“Trail Of The Damned”
Kaleb Lambert started showing up at the Hunsaker home when Rose Marie Wells was only thirteen, and by the time she reached fourteen, after much flattery and wooing, he married her, much to the chagrin of her younger brother Deacon. Deacon having only just turned eleven, clung even tighter to his sister than ever before, she having mothered him through five impossible years of poverty and abuse, while he had assumed the role of her protector. With the unwelcome change, Deacon viewed Kaleb’s imposing behavior as an invasive attack on the only secure thing he had ever known, and his dislike for his new brother in law quickly grew to disdain, bordering on hatred.
At fifteen, Rose Marie gave birth to Cole, while Kaleb was away panhandling, making it necessary for Deacon to assist Mrs. Hunsaker with the difficult birthing. Somehow, against heavy odds, both mother and child survived, and from that moment on, young Deacon felt that he was more the father of baby Cole than was Kaleb, who, ill prepared to provide his new wife and child with the needful things in life, had taken to panhandling, leaving them to be cared for by the Hunsakers, while he drifted from town to town, chasing dreams of an elusive fortune.
“I insist Marie!” Lorna Hunsaker demanded sternly, “…you will stay here with the baby as long as it takes for Kaleb to find you a suitable home, …and I’ll not hear another word to the contrary!”
“But Kaleb will be angry with me when he returns!”
“But Kaleb nothin’!” Ken Hunsaker growled angrily from the kitchen table, that boy could have a perfectly good job right here workin’ for me, but instead he chooses to leave you unattended while he gallivants around the country chasin' an easy dollar! I’ll not have it…, I tell you, I won’t!”
Deacon was unsure how to act in the moment of disruption and high emotion, but one thing for sure…, he cared nothing for Kaleb. He did, however, have a strong affinity for baby Cole, and managed to spend a large amount of his time helping to raise his little nephew. He had begun his farrier training, at ten, just shortly after arriving in Dunkirk, and quickly learned the art of working steel, impressing even Ken with his artistic approach to the job. One of the first things he made for himself was a hatchet head, which he securely mounted on a hickory handle, and began learning to throw it. Having seen a gypsy in a traveling show throw three hatchets in less than two seconds into a target no bigger than a tin plate at seven paces, he made up his mind to learn the craft. He had been so impressed, that he vowed to himself that he wouldn’t rest until he could do the same, and thus was born an intense passion with throwing hatchets.
“Can’t you think of some more worthwhile things to spend your energy on Deacon?” Lorna had asked him one afternoon. His response was just simply,
“No Ma, ...can’t think of any…” By the time he reached sixteen, he could nail the same mark on a tree from ten paces six times out of ten, and had begun to teach Cole to throw as well. Though only five at the time, Cole showed so much desire, that Deacon couldn’t have stopped him even if he had wanted to, and thinking it better that he be supervised in his attempts to follow after his uncle, Rose Marie consented to the instruction.
“I love how you are with him Deacon…” Rose Marie commented one afternoon, while watching him patiently play with her little boy, “…I just wish his father were here more to help him grow. I’m really grateful to you.”
“It’s me that’s lucky Marie, I love him…, just like I do you, and there ain’t no way he’s growin' up like we did without a dad…, I won’t stand for it! I’ll make a good man out of him, I promise…, and I’ll always be there for him too!” Rose Marie approached her younger brother, who by sixteen had passed the six foot three mark, and weighed nearly two hundred pounds. Wrapping her arms around him she pulled him down to her height, hanging on tight for several seconds to make sure he fully knew how much she loved him back.
“I can’t wait to see what kind a man you turn out to be,” she said smiling, as she let him straiten.
“Huh…, that’s easy, …what you see is what you get…, I swear, this is it!” He opened his arms wide to either side accentuating his broad shoulders, and chest, while flexing his well sculpted biceps, “…don’t get much better than this!” he laughed, reaching up to remove his thick black hair from his eyes. “I need a hair cut bad! …you want to do it for me?
“No…, you can’t Deacon, you’re like Sampson, …if I cut it, you’ll lose all your strength…!”
“But it’s hot, you should know, yours is longer than mine…, please?”
“I’m serious Deacon…, don’t cut it! …it suits you real good like that, …I don’t suggest you let it get much longer, but you couldn’t be any more handsome than you are right now! Promise me you'll leave it be.” Deacon turned and called over to where Cole was playing.
“Cole! …watch this Marie he said excitedly.” Drawing the hatchet out of the leather boot he wore strapped to his right leg he said, “…hey Buddy, let’s show Mamma how you throw your hatchet.” Little Cole smiled wide, looking for a moment at his mother for reassurance that it was alright with her, before reaching for the smaller hatchet lying near his feet. At her nod of approval, he snatched it up and ran to Deacon's side.
“You ready Cole?” The little boy, who though tall for his age was as thin as a rail, ...looked up at his uncle with exuberant eyes.
“I’m ready!” he announced, hefting the hatchet Deacon had made for him to his chest with his right hand firmly gripping the long handle. Deacon stepped and threw his hatchet at a tree about thirty feet away, and then nodded to Cole…,
“Step up to your spot and let’er rip buddy.” Cole walked ahead about eight or nine steps, and after looking back to check with Deacon on the distance, he turned and without hesitation, flipped his hatchet in a high arch toward the tree. With a solid thunk, the blade knifed into the tree a foot below Deacon’s.
“Every time,” Deacon said excitedly to his sister, “…I swear, it’s like he was born to it!”
“You just be careful with him, …you hear?”
“Yeah, yeah…,” Deacon mocked, strolling over to retrieved his hatchet, “…have I ever not been careful with him?” Rose Marie new he was right, however a pesky cloud of worry, loomed around in the back of her mind, and she couldn’t seem to shake it.