Gallows at Twilight

Gallows at Twilight by William Hussey Read Free Book Online

Book: Gallows at Twilight by William Hussey Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Hussey
popped straight into his head. In the legends of the Navajo Indians of south-west America, the skinwalkers or the yee naaldlooshi, were black-hearted witches who sacrificed members of their own family in order to gain mastery of their supernatural powers. The most important of these powers was the ability to take on the form of any person or animal of their choosing. The only way to see beyond the disguise was to catch the scarlet glow of the witch’s eyes in the moonlight.
    The skinwalker began to close in on Jake.
    ‘I’m your friend,’ it purred in its stolen voice. ‘Why do you fear me?’
    Jake retreated until his back hit the wall.
    ‘I’m Simon. Here, touch me, see that I’m real.’
    ‘I know you’re real.’
    The witch stopped an arm’s length short of Jake. His movements were lithe, almost feline.
    ‘But you’re not Simon. You’re … ’
    Names. For the Navajo people, names possessed power. If you named the skinwalker to its face, the legends said that the witch would grow sick and die. Jake didn’t know the name of this dark witch, but he knew what he was …
    ‘I name you— skinwalker !’
    The predator smiled his last smile. Then his lips fell and every scrap of humanity washed out of his face. The red light in his eyes dimmed. He became as cold and as still as a statue.
    Muffled voices called out. Rachel—
    ‘Jake, we’re here. Are you all right?’
    Jake eyed the frozen figure. He sidestepped it and went to the door.
    ‘Is Brag there? Tell him to club away! I want to get out of here.’
    ‘Right-o, stand back!’
    The door leapt in its frame.
    ‘Bloody enchanted doors!’ Brag bellowed. ‘This one’s been hexed good and proper!’
    An icy hand fell on Jake’s shoulder.
    ‘You named me, child. Now you will see me.’
    ‘Who’s that?’ Pandora cried. ‘Jake, who’s in there with you?’
    Jake tried to answer. All that came out of his mouth was wasted breath. What he witnessed in the pale moonlight was so horrible he could not hope to describe it.
    The skinwalker’s mouth opened wide. In the pink dimness at the very back of its throat, just beyond the tongue and behind a pair of saliva-slick tonsils, Jake saw a single dark eye blink out at him. He shuddered—the Navajo witch was actually living somewhere inside this body! CRACK— the sound of a jaw dislocating. All around the mouth the lips had stretched taut, like rubber bands that were about to snap.
    Two fingers emerged from the throat. Others followed, until a pair of russet-coloured hands had grasped the corners of the mouth. The fingers flexed, tensed, and strengthened their grip. Dry and creaky—the sound of skin stretched to breaking point. Warm and wet—the glug of the skinwalker drawing breath from deep inside this borrowed body.
    Rooted to the spot by a fearful fascination, Jake could only watch as the witch unzipped his skin suit. With a sudden tug, the mouth ripped apart at the corners. Blood burst from the torn flesh in a fine spray that doused Jake’s face. The two tears that had started at the corners of the mouth scissored their way down the neck in rough zigzags. Eventually they met at the chest and came together to form a single and ever-widening gash. The skinwalker’s hands slipped along the raggedy lips of flesh. They tightened their grip again, and he peeled away the rest of the body.
    Skin rolled down like a sock stripped from a foot. With it came the rags that ‘Simon’ had been wearing. Both flesh and clothes snagged for a moment around the hips, and the witch had to push and tug them free. Once it reached his legs, the skin suit slipped down easily enough. Finally, it lay upon the floor in a curled, withered pile, like sloughed snakeskin.
    Somehow Jake managed to speak.
    ‘Is Simon dead?’
    The little witch blinked up at him. Naked from the waist up, he wore a pair of faded blue jeans with a turquoise pendant tied to one of the belt loops.
    ‘Your friend lives,’ he said, wiping blood from his

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