Hounded by Heritage
by Kevin McFarlane
“He’ll end up turning on you, just like his father did.”
“That’s enough, Max,” Bernstein warned.
“The old man wasn’t strong enough to control it and Russel didn’t turn out to be half the man he was.”
“Russel isn’t the same as his father. The medication is working for him. There hasn’t been any sign of changes.”
“Not yet anyways,” Max replied skeptically. “But then it didn’t get the better of his daddy until the later years.”
Russel couldn’t seem to keep up. An insistent whirring inside his head made it nearly impossible to concentrate, and an inner tremble threatened to vibrate its way onto his skin. They could say what they wanted about Russel, they could even make their comments about Marm. But not a one of them standing within the cool confines of the dark barn had any right to make mention of Russel’s father.
Suddenly he wanted to rip Max’s throat out and feed it to him.
Memories of his father were few. The old man had run off when Russel was only ten, leaving behind wife and child. Russel’s mother hadn’t talked about him, not even when Russel asked and over the years it had eventually driven a permanent wedge between the two. It wasn’t until a near fatal stroke years later that Russel finally forgave her and allowed her back into his life.
“What’s my father got to do with any of this?” Russel asked, his voice low and husky. Barely a whisper but there was no ignoring it.
“He really doesn’t know?” one of the group asked with disbelief.
Both Bernstein and Max shook their heads, though wearing very different expressions.
“And he doesn’t need to know. It’s too much power to give up,” Max said.
The fear he’d felt earlier melted away, replaced by the steely determination of someone who is no longer willing to continue with the blinders on. Russel took a couple of steps toward Max. “You tell me what this has to do with my father or I swear...”
“Easy now,” Bernstein said, putting himself in the way. “There’s no need to go off the handle, Russel. Let’s just take a step back.”
“Not until he tells me what he means. And he better watch how he tells it or he might just end up missing his tongue.” Russel really didn’t know where this raging hostility had suddenly sprung from but there was absolutely no controlling it.
“See? What’d I tell ya?” Max goaded. “Just like his daddy. Get that hand too close and he’ll bite it off.”
“And you’re not helping matters, Max. Just leave it be.”
“Then you leave it alone. It isn’t anything he deserves to know. Send him home to Marm, if you have to, but I’m warning you it’ll be a mistake. He’ll end up turning on ya and every one of us in here knows it.”
“That’s a chance each one of us has to take,” Bernstein said. “It is what we agreed to when we took the oath.”
“And we also agreed the best way to uphold that oath was to maintain the secret. You let him walk and you jeopardize everything coming out,” Max insisted.
“Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” Russel said, taking another step in Max’s direction, bumping Bernstein in the process. To his credit, the old farmer was built fairly solidly and didn’t give up any ground.
But he was old; his bones were becoming brittle, and Russel knew that Bernstein would only be able to hold him back for as long as he allowed it. And he would, at least for now, because there was still something he wanted from Max. “At least not until you tell me what you know about my father.”
“Your father was nothing but a rabid dog,” Max spat, this time taking his own step forward. Abe and Billy Jo grabbed hold of his arms to hold him from getting any closer.
“Max!” Bernstein bellowed with enough force to drive all three back to their original position. To Russel’s own surprise, as well as it surely was to those men who took notice, he didn’t even flinch despite the roaring inside his head. In fact, it only seemed to fuel the burning thoughts coursing through him that much higher.
Russel actually smiled against the skull-splitting agony, embracing the pain, allowing it to consume him. “What did you do to my father?” he asked.
“Max didn’t mean what he said, Russel. It wasn’t your father’s fault. There’s a lot you may not know, things you probably wouldn’t understand and certainly wouldn’t want to believe about him.”
“Don’t do it, Bernie. You’re making a big mistake,” Max warned.
Bernie glared back but kept right on going. “Back when you were just a boy, we had ourselves a mess of trouble in town one year. A bunch of livestock on the farms in the area were being slaughtered off at an unexplainable rate. Cows, pigs, some horses, even a couple of family dogs were just destroyed in the most unimaginable ways. Tore up real good like a wolf had gotten a hold of ’em, but the damage was more than any wolf any of us had ever seen could do.
“Animal control was called in, and back in those days it was nothing more than Frank Miller and his bloodhounds. The cops investigated, but no one could find a trace of whatever was responsible for those killings.
“So, me and some of the boys got together and spent day after day tramping through the bush, never finding anything, and still the killing continued. Got so bad they actually talked about packing it in and closing down the town.”
“More’n a few families pulled out and never looked back.”
A majority of the wrinkled faces drooped in remembrance of what must have been a very difficult time.
But Russel was finding it very hard to muster up any kind of sympathy for them. He should have felt sorry for what they’d had to endure. But he didn’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, he could feel a peckish perverse pleasure stirring about at the thought of them standing helplessly over the slaughtered animals.
“After a couple of weeks we had just about given up the chase when we finally caught a break. One of the farmers rigged up some meat to a reinforced bear trap and the thing actually took the bait.”
“You were able to catch whatever was responsible?” Russel asked with a somewhat disturbing disappointment.
“Not exactly. Not even the reinforced steel of the trap was able to hold it, but I guess those spikes clamping shut hurt it something fierce, and certainly slowed it down enough that we were able to track it. If only we’d known what we’d find...”
“So, my father was out there with you guys following this thing?” Russel asked.
“You could say that,” Max practically hissed. “He was out there in the bush all right. But he wasn’t with us.”
“It wasn’t his fault, Russel. It’s important that you understand he couldn’t help himself. He tried to protect you from it. He tried to protect all of us.. He couldn’t control the changes or the feelings festering inside of him so he went to work in his lab and was able to create a solution that seemed to tame the anger growing inside him.”
“Too little, too late,” Max said.
“But eventually the pills wore off. He tried increasing the dosages but he realized he was only prolonging the inevitable. Sooner or later, he would succumb to those feelings again.”
“Which is why he left? He didn’t want to hurt us?”
“With our promise we’d watch over you.”
Russel’s thoughts turned to his own bottle of pills sitting on his night stand at home. The ones he’d taken for as long as he could remember. The ones Mr. Wren prepared. The ones his father had made him solemnly promise he would take every day, no matter what. Right before he’d walked out the door and never come back.
There had been moments in Russel’s growing up when he’d almost decided to toss the pills. They were a constant reminder of him, and how he’d abandoned them. Why should Russel keep a promise to a man who didn’t love them enough to stay?
Each time guilt of not keeping his promise had won out and he’d diligently followed his father’s instructions, despite not knowing why. Until tonight.
He’d promised Marm he’d take them when he got back.
Russel now understood the anger that had driven his father away, the confusion and torment of constantly being considered a freak and an outsider. As far as the others were concerned, Russel had never been good enough to be included. The people in his life had simply put up with him so they could keep a closer eye on him. To make sure he did as he was told and took his pills. Because as long as he took his pills, he would never realize the truth and they could continue to control him.
But unbridled from the pleasantly numbing effects of his medication, Russel was able to truly understand the darkness festering inside him, could embrace the rage scorching his insides and trying to burst out. He didn’t want to be anything like these men.
Because he was so much more.
The men gathered in the barn were nothing but his keepers, pathetic Shepherds to watch over the flock. They were nothing.
Russel could feel the power flowing through him and he let the anger build until it seeped from every pore.
A snarling muzzle ripped deeply into Mr. Bernstein’s exposed neck, shredding the jugular before the shocked men realized what was happening. With frightening ferocity, it turned to a second and then a third before they could get their guns aimed. Shotguns roared, taking down two more men in the crossfire.
Unharmed, Russel slashed out, tearing flesh and breaking bones with teeth and claws, the blood pouring over him only heightening the intensity of his deathly dance.
Unfettered animalistic pleasure almost overwhelmed him when he chomped down on Abe Gable’s shoulder as the feeble farmer tried to swing his gun around. He was neither quick nor smart enough to get the drop on Russell, but was bright enough to realize what the future had in store. Russel let that fact sink in to him for an excruciatingly succulent second before sinking his teeth into his throat.
One by one they fell, until only Max was left. His shotgun still smoking, his shells all spent, at least he stood bravely to accept his end instead of bolting for the door like some coward.
“At least your father tried to fight it. You’ll never be half the man he was,” was the last thing he would say before Russel ripped out his larynx so he would never speak another bad word again. Choking, Max crumpled to his knees, then toppled limply to the floor.
Set free, Russel felt only an icy blackness that penetrated straight to his very soul. And it was here that he finally found the comfort of his father’s influence.
Searching the bodies, he took any money or valuables he might be able to pawn later before hurrying to the door. Even though the rain had tapered off outside he could still feel the storm stewing in the unsettled air.
Rain, lightening, a burning barn. The guns might raise questions but Russel figured to be safely away by then. First, a visit to Mr. Wren to “thank” him for his years of loyal service to the family and then it was home to Marm.
Would she come with him, he wondered as he struck the first match and slid it into a bundle of hay. Maybe. If he promised to take his pills.
Copyright © 2009 by Kevin McFarlane