Harper Wilson and all her siblings were relieved when they received the notice of their parents’ demise. No one deserved it more, and the only reason Harper agreed to go back to that little town in Ohio was to make sure they were truly dead.
Bryant Prince and his family were immortals and hadn’t aged since they’d reached the age of twenty-eight. He and his family had always lived next door to the Wilsons, but he never knew the Wilson children. The Wilsons had always kept to themselves, so no one had any idea what was going on in the little house of horrors. If they had, the Wilson parents would have been dead a long time ago.
There was nothing left of the Wilson house but one wall. The fire had taken the rest. The garage, however, was still intact, and this was where Harper wound up. Drawn in by dark, morbid memories from her childhood. Bryant watched her, knowing that he’d found his mate.
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Buck enjoyed hot wings, the hotter the better. But even he had to admit defeat when it came to eating wings with his oldest. Bryant would get them as hot as he could, then add more heat to them. Buck often wondered if the boy could taste a dammed thing after he ate a plate of them suckers. Today he was eating alone. He didn’t get that opportunity much, not since his Sara had been killed all those years ago. But it was her birthday, and while he knew that his boys were remembering her today, he had his own way of thinking about his little mate. When the plate was set in front of him, he looked up at the waitress. Deb had been working here since she was a teenager. He wondered if they’d built the place around her. When she winked at him, he smiled back. Everyone was aware of his way of doing things. The first one always made him tear up—the heat, not his heart, he told himself. But as he was picking up the second one to eat, Bryant came into the diner. Whatever had happened, it had Buck reaching for his pistol that he was never without.
“It’s all right. I just wanted to come to tell you before you left here and found out the hard way.” Bryant then told him how sorry he was for coming here, today of all days. “Pops, there’s been a fire at the Wilson home. The mister is dead, and his wife, she’s on her way to the bigger hospital for treatment. It doesn’t look good for her either.” The Wilsons had the farm right next to theirs. The Wilsons had bought up a lot of lands when they first arrived in this area, putting themselves and their kids in a powerful terrible place. The money had been plentiful when the Wilsons arrived. But planting things that the earth didn’t have the energy to grow made for bad years of bringing crops in. That’s why Buck’s family only had a dozen acres, as well as cattle.
“The kids home?” Bryant shook his head, still not sitting down with him. “No, they’d not be there for any reason, would they? What else, boy? You know I don’t care for things being given out in little bits and pieces.” “Samson and I were wondering if we should take in their crops for them. The mister, he’s not there anymore, and you know as well as I do that the kids wouldn’t come back to help if their very lives depended on it. Not that I blame them any, but the missus, she might pull through, and the money might make the difference in her having medicine or not.” Buck stood up, his meal ruined now. Not by his son, no; the news was what had soured his taste. “I’m assuming that’s a yes.” “Gather up the boys, Bryant, and we’ll get a start on it for sure.” Buck went to pay his bill, and Deb told him that there was no charge. “I have to keep you in business, Deb. If I don’t, where will I get to come for breakfast every day?” “Here, just like you do every day, you old coot. I heard what you’re doing, and I’ve called my sons. They’re going to meet you there to help out. I’ll be bringing by some food about dinner time, and a cooler of drinks too.” She shoved him out the door. “I have work to do, Buck. Now get on out of here so I can get to it.”
By the time he’d gotten on his tractor and made his way to the next farm, there were about fifty men and women out there, all of them ready to work. With the extra hands and the other two tractors, he was sure they could get a lot of the fields picked and plucked in no time. Buck worked with his boys. Men really, all of them as old as sin. It was the way of their kind, the first of their species. Immortality had been given to them when he and his wife had been created to give the earth some of their kind. A lot of their magic. Sara and he had had six children, all of them from one litter. They’d been cats then, black tigers that had come to this earth with no ill will in their hearts. It was a good thing as well as a bad thing for them to be so trusting. The day after his cubs had been born, the lady of the earth, Aurora, had come to see them. She thought them blessed to have so many sons at their only birthing.
That was the downside, he thought—only one birthing to be bestowed to them. It was, she told them, to not overpopulate the world with such a special creature. Before the lady had shown up, they were going to call the boys by number of birth. And they did so until they were a little older and could pick out their own names. “I shall wish for you to roam the earth as men as well as tigers, giving your magic to as many of those as you touch with kindness. I know by creating you that you are already kind and good-hearted, but it is my wish that you spread it to all the humans as well. I fear that they’re going to be much worse as the years go by.” And she’d been right about that. Not that everyone they encountered was bad—no, there were a great many good people too. But the trouble was, he feared that they were slowly being outnumbered by the bad people in this world. It was nearing ten when they finished up the last of the fields. Harley, his son, asked why they’d planted pumpkins. Buck didn’t know, but he figured that they’d sell them in their roadside stand until they heard otherwise.
Every little bit would help, he supposed. Going home, he dusted the earth off his clothing and stripped down. Buck didn’t look his age, he thought with a laugh. He could very well pass as one of his sons and had on occasion. Shifting into his cat, he hit the ground running. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Kylan out there running as well. Are you all right, Kylan? He said that he was, just tired. Yeah, so am I. But we did a good turn for those people. And that is what we were put here for. Is that all we were put here for, Pops? He asked him what he meant. I’m lonely. I need more in my life than just farming and raising cattle. I have a degree—I’d like to branch out and start using it. It might, I hope anyway, bring in more money than just selling off cattle to the local farmers. All of them had gone to college. It hadn’t been one of the ivy leagues—they couldn’t swing that. But each of them had gone to the local college and had a nice degree to show for it. Kylan had a degree in advertising, and he could come up with ideas for things that would spin your head, as Sara used to say. Then I’d say go for it. I’m getting a little tired of raising cattle myself. Not much in the way of money in it, not the way we’re going. Kylan said he’d been talking to Marcus, and they wanted to open an advertising business together.
Well, with Marcus doing the art work, you’d sure be good at it, son. Both of you would be. And I know that Harley has a degree in business management. Perhaps that would be the ticket. Not all of you working in the same place. You know as well as I do that is just a fight waiting to happen. Kylan laughed. Yes, I’ve noticed that as we’ve gotten older, the arguing becomes more dangerous. They fought like men who hated each other. But as soon as someone drew blood, the fight was over and they were taking care of the injured one. Kylan left him after their talk. He was going to go and get things started, Buck knew that. Making his way to the little cemetery that his wife was buried in, Buck laid down on the ground next to her and told her about his day, just as he did every night when he could. Those boys, they’re going to leave me soon, Sara. I don’t know what I’m going to do in that house without them arguing all the time and picking at me. He smiled to himself. They sure have grown into men of worth, my darling. I think we did a good job, not even knowing what we were about back then.
He told her about the Wilsons and how they’d brought in their crops. They were going to try and get ahold of one of their children, to see what they wanted to do with it all. Buck had a feeling he knew what they were going to tell them—just to burn it all. Pops, I hate to bother you, but I just heard that the missus, Mrs. Wilson, has passed on. She was pretty well burned all over her body, they said. And the fire marshal, he’s saying that it looks like arson. As soon as it cools down enough, they’ll have a better idea. Buck thanked Fisher. Also, I wanted to tell you that I’m very proud to be your son. I should be saying that more often. All of us should. What we did tonight, even though Bryant was the one that thought of it, you didn’t hesitate for a moment to step in with us. I love you, Pops. For the next ten minutes or so, Buck laid there sobbing about what his son had said to him. It didn’t hurt him, but his heart did burn with love for his sons. Telling his wife about the death and what his son had said, he stood up and made his way back to the house. All the lights were on in the place, but he knew as surely as he was walking home that someone was in each of the rooms. They all knew the meaning of a nickel and leaving the lights on when you left a room was a big deal.
There wasn’t any need for him to get dinner started. True to her word, Deb had not only brought them out food, but it was the kind they could carry along with them as they worked. And there was plenty of her sweet tea and water. While normally Buck wouldn’t care for the sweet stuff, it was mighty nice on a hot evening to have something that gave you a bit of pep. Just as he was ready to go to bed, he glanced at his desk. It had been put up here because it was quieter in their room without the boys running around. Then when they’d gotten older, it had just been too much trouble to mess with. Buck had gotten a card from one of the Wilson boys when his Sara had been killed. Looking for it now, he found it among some of the other things that he’d been meaning to take care of.
It had been a few years, coming up on ten, since she’d passed, but Buck never threw anything away.
There was a return address on it, and Buck laid it right on top of his pants he was wearing tomorrow so he’d remember to do that first thing. He didn’t know if anyone in town would know how to contact the family, so he was going to do it. If they already knew, then that would be fine too. He could pass along his condolences and tell them about the product they’d pulled in for them. Closing his eyes, he thanked the mother of the earth for his day and wished his wife a happy birthday. Rolling to her side of the bed, he spooned her pillow. It was as close to her as he could get nowadays. ~*~ Randy tried to remember Mr. Prince. He knew that it had been a while. He’d left home when he’d turned eighteen and had never looked back. Now he was successful, married, and had two children. And, his parents were both now dead. “The fire was a big one, as you can imagine. They rushed your momma to the hospital by life flight, but she just couldn’t make it. I’m truly sorry, Randy. We did help them out a bit by bringing in the crops that were still out. My sons, they’re selling what we can at the stand we have out every year. We’re keeping the money for you to use for—” “Mr. Prince, while I do appreciate you doing everything you could for them, my sisters, my brother, and I, we don’t want anything to do with them.
I’m sorry that sounds so harsh, but we cut complete ties with them long ago.” Randy sat down at the table. He felt like a shit hole for saying this aloud. “I’ll pay for the funeral and whatever other expenses that they might have, but there isn’t anything that would make me want to go back there again. I’m sorry.” “I know you kids had it bad, I do know that. I wanted to…well, Randy, you don’t know how hard it was for my missus and me not to step in sometimes. Even with all the distance between the houses, we still heard it.” Randy thanked him. He wished he’d known that. He might have run to them when it was really bad. Which wasn’t saying much—it had always been bad. “Well, you tell me what you want done here and I’ll help you out with it. I never cared for your parents, I’ll tell you that. But we do like the land and what it represents to people.” “Yes, I’m sure that there are few people that cared all that much for my parents, Mr. Prince.” Randy looked at the calendar on his desk. There was barely a minute to call his own. “I’ll call my sisters and brother. See what it is they want to do.
I’m sure that none of us will be making the trip for the funeral. So if you could see your way to getting that taken care of, I’ll pay you back. Nothing big, just something quick and done.” “I’ll get on that first thing. I’ll let you know about when it is. I’ll just have them a gravesite and bury them both at the same time. It might help you to know, if there was any insurance, that your father died first. Mrs. Wilson died last night.” Randy thanked him. The man had always had the right amount of information to give someone without overwhelming you. “You let me know what you all decide. We’re going to be working on selling off the crops and such. If it’s enough, you might not be out of pocket anything.”
After getting off the phone with the elderly man, Randy thought about what he’d said. The Prince family would have taken them in, he knew that now. It was too late, but they would have been there for them. Randy thought that had any of them known that, they would have been more well-adjusted adults and not afraid of every little sound—fearful of someone coming after them with a hot poker, or even a gun. Randy called his sister Meggie first, and she reacted just the way he’d thought she would—by doing the happy dance, she told him, right there in her kitchen. He asked her if she wanted to go with him to settle their estate. “Estate? You really think they were able to save any money after we left? We were always told what a terrible burden we were to them. I’m betting that they had no life insurance, no homeowners, nor anything on that property.” She laughed bitterly. “No, I don’t want to go unless I have to. And even then, I don’t want to go. No, Randy, I’m over them. My life is finally on an even keel, and we both know how long that took me. Not to mention what it cost me.” “I know, honey. And I’m so sorry.” Meggie’s husband had divorced her and taken the little girl that they had. But not long after the divorce had been finalized, her ex and the little girl were killed in a plane crash. It had taken her years to get over that. “I’ll take care of everything. Mr. Prince said he’d make the arrangements for us.” “He always was a very generous and nice man. The entire family was. I so wanted a family like that one, didn’t you, Randy?”
He told her that he had, and also what Mr. Prince had told her. “They didn’t have squat, but they would have given us all they had if we needed it. Tell him that I said thanks.” “I will.” Now he had to call Harper, but he thought that he’d call Tyler first. Harper only lived down the street from his family after moving into a small condo about two years ago. It was both a pleasure and a nightmare to have her so close. Harper didn’t suffer fools lightly, nor did she have a filter between her brain and her mouth. Calling Tyler was much easier. “Mom and Pops have both died,” he started off. Tyler, like Meggie, laughed. Then Randy told him about the fire and how things were being done. “Mr. Prince, do you remember his family? He’s taking care of the arrangements for us. And I’m going to take care of anything else that might have to be done. After the funeral. I was wondering if you wanted to go with me.” “No, and fuck no, I do not want to go.” Tyler, a quieter version of Harper, then laughed. “No, if you want some company, I’ll go with you, so long as you’re one hundred percent sure that they’re both gone. I don’t have shit to say to them.” “Neither do I. Meggie isn’t going. I called her first.” Tyler made fun of him for waiting to call Harper last. “You would too if you had to make this call.” “Yes, you’re more than likely right about that. She’s a tad touchy about them.” And she had every reason to be too. Harper, even being the youngest of them all, had endured the most from their parents. To this day she still— “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I said that I bet Harper will want to go for the simple reason that she wants to piss on their graves. Not to mention, I’m betting that before the end of the first day there, she has a certified letter stating that they’re not only dead, but buried as well.” Randy didn’t think his brother was far off the mark. “Let me know what she’s going to be doing, Randy. For now, I’ll make sure that my calendar is clear for the next week. I know you’ll have to take your computer, but we’ll be there and back in no time.” “All right.” He put the phone in the cradle, thinking again that he was more than likely the only person in the world with a household phone still. It was for business and the fax machine. As he pressed the buttons for Harper’s home, he wondered if she was in a more reasonable mood than she had been earlier today. Harper answered the phone like she and he had spoken not two seconds ago. “Did you know that there are over nine hundred thousand different kinds of bugs in the world? Which accounts for over eighty percent of the world population.” He told her that he’d not known that. “I’m sorry about earlier today. I tend to get my underwear all twisted up when I drive, you know.” “I do know, and cannot believe that you’ve not been arrested for it.” She told him that she was cute. “You’re not cute, Harper, you’re gorgeous. Everyone but you knows that. Now, the reason that I called is that Mom and Dad are dead.” She was quiet for a few minutes. He gave her time. His sister might be a hot head and about the most beautiful woman in the world, but she didn’t empty her head when there was reflecting to do. “Who told you this?” He explained what Mr. Prince had told him, even about the way they’d not liked them.
“Did I ever tell you that Mrs. Prince took me to the hospital a couple of times? She was the nicest person I ever knew. I was sorry to hear of her passing. What do you want me to do, Randy, other than piss on their graves?” “That’s what Tyler said you’d do. He’s going with me, to settle up on anything that we might need to do. There is a lot of property there. I know that while it didn’t grow shit, it was a good bit.” She told him how many acres, then asked him what would happen to it now. “I haven’t any idea, to be honest with you. I don’t know if there is a will or anything. It would be like them to think that they would live forever.” “Are they really dead, Randy? Please don’t tell me this if it’s not true. You of all people know what they did to me.” He told her again, for like the millionth time, how sorry he was for everything. “It’s not like you could have done anything about it. No one could have. They were out to kill us, or simply maim us in any way they could. I think they did a bang up job of it too.” “They’re dead, honey. I promise you. Mr. Prince was the one that called, as I said, and he’d never lie to us about anything like that.” She said nothing, but he could hear her heavy sigh. “I was going to ask you if you wanted to go there with Tyler and I. But I can understand if you don’t want to go.” “I don’t know.” Again, Randy told her that he understood. “Can I let you know when you leave? You know me, because of my job, I have to be ready at a minute’s notice. If not, then that’s all right as well.”
“I have to make arrangements for Tyler to go. And since we’ll be staying overnight, I’ll see about accommodations.” She told him that she’d pay her part. “I have it this time. If something happens, then you can catch it the next. Or you can buy me dinner. Do you suppose Deb still works at the All Nighter?” “I just bet that she does. I think she and her husband are older than our parents. And they have the best open-faced sammiches I’ve ever eaten. Oh, now I’m hungry for one. And their pork fried sammiches. Holy shit, Randy—if I don’t go, you’ll have to bring those back with you.” He didn’t know how that was going to work, but he’d give it his best shot. None of his sisters or brother ever asked for anything. So when they did, any of them, he went out of his way to get it for them. After telling her he’d wait on her call, he called his wife, who was a teacher at the local high school. She wouldn’t want to go either, only because she was coming up on her due date in a couple of months, but the doctor had already warned her about sitting in one place too long. “I hope Meggie and Harper both go with you. Perhaps I’ll give Meggie a call. You all need this, to finalize things.” Randy told Alice that he didn’t know if there was anything to finalize. “No, silly. I meant to have closure. I think you would sleep better, and I know that Meggie still has nightmares. Harper? Well, I know she’s haunted, but she won’t talk about it. And your brother…well, he has his own demons, doesn’t he?” “Yes. I think you’re right. You talk to Meggie, and I’ll arrange things for the four of us to go. I’ll miss the kids and you.” She said that she’d be right there when he returned. “All right, love, you work your magic and I’ll work on this end of things. I love you, Alice Anne.” “And I love you Randy Panda.” He knew it was silly, the pet names, but he also knew that whenever the chance came up to do it, he was going to call her pet names until they were parted from this earth.