To me, there is a very certain appeal that westerns and stories that take place in the rugged old south have. There was a time when slavery and brutality dominated our country. Injustice ran rampant. But men and women didn’t just roll over and think that their government or authorities would take care of it. No, back then justice was dealt out by those strong willed enough to deal it themselves. Bad men didn’t just survive by buying out all their evil deeds. Justice was met at the barrel of a gun, and at times, yes, so was injustice. Man was forced to trust that he was doing the right thing, or completely ignore the fact that he wasn’t.
A murder of crows of innumerable amount circled in the sky above the two wanderers that were left standing beneath them. Two simultaneous cracks erupted from the graveyard below. The first crack was met with telltale crackle of metal hitting stone. The second was met by a meaty snap. One of the men collapsed violently with a cloud of pink mist flaring from his neck followed by a spine chilling choking and gurgling. The other man fell to the ground as well, but his plummet was brought about by relief and exhaustion, not out of defeat. He sat in the dirt and looked upon his rival as the victor. The other man convulsed and seized on the ground with blood damming his throat. He desperately teared his shirt and placed it to his neck, trying to preserve all he had left. The sitting man looked at his hands and held up his revolver. He pulled a bullet from his jacket pocket and loaded it into his gun. He spun the chamber and aimed it at the dying man.
He spun the chamber again and once again aimed the gun at the dying man.
The sitting man let out a bellowing laugh as the dying man’s lungs filled with blood and he began to suffocate. They looked at each other with the purest of hatred.The sort of hatred even the demons of the lost paradise could not muster. The sitting man smiled. Not to himself, but to his defeated foe. He wanted him to choke on his blood. He wanted him to suffer for the remainder of his life, as he would have to when the other finally died.
“Third times the charm?” He said as he gave a lopsided frown at the growing pool of blood around his quarry. He spun the chamber. Bang.
The dying man fell limp. The choking and coughing stopped, but the gurgling did not. The sitting man dropped his gun and let out a sigh that echoed through the graveyard. The crows above didn’t skip a beat, diving to the yard and picking apart the dozens of bodies scattered about. The only survivor of the massacre stood and winced in pain. Blood was seeping through his jacket breast and the gut of his shirt. Lines of deep red crossed across the graveyard. The final fates of a dozen or more men mapped out, with one line leaving the murder. The man shambled through the graves, and stopped at a gravestone falling to his knees.
“Sara Haster.” He read to himself, “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard your name Mom.”
The man sat before the grave, feet away was his brother, and just beyond that the fresh grave of his father.
“I’ve really messed myself up this time haven’t I?” He laughed to himself but it faded quickly as he looked up to the sky and found thin tears joining the blood dripping from his body.
“You always told me that before I die I need to find God…” He winced in pain as thick chunk of clotted blood dislodged itself from the hole in his gut, “But I don’t think your man in the sky wants to be found.”
He looked back at the grave and felt over the etched in name of his long late mother. He then moved his hand across the stone and felt the bullets that found themselves bedded in the marker. Some were mangled beyond reckoning, others were intact and covered in blood, slowed just enough by unfortunate men to be recognized as his bullets.
“You and Dad always told me I was too angry. That the world would have me die angry sooner than it would let me exist happy. I think I have to agree with you two there. I won’t die happy.” He stood up, and blood drained quickly from his chest, lessening the pressure on his lungs. “How is anybody supposed to know what to say to their family’s graves when they’re dying? All I can say to you Mom is that I have changed. Whether you are in heaven or somewhere else, I know you’ve seen the life I have had. I found happiness. But It was taken away from me, and here I am now. I don’t know if I feel better having said that.”
The man sauntered to the next grave.
“I think I made a mess here Sam. This isn’t your kind of thing, I know, but hey… I only got a little hurt…” He looked at the markings of the Grave. There were no bullets, there was only a name. “I would like to say that I should have stayed here with you and Dad. But I’m Glad I didn’t. You may still be alive had I stayed, but I never wanted you to see the man I could be.” The wind around the Man picked up and blew a storm of dust through the yard. “Save your breath Sam. When I finally die, ask Mom’s God if you can come yell at me in Hell. For being an idiot of course. Not sure what the visitation is like there.”
“Maybe they will let me keep my optimism in Hell.”
The man stood up from the grave and gave it a quick wink and continuing over to the unmarked mound of dirt that was a few feet away nestle under a Juniper tree.
“I came back Dad…” The man began sobbing uncontrollably. “I know I never did right by you, but I came back. I did it. I got them, all of them.”
“This world is not fair to those who have earned a peaceful life.” The man was barely able to speak now. Blood began clogging his throat. “But there are those of us who have to make sure some people pay for what they’ve done. We will never see each other again. You… Sam… Mom… You three died good people. That’s why I can’t die here. I was born angry, and I was told that was bad. But I think that was a gift. I never could’ve done this if I had no anger. And since I’m talking to myself now, I quite like being angry. When you learn what happened to me, don’t worry. I plan to die a good man too. I just have somethings to finish.”
The man stood up from the graves and walked over to his gun. He grabbed it and ripped some strips off of another dead man’s shirt. He stuffed the cotton into the bullet holes in his chest and gut and began walking back to town. Coughing and bleeding the whole way, but not dead yet. He would be a good man soon.
1818: Two men, separated by color, but bonded by the wilds of their young country, stood and stared at the fruits of their labors. Before them, danced acres of tall grass, and in a clearing in front of them sat, ever so sturdy, a house. The two men had together raised a small fortune as fur traders in their youth, and together bought a farm that they would make a living and eventual death on. Years passed and the two men turned their sea of grass into an ocean of corn. One night, the cries of two baby boys flowed like currents through their home’s fields. One boy, born as pale as the moon and with hair so golden even the Brothers Grimm could not have imagined it. The other boy, much larger and stronger, and like his father, was as dark as the night and his hair grew to be a lump of charcoal that rested on his scalp. The two boys, like their fathers before them, were bonded as brothers through the wilderness that surrounded their home. In their youthful ignorance, nothing could touch them.
1854: The farm went up in flames as the wells in Texas soon would, decades later. Word had spread that the plantation owners neighboring the boy’s farm were brutal beyond belief to those lives they would deem were theirs to own. As a rumor does, it spread like wildfire to the angry ears in the north that listened, ever so impatiently, for a reason to march south. A militia of abolitionists march into the town one night and scorched the earth in the name of freedom. Yet the only place that burned was the one free place in that county, the boy’s farm. The boy’s, being men at this point, watched their farm burn. Their Families went with it as they stood in agony in the fields, tools in their hands from a late night’s work. The two fled, knowing what could become of them in a state that had grown so hostile. They ended up in Kansas, and did the one thing they knew how. They worked on a new farm, one nothing like home. The deal was struck that their work would only be paid, and that they had seen enough of slavery’s tragedy. But slavery did not escape them, and Kansas would bleed. Clashes broke out on the border of Kansas, and the war would soon begin.
1863: The dark man had become accustomed to bloodied battleground dirt, but he would have never planned to see what he did. Lincoln himself stood upon a podium and gave his address to the masses of people that stood before the masses of corpses. The dark man and his men in arms and color walked pass the speech and continued on to the war they needed to fight. But the war would end that day for the dark man, as all he fought for, died fighting for him. He kneeled there, salt dripping from his lips, over the body of a friend he only ever wanted to die for. He never wanted someone to die for him, but the choice was not his. He placed his hand on the chest of his lost brother, the dead man’s skin paler than snow now, and wept. He reached into his pocket and grabbed some corn kernels. He placed the handful in his friend’s breast pocket and placed a union flag over his head. He lifted the body swearing to bury it with their family.
The Troop marched to the top of the canyon and stopped, exhausted and panting behind their leader.
“We’ll camp here for tonight men. First one to get a fire going will get a bonus added to their pay. Courtesy of The Bana Territorial Company.”
The half starved, half sleeping troop of men began to shuffle about finding wood and pulling out their fire starting kits, desperate for a raise. Three men gathered together at a collection of rocks. They quickly gathered tall grass and strewn about twigs for their fire.
The first man was the company’s quarter master. A tall man, but nothing not easily rivaled. The second was a veteran marksman of the company, know for his aim and perception in the field, though far less so for his brain and wits outside of it. He was a slow man, for lack of a better description. The third and final was a member of the company’s newest recruits. The others knew little about him. They didn’t care much either. All they knew is that he was picked up from a county prison a few states over after he was locked up for stowing away on a freight car on one of the nearby railroads. He had no where else to go in the world, so he joined the company.
The three men set down their muskets next to each other, within arms reach, on a boulder. The second man began digging a pit for the fire, to guard against the wind. He knew that much about building a fire, though never bothered to notice there was no wind. The third man was busy gathering larger sticks and quarreling with other company members over the few logs that they found. The first man pulled out his fire starting kit. Every member of the company had the same kit. A few matches, a stick for either a fire plow or fire drill, and a bit of tinder. The troop had been on their path for over a month now, and every night they had the same task: Build a fire and get a bonus. But now they were out of matches and tinder, and all they had was the stick. The first man was educated, at least more than the others, and he knew the sticks purpose. Many other members of the troop had burned theirs not knowing it’s purpose. When the third man returned he laid out what sticks and logs he found and waited for the first man’s instructions.
“Jim, would you stop digging that damn hole! Even if there was wind, you’ve dug the damn thing too deep.” The first man grunted to the second. “If you had half a brain in there you would have helped Bell with the wood.”
“This is all you’ve taught me about making a fire!” Jim returned.
“That’s because it was windy and we needed a hole for it!”
“Ollie, leave him alone, what else do you expect from him? He’s an oaf.” Bell joined in.
Ollie grunted and continued on with instructions, “Whatever, moving on. Bell split that wood half way and dig a little hole through it. And Jim, take one of the bandages and fray it so it’s like the tinder.”
“Yes sir.” the two replied.
The two got to work as instructed. The others of the troop were doing the same, having some idea within the groups as to how they would make a fire with what they had. The first man, Ollie, took the trough that Bell had made. He place a small bit of the frayed cotton at the hole of the trough and began pushing the stick up and down the trench. Slowly but surely he generated heat, but didn’t move with much urgency. Around them the other groups had seen what he was doing and frantically tried to catch up. They would build half dug out troughs and begin scraping the wood together quickly and vigorously, putting all their strength into it.
“Christ Ollie, could you move a little faster?” Jim blurted out, frustrated with his superiors pacing. “You’re never gonna start a fire at that pace!”
Bell looked at Ollie with the same level of concern, yet saw complete assurance on Ollie’s face. He knew what he was doing. As Jim continued to push him and complain there was a sudden cascade of snaps from the various groups around them.
“Son of a bitch, John, your hand!” Shouted a man in another group.
“There’s a damn stick through my hand Rick!”
Similar distressed shouts popped up around the camp as Ollie smirked and continued to speed up. A small puff of smoke came from the tip of the trio’s stick as Jim and Bell exhaled in relief, then hastily place the cotton near the smoke. The cotton lit up and they tossed the sticks, then logs onto the flame. Ollie sat back and pulled out his knife. A fine blade, stainless steel and well taken care of, with an inch or two of serration at the the base. He grabbed the stick they had started the fire with and placed the serration to the center and looked up at Bell.
“I did.” answered Ollie. “Patience will get you far in life Bell. Everyone knows that. Others seem to think working with a certain level of haste will get you further. I agree with that, a little bit. Other people even say that patience and working quickly will give you all the time you need to get stuff done.” Ollie sat back and laughed to himself, “But in my experience, you don’t need patience or haste. That’s because sabotage will give you all the time in the world.”