Updated: Jun 27
For the very first time, I was disappointed in my dad. It hurt to admit this, but the way he surrendered to such a grave injustice struck me as downright weak. I'd never considered my father weak, but he’d placed his bet on a legal system that had failed him, failed my sister, failed us all. We now had every right to seek our own brand of justice. Instead, my father went reclusive, shut me out, and began spending every minute tinkering in his workshop.
The whole ordeal began two years ago with the screams of Ellie May. I heard her voice in the distance, and slid my creeper from under the Bobcat where I'd been wrestling with a leaky hydraulic hose. I saw my sister staggering out of the thicket wearing nothing but a torn t-shirt with red stains. One look at her knocked the breath out of me. Poor Ellie, so delicate and innocent.
I raced across the field straight for her as bombs exploded inside my head. Boom! The blood stains meant she'd been hurt. Boom! She's naked so she'd probably been attacked. Boom! She's running from the direction of the neighboring farm, which means that sicko Herbert Hayden probably had a hand in whatever had happened.
By the time I drew near, I saw she'd been beaten too. She tumbled right into my arms so bruised and broken that she'd never be the same, and I cried with her.
Never the same, my sweet little sis.
She curled in on herself from that day forward, although we did get her to acknowledge that Herbert Hayden, the local cat-torturing creep and known peeping tom, had in fact committed the assault.
Oh, how I hated that bastard, and prayed that God would send one of those explosions to blow Herbert Hayden into a million bits and pieces. Boom!
The court found Herbert Hayden guilty as charged, but by the time the trial had concluded, that gawky, pimple-faced little shit ended up serving only six months in a juvenile detention center. He'd been a minor at the time of the crime, which qualified him as a juvenile offender according to the penal code. On his eighteenth birthday, the state was forced to turn him loose.
Ellie May had suffered three cracked ribs, two black eyes, a broken nose, and the loss of her purity at the hands of Herbert Hayden, yet he'd only served a short vacation for his crimes.
Ellie May, on the other hand, would not speak. She refused to eat. She began to cut herself.
One rainy afternoon, I walked upstairs having made her a sandwich. A peanut-butter-and-banana with no crust had once been her favorite, and while I knew it would be a long shot, it would do us all good if she'd eat something. No surprise that she did not answer my knock on the door. I slipped inside, backing into the room with the plate in hand, and pulled the door closed behind me. Something bumped my shoulder.
I turned to find Ellie May lifeless, her glassy eyes wide open and drying out. A noose hanging from the ceiling fan had squeezed all the color from her face. I dropped the plate and fell to my knees.
As far as I was concerned, Herbert Hayden was guilty of murder—a crime for which he had not served a single day. He deserved to die.
And soon, I felt the same about the elder Mr. Hayden.
After that, we had the dust-up at the hardware store. It was inevitable to happen in such a small town. Arch enemies are bound to cross paths. Tempers flare.
You couldn't really blame my dad for what happened. He had always been an old soul, a humble and soft-spoken farmer with a stiff upper lip, calloused hands and the dependable character of men who built this fine country. He found his morality in the Word of God, and his faith ran deep. But, they say "to err is human and to forgive is divine." That means my dad was only human, and only God forgives.
Dad and I had stopped by the store for a few supplies. He needed welding rods. I needed toggle bolts. We were perusing the tool aisle when he caught sight of Herbert Hayden. Dad's face went blank.
All gangly and slouching, Herbert hunkered in a corner of the store while holding his phone up close to his greasy eyeglasses. I followed his aim to a young girl in short-shorts who stood in the cashier line with her mother. I didn't have to see Herbert's screen to know he was recording her on video.
Dad must have realized the same thing, because his blank expression went blood red and twisted into a war mask. Before I could react, he torpedoed down the aisle and lunged for the asshole's throat. Dad grabbed him by the neck with both fists and squeezed. Herbert's glasses fell off, his eyes bugged out, and at that moment I filled up with a kind of righteous glee.
I wish I hadn't, though, because in that instance of satisfaction, I dropped my guard. I should have maintained what police officers call “situational awareness.” Then, I would have seen Barnaby Hayden step out of the gardening aisle with a shovel. He swung it wide, and the flat of the blade ding-donged Dad right on top of the scalp. Knocked him cold. I caught Dad before he hit the floor, brought him to a rest, and then I charged Old Man Hayden.
I managed to belt him hard across the cheek before the staff of the hardware store latched on to us both to tear us away from each other.
I wanted the man's blood. I could practically taste it—his and his son's dripping right off my tongue.
"I want to kill them both," I told Dad afterward.
"I don't blame you," he answered.
"The court turned him loose," I said. "After what he did to Ellie, they still turned him loose. That's not right. It's not fair. It's not justice."
"God will judge them," he said. "They can't escape that."
What he was saying left me hollow. I told him, "I don't have time to wait for God."
Ever since that day, Dad had been pulling his hermit act, hiding in his work shed. I could hear the hammering. I'd see the shop glow bright with the loud buzzing of arc-welds. He was burying himself in some sort of work, but not the work that we needed to do. Me, on the other hand ... I'm no hermit.
The clouds gathered thick and black in late afternoon. I drove past Dad outside his work-shed when I headed to our back acreage. His tailgate hung open as he rolled a large black disc out the bed of his pickup. Was that a manhole cover? I’d seen him unloading some curious items lately...a new anvil... something that looked like the torsion spring of a garage door. I might have asked what he was working on if I hadn’t been so angry with him.
Besides, I had some curious cargo of my own. Herbert Hayden lay bound and gagged in the back of my Cherokee. Our family’s deer shack stood hidden deep on the back end of our property, and I had big plans to go out there and make this monster scream.
And scream he did.
At first, our time together didn’t come easy, but I was determined to hear Herbert give me a reason why he’d done what he did. See, Ellie had had one those conditions that made her halfway mute, timid as a mouse, and scared of her own shadow. How could he hurt such a fragile creature? Well, he wouldn’t speak up when I asked him, so I gave him some encouragement. And when he still wouldn’t tell me why, I lost my temper.
After an hour or two, I had plum tuckered myself out while breaking Herbert’s bones.
His hands had become strange sea crustaceans, pink and blue pulpy things that quivered in pain. My sledgehammer had snapped the wood of the chair beneath his left wrist, and that forearm drooped like a dishrag from its midpoint since both bones had been pulverized. The other chair arm broke further toward the back, and that blow had sent bone shards jutting out of Herbert’s skin. When that happened—boy, how he went to howling about being sorry for what he’d done. Seeing the white of your own bones will do that to a fella.
Unfortunately for him, his lesson in our hunting shack had yet to end.
I did a thorough job on his left leg. My goal was to completely obliterate the bone structure, and a 20-lb. steel sledgehammer will do the trick. When I started on the right one, I intended to flatten his foot into a cartoon-like pancake shape, and while that didn’t exactly happen, the only way Herbert will ever remove that foot from his converse is if he pours it out like a bowl of soup.
I then smashed his shin in half with a single mighty blow. The right leg now had two knees. I caught my breath while Herbert sat strapped to the chair hyperventilating.
“Here’s the deal,” I told him. “You’re going to tell me one more time exactly why you attacked my poor baby sister. My little sister who couldn’t live with herself after what you did. My poor little sister, who you killed whether you want to admit it or not. You’re going to tell me once more why you did it, and if you do, I will leave here without killing you. If you don’t, then I’m going to break open your skull right here and now. Do you understand?”
Herbert grunted something through clenched teeth, but I knew he had gotten the message. We had rehearsed this several times.
“I’m a sick piece of shit,” he sputtered. “I could never get a girl on my own because I’m a worm, not a man. I’m a lowlife, worthless slime and I don’t deserve to live. I did it because I am an evil coward.”
He gasped out the last word, the end of the prepared little speech which I made him memorize.
“Fair enough,” I said. “I’m a man of my word.” I hoisted the sledgehammer high over my shoulder then chopped it down and splintered his kneecap.
He roared. I smiled. Ol’ Noodle-legs, they’ll call him.
I used my buck knife to cut the twine that bound him. He spilled out of the chair in a puddle on the floor. With no bones in his arms or legs, he’d have a fine time crawling to safety.
”I’m going home,” I told him. ”Beware the wolves, asshole.”
That’s when I heard it: “Herbert, are you in there?”
That voice from outside the deer shack, I recognized. Old Man Hayden had joined us. I also heard something else approaching in the distance. It sounded like an engine.
I tightened my grip on the knife. When I let the door swing open, Barnaby Hayden stood outside with his shotgun aimed right at me. He had one of those ancient faces like he’d been chipped out of stone, and right then he looked harder than ever.
“I heard my boy hollering,” the man said. “I know my son’s voice. What the hell did you do to him?”
“Daddy?” Herbert moaned from behind me.
“Herbie! You okay in there?”
The engine I heard had been our Bobcat loader. My dad sat in the operator chair, rambling the old skid-steer across the field in our direction. From the look of the machine, Dad had given it some sort of custom modifications.
“He hurt me, Daddy. Real bad.”
Barnaby glared at me like a hawk at a hare. “You rotten sumbitch.”
I eased myself down the stacked concrete blocks that served as the two makeshift steps of the shack. “You know what your scumbag son did to my sister."
The Bobcat bounded over a couple of deep ruts then bounced to a stop just a couple feet shy of Barnaby, who cast a glance at Dad’s growling machine but kept the two-barrel muzzle pointed at me.
Herbert wallowed to the edge of the doorway and poked out his head. “Daddy..."
Barnaby Hayden racked his shotgun and leveled it at my face. “What did you do to my boy?"
“My sister killed herself because of what he did to her."
Barnaby’s nostrils flared. “She got what she had coming. She knew what she was looking for, when she wandered onto my property. My boy just gave her what she wanted.”
That’s when my father finally spoke up.
“Mr. Hayden...” he said.
The man turned the shotgun on my dad and raised it eye level. He did not say a word, but my father did.
“...It seems that you’ve now wandered onto my property,” Dad told him while flipping a lever I did not recognize on the side of the Bobcat.
The Bobcat screeched and hissed, then sounded a loud pop as the wheels bucked. In a blur of metal, a huge steel armature snapped from the rear over the cabin. Something struck the ground with such heavy force the vibration shook my feet. Suddenly, blood covered my father, the Bobcat, the shack and my face.
Barnaby Hayden had vanished. On the ground in front of the Bobcat, beneath a huge mass of black iron, I saw a boot, a hand, some crumpled overalls, but the old man had been smashed into a splash, the fallout of which I could still hear landing in the strawgrass all around us. Boom!
Herbert made some sort of mewling noise from the doorway of the deer shack.
It took a moment for me to register what had whipped over the Bobcat carried by a chassis of steel I-beams and coil springs. The business end of the weapon had been forged using a large anvil welded to a sewer cover, with its trigger apparatus driven by a combination of hydraulics and mechanical torsion. A farmer’s ingenuity.
Crudely engraved on the anvil were three little words that explained a lot about my old man and put to rest many of my doubts. He’d carved “Hammer of God” into the side of his invention, and at that moment I’d never been prouder to be his son.
We both dragged Herbert Hayden out of the shack, and I let Dad do the honors of hammering that bastard into nothing.
Herbert had a price to pay, but I am indeed a man of my word.
Matthew Weber is author of the books TEETH MARKS, A DARK & WINDING ROAD, SEVEN FEET UNDER and THE BULL, and he is editor of the DOUBLE BARREL HORROR anthology series.
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