Cletus half-ran to the pen behind the barn after accepting the loop from the farmer's outstretched hand. The sows they'd caught a couple of days before were still asleep, so his job was not as difficult as he'd first thought it would be. He chose the pig nearest the fence, easily slipping the hemp under its snout and trailing it down until it was around the neck. That done, he quickly fashioned a slipknot to prevent the animal from wiggling out of it.
However, getting the reluctant sow up to the farmhouse was a bit more of a task. It took Cletus a full half hour to drag the reluctant animal up the slope to the back of the farmhouse, then tie the rope securely to the clothesline pole.
His forehead dripped from exertion. His mouth felt parched, his throat burned. He had not had the chance for a quick breakfast, and this headache was getting worse. Back at the barn MacDonald had disappeared back into the structure. The pump was between him and the barn—it shouldn't be a problem to grab a quick handful of water before heading back downhill.
Cletus side-stepped the sow that was now rooting around the crawlspace underneath the farm house. He walked past the back step, casually glancing at the piled boots he knew were always there. A small detail flashed to him, a detail he could easily have forgotten if the seed of it hadn't already been planted. Cletus paused, took a step back, and took another good look. Then another.
Yep. No doubt about it. That was dried blood on the back steps—blood that had seeped out of the kitchen floor in thin rivulets and dried in streaks down the hewn stone steps.
Morbid curiosity made Cletus run a finger over the dried blood. It was tacky, not yet at the flaking point. He stared at the smudge on his finger for a second until disgust washed over him and he furiously wiped it on the dry grass.
Getting back to his feet, he started to head for the pump again when he glanced back at the boots lying haphazardly by the steps. In the morning light there was no denying that one pair, one boot lying on its side and the other propped at a slant on top of another set, bore the unmistakable wetness of undried blood. It was embedded in the ridged soles of the footwear, oozing slowly, very, very slowly, along the patterned bottoms as though traversing a maze.
Cletus glanced down at the barn to see if MacDonald had emerged yet. Seeing the coast was clear, he reached over to the boots and again wiped the same finger along the heel. To his utter amazement, the stuff not only was fresh, but warm.