Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
View the original story here: The Mark of Canus.
Two concepts exist in our world, the natural, and the supernatural. Humanity actively sees and understands the natural, as we progress in science and mathematics, but most of us refuse to observe the existence of the supernatural, as we usually cannot perceive it. Many outright deny the possibility of supernatural occurrences, artifacts, or entities entirely, on the grounds that these things cannot be logically explained. The supernatural cannot be explained logically because it is not based in logic, as logic itself is a natural principle.
The human mind, or at least the part our basic consciousness resides in, is another natural thing, an article of logic. This is why we are not able to accept the supernatural as real, because it goes against the very basis of our understanding. Many argue the supernatural is in a part of our minds, the usually dormant part from where psychosis comes from, the crazy part, and that our minds have the capability for the supernatural, but that portion is almost always locked for some reason. Either way, the supernatural most certainly exists, and there is a lot of power in it even today. One such case of supernatural power in the world is the Mark of Canus, a manifestation of evil in the universe, and a driving force for violent insanity and even deeper darkness in the confines of the mind.
The Mark of Canus has had a profound impact on certain individuals throughout time. James Dodd, an outlaw turned lawman in the American West during the time of expansion and greed recalls his experience with the Mark:
The year was 1876, a full one hundred years after this country was founded. During that time we have seen many wars with the natives, continued fighting with the British, and a full blown Civil War, but all those horrors pale in comparison to the man known as The Snake in the Sun, Darrel Shrimer, the gold tycoon.
Shrimer was an ambitious man, known for his drive and ability to get things done, but there’s more to him than that, alright. He was sadistic, ultimately evil, and it all had something to do with this symbol he always had on him, on a belt buckle or boot. They say you could see it in his eyes, pure evil in that symbol. I shiver to think of when I looked on it. My story with him begins with my return to Albright, Arizona.
I rode into Albright in the late evening, had taken me all day to get here from Tucson. Things felt different going into the town this time, could be because I wore a badge now, instead of a bandana. I was born in Montana, but Albright had been my home for a while, when I was with a gang. Things are different now, I protect people. I cleaned up myself and became one of the best, an Arizona Ranger. Yep, I wore a bright badge and a lot of responsibility with it. The last time I’d been in Albright I had been a criminal, so naturally I knew things would feel different riding in with that weighty title.
Maybe it wasn’t the badge at all, I couldn’t really explain it, but something had come over the town, a heavy feeling. I thought nothing of it, maybe it was just me, after all I’d killed men here years ago. I rode up to the bar for a drink and some food when I noticed a strange marking on one of the posts, it was some kind of symbol, a symbol I would later come to abhor for the rest of my life, but back then it seemed like just an odd little scratch in the post, so I went on in and sat down at the bar.
I looked around to exactly what I expected, people staring. They had a scared look in their eyes, they knew me from before. I used to be a stone cold killer, a criminal who’d rob and steal and shoot men for a living. It’s no wonder they all looked frightened to see me. I’d been brought to justice by a lawman, but not all justice in the West ended in blood. He took me to Tucson to be tried, and they stuck me in prison for many years, many turned to few as I was let off for good behavior. I was completely reformed, cast off my old life in crime, to seek a new one in the law.
I ordered a steak and some Dawson brew, and was waiting for my food, thinking about my new life here when a young man came up to the bar and sat next to me. “You that Jim Dodd they talked about, the outlaw gone put on a badge?” I looked over and saw his face. He looked young, his face not yet rough. He looked innocent enough, and yet there was something off about him, an odd feeling I got. I said nothing, only turned out my badge and nodded. The boy said, “So it is true then. You’re gonna keep the law round here?” I nodded again, eyes still on the boy. “That mean you gonna take Russell Lewis and the Snake in the Sun?” He asked. I cocked my head in curiosity, partly as to who these people are, as well as that the boy was so frank with me about the nature of the law. Sensing my puzzlement, he explained, “The Snake in the Sun is Darrel Shrimer, that gold boss who’s been sweepin’ cross Arizona lookin’ for gold and fortune. They call him the Snake in the Sun on a count of he will kill a man in broad daylight, as much as the dark night. He’s had the whole town in his hands for comin’ on two years now, and I reckon he won’t let us go till someone puts him down or he gets bored. Russell Lewis is his right hand man, he’s just as scary. This guy is like the Devil ate a scorpion and spit him back out into the desert to mock the Lord by puttin’ him in the image of a man.”
I was intrigued at these man he talked about. I’d heard once of Darrel Shrimer, apparently he had gone out on a mining expedition with a whole company of men, went up into the mountains, and returned alone, with a large fortune of gold and a ruthless ambition to get more, but that sounds like most all other gold tycoons around the West. This is the first I’ve heard of murder and settlement extortion, and who was this Russell Lewis? If these claims were true, I’d have to do something, being a man of the law.
Just as I decided to open my mouth and tell the boy I’d look into it, his stare changed. He now looked pale, almost grey, and those eyes, they were empty. The eyes were as empty as the night sky in the Mojave, and just as deep. My blood ran cold, I was frozen stiff. I could not look away. Then the boy said, in a raspy voice unlike what I had just heard from him, “You can’t stop the Mark, it lives everywhere, inside you, inside your mind. The Snake in the Sun will make you submit, submit to the warming insanity of the Mark. We have given in, all of us, Albright belongs to the Mark, to the Snake in the Sun. Can you feel it, man of the law, can you feel the Mark in your mind? It’s there, waiting for you to see its glory, and love it eternally in darkness as the Snake in the Sun, and all of us.”
I looked at the boy for a moment longer, trying to figure out if what I heard was even real, I was very tired. I blinked a few times, and to my surprise he was still there, with that grey look about him, but now the symbol from the post was there, inside both his eyes, this time terrifying, its silent glare penetrating my mind. It was like looking into the essence of the symbol itself, which I now knew as the Mark. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, that Mark. It’s the face of terror, the face of sin and greed and corruption, it’s the origin of all evils. I turned away, towards the rest of the bar, only to see them all the same, silently staring with the Mark in their eyes, silent, unmoving. All of them. I got up without my food and left the bar.
I ran out into the street, unhitched my horse and saddled up as fast as I could and spurred the old bronco out of town at full speed. The Sun was down but I didn’t care, I was so mortally terrified, and every part of my being was screaming at me to leave, leave while I can. Think of it now what I did was pretty dumb, but I was just so scared I couldn’t think of anything else but to turn tail and run like a child. I rode and rode into darkness until I the horse was so exhausted she just collapsed in full gallop. I flew off her and hit the ground hard, then I blacked out. The last thing I saw as I flew through the chilly desert air was my horse, eyes gaping, the Mark in those eyes.
I came to when a hand tugged at me. In a daze I realized my own hands were tied up, and I was sitting atop my horse, walking along behind another man on a horse. He held the rope. I could tell I wasn’t speaking complete sentences, but I tried to ask what was going on, said I was an Arizona ranger and I demanded to know why I was tied up. The man ahead of me wore a black coat and brown hide hat, all dusty. He didn’t turn back, only laughed, the kind of laugh you hear in a looney bin. He then spoke, still facing forward, with a voice that could cut stone, “That’s a good one, friend, but the law don’t make it round these parts, law dog. And that shiny badge of yours, well it just got you in a world of hurt!”
He continued to laugh, and by this point I was all cleared up. “You trying to be funny?” I said, “Sounds to me like you’re the one about to be in a world of hurt when I get loose here friend.” He was silent for a second, then replied, “Who you think you are anyway, Dodd? The only reason you’re still alive is because It wants you somethin’ bad, and the Snake in the Sun wants to watch you suffer It’s madness. That’s the world of hurt I was talkin’ about earlier.”
I was surprised he knew my name, the Arizona rangers are officially anonymous, I had no ID. I finally asked “How’d you know my name anyways, slick?” “Oh It always knows, Jim.” he replied quickly, “It told me ‘fore I laid eyes on you yesterday. Besides, I heard about you, been an outlaw in Albright stirrin’ up trouble daily, caught by Manny Gargas with that six-shot .44, and put in jail. Then out of the blue they let you out early and you change colors, swappin’ your red sash for a white hat, and go on slaughterin’ outlaws like you’re some patron saint of Arizona. I hate lawmen like you, who use violence as means of ending violence.”
He made a point, but I was still baffled he knew so much of me. “And just who are you then?” I asked. He finally looked back at me, his face was rough as sun-bleached leather, all cut up and dusty. He looked like he’d been dragged through Hell by the spurs and pulled back to Earth again. “Why little old me? Name’s Russell, Russell Lewis, friend. I work for the Snake in the Sun, and I’m an outlaw through and through. I hope that hurts you inside, Jim, seein’ an outlaw you can’t kill? And, I serve It, our master, the Evil of Humanity. I serve the Mark. That’s all you really need to know there, Jimmy boy.” “Pleased to meet you.” I said, as we came upon the town. I looked ahead and saw him.
From a distance he looked like anyone else, a man on a horse, in a hat and coat. As we got closer and closer I began to make out features, He was older, snowy hair and mustache. He had a rough, stern face which was ever the norm in the West. He wore a tan coat, a hide hat and a nice shirt. On his boots was sewn an image of the Mark, and on his shirt and hat.
Then, as we got really close, I saw something different in him. His face was like an animal, he looked borderline insane, like he could snap at any minute. He looked evil. “So this is the James Dodd I was so compelled to have brought here.” He started, “you know something boy? You should have stayed in that jail cell, cause it ain’t half as bad as what you’re about to go through. You’re in Hell now boy, God can’t save you now.” I was thoroughly convinced of his words, but I wouldn’t show it. “You got a pair of balls holding an Arizona ranger like this. I’ll see you tried and hung, but that’s if I don’t put a hole in you first.” He chuckled, the kind of chuckle that made it clear he was confident of himself. “Well boy,” he said, “that sure sounds nice, but the Mark has different plans for you.” He reached in his shirt and pulled out a necklace, looked silver, with that unholy Mark on it. “Do you even know what this is, boy?” he got off his horse and I was pulled off mine.
He came up real close, held up the necklace. I could hear whispers in some odd language, saw lines coming off it, like sometimes in the middle of the desert, under the hot sun, when you’ve been out there too long and things get to your mind. He looked closely at me, I saw the ferocity in his eyes, after a long moment he spoke again, “This, boy, is the Mark of Canus. It’s as old as time itself, and it’s as evil as it is powerful. It can make men do terrible things, to others, to themselves. I feeds off us, our sheer horror satiates its terrific hunger. Men have lived and died wearing this Mark. I found it on a Spaniard some time ago when were on a mining trip. Said he got it from Spain, and it had great power. It haunted me from the moment I laid eyes upon it. So one night, in the mines while everyone was sleeping, I took the Mark, and I killed everyone there. I ate their rich hearts, and cut off their sad faces. It was ecstasy, the Mark had me from then on, and I’ve served it in madness to acquire my fortune. But now, now the Mark wants you too boy. And it’ll have you. You’ve seen it, I know you have, there’s no going back now. The insanity will come over you, then to serve the Mark, you’ll cut out your own heart for me, so I can taste it.”
I was not going to do that, but he spoke so confidently, as if it was inevitable. Suddenly, my head started spinning, I saw the Mark everywhere, on the walls, in his eyes, on the ground. I took a step back, tripped and fell. My hands were still tied, I sat there in horror as the Mark permeated into my mind. “Where are my manners?” Shrimer snorted, “Russell cut him loose.” Russell did as he was told, and I was free, or I thought I was. I then tried to run, but the whole town crept out onto the street and blocked me, they all looked grey, soulless. The Mark was in their eyes, all of them.
They started closing in, cornering me. All the while I could hear a thrum of some odd sounding drums getting louder, and whispers. The Mark was taking me, my own evils from long ago coming back out to claim what was theirs. There, back in my head the faces of the men I killed, the nightmares I’d woke from in my prison cell, all I worked so hard to erase back again. The sins I thought I had absolved, dropped on by as if they never really left. I screamed, fell down again and writhed on the ground, I could feel a slithering inside.
“You feel that boy?” called Shrimer, “That’s the Mark inside you, that’s me inside you. Do you know why they call me the Snake in the Sun? Because I slither through the desert and eat any rats I find. You’re no exception, boy, you’ll succumb just like all the others!” I fought it, I fought it hard, but it didn’t matter, the Mark was quickly taking me.
As the darkness closed in, I had a thought, something that sheriff Gargas had told me when get finally took me. He said ‘Evil is everywhere, friend, it is even inside you. Fighting that evil is all we can do, all we can live for, because it is the only way we can redeem ourselves. We do bad things, no one is perfect, but it is how hard we fight it that makes the most difference, because in the end, we are all judged by our efforts. Even if we never really win, what other choice do we have?’ That thought inspired me, I fought back the Mark, not completely but only for now, accepted it, and pushed it from controlling me.
My hands free, I reached for my hip, and pulled up my .44 Magnum handgun. I was surprised they left it on me, Shrimer was really convinced that I’d be taken. Things happened fast after that, Russell reached for his rifle, but I was too quick, and I nailed him twice. Two of the other henchmen tried after that, each went down with only one round, ranger training is extensive. There was blood on the ground, and Shrimer reached for his gun, but I shot him in the leg. He dropped it and went to his knees, I had him now.
The man dragged himself back as I came to him. “What are you gonna do now?” He puffed out a few more mad chuckles, “You’re out of bullets, you gonna cuff me, boy?” He seemed confident still, even wounded and outmatched. “Not today, Shrimer. Look again, and count my bullets before your blessings. Normally they have only five, but I had this one made special like Gargas’. There’s one round left, friend.” He stopped lurching backward, but I kept towards him.
He just continued to laugh, “Killing me won’t help you, Jim. The Mark still has you, though you managed to beat it back. We all go sooner or later, and the Mark is always there. You haven’t won, boy, not by a long shot. Evil will always be with us, and you can’t escape your wicked past! You can’t change!” I put the gun to his forehead, and looked down on him. “That doesn’t matter anymore. I am the law now, and I’m gonna bring you to justice. And you’re right, I can’t change. I killed back then, and I kill now, but the difference is I kill the killers, and not the innocent. Condemn me if you will, but if killin’ you saves someone else, well I’ll be damned if I let you go. You made this personal, you brought the hawk down on you, snake. Now I’m gonna cut you down, just like I promised.”
I pulled the trigger, and he fell down. The Snake in the sun was dead, and already I felt a weight lift off the town, suddenly the townspeople weren’t looking grey anymore, though they were confused. I plucked the necklace off Shrimer, and put it in my pocket. I would return it to Spain where it was found, and evil like that needs to stay buried.
Dodd’s story is only one of many like it. Throughout time, the Mark has always been there, tormenting souls and enforcing its evil on the world. However Dodd, unlike many, has been able to keep the Mark from taking him, it would always be there, and every once in a while a chill would creep down his spine, and he knew the Mark was present. He battled with the evil in him until his death in 1919, when the fever got him in his sleep. It is said he rambled in his last days, talk of something coming for him, and he mentioned the Mark over and over again. He passed away in the late night, a look of fear on his face, fear of the Mark and its madness, that same madness he had beat, if only temporarily, on that day in Albright, Arizona.
Credit To – Greg P