A Child Alone
|This is a
deeply moving look at the horrors inside the mind of a child who has had
to grow up much too soon. This is Marilyn's first story on my site
and I am pleased I was asked to post it for you. Be
prepared--it is extremely poignant, even heartbreaking.
The stench of blood and gunpowder still lingered in the air over the burnt remains of the small village. Echoes of the villager’s screams could still be heard in the wind – screams for mercy, for pity… horror as they begged for their lives only to be answered by the ruthless bullets that rapidly fired from the Gatling gun - shooting them down where they stood.
Johnny stood there, unable to move. Every muscle in his body seemed to have frozen. His fist was closed so tight that his knuckles were turning white. His emotions were running wild with anger… sorrow. His heart ached as he felt the pain of these people, so real that it felt as if he had been shot along with them. Their cries were invading his mind, but was it their cries he heard? Or cries from the past?
‘No, not again,’ he whispered.
He had taken care of some business up this way for Murdoch and suddenly had the urge for some of the good tamales that he knew he could only find near here. So he had decided to make a slight detour.
Now he wished he had gone straight home.
Still standing and looking on with tearful eyes, flashbacks from his childhood came rushing back to him… hauntingly painful memories. He took a deep breath, found his legs and started to walk slowly through the mangled and bloodied bodies… women, children and old men. The scent and silence of death was overwhelming and he had to stop. He closed his eyes, then a single word escaped his lips…"Mama."
Dropping to his knees, head bowed, he didn’t care to wipe away the tears that were falling freely now. He knew that there was no one here to see him cry.
He remembered all the details, the horror and the emptiness he had felt on the fateful day… the day his mama and his village died. He shivered as those images became so real, and then he heard her voice.
"Juanito, Juanito," she called to her son. "Come, we must hurry. We must pack."
"Where are we going, Mama?" he asked.
"We are moving to another village,’ Maria told her ten year old niño. He was shocked at the news of moving again, when they had only been in the village for less for a year.
"But, mama, I do not want to leave," Johnny pleaded with his hurrying mother. "I have made amigo’s here and I go to school now. Why must we leave?" Johnny ‘s young eyes were filled with hurt and anger as he looked at her. "You promised we would stay here, Mama. Now you’re breaking that promise…again."
Seeing the look he gave her, she answered sharply. "Now, I will have no more of this. There is nothing for us here. I can not find work,’ she explained and added, "I hear the next village has mucho to offer. There, I will find work."
But the words meant nothing to a ten-year-old boy; only the she was giving up and running to who knows where. He was sick of it.
"But what if you don’t, Mama? We move again and again?" Johnny asked with anger in his voice. "I’m tired of moving, Mama. I want to stay here. NO! I will not go!"
When he’d finished, he wished he had not said those words and he felt the back of his mothers hand across his face.
"You see what you make me do with your words?" Maria yelled at him. "Now go pack; and hurry!"
A heartbroken young boy wandered over to his side of the room. He gathered up what he had, rolled up the thin mattress he used for a bed and folded the torn blanket that covered him at night. Johnny didn’t have any toys. The few times that he had has any, the other boys had taken them out of his hands and had broken them, saying that no mestizo was worthy of such things.
But this town was different. He had made amigos here and he liked going to school for once. The village was small and so was the school. There were only a few students and he liked it that way. There were still some who he had to fight when the name-calling started, but he was learning - learning to stand up for himself. And the friends he had made were the boys he had fought.
Not knowing how things would be in the next town scared him. He looked over at his mother as she gathered up the few pots and pans they had. She was so beautiful - slender and active. He could not see why she could not find work.
All the gringos who passed through town seemed to like her. Oh, he very well knew how they used his mama, but she told him that it was for him, to put food in their bellies.
But he also knew that she mostly used the money for drink and new clothes to please her men.
‘Why should any other town be different?’ he wondered.
"Are you ready, Juanito? You must get the cart ready. We have much walking to do." Maria hurried her son along and, reluctantly, he finished up.
"Sí, Mama, I will get the cart," he said and walked out of the little house. Sadly, he walked over to where they kept the worn down cart.
Maria loaded it and both she and Johnny took a hold of the handle. Normally a burro would pull it, but they had no money for such a luxury. They both pulled the cart out of the yard and then slowly out of town. The sad blue-eyed boy looked back at the only real town he had ever felt at home in. Tears flowed down his dusty checks as the village slowly disappeared from his view.
"Now, there is no need to cry, mi hijo. You will see. Things will be different… better," Maria promised.
Still on his knees, Johnny whispered, "Things were not better, were they mama? Why did we have to leave. Why Mama, why?" He knew she would not answer. His voice, breaking as he spoke, was that of a little boy.
Lifting his head and wiping the moisture off his cheeks with his sleeve, Johnny unsteadily stood up and wandered through the ruins. The scene before him was heartbreaking as more and more bodies lay at his feet. He tried to not look at them, but it was impossible. He wished that he hadn’t come this way… thought of just running and never looking back.
But he knew that someone had to somehow take care of them. They couldn’t just lie like this. He slowly made his way over to the mission, seeking an answer to this dilemma. He stopped by the bullet ridden wall. Walking around it, Johnny froze in his steps. His expression was one of pure horror.
Even with his eyes closed, Johnny could still see those images of the children who lay before him. He grabbed his chest and stumbled forward slightly, as if someone had just pushed a hot knife through it. ’Bastards’ was all he could get out of his mouth and it was barely a whisper. He felt light headed and weak and leaned back against the bloodied wall to keep from falling down. His ears were ringing and he put his hands over them to make the noise to go away.
The children before him was lined up like a firing squad. They had been shot down like animals. Their little faces still showed the horror they must have felt right before the triggers were pulled. Johnny slowly opened his eyes and looked around, trying to take his gaze away from that sight, only to find more heartache.
There lying by a tree in front of the mission was the old padre. Johnny gingerly walked over to him and kneeled down by the body. "WHY?" he cried up to the sky, then looked back down at the old man, gently touching his wrinkled face. The padre’s hands had been bound and throat slit.
‘¡Dios! They must have made him watch the children being executed before they killed him,’ Johnny thought to himself. He felt the rage that was building inside of him, taking deep breaths and trying to calm himself. Now was not the time to lose control.
Then, suddenly, his head started to throb as voices from the past came back. "No, not now, go away," he pleaded. But they would not leave.
"See, mi Hijo, this house is bigger… nicer. It has two rooms and a big tree you can play on. Sí?" Maria said as they both stood in front of the house she had been promised.
"Sí, Mama. It is much nicer" Johnny sadly agreed.
"Now, none of this," she told him and she lifted his head up. His sad blue eyes met her brown ones. "It will be better here. , Carlos had promised me," she reminded him.
He quickly pulled away from his mother and snipped at her, "I do not like Carlos, Mama. He is evil. I can see it in his eyes." He backed away from the house and then turned to walk away, not wanting to be near it.
"That is not true. He is good to me… us," Maria reminded her son again, this time with anger in her voice. "Now get back here and help me unpack!"
Johnny did as he was told and moved back towards her and then looked up at his mother’s neck. She had a big bruise on it, by her collarbone. And it had been given to her not too long ago, either.
Frowning he pointed to it. "If he is so good to you, then why do you wear his marks?" the boy asked frankly.
Maria didn’t answer him right away, she was shocked at her son’s words - so vindictive… so unlike her Juanito. She had hoped that he wouldn’t notice the marks, but there were always some that she couldn’t keep hidden. Gathering her thoughts, she answered him with the only words she could think of.
"I have not done as I was told, so I deserve these bruises," she said in the man’s defense. "I suggest you honor Carlos. He has mucho to offer us."
"But Carlos hates me, Mama. How…?" But his words were not reaching his mother’s ears as she hurried along to unpack the cart. She wasn’t wasting any time, despite the fact they had just walked a long way to get here. She didn’t seem to care whether her son was tired or not. "Mama?"
"No time for talk. We must hurry. Carlos will be here to inspect the house," she told him, and Johnny stood there watching his mother unpacking their things, taking them into *His* house. They may live in it, but he knew very well who’s house it really was. He knew that he was only a visitor, one who would be shown the door whenever Carlos wanted to be alone with his mama.
A few weeks passed and things were going smoothly. His mother did find a job, with the help of Carlos. She was working in a cantina. Carlos happened to own it. Johnny was allowed to visit his mother there, but only if he came through the back way. Carlos didn’t want to hurt his business by exposing his customers to a blue-eyed half-breed.
Maria knew this but never did anything to stop it. She needed this job, and Carlos.
Johnny was home alone most of the time. He had to fend for himself as she worked later then usual, coming home in the small hours of the morning. He wasn’t going to school yet as it was a mission school. In fact, he was afraid to even attempt to try to go, not knowing how he was going to be accepted. Even though he was used to being rejected and tormented by other children, he had no desire to go looking for it.
Hearing there was a new family in town, the priest from the mission took the trouble to come to visit the newcomers and welcome them; also to see if Johnny was of age to join the school.
The padre looked at the young boy and his heart saddened, when he saw the shape Johnny was in. He was too skinny for his age and his clothes were torn and dirty. And when he had looked into the boys blue eyes, he could see turmoil and pain in them. He saw a child of two worlds - and neither one of those worlds treated him well. He knew this young boy needed his guidance… needed God in his life.
Maria was in her room so they were alone while and Johnny had to ask, "I do not disgust you, Padre?"
"My child, why do ask such a thing?" he asked, though not surprised at the boys words.
"Because I’m a mestizo… a freak, Padre." Johnny said in a whispered voice.
"Juan… no, you do not disgust me!" The old padre said strongly. "You are a child of God and he welcomes you into our school." Seeing the sadness in Johnny eyes when he said those words, he continued to say, "Please do not think of yourself as that, My Child."
"It is hard not to, Padre, when…"
He stopped when they heard a loud knock on the door. Maria came running out of her room in her best dress, smelling like rose water.
She rudely flew right by Johnny and the padre to get to the door. Stopping before she opened it, she said, "Juanito why don’t you go with the padre and visit the mission school." She turned to the padre. "Is that alright with you, Padre?"
"Sí, he is most welcome to come and stay for a visit. Perhaps he could have supper with me," the padre answered and put his gentle hand on Johnny’s small shoulder. Johnny smiled up at him.
"Gracias, padre," she said and opened the door to let in her caller, and to escort Johnny and the priest out.
As they were leaving, Johnny could here Carlos’ loud harsh voice say, "I see you got rid of your mestizo. Good," and heard him let out a laugh. Then there was nothing.
Forcing himself to get up off the cold ground, Johnny tried desperately to shake the haunting memories out of his mind. He stood up on trembling legs and grabbed a hold of the tree to steady himself. Johnny sadly looked down at the fallen priest, he reminded him so much of the old padre that had befriended him. His heart cried for the loss of this man, and the man he knew back then.
Picking up the old padre, Johnny carried him into the mission. He gently laid the priest down on one of the pews and covered him up with a torn drape. He was a small man so the labor of carrying the man was not a heavy burden to Johnny. The sanctuary had been turned upside down. The cross above the altar was broken into four parts. Men possessed of evil and greed and in the search for possibly gold or any other hidden treasures that they had thought might be here had ransacked the church.
Johnny closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. Then all at once his head started to throb again, as the memories came rushing back to him. The voices in his head were louder this time, making him dizzy as the room started to spin around him. Johnny tried to stop the ringing in his ears by putting his hands over them. With the ringing and throbbing tilting his world, he lost his balance and stumbled backwards and landed on one of the pews, and just sat there.
"Not now, I don’t want to remember. Go away!" he begged the voices to leave him. "Why did I have come this way you idiota, you maldicion recio!’ Johnny cursed himself, as the voices surged, growing clearer and louder, "Go away!" He cried.
"Juanito, Juanito, come play!" hollered Manuel to the small house, "Your mama is not home, so come let’s play." The tall boy stood there for a few minutes, knocking on the door, waiting for it to open.
The door slowly opened and Johnny appeared and stood in the doorway, "I cannot, Manuel, I must be here when she gets home, it is her rule." Johnny’s eyes implore his friend to understand as he added, "She worries about me if I’m not here." Manuel just stared at his amigo in disbelief.
"No, Juanito, she does not. She only cares about Carlos." Manuel spoke frankly and frowned when Johnny looked at him with hurt in his eyes.
"You do not know what you are saying," Johnny growled at the boy, "You are my amigo, Manuel, so please do not say such things." Deep down inside his heart, Johnny knew it was true, at least for the most part, but it made him feel less vulnerable to pretend otherwise.
"I’m sorry, I did not mean to hurt you, mi amigo, but it is true," Manuel said. "It is what the village is saying." he informed him. "They worry about you."
"And why would the village care about me?" Johnny asked angrily, "They do not care about a half-breed, they have proven that. Only the padre and you are my amigo’s." He stated sadly. This town was no different from the others. Carlos saw to that.
"Sí, I’m your friend, por favor, forget what I said, and lets go play, Huh?" Manuel apologized after seeing the hurt his words caused his friend.
From the first day he had met Johnny, Manuel had taken a liking to the new boy, and they quickly became friends. Always doing things together, and Manuel being a little bigger then Johnny was right there by his side. Whenever the name calling started and the fights ensued, the two boys stood united. They both took on the bullies, winning those battles. Johnny didn’t feel alone anymore with Manuel by his side.
But lately, Johnny had not done much with his amigo, and this worried Manuel. Since Carlos had been coming around more often, Johnny had become less active, staying at home more. He did not play out as much; Johnny even missed school a few days here and there, which had the padre worried also.
"No, Manuel, I must stay home, mama will be home soon." He said, "Manana, mi amigo. I will play with you later." Johnny promised.
Manuel gave up and shrugged his shoulders and said, "Sí, manana. Adios then." He waved goodbye to his friend, leaving Johnny home alone with his thoughts and pain.
Sitting at the small table, waiting for his mama to come home, Johnny rubbed his sore and bruised arm. He hissed in pain. ’Estupido, why did I not listen?’ he asked himself, as he remembered that night. All he did was forget to do something Carlos had asked him to do, or perhaps it was he just didn’t want to do it. But his mama just stood there and let Carlos beat him. The enraged man grabbed his arm and pushed him violently up against the wall, as he cussed and spit in his face.
After Carlos left for the night, Maria scolded him for disobeying the man’s orders. Her anger flaring, she even slapped her son a few times, bringing more tears to his young face.
"He is not my papa!" Johnny said yelling at his mother.
"NO! But maybe one day he will be." she said trying to control her temper, "So you had better obey him and you will not be punished. He can be a good papa if you will let him." Maria tried to reason with her son.
"NO! I do not want Carlos as my papa!" Johnny shouted, and then said, " I have a papa out there and maybe one day he will…." He didn’t get a chance to finish when his mother grabbed his sore arm; he cried out in pain, "MAMA YOU’RE HURTING ME!"
"Listen to me!" Maria yelled ignoring the pain she was causing her son, "He will not find you! Do you remember what I had said about your papa?" When she let go of his arm, the tears were streaming down his flushed checks.
"Sí, mama, I remember." He said sadly, hoping it was all a lie.
"It is because of him, we have to live like this." Maria told him, "But now we have Carlos, we do not need your papa. Carlos will be a good papa, you’ll see," she added.
Wiping his face with his sleeve and rubbing his arm, Johnny slowly went to sit on his bed in the corner. "Is he coming back tomorrow?" he asked softly about his future father.
"No, he is going away on business, he will be back in a few days." Maria answered a little calmer herself. Regretting now the way she had to be with her son. However she did not regret the lies she told him about his real papa, that would not change.
"Good, then maybe we can have time together, huh mama?" he asked with hope in his voice.
"I’m sorry, mi hijo, but I must work late to help Carlos with the cantina while he is away.
"I understand, I guess," Johnny said in a whispery voice. He got to wondering more about the man who was ruining his life, so Johnny asked his mother. "Mama, what else does Carlos do?"
"What do you mean?" she asked back.
"I mean he has too much money for only owning a cantina." He questioned the man’s wealth, "Where does he get the money, mama?"
Maria looked at her son, confused. ‘Sí, where does he get it?" she asked herself.
The last few days had been peaceful and pleasant for the little time they had together as mother and son. Johnny treasured the moments as he listened to her sing quietly to herself while she flitted around the house. Maria’s angelic voice had always lulled him to sleep whenever she was home to tuck him in. He cherished every kiss she gave him on the forehead, enjoying the lingering scent of her sweet rose water it left on his skin.
"Buenas noches, mi hijo." She whispered comfortingly in his ear as he drifted off to sleep.
With those bittersweet memories filling his heart and mind, Johnny was able to smile, although sadly, as they were only the real good memories he had of his mama. The pain in his head started to ease up, and his breathing was calming down. This allowed him to think with more clarity and focus on the task ahead of him, the task of burying the town.
There was only one thing he could do, so he grimly forced himself to get up off the pew. He took a deep cleansing breath, expelling it out slowly, steeling his nerves and resolve as he did. It was time to begin. Johnny slowly walked out into the yard of the mission and looked up at the sky, the afternoon sun was now starting to set, painting a portion of the horizon blood red. He needed to hurry if he was going to make use of the last of the daylight before it died into the dark night.
One by one, Johnny painfully carried the bodies into the mission, gently laying them down on the pews and between them. Placing the children with the women, not knowing which child belonged to whom; he didn’t want any child to enter the afterworld alone not after the way they had to die. Then he reverently laid the old men side by side as comrades.
He used a wheelbarrow for the ones that were too heavy for him to carry alone. As Johnny performed his labor of respect, his heart ached so hard in his chest that it felt like it was going to burst open. Anger and sorrow battled to take control over his soul. Johnny wanted nothing more than to get his hand on the ones responsible for this unmerciful massacre. ‘How many more towns will fall to their murderous hand?" he asked himself.
Then a thought came to him, ‘Where are the young men?’ all he saw were old men. Then he grimly realized, ‘the fields, they must have had been working in the fields when these murdering bastards came to town.’ Johnny knew what he would find when he had the time to look, he would find them murdered too. With a heavy sigh he continued on with his morbid task.
The sun was almost down when he picked up the last child. His heart nearly sputtered to a stop, taking his breath away when he looked at the face of the small boy, ‘Manuel?’ He barely pushed the whispered name from his tight throat. The resemblance between this child and Manuel was uncanny . . . eerie, in fact. The boy looked so much like his amigo. Johnny was frozen in distressed sorrow; he couldn’t take his eyes off the boy. ‘God no.‘ he pleaded as he closed his eyes, letting the tears escape to rage down his face as his heart ripped apart. Then suddenly more images started to invade his thoughts as he struggled to carry the child inside. "No, not again." His mind whimpered.
They could hear the yelling from the house as they sat there in the big tree in the back yard where they were playing that afternoon. Johnny was feeling better after the time he had spent alone with his mother, which pleased Manuel. He was happy to see his friend felt like playing again. The boys were climbing the tree, and from their high perch they were able to watch as Carlos entered the house. And then the yelling started.
"What are they fighting about, Juanito?" asked Manuel
"Mama was going to ask him a question, and I guess he did not like it," Johnny answered. " Now sshh . . . I want to listen." He placed a finger to his mouth hushing his friend.
In the house Carlos was pacing back and forth shaking his head and his was voice as cold as ice. "I can not believe you would ask me such a thing!" He yelled at Maria. "Have I not provided for you?"
"Sí, Carlos." Maria replied nervously as she backed away from the man.
"Then why do you ask how I make so much money?" he stopped pacing and glared at her, "It is none of your business." The look she got from him was filled with such malice and cruelty it sent chills rushing down her spine.
"Sí, Carlos, I apologize, but Jaunito…he did have a good question, I thought at the moment. I see now I was wrong to ask." Maria said humbling herself before him, in the hopes of avoiding more trouble.
"JUANITO!" He hollered at her, "That mestizo of yours put those thoughts in you, and you listened to him?" His anger exploded, he slapped her across the face with the back of his huge hand. "Where is the little bastardo?" he growled at her, his eyes glaring.
"Do not call him that!" Maria yelled back at the man, as she found the courage to talk back to the irate man, "He is not here, I will handle him, now go, please Carlos." she begged.
Thinking for a few minutes before he answered, Carlos said, "I will go, but I will be back tonight and you had better be packed." he ordered. The puzzled look he received from Maria forced him to explain, "You are going with me but you are going to leave your mestizo here, he will only bring you pain."
Maria looked at him in disbelief. "NO! I will not leave my son behind. What has happen? Why must we leave?" she asked as a thousand thoughts rushed dizzily through her head.
"I have sold my cantina, and must leave town to start fresh in a new one." He explained.
"And if you want to be with me you must come, but leave him here. I do not need the likes of him ruining things for me," he sneered.
"No, Carlos, he will be good, you will see." she tried to reason with the man, but he had his mind made up.
Carlos stared at her and coldly stated, "I will be back for you!" The irate man stormed out of the small house slamming the door with such force it shook a picture that Johnny had made for his mother, off the wall. Maria bent over to pick it up, her heart breaking at the thought of her son, and what Carlos had order her to do.
Outside in the tree, two little boys sat in silence, one felt nothing but disbelief; while the other one felt nothing but heartache and betrayal. Manuel looked at his amigo’s face and his heart broke at the sight of him. Johnny’s face was one of a lost boy, tears steamed down his dirty cheeks. Manuel knew Johnny had better go to his mama.
"I must go, I’ll see you tomorrow, Sí?"
"Sí, I will be here." Johnny said sadly.
Manuel climbed down and stood watching Johnny as he carefully traversed the rough limbs before dropping lightly to the ground. He offered his friend a sadly weak smile before going on his way. Johnny slowly walked into the house and looked at his mother.
The blue-eyed boy sadly looked up at his mother with questions in his despairing mind; questions that he didn’t want to ask but felt he had too. But as he noticed the fresh red mark on her cheek, he held off asking for the moment. Johnny went up to his mama, raised his hand to her face and tenderly rubbed her cheek. She took his small hand into hers, and kissed it ever so lovingly. Johnny closed his eyes, cherishing his mother’s touch. Then he looked at her, he had to ask.
"Will you, Mama, will you go with him?" his voice was soft and trembling with heartbreak. "And leave me…." he couldn’t finish as tears filled his desolate eyes. He kept looking at her, willing her to say what he wanted to hear.
Looking at her son’s begging eyes, Maria turned away; ashamed that she had once thought of walking away from him. But every time she looked at him, her heart overruled those thoughts. Then whenever she looked into those blue eyes she saw his father, and the anger would consume her once again. Confusing her thoughts, her heart. Her child was of two worlds, gringo and Mexican. She hated the gringo side of him, his father’s side. But she yet loved him with all her being for he was hers.
"You heard?" she asked as she hung her head in disgrace.
"Sí, I heard," Johnny answered softly, wiping the few tears that had fallen with his dirty sleeve. "Well, are you?"
"No, my niño, I will not leave you." Maria told him, gently caressing his cheek. "But if I do go with him, I will make him let you come." she promised.
"Why not stay here, Mama, you have work; you do not need him." The boy reasoned with his mother, "I’m happy here, I have Manuel, and the padre is teaching me much."
"No, Carlos has sold the cantina, I only work there because of him. But now I do not have a job." she reminded him, "How will we live?"
"I will find a job after school, the stables maybe, huh mama? Please let’s stay here." He begged. "We will be okay, please."
"I do not know," she said as a frown creased the beautiful face. "Why don’t you go find Manuel and play, I must think." She urged him to leave while she thought of what to do.
The truth was she wanted to be with Carlos, not just because of the money, she liked the way he made her feel, when he didn’t beat her, that is. She was a young and lustful woman, Carlos filled that lust, unlike any other man she had ever had. It was that lust, which got her in trouble in the first place. She had thought she loved Lancer, only to find she loathed the man. So she ran, taking her son with her. But she would never tell him that. Not after the lies she had told him already.
Nodding sadly, Johnny left the house, but instead of going to find Manuel, he went to the small woods behind the house. There was a stream there that he and Manuel always like to go to. There they would swim or spend time, just the two of them, talking and dreaming. But this time he needed to think, to be alone. Lying down under a tree by the shore he closed his eyes.
He carefully laid the boy down by the woman he had just carried in a few minutes ago, " She will be your mama, and she will guide you to the other side." he whispered to the still boy. Johnny unsteadily stood up, he took a look around with sad tearful eyes; the room was now a tomb. If a heart breaking could actually make a sound, then the oppressive silence of this final resting place would ring with a sound like shattering glass, for that’s what it felt like his heart was doing.
Bright blue eyes flew open, realizing he had fallen asleep and it was getting late. Johnny’s mouth was dry with fear; Carlos was coming back. He had to be there for his mama, to somehow protect her, from the man’s rage. He knew would happen once she told him she wasn’t going with him. The small boy sprung to his feet, still in a daze from the deep sleep, he began running as fast as his little legs would allow him too.
As he got closer to the house, terror struck his heart as he heard the scream . . . his mother’s scream.
Johnny could still hear that scream, as clear as day. His mind was racing back and forth, from the past back to the present. He shook off the depressing thoughts, he had to focus on the task at hand. But the painstaking labor of carrying the bodies, was taking its toll on his body. His legs could barely hold him up any longer, as he carried the last victim into the mission. With a heavy sigh, he took one last look at the mass of bodies, all neatly laid out. Then he walked out of the tomb, closing the door gently so as not to disturb them.
He sat down on a near by bench to rest before he finished up. He leaned limply against the stone wall for support as he closed his weary eyes. Even after all the killing he saw in his days as a gun hawk, things like this still hit him hard. He was paid to do another man’s dirty work, but never…never did he ever kill a woman or a child. It made his heart sick to think of those poor souls who lay in there now.
Johnny was sitting with his eyes closed, when suddenly and without mercy the past came rushing back, this time in full raging force. The intensity of the emotions attacked him. The pain in his head was so strong; it felt like he was being hit with a hammer. His ears were filled with a throbbing and ringing sensation as the shouting and screaming grew louder. A wall of pain and sound surrounded him. He couldn’t stop it no matter how hard he tried. And then he remembered.
"Mama, Mama!" he cried, running as fast as he could. "I’m coming Mama," Johnny called out. He had to get to her, to save her from Carlos’s rage. As he got closer to the house, Johnny could hear more screaming, not only from his mama, but also from the villagers, screams of terror and shouts for mercy rent the air.
Johnny ran frantically towards home; just as the house came into view a petrifying sight stopped him cold in his tracks. Panic stricken, he froze there, afraid to move, but he couldn’t stay out in the open either, without being spotted. Trembling, Johnny found the strength to make his legs move; he quickly hid behind a tree, as he watched the scene unfolding before him. To the eyes of a small boy it appeared there were hundreds of them. All sizes and shapes, spreading through out the village, all armed with guns and rifles. Johnny’s eyes widened with horror when he noticed they also had a Gatlin gun.
‘Banditos,’ he gasped as the word slip out of his mouth. He wondered what they wanted with this small village. There was nothing of real value here. But he knew that didn’t matter to them, as long as they could rape, or murder just for the fun of it. Johnny could hear their loud vicious voices as they terrorized and intimidated the villagers, grabbing the young girls, and then dragging them away. Children were crying for their parents, as they were being beating to death.
Then he saw a house nearby being ransacked and torched. His blue eyes widened in pure fear, "Mama?" he looked to see if it was clear, and then he dashed away in a blind panic. Tears were welling as he ran. He was tripping over twigs and rocks. His white pants were torn as the cheap fabric failed to protect his knees as he skidded on the rough ground; his limbs were scraped and bloodied. His anguish was building, not knowing what he would find. When he reached the front door he froze again, when he heard the tone of Carlos’s voice, but did not hear his mother’s. Carlos’s voice was so evil; it was as if he was listening to the devil himself.
"You bitch!" Carlos said with such anger in his voice, "I told you I wanted you to leave with me, and leave that little bastard here!"
Johnny still couldn’t move, fear had taken over his mind; he was scared stiff of the big man. He still couldn’t hear his mother voice, so he listened for her, to give him a sign she was okay, but she was too quiet. Taking a deep breath, he found the courage to go in, just as Johnny’s shaky hand was about to open the door Carlos spoke again.
"But no you had to defy me, and refuse to come with me or even take what I offered you. You estupido protituta! He growled, "You will not defy me no more!"
With those words, Johnny felt the fear he had, being replaced by anger that was rising higher and hotter by the second. "No man talks to my mama like that;" he said to himself, as he flung the door open. The boom of the door striking the wall startled Carlos, who then turned to face the boy; he looked at Johnny with pure hatred in his eyes. Carlos grinned, his face painted with such malice, it cut right through Johnny’s heart.
"You leave my Mama alone…you…" his words trailed off as he desperately looked around for Maria.
His eyes shot back to Carlos, and the way he was dressed, instead of his normal business clothes, he was dressed as a bandito. ‘The leader no doubt,’ Johnny thought. Then something shiny caught his eye, he felt the walls close in around him. The man was holding a knife in his hand, with fresh blood dripping off of it. Johnny’s gasped so hard, that he almost lost his balance. Alarmed, he searched the room.
"Where’s my mama?" He managed to ask. Carlos looked at him with a devilish grin, and then stepped aside for the boy to see. The grin grew bigger out of morbid satisfaction as he saw the look on Johnny face, when he saw his mother. Maria lay on the floor next to the man’s feet, in a puddle of her own blood. Her throat savagely slit.
Time stood still, as his world came crashing down around him. He heard no sounds, but he felt his own heart breaking into a thousand pieces. Johnny stood there staring at his mother’s motionless form. He forgot the fact that the man who had just killed her was still in the room. He wanted to run to her, wake her up, and tell her he was here for her. Trying to speak, he pushed out "Mama, tell me what to do." in a whisper.
"She can not help you now, you mestizo." Carlos growled at Johnny, breaking the spell he was in. Then he started towards him "You did this, you killed your Mama, because she would not leave you." he told the frightened boy, waving the bloody knife at him.
"NO!" Johnny screamed as he backed away from the irate cold-blooded killer.
"Sí!" Carlos replied, "And now you will pay for it."
The soft blue eyes of the child hardened and grew darker with rage at what Carlos had said. It was time that he defended himself. "NO! You will not hurt me no more!" Johnny yelled back to the bastard, taking another look at his mama, he added, "NO, it will be you that will pay for what you did!"
Carlos glared at Johnny as he came closer to him. The glare was so deep and full of malevolence. Johnny could see right through him, he recognized that the man had no soul. He raised the knife higher, waving it as Maria’s blood ran down his hand. "You cannot run from me, so do not fight, come join your Mama." he said pointing to Maria’s bloodied body. "She calls you to come to her." he taunted Johnny.
"NO!" Johnny cried.
"You are alone now, who will want to care for a freak, huh? A gringo? A Mexican?" the man taunted further, enjoying every minute of it. "Or how about your Papa? Will he come for you? Sí? Come, let me take your pain away,"
Out of pure desperation, Johnny scanned the room for any means of protection, and spotted Carlos’ gun on the table nearby. Gathering up all his strength and courage, Johnny made a dash for the gun. Avoiding the attempts Carlos made to grab him, barely missing him with the knife, as he wildly waved it at the boy. Carlo was right behind him when he tripped over Maria’s body, giving Johnny time to reach the gun.
After what seemed like a lifetime, Johnny reached the table; with shaky hands he pulled the gun out of the holster. Fumbling to grip it correctly, he held it in both hands, and then pointed it right at Carlos’s heart. The killer stood up, and faced the courageous boy, intending to intimidate and scare him.
"Give me that you little bastard!" Carlos shouted as he reached for the gun.
"NO!" shouted Johnny as he pulled the trigger.
Like a lost child, Johnny pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them so tightly, that he could hardly feel them, as the numbness set in. His head bowed in sorrow to rest on his arms. Johnny rocked back and forth, letting out short deep panting breaths as he silently cried. Then slowly lifting his head to reveal the pure anguish on his tan face. His sapphire blue eyes, filled with tears; tears he thought he no longer had left in him. Not after that day.
The booming cadence of the gun going off still rang in his ears as clearly as if it just had happened. "Why Mama? Why did you let him take you away from me?" He cried in a whispered voice only he could hear. "Why did we come here?" tears flowed down his cheeks freely, he didn’t bother to wipe them, for who could see him cry anyway? Johnny closed his eyes and laid his head back down. The memories over took his soul and transported him back to that black day.
Carlos’s body fell to the ground with a loud thud, and the blue eyed boy watched him take his last breath. He stood there in a trance, blocking out everything around him, his eyes fixed on the man he had had just killed…then the word *killed* echoed in his head. He had killed his first man at the tender age of ten. But it was a good kill, one out of self- preservation and…revenge. This man would never force his murdering ways on others again.
Suddenly a shrill scream close by broke the dazed trance. Rubbing his tearful eyes Johnny looked at the gun in his hand, then down at his Mama. He couldn’t speak; the words were stuck in his throat as he felt his heart tightened in his chest, so tight that it hurt to take a breath. Now he wished he had died, his mama was gone and he was alone. ‘Help me, mama.’ his confused and scared mind cried out to her, only to get no answer.
Then he heard loud voices and they were coming closer to the house. "No," he whispered as reality set in, he had to get out of there. Hastily dropping the gun, Johnny ran to the door and flung it open. Gathering up all his strength, he dashed out running as fast as his little legs would allow him, he headed straight for the woods. ‘I can’t be found out, I have to get away,’ was the mantra he repeated to himself as he ran and ran, leaving the screams of the dying village behind him.
The tears that welled in his eyes blurred his vision; he was trying desperately to see where he was going. Tripping a couple times, over what he thought was logs, in fact they were bodies, the sight of them horrified him. Quickly crossing himself, he crawled away from them, forcing himself off the ground he started to run again. Wiping the tears away as he ran, he tripped one last time and rolled down the small slope by the edge of the woods. His roll stopped with the abrupt impact with a tree, he lay there shocked and stunned.
Trembling like a lost pup, cold, hungry and alone, Johnny laid as still as possible, afraid to move, to be heard by the banditos. He could hear, in the distance, the rifles being shot off booming like thunder, then the rapid fire of the Gatling gun as it ripped holes in everything it hit. ‘Why is this happening?’ he asked himself while listening to the muffled cries of the villagers. Their cries were so horrific; he had covered his ears to make them stop. The small boy closed his eyes, as he cried himself to sleep.
The sun shined through the trees, beaming down on the dirty-faced boy. Puffy blues eyes fluttered open, he sat up wiping the sleep out of them, and then looked around. Still dazed from the deep sleep, Johnny noticed the trees and the stream only a few feet away from him. He then realized where he was and scrambled to his feet. He ran back up the slope as fast as he could, hoping this was all a nightmare.
But it wasn’t, it was real as he stood there at the edge of town. Looking at what was left of his home. With shaky legs he entered the village, feeling every emotion possible as they filled his very soul, scaring him stiff. Burnt buildings stood in front of him, the scent of smoke was still so strong; it was actually was burning his eyes. The cantina where his Mama worked was even destroyed. The stable at the end of town was left standing but the livestock was gone. Not even a dog could be heard barking. He heard nothing, the silence was deafening.
Suddenly the sky started to darken and gray clouds slowly rolled in, covering the village with their shadows. Threatening to open up at any given time. Johnny paid no attention to them as he continued to walk through town, taking one heartbreaking step at a time. Then it was like someone had just pushed a hot knife through his heart when he came to a small house that like the others had not been spared death and destruction.
"NO! MI AMIGO, NO!" He screamed and staggered closer to the bodies that lay in front of him. "MANUEL!’ He cried out loud, his little heart could scarcely bear any more pain and anguish than it already had. His amigo laid next to his father and mother, in front of their destroyed home. The horror was too much to bear, seeing his friend lying before him in his own blood. The rage, the hurt he was feeling was too much for the small boy, and he ran.
No matter where he ran too, there was bodies everywhere, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, all gone. He went around in circles, his head spinning, not knowing where he was. For everything looked the same. His heart felt like it was going to burst open as he heard the thundering of the clouds that were rolling in faster, darkening the sky with sinister intent.
Johnny legs were starting to get heavy; his breathing was getting more labored with every step he took. He had to stop, no matter what he had to stop, so he did. And found himself in the town square by the fountain, where he stood catching his breath, only to have it taken away again. When he looked around, the sight before him was beyond words.
It was a ring of death, as he turned around in a circle there were bloodied bodies all around him. He was standing right in the middle of a dead town, his town. Nobody was left there to comfort him, to hear his cries. He had no home, no food, nothing but silence and the stench of smoke and blood. He was the soul survivor of a massacre. A child alone.
The clouds were getting darker, the winds were picking up, as he stood there, unable to move. His mind racing with thoughts no child should ever have to think. He was scared by these thoughts, and needed someone to guide him, protect and love him, but who? The tears streamed down his cheeks blazing a wet grimy trail on the ashen face, as the clouds exploded with a vibrating rumble.
Then he heard his Mama’s words, "Your Papa does not want you, and he will never come for you" those words echoed in his head. ‘But can she be wrong? Does he want me?’ he silently asked. His head throbbed, he couldn’t think straight anymore, this was too much for a small boy to take in. ‘Where to go, what to do?’
Suddenly the clouds burst open, with deep growling thunder that sent a sent a new sensation through his already damaged soul, as the rain pour down on him. Scared, lost, nowhere to go, he felt like death would soon come and claim him. "NO! You will not take me!" he screamed but the beating rain muffled his words, as it pounded the ground. Washing away the blood of the villagers.
Johnny dropped to his knees; he raised his face up to the sky, the raindrops mingled with his tears. His face contorted, he was like a lost soul, waiting to be found. And with all the strength he had left, he forced his voice to be heard above the noise. Johnny shouted to the sky in most heartbreaking tone ever heard from a child, words that would never be heard.
"PAPA, PLEASE COME AND FIND ME!"
"Papa, please come find me!" Johnny cried, tears welled and filled his sapphire eyes, escaping freely down his handsome tan face. His voice sounded like a child’s desperate, mournful cry. He appeared to be in a trance, as he sat there in the middle of the dead town. Johnny struggled up from where he was sitting, and subconsciously started to reenact the scenes in his head, scenes from the past. He followed every soul-shattering step his younger self took, reliving every moment of heartache and abandonment.
The sharp splintering crack of a piece of wood splitting and falling off a burnt building startled Johnny, waking him up from the dream like state. Even though he felt dazed and blurry eyed, it didn’t stop his gunfighter quick reflexes from kicking in. Johnny pulled out his gun, swung around and around scanning the area, desperately wiping at the moisture on his cheeks. Blinking a few times to clear his vision, he found nothing but tumbleweeds blowing about. Then he realized where he was and he sank to his knees, "Dios, what’s happening to me?" He pleaded to the dark sky above him.
He sat there confused, his mind as scattered as dry leaves in a whirlwind, he didn’t know whether he was coming or going. One minute he was sitting on bench by the mission, and the next he’s here. He felt his whole body shake, shivering from a bone deep cold, yet he felt warm at the same time. ‘How could I get from one place to another without knowing it?’ he asked himself, ‘Am I going mad?’ He rubbed his tired eyes, trying to clear his head. No matter what he did the images would not go away.
And those words, his mother words that kept haunting him. He had thought he had laid her to rest, to never have to hear her hateful words or her lies again.
"I will never leave you, mi hijo."
"But you did, Mama, you did leave me." His head bowed, weighed down by heavy sorrow. "It may not have been by your own hands, but you did." Johnny raised his head up, his expression changed from a sad little boy to an angry, rebellious young man. His voice turned rock hard and cold. "And you lied about my Papa! He was looking for me, and he does love me, he wanted me. WHY Mama, why did you lie to me? Did you hate him that much, did you hate me that much?" he shouted out his anguish to the dark sky.
"No, Juanito, he turned us away, he didn’t want a mestizo for a son. He hated you." The angry haunting voice tormented him. "Only I love you."
"How can you say that? You hurt me too, Mama. NO! You are wrong, no more lies. GO AWAY, leave me alone." He growled at the voice in his head, shaking it in denial of the deceitful deceptions that revisited his mind. "Look what your lies did to us."
"Your papa did this to us, it is his fault." said the spiteful voice. "He ruined our lives, he is no good."
"STOP IT! STOP IT! Murdoch is a good man. It’s you that ruined my life, and I will not forgive you for that. I love you Mama… but I hate you too." His voice was breaking as he spoke and his heart shattered, as he admitted the truth to himself.
The voice never answered back, instead the cruel voice of Carlos traveled across time to taunt him again. "You are alone, who will want to care for a freak? The gringos? The Mexicans? No one wants you, let me take your pain away."
Rage filled his heart with those words, "MY PAPA! That’s who, you bastard, I’m with him now, and no man or woman will ever take that away from me again." Johnny told the specter from the past. "I killed you and I’m glad I did, you can’t hurt me no more."
Johnny slowly got up on wobbly legs and stared up into the stars, his heart racing, as he waited for more ghostly voices to torture him.
But there was silence; the voices had stopped at his admission of his love for his father, and his home life he had now, that he vowed to keep. Many were the nights that he cried for his Papa to come and get him, nights he had slept in alleyways, behind cantinas, anyplace to stay warm. It may have taken all these years, but he was home now, home to stay.
Johnny heard a soft cry, and turned to see a small boy standing behind him. He was dressed in a white shirt, white torn pants, his torn bloodied knees exposed. He reached for the boy, and his hands passed right through the child. A shiver shot through his entire being, his heart pounded furiously in his chest. He stepped back away from the boy in pure shock. Then he took a closer look at the boy. His eyes widened when he realized that that the child was him, a shadow from the past, his past. Here in this place, the site of another senseless massacre.
Blues eyes stared at each other for a few moments, the boy said nothing; he stood there weeping softly. Johnny’s heart sank at the pain he saw in those eyes, his eyes. "It’s okay, we’re both fine now." He tried to reassure the boy by smiling at him; he wanted to wipe the tears away but he couldn’t. They were his tears; tears he had once shed a long time ago.
The boy stopped crying, and stared right through Johnny, pointing to the mission in the distance. Looking up at him sadly, the little nino then turned and ran off into the dark, fading away as he went, like mist in moonlight. Johnny wanted to run after him, but found himself frozen to the spot. He wanted to call to him to come back, but the words would not come.
Turning in the direction of the mission, he knew what his younger self meant when he pointed to it. He still had one last grim chore to do. He now realized why he was meant to come this way. These people here needed to be laid to rest, their spirits set free. Only then would the voices be silenced, and the town allowed to finally die with dignity.
The similar tragedy of this town; helped him remember the pain and anger he once felt when his village died. Those memories needed to come out, to help silence the voices of the past, once and for all, if that was possible. He knew what had happened to that ten-year old boy he once was, what he had to become in order to survive.
Looking back up to the stars, he sighed heavily and slowly walked back in the direction of the mission, to complete the burial and finally finish the past.
Johnny walked bleakly through the village one last time before finishing up the task at hand. Sorrow weighed down his heart and footsteps. He checked every house and business that was still standing for any bodies he may have missed. The night was bathed in the ethereal light of a full moon. The pale glow covered the village; that was once full of life, but now existed as nothing but a ghost town filled with shadows. The sheen of the moonlight through the windows suffused the rooms, making it easier for Johnny to see as he peered in. His eyes lowered in grief as he spotted the remains of a doll, face frozen with a permanent smile, it had obviously once belonged to one of the little girls. He picked it up, and placed it in his shirt.
As Johnny stepped back from the last building he was satisfied that he had found everybody, so he continued back to the mission.
He gathered up bundles of loose dried up brush that had blown about the town, and placed them inside the mission where he had laid the bodies. Taking out the doll he reverently placed it by a little girl, not knowing whose it was; it didn’t really matter. At least one child would have an object of joy to take with them. Johnny looked around at the mass grave, and let out a heavy sigh of sorrow and remorse. He closed his eyes and crossed himself in silent prayer. With leaden feet he trudged to the door, and then turning back he lit a match and threw it into the room.
In an instant the dry brush lit up like a roman candle, encircling the bodies in a ring of fire. The flames leaped higher and smoke began to rise, it looked like gray ghosts ascending to heaven. The wisps of vapor obscured his view of the bodies, for which he was glad; he didn’t relish seeing them burn. Johnny quickly stepped outside and closed the doors behind him, sealing them shut with a chain. Stepping back far enough he watched the mission, as it was engulfed in flames, lighting up the dark sky like a huge candle.
Standing there watching the flames burn brightly, feeling the heat from the fire warm his chilled body, Johnny felt at peace. To him he had done something he needed and wanted to do for such a very long time, to bury this wretched part of his past. And by seeing to the interment of these unfortunate souls, he felt like he was able to do so. It was as if this was meant to be.
The night his village died, he was too small to help. He was a child alone and scared for his life. He had run off into the night, without looking back. He ran so hard and fast to any place he could find to hide. Running away from the images, to forget what his young eyes had witnessed. He had fallen down a ravine and rolled to stop, laid there shivering, wet, and hungry, eventually crying himself to sleep, as he had done many times before. Only to have his sleep interrupted by screams, as the horrors revisit him in his nightmares.
That time he was really alone, there was no one to hear his cries, wipe his tears, or comfort him, he had only himself. That was the night a small boy had to become a man. He had to learn to defend himself, to go on and do whatever it took to survive.
His only regret was that he had not been able bury his Mama and his town. But tonight he had put them to rest, those voices of the past. All that is except for one.
"Juanito," called the haunting voice.
"Go away, Mama"
"Juanito, come join me, mi hijo," she said softly.
"No, Mama, I will not"
"Who will care for you?"
"I’m fine now, so leave me alone. I have a home, and a familia ."
"Do you?" the voice taunted.
"Sí, I do, no thanks to you. Now go away, leave me be," he growled at the voice.
"Do they accept you, knowing what you are?"
"You mean what you made me. Yes, they do, and I’m not that person any more." He exclaimed proudly.
"Are you sure?"
"Sí, I’m sure, I hated what I was, but now I have a new life, and I’m happy."
"You do not hate your Papa, after what he did to us?"
"Murdoch did nothing, it was you, Mama. You took me away. No, I don’t hate him…I love him." Johnny told the voice with deep conviction. "I love my father, do you hear me? I guess, I always did, but you tried to make me hate him by putting lies into my head, but no more, Mama. You are gone, and he is here. So go away and leave us be," he demanded.
Johnny shook his head in disgust, he thought he had put her to rest, but Maria kept showing up like a bad penny. She haunted him with her words that once hurt him, words that once cut into his soul like a razor. But now that he knew the truth, her words did not have the power to hurt him any more, their sharp edge was gone. He wondered why she was still trying to haunt him?
"Do you love me?" She asked.
"Sí, Mama, I love you. No son should hate his mother, but I do hate what you did to me." Johnny answered and added, "but no matter what, I still love you. Go Mama, go rest in peace, and do not worry about me anymore."
And with that final admission, her voice was silenced; perhaps she was at peace now. But for how long he wondered. Maybe that is what she wanted, needed to hear to stay buried, to leave him to live his life the way it should be. He could only hope that was true. She had robbed him of too many years as it was.
The flames of the burning mission danced and leaped higher and higher, until the whole town was lit up in the glow, exposing the remains of a once lively town. Johnny watched for a few more moments, before he decided it was time to go home. He figured that the fire would burn a few more hours, it would probably consume not only the mission, but the whole ransacked town too, there was no one left to worry about it any way.
Turning around, he slowly walked over to Barranca, and mounted up, taking one last look around the town, he smiled. With the mission burning vibrantly behind him, casting its shadow against his back, Johnny gave a gentle kick to the horse, urging his amigo to take him home.
When he was just about out of view, another shadow appeared from behind a tree. It was the spirit of a small boy from the past. The blue-eyed boy stared at the figure of the man as he rode off, and a single tear fell down his dirty cheek. It was not a tear born of sorrow but one of happy release.
The shadow smiled brightly as he watched the man fading from view, as he was swallowed by the night. "Adios, and gracias. " he said and he too faded away.