Sample Sunday: Excerpt from the forthcoming novel NIGHTWALKERS
Henry decided that if he was going to stay at the farmhouse to look after Abby he had to clean away the mess in the kitchen, just in case someone did come to the farmhouse. The first thing he had to do was hide the evil man’s body. He didn’t want to leave it in the house, not if they were going to stay all night. The man was dead, no doubt. They had done that together—him with the chair and Abby by taking his blood. Still, Henry couldn’t imagine himself resting easy all night with the corpse under the same roof.
He checked on Abby again, and found her as he’d left her, lying as still as death on the bed. Though he knew it made no difference, he placed his hand upon her chest, hoping to feel her breast rise and fall with the breath of life, or the gentle thumping of her heart. He felt neither, and wasn’t surprised. He had only hoped for a sign that he wasn’t going to be alone. Hope had allowed him to wish for the improbable in the face of the impossible.
With the heavy yoke of knowing that Abby might be truly dead weighing down his spirit, Henry went outside to find a suitable place to hide the farmer’s body.
Under the cover of night he explored the property. The man had no barn, which meant he might crop for someone else. How long would it be before someone came looking for him?
Henry had no time to dig a proper grave. He had to clean away the blood and see to Abby before daylight.
The only structures on the land besides the farmhouse were an outhouse and a split-rail hog pen. Henry decided that the farmer’s hog pen provided the best solution. He returned to the farmer’s kitchen.
Henry dragged the man through the back door, across the yard to the pen. He propped the body on the lower rail of the pen, gathered himself, and grunting with the strain of his effort, heaved the corpse onto the top rail of the pen. He paused for a moment to regain his breath and strength, then pushed the farmer’s body over. It thumped to the muddy, stinking earth just inside the fence.
Their sleep disturbed, the hogs grunted and snorted at the intrusion. Henry turned quickly away and headed back to the house. He didn’t want to see or hear what was going to happen next. The hogs wouldn’t know the farmer who had owned them from the slop he fed them every day. Henry figured that if the animals left any bones or scraps of the man’s clothes, if anyone noticed they’d likely figure he slipped and fell in the pen, maybe knocked himself unconscious, and the hogs went to work on him.
Back in the house it took Henry hours to scrub all the blood from the kitchen floor. As he worked he shot nervous glances at the window and struggled to fight off his panic. He had to finish before sunrise. If he didn’t, then…
Why did Abby fear the sun?
Periodically as he cleaned he went to the bedroom to check on the child. She lay as still as death on the bed. Though he knew it made no difference, he couldn’t help but look to see if she was breathing, and to feel for a heartbeat within her small chest. He detected neither, which meant nothing. It was no different than any other time she was asleep.
When he finished cleaning the girl still hadn’t moved or shown a sign of life. Now he had to decide what to do with Abigail. She might not be dead; he didn’t know. But he had to get her somewhere dark before the sun came up, just in case.
Usually when they walked the night they would go to the woods before sunrise to find a suitable place for Abby to hide herself away. The child could dig faster than a hound. She would burrow a deep hole for herself and scurry in, and Henry would cover the opening with the displaced dirt. Then he would sleep for a while, and when he woke up he’d go look for food for himself. He’d come back to the hole just before sundown to wait for Abigail to wake up and come up out of the ground. Then they’d get to walking again.
Abigail was a child, so she needed him to escort her about when they were around people in the evening hours. A little Negro girl by herself at night drew too much attention, sometimes the wrong kind of attention, and sometimes attention from people like the evil man who owned this farmhouse. Abigail could take care of herself, for sure. But it was easier for her to move among people if they thought she was with her father, which most took Henry to be.
The evil man’s farmhouse didn’t have a cellar. Henry walked back and forth between the three rooms of the farmhouse—the front room, bedroom and kitchen—trying to figure out where to put Abigail, trying to figure out what to do. He tried to stay calm, though the threat of morning loomed, coming ever closer.
On his fourth trip to the kitchen he stopped. He looked to the corner farthest from the single window. The evil man had a potato bin. Henry opened the lid on the bin and saw that it was about half full. That was just right. He dumped it over, spilling the potatoes onto the floor. Then he went to retrieve Abigail’s body.
He hoped she was still alive, or whatever it was she was. He hoped that she would come back to him.