Porcelain (Part 46)

Lydia was in very bad condition.  Once Isaac had managed to get her off the floor, he had carried her carefully to their bed, laying her down with hands still clutching the money.  She seemed determined to keep hold of it but eventually the pain took over and all of her attention was focused on suffering.  Placing the bills into a bucket, Issac had poured water over them before returning to care for his wife.  It took him over three hours to get all of her clothing off, as he was forced to carefully cut around many places where the dress had burned into her skin.  Once this was completed he could see that about twenty percent of her body was covered with significant burns and another twenty percent in smaller, less serious patches of damage.  Lydia was in and out of consciousness during this time, delirious and raving when awake, twitchy and moaning when not.  Isaac understood that he lacked the knowledge to properly care for his wife’s injuries and that she was in serious danger of dying if he did not get her treatment as quickly as possible.  Going for the doctor was of course the obvious thing to do, but then what was that going to bring down upon him?  He knew he was in a dilemma.

The doctor would of course want to know how such serious burns had occurred, and the only obvious thing Issac could think of was that either the house or the cabin needed to be set on fire.  He did not really feel like the house was a good option, especially since that would mean losing all of their possessions.  The cabin was definitely better.  The story could easily be that Lydia had been trapped inside and that he had bravely rescued her.  But there was also now likely to be police involvement and someone, either the doctor or a detective, was going to end up talking to Claudia.  What would the girl say had happened?  Whatever it was, there was little chance that any of it could be made to match up to any story that made sense about his wife’s injuries.  And that of course meant that Claudia simply could not be there.  He considered that carefully for a long time, that one simple and unavoidable idea.  It meant that he needed to act again, and the thought made him scared but also excited.  He was already missing the rush of the moment he had felt when he had killed his father.  It was going to take another murder to clear this mess up.  His actions after that were driven by that simple fact.

Cleaning up the wounds as well as he could, efforts that only seemed to put his wife in more pain, he then left her in the bed and returned to the kitchen area.  He had made no effort to speak to Claudia during the time he had been caring for Lydia, and it now took him several minutes to find her.  She was curled up next to the pantry door, asleep and with a half-eaten piece of bread lying next to her on the floor.  He woke her  with a shake.

“Get up Claudia.  All is better.”  A howl came from the bedroom and he gave the girl a rueful grin.  “Well, maybe not all better, but you and I don’t need to worry about that right now.  Let’s get something to eat.  I can see that you must have been hungry.”

Claudia got up slowly and followed him to the kitchen table.  As she watched he prepared two sandwiches and filled a jug with water.

“Grab a couple of those glasses and follow me.”

They walked outside and across the property, sitting down under an oak tree about one hundred feet from the house.  Claudia was quiet but was constantly looking at Isaac, her eyes full of questions.  He was content to let them stay there, trapped in those youthful eyes, especially since he was not sure he had any answers that were going to make any sense to the girl anyway.  Finally she spoke.

“Unc really gone? Dead?”  Her eyes were teared up but she was holding it together, so he answered her.

“Yes.  He’s dead.  I’m sorry.”

“How?”

“Sometimes people just die.  He was pretty old you know.”

“Why?”

“It’s the same answer as the other Claudia.  He was just old.”

“Why did I leave cabin?”

“We didn’t want you to see his body.”

She stared back at him and then continued eating her sandwich.  The morning was passing quickly, at least for Isaac, and he was surprised to see the sun so high in the sky.  At least that would make the waiting less, which was good because he knew what had to be done and was plenty nervous about it.  The rush was great but thinking about it still made his stomach sour.  He needed to keep himself busy.

“Well, I’m done.  You stay here until you finish that and then you can walk back over to the house.  I’ve got work to do.”

Isaac began splitting wood as soon as he got back to the house, the thunking and banging sounds drowning out his wife’s cries.  He worked at it longer than he ever had before, hours and hours of splitting wood, his muscles aching and sore, his body wet with sweat.   He checked on Lydia whenever his back locked up badly enough that he could not swing the axe, tending to her as well as he could, and then returning as quickly as he could to his labor.  During this time he also finished burning the mattress, cleaning up the area where the fire had been with a rake.  Claudia did walk over when she was done but refused to enter the house, instead choosing to sit by the side door and watch, trancelike, as Isaac swung the axe.  Eventually it was time to eat again and Isaac fed them both at the kitchen table, more sandwiches but this time with some fruit and cheese.  Once that was done, and with another check on Lydia, Isaac spoke to Claudia.

“I hope you are rested girl.  We need to walk into town this evening.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 45)

Cleaning  up took awhile, especially getting the blood off the old floorboards of the cabin where it had started to stain the wood.  She scrubbed long enough to get the color to change to a deep brown, a process that took over an hour, after which Lydia was covered in sweat and laboring for breath.  Standing up to look at her work, which was lit by the warm glow from two lanterns she had placed on the floor, she realized that no amount of work was going to make it any better.  At least the mark was mostly under the bed, and maybe no one would notice if they did come out looking for Wyatt.  Or maybe just a little bit of time would soften the staining enough to make it less noticeable.  The rest of the work had gone easily enough, although burning the mattress proved harder than expected, with the flame constantly sputtering out before it could catch properly.  Lydia finally grabbed some brush that had been collected for kindling, placing it into a large pile and letting it get well lit.  She then slowly pulled the mattress over that fire, raising it above the flames with a few large logs that she rolled underneath.  As it caught and the linen cover of the mattress flamed over, Lydia screamed.  The edges of the bills, which Wyatt had carefully placed within his mattress for safekeeping, were catching fire rapidly.  Isaac emerged quickly from the main house, just in time to see his wife leap onto the top of the burning mattress, wildly jumping around in an effort to put the flames out.

“What are you doing?” he yelled, running toward her as tiny flames started to peek out from the bottom edges of her dress.  “What is this madness?”

“The money, the money, the money!” That was all Lydia would say as she danced around, losing her battle to extinguish the mattress.  By the time that Isaac reached her she had a line of flame running up the back of her dress.  He dove, knocking her off her feet, and they both landed in a pile about three feet away from the fire.  Lydia promptly began to struggle to get up again.

“The money Isaac!  He put it in that damn mattress and it’s burning up.”

Isaac pulled her back, rolling her over and beating out the flames.   The wind had shifted and placed them both directly in the path of the smoke from the smoldering mattress.  Lydia continued to protest; however, most of her words were swallowed by a violent fit of coughing caused by the smoke.  When she recovered she stood up, the edges of what remained of the bottom of her dress sparkling with dying embers.  Isaac could tell that she was contemplating another attempt and he held firmly onto her left arm.

“It’s gone.  We should have thought of that I guess.”  He was blinking hard, trying to clear the soot from her eyes.

Lydia took a deep breath, bent over and then drove her elbow into Isaac’s side, which caused him to lose his grip.  Before he could recover, she was back on top of the mattress, tearing away at what remained of the  cover.  As she uncovered bills that had not yet burned, or which had at least not burned completely, she began stuffing them rapidly down inside of her dress.  Isaac tried several more times to pull her off but she fought back, clawing at his face and kicking at him, blows aimed at sensitive parts of his body.  Her dress caught on fire twice more, but each time she put it out herself before going back to ripping into the mattress.  Finally, exhausted and coughing from the smoke, Isaac gave up, sinking down onto his knees to watch.  As he did so, Claudia emerged from the house, rubbing her nose and crying.  With a final look over at Lydia, Isaac got up and walked over to the girl.

“Come on Claudia.  There is no need for you to be out here.”  He offered out his hand, and when she did not take it he grabbed her’s and started moving toward the house.  The girl was staring wide-eyed at the fire and the shadowy figure atop it.  “Come along now girl.”

They walked into the house together and Isaac guided Claudia to a chair in the kitchen.  Thirsty and with a mouth dried by embers and smoke, he had gulped down two glasses of water before he realized that Claudia remained wide-eyed, her attention now turned instead to him.  Seeing real fear in her eyes, Isaac strode into the bedroom and picked up his wife’s hand mirror off the vanity.  His appearance was indeed shocking.  Eyes ringed by soot, hair a tousled mess and three rather deep gouges under his left eye that ran all the way to his chin.  The blood from those wounds had run over his jawline and down his neck, which was also coated in fine black ash.  No wonder Claudia was frightened by his appearance.  Going to the wash basin, Isaac cleaned himself up for several minutes, a quick check in the mirror on the way out to the kitchen revealing mixed results.  As he stepped through the bedroom doorway and back into the kitchen, Lydia burst through the door.   Her appearance was much worse, frightening even to Isaac, and Claudia bolted out of the chair, running across the room and hiding behind a cabinet in a far corner.

Hair smoking and partially burned off the left side of her head, Lydia was wild-eyed and breathing heavily.  Almost the entire bottom of her dress had burned away, the waist line still smoldering from small embers.  The front of the garment was also partially burned away, although she had both hands clasped to her chest, clutching loose scraps of money, several of which fluttered out onto the floor.  There were significant burns, red and orange patches ringed by edges of rough black skin, damage that she was just beginning to actually feel as she stumbled and fell to the floor.  As she did so the screams began, low at first but then building to wails of agony, her voice scratchy and hoarse.  Not sure exactly what to do, Isaac approached her slowly as she writhed on the floor.

“Please dear, stop moving, stop moving so I can see what you have done.  I can’t, I don’t really know, I mean, I need to look at you for a minute.  Please stop moving.”

The wailing continued and Lydia was crying, beckoning him with her burned arms.  He approached and could hear his name being repeated over and over.  When he leaned in, she said only one thing.

“I couldn’t save it all.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 44)

Lydia was sitting up in bed when he returned, an anxious look on her face.  The only light in the room was a low, sputtering candle which gave an eerie glow to her eyes.  Isaac was calm now but that eeriness gave him a start and he took several deep breaths before speaking.

“My part is done.  Now go and get the girl.”

Lydia got up quickly, already dressed beneath the covers in a grey house dress, and strode quickly across to the cabin.  Isaac heard Claudia let out a short scream as Lydia abruptly woke her up.  In the cabin it was still very dark.

“Get up now, quickly girl.  We need to get  you out of this place.”

Claudia had screamed just the once but was now hyperventilating out of fear.  Lydia was not someone she really trusted or had ever expected to awaken her in the middle of the night.

“I said get up girl.  Stop crying and come with me.”

Claudia continued to sit in her bed, silent tears falling as she fought to regain control of her breathing.  Lydia would not wait any longer, grabbing the young girl’s arm and hauling her out of the bed before throwing a blanket around her shoulders.  With that, and another admonition to stop with the tears, she dragged her toward the cabin door.  Claudia, who did stop crying as she attempted fiercely to resist, pulled backward and grabbed onto the table as they passed it.  She also called out for Wyatt.

“He won’t answer you.  He’s gone.  Gone!”

That set Claudia to crying again and she lost her grip, banging her chin against a chair as Lydia hauled her up and out the door.  By the time they were back in the main house her knees were also dirty and bruised from falling several times as she was dragged along behind the older woman.  Isaac took over once they were in the kitchen.

“Sit down Claudia.  It’s okay, it will be okay.”

Lydia leaned back against the wall, content to let Isaac provide whatever signs of kindness might need to be shown at this moment.

“Here, drink a little of this water, and let me wipe that blood off of your chin.”

Claudia was still sobbing and turned her head away from the offered glass.  Isaac reached up and grabbed her chin, which elicited a yelp, but he maintained a tight grip, forcing her to look at him.

“Drink this water.  It will make you feel better.”

She resisted a little bit but then opened her mouth and Isaac tipped the glass, holding it there until it was empty.   She sputtered on the last of it, spitting a little bit out.

“Yucky.”

“Don’t worry, it will help you feel better.”  Isaac knelt down next to the chair she was sitting in.  He tried once again to wipe the blood off of the girl’s chin but she turned her head away.  He sighed and continued.  “Now listen Claudia.  We had to come and get you because a terrible thing has happened.  I’m sorry but your Uncle Wyatt is not with us anymore.”

Claudia was calmer now.  She blinked and responded.

“Unc not here?”

“Not anymore.  He’s passed on.”

“Where Unc go?  Walk?”

“No, that’s not what I mean.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake Isaac, this girl is too stupid for your silly attempts to soften the news.”  Lydia had come over and looked down harshly at Claudia.  “He’s dead.  Dead and gone forever.”

Claudia howled, a low tone that seemed too deep for her age, then she broke out into hysterical tears and curled up on the floor.  Her sobbing continued on until the effects of the large shot of vodka that Isaac had added to the glass of water took over and she fell asleep. Isaac rose up slowly, a slightly distasteful look on his face.

“You get her into bed.  I will go now and finish up over at the cabin.”

Lydia scoffed.  “She can stay there on the floor.”

He hesitated, just long enough for Lydia to understand that he was contemplating picking Claudia up and putting her somewhere more comfortable.  She gave him a scornful look, followed by a command to get over to the cabin, which he did without another look back.

They had planned this part out in detail and he set straight to work.  Initially Lydia had thought they could just board the cabin up, figuring that would keep Claudia out and that was all that mattered.  Isaac had managed to get her to understand that, although they could easily keep a young girl out this way, you never could tell when an inquisitive police officer might come looking for details on Wyatt.  He did have a sister after all, one whom had been communicating with him.  He won that argument.  They would bury Wyatt, clean up the bloody floor, replace the bed and then Isaac would write to notify Harriet.  By the time that old woman managed to get any kind of an official inquiry lodged it would be too late.  They just had to hope that no one suggested digging up the body, but that seemed like a far-fetched possibility.  Wyatt had been an old man after all, and they had just buried him like it seemed everyone else who ever lived on the property had done.  That is what they planned to say anyway, and if it came up, well, they were not from the area.  How were they supposed to know what the proper procedure was when someone died of natural causes?  In all likelihood it would all be just fine in the end.

It was a long and difficult trip back to the cemetery in the dark, the way lit only by the lantern he carried, and dragging his father’s body behind him in a sack.  The ground also proved harder than expected and Isaac was completely worn out by the time the burial was complete.  He was supposed to do the rest of the clean-up also but he was just too tired.  Besides, he really did not want Lydia get away with not helping in some way with the cover-up.  He returned to the house and dropped heavily into his favorite chair.

“All done then?”  Lydia inquired from the kitchen.

“Does she still sleep?”

“Now yes.  She was up a few times but I told her to go back to sleep.  I asked you though, if you were done?”

“I’m done, you’re not.  You go over and finish.  I am too tired for more of this today.”

Lydia came out of the kitchen, again with a scornful look, but this time it had no effect on Isaac.  Rolling her eyes, and reminding him to keep a close eye on Claudia, she stormed out of the house.

…to be continued