You are deep in a mountainside forest, in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky. Aside from a large but crude campsite, you are surrounded by wilderness. Bloody and beaten, you are (just barely) standing in front of your father who has a gun pointed directly at your head. A group of men stand behind you, looking on apprehensively. Another group stands in front of them, all with guns drawn.
You're done, your daddy says. You're no longer my son. You're no longer their leader. You are being cast into exile. I will not abandon them, you say, preparing to die. You can open your eyes, he commands. I ain't gonna kill you. I'm gonna kill one of them, unless you leave. So, help me out here. Which one should it be? Did you think you could do what you did and there'd be no consequences? All that transpires here is on you! You think about that while you're in exile, church leader! All of this, it's on you.
You have no choice, so you leave. You walk for a long while, numbly, scarcely knowing where you're going. The sound of distant gunshots jolts you out of your mental stupor and you turn back, running towards the men you left behind, but you are too far away. When you reach the campsite, you are stunned by the sight: the eighteen members of your 'church' hanging from the trees; some by the neck, some by their arms or feet. All of them are dead; shot or slashed with knives, their blood dripping onto the forest floor. Too horrified for words, all you can do is drop to your knees and scream; a sound so anguished it's as if your very soul had just been ripped from your body.
You spend hours and hours cutting the bodies down and burying them in shallow graves, and when the work is finally done, you sit down, exhausted, covered in blood and dirt and you pray aloud:
Dear Heavenly Father, I’m not gonna pretend to understand. You showed me what You wanted done and we did it. How could You let it end like this? All these men trusted me to lead them in the path of righteousness, for Your name’s sake. All these men came to You because they believed in me.
You begin to cry. And now they’re dead. I'm gonna need a sign. I need to know their sacrifice meant something to you.
You pause, and you listen to the silence of the forest. You wait as it stretches out and then finally you sigh, disillusioned and defeated, with cynicism edging your voice.
Maybe I've just been talkin' to myself this whole time.
You are in a darkened bedroom in the middle of the night, seated in a chair set back a few feet from the foot of the king-sized bed, waiting. Lee Paxton is asleep, unaware of your presence. It's a well-orchestrated plan, you think, forcing Sheriff Mooney into helping you frame Paxton—retaliation for the double-cross that had landed Ava in prison.
Now is the time for retribution.
The telephone rings and Paxton fumbles for it, turning on the bedside lamp as he does so. You can't hear the other end of the ensuing conversation, but you already know all about the bad news that Lee Paxton is currently receiving; that a bunch of corpses had been found stashed away at his funeral home bearing bruises, gunshot wounds and prison tattoos, tagged and waiting for the oven—which you know, because you'd planted them there yourself.
Something the sheriff says makes Paxton exclaim, "You son of a bitch. You told me he was dead," and it's at that point, he notices you in the shadows. Speak of the devil. "Aw, Jesus," he mumbles, reaching for his gun.
"You lookin' for this?" you ask coolly, your gloved hand holding up the pistol you'd removed from the nightstand drawer earlier. "Disposin' of murder victims for money?" You tsk. "Well, that leaves a bad taste in a Christian's mouth." Slowly you stand, fixing the older man with a dark, fierce stare, taking a step closer towards him while you talk, every low, menacing sentence causing Paxton to shake in terror.
"Small town don't run on a 24-hour news cycle. A small town never forgets. Now word's gonna burn through these hills and hollers like a wildfire. The people of Harlan county, rich and poor, will marvel at your debasement and venality. They will spit venom when they speak your name." You reach the side of the bed and grab the cowering man's hand, forcing the gun into it. "And they will take your suicide as the last act of a coward. Now your reputation is ruined, your good word worthless, but death will not be the end of your suffering."
You bare your teeth in a snarl, emphasizing every word. "For generations your children and your children's children will have a mark against their name." You push the muzzle of the gun into Paxton's mouth. "And that will be your legacy." You pull the trigger, causing blood and brains to spray the wall behind him.
You're sitting at the dining room table, trying to explain the day's events to Ava, who can't help looking worried—which is understandable, today being the day you turned back to a life of crime.
"I don't believe they intended to let me live through the day," you say, talking about how you'd overheard your so called partners' plans for your demise. "Didn't think I was gonna find a way out." You sigh. "Part of me just felt like layin' down, lettin' it happen."
"But you killed them instead.," Ava says, accusation in her voice.
"Well, I gave them a choice," you explain. "Now, if they hadn't have pulled that switch on me when I was down there in that hole, things would have gone down different. So the way I see it, Ava, they killed themselves, with greed and avarice."
"When I called that cell, did I—" she interjects, suddenly worried she triggered the detonation herself.
"No. It allowed me to kick them out of the trailer. I put a little cash on the emulex, a little emulex on the cash, and I made sure that the blastin' cap went in their packet and not mine."
"You could have run when Raylan came by," she says reprovingly. "Just lit out and let the chips fall."
You look at her calmly, sighing a little. "What does it say about me that that thought never crossed my mind?"
"Why did you agree to rob that mine in the first place?" she wants to know.
Because it's what I do," you say, your voice full of defeated resignation. "It's who I am, Ava as hard as I've been tryin' to pretend otherwise. Everybody else seems to know that but me."