Friday, February 27, 2009

Almost A Western Twist (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Beffy at her blog, Laughing At The Days. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Note: I'm afraid this week's story is quite an epic...drama. Enjoy! There is so much packed into here, I had a hard time trying to pare it down and NOT edit as I wrote it. Layla is a darling character and there's so much story in here, it made my head spin, trying to fit in all in one story! So, here's a quick run through, Crabbe-Dolesk, are shadow creatures similiar to shape-shifters, They are extremely greedy. And the ruby earrings in this story is the actual inspiration for this very old FW challenge piece here: SunDancer's Flight. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

“Well, she’s out back, Thor, but personally, I think you ought to leave the lady alone.” Miranda chewed her lip. “She’s liable to turn the entire ranch on you after what you told her the last time.”

“As if that’s new news or anybody’s business.” Thor muttered darkly, still clutching the soaked coat bundle to his chest. “I’ll see her now…don’t hurry out if you hear screams.” He ducked through the doorway and out onto the back patio.

Miranda hesitated for a moment, then hurried to the kitchen window to get a good glimpse of what would happen next.

Layla had been working with her horse, Feather, all morning. She’d skipped breakfast too and requested that no one disturb her. “This isn’t going to go over well.” MIiranda mumbled, craning her neck to see as Thor disappeared through the barn doors.

She hoped there wouldn’t be any screams.

Thor fought the urge to keep an even expression as he stepped into the barn. He could practically feel Miranda’s eyes blazing through him with every step further he ventured. For a woman who claimed she’d had it with men, the world and children, she played a mother hen to frightening proportions.

A grimace surfaced as the coat bundle squirmed beneath his grasp. He wondered how long he’d have to listen to her yell, rant and rave before she decided to help him.

“What are you doing here?” Her cold voice stopped him before he turned the corner to the tack room where she usually sat, polishing something.

“Hiya.” He tilted his head, not daring to turn and face her just yet. “Been doing okay?”

“Not that you’d care.” Her voice drew closer and she passed beside him, carrying a worn bridle. “What do you want? Or am I being overly vain in assuming you’ve come here to see me?”

“The only reason any sane person ventures on Miranda’s Ranch is to see you.” The words slipped out and he winced inwardly. “Layla-”

“Miss Hancock to you.” She corrected, drawing a key from the ring around her waist and opening the tack room door.

“You keep it locked now?” A new tension slipped over him.

She shrugged. “Too many thefts, lately. Can’t catch them all.”

“Anything important been stolen?” His cop training was taking over.

She stiffened. “If you need to know Miranda’s business, ask her, not me.” She shoved the door open and it hit the stool behind it with a bang. Her cherry-black hair shone in the dusty light as she stood on tip-toe to retrieve a can of oil and a few leather rags. “Are you here to watch me work to be sure I don’t violate any unspoken leatherworking laws? Or have I posed a different threat to your town now, Sheriff?”

The wince crossed his face this time. She wasn’t even looking at him. Yet. “Actually I brought something for you.”

“And if I don’t want it?” She popped open the top of the oil can and dribbled a bit onto a scruffy square of cloth.

“I think you’ll want this one.” He knelt on the floor and gently set the bundle down. “Can you help it?”

She turned so quickly the rags slid off the wooden counter, piling up on the floor. Intensity burned in her dark, chocolate eyes as she reached for the half-unwrapped creature. “A fox!” Surprise and sympathy mingled with her husky voice. “You poor thing!” She reached for it at the same time he did and their fingers touched. She jerked back as if he’d burnt her. “What do you want for it?” The stiff, cold version had returned.

“I don’t want anything, Layla…I just want you to help it.”

“As if.” She glared at him, but gently gathered the fox cub into her arms. “There, there.” She cooed. “Aren’t you a brave little trooper? You really shouldn’t run across the road you know, especially when you hear something coming.”

“How’d you know that?” Thor stared at her. “He was hit by an oncoming car, I was on my way back from the Coroner’s office and saw him in the road.”

Layla’s answer was to promptly turn her back to him as she continued to baby talk to the fox cub. “Yes, you poor wittle thing. So brave too, to let a human touch you. Umm…yes, you poor little darling.”

“Layla!” Thor couldn’t hold onto the last strands of his temper. “You could at least hear me out for-”

“Layla, honey? The biscuits are getting cold!” Miranda’s voice announced her arrival before the stout, matronly figure appeared in the doorway, moments later. “Hello Thor…oh my, who have we here?”

A bright-eyed, curious fox cub stared back at her, as Layla willingly handed it over. “Easy with him, Manda.” A weary smile touched her face. “he’s a bit in shock, but he’ll be all right.”

“Of course you will!” Miranda chirped. “Aren’t you a dashing little fellow? What happened to him?”

Layla shrugged, brushing her red ruby earrings in turn before touching her necklace. “He was hit by one of those dreadful workers down at the…you know…and they didn’t even stop to look back or anything.” Her hands clenched into fists. “I ought to-”

“You ought to do nothing of the sort!” Thor interrupted. “You’re to stay out of it…whatever it is! I won’t have you getting mixed up in law business where you don’t belong!”

Identical expressions of disdain were fixed on him. “So glad to have your opinion on where I belong.” Layla said icily. “So very glad.” She pushed past him and stalked out of the tack room, her earlier task forgotten.

Miranda stared after her a minute, then back at Thor. “Why you…I told you not to! Layla, Layla, honey, I really think you ought to…” The cub wriggled free of her grasp and trotted out of the room after her.

Thor gaped openly. “She…why, it…she did…” His voice faltered. He’d known what she was capable of when he’d brought the cub to her, but of course, she was still being her own stubborn, secretive self and had of course, hidden her true gift in front of him.

Miranda sighed. “I guess that’s that.” She said at last. “Sure won’t be seeing her for lunch.” Her frown grew more pronounced. “Thor, I told you not to bother her.”

“What was I supposed to do? Take the cub to the vet?” He shot back, gathering his soiled coat from the wooden floor.

“I suppose not.” Miranda tried to smile. The town veterinarian was a joke, compared to what Layla herself was fully capable of. “Then again, I’m sure Angus could use the money.”

“Who in this town can’t?” Thor stepped out of the room, pulling it shut behind him. “You need to lock this?”

“Oh, right.” Miranda fumbled in her apron pocket to draw out a large set of keys. “Just a moment.” She squinted at the keys. “I can’t exactly tell which is…oh here we go.” She jammed the key in the lock and turned it. There was a soft click and she withdrew the key, dropping the jingling mass of keys back into her apron pocket. “I suppose I ought to ask you in for a biscuit or something.” She said at last, following him out to the barnyard. “Care to stay for a biscuit?”

Thor hesitated. “I would love to…but I really need to talk to her.”

“I see.” Miranda closed her eyes for a moment, then turned towards the house. “It’s your funeral then. She should have caught a ride to the edge of the riverrock. You’re likely to find her there anyway, even if she hasn’t left already, that’s usually where she ends up.”

“Thanks.” Thor tipped his head in greeted and turned towards the corral where the horses were kept. “I’ll take a rain check on the biscuits.”

“You do that.” Miranda called after him. “and don’t you dare make her cry!”

Thor snorted, disappearing over the fence with the ease and grace that showed he’d done that many times before. He threaded his way through the patches of mud and few stalks of tall grass.
The herd of horses grazed lazily at one end of the corral and he singled out his favorite mount and caught hold of the halter, before hoisting himself up. Once seated, he headed in the direction of the county river.

The ride itself took a few minutes longer than he’d anticipated, riding bareback was one of the skills he hadn’t taken advantage of for quite some time. When he finally did reach, he saw her, as Miranda had said, standing on the river rock ledge, overlooking the rushing water below.

“Layla?” He called out, hoping to announce his presence without startling her, or setting her attitude against him in another negative way.

She turned automatically as if she’d been expecting him, the fox cub curled up in her arms. “I figured you’d follow me.” She said when he drew near. “What do you want? Whatever I haven’t given you, you’ve taken…I can’t say that I’ve got much left to give.”

Heat touched his cheeks as he looked down the ledge into the swirling waters himself. “I didn’t come to take anything from you, Layla. It’s just this last investigation-”

“I don’t know who killed Doc Morgen, and I’ve already told you and the police and the FBI and everyone else stupid enough to ask me to my face, everything I know.”

“That’s not why I’m here.” Thor held up a hand to shush her. “There was something else there, at the murder.”

She stiffened at once. “What do you mean, something else?”

“A cat.” Thor said simply.

Her entire body grew rigid. “And what’s that to me?”

“I want you to talk to it.”

“Sorry. Can’t help you.” She turned to go, but he caught her arm, letting go when the fox cub suddenly bared teeth.

“Layla! This is important…look, I’m sorry if we-”

“I don’t want to hear your apologies, Thor.” She hissed. “I’m sick of your kind and everything that comes with them. You run into a block. You call me. Why? Because I’m a freak. I’m the only one who can actually do something impossible which is what you need when you always end up coming to me. Isn’t it enough I’ve saved your life a half dozen times? Can’t you just leave me alone?”

“If you wanted to be left alone, then why didn’t you leave Maryville?” He shot back.

Her lower lip quivered and then she suddenly bent and set the fox cub on its feet. “Run along home now.” She said clearly, watching as it hesitated. “Oh don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. He’s just a big meanie.”

“Am I?” Thor walked the few steps to stand straight in front of her. “Is that all I am to you?”

She smiled, polite. “No, actually you’re worse. Good day, Sheriff. Unless you have some official piece of paper to wave about in my face, there is nothing under the sun, even with that slip of paper, that would warrant my attention in your direction for whatever reason.”

Thor grabbed her arm, hand tightening around her wrist. “Don’t you give me that, young lady.” He pulled her away from the rock ledge and back to where he’d left the horse. “Don’t give anyone else any bright ideas either.” He added meaningfully, when the horse suddenly shied away from his approach.

She scowled at him. “Let go of my arm, you’re hurting me!”

“I’m hurting you?” He jerked her around in front of him. “I hardly doubt it, since I’m practically squeezing with all my might and you are still pulling away.” He let go and she staggered backwards, toppling to the ground. “I’m tired of playing games. You can help me of your own free will or I can-”

“Or you can what? Make me help you?” She hauled herself up from the ground, dusting off the seat of her pants. “If you touch me again, I am going to-”

“The Jensen’s kid, the little girl, was found strangled in their well, three hours ago.” The words were forced through his mouth. “She saw something. She had to have seen something. There is no other reason for this killer to take out a child, unless she saw something that she could’ve told someone that would have-”

“Little Marian?” Layla had gone from a defiant blush to a suddenly pale white. “No…not little Marian…not her…she didn’t do anything.”

“Layla. Layla!” He shook her shoulder. “Layla, don’t you do this to me now. Don’t you dare zone out on me. I need you here!”

Her head was shaking slowly from side to side. “That wasn’t right.” She shook her head slowly again. “That really wasn’t right. He really shouldn’t have done that.”

“He?” Thor let go. “He who?”

“I can’t help you, Thor.” Her voice sounded far away. “There isn’t any cat. I’m afraid I really can’t help you. But he really shouldn’t have done that.”

“Layla!” Thor’s hands curled into fist. “So help me if I-”

She rolled her shoulders back and then hunched them up to her ears. “There wasn’t a cat, Thor. I was the cat.” She pressed her lips together. “And I didn’t tell you anything before because there was nothing to tell. I didn’t see who killed him, but I do know who tried to kill me.” Her mouth set in a grim line.

Thor felt his stomach about to explode. “And?”

“I don’t want to hurt you.” Her expression was childlike. “I really do like you, Thor. But I don’t want to hurt you, still…He really shouldn’t have done that.”

“He who?” Thor nearly exploded.

“Your deputy.” She said simply, turning towards the horse that had ambled over. “It’s obvious really. He is the only one who stood to gain…Marian…poor child.” A flare of red showed in her eyes. “Get on and get out.” She grabbed the halter, steadying the horse. “Go quickly.”

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” She gave him a leg up, following with a slap to the horse’s rump. “Find the Doc’s wife and stay with her!” She called after him, her voice faded away into a loud, primal howl.

A shiver ran down his back and Thor hunched forward, clutching handfuls of mane. The goosebumps on his arms reminded him of what a risk he’d just taken. “The deputy?” He repeated, thinking of charming, young Brad Davis, who’d been his invaluable assistant for the past three years. “She’s joking.”

The horse snorted.

“She has to be.” He retorted. “I’ve known him for years…since he was a kid! He never would have ever had any reason to…” The clues silently clicked into place within his head.

The missing lottery ticket, with the name torn off. Brad had been the one to find the ticket and promptly create suspicion by pointing out how the name was missing. Thor winced, he had hounded several possible suspects for weeks on end, and now the puzzle was coming together. The gambling receipts to the anonymous player had always been signed with a “D and V” the initials of Davis and his new fiancé, Hilda Vancouver. The queasy feeling in his stomach had gone from bad to worse and Thor felt himself crouching lower to the horse’s neck. “Faster boy.” He whispered.

The horse seemed to understand as the speed blurred even more. “The stolen medications!” An anguished moan slipped out. Thor didn’t want to believe evidence staring him so glaringly in the face, but he was remembering the little things that gave him insight. He had known Brad since he was a kid and because he did, he knew the troubling teenage years and the few times the law had overlooked his activities.

Thor didn’t remember much else after arriving at the ranch and rushing to his pickup. The road was a similar blur as he drove towards the Jensen’s house. Layla could stay with the Doc’s wife if she needed company that bad, but there was no way he would leave Davis prowling around the farmhouse in false sympathy.

“He had to be looking for something.” His voice echoed oddly in the pickup. “He must have been looking for something.”

The ride to the farmhouse was shorter than he’d expected and Thor tumbled out onto the dirt road more jumbled up than he could remember in his life. He slammed the door a little harder than necessary, miniature dust clouds rising to life beneath his leather cowboy boots. This was beginning to feel like an old western showdown.

He grimaced. “Davis?”

A red-eyed, fifteen year-old Marie Jensen stuck her head out the screened porch. “He went ‘round to the barn, Sheiff.” She snuffled loudly. “Did you get what you was gone for?”
He forced a smile for her benefit. “Yes, I did, Marie, thanks. Uh…is everyone else inside there?” He gestured towards the house. Her head gave a tiny nod. “Good, make sure you all stay inside for now. I need to…check something.” He offered the smile again and quickly headed for the barn.

The door was ajar and an a sudden wind brushed through, sweeping bits of straw across the packed dirt floor and dirtying his polished boots. He stifled the urge to think of that now. “Davis?” He called out. “It’s me, you in here?”

Davis melted out from the shadows behind the tall stacks of hay bales. “Over here, Chief.” His smile faltered at the expression on his face. “Something the matter?”

“Yes, actually.” Thor took a deep breath, moving forward to see him better. “I have a few questions that need answers and you’re the one to answer them.”

Confusion decorated the deputy’s face, but he shrugged. “Whatever you want, Chief. What is it?”
“That lottery ticket.” Thor glared at him. “Whose name was on it?”

A guarded look slipped over Brad’s face at once, the perfect mask of deception. “I don’t know, it was torn when I found it, Old Man Zunt must have conned someone out of it and ripped the name off to protect himself.”

“That’s a bold-faced lie!” Thor said hotly. “You tore the name off ‘cause you wanted it for yourself. You knew no one would even think to-”

“Now hold up a minute, Thor!” The formalities had left, Brad’s eyes narrowed even more in his seemingly snake-like face. “I don’t know where you’re getting this stuff, or why you’re trying to accuse me, but I had nothing to do with that! Why, I bet you-” He sputtered. “Why I bet you don’t even have a single shred of evidence to prove anything!”

“I’m sure the smudged fingerprint in Doc’s lab would match quite nicely with the other smudge marks all around your-”

“That’s enough, Thor.” Brad said evenly, he took a cautious step back. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m feeling fine!” Thor growled. “But Marian isn’t! She’s dead, Davis! Dead! For something she didn’t even know she might have had.”

“Huh-wha?” Brad backtracked at once, feeling for the latch of the opposite barn door. “Thor, you’re not feeling well…that’s why you’re saying all of this stuff. Look, you need help! I-I-I don’t think you-”

“The gambling tickets.” Thor snatched his gun from his holster and it came up in the same instant Brad’s did. “This isn’t a game, Davis.”

“Brad? Sweetiepoo, is that you?” Hilda’s high-pitched squeak cut through the tension in the air and the door behind Brad swung open to show his fiancé, dressed in a smash-up of neon-pink and bright red. Her gleaming stiletto heels sparkled ominously. “Why Sherrif!” She cooed, crossing to rest a hand on Brad’s shoulder. “You really should be careful where you’re pointing that thing!”

“You’re in with it too!” Thor blustered. “D and V! It was you two on those gambling tickets! What were you going to do? Blame the whole mess on me and run of for some cheap wedding in the middle of nowhere?”

“Thor, I’m warning you!” Brad’s voice was barely steady. “Put the gun down. I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if I have to.”

Thor scoffed. “And you think I’ll take pleasure in gunning you down?” He shot back. “I’ve known you since you were a kid, Davis. You were always smart, but not very bright. You had grand ideas, but no one to ever help you pull it off…until she came along.” He scowled at the blond Barbie figure. “Did you do it for her? Or did she rope you all into this?”

“Leave Hilda out of this.” Brad shifted at once to shield her with his own body. “Whatever your bone is, whatever you’ve got to pick, it’s between the two of us, leave here out of this!”

“He has a point, Thor.” Layla’s quiet voice drew their attention at once. “Leave Hilda out of it, she’s just another unsuspecting pawn. And you really should’ve gone to see the Doc’s wife. She had a very valuable piece of information for you.” Her lips set in a grim line as she stood to her full height in the hayloft.

Thor wavered for a moment, confusion, puzzlement and anger fuzzed across his face in a kaleidoscope of emotions. “What information? Tell me!” A stricken glance briefly tossed in Brad’s direction was mirrored back at him.

“Something about seeing who really killed Old Man Zunt.” Layla’s pretty features twisted into a grimace. “She said it was a real pity, because she’d liked him a lot. Though I wager quite a few people had liked this fellow a lot.”

“Who is he?” Thor demanded, a nervous glance flitting between Brad and her. “Layla, it’s me, the Sherrif, you need to tell me-”

“I don’t need to tell you anything, Thor.” Layla glared at him. “Because you’re the one who hasn’t been entirely honest with me.”

Brad sputtered a laugh. “You and me both, lady. He just walked in here and started waving a gun at me and-”

“He is right, Deputy Brad Davis.” Layla intoned, drawing out his full name. “But you were a little too dense to pick up why he’s doing this…isn’t he, Thor?” She smiled, sadly. “It really is such a pity, you see, the sad thing is, you both know what I really am, and what I really do, yet still…you decided that I was too stupid to notice what was happening right under my nose.”

Fire flashed boldly in her eyes and for a moment, the heaviness of the situation slowly weighed in several pounds heavier. Layla licked her lips. “Run while you can.” She said simply. “But The Council has already decided.”

“What’s going on here!” Hilda screeched. “Look, I don’t know what kind of kooky people you folk are, but I don’t care to be lied to and told all kinds of fairy tale stories that don’t even-”

“Hilda, that’s enough.” Layla walked to the edge of the loft and sighed. She stared down at the floor, then lightly jumped off, landing in a crouch. “You can go now.” Her eyes drilled straight into the woman. “Go now.” Her voice had gone cold and hard. “If you want to live.”

Baby blue eyes flew open wide. “Brad!” She wailed. “Don’t let that woman talk to me like that!” She screeched.

“Baby, baby, shhh!” Brad tried to shush her without actually looking at her. His gun was still aimed at Thor, but now directly on Layla as she separated the two of them. “Hilda, babe, why don’t you just step outside for a moment.”

“I’m not going out there into that-”

“Get out there!” Brad boomed. “Unless you want to get shot, woman! This is no place for-”

“Don’t you dare say this is no place for a woman.” Layla drawled, one hand clenching into a fist. “Or I just might have to shoot you for that.”

Hilda gaped at her, mouth open wide. “Why you!” She jerked forward, grabbing for Brad’s gun, unable to twist it from his hands.

Thor fired a shot in the same instant and Layla whirled, a true blur of color. She snatched the bullet from the air and opened her hand, letting it fall to the ground.

Hilda froze. Horror showed plainly in her eyes, and reflected in the wrinkles hidden beneath her powdered face. She dropped Brad’s hand, backing away.

“Not that fast, love.” Layla rolled her shoulders forward. “I only meant I was giving you a chance to escape, but I’m afraid you’ve just thrown it away, and besides, you were the brains behind this blockhead.” She scowled at Brad. “Put the gun down.” Her head turned slightly. “That goes for you too, Thor.”

“Brad?” Hilda whimpered, she was backing towards the door.

Layla closed her eyes.

A sudden wind rushed through with a mournful howl and the huge barn doors blew open.

Her lips curved upwards and she sighed softly, eyes sad as they now opened and focused on the anxious three. “Run.” She said simply.

Hilda’s gorgeous face began to grow sharp lines. “I’m not afraid of you.” She hissed, the squeaky voice changing to a tone, ages of years old. “You think you can just waltz into-”

Layla turned with a snarl and Brad leapt from the way. In the mere seconds it took him to move, Layla morphed. Her slim body twisted and shaped with a feral scream.

The wildcat that landed atop Hilda growled menacingly, teeth bared. From the tawny ears, two large old-fashioned ruby earrings glowed brightly.

The terror settled upon Hilda and suddenly her body went limp. The wildcat Layla turned at once to the remaining two.

Brad was trembling. “You!” His voice had turned to the silvery whisper of the same ancient origins as Hilda’s. “You little traitor!”

Layla hissed, crouching.

He fired two shots, then dropped the gun and ran.

The bullets whizzed through the air, bouncing off the red energy bubble that sprang to life, shielding Layla as she streaked after the deputy and now disappearing Sheriff. She drew again on her gifts, morphing from mountain lion to cheetah as she rushed after them.

Her heart sank as she realized they were making a beeline to the farmhouse. It turned to a dull ache as she skidded to a stop, paws shuffling. Her head shook from side to side. This was not her choice. It was not her decision.

She didn’t want it to be.

The Sheriff neared the porch and Layla closed her eyes, morphing back. She landed awkwardly on her backside, a soft poof of dust coloring her white t-shirt and black jeans.

And then she cringed.

They came even quicker than she’d expected and bore down with a vengeance.

Black birds filled the sky, darkening the horizon as they streaked down, attacking the Sheriff and Deputy. She heard the demon-screams, but her thoughts were fading as she felt the hard beaks pecking and scratching at her face, arms and everywhere she could reach at

Tears streamed down her face as she hunched close to the ground. She wanted it to be over, for it to be all over.

“Layla. Layla! Get away from her, you foul creatures!” Miranda fairly shrieked. Hands, gentle and soft, pulled her bleeding arms away from her face. “Oh child!” Miranda clutched her tight to her chest, rocking back and forth on her heels. “Layla!” The name was spoken with both sorrow and anger. “Whatever made you take them on yourself?”

The pain registered deeper than Miranda’s words, but her words were comforting just the same. It meant there was a human who knew her secret and did care after all.

Layla tried to smile, but her split lip burned. The rocking motion was soothing. She drew a careful breath, before her senses began to kick in. “The Council.” She forced the words out.

Miranda sniffed. “You think too highly of them.” She said darkly, but shifted at once, cradling Layla’s upper half so she could see the proceedings.

In a strange collection of mismatched plaids-and-jeans, dozens of people swarmed over the ranch. There were three escorting a cuffed Hilda from the barn towards a rather strange-looking car and several others were also leading the Sheriff and Deputy as well.

Relief flooded her and Layla sagged weakly into Miranda’s arms.

Miranda clucked disapprovingly. “Now what did I tell you about wearing yourself out?” She squinted. “Why you’re…you’re…” Her voice faltered.

Layla smiled. This time her newly-healed lip didn’t hurt. “Occupational side effect.” She murmured, gingerly easing upwards on her own, with Miranda’s anxious hands patting her shoulder and head. “I’m fine, M.” She said, grateful. “Give me a minute.”

She rolled stiffly to her feet as Roland approached, standing out the most in the standard-issue suit of The Council. “What?” She glared at him.

His smile grew wider. “That was quite a display for a woman who claims she wants nothing with her people, her title or her lot in life.”

“They killed a human child.” She forced the words through her teeth, remembering precious little Marian, the first human she had met upon deciding to stay on earth.

He shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong and why I believe you should spend more time learning about what you are and what you’re capable of.” His expression darkened. “You summoned a flying death, do you even know what that does?”

Layla shuddered. “Yes.” Her voice was hollow. “I remember.” Her eyes burned up at him. “I remember you and your kind doing it to me for a crime I didn’t commit.” The words streamed from her lips. “But we should be about even now, I’d think. And I’m not wrong about Marian, she didn’t deserve to die, she was child, Roland! A child!”

“And she did not die if it is one of them that killed her.” He was humoring her now. “They are Crabbe-Dolesk, meaning they bite, but cannot kill. She is only sleeping, very, very deeply.”

Layla stared at him in confusion. “What?”

“I’m sure they wanted an autopsy.” Roland smiled. “Why don’t you go rescue her?”

“What?” Miranda peered around Layla’s skinny self. “Little Marian’s alive?”

Roland shrugged, tipping his black hat to her. “Ma’am, she’s no more dead than I am.” He smiled. “And she’ll probably be pretty scared, you might want to find her quickly.” He turned to go. “and Layla, I’ll expect your report on my desk, first thing tomorrow morning.” He smirked. “Whether you claim us as your family is none of our concern, but if you are going to play judge as your title reads, then you’ll have to fill out the paperwork. Good day, ladies.”

Layla stared after him, mouth open. “Why the nerve of that!” She sputtered, but no other words came out as small smile slowly tugged at her lips. “Roland!” She shouted after him. “What about the others? The real sheriff and deputy?”

His laugh floated towards her. “They’re fine…gone fishing actually…they’ll be back and you can pick up right after where you left off with that Sheriff.”

“Well, I’ll say.” Miranda murmured, staring after them as the seemingly dozens of people packed themselves into the one car and turned, driving out from the homestead. "What did he mean about the Sheriff? I thought you two didn't get along!"

Layla felt her face flame as she patted her friend's shoulder. “Don’t worry. Even I don’t get used to that." She easily skipped the actual question. "Shall we go find Marian?”

Copyright 2009 Sara Harricharan

(True inspiration for this story, instrumental in the direction of this astonishing conclusion, has been the efforts and suggestions of some extremely talented and bejeweled muses. *coughbeffypeejJJsunnycough* Please be nice and send them lots of chocolate for being such a wonderful help in this epic…drama.)


BethL said...

I LOL'd at your end note. :) I had to smile at "Angus" being the town veterinarian's name (can you tell I lived on a farm?) ;) What a mystery, Sara, you had me captivated and took me to several "places" I've never before dreamed. The pistols toward the end of your story were a stroke of genius!

Teresa Lee Rainey . . . said...

Wow girl. You continue to amaze me with your writing. Love this whole setting and Layla is an amazing character. I absolutely enjoyed this.

Joanne Sher said...

LOVE Layla, and what an ending! I am honored to have been even a small part of this bit of Sawa genius!! ooohhhh, good!

Patty Wysong said...

LoL--that ending was a stroke of pure 100% genius!! ROFL. Loved it!

Dee Yoder said...

Oh boy! What a story, Sara! Where in the world do you store all of this fantasy? Very entertaining, Girl! And your muses did a good job, eh?

Catrina Bradley said...

You say it was an "epic", but I could have read MORE! :) A true mystery, but one that still leaves me wondering about a lot of things. Super duper, Sara!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting story. I had a bit of trouble following along, mostly because I came in on the middle of the story. It's definitely what I expect from you. :)