Estimated reading time — 28 minutes
Publisher’s Note: This story is a sequel to the previously-featured tale, A Sunset in Texas. The author encourages you to read the first installment in the series to better understand the events of this one. You can find the first part here.
Cooper jostled slightly in his seat as the pickup truck bounced its way down the countryside road. The asphalt had long since faded, giving way to cracks and bumps that marred its surface. As his vehicle cruised down the road, he looked out his window at the fields that flashed by. Rows of corn passed hypnotically by his gaze as his destination drew nearer. He peered in the rearview mirror to see his stepson, Andrew, staring out the window as well. The teenager’s blond hair danced in the air that was streaming through the crack near the top of the window. Cooper’s gaze was suddenly diverted back to the front of the cab as his wife placed her hand over his while he gripped the gear shift. Susan gave him a warm smile and squeezed his hand.
“You know, you really didn’t need to take the afternoon off to come out here with us. We could’ve just come the next time you were free from work,” Susan said.
Cooper grinned as he continued to stare out the windshield.
“We both needed a break, and I know all of three of us missed spending afternoons out here with Gunnar.”
Susan let out a light chuckle that was nearly lost in the wind through her open window and the static-laced song emitting from the radio.
“Finally,” Cooper let out under his breath.
The familiar white farmhouse Gunnar inhabited came into view over the top of some low-lying bushes. Cooper let off the accelerator, causing the truck to slow before turning into the gravel driveway. As they drew closer to the familiar home, rocks crunched under the tires and the smell of freshly cut grass entered through the open windows. Andrew perked up in his seat and his eyes went wide.
“You didn’t tell me we were going to visit Uncle Gunnar,” he exclaimed without any hesitation to keep the excitement from his tone.
Cooper chuckled and glanced at him in the rearview mirror.
“If I’d told you in advance, you would’ve been bugging me the whole way here on how much longer it was going to be.”
Andrew had now tuned out his stepfather’s voice and had his face pressed against the glass. With one final press of the brakes, Cooper brought the truck to a halt with the passenger side facing the front door. As if on cue, the screen door was flung open and Gunnar’s tall slender frame stepped out into the sunlight. He wiped the palms of his hands on the front of his pants before outstretching his arms into a welcoming embrace.
“I was wondering when y’all were going to get here,” Gunnar let out as Andrew threw open the door to the truck.
He bolted across the narrow span of grass that stood between the front steps of the house and the driveway. Andrew shook Gunnar’s hand and pulled the man into a hug.
“I know it’s only been a couple of months since you were last here, but I can swear that you’ve grown at least another inch. I figured you would’ve stopped
growing at your age.”
“I’m giving you a run for your money. Maybe I’ll make six foot by the end of the summer,” Andrew let out as a joke.
Gunnar rustled his hair and looked up as Cooper stepped out the truck and walked in their direction. They shook hands, but Cooper quickly found himself being pulled into a bear hug.
“You should know better than to greet me with just a basic handshake,” Gunnar said as his voice trailed off into laughter and the end of the sentence.
He let go of Cooper as Susan approached with a large smile across her face. Gunnar bent down slightly to reach her height and embraced her as well.
“It’s been a good few months since I’ve seen you as well.”
“Well, my job keeps me busy most of the time. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d want more than to just come out here and relax sometimes.”
Gunnar nodded and turned to Andrew who was now swaying back and forth in the porch swing.
“You know, Andrew,” Gunnar called out, “a new calf was just born earlier this week. Why don’t you and your mama head over to the stables and have a look? It’s almost her dinner time anyway. You still remember how to feed the newborns we took care of last summer?”
Andrew nodded with excitement before bolting down the front steps in long strides and taking off in the direction of the stables on the other side of the property. Susan shook her head with a grin before walking behind him.
“The boy is sixteen, but still gets excited like a child when he comes here,” Susan said with a laugh as she quickened her pace to catch up with him.
Once the two were out of earshot, the smile slowly started to fade from Gunnar’s face as he turned to look at Cooper.
“I have a feeling I know what this is about,” he said with a concerning neutrality to his tone.
Cooper kept his gaze on Andrew and Susan as they continued towards the stables.
“The day was going to come eventually, Gunnar.”
Cooper took in a deep breath as a cool breeze blew across the property.
“I just wish I had a little more time to prepare my answer properly,” Gunnar let out.
He walked back up the front steps with the boards squeaking under his weight and Cooper following close behind.
“Go ahead and have a seat and make yourself comfortable. I’ll fix us each a drink. I have a feeling we’re going to need at least one over the course of this conversation.”
Cooper let his body collapse into the cradle of the rocking chair. Kicking his feet up on the railing, he slowly pushed himself back and forth as he listened to Gunnar fooling around in the kitchen through the screen door. After a couple of minutes, he stepped back outside with a glass in each hand.
“White Russians,” Cooper asked with an amused hint of surprise in his tone. “My God, you really are old-fashioned.”
Cooper took the glass and stirred the liquors and heavy cream together with the small plastic straw. Gunnar took a seat in the chair next to him and stared out over the field adjacent to the property. The air had gradually gotten cooler over the course of the day, evolving from a discomforting heat to an enjoyable coolness.
“You know Coop, I’ve been dreading having this conversation with you ever since you married that girl.”
Gunnar took a sip from his glass while Cooper kept his eyes locked on him in complete silence.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way. Every man in this town needs to have the conversation with their kid at some point. Some people don’t mind it because they already know the answer, but others try to put up a fight in fear of the possible disapproval their kid has for our customs. They all know what results from their son or daughter disagreeing, so I can hardly blame the parents for fighting all of this.”
Gunnar let out a heavy sigh before resting his drink on the porch railing.
“I know that Andrew has no clue what goes on in this town, but do you have any hunch as to how he’ll respond when he finds out, Coop?”
There was a moment of silence between the two men. Bugs chirped in the grass and the faint crackle of a radio could be heard from somewhere in the house. Cooper swore he could make out the lyrics to “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan through the static. They sat without saying a word. Gunnar had his eyes locked on Cooper while he stared out over the land and thought for a moment.
“To tell you the truth, Gunnar, I have no idea how he’s going to respond to all of this. I’ve tried taking him hunting to test the waters. He shot a deer last winter, but he was very hesitant when it came to gutting the thing and harvesting the meat.”
Cooper made an aggravated sound before pinching the bridge of his nose.
“That’s the only thing even remotely close to testing his feelings about all of this that we’ve done. I honestly have no idea which way he’s going to go with this, and I’m just terrified that, that…”
“That we’ll have to kill him,” Gunnar let out with no emotion in his tone.
Another awkward silence hung in the air as Cooper shuttered at the cold realization he had been so afraid to confront. Cooper stretched and reached for his glass resting on the porch railing. In one gulp, he finished off the drink and placed the glass back down on the weathered wood.
“It’s never easy,” Gunnar said while continuing to stare out over his property.
“Some of the strongest men I’ve come to know in this town cried like a baby when their kid was taken away. It’s never easy for me either. No matter how many times I do it, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of knowing that I’m the one responsible for killing someone’s child.”
“Then why do we keep doing it?”
Gunnar turned to look at Cooper. He was now sitting fully upright in his chair and staring at him with the most serious look plastered on his face that Gunnar had ever seen.
“Son of a… you know the answer to that, Coop. Don’t make me explain it.”
Cooper sat in silence for a few seconds before grabbing his glass and retreating inside. He sloshed more liquor and heavy cream in the glass, hardly paying attention to the proportions he was throwing together. As Cooper came back through the doorway, he stirred the light and dark liquids together with his finger before wiping it on his shirt. He took a large sip before falling back into the rocking chair.
“Let me rephrase the question. I know your reasoning as to what would happen if we didn’t do it, but there must have been some incident that caused you to set this in motion. I find it hard to believe that you’re doing this just as a precaution. Something did happen or got really close to happening.”
Gunnar smiled and looked over at Cooper.
“Sometimes I forget just how smart you are, Coop. There’s a damn fine reason you’re the only person I’ve abducted who has walked out of this house alive,” he said with a chuckle.
Gunnar let out a heavy sigh and propped his feet up on a nearby end table.
“This was probably about 12 years ago. There was a boy named Rodney who was just a year or two younger than Andrew. Now, we were able to get away with not sending our kids to school for a little while, but eventually, we knew that they would need the proper education. Much to my father’s disliking, we let them go back to school. It took longer than my father had originally expected, but it was still only about five months before the incident occurred.
He was in a class with a few other kids from the town. There was this one girl named Lily who sat next to him for the whole day. They had grown up together, so it only made sense that they were really good friends. It was because of this that they confided in each other. One day, Lily went home and told her dad that Rodney wanted to go to the police and tell them everything that was going on in this little town. That very night, her father came running to our front door and started banging on it. I was already in bed but could hear him from downstairs in our living room explaining everything to my dad.
Immediately after this, my father grabbed the shotgun hanging above the fireplace. Nestled under the covers of my bed, I heard him slam the door to his truck and the engine roar to life. As he peeled out of our driveway, my young mind raced trying not to imagine what he was going to do next. The following day, Rodney wasn’t in school. He wasn’t there the next day either, or any other day after that. I made the assumption of what had happened, and my old man skirted the question whenever I asked him. It was years later when my old man passed the tradition on to me that he fully explained what had happened that night.
He had pulled up to Rodney’s house with the shotgun slung over his shoulder. It was late at night, so his parents answered the door with a lot of confusion. My father told them not to interfere and simply pushed past them and walked upstairs. As Rodney’s mother screamed and collapsed to the floor, my father dragged the boy down the stairs, screaming and fighting the entire way down.”
Gunnar paused for a moment. The void of silence was once again filled by the surrounding bugs and soft, blowing breeze that passed through the trees.
“My father took Rodney outside, led him deep into the property, and put a bullet in the back of his head.”
Cooper was sitting with his hands clasped together and holding his chin up. His gaze was now focused out over the farmland and the setting sun that was beginning to disappear below the horizon.
“So, you were correct in your assumption, Coop. We don’t just do this as some paranoid precaution. We do this because it almost happened, and I don’t want anything like that ever happening again. Should anyone discover what goes on in this town, I don’t want to be around to witness the fallout the members of our society would have with any armed authority.”
“Have you considered just ending this all together and letting the generations that remember and participated in it just fade away with time?”
Gunnar chuckled and finished off his drink. He kicked a leg up on the patio railing and rocked himself in his chair.
“Trust me, I’ve considered it on more than a few occasions. It’d be a weight off my shoulders, but I don’t trust some of the people in this town. There’s a reason I’m the sole person who goes out and gets meat for those who want it. I’m terrified that if I gave up the whole thing, those who crave it bad enough would just defy my authority and try to get it themselves. Let’s face it, not everyone is as smooth, clean, and tedious as I am. I’m terrified that someone would easily get caught, and then the whole town would be busted.”
Off in the distance, Cooper could see Andrew and his mother returning from the stables. His stepson had found something which he now held in his hand, but Cooper was unable to make out what it was from a distance.
“I know it’s not ideal,” Gunnar said in a somewhat defeated manner. “However, it’s still the best I can do with the situation my father put us in all those years ago. I personally never see an end to this, so the best thing we can do is just try and control it to the best of our abilities.”
The two men were silent once again. Cooper ran through the multiple scenarios in his head while Gunnar did his best to not let emotion cloud his judgment.
“If we end up having to go through with it… I want to be the one that does it.”
Gunnar raised an eyebrow and turned to give Cooper a surprised look.
“You know, I’ve had parents offer to do the same for their kid in the past, but I never really expected that to come out of you. Are you sure you’d be up for it?”
“I killed my own father, didn’t I,” Cooper asked with a sense of pride as he recalled that night in vivid detail.
“Yeah, but your father was someone that you despised with every fiber of your being. That’s a lot different than killing someone that you’ve come to know and love as your own son.”
Cooper opened his mouth to respond, but found he was unable to say anything.
“Look, Coop, I’ll give you until tomorrow afternoon to go through with all of this. If I pull Andrew aside tomorrow and find out that you haven’t asked him about it, then I’ll have to do it myself. Now, you and I both know that it would pain me deeply to do that to the poor kid. So, for your sake and my sake, I want you to go through with this.”
Cooper nodded and focused his gaze on the two members of his family as they drew closer to the farmhouse. Andrew came bolting across the yard with a large grin plastered on his face. Clutched in his grasp, Cooper could make out that he had the post of a wrought iron fence. A spike adorned the top and rust dabbled numerous spots on its surface.
“Looks like you found part of the fence that used to run around this property. That thing fell into disrepair before I was even born” Gunnar said while reaching into his pocket and retracting a pocket knife.
With one swift motion, he flipped it open and scraped at some of the rust. An orange powder fell into the air, revealing the dark metal underneath.
“It looks like most of the rust is only on the surface. How about after dinner, you and I go ahead and clean that thing off and get it treated?”
Andrew nodded his head with excitement and rested the large length of metal against the door frame. Susan opened the screen door and turned her head back as she stepped inside.
“Andrew, how about you come help me fix dinner?”
Andrew heeded his mother’s instructions and followed her inside. As the sound of shuffling pots and pans echoed through the screen door, Gunnar turned back to Cooper with a serious look on his face.
“If I were you, I’d talk to him after dinner. Should worse come to worse and we have to… take care of him… I personally think it would be best if the last memories he had were of a night like this, surrounded by family.”
Gunnar stood up from his chair and placed a hand on Cooper’s shoulder.
“I’m putting a lot of faith in you Coop. Please, don’t let me down.”
With a final heavy sigh, Gunnar went inside to help prepare dinner. Cooper found himself sitting alone on the front porch. The sounds that were drifting outside from the kitchen were filtered out. All he could hear where the buzzing of cicadas and a slight breeze wafting through the tall grass near the edge of the property. Just like the first time he had ever been in this house, the sunset was casting an eerie orange glow over everything. What had once been a living nightmare when he woke up strapped to a chair in Gunnar’s living room, was now a place he considered to be his true home. He had come to love and accept Gunnar as the father figure that he never had growing up.
Out the corner of his eye, he saw faint movement. The door to the barn had been left open, causing it to rock slightly on its hinges as it got caught in the breeze. A soft groan would escape the hinges, barely audible to Cooper over the distance. As he stared at the building that he had dragged his father into, the smell of blood began to fill his nostrils while the memories of that night came flooding back. He shook his head and jolted up from the rocking chair. Not wanting to think about it anymore, he walked inside just as dinner was being pulled from the oven.
The four of them ate at the dining room table that had been adorned with the first flowers of Spring. There were plenty of stories told and laughter to be had as night began to fall over the small Texas farmhouse. The entire time, Cooper’s mind swarmed with the thoughts of what he was going to have to do later that night. However, he managed to keep his composure and put on a pleasant demeanor during all of it. After Susan served dessert, Andrew helped clear the table and put all the dishes in the sink. After they had all been scrubbed and placed on the drying rack, the four of them sat in the living room watching a movie on the television. The clock above the mantle was just about to strike ten when Cooper leaned over and whispered something in Andrew’s ear.
“Would you mind coming outside and helping me with something?”
Andrew did not ask any questions and simply followed Cooper outside. As he opened the door, a symphony of the night filled their ears. The entire landscape had come to life with the sound of birds, insects, and other nightlife that inhabited the surrounding land. Cooper stepped off the gravel driveway onto the freshly cut grass, his boot leaving prints in his wake. The two men walked in the direction of the stables, guided by the faint shadows of vegetation in the moonlight.
“What do you think of living in this town,” Cooper asked bluntly, not knowing how else to start the conversation.
“I mean, it’s not bad or anything. I’m just not a big fan of the isolation.”
Cooper continued to walk as he pondered how to continue the conversation.
“Well, there’s a reason this town has remained isolated when many others have evolved and expanded over the years.”
”“There’s a reason? Real smooth move there, Coop,”” he thought to himself.
Cooper felt his heart skip a beat. He almost tripped in a shallow hole, causing him to stumble slightly before regaining his balance.
“Whatever you think the reason is, I can guarantee you that’s not it.”
“You mean it’s not because the people of this town practice cannibalism?”
Cooper was now at a complete loss for words. He had ceased his stride, causing him to stand and simply stare at his stepson. Silence hung in the air around them, save for the sounds of the surrounding wildlife. Although Cooper was tempted to say something immediately, his loss for words caused him to think over his next words carefully.
“Damn… you’re even smarter than I originally anticipated.”
Andrew did not respond to this. He stood motionless and stared at Cooper with unblinking eyes.
“I guess before we get too deep into this conversation, I have to know, how did you find out? Uncle Gunnar and I do our best to keep all of this a secret from the kids.”
Andrew motioned his head to the side, signaling for Cooper to follow him as he began walking again. Deciding it was best not to question the sudden leadership role that his stepson had taken, Cooper followed.
“Not every kid knows. Well, let me rephrase that. Some kids know, but not all of them believe it. The first time I heard these stories was in middle school. I was with a group of friends when some of the older kids started trying to spook us with tales about how some members of the town would go abduct people across the state and butcher them.”
As they continued to walk across the field, Cooper kept his gaze straight ahead. He did not speak a word and simply listened to Andrew’s explanation.
“At the time, we didn’t really think of it as anything more than some sick and twisted joke or a somewhat pathetic attempt to spook us.”
“So, when did you find out that it actually was all real,” Cooper asked.
Andrew paused for a moment as he gathered his thoughts.
“It was the day I spent the night at this kid’s house for his birthday. We had been good friends for years, so his parents let me stay for dinner and spend the night after all the other kids had gone home. His mother had made a roast that filled the entire house with an intoxicating aroma. At the time, I just thought she had splurged and spent a little extra cash on the good pork roast from the butcher.”
Andrew sighed and stared up at the stars in the sky.
“It wasn’t until we were all seated around the dining room table and his mother placed the still-steaming pan down in the middle that something struck me as odd. Whatever meat this was, it certainly didn’t look like any kind of roast I had had before. When I asked what it was, his parents just stared at me for a moment. The mother didn’t know how to respond, so the dad just asked me if I wanted to try a little piece.”
Andrew ceased speaking, causing a silence to fill the space between them.
“So… What did you do,” Cooper asked in a dry tone.
“I thought about all the rumors of people being abducted and butchered. I also thought about all the instances where some kids would stop coming to school. It suddenly occurred to me in that moment that perhaps there was some truth to those stories. My mind suddenly began to fear what would happen if I acted out at the dinner table.”
“So, I did the only thing that was guaranteed to keep me safe. I took a big slab of it on my plate and ate every last bit.”
Cooper could hear Andrew swallow loudly. He assumed his stepson was having to swallow down vomit after reliving that memory.
“I don’t really disagree with it. I guess the one thing I don’t like is that innocent people are usually the ones abducted for all of this. I guess it’d be different if this was done with criminals or other degenerates of society.”
Cooper tuned out Andrew’s voice immediately after the sentence ended. From deep within his mind, a consideration came back that he tried to keep tucked away. Deciding this was as good of a time as any, he stopped in his tracks. Andrew did the same when the familiar crunch of vegetation under his stepfather’s boots ceased.
“Follow me, Andrew. There’s something I think you need to see.”
Cooper turned on his heels and started back in the direction of the barn. Andrew followed close behind. During the walk over there, both remained quiet and to themselves. When they finally reached the tall and looming shadow of the barn’s structure, Andrew ran back to the house and soon returned with the iron post clenched tightly in his grasp.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t need to defend yourself,” Cooper said with a forced chuckle. “But I guess if it makes you feel comfortable, go ahead and bring it.”
Andrew stood in front of the large doors. One of them hung slightly ajar, causing the smell of old wood, motor oil and decaying plants to come spilling out into the cool night air.
“It should go without saying, but I want to make sure you understand the severity of what I’m about to show you. If you speak a word of this to anyone, I won’t hesitate to put you down. I’ve come to think of you as my son, my own flesh and blood. As much as it would pain me, don’t think that there would be any resistance for me to put a bullet through your head. Do I make myself clear?”
Andrew swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded his head. Cooper swung the door open fully and motioned for his stepson to follow inside. As Andrew stepped over the threshold, he placed the sleeve of his flannel shirt under his nose to avoid the growing severity of the smells inside. Cooper continued towards the back of the barn where a rickety flight of stairs ascended into a loft. Before going up on the first step, he grabbed the shotgun that was hanging from a hook on the wall. As the two men climbed up the stairs, the ancient wood groaned and squeaked under their weight. When they finally reached the top, Cooper reached out and flicked a light switch that was mounted on a structural post with the wires crudely stapled to the framework of the barn. To the right of the opening in the floor where the stairs came up, Andrew could hear a light bulb crackle to life, and a sickly yellow glow filled the area in front of him.
Cooper stepped onto the loft and waited for Andrew to reach his side. Andrew could see that the floor was covered by a thick blanket of dust, although it had been disturbed in some places. His eyes then focused on a set of chains that were bolted to a large beam overhead. The links drooped down from the ceiling until about halfway between the beam and the floor before curving out towards the back of the loft and disappearing into the shadows. Before Andrew was able to question what they were for, Cooper lifted his boot and banged it loudly onto the floor.
“Wake up,” he screamed in a deep and booming voice that echoed throughout the building and sent a chill down Andrew’s spine.
There was a moment of silence before shuffling could be heard from across the space. The chains rattled slightly, causing a metallic clinking to echo in the air. Andrew watched in horror as one hand with a chain shackled around the wrist stretched out from the shadows and clawed at the floorboards before it. Soon afterward, another one came forward with a matching chain shackle and caused the cracking of its joints to fill the air. Andrew found himself unable to move as the two arms extended into the light and heaved a body from the shadows. A head that was covered by greasy, disheveled hair emerged from the darkness. A mouth appeared from behind matted locks of hair and opened as if to scream, but only a painful squeak escaped. It’s head slowly turned from side to side, attempting to locate where the sound of Andrew’s heavy breathing was coming from. The thing let out a raspy wheeze as its gaze locked directly on him. Andrew started to step back, put Cooper quickly grabbed his shoulder and halted his movement.
“I’ve brought someone to see you,” he called out.
This caused the creature to let out another pitiful attempt at speaking. Extending a hand further, it caused the chains above to rattle and echo throughout the building.
“We’re going to step towards you. We don’t want any trouble like last time, do we?”
The head started to hang towards the ground.
“I said ”now do we?””
Cooper slammed the heel of his boot even harder onto the floor this time. The boom caused the creature to throw its hands around its head and bend down into a fetal position.
“Stay close to me and listen to anything I say,” Cooper said as he motioned for Andrew to follow him.
Together, the two took slow and cautious steps towards the thing that was now huddled over in a ball on the floor. With each footstep that connected with the floor, Andrew could see its body tremble with fear. Now within close distance, Andrew could tell this was not some starved creature, but a human being.
“Dad, who is that,” Andrew asked as they stopped in front of the individual.
Without speaking a word, Cooper used the barrel of his shotgun to pull the greasy strands of clumped hair away from the person’s face. In the dim light from overhead, Andrew stared down at the face that he had not seen for years. Although yellowed bandages were wrapped around his eyes, he was still able to recognize some facial features. He felt his limbs go numb and the iron post fell from his hand. It came down on the floor with a loud thud, causing the man that lay in front of them to throw up his hands in self-defense.
“Dad… I thought you…”
“Your mother had to keep you from the truth for a reason.”
Andrew turned to Cooper with tears starting to run down his cheeks.
“Your daddy never died in a car crash like your mother always told you. She did that to spare you from the truth until she felt you were ready to hear about it. She personally would have liked for you to stay oblivious to all of this for a few more years, but I don’t see a better time for you to know than right now.”
Andrew continued to stare down at the malnourished and weathered figure of his biological father on the floor. The images in his mind of a once muscular and powerful figure were now replaced with those of the weakened person that lay before him.
“Why… Why did you do this to him,” Andrew barely managed to choke out through heavy sobbing.
Cooper took in a deep breath and prepared himself for the conversation he had always dreaded would come.
“I had only known your mother for just a couple of weeks when I first met your father. At first, he was respectful to me, and I grew to respect him. However, things immediately started to reveal themselves one night when your mother pulled me aside. She told me about all the times that he would beat her and how she thought I was the person that could finally help her escape the living hell he had turned her life into.”
Andrew looked up from his father to look at Cooper. A dead expression was plastered across his face as he glared down at the man before them.
“That wasn’t even the worst of it. She told me that he had just recently started to sexually abuse her. It was small things at first, but they eventually grew to be extremely dark and sinister. It got to the point where your mother would fake having a late shift at work so that she could sleep in her car in the parking lot instead of going home to him.”
All that Andrew ever thought of his father over the years suddenly came crashing down around him as he stared down at the monster that lay trembling at his feet. For the first time in his life, Andrew could feel an emotion towards his father that he never thought would come forth; blistering anger.
“I told Gunnar about this in confidence one night when I was visiting. As badly as I wanted to tell the police about all of this, we both knew that that would only lead to the possibility of them finding what goes on in this town. If we turned your father in to the police, he could just as easily lead them back to what goes on here. Any sort of law enforcement presence in this town is extremely frowned upon. So, we decided that the only sensible thing to do was take the matter into our own hands.”
Cooper paused for a moment and sucked in a deep breath before continuing.
“Gunnar and I hopped into my truck and drove to your house one night when you were at a sleepover. As soon as we opened the doors and walked onto the front lawn, we could hear your mother screaming from inside. We ran towards the front door and could see your father pinning her onto the floor. Thankfully, he had left the door unlocked, so we burst in and took aim at him with our weapons. He was continually punching her in the stomach, and our sudden presence hardly seemed to slow him down. As badly as I wanted to blow his head off right then and there, your mother was too close for me to guarantee she wouldn’t be hit as well. Gunnar ran up behind him before he had time to react and smacked him on the back of the head with the butt of his rifle.”
Cooper crouched down and used the barrel of his shotgun to remove even more hair from around the father’s neck area. A grimy bandage similar to the one around his eyes was wrapped around his throat. Andrew had no exact estimate as to how long it had been on him, but he guessed it had been a few years.
“We came to later find out that your mother had been pregnant. He didn’t want another child and decided to kill the baby himself in a drunken stupor. We didn’t reach your mother soon enough, and she miscarried a few days later. Your Uncle Gunnar and I decided it would be too merciless to kill your father after that night. Instead, we decided to keep him alive so he could spend the remainder of his days tortured by the consequences of his actions.”
His brushed the back of his hand against the man’s cheek, causing him to flinch.
“Isn’t that right, Mac?”
Cooper reached into his back pocket and retrieved a pocket knife. He slid the blade under the bandage, causing Mac to stiffen out of fear. With one swift movement, Cooper sliced off the bandage with a sickening tear. As it fell to the ground, Andrew stared at the darkened scar across his father’s throat.
“Instead of gagging him, I came up with the idea of slicing his vocal cords. He’ll never speak again, but his breathing isn’t troubled like it would be with a sock stuffed down his throat. Should something ever happen where the authorities find him, he’ll never be able to say what occurred here.”
Cooper grabbed Mac’s hair and lifted his face up towards Andrew. This caused another painful squeak to escape his throat. As Cooper placed the blade under the bandages around his eyes, Andrew already feared that he knew what was going to be underneath. Cooper sliced off the fabric, revealing his father’s shut eyelids. Zigzagging stripes of black thread held them together, and Andrew could feel bile begin to rise in the back of his throat.
“If he ever found a way to escape, we didn’t want him to simply tear off a blindfold and find his way to the police. I also didn’t want to completely remove his eyes and run the possibility of him getting an infection and dying prematurely. So, Gunnar kept him knocked out and stitched his eyelids closed. Although this was a crude method, it was extremely effective nonetheless.”
Andrew opened his mouth to speak but found himself unable to utter a single word. The man who he had idolized for years and missed so dearly now sat a broken man in front of him, a pathetic shell of the father he had known and loved for many years. A few more tears fell down his cheeks as he struggled to swallow the lump in his throat.
“I know this is a lot for you to take in right now Andrew. No man should ever have to see his father in such a state like this, but I had to make it clear to you that not every bad action that goes on in this town is given to those who are undeserving. There are a lot of times where your Uncle Gunnar and I have disposed of some horrible people on this Earth. I just hope that you understand this. Now when we get back to the house, I’m going to sit down with you and Uncle Gunnar, and the three of us are going to have a talk abo-”
Before Cooper was able to finish his sentence, Andrew picked up the wrought iron from the ground and swung it high up over his head. The length of metal came crashing down on Mac’s head with a sickening crunch. Small droplets of blood scattered around the floor, a few of them splattering onto both of their clothes. Another gasp escaped Mac’s throat, this one even louder than any previous. A crooked hand slowly lifted up in self-defense, only to be met with Andrew swinging the post with all of his might. Cooper could hear the bones within his hand crack and protrude through the surface of the skin. Mac immediately retracted the limb against his body.
Before he was able to huddle up anymore, Andrew brought the metal down onto his father’s back. Cooper stumbled back and collapsed to the floor. Although no bones could be heard breaking this time, there was a sickening thump when it made contact. Andrew could hear his father sharply take in a breath, proceeding to violently heave and cough as blood dribbled down the corner of his lip. Andrew let out a blood-curdling scream as he continued to bludgeon his father in various spots on his back and head. One blow in particular came down with such immense force to the back of Mac’s skull that the stitches over one his eyes began to tear. An eye partially protruded from between the crusty skin of the eyelids and looked out upon the world. After years of being shielded and hidden away, the last thing Mac saw was his own son raising the iron post for one final blow.
Andrew gritted his teeth and smashed the iron down onto his father’s head. All the fractures that had been created along his skull finally connected and caused it to cave in. Andrew could hear a stomach-churning squish as bone fragments were forced into the soft and now exposed tissue of his brain. With one final breath, Mac dropped his head into the puddle of blood that had formed beneath him. The once shaking figure was now motionless. Andrew could feel his chest heaving as he took in deep breaths.
Cooper stared at the body in complete awe from his position on the floor. He had expected Andrew to have a few choice words with his father, but never anticipated the situation to escalate to this severity. Cooper wiped the blood that had splattered on his face with the back of his sleeve and looked up at Andrew. Although Cooper had been spared from the majority of the bloodshed, Andrew’s clothes were heavily doused in the dark, crimson fluid. The flannel shirt and jeans would have to be burned later to dispose of any evidence, and possibly the shoes that were now slowly being soaked in the blood puddle that crept towards his feet.
Cooper was unable to form a complete sentence. He continued to stumble over his words while glancing at his stepson. The blood on his face reflected in the sickly yellow light overhead. Andrew continued to stare down at his father’s lifeless body as his breathing finally returned to normal. With a loud clang that echoed throughout the barn, the wrought iron post fell to the ground. Part of it landed in the blood puddle, causing some droplets to fly onto Cooper’s shoes.
“We’ll take care of this later,” Andrew said without any sort of remorse or victory in his tone.
Andrew bent down and pulled at Mac’s hand. There was a sickening crunch as Cooper heard the bones in his fingers crack. Something was now clamped in Andrew’s fist, but Cooper was unable to make out what it was. With one final glare at the mangled corpse before them, Andrew slowly turned on his heels and walked towards the stairs. As he passed, Cooper stared into his stepson’s eyes. The joy and innocence that had once filled them had left, now replaced with a cold emptiness. Cooper stood to his feet and quietly followed Andrew back to the ground floor. As they turned towards the open doors and passed under the loft, Cooper felt blood seep through the floorboards and fall in his hair. The small puddles that were forming on the ground squelched under his boots as the men could once again hear the bugs outside. Stepping out into the coolness of the night, Andrew pointed his head towards the heavens and sucked in a deep breath. His eyelids fluttered shut as he slowly let the air out between his lips.
Cooper stepped up next to him. Although hesitant at first, he slowly reached out and placed a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. He did not immediately react, but slowly turned to face Cooper. The emptiness still lingered in his eyes, but a glimmer of happiness caused the corners of his lips to slightly pull into a smile.
“You alright there, Andrew,” Cooper asked in a soft tone.
Andrew let out a light chuckle and stared off at the farmhouse in the distance. Gunnar and Susan suddenly stood up from their rocking chairs. She bolted down the front steps and sprinted in their direction with Gunnar following behind at a walking pace.
“I’m fine, dad… I’m perfectly fine…”
Cooper felt the wind sucked from his lungs at that moment. Andrew had never called him ‘dad’ before, and expected that day to not come for a long time. Andrew turned and gave Cooper a warm smile before wrapping his arms around him. Taken by complete surprise, Cooper slowly lifted his arms and returned the embrace.
“You make me proud to call you my son,” Cooper let out through tears.
“And I’m proud to call you my dad…” Andrew said just before Susan reached them.
“I could see the blood all over your white shirt from the porch, Coop! What the hell hap-”
She froze in place as Andrew turned and revealed the dark spots scattered all over his clothes. Susan clasped a hand over her mouth.
“Jesus Christ, Andrew… what the hell did you do…”
She struggled to hold back tears while her hands began to tremble.
“Mac is gone now…” Andrew let out under his breath.
Susan gave him a confused look before shaking her head from side to side.
“No, baby. Your dad has been gone for a long, long time…”
Andrew stepped forward and grabbed one of her arms. He placed his hand over hers and gripped it tightly. Blood ran down his wrist and slowly cascaded over Susan’s skin. The still-warm fluid almost caused her to pull back.
“I know the truth now, mom. He’s finally gone, though.”
Andrew pulled his hand away and Susan looked down at what her son had left in the palm of her hand. Sitting in a small pool of blood was Mac’s wedding band. Tears began to stream down Susan’s cheeks as she held the tarnished gold ring between two fingers. Unable to speak, she threw her arms around Andrew and held him tightly. The wrought iron slipped from Andrew’s fingers once more and fell in the grass to his side. His arms wrapped around his mother as she sobbed heavily onto his shoulder.
Cooper watched from the side as Gunnar finally reached the group. He walked up to Cooper and examined the blood stains on his shirt. For the first time since his own father had been killed, Cooper saw a look of bewilderment on Gunnar’s face. The man looked up at the barn and then back down to Cooper. Without even having to ask the question, the men exchanged glances and a smile. Andrew let go of his mother and slowly turned to Cooper. With blood still speckled on his face, he smiled.
“Come on, dad; the weather’s perfect for a bonfire. I know Uncle Gunnar’s been meaning to burn off some trash for a while now.”
With a pat on the back, Cooper wrapped his arm around Andrew’s shoulder, and the two men started back towards the farmhouse. The moon now hung in the center of the sky, bathing the land in an eerie blue tint. Gunnar retrieved the wrought iron post from the ground, and he and Susan followed them. As they walked, she sniffled, and Gunnar placed an arm over her shoulder. Susan smiled and wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. As they returned to the farmhouse, the iron post dripped blood the entire way. Small, dark splotches littered the grass in their wake. The doors to the barn swung slightly in the breeze, causing a haunting groan to echo into the night.
Publisher’s Note: This story is the second in a three-part series. To read the third part of the story – Dawn in Texas – click here.
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