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CHAPTER ONE

As a pastor, I have been required to do some bizarre things, but this was unthinkable.

I parked my Jeep Cherokee alongside the curb of 300 Willow Bend Road in the same place Sheriff Donnelly parked his suburban twenty-eight months prior. Much of that night was a blur, but there were a few details that punched through the fog. I could see them with blinding clarity. There was the abandoned sheriff’s vehicle, wheels up over the curb, driver’s door open, headlights spotting the tree line east of the house. And curious neighbors crawling everywhere, like furious ants whose home had been disturbed.

That was over two years ago. Tonight there were no flashing blue lights. No police scattered throughout the property with flashlights. No camera crew from the local CBS station parked at the end of the street. I sat in my car and closed my eyes, trying to pray, trying to find God in all of this.

I was alone.

“God, help me.” I said it to the steering wheel. I didn’t want to do this. Deep down, I hoped for an audible voice telling me I could go back home. The voice never came, so I opened the door and got out. I scanned the yard for a burning bush or an angelic messenger. A sign. Something, anything to turn me around.

I will never leave you. The promise shook through my soul. It did not come from the Good Book, but from the house itself.

I intended to never return here. Swore I wouldn’t. But the aged timbers, brick and mortar of Willow Bend knew better. Never, no never. I will never leave you, it echoed.

I took the steps leading up to the wrap-around porch two at a time and tapped the door with bare knuckles that had a habit of cracking and bleeding in the winter. The soft thud-thud of socked feet scurried across a wooden floor. The door opened before I could tap again.

“Pastor Mayhew. Please, come in.”

“I’m not a pastor anymore. Just call me Kirby.” My resignation letter was in the hands of Harvest Church’s deacon board. This was my last official duty and the first time I had introduced myself as a former pastor. It felt unnatural and not as good as I thought it might.

“Hm. Whatever.” Young Mary Andrus didn’t care about my career change. She was in the minority.

She offered to take my coat with a fragile white hand that peeked out of the sleeve of her oversized black sweatshirt. The hood hung low over her eyes and strands of straight black hair fell around her face. The house felt colder than the street. Was the chill my imagination? Mary Andrus didn’t say another word, but pointed down the hallway like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

I looked around the entryway for evidence or a clue. I hated this place, but in a strange way, I needed to be here. This is where Julie breathed her last breath. I never made it into the house the last time I was here. I got as far as the porch before Wilson Gibbs, a veteran deputy and one of my flock, grabbed me in a bear hug.

“No,” he’d said. “You don’t want to see her like that.”

I pulled myself back to the present and pushed aside the gruesome imaginations that screamed of blood and torn flesh. In a few minutes this chapter would be closed, forever.

One last official duty, then you’re out of it. I turned the phrase over in my mind like a mantra. Get it done, and get out.

There were no windows to illuminate the hallway that stretched throughout the entire east side of the house. Darkness shrouded six doors, three on each side. I blinked to adjust my eyes to the dimness. I felt for a light switch and found a set on the wall to my right. I flipped the first one, closest to the entryway. Nothing. I flipped it down and tried the next one. Bingo. An amber glow oozed from a dirty, fuzzy globe that suspended over my head like the egg sac of a giant spider. It lit yellowed ceiling tiles and animated a hideous wallpaper; a red and gold ornate pattern that shape-shifted like a kaleidoscope. I had a strange craving for egg rolls.

“Mrs. Andrus?” I put my hand on the first doorknob to my right and turned it. I inched the door open, stealing a peek inside.

“Not there!” Mary whisper-yelled at the back of my head. She was right behind me and startled me pretty good. I was on edge and scolded myself for agreeing to this visit. Mary pointed to the last door on the left. She didn’t speak but kept pointing like a freakish harbinger.

One last official duty, then you’re out of it. I kept going.

Inside the room at the end of the hall a secretary’s lamp spilled light onto the desk in the far corner. It’s luminescence blanketed the rest of the murky room with dirty light. There was a ratty old recliner blocking a closet door, and then the bed. A hospice nurse dabbed a wet cloth across the pale face of Mrs. Andrus.

“You got some company, Trudy.” The nurse came around the bed and patted my arm on the way out. “I got to have a smoke.” She leaned in and whispered. “She’s been spiking a fever. Won’t be long, I expect.”

I was alone in the room with Trudy Andrus, watching life ebb away as she lay there with her eyes closed, restless legs moving under a white sheet. This fragile shell was the woman who produced a killer. I didn’t know much about her, but the church gossip mill pegged her as a kindhearted woman saddled with a bad marriage. I didn’t give much credence to church hearsay, but this morsel of information came from my secretary, Arlene. By that, I knew it was well researched.

Even in death the woman before me held a pleasant expression. I wondered – did Trudy Andrus know her son would kill one day? Was he the boy that tortured and killed neighborhood cats for sport? Were there signs? Could he have been stopped? Could I blame Trudy Andrus for what happened?

“Pastor Mayhew.” She whispered my name and I didn’t correct her as I had corrected Mary at the door. She was dying and I was here as her pastor.

“You...” Her body wheezed and tears fell down her cheeks. “You came.”

More tears streamed as she uttered unintelligible sounds. I took her hand and leaned over to listen. She wasn’t talking to me. She was thanking Jesus. A compassion beyond my human capability welled up in my chest. I was holding the hand of the woman whose son killed my wife. I wanted to blame her too, but she was just like me – an innocent crushed by the guilty.

“I wasn’t sure.” She paused for a few seconds, catching her breath. “If you would come.” Her eyes were rimmed in sorrow.

“I wasn’t sure if I would either.”

There was a metal chair leaning against the wall. I unfolded it and took a seat near her bed. We visited for a few minutes and I prayed with her. She wanted to talk about what happened, about Julie and heaven. I didn’t want to hear it, but she was dying and needed to say things that had been weighing on her heart. I let her.

The door opened. “Pastor, she should probably rest now.” Saved by the nurse. A wide open sky of fresh air and unlimited possibility waited for me outside.

“Two minutes,” Mrs. Andrus pleaded.

“Okay.” The nurse abandoned me.

“Shut it.” Trudy Andrus pointed to the door to reinforce the command. I got up and closed it, then walked over to the window and peeked at the evening sky through the dust encrusted mini-blinds. I was almost free. With this visit scratched off my task list I was free to pack up my house, rent a truck, and get on with the rest of my life. Far from here.

“I need to tell you.”

“I’m listening, Trudy.” I expected a last confession, and under the circumstances, an apology. Trudy didn’t owe me one, but I could see she was sorry for what her son did.

“Eddie was in trouble. Big trouble.” That was an understatement. Eddie Andrus Jr. was serving twenty years on a second degree murder charge.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“He got mixed up with the wrong people. Evil people. It wasn’t like my Eddie.” Mrs. Andrus was very grieved over what she was saying, but I couldn’t feel sorry for the bad choices Eddie made in his miserable life.

“You don’t understand. No one understands. But I saw it…” She drifted off and began babbling again. I went to the bed and leaned over her, trying to make sense of the gibberish. “I saw it,” she said again.

“What? What did you find?”

“Proof. You must ask Eddie.” She squeezed my hand with surprising strength. “Promise me. He’ll tell you where.” She winced and groaned with agitation. “You need to know the truth. It’s okay now. Tell my boy, it’s okay now.” She lay quiet for a moment and I wondered if she’d gone to sleep. “He won’t trust you, he’s scared. I need to write something. Get me some paper.”

I looked around the room for a scrap of paper but there was nothing. Instinctively, I grabbed my pocket notebook and the pen I carried, putting both in her hands. She scribbled a message to her son, something that didn’t mean much to me, but I supposed it might to him.

“Promise me.” She handed the notebook back to me and I nodded in agreement. “Good,” she said. “Good.” She took a deep breath and winced with pain. She drew her legs up and balled her fists. It was the only relief I could offer her.

The nurse came in and pushed me aside. I was in the way now.

“You got some pain, Miss Trudy? Leona’s gonna take care of you. Don’t you worry about a thing.” She dipped the washcloth in a pan of water and wrung it out. “There you go. Nice and cool.” She talked in a quiet, soothing manner. The words didn’t matter, only the caring voice and gentle touch. Trudy settled down, relieved that her concern rested in my hands now. A concern that brought me no rest at all. What didn’t I know about Julie’s death?

I burst into the hallway and nearly knocked Mary Andrus to the floor. Was she lurking at the bedroom door?

“Oops, I’m sorry,” I said, helping her regain her footing.

“How is she?”

“Not well. I’m sure this is difficult for you. Let me know if I can help.” I spoke as I walked toward the front door, bone-chilled by the cool, damp home. The house was steeped in a dark oppression. I wanted it off of me.

“Okay,” I heard her say somewhere behind me as I pulled the front door closed and took in the evening air. The sky overhead was empty and clean. I should have stopped to listen to Mary, should have been more caring.

I had wrestled with leaving Tennessee, leaving Harvest Church, for the better part of the last two years. Questions hung like threatening clouds over Julie’s murder. After Eddie Andrus was convicted I asked the sheriff if he was satisfied with the prosecutor’s case. Maybe it was because I didn’t understand the way the law worked, but it seemed the justice system was heavy on system, light on justice. Why would Eddie kill Julie? I had a list of other questions too, and the sheriff answered them all with a speech that he’d practiced before, no doubt with family members of other victims who’d brought similar questions: Justice in this world isn’t perfect, but it’s what we got. We do what we can with what we’re given. And that’s the line I’d fed myself every day since, living with a half-justice, always hungry for more. It ate at my soul until I wondered if there was anything left inside.

I hurried to my car, eager to leave this place behind. I caught my reflection in the rearview mirror and heard Julie’s voice scolding me for letting people see me like this. I was in desperate need of a haircut, my beard had taken over my neck, but the other offenses weren’t so easily fixed. I looked fifty instead of forty, and my eyes were dark and serious. When did I become this person? I adjusted the mirror and pulled my Jeep away from the curb when I caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye. I jammed on the brakes as a car whipped around me. My heart was racing; pumping blood through a body I thought was long dead. For almost two and a half years I had survived in an emotional fugue state. I had no idea this tomb on Willow Bend would bring me back to life.

I called Sheriff Donnelly.

“Did you find a new chaplain yet?” I asked.

“No. I got a few bites, but no commitment. Why? You know somebody?”

“Yeah. Me.”

“I thought you were putting on your boots and heading for Texas. What happened?”

I told Donnelly that my plans had changed. I didn’t bother explaining that chaplain’s credentials would help me get into the state penitentiary that held Eddie Andrus Jr. I needed access to people and information. The chaplain’s position within the sheriff’s department would open doors that might otherwise slam in my face. My new life in Texas would have to wait. How eager was I to sell industrial cleaning supplies for my uncle, anyway? The job would be there, he told me, whenever I was ready.

Getting the answers, getting to the truth—this was one last thing I could do for Julie. I tried to quash the adrenaline. There was probably nothing to this but the senseless chatter of a dying woman. Either way, Trudy Andrus was right about one thing.

I had to know the truth.

CHAPTER TWO

Chubby’s Eats was the perfect out of the way place to meet my ex-secretary. It was renowned for rude service and great homemade pies—the cherry was my favorite. Their coffee was bearable. I asked for a corner booth and surveyed the room while I waited for Arlene to arrive. Several faces were familiar but I was glad to see none attended Harvest Church. Staying under the radar in a small community wasn’t easy.

A hodge-podge of Caney Cove memorabilia spattered the diner, the kind of stuff significant only to a town native. To visitors and newcomers it presented as typical garage sale fare. I sat in the booth directly under old Mr. Leary’s mounted trophy bass, which included the actual spinner bait he used to land it. Leary bequeathed it to the diner in his will, specifying its display over his favorite table. The owner of Chubby’s graciously complied.

While I waited for Arlene I took the opportunity to make a few notes to myself. My memory wasn’t what it used to be. I don’t think it was a sign of aging, but lack of focus. I was easily bored, easily distracted, and prone to lose myself in mindless activity. I’d missed a few important meetings, then discovered the value of keeping a notebook about a year ago. Mine was a small, pocket-sized gem with a hard black cover. It housed my calendar, my random thoughts, and anything else I needed to get out of my head and onto paper. It wasn’t a cure-all, but it definitely improved the quality of my life. Arlene would attest to that. She hadn’t had an easy time of it, trying to keep me on track.

The waitress showed up with two waters and two grease-stained menus. I asked for a coffee and gasped when I saw Arlene come through the door and peel off her long black overcoat.

She was dressed in bright purple, from her silk scarf right down to her short skirt, purple tights, and boots. She looked like a plump grape. Her hair was piled up on top of her head, and rebellious blonde sprigs mimicked Medusa. Onlookers froze at the sight. So much for my hopes of a discreet meeting.

“Good Lord.”

“What?” The waitress turned back toward me.

“Uh, one more. Make that two coffees. And bring lots of creamer, please.” I drank mine black but I knew Arlene took hers light and sweet. The church had a limited budget and pay raises were sparse. I learned that the small gestures of kindness, like fixing your secretary a cup of coffee now and then went a long way to make up the difference.

Arlene parked herself in the booth and shifted her mouth into overdrive.

“What a day, Pastor! Your chair is still warm and already Jim Edison is trying to fill it. Can you believe it?”

“I can’t say that I’m surprised, Arlene. But God is in control. There’s no sense in getting worked up – He’s got the right man for the job.” I didn’t want to get into church politics.

“Oh, sure he does. And it can’t be Jim Edison. He has most of the deacon board in his pocket, you know. Are they blind? He can’t lead a church. Don’t get me wrong, Jim is a good man, but he’s no preacher. That’s for sure. I told Sarah Ellers – you remember Sarah, she’s the coordinator down at the community prayer center? Anyway, I told her they’d better get to praying for your replacement. If Jim Edison gets in there, say goodbye to Harvest.” She raised a bracelet-clad arm and snapped her fingers for dramatic effect. “Gone, just like that. I’ve seen it happen in a heartbeat, Brother Kirby.”

My head was spinning. I steered the conversation away from the happenings of Harvest Church and finally worked up to my visit with Trudy Andrus.

“She wanted to talk about Julie,” I said.

“Well, sure she did. I imagine it’s all she can think of, here at the end of her life. Her boy is in prison, and her family shamed by it.” She sat silent for a moment, and then shook her head. “It’s all so sad, really. For everyone.” She patted my hand then reached for her coffee. I waited while she took a few sips. “I’ve been praying for you all day, having to go back to that place. I know it was hard for you, but I’m sure Mrs. Andrus appreciated it.”

I couldn’t trust Arlene with the details of my conversation with Trudy Andrus, but she might be a source of additional information.

“It was hard, but it was good for me to go. There is a lot about that night I don’t remember. We’ve never really talked about it. What have you heard?”

She clamped her mouth shut in response to the warning in her head.

“Time to close this chapter, Arlene. Please, tell me what you know.”

“I can’t say I know anything, but there’s lots I suspect. It may be more than you want to hear.”

“I want to hear it all. Please.”

“Okay, but I need to make a phone call real quick.”

I nodded.

“Most of this comes from my cousin so I should clear some things with her first.” She scooted out of the booth. “I’ll be back in a snap.”

The greater percentage of Chubby’s patrons watch her clip-clop toward the restrooms. She looked ridiculous but it was somewhat endearing. Arlene didn’t care what other people thought, and that made her a rare jewel in my book. Today she felt purple, like an amethyst, and she wanted the world to know.

My cell phone rang. It was Sheriff Donnelly.

“Kirby, I know we haven’t gone through all the channels yet, but I could really use you tonight. One of my deputies was shot and he’s on a chopper to Knoxville. I’m on my way there now. Could you ride out with one of my lieutenants to notify the family and escort them to the hospital?”

I made arrangements to meet Lieutenant Connors at the station in Caney Cove, and then jotted a note to Arlene on a napkin. I slipped a five out of my wallet to cover the coffee and headed toward another family’s tragedy.

CHAPTER THREE

It was after midnight by the time I got home. The good news was that Deputy Daryl Lineberger was going to make it. The bad news was waiting for me in a week-high stack of mail I’d been neglecting. It bulged with greeting cards from some of my Harvest family. While I was touched by their thoughtfulness, the emotion it evoked was overwhelming. I was too keyed up to sleep and the stack of mail wasn’t getting any smaller, so I moved the pile to the kitchen table and sorted through the small mountain, culling out the junk mail, putting the envelopes that contained greeting cards on top.

There were several from different members of the congregation, each expressing their sorrow at my departure, along with well-wishes for the future. Most filled both sides of the card with different memories from the years at Harvest; a few included a meaningful quote from Scripture. One card was especially poignant. Laurel Reid’s beautiful penmanship simply read, “I am so sorry – Laurel.”

I was sorry too, but I knew it was time for me to move on. Truth is, I probably waited too long to leave. My last two years as a pastor were not my finest.

The events of the day were catching up to me so I set the rest of the unopened cards aside for another time. I flipped through the remainder of my mail and came across familiar handwriting on a small white envelope. I didn’t need to open it because I knew what it would say. When things were going well for Patrick, my younger brother, he always called. When he needed money, he wrote. It was a silly thing, an archaic way to communicate. My only guess was he was ashamed and a letter gave some distance, made the ask more bearable. I should have set the letter aside with the rest of the cards, but I couldn’t.

Giving it a quick read, I confirmed that Patrick needed money again. No big deal there. But I could see things were worse than he let on. His scattered, illogical thoughts scrawled over the sheet of notebook paper pointed to one thing: Patrick was high when he wrote it.

We texted and emailed off and on but the last time we talked was in August, a few months after his latest rehab stint. He’d been clean for over a hundred days, landed a good job with a landscaping company, and started dating a nice girl. Nice girl. That was his adjective, and I presumed it meant she had no idea how much an ounce of coke would cost, let alone where to buy it.

Now he was using again. I wondered what set him off – problems with the job or problems with the girl. Or maybe it was a sunny day and he went for a ride down by the beach and ran into one of his old drug buddies. Or maybe it was raining, maybe the wind blew in a certain direction. It took me years to learn that my brother didn’t need a reason to self-destruct. It was all Patrick knew to do.

I hated writing him off like that. It was hard to find a balance between realistic expectations and faith. I knew God could change Patrick, but I also knew Patrick could never change. It hurt to hope so I had settled into a numb indifference. Or so I tried to tell myself.

Accounting for the west coast time zone, my sister would still be awake. Abbie lived a couple miles from Patrick and she, more than anyone else, knew how to handle him. They were twins – polar opposites – but had a weird symbiosis. His chaotic, undisciplined attitude gave purpose to her rigidness and strict adherence to the rules – whatever she deemed them to be.

I called her cell but got voicemail. I didn’t have her home phone in my contacts, but I was sure Julie had it in her old day planner. She had everything in there. And even now, when I needed somebody’s number or address, Julie helped me find it. She was still good at keeping my life together.

I tore the desk apart but couldn’t find her organizer. I always left it in the same place because I knew if I moved it I’d never find it again. I checked a few more places, but still came up empty. I sank down into the leather chair in my office and closed my eyes, trying to remember where and when I last saw the day planner.

What I remembered, instead, was sitting in this chair trying to read a book on church trends in America. Trying to read, because Julie had settled into my lap with a magazine, flipping through the pages with little interest, and finally tossing it onto the floor. I have no idea what the book on trends said, but I well remember every kiss – every subtle movement of my wife. Intentional. Spontaneous. Here in this chair. With me.

Normally, looking for a lost object infuriated me, but tonight it was a project I could focus on, something to keep my thoughts in the present. I set out after the day planner again.

The drawers in the coffee table, the kitchen counter, and the small table by the phone yielded nothing. I didn’t find the organizer, but standing in the kitchen, so close to the refrigerator and the pantry, my hopeful stomach growled.

Too tired to function, I shoved a few pretzels in my mouth, brushed my teeth, and went to bed – or to couch, really. No one knew, but this is where I’d slept for over two years now. On the new couch, the one I bought shortly after Julie died. The old couch, where we sat together and swapped foot rubs and funny stories, was now in the corner of the office by the leather chair.

I didn’t go in there very often.

 

At 5 A.M. the alarm on my cell phone chimed a happy tune, too chipper for early morning. I crawled off the couch toward the coffee pot, which was already dripping a dark roast blend with a whiff of vanilla. I leaned on the kitchen counter until the coffeemaker finished sputtering, my bare feet freezing on the hardwood floor.

I poured a cup and sat at the small breakfast table, opened my Bible to the forty-third chapter of Isaiah, and began with a short prayer. Whatever else I had failed to do, I honored this appointment every morning. Most days I felt like the family man who showed up at the docks, hoping to get hired on for the day to earn some money to feed his kids – only to realize today wouldn’t be the day. But I reported for duty regardless.

God has a funny timetable. I guess when you have eternity to work with you aren’t much in a hurry. This table in the nook of the kitchen was my waiting place. I wasn’t sure what I needed but I knew where I’d find it.

I began reading out loud, a habit I learned from my grandfather. At first my words were flat and empty, but something happened a few verses into the chapter. The words became more; they hovered over me, moved through me until they found the one small spark of faith buried deep below all the mess inside me. God Himself bent down to breathe across the tiny flicker. My smoldering soul exploded into a raging flame, consuming the ache, the apathy, and the anger.

In the wake of the blaze, underneath the pile of ash, the words burned in my heart—Kirby, I am doing a new thing. Watch Me.

CHAPTER FOUR

I ran by the sheriff’s department later in the morning to fill out paperwork and take a picture for my chaplain’s credentials. While there, I researched the protocols for Waltson Correctional Facility and called the prison to schedule a visit with Eddie Andrus on Sunday afternoon.

They informed me of the prisoner’s right to refuse any visit. I faxed an expedited application for visitation which explained the dire health of Eddie's mother along with my position as her pastor and chaplain of Weymer County Sheriff’s Department. I hoped it would be enough to get me in on short notice. I wrote down the particulars in my notebook, including the name of the person I’d spoken to at Waltson.

Sheriff Donnelly was out of the office but I visited with a few of the deputies and met several members of the administration. The man who shot Deputy Lineberger was still unidentified and walking the streets; that didn’t sit well. A focused intensity surged through the department. Most supposed the offender was a meth user as it was a growing problem in the rural county.

This wasn’t the place to find sympathy for a drug addict, especially today. I couldn’t stop thinking about Patrick and where his life was headed. I called Abbie from my car but got her voicemail again. I left another message and made a mental note to look for Julie’s day planner again when I got home.

 

I met Arlene at a sandwich shop for an early dinner. She had a box in her car with some of my personal items she’d found at the church office. Most of it was stuff I could live without, but I was glad she retrieved my favorite Scooby Doo coffee mug.

“Scooby-Doo, where were you? Man, I can’t believe I forgot this.”

“I found it in the kitchen. You had a plastic container with some leftover chili in there too, but I didn’t think you’d want that. It was growing fuzz.”

“Yum.”

Arlene’s lighthearted smile shifted to a look of concern. “I have something to tell you. If you still want to hear it.”

“I do.” I held up the mug. “You want to stop by the house and I’ll put on some coffee? We can sit on the porch and you can fuss at me for neglecting all the plants.”

 

 

Twenty minutes later I was pouring coffee, eye to eye with Scooby-Doo. I had to admit, he made me smile. Scooby and the gang brought me back to Saturday morning cartoons in my pajamas, hanging out with Abbie and Patrick when things were simple. We fought about tortured baby dolls and stolen bites of grilled cheese sandwiches. Things like drug rehab and death didn’t exist in that world.

Arlene let out a half-hearted scream from the back porch.

“What’s wrong?” I hollered back, scooping up the jar of creamer and some packets of sweetener.

I arrived on the porch to find her plucking dead leaves, shaking her head with disgust.

“If you’re going to kill them, why don’t you just give them away? Honestly! I don’t know whether to water them or burn them. Even the ivy is dying. Who kills an ivy?”

“Oh. Are they that bad? It’s your fault really. You haven’t been by for a while.”

“We’ll be getting our first freeze before too long, you know. They’ll need to be covered or brought inside. When are you going to put the house on the market?”

“I won’t be leaving just yet.”

“Really? Then I’ll need to call you and remind you to take care of these little sweeties.”

“That would be good. I’m sure the plants would appreciate it.”

I set Arlene’s coffee on the small glass table along with all the fixings and took a seat in one of the rockers. While she plucked and hummed and watered, I marveled over the innate will to live, even in the potted plants that cluttered my back porch. When she finished her triage, Arlene pulled the other rocker to the edge of the porch and faced west, toward the small creek that ran behind the property.

I wasn’t much for country living but Julie had fallen in love with this place. Before we bought it she would find any excuse to drive out here. It was a ten-acre lot with a rickety old barn and a hundred year-old house. That’s how I saw it. On one of our weekend drives I noticed a real estate sign on the front lawn. I tried to distract Julie, but it was too late. She screamed with excitement and turned prophet on me.

“I knew it! This is our house, Kirby! God wants us to have it.”

I almost wrecked the car. I called the house ancient, she said it was quaint. I called the barn dilapidated, she said it was charming. I called the wrap-around porch a death trap full of rotten planks. She said it was a sprawling beauty. I called the realtor. She said I was learning.

With a lot of sweat and hard work, the old place did polish up nice. I didn’t take time to enjoy it much anymore.

“It’s so pretty out here, so peaceful.” Arlene settled into a steady rhythm in the rocker and we both let her words hang in the lazy air while a fat orange sun sank into the horizon.

“I had to call my cousin last night. A lot of this comes from her so I wanted to make sure she’d be comfortable with me sharing it.”

“You are going to tell me, right?” My pulse double-timed. I was never satisfied with the story on Julie’s death. I knew Eddie murdered her, but there were pieces that didn’t fit.

“I told you I didn’t know anything for sure. And this may be nothing at all.”

“Sure. But I’d like to hear it.”

A good story was something to be savored and Arlene would get every last drop out of this one. She scooted her chair in my direction and leaned forward, closing out the rest of the world. She started with almost a whisper.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I work as a freelance web designer in Louisiana which allows me the space I crave for writing. I love learning new things and I'm prone to ponder. The stories I write usually introduce themselves to me at the oddest moments with a first sentence that won't leave me alone. That's when I get alone and begin to explore: What's at the edge of those woods? Is the air cool and crisp? Sweetly warm and thick with the scent of honeysuckle? I wonder...and so I write.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
To learn more about me and what I'm writing, visit my website at http://heatherkduff.com. You can also subscribe to my email list there.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Doesn't everyone love a good mystery? I'm drawn by the unknown, by what's just over the crest of that hill, what's peeking out from behind the gnarly old oak tree, who is watching, unseen? The quest for those answers, that wonderful discovery, keeps me coming back to the page.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The idea for Kirby's story came with the image of him walking up those steps at 300 Willow Bend Road, knocking on the door, full of dread. But why didn't he want to be there? I had to know.

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