The Regulator (a short short-story)
Wheezing fitfully, he struggled to claim just one good breath from the oxygen tubes that curled and entwined themselves about his wheelchair like the kudzu that slowly devoured the family’s land.
Travis stared at the old weathered barn, its boards grayish-black and half rotted with time, carefully listening as his father labored over his words. “You know how we take care of such things. We tried talkin’ to him. Didn’t do no good.” He drew a slow rattle of a breath and continued, “In the barn, near the door, in a’ ole barrel…my shotgun.” He looked at his son with a tinge of regret in his watery eyes. “Justice is in your hands now, boy…mine shake too much.”
Travis drove the winding country roads, over rusted bridges, through canyons of tall green trees, where the hill folk lived much as they had for centuries past, deep in the country where even the deputies feared to tread unless invited. Things there were still handled in the old way. When a man had done wrong and couldn’t be reasoned with, folks handled it as they had for generations. Usually, one man would be appointed to carry out justice, and he was known simply, as “the Regulator”.
Sometimes however, it became much more personal than just stolen cattle or ruined fences, and that was what had Travis driving the back-roads with an old shotgun in the seat next to him. His brother-in-law had taken to the ‘shine, which was no crime, but he had also taken to beating Travis’ sister, and that might be enough in itself to incur a brother’s wrath, but when he bullied her into selling her part of the family acres, well, that’s when things got complicated. The arguing had gone on for weeks, but tonight it would end once and for all.
It was a long ride up to the ridge, along rolling pastures where cows stood grazing with heads bowed. On past abandoned churches and graveyards filled with the old people with their silent tales to tell, yet no one spoke as Travis passed; the blackened headstones adrift in a lonely sea of fallen leaves.
There was plenty of time to think about the deed, and he wondered what it was like to pull a trigger and watch a man fall to the ground, knowing he will never get up, as all his tomorrows bleed into the dirt. Travis wondered if he would feel much pain, and then dismissed the thought, because in truth he just didn’t care. They had been friends once, but that was long ago. Besides, family outweighs friendship, at least it always should, and when men make choices, they pay for them, and today he had the duty to collect.
Though he felt calm, he knew taking a man’s life was no small matter, whether for justice, or in war, or for love, it took a lot of courage on the part of the executioner. All sorts of consequences were flying across his mind; the strongest was whether or not God would forgive him for this obligation? But Travis knew he would be forgiven, for the Regulator was the strong and vengeful arm of the Almighty himself, commissioned to dispense justice and restore right order.
This was the old way, the right way, and he as so many before him, would do his duty to family and community. The gun felt good under his right hand, the metal cold, the wooden stock warm; it seemed like a living creature, its nostrils ready to breathe smoke and fire upon the wicked.
Since the time of the kings, even before, back to the days when men rode free across virgin lands, those given the responsibility held a sacred trust, an oath. Justice chose him to be the Regulator this night, and as the sun settled down behind the western tree-line a calming darkness descended over the land and over Travis. His truck seemed to glide over the rough roads, as he thought of his sister, and his family, and how he was now their protector.
He turned up the gravel drive, tires crunching through rock and sand, up the low hill where the mobile home sat among strewn auto parts, with a crude porch that added roughly to its facade.
Adrenalin had taken over now, Travis didn’t seem aware that he had gotten out of the truck, the shotgun cradled in his arms, his boots treading the soft earth of the pasture that made up the front yard.
His brother-in-law stepped out in an old stained t-shirt, and carrying a near empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. Travis’ ears were buzzing. He could barely hear the curse words coming from his brother-in-law’s lips as he raised the gun. A second later the whiskey bottle whizzed by his head, but he made no mind of it, he simply leveled the gun at the drunken, belligerent fool before him. Taking a deep breath his finger caressed the trigger, applying minute pressure, slowly, deliberately, the center of his brother-in-law's chest came into focus just beyond the end of the barrels...
…and then a pain seared into him like fire from hell, and blood misted from an opening in his shoulder, as the gun suddenly became like granite and fell to the ground. Another piercing, red-hot bolt struck his chest and he slumped to his knees. His vision became blurred, but through the water he could see his brother-in-law still standing on the porch, and then, off at the corner of the home, his sister holding a smoking pistol, her bruised face streaked with tears from blacken eyes.
As the cold earth rushed up to meet him, he
felt no anger, no sadness, no fear. It all came
sharply into focus, and he understood, that Love
has its own brand of justice, that makes no sense to
the rest of the world, and it chooses its own