The cold wooden floorboards were the first thing I became aware of that morning. There also was a subtle breeze; I could feel it brush my hands and feet and when it blew through the right cracks, I could hear it whistle. My eyes fluttered, but the early morning haze simply lulled me back into the comfort of unconsciousness. I took a breath, turned to my side and as I slipped into blissful darkness, I heard footsteps. My heart froze – for the first time I stopped to think about where I was, or why? Quickly my eyes opened freakishly wide, and my ears perked up. thump. Thump. THUMP. The sound of heavy boots grew louder and louder, but there was something else… a tone. Was it humming? The hum turned to a whistle as it passed by, never acknowledging me. I didn’t have much time, I had to do something before he realized I was awake. My hand slowly crept down my side, seeking the familiar feel of my lovely gun aside my hip, but it found nothing. My clothes too had been removed, and my wounds had been dressed. Wounds? Immediately my mind was rushed with overwhelmingly alarming facts. The Ambush. The Fire. The Horses.
thump. Thump. THUMP. He walked past me again, adding complexity to his tune as well. It was now a careful combination of low hums, cheerful whistles, and soft, murmur like vocalizations. My head was pounding with questions, I knew I didn’t have any friends. And anyone working for the Governor woulda just dragged me by the ankles back to town and had me hung. This strangeness wrung out the acid in my stomach, confusion and anxiety dripped out of every pore. I wasn’t afraid, certainly not of dying – there was just a certain smell in the air. And I recognized it. It had preceded every unforgettable moment of my life; and this pressing notion of everlasting change was thick in his voice as he sang. I could hear him busy, rustling things around in the other side of the room. Carefully, I peeked over my shoulder and saw a dark man standing five-five with black hair parted to one side, and an equally colorless beard and mustache that hid his mouth. A straw cattleman hat hung on his back by a string tied around his neck, and he wore a short-waisted jacket with decorative gold embroidering around the shoulders. I looked around the room, it was empty with the exception of us and a bulk in the corner I believed belonged to me. I sat up slowly, watching him as he moved about, oblivious of the scourge that follows me like a shadow, and falls upon any that take my company. I readied to bolt. My body tightened, refusing the order with painful reply, but I remained steady. He picked up a bottle and drank from it and set it down over the unevenness between two planks of wood, and the bottle fell. Not a drop had seeped down the cracks in the floor before I reached my gun and had it pointed at the back of his head. He turned to me gently. Hands by his ears, he rose to his feet and asked for a favor.
“Now you tell me cowboy” he said dramatically. “Before you do nothing; which gun you plan to kill me with?” His face painted a smirk, as the last few words turned to a chuckle. With his eyebrows, he pointed at my crotch.
I heard what he said, but it was as if I had to wait for someone to tell me what it meant. And once they did I couldn’t help but to laugh inside as well. This man, he wasn’t so different from I – He wasn’t afraid to die, he wasn’t afraid of me: he was confident, and that made rethink my strategy.
“You think this is funny? A bullet in the chest ain’t funny.” I made no effort to cover myself as I talked. “Who the hell are you?”
“Why don’t you dress yourself and we can have a drink about it?” I stretched my arm out further, shortening the distance between him and the barrel. “Listen cowboy, that, that you see there, those ain’t bullets, them are shells. Empty shells. Check if you don’t believe me, but you ain’t shooting nobody with that.” I felt my gun lighten as he spoke, and I knew he wasn’t lying.
“Alright then, but— you know it ain’t like a man to shoot another in the back, when his bare ass is showing.” He agreed in silence. I lowered my gun and got dressed. Meanwhile, he poured from the bottle into two separate jiggers.
“Tequila-ah.” He said in a soft voice and handed me a glass.
“I don’t drink.” I told him, taking the glass in my hands.
“Everybody drinks cowboy, whatever they drink is the only thing that changes, you see. Today – today we drink tequila for your wounds.” I paused and looked him in the eyes. “Go on! It’ll be good for you I promise.” I didn’t want to trust him. I didn’t trust him, but what choice did I have besides going along. We raised the glasses and drank.
“So, why are you helping me then?” I asked after the burn had passed.
“And why do you think I’m helping you cowboy? Maybe I’m helping myself…” He said drinking again, this time straight from the bottle. “I saw you out there, being dragged by the boot by tired horses, and I thought to myself: hell blessed, that poor man with all those many things and no use for them. So I walked up with hopes of a loot, but to my surprise you wasn’t dead. How lucky! I thought. You see, as it turns out, I am in need of a place to stay – for a while at least. And I figured, If I kept you from bleeding-out and dying out there in that field, you might wanna return to your home once you could – if you have a home that is…”
I knew where this was going and I didn’t like it. However, given the circumstances, there was a benefit to having a second man riding along. “Tell me, what did you do? Why are you running?”
“Never-mind you that.” He replied, forcing a smile out one side of his mouth.
“Alright then. I reckon you can join me for a time, if you can behave… What should I call you by?” He stopped to think about it, resting his chin between his fingers. After a moment, he brightened with an answer.
“For now,” he said pointing his finger upwards.”You can call me Owl.”