The sky is a vivid red- the colour of blood. Thunderstorms roll rapidly over the horizon as streaks of lightning tear wide gaping holes in the night sky. The rustling of tumbleweeds merges with the explosive blasts of lightning, making a cacophony of noise. The reinforced iron of my cowboy boots clank along the dusty side paths littered with beer bottles. I sniff and gag as my nose fills with the unmistakable stench of alcohol. From within the confines of my shirt, I take out my mother's old necklace pendant that my father had given me before I'd set out to find her killer. As I hold it in my open palm, I feel an influx of rage, sadness and fear, as I visualise the final moments of my mother's life.
The man with the heavily scarred face stood over my mother, his three-barrelled revolver levelled at my mother's terrified, tear-stricken face. I peek over the beer barrel that my mother has hidden me in, and struggle to hold in the scream threatening to escape my mouth. Bang! My mother slumps over, a rosy red liquid sliding down from a gaping hole in her forehead. Laughing, the man swaggers drunkenly towards the open door. Darkness envelops the room and my three-year-old self curls into a ball and sobs.
Unknowingly, my hands curl into fists as I think of all the things I'll do to the scarred man once I get my hands on him. Slowly, I straighten them out until they reach my hip line. I clamp my right hand over my gun holster, a movement that has been practiced many times over. I stroke the handle of my three- barrelled revolver as I admire its sleekness and beauty. Ironically, it is also the one that was used to kill my mother.
I stumble out of my hiding spot, and as my hand slides across the cupboard, I finally come into contact with a lantern. Hurriedly, I light it with a match and turn to my mother's prone form. That's when I notice the gun. "The man must have left it here after he did it," I thought. Kneeling, I pick it up in my small pudgy hands. Then I open the door, my bare feet now covered in blood.
Slowly, I walk across the street towards the bar. It's relatively small compared to the others in this town, but it's full of drunken patrons, most of whom are unable to walk in a straight line. I snort in disgust. During the 15 years that my father spent raising me alone, he had touched neither the drink nor the card table. Because of this, I had also made a point of never drinking or gambling.
Outside, the weather has died down to the point where moonlight can be clearly seen through the clouds and thunderstorms no longer pollute the now eerie quietness of the night. As I open the flimsy saloon door, I feel all eyes drilling into me, some hostile, some sympathetic and some uncaring. Calmly, confidently, I stride towards the counter, where the bar maid looks at me, her face a mask of sympathy.
"You're new here. What can I get you- you don't look old enough to be roaming the land by yourself."
I hate this. The way older people look at me and see a lost lamb, struggling to find a purpose.
I force a smile and remove my hat as she fetches me a glass of water. I start to examine her closely. Beneath the makeup is a face like an angel with emerald green eyes and a perfect straight nose- she can't be more than 25. If this had been a social call, I would have asked her out by now. But I'm here on a mission. And that takes priority over any emotional or physical satisfaction that may be gained.
"Excuse me miss," I ask, my forced smile still plastered onto my face. "You wouldn't happen to know if a man by the name of Terrence Malone is in this bar, would you?"
"Oh," she exclaims, as a look of surprise and suspicion flashes through face. "I think you might be looking for my father."
It's my turn to look surprised. However, I quickly mask the expression and the smile reappears on my face.
"Would it be possible if you could get him? You know, so we can talk some business." The sickly sweet tone that I use almost makes me gag. However, it works as the suspicion washes away from her face.
"Dad! Come out! Someone wants to see you!" She smiles at me. "It won't be long."
Then I see him.
Stumbling around as drunk as that day 15 years ago. I slowly start to slide my gun out. But then I stop. If I shoot him, the pretty girl in front of me will lose her father in the same violent way that I lost my mother. I will be just like him- drunk and full of revenge. And what will happen to his daughter. Will she be forced to live out on the street, begging in order to get by?
"Sorry." I mutter. "Wrong person."
And I slowly turn around, ignoring the puzzled expression on the barmaid's face or the cursing of her father, and stroll out the door. As I step out into the moonlight, my tears finally start to flow. But these are not tears of sadness or anger. They are ones of fulfilment.
For now, I feel that I have escaped from the bitter hatred in my heart.