“GET OFF OF ME!” Nathan roared. “GET OFF!”

“Let go of the pellets!” one of the Elders shouted, gripping Nathan’s wrist and slamming his clenched fist against the ground.

Nathan continued to grip onto that packet of poison pellets like his life depended on it, though. They would have to take it from him by force, it was the only way.

“Hold his hand still,” Doctor Hogue ordered, trying to pry Nathan’s fingers off one at a time.

Nathan focused all his strength to rotate his fingertips inward, making it impossible for anyone to get a good grip on them.

“Mister Prewitt, please! This will only be worse for you and the outcome will still be the same.”

“You’re nothing but animals!” Nathan spat back.

“Bring him over to the table” Samuel Iverson ordered.

Nathan contorted his body every way that he could, but there were simply too many hands gripping him to shake them all off. He tried to throw a few more punches and kicks, but each limb was pinned down by at least three people. Powerless to resist, he was borne upward and carried over to the table where Samuel Iverson was waiting with the hammer.

“Hold his arm steady…” Samuel raised and lowered the hammer to sync his hand-eye coordination. “I don’t want to hit any of you…. Last chance, Nathan.”

“You can all just–“

Wham!

Samuel slammed the hammer down and Nathan’s curse was overridden by a shout of pain instead.

Wham!

The hammer came crashing down again and Nathan clenched his teeth, wheezing forcefully through them.

“That’s it, that’s it!” One of the Elders exclaimed, finally prying the packet from Nathan’s broken fingers.

“Run them under water,” Samuel instructed, and the woman who had spoken emptied the contents of the packet into a metal tray in the corner, poured the water from her bottle onto the pellets, and started stirring them with a stick.

All the hands relaxed their hold on Nathan. Some of the Elders stood nearby to make sure he wouldn’t try anything stupid, others went to watch the pellets being dissolved, and still others went to calm some concerned citizens who had heard the shouting and come to check if everything was alright. Nathan, meanwhile, rolled onto his side and cradled his brutalized hand, hot tears running down the sides of his face.

“Here, hand me my bag,” Doctor Hogue sighed heavily. He pulled a seat over to Nathan’s table and put his glasses on. “Let me see those fingers, boy, I’ll get you bandaged up.”

A growl of pain settled deep in the back of Nathan’s throat as the Doctor flexed his palm, finding what bones were out of alignment and setting them back in place.

“Ellen, pull out a length of bandage, would you?” Doctor Hogue said to another of the Elders.

“Twelve inches?”

“No, don’t cut it yet, just feed it to me as I wrap it around.” The Doctor glanced briefly Nathan’s eyes, then dropped his gaze back to the broken hand. “I’m sorry, Nathan, I really am. I recognize that–in your own way–you were only trying to do what you felt was best.”

“Who gives you the right?–” Nathan’s voice was barely audible as his body trembled with rage and pain. “Who gives you the right to stop a man trying to save this miserable world?”

Doctor Hogue shook his head. “No one. I’m not your priest or your president. There’s no ‘right’ here. It’s not about that.”

“What?!”

“It’s not about who’s right or wrong anymore. Hasn’t been for years. It’s just about survival. There,” he turned to Ellen, “that’s enough bandage. Cut it.”

As Doctor Hogue finished his work the last of the pellets disintegrated into the tray of water. Three of the Elders left out the corrugated door to pour the tray’s muddied contents somewhere safe. Everyone who remained turned to Samuel Iverson to see what he would say.

“Well, Mister Prewitt,” Samuel laid the hammer back in the tool chest, “the least we can do is offer you shelter until your hand recovers. Perhaps we could even find you a home here–“

But Nathan slid off the table and marched straight for the door. Two of the elders moved to block him.

“Nathan please, be sensible–” Doctor Hogue began but Samuel raised a hand for silence.

“Nathan doesn’t have to take anything from us if he doesn’t want it. I’m sure we can all understand that. Step aside, fellows.”

The way was cleared and Nathan pushed the door open with his one good hand. He didn’t look over his shoulder once, he didn’t call anything back behind him, he didn’t even hesitate for a single moment. He just stomped up the path, making a beeline for the front gates.

“Hey now!” Thompson the gate guard raised a hand as Nathan approached the fence.

But Samuel Iverson had come up behind Nathan, and he assured the guards that everything was alright. So the gate was opened, Nathan took his weapons with his good hand, and then he continued his march out of the city and down the winding path that ran to the east. Samuel remained just inside of the city gates, watching Nathan’s retreating back, and after a moment Doctor Hogue and Ellen came to join him.

“It’s just as well that he leaves,” Samuel sighed. “I wouldn’t have slept easy so long as he stayed in the city.”

“Seven years!” the old woman shook her head. “Seven years he’s been making his way out here, just to have it all end like that?!”

“Everybody’s story ends like that,” Samuel replied. “Everybody’s story is tragic and disappointing these days.”

“But think how much worse of scrapes he must have already gotten out of. You’d think this wouldn’t be the first time he’s run into a situation like this.”

“It wasn’t,” Doctor Hogue said.

“What?”

“I noticed it when bandaging him up…his hand has been broken before. You’re right, Ellen, you’d think he would have learned.”

Down the trail, Nathan tugged on his backpack strap with his good hand, pulling it closer to his body. In between his winces of pain a small smile played across his lips.

“You fools,” he laughed. “All of you. You’re all fools. None of you understand what true commitment is. None of you understand resolve. And that’s why none of you will ever understand the lengths I’ll go to to finish my mission. That’s why none of you will ever stop me!”


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