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Dying to Tell

By:Rita Herron

ff. Male? Or a child’s? Was this Skid, the teenage alter? Or had a new personality emerged from her sister’s tangled mind? “Who is this?”

“I know what you did. What she did...” A choked breath. “You...you have to pay.”

Thunder rumbled, the first splatter of rain hitting the pavement. A child’s balloon floated toward the sky, lost, caught in the wind.

Sadie pressed a hand to her chest. “Amelia...”

But her sister didn’t answer. Neither did the voice.

Instead a gunshot blasted the air, and a chilling scream filled her ears. A scream that seemed to go on forever.

Slaughter Creek, Tennessee

Sheriff Jake Blackwood had come back to Slaughter Creek to raise his daughter.

But now that he was sheriff, he might as well take advantage of the office, so he’d pulled the old file on his father’s disappearance. Maybe he could finally get the answers he’d wanted for so long. Just being back in town stirred up his need for closure.

And his little girl had been asking questions about the family. He’d like to give her some answers, too.

He opened the file and rifled through the papers. Not much to go on.

Sheriff Bayler had checked out the family house, but there were no signs that Jake’s father had packed a suitcase or planned a trip. No bus schedules or plane tickets, no note.

Nothing except that he was gone.

His father had been dating some woman from the neighboring town, but none of them, not him or his brother, Nick, had known her name or how to get in touch with her.

The trail had stopped cold.

He just hoped he wouldn’t find out his father was dead.

But what other explanation could there be for him to desert his two sons?

Had his father run off with this woman?

Jake just couldn’t make himself believe that, although Nick had accepted it a long time ago. But Jake figured that was because Nick and his father hadn’t been close.

Hell, in the back of his mind, he’d even wondered if Nick and his father had gotten into it, and...

No, he wouldn’t let himself go there.

But he would find out the truth.

The phone on his desk trilled, and Jake snatched it up. “Sheriff Blackwood speaking.”

“You’ve got to come, Sheriff.”

Jake tensed at the sound of the terrified voice on the phone. The minute he’d seen the Nettleton number, he’d known there was trouble. Ms. Lettie had a nursing background and had taken care of Amelia Nettleton for years.

Amelia Nettleton, who had mental problems and did crazy things when she went off her meds.

“What’s wrong, Ms. Lettie?”

“Amelia, she got away from me, and then Sadie phoned—”

“Sadie?”

“Yes...,” Ms. Lettie said. “She got a call, thought it was from her sister, but it musta been one of the others, and then she heard a gun go off, and Sheriff, I’m scared to death...Scared Amelia done killed her granddaddy.”

“Wait outside, Ms. Lettie. I’ll be right there.”

“I will, but hurry, Sheriff.”

Jake jogged to the squad car, jumped inside, and tore from the parking lot.

Trees flew past as he steered the vehicle up the winding mountain highway, the car spitting gravel as he veered onto the dirt road leading to the Nettletons’ farm. His headlights panned over ruts and trees and then lit up the property ahead, and he silently noted how dilapidated the farm had become as it popped into view in the distance. Rotting fence posts. A broken-down tractor in an unplowed field. Hay that hadn’t been cut.

Two quarter horses pranced gracefully in the pasture. Moonlight cast ominous shadows across the front yard, and as he screeched to a stop, he noticed weathered side buildings, a sagging front porch, paint peeling, and an overgrown yard.

Ms. Lettie hobbled from the edge of the porch and hurried toward him. Her gray hair had slipped from its bun and blew haphazardly in the wind, and she tugged a faded shawl around her bony frame as if the garment could protect her from whatever bad had happened here.

“Have you heard anything else?” Jake asked.

Ms. Lettie shook her head. “No...Jesus, this is all my fault. Amelia’s been talking out of her head all day. I put her to bed, but she musta got up and snuck out.”

“Shh, don’t blame yourself,” Jake said.

“But I shoulda known something was wrong. I found a bunch of her pills dumped in the ferns yesterday.” Her voice cracked, then she glanced at the house again with worried eyes.

Jake removed his weapon from his holster. He hoped he didn’t have to use it. “Go wait in the squad car till I return. I’ll check out the house.”

Ms. Lettie bobbed her head up and down, then clutched her shawl around her shoulders tighter as he raced inside.

The acrid scent of death, blood, and body waste filled Jake’s nostrils as he entered. He nearly stumbled over a pile of newspapers. At first glance, he thought someone had ransacked the place. Then he realized that the piles of junk lining the wall to the den were semiorganized.

Walter Nettleton was a hoarder, he’d heard someone in town say. He bought boxes of junk from the salvage store and kept a stockpile of canned food, cleaning supplies, and other necessities in his house as if he were stocking a bomb shelter.

The floor squeaked above Jake, and he held himself still, senses honed as he listened for an intruder.

Then a low-pitched keening reverberated through the dark.

Holding his gun at the ready, he crossed the foyer and scanned the kitchen. Dirty dishes piled in the sink. An empty coffee cup along with other mugs sat on the counter. A cigarette burning in the ashtray. A bottle of Ezra Brooks, half empty. A broken glass on the stained linoleum floor, the bourbon spilled out.

And more piles of junk, file folders full of papers and receipts, supplies, plastic containers, mason jars that looked as if something was growing inside...There was barely a path through the mess.

But no one was on the first floor.

He moved to the left and stepped onto the winding staircase. The pine floors crackled bene

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