Galen peeked down at the smoking Derringer. As the Gypsy had fallen, her blood sprayed onto his hands and coat. He tossed the gun aside and took one last look into the open eyes of the dead crone. Galen stepped over to the ebony box, upside down and open upon the wooden floor of the parlor. He picked it up, reached into his pocket, and replaced the box’s original contents before closing the carved lid and dropping it into his coat.

Hastily, he made his way down the street, picking up pace with each step until he was at a full run, the vapor of his breath trailing in the frigid air. Halfway to the waterfront, Galen came across a steed tied to a hitch. Checking up and down the street for its owner, Galen freed the horse and rode away into the night.

For nearly two hours he could feel the box inside his pocket alive and slithering, pushing him to a limit of sanity. Finally, he came across an abandoned house that, by the looks of it, had recently been vandalized. Galen tied the stolen horse to a tree out of sight and carefully entered.

The place had been thoroughly picked through. Only evidence of recent squatters remained, but he didn’t find anyone still there. He used a broken chair to start a small fire in the hearth. The box wouldn’t allow anything else to occupy his mind, dispersing even his need for food. He sat on the floor by the fire and, with a trembling hand, reached into his pocket to take it out. The carvings—snakes of a talented, albeit unknown hand, seemed to move under his fingers, forcing Galen fight surging the fear inside of him. With a soft click, he threw the latch and opened the box.

Inside was an eye.

This eye had once belonged to some kind of living creature, but was now in a petrified state. But he quickly came to understand why the Gypsy and the banker had both coveted it, for it had certain palpable cognizant powers.

He picked up the eye and cupped it in the palm of his hand. The outside felt smooth and uneven, save for the slightly rough area in the back where the nerve stalks had long been severed away.

As he had done before returning to the Gypsy’s parlor, he stared into the eye’s black iris and felt himself instantly drawn into it—falling, like tumbling down into a darkened well.

The first time he gazed into the milky cornea, he’d seen how the crone had drugged him and used him to gain that which he had brought to the banker. But that scene was now replaced by a new, much more terrifying one. Again, a headache struck—an intense pressure building up between his temples; a pounding ache, as if something inside his skull were to break through like a hatchling from its shell.

Galen screamed as the pain grew and, without warning, his body felt limp, as if his brain had lost the ability to control its, to command its verticality. The pain welled, his brain felt full of fire. He thought he screamed again, but this time no sound came forth—only the hiss of air escaping his throat.

The mounting pressure inside his head built to the point when every aspect comprising his body began shaking violently, as if trying to escape their bonds. Then suddenly, as quickly as it started, it stopped, leaving Galen with an overwhelming sense of silent levity, an acute sense of the soft whoosh of air gently passing him.

Here, there was no pain, no suffering—only an inescapable brightness. Galen looked around before finally gazing down. Below his feet—several hundred yards down—he could see the ground. He was above a dense forest—serene and silent, stretching infinitely into the blue sky. Galen cocked his head. He could hear birds singing in the trees. But suddenly, their music stopped, and from the woods below thousands of birds took wing, scattering every which way—as if escaping.

Smoke was rising in black wisps, funneling into the sky, obscuring anything beneath the tree line. But orange flames began to break through, spreading with astounding speed. Within moments, the fire expanded with a deafening roar, consuming everything in its path as it reduced the forest to a cinder.

The birdsong Galen heard before was gone, replaced by something more sorrowful. One voice gently sobbing in the distance was followed by another, as anguished, whispered cries for help grew to a level higher than the fire, as they multiplied by the thousands. Voices swarmed around him as the sky suddenly began to grey, finally giving way to a frightening and oppressive sense of total dark.

Galen sensed their ascendancy from untold depths—monstrous creatures of the abyss spreading like a plague across the world below, their gnashing yellow teeth making short work of all flesh unfortunate to fall within their indiscriminating jaws. Those unlucky enough to survive then cast into chains, turned into slaves. With a crack of thunder, the sky above Galen opened as a single shaft of pure illumination punched through the darkness, containing illuminated winged figures pouring from the sky.

So he watched—timeless warriors locked in ancient combat. The blood of the righteous and unrighteous flow until every last river runs red. The carnage is magnificent, no quarter offered, none taken.

Standing at the head of the unending phalanx of darkness was a man with eyes of smoke and the head of a coyote. Suddenly Galen is upon this face, himself struck silent by recognition.


The dirty ghetto street in Veracruz muddied the spilt blood. Galen watched a now coyote-headed Cyril carve the scalp from a young girl’s head.

He could feel the heat radiating from the door of the church that Cyril set aflame, innocent Mexican Catholics locked inside. And as Galen stood immobile to the atrocities before his eyes, Cyril turned to grin at him, reveling the long teeth indicative of his maw.

The enchanted eye fell from Galen’s trembling hand, its spell broken; he was back sitting on the floor of the abandoned house. For minutes he stared at the eye, which lay on the floor, gazing blankly upwards through its milky cornea.

Galen shouted at the eye. In a fit of rage, he scooped it off the floor and cast it into the fire still burning in the hearth.

The night brought a fitful sleep for Galen, for the images he’d been shown were emblazoned into his mind. Every time a slumber knocked at the door, it was quickly turned away by the interior horrors that kept him awake. As dawn broke, Galen picked himself up off the hard, cold and fled the house, leaving the carved ebony box behind.

The horse, by some miracle, had survived the night out in the cold and, not surprisingly, was not happy with Galen. After some coaxing, he saddled himself on the steed and it trotted away, most likely pleased to be moving. Unfamiliar with these parts, Galen was led only by some interior guidance. He went south. Returning to Kansas City, a city that only meant consequences, was no longer an option.

Dunburton had spent the night in his study, drunk and despondent over the loss of the object he had spent so many years coveting and only a short time possessing.

To have it slip through my fingers, he thought. It was maddening. When he had first opened the box to check its contents, the eye gave him a brief look into its deliverer. It was a mere glimpse, but enough to see through Tom Holt’s facade— that the eye told Dunburton that Tom Holt was, in truth, one of the only San Patricio deserters to escape final judgment. Had he been able to coerce a confession over dinner, he could have had him arrested, or—more appropriately—killed him on the spot, claiming the rights of his former military rank.

Instead, he allowed Tom Holt to take the eye—the object he’d procured by using his own money to purchase the bank deed to a particular ranch and applying pressure on the chance owner until the object he desired came loose.

Perhaps the rancher knew this would happen, Dunburton thought. Indeed, if the man had used the eye to divine the outcome of this transaction, it was quite possible. The thought very much angered Dunburton.

Had he been a younger man, still in his fighting prime, he would have gone after Tom Holt himself.

That’s not even his real name, he remembered. The eye had told him the deliveryman’s true identity, but now all of it was clouded by the bourbon and anger.

It still burned inside of him: an outlaw, a deserter, a traitor who had cheated justice during the war got the best oh him, a national servant and hero.

Dunburton slammed his fist against his desk hard enough to knock his near empty bottle to the floor. He’d be damned if he wasn’t going to see justice served. From his desk, he withdrew a sheet of paper. Steadying his hand with another sip from his tumbler, he began a letter to the only other man he knew who would want to do something about it.


The weeks passed as Galen drifted toward the Mexican border. The closer he got, the slower his pace seemed to become. Galen knew why, of course. It had been years since he’d been in Texas— years since he’d been a soldier who had fought for his country in the name of Manifest Destiny, and then shortly thereafter the fight against his country to preserve decency as he saw it. His time in Texas had been nightmarish from the start of his service—and his time south of the border hardly better. But he had heard rumors that those who served under the Mexican flag with General Santa Ana in the brigade of St. Patrick’s would be given a hero’s welcome in Mexico had they lived.

As far as Galen knew, he was the only surviving San Patricio—the only one who could genuinely testify to the reasons for his desertion.

Perhaps we were killed to keep us quiet, he often thought; though Galen knew the dead often found ways to tell their secrets.

Of everything that had happened—everything he had seen and been part of—the atrocities committed against the Mexican civilians scarred him the deepest. If there was a place to somehow begin to atone for what he’d done—and what he had been unable to prevent—it was Mexico, Galen thought.

A new life, a new start—he imagined.

By his best guess, he had crossed into Texas a few days earlier and would soon make it across the border. He gazed out past the shimmering heat rising from the expansive desert floor before him before the creature crumbled underneath him.

The horse, stolen during his quick departure from Kansas City, had hardly taken to him during their weeks together and had become increasingly sullen. The last two days it had barely eaten and finally, with one final weakened step, collapsed, throwing Galen onto the ground.

Galen thudded hard, face first. He pushed himself up to his elbows, spit out a mouthful of dirt and looked back at the horse, which now lay dead behind him.

He got to his feet and brushed himself off. The border was close. He’d just steal another horse to get there.

How hard could that be? He reckoned.

At half past noon on May 12th, the postbag was delivered to Fort Jones. The mail had been routed west via stagecoach to an outpost in Scottsburg, in the California territory. The coach itself had been delayed a week during a scheduled stop in the mining town of Hooperville when after reports of a “hostile Indian attack” further up the trail just a few days earlier.

This postbag, when it finally arrived at Fort Jones, was met with a crowd of soldiers—it being the first delivery mail in two months. Nearly all the men stationed there were expecting letters or packages from somewhere and, more importantly, someone—all the men but one: a lieutenant who had no family other than the Army. Hence his surprise when a slack-jawed private handed the lieutenant a letter with his name on it.

The envelope had been posted some weeks back from Kansas City, the home of one of his former commanding officers. Given the advanced age of the man, the Lieutenant figured the letter contained a notice of the great man’s passing. Instead, he was pleased to discover the note had been penned in the old man’s own, albeit shaky, hand.

“My dear friend,” the Lieutenant read, “it is with great consternation that I report this news, but I have discovered something that I believe is of great interest to you. As I live and breathe, one of the last surviving betrayers to the flag known as the San Patricios has crossed my path. Though his real identity initially eluded me, I am positive this man is the last of the traitorous mob you have diligently brought to justice. I am an old man unable to do this duty for his country, but I trust that, as one of the soldiers formerly under my command, you still have the desire to follow my lasting orders: hunt down any surviving San Patricios so they may answer for their crimes.”

Quietly, Cyril read the rest of the letter containing the details he’d need to begin his hunt. After he was done, he folded it neatly back into its envelope and tucked it away inside his tunic. He took his hat in his hands—the hat of an officer of the U.S. Army— placed it upon his head, and stepped out into the sun He grinned, wide.


When Galen finally opened his eyes, the flash of his past had ended; he had returned to the present. He was there in a dry riverbed, a day’s walk from Sagebrush. Yet she was there, holding the lamp and staring back at him across the dim firelight: the girl whose life he had done nothing to save back in Veracruz—her face ghastly and rotting.

Galen had run from so much over the past few years; it was all he knew. But that was about to end. Deep inside, underneath the fear he felt in his heart, Galen sensed that the running was over. After tonight he would move forward—though toward what he was unsure. The uncertainty terrified him much more than any concrete reality from his past. And now it was in front of him, staring.

“What if you aren’t real?” Galen asked the apparition.

The answer came physically, as the girl from Veracruz raked her boney and splintered fingers across his cheek. Galen reacted, stunned, by covering his cheek with his hand. He pulled it away to find it wet with blood.

“The powers that wish you to take this journey are stronger and more unforgiving than you can ever imagine. What you left behind in Sagebrush will be nothing if you choose to disobey fate’s warning,” she hissed. “If you do not take the path that has been laid out for you, death will follow in your wake, taking with it the innocent.”

“And what, exactly, is waiting for me at the end of this path?”

“If you wonder if you will be saved then you labor to ask the wrong question.”

“Will I be damned, then?”

“You are already damned, Galen Altos—but tonight there is reason to believe your fate has not been completely written.”

She turned her face away and, with a puff of breath, the dead girl from Veracruz blew out the lamp and plunged the both of them into total darkness.