Revised flash piece 19th century mystery
August 11, 2007
Keeley returned to the general store carrying the filled kerosene lantern. Setting the lantern down behind the counter, she found a bow and shot store owner Jackson MacDonald. He stared at her, startled; then bent forward at the waist, slumping against his end of the wooden counter. “Whaaat?” was all he managed as his balding knob hit the counter with a sickening thud. A moment passed; then his slack body slid off the counter’s edge and onto the floor. Keeley waited, watching it carefully for further signs of movement, and when seeing none, she backed away, upending the lantern and spilling out the kerosene from one end of the counter to the other.
When it was empty, Keeley tossed the lantern over the counter at his end and heard a satisfying smack as it slammed into his corpse, then a “whoosh” as the kerosene ignited. She backed away hurriedly, turned and ran out through the front door, slamming it shut behind her. As she sped down the pair of steps from the wooden porch to the dirt road in front of the store, Keeley heard the roaring of the flames and was knocked flat by the out rush of air as the window glass exploded outward. Quickly she picked herself up, running at top speed away from the village. She could wait until later, in safety, to pick shredded glass from her abundant red hair.
Keeley raised her skirts to her knees and put on a new burst of speed. She no longer knew where to head, but Keeley knew her life here was over- just as finished as that of her dead employer, incinerating in her wake.
As Keeley raced toward the whistle of the oncoming steam locomotive far in the distance, she patted the side pocket of her long skirts. Yes, all the papers were still there, the set of deeds and certificates for which she had ransacked the store’s small office while her employer was still in Topeka tending to his political ambitions. Keeley now possessed the evidence; and MacDonald? Well, he was deceased, and his business would soon be in ruins. No cause would be determined: just a fire of inexplicable origins. And the orphan girl he had “befriended” some months ago? Gone, of course, just like many orphans of that time: gone off into the sunset, into the West, gone to seek her fortune; or so most would assume. Gone: that is all that would matter; MacDonald was dead and his temporary employee-ward was inexplicably gone.
What could be easier? Keeley ran on, on toward the whistle, knowing she wouldn’t make it to that train, tonight, but realizing there would be other trains, other times, to other destinations; and she, Laughlin Keel MacDonald, would be aboard. Yes, Keeley would seek her fortune, but not in the West: back East, in Boston, Keeley would find her true grandparents.