Best Served Cold
I woke with a start, my heart thumping loudly and the blood rushing through my ears. What was that? I strained every sense to listen through the blackness.
I gulped, chiding myself for letting my imagination run riot. Get a grip, Man! There was nobody there – just like any other night. I curled back into the mattress and pulled the covers around my shoulders, waiting for the adrenaline to subside. My breathing gradually became slower and deeper until my eyelids drooped, an augur of the return or sweet, refreshing sleep.
My eyes flicked open. That was a creak, I’m sure of it this time... there! It sounded like a footstep on a recalcitrant floorboard. Yes; there it was again. Somebody was here... or was there? These old houses made all kinds of strange noises in the night.
I sat bolt upright, every nerve alight with concentration. Was he here? Had he finally come? Nah, surely it was just my fanciful imagination, after all, why would Hannibal Heyes be here, seeking revenge after all these years? Common sense did its best to fight through my irrational fears, one side of my mouth twitching slightly at how quickly that frightened little child could return, seeing nebulous forms in the shadows or hearing the monster under the bed.
I pulled back the covers and swung my legs out of bed. Logic dictated that an investigation would put the matter to rest once and for all, so I pushed my feet into my slippers and tied on a robe, pausing only to wonder how sensible this course of action really was, as my heart skipped a beat at another groaning floorboard. If someone was in the house, they were getting nearer.
Where was that damned gun?
I paused, before dismissing the idea of a light. This place was remote and far from help, and if somebody was hiding in the blackness it would be madness to draw their attention to my whereabouts.
I paused by the door, noticing my rasping breath in the stillness. Was it safe to open the door? What choice did I have? I had to go through the door or skinny out the window - and I was two storeys up.
I turned the handle, gulping at the heart stopping rasp from the hinges and crept into the dark hallway.
I used my left hand to feel my way to the staircase, my pistol clutched in my sweating right hand, but the back of my neck prickled at the sight before me. Somebody was slinking up the stairs, silently and relentlessly. Was it him? Was he hunting me like a cat?
My mind struggled to grasp the concept. This could not be possible. Hannibal Heyes, here? But everyone knew the man was relentless and he would never let up in his hunt for the man who had killed his partner. He would pursue his prey to the ends of the earth.
“Heyes?” My voice rasped with fear. “Is that you?”
The figure stopped, the whole demeanour of the shade suddenly becoming more relaxed. His insouciance was legendary, and I was now watching a criminal comfortable enough in his skin to be caught in the act of housebreaking without turning a hair.
The figure on the stair case spoke. “Cooper? I’ve come for you.”
“I’m not Cooper. He died years ago.” I damned myself for allowing my fear to lace my words. Heyes sounded so confident in comparison, but I suppose he had nothing left to lose.
“Liar. You’re Cooper. I’ve watched this place for days. I’ve seen you come and go.” The figure started move up towards the landing. “I’ve tracked you for three years, you changed your name, grew a beard, even moved to another state – but I found you. Did you think I’d ever rest until I killed the coward who shot Kid Curry in the back, just to make a name for himself?”
“Honestly, I’m not Cooper. My name is Francis – Raymond Francis.”
Heyes gave a derisory snicker. “Does it matter what name they put on your gravestone? I know who you really are and you’re going to die.”
I started to sweat. “I’m not Cooper. I came here because I wanted to meet you, Heyes. It was a terrible tragedy, what happened to Kid- killed only a year after getting amnesty, but you threw it all away in a quest for revenge. I want to talk to you.”
“Then you’re a fool and coward. I didn’t come here to talk – I came here to kill you.”
I shook my head furiously. “I’m not Cooper. I swear.”
The indistinct figure reached the landing, standing about five yards from me. The faint moonlight from the window caught a pair of intense, dark eyes and a cold smile dimpled across the ghostly face. “I want to see you die, Cooper. I want to see the light go out in your eyes.”
He raised his arm, and although he was shrouded by the night my instincts told he was pointing a gun at me. I stepped backwards, hoping to get lost in the shadows. “Come with me. Talk to me...”
“Talk!? The minute you pulled that trigger, you signed your own death warrant.” Heyes stepped towards me. “That’s why you ran. You killed a good, kind man just to make a name for yourself, and then you have to spend your life running and hiding. It was for nothing! A total waste..,” Heyes’ voice crackled with hatred. “You bastard! We worked so hard for that amnesty. We finally had a future...”
The figure advanced on me and I sunk back into the corner. There was nowhere to go.
“You gutless, worthless piece of sh*t. There’s no point in trying to hide in the darkness. I am the dark. I’m the last thing you’ll ever see.”
The figure strode over to me and raised the gun, pointing straight at my head. There was a flash in the gloom and a deafening noise... then it all went black.
I don’t know how long I sat there, trying to make sense of it all. The cold grey fingers of dawn gradually lit up the world, illuminating my shocked, numb body. The hallway was still the same, and the world seemed unchanged, but I wasn’t. I’d never be the same again.
I hauled myself to my feet and stumbled into the bedroom. I sat down at my laptop and began to write:
‘I have been a journalist for twenty three years, but I have never experienced anything like the night I spent in the old Cooper place. For those of you unfamiliar with Nevada, it was the scene of the showdown between the famous outlaw, Hannibal Heyes, and the man who killed his cousin, Kid Curry. He killed Cooper before turning the gun on himself, determined not to live life on the run, or to hang for an act of natural justice. They said it was haunted, but I never believed in ghosts before now...