“Celia!” Was that Walker?
“Celia!” he shouted again.
“Up here!” I cried. My heart pounded all over again as I struggled up off the floor. His feet were heavy on the steps as he ran up them.
I ran out of the room and into the hall. Walker stood, a rifle of his own in his hands. He was covered in snow. His dark hair was completely white and as it melted, it dripped down his face. His breath was ragged and his knuckles were white as they clenched his gun. Eyes wild, they raked over me.
It was then that I wilted, that all the excess energy from what had happened bled away. My fingers went numb, my knees became weak and I slumped to the floor at his feet.
I’d lost sight of the house twice on my way back. I’d tried to run, but the wind held me back. I tried not to veer at all, but when the house did come into view, I’d discovered I turned to the left slightly and was in the middle of the road. I slipped on the slick wood of the porch on my way to the door. All I could think about was getting to Celia, wondering what kind of danger she was in with that fucker Norman. To come this far to chase after a woman who had no part in his brother’s crime, the man had to be insane. We’d promised to protect our wife from harm and yet it came right to our house. She had to defend herself from a madman. Alone.
Taking the rifle from her and leaving it on the floor beside her, I wrapped my arm around Celia. She mumbled about Norman being outside, that he’d chased her but wasn’t in the house.
I helped her to stand and took her to the kitchen where I watched out the back window for the fucker, rifle in hand. If he made it to the house, he was a dead man. If he was out in the snow, he was already a dead man. He could have returned to the barn for shelter, but I’d check later with Luke.
My brother returned a few minutes after I had, hearing about Norman’s presence in town from Thomkins, of all people. “He mentioned that Celia’s brother was here to visit.” He’d stripped off his coat and dropped it to the floor, pulling Celia onto his lap, held her tightly. I doubted it was to offer her comfort, but to take it for himself to know that she was well and whole and safe. He breathed her in, just as I had when I held her in the upstairs hall.
“I asked if he was fucking with me and his eyes widened. Said he still didn’t like me or what I was doing with the town, but he wouldn’t bother Celia.” Luke kissed the top of her head. “I guess you’ve got one admirer because of your help with Agnes.”
Celia didn’t respond, only rubbed her cheek against Luke’s chest. Every line in her body was tense and I knew she wouldn’t relax until we knew what happened to Norman. Neither would I. Neither would Luke.
We would not go to the barn and confront the man. Not in the storm, so we waited. I watched out the window and knew the minute the winds died. It took two hours and while the snow still fell, the barn slowly became visible. But we didn’t need to come upon the outbuilding with rifles in hand as we were ready to do. Norman’s body was a dark spot on the white ground, halfway to the house. Sprawled face up in the snow, it was obvious he was dead.
I turned, looked to Luke and tilted my head.
“What?” Celia said, popping up from Luke’s lap like a child’s jack-in-the-box.
“Don’t look, doll.” I stopped her with my hand on her shoulder. Her cheeks were pale, her dress rumpled and her hair half loose from its bun.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” she asked, swallowed hard.
Luke walked past me to the window. “He won’t be bothering you anymore.”
She looked up at me, her green eyes pleading. “I have to see. I have to know he’s gone for good.”
I moved my hand and she went to stand beside Luke. A half a minute passed as she just looked at Norman.
“I did as you said, Luke. I grabbed hold of the rope and followed it to the house. I… I couldn’t see a thing.”
She put her hands over her mouth.
“At first, I got confused, couldn’t see where I was going. I got lost. Then I remembered the rope and found it.”
Luke pulled her into a hug.
“I don’t think he knew about the rope and got turned around.”
“I heard him calling for me, again and again, then nothing.” I thought of him chasing Celia and clenched my fists.
I stared out at the body, partially covered in blown snow. “It looks like he wrapped a rope about his waist and ventured out. Not sure why he didn’t just follow it back to the barn.”
Celia shook her head. “He… he was going to hang me. Like what happened to his brother. It’s the noose.”