Part1: The Unknown Town
It is another hot day at this old western town. Wind is blowing like it was from some furnace , that even melted the hardest metal man ever knew. Life is hard in these part of the world. Water is scarce, heat is intolerable. Anyone who is intolerable to live in these conditions can survive anything in his life. But, the greatest threat in the west has to be the bullet, which pierces your skin, and blasts your brain, even if you are worthy or not. Death, it's a fair game, even if you are not the one to live.
This town has a saloon, a brothel and a stable. Mostly the very few population of the town will be gathered at any of these places. They quench their thirst, their animistic needs, there. When it comes to men, women and horses are of same value. As long as you can ride, they are precious, otherwise, a bullet will suffice. There is a train station too, which will, most probably will be crowded on the weekends, when the shipment of brewery arrives, or new horses and whores are brought. Today, for the better reasons, wasn't Saturday or Sunday. It was a Tuesday, and the station was almost empty. Except for one.
I don't know his name. Believe me, you better not ask him. He is not a talkative person, as far I know. Sometimes, he is a bounty hunter. Sometimes he is a bodyguard, a protector. He has no one of his own. But, everyone knows him, respects him. They say no one knows what he wants, or why is he in this town. But, I'm not them, right. I'm the writer, and it's my job to find him a story. Believe me, he is not an enigma as everyone thinks he is. He has a story, and it's not just his. It's the story of his brother. It's the story of their friend, who turned out to be their enemy. It's the story of love, faith and betrayal. You wanna hear that? Come closer,my dear friend. Sit here with me. There is a lot of room on this bench.
Part2: The Unknown Time
That was a long time ago, when rail roads weren't part of the western dreams. When a piece of bread and some beans were a luxury. Buck Ballot and Mary Ballot worked hard to keep their family alive on those days. They where the fortunate ones who got their own land in the new world. They dreamed of gold growing from the earth, and all they got was rocks. They used them to build a house. They built a fence around their home, so that they can protect their four children. There were animals and men who were dangerous than animals. Still, they did a good job with what they had.
The Ballot family had two boys and two girls. Jeb was the eldest. Then Sophie, Annie and the youngest was Trent. When Jeb turned sixteen, he started working on his father's ranch. As for Sophie and Annie, helping their mother with the chores was the major part of their lives. Trent, being the youngest, had as much restriction as he had freedom. He had to deal with two fully grown men, and three women. Still, he had the opportunity that none of them had. A life out of western way of life. That's what his family wanted for him. They wanted schooling for him. He obeyed it. Things were going well for the Ballot family, until one day.
Fate always strikes when we are least expecting. Jeb wasn't home, as he rode to the town as part of the work. Trent was at school, while his mother, father and sisters were at home. There were people who didn't valued others. To them, people were flesh and obstacles. They valued money for what it's worth. Everything else was a commodity for them. They used their guns to do their talking. They reaped everything on their path like a plague. Some called them outlaws, others called them bandits, truly they were evil. That day, the Ballot ranch was their destination. They raped, killed and looted that poor family. When Jeb returned with his brother, the whole place was a graveyard. Jeb was 28 and Trent was 13 when they lost their family.
Jeb knew who those men were, as there was only one name that made the townsfolk shiver. And he knew where will he be at that time of the day. Carrying a weeping Trent on his back, Jeb rode his horse to the saloon. His hands were shaking, not with fear, but with rage. He hadn't killed a man before in his life, but he was sure he will kill one today. His father taught him to shoot rabbits and owls ever since he was a child, and that was enough for him, because today is the day that you'll find how good you are, for the better of it.
“Trent,you better stay here, and if I didn't come back, ride as fast as you can. Never look back, you here me.” Jeb told his brother, while taking his rifle out of it's cover.
“No, please Jeb, don't leave me here. Don't leave me alone.”
Jeb grabbed Trent by his head, kissed him on his forehead.
“You're a big boy now brother. You always wanted to fire a gun right.” Jeb handed a pistol to Trent and said.” Promise me that you'll ride south if I didn't come back. Promise me”
Trent replied, sobbing, “yes, yes...”
“Good boy” Saying that, Jeb walked to the door of the saloon and stormed inside.
“Hasworth!!!” Jeb shouted. No, it was a war cry.
The whole saloon became still. You could here the wind howling through that place, as it was expecting to take someone's soul with it. From that maddening crowd, one man with long hair and an eye patch rose.
“Men cry my name when I stab them in their heart. Who are you boy? You don't look like someone who is old enough to die, or old enough to do anything. “ Hasworth, the outlaw, grinned at the crowd saying these words.
“You're right. I'm not old enough to die, but you are, old dog. You are dying today, right here.”
The crowd got the idea and they knew it was time for to retreat to the hallows they came from.
“It's the Ballot boy” Someone whispered on Hasworth's ears.
“Ah, so that's what you are. I don't get it. Where were you when I was at your home? Where you hiding under any bed? Of course, if you were, you would've seen me playing with your little sisters. Pretty girls,weren't they.”
That was the apex. Jeb's rifle roared and fire came out of it's barrel. It didn't pierced Hasworth's head, but kissed his cheek. Blood was flowing like river Mississippi through the gash. What happened afterwards was hard enough to express. Guns drew, bullets flew, men were slaughtered like pigs. Jeb had three or four of Hasworth's men, until Hasworth shot him on the chest. Some more bullets pierced through his legs. Jeb fallen on his knees, still holding his rifle. For a moment, Jeb knew this was the end. One of Hasworth's men Cocked his pistol on Jeb's face. He was ready to fire. To give Jeb his final bath in his own blood. But, a bullet from nowhere opened that man's skull open. Jeb didn't see who it was. It was all red for him. Then it given way to blackness.
Part 3: The Unknown Man
As time goes by, Jeb's darkness faded away. First he saw a white light, and then it formed shapes. There were stones everywhere. After a considerable amount of effort, Jeb shook off the dizziness. He became conscious, and he found out it was a cave. He tried to get up, but he couldn't. His chest was covered in bandages, so was his legs and arm. Slowly, things came into his mind. He looked around to find out where he was. Was he a captive? Was he dead? He didn’t knew. Suddenly he saw a man sitting at a corner.
“Ah, you're awake. I was getting suspicious that you wouldn't make it.”
Jeb looked at him with suspicion. He was a fair man with a light beard and a moustache. There was no gun in his hand.
“That was hell of a fight back there. Normally, I won't interfere in others business. But you, couldn't let you die. Also, anything against Hasworth is good for me.”
Jeb looked puzzled at his supposed saviour.
“Don't look so confused Jeb. That's your name right. Trent told me everything. Nice little boy he is. Loves to shoot things. I like that kind. Gave him some tips by myself. He will be an asset for your future Jeb.”
Jeb calmed his senses down. Trent is alive.
“Sorry about Hasworth though. That old bastard escaped. Never mind. We will find him soon.”
“Listen, thanks for saving me and my brother. But, I can take care of Hasworth by myself.” Jeb told.
“No you can't Jeb. Can't you see yourself? I know. Hasworth killed your family. You have a right to have his head. But don't think you are the only one who has problems with Hasworth. I have my bills to pay. Alone, we both are inferior to his men. Together, we can destroy them all. What do you say, ah?”
Jeb thought the proposal for a few seconds. This man is right. Hasworth has a platoon of his own. Jeb wanted Trent to survive alone. For now, it was the only way. Jeb shook his head in agreement.
“You made a wise decision my friend. Now,let's go see your brother.”
The man carried Jeb out of the cave. There were three men outside the cave waiting for them. Not far away, there was Trent, who was shooting at cans hanging on threads. He came running to Jeb as he saw him afar. For a brief moments, the little brother shared his grief and relief with his elder one.
“jeb, meet my men Shorty, Fin and Mumbo” the man said, taking a harmonica out of his pocket,
“And I'm Frank”
Part 4: The Days Of Fury
Outlaws, like heroes, are not born, but made. Five months ago, Jeb and Trent Ballots were ordinary people who obeyed their parents and law. Today, they are a part of the gang who looted wealthy passengers on desserts. They took everything that they needed to survive, and gave the passengers their lives. Frank was a born shooter, and shorty once said that he could shoot the eye of a vulture. Jeb was sharpening his skills for the inevitable fight with Hasworth. Trent, was mostly enjoying these times. He have five brothers now, and even he respected Jeb, Trent spend most of the time with Frank. Frank was happy to teach him some numbers with the pistol. Occasionally, Frank will play his Harmonica, and during that time, Trent will sit right beside him. Trent loved that Harmonica, and he is hopeful that one day, he will own it, because Frank made his promise. And when Frank makes a promise, he won't step out from it.
Mostly, the gang targeted stagecoaches where money was a sure bet. But today, their aim is not money. It's a man. An insider from Hasworth's gang. If they can trap him in the desert, they could make him talk. If he talks, they will know where the old dog is caged. Things gone as they've planned. Three of his followers shot by Frank, two by Jeb and one each by Shorty, Finn and Trent. They brought the man to their cave.It wasn't a tough job for Frank to squeeze answers out of him, and he spilled out everything, Frank gave him the return ticket with a single bullet. Now, they know where Hasworth was, and it was a matter of time they kill him. They stocked their weapons. They checked their guns. They were ready for the battle.
That night, two men didn't sleep. Jeb had his reason, that tomorrow, he will kill the man who destroyed his family. But, he didn't knew why Frank was awake. He had to know the reason. He was determined for it.
“Frank” Jeb asked” every time I asked you about your rivalry with Hasworth, you gave me a cold shoulder. I'm pretty sure tomorrow will be the end of it. Now will be the time for you to tell me. Of course, only if you trust me.”
There was a moment of silence between the two.
Then Frank spoke “I've never shared these things to anyone before. To you Jeb, I've no secrets. You know jeb? I started my life with a life of hope and love like everyone else. After my father's death, I took care of the family plantation, and that's when I met her. She was my father's friend's son, and was quite sparky, that girl. Full of grace, she was like an angel. I loved her madly, even decided to marry her. And that's when Hasworth rode through her place. He burned her house, along with her family and herself. I was too late to reach there, and when I did, she was nothing but a pile of ash.”
“I'm sorry to hear that Frank” Jeb replied.
Frank continued “Well, the hard part was that I couldn't tell her how much I loved her. Hasworth took my life along with that fire. From then, my only aim was to shoot him down like a mad dog.”
“And tomorrow, we will have it.” Jeb added.
“We will”, said Frank, with a smile.
Part 5: The Battle
When great battles yearn for an element of surprise, they are looking for a definite upper hand over their enemy. Frank and Jeb had that upper hand that morning. Hasworth's men weren't even waken up when Frank and his men rode to his den. They slaughtered them without showing any mercy. Trent had a perfect target practice, as Jeb, Frank and others advanced to Hasworth's room, killing everyone who makes a stand. Seeing his men dying in front of him, Hasworth sneaked from his room, and tried to make a run. Jeb followed him outside, and shot his horse even before he could take of. Seeing Frank and his men are not at his side, Jeb found it was his turn to kill Hasworth.
“You!! You can't shoot me. I don't even have a gun. Are you that coward boy? To shoot an unarmed man??” Hasworth hissed against Jeb.
Jeb took a second pistol at his hand, and given a thought about it.
“Have you thought about it when you and your men killed my father? When you massacred my family? Have you thought about it when I was surrounded by your men??” Jeb asked
“I....” Hasworth knew it was over.
“Admit it dog. There are no fair fights” Jeb completed his words by emptying his barrels to Hasworth's chest.
That was it. Jeb avenged his family. He sat down, watching the inanimate body of Hasworth the outlaw. That was it.
“Jeb, Jeb” Trent called him from behind. “Come quick.It's frank.”
Jeb followed him back to the den.
Shorty, Mumbo and Finn were sitting outside, where the bodies of Hasworth's men were scattered around them. Frank was inside Hasworth's room, and beside him, there was a woman. She was barely dressed and was badly treated. There were bruises all over her body. It was evident that Hasworth enslaved her, for a long time. By the looks she was just short of being insane.
“Frank, who is this?” Jeb enquired. Frank remained silent.
Jeb inspected her “May be we should take her to the town, into a brothel, they could take care of her.” Jeb suggested to Frank.
“No, we are taking her to our place.” Frank replied.
“What??” Jeb stared at Frank unbelievably. “Frank,we don't need this. Looks like she had a lot. Do you want to be another Hayworth?”
Frank clutched to Jeb's neck, as we he was ready to choke him to death. Then he relaxed.
“Jeb, come with me. I need to talk” Frank walked outside.” And nobody touches her.” He warned his men.
Jeb and Frank rode for a mile and stopped.
With a few minutes of silence, Frank said,
“Jeb, she is not someone who we should leave at a brothel. She's my girl. She's my love.”
Jeb, with shock, replied ”Wha...?? I'm sorry Frank. I didn't knew.”
“It's not your fault, Jeb. I had no idea that she was alive. All these years I... She had suffered a lot. Jeb, she doesn't remember me.” Frank said, sobbing.
“Stay calm. We will go through this. Together.” Jeb tried to relax Frank.
Part 6: The Beginning of the End
Mumbo was waiting for them at the entrance. He looked disturbed.
“What is it Mumbo” Frank asked
“The lady, she tried to attack us when you were away. Trent shot her down.” Mumbo replied
There was a visible cry came out of Frank's mouth “What???”
Frank rushed to the den, while Jeb followed him. Her body lied on the floor, in a pool of blood. Trent was standing beside Finn, shocked.
Frank grabbed her by the head, sobbing, whispered on her ear.” I'm sorry... I'm sorry.. I should've told you before. I should've told you that I loved you. I 'm sorry.... “
Frank dropped her body and stared at Trent. Trent didn't knew the weight of his deed. All he did was trying to protect his brothers. He tried to explain that to frank, without knowing it was pointless.
“She attacked us. I was protecting them. I thought you will be happy to hear that...”
Frank drew his gun and pointed to Trent.
“No, Frank. Don't do this. Don't hurt him.” Jeb rushed to stop him.
Frank turned around and pointed the barrel to Jeb.
“Finn, tie them.” Finn, Mumbo and Shorty knew it was stupid to question Frank's decision. So, they did what they were commanded.
Frank settled his pistol it's case and turned to Trent.
”You always wanted my Harmonica, right?? Today, I'm giving it you...” Frank laughed like a mad man. In fact, he became a mad man.
As hanging under the arch, Jeb knew, it was his end. He knew Frank wanted Trent to watch him dying. In his shock he knew, he is going to die the same day he killed Hasworth. Mumbo,Shorty and Finn were there watching this without any mercy in their eyes. Jeb searched for Frank, and he saw him coming, with a despicable grin on his face. He knew, the Frank he loved had died along with the woman. Frank walked to them, as they were some strangers. He stopped facing Trent and took his Harmonica out of his pocket, and said,
“Keep your loving brother happy!!!” He shoved the Harmonica into Trent's lips.
“Son of bitch!!” Jeb shouted ”Son of a bitch!!”
Jeb knew Trent would stand there as long as he could, but he never wanted to take his brother with him. He kicked Trent down and let himself hang. For a moment he thought there will be a miracle. But, there wasn't any.
Trent, with sweat and tears, rolling through his cheek, saw Frank's face for the last time. Frank thought he won't survive a day in the desert, but Trent had a different idea. He walked through the desert for three days and he reached a nearby town. From there he started his journey for Frank. He was a quick gun, for that he thanked two people. His brother and the one who killed his brother. That journey took him so far to this railway station.
He forgot his name, his brother's name, but he will never forget the name Frank. You need proof?? Look at his neck. You can find that old Harmonica. The one Frank gave him. The train is coming. It passes through Flagstone I guess. I think he is boarding that train, because something tells me he knows where Frank is. May be he will find Frank at Flagstone.May be he won't. I hope there will be someone waiting at Flagstone to see what will happen next. It's their job to tell that story. I'm done with mine. As he leaves this town, may be some other will come here. May be he will give me something for a story. Till then, I'll be at the saloon, sipping by brandy.
So long, my dear friend.....