Dorothy’s gaze was frozen in the mirror. Beyond her own reflection she caught a blurred glimpse of the Help swiftly scurrying past– one after another they whisked by the door frame as Dorothy’s eyes widened with curiosity. She perked up, slapping both cheeks as if prepping for a fight.
“Knock it off, Dorothy, this is your life now,” she demanded.
It was not the time to dilly-dally in the memory of what could have been. It was all in the past now– a shattered past, but a past nonetheless…. She collected herself, adjusting her bosom and giving one last pucker to the vanity mirror as if to say, We’re fine, Dorothy. It’s all fine, and she promptly rose from her cushioned seat to see what all the fuss was about. What, with two children fairly close in age and the furthest apart in civility, a wild noise of a scream had become routine around a house such as hers.
As she took her last step out of the room and into the hallway, the wooden board below her feet creaked ever-so-faintly. A soft breeze caught the edge of the perfectly-pressed curtains perched above the window that had been left opened, just a touch. She paused. Feeling the shift in temperature, a small shudder made its way down her spine. She composed herself, refusing to humor the idea that something in that room behind her was making its presence known. A woman’s intuition is almost dead-on. Every time. But that could wait, and she calmly continued down the stairwell.
It was a gentle kiss of air at first, nothing different than a summer’s breeze letting itself be known; but as the footsteps of the household settled and quietly shifted into the hushed murmur of confused conversation outside, the wind took a new form– from calm to curiously violent. With every growing gasp of, “My word,” to “dear god,” and “what could have done such a thing?” the high-pitched whistle of Mother Nature and her invisible wrath became even more boisterous.
And with that, the gust of wind began to strengthen. The curtains tossed and turned, gaining momentum. From the stairwell, Dorothy could hear the vanity she had arranged so astutely, begin to shake uncontrollably with the arrival of this invisible tyrant. Each delicate item, so properly placed, was audibly clanking and clinking against one another. The vibrations had hit a turning point when a small family portrait –resting upright– wobbled, lost its balance and was cast onto the floor, shattering the frame into a million pieces. Like so many unseen things in the Mason household, destruction revealed itself again, but no one was ever truly around to face the damage. The wind had won and it settled for now…
The muffled voices of those downstairs made it clear that something out of the ordinary had happened– the house felt dense and void. Dorothy held onto the banister, curiously asking herself aloud, “Where is everyone?” She looked around for signs of which way the scream might have come from. Nothing.
Downstairs, the back door’s screen slowly screeched back and forth, set in motion by the last body who had made its way outside to absorb the scene with their own eyes. Collectively, the household stood huddled in the backyard, as if placing bets down on a cockfight. There, Junior stood comatose amongst them all.
“I just came out back to find my bike, and there they were!” He put his head down, still shaking.
Dorothy raced down the stairs– that softening glow, filled with youthful memories just moments before, had evolved into sheer panic. “Walter! WALTER!”
He, drunk and unaware in the opposite room, moved just the slightest inch within his chair. He was far too drowned in bourbon to be of any use to anyone.
Dorothy swung open the back door. Partial fear. Partial annoyance. Her annual summer dinner called for all-hands-on-deck, and how dare anyone interrupt their daily duties to be running around about such wild nonsense. She took her time with each delicate step toward the huddled mass yards from the porch. Her lips tightened, ready to attack, ready to reprimand…. She wrestled her way through the gawking eyes standing about. When they realized it was the lady of the house coming through, the staff parted swiftly and surely without question.
And… there it was. Junior, in the backyard surrounded by a pool of blood.
Dorothy’s mouth couldn’t muster any words, nor a sound of any kind. Two coyotes lay still as cold stone, side-by-side, mere steps from the doorway.
Nessie began to usher people inside. “Alrigh’ now. We don’t be needin’ so many bodies out here. There is work to be done. Go on now.”
The remaining staff went arm-in-arm with each other inside, a few stealing a glance or two back for one last look that was sure to leave them without an appetite for dinner.
“They never cross the grounds until the night falls. Never,” Nessie said with her head held low.
Dorothy collected her thoughts. “Junior, Baby, are you hurt? Are you hurt? Nessie, don’t just stand there– grab a bandage!”
“It’s not his blood on the ground, Ma’am. It’s the blood of them there coyotes,” she said in a hurried stutter.
Dorothy took a closer look, feeling the curves and ends of her baby boy. Nessie was right. Junior was far from hurt. The blood, still steaming with warmth, did indeed belong to these two lifeless animals, lying quietly on their property in the dead of day. But how? No chickens were running loose to lure coyotes in– and no food had been left out. It wasn’t apparent whether they’d been shot, strangled, or even more… asked to lie still for a moment and just sleep.
“Baby, look at me. What did you see?”
Junior looked up. “Ma, I told you. I just came out back and there they were. They weren’t coming after me– they were already deader than any doornail!”
Annabell swung open the door with might. “What’s happened now?” She bulldozed through those making their way inside. “Let me pass, please. Please, let me pass!”
Pushing her way to the middle of the migrating mess of onlookers, she saw it– the massacre laid out before her. “Sweet Jesus, Junior, what have you done?”
He wouldn’t have it. “I didn’t do nothing, you dumb twit! It was like this when I came out!”
Annabell saw the terror in her brother’s face. His eyes were never so wild. She walked around the carcass of the two animals. Dorothy grabbed his hands. They felt colder than ice on one of the hottest days. “Come on, let’s get you back inside.”
Annabell stood there, mute.
Dorothy took a stern look back, locking eyes with Nessie. “Well, don’t just stand there now, mouth open like a cod– let’s pick this up and move the vermin!”
Nessie, always one of logic, spoke up. “We ain’t got the manpower, Ma’am. The boys are gone for the day, and my back ain’t as strong as it used to be.”
Dorothy deliberated. “Fine. Then throw a blanket over this mess. We can’t have the neighbors makin’ a whisper about what’s going on over here.”
Nessie nodded. Dorothy huffed, “The Wentworth boy shall take care of this first thing in the morning. And, I want traps down. We aren’t going to have animals running amok all summer. Not while I live and breathe on this property!” She made an about-face for the door.
“But Mother,” Annabell cried, snapping up from her reverie, “that isn’t Teddy’s job. He’s–”
“Theodore Wentworth’s job is whatever job we tell him to do. His family owes us, for goodness sakes. It’s the least he can do.”
Annabell was taken aback. “Owes us? But Mother, I thought it was the Christian thing to do. You said it yourself. I heard you say that it was–”
Dorothy had had enough. “Oh, same thing Annabell! That’s enough out of you now. I’ve got more important things to do than worry about what you heard me say.” It was obvious Dorothy was stricken with fear, and her only retaliation was nothing short of cold and privileged. She barged back inside, Junior in hand.
Nessie knelt to the ground. They must have come out of the woods. But it was unclear why they would have come so close to the house. Was that the chill Annabell had felt up her spine? Coyotes? The very thought of the danger they both could have been in, had those coyotes decided to strike earlier… the thought that these cold-blooded killers could have taken her and her brother both by surprise, was something too dark to imagine. But then– if they were killers, but they lay lifeless in front of her now… then what could have done such a thing?
Annabell fought back her fear and composed herself. Her thoughts turned to the exciting revelation that she would see Teddy tomorrow… and even though it wasn’t under the greatest of circumstances, well, it was still something to smile about.
She looked to Nessie and said decidedly, “It’s just a dose of back luck, is all. The coyotes must have gotten into a fight with something twice their size.”
Nessie didn’t respond.
“Everything will be fine.” She turned to retire inside when she saw Nessie, affected, resting her hand on the heart of the animal.
“Nessie, what in God’s name– Don’t touch them! They could have diseases!”
Nessie looked up, her face quivering, holding back tears. “It wadn’t no bigger animal that killed these coyotes, Ms. Annabell. And it wadn’t no man, neither. This here says something… different. I can feel it. I feel it in ‘em.”
Annabell swallowed whatever breath she had left. She didn’t have time for fairy-tale ideas of something so… obscure.
“Maybe. Maybe not. But what’s done is done. Serves them coyotes right for crossing the forest and onto our land before dusk. Now, if you would, please do me a service and awaken me prior to Mr. Wentworth’s arrival in the morning… I do not want him to have to go about this without a proper explanation. It’s the least I could do.”
She walked inside. Nessie nodded. “Yes ma’am, Ms. Annabell.”
The screen door creaked closed. Nessie sighed. “Lord have mercy on what is happening around here.”
Lord have mercy indeed.
Dawn arrived. The sounds of birds chirping and clucking chickens running wild outside was all anyone needed in place of an alarm to wake– and give a false sense that all was well on this beautiful, Southern, summer’s day. The sputtering sound of a truck steadied its way down the long drive. A hand reached over Annabell’s bed as she slept.
“Ms. Annabell. Time to wake up. He’s on his way. Early.”
Annabell let out a girlish moan. Her eyes blinked a few times until she was able to come to.
“Ms. Annabell, you told me to wake you. Now, get on up. That Wentworth boy will be downstairs at any moment.”
Annabell was jarred from sleep.
“My, my… I told you to wake me before his arrival!”
Annabell threw the covers over her feet, and stumbled in her nighty out of the bed. Instinctively Nessie began to make the bed. Annabell ran to her closet to decide on what might spark his interest the most.
“Oh, why. Why? I wanted to be prepped and freshly done-up. Already fed! I don’t want him to see me like this! Not again!”
Nessie paid no mind– she had done what she was told to do. There was a knock at the downstairs door. They both froze.
“Well, Nessie, don’t just stand there. Let the boy in. I’ll be down in a heartbeat.”