Short Story: The Jagged Edge

Daniel grabbed his pillow in a vain attempt to block out the cries coming from his younger sister’s bedroom. Every night was the same since their mother left. His father started drinking the moment he walked in the door, and when he thought Daniel was asleep he would stagger to Melissa’s room. Daniel begged his sister to run away, but she was too terrified to leave home.

“This will be the night,” he whispered to himself.

The house was still as he crept cautiously from his room. Pausing outside his father’s door, Daniel listened to the sounds of heavy breathing. His father was in a drunken slumber.

He hurried down the dark hall into Melissa’s bedroom, pausing beside her bed before cupping his hand over her mouth, muffling her startled scream.

“Shhh Missy, it’s just me,” he whispered. “I’m gittin’ you outta here.”

He pinned her to the bed as she began to fight him. Shifting his fingers slightly to cover her nose, he cut off her air.

Distant thunder and a bitter wind promised an early winter storm. He shivered and walked faster, ignoring the muffled diatribe coming from the burlap grain sack slung over his shoulder. He was strong for fourteen, built big like his father, and though his eight-year-old sister was light, her constant struggling soon began to wear him out. When the terrain grew too steep he stopped and slid the heavy burden from his shoulders.

“I’ll only let you out if you keep quiet and don’t run away,” he told the wriggling sack on the ground. Knowing his sister would never run into the woods alone, he quickly untied the knot. Melissa glared at him but didn’t say a word.

As they struggled through the forest, darkness began to fade into the first light of day. Although they had been hiking for hours they were not as far as he had hoped. Melissa was having a hard time keeping up.

At dawn they finally reached the river. The trail divided and they turned to the right, winding their way upriver.

“Daniel, what was that?” Melissa whispered.

“What?” he asked.

“That sound.”

Daniel paused to listen. Hearing nothing, he scowled.

“Just the wind,” he said.

“No, there it is again,” she insisted, grabbing his arm.

He turned his head, straining to hear over the howling wind rushing through the forest. Panic gripped him, finally realizing what his sister had heard.

“C’mon Missy. Hurry!” He grabbed her arm, forcing her up the trail.

“Daniel! Missy!” Their father’s voice cut through the wind, closer than it had been moments before. “I know you’re out here. Come on, I promise to take it easy on you.”

Daniel pulled harder, silently urging her up the treacherous trail, winding perilously close to the river’s edge. Though heavy clouds covered the sky it was now light enough for them to see the granite cliffs ahead.

“We’re almost there Missy. Hurry!” Daniel could hear their father getting nearer by the moment.

Pausing briefly at the bottom of the cliffs, struggling to catch their breath, they could hear their father clambering up the trail behind them. He was much too close now; they would never escape. Looking around frantically, Daniel spotted a dense thicket.

“Hide in there and don’t make a sound,” he ordered, pointing it out to Melissa.

“But, shouldn’t we just go back with him?” she whispered, trembling from fear more than the bitter cold.

“You know how he is. If we go back, it will be worse. Now hide.”

She ran across the trail and dropped down, crawling into the center of the thicket, oblivious to the sharp thorns tearing at her nightgown and flesh. Pulling her knees to her chest she wrapped her arms around them for warmth and comfort. She watched as Daniel searched for an adequate place to hide himself, stifling a scream as their father rushed out of the trees.

He drove his fist into Daniel’s head, knocking him to the ground, and was instantly on top of him.

“I’ll teach you to run away from me.” He snarled, clenching Daniel’s shirt in his fists. “Where is your sister?”

“I don’t know!” Daniel screamed.

“Liar!” he yelled, jerking Daniel’s shoulders and violently slamming him to the rocky ground, knocking the wind from his lungs.

“Tell me where she is.”

Daniel’s silent glare was his only answer. Furious, his father grabbed him by the throat.

“WhereâÂ?¦isâÂ?¦Missy?” he asked again, tightening his grip with each word.

Horrified, Melissa watched the color drain from her brother’s face. Struggling from her hiding place, she spotted a large, jagged rock nearby. Lifting it over her head, she crept up behind her father. With all the strength she could muster she brought the rock down.

Groaning, his eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed to the ground beside Daniel. Melissa stood in a trance as her father’s blood ran from the gaping wound in the back of his head. Her brother’s coughing snapped her attention back to the moment.

“Daniel, are you alright?” she sobbed, falling to her bruised knees beside him.

“Yeah.” He choked, rubbing his swollen neck and bloodied nose as he stared at the motionless body of their father lying on the rocky ground.

“I thought he was going to kill you,” Melissa said with tears streaming down her dirty cheeks. Daniel put his weary arms around her holding her tightly.

“He’ll never hurt either of us again,” he said as she clung to him.

In the grayness of morning they tightly bound their father’s hands and feet with strips of burlap. After tying the rock securely to his chest, they dragged him to the river’s edge. Finding a place that looked deep enough, together they pushed his lifeless body over the edge, where it quickly disappeared beneath the swirling blackness. Exhausted, they stood hand in hand, staring in silence as red, orange and yellow leaves traveled the river, contrasting sharply against the cold black water.

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