Sally pressed her back against the thick willow tree and scanned the property. She gripped her rifle with both hands, ready to fire within a millisecond. The imbeciles had to be hiding out in the barn. She looked over at Jeremy, who had his shot gun ready while leaning against the shed. He glared at her.
“We could really use Mary now, huh?” said Sally with a small laugh.
Gabriel was sheltering himself behind a tree like her.
“Mary has been through enough. I would never want her to be here in a million years.”
“Indeed,” muttered Sally.
She started for the barn.
“Sally!” shouted Jeremy.
“Will you shut up?” she hissed, not taking her eyes away from the barn.
Jeremy caught up with her and stepped in front of her.
“You don’t have to do that,” she said calmly.
“Yes, I do.”
“Will you two be quiet?” whispered Gabriel. “If they haven’t seen us already, they’ve definitely heard us.”
“If they were in the barn they would’ve shot at us by now,” said Jeremy.
“What if they’re in the field where it hasn’t been plowed yet?” asked Gabriel.
“That would be bizarre.”
“There’s no way in hell I’m chasing them through a maze of corn,” said Sally.
“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said since I returned,” said Gabriel.
She resisted the inclination to hit him. He didn’t know what he was talking about.
Jeremy grabbed her upper arm and she froze.
“Look. Over there,” he said.
He pointed ahead to the empty fields. Her hair felt like it was standing on end as she followed his line of vision to their enemies standing in the distance.
“What the hell?” said Jeremy.
“They really did want us to chase them,” spat Sally.
“They want a real battle in an open field,” said Gabriel, shaking his head. “There will be nowhere to hide. Only great gunmanship and great luck can get you out alive in that scenario.”
“Then we have nothing to worry about,” said Sally.
She started in the direction of the last standing deacon and his two henchmen.
“Wait,” said Jeremy, reaching out to grasp her again.
“Let her go,” said Gabriel.
“That’s right. Let me go. I am as good of a shot as anyone here.”
Jeremy ran ahead of her, ensuring that she was right behind him. The sight of him risking his life for her should have broken her heart and made her double over with words dripping with affection, but all she felt was numbness. The men ahead were the only things stopping the town from being a peaceful place.
“I don’t want you to risk your life for me,” said Sally.
“If they get me first, it’ll give you an extra second to shoot them.”
“If we spread out, we won’t be such easy targets. We need to move around. Make them work for it,” said Gabriel.
Jeremy threw his head back.
“My wife is walking directly into a firing squad. I have to give her a fighting chance.”
“You’re going to get yourself hit and killed if you make yourself an easy target like that,” said Gabriel.
The men ahead waited, probably enjoying the sight of the three of them making their awkward approach.
“He’s right,” said Sally. “It’s my choice to be here. I can’t let you get yourself killed on my account.”
Jeremy wrapped his arms around Sally.
“You’re my wife. I love you.”
“I love you, too, but we have to rid the town of these sick men or the violence will never end.”
“Humans always think that they can end violence with violence,” sighed Gabriel.
Sally stomped her foot.
“No one is forcing you to be here!”
He threw up his hands.
“Don’t shoot me. I’m not going anywhere.”
She stared back into Jeremy’s tormented brown eyes. Their lips nearly brushed together as he leaned into her.
“Please forgive me for this,” she breathed.
She bashed the butt of her rifle into his stomach, spun around, and sprinted toward the three gunmen. She bounded in a zigzag pattern and dove into the dirt at the sound of the first gunshot. Uninjured and on the ground, she aimed for the deacon. Deacon Sampson.
Blood flooded out of his body, staining his white shirt as he fell to his knees and then collapsed. The sons’ attention went to Jeremy and Gabriel as they charged ahead.
Gunshots filled the air as she reloaded with shaking hands, not daring to look up until she was able to fire another shot. It grew silent by the time she aimed for the man sin her line of vision. She was startled to see that he was aiming at her, too. Her heart raced as she fired clumsily at him.
He stepped toward her as she reloaded.
“Jeremy! Gabriel!” she cried.
The image of both of them lying dead in the field drove a chill over her as she tried to load the next bullet into her gun. Her hands wouldn’t cooperate. Her opponent was so close that his shot deafened her.
Her own blood splattered on her face and drenched the fabric of her dress. Intense, unbearable pain burned into her shoulder and neck and then it suddenly went numb. She closed the rifle’s breech and tried to aim at the young man standing mere feet away, but as she moved her shattered shoulder, intense pain shot down her side.
She screamed, losing her grip on the rifle. It hurt so much she couldn’t think straight. Panting, she lay there watching him approach her.
“Stupid little girl,” mocked Deacon Sampson’s son, Daniel.
Daniel was a couple of years older than she was. He used to tease her and the other girls at school by throwing earth worms at them. She never thought that he would be the last person she would see before she died. Her murderer.
“I just wanted to save the town from their twisted cult,” she moaned.
“I’ll bet you did.”
He stood over her, shaking his head.
“Life’s a funny thing, isn’t it?” he sneered.
She met his unwavering gaze.
“I hope you go to hell.”
Daniel stared coldly down the barrel of his gun at her.
She closed her eyes, bracing herself, partly wishing that the river had been the one to take her.
“This will be quick, pretty lady,” he mocked. “Ya won’t feel a thang.”
“Then do it!” she screamed.
Another deafening boom hurt her eardrums, but she was still breathing. Flinching in pain, she opened her eyes. Daniel lay dead next to her. His lifeless eyes stared up at the clearing skies.
She backed away, shuddering and groaning as her shoulder protested the movements. Then her eyes moved from Daniel’s body to the person who killed him. She stared up at the figure and wondered if she was dreaming. Sunlight streamed through the thinning clouds and made the gunwoman look like an angel.
“Hi, Sally,” said the blonde woman in trousers.
“Mary… what are you doing here?”
Stars flecked Sally’s vision as she bled out. She cast a glance in the direction that she last saw Jeremy and Gabriel go. She tried to stand, but every movement was agony.
“Here. I’ll help you back to the farm,” said Mary gently.
“I am so sorry, Mary.”
“Hush. No need to speak of that now.”
“Where is Jeremy?” moaned Sally.
Mary helped her stand and she leaned against her, wincing and whimpering with every step back to the house.
“Tell me where he is,” she begged in exhaustion.
“He was shot. He’s at the house.”
Gabriel must have carried Jeremy home. She had been left for dead against the last standing devil. Sally wept as she fought through pain and wavering consciousness to move faster. To get back to Jeremy.
They reached the property and Sally’s weakening limbs flailed around. She forced her eyes to stay open. She longed to collapse right there. She couldn’t walk anymore as the world spun around her. Unable to steady her, Mary let her fall.
“Sally, you have to get up,” pleaded Mary.
“Thank you for saving me…”
Everything stopped spinning when she finally closed her eyes and yielded to the darkness.