The bullet had just missed the can as the young boy fell backward. The kickback from the recoil of the Winchester Repeater was just too much for his tiny frame.
"I can't do it!", exclaimed the boy in angry desperation. His tanned face was covered in sweat beads from the hot California sun.
"You almost got it son" says an older gentleman whilst extending his hand to the younger boy. "Just need to work on your trigger squeeze, see?"
The man picks up the rifle from the from the dirt next to the boy and places the butt stock of the weapon in his shoulder pocket. He then takes three deep breaths. In the middle of the third breath, the man squeezes the trigger of the rifle, sheltering the recoil into his own body. Instantly, the can on the fence post falls, as well as that of another can.
"Basic fundamentals of rifle marksmanship son. Your trigger squeeze affects the left and right. "Your breathing controls how high the bullet goes. Its easy son. You just gotta concentrate boy."
"I can't pa! I just can't! It just ain't for me", says the boy as he storms off
"Willy, You-", says the man as he throws his arms in the air.
"Hes got your temper mi amor, you know that", says a darker skinned woman, smiling at the man.
"Yeah, well, of all the things I could've passed down, it just had to be that..." The man sets the rifle down on a table and hugs the woman. Her dark brown skin and long black hair is a stark contrast to his somewhat sun-kissed white skin.
"Just give him some time mi amor, though...I don't see why he needs to learn how to use one of those...things...!"
"Darlin', its just self defense. Its a cold world out there. Boys gotta know how to handle himself is all."
"I know...Its just..."
As the couple is talking, a young girl with jet black hair walks past them and pulls the rifle off the table.
"In my shoulder pocket...control my breathing...trigger squeeze..."
The girl pulls the trigger and is knocked backward into the table from the kick of the rifle. The man pulls himself away from the woman and runs to the aid of the girl.
"Mari! The HELL are you doin'?! I thought I told you to stay away from the Winchester!", Says the man with a certain fury in his gray eyes. The girl picks herself up using the butt stock of the rifle and looks downrange of where she's standing. She then points in the same direction. The man's eyes widen in shock, for the can that had once been there was now gone.
"Got it daddy!", exclaims the girl in an excited glee. The man then grabs the rifle out of the girl's hand.
"Ain't a toy Mari. You know you ain't 'sposed to be touchin' guns period. You coulda hurt somebody."
"But I didn't."
"Admit it daddy! You know I'm a better gunny than Willy. You just don't wanna admit it on the counta imma girl!" The man then frowns and sighs deeply.
"You can't be mad baby. She got that from you as well amor.", says the woman in a matter of fact type of way.
"And she got that mighty stubborn streak from you, Maria."
The woman frowns and slaps the man's cowboy hat off, exposing his wild black hair. Just a few grays pepper his hair, but just a few. The mark of someone who clearly had a stressful waking life. The man then smiles and slaps the woman's butt as she walks away. He then turns back around and looks at the girl. He kneels down on one knee and puts a gloved hand on her shoulder.
"You done good out there little lady. I'm mighty prouda ya, you know that right?"
"I know daddy. I just wanted you to say it!" says the girl with a big smile.
"How old you is now, bout 13?"
"Then you know that in a few years...some boy is gonna come by and try to sweep ya off your feet. He ain't gonna want a woman who can't cook an clean."
"Yeah but he gonna want one who can save his hide in a gunfight!"
"You know what...the man smiles heartily at his daughter with a toothy grin. He stares into her dark brown eyes and rubs his hand in her jet black long hair. I do not even have a retort to that one little miss."
"Just agree papa. You know you want to. I heard the stories bout you and ma..."
"Yeah, those are just that, stories baby girl...", says the man as he looks away from his daughter and sighs. "Tell ya what, go'an get your brother. Imma take y'all down to the ravine to catch dinner."
The girl's eyes light up with happiness, for it was a rare occasion when their father would take them anywhere outside of the compound. Only when he needed an additional hand, and usually it was only to the front gate to bring in the catch from a hard day of hunting.
"OK! Pa!" She says as she takes off past the man. He tries to stand up too fast and gets a cramp.
"Feelin' the pain from getting' old eh, McNiven?", says a voice from behind the man.
"Dang right, Roland."
The other man extends his hand out to help McNiven up and he accepts the offer. The man himself is a rather big black man with a full beard and brown eyes full of life.
"What are you doin' out today? I thought the wife was sick?"
"She is, but a man's gotta eat. I was on my way to the ravine to rustle up some fish when I heard you and yers was goin."
"Yeah, I just feel like takin' the pups out today."
"Oh? Whas the occasion?"
"I dunno. Prolly cause I feel guilty for not ever takin' em out is all."
"Well, da world is crazy. I mean, just look atchall."
"I know Roland. I know."
"I'm just sayin'. You gotta half black son and a half Mexican daughter. And you full white!"
"I am well aware of the politics. Do not forget, my must trusted friend and "brother" is a 'colored' man".
"I was just sayin' if you needed another gun, I'm square to ride out."
"Thanks Roland. The kids would mighty like that a lot", says McNiven as he shakes Roland's hand.
"Reminds me...the little squaw took the 'ol Winchester..."
"Yeah. That ain't even the weird part. She cocked it, aimed it, and shot the damn can to pieces. Her brother can't even hit one."
"She been praticin' or somethin'?", says Roland with a raised eyebrow
"I lock the gun away when they at school. I only bring it out when I'm trainin' the boy. I don't let her get a piece."
"She just might be a natural then bruh..."
McNiven sighs "And that is what worries me Roland. Don't no man want a gunny woman. She don't wanna cook and clean. She wanna be a rider..."
"Well...I can thinka one man who went for a gunny woman..."
"That...that was years ago. Times were different...", says McNiven with a sort of thousand yard stare in his eyes. "'Sides, the only man these days who want a gunny woman are out for no good. I ain't gonna let her fall in that life..."
Roland puts his hand on McNiven's shoulder "Aye, WE won't let her fall into dat life, got me?" McNiven looks Roland in the eyes, solidifying an understanding between the two men. About 5 minutes later, Mari comes running back to her dad with her brother in tow.
"Did you tell your ma where y'alls was goin'?"
"Yes. And she said be safe out there...and catch lots of Tilapia but no catfish."
"Mind your manners kids! Don't y'all see another adult over here? Whatchall say?"
The kids then bow their heads and take off their hats .
"Sorry Mr. Roland for not saying hi".
"Its OK. Lets just catch a buncha fish. Dat'll be good enough!", says Roland with a hearty grin.
Roland walks off toward the gate and Mari follows him, talking about how she shot the can. McNiven hangs back and grabs his son by the collar of his shirt.
"Where you think you goin, boy?"
"To the ravine Pa..."
"Real witty, you are. You know, you were quite rude earlier, stormin' off like you got some authority round here."
"I'm...I'm sorry pa. Its just-"
"You let your emotions control ya boy! You need to control yourself. Just because you can't do somethin' don't mean you give up. What I tell you bout that?"
The boy hangs his head "Quitters are worse than losers."
"Pick ya head up boy, I'm talkin' to ya son! Do you even know WHY I'm teachin' you the way of the gun?". The boy just looks at him with a blank expression.
"You bout to be 15. You gonna start pullin' your weight round here. You gonna start hunting and choppin' wood. You gonna have ta be a man soon. You gonna need to know how to defend you and your sister."
"But...what...about you pa? You gonna be around. Why I gotta do all that if you gon be here?"
McNiven looks his son dead in his eyes "Your Ma and I...we getting' old son. We ain't gonna be able to help you all the time. Everything and everyone on God's green Earth got a expiration date. One day, we ain't gonna be here no more. Its just gonna be you and your sister."
Tears begin to well up in the boy's eyes "I don't...I don't want you to go Pa!"
"William, son, I can't teach you not to be scared. I can only show you how to walk like a man. It don't make no sense why ya sister can out shoot you and she don't even practice. But I promise you one thing boy, I will always be there for you, understand?"
The boy wipes his eyes with his sleeve with a symphony of sniffles accompanying.
"Now stop all that cryin' and whinin'! Get on up there with uncle Roland and Mari."
McNiven stands up and sighs deeply. Its almost over now huh? Lord, just let me live long enough to see my kids grow into great people.
"You comin' or what?!" yells Roland from outside the compound with Mari on his back.
"Yeah! Be right there!", says McNiven as he grabs the Winchester and extra ammo cartridges. He puts his black hat back on and jogs toward the gate.
Meanwhile, in another part of California, there is a grand city called "New Hope". This town was built in the boom of the gold rush, but wasn't yet abandoned. It is what they call a "Train Town", meaning that a train will bring you straight into the heart of the city. On this train, a variety of out of towners eagerly await a life of uncertainty. Some come for the danger, some were simply lured by the promise of finding gold nuggets and becoming rich. Others however, have more lofty goals in mind. One such person happens to be on said train. Once the train stops, the stream pours out of seemingly every orifice the train has to offer. The conductor comes around to the side of the train to signal everyone that is alright for the passengers to disembark. A single man draped in a black overcoat covering his all black suit, steps off the train.
"Welcome to 'New Hope!' I hope fortune shines down on you in all your prospects", says the conductor to the man.
"You got that right", retorts the man as he puts his hat on and walks past the conductor. The conductor's eyes widen as he gets a glimpse of the man's scared face. "Whats the matter? You act like you ain't never seen a burn victim before?"
"I...I...I seen your picture, in the square. You an outlaw, huh Mister?", asks the conductor while reaching for his six shooter holstered at his waist.
"Me, an outlaw? That is such an ugly word. I am not an outlaw." The man walks closer to the conductor and stares him in the eye. I prefer "Soldier of Fortune", says the man as he jams a knife into the neck of the conductor. "See what you made me do? I accidentally slipped and my knife landed in your neck, Mister. I am so sorry. Here, let me help you with that..."
The man pulls the knife out of the conductor's neck and stabs it into his heart. He then grabs the handle of his blade and kicks the conductor away to pull out his blade. After that, he walks over to the wounded conductor and begins to loot his body.
"I'm so glad we are...such good friends now mister. You won't be needing these things where you goin' anyways...". The man pulls out a few dollars worth of cash, a pocket watch, and takes the conductor's six shooter and holster.
"I truly hope fortune shines down on you, friend..."
The conductor's breathing increases rapidly as he gasps for air until a gurgling noise is heard coming from his neck. The conductor then opens his mouth and his blue eyes roll backwards. The man stands up and walks away with his hands in his pockets, even as a crowd gathers to watch what he just did. No one in the crowd has the courage to call for help or move when they look into the man's charred and disfigured face.
The man walks into a big brown building with the words "Tablesalt's II" emblazoned on it in red paint. He pushes his way into the main area of the saloon through the batwing style doors and goes straight to the bar counter.
"Hello Mister, What can I do ya for?"
"Red Eye, friend. And don't skimp on the gunpowder, you hear?
"Your funeral... One 'Red Eye' comin' right up.", says the bartender as he goes to mix the Whiskey, burnt sugar, and gunpowder together. He tries to stop pouring gunpowder but the stranger tells him to keep going. Finally, the bartender slides the glass to the stranger.
"Heads up Mister!"
The man downs the concoction with a straight face and slams the glass on the bar.
"You like it?", asks the bartender in a proud way
"That I do."
"I tend to presoak the chewin' tobaccy. Some say it loses its flavor like that, but I say its better."
"Good shit friend. Can you tell me somethin'?"
"You ever heard of a place called "Freeman's Keep?"
The bartender's expression changes from an amused one, to one of anger.
"Why ya askin', friend?"
"An acquaintance of mine is holed up there, and I need his help for a job."
"Well, unless your friend is a 'N-', Mexican, or 'Savage', he ain't gonna be in them parts."
"Freeman's Keep is a settlement built by 'N-s' for other 'N-s' to make 'N-r' babies with Mexicans and 'Savages' and shit. Ever since that president free them, they think they got rights and shit. So again, I say unless your friend is a-" The bartender is stopped mid sentence when the stranger pulls the six shooter from his waist and points it at the bartender's heart.
"You know what I can't stand, friend? Racist bigots. Do you know what a bigot is?"
The bartender shakes his head quickly, knowing that his life may come to an end soon. "A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance. You my friend, have used the 'N word', and the term 'Savage' one too many times."
"Why do you care? You some kinda 'N-r' lovin' outlaw?", says the bartender noticing that 3 other men have entered the bar. The stranger's expression changes. His eyebrows lower and his calm expression morphs into an even more demonic look because of his disfigurement.
"TAKE IT BACK!"
"Hey fellas, this man loves him some 'N-s'. You heard him? He think they should be equal with us. What y'all think about that?"
"Bullshit!" Says the biggest man of the three. The big man then reaches for his waist as his two companions pull out their rifles. "You only got one. We got three! Now, I think you best leave him 'fore we get real mad, OUTLAW freak!"
"Mind repeating that last thing, friend?", says the stranger in quiet anger
"What? 'OUTLAW FREAK'?", says the big man with a rush of confidence
"Yeah, you should get a look at this beauty's face...", says the Bartender's with a wicked glee.
"All of you are going to die here, and it will be due all to your own ignorant ways. I did not come here to kill anyone, but you have offended me too many times. You make light of my physical ailment, then you use hurtful words."
"OH YEAH!?", yells the second man with a rifle as he cocks it "Why don't you turn around so we can see yer face, ya ugly varmit!
The stranger stands up from the bar and turns around and starts spinning his six shooter around on his index finger.
"You really is one ugly piece of shit!"
The stranger keeps spinning his shooter, then he catches it and aims it behind him and shoots the bartender in the neck. The bartender grabs his neck and the blood squirts out between his fingers. It appears that his Carotid Artery was struck. The stranger then spins and kicks a table at the second man with a rifle. The force of the table hitting him causes his trigger finger to pull the trigger on the rifle. The rifle blows the other man with a rifle's head clear off his shoulder. The stranger then moves in close and stabs the biggest man in the eye and pulls his gun hand up and makes him shoot himself in the other eye. He then pulls the knife out of the other man's eye and stabs the last man in the lung. The man falls down gasping heavily as a loud popping noise arises from his chest.
"I could've killed you as quick as your two amigos here, but I want you to see what hatred breeds. Right now, that popping noise is your lung collapsing. One half of your chest is going to stop rising in unison with the other. Your whole body is going to try to work harder to supply oxygen to your brain. You'll soon go into shock, and then you will die.", says the stranger as he wipes the foreign blood and body matter off of his knife. The wounded man looks up at the stranger.
"What...What...aaaaaarre...you?!", he asks with heavy gasps and deep breathes.
As the stranger begins to walk away, he hears something just behind the bartender. Sounds almost like tapping and shivering. When the stranger walks over to the bartender's body, he sees a closet. He cocks the hammer of his weapon and pulls the door open. And a black woman in chains falls out.
"Please Mister! Please, don't kill me" pleads the woman with tears in her eyes and blood streaming down the left side of her face.
The stranger uncocks his weapon, spins it, and reholsters it. His look changes from anger to contempt as he sees the helpless girl. He then bends down and lifts her face with his fingers.
"What happened to you little lady? Do you have a name?"
The woman looks at him with tears streaming down her face. "Tracy!"
"Ok Tracy, I'll help you, as long as you don't call me an outlaw, mention my face, or try to kill me. Otherwise, I will drop you right where you stand. Is that understood?" Tracy nods in agreement.
"How did you get in here little lady? Is there a key to free you?"
"The...The man! Behind the counta! He gotta key on him! He lock me in chains. He did bad things to me..."
The stranger gets the key from the bartender's pocket and unlocks the chains from the woman. She immediately hugs him, taking him by surprise.
"THANK YOU MISTER! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I OWE YOU MAH LIFE!"
"You're welcome little lady. Lets get you cleaned up first, ok?"
"Yes sir! And I heard that you was lookin' for 'Freeman's Keep'. I was goin' dere, but the man grabbed me-"
"Its ok. We will get there. Lets just get you fixed up first."
Tracy hugs the stranger again. "what yo name is, kind sir?"
Back in 'Freeman's Keep', McNiven gets a strange feeling on the back of his neck, like a chill down his spine.
"Everything alright McNiven?", asks Roland with concern
"Yeah...yeah everythings good. Just ready to get some fish is all..."
"Should'a brought the horses out...", says William in a slightly perturbed way.
"Why waste good 'ol horses when we can walk?", asks Mari
"Yeah, because you been walkin' for this whole way, right", says Roland sarcastically
"Hey you coulda put me down a long time ago mister!", says Mari laughing at the same time
"It ain't like you weigh more than 20lbs soakin' wet with spuds in ya pockets", says McNiven nonchalantly. He then diverts his attention to the small creak flowing to the right of the road they are walking on. "Won't be long now. Prolly bout another five minutes."
As the five minutes passes, they finally come to the larger ravine. The kids' eyes bulge in amazement. Mari jumps off of Roland's back and runs toward the edge of the ravine, just where the water meets land. William runs over and splashes some water in Mari's face. Roland just sets his bag down and laughs. McNiven begins to remove his clothes.
"Whats Pa doin'?", asks William with a confused look, not noticing that Mari has a handful of water ready to splash on him.
"Hes gonna catch fish the old fashioned way...", says Roland.
McNiven uses his knife and whittles a stick to a sharp point. He then runs and jumps in the water with the sharp stick.
"I wanna do that too!", says Mari as she sees her father hop in.
"You can't swim, bucky!", prods William
"Shutup! Neither can you...you packer!"
"Oh yeah...well, I bet you I'ma better shot than you"
"Oh really? Lets go prove it then! I go first!"
McNiven then rises back up with three fish on his stick.
"YOU KNOW, THERE BETTA WAYS TO CATCH FISH!", yells Roland jokingly. McNiven swims back to shore and pulls himself onto dry land.
"The pups don't know nothin' bout that style. But still, I rather use a good 'ol pole", says Roland.
While the two are talking, they don't notice that the kids have made themselves sparse.
"Hey, where's Mari and William?", asks McNiven as he dries his hair off.
"They was right there when you got out the water...", says Roland slightly scared.
"Did they go in the water? You know they can't swim!"
"Naw, they ain't jump in...I woulda heard da splash!"
Then- instantly McNiven's sentence is quickly broken when he sees Mari standing with the Winchester aiming it at William. In that same second, he takes off "MARI!"
"Proper breathing, tuck in my shoulder pocket...trigger squeeze...", She pulls the trigger just she hears her name being called. The recoil of the weapon coupled with the shock of being caught in act, catch her off guard. Instead of the bullet hitting the apple on top of William's head, it grazes the side of his head. Both kids hit the ground at the same time, but William falls backwards into the ravine.
"MARI! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOIN'?! WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER DAMMIT? ANSWER ME!", growls McNiven angrily.
Mari just lies on the ground crying and pointing at the ravine. McNiven snaps to the water and dives in. Swimming downward, he sees William's body floating. He swims to William and begins to swim to the surface of the water. From there, he makes his way back to land and pulls William out and starts to perform CPR on him.
"Daddy, I'm sorry...I got distracted...I'M SORRY I'M...I'M SORRY!", pleads Mari from the sidelines as Roland catches up to them.
"Oh mah God, Oh mah God...Lordy how did dis happen?!", says Roland as he paces back and forth frantically with his hands on his head.
"Breathe Will! COME ON! BREATHE! I'M SORRY WILLIAM!", yells Mari. McNiven pumps Will's chest feverishly. "Come on Son, Yain't...dead yet! I...know you...still got some fight left!"
Eventually will spits out a mouth full of water and coughs hysterically. McNiven grabs his son and pulls him close with a tight hug.
"Oh God Willy! I thought you was gone son. Ya hear me?!"
"I...hear ya pa!", says William as he puts his hand up to the side of his head. Its just bleeding a little bit.
"Let me help you up son".
"I'm ok Pa. Really."
"Yeah. I'm fine...Did Mari get that apple?"
"What apple? Whatchu talkin' bout boy?"
"She...was 'sposed ta hit the apple off my head. I guess I win."
10 minutes later, the walk home is unbearably awkward for the kids as well as Roland. McNiven just trudges with a calm look on his face until they reach the front gate of 'Freeman's Keep'.
"Go tell your ma what you done. Then Mari you come RIGHT BACK HERE. Will! I'll deal with you later."
The look on McNiven's face was a face they had seen a couple times too many before. This was the face of extreme disappointment, but yet it was calm. Almost is if nothing was going on.
McNiven raises his hand "Kids will be kids man. No harm in it. All is forgiven" Roland hangs his head in shame and makes his way towards his home. Mari then slowly walks out from behind a building with her head hanging low and her bottom lip poked out.
"COME HERE LITTLE LADY!",demands a slightly irritated McNiven. He points downward at the cobblestones adorning the path from the house to his current location.
"Yes...sir..", says Mari, realizing just now the severity of her actions. She timidly and slowly walks over to her father's side, slowly beginning to sob. Once she reaches her father, he kneels down on one knee and lifts her face up with his thumb. He then parts her hair to the side, revealing her tear drenched, closed eyes.
"Open em up, little lady."
"I can't daddy. I'm ashamed. I...I know what I did. I'm sorry", she says as she tries to fight back a string of sobs. McNiven sighs and removes his gloves. He then wipes the tears from his daughter's face.
"Fine. Fair enough little lady. I'll bite. You know what you did was wrong, right?"
"I know Daddy. I know. I know-"
"What was you thinkin' Mari?! You coulda killed ya brother! What I tell you bout guns?"
"I-I...I dunno", stammers Mari, tripping over her own words.
"YOU DON'T KNOW?! HOW...". McNiven regains his composure and inhales deeply. He then exhales slowly. "How don't you know? I just warned you before we left. Either ya lyin' or you buckled already under pressure...And I'm guessin' both." Mari then lowers her head in shame.
"Guns kill people little lady. Do you know that? Its a mighty SCARY feelin' havin' a gun pointed atcha..."
"Liar...You...ain't...scareda nothin...", murmurs Mari under her breath.
"WRONG!", Belts McNiven as he grabs his daughter by the shoulders "I'm scareda losin' you and your brother! When you shot ya brother, you don't know what I was thinkin'..."
Mari looks up at her dad with her eyes wide open, tears just begging to be emptied from her eyes.
"You're a good shooter babygirl, but you ain't the best. I don't know whos idea it was to shoot an apple off one a yous' head, and I don't care. When I tell you somethin' I expect you to follow it. There is a reason I tell you not to touch guns. Twice today. TWICE! You know whats about to happen, of that, I am sure."
Mari flinches as McNiven raises his hand, but then he stops and puts his hand oh his waist.
"Crime and punishment little lady. Law and order. I only do this because I love you. Had you behaved like you was 'sposed to, we might be havin' a different conversation...", says McNiven as he stands up and starts to undo his belt buckle.
"Turn around Mari."
Mari reluctantly turns around, compelled only by the fact that her father's belt was deadly accurate. It would never miss its intended target. If she did not turn around, she would have a bruise on her stomach, instead of her rear end. Once she turns around, she bends over, trying to cover most of her bottom with padding from her clothes.
"Nope. Not this time. Move your hands."
Mari looks back at her father with eyes filled with sorrow, hoping to win him over, or at the very least, stall him. McNiven is unfazed though, and after a couple tension filled minutes, he swats at her rear end with the fury of Zeus launching a thunderbolt. Mari shrieks loudly, hoping that the louder screams would attract her mother to stop the assault on her hind region. The second hit is even more terrible than the first, and the subsequent hits that follow. After about 3 minutes, McNiven ends his barrage.
"Now, get on, and go fetch your brother.", says a barely tired McNiven. Mari sobs as she grabs her bottom and rubs it. She sets off in the direction off the house to fetch her brother.
"Law and order. Ironic that, coming from an outlaw such as yourself...", says a gravely voice from behind McNiven. Within an instant, Mcniven reaches for his waist to the holstered six shooter. His eyebrows furrow into an uncharacteristic scowl.
"What business do you got with me, eh mister?"
"It took me 15 years to track you down 'Slayer'. Howdy. Long time no see."
"I'm sorry mister. You seem to have me mistaken for someone else...", says Mcniven as he inches closer to his weapon.
"Whats wrong 'Slayer'? Too chicken-shit to face your former big brother in arms?"
"I only got one brother...and you ain't him. Now I suggest you best be on your way, friend."
"Fine then. I'll play your game 'Slayer'. I will be back tomorrow. And the day after that. And for everyday you do not oblige me, I will kill someone else. Oh and by the way, Ostrich, Skully, French, Nam, and Beast send their regards to that pretty wife of yours..."
McNiven closes his eyes tight and draws his weapon from the holster, cocking it as he turns around quickly. When he opens his eyes though, there is no one there, save for a dead black woman with a slit throat hanging from a stagecoach by her legs, just outside the main gate.