His Duty by Jack Wallen

The inspiring song for the first round of If Music Be The Food flash fiction is by The Naked & Famous. The song is called “Rotten”. Have a listen before you read the next entry, written by Jack Wallen!

His Duty

He’d searched for days in the Appalachian hills; through rain-soaked earth, mud, and the frigid air of dark October nights. His torn and tattered work boots were caked with the clay of remorse and regret, but nothing would stop his trek to find her.

His sense of duty drove him; pride propelled him to seek out the only solution to that which had plagued his family for over a decade.


An unspoken word, that. Every man and woman to live in the once-burgeoning coal-country understood the depth and breadth of the effects that having nothing brought. But the word itself was, for the most part, a mystery. Generations of profound poverty stripped away the American dream to the point where the have-nots knew not. There were no jobs in this forgotten section of the country; no relief in sight from a government who’d turned its back on the cast offs of society. They were lost, but they were not without help. Or so said the dark tales.

Hushed whispers spread through the church pews and cracked streets of town. A woman. A witch. Near the top of Breaking Bones hill lay a path that led to the only possible salvation from the shame that had spread among the people. At the end of an overgrown trail was rumored a shack that stood against time and the elements—held together by soaking wet cotton, blood, and dirt.

He had no choice. His life was already forfeit by the starvation racking his family with a pain he wanted them to never know. His children held their bellies and cried for a plate of food he could not provide. Even with his wife insisting she’d love him through every heartache, he could not continue the endless cycle of need, of life.

The trail was lined with trees, long dead from a blight no one could explain. A curse on our land, the people of town bemoaned. He knew better. This was nothing more than living the life of Appalachian misery in rural Kentucky; it ran deep in the blood.

Before him a door stood sentinel, fighting off entropy with the help of rust and sheer will. His balled up fist hovered before the cracked and moldy wood. He swallowed a dry lump down and knocked.



Before his knuckles could make contact a third time, a flood of doubt washed through his system. This is the only way, he thought. Another swallow; another knock.

The door rattled before slowly creaking open on hinges perfectly suited for the coming holiday—another moment in time that would pass the town by to serve as a reminder to shoeless and toothless children how little they mattered to the world.

The idea of losing control and sprinting off into the darkness of night was nipped at the bud when the door came to rest; fully open to expose the candle lit and shadow-strewn inside of the hovel.

“You know the consequences of seeking me out,” a grave and hoarse voice called out from within.

“I do,” he answered.

“Have you written your lovely note?”

“I have.”

A hand of crooked and leather-skinned fingers reached from the darkness. He dug deep into the pocket of his tattered overalls and withdrew the folded paper on which he had scrawled his intent. The crone’s hand disappeared and the sound of tearing paper filled the silence. A flash of firelight cast a twisted shadow of purist deformity across the door. His feet begged to flee.

“Go back to your home, wrap the noose around your neck, and hang until life departs. Once your spirit makes its way to me, your family will find the means to survive. Is that clear?”

“They’ll have food?”

“They will.”

“They’ll have clothing?”

“They will.”

“They’ll keep their home?”

“They will.”

Without a second thought or another word, he turned and wound his way through the path to slowly return home.

His family would no longer struggle under the weight of rotten needs; the trail of debt he’d left behind would vanish. The sacrifice of his soul was one he’d gladly make to ensure his wife and children survived.

This was his duty.