TX Chainsaw: Family – Chapter 10 – Patterns in Red

Deputy Hadley: I only found one o’ ‘em, Doc, and the woman is so traumatized she can barely think, let alone talk. Your ‘colleague’ locked her away, said it was on your orders. Was it?

Dr. Ambrel: I hadn’t spoken to her about it, but she has anticipated my wishes accurately. The other four the woman mentioned may well be beyond our reach now, but my thanks, David, for bringing her in. Hopefully, when she is calmer, she will have much to tell us about what is happening up there – since you insist on waiting before we see for ourselves. In the meantime, Dr. Wincott is the best person for relaxing this woman.

Deputy Hadley: I wouldn’t call her ‘relaxin’’. Hell, I still think she’s got her own reasons for helpin’ us with this.

Dr. Ambrel: I assure you, I am capable of keeping her zealous nature in check. As for her motives, if they are served while she assists me in the case, all the better for us both.

Deputy Hadley: In other words, you don’t much care what she’s up to as long as your itch gets scratched, am I right?

Dr. Ambrel: Precisely. However, I have several years on Dr. Wincott, and more than a few tricks up my own sleeve when it comes to dealing with overly ambitious colleagues.

Deputy Hadley: I had her checked out. She’s thirty-one, so when she was fifteen and met Hewitt, he woulda been fourteen. That’s before he torched the school –

Dr. Ambrel: Allegedly…

Deputy Hadley: If it helps you sleep at night, Doc, you go ahead with the benefit o’ the doubt. All I’m sayin’ is, if runnin’ into him was so ‘influential and life-changin’’, that now she’s willin’ to risk her life assistin’ you on the case, it might help to know what the hell happened between ‘em. Why won’t she say?

Dr. Ambrel: I assume that the experience was traumatizing and difficult to revisit. In time, I believe she will tell me what happened.

Deputy Hadley: Hopefully before it’s too late. This doctor’s files she brought over – they any good?

Dr. Ambrel: They are invaluable, as well as fascinating. The dates range from 1942 to 1952, dealing with Hewitt’s third year up to his thirteenth. His medical records paint a most interesting pathological portrait. Also, if his skin’s condition was left untreated, it is entirely possible he’d be quite disturbed by age thirty, with or without a personality disorder complicating his life. The psycho-social ramifications alone are … staggering.

Deputy Hadley: Great. You worry ‘bout how to fix him then, if you think you can. My job is to try and catch him for you without gettin’ us all killed.

**************************************************

She had to work on her concentration – no mean feat between her own excitement and the increasing pressure of her brother’s fingers on her upper arms.

That’ll bruise but it don’t matter none, she thought. If I correct him ‘bout it, he’ll turn shy again. Get him now, while he’s wound up and ready. She wanted to take him to bed but didn’t dare make him move either. Lyin’ down on the woman is what he saw, what scared him. So I’ll try it sittin’ up.

Amarie knew she was ready – his tentative mouth was growing a little more confident but even clumsy, his first kiss had made her instantly wet.

The real difficulty was opening his pants as he gripped her arms but once his cock was free, she moved as fast as she could to grasp it, her free hand pressing on his thigh to help her lift her body up. Guiding it inside before he realized what she was doing wasn’t easy either but the toughest part was paying attention to him and ignoring the hot flash of pleasure that nearly made her faint as she was impaled.

Keeping her mouth close to his as he choked in surprise, she placed her hands over his ribs and whispered to him, trying to soothe him and add to his pleasure at once. Flexing her muscles as Frankie had taught her helped.

“Don’t worry, Tommy, it’s okay – don’t it feel nice? You make me feel very good and it don’t hurt me… Tommy? Put your hands on my waist and I’m gonna move a little more. You’ll like it, I promise.”

Amarie gasped when he obeyed, relieved to get her arms free. Hands on his shoulders, she tried to pull herself up and down, but the muscles were in pain from his grip.

“Would you help me? I need to lift up and then sit down again.”

Following her simple directions, he hoisted her up and lowered her, the results making him swallow hard. His eyes sought hers and she smiled up into them, trying to encourage him instead of merely sinking into her own pleasure.

“There you go, that’s what we need … do that again…”

Largely on his seemingly limitless strength, but with her guidance, they found a fitful rhythm. Leaning close to his ear, she continued to breathe encouraging and soothing words in between cries of pleasure as he drove her to come too many times to count.

She’d never been good at telling when Frankie was close during sex, but her brother was easy to read as his climax neared. His shoulders tensed under her hands, his breathing changing to short huffs. Beneath her, the powerful thighs bunched, lifting her as much as his hands were.

“Don’t stop, Tommy,” she directed at his ear. “I want it inside me. It’ll make me strong and I’ll never ever leave you… Oh, Tommy … yes … do it, let it –”

His sharp movements made her cry out and words became impossible. Her body purely in the power of his hands alone, she abandoned control to drown in sensation, vaguely aware of his guttural moan.

When he stopped, she felt dizzy and weak, barely able to breathe. Her arms around his neck, her body sagged against his chest. She tried not to sob in his ear, afraid he’d misunderstand. Soon enough, his fingers released her waist to carefully stroke her hair and back. The soft touch was almost a plea and he was obviously afraid that he had injured her.

Swallowing, she struggled to sit up and look at him. “I’m all right, not hurt… Tommy, I love you … thank you.” Carefully kissing him until he gently responded, she drew back and gave him a smile. “I think now that your new mask is done, we’d better get back to work. Can you help me up?”

He picked her up bodily off of him as he stood, paying no attention to his spent and slick cock, and set her down on her feet in front of him.

Picking up a reasonably clean piece of shirt that was lying near the sewing table, she gently wiped him clean and then reminded him about the work. As he fastened his pants again and went obediently to the table where Frankie’s faceless corpse was waiting, Amarie bunched the shirt in her fist and tried to wipe herself clean before going to help him.

Work means work, I guess, she thought, and smiled.

Tommy donned the leather apron and tied it as if nothing had happened. Turning to the well-known task, he had reached for the heavy cleaver without hesitation or reflection.

Well, snap out o’ it, then and help, don’t stand ‘round moonin’. He liked it, and you can talk him into it again later.

Reaching for the bucket, she made sure the guts fell into it. She caught the intact hand before it struck the floor, slipped a gold ring off of the middle finger, and offered the ring to Thomas. He stopped chopping and held out his free hand.

She found a place for it on his index finger and grinned up at him. “That looks good there.”

Feeling the vibration of each powerful chop, Amarie picked up a small filleting knife from his collection of tools and started working the meat off of the severed arm. It was mangled at one end where the bone grinder had shorn the hand and half of the forearm away, but the heavy bicep would yield a lot of meat.

~ ~ ~

Hours and four corpses later, she couldn’t keep up with her brother’s energy anymore. Yawning, she moved behind him, out of the way of the swinging blade, and kissed his shoulder.

“I have to sleep, Tommy, okay? Come join me when you get tired?”

He paused, turned a little to look at her, and nodded once – an almost imperceptible movement. Amarie smiled and patted his arm, pleased that he was answering her again.

Weaving her way to his bed, she lay down in her bloody dress, too tired to do anything else. The sounds of butchery went on, the rhythmic thuds lulling her to sleep.

~ ~ ~

Amarie vaguely knew she had slept for hours with her brother’s arms around her, but when she woke, he wasn’t there. Before she could get up to look for him, she heard the chainsaw running in the distance above her.

That’s outside; he must be helpin’ Uncle Hoyt with somethin’.

Stretching, she took her time getting to her feet. If the family had let her sleep this late, then obviously they thought her chores could wait after last night’s work.

When she got upstairs, she could hear Momma Hewitt in the kitchen, but she went up to the second story first to fetch a clean dress and wash up a little.

Lingering a moment in the room, she stroked the red stains on the bodice of the dirty dress she had lain on the foot of the bed. One side showed a clear handprint, the fingers thick; the other side was a strange smear, out of which a few different images could be made out.

Like seein’ animal shapes in clouds…

Remembering both his strength and his gentleness while the stains were made, she pressed her palm down into them as her body shivered with pleasure.

Tommy, I love you so much, she thought, her eyes gazing out through the dirty window. She couldn’t see him or her uncle from the second story, though the chainsaw noise told her they were close by. Just the clouds out there, high and dry – it’ll be ‘nother scorcher, for sure. Little or nothin’ to do at the store, most likely, but I guess I better ask Momma what she wants me to do. Sighing, she left the stained dress on the bed and walked out of the room.

Emerging in the kitchen soon after, Amarie found her mother finishing up the breakfast dishes.

“Well, there you are. Your eggs are under that plate there, but they’ll be cold by now. We thought it best you got your sleep, though.”

Sitting at the kitchen table, Amarie removed the covering plate and ate the food gratefully, barely noticing that it was cold. When she finished, Momma Hewitt gathered up the dishes before she could rise.

“Sit, sit, I got these. Come to the store with me? You can come back and have a nap mid-afternoon, if you like. I do need help for a bit, but there’s not much to do.”

“Yes, ma’am, that’d be fine.”

They didn’t have to walk as they often did. The sheriff offered to drive them, after getting Thomas started on the next sapling he was cutting for firewood.

“What’s the wood for? It’s still hotter than blazes.” Amarie’s curiosity was mild, though – she was more interested in watching the muscles bunch on her brother’s arms and thighs as he worked.

Shouting over the noise of the saw as she had, her uncle answered, “We need a baby bonfire, for the clothes and other shit he carved up past usefulness. Go ahead and get in the car, darlin’, I’ll be there in a minute.”

~ ~ ~

The morning passed quietly at the store until a new and fancy green car pulled up, driven by a man in a suit. The woman in the passenger seat looked like a wife, but she didn’t leave the car.

Amarie listened as her mother gave them directions. It wasn’t the directions they had asked for, of course, but she kept quiet about that. Hugging her mother when the man left the store, she promised to walk straight home and keep off the roads. Momma Hewitt nodded and went to call the house.

Then Old Monty will contact Uncle Hoyt on the radio, and if the car changes roads, he can still circle and pick ‘em up. Otherwise, their directions outta town will just lead ‘em to Tommy.

She didn’t feel sorry for them; they weren’t family. Going along with her role as friendly country girl, though, she gave them a wave goodbye when she left the store. The woman did not wave back, and her expression was disapproving as her husband drove them away.

Frowning, Amarie muttered, “She won’t be so proud if Uncle Hoyt catches her. If Tommy does, I guess she won’t be anythin’ – not for very long.”

Shading her eyes with her hand, she watched the car disappear in a cloud of dust toward her home. Turning and heading behind the store, she started across the grassy land dotted with dry trees. It was faster than the road, and she was eager to interrupt her brother’s work again.

I can sleep later, she thought, her body shivering again with pleasure at the memory of the night before. I guess I should wait, though, and let him deal with those people. Sighing, she mused hopefully, Maybe Uncle Hoyt will get ‘em first.

The house was quiet when she reached it, and the sheriff’s car wasn’t there. Heading in and going downstairs, she smiled at the sight of Thomas hanging up the remaining bikers. When he finished, there was only one shining silver hook left.

He didn’t notice her, or at least acknowledge her, until he faced the leaking torso on the work table. It lay on a soup of bloody scraps, and he had picked up the cleaver to quarter it, but put it back when he heard her coming down the stairs.

She accepted his help with a grin when he came to lift her over the water, and then, without a word, led him off to the bed by one bloody hand.

That hand smeared another red stain on the bodice of her clean dress as she impatiently pushed the leather apron up and straddled his supine massive frame. Soothing any remaining fears the bed inspired, she freed and claimed him in one easy motion, keeping his hands on her breasts as she used her legs to pleasure them both.

When it was over, she lay on top of him, their bodies still connected, and murmured his name again and again at his ear for the simple joy of hearing it.

Finally, taking a breath, she added in a whisper, “If you’re inside me like this, I feel alive, I feel so good, and there’s nothin’ to be afraid o’ at all. I promise, if we rolled over and you were on me, I’d teach you how to do it, and it’d be just as good. Tommy…” She pulled back to look in his eyes. “I hope you can understand this. Anytime you want me, you can have me. All you gotta do is touch me and I’ll know.”

**************************************************

Luda Mae put the phone down, her fingers tapping the counter for a moment before they reached for a cigarette.

Mr. Connor and his wife had driven away, but Charlie would be heading to meet them within ten minutes.

“No sense in tryin’ to buy up a dead town,” she muttered. “Damn fools.”

She remained at the store into the late afternoon, sitting behind the counter, smoking and thinking. Connor had mentioned a sheriff’s deputy, twice, and the name, Hadley, was familiar.

There had been a family of Hadleys across town for years, and their father had served under the old Sheriff Winston Hoyt, but Connor had seemed to be referring to a young man.

Could be the younger son, the one that moved away after his brother died; what was his name? Daniel? Frowning, she ground out the stub of cigarette in the ashtray. No, that’s the dead one. David was the youngest. Maybe I should warn Charlie to question Connor?

Troubled, she closed up the store and headed home the back way, as her daughter had done.

I should check on her, too, and my boy, though it seems to be goin’ well between ‘em.

~ ~ ~

She watched the patrol car come in and park as she was scrubbing Amarie’s dress on the washboard. Leaving it in the tub to soak, she dried her hands on her apron and approached the car.

The rich man and his wife sat in the back of the car. The woman looked terrified, the man only angry.

Charlie was grinning as he barked an order at them to stay put and then got out of the car to greet her. “Meet Jim and Dodie Connor, Momma. They’ll be stayin’ a while.”

“Well, don’t call Tommy to help you – not just yet.”

“He’ll need to bring up somethin’ for cookin’ soon ‘nuff, anyway. Ain’t he earnin’ his keep?”

Smiling, knowing he’d be pleased, she replied, “I had a look through that peephole you think I dunno ‘bout – the one over his bed.”

Charlie narrowed his eyes warily and spit a stream of tobacco into the dirt between his boots before asking, “What o’ it?”

“Supper might be late tonight.”

Lighting up with glee, he laughed, smacking the roof of the car. The occupants inside jumped. “Well, dip me in shit! I guess I’ll string the bastard up myself, then … before I see that his wife is comfortable, o’ course. That takes more time, if it’s done right.”

“She’d last longer if you weren’t so rough,” she admonished him.

“You go be happy your boy figured things out, Momma, and leave me to my own fun.” Brandishing his rifle, he prepared to bully the man out of the car.

Luda Mae shook her head and started back to her washing. Over her shoulder, she remarked, “All the same, ask him why he kept talkin’ ‘bout a deputy named Hadley. Last thing we need ‘round here is more ‘law’.”

Chuckling at her implied teasing insult, he yanked the back door of the patrol car open. “On your feet, Mr. Connor, and I’ll show you the place. The missus, though, she better wait here. Don’t worry none, she’ll be comfy.”

Connor came up in handcuffs, indignant. “What are you talking about? Get these things off and take us back to our car this instant!”

“Now, that’s no kinda attitude to take. I’m ready to sell and you said you’re ready to buy.” Shoving him in the back with the nose of the rifle, he slammed the car door shut with his boot. The woman yelped. “Get movin’. I’ll show you the garage and barn first. We used to raise goats, y’know. Our father taught me everythin’ he knew.”

~ ~ ~

Finished with hanging up the washing, Luda Mae lit a cigarette as she walked around the back of the open garage. Charlie had volunteered to fetch meat for their supper as he was going in with the woman, but she wanted to sit on the porch a minute before heading in to cook.

He’ll be a while trussin’ up that poor thing, anyway, even if he don’t stop to mess with her right off. Should I get somethin’ from the herb garden? Amarie’s done so well keepin’ it growin’, it’d please her if we used some o’ the marjoram tonight.

A weak male voice cried out, startling her. Turning to peer into the darkening garage, she could barely make out the shape of the man her brother had caught. He was hanging from a wooden crossbar held up by a pulley and rope, his arms spread out and secured tightly to the wood.

He swallowed with difficulty, and spoke again, the tone begging. “My wife … please … where is my wife?”

The woman’s scream split the night over their heads the moment he finished his plea. Luda Mae sighed, and cut off his attempt to beg her to help them.

“Forget her. If you got any sense, you’ll save your strength. Did he ask you ‘bout Hadley?”

Shocked into a response, he nodded. “Please, my God, you have to –”

“I gotta get supper on the table.” She went off to the herb garden, frowning when the man screamed for her to stop, to wait. “Hush, you,” she ordered, “or you’ll disturb my boy. Do that, and you’ll die before you can yell much longer.”

**************************************************

Thomas winced, shying away as the jagged rocks struck, cutting him. Throwing his arms over his head, he tried to hide his face, hoping for the quiet to return, for them to be gone. Laughter sounded instead, echoing in the dim barn. Peering out under his wrist, he saw the Hadley boy lean down to choose another stone.

Behind that boy, the smaller brother watched, his mouth open. Was he sorry, or just watching like the rest of them? Then the rock hit over his eye, the flowing blood almost blinding him. He grunted, thrashed, and tried to rise out of the hay, but something held him down.

“Tommy, wake up, wake up!”

With a start, he sat up, grabbing at his sister before his movement could knock her to the floor.

“Was it a bad dream?”

She stroked his arm and tried to soothe him, but the trapped feeling did not stop. Growling, he got up and returned to the work table.

The man his uncle had asked him to carry downstairs after supper was still alive on the hook. He knew he should allow him to drain more, and start with one of the others, but then he saw the man looking at him – saw the fear and disgust in his face.

Thomas reached up to touch his mask, his shoulders bunching in anger. Turning, he grasped the cleaver from the table and lodged it with a thump in the quivering chest.

Leaving the blade alone, he hoisted the screaming, twitching thing to get it off the hook and then dropped it onto the table. Yanking out the cleaver, he brought it down again on the throat to stop the noise it made.

His sister appeared around the corner. He paused, still stunned by her nudity. As it had before, the sight of her made his skin warm. The crawling odd sensation cramping in his groin, half pain and half pleasure, distracted him from the work.

She came up to the foot of the table and grasped it with her fingers as she smiled up at him.

“That dream upset you and workin’ helps? I can help, too. Do you want it again?”

Nervous and uncertain, he nodded once.

“Come down here, Tommy, behind me, and I’ll show you ‘nother way that’s fun. Leave the apron off for now, okay? You’ll like this,” she said, reaching out her hand to beckon to him.

When he reached her, she opened his pants for him. Bending low over the bloody table, she took his hand and placed it on her pale rounded flesh. At the center was the warm place, the part his uncle had taught him how to touch. He started to press his fingers inside it, but her voice corrected him.

“Put yourself inside, like before, Tommy. Remember how nice it was when I did it, sittin’ on you? Yes, that’s right; it won’t hurt me – go ahead.”

He obeyed, trusting her, and groaned at the feeling of it.

“Oh, yes … now, draw it back, but not out – then push it back in. Do that, yeah, keep doin’ that … oh, shit, Tommy! Don’t stop ‘til you’re done, right? ‘Til it feels finished?”

Some of her words made no sense, but he could see that she was pleased with the strange movement. Laying a hand on the small of her back, he spread his feet wider and thrust, just like the male dogs did sometimes out in the back pastures.

It was disturbing, a little, seeing his body slide out of sight inside her, but the place didn’t hurt him, and the motion had begun to feel better than it had before.

His sister leaned lower, putting her crossed arms down on the top of the table to steady herself. It made him go in deeper, and the pleasure almost choked him.

The thing that felt like a burst came over him fast, and he wondered if the milky liquid would stay inside her. Some of it leaked out, dripping to the floor, but her voice floated back to him, repeating reassurances.

Looking up, he saw one of her fingers tracing in the blood on the table. His weight had pressed her into it a little, and it streaked her chest. Tiny blood drops clung to her when she lifted slightly.

“Hey,” she murmured, “you can see pictures in it, like the clouds, Tommy, see? My – well, the man who took care o’ me before Frankie, he used to watch the clouds with me out in the backyard, when his wife wasn’t home. He showed me how to pick ‘em out. See that there? It looks like a tree. That one, it could be an animal – maybe a dog.”

Curious, he stared at the blood, but he didn’t understand. The table was saturated with it, smeared with ribbons and gobbets of flesh, too, but there was no tree or animal. Confused, he tilted his head at her.

“You dunno what I mean, do you? I’m sorry, Tommy; I cain’t explain it, I guess.”

He backed up away from her at a loss. Straightening, she turned and gave him a bright smile.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, okay? It don’t matter none.” She started cleaning them both up, yawning when she finished. “I hope that helped you feel better?” When he nodded quickly again, she smiled. “If you’re goin’ to finish this up, I’ll go back to bed, okay? Join me later?”

He watched her go as he tied the apron in place, and then picked up the cleaver again.

~ ~ ~

Noises upstairs woke him late the next morning, but his sister still slept beside him, so he remained quiet.

Drawing the blanket away to look at her body, Thomas felt the urge stir again. He had never tried to take her without her coaxing him, but the sight of her had started to make him want it, even as she slept.

Quiet and slow, trying to be careful, he slipped his fingers between her legs and pushed them inside.

With a low moan, she woke, her smile encouraging him. “You want it? I’m glad you like it as much as me. If it weren’t for our chores, and havin’ to eat, I’d never wanna let you outta bed.”

Thomas didn’t respond. Pulling his fingers out, eager to lie down on his back for her, he stopped and stared as the dark blood ran down his fingers and over his hand.

No pain, why is there blood?

Tearing the blankets to the floor, he froze when he saw the bright crimson stain on the sheets and the smears of blood on her thighs. Rearing up, he stumbled to stand and almost fell out of the bed. Moaning, he retreated to stare at her, his back against the near wall.

“Tommy, what’s wrong? Oh, oh – no. Tommy, listen, I’m not hurt, okay, you didn’t do nothin’, I’m fine! That’s just somethin’ that happens to a girl –”

When his uncle killed them, they bled there. Hands fisting, he staggered away, afraid to watch her die. Roaring out his rage and fear, he drove himself into another wall, smashing it with his fists.

“Tommy, wait, it’s okay!”

The metal door slid open with a crash and their uncle appeared. “What’s all the caterwaulin’ for?”

Thomas shrank into the wall, afraid of his anger.

“Uncle Hoyt, I dunno how to tell him, and he ain’t listenin’ to me. It’s just … I got my … y’know … and he saw the blood and I guess he thinks he’s hurt me!”

His sister walked closer to him, the stained sheet wrapped around her. Moaning again, he hid his face.

Boots clomped down the stairs. “Don’t touch him, darlin’, let him be a minute. You cain’t rush him when he gets upset, girl. Go on and fetch your dress. Find some way to plug it up, too, and we’ll show him nothin’s the matter.”

Thomas peered out at his uncle as the old man moved to the work table. Most of the meat was wrapped and put away, with only the hands, head, and feet left severed but intact.

“Good work, son. Now I’d like your sister to come upstairs and help me tighten a few ropes, and we could use your help, too.”

Hesitating only a moment as his sister reappeared in her dress, he pushed away from the wall to join him at the table.

“You don’t need the cleaver, and leave that damn chainsaw alone; I ain’t done with her ‘nuff yet for that. Bring the hand – no, the other one – there you go. Right then, let’s go, both o’ you.”

Thomas followed them, the severed left hand in his fist. He hung back, moving slow, and watched his sister as she talked with their uncle.

She ain’t hurt…?

He flinched when his uncle seemed to answer the unspoken question as they left the basement and started up the stairs to the second floor.

“Tommy, there’s plenty you dunno ‘bout females, and one o’ the things is, they get to bleedin’ once a month cuz they ain’t had a baby started; at least they do ‘til they get a lot older. It’s just as regular as breathin’, and no reason to worry. You’ll see shortly, that she’s fine, I mean. Now let’s see if we can make Mrs. Connor a little less comfortable.”

He took the hand from him as they entered the room, and tossed it onto the bare chest of the woman in the bed. Her scream split the silence in the house, and they could hear Uncle Monty downstairs complaining, but Uncle Hoyt just smiled.

Thomas waited in the doorway as they worked with the ropes that bound the screaming, sobbing woman. His sister smiled at him any time she faced him, and his breathing slowed to see her moving and working without seeming to be in pain.

Something flashed in the morning light coming through the window, and Thomas entered the room to see what it was. Seizing a flailing arm they had untied, he found a pair of bright and sparkling rings with large, clear stones on them on one finger. Fascinated, he touched them with his other hand.

“Those won’t fit a single one o’ your fingers, Tommy. Why don’t you give ‘em to Amarie? That’d show everyone she’s yours now.”

Catching his sister’s expression, he saw that this pleased her. He tugged at the rings, his jagged nails cutting the skin, but they wouldn’t come off. Looking over at his uncle, aware he wasn’t done with the woman, he held up the hand.

“They won’t budge? Well, if you gotta break it, I don’t care none – go ahead, son.”

The woman screamed and continued to scream as he twisted and snapped the finger bone, but Thomas ignored the noise. Working the rings off, he released the arm, letting it flail. She touched the severed hand on her chest once before his uncle caught the limb and secured it again.

“That’ll do, thank you Amarie – and Tommy, we appreciate the help.”

His sister came up to him as he attempted to wipe the blood off of the rings. She held out her tiny hand for him, offering the same finger the woman had worn them on. Trying not to be clumsy or drop them, Thomas managed to slip them on.

“Thank you, Tommy,” she said, her smile bright. “Here, I got this one for you.” Their uncle had picked up the man’s severed hand and passed the golden ring on it to her. “This will fit you, and now you belong to me, too.”

She took his wrist in gentle fingers and removed one of his rings before sliding the new one where she wanted it on his left hand, and then replaced the other one over it.

Laughing with delight, their uncle moved to the open doorway and yelled down the stairs, “Momma get up here – you’re missin’ the weddin’!”

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