Talk of The Town

Talk of The Town by Charles Williams

Book: Talk of The Town by Charles Williams Read Free Book Online
Authors: Charles Williams
abandoned, grown up with weeds and dead, brown grass. A pair of ruts turned off the road into the old farmyard at the top of the slight grade. I swung into them and stopped the station wagon in the shade of a lone tree growing in front of the foundation blocks and the fire-blackened monolith of the chimney where the house had been.
    When I cut the ignition and got out, the drowsy stillness of summer afternoon closed in around me. There was something peaceful and timeless and utterly isolated about the place that made it almost attractive. A painter would love it, I thought. Heat waves shimmered above the brown and empty expanse of the fields stretching away towards the timber beyond. The old barn, gray and weather-beaten and its roof full of holes, leaned in an attitude of precariously arrested collapse some eighty or a hundred yards away. I crushed out my cigarette and walked down to it through the brittle weeds. Some kind of burrs stuck to the legs of my trousers and shoe-laces. The door was at this end. It was closed, but I could see no padlock on it. Above it was a small square opening through which I could see the edge of the pile of hay in the loft.
    The door was secured with only a doubled strand of baling wire pulled through two holes and twisted together on the outside, but when I had unfastened it I had trouble forcing it open far enough to squeeze inside because of the sand that had washed down the slope against the bottom of it in past rains. The interior was gloomy and smelled of old dust and dried manure and straw. Narrow shafts of sunlight slanted in through cracks in the wall, illuminating the dust motes hanging suspended in the lifeless air. My shoes made no sound on the springy footing. There were some empty stalls on the right, and about half-way back, against the left wall, was the ladder going up into the hayloft. There was an opening about three feet square above it, the top rung of the ladder gilded by a shaft of sunlight coming in through one of the holes in the roof. I stepped over in the dead silence and mounted it.
    My head was just coming up into the opening, my eyes level with the last rung of the ladder, when my breath sucked inwards and the skin tightened up, cold and hard, between my shoulderblades. In the thick coating of dust there, where the puddle of sunlight was striking the top of the two-by-four, were the fresh imprints of four fingers and part of the palm of a hand. I threw my feet out into space, pushing against the rung above as if I were trying to shove myself downwards through clinging mud or tar, and for one awful fraction of a second I seemed to be hanging suspended in the air, unable to fall, like a balloon half filled with helium, and then the gun crashed behind me, paralyzing my eardrums. Pain like a hot icepick sliced across the top of my head and the air was filled with dust and flying splinters, and then I was falling at last, turning a little and trying to swim downwards into the gloom below me and away from that deadly shaft of sunlight. I landed on my feet, but off-balance, and fell backwards and rolled, all in one continuing motion, and as my feet went up and over and I was staring in horror at the opening above me, I saw the bent, denim-clad leg and the knee in the shaft of yellow light, and the beefy hand, and the searching twin barrels of the gun, still swinging.
    I was over and down, then, with my knees under me, pushing up, and turning, and the gun crashed again. I felt the knife edge of pain once more, this time along my left arm from shoulder to elbow, as the shot string raked the powdery manure and dust and exploded it into the air about my head and into my eyes. I was blinded. I came on erect and crashed into the wall, and fell again. I pushed up, and staggered, tearing at my face with one hand to get my eyes clear, and felt the stickiness of blood mixed with the dust, but I could see a little, enough to make out the narrow oblong of light that marked the door.

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