A Look Inside

"Ned," Dan called uneasily, hopping anxiously from one foot to the other as he ran his fingers along the barrel of his gun. I didn't move, refusing to acknowledge my brother. Instead I stared at the crumpled, unmoving body of Sergeant Kennedy.

I had encountered death many times before. I had even killed in the past, but for some strange, unidentifiable reason the Sergeant's killing was affecting me deeply.

"We have to move on," Steve was saying, his tone hurried and urgent, "The police will be here shortly,"

For the first time in hours, I stood from the rough, uneven forest floor and pushed off the tree I had been slumped against. My head spun from the suddenness of the movement, and I grasped a nearby branch in order to remain upright.

"I wonder if he had a wife," I mused softly, my voice raw from lack of use, "Kids?"

"Don't beat yourself up, Ned," Joe argued, his eyes soft with pity. Oh, how I despised pity. It was such a belittling emotion, used as a mask for false comfort and consoling words when one should really be delivered with a firm punch. Preferably to the face.

"I killed him. There ain't nothing in this world that can change that," I spat, overwhelmed with revulsion, "When did I become like this?"

"You ain't like nothing, Ned. You thought Kennedy was going for the gun. You was just trying to protect us," Steve argued, his cheeks turning red with anger. I said nothing, scowling at the trees as the swayed in the wind.

"Look," Dan said firmly, "You made a mistake. Did something you regret. It was wrong, I ain't gonna argue with ya, but if you want live you'll get on that horse right now and ride like Satan himself is on your heels,"

I resisted the urge to groan, torn between feeling grateful that Dan could influence me so easily and upset that Dan could influence me so easily.

"Think of Mama, and little Katie," he implored, motioning frantically at the chestnut mare that stood beside him, pawing absently at the ground, "You'll be of no use to them dead,"

I took a deep breath, glancing back at Sergeant Kennedy's lifeless body one final time.

"Alright," I conceded, swinging up onto the horse, "Let's go,"