by Grasshopper

Chapter 28

"What?" Wes couldn't believe what he was hearing. "She can't do that. He belongs here with us. Did you ever get anything in writing?"

Cole just stood looking out his parent's living room window at the heat shimmering along the pasture. Sarah was sitting on the sofa, Albert beside her, his arm holding her close. They were both in shock that their child would go this far to hurt them all. Everyone in the room knew that Callie did not want Luc, so there had to be another reason.

"Did you, Cole?" Wes' words penetrated Cole's dark thoughts.

"No! Alright? NO! I never thought she'd do this. Never in a million years. I assumed she was still my sister; that she still had some feelings for me, for Mom and Dad. I assumed she might be capable of horrible acts but that she was still basically a Hewett."

"Oh, Cole," Sarah moaned, "Our baby... what will we do?"

"She can't just waltz back in here after five years and take him away like he's a forgotten sweater," Albert argued.

"Call your lawyer, Dad. Find out how strong she is in this."

Fifteen minutes later, Albert walked back in the room and the look on his face answered their questions. "No, oh no," Sarah cried.

Wes said calmly, "I'm going to get him. I know he was supposed to spend the night with Katy and Violet, but I want him close. I don't know how low Callie would stoop to get him. She might try to take him and run."

"I'm coming," Cole said, taking one last slug of water.

Wes drove fast, the weight of what was happening pressing on his shoulders. "My God, Cole, I still can't believe Callie would do the things she's done. How did our sweet little girl turn into such a bitch?"

"I don't know," Cole muttered, "But she won't win this one. All her other tricks were sneaky and sly, but this.... this is out in the open. At least we have time to think."

"I'll take him and run, if that's what you want," Wes sighed. "We won't be together, but he'll be safe."

"If we run, we'll run together. I'll never be apart from you again. Callie won't win this time. Not this time."

Luc came barreling out of the house before Wes had turned off the engine. "Daddy! Wes! Helloooo!" Cole scooped him up and hugged him tight. "Daddy, you're smushing me," Luc giggled. "It is time to go home?"

"Yeah, we need to go early today. Get all your stuff and thank Aunt Mercy for having you," Cole said absentmindedly.

"I'm gonna talk to Mercy," Wes said under his breath. "She needs to know what's going on." he walked into the house and found Mercy at the ironing board, pressing one of Craig's long sleeved shirts. "Hey, Sis. We need to talk."

Mercy searched his eyes for the reason he sounded so serious, but couldn't find anything in those silver pools. "You're scaring me, Wesley," she said as they walked out the back door.

"Callie's back," he told her without preamble. "She's here with a fucking lawyer to take Luc."

"Oh Dear God," Mercy's voice trembled. How would she feel if someone wanted to take Katy or Violet? "What are you going to do?" She grabbed Wes' arm and clung on.

"We don't know yet. She is his mother. They always give the child to its mother, don't they?" The defeat was evident in his voice. "I can't let that happen. We'll have to take Luc and go to Canada or somewhere she can't find him."

Mercy's tears ran freely down her cheeks. To find Wesley after five long years and then to lose him again along with Cole and Luc. It was too much.

"She must have a reason. Callie didn't want him when he was born; why would she want him now?"

"She's a spoiled, selfish, self-involved bitch," he ground out through clenched teeth, "She wants what she can't have and doesn't stop trying to get it."

"Has she even seen Luc yet?"

"No, it's like she wants him, but doesn't care about him."

A shadow crossed over their path making them look upward. A red-tailed hawk was circling lazily overhead, watching them. "Tell me what to do, old fella," Wes muttered.

"Wes, time to go," Luc's voice rang out from the barnyard. He turned to see that little face laughing and waving at him from the open window.

"I can't let anything happen to him, Mercy. He's everything that's right about our world now. I have the chance to raise him like Karl should have been raised." Mercy could hear the strain in his voice. "God damn her."

"I'll call Craig right now. I know he'll have lots to say about this. Maybe he knows how to make her go away."

"Do that. I better go. I'll call Craig tonight and maybe we can figure out what to do."

As the truck drove off down the dry dusty road, Mercy called out to her two girls, "Come here, babies. Mama needs to have you close right now." They sat in the rocking wooden swing, one little girl on each side, as Mercy reached back into her memory and hummed a song about boats and sailing silvery seas. "Baby's boat's a silver moon sailing in the sky."

"Callie's lawyer called while you were gone," Albert told them as they came in the kitchen door.

"What did he want? Luc, take some carrots out to Whistler, please. He told me he missed you this morning."

Luc laughed, "Horses cannot talk." He took the carrots Sarah held out to him and scooted out the door.

"He said that if we have anything to say, to get our lawyer out here and we'll meet this evening. He says that Callie wants this to be a peaceful meeting and hopes you understand that all she wants is her child. He has a signed affidavit from Judge Carl Androsky stating that we are to surrender the child by Friday of this week or he will be taken into custody by the state police."

"Friday? That's day after tomorrow!" Cole cried.

The brittle grass, cracking under the tires of the work worn Ford truck loaded with barrels of water, bent and broke. All except one scraggly blade. Just one blade of brown water-starved grass stood up under the onslaught of the crushing tires. This single slender shaft scratched against the shimmering heat of the catalytic converter on the underbelly of the truck. A scratch, a spark, nothing the driver of the old truck would notice as he drove across the pasture headed for the drying waterhole. No one noticed, no one saw. The spark caught, a tiny flame, and fire ran along the runner toward a clump of dead grass hiding beneath the roots of a purple sage wilted in the burning sun. Jumping quickly from sage to horse brush, from chokeberries to buckthorn and into the cheat grass massed in the crevices of the old lakebed. Smoldering, almost trapped by the sandstone and cracked earth, the flame almost died. If not for the constantly blowing tangles of dried tumbleweed, the tiny flame would have never found its way to the bedraggled windbreak stand of Gambel oaks. No one noticed the thin trickle of smoke out in the desolate area past the northernmost pastures of the Triple R ranch; no one except the red tailed hawk perched atop a skeletal old maple, his beady silver eyes judging how long; how long before the fire grew and reached its greedy tentacles out toward the house on the bluffs, the man and the boy.

Bernard Labatierre telephoned and the meeting was set for eight o'clock.

Albert had called his lawyer, Gerald Landry, in Laramie and Gerald was driving over. Craig and Mercy would be there by seven. Sarah was making up the beds in the spare room for Katy and Violet. No one wanted to let their children out of their sight on this horrible evening. Luc dragged his sleeping bag in the spare room and spread it out between the two beds. The grownups were treating this as a special sleepover so as not to upset the children.

The children were settled in the bedroom by seven thirty with Sarah and the DVD player. The sounds of Luc's favorite, Finding Nemo, whispered down the hallway and Luc's voice laughing out, "Here come the surfy turtles, Grandma."

Cole's eyes were haunted and Wes could feel pressure like a hand choking his throat, finding it hard to breathe. Albert was sitting silently, staring out the bay window, his breathing erratic, his small bottle of nitroglycerin pills clutched in his hand. There was no way this was happening... but it was.

Craig was talking quietly to Cole and Mercy and Wes were sitting on the sofa, hands held tightly when the front doorbell rang. "She's never rung that bell in her life," Cole snarled, "I guess she doesn't feel very welcome."

Callie and Labatierre came in and the room seemed to shrink. "Good evening, ladies," the lawyer said as if they were attending an informal party. "Gentlemen." He nodded his head toward Albert, who didn't rise from his chair.

Callie leaned over the chair and patted her father's shoulder, looked Mercy up and down, beamed a huge smile at Cole and Wesley and then saw Craig.

"Craig Harold! You look wonderful. I can't believe you stayed in this place. You could be with a huge influential firm in Chicago or St. Louis." Running her arm through his, she pressed herself against him.

"I think Mr. Landry , Mr. Labatierre and I should talk for a bit," Craig said as he ushered the two men into the kitchen. Callie sat in a straight-backed chair across the room.

"But, we need to........," Cole growled.

Wes stood up and took Cole's hand, pulling him to his side, whispering. "We don't know the law; Craig and Gerald do. Let them talk. I want to beat the shit out of that guy too, but that won't accomplish anything right now.'

The room grew deadly silent. The only person comfortable, able to look directly at the others, was Callie. Mercy kept her hands in her lap, twisting a small square of white handkerchief covered with lavender flowers into knots. She couldn't look at Callie. All her insecurities came flooding back; all the insecurities Craig had convinced her were ridiculous. She felt ugly and plain and crippled again, just like in school.

"Wesley," Callie said, "I saw a copy of that little magazine that has your quaint scribbles. You always liked to doodle around. Isn't that nice that a few people like your drawing. You'll always have grocery money. Lucky Coley."

Wes felt Cole straining to rush over and smack her face. He kept his hold.

"Thank you, Callie, it is nice, but you know me, I've never put things above the people that I care about." The words >>>like you <<< hung in the air.

The kitchen door opened thirty minutes later and the men filed back into the living room. By the look on Craig's face, things were not good. He walked over to Wes and Cole, "They have it locked up. I'm afraid you're going to have to let her take him for now. We'll fight her and fight for partial custody, but she's got everything behind her right now."

Cole rounded on Callie, "You've got some other reason for this, Callie. I know you. My eyes are open now. What's the real reason you want Luc?"

"He's my darling son. I've been so distraught due to the circumstances of his conception, but now my doctors say I am totally fit to be a good mother. I want to thank you for................................."

That was as far as she got. Cole's hand reared back and he backhanded her across the mouth. Blood trickled down the side of her chin as her fingers flew to her face. "You're so full of shit, Callie. You are NOT taking Luc away. He belongs here."

"Oh, but I am," she snarled. "You think you stand a chance in hell of winning this? All I have to do is tell the court that you and your......," she glanced over at Wes, "Your boyfriend are trying to keep my innocent little boy from me."

"It's not like that and you know it. Wes and I will go to court and they'll see," Cole.

"They'll see alright. You've forgotten one little item, I think. I had the video made into a DVD in all its lovely color. Your hair has lost some of its gold, Coley, but there's no mistaking who it is." She reached into her purse and handed Wes a DVD. "I made copies. I think you'll enjoy seeing this, Wesley. Don't let him ever tell you he wasn't having fun."

Wes' hand reached out automatically for the disc, but then he cracked it in half and let it fall to the floor. "Why are you're doing this, Callie? Neither Cole nor I would ever have hurt you this way."

Albert stood up from his chair. "Callie, if you do this thing, if you tear this family apart, you are no daughter of mine. I've listened to all of this trying to forgive you and trying to think of some way to help, but I think you have decided to punish us all for whatever sin you think we've committed. I feel sorry for you, turning on your own flesh and blood, especially your twin brother who loves you dearly. If you leave this house with Lucas, you will never be welcome here again. Think carefully."

Callie looked from one person to the next. "I don't need your love. I wanted it once, more than anything. I wanted Wesley to love me. I needed Cole; he was part of me. They betrayed me, laughed at me, fucked in our cave, OUR cave, and I was left out forever. And you," she turned on Mercy, "You, you sniveling little bitch, flirting with Craig, probably telling him lies about me, always keeping Wesley away from me. "I have to go check on Mercy! I can't cause Mercy can't! I'm going home to Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! I hate you!"

"You accepted them, loved them. You pushed me away. You just wanted that baby. After he was born, no one cared if I lived or died," she accused her father.

Bernard Labatierre placed his hand on her arm to calm her, "Ms. Hewett, quiet now. We have won. Don't make the pain worse. Come now, we will go." To Wes and Cole he said solemnly, "We will be here at ten Friday morning to pick up the child. We will be leaving for Paris Friday night and must catch our connecting flight to Chicago at three. Please have him ready."

The door slammed shut. No one said a word. What words would do?

Luc, Katy and Violet walked out into the living room followed by Sarah. One look at the grownup's faces and Sarah knew. "No," she whispered, "No."

Luc walked over to Cole and Wes. Tipping his head way back, he touched them both on the legs and said, "I will go. I will be okay."

Cole looked at his mother, but she shook her head as if to say, 'I didn't say a thing.'

Wes sat down in the closest chair and took Luc in his lap. "I know what you're thinking. I know what your eyes 'saw', but for once, it's not gonna happen." He stood up, holding the small boy on his hip. "I'm taking Luc away. I'm not gonna tell you where. We'll settle all this, but no one is taking this boy away from us. I'll be back as soon as I can." He looked hard into Cole's eyes and seeing the flash of understanding, he nodded. "Yeah," was all he said.

Wes drove through the night, Luc sleeping curled up by his side. His mind ran over and over any avenues of escape from what was happening. He just kept coming back to disappearing with the boy. He was free to go. Cole had to run the ranch; it was his life. Wes could draw anywhere. But, No! He and Cole had messed up their lives by not talking before and that couldn't happen again. If he had to live without Cole, his life wasn't worth living. No, he'd drop Luc off and go back. They'd figure out something.

He drove into Wyatt's front yard the next morning early. "Wake up, Punkin. Look where we are," he shook Luc awake.

"Unca Wyatt's! WooHoo!" Luc slid on his belly out of the truck and plunked to the ground. "Unca Wyatt! Wake Up! It is me, Luc."

Wyatt opened the front door and scooped the little fella up in his strong arms, "Hey, Luc, come to see me, have you?" He looked over the top of the boy's head and into Wes' eyes. He saw the anger and trouble brewing. "Come on in and get some coffee. What you want for breakfast, little man?"

Luc ran into the house and into his room to check on his treasures. "I have to leave him here with you, Uncle Wyatt," Wes said. "His mother, Cole's sister, has come to take him away back to France. There's no way that's happening."

"Hell, no, that's not gonna happen," Wyatt growled, "If I have to hide him from her myself. He'll be safe here with me."

"I know he will. I don't know what we're gonna do but Cole and I, we'll figure out the answer. I need to get back. We have til tomorrow morning. Luc, come here a minute."

Luc charged out the bedroom door, stopped and cocked his head. "You going home?"

"Yeah, I have to go back. Uncle Wyatt will take good care of you for a couple of days. Cole and I have some important stuff to do, okay?"

"Sure, okay. Unca Wyatt and me is buddies. Wes, watch Grandpa." As Wes looked at him, Luc's eyes darkened to a deep pool of blackness. "Grandpa. My mama. Hurts. It hurts." As if nothing had happened, Luc's eyes cleared and he grinned at Wyatt, "Where are the puppies?"

"Whew, that spooks me," Wyatt sighed, "Just like Billy used to do."

Wes had coffee, eggs and bacon and left with a hug from both Wyatt and Luc. He took one last look at Luc in his rearview mirror and floored the truck.

The fire spread along the dried shrubbery and dying trees like sap running from a maple tree. One lick of flame here, another over there. There was nothing to stand in its way. By Thursday, it had spread along the gullies and into Rattlesnake Canyon eating up everything in its path. John McAllister's north pastures caught and he called the volunteer fire patrol as he and his hands tried to beat the flames out with wet burlap bags. It hopped and skipped like a child playing hide and seek. Burning one bush down, bypassing another by its side. The creeping line of fire gobbled up every bit of tinder on its way down the slopes heading for McLaren County. High in the air, the hawk watched, his black eyes gauging the distance, searching for the girl with the golden hair.

Niyol, the whispering wind, pushed the smoldering patches back to life and sent them on their way, down the slopes, avoiding McAllister's barn and corrals, flipping in the air toward the snarls of tumbleweed at the mouth to Cutter's Pass. The hawk landed on the roof of the little handmade cabin built with loving hands eleven years before. The pond under the cottonwood trees was low, almost dry. Not anywhere enough to stop the licks of flame as they ate the little hut, devouring the books and drawings inside. A sound, almost a cry of pain, rose from the canopy of cottonwoods, only to die off as the crackle of burning wood and the smell of woodland destruction became louder.

Wes got home late in the afternoon. "He's fine. Don't worry about Luc. Let's figure out what to do", he said as Cole and his parents crowded around him.

Sitting around the kitchen table, Cole played absently with the salt shaker and Sarah pleated and unpleated her checkered napkin. "Short of disappearing with him, I'm coming up empty with suggestions. The only other choice would be to let him go with her and take it all to court."

"That would drag on forever. You know how slow the courts are, and meanwhile, he's way over there, doing who the hell know what. Damn!" Cole slammed the shaker on the table.

"We could go to France and watch out for him," Wes suggested.

"She wouldn't let either of us within ten feet of him and you know it. We'd end up in jail."

Damn it all, there must be a way."

And so it went, as the sun began to set and the fire began its journey down Cutter Pass toward the sandstone bluffs of McLaren.

"Wes, listen," Cole shouted from the bedroom. He turned up the TV news and Wes heard the newscaster's urgent voice. "The fire is spreading across Larkin County to the north and is reaching down toward McLaren County to the south. Amazingly, no lives lost yet and no damage to property. If you live in northern McLaren County, begin evacuation immediately."

"What the hell?" Wes looked out the window to the north and saw a distant glow in the sky. "My God, we've been so caught up in our problem, we haven't even looked at the sky today. Damn!" They opened the front door and the wind, switching from the east to the north east, carried soot and the smell of burning. "Hell, here we go again," he yelled, "You go to your parents. I'll go help Craig. Love you." He grabbed Cole and they kissed, just for a second forgetting everything else. "Love you more," Cole grinned. "Be safe."

"You too."

Wes took the truck and Cole saddled Angel, letting Hawk and the other horses loose. Whistling, he called, "Pat, Bob, with me."

The letter arrived at the Campbell's early Thursday morning addressed to Miss Callie Hewett. It was a formal business envelope with the return embossed address of Craig Harold, Attorney at Law. Callie assumed it was some type of document for her lawyer. She laid it with his other mail on the table in the main hall. Walking away, she stopped, turned on her heel and retrieved the envelope from the pile. Craig? It was addressed to her, not Bernard. Hmm! Going out by the pool, Callie slit the envelope open with one long red nail.

Callie ~

My heart stopped when I saw you again today. I must see you alone. Meet me at 9 tonight at the old Straihan place. I have missed you more than you'll ever know. You're more beautiful than ever.

My heart was always yours ~


'Well, well," Callie smiled, tapping the paper with her nails. "I knew he couldn't be in love with that stupid Mercy. He just took leftovers after I was gone." She laughed to herself as she envisioned meeting him tonight, and then dropping the news on precious Miss High and Mighty Mercy tomorrow as she left town with the boy. Oh, what fun! This was perfect!

As the afternoon dwindled down into twilight on Thursday afternoon, Luc walked quietly by Wyatt on a rough path in the forest behind the house.

"You doin' okay, little guy? You're mighty quiet today."

"I am waiting."

When he didn't say anything else, Wyatt asked, "Waiting for what?"

"To go home."

"You may have to wait on that for awhile, Luc."

"No, Unca Wyatt, my hawk is flying."


Luc reached up and took Wyatt's hand, "Swing me, Unca, swing me!"

Wes pleaded, but Mercy was stubborn. "I'm not leaving my house. We'll be fine. Craig will be home in just a while. You go watch after your place. Wet down your pole barn and your roof."

"I don't like leaving you here," Wes argued. "You can't do anything if the fire hits your house; not you and the girls if Craig doesn't get home. Please, Mercy. Don't make me have to worry about you too."

Seeing the worry and exhaustion in his face, Mercy sighed, "Okay, I'll just call Craig and tell him we'll be at the Hewett's, right?"

"Right, that's where Cole is now. You know his dad isn't strong enough to wet down anything."

Mercy grabbed her purse, made sure her cell phone was in it and called to the girls to get a move on. She felt hot tears burn her eyes as they drove away from her house. "It's my home, Wesley. The only home I've ever had. Nothing can happen to it."

"Nothing will, Mercy. Wait and see." Wes reached across the back of the seat and rubbed his sister's thin shoulders.

The fire reached the riverbed that separated Cutter's Pass from the bluffs. Acting as firebreak, the water in the old riverbed heated up. Before long, it would evaporate and the fire could jump the gully. Fire is all consuming, but it has patience. Wes' and Cole's home stood on the far end of the bluff, the flames reflecting in the big bay windows. Mercy's home began to feel the heat of the flames. The riverbed firebreak held.

By six o'clock that evening the smoke was heavy in the air. An arm of the fire had headed off toward the highway, the Elmore area and The Church of Redemptive Suffering. The underbrush, crowded up around the base of the old wooden building, was burning and across the overgrown parking lot, down a weedy path into the woods, a small building was enveloped in flames. As the wind blew and the sparks danced and fell into a dark black pit, two eerie spectrals of light rose above the flames and blended together as they melted into the black of the night.

By seven, Wes, Cole, Sarah and Albert had gathered several neighbors into their house along with Mercy, Craig and the little girls. The fire was still stalled at the riverbed and the state had sent in fire fighting planes. Wes and Cole slipped away to the barn and sat close together up in the hayloft door like they used to do when they were young. "We still don't have an answer to the big problem," Cole sighed, his head resting on Wes' shoulder.

"I know, but at least he's safe for now. We'll get through this just like we have before. We've gotta believe that." Wes had the strangest burning sensation behind his eyes, but he figured the smoke was irritating them and he just knuckled the tingling feeling away.

Sarah was very concerned about Albert. His blood pressure was too high and his color wasn't good. "He's had too much stress," she fretted. "I'm putting him to bed and giving him a pill so he'll sleep."

Craig closed the door softly behind him as he left the guest room. "Mercy is exhausted and has the beginnings of one of her migraines. She and the girls are asleep."

The neighbors were snugged away in Cole's old rooms and in Luc's bedroom. Cole, Wes and Craig sat around the kitchen table talking softly as the house slept restlessly.

Callie changed into expensive jeans, designer boots and a sleeveless vest. "I'm going out for a ride," she announced at eight forty-five.

"Don't be gone long. The fire is over on the other side of the county, but we're going to use the helicopter if it turns this way. Can't you get the boy tonight so we can get the hell out of here?" Lily asked.

"No, not til tomorrow. Cole wouldn't help me if I was choking to death," she laughed. "I'll be back later." She stuffed the letter in her back jeans pocket.

The big roan stallion was saddled and ready as she'd requested and Callie headed him toward Elmore.

Pulling the horse up and looping his reins over a tree branch, Callie walked quickly toward the old house. It had fallen into total disrepair since the night Wes' father had died here. The steps were rotten, the windows all broken by teens looking for a place to drink, beer cans and whiskey bottles strewn on the floor and a really really bad smell coming from the walls. "What a dump," Callie muttered in disgust. The excitement of meeting Craig on the sly and what she could do with it wasn't quite so thrilling anymore.

"Craig?" she called. "Where are you? This is a shithole." She moved toward the kitchen and walked into a huge spider web, the gauzy strands tangling in her hair and on her face. "Ewww! God!, Craig, I'm leaving. You aren't worth this."


"Well, finally. Where are you? This place is gross."

"Callie." The voice was coming from over to her right. She didn't know this house. She'd never been in it. Funny, Wes and Karl and Mercy had all grown up in this dump and she'd never been here.

"Okay, spook time is over. Come out here right now." She walked slowly toward the direction the voice had come from. The dark gloom felt alive and she had forgotten a flashlight. Tripping over something on the floor, she fell to her knees and became disoriented when she stood back up. Groping for the wall, she felt an open door.

"Craig?" Stepping to the door, she stood uncertainly hovering in the opening.


Just as she decided enough was enough, a hand shoved her firmly and she tumbled down the stairs. She hit the bottom and felt her leg snap. Looking up through pain-filled eyes, Callie saw a shadowy figure standing in the open doorway. A flashlight came on and the light hit the person's face.

"You?" Callie cried.

She groaned and rolled over to look for something to lever herself up with. All she saw around her was darkness. She never once, still thinking only of herself, compared this to the darkness, the bible black Wesley had suffering growing up. "When I get out of here, I'm going to kill all of them. I hate you! I will make that child suffer for what you've done. I swear. She lay still and waited to hear someone call her name.

Luc sat in his open window, his feet propped up on the frame. His pajamas were red, the color of the hawk's tail feather. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He could see the fire, the flames danced in the pupils of his eyes. He could see Daddy, Wes and Unca Craig. They were worrying. Worrying about him. "No worries," he whispered.

Opening his eyes, he saw the hawk perched on the porch rail. Luc held out his fingers, the hawk walked over and flew up onto Luc's hand. Boy's eyes and hawk's eyes, black and fathomless. "Enough," Luc whispered. The hawk blinked then and flew off toward McLaren County.

He cruised north high above Yellowstone, dipping and soaring, letting the currents take him. His wingspan, five feet, cast a shadow on the ground as he glided over treetops and church steeples. He was listening to the whispers, watching out for the boy and the man. They belonged to him.

As he flew into the smoke hovering over McLaren County, he coasted through the soot filled sky and over the fire burning along the Cutter's Pass riverbed. Soaring on, he passed over the burned out hull of the Church of the Redemptive Suffering and cruised over the old Straihan house.

Landing on the chimney, he screeched, "Eh Eh Eh" into the hot wind rustling his feathers. The wind carried sparks, lit the night sky with sparkling bits of fire. The sparks landed on the roof, ate their way down through the rotting shingles and into the house. The room that Wes had shared with Karl, the window he had crawled out to meet Cole, Mercy's bedroom... down into the kitchen, the parlor where they had knelt long hours into the night listening to Father's prayers.

Slowly, flames began to build, burning the worn black leather belt hanging behind the kitchen door, burning the bible still lying on the desk in Father's room, burning the ragged hand-me-down clothing still hanging in their closets. Karl, Mercy and Wes, the three Straihan kids, had each walked out of this house taking nothing with them except the few things that had belonged to Mother and the memories that would live in their hearts for all their lives. Mercy and Wes had made it through.... Karl had not. Mercy was Mrs. Craig Harold now, Wes would become Wesley William Crandall-Hewett one day. Only Karl had missed his chance to become Karl Arthur Crandall.

Callie smelled the smoke, felt the heat as the flames ate at the basement door. She couldn't climb the stairs or crawl out the high window; there was no choice. Tears ran down her face as she lay on the dirt floor. Her life flew across her mind; playing with Cole, her dad teaching her to ride, searching for arrowheads on the bluffs, school dances, following Wes around like a puppy. That thought clicked in her mind. "It's all your fault, Wesley. Everything bad that's ever happened to me is your fault. I hate you! I ran away but it didn't change anything. I wanted you but you laughed and took my brother from me. I hope you rot in hell." As the flames licked down the stairs and the red hot walls began to collapse around her, Callie had no thought for her son, for her parents........ the last word she spoke that came out in a throaty rasp as the smoke choked her:


The rain began to fall not long after the old Straihan place burned to the ground. The fires died out and the newscasters couldn't get over the fact that no one was killed and no property except a couple of old dilapidated buildings was destroyed.

Callie Hewett's body was never recovered. The remains of the Straihan house were smoothed over and the property was sold for a retirement home to be built sponsored by one of the local churches. The decision on Callie's disappearance was finally that she had been caught by the fire while riding and thrown over the bluffs.

The Church of Redemptive Suffering and the oubliette were destroyed and the new high school was built on the land.

Life went on in McLaren County.

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