I was a man. But they took that from me.
I ran with The Sawyer Gang. Chet & Amos Sawyer were brothers, and they were particularly savage creatures. In the grand scheme of their gang, I found myself somewhere in the middle. “The money crew,” as they called it. Our main targets were banks and trains, but we’d hit anything that would put money in our pockets. I would have knocked over a small child if it meant I could put a couple bucks in my pocket. Hell, I probably did.
But the higher guys? As near as I could tell, they would just rampage around the countryside, looking for people to kill. Maybe they had their reasons. Maybe they didn’t. But that really was none of my concern. As long as I kept pulling in money, they didn’t care who I was.
I wasn’t what you would call “happy,” but I was content. I found something I was good at and I did it. Isn’t that what happiness is?
That all ended when I met Myra. She lived in town. The Sawyers had a place about a mile outside, but I’d find myself in town about once a week. I wish I could say my heart stopped the first time I saw her; that something within me changed immediately. But that wouldn’t be true. The truth of it is that I barely paid her any mind for a long time. Hers was just another face I vaguely recognized.
The more I saw her, the more I paid attention. A light seemed to shine from behind those pale blue eyes.
Our interactions started small. I would tip my hat, she would smile shyly, look around and rush off. Eventually I worked my way up to giving her a flower. She abruptly turned around and walked as fast as she could in the opposite direction. I watched her until her dirty blonde braid disappeared behind the side of a building.
I understood. It was known that I was with the Sawyers. And, though we never “practiced our craft” in the town, the people there knew who we were. They were courteous, but only out of fear. Every interaction was met with a tight-lipped smile. I saw that face on every townsperson, and I saw that face on Myra.
I was undeterred. All I wanted was a conversation. After a few months, she started to warm up to me. We exchanged pleasantries. She allowed me to walk her home. Eventually, she agreed to have dinner with me.
The Sawyers began to notice these interactions, and they did not care for them. In their minds, if a man had someone to live for, it meant they might think twice when risking their lives for the good of The Sawyers, and that could not be tolerated. I’m not a smart man, but I am a perceptive one, and I could feel the sword dangling over my head.
I met Myra for dinner. She seemed happy. Completely at ease. I never thought I would find that. I always assumed I would work my way up the ranks and die in a flurry of bullets, like every true outlaw dreamed of. But if I ever was a true outlaw, that part of me had left. I had to take my chance.
“Myra,” I said, taking her hand in mine. “I know this is sudden, but I need to ask you something.” Her eyes were wary, but not thrown off. “I need to leave this place. If the Sawyers find out about this…I don’t know what they’ll do. They’ll come looking for me. And as much as I would love it, I can’t ask you…”
She cut me off. “I’ll come with you.”
I was completely taken aback. I smiled bigger than I knew I was capable of. “Tonight. It has to be tonight.”
“Why not right now?” she asked with a smirk. “This place has terrible service.”
We waited until dark. Myra grabbed what she could and we rode out of town. Together. The thrill of it all was more than anything I had ever experienced.
We rode for days. Weeks. Months. I lost track of time. We rode until we were sure we were clear of the Sawyers and settled on some land hidden by trees. We built a little house. And we were happy. Just us two.
It wasn’t long before “us two” became “us three.” We welcomed Rosie into the world on a crisp August day. She was everything to us. She was beautiful. She was perfect. She was ours.
We had to expand the house to account for the little one. One project led to another, and it got to a point where I couldn’t remember the last day I didn’t have a hammer in my hands. It feels like all I did was blink and Rosie was right there next to me, swinging a hammer of her own. She grew up quick, and life out there was tough, but she was about the sweetest, best-natured person I had ever come across. She got that from Myra. There were times I’d be building something with Rosie and I’d catch Myra out of the corner of my eye, just smiling.
Our life was perfect. I should have known it wasn’t going to last. Maybe I did and I just didn’t want to believe it. A lot of people say they have premonitions about these kinds of things. “I dreamed of a flaming horse riding through our house,” or something like that. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. I know there was nothing like that for me. One minute we were perfect. And then all I remember were the flames.
The smoke was creeping under the door. I smelled it, but I couldn’t immediately place what it meant. By the time I reacted, it was already too late.
I can’t bear to relive most of the details of that night. The sounds and smells are things I will never forget. I watched as the light went out of Myra’s eyes. And Rosie…I can’t even think about Rosie. Then it was my turn. I closed my eyes. The last thing I heard was the voice of Chet Sawyer. I can’t even remember what he said. The words didn’t matter. I felt cold steel against my throat and I slumped to the dirt, watching my blood mix with the dirt. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sky. And maybe it was just the fire, but the sky burned a dangerous blood red.
I felt rage. I felt anger. I felt sadness. Then I felt nothing at all.
They put me in the ground. I don’t specifically remember it, but it must have happened as I found myself buried deep underground, without so much as a cheap wooden box to hold my body. By the time I found my way to the surface, my house was nothing but a pile of ash. It was cool to the touch. How long had I been out? And why am I not dead?
I reached up to feel my neck. I felt dried blood and a deep wound. Then I realized something else that I felt: my neck was cold. I touched my face. My arms. My legs. Everything was cold. It dawned on me that the answer to the question “why am I not dead,” was easy: I was dead.
As I was attempting to process this information, I looked across the burned landscape that was once my home. I noticed something caught in one of the trees, flapping slightly in the breeze. I walked over and found it to be one of Myra’s scarves. It had been burned in the fire, but only around the edges. If I had been capable of tears, I can assure you at least one would have rolled down my cheek. But I am not. Not anymore. I grabbed it from the tree and tied it around my neck to cover my scar.
My path was clear. I would destroy the very mention of the Sawyers. The name itself would die on people’s lips. The mere thought of what happened to them would send shivers up spines. I would take what they did to my family and repay it tenfold. I would tear the world up until I had my revenge.
And so, with one last look at the remains of my home, I began walking.