I was at a loss to respond, but my sister Sarah made it easy for me. She began cleaning up the cabin, changing the slop water from one full wooden bucket to an empty one dried out by the hearth, taking the broom around me as I stood dumbfounded and crushed. Had I returned from St. Joseph a day earlier none of it would’ve happened, but like a fool I was thick with excuses. The rains kept me. I got lost. But Sarah...she knew my vices. My shame was almost too much to bear.
“What’s done is done,” Sarah continued irritably, “There’s no changing it, Jackson. Azariah Thorpe is savage man and savage men will burn in everlasting hellfire. My only concern is God’s punishment for my own soul.”
My sister collapsed and sobbed. I went to her but she shoved me back, kicking. We wrestled and finally I quit when she clawed grooves in my face. When I wheeled around my nephew Thomas stood in the cabin doorway—a shadow and all of twelve.
I moved past Thomas and outside to the clearing in front of our cabin. After roaring at the October sky for a full minute, I searched for my guns—the Evans repeater and the Colt I set down on a bench near the cabin’s door. There was not enough ammunition for either of my weapons but I knew where I could get some.
I crossed the clearing to the rain trough and filled two canteens, then back inside I packed three handfuls of dried venison, some corn meal, and four York apples for the three day ride. I went back out and hitched the younger, rested Shire horse to our second wagon. Had maybe four hours before dark if I got moving. Sarah had said something before about Thorpe heading to Kansas City. I checked the wagon’s tool box to be sure and considered the lathing hatchet set on top fifty feet of rope and lowered my guns inside.
By gun or blade…either way Azariah Thorpe was a dead man.
The hunt for Thorpe took longer than I’d hoped for because Kansas City had doubled in size since the last time I ventured south. My search took me through every back alley card tent, dice gap, whore house, and boardwalk saloon I could manage without blurring myself with cheap drink each night. Two and a half days with little or no sleep and finally I struck a deal with a Scottish livery owner who let me sleep in my boarded wagon for an extra nickel a night. Five days after that and I was about to give up and head northeast toward home when I caught a lead at a saloon called Gylam’s. A gray-eyed sickly degenerate sporting a Bowler hat with a hole in it said he met someone by the name of Azariah Thorpe a week past looking for work. Bowler man sent this alleged Thorpe along to the city’s smelting works and told me to check the labor camps just short of a place called Niggertown. I found the labor camps all right. The whole unwashed brutality of the place fused into a singular writhing face of menace, ire, and suspicion.
Money almost gone I sold my Colt and that kept me going looking for another two weeks. On my last night in Kansas City I paid for a bed in bunkhouse that promised more than it actually delivered. It was noisy with drunkenness and common hag bobbing her vile charms moving from room to room. Babbled languages exotic and unknown. When sleep finally did come, nightmares of Thorpe raping Sarah tortured me. Thorpe laughing, Thorpe taking my sister like a bucking animal, Thorpe beating my nephew to the ground. A cough settled in deep in my chest and I wept.
The next morning I retrieved my Shire horse and wagon from the Scotsman’s livery and promptly snapped a front wheel in a sewer rut. With no money left to fix the wheel, I sold off my Evans rifle with the last of the ammunition and spent the money on supplies for my sister and nephew and a few bottles of whiskey for me to deaden the shame. My cough was worse, sparking like broken glass with each burst of breath. With the wheel repaired, cold rain fell like wires as I steered my way out of town. The whiskey got me drunk in a hurry.
Almost to the city’s limits, a group of twelve laborers spilled from a muddy tent and crossed the road before me not fifty yards away. Luck indeed was falling on the left side of chance. One of men was Thorpe. The liquor gave me courage.
Half of the men spun to face me, the steam from their breaths fogging the air. They shouted to the others still making their way across the road and when the last one turned I was certain it was Thorpe.
Slinging my leg over into the bed of the wagon, I ripped open the tool box. I retrieved the lathing hatchet and concealed it within the folds of my coat as I climbed down. The cheap liquor took my legs immediately and I fell into the mud and manure. The twelve men merged together and howled with laughter. I eased a hand inside my coat and felt the wet slit where the hatchet’s blade sliced through my shirt and creased my flesh above my heart.
They were still laughing when I charged.
It is my wish to tell you that my end was an act of brother’s vengeance but this is not my fortune. The twelve beat me and one of the men, not Azariah Thorpe, used my very own lathing hatchet to take four of the fingers of my right hand.
A doctor helped dress my wounds but my cough worsened as did the infection on my hand. Three days later he took the time to assist me in the writing of a proper final letter to Sarah and Thomas. The doctor also advised me on how best to securely forward the money I got for the Shire horse and wagon. I don’t know. It was the best I could do given the circumstances.
Anyway…that doctor… he seemed to be a decent man.
Kieran Shea lives outside of Annapolis, Maryland. His short fiction has appeared previously in Plots with Guns, Thuglit, WordRiot, Pulp Pusher, Dogmatika and other lesser known rags like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.