Loscia sat restlessly in her chair, rocking excitedly from side to side as she waited for her father to get home for her twelfth birthday. Even though being the town sheriff kept him busy, he’d promised to always be home for important days like this – and he hadn’t broken a promise since he was six. Though, he was taking longer than usual.
“Sugar-sweet, come help set up the table!” Loscia’s mother’s voice came from the kitchen, carrying with it the alluring scent of food fresh off the grill. “It’s all your fav’rites! Spicy-sweet steak, chili-cheese stew, and corn cake for desert.”
“Yes, Mama!” Loscia skittered excitedly into the kitchen, then darted outside with an armful of dishes and utensils. It took a few minutes to set everything up proper, but it was worth it. The dinner table looked fancy enough to be in front of a restaurant, instead of plonked down in their backyard like it was. Now that all the food was laid out, Loscia’s mother started to sit down to eat. “Wait, Ma! We can’t eat yet! We gotta wait for dad to get home.”
As if on cue, the back door flew open to reveal Loscia’s pa, quickly filling the young girl’s face up with excitement – then just as quick draining it pale with horror. The man had come home, just as he’d promised – but to say he looked worse for wear was putting it mildly. She’d never seen him hurt this bad. “Sorry I’m late.” His blood trailed behind him, dripping from his mouth, chest, and leg as he dragged himself over to his seat at the dinner table. “Buncha slick-mouthed scrawny-ass bastard sons kicked up a fuss at Patch’s joint. Wouldn’t quiet down without some lead medicine.”
“Honey, no!” Loscia’s ma raced over to her husband and tried to coax him out of his chair. “You shouldn’ta come, shoulda gon’ to the hospital.”
“Naw…” He gently brushed off his wife’s arm. “No point in it, got me in the unfixables.”
“Look, as much as I’d rather be in pain for weeks in a cold lonely room ‘fore I die, ‘stead of being outdoors with who I love and good food for my last moments, I made a -” Heralded by a horrible hacking noise, Loscia’s father spit up his own blood – catching it with his sleeve to try and keep it off the good table cloth. “…a promise… Oof, not ‘nuff blood left for sarcasm.” He turned to his daughter. “Planned to get you your present on the way home, but… well…” He put his hand on his hat, the most personal and precious possession any true arlvere had, then moved it over onto Loscia’s head and gave her a pat. “This’ll have to do. Don’t never let it touch the ground, y’hear?” He paused. “Oh! You’re old enough for your own gun now! Glad I lived long ‘nuff to see that!” He passed his old twelve-shooter on to his daughter with a strained chuckle. “Emptied the whole clip at Patch’s , so you’ll have to reload it. Now! Let’s eat!” He shoved a bite of stew into his mouth and forced it down, though it was clearly a struggle to do so. “Heh. Blood messes with the taste a li’l, but I can still tell… it’s damn… fine… as…”
“…As what?” Loscia’s mother held back tears as she looked at her husband grow still. “Honey? Honey… no…”
There he sat, Loscia’s father. The fire in his eyes had petered out, but they were still as sharp and prideful as always. His literal death grip on the table kept him upright, and even the reaper himself couldn’t wipe away the man’s smile. He was dead now, but everyone died eventually, and at least his last moments were good ones. Loscia may have bawled her eyes out that day, but as the years went on, she began to think more and more… that was the way she wanted to die.
A note from the
Apparently, being a borderline unkillable badass runs in the family…
Still, Loscia’s got a lot to live up to.