Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Lafayette General… in which the black shadow falls
 

Mary lay still on a white stiff sheet, small as a doll. A swift pulse beat visibly in her neck, a little blue wink. In nervous hands, Elmore rolled and unrolled a hospital admission form. He waited in a metal chair by Mary’s hospital gurney. Two hours had passed since her admission. Two hours. Mary was stable, the doctors said. They waited on antivenom.

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Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Snake Creek … in which the fangs come out

Elmore drove home the next hot afternoon. He’d eaten another day of sawdust. He never let on to the Rankin crew about the sporadic searing pains on either side of his spine or the gnawing animal under his right ribcage. He kept his eyes closed tight on bathroom breaks. He did not want to see what left him, trickling weakly into the bowl.

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Chapter 24

Chapter 24

The Rock 'n' Roll Regiment: in which Elmore gets some warnings from his friends.

Elmore woke on top of his bedsheets, sweating and sticky. The little one-horse window unit in the kitchen didn’t have a prayer of cooling the whole house in June. 

The outside light told Elmore that he’d slept till mid-afternoon. 

He thought for a moment he smelled burned white bread in a toaster oven. That turned out to be the odor of his own body, sick and sweating out alcohol.

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Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Faded Photographs: in which Elmore revisits the scene of Kelly’s crime

Elmore looked in on Will and Mary. He could make out two distinct lumps under a thin white bedsheet. The children looked like sleeping figures covered by snow in storybooks.

They shared a bed, and Elmore didn’t make it a big deal, didn’t buy bunk beds to separate them. He’d let the twins be twins for now. They could curl up together in the same little bed another year or two. After all, they slept together nine months inside Kelly.

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Chapter 16

Chapter 16

A Little Dead Thing: in which mama disappears.

Will materialized in front of Elmore, a jumping jack. 

“Daddy! Come look! It’s something horrible!”

Elmore wore a wilted white towel, just out of the bathtub. Self-consciously, he made sure the ratty old Cannon covered the worst of his scars, the ones on the right abdomen, the right thigh. A noisy box fan, full power, blew his wet hair straight back. He smelled like Right Guard.

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Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Skaters Away: in which Mr. Wood develops his tastes.

Mr. Wood loved figure skaters.

On the May morning he moved into the Castle, Mr. Wood programmed his six satellite dishes to find and record any broadcasts anywhere in the world of that graceful winter sport. Ice-rink events funneled out of the sky from Japan and Norway and Steamboat Springs. Unlike Alabama, those distant places always seemed to have snow and cold. 
 

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Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Blue Christmas: in which we meet Santa’s elves, dressed in blue.

The squad car braked hard in the Rogers’s driveway, blue lights blazing, tires cracking crusted snow.

Two policemen in heavy jackets emerged from the vehicle. They trudged like mountain climbers through the snowy yard and onto the slick little concrete front porch slab in front of Elmore Rogers’s front door.

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Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Champions: in which Mr. Wood places a hot special barbecue order.

Mr. Wood switched off his white Chevy pickup. 

Hank Williams Jr. died with the engine.

The truck cooled down in front of a wooden shack not much bigger than an outhouse. Orange coals glowed in the dark interior of the splintery structure, and gray smoke puffed from a small tin chimney.

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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Sav-More: in which we learn the truth about holidays and bicycles.

Two summers earlier, Elmore Rogers and the children spent a Saturday afternoon with heads bowed and necks burning. 

lmore owned a pickup then, a clunker paid off with the I.V. trickle of green the Army gives a wounded warrior. He drove the truck out to a hard red field off the Montgomery Highway where Choctaw arrowheads washed up after big rains, gleaming like bone among sandspurs and scabs of grass. Sometimes, an actual human bone, brown as honeycomb after centuries in the cakey clay, rose to the surface of Alabama.

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Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Night Shift: in which Kelly’s phonograph plays until it can’t.

Kelly carefully Scotch-taped a nickel to the top of the cheap plastic stylus of a 20-year-old turntable. 

There. Play now.

Without the added ounces of weight, the stylus drifted free of the grooves of the 33⅓  Firestone Christmas album, its diamond needle randomly floating from song to song. Perry Como suddenly joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer jumped gracelessly into the midst of The Hallelujah Chorus.

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