by Sean & Craig Davis

Billy tried to lick the stinging ache from his fingers. His mind struggled to remember why they hurt. His thoughts wandered with the woody breeze running through his hair and damp earth cooling his feet. He understood one thing: he was free.

He was searching for something, but just what kept sinking back into the murky depths of his mind. He sniffed the air and then gouged his fingers into the ridged bark of a tree in frustration. Something rumbled ahead.

He pushed through leafy branches to a clearing where a red, metal box rolled to a stop at the edge of a cliff. Two figures got out and he hid behind a tree to listen.

The larger figure looked out from the cliff and wrapped its arms around the smaller, like Mama did sometimes. “See those sleepy lights in the distance, Lisa? That’s home, Pendleton.” The figure pointed to a small dot of light barely visible in the distance. “Hanover’s three hundred miles that way.”

The smaller figure asked, “How can you be so sure?”

“My uncle goes every spring for supplies. After the first thaw, you can make it through Jansen’s pass to the lowlands. It doesn’t stay open long, a few weeks tops.”

“They let him go?”

“Father Cheswick may scream about the evils of the outsiders from the pulpit, but he realizes Pendleton needs things:  Medicine, gasoline, and stuff that can’t be made here.”

“What do you think it’s like in Hanover? I bet there’s so much to see.”

“Let’s go and see, Lisa. In a week the pass will be clear to cross. We could get married out there no matter what our parents say.”

“But they’d never let us come back. What would we do on the Outside?”

“Whatever we want. Together.” The larger figure removed something from around his neck and pulled back his lips, showing teeth. “I have a present for you.”

These two figures weren’t the object of his hunt so Billy started to slip away, until a glimmer in the pale moonlight pulled him back. Dangling from the figure’s hand, a familiar silvery shape twinkled on a chain.

The shiny metal cross called out to be touched. He crept forward silently until he could grasp it. It felt cool and welcoming.

The large figure jumped backwards and yelled in surprise, yanking the trinket out of Billy’s hand.

“What the hell! What are you doing?” The larger shape raised its fists. “What are you, a freak?”

Billy stared in confusion, his gaze still drawn to the cross hanging from the figure’s hand.

The smaller shape put her hands to her mouth and screamed. The piercing sound clawed its way into Billy’s head, and he held his ears. He barely felt the large figure strike him. But the second blow jerked his jaw up and caused Billy to bite his tongue.

Pain blossomed deep in his head and he tasted rage. Instinct filled him with the urge to rip and tear – till there was blood.

Silence reigned once again in the night. Billy sat on the edge of the cliff and watched the silver cross glow in the moonlight, licking his fingers. The memory of what he’d done faded with the salty wetness on his tongue.

Jurgis Wilborn stooped under the front porch awning and pressed a slender finger to the  buzzer. He glanced at his wristwatch: two o’clock. His wife should be at the Monday afternoon services, listening to Father Cheswick preach about preserving the purity of Pendleton. The self-proclaimed spiritual leader of the Pendleton would be waving his arms about and screaming ‘Hellfire!’ and ‘Damnation!—words he loved almost as much as his Communion Wine. Jurgis had told his wife he had an appointment with Doc Tobias this afternoon, which he did. He hadn’t lied, exactly

Maggie’s home was in a sad state. Long curls of baby blue paint flaked off the window and door trim, and dry rot had claimed the bottom porch step. Even the two-seater swing in the east corner of the yard, so white and pristine in his memories, had been claimed by rust. The house, like its owner, needed a man to take care of things – a good man.

He pushed the buzzer again. Maggie opened the door wide. “Oh, it’s you, Jurgis. I figure I know why you came.” Her watered-down blue eyes challenged and condemned him.

He waited.

Pursing her lips, she pointed inside to a rocking chair. “Come on in. I wouldn’t want the only judge in Pendleton to get to thinkin’ I wasn’t hospitable.”

He nodded and took a seat. The wooden dowels in the back of the chair dug into his bony spine, but he wouldn’t be here long. His hostess perched on the dark-rose wing chair facing him.

“I just wanted to say I’d be fair to your boy tomorrow, Maggie. I – ”

“Will you?” She slid forward to the edge of her seat, gripping the fabric tightly with blanched fingertips. “Can you even be sure he won’t be strung up tonight? The town’s angry, Jurgis.”

He folded his hands in his lap and tried to meet her stare. “Billy is safe in his cell. Nothin’s going to happen tonight, Maggie. The Law holds sway in Pendleton.”

She brushed a graying strand of hair out of her face and looked out the front bay window.

“I’m sorry, Maggie. You don’t deserve this.” She watched the distant, dark clouds crawl across the horizon.

He followed the contours of her face:  the prominent cheeks, the rings under her eyes, and the taut muscles of her jaw. His gaze lingered on the long, furrowed scar running down her cheek; a parting gift from her ex-husband. She’d been so pretty once.

As if sensing his thoughts, she brushed her fingers across her left cheek.

“I do deserve this. My sin started all this, but Billy’s going to pay the price.”

“We can’t reverse time, Maggie. I just don’t understand why you let the boy out.”

“He ain’t a boy anymore, Jurgis. Billy is twenty years old, but he’s never been more than a hundred yards from this house until,…” her steely gaze faltered, “that night.” She ran her hands down her thighs, smoothing out the folds of her cream-yellow dress. “You never had to hear the child begging to play outside, or try to answer why he couldn’t have any friends.”

Maggie stood up suddenly and stepped towards the fireplace. She ran her fingers over a black-and-white photograph of her deceased husband on the mantle. “As bad as Carl was, I still wish that damned fool hadn’t died. If he’d been around…” Her sentence trailed off and hung in the air between them.

Maggie’s husband had broken his neck in a drunken fight at Chadwick’s bar. Jurgis only regretted he hadn’t had the chance to kill the bastard himself.

Maggie continued. “So I let him out, Jurgis. Just once, into the fenced-in backyard. I didn’t think he could climb it. It’s at least ten feet tall.”

“How did he get over it?”

“He didn’t. He dug underneath it with his bare hands.”

Maggie strode up to Jurgis until he had to tilt his head up slightly for his eyes to meet hers. A scent like pressed dandelions tickled his memories.

“I’m sorry for what he did to those teenagers. I really am, Jurgis. But don’t you kill my boy, don’t – ” Her voice thickened, then stopped. He felt the warmth of a single tear on his cheek.

She choked out, “He’s all I got, y’ hear me?”

He stood and searched for comforting words, or even a soothing lie. Finding none, he squeezed her bunched shoulders until Maggie leaned to rest her head on his chest. He couldn’t hear her crying, but he felt her small shoulders quiver.

It felt so good to hold her again. A heated flush of shame filled his cheeks. He patted her back a few times, then gently pulled away from her.

“I’ll do what I can, Maggie.”

She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her dress. He considered staying longer, but decided against it. What can I say that will change things? From the doorway, he made sure there weren’t any witnesses on the dirt road before he stepped out.

He got in his blue 1979 Buick, put on his spectacles, and headed off to see Dr. Tobias.

As he parked in front of the clinic, he waved to Joel Stansby and his ten-year-old son, Dillon. Joel tipped the brim of his straw hat in return, but grimaced as his foot struck the sidewalk.

“That foot painin’ you again, Joel?”

Joel smiled weakly. “More like it never stops. I’m hoping Doc can give me something to dull the pain.”

Joel had been born with a clubfoot, but he never let that stop him from working hard and running the hardware store two blocks up. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve the deformity. But who does? We should just be grateful there’s a place for everyone in God’s Plan.

After exiting his Buick, he tousled Dillon’s hair. The boy grabbed Jurgis’s hand. “Wow, I bet your hand would go totally around a football.”

“I can do better than that, my boy. Watch.” He pulled his index finger back until it touched the top of his hand.

“Doesn’t it hurt?”

“No.”

Joel placed his hand on the middle of his son’s back, “Let’s go in, Dillon, or we’ll be late. Next time I try to get an appointment, Doc will make me wait for three months!”

Jurgis laughed. “Doc figures he doesn’t have much longer in this world, so he shouldn’t have to waste it on folks that can’t keep time.”

Jurgis followed Joel into Doc. Tobias’s waiting room and signed the clipboard on the counter in front of the receptionist, Sally Dalton. “Good mornin’, Jurgis. You here for a checkup?” The tip of her tongue lingered, moistening her full lips.

Lord, give me the strength to resist temptation, and the wisdom to learn from my mistakes.

Sally was a fine-looking woman. If it weren’t for missing the bottom half of her right earlobe, she could be a model on the Outside.

“Yep. Just need Doc to check the eyes and the ticker. I’ll find myself a seat.”

Five minutes later Doc Tobias poked his head out of the door behind Sally and shouted “Next!” Jurgis hastened through the door, but Doc was already at the end of the hallway, tapping his foot impatiently. While scanning a folder, Doc’s frowning face displayed more lines and cracks than the sidewalk in front of his office. Jurgis entered the small examination room and hopped up on the examination table.

“Mind telling me why you waited nine months for this checkup? Didn’t I say you needed one every three months?”

“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that, Doc, but with Billy Thatcher’s trial and all I – .”

Doc cut in. “Don’t give me that hogwash! It may work with your wife, but it won’t fly with me, Jurgis Timothy Wilborn.” Doc wagged his finger. “Marfan’s syndrome is serious. At least get your heart checked regular. Your body’s cartilage is weak, so it’d be real easy for your arteries to burst. You got it?”

He nodded humbly. “Yes, sir.” Tobias was the oldest man in town at seventy-one, and the only doctor. As the Judge of Pendleton, Jurgis outranked Tobias, but he knew better than to talk back. Doc’s tongue was more brutal than riding bareback through a barbed-wire fence.

Doc chatted as he checked Jurgis’s blood pressure and listened to his chest with a stethoscope. “Did you know Mitch and Lisa had been planning to leave Pendleton? Sally talked to the boy’s uncle.”

Jurgis shivered and wondered if the old man had stuck his stethoscope in an icebox. “Father Cheswick wouldn’t have let them come back, Doc. He’d have banished them. Besides, there’s nothing out there for any of Pendleton’s young folk. You know that.”

Doc palpated the area under Jurgis’s armpits and the sides of his neck. “I do. But there’s not much in Pendleton for young folks, either.”

“There’s community here. A sense of family. This town’s been around for four hundred years. Family solidarity allowed Pendleton to survive after Holliman’s mine played out, and it will keep us alive now.”

Doc raised a furry eyebrow. “I’ve been around longer than you. This town needs new blood, no matter what Father Cheswick says. We’re getting a little backward in our ways.”

Doc went to the shelf and returned with a bottle of tablets. “I want you to start taking these pills twice a day to feed the cartilage in your joints.”

Jurgis slipped his arms into the long, flapping sleeves of his shirt. “Thanks, Doc.”

Doc began washing his hands in the steel sink. “Jurgis, what do you think going’s to happen with the Thatcher boy?”

“It’s a case of murder, Doc. It’s up to the will of the people.”

Doc nodded and ushered him out to welcome the next patient.

Jurgis started his Buick and drove toward home through the loose hub of a dozen buildings that made up downtown Pendleton. In the center, the church’s high walls loomed over the surrounding shops and stared down at them. Built generations ago by the townsmen, under the direction of a Cheswick forebear, it stood white and gleaming; as pristine as the day it had first been consecrated as holy ground. The only sign of age was a crack near the front steps, which had zigzagged its way through the foundations over the last few decades. Pendleton didn’t have the equipment to fix it without bringing down the whole church.

Jurgis waved at each face, folks he’d known his entire life. Like Doctor Tobias, he didn’t agree with Father Cheswick. But like Father Cheswick, he didn’t want his peaceful town to change. The reverend’s edicts were harsh, but Pendleton had followed the traditions for hundreds of years. There hadn’t been a violent crime here for over ten years—until now.

As he pulled up in front of his twenty-acre stretch of land, he heard shouting and saw Laura  swinging a broomstick at their Rottweiler, Timber. The dog was backing away with his hackles raised. Jurgis jumped out of the car and sprinted halfway across the lawn. Kevin lay on the ground, clutching his arm to his chest.

Jurgis charged forward, waving his arms. He yelled “Get!” until Timber turned tail and ran out to the field.

His heart still hammering, Jurgis retreated to check on Kevin. His son’s left forearm had a chunk of flesh missing. “What in hell set Timber off?”

Tear tracks streaked Kevin’s cheeks. Kevin wiped his eyes. “Paw, I got to looking for Timber in the brush. I pushed through the bushes and found him with a wild turkey. I guess I got too close, ‘cuz Timber snapped at me.” Kevin raised his arm, “I blocked, and he chased me all the way to the house.”

Laura raised her broom. “I heard Kevin scream and came running.”

Jurgis knelt to pick up his son and carried him inside to the living room couch. “Laura, get the bandages and antiseptic.”

In the kitchen he filled a ceramic bowl with warm water and a cloth. He returned to the living room and began gently washing Kevin’s wound.

His wife returned with the metal red-and-white medicine kit. When she got an eyeful of the wound, she put a hand to her mouth. “Is he going be all right, Jurgis?”

“I don’t see any muscle, so the bite’s not too deep, and he can still use his hand. He’ll be okay. Just need to stop infection from starting.”

He removed the cap on a small bottle of peroxide, and held it over the torn skin. “Squeeze my hand, son.” As the clear liquid bubbled inside the wound, Kevin clenched Jurgis’s hand , leaving nail imprints, but he didn’t make a sound. Jurgis squeezed his son’s shoulder twice. “You’re taking it like a man, son.” Kevin smiled.

Jurgis pressed some gauze pads to the wound, and wrapped the arm in bandages. He handed the rest of the roll back to his wife and went to his bedroom to get his Remington shotgun. He pulled out a box of shotgun shells from the top drawer of the dresser and tipped out a few cartridges. Shoving them into the breach, he walked past his family towards the front door.

Kevin cried out, “Dad, don’t kill him!  It was my fault. He didn’t know no better!”

He glanced at his wife. When she nodded, Jurgis walked out towards the barn. Each morning Kevin placed the dog’s food there, in a warped clay dish he had made when he was seven.

He entered the red and white barn and found Timber hiding in the corner with his tail between his legs. The dog whined and rolled onto his back, exposing his belly. Goddamn it! This is my fault. For the last two years Timber had developed a foul temper, which Jurgis suspected came from back pain, but he would never have dreamed the dog would turn on his master. Timber loved Kevin.

A gnawing weight pulled at his stomach. “I know you didn’t mean to, boy; it was just instinct. Is it your fault the way God made you?” Timber’s tail wagged tentatively.

He sighed and leaned down to scratch Timber’s patch of white chest fur. He talked to the dog and to himself. “I remember when I brought you home as a little pup. Laura didn’t like you sleeping on Kevin’s bed, but I didn’t see any harm.” Timber rolled onto on his stomach. “That black bear would have killed Kevin if you hadn’t faced off with him. Doc stitched you up good, but there wasn’t anything he could do about your back. I’ve heard you whimpering sometimes.”

He tried to keep his voice level when he lowered the barrel of the shotgun to the side of Timber’s skull. Slowly he applied pressure to the trigger. Please, don’t let him feel it, Lord. Timber stared at him with trusting eyes.

He just couldn’t do it. Not today. He pulled the barrel up. Exhaling, he eased his finger off the trigger. “Stay here, Timber.” He pulled the barn doors shut, and tipped the metal latch lock. He shook his head and walked back to the house. He knew he was shirking his duty. He walked past his wife and son in the kitchen without a word.

He pulled out his treasured Cherry Wood pipe and a pouch of White Burley tobacco. He turned the pipe sideways to light it and exhaled the smoke in short puffs.

Outside, the thunder rumbled in agreement with the angry raindrops striking the roof. The storm was finally here. But Jurgis didn’t look out the window. He just kept watching the white rings of smoke expand and disperse as they rose up towards the rafters.

Every chair  in the courtroom was filled . The entire town had shown up for the trial, and every one of them expected him to uphold the law. He met each weighty stare with calm conviction, except for Maggie’s. Instead, Jurgis turned his attention to the only two attorneys in Pendleton.

The stringy, hawk-nosed George Pliznik shuffled sheets of paper at the Prosecution’s desk, while Wilbert Bentley alternated between smoothing the creases in his rumpled suit and running his fingers through his mustache in the Defendant’s corner. Both looked eager to start. Jurgis swiveled toward Bailiff Reynolds and nodded.

Jurgis struck the bench with the gavel, and the background buzz of conversation vanished. Bailiff Reynolds called out, “All be seated!  The court of Judge Wilborn is now in session.”

Jurgis faced the courtroom. “In the interest of public safety, the defendant Billy Thatcher is waits in his cell. The plea of not guilty by way of insanity has been entered. Prosecutor, you may begin with your opening argument.”

The prosecutor tugged on his tie, then stood to face the jury. “Esteemed members of the jury, on the night of May 17th, Mitch Summers and Lisa Ivers were found brutally murdered at Nessling’s Point. The next day the defendant, Billy Thatcher, was found covered in blood less than a quarter-mile from the crime scene. It’s been ten years since a crime of this magnitude has sullied our good town. Members of the jury, I ask for a verdict declaring this monster, Billy Thatcher, guilty of murder.”

As soon as the prosecutor sat down, Mr. Bentley stood and clasped both  of his lapels. “We all feel the loss of Mr. Summers and Ms. Ivers, but I want you to ask yourself: would you vote for the full measure of the Law, if the perpetrator were a child? This is exactly what we have in the mind of Billy Thatcher.” The Defense Attorney paused for dramatic effect, the flesh under his tucked chin spilled out over his collar. “Of course not! In good conscience, we cannot punish this young man for the sad consequences of his birth. Therefore, I beg the jury to find the Billy Thatcher not guilty by way of diminished capacity.”

The members of the jury watched the lawyers in utter silence. Jurgis pointed to the prosecutor. “Mr. Pliznik, please present your evidence.”

The prosecutor presented into evidence hair and blood samples, as well as a silver cross on a thin mesh chain. Sheriff McGowan was called to the stand. “Sheriff McGowan, where were these samples obtained?”

Sheriff McGowan ran his thumb along his square jaw and spoke slowly. “They were taken from Billy Thatcher. We found him hiding in the woods with Mitch Summer’s cross in his hand. When we tried to take the silver cross away, he broke Deputy Lars’s arm.”

The prosecutor paused before asking one final question. “Sheriff McGowan, could you describe the state of the crime scene and the bodies when they were found?”

“The bodies were dismembered and there was blood everywhere.”

The Prosecutor returned to his seat. The Defense advanced to the stand. “Sheriff, when you found Billy Thatcher, what was his mental state?”

“He was pretty calm when we found him. He was just sitting there looking at the cross, like he was in a trance.”

“He didn’t run? Or hide? He just sat like a child with a new toy?”

The Sheriff shook his head from side to side. “No. He just sat there.”

“No more questions.” The witness returned to the first row of chairs in the courtroom.

“The prosecution rests, your Honor.”

Jurgis motioned to the Defense. “Mr. Bentley, please proceed.”

“If I may bring in a piece of audiovisual equipment, your Honor?” Jurgis waved Mr. Bentley on.

Mr. Bentley exited the courtroom and returned with a slide projector and a canvas screen. Mr. Bentley called Dr. Tobias to the stand. From the deep ridges in his brow, it was clear Doc was not happy about taking time off for an appearance in court. “Dr. Tobias, I have gone to considerable effort to have a computerized tomography machine brought in from the Outside, and I have with me the resulting CT scans of Mr. Thatcher’s brain.” A whisper of excited conversation broke out in the courtroom.

Jurgis declared, “Order! If you can’t be silent you will be asked to leave my court room.” The talking subsided.

The defense attorney continued. “Your Honor, can we turn down the lights?” He nodded and the Bailiff complied.

The screen at the front of the courtroom displayed a picture of a brain. Mr. Bentley pivoted slightly towards Dr. Tobias. “Would you say this brain appears normal to you?”

Dr. Tobias squinted. “Can’t say I’m very familiar with CT scans, but I think it looks ’bout right.”

Ever the showman, Mr. Bentley wiped his brow and smiled. “Whew, I’m glad to hear that. That one was taken of my own brain. How about this one?” An image of a brain appeared, but this one was incomplete. A black area consumed a quarter of the white matter.

In the fourth row, Father Cheswick shouted, “Good Lord! That boy has the dark pit of the abyss within him!”

“Father Cheswick, sit down!” Jurgis said sternly.

“Your Honor, the Defense asks that Dr. Tobias step out of the witness booth, to explain to the jury what the slides taken of Billy Thatcher mean.”

“Go ahead, Doc.”

Dr. Tobias stepped up to the screen and pointed to the bottom of the image. “See this big black pocket? That’s in the frontal cortex. That’s where man’s conscious thinking lies.”

“From your lifetime of experience as a doctor, Billy’s mental ability to reason and decide right from wrong would be at what level?”

“He wouldn’t be much more than an animal.”

The Defense Attorney’s eyes gleamed. “Thank you, Doctor.” He turned to the jury. “So citizens, can we punish Billy Thatcher for a sickness—an abnormality present since his birth?”

Mr. Bentley let the question hang in the air as he returned to his seat. Jurgis asked if the prosecution wished to ask any questions, but the Prosecutor shook his head. “I reserve the right to recall the witness, your Honor.”

The Defense called Maggie to the stand. Jurgis’s jaw clenched as she walked around the bench to the witness booth. He avoided her gaze.

The Defense Attorney continued. “Mrs. Thatcher, had you ever let your son out of the house before May 17th?”

Maggie shook her head. “No. My boy always stayed in with me. I’m so sorry for what happened, but please don’t punish Billy. I never thought he’d make it through the fence to harm anyone. I shouldn’t have let him out, but he begged me every day. He was so lonely.”

“So Billy Thatcher had never been out in the world? Never played with other children?” Mr. Bentley patted Maggie on the shoulder. “It’s hard for me to imagine Billy’s life. His only exposure to the world was through the glass of a tiny window?”

Maggie rubbed under the collar of her white blouse. “Yes. I’m all Billy’s ever had.”

Mr. Bentley turned toward the jury. “Imagine a young boy isolated from other children; never taught how to deal with his fellow human beings…”

Jurgis said reprovingly, “Mr. Bentley, let’s stick to questioning the witness.” Mr. Bentley nodded, and proceeded to ask questions about Billy’s childhood.

Jurgis peeked at Maggie out of the corner of his eye. He remembered sitting on a swing with her and trying to summon up the courage to kiss her; nervously clasping the back of her head and pressing his lips to hers. The kiss was soft and sweet, like the flesh of the strawberries his mother grew in her garden. The moment was fleeting. He should have noticed the glint of his father’s silver cross; Reverend Wilborn had worn it at every sermon he preached. His father’s open-handed slap rocked his head back. ‘Boy, what in hell are you doing? You’re blaspheming in front of my very house – in the sight of God!’ At the time, he hadn’t understand why his father had been so mad, or why he kicked Jurgis out of the house. Now he did.

“Your Honor?”

Jurgis snapped back to the present. “No more questions for this witness. I would like to call up the accused, Billy Thatcher.”

The Prosecutor’s bony face was so pinched it looked like someone had peed in his lemonade. “Objection!  The public’s safety must be protected.”

The Defense responded, “The jury has the right to assess the defendant’s mental capacity and the accused has the right to speak in his defense.”

Jurgis rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll allow it. Bring him in.”

Billy Thatcher was brought forward in chains, escorted by three bailiffs. Billy’s face appeared scrunched from top to bottom; the brow pushed down until his eyes protruded like a crab’s. His massive lower jaw stuck out in a hideous underbite, leaving his lower canines exposed. A fat, lolling tongue drooped over the teeth, glistening with saliva. His entire body was covered with thick white fur except for his fingers, which were chalk-colored claws.

The creature faced him and Jurgis was stunned by the sight of the abomination. He should have asked Maggie to see the boy when he was born, but he’d been so ashamed.

A roar erupted from the creature, “Phadder!

With the clunk of broken chains, Billy thrust the bailiffs aside and rushed toward the bench where Jurgis sat.

Standing at the corner of the witness box, Bailiff Reynolds tried to intercept. Billy whipped several taloned fingers across the bailiff’s throat. The witness booth and back wall were sprayed with a gush of arterial blood. Jurgis stumbled backwards out of his seat as the creature started to climb the bench.

Two bailiffs and Sheriff McGowan tackled Billy from behind. They struck him with clubs until the creature’s arms could be brought behind his back and manacled.

Jurgis smoothed his robes and calmed his breathing. “Dr. Tobias, attend to Bailiff Reynolds. Constable, take Mr. Thatcher back to his cell. Mr. Bentley, you will have to make do without the defendant’s testimony.” Sheriff McGowan helped the two bailiffs force the monster out the side door and back to his cell.

“How is he, Doc?”

Dr. Tobias pressed hard on a makeshift bandage on the Bailiff’s neck. “He’s lost a lot of blood. I’ll do what I can.” Doc turned his head to the fourth row of seats. “Sally, come here. I need you to get a sheet to carry him.”

Jurgis watched the injured man be carried outside, then his eyes swept the courtroom. One more death on my hands. “We’ll take an hour’s recess. Let’s get this done, people.”

Jurgis sipped a glass of water as the trial resumed in the stuffy courtroom. He squeezed his knuckles below the bench. “Everyone take your seats.” He barely heard the attorneys speed through their closing arguments.

Jurgis faced the jury. “Members of the jury, deliberate carefully upon the evidence presented. Foreman, speak to Sheriff McGowan when the jury’s decision is reached.”

Ten minutes later, the jury returned. The Foreman stood waiting for his cue.

Jurgis knew the decision, but protocol demanded he ask anyway. “What is the jury’s decision?”

“Guilty, your Honor.”

The Law was clear: blood for blood.

Maggie stood up and pointed. “Jurgis, don’t you do it!  I’ll never forgive you!” Her blouse opened slightly and Jurgis saw the silver cross around her neck. He was glad their father had given it to her. He didn’t deserve it. He just wished his sister had kept the Wilborn name.

Solemnly, he faced the court. “Bailiffs, bring in the condemned.” Two bailiffs pulled Billy Thatcher from the back room. This time, the creature was doubly chained, but Billy didn’t resist when he was forced to kneel over the witness booth.

Jurgis removed a black silk hood from a pocket under his robes. Billy Thatcher’s eyes, the only truly human part of him, met Jurgis’s. Did the boy know? Did Billy realize what was about to occur?

In those umber eyes, he saw understanding –  and acceptance. A hollowness filled his chest as he slipped the hood over Billy’s head.

He turned to the wall behind the judge’s bench. Two metal brackets held the four-hundred-year old ceremonial axe. He had wielded the weapon only twice during his term, but the long, steel shaft was coldly familiar in his hands. He hoisted the axe on his shoulder and moved to stand over Billy.

His raised voice reverberated in the large room. “The Will of the people is clear. The Law is clear.” However, his heart felt anything but clear.

His eyes connected with those of the waiting community, binding them in the decision to enforce Pendleton’s Law. He saw the bartender Churls, the fingers of his right hand webbed together so badly it might as well be a pincer. Nurse Fairfield, her throat swelled with a goiter the size of a cantaloupe. The plumber, Staggs, staring at Jurgis with his queer four-pupilled eyes.

These people were his family, and he’d felt proud to serve them. Yet, over the generations had his people, the citizens of Pendleton, lost their way? Did the blame for this monster’s creation lie with all of Pendleton – or just the father?

He placed his hand tenderly on Billy’s head. His ears detected an animal-like snuffling under the hood. I wonder if he knows how to cry?

He whispered, “It’s not your fault, son.”

The fall of the axe was quick. The wood of the witness booth stopped the cut. One more scar in the aging wood; One more sin on our souls. He heard Billy’s head rolling softly across the floor, but he couldn’t look at it.

The townspeople stood in silence, and then filed out of the courtroom to continue with their lives. The Sheriff and one of the bailiffs removed the body for the rite of fire to occur later that night. He stared at the axe in his hands. The blade had cleaved so effortlessly through the twenty years of his son’s life; a life devoid of all but a mother’s love.

Sheriff McGowan returned from the back room and nodded to him. “You did what was proper, Judge. That boy was an animal, plain and simple.”

Jurgis’s lips puckered in distaste. He handed the bloody axe to the Sheriff and walked outside. The Sheriff could clean it and the bloody floor — his part was done. Overhead, the sky still threatened rain.

As Jurgis drove, he petted Timber sitting on the passenger seat. The dog’s tail wagged and its wide tongue drooped out of its mouth. His eyes flicked to the shotgun in the backseat. The Buick approached a deserted edge of forest several miles from Pendleton. He stopped the car, got out, and opened the trunk. He removed a packaged hunk of pork loin and tossed it on the grass. “Go get it, Timber!”

Timber’s nervousness disappeared as the dog jumped out of the car to wolf the meat down. From his trouser pocket, Jurgis pulled out a tattered rope chew-toy. When Timber finished his meal, Jurgis thumped the knotted end of the rope on the ground twice. “C’mon boy!”

Timber lunged forward and gripped the rope in his jaws, shaking it from side to side. The Rottweiler’s tail was a happy blur of wagging.

He laughed. The dog looked so content with a simple piece of rope. After a few minutes pulling on the toy, Jurgis released the rope and chuckled as the dog thrashed it in the air. He kneeled and scratched Timber’s chest  until the dog started thumping the ground with his rear paw.

Pent-up tears fell from Jurgis’s eyes. He wiped at them with his sleeve, and then rose to stand. Timber continued to throw the rope into the air and playfully pounce on it. Jurgis took the shotgun out of the backseat and stood next to the dog.

He took a deep breath. I’m sorry, Lord. Forgive me.

He pointed the weapon and fired.

The sound of the shotgun cut through the tranquility of the forest like a sinful blade.

Cowering  amongst the trees Timber’s canine eyes questioned him., Timber started to trot back uncertainly towards his master until Jurgis fired again up into the clear blue sky. “I’m sorry, boy, but you need to be where you belong.” Jurgis closed his eyes for a moment. “I just wish there’d been a place for Billy.”

Timber’s eyes followed Jurgis while he got into the Buick and drove back to town.


Copyright © 2010 by Sean & Craig Davis
Illustrations © 2010 by Vincent Sammy
Originally published in Something Wicked Issue 10

Sean Davis is a thirty-eight-year-old physical therapist living in Jackson, Tennessee.
Craig Davis is a thirty-six year old mechanical engineer living in Raleigh, North Carolina. The two brothers have had their stories published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Trail of Indiscretion magazine, and Tabloid Purposes IV horror anthology.



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