There is a place in the American west where many journeyed to strike it rich. In that place, a town was built, and in that town an Inn. The owner called it “The Westward”. It had rooms on the second floor, and a bar on the first. During the first years of its life, it was a popular resting place for weary travelers of every kind.
But time moves on and so do people and buildings. What was once a place of sanctuary became a place of chaos. Gamblers came, and cowboys too, looking to fill their time with pleasures. The new owner made the top floor a brothel and the lobby, a small casino. While the drinks and money flowed, so did the violence. Many died over aces and eights, upstairs women lost their virtue and breath in exchange for a dime.
It was in that last moment that four of them discovered what they had lost. With final words and final breath, they uttered, “I don't want to die.” What they didn't know or understand that wishes are carried on the wind. The words and breath were brought to heaven and heaven granted that wish.
A gambler, a cowboy, a prostitute, and serving girl woke up to half life and half death, made plain by spectral arms. All caught within the confines of the Westward Inn's walls, none could see the other nor converse. Each took it upon themselves to explore the new world in which they walked.
In each own's time, they made their way to the cellar. In the furthest and darkest place, there mounted a door glowing with heaven's light. And also, to each's horror and surprise, sat a black, growling beast in front of the door, whose eyes shined with the red fires of Hell.
At the approach of the spectral shades, the creature raised its head and sniffed. “I smell you, shade wastrel.” It said with static-water voice. “I know your scent now. You cannot pass through this way. For eternity, you must walk between. Know that I am coming for you, always too. That my purpose is to suck the life from your form! I will take that which you will not grant, abomination! For your sin, is yours to bear. But here I come, nonetheless. Run and be chased, through the confines of these halls. I will get you in time, and your life will be mine.”
And so, there they were, the shades of Westward Inn caught in the between of life and death. During the day, they replayed their steps, searching for the clue of entrapment. At night, they were chased by the beast of the door.
They watched the living move through time. Sometimes, tried to speak their plight. The living misunderstood the markings of their passage; the fallen pictures, the cries in the night, the footsteps, and whispers, the knocking, and the spectral vision. The living convinced of the evil shadow that walked behind them or hovered over them in sleep. The shades ran from the beast, who cared not for the living. He only stopped to growl or scratch at their interference. Once out of the way, the beast would engage the shades of Westward Inn.
Unknown years passed, while the shades were chased. Until one day came an ordinary woman. She sat at the bar and had a single drink. To the living eye, she was nothing to see, but the shades saw a heavenly glow. They surrounded her and began to speak, excited that she could see. She sat silently and shook her head. She whispered, “Wait and be silent.”
When the bar was mostly empty, and those in attendance to drunk to pay attention, she moved to a living-empty booth. She ordered five drinks and sat them on the table. Then, engaged the shades with words.
“Yes, I can see you. Yes, I can hear you. But help you, I cannot. The choice is yours and yours alone. No one can do it for you.” She sighed. “Whether you believe in your guilt or faultless, sin or sinless, makes no difference. The salvation and the savior are the same, religion makes no difference. But to walk or not walk that path is the choice you must make yourself.”
The serving girl and prostitute listened to her words and heard them. The gambler walked away. The cowboy became angry and tried to force himself upon her. The woman knocked him back with a thought. Then, she left the Westward Inn.
At the dying sun, the serving girl cried and crept away to hide from the beast. The Gambler ran through the halls once again. The cowboy retraced his boot steps. The prostitute went into the cellar to wait the appearance of the beast.
The dark beast appeared before the door as the sun set below the horizon. His red-fire eyes looked upon her as he smiled his razor smile. “What now is this? That you have come to me tonight!”
The prostitute stood in front of the beast, fear no longer in her mind. “Beast! My living life was filled with self-doubt. I had no value, identity, purpose, or belonging for myself or others. I often used my time and body as a sacrifice to survival.” She raised her spectral arm and pointed. “No more! I say! No more will I run from you. This eternal chase has gone on long enough! If you must suck the life from my form, then so be it! I will not run anymore!”
The beast laughed in his static-water voice. “Then you shall be the example for the others, abomination shade!” The beast waved his claw-hand. Suddenly, beside her stood the serving girl, the gambler, and the cowboy. “See this prostitute? With whom you shared your fate all this time? Watch now, as I consume her life and be afraid!”
The prostitute turned to others, her resolve conquered her surprise. She spoke to them. “He is not fear. He is only a beast!” She pointed at him, again. “A beast to chase you through eternity. I have seen many a beast and many on top of me. The beast that you see is not the beast to fear. The beast is the eternal chase! I am weary of it! Night after night, day after day!” She lowered her hand and head. “If this is hell, I welcome death, for at least I will not have to run any longer.”
The beast roared with his static water laugh. “Witness the might of my power!” The beast reared up, opened his mouth, and consumed the prostitute's life. Her shade faded away and nothing was left behind. The other three watched and cried out when they saw the beast consume her. They grew much more afraid than ever before.
Suddenly, from behind the beast, heaven's door opened wide. The light poured in and filled the cellar. The beast roared and turned to face the mounted door. “NO!” He screamed. But was quieted by a laugh from the light.
“I have found the way,” said the voice of the prostitute. “You cannot chase me here!” As the door began to close, her voice rang out to the others. “Make your choice and don't be afraid. As long as there is a beast, there will be a door!” The door shut tight with a bang, heaven's light only shown through the cracks around it. Overcome with fear and shock, the other shades ran again. The beast, finding his composure, began his nightly chase once more.
And so, it is said, the Westward Inn still stands. And inside the endless spectral halls, runs three abomination shades. Forever entrapped within the walls, whether they stand or not. The beast still there, chasing them nightly, as they mark the living with their passing. And in the cellar, the door.
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