Crawford was holding the shotgun closer to Kiln's back.
“I don't know why you think this is such a bum rap, “ he said, laughed rambunctiously.
George Kiln was digging ferociously, dirt flying everywhere. He was three feet into it, and the heat was making him dizzy. If only some of the dirt would hit Ben Crawford in the face, he might have a chance at getting the shotgun. He brought out in the desert to dig his own grave, in the sweltering heat, and several buzzards circling above.
He had showed up at the Crawford's General store half-starved and no where to go. They fed him, gave him a job delivering groceries to their customers and a place to stay. Now he was digging his own grave, five miles from the store, out in the desert. A shot gun pointed at his face.
All of this over a woman.
“I think I have lots to be upset about,Bill,” Kiln bellowed. “I'm not guilty of anything, my friend.”
“There you go again,” Crawford breathed deeply. “Trying those mind tricks.” The sweat dripped from his cheek to his shirt that was already sticking to his round body.
“Ain't no trick, boy!” Kiln kept digging wildly, not missing a beat. “Me and Heddy.....we ain't nothin' but friends.”
“Just how friendly, Kiln, is what has riled me. Now shut-up and dig faster!”
Kiln stopped for a moment, tore his t-shirt off. He stared at Crawford.
Crawford burst into laughter. “Get those ideas out your mind, Kiln. That grave is for you.”
Kiln's face fell. He wiped sweat from his face with a hand. “I'm tellin' you,” His voice broke. “I never as much had words with her. C'mon Crawford! We only talk every few minutes or so.....like when me and you had a few beers......Oh what's the use!You gonna believe what you want.” Kiln grabbed the shovel and commenced with the digging, only slower, more graceful.
Crawford stepped forward, the edge of his wingtips hanging off the edge. He cocked both barrels. “That's enough, Kiln.”
Kiln threw the shovel out of the grave. He turned to Crawford, stone faced.
Crawford was leering at him. That shotgun was almost touching the tip of Kiln's nose. Crawford laughed. The thought of breaking down and crying, begging for his life crossed his mind. But that sad, sickening smile of Crawford's........that laugh.......like he had the world in his hands. Kiln didn't break.
“Got any last words, Kiln? A man about to die should always get his say so.....in the end.”
“Yeah,” Kiln nodded. “Only.....Only....”
“Well spit out!”
“Only if I'm guilty of what you say, I sure wish I had fucked your wife!”
“You son of a bitch!” Crawford screamed. Crawford took another step and fell. While in mid-air the shotgun went off, both barrels in his face. He toppled over onto Kiln, knocking him to one side of the grave before dragging him down. Kiln found himself on top of Crawford, staring down at a bloody mass of flesh that was once his face.
Kiln screamed, clawed his way out the grave, dirt clogs tumbled down the side and on Crawford. Even when Kiln reached level ground, he couldn't stop screaming. A few minutes later, he'd calmed himself slightly, his heart still pounding against his chest.
But Kiln looked over at the pile of dirt, then at the open grave where his persecutor lay. He began to laugh uncontrollably. He grabbed the shovel, pushed over some dirt on Crawford.
“How about some dirt to go with that humble pie, boy?”
Ellie was sitting outside on the porch of the General store. As usual, there were no customers. She was sitting in a plastic chair too small for her, fanning herself with a page from the newspaper. When she saw Kiln she flinched and immediately stood. As he staggered across the desert plains, he waved to her.
“Your alive,” She cried out, more surprised than relieved.
“What happened?” He stood on the porch, swallowed hard.
“He's dead,” Kiln was blunt in his statement. He didn't owe her any more than that. No reason for any sugar-coating.
She bowed her head. Was she praying? Kiln couldn't tell. She looked up. They stared at each other for a few minutes. The silence was appreciated.
“What was it all about?” She said finally, almost emotionless.
No tears? These people are strange. Kiln's nostrils flared. “You don't know, eh?”
“No, I don't. He was so angry this morning. He seemed angry because I wasn't in bed when he woke. I told him I couldn't sleep. It was too damn hot.”
“Why didn't he believe you?” Kiln stepped closer to Ellie.
“I-I don't know.” Ellie took a few steps back. She looked away nervously. Kiln came closer, backing her against the door to the General store. “I never gave him a reason to mistrust me.”
Kiln leaned in, smelled Ellie's neck. The blossom fragrance invaded his nostrils, and Kiln breathed it in. Ellie closed her eyes, repulsed and excited by Kiln closing in on her.
“Somehow,” Kiln's voice rose and fell in a blistering whisper. “I don't believe you.” He wanted to kiss her at that moment, but something more stirred inside him. He grabbed Ellie by her blouse and tore it to her waist, exposing her breasts in a pink pushup bra.
She flinched, but didn't scream.
Kiln pushed her aside, opened the door to the General store. He took Ellie by the arm and flung her inside. She fell to the floor hard. Shocked, she cried out. The flap to her skirt rose up and Kiln froze just inside the doorway gleaming at the opening, seeing the pink flowers on the front of her white panties. He shut the door to the General store, made sure the closed sign was in the window, He turned the lock, and their eyes met. She was like a frighted deer caught in headlights of a vehicle. Kiln had the look of a tiger about to pounce on his prey.
Kiln wasted no time.
It was later that the beating of the rain on the windows and the howling wind woke him. He looked around, saw the shadow of Ellie, naked, with the window open . She was feeling the beads of raindrops dancing on her body that the wind brought in.
“What's going on?” He said in a daze.
“You’re in your room, behind the store,” Ellie closed the window.
Ellie walked toward Kiln, carelessly wrapping in her robe. “So....”
“All of this was not a bad dream then.” He sat up, turned to sit on one side of the bed.
“Oh, I don't. Not all of it is bad,” Ellie sat next to him. She took a cigarette from a pack that was laying on the table by the bed, along with low-lit lamp and several empty bags of peanuts. She blew smoke rings that lingered in the air and disappeared.
Kiln was caught by surprise by Ellie's remark. “You don't seem to be sad about the current stream of events.”
Ellie shrugged. “Sometimes things happen. It's life. You just roll with it.”
The rain continued pound the roof and the wind screamed outside. The lights flickered, thunder echoed in conjunction with flashes of blue and pink lightning.
“It hasn't rained like this in this stinking desert for next to a year,” Ellie blew more smoke rings watched them float around Kiln's head. She imagined one would create a heart shape one day, when he felt the way she felt for him. “When it does, it always comes hard like this.”
“How long you been in these parts?” Kiln breathed in the smoke and coughed.
“Ever since I married Ben. Six years. I met him on one of his business trips in Dallas. I was a waitress in a bar. And out of the five hundred guys who asked me out, I let him take me out. I don't know why...as you could see he wasn't good looking. I guess.....I guess he seemed ...kind.”
“Did you love him?”
“No,” Ellie took a long drag from her cigarette. Their eyes met. She could see in his eyes his next question. “I was fond of him and he could provide for me. This store that had been in his family for years.”
“Now it's yours,” Kiln said.
Ellie touched his arm, running her fingernails gently across the blond hairs. “It's yours too.” She whispered. Kiln stroked her chestnut hair, then slowly her long, white swan-like neck.....touching the soft skin with his fingers. She closed her eyes, sighing at his touch.
Three loud crashes came from the store.
Kiln jumped, removed his hands from Ellie. He cursed under his breath. They looked at each, wild-eyed. Ellie swallowed hard. There was another loud crash. Kiln stood.
“It's coming from the store.....” Ellie barely managed to say it. She felt hard pangs in her stomach. She winced with each pang, grabbed Kiln's arm.
He pulled away. “I'll go see,” He moved slowly to the door of his room. He opened the door cautiously. He could see several displays knocked over and the front door to the general store was left wide open. The window was blowing rain inside and keeping the door flapping against cold soda display.
“Stay here,” Kiln told her.
Ellie nodded, her head bobbed up and down very fast.
Kiln stepped out of his room almost in a leap. He turned fast, left, right---behind him. There was a lull in the storm. It grew very quiet. He took in some air, tried to keep his hands from shaking.
He heard a grunt from behind and felt a hand snatch him by his hair. He was flung to the floor hard. A stinging passed through his upper body. He shook it off, got to his knees.
Standing in front of him was Crawford. Covered in a mixture of mud and blood from head to toe, and the right side of his face had two huge fleshy holes with skin hanging from his cheek. He was grunting, trying to breathe through a nose that was no more.
“Thought you could get away with it!” Crawford spit out. “Take my wife! Take my store! Take my....life!”
Crawford leveled the shotgun at his midsection, placed the barrels at Kiln's forehead. Crawford swung the shotgun as if he were swinging at a baseball. The barrel caught Kiln on the right side of his head. Kiln fell backwards. He blacked out momentarily. He saw Ellie standing behind Crawford, holding a .38. she fired twice, the bullets tore through Crawford's back and out through the front. Sparks appeared at the top of the register where the bullets ricocheted and hit the floor.
Crawford fell over on his face and gurgled.
Ellie collected herself. She went to Kiln, helped him up. He wobbled, saw everything in double vision, shook it off. He looked at her, mouthed the words before he actually said them. She waited patiently.
“K---k---killed that bastard twice....”
“Come to bed,” Ellie spoke fast. She swallowed hard, felt the pang in her stomach again. “In the morning we'll put him back in his grave.”
Neither of them slept.
Ellie held a tight grip on both the gun and Kiln's hand. Not once did Kiln take his eyes off the door to his room.
The storm had seemed to call it quits hours earlier. The clock said six-thirty before they decided to get out of bed to take Crawford back to the desert. They dressed quickly, did not hesitate to talk through the plan. It was known what to do.
Before opening the door, they both took one long gaze into each others eyes. Ellie leaned in and kissed Kiln hard on the lips. He tasted where her lips had been, briefly smiled.
Kiln threw the door open, stepped into the General store. “He's gone,” Kiln said dryly.
Ellie pushed kiln out of the way. “What?!” She screamed. She threw her hands up. “How could this happen?”
No trace Crawford had been there. No muddy footprints.
The displays were not turned over. No product on the floor. No puddles from the rain on the inside doorstep. Everything was as it had been left the evening before.
Kiln headed for the front door.
“Where are you going?” Ellie barked at him.
Not even turning to her, he said, “I'm going to check the grave.” Kiln placed his hand on the doorknob. “Maybe this was a bad dream----”
“No!” Ellie cried out. “Don't!”
“Why not?” He turned to her and took a few steps away from the door.
Ellie was kneeling by a potato chip rack, her hand underneath. She pulled her hand out, gripping something. “Don't bother,” She said, stood up. She showed Kiln the shotgun.
Confusion, then fear ravaged his face.