He was willing to die, accepted it even.
“You came all the way from Texas just to do this?”
“You ruined Neil!” he shouted. “Destroyed him.”
“His wife did that all on her own,” I countered.
He shook his head, finished with the noose.
“You couldn’t satisfy your husband. He strayed to Neil’s wife.”
There was no explaining with him. It wasn’t worth the effort. He’d come this far, a thousand miles to see me dead. Nothing I was going to say would stop him. And so I had to act. I glanced at the door, dashed for it. He grabbed my arm and spun me about to face him.
“Oh no,” he said, his eyes wild, spit on his chin.
He pushed me back and I stumbled into the wall. The air left my lungs and I watched as he prowled closer, rope in hand. The length of it dragged on the ground behind him as the noose dangled. There were plenty of beams and rafters for him to accomplish the deed.
I slid along the wall, the rough wood at my back, away from him. I kicked and knocked over a shovel and I squatted down and picked it up. The wood handle was rough in my palms, the weight of it heavy. Lifting it, I held it out in front of me like a weapon. It was all I had. A shovel against a madman.
“Stay back,” I said, my eyes narrowed, my breath coming out in little pants.
“I’m your judge and jury, Mrs. Lawrence. I find you guilty in the death of Neil Norman. You are sentenced to be hung by your neck until dead.”
He stepped closer and reached for the shovel, but I pulled it back out of his reach. Grinning then, he stepped closer, his hands almost on me. This was it, my only chance. I swung the shovel toward him with all my might, striking him in the shoulder.
It knocked him to the side and he stumbled, fell down. The shock of it reverberated down the length of my arms, but I barely noticed. Dropping the shovel, I dashed for the door, pulled it open. It ripped from my fingers by the force of the wind and slammed against the wall. Tilting my head down, I ran out into the snow, squinted to see the house.
Nothing. The wind had gotten worse, the snow heavier. There was no path, my footsteps from minutes ago long gone. I knew the house was directly before me, but I couldn’t see it. Luke had been right, a complete whiteout. I thought of the man he’d told me about, the one who’d died just outside his door. That wouldn’t be me. It couldn’t.
Looking back, I could barely make out the dark shape of the barn. I knew Carl was in there, that I hadn’t hurt him too badly. Only stunned him. He’d follow, surely. He was crazy. Completely out of his mind and nothing was going to stop him. Knowing that, I wasn’t going back there, even if it meant dying in the snow. I had to get to the house. I wouldn’t be safe there either, but I wouldn’t survive in the storm.
I couldn’t walk to Mr. Bernard’s where I knew Walker was. While I knew his house was to my left, I didn’t know exactly where and it was just too far. I couldn’t even go in a straight line without—
The rope! I looked up but didn’t see it. Letting the snow fall on my face, I walked left and right for the rope Luke had told me about, that I knew was there. It was my only guide to the house. It was just a few steps away and my heart leapt for joy at the sight of it. Reaching up, I grabbed it and ran for the house, stumbling in the snow a few times.
Carl’s voice was a bellow, even in the wind. He was coming after me and he was angry. Oh God, he was going to get me. I moved faster, all but running to get inside. I made it to the back door without getting lost, just as Luke had said. Glancing over my shoulder, I couldn’t see Carl, but heard him. He called my name again and again, as if chanting it. I closed the door as quietly as I could, afraid if I slammed it he’d hear and follow the noise. There was no lock since Slate Springs was so safe, no way to keep him out.
God, were they wrong about that! A bubble of laughter threatened to escape as I looked about, searching for a place to hide. I ran for the stairs and saw out of the corner of my eye the rifle on pegs above the door. Sliding a chair close, I stepped up on it and grabbed the heavy weapon. I went up the stairs, struggling with lifting my skirt and holding the gun on the way. I ran into the extra bedroom and hid behind the dresser, slid down the wall so I was on the floor, knees up to my chest. With my back pressed against the wall, I tried to quiet my breathing so I could listen. If Carl searched hard enough, he’d find me, but at least now I was armed.
I heard the wind, the harsh whistling of it, the snow pelting the window. I heard my name once, then again, then nothing. I had no idea how long I sat there, knees up and gun ready, but I jumped when the front door opened and slammed against the wall.