Episode 43: A Prognostification | Scryer's Gulch
Annabelle had a hard time concentrating on Brother Fattipickel's sermon that morning, though the jovial priest kept it light and loud as usual. She'd eaten sparsely at the Hopewell in anticipation of Mrs Smith's legendary groaning board later that day, and she was not used to sitting through church hungry. She wondered how on earth the Methodics did it every week; she supposed they were used to it if that's what they'd done since childhood.
Her stomach growled. She snuck a look around at the well-fed ranks in the pews and hoped no one heard it. There was Minnie Smith. She must cook a good deal of her dinner before church, and put the rest on just before services. The Runnels family was Methodic, at least Rabbit and Jamie were; she wondered how Mrs Smith had ended up with them in the first place.
When services ended and she'd gotten past Brother Fattipickel's earnest entreaties to start adding to the ranks by marrying and having as many little Enthusiasts as possible, she hurried back to the Hopewell to drop off her prayer book. She dashed up the stairs to her room, kicked Misi out the window onto the roof with orders to "do something productive, you furry menace," put the book on her nightstand and rushed back down again. The smells coming from the dining room were almost nauseating they were so good, and her stomach gave an affronted gurgle.
She was in such a hurry that she almost ran straight into John, waiting for her in the lobby. "Hello, Sheriff Runnels," she laughed.
"Miss Duniway," he smiled, touching his hat. "Shall we?" She looped her arm through his and strolled off in anticipation of a happier dinner than she'd had the night before.
Emmy Parsons stood in the Hopewell kitchen doorway, pulling bristles out of the scrub brush in her hand as she stared after the couple going through the front door. She did not like the schoolmarm's visiting over to the Runnels house one bit. But what could she do about it? She knew only one thing. She had that letter the Duniway woman wrote to that other man. John Runnels needed to see it before he did something stupid, "stupid" in Emmy's mind being anything that didn't end up with his loving her.
He saw her back in the day twice--never saw another girl as far as she knew--and was almost the kindest a man had ever been to her in that way, treated her like a real girl and not a girl for hire. Only one nicer was his brother Rabbit, but she didn't want any of that buck-toothed gawk. She wished he'd stop hanging around, and John would start. Why shouldn't he? Emmy wasn't so hard on the eye. Had most of her teeth, was a real hard worker--harder than that Duniway ever worked, she reckoned--and she liked kids enough not to pester them about history and such. She'd make the Sheriff a real good wife. She'd even settle for being his woman if he didn't want to marry again. He'd taken the death of Missus Runnels awful hard. Emmy wondered again what she'd been like; she died before Emmy'd come to the Gulch.
What was the best way to approach him? How should she give him that letter?
A great crash jerked Emmy around. Ralph stood in the middle of the kitchen, slack-jawed; at his feet lay the pot he'd been about to put by the wash sink. He stared off at nothing with eyes as white and cloudy as milk.
"Emmy Parsons," said Ralph, "I have a warnin fer you:"
What you're fixin to do'll leave you haunted
T'won't turn out the way you wanted
"What on earth do you mean? Thet's turrble rhymin, Ralph!" she snapped, her free hand clutching her apron front.
"Ralph ain't here!" said Ralph.
The hair on Emmy's forearms stiffened like the bristles on the scrub brush. "T'ain't funny, Ralph Johnson, you jist stop it right this instant!" She tiptoed up to him and gave him a weak slap on the shoulder with the brush. "Now, quit that right now!"
He made no reply, not even the swat she would normally get in return. Should she call for Julian? Or Doc Horridge? Or maybe--she gulped--Pastor Billson? It was Sunday, and Pastor Bill wasn't likely to pay her any mind, what with her history, but maybe, if something was in Ralph that oughtn't be there--
Ralph came to with a snort; he shook himself hard. "Did I go off agin?"
"Go off agin?" echoed Emmy. "You mean, did you stand there feeble-minded with your mouth all open and your eyes all milky?"
"Yep, that'd be it."
"You shorely did! You done that before?"
"Not afore I come here," said Ralph. "Reckon it's the hermetauxite. Don't happen too terrible often, but often enough I'm surprised you ain't seen it. Say, did I say anythin interesting?"
Emmy shifted sullenly on her feet. "Nothin of intrest, jist a lotta bosh."
"Huh," said Ralph, scratching his chin. "Usually I say somethin of interest."
"Like what?" said Emmy, picking at the brush again.
"Oh, like a prognostification of some sort. You know--seein into the future--scryin, like the name of the town, 'cept I don't seem to need a shiny thing nor a candle flame."
"You didn't do no scryin, Ralph Johnson, you jist stood there droolin!" Emmy swayed out of reach of Ralph's half-hearted back hand, picked up the pot he'd dropped, and went to work on it and the other dishes from the first morning rush laid out on the drainboard. Ralph yelped; he'd burnt his biscuits and didn't he deserve it, scaring her like that. She put his no-account prophecy to the back of her mind and returned to planning out her capture of John Runnels's affections.
She could do it. She knew she could.