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Counting the Stars

 
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Glenn Douglas
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:00 am    Post subject: Counting the Stars Reply with quote

Counting the Stars


Where to start?

I was born in this old town called York. It was old even when my folks first arrived. Mother was the daughter of some rancher and Pa’ was a deputy come to town to be its new sheriff. In all we had about twelve buildings and a handful of farms and ranches in the plains west and north. Ours was a little house with two floors and four rooms. My brothers Charlie, James and Frankie shared a room with me while my sisters Jeanine and Marianne had a room to themselves. The third room was for the deputy, a queer fellow by the name of Wyatt. I never liked him, but Pa’ always said he was a good, honest man and that he was like family, so we took to calling him uncle Wyatt.

Pa’s job was mostly just riding through town at night to make sure the saloon down the way wasn’t getting too rowdy. Every now and then a gang might ride through but Pa’, Uncle Wyatt and a handful of other deputies and honorable men would stand out in the middle of the street or on the saloon’s balcony with some repeaters in their hands and that’d scare most men off fast enough. I remember one time I watched through the window of my room when this gang came riding up, led by a fellow named Walder.

This was the first we’d seen of them and he apparently hadn’t heard about the small army of men York had protecting it at the time. It was him and six others that came riding in, shouting and shooting their guns into the sky like a bunch of igits. He rode right up to Pa’ and said he’d be real pleased if we’d give him some money and a few whores for his men to toss around for a night or two, also made a point of saying he’d be inclined to start shooting folks if we didn’t become hospitable.

Pa’ looked him dead in the eyes, lifted his six-shooter and shot his horse out from under him. The beast landed on Walder’s leg and broke it and Pa’ shot him in the arm before the deputies and the men opened fire on the rest of his gang. Three were shot dead but the other three turned tail and ran the moment Walder was down.

After that Pa’ paid the doc to patch Walder up and threw him in jail until some marshals came by to take him somewhere more permanent.

I asked him why he didn’t just shoot Walder dead himself and he never answered.

Pa’ never killed anyone that I ever saw. I think he had some sort of code against it.

I guess we’re different that way.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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Glenn Douglas
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was Mother who got me looking at the stars first. She used to say each star was an angel sent by God to watch over all the good people in the world. I wasn’t so sure about that. I’d seen more bad than good come through York in the few years I’d been able to tell the difference. Hell, I shot a man in the leg at eight when he tried to steal Pa’s horse and another at ten when he came up and hit Pa’ over the back of the head while he was at the saloon. But Mother insisted that angels were watching and that’s why Pa’ would never kill, because only God should be allowed to take a man’s life and the angels made sure he didn’t make that mistake.

I used to count them with Jeanine when she was just a little girl. We’d sit out on the porch at night or lie out in the dust and dead grass of the yard and stare up at the sky. I’d count over and over again but they never ended up the same. Mother said it was because the angels were always too busy to stay in one place. I figured if they were sent to watch us, why didn’t they just sit tight and watch? She didn’t have anything to say to that, just kept on insisting. Jeanine didn’t have any trouble believing her, but she always was a mama’s girl.

I asked Pa’ about it one time and he said he didn’t know if there were angels or not, but that if they were up there he sure as heck hoped they were keeping watch over our family. That was Pa’. A good man, honest to the core about everything that went through his mind. He tried his best to protect and raise us right, he did an alright job with most. Jeanine didn’t have much of a chance; sickness took her when she turned six and James when he was ten. Charlie had himself an accident over at the Larson ranch where he was helping herd some cattle, fell off his horse and cracked his skull on a rock. He was fifteen.

That left Frankie, who was seven years older than me and Marianne, who was three years younger and then me. Frankie grew up big and strong like Pa’, taller than me and most boys his age and stronger, too. He was never terribly bright but was always a good spirited man, Pa’ was proud when he took a badge and became deputy to the sheriff who took over after Pa’ retired. Marianne married the Larson boy and went to live on their ranch, gave him six children. Me? I helped out around the house and the stores and ranches nearby, but mostly I just laid out at night and counted the stars.

I asked Mother once more about the stars when I turned fifteen and she said the angels don’t always protect, but usher us along death so we can greet God and rise up to heaven. She said sometimes they help push us towards our destiny.

I spent more time watching the angels in the sky, waiting for one of them to come tell me what I was meant to do than anything else after that.

My angel never came, though. They were just stars and everyone knows: you can’t count on stars.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 3:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I was old enough Pa’ started to take me around back to shoot at cans like he had Frankie. He’d let me use his gun, it was an old Colt Paterson. At first it was too big for me to hold with one hand, so I’d have to use both. I had a real hard time hitting the cans those first few nights, the gun would almost always fall out of my hands after I shot. Pa’ just laughed, told me to pick it back up and try again. He’d give me tips, show me how to hold my arms out, and then taught me how to aim.

After that it got a little easier, but it was still a chore. When I finally got big enough to hold the gun in one hand I had an easier time of it. Some few months later I was a better shot than most boys my age could ever hope to be, and Pa’ was damn proud. He’d boast to Frankie or the other deputies, he’d let them see me shoot a hat out of the air and one time I even shot a buzzard that was flying over the Cormac lot when we were visiting Old Deke Cormac and his daughter, Deanne. When Frankie got his own gun, a Remington 1875, I’d sometimes take it out back with Pa’s Paterson and see how it went with one in each hand. Just like the first time I started it was slow and clumsy and I missed a lot, especially with the gun in my right hand, seeing’s how I’m left handed and all. But then one day I started making the shots and after that it was history. I asked Pa’ if, when I was old enough, I could have two guns instead of the one. He laughed and asked me what I needed two guns for.

I told him so I could catch more crooks than a man with one could. He laughed again and said he’d think about it.

I remember waking up on my sixteenth birthday to go running down the stairs. Mother was cooking me breakfast and Pa’ sat at our old kitchen table with a cup of coffee. He grinned at me. Whenever Pa’ grinned it was because he had something up his sleeve, planned on surprising me. I grinned back. I knew it was my present. Mother told me to wash my hands and sit down at the table, so I did, and I ate. She always knew how to make the best breakfast in the world.

I grew impatient around noon and asked Pa’ if I was going to get a present. He said we had to wait until Frankie came by. Around three hours later my older brother, who was now twenty-three, walked in and ruffled my hair, laughed at how much smaller than him I was and then wished me a happy birthday. He had a little package under his arms all bundled up in brown paper and said it was for Pa’.

Pa’ came out with a black box and told me to have a seat at the kitchen table. He handed it over and giddy with excitement, I opened it up and beheld the two prettiest pieces of metal I’d ever laid eyes on. The polished wood shone in the light, a brace of yellowed bronze curled over the trigger and up to the solid black gunmetal that formed the rest of the two Colt Dragoons. They were beautiful and I was beside myself.

Frankie handed his package over next and though I was loath to leave the guns be for more than a second, I tore the paper to ribbons and out rolled a belt of oiled leather sporting a pair of holsters just begging to be filled. The belt was lined with bullets ready to be loaded into my new six shooters. I stood and buckled it about my hips, grabbed up my guns and ran out back to go show some cans what for.

Pa’, Frankie, Mother and Marianne all laughed.

That was the last time anybody smiled when I drew a gun.



One of Glenn's Colt Dragoons
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

By the time I was twenty Pa’ had settled into retirement and Frankie was a deputy. Like I said before, my sister had gone off to marry the Carson boy and that just left me in the house. I spent another year there watching and counting the stars but I was growing restless with each passing minute. They kept pointing me west down the road, like there was someplace I needed to go. One night I wrote a letter to Mother and Pa’ explaining that I was off to find my fortune. I said I might not return because this world is a cruel one and it’s particularly harsh to the inexperienced like myself. I said I loved them and that I’d miss them and I’d write whenever possible. I said not to come looking for me, that as long as I kept smart I’d find my way. I had the stars to guide me.

I snuck out and left that letter on my pillow. I had my guns, my coat, and a bag of rations, a bedroll, tent and an old horse that didn’t much like doing anything anymore. Still, I saddled the beast up and I kicked up dust behind me as I fled York. I never did see it again.

I rode west for days on end. It took me going on three weeks to find the next little town. It was a lot like York, looking back on it, but it was new and wondrous to a young man who’d never left home before. It was called Cossol and the most fascinating part about it was the crime. The sheriff was an old man who didn’t give two cents about who stole from who, who shot who, and so on. He just wanted his moonshine and his whores and as long as he had them, the whole town was free to do as it pleased. I made the mistake of assuming he was an honest lawman when I first arrived. A man by the name of Cobb stole my horse and my bag of food at gunpoint and when I told the sheriff he cursed at me and went back to sticking his hand up the skirt of the woman in his lap.

Furious and indignant, I sought to make my own justice. When you aren’t much older than a boy you think you’re invincible. You think you’re right no matter what. You think you can take on the world and that, if someone wrongs you, you can wrong them right back without repercussions. That’s not true and I learned that the hard way when I tracked down Cobb in an old farmhouse about six miles south of Cossol along with a small gang of petty crooks and bandits. I demanded to meet the son of a bitch face to face and I challenged him to a duel.

He laughed, shoved me away and went back inside so I pulled out my gun and I put a bullet in his brain. He wasn’t laughing so hard when he hit the floor, but he did breathe for an awful long time afterwards. I always thought that was a bit queer of him.

His gang didn’t take kindly to me shooting one of their own in the back of the head and before I knew it I was laying face first in the mud with the coppery taste of my own blood on my tongue. I struggled but they hit me over the head with a gun and it all went black after that.

When I woke it was dark and I was naked, tied to a chair. I figured they were gonna beat me some, maybe see if I had any money stashed somewhere, then kill me and leave me out in the desert.

I was in a real tight spot that time.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 8:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Throughout my life I’ve often wondered if I’m all right in the head. I sometimes think I might have been the funny one. I used to make fun of Frankie for being slow minded, dim witted, but maybe I’m just mistaking my smarts for insanity. I wasn’t educated all proper like them boys from the north but I got the feeling that if I was, I’d be running for president or the like by the time I hit twenty. No one cares about a sheriff’s son from York, though. I figured I’d have a better chance making it a rancher or cattleman. I could have done all that in York but something about it just felt forced, each day was a little slower, each night a little colder. When I left that place it was like having the world open to my fingers and off my shoulders. It was the first taste of freedom I ever got.

Ever since then I’ve been addicted.

After the incident with the horse thief in Cossol I decided I’d try my luck even farther west. I managed to get my horse, my guns and my money back and I rode on. I was out of rations for three days before I stumbled on the McLaffery ranch. They had a railway station and it was the first I ever saw of tracks. Duke was the man who owned the ranch, inherited from his father. He was married to some woman from a town up north who I always figured for a whore in a past life. They had a few children, two boys and a girl, plus his younger brothers and her sister. It took some convincing because the missus didn’t like me so much at first, but they let me stay on as a ranch hand. Gave me a warm place to sleep free meals and a bit of money for long, hot days of driving cattle and breaking horses. More often than not, though, I’d clean the pens while the cattle was out to pasture or groom them horses that had already been tamed. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was hard and it made the days go by. More importantly, it kept my mind occupied.

Sometimes I even forgot to count the stars at night, I was so tired.

“What’s your name?” I remember asking the missus’ younger sister.

She said it was Annabelle. I smiled at her but she didn’t smile back.

I hate it when they do that.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It all went wrong at once. I remember laying in my bed at night in a little bungalow I shared with a few other ranch hands. I remember staring out my window at the stars, listening to the wind howling. The windows shook and rattled, the shutters slapped against the panes. A storm was on the horizon and closing in fast, thunder rumbling faintly in the distance. I remember the snores echoing down the hall. I remember the echo of a blast that I mistook for thunder, the flash I thought was lightning. Then there was screaming.

A man came running out of the house across the lane where the McLaffery’s lived. He had a gun in his hand and was dragging a woman out behind him. It was Annabelle. Behind him, Duke stumbled out and clutched his side, blood pouring over his hand. He shot blindly, the bullet impacted into the side of the bungalow. He fell down the stairs. The man turned around and shot him three more times.

I climbed out of bed and strapped my guns around my hips. I tugged my boots on and I said a prayer to the stars. I stepped out into the night where the man dragged Annabelle across the dust toward a horse. I called out to them, but my voice was lost to the wind.

Answer me, I thought in a rage.

I pulled out my gun and I shot him.

I shot him again. And again. And again. First was in the arm, he let go of Annabelle. Second was the shoulder. He dropped his gun. Third was in the leg and he fell to his knees. The fourth went into his skull and he fell face-first into the dirt just as it began to turn to mud, just as the rain started pouring. I walked over the Annabelle, her gown rumpled, her hair messy. She looked up at me breathlessly.

I could see it in her gaze. She wasn’t grateful.

I lifted my gun and squeezed trigger.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I ran as far as possible. When I thought I’d reached the end of the world? I kept running. I had to get away from that ranch, those people, Annabelle and her eyes. Those God damned eyes, brown, listless, untrusting. She looked at me like I was the dark, shameful secret of her family, like I was some bottom feeding trash come to siphon off what I could from her sister’s husband. She looked at me like I was filth, good for nothing.

I showed her.

I finally stopped running in a place called Lofton.

I kept my head down and bought a room at the local inn. I slept the days away and only went out a night for fear that maybe the sheriff would know me for a criminal and bring me to the noose. I’d heard talk at the bar, they liked hanging scum like me, murderers. Liked parading them through town, walking them up to the gallows and tying the noose around their necks. They liked to cheer as the rope tightened and the dying men kicked and flailed and the life faded away. Well, I certainly didn’t want any of that. So I kept to myself for a few days, buying some supplies, getting a little rest and some decent food while avoiding the station like the plague. I was at the bar when he first approached me. A tall man, only, something was off about him.

He smelled like a dog for one. Had a bit too much hair on his arms and face. He looked normal enough otherwise, but there was something bestial in his eyes. Something sinister. I didn’t like the air around him, I didn’t like the sound of his voice, but he had a gun and I wasn’t looking to start a shootout, so I listened.

In hindsight, would have been better if I had just killed him on the spot instead.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

He introduced himself Thomas and said that some friends of his were looking for a few extra hands for some work. Wouldn’t tell me what kind at first, just said I looked like the sort of man they’d need. Gave me a location, a little ranch house just outside of town and tossed a fat stack of money on the table in front of me. Said it was an incentive, just a little piece of what I could be making if I decided to take him up on the offer. I didn’t say anything back, just watched as he turned and he left me there to my thoughts.

A smart man would have taken that money and left town.

Instead, I pocketed it, paid for my drink and I saddled up my stolen horse and I just out of town to the little house where we were supposed to be meeting. I wasn’t the only one. About halfway there I saw six other riders, all gruff, grizzled men with scars on their faces and hands that told stories. They looked at me and I realized how green I really was when amidst such terrible company. What had I done? Shot a man in the back, shot a helpless woman? I wasn’t half the bad man I thought I was, but I didn’t let them know that.

Thomas was waiting for us out front. Standing on the porch with a repeater resting against his shoulder. He had a cigarette in his hand and flicked it away when we all rode up, told us to hitch our horses and come on inside for a meeting with the boss.

The boss.

The thought of meeting someone who was in charge of a man like Thomas made my stomach churn, but I was already in too deep. So, I hitched my stolen horse and I climbed the creaking steps of the porch and I walked through the door that Thomas held open for me.

It was like walking into Hell.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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Glenn Douglas
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Grady was a tall man. His hair was brown and shaggy. His eyes were peculiar in that they were yellow. His skin clung just a little too tightly to his bones and his teeth were a little sharper than most men’s. He had long fingers, too and they reminded me more of spider’s legs than anything belonging on a human hand. I even remember what he was wearing. He wore a black overcoat and some black gloves. Wore some old jeans and a pair of boots, a belt that held a Scholfield and a bandolier of bullets across his chest. In a strap thrown over his back he had a Winchester repeater and he wore an eyepatch over his left eye. His hat was old and black and had seen better days.

He smelled like a wet dog.

When he spoke it made my blood turn cold and my bones ache like the winter wind. I didn’t like the look of him. I didn’t like being in the same room as him. Something about him just said he was bad news and for someone in as much trouble as I, bad news was the last thing I needed. I was afraid, too. Afraid to say anything, to back out. It was too late. He shook my hand and it felt like I had just sold my soul to the Devil.

We went out front again, me, this devil named Grady and the other hired guns. We mounted up and we went riding east. There was a farm out there, I was told. A farm full of men who owed Grady’s friends some money. A farm full of men who’d shot one of Grady’s associates. A farm full of men with guns who needed to learn their place in the world.

I figured I could shoot armed men. That wasn’t as bad as a defenseless woman. Figured I’d feel a little better with some more blood on my hands. Hoped I’d get used to it.

Well, I got my fill of it that night.

We rode up on the farm when it was dark and the clouds overhead blocked most of the moon. Its windows shone orange like a dozen Jack O’Lanterns in the dark and I saw the silhouettes of men walking back and forth through the main house. There was a barn to the left and Grady had me and another fellow open it up. There wasn’t much inside, an old plow and some bales of hay. I turned and me and the big man went back to Grady and he looked at me long and hard and then he told me that him and I would be sneaking through the cellar around back.

I didn’t want to be alone with this man who looked like he came straight from Hell. But what choice did I have? I’d already sold my soul.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2012 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Grady broke the lock on the cellar with a few whacks from his gun and then we went climbing down into the dark. I could barely see the ground in front of me, but Grady seemed to know where he was going. He walked ahead of me, that Scholfield in his hand. We went up the steps and he crept out into one of the rooms of the house, it was big and empty. There were windows behind us but they were boarded up. The rancher and his men had been expecting us. Grady smiled at me and then he kicked one of the doors open and that’s when all hell broke loose.

To this day I”ve never seen as much blood as I did that night.

Took less than ten minutes to shoot most of the men dead. The rancher’s knee was blown out and him along with his sons, his wife and the one daughter who hadn’t been dragged off as a reward for the men were dragged off to the old barn. A few of the hands who hadn’t been killed were taken in as well. Grady had us bring the hay and spread it out, then gave me and two other men a bottle stuffed with a rag and said to light it up.

I looked at him like he was crazy. He was. He laughed at me and then he pulled out his gun again and said I could do what he said or I could join them. I lit the rag and I stared at him for a moment, then I stepped back and got ready to throw. I thought about it. There was no getting out of this without becoming a monster like Grady, I knew. And I wasn’t sure if I was ready for something like that. I figured I had this one chance to make up for it in some small way. So I took it.

I kicked grady in the back and he fell forward through the open doors. I shot him three times in the back with one of my Dragoons and then I threw the bottle at his back. It exploded and fire spread everywhere, catching on his clothes, his hat, the hay around him and the old wooden doors. I slammed the doors shut as fast as I could while he writhed and screamed in fury and when they were shut I dragged the two-by-four we were gonna use to lock the people in and I barred the door shut. I stepped back and turned around and the other men looked at me with uncertainty, guns and bottles in their hands. I pulled out the other Dragoon and I told them to light it up.

They did.

We watched the fire as it grew higher. Listened to the screams of the people inside and I think a part of me finally died when I heard them. I realized all the stories I’d read as a boy about the honorable outlaw were myth and that they were just monsters and criminals and now I was one of them. I hoped Grady’s life would ease my soul some.

That’s when the doors started rumbling and banging and that’s when they flew open.

Grady stood there looking exactly like devil I thought he was. His skin all charred and burnt, it snarled every time he walked forward and he stared right at me.

The other men started to turn and run away. He had his gun and shot one of them in the back, then dropped it and he ran at me.
I shot him twice in the chest and he just kept coming.
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I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2012 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I stepped back and I shot him again. I shot him again and again but he wasn’t buying it, like my guns didn’t have enough conviction to bring him down. He was running faster than any man I’d ever seen and before I knew what hit me, I was on the ground. It was like being smacked in the face by a ton of bricks, my whole world dimmed and I couldn’t think straight. He started punching at me, he started clawing with those nasty fingers of his and my skin was like paper. I was bleeding, bruised, I was dying.

I thrashed and I hit back but he was so much stronger than me. He didn’t feel a single one, I think, and it wasn’t until I shot him in the knee with my gun that I managed to get out from under him. He scrambled away and he grabbed my leg and dragged me right back. It was like fighting with an animal. It was all out, his teeth bared, eyes flashing. There was blood everywhere and most of it was mine. I shot again and then I was out of bullets.

I tried to crawl away and that’s when he dragged me back down and that’s when I felt the sharp bite of his teeth in my arm. I looked down, wide eyed and there he was, jaw clenching. I couldn’t feel much else aside from that blinding pain and when I tried to pull free it just tore my arm more. So I kicked him hard as I could, kicked him right in the gut and knocked him back just far enough to scramble with a bullet in my belt, load it into my Dragoon, and aim at him.

I fired. Hit him right between the eyes.

He stopped moving. Just looked at me until the light faded away.

I had to struggle to stand. When I was finally up all the men stepped away from me, looking at me like I was some kind of ghost. I barely made it back to my horse and to this day, I’m not sure how I managed to mount up. But I made it out of there in one piece, at least.

Guess I was lucky.
_________________
I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong.
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