Waking up that next morning...the daylight just about blinded me as it came blazing through a small tear in my shade. I hadn’t really slept so much as I fought to slow down with the constant tossing and turning the pain in my belly had bouncing around inside of it. Not so much like a knot or a deep wound...but this empty ache that refused to turn loose the heartache I was feeling. Keeping me from forgetting the night before. Pretty as he was...there was a tiny part of me that couldn’t see nothing other than a monster in disguise now. Something that ain’t right. Nothing of this world as I far as I knew it. It seemed awful silly to even hold on to such thoughts, when I knew Colby wouldn’t do anything to hurt me if he could help it.
But that just kept leading me down the path to the real question...
...Could he help it?
The feel of his soft and flawless skin being rubbed up against mine, our lips connected in the most intimate of embraces...I doubt the good Lord above could create a better blessing for anyone who got a chance to be a art of such a sweet and delicate experience. But it had been ruined for me somehow, now that I know what I know. Left wondering if his graceful kiss might be tainted somehow by the leftover tang of blood that he might have been drinking willingly just moments before holding me in his arms the way he done. What then?
My daddy called out for me, telling me to get up so that I could get started on my morning chores for the day...but I hardly felt like I had the energy to do much of anything. My body would wake up, but my feelings were going to feel mighty heavy for a while. I was sure of that.
I washed up in the basin out back, with Daddy already getting a start on breakfast, and Uncle Buster rubbing his face with his hand and his eyes closed. Self nursing his way through another one of his hangovers, no doubt. I don’t know how he can keep going back to drown himself in something that always ends up making him feel so bad in the long run.
Then again...thinking about Colby...I may end up having no cause to talk about it. Because I would certainly go back to him again at some point, if for no other reason than I felt the need to see his face again. Feel his hair. Bring in his scent. He was my magic. Colby was my miracle, made custom...just for me.
“You feelin’ alright this morning, boy?” My daddy asked, wiping his hands off on a dishrag once the stove top started heating up.
“I’m feeling fine.”
“You surely don’t sound too fine to me. You want to sit down and talk it out?”
And say what? What was I really going to tell him when it came to this particular situation. Can’t say that I even know what corners to cut when it comes to trying to explain myself. “No. Not really.” I said quietly, keeping my eyes directed down at the table to keep from giving any more of my true feelings away. “I’ll be alright. Just a bit tired is all.”
At that moment, I heard a bit of a snarl grumbling from the other side of the table, and Daddy and I took notice of the fact that Uncle Buster had dozed off with his head in his hand. Daddy and I shared a slight giggle for a moment, with him saying, “For somebody who loses so much at the gambling tables, I don’t know how that man stays so darned high on the hog all the time.” We didn’t pay him much mind, but my daddy gave me a concerned look before I was able to hide my eyes from him. “You got any plans for today?” He asked.
I shrugged, sadly. “Can’t say. I reckon it depends on what the day brings me.”
“Well...when you finish your chores, how about you make your way outside and get yourself some sunshine. You look like you could use a touch. Besides, ain’t no need to have you moping all around the house like an old dog on his last legs. You hear me?”
“Yes, Daddy...” I said, and I was able to get a decent breakfast in before heading out to tend to things like I was expected to.
My mind was so full...my heart was so empty...it was hard to figure out which one was more of a curse at that moment, so I found myself wandering back and forth between them both. It’s the best I could ask for, I s’pose. But every time I walked past that barrel where I kept the fire lit to call out to Colby, night after night...my spirit seemed to sour itself all over again. What happens if the sun sets over the top of those mountains and I don’t light that fire like I always did before? What kind of evil am I letting into my life if I do? Neither choice seems like a decent one to me. Not a one of them.
When I finished my chores, I adjusted my hat some to keep the glare out of my eyes, wiping my brow on the back of my hand, and I gave that old fire barrel one last look before going back in the house to grab a few things before making my way back into town. I don’t know...I’m thinking a bit of walking might to wonders to clear my head for a little bit so I can think straight. At least, that’s what I was hoping for.
The whole town seemed to be a bit busy today. Busier than normal. And there was so much going on, both to the left and the right of me, that I didn’t even notice Willie walking up behind me to put his hand on my shoulder. His touch caused me to jump, and he wrinkled up his forehead as he tried to figure out what was going on in my head. “What you all skittish for, Deke? You act like you had a rattler nippin’ at your ankles!” He said.
“I ain’t being skittish. Just had a long night last night, that’s all.” I said, brushing his hand off of me.
“A long night, is it?” He smiled wickedly, giving me a wink. “You gonna tell me about it? Or am I gonna have to wander ‘round town looking to see if I can measure the grin on Sarah Cutler’s face?”
“Come on now, Willie. You know it ain’t nothing like that.”
“Well, it oughta be.” He said. “She’s been checking all over for you, the last day or two. You know that, right?”
Already feeling a bit nervous than I probably should have, hearing him say that. “She...she has…?”
“Already asked me two or three times, alone. Who knows how many times she asked some of the other townsfolk. Looking all pretty. Smelling like a fresh bed of roses. I’m telling you, Deke...she’s trying to tug you in. And all you do is run and hide from her. If you’re going to be coy about it all, then the least you could do is maybe put in a word for your best boy so I can see if maybe I can achieve me a ‘dip’ or two. Don’t be selfish.”
“Fine girl like Sarah Cutler would never go for a sidewinder like you.” I teased, nudging him in the side.
“Not with you in the way, she ain’t. That’s for damn sure.” Willie nudged me back for a moment, but both of us fell silent as we happened to see what looked like an entire posse of shadows as they came marching through the center of town. Gideon Priest and his people were about as foreboding as any hungry pack of wild coyotes out there by the edge of forest. “Somethin’ about them fellas just dont rub me right, Deke.”
“Me either.” I told him, watching the men aggressively moving their way into one of the major saloons on the side of the street. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’ve been in trouble enough times in my life to know that pressed look and that determined strut when I see it. Willie probably knows it a hundred times better than I do.
“That big ‘un they brought with them went into that place a little bit earlier on.”
“Buck?” I said.
“Yeah. That’s the one. Built like a bull. Barely looks like he can keep that little hat fixed on the top of his head.” Willie said. “I’ve seen a bunch of angry fellas practically kick the doors wide open as they came spilling out of there most of the morning. If they came to throw down some coin on a card game or two, I reckon they ain’t got luck on their side. Not this morning, anyway.”
As I saw a few of the other townsfolk approaching from around the corner, Willie and I made sure to get a little bit closer to the side of the road. Just in case a few hot heads get to smoking. “I don’t like having them around here, Willie. The sooner I see Priest and his boys kicking up dust over that horizon...the better.”
“I hear ya...” He replied, but then added, “...They’ve gotta get rid of the monster snake first though. Get rid of the monster snake, and hopefully they’ll ride far enough away to stay off of our minds, once and for all. Am I right, Deke?”
It sank my mood right back into the puddle of mud that it was in when I first came walking out this way. The inner conflict. The confusion. Even Gideon Priest’s boys have their reasons for hating what they are. Tucker...Ahote...even my beloved Colby. They lost family and loved ones too. Who wouldn’t go gunning for the creatures that stole your entire life from you in a single evening if you knew where to find them? Would I even have the right to keep them from getting their fair justice?
“Huh…?” I found myself in a fog there for a moment. “Yeah. Sure thing. Of course they’ve got to catch the devil before it can do any more harm to anybody else. That’s what’s right.”
“Damn right.” He said proudly, his eyes still fixed on those saloon doors and trying to hear what might be going on in there.
I thought about it for a few moments, and I asked him, “But...what if it wasn’t like that?”
“Wasn’t like what?” He said, not turning back to look at me.
“What if...what if it wasn’t no monster at all? Or...or maybe it was a nice monster?”
Willie gave me the strangest look. “Well, now, what the hell is a NICE monster?”
“Maybe it was somebody...” I changed up my talk a bit, “...Maybe it was some thing...that didn’t really mean nobody no harm. It ain’t like it was the devil himself. Maybe it was just...trying to survive. Like the rest of us.”
“You’re talking crazy...”
“What about coyotes? Or rattlers? What about the buzzards out over the plains?” I asked, hoping to make a point that I could believe in. One that Willie might accept long enough to keep me from feeling so raw about all this on the inside.
“Had it been either one of those things...I would have hunted them down and killed them just the same. Especially if they had done me wrong.” He said, much to my disappointment. “And you would too. You know you would.” I lowered my head, my eyes staring down at the dirt beneath my feet. “You think there’s such a thing as ‘nice monsters’, Deke? Try telling that to poor ol’ Ms. Samson and the townsfolk that had to bury their kin in the dirt and say goodbye after seeing them all torn up that way.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right...” I mumbled under my breath. I was desperate to find a way to have both my angel and my demon at the same time...but I’m starting to think that it just ain’t possible.
“Aww, I ain’t trying to shame you none, Deke. Just...your daddy did all he could to find the culprit, and he doesn’t know enough about this stuff to figure it all out in time to keep more people from vanishing one night and turning up later with a bunch of holes in them.” Willie said. “If he can’t find the monster that did this...maybe Gideon Priest and his mob of troublemakers can get a hold on it first. Ain’t that what you want?”
I didn’t want to say yes. Didn’t want to say no either. I just wanted to wrap myself up in Colby’s sensual embrace again and feel close to him again. I wanted to be returned to the unfathomable promise of love...like I had never known before. You always think the answer would be easy if anybody ever asked you whether you’d be willing to forsake your soul for the affection of another...but it isn’t. If anything...it’s alluring. The height of temptation. And the more I thought about the idea...the more eager I was to see the sky darken above so I might be forced to finally make a decision that I couldn’t take back, and light that fire outside my home.
If only for one more night...
Before I was able to get enough of my own thoughts together to open up and say something...Willie and I heard a loud ruckus coming from inside that saloon the likes I ain’t never heard before! We both gasped with surprise, listening to the sounds of hollerin’, broken bottles, and tossed furniture...and even then, it was almost drowned out by the panic of the other patrons as they all began to get up and rushing out of them front doors like the entire joint had suddenly been set ablaze! What the heck was going ON in that place???
Willie and I took a few steps closer, making sure to keep our distance by staying on our side of the road, but before we could get close enough to get ourselves a decent peek...some poor fella caught the wrong side of Buck’s knuckles as he pulled back and knocked that son of a bitch clear off his heels!!! He came soaring through them doors like gravity couldn’t grab a hold of him in time to keep him from flying clear over the front porch. Even the HORSES jumped from the impact! Lord BLESS, I ain’t never seen nobody’s face pop open and shower itself down with blood the way I did this fella! He damn near lost one of his boots!
Willie and I cringed, our shoulders all bunched up as we pressed our backs against the wall and looked on as Buck came outside for another shot at him. As if he needed one. He was practically as big as both open doors, the sun casting a shadow over the man laying back in the dirt. It was a surprise to see that he was even alive, much less conscious.
“Say it again, you filthy piece of shit! Gimmee ONE more!” Buck said, his stomach rumbling in his chest like the muffled sounds of a stick of dynamite in an old mine. “Come on, now! I just need to hear it one more time! Say it! Call me a cheat again so I can burn you down right here in front of the whole town! Don’t make me anxious!”
It looked as if he was trying to get his vision straight long enough to reach for his pistol...but he remained laying on his back. I doubt he had been rocked too hard for knees to stop wobbling for the next couple of days at least. But he did what he could to aim his shooter right at Buck in a threatening manner, even if his hands were shaking and his head was swaying back and forth as if his neck was broken. And that was just one punch. ONE! He’d be going to glory right now had he taken a second one. “Ain’t nobody that lucky! You hear? Nobody!” The man said, two of his teeth swinging as they hung on for dear life to his gums in the front.
“So, you’re calling me a cheat then? Do I have that right?” Buck asked, not even phased by the fact that he had a six-shooter pointed directly at him. “I need you to say it out loud, boy. Let’s hear it.”
It was then that a few more cowboys came riding down the road on horseback, seeing their buddy laid out in the dirt. And there’s nothing like a small cavalry to muster your courage up, I suppose, because he struggled to get to his feet and did what he could to wipe the blood off of his face. I heard Willie snicker to himself as that fella’s knees was about to buckle from the shot he took right in the skull. “We ain’t got no place for CHEATS in this town! And that means you!”
At this point, all of Gideon’s posse came walking out of that saloon at once...but he seemed to be holding them back from getting involved. Even Buck, after bearing the offense. Instead...he nodded at his rider friend, Ford...and allowed him to tip the brim of his hat down to step off of the saloon porch and back that other fella up into the middle of the road, ready to face his friends too if they had any call to jump forward.
Something tells me, the few brothers he brought with him into the fight weren’t going to be enough...