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"And Cain talked with Abel his brother," the verse in Genesis reads, "and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother...."
For four years now, that bit of Scripture has been echoing through my head. Four years, better than four, actually, I've envisioned myself playing the rôle of Cain, justifying premeditated murder.
I am not my brother's keeper. Nobody could keep a tight rein on Julian Munro. Not me. Not even Pa.
Four years of hatred, abomination for my own flesh and blood, four years of torment. Four years watching this miserable stagecoach station in the middle of nowhere turn to dust, watching me mutate into fugitive and vagabond. Four years waiting for a war to end, waiting for my older brother to dare show his face-never once accepting the fact that he could very well have been slain by some enemy's bullet, by grapeshot, or fever, or ... maybe ... a broken heart.
No, for four years it has been written in my own broken, blackened heart that it would be me who rose up against my brother.
"... and slew him."
Hard words, I've been told. Bitter words. Wrong words. Too much for a boy not even 17.
"The devil owns this place," Tori pleaded with me. "Always, it is cursed. It kill you, too, if you no leave. Get out, Smith. Get out! Please, for God's sake, you must go, for your own sake!"
She had been crying when she said all that. The last time I saw her, close to a year and a half ago. Strong words, perhaps even the right words, coming from a young girl's mouth, but, like me, she had been forced to grow up quickly. Lieutenant Julian Munro had seen to that.
If you're reading this note stuck inside this diary, you have arrived at Soldier's Farewell. Not much to look at, is there? You're at North Latitude 32?, 21 minutes, 23 seconds, West Longitude 108?, 22 minutes, 16 seconds-we learned that from Pa-or, once, what seems like a lifetime ago, 331/2 hours from Franklin to the east and 41 hours from Tucson to the west-Mr. John Butterfield had chiseled those numbers into our heads. That had been during the running of the Overland Mail Company along the old Ox-Bow Route, from Tipton, Missouri, all the way to San Francisco, California, twice-a-week (each way) mail and passenger service covering 2,800 miles in less than 25 days.
The Ox-Box's no more. The war ended that, left Pa busted. Once this place bustled four nights a week. Now....
Well, it's like Pa used to tell us: the only sure bets in this country are wind and dust. Which is all you'll find now. That, and crumbling ruins. And the dead.
You're 1,051 miles from Fort Smith, 4601/2 from FortYuma. And 6 inches to Perdition. Pa always said that, too.
Pa-he was born Wallace Conner Munro, but most folks called him Conner, or Mr. Munro-used to tell us lots of things. He even said, fairly often, that a Scot from Boone County, Missouri, by way of South Carolina and Mississippi, could depend on his sons. Julian proved him wrong.
Reckon I did, too.
According to the family Bible, my name is Innis Smith Munro, but folks have always called me Smith, which came from Ma, Ainsley Smith Munro. She died three days after I was born, but Pa never blamed me for her passing. Nor did Julian, 11 years my senior. I've heard stories about fathers and siblings hating the child whose birth led to the mother's death, but that was never the case with us Munros. No, that hatred burned itself into our blood a dozen years after Ma was called to Glory.
Pa often said Ma would have thought of me as God's blessing, what with, between Julian and me, there being three stillborns and two girls who never lived more than a month. Every once in a while, Pa'd even call me a blessing.
Or maybe, like Tori Velásquez called this place, a curse.
The diary tells the story. I'm leaving it behind for whoever happens across it. In this accursed place, though, I would not tarry. Not that there's anything to keep anybody here.
November 23, 1860
Friday. Eastbound brought this leather-bound diary, a birthday present from Julian. It's a week late, but that's all right. Julian's been busy, and Pa was glad to get a letter. I'm too tired to really write anything, though. Not even sure what I'm supposed to write. Stage was 20 minutes late, passengers irritable, though not as prickish as Pa was with Marco Max, the jehu.
"Mr. Butterfield was always preaching that 'nothing on God's earth must stop the U.S. Mail,' but you always test God, sir," Pa thundered at him, "and Wells, Fargo, and Company, and especially me!"
To which Marco Max said he was too tuckered out to listen to Pa throw worser a conniption than his sainted mother used to throw back in Vermont.
Mighty tuckered out myself. Maybe I'll think of something later to write down.
November 24, 1860
Slumgullion for breakfast, then work. Pa read Julian's letter again. Wish my brother had told me what a boy's supposed to write in a diary. A big Tobiano kicked Benjamin Jakes, that reprobate of a hand Superintendent Giles Hawley saddled us with, in the leg. The sorry cuss swore he'd kill that jenny as soon as he could walk again, but then Pa practically nailed his hide to the wall. Told Jakes he'd do no such thing, that he-Pa, I mean-had been breeding mules for nigh 20 years and Sweet Ainsley's the first Tobiano he ever seen.
She is a pretty mule, too. White legs, brown face with a snip, almost perfect brown ovals on her flanks, and mane and tail of two colors. Must be a tad taller than 16 hands. Only one like her that I've ever seen, but I ain't but 12. I like my mule, Ivanhoe, better, even if he is smaller and only a sorrel. But he's mine. Sweet Ainsley, she's Julian's.
"Sweet!" Jakes fired back at Pa, sweat from pain peppering his face. "Think that mule's sweet? It nigh broke my leg. I don't think I can walk."
"That figures." Pa didn't have much use for Jakes, lazy as a cur, always finding a way to get out of chores. Wouldn't surprise me if Jakes walked behind Sweet Ainsley apurpose.
"Smith!" the old man called out to me, practically begging. "Can you help this ol' hand to his bunk? My britches is 'bout to bust." He was rubbing his leg, which had swole up something fierce. Maybe it was busted after all.
"Smith's got work to do," Pa said flatly. He had disappeared into the stone-walled stable.
"Well ... but...." Ben Jakes almost sobbed. "How can I get to my bunk, Mr. Munro? I be bad hurt."
"Crawl," Pa told him.
Excerpted from Soldier's Farewell by Johnny D. Boggs Copyright © 2008 by Johnny D. Boggs. Excerpted by permission.
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