THE OUTSIDER - (CHAPTER FOUR)
SINS OF THE PAST .
Nightmares invariably inhabit the festering minds of men who live by the rules of the gun, and dance to the tune of violence and mayhem. Dance to the tune, hell, more like I wrote the damn music myself. I guess you could call it God's sweet way of pulling on your reigns and reminding you of the blackness inside your filthy heart in case the taste of whiskey has washed away all recollections of your sins. God don't figure too much in the bloody life of a man like me, though it's funny how so many of my targets seek his company or forgiveness at the point of impact when bullet meets flesh and it's time to meet their maker. Expecting the ground to swell up like a cow's belly at the point of birthing, and me to be consumed no less, I always did wonder what they got in return for their prayers and guilt.
For my sins, and God knows there have been too many to recount, the faces of those who have ended their days at the end of my blade, or the impact of my bullet, come back frequently to haunt me. Not just by the darkness of nightfall when eyes succumb to the gravitational allure of slumber, but even in my waking hours as I go about my daily chores. Pained expressions gnawing at what little conscience I ever had, questions on lips and pains so fierce in my head that I think my head might just explode at any moment. Ghosts from my terrible and unforgivable past, a past I thought I put behind me when I said goodbye to Frank Curtis and his never ending bankroll, and settled down to life with Elizabeth and the boys. Years in the wilderness, a black soul so tarnished by evil deeds that I was barely recognisable to myself as I stood before the mirror each morning to tend to my wounds and prepare for the next slaughter. Days in the saddle afford a man the chance to take stock of his years on this precious earth, and me, I've got plenty to consider and feel remorseful about. Do you think the dying breaths of another man as he grabs you tightly, begging your forgiveness at any costs, and the look of emptiness as his heartbeat ceases and he slumps to the ground doesn't take it's toll on your conscience? Well think again.
During the war between the states, I entered the fray as no more'n a kid, just fifteen and full of spunk, waving the Union flag for all I was worth and turning the bitterness of home life to good use in slaughtering the Confederate scum who divided entire families with their notions of breaking away. Days followed nights to an accompaniment of roaring cannon fire that lit the sky with a beauty ill at ease set against the fields that ran deep with rich ruby blood. With every new explosion came death as we waited behind the lines, powerless to answer the anguished calls of our fallen brothers, their cries so pitiful and tragic as they faltered to no more than mere whispers before disappearing on the winds of time. The air was heavy with the stench of death and decay, lifeless corpses littering the ground like stepping stones as we marched onwards. Field doctors struggled to keep a hold on reality whilst knee deep in thick stagnant mud as they tended to the needs of the casualties many fold, patched up like little rag dolls to face the onslaught once again. Fifteen years old facing the deafening roar from the perpetual bombardment, tainted eyes as the tattered remnants of my forgotten youth lay strewn across the battlefields like tiny flowers, trodden into the mud and crushed before they had bloomed. I learnt to come of age amidst the chaos and death, I learnt never to fear death, but embrace it to my bosom, as a wave of hatred and pride heralded my own personal journey from boy to manhood, bloodied and emotionally crippled. When Lee finally surrendered to General Grant in '65, I was nothing more than a highly trained killing machine with no other skills other than butchering fellow men, and not a single notion of what to do with myself. Hailed as a hero and handed all the whiskey I could swallow and whores I could use, I was a kid in a candy store with an audience to hail my do or die war tales and the emptiness of no hope nor prospects filling my horizon.
Nineteen and picking fights in two bit gin houses for no other reason than the thrill of the adrenalin rush, I was a walking corpse waiting to meet my maker, or at least any fella who was quicker on the draw or harder to the punch than me. Fate played a part in things back then and I was soon spotted by Curly McBride, chief henchman for the infamous Frank Curtis. Curtis was a sleazy developer with a taste for the high life and a finger in everybody's pie, who built towns where once the Injuns had roamed, hunting those who refused to the reservation laws like wild prairie dogs and puttin' up wooden shacks that sprawled into entire towns. Every sheriff and deputy was in Curtis' pocket, and with a hungry belly and a thirst for blood, I was an ideal candidate to join his motley crew of sadists and butchers. I didn't go looking for employment, but hell, when the offer of regular killing for big bucks came, I seized the opportunity with both gun hands.
In them good ole days I was an acquaintance of Doc Holiday, an' ole' John Henry taught me the basics of gun control and out thinking your enemy, with the guile of a desert fox, and for my part, I was there to help finish off Johnny Ringo in '82, though the 'Doc' only lasted a few more years of addictions to liquor and Laudanum to ease his awful consumption. It pained me to see a good man go like that. I was thirty six, one of the fastest, meanings sons of bitches around, and looking for employment when Curly McBride offered me up to Curtis, after I'd defended myself legitimately against three mean bastards looking to use me as a moving target for some drunken antics in a rat infested hovel. No case was ever brought against me as the Sheriff of that God forsaken town deemed my actions a personal favour in ridding him of those vermin. McBride got wind of the story and paid me a visit, up close and personal. Made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and the rest was history.
Wa Ka Liva comes to an uneasy halt as we mosie along a dusty trail in the shade of the midday sun. He senses something, I can tell. He nods his head several times and looks East, and I can make out far away in the distance the faint impression of Nine bells church steeple. My next date with destiny beckons, and I'm ready and willing as I tug on the reigns and Wa Ka Liva gallops onwards obediently. I guess my fate was sealed the day I told Frank Curtis that I had a mind to quit his employment as a hired hand. I should have known that nobody walks out on a man like that, with the eyes of a madman and the soul of the devil himself. I remember the colour of his skin and the redness of those eyes, his faced all scrunched up as he screamed that he wasn't done with me yet. I calmly placed my right hand on his hand that held me so firmly, and pulled it away, staring him in the eyes I spoke slowly and honestly in a manner the likes of which nobody had never spoken to him before,
“ This could end real bad for the pair of us Mr Curtis. You know I'm right. I could gut you like a river trout with the cold steel of my blade before your eyes have even recognised the pain of the tearin', and in return any one of your six sharp shooters placed around this here room could pinch off that lucky shot that takes me down before I drill at least a couple of them with lead. I'll be leaving now Mr Curtis, and I thank you most kindly for all you have given me, including the opportunity to save some money so I can retire to a simple homestead of my own with a good woman, and some young'uns " And sure enough an uneasy truce of sorts prevailed as I walked out of that saloon, saddled up my horse and made my way out of town, all the while expecting to hear the shot and feel the searing pain of the fatal bullet through my back, which never came. For the first time in my life, I do believe I may have experienced the shakes as I turned my back on McBride and his boys, Joey Delaney, the Watkins brothers, Henry Steed the hardest son of a whore I ever did meet, and sharpshooter Davey hurst. And you know, looking back on it all, my story an'all that you're now reading, I kinda wish they hadda killed me there'n then and spared a whole heap of wasted blood and innocent loss.
The town of nine bells is now firmly in my sights as I slow Wa Ka Liva down to a slower pace, no sense blundering in like a fool and being taken out by a roof top sharp shooter. Of the five men who I aim to take retribution upon, this one will give me the greatest pleasure apart from Curtis himself. Having despatched the Watkins brothers, here I am just moments from a meeting with Steed and Hurst, and an appointment with retribution and fate. Kinda ironic that the year or more it took me to heal the scars both in my head and heart after the day that fate took revenge upon my family, left for dead and beaten so bad I could barely breathe through busted bones and disfigured flesh, my mind had never been so focussed and clear. Though rehabilitation saw me travelling far away to safer lands where time was on my side and Curtis would never send his men to finish the job they aughta, I always knew that the very goal I trained form would be the one which finally finished me off.
As broken bones healed and the nightmares and liquor abuse gave way to a positivity of thought, I began to retrain old reflexes that I had hoped never to need again in my lifetime other than to beat away the odd cattle thief or defend my Elizabeth's honour against lecherous gun slingers chancing their luck. Once a killer, always a killer, and slowly and surely my eyesight returned, my skills with the blade and bullet running way ahead of the mending bones and plans hatched for a fitting revenge. Living in the mountains, hunting to survive, makes a mans resolve strengthen to the point of invincibility, a king of all he surveys. Grey Wolf's words racing in my mind, a body healed and ready for the task ahead, I rode into the local town, just me an' my horse, and took a job in the saloon bar sweepin' and servin' the rabble that rode by, dodging the drunken fights and earning a living enough for a room to rent and food in my belly. A new face of respectability, all the while plotting my revenge as each new day passed me by. And with time and healin' came the necessary information on those gentlemen to whom a visit would be paid. Grey wolf taught me that in order to win a battle of flesh, first you need to win a battle of mind and body, to be at one with yourself and to harness your anger and aggression as a weapon itself. But for the slightest of limps, my body is healed, and my mind was ready for the fight long ago.
Written January 2nd 2010 Photograph taken at the Hualapai ranch on the west rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA on September 24th 2008
Nikon D300 112mm 1/160s f/6.3 iso200
Nikkor AF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF. UV filter