The Blind Man
Nick Stubson scraped the rabbit hide over and over again. His muscles pulsed as he drew the steel across the skin, making an endless metallic noise. He repeated the action over and over again. Over and over. Teardrops of sweat swelled on his forehead as his face contorted from pent-up anger. No, he was not scraping a rabbit skin. He was carving out all the mistreatment and shattered, faded memories from his mind.
It was the fourth rawhide of the day, and the sun, a blistering volcano, stared down relentlessly. Nick grunted from the exertion. He was the constant laborer of the family, and would obediently do whatever his father asked of him. Except on rare occasions, when he would get a good lashing instead.
The young man pulled the rusty old clips off the hide, gathered them up in a neat pile, and trudged sluggishly around the side of the wooden cabin. Nick opened the door while holding the pile of hides in his other hand and trying not to let any of them fall.
“Nick, get your stinkass over here and let me see them rabbit hides,” demanded his father. “You took too long. Should’ bin done by noon.” Bill talked very slowly. He didn’t think much, and didn’t talk much either.
“Hm,” grunted Nick. “Sorry.” He laid them on the table. Old Bill got off his rocking chair by the fireplace and walked over while steadying his sore hip. He looked over the hides like an inspector at Colt Manufacturing Company.
“Hmm. You didn’t put ‘nough brains on the belly of this’n.” Bill spat on it carelessly. Nick became angry, since he knew there was a spittoon right beside the wall.
“And it got a brown stain righ’ here. Won’t get no money in town. You better do better, else I’ll trade you for some farm hand,” said Bill sternly. Nick knew he never actually would. In the recesses of his mind, Nick would rather live with someone else. Anyone else.
Millie was adopted by Bill Stubson in the particularly cold winter of 1898. Her mother was dirt poor and couldn’t take good care of anyone anymore. On a trip to see his family, Bill Stubson made a rare act of generosity to his kin by adopting Millie. The other reason why he had moved was never discussed. In a fit of rage, he had shot an old acquaintance in front of a bar– in the eye. In the desert, Bill knew he could avoid the law.
She sat on top of the home-made bed and read one of the four books in the house. She knew it by rote, except for the last five pages, which she vowed she would never read until she got incredibly bored. That moment was fixing to be soon. Despite almost everything in her life conspiring against it, Millie turned out to be somewhat of a lady. She didn’t receive the same harsh punishments from Bill that Nick did. Because of that, she kept a bit of her innocence. Bill felt quite proud to have a ‘daughter’ that could end up making a good wife in a few more years. He looked constantly for suitors for Millie, but there weren’t many boys in the area, so he rarely found any.
“Millie, go and fetch some water,” hollered Bill from the living room. The sound easily broke through the door of their bedroom. Within half a minute, Millie was out the door. The creek was only a few hundred feet away from the cabin. It was a paltry little thing, but one of the only sources of good water in Nevada. A small grove of trees grew around it, sucking up all the water they could find. Those trees and Bill Stubson’s cabin were the only two signs of life on the deathly plains.
That night, Bill finished his bottle of bootleg. He was so drunk that when he saw a palmetto bug scurry across the floor, he took the old shotgun off the fireplace and tried to crush it with the buttstock. Luckily for him, there were no cartridges in the gun. And fortunately for the palmetto bug, Bill’s aim was terrible.
Bill fell asleep on the rocking chair. He had a bedroom and a bed, but he preferred to keep out of there some nights. The kids couldn’t tell why.
The next day, Bill asked Millie to get more water. Because of the unusually dry weather, however, the creek was dry. Millie huffed and pranced around, trying to think of another way to get some water. She walked back up the creek bank and started to stare at the far reaches of desert.
Millie’s eyes squinted as she saw something strange on the horizon. It was an old man sitting atop a silent horse. He was far away, but Millie thought she saw something unsettling in his eyes. She started up a pace towards the front door and tried her best to ignore the stranger. Something inside her told her that talking to him would only make things worse.
“Bill, there’s some ol’ man out there,” declared Millie. She got his attention.
“I’ll be darned. Ain’t no people ’round here. What’s he want?”
“I ain’t sure,” said Millie. “But he looks real strange.”
“Well tell me if he gets any closer,” said Bill cautiously.
“Yes sir,” replied Millie. A few minutes later, when she looked out the window, she could see no trace of the old man.
Nick brought one of his old rabbit traps outside with him as he left of for the morning. Trapping was his favorite thing to do, except for the occaisonal shot he took his his father’s shotgun. Mostly, however, animals were too smart to get within range.
The teenager walked eastward, towards the general direction of the nearest town. After a half hour, he stopped and set his trap next to a rotten tree stump. There were a few rabbit holes around the stump, so he supposed he might get lucky.
The sand crunched incessantly as Nick took step after step back towards the house. Each step became a tiny bit less certain until he was wandering around like his dad after a bottle of moonshine.
Suddenly, something brought Nick to his senses. In front of him was a liver bay horse with a ragged old man riding on top. The man’s eyes were grey and plastered-over. His mouth hung off on one side, like it was slowly wearing off his face. His face was filled with wrinkles.
Nick took a step away from the man, filled with repulsion. A few seconds later, he composed himself enough to ask a question.
“Who are you, mister?” said Nick, his voice quivering. The man didn’t answer. He turned his face downward upon Nick. Once more, Nick panicked. He took off in the opposite direction.
After running for an arduously long time, Nick was dried out and exhausted. He hoped he wouldn’t die in the desert. Nick tried his best to look for landmarks on the horizon. He could vaguely see two comforting shapes hundreds of yards away.
Nick arrived home, drunk some water, chatted with Millie, and went to sleep early. He mentioned nothing of the old man, thinking he might scare his sister.
The next day was Sunday, so the three had a comparatively large meal to eat. It consisted of rabbit stew, a few pieces of beef, water, and some vegetables imported all the way from Texas. It wasn’t the freshest meal, but it was a lot better than what the family usually ate. Bill and the others joined hands.
“By the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” said Bill, slowly. His expression changed from one of sternness to one of rage.
“Darned devil is there at the window again! I can’t believe him! Why is he doing this to us?” his voice was filled with fire. Outside, close to the house, was the Blind Man, solemnly watching the family.
“Nick, get your butt outside and see what he wants.”
Nick reviewed his options for a minute. He almost decided to disobey, but changed his mind at the last minute. He grudgingly did as his father said. The door creaked and Nick went out of sight. Bill and Millie started to eat. They were nervous, but the food helped keep their minds off what was happening outside.
A few moments later, Bill got up and looked out the
window. No-one was there.
Millie and Nick was out in the town, doing some shopping and selling the rabbit hides to the saddler. Since Bill was feeling sick and hungover, he stayed in bed and stared out the window. Bill was hungry and sick at the same time. He wanted to go in the kitchen and make something, but his head felt like it was getting hit by hammers whenever he moved more than an inch.
Bill growled and closed his eyes, feeling exasperated. His head slammed back down on the bed. Some strange force seemed to push him off the bed. For some reason, his head stopped throbbing long enough for him to make the long trek to the kitchen. Slouched over like a hunchback, he moved inch by inch to the front of the house.
Outside, it was sunny and hot like a barbeque. It was never any different. Bill suddenly slipped and fell onto the floor. He became enraged at himself and the world. Feeling no reason to get back up and live, Bill feel into an uneasy and restless sleep.
There was a loud thump on the door. Bill’s head jerked up quickly.
“Who is it?” he yelled, feeling a sense of foreboding. Something was at the door. It wasn’t Millie.
Bill scrambled to his feet quickly. He grabbed the shotgun off the wall and squeezed it in his hands. He sneaked up to the door, crouched up behind it, and opened it. As the door swung towards the house, Bill saw his worst nightmare. It was that ghastly half-dead man and his ancient horse. He stared right into Bill’s soul, in his unseeing, menacing way.
“Get away from here right now!” Bill shouted, unable to control his anger and fear. The blind man didn’t budge.
“I said move!” Nothing happened. Bill shouldered the shotgun and pulled the trigger. It leapt into him and belched a blast of bituminous flame. Only the horse was left.
Slowly and reluctantly, the old horse nuzzled the dead man one last time. He lazily walked away from the house, swishing his thin tail slightly.
An hour later, Nick and Millie showed up. Bill told Nick what had happened.
“That darned-awful man showed up and I told him to scram or die. Look what he did. He jus’ stood there and so I shot him.” For the first time in years, there was a small tinge of regret in Bill’s hardened voice.
Nick was repulsed by what he saw. As his father went in the house and looked for the shovel, Nick tried to avoid looking at the dead man. He could not. Blood stained the sand around the body. Each small white hair on the man’s head was clearly visible. Nick noticed how archaic the man’s overcoat was. He guessed it was from decades ago. The body was rolled onto its stomach, so Nick was luckily spared the sight of the man’s face, but his body had an unearthly, faint glow to it. It was very off putting.
“What happened to the horse?” asked Nick.
“I don’t know,” lied the father.
Two hours later, Nick and Bill threw the last shovel full of sand over the corpse. They buried him by the river, a few hundred yards from the house. To make sure nothing would happen, they made sure to dig the grave extra deep.
Finally complete, Bill nodded proudly to his son and they turned around and trailed back to the house. Nick heard the gravel crunching as he stepped, but something about it made him feel slightly uneasy. Was there another sound of crunching behind him? He turned and saw nothing at all.
“Are you alright?” asked Bill.
“I’m fine,” replied Nick quickly.
Within another minute they arrived at the front door. Bill pushed Nick aside and opened the door with haste, not wanting to wait another second to get back to his normal life and stop worrying about the Blind Man.
Standing immediately in front of him was the ghost with the old coat and the vacant eyes. An eerie, disembodied voice issued from him as he gave his final warning.
“You cannot run from the past.”