This is a guest post by JT Baroni. JT’s novel, The Legend of Rachel Peterson has been released by Damnation Books in e-format and in paperback. You can purchase a copy on Amazon.com.
“She’s been… talkin’ to you?” he interrupted once again, looking at Thaddeus as if the boy was certified mentally ill. “No, Boy. She ain’t talkin’ to you. That’s your conscious tellin’ you that you did something really awful. Your conscious won’t let you sleep at night. Will it, Boy? Every time you close your eyes, you see her beautiful little face with those big green eyes an’ her red…”
“No! Please hear me out, Mr. Woodley. Please, sir,” Thaddeus interrupted loudly. Then he talked fast, hoping the old man would not interrupt him anymore, allowing him to explain why he was there. “She spelt out the words help me in my vegetable soup. Then me an’ my brother Seth were playin’ Monopoly, an’ she turned the dice over to a two. I figger it was two people that hung her an’ she didn’t hang herself like everybody says. Then an owl showed Seth an’ me pieces of rope on a beam in my Pa’s barn that is too high for a little girl to throw a rope over. I even seen her, Mr. Woodley…standin’ by your mailbox an’ pointin’ to your house every day this week goin’ to school.”
The old man leaned forward and buried his face in his hands, slowly shaking his head from side to side.
“It’s not in my head, I tell ya. My brother seen all what she did too. My Mom an’ Pa seen when she blew the candles out on my birthday cake. She ain’t restin’, Mr. Woodley. I’m tellin’ ya she won’t rest in eternal peace until the truth is spoken. She kinda told me in school today that everything said about her is all lies. I think she knows…that you…know the truth. If you didn’t know her like you say, Mr. Woodley…then how come you knew she was buried with a rosary?”
“Because my Mother put it on her before my Daddy an’ me buried her!” the old man hollered out, leaning forward as far as he could into Thaddeus’s face. The boy leaned back and tottered on the bike.
Then Mr. Woodley slumped back in his rocker and closed his bad eye but resumed squinting through the other one. Then he spoke in a lowered voice, as if confessing on his deathbed to a priest, “Ain’t a day goes by…that I don’t think of that poor little girl.” He raised his hand to wipe away a tear, and then continued, “I was maybe twelve, an’ so was she. Her Daddy sent her here to live with her aunt when her mother died. It musta been pure hell for that little girl. Rachel wouldn’t talk to anybody, except for me, that is. My daddy said it was cause I reminded her of her brother back in Ohio, but it made me feel special like anyways.”
Thaddeus leaned closer so he could hear better.
“I would go to her house, your house now, just about everyday. We would play hide an’ seek in the barn or catch frogs by the pond. Some days we would just sit an’ talk. But I always brought a couple of apples, an’ we’d feed the horses. She really liked this one big black stallion in particular that Josef Tremont owned. It was a magnificent horse.”
Thaddeus sensed the old man had softened up a bit, so he laid the bike down and sat on the top step. He also sensed that this was the first time Mr. Woodley ever spoke about Rachel. To anyone.
The old man closed the squinting eye and laid his head on the back of his rocking chair. “I went over there one day…an’ the place was…quiet. Too quiet! The men folk weren’t workin’ the fields…her Aunt wasn’t hangin’ clothes or making soap outside. I looked for Rachel…an’ I went in the barn.” He choked up and tears came to his eyes. He needed a moment to continue, and then he swallowed real hard. Then he cried out between sobs, “I found her…Dear God, yes I did!” He pulled his hanky from his rear pocket and wiped his eyes and blew his nose.