The Liberators

Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Wed, 08 Nov 2006 01:38:51 GMT  <== Gloryroad ==> 

by George Potter

[from here, originally published at]

To be honest, even Dan and me thought Herbie's plan was nuts at first. Why we chose to go along I can't say, even now. I'd like to blame it all on the booze, and that rundown feeling you get when the layoff stretches out into the future and the unemployment check seems to buy less and less every week. I'd like to, but in all honesty, I can't.

Because that wasn't the reason.

We did it because we could.

Herbie first brought up the plan one Friday night, over beers on Dan's back porch.

You all know Herbie -- big solid sonuvabitch, still has the remnant of his high school football playing, cheerleader seducing frame despite the beer gut and considerable wrinkles. "A politician's face," the old lady used to call it with a sneer, before she lit off with that teenaged anarchist from Arizona.

The boy can give a speech too -- you should see it sometimes. His eyes get this fire, and his every move takes on a weight of pure conviction. No surprise that he's the best damn car salesman down at Big Jim's Lot-O-Value, ten years running. Hell, he's the one who saddled me with the piece of shit Tempo that's given me nothing but a headache and a stream of bills.

"It makes me sick to my stomach, knowing that shit is going on in this town, just a few blocks away!" Herbie said, and none of us had to ask him what he meant. We'd all been thinking about it, since the first rumors had begun to circulate. It wasn't a pleasant thing to think about in the first place, and the rumor mill had done its usual deed of making the story truly horrible in the absence of any fact.

There was a family who lived a few blocks over, nearer to what everyone called 'trailer country' than our own admittedly less than upscale homes. The Ericks. Dan's kid went to school with the Ericks brood -- my own son would have been too, if he hadn't been doing God knows what in some Arizonan hole.

The Ericks kids were girls, all four of them, ranging in age from six years to twelve years. Beautiful little gals too -- it always brought a smile to drive past and see the two youngest out on the sidewalk, playing hopscotch or jumping rope. Pretty little dark haired girls with the most beautiful olive skin.

You rarely saw the two eldest, though, and that was odd. But when the rumors started flying it went beyond odd into scary. Then sick. Then...just awful.

You never saw the dad, either. Word had it that he was on disability and had collected a mighty chunk from his previous employer over a work-related accident. The man seemed to be afraid of the sun. He never came out of the house when honest eyes could see him.

Mom was a lot more visible. She worked at the Shop N' Save on Grand, and everyone called her "Bunny". I don't know why, her name was Elise, and it said it right on the damned name-tag, but I have a guess. I think they called her that because she always looked so scared. The fact that she sometimes sported a black eye or an ugly bruise on her cheek got ignored for quite a few years. She was a sweet, friendly and talkative woman, at least on the surface. Look into her eyes, though -- on the rare occasion she would allow such contact, and all you could see was fear.

Like a lot of things, it was the kids who noticed first.

Dan's daughter Deenie mentioned one night, after her dad kept prodding for the reason she was so mopey and quiet, that she had been changing for gym with the oldest Ericks girl and had noticed bruises. Deep bruises,on her arms, legs and wrist. And, this admission had brought tears, what looked an awful lot like a bite mark on her shoulder. The Ericks gal had seen her stare and nervously told her that it was from a fight with one of her sisters.

Deenie had accepted that with a nod, but couldn't believe it.

In a town like ours, rumor is perhaps the most powerful force of all. Rumor takes scraps of information, the barest glimmerings, and -- as it echoes through the households and bars and shops -- it turns them into darkly detailed certainties. The blacker the suspicions the more evil the eventual design.

Within the next few weeks I heard a dozen variations on exactly what was going on in the Ericks household -- everything from child porno to child prostitution rings. Suddenly, people remembered those black eyes Bunny sported on occasion, the same marks they'd steadfastly ignored for years. They pulled that into the mix. Bits and pieces came from all over -- the distant memory of the time little Carina had been limping for two days. The long known but never before cared about fact that Bunny had mentioned that her husband was a gun collector. The whispered admission that neighbors frequently heard odd noises coming from the locked tight garage behind the Ericks house. The fact that the Ericks girls were so quiet and shy in school that the teachers had to constantly ask them to speak up, and that they were never allowed to attend sleepovers or birthday parties.

It was around the time that people were talking about secret torture chambers and satanic rituals that Herbie brought up his plan. What he eventually started calling "The Mission".

"We have to do something." he said, grandly.

"Like call the cops?" Dan asked, words slurred. We were well into the second case of beer and all pleasantly blasted.

"Oh, fuck that," Herbie said, contemptuously. "That never works. Not with a psycho like this. Most that will happen is that the fucker will get a visit from some bleeding heart social worker, and you know sure as shit everything will be nice and neat and tidy for that visit." Herbie belched with satisfaction, cracked open another brew, and continued to expound.

"And, 'member boys, even if something was a bit iffy, that fucker is loaded. He'd just bribe that heart-bleeder before two words got written down. Naw."

I admit, I was perplexed. "Then what the hell are you talking about, Herb?"

He tapped his forehead for no reason and squinted at me. "I mean we take the matter into our own hands."

We laughed him off at first. It just sounded crazy.

But, like I said, Herbie can talk. He asked us to think about the living hell that poor woman and her little girls had to endure. He asked us what we would think if suddenly other kids started disappearing. Dan got wide-eyed at that, and shuddered. I knew he was imagining his sweet, trusting little girl trapped in a house with a thing like that.

Then Herbie rounded on me and tossed out a kicker: "What if that's exactly what's going on with your boy, friend? Wherever the hell he is? Wouldn't you want someone like us to do something?"

That sank into my brain like a depth charge. Guilt is an awful thing. Especially when it's unfocused and raw.

He went on, but I think he knew he had us. All the rest was gravy.

He talked about how we'd be heroes in town -- we'd storm into that place, find proof of the depraved shit the bastard was up to, bring those little girls and their momma out like avenging angels, and if the piece of shit wanted to try and stop us, why, we'd make him wish he'd never been born.

It had a definite appeal. Sitting alone in my house, listening to silence -- that was pretty much all I did those days. My life was in a pit right then. The idea of doing something so selfless and noble -- the idea of being a hero, a liberator of the innocent, of having their gratitude -- and the admiration of an entire town.

Yes. I wanted that.

I was surprised to find myself shivering slightly in my desire for that.

Hell, Dan and me were fired up. We wanted to drive the hell over there and do it right then.

Herbie told us to sit down, to shut up, and start using our heads.

"We all know that bastard is armed to the teeth." he reminded us. "Hell, Dan -- do you even own a gun? All I have is that little .22 varmint pinger there." He pointed to a little pistol hung above the bookcase.

Dan shook his head, no. I reminded Herbie that I owned a .12 gauge.

Herbie laughed at that. "This guy is a frigging collector, boys. For all we know he has a damned cannon stashed in there." He mused a bit, sipping beer.

"What we need is superior firepower. And that's going to cost us."

I shook my head, the dream dissipating. Hell, Dan and I were both laid off, living on unemployment, and Herbie was mortgaged to the gills. It took all the means the three of us could scrape up to afford the weekly drinking sessions. And we drank the cheapest beer we could find.

But Herbie was smiling, and there was a fierce little gleam in his eye.

"Don't worry. Ol' Herbie has a plan."

* * *

The first couple of muggings were the worst. Things got easier after that. I guess what they say is true -- even the worst things become easier with practice.

And, of course, we only did it for the cause.

It was me and Dan did the dirty work -- Herbie mainly picked the targets and gave us the time and place to strike. He chose the more affluent of our fellow townsfolk to begin with -- who just so happened to be the ones least likely to fight back. Our mission guidelines were strict -- we only took what they had in their pockets. No watches, no jewelry or anything else we'd have to pawn. In a few cases this was a few hundred bucks a shot.

General procedure was to catch them unawares and -- in the best circumstances -- in a place that was a bit compromising. Say the strip club a few miles out of town, or the happy coincidence of when we caught Jim Culley, the bank manager, paying a late night visit to an old 'college gal pal'. Make them loathe to report it to anyone.

A lot of the times we barely had to show the guns -- just a flash to let them know we were serious.

Then we'd hit 'em with the speech, the one Herbie had prepared, full of compassion for those poor abused little girls and how we -- as a town -- had to do something. How if we didn't stop that monster then we were no better than he was. Shit, in a few cases, we had the bastards in tears by the end of it. Ol' Culley even wrote us a damn check! Four hundred bucks! Though I think that may have been a little extra to make sure our lips were sealed about his location at two a.m. when he was supposed to be at the bank, 'clearing up a few accounts'.

We only had to get rough twice. Once it was just a little smack to the head when Dave Hansen got rowdy and proved a bit too drunk to be swayed by the speech.

But the second time -- hell, I still hate thinking about that one.

I had reservations about it from the minute Herbie gave us the name. Old Man Fierson, who owned the sprawling ranch just outside the city limits. The ranch was more of a hobby than anything to Fierson -- he had struck it rich investing as a young man and pinched every penny till it screamed. Still drove the '62 Ford truck I remembered him in from childhood, and dressed in jeans and flannel shirts so old that they had faded to a uniform dim gray.

The reservations came for two reasons: Fierson, as frugal and unassuming as he lived, was never late to lend a hand when folks needed it. When storm season hit he was always first on the scene, that old pickup and his wiry leather frame right in the mess, cleaning up and repairing. When the Albert's house had burnt down in '91, he had been the first to speak up and throw five thousand dollars into the pot to help them rebuild. There wasn't a charitable event he didn't show up for, and every year on May Day he invited all the kids in town to his ranch for a picnic and horse rides. He was well loved, and deeply respected.

And secondly, Old Man Fierson never went anywhere without his gun.

I tried to talk Herbie out of it, but he just got pissed off at me. Accused me of wimping out in the face of a little risk. As the days wore on, Herbie just got odder and odder -- and drank more and more. He even came close to getting fired from the car lot when he took three days off without even a phone call. "The Mission" was all he wanted to talk about, all he seemed to think about.

I should have backed out, and to hell with him -- but it was Dan who caused me to tag along, on what would turn out to be the final step before we carried out The Mission. Because Dan was almost as hung up on the plan as Herbie, and Dan had been my friend since grade school. No matter what, I couldn't let him go it alone. It's a sad thing when good reasons lead you into evil -- but nobody ever promised me that loyalty would always do me right. That hurts like a bitch.

We ended up cornering Fierson at nightfall, in the back lot of Cramer's Farm Supply, as he was loading sacks of feed into the back of his truck. He had apparently stayed to jaw with the owner until closing time, and the lot was deserted.

Except for us.

He glanced back after tossing the last sack into the truckbed with a grunt. Seemed a bit winded. He eyed us.

"Evenin', boys. If you're looking to buy, I'm afraid you're a mite late." I could see the handle of his pistol jutting from his waistband, old-timer style, right where it had always rode. Fierson had his hand by it. Not threatening. Just ready. My dad always told me that once a man survives to a certain age, he's beyond fooling on important matters. I knew my dad was right.

In a slightly trembling voice, I started in on the speech, trying my damnedest to be as convincing and passionate as I could be. Dan sat there nodding, determination in his eyes.

When I finished, and told him what we expected, Fierson shook his head, slowly. Then, of all things, he began to laugh. Just threw back his head and roared.

"I'll be damned it that isn't the single dumbest fucking idea I've ever heard anybody say out loud! Lord, boys -- you gone crazy?" He managed to say when the laughter subsided. I don't know if it was the laughter or the shock of hearing Fierson use the F word that broke my nerve, but it broke -- into about a billion jagged pieces.

And that's when Dan snapped.

"You miserable old fucker!" he screamed and pulled his gun, pointing it with a shaking, enraged hand. "You don't give a damn that a monster like that is right here in our town! You don't care what those girls..."

And that's when Fierson drew smooth as you please and fired, barely missing Dan's head by fractions of an inch. I swear I felt that slug rush through the space between us like the world's smallest locomotive.

Dan screamed and tackled the old man, smashing him back into the tailgate of his truck with a brutal crunch. The old man's pistol went flying as his wrist snapped back.

I don't remember a whole lot of what happened next. Brief flashes. Dan and me pistol whipping the old man in a black mixture of rage and shocked fear. Dan rolling him over and grabbing the wallet, ripping the beltloop it was chained to free with a choked sob. An old familiar face transformed into a mass of flowing blood sheeting over wide and staring eyes. The sick way Fierson's left arm lay at a shattered angle where Dan had stomped it at the elbow.

A staggering retreat to the car. Puking out the passenger side window as Dan drove raggedly but fast away from the lot. Things he kept saying, over and over:

"Miserable old fucker. Didn't get it. Greedy fucker. Some things can't wait for a please and thank you. Old fucker...Old..." and then a horrid sour stink as Dan puked directly into his own lap, the car veering scarily as he convulsed.

My own sobs as we made like hell for Herbie's house.

It was Herbie who calmed us down, of course. He has a talent for that. Even loaded, the bastard could convince you that stealing your own mother's purse was in her best interests. He calmed us down, and congratulated us on a good job, laying the blame on that 'selfish, ignorant old bastard.'

He also decided that we had enough cash to do the job. He made a call and a half hour later there was a knock on the door. An unsavory man with a filthy beard and even dirtier clothes entered carrying a sleek black leather case.

We were all eyes as he opened it.

There, disassembled but instantly recognizable to any guy who'd watched Stallone flicks, lay an AK-47.

Herbie counted out four thousand dollars in mostly small bills, almost the entire sum Dan and I had managed to amass in three weeks of 'campaigning'. The unsavory man recounted the money, pocketed it, laid out three blunt clips of ammo, and departed without more than two words.

We gathered around the weapon.

A bit scuffed, but nonetheless, it looked deadly. Aw, hell -- it looked bad-ass! My doubts and the sick memory of Old Man Fierson staring mutely at the sky as he bled began to fade.

We were going to do this thing.

We were going to liberate those kids.

Herbie couldn't stop grinning. "At dawn, boys."

He held up the last twenty dollar bill and waggled it comically. "How about a little celebration?"

* * *

I sometimes wonder if things would have gone differently if we hadn't started drinking. But that was the thing. Despite the determination, despite the big talk -- we were scared. The courage that comes from bottles and cans is a weak, ephemeral thing, but it's better than nothing. Maybe, without that booze, we would have backed down. I don't think so, though. We had gone too far. Our actions had propelled us to the edge of a cliff, and gravity was all it took to send us careening over.

All three of us were staggering when we piled into Dan's car for the short drive to the Ericks'. Dan and Herbie had a brief argument over who got to handle the AK, and settled it with boozy logic by agreeing to swap off once 'the situation was under control.' I had my .12 gauge, and Dan was grudgingly saddled with the .22.

Herbie got his assault plan from some low-budget war flick he'd caught on cable a few weeks before. We'd start a distraction in the backyard, then kick in the front door. We'd rage in there like Patton, grab the kids, hustle them out -- then hold the bastard at gunpoint while we searched for evidence of his depraved pastimes.

The distraction we decided on was setting the garage on fire.

It was still dark as we rolled up, leaving the car a block away. We crept through the still-cool morning air, shushing each other as we snuck down the side path to the padlocked garage door. Dan had the bolt cutters, and made short work of it. We were all glad when the door turned out to be well oiled and maintained, and slid up as silently as a ghost.

It was the first time we'd seen the Ericks' car. A gorgeous cherry '68 Eldorado.

Herbie's breath caught. "Dear God in heaven." he whispered. "She's a beaut." Dan and I agreed. Herbie muttered something, too low to catch, then said, louder: "I...I can't burn this car, boys. That'd be a damn crime." We just stared at him. He opened the front door, reached inside, and popped the tranny into neutral.

"C'mon, damn it! Help me push her out." Not knowing what else to do, we bent to help. The Caddy slid into the driveway like a beautiful red cloud. Herbie nodded at it, drunkenly satisfied. "Ok," he muttered, all right with the world again. "Let's get to work."

We found a five-gallon container of gas in one corner of the garage and Dan set to soaking the interior with it. We backed away form the eye stinging cloud and out of the building holding our breath.

"Light 'er up," Herbie told me, and took Dan by the arm. "Let's hit the front door. As soon as we see lights come on, we break her down."

They moved off. I stood there for a second, wobbling a bit, wondering briefly how in the hell I had ended up here, at this moment, doing these things. I pushed those thoughts away. Shaking a little, I struck a match from a three cent paper pack and put the fire to the rest.

I tossed the pack. Fire blossomed in the night, light and heat pushing me backward instinctively. I would have fallen if I hadn't nudged up against the Caddy. I stared at the flaming garage, hypnotized for a moment.

Then, all around me, lights started coming on. Not just the Ericks lights, either. The entire neighborhood was waking up. I heard someone scream. I heard a symphony of dogs begin to wail out an emergency call.

The shit was hitting the fan.

I ran around the house just as Herbie and Dan laid workboots to the door, sending it open in a splintering crash. They disappeared inside, and I rushed after them.

What happened next probably lasted about five minutes in real time, but seemed like a century or more of confused and increasingly awful actions. The fact that they are burned into my memory, and endlessly replayed, makes it all the worse.

We found ourselves in the Ericks' living room, guns out and all three of us looking around wildly. At the entrance to a long hall, a six year old girl -- little Carina, my mind told me, insanely calm -- stared at us in sleepy surprise.

"Our garage is on fire," she informed us, matter-of-factly.

Then a scream ripped out from further down the hallway, and Bunny Ericks ran up like a madwoman and grabbed her daughter. A light came on, illuminating her run down the hall, and three more scared children's faces peeped out of the room she dashed towards. As she dove into the room and slammed the door closed, the hall light died.

"Hey! Wait!" Herbie cried out. "We're here to save you, dammit!"

From somewhere, a gun roared, cannon-like. I just happened to be glancing down in time to see a chunk of Herbie's leg blast into a cloud of red vapor. Herbie screamed -- a sound so high and piercing that I would never have thought it could be produced by a human throat. He toppled, but as he fell, he gripped the trigger of the AK and held it down.

All hell broke loose. The living room turned into a swath of destruction as Herbie emptied the clip in the general direction of the gunshot. Dan was screaming as well, the tiny pops of the .22 almost inaudible under a much larger roar that I didn't recognize.

Then I felt the recoil and realized that it was the shotgun in my own hands, as I fired off both barrels down the hallway.

The sudden quiet was almost hallucinatory. I heard Herbie's moaning diminish. I turned and saw Dan, wild eyed, dragging him out the door. I myself felt frozen in place.

From the hallway, a form appeared. Walking with an odd shambling limp, breath hitching with effort, came Ericks himself. Goddamn he was a big man. He was dressed in a stained white t-shirt and baggy boxers. He walked directly towards me. I was still frozen.

I could see bullet holes in him -- chest and stomach -- and a thin red ribbon of blood pouring from the left corner of his mouth. Still, he walked towards me with mindless determination. He raised his hand. It clutched a .44 -- one my frozen brain idly identified from the magazines as a Desert Eagle, a gun I always whistled over -- and pointed it at me. It shook violently in his hand.

Then, from the room where Bunny had retreated with her daughters, a new scream erupted.

What a soul being tortured in hell might sound like.

Ericks fired once, missing me by a wide margin, then coughed a massive gout of blood and tumbled to the floor. Frozen brain noted that he fell on the AK, which Herbie had abandoned to the enemy.

The scream that continued from the back room seemed to pull me towards it. Nausea tore my guts, every hair on my body stood at attention, but I could not stop the awful march towards that back room. Even as I put my hand on the knob, turned it, and pushed, part of me begged the rest not to look, not to subject myself to that horrible scream without the meager protection of the closed door.

Bunny Ericks sat on the floor, surrounded by three of her daughters. One wept. The other two just stared at their mother, rigid and unmoving. In the screaming woman's arms was cradled the limp body of the youngest. Carina Ericks. Six years old.

Carina only had half a head. The rest of it was strewn onto the walls, onto her sisters, onto the face and neck of her mother.

Bunny snapped her head up to me. Somehow I met her gaze. What I saw there was not a mind anymore. It was a bloody concoction of shattered glass and razor blades. Of pain and hate. Hate so intense and palpable that I could feel its desire to kill me, to eat me alive. To drive itself through my heart and slice me into shreds.

"I'm sorry. We were trying to save you." I heard myself say.

"You killed my baby you fucking beast!" she spat at me -- half sob, half scream. "You killed my baybeeeeeee...."

...and that last syllable turned inside out and warped itself into a shriek, as Bunny Ericks lost the last shred of her sanity and became feral. She threw back her head and howled.

And finally I could move.

I ran, lumbering into walls, bouncing, falling -- I ran into a table and tumbled over it. Scattering a collection of framed pictures, smashing them. I hoisted myself up on bleeding hands and when I opened my eyes I was staring at scattered images of the Ericks girls, in a variety of places, at a variety of ages.

I fled them, as if they were wolves. I leapt over the dead body of their father and fled their eyes, onto the dew wet grass of the front lawn, as dawn broke, and neighbors gathered, and the police and fire department arrived.

I fled their eyes.

* * *

We didn't go to prison.

Herbie made up a story. I heard him tell the story. It was the most ridiculous story I have ever heard. It involved Ericks calling him the day before with an offer to sell the Caddy. It involved us arriving and him locking us in the garage and setting it on fire. It involved us escaping and hearing the girls screaming inside. It involved our heroic entry into the house and Ericks blindly shooting the AK until he, Dan and I managed to wrest it away from him.

I sat and listened to him tell that ridiculous story, shaking my head at just how stupid it sounded.

But the most ridiculous part was that it was believed. One after another, neighbors stepped up to confirm this piece or that of Herbie's wild tale. The next door neighbor swearing that Ericks had mentioned selling the Caddy to him the day before. Another neighbor claimed she heard our struggle as the girls begged their father not to hurt them anymore. Dave Hansen, his temple still bruised from where I'd popped him in order to retrieve his wallet, lied through his teeth and claimed to have heard us pleading with Ericks to let us out of the garage.

And the cop simply nodded and wrote it down.

Perhaps Bunny Ericks could have given them the truth. But Bunny Ericks no longer existed. She was just a jabbering, screeching beast when they pried her dead daughter from her arms and loaded her into the ambulance, and strapped her down and pumped the drugs into her that shut her up. Last I heard she had been committed to an institution up north -- permanently.

The surviving girls could have given them the truth, but only one of the girls ever spoke again -- and the only word she said was the name of her dead sister, over and over and over.

But I have the feeling that it would not matter. The town wanted Herbie's story to be true. The town wanted an evil they had imagined and blown into monster size to be real and be defeated and white knights, selfless liberators, to cheer and applaud. Hell, didn't it end like a good story should? The dragon defeated and the princesses free, even if they did go into foster homes and 'special' schools? Even if one princess died? You've got to have some tragedy for a good story, right?

Herbie bought the Caddy at the ensuing charity auction for a song. No one bid against him. Not their hero. Dan grabbed the Desert Eagle and a significant chunk of Mr. Ericks' wonderful gun collection for even less. "Don't bid against ol' Dan," they told each other before the auction took place. "Look at what he did. He deserves this."

I guess they got their loot.

As for me -- it's hard to explain.

I don't think I have a heart left. Or maybe soul is a better word. Whatever. There's something missing from me, is all I know. Something important. Something that shriveled up and just died of shame in those infinite, awful moments while I watched Bunny Ericks cradle her dead six-year-old in her arms, covered in her own child's blood and brains, screaming grief and rage to a world that simply seemed to not give a flying fuck. Those moments when a single thought chased its tail inside my brain:

Maybe it was your bullet that killed that baby.

Maybe it was your fault.

Three days later Old Man Fierson died quietly in his hospital room, never emerging from the coma I'd helped put him in.

I stayed inside the whole next week, while Herbie modestly flashed the nasty bullet wound he'd received to those who asked, and drove his new Caddy around. While Dan showed off that Desert Eagle down at the range. While the whole town celebrated and hailed us as heroes. While they put the closed casket that contained Carina Ericks into the ground, and folks tut-tutted over what a shame it was that the liberators hadn't got there a bit earlier. I stayed inside.

Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I drank myself into oblivion. Sometimes I held the barrel of the .12 gauge in my mouth for long, dark minutes -- tasting gun oil and a hint of cordite, wondering if a slight pressure on that trigger would bring redemption or just another sort of damnation.

Then finally I packed.

In the dead of night I threw a suitcase into the back seat of the Tempo, fired her up and headed out. I had no real destination in mind. I figured I might head west and see if I couldn't track down my boy. He'd be about 10 now, and I'd realized how deeply I missed him. Mostly I just had to get out of town.

A town that hailed me as a hero, and was so awfully goddamn proud of itself.

A town I didn't care to be a part of anymore.

I didn't take much. Just a few changes of clothes, all the money I had, a shaving kit, a blanket and some odds and ends. On the very top of the crap lodged tight into the little suitcase I placed the most important thing of all -- the single piece of loot I took from the Ericks home, something I had blindly grabbed in my mad, terrified retreat from a mother's lament. Something that I'd spent most of a week staring at through tears that refused to stop. Something I would keep for the rest of my life, and would hold while I prayed for some kind of peace.

A picture of little Carina Ericks, all of two years old, dancing with joyous abandon on the sidewalk in front of her house.


George Potter was born an individualist, just like the rest of the human race. He, however, had the good fortune not to have it beaten out of him.

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