Category Archives: Random Fiction

Strays

She could see them on the edge of the woods, crouched low in the brush, hungry and afraid, but hopeful.  New ones.  The regular ones, the ones that came around every night, were already at the foot of the garden.  Waiting for her to put the food into bowls and close the door.  A few were bold enough, these days, to come almost within reach of her broom.  They knew her.  She took care of them.  They were still afraid.

It was her kind, mostly, that hurt them.  But the elements and animals, predators like foxes and cougars and even wild dogs, took their toll.  They were so small.  They weren’t fast or strong.  Some of them didn’t learn quick enough.  They remembered, somewhere in the back of their minds, that people had taken care of them.  They had petted and doted on them, bought them ribbons and treats, and gave them soft places to sleep.  They hadn’t had to worry.  They hadn’t had to hide.  But that wasn’t true anymore.

There were bad people.  People trapped them.  They hurt them.  Sometimes they killed them.  Sometimes they did it because they were afraid.  They thought they carried disease or that they might attack.  They didn’t want their yards or houses upset.  They didn’t like the smell.  They didn’t like to think about them.  Sometimes, though, they hurt them for fun.  They hurt them to laugh and to watch them die.

Those that escaped started to learn.  They kept to the shadows in the day.  They hunted when they could in the woods.  But mostly they came here at night.  They wanted and they hoped.  This wasn’t home.  There was no more home.  There could never be.  But this was safe, for a while, and there was food, and there were more of them.  They were safer when there were more of them.  No one could catch them all.  And there was her and she called them by names she made up and she remembered to call them the same names, as if they were worth something, and she helped them when she could, and when they couldn’t go on, she helped them then too.  Maybe it wasn’t much, but it was something, so they came every night, in twos and threes, they crept up to the door or the garden path, or the edge of the woods and they waited.

Sometimes bad things came here, but they drove them off.  They couldn’t kill them, but they were many.  Too many to be stopped by any one or two.  Too many for a cougar or a dog pack even.  She taught them that.  They had strength.  They knew by her smell, because they lived in a world where there was nothing but scent, where all you were and are and were planning was as clear as taking a breath, they knew she was old.  They knew one day she would not come to the door and then they would be alone.  But they hoped.  They hoped that when the day came she might join them.  They thought that might be true.  That there were things beyond life and death and that even in death they might have something of her.  A spirit.  A hope.  Or something more.  She sang to them sometimes.  Songs they remembered.  They knew them from times before.  Sometimes they sang back.  Tried to anyway.  It was hard to remember and they couldn’t make the sounds right.  She knew they tried.  That counted for something.  Tonight was different though.

Tonight there was something more on the wind that the old lady or the food or their brothers and sisters.  Somewhere along the line they had become more than ones and twos and fours and twenty. They had become one and there was a sort of synthesis to their thought.  They thought in the now and then they did.  Others joined the colony and some faded away.  But they were thought and action.  There were people here.  Maybe bad people. They were not so close, but not so far away.  They smelled like metal and smoke and blood and hate.  They smelled like death.  They knew death.  It came at you with guns and wire.  It was food that burned and cars that ran them down.  It was fire and drowning.  It was always waiting and behind it there were men with smiles that smelled like blood.  One man you could hide from.  Two you could run from.  More though.  Many.  They could scatter, but some would be caught.  And they knew in their hearts that there was more at stake.

Death was coming for them.  True.  Always.  But it was coming for her too.  How they knew this, they could not have said.  It was in the air like electricity.  Maybe it was something they learned in the shadows.  Maybe it was what you had to learn to survive.  That second or third sense that kept you moving, told you not to go beyond that yard, to touch that food, to stay low, stay safe.  And they were right.

They heard the car, cars, truck, trucks.  She heard it too and started.  She dropped a bowl.  They pulled back to the shadows.  Laid low.  But they did not scatter.  The men were making words.  Bad words.  Hard words.  One hit her across the breastbone with the end of his gun and she went down hard, on her knees.  She was crying.  She was crying for them and then men were laughing.  What they were saying, they didn’t know.  Not the words, really, but they knew what they meant.  They meant kill them.  Kill them all.  Kill them with blood and smoke and pain.  Kill her too and burn the house down and then go home and go to sleep and get up tomorrow.

A buzz ran through them like fire.  It was painful.  It was what it felt like to hate.  They never hated.  They just were.  They knew the taste of hate though.  They remembered it.  Pain, fear, loss, hunger.  Those were their words now.  But she had taught them other words.  She had taught them love and hope and faith.  And now they had hate.  They stood, all of them, and there were many.  They didn’t wait, they just came forward.  There were too many of them.  They were like an army.  So many that the old lady couldn’t count them.  They never came out together, not even for her.  They learned to share and wait.  They learned to live in shadows.  They were moving now in the light of the moon they were twenty and thirty and fifty.  They were small.  It was easy to hide.  Who would count them?  Who wanted to?  And now the old lady was laughing and they smelled fear.  They smelled fear on the men and even though guns were firing they were so many.  So very many.

A man was yelling you had to shoot them in the head, nothing else would work, and to not let them bite you, but no one was listening.  There were just so many, wearing sneakers and sandals and dresses straight from Church.  Some of them still had toys that they couldn’t quite remember what to do with, but they knew they were important.  They were to a child grubby and ragged.  Some had bones showing through patches of skin.  Others had patches of grave moss growing on their faces and arms.  But they were smiling.  All of them.  Smiling with baby teeth and braces and righteous fury.  And they were hungry.  So. Very. Hungry.  After all, they hadn’t been fed tonight.

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Bred in the Bone

There were some folk that thought being the only source of law in a small town was light work.  But Prosper Vance knew better.  He’d been Sheriff in Holbert Valley for going on twenty years and deputy for fifteen before that.  If there was anything that confirmed your worst suspicions about human nature, Prosper reckoned, lawing was sure to do it.  Generally, it was the little pieces of meanness that stuck most with you.  Unchecked those petty hatreds and slights tended to grow like weeds and often ended up with someone’s body found in an unmarked grave. 

As Prosper stared down at Keefe McCalister’s body, he thought it a small miracle that ole Keefe hadn’t ended up in a hole sooner.  Keefe wasn’t, or more properly, hadn’t been a bad man, but he hadn’t been a good one either.  It was common knowledge that it was Keefe who had done for Roan Everett only a month before.  Keefe and Roan had a case of hate at first sight since grade school and had fought over whiskey, women, and cards since that time.  There was seldom a weekend since the two had hit puberty that one hadn’t ended up hauled down to the jail or given a good talking to.  Since Roan was shot, by accident it would seem – if drunkenness and Russian roulette could be considered accidents – the town had been a whole heap quieter.  And with Keefe lying six feet under it was likely to be quieter still.

It was, Prosper thought, a strange killing – though the victim was not unexpected.  Keefe’s face was unmarked, but his body was bashed and bludgeoned – caved in near flat in places as if someone had been at him with a sledge hammer.  Whoever had done for Keefe had a passionate hate going.  And yet, the body, when it was found hidden high in the hills was cared for as if by kin.  Wrapped in linen and laid reverently in the ground, there was even a rough cross on Keefe’s breast.  Almost as if two men and not one had a hand in it.  True, Prosper knew, some murderers took to remorse after a killing, but those were most likely to confess and often killed with a heated heart. 

Lovers done wrong often wept over their murders and begged forgiveness as they were hauled off to their fates.  But in his long career, Prosper had yet to see a murder of this violence paired with such a respectful burying.  It was perplexing and filled him with a strange dread.  Any man who could behave in such a way and then turn civilized over a burial was touched by some sort of devil.  There were, in this wide world, Prosper knew, such folk about – yet he had hoped never to encounter one in his jurisdiction.

It came to his mind, unbidden, that most folk would suspect Roan Everett’s father – seeing as Keefe had killed his only son a month earlier.  But Prosper had known Old Man Everett – as well as the man could be known – since he was himself a boy.  And though it could not be argued that the Old Man was uncanny, he was not the type to turn to vengeance.  Keefe had other enemies and friends that fought him of occasion who may’ve had cause to come at him with gun or knife.  But this work was more than a moment of recklessness. 

It was on these matters that Prosper was ruminating, sitting on his haunches and looking into the grave, when the County Examiner, Will Scott, pulled up in a battered ole Jeep that looked like an Army surplus repainted – which was what it was.  “Had a hell of a time getting up here, Prosper,” Will yelled up from the Jeep.

“Well, I don’t think our killer was thinking of your convenience,” Prosper said as he stood to full height.

Will walked over and peered down into the hole, “Son of a bitch!” he said, “What the hell did that?”

“Reckon that’s the County Examiner’s job to ascertain,” Prosper said.

“Well,” Will said, “I think my official first opinion will have to be ‘damned if I know.’ That’s a piece of work, that is.  Some sort of hammer or shovel, do you think?”

“Those strikes look bigger,” Prosper said, “And rounder and deeper than a man could make with a hammer or spade.”

Will began to open his bag and called back to his assistant still waiting by the Jeep.  “He’s a little jumpy,” he said to Prosper, gesturing to the boy walking up the path, “Straight out of school and a murder his first week.”

“Run of bad luck,” Prosper said.

Will looked back down at the body, “For everyone concerned,” he agreed.

Two days later, a second body turned up.  This one laying at the edge of town crushed near flat.  It took dental records and a good deal of cussing by Will Scott to identify the man as John Willum – a lay-about that came into town for a weekly game of dice.  The killer took no pain to hide this kill or the next two that showed up.  One a known moonshiner, named Michaels, who folk generally liked and the other a girl named Ann that lived down by the river with her grandmother.  The dead had nothing in common but their fate and Prosper was hard pressed to think of a reason – other than pure malice – that anyone would’ve had to harm these particular three souls.  Any man who knew Willum wasn’t likely to be familiar with Ann – other than from a distance.  She had been a pretty girl and was in training to be a teacher.  It was known that Roan Everett had dated her while they were both back in school.  But she had little to do with him in the year before his death.  Besides, Roan was in the ground himself.  The friends he had left behind – easily counted on one hand – were little likely to take revenge on an old love of his.  That left only Roan’s father – and there was no doubt that the man had been acting odd as of late.

Old Man Everett had asked that his son be buried up near his house – instead of in the local bone yard.  That hadn’t been taken as strange, at the time, since folk had family cemeteries all over the Valley.  But there was word that the Old Man had the boy dug up and moved elsewhere – though no one could say for sure.  And folk that had seen Everett since Roan’s death said he was strange-eyed and wild acting – not his usual self.  But losing a son – especially an only son – can change a man, Prosper knew.  Still, he thought it best if he spoke to the man, for it might be that he knew of some friend of Roan’s that had taken the dead boy’s scores upon himself.

Old Man Everett’s house was big by Valley standards and sat high in the hills.  A long elm-shaded path led to it and a fellow sitting on the house’s long, low porch could see visitors coming from a mile or more away.  When Prosper rounded the curve and caught his first glimpse of the dark-wooded structure, he could see that the Old Man was waiting on the porch and that another fellow was standing under the trees shading his eyes with his hand.  But when he pulled up to the gravel lot and parked his car, the shaded man was gone and the Old Man was sitting by himself rocking.

“Mind if I come up for a while,” Prosper called as walked up the path and when the Old Man nodded he climbed the porch stairs and sat.”

“Thought you might be up,” the Old Man said, “I heard about poor little Ann.”

“She was friends with your son,” Prosper said.

The Old Man laughed then, but there was no joy in it, “Not many was friends with my son,” he said, “Ann was a girl with good sense and got shut of him quick enough.”

“All men have their faults,” Prosper said, “And I’d be the last to speak ill of the dead.”

The Old Man nodded, “So would I.  They say the dead listen to living folk from where they are.  But some don’t hold with such things. I haven’t had much cause to speak to you, Sheriff Vance, but I wonder what you think about such matters.”

“I think I saw a fellow there under those trees when I pulled up,” Prosper said.

“Maybe there was,” the Old Man said, “Or maybe it was just them elms casting a shadow. In these hills you can’t always tell what you see.”

“Maybe that’s so,” Prosper said, “And maybe some friend of your son’s believes that he has reason to feel wronged.”

“I doubt,” the Old Man said sadly, “That there are two or three even in this world that shed a tear for Roan.”  He turned and looked at Prosper dead on then and said, “I may’ve been his father, but I wasn’t blind.  You hope and you pray, but sometimes there’s no changing things – least of all the heart of a man.”

“If you knew something,” Prosper said, “Something that would help me find the man that killed Ann and the others, you’d tell me.”

The Old Man sighed and then began to rock, “If I knew something to be told, I’d tell you.” He said, “But there are some things that walk in this world that your law has no hold over.”

“Well,” Prosper said, “I’d still like you to send me word if you hear of something – one way or the other.”

The Old Man nodded and after a while, Prosper got up and left.  As he drove down the hill, he could see the Old Man rocking still in his rear-view mirror and something dark and reddish that flirted through the shadows along the path.  A deer, maybe, but a big one.  Or maybe something else that he didn’t want to imagine.

When Prosper got back to the jail, there was a message waiting for him from the County Examiner.  There were pieces of clay embedded in the bodies, some lanced into their shattered bones.  Will reckoned it might’ve been that the murder instrument – maybe some kind of farm tool – was dirt encrusted at the time that it was used.  But the clay was the same in all instances and seemed to come from one source.

Another message asked him to stop by Hollister Hardware – there had been a break-in last night though nothing seemed taken – only a few windows shattered.  The Hollister place was right on the edge of town and well-known for its weekly card game.  It was also the place that Roan Everett had met his maker a month or more ago – bleeding out before an ambulance could make its way from the County Hospital.  There was still a blood patch on the wood floor in the back room. 

Folk said that the blood of a murdered man would never be washed off.  But Prosper knew for a fact that blood soaked into wood would not be washed whether it came from a man or a critter.  It was enzymes that kept the shadow of blood on the Hardware Store floor and not a vengeful haint. Still, Billy Hollister was in a near fit by the time Prosper pulled up to the Hardware Store and took Prosper to the backroom where the blood still looked new on the oak.  He pointed, finger shaking in rage, at four broken windows and an unhinged door.

“Son of a bitch busted up the whole back of the store,” Billy said.

“Don’t reckon you saw who did this?” Prosper said.

“Sure I did,” Billy said, “I was in the front closing up when the big heavy-footed bastard clean knocked the back off the store.”

“You might’ve called last night,” Prosper said.

“What good would it have done?” Billy said, “I had that twitchy little insurance fellow to deal with all morning.  Reckon you could wait til after.”

Prosper sighed, “Did you get a look at his face?” Prosper asked, “Did he look like any fellow you knew?”

“Oh, I knew him alright,” Billy said, “Though I wouldn’t rightly say you could call him a man.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Prosper asked, “Either it was a man or it wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t then,” Billy said, “Wasn’t anything that I ever saw before – but it was like a man and I can name the one.”

Prosper tapped the table, “I know what you’re going to say, Billy, for you’ve been saying it all about town this morning.  And you know well as I do that Roan Everett is dead and buried.”

Billy snorted, “I don’t suppose that being either would stop him much.”

“Well,” Prosper said, “That puts me in a fine pickle – there’s no law governing dead folk I reckon.”

Billy nodded, “True enough. And doesn’t that just put everything on his side.”

Prosper just nodded, which was usually best to do when Billy was taken with a conviction.  “There’s not a man in the Valley that don’t know what Everett is or what Roan was,” Billy said, “And you know that’s God’s truth!” 

“Well, if you see anything again or anyone,” Prosper said, “You be sure to let me know.”

“I will,” Billy said, “And if I see that bastard Roan Everett I’m going to put a hole in him – dead or not.”

There were times that Prosper thought he had made a bad career decision the day he took up lawing.  This was one of them and, of late, there had been quite a few.  Folk were dead and it was easy enough to see who was behind the killings.  The only problem being that the most likely suspect was dead himself.  Folk were talking.  They took to locking their doors and kept the curtains drawn by night.  Though no one mentioned by name what they all knew to be true, they kept away from dark places and fortified themselves with crosses and charms and comforts against the darkness.  Prosper was not a believer in such comforts, though he wasn’t opposed to a stiff drink on a cold night – which was a comfort of its own. 

Prosper considered himself a simple man – though, in truth, he was deep minded and though slow to speak, he said a lot.  He had seen just about all the wickedness man had to offer, as well as a surprising amount of good.  Roan Everett, by his recollection, was one of the worst human beings that the earth had ever spat up – despite the goodness of his father’s heart.  Prosper didn’t believe much in God or the Devil, but he did believe in good and evil and he knew that evil men walked among us – many with faces like angels.  Roan had been just such a man.  And the day that Keefe McCalister had put a bullet through Roan’s throat only one man had wept. 

Now, McCalister was dead, along with a good number of other folk that Roan had disliked or liked too much.  And Prosper figured that being dead was not likely to stop a man such as Roan from his desires.  There were some, Prosper knew, that believed only in the light of day and in what could be proven and seen.  Scientific folks, he imagined, lived a comforted life knowing so little about what really was.  The electric light, when it had come up and down the Valley, had shut out the shadows and put men’s hearts to rest.  But just because the dark was pushed back a bit didn’t mean it was gone or that the things that lurked in the dark of night or in the dark of men’s hearts were any less hungry. 

It was plain to see the cause behind the slew of dead and disappeared that had come upon the Valley.   The fact that most folk didn’t want to own what they already knew seemed a mystery to him.  He had, in his sixty years, known dead folk to walk more than once.  He had seen a crow speak with the voice of a girl and a river run red with blood.  He had heard, in the high hills, the sultry sweet voice of the Wampus Cat and found prints left behind that matched no creature he could name.  So when Alice Caldwell’s mother came crying to his door in the dusk, saying her daughter had took missing, he knew what had to be done.  Over the years, Vance had learned that truths, even the hardest ones to digest, had a certain taste to them.  And despite the illogic of it, he could taste this truth clear down to the bone.

So, for the second time in that long week, he drove to the Everett Place.  Though this time the drive seemed longer, knowing what he might face at its end.  Grief for certain lay ahead of him and perhaps something worse.  As he walked the lonely path that led to the house, Prosper could see even through the growing gloom the Old Man waiting in his rocker on the covered porch.  He climbed the stairs and when the Old Man did not move and he sat down at his right hand.

Old Man Everett sat staring out into the night for the longest time and then he began to rock again.  “You know.” he said simply to Prosper and then he sighed.  “I used to think,” he said, “That there was some right and wrong in this world.  And that if a man did good, good would follow after.”

“You ought to know better than that,” Prosper said. 

The Old Man nodded, “I do and yet I don’t believe it.  Don’t want to.  He was my son, and I knew him for what he was, but he was my son just the same.”

“I never knew you to be a man that didn’t stand by his principles,” Prosper said, “None could say you didn’t.”

“You know what I am, I wager, and what I done for him.” the Old Man said, “His death hit me hard.  I come close to losing him as a boy more than once and it seemed some sort of mercy that he lived.  With his mother gone, he was all I had.  I wasn’t there when he was shot. It could be that there was something that I could’ve done – even if it was only to make my peace with him.”

“He lived his own life,” Prosper said, “He was a man grown when he took that bullet.  And though maybe you might’ve kept him from that bullet, there would’ve just been another on some other day.”

“All our death’s are waiting for us one day or the other,” the Old Man said, “Even mine.”

“Still,” Prosper said, “You did the best you could with that boy.”

“It’s a kindness for you to say it,” the Old Man said, “But a boy follows after his father.  He had, you see, his mother’s heart.  She was a wild thing, but I knew from the first time I clapped eyes on her that she was all I wanted.” He chuckled and for a minute sounded almost young to Prosper, but then the moon passed by and he saw just how old the Old Man was – ancient – almost as if he was cut from the earth and stones himself. “I might was well have loved a wild cat or a bear,” he continued, “She wasn’t something to be kept. And when the boy came and she died I turned all that love in on him and maybe it was too much for him to bear.  Maybe it was too much for anyone to bear – to be so much to any other.” 

“I don’t conjure it was your fault,” Prosper said, “Every man comes up in this world one way or another and some are good and others aren’t.  A man has to take responsibility for what he does in this life.”

“Yes,” the Old Man said, “No truer words were spoken this day or any other.  And that’s what I mean to do.”

“I wouldn’t ask it of you,” Prosper said, “For whatever’s he’s done or is, he is your son.”

“I brung him into this world twice,” the Old Man said, “It lays on me to take him out of it.” He smiled then and laid his hand over Prosper’s own, “You’re a young man yet, so you might not know. But all men are called up out of the dirt – some stay in it a good while longer than others – but, in the end, all of them return to it.  Nothing’s to be done about it and sometimes it’s a comfort to return to what we are.  Dirt.  Good and clean.”

They sat in the dark, the Old Man rocking for a very long time.  And softly, Prosper heard the Old Man say, “I, of all people, should’ve known better.”

Hours passed before they heard the shuffling, heavy gait of stony dirt against the gravel path.  Roan was coming home as he did each night.  Under the full moon, Prosper could see that there was something dark smeared about his face and hands.  He reeked of sorrow and sin and the Old Man rose to meet him.  He walked down the path alone to meet his son and greeted him with a kiss.  And softly, almost lip to lip, he whispered a word turned back on itself, almost too low for Prosper to hear – almost.

The change, from life to death, is not a quick one even it is lasts only a few seconds.  And for the rest of his very long life Prosper would remember the Old Man on his knees in the dirt holding on to the rapidly dissolving form of his son.  He would see, each night in his dreams, the slow silting of the clay and the rising piles of dust around the broken form of the Old Man until he was left holding only gleaming white bones tattered with linen.  And even in his sleep, Prosper would weep.


Gray

September 17, 2:00 PM

He was watching her drink her coffee. She drank it slowly, sip by sip. It was too hot. He could tell. He could see the steam billowing from the cup and the little wince she made when she took the first sip. She dipped her head to read the book she had balanced on the table and her red hair fell in tendrils across it. She didn’t know he was watching her. He thought, maybe, for a moment, she had noticed him. She had looked up and stared right at him. But, her eyes were glazed, the dull unfocused look of someone deep in thought.
Whatever she was seeing it wasn’t him. He was unseen. Always watching and waiting. He knew no fear and he reveled in his secrecy. No one could touch him. He was the Watcher. The Seer. The One Who Waits.

He was jarred back from his thoughts but the abrasive voice of the waitress. “Freshen you up, honey?” she asked with her too wide grin.

“No, no,” he mumbled his concentration destroyed, “I’ll pay.” He dug in his pocket and produced a few dollars and some change and laid them on the table. No tip. The waitress’ smile cracked for a second and then she scooped the money onto her tray. She nodded curtly and left.

He was filled with a fury for her fake smile and the pert way she had pushed his money onto her tray–like she was afraid to touch it–like she was too good. They always thought they were too good. Better than him. His eyes turned toward the table where the girl still sat, her book now propped on her knee. She was different. She understood him. He could tell by watching.

He reluctantly picked up his coat and paperback novel, it’s edges dog-eared. They didn’t like it when you brought in outside books. The cold waitress was eyeing him. Her round black eyes like the eyes of an animal. He smiled. He was the Watcher. He was in control. He smiled at her and nodded. He would see her again on her way out tonight.

September 18, 11:00 AM


Summer was the worst time of year in Detective Mark Coleman’s opinion. It wasn’t bad enough that he had to spend his day, mostly standing, at a crime scene on hot pavement with the sun beating him on the back of the neck like a bat. He also had to put up with the reporters. There they were like buzzards circling road kill, their eager faces pushed forward across the police tape, cameras at the ready.

“No pictures,” he would yell, or sometimes “No comment,” depending on the circumstance. He liked his job. He really did. He had signed up to protect and serve and he still meant it. But days like this with a sticky shirt and a gaggle of come-sees leaning over his police tape, were enough to drive a man to distraction.

“Hey! Officer Cole-man,” a young man with PRESS displayed boldly on his chest called, “Got any leads yet?” The young reporter chewed his gum loudly between words and leaned on the tape to the point that Coleman thought it would snap.

“Lay off that tape!” he yelled and motioned for the lookie-loos to move back. Like a herd of sheep they back away only to seep forward after a minute of two. He ignored their calls. No leads. No leads. Even after all these months.
No leads and no clues and only the moon for a witness.

Pop. A camera flashed and Coleman turned his head instinctively toward the light and sound. He thought of demanding the roll of film from the grinning idiot behind the 35mm, but another officer was already on it, stepping over the police line and grabbing the guy’s arm.

“Clear off,” the anonymous blue officer bellowed, “There will be a press conference at City Hall this afternoon.” The press murmured about freedom of speech and their rights, but milled away–one of two gazing longingly over the police tape. “Damn press,” the blue officer said–Coleman saw that his name was Murphy.

“Yeah,” Coleman agreed, “They just make a tough job harder.”

Murphy nodded toward the crime scene. “So, do you think it was. . .?” He looked eager and a little reluctant to question the Detective. Coleman noticed how very young Murphy was–only a little more than twenty probably. He still had that bright look about him. A fine spray of freckles peppered the bridge of his nose.

Coleman nodded. “I think so,” he answered, “but we won’t know for sure until we get this in the lab.”

“I thought there wasn’t any. . .I mean, that’s what I heard. No blood, no DNA?” Murphy asked.

“That’s true,” Coleman said, “So that’s one thing that will narrow it down. If there’s no genetic evidence, then it’s probably him. The MO is the same. Or maybe there will be something, they usually get sloppy toward the end.”

Murphy cocked his head, “You think we’ll have him soon then.”

Coleman shrugged, “Could be. This is his second this month. It was one every six months, then three. It’s been over a year now. We usually have them after they speed up like this–this is his end-game. He’s self-destructing. Maybe he’ll leave something. Maybe he wants to get caught.”

Murphy looked back at the little pool of press still milling in the shadows. “Yeah, could be,” Coleman said, “He could be over there or near here right now with his eye on us. We’ll catch him.”

Murphy looked comforted and his acceptance of Coleman’s words gave the Detective some comfort as well. Maybe they would catch him or maybe he would fade away like some of the others did. He wished he knew. He wished he could look into the future and know how it would be, how it would end.

A flash of red caught his attention. He looked up. There was a girl standing not far from the tabloid reporters. She had a yellow notepad and was taking notes with a ballpoint pen. She stopped and shook the pen like the ink wasn’t flowing and looked up right into his stare. He looked away. Her eyes had been gray. Gray as the sky on this hot day. Gray as the storm that was approaching.

The sky rumbled. The men inside the police barrier sped up their work. Time was always their enemy. Time, so merciless, like a pending downpour or a
madman’s itch, never stopped.

September 18, 11:00 AM


He had sat on the bench across from the coffee shop all morning watching the police and their scurrying. He saw the girl too. There she was, head ducked down, writing in her notebook. What did she write? He had seen her before following his work. That was how he had first noticed her. Her bright hair a beacon in the sea of reporters and onlookers. She was as drawn to him, he thought, as he was to her. He reached into the crumpled bag beside him on the bench and cast some bread crumbs to the birds that had gathered
expectantly. He liked the birds. No one noticed them. They were always here in the city, everywhere, watching, but unseen. Often, he would look up, after or during his work, and notice one of them, watching.
They were, he thought, his confederates. They oversaw his work, documenting it in their small dark eyes. Their eyes were without judgement. They reflected all and said nothing at all. The girl’s eyes were dark.
Sometimes he thought they were brown and other times blue. They changed colors with the day. She was an enigma to him. There had been others, he had hoped for, before. But, it was always the same in the end. They all failed him. They didn’t understand and were undeserving. But, he still held out hope. This one, he thought, would understand. She would embrace his true self. Not the self everyone thought they knew.

They saw him everyday. His neighbors, the people where he worked. They reckoned him small. A small plain thing, like a mouse, scurrying, like themselves, from task to task. It made him want to laugh, sometimes, at their stupidity. At their innocence. That they could only see the surface of things when he saw things to their very core. They saw a small, pale man in rumpled clothes. Maybe they thought he was shy, nervous even–but he was attuned. Like a hawk, like a wolf. He was on the edge of things waiting. He liked to help people.
He always carried in the groceries for the tottery old lady that lived next door to his apartment. Her house smelled of cats and the talcum powder that she applied liberally to her face. He’d carry her groceries up the stairs and decline her offer of tea or lemonade. Everyone who saw him pass, groceries in one arm and the old woman’s paper thin hand on his other, thought how kind, how quiet he was. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.

They saw him as a sheep, like themselves, when all along he was imaging how the old woman would look lying on the floor, blood pooling around her. That’s the way he saw them all, his gentle neighbors.

He saw their deaths when he met them at their community mailboxes. He saw them lying still, the light leaving their eyes, ‘til they were as dull and empty as they thought him to be. He took a sip of his coffee. It had grown cold. He reached
into the bag and tossed out more crumbs and he watched the girl watching the men in blue.

September 18, 12:30 PM


Coleman watched the body being carried away and the first rain drops began to fall. He could hear them plopping against the plastic body bag as it passed near him. Forensics would be here for hours–rain or no rain. They had set up a plastic tarp over the crime-scene as the sky began to cloud earlier.

Coleman stepped back under the edge of the plastic. It crinkled with the impact of the rain and rivulets ran streaming off the edges. The reporters were gone now. Nature had managed what fifty men could not do. They were running to their cars and to nearby shops and restaurants, cameras cradled against their bodies, notepads and laptops shielded under jackets.

Coleman leaned against the metal support pole and watched the rain fall. He
knew he should go inside the nearby Bookstore/Cafe now and talk with the victim’s co-workers, but instead he stood under the plastic and listened to the hot rain hitting the pavement.

Just now, the victim was just that, a victim–anonymous to him as a person, just a name on a license. Jackie Collier. A girl. A waitress. He didn’t know her favorite color or the way she took her coffee. But, once he stepped inside the cafe he would know all that. He would know what time she liked to take her breaks, that she had a crush on the cashier, that she kept a bottle of clear nailpolish behind the counter in case of runs. All the horribly small and personal things that a stranger should never know would be his. And, whether he found the bastard that killed her or not he would always remember that she liked strawberry ice cream best and that she always wore yellow butterfly clips in her hair on Sundays.

Coleman stepped out into the rain and started to drop the cigarette he couldn’t remember lighting. This was a crime scene now. Every cigarette butt and chewed piece of gum had potential meaning. So, instead, he curled the now dying butt into the palm of his hand. He had calluses now, he could barely feel it.

He put his hand on the door of the cafe and pulled. The door, glass and wood, had The Book End painted in gold and silver script. A green striped awning sheltered the door and a little bell tinkled to announce his entrance. The staff stood huddled behind the counter, murmuring in low whispers and sobs.

“The cafe is closed,” a young man said quietly pointing at the hand-written sign taped to the door.

Coleman pulled out his badge, “I am sorry,” he said, “Could I speak to you all for a few minutes?” The staff, two waitresses in dark aprons, the young man who had spoken, and an older woman with a pencil stuck in her silver hair moved toward him. He could feel their need to talk. To make Jackie a real person to him. To widen the loss of her to everyone they
met.

September 18, 12:30 PM


The Hunter watched the Detective enter the coffee shop. He could always recognize his own kind–another hunter, another person accustomed to watching and waiting. The uniform didn’t matter. They were easy enough to spot with or without it. There was something in the way they moved, the perfectly still way they could sometimes stand.

Of course, not every police officer or soldier was a hunter, but this one was. The Hunter watched the door close and faintly heard the tinkle of bells. Rain delay. No matter. There was so much to do. So much to plan.

The Hunter liked to ponder the strange twists that fate and nature tossed his way. The rain today would slow the investigation. It might wash away some clues or some bit of sloppiness left behind. Just as easily, fate and coincidence could turn against you. An old woman hears a sound and looks out the window in time to see a stranger pass. A child tosses a ball over a fence and retrieving it, hears a noise or sees a strange car. Any multitude of possibilities existed that could bring salvation or destruction–a fallen coin, a dropped cigarette, a single drop of blood. The Hunter watched the rain fall and casting a final look at the cafe, he turned toward home. There would be other days. The game had been elevated. Now he was not alone.

September 18, 1:00 PM


The coffee shop employees stood, as if on an island, bunched together against the rushing torrents of their grief. The young man who had told the Detective the store was closed broke away from the group and extended his hand.

“Steve,” he said, “We’d be glad to help. . .anything you want to know.”

The Detective nodded. “I’d like to see a copy of her schedule. Did it change from week to week or was it the same?” he pulled out his notebook and a pen. He had found that the note-taking seemed to put people at ease. Even if he was just writing nonsense words, the act of writing something made them feel as if they were helping.
“She has a locker in back,” a young woman with dish-blonde hair and red-rimmed eyes volunteered.

He nodded, “I’ll need to take a look at that. Did any of you notice anyone suspicious hanging around? Did she have any problems with customers?”

The blonde girl shook her head, “Everyone liked Jackie,” she sobbed, “Who would want to hurt her?”

 The older woman in the black apron cleared her throat, “There is that strange
man, the little one that sits in the corner reading those ratty old books. . .”

The Detective looked at her, “Did he have a disagreement with your friend?”

The woman shook her head, “No, nothing really, I just don’t like the look of him.” She hesitated, “He stares.” The Detective had come to rely on instinct–his own and others.
A stare held too long, a nervous twitch during an interrogation, eyes that couldn’t quite meet your own.

“Do you have a name?” he asked, “Or a description?” She shook her head, “He’s in here all the time lately, but he pays cash. That’s strange, in itself,” she continued, “Most people pay with credit cards these days, even if it’s just a cafй latte and a bagel. I can describe him, though. And, he comes in here enough. I could give you a call if he comes in.”

The Detective nodded while the blonde girl sobbed quietly on the edge of his vision.
“That’d be fine,” Coleman said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his business cards. They were wet from the rain and the edge of one was crumpled. He laid them on the counter. “In case any of you think of something, anything, that you want to tell me.” The older woman reached forward for a card and slipped it into the breast pocket of her sweater. She nodded.

Coleman looked at the blonde girl. She was holding back
her tears now, but a piece of hair was plastered to her wet cheek. “Do you want to show me her locker?” he asked. She nodded mutely. Her things. Jackie’s things. Coleman followed the girl behind the counter. Behind him her heard the door’s lock being turned with a snick.

September 18, 2:00 PM


The rain was fine. Just fine. A strike of luck even. It would cleanse everything he thought. Wipe away anything he might have left. He had time to regret it now. Sloppy, so sloppy. He let his anger get the best of him sometime. That was no way to be. He was the one in control. He didn’t like to let himself slip and it was happening more and more often. They taunted him, that was true. Always watching him with their dull eyes.

Even when they were dead, especially then, they watched him. What did they see? Not what he was. They were all just like his neighbors and those fools he worked with every day. He pared his nails and watched the coffee shop door from his car.

Beside him was the crumpled brown bag of bread crumbs. Rain. Even the birds were driven by it. He was like the rain. Yes. He was a force of nature, undeniable, unstoppable. He turned on the windshield wipers. Their rhythmic swishing calmed him.

What was he doing in there? That Detective. He had been in there an hour, maybe two hours. The rain made time fade. Swish. Swish. He turned on the headlights and started the car. It was just the rain. It made him nervous. He never knew when it was coming
or when it would stop. He liked things to be predictable. They usually were. He was the Seer. He knew. He knew.

September 18, 2:15 PM


The girl had run under the cafe’s awning for shelter, but found the door locked. She pecked on the door tentatively seeing movement inside. A young man with a sad face opened the door.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “There’s been, I mean,” he pointed to the paper sign taped to the door, “We’re closed today. I’m sorry.”

 The girl smiled. “It’s okay, really. I just got caught in the rain and I was hoping I could use your phone. I walked and I thought I could call a taxi.” She smiled again, “All this rain.” The young man took a breath and pushed open the door. The girl was pretty. Her hair was the color of strawberry wine, he thought.

“Sure,” he said, “I’ll get the phone for you.” The girl followed him inside and the door closed behind them. Outside the rain grew harder. A car passed, lingering for a minute in front of the awning. The older woman looked up from the counter. Gray car. Gray rain. She wrote one word on her order pad, “Gray”.

September 18, 2:30 PM


Coleman heard the front door open and the low buzz of conversation. A girl’s laugh rang out as high and bright as tinsel. Then, the door closed again and the little bell tinkled flatly. Coleman turned back to the locker. Nothing unusual. The normal trappings of a girl’s life—a pale sweatshirt, a pair of faded jeans folded end over end, Diet Coke unopened, lip gloss, a Glamour magazine with crumpled edges.

Coleman closed the locker door. There was a magnet with a cat’s face on the front of the locker and a piece of tape with the word, “JACKIE” written in fluorescent pink marker. The other waitress was standing behind him. He could hear her breathing and the hiccuping of her trying to hold back tears.

“Do you need to take anything?,” she asked, “For the investigation?” She waited, then said, “She has a sister in Topeka, I thought I could send her, that she might,” she wiped her hand hard against her eyes.

Coleman nodded. “There’s no evidence of any break-in. I’m sure it will be fine.” Coleman removed his hand from the locker door and its coolness followed him. The jade eyes of the cat stared back at him. Better to look at those eyes than the girl behind him. “I may stop by
again in a few days,” he said, “to ask you some more questions. Until then, if you see anything or remember anything, please call and ask for Detective Coleman.” He pulled another card out of his breast pocket. The girl took the card in her wet hand and stared at it. Coleman walked past her into the cafe.

The air conditioning had been turned up full blast and all the windows had fogged. The young cashier was standing by the counter and the older woman was sitting at a table facing the window drinking from a steaming cup.
She looked up and lifted her cup. “Need something?” she asked. Coleman shook his head. “Suit yourself,” she said. He moved toward the door and the older woman ripped a piece of paper out of her notepad. She held it out to him looking over her glasses. “Probably nothing,” she said, “But I saw a car, going slow, right by the window. Probably nothing.” Coleman read the paper, “Gray. Cavalier. 1990s. NV7.” “I couldn’t get the rest of the license,” she said, “Rain, you know.”

Coleman nodded, “I’ll check this out.” “Margie’s off the phone now,” he heard the young man say behind him and a red-haired girl melted out of the corner.

“Thanks,” she said moving toward the outstretched phone. “I’ll make it quick.” Coleman watched her cross the floor to the counter. She leaned against the polished wood and dialed the phone. “American Cab,” she asked, and wrote down a number. She dialed again and gave the address for the cafe. “I can wait under the awning, if you want.” She said to the young man. He shook his head.

“No, it’s fine,” he said, “I’ll make you a latte.” He looked up and found Coleman staring at him, “She’s a regular customer.”

“Sure am,” she said, “I’m in here most days.” The girl smiled and leaned against the counter.

Coleman took one step forward without realizing it. “Did you see anything odd in the last few days?” The girl closed her eyes and leaned back again.

“No,” she
said, “No. Nothing different.” The older woman eyed her sharply. The girl opened her eyes suddenly and the blue of them startled Coleman. “Well, there is that weird little guy.” She looked at the older woman. “He’s in here a lot, but, hey, so am I, so I guess that’s no crime.”

Coleman looked at the older woman. “Same guy?”

The woman nodded, “Short, balding, with a face like a bird.”

The girl nodded and looked directly into Coleman’s eyes, “He always seems nervous, and, something, I don’t know, well, tight, I guess. Wound. Not angry, but not calm.” She shrugged. “What do I know?” “You were at the investigation earlier,” Coleman said, “Taking
notes.” She nodded. “Oh God, I hope I didn’t make a nuisance of myself the way all those reporters did!” She smiled and Coleman was dazzled, “I’m a psychology student. I’m making a study of deviant behavior. Specifically serial murderers. I thought with the previous, I mean, this could be another.” She looked down suddenly shy, “I didn’t mean to jump to assumptions. You’re the expert after all.”

“Well,” Coleman said and then stopped himself. He had been on the verge of telling her that this was the same case as the others that this was a serial murder. He crossed the room and handed the girl his card. Her fingers touched his electrically and for a minute he forgot what he was going to say. “If you think of anything,” he said.

She nodded, “Yes, of course.”

Coleman turned and opened the door. The rain had slowed. The door closed behind him and the little bell tinkled. “What the Hell?” Coleman said to himself, “What am I—a school boy?” He shook his head as he walked to his car. The rain was hot on his face and the key was slow to turn in the lock. The door opened and Coleman sat down. She was beautiful.

September 18, 3:00 PM

The girl stood by the door and watching the Detective make his way to his car. He ran, almost, between the raindrops, but he still ended up getting soaked. She shook her head and looked down at the card in her hand.

“Coleman,” she read and a little shiver of excitement crept up her spine. She put the card in her purse.

Behind her, the young clerk said, “You can come sit down. Have another coffee if you want—on the house?”

She shook her head. “Thanks,” she said, “I don’t want to be any more trouble.” She turned the door knob and the little bells tinkled. The old woman looked up just in time to see the door close. The girl leaned against the glass door, so that the awning shielded her completely from the rain. She could see the distinctive yellow of the cab rounding the corner ahead. The ran started up again. Hard. And, a little gust of water blew in hitting
her on the face and arms. She gasped.

A surprise. You never knew. Did you. She looked up at the awning and smiled. A little betrayal, but, then, life was full of them. She stepped out into the rain, shielding her
notebook under the denim jacket. The cab pulled up to the curb and she opened the door.

“Some weather, eh?,” asked the driver. He had a baseball cap on that was so faded that the logo could no longer be read.

“Where to?” he asked. She gave him the street and the numbers and the cab moved into the rain. The young clerk stood at the door and watched the cab disappear into the grey.

“She’ll be in here tomorrow,” said the old woman without looking up. “Who?” the young man said unconvincingly. He moved to the counter and began wiping it down. After a while, he whistled off-tune. The old woman smiled and picked up her coffee cup.

September 18, 5:00 PM

The window of his apartment was streaked with rain. He could see nothing now—only dark shapes on the street. Nothing distinct—they could be anything. He picked up the remote and his television, an old number that stood in a wooden cabinet on the floor, fizzed to life.

Static. Faces. Nothing. All faces reminded him of his failure. Blank. Blank. Nothing at all. He looked back at the dark outside his window. Not now. No. He wouldn’t make a mistake again. He wouldn’t let himself be distracted. He clicked off the t.v. and sat down on
the sofa.

There was a knock at his door—soft. The landlady, maybe, to ask him if he wanted a piece of cake or one of his neighbor’s children selling something. The knock again. He didn’t move. No distractions.

Tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, but soon. He’d know. It was in the air, in the rain, all around him. “Soon,” the air hummed in his ear with the air-conditioning unit. “Soon,” murmured the refridgerator like a lover.

“Soon, soon,” he found himself whispering. He didn’t smile. He didn’t move. “Soon,” he whispered again in a voice that his neighbor’s would not have recognized, “Soon.”

September 18, 5:30 PM

The cab stopped out side of the brown-stone building and the girl got out handing the driver some bills through the window. “Thanks,” he said seeing an extra five in the mix. The girl nodded and started up the stairs. She fumbled with the key in the door and stepped into the doorway.

Behind her, the cab pulled away from the curb. The hallway was dim and smelled of lemons and age. Her shoes squelched weakly against the wooden floor. A door opened behind her and then closed. The didn’t look back, just moved forward to the stair. The sixth stair aways creaks, she thought. Creak. And, she was on the second floor. She could hear
the patter of footsteps on the landing below her. She reached her door and put the key in the lock. It turned slowly, the grinding of an old lock, and then opened. She didn’t bother to click on the light. She knew where everything was. She let the door close behind her and went to the refrigerator.

She stood by the window
looking out and peeling an orange. Below her dark shapes moved on the street. A car passed slowly. A man ran in the rain seeking shelter under an awning. A siren and then another. She put a piece of orange in her mouth. So much rain. But, it will be sunny tomorrow. She reached for the remote on the window sill and clicked on the t.v.

“Sunny for the rest of the week. . .more rain expected for the weekend. . .more updates
on. . ” She clicked it off again. She watched the rain. She had the funny feeling sometimes that it watched
her too.

September 18, 10:30 PM

Coleman sat on his sofa and clicked the remote. Restless. More rain. A fire on Bryant Street. Another accident. Another death. A local team was in the State Finals for some sport or the other. The rain was hitting hard against his window now. Outside he could hear someone in the hallway humming.

Downstairs someone had turned out an appliance. He could hear the low buzzing hum, of, what was that, a blender?

These walls were too thin. He had to think about finding himself a place with thicker walls—a door slammed down the hall. He added fewer neighbors and thicker walls to his check list. He flipped the t.v. off and lay down on the sofa in the dark. The rain continued low and steady. Coleman yawned. Another siren. More running. A woman yelled something and a child responded. Soon Coleman’s snores added themselves to the rhythm of the building.

September 18, 11:00 PM

The Hunter stood outside and watched the rain fall. He wasn’t afraid of the rain or the dark. They were a part of life like himself. Life, death, rain, dark. It was all the same. He lifted his face and felt the cold of it.

The moon, pale and slender as a bow shined through the rain. He could feel it all falling into place and a horrible sadness consumed him. A small whimper escaped him. He stared at the moon and cried. The rain fell and the night hid everything.

September 19, 5:58 AM

The weather man had been right for once, thought the old woman as she punched in the code to open the Book End’s door. It was sunny today. The sun was a bit shy, but it would be out in force in a few hours. She checked her watch 6:00 AM. Early. But, not too early for the first customers.

Sure enough she heard a car door shut as she turned on the lights in the cafe. Jimmy was already here. She could smell coffee and warmed milk and the distinct tang of cinnamon in the air.

“Want something to drink?” the boy called from the back room.

“Make it black,” the old woman said. She entered her code into the register just as the little bell on the door rang. It was Cafe Latte with extra expresso. He worked at the bank. He always signed his credit card receipts with a blue pen with the bank’s logo.

“Cafe Latte,” he said, “With an extra shot, and,. . .give me one of those cinnamon scones. God, they smell great!”

The old woman nodded. “$6.70,” she said and he handed her his credit card. He pulled out the blue pen.

“Some weather we’re having,” he said. She nodded.

He looked around for Jackie. This one doesn’t read the papers, the older woman thought. She turned and began making the cafe latte. The man started to hum.

September 19, 7:40 AM

He was pleased to see the sun shining when he looked out his window. He bought a paper on his way to work and checked the weather for the week. A day of sun, two days of rain, then sun again. He checked his pocket for change and when he found some spare quarters, he stopped at the bakery for day old bagels. He thought he would tear them into strips on his lunch break and maybe feed them to the birds.

Or, maybe he would stop by the cafй for some coffee. The girl could be there. Maybe she would be. She was there most every day in the afternoon after classes dismissed. He would be there waiting like always when she came through the door with bells with her arms full of notebooks and a pen tucked in her red hair. Then, maybe, in a day or two, he would talk to her.

He followed her home one day. It was weeks ago. She lived alone in an
apartment with a flat brown stone face. Maybe he would wait for her there. He wanted to tell her things, to let her know his secrets. She would understand. She would look at him and know his deepest fears.

He
flipped the change in his pocket and it made a noise not unlike that little door bell. Sun, then rain, then sun.

Yes, that was the way of it.

September 19, 4:40 PM

The girl sat on a bench across from the cafй writing in her notebook. Every now and again she stopped and chewed on the end of her pen thoughtfully.

Coleman driving by the cafe on his way home he saw her, a quick flash of red, and slowed his car and then pulled it into one of the parallel slots. He rolled down his window and watched her write. Something about her compelled him.

She looked up and he thought she saw him, but then she looked passed his car to the store behind him. He opened the car door and almost walked up to her. But, at the last moment he turned into the cafe. The old woman raised her eyebrows at him behind the
counter.

“Black,” he said reaching for his wallet.

She waved her hand. “No charge,” she said. She looked over his shoulder and out the window at the girl and smiled. Coleman took his coffee and winced at the first
steaming sip. “Don’t burn yourself,” the woman called as he opened the door.

He nodded and heard the bell ring right before he turned the door handle. The girl was on the opposite side of the door.

“Excuse me,” she said and squeezed passed him. She looked back at him from the counter. “Black,” she said, “With a shot of something—surprise me.” The old woman handed her a cup with steam rising from it’s surface. The girl took a sip and smiled, “Caramel,” she said. She turned and moved toward the door and Coleman found himself holding it open for her. She moved past him with a smell of cinnamon and something like smoke. “Thanks,” she said.

Then she stepped out into the street. Coleman let the door fall behind him and followed her.

September 19, 4:40 PM

The Hunter studied the Detective. He felt his confusion and desire and understood. There was something wild in the air today. Something more than the settling earth after a rainstorm. There was something feral and undeniable. The Hunter settled into himself and smiled. Time was spinning so quickly now—like a mudslide or a
tornado—unstoppable. He didn’t know exactly how things would play out, but he had some idea.

He liked surprises. Life was full of them. Experience was what kept you alive though. And, he knew that the Detective was a hazard. He might be distracted by the girl, but he was also paying attention to her and that was bad.

Still, he liked the challenge of it. He liked the feel that he was both the predator and the prey. It was, he thought, a sweet sensation to think how quickly everything, even himself, could end. The Hunter smiled and let himself go still. He curled into himself like a cat and savored the future like creme.

September 19, 5:10 PM
Coleman followed the girl into the street. She slowed as if she sensed him, and then sped up. When he rounded the corner, she was stopped waiting for him. “What do you want?” she asked in a sweet high voice.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said. He realized horribly that they were standing just outside the alley-way where Jackie had been killed. The girl must’ve realized it at the same time. She stepped forward suddenly like a cat hearing a loud noise.

“Could we talk?” Coleman asked. She nodded and looked toward the coffee shop. “Not there,” Coleman said. “There’s a restaurant just down the block.” The girl looked at her watch. “It stays open all night,” Coleman added.

He could see she was considering and held his breath unsure why this mattered so much so suddenly to him. She nodded. “Alright, for a while.” Coleman stepped past her and walked down the sidewalk. After a second he heard her boots behind him crunching softly on the fallen leaves. When they reached the diner, he held the door open for her and she walked past him. Her hair brushed against his hand held high on the door a shock of something like electricity went through him.

She slid into a booth looking out on the street and waited for him to sit. A waitress in a blue and white uniform came over holding a metallic coffee decanter.

“Just coffee,” he said heading her off.

The girl nodded. The waitress came back with two white chine cups and poured their coffee. Coleman looked down at the cup while she poured. There was a chip, badly stained on its rim. The waitress turned and left on soundless shoes.

The lights hummed on the street. Coleman could hear the girl breathing. He cleared his throat. She looked up and smiled. And, he smiled back. And, for a long time, they just sat there watching each other. Finally, he took a sip of coffee and winced.

“You were right,” he said, “We should have gone to the cafe.”
The girl took a sip. “It’s not so bad,” she said. “A little strong.” Steam curled around her fingers. Outside a car honked and someone yelled. Coleman and the girl drank their coffee and the world went on around them.

September 19, 7:30 PM

The girl wasn’t at the cafe. He didn’t like it. And, that old woman was watching him again. He could feel her eyes on the back on his head. He got up and paid at the register. Since that waitress was gone, no one bothered him anymore. Just that old woman and her staring.

He turned and smiled at her as he left, but she didn’t smile back. For some reason she made him feel nervous. Why? Why? What was she. Nothing. Just an old woman. Like his neighbors. What did she know? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Still, still. It made him feel
small. He walked down the street past the alley. He hurried past it. He didn’t want to look. It was if IT had happened long ago. It seemed so long ago and far away. Like it had been someone else with her in that alley.

It was someone else. Someone who didn’t feel so small. He clutched his hands together. A car passed too quickly with squealing tires. A woman with a carriage yelled for the driver to slow down. He turned his head and there she was. The girl. His girl. Right there, in the window, with that Detective.

They were drinking coffee. He could see her lips move and then she smiled. His smile. He felt cold. He felt suddenly very cold. He turned back around and headed toward the cafe.

This time, he stopped in front of the alley. It didn’t feel alien to him. It felt like home. He felt like he was going home or perhaps he was home already. He clenched his hands together. He could feel the power in them. Suddenly, everything made more sense. Everything was as it should be. He laughed and the woman with the carriage stopped.

She looked at him and then looked away and pushed the carriage faster. She knew. She knew what he was. He was a Predator. A Wolf. Something to be feared. He closed his eyes and listed to the sounds around him and he knew how close everything was. Like a heart beat or a sigh. It had begun.

September 19, 9:30 PM

The girl left the coffee shop alone. The Detective had offered to walk her to her apartment and she knew he had trailed her a few blocks to make sure she was safe. She smiled. Safe. In this city? She’d told him not to get too attached. She was leaving town soon. She didn’t like to stay any place too long. It was a product of her childhood. She liked to move around. New faces, new sights.

She smelled the air and she knew that it would rain tonight despite the weatherman’s predictions. She almost felt sorry that she couldn’t stay.

It was one of her fits of “might have beens.” She liked Detective Coleman and he liked her. He seemed truer, more real than most people she had met and on some fundamental level, he understood her.

She walked and swung her tote bag. She loved it. It was canvas, but sturdy and it had the picture of two kittens on it with yarn etched in sequins. She liked backpacks too, but somehow this was freer. It was her mood lately. More freewheeling.

She smiled and sniffed the air. She had planned to stay a couple of weeks more, although she had already packed her few belongings in the army sized duffle that she always used. But, what the hell? She could throw caution to the wind and leave tonight. Light out on the full moon in her little grey Volvo with the beat-up left fender.

No one would miss her. Detective Coleman, maybe, but then he didn’t even have her full
name and he’d forget her quick enough. Just another pretty girl.

She stopped. Time had gotten away with her. She’d let her thoughts ramble and here she was almost at her apartment. Only four blocks away. The sky rumbled. Maybe the rain was coming quicker than she thought. Well, that was fine, she wouldn’t melt, would she?

She turned down the narrow alley between McCormick and Strayer. It was fronted by a Pizza Place that sometimes stayed open late and a couple of dusty bookstores that catered to students’ used books. She’d used it plenty of times. Nothing much bothered her. She’d never seen more than a stray cat lurking behind a garbage can.

She stepped into the alley and was about halfway to the other side when she heard the footsteps behind her. She could seen the lights from the main street and here the sound of a siren, and then a car slamming on its breaks. She fought the primal impedious to run and turned her hand reaching into her bag. In this light, his eyes almost gleamed like an animal’s caught in headlights. “It’s you,” she said.

September 19, 9:30 PM

He had watched the coffee shop until the Girl and the Detective left. The Detective had followed her a few blocks and turned toward home, lighting the last cigarette of the night, as he often did. He had considered following him, the Detective, just to see if he would notice. But, he’d heard the rumble of the rain and turned after the Girl.

He hadn’t planned this. He knew. It was meant to be different. But, here it was the Girl and the rain and the beat of his heart. He followed her and when she turned into the alley, a route she didn’t take home often, he knew this was it. This was the moment.

What would she say? Would she deny him? He hoped, still hoped, that he had been right all along. That she was the One. The One that would finally understand.

Would she scream like all the others, plead maybe, what would her last breath taste like in his mouth? He followed her and pulled the knife out of his coat pocket. It wasn’t a big knife really, he thought. But it was useful, honest, like a good friend it had never betrayed him.

About halfway through the alley, she
turned. With the light from the street behind her playing against her red hair, she looked like an angel. But, there was something wrong. She didn’t run or scream.

She was smiling. He stepped forward and his last thought, before he saw the black-bladed knife slash down at him was, “She does understand.”

September 20, 6:40 AM

The call came in on morning dispatch while Coleman was drinking his first cup of coffee. He had stopped by the cafe, but the girl wasn’t there.

He’d scared her off. He knew he’d come on too strong. He drank the coffee and winced. God, it was bitter this morning. He turned his car toward the crime scene and was met
with the usual scene. Reporters, already gathered like flies around the yellow line, blue light flashing, coroner’s office huddled to the side talking to another Detective.

He flashed his badge at a blue uniform and stepped over the yellow tape.

“You’d think people know better than to be short-cutting through alleys with a killer on
the loose, eh, Detective?” the gum-chewing reporter said as he passed.

“Keep them behind the line,” he said to the uniformed officer. He knew the coroner’s assistant, Jimmy Manx.

“What’ve we got?” he asked the white coated man. Jimmy looked up, “Guy got himself mugged. Slit throat. Right before the rainstorm.” he said.

Coleman looked down at the body. The man was small, rumpled, nondescript. Yet, he looked oddly familiar. They’d probably passed on the street a hundred times. This wasn’t that big of a neighborhood. “No wallet, Med-alert bracelet, name tag?” Coleman asked. Jimmy nodded,

“Nope. We get these all the time. Who knows, someone may claim him—wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever.”

Coleman looked down at the man again. Just what he needed. Another robbery-murder to write up with a serial killer on the loose. He fought the urge to light a cigarette. “Looks like it may rain again. We better hustle,” said Jimmy. Coleman nodded.

September 20, 11:00 PM

The girl sat at the bar with her back to the room. She reached for the dirty glass of beer as soon as it was set in front of her and blew at the foam. Her hair, long and red, was pulled back with a black scrunchie. She wore too-tight jeans fraying at the knees and a sleeveless Skynard t-shirt that had been cut off above her navel. She swivelled around in the chair and her eyes raked across the room nonchalantly.

A man sat eyeing her at a corner table. He wore fatigues and fiddled at the table’s worn wood surface with a pocket knife. She let her eyes slide over him and then she turned back to the bar. He was nothing. He would approach her and be turned away.

But, there was someone far more interesting in the corner. He was small, nervous, a black
and white image in this place of too much color. He wore an expression of surprise and kept rubbing his knuckles. His eyes had the look of shock and horror she had come to associate with the first kill.

She was on her way further South and hoped to be there by the end of the week. There was someone she had been keeping an eye on for some time and she sensed that his end-game was close. Still, you could never tell for sure and this would be a nice diversion—perhaps for the night—maybe longer.

She sipped her beer and frowned. It was already warm. She tapped the edge of the bar with her finger and when she saw the little man head for the door. He looked around behind him with the eye’s of a mouse and then hurried to his car.

The girl smiled and inside something half-sleeping turned. The night air was cold on her face and the music faded to a dim throbbing as the door shut behind her. The night was bright and she looked up to see her own face.

Hunter’s Moon. She smiled and felt the Hunter behind her teeth. The other would wait at least for the night.


Fallen

“What do they call themselves,” she asked, “these god-slayers?”

He did not turn to look at her, but answered simply in his growl of a voice, “Many things.”

She nodded and tucked her feet primly under her. She studied the scene of violence below her: the loot of the city, the wreck of the temple, men fleeing, and others pursuing, sword and fire. “What will they do when they are finished?” she asked him.

And again, he answered without a turn of his head. “Go. Stay. It makes little difference. I will have work to do. There is no difference at all.”

She nodded. She would be busy as well. And he was right. It made little difference, but still… The temple was on fire now, a bright crisp flame leapt up from the second story. The smell of clay, fire, blood, and stone rode heavy on the wind. Such a waste.

“Who do they think they are?” she asked, “They trample and destroy. They walk in the holy places with their common feet. They are nothing.” She finished with an indignant hiss.

He did not move beside her, and after a while she looked away trying to appear as unconcerned as he always did. “It means nothing,” she murmured under her breath, but even as she did she remembered the veils of blue, the sparkling waters, the way the sun warmed the terracotta stones with its first rays. All ruined. All gone.

She could scarcely remember a time before the temple. It was in the temple that she had been born — or at least that she had found her true self. But she knew in her heart that wasn’t true. She remembered another place. A hard place with so much sun. She remembered the rain and then the sun and then the temple with its bending trees and golden walls.

In the morning there was singing and in the night there was music and dancing and feasting that lasted until the moon finally set. And in the morning it all began again. It always had and always would. Hadn’t it? It seemed to be so and yet the temple was ruined and all her best things destroyed. There seemed to be no point to it.

From the rooftop where she lay she watched them carry gold and silver from the ruin. They scattered here and there like rats. Rats fleeing the flames. Her gold. Her silver. She narrowed her eyes and took a long, sharp breath heavy with annoyance, but they could not hear her.

Beside her, she could hear her brother’s steady breathing. He did not care. Nothing moved him. A true professional. She lay peering over the side her fingers grown numb and tight with the tension. Below she could hear a scream and then nothing and then a scream again. She wasn’t sure sometimes until she saw her brother’s ears twitch, his only movement in the long day. After a while, she pulled back from the edge and gave herself over to sleep. But even in her dreams the temple burned and the acolytes ran and she heard someone calling her name from far away, but she did not see them. She could not find them. And then the darkness closed about her and she slept while the city burned and her brother sat beside her still as a stone.

After hours or perhaps days, it seemed, she woke. The wind had changed and the sun was low, low in the sky. The wind had the coolest scent blown from the river and she could almost taste the sun and the mud and the reeds. She rose onto her haunches and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “What day is it?” she asked.

And her brother answered as stoically as ever, “It is today.” Annoyed, she pulled herself upright and risked a look into the streets. The fires and the screaming were less now. The city was hazy with burning and soot and dust. Bodies lay here and there. Loot lay in the streets with the dead and above her just over the horizon she could see the ghost of the moon. She smiled.

It was almost over. The stone would smolder for days and the dead would be piled in heaps. She could hear them now, in the streets, singing, drinking. “What are they saying?” she asked him.

“They say the gods are dead,” he said. She smiled and with the back of her hand rubbed a piece of ash from her cheek.

“The gods dead?” she laughed. “But who could kill a god?” She stood taller and watched the moon grow clearer.

The dark was coming and soon. Her folk would be abroad and wherever they walked, so did she. The night was coming and she could see that those below knew as well. They were a little quieter. A bit more uneasy. Who knew what lived in the dark?

Dark eyes. Golden eyes. She had not always been the Goddess of Joy; once she had been something else, and in the dark, they could see the eyes of the lion glowing from a thousand dark alleyways, from a thousand dark corners, from the inside of their very souls.

She stood and licked the back of her hand and felt the claws retract soundlessly. The Goddess smiled and in the dark she saw the Jackal’s eyes glow. “Will I see you again soon, brother?” she asked.

And the Jackal growled, “I am always here, whether you see me or no.” Bast showed him her teeth and leapt into the night; behind her a thousand soft feet followed. The jackal Wepwawet, son of Isis, Opener of the Underworld, simply sat and watched and waited, as he always had. The night was young. It always was and always would be, and he had time yet.

Copyright © 2006 by Beverley Forehand


Crayons

Red-blue-yellow-green. I found them in that order.

One under the battered sofa, another two fallen between cracks in the warped floorboards, the fourth in my cardboard schoolbox along with Elmer’s Glue.

With them I had created my own world of bright blue castles and dragons as red as clowns’ rubber noses.

I had drawn and dreamed of all the great things I would do and see in a world I envisioned as Crayola-vivid.


Flight & Other Possibilities of the Human Spirit

When I was six years old, I flew from the top step of our house and landed on one outstretched toe graceful as any bird. I remember the way the air whistled around me and the slight tingling as my bare foot touched grass. I ran into the kitchen to tell my mother.

“I flew – right off the steps!”

She looked up from the bowl, her hands deep in cookie dough. “You jumped,” she said. “You’re lucky you didn’t skin your knee or worse.”

“No, no,” I said bobbing my head like a duck, “I flew. I did!”

She started kneading the dough again. “Don’t let me catch you jumping off the porch again.”

I think I left then. I tried flying every day for three months after that, but I never managed it again. I did skin my knee and one day I chipped a tooth. I still dream of it. Flying. It did happen. Of course, no one believed me. No one believes me now, and I can just feel you shaking your head. Girls don’t fly. Maybe they do in movies, but regular freckle-nosed, grass in their hair, Band-aid-kneed girls don’t fly. They jump, they fall, and they go running back inside teary-eyed hoping for a cookie.

Lots of things in my childhood were like that. They fell into two clear camps: things that happened and things that didn’t happen, even if they really did. If you heard neighbors fighting and then you saw a bruised arm, you looked away. Good neighbors mind their own business. They mow their lawns and keep their dogs on their own property. If you see a man sobbing on the street, tears falling silently, mouth open with a grief too big to bear, you move along. “Don’t stare. We all have our own loads,” my Granny would say. “God never hands out more than a man can carry.” Bad things sometimes happen. Houses burned, jobs were lost, and every one rallied to help. The church would hold a raffle to raise money or everyone would donate their old clothes and toys. If there was a death, there were casseroles to make and bundt cakes half chocolate and half white. Those were things that could be faced. They could be dealt with and put to rest. But other things were tucked away, like quilts for winter circled in lavender and lemon balm to keep the moths out. Things too big or too hard were just forgotten. Time heals all wounds, or so they say.

There was a sinkhole on my Granny’s land. It was a great and unfathomable mystery to all us kids. You could fill it up with brush and in a day or a week it would be gone. None of us ever saw it do any sinking, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. We’d feed the hole leaves and rocks, and once I fed it one of my sister’s dolls in a fit of spite. Folks said it would take anything in time. No one ever said where these things went. I asked. No one knew. But it ate things besides sticks and brush and big-eyed plastic dolls. One day, as I sat cat-quiet underneath the honeysuckle bushes hoping to see something sink, Sandra Clay came and stood by the hole’s edge. She looked like she might throw herself in–something not even the bravest of my cousins would dare. Sandra was fourteen to my eight and had sad blonde-brown hair. She wore glasses and smiled at me when I giggled in church. She stood looking down into the hole for the longest time and then said in a voice mouse-small but resolute, “I love Billy Marcum, but he doesn’t love me. He’ll never love me.” She stood a little longer and I thought I could almost hear the plop-plop of tears falling in that hole. Then she left.

And she was right. Billy Marcum never did love her. He married a red-haired woman from up north that he met while he was in college. I don’t know what happened to Sandra. She moved away after she graduated high school. But I do know that she seemed somehow happier, or at least less run-down after that day at the sinkhole. I wondered over the years, how many other women and men stood over that hole pouring down their grief. Many, maybe too many.

One day, when I was nearly grown, the sinkhole stopped drawing things down. Brush piled up and eventually, my uncle used the Ditch Witch to fill it in. “Everything’s got a core,” my Granny said. “That one’s full.” Maybe it was filled with all those tree limbs and rocks. But I think there’s only so much sadness anything can bear. Even a hole.


Cry Me a River

The dead are all around us. They are in the earth, in the water, in the very air we breathe. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me about the ghosts on the creek. There were lots of them. There was the Civil War soldier who walked the road from Franklin to here always trying to get home. There was the headless man who stalked the wagon roads mutely holding a lantern in his graying hand. There was the baby who cried shallowly from the walls of the old Milburne cabin—a house that no one had lived in for longer than a year at a time since before my grandfather was a boy. And there was the river woman. No one knew her name, but most of us, at one time or another, had seen her slow weeping walk down the banks of the river.

Oh, it’s not really a river. We just call it that. Most of us have never seen a real river. My grandfather said that he once saw the Mississippi and that it was so far across you couldn’t see the other side. Even the Duck River is really only a creek with attitude. Our river was really a creek—a big, fierce creek that became even fiercer after a hard rain, but a creek, nonetheless. You could walk across it if you found enough strategically placed stones. It was waist-high in most places, but it ran low in the summer. There were low slick, mossy places that would catch you unawares and sharp rocks that would tear right through a rubber boot. Mean catfish, big as small dogs, lived in the muddy banks, and had been known to take a chunk out of a fisherman’s leg. Men had drowned in that creek after floods or when they’d had too much to drink. Little kids had floated away right in their mother’s sight when a bad current caught them. Sometimes there were dead things in the creek—cows, birds, and things the water had carried so long that no one could name them.

Still, I never knew of any spirit to walk those waters except the Weeping Woman. I’ve seen her—twice in fact. You can only see her at dusk—right as the sun is coming up or going down. She’s not one for starry nights or the light of day. Her hair is the color of birch tree bark, pale brown and white mixed together to form a color not quite gray. She was like a faded picture. Clear, but almost cracked around the edges. Even a fool could see that she wasn’t human anymore. It was as if she had tried really hard to remember what someone should look like, but could just remember the particulars. She had hands and feet and hair, but they were the merest outlines of a woman. The only thing about her that was whole was her grief. She walked the edge of the water and cried. She cried noisily, the kind of hiccuping sobs that come from the very heart of a person. She never looked up. She never spoke to anyone that I ever heard of. She just walked and cried and left no footprints—not even after a rainstorm when the banks were so muddy-slick that a man only walked near them at his peril.

There’s a story about her. No name. Just a story. My grandfather said that his grandfather told it to him. She was a girl that lived at the far end of the creek. There were cabins there once. Now, there’s nothing there at all, but a heap of sand that the county pushed up for flood control. She was a plain girl with brown hair and brown eyes. She wasn’t beautiful or smart or particularly clever, but everyone agreed she had a good heart. She was the sort of girl that nursed injured animals, even the wildest badgers and foxes, back to health. She patched the broken wings of birds and she sang as she worked. Back then, everyone worked—even the smallest child. On a farm, the work was never done from sun up to sundown. She had rough hands from working the dirt and rough feet from walking barefoot all summer. Her hair, more often than not, had a sprig of hay or rowan in it. Maybe she had dirt on her nose some days or a hole in her calico dress. But none of that was important. The important part was that she was a good girl. Truly good at heart which was as rare in those days as it is now.

She fell in love with the preacher’s son. The preacher, a kind man himself, if a little absent-minded, was from up North somewhere. He had attended a swear-to-God seminary school and had a degree to hang on his wall. His house, which was in town, a half-day’s ride by wagon or horse, had lace curtains and a real front porch with a swing. His son, a handsome boy, who was fully aware of his good looks, didn’t work at all. He kept to his studies—or he was supposed to anyway. Most days, he rode around the county on his fine dark horse causing all sorts of trouble. His friends, equally given to mean-spiritedness and laziness, met up with him when they could. But, most of them were country boys who had cows to milk and fields to plow and couldn’t give themselves over completely to dissolution. The preacher’s wife, God-rest-her-soul, had passed on some years earlier. By all accounts, she had been a gentle woman with some money to her name. It was because of her, or more specifically her money, that the preacher and his fair-haired son didn’t have to spend their days in shop or field. Preaching, in those days, was seldom a full time job. You would often as not to see the same man you saw in the pulpit on Sundays humping it through a furrowed field with his old mule on a Monday or pounding out horseshoes as the local blacksmith. But, this preacher was a full time preacher—as rare and precious a thing in those days as a silver dollar or a blue moon.

Despite his leisure time, the preacher didn’t seem to have much time to mind his son, who tore about the neighboring farms and fields making mischief. He’d pull down scarecrows just for spite or knock down a fence slat so that cows would be found wandering dazedly on the creek bank or the road. He was the kind of boy that threw rocks at old dogs and spooked horses for the sport of it. He shot and killed stray cats and deer and left them to rot. I doubt that a boy like that, a selfish boy with his eyes on nothing but his own pleasure, would’ve ever noticed a brown faced girl with freckles on the bridge of her nose. His eyes were full of town girls with starched crinoline dresses who wore white gloves in summer and spring and carried umbrellas on rainy days. He would’ve never noticed such a regular girl even if she had been standing right in front of him offering him a glass of cold water on a sweltering day.

Love is a funny thing. It can make the hardest man go weak at the knees or make the most timid of women as brave as any lion. Love can move mountains, so they say, and I don’t doubt that it’s true. For this girl, an ordinary girl in every way, love was a revelation. Life seemed sweeter for the very presence of it, even if her beloved never looked her way. Knowing that she loved was enough, and she believed, in time, as with all things, love could only turn things to the better. Every time she saw the fair-haired boy—in town, at church, at a barn dance, or along the river, she’d smile and wave. Despite his lack of interest, she hoped that she was an ameliorating influence on him—that somehow her very goodness would rub off and he would in the end give up his wicked ways. The girl believed that like the proverbial Light on a Hill she could cast goodness by the strength of her desire into his black heart. Of course, she didn’t believe he was bad through and through. Others might believe that, but she could see in the darkest recesses of his blue eyes that some goodness—some spark of the Divine still lurked there.

Someone with less optimism or more experience would’ve given up the first time he turned away or when he and his half-drunken friends almost ran her down with a buckboard. But, the girl was one for perseverance. She’d seen that even the wildest of stray cats could, with enough kindness, be taught to eat from your hand. A dog that always bit wasn’t naturally mean, just ill treated. With enough love and patience, any animal could be taught to love. But the preacher’s son was no stray cat or bird with a broken wing. He was a man, or close enough to it for the edges of boyhood to be rubbing thin. He wasn’t mean due to cruelty done to him, but because of the very cruelty of his own nature. If a dog bit him, it was because he deserved it.

The girl should have known the warning signs—when small children and house pets run, it’s because a man’s heart is black through and through. Children and animals, so akin to each other, navigate by the standing up of hair on arms, by the feel of the wind. They know the scent of badness as surely as the smell of a rotten apple. Small things don’t survive very long if they don’t know what’s coming around the bend. After a church service, while everyone stood around reviewing the week’s gossip and exchanging recipes for apple pies and remedies against bee stings, the fair-haired boy and his friends stalked off to their own fun. The girl ignored all this. She never listened to a bad word said about anyone. Some might think that a good quality in a girl or anyone else—but in this case, there was a reason behind all the talk. There’s never smoke without fire, one might say.

Years passed while the girl mooned after the preacher’s son. During that time, the girl grew taller and more freckled and her heart grew even softer. So sweet was her nature that bees would follow her scent, mistaking her for a flower in bloom. Birds would land on her shoulder when she sat very still and children ran up to her and held her hand without even knowing her name. The fair-haired boy, her opposite in every way, only grew more perverse with time. As his face became more beautiful, his hair more golden, and his eyes the color of the sky after a storm, his heart grew smaller and harder until his soul, if he even had one, was no bigger than a pebble—and certainly no more yielding. He broke a heart a week and thought nothing of it. He drank and rode all night with his friends. Their laughter could be heard echoing in the night—and they were just as dangerous to meet on a moonlight stroll.

The girl lived by the creek in a four-room cabin with a wide porch. She liked to sit on the porch late on summer evenings when the mosquitoes had landed for the night and the honeysuckle was sweet and heavy on the air. It was a night just like that, a moist summer night, when she heard the boy crying out. It was the cry of a child and not a man and at first, she thought, that some child had fallen in the river. The water was high and swollen with a week’s worth of rain. Whitecaps swelled against the bank’s edges and caught on rocks. Fallen trees swirled by giving the water a dull muddy look. The moon was full that night and the girl could see a long way. She could see the boy’s friends standing on the bank of the river and she could see the foot log slipping. The boy, dared by his friends, had climbed out on the foot log—a long piece of pine roughly hewn and safe enough in dry weather. But with the storm, the water brushed the bottom of the foot log making it sway and buck. The boy, as foolish with his own safety as with others, walked, whistling, out on the wood, but halfway across, the foot log slipped away from the muddy bank and into the furious waters.

The boy had time to cry out and try to run back to his friends before the log slipped into the murky waters. The girl watched as he clung to the log, his bright hair pasted to his face, his eyes wide with fury and fear. With no thought for herself, she waded out into the water, the current pushing against her—her dress twisting against her legs and pitching her forward onto a rock. The boy on the log sailed past her, one hand out-reached, their fingertips almost touching, and for that one time, he really saw her. He saw her completely and she reached her hands out toward him with all her hope and love, but he slid under the water and was gone. The log swirled by, hitting the bank and gaining momentum, while the girl clung to the rock and cried. She could hear voices, his friends, calling from the bank, but she said nothing. Eventually, someone pulled her out of the water and put her to bed. She developed a fever from the cold water and her own grief, but she was young and soon regained her strength—if not her heart.

They found the boy several miles down the creek. His beauty was gone now, but the girl never saw him. She was too ill to attend the funeral—her fever lasting several days. In her mind, he remained the bright boy laughing with his friends or the desperate one reaching out for her hands

For the rest of her life, the girl loved the fair-haired boy. Death had erased all his faults—not just to her, but to the entire town. In life he had been spoiled and selfish, but in death he was given a kind heart and a loving nature. The girl, who was always kind and gentle-natured, only grew more generous and sweet-spirited. Although she was never beautiful, she could sew a fine stitch and everyone loved her. Her goodness drew men to her and several made proposals, but she turned them all down.

She lived a long life, and though she had no children of her own, all children loved her. She grew roses in her garden and was too indulgent to even pull up violets or creeping jennet. She left out crumbs for the birds in winter and milk for stray cats. And every sunset, she walked the riverbank, winter and summer, sun and rain, and thought of the boy. It seems that even in death, she still walks and thinks of him. I’ve seen her, sometimes, in the late shadows, walking with her head down and streams of tears falling from her face. She’ll pass you with a whisper of air and a faint scent of lavender and rosemary—the herbs that make you think most of loss and might-have-beens. Strangely, no one has ever seen a hint of the boy along those dark banks. Perhaps love is what lingers on in the case of the girl—and love, unlike fear or even sorrow, cannot be diminished by time or distance or even death. Who knows? But, she does walk the banks of the river, a brown haired girl watching the waters for a lover that was never hers in life.