So shall you reap

cows behind a barbed wire fence

The story so far… Old Wives’ Tale

Charles Parker’s drinking was as predictable as night following day. When Lester Branch first pondered how to get rid of the hard-drinking, bad-tempered, wife-beating, child-killing bastard, he counted on the man being drunk when he showed up for work that day.

His father, Russell, refused to hire the man away from James Carson, telling his love-sick son that he didn’t need the headache of having a carouser on his crew. He had enough trouble with the law as it was with his two oldest sons, Marlon and Ralph, and that Waylon Mason, always getting into fights in town.

It wasn’t until Lester told his father what Charles had done to Amelia, and to his own children, that he agreed to bring the man to the farm.

“Accidents happen all the time on a working farm,” was all Russell said.

On that day, the wind was blowing from the west, driving warm air across the hay fields. The pungent aroma of cow dung and cut grass swept across the pasture, caught in the updraft of tiny whirlwinds. Dust devils stirred up dust and stink as Charles plodded along on the old tractor.

The section of the farm he was working rested on an incline, deceptively steep if the driver wasn’t accustom to the topography. The summer heat was working on Charles. His hangover headache was throbbing, and he was sweating like an escaped criminal. Every time he’d swipe at the rivulets running down his face, he’d smear dust and hay chaff into his eyes.

When the tractor began to tilt, he put it down to the vertigo he suffered after his drinking. As the metal squealed in protest, and the back wheels began to slide, Charles knew he was in trouble. Tumbling and twisting as the tractor rolled down the hill, he was tossed around like a rag doll. The machine finally came to rest upside down, with Charles trapped beneath the engine cowling.

Pinned supine to the ground, Charles could only look up. The sound of horse hooves brought grateful tears to his eyes. It was only when he recognized Lester’s straw-colored Morgan, that Charles knew he was damned.

The tractor had landed on his chest, slowing crushing the life from him, rendering him silent in his panic. He reached out with his free hand, begging for Lester to help him.

“Could your daughters cry out while you were choking the life out of them?” Lester called down to Charles from his horse. “You were too much of a coward to look into their innocent eyes, you left that burden for your wife to bear. Their pleading, their confusion and fear. She saw all of that.”

Wild with terror, Charles tried to free himself only to find no release from his cage.

“I’ll give you more than you gave them, I’ll call for aid,” Lester dismounted, then bent over the dying man. In a voice only Charles could hear, “help, come quick. Man down, man down.”

Tying his horse’s lead to the tractor, Lester left Charles and climbed the hill, following the ruts dug out by the tractor. He soon returned, an iron hitch pin in his hand. Showing Charles the bolt, Lester smirked.

“Funny how something so small can cause so much trouble.” Lester worked his way around the wreckage to the mower, then replaced the bolt in the trailer hitch. “If this bolt was to fall out, a motor deck could buck and jackknife a tractor.”

Charles stopped struggling, his breath coming in shallow gasps.

A second horse rode up to the accident scene. Charles could hear the rider walking over to the tractor.

“Ain’t he dead yet?” Russell Branch stayed out of Charles’ periphery.

“Not yet,” Lester said. “It won’t be long though. Look, his lips are turning blue.”

“Come on back to the house,” Russell said. “Don’t do nothing to hurry it along. Sheriff’s dumb, but he ain’t that dumb. By the time we get back with him, it’ll be over.”

Russell mounted his horse and rode away. Lester stayed, lingering over Charles just out of reach of his arm.

“I only wish Amelia could be here to witness the end of her demon,” Lester said. “In this last moment, know this… she will be well-loved, by me. We will live a long, happy life together. She will bear me children, and you’ll burn in hell for all eternity.”

###

Amelia finished her account, sighing deeply.

“Lester didn’t tell me all the details until he was sick, and knew he’d be passing soon.”

Marshall had stopped taking notes half way through her narrative.

“Mrs. Branch, thanking you for your time,” he said. “I’m sure that was very difficult to share.”

“What happens now?” I asked, holding Amelia’s clasped hands.

“Nothing,” Marshall said. “It’s all hearsay. There is no way to corroborate any of this, and all the witnesses are dead.”

“And my babies?” Amelia pleaded.

“I’ll have them released to your family, and you can give them a proper burial,” Marshall said.

He took a small velvet bag from his front shirt pocket.

“This is yours too,” he said. “I took it upon myself to have it cleaned and repaired.”

“I never thought I’d see this again.” Amelia tenderly took her locket out of it’s pouch. “I have new pictures for it. Of me and Lester. He was such a wonderful father. I know he would have loved Emmy and Jessie just like his own.”

“From everything I’ve heard about him,” Marshall said, “I believe you’re right.”

We left Amelia at Shady Grove, and drove back towards town.

“What happens now?” I asked again. “With us?”

Marshall pulled over onto the shoulder, and turned off his truck.

“I guess that’s a story that still needs to be written,” he said.

“Then, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m a writer, and know how to pen a happy ending, ” I said.

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