Listen in the Dark, It's More Fun That Way!
March 18, 2020

Ep.21 – Basket Hound - Horrors of the Old West!

Ep.21 – Basket Hound - Horrors of the Old West!

In this sleepy little saloon something very sinister is afoot!

Episode Notes

Midnight strikes a sleepy Old West town, and a stranger has come with a sinister need to fill...

Basket Hound by Scott S. Phillips

Music by Ray Mattis

Produced by Daniel Wilder

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Orel Hamlin stared up at the night sky, wondering if the flying monkey would ever come back. This was his favorite part of the day, round about 2 AM, when it came time to empty the spittoons. They reeked, of course, from the rotten-toothed spit of a hundred cowboys and cheap chewing tobacco. On occasion, a drunk would piss in one rather than stagger out back to the outhouse, and the stink got a hell of a lot worse when someone had puked in one of them, but even that Orel could live with, because being the designated dumper-of-spittoons meant he got to go outside by himself. Mr. Teevins didn’t much let Orel go outside on his own otherwise, day or night. Orel carried a lantern in one hand and a spittoon in the other. It was black as hell out there and he didn’t want to fall in the trench again. Some nights — when the moon was real bright — he didn’t need the lantern, but bringing it meant he had to make four trips to empty the spittoons and he was happy for every one of them. Early on, right after Orel was given the task as a responsibility Mr. Teevins felt he could handle, the saloon's bartender — a one-eyed crotchety sonofabitch named Branlyn — insisted he dump all the spittoons into a big bucket and carry that out, one trip, easy and done. Orel consistently made a point of spilling the contents of the spittoons while dumping them into the bucket and Branlyn eventually gave up on the idea. Orel suspected Mr. Teevins had caught on to his scheme, but the older man never mentioned it. When it came time to dump the chamber pots from upstairs, though, Orel didn't bring the lantern. He didn't much enjoy taking the chamber pots out, and with one in each of the upstairs rooms (except for Mr. Teevins's office), Orel wanted it over with as quickly as possible. Orel was seventeen years old and had been with Mr. Teevins since he was eight, when Orel's daddy beat him senseless and he pretty much stuck that way. It was just after the war and Mr. Teevins had come west minus a leg but full of big dreams, looking to make his fortune in the liquor and whore trade. He was literally stepping off the train when he saw Orel trip and fall in the mud, doing great disservice to his best clothes but nothing to incur the sort of whipping his Daddy unleashed as a result. Mr. Teevins hop-stepped on his wooden leg into the middle of the dust-up and threw a beating on Orel's daddy that left the man with a limp of his own, not to mention a busted-up face that would insure he'd remember what he'd done every time he looked in a mirror till the day he died. The beating also did wonders for Mr. Teevins's standing in the town, since no one much liked Orel's daddy and felt it was a long time coming. Teevins had purchased the Stone House (which Orel thought was funny since the place was made out of wood), the larger of the town's two saloons, and the only one that came equipped with prostitutes and Branlyn. Teevins moved into one of the upstairs rooms, and when Orel wandered into the joint a few days later, his daddy having run off in the night, Teevins took him in. Orel's room was basically a closet at the end of the hall with a cot in it, but he'd lived there happily ever since. "What you gazin' at, kid?" Orel jumped, slopping some of the spittoon's contents out onto the ground. Standing a dozen or so yards away was a man, watching him. Orel raised the lantern, trying to get a better look, but the light refused to cooperate, as if it were sliding off the figure. "Who's that there?" Orel asked, voice unsteady. "Ain't scared, are ya?" "No," Orel lied. After a moment, the man walked towards Orel. When he was a few feet away, the light from the lantern finally took hold, illuminating his features. Whip-thin, about five and a half feet tall — Orel was relieved to see the man was shorter than him — clad in dusty gray trousers, stained shirt with frilled cuffs, and a black leather vest. His bowler hat was tilted far back on his head, like he was walking away from it and it was struggling to keep up. Unlike the rest of his clothing, his boots were new but covered in dust. His eyes were close together, deep-set, and focused on Orel in a way that made him uncomfortable, like he was in trouble for something. The man's lips pulled back in a smile that bunched up the weathered skin on the sides of his face like a washrag being wrung out. "Name's Malcolm, George Malcolm." Malcolm George Malcolm, Orel thought, first name same as last. No, that ain't right. He just said it funny, is all. George Malcolm. "Pleased to meetcha, Mr. Malcolm." Orel went to stick out a hand, realized they were both full, then settled on a nod towards the man. “My name’s Hamlin, Orel Hamlin.” "Why you out here in the night with a cuspidor full of Christ-knows-what, son?" "Just spit n' chew is all," Orel said, taking a quick look to be sure. "It's my job — one of 'em." Malcolm cocked an eye at Orel. "You some kinda simpleton?" "No sir, I took an injury as a boy, somewhat scrambled my brains." "You sound like a simpleton." Orel frowned. "No sir." Setting the lantern down on the ground, he upended the spittoon over the trench he'd dug a few days prior. The foul-smelling stew of saliva and tobacco (and, as Malcolm pointed out, Christ-knows-what) spattered into the thicker sludge in the bottom of the trench. "I have a job and I do okay for myself, I reckon." He straightened, fixing Malcolm with a stern gaze. "Didn't mean no offense, son. This job a' yours, I'm guessing it's in a saloon or some other joint serves liquor?" "Yes sir, the Stone House, not a hunnerd paces from where we stand now." "Mind if I walk with you?" Orel puzzled on it for a moment. "Again, I meant no offense," Malcolm said, bowing slightly. "And I could sure stand to pour some whiskey into myself." "No, it ain't that," Orel said. "Just that Branlyn's closin' up the bar about now. I don't think he'd turn away your business, though." Malcolm made a sweeping gesture towards the nearby buildings. "Then if you're finished pourin' out your slop, by all means lead the way, son." Orel started back to the Stone House, Malcolm falling into step next to him. After a few paces, Orel glanced at the man, catching the tail end of an odd expression that sent something wriggling up Orel's spine to settle coldly at the base of his skull. The only time he'd felt anything similar was when his daddy was about to go on a tear. "Ain't my place to pry, what with us just havin' met an' all, Mr. Malcolm, but I was wonderin' why you'd be out walking in the desert late at night like this." Malcolm took so long to answer, Orel thought he hadn't heard the question and was about to ask again when the man finally spoke. "Guess I got lost just a little bit. Was on my way from Bell's Creek." Orel wanted to press him further but they'd reached the back door of the Stone House and Malcolm took the opportunity to steer things in a different direction. "How many in here, son — yourself included?" Orel hung the lantern on a hook near the back door. "Just a few, plus the whores, and some or all a' them might be with customers." He made to open the door but Malcolm's hand darted out, grabbing the handle. "You know that ain't no real answer, don't you, boy?" Malcolm said, making another of his fancy gestures as he opened the door to allow Orel in. Orel gave Malcolm a confused look as he stepped past him, entering a narrow, dark hallway. Lamplight from the saloon's main room spilled in at the other end. "There's the three of us plus four whores and whatever men they's with," Orel said. "We got two girls wait tables, but they gone home awhile ago." Malcolm stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him. “Fine. Let’s have that drink.” Orel led the way down the hall and into the main room of the saloon, its dozen or so tables empty at this late hour. To their right was a staircase to the upper floor. On the left was the bar, an L-shaped counter with wooden stools running the length of it. Liquor bottles topped the shelves behind the bar, and a carefully lettered sign read Tabs for liquor only! NOT whores. Branlyn, looking six hundred years old but meaner than hell, a puckered scar where his left eye had been, wiped the bar with a towel that looked as unpleasant as he did. His gray hair hung stringy past his shoulders, and his cheeks, trenched with age, were covered in salt-and-pepper stubble. His single eye settled on Orel and Malcolm and he stopped wiping to stare at them. “What’s this you brung in?” Branlyn said. “Found him out back,” Orel said. “He was hopin’ he could get a drink.” “Or two,” Malcolm said, stepping up to the bar and proffering a hand. “Malcolm, George Malcolm.” He done it again, Orel thought. Branlyn’s eye looked at the hand, then at Malcolm’s face. He wiped his right hand with the bar towel and shook with him. “Well, Mr. Malcolm, technically we’s closed for business, but I think we can accommodate you. If you got money, a’ course.” “A pocketful,” Malcolm said, stepping up and resting his elbows on the bar. “Whiskey, please. Don’t care how cheap or how shitty.” “We don’t serve shitty whiskey in this joint.” Malcolm turned his head to find Mr. Teevins coming down the stairs, stepping with his good leg, then swinging the wooden one after. With the saloon closed, he’d taken off the jacket but still wore the rest of his favorite white suit, the vest unbuttoned. Teevins was about 35, probably handsome if you gave him half a chance, black hair slicked back and long sideburns neatly trimmed. “That’s what I like to hear,” Malcolm said, removing his hat and setting it on the bar. Orel set the spittoon down in its place at the end of the bar and started for the next one, midway along, not far from where Malcolm was leaning. Branlyn poured a shot of whiskey and pushed it towards Malcolm as Teevins reached the bottom of the stairs. Malcolm lifted the glass. “Lose that leg in the war?” “Infection took it,” Teevins said. “Injury itself weren’t too bad.” Malcolm raised the glass as if to toast. “Ain’t you a fine trio — short a leg, an eye, and a brain.” He knocked back the shot, swallowing hard. “Ain’t polite to make light of those showing you hospitality after hours,” Teevins said. “Apologies.” Malcolm banged the glass down on the bar and looked at Branlyn. “How about another a’ those?” Branlyn looked past him at Teevins, who nodded. Branlyn filled the glass. “So what’s your story, Mr. —” “Malcolm. Like I was tellin’ your chambermaid here, I got lost on my way from Bell’s Creek.” “Walkin’,” Orel said. “And I ain’t a chambermaid.” He picked up the spittoon, careful to get a good grip as it was always the fullest, being in the middle of the bar. “You walked from Bell’s Creek?” Teevins asked. “That’s a good twenty miles, ain’t it?” “Took me a good while.” Malcolm swigged the second shot of whiskey, smacked his lips. “Sounds like a load of ol’ bullshit to me,” Branlyn said. Malcolm slowly rolled the shot glass back and forth between thumb and forefinger, watching the tiny bit of liquid left there as it slid around the inside. "I think," he said, pausing to tip his head way back and throw that last drop down his throat, "we've gotten off on the wrong foot here, fellas." He gently set the glass on the bar, his eyes locked on Branlyn's single peeper, then casually slid it towards him, nodding for a refill. Orel tensed, fearing trouble. The cranky bartender was not one to be trifled with, something he'd learned a long time ago. Mr. Teevins gestured for Branlyn to fill the glass. "I think what my bartender's gettin' at, Mr. Malcolm, is how you come to be lost in the desert for what must've been a long, hot stretch and first thing you ask for is whiskey, not water." "You got a rule or somethin'? Thirsty man must drink water?" Malcolm twisted, looking around the room. "'Cause I don't see the sign." "Just odd's all," Teevins said. Malcolm turned back to the bar and picked up the refilled shot glass. With an eye on Teevins, he knocked it back and set the glass down again. "Hits the spot just fine." Orel could see the desire to give Malcolm George Malcolm the bum's rush burning in Mr. Teevins's eyes. First thing he'd have to do once this all settled out was apologize for bringing the stranger into the saloon. Meanwhile, he still had three spittoons needed emptying, but he wasn't sure he should leave, just in case there was some kind of fight and Mr. Teevins and Branlyn needed him. This situation was his fault, after all. "You stayin' long, Mr. Malcolm?" Teevins asked. Off Malcolm's expression, he added "In town, I mean." "Haven't made up my mind yet," Malcolm said. "Don't exactly seem like the most hospitable place." He gestured for Branlyn to pour another shot. "Have to see how I feel after my business is concluded." "And what business might that be? Maybe I can aid you in your endeavors," Teevins said. "As you might imagine, a man in my line of work is fairly well-connected." "Anything to hasten me on my journey, I suppose," Malcolm said. He lifted the shot glass, this time sipping the whiskey. Showing Teevins he wasn't in any hurry, Orel thought. Branlyn, using the tone of voice he fell into when it was near time to eject a troublemaker, spoke up again. “Sip away, friend. Bar’s closin’ and that’s your last drink.” Malcolm eyed the bartender for a moment, then gently set the glass down. “My business,” Malcolm said, “Is sales.” He tucked a hand inside his vest, freezing when Branlyn reached beneath the bar, coming up with a Colt Banker’s Special, the barrel leveled at Malcolm’s chest. Malcolm’s gaze flicked from the Colt to Branlyn’s single eye. “Did I mention the word inhospitable recently?” He kept his hand inside his vest, unmoving. Orel took a cautious step away from the bar, positioning himself out of the line of fire — or so he hoped — if things went further south. “Let’s not get carried away here, boys,” Mr. Teevins said. His hand had instinctively moved for his own gun, only to find it gone. Upstairs on his desk, still in the holster. “Why don’t you finish that drink, Mr. Malcolm, and then be on your way so we can close up for the night.” Malcolm kept his eyes on Branlyn’s. “I believe that sounds acceptable. If it’s all right with everyone, I’d like to slowly extract my hand. There will be somethin’ in it, but I assure you now, it’s not a gun or knife.” “You just be damn sure it happens slow,” Branlyn said. Malcolm took his time pulling his hand from his vest. There was indeed something held in it. "You were curious about my business," Malcolm said. Smiling, he opened his hand. In the palm lay a short, cylindrical object, hollow, about four inches long and in inch in diameter, blotchy yellowish-white in color with dark streaks running along its length. One end was notched around the circumference, creating a ring of sharpened teeth. Orel, Teevins and Branlyn all took a hesitant step or two closer to get a better look. "What is it?" Orel asked, on tiptoe now and leaning forward, not wanting to get too close to the stranger but curious as hell about the object he held. "Tool a' my trade," Malcolm said. "Some kinda carved bone or something?" Teevins asked. Branlyn, his gun still pointed at Malcolm but nearly forgotten, squinted his single eye and peered at the object. "I got no idea what that is. You sell these dingwhoppers?" "No," Malcolm said. "I sell what comes out of it." Malcolm sprang up like some kind of monster insect, boots slamming onto the bar, and grabbed a handful of Branlyn's hair as the bartender's gun went off. Orel saw a spurt of gore as the bullet punched through Malcolm's back and continued up into the ceiling. Someone on the second floor screamed. Unfazed by the gunshot wound, Malcolm grinned down at Branlyn from his perch on the bar and viciously jammed the mysterious object into Branlyn's throat. The bartender gurgled, staggering back, and Malcolm casually plucked the gun from his hand. "Son of a bitch!" Teevins rushed at Malcolm. "Hey now," Malcolm said, not looking at Teevins but swinging the pistol around to stop him in his tracks. "Let's see what happens, whatta ya say?" Choking, Branlyn clutched at the object protruding from his throat. A small amount of blood trickled through the opening, but surprisingly little considering the wound. Orel heard doors opening upstairs, shuffling footsteps as people reacted to the gunshot and the yelling. A couple of the braver whores appeared at the top of the stairs, along with one of the tricks. None of them seemed inclined to intervene. "Here we go," Malcolm said. He spun atop the bar and plopped down on his ass, facing Orel and Teevins. Keeping the gun on them, he used his other hand to deftly unbutton his shirt about halfway down, revealing a circular black disc about three inches across embedded in the center of his chest, the flesh puckered around it. At the edge of the disc was a tiny knob, like the winding stem on a pocket watch. Malcolm delicately twisted the knob and the center of the disc irised open. Orel thought he could hear anguished whispers from within Malcolm's chest. Branlyn let out a soft moan as he toppled forward, catching himself on the bar. He looked to Mr. Teevins, desperate, as a pale bluish mist began to seep from the end of the tube jammed into his neck. The mist swirled up and around Malcolm, then snaked its way into the hole in Malcolm's chest. "Mmm... That's the stuff," Malcolm muttered. As the cloud of mist continued to pour from Branlyn's body and wind its way into Malcolm's, Branlyn's face grew ashen and withered, the skin sinking in to cling to his skull. His good eye bulged from the socket, pushing past the shriveled eyelids. Orel and Teevins stared on in horror. Accompanied by a slightly comical sputtering, the last of the mist dribbled from the tube in Branlyn's neck and whirled around Malcolm to disappear within him. Branlyn's body collapsed to the floor with a sound like a sack of dry leaves. There was silence for a moment. Then Malcolm hopped down from the bar. "Ain't that about the craziest thing y'ever did see?" "What in God's name did you do to him?" Teevins hollered. "What was that — that smoke what come out of him?" "That, my friend," Malcolm said, giving another of his little theatrical flourishes, "Was your bartender's tainted soul." Teevins sucked in a deep breath, the air whistling through his clenched teeth. "Then you some kinda devil, then." "No sir, not at all. I'm as human as either one of you standin’ here." Malcolm sat down on a bar stool again. "What I am is more of a broker." Teevins nodded towards the bloody bullet wound in Malcolm's chest. "That gunshot didn't even faze you. What kind of human is that?" "Funny, ain't it?" Malcolm glanced at the bullet hole. "Second time I been shot with no real ill effect. Stings a little, I must admit, but hell — gunshot like that, I oughta be layin' here toes up. Seems to be somethin’ about havin’ souls stored up in me — I got a couple others in there before I sucked up your buddy, couple'a folks I run into on my way here from Bell's Creek.” Malcolm snatched up the bottle of whiskey from the bar. “I can tell ya, though, I been shot when it wasn't so pleasant." He took a swig, put the bottle down and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "No sir, I ain't no devil, but I seen plenty of 'em out there." "You sell 'em the souls you take," Orel said. Malcolm smiled at him. "I must say, the simpleton keeps surprising me." Orel scowled, wanting to say something but nervous about the gun in Malcolm's hand. "How'd you come to be in this particular line of work?" Teevins asked. “Well now, that’s a tale,” Malcolm said. "But I’ll see if I can give you the short version. Towards the end of the war I run into this old darkie, a voodoo woman, she called herself. I didn't believe her at first but I done a little somethin' pissed her off and next thing I know, I'm stumblin' around like a drunkard, only I ain't imbibed none. I passed out and when I come around, I got this thing in my chest. Little ol' darkie woman tells me she put a curse on me for what I done. She was first one down my new soul-gullet. Weren't long I start runnin' into those devils I spoke of, turns out most of 'em's in the market for an easy soul or two. Was the war brought 'em, y'know." Orel didn’t like the idea of devils wandering around freely, and more than that, he didn’t like the idea of Malcolm going any damn place with Branlyn’s soul inside of him. He looked at Mr. Teevins. “I’m sorry I brung this fella in, sir.” “It’s all right, Orel,” Mr. Teevins said. “Hell yeah it is,” Malcolm said. “You was just bein’ a good Christian soul.” He grinned again. “And speakin’ a’ which — I expect the soul of a man owns a whorehouse, that’s prob’ly a dime a dozen, not to mention his whores.” Orel shivered as Malcolm turned his gaze upon him, looking him up and down. “But a fella like this ‘un... well, he might fetch a decent price.” The moans from within the hole in Malcolm’s chest rose in pitch, as if the souls locked away in there were excited about having the company. Mr. Teevins sneered at Malcolm. “They’s any kinda human left in you, you’d let him go. He’s just a kid.” Malcolm slowly shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. I’ve got a business to run, after all.” Orel struggled to keep the fear from showing on his face. “I’ve seen crazier,” he said. “What now?” “The thing you did, takin’ Branlyn’s soul like that — you asked us if it was the craziest thing we ever seen. I’m tellin’ you I seen crazier.” Malcolm looked at Mr. Teevins, amused. He gestured towards Orel with the gun. “This ‘un, I tell ya.” To Orel he said “All right, son — what in this great big world of ours could you possibly have seen that’s crazier’n what you witnessed moments ago?” Orel gripped the edge of the spittoon, felt the thick, foul-smelling liquid inside slop against his fingertips. “Seen a flyin’ monkey once.” Malcolm stared at him for a long moment, his mouth open slightly. “Out back here,” Orel said. “Where me n’ you met.” “A flyin’ monkey,” Malcolm said. “Not flyin’ like a bird, floatin’ kinda, like a leaf on a breeze. And glowin’.” Orel shot a nervous glance at Mr. Teevins, worried that the older man would think he was out of his fool mind. “It was little, maybe half my size. Didn’t have no hair like a usual monkey — just kinda pinkish skin all over, came floatin’ up out of the desert, lookin’ at me and kinda smilin’, like it wanted to be friendly.” Orel’s eyes narrowed. “Not a phony mean smile like you’ve got.” Malcolm’s amused expression faded. “So you and this floatin’ and glowin’ monkey became the best of pals, I take it. And where’s your pink little buddy now? Maybe upstairs with one of the whores?” Orel hadn’t felt this way since before his daddy’d run off. He didn’t care for it, not one bit. “He floated away after a few minutes, I ain’t seen him since.” “Now what kinda friend is that?” Malcolm slid off his barstool and walked over to Orel. “Sounds like you mighta got into the liquor that night, boy — or maybe you just dreamed the whole damn thing.” “No sir,” Orel said. “This was a couple months back, I ain’t told no one. I was out late, I had to take Johnson out — that’s my dog, Johnson. He’s a basket hound, he’s real old and don’t get around so well —” “A basket hound!” Malcolm shouted. “God damn, you are a simpleton, son — basket hound.” He shook his head, laughing. “It’s Bassett —” Orel swung the spittoon as hard as he could into the side of Malcolm’s head. Stunned, Malcolm dropped the pistol and stumbled back, tripping over his own feet. He fell, the back of his head thudding off the wooden floor. Orel’s foot came down on his throat, grinding down into his windpipe. Malcolm let out a strangled gasp. Orel leaned over the man and started pouring the muck from the spittoon into the opening in his chest. Even with the foot on his throat, Malcolm managed to shriek in pain as the viscous crud slopped into him. He tried to get his hand up, turn the knob to shut the opening, but Orel knocked it away. Twisting in agony, Malcolm’s gaze fell upon a skinny, ancient dog lying in a basket under the stairs, head lifted, watching Malcolm incuriously. Orel lifted his foot from Malcolm’s throat. Wheezing, Malcolm tried to wriggle away as Teevins loomed over him, a large knife — or maybe it was a short sword, hard to tell, his vision blurred the way it was — in his hand. Teevins swung the blade. It took two tries to separate Malcolm’s head from his body. It rolled to one side, Malcolm’s dying eyes falling once again on the dog beneath the stairs. Johnson lowered his head to the edge of the basket, still watching, disinterested, as Malcolm’s eyes fluttered, then closed. Orel poured the rest of the slop into Malcolm’s chest until the opening overflowed, then stepped away from the lifeless body, breathing hard, not taking his eyes off the corpse. “I have a job, and I do okay for myself,” Orel said.

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