TALES OF THE WEST BOOK I PART I: MILLY – Part VII

© By Julie Gray

Milly played by Eliza Scanlen

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Ethan played by Boyd Holbrook

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AUTHORS NOTE: This is part seven in one of my untitled short stories. You can read part one here.

SHORT STORY TRIGGER WARNING – This short story contains elements of assault, sexual assault, violence and death.

“But why do I have to take a bath? I don’t smell that bad…” Milly said, looking over at Ethan.

“Are you kiddin’ me? You smell like somethin’ died! You had better be smelling like roses by the time I get back or I’ll throw you in that bath myself!” Ethan said, mounting his horse.

Milly curled up her lip and scrunched up her nose, pretending that she had an actual say in the matter, knowing full well she did not.

“I shouldn’t be long. Just wait for me here and don’t go poking around the farmhouse, ya hear?”

Milly nodded, watching as her dog chased a butterfly in the grass. Oh, how she wished she was her dog right now. A dog never had to bathe or do anything it didn’t want to.

Milly watched Ethan ride off and over the side of the hill

Milly looked back at the bathtub with the steam rising off the boiling water Ethan had already prepared beforehand.

She knew she had to take the bath because Ethan would throw her into the water just like he said he would

Milly walked towards the tub, got undressed, made sure her gun and knife were right next to her on the seat where she could reach them, and climbed into the steaming hot water.

At first, the water stung as if someone was whipping her skin with a sharp stick. It stung in places she didn’t even know could hurt like that. But once she went under the water, it wasn’t all that bad. She even ducked her head under and washed all the grit and mud out of her hair and ears. By the time she had finished, the bath water was almost black!

Milly wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but she was feeling spotless. She closed her eyes and must have drifted off because Milly didn’t hear a single sound from the stranger creeping up on her as she lay there in the tub.

“Well, look what we got here!” said the stranger who was standing not five feet away from the bathtub

Milly floundered around in the water, the sound of the man’s voice startling her so much she almost forgot where she was. Milly’s first instinct was to reach for her gun, but when she did, she realised it wasn’t on the chair where she had left it.

“You lookin’ for this?” the man asked, holding Milly’s gun belt in the air.

Milly’s stomach tightened the way it used to when bad things would happen. She tried to push the feeling away.

Milly focused on the man. She didn’t recognise him. He wasn’t from town.

The man was grinning from ear to ear. He was missing a few teeth and had an unsightly scar just below his left eye.

Not only did the man have Milly’s gun, but he had Milly’s knife too. 

The panic drifted upward from Milly’s stomach, which was already in knots. She knew this was a dangerous situation to be in. All that stuff Ethan had taught her about survival and this is how she was gonna die, in a bathtub and buck naked at that.

“Now what’s a pretty lil’ thing like you doin’ all the ways up here on your lonesome anyhow, hmm?” the man asked, his sickly grin made Milly’s skin crawl.

Milly didn’t reply, but she was having a conversation with herself that was going a million miles a second in her head.

The man ambled towards the bathtub, grinning the entire time. He started licking his lips like he was about to eat something tasty for dinner.

Milly started shaking all over, but she wasn’t sure if it was from the cold water or the fear or both. 

Milly gathered her arms around her shivering body. The bath water had cooled right down while she was sleeping. She had been lying in it for an awfully long time.

Then a familiar voice ripped through the cold, settling into her bones like a hot poker on her skin. It was one of the nicest sounds Milly had ever heard.

“What cha’ doin’ up here, James?” 

The voice startled the man who turned around so fast; he dropped Milly’s gun and holster on the ground in a panic.

Ethan had returned. And just in time, too, it would seem.

Milly took this opportunity to grab her clothes from the chair. She didn’t care for anything else other than getting out of that cold bath water and into her dry clothes.

The men were now facing each other. Ethan had dismounted his horse and was standing there with one hand loosely on his hip and the other hovering over his left pistol.

Milly had never really looked at Ethan before, not properly. Ethan was tall and lean, but not scrawny. Milly figured he could hold his own in a fight if he needed to.

But there was something about the way he was standing there, facing the other man, that made Milly shiver again. He looked annoyed, and Milly hadn’t seen Ethan look that annoyed before.

The other man was kinda hunched over, like he was carrying something that was weighing him down. Milly wondered why the other man wouldn’t stand upright. She figured it was the weight of all the bad things he had done pulling him down.

But then she realised that the man was afraid, and it was fear crippling him. Milly knew that feeling all too well. And she knew how it could drag you down, right down to the ground until it swallowed you whole.

“God damn it Ethan!…” the man replied, his voice shaking

“I asked you a question, what cha’ doin’ up here?” Ethan said again.

The man’s eyes flickered towards Milly. 

Ethan lifted his pistol. That all too familiar sound of Ethan pulling back on the hammer still made Milly jump.

Ethan then slowly pointed his gun right at the man who was now lifting his shaking hands in the air.

Milly stared at Ethan, knowing full well that whenever he put his hand on his gun, he was fixing to use it. He was gonna shoot this man dead.

“Ethan… what the hell ya doin? It’s me goddamn it!”

“You come up here to spy on me, James? That it?” Ethan asked, his voice sounded cold. Milly almost didn’t recognise it.

“No damn it, I ain’t spying! I just heard some of the boys talkin’ bout you and some … orphan you had hangin around …”

Milly took a deep breath when she heard him say the word “orphan”. The man made it sound like it was a dirty word, a nasty word. Did this mean that the Jackson gang knew about her?

Milly watched for Ethan’s reaction. 

Milly could tell by his expression that he wasn’t too happy. If the gang knew about her, it meant that she was making things difficult for Ethan and that wouldn’t please him one bit.

Ethan was biting on his lip like he was thinking hard on what this man was saying.

Ethan looked over at Milly, his eyes squinting as the sunlight hit the side of his face.

Milly looked away and finished getting dressed. She looked down at her pistol lying on the ground. Part of her just wanted to run on over there and grab it along with her knife and leave. But she didn’t know where she’d run to, even if she could.

Milly’s dog finally returned, sniffing about and growling for something to eat. 

After some time, Ethan lowered his pistol and walked over to the man. They discussed something in lowered voices so Milly couldn’t hear.

Milly kept playing with her dog and tried to ignore them, but she could feel her ears burning right off.

After a while, the other man left.  

Ethan was scratching his head underneath his hat and wiping the sweat from his brow. 

The sun had risen above the hills, and the heat was making Milly sweat all over again. So much for staying clean and “smelling like roses”.

Milly had finished getting dressed. But she had nothing to do but wait for Ethan to ask her to leave. Or maybe he would just leave without saying a word this time. Milly wasn’t sure what would happen. All she knew was that something would.

She could feel Ethan staring across at her from underneath his hat, but she was too afraid to face him. She could almost hear his mind ticking over. She wondered about the things that were going through his head right now. 

She figured she could turn the tables this time and get the jump before Ethan could tell her to go. Well, she could do that. If she wasn’t so much of a baby. But at that moment she realised that almost everything those mean school children said about her was true. 

It scared Milly. And walking around with a gun and knife on her belt didn’t change that one bit.

Milly was afraid to be alone. Milly had to change that right here and right now.

So just as Ethan was about to speak, Milly cut him off.

“I know you want me to go so… no need to say nothin’, Ethan. I’ll get my gun and I’ll be on my way,”. 

The words sounded strange coming out of her mouth. But it also felt kinda good. 

“Must have been some bath then, huh?” Ethan replied

Milly squinted at the sun as she looked over at Ethan. 

“Huh?” she asked

“Well, I figured you must have learned how to read minds in that there tub. Maybe all that dirt was cloggin’ up more than just your ear holes, huh? …” he said, grinning as he walked around his horse

Ethan called out to Milly’s dog, who came over straight away. He reached into his saddlebag and gave the dog something to eat.

Milly felt her face flush with embarrassment. 

She turned away and put on her gun belt.

“No… I just figured that since the gang knew that …”

“Look, Milly. Having a girl ridin’ with me … with us – it ain’t natural. But you ain’t just any girl, you’ve seen things, you been roughed up and kicked around. You got grit. And you still got a long ways to go yet but… if you wanna stick around…”

“Oh, I do… I do, I wanna stick around!” Milly replied, nodding her head emphatically.

“Well alright then, but you gotta do everything I say and I mean everything, you understand me?” Ethan said.

Milly nodded some more, not understanding exactly what she was agreeing to but not really caring much neither. All Milly wanted was to ride with Ethan.

“There’s just one more thing… somethin’ I had to tell that bastard James… to keep him off of you and outta my business…” Ethan said, his voice trailing off

“What did you tell him?” Milly replied.

“I had to throw James off the scent, so I lied to him about who you were. I told him we were… ‘related’ – it was the only way. Otherwise we’d be parting ways again, and I’m guessing you wouldn’t want that…” 

Milly watched how Ethan continued to play with the dog without so much as a care in the world. She thought about the person behind that angelic face, which now looked just a little harder and older than it did when they first met. She wondered how lying and killing could come so easily to him.

And then Milly saw Ethan smile. She couldn’t remember a time when she had seen Ethan smile before now. At that moment, Milly could see just how much of the angel was still there. But Milly couldn’t help but wonder what was underneath that smile and how many more lies Ethan would have to tell her or how many more she would believe.

-End of Part VII-

You can read part VIII of this story here

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Freelance entertainment writer and reviewer. Visit my blog on https://thebrokenquill.com.

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