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 told his brothers most of what happened when he saw Running Elk. His brothers had little to say. Ethan didn’t know how to feel about it neither. All he knew was that it sounded like Milly really needed his help, more than ever. And it worried Ethan that if Running Elk couldn’t help her, maybe he couldn’t neither.
“What d’ya think he meant by “shadow over her heart?” Jason said.
“Shut it, Jason!” Floyd said
“What? Ethan, if ‘n ya don’t want us askin’ questions about it, just say,’
Ethan was deep in thought, staring blankly into the flames of their campfire again.
“I don’t know what any of it meant ‘cept she needs my help,”
“Well, we’re here for whatever ya need, brother,” Floyd said
“No… see that ain’t gonna work,” Ethan said getting up
“What d’ya mean?” Floyd said,
“You and Holden and James… killin’ her parents is what I mean!”… Ethan snapped
Jason stood up between them, anticipating a fight
“We ain’t never had it out and I don’t remember any of that night but you ain’t even said why you killed them,”… Ethan said
“I can barely remember it myself… what I remember was her parents pullin’ guns on us–what else could we do? Let them shoot us dead?”
Ethan shook his head and put his head between his hands
“Look Ethan, if I was to tell ya I’m sorry for defendin’ myself when someone pulls a gun on me and my kin – well, I’d be a liar ‘caus I ain’t” Floyd said
“It ain’t a nice situation Ethan but it is what it is–can’t blame Floyd’ n’ Holden for protectin’ themselves… and us” Jason said
Ethan didn’t reply. He just sat up and stared back at the campfire flames risin’ up into the darkness.
He knew he couldn’t blame his brothers, especially since one of ‘em was already dead. But it sure felt bad thinkin’ on how much pain it caused Milly.
Ethan just wanted this to end. He wanted to find Milly and tell her how sorry he was for everythin’. He didn’t care who she blamed. Ethan was ready to stand in front of her and tell her to shoot just so he could finally be at peace with it.
Maybe he’d be better off if he had died when he took that bullet for Milly.
He should never have left her at the farmhouse that day. He could feel it when he rode back in that somethin’ weren’t right. And when he realised Milly had gone–he didn’t even go after her because he didn’t wanna get into it with his brothers.
Ethan had a debt to pay, and it was a debt that weighed heavily on him. Maybe Running Elk was talkin’ true after all when he said that souls can get sick. Maybe Ethan’s soul had been sick for a long time and everythin’ he did; the bounty huntin’ and the killin’ was just a way to fill in the days until he could get back to Milly.
But what if Ethan if had it all wrong? What if Milly weren’t sick–what if Milly didn’t care a damn for anyone or anythin’ no more? All Milly wanted to do was kill her way across the country until she had put all of Ethan’s brothers in the ground.
And if Ethan got in the way, well… Ethan figured Milly had a bullet for that too.
Ethan had a restless night and by the sound of his brothers’ groaning when the sun came up, they didn’t sleep too well neither. For the first time in what seemed like days, Ethan didn’t know what to do. And all of his doubts about Milly suddenly became much bigger than he was used to dealin’ with.
He had so many questions with nobody to answer ‘em. Running Elk did what he could to protect him. Ethan knew that. But Ethan weren’t no kid needin’ protection. He just needed to find a trail to Milly.
The brothers made breakfast and sat round the campsite eating in silence.
“We need to go back home, back to Callan Ridge,” Ethan finally said
His brothers wearily raised their heads and looked at Ethan
Jason’s hair was all over the place, and Floyd looked even worse
“Don’t need ta tell me twice… my ass is gettin’ damn sore sleepin’ on the ground” Jason said
“Yer such a baby,” Floyd teased
“Alright let’s pack up so we can beat this storm that’s rollin’ in” Ethan said, getting up and grabbing his saddle
The brothers didn’t waste any time seein’ they were headin’ back to Callan Ridge. Home was home, after all.
But Ethan had a job to do–get back to Preacher John and get any information he could on Milly. He weren’t feelin’ too optimistic about it, but anythin’ was better than sittin’ around mopin’ on it.
Besides, Preacher John knew Ethan so it wouldn’t be like he was a complete stranger. It’d give the boys time to catch up with Fran, which they really needed to do. That made Ethan feel a little better about goin’ back. It wasn’t such a bad idea to think about makin’ Callan Ridge home again permanently. What if Ethan could give up this life? Ethan spent the entire journey back home thinkin’ on it. What if he and Milly could… well, maybe?
More questions that were waiting for answers. Ethan weren’t sure of getting’ any but he was sure of his feelings and that would have to be good enough for now.
Ethan and the boys finally arrived back at the homestead, and it looked exactly as they left it. That was a relief. They weren’t sure if the law or anyone else had come callin’ while they were gone. Didn’t look like that was the case.
There were still some repairs to do, mainly to the roof–time had paid a visit to their homestead and parts of it were just worn through. Ethan’s brothers were on supply duty and they were all gonna meet up at the saloon in Callan Ridge after.
Fran was happier than anythin’ to see Ethan’s brothers, but she mourned Holden’s loss when Floyd told her about what happened. That was another reason for Ethan to have second thoughts about the life he was leadin’. Too much loss and only gettin’ worse.
Preacher John and Ethan had a friendly talk, better than the last time Ethan came a callin’. Ethan brought provisions as a goodwill gesture–which Preacher John thankfully accepted. But he would’ve given Ethan the information for free if he had it to give.
Ethan described Milly as best he could, which didn’t ring any bells with John until he mentioned his dog.
“A girl’ bout this high travellin’ alone–ain’t got no recollection of that. But a girl with a dog by her side–that I recall” John said.
Ethan felt a sudden spasm in his gut–excitement, fear, he weren’t sure, but John was the first person to even mention he saw a girl with a dog. That had to be her, it had to be.
“Yeah, I seen her alright… she came into the saloon dog’ n’ all. She was wearin’ two pistols one on either side and looked like she knew how to use ‘em”
“That’d be her. Any idea where she went or why she came into Callan Ridge?” Ethan asked, his stomach in knots and tryin’ hard not to show it.
“She was kinda quiet, kept to herself cept’ she took a likin’ to Fran if’n I remember right–you best pay her a visit next”
“How long ago was this John?”
“Hmm, now that’s a question–could’ve been four, maybe six months back?” John said.
Ethan sat there, his mind racing. Maybe she told Fran where she was headed? And he was kickin’ himself in the teeth for wastin’ so much of his time on Earl.
But that was over now. Ethan had only one purpose, and that purpose was gettin’ to Milly before the hunter did.
Ethan rode back into Callan Ridge and straight to the saloon. His brothers were slowly gettin’ drunk and Ethan had half a mind to join ‘em. But now he knew that Milly had been here, he sat down next to Fran, took a shot of whiskey and spent as much time as he could gettin’ details from Fran about Milly’s possible whereabouts.
-END OF PART XXVI-
You can read Part XXVII of Ethan’s story right here.