Painted Field.

©2022 Michael Raven

A conspiracy blackened the dirty-white snow in the field, obscuring the blood painting the world crimson at the epicenter where the ravens gathered. Douglas was afraid it had been one of the children this time, a toddler wandering off from the town while festivities raged the nightlong, misplaced in the reveries. Though he knew the wolves eschewed hunting human quarry on the main, they were opportunists as well and would like as not risk raising the ire of the community by feasting on a manchild instead a young kid wandering from a nanny-goat.

He needn’t have worried for, as he waved his hands to seem the wind-milling giant in a manner that did nothing to convince the ravens he was any such thing, he saw that it was no kid at the apex of the gore at all, nor was it a wayward child yet to be discovered missing that lay there on the once-virgin snow. While the wolves had worried away their share of the bounty before the carrion have moved in, the axe buried in the back of a head dressed with long black tresses told an altogether different tale than one involving brave and hungry wolves. Furthermore, with a fit of nausea that rose in his gorge and he failed to master, Douglas knew with absolute certainty who it was laying facedown there in the gruel and grime of disturbed snow, for no one but Lucretia Henderson wore such sultry scarlet dresses with hair capable of shining dark and opalescent in the light of the dawn. He, himself, had admired that hair on more than one occasion.

Elder Henderson would have to be told and, wiping vomit from his mouth Douglas wished the impossible wish that it might be someone else who would have to break such sour news to the man. But it was the sheriff’s duty to bring tales of woe to the soon-to-be anguished. It was something he’d never gotten used to, and this was the worst of such tidings he would have to deliver since he had reluctantly accepted the role years ago.

He reached for the handheld clipped to his belt, raised it to his mouth and thumbed the send button.

“Carrie? You there at dispatch?”

“Yeah boss. Whatcha need?”

“I’m going need you to wake up Bill, hon’. Tell him to meet me over by Harriet Crossing. Tell him…”

Douglas let go of the send button. Bill would need very specific directions. He was none too bright and probably had no business being a sheriff, but if he was scheduled the graveyard shift, he couldn’t hardly cause trouble as long as he just drove around looking for nothing to be seen.

“Tell him to come to the cloud of ravens. Can’t miss it — I didn’t.”

“Boss, he just got off his shift.”

“I know, hon’. But I need someone to come and keep these damned ravens out of the area. I’ve got a scene and, well, it’s disturbed as hell already, but Doc Kyles should come an’ take a look-see all the same.”

“Sounds exciting!”

“Just give Bill a nudge and tell him I owe him one. And to bring me some coffee on the way. ‘S gonna be a long morning, I reckon.”

“What happened?”

“Not gonna discuss it over the radio, Carrie. I’ll fill you in when I can.”

“You need to get a cell phone, boss.”

“Hate the damned things. Too much like a leash. Now, just get Bill out here with some coffee. Pronto. Oh, and give Doc a call and give him the same directions. Tell him that I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

“Thanks.”

Douglas clipped the radio back to his belt, thinking now would have been a good day to actually wear his full uniform instead of yesterday’s ratty jeans, a misbuttoned flannel shirt and the hat of his office. He’d have to change once the news got out. They’d expect him to look professional when the press picked up the story.

“Damn it all to hell,” he muttered to no one in particular. And then he did what he’d sworn a million times he would never do again: he reached into his breast pocket, lit a cigarette and smoked it in the cool March air, waiting for Doc or Bill to arrive so they could figure out who might want to kill Miss Lucretia.

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