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Night Prairie Schoolhouse

The outlaw whipped his horse as it sped through the prairie. He had a good headstart but it was only a matter of time before the posse caught up to him. He needed a place to hide and barricade against the inevitable shootout that would happen if they found him.

He urged the horse onward up a hill as fast as the poor animal could go. Once he was over the hill, he saw a single building jutting up from the tall yellow grass. Without thinking he turned the horse towards it.

He rode up to the building and realized it was a schoolhouse. It was old but well maintained. The boards were still sturdy and the bell tower was still standing, with a gleaming bell still inside. He momentarily wondered what it was doing out here. There was nothing for miles. No other buildings or people. But he didn’t have time to truly consider his thought, so he jumped off the exhausted animal, gave it a slap to make it leave, and rushed up the front steps.

He slammed into the door and stumbled inside hitting the solid wood floor. He turned to his backside and kicked the door closed. He jumped up and looked for something to jam the door. He froze as soon as he noticed the children. They were all sitting at their desks staring at him.

What he noticed first was that none of them seemed overly concerned with the grimy, sweaty man who just interrupted their studies. They just looked curious. Their eyes took in every detail, from his dirty black hat to his two pistols on his hips. He fought the urge to fidget under their curious scrutiny and he did not know why. They were just children after all.

He tore his eyes away from the children when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. The teacher was moving. She walked past him as if he were nothing of consequence and looked out the window. “Hey! Get away from there!” He ordered. She looked back at him with an arched eyebrow and turned back to the window as if he had not said a thing. “I told you…!” He pulled a pistol from its holster and stepped towards the woman.

“I heard what you told me. I am not deaf.” She said cutting him off. “Friends of yours?” She asked.

“What?” He moved to stand beside her at the window. Twelve riders came racing over the same hill he had climbed moments before. The posse. “Get away from the window!” He grabbed the teacher’s arm and violently yanked her away. “Everyone, keep your traps shut, and I may not kill you!”

He pointed his gun at the teacher to drive the point home but the children continued to watch silently.

“You don’t have to worry about the posse.” The teacher said, “But if you do not take your hand off of me you will lose it.”

He looked at the teacher, his face scrunched in confusion. “What?”

“Look.” She indicated the window. He let her go, shoving her away and sneaking up to the window staying behind the wall. He risked a peek. The posse had stopped. They were standing about 100 yards from the schoolhouse. The Sheriff in charge was looking right at him. So they knew he was there. But they did not seem willing to get any closer. The Sheriff looked towards the setting sun. He made a decision and gave the signal. All the men turned their horses around and galloped back the way they had come.

“What the hell?” The Outlaw muttered. “What are they up to?”

“They are not up to anything. They are just smarter than you.” The teacher said behind him. “It will be dark in a few moments.”

He looked back at the teacher. She made him uneasy as she looked at him, and he could not tell why. The children had the same look. He shook himself and mentally berated himself. It was just a school teacher and a few kids. Nothing a cold-blooded murderer like him couldn’t handle. “Why would they leave?” He asked himself.

“As I said, they are smarter than you.”

He growled and backhanded the woman. He wasn’t sure what surprised him more. The fact that she did not go down and maintained her calm as she turned her neck back to look at him again, or the fact that his hand hurt like hell. There was a chorus of chairs sliding across the wood floor as all the children stood up in unison. They continued to stare at him. Waiting.

“What the hell?” He backed away pointing his gun at the teacher.

“You should have chosen a different place to hide.” The teacher stated. She looked outside as the final rays of the sun disappeared. She looked at the children then back at the outlaw. “It’s supper time children.”

“Yes, Miss Lilith!” The children grew demonic. Literally. Wings sprouted and fangs and claws appeared.

On the other side of the hill, the posse listened to the gunshots and the terrified screams of the outlaw mixed with inhuman growls and the flapping of wings.

The sheriff nodded, “Well, time to go homeboys. Nothing more for us to do. Problem solved."

The men nodded and together they left the prairie, and Night Prairie Schoolhouse behind.

photo by: Aaron Burden

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