TITLE: The Barn - June 29 2012
By Jacki McGuyer
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At almost midnight, Edward York waited in his car for Amy to put a blanket into the back, and then slide into the passenger seat before he turned the key in the ignition. He looked in both directions. He hated this place at night. Even with a bright moon, there were too many shadows for Willy Boyd to hide in--to spy on them. They'd never know.
He reminded himself they were leaving this place and that old fool forever. Fragrance of leather filled the inside of the car. He noticed Amy wore a new coat. The suede felt soft when he reached over to put his arm around her shoulder. “Nice. Where'd you get it?”
“I borrowed it.”
"It doesn't matter."
“When are you going to return it?”
“I'll return it when we come back to get my things."
Eddie studied Amy's face; it seemed as hard and cold as the ice hanging from the hedgerow. She pulled the collar up around her chin, snuggled into the warm suede. Her long dark hair tucked under the collar. “Why don't you just grab all your things right now? Put them into the trunk. We'll stay the night in Denver. I’ll buy you one of your own, Connecticut’s cold, too.”
In the moonlight, he could see her face soften a bit. “That would be nice. But don’t worry about the coat. We have more important things to do right now.”
He turned the key in the ignition and pulled onto the road. “Just what’s in this box we’re going after, anyway?”
“Something my father gave me a long time ago.”
“Why do you keep it in the barn?”
“I hide it there from Willy. Just travel the tree line along the woods until you see a road on the right. Turn there and keep going until you get to the barn.”
Eddie glanced at Amy sitting next to him, with the moon now behind them, only a silhouette in the darkness. “It surprised me you didn’t have everything waiting on the porch when I got here.”
“It surprised me you came.”
Again, Eddie gazed to his right, puzzled by what she’d said. “I wouldn’t think you’d be at all surprised. I promised I’d come, I've never lied to you. But you seem sad."
She laughed, then everything was quiet for a moment.
“How could I have known, “she whispered, “People have lied to me all my life.”
A light went on inside his head. How could she trust him? he thought, how could she trust anybody after all she's been through?
“I wasn’t sure I could leave. There’s more to this place than you know, Eddie. Things about me you don’t seem to understand. I guess I am a little sad. I've been here for a long time.”
“I think getting you off this ghost ranch will be good for you. You know that old creep, Willy Boyd isn't your friend.” Still, the uneasiness wouldn't leave. Eddie felt something on the back of his neck. He brushed behind his head and glanced over his shoulder into the back seat. Stupid, stupid, I'm just letting that old man spook me.
White flakes swirled in the headlights, a light snow covered the ground on an unseasonably cold night for mid-October, but he could clearly see the road. However, the conversation, and his sense of unease made him nervous, so he decided to keep quiet and just drive.
Soon the hedgerow on both sides of the narrow road scraped the car. “Maybe we should walk from here.” He got no response. He slowed his old Chevy to a crawl and drove the bumpy road in silence.
In the stillness, he tried to focus on something happier. He wondered if Amy would like living in Connecticut, a place vastly different from Colorado. “Our mountains aren’t much more than hills compared to the Rockies, but you’re going to get to see the ocean.”
“What did you say?”
“Connecticut… I'm talking about Connecticut. I hope you’re going to like it. You'll get to see the Long Island Sound. We'll drive to Maine and you can see the Atlantic Ocean.”
He hated the blank stare she gave him.
Suddenly the headlights flashed across a narrow bridge. “Keep going, don’t slow down,” she demanded.
Eddie gunned the motor, his old Chevy bounced up and over a rickety bridge where he made a hard right just in time to avoid a stand of aspen trees facing him on the other side. “This box better be worth all this time and trouble.” He made a hard left, and the car thudded down a washboard hill. He made another sudden left turn where the headlights splashed over a ramshackle cabin that looked as if it might fall down, then the woods thinned out. Eddie pulled up and stopped next to a huge old barn.
When he got out of the car, the heavy scent of pine on the damp air made him feel as though something alive wrapped around him--something he could feel with every part of his body. He looked up at the million stars above and knew at once, why Amy loved this place so much. But something more lived beneath the beauty of this ranch. It crawled up his back like a centipede. He had to swallow hard before he could speak. “I have to get you away from here, you understand that don’t you?”
On the bank of the river, he stood under the trees. About a quarter mile through pines and naked aspen, he saw the back porch of the house they'd just left, the moonlight shining on the old boards. “Why didn’t we just walk through the woods and across the river? It’s just a trickle this time of year. Why drive all the way around?”
“And carry the box all that way back? Come on. If we’re going to leave tonight, we’d better get this done. Do you have a flashlight?”
He reached in the glove compartment, retrieved his old flashlight, checked to see if the batteries still worked. He cast the light around, illuminated the side of the old barn, and then rested the beam on Amy’s pale face with her strange violet eyes staring up at him. She drew back, threw her arm over her face. “Stop fooling around.”
Eddie sauntered over, slid the huge barn door open, and walked into the blackness beyond. The odors of manure and damp hay greeted him, brought back memories of his youth spent on his parent’s farm. When he’d left, he’d never wanted to go back. Now he couldn’t wait to take Amy there. I’m forty-four years old, for crying out loud. It’s time for me to settle down again.
He swept the darkness with the flashlight until Amy’s voice sliced through the stillness behind him. “There. Those steps go up to the loft where we’ll find the box.” He shone the light on the space between them. When she spoke, her breath hung on the air like steam from a teakettle. He swung the light around the cavernous room until it flashed across a ladder leading up to a high shelf above. “There,” she said, again from behind him, “you climb on up and I’ll follow.”
“I’ve got the light. You go first, but get the blanket out of the way so you don’t trip and cause us both to break our necks.”
Groping his way forward with one hand, while holding onto the flashlight with the other, he followed Amy up the ladder. An image of Willy Boyd waiting in some dark corner crept into his mind. He dismissed it.
Hay slid beneath his hand when he climbed onto the loft. He narrowed his eyes and searched the blackness before him. “Which way do we go now?”
“To your left, but be careful. Turn the flashlight that way.”
He passed his beam over a huge gaping hole, which left an open space many feet to the floor below. Carefully, he made his way to his left, her footsteps followed in the soft layer of straw. When he stood at the edge of the giant opening, he stopped. “Okay, where’s the box?”
Very close to him--Eddie could smell the suede coat--hear Amy's breath. He turned to her, she handed him the blanket. Ice-cold chills went through his body when she traced the contours of his face with her fingertips. “We’ll be done soon, and then we’ll be gone from here forever," she said. "I’m sorry I’m so much trouble.”
He took her hands, blew on them, and kissed the palms. “Here, put on my gloves. Let’s just get finished.”
“Lay the blanket out on the floor right where you’re standing, we’ll wrap the box in it so we can carry it down the ladder. Give me the flashlight and sit down, so you don’t stumble in the dark while I go get the box. I’ll be right back.”
A message appeared on the back of Eddie’s brain, but he couldn’t read it because she stood too close--his desire overcame his logic, but fear kept him from temptation. “No. we’ll go together.” With the benefit of moonlight pushing its way through the huge doorway, and cracks in the old boards in the room below, he noticed gray shadowy areas there, compared to total darkness in the loft where they stood. He could measure the long distance between. “Better yet, never mind the box, let’s get out of here.”
“But we’ve already wasted all this time. What’s the matter, don’t you trust me?”
“Now that you mention it…”
Before he had time to finish his sentence, she grabbed the flashlight and disappeared into the darkness. He narrowed his eyes, and then widened them. His jerked his head left and then right, practically willing himself to see through the black void of the loft. Eddie found himself suddenly alone and angry in a place completely strange to him. Unable to see the light’s beam anywhere, he breathed deeply and let it out very slow, and counted to ten. The smells that seemed pleasant before became foul; he struggled for control. Odd sounds in the dark came from all directions. To avoid becoming disoriented, he kept his eyes on the space below, and decided to sit before he fell into the hole only a few inches away.
“Amy? Amy, are you okay?”
Why did I let her talk me into this? We should be half way out of town by now.
He began to crawl toward the ladder, determined to keep calm. “Amy! Are you okay?
Shine the light where I can see it. Amy!”
He felt his way along and concentrated on the edge of the loft where the semi- darkness of the room below met the darkness of the ledge. He crept along.
It struck him on the side of his head. It dug its claws into his scalp. He slapped at it. His hand clutched at its leathery body… the wings flapping against his fingers. He couldn’t catch the writhing raging animal to pull it from his skin. Eddie lost his balance and slammed his head against the floor.
Gasping for breath, he lay still, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain. He tried to call out.
He lay there with a mouth full of hay. Pain beat against his skull, and his neck.
The creature dug deeper into Eddie’s skin with needle sharp teeth, and began to travel toward his face. Eddie pulled himself to a sitting position, and groped at the warm rubbery form, tried frantically to yank it from its unrelenting grasp.
Suddenly something grabbed him by the chin, pulled his head backward. At the same instant, a battering ram hit him in the middle of his spine, propelled his chest forward. Heavy pain burned through his chest. Air rushed out, and his lungs shut down. Pressure sliced against the front of his neck, immediately warmth spread over him from his shoulders to his waist. He smelled liquid copper. His muscles relaxed, and he gave way to a tide of darkness.
Edward York felt nothing more--ever again.
Amy stood at the edge of the loft holding a lovely old metal box. Anything anyone would ever want to know about her, locked safely inside.
She sat in the old house holding the coat in her arms, in the darkness, she wept loud and hard with pain. She cried until she thought she'd never stop. She thought her heart would burst inside her chest--her very bones would melt with anguish.
Sometime during the early morning hours, she hung the coat on a hook by the back door, and left. When she got to the cabin, she lay on the cot awake, still thinking of the barn, still thinking of Edward, and the tears returned.
She got out of bed and found the bottle of pills on the shelf above her head. Three pills, no more. She needed no water. She slipped back into bed.
They were her light. They were warmth pressed around, against, under, and over her. They rocked her with a rhythm as old as this ranch. They were her mother, her father, her sister Sara—Edward, all she had. Her tears disappeared--if only for a while.
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