I was thirteen when we went to war.
A group of Abenaki had come down by way of Boston Towne, skirting the city to the west before settling down on some raids. When they reached Cross, they struck as they were wont to do.
They picked off a few men foolishly working too far out in the fields, but the war party kept clear of the Hollow. They knew better than to tread that unhallowed ground.
The alarm rang out through the town, and most of the folk made it to the garrison house, securing themselves within it and keeping the raiding party at bay.
My father and I, well, we were in the orchard. We had been checking on the trees, and my father had been negotiating, strenuously, with the oldest of them. They were demanding fresh meat, and my father was reminding them that corpses were in short supply.
Until the alarm sounded.
My father and I took up our rifles, loaded up shot and powder, and made our way into town. We kept to the trails on the outskirts, moving silently. The Abenaki weren’t the only ones who knew how to wage war in the forest.
When we came in behind them, my father gave me permission, and I crept forward with my knife.
I found the first three warriors crouched low behind a fallen log. Their position was excellent, giving them a perfect view of the garrison and all approaches to it. For a few moments, I watched them.
Only one man had a rifle, and he treated it with the respect it was due. His two companions, far older, were armed with war clubs. The man with the rifle brought it up to his shoulder, steadied the barrel on the log, and fired at the house.
When he did, I attacked.
I launched myself toward the gunner, sliding the blade in between his ribs and up into his lungs, making sure not to get the weapon stuck in the bone. I ducked as the man to my left saw me and swung his warclub, the heavy cudgel smashing into the back of the gunner’s head and caving the skull in.
As the man jerked the weapon back, I threw myself onto the other man, who dropped his club to try and catch me.
What he caught was my knife instead.
I thrust it up under his chin, the blade piercing the roof of his mouth and catching at the last moment. As he fell back, clawing at the knife, I let go and scrambled over the fallen log, snatching up the dead gunner’s rifle as I did so.
The surviving man brought his bloody warclub to bear, his face painted for war and splattered with his comrade’s brains. He tried to hit me, but I blocked with the rifle’s stock, then reversed it, slamming the butt into the other man’s groin with enough force to knock him down.
I didn’t bother retrieving my knife from the dying man or snatching up the warclub the last assailant had dropped.
Instead, I raised the rifle over my head, and I beat the last man to death.
My father appeared a moment later, splattered with blood and grinning. He glanced about at my handiwork and nodded.
“Messy,” he told me, “but well done, my boy. Let’s see how many of our neighbors are still alive.”
All but two within the house had survived the attack, and that was because they had been wounded on the way to the garrison.
As for my father and myself, we gathered up members of the Coffin family, girded ourselves for war, and set out on the trail after the remaining Abenaki.
We found them a few days later, and we reminded them why it was best to leave Cross alone.
My father taught me to kill. Not for pleasure. Not out of spite.
“Killing is a chore,” he would tell me. “Nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes it’s a pleasure, but more often, it is merely another bit of unpleasant work. Do it, do it well, and move on with your day.”
It is a lesson I learned and one I keep close to my chest.
I remember the day we caught up with the war party of Abenaki. We took their scalps and left their heads hanging from the trees along the trail.
My father and I took no pleasure in the killing or the abuse of the corpses.
It was a chore, one of many, and nothing more.
My father was many things. Most importantly, though, he was my father, and I miss him more than I can say.
When I found his journals and this one on the outskirts of the Hollow, decades after he had vanished, I was a boy once more.
A boy missing his father and hoping that one day the man might return.