
"Tell them it’s a donation from some rich white banker you met in town…people love money stories, make it a good one.”
“Now I have to lie..." the priest said, shaking his head in dismay.
"Can I have the water?" The Dead Walker asked
"What? Oh yes, yes, certainly." the priest reached in his robe and pulled out a metallic flask.
“I took it from the pool. It has been blessed and prayed over by many righteous souls."
The Calaca reached out his right hand and took it. His hand tingled a bit due to the holy water contained within the flask. Being a creature of both the living and the dead holy relics gave off such a charge. His bony fingers clutched it tight and it felt cool on such a warm evening.
"I will be putting this to good use at some point," The Dead Walker said.
“Just please do not let anyone know that I help you. It would not look good for the church".
“It’s best we keep our secrets to ourselves, considering our...unique...situation. You have mouths to feed, and I run into some pretty bad things out here in the desert.”
"Did you find that The Vampire? The one that was rumored to be feeding in Tepio?" Alvarez asked.
“Yes, and he was a tough old gringo too. He did not go quietly into that good night," The Dead Walker said as he removed his black hat to reveal a large scar running from his left eye to the back of his ear.
"It should be healed by next moon. He didn’t expect me to have holy water and, well my old friend, let's just say he burned like dried up pine needles.” The Dead Walker placed his hat back on his head hiding his skull face just a bit.
"In time…the church could use someone like you…to help with such things. We have several mysterious cases and hear strange stories every few months," the priest added.
"It’s not exactly my intention to hunt creatures of the night padre, but I protect my town, and others close by. I heard there was one of those blood feeders near and I put an end to it.”
"Well, I will help you this time, but Santos, please do not continue to ask for my help with your… adventures."
"As long as you have mouths to feed, I may be asking and you will be obliging," his tone was more truthful than boastful. ”If the priest in my town was not away I would not have come so far out to ask. Father O’Brian is a good man, but a lousy preacher. His sermons are long and dull, but he is good for our town, and has helped me from time to time.”
“Father O’Brian… tall, thin, almost as Pale as you…with the broken Spanish…yes indeed.” The priest said “Met him once, nice enough for a gringo. So he knows of your special abilities?”
“Yes, and he claims it’s a gift from the Lord himself. I do not believe in such things, but I do walk the path of living and the dead, so who knows maybe I will ask the Lord face to face some day.”
“Always the agnostic.” The priest said
“No, just, well…I don’t know, this new life has challenged me in many ways my friend.”
The Calaca looked at the metal flask.
"So use the coins they will help. I'd better go. Stay out of trouble Alvarez," The Dead Walker said. “I may be looking you up again…we can catch up on old times.”
“I would prefer a day visit.”
“When I can come back, I will visit during the day…I am less handsome of course.” He joked and adjusted his hat to his head.
The priest looked The Calaca over briefly, it was his old friend from their youth, but hidden under his skull like painted face.
“Keep protecting us.”
“I will do my best old friend.”
He tightened the cap on the flask and slid it into his coat pocket. He slowly walked back around the corner of the church. The priest stood and listened to the sound of a horse galloping away into the distance. He tightened the grip on the money sack and let out a sigh. He knew, for now, that the children would continue to eat, and somewhere, out on the trail, The Dead Walker would defend those who could not defend for themselves.