A tumbleweed blew by.
It was as dead as the rest of the small frontier town: dry, shriveled, a husk that was once a lively plant. The earth was cracked and dry, the sky a pale and unforgiving yellow. The hands of the clock tower pointed to high noon, and despite having ceased movement years ago, they still happened to be correct, just for this one passing minute.
Two figures stood on opposite ends of the main street, eyes shaded by wide hats with hands hovering over their belts. Off to the side, a pair of horses watched, bridles tied to the rotting post of the abandoned saloon. They had seen this showdown hundreds of times before, and would no doubt see it hundreds of times more.
Both outlaws sharply eyed a bird pecking at the ground. The scrawny thing wasn’t going to find any food in such a desolate land, but every day at noon, it returned nonetheless. Didn’t the simple thing know it was just wasting its time, tapping at the soil in a daily exercise in futility? The first outlaw squinted a little, teeth biting down on the straw in her mouth. The second curled his chapped lips. Having finally resigned its fruitless quest for seed, the bird between them spread its wings and fluttered off to wherever it came.
As soon as the bird’s tiny feet left the ground, two gunshots broke the silence of the dead town.
The wide hat of the first outlaw was blown off her head, her scalp only narrowly grazed by the bullet. The second outlaw’s hat, however, was the least of his worries. He staggered backwards, his head had been blown clean through. The chunks of skull and viscera never hit the ground, but evaporated into a thick black smog that hung in the air like a ghost. The first outlaw didn’t seem satisfied, sliding her revolver back into its holster on her waist as she sprinted to her horse, and pulled a long shotgun from beneath its saddle.
Running to the still standing man, she unceremoniously blew his head clean off, the blast knocking him to the ground. The wounds were exuding more thick, foul-smelling smoke, as though hell itself were reaching through his body and clawing its way into the real world. She blew a second hole through his chest, opening the coach gun’s breach and replacing two empty shells with a pair stuffed with silvered buckshot.
“In the name ov’ the Lord,” She loudly declared, firing her weapon indiscriminately into the body that still flinched and smoked with every shot, “deliver ‘is unholy spirit n’ta Hell, cast this devil n’ta the deepest pits a’ fire ‘n brimstone, t’whence it may never return!”
She chanted for several minutes, invoking curses belonging to every religion and tongue, interspersing them with a double-aught chaser whenever she thought she saw the body move through the dark haze it produced. Once satisfied with these curses and banishments, she returned to her horse once more, retrieving a large jar of holy water and dumping much of it over the smoking husk. Then, she salted the body. Then, garlic. Then, drove a crudely silvered knife into where she imagined his heart would probably be. She used the buttstock of her shotgun to hammer in a few wooden stakes, just in case she guessed wrong. After lighting her lantern, she tossed it on the barely-recognizable mash of smoking remains, engulfing them in oily flame.
She watched the body for a long few minutes, hardly bothered by the suffocating plume that the wind blew into her face. The pillar of smoke hung high in the sky, thick black as tar and infesting the area with the rancid smell of death. Once she was satisfied, she returned to retrieve her hat, before retiring inside the abandoned saloon. Small book in hand, she began taking notes as to the exact procedure she’d undergone this time–her exact words, her exact actions, every last detail.
It wasn’t until the sun hung low that the woman heard the saloon doors creak open behind her.
“Sonnuv a bi–” Her curse began, cut short as a revolver’s bullet pierced the side of her head. Her entire body slumped to one side, hand reaching out to grab the bar top to prevent falling from her stool. A disgusting black smog poured from the wound in her head.
A man stepped behind the bar, sliding his revolver into its holster with a dejected frown on his face. His shirt was full of holes, beard singed and body a dark ashen color as though he’d lain in a campfire. There were uncountable faint scars on his chest and face, although the longer one stared, the harder they became to perceive.
He reached up on the alcohol shelf, fingering through dusty empty bottles before finally discovering one which still contained some diluted liquid. Pulling a pair of small glasses from beneath the splintered wooden bar, the dry man filled both as equally as possible, sliding one towards the hand of the woman still in the process of righting herself. In exchange, he flipped her notebook around, squinting at the poor handwriting.
“Garlic’s a no-go.” The woman commented, running her hands through her dry hair. The deathly fume pouring from her temple had faded, what was once a lethal wound replaced by nothing but a scar.
“Donno why you even tried, we ain’t vampires.” He commented, raising his dusty glass to his lips.
“I don’ know, I jus’ thought… I don’ know. We’re runnin’ out’v shit ta’ try.”
“You might be, I’ve got plenty more ideas.”
The woman scoffed, taking the second glass. The whiskey was ancient and spoiled, it barely tasted like anything, but it was ritual at this point. “Y’said that yest’rday. Y’hit my hat.”
“Still shot first. You’re getting slow.”
“Got’ya today, didn’t I?”
The man gave a brief chuckle and a small nod of acknowledgement, swirling the faded liquid around his small glass. Neither of them got much out of the near-empty bottle, but it wasn’t the whiskey they sat in this empty saloon for.
“I’m gonna’b awful lonely once I send’ya t’Hell, huh?” The woman mused, after a long minute of silence between them.
“Don’t count on it. Tomorrow’s the day I put you down for good.”
It was the woman’s turn to scoff. They’d spent countless years locked in this halfhearted contest, she hardly let herself hope for such sweet release. Maybe one day one of them would discover the miracle necessary to break their unholy curse. Both were beaten, whipped, they’d outlived everything that mattered to them. They shared a hollowness, a dryness, a certain solidarity two outlaws cursed with immortality could only experience. His lips were chapped and split. Her hands were dry and rough. Their nails were chipped and eyes dull. They were tired, but they were each others’ only lifelines.
So, the two drank and spoke for a time longer. Once the moon was high, they mounted their horses and went their separate ways. The fire from the lantern oil was still smoldering on the dusty main street when the weary pair rode past. The moon set, the sun rose, and come midmorning, a pair of figures rode into the otherwise derelict settlement. They exchanged a few brief words, before taking their places.
A tumbleweed blew by.
Mag Callaghan is a student attempting to study English and Education in cruel and unforgiving rural Ohio. Their interests involve visual arts and flash fiction writing, as well as tabletop role-playing games, acquiring keychains, and describing themself in the third person.