Every day farm life took Jeremy away from Sally following their Sunday picnic. Their planned escaped was mere days away, yet she felt disconnected from him when it should have brought them closer. The continual strengthening and weakening of their bond made them moody whenever they shared a space together too long. She wondered if they would be more harmonious with the guilt and fear not hovering over their heads anymore. She could only hope.
Sally worked away at her painting of the two sets of eyes. Sadness enveloped her as she allowed herself to wonder where Jacob had gone. The world was his for the taking. He was free, but what he longed for the most was to be a family with Mama. A longing for her company led her away from the farm and to her parents’ house. She banked on the likelihood that Papa would be at the church discussing something with the other deacons at that hour.
Mama was staring out the window holding a cup of tea when Sally ventured up to the house. Her soft smile sent a wave of hope over Sally. Mama disappeared and the front door opened.
“Oh, do come in,” she said lightly. “Amber is napping so we will have our privacy since your papa is at the church.”
“I’m glad. I’ve missed you.”
“Oh, I miss you every day. How is Jeremy?”
“He is well. Busy as any farmer is. We’ve had moments of closeness. He even took me on a picnic last Sunday.”
Mama poured a second cup of tea and gave it to Sally.
“I am happy to hear that things are going well for both of you.”
Sally leaned close to her and whispered.
“Do you know where Jacob went?”
Mama bit her lip.
“It isn’t safe to speak of him here, even if it may seem like we are alone,” she whispered back.
“Who else would be here?” scoffed Sally.
Mama shook her head with a warning look in her eye.
Sally felt the baby hairs at the back of her neck stand on end as she followed Mama to her sitting room. All of them played a dangerous game. If just one of the monsters happened to glance their way at the wrong time, all would be lost.
As they sat down, Mama quickly looked out the window with a disappointed sigh. At the sound of Papa’s horse arriving on the property, Sally buried her face in her hands. She had done an exceptional job with avoiding him, but he had finally caught her. She took in a deep breath.
“Act normal,” said Mama.
“What exactly would that be?” asked Sally, rolling her eyes.
The door flew open and smacked into the wall.
“Good afternoon, my dears!” he called before striding into the room with his boots still on.
Sally peered over her should and smiled.
“Hello, pumpkin. It feels like forever since we’ve spoken to one another.”
“Yes, it has. My mind has been preoccupied.”
He stood next to Mama and rested a hand on her shoulder. She blinked rapidly, staring at her lap.
“How’s Jeremy been doing?”
“He is well. I’m lucky to have a hard working husband like him.”
His obnoxious smile made her skin crawl. As a girl, he had always been a calm and reasonable father. Until he gave into the demons and allowed himself to be possessed.
“Yes, Papa. He’s a good man.”
“Do good men tear their young wives away from their family?”
His grip on Mama’s shoulder tightened. Sally swallowed hard, looking into the eyes of the man whom she once loved with all of her heart. He was no longer her father. His hungry blue eyes drank her in like a predator would size up its prey. She had been dead to him a long time ago. She realized that then.
“Jeremy would never want to take me away from you and Mama.”
“Very funny. A little bird told me that Jeremy is planning to run out of here by the end of the month. To steal you away from us before we have a chance to save you.”
Mama closed her eyes as though doing so would make him go away.
Sally balled her fists in an effort to maintain her composure. She had no idea who gave them away and how they even found out about them in the first place.
“Oh, Papa. He was going to do no such thing.”
His hand slip up Mama’s shoulder and encircled her slender neck. Her doe eyes stared at Sally.
“What are you doing?” cried Sally.
Sally shook her head.
“Please, Papa! Don’t do that to her. This isn’t you. We all know you to be a better man than this.”
He let go of her and went to the window.
“You’re only beginning to see who I am,” he said flatly.
Sally crossed her shaking arms.
“Papa, who told you that Jeremy wanted to take me away?”
Mama shook her head rapidly, silently begging Sally with her eyes to be quiet.
“You don’t ask the questions, young lady. I do.”
“All right. Well, I can assure you that we are staying put. Jeremy wouldn’t leave his best friend here. Our children will be friends with Gabriel and Mary’s children.”
Papa faced her, leaning against the pane.
“All will be well with your Mama as long as I don’t hear any more unpleasant surprises about you or Jeremy.”
Her fear turned to anger and in that moment, she was more grateful than ever that Jacob taught her how to hunt.
“I want you to keep an eye out on that Mary. If you see anything amiss, I want you to tell me. Gabriel will be our assistant pastor and we need to make sure that the righteousness of our town is not compromised by her.”
Sally’s heart raced at the unexpected request.
“Of course. I will keep an eye out on her. I can’t say that I like her all that much.”
“Oh?” asked Mama.
“It’s just how she flirts and thinks she’s above everyone else. I haven’t seen her do anything morally wrong yet though.”
Papa stared at her without blinking.
“Let me know if she does.”
“Yes. I will.”
She drank the rest of her tea and gave Mama a reassuring smile before seeing herself out. Stepping outside, the chill did not leave her even under the warm sun. There was no escaping it.
The thought of wiping the sadistic smirk off his face strengthened her resolve to fight him. They were trapped. Until she formed a plan.
Jeremy saw her approach from the corner of his eye as he brought in the horses for the evening. There was something different about the way she was walking. He stopped and waved at her when she looked at him.
She lifted her skirts and ran to him. The look of horror in her eyes sent a wave of panic over him.
“He knows,” she panted.
“Who knows what?”
“Papa knows we were planning to leave. We can’t go or he’ll hurt Mama!” she cried.
He stared at her, unbelieving at first. He had been so careful about his plans to get out of there. The only person he told was a farmer who lived in the next town whom he was going to sell his farm to. He hadn’t been careful enough. The devils had found out somehow. He wished he knew who the rat was.
“This is my fault,” he said.
He kicked the fence hard, longing to break something, anything at the moment. His horse snorted and pulled away. He patted its neck to calm it down.
Sally’s sob broke the silence. The sky seemingly mourned for them as thick grey clouds moved in and hid the glorious sunset.
He brought her close to him and wrapped his arms around her.
“We’ll figure this out,” he said gently.
“We can’t until Mama is safe. We have to make them think we are on their side. We have to trick them, Jeremy. Only then can we start to even think about escaping.”
He held her closer.
“I am so sorry you had to see him threaten your mama like that. You’re right. We haven’t been making it seem like we are on their side. We’ll have to mesh with them better. Make sure that your mama is safe first.”
“He asked me to keep an eye out on Mary. They want me to spy for them, Jeremy. I am so angry and so scared.”
Jeremy longed to give Mr. Thompson the same fate he had given to Michael. The man’s cockiness would be his undoing. Jeremy would see to that one day.
“We’ll get through this,” he said. “We’ll play along for a little longer. Your Mama will be all right.”
“He really is capable of everything,” said Sally. “It’s stupid, but I truly believed that there was a small part left of the man who raised me. I was very wrong.”
“Oh Sally, I wish I could take you away right now. I’d make sure you were safe then I’d rescue your Mama and we’d all start over again.”
“That’s what Jacob said. He knows who Papa really is and wanted to take Mama with him. Oh my God… he has probably been mistreating her for years.”
“I am so sorry for this, Sally.”
“Don’t be sorry. We’ll make them sorry.”
“I don’t know what to do from here.”
“We’ll lay low for a few weeks. We’ll befriend them, impress them a little. Make them think we were scared into becoming a part of them. Then we will slowly start to formulate a plan.”
She took both of his hands and stared up at him with the strongest look of resolve he had ever seen. He had no idea where to begin, but she appeared as though she already a semblance of a plan spinning inside of her beautiful head.
“Tell me what your plan is,” he said.
“Right now we kiss their asses to get them off our backs.”
“Then that is what we will do.”
She took his hand. “I am so glad that I have you.”
She left him to finish his duties with the horses. He stared after her, wondering how she could have said such a thing about him. She would have been better off without him.
The weeks blended together as their hope for escape faded. Sally and Jeremy took on full survival mode. They spoke more with the deacons and their wives at church and attended all of the intimate gatherings. Gabriel becoming the assistant pastor helped solidify Jeremy’s position among the men. Their intimacy vanished once again. There was no room for genuine affection or romance with all of their energy being spent pretending to be people that they were not. Acting like Michael’s death never happened made Sally feel physically ill.
Jacob had taught Sally well on tracking, but she became a different sort of tracker as she spent less time outside with a shotgun and more time socializing at tea parties and sewing groups with the church women. She forced herself to like it and felt herself disappearing within an empty shell. Being likable by them and pleasing Papa meant that the threat on Mama would lessen.
As she became more aware of her surroundings at the church and other social gatherings than ever before, she started to notice subtle things about people when they weren’t happy with their spouse, friend, or lover.
She became increasingly aware of Mary’s struggle to fit in with the other women while living the ordinary life of a preacher’s wife. Though she had no idea what her real story was, it was clear that she wasn’t raised by a stable Christian family. She had the look of another world about her. Sally could relate to that more than she wanted to admit. It made her wish that Papa hadn’t assigned Sally to watch her of all people. In another life, perhaps they could have been friends.
One Sunday afternoon after the church service ended, Mary brought a hand to her belly after Gabriel finished a sermon. Her forlorn gaze into nothing made Sally wonder. Watching her stand up and leave the church, it was unmistakable that her svelte frame had filled out a little. Sally shook her head. The woman was pregnant. It made her more human, more vulnerable. That would change things drastically. Perhaps with Mary busy preparing to start a family, Papa wouldn’t be so obsessed with catching her doing something incriminating.
Sally exhaled loudly and followed the rest of the congregation outside. She met Mama’s melancholic gaze. How she longed to visit with her for hours, but those days were long past. Even if they could visit with Papa hovering over them, Mama was too paranoid to talk about anything deeper than the weather. They had so many things they needed to talk about with no chance to do it.
A chill rushed over Sally. She shuddered, noticing that Papa stood right behind her.
“Hi, Papa,” she said, forcing a smile.
He leaned close, casting a sidelong glance in Mary and Gabriel’s direction.
“Watch her like a hawk this week.”
“What do you think she’s done?”
He inched closer. She had to look away from his reptilian gaze.
“Just watch her. I don’t want anything bad to happen under our noses. Your Mama has been feeling much better since the last time she paid for your and Jeremy’s little secret.”
Sally gritted her teeth. He had still hurt Mama even though she swore they wouldn’t leave town.
“Please don’t hurt her for my mistake,” whispered Sally.
“Better her than our wee Amber.”
Sally blinked back tears.
“Papa, I promise you we’ll never leave town. Jeremy and I long to please you and the elders. I will do as you ask. I’ll watch her.”
He left a cloud of horror in his wake. Sally stood there, turning her head to stare at Mary. She was arguing with Gabriel about something. She didn’t want to know what it was about, but she had to know. It was time to get to the bottom of who Mary really was. She felt empty on the way home. She looked at Jeremy who seemed lost in thought.
“Can Christians still go to hell if they do something terrible enough?” she asked.
His face softened as he stared at her.
“Sally, you’ve come back to me. Why must you always go away?”
“I can’t live with myself and what we’re doing and yet there’s no other choice. I have to do one thing for Papa. Once I win his confidence, we can start to plan our escape again.”
His eyes grew misty as he stared at her. It made her heart ache. She felt like a criminal sitting next to an innocent child.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“It is better that you don’t know. I will tell you when it’s over.”
He brought his attention back to the road.
“If you say so.”
Guilt encircled Sally, begging her to embrace her humanity rather than become one of the wolves, but she had little choice. Her Mama’s life depended on her transformation into another animal for the time being. She could always go back to who she was before once everyone she loved was safely out of harm’s way. Even Mary had done things she wasn’t proud of for the sake of her own survival. Sally could see that clear as day.
From the cover of the corn field, she watched Mary every day. Figuring out her habits and routines. She always seemed to be contemplating something, appearing to be ready to leave the property only to cower back inside of the house. Until one afternoon, Mary wandered away from her farm in the direction of the forest that Sally never dared to go near. It held too many superstitions due to a few witch-like women living in its depths.
Her heart raced as she followed Mary at a safe distance. She moved like a mountain lion stalking a doe, staying in the shadows, stepping noiselessly. The silent chase continued for the better part of an hour. Then Mary approached a tiny house of stone. Sally winced, wishing she hadn’t seen it.
A terrible sheet of ice seemed to cover her as she watched Mary go inside of the medicine woman’s home. The purpose of the visit was unmistakable.
She closed her eyes as a solitary slipped down her dewy face. It was time to find Papa.