Clay buried the girl in the far corner of the backyard, setting the old birdbath over the grave. He stood bowed and asked forgiveness for the killing, noting it wasn't his fault.
As he walked back to the house, Clay recalled the backpacker knocking on his door, saying she’d lost her cell and wanted to use his phone. She was medium height, slender with black hair pulled back, a sharp nose and a jutting chin; a conical hat would suit her. Surveying him with black eyes, she smiled saying she thought the old farm house was deserted. She rambled on that the rundown building appeared abandoned and then she saw the light, so she knocked and was pleased when the door opened. She introduced herself as Loredana and Clay invited her in. Seeing she was hungry looking, he ushered her to the kitchen for his homemade soup.
As they moved from the hall, Clay prickled at her remarks. He spent most of his time keeping up the family farmhouse off MT 41, a lovely, rural spot, but somewhat isolated. Why would the girl think the farm was abandoned?
They sat at the kitchen table and Clay poured two bowls of his homemade soup. Loredana sipped the broth and sighed, then proceeded to tell Clay she was on her way to Butte to meet friends when she detoured from I-15 to take MT 41 as she wanted to see Beaverhead Rock, the Lewis and Clark rendezvous point of rocks. When Clay asked why Beaverhead, Loredana explained she was a student of Shoshone mysticism and that peculiar limestone rock was the site for ancient ceremonials, especially the Shoshone atonement ritual. She went on to say the rite was a terrifying experience which repeated again and again, a penance cycle for those who sinned.
Finishing their soup in silence, Clay thought about the Beaverhead and the Shoshone. They did have their secrets and odd spells, but didn't everyone? Clay broke the silence and asked Loredana where she was from, but his guest waved her hand and said, “I’m sure you've never heard of it.”
Clay sat back, uneasy. What did that mean? Who was she and why had she knocked on his door? Still, no need to worry as Loredana was probably just a runaway, a troubled youth, one of many who often vanished on the road.
His visitor helped tidy the kitchen and then they drifted into the living room and sat together on the couch talking. Loredana was tired and she rested her head on Clay’s shoulder, so he put his left arm around her. To his shock, she grabbed his throat with her strong left arm and squeezed. With his free right hand, Clay found a throw pillow and slammed it against her face.
The death struggle was fierce and Clay found his eyes fluttering as Loredana throttled him. But then the girl went limp, falling sideways on the couch. Clay debated what to do and finally concluded no one would ever believe that she had tried to strangle him, so he buried her in the left corner of the back yard by the evergreens.
The next morning Clay sat in the kitchen nook overlooking the backyard. He sipped his black coffee and then started. Something was wrong. The birdbath was in the right corner of the back yard. His forehead beaded in sweat as he sat uneasily in the silent house. The right corner was where he had buried his wife after he killed her when she announced she was leaving, going to California. After all, she’d won the lottery and had located an old boyfriend.
Clay had buried Loredana in the left corner of the backyard and placed the birdbath there to obscure the digging. Who had moved the birdbath? He sat rethinking the incident, cocking his head and hearing sounds in the old farm house. Winds moaned and clouds scudded across the morning sky. He was used to the structure creaking, but the night’s adventure had unnerved him. Was someone in the house?
Starting in the cellar Clay spent the day scouring the rooms all the way to the attic. In the afternoon, he repeated the process, but found no one. As twilight drifted across the prairie, Clay began to relax. He was about to pour himself a glass of wine when the double-eagle door knocker banged. He put his wine glass down, went into the hall and opened the door.
There stood the backpacker, her dark eyes fixed on him. Without a word, Clay bade her to enter. Together they went into the kitchen and he ladled the homemade soup. They eyed each other, soup spoons raised.
“Tell me about Beaverhead Rock and the Shoshone.” He said
“Of course,” the girl replied. “I’ll tell you about the Shoshone atonement ritual.”