The front door burst open and a dull thud drove a shudder over Sally’s little body. Desperate, loud breathing sounded from the entranceway as the damp air blew through the house. She had never longed so much for Jeremiah to be there. The sound of a man panting and crawling through the kitchen made her wish that she knew how to use a weapon.
“Any weapon,” she whispered.
Jeremiah must have wanted her to die considering that he had never showed her how to shoot a gun. Papa never taught her; he said that men were meant to protect women. He told her often as a little girl that she would never have the independence of a man. The authority of her father would transfer over to her husband when she was married. It was the Biblical way of things. She gritted her teeth at how foolish that way of things was when a woman was left alone to fend for herself.
Another thunder clap answered an intense flash of lightning. Unlike the storm outside, she would not be able to hide away from a man crawling around inside. As she listened to the moaning stranger shuffling around, her fear molded into a strange form of fascination.
Whomever it was, he sounded upset. Or wounded.
She pulled herself out from under the bed and shook off the fear before it paralyzed her. She found her footing and the room swayed. She leaned against the wall and clumsily made her way to the kitchen. His back was to her as he crawled on all fours. Blood and rain drenched his white shirt.
“Are you… are you alright?” she called.
He dropped onto his stomach with a loud groan and rolled onto his side to look at her.
“Oh… oh my God!” she cried.
She covered her mouth at the sight of the familiar handsome, but ghostly face.
“Pastor Davis!” she cried.
She ran to him and took his shaking hand with both of hers.
“I will fetch a blanket for you and I’ll tear up some old sheets for bandages. Wait here.”
He grasped her hand as he gazed at her frantically.
“No. They’re already coming for me.”
“Who is? Jacob?”
He shook his head.
“Who is?” she pleaded.
He closed his eyes and winced.
“You don’t want to know. Please go to your room, Sally.”
She stared down at the man who was both her mentor and her friend. She shook her head, unwilling to believe that there was any merit to what he was saying.
“You are in shock,” she said gently. “I’m fetching those blankets now.”
The sound of hoof beats interrupted her sentence. She went to close the door when she saw Papa, the four other deacons, and Jeremiah ride up to the house and dismount their horses. She looked over her shoulder at the young pastor.
“What happened, Pastor Davis? Who shot you?”
He forced a smile, but his fear-widened eyes drove a chill down her spine.
“You have a strong spirit, Sally,” he said gently. “Don’t let them destroy you.”
She choked back a sob. She had no idea what he meant.
“I don’t understand what is happening, Michael. Please tell me.”
“I beg you. Sally. Go to your room! Do it for me. You can’t see this.”
She went to him and took his hand.
“See what? It will be all right. God is with you,” she whispered.
Tears streamed down his face as he squeezed her hand.
“He is. Now go, Sally.”
She blinked back tears and ran past him to retreat to her room. As she went to close the door, the sight of Papa and the other deacons storming into the kitchen to surround him made her wonder if she was in some sort of night terror.
“I warned you not to cross me, young Michael,” said Deacon Scottson.
“Why did you help him get away?” demanded Papa.
Sally drew back as her father’s angry voice shook the walls..
“My calling is to heal the broken hearted and help lead souls to Christ,” said the pastor. “Jacob is no exception. He needed my help.”
“Do you know what he threatened to do?” yelled Papa.
Sally blinked several times in vain to awaken from the nightmare. She backed into her room and slowly closed the door. The men’s shouts filled the house. She hugged her torso and looked out the window at the hopeless grey sky. As her vision focused, she noticed Jeremiah standing outside beneath the willow tree with the horses. He stared back at her with a look that made her want to weep. He was just as perplexed as she was, but he gone along with everything.
A sharp howl of pain assaulted her eardrums. She ran into the kitchen where the men still surrounded Pastor Davis.
“Stop, Papa!” she cried.
Silence filled the room as her gaze travelled from her expressionless father down to her lifeless pastor. His face was too still. The room was too quiet.
“He’s not dead,” said Sally. “We have to help him.”
She dropped to her knees and touched his clammy forehead. At the sight of the gaping wound on his neck, she wailed. One of them slit his throat.
“He betrayed us,” said Papa. “We had to do the right thing.”
Sally shook her head as she stared up at the man who raised her and realized then that she was looking into the eyes of a stranger.
“No. He wouldn’t betray anyone. Papa, why is he dead?”
“He tried to kill me.”
“Take her away,” said Deacon Scottson. “She can’t say anything to anyone, Dean.”
Papa grabbed her upper arms and shook her.
“Listen to me, Sally! What happened tonight cannot be mentioned ever again. We need to pretend it never happened. Do you understand?”
She tried to speak, but couldn’t form the words.
The other deacons lifted Pastor Davis’s body off the floor and carried him outside. She frantically found her footing.
“Maybe he is still alive!” she cried. “God wouldn’t let him die. We need to check to see if he is still alive.”
Papa shook his head. She started to go after them, but a strong hand caught her arm. She looked up into Jeremiah’s dark eyes.
“We need to go back inside,” he said.
“Why didn’t you stop them? You stood by and watched them do it!”
“Shut your mouth, you mindless little girl!” he snapped.
She tried in vain to pull away from him as the deacons tossed the pastor’s body over a saddle. As he pulled her toward the house, her guts twisted as reality hit her in full force. She dropped to the grass and emptied the contents of her stomach. He let her go until her heaving stopped.
She crawled away from the mess and wept.
“We need to go inside, Sally.”
She rose, pushed Jeremiah out of the way, and went into the house. He joined her inside and closed the door behind him. She met his dark eyes and swallowed past the painful lump in her throat as she threw her hands up in the air.
“We are in hell, Jeremiah. My father… all of the deacons are murderers. Our pastor is gone. Just like that.”
Jeremiah crossed his arms.
“I tried to stop them. They wouldn’t listen to me, Sally. I couldn’t stop them.”
“Please wake me up from this,” she begged.
He shook his head. “I need to be alone.”
“Alone? You are going to leave me after we just watched one of our friends get murdered by Papa and our church’s deacons? Jeremiah, I don’t know who anyone is anymore. I am so scared.”
“So am I.”
Anger that she had never known rattled her to the core. She balled her fists and walked up to him. He gave her a forlorn look. They had never been anything more than two strangers living in the same house. Her heart felt as though it had been torn into a million pieces and there was nothing she could do to reverse the damage that had been done. Hitting Jeremiah would not bring Pastor Davis back.
He turned his back on her and walked down the hallway to his room.
“Jeremiah, look at me. Our pastor is dead. The very Michael Davis from Nashville who left his family behind to teach us all about God! He is now dead. I want to know why the hell they killed him!”
He spun around to face her. She cowered as he stepped toward her.
“How do you think I feel? I was there for the entire thing and I couldn’t stop them!”
He left her there in the hallway and closed his bedroom door. She stood in the darkness for nearly half an hour before making her way back to her room. All she could see when she closed her eyes was the horror that had taken place before her eyes. She thought back to every kind gesture that Pastor Davis had extended to her over the last five years. His smile, his kindness, and his dreams were gone forever. Papa had been a part of putting out his light and she had no idea how to handle it.
She lay on her bed and hugged her knees. Hell encircled her and slowly seeped into her soul, crushing her. His kind smile appeared in her mind’s eye like a photograph. She buried her face into her pillow and screamed.