It's death in the first degree. I won't be afraid to tell you when the time is right...
That voice. The words so familiar came to Edward. He was awake now. The sound of that voice awoke him . That voice came to him. And in the darkness the voice was his mind...
Walking through the vacant field on the outskirts of his farm, Jed Macomber thought it odd to see a circus train stopped dead in it's tracks. There had not been a train through Barnstable, Wisconsin in twelve years, ever since a main line broke and sent model-T's flying by like a black wind-now one had not only come through but also found a logical reason to stop. The thing looked rusted and old with "Ring-Ling Brothers." painted on the side, resting in the background like a picture. In fact to Jed Macomber the darn thing looked as if it belonged there, and maybe once it disappeared the scenery would look odd without it. It was idle thinking, and as he lifted his hat to scratch the bald spot on his head, he thought it perhaps too idle to be staring at a train and turned his attention to over his shoulder.
His son Edward was not far behind, he was leading a young mare that had been born with a short leg, making the walking difficult. Every third step the mare would hobble as Edward wrapped the nylon rope in his hand and pulled to the right to try to keep a side by side pace. In doing this he also got eye to eye with the mare, and he knew it wasn't a staring contest, the mare was pleading. Up ahead, Jed was gripping a Winchester lazily in his right hand. The barrel was almost touching the ground as he held onto by it's wooden-stock and let it swing.
With the rhythm of this swing also came a whistle. A poor tune of up and down notes, that came from Jed Macomber like drunk-talk. Sometimes he hit a note but then dropped off as he would stumble and almost lose his grip of the shot-gun. Meanwhile the big black eye of the mare was looking more and more helpless to Edward as he continued to pull it along; in it, was something dumb and unknowing yet instinctively reflexive of what lay ahead. It existed in a helpless state where no concept of death existed—yet the mare yielded eyes that could break into the human idea of life and make Edward pause for a moment to believe that what stood next to him, barely getting along, was capable of understanding that days in the pasture eating grass and sucking at milk teets could end soon.
If the mare's life did end soon, like Jed Macomber planned that it would, there would be a great lesson in it for Edward, but not the one that was intended. The sun was just getting down, turning the sky to a pallet of reds as they reached a small plane of dirt a mile out from the farm, and twenty feet from the halted train. Edward walked with the mare to the hitching post that was set-up and unwrapped the rope from his hand. He bent low and made a tight knot in the base, criss-crossing and then tying it back over. There was one last look in the mare's eyes as Edward stood and saw it look back at him. This time it's eyes were blank. Horse-fly's were buzzing around it's rear-end as it did what it usually did and let loose on the dry dirt. Jed had run out of tunes to whistle, he was done anyhow singin, he walked up to his son and pressed the shotgun to his chest, "It's better this way. She ain't gonna live a full life anyhow."
The train is here, who is it? Have they come to take us?
"Pa trains here, what's it here for?" Edward yelled.
"Don't matter none" Jed replied lifting his flask from the back of his over-alls. "Just make this quick. Supper e'll be ready by the time we return."
Edward looked over-matched by the gun as he cradled it in both arms like a bunched up rope that had gotten tangled. The mare was standing still, perhaps expecting the shot—more likely though it was hungry and wishing to graze before bed-time, then quickly forgetting the instinct and wishing it all over again in it's walnut brain. The eyes though, the ones that spoke humanity were watching Edward, telling him that a bullet in it's brain was mean, cruel, unnecessary. Just because it was three days old with a shortened leg didn't mean it deserved to die, there was still use in it perhaps, maybe it could learn to walk given time, or even become a decent riding horse. But there was no point trying to explain that to Pa. He was standing off now, washing his throat with wave after wave of bourbon underneath the sky that seemed to be bleeding a pinkish dye into the coming night.
The realization sunk deep as Edward lifted the gun and aimed it as he was taught. Pa had let him practice on milk cans back near the farm, two out of four tin souls got sent straight back to where they came from in a monstrous boom of gunpowder and recoil that left a purple bruise on Edward's shoulder. Now the tin souls were resting peacefully somewhere in trash-can hell and the new target was a baby horse that lacked any self consciousness, and was, for all explanation dimensions away from ever understanding—but it still had life, it's heart beat and it's lungs breathed and it made Edward think and in that thought hesitate. He wondered, maybe that was all that was necessary to define life, a heart and the ability to evoke humanity.
The trigger felt like a half-moon with it's back missing, curved and smooth it was the perennial god sitting between Edward and his target. He pressed on it slightly, closer...closer. The hair-pin was locked. Two slugs were sitting in the barrel. Seconds passed-Then the voice came to Edward. That voice he always heard at night, and was now creeping into him more and more. Kill it Edward. Shoot the gun...
"No" he said to himself.
Yes. Do it for the two of us. Make us proud...
The two of us...like odd and even always together...
Jed began walking closer to Edward, his skin sun-burned and ash white, his dark eyes tucked underneath two old mountain ridges which were his brow, and the whole mat of his face creased and weathered from hot days working the farm and nights on the porch emptying whiskey jugs.
"Shoot already!" He yelled. "I ain't got till Christmas."
There were two choices to Edward in this moment. In actuality, there were an infinite number of possibilities and pathways but only two of which he could think of in being inside the moment—the first one flashed to him as the obvious one, the one where his father had him pushed against the wall trying to turn him into a "man"-that was to blow the brains out of the baby mare and be done with it. The next thought which immediately followed was push back—point the gun to his father, and then...he couldn't decide if he would pull the trigger in that fit of fancy, or just try and make him turn his over-alls to mud slicks. He didn't think he would. It wasn't until later in the evening that Edward thought of a third choice, it was one he did not think himself capable of anyhow—place the gun down and run, run far away, past the train, away from the farm into a new life. It was all three of these things holding him at different times, different points, and keeping him where he stood, making him immobile.
Edward breathed in heavy, in the cornucopia of summer's air, where July was turning dogged and musty, where the heat of the day was fading to a brisk cool. There was little choice left...
It will be loud. I'm sure of that.
The courage was coming. The mare sneezed, dumb and blissful. Edward aimed and then shut both eyes, it was gods work now. He pulled down on the trigger ready to push with the pressure of his pointer finger—when a voice rang out in a solid burst.
"How much would one request for the purchase of that mare!?"
Everything stopped. A dry air had been broken. The voice was heavy and regal, stretching out from the middle of a large box car like a dart resonating through the wind.
A tiny man had created that booming voice. One articulate and striking. His stature was clear as he looked out from the halted train, his hands cupped around a large white mustache to carry the sound. I learned to speak outward and clearly when I used to be in the Montgomery Street Plays in Dallas he turned to say to an unclear second party. My lines were like poetry going with full force past the back row and to the sidewalk outside.
Edward still had the Winchester aimed at the mare as the words echoed past. He was held in his position unable to move as the stock of the gun dug deep into his shoulder, ready to burst backward into him.
"You rest that shot-gun for now." Jed told Edward as he took out his flask of whiskey and cooled the dry in his mouth.
In a moment of relief the gun slowly fell off the mare and towards the ground. The hand that held it went steady and soon Edward was no longer looking the horse in the eye. He sat down next to it, his back against the hitching post, the dry night coming like a silent creature that would overwhelm senses and take apart this hot July day, the whizzing of bugs and crickets soon accompanied this and the totality of the evening felt ominous and straight. Not long after the mare got the idea and soon was laying as well, moving only occasionally to nip at flies and lick it's hooves.
The flask Jed Macomber has been working on was getting finished as he held it up in front of him, he tilted the bottle at an angle to see the contents fill up on themselves and somehow look fuller. "Well I'll be a rat in a tortoise shell." he said, "Gots the jug at home at least. Plenty there." Then he lowered the flask from his sight and saw a small man approaching. He had hopped from the box-car after his words had yielded no reply.
"You's a queer worm stoppin in these parts." Jed yelled aimlessly into the air.
"Not as queer as a boy about to put down a perfectly good horse." said the man as he tipped off his high top hat to reveal a shiny bald head. "There's no snow up top anymore, but there's fire in the lungs." He continued as tapped his chest lightly, "Pardon my obtuse manners, I have no not adequately made a proper introduction. My name is R.L Montgomery Hagnatius Elmont The Fourth...Of The Western Wilcock Allegiance, but you can refer to me simply as Monty. I'm the ring-leader of this fine circus."
The smell of booze was permeating from Jed Macomber's body as he moved forward and attempted to shake Monty's hand, In this attempt he stumbled and then hiccuped as he raised his hand to a vision of three men, Monty removed the white glove from his hand, found Jed's palm and the two hands locked.
"What compensation would you be requiring for that mare?" Monty asked gazing past Jed and towards Edward and the horse.
"That crippled tub of glue?...He ain't no use to anyone. Whadya come through these parts for?"
"Detour." Monty replied, "The main line through Illinois mis-aligned and is from my understanding now more crooked than a states-person seeking re-election. Bless my superior beings we weren't part of any unfortunate demise as a result. An Atlantic Steamer was only a hour behind us as well, you should be expecting several more locomotives throughout the night. It's going to set us back tremendously, our triumphant return to San Diego is now already quite behind—but I digress terribly. My apologies but I must be asking you, and I hope you do not think me rude, but what sort of deficiency is plaguing that horse?"
The blank expression going over Jed Macomber's face may have been alcohol induced, however there was a stupor kissing the inside of his brain that could not be blamed solely on too much whiskey. A hot sweat was covering his face, dripping from the inside of his brain and downward. He lifted a a rag from his back pocket and wiped above his brow then underneath his arms and across his bare chest that only had the straps of his over-alls to shame him.
"Dang thing ain't for sale. It was born with a short leg. Can barely walk. Husses and fusses like an old widow stuck in heat...Can't break him, can't tame him, can't sit on him for nothing, only thing left is to shoot him and be done with it. Why's you here. Why did you stop? I gots things to get done and supper to be eating and...britches is hot tonight out here...I need to teach my boy over yonder what its like to fire a gun. A real gun into an animal. It needs doing."
"There are two reasons I stopped. One is from necessity, the other moral discomfort. A half mile up a ahead a deceased cow is decaying on the tracks. Mercy I can't fathom what it is the result of, but some good must come of it, and that leads me to my second reason for stopping. It is reprehensible such an ostentatious act-for a boy to placing down a perfectly fine mare for the idea of turning him to a man...I believe I want that horse Mr. Macomber useful or not to you, I may find some practical need for it."
The words sat inside Jed, registering with the speed of an over-weight snail. In this time Monty was flowering his vocabulary through Jed's mind with only a few phrases able to make their way into his inebriated brain. What Jed did hear (the practical need of the mare) and what he understood (something past two reasons and then very little) created an idea within him, and as he gazed towards the train an idea came to him.
" You gotta a freak show in there?" He asked.
"Quite! Quite!" Monty replied, "The Men from Mars and The Chinese Giant The Shrunken Head Of Molasses The Bearded just to name a few. We've been everywhere from Toronto to New Mexico., and now it seems we've been everywhere in between. Even the canopies of Africa know our name."
"I got something I may be able to negotiate."
"A hobbled horse is not worth negotiations? What in Jehova are you willing to part with?"
Jed whistled towards Edward who was resting next to the mare. He looked up hearing the call and saw his father motioning to him. "Get over here Edward."
Taking his time Edward walked toward the train. When he got to his father and the ring-leader, Jed had the boy bend over so they could peak at the back of his head. They cleared a bit of hair and there looking up at them was a small face, eyes closed and expressionless. It was rolled on like dead skin but it looked as if it could speak if prompted.
"Kid was born with it. Killed his mother during birth. Doctors can't do nothing. They're afraid to touch it."
"We would need to shave his head. How much do you want for him?"
` "500 hundred would do." Jed said.
The ring-leader let out a laugh. "Sassafras! Too high. Far too high."
"Not for below 300"
"I can give you $25 for the boy. It's all we can afford. I do suggest you deliberate over this. In my better judgment I believe taking the boy would have it's own moral dilemmas however I believe he may find a better home with the circus. We will feed him and give him work. It will burden you less, however I can not go over $25, and I must clear my manners for an instant there is little time to think this over. We must be off within the next twenty minutes so deliberate for the brief period and decide on my offer. "
Jed paused a moment. $25 wouldn't save the farm, but neither would $300. No one could have given him what he needed to keep his land from going to dust. What concerned Jed was his boy. Not losing him, but fetching a nice price for him. Being his son meant less, Jed Macomber knew the value of a human life in dollars and he estimated it to be above 25. Still what pressed Jed was something deeper. He took another look down at Edward who was still bent over. The face on the back of his head looked like the hard bark of an oak tree, protruding out and making a face towards the sky. In that moment Jed decided it was the cause of all his problems.
"Deal" he said.
And without even rubbing the dirt off his hand Jed extended it to meet the smooth palm of the ring-leader. However before the two hands met, a voice spoke out. It was Edward, standing between them still bent over.
"I don't want to go." He said, "Persus don't want us to leave. He tells me at night how lonely it is. How I need to correct the wrongs of the world."
We are all wrong. Look at us here.
Before Jed could raise his fist, or grab onto the hair of his son to pull him upward and do as he usually did when Edward spoke out of turn, more words followed. In truth, Jed Macomber heard the phrases coming from someone other than his son, they were deeper, more ominous, and with them he himself felt the instinct to step back, away from the voice.
"In the eyes of the lord we are all practitioners of judgment. Persus says no, he'll curse you and leave your circus bankrupt like this farm."
A breeze came through the desolate field. Monty found himself drawn towards Edward. His intrigue had given way to a strong curiosity and with the warning he found himself both conflicted over the peculiarity of the boy and the warning he had just given. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small note-pad and pen. It wasn't a check-book, but way he had of keeping note-worthy events. He wrote down Edward's warning word for word, and would in his leisure time recall this incident in great detail. Past events he found always had a way of returning in strange ways.
"I take no warning lightly." He said placing the note-pad back into his jacket, "However out of place they may be. And this strikes me as a terrible combination of both peculiar and terribly ominous. Such a strange oddity yet I believe given the current financial straint of your farm as spoken by your son, I think it best you keep him. I do not wish to bank my circus on this. Believe me a double-faced sooth-sayer may be worth something but I like the circus I run and the money it brings. To be direct, call me superstitious but I'm placing faith in this boy and in his warning. I hope he and I are both mis-guided...for the sake of your farm."
Monty took one more look at the boy. He moved himself farther down until he was inches away the demon face. He then took out a small pair of spectacles and placed them on, peering at the face as if it were alive. He felt the impulse to touch to see if it had any reflex.
"Do you feel it boy? Does it bother you?"
Edward had been facing the ground for the last several moments, staring at the grass as the wind blew through it.
"No sir." he said in his normal voice, "I hardly notice it until it speaks."
"It speaks?" Monty replied in disbelief.
"Only at night. And only when it's got something real important to say."
"Such as cursing your circus sir. He wouldn't say it unless it was true."
"Did he curse this farm?" Monty asked still staring at the face.
There was no reply. Only the cold stare of the unmoving face on the back of Edward's head.
"He wont say nothing." Edward said. "He comes and goes."
"What does he say? What else can he tell me?"
Once again there was silence. The eyes of the face were dark and undead, sitting between thin strands of hair.
"I can't say." Replied Edward. "He gets awful angry with me I speak of him too long."
"Enough!" Jed Macomber cut in. "You cut it out with that talk!"
It was the thought of the voice speaking up again that troubled Jed. He told himself too many times that it wasn't real. That what Edward had on the back of his head was a birth-defect and nothing more. Believing in the voice only caused more problems and To Jed Macomber the real problem was his son. Giving faith to anything more only gave it power, and once the voice spoke he found himself frightened.
In the seconds that followed Monty though of touching the face and attempting to awaken it. He moved in closer to inspect it, but before he could reach out to prod the undead face Jed cut in.
"I'll give him to you for ten."
Monty lifted back up and looked face to face with Jed. "This is not an issue of price. I believe however odd this may be, and believe the odder the better to me, his warning is too frank and to put it bluntly and against my nature, I have a bad feeling Mr. Macomber. I hope to mercy I am wrong, but I must lead with my gut on this one. I control my circus, outside of fate, just as are the one responsible for your farm. What we have between us now is a variable too unpredictable to control. "
The words came out empty to Jed. He was looking down at his son, imagining the day he would be rid of him, imagining the farm as a jungle of vegetation. Imagining living on a plantation hundreds of miles away with no knowledge of the boy before him. He wanted to spit on the demon face looking back up at him, but he knew now was not the time. In a few hours after dinner, after more liquor, he knew he'd have a solution to the problem before him.
The ring-leader had not backed away. After his words he stood prominently as if more business was in order.
"What is it you want?" Jed asked.
"What I called out for." He replied, "That mare."
He could see from where he was standing the horse was still resting by the hitching-post, lazily stretching its lips to reveal its large teeth and tongue.
"Ain't for sale." Jed told him. "I'm putting him down."
"Whether I take your boy or I take your horse, either way leaves you left without one or the other. No boy to shoot the mare, and no mare to be shot. No boy to make a man Mr. Macomber. Take the ten dollars and consider yourself better off then when you entered this field. "
Jed Macomber agreed reluctantly. He counted out ten dollar bills in his hand as the ring-leader led the mare from the hitching post and towards a cart on the far end of the train.
The neighing of the horse breathing in and out, sneezing as he trotted and made his way upward onto the cart, it grew quiet as it was taken into a cart with several other horses.
"Thatsa girl" Monty said quietly leading the mare. "Only one more matter to attend to."
The last bit of business had to do with a strong point. After the cart had closed, Monty walked back towards Jed who was standing still over Edward who by his strong discipline was still hunched over eying the ground.
Without speaking Monty placed a bank-note in Jed's hand.
"Whats this for?" he managed to say.
"Payment. For my investment."
It was a small fee. Fifteen dollars exactly.
That was the last they saw of the ring-leader. He returned to the train following it to the front and disappeared into the darkness. Minutes later smoke rose from the engine and then with the sound of a whistle it began to move. Jed watched as the loco-motive slowly picked up steam and within the shot time-span disappeared into the darkness of the evening.
He looked at Edward still bent over, and took a swig from the last of his whiskey before heading back to the farm-house. Edward stood up and saw no horse and oncoming darkness. He followed still carrying the shot-gun.
When they returned to the house, Isaac and William were each milking the cow. It was the last thing to do that evening before the sun went down for good and their sister Sally had supper ready. Isaac would find the best milk would come at night, when the sun was almost gone and they needed to hang a lantern in the barn just to see..
"It's from a full day of standing and eating." He would say, "Shes so full it all turns to milk by sunset."
William watched on as Isaac pulled hard on a milk-teet and a ping rang out through the steel bucket. Both boys milked Wilma both morning and evening, and although William never saw a difference in the taste he also didn't question his older brother. He heard his stomach grumbling and was hoping that last drop had come from the cow. Earlier that day the two boys had broke ground on a new well that Jed believed would bring them water closer to home. Secretly he was dreaming of striking oil. Both sons spent the morning and late afternoon pushing their spades into rock-hard dirt. Now William didn't care whether Wilma's milk tasted better in the morning or evening, as long as he got a full glass within the next few minutes.
"We ever gonna be done here?" he said to Isaac, "I'm so hungry I could eat this cow right here."
William was still pulling and a few more drips came from the utter and Wilma let out a grunt.
"Quit it already. Shes almost done fussin. Pa will be back soon anyhow and Sally's almost got supper ready."
As Isaac finished the words he looked up and saw his father coming into sight from the horizon.
"Don't say nothin about the well William. If we're ever gonna get out of this place we need to wait a few years, until we're old enough. Then you me and Sally can all make new lives."
"What about Edward?" William asked.
"He ain't nothin. You want that freak around?"
There had been little though to the subject. Edward had always been there and William, young as he was never imagined living on the farm without him.
"I just was wondering where he'd go is all."
"You best just worry about yourself."
The milk teet was pushing out dry air as Isaac gave it one more tug and a small drip fell out. He stood and wiped the sweat off his brow and then noticed a figure in the horizon. As their father drew closer to the barn Isaac called out, "We saw the train come in from the distance. What was the commotion Pa?"
The words echoed out into the night but no reply came. Jed Macomber came through the darkness of the evening without any words, walking towards the barn and by-passing the two boys without a reply. At the front of the porch they could see him lifting a large glass jug and tilting it back for a full five seconds before wiping his mouth his fore-arm and disappearing into the light of the kitchen. Not soon after Edward followed, walking by the barn and holding the shot-gun. Isaac against his what little judgment he had stood in his path, hesitant but stubborn.
he thought if he never knew what the commotion was he'd have fits thinking it over at night.
"What was on the train? Was it city folk?" Isaac asked. There was trepidation in his voice and some of the words barely made it out.
"It was a circus." Edward replied, "Tigers and elephants."
"They can't fit elephants on trains." William said, "They're just born where they live."
"Don't be ridiculous" Isaac replied turning to his little brother, "If that were true they'd all be in Africa and we'd never even know they exist."
"Not many of us make it too far from where we're born." Edward said. "There's no trains outta here. Only through here. Only one in a lifetime ever stops."
"Why did the train stop anyhow?" Isaac continued. He was trying to look Edward square in the face but his own fear kept him from doing so. Isaac could count on one hand the number of time he had a full conversation with Edward. This would be the fifth he suspected.
"Detour. There was a block up ahead. Dad tried to sell me."
"You'd have a made a good fit I suppose. What happened?"
"I got traded for a hobbled mare."
With that Edward walked past the house and towards the stables. William could have sworn that even through the darkness and distance of Edward moving away from them, he could still see the face on the back of his head, staring as he moved away from the light.
"Maybe he's right." Isaac said returning to the cow. "Maybe none us is ever getting off this farm. That was the best chance any of may have ever had."
"You think dad would have sold you?"
"No." Isaac replied, "He needs strong hands. Someones gotta dig the holes around here."
After the last drop of the cow had come out, Isaac lifted the bucket and the two boys made their way inside.
Sally Macomber was sitting half-naked at the head of the table when Isaac and William walked in. The right side of her dress was missing it's strap and during the days, and most of her life it was prone to expose her upper-body.
At the age of eight, she'd never been to school, had taken only a handful of baths and hardly worn clothes above what would be considered tattered rags. The blonde of her hair stuck to her scalp. She itched it constantly with the rut dirt of her finger-nails, often scratching until her nails broke off. Her eyes were the only part of her that appeared clean. Even the look of harm that came through them never looked dirty. She breathed in through her nose as the two boys came through, then wiped the round of her nose with her palm. .
Earlier that day she worked the fields, ripping carrots from the earth, picking which Chicken looked like it had no fight left in it and would be ready to eat, standing in the sun watching her brothers argue over the proper digging method; In the midst of her time alone, she found herself wandering through vacant areas in the farm, near the dust road that seemed to stretch and never end. Too many days Sally wondered if the end of that road also meant the end of the earth. No one traveled down it, except as she recalled her father once every so often would leave to unknown destinations. On those occasions, Sally Macomber still would not smile but she found herself a step closer than when her father was around. When he would return the next morning, she told herself the road was imagined and that her father leaving was just a dream.
This day she found herself wishing for that dream, lifting dirt clods and crushing them like she usually did until in the distance she spotted a figure. It started out small but as it progressed Sally could see a man on wheels. There two in the front, once he got closer she noticed his handle bars but she didn't know what they were. It was a man wearing a leather-cap, pedaling his legs with puffed out pants. He had a bag over his shoulder, and as he progressed he eventually got close enough to Sally to become full figured. A bell rang out as he went by with the wind, staring at the child before him dirt-ridden and looking as if she fell from an old tree and was buried for the early years of her life. Sally could only count to five and coincidentally this man on the bicycle became the pinky on her finger. Only the fifth man she had ever seen.
At dinner Isaac cut off a small bit of hard cheese and stale bread to put on his plate as the family sat together in the farm-house. Jed was picking his finger-nails with a large knife, trying to keep the dirt from below his creased dirty hands, but having the grace of a duck in heat. In too many attempts he'd nearly lost ever one of his fingers.
"I saw a man today." Sally spoke out. "He traveled down the dirt road here."
There was no one listening. Jed had placed the knife down and was busy stomaching the cheese with more liquor.
"Whose turn is it to say grace." He mumbled out, placing the bottle away from his mouth. "Who said it yesterday? Or am I gonna have to say it again?"
William was already clutching a piece of cheese, ready to chew it down as his father spoke.
Isaac was cutting his own portion when Jed leaned over and slammed the knife into the large hunk of cheese.
"No one eats yet until someone says Grace."
It was half drunk talk, the kind that was to be expected at that time. The truth was that Isaac, William and Sally had gotten so hungry they didn't care any longer.
"I'll say it." Sally spoke out. "It's my turn anyhow." The knife Jed had slammed into the table had disappeared into the hard cheese, the wooden hilt was rising out of the top. Jed pulled it back, carrying the cheese with it before placing it before him and sliding it off.
"Quickly" He said. "The suns already gone."
There was only one thing missing. Sally looked around the table. The faces staring back at her weren't grown men. There was a large monster and two poorly raised boys beside her. She though for a moment, He should be here. He's one of us.
"Only, It wouldn't be right without Edward." she said. "Can we bring him from the barn tonight?"
"I don't want him eating with us!" Isaac shouted. "He's the reason this farm is cursed!"
"You shut your damn mouth!" Jed fired back, "This farm ain't cursed ya hear?"
"Then let him eat with us. If only tonight." Sally said. "I won't say grace unless the whole family's here. It's my turn anyhow."
She itched at her moth-eaten hair. Some of the blonde was still visible but it lay underneath a rough nest of unwashed oil and dirt. "Will I get my bath tonight?" She continued.
"You're asking too much." Jed replied, "You can wash any day in the river."
Outside a heavy wind was beating against one of the bells that hung above the horse stalls. It rang out in the distance as the gusts came through and fell against the wide of the house. Darkness had come. Outside the night was growing full with the sound of the bells hanging heavy in the distance.
Jed looked at his two boys. Focusing on the youngest, William.
"Go fetch your brother" He said.
"Now? But its dark! And hes probably already asleep! And...and..."
William was searching for another reason he wouldn't have to face Edward alone in the darkness. It wasn't the night that scared him. He could walk the farm blind-folded, he could never remember a time being afraid of the dark. There was were things than the unknown. His father's hand was one of them.
"Don't make me go alone!" He continued, "Isaac should come with me."
"You want to eat tonight?" Jed yelled.
William stood and an instant later the screen door was opened and then smacked back against the frame, and in that instant William was gone into the darkness.
A quietness had come over Jed Macomber. His bottle was empty and the anger had left his face.
Don't be fooled Sally thought, Its only the calm before the storm...Why had he decided to let Edward in so suddenly?
Before an answer could come to her William had already returned. Edward was behind him, looking down as he entered the kitchen.
No one spoke. William sat back down next to Isaac as Edward stood awkwardly at the head of the table.
"Sit." Sally said to him. "You're welcome here."
Edward followed her lead and walked towards the other side of the table before taking a seat in an empty chair across from his father.
"We're about to eat. But first I need to say grace."
As she spoke Edward didn't hear the words as they came. Every sound was being translated by Persus into something terrible.
"Oh dear lord in heaven" Sally began...Simple devil in the field... "find us and teach forgiveness to all those who have sinned."...give us the deity to sacrifice with virgins in cold blood... "Let us be thankful for the bounty you have given us, oh mighty lord..."...Keep still the night and taketh all those little infants to suck dry their bodies, kill with satanic pride... "Amen"...execute with stone daggers in their sleep...
After the grace, before they began eating, Jed had the cold stare back in his eyes. He was staring at Edward.
"That's a fine trick you played today. Betcha think you're clever..." he began, his face was tensing as he continued, "That face of yours I ought a cut it off."
Edward remained silent, but Persus had words he whispered into Edward You fool, your gambling will cost you this farm. We are one. We are god. We will judge.
"You couldn't keep quiet. Now we have to feed you and that freak on your head."
No No No, you're the one who couldn't keep quiet. You said too much. You will meet the maker on the hill.
"Doesn't that damn face have anything to say? Or are you both mute?"
Edward stayed quiet, See he will end us both, god's judgment must come soon.
Jed was sweating now and getting more angry.
"I am not god!" Edward yelled as loud as could. "Make it stop!"
Jed grabbed Edward from across the table and laid him out so that Persus was facing upward. He grabbed for the kitchen knife, "I'll make it stop, don't you worry."
He went to jab the knife into the face, to slice it off and be rid of the damned thing but as his drunken hand move downward the face twitched, sending Jed into a fright and falling backward.
When he regained himself, Jed sat up and grabbed onto Edward. He dragged the boy toward the cellar door, opened it and tossed him down into the darkness. As he hit the steps and then finally came to the bottom, Edward heard Persus laughing so loud he did now know if it was imagined or if the cries of laughter could be heard by his father as he fell. He imagined his father heard it all.
Darkness. And then a voice. The one that kept Edward awake at night and now was with him in the darkness.
Edward? Would you like to hear a joke
It's funny Edward. Listen to it.
Rabbits don't wear helmets underground because...
"Shut up!" Edward screamed.
Last week they had a peition in France...
Must we be the two who forever exist like the sun and the moon? Can't we not be one?
"Stop it." Edward yelled. "stop it."
His words were reaching empty space, in the dark of the basement he lay trying to make the voice go quiet.
God exists Edward, god exists very much like the relationship you and I have. I am your god. You never see me but you know I'm there. I am god.
"No you're not." Edward said. "I don't believe in god."
You believe in me. Colors of distant seas make me a live, in shallow graves all those before us lie.
"Stop it." Edward yelled. His words echoing through the dark. "Why are you doing this?"
Because they tried to sell us Edward, no one will accept us. We need to become one.
Kill them. Your father, Isaac, William, Sally. Kill them.
They're sinners Edward. We need to become one. I am the face of god.
Everyone who prays is praying to me. To a face on the back of one man's head in the middle of Wisconsin.
"And what if I kill us?"
Then I shall live forever.
I know what hurts Edward. Not us. It's not us. Make it right. Kill them all.
Then there was a silence, followed by sobbing.
Don't kill us Edward.
There was a sound like pages flipping in a book.
It's in here somewhere, oh the delight, the verse of dreams. Minus solum, quam cum solus esset. Alone in my own mind, it is one-a-kind as is yours.
The voice was cut off by a sound—and then light. From the top of the stairs a strange light broke through the darkness and cast a shadow upon the stairs. A silhouette lit the frame of the door, a small figure spoke out into the depths.
"Edward? Are you there? It's me. Sally."
The quiet voice sounded surreal, like a vision had just cast through the darkness.
"Edward. Are you hurt?"
Edward could hear the voice and for a moment he was unsure if Persus was switching pitches on him—Edward knew that voice singing out to him. It was Sally.
Her footsteps started to tap upon the wooden stair-case and when she reached the bottom, Edward saw her face through the shadow. Small and cherubic, her eyes were wide like oceans.
"Edward I know you're there."
Edward emerged from the shadows. His face bruised from hitting the steps. He saw that Sally was there in light."
"Please Edward, Are you okay?"
"Yes." he replied.
Show her the light...
"No!" Edward shouted. "Not her."
Sally stepped back "Who are you speaking to?"
There was no reply.
Sally began to step back towards the stairs but before she started to climb she spoke out, "The darkness is strong." she said, "But so is light."
With that Sally walked up the stairs, leaving Edward alone with Persus in the darkness.
"See." Edward said. "She is light."
She's a fool, she'll live as a fool and marry a fool. Sinner. She's a sinner Edward.
"No. She is light."
Only until she grows up. She'll forget you Edward and then it will just be the two of us like always.
"I hate you."
I love you. You see? Two sides of the same coin. Ying and Yang. Light and dark. You have darkness in you Edward. A monster breeding inside. Let him free. Let him save Sally from a life of abuse and having to whore to get by. Save her.
"And Isaac and William"
Yes. Them two. Save them as well from their poverty stricken lives and dead-end farm.
With that Edward rose and followed the stairs up into the light. In the kitchen he found Pa's shotgun which had been leaned up at angle when he came home. Pa wanted it there so first thing in the morning he could get out and spot some deer. Some morning's he got lucky, not often but once he did bag a buck that had been meandering through the morning fog. He called himself a crack shot ever since. Edward held the gun in his hands and felt the overwhelming power it held.
Freedom comes to partition the poor, but no one is truly saved until they are embraced by the hands of the lord.
Edward held the gun and held a moment. It was loaded and there more bullets in the draw to his right. He grabbed four and then proceeded through the small kitchen and upstairs.
He opened the screen door into the night air. It was cool and a small breeze rustled through the trees.
They shall find salvation on the hill.
He walked far out into the night, towards the train tracks to the spot where they attempted to shoot the mare. He saw distant into the horizon. The steel of the tracks was cool now. There had not been a train for several hours. Under the half moon Edward placed the barrel into his mouth. It would be loud, he was sure of that. He tasted the steel and without any further hesitation pulled the trigger. As he did, a train came rolling through the night, unaware of the incident. The circus was in town a few miles up ahead, and any noise that rang through Edward Macomber was silenced by the roar of a two hundred ton engine rolling past Barnstable, Wisonsin.
...One last breath to cure me of these ills...