Home > An Evil Heart

An Evil Heart
Author: Linda Castillo



The sky above the treetops blazed in hues of fluorescent orange and Easter-egg pink when Aden Karn backed his bicycle from the shed. Dropping his lunch box in the handlebar basket, he wheeled it to the road, threw his leg over the seat, and set off at a brisk pace. The ride to the pickup point where he met his English coworkers usually took about twenty minutes. For once he was early and he was glad for it. Autumn had settled over this part of Ohio in gentle increments this year, bringing a burst of color to the maples and walnut trees that grew alongside the road. Another week and the countryside would be aflame. According to his mamm, they were God’s colors. This morning, he had to agree.

Sweat dampened his shirt as he flew past the old bank barn at the curve, tires humming against the asphalt. His English coworkers gave him flak for riding the bike, but it was a good-natured kind of ribbing; Aden didn’t mind. It wasn’t like he could leave a buggy horse tied all day while he worked. Sure, he’d gotten wet a time or two, a problem easily solved by the slicker tucked away in his lunch box. Some of the Amish were using scooters now in Holmes County, but Aden wasn’t interested. He liked the quiet of the bike, the physical labor, the speed and freedom of it. Somehow, he felt closer to the earth—closer to God—when he was astride the bike, drinking in the bounty He had bestowed on His children.

Aden took his time as he pedaled along the township road. He passed by the mossy pond in Mr. Yount’s pasture where the ducks skimmed across the water’s surface, dipping their heads to nibble on pondweed, and flapping their wings. As he passed over the bridge, he came upon the sheep that grazed the orchard grass that grew thick in the low area. He’d watched the lambs grow over the summer. Farther, he whisked past the field of “cow corn” Mr. Dunlop had left to dry. He stood on the pedals and pumped hard as he climbed the hill at County Line Road. He cruised the downhill side a little too fast, enjoying the breeze, and he leaned in as he made the turn onto Hansbarger Road.

He was so embroiled in his thoughts he didn’t notice the figure in the ditch until he’d sped past. Having caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, Aden braked hard, surprised, wondering if there was a problem. He stuck out his foot and stopped so abruptly the back tire skidded sideways.

Both feet on the ground, he turned and looked over his shoulder. Oddly, there was no vehicle in sight. Just the figure standing in the ditch, looking at him.

“Is everything all right?” he called out.

Only then did he notice the weapon. At first, he thought it was a rifle, but that was strange; it wasn’t deer season. Then he noticed the shape—the spread of the limbs, the cam on the left, the cocking stirrup in front—and he realized it was a crossbow. He watched uneasily as the weapon came up. An instant of disbelief as the figure’s head tilted, eye lowered to the sight.

He felt a pang of alarm and released the handlebars, raising his hands. “Hey! What are you—”


An invisible fist punched the air from his lungs. A shock of pain in his chest. A burning streak shot down his back. His knees buckled. The bike went sideways, the handlebars twisting, and clattered to the asphalt. Aden glanced down in disbelief as he caught sight of the bolt sticking out. Then his shoulder hit the ground. His temple banged against the asphalt. Around him, the world went silent. He lay still, blinking and confused, the roadway warm against his cheek, pain thumping from chest to pelvis.

He moved his leg and rolled onto his back, trying to make sense of what happened. The movement brought a riot of pain to his spine. Darkness crowded his vision. Groaning, he looked down at the bolt, realized it had gone clean through and was sticking out the back.

Dear God in heaven …

His bladder let go. He felt the warm spread of urine on his thigh, soaking his trousers. Too much pain to care. Too much fear. The knowledge that he was badly injured hit home. Panic swept over him. He opened his mouth, tried to suck in a breath. A horrible sound poured out of him.

The crunch of shoes against gravel drew his attention. He looked up, tried to speak. He raised his hand, fingers spread. “Help.”

Dead eyes stared down at him, cold as iron, dark with intent. Not seeing. Gloved hands reached down. Face set. An impersonal task, unpleasant but necessary. Both hands gripped his shoulder.

He whimpered. “Don’t.”

An electric current of pain tore through him as the bolt was pushed deeper. Another, as he was rolled onto his belly. The groan that followed came out as a gurgle. Breaths tearing in and out, each one an agony.

Another explosion of pain as the bolt was yanked from his body. His arms and legs convulsed. Once. Twice. Darkness encroached, stealing the light. Night pressing down. Aden felt the hands on his shoulder again. Fingers digging into his arm as he was rolled onto his back.

He lay there, helpless and terrified, listening to his own ragged breaths, pain pulsing with every beat of his heart. Vaguely, he was aware of the crossbow being lowered to the ground. The toe of a boot jammed into the stirrup. The squeak of the bowstring as it was drawn tight. The click of the string engaging with the nock.

Please don’t …

The crossbow was lowered. Emotionless eyes burrowed into his. “I can’t abide you doing what you’re doing,” the shooter told him.

He knew what came next and the horror of it was too much to process. Terror infused his every muscle. He tried to move, to run or crawl away, felt his leg shift and flop, useless. He raised his hands, grabbed the shooter’s ankle, his fingers clasping the fabric.

“Don’t,” he pleaded.

The head of the bolt was placed against his mouth with excruciating gentleness. The sharp tip cut his lip as it was worked between his teeth. Steel clicking against the enamel. The salty tang of blood. The bolt invaded his mouth, depressed his tongue, and went deep. He gagged. Once. Twice. Horror and disbelief overtook him.

He tried to speak and retched.

He felt a boot on his shoulder, pressing him down, trapping him. The shooter’s finger on the trigger. The bolt cutting the back of his throat. His mouth filled with blood. He coughed and gagged, his throat spasming. His hand yanked at the fabric of the trousers, twisted.



He looked up at the sky, but he could no longer see the sun.




My mamm had a saying about life’s small discomforts.

Vann es shmatza, hayva da shmatz un bayda es dutt naett letsht zu lang. If it hurts, embrace the pain and pray it doesn’t last too long. This morning, the memory of my mamm dances in the forefront of my mind, and for the first time in a long time, I miss her.

I’m in my sister’s upstairs bedroom, standing on an old wooden alteration platform. My police uniform is draped across the foot of the bed, my boots on the floor next to it. My utility belt and service revolver look obscenely out of place against the gray-and-white wedding-ring quilt.

“Katie, my goodness, you’re fidgeting again,” Sarah tells me. “Hold still so I can finish pinning without sticking you.”

“Sorry,” I mutter.

I can’t recall the last time I wore a dress. This particular dress has a history. My sister wore it eleven years ago for her wedding. Our mamm wore it, too. Our grandmother made it. And so when my sister asked me to come over to look at it with my own wedding in mind, I had no qualms about trying it on. Now that I’m here, I realize it wasn’t a very good idea.

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