WHISKEY AND DEMONS
“There’s two men outside,” she said. “Seems they’re lookin to do you harm.”
Bonny Ellis leaned back in her chair and loaded two shells into the shotgun resting on her lap. The wind glittered as it danced between the freshly fallen snowdrifts, spreading the crisp bite of winter to the front porch where she waited, alone. She wrapped herself in a thick woolen blanket and gazed out into the barren fields beyond.
Stubborn blades of grass poked through the blank white snow like text on the page of a newspaper. Bonny clenched the weapon tight, and took a deep breath. She felt the cool air settle in her lungs and chill her from the inside out. Thin wisps of fog escaped her lips as she exhaled, and she spotted the distant silhouettes of two men on horseback emerging from the tree line. As they began galloping toward the ranch, Bonny rose to her feet and rested the shotgun across her forearm.
“Well hello there little lady,” shouted one of the men as they approached. When he reached the edge of the porch, he removed a black bowler cap from his head and pressed it against his chest. “My name is Wilfred E. Miles.” He nodded his bald head toward the man beside him. “My associate here is called Duncan Sharp. We’ve important business with your father.”
“Then you’ve business elsewhere,” said Bonny. “Daniel Ellis ain’t been ‘round here in more’n a year, and we ain’t expectin him back any time soon.”
The man’s partner grunted and began to climb down from his saddle. Bonny leveled the shotgun on his chest, and he froze.
“Advisin you stay atop your horse mister,” she warned. “Like I said, if you’ve business with Daniel Ellis you’ll be conducting it someplace else.”
The man said nothing, but spat into the snow.
Wilfred raised his hand, and motioned Bonny to lower the gun. “We aren’t looking to trouble you, Miss, but your father owes a great deal to my employer. I don’t expect this will be our last visit unless the matter is settled.”
Bonny turned the gun on Wilfred. “My father’s debts are his own,” she said.
“Very true,” said Wilfred, raising his arms and grinning. “But then so is this ranch. And seeing as its Mr. Ellis’ only property — aside from his life, of course — we’ll likely be coming for one if we can’t have the other.”
Bonny’s finger hovered over the trigger. She braced her shoulder for the kick.
“That being said,” continued Wilfred, returning his hat to his head. “If Mr. Ellis isn’t home, then we’ll be on our way. However, you could save us another trip out here — and spare yourself a great deal of trouble — if you were to simply disclose to us his general whereabouts.”
Bonny eyed the man curiously. “So I point you to which rock he’s hidin’ under, and his debt is paid? You won’t be comin back?”
“My employer will consider the matter settled when we’ve successfully located Mr. Ellis,” said Wilfred.
Bonny weighed her options for a moment before loosening her grip on the shotgun and turning to step inside. “Give me a minute to fetch somethin,” she said.
She walked to the kitchen and opened the pantry door to find her father kneeling among a dozen empty whisky bottles, still drunk from the night before. He looked up at her, confused.
“Well?” he whispered. He reeked of stale sweat and urine. “What’s goin on?”
“There’s two men outside,” said Bonny. “Seems they’re lookin to do you harm.”
“What’d you tell ‘em?”
“When I was a little girl,” said Bonny, ignoring the question. “Back when momma was still alive, I once asked her why it was that you sought the bottle like you do. I remember it plain as day. Do you know what she told me? She said you had demons inside you — from the war, and all those things you’d done — and you drank to make ‘em go away.”
“Bonny, what did you tell ‘em?”
“A couple years later, I sat outside on that porch and listened as you beat her to death — heard her screamin and beggin you to stop — and I realized she was wrong. Sure, you’ve got your demons, but the whisky doesn’t get rid of ‘em. It gets rid of you, and leaves the demons to do their work.”
“God damnit Bonny, would you quit talkin nonsense? What did you tell those bastards?”
“But I think now, there’s a lesson in all that. See, there’s no sense in trying to get rid of demons — no matter how much you fight ‘em, they’ll just keep coming back. Maybe sometimes, you’ve just gotta let ‘em do their work.”
Bonny slammed shut the pantry door, and stepped back out onto the porch. She let the cool winter air wash over her, and felt clean.
“Well,” said Wilfred. “Do you know where we can find your father?”
“Inside,” said Bonny.