Sally didn’t know how much time had passed since he had locked her in there, but she faded in and out of fitful sleeps filled with terrible dreams about Mama as the days passed on. He would come in when she wasn’t conscious and leave food and water for her. She groggily wondered if he was putting laudanum in the water to keep her sedate. She stopped drinking the water and her awareness sharpened.
She awoke one morning fully awake. She stared out her window at the wood beams keeping her trapped inside. Her scream was so loud that it shook her skull and summoned an army of black stars to mar her vision. She leaned against the wall to catch her breath. She vomited on the floor and her emptiness grew. Her rage at being treated like an insane patient died down as she thought about how far away Mama was. It no longer mattered what he thought of her. Without Mama, nothing mattered.
“Oh, Mama,” she panted.
She glared at her window that was bolted shut. She longed so much to die, but Jeremy would never allow her that relief. Her own husband locked her away. She went to her bed and lay there, forcing herself to think to take her mind off of her agonizing loss. She would grieve Mama properly once she was freed from her prison. Then she would end it all.
Jeremy’s heavy footsteps sounded outside.
“Pacing around while he figures out what to do with me,” she hissed.
He had turned his back on her once and for all. She was on her own. She had to get out of there soon. No one had any right to keep her under lock and key. As she lay there trembling, her heart turned to ice.
Jeremy became her enemy the moment he decided to subdue her grief. He couldn’t have cared less about Mama’s murder. Come to think of it, he never did seem particularly shaken over Michael’s death either.
Jeremy was just a stupid farmer she had been forced to marry.
“This won’t do,” she said.
Staring at the night table, her mouth twisted into a grin. The oddest sense of delight rose over her grief. She embraced it for the moment. She rolled off her bed, pulled open the drawer, and picked up the box of matches that rested within it.
She lit one and brought it within an inch from the candle wick. She blew it out and lit another match. Dark laughter filled the room, echoing off the walls. Her laughter.
Jeremy stared at his cooling cup of coffee on the table in front of him. She would probably hate him forever, but it would be far better if they never spoke again than to lose her to suicide. If he had let her go that day, she would have been dead already. He couldn’t have lived with himself if that happened. Three souls would have risen from the eerie little town that day.
He buried his face in his hands.
“Show me how to fix this,” he prayed.
He didn’t know what to do. It was wrong to keep her locked up like a rabid dog. He made a vow to respect her for this rest of his life and he broke that vow moments ago.
If he let her out too soon, she could make a run for it and do something to harm herself or him. If he didn’t let her out, he would be forcing her to bear the terrible pain of losing of her mother alone.
Mrs. Thompson’s lifeless, pale face flashed across his memory. He wept, silently begging God to forgive him for being too weak to take Sally and her mother out of there sooner. He was just a simple farmer too stupid to think past his crops and cattle herds.
The pungent smell of burning blankets danced into his nostrils, awakening him from his grief-inflicted trance. He looked up and saw the smoke. For a moment, he thought that he heard Sally laughing.
He ran down the hall and unlocked the door. Sally had been learning on it and fell forward. He caught her and carried her out of the house. Her body twitched as she laughed hysterically. He set her down and she stumbled over.
He knelt next to her.
“Sally, please forgive me. I am so sorry.”
Too weak and distracted by hysteria, she fell back and stared up at the sky, sputtering out odd babbling. If the rest of the house caught fire, it would bring the rest of the town to his property. That was the last thing that they needed.
“Stay here, Sally,” he said gently, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Please.”
She had gone somewhere else, likely to a terrible world. He knew then that he would never get her back because he never had her in the first place.
He ran to the barn and took one of the horse blankets, soaked it in the horses’ water trough and ran back for the house. He smothered the fire on her bed with the wet blanket. He stepped backward, staring at the charred bedding. He had been right to worry about her, but no matter what he did, she would find some way to hurt herself.
He ran back outside. His guts knotted when he saw no sign of her. His gaze went to the cornfield. A section of the tall corn swayed. He broke into a sprint in pursuit of her.
She ran so fast that the corn leaves slapped her as she passed them. The pain was oddly comforting and she forced herself to run faster before the enemy caught up to her. She zigzagged through the rows in hopes of getting him off her trail. The woods were still over a mile away and she couldn’t afford for him to catch up to her before she reached them.
She jumped into another row and a figure suddenly jumped out in the middle of her path. She screamed and tripped in an effort to not run into him. Lying in a heap in the dirt, she stared up at Jeremy.
“You bastard,” she hissed.
“I deserve to be hated by you, but I’m not letting you hurt yourself.”
She gritted her teeth as their eyes locked. The tips of her fingers tingled as the desire to kill warmed her up from the inside.
She stood up without taking her eyes off him.
“Get out of my way.”
“Sally, please forgive me. I was a monster to lock you away like that. I’m an idiot, all right? Just know I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Get. Out. Of. My. Way.”
He shook his head.
“I can’t let you hurt yourself. Sally, I’ve cared about anyone so much.”
As she stared at him, she realized how little he really meant to her.
“I didn’t want to have to do this,” she said, grinning.
She pulled out her hunting knife and swung it at him.
“Oh my God!” cried Jeremy.
The look of disgust and horror in his gaze made her stomach churn. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she would if he tried to fight her.
He backed away from her, looking at her like he hated her, too.
“Run away then. If you hate me that much then go.”
“I do hate you. So much.”
He threw his arms up in the air and disappeared into the corn maze.
She had longed so much to love him once, but all he did was give her reasons to despise him. It was the end. She wanted nothing more than to be held and to grieve, but he uprooted her before she was ready to leave and disposed of her so he didn’t have to deal with her. Now, he would never have to be bothered with her again.
It was fitting that their final parting be equally as violent as the storm that brought them together.
I’d love to see a different world
A place where you can’t find me.
Feel me, kill me, my back’s up against a wall.
– Korn, A Different World