A Clue in the Old Barn

EXCERPT FROM LOVE LOOKS BACK

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He thought he had overcome his emotions, but coming back to Tekamah tore off old scabs and reopened old wounds. He drummed the steering wheel as he drove, a myriad of thoughts whirling through his troubled brain. He drove aimlessly with no sense of direction –  out of town, past the Johnson estate, past Wheeler’s farm, and found himself again on the dirt path of the old homestead. It was a good place to think.

shack.jpgFrank circled the old shack their family used to call home. Apparently, no one lived in it since they left. The roof had begun to cave in, some of the dirt-encrusted windows were broken, and he couldn’t remember if the shack had ever been painted. It was more in shambles than when he and his six siblings left ten years before, if that were possible. He parked the car, got out, and surveyed the property again. He kicked at the dirt in disgust. How did we ever live in this dump?

Inside, it looked much the same as when they left. Cupboards with open doors betrayed their barren contents; the stewpot still sat on the stove with unrecognizable contents.

Frank sat down on one of the wooden chairs at the small kitchen table where his younger brothers and sisters ate their last meal.  The visual was real as his mind replayed the scenes. He smelled the spicy aroma of Dolly’s rabbit stew, and heard the thump as Pa knocked Guy to the floor. In his mind’s eye, he saw Dolly’s tears sneak down her freckled cheeks. He admired her brave front and wished for Guy’s grown-up heroism. If only…

Frank banged his fist on the old table and tipped the chair over as he stood. That night changed our lives forever. He didn’t bother to slam the door. Let the animals have the place.

The rickety old wooden fence lay in ruins rotting on the ground. He trudged the few yards to the barn – the barn that was once their haven.

***

Frank surveyed the corner of the barn and saw a jacket hanging on one of the stall posts. He felt a shiver, although there was no breeze. It was Guy’s  – the too-small red and black plaid wool jacket – the one he wore the day they departed. He picked it up and went through the pockets. Nothing. One of the sleeves was torn and bloody. Had Guy come back?

The noon sun peeked through a huge crack in the barn roof and bounced off a shiny orb on the floor. A glimmer of light shone in Frank’s eye. He kicked away the straw. Underneath lay a golden pocket watch with a broken chain. He had seen a similar pocket watch many years before. Could it be the same one?

He picked it up and tried to open it, but it was broken. He turned it over and a chill went up his spine. On the back, he read the engraved initials.

S.O.S.

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