Duane Parkhurst rode on his horse into his small hometown of Arlington only to find it completely deserted.
“What the hell?” he whispered to himself as he looked around and saw not even one person on the main street.
Far off in the distance along the main road, he could see the local saloon, which looked burned down to its foundations. It was an eerie sight, seeing it all turned from a healthy brown to a black of death. It reminded him of some nasty business he’d been involved in just a few days ago.
Don’t mind that for now, he thought; I’ll check on it later. I wanna go home ‘n’ see the Missus, see if she’s alright.
He rode off the main road and found the neighbourhood of houses where his family’s was. He got there in a few minutes. He got off his horse, took off his hat, and went in through the front door.
“Emily?” he called out for his wife, then for his kids: “Billy? Sue?”
He looked around the parlour, then the kitchen, and finally, in his and Emily’s bedroom.
“Where the hell is everyb–” he said as he entered the bedroom, then he saw Emily.
She was hanging by the neck under a wood beam from the ceiling. A kicked-over stool was lying by her feet.
“Oh, my God! No!” he yelled, then ran over to her body.
He untied the rope and took her down. He laid her on the bed, then removed the rope from her broken neck. The red marks were deeply cut into her neck. He checked for breath and movement, only to find none. The top of her dress was torn open, revealing her breasts. He looked over at the floor, by the stool: her torn-off drawers were lying there. He wouldn’t allow himself to imagine what had happened.
“No, baby, no,” he wept. “Why? Why’d ya do it?” He held his head in his hands and continued weeping for several more minutes. Then he got up and left the room, fearing for his kids. “What the hell happened here?”
He kept looking around the house for little Billy and Sue, but they were nowhere to be found. It was getting harder and harder for him to contain himself. He returned to the parlour and sat on his chair. He needed a moment to think things over, to reflect on what had happened over the past several days…not that they had had anything to do with what was going on now, surely.
It had been three days, since September 23rd, 1883, to be exact, when he and his gang robbed the bank in Chesterton, Nebraska, and burned down two buildings there to distract the locals from chasing the gang. Actually, two of the boys in the gang, brothers George and Ronald Wilson, also burned the buildings down for the sheer fun of it.
All of them had safely ridden out of town on their horses after a shootout with the sheriff and his men, and Duane and his partner in the robbery, Clifford Keane, hid out by some trees. (George and Ronald were slowed down by the shootout, which injured both of their horses.) Then Duane pointed his sawed-off shotgun at Clifford.
“What the hell d’you think you’re doin’, there, boy?” Clifford said as he stared at the barrel of Duane’s gun.
“Drop yer share of the loot,” Duane said.
“You’re gonna regret this, Duane,” Clifford said, then untied his bags from his horse and dropped them to the ground.
“I’m sure I will,” Duane said with a grin, then shot him.
George and Ronald were approaching on foot, their horses too badly hurt to be ridden on anymore, when they saw Clifford fall off of his horse and hit the ground, a river of blood flowing from his gut. Their jaws dropped.
“What the hell you doin’, Duane?” George said.
“Drop yer bags, boys,” he told them.
They did. Then he shot them. He got off his horse and picked up Clifford’s bags of loot.
As he went over to get George’s and Ronald’s bags, he heard the gasps of barely-alive Clifford: “You will pay dearly for your sins, Duane…You…will…pay…dear…ly…”
Duane tied the other bags to his horse, got on, and rode on towards Arlington. Any posse coming for me would first find the bodies of my gang, he thought. They’ll be too distracted with the bodies to continue searching for me. In fact, who knows? Maybe the posse will think the whole gang was killed and they’ll stop the search completely.
If this last possibility came true, he would be totally free. Then he would ride into Arlington with all that extra loot and enrich the entire village, not just his family with his original cut. So were his hopes at the time.
But now that he’d reached Arlington, he saw nobody, not a soul, to share all that money with.
His triple murder and grand theft had all been for nothing.
Unless his kids were still alive. He hung on to that fragile hope.
He went back outside, put his hat back on, and got on his horse.
I’m going back to the main street, he thought as he began riding. That saloon down the way, burnt to a crisp, looks ominous, but I’ve got to find the truth to whatever happened here.
As he was riding along, he heard, Duane, whispered from a familiar voice.
He spun his horse around in a panic.
There she was, a glowing, ghostly apparition that was floating before his face. The rope marks were still on her neck, she was in the frilly dress she’d had on–still torn and showing off most of her breasts–when she killed herself, and on her pretty face was a permanent frown.
“Hey, baby,” he sobbed. “Why’d ya kill yerself?”
I couldn’t live with myself after what…they done to me, she said in a reverberating whisper.
“What…who done to ya? Done what to ya, darlin’?” He still refused to contemplate the meaning behind her torn dress.
Three men…yesterday…they…knew me…in a way…only you’re supposed to know me. The ghost began sobbing.
No longer able to deny it, Duane blew up. “Where are they?! I’ll kill ’em, the lousy sumbitches!” He was ready to ride off.
“What’dye mean, I can’t? I’m quick on the draw! You think yer husband ain’t man enough to–“
It ain’t that, honey. You can’t kill ’em ’cause they’re already dead, like me.
His eyes widened so much, you could have seen almost half his eyeballs, it seemed. His jaw dropped so low, it was almost touching his chest. Naw, he thought; it couldn’t have been them.
“How can dead men…v-violate you, honey?”
I don’t know, but three ghosts came at me and…they did things to me…that are so filthy…I can’t describe ’em to you. She began weeping again. They were like…ghosts with bodies, ’cause I could….feel them…inside me. She was weeping louder now.
“Who were they?” Duane asked, afraid to hear the answer.
They told me their names, ’cause they wanted me to tell you: Clifford Keane, and George and Ronald Wilson.
Duane fell off his horse. His hat fell off, and the wind took it away.
He just sat there on the dirt road, stunned, for several minutes.
That can’t be! he thought. Emily never met the members of my gang, not even once in her life. There’s no way she could have known their names. Still, can ghosts come back from the dead like that? Naw, they can’t!
He snapped out of it and looked around. Emily was gone.
“Uh, baby? Where’d ya go?”
He got back up and got on his horse. He continued riding over to that saloon, full of emotional exhaustion and dread.
He reached the front of the saloon, that is, its charred and blackened remains, and he got off his horse. He walked in so slowly, it was almost as if he were standing still.
As he walked around the remains of the ground floor, with its coal-black stools, tables that once had been, and a bar totally devoured by fire, he heard faint voices from below.
We’re down here, a group of voices whispered.
“In the basement?” he asked.
Yes, they said in those eerie, ethereal voices. Come down and meet us.
He gulped, then looked around for the stairs down there…hoping he wouldn’t find them, but sadly, he did find them.
Duane went down those stairs with shaking legs as the whispering voices grew louder.
Come and meet your destiny, one voice said.
Come and meet your doom, said another.
Daddy, two children’s voices whispered…familiar voices.
“Billy?” Duane yelped, then rushed down the rest of the stairs, almost tripping at one point. “Sue?”
He stopped dead in his tracks just a few steps from the bottom. For in the basement, he saw a hill of charred corpses. It seemed to be pretty much the entire population of his village here in this large basement. The stench was unbearable. He put his hand over his mouth and nose, then continued inside.
Daddy, Billy’s and Sue’s voices said again.
“Where are you?” Duane asked in sobs, his eyes darting all over the place to find their ghosts.
Over here, Daddy, they whispered. He followed their voices over to the hill of bodies.
He stopped before a slope of the hill of corpses when he saw two tiny, blackened arms sticking out, each with a distinctive bracelet on its wrist. Though they were damaged by the fire, he could still recognize them by the names carved into them: Billy and Sue.
He’d given them the bracelets as gifts a year ago.
He broke down and wailed, “Oh, my babies!”
Why’d you do it, Daddy? Billy’s voice asked from over his right ear.
His head spun around behind him, and he looked up to see floating apparitions of his eight-year-old boy and six-year-old girl. They looked down at him with a kind of despairing frown that should never be seen on children.
“Why’d I do what, boy?” Duane asked in sobs.
Kill those three men you were workin’ with, Sue asked. Weren’t they yer friends? You’re never supposed to do that to yer friends, ain’t that right, Daddy?
Duane’s heart was pounding with terror to know that they knew something they couldn’t have known. The words of his sweet, innocent daughter gave him a pang of conscience.
It’s enough of a sin that you robbed that bank and had your men burn those buildings and kill all the people in ’em, but killin’ yer own buddies, Daddy? Billy asked in that haunting, echoing voice. That’s just too much.
An’ yer buddies done killed all o’ us to get back at you, Daddy, Sue said in that same, chilling whisper. If you hadn’t done killed ’em, they wouldn’t ‘a’ killed us.
“How could this’ve happened?” Duane sobbed. “I just wanted to use all the loot to help our poor town to invest it and prosper. Those three men were just thieves. No one woulda missed ’em.”
You got greedy, Duane, the familiar voice of a man, Clifford’s, rang in Duane’s ears. I told you you’d pay dearly for your sins.
Duane turned his head slowly, away from the ghosts of his kids, the other way to find the source of Clifford’s voice. Sure enough, now he saw apparitions of not only his ghost, but also the ghosts of George and Ronald.
It’s payback time, Duane, George said.
Remember what it says in Galatians 6:7, Ronald said. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
“Since when are you a preacher all of a sudden, Ronald?” Duane said. “You’re as much an unrepentant sinner as I am. I never committed arson, as you ‘n’ yer brother done!”
True, but we’re paying for our sins now, Ronald said. As you will be doin’ soon…with us, in Hell!
All three ghosts were glowing and hovering over Duane’s head, looking down at him with malevolent smiles.
But before you’re sent to Hell, where we’ll really torment you, Clifford said, we want you to see how all your efforts to help your town done the opposite.
“How’d you kill everyone here, you sumbitches?” Duane asked.
Well, after we raped yer wife… Ronald said.
…and did things to her that are illegal in every state in the Union, George added with a lewd grin. What exactly are the laws against sodomy, fellas?
“You shut yer goddam mouth, George! That’s my wife you stained!”
Oh, yeah? George said. Whatcha goin’ do about it? Shoot a ghost?
We played the incubus on yer wife as part of yer payback for betrayin’ us, Clifford said.
Yeah, Ronald said. You ain’t got no right to complain.
Anyway, after we had her, we took possession of all the people in this town, Clifford said.
We led ’em all down into this here saloon, down into this here basement, and locked ’em in, George said.
Then George ‘n’ me set fire to the building, Ronald said. It was fun listenin’ to all o’ them screamin’.
Especially the cryin’ o’ yer two li’l brats, George said.
“You bastards!” Duane shouted.
Shouldn’t ‘a’ killed us, Duane, Clifford said. And now it’s your turn to die.
And when we have you with us in Hell, that’s when the real torture begins, George said with a malicious grin.
“Whatcha gonna be able to do to me if I’m already dead?”
You’ll see, Clifford said. In Hell, there’s sufferin’ you’d never dream of up here on Earth.
Just so you know, it ain’t just yer wife ‘n’ kids that are ghosts, Ronald said. Yo mama, papa, ‘n’ kid sister were in that fire, too. Look aroun’ in that pile o’ bodies. You’ll find ’em in there, too.
You’ll have a whole eternity to see unspeakable things done to yer family, George said. And you’ll hafta watch, ‘n’ won’t be able to do nothin’ ’bout it. He giggled at the thought of it.
“I won’t letcha kill me, you bastards!” Duane said. “I’ll–“
You’d never be able to stop us from killin’ you, Clifford said. But even if ya could, we won’t need to kill ya.
Posse’s on its way, Ronald said.
We guided ’em here, George said.
Duane ran back up the stairs with the laughter of his three former friends echoing in the background. As soon as his head was over the ground floor, he saw a group of men on horses, out on the street, staring at the burnt saloon.
“The remainder of the gang must’ve burned down this saloon the same way they did those buildings in Chesterton,” the leader of the posse said.
“Hey, look!” another member of the posse shouted. “Look down at the stairs to the basement. That man hidin’ down there–he’s one o’ the gang, ain’t he? Betcha he’s hidin’ down there, thinkin’ we won’t look for ‘im down there.”
“I saw his face,” a third posse member said. “I reco’nize ‘im. He’s one o’ the bank robbers.”
“Get ‘im!” the leader said. All of them got off their horses and ran for the basement stairs.
I’m dead, Duane thought, running back down as he heard the laughter of the three ghosts get louder. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna hang by the neck in shame back in Chesterton. Maybe the ghosts of my family and friends in Arlington can help me ‘gainst them three sumbitches.
He took a pistol out of his right holster and put it to his head. He saw the posse coming down the stairs and pointing their fingers at him.
He blew his brains out.
He woke up in Hell.
No burnin’ fire, he thought as he looked around. No Satan. Where am I?
He was in the outskirts of Chesterton again. He saw himself, as if looking in a mirror, pointing his sawed-off shotgun at him.
“Drop yer share of the loot,” Duane said to…himself?
He untied his bags of money from the horse he was on–not his own–and dropped them to the ground, then saw himself in…Clifford’s clothes?
He felt a bullet pierce his gut. He fell off his horse. His half-closed eyes saw, in blurry vision, his blood flowing out in a river. He blacked out.
Now he found himself on his feet, walking with bags of loot in his hands and approaching fallen Clifford and…himself? He looked over at Ronald, then at himself: he was in George’s clothes!
He and Ronald were again told to drop their share of the loot on the ground. He felt a bullet pierce his heart, and just as he began to fall to the ground, he felt his consciousness go over to Ronald’s body…just in time to feel a bullet pierce his heart again.
Everything went black.
He found himself in his bedroom. He looked down at himself…or was it herself?…and saw that frilly dress Emily had worn. His arms were skinny and hairless…his wife’s arms!
He…or rather, she…felt three incubi hit her like three huge balls, knocking her onto their bed. Duane was experiencing it all in his wife’s body. The dress was torn away to reveal her breasts. Then her undergarments were torn off.
Yes, what these three incubi…Clifford, George, and Ronald…were doing to her was unspeakable. Duane felt three female orifices, not two male ones, being invaded. The physical pain was nothing compared with the shame he felt.
So this is how it feels for a lady to be transformed into a whore, he thought as the three-way penetration continued. I’m so sorry, baby. I wasn’t here to protect you.
When they finished, they shot out of the house as quickly as they’d shot in. He could hear himself crying his wife’s tears as the trembling body his soul was trapped in was searching for some rope.
He felt her step up on the stool, tie the rope to the wood beam on the ceiling, put it around her neck, kick the stool, and felt the rope fibres cutting into her neck, cutting off her air supply, breaking her neck, and making her lose consciousness.
Next, he felt himself being compelled to walk out of the house and towards the saloon. He looked down at himself, and realized his soul was inside Billy’s little body. He looked to his right and saw Sue there. She was looking straight ahead, with what looked like no independent will. He could sense the presence of Clifford, George, and Ronald controlling both his boy and girl.
No, he thought. No. Don’t make me experience their deaths. No!
Yes, the voice of Clifford buzzed in his ears. You’re not only gonna experience yer little boy’s and girl’s deaths, not only yer mama’s, papa’s, ‘n’ sister’s deaths, but you’re gonna re-experience them all, over and over again, for all eternity.
What? he thought.
That’s right, George said. Why’d ya think they call Hell ‘eternal death’?
The Devil’s makin’ us three experience the same thing, Ronald said. Experiencin’ and re-experiencin’ the deaths of all the people we done killed. But the Devil done made a deal with us three. Since you double-crossed us, we can enjoy makin’ you suffer far worse than we have to. You see, you’re in what’s called the Ninth Circle o’ Hell, which is reserved for traitors. You’re a traitor, havin’ double-crossed us, so you’ll suffer far worse than us.
This can’t be happenin’, Duane thought as he saw himself and Sue nearing the saloon. This is a nightmare, ain’t it? Please pinch me an’ wake me up!
This is no dream, Clifford said. And you ain’t ever wakin’ up.
No! Duane thought, trying to take control over his son’s body, but he couldn’t move any part of it an inch.
You ain’t got no control, George said. Whatcha think you’re doin’? There ain’t nothin’ you can do ’bout it.
He and Sue walked into the saloon, over to the stairs, and down them. In the basement was almost everybody else.
He saw his mother, father, and kid sister, all of them standing there without any ability to retake control of their bodies and get out of the building. He and Sue were now also standing there, helpless and immobile.
A few more people from the village were made to enter the basement.
Everybody’s here, Clifford said. Alright, boys, go burn the saloon down.
Still trapped in little Billy’s body, the soul of Duane watched, in all helplessness, as the ghosts of George and Ronald flew out of the basement. After several minutes, he could smell smoke.
A while later, he and all the others felt the heat growing, then the flames appeared all around them.
Here are the fires of Hell, Duane, Ronald said. You were wonderin’ about them. Here they are.
The worst feeling of all wasn’t so much the physical pain of the burning; it was feeling the terror of his helpless son and daughter, feeling his boy’s heart pounding, his little pulse racing, his shaking body, and knowing he couldn’t do a thing about it. Looking over and seeing the mounting terror in little Sue’s eyes was all the more unbearable for him.
The flames got closer and closer, already burning his neighbours. The boy wept as he heard their screams. Duane could say nothing to comfort poor little Billy. He had no control over the boy’s body, which was fixed in its spot, practically paralyzed, as all the other victims were, being possessed by Clifford, George, and Ronald.
Then the flames came for him.
As the flames crawled along his skin and devoured everything in their path, the boy screamed and wailed. His father wanted to say, “Sorry, Billy. I’m so sorry!” but he couldn’t even do that.
When Billy passed out from the excruciating pain, his consciousness went over to little Sue.
Oh, God, no! he thought. Don’t make me feel my little princess sufferin’! Please, God, no!
But he would feel it, and hear her shrill screams of pain and bawling until she lost consciousness.
Then he went into his father’s body, and he felt his father’s body burning. Sorry, Daddy, he wanted to say…but couldn’t.
Then, after his father passed out and died, Duane’s soul went into his kid sister’s body, which immediately after began to burn. It broke his heart to know her pretty face and hair were being destroyed by the flames. Sorry, Sis, he wanted to say…but he couldn’t.
Finally, his soul went into his mother’s body. The sacred body of the angel who gave him life…burning in Hell like a devil.
And he could tell her no words of apology or comfort. He could only hear her screams, and watch her body destroyed.
After she passed out, Duane felt himself back in the outskirts of Chesterton again, in Clifford’s body, and looking at himself pointing that shotgun again.
And let’s do it all over again, he heard Clifford’s voice say to him. And again and again and again…forever.
NOOOOO!!!! he wanted to scream, with all of his might, and all of his soul.
But he couldn’t.