It was a hot late morning, a dry heat, as the Padre walked out of the old adobe church doors. As he glanced around the thriving Spanish village, children were playing, the smells of food cooking permeated the air, a dog was barking in the distance, birds were soaring overhead, and in the distant a small cloud of dust was coming down the north road.
In a few minutes a stranger dressed in black but dust-covered rode into the square. The Padre noticed the silver-pearled handles of two six-shooters on the stranger’s sides.
Halting at the hitching post of the cantina, the stranger dismounted his roan horse and tied the reins to the post. For a long moment he looked at the swing doors of the cantina, but abruptly turned and walked toward the old church.
As the stranger approached the Padre, he nodded and proceeded to the doors. At the doors he paused and unfastened his gun belt and hung it on one of the pegs with his hat over it. He walked into the simple sanctuary.
The Padre followed. He saw the stranger go to the front and light a solitary candle. He knelt on his left knee and uttered a few soft words.
Getting up, he turned and walked toward the Padre. He paused and nodded again. He walked past the Padre and paused at the poor box where he deposited several silver dollars and exited.
For a moment the Padre was puzzled because the stranger seemed familiar, yet he did not know the unshaved face. Going out the doors once again, he saw the stranger standing in front of the cantina as if he was pondering his course of action. He glanced at his horse and back to the swinging doors for several long moments.
He entered the doors. The Padre stood there contemplating the recent events when he noticed a large dust cloud coming from the North.
Soon three dusty riders rode into the village. They stopped in the square and looked around. They glared at the Padre. Then their gaze turned toward the stranger’s horse outside the cantina.
They rode up to the hitching post and tied their horses. They checked their guns and slowly walked into the cantina.
There were a few moments of silence before the thunder of gunfire erupted. The gunsmoke floated out to the street as the Padre started toward the doors.
Before he reached the doors, the stranger emerged. He nodded to the Padre and mounted his horse. He rode the road south.
Later that day the Padre officiated as the three men were buried in the village cemetery. Three unfortunate souls launched into eternity by a mysterious stranger, a dusty rider whose first act was to visit the old church and light a candle. His last act was to kill three men who definitely meant him harm.
As the sun was setting, the Padre looked at the North Road. No dust clouds. The South Road was just as serene.
This had been an unusual day for his village. Violence was rare, and death only came to the old or the foolish.
Strange day, he thought. Going into the church he opened the poor box to retrieve the deposit. In addition to ten silver dollars that the stranger had left, there was a beautifully hand written note addressed to him by his given name. The note simply said,
“Please forgive my intrusion into your parish this morning. I decided to stop running and face my three demons. If I die before the day is over, give our mother my love. Give me a proper burial. Your younger brother.”
It had been twenty years since the Padre had seen his youngest brother. Now, for a moment he realized that the dusty rider was just a shadow moving from place to place seeking solace in whatever shade there was.
Moving to the front, he lit a candle and knelt. He would pray for his brother, a wandering soul on the mesa of life.
G. D. Williams © 2013