Gerald E. Sheagren

The September Chosen Writer is Gerald E. Sheagren

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by Gerald E. Sheagren

Frank Santoro peered from his hiding place, taking in the old, rust-scabbed trailer perched precariously on its cinder block foundation. Parked nearby was an equally old and rusted pickup truck, the windshield cobwebbed with cracks, its once-red finish weathered to a sickly shade of salmon. A few chickens were strutting about and off in a pen were a half a dozen goats. Perhaps fifty feet away was a sweat lodge made of white willow saplings and covered with deer skins – looking much like a giant overturned basket—with a colorful blanket hanging over its entryway.

Santoro had snuck in just before dawn to scope things out and get the lay of the land. He was on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and it was imperative that he wouldn’t be seen. He wondered why anyone would want an old Sioux Injun dead, but he imagined that it had to do with Red Hawk’s leadership in the current pipeline protests. It was the Sioux against big oil and Harley had become the proverbial thorn in the side. If he was out of the picture, the movement might run out of steam. That had to be it.

An unknown source had paid him fifty grand to get the job done and that’s exactly what he was going to do. Killing some geriatric made no difference to him whatsoever. In his line of work, he couldn’t afford to have a conscience. 

Goodbye, Harley Red Hawk. The happy hunting grounds are waiting for you.

Suddenly, the door of the trailer creaked open and there was Red Hawk—a stoop-shouldered man of medium height, maybe eighty-something years old, with long, snow-white hair wound tightly into two braids. He was naked excepting for a loincloth and moccasins, his tawny skin as wrinkled as a prune. By all appearances he looked as though he’d just stepped out of a picture book of the Old West. Making a clucking sound, the old Native American cast out a few handfuls of corn kernels for the chickens, then walked with a distinctive limp toward the sweat lodge.

Man-oh-man, this is going to be a cakewalk.

Santoro waited patiently for nearly three-quarters of an hour until he saw steam rippling through a hole in the sweat lodge’s roof. Inside, he could hear the old man chanting some ceremonial mumbo-jumbo.

It was time for action.

He withdrew a syringe from his pocket—the pinkish fluid with an untraceable concoction that would bring on a nearly instantaneous heart attack. His contact had told him that it was paramount that Red Hawk’s death should appear to be from natural causes. No muss, no fuss, and most importantly:  no murder investigation.

Get ready, Harley boy, your old ticker is about to give out on you.

Chuckling to himself, Santoro took a precautionary look around, then hustled to the sweat lodge, flipping the blanket aside and rushing in. The air was hot and thick with moisture, reminding him of a Turkish bath he’d once been in.

Harley Red Hawk was sitting cross-legged, shaking a rattle, his brittle voice chanting some Lakota gibberish. The old man was bathed in sweat, rheumy eyes dilated, his frail torso held ramrod straight. Then, while appearing to be in a trance, he ladled some water out of a bucket and poured it over a pit of heated rocks, sending up a great hiss of steam. If he was aware of his deadly visitor, he certainly didn’t show it.

“Hi-ya, hi-ya, hey, hey, hey.”

Santoro stared for a few moments, intrigued, and then began to edge forward, easing back the plunger on the syringe.

“I hope you made your peace with the spirits, Sitting Bull, because you’ll be meeting them very shortly.”

Then suddenly, before Frank could take another step, the bluish-gray image of a warrior on horseback began to take shape. It wavered for a few moments then began to flit about the lodge.  It was soon joined by another image and then another and another. They looked so damn real.  And then he heard the distant sound of war whoops and the crackle of gunfire, which began to steadily grow louder in volume.

“What the fuck is going on here?”

Santoro tried to take another step, but found that his legs wouldn’t move.

“What the hell is happening?”

For one of the few times in his life, Frank felt fear; a mounting dread that sent chills coursing down the length of his spine. Again, he tried to move, but it felt as though his legs were made of stone.

“Hi-ya, hi-ya, hey, hey, hey.”

Then, suddenly, his body was grabbed by an unseen force—like dozens of clutching fingers—and he started to experience a strange weightlessness, along with a whirling sensation. He tried to shout, but could only manage a croak. Faster and faster he spun; the interior of the sweat lodge became nothing but a blur. And then darkness settled in and he felt as though he was whooshing down a water slide at an amusement park.


As Santoro landed hard on grassy ground, the darkness was suddenly replaced by an eye-shocking brightness. The war whoops and gunshots had taken on clarity;  a clarity that signaled reality. He laid there, muddle-brained, heart thudding, not daring to move a muscle.

Where am I? What have you done to me, Red Hawk?

And then he felt a hand clutching hold of his arm.

“Hey, where’d you come from? An’ where’d you get those strange-lookin’ clothes?”

And still, Santoro didn’t dare to move a muscle.

The hand shook his arm.

“I’m talkin’ to you, Mister. Do you hear me?”

Frank tried to speak, but came up with nothing. Swallowing hard, he tried again, attempting to conquer the tightness in his throat.

“Where…where in the holy-hell am I?”

“You’re joshin’ me, right?”

Nearby, Frank heard a man curse, followed by metallic sounds as he expended a used cartridge and loaded another. And the war whoops grew loader; terrible yip-yipping sounds that drove an icicle through his heart. All around, he heard the whinnying and snorting of fear-crazed horses and the anguished cries of wounded men. The humid air was filled with dust and the acrid stench of gun powder.

Finally, mustering his courage, Santoro raised himself on an elbow and looked at the man who’d grabbed hold of him. But he was more of a boy than a man; maybe sixteen at the most, with a mop of blondish hair, fear-swollen eyes, and dust particles clinging to his sweat-lathered face. He was lying flat behind the arrow-riddled corpse of a horse, while desperately fumbling in his ammunition pouch in search of cartridge for his Trapdoor Springfield.

“Just answer my damn question. What is this place? Where am I?”  

“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me. We’re at the Little Big Horn River and by the looks of it we’re all gonna get ourselves kilt. Gall-darned Custer and his heroics.”

Frank’s heart leapt into his throat.

Sweet mother of God! Damn you, Red Hawk! Get me out of here and I promise I’ll let you live. I’ll just walk away and call it a day. Please, just get me the hell out of here!

The boy finally found a cartridge and his shaking fingers struggling to load his weapon.

“Momma told me not to join up with the Seventh. She wanted me to do more book-learning an’ maybe go to college. Dang, for once I should have listened to her.”

Tears welled in the boy’s eyes.

“And now I’m gonna die like a dog. And maybe be scalped. Some Injun is sure gonna love this head of hair.”

As the young soldier rose to fire off a quick shot, an arrow struck him in the throat, its sharpened head protruding from the back of his neck. Gurgling, he tottered for a few seconds—still holding his Springfield—then flopped over onto his back. His body gave three last twitches and grew still. There was a long rumbling fart and then his bowels let loose.

Panicked, Santoro reached inside of his windbreaker and yanked a Sig Sauer from his shoulder holster, raking back the slide to chamber a round. He was going to die at the Little Big Horn, a hundred and forty years in the past. No more classy clothes and red Ferrari and dining in the best of restaurants. And all the money he’d stashed in the Cayman Islands was for naught. He thought of his latest girlfriend, Clarisse, with her gorgeous body and alluring smile, back in Seattle. For the first time since he was a kid, he felt like crying.

And there was that damn chant again. Hi-ya, hi-ya, hey, hey, hey.

There were bodies all around; some cut down by bullets, others, by arrows. The few surviving cavalrymen were huddled behind the corpses of their horses, firing and reloading as fast as they could. There was fear on their sweaty, begrimed faces and the knowing looks of men who realized that this would be their final campaign. A badly wounded officer, who didn’t want to be taken alive, raised a revolver to his temple, cocked back its hammer and fired, the air around his head turning to a red mist. 

Shuddering, Frank chanced a look over the dead horse, spotting scores of warriors darting closer and closer, using ravines and small hillocks for cover. Others were galloping back-and-forth, firing their rifles and launching arrows from beneath the necks of their ponies. Some were clad in beaded deerskins, while others were nearly naked. 

Rising on one knee, he took careful aim and fired off three quick shots, knocking one of the riders from his horse. An arrow whizzed past his head, so close that he heard its whir. Seconds later a bullet plucked the sleeve of his windbreaker and another grazed his Sig, stinging his fingers and knocking the weapon from his hand. 

A sergeant rushed past, wild-eyed with fear, blood streaming from a gash in his forehead. Where he was headed in his panic was anyone’s guess. He’d made it only a few feet before he was a virtual pincushion of arrows, dropping him in a heap to the ground.

Hi-ya, hi-ya, hey, hey, hey.

Santoro watched as screaming Indians began to break the small defensive circle, using their
tomahawks, knives and war clubs to bring down the surviving handful of Custer’s men. There was no place to run, no place to hide. Sweat stung his eyes. His heart was beating so hard that he thought it would burst.

I might be the last man left. I can’t be taken alive. They’ll torture me. They’ll torture me slowly, enjoying every moment of it as I scream out in agony. How can I die like this? How in the fuck could this possibly be happening?

As Frank bent over, reaching desperately for his Sig, a war club struck him alongside the head, sending him to the ground, with stars exploding before his eyes. And in that instant, like in the sweat lodge, he felt as though he was made of stone.  With what little sense he had left, he watched in horror as a warrior—with half of his face painted red and the other half, black—knelt down to scalp the dead boy. Then the Indian stood, waving his blond trophy high, as he released a long, shrill, yip-yipping cry of victory.

Santoro felt fingers groping his body as two Indians relieved him of his windbreaker, shirt and jeans, along with his Wolverine boots. Then they held their prizes up, jabbering excitedly away and marveling at the strangeness of the clothes. Another snatched up his Sig Sauer and began to turn it over and over in his hands, regarding the weapon with dumfounded curiosity.

Oh God, don’t let them scalp me! Please don’t let them scalp me!  

Then, with a quizzical expression, one of the Indians knelt and felt of Frank’s boxer shorts, rubbing the material between thumb and forefinger. He made a comment that made the other two break out in laughter. With that, his hand went to Santoro’s head and began to rub the stubble of his razor cut. Deciding there wasn’t enough hair to bother with, the warrior made a sour face and stood, motioning his companions on in their quest for plunder.

They must think I’m dead. Maybe I am. I can’t feel myself breathing.

An eerie silence had come over the battlefield, marred only by the pathetic screeching of a badly wounded horse. The dust began to settle, shrouding the naked bodies of Custer’s men. The humid air reeked of powder smoke, the coppery smell of blood, of sweat, of the urine and feces of those who’d been killed.

Time passed—perhaps ten or fifteen minutes—and then a death chant went up; a keening chorus that seemed to echo across the entire valley of the Little Big Horn. Its meaning wasn’t lost on Santoro. The women were coming! He’d read in a book somewhere that it was they who’d done much of the mutilations, so as to impair the spirits of their enemies in the afterlife, causing them to walk the earth for eternity.

Don’t let them touch me, Lord!  I’m sorry for all of the bad things I’ve done. Forgive me for my sins. I  promise to change! Please, grant me this one mercy and don’t let them touch me!

After what seemed an eternity, two Indian women entered his line of sight: one, an old squaw, and the other much younger; both clad in deerskin dresses and carrying knives, their hair glistening with bear grease. Squatting down next to a dead soldier, they began to slice off his ears, giggling away as they did it. Then, with the barbaric ritual done, the old squaw rose and pointed in Frank’s direction.

No, no, please no!

And in those panicked last few moments, Santoro found that he was able to move again. The old woman saw his head twitch and stopped in her tracks, holding out an arm to halt her young companion. But Frank had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, nowhere to seek refuge. He knew it was over. He wouldn’t make it far, no matter how fast he could run. And then he spotted it—the syringe he’d been carrying, lying only inches away.

Red Hawk, you sonofabitch. Your little curse has worked like a charm. You’ve given me only one way out.

With tears brimming in his eyes, thinking of Clarisse and all of his worthless money, Santoro snapped up the syringe. Then sitting up, he quickly located the outstanding vein in his left arm and drove the needle home, pressing down on the plunger.

Hi-ya, hi-ya, hey, hey, hey.

Gerald E. Sheagren is a 69-year-old retiree, who lives in the historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, along with his wife Sharon and three cats. Over the past twenty-five odd years, many of his stories have appeared both online and in hard print. Although he writes in every genre, his favorites are crime and horror. Some of his works have appeared in The Horror Zine, Blood Moon Rising, WitchWorks, Cemetery Moon, Hellfire Crossroads, Hardboiled and Noir Nation.