Author’s Note: This is Part II in Book I of my series Tales of the West. You may read Part I: “Milly” here.
Genres: Fiction – Western/Action/Romance
Please be aware this story has elements of violence, gun violence, murder and death.
Ethan played by Boyd Holbrook
Ethan could hear the smashing of windows on either side of the house. He took a running dive for the hatch and slid towards it on the rug. While he was down there, he holstered his pistols, pulled up the hatch and climbed in, closing the hatch door behind him. He barred the door with a pitchfork which would keep the men out of the tunnel, at least for a little while.
Ethan slowly climbed down the ladder until he could feel the dirt under his feet. He got down on his knees and crawled as fast as he could towards the exit which was a good 30 feet outside the farmhouse fence.
Ethan stopped for a minute and shook his head. It felt like the walls of the tunnel were closing in on him. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Sweat dripped slowly down his face and into his eyes. He lifted his left hand and wiped the sweat away.
“Howdy Ethan”… a voice called from the tunnel
Ethan opened his eyes in a panic
His breathing became erratic and his body felt like it was going limp
He blinked once, twice, but all he could see was darkness
That voice in the dark… so familiar
“What’s wrong, Ethan? Cat got’cha tongue now?” the voice sounded like it was coming from all around him.
Ethan gasped and raised his arms up against the sides of the tunnel as if trying to push them back. But it was useless. The darkness slowly pushed inwards, engulfing him.
“It ain’t real” Ethan said to himself
He tried to steady his heart rate and stop his body from shaking
“Ethan, remember what you taught me?”
Ethan opened his eyes
Ethan’s was losing the grip on his revolver. So he holstered it as quickly as he could.
“Milly?!” he said into the darkness
The voice that sounded exactly like Milly laughed at him
He closed his eyes again, put his hands up to his ears and whispered to himself over and over
“It AIN’T real…”
Ethan shook his head once more, put his hands back down into the dirt and kept crawling as fast as he could, forcing himself forwards despite the fear he was feeling in every part of this body
A few minutes passed and Ethan was still not at the end of the tunnel
He stopped again, wiped the sweat away from his eyes, took another deep breath and kept pushing forward
As he crawled through the last bend, he could finally see the light seeping in
He got through to the other side and fell into a heap with his arms covered in dirt and dust with his legs still in the tunnel
“Ethan!” Jason said, relief in his voice
“Ethan, thank god”… Floyd said, reaching down to pull his brother up
Ethan lifted his head up wearily and opened his eyes to his brothers, looking relieved to see him as they wiped the dirt off his face.
Ethan slept for almost an entire day after his narrow escape from the posse the night before. The brother’s needed somewhere to lie low, so they rode all night until they got almost halfway to their home in Callan Ridge. Then they bunked down where they stopped riding and waited for nightfall before setting off again.
Ethan was lost in his thoughts for most of the journey back home. His brothers joked about their escape from the posse, but Ethan was far from thinkin’ it was amusing. He was quiet, even more quiet than usual, and when they finally made it back to their homestead, Ethan said he was still tired and went into his room and didn’t come back out until the following day.
His brothers weren’t worried–Ethan often went off on his own and keep to himself, even when his brothers were around. But this was something else.
Ethan wasn’t sure what happened to him in the tunnel, and he spent hours thinkin’ on it. He knew it was somethin’ he had to deal with, and he figured it was his fate comin’ back to claim him. Ethan had been avoidin’ the thought of goin’ after Milly, but he knew what he had to do to put this ache in his soul to rest. He just wasn’t sure he wanted to know what happened to Milly or where she went or who or what she had become.
What if Milly was… dead? This rugged and cruel land was never kind to any woman, not even one as tough as Milly. Ethan stirred in his sleep and woke up feeling afraid, his undergarments soaked in sweat.
Ethan wasn’t sure he could take another loss after losing Holden. And Milly… well, she was somethin’ else entirely. Ethan seemed like he always had everythin’ together. And even Ethan knew that his act was a good one. But when he had doubts about things, sometimes, he let the darkness in and he found it hard to control it and put it away when he needed to. What happened in the tunnel was the same darkness he kept hidden. It was Milly’s phantom, wrapped up in all the pain he felt over her absence in his life.
Ethan was afraid to face the truth of what might come to pass. All he wanted was to escape back into the past once more and never return.
Ethan finally got out of bed a day later and he felt terrible–like a stampede of horses had hit him. When he finally surfaced, his brothers had been waiting to make plans on what to do next. As long as they were ahead of the posse, they were good, but the longer it took Ethan to get better, the sooner they’d be on their trail again.
Ethan took his knife out of its sheath and walked towards the target set up out the back. He stood there for what seemed like hours, throwin’ his knife into the post. The sun was high in the sky when he realised he had been throwing the knife most of the day. He could feel the beads of sweat trickling down his back and down the sides of his face.
And it felt good.
Ethan finally walked into the shade and grabbed his canteen to cool down. His brothers were standing there, watching him.
Ethan pulled his hat off his head, cleared the sticky, sweaty hair away from his eyes and looked up at his brothers.
“We need to do a job and we need to do one soon,”
His brothers nodded in agreement. That’s exactly what they were waiting for Ethan to say.
“Get yer gear ready, we leave at first light tomorrow,” Ethan said, putting his hat back on his head.
Ethan walked a few paces towards his brothers, held the knife on its edge, turned and threw the knife from twice as far away.
And hit the target dead centre.
-END OF PART XXII-
You can read Part XXIII of Ethan’s story right here.