Magnificent Seven Old West
Dark Mountain

by Ice Hunter

Blood. It seeped through his dreams and into his soul. The blood of the innocent. The blood of the damned. His blood.

Josiah woke from his dream soaked with sweat despite the dry coolness of the desert air in the pre-dawn hours. He wearily climbed from his cot, eager to finish his work in the land of the dead. He had but one task left to him—Padre Hidalgo’s cross.

Stumbling to the well in the plaza center, Josiah hauled up the bucket and drank deeply. The dreams, the memories, still clung to his mind and Josiah poured the remaining water over his head, vainly hoping to wash away the ever present pain and guilt. With a splash, he sent the bucket back to its place of rest.

He had finished carving the grave marker the night before. It was simple, as the man himself had been. Enrique Diego Hidalgo had been a man of the people as well as the cloth. Josiah knew he’d lost more than a friend and a teacher, he’s lost his way.

Packing earth tightly around the crosses base, Josiah stacked rocks for additional support and leaned back to survey his work. The Padre would be pleased, he thought. The priest was interred beside his parish—the villagers of San Pablo had been buried in a mass grave--a large mound of earth and stone. Forty-three men, women, and children had been murdered. Three had been infants. Josiah had survived only because the banditos has mistakenly thought him dead, buried under a collapsed roof.

Far from this hallowed earth lay the bodies of the ten murderers, all dead at Josiah’s hand. He had abandoned his faith and sought retribution for the slaughter he had witnessed. When the last man had fallen and his cold rage began to fade, he discovered little comfort in his acts. The villagers were still dead. The padre was still dead. The church was still desecrated.

Bowing his head, Josiah spoke to his slain friend.

"I’m sorry, Enrique. My faith wasn’t strong enough. I couldn’t let the wicked go unpunished—not for this. I don’t understand why God allowed this to happen, or why I was spared. Don’t expect it’s for me to know." Rising to his feet, Josiah stared at the cross and the large plot of freshly dug earth beyond. "I’ll do penance for my sins, but I’m not sure I will ever be truly repentant. Take care of little Bernardo for me. Adios, mi hermano".

Turning his back on the graveyard, Josiah lifted his pack and walked away from the silent village of San Pablo. He was leaving behind six years of his past and what he had thought was his future. Sometime during the days following the massacre, he had decided to go north to what was now Arizona Territory. The way was dangerous, the Apaches killed white men who ventured too near and outlaws of all races rode the trails on both sides of the Rio Grande. He knew he would be safe. The crows had visited Enrique’s dreams, not his own. His dreams were still of blood.