Sep 24, 2010

Beware of Darkness

I’ve got it most squared away, just in case. James Pilkerton filled out the appropriate papers for me, all my worth - - horse and gun - - most all a man like me really has left. I’ll let him do with it what he wants if need be, him being the mayor and all. I too made arrangements with old Marteen the coffin maker and undertaker for a simple box and burial. I didn’t come into this life with no fanfare and I don’t expect to go out with any either. The people here came out of the woodwork when they heard the news. Town meeting brought plenty of concerned folks and plenty of men ready to show what they got. “We’re here with you, Sheriff Drewry,” they spat. “We got guns. Let ‘em come!” They hooted and hollered mostly for the benefit of the women standing there but I saw it in their eyes, that shifty sideways glance, uncertainty running fast under the surface like critters from a prairie fire. They were missing it… the part inside necessary for this kind of thing. That edge. They all wanted to run. They were waiting for me to let them off the hook, tell them to go on home and take care of their families. And I did. I promised I’d take care of it. Do the job they were paying me for. I can guarantee they won’t be around when the trouble here starts.

* * * * *

The boy is coming out of Kansas with a couple of like riders. He is a name I recognize, sixteen years old. That is hard to believe counting the number of men he’s killed. They say he is the fastest anyone has ever seen, in these parts least wise. They’ll be here in the morning. There’s not much time but I’ll wait and think on them coming. Think about Josephine too.

* * * * *

I still have a picture of her from years back. I keep it stuffed in my shirt pocket. There was much about her that made me want to stick around even after the baby was born. She was a hard woman but she held a steadiness rooted in the earth that drew me to her. I should have stayed and tried to make a go of it but I knew better; knew myself better. A few years later, by pure chance, our paths crossed again in San Maria. She told me of our son, told me he was trouble from the start. No man around to set him right she said. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He began killing things early, when he was eight years old, maybe even younger, unsuspecting creatures that he trapped then tortured. He would show her what he’d done. He was unashamed she said, describing every hunt, the setting of his traps, all the terrible detail, searching for her approval. She never gave none. She said she prayed on it to make him stop. He would sit and stare at her, his mind elsewhere. She said he was missing something, something God had forgotten to form in his being. She didn’t know what to do. When he was nine, she sent him away with a preacher who came through the town. The boy showed no emotion when he left, only gave a look that shook her. There was a ‘hunger’ there, sitting behind his dead eyes she said. She told me she heard the boy began a different kind of killing then. Word came he’d murdered the preacher and his two young children while they slept, girls barely older than he at the time. He left the preacher’s wife alive. She’d have been better off if he hadn’t she said. He left a note etched across the charred skin of her stomach. ‘Momma’, it read.

* * * * *

Traveling up near San Maria last year, I heard news of Josephine’s passing. It was then I made a promise to her and myself that I would make things right. Just like I’ve promised this town. I will take care of it. I will go out early and meet them on the edge of town near the bluffs, just me and them. My edge? Josephine’s words and this: I know the boy is exactly like me… exactly like me… and I have already set the trap.

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