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Authors: Tristan Egolf

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BOOK: Kornwolf
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Feel the knife pierce you intensely

Inferior, no use to mankind

Strapped down screaming out to die
…

Angel of Death

Monarch to the kingdom of the dead

Infamous butcher

Angel of Death
…

Jonathan cried out. The protesters screamed as the oncoming trailer blared its horn. The rest of the traffic joined in with it, over which Ephraim, holding steady, howled.

Benedictus

What felt to be three or four centuries back—in a time so gone it was hard to imagine it having existed in this day and age—the essence of compound filth had preceded The Crow's arrival well in advance: ahead of the corn liquor rasping his palate, ahead of the musk of his perspiration, before his appearance—dragging one leg that had never recovered from gout in childhood—scowling sternly, his brow in a furrow of ruts, underscored by his graveyard eyes.

And so, now, after all this time …

Some things never changed.

They just ripened.

From two hundred yards in the distance, his arrival by carriage was heralded in on a plague wind. Twenty years later and no less rancid. In fact, the stench had only intensified.

He pulled to a stop alongside of the waterwheel. Slowly, the carriage door opened outward. A dung-crusted boot touched down on the platform and pivoted. Another boot dropped to the gravel. Rocking forward, the old man stood to position, slightly cocked to the left—in profile now, and, as might have been expected, of wider girth, having bloated with age. His beard was almost entirely white. His pitted nose had swollen and flattened. The passage of years had exacted a toll, to be sure. But his aura was undiminished. The rancor was deeply imbedded and festering—instantly, jarringly identifiable …

And still, he was dragging that gimpy leg.

The only significant, nonbiological change in his appearance was the hat on his head—a creaseless, wide-brimmed, black felt hat—which, at last, confirmed the nigh to implausible: he, Benedictus, was now a minister.

Certainly, stranger things had happened. But few, if any, less appropriate.

The idea of Old Man Bontrager reading the Book of Isaiah—or delivering the
Es Schwer Deel
—in the presence of an organized body of worship was so preposterous, so perverse, so obscene, it begged the question: what could have happened to District Seven? What in the world had become of the church?

Clearly disgusted, though, given his sour expression, equally unsurprised, the old man stared at the upended plow in the yard, and the hinny, gnawing its bit. Removing his hat, he spat in the dirt, then wiped his mouth with one dirty sleeve. Frowning, he pondered the image intently. Then he made for the summer kitchen.

He got to the door, unlocked it, went in. A pile of crockery fell from the windowsill—rattling, crashing. A moment of silence. He reappeared with a bottle of corn whiskey.

Nothing had changed.

Minister Bontrager. Lord deliver.

What came next?

Officer
Rudolf Beaumont, of course …

Ludicrous though it may have sounded: Rudy “The Great White Chickenshit” Beaumont—fishtailing into the drive in what would've appeared to be his very own township cruiser—his yapping in bursts from the driver's seat window discernible even at seventy yards. His nasal bleating, as unmistakable—down the lane it proceeded, approaching …

He slammed to a halt. He got out of the cruiser and yelled toward the house: “Get out here, Bennet! This motherfucking kid!”

He was heavier. Balding.

He looked like a swine in tights.

That much, too, hadn't changed.

In early adulthood, Rudolf had been pronounced unfit for military service (the navy) due to acute asthma. In order to spare him disgrace in the family (three generations of low-ranking sailors) he'd been assigned to “domestic” service, stateside, overseeing “highway patrols.” The closest he'd come to “the shit” was an unpaved stretch of road outside of Philth Town. There, he had “monitored” thirty-man labor teams made up of conscientious objectors—most of them Orderly draftees working the pavement in lieu of active duty. In other words, he had stood guard over pacifists—mostly young Amish and Mennonite men—some of whom recognized him from Blue Ball, and none of whom knew how to take him seriously.

Back home, his father had been renowned as the laughingstock of the Amish Basin: by day, a scarcely respected mining executive and would-be community man, by night, a chauvinistic bigot who, after steadily hosing his mind with drink for the better part of a lifetime, had gone off the deep end, much to the shame and lasting disrepute of his family, by first becoming an honorary member of the Pennsyltucky Nazi party—Rudolf was named after Hitler's deputy—second, shooting all five of his dogs for “chronic insubordination,” and third, coming out of the closet on a gin-blown, ass-naked yodeling public rampage—one that had led to a padded cell, leaving Rudolf behind as an angry young short man.

And Rudolf was most undoubtedly short. That much was clear in his one-to-one dealings, as had been the case with the Orderly COs—most of whom, once again, had known him for years, and who certainly bore him no personal favor. At first, his insistence on being addressed as “sir” had been greeted as vaguely hilarious. However, soon—after three or four tantrums—the whole thing had started to lose its charm. Soon, as the only non-Orderly present, he'd been shut out: the use of English had been dropped. He had wound up in conversational exile. His every command had gone unacknowledged. The only time anyone had paid him the first
bit of mind was to crack a short-man joke. That much, he'd gotten without a translation. And it had driven him green with anger. When he'd threatened to call in the National Guard and have them all cited for insurrection, the Orderly COs had heard enough. All twenty-five of them had dropped their shovels and walked to the nearest service station. After lodging a formal complaint with the army by phone, they had gone on an all-night drunk.

The next they had heard, he'd been back in The Basin, working as a meter maid.

Eighteen years ago.

Now he defended the public trust.

“Get out here, Bennet!” he yelled at the house.

Benedictus stepped from the kitchen.

At the sight of him, Rudolf jerked a thumb toward his cruiser: “Stunk up my whole backseat!”

A motionless figure was sitting in the vehicle.

Beaumont opened the door and grabbed him. Headlong into the dirt he was tossed.

Stepping forward, The Crow looked down on him.

Already marked with cuts and bruises, the boy looked up in evident terror. The boy: the poor, unsightly wretch—as blighted to God-awkward, all out of sorts.

It hurt just to look at him.

He looked like his mother.

This was entirely too much to process …

Rudolf continued to blather hysterically: “—going upstate next time, so help me—”

In all likelihood, the boy had already outwitted The Chicken-shit once, if not many times. No doubt, there would have been multiple incidents—and more than spontaneous cow-tipping sprees. The kid would have proven a considerable nuisance. And gotten away with it, largely.

Till now.

Benedictus loomed over him, seething. The boy cowered. A moment went by. Then, as if signaled, he got up and slunk through
the yard toward the house with his head hung low. Rudolf clouted his face in passing.

Class act(s). Benedictus and Beaumont. The Church and The State. The Crow and The Chickenshit.

Fighting again, they were—back and forth:

“This one'll cost you!” Rudolf yelled.

Bontrager yelled back. “What do you
want?

Rudolf went into the summer kitchen. Gone for a moment, he reappeared with a jug of corn whiskey.

“And double the weekly,” he said on his way to the cruiser. “Move it.”

Benedictus climbed the stairs to the porch, went in, was gone, came back. Then—by stroke of outrageous fortune—he handed Beaumont an offerings box. Beaumont opened it, pulled out a wad of bills, and—incredibly—even counted them.

Score.

Long Live The Celluloid.

Perfect.

And just ahead of the rain, no less. From over the hill in a wall of gray—sweeping the fields with a pattering rumble.

Rudolf's cruiser moved off down the lane. Benedictus was left on the porch, enraged, confused and in evident thirst.

Scowling, he turned and went into the house.

Fannie

While most of The Order explained away Ephraim's behavior by branding him not only damaged, but insolent, reckless, antisocial and, somehow, inherently cursed by nature, Fannie knew more than to blame superstitions and old Amish lore for her cousin's condition. No, he hadn't been doomed to clumsiness owing to the fact that he was born on a Wednesday. He wasn't a mess on account of the household chores not having been completed that morning. The storm outside at the time of his birth had
not
foretold of an early passing. The fact that his gums had broken early, and all such nonsense, wasn't to blame. Fannie knew better, as Fannie remembered in vivid detail too much of their childhood, too many early impressions of Ephraim—before he'd been taken away by her uncle, the Minister—back when her mother, Grizelda, as Ephraim's surrogate, had tended them both—back when, side by side, they had crawled through the autumn wheat on their hands and knees.

As common seed brought to term under vastly disparate conditions, the two now existed: from kindred ilk in flesh and bearing to polar extremes, by appearances.

To begin with, most of the district mothers had been at a loss to distinguish between them. Having been born less than eight weeks apart, they'd been taken for twins on several occasions—both being fair-complected, blue-eyed, healthy and plump, with similar temperaments. Whether at rest in the crib or, together,
on hands and knees, exploring the kitchen—the misunderstanding was natural enough. Fannie's mother, Grizelda Hostler, the Minister's long-estranged sister, maintained that both children had always been characteristically well-mannered, calm and un-troublesome. And once upon a time they had
spoken
, as well. Both of them. He no less than she. Even now, Fannie could still hear him striving to eke out his first attempts at expression.
Fang
, he had called her in one bursting syllable, then broken into a satisfied grin. Most of the Plain Folk had missed that part—as Ephraim, in early boyhood, had been reserved, and had rarely spoken in church. Very few members knew just how
well
he'd been learning to speak at the time of the accident.

Up to a point, he and Fannie had grown and developed in nearly identical stages. Only when Minister Bontrager intervened had their paths begun to diverge.

First, by a stroke of misfortune, Ephraim had lost his voice—with no hope of recovery. Fannie, conversely, had gone on to speak three languages, then undertaken to teach them.

Ephraim had blundered through numerous farming endeavors alone, and to ruinous ends, while Fannie had worked in the fields alongside of her family, embraced by a whole community.

Presently, she was on a first-name basis with at least thirty members of the district every day (in addition to teaching, she worked the fields and played in a Mennonite volleyball league), whereas Ephraim, since finishing school at thirteen, had been spotted in public during daylight hours, usually racing like mad on his scooter, once or twice a month, at the most—and always unbeknownst to his father.

Only at night, when the Minister faded with drink, had the boy been free to wander. For years, he'd been roaming the fields by moonlight while, usually, Fannie had lain asleep.

In effect, then: she was the oldest of three healthy siblings, functional, well-adjusted—adept in the arts of agriculture no less than teaching, with shining prospects—he was a single child, un-apprenticed and a one-man agricultural bust in a world that revolved
around time-honored notions of family, skill and communal prosperity …

Given this, the contrast would only grow more pronounced in the seasons to come:

After twenty-five months in
Rumspringa
, Fannie would soon face taking her vows of baptism—thus becoming an active, devoted member of the church, however early—Ephraim, who'd always remained at a wall-eyed distance from most of the area's youth, had become a Crossbill in recent months and, at this rate, wasn't likely to be accepted as a member of the church at all. His future within The Order at large was in doubt. And his gang wasn't helping matters.

Isaac and Colin had been the first to take him on one of their nightly rounds—the “rounds” which consisted of tooling the roads in a beat-up car they had bought from a scrap yard. Over the course of the past few months, they had goaded him into all manner of mischief—from plastering traffic on 30 with dirt bombs to swabbing construction equipment with honey.

Yet, what had begun with bread and butter had led to more serious episodes recently—the latest of which was now being relayed by Jonathan, perched on a stool near the window.

“Ach!” He faltered, still at a loss over how to explain what had happened that day. “I've just never—
ever
seen anything like it.”

Fannie gazed out the window in silence.

The walls around her felt vaguely confining.

She and her two younger siblings had used this loft for as far back as they could remember. The room was furnished with chairs and a table. There were cushions and blankets and bales of hay. On evenings like these, with the rain coming down and the drunken English weaving around in it, Abe and Grizelda Hostler took comfort in knowing their children were home, in the barn. This evening, Hanz and Barbara, Fannie's brother and sister, were already sleeping. Along with their father, most likely. The crops were still out. Gravitation began at dawn.

BOOK: Kornwolf
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