Drama Horror Western

This story contains sensitive content

Another clear sky. 

Ezekiel stood on the threshold of the door and he could damn near weep at the sight of it. When he came to this godforsaken land to claim his 160 acres of American Dream, he never imagined the sky would make him cry. But 38 days without rain will do that to a man.

They say desperate times call for desperate measures, and these were as dire as they come. 

 Stepping out onto the dry ground, he reached down and patted the flank of his old bloodhound. 

“Come on Beau.” 

It would kill him to say goodbye to his old buddy. He’d had the thing since it was a puppy, clumsy enough to step on its own hanging ears. He smiled at the memory as he tied a worn rope to the dog’s collar. 

The dog whimpered in answer.

“I’m sorry, Old Friend. But it’s gotta be done. We need rain more than we need an old dog.” The words caught in his throat, and he had to swallow to clear the tears lodged there. He reminded himself it was for the best. If it’s not something you love, it won’t bring the rain. With their supplies low, it was getting hard to feed him, anyway. 


 His hands were sticky and brown with blood by the time he made it back to the homestead. He gripped the leather strap that was Beau’s collar, wallowing in the feel of it. The drying blood made the skin of Ezekiel’s hands feel tight. He'd wanted to wash them—to wash away what he had done. But he dared not waste the water.

His son, John, was already at work in the barn, tending to the chores. Doing his best to forget what he left behind, he watched the boy work. John struggled with the family cow, her hooves digging deep into the parched ground as she refused to leave the barn. A grin crept across Ezekiel's face as he looked on. The boy was cut from sturdy cloth.

Mabel stood at the door of their small cabin, hand shielding the sun from her eyes. Her dress was frayed at the hem, the purple prairie flowers on the fabric long faded. 

Those times are behind us now. For Mabel to have a good life, it was worth it. 

Her face dropped when she finally saw the state of him. “What happened?” 

He stepped closer to his wife and lowered his voice, eyes darting to where their son works near the barn. “I made the offering, Mabel—the sacrifice to the Old Ways they talk about in town.” 

Her eyes fell to the collar in his stained hands. “No.” She covered her mouth, eyes wide. “No, not Beau. Tell me you didn’t.”

“It’s over now. Everything’s gonna be alright.” He reached out to touch her. 

She stepped back, away from his touch. His heart ached at the accusation and pain in her eyes. “How could you be so foolish, Ezekiel?”

“Come on, Mabel. I had to do something.” He rubbed a hand at the back of his neck, flakes of dried blood falling with the movement. “The land’s as dry as a bone—we were at the end of our rope.” 

“We still are. You done nothin’ but bring hell down on our heads, Ezekiel Boone.” Her accent got thicker the angrier she got. “You’re messing with things you don’t understand.”

He said nothing, just wrapped her in his arms. Over her shoulder, he watched through their dust tinted window as dark clouds gathered in the distance. 

She’ll see. In a few months, these hard times will be nothing but memory.


Arms around their youngest child, Ezekiel watched Mabel from the rocking chair. She smiled at them from the cookstove, cheeks flushed with the heat of it. This late in the evening, her hair had long fallen from its ties, her dress crumpled from a day of hard work.

She’s so beautiful. 

It amazed him sometimes how he could love a woman so much after so many years. But his heart still kicked like a horse when she looked at him like that. That little smile that promised mischief. 

“Mabel, darling.” Ezekiel whispered from his place in their old rocking chair, “Go on to bed. We’ll be alright.” He patted the child’s back as she laid half asleep on his chest.

Mabel stopped her work to look his way. “What if she needs me?” 

He smiled. “May, you haven’t nursed her for months. Get some rest. You leave our girl to ol’ dad.” 

She bit at her bottom lip, looking over the house. He knew she was looking for a reason to deny him. Busy work is all it was, anyway. Scrubbing clean floors to still her busy mind. She was always busy, always hard at work. He loved her for it. But she looked over a clean house now.

She sighed, reaching behind to untie her apron. “Oh, alright then.” She hesitated, looking at Ezekiel with a crumpled brow. “You sure?”

“I’m sure‌, woman.” He chuckled. 

She set down her apron with a sigh. “Alright, then.” She bent down to him, one hand leaning on the armrest of the rocking chair. 

He cupped her cheek with his free hand. “I love you, Mabel.” He whispered, and he felt the words tug at his chest. 

“You’re getting soft in your old age.” She laughed, putting a hand on his cheek in return. She rubbed her thumb along wrinkles beside his eyes. “But I love you back.”

He cradled his daughter in the rocking chair, listening to the rustling of Mabel preparing for bed. Waiting for the sounds that would be their saving grace—the rain.

Watching her eyelids grow heavy as the wind whistled under the door, he smiled. “See, baby girl. We got sleeping handled.” He covered her back with his large hand, keeping her warm against the chill that crept in. 

Her eyes fluttered under closed lids. He chuckled.

That didn’t take long at all. 

He moved to stand and lay her down, but found he couldn’t move from the chair. The hair on his arms stood up and he shuddered. He leaned back.

These old bones. I am turning into an old man.

The wind whipped against the windows. He made another effort to stand, cradling his daughter’s weight. His muscles tensed, but he couldn’t budge. Furrowing his brow, he peered down at his legs. An invisible, coiling force climbed upwards, twisting and pressing the fabric of his faded jeans as it went. Gritting his teeth, he pushed against the invisible grip. The pressure intensified, now gripping his thighs, and the gusting wind rattled the door.

Panic crept in, gnawing at the edges of his resolve as the relentless force, like a phantom serpent, snaked its way up his body. A hissing voice clear as any he’d ever heard, whispered:

The price.

With each inch he fought against it, the pressure grew more intense, a painful, suffocating grip. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. As the pressure reached his chest, it was as though the very air around him thickened. Gasping for breath, he struggled. 

His eyes, wide with fear, were the only part of him he could control. Neck stiff, he looked down at his daughter as he felt his own arm begin to tighten around her. He tried to cry out through his clenched jaw, but found his own voice whisper:

The price.

His daughter wriggled under his tightening hold. A tear rolled down his cheek as a whimper escaped her lips. The sounds of the wind rose through the room until they were a thrumming pulse that reverberated in his chest. His face reddened as he struggled to breathe.

Pay the price.

And then it was gone. 

He gasped as air returned to him. Back pressed against the chair, he took heaving, gulping breaths. He stood, turning to look around his small home. There was nothing amiss. His daughter, still in his arms, remained soundly asleep, oblivious to the torment her father endured. He looked down at her peaceful face. Then, holding her to his chest, he wept.


Walking into the morning sun, he rubbed his face with both hands. His muscles lagged from lack of sleep. Small clouds of dust rose with each of his heavy footsteps onto the dry soil. He was too tired to wonder why the rain had not come.  

“Ezekiel!” Mabel's voice sounded from the barn. It was high and urgent, stopping him in his tracks. He looked to his son, who paused with wide eyes. Forgetting his exhaustion, he ran to the barn, John’s footfalls sounding close behind him. He opened the doors to the barn, casting light into the darkness. 

“What is it?” He walked forward in near blindness, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the lack of light. 

Mabel stood against the far wall of the barn, concealed behind the half wall of the cow’s stall. She raised the lantern higher as he entered. “Something’s wrong with the cow.” Eyes glistening, she looked near tears. In all his years with her, he had never seen her cry. 

He groaned, a sense of dread settling over him. We can’t afford for something to be wrong with the cow right now. If we can’t get a calf from her this year…

A sudden, anguished bellowing erupted from the stall, snapping him from his thoughts. He rushed into the stall and his breath seized in his lungs. In the dim light, the poor creature’s face looked gnarled and misshapen. Its fur was shedding bare in places, revealing blackened skin beneath. Spidering veins of black cut through the whites of her eyes. Nausea roiled in Ezekiel’s stomach and he took a step back. 

Mabel whispered, “What could have caused this? Is it some kind of disease?” The cow bellowed again. Its mouth was lined with a thick, oozing foam that looked gray and sickly. 

He shook his head, worry deepening the furrows on his brow. “I don't know.”

But the words from the previous night echoed in his head.

Pay the price.


The storm came that night—fierce and relentless, howling as it shook their small homestead cabin. Ezekiel stepped out into the night with a smile on his face, ready to greet the rain he had wrought.

Our salvation—this rain is going to save us.

Breathing in deep, he held his arms wide and looked to the blackened sky. Confusion gripped him. The clouds were like none he had ever seen before. Roiling, churning waves of black had overtaken the sky, blacker than the darkest night. Lightning the color of blood cracked across the rolling black, lighting everything the deepest red.  

His heart picked up its pace and he let his arms fall to his sides. He shook his head, eyes wide. 

No. This can’t be. 

As he looked up at the sky, wind took what little remained of the topsoil from the scorched earth of his homestead. The storm gathered the soil into a swirling tornado of blood red. Back pressed against his home and hand clutching his chest—he knew. Something had gone horribly wrong.


Ezekiel’s family huddled together in fear, their eyes wide with dread. The tornado tore through the land with a deafening roar, ripping shrubs and plants from their roots, flinging debris into the air, and shrouding everything in an impenetrable veil.

Huddled over Mabel and the children, the door braced against the wind, Ezekiel prayed. But the prayer tasted sour on his tongue. And as his whispered words raised to the heavens, the storm raged harder. A deadly scraping moved slowly from one side of his cabin to the other, and the air felt thick with a fear so heavy he could feel it on his skin. The spheres of light that surrounded their small candles and oil lamps collapsed inward, the darkness swallowing the light. 

The children cried as the pressure of the air around them grew painful. And as the wind pressed in between the planks of the home he built with his own two hands, Ezekiel could swear it whispered to him. 

The price. Pay the price.

The only measure is what you most treasure.


It was midday when the clouds finally broke, and Ezekiel stumbled out of his home to find the rain had not come. 

He walked out to his fields in a haze, the crops crumpled and low to the ground from lack of rain. He bent down, his muscles weak and sore from the hours spent huddled over his children against the winds of the night. He brushed his fingers across the wheat, but it was not the dry brittle stems he expected. The wheat turned to dark wet rot in his hands. Months of decay in a single night.

A scream cut through the air.

He rushed to the barn, searching for the source. The smell of decay nearly pushed him back as he entered. 

“Mabel, are you alright?”

She stood at the entrance to the cow’s stall, the empty milking bucket fallen forgotten at her feet. He put a hand on her shoulder. 

“Mabel?” He pulled her back to look at her.

She whimpered, but looked only straight ahead. He followed her gaze. There in the middle of the stall lay the wet, black carcass of the milk cow. Flesh fell from its skeletal foundation with a nauseating squelch, the sound like rotten fruit yielding to pressure.

The air was thick with the cloying stench of death. It clawed at the back of his throat, demanding attention. The entire grisly scene was punctuated by a writhing, undulating carpet of maggots. They squirmed and danced over each other in a horrifying feast, their tiny bodies glistening in the dim light.

A shiver coursed down his spine, his hands trembling as he clutched at the rough wooden door frame. There, etched deeply into the planks of the barn read:

 Give what you most treasure. 

“Ezekiel.” Mabel whispered, turning to him. “What evil have you brought down on us?”


Hands trembling, he sat on the bed beside his daughter. Unshed tears ached in his throat. His daughter. His perfect Amelia Grace lay shaking on the bed. Mabel knelt beside the bed weeping, her head down and her hands clutching the sweat soaked sheets. 

“We have to pay the price, Ezekiel. Before it’s too late.” She looked up at him, eyes swollen from tears.

Before he could answer, his little Amelia heaved, throwing up thick black bile. Ezekiel watched on, helpless, as Mabel wiped the girl’s face with a cloth, already soaked in black. He shushed her, rubbing her hair with his hand. With a gentle touch, he lifted open the small child’s eyes. Black lines spidered through the whites of her eyes. He let go as if burned. Mabel sobbed, reaching over. 

John stood behind them, wiping his face with the back of his hand. “What can I do?” 

Mabel stood, bringing her son into her arms. “I love you John.” She pulled back from him, looking into his eyes that had turned gray at the edges. 

Ezekiel stood, putting a hand on her shoulder. 

A tear rolled down her cheek. “I am proud of you, son.” She put her trembling hand on his cheek. “Never forget that. I am proud, and you’re everything you’re meant to be.”

The boy nodded, tears flowing freely down his cheeks now. 

“Now you stay with your sister.”

Mabel hugged John once more before turning to Ezekiel. “It has to be tonight.”

He looked down at the woman who had been his everything since he was a boy. “I can’t do it Mabel.”

“You can because you have to.” She cupped his cheek, and gave him the very smirk that made him fall in love with her. “I am proud to have been treasured by you Ezekiel.”


The thunder above them was a grinding roar. He looked to the horizon, where the clouds stretched down to the earth once more. The wind whipped around them, no longer bringing whispers, but a deep, booming voice.

Pay the price.

What you most treasure is the only measure. 

He moved her hair from where the wind blew it into her face. “I don’t know how to live without you, Mabel.” He had to shout above the sound of wind and storm. 

She gripped his arm, pressing her body close to his. “You have to, Ezekiel.” Mabel clung to his arm, her body pressed tightly against his. Her eyes, haunted by fear and sorrow, turned to the horizon, where the gathering clouds seemed to morph into a colossal, horned figure. 

“I can’t,” Ezekiel pleaded, his voice thick with despair. “I won’t.” Desperation etched lines of agony on his face as he pressed his forehead against hers, his trembling hand tenderly cupping her cheek.

“You can do this,” she grabbed his wrist, bringing the blade clutched in his hand to her throat. “I love you, Ezekiel. I always have.”

“I love you, May. I always will.”

With a deafening crack of thunder, Ezekiel pressed the blade into the soft skin of her throat. A rush of blood coated his trembling hands. As he watched the light fade from her once vibrant eyes, the first drops of rain fell. 

The price is paid.


Standing on the threshold, Ezekiel looked up at the sky at the brilliant, hopeful sun.

He heard his son's voice echoing through their fields. “Pa! Come quick!”

Ezekiel’s heart dropped, and he raced through the waist high wheat, his boots splashing through puddles. There, on the freshly cleansed earth, he found John kneeling beside Amelia. Shoes and dress covered in mud, she leaned over a clutch of bright green grass. She turned to him, eyes shining with delight, and held out a small purple prairie flower.

He could damn near weep at the sight of it. 

January 20, 2024 04:39

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Holly Sadowski
18:41 Jan 24, 2024

I absolutely loved this story! You did an amazing job keeping the tension up throughout the story and I felt like I truly understood the characters. I also really appreciate that the gore added to the story instead of just being there for shock value. Bravo!!


Laura Rayne
14:36 Jan 25, 2024

Thank you so much for reading and commenting Holly!


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Terry Jaster
05:25 Jan 30, 2024

There is always a price ro pay. And almost every time it's EVERYTHING you have. Please keep writing


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Adam El Nabli
16:39 Jan 26, 2024

Very attention-grasping prose, Laura! I enjoyed the story and its uncomfortable events. The only note is that maybe some more information on the ineluctable necessity of sacrifice would help the reader better understand the world these characters are in (e.g. what entity are they sacrificing to, where did the characters' spiritual convictions come from, why does sacrificing loved ones work). That said, it was an entertaining and unsettling journey! Congratulations on submitting your first story! Looking forward to more !


Laura Rayne
17:54 Jan 26, 2024

That's and excellent suggestion, Adam. Thank you!


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