“My grief is nothing compared to yours, son,” the old man said, his face somber. “I knew him for years, here and there, but he wasn’t my father. You got it the worst of anyone, left alone like this.”
Raines wasn’t fond of the reminder. An only child, raised by in-laws after his mother died all those years ago. And now his father had taken the same road, left him on his own.
He answered the old man curtly, a small nod. “Yes sir, Mr. Parkins. I do thank you for your kind words.”
“Well, you need anything, son, anything at all, you know where to find me.”
Mr. Parkins gave Raines a quick, firm handshake, and then he headed out, back east towards town, kicking up dust as he walked.
Parkins was the last of the visitors, the last mourner, aside from Raines. He was now alone at the foot of his father’s grave, hat in his hand.
He still couldn’t believe it. Struck down by the Blight, of all things.
He looked away from the mound of packed dirt in front of him, memories stirring in his mind. They weren’t all good memories, of course. His father had never been a kind man. The west his father had lived in would never have allowed the kind, the good, to survive, much less thrive. Not like Raines had struggled to do back east, back in the civilized world, with a family that wasn’t his.
He didn’t begrudge his father that. He knew what it took to make it out here, knew that his father was the sort of man the west needed, the sort of justice that these lands deserved. He couldn’t be that man worrying over a child at home.
Raines sat down by the grave, marked with a thick wooden stake, only the roughly cut ‘A’ to show who lay within. His father had died poor, as all men of justice out here seemed to. Gravestones were a luxury to those types, and bad luck to plan for. His father would have thought the expensive stone too much anyway, even if he could have afforded it.
Raines certainly couldn’t.
A memory took hold then, as he sat, one he hadn’t thought of in many years, revealed like lifting fog. He was young, maybe eight or so, and his father had come home, after many days out, chasing some bandit or gang. Raines was never quite sure what his father did, or who he chased. He never really talked about it, and when Raines asked, he’d get gruff, short answers or deafening silence. After a while, he stopped asking.
“Son,” his father said that day, long forgotten until now. “Want to wear my gun, see how it feels?”
Raines remembered his reaction, the giddiness of it. He couldn’t even answer, the shock of his father’s question silencing his tongue, so he just beamed, nodded excitedly.
The gun belt slipped over his waist. A little loose, being meant for a man, not a boy like Raines, but it felt natural all the same. He remembered the feel of it, the heaviness of the gun on one side, hanging low off his hip, the holster running down the outside of his leg.
His father looked at him, like he was inspecting him, one eye squinted. He nodded to himself, and then said to Raines, “Not quite ready yet, son, but maybe one day, it’ll fit ya right.”
The memory sharpened. Raines looked at his father for approval, and then ran his fingers over the pearl grip of the gun. It seemed to almost talk to him, whispers so quiet that Raines had to lean over to hear the tiniest trace of the words, a foreign, alien tongue he couldn’t quite make out.
His father quickly loosened the belt, snatched it from Raines’ waist. At the time, he thought his father angry with him, mad that he’d touched his gun, but now he saw something else on that face, a look of fear hidden behind his stern features. The look passed, and his father simply said, “Maybe one day, boy,” and that was the end of it.
The memory ached, the grief real, the vision of his father as clear as the skies above. A sudden weariness falling over him, he laid back against the hard ground. He figured he’d head back to town later. Not like he had anywhere to go.
He closed his eyes. Just for a minute, he thought. He just needed a little rest was all.
Raines woke up, unaware that he had fallen asleep, startled to see he was lying next to the grave, his outstretched hand pressed into the dirt. The sun was fading into the western horizon, hanging low, thin streaks of clouds stretched across the sky.
He sat up slowly, the dream vaguely remembered, a faint tip, like a picture he’d seen once, a large ship in deep ocean, its back broken, the ends the last thing to sink, hovering on the surface before they were lost forever.
Raines started to stand before he felt it, the smoothness on his fingers, the feel of leather in the packed soil over the grave. It stopped him cold, a chill creeping up his spine, like a blast of cold wind blew through him. He clutched it with icy fingers, and the gunbelt came free of the dirt, as if it had only fallen there, the pearl grip seemingly waiting for him, expectant.
His heart racing, breath stuck in his throat, he acted without thinking. The belt went on easy, as easily as it had the first time. He held his fingers over the gun, almost too afraid to touch it, like it was alive, a living, breathing thing that had come out of the ground. The holster hung firmly off his hip, as if it had always been there.
He touched the pistol, sliding his fingers over the pearl, and the fear went away with a snap. He heard the words again, only now he understood them, the whispers soothing, the voice not quite, but almost, his father’s.
The grief lifted, and Raines turned from the grave, headed east, back towards town. He realized now what his father had meant.
The gun, it fit him right, now.