Eliza pulled the reluctant Jack toward Harron’s Barn, one of the first
settlement structures of Blackwood and the place where the town’s
founder and his family set up their farm nearly a century ago. The barn
had undergone some renovations over the years, but kept the original
structural integrity. The main doors had been pushed open and Jack saw
the large crowd dancing on the barn’s straw laden floor.
Jack stopped short of the barn’s threshold.
“Uh-uh….C’mon now.” Eliza tugged on Jack’s sleeve.
“Can’t I sit this one out?”
Eliza wouldn’t have it. She pulled him in. Moving into the barn and
out of the cold winds, Jack felt the temperature increase immediately.
He noted the old fashioned fat bulbs that burned red, green and blue.
They hung from the rafters on rusted nails. Electric candles burned in
the windows, behind the cast iron bars that were constructed to keep
“The fire marshal would have a field day with this place. It’s a
raging inferno waiting to happen. Look at the exposed wires connecting
“Oh come on.” Eliza pleaded.
“Look at those bars on the windows. They shouldn’t be there. And
there’s only one exit.”
“Stop playing Freddy Firefighter and start enjoying yourself.”
Jack smiled at Eliza. “Who is Freddy Firefighter?”
A new song started playing and Eliza joined the festive crowd in the
middle of the dance floor. She turned and waved for him to join her.
“You’re not getting out of this dance, Jack Fowler.”
Jack knew she wouldn’t let him off the hook. It was Eliza’s favorite
genre. He hadn’t listened to country music since he left. He found it
a depressing reminder of what he lost in Blackwood. He couldn’t escape
With a large smile, Eliza burrowed her way to the middle of the joyous
crowd and started to move her body to the rhythm of the drums and the
steel guitar. Jack stood on the edge with sunken shoulders and a goofy
grin, refusing to dance. Embarrassed, he couldn’t help but to enjoy
himself watching Eliza cut loose. Her smile proved too infectious. It
She waved him to come closer. “Get in here Jack and dance with me!”
He shook his head and held up his hands.
She put her palms together and batted her brown eyes.
Jack felt a push on his shoulder. At first disorientating, he quickly
understood the offending party’s motivation when he saw an elderly man
dancing with his wife.
“Don’t ever keep a pretty lady waiting, or I’ll take her.” The
elderly man didn’t look like he was joking.
“He’ll do it too.” added his wife. “That’s how he got me.”
The ice around Jack’s heart finally melted. Jack couldn’t help but
laugh. He nodded his head and took a few steps forward, conceding
defeat. Off came her mittens, next went her cap. Eliza raised her hands
above her head and started to swivel her hips. She then shook her hips
as the beating drums demanded. The elderly man clapped as he returned to
his wife’s embrace, with his mission accomplished.
The music played. Jack felt something foreign. Something elusive. He
felt his shoulders relax, his stomach lost its tension. It seemed like a
lifetime ago that he backed away from the threshold of that burning
house. A lifetime ago that his brethren died in the line of duty.
Something pushed Jack out of danger that night. He didn’t know what
but now understood why. This is where he was supposed to be. The
universe at work again, as Boone would say. A smile drew across his face
and he cut loose with his feet, at least as much as he could.
Eliza egged him on with her clapping and her broad smile. Jack didn’t
know the music anymore, but he immersed himself in that moment much to
Eliza’s enjoyment. The fast paced country song ended and the crowd
roared with approval. When Jack heard the piano start up followed by the
sentimental strings of an acoustic guitar, he gave thought to bolting
for the door.
He knew the song.
It was her favorite.
The music slowed Eliza’s pace. Her eyes never left his. She stepped
closer to Jack until he could feel her breath on his neck. Jack felt her
sweaty hand take his. Her other arm reached around his waist. Her head
dipped onto his chest. They stood in the middle of the crowded dance
floor, all alone as far as Jack was concerned. The lyrics said it all.
Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared beneath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known you'd ever say goodbye…
Jack rested his chin on top of Eliza’s head. He took in all the
sensations. The scent of her hair. The touch of her hand. The warmth of
her soul. He had given himself to her once more. Again, just as Boone
had told him, he didn’t have any choice in the matter.
“You know, after what happened, I couldn’t stomach country music. I
couldn’t eat Chinese food. I couldn’t watch Dracula…too much of a
reminder of you.”
“Dracula?” Eliza looked up at Jack with questioning eyes.
“The last movie we saw together…”
“Oh my.” Eliza looked completely unguarded and vulnerable at that
moment. “You remember stuff like that?” She laid her head back on
his chest. “I never meant to hurt you.” she whispered.
“Nobody ever does.”
And the song continued.
And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go…
As the music played on Jack felt the time had come. To finally receive
the answer he had subconsciously sought all these years.
“Why did you…” Jack lost the words.
“Why did you leave?”
Eliza looked up into his brown eyes. “You’re the one who left
“But you’re the one who said goodbye.”
She laid her head against his chest again and kept swaying to the slow
music. Jack stayed pressed against Eliza as he waited for her answer. He
could feel the small twitches in her body as she searched for the words.
“I remember you always treating me well. I guess my head just wasn’t
in the right place at that time. It just wasn’t where I wanted to be.
I didn’t realize it until later but you were just gone. There was no
way for me to take it back.”
“Had I just kissed you that night and just told you things would be
alright… would it have turned out differently?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Eliza paused for a moment before looking
back up at Jack. “Why don’t you try and see what happens.”
Jack looked into Eliza’s eyes and examined her soul. So familiar. So
kindred. Eliza stood up on the toes of her boots. Jack felt her fists
clench his coat as she pulled him down closer to her. He slid his hand
up the back of her jacket and cupped the back of her head. He dipped his
head down ready for the kiss.
The one he had been wanting for so long but would never admit to it.
The one that would set the universe right again.
Just before their lips touched, a blood curling scream rang from beyond
the barn doors, drawing their attention outside.
Once more, the universe had gone awry.
The scream pierced through the crowd, like a stake through the heart.
Jack had heard it many times before on the job. Undeniable wails
signaling something terrible happening. That same collective wail filled
the Town Square at the very moment.
The people in the barn headed outside. Jack lamented the lost
opportunity. Still, he took Eliza by the hand and they followed. The
rest of the mob clotted the exit of the barn as the curious tried to see
the source of the screaming. Jack fought the people and battled his way
through the exit while pulling Eliza with him.
Jack recognized the stunned looks. Just like any throng that he had
witnessed in the past at the scene of a fire. The curious. The
inquisitive. The morbid. The screams continued to spread. Parents tried
to shield their children from the sight. He kept Eliza’s hand and they
fought through the coagulation of people until he could make out the top
of somebody’s head bobbing through the masses in the courtyard. The
crowd split down the middle.
“What’s going on?” Eliza stood on her toes trying to see.
“I have no idea.”
They forced their way to the front of the gasping mob. A teenage boy’s
face came into view from the darkness. The holiday lights cast green and
red hues on the boy’s bloody and pain stricken face. With his eyes
entranced, tears streamed down his cheeks, further smearing his already
blood stained skin.
The young man stumbled naked in the freezing weather. Grayish blue skin
flaked off his arms and legs. As the crowd scrambled away from the
wandering teen, the boy looked for help that nobody offered. Jack
didn’t recognize him. He heard the screams in the crowd of terrified
“It’s the Stevens’ boy!”
The paramedic in Jack took over. He dashed toward Mark while everyone
else scampered away. The commotion intensified as parents rushed their
children away from the scene. Mark wobbled in his last few steps before
his legs finally gave out. He fell to one knee in the snow, reaching
toward a terrified woman who scrambled out of Mark’s bloody reach. His
tears pleaded for somebody to come forward. Dropping to all fours and
with mortified people looking on, Jack arrived at the boy’s side.
Jack went to the ground with the boy. “It’s OK, son. You’ll be
“We need a doctor!” shouted Jack as he twisted the boy’s torso
into his lap and let Mark lay down. “What happened? Where are you
Mark looked down at his blood covered body. The sight sent an already
distraught Mark Stevens further into a primordial breakdown. He covered
his face with his palms and curled up like a little boy. He sobbed in
Jack’s lap. Jack ripped off his own jacket and covered the shivering
Jack looked for Eliza, who scanned the crowd shouting for Abbey. Jack
then turned his attention to two men who stood dumbfounded on the
perimeter of the encircled mob. “Call 911!” he screamed.
They didn’t move. Their jaws hung in astonishment.
“And give me your damn coats!”
The two men looked at each other hoping that Jack had directed his
command at the other. They stood there like two village idiots holding
cups of cider and hot chocolate. Common sense finally settled in and the
two men discarded their drinks and gave up their coats. Jack covered
Mark’s legs up.
“What happened?” asked Jack as he inspected the boy.
Jack checked Mark’s head. He looked under the coat but couldn’t find
any wounds at all. Mark uncontrollably wept as the crowd around him
filtered from fleeing parents to curious bystanders.
“Mark? Are you hurt?” Jack looked into the mob for validation. “Is
that his name?”
A woman nodded. “Mark Stevens.”
Dan shot through the mob with Abbey in his arms. “Oh shit.” He
handed his daughter off to Eliza who whisked the little girl out of the
commotion. Dan hustled forward and knelt down beside Jack. “Jesus.
Mark? What happened?”
Jack bent lower to try to get into the boy’s face, but Mark lay curled
up in a tight ball of sobbing flesh. Dan also looked over the boy’s
“He’s bleeding.” Dan said.
Jack continued to check the boy. “I don’t think so. I don’t know
if it’s his blood.”
“I don’t see any wounds.” Dan said.
“Will somebody call 911?” Jack shouted.
“No! Find Doc Jenkins! Get him over here now!” Dan ordered an
onlooker who nodded and rushed off.
Jack cupped Mark’s head in his hands. “Mark it’s OK. It’s OK.
Calm down. It’s not your blood. It’s not your blood.”
Jack looked up at the crowd. Gawking and shocked, frozen in time and not
knowing what to do. Jack despised them all at that moment for their
Clay Sparks emerged from the depths of the mob with his family at his
side. He knelt down beside Dan. “What’s happening?”
“You’re a bit early, Clay.” Dan said.
“Just putting those years in med school to use.” Clay tried to get a
closer look at the Stevens boy. “Where are the wounds?”
Jack returned his attention to the boy in his arms. “I don’t think
it’s his blood.”
“What in sam hill is going on?” Earl shouted as he and three council
members pushed their way to the edge of the crowd. He stopped and made
the sign of the crucifix when he saw the bloody boy. “Dear God
The council members backed away when they saw the gore.
Dan put his palm up to sooth the mayor. “Earl, now calm down.”
“You’re going to be alright.” Jack placed his arms around the boy
and rubbed the coat against his body to generate heat. “You’re going
to be alright.”
Doc Jenkins came forward next. He knelt down beside Jack.
“Oh my goodness.” Doc removed the jacket from Mark’s torso to get
a better look. “Clay, let’s get this boy over to my office. Where we
can examine him.”
“We should call 911.” Jack insisted.
“Where in the hell do you think you are?” Dan chided. “The nearest
ER is in 30 minutes away in Needlepoint.”
Thirty minutes? Needlepoint is the nearest ER? Are you serious?
“Son,” Doc Jenkins spoke to Jack, “my office is on the other side
of the Square. Let’s get the boy in there.”
Jack looked at Doc Jenkins and then at Clay.
“Let’s move him.” Doc started to get his legs under him, preparing
to lift the boy.
Mark shook his head. “No. No.”
“Mark, we have to get you inside. We have to take a look at you.”
“I didn’t want to. I wanted to stop.” cried Mark. “I couldn’t
stop! I couldn’t control it!”
Doc looked at Clay and then to Dan. “What’s he talking about?”
Both men shrugged. Dan didn’t say anything.
Mark kept going on. He kept babbling about how he wanted to stop and
didn’t want to do it anymore. Doc Jenkins finally peeled the boy’s
hands away from his face. He got a good look at Mark’s snot ridden,
bloody mug. Dan reached in and cupped the boy’s face in his own hands
to try to get him to focus.
“The others, Mark, where are the others?” Dan said. “Bobby? Allen?
Eric? Are they in trouble?”
“Not now Chief, let’s get him inside.” Doc said.
Mark burst into more tears. The burgeoning young man had regressed back
into a scared little boy, crying and weeping and unable to console
himself. “I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t control it. I tried to
Jack patted the shivering boy on his head. He leaned forward and
whispered into the boy’s ear. “Hey, we’re gonna get you help. But
I’ll need you to stand up and walk about a hundred yards over to this
doctor’s office. Can you do that?”
Amid his hysterics, Mark Stevens gave a nod.
Excerpted from "Blackwood [Kindle Edition]" by J. David Rockwell. Copyright © 2017 by J. David Rockwell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.