It was 1911. West Elizabeth had settled comfortably into the lie that it was a civilised part of the world. Automobiles sputtered to life and shuddered their way down the paved streets. Echoes of history gathered dust in the throes of fiction. The papers reported a sighting of infamous outlaw, Dutch Van Der Linde. He was long believed to have been killed in a botched bank robbery, which had ended with the Blackwater bank going up in flames. Such a sighting didn’t even make the front page, as it might’ve done in 1899, at the height of the man’s fame.
Dutch was in a cabin up in Tall Trees. He was freezing, but it was as close to where this all started as he could possibly be. Blackwater stuck in his mind, all these years. It left a bad taste in his mouth, like blood, like bile. It filled his lungs, as if you could breathe in failure, and the thought of Blackwater forced Dutch to breathe in the most poisonous kind of failure. He sat bitterly in this shabby cabin. Some hellish combination of hail and snow tapped against the window.
Suddenly, the air went from a biting, icy cold, to something gentler and stiller. Dutch could’ve sworn he heard faint music. This was to be the first in a long series of torturous events for him.
“Dutch, you need to run.”
Dutch looked up, surprised at the voice.
“Javier? What are you doing here?” he asked hoarsely. Javier only shook his head in response. Dutch looked him over. Something was different. He was paler, almost grey, and with age, he seemed to have abandoned his suave style for raggedy, ill-fitting clothes. Tying this all together was a dark, unmistakable bruise wrapped around his neck. Before Dutch, stood the ghost of Javier Escuella.
“What happened to you?” Dutch whispered, horrified at his realisation.
“Marston. He’s working for your government. He’s hunting us all down, he handed me over to the Pinkertons. You have to run, Dutch. John probably already got Bill, which means you’re next.”
“You’ve been executed.” Dutch looked at the bruise across Javier’s neck. His eyes burned.
Javier nodded. “No time to get tearful.”
Dutch sighed deeply and wiped his eyes.
"This is your own fault." Javier said accusingly. "I wouldn't have had to go back to Mexico if it weren't for you and your rat. John wouldn't have handed me over if you had just told everyone the truth and made the right choice back then."
"I killed Micah. Eight years later, I-"
"I don't care." Javier cut him off. "I don't care what you did eight years later. I care about what you did when we needed you. Right from Blackwater, you have gotten far too many of us killed. Whatever happened to family and loyalty, huh?"
Dutch wasn’t sure if Javier walked away or simply disappeared, but he knew that he was gone. As the cold air returned to a harsher, more abrasive chill, Dutch wondered what became of Javier after they hung him. Had they buried him? Had they returned his body to Mexico? Was there anyone around to even claim his body and hold a funeral for him? Dutch mourned the loss of one of his last friends. He reflected on what had happened when the gang split, when Javier made his choice to walk away rather than continue working with Micah Bell and a half-crazed Dutch. So he'd gone back to Mexico. He must've known that John and Arthur would never have forgiven him for not taking their side.
Finally, he got up and stowed his few personal items away, deciding to move further out into the wilderness of Tall Trees. If John Marston had really been sent out to hunt Dutch down... well, perhaps there was still a chance to escape. A chance to run, as Javier had told him to. Even hating him, Javier had loved Dutch enough to warn him to run. Even dead, his sense of loyalty knew no bounds.
Dutch settled down onto a bedroll, surrounded by only the thin walls of a crappy tent. A lantern burned stubbornly against the frosty wind, allowing Dutch to pretend to read. In truth, he couldn’t concentrate on what he was supposedly reading, and he had been staring at the same page for over an hour. His chest felt tight, and warm tears dripped onto the pages of a once prized book. Seeing Javier was a nightmare, he’d decided. Nothing more than a dream born of paranoia. All the same, he cried.
“Those tears for me, Dutch?”
Dutch looked up from his book, and was met with a gory and horrifying sight. Standing in his tent was what looked to be Bill Williamson, except he was hardly recognisable. Congealed blood covered his face and glistened in his beard. The top of his head was blown open, his skull cracked and exposing the remains of an extremely damaged brain. Nobody could sustain a wound like that and survive. Dutch could hardly move or speak, he only stared.
“Pretty, ain’t I?” Bill said gruffly, gesturing to his own head. “John came lookin’ for me. Shot me in the head. Didn’t have to bring me in alive, I guess.”
“John did this to you?” Dutch wondered why he kept dreaming these things. Why he seemed to have this idea that John was hunting them down.
“Yeah. Maybe I should’ve listened to him when he said he wanted to save me.”
“When was that?”
“While ago. I was holed up in Fort Mercer, and he came round. Said he came to save me, save all of us. Then I shot him. Didn’t leave him any choice, I guess...” Bill looked thoughtful behind the jarring layer of dried blood.
Dutch shuddered and looked away from him. “Have you come to warn me to run, Bill?”
“Nah. I tried runnin’, it didn’t get me nothin’ but misery. I came to ask... after everythin’ went to hell, after we all got away and you finally saw Micah for what he was... why’d you go back to him? I mean, I know that’s why Javier took off.”
“I wanted to kill him. For what he’d done. I had to get close.”
“Did you do it?”
“Yes. Micah’s long dead.”
Bill looked at Dutch steadily, taking in the hollow man. Somehow, even without a gruesome hole in his head, Dutch looked the most dead of the two of them.
“Everybody’ dead but you and John, huh? So what next?”
“I have a new gang now. New men I care about. I can’t let John take me, and destroy their faith in their dream. In our plan.”
Bill rolled his eyes. “Dutch Van Der Linde. The man with the plan. I’ll see you when you get to Hell with the rest of us, Dutch.”
Just as with Javier, Bill was gone, and Dutch was unsure of the manner in which he had left. Just like before, the weather got harsher once Bill left. This time, Dutch felt he had no room to call this a dream. At first, he had thought it to be one, but having been left with more questions than answers, he concluded that this was not something his brain could make up. He shook his head, trying to shut out the truly terrifying sight of Bill. If what Dutch had seen was real, it meant that Dutch could look like that soon enough. John was coming and he was not going to hold back. There’d been a price on Dutch’s head for a long time, and he’d always figured that the law didn’t have anybody good enough to track him down. He hadn’t counted on one of his own sons.