Soon Enough We Started Killin’
I’m guessin’ you’d like to know my name, but, truth be told, I’m not much for truth, so I reckon I’ll lock my name down deep where it can sleep as sweet and sound as a babe rockin’ in the love of its mama’s arms, but you can call me Silas. That’s what I been callin’ myself for a time now – Silas Thatch. It’s gotta sound to it I like. Besides, a thatch covers my home from sun and stars just like I’m coverin’ my name from your mind and eyes. Aint that funny.
I’m old now. My beard is thicker than a bucket full of sand and grayer than a corpse so memories been squeakin’ away from me like a herd or scared mice, but I ain’t forgot nothing about Jesse James, best and worst man I ever known. And like ya asked, if you keep my throat full of whiskey, I’ll tell ya all about that heathen, son-of-a-bitch, man killin’, ghost maker. So, buy me a bottle. Better yet, buy me two, but remember, truth and me aint always hitched to the same horse.
I first seen Jesse back in Clay County. We was both ‘bout 10. It was a hot day, dry as bone. Dust drifted all over, sheets of it, draping horse and man like a powder. Made the world wanna cough and I think it must’ve done just that a time or two. But even through that dust I seen’em – eyes as blue as heaven, Jesse’s eyes.
His ma was tuggin’ him across the steet, yankin’ him by the hand and he just stumbled along after her not wantin’ any part of where they was goin’. Ma James, cause that’s what I learned to call her, stopped to chaw with another lady. Jesse, one hand locked in his ma’s hand, stood there still as stone, his eyes burnin’ like blue fire. I almost ran and hid when them eyes caught mine. They bore down on me, heavy as heat, but I kept lookin’ back. Not cause I was a brave one, but cause I couldn’t move until they let me go.
Once Ma James pulled on Jesse’s arm again, those eyes turned away a let me free. Funny thing, sure as a chirpy bird in a iron mine, I felt like I was in a place I didn’t belong and, like some sissy, I started to cry. Tears dried, but Jesse’s eyes scarred me enough to want to feel their teeth again.
Ya see, Jesse was a sweet poison, his eyes and all he was: his laugh, his scowl, his bite, and his hate. He smeared it on ya like sugar You took to lickin’ it off as if it was life itself and then all ya wanted was more.
Next time I seen Jesse, he was just by himself tossin’ stones at anything that he saw movin’. I watched him for a time from behind a horse that was suckin’ up water from a trough in front of the Bottle of Blood—yup, the very whiskey bucket we’re sittin’ in now. Anyway’s Jesse was tossin’ them stones at whatever he saw fit to ding. Nailed a cat square ‘tween the eyes. It walked a step or two then toppled over, dead as the stone that killed it. Then Jesse took to aimin’ at the hind quarters of the ladies passin’ here and there, each one of them yelpin’ loud as a banshee that got her ass pinched. Made me laugh. Guess I got to laughin’ pretty hard cause without a blink, Jesse done turned toward me and flung a stone that knocked my hat clean off my head. I swear, he done it thrity paces from me if a pace at all. Then he started pacin’ toward me and I almost shit myself.
Jesse slid over toward me, smooth as a snake. He came close, locked his eyes, blue as heaven, on me tighter than two rattler fangs in a sliver of soft flesh. Not mean like, almost kind, but I knew not to jabber until Jesse said I could. Days passed, or they seemed to, but Jesse spoke his first words to me.
Guess you think I’m kinda funny.
No sir, I said. Yup, he was no older than me, but I called him sir. No sir, I said. But those squealin’ ladies were funny. Couldn’t help, but snicker a bit.
Jesse looked deeper into me, kinda hookin’ them fangs, or his eyes I mean, into the pit of me, and spit his venom and I was his. Like a stripe on a cat, I was his. I admit I was worried a bit cause I just seen what Jesse thought about cats. Then he smiled, looked down at his feet and kicked a small stone toward me.
Pick it up. Let’s see what you can hit.