Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print. He is currently working on a collection of stories.
Amos Garland sat on the ground with his rifle propped across an old chestnut stump. His feet braced against a rhododendron root. The sun bore down like hell itself. Sweat poured off his head and ran down his back and his shirtless arms glistened like gold dust. His mind wandered, not wanting to think on what he was about, but still having to think on it. An animal stirred in the leaves behind him, but didn’t scare him. The rays of the sun were straight overhead, not shaded much by the canopy of oaks and poplars below him on the side of the ridge; he felt faint for a minute. The explaining he’d have to do if he got sick way up here on the ridge. A spider crawled up his pants leg and he was watching it when a yellow jacket lit on his arm and took a drink of his sweat. He had to stay quiet—no sound was going to ruin his purpose. He swatted the spider and yellow jacket and reached down in the leaves and picked up his water bottle and took a sip and puckered his lips and spit it out and his tongue felt blistered. A bad time he was having, but for a good purpose that he knowed would be the one of the best things he would do in this life. God probably had other jobs for him to do after this one was over, and he’d take them on, too.
The few leaves and pine needles he was sitting on suited him. Felt nearly as soft as the big chair in front of his TV. He sighted through the scope on his rifle periodically. God was guiding him. He remembered the Bible saying: There’s a time and a place for ever’ thing. If it didn’t happen today, it’d happen tomorrow, or the next day, or next week. It would come to pass. No question about it. He remembered asking his daddy about what all happened over in Europe when they killed all the Germans. His daddy had said, “Son, them sonofabitches was evil. That’s why we had to kill ‘em. They were the Devil’s prophets.”
Amos knew that Barney Moss was no different from those German soldiers. Except he didn’t consider Moss to be no prophet—he figured him to be the Devil’s son. Any man that would rape and kill a young girl, then lie his way out of it—smirking and smiling like he and his were above the law—showed Amos what he was. The last day of the trial, when Judge Burton declared a mistrial, was a day that Amos would never forget. He’d sat in the courtroom every day during the trial, and then stood outside the courthouse the day Moss was released. Amos, and about a half dozen others, stared Moss down as he made his way down the courthouse steps and across the yard to his pickup. One man, and Amos didn’t know who it was—but he had an idea—threw a rock hitting the pickup’s rear fender. When the rock hit, Moss touched his brake pedal and the taillights flashed. But he didn’t dare stop.
Amos wiped his face and neck with a small towel. He checked his rifle. He looked through the scope. He had it centered on a small poplar tree right beside the logging road. It was around fifty yards from where he sat, down the hill. Barney Moss would be coming along this road one day soon. Amos knew where Moss’s still was and he had to travel this logging road to get to it. Amos thought back to last week when he saw Sheriff Lawson. “It’s over and done with,” the sheriff had told Amos. “The DA says he ain’t gonna try him again.”
“That’s a shame,” Amos said. “Looked like to me he done it.”
“Looked like it, at least at first.”
Amos had thought about the sheriff’s comment, “At least at first.” He had hesitated, but then said straight out, “You gonna keep looking for somebody else?”
“Not unless something new develops,” Sheriff Lawson had said. “There ain’t been no
new witnesses or evidence to come up.”
Amos thought some more about the sheriff’s comment. I seen and heard enough to believe what I know is true, Amos thought. What old Mr. and Mrs. Shaw had to go through, their little granddaughter visiting them this summer. Her wandering off across the pasture to Moss’s place and him killing her. And then her parents having to come up from Atlanta and sit through the trial, grieving and all. Mr. Shaw would probably be sitting here with me, Amos thought; if he wasn’t ninety-five years old. Got to stay focused. Daddy always said, “If you make yore mind up about something, then stick to it. Pray to God. If he’s on yore side, you’ll always be right. Don’t matter what others think.”
Barney Moss had moved into the old McCormick place a year ago at the bottom of the ridge where on top Amos now sat with his 30-30 rifle. Amos touched the barrel and it felt like the top of Maggie’s stove when she had a pan of biscuits cooking in the oven. He could hear her saying, “Why’d you touch the thing if you knew I was ‘a cooking?” She was good not to question most things that he did. They’d been together so long—how long, he’d forgotten—but he wouldn’t want to be around no other woman. She had her ways and he had his and they went about their particular business with very little talk, and ever’ night she always had a good supper and he blessed the food and in the prayer he always blessed her and she would sometimes put her hand on his arm for a moment, and say something like, “You’re the best man I could’ve ever married, Amos.” He felt content after eating her cooking and hearing her pleasing comment, and he always slept well.
The mountains in Georgia were normally pleasant in the middle of September. But this year, this September, was terribly hot. Three days he’d been waiting for Barney Moss. He would come up that logging road, sooner or later, Amos knew. Wouldn’t be the first one he’d sent to hell. Two years or more now since he’d killed Thomas Caudell. Caudell had been another one that God had told Amos to get rid of. Caudell had whipped his wife till she was unconscious and two days later she was declared brain dead and two weeks after that she was dead and buried. Caudell himself was found dead in the woods behind his barn that winter. Amos swore to himself he’d never shoot anybody at close range again. It had almost turned his stomach when his twelve gauge shotgun went off and Caudell’s face and most of his head disappeared. But that was over and done with, and Amos was a lot wiser now. He knew God was directing him on the right path again. Many nights Amos had stayed up late, reading the words Moses spoke to the Israelites. He especially liked: Vengeance is mine and The Lord will judge his people and have compassion on his servants. Reading these passages over and over welded Amos’s resolve like putting steel in a hot fire and hammering it into a sword.
He wiped the sweat from his face again. Down the logging road he suddenly glimpsed a lone figure walking slowly. He knew right off it was Barney Moss by his limp. Some said his limp came from a fight where he used to live in South Georgia before he moved to the hills. Some others said he got it in the war, but Amos doubted that was true. Amos felt ready, charged up. He changed positions quietly and put his scope on Moss. He waited until Moss walked toward the small poplar tree. Once Moss’s head was directly between Amos and the poplar, he gently pulled the trigger. Some turkeys feeding nearby scattered when the gun went off, Amos watched Moss tumble off the side of the road. He thought better about going down and checking. Had to be dead, he thought. Had to be. The bullet looked like it had entered his ear, and the sound that came back to Amos was just like when he’d shot a watermelon in his back yard.
At home that night, Maggie had cooked a nice supper and Amos ate good. She asked him if he’d found a good place to deer hunt. He lied and said, “Not really. I’ll probably look again before the season opens.” He read the Bible again that night and slept well. He was not agitated in the least. Two days later, when he ventured to town, the word around was that Barney Moss was probably hit by a hunter’s wayward shot while the hunter was in the woods checking out deer
trails and just practicing with his deer gun. Amos nodded, especially when some said, “Looks
like Moss got what he deserved.”
God did not bother Amos for a while, till one day Amos heard on the radio that a certain woman had been released early from the women’s prison at Alto on some technical thing that her lawyer had done, or not done correctly. He’d heard the DA say on the radio that it didn’t seem right, especially since this woman had confessed that she had killed her four children by feeding them rat poison. Amos keyed in on the story and finally got the fact that she had a house in Lavonia, and the woman said she was going to her home to rest for a spell after the awful time she’d had in the prison.
Out in his barn, Amos got his Georgia map out and figured it was about thirty miles from his house to Lavonia. He had no idea where the woman lived around Lavonia, but he knew ways he could find out. There would always be some old boys hanging around town at some station or feed store or another, he’d easily get the directions he needed. Would probably have to shoot her close up with his shotgun, like he’d done with Caudell. He felt a certain dread when he thought on it, but he knew he could do it again. And again and again, as long as God wanted him to. He waited several days, till he felt the calling to bring God’s justice to bear on that woman. He made up a good story for his wife about checking out some national forest land in Franklin County for deer hunting. She packed him a lunch and fixed him a thermos full of iced tea. He told her it might be dark before he returned. She smiled and said, “You be careful Amos, stomping around in a strange place.”
While Amos Garland traveled on Highway 17 to Lavonia, Sheriff Lawson stopped by Amos and Maggie’s house. Maggie asked the sheriff to sit on the porch and that’s where he told her he wanted to talk to Amos about Barney Moss being shot and killed. “Just want to ask him a few questions,” Sheriff Lawson said.
“I know he’d be glad to talk to you, but he’s on his way to check out some deer hunting land over in Franklin County.”
“That’s okay, Maggie. I’ll come back out tomorrow.”
“That’s good. And I’ll tell him to be sure and wait around for you.”
Sheriff Lawson got up and said, “By the way, be sure and tell Amos we found out who killed the little Shaw girl.”
“My word,” Maggie said. “Who in the world—“
“An inmate at the state prison in Reidsville confessed yesterday. Seems he had been working for a company cutting timber over near the McCormick place. Took off the day after he killed her and was arrested the next week for a parole violation and sent straight to Reidsville.”
“Lord help!” Maggie said. “Could’ve been any of us he could’ve killed.”
“Could have, that’s for sure,” Sheriff Lawson said. “Be sure and tell Amos, when he gets back.”
“I will. I know he’ll be pleased to hear.”