Okay, so it's not "officially" spring yet, but when we have the windows open and it's warmer outside then inside, it sure enough feels like spring. Yesterday it actually got up to 77º! And it's not even March! I guess we'll see if we get any good snowfall this "winter." :)
I finally reached the end of this new Graham Quartet mystery. The last parts haven't gotten to my editor yet, and there are a few places in the rest of the book that I need to go and change a few things. Nothing major though. Sorry, I don't have any synopsis for you and certainly no cover. I guess you'll have to wait a little longer.
I really need to get a few more short or longer short stories written or I won't have anything to post on here. As of now, unless I re-post some old stories, I don't have anything to post after this story is finished.
Now, I'd better let you all get to reading. I hope you enjoy this next part.
A Change of Visitors
The young girl offered no further objections, but, keeping close beside her brother, moved forward.
The barn was empty except for one sleepy owl on the rafters above them. There was no hay in the loft, just dried leaves from previous autumns. An old halter still hung, half rotted, on a rusty nail. Boards creaked and dried leaves rustled in the draft created by the open door, but no mom was to be found.
“Let’s go back, Dylan,” Fern whispered, shrinking back as the owl tipped its head and opened one eye.
The afternoon was slipping rapidly into evening, the wind had picked up and there was a cold nip in it as the children hurried across the yard and into the cabin. The fire was still burning, and the room was warmer than outside. In silence Dylan and Fern sat down on the dusty floor near the bright blaze and stared into the flames for several minutes.
Then Dylan got up, grabbed their backpacks and brought them over. “Here, Fern, let’s put on our sweatshirts. We’ll be warmer.”
“Can we eat?”
Dylan had no way to tell what time it was, so he shrugged. “I guess, but I don’t think it’s supper time yet.” He wondered how long they would be left alone at the cabin. Where had their mother gone and what sort of animals roamed the woods in this part of the country? There was plenty of wood for the fire. At least he thought there was, and he hoped he’d be able to keep it going all night because he didn’t have any matches.
“Autumn, you ready to go?” Scott called into the house.
“Yep!” A bright voice answered, and a moment later Autumn appeared, dressed warmly for their ride. “Now I’ll feel like I married an army guy,” she said, noticing he was wearing his army sweatshirt.
“As if you didn’t already know it,” Scott retorted. “Come on, I think that wind may shift before the day is done and then it’s going to get cold.”
Autumn looked concerned. “Should we bring extra jackets or something, in case it does?”
“Already got ‘em.” Scott glanced over his shoulder at the bundle tied on behind his saddle. “Ready?”
The day was lovely. The sky held scattered clouds which alternately hid the sun and then let it shine forth. Both horses were eager and nodded their heads, trying to persuade their riders to let them pick up the pace.
“Should we let them out?”
Autumn nodded. “They might settle down if they get a good canter first.”
After a short but brisk ride, they pulled their mounts to a walk.
“I’m sorry your brother and his family couldn’t come next week. We had so much planned to do with them.”
Scott nodded. “Yeah. It would have been fun to have them, but maybe they can come another time. Once of these days we’ll get them to come visit.” He smiled at his wife.
Autumn gave a little pout, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “But I didn’t want to wait to have visitors! I’ve been looking forward to having someone to cook for and to keep me company when you are off to work.”
Reaching over, Scott put his hand on his wife’s arm. “You can still cook for me,” he promised with a wink. Then, growing serious he added, “Richard and Kathy were as disappointed as we are. Maybe if the kids get over the measles they can come before the end of the year.”
At that Autumn brightened up. “I’ll be praying they do.”
It was nearly forty minutes later when Scott and Autumn neared the old house. The wind had picked up just a little, but as both riders were warmly dressed, neither wanted a jacket. “Autumn, do you smell smoke?”
With a puzzled frown, Autumn sniffed the air. She thought she smelled something. “I think so. But where would it be coming from?”
“I don’t know. I hope no one is dumb enough to try starting a campfire with the wind picking up.”
Still sniffing, Autumn said, “Maybe someone is at the house.”
Autumn saw her husband’s face settle into a serious expression. Surely they were just imagining things. But the closer they got to the cabin, the stronger the smell seemed. “Look, there’s smoke coming from the chimney.” She pointed to the cabin on the edge of the clearing. “Should we ride up and see what’s going on?”
“Yep.” Scott’s right hand slid to his side where he always carried his handgun when out in the woods.
Silently the couple turned off the road and onto the overgrown lane. There was no car and no sign of horses. It seemed too far for a tramp to have come just to find shelter. Suppose it was a fugitive?
“Hello in the house!” Scott’s voice rang out and seemed to fill the clearing.
There was no reply from the cabin.
“Whoever is in the house had better come out right now.” There was no doubting the command in his voice, and Autumn felt a tingle of pride to think that Scott Wood was her husband.
The front door cracked open and a young boy stepped into the doorway, his eyes wide and frightened.
Still keeping one hand on his holstered gun, Scott asked, “Where are you parents, son?”
The boy’s eyes were darting back and forth between the two riders. “We don’t know where Mom is.” At his words, a small girl crowded up close to the boy’s side.
“Who else is with you?”
“Just Fern and me, sir.”
There was a noticeable change in Scott’s tones as he moved his hand from his gun, dismounted and asked, “Where’s your dad?”
The boy shrugged.
Autumn slipped from her horse. “How long have you been here?”
“Two days. But we didn’t mean to trespass. Mom brought us here and said we could stay til we got the car fixed.”
“Then she disappeared,” the girl added. “And she didn’t come back.”
After tying their horses to an old fence post, Scott and Autumn approached the house. Both children had remained where they were, planted in the doorway, eyes filled with mistrust, hope, fright, and some things Autumn couldn’t read.
“You have a fire going inside?” The question sounded casual, but Autumn noticed Scott had been glancing at the chimney where smoke continued to curl upwards in increasingly dark drafts.
“Sort of. It won’t burn right anymore,” the boy replied, looking back over his shoulder. The girl coughed.
“Perhaps I can help; mind if we come in?”
Are the children telling the truth?
Why wouldn't their fire burn right?
Will you be reading next week?