This story is by David Elderton and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Clay Tucker rubbed his sternum where the bartender shot him the last time. It still burned, but it made Clay remember to duck as he went inside the saloon this time.
The bartender fired and missed, but Clay’s shot forced the man into a pyramid of beer mugs, collapsing them all to the floor.
Clay shot another man at the top of the stairs, who dropped his rifle and fell over the banister.
Upstairs, Clay fired through the fourth door. The would-be bushwhacker hit the floor with a thud. That hombre always killed Clay if he didn’t shoot first.
Clay kicked open the last door and saw Brody holding a bowie knife against Rose’s throat, her white corset torn open, her chest exposed. A rush of hope filled her eyes, because she knew he’d save her. He knew he’d fail.
Everything shifted to slow motion as Clay’s mind raced. Clay pulled the trigger, and the hammer began to fall as Brody sliced open Rose’s throat and aborted her scream. Blood splashed onto the sheets as Brody discarded her body on the same bed Clay shared with Rose that morning.
The clock struck midnight before the gun fired.
* * *
Clay Tucker jolted himself awake at dawn. Rose, his beautiful raven-haired Rose, was lying naked beside him, propped up on her elbow, watching him sleep.
“Same dream?” she asked.
“Yes. You always… die.”
“Sugar, I’m right here!” She straightened up and shrugged off the sheets to reveal her bare feminine beauty. “See?”
Her southern lilt and exquisite body awed him every time.
He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her down, and flipped the sheets up over them both.
At noon, Clay put on his gun belt. “Wear your black corset today.”
“Sorry for breaking the bedpost.”
She winked. “Don’t be, Sugar.”
There was a knock at the Sheriff’s office at 3 o’clock.
It was the undertaker, Lucien. He didn’t so much enter a room as ooze into it. His sunken, dark eyes accented his cadaverous appearance.
“Brody is arriving on the afternoon stagecoach, Sheriff.”
* * *
Clay jolted himself awake. Rose was lying naked beside him. Blood gushed from her slit throat. He blinked, and it was gone.
Endless repetition etched all the variants of the recurring nightmare into his memory, but now dream elements infringed on reality.
At 3 o’clock, Clay yelled, “Come in, Lucien” before he knocked.
The undertaker opened the door. “How…”
“Brody’s on the afternoon stage, right?”
Lucien’s eyes narrowed and studied Clay for a moment.
Clay blinked and found himself in front of the Oriental Saloon, two minutes shy of midnight.
Clay didn’t know when his day ended, but his nightmare just started.
He killed the first three men, then kicked in the last door. Rose was covered in blood, already dead.
Brody guffawed. “Haw! Haw! Lucien said you’d cheat! You can’t beat me, Sheriff!”
Clay pulled the trigger, but the clock struck midnight before the gun discharged.
* * *
Clay jolted himself awake. Rose was lying naked next to him. He felt the wet muck of the blood-soaked sheets sticking to his skin, the blood still warm. He blinked, and the vision disappeared.
“Yeah. I need to talk to Lucien. He’s the key.”
“Now? And leave me alone?” She straightened up, and the sheets fell off. “Like this?”
Clay Tucker was not a stupid man. He visited the undertaker at noon.
* * *
“I know you’re involved, Lucien. How do I stop it?”
“Stop the dream.”
Lucien burst out in a raucous guffaw that sounded like… Brody.
Clay clenched his teeth.
After a long moment, Lucien collected himself. “It’s not a dream, Sheriff, it really happens.”
“She dies every night?”
“Yesss. Maybe you’ll save her on your last attempt. Your father did.”
“My father was murdered years ago, you bastard!”
Clay wrapped his hands around Lucien’s scrawny neck. His fingers touched as he squeezed with all the strength he could summon. The scant man sputtered for breath.
“Tell me how to stop it, or I’ll kill you!”
Lucien’s neck enlarged as muscles grew and separated Clay’s hands. The powerful entity grew ten feet tall and flicked Clay off like an insect.
“You can’t beat me, Sheriff,” Lucien hissed.
Stunned, Clay rubbed his eyes.
I must still be dreaming.
In an instant, the figure resumed Lucien’s appearance and straightened his string-tie in the mirror.
“You can save her,” Lucien taunted, then mumbled something under his breath. “If you save Rose when she’s wearing a black corset, you can move on.” Lucien raised an eyebrow and leered at him, anxious as a deer hunter waiting for the unaware trophy buck to step into full view. “I just need you to say… yesss.”
“I’ll do anything to save her.”
Lucien scowled, then prompted, “You have to… sssay it.”
Clay blinked and found himself in front of the Oriental Saloon, two minutes before midnight.
He peered inside the saloon. The bartender was crouched behind the bar, waiting for him. Clay fired through the window and hit the bartender, driving him into the beer mugs.
Clay retrieved the double-barreled 8-gauge shotgun from behind the bar. Clay let both enormous barrels rip when the man appeared on the stairs. The man, severed in half, toppled in different directions.
Clay picked up the Winchester and fired through the fourth door. The back-shooter thudded on the floor. In the dead man’s hand was an engraved gold-plated Colt revolver that gleamed like the sun. The instant Clay touched it, confidence infused his entire being.
Clay hefted the gold-plated revolver for a moment, cocked it, then kicked open Rose’s door.
She wore the black corset. Brody’s knife was near her throat, but his eyes opened wide when he saw the brilliant six-gun.
Everything shifted to slow motion. Clay pulled the trigger; the hammer seemed to freeze in place. The razor-edge of Brody’s knife indented the skin on Rose’s throat. She began the scream that was always silenced by the swift blade. The forward movement of the gun’s hammer was imperceptible. An icy wave of realization crashed over him. He’d fail, Rose would die, and they’d both relive this moment for eternity.
The heavy slug pierced Brody’s neck. He dropped the bloodless knife and fell to the floor, dead.
Clay wrapped Rose up in his arms. They held each other tight as the clock chimes faded to silence.
Clay heaved a sigh of relief. He was still there! It was over.
“Marry me, Rose!”
* * *
Clay jolted himself awake. Rose was naked, lying beside him, propped up on her elbow, watching him sleep.
“You can’t beat him, Sheriff.”
“What did you say?”
Rose straightened up, and the sheets fell. Then she transformed into the same evil entity Lucien had.
He blinked and once again Rose stood naked before him, but it wasn’t his Rose…
Or was it?
Clay shuddered at the possibility.
She spoke in Lucien’s raspy voice. “You saved Rose, so your time here is done. You took your father’s place. Now I need a soul to replace you. I require the emotional energy created.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your father sold his soul for gold but was killed the day he struck it rich. I agreed to make him wealthy. I didn’t say for how long! He fell for Rose in my altered reality. She’s every man’s dream. None can resist her. Tired of watching her die thousands of times, he’d do anything to save her. He sold me the soul of his first-born son, and you, dear boy, took his place.”
“I didn’t sell you anyone’s soul!”
“You sold me the soul of a blood relative when you said ‘yesss.’”
“Hank, tell me you got that!”
“Yeah! The EVP meter went off the scale!”
The paranormal investigation team set up at the Oriental every Halloween because of the high level of activity resulting from the famous “Whiskey Killings” that took place on All Hallows Eve, 1865.
A television crew on site streamed the event live.
At 11:58, the infra-red camera picked up images at the bar and stairs, the EVP picked up gunshots and crashing glass. Clock chimes sounded at midnight.
A sudden stench of sulfur saturated the saloon, accompanied by a 40-degree temperature drop. Everyone stood mute as a colossal black mass oozed out of the last door and spilled down the steps until it enveloped Hank. The mass appeared to be both ethereal and solid; no one could see Hank struggle or hear him yell from inside it.
It oozed back through the last door, taking Hank with it.
After a moment, the director said, “Tell me you got that!”
* * *
Hank Tucker jolted himself awake. A beautiful, naked blonde woman was lying beside him. She straightened up, the sheets fell, revealing her magnificent beauty. Hank gulped.
“Mornin’, Sugar, I’m Rose.”
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