Jack walked steadily into the saloon, the spurs on his leather boots clicked each step he took on the wooden floor toward the bar. He removed his hat and dusted off the dirt that had gathered from his long ride to Santa Mesa. “Whiskey.” He said.
The barkeep had a handlebar moustache and wore a dirtied white apron over a fine black vest. He pulled out a shot glass and poured in some whiskey and filled it to the brim. “New to town stranger?”
Jack shook his head. “Been around.” He gulped down the whiskey and motioned his fingers for another.
The barkeep poured the whiskey into the glass. “We don’t get many travelers over here.”
“Why is that barkeep?”
“This ‘ere is a strange little place.” The barkeep twisted the cap of the whiskey back on and stored it on the shelf behind him. “They say that Santa Mesa that once you enter Santa Mesa the only way out is death.”
Jack lifted his head and stared straight at the barkeep. He noticed that despite the stoic expression on the aged man his eyes trembled in fear. “I don’t believe in old wives tales.”
“And you shouldn’t.” A fairly large man with thick a thick blond beard rested against the countertop of the bar. “Sam you have to stop filling our guest’s with stories, we hardly get them as it is.”
Jack turned to the man to his right. “And who are you?”
“They call me Lucky.” He took Jack’s shot glass and swallowed the whiskey in one go. “Ahhhh…liquid gold.” Lucky wiped his mouth with his sleeve and turned to Jack. “A few of us are playing a game of cards, why don’t you join us stranger.” Lucky turned around and walked to a dark corner at the edge of the saloon.
“You best be careful stranger.” Sam looked toward the smoky table to his left. “Your life depends on it.”
Jack pulled his hand away from the firm grip of the barkeep and slid off the stool. He walked over to the smoky table at the corner and pulled a seat next to a scantily clad woman. He noticed that the slit of her dress was high up to her hip and that her cleavage nearly busted out if it weren’t for the strings tightly tied on her corset then she would have been as good as naked.
“Hi stranger.” The woman spoke in a seductive voice as she twirled her fingers around the curly brown locks of Jack. “The name is Jane…but you can call me honey.”
“Easy Jane…this here is our guest.” Lucky pulled a scattered deck of cards. “Well you know who I am and you have met Jane, this over ‘ere is Roscoe.” Lucky tilted his head toward a man in bright gold spectacles and an all white suit ensemble.
“Pleasure.” Roscoe spoke in a very coarse voice which almost sounded like gravel being grinded into dust. “So what brings you to the Mesa?”
Jack leaned back on the wooden chair. “Money to be made.”
“Money is everywhere my brother.” Lucky spoke.
“I am not your brother.”
Jane chuckled. “Good…Lucky looks like a horse…you on the other hand…”
Jack squirmed in his seat. “I came here looking for the graveyard.” He realized that he might have spoken too loud since the bustle of the saloon and the upbeat ringing music stopped. Jack felt like he was facing a hundred guns pointed at him.
Lucky waved his hand in the air. “Let it go boys.” He leaned forward on the table and tapped a finger at his ear. “Best be careful on what you say here brother, people are listening.”
Jack leaned forward and spoke in a low whisper. “I got word that there is money to be made in the graveyard.”
Jane ran her hands on Jack’s shoulders. “Money? I like money.”
“Lot’s of it.” Jack replied.
“What kind of money are we talking about here?” Roscoe asked.
“Enough money to fill up five saloons with those fancy glasses of yours.”
“People tell me that a family by the name of the Clemence bury their gold with the dead.”
“You want us to dig up the dead?” Lucky asked surprised.
“What else are we going to do in the graveyard?” Jack replied.
“That is an unholy perversion there brother.”
“I know the graves of the Clemence.” Roscoe interrupted. “The family is a poor sort, only peddlers of odd stones and the like.”
“How much do you think those stones cost?” Jack leaned back on his seat. “The gold is there Roscoe, we just have to dig it up.”
“I don’t know brother, digging up the dead is…”
“How about I prove it to you?”
“You have the gold?” Jane moved her hand precariously low toward Jack’s thigh.
Jack gripped Jane’s hand. “Not now honey.” He winked and then turned to Lucky. “The day is still young, wait for me here at high noon and I will bring the merchandise.” Jack stood from the table and walked off. He picked up his hat and threw a gold coin on the bar as he disappeared past the swinging wooden doors of the saloon.
Roscoe rubbed his smooth face. “Gold for five saloons?”
“It is unholy!” Lucky screamed.
“It is gold that will last us for the rest of our lives.” Jane replied.
“You want to dig up the dead for money?”
“Just think of the money.”
Lucky shook his head and continued shuffling cards. The whirring sound of the cards slapping one another echoed his disagreement. “It’s unholy…”
Roscoe wrapped an arm around Lucky’s shoulder. “Think of it as swindling, at least this time you won’t get a pistol pointed at your scruffy head.”
At noon Jack re-entered the saloon with a large grin across his face. “Hello boys!” He screamed.
Lucky waved his hand at Jack. “Over here brother.”
Jack walked to the smoky table at the dark corner of the saloon. He hopped on the chair next to Jane and quickly gave the voluptuous woman a quick peck on her cheek. “Miss me honey?”
Jane smiled and rubbed her cheek. “Depends on what you got for us.” She moved her arm to Jack’s side and felt a small pouch tied to his belt. “Well what do we have here?”
Jack picked up the pouch and slowly untied the string. “Here take a peek.” He pulled the edges slightly and chuckled as Jane’s eyes widened at what she saw. He threw the pouch to Roscoe. “Don’t let anyone else see this.” He whispered.
Roscoe pulled the cover open and saw a bright yellow glow emanate from inside the pouch. He placed his hand inside and felt the large round object. It was smooth and felt real. “This is real gold.”
“Let me see.” Lucky grabbed the pouch from Roscoe and stuttered at what he saw. “Th..th…this is a big piece.”
Jack smiled. “I got two large bags tied to my horse right now.” He pointed his thumb toward the swinging saloon doors. “There is much more buried in there, I can’t carry ‘em all.”
Lucky felt around the gold. “Roscoe are you sure it is real?”
“Sure as hell…that thing there is pure solid gold.”
Jack smirked. “Interested?”
Lucky chuckled. “Sure am brother.”
“Were partners then?”
“Partners.” Lucky turned toward Sam. “A round of whiskey for us Sam.”
Jane walked around the saloon waving at every table she stood.
Roscoe turned toward Lucky. “What is the plan Lucky?”
“Plan?” Lucky asked.
“This much gold goes far split three ways.”
“You talking about Jack?”
“Yessiree.” Lucky pulled out a pipe from his coat pocket and stuffed it with some tobacco. He placed a lit matchstick at the dried leaves and puffed a cloud over his head. “You think he would mind?”
“Not when were done with him.” Lucky chuckled. He took out a pocket watch and looked at the time. “We have a couple of hours before the meet.”
“He said to bring a shovel and horse each.” Roscoe puffed on his pipe once more. “We need a third rider to bring Jack’s horse back.”
Lucky looked at Jane. She sat on the lap of an old man as she slipped a hand inside the man’s pocket. “Jane can be our third rider.”
“What about Jack?”
“Death is the only way out of Santa Mesa.”
Jack stopped his horse in front of the Saloon and hopped off the white stallion.
Lucky, Roscoe and Jane stood beside two black horses and turned to him as he walked up to them.
“Jane ‘ere doesn’t ride.” Replied Lucky.
“Lot of gold out there partner.”
“We can always come back for a second run.”
“Only one trip left, we got no more time.”
“One trip?” Asked Roscoe.
“I’m sure a man strong like yourself can make it more than one trip honey.” Jane whispered at Jack’s ear as she caressed his chest.
“Demons are out there.”
“Demons?” Asked Lucky.
“The dead won’t be too happy with noisy visitors.” Jack spat on the ground. “Can’t be too greedy partner, one shot is all we got.”
Lucky tilted his hat and watched the orange ball of fire descend on the horizon. The burnt rays reflected a glow on the empty dusty road. He thought for a moment about the unholy perversion that they were about to commit but then he reminded himself of the large gold rock that he saw earlier in the day. “The dead won’t mind.”
“What happened to the unholy perversion business?” Jack asked.
“Gold is my religion brother, I follow no other.” Lucky smiled. “When do we ride?”
“Saddle up your horses, we leave now.”
The sun had set and darkness crept its way into every crevice of Santa Mesa. The residents of the laidback town had retreated to their wooden houses with only flickering flames from wax candles lighting their way. Sam the barkeep had closed up his saloon and started cleaning the bar.
He went from table to table and wiped the dirt clean after which he would lift the chairs and rested them on the table. He locked up the piano and then moved to the table in the dark corner. He picked up the broom that rested on the wall and started sweeping the tobacco ashes from the floor when he noticed a small pouch on one the table. He saw the stranger carrying a pouch on him when he returned to the saloon at noon. He wondered if this belonged to the stranger and then he remembered that the stranger had paid him with a gold coin earlier in the day. He looked around and made sure that no one saw him. His mouth salivated as he thought of a loose coin or two left for the taking. He picked up the pouch and felt a heavy weight. He smiled and imagined a large gold bouillon inside.
He peered into the pouch and a golden light escaped from the pouch and lit up his face. His mouth gapped open and he licked his lips. He thought that he was the luckiest person in Santa Mesa to find such a large piece of gold.
He turned the pouch upside down and shook the golden bouillon loose onto his waiting palm. The golden bouillon shone brighter and lit up the whole room. Sam was ecstatic and he skipped to the bar. As he got closer to the bar the gold bouillon started getting heavier, the light dimmed and when he looked closely at the bouillon the color started becoming dull. He stopped and held the bouillon tightly with both hands.
Sam winced as he started feeling a light pain. It felt like his hands were burning when he looked at one of his palms he noticed that his flesh had melted in the center. “Eeeeyyyaaaaa!” Sam screamed and he dropped the bouillon on the ground. He watched the bouillon turn red and roll across the floor. The floor charred a little bit and created a line toward the burning rock.
Sam followed the line to where the rock stopped. It had turned into a bright ember red-orange and then died down to what seemed like a regular rock. Puzzled at what happened, he tried to pick up the rock. It was so heavy that Sam could not lift it off the ground. He crouched low and tried to examine it some more. He felt the top and it had cooled down. He tried poking at it and little craters formed on the surface of the rock.
Sam tried to pick the rock up with both hands but as he did the rock turned to ash and fell through the gaps between his fingers. “What in blazes?” Sam muttered to himself. He ran to the counter where he kept all of the money from the saloon and picked up the gold coin that the stranger gave him earlier in the day. Just like the gold bouillon the coin had turned to ash. “De..de..demon!”
Sam ran outside of the saloon, past the swinging wooden doors and crossed the street. His hip injury had prevented him from making a darting run and instead he hopped and skipped and he looked like a frog trying to run on its hind legs. “Sheriff! Sheriff!” Sam yelled as he made his way to the jailhouse.
An old man wearing a white hat with a star and circle badge on his chest stepped out. He took two slow steps and then cleared his throat. The sheriff was not an imposing figure, if anything he was shorter than any man in the town of Santa Mesa. He however was the quickest draw in the town and no one dared challenge him to a gun fight.
The sheriff pulled up on his belt and allowed his long shiny pistols to tap the side of his knee. “What is the matter Sam?”
Sam fell on the ground next to the sheriff. His body ached and he panted for a moment before replying. “Sheriff! Sheriff!”
“I am here Sam.” The Sheriff bent over and pulled Sam to his feet. “You should not be running like that.”
“Sheriff.” Sam’s brows furrowed and stared deep into the Sheriff’s eyes.
The Sheriff knew Sam for a long time and never saw him this scared in his life. “Sam what in blazes is going on?”
Sam took a deep breath. “Demon…there is a demon!”
“Demon?” The sheriff raised an eyebrow. “Have you been drinking your customers booze?”
“No sheriff.” Sam shook his head. “A demon is in town, he came in today.” Sam relayed the story of the stranger that came into his saloon today and how the gold bouillon had burned his hands and then turned to dust.
The sheriff looked at Sam’s hands. It looked like they were branded with a hot poker, however there was no branded symbols of any sort. The sheriff thought that this was no accident and if Sam was running around town and he was not being tortured otherwise he would have been shot in the middle of the street.
“Tell me more about this stranger.”
Sam recalled that the stranger spent a lot of time in the corner table. “He was talking a lot with Lucky, Roscoe and Jane.”
“What are those vermin up to?”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t know sheriff but I heard them say something about the graveyard.”
The sheriff’s deep blue eyes widened when he heard this. “The graveyard?”
“Are you sure you heard them correctly?”
“Everyone heard them sheriff.”
The sheriff bit his lower lip and walked into the jailhouse. “Sam come with me.”
Sam followed the sheriff into the jailhouse and noticed two young men lying in the bare floored cell. One man was snoring away beside a puddle of vomit and he reeked of alcohol, while the other was awake, looking at the ceiling above him and humming a tune.
“Sam.” The sheriff pulled out a small book with pieces of paper sticking out of it. “I’m going to show you something and you have to be honest with me.”
“You got a good look at this stranger? If I showed you some pictures can you identify him?”
Sam nodded his head.
The sheriff flicked through a stack of papers and pulled one out. It was a newspaper article that was browned at the edges. The paper was thick and rough. The ink was slightly smudged but if looked at closely the words and pictures could be deciphered.
“Is this him?” The sheriff pointed to a rough sketch of a man with a small hat and patchy beard.
Sam squinted his eyes, he could not read the date on the paper but he was certain that it was quite old. He noticed that man in the sketch had very sharp features and beady eyes. He looked at the picture beside the sketch and it was of a Man hanging on a noose. The headline read: Death at Sundown. “It looks like him sheriff.”
The sheriff looked at the sketch one more time. “And those three vermin are with the stranger?”
“Deputy!” The sheriff screamed.
A young man with a hat covering his face fell of his chair and quickly stood up. “Ye…yes sheriff!”
“Make sure everyone is locked up in their homes.” The sheriff turned to Sam. “Better hide in your saloon Sam, we got trouble up tonight.”
“Sheriff what is going on?”
“Jack Clemence is back.”
“Back? Back from where?”
The sheriff lifted his hat slightly. “From the grave.”
“Are we there yet?” Jane asked as she wrapped her arms tightly around Lucky.
“Not too far now honey.” Lucky kicked the belly of his horse. “You know the plan right?”
“After you and Roscoe take care of Jack I ride his horse with you back to town.”
“And we get out of Santa Mesa.” Lucky patted the hand of Jane. “No more stealing or swindling for us honey, it is the good life.”
Jane smiled as she nestled her face against Lucky’s back. “Will it finally come true?”
“You bet it will.” Roscoe rode next to Lucky. “All that gold just for the three of us.”
“We are here boys.” Jack stopped his horse in front of two old trees with arched branches that met each other. “Inside is our ticket out of here.”
Lucky followed Jack with Roscoe riding behind him in a straight line. They passed through a small dirt road with gravestones lining their sides. They went in deeper and the gravestones started disappearing and were replaced by large rocks that had engravings on them. Lucky looked at the inscriptions and only read different names. There were no dates or epitaphs. A sinister feeling crept over Lucky as he felt a cold wind breathe down his neck. The hairs on his arms stood up and he could see a cold fog escape from his mouth. “I think this is a bad idea.”
“Getting cold feet?” Roscoe asked.
“Don’t you feel it?”
“Something is not right here Roscoe.”
“Don’t worry about it Lucky.”
“Yes don’t worry about it honey.” Jane kissed Lucky’s neck. “We are almost there.” She leaned close for a whisper. “The good life remember?”
Lucky nodded his head. “The good life.” He scanned the sides of the graveyard and he could not see anything. The gravestones had disappeared and more trees popped up in every direction. He shook his head and thought that it was the blanket of the night playing tricks on him.
“I didn’t know this graveyard was large.” Roscoe asked.
“Oh it is.” Jack replied. “More gold for the taking.” He chuckled.
Roscoe laughed and imagined all the gold that he could carry. He thought of the women that would bed him every night, the booze that he would drink and the mansion that he would sleep in. His grin grew wider when he noticed that Jack had stopped his horse. “Are we here?”
“Yes partner.” Jack jumped off his horse and walked a few paces until he was under a large tree. He looked up the tree and smirked. “Grab your shovels.”
“Stay here.” Lucky whispered to Jane. He got off his horse and grabbed his shovel. He walked a few paces forward and ran his hand to his side. He felt his shiny revolver and hoped that this would be the last time that he fired it.
“Ready lucky?” Roscoe asked.
Lucky nodded his head. “Let us get this over with.”
The sheriff stood outside the jailhouse and stared up at the moon. “It’s been a long time Jack.” He mumbled.
“Sheriff?” Sam crept behind the sheriff.
“I told you to stay in your saloon Sam.”
“I know sheriff but I just wanted to ask you a question.”
“What is it Sam?”
“Who is Jack Clemence?”
“He is the scourge of this town.”
Sam looked puzzlingly at the sheriff. “I don’t understand.”
“You probably don’t remember it but this town is cursed.”
“I know of the curse.” Sam twiddled his thumbs. “The only way out of Santa Mesa is death.”
The sheriff looked surprisingly at Sam. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “You know of the curse?”
“My father told me about it when I was younger. I thought it was just an interesting story to tell travelers.”
“Your father…he was a great man. I was lucky enough to be his deputy.”
Sam smiled. He held his father in high regard and if it wasn’t for his injury he would have wanted to one day be the town’s sheriff.
“But this curse…it is not a story I am afraid.” The sheriff walked to his horse and fixed the saddle. He made sure the belts were tight and he shook the saddle slightly. “Jack was the number one outlaw in the town, he was true and true the nastiest vermin that I had met.” The sheriff checked the bullets in his guns and holstered them. “He was sentenced to death by the noose.” He pointed at the jailhouse. “You saw the picture on the newspaper.”
“But what you don’t know and what no one else knows is that Jack Clemence cursed this town.”
“He died on an old Indian burial ground and whenever someone wants to leave Santa Mesa Jack comes out on a full moon like tonight and brings them to the graveyard.”
Sam looked at the moon. It shone in the night and he felt his skin tighten as if a cold blade had brushed up against him. “So he is back?”
“Afraid so Sam…afraid so.”
Lucky pushed the shovel head deep into the ground and lifted the dirt over to his side. He was now knee deep into the ground with Roscoe and Jack digging on each of his side. “Roscoe.” Lucky whispered. “Are you ready?”
Roscoe nodded his head. “Once we hit paydirt.”
Lucky turned to Jack. “Where is the gold Jack?”
“We still got some ways to go.” Jack stuck the shovel into the ground. “You are not getting tired are you partner?”
Lucky shook his head. “No but this is taking too long.”
“No one said that finding gold was easy.”
Lucky nodded. “It better be here Jack.”
“Trust me…your only way out of Santa Mesa is here.”
“Who says I want out of Santa Mesa?”
“You did.” Jack leaned forward. “When you told Jane about the good life.”
Before Lucky could muster a response Roscoe yelled. “Paydirt!”
“What?” Jane jumped off the horse. “Where?” She lifted her dress and jogged to where the three men were.
“Help me out here boys.” Roscoe waved his hand at Lucky and Jack.
Lucky walked carefully toward Roscoe while keeping an eye out for Jack who was two paces behind him. He wondered how Jack knew about the conversation he had with Jane, it seemed impossible that he heard him talking to Jane unless someone told him. He looked at Jane leaning on Roscoe’s back and the both of them smiling.
“You can never really trust anyone partner.” Jack whispered. “Especially women.”
Jack, Roscoe and Lucky wiped the dirt off a large wooden coffin and lifted it from its handles onto the dusty ground.
The lines around Roscoe’s wide grin reflected his eager excitement to find the gold. He bent over and with the shovel pried the coffin open. The coffin door slowly creaked open and a warm yellow glow basked Roscoe’s face. Roscoe was speechless, all he could do was fall on his knees and hover his hands over the large gold bouillons in the coffin.
Lucky walked around the coffin and crouched next to Roscoe. “Remember the plan brother.”
Roscoe elbowed Lucky in the stomach. “What is the rush Lucky?”
“I don’t trust this guy.”
“He got us the gold didn’t he?”
“Honey we got it!” Jane wrapped her arms around Lucky’s neck and planted a kiss on his lips. “The good life.”
Lucky pulled away from Jane and whispered. “Did you tell Jack that we wanted to leave Santa Mesa?”
“Roscoe!” Lucky pulled Roscoe up. “Did you tell Jack that we wanted to leave Santa Mesa?”
“Something is strange here….I don’t trust the guy.”
“Ok fine! We will go through the plan.” Roscoe pulled out the gun from his holster. “But you know digging up three coffins is harder with two guys.”
“No more waiting.” Roscoe turned around and jumped as he saw Jack standing with his head cocked to one side.
“I told you about the gold right.”
“Yeah you did. It’s amazing! We have to dig for the others.”
“No I think this is enough.”
“What? We can’t stop here!”
“Oh we can.”
Roscoe pulled up his gun and stuck it on Jack’s gut. “Oh you don’t understand we can’t stop here.”
Jack looked down at the gun and smiled at Roscoe. “Time to die?” He asked.
Roscoe snickered. “Yes it is.”
The sheriff rode on in the darkness of night until he reached the two trees that guarded the entrance of the graveyard. A cool dusty wind blew in from the east and he frowned. He knew that he may have been too late. He looked out onto the winding road of the graveyards and couldn’t help but reminisce on the last time he was here. “It’s been twenty long years brother.” He mumbled.
In the distance a loud shriek pierced the silence which followed three quick gunshots.
“Jack.” The sheriff held tightly on the reins of his steed and kicked his spurs on the side of the beast. “Run!” The sheriff’s steed quickly galloped down the dirt road and passed the gradual change from cross gravestones to etched pieces of stone. The thicket of trees became denser as he went in deeper. The sheriff pulled on the reins. “Whoa boy!” The steed stopped abruptly behind two black horses tied to a large tree.
The sheriff got off his horse and approached the tree. He looked up the branch and a thick rope dangled with a noose tied to its end. There was nothing attached to the noose and the sheriff knew this. He could not help but imagine the tragic image of that day. He bent on one knee beside a rock and dusted off the dirt that had accumulated over the years. There were no signs of flower offerings, footsteps, he was certain that there were no visitors in the area. He rubbed the rock that had a crude etching which read: Jack Clemence.
“Hi Jack.” The sheriff said as he felt a cold shudder run up the back of his spine.
“It’s sheriff now.” The sheriff turned around as he stood and pointed at the sheriff badge pinned on his hat.
“Has it been that long?”
“So this is what you have been up to all this time.”
The sheriff glanced at the skeleton fingers of Jack and positioned his hand at his holstered gun. “You have been quite busy lately haven’t you?”
“I have made some friends brother.”
“Come let me introduce you to them.” Jack curled a bony finger at the sheriff and walked past the large tree into a vast open land. “By the way your gun has no effect on me…You should know that by now.”
The sheriff frowned. “It is not for you brother.”
Jack would have smiled if he had any skin or facial muscles, he only had the one expression that skeletons did and to his relief this did not scare the sheriff away.
The sheriff followed Jack down the road into an area with three large holes dug up under a tree. He looked up and there were ropes dangling from a branch with a noose tied at the end. He grimaced when he saw the three bodies of Jane, Lucky and Roscoe hanging from the noose.
“Aren’t they beautiful brother?”
The sheriff kept his mouth shut for fear that he might vomit at the sight. “Are they dead?”
“You are not certain?”
“In time they will get there.”
The sheriff took his pistol and quickly shot at the heads of the three bodies. The last shot that hit lucky evoked a low scream. “Now they are surely dead.”
“You were always a softie.”
The sheriff walked on the road back to his horse and he noticed an open coffin on the ground. He walked around and peered to see what was inside. It was full of solid balls of dust. “Still up to your old tricks I see.”
“Greed does wonders to people.”
The sheriff nodded his head as he remembered the story of Sam. He found his horse and jumped the saddle. He took one last look at the three bodies hanging from the branch and then stared at Jack. “They just wanted to leave Santa Mesa for a better life.”
Jack snickered, his teeth clapped as his body shook in excitement. “Death is the only exit in Santa Mesa.”
The sheriff turned his horse around and rode out through the graveyard leaving Jack to bury the three bodies and etching on a large rock the names: Lucky, Roscoe and Jane.