Short Story: The Man Who Rode With The Devil

KANSAS, 1876

The man known as Ty Hohner was something of a legend in these parts.

At an early age the Half-Breed Indian had either left or been evicted from his tribe, for whatever reason best known only to himself. Some people reckoned he might be Cheyenne. All Hohner rightly recollected was that his mother was Indian. His father a white man who’d been shot dead by his wife’s own tribe.

All Clay McConnell needed to know about the Half-Breed was he had to kill him.  McConnell had repeated it to himself over Hohner’s wanted poster, the one he snatched from outside the Marshal’s office in Hays, as if it were either a mantra or a prayer.

Hohner’s career as an unchallenged gunfighter was well known, and ultimately feared. Not merely throughout Kansas, but in Texas, Nebraska and beyond. Even lawmen hesitated at taking him.So what hope did a twenty three year old farmboy have? Wasn’t the desire for revenge and an unbridled anger enough?

rode with the devilFolk in these parts whispered Hohner’s name to recalcitrant children, in the  depths of night, as a warning. They called him ‘The Shadow Man.’ They reckoned a trapper had once spotted Hohner in the mountains. The trapper told how the man, stripped to the waist at early dawn, clad in Indian apparel, had blood smeared over him. The story went that as soon as he was spotted, Hohner appeared to vanish like a shadow. As the trapper had a reputation for drinking his weight in red-eye, no one actually believed him. However the tale seemed to stick with superstitious folk.

The less than superstitious preferred to believe their own eyes, and Hohner’s true reputation was earned from the challenges he issued. Usually over some triviality or other. For Hohner’s boast was that he had never killed a man in cold blood. His skill lay in the fact he counted on people’s weaknesses in order to satisfy his thirst for gunplay.

Six weeks previously, Clay McConnell’s sole interest was in marrying his childhood sweetheart, Jane Meadows. They had set the date, and he was engrossed in preparing a home for his new bride. His friend Davey Oakes was to be his best man. The two young men had grown up together, and Davey helped on the McConnell’s farm. Silas McConnell’s wife had died of the consumption two years previously.

Davey was seeing a saloon girl called Sally. The Miners was the boys invariable watering hole. Sally was pretty and she laughed a lot. Davey was besotted by her.

Astride the palomino, the only horse anyone had ever seen him ride, Ty Hohner  entered  the town.  The man was handsome, there was no doubt of that, and appeared to be in his mid thirties. In the familiar black buckskins, high leather boots displaying the dust of his travels, the Half-Breed appeared ignorant of his observers. Truthfully, the man was capable of weighing them up, assessing whose blood he could spill, as long as they were wearing a gun.  He carried his own weapon, a long barrelled .45 Colt nestling in a fine hand-tooled holster.

Soon the town would buzz with news of his arrival. The man whom they claimed rode with the Devil, that Death followed in his wake.

In The Miners Saloon, two young men were halfway to intoxication valley. Drunk with the whisky, and with his love for the pretty saloon girl, Davey Oakes remained unaware of the tall man in the black buckskins who had entered. Sally had observed his entrance however.  The last time had been in an Abilene saloon, where she had worked as a dancehall girl.

So the man was handsome, and knew it, with the wild black hair he sported, worn long to his collar.  The piercing equally  black eyes had roved over her body, enough to indicate that she was his. Sally couldn’t pretend that she felt comfortable with this man, and recollected that when he got close, she  smelt the stench of stale blood on him.

Hohner was unable to contain his jealousy when he discovered the girl he considered his in the arms of another man. Although it wasn’t simply the proverbial green-eyed monster which attracted him, it was the anticipation of spilling another’s blood, which prompted him to call Davey Oakes out.

The youth was obviously enamoured of the girl, Hohner described to The Miners patrons, as a whore and a gold-digger. That she had been his mistress and had slept in his bed. All lies of course, but Davey Oakes didn’t know that. After all, the Half-Breed sounded convincing enough. Davey had barely moved a hand toward his gun when Hohner’s weapon was a lightning flash from leather encased fingers.  The young man was tossed against the counter, blood pooling through his shirt. Eyes gazing sightlessly upward with two bullets in his heart.

With a cursory shrug of his shoulders, Hohner acted as if he had simply swatted a fly. To the astonished folk in the saloon he muttered something about not wanting to drink there anyway, and not mixing with bad company. Swinging the doors aside, he moved into the street, where he was accosted by the Marshal. Hohner explained the kid had drawn first. “You only gotta ask the folk in there,” Hohner told the lawman nonchalantly, gesturing toward the saloon.

Unable to receive any other explanation for the shooting than the one Ty Hohner had vouchsafed, the Marshal was left with no other choice than to allow Hohner to leave unimpeded. He did so the following morning, before sun-up. A drunk witnessed Hohner leaving town, while staggering home in the early hours. He testified that when Hohner went to the Livery to fetch his horse, the other animals became so skittish, “they made helluva ruckus in there, like they was in a panic.” The drunk reckoned all the dogs started barking too when Hohner rode by.

In the wake of the death of his best friend, Clay McConnell had cause to wonder why the Marshal should have allowed Hohner to leave quite  so readily. According to the poster, Hohner was wanted for murder. Talk around town hinted that Marshal Blades was afraid of the Half-Breed Indian, and was relieved to see him go. Even he was too scared to take a man known as ‘The Fastest Gun’.

The man had to be stopped, and Clay McConnell had convinced himself that he was the one to do it. All his erstwhile intentions, his forthcoming marriage to Jane and the running of the farm, were abandoned now. Instead of preparing for his wedding, McConnell practised indefatigably with both a long Colt.44 and his true favourite weapon, the Henry rifle. Hitherto, the rifle had been used merely to kill the rats in his father’s barn.

Jane had hoped to discourage him from his foolhardiness, explaining how she either didn’t want to be a widow before she was even wed, or visiting her husband-to-be in prison. If the law were too scared to go up against this man, his father said, then it was suicidal for his son to even try. Cleaning the Henry, paying attention to its every part, Clay McConnell told his father he had vowed on Davey’s grave to get the man who killed him.

Killing Hohner had been easier than even Clay McConnell had realised. The body was draped over the palomino’s saddle. The weeks of intensive tracking had paid off. The young man had barely slept, and would have been barely recognisable to Jane with his wild beard of a mountain man.

He discovered Hohner astride the palomino, skirting the edge of the canyon. It was midday. The sun was high in the Heavens. Wrapping a cloth about the Henry’s barrel, so it would not catch the glint of the sun, thus alerting his target, the rifle exploded the back of Hohner’s skull. With the sun in his eyes, the  other man was caught unawares. So it was a cowardly act, shooting a man in cold blood. McConnell was aware it was suicidal to try and take him any other way.

Lying flat on his stomach behind a rock, marginally obscured by sagebrush,  McConnell levelled the rifle on the man down below. The Henry only had to speak three consecutive times.  It  was enough. Once in the upper chest, twice in the back of the head. Hohner slipped to the ground, while the palomino stood motionlessly by.

It seemed an age that he waited. McConnell recollecting all the stupid nonsense from the townsfolk. That Hohner rode with the Devil. Well, where was his devil now?. The man was dead wasn’t he? A furtive prod with the Henry was enough to confirm that fact.

As afternoon turned into sun-down, McConnell was aware that he’d never make it to Hays before morning. The pinto was tired and so was he. Now it was over, Clay McConnell realised how incredibly tired he really was. He decided he’d have to make camp for the night. After collecting enough brushwood, he commenced to start a small fire. He’d tethered both the pinto and the palomino, with its gruesome burden, to the nearest tree.

The Henry had perpetrated considerable damage, disfiguring Hohner’s features extensively. Where the two rifle bullets had penetrated one of his eyes had opened up like a flower, splintering the nose and hideously desecrating the once handsome features. Unwilling to look into those dessicated features any longer, McConnell had thrown a blanket over the body.

As he settled down, he was conscious of the pinto’s restlessness, as if the horse were anxious to be gone. No amount of stroking and placating seemed to quieten the animal. McConnell realised that sleep would scarcely be forthcoming. He was glad of the fire however.  The lonesome howling in the distance heralded the presence of a coyote.  He had never heard such a mournful sound, and he heard plenty of coyotes in the six weeks he had been trailing Hohner.  The sound was ostensibly magnified, as if to indicate the presence of more than one.

He had no idea what it was that compelled him to lift the blanket, as if it were to satisfy himself that the Half-Breed was really dead.  The last time he had gazed on that face  it was congealed in dried blood and unrecognisable.

Now, now, he could scarcely believe what he was seeing. Ty Hohner’s features were as handsome and clear as they had been when he had entered The Miners Saloon, and shot his friend. The bloody tissue had healed, somehow miraculously. But that was impossible. No one could escape such terrible wounds.

McConnell, who had been momentarily filled with guilt because he had killed a man in cold blood, was now horrified at what he was seeing. No amount of eye blinking, and rubbing at them in an endeavor at adjustment made any difference.

The face was unblemished. The piercingly cold brown eyes were intact. When they  suddenly snapped open, McConnell could only recoil in disbelief, almost falling into the fire in his haste to get away.

The tableau enacted in the play of cold full moonlight. It now threw everything, including Hohner’s glacially smiling features – a smile fuelled with profound self-satisfaction over the young man’s terror – into a  kind  of devilish relief. Except now the eyes were blacker, reminiscent of  some hellish chasm.

The man was dead. All this was a trick of the moonlight. It had to be. The back of  Hohner’s head had been completely pulverised. A Henry rifle takes no prisoners.  When the long drawn out wail of the coyote shrilled through him again, McConnell levered the Colt from his holster. The chill of the barrel was comforting.

Come on, Clay, you’re letting your imagination get the better of you. No one heals themselves. It’s just not possible. The man was a legend, sure, and you killed him. Think of all that money the Sheriff in Hays will pay.  What is it?  A $5,000 reward. Think of what you and Jane can do with that.  It’ll be a great start to your married life. Dear Jane. 

Slipping her photo from his jacket, he allowed himself a smile. She was beautiful and he loved her so much. As soon as he reached Hays with Hohner’s dead body, and he was dead, he would be able to claim her. They wouldn’t wait. They would get wed straightaway.

The man was evil. He had to be stopped. He shouted it into the night. “I did something none of you lily-livered bastards have the guts to do. I killed the fastest gun. It was me, Clayton McConnell…” However, his words were allowed to trail as something rustled in the bushes. It sounded like footfalls, the tread measured, but heavy, moving through the undergrowth.

He traced the gun in the direction of the sound while attempting to counsel himself there was nothing there. All his imagination again. The moonlight. The dead man draped over the saddle. The minute scratch of guilt because he had shot Hohner in cold blood.

As if guided by an unseen hand, he found himself drawing closer to the palomino. The horse stood idly by, as if impervious to the night. The blanket remained in the position McConnell had left it. Undisturbed. The pinto neighed restlessly, rearing his head at McConnell’s approach, as if the horse were urging him to be gone. “Easy, boy,” He stroked the animal’s back absently. All the while maintaining an uneasy gaze on the undergrowth, the Colt raised, a finger itching the trigger as if in readyness to fire.

The snap of a twig, reminiscent of a pistol shot, served to startle him. He turned in the direction of the sound. “Show yourself, or I’ll shoot.” There was a tremble in his voice. Despite the chill of the night, cold sweat had begun to break along his backbone.

Apart from the night sounds and the wailing of that damned coyote, there was no other response.  Yet, what was it that succeeded in drawing a return of his attention to that ignominious grey blanket? He slowly, carefully, lifted it, his heart beating an almost painful tattoo inside his chest.   The body had gone!

Clay McConnell staggering, half-falling, blindly into the brush. His mind was no longer his own. Terror gripped him, as if a thousand cold needles had pierced his heart. Nothing had prepared him for this, the creature that now came blundering out of the undergrowth, the scrub and small trees parting in its wake. It just stood there, something that should not have intruded on this world.

Its teeth were bared and sharpened to fangs, half fashioned into the semblance of a grotesque smile. That was how it seemed to McConnell under the white-cold moonlight. Its body, covered in matted brown shaggy fur, was shambling. Its height, he could but conjecture, was the height of a six foot tall man.  The face, if it could be called that, was covered in the same shaggy tangled fur. An elongated snout protruded from that grotesque countenance. The ears were pink and strained to every sound. From within that hirsute, monstrous mask, two piercing yellow eyes seemed to glint with anticipation on the man. Eyes mirrored in the starkness of moonlight.

The deepest, threatening growl that emanated from the creature was as no other sound he had ever heard on earth. Nor was Clay McConnell ever to hear it again.

When the creature swiftly sprang up on him, McConnell was thrown into the dust. A vain attempt to fire his pistol only succeeded in the shot going wild. His spinal column was wrenched apart, as if it were little more than paper. Raising the limp body up to the moonlight, the thing emitted a wild raucous growl.


Dusty black buckskins robing his hard-packed physique, the man known as Ty Hohner entered the town of Wichita, Kansas late in the evening, astride the beautiful palomino. Some of the folk who had witnessed his approach crossed themselves inwardly, although they had no idea why.

Hohner’s handsome features conveyed a smile of pure self-satisfaction. He remained the unchallenged. The enigmatic stranger capable of instilling fear into the weak hearts of those who considered him the man who rode with the devil.

They called him Half-Breed. Ty Hohner could easily trace his ancestry. The reason why he was abandoned by his tribe. His father had to die from a bullet made only from a silver cross. This man the Cheyenne knew as Ty-Ohni.

The Wolf.

Story by JM Shorney

Illustration by Peter Shorney


Short Story: Be Home Before Dark, John

In her rounded and softly moulded features, Mother’s eyes were deeply seated and of a soft gentle grey.  The way she dressed was reminiscent of the turn of the century.  Her bodice, fashioned with small white buttons, she wore high to the neck.  On her breast she sported a porcelain brooch, a present from Father that she had worn since they were married more than forty years ago.  Her hair was pulled tightly back from her forehead and worn in a bun.  I had never seen her hair loose.  Like her relationship with my father, that was something she kept.

“Be home before dark John” she said.  And there was no mistaking the anxiety in her voice while she adjusted the scarf about my neck, the scarf she had knitted for my brother Edward the previous winter.

behomebeforedarkWhen mother’s eyes strayed towards my father seated in his high backed chair by the fire, he turned slowly, the glance exchanged, though heaven knows how for my father was totally blind.  In spite of his blindness theintonation lay between them all the same.  I suppose that’s what happens when a man and a woman have been married as long as they have or have had as many children.

I was the youngest of ten; five brothers and four sisters, or I would have been if my six year old nephew Lenny hadn’t joined us.  Lenny was my sister’s illegitimate child, not that I fully understood what had happened to bring a return of my sister Kate to our humble cottage, sporting a swollen belly and two swollen eyes to match.  Kate had once been a pretty girl before she met and married the man she called ‘the major’.  Lenny wasn’t the major’s child.  The major had taken her in but Lenny got frightened when he major hit his mother.  When Mother spoke about the major she hinted that he wasn’t really a major; that he hadn’t even fought in any war and when she said it the familiar trace of bitterness punctuated her words.  I knew it wasn’t because of my sister’s predicament.  I had three brothers, Albert, Arthur and George fighting the war in Belgium in a town calledYpres.  Arthur had left behind a wife and a six month old infant son.

Laying my bike against the hedge beside the rail tracks I sat down on the grass, opened up my lunch box and began to tuck in to cheese sandwiches made with mother’s home baked bread, to find that the bread was still warm.  The disused railway sidings were my usual Saturday afternoon haunt, the tracks abandoned now; something to do with the relocation of the railway closer to town.   The deserted old sidings brought a return of the sadness I’d experienced on waking this morning.  The sadness was so overwhelming it almost made me cry, but fifteen year old boys don’t cry.  There was no reason for the sadness but I just couldn’t help it.  I would be sixteen next April and I knew in my heart that if this war went on any longer I would be sent to the Front too.  I heard from Edward they were taking lads as young as sixteen and seventeen as soldiers.  ‘But whatever you do John, please don’t tell Mother.  It would break her heart if you went as well’ Edward had warned.  Mother wouldn’t stand in my way of course.  We were at war. We were also British and it was expected that every young man in our village should wish to fight for his country.

It was late September.  Warmed by the unaccustomed afternoon sunshine, my belly filled with hot sweet tea and my mother’s bread, I suppose I must have dozed, for coming abruptly awake I realised that it was already dark.  In the distance I heard the screech of a night owl – the only sound to penetrate the stillness.  I had no watch so I had no idea of the time.  I could only guess how late it was and Mother’s words ‘be home before dark John’ slipped into my head once more.  Dark!  It was already dark.  Jumping up, brushing off my trousers and grabbing the bike, I leaped onto the saddle and pedaled as fast as I possibly could in the direction of the village.  I knew I had to make it home before Mother discovered that her youngest son was absent from supper.

The coldness of pale moonlight, a halo of steely silver, danced amidst the hedgerow and lent the road not only a sense of eeriness, but also of loneliness and desolation.  Mother would certainly be worried by now.  Why?  I didn’t know, after all I was old enough and strong enough to take care of myself.  The depression of earlier suddenly hit me again as I approached the village and the two white walled thatched cottages huddled closely together at the side of the road.  The feeling of sadness was so strong now that the tears filling my eyes blinded me a little and I was forced to swipe an impatient hand across my face.  What did I have to cry about anyway?  I was almost a grown man and grown men don’t usually cry about missing supper.  The light from the cottage window, illuminated by the flicker of the oil lamps, was a welcoming sight.

Suddenly and without warning I saw ahead of me what appeared to be a gigantic glowing light, but no kind of light that I had ever seen before.  Hanging suspended in the air it must have been at least six feet tall and about three to four feet wide.  It was also opaque; solid so that I was unable to see either the road or the surrounding area through it.  Cylindrical in shape it appeared to shimmer like a heat haze on a hot summer day.

I had already dismounted.  Only the cold grip of the bike’s handlebars beneath my clutching fingers indicated that I was awake and not dreaming, although my boots seemed to be fixed as if secured by nails to the road.  My heart banged so loudly in my chest I thought I would faint.  I stood there for what seemed a lifetime, rooted to the spot while the cylinder shaped light continued to pulse as if endowed with a life of its own.  I only managed to tear my gaze away from the thing with the realisation that the hour was late and I visualised Mother regarding the clock uneasily when I had not returned.

Thinking about Mother made me realise that I could move again.  The light had given me quite a shock at first but no light, as strange as it was, was going to prevent me from getting home.  Bravado fuelling me, I guided the bike forward.  It was obvious the light had no intention of letting me pass so I thought to outwit it by steering the bike off to the left of it.  Intercepting my actions as if we were playing some odd game of chess, it moved in the same direction.  When I attempted to veer to the right, the light definitely and defiantly had a mind of its own, for it also moved in that direction.  I was beginning to grow really afraid now as my bravado of earlier evaporated.  Nonetheless, when my mother’s anxious face rose up before me in my mind’s eye I knew what I had to do.  I had no alternative but to pass straight through the light.  Closing my eyes tightly I gripped the handlebars until my knuckles were white.  Muttering a half remembered prayer I’d heard in church, I marched deliberately and with determination head on into the light.  As I did so it exploded with such a deafening ferocity it almost shattered my ear drums and thundered through my head like a hundred stampeding horses.

Not daring to glance behind at the outcome of the explosion I jumped back onto the bike and as if all the legions of hell were after me I raced toward home.  I wasn’t about to hang around to discover if anyone else had heard the noise, though of course they must have done.  An explosion of that magnitude had to have been heard for miles around.  Tomorrow I would find out.  Tonight I was much too afraid to even think about it.

When I finally reached home I found Mother, Father and my brother Edward already seated at the supper table.  “John, whatever’s the matter?” Mother exclaimed, rising from her chair and glancing at the clock anxiously.

Wiping his moustache and lips on his napkin Edward said “We were getting worried John.  It’s late, and not like you to miss your supper.”

Still panting and breathless from my wild ride, I enquired if any of them had heard the terrible explosion tonight.  Oddly all three shook their heads.  It was Edward who asked what explosion I was talking about.  But they must have heard it.  My ears were still ringing.  Guiltily I stole a glance at the old grandfather clock in the corner of the room.  It was ten minutes to ten.  No wonder they were all so concerned.

The following day I made it my mission to enquire in the village if anyone had heard the explosion, particularly at the two old cottages along the road where the light had shattered when my bicycle collided with it.  Strangely no one had.

It was a week later that Edward and I returned from working on the farm to find my mother slumped in her favourite armchair, my father’s glaucoma-ridden eyes stained with an unaccustomed wetness.  I saw that the hand he rested on mother’s shoulders was trembling badly.  Kate was there too.  She held chubby little Lenny in her arms, tears running unashamedly down her cheeks.  A black edged letter I recognised as a telegram was clutched in her other hand.  She passed it to Edward.  I had never seen such a letter before but young as I was I knew exactly what it meant.

“It’s Arthur.  He… He’s been killed in Belgium” my sister blurted out, cuddling her son to her bosom protectively.

“What happened?” I heard Edward ask, a thickness in his voice.

“There was an explosion in the trenches” Mother said.

“What time did it happen?” Edward asked and I felt his arm slip around my shoulders.

“About nine thirty, ten o’clock, last Saturday night.”  Kate’s words ended on another broken sob.   I froze.  The exact time I had seen the light and heard the explosion that no one else seemed to have heard…

Eighteen months later I was sent to the Front as a boy soldier.

In March 1918, badly wounded in the leg, I was honourably discharged from the Army.  I was almost nineteen years old.


The image above is of my uncle, Albert Smith, and comrade who served with him in the Royal Berkshire Regiment in the 1914/18 War. My uncle was one of the first to be called up, and was known as an Old Contemptible. He had spent his first Christmas behind enemy lines, just after the recent First battle of Ypres. Queen Mary had dispatched some Christmas goodies, mostly consisting of tobacco, to the troops.
My uncle spoke of a sighting of the Angel of Mons, which is now believed to have been nothing more than a peculiar cloud formation. However, as feelings ran high during that time, the soldiers believed that it was a sign from God.