Shug dropped onto the edge of the porch, blinking back tears as she looked up the mountain trail. Digger should have heard her. Her throat raw from calling his name, she let out a whimper, "Digger."
How on earth could she tell him this? He would kill his father and then he would go to jail. She couldn't let that happen. Maybe she should just tell him about finding the box, not show him the bones.
She squeezed her eyes shut. He may have gone to see Ivanore. Then where could Boo be? Thunder cracked in the distance, the sound echoing through the mountain valleys. He should have heard her.
Drained of spirit, she got to her feet and ambled to the door. The second she pushed it open, she was hit by the feeling that something was not right. Possum should have met her at the door. She had left him inside with the door shut.
"Possum?" She looked around, in the corners and under the water table, places he sometimes hid. She pushed open the door to Digger and Boo's room, then went onto the porch and called for him. The dog was nowhere to be seen. Maybe Digger and Boo had come back and he followed them off to wherever they were.
She pulled Pride and Prejudice from her overalls and took it out of the oilcloth and laid it on the table. Her legs felt like weights, her arms, too. She needed food, not that she had an appetite; she needed the energy it would give her to go looking for Digger again. She forbid her mind to reflect images of what she had seen up there, as she pulled off the cloth covering the leftover bear meat. She took a chunk, ate a few bites and washed it down with a dipper of water. Then ate another piece.
The trowel on the table reminded her of Cleo's order for her to get the chinking done. After knowing what he had done, how on earth would she ever be able to close her eyes and sleep another night here in this place where he had slept? Digger would know what they should do. She picked up the book and climbed the ladder to put it away. Standing on the second rung from the top, she stretched her arm to the quilt on her bed and tucked the book beneath it. On top of the quilt was the bouquet of wild flowers little Lily had given her yesterday, the sweet little thing. She picked them up and carried them down the ladder. As she stepped from the last rung, she heard a noise behind her.
Digger had come home. Thank God. "Digger . . ." she said, whirling around.
Cleo stood there, a smirk twisting up his mouth, his hunting knife in his hand. Lightning struck beyond the doorway, the long blade flashing.
"What chu want with him, little girl?"
"What-where's Mama?" The flowers dropped from her hand and she began to inch her way toward the stack of wood by the stove. She trembled so that she felt her body would shake apart. "Where is she?" She held her eyes fixed on his while slightly lowering her torso. "Answer me," she screamed, while closing her hand around a good-sized piece of wood. She held it behind her back, making sure she had a good grip on it.
"Don't matter. She cain't hep you." He snapped up a burlap sack and a length of rope from the floor and motioned with the knife's blade. "Git over here."
Thunder clapped, the rain breaking loose and hammering on the roof, the wind blowing it across the porch.
He laughed, crazy-like. "I said git over here. Me 'n you got somewhere ta go."
He stood nearly in front of the open door. If she could only get him to move over. She took a slow steps sideways, hoping he would adjust, but he didn't. "I'll go. I'll go with you . . . just put that knife away." If she did manage to hit him with the wood, she doubted the blow would be enough to stop him from stabbing her. Move over, she pleaded.
"You danged right, you'll go, you smart-mouthed bitch." He appeared to consider her request, then looked at the knife and shook his head. "Naw, you might git brave 'n I'd have to use it too soon. Ye bent on stirrin' up trouble fer me. I heared you and Digger talkin' up in that tree. You 'n him ort to tend to yore own bidness. He's my boy, not that that matters, but you ain't nothin' to me."
No, no. God in heaven. No. He meant to kill them both, her and Digger.
A gust of wind blew the door to with a loud bang. Cleo jerked around to it. In that same instant, Shug bolted. She threw her shoulder into the door, blasting it open, and running out into the driving rain. She screamed for Digger, kept screaming his name.
She raced for the lean-to, where the tools were stored, something she could use as a weapon. The rain beat down so heavy she could not see two feet in front of her. She kept wiping it from her eyes, shielding them with her hands, but it was no use. Just run was all she could do. One second she saw a dark object in her path, the next, she hit it full force head on. She bounced off it to the ground, and lay there struggling to breathe. Get up, get up; she urged her muscles. Gasping, she managed to get to her knees. Just as she made a grab for the piece of wood that had flown out of her hands, something struck her hard across the back.
She fell forward, her face buried in inches of water. She held her breath, trying to raise up. The impact of Cleo's shoe on the back of her neck sent terror through her. She felt the crushing weight of his entire body forcing her face deeper into the water, into the mud. Suffocating, drowning, she kicked her feet, her arms flailing at the ground, beating it, begging for a breath of life. As the light behind her closed eyes faded to darkness, her struggle for life no longer seemed to matter.
From out of the darkness came a circle of light, the color of a sun-washed summer sky. She seemed to be floating down a tunnel toward it. The suffocating need to breathe had left her, and she felt an unearthly freedom from pain and worry and the miseries of all life's tribulations. Peace.
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