His hands ache as he slowly clinches and opens his fists, blood trickling from his knuckles and into a growing pool at his feet. Some his own, most belong to the heap of flesh and broken bones before him that was once a living being. The silence of the night air swallows him while he closes his eyes and tries to calm his mind and catch his breath. He had never felt so much rage as he did just moments ago, and now he feels like an empty shell that is slowly crumbling underneath it’s own weight. His legs begin to buckle and he falls to his knees in the pool of drying blood, the ground is soft beneath him as he drops his hands into the low grass and turns his eyes to the pitch black sky. He stares mindlessly, trying to distract himself by counting the stars directly above him. This quickly becomes impossible as his eyes well up with tears and he sobs, quietly at first and builds to an almost primal series of wails and screams. The sound carries for miles in all directions as he tries to exorcise the coming waves of guilty and remorse for the evil he never thought himself capable of in a million years.
He lets the tears roll down his face as he continues to look up to the vast blackness above him, each tear mixing with droplets of blood that had landed on his face during the savagery, giving the appearance that he is actually crying blood. He can’t bring himself to look anymore, so he closes his eyes once again and tries to find something to focus his thoughts so that he can regain some sense of sanity. The night air brushes over his cheeks carefully wiping away his tears and cooling his skin. The bugs return to their nightly duties after a few moments of stillness, the song of the crickets in the reeds nearby giving him something to focus on other than himself. He opens his eyes to see a small group of lightning bugs hopping from one blade of grass to the next and higher into the air. He follows their dim light until they are lost in the blanket of stars above him.
He can feel time inch by as the blood congeals into a second skin around his legs and over his hands. He looks down to see the sticky black ink going from his finger tips almost to his elbow, and a few flies drawn to the smell. The air is heavy with the stench of copper, even being outdoors with a slight breeze, the smell is so much that he can taste it on his tongue. He spits to try and clear the sensation, but it is no use. He stays knelt on the ground for a few more moments before he tries to stand. The pool of once red and now black tries to come with him, but is easily broken once he gets his feet underneath him. The flies stay fixed to his arms as he turns and begins to walk towards the fence of trees to his left. The crickets continue to chirp as he wades through the grass, the blades growing taller as he goes, starting at his ankles and reaching his waist by the time he makes it to the trees.
The light from the moon is swallowed by the canopy above him as he makes his way deeper into the woods. Towering pines blot out everything overhead, only allowing brief openings to see the stars that are clearer without the moonlight to dull them. He walks aimlessly for hours before he even give thought to a destination, his mind blank until a thought comes to him. It is the last place he would like to be, but that would make it the best place for him to be at this time.
The gentle southern breeze washes over him as he faces out across the flat expanse of the dry field in front of his home. He rocks himself lightly as he stares and focuses his graying eyes on a single treetop poking up along the horizon until everything else blurs and melts away to black. The wind seems to pick up slightly as he loses the tree and is faced with nothing but a vast blackness in every direction. He stands up, the rocking chair continuing to sway after he makes his way off of the porch and into the sea of black before him. He no longer feels the soft touch of wind, but it is still eerily cold considering he lives in a notoriously hot place. He looks to his left, then to his right, and moves toward the tree that he had been focusing on before the void had appeared and taken it out of sight. Each step echoes as if he is walking across a stone floor in a massive cavern the size of the earth itself. He keeps his mind focused on the point in front of him as a bright light explodes filling the sea of black around. He keeps his pace as the light burns white and begins to slowly dim to that of the setting sun, and the ground beneath him is revealed to be a field of lush green grass. Still, he keeps his eyes set in front of him and his steps deliberate as the world begins to change around him again and the green fades into white sands along a shoreline. He stops once his feet reach waters of the incoming tide. The smell of the sea water fills his nose while he looks at the blood red sun falling into the distant waters. Brilliant hues of red, gold, and purple are painted across the sky as the light fades to nothing but a thread along the horizon. He holds his head up when a strong wind blows over him, small specks of water hitting him in the face and his hands. He had been on the frontier for so many years that he had almost forgotten what the sea looked like, or even smelled like, by this point. Once the sun finally set the sky takes on the same darkness that had brought him to this place, but is eventually replaced the glow of the moon and the blanket of stars overhead. He kicks his boots off and lets the cooling waters wash over his feet as he stares at the vastnesses above him, a single tear forms at the corner of his eye but refuses to fall. He loves his home, the place that is his, but the sea as always been his sanctuary, the place where he can find the peace he always seemed to be in search of but never able to find. He soaks in everything before the sound of a voice, faint at first but growing louder with each tidal crash, calls his name. He takes one last look at the star-filled sky above him and then slowly turns around. In an instant, he is back on the porch of his home, the wind still blowing softly on him, but the sky is darker and storm clouds have begun to form to the left of the horizon. ’Hey, honey, you still with us?’, his wife says as she rocks his shoulder to wake him. ’Yep, I’m here, just went for a stroll to the shore,’ he smiles as he looks at her, ’But I’m back. God, you are as beautiful as the day I met you.’ She blushes, smiles, and leans down to kiss him softly on his cheek. She lovingly grips his arm and makes her way back inside the cabin. ’Would you make sure the barn is locked up and everything is tied down, it looks like it is going to get rough tonight?’ He smiles and slowly gets to his feet. He stretches and stares off to the direction of the brewing storm and smirks, ’It’s about damn time.’ He takes his first step and feels the insole of his boots squish, and another smile crosses his face as he thinks of the shore and the blanket of stars overhead.
He makes his way toward the shabby barn a couple hundred feet from the cabin, the air chilling and whipping at him as the sky begins to dark. Not quite as dark as the void, but an eerie darkness that still managed to have some brightness to it. The air is quiet for the time being, only the soft whistle of the rising winds through the tall grass. He could feel the storm building above him and he knew then that they were in for a rough night. Once he reaches the heavy and weathered doors of the barn, he walks the perimeter closing the few windows and securing the exterior locks before he makes his way inside to do the same to the interior locks. His eyes are focused on the task at hand so that he doesn’t notice the thin trail of blood leading from the forest forming the natural border of his property up to the last open window at the back of the barn. He makes the rounds to each of the windows inside placing thick pieces of timber into iron brackets and sealing the shutters tightly. The wind is howling as he reaches the last window and puts the timber in place. He tugs on the wood to make sure it is secure, that is when he notices blood smears on the sill of the window. He keeps himself calm as he makes his way to the door and stops in the center of the barn. ’Whoever is in here, you need to come out now. I don’t know if you are hurt, or if you hurt somebody. In any case, you can’t stay here. So, I am giving you a chance to leave now and there will be no problem.’ He stands still, waiting for any sign that he wasn’t being tricked or just plain losing his mind.
Then his suspicions are confirmed when a figure rises from behind a mound of hay bales in a darkened corner to his left. He mentally kicks himself because he had walked right by this person without even being aware of their presence. The figure is in shadow for a few seconds before reaching the weak light coming from outside. It looks like a man by the build of him, but he stops as he sees the source of the smears on the sill. The man’s hands are covered in blood up to his elbows, the blood dried to the point that it could be mistaken for black paint that had dried on his skin. It is clearly blood when he sees dark red stains on the lower parts of his jeans. His pant legs going from a faded denim to a deep burgundy color from his knees to his cuffs. Finally, he looks to the man’s face and lets out a gasp when he sees the man’s eyes. ’Gene, is that you?’
’Hey, Miles, it’s been a while, huh?’ the man says in a deep, raspy voice, a slight accent only noticeable to the other man’s ear. ’Sorry to just drop in on you like this, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to knock on the door looking like some horror movie extra. I figured this would be alright, especially since a pretty nasty storm is about to flood this place.’ Gene tries to keep the conversation as casual as possible before the rough talk takes over.
’You son of a bitch. I haven’t seen you in 11 years and this is how you show up, covered in what I can only assume is someone else’s blood. Trust me, there is no good way to drop by looking like that,’ Miles does his best to calm himself as he looks Gene in the eye, and that is when he notices it. His eyes are still puffy and bloodshot, and the ruts where tears would have fallen are visible against the blood splattered across his face. ’You were crying, so it must be bad. Come here.’ He walks over to Gene with his arms open , the other only opening his arms to take hold of Miles. ’It has been too long, brother,’ Miles whispers, his voice shaky as he says the word ‘brother’.
‘That it has, brother. Far too long, and I am sorry to show up like this, but I can explain. If you want to hear it,’ Gene’s voice softens as he embraces and eases his hold on his brother. He stands back and looks into Miles’ eyes as he responds, ’Of course, but we should get you cleaned up and into the cabin before this storm picks up. There is a hose out back, so go and clean yourself up. I think there are some of my old work clothes in the loft. Once you get changed we will head back to the house,’ Miles says trying to hold back the flurry of emotions rushing over him. Gene simply nods and makes his way out to the back of the barn. While he scrubs the dried blood from his arms and face, Miles makes his way up the creaky ladder to the small hay loft. A few boxes are arranged in a loose pile in the far corner, the one he is looking for is buried under a couple boxes of the kids old toys and some of his parent’s things. The box is marked Halloween and inside is a worn flannel shirt and some jeans they had used to clothe a scarecrow a couple of years back, when they lived in place where they were actually visited by trick-or-treaters. He grabs the clothes in one hand and makes his way back down to meet his brother at the front of the barn.
Gene rounds the corner as he closes and secures the barn doors with another large piece of timber. His face and arms are still red, but only due to the force of his scrubbing. The blood is gone except for the parts of his clothes that are stained black. He holds the shabby outfit out to his brother and says, ‘Here you go, these were mine so they should be big enough for you.’ He forces a smile as Gene takes them and quickly changes into the new gear. The shirt is musty, making him cough as he puts it on and buttons it up. He shrugs out of his jeans pulls the weathered pair up with a little effort. They are nearly identical in body type, though the time on the ranch had given Miles more definition, while Gene’s body had learned how to hide the strength it possessed. Gene bunches up the blood clothes and tucks them through the slim gap at the bottom of the barn doors. He turns to look at Miles and simply nods.
Miles stares at him for a few moments before turning and making his way back to the cabin. Gene jogs up behind him until they are walking at the same pace. The entire time, the storm has steadily increased, the wind whipping by them, the lightning and thunder filling the nearly black sky overhead, and the rain falling in thin sheets. By the time they cross the field and reach the porch, the rain is pouring down in waves. They had been worried that the drought would never end, and it seems that nature is trying to make up for lost time with this storm.