I wanted to take a quick moment to say thank you to everyone for the support! I am very excited to release the first two chapters, and some of chapter three, of Nora From the Hollow! As always, be sure to let me know what you think! The complete book will be published in September. “Like” my Facebook page @MarlenaOwensAuthor and follow me on twitter @m_owens_author for updates and giveaways!
Chapter 1: Sheriff Warren
“How well do you know Mrs. Nora Lusk?” Sheriff Warren asked Deputy Ward.
“She’s best friends with my sisters and she’s our neighbor. She lives right beside the old home place that my sisters occupy. I live in the cottage just outside the home, but still on the family property.” Deputy Ward leaned forward in his chair saying, “We’ve crossed paths a time or two. Why do you care?”
“Well,” said Sheriff Warren, leaning back in his chair, “you’re the deputy. Why don’t you tell me?”
Deputy Dirk Ward looked around the sheriff’s office. It was stick built, dusty, and had only one jail cell in it. There were three chairs, behind three desks, for the 3 lawmen in the town. The first, Sheriff Neil Warren, had served the longest. He knew the most about the town and how to catch a criminal. The second, Dirk Ward, the youngest of three siblings, who just moved back from Buxton, recently joined and was learning the ropes. Lastly, there’s Jessup Ash, the other deputy. He’s a trigger happy know-it-all who’s full of himself. Luckily, he had the day off so Dirk didn’t have to listen to him talk about himself all day.
Thinking back on Sheriff Warren’s question, Dirk knew he was being tested. “Well,” he began, “her husband just died three days ago and we don’t have any suspects. All we know is, he was shot to death behind his blacksmith shop, here in town. We don’t have any witnesses.”
“You missed one thing,” Sheriff Warren said, putting his pointer finger in Dirk’s face.
“What’s that?” Deputy Ward asked, looking Sheriff Warren in the eyes, trying to size him up.
Sheriff Warren’s slicked back black hair, curled up mustache, burning cigar, and death stare gave him a rough and tough appearance. Looking at Sheriff Warren, Dirk knew he didn’t put up with any nonsense.
“Lucius Lusk, Nora’s husband, was unfaithful.” Sheriff Warren’s eyebrows raised as though he had found the fountain of youth or they key to happiness.
“With whom,” Dirk inquired.
“Alice Mabe. It was confirmed by Alice herself the day after he was found, although the whole town knew what was going on.”
Puzzled, Dirk began to think. He then said, “Did Nora know about this?”
Sheriff Warren’s eyes widened as he took the cigar out of his mouth and let out a puff of smoke, saying, “Why don’t you find out, boy.”
This was the first murder case that Dirk had been assigned to. To be honest, he was nervous. He was nervous because it was his first major case, and because he was investigating his sisters’ best friend. The only other cases he had been tasked with was to find the owner of the stray dog that had been hanging around the sheriff’s office. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. So, Buddy, the Golden Retriever, was now property of the Sheriff’s office. He was of no use to them except keeping the bed in the empty cell warm for a prisoner who would likely never fill it.
Getting up from his chair, Dirk donned his gun, hat, and badge. He took a hint from Sheriff Warren and excused himself from the intensity of the room. Walking outside the sheriff’s office, Dirk could see the saloon straight across the dirt road. A few buildings down to the right was the mercantile and the school house, where Alice taught the children of Hollow Springs. A few buildings down to the left were the blacksmith shop, the sawmill, and the Inn. The saloon and mercantile were owned by Alice Mabe’s father. The sawmill and Inn were owned by the Jensen’s. Glancing back toward his horse, Bucky, Dirk hopped on and headed down the only road in and out of town, to Nora’s house.
Passing several townspeople on his way out, and trying to act respectfully, Dirk nodded his head and kept his hat in line just above his eyes. Sheriff Warren said that’s the way the law should wear a hat. It gave them a bit of an edge. Creeping along the path, Dirk could see his breath in the cold fall air. He could see Bucky’s too. It looked as if the pitch black horse ran on steam, and his nostrils were the valves that the steam was released from.
A few moments later, Dirk was outside of town. He continued on the desolate, and not very well maintained, gravel path. Passing him on either side was fields of corn with scare crows in them. Dirk felt small because he could barely see over the tall rows. Before he knew it, a crow had landed on the fence to his right, letting out a big “squaaaaakk”! This loud screech sent Bucky into a fit. Before he knew it, Dirk was on the ground and Bucky was nowhere to be found.
“Bucky!” Dirk cried, clicking his tongue to bring his dear friend back. However, after calling for a few moments, he decided to continue on. He knew the sheriff would be furious if he couldn’t complete this one simple task, which was proving to be more of a pain than he had anticipated.
Since he was almost to his family’s farm, where his sisters Amy and Amelia lived, he decided to go there to dry off and warm up. From the road, Dirk could see the house where his sisters lived and the cottage where he lived. There were cornrows on both sides leading up to the old family home place. Dirk’s parents moved away when they inherited Dirk’s grandfather’s farm in Buxton, a nearby town. So, their parents left their 100 acre farm to their three children to care for.
Making his way up to the home, Dirk saw Amelia come out of the house first.
“What have you gotten yourself into now, brother?” Amelia asked, intently.
“About a mile back, Bucky got spooked and bucked me off.”
“Well, daddy didn’t call him Bucky for nothing,” she said with a chuckle. “Let’s get you inside. Amy’s made some homemade vegetable soup.”
Walking up the steps into their tiny home, Dirk could feel the lightness of the crisp air and the crunch of leaves under his feet. Peering into the house brought a wave of warmth and fond childhood memories.
“What are you doing here?” Amy asked.
“Just horsing around,” Dirk laughed, glancing back at Amelia who had already taken his jacket, his hat, and his boots, and set him a place at the table.
“Do you want soup or not?” Amy interrogated.
“Of course.” he returned.
“Then you better tell me what you’re doing all the way out here during the time you’re supposed to be working for the sheriff.” Amy stirred the pot and scooped some out into a bowl. She wouldn’t put anymore into it until he gave her some answers. On the second scoop, she held it over the bowl while staring him down until he began to speak.
“It’s Nora,” he said, giving into her demeanor.
“I knew it! I swear, Dirk. If you…” Amy was furious. She was so furious, she almost spilled the soup. “She just lost her husband!”
“Calm down. It’s just for questioning,” he assured her.
She sat the bowl of soup in front of him with a glass of water and a handkerchief. Then, both of his sisters joined him, sitting across the table and giving him a stare that reminded him of their mother.
“You can tell us,” Amelia coerced softly. She was the more nurturing and clumsy of his two sisters. Amy on the other hand was a stickler.
“I just have to ask her some questions,” Dirk responded, stuffing his mouth.
“What kind of questions,” Amy interrogated.
Laying his spoon in the bowl and using the piece of cloth to wipe his mouth, he began to speak, “I need to know if she knew about Alice Mabe or not. If she did, that could have been a motive for murdering Lucius.”
Before he could blink, Amy picked up the bowl of vegetable soup and poured it back into the pot on the stove. She thought about throwing it all over him, but that would have been a waste of perfectly good soup.
“Get out,” Amy instructed.
“Now, hold on just a minute, Amy,” Amelia spoke up, “I’m sure you have a perfectly good reason for this, don’t you, Dirk?”
Glancing at the hardwood floor and the unevenness of the boards, Dirk shook his head. “No. I don’t have a good reason. Other than her husband’s dead and we don’t have any evidence. So, I’m out collecting it.”
“Pfffh! Please!” Amy hissed. “You should be out questioning Alice Mabe! You know Nora wouldn’t do a thing like that!”
“Or do I,” asked Dirk.
“What on earth could you mean by that?” Amelia jerked the dishtowel from her shoulder and slapped it down on the table, glaring right at him.
He answered, “Well. For starters, everyone in the town is afraid of her. She’s different, that’s for sure. She stays shut up in her house. She’s not very nice. And, she hates children.”
“And so that makes her a murderer?!” Amy screamed. “We’re going with you!”
“I’d rather you didn’t. I don’t want y’all to get her riled up,” he replied.
“You’re afraid of her,” Amelia declared.
“You know what. I’ve had about enough of this. I’ll just be on my way.” Dirk stood up and placed his handkerchief beside the place where his bowl once was. He pushed his chair in, donned his coat, hat, and boots, and headed back out the door.
To his surprise, neither of his sisters followed him. He knew there was much to be done on the farm today, and honestly, they just didn’t have the time to assist him in solving a murder. He glanced back one more time to be sure Amy wasn’t running up behind him with a frying pan in her hand. She was that furious.
Pacing himself down the path to the road, his stomach began to turn. Swallowing what bit of nervousness that was churning in his stomach, he continued on his way. About another mile down the road, was the path that cut off the road and lead to Nora’s home. It was a rather narrow path, barely large enough for a carriage. When he turned to walk to up the path, a large appaloosa horse, grey in the front and white with black spots in the back, rushed him at the fence. Dirk stopped in his tracks, putting his hands out on either side, trying to make himself look bigger. The appaloosa gave him a death stare while snorting white steam out of both of her nostrils. After a few seconds of the standoff, she turned away from him and trotted away. To be cautious, he walked slowly on the path and kept an eye out for her, in case she tried to rush the fence again.
Still walking along the path, Dirk came to a cemetery on the left. As he approached, he saw a man digging. To waste even more time, he decided to stop in and see if he needed any help.
“Hey, good man. You need a hand?” he asked.
The gravedigger didn’t bother to look at him and continued to dig. His raggedy appearance and long greasy hair was unlike any person Dirk had ever seen in town before. “Looks like you could use a break,” he said, nervously.
“Does Mrs. Lusk know you’re here, boy?” asked the gravedigger.
“I’m on my way to see her.”
“Then you best be on your way. A fog is rolling in. We all know what that means.” Without missing a beat, the gravedigger kept digging.
Feeling as though his stomach was now in his throat, Dirk turned around, and continued onto Nora’s home. The fall air seemed to get thinner as he made his way up the large hill. The wind began to pick up and the smell of crushed leaves swirled around his body.
Approaching the house, he could hear a murder of crows in the trees just off her porch. There must have been hundreds of them circling around above and flying from tree to tree. As he got closer to the home, their screeches went from calm to panic. When Nora heard this, she trudged her way toward the door.
Chapter 2: Nora Lusk
“What do you want,” Nora yelled, blasting out of her home onto the porch. “You look like hell.”
“It’s been a long day, Nora. I just need to ask you some questions.” Dirk threw his hands up into the air as if to say “I surrender”.
“Alright. But if you piss me off, I can’t guarantee I won’t throw you out of the house myself.” She took her apron off and invited him in.
At first, he was hesitant. He stood outside her home for a moment contemplating if he really should walk in. I mean, she could have killed her husband. And if she killed him, she could kill me too, he thought to himself. Yet, he remembered the sternness in the sheriff’s voice when he was given this task. Although, his last assignment was minuscule, he failed. He couldn’t fail again.
Straightening his jacket and clearing his throat, Dirk made his way up the steps, onto the porch, and into Nora’s home. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all the townspeople had made it up to be. Yes, the crows outside were a little creepy and Nora was not a woman to be trifled with, but her home gave off a different aura. There were hooks by the door for coats. Dirk decided to hang up his jacket, and his hat, in hopes Nora would see it as a peace offering. While she fiddled with the stove, he sat down at the table and waited for her to bring him a cup of coffee. When she approached him with the coffee in hand, he sat back in his chair and removed his arms from the table, so she could sit it down in front of him.
“Ah,” she laughed. “Did you honestly think I was going to pour you some coffee? What do you want?” Her expression went from laughter to dead silence in an instant.
This made Dirk take a big gulp from his empty throat. “The sheriff sent me,” he explained.
“Of course he did,” Nora said, shaking her head. “You have 2 seconds to cut to the chase or I’m dragging you, and that chair you’re in, out my door. It would bring me much joy to see you tumble down those steps. I don’t like to beat around the bush, you know.”
Taking another moment to think his last words through, if she were to kill him after he asked her this one question, Dirk began, “Were you aware that Lucius was sneaking around with Alice Mabe?”
They sat staring at each other. Nora’s mind seemed to have went to another place. Then, in a moment’s notice, she burst into laughter again. She laughed so hard she began to cry. “YES! After all these years, that’s how he repaid me. By hanging around that smut.”
Not knowing what to say next, Dirk remained quiet. It was not the answer he was expecting. If Dirk asked Nora if she killed Lucius because he was spending time with another woman, she might kill Dirk too. However, knowing that if he didn’t come back to the sheriff with answers, his odds might be the same, he dove in. “Is that why you killed him?”
“Ha! Boy! If I wanted him dead, I wouldn’t have had to do it myself.” She took a sip of her coffee. The expression on her face was that of laying down a full house in a game of cards.
“What do you mean?” Dirk seemed confused.
Nora sat back in her chair and crossed her arms, “Well, if you must know. He gave the preacher counterfeit money every Sunday for about 5 years. Preacher Cliff was furious when he took all that money to the bank, only to find out it was fake. Oh! And then there’s Alice. She could have killed him because he wouldn’t leave me to be with her. He just enjoyed the thrill of secrecy. If he made it official with her, there wouldn’t be any more secrets now would there?”
“No, I guess not.” Dirk took out his notepad and scribbled down a few words to help him remember what Nora had said.
“You didn’t let me finish, boy. You aren’t very good at this are you?” She grinned a sadistic grin as if she knew everything he was thinking. “There’s also Silas Blanche. He told me he could treat me better than Lucius. He always had a thing for me. He could have done it!”
Dirk wrote down a few more notes. Looking back at Nora, he seemed a bit skeptical. She was a hard woman to read. He had to remain unbiased because he had a murder to solve.
Nora noticed this look of denial on his face. She immediately jumped up from the table and so did Dirk. He didn’t know what she was up to but stood still and watched her make her way over to the dresser. Reaching into the top drawer, Nora pulled out her .41 caliber Derringer Pocket Pistol and a note and laid them on the table in front of where Dirk was standing. “There’s your proof,” she said.
Adjusting himself back into his chair and scooting it back up to the table, he slowly moved his hands past the weapon and to the letter, where he could see bits of a man’s handwriting. It read:
He will pay for what he’s done to you. Then, we can be together. -Silas
Dirk glanced back at Nora, who still had her poker face on, and said, “I’ll be taking this with me. The sheriff will want to see this.” He stuffed it into the inside of his jacket pocket.
“Suit yourself,” she said, picking up her pistol and pointing it right at him before stuffing it back into her drawer.
Dirk got up from his seat, seeing that it was almost dark. “Thank you for talking with me. I know it wasn’t easy.”
“Don’t you dare think you’re going anywhere tonight. That fog is rollin’ in mighty fast. I doubt you could beat it.”
With the expression of confusion on his face, Dirk smirked and continued onto the porch.
“You know, Lucius died on a foggy night,” she said, running up to the screen door.
Stopping in his tracks, Dirk thought about how much he missed while he was away. One wouldn’t think that a few years away from Hollow Springs would make that much of a difference, but it did. Growing up, he didn’t have to worry about a murderer in town, let alone a fog. “That’s just coincidence,” he replied and made his way down the porch steps.
Outside the air was even more thin as the hair stood up on the back of his neck. The wind sounded like the ocean as it blew through the trees. Catching a glimpse of something moving out the corner of his right eye, Dirk drew his weapon just like Sheriff Warren had taught him, fast and accurately. To his dismay, it was a mere scarecrow whose arms were blowing in the wind. Placing his firearm back into the holster on his side, Dirk looked back to see if Nora was amused at the sight of his embarrassment. Luckily, she was not present at the door.
Dirk turned to head back down the path. He listened to the creek that ran along it. No wonder Nora likes to be out here alone, he thought. It’s so peaceful.
The hill got steeper as he took careful steps down it. He tried to plant his feet firmly onto the gravel but was very unsuccessful. Taking a step much too large for his stature, he fell to the ground. I have never been this clumsy, he thought to himself. Just then, he heard a laughing sound coming from the cemetery. Raising himself onto his knees and then onto his feet, being sure not to lose his balance, he found himself heading toward the spot where the gravedigger once stood. Looking around in the empty cemetery, he found himself surprisingly alone.
“Hello!” he shouted, but there was no answer.
Taking a moment to have a look around, as the fog was surrounding him and growing thicker, he examined the grave stones that laid around him. The first one he saw was beside the hole the gravedigger had dug. The headstone read: Lucille Lorraine Lusk April 18, 1889- October 12th, 1889. In the row behind that, there were two stones that read, Norma Jean Wicker November 1850- January 1875 and Peter Paul Wicker July 1852- April 1890. That must have been Nora’s parents, he thought to himself. Dirk didn’t know the family had lost a child and Mr. Wicker within the last 6 years. There were other grave stones but they had been weathered so much that they weren’t legible. Then, there at the very end, there was one more that he could read. It read: Jean Ophelia Wicker September 1869- June 1879. Dirk was astonished at the young deaths that had happened in Nora’s family. Although, it was just about like every other family during that time, Dirk thought there may be some importance to these dates and wrote them all down.
Turning around to continue onto town, Dirk faced a dark figure standing between himself and the pathway out of the cemetery. When the figure removed the hood of its cloak, he could see it was Nora.
“Geeze! Why don’t you just scare somebody!” Dirk yelled out of fear.
“I saw you snooping, Mr. Ward. Whatever you’re looking for, you won’t find it here,” she said, approaching him.
“All these young deaths. No wonder you don’t like people.”
She looked around and back at him saying, “If you get too close to someone, you stand the chance of losing them.”
“I can see that. Were those your parents?”
“Sure was. Momma was two years older than daddy. She died while she was in labor with me.” Then pointing to the grave beside the hole for Lucius, she continued, “That was our baby, Lucille. She only lived for a few months. Lucius and I weren’t the same after that. Then, the next year, daddy died.”
“I can’t imagine, Nora,” Dirk said looking around at all the stones. Then, he reached toward the stone that was away from all the others and asked, “What about this one, Jean Ophelia Wicker. Who was she?”
“She was my older sister. She died when I was four. I watched a heavy gate fall onto her. She was crushed instantly.”
“I’m so sorry, Nora. Maybe if everyone knew what you had been through, they would see you through different eyes, and maybe wouldn’t fear you or judge you so much.”
Nora wiped her tears and began to shout, “You will tell no one of any of this! Do you understand? I have dealt with it by myself all of my life, I sure as hell don’t need any help or pity now.”
Dirk nodded and paced himself, walking past Nora who was still staring at all the graves in the cemetery. He stopped and turned to look back toward her, but saw that she hadn’t moved and decided not to disturb her further.
Heading back toward the path to town, Dirk felt like he was being watched. The fog was so thick, he could hardly see. Following the edge of the road, he was sure he had to get back to town to tell the sheriff what had transpired while he had been gone. Just as he was about to pass the place he and his sisters lived, he almost ran into Bucky, his trusty steed.
“Hey, boy! Come here,” he said, rubbing his hands along Bucky’s nose and down his neck, fishing his hands around for the reins. Once he found the reins, he mounted and began to make his way back to town.
Bucky was a nervous wreck. His steps weren’t as sure as they usually were and his head bobbed up and down at high intervals while walking. Buddy’s ears were constantly scanning to his front and sides. Off in the distance, Dirk and Bucky could hear something approaching.
“Deputy Ward, what on God’s green earth are you still doing out?” the familiar voice said.
“Well, Sheriff, I was just on my way back to you.” He stopped his horse right beside the sheriff’s.
“What’d you find out, son?”
“A lot,” he said, holding up the note Nora gave him and the notes he had taken while at her home.
“Alright. Let’s head back. During a heavy fog is no time to be creeping around in this town, you know.”
“That’s what people keep telling me,” Dirk replied, but before he could say anything else, the sheriff had already disappeared into the thick blanket of fog. Dirk couldn’t even hear the sheriff’s horse’s footsteps any longer.
Finally, Dirk reached the sheriff’s office, where Sheriff Warren was sitting at his desk with his feet propped up. Entering the establishment, Dirk removed his hat and coat and laid the information down on Sheriff Warren’s desk.
First, he picked up the letter from Silas and read it. “Hogwash!” he blurted, tossing the note back across the table toward Dirk, as though it were a playing card. Next, he picked up the notes Dirk had taken on who Nora thought had murdered her husband. “My best bet is, it was her,” Sheriff Warren said, reading Dirk’s facial expression.
“You think it was Nora?” Dirk interrogated.
“Why wouldn’t it be, is the real question, Deputy. Her husband was a menace. He was running around on her and giving the preacher counterfeit money. She could have saw a way out with Silas Blanche. She knew he liked her. What if she wanted to be with him, so she killed Lucius.” Sheriff Warren glared at Dirk as though it was Dirk’s problem to deal with.
“She’s just been through so much,” Dirk continued.
“Don’t you think we all have, Deputy?” The sheriff’s voice shook Dirk to his bones. “Her husband’s funeral is tomorrow.”
“Let me guess,” Dirk began, “you want me to go.”
“You can bet your pretty penny we will all be there, son. There’s nothing more telling than the reactions of those closest to the victim. We’re gonna be lookin’ for anything out of the ordinary.” He slipped the list of suspects and Silas’ note into his shirt pocket and gave Dirk a wink.
“What do you mean?” Dirk was confused.
“You’ll see, boy. I can guarantee it.” Sheriff Warren put his cigar out in the ashtray on his desk and walked to the door. After sliding into his jacket and putting his hat on, he opened the door. “Better get home. We’ll save the speculating for after Lucius’ funeral. Rest that sharp mind. We’re gonna need as many eyes as possible tomorrow.”
After the sheriff walked out and rode away, Dirk gathered his thoughts and tirelessly headed home.
Chapter 3: The Funeral
After Dirk left that evening, Nora sat outside in a rocking chair on her porch. The sun was setting and the wind was brushing through the trees. She closed her eyes imagining she was at the ocean. Her daddy always told her if she ever wanted to visit the ocean, all she had to do was close her eyes. The force of the wind through the trees created a wave-like sound. Back and forth, the trees would move, just like the ocean waves. Her daddy always told her if she wanted to see the ocean, all she had to do was look at the hay field. The breeze combing the hay in sheets made the hay have the appearance of ocean waves. Nora didn’t have to go too far to escape her town. In an instant, she could close her eyes and be anywhere she wanted to be. Hearing that her crows had come home to nest for the evening, she went inside to get them some feed.
Walking back onto the porch, she threw the seed onto the yard and watched all of her friends flock to it. It was just cornmeal, but it was fascinating to watch the whole murder rush to it and devour it. Nora sat back in her chair and watched them. She thought about Lucius and the life they once knew. She thought about their daughter and her parents. She thought about the many generations that worked the very land she was now in possession of. Next thing she knew, she heard a ping sound on the porch. Looking down, she picked up a shiny key. The crows always brought her gifts in exchange for feeding them. She’s made jewelry, decorations, and wind chimes out of all the odd shiny objects they had given her. Without thinking of this object any differently, she stuck it into her shoe so she could place it in her junk drawer later.
Realizing it was almost dark, she went back inside, stoked the fire, and blew out her oil lamps.
Thank you for taking the time to read an excerpt from Nora From the Hollow! Please let me know what you think! I can’t wait to publish the book in September. I look forward to hearing from you!