“Ava, grab Morgan and get down!” a disgruntled, bearded outlaw yelled within a desolate lodge.
The blistering sound of bullets rattled that very lodge that was isolated and nestled alongside the
Appalachian mountains. Each devastating round tore the lodge asunder as the sound of a child crying could be heard from within.
Ava made haste to grab Morgan, their only child, but saw her husband riddled with bullets as he clawed his way to find his holster. Slithering across the floor leaving a trail of blood, he grabbed his gun with trembling hands. He frantically placed six rounds in the cylinder and slammed it shut. His mind was racing as fast as his heart, and he knew that it was time to own up for his sins.
“Now listen here, Ava, take the boy to the cellar, lock it shut, and don’t you come out until its dead silent.
Don’t make a peep no matter what happens…” he muttered as he began to cough up blood while gripping his wife’s hand.
“Carson… baby… how did it come to this?” Ava cried.
“Dammit, Ava, get into the cellar now. I’m begging you, love.” He replied as a tear trembled down his eye.
Just outside, four men on horseback offered a cold, solemn stare at the lodge.
“Now we’re here for Carson. We have no quarrel with anyone else that may be dwelling about inside.
Give us the two-timing bastard and we’ll let anyone lingering survive past sundown,” declared a
displeased and clean shaven bandit.
“Is that you… Abraham?” muttered Carson.
“Why yes it is, Carson. You ran off with our fair share of the haul, yet you decided to stir up some chaos among your brothers. You did have that grand dream of retiring with your wife… Ava… is that right? And what about that young pup, Morgan? Are they in there too? You really think you’re gonna enjoy them earnings? Boy, do you hear me? Do you think you can just turn your back on your own brothers after we took all that money from Uncle Sam?” stated Abraham with vexed look.
“You always did have a knack for running your gums, Abraham,” replied Carson.
“I’ve had enough of this pretend cow poke. Chester, Jeremiah, Obadiah… lets end this bastard here now.
What do you say, boys?” Abraham confessed.
“Oh boss, I’ve been waiting for this here day to come for a while now,” confirmed Jeremiah.
“Never thought much of this rat anyways,” Chester followed.
“Now, now listen here Abraham. Do you feel this is absolutely necessary? And what of his family?” Obadiah argued.
“Are you giving me lip, Obadiah? You always did have a hard on for ole Carson didn’t ya? Now what I say goes. And on this very day, Carson will be laid to rest. All of you dismount, and lets get this over with. No survivors today,” shouted Abraham.
Chester, Jeremiah, and Abraham dismounted their steeds as Obadiah grew hesitant about what would transpire. He looked at his brothers as if he were watching a pack of wolves hunt a family of deer.
“Chester, Jeremiah, get that damn door down. And Obadiah, get your ass over here and help out. Unless, you intend on joining Carson today,” Abraham declared.
Obadiah followed suite and approached the lodge, but it didn’t sit well with him. After all, he’s the one that convinced Carson to get on board with the heist due to a childhood promise he made to him.
When Carson was 8-years-old, his mother ran off with another man who had accrued much more money than his father. Only a year after, his father perished from typhoid fever, which left him an orphan.
Obadiah, only three years older, lived next door with his family, and convinced his father to take Carson in. The two grew close in a relatively short period, and it was Obadiah’s promise that he would help Carson achieve all the wealth he could ever have so that he could one day have his own family. This gave the young Carson a plethora of hope.
“Abraham, I implore you to reconsider this. You said you’d spare anyone else lingering about,” pleaded Obadiah.
“The damn decisions made. Now shut the hell up. There ain’t no turning back now. He made a decision and threw his own life away.” Abraham spoke with resentment.
Inside the lodge, Carson stood up, trembling, and spewing blood all over the floor. Clenching his chest, he knew his time was near. He reached for a photo of his wife on the table next to the fireplace, and said, “You were the one who took a gamble on me, and I loved you dearly for it. My beloved, Ava, I’m sorry this road took us here. In this life or the next, I will hold every memory of you dear. You were my godsend, and gave us a miracle. I’ll miss you both.”
“Ava, I love you, honey. Look after our boy, and tell him his father loved him more than anything this damn cash could ever buy,” stated Carson.
A loud thud could be heard behind Carson. Abraham walked without a word past Chester and Jeremiah, who both managed to get the door down. He reached for his gun, pulled it out, and fired several rounds into Carson’s chest. Chester collapsed on the cellar doors with his wife’s picture in hand. His breathe slowed, and his words became garbled.
“What’s this, Carson?” Abraham spoke inquisitively as he snatched the photo from his twitching hand.
“Boys, now ain’t his wife a beaut? Where’s this little she devil now?” Abraham spoke in a callous and secheming tone.
“I gave… you… all my… best,” Carson uttered with his last breathe.
“Now did you?” Abraham spoke as he lifted his gun.
The resounding sound of a gun shot rattled and echoed throughout the woods nearby. Ava, just below the floorboards, was privy to what had occurred. She hugged Morgan and began weeping uncontrollably.
Her own grief was the catalyst for what happened next.
“Woooo, can you hear that? I think I hear a damsel in distress feeling sorrow for her late husband. I wonder where she is. Ava… Ava… it’s OK dear. There ain’t nothing to cry for no more. You can blame all this on Carson, the man who preached of loyalty, yet had none in his last moments. Don’t you see this clearly? He betrayed his own brothers, you, and that son of yours. You should be grateful we put such a hypocrite out his own misery,” Abraham snickered as he slowly crept towards the cellar doors.
Without notice, Abraham opened those very doors exposing a hollow and mournful Ava. “Ah, is that the boy? He bears an uncanny resemblance to his father,” he said as he pointed at Carson’s corpse.
“Boys, grab Carson’s whore out of there! And Obadiah, get the child,” shouted Abraham.
Chester and Jeremiah reached in to yank Ava out as she began shaking compulsively. “Since you two have expressed such loyalty unlike our dearly departed brother, I’m going to treat you to something special. You two can have your way with her, but at least take it upstairs. We are decent folk after all,” proclaimed Abraham as he began laughing hysterically.
“Oh, and you, Obadiah, you’re welcome to the boy as well. Just take it outside, would ya?” Abraham mockingly suggested.
Obadiah took Morgan and shoveled him outside with haste. He tossed him onto the back of his steed and whispered “Stay here. Your daddy was a brother to me, which therefore makes your momma my sister.
As for me, I’m just an educated bandit. It war your poppa who had the big dreams. It should’ve been me in his place.”
Obadiah made his way back towards the lodge, but with both of his revolvers in hand. As he made his way over the torn down door, he said “Abraham, it wasn’t my intention, but now I have to reconsider this travesty. I will join Carson, my only brother, today, if I must.”
Abraham turned around with an obtuse smile plastered across his face and shouted “Then lets get on it with, hero.” As Abraham raised his arm to fire, Obadiah blasted several holes into his chest before his body plummeted to the floor.
“Hey boss, what’s going on down there? Ain’t the poor bastard dead enough?” Chester yelled from the second floor as Ava could be heard screaming.
“Chester, Carson just rose from the dead and took out Abraham. Y’all boys better come down here quick. Carson won’t be a problem no more, but we got to sort out what’s just happened to dear old Abraham,” Obadiah replied as an effort to lure the other two.
“God damn, just when we were about to have our fix the boss has to go ahead and get croaked by a dead man. This doesn’t smell right, Chester. We saw the boss put a bullet right into Carson’s head. I think you better go check on Abraham,” Jeremiah spoke with a confused stare.
“Alright, but don’t you get greedy and keep her all to yourself. I need to get my fix before sundown,”
Chester declared as he walked out of the bedroom.
“Oh hush, I’m gonna have my way with this wag-tail now. Now vamoose,” Jeremiah spoke fervently as he began to rip off Ava’s clothes.
Chester made his way down the staircase with his pistol in hand, and his eyes fixated on the lifeless void that was now Abraham’s final resting place. He uprooted his gaze to see Obadiah breathing heavily with a white-eyed stare in return. “What the hell is this, Obadiah? Why are you holding your gun like that?”
Chester reverberated with an abstract tone.
No hesitation was offered for what happened next. Obadiah placed a bullet square between Chester’s eyes as he fell to the ground next to Abraham. “You up there, Jeremiah, I need to have a word with you,” he bellowed at the top of his lungs.
As he made his way upstairs, he could hear the sound of Ava crying endlessly. Every step he took matched his heartbeat, and as he approached the door, he wondered. He wondered about how everything had to come to this, and if intrinsic values such as loyalty held any real place in this world anymore. As if the west no longer had a place for men like Obadiah and Carson. He recalled a conversation he had with Carson shortly after his parents died.
“Carson… Carson… get your hide over here and take a gander at this,” young Obadiah spoke while holding a 15th century Spanish Dollar up in the air.
“Obadiah, what ya holding?” an inquisitive and youthful Carson replied.
“This here is the key to our future, brother. We’re going to be rich as soon as we can get you to ride a horse properly,” he laughed with a candid look. “But what makes us brothers, is that when your poppa died, I decided I’d look after you. Do you know what that’s called, Carson? Loyalty. And brothers need to be loyal to one another. So I promise you, I’ll make sure you have more riches then you could ever possibly dream. And we’ll get there together, do you understand?” he spoke with absolute certainty.
“Loyalty. Like no matter what we’ll look after each other?” Carson responded with a timid curiosity.
“Yes, that’s what that means, Carson,” Obadiah spoke with confidence.
“Huh, loyalty,” he said to himself as he opened the door to see Jeremiah having his way with Ava.
“Jeremiah, get off her. You know this ain’t right. We were brothers loyal to a cause, our cause,” Obadiah proclaimed with utter intensity.
Jeremiah retreated from his position to grab his gun while he buckled up his pants. He snatched Ava off the bed and placed the barrel against her temple and insisted that Obadiah back down.
“Now, Oby, I can appreciate your dedication and fervency to this idea of loyalty, but you should’ve had that talk with Carson before he put us here in the first place,” Jeremiah commented with the pressure of the gun increasing against Ava’s temple.
“Let her go, Jeremiah. Do you want to make poor ole Morgan an orphan?” Obadiah yelled back.
“That don’t matter no more. Carson made his choice, and you made yours,” Jeremiah spoke softly as he pulled the trigger. He began to laugh as manically as Abraham did when after he murdered Carson in cold blood, and then suddenly shifted his focus onto Obadiah through the barrel of his gun.
They began to fire erratically at each other, and as they both collapsed, Obadiah spoke, “Carson, the only thing that I ever gave a damn about was loyalty. But that doesn’t matter, I let you down brother. Now, I’ll be seeing you and Ava real soon,” muttered a dying Obadiah.
Outside, Morgan dismounted Obadiah’s steed to make his way towards the bloodbath that just ensued. He saw the lifeless body of his father strewn across the floor, and just a few inches away, the cadavers of Chester and Abraham blocked the staircase. His eyes grew heavy with tears, and he began to let his tears manifest through what he was witnessing.
As he made his way to parents room, he could only hear the sound of the wind whistling through the bullet holes. He pushed open the bedroom door and saw his mother, Jeremiah, and Obadiah on the floor.
In a moment, his entire life was forever altered by the different notions of loyalty. He knew his father was loyal to his family, but Abraham was loyal to himself, and Obadiah was loyal to a promise that bound him to Carson.
Morgan fell to his knees, placed his hands on his eyes, and he let out a horrifying scream.
Michael Santiago is an aspiring author and current English teacher in Nanjing, China. He decided to get into education so that he could not only travel the world doing what he loves, but to ignite that creative spark by putting the power of storytelling into the hands of his students. His creative drive and passion for literature has helped him translate the power of books and their capacity to bestow knowledge onto his children.