Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
The entire town was frantic with a panicked mix of excitement and fear. Guns were loaded. Empty wagons and barrels, stacks of furniture, bales of hay and bags of sand were piled across the front of Main Street. The sheriff stood on the front porch of his office and oversaw the preparations. It looked as if they were getting ready to take on a screaming scalping party of fearsome Comanche warriors, or perhaps a raiding band of Banditos from the southwest. The sheriff rubbed his beard. No, he would rather take on a hundred Comanche Indians or a hundred banditos than what he knew was coming.
In his weathered hand he held a letter written in a rough script, and signed with seven names. He growled and crumbled the paper in his fist, throwing it into the street. He cast a disdainful glance at the gallows behind the office, the hinges of its trap door still oiled and smooth from the day before. Jonathan Chandler had hung from a rope, finally meeting his well-deserved end. It had been a hard ride to catch him, and they only did because the boy’s horse failed him. The hanging had gone well, no protests or on the other hand, a lynch mob. The law in Bullseye Wyoming was respected and obeyed.
But there was a reason for the sheriff’s fear and anger. Jonathan had a father and six brothers, all dirty, bloody killers. The crumbled letter in the street only had two sentences, but it was enough to strife terror in the hearts of honest men.
“Shouldn’t have hung my boy, sheriff. We’re coming for you, and we’ll leave you and your town for the buzzards.”
Cursing everything he could bring to mind, he grabbed his scattergun from the rack.
“Emmy?” He called into the back room. Out stepped a woman around his age. She held in her hands a newly cleaned shotgun like his.
“I’m getting’ my gun, honey.” The woman walked up next to him. “These rascals will git a load of buckshot under their hide before they mess with my town and my sheriff.” She gently kissed his cheek. “Jill! You get little Ellie and hide her somewhere. Then you get a rifle and wait at the window.”
“Yes Ma.” A teenage girl brandishing a Winchester rifle walked swiftly out of another room and leaned the gun against the windowsill. In her other hand she held the hand of a toddler, the child couldn’t have been more than four years old.
“Boys!” The sheriff yelled, stepping out of the door with his wife. “Get your rifles and come to the blockade. We’re going to shoot us some outlaws.”
Two boys with rifles ran out. One looked about eight years old and held a .22 caliber lever action, and the other was around twelve years and carried his .44 of the same action. They both had dark hair, and if the situation wouldn’t have been as grave as it was, they both would have been smiling. The youngest one’s smile was bright on a good day, and the older one’s smile was always a wide, white toothed, ear-to-ear grin.
The sheriff sighed and looked down at his boys. “This way.” Walking outside, he led the two boys to the edge of the blockade by the water troughs. This he had deemed the safest place for his boys, both of whom were needed for the fight. The population of the town only consisted of a few miners and ranchers, and only fifteen or so able-bodied men could be mustered. Many of the “men” were hardly more than boys, but they could shoot. That was all that mattered.
“Sheriff! I see ‘em in the distance!” One man sat atop an overturned wagon with a telescope to his right eye. “They’re comin’! Get to your posts!” The man jumped down off his perch and grabbed a pistol from his belt, diving behind a wagon.
In the distance, dust was rising. Faint figures could be made out, galloping on horseback towards the town. It looked to be many riders, pounding the sandy ground to pieces as they charged.
“How many?” The sheriff whispered to the man with the telescope.
“Sheriff…there’s all seven of ‘em. They’re madder ‘n Hell and ridin’ like it too.” His telescope clicked as he folded it away and stuffed it in his pocket.
The sheriff’s face went a shade paler. Still, his voice lowered to a growl. “We can take ‘em. We got more men than they do and we have a blockade in front of us. All we have to do is sit back and pick ‘em off like ducks in a row.”
“If you say so, sheriff.” The telescope man said. He took out his revolver and made sure there were all six bullets inside the chamber.
“Finish them off before they get here if you can!” The sheriff shouted to all of the men there. He loaded both barrels of his shotgun and locked the barrel in place on the stock. He glanced at his wife who stood beside him. She was insistent on staying by his side. Frankly, they needed all the help they could get.
The cloud of dust grew bigger and closer. Seven riders could be made out against the bright noon sky. Seven riders, seven demons, all armed to the teeth with their pistols and rifles. Their leader was an older man with gray hair. Over one eye was a scar, and that eye was no longer able to see. His face was hard and grim, and he had a wicked gleam in his eye. The six other men rode in shoulder to shoulder to him, the leader on one end, and the youngest on the other. The youngest was the only one with yellow-blond hair; all the others were brown or dirty blond, excepting the leader. All of them looked similar in face and stature; one could assume them a family. If a family they were, then a terrible, fearsome, murderous family. These devils could strike fear in the hearts of anyone who knew their name.
The horsemen drew closer. Closer. Closer still. Suddenly, they broke apart. Four going one way, three going the other.
The sheriff whirled to stare sidelong down the line of men. “They’re trying to flank us, they’re too smart to try and hit the barrier…”
The little boy tugged at the sleeve of his older brother. He bit his lip. “Zee…I’m scared Zee. I don’t wanna die.”
“Shut up that talk. You won’t die, nobody will exceptin’ them outlaws.” The one called Zee growled and checked that his rifle was loaded. In truth, his eyes showed that he was scared too. “If you see ‘em ridin’ in, shoot ‘em good. Hear?”
“I hear…” the eight year old gritted his teeth, ignoring the loose one in the front. He made sure his rifle was ready to fire and raised it to his shoulder.
Galloping hooves. Glances of horses through alleyways between houses. Then silence. Then gunshots. Nearly thirty rounds must have been fired off in less than a minute. There was a tremendous crash and seven horses barreled through the gaps between the houses, their eyes wild with the passion of their riders. Their riders howled and cursed, firing down on anything that moved. The townspeople fired back as best they could, but with the dust flying and men screaming, it was hard to tell where anything came from, was, or was going.
The two boys, eight and twelve, were well hidden behind the water troughs and hay bales. Zee, being the older one, got off the first shots. Soon, along came the “Pop! Pop!” of his younger brother’s .22. Zee was scared, but he was also the sheriff’s son. It was just as much his job to protect the little town of Bullseye as it was his pa’s. That’s how he thought of it anyway.
Zee lined up his rifle sights with the leader of the outlaws who had just shot the man who had been holding the telescope. He aimed tentatively at his back and with his finger trembling, he pulled the trigger. The leader outlaw cried out and gripped his shoulder. Zee’s heart was racing, but he’d done it. He’d shot a man. Blood ran from the stricken outlaw’s shoulder and Zee was forced to look away and keep firing.
Then came a shrill shriek from beside him and Zee dropped his rifle. The younger brother had been knocked back against the water trough in a heap, his hands gripping his chest. He was still.
Zee was too shocked to do anything at first, but then he screamed as well and dove for his brother, gripping him tightly in a terrified embrace. He was sobbing, scared to death. The little body in his arms still wasn’t moving, wasn’t breathing, and wasn’t making a sound. Zee couldn’t bear to look down at his brother, but he felt his own shirt become soaked with blood that wasn’t his own.
Above his head, there was a crash and a horse leapt over the overturned wagon and landed on the other side. The horse was foaming and white flecks spotted its brown hide. It was bleeding from cuts on its legs and chest, as well as a long gash on its shoulder. Zee hardly knew what to do, but he knew that the rider was one of the men responsible for wounding his brother. He in no way would let a killer get away with hurting his kin, no matter how shocked he was. His hands gripped the rifle at his side and he yelled the worst curses he could think of, damning the rider to Hell a hundred times over.
Zee cocked his rifle and aimed it at the rider. His hands froze for a second before he pulled the trigger. He saw the rider’s face, angry and full of hate, but also fear. Fear. Fear shone in the blue eyes of the rider. His blond hair was matted with sweat and blood as he raised his rifle to fire on the boy before him. Zee didn’t know if he’d die that day, but if he did, he’d take this man with him. One split second before he pulled the trigger, the rider swung the butt of his rifle into the side of Zee’s head, knocking him senseless beside his brother.
Finally, seven riders lined up at the front of Main Street. The little town was dead silent, the only sign that anything had ever happened were the bodies scattered about. Men, either dead or wounded, lay unmoving over the shattered blockade. One man with a tin star on his chest was lying on his back with a bullet through his head. Beside him lay a woman in a bloody dress. Down the row a ways, two boys were slumped on top of each other, both bloody.
And the ground was stained, stained as red as sin. The seven turned, their leader hunched over his horse in pain. They rode slowly away, knowing no one was left to fire on them. Only one looked back on the carnage they had left behind, the youngest. The blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, hardly over fifteen. The boy with fear in his eyes.
“I think he’s waking up.”
Zee realized his eyes were open a tiny bit. His head was throbbing and he whimpered. The throbbing told him he wasn’t in Heaven like he’d hoped. He tried to sit up.
“Ma? Is it suppertime?” The words didn’t really make sense to him, but the light was dim outside. He was lying on a bed, in a place that looked a mighty lot like the general store. Come to think of it, it smelled that way too. He didn’t remember how he’d gotten here, or why.
“Zee? It’s Ewwie…” a small, childlike voice came from beside him.
“Ellie? Where’s Ma and Pa? And Jill and Joey?” Zee coughed, still not able to see straight. He heard sobs from the side of the bed, and he couldn’t understand why.
“Son,” a strong voice spoke from the other side of him. “I need you to listen to me.”
“Yes. Listen…your Ma and Pa, and Joey…and Jill too…” the man’s voice cracked a little and he coughed as if to hide the quaver in his voice. “they ain’t here. Anymore. They gone to be with the Lord up there.” Mr. Smith coughed again.
Zee sat for a while in silence, then suddenly shrieked and tried to jump from the bed. He was caught in the arms a woman and held fast, he couldn’t get away no matter how hard he struggled. He remembered. He remembered the gunshots, the outlaws, and the blood. He remembered his brother’s cry and the screaming of the enraged outlaws. He remembered everything.
“No! Let me go! Let me go!” Zee collapsed in a sobbing heap in the woman’s arms. He didn’t know where he was trying to run to, but it was away. Far away from this hurt. This pain. This fear and heart wrenching loss.
“Shh, shh. It’s me, Son. Mrs. Smith. You remember…” The woman rocked the weeping boy back and forth in her arms, tears running down her own cheeks. “It’s gonna be alright.” She looked at her husband. “Please…take little Ellie out.” The man nodded and picked up the exhausted and crying toddler in his arms. He walked away into another room.
“No…no it won’t be ok…no it ain’t gonna be…” Zee sobbed, hardly able to get out the words.
“Ezekiel, now I need you to listen, honey. Your sister needs you right now. I know it’s hard, oh I know. I’ve lost loved ones too. I know. But you have to hang on for your little sis. Ellie needs her brother.” Mrs. Smith looked down at the dark haired little boy.
Zee only responded with more tears, unable to speak. Mrs. Smith held his head against her breast and rocked him, softly talking comforting words into his ears. She stroked his bandaged head with her left hand.
The boy didn’t absorb the comfort given to him. He could only think of one thing, his fallen brother. He hadn’t seen his parents or sister fall, but still sobbed for all his beloved family. The image of his brother, either held against him or slumped against the water trough was too much to bear. Yet, he could not think of anything else. Except…one thought came into his head.
The rider. The blond-haired, blue-eyed outlaw. He and the rest of his gang had murdered half of the town, his family included. His small fists clenched onto Mrs. Smith’s shirt. He hated that man, even if he hadn’t been the one to shoot his brother. He hated him, even though he wasn’t much older than he. He hated them. He hated the seven riders. He hated the outlaw gang of brothers, led by their father.
He swore. Though he was crying, hardly sane and not able to rightly tell what was going on, he swore that he would find the rider and his brothers. He would end them like they ended his family, then they would know pain.
He’d see them swing, he vowed, if his name wasn’t Ezekiel Jarrett.