Sheriff Quade Goes to Hell by David Henson

Drunkard Sheriff Quade is on a path of self destruction, and unfortunately there's some collateral damage; by David Henson.

It's dead dark when a noise wakes up Sheriff Josh Quade. He quietly slides the Colt out of his holster and fires twice in the dark. There's a gasp, a thud, and a groan. The sheriff reaches for the lamp on the table beside his bed and jambs his hand into the bars of the cell. "Shit," he says, realizing he fell asleep in the jail and isn't in his room above the feed store.

He sits up and a mostly empty whiskey bottle slides off of his lap to the floor. He takes a wooden match from his vest pocket, flares it with his thumbnail, and walks unsteadily toward the sound of moaning. Just as he feared, his deputy, Harp, is on the floor, a puddle of blood spreading around him.

"You shot me, Sheriff," Harp sputters. "Why'd you... shoot me? Why?"

"Sorry, Harp. I thought you was somebody in my room. Somebody after me."

"Your room? I was just... coming back in... from taking a piss... Your room?" Harp says, gulping for air.

"Ouch, damn it," Sheriff Quade lets go of the match, which falls onto Harp. He slaps out the flame, causing the deputy to groan loudly.

"Get Doc," Harp says with a rattling breath, then goes quiet.

Sheriff Quade starts for the door, then stops. People may not believe it was an accident. Poor Harp they'll say. Living in the jail to save money to bring Jenny out West, and Quade gets drunk and shoots him dead for coming in from taking a piss. He'll lose his job sure, all the good things he's got going here. Might even swing.

The sheriff looks out the window across Main Street to the stable. A full moon shows things more than he'd rather, but there's still plenty of night. Time get to the woods a couple miles west of town where the ground's soft. Be back 'fore dawn. He lights another match, goes to Harp, and kicks him in the ribs then puts his ear to his chest. Good and dead sure. He drapes his hanky over the deputy's face, then slips out the door and heads across the deserted street toward the stable. Halfway there he thinks he hears something, freezes, and stares toward the Lucky Seven. Just his imagination.

Inside the stable the smell of urine-soaked straw burns his nostrils. Stupid Twitch is worthless. Least he won't have to worry about him getting in the way. He'll be passed out in one of the empty stalls. Quade gives him a bottle time to time, and Twitch lets the Sheriff stable his horse for nothing. It works out real good cause Quade gets his whiskey free from the Lucky Seven bartender, whose ugly face is on a wanted poster the sheriff keeps hidden in his desk.

Quade lights a match and makes his way to Harp's horse. By the time he gets there, the flame is starting to burn his fingers. He drops the match, and the straw at his feet catches fire. He stamps on it with his boots, then feels around the stall in the dark. He sees movement out of the corner of his eye, and ducks his head. "Twitch?" he yells out. "That you, Twitch?" Nothing. Got to keep his damn imagination reigned in. He finally finds Harp's saddle, hefts it onto the horse, and leads the animal from the stable to the alley behind the jailhouse.

The sheriff goes into the jail, rolls Harp in a filthy blanket from one of the cells, drags him out and muscles him over the horse. He grabs a shovel leaning against the outhouse and angles it into one of the saddlebags. Suddenly he sees long brown, curly hair dangling from the blanket. "Aagh!" he yells and starts to run toward the jailhouse. "Take it easy," he tells himself after a couple steps. He turns, stares at the blanket a few seconds, then mounts the horse and heads out.

Riding to the woods Quade thinks about how he'll play his cards back in town. Sheriff, I found Harp's horse wandering the street, but no Harp, somebody'll say... Maybe she just got out of the stable, Quade will reply calmly... Don't think so, Sheriff, 'cause she's saddled up... Come to think of it, Harp wasn't here when I got to the jail this morning, he'll say. Figured he was getting some breakfast. He'll start acting concerned now, go outside, look over Harp's horse real careful-like. Let's get a few boys together and look for Harp, Quade'll say. Then he'll lead them east of town.

Or maybe he should blame the Sioux. Scalp Harp and leave his body out in the open. No, that might bring the Army in. Don't need them nosing around, digging up something from the past. Besides, burying worked fine before, he thinks. Just then he senses something coming up behind him. He shouts, and the horse bolts. Quade yanks the reins; the horse rears then lurches again, Harp sliding off the back. Looking over his shoulder, Quade gallops ahead till he's sure nothing's chasing him. He takes a few deep breaths then returns to Harp and grunts him back onto the horse.

When the sheriff gets to the edge of the small woods, he peers into the trees several minutes, then dismounts and leads the horse down the narrow path. He comes to a small clearing silvered with moonlight, stops, and jerks Harp down. Was that a groan? The sheriff kicks the blanket.

Quade reaches into the saddlebag. No shovel. The burying just got a lot tougher. He starts pulling weeds, clumps of dirt sticking to the roots. A good start on a hole. After he's cleared a patch big enough for Harp, the sheriff starts digging with his hands. This ain't so bad, he thinks. Just then he feels a large stone he can't get loose. He looks around for another rock to pound the stone with, but can't find anything in the dim light. He works his hands down along the sides of the stone till he's just able to get his fingertips under it, then yanks as hard as he can, busting off a fingernail. He squeezes his throbbing hand in his crotch then takes the gun from his holster. "Take this," he says, pounding around the rock with the handle of his pistol till the stone breaks free.

He stands to stretch his back. As he slides the pistol back into its holster, the gun goes off and shoots him in the foot. He screams and, the horse bolts - with Harp still draped over its back. "Stop, you miserable beast!" Quade yells. He starts to run after the horse, but quickly collapses holding his foot. He lies for several minutes, gasping for breath. Then, his hand shaking, he lights a match and is relieved to see that at least the bullet went clean through.

Quade hobbles in the direction of the spooked animal. He hasn't gone far when he finds Harp's body, but no sign of the horse. He tries to drag Harp back to the hole, but can't manage with his wounded foot. He groans and sits on Harp to rest. After a few minutes, he begins limping around the woods, gathering dead leaves, twigs, and small branches. He places them under, around, and on Harp and lights a fire. As he fans it with his hat, a face suddenly looms out of the flames. "Leave me be, you!" he shouts. He puts his hands in front of his eyes. "It was your own fault. I always told you not to rile me when I had a drunk on," he says, then slowly opens his fingers and peeks through them. Nothing but the fire and the sound of Harp's body sizzling and crackling. Dad-blamed imagination.

Quade's tried over and over to remember what happened with Nettie, but can scrape up only bits: Throwing his arm over in bed one morning to find an empty bottle instead of his wife. Staggering to the main room and finding her on the floor, a terrified look still frozen on her face. A gun pointed at her. His hand holding it.

What he does recall clearly is her long curly hair hanging down when he hoisted her over his horse. Hearing her voice as he took her to the woods not far from their shack. How the ground was soft and easy to dig.

With no family, friends, or neighbors, there was nobody to miss her. Or him. He started drifting county to county and didn't stop till he got to a dusty crotch of a town hard up for a sheriff willing to work cheap and lock up a few drunks come Saturday night.

Quade looks around one last time hoping to see Harp's horse in the dim light then starts limping out of the woods.

Back on the open trail he notices an orange glow on the horizon toward town. Must be sooner to dawn than he thought. His foot throbs with every step. His finger feels like it's been hit with a hammer. He thinks about some of the good times with Nettie. Before the rotgut took over. Sometimes they'd take turns rubbing each other's backs after a hard day in the garden. Suddenly he feels a hand on his shoulder. He looks down and sees finger bones, whirls around and is face to face with a skeleton in a blue dress, long curly hair dangling from a dirt-crusted skull. I'll rub your back, Sweetie, a voice screeches then howls with laughter. "Leave me be, Nettie. Leave me be," Quade screams. He falls to the ground, scrambles ahead on all fours, and plows right into a body - Harp, face white as cotton. "Can't be," Quade shouts. Suddenly Harp's eyes flash open. "You shot me Sheriff," Harp laughs. "Shot me for taking a piss." Quade clambers back to his feet and stumbles ahead ignoring the pain in his foot till he feels his whole chest aflame. When he can't take a step more, he stops and turns, defeated. "OK, come get me," he says weakly. But there's nothing. No Nettie. No Harp. Just prairie.

After a spell to catch his breath, the sheriff resumes his trudge to town. He notices the sky growing brighter. People gonna be about, see him coming back.

What happened Sheriff? Where you been? somebody'll ask... Harp and me left just fore dawn to go fishing. Got bushwhacked. Three of 'em. Think they mighta kilt poor Harp, he'll say... Yeah, we thought something's wrong when Harp's horse came in without him a bit ago. But your'n, Sheriff, it's still in the stable... Damn. He forgot about that. Gotta think of something other. My horse got a bad shoe so we both rode Harp's... But Sheriff. you coulda just borried a horse from Twitch... He was still passed out drunk... But Sheriff he wouldn't cared you just gone and took one... Damn. Maybe something'll come to him.

At the edge of town, Quade hears yelling and sees black smoke billowing in the night sky. It's not dawn; stable's on fire. Frantic townsfolk have formed a bucket brigade from the well to the flames. The smell of burning horse flesh chokes the air. What a lucky break. Nobody'll pay attention to him now. He limps down the street, turns into Saloon Alley, and makes his way to the back door of the jailhouse. Before he gets there, he happens to look west of town and sees an orange glow on the horizon. Nobody'll ever find Harp now.

Inside the jail, Quade lights a lamp, grabs a bottle of rye from his desk, and drags himself to a cell bunk. He sets the lamp on the floor by the bed, takes a big slug of whiskey, then eases the boot off his bad foot. He pulls at the sock, but it's matted to the wound. He takes another drink, then grabs the pillow, trying not to think about all the drunks that've drooled, puked, and worse on it, and shoves it into his mouth. He pours whiskey on the wound, screaming into the pillow till the pain eases, then carefully pulls off the sock.

After killing the rest of the rye, Quade sways to his desk and gets another bottle. Foot feels better already, he thinks. Wonder if Twitch got out? May need to explain things to a new guy.

Back in the cell, he slugs down half the whiskey. What a night. Gotta corral them maginationings. Tomorrow'll be better. "Better morrer," he mutters.

The sheriff lies back in the bunk and passes out holding the bottle on his belly. After a few minutes, his grip loosens, and the bottle topples down, knocking over the lamp. The spilled oil flares and ignites the bed. A moment later, Quade begins choking and murmurs, "Leave me be. I'm sorry, Harp. Forgive me, Nettie." Then, as the fire engulfs him, the sheriff hears a voice whisper: Too late.

It's dead dark when a noise wakes up Sheriff Josh Quade. He quietly slides the Colt out of his holster and fires twice in the dark. There's a gasp, a thud, a groan... and a faint sound like laughter.


  1. A bit of horror-farce combined with the wild west of yesteryear - I just hope in Quade was done for and couldn't take anyone else with him! Thanks, Ceinwen

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ceinsen.
      -- Dave Henson

  2. What a chapter of accidents! Can't help feeling sorry for the inept sheriff even while thinking he got his just deserts. A fast-paced story full of turns and twists holding the reader's interest.

  3. Oh dear, Sheriff Wade. I really felt as if I was inside his head and it wasn't a good place to be. Vivid scene-setting, a fusion of the slap-stick and the sinister, and a disturbing insight into the relationship with his wife.
    B r o o k e

  4. Love the cascading consequences and the ever-deepening certainty the sheriff is a nutcase. The end, him burning, was quite satisfying.