As another bottle went whizzing past my head, I knew that I had made some serious miscalculations. I knew, too, that Jim was likely to kill me because of those miscalculations, but at the moment that shambling wreck of a corpse was a much more pressing issue. I had unloaded most of my pistol into it already when Jim shouted that I should quit wasting bullets like they were made of manure and throw something more substantial, but somehow I found myself reluctant to put down the guns as they still seemed like a good idea. I might not be good at much of anything, but I was damn handy with a pistol most of the time.
Cursing his illustrious forebears, I finally holstered my beloved pearl-handled Colts and looked around for something heftier. The dead guy continued his staggering plunge toward me, so I grabbed a chair and flung it wildly across the room. It fetched up a glancing blow on his shoulder, which spun him around to the left. Jim took advantage of this momentary turn in events and hefted up another chair, bringing it down with a little more venom on the old guy’s noggin. The feller crashed to the floor with the splitting wood and lay there twitching and broken, but at least no longer mobile. Jim muttered something under his breath that could have easily been “stupid fucking white man”, but I tried to believe that it was aimed at the corpse and not me.
“Well, that don’t happen every day,” I said needlessly.
Jim just stared at me and wiped some of the blood away from his mouth. His name wasn’t really Jim. It was just I could never quite get my mouth around his real name without calling up a cough and he somewhat pityingly told me to stick with Jim, which is what he told most people who didn’t impress him on first meeting. It wasn’t that I meant any disrespect—I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, I know, as my pop always used to tell me—but that Navajo is a twisty language that leaves my tongue twitching in pain whenever I try to repeat the things he tries to explain to me.
“It's still wiggling,” Jim cautioned as I stepped forward to take a look.
“I know, I know, I ain’t an idjit.” Sure enough, the old man was jerking around like a fish on the end of a line, his sightless white eyes rolling around, but his limbs seemed to convulse almost uselessly now. Not like before. “What do you suppose he’s got?”
Jim moved warily toward the too-lively body. “Whatever he has, we don’t want to catch it, I think.”
“Damn! You don’t suppose it’s catching?” I took a quick two-step back and looked around at what had seemed to be a normal sort of shack house. We rode up and hallooed at the open door. As usual, we had been trying our luck to exchange a little work for a hot breakfast of some kind. Now instead we had a strange dead man on our hands with something that might be catching.
“Maybe it is catching, maybe it isn’t,” Jim replied evenly, gazing closely at the old man’s face. “Best to be careful in the meanwhile.”
“Well, hell.” No arguing with that. “You ever seen anything like this?”
“No.” Jim picked up a broken chair leg and poked at the guy’s shoulder. He made a sort of wheezing sound and tried to attack the chair leg. He didn’t have much luck with that because both his arms seemed to be broken. In fact, the jagged end of one bone poked up through the graying skin I could see now as he rolled over weakly trying to right himself. The bone shone out as a flash of white in that corpsely flesh. Under the surface, the broken bones poked every which way. It was a peculiar sight.
“I think we better dismember the body,” Jim said, after we’d watched the old guy struggle aimlessly for a time without making any move to get up and go after us again.
“You mean chop it up?”
“That would be the gist of it in words of one syllable,” Jim said. If you didn’t know him, you might not have realized that he was being sarcastic. It took me a couple of months of riding with him to understand that sometimes he was just being funny when he said things that sounded a bit harsh. Me, I tell you when I’m making a joke. More like to get a laugh that way. Jim just figures you’ll find it out somehow. Inefficient, I call it.
“Why you want to chop him up?”
“Well…he’s dead, yes?”
“But he’s still moving, yes?”
“Yeah,” I said, “obviously.”
“Well, if we chop him to pieces, maybe he will stop moving and be all dead.”