The shadows around her moved like cats, fluid and sometimes fast. They made a crackling hissing sound like fat frying on the stove. They said murderer. Anne raked her slim fingers over her face and moaned in grief. She could still see him holding out his hand, still hear him professing that he didn’t harm a hair on Laura’s head. He didn’t look at her then, but Anne knew he had hoped she would’ve come forward.
She reached over to the drawer in the night table and pulled out a worn picture of Tom in his uniform. It used to lie at the bottom of a box in the wardrobe, but recently she’d taken it out to keep it close.
When he had professed her innocence, he hadn’t thought it would be his death, and now he haunted her. He’d haunted her for four years. She could feel him pulling her soul down with him. She would not get out of her bed today.
Anne’s cousin Laura stared at her from the shadows in the corner, her dress stained with soil and blood, her knees folded up in front of her like a defensive child. She didn’t make a sound when James strode into the room and sat in the chair between her and Anne. Anne stared at him aghast.
“Laura,” she croaked.
“Shhh, now. That’s all over with,” James rumbled lowly. The look on his face was one of resignation. It was a look he often directed at Anne, ever since the trials, ever since all her wash had been laid out to public view. He wouldn’t have to suffer the stares and the whispers much longer, though. Anne was dying.
“I should’ve stood up, Jim; I shouldn’t have let Tom go alone,” Anne’s voice was raspy and weak.
“This isn’t the time,” James raised his hand as if it would stop her from continuing.
Ann shook her head back and forth with what little energy she had left. “There’s no other time, Jim. I’m guilty and I let Tom die alone. I love him and I betrayed him like that. I can’t die with that on my conscience. I can’t die with Laura on my conscience.” Anne’s convulsive hands crumpled the picture and let it roll over her side before she reached out for her husband’s hand and grasped it, wild eyed, “They haunt me so! They follow me around like lost dogs! I can’t turn a corner but I see one of ’em there.”
“Shhh,” James soothed again. He tried, but couldn’t find any other words to give her. Her hands squeezed his harder as she seemed to look through him for a painful, wild, minute. Then she relaxed, slowly falling back on her pillow, her hands dropping onto the bed. She was still then, eyes aimed at the ceiling. James watched her not moving and not breathing until the evening shadows reminded him that he had calls to make.
note: I went in search of the story behind the song “Tom Dooley.” It’s a good’un, and well covered online starting with: Tom Dula – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and “A bit of justice for Anne” Wilkes Journal Patriot, among others.