Eric Neher is an award-winning author who lives in Newcastle, Oklahoma. He is a continuing contributor to Uniqelahoma Magazine, as well as having numerous short and flash fiction stories published.

Notable works include Permian Remorse, The Bane of Dave, Fractured Frame, The Cycle, A Haunted Cemetery, and Horrific Separation.


by Eric Neher


As far as being a bad man, there were far worse out there than Josh Green. He was a criminal, true, and had been one for most of his life, but he was no cold-blooded killer. He had only shot one man, and that man had reached for his gun first. Which was why he felt as though his heart was about to burst out of his chest as he hunkered down in the tall weeds of the 1882 Oklahoma badlands.

Next to him was a bad man; a very bad man.


The Lawton bank sat alone surrounded by a wooden platform. It opened at eight in the morning and closed at four in the afternoon. It had one guard and a walk-in safe that was of the combination type, only the bank president and one of the three tellers knew the code. Josh had learned all of this during the five days that he spent casing the place out. The plan was simple: catch the guard and the president as they approached the front door, get the safe open and take the money then leave town; quick and easy.

The morning of the robbery, the sun pierced through the early haze, casting a brilliant glare from the east and it was from that direction that the three men approached. The president was placing the key into the slot chatting with the guard. Suddenly there was a noise but the early light was blinding and the guard couldn’t see the gun until it was just inches from his trembling chest.

“Do as we say and no one will get hurt!” Garrett Wayne called out, and the bank president listened, opening the safe and then providing them with a bag to put the money in. The haul was small; only nine hundred dollars. Garrett told the two men to get into the safe. It would be an hour at least before they would be found, plenty of time for them to get to the foothills of the Wichita Mountains.

Josh jumped when a shot rang out. He realized that Garrett had fired for no reason; everyone was cooperating, so why shoot?

He looked to see what was happening. He saw the guard had been hit in the chest, throwing his body against the wall inside the walk-in safe. The President began to sob, begging for his life, but Garrett only laughed. The President then began to scream. Garrett walked over, placed the barrel of the gun up to his head, and pulled the trigger.

“Why did you do that?” Josh shouted, but Garrett only turned, grabbed the bag of money, and walked out.

Josh suddenly bent over and was sick, splashing vomit over the boots of the fallen guard. He didn’t want to stay in the vault to be caught, so he quickly ran after Garrett, who was waiting in front of the bank’s front door.

The streets were beginning to come alive. Josh could hear screaming with someone yelling that the bank was robbed, and another called out for the sheriff.

Garrett was reloading his .45, a smile on his face. Josh could hear the heavy thud of boots on the wood landing and the ringing of spurs drawing closer.

“We can’t get away!” Josh cried. They jumped back inside the bank.

He heard a voice say, “Whoever’s in there better put their guns down and come on out with your hands up.”

Josh was sure that he was going to pass out, and could see the faint dots of darkness floating around like haunted snowflakes. “What are we going to do?” he whispered to Garrett.

“Shut up!” Garrett yelled. “We ain’t gonna die in this shit-hole!”

A face peeked briefly around the frame of the broken window and then disappeared. Garrett pointed his freshly reloaded pistol a couple of feet away from the frame and fanned out two shots. They heard a scream followed by a heavy thud. 

“My God! Stop!” Josh cried, tears now flowing down his red face. He had pulled his Colt and was pointing it at Garrett. For a moment Garrett stared at him, and Josh could see that Garrett was calculating whether or not he would shoot him. For a long time, they stood there, Josh’s face stricken with horror, while Garrett glared back at him.

“We don’t kill people,” said Josh.

“We do now,” said Garrett, his smile back in full force. “You’d better put that gun down and work with me, because I am your only hope to get out of here.”

Josh moaned but lowered his gun.

Garrett crept his way over to the side of the window and listened. The only sound was the northern breeze sifting down the road. Garrett looked out the window and then jerked it back. He waited for a moment and then did it again.

“What the hell?” he said, looking again, only this time he didn’t pull back.

He continued to stare out the window.

“Hey, idiot,” said Garrett. “Wake your ass up and come here.”

Josh slowly turned and made his way over to the window. Outside stood thirty or more men, all of them like statues.

“What do you think’s going on?” Garrett asked.

Josh could only shake his head.

“Well, we’re not waiting around,” said Garrett. “Let’s get outta here.”

Garrett opened the door and stuck his head out part of the way. The men on the street were still and unmoving “Let’s go,” he said.

Josh took one last look at the dead guard and walked out of the bank. The two men jumped down off of the landing and still, no one moved.

“Don’t shoot anyone,” said Josh.

“I ain’t stupid,” said Garrett. “There’s no need to shoot. No one’s moving. Maybe they all wised up.”

They made their way down the dirt-packed street, winding their way through the organic figurines. To their left was a saloon with its batwing doors caught, like a photograph, each panel stuck partially open.

“This is not happening,” said Josh.

“Oh, it’s happening,” said Garrett. “I just don’t know why.”

On they went, passing frozen dogs caught in mid-bark and children trapped in play. Josh heard a sound like gagging. He looked over to his left and saw a horse, its mouth buried in a trough. Quickly he rushed over and began to push against the horse's head but it wouldn’t move. Josh threw himself against its neck but it was like a wall. A shiver raced through the animal's body. Its eyes became wide in helpless panic then the gagging stopped.

“We have to get out of here,” Josh said. “This place is cursed.”

“Ain’t going to get no argument from me,” Garrett replied. “But we can’t take our horses. Look at them.”

The two animals were patiently waiting down the street, both tied to a hitching post. But upon closer look, they weren’t being patient at all. They were frozen still.

After walking for another ten minutes, the two men reached the end of town. In front of them stood the beaten-down tops of The Wichita Mountains like the tombstones of some ancient race of giants.

Josh turned back towards the town to look but no one was following. The two men began to make their way toward the rounded peaks. The air was heating up with humidity that crawled its way into their clothes, causing painful friction that became worse with each step. The sun was halfway down the western horizon when Josh looked back and saw a low cloud of dirt was spinning off of the ground.

“What is that?” he said. Garrett turned his sun-baked face, his eyes squinting.

“It’s them,” he said. “They obviously woke up. They’re coming for us.”

Josh felt a bolt of fear go through him and spun around in a crazy circle, hoping for someplace, anyplace, for them to go. A half a mile away he could see the dark blot of thickets. It was their only chance. The two men began to run as fast as their dehydrated bodies would allow.

They made it to the thicket and threw themselves down, carefully crawling deeper into the thorny foliage. The sun was casting long shadows of lonely crabgrass and cactus across the stony plains. The two men lay on their stomachs trying to catch their breath. The wind was starting to pick up, blowing out of the west, and they could hear the sound of pacing thunder as the horses drew near.


Garrett set down the bag of money. It held only nine hundred dollars. He gazed out into the growing darkness, then looked over at Josh.

“Hey idiot,” he hissed. “Get your gun out and if they find us you better start shooting or, by God, I’ll kill you myself.”

Josh hesitated. For a moment he considered running out and surrendering, explaining how it wasn’t him, how it was that evil son of a bitch who was still in the bushes. But he knew that he would never make it, because Garrett would shoot him before he could clear the brush.

The horses were very close; Josh could see their dark shapes moving like shadowed waves coming closer—could see the outline of the twenty men stooping low in the saddle, searching for any sign of them.

Then they stopped. One of the men got off of his horse. The man knelt down and then stood. He took a couple of steps towards the brush hideaway. Josh heard the click of Garrett’s hammer being pulled back and said a silent prayer. He hoped it would be quick like it had been for the bank guard.

A shot suddenly rang out from the north. The man rushed to his horse and leaped onto its back. The men thundered off sounding like all hell had broken loose. The two men waited a little while longer, listening to the fading gallop.

“They were so close to us!” Josh said. “Why are they leaving? I mean, I’m glad, but why?”

“I don’t care why. We’d better go while we can,” said Garrett. He picked up the bag of money and pointed. “After you.”

Josh looked off to where the horsemen had disappeared and felt an instant dread settle over him. He turned and began to crawl out of the brambles just as a knife severed his spine. Josh fell to the ground, his legs no longer working. He tried to scream but Garrett’s hand was over his mouth before he could release the pain. In his other hand was a Bowie knife, its blade seeming to glow with a light of its own.

“I don’t trust you. You never liked me, did you, boy?” Garrett hissed, his face now close enough for Josh to smell the rotting breath. “That’s okay,” he continued. “I never gave a rat’s ass about you either.” He then ran the blade across the dying man’s throat.


Garrett wiped the knife on Josh’s shirt and tucked it back into his boot. There would be another notch carved into the handle but that would have to wait. The posse had gone north, but they would eventually come back and find the body. What would they do then? Probably go for the mountains, figuring that whoever was left would be heading there and normally they would be right, but they had never dealt with a man like Garrett Wayne. Garrett took a deep breath and headed for the flatlands.

The moon was high casting the badlands into a shimmering landscape of silver. Far to his left, a coyote broke the silence with its insane song, and soon it was joined by another and then another until the night sounded like a choir of madness. Garrett marched on, a shadow within the shadows.

The night was his home; a world of camouflage that allowed him and all of the other creatures like him, to do what they do best. For he was a killer, killing often just for curiosity and watching closely as the eyes of those who were unlucky enough to meet him faded into the lifeless stare that he so enjoyed.

He had told Josh that he was an orphan and he hadn’t lied, but he hadn’t told him why. Call it destiny, or a higher calling, but either way, he knew he had to murder his parents, strangling first his mother while his father was gone and then splitting his father’s skull open with the family ax once he had arrived back home. It was then, and only then, that he was finally able to step upon the path that had been chosen for him. He didn’t feel responsible for killing his parents; he knew it was pre-ordained and so it was not his fault.

The wind was blowing at his back, pushing him forward, further away from that odd town. So lost was he in bloody ego that he almost didn’t see the small campfire burning just a hundred yards away. The wild dogs had gone quiet; everything was quiet, only the wind dared to make a sound.

Garrett drew his gun and made his way towards the small flame. The glow produced a flickering dome of light, and within that dome sat a man. He looked old and was wearing some kind of robe or long cloak that reminded Garrett of something you might see in the desert where they rode camels. He looked around but there was no one else. Garrett hid the gun behind his back and made his way into the light.

“Hello, there,” said the old man.

Garrett noticed a large, golden disc hanging off of a chain around the old man’s neck, and from its center, a glint of real gold shot out reflecting in the fire’s light. It was the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen.

“Come and have a seat,” invited the old man.

Garrett walked over to the edge of the fire pit and stopped. He felt his nerves come alive and took another look around.

“I’m alone,” said the old man, his dark eyes twinkling. “No reason to be afraid.”

“I’m never afraid,” Garrett said. “What are you doing out here alone?”

“What are you doing out here alone?” said the old man.

“I live around here,” said Garrett. “About a half a mile back.”

“Yes, well, so do I,” said the old man.

Garrett couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. The old man shifted where he sat and Garrett noticed what appeared to be a real emerald shining from the medallion. Garrett looked at it, quietly calculating its worth. A sudden image of it hanging off his neck filled him with a feeling of lust that went well beyond the joy of murder. It was overwhelming.

“You like this medallion, do you?” the old man said. “It’s very old and very expensive.”

“How expensive?” said Garrett.

“So much so, that if you could sell it, you would be set for the rest of your life.”

Garrett stood there for a moment, his gun held firmly behind his back. The medallion would be his, the only question was whether he wanted to kill this old man, or not. There wouldn’t be much fun in it, and by the looks of him, he seemed to be mostly dead already. Garrett began to swing the .45 around.

“You know,” said the old man, causing Garrett to pause. “I don’t know why, but I just have a feeling that you and I are a lot alike.”

“Why do you say that?” said Garrett, tucking the gun back.

“Well, for one thing, we are both alone in the badlands, and that usually means that you don’t want to be found.”

“Are you being chased?” said Garrett, looking around again.

“Chased? No. Followed? Always,” said the old man. “And there was a time when I couldn’t go anywhere without someone trying to do me in, but that was long ago.”

“Who are you?” said Garrett.

“Just an old man spreading my wisdom to anyone who will listen.”

“Where are you really from?” said Garrett.

“You do ask a lot of questions for a man on the run, don’t you?”

“I’m not on the run,” said Garrett.

“If you say so,” said the old man. “But that town is now very much awake and very upset, and those men that were chasing you are returning from the mountains, and are heading this way.”

“How do you know that?” Garrett said, swinging the gun around. “Tell me, or I’ll blow your fucking head off!”

“I know a lot about you, Garrett Wayne. I know your number; thirty-eight. That’s how many men, women, and children you have killed. Rather low considering the technology,” said the old man, pointing at the .45. “But still, murder is murder, no matter how you slice it if you’ll excuse the pun.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“All I’m saying is that they are coming, twenty men on horses, and they’re not fucking around. Once they find you, they will shoot.”

For a moment Garrett was sure that he could hear hooves pounding against the ground. He turned his gaze out toward the darkness but could see nothing. The sound was gone. Enough was enough and suddenly he was very okay with killing this old bastard.

“Give me that,” he said, pointing the pistol at the golden disc.

The old man reached down, placing his hand on the medallion. “This?” he said.

“Yes, give it to me.”

“I cannot,” said the old man.

“Give it to me or I’ll kill you.” 

“You must do what you think is right,” said the old man. “I just hope that you make the correct choice.”

The bullet hit the old man in the head, blowing out the back of his skull and taking most of his brains with it. He holstered his gun and then walked over to the old man. The .45 had done its job well. Garrett knelt and pulled the medallion up over the old man’s shattered head then stood up. He took it over to where the bag of money lay and considered putting it in but instead, placed it around his neck.

The medallion gleamed on his chest, its glittering green stone dancing in the firelight. Garrett reached down to pick up the money bag but stopped. Something had moved just beyond the fire-lit dome. A snapping sound came from his left and he turned and let out a scream. 

Josh was standing just within the orange glow of the flame, blood still draining from the open wound at his throat. Just then another man entered the light, the top of his head jagged with a part of his scalp hanging off to the side, it was the bank guard. And still more came until he was surrounded, none of them speaking, just staring at him with hatred in their eyes.

Two of the gathering slowly made their way to the front, their bodies blackened and charred with skin so crisp, that it fell away as they brushed past the crowd. He knew them, he knew them well. 

“Thank you,” said a voice behind him. Garrett turned to see the old man, his shattered head tilted like a man hanging from a noose. “The medallion is yours.”

Garrett reached down in a panic, grabbed the golden disk with both hands, and pulled, but it wouldn’t move. It felt as though it had attached itself and become a part of his body.

“You can’t remove it,” said the man. “Only someone else can take it off of you, and only if they are as you are.”

“Why did you do this to me?” said Garrett.

The man began to laugh, causing large drops of crimson and shredded brain to fall from the large crater in his head.

“Do it to you?” he said, finally. “You murdered me. You stole it from me.”

“But you knew I would,” screamed Garrett. “This is your fault! You set me up.”

“I hoped you would,” said the man. “But you should count yourself lucky; you only have a few dozen to keep you company for eternity. I had thousands.”

A swirling rope of flame burst out from the fire, encircling the waist of the old man like a lasso. A hiss, like a thousand snakes, filled the air from the group of macabre.

“Until we meet again,” said the old man. The flaming rope exploded like compressed kerosene, engulfing the talking corpse. Within moments the flame was gone, leaving only a statue of charred ash.

A sudden strong breeze came from the north, crumbling the remains of the old man.  

Garrett fell to the ground, with his followers close behind, watching him, their eyes unblinking and burning red.

“Leave me alone!” he screamed at them, but they wouldn’t. They would be with him for a very long time.