Twisted Hills

Free Twisted Hills by Ralph Cotton

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Authors: Ralph Cotton
another drink, Charlie cautioned him, saying, “You might want to go a little slower on that jug, Preston. I had the ol’ fellow who makes that stuff punch it up with an extra bag of peyote cactus powder.”
    â€œI don’t give a damn if he punched it up with a bag of snake droppings,” Kelso said in a strained voice. “I’ve got a head full of worms I’m dealing with here.” He held the jug away from Charlie and rested it on his mattress beside him.
    â€œWe brought it to share with you, Preston,” said Charlie. “You don’t want to drink the whole thing by yourself.”
    â€œThe hell I don’t,” said Kelso. “Reach your fingers out for it again, you’ll pull back some stubs.” His left hand went under the pillow behind his shoulders and came back wielding a big rusty Colt Dragoon he’d talked the young priest, Father Octavia, into bringing him.
    â€œWhoa! Hang on, Preston,” said Hazerat. “It’s yours, the whole jug of it!”
it is,” Kelso said with certainty. “Now clear out of here. I’m not telling you nothing, if that’s what you thought.”
    â€œEasy, Preston,” Charlie said. “The truth is, we did hope maybe you’d tell us about the
you know what
.” He glanced around as if to make sure they weren’t being overheard.
    â€œI’m not telling you a damn thing today,” Preston said, his red-rimmed eyes already taking on the swirling effect of the strong peyote-laced mescal. “You come back tomorrow, bring me some more of this stuff. Soon as these worms quit eating my head, maybe I’ll tell you. Maybe I’ll even send you to get it and bring it back here, if you can do it without Segert finding out.” He paused for a second, seeing if they fell for his ruse. “Well, can you?” he demanded.
    The Hooke brothers looked at each other.
    â€œWe can, Preston,” said Charlie. “You can count on it.”
    Kelso nodded his bandaged head.
    â€œI’m going to keep that in mind,” he said. He let the big Dragoon fall to the bed at his side. He looked at the jug of mescal with admiration. “This stuff has got the strangest bite to it I’ve ever seen.” His eyes were already a-swirl. He turned them back to the Hookes. “Bring me another jug tomorrow. Now get the hell out of here.”
    The Hookes looked at each other again. Charlie gestured toward the jug and said to Kelso, “Preston, you need to show some caution drinking this stuff—”
    â€œLet’s go, Charlie,” said Hazerat, cutting his brother off. “He knows how to drink without you telling him.” He pulled Charlie away by his arm.
    â€œDamn right I do,” said Kelso as the two turned and left the infirmary.
    The young priest reappeared and gave them a sour look as they passed him on the stone sidewalk leading toward the front wall. As soon as the priest was out of listening range, Hazerat spoke to his brother in a lowered voice.
    â€œYou didn’t tell me about the peyote powder,” he said.
    â€œI meant to,” said Charlie.
Meant to
ain’t going to help a damn bit while I’m howling at the moon and grinding my teeth down,” said Hazerat. “I’m already feeling it take on a strange turn.” He squeezed his cheeks and twisted his lips back and forth. There’s parts of me I can no long feel.”
    â€œYou’re letting it spook you, Hazerat,” said Charlie. “I’ve drank as much of it as you have. Look at me, I’m good as gold.”
    â€œYou think you are, but you’re not,” Hazerat said, his own voice sounding distant and strange, like the twang of a plucked guitar string. “Why did you do something like that anyway, and me not knowing?” he asked, still feeling himself over here and there for numbness.
    â€œI only intended him to drink a

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