Here is the third of three parts of my short story The Great McMurty.
I met McMurty again as night began to fall upon his time with us. That is, he was an inch shy of dead. It was by purest accident. I was in Toronto, fresh in the city by about a year when I saw him walking down a sidewalk.
I stopped him, offered to buy him a drink, and talk of old times, but he didn't seem interested. How, or why he'd ended up there, I'll never know.
Even as old as he was, just over a hundred then, he towered over me, and had that presence which was unmistakable. Unforgettable.
I still see it now. The middle of the night, and his house on fire, McMurty kneeling in the street, rocking back in forth as the light of flames danced across his face.
What I saw terrified me, I’ll tell you straight. There was nothing like it in this world, seen or imagined that I’ve ever come across to equal the like.
The next day he had disappeared, his family with him, never to pass through that town again.
* * *
As night fell, McMurty arrived back home, burst through the door, and with a manic energy he picked up Gladys and swung her around until she yelled at him to stop. He barked out a laugh and set her on the ground.
You can guess what news I’ve got! No don’t guess, I’ll tell you. Lead hand!” he said, smiling and swaggering momentarily. Gladys jumped up and hugged him laughing. Setting her down again, he walked over to the kitchen, looked around, and came back. “Where’d Alice go?"”
Gladys shrugged and brought a dish out of the wood stove, setting it carefully on the table. “She’s at the Reverend’s house again. In the morning while you were laying like a lump, she she had to go help him with something."
"Any idea what for?” McMurty asked, and began dishing food out onto the plates his daughter had set.
Later, McMurty sat at the table, smoking a pipe after his dinner. He was relaxed and happy that way. Pretty soon and it would be time to head out to work for the long summer months, when he could only dream of the luxuries he was enjoying right then.
"Gladys, some day you’ve got to show me how you make those pastries. By God if I made some of those up north while I was working, I could earn a small fortune.”
Gladys chucked a dish towel at him from where she stood by the wash basin. “I’d show you and you’d as likely forget, and within the half minute you stopped paying attention.”
McMurty replied with a smile, and a long draw on the pipe.
Outside the door, loud noises could be heard. Voices. Arguing. McMurty stood up as footsteps could be heard rushing up to the door. He braced himself to call out an answer to a knock, but the door just opened and in stepped the Reverend and his wife.
"Good evening Reverend," McMurty said to his new guests. "Can I help you with something?"
"Yes you can. Mrs. Thomas, it seems, has just given birth."
"What about it?" McMurty asked.
"It seems the newborn has the loveliest red hair you ever saw."
McMurty paled hearing those words, and he stood very still. "I...There must be a mistake, I'm sure of it."
"Don't give me any of that! You know exactly who the father is!”
"So why did you come here like this?" McMurty said. "Why'd you have to come in where my daughter could hear you?"
"I didn't come to curse you. I came to tell you that John Thomas knows. And he's beating his wife right now!"
McMurty looked over at his daughter, who was studiously avoiding his gaze.
"This is on you, McMurty."
McMurty stood still for a moment. Then, without a word, he ran out of the house, not looking back.
When McMurty arrived at the Thomas household, he stepped into the living room, and saw Mrs. Thomas, still half undressed in the manner of a woman giving birth. Her face was battered, and a large gash stood plainly out on her forehead. She wasn't moving.
McMurty looked around. No baby, no husband, and a sudden dread feeling creeping up on him. He ran out, heading back home as fast as his legs could carry him.
As he approached his house, McMurty's heart began to sink, he could see the smoke and flames billowing out of the windows. With an anguished cry, he sprinted madly over the last few hundred yards, passing Alice, who sat still on the dirt of the road in front of the house, a newborn child in her arms.
On the porch outside the house was John, the Reverend and his wife, all lying as if dead. John and the Reverend both had shotguns, and had wounds caused by the others gun. The Reverend's wife looked like she had shared her husband's fate.
Inside, he could see the flames starting to climb the walls. On the floor of the main room, he saw Gladys, Barely pausing to breathe, McMurty ran to his daughter, who looked up at him. He reached down toward her, but a piercing cry from the back room stopped him.
"Gracy!," Gladys said.
McMurty was torn with indecision.
"Save her, please!" Gladys begged.
McMurty ran into the back room, and found Gracy in her small crib. He picked her up, turned, but was forced to stop as the doorway collapsed in on itself.
McMurty started to panic. The heat was becoming unbearable. He tucked Gracy carfeully in his arms, then tilted his bulk towards the outer wall.
The wall splintered like dry twigs as he burst through. He ran around to the front, only to see the roof collapse inwards, showering sparks and debris everywhere.
Looking behind him, McMurty saw Alice, head down, trying to console the newborn in her arms. McMurty staggered over, and dropped to his knees beside her.
"How did this happen?" Alice asked.
A flash of reprieve flashed over McMurty's face for just a moment, quickly replaced by a look of crushing grief.
"God knows," McMurty said. "God knows."