‘Ole Bill’s reins were rattling in the wind and thunder as Robert approached the town limits of Prospector’s Ridge. He did not know what bothered him the most, the raven’s caw which, instinctively, he felt was directed at him, or the slowly squeaking windmill as the wind, ever so slowly, rotated the rust-coated vanes in the rising storm.
Robert scanned the Ghost town and decided to hole up at the abandoned saloon. When he arrived Ryder tied 'Ole Bill to the hitching post out front. As he walked up to the entrance he could have sworn that he heard the faint sound of laughter, accompanied by a festive melody played on an out of tune piano.
Yet when he opened the squeaky door to the saloon all Robert could hear was the rain beginning to fall, along with the rising number of peals of thunder as the storm approached. Ryder went back to the hitching post and grabbed Bill’s reins, to lead him into the saloon.
After tying Bill off at the bar Robert glanced around the main room of the saloon. Along with the cobwebs, dust, and decay, he noticed a few things that stood out. On one of the tables he noticed five hands of cards, coated with years of dust, lying on the table, as if a game of poker had been stopped suddenly.
Wondering why he had not noticed it earlier, Robert spotted a few shot glasses that had a brownish tar-like residue in the bottom of the glasses. Like all of the water in the whiskey had evaporated after the drinkers had left them, in a hurry. “What the hell happened here? When does a drunk leave a shot glass full?”
Robert glanced up at the bottles that lined the shelves, next to the center mirror that ran nearly the length of the bar. Most of the bottles were still full! While others had cracked and their contents had evaporated away.
As far as Robert was concerned, if ‘Killer’ Johnson, or anyone else for that matter, had been here in the last ten years they had left no trace of their presence.
The old Bounty Killer glanced up at the mirror just as a bolt of lightning struck. Out of instinct Robert spun on the balls of his feet and pulled his pistol! What he saw was... nothing. Slowly he put his pistol back in its holster.
Robert could have sworn that he had seen the head of a man with a sneer on his face. Yet when he had spun and faced the saloon doors, flapping in the wind, nobody was there.
Nervously, Robert scratched his head in confusion as he walked across the saloon and plunked the keys on the piano a few times. The sound produced was poor, and he knew that the piano was in need of a serious tune up.
Robert wondered even more now whether, or not, the laughter and music that he had heard earlier was real, or just the product of his fevered imagination, running wild with the tales of this town swimming in his head.
With the storm raging around Prospector’s Ridge, ‘Killer’ Johnson was quickly forgotten by the ‘Ghost’ Ryder.
Robert walked back across the saloon and looked out the front door of the decaying building. The rain was coming down in sheets and the storm was such that the area was not fit for man nor beast.
With a snicker he walked over to the bar and rang the bell a few times. Robert’s smile lasted only for a few seconds, wiped off of his face by the thought that he may have, with his bell ringing, attracted the attention of things that were best not disturbed.
Robert sighed and, with his spurs jangling loudly, walked over to a table and sat his saddle bags on the floor and took a seat. The sudden peal of the town’s church bells spooked him to the point of drawing his Colt Navy Dragoon revolver and give the cylinder a spin, to check and see that it had a full load of six rounds.
Robert stood up and holstered his pistol, deciding to check out the saloon, to see if he could find any trace of Johnson.
The kitchen, behind the doors to the left of the bar, was in an advanced state of disrepair. Dishes were stacked up, simply abandoned in the wash tubs. A large spider had spun its web between the handles of two saucepans.
Robert entered into the kitchen, his brown eyes scanning the decrepit room as his black boots scattered years of dust that had settled on the grimy wooden floor. He suddenly began to shiver, forcing him to wrap his ankle length duster tighter around his lanky frame.
Robert stood in the kitchen, shivering. Although he knew that it was midday, in the middle of the summer, the normal intense heat was, somehow, being drowned out by an otherworldly chill.
“Glad there’s nothing here,” Robert whispered nervously to himself. His nerves were getting on edge, while the wind, rain, and constant thundering, was not helping any. He walked out of the kitchen and headed for the stairs that led up to the rooms above the bar.
With the floorboards creaking under his weight Robert headed over to the stairs and looked up at the landing at the top. Right at a woman who was as pale as death itself.
The woman headed to her left and disappeared out of Robert’s sight. Ryder steadied his nerves as he prepared to head up the stairs after the woman he had seen.
The stairs leading up to the second floor creaked even more than the floorboards below in the main room, each one bending far more then they should have been allowed to. As he walked down the hallway Robert found no one waiting anywhere, in any of the rooms.
The rest of the rooms in the building were just like the saloon itself, run down and filled with cobwebs, dust, and decay. One room had once, obviously, belonged to a young girl.
The room probably, many years ago, had been bright and full of color, and now all that was left was faded, peeling wallpaper. Along with other features it gave this room the feel, and look of, extreme sorrow.
“Where did she go?” Robert asked out loud. Not really wanting an answer to that question.
Robert continued to examine the room. The Bounty Killer noticed that the neatly folded sheets looked out of place. However, when he touched them he found out that looks can be deceiving. As soon as he touched the sheets they fell apart and puffed up in the dust of dry-rot.
They had been made up neatly and placed on the bed, most likely by a person that would never sleep in that bed again. Bottles of perfume and hair brushes sat on the mirror backed table, all of which were out of date and had been here for years.
“What’s this?” Something had caught Robert’s attention. He took off his Stetson and laid it on the desk as he bent down to retrieve the item that had drawn his gaze in that direction.
A kerosene lamp was lying on the ground, seemingly out of place with the rest of the room. Considering it useful, Robert picked it up and set it on the desk, while he fished a stick match out of his coat pocket.
Striking the match on the desk Robert plied the tiny flame to the wick, and it flared into life. This indicated that the kerosene had not crystallized and was still good.
Turning to face the mirror, Robert froze, catching sight of his reflection. His chestnut brown hair lay flat along the sides of his head, yet was wild and spiked near the back, where his hat had ruffled it. However, it was his eyes that shocked him, they were bloodshot. Robert looked bone tired, and he felt it too.
Robert’s eyes widened as he saw who stood behind him, a pale, ghost-like, figure of a woman. Her blonde hair was put up in a beehive hairdo, and she was dressed in a ragged set of saloon girl’s clothing as she clutched at a bullet wound to her chest. It was the ghost of a saloon girl.
“Flee this place...” The woman pleaded, in the lifeless echo of a living voice, as she strode towards the Bounty Killer, passing straight through him and out the far wall into the storm. In that moment Robert was lost to the soundless void of unconsciousness.
Robert’s eyes snapped open, looking around from where he was lying on the floor. “Ugh... Last time I disbelieve the rumors about a town.” He mumbled to himself, still holding onto the lantern as he rose back to his feet, causing the dust from the faded carpet to billow up into the air.
Robert headed back down the stairs and sat back down in the chair next to his saddlebags. His encounter with the apparition had unnerved him and set his nerves on edge.
When he got back he noticed that the continued ringing of the church bell had spooked ‘Ole Bill. Something that was more unnerving to Robert than the storm. ‘Ole Bill had heard cannon and musket fire, the rattle of a diamondback, and the horse had never acted like he was acting now.
The old Bounty Killer put his revolver on the dust-covered table and sat back down. Ready for anyone, or anything, to disturb him, or so he hoped. The thunder, and steady rainfall in the background, suggested otherwise.