Jack - 1897
“Please...Mercy.” The teller lifted his hands up, clasping them together as if praying.
My jaw clenched at the gesture. I’d prayed once. Pa beat the shit out of me for it. Quit that. There ain’t no god out here, boy. Best remember that. His words couldn’t have been truer. There was no god in the west, just like there was no law. Well, there used to be no law. Now it was becoming tamed. Did that mean there was a god now? Better not to think of these things.
My boot collided with the teller’s stomach, and he doubled over. Flicking my eyes over to the puddle he’d made before filling the bags, I tried to ignore the retching. Weak men had no place here. Alive, that was. But then again, if there were no weak men, there were no strong men.
“Jack, what are ya doin’?” Ezra’s voice called my attention to the vault’s door. “Kill him. We ain’t got time.”
“No, please...” The teller pleaded, and I gave him another kick.
“Whatcha mean we ain’t got time? Ways I see it, there ain’t a livin’ lawmen anywhere ’round here.” My hand rested on my holstered revolver, watching as the teller struggled for air on the ground. He looked like a writhing worm.
“Yeah? Well, Pa and Marshall went a little nuts. There ain’t a livin’ person in ten miles.” Ezra pinched the bridge of his nose. There was more he wasn’t saying, but what he had said was enough to get a gasp from the teller. Or maybe that was just the air finally getting back in him.
“Job’s done. Why kill the town?” I wrapped my hand around the grip of the revolver. There was something comforting about the wood pressed into my palm, and I needed all the comfort I could get, knowing we’d just massacred the whole goddamn town.
I’ve killed before. This wasn’t anything new. It was the fact that innocent kids, women, and families were dead now. It wasn’t just lawmen, or the occasional disgruntled man. We had the blood of the innocent on our hands. And for what? A couple hundred bucks?
“Eli’s dead.” Ezra pulled his hand from his face, glaring at me with a rage I’d never seen before. At least, not from him.
“Shit... I know he’s your twin and all, but...” I rubbed the back of my head, struggling to understand that Eli was really gone. I knew Ezra needed reassurance, but there was nothing I could say. So...I repeated what Pa always said. “We all know the reaper’s comin’ for us. We ain’t exactly good folk, Ezra.”
“Jermiah, Eli, and Gideon are dead, Jack.” The mention of my brother’s name stung like a rattler bite.
“Gideon?” Gideon was closer to me than any of my other brothers. Hell, he was the one who practically raised me when Pa wasn’t disciplining me. He couldn’t have died. He was the best brawler of all the Cain Clan and a damn good shot. There was no way someone had killed him. “How’d he— “
“How should I know? I was with you!” Ezra threw his hands up in the air, then pointed at the teller. “Take care of him. Meet us outside. Edmund and Elias went to get the wagon. Our horses are already out front.”
Ezra left before I had a chance to ask anything else, which only left me and the teller. I looked at the man who showed no fear now, only anger. A defeated man was no threat, but an angry man was a different story. I unholstered my revolver and pointed it at the man’s forehead. A knot formed in my stomach.
This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.
“You heard your brother. Kill me.” The teller pressed his head to the barrel of my gun. I tilted my head to the side, wondering if there was going to be an indentation if I moved away from his skin.
“He ain’t my brother.” My tone was blunt. It was the truth. Sure, Noah’s boys were like brothers to me, but they were just cousins. But I couldn’t argue with the teller. Everyone thought the Cain Clan were brothers with the one sister. We didn’t exactly feel like getting caught to set it right. And the people we did set it right with didn’t live long enough to tell anyone else.
“Whatever he is, then. Just do it. Get it over with.” The teller had tears brimming his eyes. I would’ve bet they burned like whiskey. “I’m ready to see my family again in Heaven.”
“Ya really think there’s somethin’ waitin’ for ya after I pull this trigger?” I never understood the religious folk. “How ya know it ain’t just dark?”
“I’m sure it’s dark for you, but I haven’t done anything wrong.” The teller pressed his head against the barrel a bit harder. “Pull your trigger.”
“I ain’t done nothin’ wrong either, mister. Just born wrong, I guess.” I cocked back the hammer of my gun, letting out a bitter chuckle. How many times had I been in this position before? Too many. Was killing wrong? Yeah, I guess. Unless it was for money. That’s what Pa always told us.
“Done nothing wrong? You killed my daughter, you bastard! My wife… Your whole goddamn family left me nothing!” Rage scorched through the teller’s tears as spit left his mouth with the ferocity he screamed at me. Suddenly, a calm overtook his body, and sobriety cleared his eyes. “Burn in Hell, you son of a whore.”
The ringing in my ears didn’t last long, but it wasn’t my gun that caused it. My eyes flicked over to my oldest brother, Calvin. He looked madder than a hornet, and he stormed over to me, clasping his hand around the back of my neck and forcing me to look at him.
“What the hell are ya doin’, Jack?”
“I woulda done it.” I wasn’t sure who I was trying to convince.
“Woulda, coulda, but ya didn’t. Let’s get the hell outta here.” Calvin nudged the teller’s body over with the toe of his shoe, then went to fetch the bags of cash. The inside of my cheek was raw with all the worrying I’d been doing that day. I should’ve brought chew. Or cigarettes.
Something irked me about the teller’s last words to me, or maybe it was the fact that he was the first man that I knew for sure had a family before he died. Burn in Hell. I knelt next to the teller’s head, staring into his lifeless eyes. With the barrel of my gun, I prodded at his temple. Of course, I knew he was dead. I could see the blood pooling around his head. There was no mistaking that. However, I’d never met someone so ready to die, and it was like a kid finding a frog, or some other small critter, to pester. Burn in Hell.
“Aren’t I already in Hell?” I asked, not really sure who I was asking.
“Ya say something, Jackie Boy?” Calvin walked back to me, holding one of the bags out. I stood up, taking the bag. I was about to answer him, but the smell of burning wood and bodies locked the words in my throat.
Suddenly, the air was thick with smoke. It rolled in along the ceiling in black ropes, like bulky snakes slithering frantically for escape. It was time to go. Holstering my gun, I hoisted the bag over my shoulder and bolted from the building behind Calvin.
When we fled out the front doors of the bank, the blistering sun was long gone, replaced by the cool light of the moon. However, the fire spreading behind me felt like the inferno of the sun. I spotted the wagon, Ezra waiting for me on his horse beside it. A single cough left my chest as Calvin and I made our way towards the wagon. It seemed like everyone was accounted for. Except Jeremiah, Eli, and Gideon.
“The hell y’all set fires for?” I grumbled, tossing my bag into the back of the wagon once Calvin I reached it. My skin was still crawling from the teller’s last words.
“Didn’t feel right leavin’ all them bodies layin’ ’round,” Pa replied with a steady voice, watching as Calvin hopped into the back of the wagon with his sack of cash. Pa always had a calm voice. Even when he was mad. Always steady. “‘Specially not the boys’. This was as close to a proper burial as we could get.”
Maybe it was a mistake, but I turned around to look at the town as it burned. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Maybe Gideon to walk through the flames, pulling Eli and Jeremiah behind him? I didn’t know.
What I did know was that I’d seen Hell that night. I saw myself in the flames, a servant of Satan himself. This was what I was put on this earth to do, and I’d burn eternally for it. Stealing, killing… Sins I hadn’t thought of as sins because what was a sin where there wasn’t God, only the devil? A chill shot up my spine as the bank’s roof collapsed in.
“Take my hand, Jack. We gotta go,” Rebecca cooed. As I looked over my shoulder, I was scared by the way the shadows cast by flames danced on her face. She wasn’t human, just like I wasn’t human. Shells of man filled with the void of Hell.
I took a step away from her, looking at Ezra. He looked more human than the rest of us, probably because he was the only one with sense in the brood of madness. But the shadows danced on him like they did Rebecca. Demons and snakes waiting to drag us all to the depths of the eternal inferno.
“Boy, get in this wagon!” Pa bellowed, the flames making him look like the devil himself. Maybe he was the devil, and I, a demon of his making.
There was murmuring among the other Cains. Edmond and Elias looked at me with concern, but the shadows made their lips turn up in a sneer. Noah wasn’t even looking at me, but I could see the way the flames would morph him, just like they did to his daughter. We would all burn in Hell, and I knew it. I wondered if the teller had cursed me with this knowledge, or enlightened me.
Afterall, wasn’t God a man of forgiveness? Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. I thought it was a crock of shit, and still did. But if there was hope, then maybe I didn’t have to be the demon Pa created.
“Come on, brother. We gotta go. If you’re worried about Majesty, she’ll follow. You know that. She always does.” Calvin’s voice, so much like Pa’s, broke through the mess of thoughts. I could see in his eyes that he wanted with every fiber of his being for me to come with them.
But I wasn’t gonna go with them. Not after what I’d seen. They couldn’t know, though. Until it was too late. So, I walked over to Majesty, focusing on the white of her coat rather than the shadows that flickered. The fire was spooking her. Her nostrils flared, her hoof pawing at the ground agitatedly. I reached her, placing my palm against her muzzle.
The next moments were quick.
I mounted my horse, and took off west. There was no plan, no destination. All I knew is that I was gonna be free. I was gonna lay low, be a better man, and never—and I meant it—never carry on my father’s bloodline. I would not create more demons for his regime, nor would I let myself become the devil he was.
As Majesty passed the last building on the main street, I could hear my family behind me, screaming for my return, but that all quieted down when a shot went flying right past my ear. Another clipped my shoulder.
I shoulda known that Pa wasn’t gonna let me go quietly. Not when I knew everything we’d done before Fairbrook. I was a loose end, and the Cain Clan didn’t do loose ends. I shoulda considered myself lucky he’d only shot my shoulder, not the back of my head. It was only a matter of time before they came out of hiding to finish what they started. At least I was as far west as I could get without crossing the goddamn ocean, in some little town they’d never think to look in. Little Hallow.
A small town with a church as the town hall, where the preacher-mayor fixed up my shoulder. No questions asked. Not even when I asked for a little bit of land and a job. Instead, he showed me to an empty plot at the north end of town, signed over the deed and that was it.
“Hope you’re good with your hands, son.” The preacher clapped me on the back of my neck, shaking me gently as he handed over the deed. “A house ain’t anything easy to build, but we got some strong men in these parts. They’ll help you out, I’m sure.”
“Much appreciated…” I’d never owned land before, let alone built a house, but it couldn’t have been that hard. A floor, four walls, and a roof seemed easy enough.
As for the job, the preacher said they needed more loggers, so that he’d put in a good word with the Peck family for me. The preacher kept good on his word, and Willard Peck hired me onto his crew. All of my first week, Willard kept saying how glad he was to have me. I wasn’t so sure that he’d hold that sentiment when my past came barrelling in, guns blazing.
But I hoped it would never come to that.
Especially when I saw her for the first time, sitting alone on the grass beside the church. The preacher was showing me around on my second day in town, helping me get supplies for my house.
“That’s Clara. She’s a sweet girl.” The preacher then carried on, as if his world hadn’t just stopped like mine had.
I’d never believed in God or all that religious stuff, but when I saw Clara, I knew what an angel was. The innocence, the goodness, the complete opposite of me. If she was an angel, I was the demon sent to destroy her. Maybe that’s why it was suffocating to be in her presence because I knew that it was inevitable. Everything I touched turned to dust. She’d be no different if I ever got my hands on her.
A selfish part of me, though, told me that she was put in my life for a reason. A guardian angel, maybe, or a guide. My own personal light put in front of me to force me to face my sins. But I was afraid of the darkness she revealed in myself by her natural, heavenly light.
So, I put distance between us. Whatever would keep her off my mind and away from me, I used it. First, it was the house. Then it was my job, and when that didn’t work, it was her friend, Grace.
None of it mattered, though, because when I saved my angel, she saw me. Mind, body and soul. She saw it all.
And I was terrified.