I dug out the hot ground. She started to squirm, so I dug faster. I kicked against the ground and cried out against the hot, the bleak outlook across the wide plains that suffocate me.

I felt for her, the way she struggled against her bindings and cried softly. It was supposed to be only fat men with fat purses. First I tipped her father into his grave. Then she followed, but she still wiggled. So, when I pushed her in I told her that things were sweeter when she closed her eyes. Then, when the dirt settled on her, I could close my eyes too. I waited with her. I laid down next to her burial mound and placed my hand over her heart. I could tell it was her heart. When I held my breath, I felt the ground pulse. It stopped, and then I watched a slow ladybug make its way across the mound.

Ma stood in the doorway and began to knock her cane on the frame. I lifted my head and let the dirt slide down my neck and into my open blouse. I liked the way it felt on my skin. She spat and said something foul. The people in town said she knew German, but she didn’t. I went inside and counted out the change from the girl’s father’s pocket. I had to hope that Pa would be happy, because this man was smaller than most. When I cleaned the blood off the table I felt strong and full of everything in this place. Women could take the blood and the stains up, because the men just liked to roll around in them.

When Pa and Johnny came home Ma set the table. We ate in silence and then Pa said something loud and angry and Ma said it back to him, and soon there was a lot of screaming and crying and he pulled her back into their room. And we heard the loud thuds and the slapping until it all just stopped, and then Johnny looked at me and he laughed. I didn’t like the way he would laugh at the little things, because the little things are always the things that matter in the end.

So, then I could sleep again but I heard her heart still beating under the dirt and felt his hands, the great, big father’s hands, holding onto her in the dark, because she was scared of the dark, that’s what she said. She sat on the foot of my bed, and it was all white and hot in my room. I cried out and then Johnny came into my room. I said she’s here, she’s right there, but he didn’t see anything and he just held me. He became large and took everything from me. In the morning, I put my face on and walked to Sunday school. I can put on my lady’s voice as well as any actress can. When the money is short, I can tell people what the dead say. Of course, the people that come to me don’t actually want the truth. This land is built on lies and the prospect of more lies. We flocked out west like horrible birds with everyone else to try and find the gold and land and freedom. Instead, we had found a place made of silver sand, and it sprinkled down into our clothes and we could never get that final grain out. The final grain exploded into smaller and smaller pieces.

We are on the Great Osage Trail, and it’s dust and nettles and fools as far as I can see. The other settlers come into the small store in the front of the house and pretend to want to buy something, but really, they want to talk to me. It’s mostly the wives that want to hear the dead talk back, and they seem to shift and shudder in the dusty store because they have to pretend they don’t want to be there. The wives always seem unhappy at the end of it all. The husbands like it more, because I tell them nice things about death and maybe even kiss them, but really, I want to bite their lips when they lean in close and watch the blood drip slowly their face until they can’t stand anymore.

The lonely traveler will come to our door and he sits down to a meal. Their back is to the cloth that separates the dining room from the front room and they pretend they can’t see the dark stains and the bits of hair that are stuck. I sit and mesmerize them. And from behind it’s either Ma or Pa or Johnny, and there’s a great and heavy blow to the head. When the red seeps from their hairline they fall forward and Ma or Pa or Johnny are standing there holding the candlesticks that bashed those men in good.

Sometimes they still move so I rush over and with my knife I end it quick. I could end it quicker than any of them if they let me take care of everything, but they don’t like it when I do something better than them. But they don’t know that I’m always better.

The floor drops out and the body falls and then we get the money and the horses and the clothes that get left behind. Ma tells me to dig more holes in the yard. But when they go in those holes they don’t stay still and so one night I went in the hole with one of the men and it stopped all the voices and the visions that are too real. I laid out in the ground and watched the night sky sing past me, and the rats and the worms stopped their journeys and stayed with me.

“That one was a doctor, someone important” Pa said one night. “People will come looking.”

Every night those poor men were out in the orchard, sitting and waiting, waiting for the pain to finally stop and for that end, that true end that didn’t come so easily. Because the truth is, the truth of it is, is that everything is pain in this place, and nothing stops the pain.

We left in a hurry that night we killed the doctor and didn’t look back. People were circling around us, like rabid dogs, so Pa and Ma and Johnny they packed everything up and put me in a wagon and we ran.

I left on the third night and kept walking towards that flat line at the edge of the land that keeps going and going until your legs give out and then you start crawling because you know you have to reach that line before anyone else does. Out west we are all racing towards something and I have to get there first. I stumbled into some small-town miles, from anything I had ever known and I took the first room they offered me, because I knew nothing mattered anymore. It was all dust and dirt forever until someone could crack my own head and end it all. I slept for many hours and maybe even years, I don’t remember. When I woke up no one said talked about the Benders, the Bloody Benders. I was the last Bender, and the only one that mattered. I’m not crazy, never was, never will be, never could be, but I do see and know what the people don’t want to talk about. Those that are fat on life and lice are not truly living, and can’t wait to be dead like everyone else in this sorry place. I could stay in this bed for hours and no one would know what happened to me.

When I packed my small bag, I made sure to put the small Bible from the nightstand in, then out, then in, and then out again, so God would know that I had accepted him and then forsaken him in equal measure. There weren’t gods or God anymore but only Katydid.

There was a wagon going further west, but that wasn’t the direction that I needed, wasn’t the direction I wanted, so I turned my back on them in the wagon and put each foot in front of the other towards the eastern unknowns. It was a wild country of sage and sand and that suited me for the time, because maybe I could walk into the heart of the country and find peace. The heart, the red, hot, hard heart, and I could hear my heart under my cheeks and in my lungs. In the borders between the west and east of these United States I made my mark. And I started to dig again, this time with more purpose and fury than ever before, because it was the land, it was always the land, that kept me crawling forward towards an inevitable end where they would welcome me with the most open arms. They were waiting, I could see them, so clearly, with battered brains and arms that called for me, and I knew I was always meant to be with them in the end. Dried blood and bloodied money, and bloody dirt and bloody floors with small pieces of brain were behind me. I wouldn’t have the mourners that I had always wanted. No one remembers the first, because we kill all those that could possibly tell the tale. People will say I never existed. They will never find my body, and I was the first killer of the west. We were the first bloody ones that sopped up money and blood in equal fits of defiance and hope; we were bloody, bloodied, broken, and unborn, and we were the Benders, baked under the hot western sun.


author bio:

A. Wells lives and works in California. She hopes to one day write the great western horror novel. As a child she was terrified of horror, until a chance encounter with The Bride of Frankenstein and an obsession with the band Bauhaus opened her eyes to the creativity and gripping excitement of the horror genre. She has two ill-behaved Siamese cats and a rambunctious labradoodle.