It was a hard fight.
It would have been worse if there’d been no warning and if I had been forced to see Cain die.
The men attacked once I was a good quarter-mile into the woods. Perhaps they thought it meant I was too far away to retreat.
They were wrong.
I had no intention of retreating.
The rifle fire came in hard and heavy, and a pair of shots took me in the right thigh, shattering the bone and putting me down even as I drew my Colts. I took shelter behind a large oak and did what the bushwhackers did not.
I took my time, and I aimed.
The men were skilled, but they weren’t patient. They laid down solid covering fire, and one of them tried to flank me.
The slug from my Colt took him in the eye and blew the back of his skull out.
The gunfire let up for a minute and then picked up its volume. Bullets slammed into the oak tree and sent shards of wood and bark scattering overhead.
But my leg had healed, and I was ready to go.
When another man made a rush for me, I shot him twice in the belly. His screams put his friends in a panic, which was fine with me.
The fire became sporadic, and one of the men crawled out towards the wounded man. I shot the would-be rescuer in the stomach for good measure.
The firing stopped, and the men argued about what to do as their gut-shot friends howled. I slipped off to the right, keeping to the larger trees and watching my wounded.
The fear of being shot kept the others behind their cover and allowed me to flank them.
There were five more of the men, all facing toward the oak I’d been behind. One of the two wounded men had gone silent, either from the pain or shock.
It didn’t matter.
His friends would be joining him soon enough.
One of the men turned, saw me, and I shot him through the throat for his trouble.
The others turned, and one of the men shouted, “He’s here!”
“Kill him!” The order came from a great distance.
The men didn’t succeed.
My Colts roared and jumped, and in moments, I alone lived.
I walked toward the man who had yelled and saw a compact mirror by his open hand. In it I saw a well-decorated Victorian room, then the mirror broke.
But not before I’d seen my mother.