AUTHOR's NOTE: This story was an exercise I did for a creative writing assignment that I feel needs the appropriate criticism for me to constructively better my first person narrative, characterization, as well as my western storytelling. I will take any review as such very much to heart and only ask for the critical and the honest. Thank You.

ACT 1

The frontier is a damned place, smelling of abhorred rotten swine with the air tasting of sand and dust. But past these loathsome senses there is something that makes it all worthwhile in some context of the terminology. The tension of death is only the concluding consequence of true freedom, the freedom of civilization and of you. I've never been to what they call civilization; it represents everything about man that confines us to one single shell. A falseness of perfection I detest, but what I detest even more is the lack of freedoms time's confining stone and timber walls. The frontier may have its anarchy, but anarchy is the only true freedom. That is one thing I agree with the gypsies on.

It is the sixth month of the new cycle and I feel my body ache with mystified pains, the only soothing thing comes to me in a moment; the voice of an angelic spirit calling to me?, perhaps the spirit is finally leading me to my salvation or realistically; my damnation. But it all fades before my hand can touch hers. What does it mean? A shiver then crept up my hollow spine and my eyes open alongside my own breath which was heavy and callous. I'm awake now and the harrowing dream still aches in the back of my head like a rusty bullet in my spine. A terrified gasp leaves me, like a child after their first nightmare. I felt my sweat dripping from my head and the pulse in my heart left me in temporary pain. My left hand grips the stone amulet that is strewn around my neck, my grayed blue eyes looking down to the old stone. There was nothing… not a vibration; the stone itself told me nothing which led me to my conclusion that it was just a dream. My eyelids are still heavy, but my body cannot go back to rest. The morning was my dawn for the first time in weeks and it was because of a damned dream. This line of thought amused me as I looked over to the empty bottle of skal that I had been drinking the day prior. I raise my hand to move through my worn blonde hair, the palm of my hand resting on my forehead.

"This is the last time I'm drinking anything from the hands of a gypsy." I say to myself as the skal's alcohol still lingered in my system. It was loud enough to be audible, yet my female companion, Elaine, slept like a rock. I had told her on the previous night to take the bed and I would take the floor without complaint, after all I was more accustomed to floors and cold earth then the comfort within beds. The taste of the liquor was still lingering in my throat like a snake's bitter poison. I moved up as quietly as I could, Elaine needed as much sleep as anybody, though with what she was feeling I wonder how she could. Guessing people wasn't my shtick so I decided to stop such useless pondering as I grabbed my worn hat and placed it on my head, my grayed eyes took a look at it as my hands halted before my face. I don't gawk much, but there's always a time when I come face to face with this old and shot to hellfire hat. Part of me called it my lucky charm; the other part saw it more as an extension of myself. It was just a simple black hide frontiersmen hat with the feather of a phoenix clipped to its brim, if anything it was the blasted feather that made me hold on to the hat.

With the hat firmly on my head, I took a back against the walls to my left. I took another deep breath while I moved my hand to my eyes, wiping the dust and dirt from my eyelids. I didn't dream much, but it certainly never was angelic or spiritual. It was different from this nonsense, at least before I could relish in the anarchy of my dreams. I was no psychologist, but I was pretty certain they were an allegory for how I lived my life. Bah! It doesn't even matter, it's just sleep nonsense. I swiftly swiped a piece of applied tobacco rolls which I had collected in a pack and moved it to my mouth hastily, without manner. After retrieving a match and then lighting it from the flint clip on my belt, I felt some peace of mind when the smoke travelled in me and I could distract myself from that dream for a time.

"Girl, you up?" I spoke outwardly, impatient; though that was more due to my desire, or lack thereof to deal with the spirits or anything related to them. Damn the spirits, I'd say in my head as she rustled to my response, some sort of sound leaving her mouth which was pretty much unrecognizable. Then again, most mumbling was unrecognizable in my experience.

"Ver…Veracruz?" she followed up with her incoherent mumbling with actually speaking my name.

"Yep."

"Fool, did I say I wished a drunk rooster to wake me?"

"Nope." I spoke plainly. This girl sure loved to complain, but it was her coin in my pocket. I removed the tobacco from my mouth for a moment, only to breathe a cloud of smoke into the air above me. I chuckled, I probably shouldn't of.

"Is there something amusing?"

Her voice was increasingly aggressive as she continued to stir herself awake and I probably shouldn't of have been vexing really. It didn't help with what I spoke as reply.

"Well. Your hair looks like an old rag." Honestly, I did not know why the words left my mouth. But she bore daggers into me with her eyes, though it was nothing I hadn't seen nor felt before. I had become distilled to a point where hostility from the other gender was pretty much predicted behavior. The acclaimed Phoenix was a scumbag after all. I pondered what exactly my reputation was at this point; it had been years since I had tried to get a pacing on it. My meaningless mental banter was cut short when she spoke again. I prefer them when they don't speak; really, I never was fond of headaches.

"Maybe I made a mistake hiring you." She had groaned as she began to take to her appearance. Women, right?

"Maybe you did. I'm the best shot in this county, though."

"Your arrogance does you no credit, Veracruz." She told me with emotion of bitter discontent and laced with clear sarcasm.

"I get that a lot."

She didn't reply to me, not in the vocalized sense, but by the way she looked at me I could tell she wanted to say something against my worthless honor code. Not surprising given what I imagined of the environment she was accustomed to. My mind went back to the thought of what she had contracted me for when she had sought me out two days prior. I shifted in my place against the wall, the sound of her voice echoing in my mind from the day when she said she was seeking to punish the men who killed her brother. The details of how they made it as slow and as excruciatingly painful as possible still rang clear in my mind. Jackals, the lot of them and as such they deserved to be put down like the animals they embodied or in the least that's how I felt about them. They might have had families, but nothing breaks an honest man to turn to the behavior of torture; not on a damned banker anyway.

Tracking them down was not going to be a problem when well, it was clear who did it. They lived out of town in an old homestead, which information told us the previous night. Today was going to be the culmination of events, which was certain. Though it did bring to my mind of why this girl did choose pick me over just another hired thug? It wasn't likely these men were anything but cheap run of the mill bandits at best and an entry level bounty hunter could of have easily laid down her personal law. Maybe I had just ran into a stream of conscious luck. But I didn't ever like to assume, but when the hog's hide stunk it was usually rotten. Talk about overthinking a simple job. But something rang at me like a rattlesnake at a rat or a wolf to a deer.

"Are you ready to make them suffer now?" Her voice was like iced poison and she looked it, too. She had slicked, flowing hair of a raven, with eyes of sapphire. Alongside her normally low expressions it was like a combined drink of skal and rattlesnake poison. You knew you were going to die, you couldn't breathe and in the end it had a blissful numbness before you shut your eyes for the last time. I let out a nervous chuckle like it exited me like a rupture in a vein. I spoke before she could call me a coward for being nervous, though it was her who made the emotion poignant.

"Whatever you say, boss." I said the comment plainly, like an obedient hound. It didn't take long for everything to get moving after I said the claim of readiness. I guess it was a fit of impatience with myself at this point. That's when I took flight from the Red Oak Tavern; I had a bounty to upkeep.