by Sarah B.

Josiah sighed and idly flipped through the Bible JD had left for him. He’d woken up to find Nathan sitting at the desk, with the explanation that JD had gone to dinner. Josiah knew better; he’d seen the determination in JD’s eyes when he argued that he was tough. He only hoped the kid didn’t run into the killer before the others got there.

Corinthians, Timothy, Hebrews...Josiah barely blinked at the names. He’d been trying to back away from his spirituality all day, for a long time in fact, and the Bible was irking him more than anything else.

Thousands of words, but not one that said how come he was being accused of murder, or what to do about it. That was the answer he needed, and this venerable old book had no clues for him.

Some help the Bible was, today.

Nathan was sitting quietly at JD’s desk, dealing himself a hand of solitaire. As he did so he said, “Know what Buck told me?”

Josiah flipped another page. “Hm?”

“He told me those girls’ deaths had something to do with them bein’ innocents. You think that’s true?”

Josiah shrugged. “Could be. Only hope I don’t end up asking the Father about it in person.”

“Hey, speaking of that,” Nathan looked at Josiah, “Where’s your cross? You lose it?”

“Oh,” Josiah looked up at Nathan tiredly, “Just decided to...retire it for a while.”

Nathan nodded sagely. “That yellin’ at you got the other day still bothers you, huh.”

Josiah decided not to hide it, put the Bible down and sighed again. “I wish I knew what to do, Nathan. On one hand, I’ve always tried to believe that there is a God, and that devotion to Him would make my life worth living. But on the other...”

“You want to bust heads.” Nathan said with a small grin.

Josiah acquiesced. “It’s a tough compromise.”

Nathan leaned back in the chair, looked at Josiah inquisitively. “So which did you choose? God or the gun?”

Josiah was silent for a moment, then said in a small, quiet voice, “I don’t know yet.”

Nathan went back to his solitaire, and Josiah resumed flipping through the Bible. Ah, Revelations. Now that was a book guaranteed to set your imagination on fire. Maybe this will answer my questions, Josiah thought as his eyes wandered over the pages.

“And the great Serpent was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown with him.”

Hm, Josiah thought. Sounds like one of them ended up in those woods...

With a soft click the door opened and Father Daniel walked in, looking haggard and worried. He gave Nathan a little smile, regarded Josiah as one would an irritated scorpion.

“Afternoon, Father,” Nathan said as the priest took a seat. “Get any rest?”

Daniel shook his head, looking at the floor. “I asked someone who the local clergy was.” His dark eyes went to Josiah in confusion. “They told me it was you.”

“They’re right.” Nathan said softly.

“I don’t understand,” Daniel stood up and walked to the cell, his voice rising in righteous anger. “How could you do such a thing? A man of the cloth, chosen by God - “

Josiah stood up, still holding the Bible. “By that God, Father, I swear I did not kill your sister.”

“You liar!” Daniel gripped the bars, his face turning red. “I saw you, you demon! I saw you holding that bloody knife over Magdelena’s body! You held your gun in your right hand and shot at me! How can you deny it?”

Josiah blinked. Something...

Nathan stood up too,came forward, his dark face a welter of confusion. “Father Daniel?”

The man looked at him, wild-eyed with fury.

“’Scuse me, but which hand did you say Josiah shot at you with?”

“Huh?” Daniel blinked, “Uh - his right hand. Why?”

Nathan licked his lips. “Did he have anything in his left hand?”

“No!” Daniel was losing his patience. “Why are you asking me this?”

Josiah felt himself growing cold. Angels thrown down to earth... “Father.”

Daniel’s head whipped back to Josiah.

Josiah’s voice was tight. “Father, I don’t shoot with my right hand. I’m left-handed.”

Daniel shook his head, stared at the floor in frustration. “So? You shot at me today with your left hand. It was after you dropped your knife - “ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a long hunting knife.

No, Josiah thought, that can’t be. Someone was tricking them, all of them. They were being deceived -

- deceived -

Josiah pointed toward the sheriff’s desk even as Nathan was walking to it. “Nathan, show Father Daniel. I still have my knife.”

Daniel looked around, confused. The knife Nathan was holding up was identical to the one he held in his hand, down to the initials JS carved on the handle.

Except the initials in the knife Daniel had were carved backwards.

“I - “ Daniel shook his head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand.”

Josiah stared at Nathan, his blue eyes round and frightened. “Nathan, let me out,” he said urgently, “I know what’s been happening.”

Nathan walked toward the cell, but Daniel put out a hand and stopped him, looked at Josiah in surprise. “Let you out? What do you think -"

“For the love of God, please!” Josiah grabbed the bars, his voice ringing with urgency. “Father Daniel, there are forces of darkness in that woods, and if we don’t move now they’ll take another life.”

Daniel looked at Josiah, then Nathan. Then he looked at the two knives, irrefutable proof. He dropped his hand and staring at Josiah said, “I’m going with you.”

Josiah nodded, his face slack with worry, his mind suddenly seized with dread. The great dragon, thrown to earth. “Please, Father. We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

* * * * * * *

Vin walked low among the trees and fallen leaves in the bare-branched woods. It’s amazing, Buck thought as he watched his friend tread slowly through the brush, he’s in two inches of dead, dry leaves and he don’t make a sound. The man is uncanny.

Course, there are a lot of uncanny things about this place, he thought with a shudder as he looked around the dim, gloomy woods and felt a shudder. Chris and Ezra were there, sitting on their horses quietly while Vin edged his way around the site of Magdelena’s murder, his keen eyes roaming over every twig and thorn.

Ezra noticed Buck’s apprehensive look and asked, “Is something bothering you, Mr. Wilmington? You look as if someone’s been telling you ghost stories.”

Buck shook his head, his visage grim. “I’ll tell you what, Ezra. When we find the man who’s been doin’ these things, I only hope he don’t mind bein’ opened up from one end to the other. Cause that’s what I’m plannin’ on doin’.”

Ezra nodded, his eyes traveling to the forest floor as he said quietly, “I understand, Mr. Wilmington. My only fear is that Father Daniel might beat you to it.”

Vin finally stood up, rubbed his chin as he surveyed the area. “Anything?” Chris asked intently as he pulled his duster closer. It was getting chilly.

Vin tilted his head. “Well, her attacker didn’t leave any footprints, and it don’t look like he using any of the leaves as cover. Mighty odd, seein’ as how the ground is so soft. He should have made some tracks, but...”

The puzzled look on the tracker’s face made Chris look at him more closely. “What is it, Vin?”

“Weirdest thing,” Vin said softly, half to himself, “There ain’t no tracks goin’ to where she was struck, and the tracks leadin’ away just stop about twenty yards over there. It’s like he just...showed up, and then when he was done, just...” he paused, shrugged. “Disappeared.”

Buck felt a shiver creep up his spine.

Chris leaned back in his saddle, gave Vin a commanding look. “Well, keep looking. There’s got to be something here that can clear Josiah, and we got to find it before the sun goes down or it’s going to be a rough night.”

Vin nodded, glanced at the leaves that littered the ground around him. “Hey, guys!”

Vin and the others looked up to see JD trodding toward them on foot, the leaves kicking up small fountains of deadness around his brown pants.

Chris glared at the youth as he approached. “You’re supposed to be looking after Josiah.”

JD looked at Chris pleadingly. “Oh, come on, Chris! Nathan said it was all right, I’m tired of sitting in that jail all the time.”

Buck cocked his head at his young friend. “Where’s your horse, JD?”

“Oh,” JD glanced back the way he’d come, “I left her tied up back there, too many holes around here. Didn’t want her hurting herself.”

Buck glanced at JD quizzically. “You bring a different horse?”

JD frowned. “Huh?

” “JD, your horse is a boy. Always has been, or do I have to explain the difference to you again?”

It was said with a smile, but everyone saw the hot glare JD gave his friend in reply to the jab. He flushed in chagrin and muttered, “I meant to say ‘him’. Just forgot, that’s all.”

Buck tilted his head, but was cut off from asking any more questions by Vin, who cracked his knuckles and said, simply, “Time’s growin’ short. Let’s go.”

JD nodded, and followed right behind Vin as they walked through the leaves.

Chris shook his head, clucked his horse forward, leaving Buck and Ezra to bring up the rear.

Buck leaned over to the gambler as they fell in behind Chris. “Hey, Ezra?”

Ezra turned cool green eyes to Buck.

“JD actin’ funny to you?”

Ezra nodded a bit, but shrugged. “Perhaps the embarrassing events of the other day are confusing him still. They did occur in this proximity.”

Buck made a skeptical face, said, “Well, maybe, but I’m gonna get him to see Nathan when we get back. I think that boy’s catchin’ a cold.”

* * * * * * *

The water was rising.

JD dug his hands into the ground beneath him, shivering in the ice-cold water that was now up to his chest, and still gushing through the faraway opening fifteen feet above his head. He had tried to move, tried to sit up more so he could at least be out of the chilling water, but even a small movement made him nearly pass out in agony from his broken leg. He had managed to rest his back against the dirt wall, and push himself up them a little, but he could tell that wasn’t going to save him for long.

He was going to die.

“No,” JD said out loud, but could barely hear himself over the sound of the falling water. He had to get out, had to find whoever that was that looked just like him. He’s probably taking my place with the others, JD thought, and felt numb with terror because - well, he didn’t know why exactly, except that he knew, in that primal, instinctive way that he didn’t have to think about, that whoever was pretending to be him was just pure evil, not in a storybook way but in a real, awful, unstoppable way. No, JD thought, he’ll pretend to be me, maybe he’s been killing those girls, and now he’ll maybe kill Buck or Josiah, they don’t know it’s not me. I’ve got to get out.

He couldn’t stop shivering. The water was so cold, so cold; He had to concentrate to breathe, and he couldn’t feel his legs anymore, or his hands, which were dug into the wet ground as he struggled to keep his head above the rising water.

JD pushed himself a little higher, cried out as his leg stabbed him.

He took as deep a breath as he could, lifted his damp face to the sky and screamed out, “Help!”

The water continued to roar down into the hole. His voice bounced off the walls, caught in the water, was lost.

No one came.

JD felt the freezing water climb up his chest, began to take deep, steadying breaths - Josiah taught me this, he remembered, it was to keep focus, to block out distractions. I’ve got to stay calm, JD thought, there’s a way out of this. There has to be.

He called out again, prayed someone would hear him.

And the water kept rising

* * * * * * *

. The demon JD trotted on Vin’s heels as the tracker walked slowly through the woods, the rest of the group trailing some distance behind. Vin paused, gave the youth a friendly but warning look.

JD looked at him, all innocence. “What?”

“You mind keeping your distance, JD?” Vin asked pointedly. “Hard for me to find things with you right on top of me.”

“Oh - “ JD backed off, his hands up. “Sorry.”

Vin knelt down, examined the ground, looked up at Chris. “This is where Dominique Velasquez was murdered.” He nudged some of the leaves aside, looked at the ground, cocked his head.

Chris eyed him keenly. “See something?”

Vin pushed more leaves away, then more. He looked up at Buck and Ezra. “You boys give me a hand?”

Buck and Ezra dismounted, walked over to where Vin was and began shoveling leaves away, in a wide circle.

Chris remained mounted, glanced up and noticed JD was still backing away, with an oddly frightened look on his face.

“What’re you doing, Vin?” JD asked, unusually concerned, Chris thought.

Vin stopped, stared at the dried impression in the earth, the ground around it. After a moment he put his hands on his hips and shook his head.

“Same as Magdelena’s,” He muttered in confusion. “No tracks leadin’ in, none leadin’ out.”

Ezra straightened up, eyed the churned earth in bewilderment. “Mr. Tanner, are you suggesting something akin to the notion that these ladies’ assailant could fly? Or disappear at will?”

“I ain’t suggestin’,” Vin said softly, backing out of the circle, “I’m only sayin’ those are the facts.”

“But what does it mean?” Buck asked, clearly perplexed.

Chris was still watching JD. The boy was leaning against a nearby tree, one hand pressed on the white bark, and his face looked wary, tense. Why?

Vin sighed, scratched his head as Chris watched JD turn and walk away. “I don’t rightly know, Buck. But - “ he looked up at the darkening sky, “We’re runnin’ out of light. I think it best if we - “

“Hey, guys!”

JD’s voice cut through the cooling air, made all of them swivel their heads in his direction. He was standing a dozen yards away, pointing down a steep decline.

“I found something,” JD continued, waving excitedly, “Down here.”

Vin cocked his head, shuffled forward through the leaves, the others right behind.

“Careful, JD,” Buck cautioned as he felt the earth slope away beneath their feet.

“Naw, it’s ok,” JD shrugged, walking a few feet down the slope.

“There’s something down there, I think it might be a body. C’mere, Vin.”

The tracker cocked his head, took a step forward.

Chris watched all this from his horse, frowned as he thought he heard approaching horses. Turning his head, he saw Josiah, Nathan, and Father Daniel pounding through the woods towards them, scattering dead leaves in all directions.

Vin continued to walk toward JD, not even glancing in their direction.

“Vin, wait!” Josiah bellowed.

Vin stopped, turned around. Buck and Ezra did too.

“Josiah,” Chris said, his eyebrows furrowing. “What - “

The preacher had his hand out, and the others saw the tension in his face as he said, “Vin, get away from him.”

Vin looked at Josiah, at JD, who was regarding Josiah with slack-jawed surprise.

Buck cocked his head. “Josiah, somethin’ goin on?”

Josiah nodded, pulled out his gun and cocked it.

And aimed it right at JD.

“Hey!” JD yelped, raising his hands and turning pale.

Chris dismounted, reached for Josiah’s gun.

“No, Chris.” the preacher answered, keeping his gun steady.

Buck and Ezra exchanged looks, and Buck quickly stepped between Josiah and JD. “You out of your mind, Josiah? JD’s one of us, remember?”

Josiah’s eyes never left JD’s face as he shook his head. “Buck, that’s not JD.”

“What?” Buck laughed, looked at JD then back at Josiah as if the older man were unhinged. “Course it is.”

“No, it’s not.” Josiah said firmly. “Any more than he was me this morning, when he killed Magdelena. Or whoever he was pretending to be when he killed Dominique Valesqeuz, and the nun yesterday.”

JD backed away a few steps, his face white as paper as his eyes pleadingly searched the group.

“Don’t let him shoot me.”

Chris glanced at JD, at Josiah, at Father Daniel. Slowly drawing his own gun he said, “I need an explanation, Josiah.”

Josiah kept his eyes on JD. “This creature in JD’s form is a demon, Chris. He’s been hiding in these woods, and he’s been killing people.”

JD laughed. “That’s crazy! Josiah, that doesn’t make sense.”

“Doesn’t it?” Josiah took a step forward, his eyes blue fire. “What better way to get your enemies out of the way then pretend to be them? But you are not made in God’s image, but are a reversal of it. That’s how I knew.”

Ezra had walked behind JD, his face marked with uncharacteristic confusion. He slipped a little, looked behind him, and paled.

Nathan noticed this, said, “What’s wrong, Ezra?”

“There’s a sheer drop over here,” Ezra commented, slowly pulling out his pistol and speaking in disbelieving tones, “Is that what you were interested in showing Mr. Tanner?”

JD glanced around, and even though none of the other men could see the youth’s face, they all saw Ezra’s expression change from confused to horrified when he looked into JD’s eyes. Pointing his gun straight at JD’s head, Ezra breathed. “My God.”

JD winced, backed away from Ezra, pulled out one of his Colts and shakily aimed it in Josiah’s direction.

“I just wanted to show Vin where somebody might have dumped a body,” he said in a shaky voice, “Honest.”

Buck turned toward the preacher, his own gun drawn as he hissed, “Josiah, you’ve lost your mind. JD ain’t no demon. He’s...”

Josiah was shaking his head rapidly. “Look at him, Buck. I mean, really look at him.”

Buck looked at JD, saw the boy with his gun aimed at Josiah, his face pale, his hands trembling.

Buck blinked, looked again.

And raised his gun beside Josiah’s, his voice soft as he whispered, “God damn me for a blind fool.”

JD went even paler, winced again, then tried to compose himself. “Buck?”

“Shuttup,” Buck’s tone was low and dangerous. “Where’s JD?”

The youth made an exasperated sound, looked from Buck to Josiah to Ezra. “Buck, I’m JD! Chris, help me out here. They’ve all gone crazy or something.”

“I’m crazy, huh?” Buck seethed, stepping closer, “Then you tell me, JD, how you managed to move that bruise from over your left eye to over your right.”

JD paused, blinked at Buck, opened his mouth and closed it again.

“Where’s JD?” Buck asked again, his voice deadly venom.

The youth before him lowered his gun and glared at Buck. The transformation sent chills through the hardened gunslinger, and all present; the face was JD’s, soft and youthful, but the eyes turned cold and hard, and full of an ancient hatred that JD could never know; the tough lines that JD wanted so badly appeared, his skin still smooth but marked with perversion and unfathomable wickedness.

God, God, Buck thought in numb shock, and asked again, his voice soft with fear. “Where’s JD?”

The demon JD let out a sneering laugh and said. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Buck growled, but before he could move Josiah grabbed his arm. The others were moving closer now, their faces a mixture of incredulity and fear as they encircled the demon who was wearing JD’s body.

“Don’t go near him, Buck,” Josiah warned, holstering his gun. “He’ll kill you.”

Buck was trembling under Josiah’s hand, his eyes fixed on the demon JD in pure, chilling fright.

“What do we do?”

The demon was crouching down now, encircled by the group but apparently unwilling - or unable - to escape. Father Daniel stared at the creature with open hatred, pulled out his cross and said, “Demon, in the name of God I bind you.”

The demon JD hissed, crouched lower. It was bizarre, Buck thought - JD’s face, JD’s body, but twisted and corrupt, the boyish lines of his face covering a malignant, all-consuming evil, his hazel eyes crackling with satanic hatred.

Josiah stepped quietly into the circle, reached into his pocket and pulled out the beaded cross he’d put away earlier that day. Winding it around his hand he said, “Demon, do you know me?”

The demon paused, unable to look Josiah in the face. He twisted his hands and muttered, “I know you.”

“I ask you this in God’s name and you must answer me,” Josiah said calmly, “You killed Dominique Valesquez.”

The demon shuddered, gulped and nodded

. “And Magdelena Ortega, and the nun.”

Another nod

. Josiah’s face was darker,more threatening. “Now, I’ll ask you just once. Where is JD Dunne?”

The demon JD shook his head, long black locks falling into eyes full of corruption, spoke in a voice that was at once youthful and ancient. “Forget it, preacher. You’re not powerful enough to stop me. Sorry.”

Lightning fast, Josiah grabbed the demon’s ear with the cross-imbedded hand. The demon shrieked, and knelt to the earth.

“In the name of God and all that is holy,” Josiah said through gritted teeth. “Tell us where the boy is.”

“Ow!” The demon winced as Josiah tightened his grip, and finally pointed one hand in a vague direction.

Buck was already running.

Josiah flung the demon to the ground as the others followed Buck, began to go after them.

“Hey, preacher.”

Josiah stopped, turned. The demon was staring at him with eyes that glittered with hatred and abomination.

“Hope you like doing funerals.” The demon taunted in JD’s voice, and grinned.

And vanished.