The City of Mirrors Page 124

“Amy, are you all right?”

Carter was kneeling beside her. She tried to answer but couldn’t; her breath stopped in her chest.

“You hurting somewhere? Tell me what’s wrong.”

At the same moment, Caleb Jaxon awoke to the disconcerting smell of smoke. He had spent the night in a chair by the door, George’s pistol on the table, his rifle cradled in his lap. His first thought was that his own house was burning; he jerked upright, panic pounding through him. But, no, the room was all in order; the smell came from someplace else. He grabbed the pistol and stepped outside. To the west, beyond the ridgeline, the sky was lit with fire.

“Please, Miss Amy,” Carter said. “You scaring me.”

She was shaking; she could not speak. Such pain they felt, such terror. So many, all at once. Her breath unlocked; air flowed back into her lungs.

“It’s started.”

* * *

49

Just after daybreak, Caleb shook Pim by the shoulder.

Something’s happened at the Tatums’.

She sat upright, instantly awake. What?

Caleb opened the fingers of both hands and moved them in a rotating motion in front of his chest: Fire.

Pim shoved the blankets aside. I’m coming with you.

Stay here. I’ll look.

She’s my friend.

Pim was referring to Dory, of course.

Okay, he signed.

The children were still out cold. While Pim dressed, Caleb awakened Kate to tell her what was happening.

“What do you think it means?” Her voice was groggy, but her eyes were clear.

“I don’t know.” He pulled the revolver from his waistband and held it out. “Keep this handy.”

“Any idea what I’m supposed to be shooting at?”

“If I knew, I’d tell you. Stay inside—we won’t be long.”

Caleb met Pim in the yard. She was gazing toward the ridgeline, hands on her hips. A thick column of white smoke, the color of a summer cloud, billowed at a distance. The color meant the fire was out.

Jeb? she signed.

The horse was lying where he had fallen. Handsome had wandered to the far end of the paddock, keeping his distance.

He died last night.

Pim’s face was all business. How?

Maybe colic. I didn’t want to upset you.

I’m your wife. She signed these words with brisk anger. I saw you give Kate a gun. Tell me what’s happening.

Caleb had no answer.

All that remained of the farmhouse was a pile of charred timbers and glowing ash. The heat had been so intense that the glass in the windows had melted. It would be several hours, perhaps a day, before Caleb could look for bodies, though he doubted there’d be anything left but bones and teeth.

Do you think they got out? Pim asked.

Caleb could only shake his head. How had it happened? A loose ember from the stove? A lantern knocked aside? Something small, and now they were gone.

He noticed something else. The paddock was empty. The gate stood open; the ground around it looked scraped, as if someone had killed the horses and dragged the carcasses away. What did it mean?

Let’s check the barn, he signed.

Caleb entered first. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. At the rear, in deep shadow, was a hump on the floor.

It was Dory. She was lying in a fetal position. Her hair was burned away, brows and lashes gone, her face swollen and scorched. Her nightdress was charred in places, in others fused to her flesh. Her right arm and both legs were blackened to a crisp; elsewhere the skin had bubbled, as if boiled from within.

He knelt beside her. “Dory, it’s Caleb and Pim.”

Her right eye opened the thinnest crack; the other seemed welded shut. She flicked her gaze toward him. From her throat came a sound, half moan, half gurgle. Caleb couldn’t imagine such agony. He wanted to be ill.

Pim brought a bucket and ladle. She knelt beside Dory, cupped the woman’s head to lift it slightly, and held the ladle to her lips. Dory managed a small sip, then sputtered the rest from her mouth.

We have to get her back, Pim signed. Kate will know what to do.

That the woman was still alive was a miracle; surely she would not survive long. Still, they had to try. A wheelbarrow stood propped against the wall. Caleb rolled it over and fetched a pair of saddle pads from the tack bin and laid them in the bottom.

Take her legs.

Caleb positioned himself behind Dory and hooked his elbows under her shoulders. The woman began to shriek and buck at the waist. After the longest five seconds of his life, they managed to get her into the wheelbarrow. A tacky substance came away on Caleb’s bare forearms: pieces of Dory’s skin.

Her cries subsided. She was breathing in shallow, rapid jerks. The trip would be unbearable for her; each jostle would bring fresh waves of torture. As Caleb hoisted the bars of the wheelbarrow, he saw another problem. Dory was not a small woman. Keeping the whole thing balanced would take every ounce of his strength.

Give me a side, Pim signed.

Caleb shook his head firmly. The baby.

I’ll stop if I’m tired.

Caleb didn’t want to, but Pim wouldn’t be deterred. They rolled Dory to the door. As sunlight fell across her, her whole body recoiled, sending the wheelbarrow tipping dangerously to the side.

It’s her eyes, Pim signed. They must be burned.

She returned to the barn and came back with a cloth, which she moistened in the bucket and then draped over the upper half of the woman’s face. Her body began to relax.

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