Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/751372-Shootout-at-Rocky-Flatts
by RC3056
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Western · #751372
Left for dead, Jim Stone prepared to seek justice for his family's murder.
They had left him for dead.

It had started out as a beautiful spring day yesterday, he remembered, as he stood next to the graves of his wife and son.

The sun had been shining and a cool breeze had blown in through the window and across the bed earlier that morning, bringing with it the sweet smell of the flowers that lay in the meadow outside their home.

Jim and Jessie Stone lay close together, enjoying each others company and trying to let the moment last as long as they could before they would have to get up and begin the day's work.

"I just love the morning breeze coming through the window," Jessie sighed contentedly. "Sometimes I wish we could just lay here forever."

Jim nodded as he looked over at his beautiful wife, her brown-haired spread out across the pillow case.

"I know what you mean," he said. "Sometimes I would just love to lay around all day like this with you and do nothing. But, there's lots to do and it isn't going to get done by lolly-gagging around, that's for sure"

They shared a hug and a kiss, and then, reluctantly, got out of bed and began their day.

Jim had gone outside to do his usual morning chores. First, feed the animals, then chop some wood for their use for the rest of the day. His biggest chore that day would have been to head out to the fence-line on the back end of his property and fix a few of the old wooden posts, which had rotted after the last few rainstorms. He figured it would take half a day, then he'd be home in time for supper.

Before he'd head out though, he had been looking forward to breakfast, and while he was doing the chores, Jessie was cooking up a meal for him and their 14-year old son, Johnny.

Jessie had gone out to the barn and collected some eggs and had them cooking on the stove, along with some sausage, bacon and coffee. She was also preparing a surprise lunch for him so he could take it with him when he left to do his work out on the fence-line.

Meanwhile, Johnny was running around doing some of his own morning chores around the outside the house.

"Johnny, go and get your Pa and tell him breakfast is almost ready," Jessie called to the boy, and in a flash he was running out to get his Pa.

With sweat dripping off his well-muscled arms, 6 ft., 2 in. body, Jim stacked the last bits of wood he had chopped when Johnny found him.

"Ma says breakfast is ready Pa," he said.

"Great," Jim said. "Go tell your Ma I'll be right in."

"Ok, Pa," Johnny said and headed back to the house.

Jim wiped himself off with a rag that was hanging on a nail on the barn, then headed towards the house. He could smell Jessie's cooking about half way through the yard and he was surely looking forward to sitting down and enjoying it.

Jim and Jessie moved onto their farm about 10 miles outside the town of Rocky Flatts, Wyoming five years ago. The three of them had come from Philadelphia like a lot of easterners, looking for a new, exciting life together out west. They had heard about how beautiful it was in this part of the country and that there was land enough for everyone. All you had to do was stake out your claim and work it, and you could make a good home and a good living.

That's what they had done and their small, by local standards, 40-acre farm was more than they could have ever asked for. They had built a nice three-room cabin with the help of their wonderful neighbors, and Jim had managed to raise a decent herd of cattle and some crops to help them make ends meet and feed them as well.

As he got closer to the cabin, Jessie came out the door to greet him. It never ceased to amaze him how he had been lucky enough to win her over 15 years ago. She was such a beautiful woman.

Jessie might have been small, standing only 5 ft., 2 in. tall, but she was strong and smart. Smarter than him he knew. Somehow she fell in love with him and he considered himself the luckiest man on earth when she said yes when he asked her to marry him. They had a good home, and when Johnny came along a year after they had married, it was as if their lives were complete and they just couldn't be happier.

As Jim climbed the three steps up to the front porch to greet her, they both heard a horse whinny in the distance at the same time. They turned to look and saw four riders coming their way.

Jim had never really had any trouble since they moved onto the farm, so as always he was ready to offer a warm welcome and his hospitably.

As the men rode closer, he saw they were the Cole's, a rough, no good family that lived on the other side of town. They all had long hair, beards and dirty clothes on. The also had guns strapped to their hips. They were a mean bunch and usually up to no good. There had been whispers of cattle and horse stealing, beating people up, but there was no law in the area to handle it.

"Morning Jim," Sam, the father of the Cole clan said as they pulled up their horses in front of the house.

"Morning Sam," Jim replied. "What brings you to these parts."

"Just riding through on the way home, saw your place and wanted to see if we could stop and get some water for the horses," the big man said.

As Sam was talking, the youngest of the men was staring at Jessie, making her feel very uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Johnny cautiously watched what was going on from the doorway.

"Hmmm, hmm... now, ain't that a pretty 'thang," the young man said.

"Shut up Billy," Charlie, the middle brother said.

"Don't mind them none," Mrs. Stone. "Sam Cole is the name. I've met your husband in town, but haven't had the pleasure of meeting you yet. These are my boys, Freddy's the oldest, Charlie, and the one with the mouth is Billy, my youngest."

"Nice to meet you," Jesse said.

"Why don't you put your horses over there," Jim said, trying to move the conversation and the Cole's along. "Water is over by the barn and I'm sure we can dig up some food and coffee for you as well if you'd like."

"Thanks kindly, we'd appreciate it," Sam said, and the four men began to guide their horses over to the barn. As they passed Jessie, Billy gave her one last look over. It made her cringe.

"I have a bad feeling about these men, Jim," she said. "Let's get them going quickly, ok."

"Sure thing Jessie," he replied. "I feel the same way and the faster they leave, the faster I can get to my work. I'm not going to leave you alone and go work the fence until they're gone, that's for sure."

The four men dismounted and led their horses over to the troughs to get a drink. Meanwhile, Billy and Charlie began to roughhouse and giggle, which led to a fight between them.

Sam just let them fight, hoping they'd tire and settle down, but the ruckus brought Jim over for a look.

"Everything ok here," he asked, some concern on his face.

"Nah, no problem here, Sam replied. "They usually tire quick and things settle down."

As he was saying that, Freddy came over to his dad bringing along one of the horses that had been in Jim's corral.

"This is a really nice horse, ain't it Pa," he asked. "I want it."

"You're right, it is a nice looking horse," Sam said. "Go ahead and get it ready to go with us."

He then casually turned to Jim and said, "We'll be taking that one when we leave. Hope you don't mind."

Jim was stunned at their arrogance and started toward the horse that Freddie was holding.

"Sorry, but that is one of my finest animals. It isn't for sale."

"Wasn't planning on buying it," Sam said matter of fact like, as he looked at Jim, an evil look appearing on his face for the first time. "We were just plannin' to take it with us."

The hair on Jim's neck stood up when he saw the look in Sam's eyes. He now knew that these men were trouble, and he had to get them out of here and away from his family any way he could. But, he also had to stand and fight for what was his, and that horse was his.

"They hang horse thieves ya'know," he said, and as he moved to try and get the reins of his horse that Freddy was holding, he got blindsided by Billy, who had crept up behind him and smashed him in the head with the butt of his gun.

Jim staggered forward and landed on the ground at the feet of Sam, Billy and Freddy.

Jessie heard the commotion and came running out of the house towards the men, but was grabbed from behind half way there by Charlie. She struggled to get out of his grasp, but the man was just too strong.

"Leave him alone," she screamed. "Take what you want and just leave us alone."

"Damn, looks like we have to do some cleaning up here before we leave now," Sam said to his boys. "Charlie, Billy, go take care of the little lady and the kid would you. Me and Freddy will take care of Jim here. And no messing around. Just get it done, see what they got in the house, and let's get going."

"Yahoo," Billy cheered as he headed towards his brother. Together they dragged the struggling woman and headed toward the house.

As they got near the porch, Johnny came rushing out of the house to find out was going on. He saw his mom was in trouble and he ran down the steps to try and help her.

"Leave her alone," he yelled as he headed towards Charlie and his stuggling mother.

As he got closer, Billy stepped up and just slapped the boy hard across the face, sending him sprawling on the ground. Johnny yelled out in anger and began to get up again to try and help his mom.

"Damn kids," Billy said, then pulled out his gun and, coldly, shot the boy dead with a single bullet.

Jessie screamed, tore out of Charlie’s grasp, and rushed over to Johnny's lifeless body. She held the boy in her arms, then looked at Billy through her tears and rage.

"Why, why did you do it," she yelled at Billy.

"Kids are nothin' but a pain," he said.

Jessie felt her blood boiling inside. She leapt to her feet and went straight for Billy. She didn't take more than two steps before Billy shot her twice in the chest. She fell dead next to her son.

"Why'd ya' go and do that," Charlie cried disappointedly.

"Ah, she wasn’t worth the trouble," Billy said as he walked over and looked at the two dead bodies. He noticed a gold chain with a cross around her neck, the chain and cross that Jessie loved and had worn since the day Jim had given her when they first met.

Billy reached down and ripped it off her body, admired it a bit, then tucked it away into his pocket.

Though he was still in a daze from the blows he had taken, Jim had seen the whole thing. It seemed to happen in slow motion. Stunned, angry, blind with rage, he tried to go after Billy, but before he could react, Sam kicked him in the gut. Sam and Freddy then began to beat him into a bloody mess before dragging him over to the barn.

"Now we'll see who's gonna hang horse thieves," Sam said.

They threw a rope over one of the beams in the barn, then wrapped a noose around his neck and strung him up. Jim struggled, but it was no use. He felt the rope tighten around his neck. Felt his body swaying back and forth. He knew it was hopeless, yet his last thoughts were that he had let his family down. He was supposed to protect them, but he had not done his job. "What a sad way to die," he thought to himself.

Sam and Freddy laughed as they watched Jim swinging slowly back and forth. They heard the rubbing sound that the rope made on the rafter above. Satisfied with the job they had done, they turned and walked out of the barn leaving Jim to die.

The men mounted their horses, and got ready to leave. They had found some other jewelry and a little money stashed in the house, and before they left, they completed their destruction by setting the house and barn on fire.

With the buildings burning behind them, they turned and rode off towards town to celebrate. In their wake, two people, a mother and son, were dead, and a third -– they had left him to die.

As the fire began to burn hotter, Jim felt his life begin to drain out of his body. He knew his wife and son were dead, which left him no reason to live. Then fate intervened.

The fire burned through the barn and up towards the rafters. One of the things it burned through first was the rope holding Jim. Suddenly, the rope snapped loose and Jim's near lifeless body fell to the barn floor with a thud.

The heat from the fire startled him awake. He was very weak, almost dead. He didn't know what burned more -- the fire closing in on him, or his neck where the rope had tightened to choke the life out of him.

Slowly, with every ounce of strength he had left in his body, he had crawled and staggered out of the barn. He didn't get far once he was outside though, collapsing in the dirt next to the water trough a few feet from the barn door. He looked up and saw the flames coming through the roof of his house. He stared in horror.

"Jessie, Johnny," he called weakly. Then everything went dark.

The rain slowly woke him up. It fell steadily and felt cool on his face and along the rope burn on his neck.

He struggled to sit, then looked around. It was morning. "How long have I been out," he wondered. Then he looked in horror at what was left of his farm.

Smoke rose from the charred remains of his house and barn. Except for the rain falling, it was deathly quiet. There was no sign of life anywhere.

He got up and made his way toward the bodies of his wife and son. When he reached them he fell to his knees and began to cry. He tenderly lifted Jessie and held lifeless body close. Through his tears, through his sorrow, he wondered how he would ever be able to go on.


Now he was standing under a tree on the small hill that was in front of his farm –- at least the farm he had yesterday..

It was on that hill, underneath that oak tree, where he and Jessie had once stood to look over their new farm when they had first arrived. This time, though, he was resting on a shovel, looking down on the two freshly dug graves he had just finished. Both graves had small wooden crosses, which he had crafted himself out of some wood he had found in the remains of their home.

"This is where she would want to be buried," he thought to himself. He was still very weak from the beating and near hanging, and still distraught over the death of his family.

He knelt down next to the graves, silently remembering the good times they had together.
He thought about the future a little. He wasn’t sure what to do next. Should he stay? Should he go? One thing he was certain about though.

"I promise you Jessie... someday, justice will come to those Cole brothers," he said out loud. "I don't know when or where or how it will be done, but they will pay for what they did to you and Johnny."

Slowly, he got up, then walked down the hill towards the remains of the barn where he had fashioned himself a small shelter of wood and blankets. He laid down and fell fast asleep.

His decision came easier than he’d expected – he would stay and rebuild. This was his land, their land, and this is where he wanted to live.

The days went by slowly and he began to regain his strength by working around the farm -- chopping wood, rebuilding his cabin and barn, doing some chores. He hadn't seen anyone for a long time, though some neighbors had stopped by to see how he was doing a while back. They told Jim that they had heard rumors in town of what had happened, and that is why they had come out to see for themselves. They offered their condolences, asked if they could help, but Jim just thanked them and told them he wanted to be left alone for now. They rode off, but let him know that if he needed anything, all he had to do was ask. He thanked them and went back to work.

As the days, turned into weeks, then months, his sadness turned into acceptance and then anger. There was not much law out in this part of the west yet, except the law of right and wrong that one did on their own. He knew that if the men who did this to his family were to face justice, he would have to do it himself. But, what was the balance between justice and vengeance? Where was the line? He knew he would one day find out.

Either way, he decided he'd have to be prepared for when he finally did run into the Cole clan, so he began to practice with a hand gun. He already was a crack shot with his rifle, but he knew that if he was going to bring the Cole's to justice, it would be with a hand gun. So, he practiced. Every day he would practice, and every day he would get a little bit better, a little bit faster, and a little more accurate.

"Soon," he thought. "Very soon."

Autumn finally came to Wyoming, then winter settled. It was on a cold January morning that a long-haired and bearded Jim Stone rode off his farm for the first time since the day his world had come to a stop.

He had completed rebuilding his home before the first big snowfall, and it was time to resupply for the rest of the winter.

He stared straight ahead as he rode through the cold and windy winter day. A fresh blanket of snow covered the ground. His heart felt as cold as the day, the life all but gone out of him since his family had been killed. He pulled his hat down low across his face and his coat up tight around him as he rode towards town.

The town of Rocky Flatts wasn't much to look at. A single road, sometimes dirt, sometimes mud, or like today, frozen -- ran up the middle of the town. There were only a few buildings along the main road that ran down the length of the town -- a general store, a bar, drug store, two hotels, a barber shop and a livery stable.

Jim rode into town, and headed up the street towards the livery stable. A few folks recognized him and waved or nodded a greeting. He nodded in reply.

As he rode up the street he noticed a horse outside of the bar. His horse. The one they had taken that day.

He rode past the horse to the livery stable, dismounted and handed the reins to Joe, the blacksmith and owner of the stable.

"Hi Joe," Jim said. "How's things been going."

"Pretty good Jim," Joe replied. "How have you been doing these past months?"

"Best as can be expected, I reckon," he said. "See that horse over there next to the bar. That's the one the Cole's took from me. Know where the person who rode him in is?"

"That would be Charlie Cole," Joe replied. "Went into the bar a while ago, haven't seen him since."

"Thanks Joe," Jim said as he patted his horses rump "Take good care of my horse for me if I don't come back."

"Sure thing," Joe said as he understood what Jim was saying. "You be careful, here."

Jim marched toward the bar, patting the rump of the horse that was tied up outside the bar on the way. "How ya'doing there big fella. I'm here to take you home soon."

The horse gave a short whinny.

Jim slowly made his way to the bar’s entrance, then pushed open one of the swinging doors and walked inside.

He spotted Charlie standing at the counter as soon as he walked inside. A quick look around the rest of the room showed no signs of any other Coles. Just Charlie, who was standing and having himself a drink.

Jim slowly walked to the opposite end of the bar, keeping Charlie to his left and the wall to his right. The bartender walked over to him, wiping the counter when he got there.

"What'll it be for you," the bartender asked, looking at Jim.

Jim looked him straight in the eye. "Whiskey," he replied.

The bartender poured him a shot and put it down in front of him.

"Thanks," Jim said, putting down two coins and pushing them towards the bartender.

The bartender picked up the coins, put them in a box, then went back to doing some work.

With a quick gulp, Jim downed the drink. He pushed his hat up on his head slightly, then turned to face Charlie.

"Nice horse you got out there Charlie," Jim said.

"How'd ya'know it was my horse," Charlie replied as he turned to face Jim with a curious look on his face.

"Cause you and I both know where that horse came from, now don't we," Jim said.

Charlie stared at Jim, but with the long hair, beard and hat on, he didn't recognize him. "Not sure what you mean there stranger," Charlie said in a non-caring voice, just trying to brush off the stranger that was bothering him about the horse.

"Well, maybe this will bring back your memory," Jim said, as he pulled the shirt from around his neck so that the marks the rope had left were clearly visible to Charlie and everyone else in the room.

Charlie's eyes opened wide as saucers as he finally recognized Jim. "You, you're supposed to be dead," Charlie sputtered, as disbelief, then fear, started to show in his eyes.

"Not quite," Jim replied. "You and your family should have made sure you finished the job before you left because now you're going to pay." As he said that, Jim slowly pulled his coat back behind his gun and stood facing Charlie, ready to draw.

Everyone else in the room scrambled to get out of the way of the two men facing each other. The bartender moved as far back behind the bar as he could.

For all his bragging, Charlie wasn't very quick on the draw. Before he could even reach his gun, Jim had drawn and fired two shots. Both hit Charlie square in the chest and launched him back off his feet. He was dead before he hit the floor.

The room was totally silent. The only sound was the ticking of the clock on the wall. Everyone stood and looked on in shock.

Jim turned and ordered another drink. The bartender cautiously gave it to him. Jim paid and drank the shot.

"Those a'you that don't know me... name's Jim Stone," he said to everyone in the room. "If you don't know the story, Charlie, his brothers and father came to my farm earlier this year and killed my wife and son, stole my horse and left me strung up in my barn to die. This was payback for that. Anyone has a problem with that, speak up now."

The room remained quiet.

"Ok, then," Jim continued. "When Sam, Billy and Freddy come to get their kin here, you tell them Jim Stone says he'll be seeing each of them real soon."

With that, Jim put the shot glass back onto the counter, then walked across the bar, past the stunned onlookers, and out the door into the street. He untied his horse, the one Charlie and his family had stolen, brought it to the livery stable and had Joe tie it up with the horse he rode into town on. Then, he headed down the street to pick up some supplies.

A few hours later, with the supplies purchased and packed across both horses, Jim rode out of town and headed back home to his farm.

He knew they'd be coming for him once they got word of what had happened here today. He knew he would have to be ready.

A few days later, Sam, Billy and Freddy got word of the shooting and came into town angrier than a stirred up hornets nest. They asked around and got word that Jim Stone had done the shooting.

"Damn, thought we took care of that man," Sam said. "Well, let's head out to his place boys and this time we'll finish what we started last time. No one kills one of the Cole's and gets away with it."

Sam and his boys mounted up and galloped out of town past the livery stable towards the Stone ranch.

"Ol' Jim's got some trouble heading his way for sure," said Joe as he watched the Coles ride out of town.

"That's for sure," said George, his apprentice. "Think we should head out there and help Jim out?"

"I'll tell you, after hearing how fast Jim drew on Charlie at the bar the other day, I don't think he's gonna need much help," Joe replied. "But, Jim's a good man and best be sure. Why don't you round up a few of the boys that know Jim and let's head out there just to be sure."

"Sounds good," George said, and he turned and headed up the street to find a few others to join them.

The Coles crested the hill that overlooked the Stone ranch and rode past the graves of Jesse and Johnny Stone. They stopped and looked down on the farm.

It was late afternoon and the sun was starting to get low in the sky. The air was getting colder too. They could see their breaths in front of their faces and their horse’s faces when they exhaled. They pulled their coats a little tighter around them.

A white blanket of snow covered the farm. A couple horses walked around in the corral next to the barn, but other than that, there was no movement on the farm at all.

A light was shining through a window in the cabin. Smoke came out of the chimney, the smell of meat cooking and coffee brewing carried up the hill towards where they sat.

"Looks like he's inside the house Pa," Billy said excitedly, his breadth visible in the chilly air. He was getting excited anticipating the hunt that lay ahead.

"Yeah, looks like you're probably right there Billy," Sam replied. "Why don't you work your way around toward the back of the house. Freddy, see if you can get down there next to the barn. You'll have a good shot at the front door from there. I'll just work my way straight down. Whoever sees him first, shoot him down."

"Ok Pa," Billy said and off he rode around the hill towards the back of the farm, not caring how much noise he made. Sam just shook his head in amazement.

"Keep your eye on that boy Freddy," Sam said to his eldest. "He's gonna get himself killed one of these days."

"Sure thing Pa," Freddy said and turned and headed down towards the barn.

Sam slowly began walking his horse down the hill towards the front of the house. He saw that Billy was already heading around back, and Freddy was dismounting and walking up along the side of the barn.

"Jim Stone.. Sam Cole here," Sam yelled to the house. "We need to talk about what you did to my boy Charlie."


"Jim Stone," Sam yelled. "Come out now before we burn you out."

While Sam was yelling at the house, Billy continued working himself up towards the back of the house. Meanwhile, Freddy worked his way along the side of the barn towards the front. He wanted to get as close to the front of it as he could and take up a shooting position for when Jim walked out the front door. He never made it.

Jim had known they'd be coming for him and after he returned from town he came up with a plan. Each day since his run-in with Charlie, he kept the fire in the fireplace and the lamp in the house going to give the impression that he was inside. Then he waited quietly and patiently in the barn. Now he got ready to bring some justice for what they had done to his family.

Jim crept up behind Freddy, and as the man passed by the side door of the barn, he struck. In one quick, silent motion, he put his left arm around the man's neck and pulled him back, pinning him against his chest. With his other hand, he shoved a knife right into Freddy’s back.

"You should have finished the job on me when you had the chance," Jim whispered into Freddy's ear.

Freddy didn't even have a chance to react. He gurgled in pain, then slowly slumped over in Jim's arms. Jim grasped the falling man under his arms, and dragged him into the darkness of the barn.

It all happened so quickly and so quietly, neither Sam or Billy knew what happened to Freddy. They continued to move toward the house.

"One down, two to go," Jim said to himself.

Sam continued to yell at the front of the house, while Billy slowly crept around out back. He reached the back wall of the house and made his way to the window. He could hear his father yelling out front as he carefully peered through the window.

"No one’s in the house," he realized immediately. Just as he got ready to yell that to his Pa, a rope fell over his head and tightened around his neck. Before he could react and grab at the rope, he was jerked backwards onto the ground. The gun he was carrying flew out of his hands.

He tried to yell, but the rope was so tight he couldn't make a sound. He struggled to escape, but it was useless. The rope just kept getting tighter and tighter.

Billy looked up and saw Jim standing over him, the rope in one of his hands, a gun in the other. It was aimed straight at his head. A chill went down his spine.

"This is for my wife and son," Jim said and pulled the trigger.

As he looked at Billy’s dead body lying at his feet, Jim saw something shiny hanging out of one of his pockets. He reached down and took it out of the pocket. It was Jesse's chain and cross. He clutched it to his heart, then placed it in his own pocket.

Two down, one to go," he said to himself.

Sam heard the shot from the back of the house.

"Billy, you ok boy," he called out. There was no answer.

"Billy, you out there boy," Sam called again. "Freddy, can you see your brother?"

No answer came from either of the boys. But, an answer did come from Jim.

"Billy and Freddy are dead, Jim said as he came around the corner of the house. ""It's just you and me now Sam."

Jim walked slowly along the front of his house until he was directly in front of Sam, about 10 yards away. Sam dismounted from his horse and stood looking at Jim.

Both men stood stock still, just eyeing each other, neither speaking. Each sizing the other one up.

"You shouldn't have killed my boys," Sam said. "You'll pay dearly for that."

"You shouldn't have killed my wife and son," Jim countered. "I'm here to settle the score."

Both men's hands hovered over the guns that hung on their hip. They were both fast.

They stared into each other's eyes, each wondering who would react the fastest.

Sam made the first move. Jim was quicker. The practice had paid off.

Before Sam could get his gun halfway out of his holster, Jim had his out and aimed straight at the big man. He fired two shots. One hit Sam in the shoulder, the other in the chest. As he fell to the ground, Sam got one shot off. It hit his own foot.

Sam lay dying on the ground in the cold snow in front of the Stone's house. He could feel his life slowly leaving his body.

Jim walked over, kicked Sam's gun away and looked down at his dying enemy.

"Ya'got me good," Sam muttered through clenched teeth.

Jim didn't reply. He just watched as Sam closed his eyes and let out his final breadth.

Jim didn't feel anything -- neither sorrow for killing four men, nor any happiness for exacting the final justice for what they had done to him and his family. He just felt empty.

Joe, George, and a few other men crested the hill looking down on the Stone farm just as the final shootout between Jim and Sam took place. They saw the whole thing and would be able to tell folks it was a fair fight.

They rode down the hill to make sure Jim was ok. Jim nodded yes, and thanked them for riding out to check up on him.

They gathered up the bodies of the three Cole's and put them over their horses. The men headed back to town and the task of burying them next to their brother in the graveyard outside of town.


It was an early spring afternoon a year later when Jim climbed the hill towards the graves of Jessie and Johnny. When he got there he knelt down next to them, then after a while sat down.

He stayed for sometime. Thoughts of the good times they had shared went though his mind, and also all that had occurred since the previous year. It still bothered him that he could have been so angry and turned so mean that he could take four lives. Was he as bad as the Coles for what he had done in the name of justice? What would Jessie have thought?

"I know all the killing didn't bring you back Jessie," he said. "But I had to do it. I had to bring some kind of justice to you and Johnny’s murders. I hope wherever you are you understand and will forgive me."

A cool breeze blew gently up the hill, bringing with it the sweet smell of the flowers in the meadow below. It was just the type of breeze Jessie used to enjoy coming through the bedroom window while they lay there dreaming of their future. It was the same kind of breeze that blew in their window almost a year ago on that dreadful day.

This day, the breeze blew through Jim's hair. It was as if his Jessie was sending him an answer, telling him she understood.

He stayed by the graves for a long time that afternoon, enjoying the breeze and looking over his farm. The place was empty now, but he loved the land and knew he would stay. This was his home and that's the way it was meant to be.

As the sun started to set, he got up and headed back down the hill towards the cabin.

"I think I'll go fix that back door on the barn, then add some new fence posts to the corral so I can go get some more horses. Nothing like horses to bring life to a homestead," he thought to himself. "First thing tomorrow, that's what I'm going to do."
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