A Marked Man
Jess scratched his mouth. The thing itched sometimes, especially where his beard grew, where the flesh had turned liquid and healed smooth like a gentle river. The boy watched him over the fire.
“Ask your question, kid,” Jess growled. The boy trembled.
“Well, I’s just wondering what ya did,” he said, “to earn a mark like that.”
Jess sighed. People were always asking about the damn brand—if they were dumb enough to ask, at least. Elsewise they just stared. The scars made an X from Jess’ cheeks to his chin, crossing his mouth in the middle.
“I killed some kids,” he said. “The oldest, about your age. The youngest barely crawling.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. Jess stopped scratching and prodded the embers.
It was true enough, anyway. He’d ridden with a passel of low crooks when he was a younger man, and one night they’d come down on a little house in a valley—the chimneys putting up smoke, the windows glowing. There’d been nothing to steal, but there was a woman to rape, and a husband to watch it. When that was done there were the kids: one un-plucked hen and four little brothers.
The men took their turns on the girl, but Jess hadn’t had the stomach for it so he’d just watched. The brothers put up a good fight, even knocking out some teeth, but in the end, the men broke their bones and put bullets in their brains.
And Jess just watched.
When the men laid out to sleep, Jess stayed up and watched the fire burn down, a nameless mania building. A hatred. Then he stuck a skewer in the coals and he waited. The pain hardly registered when he pressed it to his lips.
Those men died that night—and they’d died slow—but his silence had as good as killed those kids, too.
The fire popped and Jess scratched his scar.
“You’re a hard man, ain’t you?” the boy asked, stupidly.
This is my story for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge, where the prompt word was: Brand. Give ‘er a read and let me know what you think in the comments below!
(A big thanks to everyone who voted for my story last week!)