By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

— 8 —

            The cool of predawn darkness woke Emma. She lay silently listening to the house. Small noises came to her. Mostly they were far away. Safe sounds. Something she had not enjoyed for years it seemed, though she knew it was only a couple of weeks. Then she noticed the absence of sound in the room with her. She turned her head. No breathing. She turned further. No breathing. She put her arm out of the covers and carefully explored the other half of the bed.

Tom was gone.

“Probably his damned sense of propriety,” Emma grumbled to herself. “Mrs. Pitts this and Mrs. Pitts that. One minute we’re almost friends, then it’s back to Mrs. Pitts.” She threw off the covers and slipped her feet into her shoes. The house was in much better shape than when she had arrived, but a lot of broken glass still lurked in the carpet waiting to ambush unsuspecting feet.

The thin cotton of her dress did little good against the chill of the room. Living in the city Emma never realized how hot all of that concrete stays all night. After being stranded out in the country, she learned things can change dramatically. She hugged herself as she crept down the hall into the living room. Tom was not in his recliner nor on the couch. She checked the kitchen and found everything cold. No sign of Tom.

The first dawn light was starting to filter through the drapes she had rehung in the living room. Emma shook the kettle sitting on the stove. It had enough water for tea if she could find some. Striking a match, she started to light the burner when she saw the note.

Tea forgotten, she snatched up the paper.

“Good Morning Mrs. Pitts,

            Gone to check on some things.

            I’ll be back ASAP.

            Maybe today. Probably tomorrow.

            Stay close to the house, and keep your gun in your pocket.

            Use it if necessary, but better to stay out of sight.

                                                                         Tom”

Emma reread the note. “Definitely some communication issues,” she said aloud, “And we’re back to Mrs. Pitts!” Sighing deeply, she returned to the task of tea.

The tea had gone cold and Emma was sitting at the kitchen table lost in thought when the kids came tumbling down the hall.

“Good morning Mama!” Jeremiah sang as he gave her a hug. Caroline joined in from the other side. When Emma barely responded, Jeremiah’s brow went up, “Mom? What’s the matter? Where’s Mr. Lewis?”

“I don’t know,” Emma said in a small voice. “I woke up and he was gone. He left a note,” she handed the paper to Jeremiah, “It doesn’t really say anything,” she finished.

“Let me see!” demanded Caroline, and they read the note together.

“He says he’ll be back by tomorrow,” Jeremiah said confidently. “He wouldn’t lie to us. Would he?”

Emma put on a confident face, “Of course not. I was just worried he might get lost or hurt, and we won’t be able to find him. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.” She smiled at the kids, “Who wants pancakes for breakfast?”

 

The kids finished Huckleberry Finn before noon, and started on Tom Sawyer. After lunch all three worked on clearing the destruction left by the looters. Sponge baths followed. Emma hated wasting the propane used to heat the water, but being at least reasonably clean again felt soooo good. Dinner was spaghetti and the jar of marinara sauce she found in the pantry.

 

Bed time came early because the lamp was low on oil, and Emma did not know where to find more. Lying in Tom’s bed staring at the ceiling, Emma’s anxiety grew fangs and claws and started rattling the bars of its cage. The flash of a spotlight beam across the front of the house stopped her breath, and adrenaline surged through her body. Emma was halfway out of bed when the sound of the motor subsided as the car drifted along the road. The darkness returned, and Emma lay back down. The cage door was now twisted and hanging open.

“Mama? Why are you sleeping in here?”

Emma snapped awake. Fumbling for her gun, she dropped it in the darkness before she realized it was Caroline talking to her. She sagged back in the recliner trying to get herself back together enough to answer. “I was… I was waiting up for Mr. Lewis and fell asleep,” she lied. “Why are you up?”

“I need to use the bathroom,” Caroline replied.

Emma nodded invisibly in the darkness, “Ok. Let’s go.”

 

The breakfast dishes were almost done, and the kids were sitting at the table drawing pictures for Mr. Lewis when a knock sounded on the front door. Emma quietly walked to the front window and peeked out. A battered pickup sat there.

The knocking came again louder. “Tom?! You home?” called a voice through the battered front door. “Open up, its Bob McCandless.”

Emma stayed back so she did not disturb the drapes and watched. The man turned and went down the three steps to the lawn. She recognized the same fat Sheriff from the day before yesterday. Instead of returning to his truck, he turned and started around the side of the house.

Thinking quickly, Emma crossed the living room and put her finger to her lips before the kids could ask questions. Frantically, she beckoned to them to come out of the kitchen, and together they retreated down the hall every creaking floorboard that she had never paid attention to sounded like a tornado siren blasting out to announce their presence. She got the kids settled on the floor on the far side of the bed from the hall doorway when she heard the metallic creaking of the rusty spring of the screen door being stretched.

Again the insistent banging followed by the twist of the door knob and heavy footsteps. Emma knew the man was in the house. She looked at the kids and again gestured for silence before straightening her back and walking down the hall.

The Sheriff met her at the kitchen door, “Hello Ma’am. I’m Sheriff…”

“Bob. I remember,” Emma cut him off boldly. “You were here on Wednesday. Wasn’t it?”

“Yes ‘em. That’s me.” Bob leaned against the door frame, “Is Tom around?”

“I’m afraid not,” Emma crossed her arms. “Something I can tell him for you?”

Bob shook his head, “Nope. I really came to ask you some questions.” H reached into his shirt pocket and produced a folded stack of papers. Opening the stapled bundle, he flipped several pages, “Emma Pitts. Biloxi Mississippi, Red 2011 Toyota Corolla, Plate 4440ED.” He looked at her, “Sound familiar?”

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