Halloween

The story begins, on that fateful night,

Where nothing is sacred, not even the light,

And the howl of some creatures, echo from outside,

And no matter where you go, there’s nowhere to hide.

In the dark of the shadows, they lurk for you to find,

When you turn round to catch them, you’ll think they’re tricks of the mind.

And you’ll laugh a little, and you’ll kid yourself on,

Until bony fingers reach out, and with one snap, you’re gone.

 

You’ll wake up in bed, all at once with a fright,

While downstairs two foot spiders, creep in from outside.

Witches and monster bicker, for who gets your life,

At the same time you’re thankful; you think you’re no longer in strife.

If only you knew, the things they want to do,

If only you could realise, one of them will come true.

It could have been the clown, that waits outside your door,

It could have been the demon you’ll see, in your reflective floor.

But the monster that has won, and answers the call,

Is the boogeyman of horrors, except he’s no man at all.

 

The midnight hour, is within reach of clock hand,

You’ll cower in your bed, too afraid to stand.

And as sweat begins to pour, from under your skin,

You’ll stick your feet out of covers, instead of tucking them in.

You’ll repeat verses of bravery, terror you try to disguise,

But under your bed, is a creature with bulging eyes.

It takes joy in the hunt, it feeds on the fear,

It keeps its growl under breath, as it feels that you’re near.

It has teeth so sharp, and it creeps with a smile,

It won’t make a sound, not for a while.

And when you think you are safe, and your hand reaches to turn off the light,

A tongue will wrap round your arm, and you’ll hear whisper, “Good night.”

 

 

 

 

Anxiety

I can’t hold on to a single thought. There’s lots of them, they’re swirling, and they’re frightening, but I can’t see a single one of them clearly, and every attempt to grasp onto one and examine it for what it is, is as futile as my attempts to keep hold of this exact moment, to stop and and understand.

My composure is fleeting fast, and I’m making mistakes, because I can’t even think, because it’s all too much, because my heart is beating faster, and I feel that at one moment the pounding in my chest will reach it’s crescendo and follow up with a sudden STOP.

I’m gagged by some invisible object, that fills my mouth, preventing a breath.

This frightening moment, might be my last, and I don’t want to go – I’m normally well expressed, existentially understanding and stoically together but it’s just – CAN EVERYTHING STAY STILL FOR ONE MOMENT? This is ALL TOO MUCH to handle, just STOP AND LET ME THINK. But the next thought I cannot even fathom has already taken the place of this one, already I can’t-

Just a minute!? You need to listen to me, I’m telling you to listen to me, you need to stop and give me a breather, just for a moment! I’m telling you to, and you’re me, my mind, so you have to listen! Just stop! I tell YOU WHAT TO DO!

It’s NOT stopping.

I’m NOT stopping. I’m not listening. Why am I not listening to myself? I AM IN CONTROL. IF I CAN STOP THIS, WHY ISN’T IT STOPPING, I WANT IT TO STOP.

It DOESN’T STOP. I won’t ever get a break, unless my heart gives out which it might this exact second, and I don’t want my last moment to be this one, to be like this. I don’t want to be scared, and to be flustered, and to have faltering breath at my last moment. I want my partner, and my mother, to be with me, and for my thoughts to be of precious times, but instead I’m afraid, and lying on the floor, clutching at my own legs.

My heart is beating out of rhythm with my chest. It beats too fast, it fights against my expanding lungs and halts their expanse, and I can’t even get a full breath to calm myself down, which is what they tell you to do, so what if I’ve messed it up, and I can’t recover, and I’m about to die. I’m dying.

This has to be it – my heart is going to explode, or my brain is going to cease, simply because the pressure within it, has become too much. Perhaps a vessel will burst, and I will feel my life drain away, as red drips from my eyes.

I can’t even breath, I can’t even recover, this is it – JUST STOP. STOP. It’s too much! IT DOESN’T EVER… STOP. THIS MOMENT IS MY LIFE, AND IT WILL BE MY LAST MOMENT, BECAUSE THIS DOESN’T… EVER… STOP.

But it does stop, doesn’t it? Eventually after some time, the moment has passed and some semblance of control returns, although exactly when its snares released their entrapment, is unbeknownst to you. All you know now, is that you can stand.

And although your heart is still beating fast, it is slightly over now – and all that remains is residual guilt, plastered across your insides. You feel so foolish, for having lost. So stupid, for not even being able to control your own brain. Your entire body is distraught, and in need of support. All of that, just to lose to yourself.

But you haven’t lost. You have confused losing the battle, with having fought it. You’re body is tired, and your mind is frazzled – but the fact the moment has subsided, means that you are victorious. It has simply taken its toll upon you.

As with any battle, there are casualties to account for, and time is required to reassemble your forces. And so you may not feel as though it is over, when it fact it is. You’re simply in a process of triage, which is the start on the road to recovery. Your strength will return, in numbers, if only you give it time.

You are worth more, than how anxiety make you feel. You are winning, and while you are afraid in those moments, IT is afraid for ALL of the rest of the time where you are in control. You are merely throwing it a bone, by giving it some moments now and then. Do not feel guilty that they may return, unfortunately the same conclusions that you came to, that allowed you to beat it this time, may not work next time – but that does not mean, it will not leave.

You are okay. Remember this. You are okay, and everything, no matter what comes, will be okay. You will deal with it and conquer it, even if in the midst of the play by play of the fight, you are afraid, you will emerge victorious. You are okay.

And on those days when you are not okay, remember – that is okay too.

Definition – A study of “Now”

It would be a presumptuous yet fair statement, to say that we all have a preconceived notion of what we want from our time in this life that we perceive as ours. An idea of what it would take for us to reach the plenum of existence, and consider ourselves “fulfilled”.

And yet, if you were to stop for a moment; put a pause of your life as best you could, and write a list of exactly what it is that you want from your time on this Earth, and make a conviction and a promise not to change that, you would run into two distinct problems.

One: while it is perfectly easy to suggest you pause your life, you obviously and unfortunately cannot. If you were to take your time and write this list, with the intention of completing it in totality and never changing it, you would encounter a problem based on an assumption you would have had to have made, in order to even begin writing the list. The assumption would have been that you, unlike everything else in the universe; are static. An assumption that while your body grows old and tires, YOU are always YOU.

When in reality, YOU are changing all the time. You are not some steadfast rock grounded into foundation which a river works around, rather you are part of its water. It just becomes difficult to define the water part, in the same way you can point to the whole river and say “water”, or pick out a single molecule and say “this too is water”.

It’s a result of a struggle to separate the “I” of the mind and the “I” of the body. Assuming they are not one thing, because one part thinks, and the other part is physical matter. We forget the physical matter provides the means by which the conscious thinks, and can therefore perceive the physical part.

The two are cyclical; perfectly chicken and egg. And the two are changing at every second of the day as you flow from one moment to the next. A great example of how ever fluctuating both your mind and body are; is you may have a memory of a time you were brave, and so you could define yourself as courageous – that you put your body in harms way to save another in some form. And yet, you will probably also remember a time when you were cowardly. When you stood and watched a bully, rather than intervene, for fear of reprocusion. So are you brave, or are you cowardly?

Or were you simply brave in one moment, and cowardly in another?

But while you think of that; you will come to:

The second of the two problems: you can write down the words, “I want to be happy” or “I want to have wealth”; but you must remember that these are just words, not the feeling as they are themselves.

That is to say, that to physically say the words, “I am happy.” is not the same as being happy itself. Being happy is an indescribable feeling, because once you are in a moment of happiness, you’re not thinking about how happy you are; you just are. Like all else, it’s like a flow. You lose track of time, and you simply are the experience you are living, and it’s one which through one way or another evokes happiness. If you are to stop and think “why am I happy?” or “how happy am I?” you have begun to detract from the experience, and may actually think “how could I be more happy?” which decreases the intensity of the experience further so that actually you can’t describe your feeling of happiness just now, because you’ve lost yourself trying to define it, and by comparing it to future or further happiness it’s now not as happy as you imagine you could be.

So you’re defining nothing.

In the same way you could say you “want wealth” and in one moment mean “money” and in the next mean “purpose.”

In summary; what this effectively means, is a “You” which is no longer “You”, is defining an experience of say, “Happiness” which you cannot define, because the “Happiness” you are trying to define has passed to the variation of “You” than you were, and the “You” that you are now because you spent the time to define it.

Classification and definition are traits of the intelligent entity; perhaps experience is the trait of the wise entity.

To live the moment; is better than to define it, for in defining it, you surrender it.

And while you could define a moment, retroactively, this is defining a memory of a moment, and not the moment itself. So it is subject to infinite complications and inaccuracies.

Definition enables comparison. Rather than experiencing temperature, you are now experiencing hot or cold, or hotter or colder. This applies to happiness and sadness.

Rather, live in the moment as it is. Do not fear it or long for changing of circumstances, simply bask in what is. And while you can choose to define, at least understand what you are doing to the moment by categorising it. Take the moment as it comes, as it is in its purest form. Do not long for more or less of it, or a greater or lesser intensity of it. Simply; be.

Regardless of what you do; I hope the moment you find yourself in now, is a happy one. Just try not to think about it.

 

Mature

What would be the mature option?

To accept continuous burden in silence; to live with worry about the future, regret of past actions, and anxiety in the present.

OR

Talk about it.

Ironically, it’s so easy to chastise someone for thinking terrible things about themselves, and yet so easy to do it to oneself. If a friend were to exclaim that they’re ugly, you would be startled, almost offended, and reassure them otherwise. And yet, give yourself a mirror and time, and you’ll pick out every flaw about yourself until you’ve convinced yourself wholeheartedly of it.

What’s worse, is if you’ve convinced yourself of the theory that you’re ugly beforehand, you’ll twist and warp facts until you believe it so, and have evidence (however twisted) to prove it.

This applies to much more than appearance. This applies to money woes – where you could convince yourself you’ll be bankrupted and homeless, it could be about career and dream aspirations – and you’ll think you’re going nowhere, or it could even be about friends – and that you worry you have none, or that they don’t care.

There is nothing too big or too small, to be considered. It’s okay to not feel okay, today. It’s okay to have an off-day, and off-week, or an off-heck-of-a-lot-longer-than-that.

What’s not okay, is to accept the burden alone, indefinitely. We shelf small worries everyday, and as long as we then deal with them in the next hour or so it’s okay. But everything that’s negative to us, regardless of size, will damage us if left long enough. You cannot simply accept burdens all your life, and shoulder them alone, because you believe they are yours to bare. They are not.

You cannot somehow value yourself worthless, when in reality surely you must know that you are not, because no one is ever worth nothing. Especially not you. It doesn’t matter if you feel this worry or negativity is stupid to others. Or small. Or that you’ll be mocked. If it’s important to you, if it weighs on your mind, then do not hesitate to talk to others. Let them know. They can offer support, and you can beat it, or they will make you see more clearly how foolish you are being, and can dissipate your woes altogether.

Sharing a burden, halves it altogether immediately. And in sizeable chunks, it can be defeated.

You are important. Your worries and concerns are valued. Remember that if your thoughts are damaging your mental health in any way (and that includes just making you have a bad day) then you should tell others and the ones you care about and/or care about you, because they love you. Others want you to be well, even if you don’t feel like you’re worthy of it. It’s not fair, for others not to even know you’re not okay. So let them know. Share with them. They want to see you happy. You know who they are.

If you bare a burden that weighs heavily on your mind, regardless of how big or small it actually is;

Talk about it.

That would be the mature option.

ANGER

Anger. It’s very difficult to control this emotion. If any readers ever succeed in controlling it in its entirety, tell me how.

You can’t stand a person. You can’t stand an ideal or a thought. It’s so inherently wrong or immoral to you and yet it keeps happening, and the persons or persons responsible for it aren’t backing down, they aren’t apologising – in fact they’re aggravating you. Maybe they’re getting away with it, and you find that unfair. They’re pushing your buttons, intentionally, and you’re exponentially becoming more frustrated because you can’t solve it. You’re losing. Maybe someone whom you care for deeply or have an intense respect for is intentionally letting you down, disappointing you, or hurting you, and despite the fact you normally love or care for them – right now you cannot think of any of it, for the intense red mist that has descended upon you.

It’s a very primal emotion; anger. It’s not very complex, it just is. A lot like love, or fear. You are angry, because you are.

But as a relatively rational human being, you will most likely try to control it, in some way or another. Ineffectively count to ten – or perhaps you leave the room to focus your mind elsewhere.

Then, most likely, still as the rational human being you are, you will probably feel one more emotion blind-sight you out of nowhere, and attempt to steal your anger’s limelight. You’ll feel guilt. Guilty that you were unable to control yourself, and that your emotions instead controlled you. But the truth is you have little more to do with your emotions, than you do with your need to breathe in air.

Of course, it is important you learn how to handle, and express anger – but it is not important that you feel it. You should not feel guilty about feeling it, perhaps only about what you then do with it. If you are angry and you punch a wall – this is a relatively stupid thing to do, because you’re only giving yourself or another person a separate problem to solve. You’re not fixing yours.

However, if you are angry, and you sit and be angry; reflect perhaps – this is not so terrible. It’s not so terrible, because you’re going to feel it – so you may as well be constructive about it. You may as well come to terms with the fact, that as our thoughts and actions are the only thing in this life, that we can control – we now have a responsibility to think our thoughts through, and determine an appropriate action or outlet for them.

Most importantly; understand that you cannot move on, you cannot become better and feel better until you actively let the anger go. Any pain or hurt you’ve been caused, any build up rage that someone has instilled upon you, will not dissipate until you have given it permission to do so. One cannot negotiate effectively, in anger.

Do not allow serious discussions to occur, until you are no longer emotionally compromised. And while it’s annoying, and irritating, having to wait – because you may not have been ready to wait… you must. You must wait it out, until you can either forgive the person, until you can forget about the issue, or if you feel this person may anger you consistently and legitimately to an extreme degree so often that they no longer matter in the same way to you as they once did, leave them. Remove toxicity from your life.

But what you must not do – is decide any of these things, while you are not rational. And if you are emotionally compromised – you are not thinking rationally.

Take your time. Be angry. Forgive yourself. Direct the flow of it productively. And most importantly, do not feel guilty for the sake of feeling guilty. But understand, for you to grow, and for the situation to resolve itself in any way, you must let go of it, for now it only hurts you.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking a poison, and expecting the other person to die.”

Everything is temporary. So let anger pass, and do not let it consume you any longer than it has. Control the outlet of your emotions, so that they do not control you.

Shorts: The Apple Tree

When the seed in your hand has come from an apple; it does not matter how much you wish for it to be an orange tree. Regardless of whether you pray, and request for it to change; when you plant it, and bide your time until it grows, it will always be an apple tree, and bare more apples to enjoy. It does not care for your desires, nor does it care how much you desperately would like to try something new. It is an apple tree. And it will be an apple tree. There is nothing you can do to influence that outcome.

Do not spend your time in vain, wishing, with thought and prayer, or with some kind heuristic botany. Instead, find your new solution. Allow that apple tree, to be the little apple tree it needs to be, as you pursue what it is you need. Do not spend a moment of thought, on sadness over what is essentially a desire for control, where this control is an illusion.

There is so much in life, that we fuss over because of a perceived control over it. And as humans, when we lose control of something it gives us great distress. It gives us anxiety, because we feel as though we no longer can predict or even understand the outcome of any given situation, which in turn gives us anxiety. A tension, which is a desire for more stable conditions.

But the truth is, that whether we like it or not, we have less control over larger things than we would like. We can love someone with all of our hearts, and give everything that we are to them; but that does not mean they will be kind in return, offer us any time, or reciprocate that love with us. We can train a lifetime for a given task, and manipulate our paths in the best way possible to achieve the goal when the time is right; but that does not mean there is not a chance we could be run over by a bus tomorrow. Equally there are those who will be greedy, do iniquitous and horrific things; and never be caught for it, and die thinking they got away with it.

Once you submit that control over anything but your thoughts and your actions is an illusion, the rest of the pieces of your life seem to fall into place. And you find that rather than fighting every wave in the sea, to get where you need to be; you simply adjust the sails.

 

There are no stupid questions.

There are no stupid questions; only stupid answers.

To be a good teacher – and not just a successful educator – it is important to remember that the idea of being stupid (a horrible thing to think of someone, or to address someone as) could only be reserved for someone who lacks intelligence. And you know the only way to gain more knowledge, and to be more intellectual as person? Asking, questions.

Fundamentally, the sentence “They were asking stupid questions” or “that was a stupid question” is flawed – you’ll most likely either have said this in a moment of fury, or have overheard a disgruntled friend or colleague complaining. While it’s easy to understand why someone might say this, as they’re just frustrated, its equally not a helpful phrase for anyone.

Let’s suppose that you have never learned how to wash your clothes. You are a teenager, and have just moved out for the first time in your life. There is no washing machine in your apartment, so you head to the nearest laundromat with a couple of bags of dirty clothes, that you’ve no doubt put off washing. Nervous, you stumble your way towards a stranger, and in a moment of courage, you tap them on the shoulder and explain to them your predicament. “I’ve just never learned how to wash my clothes” You’ll say, “So… How DO you wash your clothes? Is there a system for putting it in the washing machine, or do you put anything in with it or… ?”

They laugh in your face. They sputter their words, and they repeat it, “You don’t know how to wash your clothes!? Are you stupid!?” They continue their merriment, maybe chuckle to themselves or turn to a friend. And you sit there wondering… “Am I stupid?”

What’s happened in that scenario, and in every other scenario where a variant of this has happened, is that someone asked for help to improve their own understanding, and was made to feel small in return. As though because they did not know something, that they know nothing. Which, ironically, is a stupid thing for someone to think. By acting that way, or by saying these things, you’re only conditioning someone not to ask questions, because when they do, they’re reprimanded. So they may stop asking questions. And without questions they don’t know answers. Now you’re hurtful comments have sustenance to them, but only because of what you did. And by doing that, you are far more stupid, and worst yet ignorant, than they could ever be.

You may not consider yourself a stupid person, and yet – do you know anything about botany? Or rocket science? Or fishing? Maybe even geology, sociology, psychology, phrenology? If you are not an expert in all these fields, it would be expected that at some point if you wanted to know more about the subject you would have to ask a question, no? So, does this make you stupid?

Fundamentally, we are all uneducated in some aspects of life. To call someone stupid, or make them feel small in any way, because you excel in an area they do not; is arrogant. It’s unkind, it’s unfair, and you are objectively helping to numb society to the pursuit of intelligence.

Curiosity IS intelligence. To wonder what lies beyond. To wonder about that which you do not know, and pursue it relentlessly. Do not stifle someone, and trip them up at the first hurdle of understanding. You are hurting someone’s potential more than you know.

Next time someone asks a question you feel they should know; that you feel is a stupid question – be patient. Take your time to think of the appropriate answer. For it is you who is on the ropes. Because there are no stupid questions; only stupid answers.

Don’t Do It Alone

You don’t have to do it alone.

No matter what it is; or how you feel; if you are right or wrong; or if you feel you are too far along. Whether the outcome will be a success or a failure; whether you will be forgiven or not; whether things can go back to the way they were or not; whatever you are going through – you do not have to do it alone.

Loneliness is such a hauntingly beautiful concept; because it’s so ironically universal. It’s something that unites us all together. We have all felt alone.

Sometimes in a dark room, with a beer or a glass of wine on something resembling a table in front of you, you will feel alone. As you monitor friends and family, who seem to be having fun. Perhaps you’re sitting and wondering who that person you think about, is thinking about. And maybe you’re wondering why they aren’t here beside you.

Sometimes, shoulder to shoulder, or on a busy street, you will feel so alone. As no one looks your way, or perhaps that they do and choose to stay at a distance. Perhaps it’s even one of those times, when people are talking to you; but the words they say and the ways they relate to their life and yours around them, you would be better off talking to a lion who has been taught your native tongue – for your two frames of reference are so far apart you no longer understand each other.

Sometimes it’s our own pride that brings about our true sadness. The thought that we should be able to shoulder the weight of the world, for this is what makes us strong and tough. This is a fallacy. A whisper that loneliness will repeat in your ear for hours on end. If you have convinced yourself this is true, then know this instead. It is not brave, to accept burden alone. It is not more dignified, or more humble, to pretend the world does not beat you down, and get the better of you on some days. Or perhaps for weeks or months on end.

This is the cruelty of life. It does this to everyone. If you believe you are the only person who asks for help, and are convinced that others you know to be calm and collected never ask for help; you are mistaken. What they really do, is share the load. They distribute the bombardment amongst those they trust, whom they hold dear. And in return, when they can, they offer kindness, love, and reciprocation. They offer an ear, and a shoulder, when it is their burden to do so.

This, I would wager, is not opinion, but fact. Four people carrying 100 kilograms of weight on their shoulders seems reasonable. But one person carrying the same weight, will injure or tire themselves after not too long at all. Remember this; it’s science.

Sometimes the hardest part, is that it seems as though there is no one to even accept your requests for help. It’s a friend, who knows you’re alone, and is unwilling to alter their behaviour to accommodate you. Which arguably is the only thing worse than being alone or being sad. Being alone, and someone else knowing you’re alone. Someone else being perfectly aware of it, and yet choosing not to act upon it. It feels as though no one would care.

But someone does care. People who contact you without a reason to do so. They care about your day, for the sake of hoping it was a happy one, and nothing else. Do not forget them, or their kindness, even if they are not the person you wish was bringing it to you. They can bring some light into your life, as long as you let them. Loneliness is only a darkness. People are not further away; you just cannot see very far in front of you. Or how far your sphere of connection stretches.

Put it does not matter if it is a trick – because it feels so real, to you. It feels empty. When you are scared of what you may find beyond your vision. And your fingers shake, and your arms wave all around you hoping to find someone there, to hold their hand and pull it closer. To feel their warmth against yours, even if they too are afraid.

Whatever makes you afraid; whatever in the future scares you – don’t do it alone. Don’t push those away whom you do find in reach. If they call to you, call back.

And if no one answers – call for me. I will follow you into the dark.

Colt – Chapter 1 – Part 1

Chapter 1

 

Clara ran faster than she thought her legs could take her, leaving behind the dead horse that lay on the side of the road. The hot summer sun burned the dry Texan ground. She ran past the splinted sun bleached sign that read Armadillo, and sprinted straight towards the tall light brown house with the only completely intact shutter board windows in the whole town. Dirt and sand gathered speed in the wind, and blasted the sides of the house. Tiles attached to the roof struggled to stay there.

Inside the house, Cooper shaved away the last remaining splinters of wood that hung off the end of his ten thousandth barrel. His hands were worn and calloused Splinters in the barrel couldn’t penetrate the tough skin of the edge of his fingertips. As the heat intensified, steam rose from his scalp. It occurred to him that he’d never experienced such a warm heatwave in all the years he’d been on God’s earth. His tired eyes zoned out, as he looked deep into nothing. His cracked hands wiped away his dirty blonde hair that hung down in front of his dark blue eyes. With the swipe of his brow, sweat fell from his hands that  squeezed out some of the moisture that now drenched his forehead.

Clara burst through the door, with tears in the corners of her eyes. As she ran from door to center room she looked her husband up and down. Cooper stood up and spun around, raising his sweat drench arms up to grab her by the waist.

“Clara, what’s wrong?” He asked, trying to meet her eyes. She did everything to avert his gaze, as he shouted once more, “Clara?” His voice was hoarse. Like shards of glass lined his throat.

The children in the backyard were too loud amongst themselves to hear the shouting in the house behind them, to them it was just another sunny day.

“Clara, my darling, what’s wrong?”

“They’re, they’re coming!” She intended to whisper, but it came out as a whimpered shriek.

“Who?”

“Everett… and his men… they’re coming!”

Cooper let go of his wife, and stepped backwards, “Why?”

“They’ve heard something… someone sold us out…”

“Who?”

“I don’t know!” She fell back into Cooper’s arms, and wrapped herself around him, pressing her ear against his wet shirt. He caught her as his eyes focused beyond the wall. He took a deep breath, trying to slow down his heartbeat for her ears.

“What do they know?”

“They just know…” she still struggled to catch her breath, “That someone helped them… and someone said it might be us…”

“Do you think the marshall told them?”

“No… he’s a good man. He wouldn’t have paid us otherwise…”

Cooper was not so sure. But that was unimportant now.

“Cooper, what do we do?”

He did not know. Or rather perhaps he did, but he could not say it for hope’s of a miracle. After a few eternal seconds, he spoke, “Okay… How long do we have?”

“A couple minutes… I had to leave Ralph dead by the side of the road to get here in time… they were right there!”

“Okay… grab the kids, as quickly as you can…”

“Cooper…”
“Get them, quickly!”

She looked up at him for a moment, before rushing out towards the back porch. From inside she began yelling for the kids to come to the house, but it was unlikely they would hear. She opened the back door and ran to grab them by the wrists.

Cooper stood for a moment looking out onto the short wooden table that took up most of the space in their living area. On one of the seats beside it, a recently washed pile of clothes were stacked neatly from yesterday’s Sunday wash. Without looking away from the spot on the table his eyes had fixed upon, he quickly grabbed a fresh tan shirt from the pile, and replaced it with the identical shirt he had worn. As the smelly version of his shirt passed by his nose, he was all the more thankful for his wife and all that she did to keep fresh clothes at the ready. She even left her own scent pressed on the shirts as she folded them.

All of this had in reality only taken him a few seconds, but time had seemed to slow for him in that moment. Suddenly he realised he did not have a set of moments to spare, and immediately ran upstairs to the bedroom with the double bed. Without hesitation he opened the drawer next to his side of the bed, digging around amongst the accumulation of lint that had been gathered over the years. He brushed aside the delicately made wooden horse he’d sculpted over last Winter with Ike, and grabbed the thick silver key to the safe. As he turned back towards the door, he caught a glimpse of Clara’s pajamas, still draped across the bed sheets.

With fast feet he reached the living room. He could hear the commotion outside of Clara carrying the kids as they laughed and jostled in confusion. Unwavering from his task, he stuck the key into the safe, and turned it, quickly pulling the heavy metal door aside. This safe was built into the foundation of the house, and had been covered discreetly by a table, with a set of drawers built into either side of it, and one on top. Inside, lay one set of precious treasure. He began lifting out the bars of gold one by one. Each of them freshly smithed in recent months.  They were heavier than he remembered.

Clara came into the living room, with both Ike and Morgan, both wearing tops with little sailing ships sewn into a pattern on the chest by their mother, “Honey… what are you doing?”

“I have to move the gold.”

“Why? Keep it safe, keep it there!” she pointed to where the bars had been, “That’s the first thing they’ll look for!”

“Yes.” He continued to load out another block placing them on the table, “And the safe would be the first place they’d look…”

“But the key-”

“They wouldn’t believe a man doesn’t know where the key to his own safe is.”

“You’re not going to talk to him are you?” Her eyes widened.

“I have to Clara, it’s the only chance I’ve got to get you and the kids out of here…”

“What?”

The two kids looked uneased for the first time, as the eldest held some comprehension of what his father was saying, while the younger could simply hear the panic in her mother’s voice.

Ike spoke up, “Pa?”

“Listen here Ike -” He turned away from the gold bars for a moment, and crouched down, placing his hand upon his Son’s shoulders, “I need you to be a really good boy for me, okay, can you do that?”

“Pa?” He repeated, unsure.

“I need you to go with your mother, and your sister, and be as quiet as you can be, okay? Find the best hiding spot you can in the barn out back. This is important.”

Ike nodded slowly, still unsure. His father’s eyes found his.

“And when your mother calls, I need you to climb on Tucker, and get ready to ride out with your mother if you have to okay? I’ll be right behind you – but until then you have to be in charge of your sister okay?”

“I get to be in charge of Morgan?”

“You sure do buddy, but you need to be as quiet as you can for Ma first, okay?”

“Okay, Pa.”

“I love you very much” Cooper squeezed his boy as tightly as he could, running his fingers up his skinny back and breathing in scented air from the top of his head. He turned to his little girl, who had yet to fully grasp the situation, “Bye sweetie, I love you.” he pulled her in, tucking her nose against his shoulder. She reached out to grab him thinking she was to be carried, but he pushed her away.

He looked at them both together, “Now run along! Stay in the barn until your mother says so, okay?”

Ike nodded and grabbed his sister by the hand, as they both ran as fast as they could, out onto the backyard, through where the grass used to be, passing the broken down wagon, and into the barn. They nestled themselves deep into a hay bale at the back of the shed. A ladder led to the upstairs, but Morgan could not climb yet, and even Ike knew he did not have the strength needed to carry her.

 

“Quickly, darling, help me move these gold bars into the drawer above the safe.” Immediately they both did so.

“Cooper, honey, what’re we doing?”

“We’re going to put the gold above the safe, because there’s no time, and hope that they don’t ransack the whole house… I’m going to have a talk with Mr Everett.”

“Wha- Why can’t we just put the gold on the horses and get out of here?”

“We only have one horse left, remember? The weight of this gold, there’s no way it can carry you, Ike and Morgan, the supplies you’ll need AND the gold… it’ll collapse before you reach Blackwater.”

“We’re heading to Blackwater?”

“Safest place you’ll be for now.” They finished storing the last gold bar in the top drawer, she slapped her hand around his wrist, spinning him towards her, “We’re not leaving without you.” She looked deep into his eyes, less afraid than she had been before. For a moment they were quiet, and the distant sounds of horses could be heard for the first time.

“My love… I surely hope that you do not have to… but… we may not have a choice…”

She bit the top of her lip as glass eyes returned, “I don’t want to leave you.”

“Nor do I want to leave you… but if you run, chances are these men will catch you, they are well known for chasing their victims relentlessly… so there is one last thing I must ask of you. And I need you to be brave.”

“Anything for you…”

“That old wagon in the back… I need you to wait in it. I need you to ready it, incase anything goes wrong.”

“The marshalls big gun?”

“The gatling gun in the wagon can be operated by simply turning the crank, and pointing it towards the house. There is a belt of ammunition sitting beside it. I need you to load it up, prop the gun so that it faces the living room. If the situation looks dire… if it’s a worse case scenario, or if they are persistent, I will invite them into our home. I will feed them, offer them our ales. Buy you time. However, should that not work…” he took a deep breath, “I need you to fire that gun, into the living room, for no less than ten seconds, before running to the barn and speeding off with Tucker and the kids, okay?”

She looked down to her muddied boots, stifling her tears, “How will I know to fire? I cannot risk it.”

“If you hear gunfire… even a single shot… you must fire.”

“I can’t-”

“My love.” He looked at her, “I will already be dead…” He let that sink in for a moment, as they watched the movement of each other’s eyes, and noticed the small details in one another’s face that they had fallen in love with, “What you will do is give you and the kids a fighting chance… even if you hit some of his men, Everett will cower until long after you are gone, and you can head to Blackwater. If you hit Everett, the marshall will pardon you and offer you safety here in Armadillo. It’s your best chance… Please do this for me sweetheart.”

By the end of his sentence, the sounds of horses had suddenly begun to roar, as they both darted their eyes towards the fortunately closed windows. The winnie of many horses came to a descendo.

“I love you, Cooper.”

“I love you too, Clara. I always have. And I always will.” They clutched at each other once more, pressing their bodies as close as they could manage. They fit in the jigsaw pieces they had found during their marriage.

“Go!” Cooper exclaimed with a hushed whisper.

She immediately turned on her heels, picking up some extra supplies in her backpack she had left by the door. She grabbed Cooper’s also, turning to see him one last time. He had already turned to face the door, and she left with the view of his back.

 

“Cooper Holt!” A rugged worn voice from outside called towards the house. For a moment, Cooper did not reply, and instead took a breath of the warm air inside his home. The voice repeated again, more impatient than before, “Cooper Holt, come on out here!”

Cooper walked towards the door, sure to slow his eager footsteps. As he reached the door, he slowly pushed it open to allow his eyes to acclimate to the glaring light. No amount of opening the door slowly could help him from the sheer brightness of this day. His retinas seared with pain. He grimaced, wishing he had remembered a hat from inside.

When his eyes found themselves again, he scanned each of the men he found in front of his home. There were four men, each on horseback, and a single carriage behind the four, with an extra man there holding the reigns of the horses. He looked more well dressed than the rest. The others clearly did not prioritise hygiene. They each had rugged beards, roughly styled in different fashions, and clothes to suit daily work with horses or farmland. They each carried a repeater rifle in their hands, which they gripped tightly to their chests.

As Cooper made his way around the men, he did not recognise them, until he reached the man on his left who was closest to the carriage. This man had two extra revolvers in holsters on the side of his pants, and a spattering of different sized bullets wrapped in a belt about his waist. His eyes were narrow, and his face scarred and weathered. His beard was the most well kept, and his clothes clearly the most expensive and well maintained. He wore a long duster coat that rested down either side of horse. Cooper had only seen him in passing, on posters in the marshall’s wall. This man, was affectionately known, as The Dag.

“Cooper Holt?” The Dag inquired once more, tilting his hat towards the man on the porch.

“Yes. How can I help you gentlemen?”

The Dag did not answer, and instead continued chewing on tobacco he had stored in his mouth. After looking for a moment, he turned to the carriage, “Alright! Come on out!” He shouted.

Almost in an instant, the carriage door flew open. Stairs fell out between the carriage and the ground. A pair of black shoes, emblazoned with gold insignia’s in a dancing pattern emerged from the carriage. Atop them, a sharp pressed grey suit, immaculately kept. Clearly by the bulging waist, there were guns hidden underneath, but careful effort had been taken to minimise the look. From above his shirt collar, a chiseled man stood firm in the hot sun. His jawline and cheekbones were clearly defined, as a man who would eat only the finest of foods for pleasure rather than necessity might look. He had nothing more than the beginning of a five o’clock shadow on his face, and as he removed his hat from his head, a full head of brown hair emerged, neatly kept and recently trimmed. As he stood for a moment, allowing his eyes to get used to the new light, he embraced the heat on his face. When the seconds passed, he turned his head towards Cooper, catching his eyes and smiling wide without baring his teeth. Without expecting a returned smile, he hopped off the carriage and began walking down the path towards the tall brown house. He looked all around, measuring the size of the house, how well the land had been maintained, and watching the windows that had been kept shut. Finally, when we reached the porch, he stopped in the dirt. The soil kicked up at his heels, ruining his otherwise perfect suit. He enquired once more, with a calm yet deep voice, “Mr Holt?”

Cooper nodded his head up and down, “Yes, sir.”

“Ah… fantastic. I have been looking for you.”

Cooper did not reply, glancing only at the men with guns quickly, and then back to the conversation.

“Are you aware of who I am?” The man asked.

“Yes, sir. I believe I do.”

The grey man gestured with his hand a motion to move the conversation along, “Could you tell me, please, so I can ascertain whether you are correct?”

Cooper studied the man before him once more,  “I believe you are James Everett, leader of the Everett gang, and Sheriff of the town of Hacksaw, and Allerdale for a number of years now.”

James Everett smiled at the explanation, “I do believe I could not have put it better myself.” he turned to face his counterparts, “I am indeed lawmaker of both the town of Hacksaw, and Allerdale, and have been for a number of years – and if I am able to permit myself to be so candid…” he stopped for a moment to shrug his shoulders, “I do believe I am very good at what I do.”

“So I have heard.” Cooper replied.

Everett smiled once more, allowing it only to fade as he spoke, “Regardless, while I believe this to be true, it is commonly known that the good men and women of the United States government do not agree with me.” The Dag let out a sigh of air in the form of a laugh behind him, “Apparently it is considerably frowned upon to be self-proclaimed lawman, and as such, occasionally we come into a bit of disagreement.”

Two of the men on the horses smiled brightly enough for it to be seen under their hats.

“Again, that being said – recently we have come to a mutual agreement, that should I make myself relatively scarce on a daily basis, focus on my productions elsewhere, slip some funds in places they need to be, and not cause too much of a disruption to their ever expanding trade routes and railway lines, they would agree to look the other way. Which I believe to be a fair, and respectable offering by the powers that be.”

Cooper nodded his head in agreement.

“However, recently it has come to my attention, that some marshalls in the nearby county disagree with some of their other fellow lawmen, and have taken a particular dislike to me, to my men, and to my activities. And in an attempt to thwart my rackets, they have recently killed two of my highest ranking men… One, Butch Findlay, of Findlay farms, and one, Louis Cassidy, of Peppermill. Have you heard of these men?”

Cooper pictured their warped and bloodied faces in his head, “I have not.”

Everett looked a little surprised, “They are quite well known men around these parts… You’re sure you haven’t heard of them?”

Cooper shook his head once more, “I have not heard of them.”

“Hm” He pursed his lips, “Nevertheless, it appears that someone in this area is in collaboration with the marshalls that wish to cause harm to myself and to my men… and while I would never suggest that this could be you, we have had some accusations of collusion with another party. As I said, while I do not believe it to be you as I’ve heard you are a well respected man amongst these parts, I would very much appreciate your help in the matter of this investigation.”

“What can I do to help, Mr Everett?”

“Well if you would permit us, Mr Holt, I would like to come into your house, conduct a small search of your premises, purely to clear your name of said accusations from my mind.” While he smiled, it seemed to fade the more that he talked until he reminded himself internally to smile again, “And as it is very hot out here, I would appreciate a cold glass of water, and to ask a few questions, purely as a formality.”

They looked at each other for a moment “Would that be okay with you?” As he spoke, the men behind him played with the guns in their hands, pointing their rifles up into the air. Cooper looked at each of the men in turn, before smiling at James Everett.

“Of course, Mr Everett. Excuse my manners, I have simply had a long day, and as my wife is away on business is had left me to more chores than usual.  Please forgive my lack of hospitality. Would you come in for a cold glass of beer instead?”

“Ah, I had heard that you store deliciously famous beers on your premises, and I must admit that I had hoped that you had some left. Would you care to spare a glass a weary traveller?”

“Of course, Mr Everett, for you and your men. Please…” He surrendered, beckoning them into his house.