In the Ohio wilderness is a cabin.
Stella Tobin Sees Magic
December 24, 1900 A cabin near Redhill
The buckeyes began to nod, urging her on. The arctic wind had rushed down from Canada, slamming ships that sailed the restless Lake Erie, pushing through the frozen Ohio woods. Layers of wool protected her but slowed her pace, hard to keep up. Was Becka warm? Oh God, let her be warm! Think of something else! She banished the image of Becka’s frozen body . . . Arthur and peppermints, he’s slipping peppermints into stockings, Mary Kate’s new doll, blocks, the alphabet blocks for Phil . . . The ring, the pearl’s gray eye, what does it truly see? “I’ll be just a few minutes, Stella Bella, going to check on Mrs. Collins.” She was puzzled when she saw Becka take a covered plate of cookies, and tuck them inside her coat.
Men were breaking through the door. She rushed toward the cabin; a crack echoed. A falling branch? No, a shot. The echo fading, she heard slaps, like the sound of a leather strap hitting a hard surface, then a crow cawing; it was swooping down as if to crash into the mound, then spinning up into the heavy clouds. A clap of thunder shook the snow of the trees and then a wail sounded from within the cabin . . . someone moaning. Arthur! Her breath came in short gasps when Bobbo blocked the doorway. He gripped her shoulder. She knew she must see, whatever the cost. Her hands numb with the cold, she removed a glove, dropping it on the dirt floor, her calloused fingers closed on his wrist.
“Bobbo, it’s our Becka. Let me pass.”
Tears clung to his sandy lashes. She was uncertain as he dropped his arm. As she passed under the rotting wood of the cabin’s doorsill, her eyes adjusted to the candlelight. A clutter of tools and old newspapers rested on the floor next to a crude wooden table, its uneven legs causing an upward slant, the shimmering candles capturing their repose. Rotting food, graying chunks of meat and greenish bread lay strewn like a hideous accident, the stench of death rising from it. Fearing she might faint, she put her hand over her nose and mouth.
She steadied herself and saw the four deputies clustered together, their glances skipping from her to the table. Arthur sat on a bench near the four men. His hands cupped the sides of his head, as small whines and gasps came, his shoulders moving up and down. She thought of little Phil, he sounds like Phil, the time Phil tumbled off the wagon . . . something on the far corner of the table, a round piece of reddish meat larger than the rest, fresh and so moist, occasional drops of . . .
She looked again. A heart, a pig’s, she was certain. Her feet were waking up, the warmth was painful. Where was Becka? She looked at the sheriff, the question on her face. He avoided her glance. Then slowly, Stella looked down.
Naked, the man, Crispin was sprawled at their feet, his face bloodied by a wound that had taken the top of his head. Near the dead man, in the middle of a crudely drawn star, lay Becka. Arms bound, feet tethered, her body, chalk white against the planks, except for its center. The red cavity oozed.
She sank to her knees. Becka’s heart, why not some other girl’s? Why not someone else’s sister lying here, murdered, not able to string popcorn or rock a little one to sleep? She drew a breath and began to shriek. “Nah-nah-nah” she insisted, shaking her head.
“Oh yes . . . ” sighed a voice. She opened her eyes to see the boy. He sat cross-legged, his crimson hands resting on his lap. A glistening pool had formed from Becka’s blood. It had spewed, hitting the tousled hair of her murderer. Red streams followed a path from his brow to his chin, where they hesitated before falling on his narrow chest. His eyes snared her, holding her. This boy, whose wretched state drew pity from Becka’s soft bosom . . .
She struggled to break free of the boy’s gaze. His eyes, the deep red pupils swelling becoming . . . Becka! There’s Becka! She saw her sister’s face. The boy was saying something, his thin arm raised like a warrior, he brought the knife within an inch of Becka’s naked breast. Becka was pleading, her mouth moving in a silent prayer, the boy’s eyelids flickered. She pulled away and, his eyes opened wide showing the dripping heart, held in his hand like a prized baseball!
Stella, crushed as grief pressed its claim, fell gently into madness, where Momma, Pa, little Bobbo and Baby Becka waited for her on a spring day. As she drifted, the thought came to her . . . there is magic in the world . . . and it is dreadful.