Sam woke at dawn, his gut thick with dreadful anxiety. In the foetal position under his sole blanket he gripped his stomach. It felt as though black tar was about to ooze out of him. Fevered dreams had a hold of him throughout the night, flashing images and nonsensical patterns began to fade from his memory. This was not the first time this had happened. Sam hated the feeling, it came from no warning but it was one itself. Sam would die soon, for the fourth time.
Moving from his modest cot he stretched and groaned the night off his shoulders. He dressed in his usual shirt, pants, vest, and boots, put on his hat as he left the house. Sam pondered his looming fate. All three previous deaths had come at varying timescales with different demises. The first time Sam died, he drowned. He was only ten, an orphan boy playing along a dangerous riverbank. One slippery rock and head injury later, he was done for. Two days prior he had the stomach twisting anxiety. Sam endeavoured to contain his day as normal. Farm chores were done first, feeding chickens and tending his garden, a modest plot hosting potatoes and cabbages. Sam had perfectly honed a solidary lifestyle. After that he saw to his pull ferry before any passengers arrived. Sam's life was a simple one. It was the easiest life he had led. He was tall, lean man. Nature had blessed him with a sharp mind. Prominent cheeks bones and cold blue eyes were the dominating features on a long slim face. He lived near a wide slow moving but very powerful river. Despite his previous misfortunes he still wasn't afraid of water.
As the day passed only three passengers came. Two trips were taken, and seventy-five cents made. The first was a woman of wealthy heritage. A fancy dress, bonnet, and parasol of a pale blue, her hair was blonde and she fully pronounced every word. Sam had forgotten her name but he knew why she was crossing. She claimed that she came to see family, and was awfully excited about it. Despite appearances the rich woman was a remarkably uninteresting customer. The only curiosity she garnered within Sam was why she was alone, no one to share her journey with. You could see the underlying fear in her movements and speech, twitching and eyes darting about the place but Sam saw that often, it was nothing new.
The second and last to ride his ferry where two people at once. A gentleman in a fine but worn suit. He carried only a tattered briefcase which sounded like it contained nothing but glass when it moved. The gent had a tired face, as if he was plagued with insomnia. A pair of round eyeglass hung on large ears and a thin nose, his hair hidden under a dusty hat but you could see it was blacked speckled white on the sides. The man had a confident but cautious demeanour with his back straight and eyes spying at every shadow. His travelling companion was a young black woman, she had large eyes and light freckles surrounding them, she carried along a rolling suitcase. She seemed to have a sense of wonderment and excitement about her, smiling and taking in the scenery on the ferry ride. Polite manners and smiles towards Sam at boarding and disembarking. They were the most interesting fare Sam had had in an age. Two seemingly polar opposite personalities travelling together but they did not clash. Sam pondered their relationship; were they relatives, or lovers, simply friends, or work colleagues. It was a fine distraction from the impending doom.
When Sam returned for the evening he did the same as always; take off his hat, take a seat in his favourite armchair, which happened to be his only armchair, drink his homebrewed whiskey, and let his body rest. Pulling the ferry through the vast and powerful river was always hard work and forever will be. Sam enjoyed the strain and effort of it, to fight nature. He became stronger every day, but there was always a fear in the back of his mind. It was fear of the day he'd be weaker as the days passed. As he settled in the chair, bones and wood creaking in a natural sigh of a hard day's work, dread entered his mind. It was after his second death, a torrent of violence seven years after the first, which Sam understood what he was going through. The unforgettable anxiety that woke him up occurred a week before and he was unsure what it was but it felt familiar. It was then when he set about on an unforgiving dark path.
Sam snapped back to reality when he noticed that daylight had left him, only the pale glow of the full moon lingered. He placed the tumbler and bottle back to their resting places, and made for the hearth. Sam was a tall man, reaching over six foot, his hair black and thinning usually covered by his hat unless indoors. To see him dressed one would assume that was slim of frame but he possessed immense strength for someone of his build. Now that the fire had been light he looked to his pocket watched to see it was approaching half eight and almost time for supper. Despite the surrounding area being mostly a rock desert, food was not hard to come by. In the waking hours Sam would check on his regularly maintained traps he had set a few years back. He didn't have a rifle or a bow to hunt with, just an old revolver and twenty-seven bullets sitting on a kitchen shelf. Sam mostly caught rabbits and being close to the river allowed him to grow vegetables, he often made an abundance of stew. Sam made for the kitchen to begin, but there was a knock on the door.
Sam opened the door to find a familiar face with a gun aimed from the hip. Sam reacted fast, stepping to his right as the pistol fired, the bullet grazed his side. In defiance Sam instinctively punched the assailant square in the jaw. He slammed the door shut and bolted for the kitchen just across the room. As the front door closed a hail of gunfire from outside crashed through the wooden walls. Sam made it to the kitchen and retrieved his revolver, loaded it up and aimed back at the front of the house. A brief silence fell then the front door swung open with such force it almost flew off its hinges. On the other side was a large man, he made eye contact with Sam shortly before he was shot in the head by the old revolver. The big fellow fell back out the door and thumped on the ground outside. This was met with another riot of gunfire towards Sam as he scrambled on the floor towards the lone chair in the front room, this was the only time he desired more furniture. His wound racked him with pain as he pressed himself tightly against the chair, awkwardly trying to fit is entire body behind it. He heard a bottle smash and a faint roar; he peaked from cover to see his kitchen now engulfed in flame. His eyes darted to the door to see the gunman from earlier cautious stepping through the threshold, his face lit by the kitchen fire. Another man sped into the room. Sam quickly shot towards hitting him in his left leg. The man went down and fired back, piercing the back of the chair but missing Sam.
Backed into a corner, Sam was trapped. The only other door to the building was in the kitchen, but the entire room was now on fire. Sam's only chance was the window directly behind him. He ran the risk of cutting himself badly on the glass when he went into it and there might be more gunmen on that side of the house. It was his only choice. He crashed through and landed on the ground with minute grace. Lucky not to sustain any cuts and there being no one on this side, Sam took cover by the wall. He heard gruff voice bellow. "He went through the window!" Hearing footsteps charge around the corner by the front, Sam blindly fired from cover as quick as possible. His bullet was met with an angry cry. "Go around the other side!" Shouted a bloodied voice. Sam made a desperate attempt to get towards a group of rocks only twenty feet from the house. There were a couple of caves on this side of the river just north of the house. Sprinting as hard as he could with his left side roaring with pain. Pistols cracked and snarled after him as bullets flew by. He was almost at the cover when two tremendous bolts of pain invaded his body from his left shoulder and lower back.
Ashes danced around the night air, moving to the rhythm of a cool breeze. They all tumbled down to land softly on Sam's face. He lay on hard red dirt, cold and refreshing against his cheek. Tears had streamed towards the ground. He could feel his face tighten as they dried in the heat of the fire. Sam had made a mistake. He was not a meticulous man but he never left anything unfinished. The boy had survived Sam's unrelenting past and sought revenge. He should have died with the rest of them Sam thought. He looked up at his home, built with his own two hands. It wasn't a grand just a simple wooden shack by the river. Now it was set a flame and surrounded by raiders. Sam lay on his right side, bleeding out. The taste of the dirt was sour in his mouth. He had been shot twice in the back trying to escape. A wave of pain engulfed his body with each inhale and exhale. Flames dancing around his home started to blur.
Twenty years ago Sam stood in a damp boathouse on the river. Muggy air filtered through the slants while a heavy mist hugs the slow moving body of water that snakes its way through the town. Sam's feeling to the present and the past were twinned. Guilt married to rage. He couldn't kill the boy whimpering in the corner in the boathouse and he couldn't kill the boy, now a man that was standing in his doorway. Sam tried to run like he did twenty years ago. This time he wasn't successful. 'Good' a chorus of small voices sang in his head. The boy was now a man but Sam recognised those same dark eyes, an infinite pool of sadness. "I've been waiting for this for so long." Whispered the man, tears filling his eyes. "Now I'm gonna tear apart your heart like you did to mine." Sharp knife pressed against Sam's chest. "Thomas, I -." Sam croaked but was interrupted.
"You don't get to say my name." Thomas quietly shouted out of fuming lips as he plunged the knife into Sam's heart.
Benjamin James ©