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Don't Let the Wind Catch You

mystery

Aaron Paul Lazar

 

Chapter One

We crept toward the old shack on our bellies, crab-crawling over moss and oak leaves. Elsbeth breathed softly to my left, just out of sight. Siegfried took the lead, several feet ahead of me. Behind us, the horses stood tethered to maple saplings; they munched steadily on the sweet leaves with a rhythmic crunching sound, their tails swishing against the sting of deerflies.

"Gus?" Elsbeth’s whisper glanced off the air. "Do you think anyone lives here?"

I pressed a finger to my lips. "Shh. I think I heard something." I was glad I’d left Shadow at home. That little beagle would’ve betrayed us, running all over the woods baying at every new scent he found.

Siegfried raised a hand, signaling us to stop. He’d heard it, too. It was a keening sound, a high-pitched wail that was speech but not speech, closer to song, but with no melody I recognized.

Ice crawled down my spine and tingled in my toes. My heart pounded against the soft earth beneath me. I chanced a look at Elsbeth, whose eyes had gone wide with what some people might think was fear. But I knew better. Excitement lurked behind those big brown eyes. She didn’t scare easily now that she was eleven.

Wood smoke escaped the chimney in a lazy tendril, spreading into gray softness that filled the air with the aroma of campfires on cold winter mornings. Whoever lived inside this remote, ramshackle cabin must have just started a cooking fire, for the scent of wood smoke was soon followed by the clanging of a cast iron pan and the distinctive scent of bacon.

Siegfried glanced back at us, motioning toward a tumbled-down stone wall. He hopped to his feet and scrambled toward the cabin, chest tucked tightly to his knees. Although I was a full year older than the twins, I often let Siegfried lead. He was the one with the compass and the navigational skills, and took us on excursions into the forests behind the Ambuscade.

While we lay on our bellies watching the cabin, I couldn’t help but remember snatches of Mrs. Wilson’s history lessons last year. Even though we’d often played around the Ambuscade Monument, which was back in the field we’d just crossed, I really hadn’t appreciated the importance of the area until she started telling us the story.

She said Washington sent John Sullivan and his men to fight for the settlers in 1779. They’d attacked the Indians, and had burned villages, cut down apple orchards, and destroyed families. It had been a real slaughter.

But it was hard to know who to root for, because some of Sullivan’s men had been later ambushed by British troops and some Iroquois Indians. Fifteen men were massacred very close to where we lay. Two of the officers, Boyd and Parker, were captured and tortured in Little Beard’s village in a town we now know as Cuylerville.

A plaque stands there today, marking the spot where they were tortured. Now, in 1965–a hundred and eighty-six years later–I stared at it in fascination whenever my father drove us past it on the way to Letchworth State Park.

Siegfried poked my side and pointed to the house, where a shadow crossed the window. I nodded and watched.

Elsbeth lay snug against me behind the stone wall. She nudged me in the ribs and whispered so close to my ear it tickled. "Someone’s in there!"

A one-sided conversation had started up inside the cabin. I strained to hear, trying to calm the heartbeat in my ears that pounded over the words I couldn’t make out.

I listened to the deep male voice. Gruff and playful, he seemed to be discussing plans for the day. But no one answered him.

I scanned the area. Siegfried noticed and followed my gaze. No telephone poles or wires. No electricity. Unless he had one of those walkie-talkies like they used in the war, he must be talking to a mute person or to a very soft-spoken person.

I noticed several cracked windows and wondered why the man inside hadn’t fixed them. The front door looked solid, made from rough planks, but the roof dipped and waved near the chimney. I imagined when it rained it probably dripped from the ceiling into buckets. Globs of tar and different colored shingles plastered the roof in various spots. A beat-up Ford pickup was parked under the trees in the back.

Siegfried crawled around the edge of the wall. We followed him, creeping closer to the side of the shack until we were right under the window with two cracked panes.

Now we could hear better. The man’s rumbling voice gave me chills.

"Why don’t you want me to go?"

Silence.

"Okay. So come with me. What’s the big deal?"

More silence.

The man groaned. "Nobody will see you. You can wait outside."

The twins and I exchanged puzzled looks and moved closer to the window.

The deep voice spoke again. "What? Who’s outside?"

Siegfried’s eyes grew round as fireballs. I tensed. Elsbeth grabbed my arm and squeezed. Heavy footfalls thundered across the floor and the window above us flew open. The blast of his voice came milliseconds before his head poked out.

"What in tarnation are you kids doing?"

Frozen in place, we stared at the man, whose grizzled face twisted in fury. A tangled white beard hung six inches beneath his chin, resting on a red-and-white checkered flannel shirt. Black suspenders looped over his shoulders, and his gnarled hands batted the air in front of his face. He yelled louder this time. Three crows cawed and abandoned their perch in the giant cottonwood overhead.

"Well, speak up! What the hell’s going on here?"

Elsbeth spoke first, shocked into her native language. "Es tut mir leid."

When the man squinted his eyes in confusion, she recovered.

"Um. Sorry, sir. We didn’t think anyone lived here."

We scuttled backwards on our hands and feet, our backsides scraping the earth like bouncing bulldozers. Siegfried jumped up and pulled his sister to her feet.

I stumbled back against the wall, ramming my spine against the stones. I winced, scrambled to my feet and stared at the ground. "We’re sorry, Mister. We were looking for a fort."

The sound of a rifle cocking made me look up again. A long barrel poked out the window, aimed at my chest.

"If you kids aren’t gone by the time I count to five, you’re dead meat. Now scat!"

I don’t know if he actually counted or not. The blood rushed in my ears and drowned out all sounds. We raced to our horses, swung onto their backs, and galloped down the woodland trail to safety.

 

 

Chapter Two

Pancho thundered beneath me in a steady gallop, close behind the twin’s mounts, Frisbee and Golden Boy. Branches whipped my arms and face. I leaned down on my horse’s neck and twisted my fingers into his thick black mane. Heat prickled beneath my bare legs. I gripped harder. The woods flew by in a blur.

Pancho passed Siegfried’s piebald, so close Sig and I bumped elbows. When we blew past Golden Boy, Elsbeth shot a smile at me. It was then I realized she wasn’t scared at all—she was enjoying herself.

Pancho had taken the bit before, but this time we were riding in the direction of home, and he took full advantage. Lowering his head, he hardened his mouth and pulled the reins out of my hands.

Somehow, I didn’t care. The faster we got away from the bullets I was sure were flying toward us, the better.

When we reached the clearing near the Ambuscade, I regained control of my horse. I slowed him to a walk, slipped off his back, and flopped to the ground. I dropped the reins on the grass and my trusty black gelding began to graze as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I rolled onto my back, breathing hard. "Holy mackerel! I’ve never been so scared in my life."

Elsbeth slid from Golden Boy’s back and tied him to a fencepost. Sig did the same with Frisbee, and they joined me on the grassy hill.

"Mein Gott! How did he know we were out there?" Elsbeth propped herself up with one elbow and turned to me. "And who was he talking to?"

Siegfried was quiet for a moment, but I could see his brain working furiously behind half-closed eyes. "Maybe he has a prisoner in there. And his mouth was gagged. That’s why we couldn’t hear their answers."

I sat up. "But he heard the answers, right? He was really talking to someone."

Sig’s mouth twisted. "Ja. I guess so."

When Elsbeth turned on her stomach, her dark brown curls fell forward, nearly obscuring her face, her cheeks still flushed pink from our gallop to safety. "I think it was a psychic child, his only daughter who can read minds and make spoons bend. She sensed we were outside and told him. Maybe she told him in his head. She didn’t even need to talk." Her eyes flashed with excitement, even though Siegfried seemed to dismiss the theory with a half head shake.

"It could be." I rolled onto my stomach beside her, finally feeling my breath come under control. "Or maybe he was talking to a ghost. What the heck was that weird singing sound, anyway?"

Siegfried snorted and ignored my question. "Let’s face it. It’s more likely he was delusional. He imagines a friend is with him. He is so lonely he had to make one up. And he has conversations with them on a regular basis."

"That would make him nuts," I said.

Siegfried looked at me as if I were a slow student. "Ja, precisely."

Elsbeth combed her hands through the deep grass, looking for the elusive four-leaf clover. "There’s just one problem with that idea."

Sig sat up and challenged her with his startling blue eyes. "What? It’s a perfect theory."

She pulled her knees close to her chin and narrowed her eyes as if she were about to reveal a secret. "If he’s crazy, how’d he know we were out there?"

Siegfried and I exchanged a glance. I sat up and brushed dirt from my knees. "She’s right. He came right over and found us. And we hadn’t even made a sound. We were so quiet. And he was shouting about us even before he saw us."

Siegfried was reaching now, and his hesitant words betrayed his doubt. "Maybe he had a trip wire somewhere. We might have crawled right over it and set an alarm off inside."

Elsbeth knew she had him. "Nein. We were sitting under the window listening to him talk with whoever it was for quite a while. We didn’t move, remember? And it took at least five minutes for him to realize we were there."

I looked at Siegfried, who had gone silent. "She’s right. But I still don’t get it. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as psychic abilities."

Elsbeth jumped to her feet and headed for Golden Boy. She untied his reins, grabbed a fistful of mane, and swung onto his broad back. "We’ll find out next time, anyway."

Siegfried got up and headed for Frisbee, who skittered away from him for a few feet. Even the horse seemed nervous. "Next time?"

"Ja. When we go back to investigate."

I chuckled and vaulted onto Pancho’s back. Although I didn’t relish the idea of returning to the shack, I wasn’t surprised at her bravado. She’d been showing signs of feistiness over the past few months that made my heart swell with pride.

I turned Pancho’s head and squeezed his bare sides with my legs, leaning forward to urge him into a canter. "Come on. We’ll be late for dinner. Race ya to the road."

We covered the ground where Boyd’s men had been slaughtered, and I almost thought I heard the screams of the men as they were ambushed by the Indians and Brits. I squeezed Pancho’s sides tighter and pushed him into a gallop. I didn’t want to linger where ghosts walked.

 

Chapter Three

Pancho slowed to a trot when we approached home. He leaned into the curve and automatically turned down our winding dirt driveway. I’d said goodbye to the twins a quarter-mile down the hill. They’d cut across a shorn alfalfa field toward the farmhouse they’d lived in since their family moved to East Goodland, New York from East Germany seven years ago. I still pictured them slipping beneath an Iron Curtain when they escaped to freedom.

If Siegfried and Elsbeth were late for dinner, they didn’t eat. Their father, a hardworking man, was the strictest father I’d ever known. He believed in spanking–which my parents only pretended to do–and his punishments were severe. When Siegfried forgot his homework one day, although he had an "A" average in every subject except gym, Mr. Marggrander assigned two weekends of backbreaking weeding as a reprimand. Siegfried never forgot his homework again.

I gazed at our old place with affection when the house, barn, and carriage house came into view. I also felt a bit of guilty pleasure, knowing my parents would never make me go hungry or beat me for a disobedient act. I felt safe and secure in this world, and knew whatever I did–right or wrong–my parents would always stand behind me.

Pancho headed toward the barn, turning into the main aisle before I had to guide him. I slid off his sweaty back and landed on my once white PF Flyers with a light thump. He lowered his head for me to take off his bridle; and with the reins still around his neck so he wouldn’t bolt for the field, I pulled the leather halter over his ears. He knew it was dinnertime, so he was especially cooperative.

He nudged me with his big head, pushing into me until I rubbed his ears and scratched inside them where the bugs had bitten him. When he was satisfied, I put him into his stall, which opened into the fenced field beyond. Following my daily routine, I went into the main aisle to scoop grain from the barrel for his dinner. In order to reach the lower level, I had to lean over with my feet flailing in the air.

The sweet mixture of cracked corn, oats, and special vitamins smelled of molasses when I poured it into his bin. "Here you go, boy. Eat up."

I didn’t have to encourage him. He never hesitated, and this time as always, dove into the corner bucket with gusto, munching with a hypnotized expression of joy in his eyes. I grabbed a ragged terry towel my mother had donated to the barn and dumped some Absorbine Junior Liniment on it. In broad sweeping strokes, I ran it over his neck, back, and especially around his legs. He looked fat and sassy, all glistening and plump in just the right places so he was an exceptionally comfortable bareback ride. He liked the feeling of the cloth on his neck, and pushed against me when I stroked beneath his thick mane.

After he was rubbed down, I refilled his water bucket in the stall as well as the large tub in the pasture, then threw him a few flakes of hay. He didn’t really need it since the field was lush with grass, but I liked to give him a little every day just to be sure.

"See you in the morning, Pancho Villa. Sleep tight."

He stuck his nose in the water bucket and played with the liquid, sloshing it around and snorting.

"I’ll take that as a thank you."

Four cats followed me around the barn, mewing and circling my ankles. Momma Kitty, a beautiful longhaired calico, led her three babies to the empty food dish, where she mewed again and looked up at me with recriminating eyes.

"Sorry, kitty. I’ll fill it up." I poured the bag of Purina Cat Chow into her bowl until it overflowed and refilled their water dish.

My stomach rumbled when I ran inside. I felt like I could eat ten hamburgers. "I’m home!" I slammed the screen door and—as usual—forgot to take off my dirty sneakers. Shadow barreled into me, jumped onto my legs, and licked my hands with a snuffling little whine, telling me how upset he was that I’d left him home alone.

My mother stood at the stove, yellow apron tied around her sky blue housedress. "Go wash up, Gus. It’s almost time. And take those smelly shoes outside."

"Sorry, Mum."

My father poked his head around the corner from the great room. The evening paper crinkled in his hands. "Gus? Did you rub down your horse?"

I nodded and backtracked to the screen door, kicking off my sneakers and tossing them onto the porch. "Of course, Dad."

"And did you feed him?"

I rolled my eyes, but just a little. I didn’t want to get into trouble for being fresh. "Yup. And the cats, too. Everything’s done."

A look of satisfaction swept over him. "Good boy. Okay, do as your mother says. Wash up and come right back down. The roast beef smells good, doesn’t it?"

The aroma had tantalized me since I entered the kitchen. "With mashed potatoes, Mum?"

She nodded, stirring a small pot of gravy with a wooden spoon. "Uh huh." A glimmer of a smile touched the corners of her mouth. "And fresh-picked green beans."

I raced upstairs, splashed warm water on my face, lathered up my hands with Ivory Soap, and threw on a clean pair of jeans and a fresh shirt. (I knew if I didn’t change clothes, I’d smell way too horsey for the dinner table after riding all day and working in the barn in the morning.) I skipped down the stairs two at a time and into the dining room, where both parents already sat with their hands on their laps waiting for me.

My father said grace—mercifully short—and we dived into the meal. Shadow sat patiently under the table beside my knees. My mother was the best cook in Livingston County, and maybe even in all of New York State. I ate like Pancho, with gusto, slipping a few little pieces of beef and bread to my canine buddy when I could. When I finished my chocolate pudding with whipped cream piled on top, I pushed back from the table and covered a burp.

"‘Scuse me." I folded my napkin and looked first at my father, then my mother. "Mum? Dad? I have a question."

They both stopped in the middle of their pudding and looked at me with expectant smiles.

"Do you know who lives in the woods in that cabin behind the Ambuscade? He’s an old hermit, lives by himself, I think."

My father took a zealous interest in his pudding.

My mother went white. She collected herself, exchanged a worried glance with my father, and lied to me for the first time in my life. "No, darling. We don’t know who lives there. But that’s private property. You shouldn’t trespass in those woods."

 

 

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Author Bio

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.

Author web site.

TTB titles:

Green Marble Mysteries
   For Keeps
   Terror Comes Knocking

Gus LeGarde Mysteries
   Don't Let the Wind Catch You

Tall Pine Mysteries
   Essentially Yours

 

###

 

Don't Let the Wind Catch You Copyright © 2013. Aaron Paul Lazar. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Mobi
    Payment Method
PayPal
List Price: $6.50 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now.
List Price: $17.95 USD

 

  Author News

Double Forte' by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.

For the Birds by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.

Healey's Cave by Aaron Paul Lazar is the winner in the Commercial Fiction category for the 2011 Eric Hoffer award, winner in the Paranormal category for the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards and 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Mystery Suspense!

Tremolo by Aaron Paul Lazar is an Award-Winning Finalist in the category of Historical Fiction Contemporary in the 2011 Global eBook Awards.

 

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