Monday, April 2, 2018

The Two-Legged Mule - Short Story

The Two-Legged Mule
Scáth Beorh

Well, it wasn’t ‘til after the child called Bessie was beaten with a wooden rod ‘til she died of her wounds that the folk gathered for an airing of the heinous act—Pastor William McConvile presiding. In the course of one hour it was discovered, through sufficient believable witnesses, that Connelly O’Maughnahan did drink his liquor in excess, and did see himself as a last bastion of an older way of life, and stated that often when he was in the village, along with Holy Writ to prove his position. What older way of life none could quite discern, but it was, he declared, an older way notwithstanding.

O’Maughnahan did, witnesses said, unmentionable acts with his three daughters, the youngest one now in her grave next to her mother, thank Holy God. Yet what would be done about the man and his egregious ways? Not a few of those present at the town meeting stood outraged now that Bessie lay dead. They vowed before Heaven and Earth that O’Maughnahan would breathe his last that very night. But calmer hearts, though disturbed also over the matter, prevailed, and another thought was broached. An plan was agreed upon with a quickness, for it was time to plant again, and the parish had seen hard times of recent, with one draft horse for every three farms, shared in a cooperative fashion. One objection was raised, being that the work might kill O’Maughnahan, but it was reminded that this would be the hoped-for result whilst keeping all hands clean of his blood.

All agreed that the Widow Maggie Farley would get O’Maughnahan first, she being the oldest living person of the parish, and therefore in greatest need, seeing that her husband and all three of her boys had been killed at Antietam. It was thought that two good men should bring O’Maughnahan to Miss Maggie and stay to watch so that he wouldn’t run away, but then it was brought again to the minds of all that the widow carried a rod of her own, and owned three hounds obedient to her every command.
So, a stout chain and shackles were forged by our blacksmith Jack Killian. Then a confederacy of seventeen men armed with clubs and a few guns walked out to the soured and unkempt land of Connelly O’Maughnahan. The men were greeted by the girls Lesa and Mora, being the forlorn sisters of little dead Bessie, but were told that O'Maughnahan was away to collect firewood—but he would return home directly. The girls were ushered inside their ramshackle farmhouse and gently gagged so they couldn’t warn their father--should they desire to do that. Two of the men watched over them. The other fifteen men spread out around the farm and hid themselves as well as any man can hide himself in land he knows best. O’Maughnahan had not the least idea that had come his time of reckoning when he pulled himself along his weedy path. As he headed for the weather-beaten unpainted door of his disheveled house which hadn’t been whitewashed in anybody’s memory, five men he recognized appeared from five directions, grabbed him, and held him fast, yet not without effort, for though O’Maughnahan was a slight man, he was wiry and tough—lazy enough by that time of his life, but a farm lad notwithstanding.

“Curse y'all to Hell! All o’ ye! Let me be, y'all sons o’ guns!”

“Set free them little girls now,” said Jedediah Flaherty to the guards.

“Ye have me girls tied up, ye stupid good-for-nothin’ lowlifes? I oughtta...!

“A far cry better than how ye treat 'em!” yelled McClure as he yanked a rag from his back pocket and stuffed it into O’Maughnahan's pie-hole so all present could be saved his clamorous tongue.

The next day proved an unusually hot one, and the warmest in anybody's memory so that there came the whisper that Hell had come to receive O’Maughnahan at long last. Well, the scoundrel, cursing a blue streak, was harnessed to Widow Farley's plow, gagged again, and goaded along by the woman herself unless he had the idea, which he probably did, to walk around in circles or maybe cut across her field in a fit of destructive anarchy. Miss Maggie kept him in line, and the few times he got out of line one of the hounds got him back in line quick enough. He worked for three hours before he begged a break for a quick swim in the creek. He was denied that luxury and given only a cup of tepid water, which he quaffed down like it was the sweetest thing he'd ever had in his mouth. Widow Farley then handed O’Maughnahan a bowl of thick mushroom chowder and another cup of water. When he was finished eating, she tied his mouth up tighter than Slewfoot's hatband and goaded him along again for the next few hours, then the men came and took him in chains to Terry O'Leary's barn for the night.

The next morning O'Leary and most of the men went out to get O’Maughnahan to do work on O'Leary's land, but O’Maughnahan was dead. Seems Miss Maggie had never liked mushrooms enough to learn the difference between the deadly and the delicious.    

Scath Beorh is originally from the still-very-conservative Flora-Bama part of the Deep South, but did his growing up in Hollywood before finally settling in St. Augustine--to experience the South flavored with a variety of international ideas, values, languages, and cultural mores. He is the author of the story collections Children & Other Wicked Things and Jesus Is A Woman as well as a number of novels. More can be found at