Hat Creek Trouble

The One with Screaming

For the next couple weeks, Newt was helping as best he could around the ranch; although most of the chores he did were things that helped me around the cabin. Every once in a while, I’d look out the window and only see Pea Eye and Dish, or Pea Eye and Newt.

When I’d ask Pea Eye where the other men went, he’d simply shrug and say they went on a ride and he had no idea. Of course, I didn’t believe that the Captain and a handful of men went on a ride every day; even if they were trying to protect the fence line around the property.

But I brushed it off. And one day, Newt came into the cabin right after breakfast, telling me there was a group of men coming over the hill. He leaned against the support beam of the porch as they got closer. I stood behind him as they crossed under the sign and came closer to the house.

They were the four bandits from before; Two white men, one Mexican, and one Indian.

“Morning, gentlemen. What can we help you with?” Newt asked, as Pea Eye looked up from his horse shoeing.

“We traveled quite a ways. We was hopin’ for some grub.” One of the white men said and he seemed to stall out when his eyes found me.

“Well, I wouldn’t have a problem with that except there’s been word of bandits roaming the woods and I’m not about to let a bunch of strangers into my home.” Newt said calmly.

“Bandits? This far out?” The Mexican asked, giving a little chuckle.

“I’d appreciate it if you and your men would just get along.” Newt said, directing his look at the first white man to speak.

“Well, we’d do that, except it’s been an awful long time since we had good food or a good woman.” The other white man said.

Before I could do anything, he whipped his pistol out and shot at the porch under Newt’s feet, knocking him over. I screamed, dropping to my knees to check on him. But he was struggling to get back on his feet without using his right hand.

I looked back over and one of the white men and the Mexican stood on the porch with wicked smiles while the other white man and the Indian headed towards Pea, who looked confused. “Run Pea!” I shouted, but they hit me in the head with something. I just kind of fell over, hearing Newt say something before I passed out.

When I woke up, my head and arms hurt. I groaned. I tried moving my arms, but they were pinned by something. I looked up to see my hands tied to the wood range. The four men sat near the fire, talking to each other, eating biscuits. I could hear that they were talking, but their words got jumbled in my head. I tried to wiggle my hands out of the cloth they used to tie me up, but it held fast.

“What’s this? Is our pet awake?” One of the white men asked, making me look over.

Four sets of greedy eyes landed on me, making me struggle harder. I looked over to the window, hoping to see some sign of Newt or Woodrow. I would’ve even liked to see Jasper at this point.

One of the white men, the dirtier looking one, came over to squat in front of me. He took out his hunting knife and ran it from my forehead, down in front of my ear and under my chin. “You don’t make much noise. I like my girls to make noise.” He said, watching me.

“I’ve almost married worse then you.” I said, spitting on his jacket.

His hand flew across my face, getting a grunt out of me. “Don’t suppose it’d help to tell you if shot your lover boy outside.”

I knew my eyes grew big as they searched the window and I thrashed against my bonds. “When Captain Call comes back, he’s going to kill you. Every one of you.” I said, looking them all in the eye.

“That old man we shot in the woods?” He asked with an evil laugh.

I panicked for only one second. “Fine. How many men were with him?”

He looked startled that I was talking back. He hit me again, but I stayed tight lipped. “Don’t you be askin’ me nothing, little wench.”

If they had shot Newt, at least they hadn’t got to Woodrow or the men out in the forest. “Maybe you’ll even get a nice hanging. There’s plenty of trees around here and I’m sure you’ve each stolen at least one horse.”

Another slap cut my face and I was starting to get dizzy. He stood without another word and went back to the fire, where they whispered and glanced at me every few minutes.

I kept struggling with my bonds. I didn’t want to give up. All I could picture was Newt, laying on the porch while he bled to death. After a few minutes, the Indian made a noise of annoyance before picking up a poker and throwing it in the fire. I heard them whispering, but couldn’t make out what they said.

A moment later, he picked it out of the fire and walked over to me. “Scream for the white man.” He got agitated when I sat there quietly. “Scream for the white man or I’ll poke out your eyes.” He said, waving the red hot poker.

I shook my head, making sure to keep my mouth closed.

“Scream!” The Indian yelled, pressing the poker hard against the skin of my arm.

I squeezed my eyes shut and bit my lip so hard, it started bleeding, to keep myself quiet. If it was a scream they wanted, I wasn’t going to give it to them. The other three men looked like they were in a pout when I opened my eyes again. I looked towards the ceiling, trying to blink away the tears.

After that, they spent the better part of the morning talking by the fire. “Then it’s settled.” The Mexican said as he stood up and looked over at me. “Guess what, chica. I get first round.” He said with a smile that could have curdled milk.

“You won’t get first anything. Or second or third or fourth.” I said, spitting on him.

My head swam as his hand sliced my check. He grabbed a handful of hair and I groaned. “You best learn to take orders.” He said, roughly kissing me.

I tried to pull away but with his hand holding my head, I couldn’t move. He pulled back and started undoing his belt. I was disgusted. I could literally taste dirt in his mouth. The Mexican had his pants around his ankles and held my legs down as I tried to get out of his grip. But he was much too strong for me.

The pain I felt as he pushed against me was a flooding feeling, like the pain covered my entire body like a blanket.

“Scream.” He said, taking a handful of hair and pulling.

“Not even if it saved my life.” I told him, spitting on him.

His hand cut across my face so quickly, I barely saw him move. He finished quickly and I just laid there in pain, biting my lip to try to redirect it.

The Indian and the tall white man took longer. The White man kept hitting me, trying to get me to scream for him. But the numbness that had spread over me helped keep me quiet. The pain had turned into a numbness that let me retreat into my head. I didn’t know which of the men was bent over me and I didn’t feel a thing they did; even when the Indian pushed hard against me, I could hardly feel him.

When there was shots fired, I heard them, but my brain didn’t actually register them; kind of like background music in a movie. But this wasn’t a movie. I forced myself to look up at the room. I couldn’t see straight, so when I felt my hands get cut free and hands on my sides, I fought.

I couldn’t let them get to me again, not if I was free. So I struggled against the one that held me until his voice made me pause.

“Selena, it’s ok. It’s just me, Newt. I’m ain’t gonna to hurt you, I promise. Just calm down.” His voice said into my ear, and I just slumped against him. “Are you ok?” He asked, but the words kind of just floated around my head. I knew he was talking to me, but none of his words were registering.

I just knew it was Newt’s voice and I knew Newt would never hurt me the way the other three had. I pulled away from Newt to look at him and he looked terrified. “Your lip.” He said, gently touching it with his thumb. I tried to touch it softly with my finger, but it hurt. “You bit clean through it.” Newt said, sadly.

I looked over to see Pea Eye, Dish, Jasper, and Needle tying up the four men while Woodrow held a gun to them. When they were tied up and marched out of the cabin, Woodrow came over to us.

“Did they… did they trouble you?” Woodrow asked and I suddenly felt so small and scared.

“They told me they shot Newt.” I said, looking up at him, trying to remember how to use my voice.

“Well, they did.” Captain Call said, making my heart feel heavy as I looked over at Newt, who was halfway out the door. “But I never seen a flesh wound the boy couldn’t recover from. Did they hurt you?”

It took every ounce of my being to process his question. I couldn’t think straight, but I held my arm out to him. Just raising my arm to show Captain Call the ugly burn took a great deal more energy than I thought I had. “They stuck the poker in the fire and wanted me to scream.” I said, looking up at him.

“Your dress is torn.” He said, taking in my appearance. He looked worried and angry enough to kill in the same moment.

I ducked my head, not being able to look at him. “I tried to just get them off me. But they were too strong.” I said, keeping my head down.

I hardly registered that Newt stood next to me until he moved into sight. His shirt had blood on it, right above his hip. With a bullet sized hole in it. I didn’t say anything; that would have required effort I couldn’t have put forth. So I just wrapped my arms tightly around his neck and closed my eyes, imagining we were in a cabin in the mountains some place where people didn’t get tied up and branded like cattle.

I didn’t even know I was crying until Newt pulled away from me and wiped my tears. He looked sorrowful. “I’m sorry.”

I gave a nervous laugh, to fight off the tears. “Sorry for what? You took a bullet.” I said, wiping my eyes.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.” He said quietly, looking at only me while my eyes roved the room.

I gave another nervous laugh, hoping we could talk about anything else. I lifted up the corner of his shirt to see his wound stuffed with gunpowder. “Jesus Newt. We need to get that cleaned and bandaged.” I said, moving to stand up.

He took hold of my hands, confusing me as he pulled me back to him. “I’m ok.” He told me, pulling me close and wrapping his arms around me.

“Please, Newt. I don’t want you getting gangrene or something.” I said, looking at him closely in the eyes.

It took a moment, but he relented and sat at the table while I collected the wash basin and a scrap of fabric to use as a rag. I took slow meticulous care of cleaning the gunpowder out and bandaging it back up again. I was almost done patching him up when he took my forearm gently in his hands and ran a finger along the outside of the puckered, ugly skin.

“It’s fine, Newt. I’ll put something on it later.” I told him, pulling it away so I could finish dressing his wound.

But he pulled away from me slowly. “No. Not until you fix you up, you ain’t touchin’ me.”

“Newt-“ I started, but he cut me off.

“No, Selene. That gunpowder can sit in there. You need to dress your lip and put somethin’ on that burn right now.” He said, in a stern tone I’d never heard from him.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I sat there, feeling defeated. I wrung out the rag from the wash basin and touched it to the skin around my mouth. I tried not to flinch away from the rag, but it was hard. Newt watched me; sitting silently just out of arms reach while I tried cleaned my lip and arm, and wrapped a bandage around my arm. It was still painful, but it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as it had.

“Can I please finish with your bullet hole?” I asked quietly.

He moved back closer to me and as I leaned in, his finger settled under my chin, bringing my eyes up to meet his. “I didn’t mean to yell at ya.” Newt said quietly.

I gave him a sad smile. “That wasn’t nothin’.” I told him, pulling up his shirt to finish wiping out the gunpowder.

“I’m real sorry. Don’t be mad at me. I shouldn’t have yelled.” He said, watching me carefully.

“I’m not mad, Newt. I’m…” I faltered. What was I? Scared, tired, nervous, worried, frustrated, yeah. But I didn’t know how to convey that to him. “I’m broken now, Newt.” I told him, avoiding looking at his face.

He shook his head. “You… you ain’t broken. Just a little scarred up.” He said, pain and fear covering his voice like honey.

“No, Newt. I’m…” I faltered again. “I’m broken now. I was fixable before. Now I’m beyond repair.” I told him, standing up to return the wash basin to the corner.

“You should get out of that dress.” Newt said, from the table. “I’ll wait outside.” He said, standing up and pulling the door closed.

I changed out of the red dress I’d been wearing into the midnight blue one. I just stood there, holding the red dress. It’d once been my favorite, but now all I could see was blood and hatred. In a burst of anger and fright, I threw the dress into the fire. Maybe if it burned, it’d burn away the bad memories.

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