“Tom’s truck slowed and then stopped on the side of the road near where Marilyn and Henry stood.

“Fuck.” He said through gritted teeth as he raised a hand in greeting. Tom climbed out of his truck and waved back, then started across the field toward him. Henry busied himself during the brief walk Tom made across the field from the road. It would be too awkward standing there watching him get closer. He’d be too angry, too. He gave the plow a visual once over, looking for any damage from being tossed. Nothing seemed amiss. He started to walk around the front of Marilyn, who reared again and scraped at the ground with one foot. Henry suspected she could pick up on his emotions and could feel his animosity toward Tom. Or maybe Tom had been messing around his barn as he suspected and gave her reason to be nervous. He spotted a large black rock jutting up from a rut in the earth and turned it over with his foot. He was staring down at it when Tom approached.

“Hey, Hen.” Tom called him this regularly. Henry hated it. He did not look up.

“Hello, Tom.” He said it distractedly, still trying to make sense of what he saw.

“Just passed your boy on his way to school. He looked mighty out of sorts. All well over here?”

Henry still hadn’t looked up at the man who he suspected had something to do with the fuckery his livestock had been put through recently. He shook his head slowly. He got feelings about people from time to time, and when old Tom died and his land went to Tom Jr., a hard lump formed at the base of his throat he could never quite shake. Long nights he debated whether what he felt was right or if the death of Addie had pushed him over into some form of insanity still undiscovered by shrinks and fools. Things had been hard, no doubt, but he felt he and the boy had come through it relatively alright. He kept his scars in shadow for the most part, not allowing mortal eyes to see them.

“No, Tom, it ain’t well” He threw a bit too much salt on that last word but didn’t feel bad about it. In fact, it felt good to let Tom know he wasn’t a pushover, even if it was in a passive way.

Tom took a step back and put his hands up in mock surrender.

“Alright, now Hen, no need to take a tone, I was just inquirin’ on account of the state of your boy. He was a right mess. Dirt everywhere an –“

“I think you know damn well what transpired here. You been sniffin’ around my barn and now we lost Mag. I think the two are related.”

For the first time Henry lifted his head and gave Tom a hard look. He’d laid it all on the table for good or naught. His thoughts drifted to Sam and how this would all affect him. Fear crept up behind his eyes and Tom saw it. His lip curled in an expression of amusement tinged with contempt. The old man had the balls to call him out on his misdoings but wasn’t in any condition to back it up with action. Tom dropped his hands and took two strides toward Henry, a malicious chuckle trickling from his mouth. He spat on the ground and started to move between Henry and Marilyn, uncomfortably close to Henry’s face. Tom tensed his jaw and spoke in low tones that were spiked with a hint of mirth.

“I told ya’ll I’d have your land.” He spat. “Ain’t natural for your kind to own land. It’s a waste.” Henry was no stranger to having people talk this way to him, and it came as less of a surprise from a man like Tom.

“I made a fair offer. When you refused, I tried another tack. How long you think this ass here got left in her? And then what? What’ll you buy new mules with, Hen? Your good looks? Fuck.”

He began to laugh. The tension stiffened Henry’s shoulders and Tom’s laughter reverberated through him, making his sore shoulder throb and ache. It reverberated through Marilyn too, who brayed and reared up again, the too close stranger and the emotions she felt from Henry culminating in protest.

The motion of the mule knocked Tom into Henry hard. Tom took it as an opportunity and when he regained his balance swung and hit Henry square on the jaw, knocking him back into freshly turned dirt and manure. The shock and pain made Henry vomit a bit and he spat a mouthful of that morning’s breakfast into the soil beside him. Tom straddled him, pulling his arm back again meaning to finish the job. Henry felt around for that strange rock he’d unearthed and hefted it in one hand. It was way heavier than a rock of its size ought to be, but that served Henry fine. He swung it up at Tom’s face and closed his eyes. He’d done half a day’s work and his shoulder screamed in protest, but the hit was forceful enough and made a sickening sound.

Tom crumpled in a heap, head cocked awkwardly against Marilyn’s front legs, his arms hanging limply at his side, all the fight gone out of him. Marilyn stumbled slightly at the dead weight knocked against her and shifted sideways, letting Tom fall flat underneath her. Henry feared the worst. He stared for a good minute at Tom’s chest, willing the familiar rise and fall of breathing to return, but he was gone. God forgive him, he had killed Tom Bradford.”

This is an excerpt of the short story “Miracles” appearing in Sylacauga, an anthology of short fiction and poetry surrounding the meteor event in Sylacauga, Alabama in 1954. out now on Amazon .

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