Jeb retched again and shoved his mouth into the crook of his elbow. It really didn't help much. He had rolled around to coat himself quite liberally with the dark brown, rank leavings in the sty, the better to blend in to his surroundings. The liquid oozed through his shirt and jeans, soaking him to the skin. The stench invaded his nostrils, making his head swim as his eyes watered, cutting furrows down the muck on his face.
A rustling at his feet made him jump. He turned his head slowly so he could look behind him, fearing the worst. He was relieved to see a round snout the same color as his clothing sniffing inches from his left foot. Thank God, just one of the hogs, he thought.
He turned his attention to the scene between the house and the fence behind which he was concealed. Long shadows were beginning to creep away from the East side of the house, and would soon reach the fence. His greatest hope at that moment was that the light would fade quickly and plunge his hiding spot into darkness before.. well, just before.
The house would be dark inside, he knew, but no lights snapped on to make the windows glow. Smoke curled from the chimney, tell tale sign that a fire was warming the home. The thought of the fireplace made him shiver. The mud was cold.
He scanned the shrubbery beside the house, and checked the trees. Nothing stirred, yet he knew it was only a matter of time. The man would not be long in discovering that he was not still inside. Running further was out of the question, he knew that. His left leg had stopped bleeding, but the makeshift bandage formed from his dirty bandanna wouldn't hold if he got up and ran. Besides, he was pretty sure it was probably broken to go along with the cut. The man wasn't small, and even though he had hardly swung a backhand swipe at him, he'd met his mark. He'd tumbled butt over tea kettle, right out the back door and down the steps. The swing had cut his leg, while the steps had done the breaking. From there, he'd managed to scramble around the house, across the grass and behind the horse stable. There he had assessed the damage to his leg and done the best he could with what he had to stem the flow of blood. He'd stayed in the shadow of the barn but briefly, knowing that would be the first place the man would look for him. Knowing that most people were averse to hogs and their smell, he had hit upon the idea of hiding in the sty. Lowering himself to the ground, he'd snaked across the paddock, through the mounds of dung, under the three rail fence and across the gravel lane to the hog pen. Under the lowest board and there he was, immersed in crap, water and God only knew what else.
It sure beat the alternative though. by now the man had regained his strength, and the next swing of that ax sure wouldn't be a glancing blow.
It would take of his head, Jeb thought, like it had so many chickens.
He scanned the yard again, but saw nothing of the man. He sighed, a mistake, as the in rush of air again filled his nose and mouth with the putrid air of the hog pen and choked back another retch.
Pain shot up his thigh, sudden, blinding pain. He stifled a scream, shoving his face into the mud of the pen. He whipped his head up and back, knuckling the crud from his eyes.
The hog had Jeb's leg in his mouth, his tusks sunk onto his calf where the ax blade had cleaved it. Mouthing it like a toothless man would an ear of corn, the hog worked his jaws back and forth. Jeb kicked at the hogs head with his right foot, glancing off the beasts head.
The porcine beast didn't even acknowledge that he had been kicked. He repaid Jeb by chewing a bit more into the morsel that was his leg.
Jeb squirmed onto his back, twisting his torso as only a boy can do. He sat up halfway and grabbed the pig by his ear. Twisting it, he pulled back. The hog let loose of his afternoon snack and turned to face Jeb. He smacked his red lips and pulled back, away from the pain. Jeb held on, straightening up to a full sitting position. He pulled his wounded left leg away from imminent danger.
Then he saw the rock, a nicely rounded, slime coated, fist sized rock, right there just begging to be picked up.
Jeb obliged, cupping the rock in his right hand, while his left kept its tenacious grip on the pig's ear.
Jeb had played baseball in the dusty lot that was the VFW field, so he knew how to throw a baseball. He arm pivoted back till it touched the ground, then looped back up. He didn't throw the rock, but kept it in his hand as he swung with all he had.
Hogs have extremely hard skulls. The rock cracked in Jeb's hand and fell in two pieces into the mud.
The effect was satisfactory however, as the hog issued a startled squeal, threw itself backward, wheeled and sprinted through the mud across the pen to the other side.
He was correct in his assumption.
The man's short shadow lengthened at the North end of the house as he came around the corner. He came slowly, his wounds slowing him, but he came. Jeb hadn't realized how badly the man had been hurt until he saw him now. Blood covered the man's left side from his armpit to his knee. His face was battered and bloody also, his left eye swollen shut. Snot ran from his nose and hung from his mustaches, swinging to and fro as the man staggered across the rear sidewalk and toward the hog pen.
Jeb forgot his wounded leg, freely bleeding again, and pushed himself away from the fence. He swapped positions and crawled along the fence line toward the hog house, trusting darkness of dusk and his muddy clothes to shield him from the man.
"I know you're out here you little bastard," the man tried to yell. It came across the yard as a whispered epitaph. "I'm going to kill you. Gonna kill you and feed you to the hogs."
Jeb thought that ironic, after all. At least one of the hogs had a taste for Leg O' Jeb.
He suppressed the surprising urge to laugh, and crawled through the open door of the hog shed..
Startled pigs, mercifully quiet, scattered ad he made his way into the gloom. He noted that the floor in the pen was filthier than outside, and the stench even worse. By now though he was pretty much immune to it.
He rose up on his knees, his leg giving a shout of objection, and crossed the floor to the far side. There, he pushed against the screen covering the ventilation opening.
It didn't move. He shoved harder, panic beginning to form. His stomach did a flip as he thought of being trapped inside the shed, easy pickings for the man.
An easy mark for the ax. There was plenty of room to swing one in here.
The screen held fast, stubborn in its indolence. Jeb had a fleeting thought of how strong a hog was, and that it was some heavy duty stuff to withstand them. He sobbed a little, frustration overtaking reason. He pounded the wire with both hands, cutting and shredding them. He didn't feel the pain, felt nothing but the fear, the sure knowledge that he was going to die in the stink and gloom and crap of a stupid HOG shed, for God's sake.
His hand brushed something in the dark. He stopped his frantic swinging and peered closer.
It was a latch! A whimper escaped his throat. He turned the latch with his bloodied hand and the small ventilation door swung outward.
He had no idea why a latch was there, and not being one to surrender a gift, he shoved his way out the suddenly formed window.
He landed in the relative softness of the grass outside the shed. Behind him, from the pen itself, he heard the sound of feet being pulled free from the sucking of mud and pig crap.
"Gonna kill you. Kill you bad. Cut you up and kill you," he heard.
He scrambled to his feet, his left leg giving out at once. The night had been too much for it, that's it, I quit, he thought, tumbling to his knees. So be it. He crawled on his hands and knees across the yard, now fully in shadows, and made his way toward the cow barn. He scuttled crablike across the concrete and into the stalls. The smell of straw and manure was actually a welcome change to the stench of hogs. He knew however that he was no safer here than he would have been in the stable. The man, hurt was he was, could still make better time that poor Jeb could with his bum leg.
Jeb glanced at the steps leading to the upper floor. It held bales of hay and straw, he knew, but also had a door leading down the tractor ramp to the fields out back.
Fields with plenty of places to hide, he thought. He hated to leave, hated to run. He felt like he had to finish things here, but understood that staying would likely mean dying. He just wasn't really ready for that.
He forced his way toward the stairs, and heard banging as the man came through the front door.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are, you little brat!" the man yelled. This time there was no whisper, it came from the man's blasted lips full force and full of venom.
Jeb pulled himself quickly up the stairs, leaving a trail of blood on the wood. he turned across the landing at the top and into the softness of the spilled hay on the floor. Dust rose in clouds into his eyes and nose, and he sneezed before he could stop himself.
"Ha! I got you now, you're ass is mine," he heard coming from the bottom of the stairs. The door to his escape lay before him, the latch too high for him to reach. He groped around on the floor, looking for anything long enough to flip the hook out of the eye holding the door shut. He heard the clump of work boots ascending the stairs, slowly, one step at a time. A sob burst out of his lips, no need to hide it now, the man knew exactly where he was. He turned and made his way across the floor, stirring up more dust as the man gained the top of the stairs.
"There you are, boy. There you are. Just wait right there, I got something special. Just. For. You."
No sir, Jeb thought, you want me, you come and get me. He got to the far wall, where the light from the dusk to dawn on the outside pole shone through the cracks of the door.
Door? Jeb thought, excitedly. Indeed, a small door, hinged, and slightly ajar. A door the size of a boy, the size of a hay bale or two, used to bring the hay and straw upstairs. Jeb shoved it open and looked down onto the hard clay of the back pasture.
"Here I come sonny, you just wait for me now," he heard over the shuffling behind him.
He shoved his way out, and down.
The fall didn't last long, not nearly long enough Jeb thought. He struck the ground on his left side, hip first, then his head bounced off the hard clay. Stars burst like white fireworks behind his eyes, and he bit his tongue. He tasted blood, and pieces of tooth in his mouth. The pain from his already abused leg was like a line of fire up to his chest. His belly constricted and he retched up most of his early supper, leaving a pile of steaming veggies in front of his face. He couldn't breath, he couldn't move, and above him he heard an animal scream. Only it wasn't an animal, just animal rage.
"You BASTARD! You little CRACKER! I am SO going to cut off your freaking HEAD!" More words, incoherent, came fadingly from the upper loft. The man was leaving, coming back down the stairs, or out the back door, and here he lay, in a puddle of puke and blood, tears running down his face like a baby. Just waiting to be killed, to die where steers had probably died before him.
He got his hands under him and heaved, trying to get to his knees. he as too weak. It had been too much, and his body, young as it was, couldn't take this much abuse.
He heard the upper door slam into the wood siding of the barn, and snarls of anger from out back. He reached out, trying to grab grass, rocks, anything he could, just to pull himself forward. There was nothing. His nails dug into the dirt, tearing them, ripping them back. He sobbed, and pulled, slowly inching forward. He could hear footsteps behind him now, no talking, just grunts. He rolled onto his back and saw the man, the ax swinging from his hand, his back hunched as he lurched toward him. Jeb pushed himself backward with his right leg, pain, oh such pain, coming from the left. His back hit the barn wall, and he stopped.
The man came on, and stopped at Jeb's feet.
"Dead, you worthless bastard. You are DEAD now," the man raggedly spewed between hoarse intakes of breath.
He raised the ax halfway. Jeb shifted to the right, and his hand landed on a piece of wood. He glanced to his side, closed his hands on the shaft, and looked back up.
The man stepped forward, ready to cleave Jeb's head from his neck, and as he did, Jeb jabbed upward with the pitchfork, so conveniently laying beside the stall door.
The man's forward motion drove the four crud infested tines into his belly and out his back. He screamed, the ax tumbling from his hands. He wrapped his hands around the handle and staggered back, pulling the wooden shaft from Jeb's own hands. The man tripped and sat down with an UMPH! Blood poured from his mouth.
"Bathtard," he got out, then rolled onto his side and lay still.
Jeb began to cry, slowly and softly.
~~~###~~~The detective stood by the squad car, waiting for the medical examiner to finish up with the bodies inside the farmhouse. His crime scene people were done by the barn, the ME already making his notes and declaring that body ready to load. The ambulance with the one girl they'd found still alive had speed away an hour ago. Detective Branson had no idea how the girl had lived, being cut like that, but she had. The other two kids, a boy and girl hadn't been so lucky. Neither had the woman, for that matter, all three of them found upstairs, cut up like so much kindling.
The man out by the barn, with the pitchfork stuck in him, had bled out like a fall hog, laying in a pool of blood.
There was no sign of the murder weapon.
The ME came out and down the stairs, stripping off his gloves. He nodded an Branson, who in turn nodded to the two men beside him.
"Bag them up guys," he instructed.
He turned to the ME.
"Ax, looks like. Didn't find one though?"
Branson shook his head. Odd.
His team by the barn had found blood leading toward the driveway. Tracks in the dust across the field from the drive looked like someone had driven off.
"Anybody know the family?" he asked.
The ME nodded.
"Bill, the ambulance driver did. Said there were six, all told. Mom, Pop, and two each for the kids. boys and girls. Did you find the other boy?"
Branson shook his head again. No, he thought. Had the kid taken the truck, gone for help?
The ME's cell phone rang. He answered, his face going pale. "You sure that's what she said? Uh huh. Okay Bill, thanks."
He looked at Branson.
"Bill said the girl came to on the way. She told Bill who had cut her..."
Branson looked at him, made a come on motion.
"It was the boy, Jeb."