Jeremy found Sally’s mount at the edge of the forest tied to a tree. She must have thought it would be easier to get away from her pursuer on foot by hiding away in the thick bushes. He slowed his horse to a walk, searching everywhere for a sign of Pastor Scottson.
He closed his eyes for a moment, not wanting to imagine the hell that Sally was going through as she attempted to dodge her murder. His hunger to kill made his mouth water. He wanted nothing more than to see the bastard’s blood soak the earth. He opened his mouth and held his breath, listening for a the sound of a horse clearing a path through the forest as its rider searched for a young girl who had just lost her mother and baby sister.
“God, let me find him,” whispered Jeremy. “Let him pay.”
The river rapids sounded close by. Loud, irregular splashing sounded above it. He peered through the trees toward the water. Sally waded across the river still carrying the rifle. Pastor Scottson rode down the ravine toward it. He shot at her and missed.
With trembling hands, he aimed his gun at the bastard. He pulled the trigger.
Pastor Scottson yelled as he fell off his horse with a splash. His head bobbed above the surface of the water. Jeremy jumped down from his own horse and slid down the gully. Bleeding, the old man tried in vain to swim against the current as it swept his weak body away.
Standing at the water’s edge, Jeremy pointed his gun at the dying man a second time. The pastor’s pain-widened eyes met his for a moment. Jeremy shot him between the eyes. The water carried his limp body away. His horse reared, backing out of the water and back onto dry land.
His eardrums thundered as he searched for Sally.
“Sally!” he shouted.
She poked her head out from the cattails lining the other side of the river. How he longed to kiss her tear-streaked face and carry her away from there. He stepped into the water.
“Sally, I am so sorry!” he cried.
“Stay away from me!” she screamed.
Her head disappeared behind the plants.
He pushed his way through the waist deep water. He reached solid ground again and ran in the direction he thought she might have gone. She was quick, but he was quicker. He stopped and listened for her periodically, but as the hours dragged on and the sun began to set, he found no sign of her.
Thick storm clouds rolled in to drown out the beautiful sunset as Jeremy wandered through the woods. He had never felt so ill in his life. Sally was too chaotic for him to be able predict. At first light, he would continue on his search for her. She couldn’t get too far being on foot.
He secured his horse to a tree for the night and leaned against it, staring into the darkness. He remembered their short lived, happier times. Her voice danced around him, caressing his eardrums.
He killed the murdering pastor for her. He saved her life and still, she ran away from him. The wind picked up as thunder and lightning dominated the countryside. Somewhere in the thick of the woods, Sally huddled cold and alone with her hunting knife. He cursed and led his horse back through the woods until he found a thicket. Being shielded from the brunt of the tempest, his eyelids grew heavy. Terrifying thoughts swirled in his mind.
Someone would eventually find Pastor Scottson’s horse. They might never find his body, but they would put two and two together. Mr. Thompson might suspect him or Sally of the murder. They needed to get out of there as soon as possible, but there they were playing a game of hide and seek. All he could do was pray that he found Sally before one of the deacons did.
He shuddered, imagining how cold she must have been wearing nothing more than an evening gown and a shawl. He fought in vain against depression and fatigue. He fell into sleep as the storm raged around him.
Darkness and heavy rain surrounded Sally drenching her, but neither stopped her from trudging through the woods. If she stopped moving, she would think about the dead bodies of her mother and sister. It still didn’t seem real that Amber was dead. She was so small, so innocent.
For the time being, she could travel without being pursued and she needed to make the most of it. She succeeded in fooling Jeremy into thinking that she had went the other way. The pig was dead and floating down the river. She hoped that the fish would peck away at his body so no one would ever find him in one piece. She would be sure to return to the Scottson home and give Mrs. Scottson what she deserved for not protecting the little girl.
She walked through the night, inching closer to the edge of the forest. The thunder stopped and the rain ceased around four o’clock in the morning. She longed for the sun to warm her, but it was still hours away from rising. She took a moment to sit on a thick log and give her swollen feet some momentary relief. She was too exhausted to cry or even think about the terrible things that happened to the most beloved people in her world. She didn’t want to feel anymore. When things were taken care of, she’d ensure that she never felt anything again.
She stared through the woods at her childhood home. She could see the roof of it in the distance with the crops plowed. She longed for a hot cup of coffee as she yawned groggily. Craving something like a hot coffee after days of feeling nothing but grievous death felt horribly self indulgent. She hit her thigh hard with a balled up fist. Her self hatred rose and she beat herself repeatedly, screaming and yelling until she lay breathless and in pain on the wet forest floor. She rolled onto her back and stared up at the fading stars. The clouds had moved away and the day was about to bring in warm sun.
She trembled in exhaustion. She had to keep going.
“But I’m so tired,” she moaned.
Her mind came alive with beautiful memories of her and Amber playing in the fields two years ago. Sally pressed her hands into her aching midsection.
“No. God, no,” she begged.
She longed to forget. It hurt so much to think that her baby sister would be gone forever. She tried to save her, but Jeremy had locked her away for too long. She was too late.
Somewhere beyond the stars they used to make wishes on, Mama and Amber lived on. They were freed from suffering. Knowing that she could see them again in Heaven did little to comfort her while she remained on dirty, cruel earth. She wondered if the hell that the Bible mentioned was really just a parable of the real world. Hell couldn’t have been any worse than life. It wasn’t a place she wanted to remain in much longer.
“I’ll be with you soon,” she whispered. “Soon.”
As the sun rose and painted the horizon and clouds with the most beautiful soft coral hue, Sally’s consciousness slipped away into a deep sleep.
When Sally awoke from her deep sleep, everything was so quiet. Even the birds weren’t singing as the hot sun shone down through the trees. She examined her gown. It was filthy, but nearly dry. It was well after noon.
Her hair stood on end as a terrible sense of dread surrounded her. She gripped her knife and strode for the house. She squinted as she left the protection of the trees and ventured out into the empty field where the merciless heat hit her full force.
She needed a gun. A knife would not do with a man like Mr. Thompson.
She reached the perimeter of the property and removed her shoes. A blanket of thick, dark clouds caught her eye. The sky directly above her was an amber hue, but it would soon be sable as the storm moved in. It looked like the wrath of God was about to hit.
She stepped lightly, using the swaying trees that lined the edge of the farm as camouflage.
The door to the shed was open. Mr. Thompson was inside. She licked her lips and crept past it toward the house. She tried the knob and the door opened. She found it interesting that he didn’t bother to lock the door.
She peered behind her to ensure he hadn’t seen her yet.
She stepped inside of the empty house and grabbed one of the rifles from the rack in his study. She loaded it.
Being in the house where her mother and sister once lived made her feel empty. The memories that they all shared in that place were crushed by the reality that Mr. Thompson was a sadistic killer. He murdered Mama without a thought.
She had been too shocked by Amber’s death to do away with the pastor. She fled the horror like a coward rather than face her baby sister’s murderer, but now was the time to make the devil who killed her mother pay.
Holding the rifle with both hands, she walked outside toward the shed. Her limbs trembled with the desire to kill the most pathetic thing that walked the earth. She held her breath and stood at the entrance of his favorite place on the farm. His back was to her as he was bent over the work table.
He was so intent on polishing his rifle that he did not hear her as she padded through the entrance in her bare feet. She inched closer, salivating. For the first time since she found her mother lying dead in the middle of the foggy road, her stomach growled. He didn’t seem to hear it.
Her finger massaged the trigger as the corners of her mouth lifted into a grin. She couldn’t kill him before he saw her. It wouldn’t do.
“Hi, Bruce,” she said.
He spun around, clumsily gripping his polished rifle with both hands. He nearly lost his balance. His normally emotionless eyes radiated terror as he searched hers.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“No one’s ever had the guts to sneak up on you before, have they?”
“What’s going on? Put the gun down, Sally.”
He took a step toward her.
“Stop!” she shouted.
Her command halted him.
“What has possessed you?” he asked.
“The same thing that possessed you, maybe.”
Her voice sounded hollow, even to her. Her finger applied pressure to the trigger.
The monster in him died as his false pride melted away.
“How many people have begged you for mercy?”
“Those slaves weren’t real people.”
She stomped her foot.
“Shut up!” she screamed.
He stared at her.
“I had to kill Michael and your Mama because they were traitors.”
She tilted her head, wondering how someone could be so oblivious to their own wickedness. Even as she held a gun to his head, he couldn’t apologize for a single thing.
“What about Amber? You tossed her aside to that wolf. Guess what? He’s dead. Soon you will all be dead.”
“Is that so?”
She stepped closer to him.
“A part of me wants nothing more than to kill you slowly, forcing you to live through the same fear and suffering as your victims.”
He backed into the table, still gripping his gun. The flicker of life faded from his gaze as his hope vanished. It was the look of a creature about to die.
“How does it feel to be the helpless one now?” she asked.
“I don’t feel anything.”
“Yes, you do.”
He dropped his gun.
She kept an eye on his hands.
“I won’t make you suffer,” she said. “I just want to rid the world of you.”
For a brief moment, he wore the expression of the man who raised her. A man she once called ‘Papa’. Her heart raced and she fought to push away the memories of a time where she had loved him more than life itself.
She choked back a sob and swallowed past the painful lump lodged in her throat.
“This isn’t my fault, Papa.”
His eyes narrowed.
“Do it, Sally.”
“Do it before I kill you.”
His words startled her and she took a few steps backward. The warm breeze blew in, stirring up his graying hair. It had once been a rich brown. Back when he pretended to be a good man.
Thunder roared over the land as they stared at one another.
His left hand quickly went to his belt and he pulled out a pistol.
She pulled the rifle’s trigger. Blood splattered all over her face as his body hit the floor with a loud thud. She took a rag from the rag pile and wiped tears and blood from her face.
He lay dead on the floor with a bullet shot clear through his head.
“No one will suffer by your hand ever again,” she said.
She dropped down to her knees.
“Why did you ask me to do it?”
An uncontrollable, loud cry escaped from the pit of her stomach. She screamed along with the blowing wind. Wheezing, she forced herself to stand. The gale was so strong that it shook the shed.
She peered outside at the dark clouds. Her heart nearly stopped at the sight of the swirling funnel over yonder. She left the shed behind and took her real father’s black hat from the bushes where Mama hid it. Then she ventured back out to the field to watch the force of nature form before her eyes.