Not Going To Happen

Dawson opened the cabin door and stepped out onto the stoop. He leant against the post by the steps, coffee mug in hand and watched the men approach. As it neared, the crowd seemed to lose its resolve, until it stopped a few yards shy of the porch. Dawson nodded.

“‘Morning all.”

“We come for the boy.” Ellis stepped forward. “You got to give him over, Dawson.”

“I got to, eh?” Dawson took a sip of his coffee, then looked around. “This looks like my place. You the law now, Ellis? You serving me a subpoena? Or are you just plain trespassing?”

“I ain’t looking for trouble.”

“No, I don’t suppose you ever are, yet trouble always seems to be on the lookout for you. Curious, isn’t it?”

“Just give us the boy, Dawson. We’re taking him, one way or the other. We got no beef with you.” He looked around for the support of the men behind him.

“Now, why would I do a thing like that?”

“We found the Merton girl, down by the creek.”

“Is she okay?” Dawson asked, but he already knew the answer.

“She’s dead, Dawson. Your boy has to answer for it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He scanned the crowd, but Dave Merton wasn’t there. “Why the boy? Did anyone see him? You got any evidence? Or you just looking for a handy scapegoat?”

“You didn’t see her, Dawson. Weren’t no normal human being did that to her.”

“Jack,” Dawson said, nodding to a familiar face in the crowd. “Been a tough summer this year. Did I hear right? A couple of weeks ago you found a bear on your lawn? Up so close you didn’t know whether to shoot it or dance with it?”

“Oh, I shot it,” replied Jack. A stutter of nervous laughter swept the crowd, quickly silenced. Dawson turned back to Ellis and shrugged.

“You saying a bear did this?” said Ellis.

“Sounds likely.”

“You weren’t there neither, Dawson. Her belly scooped out on the ground.”

“Sure sounds like a bear.”

“Weren’t no bear tracks though. How’d you explain that?”

“Don’t know, Ellis. I wasn’t there. Sounds like no-one was. But here you are, all the same. Got to be the boy, because he’s different from you all. Good job he’s not black or yellow too. Hell, let’s blame him for the bad weather while we’re at it.”

“Don’t you go calling me a redneck, Dawson. You got no call doing that. But you got a wild animal penned up in there, you know you have. We’ve been waiting for this to happen ever since you took the thing in. We told you you should have handed it over to the authorities when you found it.” He sneered. “Hell, even handed it over to pest control. Now, you’re a good man, Dawson, and I ain’t saying you didn’t do it for what you thought was right, but it’s killed, Dawson. It’s killed a little girl, and that ain’t right, no matter how much your heart bleeds. And it has to answer for it.”

“If he’s done wrong, then sure, he’ll answer to it. But not to you, Ellis, or to a mob. Hell, I’m disappointed none of you are carrying pitchforks and torches. Where are we? The seventeen hundreds? When did Americans believe in lynch mobs? You got a beef with my boy, Ellis, you go get the sheriff.”

“And let him escape? Let him kill again? I don’t think so.” Ellis took a step forward. Dawson nonchalantly picked up the shotgun leaning against the stoop and held it casually, muzzle pointing to the ground.

“No. I said, you’re not taking him. And right now, you’re trespassing. Any of you folks want to sit out on the stoop, chew the fat and drink some joe, you’re more than welcome. Otherwise, you get the hell off my land.”

“We got more guns than you, Dawson.”

“Yep. Reckon you have. Anyone want to point a gun at me?”

Ellis looked around. None of the men had stepped forward with him, and most were avoiding eye-contact.

“This ain’t over, Dawson,” said Ellis.

“Nope. I don’t suppose it is.”

The crowd were already dispersing in ones and twos. Ellis looked for a moment as though he were going to storm the porch single-handed, but then turned and followed the rest.

Dawson stood on the porch for several minutes, long after the last of them disappeared down the wooded track. Then he put the shotgun down and re-entered the cabin.

“They’re gone.”

The pantry door slowly opened and Martha looked out.

“What did they want?”

“The Merton girl turned up dead, down by the creek.”

Martha’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh Dear Lord. Her poor mother.”

“Sounds like she was savaged by an animal.”

“It wasn’t him!”

“I didn’t say it was, Martha, but that’s not going to stop them thinking it.”

“But it wasn’t him.”

“I know. Come on out now. They’re gone.”

Martha pushed the door open wider and stepped out into the cabin. She turned and beckoned gently. “Come on, Moses. Come on. It’s all safe now.”

Moses crept out. He still bore the evidence of the night before, his coarse hair matted and mud on his clothes.

“Hey, son. C’mon over here,” said Dawson gently. “Listen, you got to stay round the cabin, you hear? Stay where we can see you. It’s not safe, you wandering around. And look at the state of you. Here, let me see you hands. Come on, show them to me, there’s a good boy.”

Moses tentatively held out his hand. Dawson gently took it and turned it over. His nails were thick, too thick to be cut with nailclippers, or even a half-decent pair of scissors. They were brown, and the hair running over the back of his hands was matted. His whiskers too stuck together in clumps.

“Rabbits,” said Martha. “You know how he likes to chase rabbits. He must have caught one.”

“More than likely.”

“They going to come back?”

“I expect so. Not for a while though. I told them they want Moses, they bring the law next time, and the sheriff is a couple of hours away at least.”

“They can’t lock him up. Not him.”

“The Merton girl’s dead, Martha.”

“It wasn’t him.”

“But they got to arrest him anyway, at least until they find out it’s rabbit blood on him.”

“But they can’t lock him up. They’ll take him away, even though he didn’t do it. Remember how he was when we found him? How he couldn’t even sleep inside for months? And they want to lock him up in a cage? It’ll kill him. It might take years, but it’ll kill him all the same.”

“Hush now. You know I won’t let that happen.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Well, the first thing you’re going to do is get some fresh water from the well, and we’re going to wash this young man up, make him look presentable. Go on, woman. Me and Moses will be out on the front porch, having a father-son chat.”

For a moment Martha looked as though she would argue, but then she turned and bustled out of the back door. Dawson led Moses to the front porch. He released his hand and sat in the rocker. For a moment Moses looked at his surrogate father, then stepped down into the yard. A toad croaked, and Moses jumped back. He bent down and touched it with a claw. The toad hopped, and Moses jumped back with little yelp. He leant forward and prodded it again. He’d found a new game. Prod, hop, yelp. Prod, hop, yelp.

Weeping silently, Dawson reached for his shotgun.

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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