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Shadow on the Sun

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Shadow on the Sun

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Author: Richard Matheson
Publisher: Tor, 2010
M. Evans and Company, 1994

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Monsters
Mythic Fiction (Horror)
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Originally published as a mass-market Western in 1994, Shadow on the Sun has been out of print for years and was largely overlooked by horror fans and general readers.

Now at last this forgotten tale of supernatural terror returns to chill the blood of Matheson's many fans.

Southwest Arizona, a century ago. An uneasy true exists between the remote frontier community of Picture City and the neighboring Apaches. That delicate peace is shredded when the bodies of two white men are found hideously mutilated. The angry townspeople are certain the "savages" have broken the treaty, but Billjohn Finley, the local Indian agent, fears that darker, more unholy forces may be at work. There's a tall, dark stranger in town, who rode in wearing the dead men's clothes. A stranger who may not be entirely human....



A mile outside of Picture City, they had set up a tent for the meeting with the Apaches. A troop of cavalry from Fort Apache had been dispatched to the conference, and now two lines of horse men faced each other on the cloud-darkened meadow--one line the saber-bearing cavalrymen; the other the blanketed Apache braves, impassive-faced, sitting their ponies like waiting statues.

Everything looked drab and colorless in the gloomy half-light--the grass and bushes drained of their late autumnal richness, the horses dark or dun, the costumes of the soldiers and Apaches composed of solid, cheerless hues. Only here and there did color show--lightly in the weave of a blanket, more boldly in the slashes of yellow stripe along the dark pant legs of the cavalrymen.

Between the lines stood the tent, its canvas fluttering in the cold, October wind. Inside its small interior, six men sat on folding stools: Braided Feather, chief of the Pinal Spring band, 287 men, women, and children; his son, Lean Bear; Captain Arthur Leicester, United States Cavalry; Billjohn Finley, United States Indian agent for the area; David Boutelle, newly arrived from Washington, D.C., as observing representative for the Department of the Interior; and Corporal John Herzenbach, who was there to write down the conditions of the treaty between the government of the United States and Braided Feather's people.

Finley was speaking.

"Braided Feather says that his people must be allowed to sow and gather their own grain and work their own sheep and cattle herds," he translated to the captain.

"This is their prerogative," said Leicester. "No one intends to deprive them of it."

Finley interpreted this for the Apache chief, who was silent a moment, then replied. Finley translated.

"He says it is known to him that many Apaches in the San Carlos Reservation have had their fields destroyed and their livestock taken from them," he said.

The captain blew out breath, impatiently.

"His people are not going to the San Carlos Reservation," he said.

Finley spoke to the Apache chief and, after a pause, Braided Feather replied.

"He wants to know," said Finley, "how his people can be sure they will not be sent to the San Carlos Reservation, as so many--"

"They are being given the word of the government of the United States of America," Leicester broke in pettishly.

Finley told Braided Feather and was answered. He pressed away the makings of a grim, humorless smile and turned to the captain.

"The Apaches," Finley interpreted, "have heard this word before."

The two young men sat among the high rocks, one of them looking out across the meadow with a telescope. From where they were, the tent was only a spot on the land below, the facing horse men only two uneven lines that almost blended with the grass. Only with the telescope could the one man make out features and detail.

If Jim Corcoran had raised the telescope a jot, he would have seen the buildings of Picture City, dull and faded underneath the cloud-heavy sky. As with the horse men at the conference, two lines of buildings faced each other across the width of the main and only street.

If Jim had turned and climbed the steep incline behind them to its top, he might have seen the dot of Fort Apache sixteen miles due west and, perhaps, caught sight of the smoke from White River chimneys eigh teen miles northwest. He would have seen, too, surrounding him like a dark green island in a sea of desert, vast forest land, and, in the distance, the snow-crowned peaks of Arizona's Blue Mountains.

But Jim was only interested in the conference taking place below. Earlier, he'd talked his older brother Tom into leaving the shop to come out and watch it.

"By God," he said, lowering the telescope, "I never thought we'd see the day ol' Braided Feather'd get to feelin' peaceable."

"We never would've either," said Tom, "if it hadn't been for Finley."

"That's right enough," said Jim. He raised the telescope again and chuckled. "Christ A'mighty," he said, "an honest Injun agent. They're as hard to find these days as honest Injuns."

His brother grunted and glanced up briefly at the leaden sky. Each time he looked at it, it seemed to have descended lower.

"She's gonna start to pourin' soon," he said. "We'd better hightail us back to town."

"Aw, let's wait awhile," said Jim. "The meetin' can't last much longer."

"Jim, they been a hour already," said his brother, checking his watch. A raindrop spatted across the gold case, and he wiped it off on his coat sleeve.

"See, there's a drop already," he said. "We'll get soaked."

"Just a mite longer," said Jim, looking intently through the telescope. "We can ride back fast if she starts up."

Tom put his watch away and looked over at his brother. When was Jim going to grow up? he wondered. He was eigh teen already, but he still acted like a kid most times. It made their older brother Al mad. Well, that was nothing much, Tom thought, smiling to himself. What didn't make Al mad?

Tom yawned and drew up the collar of his coat.

"Suit yourself," he said. He'd wait a little longer anyway. "Can you see good?" he asked.

"Yeah, real good," said Jim.

Overhead, there was a swishing sound.

"All right, all right," Captain Leicester said irritably. "Any breach of treaty on our part releases his people from the agreement. Good God, what does the man want?"

He aimed a stony gaze at the clerk, then looked back suddenly, interrupting Finley as the Indian agent began translating for Braided Feather.

"That goes both ways, of course," he snapped.

When Finley turned again to the Apache chief and his son, he saw that, although they had not understood the content of Leicester's words, his tone of voice had been apparent enough. There was a tightening twitch at the corners of Lean Bear's mouth, the faintest additional glitter in the dark eyes of Braided Feather.

Finley pretended not to notice. He nodded to the two Apaches, then asked a question. The chief sat in silence awhile; across the table from him, Leicester shifted restlessly, the wooden stool creaking beneath his weight.

Then Braided Feather nodded once, curtly, and his son grunted, lips pressed together. Finley turned to the captain.

"It is agreed then," he asked. "The band will be supervised by an Apache police force?"

"We have already discussed that," said Leicester.

"Further," said the agent, "that the band will be subject only to Apache courts and juries to be formed?"

"Presuming that the members of said courts and juries are acceptable to the United States government," said Leicester.

"They will be formed with that stipulation," answered Finley. "The point is: The Apaches must be allowed to govern themselves and, when necessary, act as their own judges, mete out their own punishment."

"Presuming that this right is not used merely as an excuse for laxity of discipline," said Leicester, "it is acceptable."

"They will govern themselves then," Finley said.

Leicester nodded wearily.

"Yes, yes," he said. He turned to the clerk. "Put it down," he said.

Corporal Herzenbach dipped his pen point into the vial of ink. The sound of it, as he wrote, was a delicate scratching in the tent, just heard above the flapping of the canvas.

Over the distant mountains, thunder came rumbling at them like the chest-deep growl of some approaching beast.

"Come on, let's get out of here," Tom Corcoran said. "It's get-tin' set to bust wide open."

"Aw, just another minute," pleaded his brother, the telescope still pressed to his eye. "You talk as if we was a hundred miles from town."

"The way it's fixin' to rain," said Tom, "we could get ourselves soaked in two seconds."

"Y'think maybe the meetin's takin' so long because it ain't workin' out right?" asked Jim, changing the subject so they wouldn't go right away. He wasn't in the mood for riding back to town just yet. Al would just put him to polishing rifle stocks again.

"Y'think so?" he asked again.

"Who knows?" Tom said distractedly. "Who the hell can figure out an Injun's brain? Braided Feather's been turnin' down treaties more'n ten years now. Wouldn't surprise me none he turned down another."

Jim whistled softly. "That wouldn't be so good," he said. "Braided Feather's a real son of a bitch. I'd hate t'see him on the warpath again."

"Yeah," said Tom. "Come on, let's go."

"Y'think maybe--what're ya lookin' at?"

Tom Corcoran was squinting upward. "I thought I heard some-thin'," he said.

"Heard what?"

"I don't know."

"Where, up there?" Jim looked up at the cloud-roiling sky.


Jim snickered. "I expect it was a bird, Tom," he said.

"Yeah, sure, you're funny as hell." Tom lowered his eyes and shivered once. "Come on, let's beat it."

"Oh..." Jim Corco...

Copyright © 1994 by Richard Matheson


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