Ain't No Man
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This entry contains graphic blood and gore as well as period-accurate racism and slurs.

You’ve heard this story before. It comes bundled up with Dominic’s name when it passes from singer to crowd, elder to youngster, mother to son. They can call him a cowboy or a vaquero, but it’s always the same story. Except, not really. A good storyteller knows to polish a tale up a little before passin’ it on to someone else. When you take steel wool to something and scrub, it changes a little. And when the dirty, squishy, uncomfortable bits come out, you replace ‘em with something else. Something shiny, new, and eye-catching. It’s the same for old Dom. Nowadays, you gotta look hard for a story of his that ain’t squeaky clean. And even those ain’t the real story.

The real story used to be between Dominic and another man. Now it’s between Dominic and God.

Like many things great and terrible, it began in the morning. The sun rose red over the horizon, making long shadows out of outcroppings of sterile limestone. In the tranquility of the sunrise, the birds were silent. Even the wind still slept. Yet Dominic was wide awake. He’d been awake since he heard the news.

The handful of years since his life changed forever had hardened him, although he could still count on his fingers the people he’d killed. He’d ambled down across the Mexican border and back up again, but he still hadn’t gone a day in his life without thinking about the man that stole his one chance at normalcy. The people he’d helped and the good deeds he’d done only served to temper his anger; clarity of purpose honed the nugget of fire in his chest to a razor’s edge. He was on the warpath from the moment he’d heard Carter had shown his horrible, skeletal face again.

He drew the horse below him to an abrupt stop as he caught sight of the faint smoke peeking out from over the ridge, shadowed against the blood-red sunrise. The windy season had stirred the dust from the ground and cast it far and wide like a gritty blanket. He counted himself lucky for the twisted trees that flanked him, keeping the worst of it out. With a ruffle of Jackie’s mane and a gentle instruction to stay put, Dominic dismounted to continue on foot. She was a good girl, and he wouldn’t want her getting hurt. This wasn’t her fight.

The ghost of a trail led up the ridge, studded with rocks and decorated with trees warped like Christ on the cross. The hair on the back of his neck rose with every step. He watched his body ascend the slope from a million miles up. Terror made its home in his head, but his bones knew the simple truth that resonated from his heart to his trigger finger. Only one man was leaving this place alive. Either way, Dominic could make peace with that.

The precipice overlooking the basin below was a slab of limestone, exposed by the wind. It could have been solid steel, and Dominic still wouldn’t have felt like he was standing on stable ground. From here, he could see the camp. A wisp of smoke curled up from a sputtering campfire next to a ragged tent. And, with his back to Dominic, a man with a tangled, matted mane of gray hair. He might have been whistling something. Dominic wouldn’t know. His heart pounded in his ears and flooded his vision with red, enveloping him in the adrenaline haze that seldom ended without shots fired.

He trained his revolver on the back of Carter’s head, and pulled the hammer back. The world seemed to hold its breath for him for that long moment he stood there, sun digging holes in his back.

Lord knows what would have happened if he pulled that trigger. But between the shaking of his hands and the considerable distance, he knew he couldn’t make the shot. A curse escaped his lips, silent as it was. With bated breath and gritted teeth, he began to descend.

The first step came easy, and so did the second. It was enough for him to let his focus slip a hair’s breadth, and that’s when it happened. The dirt crumbled where his boot came down, and he slipped.

His back hit the ground with enough force to knock the wind out of him, sending him tumbling down into the shrubby undergrowth. Almost immediately, the other man reacted. He stood up with a start, turning to the source of the noise.

“Who’s there?”

Dazed, Dominic fumbled for his bearings. Thorns pricked and lashed at him, but he had bigger problems. Carter was armed and looking for him, rapidly scanning the area with those fucking eyes. Dominic dug his grimy nails into his palm. Meanwhile, Carter was getting closer with each passing heartbeat.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Only a few more steps, and Carter would be upon him. Dominic, still prone, did the only thing he could. He scrambled for his gun and pulled the trigger.

This time, he didn’t miss.

Carter’s free hand flew to his chest as he crumpled. Dominic watched with an almost sick satisfaction as the older man looked at his palm covered in fresh, oxygenated blood. Cut and bruised, he stood up to look Carter in the eye. Hadn’t he earned the right to watch this shitstain die?

“Boy, you don’t know what you’ve done.”

“Seems pretty clear to me.”

Carter coughed. Blood stained his cracked lips. “Just like a nigger to hold a grudge.”

“You took everything I had.”

“Heh.” Carter smirked with bloodied yellow teeth. “You don’t know shit. You don’t know what it’s like to lose everything.”

Dominic drew up a wad of phlegm from the back of his throat and spat on the man below him. He was so wrapped up in his own head that he didn’t notice that Carter was awkwardly laying on one of his arms, concealing it from view. He didn’t notice the smile growing like a tumor on the man’s gaunt, pale face.

“See you in hell, boy.”

And Dominic’s hand must’ve missed the memo, because by the time he was drawing his gun Carter had already drawn a bead on Dom’s chin and pulled back the hammer.

Dominic didn’t even feel it. He couldn’t have. At a range like this, the bullet tore through skin, muscle, and bone, burning a hole in his soft palate and making its home in the brainstem. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Come on now. You know the story don’t end like that. Maybe somewhere, the two of them are still lyin’ there, like fallen trees with nobody around to hear. Maybe somewhere, this is where the story ends. He never comes back from that trip, and Jackie waits there forever. But then who would remember old Dom? Who would tell the story of the tall, dark, and handsome stranger who looked out for the poor and the downtrodden?

Dominic helped a lot of people. He inspired even more. And when you make an impact on somebody’s life, that doesn’t go away. God only knows what made him get up again, but between you and me, I think people just needed him to come back. Death came to take him, but his story wasn’t over yet.

It’s simple, really. Men die when you shoot ‘em in the head. But Dominic LeGrande ain’t no man. Not anymore.

Dominic opened his eyes. His head lay in a pool of his still-warm blood. Carter’s breathing had grown more ragged and uneven, but he was still alive. Slowly, Dominic reached for his gun, his oldest and truest friend. Fingers wrapped around the oak grip, he stood up.

Carter looked very small all of a sudden. He wore an expression of abject horror, mouth agape and sunken eyes so wide they almost looked like they had a soul behind them. His skin seemed paper-thin in its pallor. What little pride he held onto from the war he lost deserted him, and Dominic saw him for what he was.

He spit out the misshapen chunk of lead that remained of the bullet. The mortal wound was gone.

Carter had the wisdom to reach for his gun with a trembling hand, but you couldn’t fool Dominic twice. Dom brought his boot down on Carter’s hand with a sickening crunch, sending the other man’s revolver skittering across the ground. Carter was in no condition to retrieve it. Robbed of conviction like it was draining out with his blood, he choked out three miserable words.

“What are you?”

Dominic looked down at the man who had taken so, so very much from him, and decided to answer honestly.

“I dunno.”

The two men took a long look at each other, Dominic’s hard brown gaze meeting Carter’s pallid hazel eyes. And in spite of the hole in his chest and the wretchedness of his existence, Carter began to laugh. It was a horrible, wheezing cackle interspersed with coughs of bright red blood that dribbled down his chin and ran in rivulets down his creased, wiry neck.

“What the fuck is so funny?”

“Y’know… y’know I’ll still be here with you.”


“I’m nobody. Always been. But you…” The dying man spasmed and heaved, but his eyes returned to lock with Dominic’s once more. “You’ll always be the guy who killed Carter Allen.”

A manic grin slowly crossed Carter’s face as Dominic’s hand began to tremble. The laugh began again with an inhuman vigor, and it didn’t stop until Dominic emptied his revolver into Carter’s skull. Five shots, and then silence.

Dominic stood there until his adrenal glands gave up the ghost. When his breathing finally steadied, he felt ten years older.

He had thought he would whistle after finally putting down that miserable wretch. He didn’t. The walk back to Jackie was as silent inside his head as it was outside. The trees saluted him as he walked through their ranks, and the birds dared not sing. He took a long look at his dirty, bloody hands, but didn’t seem to find what he was looking for.

Jackie looked at him inquisitively as he approached her with those dark, innocent eyes that made him want to pour his heart out. Instead, he just got on.

Two men had entered that basin, and only half of one had returned.

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