WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT
"…es esa uvs me…es esa uvs mee…" The voice startled him awake.
Fresh pain clawed its way again from the base of his neck to his brow, while icy fingers stretched down the curve of his spine.
As the throbbing ebbed , Caleb opened his eyes to the nothing. He spoke to the colorless void, “Help me” before the next iron wedge could split his head. He closed his eyes tightly as the pain streaked in vivid lines of iridescent pitch before him. Cool soil and root threads ooze between his clenched fist. His hands and arms remained at his side, trapped, as the smell of urine and earth paralyzed him in dawning realization.
Even through four feet of damp sod, the force of Caleb’s scream pierced the fog hanging over the remains of Boone’s Hollow.
“Easy pickins.” Caleb’s second, Monty, leaned forward in his saddle and spat a black glob past the shoulder of Caleb’s roan.
Caleb felt restless as he looked down the gentle slope that led to Boone’s Hollow, the home he left fourteen years before…scrambling for his life after butchering his pa and his filthy squaw.
Serves him right, ma’s not even in the ground four months after the fever, and he’s plowin’ some new field. His old rage replaced the anxiety of his homecoming and the usual numbness began to spread.
He knew sooner or later they would get around to the Hollow. He looked around at the other Black Riders. The riders reported to Captain Thomas and they had a simple mission: make every indian-loving open sore on the frontier pay for their hospitality.
Still, he could tell that Monty and the others were watching him to see if he would go yellow in the town that Boone’s grandfather had settled.
Struggling again to put his own doubts to rest; he drove his spurs into the roan and led the way.
Flames licked the sky, seeking more to devour over the charred skeleton of the Hollow. The remains of the padre and his squaw translator rocked listlessly from the beam of the mission school’s cross.
Caleb surveyed the bodies littering the streets dispassionately. Wrapped in the comfortable numbness that always followed butchering, he strode toward the pit. Nearly a dozen remaining townies huddled next to the mound of sod they had excavated at the direction of loaded rifles.
He heard the familiar crack of Monty’s rifle and watched another figure crumple. A weak cry rippled through the group.
An old squaw was clutching something wrapped in a gray blanket, rocking back and forth singing in passable English, “…Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.” The words threatened to penetrate and tear away Caleb’s numbness and he leapt at the old woman, angrily twisting her into the pit. Another crack and Monty had extinguished her screeches.
Caleb's heart skipped a beat as a small indian girl, no more than nine or ten, rolled from the blanket and lay still for a moment, still clinging to a small clutch of heather. She yelped and clambered back beneath the blanket.
Caleb’s stomach clenched as he looked at the hungry eyes of the other riders. Their dark anticipation seemed to amplify the girl’s broken song from under her gray refuge, “es…esa…uvs…me. es…esa…uvs…mee…”
“Grab ‘er, Caleb. We’ll have a li’l candy before we move on.” The greedy slur in Monty’s voice broke Caleb’s numbness. Images and sounds filled the void. Her wild hair flailing as she was cast like a rag from man to man. Her screams of terror and pain.
Time stopped. Nothing moved. His feverish mother’s ragged voice seeped into the black hole of his rage, “Will you sing it for me again Caleb?” The little voice continued, “es…esa…”
Reflexively, Caleb’s Colt belched fire, and the incomplete line of verse hung suspended for a moment in the dead air.
Behind him Monty rasped, “Should’na done that Boone. Cap’n figgered the Hollr’d be too much for ya.”
Then everything went black.
Moving his hand he felt the smooth, cool surface beside him shift slightly and the thin scent of heather mingled with the thick smells of the tiny air pocket that sustained him. Her frail little body lay next to him in the blackness.
Yes, I’ll sing it for you mama.. He gathered one last deep breath in the blackness.
A coyote, scavenging amongst the carnage, turned his head curiously at the muted sound coming from the ground.
“Yes, Jesus loves me…”
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