Between a Rifle and a Ranger – Ch. 2

It had been the better part of a week since he had left Ed’s farm and had only stopped to rest his horse and catch what little sleep he was able to. Ed was kind enough to supply him with a week’s worth of rations, a canteen, the horse he was riding, and a dark brown duster that was a size too big. Reid couldn’t blame Ed for not letting him stay. He was a stranger and Ed sensed that putting a roof over his head meant he had to weather the storm that would eventually follow. Still, Reid couldn’t help but miss the old man. Ed had a sense of candid humor that he enjoyed. In fact, he admired that most about him. There is something to be said for a man who is stern and honest, but can still laugh at the end of the day. It was the first time Reid had a healthy respect for another man. He just hoped no harm would come of the old man and his wife for taking him in.

He wasn’t sure where he was going yet, but figured he would know by the time he reached the Mississippi River with another weeks worth of riding. Reid knew he was well into Kentucky at this point after having followed the Ohio River from West Virginia. He had seen a sign for Louisville a days ride behind him and decided he would skirt the city when he came to it. He had no intention of being seen by anybody, least of all any law man should word have already spread to Kentucky.

The sun was beginning to set and Reid had been riding since sun up. It had been a long day of riding, moreover it had been a long week of travel with little sleep. Sleep felt more like a luxury since he had left home. Stopping his horse in a small clearing, he slipped down and wrapped the reins around a sapling. He dropped the saddle on the ground and thought about making a small fire, but decided against it. After all, he didn’t know if there was anyone near him and if there was, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to let them know he was there. He propped himself against his saddle as a makeshift pillow. A pillow, Reid hadn’t slept on one of those in close to a month. He wasn’t sure if even remembered what it was like to sleep on a pillow, let alone a peaceful nights sleep. His stomach gave a small rumble ‘Yeah I hear ya down there. Just have to make due with some dried beef.” he thought as he ripped off a small piece and chewed on it. Reid knew he could kill a deer very easily and have plenty of food for this trip. In fact, he was a excellent hunter and a real crack shot with his rifle. The only problem was, he simply didn’t have the time to gut the deer, dry the meat, and pack it all up for the trip. Then there was the problem of only having fourteen rounds left for his Winchester. The risk of needing every last round was too high for him to spend even one cartridge on killing a deer. So, he settled for a little piece of dried meat, courtesy of Ed. Reid took a swig from the canteen that Ed had given him and tucked it back in the saddlebag. He pulled his duster up to his neck to keep the wind off of him and laid his rifle across his lap. As he listened to the sounds of the night, he could faintly hear the trickle of the Ohio River behind him in the distance when the wind died down. Night time, it was supposed to be the time of rest. For Reid, rest meant closing his eyes and closing his eyes meant taking him back home. It was not a time of peace or a time of rest for Reid, but a time of fear and rage. He ran his fingers over the slash carved in the stock of his Winchester, cocked the hammer, closed his eyes, and faded off to sleep.

Just like all the nights before this one, his mind drifted back home. Back to West Virginia. Back to his mother and the farm a few miles outside Summersville. The farm was small, less than fifty head of cattle and a few horses. Reid and his younger brother, Samuel, ran the farm while their mother, Eleanor, carried out the chores around the house. His mother was the sweetest woman he ever knew. By no means was she stern or harsh, but she was not without her vice’s. Reid was three and Samuel wasn’t more than a year old when Eleanor lost her husband in the battle of Antietam, the bloodiest battle fought in the Civil War. Following the death of her husband, she was frequently bed-ridden with sudden onset headaches. The laudanum she was prescribed by the local doctor seemed to help with the pain, but often times it was not enough. An older man would come around with deliveries of the laudanum for her. At first, it was once a week or every now and then. Then when her headaches got worse, the man seemed to always be around and then leave for a week or two. As Reid and Samuel got older and grew to know the man that made the deliveries for his mother, they came to know him as a Marshall and a veteran of the Civil War. He had been wounded in the field and received a discharge from the Union ranks. However, the injury was not without lasting residual pain, for which he was given laudanum, the laudanum which he shared with their mother. This was the man that taught him how to hunt. This was the man that taught him how to shoot. His words still rang in Reid’s head ‘See the shot. Squeeze the trigger.’ Reid was six years old the first time he heard those words and they were the only useful words the man had ever said to him. As he got older and understood more about the man, he listened to him less and less. His constant stories about the war and his valor during the battle of Antietam became annoying and hollow. All he did was talk about himself and how great he was in the war. The man was eventually around every day telling the same damn stories, much like a drunk who never left his seat at the bar. He was an abrasive man to begin with, but similar to a drunk, he was forceful and senseless with the more laudanum he had. Rarely did he put his hands on Reid, but his mother often fell victim to his violent outbursts. For years this continued, the mans stories became more bizarre and his temper became unpredictable.

A sudden gust of wind kicked up through the trees and hit Reid’s neck sending chills down his back. He shifted slightly, his eyes blinking open, he pulled his duster back up close to his neck. Knowing what was waiting for him in the deepest recesses of his mind, he lay awake for awhile listening to the ripple of the river in the distance. His eyes however had different plans, feeling as if they anvils attached to them, he sank back into a restless slumber.

Reid wiped some sweat away from his brow and rested his arm on the pitchfork for a second and mumbled to himself ‘Where in the hell is Sam? He supposed to be helpin’ me clean these damn stalls. I’m gonna beat his ass if he is out messin’ with that damn dog again’ He took a swig of water and grabbed his pitchfork and proceeded to keep cleaning stalls ‘I’ll do it. I swear. I’m gonna beat his ass this time, just wait’ Reid grinned as he talked to himself. If Samuel was only playing with their dog he would be happy. He just hoped he wasn’t anywhere near that Marshall. The man had been on a bender for several days now talking about how he and Eleanor were gonna leave Reid and Samuel for Washington. Said, they were going to ‘Ride the red horse with flames into the city and burn it to the ground, bringing the war back to the men who started it! The men that ruined my life!’ Reid knew the man was hallucinating. In all reality, the Marshall wasn’t wrong, he really was leaving for Washington tomorrow. However, it would be with two other U.S. Marshalls and a job to hunt down a few successful bank robbers that would take him there, not visions of the future apocalypse. Reid was not exactly partial to the men in Washington, but he also knew it wasn’t the men in that city that ruined this poor bastards life. Reid had heard the stories about the Marshall’s bravery in battle, standing behind a tree with arms spread hoping to get shot so he wouldn’t have to fight. ‘Yeah, some hero you are. Nothin but a coward and a piss poor law man.’ Reid just chuckled to himself and went about cleaning stalls. He was almost finished when he heard the short crack of a gun shot. He stood straight up, ‘I swear, if Sam-…’ then he heard five more shots ring out in succession. He dropped the pitchfork and took off on a dead sprint for the house. He felt his heart beating in his throat as he got closer. His mind was sprinting much faster than he was, trying to predict what he be opening the door to. With his adrenaline pumping so hard all he could see was the front door of the house. He hit the door at full speed with his shoulder and grabbed the handle at the same time and heard something metal hit the floor when he busted through. To his left on the bed he saw the Marshall, naked, hunched over his mother, talking to himself. Samuel was face down on the floor at the end of the bed. Then he noticed it. The blood, it was everywhere. The pool around Samuel was nothing short of a lake of crimson so still it could have been mistaken for glass. There was even blood on the wall behind the bed like someone had thrown a can of dark red paint at it. Reid stood paralyzed staring at the nauseating scene that lay before him for what seemed like an eternity of hell, unable to talk, unable to move, not even able to think. After what was to be the most traumatic couple of seconds in Reid’s life, he broke his paralysis with the first word..

“Marshall!” Yelled Reid.

“Red. We have to paint it all red.” The man got up and turned around. Reid saw his mother laying on the bed, aside from the blood the only thing he could see was that her throat had been sliced. He turned his gaze to the Marshall, his face and chest was smeared with Eleanor’s blood, his eyes were lifeless and seemingly black. The Marshall looked down at the dinner knife sticking out of his chest and smiled.

“What did you do!?” Said Reid as tears began to pour from his eyes.

“They didn’t understand. We have to paint it all red! They told me we have to paint it all red!” Said the Marshall as he took a step towards Reid.

Reid took a step back, “What did you do to them!?” he took another step back and his foot hit something on the floor. He looked down, it was the Marshall’s Winchester. He knew it was loaded. The Marshall always kept it loaded, but never one in the chamber. Reid took a quick step backward, knelt down and snapped up the gun, like second nature he threw the lever forward and chambered a round.

“I had to kill them. They weren’t going to let me paint them red. It is my destiny to paint the world red!” Said the Marshall as he took another step toward Reid, knife in hand.

“You’re out of your mind.” Reid aimed the gun at the Marshall’s head.

“What the fuck do you think you’re gonna do with that? You can’t kill me! They chose me to lead the revolution and bring us to the birth of the apocalypse!” Said the Marshall.

Reid was not listening. All he could hear were the words the Marshall whispered in his ear so long ago ‘See the shot. Squeeze the trigger.’ They were the most useful words the man had ever said to him. He aimed down the sights and settled them square on the Marshall’s face. His hands stopped shaking, he saw his target, a small freckle on the man’s face above his right eye. His finger grasped the cold trigger. He took a breathe and exhaled. His heart slowed and his vision tightened.

The Marshall’s eyes got big and began to laugh, “Come on and smite me with your mighty sword! You can’t kill The Red Horseman, I will be waiting for you every night son!”

“I ain’t your fuckin son.” said Reid as he squeezed the trigger and saw whatever was left of the Marshall’s brain exit with the bullet and come to a rest on the back wall.

The ringing in Reid’s ears from the rifle was deafening and the smell of burnt gun powder filled his nose. He set the rifle and walked over the Marshall’s body to the bed.  He looked down at his mother, her neck had been cut and her chest was caved in from the Marshall stabbing her, but it was the grotesque look on her face that would be emblazoned in his mind. She had her vice’s and her own battles, but she was still his mother. They both deserved so much more. He stared blankly at his brother laying on the floor unable to comprehend what had just happened to him and his family. His cheeks got a sour feeling in them and his mouth began to water. He clenched his stomach and stumbled outside where he vomited several times before returning to the bed where his mother lay. Reid picked up the Marshall’s revolver from the bed and threw it on the floor. He sat down beside his mothers feet and began to cry.

He cried for what seemed like most of the night until he had no more tears left to cry. The smell of gunpowder had faded and the only thing left was the stagnant smell of death. He  decided he would bury his mother and brother behind the house. He rolled both of them up in blankets from the bed and carried them out back. With a shovel from the barn and two large rocks, Reid dug two shallow graves and marked each one with a rock. There was no funeral. There were no words said over their graves. Reid walked back inside and grabbed the Marshall’s Winchester. He looked at the man laying on the floor with a mangled face and knelt down beside him. He pried the knife out of his hand and thought about cutting the Marshall’s head off and sticking it on a stake out front. But for what? The damage had been done. Instead, he carved a single slash in the stock of the Winchester.

“This is mine now. And so long as it’s mine, I’ll kill people like you.” Reid said as he stood up.

He walked to the barn, laid down in the hay with his rifle beside him and did his best to drift off to asleep. That night was the first of many nights he would not sleep well.

Reid awoke the next morning feeling as if it had all been a dream. He was reminded of the nightmare from the smell emanating from the house as he walked up to it. He looked inside and thought to himself ‘I guess he ain’t going to Washington after all.’ No sooner had Reid thought the words than his heart sank into his gut. He had just killed a U.S. Marshall who was to meet up with two other Marshalls in Summersville this morning at dawn. Reid panicked for a second and tried to slow his thoughts. ‘Okay, okay I need food, water, a gun, and a horse’ He turned back toward the barn and that’s when he saw the cloud of dust. His heart sank even further into his gut. Based on close the cloud was, he knew he wouldn’t have time to ready a horse because they were all out to pasture from him cleaning stalls the day before. He also knew it would take even longer to pack food and water and wouldn’t be able to haul any of it with out a horse. He was running out of time. He had maybe twenty minutes or thirty minutes before the other Marshall’s would be here.  So he ran to the barn and grabbed the only thing he could, his rifle. He exited the barn on a dead sprint north and never looked back to see if there was a dust cloud.

Reid twitched so hard he woke himself up. He was covered in sweat and chilled to the bone. His duster had slid down again and the wind had been hitting his sweat covered neck for some time. Luckily, it was a few minutes past day break and he needed to get back on trail anyway. He threw the saddle over his horse and started buckling it in.

“Ya know, I don’t know what to call you. Ed never did tell me what your name was.” said Reid as he was readying the saddle. He looked in the horses eyes and scratched the horses jaw. The only piece of white coloring on the horse was a white diamond right on it’s forehead.

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to call you Ace, since you got the ace of diamonds on your forehead.” chuckled Reid. The horse gave an approving nod and a small neigh. “Well alright then, Ace it is.”

Reid mounted his horse, gave her a little kick and trotted out of the clearing towards Louisville….

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