He found you on the side of the road, covered in your husband’s blood, dying of exposure in the plains sun. He was gentle, but dark, cold, and terrifying. He saved your life, tended your wounds, took you to Father O’Connor’s church in Abilene. Alistair Dent, the county sheriff.
Patrick O’Connor was a good enough sort, for a Catholic. He let you stay at the church, helped you find work ministering to the ill, the injured, and the pregnant. Most of the townsfolk you met accepted you, but a few accused you of being too good, and rumors began to circulate.
As summer turned to fall, things in Abilene started getting worse – the nights were darker, the bumps louder, and more people went missing or worse. But it was also when you met Ronald.
Ronald Patton, a widower, ran a small farm ten miles into the nowhere from Abilene with his son. His nephew William and his family are staying with them with plans to head out West that were becoming increasingly unlikely as the months wore on. You met him the night he lost his foot in a thresher, screaming and slowly bleeding to death. Patrick was giving him last rights, but you prayed for something different. The bleeding stopped, the stump healing-over before your eyes.
“Well, Father…I didn’t realize you’d brought an angel with you…” he said, grinning, before passing out.
None of the witnesses ever really spoke of that night, but Ronald came to town as many Sundays as he could, and regularly came up with a broad variety of ailments to entice you out to the farm, where you were always welcomed warmly by the Patton clan, offered more than you could possibly eat, and a warm bed in a guest room that was far more comfortable than your pallet at the rectory. An impartial observer might say he was courting you, but he knew of your recent loss and was never anything but a perfect gentleman. Still, you often thought, he’s a good man, maybe in time….
It was one such occasion on a snowy morning in late November, 1878, that you found yourself drinking strong, gritty coffee at the Patton’s dinner table with Ronald, William, and Emily, William’s wife. Breakfast had come and gone while you slept, and the children cast out into the cold to perform what chores were required of a farm in winter. Emily was scrubbing out a pot at the stove and you were busying yourself darning a pair of stockings. Ronald and William were tinkering with a large, complicated, rusty metal implement at the other end of the table.
“I think,” said Emily hesitantly, not turning from her work, “that the McAllen boy might be paying a visit.” William grunted. “I reckon he may be asking your permission to marry Rachel.”
With a grumbled “Dammit!”, William dropped the metal whatsit on the table and stalked off to the far side of the room to glare out the window.
“Well hell, Billy, she’s seventeen, what did you expect?” said Ronald. “And what’s so damned good about the West anyways? Whole damn place is run by the warlords anyway. Ghost Rock ain’t no way to make a living, not with a family. And this farm can support three or four families easy – you know you’re welcome to settle right here – especially now that I can’t work worth a damn it sure would settle my soul some.”
William stood silently at the window.
“There’re riders silhouetted up in the hills,” he said quietly, an edge to his voice you’ve never heard.
“What the-?” Ronald got up to join him at the window, you and Emily rushed over as well.
“Bill,” Emily whispered, “Junior’s out there mending a fence…”
“I know. I think we need to-” and then there was an explosion. Easily the loudest sound you’d ever heard, it cracked the window and rattled the entire house. When you opened your eyes you saw a massive plume of dust and fire rise up from a spot out in the fields toward the eastern edge of the property. William snatched up Ronald’s rifle from over the door and bolted out into the snow, yelling his son’s name. You grab your shawl off its peg and give chase….