“Clark Reeper and the Angel of Temperance,” by Michael Panush

Nov 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Prose

It was in the early evening in the bustling town of Virginia City, Nevada, when the Angel of Temperance, or to use her real name, Constance P. Trolpers, began her rounds. She was a passionate woman, full of vigor, vim and anger at the treacherous sins of alcohol.  Every night since the American Temperance Society had sent her out west to battle the increasing drunkenness exhibited by cowboys, ranchers and westerners of all stripes, she had been fighting the good fight against the Devil’s own elixir, and this night was no different.

Constance put on a plain white dress, immaculate and starched, set wire-frame spectacles on her face and put a wide-brimmed hat decked out with flowers on her head before marching out to do her Christian duty. In the center of town was an establishment named the Leaky Spittoon, a haven of sin, both of the flesh and of liquor. Constance had been trying to shut it down since she arrived in Virginia City a few months ago without success.

“I have to try,” she whispered to herself, gathering up an armful of pamphlets published by the Society, tucking a pink parasol under her arm and heading for the door. “Jesus would never give up!”

The sun was low in the sky and the shadows were long, causing many of the more disreputable types in Virginia City to take to the streets, but nothing on God’s Green Earth could frighten Constance Trolpers, or so she thought.

Sure enough, the barkeep in the Leaky Spittoon was waiting for her. The brawny man had an angry look in his eye. He stroked his walrus moustache with one hand and stuck an official restraining order in Constance’s face. It was signed by the mayor of Virginia City himself.

“Don’t you come in here no more!” he growled in his gravelly voice. “Times is tough without no goddamn temperance strumpet coming in here, chasing away my customers with her all caterwauling and carrying on!”

“Sir! I demand entry! I demand it!” Constance cried, jabbing at him with parasol.

“The mayor wants you out! And so do I! And so does everybody else!” the barkeep yelled, waving the restraining order at her. “You’re ruining business for the whole town!”

Constance stared at the yellowing scrap of paper. It prohibited her from entering the Leaky Spittoon. But it didn’t say anything about setting up near the entrance and regaling passing citizens with tales of the evil that dripped out of the Leaky Spittoon’s bottles.

“Very well. I will preach the truth outside of your sinful saloon!” Constance said defiantly. She turned her back on the barkeep and took several steps away from the entrance to the Leaky Spittoon before plopping down the pile of pamphlets at her feet. The barkeep shook his head with a sigh and returned to his establishment.

The first two customers were hopeless cases, winos with sunken eyes and bushy unkempt beards. Constance handed a pamphlet to one. He blew his nose on it and handed back to her with a ‘thank you kindly’ before sidling into the bar.

The third customer was something different and Constance’s heart leapt when she saw him. He was a tall, gaunt man with a face tanned and weathered by the harsh elements of the west, dressed in brown duster as beaten and rough as he was. An old Stetson with a torn brim sat on his head like it had sprouted there and two colt peacemakers in holsters rested on a bullet-laden belt at his waist.

But it was the tall man’s companion that caused a lump to appear in Constance’s throat. He was a small boy, no older than ten years of age. The boy was dressed neatly in a miniature Norfolk jacket and trousers with a black tie around his neck and curly black hair resting under a peaked cap, as well as rounded spectacles on his face. He was walking next to the tall desperado, looking up at him and smiling. The thought of that sweet innocent child being corrupted under the influence of Satan himself sent chills down Constance’s neck. She grabbed some pamphlets and rushed to intercept them, nearly tripping over her skirts.

“Sir! Sir!” she called out, coming to a stop in front of the potential drunkard and his young companion.

The tall man stopped and touched his hat brim, and the small boy did the same. “What can I do for you ma’am?” he asked, politely.

“Pray tell, sir, are you intending to enter that,” Constance shivered as she said the word, “house of ill repute, that den of vile sin, that saloon?”

“Reckon I was gonna,” the man said evenly. “I’ve been on patrol all day and I’m mighty thirsty. Knocking back a couple of drinks sounds like a mighty fine proposition right about now.”

“But your boy!” Constance said, pointing a quivering finger and the youngster. “Surely you don’t intend to corrupt him with the devil’s juices?”

“Charles?” the desperado said with a chuckle. “No way in Hell he’s drinking. Boy just turned ten a couple months back. You ought to be at least thirteen before you can drink rotgut without puking it back up again.”

“Mr. Reeper promised to get me a sarsaparilla!” Charles proclaimed proudly.

“Thirteen!” Constance could hardly contain her outrage. “Sir, I will not let you take another step towards that wretched hive of evil before I properly educate you and your son-”

“Mr. Reeper’s not my father,” Charles said quickly, interrupting Constance. She gave him a harrowing look and said, “Uh-huh, ma’am, he adopted me after my real father was devoured by corpses.”

Constance could barely believe her ears. She stared at the boy’s adult companion with malice in her eyes.

The tall man in the duster, Clark Reeper, looked a little bashful, but nodded. “The kid didn’t have anywhere else to go. Bounty hunter’s like me ain’t the best fathers, but I reckon I’ve done okay. Now I’d be much obliged if you would please step out of our way. No offense ma’am, but I’ve had one hell of a night and I need a drink.”

“I will do no such thing!” Constance cried. “You sir, are a barbarian, a heathen, and a monster! Filling this poor child’s head with such terrible stories about his family, taking him into sinful establishments so you can quench your own evil thirst with the devil’s juices, I am Constance Trolpers, Angel of Temperance, and I will not rest until this child is free from the fetters of Hell!”

“But I saw those corpses eat my father,” Charles said, his eyes moist and wide.

Clark Reeper bent down and embraced him, holding the tearful boy close. “Don’t fret son, Clark’s here for you.” He patted the boy gently and rose to his feet looking angrily at Constance.  “Now look what you gone and done, reminded the poor kid about his father getting munched on by the walking dead.” Little Charles hunkered in the shadow of the older man. “Now I’ve never slugged a lady before, but unless you get the hell out of my way I’m liable to start.”

“I will take any punch you can throw at me, just as Jesus Christ would!” she shouted fearlessly. Constance stood her ground. “I will not let you pass!”

The two just stood there, silently fuming at each other. Clark’s hands balled into fists, and Constance firmly gripped her parasol, but the neither of them moved. The sun continued its descent until it was completely dark in Virginia City and the only light came from inside the Leaky Spittoon, full of riotously drinking patrons who had snuck by Constance while she was pestering Clark and Charles.

“I ain’t gonna be stopped by you,” Clark said angrily.

“I shall not let you pass!” Constance declared.

“I want my sarsaparilla, and I’m getting tired, uh, please?” Charles muttered nervously. The moon rose up and bathed all three with white light.

The sound of a horse, in fact, a number of approaching horses, interrupting Clark Reeper and Constance Trolpers. Riding into town were five horses and riders, four of them flanking one who was obviously the leader. Each of the riders was dressed in a black cloak and black hat, with silver-inlaid rifles and pistols gleaming on their saddles. They had unnaturally pale skin, wide black eyes and elfin pointy ears. They had an eldritch quality to their movements that made Constance gasp and Charles cringe instinctively.

Their leader sprang off his horse and walked over to Clark, spurs jangling on his black leather boots. Unlike his underlings, he was bareheaded; his bald head was the same inhumanly pale color as the rest of his skin. His eyes were like two dark pits, his ears high and pointed and his nose thin and elongated like that of a rat. His two teeth were long and sharp looking. A Mauser pistol hung in his belt like it belonged there.

“Clark Reeper,” he squealed in a high-pitched voice that grated on the ears and sent chills to the heart. “I heard you were patrolling for me and my fellows. Should of known we wouldn’t be out in broad daylight like you lot.”

“Noah Feratu and the Midnight Gang,” Clark said calmly, staring at the creepy gang of black clad thugs. “I figured you’d try something creative and summon up a bunch of hellhounds or spirits or something. Guess I didn’t figure how stupid the Midnight Gang is.”

Noah Feratu bristled and hissed at the insult. “Course, it ain’t their fault. Your whole bunch has been heading downhill since an acquaintance of mine stuck a bowie knife in your leader’s heart. What was his name? Drake-something? Rhymed with spatula?”

“You dare insult the memory of the Count, may his ashes rest in peace!” Noah Feratu shirked with pure fury. “I will enjoy sucking you dry. And look, a wife and child. Doesn’t that sweeten the juices?” 

“Excuse me,” Constance said indignantly. “But I am not this reprobate’s wife, far from it, in fact-”

Noah swatted her with one clawed hand and she went sprawling, then lunged for Clark. The desperado moved faster, drawing out one of his revolvers and sending two slugs straight in the oncoming fiend’s chest. Noah Feratu fell to the ground, but despite the gaping wound in his chest he got up in seconds. His men had drawn out their guns and were aiming at Clark and Charles.

“Get behind something!” Clark shouted to Charles, who dived behind a bunch of wooden barrels. Clark leapt to the ground and neatly rolled out of the way of the Midnight Gang’s barrage, then came to his feet and returned fire. His first shot shattered the head of the foremost thug, causing the creature to tumble off of his horse. The corpse turned to dust before it hit the ground. Clark Reeper crawled behind a watering trough and took out his second revolver as the Midnight Gang dismounted and fanned out. He found Constance sharing his hiding place. 

“They’re not human!” she whispered, terrified at the monsters that were hunting them.

“Not human!”

“Great observation, Nellie Bly, you ought to write it up some time,” Clark muttered.

“Headshot will kill them dead, but they’re damn quick. Stab in the heart or fire is the best way to do them in.” Looking at Constance’s parasol’s Clark added. ” You know ma’am, the end of that umbrella your carrying look pretty sharp.”

Then another of the Midnight Gang leapt over the water trough like a pouncing cat and fell upon them. Clark tried to shoot him, but the creature was too fast and held the squirming bounty hunter down, leering in with it’s gaping mouth wide. The long teeth were inches away from Clark’s neck when the beast suddenly stopped.

Enraged, Constance gripped her parasol tightly and stabbed it straight through the monster’s back, neatly piercing the heart. It hissed painfully as it turned into thick dust.

Clark opened his eyes “Good thinking,” he said gratefully. Constance was shaking slightly, but she picked up her parasol and shook the dust off of it.

“It’s a parasol,” she whispered.

“A what?” Clark asked.

“A parasol, not an umbrella.”

“Oh, well, only two of them suckers left. And the leader.”

“And Charles,” Constance whispered. The boy’s sharp cry interrupted their conversation.

Clark leapt out from behind his hiding space and ran towards the sound. Two of the Midnight Gang had pulled Charles from his hiding space and were cruelly scratching him with their claws, drawing small amounts of blood, but not enough to be fatal. They were toying with him.

Clark sprung into the fray with a battle cry knocking both of the Midnight Gang and poor Charles to the ground in a sprawling heap. The monstrous thugs turned on Clark, but he drew a thick bladed bowie knife from his boot and held it expertly. “Same weapon that killed your Count. You should be honored,” he said, lunging out at his attackers. He drove the knife into one of the Midnight Gang’s heart. The fiend struggled for a few seconds before slowly turning to dust.

The second thug sprang at Clark but he sent the monster to the ground with a single punch that knocked out a single fang, then Clark kicked downwards, spurs first, into the beast’s heart. Soon he was tramping through dust.

Constance ran to him and they both helped the shaken and gently bleeding Charlie to his feet. “You doing okay, son?” Clark asked, looking at Charlie’s wounds. They looked very painful, but not deep.

“I’d like sarsaparilla, please,” Charlie wheezed with a weak smile. Constance bent down and hugged the boy, gently mopping up the blood with a checkered kerchief. He was almost calmed down when a bullet whizzed by his head. They all looked up and saw Noah Feratu standing on the roof of the saloon, his mauser pistol in his clawed hands.

“Let’s settle this thing, Clark!” Noah Feratu howled down. “You may have killed my posse, but you won’t stop me!”

“I might not,” Clark whispered to Constance. “He’s an old one, a real tough hombre.”

“Fire!” Constance said. “You mentioned fire could stop him, right?”

“Right, but it would take a mighty strong blaze,” Clark frowned, deep in thought. 

“I’ve got it!  Constance cried. “Hold on for a few more seconds.” Noah Feratu fired another shot and Constance started running towards the Leaky Spittoon. The barkeep rushed to block her path, but Constance smacked him out of the way with her parasol. A number of bottles were on the counter. Ignoring the stares of the barflies, she grabbed the fullest bottle of whiskey available and ran outside.

Clark fired both revolvers at Noah Feratu, but the Midnight Gang ringleader wasn’t even flinching as the bullets ripped the flesh from his bones. He was drawing a bead on Charles, and taking his time about it.

“Clark!” Constance called tossing the whiskey bottle to the bounty hunter. Clark let both of his revolver drop to the ground and caught the bottle with one hand, all while tearing a piece of his weathered duster off. He stuffed it inside the whiskey and drew a match from his ammo belt.

“What in the name of the Count, the Impaler, and Carmilla the Beautiful are you doing?” Noah shouted down. “Some kind of last drink that will pale in comparison to the glorious blood I will suck from your pale white neck?”

“Aw shucks,” Clark said, striking the match on the sole of his boot. “Ain’t you ever heard of a whiskey bomb?”

With a roar of purest rage, Noah Feratu dived at Clark Reeper, Constance, and Charlie. His claws were outreached, his mouth gaping like a great hound, and he seemed much more primal beast than human. Clark hurled the flaming explosive at Noah Feratu and it covered him in burning alcohol. Noah let out a primal scream as he fell to the ground in a blazing mass, coming to his feet and taking several halting steps towards Clark and his friends before finally succumbing to the flame and falling the ground. The fiend was dust in seconds.

Constance stared at the dead monsters lying all around her. “My God,” she muttered. “We survived.” She gulped and tried to readjust her flowered hat so it looked a little presentable, than gave up. Slowly, much to the surprise of Clark and Charles, she walked into the Leaky Spittoon. Clark and Charles followed her, and found everyone inside staring with wide eyes as the Angel of Temperance plopped down on a barstool.

“What do you want now, especially after causing all that awful racket?” the barkeep asked.

“Goddamnit,” Constance Trolpers muttered. “I need a stiff drink.”

“So could I,” Charlie said.

“I reckon I’m buying,” Clark said with a smile.

“I reckon you are”,” Constance agreed.


Michael Panush is a nineteen year-old and lives in Sacramento, California. He has been published in the Tiny Globule, Alien Skin, Demon Minds, Demonic Tome, and Horror Bound Online Magazine. For the further adventures of Clark Reeper and Charles Green, be sure to check out Clark Reeper Tales: The Truthful Account of the Adventures of the West’s Wildest Bounty Hunter, available now on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Clark-Reeper-Tales-Truthful-Adventures/dp/1439218501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229654464&sr=1-1 .

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