The Important Stuff

A Beginning

A story has to begin somewhere. If you've ever played a RPG then you know that many stories start in taverns. How else are you to gather...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

No More Strange Fruit

Summer in the south sucked big fat donkey balls. The heat was oppressive. The air felt like a physical force that weighed him down and made movement difficult. Sweat was ever present and even the rare breeze felt more like the heat of a furnace. Cain could think of a hundred different places across the globe where he would rather be, but he was back in the south.

Cain didn’t want to be there. But he’d promised a friend. A dear friend who had died in his arms over in those trenches in France that he would make sure someone took care of the man’s Mama. That someone was him. So, he was in the south again. The single room shack at his back wasn’t much, but it was a roof over his head when it rained. And close enough to his friend’s Mama’s place he could see her porch from his. He’d told them he was a cousin from up north, which meant in that small community he was now cousin to everyone. Reminded him of his first home. They took care of one another because there weren’t no one else that gave a damn about them.

He sipped his sweet tea with a wedge of lemon on the edge of the glass, it provided a modicum of relief from the oppressive heat. It was already late in the day. The sun kissed the horizon as the sky turned a hundred shades of purple, red, and orange. Folks would return home soon. Done with their work as share croppers, maids, floor sweepers, and the numerous other low pay grunt work the white folk in town were oh so kind to allow them to demean themselves at.

Cain spit to the side of his rocking chair as it creaked beneath him. He made his money with moonshine. What with Prohibition the law of the land there were plenty of respectable folks who just wanted a nip here and there. And others that needed more just to get through the day. He didn’t give a shit, so long as they paid.

It was the full moon that night. He could feel the pull of that heavenly body even as it had yet to lift above the horizon. He would head out soon. Take off into the woods to hunt and howl, far away from these good people who had opened their arms and homes to him. Cain put his hands on the arms of his chair to push up when he saw a commotion. Folks ran out of their homes, no matter how tired they were to run down towards Granny Mabel’s. She was everyone’s Granny and had certainly fed Cain more than once since his arrival. She pretended not to notice when he left a couple of bills tucked under his plate before he left.

He saw one of his neighbors run from home to home. He paused only long enough to share his information before he ran to the next shack. Otis ran up to Cain’s porch, unable to speak at first as he was out of breath. Cain stepped down from the porch to put his hands on the taller man’s shoulders. “What happened?”

Otis was a superstitious man and had a hard time with Cain’s gold eyes. He looked down at the ground as he gulped air, “Lil’Willie. They done took’em.”

Lil’Willie wasn’t so little. He was a man grown, but a mongoloid and simple minded. He had a job at the general store downtown where he swept floors and lifted heavy things. Everyone loved Lil’Willie. You couldn’t help but smile at his infectious joy.

“Who took ‘em Otis?” Cain’s voice was a low growl as he felt an anger rise in him hotter than any he’d felt outside of war. He knew there were few reasons that would get the whole community this riled up. With the weather so hot, it was inevitable that some folks looked for excuses to terrorize and violate.

Otis took a step back at Cain’s growl, that was not a sound that should ever come out of a man’s throat. “th-The Klan. Snatched him right up off the road as he was walkin’ home. Wouldn’t have even known if Emma Gene hadn’t been waitn’ up in a tree fer her Daddy ta be walkin’ home.”

He patted the other man’s shoulder, “Good for her being so bright.” He looked down the row of shacks to Granny Mabel’s where everyone in the small community had begun to gather. He turned back to Otis, “Where do they take ‘em Otis? Where do they go with the people they take?”

There had been another man killed just before Cain had arrived. The rumors said it was because he hadn’t stepped off the sidewalk when a white woman had walked past him. Cain thought those ignorant pricks had just looked for an excuse to kill someone. He understood blood lust. Oh, how well he understood blood lust. But this went beyond that. Those cowards in white sheets sought only to terrorize people like Otis, Granny Mabel, and Lil’Willie.

Otis shook his head, “You don’t wanna go after these folks Cain. They’ll kill you too.” He went quiet when Cain’s fingers dug into the flesh of his shoulders.

“They ain’t gonna kill anyone Otis. Not tonight. Not ever again.”

Whatever Otis saw in Cain’s gaze convinced him, “There’s a field... north side of town. Used ta be an ole’church over that way. Lots of them who died back in tha war is buried up there. They burn their crosses over there… and hang our folks from an ole’oak. They call it a sacrifice to the glorious dead.”

Cain snorted. He remembered that war. It had been his first war. He’d put plenty of led shot in those boys in grey. “Good man.” He turned to go back into his shack then stopped, “I suggest folks pack up though. Go stay with family in other parts of the state. I’ll see that Lil’Willie gets back to Granny.” He looked toward the eastern horizon where he could just sense the moon. “They will want revenge for what’s about to happen.”

Otis just stood there a moment before he took a step forward so his boot rested on the porch, “What you gonna do Cain?”

He stopped in the door of his cabin as he looked back at Otis, “I’m gonna get Lil’Willie back… and kill me some crackers.” Cain’s lips peeled back from his teeth in a feral grin that let Otis see the way his canines were longer than was ordinary. It was enough to cause the man to go grey as he stumbled back then turned to run down to where the rest of the community gathered.

He watched the man run then went into his cabin as he threw everything into wooden fruit crates and bags. It was a good thing he didn’t gather much in the way of things. He carried everything out to his tin lizzie and packed it up tight. The last few things he grabbed he kept hidden under a board next to his hearth. The rolls of cash he tossed two into his last bag, the rest he put in a paper bag to leave with his friend’s Mama. He wouldn’t be needing all of it, and those who already worked for him would put his distillery out in the woods to good use.

The final cloth wrapped items he pulled out of the hidden place would come in handy that night. He unwrapped the tommy gun first. He’d wanted to fire that for a while. Cain took a few moments to ensure it was clean, oiled, and ready to fire. The final item was his Colt. He’d brought it home with him from Europe. He had one magazine in it and a second ready to go as the holster went onto his belt.

As he turned to leave the cabin Cain realized he would miss this place. Well not the weather, but he would miss the people here. They had welcomed him with open arms. Treated him like family. Never questioned his weird ways. Maybe he could come back in a few years to see them again. When he stepped outside onto the porch he came to a sharp halt. The entire community stood there, some held torches, while others lofted lanterns. Granny Mabel stood there with her cane and couple young men to steady her.

Cain wasn’t sure what to do as no one spoke. After a few moments, he stepped off the porch. As he walked to his car he paused next to his friend’s Mama, just handed her the sack with the cash. She nodded in silence as tears rolled down her cheeks. He tossed the last of his things into the Model T and turned back. Everyone just stared at him. It was uncomfortable for a man who preferred to go around unnoticed.

It was Granny Mabel who finally spoke up in her reedy voice, “You bringin’ my boy back?”

“I am.” He said after he cleared his throat.

She nodded curtly. “Good…” For the time it took a drop of sweat to roll down the side of Cain’s face and drop from his jaw it seemed that she had said her piece then she added, “Be sure to bring yourself back too boy. I like your face.”

Cain tried to remain stone faced but that last part just broke through. He laughed as he went over to the old woman to hug her as tight as he dared with her bird delicate bones. “I like your face too you tart.” When she pinched his ass, he laughed again.

As if a dam broke the rest of the community surrounded him. He felt their hands on his arms, shoulders, as well as his back. How many years had it been since he’d had family? So many decades of always on the move. Never in one place long enough to put down roots. He could have easily stayed with these people for years. They would probably never even question when they aged and he didn’t. He still looked like a young man. Barely in his twenties. But he had lived decades, older than Granny Mabel.

He finally pulled free, “There’s an old red barn, roof half fallen in, next to a pond.” He saw heads nod. “I’ll make sure Lil’Willie gets to that barn. Y’all get ‘em from there.” He got into his model T and with a final wave he headed out.

He knew the church Otis had mentioned. He’d left moonshine there, picked up his cash elsewhere. Hell, he’d probably sold ‘shine to some of the same sons of bitches who were gonna die tonight. They should have stuck to drinking instead of doing harm to the people he cared about.

Cain could feel the moon’s power over him grow. The call to change was hot in his blood. His heart hammered as his blood roared. The beast clawed at the cage of his ribs as it howled its desire to break free. But he couldn’t let go yet. He couldn’t let the beast out yet. Not until he had laid eyes on Lil’Willie. Not until he was certain that poor young man was still among the living.

It was a half hour before he pulled up to the old barn. He could smell smoke in the air. More than just folks’ cooking fires. This was a bonfire. They’d soaked the wood in petrol from the smell of it. Cain opened the barn doors and pulled inside. He doubted anyone would check this barn out tonight. The white folks who weren’t a part of the mob would be safe behind their doors. They wouldn’t dare peek a hair outside until dawn. All the better to pretend they were against this kind of murder, even as their complicity allowed it to continue.

He closed the barn doors once more before he returned to his car and stripped down to his skivvies and socks. No need to destroy a good pair of pants when he changed. It was easier to replace undershorts than quality trousers. A few moments of thought and the Colt he tucked under the seat before he slapped a magazine to the Tommy gun.  A bayonet from his war days he screwed onto the muzzle. When he stepped out of the barn and into the moonlight he felt the rush. The beast within howled. It wanted free. It wanted to hunt. To rend and tear. Not yet he whispered. Soon. Cain let only enough of the beast out that his eyesight grew sharper. His other senses stronger. He felt his nails lengthen and sharpen, his hair grew shaggy, his canines’ sharper. The beast was right there, just beneath the surface, but he was still in control.

His nose to the air he started to run. He could now see the glow beyond the trees. The light of the bonfire they circled like pagans in some ancient rite. Yet they claimed to be Christians. He spit on their mockery of god. They sought to make a blood sacrifice, too bad it was to be their blood and not Lil’Willie’s that would spill before the night ended.

It was a two-mile run through fields full of lazy cows, thick brush that scratched at his dark brown skin, and neat rows of nearly ripe produce that men like Otis would harvest. He slowed down when he reached the tall stand of pines. He could hear them now. Their laughter. Their mockery of a man’s life. Their rage at a body just because of the shade of one’s skin. He could smell more than just the fire. He could smell their sweat. The beer and liquor they consumed to bolster their courage and their hate.

Cain saw the cars all lined up, at least half a dozen with a couple more mule drawn wagons. He saw the bonfire with its flames that reached twenty feet into the air. He saw the cross that waited to be lit. The wood soaked with petrol so it would burn with a fury when they finally put the torch to it. So much noise. So much chaos they had no idea what was about to be in their midst. He crept among their cars first, the blade of his bayonet met each tire so that none would escape that way. He even cut the harnesses of the mules to set them free.

He tasted blood in his mouth as his teeth caught his own tongue. Where was Lil’Willie? Cain skirted around the orgy of hate to make his way to what remained of the old church and the oak tree whose limbs spread to shade the equally old headstones. He could see a truck parked under those wide branches. When he finally reached the skeletal structure of the old church he could smell blood and hear fists as they impacted with flesh.

When he peered around the corner of the church all thoughts of stealth threatened to escape his thoughts. Lil’Willie was there. His arms bound to the bumper at the front of the truck. A man in white robes, stained with red stood over him. His fists swung as he beat the helpless man beneath him. When one of the other men pulled him back, it wasn’t to end Lil’Willie’s torment, it was only to give the man who dished out the violence another drink of liquor. Two others stood in the bed of the truck as they tossed the rope over a sturdy limb of the tree.

It was a struggle but Cain remained in control of his rage. He couldn’t give these bastards the opportunity to kill Lil’Willie out of spite. He turned to creep toward the back of the church to come around at them from another direction. As he reached the back of the building he heard a grunt and a steady stream of liquid as it hit the ground. Cain looked around the side of the building and saw a man with one arm braced against the wall as he held his robes up with the other. His piss hit the side of the building before it fell to the ground before the man’s boots.

Cain’s lips peeled back from his teeth as he moved around the corner. The pisser did not seem aware until Cain clucked his tongue. As the pisser looked up, Cain smacked him in the face with the butt of his gun. Blood blossomed across the man’s face as cartilage and bone crunched. Even as the man stumbled back Cain struck him in the gut, then as he bent over a third hit to the back of his head sent the man to the ground face first into the puddle of his own piss.

He looked to the east where the moon now crested the horizon. Fat, bloated, swollen and full of promise. It almost seemed as if a red haze shrouded the moon. Or that could have just been his own lust for blood as he turned back to the task at hand. He stepped over the unconscious figure upon the ground then walked boldly around the corner. A sharp whistle caught the attention of the two men in the bed of the truck. It was likely all they really saw of him was the reflection of the fire in his eyes and the white of his undershorts. Then… he grinned, and the tommy gun in his hands rattled off like a type writer. Both men fell with screams as more blood bloomed on their robes. All around the drunken orgy of violence and hate men looked up. Some went immediately for their own guns while others just screamed and ran for cover. Cain didn’t care. They were all to die.

Those who had hovered over Lil’Willie had ducked when the tommy gun spoke. Cain didn’t give them time to hunker down. He continued forward. The gun in his hand spat lead at any who moved. Someone popped up to fire off a handgun, they missed the dark-skinned man who now laughed as he blew out the back of the man’s head.

When he reached the front of the truck the men had fled. He paused just long enough to look to Lil’Willie. The man’s face swollen, so bruised and battered it was a wonder he could still breath. They’d stripped his shirt away and he bled from numerous wounds. Cain knelt to tear at the knots of the rope. His claw like nails ripped the rope to shreds.

“Willie... it’s me... Cain... I’m gonna get you outta here. You just stay here by this here truck. I’m comin’ right back for ya. Ain’t no one gonna hurt you like this ever again.” He eased the man over onto his side but before he could move away Lil’Willie had grabbed his hand,

“… Cain… good… good man…Cain.” His words slurred from between swollen lips.

Cain might have argued that another day. But he just squeezed Lil’Willie’s hand between his own. “You just wait here for me… I ain’t done with these bastards yet.” As soon as Willie released him he stood to resume his hunt.

The time it took him to see to Lil’Willie most of the cowards had scattered. But he could hear them out there in the night. He could smell their fear. “COME ON YOUR COWARDLY FUCKS! I’M JUST ONE BLACK MAN! COME GET ME YOU PIECES OF SHIT!

A rifle sounded in the night and Cain felt the burn of the bullet as it left a furrow in the flesh of his shoulder. He laughed. “THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO? I THOUGHT YOU BASTARDS COULD SHOOT?” The tommy in his hands spoke again as he fired in the direction the rifle shot had come from. There was a scream from the darkness as at least one of his bullets found its mark.

Cain stalked towards the bonfire as he shot at any sign of movement or sound. By the time he reached the massive flame he pulled the trigger and nothing happened but a click. For a moment, he stood outlined by the flames at his back. The now useless gun in his hands. With another laugh he tossed it into the fire. Let that weapon of death burn and warp so that none could use it again. Cain let his arms spread, “HERE I AM YOU REDNECK INBRED CRACKERS! COME SHOW ME YOUR SO CALLED SUPERIOR RACE!

He heard them in the dark. Was he really out of ammo? Was he really unarmed? Was he really that stupid? Cain laughed again as he turned slowly. Let them see what they wanted, a colored man in nothing but his underclothes, unarmed, defenseless. Let them think him helpless. Let them come.
The first ones to break from the cover of darkness were young. He could tell by the way they moved and the way their bodies filled out the robes. Young men full of piss and vinegar. Probably raised in this hateful tradition. From the fear he could smell in their sweat this may very well be their first lynching. Their trial by fire. Blooded this night, made into a mockery of manhood that dwelled on violence and fear. Their hands forever stained with the blood of the black man. Cain let his lips peel back from his teeth as they came at him. He didn’t want the cubs. He wanted those who led this destructive pack. He could hold the beast back for a bit longer. Long enough to lure out the leaders.

The first fist struck him in the jaw to force Cain to stumble back. The second caught him in the gut. His laughter mocked them as their fists rained down upon him. He heard others approach. More boots came into his line of vision. Oh. He was on the ground. Their fists and feet found him. He heard something snap in his chest when a boot connected with his ribs. He paid no mind to how long they beat on him. It would all be over soon. Then he heard it. The order barked out in a voice used to immediate obedience. “Pick that nigger up! I wanna see his face!”

Their hands grabbed Cain by the arms as they lifted him to his feet once more. Blood flowed from where his skin had split under the heavy blows. He laughed, only to receive another gut punch for the sound. When he felt fingers in his hair as they dragged his head up his gaze met eyes as brown as his had once been so many years ago. He recognized the scent of this man. The very store owner Lil’Willie worked for every day but Sunday. Somehow that made sense.

“I know you…” The man hissed as he looked at Cain, “You’re that boy from up North. You shoulda stayed north with them yankees boy. Now you and the retard both are gonna die.” The men who surrounded them hollered in blood lust. “Then we’re gonna go and burn down that shanty town like we shoulda done years ago.”

Cain chuckled then spat a gob of blood on the man’s robe, “You done fucked up. You shoulda left Lil’Willie alone…”

The man snarled as he drove his fist into Cain’s face. “And you shoulda never come to our town nigger.” He turned away as he called for more rope.

Cain lifted his head once more. The moon was over the tops of the pine trees. He could feel the beast within. It no longer raged. It waited, quiet, watchful. He and the beast were one. Of one mind. Of one purpose. There was no more need to hold the beast back. They both wanted the blood of these men on their claws. On their teeth. “…now…”

The first hint the men had that something was wrong was the sound of bone as it snapped. The men who had held Cain up suddenly found the man between them seemed to have some sort of fit. His limbs jerked. Pained sounds escaped him as his skeletal structure rearranged into the form of the beast. Men turned to look on in horror as they saw Cain’s skin split. They stared as fur as black as pitch sprouted across the man’s flesh. Someone vomited up beer and barbeque as the black man’s face elongated and his human teeth fell out so that the proper teeth of the predator grew in their place.

Somewhere someone shouted for someone else to shoot it. Those who had held Cain stumbled away. The man turned wolf fell forward onto the ground as his limbs twisted. Where once were human fingers and toes, now were bestial claws. As the last of the changed washed over him the wolf lifted its head. Eyes of gold met the eyes of brown. Lips peeled back from teeth made to rip and tear. He climbed to his feet once more. The beast was a good foot taller than Cain normally stood, his frame packed with more muscle. With a snarl, Cain launched himself at the leader of this pack of hate filled men. A high-pitched scream cut off as flesh tore under the claws and teeth of the beast. The leader silenced as his blood bubbled in a ravaged airway. Men screamed. Some ran. Others wept and pissed themselves. A handful had mind enough to fire their guns at the monster in their midst. But with no silver on those bullets their weapons did little but piss off the already angry beast.

Cain was in no hurry to slaughter these men. He would enjoy their screams. He would relish the taste of their blood. As he leaped from the body of one the wolf took down the next. The man tried to use his rifle to block the beast and for a moment Cain’s jaws were around the barrel of the rifle, but then he slashed his claws across the man’s face, jerked the rifle from his hands, then ripped the man’s belly open to leave him desperate to hold his guts in.

One by one he hunted them down. One by one they died by his teeth and claws. He left none alive. He left none where they could recover from their injuries. The last thing he would do to this community was give any of these men his gift. Some he found as they hid in their cars. Others tried to climb the tall pine trees. One he dragged from the old church. Another he chased all the way to the road and took them down only feet from the gravel. He tore out throats. He mangled limbs. One bastard he tore the man’s arm off at the elbow, only to stab him with the bone.

When the last of his prey had fallen under his claws, his fur damp with their blood, the beast with the mind of a man dragged the bodies back to throw them upon the bonfire they had created. What they built to celebrate their hatred now was their funeral pyre. The only one he did not burn was their leader. Him, Cain dragged to the oak tree, put the noose around his ankles, then hauled the body up into the air to swing as a warning to any who came after.

When Cain finally went to Lil’Willie, the man had fallen unconscious at some point. The rage was gone as the wolf nudged gently at the young man. A tongue which had just tasted the blood of the young man’s tormentors gently licked at his face until he stirred. Lil’Willie could not see with his eyes swollen shut. But he reached up as his fingers felt thick fur. “…good doggy…”

Slowly he nudged his head under Lil’Willie’s arm. He urged the young man to sit up, then stand. As the beast, Cain was plenty large and sturdy enough to offer support to the injured young man, even if Lil’Willie was a good half a foot taller than his human guise. With the young man’s hands in his fur he guided him away from the slaughter.

The night was grey by the time they made it back to the barn by the pond. The moon dipped towards the west as the first hints of dawn brightened the sky. Birds awakened and somewhere in the distance a cock crowed. Lil’Willie figured out how to open the door blind as Cain led him in and to a pile of moldy straw. When the young man sat heavily Cain moved away. With the approach of dawn, he felt the beast was ready to sleep once more. He went to the far side of his car to lay down and allowed the change to reverse. He groaned as he writhed upon the ground. His bones snapped and popped as they reverted to their normal configuration. Bullets which had lodged in his flesh were spit out upon the ground as what injuries he took healed with the change. When the beast slumbered once more Cain lay upon the ground as he starred up at the rafters above. Already what sky he could see through the partially collapsed roof showed hints of blue.

He pushed to his feet as he braced a hand against the side of the car. Blood covered most of his flesh as he reached through the window of his tin lizzy to grab the undershirt he’d worn earlier. He used it to wipe the worst of the blood from his skin. He went over to Lil’Willie and knelt by his side, “Hey… you doing okay?”

“…Cain…” He smiled even in pain. “Did you see the big doggy Cain? It brought me here, to you. Think Granny will let me keep the big doggy Cain?”

With a soft chuckle he wiped gently at Lil’Willie’s face, “Not sure about that doggy my friend. But maybe if she is okay with it I’ll find you a puppy by Christmas… how’s that?”

“Oh Cain…that’d be wonderful. I hadda puppy, but he done got old and sick. Had ta bury him next to Gran-daddy.”

Just as Cain was about to say more he heard a sound outside, someone kicked a stone that rattled against some of the tin roof that had fallen off the barn. He pressed a finger to Lil’Willie’s lips to shush him as he moved over to his car, opened the door, and just before he could reach under the seat for his Colt the door opened and a man stepped inside. He’d taken his robes off, but the busted nose and stench of mud and urine which clung to him told Cain that he’d left one bastard alive by accident.

The man had somehow gotten hold of a loaded rifle. He turned and saw Lil’Willie first. “Gawd damn damnit... how the hell did you get here?” He pointed the rifle at the injured man first, then swung it around to point it at Cain when he made a sound. “… holy fuck…” From the way his eyes widened he recognized the man who had put that crook in his nose.

“Now why’d you have to come here and disturb us?” Cain leaned back against the open door of his car. Still nude he held a bloodied shirt in one hand as the other rested on the driver’s seat. “Thought I was done with you fucks.”

“yu-you… you’re the monster. The monster that done killed everyone…” He looked as if he wanted to piss himself again.

“Oh, I didn’t kill everyone… yet. You’re still breathing aren’t ya?” Cain kept the terrified man’s attention on him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lil’Willie cower. That poor man had gone through enough. “How about this. I’ll let you live if you turn around and leave right now. We pretend like you were never at last night’s festivities. You leave Lil’Willie and his folks alone. I won’t need to come back here to rip your head clean off your damn shoulders and fuck the hole.” Cain’s voice was calm, his tone almost pleasant as he spoke to the man who stood there with a rifle pointed at his chest.

The man swallowed heavily as he adjusted the rifle against his shoulder, “Or I shoot you right here and now… and I’m the big damn hero that killed the monster that’s been killin’ folks’ cattle.”

Cain sighed heavily, “Yeah… I know. I prefer venison. But sometimes... you just want an easy meal. And the only thing quicker and easier than some dumb ole bessy… is a big dumb cracker.” He snarled those last words as he showed his teeth to the man.

With a sound that was more of a yelp of fear, than a shout of challenge he pulled the trigger. The bullet passed so close to Cain’s head that it left a furrow in his hair. When Cain’s hand came into view he held the Colt. The first bullet took the man in the shoulder to rock him back a step. The second hit him in the center of his chest as he dropped the rifle. Cain bared his teeth in anger as he advanced. Each step he took, he put another bullet into the man’s body. By the time he stood over him, the man’s breath rattled in his chest as blood bubbled from his lips. The light already on its way out of the man’s eyes, Cain hastened his end by putting the final bullet in the man’s brow.

As he turned away from the body he heard a sob break from Lil’Willie. Cain winced. He walked over and knelt before the cowering man, “Hey… Willie…. I’m so sorry you had to hear that. I really am.”

Lil’Willie’s eyes opened a sliver. He looked at Cain as he sobbed. “Why you kill that man Cain... why you do it? Killin’ bad.”

“I know Willie. But that’s why there’s men like me.” He reached out to tenderly cup the back of Lil’Willie’s head. “I am a bad man Willie. My job is to kill other bad men so they don’t hurt good men like you. Or good women like your Granny. My hands are stained with blood so yours never have to be.” He leaned in to kiss the top of the man’s head.

Cain left Lil’Willie to calm himself as he returned to his car. He reloaded the Colt then dressed once more. Just as he pulled his suspenders up he heard a waxwing’s song. He went to one of the loose boards in the barn and returned the call. A third call and the two brothers who sometimes worked for him broke cover to come over to the barn. As they stepped inside they didn’t ask why there was a dead white man laid out.

He went over to Lil’Willie once more, “Jack n’Erik are here to take you to your Granny my friend. You be good for her you hear me? I’ll try and come see you again when I can… but it might be a while before I am able.”

Lil’Willie grabbed Cain’s hand one more. His grip was strong, his hands warm and calloused. “You ain’t no bad man Cain. You is a good man. You just sometimes gotta do bad things. But you is good. I knows it. Granny knows it. Everyone knows it.”

A smile touched Cain’s lips, “If you say I’m a good man my friend, then I guess I am. But you’re still not getting a puppy until Granny says it’s okay.”

A touch of laughter brightened the moment. Then he handed Lil’Willie over to the brothers who hustled him out so they could head down to where they’d left their wagon. Cain just hoped everyone took his advice and stayed away. There would be others who would come with a mind for vengeance. However, the history books spun this past night he doubted anyone would forget for a good long while.

After he pulled his tin lizzy out of the barn Cain took a few moments to take one of the jars of shine he had under the backseat and splash its contents across the doors. As he stood in the door of the barn Cain wondered if he ever would return. He might, when folks like Jack and Erik were Granny Mabel’s age. With a sigh, he dug a box of matches from his trousers pocket. He struck the match and watched the flame flicker in the early morning breeze. With a flick of his fingers he sent it through the air to land on the alcohol soaked straw. A flame sprung to life immediately. He stayed only long enough to ensure the fire was good and caught then he climbed into his car and when he left he headed north. He’d had enough of the south to last him decades.

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