After the Tornado & Before the Storm
Hank leaned his shoulder on the side of the open doorway, not sure if his body could take the weight if he hadn’t. His boots were caked in mud. Unnaturally heavy, they felt like they were nailed onto the hallway floor. No matter how much he tried, they just couldn’t take that first step into the bedroom.
A soft voice drifted from the bottom of the staircase and lingered a moment before it melted into the atmosphere.
His wife, Emily.
“Sheriff Fleming is coming up.”
Hank swallowed hard at the bitter taste that rushed into his throat. The effort made the morning light dance wildly in his eyes. His other arm grasped desperately for the opposite side of the doorway, something solid enough to keep him from fainting.
“Hank? It’s Vic.”
When the sheriff’s cowboy boots fell on the stairs they held a different kind of timbre when they echoed in the house. Hank never found a liking for cowboy boots so the sound of the sheriff’s footsteps rang foreign in his ears.
Like they belonged to an intruder.
“Hank. How’re you holding up?” The sheriff placed a firm consoling hand on Hank’s shoulder. He gave it a moment to let the silence reply before looking over Hank’s shoulder to catch a glimpse of what he was staring at.
The sheriff coughed to clear his throat.
“We rounded up as many of the boys as we could. This damn tornado took us all by surprise, Hank. Everyone’s still trying to figure out what or how much they lost.”
When Hank turned his head slightly to face the sheriff, it appeared to be made of stone.
“Sorry, Hank. I shouldn’t have…” The sheriff let go of Hank’s shoulder just in case he lost it the next time he spoke before he thought about what to say. “We got as many as we could. Deputy Stothart has them starting around your fence line going towards the Gulch’s homestead. With the weather finally clearing up we should have a much better…”
“It was her, Sheriff. You know it was her.”
The certainty in Hank’s voice made the words sharp, a quality that was all too foreign to the usually warm and jovial farmer.
“Ever since we brought her home,” he continued. “Ever fucking since that day, that woman has had it in for us. She’s had it in for her.”
“Hank, c’mon now. I know this has been hard for you and Em…”
The sound of the wood of the doorway cracking under Hank’s fist filled the house like a gunshot.
“EVERYTHING! She’s tried everything to take her away from us, Sheriff! Spreading those rumors that we hurt her! Questioning our legal claims to her!”
Hank ended every sentence with his knuckles splintering the doorway. It was only when he stopped to catch his breath that he realized he was bleeding.
“S…sh… she fucking even tried to get her dog put down cause she said that it attacked her.”
He swallowed hard again, this time the act of which somehow steadied his nerves and let all of the tension uncoil from his lungs.
“It was her.” Hank whispered it more to the room than the sheriff. “I know it was her.”
“I need you to calm down, Hank. We’ve already checked…”
Hank pointed into the bedroom so quickly that it quieted the sheriff.
“Do you see that, sheriff?” Hank asked. “Over there, her window. You know what that is?”
The sheriff carefully stepped into the bedroom. Across the room on the window sill, a wooden cross was propped up against the glass. It was crudely made by wild hands lashing together gnarled tree branches with a spiral of curved wood nailed a few inches from the cross’ center.
The light that came through the window cast its shape in the shadows on the bedroom floor.
It was like an eye drawn with darkness.
“I… uh… I don’t…” the sheriff mumbled.
Hank stepped away from the room as the confused sheriff took another step in towards the wooden cross.
“I’ve been staring at it all night. Couple hours ago, I realize where I’ve seen it before.”
The sheriff turned back towards the doorway, but Hank was already gone.
“There’s a scarecrow in their garden by the well, a few hundred yards from the fence line. Guess what it was holding in its hand?”
His voice drifted into the room from the bottom of the staircase.
“She may not be blood but the second we took her into this house that stopped mattering. Dorothy is my daughter, Sheriff.”
A screen door creaked open a few seconds before being slammed shut.
“If this doesn’t get set right, y’all will have something worse to worry about other than a damn tornado.”