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Kentucky Blood, Prologue

Book I

Homos Ferus


Fayette County, Kentucky

April 1964


       The little girl danced in the dust around the fire that leapt higher than the roof of the rotting shack. Her bare feet and legs moved in awkward rhythm, her steps keeping time with two distinct beats: the car radio streaming through the open doors of the old green Plymouth, and him, his ‘shine sloppy steps. 

He had come back. She knew he would.

Her dress, one of his filthy discarded shirts, flared as she spun. 

She felt bigger, stretched, like her reflection in the sun-hit metal of the bumper. And he was bright like the fire. He smiled at her, and she basked in it.

He had come back and wasn’t angry with her, didn’t hate her for what she had done. And this made her giddy.

So grateful that she did not even think about the men lying bitten in the shack.

So enthralled that she did not even care that her mother sat on the sagging porch with her baby brothers, glaring at her. The boys climbing her stick frame like raccoons on a dead pine.

And though the girl was young enough to have a mouth full of baby teeth, she knew that her mother did indeed hate her, had said so, before the fire, before the dancing, while they were gathering things from inside, stacking them on the steps.


“What did she do to them? They’re dead, Hank! Why couldn’t she have just…disappeared? That’s what you said. You said you would take care of it.”

“I am taking care of it. It is a whole new thing now. They find those boys in there and I’m as good as hanged.”

He was drinking from the bottle again, clear as creek water, and throwing things, sticks and grocery bags and all manner of trash into the fire. Graceless, he turned and tossed a bag of potatoes, blue with mold. The wall of flame parted and exhaled a smell of burnt sugar. And the blaze grew higher, a great, hot, roaring beast.

In the quiet part of the girl, the part she trusted, the place she went when the hell began. She knew. She understood that it was all too much. The fire was too big. Her happiness was too bright. She looked around searching for a way to hold onto it, gather it for keeping. She kept him in the corners of her eyes, and still she danced in his wake.

For now, he was her Daddy. He smiled at her and called her Sweetheart. Sweetheart. She rolled the word to the tip of her tongue and savored it like hard candy.

But then the things he was feeding the fire were wrong. Her mother’s shoes, the boys’ toy truck, a wooden chair.

Her step stuttered when he reached for the only thing on the stairs that was hers. A thin baby blanket, colorless with age. He tossed it sideways. It unfurled tattered wings and dissolved as it fell. And with it her hope.

He took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. This he did not throw, but shook one out and reached it in the fork of his fingers to touch the flames.

His shadow moved away from her, around the fire pit, toward her mother and the boys.

Her heart told her to stay close. But she knew better than to trust her heart. It was as fickle as the rest of her. Her feet stopped cold, and the smile fell from her face.

Her mother shook her head. 

The girl’s ears could not hear his words. 

A warm wetness splashed down her naked legs, startling her. Her body heard him perfectly.

Her mother shook her head again, harder.

He loomed over them black-winged with rage. “You got a better idea? Now’s the time.”

Her mother shrank from him, gathering the boys into the folds of her dirty yellow dress showing thin white legs.

He flipped the cigarette easily back into the fire and took hard hold of her mother’s arm. He dragged her with the boys still clinging, and flung them into the seat of the car.

He slammed the door on her mother’s cries. The boys didn’t make a sound. He walked around to the back seat and took out a red, rusted gas can. He held out his free arm to balance the weight. It sloshed and spilled as he walked up the porch steps. The harsh smell topped the smoke and pulled at the hairs inside her nose.

He went in the door and she heard the liquid gurgle as he emptied the can.

He was in there with the men, the ones who had hurt her.

He came out and stood on the porch with the can in his hand.

He turned and looked down at her. She stood still in the wetted dirt. For a single moment, she lit with fresh hope.

He looked away. He went down the steps and reached for the fire. He took two flaming sticks from the edge and threw them into the gaping mouth of the shack.

She didn’t move, and he didn’t look at her again. He got into the car, and the race of the engine was louder than the machine of the flames. Her mother’s face, broken through the cracked windshield. The car was going backwards and becoming small.