“They didn’t believe meh. They said I was crazy. That I have spent too much time alone in tha dark.” Herbert muttered to himself huddled on his bed. The springs gently creaked in protest as he rocked back and forth, his knees hugged to his chest.
“But you don’t think I’m crazy Mr. Jingles. No. Mr. Jingles loves me. Mr. Jingles would never leave meh.” The mouse squirmed between the fingers of his cupped hands. “I’m so glad I found you, Mr. Jingles.”
Herbert’s voice echoed around the barren cell, as alone as its owner.
Herbert Witchitaw stepped out into the sunlight. His dirt-encrusted hands reached up and rubbed the dust from his eyes as they adjusted to the light, then continued up over the top of his bald head leaving dark grey streaks along his scalp. He stretched his arms then hefted the pick axe at his feet and balanced it on his shoulder. He whistled to himself as he followed a well worn path. Stopping at the door of his cabin he leaned the pick axe against the door frame. The handle slid into a notch created by thirty years of habit.
Once inside he produced a match from a pocket on the front of his stained overalls and lit it by striking the rough edge of the table. In a couple of seconds the lantern took to the match, its soft glow illuminating the room. A wood stove sat in one corner, a bed in another, a few cupboards lined the walls. Harold blew out the match and crossed the modest room to the sink beside the stove. The pipes gurgled for a moment before a trickle of water found its way out of the spout. He filled a pot then bent to stoke the fire beneath the stove.
He ate his porridge in silence just as he had for thirty years. He climbed into bed. On his bed side table lays an old cracked and crumpled photograph. The woman it portrays has the ever-so-slightest smile. Her light brown hair is half done in a bun, most of it falling to her shoulders. Herbert picked up the photo lovingly. He gazed into her blind eyes and smiled.
“Good night Marybeth,” he whispered as he carefully replaced the photograph as if afraid it too might leave him. The smiles faded as he blew out the candle.
Edgar Byrne took another sip of his coffee. He could barely feel its warmth through the thick mug. He had been awake for over an hour now, watching the western sun rise from the east, slowly ascending the clouds. No matter how many times he witnessed it, the lazy but persistent climb of the sun over the mountains of Arkansas always left him with a sense of insignificance.
Edgar pushed away from the post on his deck that he’d been leaning upon and started toward the car parked in front of the house. The boys at the station would want to go home to bed. He climbed behind the wheel and gingerly pumped the gas a few times before turning the key; the old engine grumbled, sputtered, then fell into its rhythm. He slowly pulled away down the gravel drive. Edgar glanced back at the farm house shrinking in his rear view mirror. He hoped that Julie would be awake by now.
Once he swung onto the main road it was a straight shot into the sleepy town. He arrived at the station to find the front doors barred with a note taped to the glass. Annoyed, Edgar ripped the crumpled piece of paper from the glass pane, shoved it in his pocket and unlocked the door. The lights inside flickered as they struggled to come to life.
Edgar went straight into the break room to refresh his mug with a brew.
Herbert walked slowly along the path. He looked up at the sky. A cool breeze ruffled golden leaves. Each tree was shedding its beautiful coat of foliage to prepare for the winters snow that would soon blanket them in a months’ time.
He arrived at the entrance to the old mine. He shuffled over to a wooden shed and wrestled with the key and lock for a moment. He quickly gathered the lantern and oil, locked the shed then wandered into the depths of the mine.
The phone rang once, twice before Edgar picked up.
“Where the hell are you Ted? I came in this morning and the place was locked up! You should know better than to-“
“Edgar, it’s about the note.” Teds grim tone made Edgar pause.
“Wha… What note?”
“I think you should see for yourself.”
The phone slipped slightly in his grip as Edgar fished the note out of his pocket..
“Oh god…Where are you?” Edgar asked.
Herbert stepped out into the sunlight, urged onward by a rumble in the pit of his stomach.
The balding old man squinted towards a vague, navy blob, distant in the afternoon sun.
After a flurry of blinks a police officer formed in front of him. The officer was approaching, gun raised.
“Drop the axe Herbert! Drop the axe and get on the ground!”
Herbert let the axe fall from his shoulder and hit the ground with a resounding twang. He raised his arms above his head, eyes wide, and slowly began to get to his knees.
Edgar ordered the old man to lay face down. Herbert made it to his hands and knees before the other man drove his foot up into his gut. Edgar knew immediately he shouldn’t have done it as he watched the old man roll over, coughing up blood, but at the same time he didn’t give a damn. Edgar holstered his sidearm and rolled the rasping man over, gathering his hands behind his back. The only thing that kept him from using the gun at his side was that Ted decided to enter the clearing at that moment.
Ted paced back and forth across the interview room. His considerable size took up most the space in the small room. He knew Edgar was waiting outside probably caught in a limbo between blinding rage and crushing sorrow. Normally Edgar would be the one to do the interrogations, but, given the circumstances, he was likely to take that a bit too far. Ted sat down in the vacant steel chair. Across the small table Herbert sat, dabbing at the blood on his chin with a dirty handkerchief.
“We both know why you’re here, Herbert. But why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?”
Herbert looked up nervously like he thought he would be struck again. He reminded Ted of an abused dog, aiming to please his master for fear of his smite. Herbert gently cleared his throat, coughed once then spoke.
“I was walkin’ yesterday, on ma way home from the shaft and I saw her - she looked just as she had the day she left meh, like notta day have gone by. I called out ta her. I said ‘Marybeth, oh god Marybeth I’ve missed ya!’ and she didn’t even look ma way.”
Ted saw a slight twitch on the mans face, a change in his attitude.
“I called out ta her again and she stumbled ma way. I reached out fo’ her and she pulled back. Afta thirty years she didn’t recognize meh. Tha dumb bitch called meh a dirty old man! She said I was crazy, that she never seen ma face before! I loved her and she couldn’t even give meh a damn nod! She pulled ‘way from meh and I got angry and I struck her with ma pick. She screamed and I hit her again and again.”
Another shift in emotion, this time tears began to well in his eyes.
“I done killed ma Marybeth…”
“No you haven’t.” said Ted, incredulous. Herbert looked up in shock, tears starting to carve their way down his face. Ted stood, then spoke again, mockingly.
“You done killed Julie Byrne.”