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The terror and the shock never left Airy Falls after that hot summer day when Dustin Kitsrue killed his father. Many would question what was more terrifying: the moment when the boy pressed the gun to the man’s forehead and pulled the trigger, or when the boy walked through the town after the deed was done, floating as if he was some kind of ghost? For Dustin Kitsrue, the most terrifying moment that day was when he threw his father away from his retreating mother and smelled his rancid breath, detecting not a drop of alcohol in it. It was during that moment that Dustin recognized the monster inside his father. Ivan Kitsrue, the man who had killed his own kid daughter in cold blood and convinced the townspeople she had accidentally fallen off a ladder and died, had something worse than alcoholic rage. He had an evil growing inside of him, rotting away at the depths of his mind and pushing him closer to the edge of insanity every day. On June 14th, when Dustin smelled the breath of the man, he decided it was time to kill the monster.
No one in Airy Falls would forget what happened that day at high noon. None of them admit being there, of course; they claim they were out in Lisben, the next town over, doing business or visiting a relative. Margaret Sue Jodie claims she had packed up the wagon that morning and took her kids to see the old dry falls south of town, but she knows exactly what happened that day: she was there, and she had the best view, considering the Kitsrue’s were her neighbors at the time. They’re not neighbors anymore, of course. By nightfall of June 14th, Sarah Kitsrue, Ivan Kitsrue’s wife and mother of Dustin, was the only Kitsrue left in Airy Falls. In time she would disappear as well, gone in the dead of night to seek greener pastures and escape the haunting memory of that day.
June 14th is a stifling summer day with heat that beats relentlessly down upon Airy Falls, hinting at a long summer and fall. Margaret Sue Jodie is sweeping the floor of her kitchen at about 9 in the morning when she sees Ivan Kitsrue (that old bumbling drunk, she thinks to herself) leave the Kitsrue residence, heading toward Main Street. Probably out bar-hopping, thinks Margaret. After all, Ivan is a notorious alcoholic, known for beating his wife and kids regularly. What few kids he has left, she thinks. The oldest of them ran away a few years ago. Probably figured out what happened to his sister.
Both Ivan and his wife, Sarah, told the townspeople three years ago that Anita’s death was an accident. Most people, however, suspected little Anita hadn’t been killed by falling off a ladder. On the day of Anita’s death, the bartender in town, Andy Friedworth, remembers seeing Ivan Kitsrue sitting at a table in his bar, and Andy, like everyone in town, knows Ivan is a mean son-of-a-gun when he is drunk. Andy Friedworth tells his wife the odd thing he’d noticed later that night, however. Apparently, Andy didn’t pour Ivan a drink all night. Instead, Ivan just sits alone at a table in the back, with “the strangest look in his eye. Like, almost as if he were lost in his brain, or something,” Andy proclaims to his wife, satisfied with his use of a simile. He figures Ivan has gotten drunk somewhere else, and is brooding in his rage. When the man gets up to leave, Andy fears for whoever will cross his path that night. Not that Andy tries to stop him; that glazed look in Ivan’s eyes has Andy Friedman scared half to death.
Ivan heads to the bar on June 14th, but unlike Margaret Sue’s suspicions, he doesn’t drink. He just sits there, that same lost look resting on his face again. Andy Friedman would eventually claim he hadn’t been in town that day, but sure enough he is there, working the bar.
“Somethin’ to drink, Ivan?” asks Andy, approaching Ivan cautiously. Ivan has that same look on his face again today, and he doesn’t notice Andy approach or hear his question. He just stares off into space, and that’s just fine by Andy Friedman. The bartender slowly backs away and keeps his distance from Ivan’s table until Ivan gets up and leaves.
Margaret Sue Jodie sees Ivan Kitsrue return to his house around eleven thirty that morning. She is preparing lunch for her kids when she sees the man stumble, as if in a trance, into the small wooden cabin he calls home. Margaret assumes the man is drunk and feels pity for Sarah and Dustin, the latter who must be fourteen or fifteen by now (she can never remember ages, she hardly knows her own). Margaret Sue figures it won’t be long until one of the two meets the same fate as little Anita. At least, Margaret thinks, they’ll finally be able to lock away Ivan Kitsrue for good. And good riddance that’ll be, the drunken brute. If Margaret Sue knew what was really going on in Ivan Kitsrue’s head that day, her hair would turn snow white.
Thirty seconds later Margaret hears the breaking sound of glass and a short, woman-like scream that comes from the Kitsrue house, and at that point, Margaret finally considers running to town to get help. However, she freezes when she sees a boy approach the Kitsrue residence. It is Dustin Kitsrue, who has seen more abuse and horror than anyone should in a lifetime. Margaret Sue always remarks that the boy’s eyes make him look older than he is, and in a way she fears his glare. It is a different fear than the one she feels for his drunken brute of a father. Margaret Sue fears Dustin because she imagines he sees right through her.
Just as Dustin disappears into the doorway, Margaret sees revolvers on his hips. Now she knows things are going to be bad. So does she run into town, and warn someone about it? Of course not. She figures it is better to let people like Ivan and Dustin alone, Ivan with his temper and Dustin with his stare. That damned stare, she thinks, and continues preparing lunch.
Dustin had been playing dice in an alley with some friends when Ken Atman, a local drunk, came running in from the street. The man claimed Dustin’s father had been at the bar and had “the weirdest look in his eye.” Dustin had run home and grabbed the bronze revolvers he stole from the town armory last week, aware that this might be the day he would kill his father.
Dustin comes through the front door and sees drops of blood running down the door to his parents’ bedroom. He practically flies through that door and comes upon his father, who is advancing upon his defenseless wife. Sarah Kitsrue cowers in her closet, her face streaked with blood and tears, deep in prayer, hoping God can save her from the monster she’d married. Dustin sees in his father’s hand the broken beer bottle, with threatening edges that have already done some work on his mother. The boy can’t see his father’s face, but he knows it all too well: a trancelike stare, accompanied by bloodshot eyes and a twisted snarl.
Dustin jumps forward and grabs his father’s collar. With strength unlike his own, Dustin throws his old man backwards. Ivan Kitsrue’s head collides with the wall, and the man sinks to the floor, dropping the broken bottle. Dustin picks it up, and shoves it under the man’s chin. Sarah Kitsrue, believing her son is about to kill Ivan, shouts:
“NO!” Dustin does not turn to look at her. Instead, he says:
“I said get out. I don’t want to see your face ever again, got it? Part of me wants to kill you too, for what you did to Anita, but you’re not worth it. So get out.”
Sarah Kitsrue realizes Dustin knows about the cover-up of Anita’s murder. She is speechless and finally she understands that in Dustin’s eyes she is just as evil as Ivan. In that realization a part of her dies, and she begins to feel cold and empty inside. Letting out a sob, the woman runs out of the room, leaving a trail of blood behind her.
Dustin turns back to his father, and it is then he smells the man’s foul breath. He smells the beans Sarah made for breakfast in his breath, but that is all. No alcohol taints that breath, no liquor. Just beans, and a faint smell of alkali from the desert air. Dustin’s heart freezes in his chest: finally, he understands that Ivan Kitsrue is no longer a man, but a monster. It is not alcohol that fuels the man’s rage. It is something in his mind, some sickness, some evil. Dustin finds this to be unforgivable and knows now he cannot allow Ivan Kitsrue to live. He speaks in the breathless monster’s ear:
“Grab your guns, come out on the street, and face your fate, coward.” Dustin deals the old man a kick to the gut, and Ivan slouches forward in pain. Dustin smashes the broken beer bottle on the floor and walks out of the house, following his mother’s bloody path.
By now half the town is standing in the street, having heard Sarah Kitsrue’s wails as she flees her house. The acting deputy, Sherman Grant, a young man reputed to have a belly shaded rather yellow, sees Dustin Kitsrue walk out of the house and recognizes the bronze revolvers on the boy’s hips.
Aren’t those the same revolvers that went missing last week from the armory? He wonders. Of course they were. Sherman Grant doesn’t act on this realization. He has seen the look in the boy’s eyes, and decides it is be better to play dumb today.
Ivan Kitsrue emerges through the door of the house wearing the family revolvers on his hips and an expression of pure hatred on his face. Sherman Grant and the other townspeople of Airy Falls simultaneously decide it is wiser to watch the rest of this scene from inside the buildings on Main Street. Within a matter of seconds, the street is deserted, save the boy and his father.
“You, boy,” Ivan spits the words out. They are less than fifteen feet apart, but Dustin doesn’t flinch.
Suddenly, the bell for high noon rings. The countless citizens sitting inside bars and pubs on Main Street gasp. The clang echoes above Airy Falls, ringing at the perfect time: it is almost as if God got tired of the talking and rings the bell to see the shooting.
Dustin draws first with his right hand. After all, he has practiced with these guns all week. Ivan, still groggy from Dustin’s kick to his gut, is slow to draw, getting his revolver stuck in his belt. Dustin aims, and it should all be over.
Dustin’s revolver misfires.
The boy curses, flips the cartridge and fires again. It is jammed now; the gun is useless. Now Ivan rips the gun free from his belt and lets out a triumphant cry.
“Time to join your sister-“ Two gunshots cut him off. The arrogant look washes off Ivan Kitsrue’s face; his eyes seem blank, once again. He looks down at his light gray plaid button-down shirt and observes two red splotches on his upper chest, dark clouds that spread rapidly on his torso. Dustin is walking toward him now, a smoking gun in his left hand.
He drew his other gun, Ivan realizes. His heart is now pounding in his ears, and he figures that is a good sign; it hasn’t stopped ticking yet. Monsters are nearly impossible to kill. How could he have drawn so fast? Now blood pours out of his open mouth and over his chin. It begins to puddle in the sand at his feet. Ivan tries with all his might to raise his arm, to shoot the boy. Instead, he feels the gun fall from his fingers, landing in the puddle of blood below. Falling to his knees, the world becomes a blur. He looks up and feels cold metal pressed against his forehead. He looks directly into his son’s eyes. They are so cold.
Dustin pulls the trigger. Ivan Kitsrue’s face seems to convulse inward, as if it is made of paste. The man continues his sentence, but the words are garbled as his brain shuts down, and what he says sounds like, “Agh, ughah ugh ugh.” Ivan’s body jerks backward and twitches in the sand, before it finally comes to rest.
Dustin turns and walks up the street. Sarah Kitsrue, having watched the entire showdown from behind the shed in Margaret Sue Jodie’s yard, can take no more; she faints and will not wake for days. Dustin continues up the street, past almost a hundred townspeople gaping in awe from windows and tavern doors. The only one to speak is Deputy Sherman Grant, who steps out from behind the tavern doors and attempts to catch Dustin’s attention.
“Son, are those the guns from the armory?” he stammers, acting as though Dustin’s theft of the guns is a bigger deal than the boy blowing his father’s brains out in the middle of town. Dustin seems not to notice Sherman, and walks right past him and up the dusty street. Sherman Grant does not pursue the boy further; he has seen the look in Dustin’s eyes. Dustin reaches the stable at the far end of Main Street and heads inside. He grabs his horse and leads him out into the street. For a moment the bartender Andy Friedworth is sure Dustin is going to put the gun to the animal’s head and put him down, just as he put his father down. Why not, thinks Andy in terror. Violence runs in the family. Once he’s finished the horse, he’ll come back for us.
Dustin does none of that. Instead, he mounts the horse and rides away, leaving Airy Falls behind him. The shocked townspeople watch him go, aware they might not be able to forget what happened on that day for a long time. For Deputy Sherman Grant, it is the eyes of that boy that will haunt him in his sleep for years to come. They are not the eyes of a sad man, or the eyes of a madman.
They are the eyes of a killer, and they see right through him.