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Killing the Dead: A Short Story, Part Two. My Response to Bill Holland's Photo Challenge

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Baby Rules!

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Killing the Dead

It was months before Amy saw Gunny or Amelia again. During that time, she made repairs, painted, worked in the house, and got her steers ready for market. The bull accepted the name Baby without objection and was nearing his first birthday when Amy could use him for breeding. She had spent a lot of time getting him accustomed to her presence. He was gentle with her. But when any other person came near, Baby was a dangerous beast. In that way, he was her watchdog.

Amy was in the hayloft stacking a delivery of hay when she heard Amelia’s voice for the first time in several months.

He has crossed over.

“Where?”

I only know when he crosses over. I can’t follow his exact movements.

“It’s good that I know this much. Thank you.” Amy thought of different ways she could fight Gunny. She was carrying a Glock 9mm in a belt holster and kept an AR-15 rifle close at hand. But somehow, she still felt vulnerable.

Baby snorted downstairs. Amy drew the Glock, put a wall behind her, and faced the two ways up to the loft. One was the stairway, the other a ladder. She inched forward to where she had pulled up two sections of floorboards to create gaps between the joists. She used these openings to throw hay and straw down into Baby’s pen. The bull was pacing, snorting.

He is coming up the stairway. It was Amelia’s voice again.

Amy faced where the stairway reached the loft. She heard footfalls on the squeaky steps. Amy holstered the Glock and grabbed the long gun.

He doubled back. Not sure where he is now.

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Amy decided not to wait on Gunny to come to her. She dropped through the hole in the floor into the pen of her 1,000-pound Hereford bull. He allowed her to scratch his head. Then he backed up and snorted. Amy couldn’t imagine him getting aggressive with her. But then she saw his gaze was on something behind her. She spun around. Gunny was in the pen, moving toward her.

Baby charged, but Gunny sprung to the side. Baby turned and charged again. Gunny was off-balance, and he had no chance to dodge. Instead, he shot straight up, through the same gap that Amy had used to drop down.

She raised the rifle and circled, watching through the opening into the loft until she saw the hooded head. The blast of the firearm sent Baby to the other side of the pen. After several seconds, she heard Gunny walking across the loft. Amy climbed out of Baby’s pen, approached the stairway, and took one step, then the second, the third. She could see the loft, but Gunny was not there.

Be careful. I didn’t see him leave. Amelia was still with her.

Amy moved to the center of the loft.

Behind you!

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Amy turned. He was too close for the long gun, and she grabbed for the Glock too late. He raised the hammer and brought it down. She blocked with the rifle, brought her left elbow through, and struck him in the middle of his hooded face. She must have broken his nose because he let the hammer fall. It landed in Baby’s pen below.

Gunny grabbed Amy by the throat. She twisted, kicked, and punched until they turned just enough to line her assailant up with the hole in the floor. She needed air. Amy plowed forward with the last of her energy, and Gunny dropped from sight. She fell to her knees, gasping.

Baby bellowed. He charged the stranger who had dared enter his pen and smashed him against a massive support timber. The bull backed up and readied himself for another charge. Gunny again shot straight up through the hole. He landed ten feet from Amy with his arms crossed over his crushed chest. She aimed the rifle.

Shoot him! Said Amelia’s voice.

“Take off the hood, Jonas,” said Amy.

Shoot him! He killed my family, our family.

“Take the hood off now, Jonas.”

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Gunny reached up and pulled the burlap hood off. Jonas’s ears were small and deformed. His upper jaw was underdeveloped, which made his lower jaw seem to stick out like an exaggerated Beavis. The sight was horrifying.

“My God, Jonas.”

He moved to pull the hood back on.

“No! Don’t put it back on.” Amy was questioning everything she had learned about the family up to this point. “Amelia, why didn’t you tell me?”

He was not only a naughty boy, but he was also a freak. I didn’t tell you because what he did was the problem, not what he looked like.

Jonas pulled his shirt over his head and turned around. Welts, scars upon scars, and torn tissue that had healed in abnormal lumps and strands covered his back.

“Were you whipped, Jonas?” Amy lowered the gun.

Shoot him!

“No, I want to hear his story.” She turned back to Jonas. “Who whipped you?”

He could barely pronounce words because of his deformities, but he did his best to answer. “All of them, family, teachers, doctors.”

“Your family used a whip on you?” She moved closer. “But why?”

Don’t trust him!

“I was a freak, so they beat me. To get even, I did bad things. Once, after a farmer turned his dogs loose on me, I burned down his barn.”

“Amelia, you did not tell me the whole truth, which is the same as a lie.”

Amelia appeared. Her face was red with anger. “Kill him. Send him to the second death. Kill the monster.” She rushed at Amy and grabbed for the rifle. Amy hit the girl in the face with the butt of the gun. Two teeth fell from her mouth. She tossed the baby blanket aside. A rag doll wearing a patchwork quilt dress landed in a pile of loose hay. Amelia spit blood and charged again. This time, Amy simply stepped aside at the last second. Amelia fell to the pen below. Before she could change to her incorporeal self, Baby drove her into the floor of his pen. Using his head and front hooves, he pummeled her body into the second death. When it was over, she withered and disappeared.

Amy looked at her great-great-great uncle Jonas. “I am so sorry, sorry for what I’ve done to you, sorry for what our family did to you.” She fell to her knees. “Can you forgive me? I beg you. I can’t ask for anyone else, just for myself.”

“Forgive?” The word seemed foreign to him. “Forgive?” It was as if forgiveness were a strange and unfamiliar stone that he turned and examined from different angles in the light. “Not the others, no. I killed them, and I am not sorry. But you only protected yourself, and when you saw me, when I told you my story, you believed me. Yes, I forgive you, Amy. I forgive you.” He fell to his knees with her, and they wept together.

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#

“What will you do now?” said Amy. They had left the hayloft and walked out into the pasture.

“I am so tired. I just want to lie down and rest forever.”

“You were never properly buried.”

“No, I was not!” It was as if he had just considered this for the first time and was shocked. “Would you do this one thing for me?”

“But you seem so alive.”

“I will take care of that. Please, this is what I desperately need.”

So Amy went to the barn and found a shovel. They walked out into the pasture to where a single oak tree stood. She worked all afternoon and into the evening.

“We need a coffin,” Amy said.

“That won’t be necessary…”

“But I insist. We can finish this in the morning.”

All night Amy labored in the workshop. When she finished, it was a simple box but solid. They put it in the buckboard, and Star pulled it to the gravesite. Amy and Jonas lowered the coffin into the hole.

“Now what?” Amy could not look Jonas in the face.

“Don’t worry. When I am in the coffin, I will leave this body for the final time.”

“You’ll finally, truly, will be dead?”

“Yes.” Jonas sat with his feet dangling above the wood box. He slid off the grass and landed on the sturdy floor of the coffin. Before he lay down, he looked up at Amy. “Thank you.”

She knelt to be on his level and kissed his deformed face. “And I thank you as well.”

Jonas Jared Carter, aka Gunny, lay down and closed his eyes. Immediately his skin turned pallid. Amy lowered the lid and tapped the partially driven nails into place. She filled the hole and tamped the dirt. The idea of a marker suddenly came to mind. She would make it herself and chisel the words into stone.

#

Two days later, she returned with a large slab of limestone that she had worked into the traditional shape. The inscription was simple.

Here lies the body of Jonas Jared Carter, Born July 22, 1870, Died April 4, 1889. He Forgave and, for my part, is Forgiven. She signed with her initials, AVC, July 22, 2019.

Here Lies the Body of Jonas

© 2020 Chris Mills

Comments

Ann Carr from SW England on October 05, 2020:

We're managing to balance our responses now but I do wonder how long this will continue. How much easier it would be with an end in sight!

Ann

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 04, 2020:

Ann, I am so happy to see you here commenting on this story. I just wish I could feel inspired to write since covid came to town. Thank you for your kind comments.

Ann Carr from SW England on October 02, 2020:

This is a brilliant story, Chris! Spooky, scary, desperately sad and poignant. Hats off to you. Sorry I missed it, though I don't know how, but it was worth the wait!

Keep safe and well, Chris.

Ann

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 02, 2020:

Chris

Yes it is, thank you.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 02, 2020:

Thank you, Lawrence. I hope all is well with you right now.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 02, 2020:

Chris

A great way to finish, and a nice twist at the end.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on February 28, 2020:

A good and comforting ending. It's been a wonderful story with thrill and twists. I enjoyed both parts. Thanks, Chris, for entertaining us with such a brilliant touching story.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 27, 2020:

Thank you, Liz. I'm glad the ending surprised you.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 27, 2020:

I certainly didn't see that end coming. This is a well-written and intriguing 2 part series.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2020:

MizB, I'm glad to assist in giving your voice a rest and bringing a tear to your eye. Harnessing the emotions is what creative writing is all about.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 26, 2020:

I am speechless (and if you know me you know that is virtually impossible). This is such a surprise ending. I certainly wasn't expecting a real tear-jerker. Yes, RIP Jonas.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2020:

Will, Glad you liked it. I like that three letter word you used. haha

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2020:

Ruby, yes, most definitely, RIP, Jonas. He deserves it.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2020:

Shauna, I had three or four different ways of killing. Baby seemed like the most creative and interesting. Thanks for reading.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2020:

Becky, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on February 26, 2020:

Great story, Chris! Wow!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 26, 2020:

Poor Jonas, so badly treated all his life. I didn't see the ending coming. This was a great paranormal story. RIP Jonas.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 26, 2020:

What a twist! Thank God Amy insisted Jonas take off his hood or the truth would never have come out. Poor guy led a tortured life. I can't imagine being treated by family the way he was treated.

Setting Baby up as Amy's kill tool was brilliant, Chris.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on February 26, 2020:

So much story, from just a few pictures. I am awestruck.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 25, 2020:

John, Bill's photos always provide a fertile setting for a story. I pretty much grew up in an old barn with a hayloft. Maybe that's why I have so much trouble seeing the value of housework. Ghosts are a natural for this kind of setting. Farms are the most deadly places in terms of occupations. There is danger at every turn. So the places must be overrun with spirits. Thanks for reading and for guiding me to your story as well.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 25, 2020:

An entertaining and creepy story Chris. I had to read the second part as soon as I finished the first to find out the outcome. Funny how a few of us were inspired to write ghost stories from these images. A great response to Bill’s challenge.