Unexpected laughter churned its way to the surface. There was nothing here to be laughed at, except his foolish hope, the hope of finding things as they once were. Can it even be called hope if you know full well it’s impossible? What is it called then?
He scanned the village. The village he’d lived in only a few weeks ago. It was never home, at least not his home. It was just a place to sleep and eat and be with friends. It had been home to others, but no more. Now no one would call this place home.
He felt nothing. No sorrow, no regret, no pain, absolutely nothing. How was that possible? Walking down the dirt paths, peering through open doors, he should feel something. Some tug of... Dios, maybe he was crazy.
Some of the houses remained untouched. Tomas’ house was left as it was; chairs pushed away from a table, cards still placed face down and hidden from view. What they were didn’t matter now. Tomas was dead.
Next was Ava’s house. A tea cup lay on its side. Its contents gone, leaving only a brown stain on a wrinkled cloth. The tipped cup would have troubled her. So he smoothed the cloth and righted the cup. It was her favorite, the one with the golden rim. The one she carried to their bed each morning when she would wake him.
Across the street was Ruiz’s house. A child’s rag doll sat in a chair. It was not just any child’s doll, it was little Rosa’s doll. She wouldn’t go anywhere without it. Lovingly placed, she had every intention of coming back. He picked it up. Ran his finger across the worn painted face and cursed. And still, he felt nothing.
Other houses were broken and bloodied. Doors kicked in. Furniture tossed, dishes broken. Still others were burned to the ground. Alejandro, Emanuel, Paco, their homes, their families, all gone. They were gone. Paco, shot down before his eyes. And yet, he felt nothing.
So many things are taken for granted, smells, sights, sounds. The mouth-watering smell of Maya’s carnitas, the sight of the barefoot children running through the streets, the ever present sound of Sabine yelling at her poor drunken husband, Miguel, all these things made up everyday life. All these things were no more.
As he made his way to the eastern edge of the village a gust of wind carried the day’s savage heat and the smell. The smell that told him he was headed in the right direction. And even though he knew what he would see, the sight was still staggering. A feeble attempt at a grave, hastily dug, stood out against the flat, crusted earth. Bits of cloth escaped through cracks in their tomb, the bold colors stark against the dreary surroundings, a vivid reminder of life lost.
He stood there, silently naming each person that lay in that grave. And he felt nothing.
How was he supposed to feel? He was alive, by no fault of his own. He’d been ready, ready to meet their same fate. Would have welcomed it, knowing for the first time in his life, he was doing the right thing. Even helped Ruiz to escape, but to what end? Everything Ruiz loved and fought for had been here, including his sweet Rosa. He’d done him no favor. Yet he still felt nothing.
Could this be what it felt like to be dead? Had he met his maker on that hill? The man in the suit, the man looking so out of place, was he sent to guide him to the pearly gates? And when he didn’t go with him, said he’d go to hell for a thousand dollars, had he made his choice? Hell? Maybe that’s where he was. Funny thing though, if this was hell, he’d been here all along.
Rosa’s doll still hung limp from his hand. He looked at it once more then moved toward the mound and gently placed it on top. “For you, Rosa.”
Casting his eyes upward he took in the sky. The pale yellow sun had worked its way from east to west, greedily gorging on the morning’s brilliant blue, leaving behind only a hint of its original color. The color of that sky scorched his memory, the lightest shade of blue he ever remembered. He squinted and considered his future, more of the same, no doubt. He hoped it could be different. He figured he’d be wrong.
He’d been summoned by the devil himself, the solitary figure that lurked in the shadows, taunting him his entire life. Hell, he was never one to shy away from a fight; just this one hadn’t needed to be fought. Now, the devil has put out the call and Madrid would answer. He expected to feel a thrill or a bit of fear, but he felt nothing.
Time slipped away and his next conscious thought was in darkness, the remaining daylight hours lost to him. Even in the moonlight the heat was suffocating. It crowded him, as he entered the stable, slowed his every move. The slender moon’s silvery cast offered just a hint of light. It was enough. The stable was a place he was familiar with. Now only emptiness filled the stalls. His horse was gone. Captured when he was captured, a difficult animal, one most men would be unable to handle. Likely, he’d been killed, killed for throwing the wrong man. Even the loss of his beloved pinto left him feeling nothing.
Moving through the darkness he easily found what he sought. Tucked away in a corner hidden beneath blankets was his past. The things he carried with him when he arrived, the things that set him apart, his clothes, his saddle and most importantly his gun. The gun he’d spent hours perfecting, weight, grip, barrel, and altered for fanning - the gun of a killer. Each piece spoke of Madrid, the gunfighter. The man he tried to leave behind and the man he was, once more. It was the gun that spoke the loudest.
But it was never his only gun. No, he always had more than one. In fact, he’d arrived with nearly a dozen, most for his compadres, nice people but poorly prepared. Guns and ammo, bought with money from his last job, a job that turned out nothing like he’d expected. No matter, this little revolution hadn’t turned out like he’d expected either. Guess that’s how things were going to be from now on – not as expected.
He still carried the gun from his escape, a Pinkerton’s gun. Adequate, it got the job done. In his hands most any gun would. Pulling his own from its holster he ran his fingers down the barrel, felt its balance and knew, knew this is who he was meant to be. This was the gun that started it all, his first gun, a gun, he both respected and despised, much like the man who gave it to him. For without this gun Madrid would have never existed.
Steps repeated many times before were completed once again. There was a love, a reverence to his actions. Making sure the gun wasn’t loaded then - half cock, loosen catch screw, draw out center pin, open gate, he knew the order, had done it countless times. There’s something to be said for repetition. Once apart he oiled each piece with a chamois then reversed the order and re-assembled.
Next was his saddle. Normally, he would have never put it away. No need, it didn’t speak of a killer. But Alejandro offered the saddle of his fallen brother as a gift of gratitude. How could he not accept it?
With his tasks complete, a new day’s early glow brightened the eastern sky. He was ready, ready to take his mount and head north. It was the only horse that remained, the horse stolen from the Rurales, a horse long past his prime. Quality horses were reserved for the true soldiers. Not the sorry excuse for men that stood on a hillside and fired on command. These men did not deserve good horse flesh. At one time, though, this had been a magnificent animal and should serve him well enough.
Scanning the village one final time, he shook his head. Seemed you could get used to just about everything. Even death no longer caused him to feel, there was nothing.
He was in no hurry, just answering a simple request, a request for a son to visit his father, sweetened by the offer of cold hard cash. Did his father have any idea who he’d contacted, and what he was? It had been his experience that most men did know of Madrid. Did his father have any idea, how much he was hated? It had been his experience that most men were caught unaware by the depth of another man’s hate.
Images of this man filled his nightmares as a small child. Out of all the horrible men, his mother brought to her bed surely Murdoch Lancer had to be the worst. What else was a child to think? He no longer feared this man, the fear long ago turned to hate. In fact, there really was not much hate left, because to hate you had to feel, and he felt nothing.
Fear, hate, regret these were just a few of the things that made up a man. He felt none of them. What did that make him? When did they fade away? He wasn’t sure. Guess if you feel something often enough you just don’t notice it anymore. And as a child he lived with fear, hate and regret every single day. Fear, mostly for his Mama as he watched her carry on with one man after another. Hate, for those men and for his father. Regret, deep regret, for not being able to do a damn thing. But, like a bad smell, if it surrounds you day after day eventually you stop noticing.
He’d be a liar if he said these feelings never decided to buck and rear. When face to face with a deadly man or when trying to stop the gush of blood from a wound that hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, the fear or the hate or the regret would awaken.
Odd as it sounds, it was fear he missed most. It made him feel alive. His heart would work harder, his lungs would fill with air, and his palms would grow sweaty. Peering down the barrel of a gun or up at a hangman’s noose tended to make most men snivel and beg. Witnessing something unimaginable, facing your worst nightmare, stepping into the unknown, all these things would cause most men to tremble and at one time, long ago, so did he.
When was the last time he was truly afraid? He didn’t have to think about it. Two years back - in Yuma. There was one man that scared the shit out of him. Seeing what he did to those other two men wasn’t right. If nothing else, a man has a right to die with his skin on. Shit, had to kill them both just to put them out of their misery. The crazy bastard was next. It was his eyes, those wild eyes that filled him with fear. Movement slowed, breathing quickened, heart pounded – fear took root. For months after, just the memory of those eyes would cause him to break out into a… shit... not now though, now he felt nothing.
Solitary travel came natural to him. The days passed without notice. He felt no need to push. His old man wasn’t going anywhere. Care was given to the needs of his horse, though not always his own. He kept to the back trails, not wanting to meet up with anyone. The last thing he wanted was a lot of idle chatter.
What occurred next caught him completely off guard. As he and his mount picked their way down a steep embankment his horse just gave out beneath him, dead. He’d had horses die beneath him before, shot out from under him, only never like this. Bruised in a few places that showed and a few places that didn’t, mainly his pride for allowing something like this to happen, he simply sat for a while looking at the dead animal and wishing he felt something, but he felt nothing.
Pulling the saddle took considerable effort and by the time he was done the last thing he wanted to do was walk. The rumble of a stage caught his attention, and he scrambled up the other side of the embankment just in time. The stage was full and he squeezed between a priest and some city slicker, getting trail dust on his outfit. He offered an apology then settled in for the ride.
The stage came to a stop with the usual fanfare. Travelers excited to reach their destination climbed down. He was not excited. He felt nothing.
The girl called out, “Mr. Lancer?”
He thought he was caught off guard by his horse. That was nothing, compared to hearing a second voice respond, not once, but twice.
Not real sure when the feeling started to take hold, could have been right then, looking the ‘other’ Mr. Lancer up and down. Realizing, for the first time, this might be a whole lot more than what he bargained for. Realizing his old man may be worse than even he expected, throwing out two women instead of just one.
Or the feeling may have taken root when he stood and looked over the valley. At that moment, he did feel a flutter in the pit of his stomach then maybe a lump in his throat. He pushed it back down where it belonged.
They wound down the road, closer and closer. His stomach began to ache and his heart nearly beat out of his chest. He was about to step into the unknown and face his worst nightmare when he felt it, felt it for the first time in years, as the first few beads of cold sweat began to trickle down his back.
Waking the fear woke everything else, and as he stepped through the doorway it came at him with the fierceness of a charging bull and there was no escape. And for the briefest of moments he felt everything all the hate, the love, the regret, the gratitude, the security and the fear. He searched that face for some sign, some recollection but found none. And then with one word the spell was broken, and he felt nothing.
By: cobaltJan December 2008