Simms looked down at his sleeping daughter with fear in his eyes. Her round stomach scared him more than anything else.
"Charles," his wife, Janet, called from the door. "Come to bed."
He couldn't tear his eyes away from it, the thing that grew in his daughter's belly like a sickness.
"One moment," Simms said before whispered into his sleeping daughter's ear. "Say something," he cried over her. "Please, just say something."
Wiping tears off his coarse beard, he leaned down over his daughter and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Sighing softly into the night, he closed her door and went to bed with his wife.
"How is she?" Janet asked him.
"She's fine," Simms said weakly. A tremble went through his large form.
His wife took up her needlework.
"How can you do that?" Simms demanded of her. "Look at Alice, of god's sake."
"What do you want me to do?" Janet sobbed. "I can't do anything."
Simms wrapped his arms around his wife. "It'll be alright," he said. "She doesn't have to keep it."
Janet laughed. "Try telling that to her in a few months."
"It'll be fine," Simms insisted. "We can deal with it."
"Him," his wife said. "The physician said it would be a boy."
She felt her husband's arms tighten around her.
"It'll be alright," he repeated forcefully. "I'll find the bastard that did this to her and make him accountable."
The next day he went in to town, something he tried to avoid as often as possible. It was too noisy for him, even a small town like this had too much hustle and bustle. He preferred to stay on his small plot of land and work a living out of the soil.
But still, circumstances often demanded he come to town for things that couldn't be forced out of the earth by his own hands.
Today he needed several things from the small village a dozen miles from his farm. Iron nails from the blacksmith, new wood varnish to treat his lumber for chair-making, and the most important thing; a constable.
He took care of the easy things first. Once they were done, he went to the constable's house and sat down at his table.
"Gosh," the man said. "It's a horrible thing that happened, but who did it?"
"I went over to Sanford a few months ago to pick up a new wagon axle," Simms said, his face reddening with every word. He knew how this would end. "Janet and Alice went with me, it must have happened there."
"Are you sure?" the constable asked plaintively. "I can't do much in Sanford. There's another constable there that you could talk to, but I can't do much for you."
Simms slammed his fist down on the light, oaken table. "Damn it, James, my daughter was raped and you tell me you can't do nothing? What good are you?"
The constable glowered at Simms. "Now listen here, Charles. It's a horrible that been done to your daughter, but you got no right to come barging in here and insulting me in my in own home."
Simms forced himself to remained calm. "I'm sorry, Jimmy," he said. "I can't think straight, knowing full well that bastard's out there and I can't do nothing about it."
Sighing, the constable put a hand on Simms' shoulder. "It's alright, Charles. I told you, go to see the man in Sanford, he'll be able to help you out."
"What do you want me to do?" the constable of Sanford proclaimed. "Go door to door asking who banged up your daughter?"
"Yes!" Simms yelled, his sinewy muscled bulging in his sleazy shirt. "If that's what it takes, I want you to go door to door demanding to know who raped my daughter! Not who knocked her up! Alice is twelve years old and frail, at that! The only time she's been out of my sight was here, and I want to know who did this to her!"
"Calm down, man!" the constable roared. "You got no right-"
"That's what they've been telling me!" Simms bellowed. "That I've got no right to want to know who did it! You just keep on sidestepping me like it ain't your problem!"
"I swear to god," the constable said hoarsely, "If you don't get out of here right now I'll stick my knife in your belly."
Simms stared the man dead in the eye. He walked out the door screaming, "When I find who did it, you'll find him lying in your bed and on your table!"
Seething in anger and frustration, he walked around Sanford until he found the town's pub.
"Give me something strong," he said, slapping down several large bronze coins.
The bartender peered cautiously at the coins. "Not much you can get," he began.
"Give it to me anyway," Simms demanded. "I just need something to take the edge off."
The young man sitting next to him smiled. "Rough day?"
Simms ignored him, focusing instead on the frothy liquid the bartended sloshed into an iron mug.
"You know I'm always telling my dad," the smiling man said, "Drinking your problems away takes the pain with it, but problems return the next morning with a headache."
"How old are you, son?" Simms asked.
"Nearing my twenty-fifth," the man said confidently. "Top of his class at the Royal Academy."
"Good lad," Simms said impressed, his mind momentarily taken off his own problems.
"I'm ready to leave my pop's smithy and start out on my own. Start my own family with my own children." the man said. "You got any kids?"
Simms hid a frown by downing the last of his drink. "Just one," he said. "The wife's not strong enough to have another, so we're careful about it."
"At least you still have her," the man said comfortingly. "I was in love with a girl, but she left. Be thankful she's still with you"
Simms nodded. "A blessing that is."
The man frowned. "I saw you a few months ago, didn't I?"
"Yeah," Simms said, nodding his head. "To get a wagon fixed. I'm back just trying to find out a few things."
"Like what?" he asked lazily. "I've lived here my whole life, maybe I can help."
Simms paused. Outside of confronting every constable in his path he hadn't considered asking regular people.
"I came out here a few months ago," Simms began. "I was here to pick up an axle for my wagon, the other one just barely made it here, and I brought my daughter and the wife."
"Quite the family outing," the man said with his grin. "See the sights that were here a few generations ago and all that."
Simms forced a smile. "Someone took an interest in my daughter," he said shortly. "I want to find out who."
"Everyone takes an interest in strangers," he said lazily. "Look at me here talking to you."
Simms shook his head. "A special interest," he said urgently, trying to get the smiling man's interest piqued.
A little girl in the corner started singing caught their attention. Her father had a small box in front of here with a few coins to encourage others to donate.
"Cute kid," Simms remarked.
"Yeah," the man said absently.
"Like I said," Simms began anew, "Someone took a special interest in my daughter."
The man rolled his eyes, further infuriating Simms.
"Forget it," Simms said, getting up and walking away from the counter.
"Hey," the smiling man called after him. "I didn't even get your name!"
"I was in town a few months ago, do you remember me?" he asked countless strangers. "I had a girl with me, do you recall anyone taking a special interest in her? No, I don't think a drink will help your memory."
Simms hadn't expected to be gone this long. The travel itself was a week, and he'd been there the same amount of time already with no idea what to do next. He was half tempted to leave.
The only thing keeping him around was his gut telling him the bastard was close. Sometimes the sensation was overpowering, oppressive. He couldn't stop thinking about his daughter.
"Hey," the smiling young man said as Simms took a seat in the pub that was rapidly becoming recognized as his. They'd never bothered to exchange names. "You ever have any dreams of what to do with your life?"
"My dreams?" Simms started. "Eating on a regular basis is my favorite one. Winter is always a hard time to be away from the farm and the family. But nothing needs growing, and they got enough food that they won't starve. I got a new dream anyway."
"Any luck with whatever you're searching for?"
Simms shook his head.
"What are you looking for anyway?" the man asked. "You always get mad when I ask, but like I said, I've lived here long enough to know when something smells and I've got a good memory."
Simms took a draft of his drink. He'd barely had enough to pay for drink without taking out of his rent money. The last thing he wanted was to be sleeping under his wagon in the middle of a storm.
"I was here a few months ago," Simms began.
The man nodded. "I remember. The wagon, right?"
"Yes," Simms agreed. "I brought my family with me."
"Family's important," the boy said. "The most precious thing in the world. You shoulda seen the girl I had my eyes of a while back. A beauty she was."
The little girl in the corner started singing again, her father passing around his beaten up box to try and get a few coins. Her voice wasn't bad, but it reminded Simms too much of the fact that his own daughter hadn't spoken in months. She be speaking now for all he knew.
Simms and his companion looked at her with different thoughts.
He looked into his brew, trying not to think about it. He couldn't think straight when Alice was on his mind. All it did was make him angry.
"You shoulda seen her," the man said with a grin.
Something clicked in Simms' mind. "What'd she look like?"
"Her?" the man asked, the grin still spilling forth. "A pretty thing she was. Long black hair, fell down her back like a stream."
Simms gripped his fingers tighter around the handle of his mug. He couldn't help but make a comparison to his own daughter.
"She was wearing a pretty blue dress the first time I saw her," the man continued. "It matched her eyes perfectly."
He saw Alice in his mind. Her dazzling blue eyes staring blankly at him, a soiled blue dress hanging limply in the closet. Janet had something about it needed to be washed.
Simms licked his lips. "What happened to her?" he asked softly.
"She left," the man said sadly. "I thought we'd be together forever."
"What was her name?" he asked persistently.
The man smiled reminiscently. "I didn't know her name. I heard someone call her Alice, though."
Simms took a long sip from his drink. "How old was she?" he asked, his fury rising.
"What?" the man asked, surprised.
Simms slammed his mug onto the counter. Forcing himself to relax, he said the one thing that would help him. "Let's take a walk."
Wordlessly, the man no-longer-smiling followed him. They didn't stop until they came to the very edge of the town, far from the nearest constable.
"How old was she?" Simms demanded.
"What do you mean?" the man asked bewildered.
"My daughter's name is Alice," Simms growled. "She's pregnant, you son of a bitch."
"Pregnant?" the man said shocked, his eyes wide and white. "She shouldn't have gotten pregnant, she wasn't old enough."
Simms fist slammed into the man's face. "You bastard," he roared into the night, his fist raining down repeatedly like a hammer. The man yelled for help, but the nearest house was too far away.
He only stopped to catch his breath, once. The man wasn't breathing when he was done.
Still furious with the man whose name he never learned, he started his barrage again. He felt the man's jaw break and teeth come loose beneath his fist, but he didn't care. Tears welled up in his eyes till he couldn't even mess he'd caused.
He cried over the man he'd killed for himself, not his daughter. It wasn't like he dreamed. He knew that when he went home his daughter would still have that man's child inside of her.
There wasn't anything he could do.