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Left For Dead (Sitting on the Edge of Karma)

Dead Barn

Dead Barn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by L.M.Couch and Jerriann Law, an preview Excerpt from Dark Soul Haunts

Emily spent most of her childhood being abused by her drug addicted  parents. Her dad was an alcoholic, and her mom was a meth-user and crack-head. There was really nothing that Emily’s parents wouldn’t do.

Emily Clemmons had tried to run away many times, but the police would always bring her back. Because she’d involved the authorities and brought Law enforcement to the house, placing  Richard and Jessica at risk, as well as under scrutiny, as soon as they were sure there weren’t extra eyes or ears around, she was punished: beaten, denied food, even locked

in her room.

At night, while her mother would be passed out from her latest drug ingesting, her drunken father would unlock her door, and say, “Hello, doll; time to play our game.”

Emily feared the night worse than any other time…and years of this same, ugly routine continued, unchanged.

Richard and Jessica weren’t exactly Parents of the Year, by anyone’s standards, but they tended to put up a front that deceived a lot of people who never bothered to dig very deep. To hear Jessica tell it, “Why, we Clemmons attend church every Sunday. Praise the Lord! Sure, we have faults, but so does everyone else. Yeah, we’re dealing with a troubled teen who’s run away and she’s a liar. You can’t believe anything that comes out of Emily’s mouth. She started having boyfriends at an early age, and the girl’s hard to handle…a typical teen these days. Little Emo girl cuts her arms for the hell of it. Or is she Goth, Richard? What is it with the black lipstick and spiked hair? Look, we don’t keep up with the freaks she calls friends, but she’s truly troubled, there’s no joke about it.”

When she was ten, her parents had taken a $50,000.00 Life Insurance Policy out on her, and regardless of family cash flow, they never missed a payment. Of many things Richard and Jessica argued about, paying on Emily’s policy had never been an issue. They both agreed on it being a necessity.

(***)

When Emily turned eighteen, while they were eating cake and ice cream and having a cookout, they said to her, “Now that you’re eighteen, we’re  curious about your plans for the future.”

“I’ll be graduating in two weeks. In the fall, I’m going to college, out of state.”

Richard and Jessica exchanged looks.

Jessica asked, “What about Stephen? Are you and he serious?”

“Oh, we have an understanding. Actually, he’s going to the Navy and he will be leaving the day after graduation. We’ll keep in touch, but at this stage we think of each other as friends only. We realize how long distant relationships are hard to hold together unless there is true dedication, and we feel we’re just going in opposite directions.”

Jessica nodded to Richard, “Our little girl is truly growing up. She’s got more a head on her shoulders than we expected she’d have.”

“Yeah, let’s pat our backs; we did good.” Richard laughed.

(***)

Emily and Stephen spent that last evening, after graduating, feeling rather bittersweet about their next day’s parting.

He said, “So what did you tell your parents about us?”

“What they’d want to hear, of course. We’re going different directions…and we’re friends, that’s all. They don’t have to know what lies in our hearts.”

“Well, I know you have some pretty dark feelings for them, because of the past. Do you think you can ever let it go and just leave it behind?”

“They brought me into this world, and really as far as I care, that’s the best thing they did. Everything else is sitting on the edge of karma, and it’s due to catch up with them.”

“Baby, I don’t know what you mean, but let’s not spoil these minutes. Let’s make it sweet, so we both have good memories to recall when thinking back to now.” Stephen said, kissing her.

Emily gave in to his tender caress, and let the time be consumed with Stephen as her focus, and all else far from them and of no concern.

The next day, she went with him to the train station to see him off to training camp. They promised to keep in touch, and not forget their feelings for each other.

(***)

Emily had rented a small, one room apartment when she’d turned eighteen. She also worked at Max-Mart, and would continue saving as much as possible, until the college opened in the fall; She’d received a scholarship to help her with tuition, but she still needed extra cash to get her through the semester.

A knocking on her door came one evening as she was eating her homemade noodle and vegetable soup. She wasn’t expecting anyone to drop by.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Mom; open up, Honey.”

Emily hesitated, wondering whatever in the world did she want? She opened the door, and her mother entered. It was the first time she’d been there since Emily had moved in.

“Oh, I like this place. You’ve made it so cozy. Poster framed pictures…who is that?”

“Phantom of the Opera,” Emily said.

“And you have the Tragedy and Comedy masks to compliment him…good idea. I like that you have used red and purple cushions to accent the black sofa. And one zebra pattern right in the middle. I never knew you had such a touch for décor, girl.”

“I guess there’s a lot about me you never knew,” Emily said.

Jessica said, “I didn’t come here to argue. In fact, I’d like you to come with me. We need to meet your father over at the Curly Porker Liquor store. He’s waiting for us.”

“What happened to his truck?”

“Yeah, his truck broke down.”

“But why do you need me? I have work tomorrow.”

“Come on, Emily! Baby-girl, let’s go pick up your dad. We’re family. We wanted to share time with you. We hardly see you anymore. We miss you, baby.”

Emily wanted to say, oh you miss beating me up, I guess, but she kept her mouth shut. She got her shoulder bag, and they left. As she locked the door behind her, she had a bad feeling that something was off here. Her parents never invited her to go with them anywhere and she was still underage to go inside a liquor store.

“Will Daddy be outside? You know I’m underage. Are we going anywhere else? I can’t be out for long.”

Jessica said nothing, but she held the door until Emily sat down and buckled up, before she got behind the steering wheel and pulled out in the street.

They drove for a few minutes and passed very few vehicles. Emily realized this did imply the lateness of the hour. “Take me back home, I need to go to bed. I can’t be late for work, really.”

Emily felt nervous and confused by this late night ride. But Jessica refused to say anything or to turn back. They passed by the Curly Porker, without slowing down. That’s when Jessica really got worried.

“Mom, where are we going?” she asked. “You passed up the liquor store where you said Dad was waiting for us.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. We have a surprise for you.” She sped up, as they drove past the city limits sign and took the county road. Out here, there were no street lamps to light the road; only the headlights stabbed the murky darkness.

Jessica drove about five miles until she reached the water tower. She swung around its fenced-in base and into a dirt lane with cornfields on either side.

Emily wanted to duck her head as the dirt lane grew narrower and the corn stalks tighter against the side of the car, making scratching noises. She gritted her teeth, but Jessica barely slowed momentum. It was dark and frightening out here.

And then ahead of them came the head beams of another vehicle and some huge, dark building loomed around the bend in the funnel road.

“Good, there’s your Daddy. He’s waiting, just as I said.” She pulled up and stopped in front of a barn.

Emily stared at how it leaned at a slant, and its roof was missing sheets of tin. Also some of the tin had curled back on itself. Damage received in a former wind storm, she guessed.

But then a dark form blocked her view. Her heart skipped a beat.

Jessica took the key and opened her door. “Get out, baby-girl. We need to talk.”

She said, “I don’t want to. Take me home.”

“Richard, she’s being stubborn. See what you can do with her. She been a bitch all the way over here.”

The car door flew open, and her arm was wrenched hard, but the seat belt held her in place. Richard glared at her, “Unbuckle the damn thing and get your ass out of the car. We got you here for a reason.”

Her hands were shaking, and her shoulder ached, but she finally got the buckle undone. And then he yanked her again by the arm, back-handing her, once she was free of the car.

Jessica maneuvered to stand behind Emily, just as she’d done many times before, when they’d beat the crap out of her.

“What do you want? I haven’t done anything for your anger…this makes no sense.”

“No, on the contrary, Emily…it makes plenty of cents…for us, anyway, when they find your murdered body and don’t ever solve the case…and the insurance pays us our money.” Richard said. “They’ll never suspect us. Why should they? You don’t even live at home anymore. That’s why we feel like it’s time to cash in on that life policy, before you get too comfortable and too far away from us. We know you hate us, after all; we made you that way.”

“So this is about money? You always did care more about it than for your daughter.” Emily’s fear had washed away, and her own anger had risen to the forefront.

“Yeah, maybe that’s because you’re not our daughter,” Richard laughed. “Tell her, Jess.”

Emily turned around so she could see Jessica’s face. Moonlight bathed it, but the planes of the face, in comparison to the shadowy hollows, gave Jessica a warped, ugly appearance.

“What’s he talking about?” Her voice cracked.

Her whole world’s firm foundation crumbled as Jessica spoke.

“We took you as a newborn from an unwed crack-head mother. I’d been pregnant, but the baby was stillborn; that’s how we pulled it off. We took you for our own. We just said you were born in the car. I never went to the hospital, but I did go to a doctor and made sure he’d confirm I’d birthed a child, recently. They didn’t need to know mine was a freak of nature…three-eyed and three-armed.”

“That’s enough…geesh, Jess, you always over-elaborate. Don’t remind me.”

“Aw, Richard…show you got balls…admit to the girl, she was just a replacement.”

“Fuck you, Jess…you’re a bitch and always have been.”

“Oh yeah, and by the way, I know about your little game you played with her…when you thought me so zonked I’d never catch on.”

“Well, you never stopped it…no matter how she begged for help.”

“She wasn’t our kid, so why get my ass in the way?” Jessica shrugged, indifferently.

Emily couldn’t believe her ears. She’d known? All that time, she’d known and never tried to stop him? “Why?” she asked.

“I just told you why.”

“No, there had to be more a reason why you let him hurt me that way.” Emily ran at her, and bit her on the chin. Jessica flayed out with her hands. Emily then bit her on the shoulder, but cloth blocked the effectiveness of that bite.

Richard grabbed Emily’s hair and yanked backward, pulling her off-balance. They both started kicking her as she went down.

Sobbing, and wanting to survive, she begged, “Please, don’t hurt me. I’ll do what you want.”

“I’m sure you will. You always did, in a pinch.” Richard smirked, raising his fist and bringing it down for a punch…but moonlight glinted on metal: a knife!

Jessica’s scornful laughter filled her ears, as the brutal knife stabbed, and stabbed.

Emily’s hearing turned into a roaring that deafened her into silence. Her vision also triangulated, red and black triangles spinning around until all blurred to dark.

(***)

Jessica came running into the living room, after having signed for a letter from the postal carrier. “Honey, we got it! It’s the check.”

“Oh, hell, yeah; they sure took their sweet time,” Richard said from his recliner. He grabbed the envelope and opened it, took a look and then kissed it. “Finally, our payoff for taking care of that snotty-nosed lil’ bitch.”

Jessica jerked the check from his hands and also laid several smooches on its blue paper. “FIVE-ZERO-ZERO-ZERO-ZERO smackaroos! We so deserve this for all the shit she put us through.”

“Damn right…well, when can we take this to the bank and get it cashed?”

“Today, if you hurry and get dressed. Bank closes at four p.m.” Jessica said. “We’ve got forty minutes.”

“We need to shower, so get hopping,” Richard jumped up and raced to the door. “Come on, we can shower faster together.”

Jessica put the check in her purse and hurried to join him.

(***)

Up in the attic, Emily heard her parents slamming the car doors, and then the revving motor, followed by the crunch of gravel as Richard backed down the drive.

She had a lot to do to be ready for when they returned.

Emily left the attic for the first time in weeks, since she’d come to and found herself out there on that lonely road. It had taken her a bit to lose that disorientation and remember where she was, why she was there, who had brought her there, and how to follow them back to where she could get them good, for what they’d done to her.

But she had gravitated back to the house she’d called home and to the two people she’d been raised to believe were her parents. People who had been inexplicably cruel to her, but they’d admitted to her the truth of her beginning…and then had done the ultimate sin. Revenge, oh, it would be sweet.

(***)

She went out to the wood shed behind the house, where Richard kept his tools and wheel barrow and lawnmower. What she wanted would be there. She found a coffee can full of big, rusty nails.

Memory flashed of Richard holding one up, and saying, “These are twenty penny nails, big enough to have been used on Christ. They didn’t have these kind back in his day, but believe me, these suckers will do damage. You wanna try it out?” He’d laughed as she ran to the house. She hadn’t been sure for several days, whether he’s only joked or if he really meant to do it to her during one of his drunken spells.

She also found a loop of hemp rope, and then right by the door, hanging there on its pegs, was the hammer-headed axe. All of this should suffice.

She returned to the attic to wait.

(***)

It was dark when the car returned. She watched from the attic window. She knew they wouldn’t see her, since she was in the dark. The headlights cut through the dark, highlighting bushes and outdoor furniture. And then it pulled up to its usual place near the front door.

They got out, slamming the doors. She heard them as well as if she stood beside them.

“Damn it, fucking bank…they’re holding the check for ten days. That sucks,” Richard kicked the side of the car in his frustration.

“It’s standard procedure, Richard. But they did say it might clear sooner. Don’t worry; if Glade Country Insurance hadn’t come to the conclusion we’re due the money, they’d never have issued it.”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to buy a riding mower and a big screen TV and a new mattress and some other shit. Plus, babe…let’s go traveling. Anywhere in particular you’d like to go?”

“We’ll use this time to plan just what-all we do want and where to go. Man, this is the life,” Jessica giggled. They met and placed arms around each other.

They stepped out of view as they mounted the steps to the porch.

Emily moved across to the trap door and knelt there, listening.

With her hands on the floor, the vibrations of the two people shutting the door and walking the wooden floors below carried to her.

She closed her eyes, allowing her mind to sync with the house. Her vision gave her the room they were in, and she focused on the gilt-edged mirror her mother loved to preen in front of.

Let loose the wall,” she willed. “Fall and shatter.”

The clattering ring of broken glass came up through the floor-board cracks. Quite satisfying to her was the startled scream her mother made, and the outburst from her father, “I’ll be damned! What the hell?”

“Richard, did you see how it did? I swear it jumped off the wall at me. If I hadn’t leaped back, it would have struck me.”

Richard held her. “No, it just seemed that way. A freak accident. The nail fell out, probably rotten wood. We might have termites and not know it. I’ll check it out, tomorrow. Let’s go to bed. We already ate at Roster’s Grill.”

They went to their bedroom.

Emily continued watching them as they prepared for bed.

In the bathroom, her mother lingered, while her father threw his lank, hairy body on the bed and covered his bare legs with the comforter.

“Come to bed, Baby. I’m in the mood for you, Sugar-Mama.” He patted the bed beside him.

Emily stood behind Jessica as she stared in the bathroom mirror cabinet. She opened it and took down a bottle of pills. Her hands shook as she poured out a handful and popped them in her mouth. She reached for a small plastic cup, filled it with water and drank.

“I’m coming,” she yelled, closing the cabinet mirror door…taking at last look at her reflection.

Emily stared back at her; bruised, bloody, swollen cheeks and lower lip, both eyes ringed with dark purple, the rest of her face a pasty white.

Jessica reached up and raked at her face and left bloody tracks as she shrieked at high pitch.

Richard ran into the bathroom, naked, and alarmed, “What’s going on?”

“Emily’s face stared at me from the mirror.”

“Bullshit…what is this with you and mirrors? You having a lapse of consciousness all of a sudden? Look, we deserve that money; we never missed a payment for all those years. Don’t go freaking out on me. If you lose your mind, don’t think I won’t take it all. Should I have you committed for evaluation?” He threw a wash cloth at her. “Clean up, and maybe trim those nails. I never liked how you scratch me, sometimes…well, especially afterwards. They take a long time to heal; maybe now you’ll sympathize.”

“Bastard, just leave me alone. Forget about it. We ain’t sleeping in the same bed.”

“Where you gonna sleep, because don’t expect me to go sleep on the damn couch, woman. I claim the bed, since I’ve already been in it.”

“There’s another bedroom. I’ll sleep in there.”

“Now, I really think you’re crazy. You just claimed you saw her, and you want to sleep in her room, in her bed?”

“Yes, that’s right. And don’t bother me in there like you did her. Your twisted little worm can go crawl off to some other fucking hole.” A door slammed, followed by another door slamming.

Richard threw his body back on the bed and punched his pillow until he got it the way he wanted it under his head.

Emily was sickened by him, for he lay there cussing a stream; vile bastard. She focused on the framed painting of an Indian on a horse, standing in a stream. It hang above the bed.

Come loose from the wall,” she ordered. Fall on him. Fall on his head.

Just as the mirror had done, the heavy framed painting bounced off the wall.

Richard saw it coming and quickly rolled off the bed and hit the floor with a thud. The house shook from that vibration.

The picture lay face down on the bed, tilted slightly by the folded pillow.

Lucky bastard; but now maybe he has an idea how she felt.

The noise brought Jessica running back into the room. She took in everything from the doorway…and the sight triggered remorse and pity. She ran to him, hugged him, kissed him.

He sat up, “It sprang off the wall; look at its wire; it’s not broken.”

“Look at where it hang, honey.”

“The hanger is up there. All these years and that picture has hung there. What if it had done that with us asleep some night; it would have hit us both. That is crazy!” Richard snorted.

Jessica sat down on the edge of the bed, yawning widely. “Oh, I’m sleepy; do you mind really? I’d rather not go in her room…not with all this spooky stuff going on. Do you think she’s come back to haunt us?”

“No, I won’t give such silly ideas strength by believing in them. There’s no ghosts, trust me.”

Jessica drooped more…slumping, until she leaned on one elbow to keep her body erect.

“You took sleeping pills, didn’t you? That’s why you were in the bathroom so long.”

“My head’s spinning…can’t hold open my eyes….” She lay all the way back, her legs opened, not having the mind to keep them held closed; she relaxed completely. Saliva drooled  from the corner of her open mouth.

Richard pulled her legs up on the bed. He then pushed her over further. He lifted the picture off the bed and  leaned it against the wall by the closet. He looked around for anything else that might fall down and hit the bed, but it looked pretty safe.

He walked around the bed and climbed in, and then he reached for Jessica and held her.

Emily sat down in the old rocker that had been her grandmother’s. Well, she had believed they were kin. Granny had been a loving, fun woman. It was only after her death that life turned ugly, like Jessica’s loss had turned her heartless?

Emily mused how sad that her whole life was a farce. No wonder she couldn’t get along with the pair; so much made sense now…but it hadn’t back then.

She rocked. She loved rocking. It had a distinct knocking thump on the floor, every time she rocked back. Thump…thump…thump…on and on. She smiled. He heard it, down below. But he won’t come up here in the dark. No, not himthe coward.

(***)

The next day, she heard her dad downstairs, getting ready for work, so she started throwing things around to get his attention. It was fun hurdling things at the walls without picking any of it up by hand; she did it all with her mind.

She never knew she could do this sort of thing, and wasn’t sure why she could now, but she got so excited that an old sewing machine that had belong to Grandma, went sailing out the window, breaking the glass; it landed right in front of the car.

That’s when Jessica yelled, “Richard, get your sorry ass up and find out who the hell is doing this shit! Go see what’s going on in the attic; sounds like another raccoon got up there again.”

“Look, I don’t have time to go up there. It may be rabid. I’m not going up there unarmed. And really it sounds a lot bigger than a raccoon to me.”

“Well, you’ve got a gun.”

“I’m outta bullets. If you think you’re so brave, why don’t you go up there?”

“Who knows, maybe you’re right. It might be rabid; whatever it is, it’s strong. Did you see where Mama’s sewing machine landed?”

“I’ll get a box of bullets, before I come home. I need to have some handy anyway; us fixing to get that money; somebody might try to rob us. Gotta be protected, just in case.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Alright, I’ve got to get to town too; I have a hair-dresser’s appointment, and another thing or two to do. You can drop me off, on the way to work.”

Doors slamming below, indicated they had left, and Emily sat back down in her rocker, sighing. Well, that backfired; they’d been afraid  to pursue it for an investigation. But it was okay, she could wait…and as for him coming up here with a loaded gun, it didn’t scare her. I could jerk it from his hand and not even be near him. I might make the bullet explode in the chamber; Yeah, cool idea…I’ll enjoy thisshoes are on my feet now, Daddy.

She giggled, putting her hand over her mouth, even though nobody was around to hear her; it was a nervous habit she’d done as a girl; she wasn’t even aware she did it.

(***)

Her parents were back. She saw the vehicle coming.

Good, well…first, she’d wait, quiet as could be, until she heard them talking. She’d find out if he meant to come up on his own or would she have to make noises again?

They were inside. Richard said, “Jessica, while you’re fixing supper, and before the sun goes down, I’ll check out the attic. Whatever that was may have left via that broken window, but it might return later; if I don’t find anything, I’ll try to board over the window. Just  temporary fix, until I can get a replacement, and maybe hire somebody to fix it. We’ll be able to afford a few repairs to the place when our money come’s through.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. Well, according to the clerk at the bank, it’s still on hold. She wouldn’t tell me when we could get our money. Do you think we should be concerned?”

“No…that’s our money; they can’t keep it from us; and it’s been four months since her death. It’s time they paid us.”

“Yeah, it is. Well, we’re having homemade burgers and cottage fries.”

“Sounds good. I should be back down in thirty minutes, honey.”

(***)

The minute Emily heard her dad enter the closet where the narrow, steep set of stairs led to the trap door of the attic, she darted behind the old book shelf.

She listened as each footstep clumped closer, but she wanted him inside the attic before she acted. She waited until he was all the way in and had let the trapdoor down again.

She saw the gun in his hand.

As he was still bent over the trap door, Emily pushed out the bookcase, shoving it at him. Loaded with old romance paperback novels and a few nick-knacks and other odds-and-ends, everything flew at Richard, glancing off his back and scattering in every direction; some things broke, other things banged, but Richard was buried beneath it all, and lying on top the trap door.

With a hoot of glee, Emily sprang out, and danced in a circle around the unconscious man. She gloated at seeing him out cold.

Now, how did that feel?

She decided to waste no energy on the gun, except to remove it far from Richard. The gun went sailing out the broken window; no, she wouldn’t give him a chance to use it.

He jumped and opened his eyes. He raised up on his elbows and looked around, groaning. He managed to push the bookcase off of him, and roll to the side. As he raised his head, bewildered by what had just happened, Emily let him see her.

His jaw fell open, and his eyes about popped out of their sockets. He said, “Maaaa-ughguh,” gulping in dismay. “You can’t be here,” he finally intelligibly said.

What’s wrong, Daddy? Aren’t you glad to see me, because I’m glad to see you. I have got a surprise in store for you, just like what you and Momma had for me.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Richard said. He tried to sit up, but Emily pushed him back to the floor.

Stay down; I’m not finished.

“What are you going to do?”

Emily took him by the hand. It’s OK, Daddy. I used to hate to even touch you. You’ve been a bad boy. Now, it’s time to take your medicine.

She easily lifted him to his feet and dragged him with only the toe-tips of his shoes touching the floor. She plopped him into the rocking chair. Rope quickly bound him. She manipulated the rope with her mind, loving the easy feel of it, slithering around his body, binding him tightly. He groaned and struggled, but he was secure.

His hands gripped the arm rests, fingers curled so taunt the knuckles bulged red.

She made sure he saw the rusty coffee can. You know what’s in here, Daddy. Remember the time you threatened me with these?

A huge nail lifted from the can and hovered in the air. “I won’t need a hammer after all.” She snickered. Hey, I get it now…this is fun! I never was on this side of things…now I get it, Daddy. This is… (The nail was joined by a second one and they bounced in the air, waiting for her to direct them.) …MOST PLEASURABLE! Her giggling reverberated all around the room, as the bound man cringed, and gibbered.

“Don’t do it…you’re not Emily…Emily’s dead.”

And that’s when she drove both twenty penny nails into his hands, nailing him to the chair.

Richard screamed out in agony. He sobbed, “Please don’t hurt me anymore.”

But Daddy, you told me how you always take everything like a man. You’re so brave. You always found it easy when it was you welding the punishment. Well, take it like a man, you freaking rapist murdering bastard! That’s what you need to do!

All the nails began sailing out of the can, flying through the air and hitting their target in random places, each one sinking in to the head. Blood oozed from eighteen different punctured locations, and Richard’s shriek had gone hoarse. Snot gushed from his nostrils and ran into his mouth along with blood, coming from an eye socket where a nail had found entry.

Emily moved in, the axe in her hand; this just called for a more hand’s on approach.

(***)

Her smile was anything, but sweet as Richard viewed her with his one remaining eye.

The axe rose…he didn’t know where it would land, but he kicked out, hoping that he might somehow avert it; kick it from this monster’s hand.

The axe bit hard and sliced through his ankle, severing his foot. It flipped up into the air and rolled over, so the toes spread out as though trying to find leverage for standing…and then it tumbled and rolled across the floor, coming to a stop beside the trap door.

The pain Richard felt was beyond anything he’s ever suffered, his whole leg felt on fire and it lanced his heart. His brain called a shutdown, and Richard blacked out.

(***)

Emily nodded, You won’t hurt anyone else, old man.

She wasn’t finished with him…the axe went to work on his neck, hacking at it as it would into a block of wood, until the head lay drooping on the chest, and she let the axe rest.

An amorphous gray cloud, barely sparkling, emerged from the body.  Emily waited to see if it might acknowledge her…perhaps wish to fight her, challenge her…but instead it was sucked into a soot-black hole that appeared. As it came; it also went, leaving her to finish her task.

Now for mother dear…oh, Mother, won’t you please come us to see what’s going on…. She sing-songed in a lilting harmony.

(***)

Jessica had the hamburgers in the skillet, flipping them over, when the thumping racket started, followed by screams that only Richard could emit. It scared her so much that pee ran down her leg. And she shook from head to foot.

She whirled and ran for the kitchen door; her only thought to get the hell out of there. No way was she going upstairs to face whatever mad assassin had crept into their house. She knew a death scream when she heard it. After all, Emily hadn’t been the only one Richard and I killed. Yeah, Emily’s real mom had died so we could have Emily…the bitch wouldn’t give me the baby, not even for five thousand dollars…so we’d eliminated her…out there at the old barn, the same place Emily died. And nobody ever approached us about Jasmine, asking if they’d seen her; apparently, she was without family to care about her whereabouts, little teenage slut that got knocked up…and the only thing she ever had of worth came from her womb: Emily!

The thoughts flew through her head, as she yanked on the door handle, pounded on the paneling, trying to get the damn door to open. What was the matter with it?

Jessica choked on the smell of the burning hamburgers. She pushed them off the burner and turned off the stove; no need to burn down the house, she reasoned, but she kept on the move…still thinking of escape…it would be after her next…she knew it.

She started for the front door. She’d get out that way if she had to break the glass in it to get out…or a window…she could go out the window that faced the porch…yes, yes!

Now for mother dear…oh, Mother, won’t you please come us to see what’s going on….

Jessica had reached the hall, and stood right by the newel post of the stairs.

She froze hearing the call; it was Emily up there! She gasped.

The door was right there, a few feet away. Her purse on the table by the door. In it were her keys. She wanted to grab the bag and get the hell out, but that little bitch up there, fucking cunt!

 She had hurt Richard! Maybe she wasn’t dead after all and had come here to get back at them. Well, Richard always was a spineless turd. It took a real woman to get anything done. It always had.

Jessica fumed. Deliberately, she turned and mounted the stairs. She yelled, “Watch it, Bitch! I’m coming for you!”

On the second floor, she stopped long enough to pick up the poker from the fireplace, and hefted it; yes, it should suffice for a weapon. No way am I going up there empty handed.

She wondered What happened to Richard’s gun?. I never heard him shoot it. Was he okay? What had Emily done to him? Those screams had been horrible. Do I really want to go up there?

She almost turned back to the stairs rather than the closet with the steps to the attic. She hated those twisting, triangular steps…they might go up, but she despised that fucking attic, always had, even when she’d been a kid and her mother would send her up to fetch something from storage. The place had given her a creepy feeling, one she felt to this day.

(***)

Emily waited, excited that Jessica would be here soon. She had something to ask her. She had to answer her; she had to tell her why.

Noises on the stairs…Jessica climbing them…well, she didn’t want her spooked yet. A dust sheet draped Richard…all neat and tidy. Emily giggled, but hastily covered her mouth, and like the scurrying of mice, she hid, waiting as the trap door lifted ever so cautiously, and Jessica’s suspicious eyes peered around, before she climbed the last few steps and let the door fall back. It hit the edge of the bookcase and stopped falling, but it was wide enough that Jessica came on up, and stepped onto the plank floor.

(***)

“What happened? Richard, where are you? Are you hiding from me? If this is a joke, it’s not funny. You made me burn our supper, you plunk-head.”

She took a few steps and her foot hit something that rolled and it threw her off balance, she yelped, “Shit!” As she fell, coming down on her right knee and right elbow, she cried out, “Oh, fuck, that hurt.”

She lay on her side, catching her breath, and then looked to see what she’d tripped over.

An undulating scream burst from her…Richard’s foot, still in the shoe, the sock a dark glob stained red. It had once been white, a sports sock.

She sat up…the poker had flown from her hand…where had it gone?

Emily stepped out from behind the sheet draped rocking chair, the one that had been Jessica’s mother’s favorite chair. Jess hadn’t been able to stand the sight of it, too often her mother had sat there…it felt a haunted thing if only due to those old memories; that’s why it was in the attic.

“You are here,” Jessica said. “And now you have me up here. What the hell do you want?”

Emily nodded. I do want to ask you something.

“Then do it; get it over with. Where’s Richard?”

Why did you let him hurt me doing that ‘ game’…you said that night, you knew what went on? Not one time did you ever let on that you knew what he did. It went on and on. How could you? You were my mother. Didn’t you ever love me at all?

Tears fell down Emily’s pale cheeks…and seeing this, Jessica wondered…who is this I’m looking at…is she alive? Can a ghost cry…is this really Emily?

Answer Me, Dammit! Emily shrieked so piercing that glassware on a nearby shelf shattered. Her wrath grew stronger, as Jessica shook, holding her hands to her ears, sobbing.

Emily came closer. She held out her hand and the poker flew into it…and without her feet touching the ground, she loomed over the cringing woman huddled on the floor.

Jessica stared at her… “I don’t know you…who are you?”

Liar! I’m Emily. You murdered me… you left me for dead.

“No…you’re her…you’re Jasmine, too…I see you both. Oh, God!”

(***)

Emily looked to her left and there was another beside her…she stared…in surprise…so familiar, this spirit…smiling at her.

Hello, Emily…I’m Jasmine…I’m your mother. I’m sorry I never got a chance to know you. They spoiled it for us.

Emily recognized the resemblance between them, knew instantly this was her mother.

Yes, spoiled it, and gave me a miserable life. Only one thing was good in it: Stephen.

Hold on to those memories; cherish them, but for the moment, we have something to settle.

(***)

Jasmine let fall the sheet from off the rocker, revealing the corpse in all its awful bloodiness for Jessica to see.

A strangling gasp erupted from Jessica as she crab-walked away from the sight of Richard’s nailed, nearly decapitated form. She bumped against a trunk, and huddled there, hugging her knees, crying out, “Please, please, don’t…oh, let me go…please.”

Emily and Jasmine exchanged looks…their thoughts identical…and together they descended upon the source of their hatred. A poker and an axe landed repeatedly upon the body, and when the amorphous cloud emerged, Jasmine grabbed it…a grey and dark orange moth…which she pinned, with a hatpin from a hat on a dusty bureau, to a velvet cushion, and then she topped it with a glass dome. The wings fluttered a few times, and then grew still.

What now? Emily asked.

I came because you needed me…and we have some place to go. We’re finished.

Sirens wailed, coming closer…they were coming here.

A neighbor must have been alerted…maybe all the screams…they’re here to investigate. Jasmine said.

Good…maybe now…they’ll find out the truth. Emily sighed. I have one more thing to do.

(***)

Detective Sam Vita led the investigation, and in the attic they discovered a bizarre scene: both Mr. and Mrs. Clemmons’ badly mangled bodies were found.

Pinned to the man’s sleeve was a note…written in blood: Dad, you and Momma got what you deserved, leaving me for dead… love, Emily.

Detective Vita stared at the note, shaking his head. “We need to find out more in regards to the Clemmons. I worked that case, a few months back. An Emily Clemmons was found murdered at a dilapidated barn…belonging to a farm that’s in foreclosure. It’s about a mile from the water tower. Harry, do you remember that case?” He called to the coroner.

Harry Billings nodded, “Yeah, sure, I do.”

“They had an insurance policy on the girl.” Sam said, “The bank contacted us today that the insurance company is concerned; they aren’t so sure they want to pay out fifty grand to the Clemmons; they suspicion foul play and wanted us to look into it deeper.”

“Why hadn’t you told me this?” Harry asked. His dark eyebrows met together in a frown.

“Oh, I would, but we got the call to come here and when I heard where we were going…well, this tells me, there’s no doubt what happened here must be connected to the earlier case.”

“No shitting, you’ve got that right.”

“But who would write a message like this and leave it?” Sam said.

“Not sure, forensics will check it out. I’ll bag it for evidence.” Harry said.

“Good, be careful not to smear it; it’s still wet.” Sam Vita scratched his ear. “When we finish here, I think we need to have a closer look at that barn where the girl’s body was found. We may have overlooked something.”

“Let me know when you’re going and I’ll go  with you.” Harry said.

Sam walked over to the woman’s body…and huffed, “Would you say there was one or two attackers?” He pointed at the bloody poker and axe lying on opposite sides of the corpse. “Those are the murder weapons, I’m taking an educated guess. They need to be bagged.” Sam directed.

Harry said, “Definitely two. The thing that gets me…is the nails embedded in the man’s body. How the hell did they do that? It was like a barrage of nails, a fuselage of them, came at him all at once.”

“Yeah, I had the same impression.” Sam agreed. “And look at the walls…all the stuff embedded in them; and that window…a gun and a sewing machine out in the yard. Those came through that window…broken from the inside out. What kind of force could do this?”

Silence was his answer, accompanied by a shrug.

(***)

As Sam was leaving he noticed the truck and car in the yard. He stared at the wheels, looking at the tread. There had been tire-tread prints left in the mud out at that farm where Emily’s body had been discovered. Prints that had never been matched to any vehicle.

He called to Harry, “Make sure your team gets prints of the treads.”

“I’ll do that. When are we going out there?”

“Too late to go this evening. I’ll pick you up about seven in the morning. Is that too early?”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll be ready.”

(***)

Sam and Harry reached the water tower and made the turn into the dirt road that needed a new gravel bed laid down, but wasn’t likely to get it anytime soon, as the property was in foreclosure. What had been a bustling cornfield was now a stubble-field, for it had been harvested. This afforded a much better view of the barn and the old house that sat out in that field so far from the main road.

“That barn’s roof is about peeled off.” Sam said.

“Yes, I think that tornado we had a couple years ago came across this corner of the county. I’m surprised it didn’t topple all the way over. What are you thinking we’ll find out here? Our people did a pretty thorough job last time.”

“I’m not sure; just something nagging me. I just feel like it needs a closer look.”

Harry asked, “Who was the owner of this property?”

“A farmer by the name of Pritchett. I pulled the file…have a look. I’m driving.”

“Thanks,” Harry picked up the file from off the seat, and opened it; he riffled through a few pages, and then said, “Donald Pritchett had a family of three: himself, his wife Dana, and a daughter named Jasmine. The daughter disappeared twenty years ago. She was a runaway. She’d ran away from home a total of six times, but always returned on her own, except for the last time. She was seventeen at the time of her last disappearance.”

“Yes…that’s why we’re coming out here. Maybe her father knew more than he was telling.”

“There’s more. When the bank took Mr. Pritchett’s land, he went off the wall. On the night of May 13th, 1993, he went over to the home of Mr. Matthews, the bank manager, and shot him three times, the one in the neck severed the juggler and he bled to death before the ambulance arrived, ten minutes later. Don’s in prison, and isn’t to be paroled until 2044. By then he’ll be in his 90’s, but he probably won’t live that long.”

“Alright…that’s a bitch.”

“Yeah, a note in here says Don made a weird comment during the trial.”

“And what was that? I haven’t had time to look at it yet.” Sam said.

“Don made a statement at the closing, in which he said, ‘He took my baby from me. He thought with him sitting on the edge of karma, he wouldn’t be called for it, but karma always makes sure we get our due; he got his. Just like I’m getting mine.’”

“That was an unusual remark; glad they made a note of it.” Sam said.

“I don’t think he was talking about the foreclosure, do you?”

“No…who calls a farm ‘baby’?”

“Exactly…either he meant his wife or his daughter…that would be my educated guess.” Harry said.

“My thoughts too. I like working with you, Harry; we sync. I can’t say that of everyone I work with.”

“Well, cool; you know, come to think of it, we do think in similar ways; maybe we can figure this out, without it dragging on much longer…from what I’m seeing…we are kindly working on a cold case.” Harry said.

“There you go again. Are you a mind reader? Although no files were filed about the disappearance of Jasmine Pritchett, other than as a missing person, that is…we might be about to uncover new evidence…”

“…to suggest a murder investigation,” Harry finished for Sam.

“Precisely, Dr. Harry.” Sam clicked his tongue.

(***)

The barn loomed around the turn in the road, and a few hundred yards away sat the farmhouse.

Sam pulled to a stop in front of the barn doors, and cut the motor.

“Kind of place that if nobody was at that house, you could scream till you were hoarse and nobody would hear you.”

“Yes, an ideal place for a murder or more…” Harry said.

They got out of the car. Sam said, “The girl, Emily, had plans on attending college. She won a scholarship; she’d had excellent grades. Worked at Maxx Mart. It was a co-worker that first alerted everyone that Emily was missing. It was two days before her body was found out here.”

“And who found her?”

“Farmers assigned by the Bank owners to harvest the corn. They came out with their reapers and tractors…bloody patch on the grass, and drag marks…she was found in the dirt just inside the doors of the barn. Out of immediate sight.”

“That’s right; I remember that first sighting of her…the way the light filtered in from that half- open roof…all the stray leaves in piles, wind-blown, and the girl stabbed multiple times. A big blade pocketknife, about six inches long had been used. But that knife wasn’t found; the killer sank it to the hilt…just like those huge nails had sunk into Richard Clemmons’ body.”

“Yes…as a matter of fact, a good comparison.” Sam agreed. “Luckily, the tire marks left by the assailants had not been obliterated by all the tractors and other vehicles that came back here, because when the first group discovered the body, they halted the other vehicles from coming up to the barn and called the police. They knew it was a crime scene and preserving the area for the investigation and forensics crew was important.”

“And if the tire marks match the two vehicles belonging to the Clemmons, then what?”

“Yeah, I know, we can’t bring them in for questioning…but we can surmise that they were here if their vehicles were here, and that Emily must have been brought here by at least one of them.”

“The mother…I bet.” Harry said.

“Yes…I pulled a file on Emily Clemmons; she had a troubled childhood; she ran away several times, was returned, but she told a counselor once that her father played a game with her, one that she was uncomfortable with. When the counselor asked if it involved him touching her, she replied in the affirmative. However, there’s no record that the counselor ever pursued it further.”

“Some people chicken out…it’s like they’d rather turn their backs and play deaf than to help these troubled kids.”

“Yes, and it’s sad…there’s no telling the true number of abused victims who go through their entire lives never admitting their childhood was anything, but rosy.” Sam strolled to the barn and unlatched the door by lifting up the wooden plank acting as its bar.

He pushed in the door on the right; it swung inward, and stopped by a bail of hay. A lantern and a rusty toolbox sat on top of it.

(***)

The dirt floor held no visible sign that a young woman had lain there four months earlier. Too much wind and dirt had blown through its breezeway, too many rainstorms had fallen down through the creaky, leaky roof-top.

“Do you think she’s here?” Harry asked. “Jasmine Pritchett, I mean.”

Sam didn’t answer.

Harry continued, “What happened to Mrs. Pritchett?”

“She’s dead. She died three years after her husband went to jail. Cancer, I think, what kind I can’t say.”

“Too bad…another dead-end on asking her anything.”

“I think she couldn’t have told us anything, anyway. I remember her as a mousy kind of woman, and a bit scatterbrained; she lost her glasses…and was looking for them and I told her they were sitting propped on her head. She seemed a sweet lady, but just a bit dotty.”

“You know it’s been psychologically determined that such people, big worriers and forgetful types, are like that because they feel guilty about something. I’d say, she might have known something disturbing that affected her every day normal activity. I still wish she was around so we could talk to her.” Harry said.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He walked down the breezeway, looking into the open stalls, and Harry checked the opposite side, and they met at a fenced pen that appeared to once have sheltered cows.

(***)

Sam opened the gate and walked in, kicking aside the straw on the floor, and found that it had a wooden floor. “Interesting…all the rest is dirt. We may be on to something here. Help me get this hay out of the way.”

They found a shovel and a pitchfork and they went to work, and in thirty minutes, they had made a pile in one corner. And there near the back wall, a wall made of stone, not wood, they found a trap door.

“This wasn’t found before, I don’t believe.” Sam said.

“Well what are you waiting for?” Harry said, “Let’s get it open and find out where it goes.”

It had a lock, but Sam took the shovel and hit it a few times until it broke and then he  picked it up with a handkerchief and handed it to Harry. “Might still have fingerprints on it, from whoever last used it.”

“Yes, it might,” Harry pulled an evidence bag from his jacket pocket and slid it into the bag, then slipped it into the same pocket.

Sam had slid the edge of the shovel into the crack of the trap door and lifted up. Harry grabbed on to the door and shoved upward. A creaking of the hinges, and then Harry let it drop back, fully open. The door banged open, with a wooden slapping noise.

(***)

Steps led below. Across the third step, a dusty web had been spun sometime a pretty long time back. Apparently, it had been years since the trap door had been open.

“What do you think is down there,” Harry asked. He ran his hand across his skull, which disheveled his thinning hair, and he resembled a nervous Barney Fife for a second, except Harry had fifty pounds on the rail-thin Fife.

“I can’t believe you asked that, and you’re a professional man. We have to go down, or one of us does; if you’re too chicken, I will go,” Sam jibed, in that same half-humored way Andy Taylor had of doing. But Sam was a tall, blond Nordic looking fella more closely resembling the actor Val Kilmer. Sam had rugged, chiseled features and was known to kick ass in any fight, regardless how tough his opponent might be.

“No, I’ll go with you. I just don’t much like spiders, is all.”

“That spider is long gone…the dust heavy in the webbing shows that.” Sam said. He reached for the flashlight attached to his utility belt and flicked it on; a strong beam sliced the dark stair-well. He said, “Good, they’re stone. At least maybe on our descent, it won’t fall out from under us.”

“Yeah, proceed, my friend. It’s an encouraging discovery. I might have hesitated if they’d been wooden. I don’t like falling, either.”

“You’re full of phobias, aren’t you? I guess fear of the dark and fear of enclosed spaces go with your others?”

“Hey, I’m kind of a regular guy here…even if I am coroner in this neck of the woods, Sam.”

“Yeah, it’s why I like you; a brainy guy who hasn’t let it go to his head.” Sam bantered as they descended down the steps…twenty of them, twenty-five, and more ahead, no sign yet of a floor?

(***)

“Are we close to the bottom yet? I just counted thirty, and you’re three steps below me.” Harry said. “This is a lot deeper than I expected.”

“Yes…it ends on the thirty-ninth step.”

“Oh really? I remember a movie ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’…I never thought I’d ever be walking down one though.”

“I remember it too…hold on…it’s a hall. This is some kind of subterranean tunnel system. It must belong to a much older building…and the barn was built on top of it, or maybe the barn was an exit/entrance for people to travel by, without drawing attention to themselves.” Sam said.

“Sounds like something the Civil War might have been involved in with it.”

“Possibly, as in the underground railroad…” Sam turned to the left and they continued walking, seeing nothing to give them pause to stop. The walls on either side were unbroken, though made of stone. “Yes, all these stones…why this might date back to the Revolutionary War times. They, too, liked to move about in secret ways.”

(***)

His light highlighted a doorway ahead of them, and he said, “Entrance ahead…maybe now….”

It was further down the hall than he’s expected though; another hundred feet, and finally he stopped and turned and lit up the chamber.

“This was used for a bedroom or sleeping area, Harry. See the cot?”

“Yeah…but nothing in there to make me gasp.”

Sam snorted, “You’re such a great asset.” He put extra emphasis on the ass part of the word.

“I try,” Harry retorted, unfazed. “But hey, there’s another door on the other side of the hall, a little further on, and it isn’t open like this.”

“Let’s go check it out.” Sam whipped the light around and illuminated a door with a bolt across it. “I think we’re cooking with peanut oil. Thanks; I don’t see how I missed seeing it.”

“See, now you’re glad I came with you.”

“Now, you’re glad you came with me, you mean.”

(***)

In addition to the wooden bar, Sam groaned at the sight of the lock.

“And we don’t have the shovel with us this time.” Harry said.

“Never-mind…it’s a lock that’s easy to pick,” Sam said. “I just need a small piece of wire.”

“Sorry, I don’t wear an under-wire bra; though my wife does,” Harry quipped, lightly.

“Good idea, but no, I think we’re both lacking one of those. But check your pockets… might turn up something that could be used.”

They began feeling around in their pockets. Harry brought out a folded sleeve of still connected bread-ties. “I use them on specimen bags.”

“This should do it, if the wire isn’t too thin.”

He pulled one loose and then peeled away the paper off a couple inches of one end. He then bent down the end so it made a slight loop, and he inserted it into the lock. Pressing his tongue against his teeth, he worked it, jiggling it, and after maybe a minute, the lock clicked and he lifted it off the door. “We’re in…”

(***)

The smell that hit them, besides just that of a room closed shut for a while, had the unmistakable lingering smell of decomposition. Both men gagged and started coughing. Sam shoved the door wide open and it hit the wall. He pushed forward, aggressively fanning the flashlight’s beam around the interior of the room.

“Hell-fire,” Harry exclaimed, “This, I wasn’t expecting.”

“Me, either…poor things. Wonder which one is Jasmine?”

Three cots were in the room, one against the wall, two side by side. Each cot was occupied by the skeletal remains of females. Two were still chained to the beds.

“I’m guessing these were the farmer’s daughters…or victims…and when he decided to go after that banker, he wasn’t able to tend them anymore. If his wife knew about them, she turned her back and never offered to help them or anything.” Sam said.

“Well, we need to call for back-up and get a team in here.” Harry said.

“Yes, but just hold on a second.” Sam went closer and looked at the bodies, which were partly mummified. They still had some hair, showing that the two chained ones had dark hair and the other one had blonde hair.

“What color hair was  Jasmine’s?” he asked.

“Fair haired; kind of a ginger blonde,” Harry said. He pointed at the lighter haired corpse. “That will be her. But she wasn’t pregnant. None of them were.”

“Maybe she had the baby, before she was put in here.” Sam suggested.

“Good idea… I think we’ve done a good morning’s work.” Harry said. “I’m calling in a team.”

(***)

The next few days was wrapped up in recovering the bodies and dealing with a triple homicide that was nearly two decades old, as well as a double murder and a third murder; that of Emily, which still baffled Sam Vita more than he liked to admit.

He made a house call, and when he was sitting on the couch in Mrs. Coretta Matthews’ home, he said, “Thank you so much for being willing to see me.”

“You’re welcome. In fact, I’ve hesitated about contacting anyone, but I’ve wanted to.”

“Why…why have you wanted to contact the police?”

“Because…but first, will you promise me that this will be kept from the newspapers…it might destroy my family if they knew about my husband. He had such a fine upstanding reputation and many were angry that he was murdered in cold blood by Don Pritchett.  At first I was too, but later, I found a notebook he’d kept in his wall safe, something I never knew about. My husband Vince did things; he had secrets and he kept them well hidden even from me. It was quite a shock.” She ran her hand across the long column of her throat, stroking the smooth white skin, thoughtfully. Her head tilted back as she stared across the room, her eyes partly slit, in thought.

“Yes, I won’t let them know the source of any information you give me here today.”

“Good, hold on and I’ll bring you the journal.” She left the room and was gone a few minutes, and just as he started to get adjitated, she returned.

(***)

“Here, take it; keep it. I’d rather none of our children ever know the truth. If you can conduct your investigation without the public being told, I’ll praise you for the rest of my lifetime.”

“I gave my word, and I’ll do all in my power to withhold anything damaging from the press; most every case has details they never learn.”

“Yes, I’d heard this was true. I’m glad it was you came to me.”

She wouldn’t answer anything else and shortly thereafter she let him out. He didn’t look in the journal until he was in the car. And within minutes, he had found out an amazing thing. He texted Harry, “Got something you’ll want to see. I’ll be to the lab in just a few minutes.”

(***)

“Alright, Sam, what have you found out?”

He handed him the journal, “Open it to the page I marked; read it, before you say anything else.”

Harry nodded and as his eyes scanned over the page his eyebrows rose higher in surprise.

“Well, what do you know…Jasmine had a baby…and the father was Vince Matthews. But Jasmine came up missing just a couple of days before the baby was due to be born. She hadn’t been submitted to a hospital. And the intention had been to sell the baby to Matthews, so he and his wife could raise the baby as his own child. But when Jasmine disappeared, Don contacted Vince, accusing  him of having kidnapped her and doing something with the baby. Vince denied it and Don had left.”

“Yes, and apparently Don must have filled Vince in on details…read on.”

“Yes, a couple of days later, Jasmine was found in the barn, but without any sign of a newborn baby. She’d been attacked, and beaten. She died within a few minutes after Don got her to the underground room. He accused Vince of being behind Jasmine’s beating, and taking the baby. That’s why he went after him; the foreclosure process was just the last straw.”

Sam took the journal and flipped it over and took out a folded sheet of paper. “This is in a different handwriting and has Don Pritchett’s signature. It says that Jasmine had twin sisters, but both of them had mental conditions. Don didn’t want other people knowing about them. Only Jasmine had lived a normal life, being allowed to tend school and go out in public. She’d been instructed to say nothing to anyone about Jean and Jane, who were two years younger. Incredible that they only came to light, because we thought to go out there and check that barn.”

Harry grimaced, “The poor girls…to be treated like a caged animal. What kind of people does their own flesh and blood that way?”

“They were the same kind as the Clemmons were. Don’t you see, that does the same as point directly at them. Somehow, they met up with Jasmine and decided they wanted her baby…but they couldn’t let her live, so they beat her so badly she couldn’t tell anyone what happened to her. She must have told them where she lived and they dropped her near enough to home, maybe Don thought she returned on her own. Apparently, Don never saw them, or he’d not have gone after Vince like he did.”

“So how does all this relate to Emily?” Harry said.

“Well, the tire treads I mentioned to you the other day…I got the report back, and they do match both vehicles belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Clemmons.”

“So that puts them on the property the night of Emily’s disappearance.”

“Yes, plus, a neighbor of Emily’s came forward, and said that Mrs. Clemmons came by Emily’s apartment and they left together, but she never brought Emily back home.”

“Where was this witness before?”

“She’d been in Tennessee visiting relatives, and wasn’t aware that Emily had gone missing until she returned home.”

“That was a long visit.”

“Yes…but since she owns her property and doesn’t just rent, she sometimes takes long trips. She’d liked Emily as a serious, fairly quiet girl…with a boyfriend who’s in the Navy.”

“And have you gotten to talk with him?”

“Not yet…he hasn’t been around since the day after school let out last spring. I think, he might be able to tell us something we haven’t been able to piece together. But he’s coming home for Thanksgiving. I’ll hunt him down. It’s only eight days away.”

(***)

Stephen hadn’t been happy when his mother explained to him why Emily hadn’t written to him since June. To find out that she was dead, and that her parents had also met a dark ending shook him to the soul, so when the door bell chimed and his mother led the detective into the room, he hadn’t been very surprised.

“Yes, I’ll talk to him, Mother. Follow me to Dad’s study. It’s quieter in there. No one will bother us, Detective Vita.”

“Thank you…I appreciate your talking to me. I extend my sympathies on your loss of your fiancée.”

“Much appreciated, and how may I help you, Detective ?”

“You were closest to Emily of anyone. So did she ever confide in you with secrets she never told anyone else?”

“Yes, Detective, we both confided in each other. We were best friends and lovers.”

“Excellent, so how was her relationship with her parents?”

“No good nor had it been in a long while.”

“Did she elaborate on why?”

“Yes, and it was more than just their being abusive to her. I didn’t like it one bit, mind you, but her father molested her. She hated him for the things he’d done, fearing to sleep at night. She hated her mom, for never understanding and for refusing to listen to her or to come to her aid. She was so happy when she moved into her apartment and was old enough that the  authorities wouldn’t force her to go back. She had a bright future and we’d vowed to be true to each other. We planned on being married. We weren’t going to wait until I got out of the Navy and she finished college. We were getting married next year.” Stephen’s face was dry but the emotion was barely in check. He dropped his head, and squeezed his eyes shut as his fists shook with the tightly-checked emotion.

“I’m sorry. You’re holding up well for a man with a broken heart. You don’t have to hold it in just because of me, son; I won’t think you any less a man,” Sam said.

Stephen shook his head, fast. When he had regained full composure, he said, “I admired her for her strength. That last night we shared, she talked of how her parents would get their due…she spoke of it in a unique way. I haven’t forgotten how she put it: saying they were sitting on the edge of karma and couldn’t escape their fate.”

She said that, huh…that’s interesting. Did she hear that phase said by someone, maybe?”

“I just assumed it originated with her; why, have you heard that said before?”

“Yes, in one other instance…the man that was her grandfather also used it. Her real mother’s father…she never knew them, though. You see, the people who she thought were her parents stole her as a newborn; we had DNA tests done and neither one of the Clemmons were a match. And the man who was her grandfather is still alive; he’s a match to Emily’s DNA. There is no doubt that the Clemmons kidnapped her, and that they murdered both Emily’s mother and Emily, too.”

“How horrible; they were monsters. Sir, this is the truth, if I’d had any idea that Emily was in such danger, I’d have taken her and gone as far away as possible and to hell with joining the Navy. I volunteered for that…I feel like I abandoned the one person in the world who needed me the most.” This time Stephen did cry, and Sam didn’t hesitate to comfort him with a tight hug.

“No, son…you did what you had to do…I won’t understand why such things happen; we all think it should have been a different way…but some things can’t be changed; just delayed. I can’t tell you why it’s like that.”

“I know…” Stephen hitched a couple more times and then said, “Thanks for understanding. Would you like to stay for turkey and dressing? Mom asked me to invite you.”

“My own family is waiting for me. Thanks for the offer. If I don’t eat my fill at home, they’ll be mad at me.”

Stephen nodded, finally managing a smile.

(***)

Stephen drove to the cemetery later than evening, just as the sun was setting. The sunset was a beautiful, layering band of azure blue, gold, pink and a deepening violet. He dropped to one knee and bent his head in prayer, and said, “I’ll miss you, Emily. You’ll always be my first love and I cherish the good times we shared. Someday, we’ll be together again. I don’t know how long this earth will hold me, or how long my life will be, or what it will hold. I just know we had something special and nothing will ever change that.”

He looked around, as he stood up. No one else was anywhere nearby, but he’d felt a presence. “Emily, this is goodbye; I love you.”

As he walked away, the wind blew a few leaves around in a circle in front of him; they almost shaped a figure that reminded him of Emily. The wind whistled by his ear and he swore he heard Stephen, I love you….

He smiled as he got in his truck and drove home.

Endless Time

 

 

 

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It is said that only humans acknowledge the concept of time or the passage of

 

it. Animals do not place much focus upon it, although they are aware the

 

difference between day and night.

 

It is also said that the dead don’t notice time as it is recognized on earth,

 

minutes turning to an hour, and hours segmenting day and night, twenty-four

 

hours total, and a day multiplying into a week, a week into a month, a month

 

into a year, years into decades, decades into a century, and onward, ad

 

infinitum.

 

This means nothing to the dead, for they are not bound physically to earth’s

 

limitations. The dead, in spirit form, glide across a field past placid cows

 

toward sentinel  buildings rising against the blue, cloud-filled sky. They are not

 

visible to living man, but the man might hold no interest to them, either.

 

Insignificant man…lost in some alternate time. Endless time ad continuum.

And like the rainbow, circular rays of bent light, endless into infinity.

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