I haven’t written an Image Flash in a while since I’ve been far too busy work, and writing Mark of the Cloven, and lots of distractions.
This one got a little longer than most. I really felt the image had a lot of story to tell and the scene came to me in its entirety. Feels good to be back at it!
Candice Jane sat on a wooden stool with a shotgun across her lap and facing the front door. There was a rocking chair in the corner that was far more comfortable, but she didn’t trust herself not to fall asleep in it. It had happened before. Most often when she was quilting and not when she was as high strung and alert as she was tonight. But still, the cost of comfort was too high when added to the chance of failure.
She pinched her cheeks and shook her head.
The cabin was nice, by frontier standards. Davis had built it up against a stone embankment and mined out a shallow larder, a warm alcove for the bed, and built the fireplace right into the rock. Low embers warmed the room, but the oil lamp on the table lit it. The wood shed covered the Western wall and was accessible from inside as well as out. Opposite, large windows let in the morning light. They were barred with metal and had shutters to seal them against both invader and cold. Candace had done so in the occurrence of one and anticipation of another. It was a good defensible home. The only easy way in or out was through the front door.
Candice listened to the blowing wind, laden with approaching winter storm, and waited. Trouble was on its way. While she’d had no direct confirmation that they were coming tonight, she’d dealt the cards and read them, just like she did every night. The tarot said they would come with the snow. Probably figuring her for an easy target. A lone widow on a rich claim, a dead husband, and weather fierce enough to kill a deer. She could see their plan clearly enough; drag her into the cold and leave her. Let nature run its course. Later, they could return and ‘discover’ the tragedy. The land would become available. Somebody’d get rich.
But she knew they were coming, had Davis’ gun, and was ready. If she were lucky, she wouldn’t die tonight. The snow started to fall, fat and thick. Soon now.
Everything in the tarot read told her it was coming tonight. Her grandmother had taught her the cards and she was an able hand at deciphering them. It was easy to see some things, but not so easy to see everything. She’d known full well on the morning she sent Davis off to his dig that he’d strike it rich that day. But in the excitement of the good cards, she’d missed the full weight of the Five of Cups. They always carried gloom, but the Sun had shone too brightly on the reading. She’d missed the full implication. The very rocks that tumbled away to reveal the bright future crushed the life from Davis.
She knew she wasn’t seeing everything clearly tonight either and her mind kept going over the read, over and over, afraid that she was missing something. It was that Ten of Wands that kept giving her the most trouble. Why was that there? So much fire for a cold night. She stood and went to the table, looking over the spread again. Still, she could not see the significance, especially where it was positioned in the past, near her lost husband. Did it mean that warmth was in the past? Her attackers would succeed?
She heard the squeal of an engine and white slivers of light slid around the room from approaching headlights. At least three cars. This was worse than she’d thought. Two or three men, she could hold off with a shotgun. More, was out of the question. She heard shouting outside, over the storm, and then a loud knock on the door.
A voice shouted over the wind. “Hello? We need help. Our autos can’t move in this storm. We need shelter!”
A predictable ruse. She had to decide, quick, what to do. She wanted to kill these murderous thieves. It made her angry that they thought she was weak and stupid and easy to get rid of. But, more than that, she was infuriated by the possibility that it seemed to be the case. Fighting them all didn’t seem as possible as it had before they’d arrived.
“We’ve got nothing to help! Move down to Hargraves! He’s got a barn for you and your autos!” She yelled back.
“Can’t do it, widow! Now open up!” He punctuated his demand with a fist on the hardwood. She responded with a pair of blasts to the mantle above the door.
“Get off my property!”
She quickly reloaded, half expecting them to bust in. They didn’t. She heard shouting, a few of them laughing. Minutes ticked by. Nothing. She thought she heard them rummaging around in the wood shed, but the noise didn’t last long. The headlights turned off on all but one of the vehicles. There was a thump as something struck the side of the house, then the sound of a man on the roof. There was another quick knock on the door.
“Last chance, widow. Open up.”
Why were they on the roof? They couldn’t be so stupid as to think they could send a man down the chimney. But they could…
She dropped her shotgun and rushed for the flue lever. Even as she did, sticks, wrapped in hay, started to fall down into her fireplace. Ten of them landed onto the hot coals before she got it closed. She didn’t miss the significance of that. She grabbed the hearth shovel to drag them out before they caught and smoked her out. But the entirety of their plan hadn’t completed.
Gasoline poured down the chimney, around the flue, and ignited her fireplace in an explosive splash.
Candice’s sleeve caught on fire. She backed away from the blaze, patting out the flames on her arm. The room was quickly filling with smoke. There was a crash and her front door slammed open. The man who’d knocked it down fell forward onto the floor. She ran for her gun. A second man followed the first, barging in. She got to the shotgun, raised it, and fired as he swung his arm at her, knocking the shot wide. He grabbed the barrel and shoved it upwards. She fired again, and he hit her in the face.
She fell backwards and scurried toward the stone wall. Figure after figure, dark silhouettes in the lantern haze, entered her home. She heard a gun cock.
“No.” Said a voice. “No bullets, you idiot.”
“Dead is dead.”
The man nearest her was pulled back and shoved toward the door. “Hardly. Now put that away and go get the ropes. Bag her. And somebody open that damn flue!”
They came for her. She punched, and kicked, to no avail. She counted eight of them and knew there were no more outside. She’d seen the Eight of Swords. They rolled her over onto her belly, put a sack on her head, and bound her hands. All around her she heard boots on the floor, stomping and creaking. She hadn’t realized how big of a find Davis must have made if it warranted this kind of attention.
“You two know what to do. Make sure she’s not too hard to find, maybe out by their dig, then come back here. We’ll spend the night then double check it’s done in the morning.”
Rough hands picked her up and carried her out into the bluster. Without her coat, in just her dress, the wind was brutal. They dragged her out past the stream, up through the boulder strewn trail and across a small footbridge. One of the men stopped.
“I’m freezing. Let’s just put her here, under the bridge. People will think she slipped or somethin’.”
“We were supposed to go further.” He gave her a rough tug, trying to get them moving again.
“We were supposed to leave her in a good spot. This is better. It makes more sense. Maybe she was coming down here for some water, tripped, fell down.”
The second man acquiesced. “Fine, you drag her down there.”
She stumbled down the embankment with him. She slipped on the smooth ice of the frozen stream and fell. He didn’t bother righting her and just tied the extra rope they’d left dangling from her wrist bindings to one of the support legs of the bridge.
“Just go to sleep, lady. Think of your husband.” He patted her on the shoulder and scrambled back up the incline. They re-crossed the bridge and she heard the snow crunching as they left her.
As she lay there, muscles twitching with cold, freezing to death, she found that she wasn’t really afraid; she was angry. That patronizing touch at the end, like comforting an irrational child, kept playing in her head. Is that what she was to them? As small an obstacle as some weak, unintelligent, youngster? Evidently.
She thrashed against her bindings. She managed to wiggle free of the bag on her head an almost instantly regretted it. At very least, it had been keeping her face warm. Now the wind froze her frustrated tears on her cheeks.
She tried righting herself on the ice but kept slipping. She rolled onto her back and looked up at the dark sky, the underside of the bridge, and the falling snow. She’d be damned if she died this way. There had to be a way out of it. She just had to see it. Whatever she needed to do was in those cards she’d read earlier. She just had to remember them, to interpret it right. She ignored the biting cold and tried to focus.
It was those wands. She had to comprehend their meaning. Now that she’d seen the ten kindling bundles that fell, their meaning changed. That fire, while it proved her undoing, wasn’t enough for something positioned so prominently in the read. So near to her husband. It signified a bigger blaze, something more. There had to be a connection between her husband and the flames.
She brought him to mind, rolled their happy memories together, looked for the clue. It didn’t take her long to find it. Once she had it, a plan formed in her head. She didn’t know if she’d survive the night, but she certainly knew now that she had a chance at revenge, if only she could unbind herself.
She raised her legs up and brought her boot heels down onto the ice. Over and over, she smashed the into the frozen stream. It was thick enough to bear her weight, but not a good pummeling. Her feet broke through to the freezing water. She slid into it, shimmying her body down until her hands and wrists were submerged. It was near unbearable, but once she was there, she rocked left and right, splashing wildly.
The thin rope used to bind her dragged back and forth across the edge of the ice, fraying and weakening it. She threw her weight against it; not enough. Back into the water to try again. She repeated the process, working the rope furiously, and on the second time it snapped. Her hands came free. Dripping, barely able to walk, she climbed back up the embankment and made her way into the woods.
Despite the dark and the snow, she had no trouble finding her husbands grave. She couldn’t feel her hands as she dug into the earth. She was freezing cold, but the work, digging, hunched over, warmed her some. Where once she’d felt ashamed that she hadn’t been able to bury him very deep on her own, or now she felt gratitude. After a time, she struck his belt buckle. She didn’t clear him off completely, just the area around his groin. She dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out a lighter.
Trembling, she flipped the lid up and clicked it. A warm yellow flame sprung to life.
For the first time that night she smiled. The read, the whole tarot read, finally made sense to her.
The Chariot sat before the Eight of Swords. She would put a car in neutral and barricade the door of her cabin with the eight men inside.
Below the Chariot was the Ace of Cups. She would do as they had, drain the gasoline. Only it wouldn’t be a bucket. She’d drain all three cars and douse the entire cabin.
The Tower, the card of destruction, violent change, and trouble, was the one that had warned her of their coming, that she was in danger. But now she now realized was not for her.
They would all burn. Her home would burn. Her past would burn.
She would stay warm in the glow.