Sometimes, a killing can’t be helped.
Harold Black, his wife Kathleen, and their son, Arnie, lived on a small parcel of land deep between the Coffin Farm and my own. Harold worked as a woodcutter, and he earned enough to keep his family fed. I know for a fact that the Coffins never charged the family for the land they lived on, and I always overpaid when Harold cleared deadfall for me.
Harold had suffered in the Great War, and he had never truly returned from it.
After a hard wind one day, I had more trees than I cared to clear, and the ravens were fit to be tied since part of the rookery had been damaged. If Harold wasn’t busy, I’d have him clear the deadfall and I could fix the rookery and shut the damned birds up for a spell.
When I arrived at the Blacks’ small home, I found Kathleen dead. She’d been shot twice in the chest and once in the head. Arnie’s small bed, tucked into a corner near the stove, was similarly shot, but there was no trace of either blood or the boy.
I’d only brought one Colt with me, and I cursed myself for a fool as I exited the home. I didn’t know what had happened inside, but it seemed that Harold’s mind had broken, and all I could think was that the boy was dead as well. There was a darker thought, one that ran deep within me, and it was a fear that it was the boy who had killed his mother, and that Harold was in danger, or trying to put down his child.
Neither thought was pleasant.
I approached the long, low barn where Harold kept his tools and his horse and heard the sharp bark of a rifle.
Hastening to the doors, I stopped, peered in, and lowered my Colt.
Arnie stood by his father. Harold clutched a Springfield rifle to him, despite the hatchet buried in his chest.
When I walked up and holstered my pistol, the boy nodded, his face tired and careworn.
“Pa was angry today,” Arnie whispered.
Without another word, we left the barn and gathered his things from the house. The boy kissed his mother on the head and left the dead behind.