A Marked Man

In Fiction on August 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm

fire embers

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!)

  1. This is fabulous. I love the voice and I love how real your characters are!

  2. That is so rough and raw and brilliantly written that my stomach actually flipped. I also like at the end how the kid sticks with it and doesn’t give it. I think he may be a little bit hard himself.

  3. This really takes hold of you. Excellent writing.

  4. One of my faves this week so far! Gripping and raw!

  5. What a burden for the man to carry (and painful scars inside and out.) But that kid, wow! I can’t believe he was brave enough to keep asking questions!

  6. Wow, this is terrific. I love that twist. And your vocabulary – a passel of low crooks, an un-plucked hen – great stuff. And as others have said that kid and his questions heightens the tension of the scene. Nice!

  7. I like your character-building. This makes me want to know more of the story.

    • Thanks Draug – I just wish it didn’t feel as rushed as it does. Someday I’ll give it a bit of a longer treatment I think. If you’re curious where these two end up (or at least what it looks like closer to where they end up), there’s another Trifecta story that features them called A Fitful Sleep (https://pinionpost.com/2013/01/23/a-fitful-sleep/)

      Am I being a view hog? Why yes, yes I am 😀

  8. This is an awesome story! Very well written. The structure is great. Characterization is golden. I am such a fan. 🙂
    -Alicia Audrey

  9. Reblogged this on conchsaladesque and commented:
    This great story was written for this week’s Trifecta challenge. I enjoyed it so much that I had to share it with you. When you’re done reading it, it would only be right to pop over and read mine too. Hehehe. (AliciaAudrey.com/blog)

  10. Intense. Regret palpable in the narrator’s voice. I liked the character-sketch. It is really well-written.

  11. Love the poetic justice here; totally not what you expect coming into the piece.

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