Winding Stair (9781101559239)

Winding Stair (9781101559239) by Douglas C. Jones Read Free Book Online

Book: Winding Stair (9781101559239) by Douglas C. Jones Read Free Book Online
Authors: Douglas C. Jones
storm.
    We moved into the parlor. Chairs were overturned and some of the upholstered furniture had been ripped open with a knife. I thought of Mrs. John’s throat.
    â€œCap’n,” George Moon said from the door. “There ain’t no sign of the women. We looked through the house and the outbuildings There ain’t no sign. We found a dead dog under the porch. Shot dead, an old hound dog.”
    â€œAll right,” Schiller said. “Get your men under cover.”
    After George Moon had gone, Schiller turned to me and shook his head.
    â€œNot much to be done now,” he said. “As far ahead of us as they are, we’d not do much except get wet if we went out thrashing around in this weather.”
    â€œWhat about those women, Marshal?”
    â€œThere’s three selections. They may not have been here when that bunch rode in. Off visiting someplace. Or, they may have run off to hide in the woods. Or, they’re in some ditch now, beyond our help.”
    â€œThey could’ve been carried off.”
    He shook his head, still bouncing the brass cartridges in his hand. “I doubt it. They were traveling fast and likely didn’t want extra baggage. I’ll admit, Mr. Pay, two of the selections don’t set too well with me. I just hope to God they weren’t even here. But I feel like George Moon. I wouldn’t bet a dime on it. And if they ran off into the woods, why aren’t they back? Maybe they’re out there now, watching us, afraid to come in, not knowing who we are. And if they were here and caught, why weren’t they treated like Mrs. John? Used and slaughtered? The bunch that rode in here had time to get good and horny again after they left Hatchet Hill Road, so why would they have waited and carried the women off someplace else to use them?”
    It was the longest speech he had made to me. He turned back to the kitchen, where I could smell the coffee beginning to work. I knew he had no expectation of response to his questions, even if I’d had answers, which I didn’t. Someone was telling him the dead chickens in the yard had all been shot. Everything had moved so fast, what had happened to those chickens had never occurred to me. But they’d been shot, like the men. Everything had been shot except the hogs.
    Above the sounds of the growing storm, there was shouting from the front of the house that the canvas had blown off the bodies. They lay faceup, the water running off the cheeks that already had begun to look sunken and wasted like old candle wax burned out from the inside. Choctaws ran about the yard, one in pursuit of the canvas, others searching for large stones to anchor it in place. The thought crossed my mind of some kind of hysterical Easter egg hunt under a darkening sky gone berserk.
    Hail began to slant against the walls and windows of the house. More water fell with it, and the lightning that we had watched through much of the afternoon was over us now, so close the crash of thunder came immediately with the flashing brilliance. Everything, the whole day, was a swirling kaleidoscope of changing bloodred forms, shapeless and wet, and now the blinding blue-white light. The wind blew the dead chickens across the yard.
    â€œGet under cover,” Oscar Schiller was yelling. “There’s a root cellar in the kitchen.”
    Some of the Choctaws and Joe Mountain were running through the kitchen. Someone lit a lamp and Schiller was holding open a slanted door at the far end of the room, a door I had not noticed. It revealed wooden steps into the cellar and we stumbled down to find places among the food scattered across the earthen floor, apples and potatoes and flour. The gang had rifled this place, too. It smelled of damp burlap and rotting wood beams and bacon rind.
    â€œBlow out that light,” Schiller said. “It’s killing the air.”
    We sat there in total darkness, listening to the howl of the storm

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