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I didn’t say nothin when he asked me that question four days ago. To tell ya the truth I didn’t have an answer to give. It was one of those questions that kinda hit me by surprise, I hadn’t thought about it much till then. Ever since though, that damn question been keepin me up at nights. Ya see, when a person knows the ultimate result of the quest they are undergoing they usually don’t think bout it much; they know the outcome, but they don’t really know it. Call it what you will: a dream, goal, hell even a destiny, but to me it’s like an addiction. You don’t care bout how ya get there or who you have to kill to accomplish it or even what happens to yourself once you get it. All ya know is that you want it, want it bad.
We was sittin in Johnny’s ranch rollin smokes in black like silence. The only light in the room came from the one small window cut into the back wall of cabin. The moonlight pierced the thick darkness like shotgun scatter throwing ugly speckled shadows on the wall. I pinched one of the cigarettes that I just rolled between one weary callused finger and one weather torn thumb, and with what remained of my right thumb I flicked the head of a match and watched it ignite. The sulfur filled flame licked at the air in front of my face as I pulled it close and gave a coupla puffs to get the coffin nail to light. The pungent aroma of the tobacco filled the room. It was a relief from that thick bloody smell coming from the meat house out back where Johnny had just recently stacked and salted two flanks of calf he had slaughtered that day. More death.
I handed Johnny the light and he grunted his thanks. He flared up his smoke, flicked the match out with his wrist, and we went back into the comfortable silence. We sat that way smokin and lettin our minds wander to where ever the hell it felt like goin for a long while. Looking back I don’t even know where it went. That’s when you know it was good thinkin. When you finally come to your senses after who knows how long and you have no idea what is was you were thinkin bout. It felt damn good. I remember when I came back to what was left of reality I had a curious feelin of ease that I hadn’t felt in a long time, ever since this journey began.
It only lasted a moment. I suddenly remembered who I was and where I was headed. The entire journey hit me in the head like the end of a rifle butt. I could feel my desire, my passion runnin down my body like warm blood fresh from an open wound. The much well known unease and wolf like awareness came back to me. I felt ashamed that I let my mind carry me like that and make me question my journey. I think it was that embarrassment and stubborn pride that forced me to grab the last of my smokes and walk towards the door. It was either that or that hidden fire behind my eyes that I hated but didn’t want to be extinguished; I keep telling myself it was the first one.
“Goin so soon are ya?” Johnny took a deep drag on his cigarette and slowly blew a blue gray cloud that circled and swirled around his head like some ancient Indian burial dance. His cold black eyes stabbed into mine searching for truth.
My eyes could stab harder. I met his eyes and looked into him, darin him to say more. He did something that I didn’t much expect then. He turned away then gave me a big sideways silent grin. It caught me so off guard I looked out into the night from the open door to keep from showin it. I took a step out into it..
“Is it worth it?” he asked from the cold heavy wooden chair. More smoke danced its way around him.
Now I’ve been shot before. When it happens ya don’t comprehend it right away. You just kinda stand there in a daze wonderin what to do next. Thats exactly what it felt like when he said those words. I stood their paralyzed for a brief moment unable to answer the question. I stood there with the moon burnin through the wall opposite the door illuminatin me. I glanced down at my boots caked with mud and blood and scorched by the hot sun for a time that now seemed way to long. My clothes felt like rags as they hung loosely around me in tatters, and the massive pistol that hung at my side felt as heavy as an anvil. Suddenly my body felt it all: all the wounds, all the hurts, all the hours, days, and years, and all the hate. For that brief moment I felt dead.
I quickly placed my sun beaten hat on top of my head and stormed slowly into the god for saken wilderness outside. It was almost the end I could feel it. I let the door slam behind me.
That was four days ago. That damn question had haunted me every minute of every day since then. I haven’t slept at all. It kept me up in a cold sweat as I tossed and turned tryin to take my mind off it. I thought it was that question at least. It could have been the fact that I was close. Real close.
Now I as I lay in the dry lifeless dirt in a pool of my own damn blood coughin up my own damn insides, everything looks a little different.
The sun was high in the sky and must have been hot as I walked through the town cuz I could feel the sweat gatherin on my brow. I couldn’t feel the heat though. I felt nothin’ and I saw nothin. All I knew is I finally caught up to him. Everything for what seemed to be like an eternity has led up to this. The dry dust was pushed up into a cloud as my feet stomped into it with each step. My spurs rattled beneath me. I could feel the goons followin me in the shadows of the shops that I passed. But I knew they weren’t gonn’a do nothin yet. I would’a liked to see them try though. I slowed my pace a little as my destination loomed up ahead of me. This was the end of the road.
Welcome Home Saloon and Inn, was what was written on the board nailed above the two swingin doors. Ya, I was home all right. I stood there staring at the doors when I heard myself call out,” Howard!” I stood there not carinn how much time he let me stand out there for. The fire was burnin inside of me, swirling and twistin my insides making me go mad. That feelin is what us gunslingers live for, it keeps us alive. The two doors finally swung open. A freshly polished new black boot stepped through the doors followed by a man wearing a perfectly ironed black marshal outfit. His rotten shiny badge glittered and sparkled in the sun.
He smiled at me with a big white toothy grin. He opened his mouth to say somethin but closed it again when he met my stare. He walked out silently, smile gone, and stood a ways away from me, ready.
And there we were, two men caught up in somethin that some might call destiny, but I call addiction. My addiction. The weather torn gunslinger dressed in his tattered clothes and journey beaten body, stood, starin into the eyes of the marshal (if one could find a way to make the connection to him). He was fast I knew that much.
He met my stare and I poured everything that I had into that stare like an iron worker mixin hot metals together. All of the time, and all of the pains, and all of the wounds, and all of the tears, and all of the death from that journey went into that stare. He felt it. I could see that. He felt it like a cattle being branded for the first time. I could smell the fear growin inside him like a cancer. His expression wavered and we both knew how this was going to end.
He reached for it first and in spite of his fear he was still the fastest I’ve seen. But I was faster. The shot echoed like thunder in the clear afternoon sky and I watched as his throat was torn open and he fell onto the ground behind him. I stood there gun still raised and smokin like a last offerin to the gods above and waited. Time stood still. Then I felt it first, the strange hot sensations that sprang on my back. Then I heard them, more thunder crackled into the sky. I felt my legs give out and I tumbled into the dust beneath me.
My blood feels hot as it pools around my body soakin into my clothes. I knew this was how it was going to end, it was the only way. As I lay here and think bout everythin that’s happened I can’t help but smile in spite of the god damn pain spiking in my back. Ya it was worth it. I gently close my eyes and await the end of the road.