By Cody T Luff
The young man sat rigid in the saddle, his back straight and his eyes swallowed whole by the shadow of his hat brim. His horse was an ugly white, the shade of bleached driftwood, a giant thing that chewed its bit in close contemplation. Samuel allowed himself a breath, the hoe still trapped in the bony web of his fingers.
“I come to kill you.” The young man’s voice was low, practiced. He’d said his line hundreds of times on his way to Samuel. His rehearsals spanning miles of red roads and high grass, his thoughts lead seeds he’d waited a lifetime to plant.
“I know.” Samuel dropped the head of his hoe to the dry earth, haft still supporting him as he leaned into the gathering evening.
The young man said nothing, his lips dark in a nest of road stubble. Samuel allowed his thoughts to shape the rider’s history. Imagining him in short pants, lost in the wheat of some other field, the news of his dead parent slithering closer along the road to his modest little home. Mother or father, it didn’t matter. The poison of it would shape whatever life followed, gathering in his bones, a scaffold of grief from which he was forced to build. And now here, the Schofield revolver ready to slip naked from its holster and preach its gospel of death.
“Who was it?” Samuel rested his chin against the butt of his hoe, his hat was soaked through with field sweat. The bones of his chest collecting dust and salt as rivulets found their way to his deeper places.
“Lauren McDervish. January of 1882. Park City.” The young man betrayed no emotion, his back still straight, his shoulders still.
Samuel turned his gaze to the horizon. The sun was trembling its way toward the bed of wheat that stretched miles in every direction. The heat would let up, its tyranny replaced by the cool purple of a heartland evening. Here and there Samuel could see shingled rooftops burrowed low in the shoulders of little rises, there were no hills here, god scrubbed this place flat, allowing nothing taller than what man could make.
“I don’t remember,” Samuel said to the horizon.
The young man didn’t respond. His great white horse shook off flies and eyed the trough near the black mouth of Samuel’s barn.
“But I expect that doesn’t matter to you.”
“Does it matter to you?” the young man asked from the height of his saddle.
“Now that’s a question,” Samuel said. “Coffee?”