The only thing good about the scariest day of my life is that I had seen it coming.
When it began, that day in May, Willie and I were sitting on the wooden steps of our front porch in the first rays of sunlight, looking out at the yard and the shadowy woods on both sides. Our pa was still asleep, in the back bedroom.
“This dream of yours,” Willie said. “What else did you see?”
We were identical twins, Willie and I, fifteen years old the month before, and we also dressed alike. Not by choice; it was just what Louisiana farm boys wore in the 1930s. Blue overalls, white undershirt, and either work shoes or no shoes. Looking at Willie was like looking in a mirror.
But we were unlike in one way. On several occasions in my short life, I had been able to see things others couldn’t, to predict future events. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true. Sometimes these visions were clear, sometimes not. This one was, and the one before it as well.
“Just what I told you,” I said. “That they’re coming. Sometime this morning.”
“I couldn’t see that. I figure one or two.”
A silence passed. Both of us stared at the dirt road beyond the weedy and colorless flower garden our late mother had so loved and maintained, in better days. From the tangled forest around us came a chorus of birdcalls. I’d heard somewhere that city folks thought birds sang like this all day long, out in the country. They didn’t. Early mornings were the loudest.
“What else?” Willie asked. “In the first dream, you said you saw—”
“Not this time. All I know is that they’re coming.”
“So what do we do now?”
But Willie knew what we had to do. Both of us knew. It’s what we’d been planning for, this past week while our father lay in bed with his bottle and his broken leg and his broken spirit. It was up to us now.
“We get ready,” I said.
This was only the latest in an odd string of recent occurrences, for the Barlow family. Life in Bienville Parish was usually simple and predictable. But not this spring.
First, back in early April, the biggest wild hog I ever saw came sniffing around for food and fell through the boards Pa had laid over the abandoned well twenty yards east of the house. After Willie was lowered into the depths of the well to get ropes around the carcass and all three of us hauled it out, we feasted on pork chops and sausage for the rest of the month.
Second, a windstorm—maybe a tornado, maybe not—roared through later that month and took out two shade trees and most of the toolshed. The trees were no great loss; the shed was. The tools were now stored in the barn and the house, and neither had room to spare.
Third was what Willie and I had discovered when we returned from a weekend visit with our aunt Lisbeth in nearby Arcadia, the last Sunday of April. We found our pa, Ezra, laid up with a broken leg. He was never quite clear about how it was acquired, though I heard a neighbor, Lester Owlsley, mention something about a trip he and Pa had made to Shreveport back in late March. How that could tie in with a physical injury a month later I couldn’t figure.
Fourth, and more significant, was a dream I had a week ago last Friday night—almost two weeks after our father’s mysterious injury. I woke Willie up and told him about it: a movie-like vision of a black car coming down the rutted road to our house. I couldn’t see, in the dream, who was in the car, or what would happen afterward—but I knew two things, for certain: (1) someone would come here to our farm the next day, and (2) someone would die.
And sure enough, after Owlsley left that Saturday afternoon to drive Pa over to Yellow Pine, and while Willie and I were digging post-holes for a board fence Pa wanted put up in the side yard to prevent folks from stumbling into the abandoned well—a wild hog was one thing, a wandering hobo would be something else again—a black Chrysler rumbled down the dirt road to our mailbox and parked in a cloud of yellow dust. The man who emerged was short and wide and red-faced, with a gray hat and a pinstriped suit stretched tight over his beer barrel gut. A long cigar stuck straight out from a grin that looked more constipated than friendly.
“My name’s Angus Mooney,” the man said. “I’m looking for Ezra Barlow.”
Willie and I exchanged a glance. I was thinking about my dream.
“He ain’t here,” I said.