Category Archives: 2023-2024

“The Fire Fades” – Rocco Bristow ’25

The siege had come upon them like a blizzard, fierce and relentless. Leningrad, a jewel of the north, was now a fortress of solitude, its citizens warriors in a battle they scarcely understood. The Pozhar’s had once sat at a table abundant with food, laughter, and frequent debates. Now, they gathered around a flickering flame, their voices a mere murmur against the howling wind that seeped through the cracks of their frosted palace.

Yet, within these cracking walls, the spirit of Leningrad endured. Kostyor’s stories were not mere whispers against the cold; they were the embers of a culture that refused to be extinguished. Zola’s trembling hands were not a sign of weakness but a testament to the care that sustained their neighbors’ hope. Roman’s solemn scavenging was a silent vow to protect his family, and Nadia’s dreams were the seeds of the future, awaiting its inevitable bloom despite the frosted air.

As the first winter of the siege wrapped its icy fingers around the city, the Pozhar family drew closer, their breaths mingling in the frigid air, their hearts beating a defiant rhythm against the encroaching silence. They were a microcosm of Leningrad itself: battered, yes, but unbroken. As the siege tightened like a vice around the city, the days and nights began to blur into a monochrome tableau of gray. The once sound streets of Leningrad were now silent, save for the crunch of snow underfoot and the distant rumble of artillery. The city, encased in ice, seemed to hold its breath, waiting for an unforetold reprieve.

Kostyor, whose lectures had once filled auditoriums, now spoke in hushed tones to his kin, his words painting pictures of a Russia filled with plain fields and summer sun. Each story he told was a lifeline, a reminder that the world was once larger than the confines of their dimly lit room. Zola, her face drawn from worry, still managed to smile for her children, her love a warm shawl wrapped around them. She tended to the sick, her skills as a nurse more vital than ever, each life she saved a quiet victory against the beast’s shadow that loomed outside their door.

Roman, growing lean and tall, had become adept at navigating the treacherous streets in search of fuel and food. He learned the art of barter, trading what little they had for a handful of precious grains or a lump of coal. His youthful dreams had been set aside, replaced by the grim determination to see his family through each day.

And little Nadia, who had once danced through the rooms of their home, now moved with the careful steps of one who has seen too much. Her doll, threadbare and faded, was a silent witness to her whispered hopes and the lullabies that no longer graced her lips. She always gripped the doll with such tenacity to never let go, a reflective action of the city’s people.

One evening, as the darkness crept in earlier than ever, the family gathered around their meager fire, the flames casting an otherworldly glow on their faces. Roman broke the silence with a voice that cracked like the ice on the Neva.

“Father,” Roman began hesitantly, his eyes reflecting the turmoil within, “there’s talk in the streets. The retirement home at the edge of our district—they’ve got stores of food. Not much, but enough. They say it could be… borrowed.”

Kostyor’s face, momentarily illuminated by the flickering flames, hardened. “Borrowed?” he echoed, the weight of the word heavy in the air. “You mean stolen, son.”Roman’s jaw clenched, the shadows playing across his features making him seem older, more worn. “Is it theft if it saves us? If it saves Nadia?” he countered, desperation sharpening his voice. “We’re not the only ones starving, Father. And what good is our morality if we die with it?”

Kostyor rose, the light casting tall, distorted shapes onto the walls of their cramped room. “And what good is our survival if we abandon who we are, who we’ve been?” Kostyor’s voice was firm, his stance unwavering even as it shook with the cold. “We are not warlords feasting on the weak. We are the Pozhars, and we must not prey on those even more vulnerable than ourselves.”

The argument hung in the air, thick as the smoke from their dwindling fire. Roman looked away, a muscle working in his jaw, while Kostyor stood still, as immovable as the city around them. The battle lines were drawn not with guns or swords, but with the moral choices that defined them in this frozen siege, where the heart fought as fiercely as the body.

Roman’s eyes, once full of youthful certainty, now carried the heavy burden of his convictions. “And what of the common good?” he challenged, his voice a mix of anger and despair. “Marx teaches us to look after each other, to share the burdens and the bread. The retirement home—it’s hoarding resources while the people starve. That’s not the way of the proletariat; it’s not just!”

Kostyor’s reply was measured, each word deliberate. “But to take without giving is not the way of a just man, Roman. And it’s certainly not the way of a Pozhar. Yes, we must look after each other—that’s beyond question. But there is no honor, no righteousness in robbing the elderly of their sustenance. That’s not communism; it’s chaos. It’s the law of the Urals.” The fire crackled between them, the only sound as the argument fell to a simmering silence. Roman grappled with his ideals clashing against his father’s ethics. The teachings of communism that spoke of sharing among all seemed so distant from the reality of their struggle. Kostyor, steadfast in his belief in individual morality over any political ideology, saw the greater danger in losing one’s moral compass even amidst the direst circumstances.

In the silence, heavy with unsaid words, Kostyor reached for the wisdom of the past, a treasure that still lay within him despite the cold and the hunger. “Dostoevsky once wrote,” he began, his voice steady, “‘The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.’ We mustn’t lose ourselves to survive, Roman. If we forsake our principles for bread, we forsake our very souls.”

Roman’s gaze lingered on the dying fire, the embers like the fading pages of the books they once read together. Dostoevsky’s words, spoken through his father, echoed in the hollowness of their situation. Kostyor’s invocation of the great writer served not just as a defense of his stance but as a reminder of the culture and identity that the siege had not yet stripped from them.

The quiet that followed was filled with a mutual respect, a shared reverence for the depth of their plight, and the complex human truths that literature so often captures. Kostyor’s reference to Dostoevsky was a bridge between his moral philosophy and Roman’s revolutionary ideals, suggesting that the essence of humanity was more than mere survival—it was about preserving the core of what makes us human, even in the darkest times. Roman, sensing the gravity of his father’s reference to Dostoevsky, sought to meet it with equal measure from another giant of Russian literature. “Tolstoy,” he countered, his voice ringing with a newfound resolve, “believed that the truth of our humanity is found in the way we care for one another. In War and Peace, he writes of the shared suffering and shared joy being the very essence of life.”

He took a breath, the cold air filling his lungs, as if drawing strength from the very words. “If we have the means to alleviate suffering and we choose not to act—what truth does that speak of us? Tolstoy might argue that by helping ourselves to help others, we are not petty thieves, but rather keepers of our brotherhood, of the very society we strive to preserve.”

Kostyor listened, the lines of his face softening. Roman’s invocation of Tolstoy’s ideas on communal responsibility and the moral imperative to act for the greater good offered a poignant counterpoint to his own moral stance. It was a delicate dance of ideologies, with each author’s insights shining light on different facets of their dire predicament.

Kostyor, feeling the tension between his own moral convictions and Roman’s passionate plea, turned to the wisdom of another revered Russian writer to find common ground. “Chekhov,” he said, his voice a calm balm to the heated discourse, “once wrote, ‘Wisdom… comes not from age, but from education and learning.’ In these trying times, we must educate ourselves not just in the ways of survival, but in the ways of humanity.”

He continued, looking intently at his son, “Chekhov believed in the complexity of human nature, that the goodness of a man could be found in his actions. ‘Man is what he believes,’ he said. By holding onto our beliefs in truth and goodness, despite the hunger and the cold, we affirm our humanity.”

Roman’s defiance slowly waned as he considered his father’s words. “And our actions,” Kostyor concluded, “must reflect our beliefs. To steal, even from those who might have more, would reduce us to mere survivalists, betraying the very ideals that give our struggle against this siege its meaning.”

In the end, it was Chekhov’s appeal to the better angels of their nature that bridged the gap between Kostyor’s moral code and Roman’s revolutionary zeal. The shared understanding of their circumstances, framed by the wisdom of literary greats, brought father and son to a silent agreement. Their path would not be one of theft, but of maintaining their principles, even in the face of such overwhelming adversity.

“Tonight,” he said, “we shall journey to the lands of Prince Igor, where the rivers run with honey and the mountains pierce the sky.” His fingers, seeming frostbitten from cold, turned the pages of an imaginative book, his eyes scanning a page within his mind. Zola leaned in, her hand finding Kostyor’s in the dim light. “Tell us, my love, of the great feasts and the songs that filled the air,” she urged, her voice a melody of its own amidst the stillness. Roman watched his father, the stories stirring something within him—a flicker of defiance, a spark of the boy he once was, who dreamed of adventures and heroes. A side locked away since the shells first slammed the city.

And Nadia, her eyes wide with wonder, listened as the walls of their home faded away, replaced by the vast steppes and soaring eagles of her father’s tales. For a moment, the siege was lifted, and the family was free, their spirits soaring beyond the reach of war and want. As the fire dwindled to embers, the Pozhars held onto each other, their bond unspoken but as strong as the walls of their beloved city. They were a family, a unit of hope in a world fractured by chaos. And in that room, with the cold pressing in and the night deepening, they found their fortress, their will to endure etched in the whispers of their breaths, mingling with the smoke that rose to the heavens.

As the silence settled over the Pozhar family, the chill of the encroaching night seemed to press against them with renewed vigor. The tension from the earlier argument still lingered like the cold; it was a tangible presence among them. Kostyor, looking at the weary faces of his family, knew that the time had come for a different kind of sustenance — one for the soul, not the body.

He shifted slightly, the movement drawing the eyes of Zola, Roman, and little Nadia. “Let me tell you a story,” Kostyor began, his voice weaving through the cold air, casting a spell of warmth. “A story from a time long past, about Prince Igor, a figure as grand and as enduring as Mother Russia herself.”

The family drew in closer, the fire’s glow reflecting off their faces as Kostyor continued. “Prince Igor was not just a ruler; he was a man of the people, a leader who cherished the land and its folk. His tales are not merely of battles and power but of the spirit of our nation, the beauty of our lands, the richness of our culture.”

He cleared his throat, and with each word, the walls of their shelter seemed to recede, giving way to the expansive steppes and the flowing rivers of the Rus’. “In this tale, we travel to a time where the rivers did indeed run with honey, and the mountains touched the very heavens. Where the air was filled with the sounds of peace and prosperity.”

The fire crackled, punctuating Kostyor’s words, as he began the story of Prince Igor’s campaign, a story immortalized in the epic tales of old. It was a story to remind them that they were descendants of a great and enduring lineage, a people who had faced adversity before and prevailed.

The fire had dwindled to its last cinder, casting a final, flickering light upon the faces of the Pozhar family. Kostyor’s tales had woven an invisible tapestry around them, a shield against the biting cold and the relentless hunger that gnawed at their bellies. In the glow of the dying flames, the family found themselves on the precipice of sleep, that small death that promised a temporary escape from their trials.

Zola, her eyes heavy with fatigue, whispered a prayer for the morrow, her voice a soft lullaby for her children. She had become the firekeeper of their hope, the guardian of their dwindling flame of resilience. Her hands, once delicate and reserved for the tender work of healing, were now calloused and rough, badges of her unyielding determination to keep her family whole.

Roman, his body sprawled near the remnants of the fire, lay in a fitful slumber, his dreams a jumble of the day’s scavenging and the stories his father told. In his mind, he walked through a Leningrad untouched by war, a city of laughter and light, where his biggest worry was the next day’s exam or the smile of a girl he fancied.

Nadia, curled up beside her brother, clutched her doll to her chest, a talisman against the darkness. In her dreams, she was not the Nadia of the siege, but a princess in a grand palace, her days filled with feasts and merriment. She danced with Prince Igor in a glimmering castle with her friends she hadn’t seen in what felt like a lifetime. Her father’s stories had become her reality, a world where the siege was nothing more than a shadow, easily banished by the morning sun. Kostyor watched over his family, the sentinel in the silent night. His heart ached with love and sorrow for the burdens his children bore. He knew the stories were not just for them, but for him as well, a reminder of the man he used to be, a professor who ignited the minds of his students with the passion of Russian literature, now reduced to a keeper of embers.

As the night deepened, the cold crept in like an uninvited specter, its icy fingers probing for any warmth left in the room. Kostyor rose quietly, gathering the last of their belongings—a few books that had survived the culling for fuel. With a heavy heart, he placed them on the dying fire, the pages curling and blackening as the flames consumed the words of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy.

The sacrifice of knowledge to the god of warmth was a silent testament to their desperation. Yet, as the fire came alive once more, Kostyor felt the presence of these great authors standing with them, their spirits defiant against the darkness, their words living on in the hearts of those who heard them.

The renewed fire pushed back the night, and for a moment, the room was filled with a golden light, a fleeting reminder of the day. The Pozhars, each lost in their own dreams of a different life, slept on, unaware of the quiet heroism of their father, who watched over them with a love as fierce as the winter storm raging outside their walls.

As Zola carefully tended to Nadia, extracting a shard of shrapnel from the young girl’s arm with trembling hands, her eyes caught the faint outline of the last book they had spared from the fire. It lay open, its spine creased and worn, a silent witness to the family’s ongoing battle not just against the cold, but against the encroachment of despair.

With the delicate precision that belied her frayed nerves, Zola removed the shrapnel, all the while her mind repeating a line from Dante’s “Inferno,” a quote that seemed to resonate with their current ordeal: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” The words were a grim echo of the darkness that had descended upon Leningrad, an unwelcome shadow over their once vibrant city now reduced to rubble and ration lines.

Yet, as she whispered the quote, it was not an admission of defeat but a recognition of their harsh reality. Her voice was steady, her hands sure, as if in speaking the words, she was disarming them of their power to wound, much like the piece of metal she had just removed from her daughter’s flesh.

The book, a vestige of better times, remained unscathed, untouched by the flame that had consumed so many of their possessions. Zola would not let it burn, not tonight. It stood as a testament to the resilience of human thought and spirit, to the enduring power of the words and stories that had once brought them joy and now offered a silent strength.

In the muted glow of the candlelight, Zola finished bandaging Nadia’s arm, her actions gentle but resolute. The quote from Dante hung between them, a stark reminder of the siege, but in Zola’s heart, it transformed from a harbinger of doom into a declaration of resistance. They would not abandon hope, not while they could still fight, still care, still dream of a life beyond the siege, a life where books were read for pleasure, not burned for warmth, and where healing came without the price of pain.

The fire’s warmth ebbed as the night pressed on, and in the dimming light, Nadia’s small frame seemed to shrink even more, her once rosy cheeks now pallid, her eyes hollow. She lay curled under the threadbare blanket, each breath a shallow, laborious effort. The sight of her in such a state clawed at Kostyor’s heart, etching a pain deeper than the biting cold. Roman, his earlier fervor now a quiet desperation, watched his sister with an intensity that spoke volumes. “Father,” he whispered, the word barely carrying across the room, “we must do something. She won’t last another week.”

Kostyor, his face a map of anguish, wrestled with the decision. The morality he clung to, the lessons of literature and history, now pitted against the stark reality of his daughter’s fading life. The firelight played across his features, casting him in a battle of shadow and light, reflecting the turmoil within.

Finally, he nodded, the movement small but seismic in its implications. “Go,” he whispered, his voice rough like the bark of the trees that no longer graced the city. “Go, but not to steal, Roman. Go and plead our case. The retirement home, they are our people too, part of this besieged heart of Leningrad. Ask for their help, for Nadia’s sake.”

Roman’s eyes met his father’s, a silent promise passing between them. He rose, his movements deliberate, the weight of his mission anchoring him to the ground before he took his first step towards the door.

In that moment, Kostyor relinquished a piece of his tightly held principles, allowing the dire necessity of survival to steer their course. It was a gesture of ultimate trust — in his son, in their community, and in the enduring hope that even in the darkest times, compassion could be found and mercy given.

As Roman disappeared into the night, Kostyor returned to Nadia’s side, whispering tales of a brighter time, of Prince Igor’s legendary feasts, where no child went hungry, promising a future where such stories would be their reality once again.

And so, the night passed, the Pozhar family bound together in the heart of a besieged city, their spirits unbroken, their hope a flame that refused to be extinguished. As the first light of dawn crept through the cracks in the shutters, it found them there, an incantation of endurance, a family forged together by the fires of love and the shared belief that this, too, shall pass.

“An Imperfect Firefighter” – Deven Nahata ’24

“This is you,” he said, handing me a pair of gold keys, one for my new apartment and one for a storage locker in the basement. I was ecstatic. It was the first time I had lived by myself. I thanked the landlord and walked into my new apartment. It was tiny but perfect for me. As I walked on the orange, thin-tiled floor, I marveled at the exposed brick on my new walls. I laid down on my new couch and sighed. It was comfortable. I had finally made it.

Bye, Bradley! Love you!” I heard from the garage as my dad left for work.“Bye, Dad,” I replied. I finished my breakfast and went to school just like any other day. It was my senior year, so I was slacking off a bit. Still, I was excited to see my friends. I walked to school that crisp fall morning, happy as a clam. First-period math went by, then second-period chemistry. During third period, I heard on the loudspeaker, “Bradley Wright, please come to the office. Your mom is here to pick you up.” The class erupted into a chorus of ‘OOOOHHH,’ something I had become accustomed to. I was confused, as my mom didn’t tell me she would pick me up, and she never picked me up early. Not thinking anything of it, I casually walked over to the principal’s office.

Hey Brad, we need to talk,” my mom said somberly. She looked the worst I had ever seen her, like she was crying uncontrollably. “There was a fire this morning across the street from that taco shop we go to. Your dad went to help out, and…” she paused. I knew this wasn’t good. “He passed away,” she finished, continuing to cry. Tears welled up as I thought about him. It didn’t feel real. My dad was my hero. I had just seen him a few hours ago.

Every time I think about that morning, I shed a tear. I decided to walk in my new city to clear my mind. As I walked the sidewalk of New York for the first time, I knew this was different from anything I had ever experienced. Coming from a small town in Iowa, my idea of a city was the equivalent of a strip mall. I was taken aback by the number of people I had seen as I walked the streets of Midtown. The number of shops, restaurants, and buildings seemed endless. The air smelled of smoke and the occasional poultry, depending on which shop I had just passed. The sidewalks were dirty, and the excessive honking I had heard from numerous yellow taxis began irritating me. I continued to walk, noticing countless rats scurrying across the path. At almost every corner, people were smoking, a shocking difference from Iowa. I strolled through Central Park, noticing the number of billboards nearby. I noticed how impersonal this city seemed. Everyone I saw on my walk seemed to be in their world, with nobody acknowledging one another. Many had portable MP3 players with headphone wires dangling as they listened to various pop stars. I figured this was just the culture of the city. On my way home, I stopped at a pizzeria to get my first New York slice. It was just as good as advertised. I walked home and called my mom. “Hey Brad, how’s it going?” she asked.

“It’s been good. I’m in my apartment now. It’s exciting. How is the auto shop? How’s Bobby?” I had worked at the auto shop before moving to New York.

“Everything is going well here,” she replied. “Bobby misses your ability to fix bad engines, but he’ll figure it out.” It felt good to hear her voice. I loved Iowa, but I felt a calling toward this job.

“That’s good. Tell him to give me a call if he needs anything. I miss all of you. It’s gonna be weird not seeing you guys every day,” I said, reminiscing about all the good times we had back home.

“I know. It’ll be okay, baby. I love you,” she replied.

“Love you too, mom. I’ll talk to you soon.” I hung up the phone and went to bed.

The next morning, I slammed the alarm clock on my bedside and crawled out of bed. I threw on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans and brushed my teeth. I left my new apartment again, stopped to get a bagel, and went to the subway station. I thought about Bart’s Bagel’s back in Iowa. As a child, my mother used to buy me an everything bagel whenever I came home from school. This New York bagel was good but not as good as Iowa. I got on the B train and headed for Penn Station. From there, I walked a block to my new job. My sergeant greeted me and welcomed me to the station. “Here’s your uniform. When the siren goes off, we get in the trucks as a team and respond to the situation. It’s been pretty quiet this morning, but something could happen at any minute.” The reality of being a firefighter had finally sunk in. I felt nervous, but brushed it off as jitters on my first day. At around 8:30, I sat down and began to make small talk with my fellow firefighters.

“Where’d you get that bagel?” one of them asked.

“Just this place near my apartment,” I replied.

“You have to try Liberty Bagels. It’s a block away from this station. The sergeant gets us bagels from there every week. I’m John, by the way. John Lee.”

“I’m Bradley, but everyone calls me Brad. Nice to finally meet you,” I replied. I noticed the pictures of his wife and daughters on the wall of the precinct.

I sat down next to him, and my mind began to wander.

“Dad, where are you going?” I asked. “There’s a fire at St. Joseph’s. Do you want to come with me?” It was the first time he had invited me to accompany him to a fire. ‘YES!’ I exclaimed, not fully comprehending the gravity of the situation. We got into my dad’s old pickup truck and drove to the fire station. As we approached the church in the truck, I looked around at my dad’s colleagues, and they were unfazed. It was just another day of work for them. I always admired that about firefighters.

While I was daydreaming about my childhood, we heard the loud, unpleasant siren go off, and we all grabbed our gear and headed to the trucks. Our sergeant was aggressively yelling at us to get in the truck, and once we were all in, he told us the situation. “A plane has hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Initial estimates are around 30,000 people inside the towers.”

I had been around firefighters my entire life, yet for the first time, I watched every firefighter in the truck stare blankly into the abyss, visibly shaken by what they had just heard. The opposite of what I saw in my dad’s colleagues on the way to that church. I looked at John as we processed the events in pure shock. Neither of us said a word. When we got to the World Trade Center, it was unlike anything I had ever seen, even on TV. I put my mask on as I watched innocent civilians flee the streets, pure chaos all around me in one of the busiest areas in the world. Police officers tried to calm horrified civilians, most of whom were sobbing uncontrollably. Others were screaming and running away from the towers, trying to look away from the terrifying sight. Large, black clouds of smoke emanated from the top of the tower, and it only got worse. I looked over at the side of the building, and what I saw shocked me. I saw someone wearing a suit and holding a briefcase fall to their death from the height of the towers. It was horrifying. Still, I had to maintain face. I looked over at John as he gave me a quick nod, and we went into the towers together.

We walked into the towers together. On the way up the stairs, he said, “Our goal right now is to get as many people down from the tower’s heights as possible.” We all understood the assignment. We continued the trek, trying to conserve as much energy as possible, when we heard another loud “CRASH.” We had no idea what it was, but we all instantly knew that something else terrible had happened. However, we had to keep going if these people could survive. We continued to walk until we got to the 65th floor, where John and I went in to rescue people from the elevators.

“Brad, you evacuate the 65th floor. I’ll start trying to rescue people from the elevators. Let’s meet back where the truck is parked afterward.” I nodded and followed his orders. I walked onto the floor, and it was a chaotic scene. Papers were flying everywhere in an otherwise highly professional office space. People ran all over the place, trying to gather their insignificant belongings as they rushed to the elevators, only to realize they were out of service. I yelled as loud as I could, “Everyone, if I could have your attention, please. All of you need to head to the stairs in an orderly fashion. Do so quickly.” Most people abided and did so reasonably easily. However, I noticed a short old lady trying to climb the stairs, but she was slow. I wanted to help her along, but it was clear that neither of us would make it if we continued like this. I decided to pick her up and carry her down the 65 flights of stairs. As I walked the first five flights down, I realized how difficult this would be, but I persevered. “What’s your name?” I asked, trying to calm both of us down. “Marie”, she replied. “I don’t even work here. I came to drop off lunch for my daughter.” She cried, panicked. I didn’t know what to say. “We’ll get down safely. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure of it.” I replied. I continued down what seemed to be the longest walk of my life and the most grueling workout I have ever done. Floor by floor, we continued on our journey, not saying much but forming a bond with one another. Eventually, we made it. Everyone on the 65th floor seemed to have been out of the building. Returning to the truck for further instructions from my sergeant, I found it empty.

The time was 9:43 a.m. As I returned, I noticed another cloud of smoke coming from behind the tower. I walked to my left to get a better look and realized it was coming from the South Tower. I realized that the South Tower had also been hit. At this moment, I realized this was not an accident.

“A few minutes later, and I heard, “Officer Wright. Officer Wright!” I turned around to see an unfamiliar man who seemed to be another high-ranking officer. “This woman is choking!” I looked to my left, and there she was. It was Marie, kneeling on the dirty New York streets, coughing uncontrollably. I panicked; my hands began to shake. I walked over to her and tried to give her the Heimlich maneuver, but it was not working. I didn’t know what to do, so I yelled, “I NEED AN AMBULANCE.” Nobody came to her rescue. There were too many people in need of help. “AMBULANCE PLEASE. OVER HERE!” I shouted again. I tried to listen for her breath but couldn’t hear anything. She was flickering in and out of consciousness at every moment. I tried to keep her awake for as long as possible, but I quickly realized there was only so much I could do. “PLEASE!” I yelled again, defeated. Finally, someone finally came over, but it was too late. By this point, she was unconscious and not breathing. I watched as the medics put the woman on a stretcher, slowly coming to the realization that my efforts were not enough.

“Officer Wright, in here!” I heard one of my dad’s colleagues call from a room. I began to panic and began pacing around the outside of the church. I waited, becoming more worried as the time passed. I checked the Star Wars watch my dad gave me for Christmas. 8:32 pm. I watched as the minute hand continued to tick. At last, I saw my dad running out of the house with a small child on his shoulders. The child looked terrible. He was burned and cut all over his face and arms, sobbing as my dad carried him out. It looked like something out of a movie. My dad was a hero.

I thought about my dad, the heroic firefighter that everyone loved. And here I was, just trying to make a difference, unable to be like him. As I stared into the abyss, I heard another BOOM. I looked over and saw the unthinkable. I watched a building so unmistakable in New York crumble to the ground, with more smoke emanating from the region. Panels of glass seemed to fall from the sky, and I thought the building would crush me. Through the crushing sound of the building, you could hear the screams of those still inside. I thought about my new colleagues. So many brave firefighters were in the South Tower trying to rescue innocent civilians, but I knew that very few of them survived.

Suddenly, I felt myself becoming short of breath. My first instinct was to leave. So I did. I took off my uniform and started walking aimlessly. I checked my watch. 10:09 a.m. It occurred to me that everything that I had just seen had occurred within just 90 minutes of my morning, yet it felt like an entire lifetime full of traumatic events. I watched as more firetrucks raced down the streets of New York to assist at the towers, blaring their sirens throughout the streets of Manhattan. Ridden with guilt, I continued on my long journey home.

I got to my apartment feeling the opposite of what I did the day before. I felt hopeless.

On the way home that night, I asked my dad, “Why did you become a firefighter?”. He replied almost instantly. “Because I wanted to save people. There was a house fire when I was seven years old. A firefighter carried me out of the house like I did to that kid today. I looked up to firefighters for the rest of my childhood and always wanted to pay it forward.

I thought back to the day after graduating high school.

I sat in my bed, thinking about my future. Ever since my dad passed, I knew I wanted to be a firefighter. I thought that following in his footsteps would be really cool. However, I just couldn’t stay in this town. I had talked to my dad’s old coworkers about joining after graduation, but there was no way I keep my sanity working with the people my dad had worked with all those years. I thought about doing something else, but at the moment, becoming a firefighter elsewhere felt like my calling.

After staying on my couch for hours, too guilt-ridden and weak to move, I finally mustered the courage to get up. I returned to the towers to redeem myself for what I had done earlier. When I got there, I watched as firefighters were still trying to rescue people from the rubble several hours later. I watched as medics carried out hundreds of dead bodies from the towers. But most shocking, I watched John, the fearless firefighter I had met just a few hours prior, drop to his knees and cry. Every aspect of my fantasy of a new life in New York City was crumbling before my very eyes.

This was the first moment I had truly wondered if I had made the wrong decision, but I tried to persevere and help as best I could with the site’s cleanup. I kept seeing other firefighters with their faces covered in charcoal and cuts all around, still doing their jobs to the best of their ability. I thought about how weak I was to leave out of fear. As I walked home a few hours later, I saw hundreds of people gathered in the streets, praying for the families of the lost victims. Local shops were open, giving people things for free to stay comfortable. Everyone in this initially seemingly introverted city was now coming together to help everyone they could. It was surreal.

When I returned to my apartment, I looked around at the boxes of things I had begun unpacking the night before. Instinctively, I began refilling these boxes. I knew I had made the wrong decision. My dad and I are not the same. It was time to return home.

“Angels in America” – Jinny Guo ’24

“Robbie, you’re a strong boy. Don’t let the tears fall. Come on, get up, you can do this,” my mom’s soft voice whispers in my ear. As I raise my head, I see her warm, beautiful smile and her tall figure standing before me. She reaches out her arms and lifts me from the ground. Her hands feel so real and powerful. I feel tears burning as they cascade down my cheeks, and I can no longer distinguish illusion from reality.

“Robert! Get your ass out of bed, now! For f—s sake… I swear to God your alarm has been ringing for fifteen minutes!”

A gruff, masculine voice, accompanied by the piercing ring of my alarm clock, causes me to slip through her embrace and plummet back to the earth, ripping my mother’s sincere smile away. My head hurts like hell, and my body shivers. I’m really not looking forward to sitting in the obnoxious classrooms for seven hours without time to breathe. Going to school has become the most dreadful thing I can ever think of. Judging by my father’s concern, it’s well beyond 7:00 in the morning, and I’m already off-schedule.

“Get down here now and take your pills! If you miss that bus, you’re walking to school yourself!”

“Dad, I know! I’ll be down in a minute!” I yell as I put on a green flannel and baggy jeans. The importunate rash on my back makes me itch so uncontrollably that I rush to the bathroom to rummage for hydrocortisone cream. The pale, skinny boy in the mirror scares me once again, and this is the only time I feel a little glad that my mom has gone because I know seeing me like this would crush her.

As I struggle to spread the cream on my back, the faint voice of the newscaster reaches from downstairs, and I prick up my ears. “…Pedro Zamora, a young activist known for his role on the reality show ‘The Real World,’ passed away this morning at 4:40 AM, November 11, 1994 at Mercy Hospital in Miami due to complications related to AIDS. His passionate advocacy for AIDS awareness continues to inspire young people across the nation. Zamora’s untimely death serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle against the AIDS epidemic and the importance of early detection and prevention efforts. Zamora—” Suddenly, my dad shuts off the radio, just as I figured he would.

I walk downstairs into the kitchen and pour a bowl of Oatmeal Crisp and milk. As my dad slaps a pancake onto my plate, I take a cautious look at him, unsure if I should say anything to break the ice. We haven’t talked much since the day I tested positive for HIV— and most definitely not about my diagnosis. While our relationship has been quite strained since I came out to him as gay, my diagnosis makes it even worse. I have yet to bother to tell him about the bullying that started two weeks ago when rumors of me getting AIDS somehow spread around the school. I want to talk to him so badly, but I’m afraid of seeing the shock and disappointment that once filled his eyes when my physician announced my results. Then, without as much as a glance in my direction, my dad passes through the door to his private clinic, where he habitually spends most of his days. More often than not, I only see him for breakfast, though there is always a prepared, cold dinner in the fridge and a sticky note reminding me to take my pills on time when I get back from school.

The school hallway is abuzz with the usual morning chaos by the time I arrive, and the acronym “AIDS” has already been scrawled in red and black Sharpie all over my locker. Embarrassed, I pull a wet wipe from the smallest pocket of my backpack and try to scrub away the striking marks, desperately hoping that no one looks my way. Yet, as I turn around, I spot the absolute last person I want to see coming from the other end of the hallway with a couple of boys I don’t recognize. Jake has his black JanSport bag slung over his right shoulder and his left arm around the shoulder of the boy next to him as the three of them banter. Our eyes meet, and I quickly lower my head, attempting to shield my face from him.

Still, I hear the laughter of Jake and other boys approaching. “Yo! Look who we have here! Careful, guys. You don’t want to catch his disease.”

“Jake… Not now…” I mumble in a voice that he can’t hear.

As if spurred by my frightened look, Jake knocks the books from my arms.

“Oops! My bad!” The boys’ cruel hissing slithers through the hallway.

My vision goes blurry as tears well up in my eyes, but I try not to let them fall. Feeling like a meek rabbit cornered by a wolf, I don’t know what else to do other than stare at the vinyl floor tiles between my Converse and Jake’s Air Jordans. As Jake and his new friends walk past me, the tallest boy lands two heavy slaps on my right deltoid, sending a shock down through my body. It feels as if my body is mere seconds away from shattering into a million pieces and spilling into prickly puddles on the floor. I feel weak. Why does he treat me like that? What did I do wrong that my best friend detests me so much? How could the person I used to trust the most suddenly become someone I fear the most?

The only place at school where I find solace is the library. Two weeks ago, I started spending my lunch period there, at a corner seat by a small round table in the study room to avoid the cafeteria crowds. It’s a quiet space, free of the judgmental side-eyes often thrown in my way, a slice of heaven far removed from the chaos of the hallways and classrooms. I put on my headphones and turn on my Walkman, immersing myself in the melodies of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and trying to shut out the busyness of the world. I pull out a book; the cover showcases the silhouette of a cowering angel with a pair of colorful, feathered wings perched behind him with the golden title Angels in America emblazoned above. As I flip through the first few pages, I find myself unable to concentrate. I’ve been staring at the last line of Scene I for a minute, and I can’t recall anything that has happened so far in the play. The incident with Jake earlier keeps resurfacing in my mind, screwing with my thoughts. I slump against the cool surface of the table, burying my aching head deep in my arms. If my mom were here, she’d tell me what to do.

“Robbie?” In the blink of an eye, I swear I see my mom before me, a pair of white wings gracefully hanging behind her. Still, without even lifting my head, I know the voice comes from Sarah.

“Hey, are you okay?” As I wearily open my eyes and adjust my posture, Sarah pulls out a chair and sits beside me, smiling.

“Yeah. I’m just tired.” I squint my eyes and cover my mouth with my palm to fake a yawn.

“Come on. Don’t even try lying to me. I’ve known you since you were in Pampers.” She leans forward and ruffles my hair with her hands. She’s probably the only person I don’t get mad at besides my parents for doing this.

“Fine, you caught me. I ran into Jake earlier, and he was hanging with his new friends.” I know I can never get away with keeping anything from Sarah.

“Oh boy. You know him better than I do. Don’t even bother.”

“ —But it hurts so much that I can’t think of anything else.” It hurts when you feel like a piece of garbage abandoned by your best friend.

“Well…You know he’s having a hard time too.”

I bite back the words on the tip of my tongue. She’s right. Some seniors have said some pretty nasty things to Jake, and it was because of me. I’m in no position to blame him.

“He’ll wrap his head around it eventually… and so will the others,” Sarah breaks the silence.

“I don’t know. My life is such a mess right now. I haven’t spoken anything longer than a sentence to my dad since my last counseling session on Monday.” I slump back onto the table.

“That’s a whole other issue. Seriously, Robert, you have to talk to him. He’s your father, not some monster,” She raises her voice.

“I’m scared of the way he looks at me. It feels like he wishes I’d never been born!” I wish she could have seen my dad’s cold, shameful look walked out of the office of my counselor, Mrs. Turner.

“Oh, don’t say that,” Sarah softens her voice and thrusts her arms forward to hug me.

“Thanks, Sarah,” I whisper as I rest my chin on her shoulder. Sarah’s company always reassures me that I’m not facing everything alone.

“Okay. Let’s not talk about this. What are you reading?”

“Uh. Angels in America. Mrs. Turner gave it to me. She wanted me to read Act I before the next counseling session.”

“Oh. Interesting. What’s it about?”

“Well, I haven’t actually retained any of it yet, but Mrs. Turner said it’s about some gay men with AIDS and how they deal with the disease and their identity with their families and society. I told her I feel a bit lost, so she said it might help me with my troubles and help me find my ‘true self.’ I’m not so sure about it though. You know I’m not a fan of fantasy stories.” I shrug.

“Robert, I honestly think you’ve already found your true self, and you’re one of the few our age who has. I don’t remember if I’ve ever told you, but I think you were really brave to come out. You’ve never tried to hide any parts of yourself, not even when the bullying got really bad last year. Hell, if I were you, I don’t even know where I would be right now. I probably wouldn’t even have survived last year,” She pauses for a moment, then continues. “And you should be as brave about your disease as you’ve always been.” When she says that final line, I realize she is squeezing my hands tightly.

My heart skips a beat. I remember my mom calling me her brave little superhero when I was little, and I’d always feel like I was actually a superhero. However, the nickname seems to have slipped away from my life after her death. I look into Sarah’s dark brown eyes, finding it hard to put into words to let her know how grateful I am for her to say that and be the only person on my side, but I think she knows.

“Don’t even bother with Jake. Give him some time to wrap his head around it. Trust me. He will figure it out eventually,” Sarah continues as she stands up and pushes in her chair, hinting that it’s almost time for class. “But I do think you should talk with your dad about your feelings and all the stuff going on at the school,” She adds as we head out of the library. She bears a serious expression, which I rarely ever see from her.

* * * *

The afternoon slips away quickly. Sarah’s words still linger in my mind as I’m on my way home. What if I can just be brave one more time? What if I just explain to dad that I didn’t do anything wrong? I can’t help but try to imagine what my dad’s reaction would be. Will he be surprised? Will he believe what I say? Will he say anything? Will he even respond if I knock on the door — It occurs to me that my dad probably won’t be around at home until late, given his usual schedule. I glance at the black Casio on my wrist. 2:30 PM. Even if I knock on his door, he is probably busy seeing patients. Lost in my conjectures, I don’t realize the bus has stopped in front of the familiar red bricks of our house until the bus driver hollers.

As I enter the house, I hang my backpack on the chair by the door and walk straight to the door to my dad’s clinic as if an invisible string is pulling at me from behind the door. I’m not even sure what I’m thinking, and I have no idea what I will say if he does open the door. Regardless, I knock on it.

Much to my surprise, the door opens almost immediately, and my dad’s bewildered face appears behind it.

“Dad, I want to talk to you,” I blurt out, my voice trembling. “It wasn’t my fault. I don’t know what happened, but I swear I didn’t do anything.” An eternity of silence follows. I fix my eyes on the collar of my dad’s shirt, afraid of seeing his expression.

“Robert,” he murmurs. It’s been a long time since he spoke my name so gently.

Dad, I’m sorry, I whisper silently in my heart. The tenderness in his tone makes me feel remorseful, although I’m not entirely sure what I’m apologizing for.

“Robert, I hope you know that I’m not as good a father as I wish I could be.” He pulls the door wider and moves toward me until the stubble on his chin rubs against my forehead. My face presses against his chest. The familiar scent of his shirt feels so comforting.

“And I’m really sorry for it,” he continues, his hands gently caressing the back of my neck.

Dad, I’m sorry for not being the son you can be proud of.

“I’m not good with words, but I hope you know that I’ve always been proud of you, just as you are. love you, kid.” He kisses me on the top of my head.

I love you too, Dad.

I don’t dare to say anything aloud, afraid of bursting into a cry as soon as I open my mouth and ruining the moment. My tears dampen my dad’s navy shirt. His arms around me feel like a sanctuary, warm and reassuring. At this moment, he seems like an angel.

“Deadwood Dalton” – Caden Green ’24

His Colt .45 peacemaker shook violently in his right hand as he clutched the side of his torso with his other hand. He leaned up against the backside of the teller’s counter, sweat beading down his forehead. Dalton ripped the black bandana from his face, pulled his blood-soaked shirt and vest up, and pressed it into the wound. Grinding his teeth, he resisted the urge to scream. The brim of his black felt hat lay in the pool of blood next to him

He hadn’t expected the teller to be armed…they never were. Typically, his revolver was enough to force the teller to open the vault and fill his saddlebag with paper currency and whatever gold the bank had. Dalton always chose small towns with small one-story banks. He always made sure nobody else was inside. But this time, the cashier had been warned. He was prepared when Dalton walked in, gun raised. He had pulled out his own revolver from under the desk behind which he worked. Gunshots rang out from both guns, but Dalton hadn’t had enough time to react and the gunshot pierced the right side of his torso, just under his ribs. He was lucky the cashier wasn’t a good shot like him or he’d have been the one lying face down on the ground, the wood floor stained red.

Still, the teller had hurt him bad. Dalton had dropped his saddlebag and crawled behind the counter, no longer worried about his original task. He sank to the floor, trying to treat his wound. He had already been inside the bank for longer than he had anticipated. He was supposed After a couple months, robbing small stores gave them no thrill and it wasn’t worth the cash. Soon, they moved onto bigger targets. Dalton started going into the banks with Beau and holding the teller at gunpoint while they opened the vault. Beau would go in and fill their saddlebags with gold and paper money. On the way out, Dalton usually shot the teller in the kneecap, turning tail before he had to watch them suffer and bleed out. Then they would run back to their horses and ride quickly out of town, usually chased by a posse of lawmen and be gone by now. He knew the sheriff would eventually hear about the gunshots and come to investigate.

It wasn’t the first time things hadn’t gone according to plan. Dalton was reminded of his first robbery. He had walked into a small shop as a young twelve year-old, his dad’s Colt .36 tucked awkwardly into his belt. He went up to the cashier, pointed the gun at him and said, “Give me all the money you got.”

The frail old man across the counter threw his head back and laughed in Dalton’s face, “Get outta here kid.”

Angry and humiliated, Dalton shook the pocket pistol in his face and said, “Wanna get shot?” “Go head kid, you ain’t gonna pull that trigger,” the cashier replied. And he was right. Defeated, Dalton left the store empty handed, promising himself that he’d come back and do it for real one day.

Dalton winced in pain as the memory of his youth forced a dim chuckle from his mouth. His body felt hot, like it was on fire. His breath was short and heavy as he struggled once again to get up. Dalton felt helpless as he lay there trying to think of a way out. He had always gotten away somehow, but this time felt worse. He could barely move without a thousand knives stabbing him in the stomach. Nobody was coming to save him. It was only a matter of time until the sheriff would come. Dalton knew how he’d go out if he had to. He’d go out shooting, just like Beau did.

Dalton was only fourteen when he joined up with a group of Confederate guerrillas. He spent almost a year hunting blue bellies all across Missouri before the war ended. That’s where he met Beau. Beau had been like a brother to him, making sure he survived, teaching him to shoot. Beau was an orphan too, and they had spent the year camping out together. After the war, most of his countrymen admitted defeat and went back home to work, but Dalton didn’t have a home. His father had been killed early in the war when he was eleven and his mother got sick and died right before he left home to fight. He had nowhere to go, and he wasn’t gonna go work on a farm. Instead, he and Beau kept moving, never staying in one town for too long. They got by by robbing general stores and stealing horses, something that they got real good at quick. They’d tie up their horses nearby, then Dalton would man the door as Beau walked into the store, shot the cashier and took the money. Most of the time, Beau would exit calmly, saddlebag of money in hand. They’d get on their horses, and ride out of town as quickly as possible, moving on to the next.

After a couple months, robbing small stores gave them no thrill and it wasn’t worth the cash. Soon, they moved onto bigger targets. Dalton started going into the banks with Beau and holding the teller at gunpoint while they opened the vault. Beau would go in and fill their saddlebags with gold and paper money. On the way out, Dalton usually shot the teller in the kneecap, turning tail before he had to watch them suffer and bleed out. Then they would run back to their horses and ride quickly out of town, usually chased by a posse of lawmen and townspeople.

Now Dalton lay there, face ghostly white. His heart beat fast, like the sound of a galloping horse. Dalton took his bloody bandana off his side to look at the bullet wound. The blood was not slowing, and his vision was going blurry. He rolled up the bandana and stuffed it into his mouth. The metallic and salty taste of blood and dirt filled his mouth. Then, pain shooting through his body down his legs, Dalton rolled over onto his hands and knees. His vision went white with pain as the bandana between his teeth stifled his scream. Slowly, Dalton got onto one knee. Then, using the counter for support, he pulled himself up. He felt sick as he leaned heavily on the counter, like he wanted to puke. He used the long desk for support as he made his way over to the bank’s window. He peered outside, half hoping for the sheriff to be there to put him out of his misery. The street was empty though. Dalton grabbed firmly onto the window’s curtain, and ripped it violently off the wall. He wrapped the brown canvas around his waist and tied it into a knot. He stifled another scream as he tightened the makeshift belt over his wound. The curtain made it difficult to breathe, but also partially numbed the excruciating pain. Clutching his side, Dalton glanced back out the window. He had left Old Hank, his jet black stallion, behind the rundown saloon three buildings down. If he wanted to get out of this mess, he had to get to Old Hank without being seen, but he didn’t know if he could walk that far, let alone evade anybody.

Dalton wished Beau was here now to bail him out. He had always been able to get them out of danger, even when it seemed impossible. The newspapers that had called him “Deadwood Dalton” claimed that he was just as cunning and dangerous as Beau, but Dalton needed Beau. He looked at the dead bank teller that lay behind the counter. He had never stayed behind long enough to feel regret, but as he stared at the back of his victim’s head, he began to have confusing thoughts of remorse. He wished the man hadn’t pulled a gun on him. Dalton hadn’t killed anyone since he left Beau, and he hadn’t planned to kill this man, but he had no choice. He was not like Beau who seemed too calloused to ever care about killing. In fact, Beau loved the violence. He seemed to get energy from the act of killing.

“I love to watch ‘em,” he would always say. “I can see it in their eyes, the shock…the fear.” Dalton would nod along, trying not to imagine their dead victims. “I can see the life drain from their eyes,” Beau would look up, reminiscing, like he wanted to do it again. That always bothered Dalton. He loved the adventure of their lifestyle, but he tried to avoid the violence.

Beau, however, was the opposite. He was addicted to the adrenaline, to the violence, to the money, and most of all, addicted to the fame. Once they started hitting banks, newspapers began to mention them. At first, they were described as two bandits, terrorizing small towns. But with each robbery, they played into the media attention, getting bolder, and often leaving press releases behind, and the papers began to describe them as daring gunslingers. They loved their reputation. Beau was especially addicted to the attention and continued to plan increasingly dangerous robberies.

Beau wanted to rob bigger banks in bigger towns with more people around just for the attention, for the chase that ensued each robbery. Dalton cursed Beau under his breath as he tried to think of a plan to get out of this bank. The curtain around his torso kept Dalton stiff. The bullet wound underneath ached and blood started to creep through the canvas. Dalton’s breath came in short, labored huffs. It was Beau’s fault. It was his fault that he died. It was his fault that Dalton survived. And it was his fault that Beau was alone right now. For a moment, Dalton imagined who he would be if he had not met Beau. He’d probably be slaving away on some farm in Missouri, making next to nothing. He might’ve lived longer, but he wouldn’t’ve lived at all.

Suddenly, there was movement outside the window. Dalton peered to his right as a man stood on the porch of a wooden shack. The man called into the building. He looked confused, like he was looking for something. Then, a woman joined him on the porch. They both looked down the road, directly toward Dalton. The man raised his arm and pointed at the bank. Dalton knew he had to move. If people had heard about the gunshots, a local lawman would be there any minute. Still keeled over, Dalton forced himself to move. He hobbled back over to the desk where his hat lay. He grabbed the black felt hat and put it on and pulled the brim down to cover his eyes. As he tied his black bandana around the bottom of his face to conceal his identity, he glanced once more at the dead bank teller. Dalton noticed a newspaper laying on the ground next to him, half soaked red. Dalton read the headline: “Deadwood Dalton Rides Again: Reckless Outlaw Returns to Seek Vengeance, Partner Slain in Fiery Showdown!” Dalton looked at the gun on the floor next to the cashier. He knew he had been warned. Dalton remembered how easy it had been before the attention. But Beau had chased it like a hound on the scent of its prey, and his greed was haunting Dalton now.

Dalton waited for a moment for the man and woman to step back inside, then took a deep breath, and shuffled out the door of the bank. He quickly turned left, away from the man and towards Old Hank. He tried to stay out of the street as he moved. Each step felt like a red-hot fire poker being driven into his stomach, sending shockwaves of pain down through his legs. Dalton moved slowly, trying not to leave a trail of blood. As he moved, Dalton half-expected to get caught…to get shot down just like Beau. He was reminded of that day, when Beau took it too far.

Once Beau got his hands on some dynamite, he couldn’t resist the urge to go after a Union Pacific train. It was the biggest, most dangerous score there was, and Beau knew they’d be living legends if they pulled it off. Even for Dalton, it seemed crazy to rob a passenger train with just two people, but Beau insisted and Dalton conceded. The plan was simple enough. First, they’d derail the train, then Dalton would take the expressman hostage while Beau used the dynamite to open the train safe, hopefully carrying a payroll shipment in gold. Then they’d shoot the expressman, take the gold, and get away on horseback. The passengers would be unbothered.

He thought back to the moment he lost Beau. They had found a stretch of isolated railroad, nowhere near any towns. Before the train came, Dalton used a pickaxe to destroy the rail. As the train neared, Dalton and Beau hid in the nearby brush. As it passed, the deep rumbling of the train was interrupted by the loud screeching of metal as the train derailed and the locomotive toppled over, smoke filling the air. As the rest of the train stopped abruptly, Dalton and Beau sprung into action. They ran down the line of the passenger railcars to the back of the train. As they neared the last rail cars, they saw the expressman walking toward the front of the train, shotgun in hand. Dalton and Beau snuck back into the tumbleweeds and waited for him to approach them. Just as he passed Beau shot a bullet into the air.

“Drop the gun!” Beau screamed as he and Dalton jumped out of the brush and trained their guns on the back of the man’s head. The man’s head spun, shotgun instinctively trained in front of him at Beau and Dalton. “DROP IT NOW!” Beau commanded. The barrel of the man’s gun slowly lowered and he tossed the shotgun off to his side.

“You ain’t gonna find anything on this train.” He said calmly. “It ain’t carrying no gold.”

“We’ll see,” Beau replied confidently.

Dalton kept his gun trained directly on the expressman. “Go Beau,” he said, “let’s get outta here quick.” The expressman didn’t move. He crossed his arms and stood there, eerily calm considering he was staring down the barrel of a gun. Beau ran over to the nearest rail car and opened his saddlebag. He worked quickly, setting up the dynamite, despite the fact that he had never used it in his life. While Beau prepared the blow the charges, Dalton and the expressman stood there staring each other down. Dalton tried not to show his nerves, but the man’s composure made them worse. He could feel the sweat beading down his temple from underneath his hat. Why is this guy not more scared, Dalton thought. The expressman reminded Dalton of the cashier in the general store during his first robbery. He remembered the way the man had laughed him out of the store. Dalton picked the expressman’s shotgun off the ground. He tucked his own revolver into his holster and shoved the long barrel of the shotgun into the man’s back. “Move” Dalton ordered, as he shoved the man toward the rail cars.

The hot afternoon sun felt like a spotlight as Dalton slowly dragged himself across the street towards the abandoned saloon. He could hear some commotion behind him towards the bank. He looked back and saw the man that had pointed peer through the front window of the bank. Dalton ducked out of sight behind a log building that looked like a general store. The violent movement made his wound scream with pain, and Dalton’s vision went dark for a brief moment before he regained his balance. There was shouting behind him now, coming from the direction of the bank. They had found the teller. Dalton knew they’d be right behind him. He was close though. The old saloon where he had left Hank was only three buildings down. The distance felt like miles to Dalton. He knew he wasn’t out of the dark yet. He remembered the loot that he had left behind with Beau.

Beau had finished setting up the dynamite on the locked car. He nodded to Dalton, took out a match, and lit the fuse. Then, he backed away from the car. The three of them stood there watching in anticipation as the fuse shortened.

BANG! The train shook as the metal doors of the rail car opened exposing the wooden crates inside. The expressman tried to take a step forward but Dalton quickly pressed the gun into him reminding him not to move. Beau jumped into the boxcar and pried a crate open. Beau threw his head back and laughed hysterically.

“IT’S GOLD!” he yelled, “We did it Dalton.”

Dalton smirked at the expressman who finally had a look of disbelief on his face. Beau quickly filled their leather bags with the gold. Once he had run out of space in the saddle bags, he reluctantly left the other crates behind and hopped down from the boxcar.

“Dalton, go grab Hank and Lucy,” Beau directed, “We can’t carry these ourselves. I’ll take care of him.” He nodded to the expressman who had regained his composure.

Dalton left the shotgun with Beau and ran back down the line of boxcars where they had left their horses. He whistled to get their attention and hopped onto Old Hank’s back, grabbing the reins of Beau’s horse, Lucy. As they galloped back toward Beau, Dalton heard the loud BANG of a shotgun. Dalton assumed that Beau had gotten tired of waiting and killed the expressman.

BANG! Another shot went off. Dalton was confused. As he neared the end of the train, a storm of gunshots went off. Dalton kicked Hank hard in the side, speeding up. Beau was pressed against the side of the gold-filled boxcar, shotgun in his left hand, revolver in his right. The expressman lay dead beside him. On the other side of the train, Dalton saw five men circling Beau. They tried to shoot at Hank as Dalton rushed to Beau’s side. Dalton dropped Lucy’s reins, allowing her to avoid the bullets and run away.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” Beau screamed as he fell to the ground. Dalton noticed the blood on his pants. He had been shot.

“LEAVE ME! RUN!” Dalton ignored Beau’s screams as he tried to pull him up onto Hank. He wasn’t strong enough. Beau wasn’t even trying to move. Dalton felt tears on his face as he screamed at Beau.

“C’MON BEAU! GET UP! LET’S GO!” Beau reached up for Dalton’s hand. Dalton tried to grab on, but Beau wasn’t trying to move, he was giving him something. Dalton took the gift from Beau, trying but failing to pull him up with it. Beau forced his hand out of Dalton’s and reloaded his guns. Tears flowed from Dalton’s eyes as he begged Beau to get up. Beau pointed his gun in the air and shot a bullet directly next to Hank. Startled, Hank reared up and took off sprinting in the opposite direction, carrying Dalton with him. Dalton sobbed as he heard another storm of gunshots behind him. He couldn’t look. He knew when the storm stopped that Beau was gone. He clutched the black bandana that Beau had given him in his right hand.

Dalton could taste the blood from the same bandana, now wrapped around his face as he shuffled toward Hank. The shouting in the distance became louder as more townspeople joined the mob of investigators. Dalton rounded the corner of the last wooden building and saw Hank, reigns attached to the same wooden fence. He stood there, unbothered by the sound of the angry mob. Dalton reached for his reins and struggled to get his left foot into the stirrup.

BANG! Hank’s legs went limp as he collapsed to the ground with a huge thud. Dalton dropped with him, hiding behind the fence. He peaked around the corner and saw the sheriff, gun raised, two men by his side. Another shot whizzed by his face. Dalton ducked back behind the fence. He looked at Old Hank’s lifeless corpse. He wished the sheriff had just shot him instead; he knew he was just as dead as Hank anyway. Dalton mourned the loss of his beloved horse. He thought again about Beau, how he had saved him by forcing him to leave him behind. Dalton wished he could’ve let Hank run like Lucy had. He tried to get another look at the lawmen behind the fence, but another shot skimmed the top of the fence, forcing him back down.

“THROW THE GUN!” the sheriff commanded from behind the fence. “Stand up, with your hands in the air!” Dalton remembered the storm of bullets that Beau had been consumed in as he reached for his revolver. His hands shook violently, making it difficult to reload it. He imagined how he would go: just like his partner. He would stand up, shooting wildly in the direction of the lawmen, gunshots penetrating his chest and dropping him to ground where Hank lay peacefully. He promised himself that he would take one with him to the grave. The gun shook wildly in his palm as he mustered his courage. Dalton was crying now, but not from the pain of his wound. He couldn’t feel it anymore. He cried for Beau, and for Hank, and because he felt weak.

“NOW!” The sheriff screamed. “THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE END!” Dalton wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. His crouched body trembled behind the fence. His arms felt like lead. He pulled the bandana down from his face to relieve his panting. He had run out of luck. He staggered to his feet, gun raised. But as his eyes met the lawman’s, his will melted and the gun slipped from his hand.