I was astounded that I had made it into the final round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge. This round had the prompt “horror/western mashup”. I had a bit of tantrum to start as I read neither of those genre. I felt they both scream with the potential for cliche and stereotype.
However, I managed to pull myself together and actually have some fun with this one. I really enjoyed it in the end.
As much as I hate to admit it, I became very attached to the idea of actually placing in this competition.
By the Devilish Light
Nobody remembered Babette arriving in Howlin’ Flats. She had always been there, like the road out of town. So, when the sky yellowed like a sick horse’s eyes, and the air crackled, Babette was who they turned to.
That day, the saloon had more people in it than was a good idea. The cowboys filling it were a gang called The Rustlers. Stranded inside, they couldn’t keep themselves straight. One put his hands up Babette’s skirts. Another pulled her onto his lap. She had sent them both outside. They loitered by the door, and watched the yellow sky darken to the colour of the sand that surrounded Howlin’ Flats.
“Vaughn, get up those stairs and get to nailing the windows shut. Sand storm’s comin’.”
Black Vaughn was leaning back in his chair, feet on the table. His hat tilted over his eyes. He grunted and shooed her away with one hand. Vaughn was a slab of meat, always dressed in black, his face constantly shadowed. He had been Babette’s man for a while now. Babette had started to wear life in crags on her face. Her frame had become bony and she was more likely to get her dander up since Vaughn had been around.
Babette called to the new saloon girl. “You see this man here, Lady? This is the kind of man you stay away from. Lazy, slow, and even his horse don’t like him.”
Lady had come to Howlin’ Flats some weeks before with a rowdy gang of young ones who were set on looting and hollering their way across the desert. Babette had convinced them to go before the sun, leaving Lady behind. Babette had cottoned to Lady from the first. They were the same, she thought. She could see it in her eyes.
Vaughn grunted again, taking his time to stand. Leaning over Babette, he brought his hand up and struck her face, sharp and hard. Babette took two steps backward but didn’t flinch as she spat blood onto the floor. Vaughn took heavy steps up the stairs.
“He likes to hit girls, Lady. That’s the kind of man you stay away from.”
In the corner was the loner, who Babette called Blue Eyes. She had told Lady that he was like a cold wind through her soul. He spoke only to Babette. He often gave her small vials of liquid, for her nerves and bruises, from a leather pouch around his waist. Blue Eyes was sat in that yellow light, at the end of the bar, pouring black sand from a bottle into small piles. He was drawing through them with a sharpened bone, and murmuring in a continuous drone.
A group of town girls huddled in the corner, whispering to each other. They cast looks over their shoulders at the sprawled men and then at Lady, who dabbed Babette’s bleeding mouth with a cloth.
“What are you harlots looking at?” Babette spat more blood in their direction.
The motley collection of desert humanity was proof that no soul wanted to be out in that devilish light. The strange, crackling air made the room feel tight. A dark form loomed on the road that ran out of town. It looked like it was made of sand, but it was taller than a bucking horse and blacker than Black Vaughn.
The Rustler at the door yelled out. “Babette, what in God’s name kind of sand storm do you call that?”
A gust of wind whipped sand into the saloon so hard it forced him back inside.
Babette watched the thing approach with delicious shiver. She linked arms with Lady.
“That is what retribution looks like, cowboy.”
With a roar of wind and debris, the tower of black sand poured inside. It was a column of darkness that screamed like the dying. The sand reached out and grabbed the men who were cowering at the door. It pushed their faces into the sawdust floor until their heads burst open like melons. The town girls dropped on top of each other, dresses and hair splattered with the insides of The Rustlers’ heads.
Babette stood defiant in the middle of the room, still linked with a now trembling Lady both mesmerized by the sand. It pulsed and vibrated in response. It grew until it had doubled in size. Splitting into pieces, it whipped around the room, each one finding an outlaw or a sobbing town girl. Sand streamed into mouths and shot into ears. The silence was sudden and complete.
“Retribution. You need to watch, Lady.” Babette said as the silence was replaced with the ripping of sand exploding out of the bodies.
Red mist filled the saloon and speckled their faces. The sand joined back together, more menacing than ever.
Black Vaughn appeared at the top of the stairs. “What in the dang?”
The sand reared up and leapt at him. It smashed into his face, splitting the weathered flesh from the corner of his eye to his mouth. He fell backwards onto the stairs. The sand loomed up over him and became blacker and louder.
Over the top of the noise, Babette screamed, “Do it.” Her fisted hand clenched Lady’s arm. Her wild gaze was fixed on Blue Eyes. “Do it.”
The tower of sand fell onto Black Vaughn with the satisfying sound of breaking bones.
The sand pulsed in a heaving clump in the corner. Blue Eyes swept his small piles of sand from the bar, back into the bottle. The sand in the corner broke up and mixed itself amongst the sawdust of the floor. Corking the bottle, Blue Eyes wrapped it in a piece of red silk and put it in his leather pouch.
“I’m done here.” His voice was clear and sharp as knives. “Now it’s your turn to help me.”
Babette looked at Lady, then back at Blue Eyes. “She’s all yours.”