The young man was determined. The purposefulness of his stride, the set of his brow evinced that. He had walked nearly nine miles in the dark on cattle paths and over fences. He had ten more miles to go. Ten miles, and a man would die.
The young man—a boy of fifteen, really—had walked for more than two hours. He figured in two and a half or three more, he would reach his mother’s house, his dead father’s house, where his stepfather was. By midnight, then, he would be there. Soon after midnight, his stepfather would be dead.
Long walks can give one time to think, to reconsider. Hot heads have cooled in the time taken to reach the object of one’s anger. Not this boy. Perhaps the Ulster Scot stubbornness was to blame, but his anger had abated none during his trek. It raged as much as it had when he overheard his oldest brother tell the tale. Their drunken stepfather had struck their mother for her failure to get dinner before him as quickly as he though she should. No one had seen the boy listening, and no one had seen him take the rifle from its rack or the ammunition from a shelf.
If I had been there, I would have stopped the bastard.
But he wasn’t there. None of his nine siblings were there, either. The older ones were married and starting families of their own, but the younger ones, the boy included, their mother had put out to relatives when their stepfather demanded it.
"By God, this is my house now!" All the children had cowered in the hallway to listen to his rage. "Only my children will live in this house. None of your brats with their high and mighty airs. You’re just a farmer’s wife now. Get them out."
At twelve, the boy had left only the second home he’d ever known.
He barely remembered the first, and his siblings said he shouldn’t be able to remember at all. A few weeks past two years old and still in baby dresses, his own father died of a stroke. The boy swore he could remember being held by the man who was seventy when his youngest son was born. He could remember the crying and wailing afterwards and being tied in his crib to keep him from following the cars for the funeral.
A year later, when his mother married his coarse stepfather, most thought he was young enough to think of that man as his father. But he never did. He never would. He kept the scant memories of his own father close, as a comfort when he needed it. He needed that comfort a lot. "I’m not that man’s son" became a mantra, thought often enough, but said at inopportune times.
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