Sally – Epilogue

The sunrise had just barely kissed the horizon with striking shades or pink, gold, and amber as the funeral procession for the fallen infected an otherwise peaceful setting. The weeping of women and children filled the damp air. It was a small gathering in comparison to the previous one.

The new preacher was a young man summoned prematurely from a seminary in New York. With an awkward posture and kind eyes, he would do.

A lone rider rode up to the gathering. She was a girl wearing a cowboy hat. Sally.

“My condolences,” she said gently.

“So much bloodshed. So much hate,” said Daniel’s young wife.

The two young women locked eyes until Sally looked away.

“The most hateful ones seem to be gone now,” said Sally.

“I must ask you to now respect our fallen men and remain silent,” said the preacher boy harshly.

Everyone was staring at her.

She turned her mount around to face the rising sun, then looked back at them with the faintest hint of a grin.

“I killed them,” she said. “All of them.”

She urged her horse into a run toward the flaming horizon.

 

Sally – Chapter Thirty-Three

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Sally blew out the candle and held him close until he fell asleep. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness; she studied his handsome profile. She smiled at the way he breathed when he was dreaming.

“I love you, Jeremy,” she whispered.

Her lips met his warm face. She kissed him slowly and slowly pulled away. A smile formed on his face as he was caught in the magical place between sleep and awake.

He settled back into deep sleep. She waited.

She slipped out from under the covers and placed her folded note to him on the night table next to him. Standing over him, she drank in the sight of him once more, engraving the sight of him in her memory.

She dressed noiselessly, putting on one of Jeremy’s clean flannel shirts and tucking it into her riding skirt. She brought the collar to her nose and inhaled his scent. She tied her hair back with Mama’s pink ribbon and placed Jacob’s Stetson hat over her head. She left the room without looking back, grabbing the rifle on her way outside.

She dragged her feet to the barn and slowly saddled up her horse. If he caught her mid-escape, she would stay with him forever, even if it was wrong.

He didn’t stop her. He remained sound asleep in their room.

She rode away from the farm, her home, her husband. The evening gale hit her tear stricken face as she urged her horse into a run. She reached the abandoned home that had once belonged to a young, happy Thompson family. She let herself in through the unlocked door, shuddering as a chill rushed over her.

She crept up the stairs and went to Mama’s room. Though her floral perfume was muted, it still hung in the air. She gathered up all of Mama’s valuable jewelry and took one of her gowns, placing the feminine things in Mama’s favourite handbag. She would sell the valuables to survive until she found a job somewhere, but she would always keep the dress as a memory.

She went to Amber’s room and took her favourite stuffed kitten and one of her story books as a keepsake to the baby girl who would never grow up.

Then she walked into to Papa’s room. Without taking a moment to stop, she took one of his belts from his top drawer and left quickly. Stopping in the open doorway, she tied the belt tightly around her waist. She glanced over her shoulder at the familiar, empty surroundings and left them behind forever.

She went to Mama’s gardens. The weeds had already taken over. Most of the flowers wilted in the absence of regular watering and care. She picked the best roses, the ones that flourished despite their hardship. Her heart broke as she turned her back on the place that Mama and Amber had spent most of their time when they went outside. She couldn’t look at the shed.

She remounted and rode to the graveyard. She found Mama’s and Amber’s graves. She placed the freshly picked roses at the base of their tombstones.

“I am so sorry that I missed your funeral. I wasn’t well.”

She sat with them for a while, imagining the three of them together laughing and playing silly games in the gardens. In those moments, evil did not exist. She smiled through her tears.

“I miss you both too much. I will never be fully alive again without you here.”

***

Jeremy awoke before dawn with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t need to turn over to know that she was gone. The air had a chill to it whenever he woke up without her next to him. He lit a candle and sat up, staring at the vacant spot in the bed. The blanket where she slept was still warm.

She was a firefly, a lone she-wolf. No amount of love could make her stay in one place. He had been the one to help her find her true self, but in doing so, he had lost her for the rest of his life.

He picked up the note and read it. His chest ached as he set the paper with her neat handwriting on his lap.

He loved her, but keeping her would have been as cruel as keeping two spiders in a jar for the rest of their lives. One of them would eventually kill the other. It was simply the way of some things.

He moved out of bed and ventured out to the kitchen. She took the rifle with her. Heaven help anyone who tried to mess with her while she carried a weapon. His mouth upturned in a sad smile.

He opened the door and stared out at the stars. The sun would eventually erase them from the sky like life had erased Sally from his life. He imagined the places she would go, the people she would meet and then leave. He had had the honour of being one of the people to love and be loved by her. That would have to be enough.

He went back to bed and reread her note.

Dear Jeremy, 

I love you. I love you so much. 

But I cannot stay. I don’t want to become one of them and I fear a part of me already has. I need to go in order to save us both. 

I hope you will keep the farm. It’s a beautiful place and I know how you love it. 

Good-bye, my love. I will miss you forever. 

Love, 

Sally 

Sally – Chapter Thirty-Two

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Jeremy awoke sleeping next to Sally in their bed. He almost wondered if he had dreamed everything up, but when he tried to sit, pain ran up and down his legs and he fell back onto the mattress with a groan.

“You’re finally awake,” said Gabriel from the doorway.

Jeremy stared up at the ceiling waiting for the agony to subside.

“I thought I was going to die.”

Gabriel stepped into the room, fidgeting as he stared out the window.

“Your legs took a hit, but we got the bullets out.”

Jeremy rolled over and looked at Sally.

“Will Sally be okay?”

“Yeah. Her shoulder was in pretty bad shape, but the doctor took care of that, too. You’ve both been out for the last couple of days.”

“I guess it’s all over.”

Gabriel shrugged.

“You could say that. The town is now full of fatherless children and weeping wives.”

Jeremy glared at Gabriel.

“You know what those deacons were capable of.”

“I was happy to return and help you, but now that Mary is here, I want to take her away from this place.”

“Where is she?”

“She went for an early ride. Staying here for the past few days has made us both antsy. Do you think that you could manage on your own now that you’re healing up and feeling better?”

“I think so.”

“Mary saved Sally’s life. She could have been killed and this wasn’t even her fight.”

Jeremy closed his eyes.

“I am so sorry. I know you have both risked everything to help us.”

The energy that used to be between them vanished; something else replaced it. Reality had a way of slowly destroying friendships over time, no matter how strong they were in the beginning. This time, he knew that it would be the last time he would see his friend. He had asked too much of Gabriel and now it was the end.

“You both should go and restart your lives. I can take it from here.”

Gabriel placed his hands in his pockets, slouching.

“We’ll stay the night and leave tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you, Gabriel.”

Gabriel hung his head and left the room. Jeremy gently ran a hand down Sally’s arm as she slept. She was so beautiful and so brave.

He drank from the glass of water sitting at his night table and went back to sleep. The next morning, Sally woke up before him. He left the empty bed and limped out to the kitchen where Sally, Gabriel, and Mary sat drinking coffee. They appeared to be having a heartfelt conversation. Sally dried the tears from her eyes and let out a small cry at the sight of him.

She ran into his arms.

“Oh, Jeremy! We made it.”

“We really did.”

Gabriel and Mary watched them with pensive looks.

“They made pancakes,” said Sally. “Please have some.”

She prepared him a plate of the fluffy hot cakes as he sat at the table. He met Mary’s gaze.

“Thank you so much for helping us fight.”

“I had hoped the fighting days were behind me, but I’m very glad I arrived when I did.”

“What made you think to return here?”

She looked at Gabriel and took his hand.

“I had this terrible gut feeling about him coming back here and I decided to ride after him.”

“She killed Daniel at the nick of time!” exclaimed Sally as she stared at the older girl in awe. “He was standing over me, ready to plant a bullet into my skull and there she was.”

Jeremy blinked back threatening tears as he looked gratefully at the woman who Sally betrayed. Women like Mary and Sally weren’t supposed to exist, and yet there they were, sitting in the same kitchen.

“Thank you, Mary. I owe you my life.”

“You owe me no such thing,” said Mary, tilting her head with a smile.

“It looks like we both married cunning assassins,” said Gabriel with a smirk.

Mary and Sally shared a chuckle.

Though he saw the humour in the statement, Jeremy couldn’t quite bring himself to laugh with them.

***

Sally and Mary went to the barn to feed the animals while the men washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. The role reversal was Mary’s suggestion and it lightened the atmosphere. Sally was glad to get some fresh air after being cooped up and unconscious for the last several days.

“I’ll do the heavy lifting,” said Mary with a concerned glance at Sally.

“I still don’t understand how you could help me when I was the reason for your banishment from the town.”

“Really, Sally. Who wouldn’t want to be banished from this town?”

The two young women laughed.

“But in all seriousness I thought I ruined your life and that you would loathe me for all eternity.”

Mary’s soft smile put her at ease.

“I understood where you were coming from once I learned what happened. Your Papa manipulated you into doing deeds for him. You were protecting Jeremy. I understand it.”

“Still, you act as though I did nothing wrong.”

Mary shrugged.

“When I left this place, I went to hunt down a man who killed my sister and friend. He’s dead now and I discovered that my sister is alive. Gabriel searched me out and asked for my forgiveness. My life is better than it has ever been. I could never hold a grudge to a young girl like you, especially after seeing how you risked your own life to fight alongside my husband and your husband. You have lost so much. Your whole family. I can relate to that.”

Sally choked back a sob.

“I secretly wanted to be you.”

“Oh Sally, I hope you see now that the person you are is so special. I hope you never stop discovering yourself. I was proud of you when I saw you out in the field fighting off those men.”

“You were?”

Mary smiled. It was the sort of smile that Sally figured only an outlaw could make.

“Yes. Very.”

Sally was speechless as they walked into the barn to start their chores. They worked together, talking about everything under the sun until they finished off spreading grains on the ground for the chickens. The sun shone down on them as they made their way back to the house. In those few hours, Sally made a true friend.

The morning drifted into afternoon and it was time for Gabriel and Mary to leave. Jeremy and Sally saw them off. The men shook hands.

“I wish that we could have reunited under different circumstances,” said Jeremy sadly.

“I would do it all over again if I had to, my friend,” said Gabriel.

By the intense look in his warm brown eyes, it was clear that he meant every word. She was glad for Jeremy that could part well.

Mary took Sally’s hand and they smiled at one another.

“It was wonderful to get to know you a little better,” said Mary. “Remember what I said.”

“I will,” said Sally. “Take care, my friend.”

Sally and Jeremy watched as their friends rode off. He wrapped an arm around her waist and she leaned into him, enjoying his warm strength. Her contentment was interrupted by an awful pang as her mind wandered to everything she had lost and would lose.

“What a terrible, beautiful life we have been living,” she sighed.

“A terrible, beautiful life it is, my dear.”

Sally – Chapter Thirty-One

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Sally pressed her back against the thick willow tree and scanned the property. She gripped her rifle with both hands, ready to fire within a millisecond. The imbeciles had to be hiding out in the barn. She looked over at Jeremy, who had his shot gun ready while leaning against the shed. He glared at her.

“We could really use Mary now, huh?” said Sally with a small laugh.

Gabriel was sheltering himself behind a tree like her.

“Mary has been through enough. I would never want her to be here in a million years.”

“Indeed,” muttered Sally.

She started for the barn.

“Sally!” shouted Jeremy.

“Will you shut up?” she hissed, not taking her eyes away from the barn.

Jeremy caught up with her and stepped in front of her.

“You don’t have to do that,” she said calmly.

“Yes, I do.”

“Will you two be quiet?” whispered Gabriel. “If they haven’t seen us already, they’ve definitely heard us.”

“If they were in the barn they would’ve shot at us by now,” said Jeremy.

“What if they’re in the field where it hasn’t been plowed yet?” asked Gabriel.

“That would be bizarre.”

“There’s no way in hell I’m chasing them through a maze of corn,” said Sally.

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said since I returned,” said Gabriel.

She resisted the inclination to hit him. He didn’t know what he was talking about.

Jeremy grabbed her upper arm and she froze.

“Look. Over there,” he said.

He pointed ahead to the empty fields. Her hair felt like it was standing on end as she followed his line of vision to their enemies standing in the distance.

“What the hell?” said Jeremy.

“They really did want us to chase them,” spat Sally.

“They want a real battle in an open field,” said Gabriel, shaking his head. “There will be nowhere to hide. Only great gunmanship and great luck can get you out alive in that scenario.”

“Then we have nothing to worry about,” said Sally.

She started in the direction of the last standing deacon and his two henchmen.

“Wait,” said Jeremy, reaching out to grasp her again.

“Let her go,” said Gabriel.

“That’s right. Let me go. I am as good of a shot as anyone here.”

Jeremy ran ahead of her, ensuring that she was right behind him. The sight of him risking his life for her should have broken her heart and made her double over with words dripping with affection, but all she felt was numbness. The men ahead were the only things stopping the town from being a peaceful place.

“I don’t want you to risk your life for me,” said Sally.

“If they get me first, it’ll give you an extra second to shoot them.”

“If we spread out, we won’t be such easy targets. We need to move around. Make them work for it,” said Gabriel.

Jeremy threw his head back.

“My wife is walking directly into a firing squad. I have to give her a fighting chance.”

“You’re going to get yourself hit and killed if you make yourself an easy target like that,” said Gabriel.

The men ahead waited, probably enjoying the sight of the three of them making their awkward approach.

“He’s right,” said Sally. “It’s my choice to be here. I can’t let you get yourself killed on my account.”

Jeremy wrapped his arms around Sally.

“You’re my wife. I love you.”

“I love you, too, but we have to rid the town of these sick men or the violence will never end.”

“Humans always think that they can end violence with violence,” sighed Gabriel.

Sally stomped her foot.

“No one is forcing you to be here!”

He threw up his hands.

“Don’t shoot me. I’m not going anywhere.”

She stared back into Jeremy’s tormented brown eyes. Their lips nearly brushed together as he leaned into her.

“Please forgive me for this,” she breathed.

“For what?”

She bashed the butt of her rifle into his stomach, spun around, and sprinted toward the three gunmen. She bounded in a zigzag pattern and dove into the dirt at the sound of the first gunshot. Uninjured and on the ground, she aimed for the deacon. Deacon Sampson.

She fired.

Blood flooded out of his body, staining his white shirt as he fell to his knees and then collapsed. The sons’ attention went to Jeremy and Gabriel as they charged ahead.

Gunshots filled the air as she reloaded with shaking hands, not daring to look up until she was able to fire another shot. It grew silent by the time she aimed for the man sin her line of vision. She was startled to see that he was aiming at her, too. Her heart raced as she fired clumsily at him.

She missed.

He stepped toward her as she reloaded.

“Jeremy! Gabriel!” she cried.

The image of both of them lying dead in the field drove a chill over her as she tried to load the next bullet into her gun. Her hands wouldn’t cooperate. Her opponent was so close that his shot deafened her.

Her own blood splattered on her face and drenched the fabric of her dress. Intense, unbearable pain burned into her shoulder and neck and then it suddenly went numb. She closed the rifle’s breech and tried to aim at the young man standing mere feet away, but as she moved her shattered shoulder, intense pain shot down her side.

She screamed, losing her grip on the rifle. It hurt so much she couldn’t think straight. Panting, she lay there watching him approach her.

“Stupid little girl,” mocked Deacon Sampson’s son, Daniel.

Daniel was a couple of years older than she was. He used to tease her and the other girls  at school by throwing earth worms at them. She never thought that he would be the last person she would see before she died. Her murderer.

“I just wanted to save the town from their twisted cult,” she moaned.

“I’ll bet you did.”

He stood over her, shaking his head.

“Life’s a funny thing, isn’t it?” he sneered.

She met his unwavering gaze.

“I hope you go to hell.”

Daniel stared coldly down the barrel of his gun at her.

She closed her eyes, bracing herself, partly wishing that the river had been the one to take her.

“This will be quick, pretty lady,” he mocked. “Ya won’t feel a thang.”

“Then do it!” she screamed.

Another deafening boom hurt her eardrums, but she was still breathing. Flinching in pain, she opened her eyes. Daniel lay dead next to her. His lifeless eyes stared up at the clearing skies.

She backed away, shuddering and groaning as her shoulder protested the movements. Then her eyes moved from Daniel’s body to the person who killed him. She stared up at the figure and wondered if she was dreaming. Sunlight streamed through the thinning clouds and made the gunwoman look like an angel.

“Hi, Sally,” said the blonde woman in trousers.

“Mary… what are you doing here?”

Stars flecked Sally’s vision as she bled out. She cast a glance in the direction that she last saw Jeremy and Gabriel go. She tried to stand, but every movement was agony.

“Here. I’ll help you back to the farm,” said Mary gently.

“I am so sorry, Mary.”

“Hush. No need to speak of that now.”

“Where is Jeremy?” moaned Sally.

Mary helped her stand and she leaned against her, wincing and whimpering with every step back to the house.

“Tell me where he is,” she begged in exhaustion.

“He was shot. He’s at the house.”

Gabriel must have carried Jeremy home. She had been left for dead against the last standing devil. Sally wept as she fought through pain and wavering consciousness to move faster. To get back to Jeremy.

They reached the property and Sally’s weakening limbs flailed around. She forced her eyes to stay open. She longed to collapse right there. She couldn’t walk anymore as the world spun around her. Unable to steady her, Mary let her fall.

“Sally, you have to get up,” pleaded Mary.

“Thank you for saving me…”

Everything stopped spinning when she finally closed her eyes and yielded to the darkness.

Sally – Chapter Thirty

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He knocked on her door and when it opened, the beautiful sight took his breath away. Her slightly damp hair was down and wavy, falling all the way to her waist. It smelled like flowers. His eyes traveled down her supple figure. She was wearing a different chemise.

“I woke up early and had a bath,” she said with a soft smile.

He stepped inside of her room, longing to take the white, lacy garment off.

“Jeremy,” she whispered as a flush warmed her face. “We shouldn’t. Gabriel’s in the next room.”

“We can be quiet,” he whispered.

He brought his hands to her little waist and slowly moved them up her narrow torso. She smiled shyly up at him as though it were her first time.

“Very quietly, then,” she said, biting her lip as though it would contain some of her excitement.

She slipped out of her undergarments; he marveled at her silhouette as she stepped over to the bed. How could someone so exquisite ever question her beauty? She caught him staring at her and she covered her breasts with her arm.

“You are so beautiful.”

He held her hand and pulled it away so he could look at her fully uncovered form. Then he kissed her soft lips. She sat down on the bed and pulled him to her; she helped him take off his clothes.

Her attempts to stay quiet as he pleasured her drove him wild. By the time they close to finished, their moans filled the room. In the wake of their escapade, Sally laughed breathlessly as they held one another. As he caressed the soft, smooth skin on her back, he thought of her drifting in the cold, murky river.

“Please don’t ever do anything to hurt yourself ever again, Sally.”

She wrapped her arms around him.

“I can try.”

He forced her to look at him. That was far from good enough.

“I mean it. You are so beautiful and unique. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things seem, I never want you to give up. Promise me you won’t.”

She brought her lips to his and kissed him.

“I wasn’t well. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been well.”

“You are well to me. Please, just never hurt yourself again. I will do anything to stop you from being hurt ever again.”

Her dreamlike green eyes misted over.

“I love you, Jeremy.”

“I love you, too. So much.”

He longed to stay tangled up with her in that way forever. They hesitantly rose from their sanctuary and got dressed. As Sally brushed out her hair, Jeremy went to the kitchen to prepare coffee and start making pancakes.

Gabriel sat at the table staring out the window.

“Hi,” said Jeremy.

Gabriel’s bloodshot eyes stared at him.

“While you two were playing happy married couple in there, I’ve been waiting to help you get out of here before something bad happens?”

“I just wanted to be close to her after being so close to losing her forever.”

“I’ve been up all night,” said Gabriel. “I tried reading the Bible, but I couldn’t focus on the words.”

Jeremy cringed.

“We just need to gently convince her that becoming a small town assassin is not the best way to go about this.”

“Is there a gentle way to put that she’s become just like them?”

Jeremy walked up to the table as his anger mounted.

“Be careful what you say about my wife. They murdered her mother and sister and tried to kill her. She’s just trying to prevent them from hurting anyone else.”

“Not all of those deacons are evil.”

“How do you know? Were you there when they murdered the first pastor here? He was like you, Gabriel. And I saw them all gather around him before they killed him.”

Gabriel shook his head.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. Help me.”

Thunderous hoof beats interrupted the sound of forks scraping on plates. Jeremy’s racing heart drowned them out as he shared his best friend’s panic. They rushed to grab their guns and peered out the window. Sure enough, it was the two deacons and their sons. There were six of them in total.

“Looks like they know,” said Jeremy.

Gabriel groaned. “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. We should have left at dawn.”

Jeremy stood there like a fool. He had wanted to relive a fantasy with Sally and his idiocy might have gotten the three of them killed.

“I know. I’m so sorry.”

The men dismounted and ran to the house. It was going to be a blood bath.

A gunshot fired and one of the deacons stumbled, running into a tree before collapsing. Sally burst out of her room with a rifle.

“What are you waiting for?” she cried.

“Get down!” shouted Gabriel.

Retaliating gunshots shattered the window and tore up the wall behind them as they hit the floor. Sally took care of the eldest and best marksman. There were five left.

Gabriel and Jeremy jumped up and fired their shots through the broken glass and ducked. Sally crept up next to the window and pulled the trigger. A pained yell filled the air.

“Where did you learn to shoot like that?” scoffed Gabriel.

Sally glared at him and started crawling toward her room.

Jeremy and Gabriel followed her as their enemies’ angry shouts signaled that they were about to break in to the house. With all them inside of Sally’s room and reloading, it grew quiet. Sally’s window was still bolted shut. They had the advantage of picking off their opponents if they were stupid enough to go inside.

“I didn’t want this to happen,” said Gabriel.

“You think any of us did?” spat Jeremy.

He shot a look at Sally, who smiled at him. Her girlish charm was an odd contrast to the violence and morbidity that surrounded them. He still found it hard to believe that someone who seemed so soft could single handedly murder men who had operated guns well before she was born.

“There’s three left that are not wounded at best. This’ll be over quick,” said Sally.

She stared down the hall with predatory longing in her eyes.

The silence continued as they waited.

“They’ve wised up. They want us to follow them now,” muttered Gabriel.

“The real battle begins,” said Sally as she rose and stepped down the hall.

Jeremy grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward him.

“Sally, please stay here. I lost you once and I can’t lose you again.”

“You aren’t going to lose me. I’m the best shot here. You need me.”

“This is insane,” hissed Gabriel as he joined them.

“Then let’s finish them,” said Sally.

They all exchanged glances and crept to the front door. Blood and glass was splattered everywhere. Two dead bodies lay close by.

“I wonder if they went into the barn,” said Jeremy.

“They could be anywhere, waiting for us to walk out so they can pick us off,” said Gabriel. “I came back to help you two and now you’re going to get me killed.”

“None of us are going to die,” said Sally.

Her pride was not very reassuring.

Jeremy opened the door slowly. No gunshots came. He looked over his shoulder at Sally and then led the way to the barn.

Sally – Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

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The warm bed faded and suddenly she was surrounded by iciness. She had been swept back into the cold, raging river. She struggled to fight against the current as it dragged her away. She realized too late that she was not ready to die. She only wanted the pain to go away.

She thought that she would just fade away as she became one with the icy depths, but as her lungs burned and her limbs thrashed in vain against the force of nature, her mind wandered to all of the things she longed to forget about.

“Sally,” whispered a soft, but masculine voice.

She moaned as she drifted away from the dream and was brought back to her soft, dry surroundings. Someone held her hand. She was so weak that it took all of her strength to open her eyes. She met the frantic expression of Jeremy as he looked down at her.

“Do you remember what I asked you earlier?” wheezed Sally.

Gabriel helped her sit up and held a glass of water to her mouth.

“I need you to feel better before we make any plans.”

She tried to speak, but her heavy eyelids shut him away and sleep captured her once again.

Over the next few days, she drifted in and out of sleep. When she awakened, Jeremy forced her to drink water  and chicken broth. She fought to escape the dreams that never wanted her to leave them. Her mind wouldn’t stop reminded her what she experienced in the raging waters.

The river called out to her, longing to tear her soul away from her body once and for all. It sang to her when she stood on the water’s edge and ravaged her once she was trapped within its chilling depths.

“Sally, please wake up and eat something,” whispered Jeremy.

She awoke with enough energy to sit up. He brought a tray of soup and a slice of bread for her to eat.

“What have you been dreaming about?” he asked.

“I’ve been having a romance with the river.”

They both laughed in their odd ways.

She took a sip of the soup and her stomach growled.

“It’s strange to feel hungry. I like it.”

She grabbed the bread and devoured it. It was the first real sign that she was going to feel better. She could feel Jeremy staring at her.

“I love you, Sally.”

She stopped chewing and swallowed. His soft eyes stared at her like a lost puppy.

“You are telling me this now?” she asked.

“I’ve watched you fight against unconsciousness over the last week and there were times that I thought I was going to lose you again.”

She had been too exhausted to think about how she felt about him. Perhaps it no longer mattered. She had drowned and came back to life. Things were different.

“I longed to hear you say that a year ago,” sighed Sally.

He looked down.

“I know, but I love you now. So much.”

She stared at his exhausted face. He was still handsome even with the lines of worry etching his forehead. She hated him before she killed herself, but it was only because she loved him before all hell broke loose.

“I’m sorry I almost stabbed you.”

He shrugged as though it didn’t matter in the least that she could have killed him.

“I was the one who locked you up in your room. I’m so sorry for everything, Sally. I’ve been a terrible husband.”

“We just need to finish them off.”

“Oh, Sally…”

She stared at him hard.

“I wasn’t joking.”

“Kill who?” asked a strangely familiar voice from the room entrance.

“Gabriel, what are you doing here?” asked Sally.

“He was the one who found you and your things on the riverbank,” said Jeremy.

She pulled the blanket up to her chin, cringing at the thought of Gabriel seeing her naked body through the sheer, drenched fabric of her chemise as she lay half dead on the river’s edge.

“You came back?” she asked in confusion.

He placed his hands in his pockets and looked sheepishly at Jeremy.

“I found Mary and I apologized for being a devil to her. She’s forgiven me, but she has her own life now with her sister. I had to come back here and help the two of you get out of here. Little did I know I was coming back to total chaos.”

Sally cleared her throat.

“It’s not finished yet.”

Jeremy and Gabriel stared at her. She covered her mouth to fight back a laugh so that she didn’t look completely mad. No one had ever looked at her like she was some kind of hero before.

“I still can’t believe you faced all of them yourself,” said Jeremy, taking her free hand as she drank the rest of her water.

“Not all of them. There’s two left. Remember?”

She looked at Gabriel leaning against the door frame.

“Will you help us finish the rest of them off?”

He looked away and shook his head.

“You two need to get out of here as soon as possible.”

“And let the remaining monsters keep destroying this town?”

“We can’t go around killing the rest of the town like savages,” said Gabriel.

Sally leaned forward making sure that he was looking into her eyes as she spoke. His ridiculous assumption of her wanting them to massacre the town had set her on edge.

“Only two more. That is all.”

“Sally, you’re not well yet,” said Jeremy quickly. “You should get some rest and we can talk more about what we need to do in the morning.”

Sally shrugged, taking her eyes off of Gabriel and bringing them to her husband.

“I already know what I’m doing. Neither one of you are going to stop me.”

Jeremy ran a hand through his tousled hair.

“I want them to pay for what they did, but I don’t want to lose you when I just got you back.”

Sally took his hand and held it. She gave him a weak smile.

“Look, I’ll go to sleep and have some more nightmares and then we’ll all have coffee in the morning and talk about this reasonably.”

Jeremy and Gabriel exchanged concerned glances.

“Your skepticism disturbs me. I killed all of those men on my own.”

“I killed Pastor Scottson before he shot you across the river. Let’s not forget that.”

“I’ll give you that.”

His jaw dropped.

“You’ll ‘give me that’? I saved your life, Sally!”

“Calm down, kids,” said Gabriel, stepping in between them. “Let’s allow Sally to rest up now and we’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

Everyone sighed in exasperation.

The men exited the room and Sally blew out her candle so she could sleep.

 

 

Sally – Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Jeremy stopped when he was at the outskirts of the Cherokee village. Wooden pillars shielded the inhabitants from direct attacks. A boy emerged from the shadows glaring at him.

Jeremy held up his hands as the young Indian moved closer. He held a bow and arrow in each hand, but looked like he’d be able to use it pretty quick.

“I come in peace.”

“Who are you and why are you here?” asked the boy.

“I am Sally’s husband. She’s missing.”

The boy’s face softened.

“Have you seen her?” asked Jeremy.

“She visited here over a month ago. We haven’t seen her since then.”

“I see. So she must not have come this way, after all.”

“I am very sorry that she is missing,” said the boy.

“So am I.”

“Have you searched the river?”

Jeremy’s heart nearly froze as the question hung in the air. The boy’s sad gaze angered him. He didn’t know anything about Sally. For him to suggest that she would just go drown herself in a river was out of line. He exhaled loudly.

“I will search there next.”

“Good luck! We will all be praying for her.”

“Yeah thanks.”

Jeremy guided his horse deeper into the woods toward the river. The boy’s question echoed in his mind.

“Have you searched the river?” Jeremy parroted.

There was no way in hell that she would do something so stupid. She was stronger than that. A girl with the strength to face the devils that killed her pastor, mother, and little sister was not a girl who would kill herself. The boy was stupid to think that she would and yet Jeremy frantically rode to the water to prove to himself that she was right. If he didn’t find her there, she would be safe.

He rode slowly along the tributary for the better part of an hour searching everywhere for any sign of Sally or an article of her clothing. He saw no sign of any human life. Only birds and water fowl. He relaxed a little, telling himself that she had to be safe, wherever she was hiding.

It began to settle in that he might never see her again. People did not normally return to see those who they tried to stab.

“She hates me and I will never see her again…”

Distant shouting startled him. He looked up and searched for the source of it.

“Hello?” called Jeremy.

“Jeremy!”

It was Gabriel.

“Oh my God. Let her be okay.”

They rode to one another.

“Gabriel! Where is she?”

He pulled on the reins and brought his horse parallel to Gabriel’s.

“I found her by the river.”

“What?”

“Jeremy, I am so sorry. I tried to get her to breathe again, but had been under too long.”

He was hearing the words, but they didn’t make sense.

“I need to see her.”

Gabriel handed him a folded up piece of paper. He unraveled it and recognized her handwriting. He scrunched it up and put it in his pocket.

“She’s gone, Jeremy.”

“Where is she?”

“At your house. I went for the doctor so he could confirm her condition.”

Jeremy rode back to the farm. Gabriel was an idiot. Of course she wasn’t dead. Sally was a fighter.

Once he reached his property, he leaped off the saddle and ran up to the house and stormed inside. He found the doctor in Sally’s room standing over her. He went to the man’s side and looked down at his beautiful wife. Her hair was went and a blanket had been pulled over her as she slept.

“She will be all right?” he asked.

“I am so sorry. Sally has passed away.”

“No. She isn’t dead.”

He knelt next to the bed and grasped her cold hands.

“Wake up, Sally,” he whispered.

The floors creaked under the doctor’s footsteps as he left the house.

“Come on, Sally. Come back to me.”

He kissed her pale doll-like lips. The colour had drained from her face. He backed up, staring at her lifeless body.

“God, no. Please God, no.”

She was dead.

He stumbled out of the house and pushed past Gabriel as he made his way up the stairs.

“Jeremy!”

“Stay away from me!” Jeremy screamed.

He stopped in the middle of the field as the setting sun lit up the clouds above. Sally would have loved to paint it. Jeremy ran for the pastel pink horizon, longing to fall into the sky. She loved pink and he deserved to drown in it.

“I killed her.”

He killed her slowly over the last several months.

Gabriel found her little body floating in the shallow end of the water over an hour ago. She left her rifle, pink hair ribbon, and black Stetson hat on the river bank with a short note for him. She really had given up.

I am sorry, Jeremy. Now we can both be free.

Sally

Panting from the sprint, he stopped and collapsed on the field. He became one with the dying grass.

Before their parents pushed them to be together, before he ruined her life, she was the happiest girl in their village. Her easy laugh and bouncy gait made everyone love her, but he fell in love with her much later. After it was already too late.

He had allowed his pearl to sink to the bottom of the abyss and now she would never return. She was freed from him at last.

The reality of her death sent another terrible ripple through his core. Grief stabbed at him like a knife and he longed for death to take him, too.

“Jeremy!”

Groaning, Jeremy sat up. He was unwilling to meet the eyes of Gabriel, his best friend.

“Leave me alone.”

“Jeremy, please listen to me! She’s alive. Barely, but she’s breathing.”

Jeremy stumbled to his feet and ran back toward the house, unwilling to believe what he had just heard. When he reached her side, he knelt next to the bed and peered down at her pale, heart-shaped face. Her long, damp hair covered the pillow. She looked like an angel, even in death.

“I love you, Sally,” he said. “Please come back to me.”

Her eyelids fluttered open and he met her beautiful green eyes. He buried his face into the bed and wept.

Her cool hand touched his.

“We need to kill them, Jeremy,” she whispered.

He wiped his eyes and held her hand with both of his. Her gaze was hard and distant as she stared right through him.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“We will kill them.”

A solitary tear slipped down her cheek as she faintly squeezed his hand. Then, the darkness took her away again.