Jeremy and Gabriel rode past the mass funeral procession in the middle of the graveyard and removed their hats. The atmosphere was thick with morbidity as weeping filled the air. There were several coffins sitting next to their final resting places.
“Why are there so many dead?” asked Jeremy, looking over his shoulder at the mourning crowds.
“She killed nearly all of the deacons.”
“Sally. She also killed Mr. Thompson.”
He couldn’t believe at first, but then she recalled the look in her wild eyes in the field. She would have killed him.
“Oh my God.”
“Only Mrs. Scottson and I know, but they will find out eventually.”
“I want to pay my respects to Mrs. Thompson and little Amber,” said Jeremy.
They rode back toward the funeral service and dismounted away from the thick of the gathering. Jeremy swallowed down his anger at the thought of the two innocent souls having to be a part of the same service as those who murdered the innocent. A tall tombstone had been secured for Pastor Scottson. Jeremy caught Mrs. Scottson’s gaze from the other side of the gathering. He couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for her to realize who her husband really was in one tragic moment.
Gabriel tugged on his jacket and brought his lips to his ear.
“We need to go,” he whispered.
Jeremy averted his gaze from the townspeople as he and Gabriel remounted and continued on their way to the forest. His mind raced to all sorts of potential outcomes as they rode. He and Sally were wise to pretend that they were a part of the town’s inner circle weeks ago. It bought them some time before someone began to suspect them. Her not being at her mother’s and sister’s funeral was not the strangest thing. Some people couldn’t handle death. He hoped that everyone would believe she was just at home grieving in solitude.
“I killed the pastor,” said Jeremy.
Gabriel stared at him. Conflicting emotions radiated in his eyes. The pastor had been a mentor he once looked up to and spent a lot of time with.
“He killed Amber and went after Sally. I followed after them and caught him before he caught her. She saw me shoot him and she saw the river carrying him away. She still hates me even though I saved her life.”
“She isn’t in her mind right now.”
They reached the woods and Gabriel cast him an empathetic glance.
“We should separate to increase the chances of finding her. At least the town will be grieving for today. It buys us some time.”
“You’re the best friend anyone could ever have,” said Jeremy.
Gabriel smiled, but his eyes remained sad. Jeremy couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the place.
“I’ll see you when we find her,” said Gabriel.
They separated. Jeremy rode slowly in the opposite direction as Gabriel so that he wouldn’t accidentally miss a sign of Sally. He longed to call out her name, but that would only cause her to run deeper into the maze of trees away from him.
Jeremy wiped his eyes and rode in the direction of the Cherokee village. She might have sought refuge there at some point in the last few days. They might be able to tell him where she went. He had heard good things about the civilized nature of Cherokee tribes. He had to bank on that being true.
Sally watched the crowd gather from the safety of the thick woods. Every inch of her trembled in mournful agony. Mama’s and Amber’s bodies would soon be buried into the ground in close proximity to their murderers’ graves. They would be forgotten by the town and the world would move on.
“I won’t move on,” she said.
She couldn’t even try to live without them. The only person keeping her alive after she found Mama murdered and left for dead on the road was Amber. Reality crashed into her, torturing her, and she bent over to empty all of the contents from her throbbing stomach.
She leaned against a tree and cried. The cold air collided with her sweaty flesh and she shivered.
“It’s over now,” she whispered.
She might not have killed every single deacon, but she had done enough damage to make them think twice before killing another innocent person.
Numbness set in as she traveled deeper into the forest. If it could stay forever, she might have had a fighting chance, but it never stayed for long. She wasn’t a killer. She only sought justice for what they did to her beloved. Now they were gone. All of the sickening work that they did was shattered by one girl and her imbecile husband. That thought made her grin.
They might never figure out who did it. She hoped that Jeremy would be smart enough to flee while the town was in chaos. Before they suspected his part in the purge.
She stood on the riverbank and kicked off her boots. She dipped a toe in the cold water. The river raged from all of the rain over the last couple of days. She would offer herself to its violent current and allow it to drag her deep within its icy depths. It would all be over soon.
She unbuttoned the back of her gown and allowed it to slip off her shoulders. She stepped out of it. She then untied Mama’s pink ribbon and removed Papa’s hat, setting them on top of her gown. She took the small piece of paper she had wedged between her breasts. A note for Jeremy.
She stood on the rocks in her white chemise, inhaling the fresh air and staring up at the overcast sky. She hoped it would be sunny on her last day living, but her final view of the grey clouds would have to do.
She closed her eyes and thought back to her childhood. She remembered a beautiful summer day that happened well before the tornado that interrupted her dreamy girlhood. Mama and Papa held hands while they strolled down the river while Sally and Amber chased butterflies and picked flowers.
She remembered the look on Mama’s face. She was happy then. She remembered the look on Papa’s face. He was kind then.
It was a day that everyone believed that they really were the people who they pretended to be. It was the sort of day every person in the world hoped to have. The four of them had that perfect day under the sun and no one could take that memory away from them. She wondered if that moment crossed through Papa’s mind before she shot him.
“Is that why you asked me to do it?”
The bittersweet memory would always be there, even after her soul separated from her flesh at the bottom of a river.
Sally stepped closer to the water, weeping. Hell had swept in and ruined their wonderful, peaceful life together. Perhaps in another world, the four of them were still together and happy. Butterflies formed in her stomach for a split second at the thought.
She instinctively held her breath as she waded into the cold water. She froze when the water was knee deep and drank in the sight of the clouds and lush tree tops. It would be over once she ventured too deep. The current pulled on her legs and she slipped on a smooth rock. Her scream was cut short as the water pulled her below its frothing surface.
She didn’t struggle as it dragged her away.