The auditorium smelled of horse shit and sweat as we walked up the aisle between the stalls. My partner was a seasoned veteran of Wild West Con, but I was pretty green. It was around 11 o’clock and we’d had a full day of shooting demonstrations, riding, and researching. But Charlene seemed practically giddy.
Maybe I should have tried that energy drink after all, I thought as I yawned for the fifth time in a row. We stopped to read about the notorious Jane Keegan and her gang of thieves.
“Want to go soon?” I asked. “That signing is pretty early tomorrow.”
And we’ll be in line all day if we don’t get there at an ungodly hour, I thought.
Charlene gave me a shit-eating grin as she shuffled through her notes. “I’ve got a few more clues.”
I rolled my eyes. Oh right, she was going to play the Mystery at Midnight.
“What hall is that in?”
She seemed offended. “The whole place, why?”
I found a hay bale next to the stall. “Nothin’. I should have eaten my Wheaties.”
“I got some gummy bears, somewhere.”
The lights flickered above and I pinched my nose. Charlene escorted me to our last stop of the evening: a graveyard by the Okay Corral. My closeted OCD fought me to correct the sign, but my give no ducks prevailed. Charlene was really rubbing off on me.
As part of the Con there were little self education booths randomly placed all over. Charlene stopped by the graveyard post, reading off the Wanted posters. I looked around at the crowd, shuffling about like zombies now after no sleep.
Boom! Zzzzsh. The sound of thunder echoing through the building was followed by electrical failure. The crowd cheered and shrieked. I could smell smoke from an overloaded outlet.
My heart slammed in my chest. Must be the Midnight Mystery, I thought. Yet the hum of the generators starting up was comforting. And sure, I sighed with relief when the graveyard was bathed in the blue glow of floodlights.
Charlene was deathly silent, her breath coming out in tiny cumulus clouds. We both swallowed when two strangers approached us. They were both wearing chaps and trench coats, the jingle from their spurs almost hypnotizing.
“You –“, the taller one stopped and looked us over. “You folks ain’t seen a fella ride by here on a palomino, have ya?”
Charlene looked at me. We shook our head. “No sir.”
They stared us down, and the shorter one reached into his waist coat, took out a paper, and pointed at it.
“Wait a minute,” Charlene said. “Are you guys after Hominy Jack?”
“Big fella? One eye, one leg, 6 fingers?”
Charlene squinted. “SIX FINGERS?!”
The short one shrugged. “Bear trap.”
“I heard it was dynamite,” taller stranger said in a gruff voice. A woman, by my judgement.
I coughed, shivered. I looked at my watch or tried since it wouldn’t light it.
“Well. We’re looking for a few good ladies to help us track down Hominy.” The short one gave us a spiel while the fog gathered around us.
We set off on foot towards the hotel when a horse whinnied in the distance. Guns materialized in our hands as a ghostly palomino barreled down “Main Street”.
I fired three shots as it ran through me like a bucket of ice water. The lights flickered on and people began to shout and scream.
Charlene was silent as the grave. I turn around to her and the halogen shone through my arm as I reached out towards. She pointed at me and screamed.
“Charlene! It’s me!”
I heard a chuckle from behind me as the notorious Jane Keegan stumbled towards me.
“I told you were were looking for a few good ladies.”