Thursday, March 14, 2019

Guilty as Sin

The storm raged, lightning streaked the skies, as claps of thunder made the earth rumble. Shining Moon sought shelter in a nearby barn. He'd traveled many miles and the storm was so strong, it would not allow him to sleep. He thrust open the doors of the barn and went inside shutting them behind him. No one was about, as it was very late at night. He noted the house was dark, so no one was around.
The barn had two mules and one horse. The hay smelled a bit musty, from the dampness. He quickly found an empty stall toward the back of the barn and wrestled with the straw to make a bed. He laid his bow and arrow down, along with his blanket that he carried on his shoulder, on the hay. In a corner of the stall, he finally went to sleep with the knowledge that he would be gone before dawn.
The next morning early, the sun hadn't peaked out yet, and he heard voices and opened his eyes. It was a man and a woman. They sounded as though they were arguing.
"Stop it Earl, I don't like that." The woman said.
"You gonna stop teasing me and let me touch you." The man asked, with a low throaty voice.
"I mean it Earl, leave me alone." She shouted. "I've got work to do. I've got to get my chores done and get to the schoolhouse."
"I'm sure the kids would enjoy a day off. It's time you give me something other than a few kisses. You want me to get what I want from the whores, in town?"
"I don't care where you get it, it won't be me." She insisted. "When are you gonna start acting like a man Earl. There's more to life than drinking and carousing."
"Damn your such a cold little bitch!" he shouted. "I've had enough of this. If you won't give it to me, I'll take it! You been teasing me too long. It's pay up time."
He reached for her, she backed up and her dress ripped right down the front.
Buttons flew everywhere. She gasped unable to believe he did that.
"Look what you've done!" she pulled at her dress now, trying to keep it in place. "Stop it, Earl. I mean it!"
She looked down at her clothes and shrieked. "You and my father are friends, but I don't think even he will let you get by with this!"
"Your father will congratulate me, what are you talking about. You think he cares about you? You’re his slave and that's all you are."
"Shut up!" she yelled.
"He says if I broke you in, he might try it himself. Yeah, we had a good laugh over that one." He saw the look of disbelief on her face and laughed. "You really are an old-maid schoolteacher. You act like one, you think like one, but you sure as hell don't look like one."
Shock riveted through the barn like a wave of hysteria.
"I don't want to hear any more of your lies!"
Tears formed at the back of her throat as the bile rose.
Without thought her hand came up and landed hard on his face, the sound of skin hitting skin had Shining Moon edging toward them. The woman's voice was filled with terror and something more.
Shining Moon squatted at the edge of the stall to see them. The man was bending her over a saddle propped on a stall gate. His head was bent, and he was kissing her neck. She fought him off, with her fists. He was tall, lean and trying to control her every move. She raised a knee to kick him where it would really hurt, but he stopped her. Much shorter, with darker reddish-brown hair, she had a long-sleeved dark dress on and what looked like work boots.
"Let go of me," she shouted. "Let go of me Earl, or you'll be sorry."
"We've been courting for two years Melissa, and you ain't let me touch you yet." His voice took on a sinister sound. "You know you are my girl. I'm tired of going to the saloons for my needs. After all I need you! And today you will submit. I'm tired of playing around with you, girl. Your gonna give me what I want this time."
"Need me? Submit, never!" she shook her head. Her face was pale now, but her anger lingered, Shining Moon saw her fist her hands trying to fend him off, he saw her clench her teeth. And one hand reached to her dress pocket.
"Not until I get another kiss… Besides," he lifted his head and grinned, "Aren't you curious to how it might feel. They call you Carter's old maid on the mountain." He chuckled now. "They make fun of you all the time because you don't know nothing about men. Well, darlin' I'm about to teach you."
"No… I'm not curious. And I don't give a damn what those idiots in the saloon call me." she shouted again, obviously not put out by the title he agave her. "I've got chores to do, now go home. Why are you here so early, anyway?"
"I never left, besides, I want you Melissa, you been playing hard to get for too long." he demanded. This time he reached for the beautiful camisole. He put his hand on the top of it, trying to feel inside, but she shoved him with all her might away. Her face was flushed, and anger shot from her dark brown eyes.
Shining Moon came out from the stall now and showed himself.
Both of them gasped.
When the man she called Earl heard him, he whipped around, about to draw his gun. "I wouldn't do that." Shining Moon advised his bow and arrow at the ready.
"Who the hell are you?" Earl turned to stare at him, his hand still at her camisole.
"Let the girl go." Shining Moon insisted very slowly, his aim at Earl's heart now. "Or you will find out who I am."
"She's my girl, I'll do what I want with her, Indian. And you better clear out of here fast or I might just put a hole in you. And if you hang around, I guess you'll get an eyeful." Earl snickered. "I'm gonna be the man that had Carter's Old Maid Schoolteacher." He laughed.
When Earl seemed unaffected by Shining Moon's presence and turned around to run his hand up her skirt, that is when Shining Moon threw down his bow and arrow and physically attacked him.
Earl rebounded with shock when the Indian jumped him. They punched each other and fell to the barn floor, rolling about. Hay went everywhere. The horse stirred. Blood gushed from Earl's nose. He was unable to defend himself well as he was still under the influence of whiskey. After fighting for what seemed like an hour, the Indian produced a knife, "You will not touch her again, my friend."
Earl rolled over, and went still, his eyes shining like glass up at Melissa. Melissa saw the knife protruding from Early's gut. Blood oozed from Earl's body.
Now she stared at the Indian with pure terror in her eyes.
Earl seemed to go limp, his eyes glassy and staring.
"Is he— dead?" Melissa cried.
"Yes," the Indian stood up now.
She stared down at Earl's lifeless body. "Serves you right!" she cried.
She turned her attention to Shining Moon now, "Who are you? And what are you doing in my barn?" Her voice did not welcome his intrusion, he quickly concluded.
"My name is Shining Moon. And I must leave now."
"Leave, after what you have done? You can't!" she shrieked and glanced down at the man at her feet.
Shining Moon stared intently at the woman. "Do you want to be found in your barn with an Indian, and your dress torn?" He reasoned with such clarity.
She shook her head as though to clear it. "You don't understand! He'll blame me for this… " she cried looking at Earl again. "And I certainly didn't invite you into my barn." Her glance shot back at him quickly.
"Who will blame you?" Shining Moon looked about.
"My father, he'll come in here, see me standing over Earl and blame me. You did this! You can't just leave me with it."
"Yes, I attacked him because he was attacking you, and I fought him, and killed him. Because of you!" He told her. "Look at your clothes you were very close to being raped by this man."
Obviously, his words didn't penetrate.
"Who are you? Why are you here? Why do you speak such good English, aren't you an Indian?"
"Right now, that is unimportant."
She backed away from him.
He saw her and sent her a sexy smile, "You have nothing to fear from me. I will not harm you." His voice was lyrical.
"You’re an Indian, aren't you?"
"Yes, a peaceful one, most of the time." He remarked.
"Melissa, is that you in the barn?" her father called from outside.
"Yes father, I'll be done in a moment." She called.
"Better hurry, I'm hungry gal." he called and walked back to the house. "I gotta go to town this morning, so hurry up with the chores."
"Alright father. I'll be in shortly."
She swallowed hard. "Now what am I going to do?" Her eyes searched the barn, then looked straight at him.
Shining Moon sighed. "Help me drag him to the back of the barn, the last stall." He told her.
"What good will that do?"
"He won't discover him until I am long gone."
She helped him drag him to the stall then, Shining Moon started for the back door. But for some reason he shot her another glance.
"You can't leave me here, to face this!" she declared. "My father will assume I did this. Don't you understand English, he'll blame me!" Her voice rose to the point of hysteria.
"I cannot stay either!" he told her. "He would hang or shoot me! And he'd think I accosted you and he defended you. Which would be wrong."
He grabbed his bow and arrow and blanket and was halfway out the back door when she followed him. "Take me with you?"
Shining Moon had expected her to pitch a fit, cry hysterically, but not ask that. His mouth fell open and he stared at her.
"That I cannot do."
"Why?" she demanded. "You killed him, you got me in this mess, you have to get me out." She pleaded.
"I'm an Indian, you cannot go with me. You could not keep up with me for one thing." He insisted as though she would know this.
"I'm a woman, faced with a dead man in my barn, and a father who will beat me and probably send me to the Sheriff if he finds me alone with a dead body." She tried to keep her voice down, but he could tell she was forcing hysteria away.
"I'm sorry, Lady," he reached to stroke her face softly. "I've done all I can do for you." He smiled.
"No, I will follow you!"
"It would not be wise." He ignored her and hurried on his way, figuring even if she did follow, she wouldn't last long in the rugged terrain.
But she did follow, and not far behind either.
Finally, after they were in a wooded area, he turned and let her catch up.
"Enough, go home. If they catch me with you, they will hang me. And you will be scorned as though you were raped. I am not ready to die for something that needed doing."
"No one saw you, but me. I know what happened."
"You would let them hang me, for helping you?"
"Helping me? You call murdering him, helping me?"
"I don't have the time to argue. Come on," he grabbed her hand and pulled her along quickly. Hoping to discourage her from this stupid journey. Maybe if he drug over half the mountain, she'd give up and go home.
Hadn't the man called her an old-maid schoolteacher? Where was her mind? Teachers were supposed to be smart, he thought.
After a long silence, she asked almost hysterically, "A-are you sure he's dead?"
"Yes, he is dead. He was not a good man, I would not worry over him."
"You think I'm worried about him?" she stopped and stared. "No, I'm not. Forever more, what a mess you've put us in!" she swallowed hard, and tears came to her eyes.
Suddenly she raised her eyes to the man. "You said you came in from the storm last night. But from where?"
"Rapid City," He told her quickly. "I sold some mustangs in Rapid City."
"Is that where you came from?"
"And where were you going?"
"Down into the rocky hills, where I live."
"I came upon your farm last night late. The lights were out in the house and I saw the barn and took shelter, that is all there is to it. Can you not see the fallen trees about, the wet ground, the smell of rain?" He told her as they found the woods cluttered with fallen trees from the storm.
She decided to try another tack. "I guess I should thank you for what you done, but you would have left me to explain, and I could not explain what happened. My father cared for Earl more than he did me. I had to come with you. I have no choice. And neither do you!"
"Do you realize what choice you'll have if they catch you with a torn dress and an Indian?"
"Well of course I do. They'd hang you before you got two words out. And they'd shame me for allowing you to take me. I suppose that does make sense, too. But I cannot go back. I will take my chances with you!"
"There's just one little thing you forget, I did not invite you to follow me." He smirked.
"I didn't invite you into my barn either!" She raised her voice with sarcasm.
"There is no time for this argument."
"Fine, then I will go with you."
He sighed and shook his head. "Then keep up and shut up." Shining Moon's frustration made his anger flare. He should never agree to this situation, but he didn't have the time to stand there and argue with her.
What a mess!
She stopped and didn't move. "You are as ill tempered as they were, perhaps I shouldn’t follow you after all."
"Suit yourself, lady," he turned loose of her hand and ignored her self-righteous ramblings. He had no time to worry over her. White women were game players and she seemed no different.
She stood there watching him traipse across the countryside with such ease. Then with a loud huff, she followed him.
When he finally stopped to rest, she was giving out. And she did not join him, she kept a good hundred yards behind him.
He came up to her now, "So you follow?" He asked seeing the distress on her face. His glance slid over her with indifference.
"You don't understand," she finally let the tears flow down her cheek. "My father will blame me, he will come after me. And the consequences would be bad, if not worse than just staying there and telling him the truth. But you are the only one that knows what really happened. I cannot let you go, either you come home with me and explain it to my father, or I will go with you."
"And do you really think he'd believe me?" He looked astounded at her reasoning. "Even if he did believe it, he would hang me for killing his friend. And then think I was the one to rip your dress."
Shining Moon saw something strange in her expression.
"You are afraid of this father?" He muttered, as though it just dawned on him what her problem was.
"Of course, I am. Look at my dress. And then there's Earl."
"Earl was a bad man. Once you tell him what he was trying to do. The proof is in your clothes, look at you!" he told her.
She shook her head, "I can't expect you to understand my plight." She wailed. "You don't know!"
He glanced at her now, "Why, because I'm an Indian? Is that the reason you don't think I can understand?" His arrogance asserted itself.
She looked at him with a sense of terror in her eyes. "I'm doomed no matter what I do!" She looked at him now strangely, "You don't know me either! I guess I can't under the circumstances expect you to help me." her voice wailed miserably.
"I know this man you called Earl was attacking you, you didn't want him to, and now he is dead. That much I know. I thought it would help. That is all I need to know. If you are sorry, he is dead, I suggest you go home and mourn him."
"I am not sorry about Earl!" she shouted. "I'm sorry my father will not understand it. I'm sorry I came out here. I'm sorry I'm alive!" she cried, turning away from him.
She was exasperated and scared to death, he noted. Her limbs were shaking, tears were in her eyes. He sighed and turned her around to look her in the face. "Lady, never be sorry you are alive! The Creator has deemed it so. Be thankful."
"The Creator?" she twisted her head. "You mean God?"
"Yes, that is what you call him, I believe."
"Y-you believe in God?" she asked.
"Don't you?" he questioned.
"Of course, I do."
"Then we have something in common." He smiled and gave her some jerky.
"Thank you." She took it and chewed it. It was as though she didn't realize she was eating, just going through the motions.
"What am I going to do with you?" He shook his head.
"Do with me?" she asked, her brow going up. "I can do anything you can do."
He rolled his eyes as though he couldn’t' quite believe her. "Even you should know you cannot traipse around the countryside with an Indian. And especially looking like you do now!" He told her, as though she should have known it all along.
"Right now, the way I look is beside the point. Escaping is the point. I have no choice, any longer. You know, first hand, what happened in that barn. You and I are the only ones that know. If I lose you, I lose a witness to my innocence. Did you not think I thought of killing him myself?" She moaned.
"Killing him yourself?" He turned away with exasperation. "Then why didn't you?" He asked staring.
"Because," she hiccuped. "My life is hard enough without having to go to jail."
"Aw… now I begin to understand. But do you honestly believe they would believe me? I am the innocent one. All I wanted was to get out of the storm. Had you not raised your voice, and sounded so desperate, I would never have killed him."
She glanced at him, all of him, in his leather breech cloth and long leggings. He wore no shirt, and only a group of feathers dangled from his hair, he wore an attractive necklace around his neck that fascinated her.
The sun had come out and was already heating up the earth, a light sweat peppered her skin. Shining Moon took her all in too.
She grit her teeth, "You're all I have to tell the truth.  I'm a teacher, well respected in my community, but after this… I will have no future. My father will see to that. My life is doomed."
He thought about it a moment. "I suppose, you are right, at least about that. It would be a scandal to be caught in the woods, with your torn dress and me, an Indian. It would be a scandal for your father to find you in the barn with a dead man. But you think nothing of the fact that I killed a man for your sake, do you?"


Tina Donahue said...

Thanks for the great excerpt, Rita! Love the cover and the plot.

Redameter said...

Thanks, Sheri McGathy did the cover, she has some very nice work and my next two books reflect her talents. This will be released around the first week in April.
Rita H