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10 measly dollars

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It was a lovely summer’s afternoon as Eliza sat on the front porch of her little home, watching her son play with his new wooden toy horse. His dad had brought the horse on this latest visit, and little Isaac couldn’t be more pleased with it. He’d tried to name it after his Dad’s horse, Boadicea, but after many failed attempts to pronounce it, had settled on Boady. Eliza smiled, listening to Isaac describe him and Boady’s latest adventures, leaping across ravines (small stones) and crossing deep rivers (a small tub of water Isaac had insisted she put out so that Boady could have a drink).

There was a clatter from the shack behind her, followed by some muffled swearing.

“You alright in there Arthur?”

The tall, broad man emerged from the small, one-room building. He was a handsome man, the afternoon sunlight making his dirty blonde hair seem lighter than normal.

“Yeh, fine thanks Eliza. You know I just struggle to move around in there, everythin’s too close together” he grumbled, making Eliza chuckle.

“You got everything you need?” she asked, standing up and leaning against one of the porch supports, still keeping an eye on her – their – son.

“Yeh, think so. Don’t really want to leave though.” Arthur moved to stand next to Eliza, hands resting on his belt, watching Isaac as him and Boady made another daring leap into a raging torrent, according to the commentary.

“I know, Arthur, I know. But you’ve been here 5 days already, I’m surprised they haven’t sent a search party out for you.”  

Arthur sighed before placing his new hat on his head and turning to look at Eliza. She’d given that hat to him on this latest visit; it wasn’t expensive, and she’d mostly bartered for it using some eggs and vegetables from her garden, but she was glad she had. It suited him, and she suspected it was the only gift Arthur had received in years.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t bring more money Eliza.” Arthur looked ashamed, like he’d done something terrible. Eliza placed a hand on his arm and gave him a reassuring pat.

“It’s okay Arthur, it really is. You brought enough food to last us for at least 3 months, and I don’t think Isaac is ever going to put that toy horse down.” Eliza smiled, gazing up into Arthur’s soft blue-green eyes. “You know you don’t have to bring anything anyway, just make sure you don’t leave it too long between visits; Isaac gets anxious when he doesn’t see you.”

“You can say I don’t need to bring anythin’ all you want Eliza, I still will” Arthur chuckled, before growing more serious again. “I know I ain’t much, and you deserve better than what you got, but I will do right by you and the boy.”

“Mr Morgan, you always talk as if I wasn’t a willing participant in our little tryst.” Eliza said as she playfully tapped his arm. “We both knew the risks, and every time I look at that little boy I know I wouldn’t change a thing.” Her and Arthur hugged; on each fleeting visit they got to pretend that they were a normal, little happy family, but the visits were always over too soon, too far apart.

“You two be safe, okay?” Arthur said as he pulled away.

“Stop worrying Arthur, we’ll be fine. Mr Marshall from next door always makes sure to stop in to check on us on his way back from town, and his wife loves to babysit Isaac when I need to go and get something. Now hurry up or you’ll be riding through the night.” Arthur smiled before heading down the steps, stopping to say goodbye to Isaac. Isaac always got a bit upset when Arthur left; as Arthur got on his horse and rode off, Isaac ran over to cling to his mother’s skirts.

“It’s okay sweetheart, you know he’ll come back soon. Come on, let’s get you some dinner sorted.”

-----

Eliza had just put Isaac to bed when she heard voices outside and the sound of horses. This didn’t alarm her too much, her house was quite close to the road, but it was unusual for people to be passing at night. She moved to the door, reaching for the deadbolt Arthur had installed. Before she could get there, the door was kicked open, sending her flying backwards, knocking her head hard against the kitchen table.

Eliza tried to get to her feet as the two men barged into her house, but the blow to the head had left her dizzy, feeling like she was going to be sick. She tried to concentrate, to stop the room from spinning; as she did, she could just make out one of the men reaching for a shocked Isaac. Eliza tried to scream but a hand suddenly clamped over her mouth.

“Woman, don’t you dare. You just tell us where the money is, nice and quiet, and we’ll leave you two alone. Make a noise and we’ll give your son something to really cry about.” Eliza’s eyes grew wide as she saw the other man roughly pull Isaac out of bed and hold a knife to his throat. She gulped and nodded slightly before the man removed his hand from her mouth.

“It’s just there, under the sink. Please, please don’t hurt my boy” she begged. The man pulled open the cupboard doors, knocking over the carefully stacked supplies of food, pulling out the little box where Eliza kept her money.

“10 dollars? That it? You’re lying to us missy!” The man rounded on Eliza, smacking her across the face, causing Isaac to start crying. “We know you’re Arthur Morgan’s little whore, him and the other Van der Lindes stole a score from us recently, we know he comes here to hide the cash. Now tell us where it is you bitch!” Another blow to Eliza’s face accompanied this last sentence.

“That’s everything I have, I swear! Arthur only brings a few dollars for us, enough to look after the boy, we’re nothing to do with the gang, I promise!” Eliza was panicking, she had nothing else to give these men, no jewellery, nothing.

Suddenly, the man holding Isaac screamed; Issac had bitten him. He released the boy, and Isaac ran as fast as he could across the room and out the front door. His captor chased him, and Eliza scrabbled to her feet after them; she didn’t make it out the door before she was grabbed from behind by the other man.

“You little brat!” Eliza froze, stopped struggling, as a shot rang out. Time seemed to slow as she saw the crumpled body of her little boy fall face forwards into the dirt and stay there, perfectly still. The scream that emanated from her was raw, animalistic; the pain spreading through her chest made her feel like it was her that had got shot. She struggled again, harder, fighting back viciously, as the man holding her tried to silence her again with his hand over her mouth.

“Oh will you just shut the bitch up! We’ll have to move quick anyway, someone was bound to have heard that. Won’t take long to tear this place apart, if she’d got something hidden we’ll find it, with or without her.”

Eliza finally broke free and launched herself towards the body of her son. She only made it a metre or two before another shot rang out, sending her sprawling. She felt a sharp pain in her chest which quickly spread; she was so close to Isaac, she could almost touch him. Everything had gone quiet; the edges of her vision were slowly fading to black as she dragged herself towards her dead child. She reached out, managing to touch his little fingers, before her head hit the ground and darkness enveloped her.

----

Eliza woke to the sounds of knocking at her front door. Bright sunshine was flooding the cabin, like it did every morning; Eliza couldn’t remember the last time it didn’t. She wasn’t too sure how long she’d been here, but she didn’t mind; it was quiet, and peaceful, and Isaac and her always had a perfect day.

When she opened the door, a familiar face greeted her. The woman had a slightly golden glow to her, just like everything did here; she was the one that had first greeted Eliza when she arrived, whenever that was.

“Eliza, my dear, we have a visitor for you. We’ve known he’d be coming for a while, but we weren’t sure when; but, he’s arrived now, and I think he would like to see both of you.” The woman moved to the side as a man stepped into view. He was tall, broad, with a familiar looking, albeit very worn, hat clutched in his hands. As Eliza looked at his face, she smiled.

“Do you think you can stay for longer this time?” she asked. The man stepped forward, placing a hand on her cheek.

“Yeh darlin’, I think I can.”