Tate yawned as he went into the kitchen to turn out the light before going to bed. His hand was on the switch when a sound he hadn’t heard since he was eighteen reached his ears. A chill stiffened his spine at the distinctive melody only a few members in his family tree had been gifted to hear.
Changing directions, he went to the front door, taking the shotgun off the rack, opening the door to stride out onto the lit front porch. It was still muggy and the summer night was eerily silent. Tate’s eyes surveyed his land, looking for anything out of place. He pumped his rifle, waiting to shoot anything stupid enough to move. Tresspassers would recognize the distinctive sound.
“What’s wrong?” Greer’s low voice alerted him to his presence as he moved to stand next to him, rifle held expertly in his hands.
“Don’t know,” Tate answered, not taking his eyes off the trees bordering their house.
Greer didn’t question his instincts. In their profession, their lives and those of the ones in the house depended on their staying alert to possible danger.
Dustin’s shadow was the next to join his brothers, his rifle pointed at the dark woods.
“Want me to go check the field?” Dustin asked.
“No,” Tate answered sharply. “I will. Greer, you keep an eye outside. Dustin, you go back inside with Holly and Logan.” He took a step off the porch, pausing with his back to his brothers. “I heard the death bell.”
“Shit! How many times?” Dustin’s sharp question held worry for his son sleeping in the house.
Each of the Porters were gifted, or cursed, depending on which one you talked to. Rachel was the most powerful of the four, having inherited most of their grandmother’s gifts. Tate’s own power wasn’t a gift, but the curse of knowing someone was going to die. He never knew whom Death was going to strike. It could be a family member or someone he had been near recently. The first toll was a warning that Death was coming, the second meant Death had found his victim, and the third was Death’s arrival. He had heard the bells intermittently during childhood. He had asked his grandmother about the sounds that no one else seemed able to hear, and she had looked at him sadly, explaining how the death knells were a warning.
“How do I know who’s gonna die?” he had asked.
“Then what good is it?”
“It’s a warning to keep your family safe. Don’t let Death sneak in the backdoor to steal what’s yours.”
Tate had taken his grandmother’s words to heart. Whenever he heard the bells, he became vigilant, watching over his family until Death’s next victim was revealed. However, only once had he known whom the bells were intended for, and that was his grandmother. She had been ill for some time. He had gone to her late one night when he had heard the second bell, giving her the warning she had known was coming.
“I’m ready.” Her weary voice had been filled with pain as she had taken his hand and held it while he sat by her bedside. “Tate, one day, you’re going to be head of this family. It’s your job to make sure everyone’s kept safe. Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t, Grandma,” Tate had promised.
He had failed in that promise with his mother and father, neither listened to his warning to stay home the day they had gone fishing. It had taken a week of dragging the river to find their bodies. Since then, he hadn’t heard the death knells.
He took the last step off the porch, striding across the yard to head into the dark woods. He knew the mountain like the back of his hand, so he easily maneuvered through the thick brush for over a mile, avoiding the traps set to catch trespassers who wanted to steal what they had spent all season growing, which was worth a small fortune. He listened to every noise, trying to pinpoint whether anything was moving, but could hear nothing.
Crouching, he scooted under a heavy patch of briars until he came out on the other side, looking around the massive field of marijuana he and his brothers had planted. Next week, they would cut it then dry it out in their homemade drying shed. It was their winter supply. They wouldn’t start growing again until next spring.
Tate wished now he hadn’t listened to Dustin to give it an extra week to grow. They should have cut and processed it last week, but Dustin wanted Logan out of the house while they processed the pot in the barn. In three days Logan would be leaving to stay with his great-grandmother in town. They could get the weed dried out and bagged before he returned from the two-week stay.
Tate didn’t see anything out of place. None of the traps had been touched. He walked around the perimeter of the field, unable to explain the uneasy feeling. If it was daylight, he would climb a tree and look out over the area, but the darkness made that option useless.