Home of Hostility
Two Years Ago.
Winifred Smithson’s hometown existed on the edge of obscurity and infamy.
One always knew where it was on a map, but nobody ever sought it out. Most knew that it was a place to be avoided. Really, it used to be a farming town like any other. “Home of Prosperity” written in faded writing on the local saloon’s sign like the lingering touch of a ghost. Something that was, but didn’t stay. The town was home to frequent droughts and fires, with the odd good season that brought in enough income to survive but not enough to ensure a life outside of just that. The fact that her father’s home remained standing was nothing short of divine interference, though pestilence still managed to slip through the floorboards and made a home in her father’s lungs once the snow had fallen.
Over the winter, Ol’ Man Smithson let out his last breath, leaving a sobbing Winifred to scream down the hall for her uncle, Joseph, the following morning. With her father’s heart and soul being put into that home, and his soul eventually being the only thing left behind for his efforts, Joseph and Winifred decided to remain there. With her father’s remains buried on the property in a private, two person funeral, Winifred felt inclined to agree that leaving the property for gang hideouts and looting didn’t sit right.
Not that there wasn’t the threat of that, regardless.
Her hometown was avoided mostly because the low population and lazy eye of the law that remained in town allowed a good number of the darker parts of society to hide in the cracks and dark parts of the old buildings. Her uncle, a stuffy and book-learned man, hated the town with a rather fiery passion and it was usually Winifred who, unfortunately, had to take up the job of actually spending time within town limits once her father’s health prevented him from doing so. Uncle Joseph was a rather frail looking, more comfortable with numbers and money keeping than doing what needed to be done to keep them afloat.
Stocking the pantry and cupboards, taking in whatever new livestock or horse that came into the town’s possession? That was on his niece’s shoulders like it was her father’s.
She caught a lot of stares and grumbles, old and exhausted men reminding her of where they expected her to be. Yet, someone had to keep the family alive, including herself. Sometimes amused, sometimes frustrated, she often commented on how she wished she had an easy life, staying inside all day. Some took that in stride, some didn’t. Most people in town, however, she liked avoiding conversation with altogether.
So, Winifred couldn’t help the crawl up her spine as she walked up off the main stretch into the center of town toward the general store. Her and the owner were familiar enough, she made it routine to come in every second week during the summer when money was a little easier, sometimes monthly in the winter. He always regarded her with a small smile and nod, didn’t talk much and she often found herself not minding.
However, this time there was someone else in there.
The man stood in the corner of the shop, not looking up from where he was looking at the label on a whiskey bottle. He stood a good head above her and the shop keep, his clothes as dark as the lights were dim in the shop, Winifred taking in the back of his duster coat, the patchiness to the dark brown hair at the back of his neck. There appeared to be some sort of scars or marks running up the back of his neck and down the side, stopping hair growth.
She had never seen him before, she would have noticed.
Her dark eyed gaze moved toward the shop keep, who met her own with an unreadable expression but he didn’t seem too tense. So, with a small sigh out of her nose, she wandered over toward the counter.
“You here to pick up your order?” the shop keep asked, earning a quick nod as she approached him. He drummed dirty fingers against the top of the counter there as she dug around in her father’s satchel for what money her uncle had set aside to buy goods for the week.
They had to slow down with that soon, she could see that tension forming in his brow again when he knew winter was coming. She could feel it more on her face and less so in the profit from the crops, but she wasn’t blind to that either.
“How much as it again?” she asked, glancing up at him.
The man in front of her eyed her for a moment in some thinly hidden annoyance, but turned around to pull out the list she had mailed a few days ago. However, as he did so, Winifred picked up on the sound of heavy boots against the wooden pathways leading up toward the shop. At that time, the silent man in the corner had turned slightly to glance toward the door at the noise as well.
Please...Winifred thought, feeling a tightness in her gut. The stories about the gunfights weren’t uncommon, and she had hoped throughout her lifetime that she never got caught in the middle of one.
As if in tune with the thought, the front door to the general store was almost kicked open from the sound of it, the string of the bell attached to it snapping with the force, the bell itself letting out a shill jingle and metallic rattle as it fell onto the floor by the boots of the man who had just stepped in.
Winifred didn’t instantly recognize him from the light outside, but instantly she knew that she remembered those wild eyes peering out from under his hat from anywhere, his dark stubble a little heavier from the last time she had seen him. However, the look of outrage and yellowing teeth from behind his sneer stood out clearly in her memory.
“You!” he shouted, jabbing a finger in her direction with a gait that said that he may have already had one too many to drink that evening, “You remember me?”
“We really have to do this here, Lawrence?”
“Oh-ho, yes. You’ve been avoidin’ us long enough. That rotten Pa of yours, too.”
“Pa’s been dead since January,” she snapped, “Thought all of that would have died with him. You gonna keep robbin’ him from the grave? I thought gravediggin’ was a little beneath you.”
“You shut your mouth,” Lawrence said, taking another step toward her. It made her all aware of how unarmed she currently was. “Money’s money, and if you can’t pay us back, you better find another way.”
“We have nothin’, mister,” she returned, raising her hands at her sides, “I’m just lookin’ to buy some food, let me just--”
"Shut your mouth,” he repeated, each word forced out through clenched teeth, “If I have to beat my message into you, I damn well--”
Throughout the exchange, she had her eyes trained on the irate man in front of her, yet she hadn’t noticed the other man move to pull something out from his hip. The click of a hammer being pulled back on a revolver could have been as loud as an actual gunshot in that moment, Lawrence stilling as Winifred caught the silver glint of a barrel shoved into the back of his head.
“I’m gettin’ tired of this,” the man stated, his voice level, almost deadpan, “I can see the lady here is, too.”
“The-” Lawrence had started, going to make a turn to face him but stopped. He pulled a face at the barrel of the gun pressed harder into the back of his skull. “The hell is this? This ain’t no business of yours, nobody."
“It’s mine,” the shop keep said, his voice loud over Winifred’s shoulder, “I don’t want this in my business, so get outta here before I call the marshal.”
“Go call that lazy dog,” Lawrence spat back, but seemed to simmer down some in defeat. Winifred kept her eyes trained on him, and the hard stare of the man behind him as he kept his weapon at the lethal distance should he pull back on the trigger.
“You heard the man,” he stated, his words almost growled in his drawl, “Best you let this lie before I do what you’re sayin’ the marshal won’t.”
Lawrence pressed his mouth into a thin line, Winifred keeping her gaze on his stare and it felt like he was burrowing holes into her own. Finally, he seemed to relent, turning with measured steps as the man behind him seemed to fall into step like some strange and threatening dance. He shoved the barrel hard into the back of his head once their backs were to Winifred and the shop keep, Lawrence stumbling forward a few steps before whipping around, baring his teeth like a dog.
“I won’t forget this, stranger,” he stated, tilting his head to look back at Winifred over his shoulder, “You too, Smithson!”
“Get out of here before you test my patience further,” the man stated, not turning around for a few moments, even after Winifred had seen Lawrence stumble before stepping down into the dirt of the street and made his way back toward his horse.
Winifred watched as the man at the door let out a sigh, the tension in his shoulders dropping as he turned around to look toward the two of them. He glanced between them both, rolling his neck a little before tucking his gun back into the holster at his hip. With a sigh, he help up the bottle in his hand, the liquid inside making a soft slosh.
“I think I’ll just get this whiskey once she’s done here.”
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