It was pitch black and windy outside by the time Jeremiah reached the Thompsons’ home. A bolt of lightning lit up the stately house and gave it a ghostlike appearance. The roaring thunder made him recall the dark stranger’s deep voice. Their interaction played in his memory over and over until Mr. Thompson answered his knocks on the door.
At the sight of him, the deacon frowned.
“Forgive me for the intrusion, Sir, but someone you know came to my farm an hour ago.”
“Well, come in out of the rain, boy. Who are you talking about?”
Once he was inside of the house, Jeremiah took a deep breath.
“A man named Jacob paid me a visit about an hour ago.”
Mr. Thompson squinted.
“He said that he used to be a slave of yours. He was looking for you.”
The way that he emphasized the word ‘coloured’ drove a chill down Jeremiah’s spine. He had never heard the man utter anything with so much hatred until that moment.
“Yes. Coloured Jacob. He asked me where he could find you.”
The deacon clenched his jaw.
“I thought he was dead, but it doesn’t surprise me that he cheated death.”
“Sir, what is going on?”
Mr. Thompson shook his head.
“What did you tell him when he asked about me?”
“I gave him the wrong directions to buy us some time.”
The deacon smirked, which was another thing that Jeremiah had never seen him do. He almost wondered if he was dreaming, but that long walk through the storm was proof enough that he was awake.
“You’re going to have to come with me while I gather some of the men together.”
“To talk about what is going on?”
“No. Not talk.”
The deacon’s mouth was set in a grim line, but his bright blue eyes twinkled with the slightest hint of delight.
“We are going to hunt Jacob down and finish what should have been done decades ago.”
Jeremiah took a step back and stared at his wife’s father. Mr. Thompson was the quietest, most solemn deacon at the church; his outlandish behavior was eerie. If he didn’t know any better, he would have said that the man was possessed.
“Forgive me, Sir. I must have misheard you.”
“You did not. Jacob can’t leave this town alive.”
“You want to kill him?”
“Keep up, will you? Of course we have to kill him. Please tell me that Sally is safe inside.”
“She is at home with the door locked. I left the horse in the barn so that she wouldn’t be stranded, but I am sure that the man meant us no harm to begin with.”
“I can’t believe that bastard came to your farm.”
Jeremiah watched in shock as the older man fetched his coat and rifle.
“Stop gawking and follow me, boy.”
“How are we going to find him in this? It’s pitch black out there right now.”
“I have an idea of where he might be.”
“Why does he need to die? He did no harm to Sally and I.”
Mr. Thompson stopped in his tracks before opening the door.
“He is going to kill me if we don’t find him first.”
The door opened and the cool wind hit Jeremiah’s damp clothes. He shuddered and followed the deacon outside to the stables.
“Where are you going?” cried Mrs. Thompson from the front entrance.
By the looks of her loose, disheveled hair, she had been sleeping until she heard them. Jeremiah wondered if she knew the real Mr. Thompson.
“Please lock the door and stay inside, dear!” called Mr. Thompson.
The look that she gave her husband was that of unmasked contempt. Jeremiah swallowed hard and looked away. He had known the family for decades only to realize that he did not know them at all. He wondered what other secrets loomed over the people of the town.
They made their way into the barn and saddled up two horses.
“If you see him, shoot him,” said Mr. Thompson.
Hail pounded on the roof as the wind howled outside.
“Sir, we can’t ride out in this. There could be another tornado.”
“We have to kill him!” shouted Mr. Thompson.
As they rode out into the raging storm, all that ran through Jeremiah’s mind was that they could be riding right into a tornado’s path. As much as he wanted to ride away from the madman and find cover from the tempest, he could not allow him to ride alone.
They traveled a ways down the muddy road until Mr. Thompson’s horse veered off of it. As Jeremiah’s eyesight adjusted to the darkness, he could see that they were riding in the direction of the pastor’s home. He scanned the rainy distance and saw no sign of imminent doom just yet. They passed through a patch of woods and then the light from the pastor’s modest home guided them.
Jeremiah’s stomach knotted. The deacon must have assumed that the pastor would be hiding Jacob. His original perception of the peaceful little town filled with good church people washed away with the heavy rains.
At the sound of hail crashing into the windows, Sally ran past the waning candlelight to retreat to her room. She longed for the soft comfort of blankets, but instead crawled under her bed for cover. With the terrible sound of the violent storm surrounding the house and the thoughts of the stranger coming back for her, it felt like hell itself was surrounding her.
She closed her eyes, wept, and prayed for the storm to stop. The wind’s ferocity only intensified. The walls creaked and the windows rattled, teasing her with more fear. She imagined a tornado ripping up the earth and racing toward her. She would die alone; she would die before making amends with Mama.
Sally screamed along with the thunder as another plead to God to make it stop. When her vocal chords went raw, she lay panting on the hard floor waiting for death to take her. She imagined the tornado sucking her bed away first.
A repetitive, dull thud sounded above the thunder and wind. Her heart raced as she wondered what in the world it could be. Then it occurred to her that someone had to be knocking on the door. She covered her ears with trembling hands. Whomever it was, she could not let them in. Every time she let someone in, her world changed for the worst. They should have had the sense to go to the barn.
She longed to escape from the present, but her alternate reality was so difficult to reach since marrying Jeremiah. It seemed as though the tornado from last year had stolen her secret world away. Perhaps hell itself sent it.
“Please let me return,” she whispered. “Please.”
The only answer to her plea was the repetitive knocking.