Arthur Morgan wanted to turn his horse around and head for the hills. He wanted to be anywhere else, even if it was back at camp with that scar-faced good-for-nothing John Marston. And yet, he felt compelled by some mysterious force to ride toward a house containing a prospect more fearsome than any outlaw gang, enraged bear, or ledge more than three feet off the ground: his ex.
It started with a note. The previous night, while grumpily getting ready for bed, Arthur found it on his bedside table. He read it, then immediately wished he hadn’t. It was from Mary, who had been the love of his life until... He’d crumpled the note and tossed it over his shoulder. Remembering the past made him grumpy, as did being asked to do things, or thinking about being asked to do things. But Mary was in town and wanted to see him. Against his better judgement, he decided he’d ride out the next morning.
Lately, he’d been finding himself doing a lot of things against his better judgement. For example, before departing camp, he decided to drop a few dimes in his gang’s cash box, if only to keep sanctimonious old Dutch off his back. But every time he tried to, he picked up the camp ledger, which was sitting right next to the cash box, instead. He would, of course, immediately put the ledger down, only to pick it up again seconds later. This perplexed and enraged Arthur, who eventually decided to just get dressed and leave camp, only to accidentally shave off his entire beard and put on a top hat tall enough to sweep a chimney. Dejected, he went to climb onto his horse, only to punch her in the face. Arthur wanted to let out a barrage of curse words, but he was worried about what might happen if he tried to.
When he arrived at the house where Mary was staying, he found it to be plain and barely functional, much like the rest of the ramshackle town of Valentine. Its white paint had largely faded to gray, where there was any paint left at all. Arthur got off his horse, grumpily climbed the front steps, and knocked on the door.
A woman greeted him with a gun.
Bile rose in his throat. He knew, then and there in his grumpy heart of hearts, that it was going to be one of those days—although the bile might have also been a byproduct of his canned-sweetcorn-and-coffee diet, which he’d been coming to regret but couldn’t seem to kick.
Arthur explained to the woman that he was there to see Mary, and she lowered her gun and stepped back inside. When Mary came out onto the porch, even though it had been years since they’d last seen each other, Arthur realized that time had clearly taken less of a toll on her than on him. Neither of them knew quite what to say.
“I heard you and your friends was around, I...” Mary started.
“OK,” Arthur grumpily replied.
Not one for pleasantries outside of politely greeting literally every human being he encountered to increase his “honor” total, Arthur decided to cut to the heart of things. He asked where Mary’s husband was. He’d died of pneumonia, she said, but that’s not what any of this was about. Mary, like most people in Arthur’s life, needed him to do something for her—more specifically, her family. The same family that’d always looked down on Arthur and ultimately driven Mary and him apart. Her little brother Jamie, who Arthur always had a fondness for—at least, compared to the rest of them—had run off and joined a cult.
“I say let Jamie live Jamie’s life, and not the nightmare that his daddy dreamed up for him,” Arthur said, thinking grumpily of how much abuse Mary’s father had heaped on the family.
“Jamie’s so innocent, Arthur,” Mary pleaded. “Please, Arthur. Will you help me?”
Arthur heaved a sigh. He hadn’t even agreed yet and he already knew it would come back to bite him—or, more likely, kick him off a mountain like a bucking bronco—but he’d do it. He ascended the steep incline that led to the cultists’ camp.
Then he accidentally punched his horse again, and she kicked him off a mountain like a bucking bronco. Dying the world’s most shameful, painful death would’ve been a problem for Arthur, except that time didn’t work the same way for him as it worked for other people. Arthur had realized this when he was very young and his mom had gotten more than exactly 17 paces ahead of him while buying milk at the market. Suddenly, his morning started over, with his mother nearby once again. If things weren’t going his way while he was out running an errand—he lost his companion in the crowd, he tumbled off his horse, or he got hit by a hundred-ton locomotive moving at full speed—things would suddenly spring back to shortly before the moment they went wrong. As he grew and fell into the life of an outlaw, he realized this also meant he couldn’t die. He’d just come back to life a little ways away from where he’d bitten the big one, slightly poorer but no worse for the wear.
When Arthur first discovered this, he was overjoyed. However, after spending what felt like—and very likely was—years trapped in various, perfectly pristine bubbles of time, sequestered off from the rest of the world because he kept misspelling “sarsaparilla” while he was learning to read, he began to see his time-defying blessing as more of a curse. But he survived falling off a mountain, so he supposed that counted for something.
He hopped on his horse, which he’d affectionately named “Esports” for reasons he literally could not fathom, and headed back up the mountain trail to where the Chelonian cult was said to reside. When he arrived at their encampment, he found several men clad in white robes, talking about “paradise” and some other mumbo-jumbo.
“Gentlemen!” Arthur shouted.
The men immediately bunched together to form what they called a “shell of safety.” Arthur smirked. At least this was something new.
“The boy has chosen a path, sir,” said the leader of the cultists. “The path to truth.”
“Well, his sister just wants to speak with him,” Arthur replied.
Eventually, the cult agreed to let Arthur talk to Jamie, but Jamie scrambled for his horse and bolted. Arthur felt his grumpiness boiling over into full-on (but still grumpy) rage.
“Just come and speak with Mary, then make up your mind!” Arthur yelled as Jamie fled.
Arthur leaped onto Esports and gave chase. They rode down a hill, through brush, and up a dried-up riverbed. Eventually they arrived at a stranger’s ranch. Jamie’s horse capably leapt the fence surrounding it and continued galloping onward. Esports did not fare so well. She crashed into the fence, flopping over as though her bones had finally escaped from the prison that was her hide. Covered in dirt and grumpier than ever, Arthur picked himself up, but he already knew what was about to happen.
Suddenly, he was back on the road, Jamie riding full-tilt ahead of him. And then he was crashing into that godforsaken fence again. Arthur crashed into it from multiple angles, at multiple points. He and Esports tumbled and thrashed into every conceivable tangle of human and horse. Arthur began to memorize the sequence of events: that same wagon appearing from nowhere to nearly topple him before he’d even begun to gallop, those same forest animals scattering out of the way, the same irate rancher hooting and hollering as the high-speed chase spilled over onto his property. Arthur began to wonder if some cosmic entity was playing a joke on him, if he was the punchline at the center of a cold, mechanical universe. This made Arthur feel grumpy.
Arthur crashed over and over. He tried to say “fuck it” and ride off into the sunset, leaving Jamie to his fate, but he just started again on the road. Finally, after multiple tries and countless crashes, he cleared the fence. It made no sense, which made him grumpy, but he kept chasing Jamie. Jamie crossed a train track, where a moving train separated them. Jamie insisted that he was a man now, and that he could make his own decisions. Then he put a gun to his head.
“Please, kid,” said Arthur, exasperated. “Put that gun down.”
Jamie didn’t listen and began to squeeze the trigger. Arthur drew his gun in slow motion—a lone middle finger to the forces of time that had so imprisoned him—and shot the gun out of Jamie’s hand.
Jamie came to his senses and gave Arthur a desperate, grateful hug. Arthur grumpily patted him on the back.
“Have I been a terrible fool, Arthur?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Arthur. “I don’t know enough about it. But one thing I do know: there ain’t no shame in looking for a better world.”
What he meant, though, was yes.
Arthur and Jamie rode back to Mary, who was waiting for them at the Valentine train station. Mary was ecstatic to see Jamie, who agreed to come back home—not for their black-hearted father, but for her.
As Mary boarded the train, she turned to Arthur.
“I’ve... You’re...” she started, then sighed. “Oh,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “You’ll never change. I know that.”
Arthur, a seemingly immortal cowboy who greeted every single person who crossed his path in hopes of earning points with an uncaring universe, took offense to this. He and his outlaw gang were looking for a place to start over, and he helped people now! Also he’d learned to say “pardner” to passersby in a way that wasn’t just not intimidating, but was very nearly endearing. Consarn it, he had changed, if only by a hair. Mary just didn’t want to see it.
As Mary and Jamie’s train steamed away, Arthur knew there was only one thing to do: go to the saloon. It was time to drink until he saw Death—and then spit in Death’s eye.
As he walked in—feet aching from a long day in ragged, mud-and-blood-soaked boots—a wobbly, drunk piece of work stumbled into him. “Watch your damn self!” the man shouted. Arthur, at the very end of the last fiber of his rope, went against his ironclad moral code and did not greet this man.
In turn, the man challenged him to a duel. After the day Arthur’d had, all bets were off.
“You know what?” Arthur said to the drunk. “You’re on.”
They walked out into the dimly-lit, uncharacteristically silent pigsty of a street. If anybody was milling about at this late hour, they were doing a good job of keeping it to their damn selves. Arthur’s hand hovered over his revolver. He was ready to slow down time and put a bullet in the drunk’s big mouth. But suddenly, the drunk yelped.
“Whoa! Ground is coming up real fast,” he astutely observed while collapsing into a sad heap.
Arthur waited—hoped, truth be told—for time to reset itself so he could take that jabbering know-nothing’s brainless block off and get even a hint of catharsis, but it never came. This, apparently, is just the way things were meant to be.
And that was that. Another exasperating turn of events, another lost opportunity to get even a hint of satisfaction. An impossibly fitting end to a flea-bitten horse’s ass of a day. Arthur realized then that his luck was as good as the mud on his boots. He decided to ride back to camp, hoping that tomorrow would be better, but knowing somewhere deep down that it’d be much like all the rest.
This made him feel grumpy.