Sunrise Over Paradise

Nicolas DeDominicis

When the dawn of a new day broke through the night sky, rays of orange and yellow light burst from the horizon, illuminating vast, lush green fields and hills. The many white, pink, and purple flowers were always in full bloom throughout the valleys and across the hills. A black bear and her cubs stretched to ready themselves for the new day and began their ritual journey to a nearby river. As the sun continued its trek across the sky, red foxes bound in and out of tall grass in the hopes of finally catching their prey. It wasn’t much longer before the sun grew tired and decided it was time to go back to sleep, leaving his sister to take her turn in watching over the land. Following the sun, most of the land’s other inhabitants also decided it was time to lay down for their nightly slumber so that they may rise once again with the sun. It was a land of endless spring, untouched by man, forever flourishing whether it be under holy radiance or a pale, elegant glow. A paradise that Wilbur Montgomery dreamt of every day whether sleeping or waking.

Night greeted the northern Missouri area as the last light of day was snuffed out. The beginning of a new year brought frigid weather and this night would be no different. Steady snow that would last the whole night and go well into the morning soon began. Right outside a small town named Stillwater, Wilbur fled from pursuing lawmen. Twelve of them were on his tail and almost all were firing at him with their pistols and rifles. With the cover of darkness, the lawmen found it difficult to hit their target. Wilbur beelined it to a nearby hill to use as cover, but when he was about twenty feet from reaching the peak of this hill, a sudden bursting pain ran through the back of his left shoulder and traveled to the front. He stumbled but didn’t fall over. Instead, he regained his balance and continued forward to make it over the hill. Once he was on the other side, the sound of gunshots started slowing to a halt and were replaced with distant shouting. Wilbur didn’t slow down, though. He ran down the hill as he felt more blood soak through his shirt. Wilbur was able to keep moving for a couple of hours, occasionally taking short breaks to catch his breath. Although at this point, his run was more similar to a jog than anything. He followed a stream which led north through a forest and into a relatively flat clearing. The snow continued, making it even more difficult for Wilbur as he tried to cover as much distance as possible from Stillwater. His wound had also become more unbearable as he had lost a significant amount of blood. After two hours of running, which amounted to a little over ten miles, Wilbur became increasingly dizzy and light-headed, but kept pushing himself forward. There was someplace he had to go. But even the strongest will could only take him so far. He fell to the ground, heaving from exhaustion and pain. As he faded in and out of consciousness, he started thinking of Robert.

Robert always had a knack for finding trouble, even as a kid. He never listened to his teachers when he was in school, and especially not the law when he was older. More than anything in the world, he hated being controlled. Wilbur wasn’t old enough to understand such things at the time, but he didn’t need to. He’d follow his brother anywhere.

The two of them were born into a wealthy family and lived in New York City with parents that didn’t seem to care too much about them. So when Robert decided to run away, nobody even noticed except for Wilbur. Reluctant to bring his kid brother along, Robert was eventually convinced after a lot of begging and crying. After all, he was the only one that would’ve properly taken care of his brother. At the age of 16, Robert and a 9-year-old Wilbur went off on their own and headed west.

However, there had been a bit of a learning curve when they started. Robert stole some money from their parents when they ran away, but due to carelessness and inexperience, the brothers spent it all not long after they left home. Starving and homeless, Wilbur begged Robert for them to go back, but Robert wasn’t willing to give up. They started to steal food and money from others to get by and while every day was an endeavor, they survived.

One night, a month and a half after they ran away, the two brothers had made themselves a small fire to keep warm. While the fire kept them comfortable, neither of them were able to get food that night. Or for the two nights prior. They passed a small town a few days ago, but hadn’t stumbled onto the next one yet, so the only thing they had seen for the last three days was wilderness. They tried their hand at hunting and were able to catch a small rabbit, but it didn’t last long and they hadn’t seen much else around since. So, as they sat by the fire and listened to their stomachs beg for food, they watched the stars above them in awe. It was the first time they really appreciated the night sky’s beauty.

“You know,” said Robert, “there’s a place far, far out west that’s supposed to be kind of like this, but way better.”

“Really?” Asked Wilbur, turning his attention to his brother.

“Yeah. A huge land with pure green grass, with stuff like bears and foxes and tons of other animals. Once we get better at hunting and fishing, we’d never run out of food. And there’s not supposed to be anybody else around. We’d have it all to ourselves and we could do whatever we want.”

Wilbur’s eyes lit up in wonder as he listened to his brother continue.

“We’d be so far west that nobody would ever bother us. Wouldn’t have to steal and we wouldn’t have to worry about getting caught. We’d be free.”

Robert smiled genuinely for the first time since running away and continued to admire the stars above him.

“So that’s where we’re going?” asked Wilbur.

Robert finally took his eyes away from the sky and looked down at his brother.

“Of course. We’ll keep heading west until we get there.”

“Of course. We’ll keep heading west until we get there.”

Excitement kept Wilbur awake later than usual, but eventually, he was able to calm down and fall asleep. That night, the two brothers dreamt of paradise under the infinite starry sky.

Ten years passed and the Montgomery brothers kept moving from town to town, and in that time, became more adept at stealing, among other They had fallen into a gang and stuck with them for a handful of years. Starting as lowly pickpockets, the brothers grew to become train with the help of the gang. The two even started to accrue a bounty, but never one big enough to bring a lot of attention to them. Things were looking up for the brothers as they had been eating much better and getting a hold of more money than they thought they’d ever have. That’s why Robert’s sickness was all the more devastating to learn. He hadn’t been feeling very well for a couple of months but didn’t say anything. By the time he couldn’t hide it anymore, he could hardly stand to travel. They couldn’t risk taking him to a doctor, so the gang ultimately decided to abandon Robert along with Wilbur, as he refused to leave his brother. With each passing day, Robert’s condition worsened. After three weeks, he grew increasingly pale and would start coughing up blood. Two more weeks and his vision blurred until he went blind. Eventually, his legs stopped working altogether. Wilbur did everything he could to help, but without medical care, there wasn’t much he could do. He considered taking him back home and begging their parents for help, but his brother rejected the idea. One week later, Robert was gone.

Over the next six years, Wilbur mostly stuck to himself. He’d occasionally fall in with some gangs where they’d rob the occasional bank or train together, but he’d never stay with them for more than a couple months. With his ultimate goal to keep going west, Wilbur slowly traveled through the country. It wasn’t until a few weeks before arriving at Stillwater that he ran into some trouble with the law.

The Sheriff of the town Wilbur was staying at recognized him from his wanted poster. His bounty wasn’t all that significant, but the lawman was determined nonetheless to take care of the criminal in his town. And he wasn’t particularly interested in taking Wilbur to the authorities alive either. If there was a criminal in his town, this sheriff meant to deal with them himself. The ensuing confrontation between the bloodthirsty Sheriff and the small-time outlaw ended with three bullets in the Sheriff’s chest. Wilbur had never killed someone before and he had never wanted to. But it was either him or the Sheriff, and he hadn’t reached paradise yet. Gaining the unfortunate attention of the government, Wilbur was on the run. He headed north until he reached the small town of Stillwater, where he would try to hide until everything blew over.

Now, something was poking Wilbur in his face. He slowly opened his eyes and when they focused, he saw a rifle pointed at his head. The one holding this rifle was a young man who looked to be in his early twenties that, from what Wilbur could tell, had a hint of fear in his eyes. Pinned on this man’s shirt was a deputy’s badge.

“Let’s go,” said the deputy. “I gotta get you back to town.”

Wilbur remembered the wound he received earlier and looked down to check it. With the light from a lantern laying on the ground next to him, which he presumed belonged to the deputy, he, to his surprise, saw that he was wearing a coat. He lifted the coat and saw that underneath his blood-covered shirt, which had dried, his wound had been bandaged.

“Come on. I’ve let you rest long enough,” said the deputy, as he knelt to pick up the lantern. He walked over to his horse, who stood a few feet away, and stashed his rifle in a part of the saddle. The deputy turned back around and approached the lying Wilbur. He knelt and helped the injured man up off the ground and walked him toward the horse. It was still snowing, but the first light of day would soon be visible on the eastern horizon. When the two men approached the horse, the deputy pulled out some rope and was getting ready to tie Wilbur’s hands together. It was then that the situation fully started to sink in for Wilbur. He would soon be locked up and likely executed for what he had done. It was all over.

Mustering all the energy and strength he could, he broke free from the deputy’s grip and lunged for the rifle on the horse. As he pulled the rifle out and attempted to aim it at the lawman, the deputy grabbed a hold of the gun as well and the two men wrestled over control of the firearm. They both eventually fell to the ground, but Wilbur was able to gain an advantage and got on top of the deputy, using the rifle to push down on the man’s throat. The deputy began flailing desperately to escape, but couldn’t throw the criminal off. As his consciousness faded, he tried one last thing. Wilbur felt something press up against his gut and very quickly heard the sound of a gunshot. He lurched in pain and fell to the side of the deputy. Clenching the side of his stomach, Wilbur worked on getting up off the ground as soon as he could. Once he was standing, he saw that the deputy was still lying on the ground, not moving. Unconscious or dead, he couldn’t tell. Then he looked down to check his own condition. Blood was quickly pouring through his hands and rolling down his legs. Wilbur used what little strength he had to turn around and start walking.

Very slowly, he shuffled his way towards the rising sun, whose rays of light had begun fully rupturing through the night. He told himself that he had to keep going. Wilbur walked about twenty feet when his legs gave in and he fell to the ground. He lifted his right hand from his stomach and tried to start crawling, but the pain wouldn’t let him. His face fell into the snow-covered grass for a second, but when he started feeling the sun blanket him, he raised his head back up. For the first time in a long time, Wilbur felt at peace. His blurred vision focused and he couldn’t believe what he saw. A vast, almost endless land of lush green grass, with all kinds of beautiful flowers like purple Lupines and pink Sheep Laurels in full bloom. A flock of birds was flying across the sky as foxes rushed through the grassy field. And on a nearby hill, Wilbur could see a figure approaching him. He didn’t have to see his face to know who he was, though.

It was Robert coming to finally welcome his brother into paradise.