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