I couldn’t sleep, my operation was tomorrow and my head was all over the place. I slipped from the hard hospital bed and drew the thin curtains around so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. Turning on the lamp which blinded me, I dug around for my Ipod and headphones.
Music might not help me sleep but it might calm me. Putting the headphones on, I scanned through the Ipod till I found natural sounds music. Relaxing waves of the ocean filled my ears. I lay back and let them carry me away.
I pictured a white sand beach, hot sun, palm trees, ice cold coconut and pineapple juice drinks. The sea was a dazing bright blue with just a touch of white on top of the waves. I was sitting on a chair basking in the sun, next walking along the shore, feet getting wet. then I was swimming in gently tumbling waves.
I smiled, feeling all drifty-dreamy.
The song changed to the rattling of something….the neighing of a horse? Oh, was I riding a horse on the beach? How nice!
The creaking of a wooden sign blowing in the wind, a crow cawing and the beach scene changed to being in a desert.
I reached, keeping my eyes closed, to stop the track and re-play the ocean one but then a handsome, rugged man floated to my mind and my finger stopped.
The man, a stereotypical wild west cowboy, was riding a brown horse into a wooden built town. A strong wind was blowing, stirring up the top layer of desert sand. A storm was to be coming. The cowboy got off his horse and looked around, the town seemed to be abandoned.
I decided that whatever was happening here I didn’t want to know. I tried opening my eyes but they felt too heavy to do so. I fumbled my fingers across the Ipod but I couldn’t find the right button to press. I sighed, give up and carried on listening to the track with scenes playing out in my head like a movie.
The cowboy was stood in the wild west town, listening for signs of life. He heard tinkling piano music coming from the saloon. Walking over, his spurs clicking, boot steps heavy, the music grew stronger and he started to hear laughter. There where people here after all! He stepped up onto the porch, it creaked under his weight then he opened the saloon doors which screamed on disused hinges.
The music and laughter stopped. The place was empty!
The cowboy looked around and saw a thick layer of dust everywhere. He went over to the piano, boots and spurs loud in the silence and pressed down a few keys, out of tune wheezing notes sounded. That wasn’t the music he had heard before.
The cowboy walked out, confused. A rumble of thunder sounded, the wind was getting stronger, sweeping the desert sand about. Next door, was a motel. He walked in, wondering if he could get a room for the night. He went up to the counter and ring the bell once then repeatedly. Nobody appeared and dust lay here too.
He headed back, collected his horse and wandered through the town. It started raining and the sky was growing dark. The cowboy didn’t really want to spend a night here but he felt there was no choice now.
A church bell rang out, he stopped and counted, ‘one, two…three, four…five, six…seven, eight…’
He went to the wooden church and tried the door but was locked tight.
The rain started falling heavily, the thunder rumbled again and in the distance, the now black sky was light up by a fork of lightening.
The cowboy’s horse stamped her feet and neighed nervously.
‘It’s all right, girl,’ the cowboy said as he rubbed her muzzle, ‘Looks like we got to stay the night. Let’s go back to the saloon.’
Hurrying through the rain which was fast turning the dry sand to mud, the cowboy turned behind the saloon and found a stable. It was rotting like the rest of the buildings but still standing for the moment. They went inside and found dry but moldy hay.
The cowboy lit a lantern, casting light to see by. He made his horse as comfortable as he could then sat for a few minutes. He fell into deciding if to stay the night in the stable with his horse or not. Would the beds in the saloon be more comfortable?
He decided to go and see. The cowboy got up, taking his bed roll, the lantern and whatever else he needed. He headed outside, braving the storm to get back into the saloon.
The cowboy pushed open the door and went in with rain dripping off his leather hat, coat and pants, sandy mud clumping his boots and smell of the storm thick in his nose. The saloon was as empty as before.
He went behind the bar, found some bottles of whisky and took them upstairs. His boots stomping as the wooden steps squeaked. He pushed open the door of the first room with his foot and looked in. There was just a single bed, side table and a curtained window.
He went in, placing the lantern down on the side table and got himself comfy. Boots came off, jacket too. He uncorked one of the bottles with his teeth and took a few swings. It wasn’t great whisky but it tasted okay.
He made the bed, settled in and pulled a book out of his belongings. Drink in one hand, Bible in the other, he listened to the storm raging outside. The wind was doing it’s best to bring down the wooden buildings, there was so much creaking and snapping. The rain was like a whip, lashing about. The thunder was rumbling like the empty belly of a beast and sometimes lightening would flash up the curtain covered window.
The cowboy began to doze off. Warm, comfy, whisky hazy.
A pearly piano note broke through the storm, quickly followed by more as someone played fast across the keys.
The cowboy stirred. The Bible slipped to the floor with a slap. He awoke and listened, frowning at the piano notes he was hearing but knew he couldn’t possible be.
A woman’s laughter echoed, wood creaked, long skirts swishing.
The cowboy smelt hints of perfume.
Voices rose and fell, chairs scrapped the floor, metal cups clanked and the piano music came impossibly fast.
The stairs creaked once more, lighter this time as if the person upon them was bare foot and weighed little. A gentle girly laugh and ruffle of skirts outside the cowboy’s chosen room made him believe he was no longer alone.
The cowboy snatched up the lantern and got to his feet, drawing one of his guns, he went to the door but it squeaked open before he could touch it.
All the noises stopped, silence hit him painfully but the cowboy stood his ground.
The door swing then was thrown against the wall with a loud bang.
The cowboy just had time to make out the woman – tall, fair haired, huge blood red dress- before she launched herself at him and sent them both tumbling to the floor. The cowboy shot his gun, the bullets hitting the ceiling and causing wood and dust to rain down on them.
The woman’s hands wrapped around his throat. He felt ice cold, dead fingers choking the life out of him. He struggled but her grip was too powerful. She bashed his head against the floor, he felt waves of dizziness and nausea. The cowboy tried to smash her with the gun but he lost his grip and the weapon skidded away. He grabbed her with his hands, fingers fisting the silky dress and slipping through the material.
The cowboy’s head smashed into the floor and he heard a deafening crack, blackness washed over him.
Outside, the rain poured off the roofs of the wooden buildings, the wind howled through empty rooms, the thunder echoed as lightening flashed over the church tower and set the wooden cross ablaze.
My eye lids fluttered and I came back awake. The glaring lamp above me stung my eyes. I pulled my headphones off and rested a few minutes. My mind felt strangely blank but then bits of pieces came back to me.
I couldn’t hear any weather. There were the sounds of other hospital patients’ sleeping and shifting on scratchy sheets. Nurses’ hushed footsteps and whispered voices reached me.
Heavy footsteps with a slight metal jingle crossed the floor. The curtain around my bed fluttered and I got ready to explain to the nurse why I was awake.
The curtain carried on moving as if someone was running their hands over it looking for the gap to part them. It got faster, a huge rippling all over which was more like the wind then a person.
A spike of fear hit my stomach, what was going on?
Hands appeared, reaching through then the fingers bending to find the edge of the curtain.
‘Thank, God,’ I whispered, ‘I’m sorry for being awake, I’m having trouble sleeping.’
The curtain was violently yanked back, I jumped, almost tumbling from the bed, ‘there’s no need for that!’ I cried, scrambling in the blanket.
Then I saw him.
The cowboy from my dream! I heard his boots and spurs hitting the floor, the cracking of his leather jacket and pants. His hat was down, half covering his face, I could make out a strong jaw line covered in black stubble. His throat was badly bruised, some of which were outlined like finger marks. He smelt of stormy air, burning wood and old whisky.
‘He’s not real. You’re still dreaming,’ I whimpered, clutching the sheet to my chin like a scared child.
I heard a rumble of thunder, a clash of lightening, rain hitting the window like stones and a desert wind howling down the ward. I wanted to turn to the window to look but something held my gaze fixed on the cowboy.
There was a plop, plop sound and despite myself, I looked over the edge of the bed and onto the floor. Black blood was pooling around the cowboy’s boots, it was falling from the edge of his coat.
‘What do you want?’ I demanded.
He took his hat off and put it to his chest as if in an old fashioned greeting. I saw his face fully but it was just a skull! Deep hollowed, black eye sockets, no nose, high cheek bones, wide jaw and two rows of clenched together gold teeth.
I fought for breath but couldn’t get any in. My body went numb and I so badly wanted to tear my eyes away but I couldn’t!
The cowboy turned slowly, spurs scrapping the floor. He showed the back of his skull which had been totally smashed in. There were chunks missing and cracks running along like crazy paving.
I screamed and screamed.
(Inspired by; https://mindlovemiserysmenagerie.wordpress.com/2019/02/24/sunday-writing-prompt-campfire-ghost-stories/ and also, Sound Effects: Night In A Ghost Town https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sch7HyYANiI with thanks).