1. Beginnings

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June 18, 1911

Today was Joshua's birthday.

Joshua's daddy was dying today.

Joshua's daddy was dying on his birthday.

"Joshua," his momma said, poking her head into the eighteen year old's room, "do you wanna come say goodbye to your daddy?" Her voice was full of emotion, thickened by the tears that she'd tried and failed to keep at bay. Joshua nodded, slowly rising from his flattened mattress covered in threadbare sheets to follow his momma to his parent's bedroom. He knew for a long time that his father was sick, and it was only a matter of time before he would pass.

Why did it have to be on his birthday?

Joshua could hear his father coughing from down the hall and he felt his own throat close up, tears stinging the backs of his eyes. As soon as his momma opened the door, the flood gates opened.

Joshua's father looked dead already. His skin was so pale and sunken in around his eyes and cheeks; he looked like a skeleton covered in nothing but a thin layer of skin. Joshua was very cautious, walking over to his father's bed slowly and carefully, not trusting his knees to not give out on him.

A slight creak of a floorboard caught his father's attention, his eyes snapping open and a smile gracing his lips as they landed on his only son - his only child. "My boy," he croaked our in his deep, southern accent, his hand reaching out for Joshua's. "Come 'ere, son," he said softly.

Joshua ignored the tears rolling down his cheeks as his father took his hand and squeezed. "What're ya cryin' for," his daddy asked. "It's your birthday! Ya should be celebratin'!"

Joshua felt more tears form in his eyes. "You're dyin', Daddy," he choked out.

William gave his son a soft smile, squeezing his hand once again. "I know I'm dyin', boy," he said with a forced smile. "That don't mean ya gotta be sad on your birthday."

Joshua nodded, willing his tears to go away and brushing off the ones that had already fallen just before his daddy spoke again. "I'm so prouda you, Joshua," he said softly. "You became a man before you had to, even if today is your eighteenth birthday and you're officially a man." Tears filled William's eyes as he continued. "We take care o' our own 'round here, and you've taken care o' everyone. You keep takin' care o' this house, and keep takin' care o' your momma. Ya hear me?"

Joshua nodded vigorously, squeezing William's hand with both of his. William's skin was getting colder and colder with each passing moment, but he smiled at Joshua anyway.

"I love you, Joshua."

Joshua Dun buried his father, William Dun, just a few hours later. He didn't even say the word 'goodbye.'

* * *

September 23, 1911

"We need the money, Joshua," Laura said in a defeated voice as she tied the laces on her boots.

Joshua looked at his momma in shock and slight disgust. "I can always jobs with the grocer or at Thomas's farmhouse," he tried to reason. "You don't need to sell yourself to drunkards at the brothel just because we need money, Momma!"

Laura closed her eyes and sighed. "Thomas don't got no work since his last cow died and the grocer won't pay you, 'member?" She stood up slowly, walking over to her floor mirror and examining her outfit before grabbing her parasol and turning to face Joshua, a sad smile on her face.

"I have to do this, baby," she said, placing a hand on his cheek. "You deserve to live better; easier."

Joshua do or say anything; he just watched with a blank face as his momma left the house, a slight sense of hesitation in her step.

Joshua stayed up all night, even after the sun began to rise for his Momma to come home.

She never did.

* * *

December 1, 1912

The winter solstice hadn't even passed yet, and the temperature had already reached an almost unbearable peak for Joshua to handle. He was deep in the wood surrounding the small Dun cottage gathering firewood when he heard the sound of a voice calling for help.

He stopped short, dropping the wood and walked toward the sound. "Hello?" His voice was loud, booming almost. "Is someone out there?"

"Help me!" The voice was a lot clearer now, and Joshua could tell it belonged to a young woman. The darkness of the evening made it a bit hard to see, but a soft glow from a lantern cause him to start running.

"Please," the woman pleaded as Joshua got closer. "Please, help me."

As Joshua got on the ground next to the young woman, he noticed she couldn't have been too much younger than him, probably the same age. "What's happened, Miss?"

The young woman shook her head and gripped onto Joshua's bicep for support. "I'm havin' a baby," she gasped out. "M-Momma and Daddy kicked me out, an' my husband t-tried t' kill me, so I ran. Please help me, Mister. Please."

It was at this point that Joshua looked down and noticed a large patch of blood on her dress surrounding a bullet hole just under her left rib cage. He hooked his arms under her legs and behind her back, allowing her to carry the lantern as her hurried to carry her back his home.

Upon making it to the cottage, Joshua kicked open the front door , carrying the woman to the fire place where a small fire was still burning. He laid her down on the rug in front of the fireplace, throwing the last remaining logs onto it and blowing on the embers to increase flames before turning back to her. "We need to stop your bleeding," he said softly.

The woman shook her head, grabbing Joshua's hand. "I need I have my baby before it dies, too," she reasoned. "Please; just help me."

Joshua nodded, helping the woman out of her dress and bloomer, rolling up his sleeves. He's helped cows and goats give birth before, so maybe he can help this woman with little difficulty.

After about fifteen minutes of the woman pushing and yelling at Joshua, using swear words he'd never even heard before, the baby's head was beginning to crown. "I see the baby," Joshua said excitedly. "Okay, keep pushing."

About thirty minutes later, the young gave one final push with a loud scream and Joshua was holding her crying baby in his arms. He grabbed a cloth he kept hanging on the back of a dining chair and cleaned off the baby, smiling. "It's a boy," he said softly, earning a smile from the woman.

He then picked up the woman's petticoat and wrapped up the baby boy, handing him to his mother. The young woman took the baby boy, smiling as she moved the cloth from his face. "Tyler," she said, her voice raw and worn out. "Tyler Robert Joseph." The words had no more then left her mouth when she slowly handed him back to Joshua.

Joshua took the baby - Tyler - and looked at the young woman in confusion.

"Take care of my boy," she whispered. Her head then rolled to the side, her pale skin suddenly seeming paler and Joshua automatically knew she was gone.

His attention then moved to the newborn baby in his arms and he nodded softly. Placing the baby gently on the wooden floor, running to his bedroom and grabbing his thickest blanket and bringing it back to the den. There was an empty wicker basket in the corner of the room, which he stuffed the blanket into and then laid the baby inside, carrying him in front of the fireplace.

He stayed seated on the wooden floor by the box, his hand gently petting the soft tufts of hair coating Tyler's head. "I'll take care of you," he whispered to the newborn boy.

"I promise."

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