Prague is a magical place…His moiness (aka our Editor-in-Chief) was strolling through his old neighborhood a few weeks ago and as he passed a crew of four he heard two words in English: Short story. Serendipity doo dah! It was a cluster of writers saying writerly things. Rod was among them as was Levan Maniia, who also submitted an entry. Please enjoy,
At the Crossroads
by Roderick D. Mitchell Jr.
“Lens has got to pay for what he did, Ma,” I said.
Ma sagged more than supported herself on the railing to the front of our ol’ general store as she stared me down. The door sat crooked in the threshold and creaked as it swung off-kilter in the breeze. I stood on the bottom steps looking up at her, my mind drifting back to the bloodstained floorboards I knew the shop contained.
Though her cheeks were stained with grief, her eyes were as full of love for me as the day she told me my older brother Vance got himself bucked and killed by a bronco he was fool enough to try and break in at his age. Her expression, past and present, twisted my stomach and I had to look away.
“Don’t you dare; let the law handle that debt,” she said through a throat cracked from sobbing. I heard her, but I was also reminiscing.
The news of Vance’s death nearly broke Pap. After a week of convalescence wherein he retreated from public life, he returned to the store lesser. From time to time, I’d catch him looking at an old photo of Vance when he thought no one was around. Ma was more stoic, but even she faltered. For the first year, every time I stepped through the door, my name seemed to start with a silent V.
But I caught it all. His tears, which didn’t fall easy; the dull taste of Ma’s meat pies without Vance prodding her to add more pepper; and above all, the nigh impossible to fill silence created by his absence – though I tried. Church and the promise of reunion in the ever-after if they lived a life only the good Book could approve were their comforts.
For me, the only thing certain in life is you’re gonna die. If things we could see like the sky above, or hell, even the ground below couldn’t be relied on, I’d be damned if I was gonna put my faith in something invisible that seemed content to let us get on eking out a miserable existence.
All I really saw were two people content to do nothing. Ready and willing to roll over and just let things be. I loved Vance as much as them, I wouldn’t dare to claim more than that, but where was their anger? Against the horse, the ranch, Vance for not being as careful as he knew to be, not being as good with horses as he oughta be, or even at God on account of him not watching as keenly as the Sunday sermons purport him to be.
Then, like now, my entire body burned with a fury that could only be salved by the blood of the animal who did my family wrong. Just as when I went out and put down the horse that took Vance from me, I would hunt down the would-be-thief-turned god-forsaken murdering sonofabitch, one bastard, John Lens, and see to it that he traded his life for the one he took: my Pap’s.
“You stupid boy, may God forgive your everlasting soul. This isn’t like the last time, Jay,” she said. “We’re talking about a man here. You can’t just ride out and kill him.”
I snapped back to the moment and gave Ma the same look I learned from watching her.
“The hell if I can’t, Ma. You heard the witnesses. I reckon he barged in and shot Pap down in cold blood when he couldn’t get his way with the safe. If that ain’t a beast, I don’t know what is.”
Ma left her perch and made her way on over to me, taking the steps with care while making sure to look me in the eye.
“It doesn’t matter what he is. You mean to act out in anger and it will cut you down just as quick.”
“I don’t mean to cut anyone down, Ma,” I said. “He’s owed a bullet. I’m gonna shoot the bastard dead.”
She gripped my sleeves, her fists pale from squeezing hard. The last time she laughed at a joke I made, Vance was still around.
“Don’t you sass me, Jay. You think your Pap wants you to ride out and die? He ain’t even buried in the ground yet. Help me put him to rest.”
I shook my head. Ma knew better than to think reasoning would work on me, and I loved her for trying even while I couldn’t accept it.
I kissed her forehead and gently shook myself free despite her protests. I knew what had to be done even if she didn’t.
“The coroner will want to have a look first. Hell, besides, Ma, the law is on my side. I don’t have time to form a posse; Lens will be long gone before then, but I can ride out now and see to it that he doesn’t escape his sins. The justices are too slow, but they’ll thank me for my work.”
She took half a step toward me as if to reaffirm the connection, but was unable to complete the motion before catching herself on the banister.
In tears, she said, “Jay, I’m begging you reconsider. Vengeance is too swift, too bloody, and the Lord’s domain. I can’t lose you too.”
I smiled and touched the rifle slung over my shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Ma; I’ll be coming back home to you.”
The last image I had as I walked away was of her on the porch, hands in her head, offering a useless prayer to a God who already let two men she loved die.
It was a hard ride to catch up to the bastard. When I finally did, he was holed up almost a town over at an old church situated near the crossroads. Pap was fond of saying nothing good ever happens at a crossroads past midnight. That a man can lose his soul there. Lens’ would be shuffling away sooner than that.
* * * *
HAVE YOU TURNED IN YOUR ENTRIES YET?!
Oh. Ok. Good. I’ll stop yelling then.
I (Stef) would just like to remind you that you have until NOVEMBER 15TH, 2021 (which would be the day we like to call, “tomorrow”) to turn your entries in to Thorn to make the deadline! If you have submitted your entry but still have not seen it PLEASE LET US KNOW!
I’m yelling again, I’m sorry. Can’t help it, I get a little excited sometimes.
If you still want to be considered for the contest, please e-mail Thorn with your entry, a short bio, and synopsis ASAP! We will let you know when the judging begins…also we’ll let you know when we’re looking at the entries to see who the winner is. Thought I should clarify. Talk to you all soon!!!