Sally – Chapter Nineteen

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Jeremy found Gabriel sitting on the outskirts of his wheat field staring up at the overcast sky. He got down from his mount and approached him slowly, but his friend sensed his approach. Without taking his eyes from the clouds, Gabriel shook his head.

“No need to sneak up on me. I might be mad, but I’ve never been violent. At least, never with you.”

“How are you doing?”

“I need to go after her.”

Jeremy stopped close by and placed his hands in his pockets.

“If you feel that way then you should. You’d be throwing away your career being a preacher at the church, but maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

Gabriel cast Jeremy a sidelong glance.

“What do you mean?”

“There are secrets here. Things have happened that I didn’t want you to know at first for your own safety.”

Gabriel groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“It’s just as well you never told me. I was so infatuated with the idea of being part of that inner circle. I wouldn’t have listened to you.”

“You should follow her, Gabriel. I know she hurt you, but she loves you.”

“I know she does.”

A distant rumble of thunder reminded Jeremy of the inner storms that he and Sally fought every day. He suddenly pined for her.

“When Sally burst into our Bible study the day that she caught Mary, I’ll never forget how excited the pastor and the deacon were. It’s like they had been waiting for it happen. I finally saw through them when it was too late.”

Gabriel patted the ground beside him.

“Sit down. Things have changed, but not that much.”

Jeremy sat next to Gabriel as a bolt of lightning livened up the dark skies.

“Everything has changed,” sighed Jeremy.

“For the worst.”

“It isn’t too late to go after Mary. Not if you go now.”

“You’re right. Even if she hates me. Even if she blows my face off. I need to tell her how sorry I am.”

“She wouldn’t hurt you.”

Gabriel stared at him with an oddly devilish grin.

“You don’t know her.”

“Do I want to?”

“One day, if the four of us are blessed enough to share an evening all together again, she might tell you and Sally her story.”

Jeremy chuckled.

“It turns out Sally’s not quite the blushing little bride I originally thought she was.”

“I always wondered if there was more to that girl than met the eye.”

“Far more. I’m a lucky man, even if I only realized it too late.”

“It isn’t too late.”

They stood together and walked to the stables. Gabriel’s eyes misted over as he prepared and saddled up his horse. They talked about their summer visits as boys and reminisced about the grandiose plans they had made together over the years.

“You think we’ll ever get around to doing that cattle drive?” asked Jeremy.

“I don’t see why not.”

“We should bring the girls with us.”

“You think Sally would want to come along for a month long trek across the wilderness with a bunch of smelly cattle?”

“I think she might. She’s turned out to be quite an adventurer like your Mary.”

“Well, what do you know? Her Papa would have your hide for not keeping her home bound.”

They both laughed.

“I wish things could have worked out better for all of us here,” said Jeremy, “but some places are broken beyond repair. I hope you don’t come back here. Sally and I will be leaving at the end of the month, too.”

“Maybe we’ll live close by one day again,” said Gabriel with a sad smile.

“Maybe.”

Gabriel climbed onto the saddle and studied Jeremy as though he might never see him again. The last time they parted ways they were still boys with dreams of reuniting for fishing trips and cattle drives. More and more, he wondered how many people he may never see again. It seemed strange to be so melancholic when they were still so young, but life had a way of mocking even the happiest of fellows.

“Godspeed. I wish you and Mary the best, no matter what the outcome.”

“And God be with you, Jeremy. Take yourself and Sally away from this place as soon as you can.”

The thunder rolled over the countryside as he rode away. Jeremy stood at the edge of the farm and watched Gabriel until his horse carried him over the ride in the road. His stomach ached with a mixture of loss, guilt, and longing for Sally.

He mounted his horse and rode for home and hoped that Sally hadn’t done anything earth shattering while he was gone.

***

He appeared through the mists like an apparition in a Gothic novel. Sally held her breath as Gabriel rode down the road toward her. She stepped aside so he could pass, but he slowed. Swallowing hard past the lump in her throat, she brought herself to look up at him.

“Hi, Sally.”

“I am sorry, Gabriel. I’m sorry for being the one to unleash hell on your life.”

He shook his head.

“This isn’t your fault. I am going after Mary now.”

Goose flesh covered her arms.

“I am glad.”

“Jeremy was just over. I told him that the two of you need to get out of here as soon as you can.”

She forced a smile.

“We will. Godspeed, Gabriel. Go find her. Tell her how sorry I am if you can remember.”

He nodded.

“Take care, Sally.”

Then he became one with the fog again as he disappeared forever. Jeremy would be home soon, but she would have enough time to run her errand. Since Mama visited her earlier that day acting so out of character, she had to check in on her and make sure that she was alright. The man who she once thought was her father could stalk them all he wanted, but he couldn’t stop them from visiting. Now that she was in his good graces, he might allow them to get away with more alone time.

The home that had once been a haven to her as a child seemed so foreboding as it appeared through the mists. A tyrant ran that house. The scariest thing about it was that she had been so blind to the truth for most of her life.

She knocked on the door and it creaked open. Frowning, she pushed herself through the opened door. It was not like either of her parents to ever leave the door open. Her heart thundered beneath her aching chest. She shut out her outrageous assumptions and searched the house.

“Hello?” she called.

Panting, she looked in all of the rooms. No one was in the house.

“God, please don’t let it be,” she whispered.

Surely after everything they had been through, after all of the years of suffering, God wouldn’t let a man like Papa win while Jacob lived in the shadows and Mama played the part of a submissive wife slave.

Sally went to the garden and spread the bushes apart. Jacob’s black hat was still there. If Mama had ran away, she would have taken it with her. She made her way to Papa’s shed and took his spare shot gun. She loaded it and carried it with both hands as she wandered once again through the fog.

“Oh, Mama, where are you?” she called.

She walked in the direction of the church. Her ears rang as the earthly clouds thickened around her. Perhaps Mama had simply accompanied him to the church to practice her piano playing. Then she remembered the unlocked, open door. She shuddered and broke into a run. Though she could not see beyond a few feet in front of her, she knew the way to the church by heart. It was used as the school during the week and she had walked there everyday up until Papa’s hideous ideologies about life tore her away from the routine. She knew the way by heart, thinking back to her time walking to school with her friends talking about the simple things young girls spoke about.

Life was strange in that one could do the same things every day for years, spending time with the same friends, but one false move could break the cycle forever.

She continued to run. The church was close.

Her feet hit something soft, but firm on the road. She dropped her gun as she fell forward, screaming, and landed hard on her knees. Trembling, she looked behind her. She crawled toward the body left in the middle of the road. It was a woman in a lacy pink dress. Her brand new ankle boots poked out from beneath her skirts.

Sally reached her and turned her over. She looked into the pale resting face of her mother. She gently shook her.

“Mama, wake up,”

Her eyes traveled down to the terrible red stain at the front of her dress. Large boot prints were imprinted in the mud around them. They didn’t belong to Papa’s.

“Who stabbed you? Who, Mama? Tell me who!” Sally shrieked.

She held Mama and cupped one side of her face with her free hand. She was beautifully melancholic, even in death.

“Mama, wake up. God, wake her up. I need her to come back. Please, come back, Mama.”

Sally shook her again. Mama’s head fell limp without the support. It was only then that she realized she was sitting in a pool of blood. Mama’s blood.

Staring up at the sky, she searched for Mama.

“Where are you, Mama? What should I do?”

She held Mama tighter, buried her head in her delicate shoulder, and screamed. She screamed until her vocal chords went raw. Her eyes grew tired as she lay next to Mama on the damp road.

Mama was so cold. She always hated being cold.

“Good night, Mama.”

Sally – Chapter Eighteen

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Sally pushed the door open and nearly fell into the house as she stumbled over the mat. Papa sat at the table with Pastor Scottson. And Gabriel.

Steam rose from the three hot cups of coffee, giving the scene a dreamlike quality.

She tried to catch her breath, but the terrible guilt seemed to clench her lungs.

“Sally, is there something amiss?” asked Papa.

She nodded, barely able to breathe as she stared into Gabriel’s eyes. She was about to ruin his beautiful life for the sake of saving her own pathetic one. The love she thought she once had for him as a young girl had long since vanished, but she never would have imagined she would be the cause of breaking his heart. She did not want to hurt him. He had made it known to the entire congregation how much he longed to be a father to house full of bright young minds. It would never happen with a wife like Mary.

“Sally, are you all right?” asked Gabriel.

“No. Not at all.”

“What are you doing here?” asked Pastor Scottson.

She recalled Mary’s broken demeanor as she slowly made her way to the medicine woman’s cabin, nearly turning back once she reached it. Sally closed her eyes, begging for God to save her from betraying another woman and throwing her to the devils.

“Spit it out!” ordered Papa.

She met his cold gaze and then looked at the pastor. His stare was equally metallic. She decided to fix her gaze on Gabriel’s concerned, but kind demeanor.

“I am so very sorry to break this to you, but I saw Mary go to the medicine woman’s cabin this afternoon.”

Gabriel frowned.

“Why were you following her?”

“I… well, I…”

“Go on,” said Pastor Scottson. “Tell all of us what that rebellious little witch did to her baby.”

A hint of a wicked grin distorted his already hideous face.

Gabriel stood abruptly. Sally cowered against the door.

“She’s lying,” he said.

“My daughter would never accuse anyone of such an atrocity unless she had complete proof,” said Papa.

“With all due respect, Sir, Mary would never hurt our baby!”

“Calm down, my boy,” said Pastor Scottson.

Gabriel sat down, glaring at Papa across the table.

“I couldn’t say for sure, of course,” said Sally. “But that is where she went. I saw her go inside with the medicine woman. That is all I saw.”

“Thank you, Sally,” said Papa, waving her away like someone did with an annoying dog.

Vomiting her treachery out and bathing in a cold mountain spring for hours would never wash her clean. She had become one of them.

Gabriel shook his head, slouching in his seat.

“I can’t believe she would do that.”

Sally clasped her hands together.

“Maybe she didn’t do it.”

He looked at her like the despicable thing that she was, but held his peace. He rose and walked away from the table, brushing past her to open the door.

“Gabriel,” said he pastor. “If you find that she has done what Sally has said, she cannot stay here.”

He leaned against the door with a gut wrenching expression on his face.

“I know. I’ll deal with her accordingly. You have my word.”

He stormed outside. Sally closed the door after him and glanced at her father.

“Are you happy now?” she asked.

He grinned at the pastor.

“I’m getting there. Well done, Sally.”

“I should go. Jeremy will need dinner made.”

“Sally, wait,” called Pastor Scottson.

She stiffened, turning around to face the two wolves again.

“You just saved this entire town by following that tart and discovering her true nature. We couldn’t move forward without you.”

“It was my pleasure, Pastor,” said Sally.

The three of them exchanged devilish grins.

“Good day,” she said over her shoulder.

Once the outside air collided with her clammy skin, she lifted her skirts and sprinted back for home. She imagined the evil spirits surrounding her, scratching at the confines of her soul and breaking through, possessing her. She sunk to her knees when she reached the house. Darkness enclosed itself around her. She was about to hit herself, but then caught sight of Jeremy.

“Sally, what happened?”

He ran up to her.

“I ruined their marriage, Jeremy. I threw Mary to the wolves!”

He crouched down next to her.

“What are you talking about?”

Sally caught her breath somehow and stared into his confused gaze.

“I did what Papa told me and I followed Mary. I saw her go to the medicine woman in the woods we do not go to and I ran to tell Papa. Gabriel and the pastor were both there and heard it all firsthand from me.”

She clutched her aching stomach and lay down on the grass.

“Oh God, I’m the devil,” she breathed.

“Gabriel is going to be so hurt by this.”

“Worse than that. He’s going to have to throw her out of their home. I’ve ruined two lives. They were so happy, Jeremy.”

“Dear God, what are we doing here?”

She stared up at her husband as he shook his head grievously.

“I did it for Mama and Amber… and for you. To keep you safe from them for a little longer. They were happy with me. It buys us some time now.”

“I need to go see him tomorrow.”

He looked so sad. It made her sick.

“Mary will have nowhere to go, Sally. I know Gabriel. He would cast her away for doing away with his baby. He values his principles over everything else, even her.”

“Then he doesn’t really love her,” said Sally, sitting up to hug her knees. “He never did.”

“It’s a shame that you had to be involved in this.”

Her anger heated up and she stood. She wanted to hit something.

“You think I don’t know that?” she cried. “How exactly did you think I was going to win Papa’s trust? I had to do something despicable to one person to save multiple people. It had to be done.”

Jeremy stared up at her.

“So this is who you’ve become.”

She bent down and slapped his face. He never did know who she really was. Who she could have been.

“How dare you?” she shouted. “You were the one who refused to leave because of Gabriel! I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for you. I wanted to leave months ago for this very reason. They’ll either kill us or use us.”

She ran to the house and slammed the front door behind her. She was done with it all. With her father, with the elders, with Jeremy. She had become one of the monsters and there was no going back.

She stepped out into the fog the next morning as though entering another dream. She breathed in the moisture, longing to be cleansed from the inside out, but nothing physical could ever redeem a possessed spirit. Only God could save her, but she had no idea why he would want to.

A woman’s silhouette appeared through the mists and for a moment, Sally wondered if she were dreaming.

“Mama?”

“Oh, what a day for me to come calling. It’s a wonder I found my way here.”

Perhaps God hadn’t turned his back on her yet, for he had sent her the person she loved the most.

“Oh, I am so happy you have come. I’ll make us a pot of tea and we’ll eat all of my oatmeal cookies.”

Mama took Sally’s hand.

“No, not here. Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

Mama pulled her along, and they ran for the corn field. Sally laughed in confusion.

“I thought you hated dirt.”

Mama shook her head, beaming. “I only pretended to.”

She wandered further into the field and Sally followed her. The dreamlike setting made her feel like she was in an Emily Bronte novel. For all of the hell she had felt over the past year, the magical scene made her feel alive again.

“We can finally talk out here. No one will find us. At least not for a while.”

“Mama, I ruined Gabriel and Mary’s marriage. I became Papa’s spy and I found Mary doing one of the worst things a woman could do.”

Mama spun around to face her.

“That wasn’t your fault! Papa blackmailed you. Mary made her own decision whether you followed her or not.”

Sally shook her head.

“All the same, I was the reason why Gabriel found out what she did.”

Mama shook her head, staring intently at Sally.

“Mary is a fighter. She never needed Gabriel. Oh Sally, I am grateful to God that you are not like me.”

“What do you mean? You’re an amazing person, Mama. So kind and elegant.”

Mama shook her head as she fought back tears by smiling wider.

“I refused Jacob because deep down, I didn’t think I could handle a life on the run with him. What kind of woman turns her back on a man who loves her?”

“You do love him?”

“I do, but it wasn’t enough.”

Sally brought her lips close to Mama’s ear as though someone might be listening, even within the maze of corn.

“I can help you escape. We can find Jacob together.”

Mama wiped her eyes with the back of her pale hand.

“I’d like that, but I can’t have you risking yourself for me anymore. Your Papa has been consumed by his beliefs and I think he could even hurt little Amber if he caught us both trying to flee.”

Staring at her mother and realizing the years of horror and control that she had been forced to endure made Sally want to do anything necessary to save her from Papa.

“Tell me about Jacob. How you met him. What Papa did. I want to know it all. He’s my friend, too.”

Mama sat down on the dirt. Sally gaped at her. She would have burst out laughing had it not been for the grave topic surrounding them.

“Sit down with me. Dresses can always be washed.”

Sally complied.

“Mama, you surprise me.”

Mama stretched, smiling.

“I haven’t sat in the dirt since I was little. It’s freeing to do whatever crosses my mind out here.”

“I am so sorry you’ve had to live with Papa for so long.”

Mama sighed, studying Sally for a long time.

“Jacob was already his slave when he married me. Your Papa said that he bought him at one of those heinous auctions. He chose him because he thought he was strong and stupid like an ox. I was forced to watch one of those auctions once. Little children were dragged away from their parents, frightened thirteen year old girls were being gawked at by old men and everything in between. Slavery was how men like your Papa made so much money in those days.”

Sally’s eyes stung as she imagined thousands upon thousands of people being sold, traded, and separated from their families like cattle.

“Did he hurt them?” asked Sally.

Mama nodded, looking away.

“I hate him so much.”

“So do I,” said Mama.

“I saw him kill Michael. Did he ever tell you how they did it?”

Mama covered her mouth with a trembling hand.

“I watched them do it from the entrance of my bedroom. They surrounded him like a pack of wolves about to rip apart a wounded animal. Papa was the one who shot him.”

“Oh Sally, I should have taken you and Amber away from here years ago.”

“It’s all right, Mama. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I think that I fell for Jacob right away. The first time your Papa hit me, I fled outside to the gardens. Jacob risked his own safety to comfort me. He was so gentle, so attentive. He was being treated like an animal by my husband, but he looked at me like I was the most wonderful being he had ever laid eyes on.”

Sally recalled the look in his eyes when he spoke about her to Inola.

Mama shuddered, staring intently at the memories only she could see.

“I did nothing the entire time he owned those people. I’d sneak out and give them leftovers and blankets, but I was really no better than him. He’d have them whipped, beaten. He forced himself on most of the women whether they pleased him or not. I could have helped them escape, but I was too afraid. I’m not a strong person, Sally.”

“He raped them?”

Mama’s expression grew hard.

“Yes.”

“Do I have other siblings somewhere?”

“Sally, he isn’t your father.”

Sally swallowed hard, not understanding the words.

“He isn’t? How could that be?”

Mama smiled through her tears, taking Sally’s hand again.

“Jacob is your father.”

“What?” cried Sally.

In that moment, she recalled Jacbo’s warm eyes, how he lived out in the woods just so he could look in on her. All of those years she had been raised by a human devil and he wasn’t even her father.

“I couldn’t tell you until now,” said Mama. “I hope you understand.”

“It’s all right, Mama,” said Sally softly. “Now I know.”

Sally buried her face in Mama’s shoulder and they held one another.

***

Jeremy shoveled piles of manure out of the horses’ stalls. He couldn’t shake the misery that surrounded him. It was his fault that Sally had been put in a position to spy for her father and now Gabriel would be heartbroken possibly for the rest of his life. He could have stopped Michael’s murder. He could have prevented a lot of things from happening if he hadn’t been so dim.

He heard soft voices travel into the barn. He stopped working and peered out of the window to see Sally walking arm in arm with her mother. The fog swirled around them like a spell would surround two princesses in a fairy tale.

He set his shovel down and waved to them. They both appeared startled.

“Telling more secrets, I reckon,” he muttered as he left the barn strode up to them.

“Good morning, Mrs. Thompson. Can I get you anything?”

“Hello, Jeremy,” said Mrs. Thompson with a soft smile. ” Thank you, but I must be getting home now. Sally and I just had the most wonderful talk.”

“I am glad to hear it.”

Sally and her mama exchanged glances.

“Take care of yourself, dear. You and Jeremy need to get out of here.”

Sally nodded.

“We’ll get you out of here and take you with us, but in the meantime, please be careful.”

Mrs. Thompson stared at Jeremy with sad eyes.

“Please get her out of here safely.”

“I will.”

She disappeared through the fog. Sally stared after her with tears streaming down her face. He thought it better not to ask what they had spoken about.

“I need to see Gabriel. Will you be all right here at the house?”

Sally stared up at him, appearing so lost.

“Could I please come with you?”

“It might be better if you don’t go. There is no telling what frame of mind he will be in.”

“Right. Of course.”

“I won’t be long. I just need to make sure he’s all right.”

“Just be careful. He’s one of them.”

“So are we.”

He saddled up his horse and rode through the ethereal, swirling fog. On the other side of it he would hopefully find Gabriel.

Sally – Chapter Seventeen

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Every day farm life took Jeremy away from Sally following their Sunday picnic. Their planned escaped was mere days away, yet she felt disconnected from him when it should have brought them closer. The continual strengthening and weakening of their bond made them moody whenever they shared a space together too long. She wondered if they would be more harmonious with the guilt and fear not hovering over their heads anymore. She could only hope.

Sally worked away at her painting of the two sets of eyes. Sadness enveloped her as she allowed herself to wonder where Jacob had gone. The world was his for the taking. He was free, but what he longed for the most was to be a family with Mama. A longing for her company led her away from the farm and to her parents’ house. She banked on the likelihood that Papa would be at the church discussing something with the other deacons at that hour.

Mama was staring out the window holding a cup of tea when Sally ventured up to the house. Her soft smile sent a wave of hope over Sally. Mama disappeared and the front door opened.

“Oh, do come in,” she said lightly. “Amber is napping so we will have our privacy since your papa is at the church.”

“I’m glad. I’ve missed you.”

“Oh, I miss you every day. How is Jeremy?”

“He is well. Busy as any farmer is. We’ve had moments of closeness. He even took me on a picnic last Sunday.”

Mama poured a second cup of tea and gave it to Sally.

“I am happy to hear that things are going well for both of you.”

Sally leaned close to her and whispered.

“Do you know where Jacob went?”

Mama bit her lip.

“It isn’t safe to speak of him here, even if it may seem like we are alone,” she whispered back.

“Who else would be here?” scoffed Sally.

Mama shook her head with a warning look in her eye.

Sally felt the baby hairs at the back of her neck stand on end as she followed Mama to her sitting room. All of them played a dangerous game. If just one of the monsters happened to glance their way at the wrong time, all would be lost.

As they sat down, Mama quickly looked out the window with a disappointed sigh. At the sound of Papa’s horse arriving on the property, Sally buried her face in her hands. She had done an exceptional job with avoiding him, but he had finally caught her. She took in a deep breath.

“Act normal,” said Mama.

“What exactly would that be?” asked Sally, rolling her eyes.

The door flew open and smacked into the wall.

“Good afternoon, my dears!” he called before striding into the room with his boots still on.

Sally peered over her should and smiled.

“Hi, Papa.”

“Hello, pumpkin. It feels like forever since we’ve spoken to one another.”

“Yes, it has. My mind has been preoccupied.”

“I’ll bet.”

He stood next to Mama and rested a hand on her shoulder. She blinked rapidly, staring at her lap.

“How’s Jeremy been doing?”

“He is well. I’m lucky to have a hard working husband like him.”

“Are you?”

His obnoxious smile made her skin crawl. As a girl, he had always been a calm and reasonable father. Until he gave into the demons and allowed himself to be possessed.

“Yes, Papa. He’s a good man.”

“Do good men tear their young wives away from their family?”

His grip on Mama’s shoulder tightened. Sally swallowed hard, looking into the eyes of the man whom she once loved with all of her heart. He was no longer her father. His hungry blue eyes drank her in like a predator would size up its prey. She had been dead to him a long time ago. She realized that then.

“Jeremy would never want to take me away from you and Mama.”

Papa smirked.

“Very funny. A little bird told me that Jeremy is planning to run out of here by the end of the month. To steal you away from us before we have a chance to save you.”

Mama closed her eyes as though doing so would make him go away.

Sally balled her fists in an effort to maintain her composure. She had no idea who gave them away and how they even found out about them in the first place.

“Oh, Papa. He was going to do no such thing.”

“Stop lying.”

His hand slip up Mama’s shoulder and encircled her slender neck. Her doe eyes stared at Sally.

“What are you doing?” cried Sally.

He laughed.

“Calm down.”

Sally shook her head.

“Please, Papa! Don’t do that to her. This isn’t you. We all know you to be a better man than this.”

He let go of her and went to the window.

“You’re only beginning to see who I am,” he said flatly.

Sally crossed her shaking arms.

“Papa, who told you that Jeremy wanted to take me away?”

Mama shook her head rapidly, silently begging Sally with her eyes to be quiet.

“You don’t ask the questions, young lady. I do.”

“All right. Well, I can assure you that we are staying put. Jeremy wouldn’t leave his best friend here. Our children will be friends with Gabriel and Mary’s children.”

“No doubt.”

Papa faced her, leaning against the pane.

“All will be well with your Mama as long as I don’t hear any more unpleasant surprises about you or Jeremy.”

Her fear turned to anger and in that moment, she was more grateful than ever that Jacob taught her how to hunt.

“Yes, Sir.”

“I want you to keep an eye out on that Mary. If you see anything amiss, I want you to tell me. Gabriel will be our assistant pastor and we need to make sure that the righteousness of our town is not compromised by her.”

Sally’s heart raced at the unexpected request.

“Of course. I will keep an eye out on her. I can’t say that I like her all that much.”

“Oh?” asked Mama.

“It’s just how she flirts and thinks she’s above everyone else. I haven’t seen her do anything morally wrong yet though.”

Papa stared at her without blinking.

“Let me know if she does.”

“Yes. I will.”

She drank the rest of her tea and gave Mama a reassuring smile before seeing herself out. Stepping outside, the chill did not leave her even under the warm sun. There was no escaping it.

The thought of wiping the sadistic smirk off his face strengthened her resolve to fight him. They were trapped. Until she formed a plan.

***

Jeremy saw her approach from the corner of his eye as he brought in the horses for the evening. There was something different about the way she was walking. He stopped and waved at her when she looked at him.

She lifted her skirts and ran to him. The look of horror in her eyes sent a wave of panic over him.

“What’s wrong?”

“He knows,” she panted.

“Who knows what?”

“Papa knows we were planning to leave. We can’t go or he’ll hurt Mama!” she cried.

He stared at her, unbelieving at first. He had been so careful about his plans to get out of there. The only person he told was a farmer who lived in the next town whom he was going to sell his farm to. He hadn’t been careful enough. The devils had found out somehow. He wished he knew who the rat was.

“This is my fault,” he said.

He kicked the fence hard, longing to break something, anything at the moment. His horse snorted and pulled away. He patted its neck to calm it down.

Sally’s sob broke the silence. The sky seemingly mourned for them as thick grey clouds moved in and hid the glorious sunset.

He brought her close to him and wrapped his arms around her.

“We’ll figure this out,” he said gently.

“We can’t until Mama is safe. We have to make them think we are on their side. We have to trick them, Jeremy. Only then can we start to even think about escaping.”

He held her closer.

“I am so sorry you had to see him threaten your mama like that. You’re right. We haven’t been making it seem like we are on their side. We’ll have to mesh with them better. Make sure that your mama is safe first.”

“He asked me to keep an eye out on Mary. They want me to spy for them, Jeremy.  I am so angry and so scared.”

Jeremy longed to give Mr. Thompson the same fate he had given to Michael. The man’s cockiness would be his undoing. Jeremy would see to that one day.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “We’ll play along for a little longer. Your Mama will be all right.”

“He really is capable of everything,” said Sally. “It’s stupid, but I truly believed that there was a small part left of the man who raised me. I was very wrong.”

“Oh Sally, I wish I could take you away right now. I’d make sure you were safe then I’d rescue your Mama and we’d all start over again.”

“That’s what Jacob said. He knows who Papa really is and wanted to take Mama with him. Oh my God… he has probably been mistreating her for years.”

“I am so sorry for this, Sally.”

“Don’t be sorry. We’ll make them sorry.”

“I don’t know what to do from here.”

“We’ll lay low for a few weeks. We’ll befriend them, impress them a little. Make them think we were scared into becoming a part of them. Then we will slowly start to formulate a plan.”

She took both of his hands and stared up at him with the strongest look of resolve he had ever seen. He had no idea where to begin, but she appeared as though she already a semblance of a plan spinning inside of her beautiful head.

“Tell me what your plan is,” he said.

“Right now we kiss their asses to get them off our backs.”

“Then that is what we will do.”

She took his hand. “I am so glad that I have you.”

She left him to finish his duties with the horses. He stared after her, wondering how she could have said such a thing about him. She would have been better off without him.

***

The weeks blended together as their hope for escape faded. Sally and Jeremy took on full survival mode. They spoke more with the deacons and their wives at church and attended all of the intimate gatherings. Gabriel becoming the assistant pastor helped solidify Jeremy’s position among the men. Their intimacy vanished once again. There was no room for genuine affection or romance with all of their energy being spent pretending to be people that they were not. Acting like Michael’s death never happened made Sally feel physically ill.

Jacob had taught Sally well on tracking, but she became a different sort of tracker as she spent less time outside with a shotgun and more time socializing at tea parties and sewing groups with the church women. She forced herself to like it and felt herself disappearing within an empty shell. Being likable by them and pleasing Papa meant that the threat on Mama would lessen.

As she became more aware of her surroundings at the church and other social gatherings than ever before, she started to notice subtle things about people when they weren’t happy with their spouse, friend, or lover.

She became increasingly aware of Mary’s struggle to fit in with the other women while living the ordinary life of a preacher’s wife. Though she had no idea what her real story was, it was clear that she wasn’t raised by a stable Christian family. She had the look of another world about her. Sally could relate to that more than she wanted to admit. It made her wish that Papa hadn’t assigned Sally to watch her of all people. In another life, perhaps they could have been friends.

One Sunday afternoon after the church service ended, Mary brought a hand to her belly after Gabriel finished a sermon. Her forlorn gaze into nothing made Sally wonder. Watching her stand up and leave the church, it was unmistakable that her svelte frame had filled out a little. Sally shook her head. The woman was pregnant. It made her more human, more vulnerable. That would change things drastically. Perhaps with Mary busy preparing to start a family, Papa wouldn’t be so obsessed with catching her doing something incriminating.

Sally exhaled loudly and followed the rest of the congregation outside. She met Mama’s melancholic gaze. How she longed to visit with her for hours, but those days were long past. Even if they could visit with Papa hovering over them, Mama was too paranoid to talk about anything deeper than the weather. They had so many things they needed to talk about with no chance to do it.

A chill rushed over Sally. She shuddered, noticing that Papa stood right behind her.

“Hi, Papa,” she said, forcing a smile.

He leaned close, casting a sidelong glance in Mary and Gabriel’s direction.

“Watch her like a hawk this week.”

Sally frowned.

“What do you think she’s done?”

He inched closer. She had to look away from his reptilian gaze.

“Just watch her. I don’t want anything bad to happen under our noses. Your Mama has been feeling much better since the last time she paid for your and Jeremy’s little secret.”

Sally gritted her teeth. He had still hurt Mama even though she swore they wouldn’t leave town.

“Please don’t hurt her for my mistake,” whispered Sally.

“Better her than our wee Amber.”

Sally blinked back tears.

“Papa, I promise you we’ll never leave town. Jeremy and I long to please you and the elders. I will do as you ask. I’ll watch her.”

“Good.”

He left a cloud of horror in his wake. Sally stood there, turning her head to stare at Mary. She was arguing with Gabriel about something. She didn’t want to know what it was about, but she had to know. It was time to get to the bottom of who Mary really was. She felt empty on the way home. She looked at Jeremy who seemed lost in thought.

“Can Christians still go to hell if they do something terrible enough?” she asked.

His face softened as he stared at her.

“Sally, you’ve come back to me. Why must you always go away?”

“I can’t live with myself and what we’re doing and yet there’s no other choice. I have to do one thing for Papa. Once I win his confidence, we can start to plan our escape again.”

His eyes grew misty as he stared at her. It made her heart ache. She felt like a criminal sitting next to an innocent child.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“It is better that you don’t know. I will tell you when it’s over.”

He brought his attention back to the road.

“If you say so.”

Guilt encircled Sally, begging her to embrace her humanity rather than become one of the wolves, but she had little choice. Her Mama’s life depended on her transformation into another animal for the time being. She could always go back to who she was before once everyone she loved was safely out of harm’s way. Even Mary had done things she wasn’t proud of for the sake of her own survival. Sally could see that clear as day.

From the cover of the corn field, she watched Mary every day. Figuring out her habits and routines. She always seemed to be contemplating something, appearing to be ready to leave the property only to cower back inside of the house. Until one afternoon, Mary wandered away from her farm in the direction of the forest that Sally never dared to go near. It held too many superstitions due to a few witch-like women living in its depths.

Her heart raced as she followed Mary at a safe distance. She moved like a mountain lion stalking a doe, staying in the shadows, stepping noiselessly. The silent chase continued for the better part of an hour. Then Mary approached a tiny house of stone. Sally winced, wishing she hadn’t seen it.

A terrible sheet of ice seemed to cover her as she watched Mary go inside of the medicine woman’s home. The purpose of the visit was unmistakable.

She closed her eyes as a solitary slipped down her dewy face. It was time to find Papa.

 

Sally – Chapter Sixteen

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Sally awoke surrounded by calm darkness. Next to her, Jeremy lay asleep. She hoped that he would rest until sunup. He needed it.

She stared through the open drapes at the full moon and smiled as her stomach fluttered. It felt strange to feel content while being in the same room as him. Their affection was sporadic, but it was as beautiful as warm summer day when it did arrive. She longed to hold onto it, but she had to go. Even if it meant that Jeremy would hate her all over again.

Jacob was in her life by choice, not because someone forced him into it. She owed him a proper good-bye.

She grabbed a fresh dress, a handful of undergarments, and tiptoed noiselessly out of the room and past the kitchen. She dressed quickly in front of the front door, holding her breath, begging God to keep Jeremy asleep until she was well on her way to the woods.

Just as her eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings, the first rays of dawn lit up the horizon. Jeremy would awaken soon, but it would take him a while to find her. She was grateful for the light as she reached the outskirts of the forest.

She wandered through the trees and shrubs humming hymns in hopes of gently signalling her presence to Jacob. There was no way in hell that she was going to let anyone stand in the way of a good-bye with her friend.

Her heart grew heavier with every hour that passed.

“Jacob,” she whispered.

He wasn’t there. He would have found her if he was.

She lifted her skirts and ran through the maze of trees until she found the fields again. Panting, she scanned the area and relaxed a little. At least Jeremy wasn’t on her trail yet. She didn’t want to explain herself to him until the end of the day when she was too tired to worry about it.

Chasing after the very man he forbade her to see was a terrible way to show him that she cared about their marriage, but it served him right for telling her what to do. He had run off with Mary without a second thought of what it would do to her, so she shouldn’t have felt so bad.

“Treat me like a child and I’ll act like one,” she muttered.

She broke into a run toward her girlhood home, not stopping until she reached the perimeter of the property. Little Amber was playing a game of hide and seek with her friends by the garden.

“Sally!” she cried.

She ran over to her and wrapped her little arms around Sally’s waist. Sally held her, closing her eyes.

“I’ve missed you so much,” said Sally.

“Missed you, too.”

“Where’s Mama?”

“I saw Mama go to the stables.”

“The stables?”

“Yes.”

“Where’s Papa?”

“He’s at the church with the deacons.”

“Okay. Go play and I’ll see you soon.”

Sally took a deep breath and started toward the stables. Mama was never one to venture where she could dirty her shoes. Every day seemed to grow stranger.

Sally peered inside of the stables. No one other than the broodmare resided there. Sally wandered along the side of the stable and froze at the sound of two familiar voices. Her heart raced so fast that she brought a hand to her chest.

She peered around the corner of the building and saw them. Mama and Jacob were standing within inches of one another. Sally had to lean against the brick wall for support.

“I had to come see you one last time,” said Jacob.

“You need to leave. Now,” said Mama. “He’ll be back soon.”

He took off his black Stetson hat and set it gently on her head.

“You’ll let me keep it?” she whispered.

“I’d rather just take you with me.”

She held both of his hands.

“I can’t go. I’m sorry.”

“No. I’m sorry,” said Jacob. “For everything.”

“You are the only real life I’ve ever had.”

“We could all be a real family. Us two and the girls. We’d go so far away from here and start over. I would keep you safe and happy.”

“He would find us.”

Jacob inched closer until their lips met. They held one another.

Trembling, Sally made her way toward them.

“Don’t go, Jacob.”

Both of them faced her with wide eyes.

“Oh my God,” breathed Mama.

“Hello, Sally,” said Jacob.

His dark eyes looked so sad.

“Sally, let him go,” said Mama with tears streaming down her face. “If you care about him, tell him to go before Papa shoots him.”

Sally hugged herself.

“You should go.”

Jacob nodded once, hung his head, and then turned his back on them. Barely able to breathe, Sally went to Mama’s side. They watched him disappear into the field of corn.

Mama stared ahead in a daze.

“Oh, Mama…”

“Never say a word about this. Y’hear?”

Sally stepped back at Mama’s harsh tone.

“I-I won’t say anything. I promise.”

“Good. You should go back home before Papa suspects something is amiss. I’m sorry you saw that.”

“I’m not.”

Mama locked gazes with her.

“I love you, Sally. So much.”

“I love you, too, Mama.”

Mama wiped her tears and went to the garden. She removed the hat and placed it within the thick rose bushes. Jacob came back to look in on her and befriended her daughter. If only he had come to rescue them all sooner. Before Michael was killed.

Sally felt her heart breaking all over again.

The sound of hoof beats filled the air. Papa was almost home. She jogged away from the house with her heart still threatening to break out of her rib cage. He was minutes away from spotting Jacob. It wasn’t like Mama to take such a risk. Then again, no one was who they ever seemed to be.

Sally wondered how often they had been meeting each other.

She lost a friend; Mama lost a lover. The wonderful secrets were the most dangerous ones. She wasn’t sure if she should weep in despair or yell out in anger.

“Sally!” shouted Jeremy. “Where the hell have you been?”

Now she was going to get it.

He stepped out of the barn and stormed toward her. She extended her arms out in front of her and backed up into a tree.

“I just went to see Mama!” she cried. “Please don’t hurt me.”

He stopped abruptly. His nostrils flared like an angry bull’s.

“I could wring your neck right now.”

Sally’s arms fell to her sides and she lifted her chin.

“Is that a threat?”

“I promised that I would never hurt you, remember?”

She shrugged, still half expecting a slap.

“Promises come cheap these days.”

“You just disappeared. I assumed the worst.”

“You don’t have to worry. Jacob is gone.”

“I thought you didn’t go see him.”

“I…”

He crossed his arms.

“What is going on now?”

“I saw him and Mama together.”

Jeremy frowned.

“Together. How do you mean?”

“They’re lovers. He left because she turned him away.”

Jeremy threw his hands up in the air.

“Of course she did! Both of them would be shot if your Papa ever caught up with them. I can’t believe these people.”

Sally closed her eyes. She could feel her heart breaking all over again for Mama and Jacob. After so many years, they still couldn’t be together. He lived alone, hiding away and working in horrible mines while Papa lived in comfort taking Mama for granted.

“It’s been a long day already,” said Sally. “I need to go rest. I’ll have lunch ready for you. Don’t worry.”

“Hold it.”

Jeremy grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back.

“Sally, you just witnessed an incredibly incriminating thing. On Monday night when all of the deacons have their end of the month meeting. It’s our best chance of getting away from here without anyone noticing.”

Sally’s thoughts spun chaotically within her mind as she nodded.

“Are you with me on this?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Our survival depends on it.”

He let her go, not quite meeting her eyes, and then strode toward the barn to finish his chores.

***

The weeks dragged on as Sally made every attempt to manage her swirling emotions. Some days, she felt exhausted and grievous over everyone she had lost. Other days, she was full of energy and ready to take on anything.

She missed Mama and Amber a lot. Though she saw them at church every Sunday, the atmosphere was so horrible that it felt more like a prison sentence than a visit. Papa barely looked at her anymore, for which she was grateful. She still didn’t know how to act around him and wished she could just forget him.

Her hands longed to feel the shotgun again. She wouldn’t stoop herself low enough to search all over the property for where he buried it. Biting her lip, she glanced over at the pasture where he poured water for the cows to drink. With his attention on his task at hand, she sprinted for the house. She found his rifle and loaded it. She put the remaining bullets in her skirt pocket and poked her head out the door. He was completely engrossed in lugging a bale of hay. She closed the door behind her and made her way out to the woods.

A black-tailed jack rabbit leaped over the long grass in the field. She froze, watching it dart about. She recalled Jacob’s tip off on the “stop and go” technique when hunting alone. She walked a few feet in the direction that the rabbit went, stopped, and turned around in a full circle. She repeated the process until she saw long ears poking out from the grass. She slowly lifted the rifle and stomped on the ground, startling it from its hiding place. She spun around and caught it fleeing in the other direction where the grass was thinner.

She aimed at its head, pulled the trigger, and ran toward it. The bullet hit its back end. It moved its front legs in a mad, final attempt to escape. She quickly reloaded and shot it in the head, ending its struggle. She shuddered, ashamed of herself for giving it even a moment’s worth of suffering.

She picked it up. It was still warm. She blinked back tears. It was a mistake that she was not going to make again. She choked back a sob and walked home with the rabbit in one hand and the rifle in the other.

She stepped into the barn where Jeremy worked.

“Hi, Jeremy.”

He looked over his shoulder and gaped in surprise.

“What in the world?”

“I took care of dinner for tonight,” she said.

“I see that. Did I give you permission to use my gun?”

She smirked.

“Did I give you permission to bury mine?”

He stopped what he was doing and removed his work gloves.

“Jacob seemed to teach you well enough.”

“Yes. He did.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before that you wanted to learn how to hunt?”

“You’re always so busy with the farm.”

He smirked.

“You really do beat all. I’ll help you skin and clean it.”

As they worked together in the shed, she enjoyed having him so close to her. It wasn’t pretty work, but it was something that she enjoyed. It was one thing to cook a good meal, but being the one to catch it was so satisfying. It was an interest that the two of them could share.

“I’m impressed with you, Sally.”

She looked up at him in surprise.

“You are?”

“How could I not be?”

She bit her lip and blushed. The compliment meant more than he could know. They washed up, brewed tea, and cuddled in bed together, talking until they fell asleep.

The next morning, they woke up so late that they had to skip breakfast. They rushed to get dressed, laughing in exhaustion. While Jeremy fumbled with his tie, Sally ran out the door to saddle up the horses. His rapid footsteps sounded behind her and she looked back at him, running. Their coats were still unbuttoned as they both ran to the stable.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“We’re going to ride to church on the saddle. It’s too late to get the horse hitched to the cart.”

He shook his head.

“You’re crazy.”

“I know.”

They finished buttoning up their coats and Sally quickly pinned up her hair into a chignon.

“What about your bonnet?”

She shrugged.

“It’s a cloudy day.”

Jeremy laughed and saddled up their horse. She climbed on behind him and held on tight, enjoying having him so close before being stuck in the church of horrors. Gabriel would be preaching that day, which was a well needed break from Pastor Scottson’s long, gloomy messages. It was only a matter of time before she and Jeremy would be far away from the place. Perhaps then their relationship would bloom into something stronger than affection.

When they reached the church, she avoided the stares from the older folk and smiled at her handsome husband as he helped her down from the mount. He took the reins and led the horse away, looking over his shoulder at her.

“We should go on that picnic this afternoon.”

She clasped her hands together and for a moment, it seemed as though everyone else around them disappeared.

“I’d like that!” she called.

Hiding her smile, she strode past a group of whispering ladies and found her seat in the pew close to the front of the church. She glanced over at Gabriel who was looking at his sermon notes and hoped that the wolves wouldn’t tear him apart. She closed her eyes, willing for the doom not to permeate her contentment just yet.

Sally – Chapter Fifteen

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Sally’s peculiar disposition continued to perplex Jeremy as the days passed. She found ways to avoid him when they both occupied the kitchen. She completed her chores every day and never missed cooking him a meal, but her mind remained in her other world. He had lost her to it. He wondered what she did in the fantastical reality that made her happier there than in the real world with him.

He had no idea how to make her feel as desired as she needed to feel. He grew up with one brother and he never bothered with girls when he was in school. He always thought he would have been a little older by the time he got married. Not that he regretted marrying Sally. He only regretted the timing. She still seemed too young to grasp how life worked for grown folks and she desired flowery words and constant flattery.

Some women seemed content enough to have a husband that worked hard to provide them with a comfortable home. That didn’t seem to be enough for Sally. He admired her impracticality and yet it was the main issue between the two of them. He imagined her selling artwork in a big city all dressed up in the latest fashions, but there she was married and trapped on a farm with the most ordinary man.

When he had time to think at all, he could only focus on his hope for Gabriel to feel better and the guilt for not leaving the murderers behind. Sally, on the other hand, seemed to think a little too much.

He would take a break from his work sometimes and look over at her painting the skies. Sometimes she wouldn’t return from her wanderings until after dark. They exchanged the bare minimum pleasantries when they ate dinner at the table and then she would float back to her room and shut him out.

Maybe they were being cursed for staying in the town that killed innocent people. Pretending to still be content living in a place that killed one of the kindest men in the world.

At the end of a hard day, the sunset was too beautiful not to appreciate. Mary stopped by earlier in the day to let him know that Gabriel was feeling much better. The combination of good news and the beautiful skies had lifted Jeremy’s mood considerably, sending him to the river. He hoped to catch a glimpse of some deer while he was there. Come autumn, he’d be hunting them. He hoped that there would be a well fed buck or two to pick from.

He inhaled a deep breath of the cooling, earthy air. It was a rare opportunity to be alone with his thoughts as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon, staining the sky with an otherworldly pink shade. That side of Missouri was strikingly beautiful, but he did need to start making plans to leave soon. Sally might hate him a little less once they settled somewhere far away from the depressing town. One day, it would just be a bad memory.

Movement to his left caused him to quickly place a hand on his knife. He relaxed when he saw that it was Sally. He started toward her. Seeing him, she froze. She had a long gun strapped to her shoulder, of all things.

He nearly laughed, but then the thought of her carrying a loaded weapon made him too nervous to do so.

“What have you been doing?” he called.

Taking a quick step backward, she looked as though she were about to run away. He relaxed a little as he ruled out the possibility that she would shoot him.

“You really are full of surprises,” he said dryly.

She hung her head.

“I can explain where I got the gun from.”

They stopped a few feet away from one another.

“Explain away.”

“I, um…”

“Who gave it to you?”

“Jacob.”

She was being obnoxious.

“I must not have heard you correctly.”

“He’s been teaching me how to hunt.”

He frowned. She had a terrible sense of humour.

“Stop jesting and tell me the truth.”

“It is the truth.”

He backed away, studying her carefully. She appeared to be completely serious.

“Who are you, Sally?”

She shrugged.

“I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“Are you?”

She stared at him.

“You’re telling me that you’ve been spending time with Jacob – a man that you don’t know – a man who your Papa wants to kill. He is the man responsible for Michael’s death. I can’t believe you!”

“I do know him!”

She slapped his face. Her tiny hand left a sting on his cheek.

She backed away, baring her teeth.

“Michael’s murder was not Jacob’s fault! It was those bastards that we see at church every damned Sunday! You know that!”

Her shrill voice pierced the air and stilled his chaotic thoughts. He wasn’t sure whether to be angry or afraid. She could still shoot him.

“You really have been spending time with him. Oh my God.”

She shook her head, breaking eye contact.

“I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“They would kill you for spending time with him. How could you jeopardize yourself like that?”

“He’s my friend. He’s like… he’s like a father to me.”

Jeremy threw his head back and stared up at the stars as they began to fill the night sky. A normal couple might have had a nice dinner together and then gone for a walk to enjoy a beautiful view of the night sky, but not them.

“You can’t see him anymore.”

“You abandoned me that night. You rode away with the very woman that was the cause of my despair. You won’t leave this hell of a town and now you’re telling me what to do. I am just trying to stay sane until we get out of here!”

He clenched his fists in an attempt to still the anger. He had to stay calm.

“I’ve never told you what to do in all of our time together, but this time I can’t let you do what you want. If you are seen with him, they will kill you.”

“Then let’s leave!”

“Not always thinking about yourself would help. There are reasons why we haven’t left yet.”

“You have no idea what I think about!” she shouted.

“I forbid you to see Jacob and that is final.”

“Or what? What will you do?”

“I’ll tell your Papa.”

She stomped her foot.

“You idiot!”

He reached out and quickly slipped the gun’s strap over her head, firmly grasping the butt of the shot gun.

“It’s mine! Give it back!” she cried.

He held it over his head as she jumped for it.

“I might if you stop acting insane.”

She spun around and ran for the house.

“That’s right. Run away and hide like the little girl that you are,” he muttered.

He studied the firearm as he walked back to the farm. Jacob did have a decent taste in guns. He wondered how long she had been using it for.

Jacob should have known better than to risk her life like that. For all Jeremy knew, Jacob’s plan was to take her away from him in the end as a final slap in the face to all of the evil white men. It wasn’t natural for a man and a young girl to be friends let alone in the middle of a forest where no one would see them. The thought of them spending hours together alone in the woods made him want to punch someone.

He took a shovel from the barn and started to dig a grave out back in the dirt. He placed the shotgun in the hole and buried it.

He raced back to the house. The light in the kitchen was still on. She was waiting for him.

He burst in through the front door and met her teary eyes. She was sitting hunched over at the table.

“I know it was foolish to befriend Jacob,” she cried. “But please don’t take him away from me.”

“Is that who you’ve been thinking about when you haven’t been talking to me?”

Her jaw dropped and she straightened.

“No! No. I don’t think of him in that way, Jeremy. I told you that he feels like a father. He would never touch me.”

Jeremy shook his head. He believed her, but he wasn’t so sure that Jacob had pure intentions. She looked so beautiful sitting there with her long brown hair framing her heart-shaped face. Her green eyes seemed to darken a shade as she stared at him intently.

“He has to go. For all of our sakes.”

She buried her face in her hands and wept.

“I’m taking you out of this place by the end of the week.”

She uncovered her face and wiped her tears.

His ears rang as the silence thickened.

“I promise you this time, Sally. I received word that Gabriel is recovering well. He will be preaching at church next Sunday.”

“You promise me? We will really go?”

He nodded.

“I buried your shot gun. I don’t want you meeting Jacob anymore. For any reason.”

She stared blankly ahead. He hated seeing the hope drain from her eyes like that. It was something he observed in her too often.

“I’ll give it back to you before we leave this place.”

“I want to say good-bye to him.”

“I will find him in the woods tomorrow and tell him your words. I need to tell him to leave. It could already be too late if someone happened to see you with him.”

“We’d be dead already if we were seen.”

Jeremy shook his head.

“I still can’t believe you did that. Of all things.”

She rose from the chair.

“Make me feel something good again. Please. Even if you can’t stand me. Even if you’re angry. Let’s just pretend we’re fond of one another again. Even if it’s just tonight. I need happiness. Or something like it.”

“You’re the most confusing little person.”

She reached out and took his hand. Her warm touch sent a wave of pleasure over him. He stared into the depths of her beautiful green irises.

He brushed a tendril of her hair away from her face so he could take it all in.

“You’re so beautiful.”

She blushed, smiling up at him.

He hadn’t married a girl. He married a being that belonged to some other world.

“I want to make you happy,” he said. “For more than just tonight.”

She pulled on his hand, leading him to her room. He followed.

Her hunger for him was more than apparent as she licked her lips and stared at him as though nothing else mattered. There was desperation in her eyes. It matched his desire.

“Then make me happy,” she whispered.

He lifted her off the ground and kissed her as she pulled on his shirt collar.

“I’ll make you more than happy.”

***

Can’t you see the pain in my eyes?
Can’t you see the betrayal in disguise?

– Korn, The Past

Sally – Chapter Fourteen

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“Be still,” said Jacob quietly. “You are the predator. You are in control.”

Sally’s skin puckered with goose flesh at the sound of his voice. He was right behind her. She held her breath, keeping the barrel of her shotgun level as she aimed it at the grazing stag. He was unaware of the predators gazing upon him during his final moments of breath. Her finger rubbed the trigger and time stood still as she pressed it.

The deer suddenly lifted his head and looked in their direction. She took in a slow breath of the cool morning air.

“Steady,” whispered Jacob.

She stared into her prey’s wary brown eyes. He couldn’t see her, but she felt strangely connected to the animal as they tracked him.

“Don’t think about the stag,” said Jacob. “Think of your survival. It is in your hands only.”

She stiffened. All went quiet. The stag lifted his head. She aimed for his beautiful temple and pulled the trigger. She fell backward from the force of the shot being fired and quickly rose to her feet.

She turned to face Jacob, who handed her his hunting knife. She gripped it in her hand and sprinted for the deer. Her ears rang as she ran for the kill, feeling ill and elated all at once. She stopped at the stag’s side and stared down at the still body.

She exhaled in relief. Jacob stood next to her.

“Excellent shot. You killed him instantly.”

Sally’s racing heart calmed at the relief of knowing she hadn’t caused the beautiful creature any pain.

“Show me how to skin and clean him.”

“I will, but we need to do this fast.”

Jacob picked up the deer like he weighed little more than a sack of potatoes and they walked back to his camp. Her initial fears of feeling too squeamish to complete the task melted away as she watched Jacob work with the bone, tissue, and cooling muscles with such precision. She helped him remove the inner organs out then they skinned it. She helped him separate the meat into sections.

He poured spices all over the meat and then started roasting it over the fire.

“This is a lot of meat,” said Sally.

“I hope you’ll come with me to bring this meat to a band of good people.”

“Band. You mean Indians?”

He studied her carefully.

“They are just people.”

His words stung.

“I’m not heartless. I know that they are people.”

It surprised her a little that a band of them lived so close to a white town after the Indian Removal of the early 1800s. She learned about it from Mama when she was small. So many of them died on the treacherously long trail of tears as they traveled west with little food and provisions. Yet, some remained even in a prejudiced state like Missouri.

“Your Papa managed to shoot me clear through the shoulder before I escaped that night. These good Cherokee people took me in while my wound healed.”

Sally felt her blood beginning to boil.

“I hate my Papa.”

Jacob’s eyes radiated sadness as he stared at her.

“I am very sorry that he is not who you thought he was.”

“Jeremy and I were going to leave here, but now he won’t leave his friend behind. I’m certain that he’s stuck on Mary, too.”

“Your Papa forced you to marry him, I reckon.”

“Yes.”

“Do you want him to love you?”

Sally shrugged, inhaling the enticing aroma of roasting venison. As hungry as she had been, thinking about her life outside of the woods made her lose her appetite.

“I don’t know what I want anymore. Everything changed the night that I saw my pastor get murdered by my own father and the deacons.”

“They are monsters capable of doing anything, Sally. I will need to move on soon. I hope that you and Jeremy will leave this place soon, too. When it’s safe for you to do so.”

His words brought a wave of melancholy over her.

“Why did you stay here as long as you have?”

“I had someone I needed to look in on.”

“Oh?”

“Here, help me package the meat and we’ll carry it over to the village.”

“Will they hate me for being white?”

“They already know about you. They will welcome you as a friend.”

“You told them about me?”

He smiled.

“I did.”

She trailed behind him as they journeyed through the woods toward the hidden village. Her thoughts screamed and echoed back and forth in her mind. People of colour were forced to live out in the woods away from established society while the white people ran it as they saw fit.

“White men,” she muttered.

“What was that?” asked Jacob, looking over his shoulder.

“I was just thinking out loud.”

He pointed ahead.

“We’re here.”

She followed him through a maze of tall tipis and averted her eyes from the people. An elderly woman emerged from a tent and greeted them. She hugged Jacob and said something in a foreign language. Jacob replied to her in the same language. The woman’s light brown eyes studied Sally before she extended her arms.

Sally hesitated before accepting the warm embrace. The kind Cherokee woman smelled of a pleasant, earthy perfume as they hugged one another.

“Welcome, child,” she said kindly.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Sally after they broke the hug.

She curtsied. Jacob and the woman laughed.

“She is beautiful, Jacob.”

“Like her mother.”

Sally tilted her head, staring at Jacob in confusion. She brushed it off as a simple compliment. Her mother was a lovely woman to everyone.

She looked around the village and found it calming to watch the men and women going about their day as the children played games. One lady carrying a baby walked by them and smiled at her. Sally returned it. The woman was stunning with her smooth, tanned skin and bright hazel eyes.

All of the Cherokee women wore their hair down and braided. Some wore bright headbands. Sally thought that it was a far prettier style than the chignons proper ladies of society were made to wear. She sometimes felt like she was hiding a great part of her beauty every time she pinned her hair up.

It amazed her that beyond the borders of white society, many other societies existed and thrived like the one she was standing in. It was a world that she knew nothing of, but it was just as real as hers. The people there seemed pleasant and happy.

“You’re a dreamer, aren’t you?” asked the Cherokee woman.

Sally blushed. She hadn’t realized how far her mind had wandered while the two older adults talked. She had been staring up at the overcast sky like an imbecile.

“It’s a fault of mine,” admitted Sally.

“No. You’re just fine,” said Jacob.

“Women dreamers are among the bravest humans who exist,” said the woman with a kind smile. “Be proud of your gift, Sally.”

Sally smiled back at her.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“You may call me Inola.”

“I hope we will meet again, Inola.”

“Perhaps soon, young Sally,” said Inola.

Sally and Jacob left the village behind. She wondered how many people in the town knew that it existed there. She shuddered and picked up her pace to walk alongside Jacob.

“The way that you spoke about my mama to Inola surprised me. It sounds like you knew her well.”

“No one has shown me more kindness than your mother.”

“In what way? Did she help you escape Papa?”

He shook his head.

“I stayed at their farm until the very end. Until we were freed and I had to go. She was very kind to all of my brothers and sisters. As much as she could be. Maybe one day you will see her as she truly is.”

Sally frowned.

“I love my Mama. I know that she is a wonderful person.”

“Your Papa suppresses her.”

“I wish you would tell me more about that time of your life. I know so little about you. I owe it to you to hear your story.”

“You owe me nothing. One day I may have a chance to tell you.”

It was nearly dark.

“Please don’t go yet,” said Sally.

His hand swallowed her hand whole as he gently squeezed it.

“I am so grateful that we have become friends, but I may need to leave abruptly. If that happens, I hope you will continue hunting and learning about the world around you. There are places far beyond here that will stir your soul. I hope that you will have a chance to explore them one day.”

She blinked back tears. The thought of him leaving her behind with her menial life made her insides ache.

“I would rather hunt with you.”

He smiled down at her, blinking quickly as he let her hand go.

“You will do just fine, Sally. You have your Mama’s kindness.”

Sally shook her head, remembering her harsh behavior toward both Mary and Jeremy.

“If only I were as good as you think I am.”

“I saw how your spirit came alive as we tracked that deer. The look of accomplishment when you shot it so cleanly. I was so proud of you.”

Sally bit her lip. She couldn’t remember anyone ever telling her that they were proud of her.

“Please be careful, Jacob. I hope to see you again.”

“You will. Now, go home before it gets too dark.”

She nodded and started back for the farm. She peered over her shoulder to see if he was watching her leave, but he had already vanished.

 

 

Sally – Chapter Thirteen

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Jeremy stepped through the front door wanting nothing more than to collapse on his bed. He longed to forget about Gabriel’s pain and Sally’s outburst before Mary knocked on the door asking him for help.

Sally sat at the table. Her blank stare made him wonder what atrocities were running through her head.

“Long night,” he said.

“Yes. It was.”

The life in her green eyes returned as she studied him while sipping her tea. They stared at one another in silence; he knew then that she did not understand. Her habit of making wrong assumptions would not bode well for them.

He swallowed down his anger and inhaled deeply.

“What happened last night?” she asked at last.

“You heard Mary. Gabriel was lost. Well, we found him.”

Her expression softened.

“What happened to him?”

“Gabriel was trampled by a deer. His wound looked pretty grave when we first found him, but the doctor saw him and he’s on the mend.”

“I am glad he is all right. It would have been terrible to lose him.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sure that you were happy to be the one to comfort our poor Mary in her time of need.”

Jeremy stomped his foot so hard that she jumped up in her chair.

“Stop being dim! My best friend nearly lost his life and you’re making up childish stories.”

Sally shrugged with a smirk.

“Of course. What would I know? I’m a stupid little girl. Those were your words a month ago.”

They barely spoke to one another a month ago. Her words demonstrated how little she thought of the progression that their marriage had made. They had climbed up the snowy mountain only to slide back down.

He trusted her only to be crushed.

He stepped closer to her, holding her wide-eyed gaze.

“I had to hold Gabriel down as he begged for the doctor to stop operating on him. He wouldn’t stop groaning and yelling and there was nothing I could do. It was the longest night of my life.”

She grew serious and closed her eyes for a moment.

“It must have been frightening for him.”

“It was for everyone there. I need to rest.”

“Of course.”

“I told Mary that you would bring over some fresh stew for her. She likely won’t leave Gabriel’s side for the next few days and it would be kind to give her a meal.”

Sally’s posture straightened in defiance.

Jeremy threw his head back.

“Please just do it!”

She forced a smile. He hated when she did that.

“Sure. I’ll make some stew,” she said.

“Good.”

“I take it you don’t want to leave this place yet,” she said dryly.

“Not until Gabriel’s health has returned. I can’t leave him like this.”

Sally stared at her cooling tea.

“So we will forget about the murderers.”

“Only for the time being.”

He left her alone in the kitchen and slipped away the moment that his head hit the pillow, entering the surreal world of his dreams. Even there, Sally haunted him.

***

An idea formed in Sally’s mind as she arose and dressed the next morning. She let it guide her across the corn fields to Gabriel and Mary’s farm. Mary was by the fence feeding her horse an apple. She heard her approach and appeared startled, but then quickly forced a smile.

“Why hello, Sally! Did you stop by to bring me some stew? How kind.”

Sally had never despised anyone as much as she despised Mary.
“False sincerity gets you nowhere, Mary Thomas!”
Mary tilted her head. Mocking her.
“What ever is the matter?”
Sally crossed her arms.
“You know exactly what is the matter. You willingly rode away into the night with my husband and now I have a bone to pick with you.”
“My husband lies on our bed healing from what could have been mortal wounds. I do not have time for your childish grousing today.”
“Excuse me?”
Mary stomped her foot. Sally seemed to have that effect on people.
“Why do you dislike me so much?” asked Mary.
“Do not pretend for one second that you are innocent. I have heard the stories.”

Mary raised an eyebrow.
“Stories?”
Sally laughed, sounding wicked even to herself. Someone deserved to pay after what she suffered through the other night. At the end of the day, Mary had Gabriel to comfort her when things went wrong. Despite being an infamous little tart, she found love from a good man. Sally would never have that from Jeremy.

“If I ever catch my Jeremiah alone with you again, I will see to it that both you and your so-called preacher husband are thrown out of this town.”

Mary appeared genuinely troubled. Sally grinned, feeling powerful and loving every minute of it. Only the strong survived. It was the way of things. If Jeremy ever decided to be rid of her, she would lose her entire livelihood. Some men were known to put away wives that didn’t please them and take a new one. She had to ensure that never happened.
“You really know how to make a newcomer feel welcome, don’t you?” asked Mary.

Sally tittered and their eyes met. They were two fighters cut from entirely different cloths. She recognized the look in Mary’s gaze. The desire to kill not for satisfaction, but for survival.
“Get off my property,” ordered Mary. “Now.”

Sally spun around and fled back into the field of corn. Mary would think twice before fraternizing with Jeremy again. With that out of the way, she could focus more of her energy on learning how to hunt with Jacob. She wandered through the tall corn over to the forest where he hid away somewhere. He said that he would find her, but she had no idea how. She could only take his word for it.

The damp earth smelled lovelier than perfume to Sally as she journeyed through the woods in search of Jacob. She carried a basket of apples, carrots, and grapes to give to him. She found the place where he originally set up camp, but it was empty. He was wise to continue moving and perhaps a little foolish to be living so close to the men who would shoot him without blinking.

Breathing sounded from behind her and she spun around to look up at a formidable man. Jacob.

“You were tracking me!”

“I was.”

“How can you move so quiet like that?”

“I will show you.”

“Perhaps being so small might finally come in handy,” she said. “I could move very quietly once you teach me how.”

Jacob smiled down at her. He removed one of the shot guns that he had strapped to his back and handed it to her.

“This is for you. I bought it in town. It’s a fine first shot gun.”

She gaped as she held it, running a hand down the smooth wood of the stock. It was beautiful.

“Are you sure?”

“It is yours to keep. Now, follow me. I first want to teach you how to load, shoot, and re-load.”

Sally became one with her new firearm as Jacob taught her the finer points of loading, reloading, and shooting that afternoon. After several rounds, her confidence in holding and carrying it grew. The forest darkened as the sun slowly descended toward the horizon. She smiled up at her new mentor; he mirrored it.

“Will you teach me to track tomorrow?” she asked.

He nodded and scanned the woods around them.

“There is no better practice than hunting the real thing.”

“Did you hear something?”

“A herd of deer is moving close by. They won’t go far with nightfall being so near. If you can come here earlier tomorrow, we would have a good chance of catching a buck.”

“I will. I’m all caught up on laundry and I can prepare Jeremy’s lunch early before I go.”

“Good.”

He placed his hands in his pockets and smiled down at her.

“I look forward to tomorrow.”

“As do I. Good evening, Sally.”

“Good evening, Jacob.”

She carried her gun like he showed her as she walked back home. Her heart swelled with the new sense of purpose; that purpose rushed through her veins. No matter what happened between her and Jeremy, she now had a valuable skill of her own. She would become her own person – a woman that she alone could be proud of.

Perhaps her problem was that she never had been happy with herself. Her parents loved her and spoiled her as a young girl only to throw her at the first man she spent time with. Women weren’t encouraged to develop and nurture their own interests. Their value was linked with a man.

Jeremy would never be more than a man that she was forced into marriage with. They could pretend that they were happy all that they wanted, but it would never be so.

With a deep sigh, she stepped back onto her property. She hid her shotgun in the barn before going to the house. The lights were on. Jeremy was home.

Her life as a farmer’s wife had nothing to do with her life as a hunter in the woods with a wanted man. She didn’t want either life to end, but she wondered how long she would be able to live both of them at the same time. One would eventually become more important than the other.

Jeremy would never love her like Gabriel loved Mary. Jacob would leave one day. Perhaps both lives would fade.

She opened the door and peered over at Jacob.

“You were gone a long time,” he said.

“I’ll get dinner ready.”

They spent the rest of the evening not saying a word to one another. The strange spell that brought them together for those brief, magical moments had been broken. Possibly forever.