I couldn't let Clint carry any blame for Mr Bowen's murder.
Sure, they'd blame Samuel and Zeke first, you can hear them all now, shaking their sorry heads, ringing their pathetic hands, "Them boys only back in town a season and there's another murder!" or "Cougars don't become puppies overnight."
Or "Hang them both!"
But Mr McGinley was Mayor, after all. In cahoots with Sheriff Cole. They got power. And Power can hush a tornado if it means saving one of their own from perishing.
And Clint was an easy scapegoat.
And he had Mr Bowen's blood on his trousers.
You think, don't you?
You get ideas you don't want to get. Thoughts you mustn't speak.
Because they terrify.
All these thoughts burst open inside my head, like it was someone else who was thinking for me. Like somebody was there, asking questions.
Has Zeke killed again?
What was Clint doing there?
Where was Clint when Mrs Prendergast and Taya Two Horses got killed?
Clint's strong. He can wield an axe better'n anybody I know.
Clint couldn't kill.
Anybody can kill. Given the right circumstances.
And an axe.
Clint's no killer.
But he was there.
"Why'd anybody do that?"
Shutup Clint, I got to think.
But like he never heard me, he kept on asking "Why?"
What's wrong with you, calm down, I need to think. I need quiet.
"But who- "
Godsake, Clint, shutup, you're acting too dumb to teach a hen to cluck right now. Can't you see they's going to say you did it!
"But I was only there a few seconds, that's not long enough - "
They don't know what time you got there. Not definite, leastways. Now please, please shutup.
He shut up. I had to think, and think fast.
My mind raced.
Anyone see you there? I asked.
"His neck - it..." He turned and puked again.
Did anyone see you there? I repeated, This is important, Clint.
He wiped his forearm across his mouth. The smell of the vomit was acrid.
"His arm was nearly off! Oh God, Anna, his neck..." again he puked, but this time didn't move, just let it tumble down his front.
I grabbed his arms, one dry, one sticky and wet, and shook him hard.
Listen to me Clint. Anyone see you?
He shook his head. "Dunno. I ran away. I don't think so!"
"He'd been hacked - he's dead - an axe - there's - b-blood over the schoolroom floor and - "
Clint's voice juddered, his words splintered the air.
I stared at the ground: it seemed if I didn't look at Clint it would make this moment into a dream or a story and, dream or story, it would end - happily or sadly - but it would end, and then we could both go home and everything would be alright.
"There was blood - the windowsill. And I puked."
My eyes watched Clint's hands shaking as he held them, as if in prayer.
"And I ran away!"
Now I understood. Understood the signs, understood what happened and understood we cannot stop our world unfolding as it should.
Clint raised his head off his arm. Tears dripped onto his dusty shirtsleeve, making black scars down the grey cotton.
His eyes begged me, huge tears pooling and dripping, though he wasn't sobbing. They held mine demanding I say: "It was a dream. Nothing more."
But I couldn't say any such thing.
All I could do was cradle his head in my lap, rock back and forth, and weep quietly, as if that would bring Mr Bowen back to life.
There are moments in your life, swift passing moments that touch you as they come and go, touch you deep inside and change you, so that you are never the same person again. But I can't say what happened. It's not God, not magic, and it sure as hell isn't explainable, but it happens and it happened to me then.
Somewhere inside, I felt all the connections that make us human.
And outside, I saw the sky bleed and realised it was trying to show me there'd been bloodshed. And I'd been too fool a child to understand. Until now.
He grabbed my hand and threw himself to the floor, pulling me down with him.
Clint! I yelled.
There wasn't any space in my mind to think of questions to ask, it was all taken up with fear and worry for him and what he was going to tell me.
I knelt beside him and stroked his hair as he lay face down on the ground. His feet kicked aggressively down into the dirt and his breathing shuddered.
Tell me, I said quietly, though the lump in my throat and the tears burning my eyes told me I already knew.
I knew what had happened before Clint even opened his mouth.
It was a Saturday evening. I was thinking of going home, because the sunset was spoiled by a dirty blanket of cloud that let only weak slivers of crimson sunshine through. The sky at the horizon reminded me of a fresh cut, sprouting small rivulets of blood.
He ran up to me.
He'd been working on his parents farm all day, so his face was dirty. The sky found an agitated reflection in Clint's colourless face where rivulets of clear skin paled white through the dirt.
He'd been crying.