The flash fiction challenge this week, which might be my last one for a while if I decide to do Camp NaNoWriMo, was to make a ten chapter story while staying under 1000 words. Not sure how "Western" jumped into my head, but here ya go:
Penelope rounded the corner a corner in the town of Gulch. Before her stood a man bathed in shadow despite the bright afternoon. Dull blue eyes were the only distinguishable trait on an emotionless face.
She turned to run.
“My poor Penelope,” Grace wailed. “What happened, doctor?”
“This is not my area of expertise,” replied John, sounding professional to hide his horror. “It seems looks like she was strangled, but there are no marks on her throat.”
“But what about the claw marks all over her?”
“They didn’t break the skin. I think they’re fingernails, not claws.”
Grace looked at Dr. John.
“We need to send for the sheriff.”
Henry entered the town of Gulch atop a silver horse. He went straight to the saloon
“You’ve had a murder?” he asked to the barkeep after ordering a beer.
The barkeep pointed Henry toward the end of the bar. He approached a short gentleman in a suit and repeated the statement.
“Thank God you’ve come, Sheriff,” exclaimed the man. “I’m the doctor who sent for you.”
He held out his hand.
“Call me Henry.”
“Are you sure you need to look around Gulch, Sheriff Henry?” John asked as they walked through town.
“What about the body?”
“You should bury the body,” Henry responded. “I’d rather get the lay of the land.”
He stopped in front of the cardroom, turned to look back up Main Street.
“Are the hotel and brothel the only two-story buildings in town?”
“Yes, Sher-, uh, Henry.”
“What’s that one-story in between?”
“Elks’ Lodge,” John responded.
“That brick building across from the hotel,” he pointed at the bank. “Is it flat roofed?”
The doctor nodded.
“Triangle ain’t as good as a square,” Henry muttered, “but it’ll do. Now, find out who didn’t show up to work today. That’ll be your killer.”
“She was strangled,” Doctor John said as they entered his office, “but not by constricting the throat. And there were fingernail scratches all over her body.”
Grace stood up from the spot where she had kept vigil for two days.
“Other ways to asphyxiate without strangulation,” Henry said, looking at the corpse. “Smoke, for instance. These scratches on her neck probably came from her own fingernails, clawing to get air.”
“Have you ever seen anything like this, Sheriff?” Grace asked.
“I have, and call me Henry.”
“Can we find who did it?”
“We’d better,” Henry moved his eyes between mother and doctor, “and soon.”
“Doctor,” gasped a young boy, running into the room “William did not show up to the mines today.”
William was hungry. He needed more nourishment. When had he last eaten? What had he eaten?
He thought back. Chicken dinner at the company restaurant, creamed corn and mashed potatoes on the side. Was that Thursday night? What was today?
But there had been another meal. The sweet smell of flesh, the smell of smoke, a scream.
He couldn’t remember the taste. It never touched his tongue. He never chewed, just ingested.
But it filled him. Oh, how it filled him.
He started to salivate.
“This is where we make our stand,” Henry said, back outside the cardroom.
“What can I help you with?” John asked.
“Find three people you trust.”
“I trust everyone in this town,” the Doctor responded.
“Not what I meant,” the gruff man responded. “I need brave and reliable, regardless of what happens.”
John nodded understanding.
“We’re going to put them on the two second-floor balconies and the bank roof. I’ll here to make a fourth corner. When I signal, each of them will throw a net toward him.”
“A net?” Grace broke in. “You’re not going to kill him?”
“No, ma’am. For reasons I can’t go into, he has to be captured.”
“How can you be sure he’ll come this way?” the doctor asked.
“We need some bait,” Henry responded. “What time does school get out?”
William staggered down the street, smelling children. He was hungry, and he needed nourishment.
There was not a cloud in the sky, yet his vision was clouded. He looked to the left and right, barely recognized the jail to one side, saloon to the other.
When he got to the hotel, he finally saw the four children he had smelled. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized that kids by the whorehouse didn’t make sense. But pushed thoughts aside as he lurched forward in a crippled gait. Saliva poured out of his mouth at the corners.
“Hiya!” he heard from his left and turned to see the accursed Henry standing in the doorway of the cardroom, a net leaving his hand.
It had been a trap. Kids at the whorehouse! He turned around, only to see nets floating through the sky from all directions. He cursed his hunger, cursed Henry. His head darted for any escape.
A woman came out of the Elks Lodge.
Grace? Was that her name?
She raised a revolver and shot.
The black mist dissipated out, hovering above the William’s falling body.
As the town watched, it formed into a single ghostly figure. It turned what counted for its head toward Henry. They looked at each other for a moment that might have been a half-second or might have been a thousand years.
Then the black wraith turned and shot out of town.
Four nets landed on William’s dead body.
“Wish you hadn’t done that, ma’am,” Henry said as he walked toward his horse.
“He killed my Penelope,” Grace shouted toward him. “I couldn’t just let you capture him and let him live in a jail cell, or maybe get released. I know how you sheriffs work!”
“Never said I was the sheriff, ma’am.”
Henry got on his horse, lowered his hat, and headed west.
Clara rounded a corner in the town of Bridle, ninety miles west of Gulch. Before her stood a man bathed in shadow despite the bright afternoon.