~ EL HEAD ~




HEAD OFF
ON THE VENGEANCE TRAIL
Dennis E. Power

THE EL HEAD HOMEPAGE

July 1870

Eventually you get used to the bitter, acrid taste of leather reins stuffed deep into your mouth and, the nagging ache of incessantly clenched jaws gradually becomes no more annoying than a sore tooth. Yet, I don't believe that I will ever get used to bouncing up and down, swinging to and fro like a tethered ball tied to a saddle.

Normally I feel no pain yet flopping about like a fish on a hook for hours on end, gives me the worst of migraines. If the pain becomes too great, my concentration fades and that could be fatal, well, very inconvenient at any rate. Since I no longer possess legs or arms or a torso or a backside for that matter, my control of the horse is dependent upon whatever pressure I can exert on the reins and on the strange mental powers I have found myself suddenly gifted.

My name is Poul Ichabod. In the past few months that I have been wandering the wastes of Nevada and Arizona, the Latinos have called me El Jefe, The Head Man. it is a pun as well as a term of fearful respect.

Let me not get too far ahead of myself.

A graduate of the West Point Engineering program, I served as a Captain of the Artillery in the War between the States for the First Virginia Volunteers. I was captured early in the war and became a galvanized Yankee, one of those Confederate Soldiers attached to the Union Army to fight the Indians out west during the course of the war. After the South's unfortunate loss, I remained with the US Army for a time. After my time was up I wandered the Southwest, using my skills as an engineer in various capacities.

While passing through Cairn, Nevada I stopped in at a place called the Lost Spur Saloon. Wanting to wash the dust from my teeth with a few shots of rotgut, I bellied up to the bar. After a few shots of demon rum, I found myself joining a search party. Some dumb prospectors had gotten himself lost in the Armargosa desert near Cairn.

We searched without success for about a day and a half for that fool prospector but never found him. What we did find was a band of Comanche who killed off a goodly portion of our search party.

The Comanche drove us into a valley between two shallow mountains. They refused to follow us into the pass between the two mountains. I figured that it was some sort of trap but figured it could not be worse than the fate we had behind us.

We found nothing dangerous inside the pass which wound down into a small valley containing an oasis with a lake in its center.

Bear Marks, the half-breed Injun who was among the five search party survivors said that the Comanche believed that these mountains were filled with evil spirits, that ghost lights often shined up from the mountains at night.

Laughing this off as savage superstition, we made camp by the lake. After filling our canteens, we made preparations to leave in the morning.

While searching for some firewood among the sparse woods in the little valley, Donegal Ryan found a small cave no bigger than a man's head. A glint caught his eyes. He pulled out a handful of glimmering dust, dirt with a few golden flecks.

The other members of the search party had known each other from their stay in Cairn, they quickly made a pact to share the gold, eyeing me uneasily as if I would be an unwelcome partner in this venture. I told them that I had an engineering degree with mining experience. They reluctantly made me a full partner.

Bear Marks insisted that we become blood brothers. In a bizarre savage ritual, we all slashed our palms, draining a few drops into a cup and added a pinch of gold dust to it. After being well mixed, the cup was passed and every man took a swallow. The taste was quite foul and yet a strange tingling sensation rushed through me as the blood and soil mixture hit my gullet.

All of us experienced the same feeling. Bear Marks remarked that it was strong medicine.

My new blood brothers were Bear Marks, Belar Davidovich, Donegal Ryan and Ross Irving. We were quite the odd assortment of men.

Belar Davidovich was a grim, dour faced Russian with a bad foot. His various remarks lead me to believe that he was a member of the Okhrana, the Tsar's secret police. He had been exiled to Alaska a few years earlier for excessive brutality in questioning a suspect. When Aliaska had become an American territory, he had emigrated south. He was fast with his fists and his shotguns. His passion seemed to be games of chance.

Donegal Ryan had been a printer by trade. He had tried to revolutionize the printing trade by creating mercury-based inks. According to him he had been driven out of the printing industry because his ideas were ahead of their time. The jealous printers had also plotted against him because God had set his mark upon Ryan to spread his word.

Ryan spoke to God quite often, having long conversations with Him. Not being quite as devout as Ryan, it appeared to us as though he were talking to thin air. In addition to being God's Chosen Printer, Ryan was subject to rapid changes in temperament, he had a fondness for practical jokes and was prone to make animal noises at the oddest times, although the claimed to be speaking in tongues.

Ross Irving was a short man of Negro, Cherokee, Irish and Scotch heritage. He was called the Snake because of his quick movements and generally foul disposition. You never knew when he could turn mean and strike at you and you generally never saw it coming until it was too late.

Irving was an enthusiast of baseball and claimed to have played it professionally in the east. He could throw and catch ball fairly well and always carried a baseball bat with him. However his bat was filled with lead and he used it as a weapon.

Bear Marks was a half-breed Choctaw. He had been raised by his White Father until the age of ten, when said Father had been killed in a gambling game. He was then dumped on his Choctaw Mother.

Being raised White for several years, Bear Marks had not been well versed in woodcraft. Yet to make friends quickly he claimed to have more knowledge than he actually did. This was to prove an almost fatal error. He and a few Choctaw boys had gone hunting and inadvertently roused a bear from its lair. The other boys had skinned up a tree. Bear Marks had not moved fast enough and the bear had clawed his back, leaving a jagged, ragged V-shaped scar. Also a semicircular section of his scalp had been gouged out of the back of his head, leaving it permanently bald.

Bear Marks had grown into a large man, well over six feet tall and built solidly. Yet he remained sensitive about his bald spot and always wore a small black derby to cover his head. He was intelligent and read vociferously but wasted his time on dime novels, especially on about some Mexican vigilante named El Murceilago who dressed all in black and wore a silken black cape and hood.

Our gold mine played out in three months. To be frank we were all relieved when the last of the gold was discovered, since we were getting on each others nerves. Personality clashes were frequent and some of the partners nearly came to blows. I bore the brunt of much of their wrath, since they seemed to blame me for the mine having given up all its wealth so quickly.

Personalities aside, we were all uneasy with each other because the valley itself made us edgy.

There was indeed something eerie about the valley. Often the lake's surface and the rocky ground would glow ever so slightly at night, suffusing the entire valley in a soft blue misty radiance. The longer we stayed in the valley the stranger we felt. Our appetites decreased, our natures became ever more belligerent and suspicious. For me, the prickling sensation that I had felt upon drinking the blood potion increased, my skin felt as if insects were continuously scurrying across my naked flesh.

On our final night, in the valley we divided our shares and put them into mule bags. There was a slight celebration and two bottles of two dollar whisky were used up.

Half-snockered I rose up to make a toast. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash. My mind recognized the image but I failed to move fast enough. Snake Irving clobbered me on the side of the head with the ball bat he always carried. Stars and then a black void shot through with crimson pain filled my vision.

I awoke shortly before noon on Friday. The sun blazed on my face like an open furnace door. I could not move nor could I feel my arms and legs. The only sensation that I had was a throbbing headache. Four dark silhouettes blocked the sunlight from my eyes for a moment. Shifting my head slightly I saw that I was tied to a cross made of mine timbers, my arms and legs so tightly lashed that my circulation had stopped.

My erstwhile partners all stood before me, wielding weapons and smiling evil grins.

Seeing that I was awake, Donegal Ryan let loose with a coyote howl. Laughing, he asked, "Thought you were gonna cheat us, didn't you?"

"What?" came out of my throat in a hoarse croak.

Davidovich limped over, pressed his forehead against mine and glared deep into my eyes. In his deep Slavic accent, he says, "We knowed you sabotage mine so all gold seem gone. Then you come back and get rest. We got enough now. Yours is ours now."

Limping back to the others, Davidovich says, "We should leave him to bird but birds not never come to this damned valley."

Giggling wildly, Donegal Ryan raised his shotgun. He emptied one barrel against each of my shoulders, disintegrating muscle and bone, messily amputating my arms. The pain was excruciating and a thick mist of red agony clouded my vision. As my eyes stung, as my screaming mouth tasted coppery salty tang, I realized that the red mist was my own blood.

Donegal Ryan and I had both been baptized, red droplets spotted our faces. Ryan licked his lips as my blood streamed into his mouth. A violent convulsion struck me and Ryan at the same time.

The sky darkened as storm clouds slowly moved over the valley.

Snake Irving ran up to the cross and smashed my knee caps with his ball bat. The cartilage tore and bone cracked, jutting out of my skin in flowery explosions of red and white. His bat was coated with my blood.

A thin stream of blood coursed down the handle of his bat, when it touched his hand he screamed as if it were acid.

Although half delirious, I was shocked to see blisters form on Irving's hand.

With a scream of rage, Bear Marks moved towards me, his Bowie knife flashing at my throat. I almost smiled, knowing he would end my agony. Yet he did not. Further torture awaited me as the blade bit deep into the flesh of my jaw and slashed upwards. With a wet sucking sound and a teeth clacking rip, Bears Marks tore my bloody beard from my chin.

Lifting his derby, he stuck the bloody mass of hair over the bald spot on the back of his head.

As my scalped beard touched the smooth, scarred expanse of Bear Marks skin, he moaned and dropped to his knees as if in great pain. Screaming, his large hands gripped the hair patch by its roots and yanked on it with all his might but it would not and could not be dislodged.

Fear filled Davidovich's eyes, muttering something in Russian, he stuck the muzzle of his shotgun against my Adam's apple.

The sun flashed briefly from behind a dark gray cloud. It was high noon.

Thunder boomed across the sky as Davidovich slipped back the hammers.

The gun muzzle felt strangely cool and comforting against my baking hot flesh. The first droplets of rain, so soft, wet and warm splashed off of the metal, splattering us both with fragments of the same droplets. A grim, mad smile lit his face.

Lightning crashed against an outcropping of rock behind us. Davidovich started.

Blue-white explosion and then, nothingness.

It was just before dawn when I awoke and it took me a long time to get my bearings. The valley was cool and dark, still damp with morning mist. Taking a deep breath, I filled my nostrils with the sweet, harsh, gagging stench of rotting meat. Nausea tickled my throat, yet it was a distant almost phantom sensation.

Turning my head sent me tumbling a few feet across a wash. After recovering from the spinning sensation, I took in my surroundings. Although I seemed to be sitting up, the ground was only inches away from my eyes.

Out of the corner of my eye I beheld a horrific sight. A headless trunk without arms and with mangled knees, the chest of the chest of which was rising and falling in a normal sleeping pattern. Next to it lay an arm which looked as if it had been torn from its socket, the fingers wiggling ever so slightly Without volition a scream ripped through my throat. The resulting sound was slightly more than a whisper but it reverberated through my entire body. After my hysterics had quieted, I steeled myself to look downwards. Below my chin were several strands of wet glistening muscle and a few inches of reddish white bone.

What strange force had made me into a disembodied head and disassembled body I cannot in truth name. Be it God, Devil or some peculiar force of Nature, I only know that it has kept me alive and wrought other transformations on me, many of which I am still discovering. What remained of my vocal apparatus, spine and vertebrae had become malleable and to some degree, prehensile.

Holding my head up high, I crawled like a snake, the trachea, larynx, esophagus and vertebrae sinuously winding behind me. Until I hit the first bump, that is, and went tumbling face forwards into the sand.

Spitting out a mouthful of sand, I pressed my lips together and attempted to right myself by pushing against the ground with my lips. Kissing Mother Earth proved unsuccessful, I grit my teeth and then began sinking them into the ground, taking large mouthfuls of the foul and gritty sand into me. Using my tongue and still functioning glottis I pushed the sand down my throat cavity until it passed out the jagged opening of my flesh. After a while enough sand had been pushed through to make me level once again.

Snaking up close to my body, I inspected it. A copious amount of blood had run from it, for it was pale white with light green highlights. The ground beneath it was still wet, sodden as if it had recently been underwater. I wondered if the strange substance giving the valley its ghost lights originated in the lake. If so perhaps a flash flood had covered my body shortly after I had been mutilated and transformed me into a being, not living and not dead, existing in some strange half life.

The engineer part of me wondered if this substance was what the alchemists had called owls' teeth, which had been the final secret ingredient in transforming lead into gold. What strange alchemical processes had gone on in my tissues and what had they made of me?

Determined to confront whatever obstacles had been placed in my life's path, I slowly slithered up to the lake and gazed upon my reflection. The sight that greeted me was hideous in the extreme.

The shotgun blast had not decapitated me cleanly. The neck stump ended in a jigsaw configuration. Vertebra, muscle and flesh tissue trailed for about six inches below my neck stump. My skin was mummy dry and had taken on a paper white complexion with a hint of pale green.

Since I no longer salivated, dirt and grass coated the inside of my mouth but I did not consciously taste it. My once proud moustaches still remained but weed wild and filled with mud. Bear Marks had indeed scalped my chin and my beard was gone, replaced by a clotted mass of blackish dried blood, dirt and sand at the end of my chin. My face was thoroughly inundated with grime and dried gore.

My eyes still burnt bright with life, although there was a peculiar bluish tint to the whitish area. The most amazing thing was that despite my explosive beheading and subsequent travels, my old U.S. Calvary hat still sat on my head. As it had healed, the scalp wound on my throat had permanently sealed the chin cord into my flesh.

I had no conception of how long I had been unconscious since my death, I later figured it to be three days, so I awoke early Sunday morning. Read into that what you will.

After the initial revulsion and horror of my new existence had abated, a white-hot rage gripped me. With no thought as to the consequences, I slithered out of the valley and toward my murderers.

When I had traveled some twenty feet from my body, I felt immediately fatigued, at twenty-five feet my spine stiffened and I felt paralyzed. The exhaustion ceased as I crawled back toward my body. There was some strange connection between me and my body which prevented me from leaving it at any great distance.

Sitting in the sun for hours on end, I pondered on how I could leave this valley and take my body with me and how to do it without hands. By concentrating I could feel my body, feel my arms and fingers but it was a distant sort of feeling and one which left me dog tired. Still the more I thought about moving my arms the easier it became, although I kept at it until I felt as if my brain would split from the effort.

When I rested from my efforts of working my hands and arms, I explored the valley. Slithering slowly over familiar territory I practiced my mobility and I catalogued what materials were available to me. My companions had left almost all our mining tools behind.

What I needed, barring the most necessary item, was in the valley. I could only hope that whatever guardian angel or devil had given me a chance for revenge would provide me with this needed item at the opportune time.

My hands nailed a pulley into a ten-foot timber. They then ran a twenty-foot rope with another rope lashed to it about halfway down its length, giving it a forked end. On each of the forked ends I had my hands tie slip-knotted loops.

My hands then dug a ten-foot trench with the deepest end sloping some four feet deep. They pushed the ten-foot timber into the trench and gradually began filling the trench, also incrementally pushing the timber upright until it slid into the deepest part of the trench. They then filled the hole around the timber and packed the dirt in tight.

Despairing of divine intervention, I decided to provide me with transportation in the only manner I had open to me. I thought about it.

Forming a clear picture of my horse in my mind, I coupled it with a picture of this valley and called its name, sending forth my thoughts in as wide a radius as I could. I did this day in and day out, until my eyes ached and my skull pounded with agony.

Finally after a week or so of doing this I was rewarded one morning with a whinny and the sound of hooves pounding on rock.

Brimstone had not left the area but he avoided me for several days.

My vocal and mental commands to him had little effect until the day he grazed on a patch of grass near where I had been mutilated. As he ate this grass, I felt the same prickling sensation I had when my blood had been splattered on my so-called partners.

Insight struck me like a thunderbolt. The bizarre substance in the air, earth and water in this valley had affected my blood.

The prickling sensation was a mental decipherment of my blood's movements as a telegraph key deciphers the electrical impulses in a telegraph wire. It is an inaccurate description yet it is the closest analogy I can picture.

When I extended my awareness, I felt the remnants of my blood in the grass, soil, water and air in this valley. There was a slight pain attached to this, since the elements in nature were breaking down the structures of my blood cells, absorbing them.

I felt the desiccated blood cells in my body parts, dying and not dying, mutating into something else. My body was rotting, albeit at an exceedingly slow pace. Yet my head was not. I wondered what would happen, when my body had disintegrated. Would this then be death for me?

If I concentrated to the brink of unconsciousness, I sensed the living cells of my blood, still alive, still living in new hosts, those of my partners. With total concentration I could eventually find them and wreak my vengeance.

Having absorbed some of my living cells, Brimstone was now mine to command. Unfortunately, I could not increase his intelligence, although it did increase as time went by, but in those early days I could only force him to follow simple commands. Eventually we became so attuned that our relationship became more of a partnership rather than master and slave. But back then, he fought me at every turn and it was only through my superior intellect that I won out.

Through brain aching concentration I forced my hands to make the final preparations for me to leave this valley.

My hands tied a rope with a loop on it around my body. They also pounded a stake into the ground, after some painstaking hand measurements. They then tied the longest piece of rope attached to a pulley around my body.

Then it was my turn. I grasped the longest piece of rope hanging from the pulley in my teeth, grasped the looped end with my vertebrae and began to work my way up the rope by chewing sideways inch by inch, not allowing my jaws to open any wider than to chew further up the rope.

It took me a day and a half to work myself up to a height above Brimstone's back. Stopping over a previously weakened area I clamped my jaws tight on it, bridging it. I tasted that tarred rope every inch of the way. No longer needing to eat, I never got hungry but I did grow quite tired and nearly passed out from exhaustion. When I could not go any further, I rested for a few hours, jaws clenched all the while, before trying to drop the loop onto the saddle horn.

Summoning Brimstone I commanded him to stand stock-still underneath me.

Taking a deep, and quite unnecessary breath through my nose, I released my vertebrae's grip on the loop of rope. It swung in a low arc and missed the saddle horn. I closed my mouth and screamed through my teeth for it meant I would have to drop below and start all over. I was about to let go of the rope and fall to the ground when, on one of its swings the rope loop slipped over the saddle horn. Feeling it catch, Brimstone started forward as he had been previously trained and cinched it tight. He moved forward and as the rope pulled and raised my body.

As Brimstone pulled the rope lifting my body, it also brought the rope I had tied halfway up the pulling rope closer to the ground. When my body had been hoisted to a sufficient height to place it on Brimstone's back, I commanded him to stop. Concentrating I made my hands grasp the shorter rope and fasten its loop around the stake we had driven in the ground, thus securing the pull rope and keeping my body suspended in midair.

Another command had Brimstone go stand directly under where my body was hanging. Here was another tricky part. I commanded my hands to hold fast to the staked rope. Shifting down the rope with my teeth, I allowed the weakened section of the rope to snap. :'clenching hard with my teeth I rode the rope down and smacked hard against Brimstone's hindquarters.

Bouncing twice and swinging in a wide arc, I had to use all my concentration to keep Brimstone from bolting and to make sure my hands held onto the staked rope.

Once Brimstone was positioned once more, my hands unfastened the staked rope. My broken torso fell a few inches and plopped square into Brimstone's saddle.

I now compelled Brimstone into a deep slumber, standing in place. My eyeballs felt like they were on fire. My arms scurried over to the horse and climbed up to the saddle, grasping the stirrups and working their way upwards.

My right arm was the first to clamber atop the saddle so I made it wedge itself in a secure place and to grasp the other arm tightly. The other hand grabbed the rope from which I dangled and drew me up. This was not as easy as it sounds. The arm did not have sufficient reach or leverage to pull me all the way up to the saddle. I chewed my way up the rope once more.

Now being fairly secure, I had my hand draw the reins up, so I could grasp them in my mouth. The hands pulled the piece of rope cinched to the saddle through my Calvary belt three times and looped it off. This was probably the most agonizing and tedious of the operations thus far, since it required a level of manual dexterity I could barely muster with all my concentration.

After a few hours my body was securely tied to the saddle. My arms tucked themselves into my shirt. I awoke Brimstone and allowed him to graze.

As I positioned myself next to my body, I noticed that it was getting quite ripe. The stench was almost enough to make me choke, that is if it had been physically possible for me to do so.

I wondered how long I had to fulfill my vengeance. How long had God given me to avenge my death? Somehow I knew that I could not or would not be allowed to die until I had achieved justice.

Brimstone, my corpse and I exited the cursed valley near midnight, about two months after my demise, as I reckon. My body, I and to some extent Brimstone glowed with a ghostly blue radiance illuminating for some distance the black, moonless desert night.

To clear up a point of controversy, my horse was named Brimstone before we were affected by the strangeness of the valley. He was a bright, yellow color, a true palomino and he always had a fiery spirit, this is why I named him Brimstone, not because of his blue glow.

For all my misfortune, I felt good at that particular moment. I winked back at the stars and said, "I'm a head off on the vengeance trail"

My laughter echoed across the cold sands for miles and rang in my ears for hours.



THE EL HEAD HOMEPAGE

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~ EL HEAD ~




All the material on these web pages or any other material relating to the character of El Head are copyrighted by Dennis E. Power
1996-2009 Dennis E. Power. All Rights Reserved.
Concept of El Head 1996 created by David Rush. All Rights Reserved.
All of the persons, places and items on the El Head pages are imaginary. Any resemblance to any existing place or product is done only for purposes of fictional verisimilitude and should not be taken as an endorsement of said product or place. Any resemblance to any person living, dead or somewhere in between is merely coincidental,
and unfortunate.

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