I have spent years chasing the tail of my Darkness. A path of brokenness tracing across the West leads to this crowded saloon. In the swirls of tobacco smoke, I can’t see a future any different from my past.
The Darkness spans generations. Pa says Papa uprooted him from Minnesota to San Francisco in October of 1848. He’d been only five at the time but old enough to pick rock, sift silt, and look for anything shiny. Papa heard stories and had been convinced gold would change his life.
Pa don’t talk about it much, only once. Memories loosened by a poker loss followed by copious amounts of Jim Beam, he revealed that Papa had found several ounces of gold, but before he could cash in, nearby prospectors took it. Papa died from the dagger wounds before sunrise.
It seems Pa never felt the sun again. The same vein ran through him, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he decided to chase silver in 1879. Ma died when I was seven, so leaving wasn’t hard. We stabled our horses and I followed him into the saloon. Tombstone. My gut told me peace could not be found in a town named for markers of death.
While Pa inspects his cards, I see the two other men cast glances. The one on his right touches the brim of his hat and the man to Pa’s left gives a slight nod.
“Pa,” I whisper and touch his arm.
“Not now, boy!”
His sharp tone stings, but I remind myself it’s Beam talking, not Pa.
I fidget in my chair behind Pa, my hat brim bending between my fingers. At thirteen, I’d seen enough hands to know he had nothing but a bluff. I’d nursed enough black eyes and broken ribs to know that a bluff never won.
“All in,” Pa pushes his coins to the center of the table.
The two men toss their cards down and Pa reaches out to pull his haul in. Before I could scream, the man on his right hooks his elbow around Pa’s neck and the other plunges a knife into his side. No one pays the scuffle any attention. The knife blade comes out, dripping blood. I watch in horror as it enters Pa’s neck.
I run. I push through the saloon doors onto the crowded street. I don’t stop until I get to the stable and untie my horse.
I know the dangers of riding at night, but the way I see it, chasing dawn is my only chance to escape the Darkness waiting to engulf me.
So I ride.
This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 438), (1) using “I have spent years chasing the tail of my darkness.” as the first sentence, and (2) make some reference to the art prompt, The Card Players, one of a series of paintings by Paul Cézanne.
The challenge is open to anyone, so if you’re inspired, click the badge below to check out the challenge details! On Tuesday, the challenge opens up to post links to our stories.