Lightning streaked the darkened sky above the solemn group around the grave. The preacher, standing at the head of the grave, read passages from his worn bible while four men, dressed in black suits, grasped the ends of the two ropes stretched under both ends of the wooden coffin. Slowly, they moved the coffin over the open grave and began to lower it. A woman’s white-gloved hand appeared from the coffin, slid the lid to the side and reached out to the group above.
“WIL, NO. DON’T LET ME GO.”
Wil Sunday sat upright in his bed. He looked around the moonlit bedroom, a chill running over his sweat soaked body. The recurring nightmare became a frequent part of his nights since he buried his beloved wife, Cassie.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he sat staring at the floor. Finally rising, he lifted his pants from the chair next to the bed and stepped into them. Running his fingers through his hair, he walked from the bedroom to the front door.
The cool night breeze greeted him as he walked out and sat down on the edge of the porch and looked up at the full moon amid the dark blanket of twinkling stars. His big, brown dog, Buck, who had followed him out the door, laid down next to him, resting his head in Wil’s lap. Wil looked around at the yard, and the events of that tragic day flooded back to him.
He was repairing a harness when Buck’s barking brought him to the barn door to see four men riding up to the house. They reined up when Wil approached them.
“Howdy,” said the rider closest to Wil. He figured this was the leader, being he appeared the oldest. Wil walked up beside Buck growling at the new arrivals and patted him on the neck to calm him down.. He looked at each of the four riders in turn. Hard men, probably a step ahead of the law, had ridden onto his farm.
“Your dog’s a mite unfriendly,” added the gray haired rider.
“He doesn’t like strangers. What can I do for you fellas?”
Just then, Cassie walked out of the house onto the porch. Her appearance got the attention of the four outlaws.
“I think you and your missus can do quite a lot for us.”
Suddenly, Wil wished he hadn’t left his rifle in the house. With a slight nod of his head, he motioned Cassie back into the house.
“I’ve got work to do, so I’d be obliged if you’d water your horses and be on your way.”
“Yeah, so do we,” said the outlaw, drawing his Colt as his three companions dismounted.
Wil dove as the outlaw fired, feeling an intense pain in his side. Despite the burning pain, he tried to get up. The outlaw fired a second time, hitting Wil in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground again.
The outlaw stepped down from his saddle, looking at the still form of Wil Sunday. He thumbed out the spent shells from his Colt and replaced them from his gunbelt. Dropping the Colt back into its holster, the outlaw turned and followed his men into the house.
Wil opened his eyes as the gunman disappeared through the door. The last thing Wil heard before he succumbed to the darkness was Cassie’s screams.
Buck licked Wil’s face, interrupting his thoughts and bringing him back. He scratched Buck behind his ears. “ I guess it’s just you and me now, boy.”
Wil stood up, walked down the two steps of the porch and angled toward the barn. Stopping at the barn door, lit the lantern with the matches he kept beside it. Taking the lantern to the ladder at the far side of the barn, he climbed it to the loft.
Setting the lantern on the floor and grabbing a pitchfork, he began moving the hay from a corner of the loft. Uncovering a trunk, he dragged it clear of the hay. He removed a wooden peg from the hasp and opened the trunk lid.
Lifting a tarp covering the contents of the trunk, he pulled out a low crowned, flat brimmed hat and laid it on the open trunk lid. Next, he pulled out an empty gunbelt and holster and laid it next to the hat.
Then he unwrapped a well-oiled, sightless Colt from an oilskin and slid it into the holster. A Henry rifle lay across a stack of clothes. He removed the rifle and leaned it against the side of the trunk.
He lifted a Bowie knife and removed it from its leather sheath. Lightly running his thumb along the edge of the blade, he tested its sharpness. Sliding the broad blade back into the leather scabbard, he laid it on the trunk lid.
He lifted the clothes to uncover two boxes of shells each for the Colt and the Henry rifle. Repacking the trunk, he closed the lid and slipped the wood peg back through the hasp.
He took the end of a coiled rope and strung it through a pulley above the edge of the loft and tied the other end securely to a leather handle on one end of the trunk. Dragging the trunk to the edge of the loft, he gently lowered it to the floor of the barn. Stepping off the bottom rung of the ladder, Buck returned to his side.
He untied the rope and after a short struggle, maneuvered the trunk onto his back and carried it from the barn into the house, lowering to the bedroom floor.
He reopened the trunk, laying the contents on the bed. Picking up the gunbelt, he buckled it around his waist and thonged the holster to his left thigh. He lifted the Colt and settled it gently back in the holster.
Wil caught his reflection in the full-length mirror that stood in the corner. Turning toward it, he looked at his reflection for a moment, then suddenly drew the Colt. He looked down at the gun in his hand, then over at Buck who was watching curiously.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do.”