“Death Wears a White Shroud” Excerpt

By Jesse J Elliot

         “Are you still with me, Father Agustin?” Iragene turned her head and yelled, hoping to be heard above the shrill screams of the wind and the blowing snow. At the end of the lead rope, an invisible voice shouted back, “Yes, Sheriff, I am fine. I just wish we could see beyond our noses.”

         Iragene Jones, sheriff of El Brazo County, smiled briefly then resumed her onslaught against the swirling snow that continued to block her vision. She looked around, glad that her friend, Father Agustin didn’t see the fear on her face, though he too knew that they were totally lost, and the lead rope was only there to make sure they wouldn’t get separated in the blizzard.

         The two riders struggled on through the sea of snow for another few minutes. Suddenly, she and her horse smelled it at the same time—smoke. Mixed in with the blowing snow, it was impossible to separate the snow from the smoke as visibility remained pure whiteness, but abruptly, her horse stopped. Iragene turned around to her riding companion. “I think we found a structure. Can’t tell if it’s a house or what.”

         “It’s a morada, a Penitente church. I know where we are. We must have gotten turned around—going east instead of west to Santa Fe,” he shouted to her with relief in his voice. “It’s not the best place to stay, but it will at least save our lives tonight.”

         They both got off their horses and walked around the structure, feeling their way around the building. Next to what appeared to be a chimney was a fair sized indentation where one horse was already picketed. They took their saddles off their horses. Rubbed them down with some straw that someone had conveniently left, fed them, and then covered them again in their saddle blankets and saddles to keep the heat in.

         “Are you sure it’s all right to go in, Father? I heard the Penitentes are prickly about strangers using their churches, even deadly,” she spoke loudly to her companion.

         “In this weather, no one should censure us for taking succor in a house of God,” and he put his saddle bags over his shoulder and took Iragene’s free arm. They held onto the walls and each other as they walked around, looking for the entrance. Finally the adobe gave way to heavy wood, the door.

         They pushed the door in and were surprised to see two youngsters huddled in front of the fireplace. The teenage boy and girl both jumped up as the two wayfarers entered the church. Their eyes were wide open and their mouths agape.