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

© 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 nine 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.

Things seemed strange between Milly and Ethan, and Milly could feel it. Ethan had grown slightly more distant than before. This meant that Ethan went from speaking occasionally to barely at all.

Milly noticed Ethan glancing at her oddly now and then, mostly when he thought she didn’t see it. And this made Milly uncomfortable. But Ethan often watched people, so she figured it wasn’t anything at all that unusual–not for Ethan, anyway. He told her once that you could tell a lot about a person just by watching them. Ethan always said that he thought people talked too much and that a lot could be said for silences and just watching how people reacted to things. She never used to understand what he meant until now. 

But when Ethan finally spoke, Milly sometimes wished he was mute.

Milly was leaning on a post in the shade and out of the heat of the midday sun when Ethan came up behind her. She was half asleep, and would have dozed right off if he hadn’t snuck up on her like he did.

“You know Milly… if somethin’ were to happen to you, well…” 

Ethan’s voice startled Milly. He must have been standing directly behind her.

“You’re… kinda like a sister to me…”

Milly suddenly felt very awake. She even rubbed her eyes to make sure she was wide awake and hearing things right. Did Ethan just say the word “sister” and did he just say it to her? Maybe he’d been on the whiskey… maybe that was it.

Milly turned around to face Ethan.

Ethan turned his head sideways and spat. Milly could see the sweat trickling down the side of his face. Ethan bit on his lip before squinting and pulling down on the rim of his hat.

“I think maybe…. you got too much sun or… somethin'” Milly teased

Ethan looked down at Milly. His eyes seemed to look right through her.

“Time for playin’ around’s over, Milly. You’re gonna be ridin’ with the gang soon. That’s why I’m sayin’ all this. I can’t always be around to look out for ya. And you bein’ a woman’ n’ all… well, it’s gonna be harder than you’ll know. So you just gotta be ready, ya hear?”

“Ready? Ready for what?” Milly asked.

“To kill a man… to kill anyone and anything. That’s the only thing I have left to tell ya,”

“You mean… you’re talking about… the survival rule… right?” Milly asked.

Ethan grinned and nodded.

“You don’t ever wanna be the one in the box…”

Milly and Ethan were getting on a little better after the whole awkward “growing pain” incident. Milly was practising her gun and knife skills as often as she could during the day, with Ethan silently watching from a distance. 

Milly didn’t see Ethan around this particular morning, so she got started without him. She figured working on knife targets was best. Milly got so caught up in everything, she lost track of time.

“Ever used that knife on an actual person?”

Milly turned around to face the owner of the voice, but before she could do anything, she saw Ethan right behind him.

“Well, I’ve been just itchin’ to use mine … care to oblige, big brother?” Ethan said, grabbing the man from behind.

Milly had her hand on her pistol but realised the man was obviously not a threat as Ethan and the man started playfully wrestling each other.

After a few minutes, Ethan brought the man over to where Milly was standing. 

“Milly, this is my older brother… – Floyd. Floyd, this here is Milly,” Ethan said 

“Milly, if my brother’s been teaching you how to use a knife, you’re gonna need a lot more help!” Floyd said, looking at Ethan

“She’s better than both of us!…” Ethan replied

“Really? Well, we’d have to see how Milly stands up against Running Elk then,” Floyd replied.

Milly just looked down at the sand, not understanding much of what was being said. Just men and their silly talk, not much different to the silly talk she used to hear from the boys at school, really. 

“Where are the others at?” Ethan asked

“That’s what I came to talk to you about. We’ve gotta be headin’ out soon…” Floyd replied.

Ethan and Floyd walked away from Milly and talked in lowered voices. 

Moments later, Ethan returned and packed away his things.

“Get packing Milly, we’ve gotta go and don’t be slow about it neither… we gotta be gone like yesterday,” Ethan said

Milly didn’t ask questions. She did what Ethan said and started packing up her stuff and loading it onto her horse.

This was it, the moment Milly had been waiting for. She was finally going to meet the Jackson Brother’s Gang.

“Make sure you put on your jacket and cover up, you hear?” Ethan said

“But its gotta be more than a 100 degrees out…”

“I don’t care if it’s 200 degrees and you melt into a puddle! Put on your jacket, get on that horse, and ride as close to me as you can. Don’t speak to anyone or do anything unless I say, you understand?”

Milly scrunched up her nose.

“Milly–do you understand?” Ethan asked again, his voice harsh

Milly looked at Ethan. His eyes were narrow and dark underneath the rim of his hat. 

Milly nodded that she understood.

Ethan looked at her for a moment longer before pulling on the reins of his horse. He turned away slowly and rode off ahead of Milly.

Milly followed behind Ethan as closely as she could.

It seemed like hours before Milly and Ethan met up with the rest of the gang, but it didn’t take anywhere near that long. It just felt that way to Milly.

A dust cloud was rising from the bottom of the hill. Milly figured that had to be where the gang were waiting for her and Ethan. 

Milly felt her stomach tighten into a bunch of knots. The sun felt like it was burning a hole right through her. She could feel the sweat making wet trails all the way down her back. This heat would surely be the death of her, assuming one of the Jackson gang didn’t get to her first.

“Milly, let’s go!” Ethan called out from up ahead

Milly barely had the energy to lift her head in this heat, let alone ride, but ride on she did.

With Ethan and Milly joining the gang, there were now eight members. Ethan had three brothers, and Milly had only met one being Floyd. She had already met James. So that left the two brothers she had yet to meet and two others.

Milly rode up slowly behind Ethan. She noticed James watching her as she approached with that same ugly expression on his face. Even in this heat, the thought of that day at the bathtub still made her shudder. 

Ethan was talking to one of the other members of the gang. Floyd nodded to Milly. Milly just nodded back. She didn’t really know how else to react. But she could feel the eyes of the others on her. Between the unwanted stares and the glare of the sun, she couldn’t tell which made her feel worse.

“Alright, we’ve gotta be in Smithtown before sunset, so we need to pick up the pace. Ethan, I need you, Floyd and Jed to ride on ahead and scout things out,” 

Everyone was focusing on the man with the scar down one side of his face. Milly tried hard not to stare at him, but she couldn’t help herself. The man just had one of those faces that either repulsed you or fascinated you. Compared to Ethan, most of the Jackson gang looked like they had lived lives a lot worse than her own, and hers hadn’t exactly been a fairy tale. 

Milly felt a rush of excitement in the pit of her stomach.

Ethan rode up to the man with the scar and whispered something in his ear.

A few moments later, the group split up, and Ethan gestured for Milly to follow.

Milly followed on behind Ethan as they rode out with Floyd and Jed. She felt relieved to be away from James and the others. And a smaller group meant fewer people watching her every move.

Milly, Ethan, Floyd and Jed rode for an hour before they stopped. 

“Alright, let’s check things out from here. Smithtown is just over that there ridge up ahead. Jed, Ethan, ya’ll know what you need to be doin,” Floyd said, looking at Ethan.

Ethan and Jed got off their horses and handed their reins to Floyd. 

“Here ya go Milly,” Floyd said, handing the horses’ reins to Milly.

Milly took the reins and watched as Ethan and Jed ran up the ridge and disappeared from sight.

Floyd followed shortly after, leaving Milly alone to watch the horses.

Milly didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing out here other than watching the horses, but she felt like that was an enormous responsibility for someone who had never done this kind of thing before.

She didn’t even really know what the others were getting up to over that ridge. What exactly were they doing out here in the middle of nowhere, anyway? Why didn’t they just ride into Smithtown instead of just staying outside of it? That seemed kinda odd to Milly. And where did the other half of the gang get to?

Milly had so many questions. Maybe Ethan would answer some of them when he returned.

Time passed, and Milly was getting bored waiting around. She decided she would walk the horses a little further up the ridge just to see if she could spot anyone coming back. But that was a complete waste of time. 

It seemed like hours before Floyd and the others finally returned. Milly had almost dozed off waiting for them in the heat. 

“Milly here, help get these saddle bags onto the horses now, quickly!” Floyd said, throwing them down on the ground.

Milly looked down at the saddlebags. One saddlebag was covered in what looked like dried blood. Floyd had run back over the ridge but when he returned he was helping Ethan carry Jed who was screaming in pain something awful.

“Jed, you need to shut the hell up. You don’t want James or Holden hearin’ ya squealin’ like a girl,” Floyd said, lowering Jed down to the ground.

“God dammit’ hurts! Bullet’s killin’ me…” Jed replied.

“Oh, come on now Jed… you’ve been shot up worse than this before and you ain’t dead,” Ethan teased, handing Jed some water

“Either way, we gotta get him back to the others and fast,” Floyd replied

Milly was staring at all the blood soaking through Jed’s shirt.

“And what the hell you lookin’ at?” Jed spat at Milly

“Hey now, no need to be sore just caus’ you were too blind to see the guy in the corner comin’ at us with a gun,” Floyd replied

“And that’s another thing. Who said anything about someone joinin’ the gang? I ain’t heard nuthin’ about nobody joining our gang,” Jed continued.

“Well… it ain’t your gang Jed–it’s OUR gang as in, the Jackson brothers. Last I checked, you weren’t a Jackson and second, she’s a lot quieter than you hollerin’ all over the place,” Ethan replied.

“Yeah, well, let’s see how quiet she is when she gets a bullet in her…”

Milly just turned away and walked around the other side of the horses.

“Don’t pay any attention to him Milly,” Floyd said

Milly just continued to tie up the saddlebags and waited until everyone was ready to leave. 

They eventually rode out and made their way back to the others with Jed doubling up with Floyd on his horse and Ethan taking care of Jed’s horse and the extra baggage. Milly just followed on behind, a thousand questions rolling around in her head.

They fixed Jed up when he got back to camp but Milly thought he did kinda sounded like a big baby, even after the bullet had been taken out. It was obvious after what Jed had said that her joining the gang was not a popular decision. 

Milly went and bunked down in her corner of the camp next to Ethan’s blanket and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. She could still feel eyes on her, but she tried to ignore it. Most of the gang were dishing out whatever they had in the saddlebags, including Ethan, and there was rowdiness, drinking and carry on for most of the rest of the night. One by one, the gang members disappeared from view.

Ethan finally returned and Milly’s burning questions just wouldn’t keep. She waited until Ethan had collapsed onto his blanket before she unleashed her barrage of questions upon him.

“So I’m not all that wanted around here. Why did you bring me into the gang Ethan? Also, what did you do in that town? What was in the saddlebags? And why did Jed get shot up?” 

Ethan replied with a groan and turned onto his side, away from Milly’s onslaught. Milly wasn’t about to stop her pestering.

“Ethan? Did you hear me?” Milly asked again.

“Uh, huh… I heard you just fine, but I’m pretending that I didn’t…” Ethan mumbled.

“Well, that’s just rude,” Milly replied

“Not too rude for you though, right Milly? You’ve used that trick with me a few times if I remember correctly…” 

Milly went quiet. It was times like this that she really really hated Ethan Jackson.

Ethan sighed.

“It ain’t up to anyone who ain’t a Jackson to decide who joins us, so don’t go worryin’ about that. And you’re as good as related. And I dunno what kinda school kid fairy tales you were told or what, but sometimes we do things you might not agree with and sometimes people get shot. Jed got shot caus’ he wasn’t doin’ his job right. And one day, when the time’s right, you’ll have a job to do too. Now, can I get some shut-eye … please?” 

Milly just lay there thinking about everything Ethan just said. By the time she was ready to reply, Ethan was already fast asleep.

Milly turned on her side and let the day soak into her dreams.

-End of Part IX-

You can read part X of this story here

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

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