Monday, October 15, 2007

Sugar And Brimstone ~ Part Two

Tulah started shaking as she remembered all the blood Tarn was washing off of himself. No, surely not, she thought to herself. He just went coon hunting. That’s what he did!

But she couldn’t shake the feeling that Tarn had killed Ned Franks. It started like a worm churning in her belly and made her fingertips cold. She stood there in the yard and watched the lawman head off to visit more houses to see what he could find out. She thought about saying something about seeing Tarn by the creek and her mouth opened to say it. But she just stood there watching him leave, unable to speak.

Tulah spent the rest of the day sitting on the porch doing the mending with Cinnie. Her mother noticed several times that she wasn’t quite herself.

“Sweet thing, what’s the matter? You don’t seem quite yourself.” Cinnie reached a hand over and grasped Tulah’s hand. She squeezed it gently.

“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you? What’s laying so heavy on my girl’s mind?”

Tulah smiled weakly at her mother. She looked up at her mother and her eyes were tearing a bit.

“Mommy, Jesus forgives all sin, right?”

“Yes, Baby, Jesus forgives all. You just hand it over to Him.”

Her mother went back to her sewing and hummed “Beulah Land”. It eased Tulah a bit to hear the wavering tones of her mother singing softly.

The truth was that Tulah was beginning to question her heart. She wondered if what they said was true after all. That just looking at Tarn the wrong way would get you killed. And she couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus really did forgive all sins. Or were there some sins that were just too bad.

As night fell, there were extra lanterns put out on the porches. People seemed a bit nervous after the killing and knowing that the killer was still out there. Folks did tend to wonder if Tarn or any of the other wild boys on the mountain had anything to do with it. Tarn was thought to run a still somewhere up past Naillon Town. No one really knew where it was and as was the custom, no one ever showed any curiosity about it or really wanted to know where it was. Sometimes, the less you knew, the safer you were. And even if you knew, you pretended you didn’t. That was just the smart way to be.

They wondered if mayhap Ned had stumbled upon someplace he wasn’t supposed to know about. Someplace that might be worth killing to keep secret. Truth be told, if Tarn Rickson had anything to do with it, he may have just thought Ned looked at him funny. Tarn was like that and folks steered clear of him because of it.

Tulah and her family were about to go to bed when they saw it and heard the excited cries coming from down the way. The sky was orange just over the hill. Something had caught afire. The entire community ran down the road in the direction of the fire to help put it out.

Tulah followed the crowd of folk down the road, running down the gravel path. It was deeply dark but everyone knew this road in the same way that they knew the path to their outhouse in the dark of night. She stopped and looked toward the warm glow in the sky. Her heart skipped a bit when she realized it was coming from the direction of Tarn’s cabin. She ran faster.

As she approached Tarn’s cabin, she heard a dreadful sound. It was something like when you cut pigs, that horrible squealing that rises when the knife slits the skin over the testicles and only stops when you yank them out then release the pig. But this sound doesn’t stop, it rises and falls then rises and falls.

The fire looked like it had started in an outbuilding then spread to the cabin. The shed was full of quart jars of corn likker and it had gone up like a rocket. They had seen the glow from the shed going up before it spread to the house. It was now consuming the cabin. Tarn was evidently still inside and burning to death and he was the one making that dreadful sound.

A ring of men with rifles paced around the perimeter of the inferno. It was impossible to get in there to Tarn. Tulah saw one of them and then another sight and shoot into the house fire.

“What are they doing?!” Tulah grabbed a man by his coat sleeve and yanked to get his attention. “Why aren’t they helping him? Why are they shooting?”

The dreadful screaming seemed to go on and on and on, rising above the roaring of the fire.

The man squeezed Tulah’s shoulder. “Honey, we can’t get to him. They are just trying to put him out of his misery.”

So the men continued shooting blindly into the fire, hoping one of the bullets would connect with the man who was screaming and twisting somewhere behind the curtain of flame.

And Tulah sank to her knees on the ground in shock. Her hands were buried in the dirt and clenching the soil, her knuckles white. She opened and closed her mouth in silent horror like a trout on a fly. Her face was covered in sooty tear tracks and she rocked back and forth like an infant seeking comfort. And the screaming seemed to go on forever before it finally stopped and only the popping and cracking of the burning logs remained.

Tulah knew, as long as she lived, she'd never forget the horrible sound of the screaming and burning that was Tarn Rickson's last minutes on Earth.

Sugar and Brimstone ~ Part Four


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