Olmer Stoggsdill came up through the backwoods on a cold, blustery November morning with a gun tucked into his belt and tobacco under his lip. Red clay stained his boots. Mucus adulterated his mustache. He wore his Stetson and frock coat, and he walked in a measured gait that razed the autumn leaves with every stamp of his feet. In his coat pocket he fingered his German Shepherd’s tags, the sensation reinforcing his biblical call for retribution.
The Oklahoma wind felt vindictive, and it brought the smell of the wild fires – the northern counties ravaged in their wake. The summer drought had extended into early October, and the autumn winds proved lethal when a match was struck on the desiccated Cross Timbers. Now the land lay scorched – charred in a way that made Elgin consider the apocalypse.
When he was a child, his county suffered through its own tragedy when human carelessness led to the local church catching fire during the Christmas Eve service. Twenty-seven of God’s children burned to death as they celebrated the birth of his only begotten son. Half a century later, Elgin could still recall his father’s words: People must be held accountable.
He pushed on, his convictions hardening as the physical toll of his journey served as a reminder of his growing age. The wind struck through to his marrow, and he lowered his brim, adjusted his collar. The texture and smell of his coat, the dander clinging to its fibers, brought back another memory, and Elgin reached for his old friend’s tags once more.
He softened his steps when he drew close to the tree line, the Scarbor property lying on the other side. He noticed the grass had been freshly mowed up to the edge of the woods, possibly within the hour. His countenance hardened. He heard a screen door open, close. A mother’s call. A child’s laugh. He palmed the steel tucked into his belt and closed his eyes, thought of those he’d loved.
GEOFF PECK received his M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and is a PhD candidate at the University of North Dakota where he serves as Editor in Chief of Floodwall Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Houston Literary Review, East of the Web, and The Driftwood Review, among others.