A Wanted Man

by Chris Noto

Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to infringe on any of the rights of the owners of The Magnificent Seven. No money was made from this story.

Acknowledgement: I owe a very special thank-you to TJ, my beta. Girl, you are simply perfect!

Warnings: Strong language

A man's character is his fate.
– Heraclitus

What a beautiful night! Everythin' is turnin' silver and the shadows are growin' an‘ growin'. From this hill, the town looks like the surface of the moon. I can stand like this and my mind drifts in all directions through the town, soakin' up the sounds as they echo into the darkness. I arrived there what seems ta me like years b'fore. My first intention was ta stay away from people but a sort of fascination led me ta try ta become a ‘member' of the strugglin', sufferin' little ‘posse' that, over yonder, they call “the seven”. Ya know, it's one of those situations that jist got out of control.

There‘s somethin' y'all ought ta know ‘bout me: I'm a wanted man. It's like, sometimes I'd look in the mirror in the morning and I'd get this weird feelin' like what I was lookin' at wasn't what I really was lookin' at. Or else I'd be standin' in a crowd of people in the saloon and suddenly, I'd get this idea like I's standin' in a huge, empty space and there wasn't nobody else around me for miles.

I'm a wanted man.

Any sounds behind my shoulders will bring my head up and my ears prickled up like a spooked horse or like a wolf on a trail

I'm a wanted man.

Ya know what it's like when yer in yer room at the boardin' house… It's dark, the door slides open and guys walk in, one, two, maybe more and they‘d find you starin' at ‘em in the darkness and the night is cold, and yer hungry. Christ! The things you do ‘cause yer cold and hungry! See - my hands ain't ‘xactly clean.

I lead my horse across the main street now, checking each alleyway, window and rooftop. Ya know old habits wouldn't go away.

I dismount, tie my horse to the hitchin' post and step up on the sidewalk. I enter the saloon. The bar is lined with the usual conglomerate of miners, gamblers, and drifters. I make my way to my table near the back of the room, nodding as I pass the bar at Buck and J.D., at Ezra engulfed in his usual poker game, at Josiah and Nathan sitting in the corner. I slide into a chair, my back to the wall.

Inez looks up at me. She lifts a bottle from the ornate back bar. She brings it and a glass to my table where she smiles at me, pours me a drink, and sets the bottle on the table.

I let the burning fluid slide down my throat, pour myself another drink, and set the jug to one side, not wanting to obstruct my view.

I want to drink tonight. To become wholly separate from my spirit, to become soulless ‘cause my soul‘s a burden ta me. I want ta drink ‘cause it's the only damn thing that's not painful. Several drinkers in the saloon stare at me. It seems that they are takin' offence at the look of me, at my buffalo coat, at my long hair. They are glarin' at me but then turn back to their bottles when they catch ma eyes. They recognize in me a natural force, unstable and dangerous ‘cause of my wild nature. That's most of the Indian in me, a hidden part full of magic and instinct. I lived as an Indian and when I was compelled to come back to the white man, I couldn't come back to the white man's ways ‘cause I'd seen the Indian in me and I knew I was a wild thing, takin' no pleasure in bein' wild but only in bein'. Problem is, it can be a lonely thing bein' a wild thing in a world of human bein's.

Damn, I hate towns! S'pose I could leave. I won't be locked up no more. Ever since I was a kid, they had me locked up somewhere. At the orphanage, they tied me to the clotheslines, or to a tree, or a porch railin', so I couldn't get run over or anythin'. They didn't know what to do with me, fer I was a skinny, mean, no account kid and no foster family'd take me and eventually I slipped away. I traveled a lot in those years and preferred to sleep outdoors. I seldom availed myself of the accommodations of the towns I passed through. More and more, I became a solitary man who rides the high country alone.

S' pose I might leave, done it ‘nough times b'fore.

The front doors swing wide open again, lettin' in Chris. He stalks to the bar and men move away, leavin' him plenty of elbowroom. He spots me in the back of the bar mirror. He turns and looks long and intently at me, his eyes are clear and transfixed on something in my eyes. Hell! I feel damn near naked when he looks at me like that! Well, I must say I was lost that day when I came here, and that day, as with every day of my life, I was looking for somewhere… some place that belonged to me and then suddenly, everything went right. I was here in this dusty town, the rifle boldly balanced on my shoulder, my head held up a little higher and that black clad gunslinger at my side and I knew, I jist knew for once, wherever I walked to that day, the street belonged to me.

Without a word, Chris crosses the room. He sits at my table and we look at each other, his eyes mist over and his nostrils pinch with emotion. I can't say what the emotion is… He smiles, stretchin' his long legs. I tilt the glass and drink it neat, for the third time.

Ya know to do so is invitin' death. I couldn't afford ta drink too much before now. A drunk man is anybody's victim and to a man with a price on his head, to a man who has left enemies by the dozen on his back-trail, it's wise ta stay sober and alert. But here I've got friends. Friends watchin' ma back and it's so nice to let go of some of my fears and trouble, fer a spell! The only place I'd found b'fore that I could do this was high in some mountain meadows or some lost canyon far from the haunts of men. When I came here I felt myself free fer the first time in ma' life. It's a rough land of lonesome, tall timbers, ragged cliffs, wild rivers and lakes. I love fiercely the endless sky, the soft grass singin' in the wind, the dust rising before me in an ochre cloud as I ride, the silver drifts of the stars like the mother I've lost. And I no longer seem happy unless I‘m ridin' the solitary ways.

Fer years I had no one to talk to, and even iffen I‘d liked to be able to talk to someone, I'd never had friends. Ya know, it's so good ta have friends like decent people. Ta sit and drink late in the evening and talk. And here I got friends, six friends that trust me with their life. The boys here have been used ta seein' me as one of them.

And when we are out on the trail and I lay awake in the dead of the night, holed up with these men, I feel their breath. I see in the faint moonlight dancin' on their faces this part in the throat right here, with their heart beatin'. And I swear that if someone did anythin' to these men, I'd tear his damn head off, and I'd send him ta hell, no questions asked, for he ain't worth a single bit of their heart.

Kinda peaceful over yonder, kinda warm, too.

You wanna know the truth? Reckon I'll stay. I's startin' ta kinda like this town. Hell, I couldn't go back to my life the way it was. Here I've found somethin' new with which to replace my life. I have somethin' to become a part of.

For now.

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