There was a faint buzzing and ringing in Wayne’s ears. He shook his head to ignore it, but it persisted in the back of his mind. He adjusted the rope to the other shoulder and continued trudging along. The man at the end of the rope kept struggling and squirming. It was starting to annoy Wayne.
As was the heat. God damn, how was he supposed to get anything done? How did anyone get anything done like this?
Wayne lifted off his hat and wiped his brow. Slowly, he sank to the ground, deciding it was best to rest. He would need to keep his strength up. Wayne got out his canteen and took a long slow drink. As he did, the man at the end of the rope’s eyes grew wide. He started squirming even more. Wayne arched an eyebrow and looked at him with amusement.
“Keep on doin’ that, and you really won’t get any.”
The squirming stopped. Wayne chuckled and continued to drink. He stared out at the wide expanse of desert and sighed deeply.
“There’s something I love about being out here. Just the… desolate quiet. And it’s beautiful out here. It really is.” Wayne turned to the man at the end of the rope. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Slowly, dolefully, the man nodded. He didn’t take his eyes off the water canteen though.
Wayne got up slowly, and sauntered over to the man. That buzzing, that ringing, was still there. He shook his head to try and dispel it. He stood over the man menacingly, holding the canteen behind his back.
“Now, I couldn’t help but notice that you agreed with me, but you didn’t happen to even look around at this beautiful landscape that surrounds us. So how could you possibly agree with me?” The man shook his head, fighting against the gag over his mouth.
Wayne continued: “I’m gonna give you one more chance. Go ahead. Look around. Everything is orange and brown and gorgeous in the sun. It’ll be setting soon, and you’ll get to see a whole other world out here. Ain’t it purdy? Isn’t this what everyone came out here for? Yet no one enjoys it. Only those who wander out here and take the time to appreciate the places like this. No one around for dozens of miles. It’s serene almost. Now, one more time: Isn’t it beautiful?”
Wayne stooped over and removed the gag. The man looked around him, seeming to take it all in.
“Yes, sir,” he said in a timid voice.
“Now, come on Will, you don’t have to call me sir,” drawled Wayne. “You can just call me Wayne out here.”
Will nodded once. “Yes, Wayne. I understand.”
“Good. Glad you understand. You want a little water?” Wayne shook the canteen at him.
“You know to respect people. I’ll give you that, Will,” Wayne said, slowly drawing the top of the canteen. A breeze blew through the sparse vegetation, rattling it unsettlingly. Almost as unsettling as the pause that was now descending between Wayne and Will. Will looked back and forth nervously.
“SOME people. You know how to respect some people,” Wayne finished, and poured the water into Will’s eyes. Will thrashed about, shaking his head, trying to get the water out of his eyes. Eventually, he started screaming.
“HELP!!! SOMEONE HELP!!!” he hollered at the top of his lungs. Wayne just shook his head.
“Ain’t no one around for miles. Now come on. There’s a tree coming up here in a handful of miles I’m really itching to show ya.”
Wayne put the gag back on Will, hoisted the rope over his shoulder, and continued walking.
About two hours and several miles passed, and Wayne had finally reached his destination: a scraggly tree out in the middle of the desert. He left Will several yards away, and walked over to the tree, his spurs jangling. He looked up at it with awe, almost reverence.
“So many people hung here already. Who knows how many more there will be by the time it’s all said and done? Whenever that may be.” Wayne touched the rough bark lightly. He heard a crunching noise behind him and turned around. Will was trying to roll away. Wayne shook his head at him.
As he looked at Will rolling around in the dust, the low buzzing came back. The ringing. Wayne put his hands up to temples, pressing hard. It’d been like this for hours now. Ever since he dragged Will out to this god forsaken desert. Finally, it subsided. Wayne glared at Will, who was still trying to roll away. Wayne stalked towards him and put a foot down right on his gut. Will grunted, his eyes watering with pain. Wayne dragged him over to the tree roughly. He threw him against the trunk, and the tree shuttered. Will hit his head hard and cried out through the gag. The tears hadn’t stopped. Wayne glared at him. More buzzing and ringing again. He pushed on.
“Will Hart. You have been found guilty of the rape of my daughter, and therefore I sentence you to hang by the neck until dead. Do you have anything to say for yourself before the sentence is carried out?” Wayne ripped the gag off of Will. Will looked around in bewilderment.
“What? Rape? Please, Wayne, I have no idea what you’re talking about, we were boyfriend and girlfriend for god’s sake!-” Will pleaded with Wayne, but he cut him short.
“You have besmirched her honor, Will!”
“Premarital sex is not besmirching her honor, you old antiquated bastard! What the fuck is wrong with you??” Will yelled at him, now enraged. The pain was going away, and he was emboldened by it. That, and the fact that Wayne was clearly insane. “You drag me out here for hours, I’m fucking dirty and bloody and bruised up, and your plan is to hang me? What year do you live in? Are you seriously gonna hang every single one of her boyfriends that she has for the rest of her life?”
“She’s 16! She’s not able to make these decisions by herself! You obviously had to take her forcefully!” Wayne was getting hot now, his blood boiling. His hand reached instinctively for the gun that was holstered there.
“She is fully capable of making her own decisions! What, you think just because I’m 19 that means she’s not old enough for me? Fuck you, old man! If she can drive, she’s allowed to make her own decisions about who she fucks! And she chose me! So fuck you!”
The buzzing swelled in Wayne’s ears. The ringing also. He couldn’t take it anymore. He took the gun out, and fired it into Will’s leg. The shot echoed across the desert. Will screamed out.
“AAAHHH!!! FUCK!!!!!!!” Will was openly crying now. He tried to take deep breaths but found it difficult. The pain was excruciating. He looked up at Wayne. His breathing was labored. Everything was agony. “Please, Wayne, don’t do this. I’m sorry. I won’t see her ever again. I’ll leave forever.”
“It’s too late for that,” Wayne said, turning away. The gunshot had temporarily gotten rid of the buzzing, but it was still there in the background of everything. Will looked up at Wayne.
“Answer your fucking phone already, your psychopath, it’s been ringing for hours.”
Wayne went over to Will and hit him over the head with the butt of his gun. Will slumped over on the ground. Wayne walked away a few paces, and took his cell phone out of his pocket.
“This is Wayne.”
“Dad? It’s Grace. Where are you? You left me home alone.”
“Your mother isn’t home?”
“No, she had to leave for a teacher meeting! Remember?” Grace’s voice was annoyed.
“Oh, I’m sorry sweet pea. I had entirely forgotten. I didn’t mean to leave you alone. Were you able to get dinner?” Wayne was genuinely sorry. He didn’t mean to abandon his daughter like this.
“No, that’s why I’ve been calling. That and you just kinda left out of nowhere. You weren’t answering and I had to take some money out of the jar for gas and some fast food. I hope that was ok.”
“Of course it is. I’m sorry again, Grace. I just got a sudden call for work and had to leave. I’ll be back later tonight, ok? I promise.”
“All right. Should I let mom know? She’s been trying to get ahold of you too.”
“If you would. Thanks, Grace. Love you.” Wayne meant it.
“Love you too, Dad. I’ll see you tonight. Hope work goes ok.”
Grace hung up, and Wayne looked at his phone dolefully. He didn’t want to have to leave her alone. He didn’t ever want her to suffer. But she was growing up. Capable of driving, capable of going out and getting fast food on her own. Maybe it was time to let her test her newfound wings, the wings that came with being an adult. Wayne stared at the unconscious form of Will for a long time.
Finally, Wayne sighed. That time would come at some point. But it wasn’t yet.
He slung a rope over a branch of the tree.
Dan Heise is a writer and actor originally from St. Louis, now living in Portland. He occasionally works at Powell’s City of Books. Dan enjoys reading plays and young adult novels, and mostly enjoys writing plays and poems. His favorite part of Western movies is the music. Unsurprisingly, his favorite western movie is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.