A Pound of the Devil's Flesh

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This story was contributed by PaulKingston

Desperation. It changes a man.

It strips away all that is good in him, his patience, his kindness, his resolve. It buries his spirit and leads him down a shady path from which there is no return. It digs up the darkest parts of his soul that he had buried and long forgotten.

Sure, on the outside, he may seem to remain but beneath it all, he becomes a shadow of what he had once been, carrying a cloud of hatred and darkness with him, wherever he treads.

Sitting by this fire, I methodically rotate the makeshift spit upon which I've mounted tonight's dinner. My eyes drift from the sizzling meat before me towards Vasquez and Barker as their slumbering heads rest against either side of a large rock.

In the moment, I can't help but find solace in the restfulness I see in them. Somewhere within my heart, I feel thankful for this moment on their behalf, especially after all they've gone through.

There's a certain sense of peacefulness in their emotionless states. No furrowed brows from the memories of old, no subconscious grimaces from thoughts of the present, just the vast nothing that is dreamlessness.

For a moment, I wonder if this is what they would look like, had they not lived the horrible lives that they did, but as I shift my focus back to the spit, I'm reminded that that's just wishful thinking and these expressionless faces are a far cry from the men I've come to know.

Vasquez is one of those types who're permanently locked in a hardened scowl, fuelled by pure venomous anger. Where there had once been eyes that carried a subtle kindness within them ages ago, now there's a gaze that would surely incinerate a man were it to linger too long, the look of a man who has lost everything and is dead-set on finding his own form of justice, and rightfully so.

A couple of months back, Vasquez was on his way home from a cattle drive in Scrimshaw when he saw the column of black smoke pouring upwards on the horizon. Within seconds, he was riding faster than any man I had ever seen before, but even before he set off like that... he already knew he was too late.

By the time Vasquez reached the charred, black area where his cabin had once stood, all that remained of the life he had left behind were cinders. Of course, none of that mattered once he saw his pregnant wife, Maria. Her body remained in the middle of the charred remains, still propped up on her knees as though she were forever frozen in prayer for salvation from the flames that had taken her.

As the tears fell from his wild eyes, he moved towards her body for one final embrace, but before he could even wrap his arms around her remains, she crumbled to ash at his feet.

For three days and three nights, Vasquez slept next to Maria's remains, rubbing her ashes between his fingers between his bouts of screaming into the sky, forsaking a God that would let something like this happen to a saintly woman such as herself.

On the fourth day though, he finally got back to his feet, equally dizzied by dehydration and fury. Without a word, he mounted his horse and set out to find the man responsible; intent on making him suffer, like Maria had.

Day after day, town after town, he hunted down undesirables and strung them up for answers that would never come. It didn't matter if these men had committed any crimes. If they couldn't give him what he wanted, he'd leave them swaying from the nearest tree, or bleeding out in the desert before moving on, all the while calculating the ways he would make the next poor soul suffer more than the last.

Since that day, there were only two circumstances in which you'd hear Vasquez mention Maria's name, usually seconds before he took a life, but every once in a while you could hear him, in the dead of night, whispering her name in his sleep.

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