By Mark Cunningham
We found them as night fell. After tracking the sun in their trail all morning and losing them in the afternoon, we found them again as the last streaks of sunlight smudged to gray and the moon struck from soft silver to glowing gold, floating round and full against a black wall spattered with stars. They set up camp just inside the canyon as we looked down at them from the cliffs above.
Jordy wanted to go right in. They probably had his wife Molly. She was prettier than my Bess the truth be told; pretty enough that we hadn’t found her body with the others. They only took the pretty ones, the rest they just cut on and left to bleed. They hadn’t taken Bess, so we had taken the time to bury her with the others before saddling up. I had seen what the time it took had cost Jordy.
“We need to go in now.” Jordy’s eyes burned out of his head beneath the shivering stars.
“Dying won’t get her back.” Carson said, looking down through binoculars he had taken off a savaged Blackstripe.
Carson was right. There at least two dozen of them for the six of us, but Jordy argued it for a while longer.
Laughter and the sound of gunfire drifted up from below, bending the night’s cold silence. We heard the first screams later. They were hard to hear beneath the laughter, but I heard them. I knew Jordy did too. They were young, he and Molly. They had just tied up and were still fresh in love from courting. I heard that laughter burning hot in his eyes.
“Now.” That might have been Martin Glassing. He owned the sawmill, or had before it burnt. He had a pretty young wife named Esther and a little boy. We hadn’t found either of them and sometimes they kept the boys for working. Sometimes they kept the boys and sometimes they kept the pretty girls. My Laura had been pretty. She had all the best parts of Bess. She had been too young though. I buried her with Bess. We didn’t have time to dig the extra grave. Sometimes she had cried at night so I’m glad she is lying with her mama.
When night settled in at last, we hit the camp, quietly killing their scouts before they shat their britches. Carson was right. The rest of them were too occupied to put up any fight. It was easy work, but we made damn sure they didn’t die easy. We never found Esther or her boy, but Jordy brought Molly home. She wasn’t pretty anymore, the truth be told, and she never danced again but at least he had her face to look at with those burning eyes. I find myself fighting to picture Bess. She has become a gray smudge like the last dying light in the black wall of the western sky, dark without the moon to float or stars to spatter.