Death Comes This Way

Death Comes This Way

Fareheart was different than the others, the many men who came before him. They were nameless, never staying around long enough to be known. Pembrake had seen most of them, watched them come into town, watched as they left with their dreams stuck in their back pockets.

The sight of them as they threw themselves back up on their horses, turned, and spurred their way out of town, leaving a trail of dust behind them, always saddened Pembrake. Pembrake always followed them out of the saloon, curious about their outfits, what kinds of horses they rode, how straight they sat in their saddles as they rode pell-mell out of town. Only a few stood out. But even they left like all the others, in a cloud of dust. Some never left. They were the unlucky ones. The dead ones. But that was always debatable for this life didn’t hold well for the living. Might as well try the other side.

Pembrake would go back and take his place at the long, worn bar, taking in the glances of the other men who stood there. They thought he was a fool for holding out hope that something different would happen.

Charlie Two Guns laughed at him. “Did he wave goodbye on his way out of town?” he asked Pembrake.

Pembrake never answered them, kept to himself, warmed by the whiskey. This band of outlaws had only tolerated him because he kept to himself, never challenged them. One day someone would come along who would. They were thieves and braggarts, sustained only by their numbers, not by their courage.

The town had been forgotten by the rest of the world, a place of despair and sadness, alone in the harshest reaches of a harsh land. On the edge of nowhere.

Cactus Slope was the lead thug. A no-good sombitch who never did a lick of work in his life. Found a livelihood in thievery while he was young and never thought about any other kind of life. It suited his dark heart. Some men are just born bad, that’s all there is to it. They ain’t ever gonna get good.

There was a sheriff. Wasn’t any good at it, at upholding the law. But here there wasn’t any law. It had blown away in the hot desert wind.

Cactus Slope and his band of marauders, when they needed high adventure and silver, raided trains in Mexico. There was never much silver to be had, but what little they took from the hardworking peasants sustained them until the next time. The farmers and peasants never resisted, and the Mexican government was too corrupt to put up much resistance. Even crossing back into New Mexico Territory, they found no resistance. In fact, ever since the Mexican-American War, the scarce law in New Mexico Territory tolerated their raids into Mexico.

There were six of them, give or take. On occasion, they lost one of their members during a raid, but more often the number of men who rode with Cactus Slope diminished by apathy. While they were a boisterous gang, reveling in the spirit of their conquests, they certainly weren’t driven by any standards of loyalty. Treachery was a common thread that ran through the numerous bands of cutthroats. They were bandits for god’s sake, and you couldn’t expect loyalty from cutthroats.

Pembrake had lived through the whole saga of Cactus Slope and his band of ugly marauders. One day, he hoped to witness their final raid, not that he had any loyalty to Mexico, or even to New Mexico Territory, but the band of simple thieves turned his stomach. They existed from fear alone, feeding off the hard-earned pesos of Mexican farmers and peasants. Pembrake couldn’t stomach their greed.


Pembrake turned to the tall stranger next to him, sizing him up. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just like all the rest. The ones who came before him. The ones who mentioned justice but really only worried about their own bellies. Bounty hunters were thicker than the thieves and scoundrels they chased. Pembrake thought of them as buzzards, sitting in the heat of the day on a dead tree limb, puzzling over what might be left after the predators were through. They didn’t prey on the thieves, didn’t have the stomach for that, instead, they sat waiting for a small bit of carrion scattered across the harsh desert after the killers were done. The thieves usually did themselves in by their own voracious greed. Killed each other ‘cause of it. The buzzards waited to collect what was left.

“You here lookin’ to cash in?” Pembrake asked Fareheart.

Fareheart didn’t answer, didn’t even turn to Pembrake.

“Must be,” he said. “What else would ya be doin’ here?”

Their attention was suddenly diverted by a commotion behind them. Snake Eyes and Charlie Two Guns crashed through the swinging doors, carrying Berly Turtleshell, followed by Cactus Slope and Early Finder. They heaved his body onto a tabletop, looking at Cactus Slope for instructions. Cactus Slope, saddlebags slung over his shoulder, had his pistol drawn.

“Ast, get your bag,” he called to the bartender.

Ast Semple was not only the bartender but acted as the town doctor. He didn’t know much about medicine, but he had the medicine bag so everyone relied on him for their doctoring needs.

Ast stared at Cactus Slope.

“Now, goddamit,” Cactus Slope screamed.

Ast fumbled under the bar, keeping his eyes on Cactus. Coming up empty, he ducked under the bar to find his bag, knocking over glasses and bottles as he came out from underneath the bar and rushed over to the table where Berly Turtleshell’s wretched body lay. From the black stain of Berly’s shirt belly, Ast knew there was nothing he could do.

Cactus Slope shoved him closer.

“Go on, do somethin’,” he said.

Ast looked at him. “Whaddya want me to do?”

“Doctor him.”

The black stain and blood stink told Ast there was nothing he could do. He fumbled in his bag and found a pair of scissors, cutting away the black blood-soaked shirt belly. The stink caused him to turn away. His eyes pleaded with Cactus Slope.

“Still breathin’ ain’t he?” Cactus said.

Ast looked around and asked if someone would fetch him some water. No one moved. Ast asked again, turning his attention back to the black stain.

Fareheart stepped away from the bar, and Ast told him there was a bucket out back by the pump. Pembrake watched, thinking that’s the last we’ll see of him. But he was wrong, Fareheart returned and carried the filled bucket over to the table. Ast took the bucket from him and dumped it on Berly’s black stain, revealing a hole he could stick his fist in.

“Ain’t nothin’ I can do, Cactus,” Ast said. “He’s like a gut-stuck frog. Even if I could patch up that hole, cain’t do nothin’ with his insides. All tore up inside.”

Cactus studied the men standing at the bar, not one of them willing to lift a helping hand. “You’re a bunch of yellow-belly lizards, the whole lot of you. Ain’t one of ya worth my spit.”

“You gotta put him out of his misery,” Pembrake said.

“Shoot him like a rabid dog?” Cactus said. “Cain’t do that. Been ridin’ side by side pert-near two years. Cain’t just shoot him.”

“You’d shoot yer broke-leg horse, wouldn’t ya?” Pembrake asked.

“That’s different,” he said.

“How’s it different? He’s yer friend, ain’t he? And he’s sure enough suffering.”

Cactus looked around the saloon, hoping someone would step forward. “What about you?” he asked Fareheart. Fareheart raised both hands. “Ain’t none of my business.”

“Might make it yer bizness,” Cactus said. “Be the right thing to do.”

“Don’t mean to stick my nose into somethin’ ain’t none of my business,” Fareheart said.

Ast leaned over to listen for Berly’s breath, looking up at Cactus, his eyes pleading but saying that Berly still clung to life. Disgusted, Cactus stuck the barrel of his gun against Berly’s temple and pulled the trigger, splattering blood and brain all over Ast’s face and shirtfront.

Ast stepped back. “Whaddya go and do that for?”

“You said ain’t nothin’ could be done for him, would be the humane thing to do,” Cactus said.

“Look at the fuckin’ mess. Blood and brains all over the place. Take me hours to clean up.”

The loud blast had deafened everyone in the room and Fareheart staggered back to the bar.

Cactus told Charlie Two Guns and Snake Eyes to take Berly Turtleshell outside and bury him.

“Where?” Charlie Two Guns asked.

“Where? We rode up from Mexico this morning, didn’t we?” Cactus asked.

“Yeah, we rode all night, got here this morning,” Charlie said.

“Whaddya see?”

“See? Didn’t see much of nothin’,” Charlie Two Guns said.

“Exactly, a whole lotta nothin’. There’s a whole lotta nothin’ out there, s’pose you might find a spot nobody’s occupyin’?”

Charlie Two Guns looked over at Snake Eyes, his eyes pleading for help to carry Berly Turtleshell outside. After they carried Berly’s lifeless body out of the saloon, Cactus Slope walked over to the bar, followed by Early Finder, yelling at Ast to get them something to drink.

“Shit, Cactus, cain’t ya see I’m tryin’ to clean up this mess,” Ast said.

“It’ll wait,” Cactus said.

“And this was a clean shirt,” Ast mumbled as he walked behind the bar. “Just soaked it day afore yesterday in the fish pond.”

“You can soak it agin, soon’s you get me a drink,” Cactus said.

As Ast poured out whiskey for Cactus and Early, he asked, “Hey, where’s Rhys? He quit you?”

“Yeah, he quit us – for good. Went and got himself killed yesterday in that train mess,” Cactus said. “Dammit, I’m down to me and three other men.”

Pembrake leaned over to Fareheart and whispered, “Better watch out, he’ll be askin’ ya to join up with him.”

Fareheart stared down at Pembrake. “I ain’t got no desire to join up with the likes of him. Seems to me it’s a good way to get killed.”

“Got that right,” Pembrake said. “What are ya doin’ here? You say ya ain’t one of them bounty hunters.”

“Did I?” Fareheart said looking down at Pembrake. “Don’t recall saying anythin’ at all.”

“Well, maybe ya didn’t say you weren’t one of ‘em, but ya didn’t say you were either,” Pembrake said.

“You draw a lot of conclusions from nothin’ bein’ said,” Fareheart said. “Peculiar, if you ask me.”

“Well, are ya?”

“A bounty hunter?”

“What else? I’ll be damned if I can figure you out. You say one thing, or don’t say it, which amounts to the same thing, and then you turn right around and say you didn’t say anything at all. I ain’t been havin’ this discussion with myself, have I?”

Fareheart thought about this for a moment before answering. “I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that you have been. Don’t know why you’d want to pull me into it now.”

“Just askin’ a question is all,” Pembrake said. “I’ve seen ‘em come and go for thirteen years, too many to count, not one of ‘em doing what he came here to do. I guess I just supposed you was one of ‘em. What else would ya be doin’ here?”

“Let’s just say I’m passing through,” Fareheart said with a smile.

“Passing through? Passing through this shithole?”

“As I said, I’m just passing through,” Fareheart said. “If I’m traveling from there to there, gotta pass through here.”

Pembrake thought about this a moment before answering. “Guess so, never figured it that way before. Makes sense to me now. Ya gotta pass through here to get there.”

“Exactly,” Fareheart said.

“Where’d ya say you was goin’?” Pembrake asked.

“Didn’t say.”

“Don’t say much, do you?”

“Don’t have a lot to say,” Fareheart said.

Cactus Slope stepped in next to Fareheart, shoving Pembrake aside. “Cactus Slope’s the name,” he said holding out his hand.

Fareheart studied it a minute before shaking it. “Fareheart Whistler,” Fareheart introduced himself.

“What’re ya doin’ in these parts?” Cactus asked.

“Minding my own business,” Fareheart said.

“Just askin’, needn’t get hostile,” Cactus said. “And what might that be?”

Fareheart looked hard at Cactus. “Now if I told you, wouldn’t be minding my own business, would I?”

“Wasn’t wantin’ to intrude in your business, just askin’, that’s all,” Cactus said.

“From what I’ve heard, you do your share of intruding.”

“Who told you that?”

“Just what I heard, no one in particular,  just kind of what I heard in general.”

“Must’ve been this scoundrel,” Cactus said turning to Pembrake.

Pembrake looked up from his drink. “Ain’t said nothin’ to nobody.”

“Hmph,” Cactus said. “That’ll be the day. All you do is talk, all day, sit here and drink whiskey and talk. Would’ve thought you’d run out of anything to talk about by now.”

Cactus turned back to Fareheart. “Anyways, don’t believe a word of what you hear from this sombitch. He’s just flappin’ his lips to rustle up another drink of whiskey.”

Fareheart turned his attention back to his glass of whiskey. He had no desire to carry on a conversation with Cactus Slope. The silence was broken by Charlie Two Guns and Snake Eyes returning from burying Berly Turtleshell. They crowded in next to Cactus Slope, pushing Pembrake further down the bar.

“Ast, how about a whiskey?” Charlie Two Guns asked. Turning to Cactus, he said, “That’s done. Whew, the stink. Gutshot, nasty thing.”

“Weren’t gone long,” Cactus said. “Whaddya do, bury the poor bastard out back?”

“No, we’d took him way out of town, didn’t we Snake Eyes?” Charlie said.

“Sure did, way out of town,” Snake eyes said. “Won’t be no buzzards scratching ‘round here, no sir, won’t see no buzzards ‘round here.”

Cactus turned back to Fareheart. “Any interest in making a little money?”

“Nope, don’t see no future in it. Besides, I got all I need already.”

“How can anybody have all they need? Don’t make sense to me,” Cactus said.

“That’s cuz you’re touched in the head. Ain’t money you’re after, it’s killin’.  I’ve had my fill of it, killin’ and dyin’ and blood.”

“Don’t like killin’ any more than the next fellow, but sometimes it can’t be avoided,” Cactus said.

“You’re wrong there, it can always be avoided. Easiest thing in the world to avoid if you’ve a mind to,” Fareheart said. “And I have a mind to. Done with it.”

“It’s a cruel world out there, kinda hard to avoid killin’ if you don’t wanna get killed yourself.”

“I’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding both. It’s not such a hard thing to do,” Fareheart said.

“What d’ya live on? Can’t just live on dirt and wind,” Cactus said. “Ain’t nuthin’ else out there but dirt and wind, maybe a tumbleweed or two. A man would get pretty hungry on dirt and wind and tumbleweeds.”

“I get by,” Fareheart said.

“I see you’re carrying a gun,” Cactus said looking down at the Fareheart’s gunbelt. “What’s that for if it ain’t for killin’?”

Fareheart didn’t answer him, just looked down at his glass of whiskey.

“Seems to me that a man who carries a gun intends to use it,” Cactus said.

“Don’t intend to use it,” Fareheart said. He stood up straight as if to leave, but Cactus grabbed hold of his arm.

“Listen, I lost a couple of men, wouldn’t be interested in joining up with me, would you?” Cactus asked.

“Nope,” Fareheart said.

“Ain’t the best sort of life, but it can have its benefits,” Cactus said.

Fareheart stared at Cactus Slope, a hard stare that said no, said it real hard, like he was saying it with his gun pointed square in Cactus’s face. Cactus raised his hands in defeat.

“No harm in asking,” Cactus said.

Fareheart turned back to his glass of whiskey.

Cactus turned away from Fareheart toward Charlie Two Guns, needing support more than companionship.

“Listen, Charlie, we’re gonna need more men,” Cactus said. “I’m sick and tired of these little jobs. We need to do something big. Something that we’ll be remembered for. A bank, maybe. Yeah, that’s it, we’ll rob a bank. But we need men. Good men.”

Charlie looked down the length of the bar and then back at Cactus. “What’re ya thinkin’? Where you expect to find good men in here? Or anywhere in a hunert miles of here? This is wasteland, Cactus, nuthin’ but waste here. Hell, what ya got ain’t no good, but where is ya gonna find anything better? Don’t know, Cactus, just don’t know.”

Cactus looked at Charlie, then looked around. “You might be right, Charlie, ain’t a whole lot to pick from. I talked to this ‘un but he’s not interested,” Cactus said indicating Fareheart. Fareheart turned back to Cactus.

“You mentioned a bank,” he said.

“Yeah, tired of hitting trains filled with nuthin’ but down-in-the-mouth farmers,” Cactus said. “Why? Ya interested in a bank?”

“Might interest me a bit, certainly more than a train,” Fareheart said. “Let me think on it.”

From nowhere, Pembrake tugged at Fareheart’s sleeve, and Fareheart turned around. Pembrake motioned for Fareheart to follow him, moving away from the bar and outside.

“You know what yer doin’?” Pembrake asked. “Gettin’ mixed up with them’s a sure way to get yerself kilt. No two ways about it. I seen it ever since they started up. Bad business, Cactus and his gang.”

Fareheart studied Pembrake. “I can handle myself,” he said.

Pembrake didn’t say anything, just stared up at Fareheart. After several minutes, he nodded, and said, “Reckon you can. But that one’s the devil for sure. If he ain’t the devil, sure carries the devil’s brand.”

Fareheart looked over Pembrake’s shoulder and Pembrake turned around to see what it was that had caught Fareheart’s eye. In the glare of the sun, Pembrake could barely make out the figure riding down the rutted road. He turned back to Fareheart. “Do you see what I see?”

Fareheart nodded, continuing to stare into the harsh sunlight, not sure what he was seeing. “Looks like he’s ridin’ a mule.”

“Who you s’pose it is?” Pembrake asked.

“No idea,” Fareheart said and started back to the saloon. Pembrake followed him. Cactus Slope turned to them as they stepped up to the bar.

“Whaddya say? You in?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Still thinkin’ on it. Saw the damnedest thing just now, riding into town. On a mule. Queer lookin’ fellow. Can’t figure it out.”

Cactus looked at Fareheart, curious why he’d be so concerned about some odd duck ridin’ into town. Hell, they was all odd ducks, ever last one of ‘em. Includin’ Fareheart himself. Who was he to judge another duck?

“What ya sayin’?” Cactus asked. “What’s it got to do with anything? We was talkin’ ‘bout banks, hittin’ a bank, real money, silver dollars. I could sure use another man or two. You in?”

Before Fareheart could answer, the stranger stepped between the swinging doors of the saloon, covered in dust, the tall crown of his hat dented on top, a gun in his gunbelt riding high on his hip, another one in a holster slung across his chest, no more than nineteen-years-old, looking as if he’d been riding for days nonstop. Cactus turned toward the stranger, tapping Charlie Two Guns on the arm. The stranger moved slowly toward the bar.

The men stood shoulder to shoulder along the length of the bar, but the stranger squeezed in between Cactus Slope and Charlie Two Guns, who stepped back and grabbed for his pistol. Cactus stepped between the stranger and Charlie Two Guns. “Easy,” Cactus said to Charlie.

“Whaddya mean, easy,” Charlie said. “Who’s he to crowd me out.”

The stranger looked hard at Charlie. “Pardon me, friend, didn’t think you’d take offense. Ain’t much room here.”

“Well, you was wrong, dead wrong. I do take offense.”

“I apologize. What if I buy you a drink, friend,” the stranger said.

“Ain’t no friend of yours,” Charlie said. He stepped from behind Cactus and drew his pistol.

“Whoa, friend, needn’t get carried away,” the stranger said. He stuck out his hand, but Charlie refused to shake it. The stranger stared a hole right through Charlie. He was in a tight spot now, his pistol drawn, glaring back at the stranger. Charlie didn’t know this man, didn’t know his skills, didn’t know his manners. He turned to Cactus, his eyes asking for advice. Cactus eased Charlie’s hand down to his side and stepped between the two men.

The stranger looked at Cactus, and then over his shoulder at Charlie, and then down at the pistol in Charlie’s hand.

“Nice pistol, friend,” the stranger said. “Mind if I take a look?”

Charlie looked at Cactus. Ignoring Charlie, Cactus stepped back to the bar. Unsure of what to do, he held his gun out to the stranger, butt first. The stranger nodded and took the pistol from Charlie. He held it up to the sunlight, looking down the barrel, spinning it around in his hand, and then lowering it, opening the cylinder. Before closing the cylinder, which held only four cartridges, the stranger spun the cylinder so that the next hammer fall would land on an empty chamber.

The stranger made his offer again to buy Charlie a drink. Charlie slipped the pistol back into his holster and squeezed in next to the stranger. The stranger asked Ast for a couple of whiskeys and after they were poured, held up his glass in salute to Charlie. Charlie returned the salute and threw back his whiskey in one gulp, while the stranger sipped his, never taking his eyes off of Charlie.

“Another whiskey for my friend,” the stranger said to Ast. Charlie took the whiskey and once again threw it back in one gulp. “You have a talent for whiskey,” the stranger said looking at Charlie.

Charlie didn’t respond but thought if the stranger continued to buy them, he’d oblige by drinking them. Cactus looked past the stranger at Charlie. It was getting too crowded along the bar and he stepped away and walked down to the end of the bar where Fareheart stood with Pembrake.

“Got crowded all of a sudden, can’t seem to get my breath,” Cactus said. “That one’s a strange bird.”

Fareheart looked over his shoulder at Cactus but didn’t respond.

“Seen a lot of ‘em come and go, but can’t say I ever saw one any more dangerous than that one. He’s got trouble in his heart,” Pembrake said.

Cactus looked back at the stranger, nodding his head. “I’d ask him to join up with us but for some reason, he sets my gut to quivering.”

Turning to Fareheart, he asked, “You made up your mind yet?”

Fareheart took a sip of his whiskey, set it down slowly, and said, “I’m in.”

“Good. We leave day after tomorrow. Ascension is a day’s ride from here, so we’ll camp outside of town and hit the bank the first thing the next morning. We’ll each take a fresh horse. Early will stay with the horses in camp so that once the job is done, we’ll be on fresh horses. Don’t anticipate too much trouble but can’t take chances.”

Fareheart listened intently. “What about inside the bank? Armed guards? Anything we need to be concerned with inside?”

“Sure, there’s one or two guards inside, but we’ll be in before they know what hit ‘em. Charlie and Snake Eyes will take care of the guards, you and me will handle the bank tellers.”

“And we come back here?” Fareheart asked.

“Sure, why not? We’ll divide the money once we get back.”

“What if I want to go a different direction?” Fareheart asked.

“Whaddya want to do that for? We’re safe here. You can get your cut and rest up a day or two. Makes more sense.”

“Have no desire to come back here,” Fareheart said.

“This ain’t no picnic. We ain’t gonna stop to split up the money. We’re all comin’ back here, and if you want your cut, you’ll have to come back here like the rest of us.”

Fareheart stared hard at Cactus. “Have it your way.”

A ruckus had started down the bar where Charlie Two Guns and the stranger stood, Fareheart and Cactus both turning to see what was going on. Charlie had backed away from the bar and stood two feet away, his hand on his pistol handle. The stranger faced him and smiled.

“I don’t know your game, mister, but I’ve had just ‘bout all I’m gonna take,” Charlie said.

The stranger didn’t move, just stood there, staring hard at Charlie. Cactus made his way down the bar where the two men faced each other. “What’s going on?” he asked Charlie.

“He’s pushed me ‘til I cain’t be pushed no further,” Charlie said.

“Take it easy, Charlie, he just don’t know your ways is all,” Cactus said.

Bleary-eyed and staggering, Charlie drew his pistol and pulled the trigger, but as the hammer struck the empty chamber, the stranger drew his pistol and shot him in the chest. Before Cactus realized what had happened, the stranger shot him twice in the chest. Early Finder and Snake Eyes were still struggling with their guns when the stranger shot them. Four men lay dead on the floor.

As the stranger backed slowly away from the bar, he felt the gun barrel pushed in tight against his cheek. He didn’t dare turn around. Fareheart reached around and took the stranger’s pistol from his hand and slipped it into his belt. He then slipped the pistol out of the gunbelt strapped across the stranger’s chest.

“I’ve had just about enough of this killing,” he said. “Just about enough. Can’t seem to get away from it.”

None of the men at the bar moved. Ast stood with his mouth wide open, his hand on the shotgun tucked up underneath the bar.

“You and me are going to back outta here real easy,” Fareheart said. “Don’t matter much to me, I ain’t the one whose life is in danger here. I’m doing this to save your life, which right now don’t seem to have much value.”

The stranger feeling the press of the gun barrel on his cheek nodded slowly. Staring straight into the faces of all the men standing slack-jawed at the bar, the stranger began backing slowly away from the bar, Fareheart holding his pistol barrel tight against his cheek. Once they cleared the double doors of the saloon, Fareheart lowered his pistol, and the stranger turned to look at Fareheart. “Whaddya gonna do now?” the stranger asked.

“I ain’t gonna do nothing. You are gonna get back on your mule and ride out of town. Don’t care where you go, or what happens to you once you’re gone, just want you outta here. Understand?”

The stranger looked hard into Fareheart’s eyes. “This ain’t over between us,” he said.

Fareheart glared back at the stranger. “That’s where you’re wrong. This is over between us. I’ve had enough. When a man gets so filled up that he feels he’s gonna bust wide open, that’s when he knows he can’t take another bite. Not one more. I’ve seen it all my life, killin’ and dyin’ and the smell and stink of blood. Can’t get the taste of blood out of my mouth. Nor the stink of it out of my nose. Easiest thing in the world, killin’ a man. Hardest thing is gettin’ the stink of blood out of your head.

“You’re young, have your whole life ahead of you. Why do you crave it? This killin’? Makes no sense. D’ya think it makes you a man? Makes other men respect you? You’re wrong. Might make some men scared of you, but don’t make ‘em respect you, believe me. Men are scared or they ain’t. Got nothing to do with you holding a gun. Not one thing.”

The stranger turned away, walked to his mule, stepped up into the saddle, looking down at Fareheart. Fareheart stared back at the stranger, waiting for a response he knew wasn’t coming. He’d have been surprised if the stranger had anything to say. What was he going to say? He’s sorry? Nope. He’s gonna change? Nope. Ain’t nothin’ to say, not from this one, not from any of ‘em who like the taste of blood, any of ‘em whose blood boils with killin’. But for Fareheart, he’d had enough.

The stranger reined the mule away from the saloon and trotted down the rutted road back in the direction he’d come. Fareheart felt sick and disgusted. What is it? Why do men need this? This killin? Why?

Fareheart knew it wasn’t over between them. Next time, it might turn out differently. This stranger was no one to mess with. He was young and careless and didn’t care much about life or living. When you meet up with someone who doesn’t care much about living, you’ve met up with the worst kind of animal, an animal without conscience, an animal with fear on its breath. No, this one will be back. Fareheart knew it, yet there was nothing he could do. Absolutely nothing. Death comes this way.


  1. This is an evolutionary tale showing us that even in the midst of evil doers,some form of goodness can be found…a light in the darkness at a fleeting moment in time.
    One moment in time…can change everything! And the possibilities are endless as the author, David Stoner states in his prologue. Life and death can hang on that one moment…and in Truth actually does. Quick choices, or thought out plans that still need quick choices in the end, still have multi-dimensional possibilities. One moment we are here, the next moment we are somewhere else. We are all just passing through…traveling from here to there…or there to there…and as we all know, we have to pass through some very difficult, scary territory that can change our hearts so deeply that our lives are changed forever.
    I tend to believe that most of us are like Fareheart in your story…just trying to get along with everyone, minding our own business. Yet, our lives cannot help but intersect with our own personal worlds as well as the world at large. So much threatens our very existence…we hope to be and to find compassionate, empathetic people along the way.
    Fareheart, (you)… bring hope to your story…in saving the life of the young,careless stranger, who, unfortunately likes the taste of blood, and allowing him to leave alive, the same way he came. Hopefully, deep inside where it really matters, he has learned something important from Fareheart. Hopefully he will overcome his stubbornness and his demons and live a good and decent life. But we will never know that. His demons could end up killing him some dire, desperate moment in time. We can only hope that he remembers the kindness, and fairness of Fareheart in saving his life… and perhaps that will be enough to save him from self destruction someday.
    Fareheart speaks of having had enough of all this killin’, and dyin’ and blood…yet, can’t seem to get away from it.
    It’s true that killing, and dying, and bloodshed will always exist in this world. We can never fully get away from it. It is so prevalent in continuous wars and mass shootings, drug overdoses and suicides, that it now freely lives in our hearts and brains like a parasitic blood sucker. How do we overcome this insidious loss of blood?
    Death comes to us all “like a thief in the night” at some unknown moment in time. And sometimes, somehow, it comes way too early, making its way into our bloodstream and filling our spirit with the darkness of despair, unease, and desperation. When this happens can we ever free ourselves?
    Your story shows us that if we are lucky, we may get a second chance at some moment in time. Hopefully we make the right choice for the good of all, including ourselves.
    Great story, David! Thank you for these deep-dive journeys into living a meaningful life.

    • Thank you so much, Virginia. I am always inspired by your insights and deep reading of my stories, and by the beautiful things you say about them. Writing is solitary, and the writer doesn’t often have the chance to hear from his or her readers, but when he or she does, it is always positive, even if the review is negative. The writer is thankful just to know someone is out there reading his or her work. Writing seems to happen in a vacuum, surrounded by the weird echoes of his or her own mind, his or her own imagination. Thoughts come quickly and as quickly disappear. There is only that split second in time when the writer has any chance at capturing the thought. Even then, what is put on paper is different than the thought. It has changed.

      I wrote a short story once about the “Uncertainty Principle,” in which the main character talks about how a scientist changes the results of an experiment simply by his or her interpretation of the findings. Therefore, an accurate calculation or an accurate interpretation of even the most rigorous experiment is impossible. It has been changed by the process. The same can be true of a thought on paper. It is changed by the process of putting it down on paper. It isn’t the same thought anymore. A writer must accept this and move on. I try to convince myself that the thought as it appears on paper will be interpreted in so many different ways by the reader that it really doesn’t matter what I had originally intended to say. I just need to get something down and trust the reader to find some value in it. You, dear Virginia, find so much value from my stories that my heart and spirit are uplifted. This means so much to me.

      I often think of a painter staring at the canvas, wondering if the painting is done. Maybe just one more stroke of the brush. No, maybe just one more. Art is never done. That is both the beauty and the curse of the creative process. It is never done. Thank God for that, however. Thank God that it is never finished.

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