"...Yes, yes, I'm up, quit the racket."
"Oh, Hahn. I didn't mean to wake you there, cousin, but the horses were slowing down. How'd you sleep?" I heard an unfamiliar voice reply. I open my eyes in an instant, and shoot awake, when a searing pain overtook my abdomen, forcing me to resume my prior position. It took me a second to register the unfamiliar voice that had just spoken to me.
"He's probably just shifting in his sleep again, Gao." I heard another voice remark tiredly. It was a female voice, but it wasn't girlish- it was rough, and had a bit of an edge to it. And rather than physically exhausted, she seemed exasperated. At what, I had no clue. To be frank, I didn't care.
"No... no, I'm awake." I admit, rolling over on my back to face them at the front of the wagon. My "bed", so to speak, is a rather shoddily made bedroll, haphazardly placed on top of luggage and stacked cans. "How far along are we, then?"
Gao looked around, surveying the surrounding area. "Hmm... I'd say we'll get there after another day's ride. Map says we're getting pretty close to a ranching town called Valentine, though. You guys want to stop and have a bite to eat?" He asked.
Seemingly revived at the prospect of a hot meal, the girl doesn't hesitate to answer for the both of us. "Yes, please. I'm sick and tired of salted goddamn offal." She said, throwing an empty glass jar to the side of the road. We all lurched forward as Gao brought the wagon to a stop. "What now?"
"Ah. Thank goodness it isn't broken." Gao said, picking up the jar Mei-Ling had so carelessly tossed. Holding it up, Gao simply said "We can still use this, you know." before placing it gently into the back of the wagon. Climbing back into the driver's seat and taking the reins, he shifts his attention back to me. "So, how'd you sleep?"
"I've had better beauty sleep in the past, if I'm perfectly honest." I sigh bitterly, sitting up.
"Is it still bleeding?"
"No, I believe it's stopped by now..."
"About time it has. You've used just about all of our rags, you know." Mei-Ling interjects with a glare.
"Are you guilt tripping me about getting shot?" I ask, half-playful, half serious.
"No, I'm saying you're in debt to us now." She points out. Having not expected a serious answer, I keep my mouth shut and look down at what rests on my hip. My pistol shines in the waning sunlight, a grim reminder of what had taken place just a few hours before. To my left, Gao's shotgun rests in the wagon, loaded. I look at my two cousins, sitting up front, seemingly impervious to the thoughts swirling in my head. Men had died earlier. Not peacefully, either. They were torn to pieces by buckshot, or keeled over in pain at the intrusion of a bullet into their bodies. I began to sweat, further ruining the shirt I had been wearing, stained not only with my blood, but the blood of others. Of course, they had been trying to kill me in turn. That doesn't change that they had families, lives, and loved ones. I grip the pistol in my hand, something that was not given to me with the intention of having it kill another person, but to sit up on my shelf, perhaps in a case, as a souvenir. Unloading the magazine, I stare at the golden devils stacked within: Bringers of death, mass-produced in a factory, inspected by diligent employees. I hesitate to touch the barrel, remembering the heat that it had produced then. My wound begins to ache anew, and my face distorts in agony. I clutch my side with my free hand, and thank my lucky stars I had only been grazed. Nothing I could have possibly learned in Cambridge, or all of England for that matter, could have prepared me for the searing pain of an avulsion, however minor.
"...Hahn?" I heard, knocking me out of my trance. It was Mei-Ling, who was holding fresh rags, and was in the process of opening my luggage when she called out to me. "We're here. I'll change your rags, so get down here." She said, a cruel smirk on her face as she shook the bottle of hydrogen peroxide. I slide off the wagon, landing rather harshly on my feet.
"I can do it by myself, thanks." I said, in an attempt to get her to leave before I changed.
"Don't be stupid. You'll spill the peroxide everywhere, and tie the rags loosely. Just take off your shirt and get a new one." She said, with a mixture of her usual apathy and genuine concern. I relent, and with her help, change into less suspicious clothing. We then follow Gao into a saloon run by a chap called Smith, who was kind enough to shave some off of the price of our meals. After dinner, we were back on the wagon towards this place Gao knew of. He wouldn't tell us anything about it, other than it was beautiful, and that it was called Little Creek. A sullen expression crept up on his face when I had asked him if he'd been there before, so I dropped the subject. Apparently having become ailed with a sudden case of narcolepsy, Mei-Ling lied on the bedroll in the wagon, letting her guard down some, but apparently not enough to let go of her Volcanic pistol. Seeing me look back at Mei-Ling, Gao speaks.
"She probably doesn't know how to act around you, Hahn."
"Is that right?"
"I'm just thinking out loud, old chap." Gao responds, in a rather badly done British accent.
"Rather than her, I'm surprised you're so calm about meeting us again, Gao."
He looks up at the night sky, sprawled out before us. "Hmm... I don't know. It feels like I only last saw you yesterday, Hahn."
"I think yesterday is a bit of an understatement..."
"Well, that's how it feels like." He states firmly, as if he were ending our conversation on his terms. Not long after, I feel my eyes start to close, and I hear Gao resume his whistling as I surrender myself to sleep.
When I wake up, the light is absolutely blinding, and neither of my two cousins are still in the wagon. I rub my eyes, forcing myself off of the seat. I make my way over to Gao and Mei-Ling in the distance, standing in a field of knee-high grass and lavender flowers. The cold air assaults my every sense, and the sounds of grass swaying in the wind and a stream flowing lazily calm my uneasy heart. My hair blows defiantly in the breeze, and I make a mental note to buy some pomade at the nearest general store, as I stop next to Gao.
He faces the mountains, arms outstretched, and proudly declares: "The Mao family has arrived!"