I don’t know why I keep losing my formatting, but I guess this will have to do. This is an “episode” that I wrote yesterday; when Genna is returned to the 21st century, Judah finds his way back to Weeksville. He’s taken in by a kind family, and becomes apprenticed to Mr. Claxton, who is a carpenter. The Claxtons have 14-year old twins; Megda immediately develops a crush on Judah, but Felix seems to resent his father’s obvious preference for the strange newcomer. Maybe I should post the chapter where Judah first meets the Claxtons. I usually write with a comprehensive outline, but sometimes stuff just comes and you have to make room for it somehow. I really liked this chapter UNTIL…well, see if YOU can find the problem.
…A strange whimpering comes from behind the work shed. It sounds like a frightened, wounded animal, and I wonder if Felix has been laying traps in the yard again. Angered by his recklessness I hold the lantern up high and turn the corner. The first thing I see is Megda’s pale face distorted by fear and the hand roughly clamped over her mouth. Then I see Felix’s other hand rifling through his sister’s skirt. In an instant my mind goes blank and I see nothing as a velvety sheet of blackness envelops me. Then, before I know what I am doing, the lantern crashes to the ground and I grab Felix by the shoulders, spin him around, and pound my fist into his face. He is stunned, but after the second blow Felix starts trying to defend himself against me. Now the terror is stamped on his face, but I don’t stop swinging. When the blood starts flowing down her brother’s face, Megda finally lets out the scream she’d been holding inside. I hardly notice as she dashes toward the house, crying out for her mother. Instead, my hands circle Felix’s scrawny neck and squeeze as if he is the source of all the noise.
The back door slams against the wall as the house empties and all three Claxtons rush to the work shed.
“No!” Mrs. Claxton tries to pull me off her son, but Mr. Claxton holds her back. A few seconds more and I will be a murderer—again—but I don’t let go until I feel Mr. Claxton’s strong hand on my back. He rests his other hand on my rigid arm, and somehow his gentle touch makes my muscles relax. I blink and feel the velvety sheet twining around my taut body. Slowly I loosen my hold on Felix. He sinks to the ground, sputtering and wiping at the blood gushing from his nose.
“He—he tried to kill me!” Felix barely manages to point at me, huddled like a coward on the ground. Mrs. Claxton again tries to advance, but Mr. Claxton holds out his arm. Megda is sobbing, and so Mrs. Claxton instead turns her attention to her distraught daughter.
“Get up, boy.” Mr. Claxton is incredibly calm, and to my surprise, so am I. The murderous rage that flowed through me just a moment ago is gone. I stand by the shed as though I am a mere witness and not a participant in this ugly scene.
Felix looks to his mother but Mrs. Claxton can no longer face her son. Megda’s dress is torn, and her parents know that I am not to blame.
“I said, GET UP, BOY!” Mr. Claxton’s thunderous voice knocks Felix back against the shed. Trembling, he slides up the wall until he is almost standing upright. Mr. Claxton surveys his son with obvious contempt. Blood has stained the front of Felix’s shirt and his clothes are rumpled—but not from the scuffle with me. Felix hangs his head and fumbles to button up his pants. His pale face flushes with shame as Mr. Claxton glares at his son, turning away just long enough to spit out his disgust.
“Cora, take the girl inside.”
“Do as I say, Cora.” Mr. Claxton calmly unbuckles his belt and slides the thick band of leather out of its loops. Keeping his eyes fixed on Felix, Mr. Claxton nods in the direction of the barn. “Get,” he says softly, as if talking to his horse.
Mrs. Claxton has only taken a few reluctant steps toward the house. Megda clings to her, still sobbing and shaking. They both stop when Felix calls out in a puny, desperate voice. “Ma—”
The tapered end of the leather belt catches him across the face. I stagger back, stunned by the blow. Felix howls, clutches his burning cheek, and once again huddles close to the ground. He holds his other arm up as a shield against his father’s rage. “Papa, please! I’m sorry—I’m sorry!”
Mrs. Claxton puts her hand over her mouth and rushes Megda into the house. Mr. Claxton steps forward and lightly kicks his son. “Sorry? You will be before this night’s done. Now get up.” Felix begins to cry, but doesn’t move. Mr. Claxton kicks him again, harder this time. “GET!”
Somehow Felix manages to pull himself to his feet. The soaked front of his pants proves his fear, yet Felix still casts a defiant glance at me before slowly shuffling toward the barn. Mr. Claxton waits until Felix is a few feet ahead of him before raising his arm and bringing down the belt once more. This time, the tip of the belt connects with the pale skin at the base of Felix’s neck. The boy cries out and falls forward on his knees. Mr. Claxton takes a few steps forward and gives the same order as before: get up. Felix hauls himself up, his shoulders shaking with pain and stifled sobs. I can tell that he is torn: afraid to move forward, knowing just what awaits him out in the barn, yet afraid to disobey his father by standing still. Felix takes two tentative steps, then glances over his shoulder in time to see his father’s unforgiving arm raise the belt once more.
“NO!” Felix shouts at the darkening sky before suddenly bolting toward the field. Mr. Claxton, arm still raised, watches his son dart away. Felix runs as if he knows just where he’s heading. He dives into the sea of green and wades into the night. I watch the tall grass until it stops swaying, knowing that Felix is heading from one battle to another. “He’s probably going to enlist,” I tell Mr. Claxton.
The leather belt softly slaps the dirt as Mr. Claxton’s arm falls to his side. Keeping his eyes away from mine, Mr. Claxton slowly winds the belt around his hand. “Any army that wants my son can have him,” he says with disdain.
In the gathering darkness it is hard to read the emotions stamped on his face. But Mr. Claxton’s shoulders are sunken in a way I have never seen before. His tall, strong body is burdened not by fatigue, but by defeat. I want to say, “Whatever’s wrong with Felix, it’s not your fault.” But nothing I say will convince this father that he has not failed. Without saying another word, Mr. Claxton turns away from me and slowly walks back to the house…
I was *almost* done with this piece when I realized–men didn’t wear belts in 1863. I don’t think. A carpenter was more likely to wear suspenders, I think, which means this will have to be rewritten. Sigh! Mr. Claxton could always get a horsewhip from the barn. Anyway–these are the joys of writing historical fiction!