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Shrouded With Regret
In the mountainous desert of the sparsely populated West, the sun beat down on the scorching, pepper-textured sand. Upon first glance, one may think that these lands have not felt the heel of any boot, but even in these harsh conditions, man persisted in few settlements, scattered around the tawny terrain. One of these towns, Ambrose, with a population a mere one hundred twelve strong, was named after the bold man who persisted in settling such a sea of sand and rocks. Despite a fairly large population for the town’s smaller size, Ambrose was only a dismal speck in the wide expanse of the West, where few events of interest occurred, the most recent being seven months prior.
Reclining next to a broken window of an abandoned shop, Dean, an inhabitant of Ambrose, gazed out into the desert. Idly reclining in his chair was how he spent the majority of his days, as he was out of his job as a blacksmith. The image of his teenage son’s face flashed from the depths of his memory, with his freckles, walnut brown hair, and best of all, an excited smile that stretched across his face. He was always a talkative one until he was silenced. A hint of a smile touched Dean’s lips, but was quickly drowned by the unforgiving waters of grief. Unwillingly, his mind conjured up a scene that had scarred him for months now. The raiders. His son. The revolver. Dean shut his eyes and furrowed his thick brow in misery. Trying to force the memories out of his head was as futile as trying to push a boulder up to the peak of Everest. They would linger in his mind until his dying breath. He would live his life knowing that his son was murdered before his eyes.
Moments later, Dean heard someone break into a fit of laughter. He felt like shouting at them to stop laughing, to live solely in silence and in grief, but then he realized that his ears had not heard a sweet chuckle for years. This wasn’t just a quiet, ingenuine snigger. This was the hearty laughter of someone who wasn’t miserable in the bleak atmosphere of Ambrose. His curiosity piqued, he stood up from his rickety chair and headed towards the source of this noise.
His interest led him to the saloon, where he found two very tall men at the counter, chatting about how Ambrose didn’t have quality whiskey. One man sat on a dilapidated stool of leather and wood, while the other stood, standing at over six-and-a-half feet tall. Sensing Dean’s presence, the sitting man turned around, stood up from his chair and started, “Why hello, fella. What brings you here?”
Dean shrugged. “Curiosity, I guess. My days here yield nothing of interest.”
“Well that’s just fine, mister. Come on over here. Name’s Clay. and my brother here is Cassius.” He extended his hairy hand, with fingers the size of sausages. Clay and Cassius both wore brown leather jackets and friendly grins. Dean shook the outstretched hand, realizing that he hadn’t shaken someone’s hand in what had seemed like ages. Not only this, but he hadn’t talked to a single soul in a casual conversation since… the raiding.
“I’m Dean. You fellas from around here?”
“Well, we’re not from around anywhere at all,” replied Clay, chuckling. “Cassius and I are always on the lookout for those raiders, you know, those-”
“Vultures,” interjected Dean. “I’ve seen ‘em! They came ‘round here some months ago, stole almost everything of value we had. Those murderers and thieves! They reduced us to nothin’, and killed my son in cold blood!” He buried his face in his sweaty palms, resisting the urge to sob.
“Well, Cassius and I are here to get revenge on those murderers and thieves,” said Clay. “I’m good with a pistol, but Cass here’s got the smarts and the brawn.” He gave Cassius an affectionate slap on the back. “We’ve been on the Vultures’ trail for about two years now, but it seems that every time we think we’ve got somethin’, those raiders are always one step ahead of us.”
Dean felt that something inside of him that had been lurking in the caves of his mind for many months was now released. He’d craved for vengeance for a long time, but as time passed, he declined to a state of despondency. Talking about pursuing his son’s murderers gave him the hope and courage that he needed.
“You know, I’d be willing help y’all,” Dean suggested. “Life here is dull as a rock, and I want revenge. Do y’all know anything about the Vultures’ whereabouts?”
Cassius replied, “Well, we’re not sure, but we were heading towards Scorpion Mesa, you know, where they have all those gold mines. Seems like a place they might wanna settle down.”
“Those Vultures have been stealing gold and iron from several towns all around the West. They’re feeding off of our paltry resources and getting rich,” said Cassius, adjusting his black hat, “so they must be put to an end. We’re planning to go to Scorpion Mesa tomorrow, you in?”
“Anything to avenge my son,” said Dean, and he left to gather his things.
A long journey ahead of them, Dean and the brothers set out early in the morning. Galloping through the wide expanse of rocky desert plains, Dean found that he could learn more about others by simply talking to them, rather than observing from the broken window the shop he used to work in. Going back and forth with the brothers, he wished he had engaged in such discussion before, as it could’ve helped him let go his inner sorrows.
Clay and Cassius wanted to be town sheriffs in their childhoods, and work together to eliminate any villains that crossed their paths. Soon, they found out that no such people were causing mischief around the West, and gave up. However, when the Vultures came around, they were in their thirties, working tedious jobs as miners. Soon, they quit with the sufficient earnings they had collected, and set off to get rid of the Vultures, helping the common people and doing what they loved.
“The sheriffs were good-for-nothing lazybones,” said Clay, munching on a strip of dried beef. “We felt that we needed to make a difference somehow, and the Vultures have been wreaking devastation on these lands for too long.”
“That’s ambitious of you, to quit your jobs just to pursue this dream,” said Dean. “That takes a lot of gut.”
“Yes, indeed it is,” said Cassius, pointing ahead to a town that lay at the edge of a plateau. “If I followed my map right, that there should be Scorpion Mesa.”
After seven hours, they had completed their journey, and ahead of them lay Scorpion Mesa. Dean could spot men on the prowl, their gold adorned green leather jackets glinting in the sunlight. He remembered those jackets.
As Dean and the brothers approached, Dean said, “Those are the Vultures, I’m sure of it. So, I suppose you have a well thought out plan? The sun’s gonna be gone soon, and overnight camping near this place doesn’t sound very dandy.”
Clay and Cassius glanced at each other nervously, and Cassius said, “We didn’t really come up with a plan. I think on the go, and looking at this place, this could be more difficult than I thought.”
Dean studied the area, noting any detail that might be important. From what he could see, the cowl of the coming night would be all the cover they would get.
Asking Cassius, he observed, “Yes, the night should do us just fine. I’m looking at that gigantic water tower over yonder.”
Observing the tower, gears started to turn in Dean’s mind. “What if we lured the Vultures below that tower?” he said. “Then, if got up and started cutting the thing down, we could hit many birds with one stone.”
“That sounds mighty fine,” said Clay. “I can help to keep them off us with my two pistols here. I suppose y’all could get the thing down?”
“Yes,” agreed Cassius. “The Vultures must have some way to get up there, to fix it up. If we some axes in our hands, which we should find easily, that tower will be gone in seconds.”
“Let’s get a’going then!” exclaimed Clay, and they rode off, galloping towards vengeance.
They made it to the mesa, but Dean could tell that their uninvited entrance had started to stir the raiders. On the way, they were not able to find an ax, but upon finding a barrel of pickaxes, they decided that it would do, and Cassius took two. As they neared the water tower itself, Cassius found rickety stairs leading right up.
“Over yonder!” he whispered, and they all ran up, the stairs creaking noisily under their feet. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Intruders!” a Vulture yelled from the town. “At the tower! Get ‘em, y’all!”
Without saying a word, Dean grabbed a pickaxe from Cassius and started hacking at the deteriorated wooden poles, using muscles that hadn’t been active for months. Clay pulled out his pistols and began to fire at Vultures coming out.
“Dean!” Cassius hissed. “We only need to take two of these supports down to topple this thing over! Keep working, Clay’s got us!” Cassius made a large dent in the wood. “This should only take about thirty seconds with the both of us!”
That time passed rapidly, like a raging river. Soon there were six Vultures firing at Clay, who was able to find partial cover behind a rock formation. As he turned to fire, a single shot rang, and Clay was down on the ground, clutching right leg, howling with pain.
“Dean! Take it!” he said, tossing one of his weapons to Dean’s feet. A blanket of sweat on Clay’s forehead, he winced. “Take it!” he scolded.
“I- I can’t shoot!” Dean yelled back, but scrambled to grab the gun anyway. He fumbled with it, trying to figure it out, when he saw an unarmed Vulture running up the stairs towards him. Unable to fire the gun, he hurled the weapon at the Vulture’s head, and in a fraction of a second, the enemy dropped to the ground, unconscious. Horrified at what he’d just done, Dean clambered back to Cassius, nearly falling victim to a bullet whizzing by his neck. The tower whined, leaning towards the Vultures.
“I got the first support down! We need to get them closer!” shouted Cassius. Dean said nothing, but kept hacking at the second pole while moving closer into the Vultures’ range. Seeing a weakness, the Vultures ran closer to the tower, setting up a better aim.
“We’re almost done!” Cassius wheezed. “Just about fifteen seconds more!”
They didn’t have that time. Vultures were dashing towards the stairs, and if they were able to get up, Dean would never be able to avenge his son, and he would die in defeat. However, they were running directly into the path of where the water tower would collapse.
As a last resort, Dean moved back about eight feet, and rammed into the last support with his pickaxe. The tower leaned farther, but with one more push, it crumbled down, falling off the plateau, crushing many of the Vultures. Like an ocean tide, water engulfed the parched sand, and swept away everything in its path.
Dean never was to know if all of the Vultures had died in this encounter. As Clay, Cassius and made their way out of the now derelict town, they found nothing. Though seemingly no Vultures remained, Clay still was enduring agonizing pain in his leg as they went back to their horses.
Their horses were gone. Whether they’d just ran away scared or the Vultures rode them out was just another unknown that Dean would never find out.
“Well, I guess we better say our farewells now,” said Clay. “I’ve gotta go see a town doctor with Cass, to help fix me up, and the nearest town is hours away on foot.” With that closing statement, Clay hobbled off, his brother at his side.
“Nice meeting you two,” Dean called after, and then he was left alone, his thoughts his only company. Trekking through the desert winds of the night back to Ambrose would be a chore. Crowds of sand flew into his face like gnats as he toiled on.
Reflecting on the previous events, Dean had a change of thought, one that came too late. Had he really achieved victory, battering the supports on that tower to take his revenge on tens of men? Had he really conceived the notion that vengeance would be the solution to all of his problems? His mind conjured up another image of his beaming son, but then he saw the happiness in the boy’s expression deteriorating, leaving a frown of disappointment in its place.
His thoughts nagging at his head, Dean gazed into the night sky, his face solemn with sorrow. He shut his eyes, trying to hold back tears of remorse. Though his unavailing hunger to exact his vengeance and avenge his son had been satisfied, nothing had changed at his home of Ambrose. It seemed that he had ended right back where he had started: jobless, lonely, and haunted by the past. Dean trudged on towards his future, shrouded with regret.