Sally – Chapter Twelve

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After riding for nearly an hour calling for Gabriel, it seemed as though the dark woods had swallowed him whole. Mary rode ahead of him, doing her best to keep her head, but everything he said to try to make her feel better made her snap at him, so he kept his mouth shut.

He was just as afraid as she was.

“Gabriel!” she cried, her shrill voice pitiful and raw.

A groan sounded above the steady hoof beats that pounded the damp forest floor. Jeremy pulled on the reins and held his breath.

“I think I heard something!” he called.

He jumped off his mount and walked through the thick brush.

“Gabriel!” he called. “I am here.”

Mary joined him, panting, but holding her tongue. The unmistakable form of a man lay just ahead of them. They ran to him. He was still alive. It had to mean he would be all right.

Standing over him, Jeremy’s stomach knotted at the sight. His friend’s lower abdomen was torn open. A typical hunting trip had gone very wrong. He knelt next to him, praying for God to have mercy on him. He seemed to be in shock, staring up at the sky one moment and then slipping away at the next.

Jeremy gathered him into his arms and carried Gabriel to his horse, lifting him onto the saddle.

“Take him home,” said Mary. “I will go for the doctor. We’ll be right behind you.”

Jeremy nodded and watched her jump back into her saddle and disappearing into the dark forest within seconds. He sat behind Gabriel in the saddle to steady him as they rode out of the forest. He rode at a gentle pace to not damage his friend further. When they reached the farmhouse, he carried Gabriel to the front door and gently set him down.

“You’re going to be just fine. Mary’s coming soon with the doctor.”

Gabriel moaned something as he leaned against the side of the house. The door was unlocked and Jeremy opened it. Mary likely forgot to lock it when she figured out that Gabriel would not be coming home.

Jeremy helped Gabriel stand and guided him to the bedroom. He stripped the bed of the colourful quilt to prevent it from being soiled and then slowly lowered him to the mattress.

He found a match in the side table drawer and lit a lamp. With the wound in plain sight, Jeremy flinched and quickly looked away. A section of Gabriel’s innards poked out of the gaping wound. He wondered if he was trampled by a sounder of wild boars. It was a miracle that he was not more injured if that were the case.

He took Gabriel’s hand in his.

“We’re not going to let you slip away. You hear me? Don’t give up, Gabriel.”

Gabriel weakly squeezed his hand in reply. His eyelids fluttered, but he seemed to slip back into unconsciousness when they stayed closed. It was by the Lord’s mercy that he was not fully aware of his injury. Men writhed in pain over less brutality.

Shaking, he walked to the window to wait for the doctor to arrive with Mary. He crossed his arms, praying. He had never seen a graver wound in all of his days.

His thoughts wandered to Sally still alone at the house. He wished that she was there with him. He could have used her easy laugh and silly jokes. He hoped that she was all right with him being gone for hours. As nice as those few days of heaven had been, her optimism could switch at the drop of a hat and she would suddenly think the worst of him.

Mary and her horse appeared through the darkness with the doctor riding close behind her. Jeremy’s dread mounted. The terrible night had only just begun.

The door flung open and Mary raced to Gabriel’s side as the doctor dug through his surgical bag. Gabriel muttered something about being trampled by a herd of deer.

Mary softly spoke words of encouragement to her delirious husband. Jeremy shook his head as he watched the young couple speak softly to one another.

“Hold him down,” said the doctor.

Jeremy exchanged a look of horror with Mary before they each took a side and pinned Gabriel down to the bed. As the doctor started to clean the wound, Gabriel cried out and begged for him to stop. Jeremy clenched his teeth as warm tears streamed down his face; he would have taken all of the pain for Gabriel if it were possible. Instead, he and Mary stood there at the mercy of his pained cries.

It drew on – the operating and the begging – for what felt like more than an hour before the doctor finally stopped. On the bed, Gabriel sweat profusely, panting from the torture. Mary held his hand as silent tears streamed down her sun kissed face. The look on her face was the epitome of a woman in love. She would have done anything for him. Fear was nothing to her if it meant fighting for Gabriel.

The doctor tightly wrapped Gabriel’s torso with bandages and then spoke to Mary just outside of the room.

Jeremy pulled up a chair and sat next to Gabriel.

“You’re a trooper, kid. Now you just need to be patient and rest until you heal.”

“I feel so terrible doing this to Mary.”

“This isn’t your fault. Accidents can happen to anyone.”

“I will fight. For Mary.”

The love that they had for one another tugged at his heartstrings and he wondered what it must have been like to feel that way for someone. Love like that didn’t happen every day.

“Fight for her. We’ll have to go on our cattle drive before we both become fathers.”

Gabriel smiled.

“As soon as I’m better, we’ll plan it.”

“Good.”

Jeremy stepped outside under the sun to leave the couple alone. Gabriel’s road to recovery would be a long one, but he had Mary’s patience and love to keep him going.

As Jeremy stepped rapidly back for home, it hit him how badly he had hurt Sally the other night. To make matters worse, he left her alone at the house while riding off with Mary, the woman who was the source of her jealousy. He hoped that she had grown mature enough to understand why he had to leave her so quickly. His best friend’s life depended on them finding him in time.

He had a feeling that she might never forgive him for riding off into the night with Mary.

***

Sally awoke sometime after noon lying on the floor. With a groan, she rolled over and stared at her bed.

He hadn’t come home. He was with Mary while she was attempting to pull herself up from her despair.

Her temples throbbed as she stood and she stretched to relieve her tense muscles. She stared out at the window at the clear blue sky, realizing how alone she was.

Mama belonged to Papa and Papa was a monster. Jeremy didn’t love her; he barely wanted her. Gabriel and Mary only put up with her because they had to. Her girlhood friends disowned her once she got married.

Her sour stomach protested when she ventured into the kitchen. She poured a glass of water and drank it quickly. She went outside.

“I need to be anywhere but here,” she whispered.

She lifted her skirts and ran for the woods. Her tousled hair trailed behind her like a mare’s tail. The terrible ache from last night dulled as her eyes drank in the natural beauty surrounding her. Love or no love, she would always have the forest to run to. She stopped in the midst of the tree maze to catch her breath. Panting, she stared up at the beautiful green leaves and the singing birds, drinking in their happiness.

She walked a little further and smelled the unmistakable scent of a bonfire. Once she would have been afraid at the idea of someone camping close by in the middle of the woods, but her depression had a way of killing her fears. She had nothing to lose.

Curious, she followed the scent. The hunger that she had been robbed of earlier returned as roasting meat’s aroma filled her nostrils. A man arose from the brush and she stopped.

He was tall and dark-skinned. He turned to face her.

“Jacob!”

“Sally… what are you doing out here?”

His coal eyes were wide with what appeared to be concern.

“I needed to run away for a while,” she said with a shrug.

She took a step closer. His campsite was hidden from the trail and was complete with a tent, a bonfire, and a roasting feral hog.

“Have you been living like this since you were freed from my father?” she blurted.

He cleared his throat.

“Not quite. No.”

Her mind spun with questions. His presence in town caused a terrible fate for Pastor Davis, but being near him did not frighten her. His calm, quiet demeanor put her at an unexpected ease. She could tell just by looking at him that he never meant for any harm to befall anyone.

“Why are you still here? Michael Davis died for helping you.”

She stared into his eyes. They looked sad.

“I ask God to forgive me every day for causing his death… I never meant for anyone to know I was here.”

Sally shook her head.

“Is that why you came right into your former slave owner’s daughter’s house? What were you thinking? Why did you come back?”

“I worked for years in a mine far south of here, but I still couldn’t let myself forget.”

“Forget my Papa? Was he a cruel master?”

“Cruel or not, a human being will never reflect kindly on a man that once owned him.”

Sally averted her eyes to the forest floor. She could never know how it would feel to be someone’s slave. Jeremy would never love her, but he was not the sort of man to order her around. For the most part, she was free. Or, so she thought. She would never be able to imagine what it must have been like to be born a slave.

“Your Papa was a very cruel man,” said Jacob.

“He still is…”

She met Jacob’s gaze again.

“Is everything all right, Sally?”

She threw her hands up in the air.

“Of course it’s not all right! Papa and all of the deacons killed my pastor and friend right before my eyes. He fled to my house and begged me to hide in my room so that I wouldn’t see what my own father was capable of. Even then, he wasn’t even thinking of himself. Oh Jacob, I can only imagine the horrors you endured as my father’s slave!”

“It will be all right. Here, please sit down and eat some of this fresh pork with me. It’s the least I can do for startling you twice now.”

“Well, all right. Thank you.”

She used a fallen log as a seat while he cut off some pieces of meat and put them on a plate for her.

“It smells so good,” she said.

“It’ll taste good, too.”

The hint of a smile brightened his expression as he gave her the plate of steaming food. The tender, salty meat awakened her taste buds and she closed her eyes.

“It is delicious.”

“Glad you like it. I’ve got some coffee brewing, too.”

She licked her fingers when her plate was empty and imagined Mama’s cross look of disapproval if she could see it.

“I am happy to have your company,” she said. “I just wish that I knew why you came back here.”

“It is very complicated.”

“That is what adults tell children and I’m not a child anymore.”

Jacob leaned forward, balancing his elbows on his knees.

“I will tell you one day, but not now.”

“Well, how long will you be camping out here for?”

“Not much longer.”

“Will you let me know before you go?”

His sad eyes met her. “I will let you know if you want.”

“I can bring you some food from the house tomorrow. My afternoons are usually free and Jeremy doesn’t mind if I go wandering.”

“That boy seems to care a lot about you.”

She flinched as the sting of rejection hit her again. She shook her head. He had no idea.

“He puts up with me, but he has eyes for another woman.”

“Are you sure about that, little Sally? The look in his eyes when spoke to me… he was very adamant that I never return to your property. He was protecting you.”

The dying fire crackled and popped. Sally imagined her once fiery love for Jeremy fading away like the flames before her eyes.

“Well, no one would cook for him or wash his clothes if he didn’t have me. I wouldn’t say that’s love.”

Jacob chuckled.

“White men are terrible at talking to their women. They have no idea how to make them feel valued. A man ought to treat his wife like a queen.”

Sally almost laughed, but couldn’t quite bring herself to.

“I can’t argue with that.”

His infectious grin lifted the corners of her mouth.

“I still say he loves you,” said Jacob. “He’s just terrible at showing it. Don’t give up on him yet. You’re both so young.”

The way his eyes lit up as he talked startled her a little. For a stranger, he seemed to care a great deal about her and Jeremy. It was strange even if she enjoyed the idea of someone taking an interest in her.

“Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your meal with me. I am glad that I ran out here and stumbled across you.”

“As am I, little Sally. Just remember that running away isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it’s worth it to stay.”

She shrugged. He didn’t know the whole story of what happened and she didn’t want to burden him with it.

She rose and smiled down at her new unlikely friend.

“I will see you here tomorrow around the same time? I can bring you fresh fruit and vegetables to go with the pork.”

“It’s very kind of you, Sally, but I don’t want you to compromise yourself. I’m always on the move.”

Her heart sank as it hit her that she might never see him again. His shotgun rested against his tent. As she studied the sleek design of the firearm, a sense of longing filled her.

“Jacob, will you please teach me how to hunt?”

He took a step back in surprise. He studied her for a moment before nodding.

“Is that a yes?” she asked.

“I will teach you how to hunt if that is what you want.”

“I do.”

“Then I will.”

Her heart raced. It was really going to happen. She would learn how to hunt. Mary wasn’t going to be the only woman who knew how to shoot a gun and ride like a man.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“Make your way to this general vicinity and I will find you.”

She extended her hand. He shook it.

“Good day, Jacob” she said.

“Good day, Sally.”

She left the woods feeling like different person. Never again would she allow Jeremy’s treatment of her to determine her value. It was time that she determined that on her own. With Jacob’s help.

Sally – Chapter Eleven

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Jeremy sat on the fence watching the setting sun bring the clouds aflame with hot pink fire. Fog rose from the creek just past the perimeter of his property and he sighed at the beautiful magic that surrounded him. Just beyond his farmland, the murderers lived and thrived. He couldn’t value land, no matter beloved, over his and Sally’s lives anymore.

Sally sat by the rose bushes painting the clouds. She looked so beautiful when she painted. She loved her art as much as he loved his farm. Guilt stung him as he thought of Michael again. He couldn’t let himself forget.

He jumped off the fence and strode toward Sally as she put her water colours away. She saw him approach her and stopped to smile up at him. Despite the hell that loomed just beyond their haven, he felt happy with her. She was still so young and hopeful. They didn’t have children weighing them down. They were young and free and could start up a new farm anywhere they chose to.

“I really need to take you away from here,” he said. “Soon.”

She tilted her head as her eyes widened in surprise.

“You said that you can’t leave the farm.”

“I know I said it, but Sally, I can’t make you stay here. The conversation with your father was as clear as day that he’s watching me. He wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who crossed him. We can’t stay in a place that killed our friend. I realize that now… finally.”

She stood up, keeping his gaze.

“What about Gabriel?”

“He’ll understand. Once we are far from here, I will write to him and tell him the truth. I can’t risk your safety by telling him while we are still here. God only knows what he will believe and what he would do with the information.”

“He was pretty hot headed the last time he stayed here,” said Sally.

“He was. He also looks up to Pastor Scottson already.”

Sally shuddered.

“When will we leave?”

“At the end of the week. The deacons will all be at the church having their monthly meeting with the pastor. We will leave in the middle of the night.”

Sally gasped and wrapped her arms around him.

“Oh, Gabriel. Thank you! I cannot wait to start over and put this place behind us. I will write to Mama once we are settled and perhaps we can save her from this place, too.”

“One thing at a time, my dear. First we have to get out of here unharmed.”

Her eyes widened.

“We will have to leave in the middle of the night.”

“Don’t worry yourself. We just have to be very careful.”

She buried her face in his chest and he played with her silky hair.

“Every time we sit in that church, I feel ill,” he said quietly. “Michael would still be preaching there. I couldn’t save him then, but we will respect him by leaving this place behind and starting new.”

“And we’ll teach our children what he taught us,” added Sally.

Her tears soaked through his shirt and he held her tighter.

“I’m so proud of you for finding out more about Jacob,” she said.

“I did it all for Michael… and for you.”

She took his hand and squeezed it.

“I wonder where Jacob went.”

“We may never know, but I hope he doesn’t waste the life that Michael died for.”

Her little body shuddered against his. He gathered her into his arms and carried her back to the house.

“My painting!” she cried.

“It won’t rain tonight. It will be fine.”

He kissed her and she sighed, melting into him. Inside, they tore each other’s clothes off and ran to their room.

The next morning, they awoke entangled in one another. They rose and made breakfast together; he smiled at her tousled hair as she tried in vain to straighten it out with her fingers. She mesmerized him; he couldn’t believe how dim he had been the previous year to not see how amazing she really was. As they sipped coffee and ate pancakes dripping with maple syrup, they talked about their funniest childhood memories to pass the morning.

“I really thought I might be a famous painter one day,” said Sally whimsically, tilting her head.

“You still could be one day. Your paintings are beautiful. I can help you try to find a place to display them after we settle in at the new farm.”

Her eyes lit up.

“Would you really?”

He nodded, smiling.

“I love learning about you. What makes you happy and what makes you cringe and everything in between.”

She bit her lip and leaned forward.

“I like learning more about you, too. There’s more to you than just the cows, after all.”

“Cattle,” he corrected, meeting her lips and kissing her.

It was painful leaving her to go work on the farm and it broke his heart to think that all of his hard work would for naught when he would leave most of it behind.

At the end of the day, Gabriel stopped by.

“Want to go fishing?” he asked.

Jeremy nearly said no at the thought of leaving Sally alone all evening, but it had been ages since he had seen Gabriel.

“Let’s go,” said Jeremy.

He grabbed his fishing rod and they went to a nearby pond to see if they could catch some catfish.They talked mostly about their beautiful wives, but it was clear that Gabriel was completely in love with Mary. They had married for love after experiencing an epic adventure across the state together. His idealism was louder than the chirping birds above them as he spoke of his dreams for the town and for Mary. He was only twenty, married, and studying to be a preacher. Hearing him speak so highly of the devil disguised as a pastor made Jeremy’s skin crawl. He felt terrible for leaving Gabriel to the mercy of snakes, but he would be safe since he listened to every word that they spoke. Surely he would believe him when he wrote to him. He hoped that he would take Mary and move closer to him.

When they caught two fat catfish each, they starting packing up for the day. They turned at the sound of someone coming. It was Mary. She greeted them with a smile. Gabriel ran to her and they kissed unabashedly.

“I felt like exploring before sunset and I just so happened to find you two here,” she said with a light laugh.

“Would you both like to come back to my house with me and all four of us could have a nice talk?”

Gabriel and Mary agreed. They walked just ahead of Jeremy, holding hands and talking like they were still courting. As they reached the farmhouse, Sally saw their approach and ran out to greet them.

“Hi, Sally!” called Mary.

“What a surprise!” Sally called back.

She came to Jeremy’s side and he took her hand. She leaned against him, but there was something different about her. She seemed agitated.

As they congregated at the table inside, Sally served them all tea, biscuits, and sliced apples. She sat down and eyed Mary.

“I wasn’t aware that I was being excluded from a group outing,” she said in an overly bright tone.

“Oh, it wasn’t a group thing at all,” said Mary. “I was just going on my own walk and I happened to bump into them.”

“No doubt,” smirked Sally.

Jeremy flinched at the way that Sally looked at Mary up and down in unmasked jealousy.

“It was only Gabriel and I who went. Mary came just as we were leaving,” said Jeremy quickly.

Sally’s piercing green eyes met his for a moment before she concentrated on her food.

The rest of the night was a little tense as the two girls sat quietly while Jeremy and Gabriel drew out a conversation about farming. It was clear that Sally and Mary were not going to be fast friends.

When Gabriel and Mary left for the evening, Jeremy locked the door and studied Sally as she cleaned up the kitchen.

“What is wrong?” he asked.

“I saw how you looked at her and how she would giggle every time you said something remotely amusing. The rumours about her enjoying the company of men are clearly not just rumours.”

“Sally, you were imagining things. Gabriel’s wife is a kind, lovely woman, but she loves him. Don’t you see how they talk and stare at one another? I’m nothing to her.”

“When was the last time that you called me ‘lovely’? Oh, now I remember. You haven’t.”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“She was an old maid, you know. She’s twenty-four! Lord knows how many men she’s been with.”

“Sally, this isn’t like you. What’s wrong?”

The tears in her eyes made his stomach churn. Perhaps he did admire Mary’s ethereal beauty a couple of times, but he didn’t care about her. He thought it had been made more than obvious to Sally how much he desired her as his wife.

“I knew you didn’t think that I was as pretty as her! I can’t wait to leave this stupid town!”

All he could do was stare at her.

“I think you are beautiful.”

Her jaw dropped as more tears streamed down her face.

“Now you tell me! This is what it took for you to call me beautiful?”

She ran into her room and slammed the door behind her.

“Sally, please come out and talk!” he called.

“Go away and dream about the tiny-waisted, flaxen haired Mary!”

Jeremy stood in the wake of Sally’s perplexing storm and stared at her door. The bratty little girl had returned and it took every fabric of his being to not despise her for turning on him after they had come so far together. If she wanted to be left alone, he would leave her alone. He didn’t have time for childish games with a girl that had no thought for anyone else. Perhaps Gabriel had been wise to marry a lady a little older than he was. It wasn’t uncommon.

Jeremy walked back to his empty room.

***

She ignored him all day. He tried talking to her when she first came out of her room in the morning, but she ran outside until all that she could see was the river. She did not come home until well after noon, forcing him to make his own lunch. She knew that she was being harsh to the man who worked his hind off for both of them to have a good life, but seeing him look at another woman the way that he did made the hell return.

Gabriel had forgotten about her completely; that was fine. He didn’t look Sally’s way once in the entire three hours that he visited aside from exchanging the usual pleasantries. She had never been anything to him. Jeremy only found her beautiful because he had to.

She stood in the middle of the kitchen closing her eyes. Just when she thought that she was beginning to fall for Jeremy, he betrayed her. Mary was a stunning woman. In fact, she looked more like some sort of goddess more than a woman. With long, graceful limbs, perfect golden hair, and the tiniest waist, it was no wonder that she turned men’s heads. Sally balled her fists and was suddenly glad that she hadn’t eaten all day. Her waist was small, but nothing like that. She felt like a stumpy troll next to an angel whenever Mary was close by.

The door opened and closed and she could hear Jeremy’s breathing.

“Hi,” he said.

“Did you have a good night dreaming of her?”

“All that I’ve thought about is you, Sally. Please, talk to me.”

“You didn’t even want to be with me. My parents forced us to be together. You have to tell me I’m beautiful. If you were still single, you wouldn’t be courting me right now.”

“Sally, I am so very attracted to you. I thought that I showed you that multiple times now.”

Sally shook her head. She longed to believe it, but she knew it was false. There was nothing exquisite about her hair, face, or proportions. She was ordinary.

“I just felt that you were too young for marriage at first and I didn’t want to look at you like a woman in the beginning. I didn’t even bother with girls before you. You know that. I always kept to myself and my farming.”

Sally shrugged.

“I saw your eyes light up every time Mary said something. I still feel ill at the memory of it. My hands.. they have been shaking ever since. I’m never enough. I will never be enough.”

He came closer, but he didn’t touch her.

“Oh, Sally. Please tell me what to do to make you feel better. I want you to be happy.”

She shrugged.

“The thing that would make the happiest would be impossible now.”

She prepared a simple dinner without any intention of eating it while Jeremy washed up. Once they sat down at the table, she speared a carrot with her fork and nibbled on it, wandering away to another place, a memory that hid inside of her fragile mind.

“Please eat, Sally.”

“Why? So I can always look fatter than Mary?”

Jeremy threw his head back.

“You can’t compare yourself to her. You are beautiful in different ways.”

“In what ways? Like how a Shetland pony is beautiful in comparison to an Arabian? Spare me.”

Jeremy slammed his fist on the table.

“A day ago we were talking about getting out of this town to honour Michael. How can you be focused on something so unimportant?”

Sally shot up and started to go outside. A knock sounded on the door, causing Sally to draw back. The last time someone knocked on her door, a disaster followed. Her heart ached and she leaned against the wall as memories of Michael’s death paralyzed her.

“Are you all right?” asked Jeremy.

“No.”

He nearly touched her arm, but restrained himself and went to answer the door. The sound of Mary’s voice brought Sally back to reality. There she stood in the doorway with tears streaming down her perfect face as she whined to Jeremy about something. He went to grab his shotgun and then followed her outside.The entire moment was like a bad dream.

Sally said a few things to them, but she was barely aware of them. She heard fragmented sentences about Gabriel missing and Mary needing help to find him. A long gun was strapped to her back and she looked like a beautiful cowgirl from sort of magazine drawing. She had managed to pull off yet another male fantasy.

Trembling, Sally walked out onto the porch and watched Mary mount her horse. Jeremy came out from the barn on his horse and they rode away together like long lost friends.

She stood there alone as her husband, her love, rode away with the object of his desire. She slammed the door and screamed. He had left her alone when she needed him the most. She only wanted him to show her how much he wanted her, how desirable she was, but Mary was still more important than her.

She dragged her feet to her room and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She had been foolish enough to think that she was becoming more beautiful as she grew up. Her long wavy hair looked like mud in comparison to Mary’s hair. She looked frumpy and childish. The skin on her palms tingled. She didn’t know what else to do but do their bidding. So many times before she restrained herself, but her will to stop it vanished. She longed to hurt herself because she was worthless and deserved it.

She yelled and balled her fists. She beat her upper arms repeatedly until she lost her breath. Panting, she sunk to the floor and pulled up her skirt so she could remove her stockings. She punched her bare thighs with all of her might. She screamed in hellish agony as she pulled on her hair, kicking her legs. At the end, she lay on the floor in pain and exhaustion, longing for sleep to take her away.

He wasn’t going to come for her. He wouldn’t save her because he was already with the woman that he longed to save.

Sally forced herself to stand on shaking legs and then she ran full force into the wall, bashing her head into it. She fell backward as the world spun and relief closed in on her.

Sally – Chapter Ten

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Jeremy placed his hands in his pockets as he strode up to Mr. Thompson. The corners of the older man’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. His blue irises matched the refreshing shade of the skies above.

It struck Jeremy how remarkable it was that liars could lie even with their eyes.

“Jeremy, my boy. How’s life been treating you?”

“Very well, Mr. Thompson. How have you been?”

“I have been feeling so great that I’ve been sleeping like a baby.”

The older man’s obnoxious smile sent a chill over Jeremy. He kept his composure, because it was the only way that anyone could survive mingling with serpents. He feigned an easy smile.

“It has been a while since we went fishing or shooting together. Are you free this afternoon, Sir?”

Mr. Thompson lit up.

“I’ve been longing to do some shooting after doing so much reading these days. Yes, I happen to be free today.”

“After church, then?”

“After church.”

“Jeremy!” called Gabriel.

At the sight of his old friend, Jeremy broke into a run. He reached Gabriel and they shook hands. He had never been so happy and so worried all within the same moment.

“It is so good to see you, Gabriel. You look well.”

“You, too, Jeremy.”

Just behind Gabriel stood a willowy blonde. Curious brown eyes peered beneath her pink bonnet. Jeremy returned her warm smile.

“I’d like you to meet my new bride, Mary.”

She reached out to shake Jeremy’s hand. He took her hand and shook it once, a little surprised at her use of the masculine gesture.

“Pleased to meet you, Mary,” he said.

“Likewise, Jeremy,” she said with a nod.

“It is good to be back here,” said Gabriel. “I am very sorry to hear about your Pastor Davis. He was a good man.”

“So am I ,” said Jeremy. “He will always be missed.”

Pastor Scottson walked by and glared at Jeremy. He had clearly heard them talking about Michael.

“Good morning, Pastor.”

He walked into the church without replying.

“It looks like he’s going to be my teacher and mentor for the next couple of years,” said Gabriel.

“So it does. I think it’s great that you’re going to be a pastor one day. It would suit you.”

Mary took Gabriel’s hand and squeezed it. “He is going to make the best pastor.”

Sally walked up to them then. Gabriel introduced the two girls to one another; Sally appeared to be less than pleased to be standing next to Mary as they exchanged pleasantries.

“Well, we should go inside or we’ll be late for the first hymn,” she said quickly.

She linked her arm with Jeremy’s and led him into the church. He choked back a laugh at her odd behaviour.She never told him what to do in public.

Pastor Scottson’s sermon lacked warmth, but he seemed to make an attempt to reel in the threats this time.It was a struggle to sit in the very place where Michael would still be preaching. It had become a house of murderers leading a congregation of gullible sheep and the worst part was that there was nothing he could do. Even if he personally told every single person the truth, few would believe him and the few that did might react rashly and get themselves killed. Gabriel would be among the latter.

When the service was nearly finished, Jeremy looked at Sally sitting next to him. She met his gaze and flashed him a brave smile. He longed to continue their previous night, but he would instead be spending a hellish afternoon with a man he once respected.

After a quick lunch at the Thompsons’ home with the women, Jeremy and Mr. Thompson set out for the pond with their shot guns. They crept up on the swimming ducks and one of the green-headed males took flight, sacrificing his life for his mate. Mr. Thompson hit it with one shot as the rest of the flock retreated.

“Nice.”

“I never miss,” he said with a wink.

They moved on to find another spot. At the lazy, low river, they found another raft of ducks. They each shot one drake.

“We should make a big meal for the church next weekend,” said Jeremy. “We could feed a lot of hardworking people.”

“I was thinking of something a little more intimate. The pastor and his wife, the deacons, and their wives would be better. And of course, Gabriel and his new wife.”

It was no surprise that the deacon wanted to exclude what he referred to as ‘regular folk’. If Jeremy hadn’t married Sally, he likely would have been ignorant of the corruption that defiled the church for the rest of his life.

Jeremy nodded. “That would be great.”

“What do you say we go pluck and clean these ducks now? The women are likely missing us.”

“Yes, Sir.”

As they walked back to the Thompsons’ home, Jeremy cleared his throat. It was time.

“Forgive me for asking this, Sir, but it has been eating away at me for weeks. Michael’s betrayal has been difficult for Sally. She’s also been very jumpy since Jacob sneaked up on her in our house. Who was the man?”

“Jacob was one of my slaves. I treated him very well as I did for all of my slaves before the Yankees ruined our great world. The man was freed years ago and felt that I needed to pay for owning him in the past.”

“So it was about a grudge.”

“Basically. He planned to hurt me the most by going after my daughter, but then he must have thought the better of it. He was going to kill me.”

Jeremy felt ill at the idea of some man having it out for a gentle little girl like Sally – no matter how much of a monster her father was. He didn’t want to believe that was all there was to the story. It made some sense, but it still did not explain why the elders thought Michael deserved to die. He would have helped any person who needed refuge. Jacob would have been no exception.

“I swear to protect Sally with my life.”

“I believe you like the idea of protecting her, but allowing her to wander the wilderness at will isn’t exactly keeping her safe.”

He hadn’t been paying attention to what Sally did during the day. She always had the house clean, the clothes mended, washed, and folded, and the meals cooked. He assumed that she wasn’t gallivanting around the countryside all day. She would soon have his children and it was better that she enjoy her freedom of mobility while she still could.

“I’ll talk to her about it,” lied Jeremy.

Deacon Thompson shook his head. “You don’t talk to women, my boy. You tell them what to do, or they will walk all over you. I love my daughter, but she’s the sort who thinks she’s special.”

Jeremy’s neck grew warm beneath his collar.

“Sally is very special.”

“Watch your tone. She’s also your wife. I expect you to look after her as you promised.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“That’s what I like to hear. That girl needs a baby to keep her head in the right place.”

Jeremy sighed. He had to test his luck one more time. For Michael.

“About Pastor Davis… why do you think he betrayed you?”

“Michael held beliefs that went against the way God wants things to be. I tried to mentor him, but by the time Jacob arrived, it was already too late for our young fool. He was willing to put me and my family at risk to protect a stranger who was created by our Lord to be a slave.”

Jeremy gritted his teeth. Michael had always taught that all lives were equally important. He promised himself that he would never be like the narrow minded deacons no matter what they threatened him with.

Mr. Thompson looked over at him. His penetrating eyes seemed to pierce his soul, reading him like a book.

“In case you feel like I am sounding a little harsh, young Jeremy, I advise you to read the Bible. It condones slavery. Some people are made to be inferior to others as God wills.”

“With all due respect, Sir, that’s in the Old Testament.”

“Watch it, Jeremy. You’re beginning to sound like our tragic Pastor Davis.”

His sparkling blue eyes narrowed, turning predatory as they sized Jeremy up. In their cold depths, Jeremy could sense the man’s hunger for his next bloodshed.

“Forgive me, Sir.”

He stared down at the grass as the tornado of thoughts raged inside of his head. Sally was right. They would need to leave the town and soon. No farm was worth staying around there for.

“I knew you’d see it my way, lad.”

With a smirk on his face, the deacon walked ahead to the slaughter house. Jeremy peered over at the house and saw Sally staring out the window at him. Her curious gaze worried him. She was not someone who could be easily controlled. Neither was he. They were living among snakes that could strike and inflict their venom with any wrong move.

With a loud sigh, he joined the deacon inside of the stuffy building. They would need to leave the town very soon.

***

Sally slipped out of the covers and peered out the window to see if it was raining. Thick grey clouds filled the sky, but they hadn’t burst yet. Her conversation with Jeremy about his talk with her Papa echoed in her mind. She looked over her shoulder at him still sleeping on their bed. Their times together passed too quickly and she found herself missing him during the day. Most evenings, he was exhausted and fell asleep quickly. She felt guilty for having help from Mama’s maid during the day while he literally slaved.

Seeing Gabriel again with his new wife had been a little unsettling, but she recovered from it quickly as her affection for her own husband intensified. The first thunder clap of the day sounded and awoke Jeremy. He sat up and grinned at the sight of her.

“Good morning, ” she called.

“Good morning. Come here.”

She jumped onto the mattress and crawled toward him.

“Thank you again for talking to my father about Jacob. It must have been so hard to do.”

“Could we forget about this town for now?”

He gathered her into his arms and kissed her. She deepened the kiss, enjoying the flutter in her lower abdomen. Only Jeremy could do that to her.It felt so strange to be so happy when they were close. Being with him drowned out the darkness for a little while.

When it was over, they lay entangled in one another until he at last rose and dressed for another hard day of work. She hugged her knees as she watched him get ready to go outside and work.

“I could help you do some of the chores. I’ve painted six pictures while you’ve been working so hard.”

He shook his head.

“Absolutely not. You’ll have your work cut out for you soon enough. Give it another year or two.”

Her hand went to her flat stomach and she wondered if a life had already begun inside of her. She hoped not. She wanted to be a little older like her school teacher had been when she had her first child. Some things about the world were starting to change. Some women were waiting longer to start families as they pursued education, careers, adventures. She still felt like a child in a lot of ways and though she was already married, she wanted to postpone motherhood as long as possible. Jeremy loved her slender waist and having a baby might ruin it.

While Jeremy was in the barn with the cows, she got started with the day’s laundry with her servant. The woman was serious and cold like the deacons which made her company less than enjoyable, but at least she helped Sally to be productive in the mornings.

After lunch, she started to paint another picture, thinking of Michael and then of Jacob. She ended up painting two sets of eyes -one of Jacob’s hazel ones and one of Michael’s brown ones. She decided that she would finish it the next morning. The memories of those odd few seconds with Jacob infected her thoughts and she wandered across town to go visit Mama again.

Mama appeared anything but happy as Sally approached her in the garden. She removed her gardening gloves and strode briskly up to her.

“Hello, Mama.”

“Hi, Sally. Would you please tell Jeremiah to never ask your father such intrusive questions again?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your Papa told me all about your husband gleaning for information about Michael’s death after church yesterday. It sounded like he was implying that he didn’t believe Jacob murdered him.”

“Oh, I am sure he never meant to challenge Papa.”

“He saw it as a challenge. It’s best that you and I don’t visit today.”

“What?”

Mama crossed her arms. Her eyes were wide and misty; Sally wondered if a storm was raging within her mysterious mind.

“Papa is very cross and it’s best that you go home now. I’d rather not have him see you here.”

“Oh.”

“Go home before you get caught in that storm!”

Mama turned away and stepped back into the house.

Sally stared after her feeling the familiar emptiness starting to bore a hole through her gut. They really had to leave town soon. She backed away from her childhood home as thunder rolled over the countryside. She had hoped that she could have watched it with Mama from the window as they sipped their hot tea.

Sally shuddered at the thought of Mama being married to a man like Papa for so long. It must have been a terrible existence for her and she was still a young woman.

“What must it be like?” she wondered aloud. “My poor Mama.”

Lightning zig-zagged across the sky. Sally ran home.

Sally – Chapter Nine

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The following weeks raced by as Jeremy became busier on the farm. In between calf births, he built a second barn. When he wasn’t tending to the cattle, he took to managing the corn crop. Mama sent over one of her house maids every morning to help Sally with her household duties so that she would not be overworked. After noon, Sally kept busy by taking up her painting.

She painted the clouds. Her entire world shifted on the day that the amber sky gave birth to a tornado. The skies always did fascinate her; painting them gave her life some meaning again. Most of all, it took her mind off the haunting memories during the day. At night, Michael’s kind gaze returned to her minds’ eye and she was unable to escape.

One particularly warm evening, she finished painting the pink sky, set her fresh picture on her nightstand to dry, and took a walk to the creek. When she reached it, she removed her shoes and dipped her feet into the cool water.

“Sally!”

At the sound of Sarah’s voice, she spun around.

“Hello! This is a surprise.”

Panting from her run, Sarah appeared a little stressed, but even prettier than before now that she wore her hair up.

“Are you all right?” asked Sally.

“I am well enough, but I have some news. I didn’t want you to find out at the last minute while at church on Sunday so I hunted you down.”

“So I see.”

“Gabriel is back in town.”

Sally’s heart did a flip flop.

“Have you seen him?”

“Briefly, yes,” said Sarah. “But he’s married now.”

“Oh.”

Taking a deep breath, Sally crossed her arms to process the startling information.

“I am sorry to be the one to tell you.”

“Thank you for telling me. He should be happy. Besides, I’m not free anymore. It’s just as well he’s settled down now.”

“Perhaps this can give you a little push in Jeremiah’s direction.”

“I’m not sure if there will ever be any affection between us. We don’t even….”

Sally stared at her shoes and toyed with her chignon, flustered.

“You don’t have to tell me.”

That was the problem. She had no one to tell things to anymore. She kept every feeling and experience bottled up inside of her until she screamed them out while alone in the field.

“I have missed you. Our school girl days seem like ages ago,” said Sarah.

“Why don’t you and Lisa speak with me much anymore?”

Sarah crossed her arms.

“Lisa’s been entertaining a new beau. They will be engaged any day now. I have been preparing for teacher’s college.”

“Oh, of course. Your parents let you finish school.”

Sarah’s eyes widened.

“Perhaps one day you could finish your studies. Education doesn’t need to end just because you’re married.”

Sally frowned at the preposterous statement. Her parents would probably disown her if she ever made her own education a priority over her marriage.

“How about months ago when neither of you were busy?” quizzed Sally. “Why didn’t you speak with me then?”

Sarah bit her lip before responding.

“There has been talk about you and Jeremiah being alone in close quarters before you were married. My parents didn’t want my reputation to be tainted along with yours.”

Sally couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. If they only knew about the reality. The only time Jeremy ever touched her was to take her by the hand when he wanted to get going somewhere.

“Well, seeing that you are so busy now, I should leave you to it,” said Sally.

She brushed past Sarah and quickly grabbed her stockings and shoes.

“Sally, wait!” called Sarah.

Sally didn’t look back as she broke into a run. She was mourning so many things at once. Her two best friends abandoned her at a time when she needed them the most. She was happy to see Sarah and Lisa go. In a year’s time, neither of them would be living in town anyway. They had places to go while she was stuck in a town she hated. It was time to move on and make the most of her new path.

She put her shoes back on once she reached the stony path and wandered over to her parents’ house. It was nearly dark, but Mama was in the garden pruning some of the bushes; she smiled wide when she saw Sally’s approach. The death of her girlhood friendships gave rise to a stronger bond with her mother. They embraced and exchanged pleasantries before going inside to have some tea and biscuits. They sat opposite to one another at the white whicker table in Mama’s tea room.

“We haven’t gone on our picnic yet,” sighed Sally. “Jeremy has been busy, but he enjoys hard work. He goes stir crazy every Sunday and finds something else better to do than spend time with me.”

Mama set her steaming teacup down and folded her hands.

“Sally, oftentimes a baby brings couples together.”

“I know, but I still don’t feel ready.”

“You’ve made that boy wait for over a year now.”

Sally had to look out the window and escape from reality for a moment. Even though they were being vague, the topic made her squirm.

“I hoped we would become closer before that happened.”

“Well, you haven’t been acting very much like a wife to him. Some of that is my fault. I spoiled you rotten.”

Mama smiled whimsically as her mind travelled to the past. Sally longed to go there with her.

“I was forced to grow up before I was ready,” blurted Sally.

“As true as that may be, you are married now and I want you to be happy. Jeremiah is going to want sons. In twenty years he won’t have the same stamina. He’s going to need help on the farm.”

“So I’ll be like his human cow?”

Mama’s jaw dropped.

“You’ve become rather feisty since reading those novels.”

Sally tried in vain to hide her smirk.

“It’s why I like painting and reading novels. In those moments when I am alone, I feel the most like myself. I’m not just a wife anymore.”

Mama leaned forward and stared intently at Sally.

“Embrace your uniqueness. That will make you a good mother and wife as long as you don’t get too lost in your own world. Sally, you need to become intimate with Jeremiah soon. The longer you wait, the harder it will be.”

Sally cringed, but nodded.

“I know how you miss our sweet Pastor Michael Davis, but forming a bond with your husband will fill some of that emptiness.”

Sally nodded begrudgingly.

“Who was Jacob, Mama? Did you know him?”

Mama blinked. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“He was Papa’s slave, wasn’t he? Did they have unfinished business?”

She frowned.

“Before you were born, he was our slave, yes. I don’t see why you need to know about him.”

Sally inhaled, feeling guilty. Her mother was an innocent in all of it. It didn’t seem fair to involve her.

“Sorry, Mama. I was just curious.”

“Why would you be curious about Michael’s murderer? Please stop talking about him.”

“All right, Mama.”

Mama stared forlornly out into the distance. They quietly finished their tea, said their farewells, and Sally made her way home.

It was almost dark by the time she reached her front door, but Jeremy usually worked until after dark. It would be good to curl up in bed and finish her book. She let her hair down and stepped inside and was surprised to see him already sitting at the table with a cup of steaming coffee.

“I see that you really do know your way around the kitchen,” said Sally.

He looked at her in the strangest way.

“You’re back late,” he said.

“I was painting and then lost track of time when I visited Mama.”

He smiled warmly. He rarely did that.

“That sounds like a nice day for you.”

“I also ran into Sarah.”

He leaned forward.

“How did that go?”

“Not so well,” she said with shrug.

“I’m sorry I haven’t taken you on that picnic yet. Gabriel is back in town and he’ll want to go fishing with me soon, but I promise I will take you. He’s going to be studying to be a preacher.”

A knot formed in Sally’s middle.

“Under Pastor Scottson? This is not good.”

“A very unfortunate turn of events. We can’t tell him about what happened.”

“Of course we can’t.”

Sally hoped that she wouldn’t be forced to see Gabriel too often. She couldn’t afford to feel any more pain. Every time she faced reality, every inch of her ached.

“You look beautiful with your hair let down.”

She couldn’t help feeling like a decadent dessert by the way Jeremy stared at her. It gave her a strange feeling, but she didn’t hate it.

“Jeremy, we need to get to the bottom of why they were after Jacob and why they killed Michael for it. It’s been weeks since Michael left us. We can’t let his death be in vain.”

Jeremy threw his head back and groaned.

“You think I don’t know that? Have you not seen how busy I am? If my farm doesn’t produce, we starve. I don’t have time to think.”

She rolled her eyes. “I know.”

She moved closer to him, playing with her hair. He fixed his gaze on her again. She had always thought that he was handsome, but there was something different about him that time. Something between them sparked as they stared at one another. She smiled, thinking back to some of the advice Mama had given her.

She gently touched his shoulder. As he looked up at her, lost, he appeared so boyish.

“If I kiss you now, will you promise me that you will look into it tomorrow?”

She stood over him holding his gaze.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said with a half smile.

“I’ll take that as a promise.”

She bent down and brought her lips to his.

***

Jeremy sat up in bed and watched Sally sleeping next to him. The rising sun’s rays streamed in through the window, falling on her hair and kissing the side of her porcelain face. He had been so obsessed with building the farm that it had taken him too long to see how beautiful she was. He leaned his head on the wall, remembering his promise to her. To find out more about Jacob.

She stirred in her sleep with a soft sigh. The sheet covered most of her body. He longed to trace his finger down her slender arm and feel her soft skin, but held back. They had been up for most of the night. He smiled at the remembrance.

He washed up, dressed for church, and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. At the sound of her light footsteps entering the kitchen, he turned to face her. She wore only her chemise. His eyes travelled down her girlish frame and then to her hair, which fell down to her waist in beautiful dark waves.

“Good morning,” she said softly.

“Good morning. I’ll make us breakfast. I was hoping that you would sleep a little longer after last night.”

She bit her lip.

“I’ll help.”

Together they started frying up the bacon, sausage, and eggs. His stomach growled from hunger, but he wanted her far more than the hearty breakfast. As she poured herself a cup of coffee, he squeezed her little waist. She laughed, almost spilling the hot liquid all over the floor.

He took it from her, set it down on the table, and kissed her soft lips. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he felt a sudden, strong urge to protect her. He had been entrusted to care for this beautiful little person and he was going to make sure that she would always be safe and happy.

She gently pushed him away and they locked eyes again. She only came up to his shoulders, but she carried more power than she knew. In that moment, he would have done anything she asked.

“We need to eat and get ready for church or we’ll be late,” she whispered. “We don’t want to be murdered by Pastor Scottson.”

“I will make sure we’re not late. You’re just so beautiful. I wish we didn’t have to go anywhere.”

She laughed lightly and started preparing the plates. As they rushed through the rest of the morning and started on their trek to church, Jeremy’s mood clouded. He was going to have to find some crafty way to glean information about Jacob without appearing suspicious. He had no doubt that the elders were keeping a close watch on him and Sally. One false move could cost him everything, but he owed it to Michael. Barely twenty-five, he had given his life for a man he barely knew.

Gabriel chose a volatile time to return to the old town to take up his studies with a new wife no less. Telling him what happened would only jeopardize everyone’s safety, but not telling him would be nearly as bad. Gabriel was an idealist, but he could be led into bad doctrines without questioning them because he loved to please people more than anything else. Jeremy would need to keep a very close eye on his young friend.

It was a warm, sunny morning, but Jeremy had a feeling that another violent storm loomed on the horizon. He peered over at Sally sitting next to him in the wagon as they neared the church. He had never been so afraid of losing someone in his entire life.

Sally – Chapter Eight

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The rain poured heavily as the town congregated by Pastor Michael Davis’ grave site. The church’s new leader, Pastor Scottson, stood by the grave reciting an empty eulogy. Sally stared at him and suppressed the urge to bend over and vomit.

She looked away from the man. Her tears mingled with the rain. She had been forced to carry a secret that was already tearing her apart. She nearly felt as guilty as the murderers, but all she could was feel helpless as she stood there mourning in the downpour.

Michael’s parents held one another’s hands as they wept. His father rested a hand on his tombstone. An angel engraving made it stand out from the other stones in the graveyard. He would be remembered and missed forever, but no one could forgive the terrible waste of a good life.

When the funeral ended, the townspeople slowly departed, leaving the grieving parents alone at their son’s final resting place.

Mama approached Sally and they linked their gloved hands together. Their misty gazes met.

“This is such a sad day,” said Mama. “I have missed you.”

Sally nearly choked on the painful lump that had seemed to lodge itself permanently in her throat.

“I’ve missed you, too,” she managed to say.

“We will visit soon.”

“I would like that, Mama. Soon.”

Papa strode up to them with an expression that made Sally want to slap him. She gritted her teeth and averted her gaze.

“I am very sorry that we lost such a good man,” he said.

“Oh, I am sure you are.”

Papa smirked.

“Why the contentious tone? Pastor Davis would have scolded you for that.”

Sally stared at him and shook her head.

Jeremiah took her hand. She glared up at him. He wouldn’t stop hovering over her every time they went outside of the house.

“This has been very hard on Sally,” he said quickly. “I’m sure that she didn’t mean anything disrespectful to you, Sir.”

“Surely not,” said Papa flatly.

“We ought to get out of this rain,” said Mama. “Take care on your travels home, young Jeremiah and Sally.”

“Good-bye, Mama,” called Sally.

Mama smiled softly before turning to walk arm and arm with Papa back to their carriage. He glanced at Sally over his shoulder and a suffocating wave of grief overcame her.

She yanked her hand out of Jeremiah’s grasp and started toward Michael’s grave. She needed to be with him. A week ago he was still alive and helping anyone he could.

“Oh Michael, I am so sorry.”

“Sally, we have to go,” said Jeremiah.

“No. I can’t leave him yet.”

Her heart ached at the thought of leaving him there. After his parents left, he would be alone with the rain. He never did like the rain. Her final moments with him were worse than any nightmare. She could have done something to stop the brutality, but her daft little head prevented her from forming any logical thought.

“I could have saved you. I am so sorry.”

“Now, Sally!” demanded Jeremiah, taking her hand again. “Leave them to be alone with their son.”

He squeezed her hand so hard it hurt. She would visit the grave another day to say a proper good-bye to him alone. She followed Jeremiah back to their rented carriage. Inside of the coach, she clasped her gloved hands together. They hadn’t stopped shaking since the incident.

The horses carried them away from the graveyard and she stared out the misty window at the grey skies. She could never run far enough to escape the tragedy.

“What are we going to do, Jeremy?”

“You’re calling me Jeremy now?”

She shrugged. “Yes.”

“There is nothing we can do if we want to stay alive.”

His words sent a wave of chills over her.

“Papa wouldn’t…”

“Maybe not. A week ago we couldn’t imagine what he and his friends are capable of doing.”

“I will never trust him again.”

“That being said, we have to pretend that it never happened. It’s the only way to keep living life as before.”

His cavalier attitude made her want to slap him. She balled her fists.

“Who else are they going to kill?” she asked.

“No one if they stay out of their way.”

Sally let out an exasperated sigh. He was so willing to give up and allow the snakes to get away with murder.

“Do you realize how crazy this is? Michael is dead. Murdered. Jeremy, I don’t want to live here anymore! My father is a liar and a killer. How can you make me stay here?”

“You don’t have a choice, Sal. I have worked hard to get this cattle farm to be sustainable and profitable for me and that directly affects you.”

“Don’t call me Sal.”

“Don’t call me Jeremy.”

Sally hit the cushioned wall of the carriage.

“If you want me to treat you like a woman instead of a girl, you’re going to have to start growing up.”

She winced.

“At least I know what you really think of me.”

“I’m sure you have your thoughts about me, too.”

She met his gaze.

“I hate you and I hate all of the deacons. Pastor Scottson is no pastor. How can you want to stay here? Farm or no farm, this place is possessed with something and I don’t want to find out what it is.”

Jeremy shook his head.

“You can feel however you want to feel about me, but don’t let anyone else know about your thoughts toward the church elders.”

“You really do think I’m daft.”

“Sally, I am serious. I can’t just pick up and leave a farm that size. It would take months to move everything or sell it and then we’d have to start over. I’m not doing that.”

“So you can just sit there and pretend nothing happened. One of your friends gets murdered by the trusted leaders of this town and you don’t even flinch?”

He gritted his teeth and ignored her.

“Who is Jacob?” she pressed.

“I don’t know.”

“No? Then maybe you can do Michael one last favour and find out who Jacob is! He is the man that our friend died for.”

Jeremy stared out the window. Even after the worst tragedy anyone could imagine, he would not acknowledge her.

“I will ask,” he said at last.

“Please ask.”

The coach stopped in front of the farm house and Jeremiah helped her out. He only did nice things for her when someone else was watching. When they reached the front door, Jeremy stopped to glare at her.

“That is the last time that you tell me what to do. Is that understood?”

“Or else what?” snapped Sally. “You’ll hit me? You’ll kick me out of the house? What?”

The look in his eyes. It was contempt.

“I will never hurt you,” he said.

He went directly to his room. She closed the front door and locked it. Another layer of guilt settled over her. She had just asked the same man who hadn’t ever touched her if he was going to hit her. She knew better than to accuse him of that. Then again, maybe he would snap and become a monster like her own father.

She prepared a small pot of black tea for herself to take her mind away from the bleak world for a moment. She sat by the window and thought about her times spent talking with Michael and for a few blessed moments, she was back to being just a girl walking by the river with her friends.

***

The church was silent as every eye rested on Pastor Scottson’s steely gaze. Jeremy thought he heard the scrambling of a field mouse beneath the pews. The pastor’s cold words hovered in the air as he attempted to hold the onlookers under his spell.

We are in a season to kill anyone who stands against our righteous way of life.

Jeremy dared to glance at a few of the people sitting around them. They seemed to be equally in shock by the icy tone of their new leader. Or perhaps they were just afraid. In any case, the threat was clear. If anyone attempted to undermine them or their way of life, they would suffer the same fate as Michael.

Pastor Scottson looked over at Sally’s mother, who sat at the piano waiting for her command to play the final hymn. Jeremy did not miss the look in her eyes as she silently judged the stiff man. He wondered if she knew something about Jacob.

“No closing song today,” said the pastor. “I bid you all farewell until next Sunday. May God’s wisdom and grace surround all of you this week.”

“Amen,” boomed the men.

A few of the men cleared their throats as everyone silently arose from the pews and marched outside. Sally walked abreast to Jeremy as they made their way to their horse and buggy. They said nothing until they well on their way home.

“Well, that wasn’t exactly a Pastor Davis sermon about Jesus’ love,” muttered Jeremy.

Sally buried her face in her hands. There were times when Jeremy longed for the comforting touch of a woman, but he was still married to a kid. He could only imagine the trauma of a young girl witnessing the murder of a beloved mentor, but he had lost Michael as well. They were friends. As a man, he didn’t have the luxury of lying in bed for half the day and weeping.

He wished that she could be less selfish. Some of the town girls were already mothers at eighteen. Soon she would be eighteen.

“We need to find out who Jacob is and why he came here. I’ve waited all week for you to speak with one of the deacons, but all you seem to do is spend your whole life thinking about cows.”

“Cattle,” corrected Jeremy.

He swallowed down a stream of biting words. She needed a swift belt to the ass sometimes, but he had sworn an oath to protect her. As much as he despised her sometimes, he never wanted to see her get hurt let alone be the cause of it.

She seemed to think very little of his way of life and that needed to end. He had spent the last week working on the farm and tending to the cattle because that was what made him feel the most alive. He would never be a well-dressed merchant man working in town.

“The thought of being around any of those men alone makes me feel ill,” said Jeremy.

Sally huffed.

“I will ask about Jacob in time. You forget that Michael was a friend of mine. His death has been a terrible loss for me as well.”

Sally sighed.

“I know and I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know what to do.”

“Perhaps a visit with your Mama and sister is in order. You spend a lot of time alone in the house.”

“I’ll visit her tomorrow. I’ve needed to see her for a long time.”

The seriousness in her voice pulled gently on his heart strings.

“I hope that you do go see her. It’s not good for you to be alone all the time. What happened to your two friends?”

Sally shrugged.

“They haven’t paid me much mind since we got married. I don’t know if they’re jealous or if I said something to offend them. Maybe both.”

“That is childish of them.”

“Yes,” sighed Sally.

Jeremiah glanced over at her. The sunlight brought out the red highlights in her dark hair. She looked like a painting. She faced him and he studied her heart-shaped face.

“What is it?” she asked.

She possessed a sort of elvish prettiness from time to time when she wasn’t being completely annoying. She tilted her head with a perplexed frown which brought a smile to his face.

“Why are you smiling at me?” she asked.

“I was just admiring you.”

“Oh.”

She quickly looked away as the beginnings of a blush formed on her delicate cheekbones.

“It feels strange to have the sun shining after such a sad, cold message,” she said.

“Sally, I will speak with the deacons about Jacob and do my best to find out everything I can.”

She nodded.

“Just be careful. Don’t make it seem like you’re gleaning for information.”

“I’ll be careful.”

She brought her cat-like green eyes to meet his again. There was a look in them that he hadn’t seen before.

“Good,” she said.

The farmhouse came into view and he thought back to his encounter with Jacob. He wondered where the man had retreated to.

“I would like to show you a place I used to go to a lot with Gabriel when he was here,” said Jeremy.

Sally bounced in her seat.

“Oh! I could pack a picnic for us. It would be nice for us to get away to somewhere different. Maybe we could try having a good conversation.”

She was pretty when she smiled.

“That was the idea,” he chuckled.

“But only after we find out who Jacob is.”

Sally – Chapter Seven

Image result for girl screaming in pillow

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.

 

 

Sally – Chapter Six

Image result for storm

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.

“Jeremiah?”

“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.

“Jacob?”

“He said that he used to be a slave of yours. He was looking for you.”

“Coloured Jacob?”

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.”

“Did he?”

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.”

“Good lad.”

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.

She shuddered.