I began to tremble... at first, it seemed just a shiver, but it grew and spread. I held my hands together, they were cold to the bone. My stomach quivered. Father Bede noticed my growing discomfort. "It's okay, Jim. It'll be okay." His voice was calm and his eyes studied the rough trail. He turned on the windshield wipers and they smeared the spattered bugs and dirt across the glass. Straining to see the ruts in the road, he suddenly jammed the brakes, throwing me against the windshield. "You alright, Jim? I'm sorry about that... a badger or something ran across the road."
I rubbed my forehead. "It's alright. I'm good." I heard my voice quiver. My hands were freezing. I rubbed them together.
"We're almost there." Father Bede wiped the condensation from the inside of the windshield. His front wheel hit a root in the trail and sent the car lurching to the right side of the road. He raced the engine and the tires spun on the slick surface. The car slid sideways toward the ditch and he fought to keep control. He brought the car to a stop on the crown. "We can turn around here. We'd better walk the rest of the way."
I opened the door and the blast of cold air hit me. I shivered and took the mittens from the pockets of the parka. I directed Father Bede to drive forward to the edge of the ditch and begin to turn the car around. He carefully maneuvered the car. Driving back and forth, he was able to turn the car. He set the parking brake and opened his door. He looked up at the sky and pulled his wool cap down on his head.
The priest approached the door of the cabin. "We better get goin'. We gotta watch for that dog of his. He's got a big dog." The priest leaned over and picked-up a heavy branch about three feet long.
We walked along the dark trail. The naked branches of trees towered overhead and they gave the appearance of a dark tunnel. At one point, I slipped on the edge of the road and slid toward the water in the ditch. My pants were quickly covered with mud.
"It's a good thing I parked back there."
I couldn't acknowledge his statement or answer him. The wind blew high above us, but the trees gave us a strange shelter.
We approached the end of the trail... a tall grove of poplars grew in front of us. As we came closer to the trees, it was apparent that the trail actually turned to the right and descended into a low spot. Back against the dark trees I could see the small cabin, the pickup, the rubbish... I had no voice and my movements were stiff and rigid. "There's somethin' wrong, Jim. That dog shoulda been barkin' a long time ago." Big, cold raindrops began to fall as we walked slowly toward the dark cabin. I was becoming immobilized with fear. abin. He held the big stick in his right hand. He moved cautiously and he studied the door . . . and the black windows. I couldn't move toward the cabin. I could only stand and watch.
He hit the door several times with the stick. The door opened slightly. The air rushing into the little cabin made the ragged curtains move in the windows. "Henry! You in there? Henry... you home?" The priest moved closer. "This is Father Bede . . . from St. Anselm's church. You know me."
The priest used the stick to open the door further and he stepped toward the doorway. "I'm coming in, Henry. Is that okay? Father Bede . . . " He stood in the doorway and peered into the darkness.
"Oh, oh . . . My God."
He stepped through the doorway.
The ice cold drops of rain ran from my head and down my neck. Father Bede's voice sounded so far away. "Jim, it's Henry. Holy God Almighty, it's Henry. Help me, Jim." The priest shook my shoulders. "Jim, it's Henry. He's dead. His big hand held my shoulder tightly and he pulled me toward the cabin. The joints in my legs felt locked and I stumbled as he pulled me toward the door.
In the dark shadows of the room, my eyes first fell on the dog lying near the woodbin. Its bloody body was rigid in death. The priest dropped his grip on my shoulder and rushed across the room. A nearly headless body was crouched against the wall. The priest dropped to one knee and touched the corpse and it stiffly slid to the floor.
He raised his hand and made the sign of the cross, "Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto... and the litany of half-mumbled prayers flowed from his mouth.
My eyes went round the room. The bottles strewn around the floor. The half-filled bottle on the table. I looked up at the low, soot covered ceiling, at the spot where I had been when I first witnessed this hellish scene as it happened.