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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thin Shafts of Light

West Texas 1864

The small boy shook uncontrollably as he squatted on cool dirt in the dark space on cool dirt. Smelling the musty dampness of this dirt that never sees the sun, he felt like this might be what a grave would feel like. That got him thinking about his little sister Nattie. She’d come down with the fever and then gone to be with the Lord, after only a few days of being sick.

Tyler remembered watching his Pa when Nattie was buried. He’d been tight lipped and solemn, shoveling the dirt onto that small wooden crate down below. On that day almost a year ago it had been very still, with not a spot of wind. He remembered looking down and watching the dust billow up out of the hole with each shovelful. It would hang in the air stubbornly until it settled back down into the rough grave.

All the while his mother had swayed back and forth. She moaned low and cried softly with her rough hands over her mouth. His older brother Seth, who was thirteen then, had stood bravely just behind her. His face was all twisted up and there was tear streaks on his dirty cheeks. His hands were jammed into old trousers held up only by threadbare suspenders. Like Ty, he didn’t really know what to do or how to act. They just knew their little sister had died.

Just as their Pa had finished, Seth had caught Ty looking up at him and shot him a mean scowl. His older brother had quickly wiped at his face and then looked away at the gradual hill that rose off to the west of the cabin. Seth’s chest had hitched a couple of times after that but he’d been silent and strong. Tyler had never forgot that either.

There was a loud scrape of wood above and the boy’s memory of that sad day melted away as quickly as it had come. The heavy walking above him had brought him back to the here and now. He stared at the wooden trapdoor. His dirt smeared face was upraised, with white wide eyes full of terror looking straight up.

It was the first sound he’d heard for a long time. Another long minute or two went by and then he heard the thump of boots walking back and forth again. He was waiting for that little door to swing open in a rush, waiting for those bad men who were sure to find this hiding place. He imagined them up there grinning at each other while moving the rug out of the way. They were going to yank that door open, reach down and pull him up by the hair, dragging him screaming out of the hole.

All the fighting noise from earlier had stopped a long time ago. There had been quite a tussle for sure. The screaming had scared him the most because it had to be his mom. Men were growling and cursing, someone broke some glass. His Pa had been yelling something fierce.

Then, his mother’s angry cries had started to die out, fading like she was walking away from the cabin. He’d heard Seth yelling earlier too but not anymore. There had been some gunshots at the beginning of course, maybe six or seven big booms, but he didn’t really know how many.

He just wasn’t thinking too straight. Tyler was past being scared, a long ways past that. He had retreated to a place that was darker than this space he was crouching in.

Pulling his wide eyes reluctantly away from the trap door, he looked slowly around the dark space he was in, which wasn’t entirely black.

There were thin shafts of light coming down through the wood plank floor above, some cracks were only paper thin, some a little wider and these gave him just enough light. There was still dust particles floating around from all the commotion up above and they swirled and floated, in and out of the lines of light.

He leaned against a wood beam as he crouched in the rough square shaped area that was about four feet high. Pa and Seth had dug it out after a bad storm took half the roof three summers ago.

The Parkers had never had to use it since, but Tyler had played in it before. He would only do that with the trapdoor open and his mother or pa around, because he didn’t like it down here when it was dark like this.

Seth had told him the hole was also a hiding place from the Comanche or a Kiowa raiding party. Or, just plain bad men. Like the ones he was sure were above him right now. It could hold all the Parkers, but he was all alone now. There just hadn’t been enough time.