I felt a crushing weight on my chest, no not on my chest, on my soul. I’d killed before in regular army. I shot a scout from fifty yards with my rifle, took him right off his horse, but this was different. It was like I just reenacted the gruesome scene of Titus, but this was not a play.
I dropped my head to my knees, and my mouth opened slightly to allow for strangled breath. Small cries of pain slipped over my lips.
“Why?” I shouted.
I pounded the ground with my fists several times.
“Why?” I whispered. “Why me?”
There’s no going back.
I took a slightly deeper breath.
There’s no going back. The voice in my head reminded me again.
I got to keep going.
My breathing eased, and I relaxed.
There was no going back, and that was true.
I could feel my insides drying up like curing concrete. I wiped my eyes dry, got up, taking the lantern into my hand and made my way upstairs.
At the top of the stairs, I shut the door, then walked to the eating and kitchen area. There was dry blood on my hands—Alarbus’s blood. Crossing to the sink, I put the lantern on the counter, ran the pump, and turned on the faucet. I placed my hands into the stream of water, splashing my face and running them over the back of my neck. I wanted the blood gone.
My coat removed, I undid my bottoms, throwing it off like a diseased blanket. I tore off my shirt, threw my cap at my feet, and then slipped off my boots and pants.
Taking my boots, I thrusted them under the water. I ran my hands over the rough leather. The blood ran down into the drain. Images flicked into my mind—
The bag of limbs.
Him and her canoodling.
I should speak to her. I should go today after I finished my route and wait at her doorstep. That might be suspicious. Maybe I should wait inside. Most people don’t lock their doors.
I reached over and turned the wick low until the flame fluttered and disappeared. The sunlight crept in around the curtain, illuminating the space. I watched it and tried to remember if I left the knife in the bag or did I put it somewhere else.
Taking my old shirt, I wiped off my arms, face, hands, and neck. The white shirt took on a rusty shade. I tossed the shirt, then ran upstairs to get into my uniform.
After I rushed to get dressed, I was back downstairs and pulling on my wet boots. I would need to get a new bag at work. Extras were sitting around, and if anyone asked where my letter bag was, I’d tell them the strap broke, and I threw it away. An easy excuse.
I did a quick check: boots on, uniform on, hat on, and headed out the door. I slung the door open and had stepped onto my porch when I heard my nosy neighbor’s voice from around the corner.
Damn nosy neighbor.
Decker was humming now, a light melody, he was in a good mood. I thought to go back inside, but I needed to be going. I didn’t have time for this. I went to step down and then Decker came around the corner of the house and into view.
I stepped back onto the porch.
He slowed his approach and raised his head, looking at me as if he’d caught a child doing something wrong. “Where are you off to this morning?”
I smiled with a sense of accomplishment. “Work.”
He walked all the way to the porch where he stopped at the bottom step, blocking my exit. His arms were outstretched, taking hold of the rails, using them to brace himself. He seemed relaxed yet curious. He glanced around, looking over his shoulder, then back to me. “Did you hear any strange noises last night?”
“No, I didn’t hear a thing.” I wasn’t lying. They weren’t any strange noises last night. I had made sure I was quiet when I’d come home.
“Not too long after I left your place.” The right corner of his mouth turned slightly up, just enough to notice.
My eyes narrowed. I tried to understand what Decker was talking about.
“Banging, like a hammer against something hard, possibly stone.” His fisted hand coming down onto his palm like a hammer. “It was faint, but I could feel the vibrations through my floor. Which I thought was odd.”
It took me a few seconds to remember what he was talking about, knocking that wall down, but that felt decades ago.
“I didn’t feel or hear a thing. It’s probably your age.”
“My age, eh? I don’t think so.” He waited for me to answer, but I wasn’t going to talk.
I stepped down, expecting him to move, but he remained. I was standing at the second to last step, looking at the old man. His eyes were bright, like orbs filled with life and energy.
We waited. I didn’t want to give the nosy old coot any more reasons to be suspicious, so I kept my calm.
“I wasn’t sure what I’d felt,” he continued, “so I took off my shoes and walked around barefoot. I walked around so much I let my old bones in my feet go cold. When I couldn’t determine where it was coming from, I came outside.”
“You came out barefooted?”
“Yes.” He locked his eyes on my face and smiled dryly. “Good to get the feet cold and dirty. Anyhow, I still could not figure it out, so I walked to the right, toward Mrs. Vanern’s, and it was less noticeable, but when I walked closer to your place, it felt stronger. I even walked out across the yard in the snow. My feet nearly froze before I got back into the house.”
“You shouldn’t be walking about in the snow barefoot. You might catch a cold, get ill, even die.” I smirked as the old man glared slightly. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear anything, and I assure you if I had, I’d been out here looking for it.” I pressed forward, and he let me by.
I turned around and faced him. “What?”
“I heard sounds when I was by your door.”
“Well, there wasn’t any noise. Maybe it was your heartbeat. I hope you’re not sweet on me. Not my type.”
The old man stared at me as though he were looking through me.
“Are you having a stroke?” I squinted my eyes.
Mr. Decker glared. “Funny, are we?” His eye caught something on my face, and he reached toward me.
I backed away. Maybe he was sweet on me.
“You got something red on you. It’s on your nose. Looks like blood.”
I rubbed my nose. “Must have been the roast. I like it rare.”
“Humph, I prefer to kill the worms.”
“Afraid of what might kill you?”
“No, I just don’t like to crap all night.”
“I’ve got to go,” I said. “I’m going to be late for work.”
“Good day.” He tipped his hat.
I moved away as quickly as I could and avoided looking back so not to be drawn into a new conversation. Though in the back of my mind there was a nagging feeling. My neighbor was up to something. I slowed my pace. He watched me this morning when I came home. He saw me with the bag, yet he never asked me about it. Why? What was he doing?
I’d walked about twenty, maybe thirty yards slowing down when I suddenly stopped.
I had forgotten to lock the front door. I turned around, and I could see the back of Decker as he entered my home.