This idea was floating around for a long time before I posted it in the Read My Shorts collection, and was nearly an alternative to the ending in Windblown Saviour. The Challenge Corner folks set up a challenge that seemed right for me to write this down, so here it is and posted as an extra chapter to the only other Western I've ever really done (not including a Space Western crossover).
"You never forget the eyes of a dying child." The old man who'd wandered into the office placed an ancient Smith and Wesson rifle on the counter and removed a six-shooter from a holster on his hip. The Sheriff placed a restraining hand on the arm of his Deputy who had instinctively dropped his hand to his holster, and a large Bowie knife hit a wood a second later.
The greybeard carried on regardless. "Sure, I'd killed plenty of people before, but never a child. That was when I stopped. My reactions had always been my saviour up until that point, but in the heat of the gunfight, a noise from behind made me turn and fire without thinking. A child died, and part of me died with her."
Sad eyes lifted to meet those of the senior lawman. "I've had a long time to think Sheriff. I've spent fifty years hiding from what I did and from looking at myself in the mirror. But now I'm done. Now I've come to make amends."
The old man reached into the saddlebag slung over one shoulder and pulled out a wad of paper. "This here is legal permission for you, Sheriff, to take charge of my deposit account at yonder bank and the money contained in the vault. I want you to donate it to some sorta charity or orphanage or summat like that. Sumthin' that'll do some good for some kids. There's a lotta gold in there Sheriff; I trust you as a man of the law to do what's right.
"And now I'm gonna turn myself in."
The old man turned to the deputy standing next to the open-mouthed Sheriff. "Get a pencil son. You'll want to charge me with cattle rustling, use of a running iron, re-branding, property theft, boundary fence cutting, and assault at the very least. But I reckon murder of an innocent is probably enough for now. I was a member of the Red Bull Ring until I killed that young 'un, then I went up into the hills prospectin' to try and make amends for what I did all them years ago. I'm not sure I'll ever fully do that, but I ain't got long left I don't think, so it's time to do what's right. Funny really, it was always just a game: the cattle and the money were a way of keeping score. I never harmed a woman, never cheated at cards, nuthin' like that. But I killed anyone who stood in the way of the thievin'." He shook his head wearily. "And yet even after fifty some years I still can't forget those brown eyes..."
The old man trailed off and looked at his feet.
"Um... right. Would you mind taking a seat, sir?"
"Sure," he mumbled through his beard. "Make sure you look after my mule, Daisy, though please. She's tied up outside." The old man moved to a seat by the window and slumped into the worn fabric, his eyes focused in the past.
The Sheriff and the Deputy whispered to each other for a moment, then the Deputy took the papers and walked to the bank across the street.
A few minutes later he came back looking flushed. "Sheriff, it's all true, there's a fortune in gold in there, the old timer must've been prospecting for years. The Bank Manager said he turns up every six months or so, makes a deposit, gets some gear and then heads back up into the hills."
"You'd better put him in a cell then Jim. Make it the quiet one eh?"
"Yessir, shall do."
The deputy wandered over to the window where the old man sat. "Come on old timer, let's get you to a cot with a cuppa coffee eh? Sir?" The Deputy paused and leant down closer to the old man. "Um...Sheriff, I think he's dead."
"Well, he did say he reckoned his time was up. Look after Daisy, Jim, there's a good lad. I'll get started on the paperwork and call the Doc."
"Daisy?" The deputy looked out of the window. "Ah, shoot."
~~~ The End ~~~
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Windblown SaviourHistorical Fiction
(Historical Fiction / Action) - Gunslinger: I may be feared and admired, but I call nowhere home. My gun and my skill define my existence. I was born fast, and endless practice has made me the best. For now. A brief rush of adrenaline. Noise, the s...