Author: Zayan Guedim

Once caught by Sheriff Jeb, criminals faced a gruesome demise. Grave offenses or petty misdemeanors, all the same, he would drive them to the abandoned silver mine. Then alone he would return, with bloody clothes and a blanched face.
A judge, jury, and executioner all in one, Jeb’s reputation spread far and wide. Now the notoriously crime-ridden Silver Peak town reveled in serenity, thanks to his ruthless law enforcement.
As crime became virtually nonexistent, the townspeople grew increasingly grateful to Jeb, who was increasingly distressed and aloof. He rarely engaged in conversation and when he did, his words were sparse and deliberate. Even with Layla, the new saloon’s girl, the first woman to whom Jeb had ever made advances. She came to town a few weeks prior and soon picked up on Jeb’s habits and piqued his interest.
One night, Jeb downed his double shot of whiskey in one, and then he ordered another. And another. Layla asked him whether he was having a tough one, as he usually only had one drink before retreating.
After he guzzled his fourth double shot, he shared news of his new gig. They were having a crime problem at a nearby settlement and they wanted him to help out. He accepted, with one condition: he insisted on bringing any criminals he apprehended back to Silver Peak.
Layla raised an eyebrow, wondering why he would disturb the peace of their town, and why he just didn’t chill out as Silver Peak was virtually crime-free. It was clear to her that he had a backstory. A long, complicated, and painful story.
‘You ain’t gettin’ it, dear Layla,’ Jeb slurred, ‘if only it were that darn simple! We need some wickedness…’
He paused, letting his hand rest on Layla’s shoulder. A violent jolt surged through every fiber in his body. He stood frozen. It was the same sensation he felt that night. Images and sounds flooded his mind, as if time had folded, transporting him back 24 years. Jeb was 8 years old. He was on his first cattle drive with his father, the trail boss, when they saw a blazing comet streaking through the clear night sky. Then they heard a loud thud. Bathing in the moonlight, a massive sandstorm rose in the distance.
The next day, they came across a swirling vortex of sand, near the silver mine. As they got closer, they saw strange shadows moving within the sandstorm. Drawn to the sand vortex, Jeb reached out. As soon as he touched it he was sucked inside and disappeared. But from his point-of-view, it was another show. He watched in horror as all the men, including his father, were caught one by one by a barely discernible force that raised them and squashed them into bloody balls of flesh… After that day, Jeb was no longer the carefree boy he once was.
Jeb’s hand fell from Layla’s shoulder. He turned and stormed out of the saloon.
Two days later, Jeb was deep down the dark shafts of the mine, with one two-bit thief he caught in the neighboring settlement. He watched as the ghoul leisurely approached and started feeding on its helpless paralyzed prey.
Jeb knew better than to lock eyes with the ghoul’s hypnotic gaze, otherwise he’d become a meal himself. As he turned to leave, Layla’s chilling voice froze him in place.
‘You’re next, Jeb!’ said Layla, her mouth dripping with blood, chewing on a big bite of flesh. ‘If I relied solely on crooks I’d starve to death.’
‘BTW, what do you think of my new girly form?’