As the road curved
and the last, lonely post of the split-rail fence that had once
marked the borders of the Lemmon Farm came into sight, Jessup
was surprised to see that there were no animals waiting to meet
Jessup disliked being sent
to the Lemmon Farmhe
disliked it immensely.
The bright September sun,
shining down from a sparkling blue sky, did nothing to ease
his trepidation, and he had dawdled in a way that would have
incensed his father, had Ronald Blair been there to see his
son picking at the remains of summer wildflowers, or climbing
the dead and leaning lightning-struck oak that crowded the
But Ronald Blair was not there,
and in his idyll Jessup wondered if his father found the Lemmon
farm as distasteful as he did. The Lemmon farm was badbad
like a fallen apple swarmed with summer hornets, bad like
a loose hog gone feral. Jessup Blair was only eleven years
old and he understood that the Lemmon farm was not at all
like the other farms that speckled the countryside of Burberry
He supposed that the wrongness
of the Lemmon farm had not escaped his parents, but the difference
was that the strangeness of the place did not frighten them.
Jessup's father had fought in the Great War, and nothing frightened
him. Jessup knew that his father wanted the same for him,
and he suspected that this errand was another effort to toughen
But for Jessup fear was not
so easily dismissed by reason, and it was with dragging steps
that he let his feet carry him to the post where the county
road and the Lemmon Farm met. The lack of any Lemmon livestock
did little to relive his anxiety.
There were always Lemmon animals
standing by the post, watching the county road like sentries.
Sometimes there would be a Lemmon goose, or once of the dozens
of Lemmon dogs or even a solitary Lemmon sheep, the animal's
thick, unsheared wool dragging on the ground. Instead Grainger
Lemmon, youngest of the Lemmon children, stood beside the
post, leaning forward on his rough wooden crutch and watching
Jessup as he made his slow-footed way towards the farm.
Jessup shored himself up for
their meeting, for while the youngest of the Lemmon children
was not troubling in the same way that many of the Lemmon
livestock were, neither was Grainger normal. Jessup's parents
had explained to him that Grainger was deformed, and
not by birth, but by harm. The child deserved pity, they said,
and not fear.
So Jessup hid the fear he
felt at the sight of Grainger's twisted forma
thing he was fast learning to do, for his father had no patience
for that emotion. Standing straight and true, Jessup greeted
his neighbor and explained his reason for coming. In his slurred,
croaking voice, Grainger returned the greeting and told Jessup
that his own father was in the barn, and turned to lead the
The boys set off together
in silence, Grainger making good speed on his crutch and one
good leg. Jessup had long ago given up the idea of making
friends with Grainger, although the boys were close in age
and lived on neighboring farms. The Lemmons were private people,
who discouraged casual visits to their farm. This disappointed
Jessup, despite his discomfort at Grainger's physical condition.
His father had kept him back from school this year, saying
that Jessup had learned enough from books and needed to study
practical farming now. This meant Jessup would only see boys
his own age at church on Sundays. Also Jessup knew that Grainger's
father, Emmett, was college educated. Jessup often wondered
what Grainger might have learned from his own father that
he himself might never know.
The boys followed the narrow
cart path that bisected the Lemmon farm, through the ragged
Lemmon fields, past the dilapidated Lemmon farmhouse that
squatted atop a small rise like a stunted church. Jessup saw
many Lemmon animalschickens,
sheep and even a horsewandering
the farm, going where they pleased, or lazing beside the paths
that sprung from the main trail in many branches. All of the
Lemmon livestock seemed to glare at him, and the attention
of the shabby Lemmon animals made Jessup so uneasy that he
began whispering prayers below his breath.
The boys soon arrived at the
Lemmon barn, a massive, decaying building that from a distance
resembled a ship sinking in a sea of shabby corn. Smoke and
steam billowed out of the gaps in the rough walls, and a tremendous
cacophony of grunts and wails could be heard within. Jessup
understood at once what was happening inside: the autumn slaughter
of the spring hogs, bloody, noisome business that always gave
Jessup nightmares, and he dreaded the approach of the chore
at his own farm.
To Jessup's surprise, Grainger
rapped on the door of the barn, as one might the front door
of a house. At once, the grunting and the squealing ceased.
Grainger waited a brief moment, seeming to sweat as the steam
that drifted steadily through the planks condensed on his
skin and clothes, before he took the edge of the barn door
in his shriveled hand, and swung it wide.
Jessup had expected to find
the barn arranged for slaughterlong
iron scalding troughs hung over glowing coals, men stripped
to the waist wielding heavy stunning bars or long knives,
and nervous hogs penned up together, waiting their turn. There
would be at least one hog hung up by its rear legs, swinging
headfirst over an iron tub filled with blood from the animal's
But the interior of the Lemmon
barn offered nothing of the sort. There was a trough of hot
water, slung above a smoking brazier, as Jessup expected.
There was even a hog in the trough. But the hog was not dead.
Rather, the animal stood in the steaming water and stared
intently at Jessup, its dark eyes puffed to slits by the abundance
of flesh it wore. Other hogs were roaming freely about the
barn. In fact, Jessup could see that the far door of the barn
was open, allowing the animals to come and to go as they pleased.
Emmett Lemmon stood just behind
the tub, his overalls undone and the sleeves of his long underwear
pushed back to the elbows, a stiff-bristled brush in one hand,
and an expression of expectation on his thin face.
"Can I help you?"
Emmett Lemmon asked, his voice snapping Jessup out of his
confused trance. Grainger had already disappeared into the
steam and smoke, picking his way carefully through the gathered
"My father sent me to
come to see if you want to borrow the haying rake again this
season," Jessup said, his shameful worry of unpenned
animals clear in his voice. Emmett considered Jessup for a
long moment and said nothing. The silence dragged out for
so long that Jessup thought Mr. Lemmon might be taking issue
with his manners, and added, "If it pleases you, sir,"
to his request.
"The hay rake?"
Emmett asked. Jessup nodded.
The hogs, about a dozen of
them, exploded into a chorus of grunts and cries, and then
fell once more into silence. Grainger's misshapen frame began
to twitch nervously. The hog in the tub, still glaring over
the rim at Jessup, coughed out an abrupt grunt, and the other
animals fell silent.
"Yes," Emmett said,
when the hogs had quieted. "We'll be needing that rake,
if you're already through with it." He paused to absent-mindedly
scratch the back of his neck with the stiff-bristled brush.
"Your Pa will want something in way of payment, I don't
doubt." Jessup nodded. The hog in the tub, a massive,
black-backed Poland-China Boar, considered Jessup with an
almost appraising eye, and then uttered another short cough
of a grunt. The other hogs took up the call, sounding like
a roomful of hoarse men speaking all at once.
Lemmon shouted at the top of voice, as if he expected hogs
to understand, but of course the animals kept on squealing
and grunting without a slip in volume. Jessup watched Emmett
Lemmon's face darken with frustration and anger. The farmer
moved to step around the tub, dropping the brush to the straw-covered
floor and fastening his overalls as he came. As he passed
the front of the tub, the large boar soaking inside turned
its head and clamped its jaws down on Emmett Lemmon's left
Emmett Lemmon screamed and
tugged at his captured hand with all of his strength, but
the hog kept its grip. At the sight of his father's distress,
Grainger hobbled forward from his corner and savagely bit
the boar's ear. The hog squealed in pain, releasing Emmett's
fingers. The farmer stuffed his bleeding hand beneath his
armpit, and, stepping quickly forward with his good hand on
Jessup's shoulder, shoved the boy out of the barn.
As Emmett Lemmon closed the
door behind them, Jessup heard the iron trough crash to the
ground as the hog inside freed itself. He spun and caught
a quick glimpse of Grainger being driven to the ground by
several of the angry hogs. Then the water from the trough
reached the fire, raising billows of white steam that obscured
Jessup's view. Emmett Lemmon quickly closed the barn doors
and kneeled beside Jessup.
"Jessup, lad, do as I
tell you," Emmett said, his voice coming in a rush. "I
The loud creaking of the barn
door swinging open interrupted him. Emmett jumped at once
to his feet and stepped away from Jessup, leaving the boy
standing alone in the middle of the path.
The hogs stood motionless
along the doorway, their breaths coalescing into a great cloud
of vapor above their heads, staring out at them. The whole
world had gone suddenly silent.
"Tell your father this,
then," Emmett Lemmon said in a loud, clear voice. "In
return for use of his haying rake, I will provide him with
one boar of my finest stock, to be slaughtered or bred as
he sees fit." As the farmer spoke, Jessup risked a glance
towards the barn, and saw Grainger's pale yellow eye fixed
to the crack in the hinges of the door. The eye, visible but
for an instant, squinted nervously through a pall of blood,
and then disappeared into shadow. "Is that clear, then?"
Emmett Lemmon asked.
Jessup, too frightened and
confused to speak, nodded.
"Well then," Emmett
Lemmon said. "Do I need to show you the way back to your
own property?" Jessup shook his head, and turned back
towards the path that Grainger had led him down.
Jessup became lost, of course,
in the strange and featureless roll of the Lemmon fields,
and it was some time before he discovered the broad strip
of county road that separated the Lemmon farm from his own.
He had time in his wanderings to ponder that while he saw
no hay in any of the Lemmon's fields, he did see a perfectly
good hay rake tucked away behind a sagging shed.
* * *
The Lemmons collected the
Blair hay rake the next day. A week later when Jessup again
crossed the county road to collect the piglet owed in payment,
Grainger was once again waiting at the post. Jessup hadn't
seen Grainger since the hogs had set upon him, and he wasn't
surprised that the boy had his right arm up in a sling and
wore a splint on his good leg. A full-grown hog might go more
than three hundred pounds, and, from what Jessup had glimpsed,
he believed a dozen or more had attacked Grainger Lemmon.
That the boy was alive at all was far more of a surprise than
the sling. Grainger's usual twisted appearance masked any
other wounds or traces of the attack. Remembering his manners,
Jessup stopped staring at his neighbor and waved. Grainger,
who was unable to return the gesture, dipped his misshapen
head in reply.
"Come for the boar, have
you?" Grainger asked. Jessup said that he had. "Well,
come up to the house, then, and collect it." Hogs
in the house? thought Jessup. The only way a pig would
come into Jessup's mother's house, regardless of that animal's
age, was butchered and smoked.
Grainger led Jessup to the
Lemmon's peeling, ramshackle farmhouse. The porch roof was
held in place by thick beams stuck onto the overgrown lawn,
and the front door, Jessup was surprised to see, had been
taken off of its hinges.
The condition of the front
parlor of the Lemmon house was such that Jessup, an orderly,
meticulous boy, nearly swooned. The floor was caked with dirt,
and what furniture there was, was broken and covered in animal
hair. Some of the chairs had what looked to be bird droppings
smeared on their backs. Even the ceilings were covered with
flyspecks and spatters of filth. Jessup could see that all
of the doors had been taken from their hinges, allowing the
wind to carry leaves and other rubbish throughout the house.
A curtain hung in the door
that separated the parlor from the remainder of the house.
Motioning for Jessup to wait, Grainger hobbled into the next
room, allowing the curtain to fall closed behind him. At once,
a bellow of grunts and rough shouting erupted from behind
the curtain. The noise of it reminded Jessup of Russian villains
he had heard on various radio programs. He wonderedand
not for the first timeif
perhaps the Lemmons were communists.
After several minutes Emmett
Lemmon emerged from behind the curtain, holding a small white
piglet wrapped in a dirty towel in the crook of one elbow.
There was a look of fear or even panic on Emmett Lemmon's
face as he leaned in close to Jessup. "Tell your father,"
he said, speaking in a whisper as he handed Jessup the piglet
as if it were an infant, "that we need to talk, about
several matters." As Jessup took the piglet, Emmett Lemmon
slid a small slip of paper from the folds of his bandage on
his right hand, and pressed the note firmly into Jessup's
palm. The piglet began to squeal, its tiny black eyes screwed
up and fixed upon Emmett Lemmon. "Now take your pig and
go," Emmett said, rising to his full height and pointing
at the doorway that had no door.
* * *
The animal was pure white,
with clever, intelligent eyes. Jessup thought the piglet demonstrated
a wide range of expression for such a little pig. It was certainly
calm for such a young animal. Despite having been only recently
weaned from its mother, and just separated from its littermates,
the piglet exhibited no signs of distress.
Jessup carried the piglet
to his barn, where his father was already at work building
a new pen for the piglet. "Mr. Lemmon sent a note,"
Jessup told his father.
"Did he?" Ronald
Blair asked as he took the piglet from his son. He raised
the small animal up an examined it. The boarling looked back
at him with a steady eye. "Quiet little nip of bacon,
isn't he?" Jessup's father said.
Jessup agreed. The piglet
hadn't so much as squealed since he had taken it from Emmett
"Well, we'll look at
Mr. Lemmon's note later. There are chores to be done before
dinner. Fetch a bucket and a bowl, slush him some pellets
and water, along with some of those vitamins we've been giving
the breeding sow. Then come and help me feed out the rest
of the stock." He patted Jessup on the back. "Come
on, son. Step to."
Jessup set the piglet down
in its new pen, where it would be protected from the larger
hogs born in the spring. The little boarling snuffed disdainfully
at its new home and looked up at his human masters with that
same cockeyed smirk that all of the Lemmon hogs seemed to
In another hour, they had
the cattle, hogs, and sheep all fed and closed in for the
night. Jessup's last chore was to close the pop holes of the
hen house and to check for any eggs. Jessup gathered what
eggs there were, checked the water and grain supply, and counted
the chickens. Confused, he counted them again. There were
seventeen mature birds, where yesterday there had been fifteen.
He counted once more, and identified the two newcomers: a
pair of thin, dark hens with the scaly ragged look of Lemmon
stock. One of the Lemmon hens was awake, and she considered
Jessup with a calculating eye. Feeling a little nervous, Jessup
stepped back out into the gathering night.
* * *
By the time Jessup reached
the farmhouse, his father was already seated at the dinner
table, his overalls undone, and the sleeves of his flannel
shirt shoved up past his thick forearms. Jessup's mother was
at the stove, tailoring the gas flame beneath the heavy iron
pot of stew. Jessup wanted to mention the note right away
but his mother told him to go wash his hands. When Jessup
returned to the table, there was a bowl of thick stew waiting
at his place.
Jessup's father asked how
the hens were laying, and Jessup told him of the two Lemmon
hens had joined the flock. His father smiled. "First
a hog and now two hens," he said while blowing on a pale
wedge of stewed potato stuck on his fork. "The Lemmons
are generous neighbors. That boar should bring us a few litters
of good chuffy gilts come spring."
"We must tell the Lemmons
of the hens," Jessup's mother said. "That they don't
pen up their stock is nothing for us to gain by." Her
husband reluctantly agreed. "It is natural for their
animals to wander, however. The Lemmons practice such a strange
method of farming," she said.
"Emmett Lemmon's an eccentric
man, I will say that of him." Jessup's father said. "Doesn't
take to the typical notions of farming. Doesn't even call
it farming. Calls it an experiment." He pronounced
the word with evident distaste. "Something about making
the animals partners in the keeping of the earth, or some
such nonsense." Jessup's father paused to strain the
black waters of his stew through his the tines fork, until
he discovered a thick cube of beef. He stabbed it, and raised
it from the broth. "Well, I think the last ten years
or so that he's been at it, he's done more learning that teaching."
He shoved the steaming beef into his mouth. "If
I can say so without sounding too high and mighty, what Emmett
is working towards lies outside of God's plan."
"All things are within
God's plan," Jessup's mother said, serving her husband
"Did God plan for Grainger
Jessup's mother exclaimed, dropping the ladle back into the
pan with a clatter. "You will not say such things, not
at my table." Jessup's mother composed herself, and lowered
her voice. "The lad suffered an accident, is all. A terrible
accident. That we have had the grace to be spared such tragedy
is a blessing we should not belittle with such talk."
"In 1926, Emmett Lemmon
came to that farm with two sons and a wife," Ronald Blair
said, his dinner forgotten in the importance of the point
he was about to make. "Now, after ten years, all that's
left are himself, and that youngest boy of his. The rest either
left him, or, as in his oldest son's case, are buried in the
yard of a church that Mr. Lemmon himself is too well educated
to attend. That such misfortunes have not come upon our household
is, I will not deny, good reason to turn towards our neighbor
with the kindness of Christian charity." He paused to
cut himself a slab of bread with a long silver knife. "But
Emmett's condition is no accident. A man gets what he works
towards. Emmett Lemmon has been working towards misery and
disaster most of his grown life."
"He sent a note."
Jessup said. "Mr. Lemmon sent a note with the piglet."
Jessup's father didn't look
up as he smeared butter across the bread with the same sharp
knife. "Read it, then."
Jessup hitched his chair back
from the table and fished into his pocket for the note. He
unfolded the paper. "Help," he said.
"Do you need help reading
it?" his mother asked.
"I can read it,"
Jessup replied. "I just did. It says 'Help', is
all. Maybe a little bit after meant to say 'Me'."
His father stood, and took
the note from Jessup's hand. He squinted as he noticed the
dark stains that covered the paper. "What's gotten all
over it?" Jessup's father asked.
"Blood, I think,"
Jessup said. "One of Mr. Lemmon's hogs bit him. He keeps
them in the house."
Ronald Blair smiled at his
wife, and said nothing.
* * *
By the end of November, the
behavior of all of the pigs on the Blair farm had changed.
Where before the animals had clustered aggressively at the
pens, squealing and shoving at the troughs to get at the pellets
and slop, the pigs were now quieter, almost restrained. An
eerie sense of calm attended feeding time. Equally peculiar,
Lemmon stock began to wander onto Blair property with greater
first the two hens, then a goose and a turkey, and finally
even sheep. The Blair's two farm dogs, Sampson and Damascus,
would run the interlopers off, but in early December, the
two dogs disappeared.
By Christmas, all of the animals
on the Blair farmthe
sheep, cows, chickens, ducks, horses and geesehad
taken on the same disturbing manner that the pigs had first
demonstrated. It seemed to Jessup to be almost an attitude
Meanwhile, the Lemmon hog
grew, gaining as much as a pound and a half every day. Jessup's
father set a date to slaughter the last four gilts left from
the spring litter, and the mild winter turned cold. The wind
came constantly from the northeast, and clouds threatening
heavy snow gathered in the sky above the farm.
* * *
On a morning in early January,
when the snow of a Nor'easter had just begun, Jessup's father
went across to the Lemmon farm, and didn't come back.
Ronald Blair had been planning
the trip for a few days. At church the previous Sunday, Jessup
had overheard his father and a neighbor discuss the strange,
almost unnatural silences that had infected their livestock
this winter. Jessup's father had been more than a little surprised
to learn that Emmett Lemmon had also traded his other neighbor
a boarling for the use of their hay rake. Determined to learn
what was his neighbor was up to, Jessup's father had promised
to cross the county road, and discuss the odd goings-on with
The following Sunday, Ronald
Blair changed out of his church clothes, and, saying that
he would be home by lunch, walked over to the Lemmon farm.
Jessup did the chores alone that morning, and then trudged
back through the deepening snow to the house, to take lunch
with his mother. She set a plate out for Jessup's father,
but he did not arrive.
Jessup waited for him, reading
the family bible until it was time to do the afternoon chores,
and then he did these, once more in the falling snow, once
more alone. The snow continued to fall, drifting against the
fences, and filling his footprints almost as soon as his boot
had pulled free.
* * *
By dinnertime, Jessup's mother
had become more concerned for her husband. Neither the Blairs
nor the Lemmons had telephones, so there seemed to be nothing
to do but wait. Also to consider was that Ronald Blair was
not the sort of man who would take kindly to being hurried
by his wife and son, if he had taken to talking, or was delayed
by helping his neighbor in some chore.
The sky had been dark all
day, and when the sun quit after just five hours of weak radiance,
the world fell to black. Peering out of the parlor window,
Jessup could only just see the end of the front porch. Snow
clung to the railings and completely covered most of the deck.
He turned in the chair when he heard his mother enter the
room. She was holding Jessup's coat, gloves, and snowshoes
in her hand.
* * *
Jessup found his father just
past the post that marked the Lemmon's property line.
The night was the blackest
that Jessup had ever seen. The wind was against him, and the
blowing snow hissed along the drifts. Jessup was wrapped in
nearly every piece of clothing he owned, and he brought the
driving stick with him, using it both as a cane and as a probe
with which to check the depth of drifts.
As he neared the Lemmon Farm,
Jessup almost stepped on his father, who lay huddled in the
snow. There were animal tracks all around him, and patches
of snow were black with blood. A Lemmon dog, shot dead, lay
steaming in a snow bank. Ronald Blair sat nearby, nearly covered
in snow, a shotgun in his hands. Emmett Lemmon, his face blue,
lay nearby, unconscious, or dying, but not dead. Even in the
poor light Jessup could see the swirls of condensed breath
that proved Emmett Lemmon still lived.
"Pa!" Jessup shouted.
The wind snatched the words from his mouth even as he formed
them. Ronald Blair turned his head, and Jessup nearly collapsed
in the snow at the sight of his father's face. His father
was wounded, perhaps permanently disfigured. One clear gray
eye peered up at him; the other was closed or perhaps gone
altogether, hidden behind a caul of blood and ice. With a
deliberate manner, Ronald Blair raised a gloved finger to
his lips. Jessup did not call again, but shuffled as quickly
as he could to his father's side. Jessup's father took hold
of the driving stick, and raised himself up with it. The wind
howled around them, and carried with it grunts and growls,
half-human moans and animal murmurs.
Ronald Blair broke the shotgun,
dropped the spent shells into the snow, and drove two fresh
twenty-gauge rounds into the breech. He then handed the gun
to Jessup. "Lead us back to the house." Jessup's
father said while raising Emmett up on his shoulder, and using
the driving stick as a cane. "Shoot anything that comes
near. Fire one barrel at a time. Squeeze the trigger. Don't
rush it." Jessup looked at the gun in his hands, heavy
and cold, and then up at his father. "Go on," his
father said. "Step to."
* * *
Jessup's mother stood waiting
for them in the doorway. Jessup's father had stumbled several
times, and once Jessup had slapped the butt of the shotgun
to his shoulder at a noise that turned out to be their own
front gate twisting in the storm, but otherwise they had traveled
unmolested. Jessup's mother ran out and took Emmett Lemmon
from her husband's shoulder. She was asking what happened,
when Jessup noticed a light far off down the field. He recognized
that the barn door was open. He could see the glow of the
lantern they had hung above the Lemmon hog's pen to keep the
piglet warm. "Pa, look! Someone's been in the barn!"
He pointed with the shotgun, and his father took it from him.
"In the house," his father ordered. "Lock the
Working together, the Blairs
brought their neighbor into the parlor, and set him before
the fire. Jessup's father held the shotgun in the crook of
one arm, while he dug through the pocket of his overalls.
He took out his key chain, and handed it to Jessup. "I
want you to go into the gun cabinet. The key's this one, here,"
he said, dangling the chain by a single key. "Unlock
it, and bring me the rifles and shotguns. Bring all of the
bullets and shells as well. Careful with the shotguns, don't
scratch them." As Jessup left the room, he heard Emmett
first sound the farmer had made since Jessup had discovered
him in the snow.
When Jessup returned minutes
later, his arms full of guns as if they were cordwood, his
mother and father were pushing all of the furniture against
the front door.
"That won't work,"
Emmett Lemmon said. He was pitched out on the floor in front
of the woodburning stove. His arms fluttered weakly, his big
hands flapping at the air like wounded birds. Ice and snow
melted off him, running in thin streams down into the parlor
carpet. "They're too smart for that. And too strong.
That table won't stop a grown boar."
"They'll not enter into
this house," Jessup's father said. His face, now free
of ice, looked more terrible than before. His cheek had been
torn open, and blood was caked upon his scalp, but Jessup
was relieved to see that both of his father's eyes were still
there. "Well, set them down," his father said, motioning
towards the guns. "Go and fetch the rest. I want all
of them, the black powder rig, and the pistols, all of them.
And all the ammunition." Jessup's father stooped and
picked up the carbine he had brought back from the War. Despite
his injuries, he loaded the weapon with a grace that amazed
his son. Jessup ran for the other guns.
When he returned with another
armful of firearms, his father and mother were nearly finished
loading the guns from his first trip. Emmett Lemmon remained
on the floor, not moving.
"They made him trade
the piglets," Jessup heard his father say to his mother.
"The piglets were born with the sense he had taught the
others. The piglets, and the hens, were sent out to corrupt
our own animals, to teach them. They had already killed
the wife, and were holding the boy prisoner."
Jessup's mother suddenly looked
up from the Winchester she was loading. "Grainger! Lord
have mercy, where is Grainger?"
"The Lord should have
no trouble looking over the boy now," Ronald Blair said.
"The animals killed him. Rather, he let himself get killed,
when he brought me the shotgun."
There was a sudden crash.
The table they had wedged against the front door jumped six
inches across the floor, but the lock and deadbolt held. Jessup's
father shoved the table back into place, and stacked a chair
on top of it. "Is that all the guns, Jessup?" he
asked. Jessup said that it was. There was another crash, from
another room. The air in the parlor went cold with a breath
of wind through the open kitchen door. "I want one more
thing," Ronald Blair told his son, as he handed him a
loaded double-barrel shotgun. "Fetch me the bible, from
the study. Go quick!"
Emmett Lemmon laughed again.
"And God blessed them," he said, speaking up into
the air, his arm flung across his eyes and a broad, sinister
smile on his lips. "And God said unto them, be fruitful,
and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and
have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl
of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the
In answer, a horrible voice,
born of no human throat, blew in with the wind through the
kitchen doorway. "And by thy sword shalt thou live, and
it shall come to pass when THOU shalt have the DOMINION, that
THOU shalt BREAK his yoke from off thy NECK!" There followed
the sound of hooves on the hard tiles, and grunts like laughter.
Jessup, nearest to the door that joined kitchen and parlor,
took two quick steps towards it, and swung it closed. He heard
the latch click. There was no lock.
"I taught them that,"
Emmett said. "How to speak as men do, how to read words
and to understand them. It took me years, but I taught them."
Jessup felt the door shudder as something heavy struck it
from the far side. He turned and looked at his father. The
door rocked again.
"They never could figure
out doorknobs, though," Emmett Lemon said. "No thumbs."
Ronald waved his son away from the door.
Jessup joined his parents
with their backs to the wall, and watched as his mother and
father brought their shotguns to their shoulders. Jessup did
the same. The fear he was expecting still had not returned.
He was instead borne up by a feeling of purpose, the same
instinct, he realized, that his father felt every waking moment.
The next few hours, live or die, would be nothing more or
less than another chore, a thing he must do to keep
the land God had given them. He would defend his home with
the same purposeful calm he demonstrated every day in caring
for it, for the duties were one in the same.
Jessup exhaled, and felt his
"The first thing I taught
them was the bible," Emmett said, as the door was struck
again. "But I do believe that they interpret it somewhat
differently than us."
Emmett Lemmon continued to
speak, but the sound of his voice was lost in the sudden crash
of the door, and the thunder of gunfire.