Word Count: 1,386
In response to the Lancer Writers February 2021, Regrets Challenge
Thanks to Rob Frater and Sandy Sharp
Episode Tag for Warburton’s Edge
It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. I didn’t want it to happen like it did, but hell, there ain’t been much in my life that I did right. See, I guess I was born to be bad. A waste of flesh an’ blood an’ brains. Ha! Brains… That’s funny. But there’s the rub; I coulda done things different, coulda been a better person but that woulda been too hard. I took the easy way out, an’ well, I ended up here in this hell. An’ by that, I mean Hell!
An’ I ain’t alone. Sexton Joe Hughes is sittin’ next to me, readin’ that damn Bible. Wonder if he can see that that book’s on fire, flames fan out every time he turns a page with them charred fingers, burned to nothin’ but stumps. It’s a wonder he can see the writin’ with his eyes nothin’ more’n red embers burnin’ in his skull…
I see a lotta familiar faces as I look around. Some worked with me an’ Johnny a few years ago. Never knew what happened to them til now, but it doesn’t surprise me they’re here, burnin’ to charred skin an’ bones. Rumor has it Day Pardee’s here with us. Surprised I haven’t seen him yet or heard him. Always was a rowdy bastard. He liked to push his weight around an’ that’s what got him killed. Had to happen sooner or later. It comes to us all.
Damn! My shirt’s burnin’ on my arm! The skin’s peelin’ away, blood is bubblin’ up an’ turnin’ black! Son-of-a-bitch, it’s a miserable place! Don’t you be laughin’, Sexton! You ain’t so pretty yourself!
I could take the easy way out an’ put all the blame on Madrid’s shoulders. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t hafta listen to all the howlin’ an’ wailin’ from the poor bastards confined here with me. An’ we’re all blamin’ someone else for bein’ here, blamin’ someone else for our troubles, for our fate, our faults.
But I had to see what side Johnny was on when it came to the crunch. Would he be with us like he said? Or would he back up his ol’ man? In our line of work, we hafta be sure; we can’t leave loose ends, an’ have no regrets.
But Madrid was better’n the rest of us. I told ol’ man Lancer that Johnny never quite hit bottom an’ you know what? I can see it now, plain as day. I was always looking up at the bottoms of his boots. I was never, an’ never would be the man he was.
An’ we all wanted to ride with him. Oh, sure, I seen ol’ Johnny do some bad things. Cold an’ calculatin’ things; things that’d curl your hair. He wasn’t perfect, an’ he knew it, an’ I think those things he did started to bite back. See, I heard them nightmares he’d have. The restless sleep, thrashin’ around an’ the mumblin’ like he was doing something he really didn’t wanna do. He always picked out a spot away from the rest of us when we’d camp out. Them things he done bothered him. Hell, I always slept like a baby with no regrets.
But when he walked into the saloon that day, when me an’ Sexton Joe were waitin’ for that stage, I wanted him with us. With Madrid workin’ alongside us, there was no way that we could lose an’ Warburton would pay us off when it was over an’ ol’ Johnny Madrid’d ride with us afterward, on to the next job, just like before an’ I never had regrets about that.
Now, Sexton, he didn’t know Johnny. He knew of him, but knowin’ of someone ain’t like knowin’ him, you know, personally. I think Sexton Joe wasn’t gonna let the reputation of Madrid push him aside. Sexton needed to be the big dog an’ wanted all of us lappin’ up the leftovers. Well, I’ll tell you right now that Madrid wasn’t lappin’ up after anyone! Sexton Joe Hughes never learned that until it was too late. Ha! I bet he’s got a few regrets now!
There’s nothin’ here but fire. Everything’s burnin’ in red embers an’ hot to burn the hair on my head. It’s scorchin’ right off leavin’ the skin to crack apart an’ turn black. I can feel it pull tight an’ split apart an’ my skull begin to burn.
Might be fun to watch Sexton battle Pardee here in Hell. Wonder which one’ll fall apart into a pile of cinders first? Both had egos the size of Texas an’ now they’re here with regrets burnin’ in their souls.
I’ve had a lot of time to think things over since I been here. My life, my trade an’ the men I thought were my friends. But there really wasn’t many of those. Friends, I mean, good friends.
But I could always count on Madrid. He was as close to a good friend as I ever had. I’d never told him that, though. There’s no sense in it. Friends die in this business. No one lasts too long. Nope, no regrets for not havin’ any friends.
Ol’ man Lancer sure surprised me, though. He had a lot of grit. An’ now I can see where Johnny-Boy got some of that, hmmm, what’d Warburton call it? Oh yeah, audacity. Because Johnny had enough audacity for all of us, an’ then some! It was funny to watch the faces of the folks we were fightin’ against when Johnny got goin’, makin’ some feel like the pendejos they were an’ he’d put them in their places with his words.
I always just used my gun. Folks don’t like it when you point a gun in their face; then, they always did what you wanted them to do. But Johnny could make them cringe in their boots just sayin’ them words an’ a lot of times, he didn’t have to use his Colt. The things he said cut them up and chewed them to pieces an’ they’d think Johnny had paid them a compliment until they realized Madrid had just made a fool outta them an’ their faces took on this look of shock like ‘Oh, shit!’. Well, it was good for laughs.
It came as a shock when Murdoch Lancer was willin’ to fight for Johnny, an’ I gotta say that surprised me. I wonder if that ol’ man knows what a good son he has in Madrid? Ain’t never had anyone stand up for me like he did for ol’ Johnny. The only ones ever stood up for me was other gunhawks. We had to stick together; no one was gonna back us up.
But, hell, I got no regrets.
Wish they’d shut up! All that caterwaulin’s getting’ on my nerves, but I guess it’s nothin’ less’n what I deserve. Sexton, he got what’s left of his nose stuck in that Bible… hey, one of his fingers just fell off. Guess he’s getting’ what he deserves, too, crumblin’ to a pile of black ash… But then, I got heat comin’ up through the soles of my boots an’ smoke comin’ out the tops of them. An’ all I can think of is that time the rain wouldn’t stop an’ we were soaked through. What I wouldn’t give this minute to be back there! But I got no regrets.
But, back to Johnny… He took a likin’ to me, an’ we had a lotta fun together. Not all of it was knockin’ people around an’ burnin’ barns. No, there was somethin’ about Johnny that made you want to be around him. There was this easy, likable way about him. But then, there was always some stupid kid wantin’ to call him out an, well, there was one less kid when it was over. An’ it always chewed on Johnny’s conscience, killin’ them stupid kids.
I pushed Johnny into that gunfight. If I was lucky, I’d woulda put a bullet in his brain before he killed me. It didn’t happen like that. I forced that outcome, but I wanted to be good at my trade. An’ I heard him talkin’ as I lay there dyin’. He knew the game. He knew it was comin’ down to him or me. It had to be that way. But, I gotta say, I didn’t think he’d care about puttin’ a bullet in me and watchin’ me die.
An’ I remember seein’ his eyes, right before mine closed for the last time. His eyes held regret for pullin’ that trigger, an’ for a split second, I had regret for makin’ him shoot me. I finally saw what it cost him every time someone died from the blast of his gun. It was one more thing to weigh on his conscience. Him or me… Either way, I got no regrets.
I got no regrets.
Burnin’ is a helluva way to spend Eternity. An’ I’m sorry, Madrid. If I could do it over, I would. I’m sorry for what I did to you, an’ I’m sorry for… everything.
I was lyin’. I regret it all… now.
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