Old man Norris was sitting there under the big oak tree just like Mr. Franklin said he would be.
“Get out there before the afternoon gets too hot,” Franklin had told Albert, “and you’re like as not to find the man leaned against the oak beside his barn, watching the cows graze.”
Albert’s stomach fluttered as he hopped down off Larry’s back and tied the horse to a fencepost. He’d heard the stories about how mean and nasty Norris was, and now he had to try and collect money from the old man.
Albert took his hat in his hands and walked toward the peaceful barnyard in front of him. Maybe Norris would be in an agreeable mood.
“Excuse me, Mr. Norris,” Albert said when he drew within about twenty feet of the tree. He could see the farmer’s legs stretched out in front of him, boots resting on the green grass. The brim of Norris’ straw hat jutted out from behind the trunk.
Albert took another few steps. “Mr. Norris, I hate to bother you, but Jimmy Franklin at the general store sent me to settle up with you. Says you missed paying for last month’s feed order and figured you must’ve just forgot.”
The pasture stretched out in front of Albert, but there were no cattle in sight.
Albert stepped around the side of the tree and saw Norris’ hand braced against the ground. It was red and swollen like sausage in a fire.
“Mr. Norris, are you OK?”
The old man didn’t move or answer, but a low rumble shivered the earth beneath Albert’s feet and then crescendoed to a deafening buzz.
A great winged shadow passed overhead, splashed across the open field.
The sting was tremendous, but sweet, complete numbness followed. And then, blackness.
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