Millie’s Story

“Move away from it!”

Prodding my ribs with the dragon’s barrel, Pa attempted to push me aside. I hunkered over Keme’s bloody, prone body, gripped his shoulders tight, knowing if I gave Pa a clear target, he’d shoot Keme again, kill him. If he wasn’t already dead.

“Damn it, daughter, I said move!” Another jab with the dragon.

Not looking up, I shook my head. “No!”

Silence invaded the shed, broken only by Pa’s raspy breathing. I felt a light touch on my bare shoulder, then the hand jerked away as if my skin had burned it. Pa growled, “Millie, what’s going on? Where’re your clothes?”

I looked up into a face that was more shadow than substance in the lantern’s feeble light. I opened my mouth, but no words came out.

“Did it…did it force itself on you?”

I finally found my tongue. “No, Pa…I…we…” And lost it again.

His eyes raked both Keme and me, taking in our nakedness; they narrowed, hardened. “Are you telling me it didn’t…you willingly had congress with this demon?”

“He’s not a demon, he’s—”

“It has wings, daughter, it is a demon, and I’m going to finish it. Then…” A loaded pause. “Then I’ll deal with you.” Continue reading

Keme’s Story

“I saw the most beautiful girl yesterday,” Keme said to his mother. “More beautiful than any I have ever seen.”

Wapun continued grinding the pestle into the multicolored corn contained in the hollowed-out mortar stone. “Oh…have you been traveling north again, visiting with the Hidatsas?” She glanced over her shoulder, smiled up at him. “Has some pretty little thing caught your eye, my son?”

“No, not the Hidatsas.” Keme remembered the girl, eyes as green as prairie grass, hair the color of gold. And her smile.

“The Kansa then? Or the Mandan?”

“No, no, she was…well…” Keme trailed off, uncertain how to tell his mother about the beautiful girl, how they had met, and how she had not been frightened of him.

The pestle stopped. Wapun turned toward him, her black eyes locking on his. “You did not go over the mountains again, did you?”

Keme looked down at the stone floor. It had been a mistake, he should not have told her about Millie. But he had been so excited he had to tell someone about the girl and his love for her.

His mother grabbed his arm. “Look at me, Keme.”

Slowly, he raised his eyes. Worry twisted her features, causing the fine, white down that covered her face to bristle like an angry dog.

“This girl—does she live across the river?”

Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, he nodded.

Her wings rose slightly, quivered, the tips making a raspy noise upon the floor. “You know this is wrong. We do not mix with them.”

Keme knew. From an early age, he had been warned not to fly south from the Redochre Mountains where they nested, that since war had broken out among the Earthbound Ones many, many moons ago (so long ago that no one now living remembered just when), they had changed; the Earthbound Ones now believed their avian brothers to be witikos or other evil spirits. Continue reading

Sins of the Fathers (7)

School drew to a close and another hot summer settled in.

Daddy’s visits had dwindled, becoming sporadic and brief, which was just as well since most of the time he arrived drunk, or well on his way there. Granny got mad and they always ended up arguing. I wondered why he even bothered coming here at all.

Ira and I met almost every night at the bridge over Eddy Creek. As he had promised, he didn’t try to take it farther when we kissed and cuddled, seeming content with that.

Neither one of us spoke of Bubba Higgins.

But Ira brought up another subject. “You remember the night we met, how I told you I’d be leaving here in about a year?”

I had forgotten. He had never mentioned it but that one time. “Now I do.” My heart lodged in my throat. “But you’re not going to now—are you?”

“Not right this minute, but yeah, before long I will be.” He rested his forearms on a cross-rail and gazed down at the water below. “I’ve been saving up some money, and before summer’s over, I should have enough to get the hell outta here, maybe go somewhere up north.” Continue reading

Sins of the Fathers (9)

Using the shortcut Mr. Jamison had shown me, I returned the following night. The trip took a little over five minutes, compared to the twenty or so going by way of the road. As the crow flies, our homes were closer than I had realized.

When I tapped on the back door, Ira called for me to come in. I entered the murky kitchen whose only source of illumination came from a bright shaft of light falling across the adjoining living room floor. “Back here!” he hollered.

I followed his voice and the source of the light.

He wasn’t on the sofa as he had been last night, but in a room to the right—his bedroom. This room, like the rest of the house, was dirty and unkempt. I supposed men must not know how to clean house, that or didn’t care. But it could have been even worse, and I wouldn’t have batted an eye. I would have waded into a pigsty to see Ira.

Propped up on a mound of lumpy pillows and covered to the waist by a dingy, threadbare sheet, he lay on the bed. Suspended on a black wire, a light bulb dangled from the ceiling, lighting the glossy magazine that lay open on his lap. Continue reading

Sins of the Fathers (10)

“What?” I shrieked, struggling to my knees, covers pulled up to my chin. “What did you say?”

“Was it good stuff, boy?” Mr. Jamison’s eyes narrowed. “If she’s half as good in the sack as her mama was, she’s one prime pussy.”

Ira pounced, twisting Mr. Jamison’s shirtfront in his fist. His other hand dove into the front pocket of his jeans, came up in a blur of motion and clicked open a switchblade. He touched the point to his father’s throat. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Now just hold on, there ain’t no need getting excited.” A thin trail of blood trickled down Mr. Jamison’s neck. “Fuck her all you want, hell, it ain’t no skin off my ass—ow!”

Ira pushed a little deeper. The trickle became a stream. “Goddamn you, what are you talking about?” He slammed Mr. Jamison against the wall, the knife blade now resting sideways against his throat. “I want an answer—now.”

“I done told you, boy. She’s your sister. Hell, I don’t—”

“Liar!” Ira roared. Continue reading

Sins of the Fathers (11)

“Oh?” she asked, eyes wary.

“He’s not just a friend. I’m in love with him.”

“You can’t be in love with him, he’s your brother, much as it galls me t’say it.”

“I didn’t know that before, and now it’s too late.”

“What do you mean, it’s too late? Now that you know he’s your blood—”

I grabbed her hands, stilling their nervous fluttering. “Granny, I’m going to have his baby.” There wasn’t a kinder way to say it.

She folded in on herself. “And the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children…” She began to weep, her narrow shoulders shook. “Dear Lord, call back your vengeance…not little Chloe…no…”

Another stab of guilt pierced my heart. “Please, Granny, I need your help.”

“Help…yes…” She swiped her face, took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. “You can’t have that chile, Chloe. There’s no tellin’ what might be wrong with it. I’ll talk to Doc Miller—”

“Are you talking about abortion?” My arms curled around my belly. “I hadn’t even considered that. Ira wants us to go away and get married. He—”

Granny lurched to her feet. “You can’t marry your brother. That’d be an abomination in the sight of the Lord.”

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Sins of the Fathers (12)

I leaned back, stared up into the soulless darkness gathered near the ceiling, and began. “They’re always the same. Ira is making love to me on the floor in the front room of Granny’s house. But there’s also another Ira in room. He…he has a knife, and he’s cutting on people. Sometimes it’s his father, or mine, or Bubba Higgins. Sometimes it’s even Granny. He’ll be stabbing that switchblade of his into them, over and over again. Each time that other Ira sticks the knife in, the one on top of me rams inside me. It hurts and…and…blood is gushing out of me down there. I’m lying in a pool of it. And the worst part…” I paused, took a swallow from the bottle. “…the very worst part, is that I’m enjoying it, clawing at him, begging for more, even though I know he’s killing me too.” A shudder racked my body.

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Sins of the Fathers (13)

“Care for a repeat of last night?” Max asked the next morning, his arms circling me as I brushed my teeth.

My eyes met his in the mirror. Along with a simmering desire, his shone with a love I didn’t deserve. I’d had sex with him, but in my head, had been joined with another man.

I smiled around the toothbrush. “Don’t push your luck, big boy.” My gaze dropped to the sink, watched the foamy water swirl around and down the drain. “There’ll be plenty of time for that when we get back home…” I was an expert at hiding what was going on in my mind—at least, when sober. “…tomorrow.”

“You wanting to head home now?” He swept my hair away from my neck. I felt his breath, his lips against my skin. “Don’t want to go back and take another look around the old home place like we’d planned, come back here and spend the night?”

“No, I don’t.”

He kissed my neck. “Okay, baby, if that’s what you want.”

It wasn’t a question of wanting to; I had to.

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Sins of the Fathers (14)

The mocking voice froze us in our tracks. Max’s grip on my arm tightened.

My heart stuttered, then began pounding. Nausea and vertigo set in, and if not for Max’s steadying hand, I may have collapsed.

As one, we slowly did an about-face.

Ira stood in the doorway to the house, a shoulder propped against the jam, arms crossed over his broad chest. He wore his straight hair long, halfway down his back, and parted in the middle. A small braid graced each temple. The dark mane outlined an arrogant, copper-hued face that looked as if it were chiseled in stone. Revealed in a faded and tattered denim vest, his upper body and arms were heavily muscled, tapering down to a flat stomach and narrow hips. Washed out blue jeans hugged his long legs, ending on the tops of dusty black boots.

My heart jumped into my throat, stuck there. All the old feelings came flooding back, undiminished by the passage of time. Love, passion, shame, guilt roiled around inside, joined by a new element: fear.

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Sins of the Fathers–Resolution (15)

Ira kept me close the remainder of the day. He made love to me twice more, being more gentle than he had been the first time, but still with a touch of desperation.

Watching my every movement, he permitted me to check on Max periodically throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Max remained unconscious, though when I gave him a quick examination he appeared to have no life-threatening injuries.

I wanted to untie him, but Ira wouldn’t allow it. The best I could do was slip a folded, moth-eaten blanket under his head for a pillow. Tears stung my eyes at the sight of his bruised and battered body. You don’t deserve any of this. I’m so sorry I got you into this nightmare.

Sorry didn’t quite cut it. Though Max hadn’t, I had known better than to come back here.

As for Ira, I both loved and feared him. There wasn’t a spark of goodness left in his soul—unless one counted his love for me, a love that walked hand in hand with obsession. He was a sociopath, a monster, and was a danger not only to Max and me but to anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. He had to be stopped.

Yet knowing what he was failed to destroy my love for him. He still took me to heart-stopping heights no man but him ever had. In each other’s arms, I wasn’t an insecure little girl and he an irrational killer; I wasn’t Mama’s light side and he her dark. Together we were better, we were a whole—though a fatally flawed one.

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