Bullpen Short Story
To the lovely Mrs. E. Van Kirk,
Twentieth of April, 1881
I have never been much for writing, but you already knew that. You always told me how writing things down helped you clear your head, to make sense of things, but I never did understand how putting words on a piece of paper could help with anything. I am going to try, however, and I hope I can make you proud. I have been thinking a lot, as of late, about when we parted ways; how unfair it was, how unexpected. It was something that I could never have foreseen, and that I will need to learn to live with, though I would never have elected such a circumstance. But that is the nature of life, is it not? It never quite happens in the manner which you intend. Now I am here, alone, with nothing but a hollowness in me that is many times worse than any physical pain I have ever suffered. It is constant, inescapable, and there is no remedy for it. I suppose I felt compelled to write this letter on behalf of my grief, for it, too, is relentless and unforgiving. There is no one else for me to tell about it, and I do not think I would be inclined to, even if there were such a someone. I could only ever speak of such things to you, and I shall retain this precedent, I only wish I did not have to write it. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to recount to the best of my abilities those events which transpired after our parting, though I will not be able to do it in the same grace and beauty with which you recorded your thoughts.
It took several weeks for me to fully recover from my wounds, though they were mere trifles in comparison to yours. This time I spent confined to bedrest, all the while pondering my courses of retribution, for I could not truly rest until I had paid back my debt, and yours. I did not yet know how I was to find our transgressors, only that I surely would.
Doctor O'Dwyer wanted to, after it showed hardly any signs of improvement, cut away my leg, but I told him no, that I would be needing it for a while longer. At this point the leg was, in his words, infectious and forlorn. I remember the smell, it was akin to that of a dead animal and the skin was green and ugly. I can conjure no other description than that and I have no doubt that if you were here, you would find much more elegant words to employ. Each of the days that I spent in the O'Dwyer house, I awoke with anger and despair. Sleep hardly came to me and what little that did was in no way sufficient to assuage my state of mind, as rest and contemplation are ordinarily wont to do. My leg pained me greatly, as it does still, even after O'Dwyer had recovered from it every piece of the shotshell. The flesh was stiff and bloated and a crust had formed around the wound, making it so sensitive that to merely waft air across it would cause me great discomfort. I was in this condition for many days.
Time passed with the urgency of molasses and my eagerness to remove myself from the O'Dwyer place only served to exaggerate this effect. After a fortnight, at least (the days ran together and I made no effort to count them), Doctor O'Dwyer deemed me, to his surprise, fit enough to be on my way. He remarked upon my, as he put it, miraculous recovery and sent me off with a cane and a bottle of medicine to dull the aching, wishing me good fortune, and warning that I may walk with a limp for the rest of my days. A limp is a small price to pay for the retention of my leg, I told him, especially when I had such pressing matters to attend.
I arrived at home on a red horse lent to me by O'Dwyer, keeping my injured leg out of the stirrup, for it was still quite stiff and to bend it much caused great pain. It was a constant reminder of the injustice done to us, and was the oil that kept the fire of my rancor burning brightly. I hobbled into the bedroom, leaning heavily on my cane, and reached the chiffonier. From its bottom drawer I took the Peacemaker and unwrapped the silken kerchief from it. I always had a lingering thought that I would need to make use of it again, but never did I think it would be under such dire circumstances, and not so soon. I have since kept it always near at hand. I passed the night there, it was a long one and I woke many times from the throbbing in my leg. I took some of O'Dwyer's medicine, which, as he told me it would, calmed the distress of my injury, though only slightly. By morning I had decided that my first course of action should be to return to where the bandits had ensnared us. I knew it would be most likely in vain, for much time had passed and there would be little evidence leftover from which to acquire a heading, but I could imagine nowhere else to begin.
I saddled O'Dwyer's horse and brought with me a few provisions. I had to employ a stool in order to mount the horse, on account of the weakness in my leg, but I would in no way let something so insignificant deprive me of justice. It took many excruciating hours to reach my destination and I could ride only at the slowest of paces, but, fortunately, my mount had a very smooth gait. By midafternoon I had arrived at the crossroads where the thieves had ensnared us, but, as I had expected, all traces of them were gone. I sat for a while under the tree that stood near the junction, the very same one beneath which their wagon had been parked. As I sat in its shade, pondering my circumstances, it occurred to me that this task may prove much more arduous than I had anticipated. With nothing more to go on, besides this location which yielded no clues, I set about to wandering aimlessly up and down the roads, hoping in vain that, had they laid their trap again, I would fall into it once more. I proceeded in this manner for many days, with no success. By then, my leg had begun to mend. Its swelling was reduced and it no longer emitted even the smallest inkling of the putrid stench it had once perspired. The stiffness of it was also receding, affording me much more use of it, and I no longer required the cane. After weeks of searching, it became apparent to me that, with such lack of information as I had, it would be nearly impossible to find my quarry. They could have, for all that was known to me, spirited themselves from this territory and into another, or, been apprehended and hanged or otherwise dispatched. I did confer with the Sheriff and described to him the distinctive qualities of the bandits, chief among them the large feathered hat worn by their leader, but to my disappointment, he knew nothing of them.
My motivation was diminished after so long a time with no sign whatsoever of my prey and it had been replaced by an even more profound sense of malevolence toward life itself, which had robbed me of my justice. How egregious it was that, firstly, such a vile crime had happened, and, secondly, I was powerless to avenge it. I could scarcely believe such a dismal state of affairs had befallen us, and no matter how carefully I examined it, I could conceive no reason that it should have happened. But that is yet another of life’s mysteries, I suppose: why such horrid events should happen to those so undeserving of them. My morale had been trampled so completely that I eventually resigned from my hunt and settled into the notion that I would never have the chance to settle my debt. Where before I had at least an infinitesimal amount of vigor to drive me, with the hopes that I could at the very least requite this transgression, I now had nothing with which to quench my want for retribution, and this made the entire tribulation all the more miserable and despairing.
O’Dwyer had lent me the horse on the condition that I return it to him once my business had concluded. Seeing as how I was entirely consumed with despondency and could no longer maintain my pursuit, I resolved to fulfill my end of this bargain. O’Dwyer had since moved his practice to a little town which would cost me nearly a day to reach, so I departed early in the morning and took a road that I had not travelled for many a year. I kept my mount at a fair pace and my journey was mostly uneventful, until late afternoon, when I perceived ahead of me what looked to be the shape of a wagon sitting on the side of the road. A spark inside of me was rekindled, and I allowed myself the brief fantasy that perhaps my retribution was not lost. As I continued down the road, however, I told myself not to raise such high hopes, in anticipation of being slighted once more, for I fully expected to be.
As I neared the wagon, I noticed that the axle was broken, a wheel removed, and there was a woman standing beside it, looking at me and imploring assistance. I was now close enough to distinguish the features of her face, and I instantly recognized her, for she was the very same siren who had lured us in so many weeks ago. No sooner than I had halted within speaking distance of her did the six thieves reveal themselves from their refuge behind the wagon; weapons drawn, faces smirking. They seemed not to recognize me on account of, I would wager, the amount of innocents they bushwhack and, no doubt, thought that they had once again caught a well-laden traveler unaware. Little did they know, however, that I was expecting them. I was ordered to dismount by the man with the tall, feathered hat. I complied and felt a throb of protest from my leg. As I stood in the road, my leg, after so many hours in the saddle, began to tremble under my weight. This would not do, I thought, being as I could afford no mistakes in this moment, nor to expend any effort on steadying my posture. I beseeched the bandits, before they robbed me of my possessions, to allow me one courtesy, and reached slowly into my pocket and withdrew the bottle of medicine O’Dwyer had given me.
There was nearly one-third its quantity remaining and I drank the rest of it there in front of them. As I did so, I examined each of them in turn. The man with the feather in his hat, their leader, would be the fastest draw; I would need to dispatch of him first. Next to him stood the short, corpulent man who wielded the twin-barrel scattergun, the very same which had so grievously injured my leg. It would be nearly impossible for him to miss me at this close of range, especially if he drew down with both barrels, so he would be second. The rest of the posse were quite unremarkable and I expected no astounding feats from any of them, therefore I would dispatch of them simply from left to right. With only six shots available from the Peacemaker, however, accuracy and precision were of chief importance. I finished the medicine and felt its warm, soothing effect course throughout my body, dulling the pain in my leg and allowing me a steadfast stance. I tossed the empty bottle into the dirt at the feet of the bandits, which, as I had staked my life upon, served to deter their eyes from me for the shortest of moments. It was, however, a long enough time, during which I drew the Peacemaker from my belt and expended all six bullets. The first struck the leader just below his feathered hat and he fell to the ground, his life extinguished as promptly as the flame of a candle is blown out. The second bullet struck true as well, and felled the man with the scattergun in much the same way. My third, fourth and fifth shots were accurate, and each bandit dropped to the dust in turn. The final shot missed and struck the side of the wagon where it knocked a large splinter to the ground. The last man, however—without the succor of his companions to compel him, was relieved of his courage, dropped his weapon, turned and ran. I hastened as much as my leg would allow to where the bandits lay, acquired from one of them a long-barreled lever gun, and brought down the remaining foe as he retreated. The woman had witnessed the entire affair, and was now knelt down in the dirt, pleading her life. I used the lever gun on her as well.
It is now seven days since I reconciled the debt, and sixty-nine since your death. I decided to write this letter because, after my task was completed, I was still bereft of your presence, and the hollowness you left was still unsatisfied. I was never one for writing, but you always did say that it cleared your mind and, as with most matters, you were correct. I now feel more at peace with these new circumstances and, although I will never be accustomed to the fact that you are gone, it is slowly becoming bearable. This letter—and any I may write henceforth—has become the last and only way that I can communicate with you, though I know I will not receive any reply, and it is much the same feeling of satisfaction and relief that speaking with you once gave me. I believe that we will meet again someday, though it may not be for a long while. Until then, these letters will suffice to lessen the burden of your passing.
I found, not far from our home, a beautiful rose bush growing among the trees beneath which we used to walk so often. I have gathered a few of its flowers and with them, and this letter, I shall adorn your tombstone early tomorrow, for it is already dark as I conclude my thoughts here on this paper. I eagerly await our next letter, and our next meeting, but until then, I will bear your passing with sanguine fortitude.
Your affectionate husband,
Colonel Robert H. Van Kirk