(This is part 6 of a 7 part ghost story.)
I see Sera. Her face is so pale and pinched. Is it worry or fear? I can’t read her.
Webb exhaled an enormous breath of relief at the sight of his wife, but then immediately spun around to the gaze of two strangers in his house. Webb glanced away from Sera’s face to see the uninvited men standing in his kitchen, each wearing a handgun holstered at the hip and strapped over the chest.
“Who are you? What the hell is going on here? Why are you here? You need to go. You need to go right now to my neighbor’s house, to Ella Williams’ place.”
“Mr. Thomas, we already have a car headed over there. Someone called in a disturbance.” The younger of the two cops was gentle but direct as he said, “What you need to do is sit down.”
Webb suddenly felt exhausted, and he welcomed the chance to sit. He was still completely confused, but he was too tired to do anything but go along with the request. He sat down at the kitchen table where he saw Sera and reached for her hand. “It’s OK, baby,” he told her. The officers exchanged glances. Then the younger one continued.
“Mr. Thomas, we’re here at the request of Ella Williams. She’s made several calls to the Sheriff about your frequent trespassing, but she doesn’t want to press charges. She just wants you to stay off her property uninvited. Do you understand?” The first officer’s voice remained even but stern. The older of the two men took it to another level.
“She says she told you to stop coming over in the morning and then she found you digging in her yard at night. What is wrong with you?”
Webb rubbed his palms against his damp forehead.
Ella never told me to stop coming over.
The digging at night felt familiar. He used to do that at their old place in North Carolina when he couldn’t sleep, get up and do soil amendments or plant tender perennials by moonlight. He knew it was a little eccentric, but it helped him get back to sleep. No mosquitoes, no hot sun, just him and the earth. Nitrogen and calcium plus lots of organic matter and compost had built one of the prettiest gardens in Forsyth County.
I wish I could have just picked it up and put it down in West Virginia when I moved.
“Thomas, do you hear me talking to you?” The older cop was getting agitated.
“Yes,” said Webb. He looked into the other man’s eyes and held them. For a moment, the cop lost his bravado and had to shake off the feeling of ice and mud in his chest.
“I’ll be right back,” said the younger man, “I have to take a call from Don.” Don was the Mason County Sheriff and officers used his first name in front of people they interviewed to keep anxiety low. The sheriff knew where they were and what they were doing, that it was pretty small potatoes, and it was unusual to get a call during an outing like this. The officer stepped quickly into the dining room, and spoke in a low tone into his mobile phone.
Back in the kitchen, Webb held the older man’s gaze. “You know, you don’t have to speak to me like that,” he said. “Shut up,” retorted the cop. “I could care less. You’re an idiot who bothers women who are too nice to tell you to get lost.”
Webb felt his heart rate was increasing but there was no outer sign. Webb’s perspiration had disappeared, too.
The young officer returned to the kitchen. His right hand was free and hovered near a now unsnapped holster. He looked at his partner who instantly released his own gun with a movement so fluid and rehearsed it was like slipping off a watch worn for decades. They never spoke, but the two men were in complete communication.
“Mr. Thomas, we need to know why you moved here.” The young man’s face was a stony veneer, but his throat muscles were convulsing violently. He had never tried harder to exude control. He’d never had to try like this before.
“For my wife’s health,” Webb said slowly.
“Where is your wife?” asked the older man.
Webb’s eyes sped to every corner of the room. “She was just here. You saw her.”
The young cop’s voice was controlled when he said, “No one has seen Sera Thomas for over a year.”
I see her. I see her every day.
“She’s a private person,” Webb said. “We don’t socialize much. We broke ties when we moved.”
“Mr. Thomas, you need to come with us. Nothing fancy, let’s just do this easy. Some people back in North Carolina say Sera disappeared. Her family is very worried. We just need to ask you some questions.”
Life never disappears. Idiots. Don’t they know?
Webb dropped his shoulders and rose quiet and defeated to his feet. Davis reached for his handcuffs. He never saw the weapon behind the door.
Like a snake strike, Webb seized a newly sharpened shovel as he passed the open door. He spun towards the older and slower cop, the shovel’s long wooden handle held at the far end with both hands. The man staggered back but not before the shovel blade sliced his chest. His partner’s bullet entered the back of Webb’s skull and exited his eye socket.
In the microcosm of time before the steel left his brain, Webb saw his wife. She was in the garden, her arms outstretched, reaching for him as he fell into the loamy soil.
What was left of his face crushed against the hard stone floor.