I waited for Josh at the edge of the opening to the bottoms. Since the rain had stopped. The water was receding. I tried to be understanding toward his brooding silence. The man was starting to tick me off. I’m not some shrinking flower. Hey I can live with the fact he doesn’t want me. But I would like to think he didn’t hate me. “Screw this he can catch up.” I urged old Dan down into the bottoms. I came back to this area because I loved where I grew up. I still had friends here and I do not have to worry about meeting a office schedule all the time. My daily walks kept me in decent shape for being in my mid thirties I didn’t look to bad. I have been told I could pass for twenty-eight.
Stopping at the bottom of the hill to give Dan a rest. I am not willing to worry about a man. Who, what in the world . I pulled up my binoculars to see what I was watching.
What I saw was what looked like a bicycle that was flashing and what looked like the cyclone from the electrical charge going hard across the bottoms tearing up cotton as it went.
Then just as it had begun it disappeared into oblivion. There had been only a small cyclone of dust.
I put down the binoculars and whistled had Josh been right could this be something that the army didn’t want us to known about?
“I’m thinking that was some strange looking bicycle.” Josh said as he came up on Hellion.
” Then you saw it?”
“Yea I saw it. I have heard rumors on a project being worked on. But I know for a fact it was scraped when three people were killed. Those three men were my best friends. They were all orphans. The commander said that the mission was not to go to anyone that had any family of any kind. The testing was done when they went to check men there wasn’t one of them left. Just remenates of broken bones and torn uniforms. Mitch, Dave and Scott were considered experienced and expendable. Because they had no family.”
We rode in silence for a while.
“What happened to the bicycle?”
Josh and I started out barely speaking. I was wondering how to get the coversation moving when Sheriff Whitey pulled into the road ahead of us.
He stopped the car and waited for us to get up next to him.
His face told a story that neither I or Josh wanted to hear.
” Josh I just came from…”
“Let me guess one of my aunt’s houses and Roberta has decimated the entire place. Even the ashes are gone.”
The face on our county sheriff’s face showed that there was more fact than Josh wanted to hear.
“No not quite she has decimated both of your aunt’s places. At both times there was blue red and white bolts of lightening. I am sorry Josh.Why would she do that? That’s your entire family. But she didn’t touch Ina, why?”
The two men sat there trying to figure it out. When it hit me.
“She didn’t bother Ina because she never lied to Roberta. Even when they fought Ina was always straight up with Roberta.”
“You’re right Ella. Ina raised me just the way she told Roberta she would. By you own omission when there was shouting at the asylum. Ina was honest with my mom.”
Whitey scratched his head.”I am not following.”
“The day that Ina and Roberta came to words. Ina told her that Josh was a grown man and Roberta better realize it.Or just roll over and die.” She didn’t pull any punches and she didn’t coddle her. Roberta must have known she was telling her the truth.” I reached out to touch Josh only to have him pull away.
He seemed to be having trouble with the fact I was trying to help him at all.
I moved Dan on up the road and left the men to talk.
“Damn, why didn’t I think of that? I’ll tell you something Josh. You had better change attitudes or you will drive that woman away. She would be a heck of catch for somebody. I know a couple of men that are looking to lay claim. You best think about that.” Whitey replaced his hat and backed his car back to go the other way.
Josh sat on Hellion thinking about everything he’d just heard. Looking up toward the woman who had been ahead of him. She was already heading down into the bottoms. He saw her stop and look back his direction. Sure wish I could tell her how much she means to me. The big horse shook his head up and down as if he was in agreement.
I am not sure why I showed up three days later with my sleeping bag, clothes, and sturdy boots. I also had the only thing my foster dad had ever given me. A Smith and Wesson .38 with extra boxes of shells. The 4:10 shot gun was a present to myself after I graduated from college and had my masters. I entered West Virginia University School of Medicine on a full scholarship the next semester. My grade point average had never dropped below a 4.0. The shotgun and a shooting range had made sure that happened. I took to target practice every time I got fraustrated.
I rode up on old Dan a horse I boarded at Harold Grimes house. Something had told me Josh was going to take off with out me. He was saddling his big roan by the name of Hellion when I showed up.
He watched me come down the hill in my cowboy hat and boots. He didn’t recognize me. He moved to get his gun as I dismounted. Until Jeb bounced out and tried to knock me down by putting his paws on my shoulders and trying to lick my face.
Only then did Josh realize that I was under the hat. I could tell he was irate at the idea of me having figured out that he was going with out me.
“I hope you will be ready to go in less than an hour. I can repack my stuff to be on the trail by then I forgot to put some jerky in my saddle bag where I can reach it.”
“Did you bring water?” He huffed at me.
“Two canteens and two extra water bottles just in case. I am not willing to give up my youthful appearance by not being hydrated. I also have dehydrated fruit and cheese and crackers packed in between my shells.”
“You would never be willing to let me do this alone would you?”
I reached out taking my binoculars to my eyes. “Since I don’t see any pigs flying. I am sure that means not a chance in…. well you get the picture. Now hurry up and let’s go. I am intending to be at the opening by dark.”
He carried the pressure cooker of food into the shack bringing up the rear with a basket of bread and other goodies I was surprised on how much bigger the place on the inside actually was. The place had been built in a cavern that the walls were completely smooth from the winds. The original cavern was probably started hundreds of years earlier. The sandstone made with the different layers of sand made for beautiful walls. The front wall covered a opening with a Sandstone wall. You would never know it from the outside. The living room was an area of about 20 by 20 had with a fireplace that had a natural chimney. He had decorated in heavy wooded furniture that had rich chocolate brown microfiber cushions that you could sink into. The couch had a hand knitted ivory colored afghan tossed on it. The main focus of the room was the fireplace and stone hearth.
The kitchen had all the modern conveniences plus a wall of natural cabinets he had taken the crevices made them his pantry. A heavy wooden bar worked for a table and a place people could sit and talk as he worked in the kitchen. The lighting consisted of recessed can lighting. The effect was very pleasing.
“I talked to my other aunt’s today.”
Looking at his face I saw the hurt that he was feeling.
“I assume it wasn’t a good conversation from the look on your face.”
“You would be right. They were both uncooperative to talk about anything. I’m not sure what to believe. They were never out and out cruel to me. They both let me know that they wouldn’t care if I dropped off the face of the Earth. I am the one that caused all the problems in the family.” Shaking his head they never said a word about Aunt Ina’s funeral. So I am done with them.”
I served the green beans on the heavy stoneware plates he handed me.
“So now what?”
” I am going to make a trip down to the lost river and see if I can find out anything. I talked to my commander and he is checking about the large battery affect but I get the feeling nothing is going to come of it.”
” I am going with you.” I reached out to touch his hand only to be met with anger.
“No you’re not. I won’t let you go, it’s to dangerous.”
“Well tough I am going. You don’t know where the opening is and I do and I have been thinking about it. I have been down past the wall. It was a long time ago . I can act as your guide.”
His face went dark. I could see he was angry but he saw the sense in what I was thinking.
“Listen Ella, it’s not that I mind you going with me. But if you got hurt. I think it would kill me. I have been too close to people in the military and have lost close friends. I am not willing to let something happen to you.”
Some how I appreciated the thought. But it angered me that he didn’t think I could handle it. “So I am supposed to sit and wait on you to come back like a good girl. Listen to me and listen good. I am going with or without you. Roberta was,a friend of mine. So was little Sammy, if I can help give either of them peace all the better. So get over this he-man crap and deal with it.”
I wasn’t expecting his reaction. His hands gripped my shoulders turning me to him. “Don’t you get it you little fool. I’m not sure if I could protect you from her.”
” Don’t you get it I would rather take the chance of being killed down in that God forsaken hole. Than staying here and not knowing if you’re alive or dead down there.”
His lips found mine right after his arms pulled me close.
In the corner by the fireplace a small boy sat watching the two of them.They had no idea what they were in for.He stood up and dissolved into nothing. He would try to keep them safe.
The next couple of days seemed to take forever to pass. Josh had to catch up on his calls. I found out he is the only veterinarian in a twenty mile range.
I was a little luckier. Jack Deacons Teeney’s soon to be stepfather was a doctor from down Huntington way. He wanted to work in this area. He and I talked and he decided to come in with me. He had specialized in psychology so it would be a blessing to have him in the area. I was covering for Dr. Weston and he was talking about staying in Missouri.
I took dinner over to Josh a couple of days later unannounced. His place was a small shack that from the outside was nothing but barn boards. The dog in the yard growled. He was huge and looked as if he were half bear and half wolf. After swallowing hard I noticed the door opened.
“What in the world are you doing here?”
“I brought dinner. Is that a problem? I heard you were doing pregnancy checks of the Orman’s herd today I thought you might enjoy not having to cook tonight. But if you don’t want fresh greenbeans, ham and new potatoes.I can take this back with me.”
“You do and I’ll sic Roberta on you. Come on in. Jeb now you lay down and be good.”
I reached into a plastic bag and tossed the dog a ham knuckle. The dog caught the bone and went over and laid down. Licking the bone.
“I guess I should have asked first.”
“Your spoiling both of us. We could get
used to it.”
Ronald’s wife lived up to her name. Ada a true southern belle that had been living a hard life. She met us at the front door. Her hair pulled back in a tight bun and a weather-beaten face that may have come from to much life.
Josh had contacted her earlier with no response.
“Well I knew you’d be by, after Ronald’s death in front of the Sheriff. I should have come to Ina’s funeral today. Your here to find out why Ronald was on the receiving end of your mother’s wrath.”
She stepped into the kitchen and brought was a tray of tea and some pictures.
“The picture is of my son James. Ronald was his stepfather. My first husband was killed two years after we were married in a moonshine still explosion. You have to understand this was back about nineteen fifty. I had just found out I was pregnant. Ronald knew my family and he owed my Dad some money. Dad told him he’d let the debt go if he married me. Back in those days Ronald was a decent looking man. He was good to me and treated James like his own. He was strict.” Taking a drink of tea. She looked around her neat but sparsely furnished living room before she continued.
” James had learning disabilities. He had trouble making friends. That was why I was so thrilled when he made friends with Roberta. She was a sweet girl. She often would show up and help me in the garden. She began to like James. She helped him learn to read better than I could.Sometime after that they got together. She was about sixteen and James about eighteen.”
She played at the the hem of the old blouse she had on. Her face seemed to dissolve from a hearty farm wife to a shriveled old woman as she whispered,
“When Ronald found out he went crazy he called Roberta all kinds of names James told him to, Shut up, this my baby and I want it.
The kids were sitting on the old wagon. I watched from the window. I had been on the receiving end of Ronald’s wrath. I saw Ronald back hand James. He kept hitting James he couldn’t stop. James fell off the wagon and hit his head on a pile of rocks. Ronald didn’t stop even then, he stomped my son to death. Roberta was screaming and she ran. I guess that’s when she went out of her mind.”
We sat there for a long time not saying a word. Josh shook his head. “I never knew who my father was. I don’t know that they knew for sure.
She handed Josh a picture of James. He looked like James except he was darker. “You can have that if you want it. I have another.”
We got up to go. Josh turned to the woman. “Where is my father buried?”
The tears in the woman’s eyes, “I don’t know but I think down in the bottoms there’s an old cabin down there. Ronald told me one time that he’d buried my boy under that cabin.”
Josh nodded, “Well Thank you for your time. Miss Ada how did you stay with Ronald knowing what you know?”
“The man cheated my son out of life and me from knowing my grandchild. I stayed with him for one reason. I wanted to make his life a living Hell. He never got to touch me again. I shouldn’t say this but I enjoyed watching him burn. Which makes me as bad as him.” Her lips composed a thin line as the tears started to roll down her cheeks.
“No Grandmother, it makes you human.”
Josh planned his Aunt Ina’s funeral for the following Thursday. It dawned a gray muggy day. Very much a typical day for a funeral. As sweet as Ina was very few people showed up to pay their respects. A few ladies from the local homemakers, and church. Not one of the woman’s sisters. Nelda, and Imagene were still in the area.
The sheriff, Josh, and I sat waiting for the flames and charges with Roberta to come out of them. She never showed.
Some one else did though. About half way through the ceremony a rosebud appeared at the casket. Then a cold draft settled over me. It took a hold of my hand. But a chill that could have been a child’s hand seeking comfort. I didn’t move through the ceramony. Even walking out later I could feel that little cold hand in mine.
After I got outside “Sammy is that you?” There was a gentle squeeze. And before I could ask anything else my purse came open and the chill was gone.
I didn’t have time to see what was in my purse. I snapped the purse shut as I heard Josh calling me.
“I promise I will check later Sammy.” The latch came open and closed as if he was agreeable to that.
Josh took my hand to help me in the car. He looked at me funny before saying “Your hand is so cold.”
“I had a visitor in the funeral. Sammy has put something in my purse. I told him I would check later.”
It was while I changed after getting home that afternoon. That I checked on the purse. There was a piece of flat bark with what looked like crude markings on it or a childish scrawl.
“She is hurting people. She only sees her pain. She feels scared and mad. She sings to her son. Pretty music. I fall asleep listening.”
Josh showed up about ten minutes later to take me with him to see Ronald’s wife.
Handing the bark to him as he entered. He read it. “Well at least she has her good points. Wonder if we can get her to take care of Sammy then neither one would be alone.”