A Night to Remember
Catherine squinted under the Colorado sun as she guided her horse through the archway that led to the homestead. She tightened the reigns as she neared the corral, and her mare came to an abrupt stop. She sat there for some time, and reluctantly dropped her feet to the dusty ground. Her second-hand petticoat had seen better days, but she had done her best to maintain the fabric. She glanced towards the house that sat less than one hundred yards away. It was a decrepit shell, with two front facing windows and a makeshift chimney coming up the left side. An abandoned barn was set back to the right, hidden in the shade of a giant pine tree. No other structure was visible from her vantage point. After trying up her mare, she shuffled cautiously towards the porch.
The old wood creaked underneath her tiny frame, and she raised her hand to knock on the door. A minute passed, and no sound could be heard within. She began to knock again, but in the spur of a moment, reached directly for the doorknob. It swung open slowly, moaning all the while. Catherine sucked in a deep breath, expressionless, and she passed the threshold. Her boots echoed throughout the dark room for several steps before she reached a window on the closest wall. She tore back the curtains and light filtered through the dirty glass, casting shadows about the room. The air inside was stale, and an eerie silence settled in. She frantically ran back outside, grabbed a rock, and placed it against the door to block it open. She stood there for several minutes, twirling the loose strands of hair that had escaped her bun.
Catherine reached down into her boot and pulled out a derringer. After cocking the hammer, she straightened her shoulders and stepped inside. Her eyes darted about, adjusting to the light, finally settling on fireplace located opposite the window. A cast iron pot hung from the ledge, and a skillet was set close by. She let her gaze wander, surveying the rest of the meager items that made up the dwelling. Weapons and traps decorated the walls, along with the furs of wildlife. A table stood solitary in the far left corner, save for a rocking chair embellished only with a battered cushion. A tin cup and flask adorned the table’s surface, and were the only items not covered in a layer of dust and grime. A dresser was placed nearby, and a wash basin rested atop. Catherine’s gaze finally made its way to the largest object in the room that was most concealed from the stingy light.
She took two steps towards the bed and, her eyes having been adjusted to darkness, was able to make out the figure of a man lying upon it. His broad back was turned towards her, and a ragged quilt was pulled up around his shoulders. It was unclear if he was breathing. She started to aim, but hesitated, creeping closer until she reached the edge of the bed. It was faint, but evident that his stomach was slowly moving in and out, his belly budging through the worn fabric of his long-johns. She could smell the whiskey on his breath, even with the distance. His white hair was greasy and combed down towards his pillow where his beard lay matted with unknown fluids. Catherine’s temperature rose, and she restrained herself from raising the gun. Beads of sweat began to form on her forehead. She grabbed the skillet and poked the man in the shoulder. He did not stir. She prodded again, filled with aggression, and the man rolled over on his back, choking as he came to.
His eyelids shot open, revealing black eyes that showed both shock and smugness intertwined. Catherine displayed her weapon as she stepped back. The man began to cackle, but was overtaken by a coughing fit. He grabbed a stained sheet from under the quilt, and when he removed it from his mouth, fresh blood covered it. The man regained composure, and stared back at Catherine, taunting her with his eyes alone. Realizing that he was bedridden, she aimed the derringer at his head. She redirected it at the last moment, eyes burning with hatred. Her finger squeezed the trigger, and the seconds slowed as the bullet left the barrel and found its way to the man’s genitalia region. The man’s eyes widened, and he emitted a gurgled cry that was reminiscent of an injured wild animal. Catherine ignored his screams, working quickly to start a fire with the flint and steel she brought in her apron.
He pleaded with her, but she continued to work diligently and started a flame within the minute. She pushed his meager furniture towards the growing flame, and rushed back to the bed for one last look. Satisfied with the man’s hopeless demeanor, she pulled out a doll, and reflected on one of her prized childhood possessions. A cloud came over her eyes, and she shoved the doll hard against the man’s chest. She knelt down next to the bed, her face only inches from his. “Don’t worry,” she whispered into his ear. “This won’t hurt a bit, remember?” She forced a grievous smile, and retreated. She cast one last glance before she stepped outside, and saw true regret in her abuser’s eyes. That was all she needed. She slammed the door as smoke began to fill the room, and returned to the corral. She sat there for hours, watching the house turn from wood and sod to ashes. It was nightfall by the time the flames had died down, and the coals had nearly cooled. She breathed in the clean night air, and screamed until her voice broke. A single tear ran down her cheek, and a small smile spread across her lips. She jumped up on her mare and rode off into the night. At last, she was free.