He pushed himself up from the floor with his good right arm. The left flopped flaccid and useless against his body. Its was all white heat and pain. The bullet had smashed into his shoulder, spun him and dropped him straight to the floor.
He was aware of the towns people watching, but that didn’t bother him. All he was concerned about right now was the pain. He been shot before. It always hurt like hell but this was different. Something felt wrong in his shoulder.
The man who had shot him stared at him as he rose unsteadily and gracelessly from where he’d landed. There was a look of savage pride in the mans eyes that was really starting to annoy him. The man with the gun had cornered him after the shortest chase, and without so much as a warning fired off the shot that had smashed into his shoulder.
He tasted the dirt from the sidewalk and the familiar taste of iron that meant his blood was filling his mouth. He spat it out.
He felt unsteady, and that annoyed him too. He knew he looked foolish. He looked around at the faces of the people who were now gathering round. He didn’t see any support. He searched the eyes of the men and women and found either fear or the same blood lust that he’d seen in the gun man’s eyes. He started to become afraid.
He didn’t get afraid very often. The last time was when his Pa had whipped him as a boy. After crying to his Mom, who had told him to dry his eyes and get back to his chores in that resigned way she had. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t cry again.
He’d also promised that he would never let a bigger man beat a child, or a smaller man for that matter, if he was ever able to stop it. The times were tough growing up, and he’s gotten into any number of fist fights protecting those he saw as the weak. A woman beaten by her drunk husband one time, a slave owner who had taken the whip to his chattel another.
He’d had his share of beatings by intervening in that way, and been shot for the first time. It seemed worthwhile at the time.
His senses were spinning he realised. His mind racing back into the past. The man who had shot him was almost on top of him, marching toward him with a terrible purpose, his revolver held out in front like the of sword of an avenging angel.
He’d learned about avenging angels from The Preacher. He’d saved The Preacher from a beating one night as he himself had staggered home from a tavern somewhere. He’d been drunk, as had increasingly become his habit.
The Preacher was prone and getting kicked by some cowboy that should have known better. A clout from behind with the barrel of his Colt had rendered the assailant senseless, or at least more senseless, and he’d helped The Preacher to his feet. He’d seen him safely home, and slept his own excesses off in The Preachers barn. The next morning, he’d eaten with the mans family and soon found himself working for his keep.
The Preacher had learned him his letters and reading from all sorts of books in return for what The Preacher had called his good deed. The Preacher called him his good Samaritan. He’d learned that story from him too.
And he’d met Daisy.
He seemed to be leaning at a crazy angle. Sensing that he didn’t pose a danger, the townspeople drew closer, behind the safety of the man with the gun. He tried to take a step forward, but the man with the gun raised his other hand to stop him, he didn’t argue. He bent to pick up his hat and the unconscious act of brushing the street dust from it sent waves of pain surging through his shoulder and arm once more. He felt his awareness ebb and concentrated on staying upright. He knew he was swaying crazily, almost drunkenly.
Life had been good with Daisy, they had laughed a lot. They didn’t have much except the farm The Preacher had given them to start their lives with. He was 17 years old, had a farm and a wife and child. He was a man, just like his Father. It had turned out, a little too much like his Father in the end.
They worked and slept and were happy. They both loved to walk, and they visited The Preacher and his flock every Sunday, the five-mile round trip a pleasure in the Spring and Autumn, but a real test in the searing Summer and brutally cold Winter. His little family stuck together and did everything together. They grew together. Life was tough, but good.
The man with the gun was close now, he was standing right in front of him, and poking a finger into his chest. The man was shouting something, but all he could hear was the roaring of his blood in his ears. The finger poking was really annoying. This whole thing was really annoying. He’d know many people like the man with the gun, and never liked any of them. He’d always been stronger than them. Always been able to make them pay.
Anger started to replace some of the pain and he felt his mind clearing. He’d been drinking, and that’s how this posse had got the drop on him. They’d out numbered him and chased him out of the tavern. They’d cornered him down this dusty alley and as he’d turned to finally face them, the man with the gun had fired.
He remembered the first person he’d killed. That had been a shooting. There seemed to have been a lot of them since, but that first one had never left him. The look in the shopkeepers eyes as he’d realised he was gut shot and going to die. He’d slid miserably to the floor, leaving a streak of his own blood down his bright clean walls as the man who had shot him rifled through his cash box and taken what he’d needed.
He’d simply walked away from the store, jumped on his horse and ridden away. He’d never gone back to the town, or to his farm, but he’d been through a million others since.
Daisy had died the night before he’d killed the store keeper. His daughter the night before that. Consumption had taken them. He’d drunk and drunk but the pain of those deaths never went away. He’d spend most of the last five years drunk. And fighting. And stealing. None of it helped.
He’d initially thought he’d beaten Daisy to death, but he’d convinced himself it was the consumption that had killed her. She’d cried and cried when the girl had died and just wouldn’t stop. For as long as the girl had been ill, he’d been drinking heavily to numb the pain it brought him. His Pa had taught him that. He’d hit Daisy just so that she would just stop crying and give him a chance to think. His Pa had taught him that too. He hit her again, and again.
He remembered how his world seemed to be falling in on him, and everything felt like it was suffocating him.
Daisy had stopped crying after a while and he’d felt a little better. But she didn’t wake up. The consumption had taken her too, it had not been the beating he’d handed her, he was sure.
He’d left her dead body to find whisky. He’d found it in the small town that served as the centre of their little community and from there he’s struck out on his own.
He’d never love anyone again.
After that is was easier to take what he wanted than to work for it. He’d always been strong. Strong enough to protect the weak, and strong enough to turn on them too. His Father had despised weak people, and he’d finally understood why. They would snivel and complain when he wanted their things. A cuff here, or a beating there and he’d gotten what he wanted.
If they had a lot of things, or fought back really hard, he’d usually had to kill them. Usually the gun, but sometimes if he was hiding or needed to stay quiet, he’d use his hunting knife. The one his Pa had given him.
Stores, Farms, Banks. They were all easy targets. He’s rob and move on. He’d find whisky and spend a miserable drunken and ultimately fruitless night looking for someone to fill the hole in him that losing Daisy and his Daughter had made in him. Then he’d get into a fight and move on again.
His mind snapped back to the here and now. The man with the gun had a silver badge and it glinted in the sun as he covered him with his pistol. Its was amazing how big a 45 calibre pistol looked this close up.
His senses were suddenly clear, his arm a throbbing companion that he knew would have to be dealt with later. First he had to deal with what was in front of him.
He opened his mouth to shout at the man with the gun to distract him or at least give him something to think about while he worked out how he could win this fight. But the gun roared once more.
The sound filled his head and drove everything else from his mind. The flash of the powder from the barrel blinded him, and he felt the slug smash through his teeth and into the back of his head.
Then he didn’t feel anything anymore.
A Fictional story by Damian Anthony
© Damian Anthony Jan 2013