His face felt hot and flushed with instant anger. His arm shot up, he heard a hollow sound and a distinct squishy crack before he had even realized that the wooden mallet was in his hand. Luis only made a gurgling moan before his legs gave out, pulling them both down in a heap. Luis lay half on top of Randolph, pinning him in an awkward position. Hot sticky fluid trickled into Randolph’s eyes. “Oh no! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” he blurted in instant regret. ”Luis?” he asked in an apologetic voice. “Are you okay?”
No answer. He held his breath, listening for his brother to respond. Only stillness and silence from his brother.
He wriggled under the dead weight, maneuvering his trapped arms free enough to leverage himself out and onto his back. Staring at the stars, he wiped the drying blood from his eyes. Pink bloodstained tears welled up in his eyes as the silence thundered in his ears. He’s not breathing. His heart began to pound as that realization sunk in.
“Luis?” He asked again in hopes that his mind was playing tricks on him. He’s not moving, not breathing. Oh no, Oh no! I killed my brother! He let out a sad moan and then began to sob. “Oh Luis, why did ya have to be such a meanie?” he whimpered between sobs and sniffles. His tears only washed more of the salty blood in his eyes, stinging them. He started to lift his head, but it was almost impossible without the assistance of his brother.
Maybe he’s not dead. Maybe I could get help. Maybe he will be all right. That thought gave him strength. He slid his legs around enough to get his knees on the ground in a pitiful bowing position. He slid his arms under his brother and lifted with all his might. The gawky position his head was in removed any hope of leverage he may have had, and his shriveled left arm wasn’t strong enough to even budge. He rocked back and forth, trying to gain momentum.
Just… a bit… more… He gave one last heave and then collapsed on his brother, pushing out what remaining air that was trapped in the lungs, making sick guttural gurgle. He lay on his brother catching his breath, neck aching from the awkward tilt.
He sobbed quietly. His left arm pinched under the body started to cramp and burn as needle-like tingles danced on his fingertips. He rolled back onto his back, releasing the pressure on his arm, and stared back to the sky.
Between breaths and an occasional sniffle, he felt a twinge deep in his belly. Like little butterflies fluttering around, growing in intensity as realization filtered to his mind, deeper and more meaningful. I killed my brother. The butterflies in his stomach sped up at the thought then turned to outright fear. He sniffled again, and his sobs became panicked.
He renewed his resolve and rolled back up, leaning heavily on his brother. He dug in deep with his feet, trying to get better leverage. Shoving his arms deep underneath, he pushed hard, his feet sliding on the dry ground, rolling his brother enough to get his hands a little farther. Leaning back, he managed to pull the body onto his knees. With all his strength, he lifted. His brother came off the ground far enough to give him hope. He grunted under the full weight and leaned back, centering his balance. “Almost… there!” He grunted, and then his arms gave out. He felt his brother slipping, the weight pulling his head down along with it, anchored to his brother’s. He gave in to gravity, half dropping, half falling over. He stumbled and collapsed back to the ground, digging his knee onto his wooden mallet, sending shockwaves of agony up his leg.
The helpless, trapped feeling fueled his panic and desperation. He reached down, blindly feeling for the mallet, his only tool, his only means of escape. He lifted his arm high and swung down hard with concentrated effort. The mallet smashed onto his brother’s head with another wet-sounding hollow crunch. His eyes blurred as the shockwave reverberated the impact to his skull. He lifted the mallet again, slinging streams of blood into the air, then slammed it back down. With every swing, there was less crunch and more squish with each forceful collision. He pounded viscously, blood, bone chunks, and bits of brain flying in every direction. He pounded his brother’s face and skull into an unrecognizable mass of bloody gore. Sounds like pudding. He chuckled at the thought and then started to sob again with a strange wash of confused emotions. Brain pudding. He laughed again.
His head felt light as it pulled free from its lifelong companion. It made him feel dizzy, and he swayed back and forth, trying to stabilize the new sensation of unrestricted freedom. His head throbbed from the separation. Not every swing was true , and he nicked his own head a few times. He heard a noise from behind him, a voice maybe, or voices. His head moved in jerky ungainly movements as he looked down at his brother. A new fear as the reality of what he had just done hit home. Murder.
The voices sounded louder. He pushed himself up using his mallet like a miniature cane, standing erect , and stumbled a few steps to the side. More dizziness took hold as his weaker left leg struggled to manage the new weight pressed on it. He gave one last jerky look at his brother and then took off toward the tree line. Half running, half stumbling in an uncoordinated gate, like a sailor who had been out to sea too long and was not used to solid ground. Flashes of white blinded his eyes with every jarring step he made, sending lightning bolts of pain through his throbbing and bleeding head. He kept his awkward stumbling pace through the trees for what seemed to be hours. Tree branches whipping him in the face, and his fresh gaping head wound, driving stinging pain he had never before experienced.
The moonlight filtered through the trees as he came to a clearing. The soft silhouette of a barn, half-collapsed from neglect and dry rot, beckoned him. He did not know how far he had gone or how long he had been running, but his weakening legs and increasing dizziness told him that this place was as good as any. He needed to rest. He needed to sleep, and maybe he would wake up from his nightmare. The barn did not look safe. The entire front side was a mass of rotting broken timbers. He stumbled in the darkness around the barn, looking for any opening that did not have rusty nails and sharp shards of wood sticking out. He found an opening that looked like it must have been a hayloft, but this was on the ground. The barn had to have collapsed in on itself many years ago, leaving a small cave-like hole just big enough to crawl into.
He collapsed onto rotting hay breathing hard, thankful to be off his feet. He lay back in the darkness, putting his head against the wall. An intense pain reminded him of the damage to his head. He reached up to touch his wound, realizing he still clutched the bloody mallet in his hand, then tossed it away as if it was burning his hand. His hand gingerly touched the edges of his wound, delicately feeling around trying to gauge his injury. He felt the flaps of skin and pieces of sharp bone, wet with blood that still trickled down his neck. His heavy eyelids and sticky wet fingers told him that he needed to bandage his head and stop the bleeding or he would die. He felt around, looking for anything that he could use as a bandage. His fingers, sifting through rotting hay and other unidentifiable vegetation, touched on a coarse fabric. He lifted up, straining to see. Most of a rotted burlap potato sack.
He pulled at the fabric, ripping the decayed cloth easily into two long strips. He gently wrapped it around his head. He moaned and gritted his teeth as the scratchy and rough burlap touched the tender lesion. His eyes closed, vertigo and a dull throbbing in his head pushed him into unconsciousness.
Feverish dreams, strange and disjointed images flooded his mind. Tossing and turning, he woke in brief bouts of sweat-filled screams and confusion. He was disoriented, groggy memories of rotting hay, broken decayed timber backlit by bright sunlight, or dark shadows cast in silver moonlight.
Sharp piercing pangs of hunger pushed him back to lucidity. He opened one bleary eye, half squinting as the bright morning sun peeked through the slats in the timbers of the barn. Another bolt of hunger shot through him, making him double over. “Luis!” He cried out, reaching over to touch his brother; then, another pain struck him as the memories came back to his sleepy mind. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he shuddered in sorrow and loss. Luis… he thought with a wave of sadness and guilt.
Hunger prodded him to move. He lifted his head, surprised by its lightness, another aching reminder of solitude. He sat up, stiff, weak from fever and lack of food. How long? How many days have I been here?
He waited for the wave of dizziness to pass. He crawled out of his refuge and looked around. The hayfield was overgrown, long since abandoned, as many farms had been lost in this depression. The grumbling and ache in his stomach urged him to move on unsteady weak legs. His head throbbed at every footstep, but the constant reminder that he had not eaten for days kept his pace despite the pain. He followed a small stream, taking sips of cool water to fill his stomach with something, anything, until he found food.
The scent of apple pie snared his nose, catching his attention and drawing him up a small embankment. At the top of the bank, he could see a white farmhouse shrouded with the same kind of trees and shrubs that hugged the stream. Drool slipped from his dirty chin onto the bloodstained shirt in long dangling strings. Licking his lips, he pushed past the brush into the backyard of the house. Blinded by starvation, he ignored any consideration of knocking or announcing his presence and marched in. He followed his nose, the scent of the apple pie pulling him to the kitchen.
The pie sat near an open window overlooking the barnyard. Enthralled by hunger, he took the last few fast, hurried steps. In an instant the pie was in his hands, almost too hot to hold, almost. He scooped a huge handful with his crusty bloodstained hands and shoveled it into his mouth. Hot steaming apples burned his throat and tongue. A woman stepped around the corner with an armload of firewood for the kitchen stove. Her eyes traced a trail of dead leaves and dirty footprints into the kitchen. Drying muck covered the work boots and up to the knees of his grungy coveralls. Dark brown stains worked their way up in increasing frequency along his back until the strange brownish-purple color was uniform.
”Alasdair? What have you done and gotten yourself into?” She barked in frustration and impatience. Randolph stopped chewing. He turned his head with an odd downward tilt. His shoulders followed, and then his foot with a half step. Her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to scream. Randolph took one large step, dropping the last remnants of the pie to the floor with a resounding clatter of breaking glass. Lightning quick, his hand was on her throat with sticky pie filling and filth squishing through his fingers from his vise-like grip. Another step forward, and he pushed her straight down, slamming her head to the ground.
Firewood flew from her arms in all directions, almost drowning out the sound of her cracking skull on the hardwood floor. Her hand felt frantic, finding a piece of firewood. She hefted it upward to fend off her attacker , but the weapon glanced off his shoulder with no effect.
He squeezed harder; blasts of red-streaked the whites of her eyes, popping in bursts as the pressure forced the capillaries beyond capacity, leaving her with a blank crimson stare. A pool of blood welled from beneath her head, soaking into bits of pie crust and glass.
He let go and stood up , then watched the blood expanding on the ground. Luis! Look what I had to do now! If’n you were still here, it all woulda been different. She would have gone to the lawman! But I fixed it, see?
Glass crunched under his feet as he stepped back. He looked around the kitchen for the icebox. His stomach did not grumble painfully anymore, the pie took care of his immediate need, but he was still hungry. He spied a slab of salt pork, took a large bite, and stared out the kitchen window, chewing absent-mindedly. A boy about his age came out of the barn across the yard and driveway. That’s Alasdair, I bet. He looks just like you, Luis.
The boy carried a sack of feed and began slinging it this way and that amidst a gaggle of chickens, all trying to get the most feed first. He watched the boy finish the chore, wiping sweat from his brow. The boy looked over toward the house, then kicked a rock, and then started walking to it.
Randolph ducked down, just out of sight of the window. Did he see me? He peeked over the sill. The boy was still walking, kicking rocks, and whistling. Randolph watched him as he was headed to the water pump, his heart aching at the resemblance. He took another bite of the salt pork, his right hand idly fidgeted, scratching his cheek, pulling up the strap of his coveralls, then sliding down to the loop on his hip, finding the mallet. A pang of regret washed over him. He pulled the mallet out of the loop and looked at it, its polished handle from years of use. The worn, frayed, splintered edge on the head now had red-brown stains with strands of hair and small bits of flesh.
I don’t have to be alone. The idea worked its way in small, almost imperceptible steps, like wading into cold water, getting more comfortable the farther in it got. I could… He gripped the mallet feeling its familiar weight.
Alasdair whistled his way to the pump. Wiped more sweat from his forehead and grabbed the handle. Randolph watched him as he almost danced around to the lever and pulled up a small wooden bucket, placing it under the spout. Randolph dropped the salt pork on the counter, turned, and charged, running to the barnyard door. Alasdair came into view again, his back to the door, pumping the handle with vigorous intent, water gushing into the bucket. He pulled the bucket up and poured it over his head. Randolph closed the distance with his awkward, uneven gate, bringing the mallet high over his head. The boy shook the water off his head, catching sight of Randolph. “What…?” He blurted, raising his arm in defense. It was too late. The mallet came down, but the full force of it was deflected by Alasdair’s arm and only brushed his head, ripping a long slash across his forehead just above his left eye. Alasdair stumbled back, wincing from the blow.
Randolph brought the mallet back up for another strike just as Alasdair swung the bucket with a wide arc, hitting Randolph’s head with the full impact. Now it was Randolph’s turn to stumble back. He let out a loud cry as the pain collided with his previous injury. His eyes blurred for a moment, and he thought he would blackout.
Alasdair did not wait for Randolph to gather himself. He charged, his fist reared back, and then shot forward with blinding speed. Randolph dodged the strike, feeling the wind of it glide past his nose. The missed attack sent Alasdair off balance. He stumbled forward, trying to regain his equilibrium.
Randolph seized his opportunity; he grabbed the back of Alasdair’s coveralls and helped him along, guiding his head into the water pump. A muffled clank ended the bout. Alasdair crumpled on the ground, a wide gash on the top of his skull opened up like a blooming flower that welled up with thick dark blood.
Randolph’s head ached again. The fight left him hot, sweaty, and thirsty. He started pumping the handle until a steady flow of water surged from the spout. He held his head under the stream, the cool water soothing his head. He watched the water drain off his head, soaking the makeshift burlap bandage, turning different colors from clear to a murky yellow then to a rusty brown. The cold water eased his throbbing head and cleared his mind. He looked down at Alasdair. He was bleeding, but Randolph could see his chest move in shallow breaths. He is gonna be okay. He’s still breathing, Luis! Just need a lil’ fixin up is all, and he be right as rain.
Randolph stepped over and grabbed the straps of Alasdair’s coveralls, and dragged him toward the house. He dropped Alasdair like heavy luggage when he reached the door of the house. He went in and rifled around the home, eventually coming out with a small wooden box with delicately painted flowers and the slab of salt pork.
The trek back to the barn seemed to take all day. Randolph’s powerful right arm tired more and more often, and he was forced to stop to rest every few yards. The small entrance hole in the collapsed barn was tight, and it took more effort pulling the boy’s body through than he wanted. He propped Alasdair against the wall and pulled out the painted wooden box, then leaned his head back next to Alasdair.
He opened his eyes. It was getting dark, and he could barely see the outline of the small opening to his hovel. The wooden box lay on his lap unopened. Alasdair’s cold, breathless silence told him that he would not need it. He gritted his teeth, forcing back tears. I can’t be alone anymore, Luis! I just can’t! He crawled out of the barn and headed off into the night.