Light the damned thing! Why can't you just do as you're told?
A breeze met with the streams of perspiration descending Ed's lower back and he shivered--as did the trees at the forest's fringe. He looked back at the house worn by time and circumstance. It creaked. It groaned. It sounded uncomfortable and not without good reason.
The house's bleached wood stood out against the verdant hills behind; it looked to Ed like a skull atop a green velvet plinth. The landscape was a perverse museum and the home Ed had been born in--grew up in--was the primary exhibit. This was not the kind of museum anyone would spend any amount of time in. There was nothing to be gained here. Ed laughed at his own witty wordplay, even though no one else would understand it.
Ed kicked at the ground with booted feet and spat chewing tobacco at the chickens. The birds scattered. Frightened. Helpless. Victims to his every whim. It made him feel good to stand above them like a divine entity; their lives were in his hands. The thought of it was intoxicating but sickening too. How futile their mindless clucking.
He flicked his lighter's silver lid open and quickly snapped it shut again. If only the flapping jaws of his kin were so easily fastened.
You're a disobedient boy! Unworthy of the family name!
Ed wiped his nose. He savored the smell of lighter fluid mixed with that extra special something--namely, dried blood and sweat. They were wrong: he was his father's son. All that history--coursing through the strong, thick limbs of the family tree--hadn't surpassed the youngest shoot that now reached out for the sun. The blazing sun of glory. Of fame. Of remembrance.
They failed to note, however, that he was no one-trick-pony. He wanted more than the promise of dubious heritage. He read things--in books about far off places and people who amounted to more than his own stock would posit. Sure, he was good with a blade and even better with a rifle and fluent in the language of the land. In the old days, there were these folks known as 'Warrior Poets'. Ed had always loved the sound of that.
You'll never amount to nothin'! No one will speak your name when you're gone!
The voices of his parents, his brother, his sister, they all vied for attention and his skull felt like it was about to blow. 'She's the girl for you,' said Daddy earlier in the day. They'd driven through town on what came to be called a 'scouting mission'. All it amounted to was an afternoon of watching pretty girls gossip and wander and window-shop. Ed liked seeing them flit about. Pecking. Scratching. Clucking.
'Say the right things, dummy! Don't mumble,' began his dear, innocent sister. 'Sweet talk her and she'll follow you anywhere.' He did just that. He plucked up the courage and asked the girl--the chosen one--to accompany him to the movies. She was reticent, but his smile won out in the end: girls did seem to love his smile.
As the movie played out, they'd grazed hands in the popcorn tub more than once. It made him smile all the more. Later, he'd walked her most of the way home. They'd committed to holding hands by then and her warm skin felt good against his. His heartbeat even quickened for a moment--just a moment.
Then he hit her head with a hammer.
Cut her open! Skin her like a pig!
He stared at her as she came to. Her blood had stained his overalls and her eyes lingered there--at the red flower on his breast pocket. She struggled against the rope that secured her to the stake. That's when she knew what her fate was to be. She was a sacrifice to the old gods--an offering to seal his position as a shepherd of men. Both shepherd and wolf. Maybe even one of those Warrior Poets.
He would be the best version of the brutal legacy of his blood-soaked name.
The girl whimpered. Begged. Cried. Ed couldn't look her in the eyes.
It's time now. Do it.
He was to become a man and his right-of-passage was to be this innocent soul--held captive a day and night with all hope forcibly leeched from her. He'd flirted with the prospect of taking a life before. Honed his claws by fighting other men: hitting too hard and for a too long. He'd taken a soul or two right to the edge and peered on down into that abyss that he'd read so much about. Flirtation would soon become consummation--it was inevitable. His Momma had always said that the gods sought to bestow upon his head the weightiest crown they had in stock.
Ed saw his moment of coronation approach. Though it was not one lone figure lashed to a stake of wood, but four.
His gaze met the girl's, her golden hair stained crimson. His smile had all but escaped him in that moment. He watched with glassy eyes as she escaped ... released by his own hand.
"Light the damned thing!' Ed said, as he flicked his lighter open and struck the flint. "That's what you used to say when we'd have a new visitor. Your voices rattle around in my head all damned day! You know that?"
This is treason! Heresy! Sacrilege!
How soundly they'd slept: his parents, his siblings. They'd barely flinched when hammer met scalp. They left red pathways as he dragged them into the yard--like the rivers of Hades so often described by preachers and the like. Rivers that led straight to the damned.
You can't do this! The gods' vengeance will find you!
Ed watched the flame dance in the breeze as the forest whispered its secrets. "They'd best be quick," he said, as he dropped his lighter into the pool at his feet; a pool that fed four streams of hell-fire that would silence the voices in his head for good.