Thursday, October 10, 2019
Poplar Mountain Part 38 by Dellani Oakes
Over dinner with the sisters, Will and Luke talk about how they feel, now their father is dead.
Luke followed his brother. "What's wrong this time?"
It was his friend, Albert Travis. The other man could only gasp and point behind him. Up at the top of the hill, where Luke had proposed to Dollie, the sheep shed was on fire. There was nothing else up there, but the flames leaped higher, threatening the trees and grass around it. If that caught fire, their mother's home was in danger.
They leaped into Will's truck. Gunning the motor, he rushed down the road to the dining hall. He picked up as many men and teenage boys as would fit in the truck. Armed with buckets, blankets and rakes, they hurtled up the mountain. The roof of the shed had already collapsed, the flames leaping through the gaping hole.
The women changed into dungarees and shirts. Quickly putting scarves over their hair, they got their own supplies and drove up after the men. Stopping at the Henry house, they picked up more men and buckets.
"Thank God for the pump," Dollie said as they jumped out of the car.
Joining the bucket line, they handed one bucket after another to the men fighting the fire. Wetting blankets, they passed them up too. The men knocked in walls with axes, burying them in dirt. They slapped at the flames with the wet blankets and poured water on the rest.
After several long, arduous, grueling hours, the fire was out. There were still coals and hot spots, but the men moved around with shovels and rakes layering the debris with more dirt. Though some of the surrounding area was blackened by the flames, at least the fire hadn't spread.
Luke and Will surveyed the damage noncommittally. Filthy and sweating, they stood with their hands on their hips, taking it all in. Their uncles and cousins joined them.
"Well," Uncle Wilt said, spitting into the wet dirt. "Damn place needed rebuilding anyhow."
"Yep," Will agreed.
"I had in mind to build my house up here," Luke said. "So Dollie and I'd have a place to live when we got married."
"You're getting married too?" Their younger brother Jacob crowed.
"Why the hell didn't you say so?" Wilt asked, clapping him on the back.
"Wasn't quite the time," Luke said quietly. "Not right on the heels of Ginny's and Will's news."
"Well, by damn!" Wilt grinned. "You boys done good with your fillies. I'm real proud of you, son."
Luke had always liked his father's younger brother. He was everything Earl wasn't, warm, friendly and loving. He'd been the one to explain the birds and the bees since he knew his brother wouldn't. Wilt thought a man should have some idea what he was doing before he had to perform, so he took their education on himself. Both of them were mighty grateful he had. He was far more like their father than Earl had ever been.
Sometime during the battle, the sheriff and some of his deputies had joined the fight. They walked through the ruins looking for clues as to how the fire had started. Though he didn't say so, Sheriff Squires was sure it was arson. If Earl had still been alive, he'd have suspected the sorry no-count for sleeping off a drunk and falling asleep with a lit cigarette. But Earl Henry was dead and buried.
"Sheriff," Deputy Clive Hull called.
The younger man motioned his boss over, saying nothing to alert the crowd of onlookers. Despite the efforts of the other deputies, they lingered. He pointed to an area not far away from his left foot. The sheriff squinted to see what had drawn his attention. Frowning, he squatted in the blackened debris. Nudging something aside with his boot, he gagged.
"Get these goddamn people out of here," he ordered. "And call Phil Odom of the state police."
"Is that what I think it is, sir?"
"Son, we got us another body. Go on. Do what I told you."
He hollered at the other deputies. "Clear these people out. Time for y'all to go on home now. Ain't no more to see up here! Go on now!"
The sheriff walked up to Will and Luke. "Fellas, as it's your property, I got to tell you something."
"You found someone dead, didn't you," Luke said quietly in a very matter-of-fact tone.
"How'd ya know?" Sheriff Squires squinted one eye, suspicious of the younger Henry.
"Cause wasn't nothin' else would make a man like you turn pale and gag like that. And it smells liked burned meat over there."
"Well, you're right. We don't know who the poor bastard is. I guess we'll have to wait and see who turns up missing."
"You think he was there when the fire started?" Will asked him.
"The roof caved in on him. It fell before the rest of us got up here," Uncle Wilt said. "Dead or not, he was in there when it started."
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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