“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.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.