by Sam Williams
Pa said the well was contaminated. I told Emily that meant it had gone bad. Momma didn’t know how water could go bad. I don’t think dad knew neither. He sure didn’t have a good answer from the look on Ma’s face. Grands said we were cursed by the heathens for taking their land. She had Billy scared and mama didn’t like that one bit. Didn’t matter one way or the next, the water was bad.
I found it turned before my chores. Ma caught me at the door and told me to fetch water so she could start breakfast. Told her cooking was women’s work, I grinned so she know I was joking. She told me if I ever wanted to eat again I better fetch the water.
Ol’ Shep (bless his heart) was sleeping on the porch like always. He woke when he heard me. Shep followed me to the well; looking thirsty I gave him a sip from the bucket. Momma didn’t like me doing that, but she wasn’t around. Last time she caught me, I told her Shep was cleaner and less hairy than Grands so she shouldn’t pay no mind; Boy did I get a beating.
It weren’t no more than a minute after he drank Ol’ Shep started scratching at himself. First he started clawing and biting then he found a rock and started rubbing against it real hard. I ran inside to get Pa. When we got back, he was still at it. The rock was bloody, an eye and most of the side of his face was gone. Pa went back in the house to get the shotgun. I knew what he meant to do and turned to go back in before he could. Passing Pa I walked quicker so he wouldn’t see my face; Pa didn’t like it when I cried.
Inside it took awhile before I heard the shot, it sounded more distant then I expected. Pa must have taken Shep out to the far field. Momma came running. I told her Shep was sick and Pa had to put him down. She wiped a tear from my cheek and gave me a big hug. I laid my head on her shoulder. Ma told me she didn’t know what to tell the twins. Billy and Emily loved that dog, we all did.
I went back out to help Pa. He didn’t say what he had done with Shep and I knew better than to ask. I told him about giving Shep a drink and how he went crazy right after. Pa had me bring up another pail. He looked and sniffed at it putting his face closer to the water than I liked. We took it over to the old sow since she was already sick and dying. We had her separated from the other hogs. Pa didn’t know why she was sick so he hadn’t made up his mind what to do with her.
Pa and I climbed into her pen. She laid in the shade of the sty. Her eyes followed us but she didn’t move a muscle. I couldn’t get her to drink so Pa held her head back and I poured the water down her throat. It didn’t take long before she started squealing, it was the loudest sound I ever heard. Mustering her strength she got up. The sow started rubbing against the pen leaving bits of red on the old coarse wood. She was rubbing like she wanted to take her skin off! Pa took the shotgun he had left leaning against the pen and shot her. I didn’t turn away this time, I had seen Pa butcher so many pigs it didn’t bother me like Shep.
We walked back to the house. I saw the sun had taken away the morning blue and knew we were going to get a late start today. Pa told Ma what happened and not to let anyone near the well. He had me get Greta saddled to go up to the McCray’s to fetch enough water for the day. The troughs were full with good water. We just needed enough for drinking and so momma could cook. Pa said I would be making daily trips until the irrigation ditch was dug from the stream above the McCray’s.
I grabbed two canteens including the big one that hung by the door. I also grabbed Pa’s drinking bag, Pa called it his boot, I found it under their bed. Unlike the half day rides to town, Its a short trip to the McCray’s. They were nice older folks. They were the only other ones out here besides us. Pa didn’t know how they managed out here with no young ones to help out, but the two of ’em seemed to get along just fine.
The ride back seemed even faster. Coming down the last small hill I could see our farm out in the meadow. Our house looked like a little brown boat on golden sea. The little hills behind it looked like rolling waves. It made me miss the ocean. I grew up by the sea. Every morning I started the day hoping Pa would change his mind and take us back.
Back home Ma had set out some jugs and a wash bowl for me to fill. That way the canteens would be ready for my next trip. The rest of the day Pa kept me busy. In fact I didn’t think at all about how the day had started. Not until on the way in I saw Shep’s pile of rags in the corner of the porch. I took his bedding out to the work shed. The twins didn’t need a reminder and neither did I.
The next day we got so busy working on the new fence, I had forgotten about my trip to the McCray’s. Ma came down the long dusty road to tell us we were down to one jug and asked when I was going. Things weren’t going so well with the fence, we had lost track of time. Wiping the sweat from his brow and looking frustrated Pa said he could finish by himself and I better get.
After I had Greta saddled and the canteens strapped on I headed out. Down at the end of the dirt road I could see Pa. He had stopped working on the fence and was talking to two fellers on horses. We didn’t get many visitors out here. The last one being a preacher, Pa wasn’t too nice to him; of course Pa had been carrying around his boot that day.
As I got closer I could tell Pa was angry and he was pointing for them to go away. One of the men pointed back at Pa. I heard a bang. There was a spray from the back of Pa’s head and he dropped straight down to the dirt. I yelled and the men started towards me. I turned quick and got Greta going as fast as she could back to the house.
Their horses were a lot faster than poor old Greta. I didn’t beat them by much. As soon as I was close enough to the porch I jumped down and ran inside. I saw in a blur Grands in her rocker with the twins playing by her feet. I yelled at Ma to come and help while I tried to hold the door. The plank we used to latch it was missing again; Billy was always playing with it. Ma came running around the stove to ask what all the fuss was about. Before I could say the door flung open sending me to the ground.
Two of the biggest ugliest sons of bitches I had ever seen came in. Both were dusty and their faces were dark and leathery from the sun. One had what Ma called that “different look” to him. It’s what she called a man in town. She told us that man was like a baby, even though he was taller than me. That guy from town had a weird look to his face and this one had it too. The other had a face full of beard, it was black as night. His eyes and the bit you could see just looked mean.
After looking around the room the bearded one looked at Ma and said, “well ain’t you a pretty thing.”
I jumped up and yelled for them to get out of here. The “different looking” one walked over and hit me so fast and hard I didn’t see his hand move. I saw a flash, and then things went dark and quiet.
I woke up by Grands’ feet. My head hurt real bad and I felt dizzy. Using all my strength I lifted myself up onto my knees. Grands were in her chair and the little ones were on her lap. She had her arms around them and they had their faces buried in each side of her neck. Grands were staring at something, she looked angry and I could tell she had been crying. I started to ask what was going on then I saw what she was looking at. Standing over by the table was the one that hit me. As soon as I saw him everything came back. He stood there pointing a gun at us with a dumb smile on his face.
I didn’t know where the other one was until I heard Pa and Ma’s door open and the bearded one walked over to his friend. I could hear Ma whimpering from the room behind him.
“Well she’s all yours Junior.”
He turned and looked at the empty jugs on the table, “damn it that whore done wore me out and you ain’t got a drop in here.”
He picked up a jug and slammed it down at his feet. The jug exploded, sending ceramic shards everywhere. Picking up another he pointed at me and said, “Damn it boy! You go out to that well and get me and Junior here a drink.”
Started to protest then Grands broke her silence and cut me off. “You heard ’em Jim, go get these men some water from the well.” her voice was cold; I had never heard her speak like that.
I took the jug from the man and headed off to the well. I heard him from behind me tell Junior to go with me and make sure I didn’t try to run.
When I got back I handed the full jug to the bearded man. He brought the jug to his sun blistered lips and drank like he hadn’t had a drop of water in days. After spilling a good amount on his shirt and a disgusting belch, he handed the jug to Junior who drank the same way.
I didn’t think that a man could have squealed like that old hog had before she died. But that’s just what he did before he dropped to his knees. Junior lost his dumb grin and looked very confused. I almost felt sorry for him, then he started screaming.
First they scraped at themselves with their own nails, clawing away at the skin on their faces and arms. Then the bearded man got a piece of the broken jug and started on himself with it. I picked up Junior’s gun which was lying on the floor.
Without turning away, I shot each of ‘em in the head.
Bio: Sam Williams is a writer of short horror fiction. Some of his original fiction he publishes on his blog: http://www.theswollencorpse.blogspot.com