Hiram Shotts was a horse-thief, and a good one. Until the day he was ambushed in a dry gulch and hog-tied for a week in a lightless, stinking cave, Hiram ran rough-shod over almost every horse ranch from here to Montana. He rustled every ounce of prime horseflesh he could get his grifting hands on, branded or not. And after what I just witnessed with my own two eyes, I will always wonder why he didn't just turn himself into a snarling wildcat or something and just stampede whole herds to his hidden corrals in the mountainous valleys.
My name is Billy Wisdom, and I am the marshall of Butte Rock in the Arizona Territory. I'd been chasing after Shotts going on ten years now, and every time he'd show his face near my town, he'd slip past whatever plans I made to waylay him. This time was different, though with no thanks to me, my badge, or the townfolks I had deputized.
I had just cleared the pass and came upon a meadow in singing bloom when I spotted a group of men on horses showing brands I didn't recognize. They were fixing to string up Shotts who looked in a real bad way. He was nothing more than skin stretched over bone and was as white as cold flour. The noose was already tight. One slap of the horse's rear end would set him swinging.
"Back away, boys!", I warned. "This here's my horse thief, and I'll see him tried and hanged in my town." My badge was on my vest, and my hand gripped my Colt. The men respected both but in that instant a thunderclap let loose a timpani of sound throughout the meadow, and Hiram's horse flew out from under him.
Hiram Shotts hung by the neck in the light rain. But only for a second.
Now I can swear by it, testify to it, and repeat what I saw next in my last dying breath, but I will never actually believe my own eyes. Hiram Shotts, horse thief and scoundrel hanging from a tree, shrank down in size no bigger than a thick rope, stretched out close to 8 feet, and lost his arms, legs, and hair. His skin became scales, and his bulging tongue forked.
Hiram Shotts became the biggest rattler I ever saw, slipped his noose and slithered out of his clothing into the tall grassy meadow.
Perched on an outrock ten miles from the meadow by the way a crow flies, Hiram Shotts preened his luminous black feathers and sighed. Replenished by air, light and water on his body after that hideous incarceration in the cave, he was still at odds over his next humanly vocation. Maybe a town marshall. He sure had liked Billy Wisdom's shiny badge.