*Here’s a nice little one-off tale of El Scorcho the barbarian and a pack of rabid dogs. He hasn’t adventured in awhile, so it’s a good way to stretch, shake loose the cobwebs and get down to some serious punching. Enjoy!

When El Scorcho the barbarian and Jonus the thief finished navigating the narrow trail between the mountains and saw Creepytown, the barbarian spoke first.

“I weigh four hundred pounds, am seven feet tall and have killed, literally, thousands of demons, bad guys and assorted naughty things with my bare hands,” El Scorcho said, surveying the town’s ruins. “Even I admit that this place is creepy.”

“You got it. Creepy,” Jonas agreed. Calling Southpoint creepy was like calling Stalin high-strung.

Once upon a time, it might have been a picturesque town, but something had putrefied it into a collection of rotting hulks.  Houses sagged on their foundations, beams stretched down like gray-green taffy. Green moss and white fungus covered the roofs.  The cobbled street running up the center of the town now grew wild with weeds and swarming, fat insects.

El Scorcho sniffed the air. It was still as a stone. Behind the smell of damp and rot was something else; cheesy and throbbing and alive.  The town might be extinct, its inhabitants long gone or long dead, but something lived here. Somewhere.

Jonas plucked a throwing dagger from the bandolier of knives slung across his chest. He tucked its handle into his palm. El Scorcho pulled on his fingerless gloves, flexing his fingers to stretch the comfortable leather.  Both fighters were well aware it was their way of whistling past a graveyard. 

“No good news, I think,” El Scorcho said.

Jonas kicked a loose cobblestone away and rubbed his foot in the dirt. “I don’t know. I’m getting a not-so-fresh feeling about this. Whatever happened here, happened a long time ago. Not years. Decades. You’re telling me he didn’t know.”

The barbarian stared at Jonas then nodded.  “Damn. You’re right. I liked that old man, too.”

At the end of the long street, the tall weeds suddenly came alive, rustling madly. Jonas lifted his arm and hunched down. El Scorcho put up his hands, palms out, ready to grab, rip and toss.

“Avengers, assemble…” El Scorcho said.

“Not sure about the copyright on that one,” Jonas whispered. “Lawyers.”

“Sorry,” El Scorcho said. “Scratch that.”

Now several bunches of weeds rustled at the end of the street. The rustling weeds slithered forward, then gathered in one big storm of swishing, dry vegetation. Clouds of irritated insects rose up in a swirl above the turmoil. From the weeds El Scorcho and Jonas heard scrambling paws and panting breath. A pack of wild dogs burst into the open, their feet digging madly across the cobblestones at the two.

 

El Scorcho relaxed. “Pooches,” he said. “Just pooches.”

“Not just pooches. Look at them,” Jonas said.

As they got closer, El Scorcho saw their red eyes rolling madly in the sockets. Strings of saliva dripped from the open mouths, splashing on their legs and shoulders. Not just dogs.  Rabid dogs. 

“I don’t they’re hungry for Puppy Chow,” Jonas said.

El Scorcho slammed his fist into his palm with a tight slap. “Then how about a heaping bowl of Puppy POW instead.” He shook his head and immediately said, “I apologize for that. I can do better.”

“Shameful,” Jonas said. “Terrible.”

Once the first dog got within fifty feet, Jonas flicked out one dagger, hitting the lead mongrel directly in the chest. It lurched forward and dropped down, its legs still scrambling for purchase in the air. 

Two off the dogs stopped, bent down and tore at the fallen mutt’s throat, killing it instantly. Then they began to tear out shreds of meat and eat it.

“OOh, that’s not right!” El Scorcho said, flinching away from the cannibal dogs.

Jonas tossed out two more daggers, each finding their target and bringing down two more dogs.  Only a half-dozen remained. 

El Scorcho walked forward. “Come here, pooches. Got me some Milk Bones. Some Scooby Snacks. A mailman’s leg.” Then the barbarian started running, dipping his shoulders and leaning forward, headed straight for the mass of dogs. The dogs growled at him.

Then stopped when the barbarian growled back louder. 

El Scorcho leapt into the air, spinning in the air as gracefully as a high diver, then came straight down on the biggest dog, driving it into the dirt with his boots. It snapped at him, finding nothing but unsatisfying air. When the sole of the barbarian’s boot snapped its neck, it stopped snapping and obediently died.

Two more dogs jumped into the air at the barbarian. El Scorcho caught them by their necks, holding them aloft and then cracking their skulls together like crunchy castanets. Two more dead.

One dog ran beneath its dangling comrades, its teeth latching onto his leather boot. El Scorcho kicked it sharply, shooting it like a furry cannonball at another dog. Then both tumbled away in a yipping mass and struck a jumbled pile of lumber.  Dead and dead.

Now only one dog remained, the largest of them. Its lean body trembled and shook, but it didn’t rush forward. Instead, it dropped its head, growling and sniffing at the barbarian. Its eyes shined with the same diseased hate and hunger as the others, but there was also intelligence. And cunning. 

El Scorcho pointed at it. 

“Red rover. Red rover. Git yo’ ass over…” the barbarian chimed. He displayed both of his gloved hands and cracked the knuckles proudly. He flexed his arms, turning this way and that, taunting the dog. This would be a good fight.  The dog huffed in reply and leaned back on its haunches…

But then it froze as Jonas’s dagger pierced its neck. It tried to growl again, but blood bubbled between its brown teeth and it fell to the ground. In seconds its red, malicious eyes closed forever.

“Aw, come on, man!” El Scorcho said. “That was going to be cool.”

“We’ve got better things to do. It’s not the El Scorcho Show,” Jonas said.

“Read the story. It IS the El Scorcho Show,” the barbarian pouted.

Jonas rolled his eyes.

El Scorcho looked at two of the dead dogs. “We’re a fifth of the way through this, and I’ve killed a few goblins, a cute bunny and some dogs. Not exactly a heroic start.” He kicked the two carcasses to the side.

They tumbled and tore across the ground, shearing a path through the weeds…and revealed several rusting hunks of armor.

“What the hell?” El Scorcho said. He walked over and lifted an ancient iron breastplate. A jumble of ribs and vertebrae spilled out into the weeds. The barbarian shivered. The old bones made dusty, hollow music when they clattered together.

“What’s the matter?” Jonas asked.

“Bones clacking together. I hate that sound,” El Scorcho said. He shivered again. “We’ve got bodies. Skeletons, anyway.”

Jonas walked a path through the weeds. He quickly found another collection of armor to their left. And then two more to their right. In a few minutes, they found dozens of bones and armor in assorted piles all through the town.

Jonas knelt down and sifted through the armor and bones with his dagger’s tip. “Why would the dogs not take the bones? They should be scattered all over the street. What dog passes up bones?”

El Scorcho said, “Unless something else was claiming them. Something meaner.”

“Meaner than a rabid dog?” Jonas said. 

“I’m meaner,” El Scorcho said. “So, yeah. Bingo.”

“Don’t say bingo,” Jonas said. “You sound like an ass, like this is Dragnet or something.”

El Scorcho rolled his eyes. “Okay. I agree with your assessment then.”

Jonas ignored him and pointed two fingers at the bodies. He said, “Look at this. This pile. Two bodies.” He pointed to another pile. “Two bodies.” And to another. “Two bodies. All of them. Two bodies.”

The barbarian straightened and stood. His huge finger rested on Jonas, then himself. “Two bodies.”

“We should get the hell out of here,” Jonas said.

El Scorcho waggled his gloved fists in the air. “Maybe we should let Sergeant Samsonsite and the Manchurian Candidate have a conversation with Creepytown.”

Those are your fist names?” Jonas asked.

EL Scorcho shrugged. “I’m not married to them.”

Jonas kicked aside a patch of weeds by the pile of armor and revealed a circle of blackened ground and wood.  Jonas moved to another pile of armor, searched and found another circle. Then another.

“What is it?” El Scorcho asked.

Jonas said, “Campfires. All of them had campfires.”

“Whatever got to them, got to them at night,” El Scorcho said.

Jonas grinned. “Bingo, little buddy.”

El Scorcho gave Jonas the finger, then a sly grin spread on the barbarian’s face. “…I’ve got an idea.”

“Every time you say that, I have to drink a half-dozen healing potions,” Jonas said.

“Your mother,” El Scorcho said and explained his plan.

To Be Continued…