The Cowboy and the Demon

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By: Andy Conrad August 17, 2014

The Cowboy and the Demon

 

Martin Sively was a Catholic preacher in the town of Accord in southern Texas in 1872. Down around that area, Catholicism wasn’t too accepted by the general populace. People there, who were mostly Protestant, thought Catholics were scum, because Protestants felt threatened. People also liked to hate people that were different back then. Hell, they had a whole war about that!

Martin’s house had rocks thrown through the windows, he was spit on in the street, and he was called names like “Devil-talker,” “Cock-sucker,” and “Kid-fucker.” Not overly creative, but they got to him. He was accused of being a homosexual more than once. and being unmarried didn’t help the case.

He couldn’t leave, however. In all of Texas, Accord was one of the only towns within hundreds of miles that didn’t lynch Catholics. As much as they tormented Martin, they wouldn’t kill him.

One day, Martin left the doctor’s office, having just replaced his glasses which had broken the day before when he was tripped on Main Street. The doctor wasn’t too happy to serve him, but money was money, and he jacked up the price.

As Martin left the office, he glanced up at the sun and noticed a smudge on his lens. He took off his new glasses and wiped them, but just as he put them on, something hard hit his face, and he fell to the ground. His glasses fell off, and he saw that they were cracked. Martin looked up, and saw a young boy, no more than six, standing nearby, another rock just like the one he’d just thrown in his hand.

“Why don’t you go home, asshole?” the kid said, his young voice filled with genuine hatred.

Martin was breathing heavily, terrified. He could feel his nose bleeding. “Where is your father?” he yelled, voice wavering.

In response, the kid threw the other rock, and yelled “Don’t talk to me, pig-sucker! You’ll probably rape me if I get too close to you!” With that, the kid ran off.

Martin gathered himself, a tear running down his cheek. He picked up his glasses, seeing a huge crack on the left lens. He sighed, then reentered the doctor’s office.

“Can you repair this?” he asked, wiping the tear from his cheek.

The doctor glanced at him, then his glasses. “Did you get them here?”

Martin was taken aback. “I was in here not two minutes ago!”

“Eh, I don’t remember ya,” the doctor grunted. “I can’t repair what wasn’t bought here. Sorry, pal.”

Martin started to say something else, but decided against it. What’s the point? He yelled quickly and left.

Martin went straight home, fuming. All he saw was cracked, broken lines running across his vision. He could see, but not well. He had had enough of this goddamn town and the people in it.

He got to his church a mile outside of town to find the stained glass window above the door broken. The doors to the church were wide open, and on them were slurs and insults written in red paint. Martin growled and went inside.

The place was trashed. Garbage and broken glass was strewn about, making the place look abandoned. Martin hadn’t held a service here in seven years, and it had fallen into disrepair.

He went straight to the back room, where his lonely bed was. He threw the mattress from the bed frame, and there lay a book. Black leather with a red silk bookmark, its cover decorated with a carved-in skull. Martin had found it when he went through Georgia. The entirety of its contents were written in Latin.

Martin knew the book was evil, and he had never wanted to use it and hurt innocent people.

But these weren’t innocent people.

*

The Wulf Tavern in Accord was the main place for people to drink and celebrate the pleasantries of life. It was so popular, in fact, that the other few bars in town had happily closed down and converted to other things so the Wulf would have no competition.

The owner, Bea, was a kind, old woman who loved making people happy. She had established the Wulf with her husband several decades before, and now, being a widow, she ran it herself.

On the particular night that Martin snapped, the Wulf Tavern was as busy as ever. The tired farmhands, hunters, and mercenaries that had done a full-day’s work had recently arrived and started to drink. Sheb, the piano player, sat in the corner, playing away. Soon, all the bar patrons were singing songs at the top of their (slightly drunken) voices.

A song ended, and everyone cheered, laughed, and toasted each other. When Martin opened the double saloon doors, no one immediately noticed. However, when he walked inside, people saw.

“Well, if it ain’t the cock-sucker of Accord!” one mercenary yelled, laughing. Several others joined in when they saw Martin. “Only whores we got here are girls, Mary.”

“Ugh, even I wouldn’t touch him!” said Mags, the oldest prostitute in the Wulf, clocking in at 57.

The patrons laughed as Martin walked in, clutching his rough burlap bag tightly to his chest. He sat at the bar and looked towards Bea, who was bartending, but she pretended not to notice him. Martin sighed and put his hand in the bag.

Another song began, and several people began to sing along. Three mercenaries, however, walked over to Martin. One put his hand on Martin’s shoulder.

“I don’t think you’re in the right place, pal,” he growled, his other hand on the butt of his revolver. “I think it’s best you get on out of here before-”

Whatever he was going to say next was cut off when Martin whirled around and planted a knife in the mercenary’s neck. Martin then started screaming words from the book that he held in his hand as the mercenary gurgled and choked on his own blood.

One of the other mercs shouted and stumbled back in terror, then drew his revolver. He shot a round at Martin, but the bullet stopped in mid-air about a foot from Martin, crumpling in on itself. The mercenary shot again, and when the bullet got as far as the first one had, it turned right around and planted itself in the mercenary’s head.

Martin continued screaming words from the book as all the bar patrons looked on in terror. They were so transfixed by the sight that they couldn’t move.

Finally, after what seemed like years to everyone, a crack appeared in the wooden floor, and a deep, red light emanated from it. As Martin chanted on and on, the crack grew larger, and the light brighter. Then, an otherworldly roar erupted, and a giant, clawed hand shot forth from the crack. This made people realize the severity of the situation, and several screamed and ran from the Wulf Tavern.

People were still escaping as the clawed hand was joined by another, and their owner pulled itself out. The beast had a snake-like body with an alligator head, and the two claws that had come from the cracks were at the front of the body. It had tiny, weak-looking wings on the back of its body. It roared and began to tear apart several people who hadn’t made it out or were hiding.

Martin kept roaring words from the book, and the monster he summoned from Hell kept slaughtering people. The preacher believed he had gotten his revenge.

*

A cowboy rode into town on a Tuesday. His tired, brown horse panted and struggled in, having not eaten or drank in several days. The cowboy had very few supplies, and didn’t think either of them would make it to civilization alive. However, he had gotten to Accord before either one of them died.

His horse struggled over to the nearest saloon, the Wulf Tavern, and he hitched it just before the horse dropped dead from exhaustion.

“Damnit,” the cowboy muttered. However, there was nothing he could do for it, so he sighed and began towards the saloon doors.

“Wait, mister!” came a shout from behind him. The cowboy turned around and saw a man in overalls running towards him, waving his arms. “Don’t go in there!”

“Why not?” the cowboy asked, hand moving slowly towards the revolver on his hip.

The man came to a stop at the steps up to the porch of the tavern. “There’s a monster in there!”

“Monster?” the cowboy chuckled. “Look, I can stand my own in a drinking contest, so I-”

“No, no, you got it all wrong! Ain’t no Irishman in there!” The man’s voice dropped to a quiet whisper. “There’s a demon in there!”

“A demon?” the cowboy said, chuckling. He was sure the man was joking. “Ain’t no such thing as a demon, man. You been drinkin’? It’s only 11 in the morning.”

“I swear to you, sir, there’s a full-fledged monster from the deepest depths o’ Hell in there!”

The cowboy looked at him, not believing it, but to humor the man, he got down on his hands and knees and peered under the double doors to the tavern.

Inside, he saw body parts, blood, and viscera coating the walls and floor of the tavern. As he looked around, a being half slithered, half crawled into view. It snorted, glanced around, then began slurping up a pile of intestines that sat beside an upturned table.

The cowboy, no stranger to gore, wasn’t as fazed as many others would be. He was shaken, however, and when he stood and spoke, his voice wavered slightly. “What is that thing?”

“A demon, sir! A demon, like I said.”

“How long has it been in there?”

“Oh, I dunno. A week?”

By now, a few other citizens had gathered around the man. They began muttering among themselves.

“What happened?” the cowboy asked. “Has it left the saloon?”

“No, the beast is trapped inside!” yelled a woman.

“It tried following us,” said another townsperson. “But it got to the door and couldn’t come out, like there was a wall there or somethin’!”

“Have you tried shooting it from out here?” the cowboy asked. “There are plenty of windows and doors, right?”

“We tried that!” said a man with a black apron and spectacles. “The bullets get into the doorway, then just drop to the floor.”

“Dynamite?” the cowboy inquired, glancing at the door, still worried that the demon was going to pop out and grab him.

The townspeople shuffled their feet and looked at the ground. “What?” the cowboy said. “Doesn’t work?”

“No, it’s not that, it’s… Well, the Wulf is the best place in town. We want the demon outta there, but we don’t want the whole building gone.”

The cowboy just looked at them incredulously, then shook his head. “Well, I was happy to find a town, but it sounds like I ain’t stayin’ here. Where can I buy a new horse?” He began to walk away.

“Wait, mister!” one called, and the cowboy looked to him. “The demon can be killed, we think. Joe went in a few days ago and shot at the thing. The shot went into it, and it started bleeding and it screamed, but it wasn’t a great shot, you know? Hit the shoulder.”

“Then I’ll leave you to that,” the cowboy said, and started away again.

“Wait!” someone else called, and the cowboy sighed and turned around again. “None of us here have any good shootin’ skills, since Joe died. All the mercs that hung around here up and left when they heard that this monster was hangin’ about.”

The cowboy just looked at him. “…And?”

“Well, we was just wonderin’ if you’d… Well, you got a gun on your hip and all…”

“You can’t be serious!” the cowboy growled. “You want me to go in there and risk my life for some people that I don’t even know? You realize that’s a death sentence, right?”

“We could pay you!” yelled a man in a suit. “I run the bank in town, and I’d be willing to give you plenty of the money inside it if you killed the thing!”

“And I’m the blacksmith!” shouted another person. “I can give you a good gun or two to fight that thing, an’ you could keep it once you kill it!”

Several others started chiming in with promises of rewards should the cowboy defeat the demon. Horses, medicine, and sex were among them. Finally, the cowboy held up his hands for silence.

“Alright, alright now. I’m willing to consider it. I just need a bed for the night to think it over.”

Immediately, the people began roaring, offering up their homes to the valiant cowboy.

The cowboy chose the wealthiest-looking person he could find, which was the banker who had promised him money, and went with him to his home.

The cowboy spent the night thinking about fighting the demon and, all the while, the dread in his stomach grew heavier and heavier.

*

In the morning, the banker’s wife made the cowboy a large breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. When he finished, the cowboy stood, and the banker’s wife kissed his cheek.

The cowboy entered the street to find all the townspeople cheering for him. They seemed to know already that the cowboy had decided to fight the demon. At the end of the street, the blacksmith  held a large caliber rifle and a shiny new revolver, along with a pouch filled with bullets for both.

“These’ll help ya,” he said with a smile, handing them to the cowboy. The cowboy took them, nodding gratefully, and swallowed the knot in his throat. It was time to kill a monster.

The cowboy walked to the tavern, looked at it, took a deep breath, and walked up the steps onto the porch. He looked around, seeing everyone looking at him expectantly.

The cowboy pulled the bolt on his rifle, making sure it was ready to fire, then took a deep breath and entered the saloon.

*

The cowboy became aware of the smell the moment he stepped inside the tavern. He thought the stench of blood and guts would’ve spilled out onto the street before, but he only noticed it when he stepped inside.

The demon was nowhere to be seen. “Must be in one of the back rooms…” the cowboy muttered. He then saw stairs in the corner, and added “or upstairs…”

He took a step, and felt something squish underneath his boot. The cowboy looked down and saw that his foot was on top of a glistening, rotten heart that was oozing blood from the pressure he was putting on it. He gagged, stepped off it, then whistled very softly.

Nothing stirred, so he took another step forward, bringing the rifle up. The smell of death and rot was overwhelming, so the cowboy quickly brought his bandana up over his nose and mouth. While it didn’t do much, it did block out a bit of the smell, which was better than nothing.

The cowboy decided he would sweep the top floor first, then everything on the ground floor; less chances to be snuck up on that way. So, he moved towards the stairs, staying vigilant, eyes flying over everything. At the first sign of movement, he planned to fire on it. Reaching the stairs, he took the steps slowly, trying not to make any noise.

He got to the top floor, and saw it was really just a walkway around the edge of the tavern that had doors to rooms on the side of it. Over the handrails, you could see down to the ground floor.

The cowboy moved to the first door and opened it quickly. He stepped back and aimed his rifle, but found a closet filled with junk. He closed the door, and moved to the next one.

Each door after the closet was a bedroom, and they were all empty. Before long, he got to the end of the walkway, which ended in a door leading to the outside.

“Must be downstairs…” the cowboy muttered. As he began to turn around, however, he heard a deep, guttural growl that seemed to come from everywhere, even the walls and floor. The cowboy immediately stopped and stood still, listening. He could hear a slither-bump, slither-bump, and it was getting closer.

The cowboy began slowly walking towards the stairs, which he couldn’t see very well in the dim light of the tavern. It sounded like the demon was coming up them, but he wasn’t sure. He stared into the darkness, waiting for a sign of any movement.

However, he saw none, and instead felt warm breath on the back of his neck.

The cowboy spun around to find himself face-to-face with the demon. Its sickly yellow eyes glowed in the darkness, and it seemed to smile, baring its fangs. It growled, then roared and swiped at the cowboy.

The cowboy jumped back out of instinct, crashed through the handrail, and fell to the ground floor. He landed on his back on top of a table, which fell over and sent his rifle skidding away.

He laid there a moment, coughing, trying to catch his breath that had been knocked out of him. Finally, he opened his eyes weakly just in time to see the demon diving down at him. The cowboy rolled away, farther from the rifle.

“I’m not gonna be able to get that,” the cowboy thought. He pulled out his revolver and thumbed back the hammer. The demon turned to him and roared as the cowboy shot. The bullet buried itself in the demon’s torso, and it whimpered in pain a moment before lunging.

The cowboy ducked and rolled, then fired again. This bullet hit the demon on the nape of the neck, and it collapsed, screeching in pain. Briefly, the cowboy realized his nose and ears were bleeding at the sound.

The cowboy walked forward quickly, planting two more bullets into the beast, which was writhing on the ground. Realizing he would have to reload soon, the cowboy put his left hand on the hilt of his hunting knife.

And it was good that he did, because the demon then whipped around, claw extended, and knocked the revolver from the cowboy’s grip. He quickly drew his knife and held it in a defensive stance.

The demon slithered forward, bleeding freely from a wound on one of its arms. It winced each time it put weight on it.

The cowboy waited until the demon winced again, then jumped in range. He immediately stabbed the demon in its left eye, bursting it and causing the monster to scream and rear back to get away from its attacker. The cowboy then jumped onto its arched figure and drove the knife into the flesh connecting its right arm to its shoulder. The demon screamed and tried to impale the cowboy with its claws, but the cowboy had seen this coming and ducked, causing the monster to stab itself.

The cowboy twisted and sawed with the knife, cutting sinew and muscle in the shoulder. The wound spat blood like a boiling pot, splattering the cowboy’s face, but he persisted. With each move of the knife, the demon screeched louder.

Finally, the cowboy had sawed through the bones of the arm, and he drove the knife into the demon’s neck. He then grasped the long, clawed arm and pulled with all his strength. Snapping and spurting noises happened as the joint was ripped apart.

After only seconds of pulling, the arm came loose in the cowboy’s hand, and he toppled back, the demon’s appendage in his sweaty, bloody hands. The demon wailed and whipped around, spraying blood all over the saloon from its many wounds. It looked to the cowboy, who was now standing, the torn-off arm still in his grip. The demon lunged at him, but the cowboy spun, gaining momentum with the arm, and swung up, impaling the demon’s throat with its own claws.

The demon emitted its most painful sound yet, blood entering its tone. The arm fell from its throat, and it turned and slithered to the nearest wall. Rearing back, it smashed through the wood and entered the early morning sunlight. The cowboy immediately saw it begin to burn. The cowboy figured there had to have been a curse on the monster, confining it to the saloon so that if it left, it would die.

The demon’s roars and gurgles echoed around the town, and several people had to jump out of the way of its destructive path. Before long, the demon was far out of Accord, and its cries were gone.

*

The townspeople wasted no time in cleaning up the Wulf Tavern, removing gore and rot and scrubbing the place clean. By 10 PM, it was clear, and the townspeople were rejoicing and drinking within it.

Several drunken citizens sang songs of the cowboy’s bravery and strength, praising him in the highest. They drank and sang long into the night, Sheb the piano player never running out of songs to plunk away.

By the time the moon had reached its highest point, the cowboy had only had two shots of whiskey, so he was the soberest person within the tavern.

Therefore, he was the first to hear the scream outside.

He looked to where it was coming from, then ran outside. Several others inside had heard the cry, but couldn’t tell between a cry of fear and a cry of joy. Some stumbled after the cowboy to see what the commotion was.

Outside, a prostitute lay on the ground, and a man was over her.

However, he wasn’t sitting on her; he was floating over her.

A man with cracked glasses and receding hair levitated a few feet about the whore, and a grey smoke-like substance was flowing from her mouth into his. The whore’s scream died out, and her skin became grey and fell away, now nothing more than dust.

At the sight of that, the cowboy drew his revolver and fired. However, the bullet stopped short a foot away from the man’s head. The last of the smoke-like substance entered his mouth, and he turned to the cowboy and the other assembled bar patrons.

The floating man screamed, revealing a mouthful of sharp, rotted teeth. His eyes were a burning red, and his skin had a faint yellow pigment.

“WHO HAS KILLED MY SON?” the man screamed, the sound seeming to come from inside the cowboy’s head. “WHO HAS PROTECTED THOSE WHO DESERVE ONLY DEATH?”

The cowboy and the assembled party said nothing, standing still. The floating man screamed, then extended his hands. Blue lightning shot forth from them, and incinerated many men that stood around the cowboy. Their charred, black bones were all that was left of them, and they collapsed to the ground.

The floating man screamed again, then rose into the sky faster than anyone could follow. He then flew off into the mountains a few miles from Accord, leaving behind a trailing shout of “I WILL BE BACK!”

When he was no longer in sight, the cowboy let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, and turned to one of the surviving patrons, who had sobered up due to the madness. “What the fuck was that?” he gasped.

“That,” the bar patron said “was Martin Sively. The one who brought the demon upon us in the first place.”

*

The cowboy was taken back inside, and told about Martin. How he had been tormented by all for years, and finally went crazy and summoned a demon the week before.

“We had no idea what was going on,” one woman said. “One moment, he was sittin’ there, and the next, he had a knife in the neck of some merc, and then that monster was in here!”

“He caused the deaths of a lot of people that day,” one man said. “If we disliked him before, we hate him now.”

“So, what was that that I saw, then?” the cowboy asked. “Him floating, killing that girl? Why does he look so old if he only snapped a week ago?”

“I guess the book that he read from corrupted him, gave him powers,” said the banker. “We hadn’t seen him since he summoned the demon, so it was surprising to see him outside.”

They spoke of the horrors that Martin had caused, loved ones lost, until the sun rose in the morning. The cowboy, not feeling tired in the slightest, stood and said “Well, I’m glad I could help, but I’d really best be off.”

The patrons stared at him wordlessly as he walked from the Tavern. When he got outside, however, several followed.

“Wait!” they called. The cowboy sighed, knowing already what came next, and turned.

“Look, I’m glad I could help you before, but I’m not cut out for this kind of thing. Killin’ that demon was a fluke, so I’d like to get what ya’ll promised me and leave.”

“You can’t just leave us defenseless!” a whore shouted. “You heard Martin, he said he’d be back! He’ll kill us all like he killed my daughter!”

“Why can’t I?” the cowboy asked. “I done what you asked of me, unfair as it was, and now I need to go.” He turned and walked away, refusing to turn around at the crowd’s continued cries for help.

“What if we gave you the rest of what was in the bank?” the banker shouted. The cowboy stopped, turning slowly. “You go up there and kill Martin, and you get all we got left in the bank! All of it! Money, gold, and all.”

The cowboy looked at the citizens of Accord, some of whom had tears on their cheeks and desperation in their eyes. He glanced around, looking at the crowd, the rising sun, and the mountains that Martin the demon-summoner lived in. He thought for a good, long time.

Finally, the cowboy said “I guess I’ll need a horse.”

*

The sun hung high in the sky, beating down on the cowboy and his grey horse. They had been moving through the desert for hours, heading towards the mountains. The sand and cacti just seemed to stretch on forever.

However, the cowboy suddenly found himself at the base of the incline, having sworn he was miles away just a moment before. He shrugged it off and blamed it on the heat of the sun. He began up into the mountains, searching for… Well, he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for. It occurred to him that Martin could have taken up residence in a cave, a mountain lake or clearing, or hundreds of other places. Regardless, he searched.

As the cowboy got higher and higher into the mountains, he felt a tug in his gut. At first, he thought it was fear or anticipation, but as he got farther and farther into the rocky cliffs, he realized the tug was guiding him.

Guiding him right towards a large cave that stood feet away from a steep cliff.

*

The cowboy dismounted the horse and took a few steps towards the cave. A sense of foreboding filled his mind, and he wanted to turn back.

And he almost did, but something whispered to him. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he knew he couldn’t leave unless Martin was dead. He just couldn’t.

He started into the cave, but stopped when something crunched under his foot. He looked down and saw a cross necklace lying in the mud. Absent-mindedly, he stooped down and picked it up.

It was a shiny, scuffed metal, probably aluminum. It had a thin string to hold it on one’s neck. It seemed new-ish, but old at the same time. Without thinking about it, the cowboy put it in the pocket of his rough jeans, and entered the cave.

*

The cave was a lot warmer than a cave should’ve been. The cowboy was sweating immediately. He stopped for a moment and put his hand against the rock wall to rest, but it seared and burned his flesh. The cowboy spat on his aching palm, rubbed it in, then continued on.

He got deeper and deeper, and slowly started to hear noises he couldn’t place from the source of. Chanting, a loud fire burning, and screeches that faded in and out of audibility. The fear in the cowboy’s heart grew and grew, but he pushed onward.

Finally, he came upon a large chamber, where the heat was the most intense. In the middle of the chamber sat a huge pentagram drawn in blood, surrounded by hundreds of smaller ones all around the floor and walls. Guts and gore were strewn about, not unlike the tavern the demon had taken residence in.

The walls of the chamber had deep, long cracks in them, and red light and unearthly growls emanated from them. The cowboy looked at them, fear overtaking all of his thoughts.

He was sure he was going to die.

Taking a deep breath, the cowboy stepped in slowly, drawing his revolver. He looked around the chamber, but it seemed to be empty, save for the viscera around. The cowboy checked for any other entrances, but the only one he saw was the one he came in from. He figured he would just have to wait for Martin to return and ambush him them.

In the meantime, the cowboy looked around the cave and found coins, bullets, torn pages from books, and other random items lying around. He knelt down and looked at one of the pages on the ground, but it was in a language he couldn’t understand. He shrugged and stood.

The cowboy waited for what felt like a long time. The heat had soaked his clothes through with sweat, and he was beginning to consider going outside and waiting for Martin there. After another hour, the cowboy sighed and went for the cave exit.

Just as he almost got to the mouth, however, he heard behind him “WHO IS IT THAT WAITS FOR ME?”

The cowboy turned, raising his revolver. He looked around, but Martin was nowhere to be seen.

Again, the voice screamed “WHO IS IT THAT WAITS IN MY SACRED HALL?”

Voice stammering, sure he didn’t sound confident, the cowboy shouted “The guy who’s gonna kick your ass!”

A loud laugh echoed around the room, causing the cowboy to brings his hands to his ears to block out the noise. “A MERE MORTAL COMES TO KILL ME?”

“You’re a mortal! Or, you were at least, before you went fuckin’ insane!”

The ear-shattering laugh came again, and then black smoke exploded from the cracks in the wall. The cowboy put his arms in front of his face to try and protect himself, but the smoke, which was freezing, only streamed right past him and formed itself in the center of the chamber, above the large pentagram.

The smoke swirled, then exploded outward, revealing Martin floating a few feet off the ground. Some of the smoke swirled around him, and he seemed to give off a black glow.

“YOU KNOW YOU WILL DIE HERE, MORTAL,” Martin said. His voice was calm, but it was loud and booming, and came from everywhere. Martin didn’t even open his mouth, it just exploded from the room.

“Maybe, maybe not,” the cowboy said, taking a step forward. “It’s either me, or you. Way I see it, might as well be you.” He slowly thumbed back the hammer of his revolver, which he was aiming at Martin’s head.

“YOUR COURAGE IS ADMIRABLE,” came the voice again. Martin smiled. “HOWEVER, COURAGE WILL NOT SAVE YOU.”

Martin then shot forward. The cowboy rolled to the side, just barely being missed, and hastily fired. The bullet landed nowhere near Martin, who kept flying, changed direction in a wide turn, and went straight back at the cowboy.

The cowboy shot, and the bullet went straight for Martin’s head. However, a few inches from his temple, the bullet flew in another direction and clattered against the cave wall.

The cowboy didn’t have time to jump out of the way on this charge, and Martin collided with him. However, he went right through the cowboy, like smoke through a grate. Martin reformed behind the cowboy, who collapsed and began shivering uncontrollably.

“YOU WILL NEVER EXIT THIS HALL ALIVE,” Martin’s voice said. “I ALMOST FEEL SORRY FOR YOU.”

“Don’t,” the cowboy said through chattering teeth. His hand discreetly closed around his knife and, as Martin moved closer, he stood and lunged in one quick motion, driving the knife straight towards Martin’s heart.

However, just like the bullet, the cowboy’s knife didn’t get within eight inches of Martin, and he was thrown back, the knife flying away.

“I CANNOT BE HARMED BY YOU,” Martin yelled, laughing.

The cowboy gasped on the ground, trying to feel his left leg, which he had landed on badly. He clutched it, but could feel the bone sticking out from his jeans, which were quickly soaking in blood.

Martin floated closer, until he was looming over the cowboy. He smiled grimly, and his fingernails grew long and sharp. He bared his teeth, which were like knives.

“THINK OF YOUR HAPPIEST MOMENT,” Martin said, voice calm as ever. “IT WILL BE ALL THAT ACCOMPANIES YOU FOR YOUR ETERNAL DAMNATION.”

The cowboy looked at him, preparing for death, but had one last idea.

A crazy, stupid idea, but it’s all he could do.

The cowboy jammed his hand into his pocket, and his fingers closed around the cross he had picked up outside. He held it up to Martin, who screeched and flew back.

“IT BURNS!” he yelled, voice filling with panic. “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?”

The cowboy only held it closer to Martin, then stood shakily and walked towards him. “You ugly, terrible, stupid son of a bitch! It’s over!” He then threw the necklace at Martin. This time, it didn’t bounce off him, and instead struck him in the forehead, where it immediately began to burn and sink into his flesh.

Martin screamed louder and louder. Before long, the cowboy’s ears popped, and he couldn’t hear anything else. However, he didn’t let that slow him down, and he raised the revolver.

The skin on Martin’s face began peeling away in chunks, revealing the pink muscle underneath. He screeched and roared in pain, but the cowboy couldn’t hear it. His ears just rang.

The cowboy pulled back the hammer of his revolver, and shot. The bullet flew straight into Martin’s left eye, and he clutched his face, blood soaking his hands. The cowboy fired again, this bullet burying itself in Martin’s forehead.

The cowboy continued firing until his gun was empty, and Martin finally lay still. The cracks on the walls all around the chamber slammed shut, knocking dust and chunks of debris to the floor. The pentagrams on the floor, which the cowboy hadn’t even realized were glowing, faded, and the heat slowly subsided, becoming a dank, wet cold.

The cowboy shivered, knowing deep down that he would never be warm again. When Martin had passed through him, he had taken all the warmth from him, and it would never return.

Slowly, his hearing returned, but not fully. Everything that he would hear for the rest of his life would be muffled.

Looking at his leg, he saw the bone jutting from it, and more blood than he thought he had was flowing from it.

But he was alive, and Martin was dead. Accord was now safe from monsters of all kinds.

Holding his leg tightly, the cowboy staggered out of the cave, and into the light.

Andy Conrad