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We have said our farewells to them now.

To all of those who are living. And to those who are gone.

I set down my hat in the dirt by the graveside. Its brim is battered and torn now, much like my home. But both can be mended with patience and time. And we, as farmers, are patient. And thanks to our friends, we have been granted that time.

But the cost to us all has been great, for we have paid it in blood.

There are four markers here for our friends, nuestros compañeros de armas, to whom we all owe our lives. And although they arrived here as hired pistoleros, each man left his mark on our hearts and they departed as friends.

They will not be forgotten.

I drop down on one knee once again, make the sign of the cross and bow my head in remembrance. Send a prayer to Our Lady and ask that these men be accorded the peace they could not find in life.

I take up the wilted wild flowers put in place by the children and bring them close to my cheek. Most of the colors have faded away leaving pale, washed-out echoes of red, white and green. And while much of their scent has been spread far and wide by the sun and the breeze there is a trace that still lingers.

Enough to draw me back to that evening.

More than enough to call a ghost back to life.

Ah, Señor Lee...

In my mind I can see you so clearly, in the grip of that nightmare, half-crazed with fear. And the tang of that fear was so sharp and the odor so strong that I can still taste it on the back of my tongue.

I remember your dark, haunted eyes.

And those flies.

Oh, I remember those flies.

There had been three of them crawling around on the top of the table. And you had swooped on them, snatching them up with a breathtaking speed that left us no time to blink.

But there had only been one when you uncurled your fingers and you had watched on in silence as it went on its way. You had lowered your head in defeat then, eyes fixed on the table.

And the twist to your mouth it was bitter.

It was not a smile.

“One,” you'd said then, in that soft voice of yours. “There was a time when I would've caught all three.” And while those moments of panic had passed and your breathing had slowed, your hand it still trembled.

And your eyes.

That mocking look in your eyes.

What you said of yourself was not true and we refused to believe it. Not one single word. You did not wear the face of some no-good deserter, but the face of a man, of a creature in pain. You had the look of a man half alive in a world without hope.

But you were wrong Señor Lee.

For when it mattered the most you burst into that house like a wild raging storm. And you struck those men down just like lightning.

I counted three gunshots in less than three seconds.

Three hombres malvados.

Three killers.

All down.

You saved us, my friend, but you did far more than that. Because from the new glint of steel that I saw in your eyes, you had saved yourself too.

Those men were much worse than flies, Señor Lee.

And you got them.

All three.

 

END