Bullets pounded the dirt, sending up spits of dusty soil into the air. The atmosphere hummed around the two dark forms of men as lead screamed like hornets. The ground was devoid of any protection aside from shrubs, the one exception being the hulking black form of a tipped over stage coach.
The two men huddled against the wooden paneling of the stagecoach’s side, taking advantage of where they had almost none. Gunshots rebounded off invisible canyon walls, creating an acoustics nightmare for any man trying to pinpoint the sound of an enemy. Rifles and revolvers fired into the darkness, blindly seeking out their quarry. The heavy scent of gun smoke intoxicated the dense air, choking the night. After a few quiet seconds, the gunshots faded into an uneasy silence. The taller of the two men got to his knees, moving quickly and quietly.
"Saint, what the hell do ye’ think you’re doing?" The second man hissed, jerking down on his colleague’s shoulder.
"Saving our asses. I want to know who the hell just tried to raid us. Shut up for a moment," Saint muttered back, taking advantage of the moment to reload his revolver.
"Saint..." The other man warned, keeping his hand on his peer’s shoulder.
"Just... watch my back, alright Wash? Just stay put for once." Wash grimaced but nodded, his eyebrows furrowing.
"Not once have I ever had a problem holdin’ still... it’s ye I’m worried about."
Saint didn’t wait for any more confirmation, nor did he pause to make a retort. He slunk into the blackness, crouching down low. He was well aware he was leaving behind the only bit of protection offered in this open expanse of dirt and sand, and he could already feel himself regretting it. His luck held- no further gunshots or cries of alarm rebounded when he reached the rocky walls of the canyon.
The day had started well enough. He’d woken up the way he always did, suffered through a cup of his trail mate’s coffee, and harnessed the horses before the sun had risen. Now the horses where dead or had run, his cargo had been raided, and it sounded as if they were outnumbered almost five to one by the sounds of their guns. Washington Monahan might’ve been a good shot, but his friend was nowhere near close enough to help him now, assuming he could still find him. He traveled silently for a few minutes, swearing occasionally as he tripped on some unseen features on the ground.
Saint darted along the wall of rock, letting it guide him until he found what he was looking for. He followed the curve of the sheetrock until it turned sharply, surprising him until he stumbled out... directly into open territory, a little too close to his quarry for his comfort. The soft glow of a fire sent long shadows dancing on the sheet of rock, causing Saint to swear and lower himself to the ground. The exposed backs of two blue-coated men sat not thirty feet away, murmuring silently. Saint froze. If one of the men thought so much as to just glance behind, it would all be over.
"Just leave them there... they won’t do much good anyway. We got the spoils, didn’ we? They should last us a while. ‘Sides, we got supplies, let’s just get out of here. If we can’t find ‘em, there’s no point wasting time. I just wanna get back to the rest of the camp before we’re declared deserters. I ain’t no deserter, and I sure as hell don’t wanna die as one," The first man murmured, the wind carrying his words to a frozen Saint.
The second man shook his head, glowering at his colleague. He bent his head, returning to cleaning something in his lap. Fire reflected off metal, briefly illuminating an army issued Springfield rifle for a second before it faded into the shadows again. Saint grimaced again, and began a very careful and entirely too slow journey backwards, keeping his exposed back to the rock. A horse whickered, causing Saint’s black head of curls to snap upwards in alarm.
It was then he noticed what was beyond the fire. It hadn’t been just the two men- a total of perhaps ten lay sprawled around the clearing, in various phases of contentment, all dressed in a union blue. The closest to Saint was drinking something that looked suspiciously like it had come from the stagecoach’s shipment of liquor- another was busy digging through a waterproof pouch of what had contained military documents. Saint stiffened and walked quicker now, concentrating less on silence and more on making it back to his trail partner alive. He breathed a sigh of relief when he cleared the corner.
His journey back seemed to take twice as long as it had to arrive, and he found himself worrying. The night was too silent, too still. Dawn was approaching, but still no living thing moved. The hulking shadow of the stagecoach loomed ahead now, sending a worried Saint into a trot.
"Wash?" He called hoarsely, suddenly afraid. It had been stupid to leave his colleague behind, he saw now. The move had left both of them unprotected and weak.
"Right here, where ye’ ditched me," came the none too-happy sounding reply. Saint breathed a sigh of relief and joined his trail mate in the shadow of the stagecoach.
"Sorry about that."
"It’s nothin’," He murmured gruffly, rubbing the back of his ragged blond head. "Just don’t be doin’ it again. What’d ye find?"
"A couple of Yankees swindling away their paycheck," Saint growled. "Last I saw they were divvying up the liquor. Two of ‘em were arguing about coming back and erasing the evidence- probably burning the stagecoach and finishing us off. They got the military documents though- what the hell are we gonna do about that?"
"They are the military," Wash grimaced. "Let ‘em keep ‘em. Were they deserters?" Saint shook his head. "How many?"
"Ten, maybe more. I wasn’t looking too closely." Wash swore. "Should we wait them out?"
"We can’t do that anymore lad, not if they’re intent on leaving no trace."
"We can’t fight either! We’re outnumbered five to one!" Saint argued, disbelieving.
"Got any better ideas?" Wash asked grimly, raising one sand-colored thick eyebrow.
"I ain’t runnin’."
"Of course you’re not," Saint groaned, massaging his temples as he leaned back against the wooden boards. Wash frowned as he stared out onto the lightening canyon. The sun was the barest slit over the edge of the world, letting long rays spill across the land. The rocky walls around them were already dropping deep shadows onto the reddish-brown ground.
"..Why are we still doing this Wash?" Saint broke the silence, his brow furrowed. "There’s a war out there. We won’t have a job much longer."
"I don’t know about ye, but I’m having enough time trying to stay alive here, let alone in a war. We’ll just have to wait this one out."
"The war? You want to wait the war out?" Saint asked, startled enough to move his back from the wooden paneling of the stagecoach.
"Why sure," Wash shrugged, pulling a smoke out of his jacket pocket. "It should burn itself out quick enough, shouldn’t it? Six months, I betcha," He said wisely. "It’ll glow a little, shoot off sparks, and the whole thing’ll be done and over with. Sooner or later people will realize it’s pointless to fight among ourselves and we’ll live like we always have. The south’ll have their farms ‘n the north’ll get their factories. For now, our job is to wait."
"For our enemies or the war?" Saint asked, grimacing.
"Both," Wash sighed, laying his gun down on the ground beside him.
"So we’re supposed to wait for them to come to us?" Saint frowned again, his jaw pulled tight. The Italian didn’t like the idea of waiting for the enemy to come to them any more than his trail mate did. It was like painstakingly waiting for a judge to announce the verdict.
"Did ye’ wanna go meet ‘em?" Came the sarcastic reply.
"Merda Wash, I don’t want to just wait around here until they decide to come back and-" Click.
The two men froze as a cold barrel kissed the back of Saint’s tanned neck.
"Turn around." Saint didn’t hesitate in obeying. Holding his empty hands level with his head, he turned slowly, consciously aware of the sweat beading on his forehead. Three men stood behind them, the tallest being the one with the gun on Saint. Steel gray eyes narrowed behind a pair of glasses, and tight lips folded into a disgusted grimace. Dusty blond hair lay like a mop upon his head, framing a young- far too young- face that couldn’t have been older than sixteen.
"What’s a lad like yourself doin’ with that thing?" Wash croaked before he could hold his tongue. He recoiled as a leather boot collided with his chin, knocking the older man to the dirty ground. Blood welled up from the exposed skin.
"Shuttup!" The boy snarled, spitting on the Irishman. "Goddamn cat-licks and Dagos overrunning this place. America used to be American, immigrants," The youth sneered, prodding Wash with the toe of his boot. Saint hissed, rage coloring his olive-toned features.
"Bastardo, come hai alcun diritto di-"
"Saint!" Wash barked, wincing as one of the boy’s followers delivered a powerful backhand to Saint’s cheekbone. Saint shook his head, struggling to control his hands as not to return the favor. He was vaguely aware of the three men dressed in union blue conversing, arguing over their fate. Wash sat silently, his blue eyes worried under his brow.
"Do we take ‘em back or do we just kill ‘em here?"
"Daniel just said we needed to eliminate anything left over."
"So we kill ‘em right here?"
"What’s the matter- no stomach for blood? We’re in goddamn war, boy."
"They weren’t doin’ anything. They’re just doing their job," The smallest of the boys argued, biting his lip.
"They’re sodbusters, kid. No one’ll give a damn anyway. They’re not even citizens. The Irish one probably just came just came to sober up, and the Italian’s just here to actually be worth something." The youth’s last words were the last words he would ever speak. Tension and rage had been building up in the Italian since he’d first laid eyes on the swarthy youths. And the odds of two and three where highly preferable than to two and thirteen.
Before Wash could warn him otherwise, Saint’s fist was swinging toward the boy’s face. The boy’s spectacles cracked from acting as a barrier, blood smearing off of Saint’s knuckles, but the damage had been done. The boy stumbled backward, crying out as another blow from Saint barreled into his diaphragm, effectively knocking him out. Wash lunged for his abandoned colt, taking advantage of the moment of shock Saint had provided to recover Saint’s revolver as well. The Irishman’s foot lashed out, tangling into the second boy’s legs until the two crashed to the ground, leaving the smallest boy to Saint.
The shortest youth swore, and cocked his own revolver on Saint’s chest. He never had the chance, having forgotten about Wash. The sound of two revolvers’ bullets tearing through the still canyon sent chills up and down Saint’s spine as he watched the form of the boy crumple to the ground in front of them.
Wash dusted himself off as he clambered to his feet stiffly, disengaging himself from his own unconscious opponent. Saint stood still, unable to tear his eyes away from the smallest boy, his boyish face shocked, a jarring contradiction to the crimson rapidly spreading across the blue cloth.
"Bari?" Wash asked gently, placing a comforting hand on his frozen friend’s shoulder.
"...They were just boys," Saint murmured, his shoulders limp. Wash wordlessly shook his head, his weary eyes saying a thousand words.
"Saint, we have te’ go. We have te’ go now." Saint obeyed numbly, recollecting his revolver from Wash and following his trail mate sluggishly, his mind still replaying the boy’s crumpling form.
They jogged in silence along the borders of the canyon shadows’, saying nothing even as cries and angry yells echoed from far behind. They traveled until they left the rocky expanses for a secluded and craggy clearing, slightly sheltered by a lone, weathered tree. Wash sighed and dropped his lanky body to the ground, looking older than Saint had ever seen him. Saint himself silently knelt down, working on building a fire out of a few dry bits of debris.
"It couldn’ be helped, Saint. They were gonna kill us any other way."
"I know, it’s just... they were so young. I hope you’re right and this thing does burn itself out. His face as he died..." Saint trailed off, his face abnormally pale. "I never should’ve started that fight. I should’ve just waited to see how it would play out. And he’s not the first man I’ve killed- why should I feel so bad?"
"He was justa’ lad, I... well...." Wash’s voice was strangely muffled, alarming Saint enough to cause him to glance at his collapsed trail mate. The man was almost sleeping already. He started to say something else, but trailed off, incoherent beyond an exhausted murmur.
"Wash, you’re sleeping on your guns."
"Mmm... okay..." Blue eyes fluttered shut as a yawn took over his sleazy grin.
"Christ, Wash, no, not okay," Saint snorted. There was no response from his trail mate. Bending down, he found the level headed gunman was already asleep.
With a sigh, the Italian pulled off his dusty buckskin and draped it over his sleeping companion. Standing up again, Saint couldn’t help but smile. Wash mumbled something incoherent again, and curled around until his slight body was just another lump in the night. If the fire had not been burning, Saint could have sworn his friend was just a rock. A snoring rock, but still a rock.
Saint couldn’t help but chuckle as he sat down beside his Irish friend, focusing only at the moment on the humor of the situation and the problems at hand. It felt good to laugh, like a weight had just been lifted off his broad shoulders. He chuckled again, the movement turning into a deep laugh. Whether from hysterics or from actual amusement, Saint laughed.
The war was coming, of that there wasn’t a doubt- but they were alive, unscathed and unharmed, and they would both be coming home to a warm meal and a family. He would see Lily again, and he would hold nothing back. He’d seen the dangers and he’s seen the bright side, and know there was nothing left to do but tell her just how he loved her. Life was good. He would face this war side by side of his family and friends, and they would live. Together.
© 2010 by Evelyn and the Five Dollar Mail