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Despair settled over Abigail Avery like the thick fog that was moving in and engulfing the
valley outside the dingy kitchen window.
Her father had finally fallen into the drunken sleep that claimed him every night after supper. She listened to his
ragged breathing, and knew that he’d be kicked back in that horrible old recliner that he refused to let her throw
away. Just like he’d forbidden her mom to touch it when she was still alive.
Abigail raised a work-reddened hand and touched the soft, pulpy area around her right eye. It would be blue by
morning, from the impact of his balled up fist, which had slammed against her face because she’d burned the
Oh! How she hated that man! It would be so easy to kill him as he lay there in his drunken state. He’d never know
what hit him.
She took the shotgun from the rack where it hung over the kitchen door. The cold metal of the barrel sent a thrill
through her. She slid her hands up and down the smooth shaft as if she were caressing a lover. A smile almost made
it to her full lips, almost brought a light to her dull, smoky blue eyes, when she thought of the freedom this
object could bring her. Almost. But Abigail Avery didn’t remember how to smile. Smiling was as foreign to her as
knowing how to live without fear.
She raked her hand through her unkempt, golden-red hair as a shudder wrenched her skinny frame. Maybe tomorrow, she
thought, as she pushed through the squeaky back door and headed for the barn to finish her chores.
Night was closing in. The fog added an eerie cast to the old barn, which was about a hundred yards from her house.
It nestled picturesquely in the little valley of green pasture that separated the house and barn from the dense
woods that surrounded them.
She should be afraid to be out here alone, this time of day. She sensed there were reasons for her to be afraid.
But for Abigail, there was nothing out here that could possibly be any worse than what she’d just left behind. And,
besides that, she had her friend with her. Her shotgun.
She stood the gun just inside the barn door and made her way to Betsy’s stall. The cow watched her approach with
huge, sad brown eyes. Abigail knew that Betsy would soon “dry up” and wouldn’t be able to provide the milk they
depended on from her.
Abigail’s dad had sold Betsy’s calf a few weeks ago, saying they couldn’t afford to feed both animals. Actually,
they couldn’t afford to feed Betsy as much as she needed. A fact that the cow’s emaciated frame made apparent.
She caressingly brushed her fingers across the skinny ribs of the hungry cow and felt guilty as she sat down on the
stool to try and leach out enough milk for her father’s breakfast.
“I’m sorry, old girl,” she cooed, as her cold fingers wrapped around the wrinkled teats of the faithful animal.
Betsy drew in a long breath and let it out slowly, as if she were trying to push as much milk out as she could for
Abigail’s hands froze in mid-squeeze. She could never mistake the familiar squeak of the barn door being slowly
opened. There was barely enough light left in the old building for Abigail to see Betsy and the milk pail, so she
couldn’t see the door. What had caused it to squeak? Had someone come in, or had the wind just moved it?
Her gun! She’d left the gun standing just inside the door, like she did every day. Could she make it to the gun if
someone was in the barn with her? She had to try.
Easing the milk pail down and quietly standing up from the stool, she silently made her way to the door. Enough
dusty light sifted through the cracks of the aged building to let her see that no one was around. Heaving a sigh of
relief, she hastened to the place where she’d left the shotgun. She could have found it if she’d been blind. She
went through the same routine every night. Placed the weapon in the same spot night after night, as if just having
it leaning against the wall would protect her. She reached the spot where she’d left it and grabbed thin air. The
gun was gone.
Flattening her thin body against the weathered boards, she strained her eyes, willing them to see
something—anything, any movement, any shadows from the interior of the barn.
Then she heard it. The unmistakable sound of a shotgun being fired.
The sound came from the house. Not taking time to think, Abigail broke into a run. As she reached the back door,
some semblance of sanity caused her to stop. She couldn’t just rush in and accost the person who had fired the gun!
But who had fired the gun? And at what?
She eased to the kitchen window and peeked inside. Nothing seemed out of place. Making her way farther around the
house, she stopped and peered through each window, still finding nothing out of the ordinary. Darkness, thickened
by the fog, had settled around her. Shivering from the unknown, Abigail hesitantly made her way up the steps,
across the front porch, and quietly pushed her way through the front door.
Her eyes fastened on the scene she had played over and over in her mind, but never actually expected to see. A
blood-soaked hole in her father’s recliner exactly where his head should have been.
Particles of hair, skin, and other matter that Abigail didn’t want to put a name to dripped from and clung to the
dirty, age-worn leather of the old chair. Her shotgun lay across the top of his lifeless hands. There was no way he
had shot himself. Someone had killed him and placed her gun on his body.
Abigail became aware of distant sirens. But how? Their farm was too far away from anyone’s house for the shot to
have been heard. And even if someone had heard the shot and called it in, there wasn’t enough time for the sheriff
to already get out here from town.
Eighteen-year-old Abigail Avery, who knew almost nothing about life, knew, in that instant, that she was going to
prison for murder. She just didn’t know why.
It took the jury exactly twenty minutes to return a verdict of voluntary manslaughter.
Judge Haney asked her to stand as he read her thirty-year prison sentence.
As he read, Abigail looked the jurors directly in the eyes and promised each one of them, silently, individually,
that she would be back.
Bile, hot and burning, rose in Desh Elliot’s throat as he watched the hairy hand of Sheriff William Lucas guide
the beautiful mass of red hair into the patrol car. He knew it would be a long time before he would see that
hair again. Hair that he’d watched blowing in the wind. Blazing in the sun. Falling gently around the beautiful
face of the girl he’d loved ever since he could remember.
Love, unnoticed. Love, unreturned. Love, without hope. Because even as a child, and then as a young man, Desh
Elliot knew that Abigail Avery didn’t believe she was worthy of anyone’s love. He knew, somehow, that she could not
conceive of the idea that he, of all people, would love her.
Now, nineteen-year-old Desh Elliot knew what he must do with his life. While he waited for Abigail to serve her
time in prison, while he waited for her to return to him, he knew what he must do.
For she would return. He was sure of that. He’d read and understood that message on her face as she’d stared down
each juror. He had watched her enough, through the years, to read, feel, experience almost any emotion she could
And what she was promising those ass-kissing, paid-off jurors was that she would be back, and she would get to the
bottom of this trumped-up charge against her.
Well, she wouldn’t be alone when she returned. He’d make sure of that.
# # #
Also by Pat Ballard
Dangerous Love | The Best Man | Abigail's
Revenge | A Worthy Heir |
His Brother's Child |
Nobody's Perfect |
Wanted: One Groom | Dangerous Curves Ahead: Short Stories | 10
Steps to Loving Your Body (No Matter What Size You Are) | Something to Think About (free