A lone Rider appeared out of the shimmering heat of the Arizona desert. He crossed a trickle of water where a knee-deep stream once flowed, following the well-traveled road up the valley. Clumps of grass once green were now withered and brown. Trees dropped their leaves to conserve water.

The Rider rode past abandoned homesteads and sun-bleached bones of cattle that were left to fend for themselves. The ghosts of a defunct silver mine seemed to beckon when the winds blew steady and strong. But the Rider was undeterred from his mission: following the broken-horseshoe trail of four men.

Ahead, a wisp of smoke rose from a farmhouse’s chimney. When the Rider was closer, a boy came to the fence to greet him.

“Hey, mister.”

But the Rider didn’t stop or acknowledge him.

“Ain’t ya hot, mister? All dressed in black and all?”

The Rider stopped for a moment but then moved on.

“Ain’t ya thirsty? Maybe yer horse needs a drink. We ain’t got much, but I kin git some water fer him.”

The Rider stopped, turned, and tipped his hat. He dug his heels into his mount’s flanks, and they galloped off.

An hour later, the Rider reached the outskirts of Silver Rock City. He stopped at the town’s windmill. Its broken wheel rotated in the wind, click-clacking a steady rhythm. The dry-scraping sound of its pump echoed the town’s plight: no water.

An old man sat under a tree near the windmill, whittling a stick.

“How do, mister. Welcome to Silver Rock City.”

The Rider tipped his hat, and his horse bent down to the dry trough.

“Yer horse won’t find any water there, mister. Been bone dry fer... Lemme see.” He scratched his chin. “Yes sir, it’s been three years now since it last pumped water. Should tear it down but kinda use ta the sound it makes twirlin’ in the wind.”

The Rider tugged on the reigns and continued into town. The dangling sign above the vacant Silver Rock Mine office was evidence that hard times had come to stay. Accumulating sand and debris painted a grim epitaph for this once thriving municipality.

Sun-bleached wooden sidewalks, boarded-up businesses, and deserted dusty streets were sad reminders of better yesteryears. Fading placards for the 1889 territorial elections flapped in the breeze. A stray dog approached, barked but cowered and scurried down an alley with its tail between its legs.

The Rider stopped at the livery stable and watched the blacksmith pound a white-hot horseshoe. His horse reared its head and snorted from the clamor of the hammer striking the anvil.

Looking up, the blacksmith, a muscular, graying man of forty-eight, said, “Howdy, mister, can I help you?”

“How much to feed and water my horse?” asked the Rider while he dismounted.

The blacksmith sized up his horse. “Don’t look so he’d eat much. Want him rubbed down and brushed?”

“Just feed and water.”

The blacksmith reinserted the horseshoe deep inside the forge, sending sparks and flames whirling above the hot coals. “How many days?”

The Rider loosened the cinch and slid the saddle off. “Just a few hours.”

The blacksmith puckered and spit on the hotbed of coals, raising a burst of steam. “Six-bit minimum for the whole day and night. Pay when you ride out.”

The Rider nodded. “Town got a sheriff?”

“Not anymore.”

“What you mean?” the Rider slung the saddle over the side of a stall to face the blacksmith.

The blacksmith repositioned the horseshoe in the hot coals, releasing more flames. “Four men rode into town yesterday afternoon, went straight over to the sheriff’s office. Called him out ‘n shot him dead in the doorway. Never even grew his gun.”

"Where these men now?"

“After they killed him, they went over to the saloon. Been holed up, drinking, and busting up the place ever since. Never seen nothing like it before, mister.” The blacksmith shook his head. “Didn’t care much for the sheriff; still, that's no way to gun a man down.”

The Rider took a wanted poster from his breast pocket. “These the men?”

“Can’t say for sure.” The blacksmith rubbed his chin. “Couldn’t see them close up. What they do?”

The Rider folded the poster to slide it in his pocket. “Murdered a family up north aways... with young ones... and a baby, too.”

The blacksmith pulled a white-hot horseshoe out of the forge. “Hope you get them, mister. Sure, hope you do.” He pointed at the saloon. “Them horses been tied up with no food, no water since they rode in. Never did come here for me to look after them, neither. Who does that to a horse?”

The Rider took a long, slender cigar from a breast pocket, bit off the tip, and leaned down to light it on the hot horseshoe. After a few puffs, he glanced at the town hall’s clock tower. Its hands read five minutes until four.

The Rider unholstered his bone-handled Colt .45, checked its rounds, and slid it into its cradle. He nodded to the blacksmith and walked toward the saloon.

When he was in earshot, the drunken laughter of the men amused the Rider. He stepped on the wooden sidewalk, checked the streets, discarded the cigar, and paused. On the fourth clang of the clock tower’s bell, he pushed through the doors.


No one was in the saloon except the four men. John stood at the bar with a glass in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Ben watched the player piano's keys plunking out a tune. Earl and Jake talked and laughed across from Ben.

John saw The Rider’s reflection in the mirror. “Looky here, we got us a visitor.”

The laughter stopped, and the men pivoted toward the Rider.

“Get him, Ben,” yelled John, dropping the bottle and going for his gun.

Ben, to the Rider’s left side, pulled his revolver to fire. The Rider drew and dropped him before he was able to shoot. The Rider whirled to face the others and let loose another round, killing John. He rolled to the floor and shot at the other two, missing Earl but nicking Jake. The Rider took aim for another attempt. It was too late. Earl and Jake returned fire, and while one man’s bullet missed and struck the wall, one bullet pierced the Rider’s chest.

The Rider lay motionless on the floor.

“I’m hit,” yelled Jake, grabbing his arm and wincing from the burning pain.

“How bad?” asked Earl.

“Just winged me.” Jake’s shirt, torn above the elbow, was bloodstained where The Rider’s bullet had grazed his shooting arm. He pressed on the wound to stop the bleeding. “I’ll be all right.”

“We got him good, didn’t we? Sure he’s dead?”

Jake knelt next to the Rider, ear to his chest. “Nuthing. He’s dead. Got him plumb where it counts.” He checked the Rider’s pockets.

“Find anything?”

“Just this here wanted poster of us with bullet holes right through it.”

“Lemme see.”

Jake grabbed hold of a chair to steady himself and grimaced as he stood.

“Whoa.” He staggered while he moved toward Earl.

“You okay, Jake?”

“Stood too fast, I reckon...I’m okay. Here, take it.” Jake tossed the poster toward Earl then asked, “What we gonna do with Ben and John?”

“Put them in the storeroom, I guess,” said Earl. “And this here one?”

“Dump him to the street. I don’t wanna be looking at him while we wait the hour.”

“Who’s got the prayer stick we took from the Hopi shaman?” asked Earl.

“The Pahos?”

“Yeah, the Pahos. Who’s got it?”

“I don’t,” said Jake. “If you don’t, must be Ben or John.”

“Well, find it. If we lose it, none of us is coming back from the dead, now ain’t we?”

“Dang it, Earl, you shot the shaman dead ‘cause he wouldn’t handover the Pahos. Gonna kill me too? Besides, you’re always trying to boss me ‘round, and I’m sick of it. I’ll find the gawl darn stick.”

Jake searched through Ben’s saddlebags but couldn’t find it. He then rummaged through John’s bag. “Found it!”

“Gimme here, I’ll keep it.”

“Why you, Earl? I can keep it just as safe. Concentrate on remembering the chant else the Pahos don’t work, and I’ll keep the prayer stick.”

“Shut your yap, Jake. I remember the chant! Do you?”

“Yeah, I remember it.”

“Crap then, the stick ain’t worth fighting ‘n killing over. Keep the damn thing; just don’t lose it, you hear?”

“I kin hear real good. Let’s cut the wrangling.” Standing near the Rider’s body, Jake said, “Help me with Ben and John. Then we’ll git rid of this here one. Besides, my arm hurts something fierce, and I need a drink.”

The two men carried Ben and John’s corpses to the storeroom and laid them next to the beer barrels and whiskey crates.

“Now let’s git ride of this,” said Jake, standing over the Rider’s lifeless frame. He reached and lifted the Rider by his feet. “Grab his shoulders, Earl.”

“He’s heavy,” said Earl.

“Yer an old squaw.”

“Ya give me the heavy end.”

“Yer still an old squaw.”

“Hold yer tongue, or I’ll hold it fer ya.”

Jake laughed as the two struggled with the Rider’s body.

They carried the Rider’s body to the sidewalk, heaved it into the street, and returned to the bar and resumed drinking and laughing. The sounds of the player piano and their laughter were loud enough that fear kept everyone away, and no one dared move him. A few faces appeared at windows but quickly disappeared.

The clock in the tower ticked on. Meanwhile, the piano played the same tune over and over. Earl and Jake stood at the bar, reliving how they had killed the Rider. Jake grabbed a bottle for another drink.

“How much drink you had?” asked Earl.

“What’s it to ya?”

“We gotta ride when it’s time, and you don’t ride so good when yer drunk.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout me, old man. I can drink you under the table any day of the week.”

“Says, who?”

“Ain’t you listenin’? Says me.”

“That proves ya had enough. Ya’d never go against me sober. So, lay off the whiskey for a while.”

Jake slammed the bottle on the bar and turned to the piano to vent his anger. “I’m beginning to hate that song. Musta heard it a hundred times. Jake pulled out his revolver and shot three rounds into it. It stopped playing. “Thar. That’s better.”

Earl picked a table off to one side of the room and sat, facing the saloon’s doors.

He took the wanted poster from his pocket and unfolded it. His eyes darted from the bullet holes in the wanted poster to the saloon’s doors. Then he tossed it on the table.

"They keep coming for us, must be the third time. Each new one’s better with a gun, and he ‘twas the best, yet.” He looked at Jake. “They used to come in twos. If one died, the other could revive him. Kinda strange, though, this one coming alone. Wonder what it means? Has me real spooked.”

“Now yer spooking me, Earl.”

Jake rested against the bar with a whiskey bottle raised for a swig, ignoring Earl’s warning. “No worry. We finished this one good. Maybe he’s the last.” He looked at his distorted image, ragged contours, and gray hair in the bar’s mirror and slammed the bottle on the bar. “Besides, I can’t take much more dying...Robs near ten years off me each time I die and am brought back.” His fingers followed the rough stubble and deep creases of his chin. “Look at ma face! It’s all haggard and wrinkled like an old man’s, and I ain’t 30 yet.”

Earl laughed. “You still look beautiful.”

“Earl, you’re a real jackass, you know? You look like an old graybeard yourself. How many times you been killed?”

“Lost count.”

“Well, it’s been too many times for me. Soon, I’ll be too old, and I might as well stay dead.”

“Stop talking thata ways. You’re talking nonsense.”

“Yeah, maybe I am at that. When can we bring Ben and John back?”

“After five. We gotta wait a full hour or more—you know that. Ben tried reviving me too soon. ‘Twas the most pain I can remember ever having. Now, shut up and have a drink to pass the time.”

“Thought ya said I ‘twere drinkin’ too much.”

“Sometimes, you think too much. Have another shot of whiskey. I don’t like to drink alone.”


Jake leaned against the bar. He tried to pour another drink, but his hand tremors splashed more whiskey out of the glass than in. He turned and looked to Earl.

“You think there’s anything to eat? I’m near starved. I’ma a-shakin’ from lack of food.”

“I ain’t see nothin’ but whiskey and beer.”

Earl went to the piano for a closer look. He tried to see what damage Jake had done.

“Ya shouldn’t done shoot the piano, Jake. I’ma hankerin’ for some music.”

“It were playin’ the same tune over and over. I couldn’t take hearin’ it one more time.”

“All the same, Jake, I wish ya wouldn’t done it.”

“Can’t turn back the clock... Speaking of a clock... It’s clangin’ agin’.”

On the fifth clang of the clock tower’s bell, the saloon doors swung open, and the Rider stepped inside. “Watch out, Earl. He’s back!” Jake dropped the whiskey bottle and went for his gun, but the Rider nailed him before Jake lifted it out of his holster. Jake fell to the floor, dead.

The Rider turned to face Earl and fired twice, planting a slug deep in his belly and one in his leg. Earl shot too, sending a bullet to its target. Reeling backward, The Rider fell through the doors into the street. Earl zigzagged to the window. The Rider was lying in the hot sunshine. Holding his belly wound, Earl stumbled out the door, stood over the Rider, and put two more rounds into his body.

“Are you the last one, mister? Will there be more?”

Earl’s hands shook, yet he managed to holster his gun. Limping into the saloon, he knelt over Jake’s saddlebags, searching for the Pahos. After his trembling fingers retrieved it, he stood and staggered into the storeroom. He kneeled, waved the prayer stick over each body, and recited the Hopi shaman’s chant.

John was the first to awaken and push himself to a sitting position. He rubbed his forehead and felt the wrinkles in his face. “If I keep dying before long, ‘twill be too old to bother.”

Ben took a deep breath and coughed. “Yeah, and it don’t get any easier, neither,” said Ben, spitting on the floor. Ben rubbed his legs. “My feet don’t work yet. Help me up, John.”

“Hold on a minute. I ain’t all together; legs are burnin’ like fire.”

“It’ll pass, and then help me up.”

“Yeah, I always feel them burnin', but each time it takes longer before it goes away... Aaaah, that’s better. Come on, Ben, gimme your hand.”

Ben reached for John’s hand, and with some effort, John was able to stand on his own. He stomped and hopped on the floor several times.

“What ya doing, Ben?” asked John.

“My feet are still asleep. This helps get the blood a-flowin’.”

Earl struggled to his feet and wobbled to the bar. “Come on, boys, we gotta ride outta town.”

“Why the hurry?” said John, hobbling after Earl. “Still need to steady my legs a bit. Like Ben, the feeling ain’t in my toes, yet.”

“Thought you were never gonna revive us. Something keep you?” Ben asked, tottering close behind.

“Yeah, what kept you?” echoed John. He turned to see Jake’s crumpled body on the floor. “Guess you were kinda busy.”

“Before, they came in twos. If one was killed, the other could help him come back. This one’s different: he don’t need no help.” Earl slumped in a chair, holding his belly wound. “He got both of you, then Jake, and was near close to getting me too. If he kills all four of us at once, ‘tweren’t be no one to restore us, and we’ll stay dead. I fear our days are numbered. We gotta git outta town before the clock strikes six, and he comes gunning for us again.”

“What 'bout, Jake?” asked Ben.

“Strap him to his horse,” said John. “It ain’t yet the time.”

“He got me real good,” Earl said. “Die, soon, for sure. When I do, wait the set time. Here’s the Pahos for safekeeping. Until then, let’s ride.”

John and Ben shoved through the saloon doors, carrying Jake. They heaved his body on his horse and strapped it down.

Earl staggered to his horse. “Help me up, boys.”

John and Ben each grabbed an arm and helped Earl mount his horse.

“Mount up,” said Earl. “We gotta ride.”

“What ‘bout him?” asked Ben, pointing to the body of the Rider. “Think he’ll come back again?”

“Most likely. We got an hour before he does,” said Earl. Gotta put some distance ‘tween us and him by then.

The three hightailed it out of town with Jake’s horse in tow.


Earl’s belly wound continued to worsen. Blood soaked his shirt and seeped onto his saddle. Now their horses slowed to a crawl, barely putting one leg in front of the other.

“What’s wrong with these nags?” asked Ben. “I can walk faster than them.”

“They-they been watered? Or fed? Any of ya take care of the horses like I told ya?” asked Earl.

“I didn’t,” said Ben. “Thought Jake were gonna do it.”

“Me neither,” said John. “I’m with Ben. Jake were the one to do it.”

Earl leaned forward in the saddle and patted his horse’s neck. “That explains it. They’s ‘bout ta drop under us. And-and I’ma fadin’ fast.” Earl teeters and then falls from his saddle.

“’Twas a matter of time,” said John. He dismounts and kneels by Earl.

“He dead?” asked Ben.

John put his ear to Earl’s chest. “Yep. Dead.”

Ben dismounted and grabbed Earl’s legs. “Help me strap him to his horse.”

They tied him and remounted.

“Earl’s right. We gotta find water ‘n feed for these horses, or we’ll be on foot,” said John.

“We can’t go back...” said Ben as he scanned the horizon. “What’s that there smoke up yonder?”

“House, farm, maybe.”

“We’ll make for it.”

Ben and John dig their heels in, and their horses responded, galloping headlong toward the wisp of smoke. But soon, the horse slowed to a crawl again.

“Damn...” said Ben. “We’s better take it slow, or we’s be walkin’ soon.”


As the bell in the clock tower clanged six times, the Rider stood, stretched his arms, checked his Colt, and reloaded. Four lead slugs marked the spot where he lay in the street.

The blacksmith watched him get up and turn toward the livery stable. Trembling, he grabbed the saddle, blanket, and bridle, and readied the Rider’s horse for travel as fast as he could.

The Rider walked to the forge and paused.

“How-Howdy, mister. You feelin’, alright?”

The Rider ignored him and reached into his breast pocket, took out a cigar, and bit off the tip. The blacksmith took a couple of steps backward. The Rider retrieved the hot tongs and lit the cigar on the hot metal. He took a few puffs, smoke billowed above his head.

“Your horse’s been saddled and ready to ride. No need to pay; this here’s on me.” The blacksmith’s hands were shaking as he handed him the reins.

The Rider nodded, mounted his horse, looked up and down the deserted street. Here and there, doors opened, and heads popped out for a quick look-see. He rode to the outskirts of town. When he reached the windmill, he stopped. Its broken wheel rotated in the wind, click-clacking a steady rhythm. The dry-scraping sound of its pump was different. His horse bent down to the trough for a drink.

The old man looked up from his whittling. “Like I said, mister, that there windmill ain’t got no water. Yer horse won’t git no drink from there.”

A trickle, then a gush of water flowed from its pump.

“What’s that? Can’t be water, can it? Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! How’d that happen? You do’d that?” The old man hobbled toward his house. “Martha! Martha, come quick. Water! The windmill’s pumpin’ water again.” The old man disappeared into his house.

The Rider’s horse bent to the trough and drank. Once satisfied, the Rider and his mount continued on the road into the desert, following the broken-horseshoe trail.


Ben and John’s horses clip-clopped toward the farm. They were ready to drop under them. When they were a way off, a boy saw them coming. He went to the tree near the fence.

When they got closer, the boy stood on the lower rails and called to them. “Hey, mister. What’s the matter with yer friends? Why they tied to their horses like that?”

The horses stopped. Ben leaned forward, ignoring the boy’s questions. “Ya got a pa? A ma?”

“Sure, ain’t everybody?”

“They’s home, boy?” asked John.

“Why ya askin’?”

“‘Cause yer takin’ us to them, that’s why,” said Ben.

“No, I ain’t.”

“Listen here, boy,” said John. “We’s don’t want us no trouble, but either you take us gentle-like, or someone’s gonna get hurt when we’s find them.”

“You promise not to hurt, ma, and pa?”

“We promise. Don’t we, John?

“Sure, boy. We promise.”

The boy led John and Ben to the farmhouse. When they reach the farmyard, the boy called, “Pa.”

From within the barn, his pa answered. “What ya want, son?”

“Ya better come out here, pa.”

The boy’s pa walked out of the barn as Ben and John were dismounting.

“Howdy, friend.”

“We need water fer our horses,” said Ben.

“We ain’t got much, but ya can help yerself.”

“They need feed, and we need a place to rest.”

“This here barn has some hay, not much. Ain’t got no grain, though. ‘Tisn’t the most comfortable place, but yer welcome ta rest there.”

“Hay and water’ll do fer the horses,” said John. “And the barn’ll suit us just fine.”

“Got any whiskey, old man?” asked Ben.

“Don’t drink, myself. Keep a little for doctorin’.”

“Be obliged if ya’d get it.”

“Sure. Anything ya want, mister.”

“The misses got any food?”

“Yes. Some.”

“Be obliged fer whatever ya got.”

“Right away.” Pa turned toward the farmhouse.

“No. Send the boy.”


“Do as he say. And tell ma it’s gonna be alright. Tell her to stay in the house. Ya know where the whiskey is, don’t ya?”

“Yes, pa, I do.”

“Now, get a-goin’.”

John led the horses into the barn. The boy ran to the farmhouse.

“You come with us, old man,” said Ben.

“Whatever ya say, mister.”

Ben and Pa followed John into the barn.

“Help John with the bodies.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pa and John untied Jake’s body and laid it in a stall. Then they untied Earl’s body and put it next to Jake’s body. John removed the saddles and plops them on the barn floor.

“Stand over here, old man,” said Ben. “How long that boy of yers gonna take?

Pa stood near the barn door, waiting for his boy.

“It takes time ta get food ready. He’ll be a-comin’ soon.”

“Better be. I’m hungry.”


Meanwhile, the Rider followed the broken-horseshoe trail through the desert. He stopped on a ridge and scanned the horizon. From a farmhouse several miles in the distance, smoke curled and then was swept away by the desert winds. He dug his heels in, and his horse took off at full gallop.


Ben and John stood near the bodies of Jake and Earl.

“How long’s it been since Jake were kilt?” asked Ben.

“Near onta two hours. Why?” asked John.

“If’n we’s revived too early, there’s pain, but if we’s revived too late, there could be aftereffects.”

“What’s these there after ‘fects, Ben?”

“Once, I couldn’t move my foot for a whole day.”

“Well, I never had none.”

“Yer lucky. Better bring Jake back and see what happens to him. Maybe he’ll be lucky, too.”

John retrieved the Pahos from his saddlebag. He knelt near Jake’s body and started the Hopi shaman chant while waving the Pahos over Jake from his head to his feet.

Jake responded. His eyes opened, his chest heaved, he choked, and then sputtered. Jake rolled to his side. “I can’t breathe.” He coughed and spit on the ground. “That’s better...” Then he yelled, “Oh God, I’m on fire.”

“What you mean?” asked John.

“Ma legs and arms feel like they’s on fire. And I can’t move them... Help me, John. Help me sit.”

John pulled Jake to a sitting position, but his arms dangled, lifeless.

“Usually passes in a couple minutes.”

Jake twisted his torso, one way then the other, several times. His arms flailed about.

“It ain’t passin’. It’s like I’ma in tha middle of a roaring fire, and flames are burnin’ ma legs and arms.”

“His hair’s done turned white, too,” said Ben. “Ya see that, John?”

“What you mean, I’ma turned white?”

“I tell you; it’s turned white. Like an old man, Jake. Ya look like an old man.”

“Can’t be. I’ma twenty-five.” Jake continued to mumble on about his pain and white hair.

“Where’s that boy of yer’s, old man?” asked John. “Jake’s ‘bout to drive me crazy.”

“He’s a-comin’ ‘cross tha yard now.”

The boy stepped into the barn, carrying a nearly-empty bottle of whiskey and some food.

“Boy. Hurry up,” yelled John. “Bring that whiskey over here.”

The boy handed the bottle to John. “‘Tain’t much left, mister...” He turned to his pa. “You alright?”

“I’ma fine, son.”

John took the bottle from the boy and held it to Jake’s lips. “Take a slug of this.”

Jake gulped a mouth-full. “Gimme ‘nother.”

John held the bottle to Jake’s lips again. “Take it easy, Jake. There ain’t much.”

Jake swallowed another gulp of whiskey. “Ma legs are feelin’ a might bit better, and the fire’s lettin’ up. But I still can’t move ma arms. They’s dead weight.”

John turned to the old man. “Sure, you ain’t got more liquor hidden from the misses?”

“No. I swear. I’m a teetotaler myself.”

John held the bottle so Jake can swig the last of the whiskey. “That’s all there is, Jake. Can ya stand yet?”

Jake moved his feet and raised his knees. “Maybe, with help.”

“Hey, Ben, need some help with Jake.”

Ben and John grabbed Jake’s arms and helped him to stand.

Although he was a bit wobbly, Jake stomped his feet to get the blood circulation going and took a few steps on his own. “At least I can walk, but these arms of mine don’t work yet.”

“Before it’s too late, let’s revive Earl,” said John.

“You sure it’s time? Asked Ben. I think it’s just now approaching the hour.”

“Don’t matter. We gotta get Earl revived, eat, feed the horses, and ride before that stranger gets the drop on us.”

“Alright, I’ll perform the ritual. Gimme the Pahos,” said Ben.

Ben knelt by Earl, waved the Pahos over his body, and began the Hopi shaman’s chant.

The Rider stepped through the open barn door and fired, hitting Ben’s hand, and shattering the Pahos. John spun toward the gunshot, reaching for his weapon. The Rider nailed John before his gun left its holster. John dropped to his knees and fell face down in the dirt, dead.

Ben sprung toward a pile of hay. Pa and the boy dove for cover.

Dumbfounded, Jake stood in the middle of the barn, watching, still unable to move his arms. He moved to a nearby stall and hunkered down.

Ben drew and fired wildly at the Rider.

The Rider crouched and shot into the edge of the hay pile. The slug passed through and caught Ben’s upper chest before Ben could fire again.

“I’m hit... I’m hit real bad. John, Jake, you alright?” asked Ben.

“John’s down... Not movin’... Probably dead... I still can’t move ma arms.”

“He-he got the Pahos and my hand. Both shattered. Earl ain’t comin’ back. I guess he were right.”

“How’s that?”

“Our day of reckonin’ come after all.”

Ben shifted his position to get a bead on the Rider, left-handed. When he did, the Rider shot again. The bullet found its mark, through Ben’s heart. Ben nose-dived on the hay-covered barn floor.

“Ben,” yelled Jake. “Ben, you alright?

Jake cautiously peeked around the stall. He flexed his shooting hand; the feeling was returning to his arms and hands. “Don’t shoot, stranger. Ma arms ‘n hands don’t work, anyways.” Jake stood and stepped out of the stall.

The Rider kept his weapon trained on Jake.

The boy and his pa came out of hiding and walked in front of Jake. Jake reached for the boy, grabbed him, and held his gun to the boy’s head.

“Let him go,” said the Rider.

“Oh, no. Yer letin’ me go, or I’ll kill the boy. I ain’t got nuthin’ to lose, stranger.”

“Don’t let my boy git hurt, mister.”

“Nobody but Jake’s getting hurt today.”

“You say,” said Jake, laughing. “I got the boy... You got nuthin’.”

The boy rammed his heel into the arch of Jake’s right foot. “Take that, mister.”

“Yeeeoow. Ya son of a b*tch.”

Jake released the boy and staggered.

“Duck, boy,” yelled the Rider.

The boy dove to the ground. The Rider fired before Jake could recover. Jake fell backward, and his weapon flew across the barn floor. The Rider stood over him.

“Stra-stranger, who are you, anyways?” asked Jake, coughing blood. “I gotta know.

“You’ll know soon enough.”

“How’s that?”

“Remember that family up north? Man, woman, young ones... And a baby? Your bunch killed them all.”

“I-I remember.”

“While the others were killing the man and young ones, you tried to have your way with the woman but couldn’t muster. Out of spite, you killed her baby and then killed her. You’re the worst of the bunch, Jake.”

“How-How’d you know that? I never told nobody ‘bout that.”

“I know everything about you, Jake.”

“Then tell me, am-am I gonna make it outta here alive?”

“No, Jake. You ain’t.”

“Then end this now. I don’t wanna suffer.”

“Your suffering’s just beginning. Welcome to Hell.”

The Rider pulled the hammer and squeezed the trigger, sending a bullet between Jake’s eyes.

The boy and his pa held each other while the Rider walked to his horse.

Ma ran from the farmhouse. “Pa, what’s all the shooting? Anybody get hurt?”

“Everythin’s alright, ma.”

The Rider mounted, tipped his hat, and rode down the trail. The family watched until he disappeared from sight.

“Who was that man, pa?” asked ma.

“Don’t rightly know, ma. Gunman, bounty hunter, or more likely, avengin’ angel.”

“Get on, pa. That ‘tweren’t no angel.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Anyhows, we’s got graves to dig... Son, get the shovels.”