Exercise: Use these three things in you short story or scene: a bounty hunter, a ghost town, a matchbox.
Loud banging sounds against Mark Oni’s heavily reinforced barricades were not uncommon. The fact that what was banging on them was alive was unusual.
Oni at first noted the clangs with his usual disinterest, then started as whoever was knocking began to scream for help. Clearly, whoever was out there wasn’t the usual riffraff.
He quickly slipped into his gear; heavy black boots, thick gloves, and a jacket that had his weapons pre-loaded into various pockets and sewn-in holsters. As he sprinted for the barricades, he drew old Lacey and thumbed the safety off. The screams outside grew more frantic. Oni threw aside the bar on the front gates and shouldered his way outside.
A young woman cowered on the ground outside the gates. She had managed to crawl over a low point in the barricade, but was trapped at the locked gates. Oni looked up and saw the ghast scrambling over the same gap in the barricade. It froze at his sudden appearance, slavering jaws gaping wide. The ghast hesitated, flexing its thin, clawed hands and apparently trying to decide whether to try its luck.
Oni didn’t hesitate. Lacey cracked once, twice, and the ghast howled. The thrice-blessed bullets passed through the beast’s pale shoulder and emaciated gut. Ichor thick as tar spattered across the barricade and the creature fell, sprawling across the thick iron fortifications. The woman let out a startled yelp, then fell silent, her wide eyes fixated on the ghast’s corpse.
Oni stepped up and climbed the barricade. Carefully setting his feet astride the ghast’s smoking body, he looked out into the town beyond his small fortress. There was just enough sun peeking over the horizon to see, but it cast everything in a harsh red. Main Street stretched away to the north, lined by dilapidated wooden and brick buildings. Old cars, abandoned decades past, lay rusting in the same parking spots they always had. All was quiet. Nothing moved. The buildings looked as empty as they always did.
“Th-th-there were others,” the woman stammered. Oni glanced back to see her pointing one shaking hand out at the dead town. He grunted, then climbed down, leaving the ghast where it had fallen.
“They always travel in packs,” he said. “Don’t worry, they’re scared a’ Lacy.” Oni’s voice was low and slurred, the speech of someone who didn’t talk often. He helped the woman up and led her into his home. She wrapped her hands around a cold mug of water and made a visible effort to control her tremors of fear. He sat in silence across the table and reloaded Lacey.
“I found this,” she said. She dropped a matchbox on the table. Oni could tell it was old, the lettering faded almost beyond legibility. Nevertheless, he still recognized the logo.
“Jordey’s,” he said. “Over on 5th. Been closed as long as everything else has.”
“It was my father’s,” she said. “I found it with some other things, from ages ago.”
“That’s the last place he was at,” Oni said, “he’s prob’ly dead. Hell, I might have just shot him.”
“I have to know,” she said. She looked at him with large, brown, pleading eyes.
“Nothin’ in this town but vermin,” Oni said. “If your pop is here, it’s as one of them, or as what that fed them. Nothin’ but vermin and me for twenty years.”
“They say you find people,” she said. “That’s all I’m asking. I’ll pay whatever you need.”
Oni studied her for a moment. Pretty girl, he thought, but stupid. Still, it wasn’t every day that pretty girls came to visit, much less paying ones. And she had an annoying gleam in her eye, as though she knew he’d be able to help. He scooped up the matchbox and holstered Lacey. The woman smiled and looked relieved.
“Do you need anything else?” she asked. “I have pictures, and—”
“All I need,” he said simply, glancing at the matchbox. “Don’t get your hopes up. All I promise is to find what killed him. No more we can do for the poor folks of this place. Haven’t found a live person in years.”
“You found one today,” she said. “Maybe you’ll find another.” He just grunted and headed for the front gates.
Oni opened the doors; the ghast’s body was gone from the barricade. Something gibbered out among the ruins.
“Why do you live here?” the woman asked. “This is a horrible place.”
He shrugged. “It’s home. When the neighbors are assholes, you just gotta deal and hope they get sick of you first.” He shouldered a rifle, nodded to his befuddled new client, and then stalked out into the darkness.