August 8th, 1884
“God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.”
Cool wind blew into the trees, rustling the leaves, and blowing away the heat that had earlier intruded on the once sunny August day in Golden Hills, California. It was late in the evening as the birds retreated to their homes for the night and the darkness began blanketing the world like a mother putting her child to bed.
It was quiet in the forest….
Quiet enough to cause you to want to sleep in the warm grass underneath the trees… hear the distant echoes of the ocean lap against the shore… quiet enough to hear a horse snorting impatiently as he restlessly shifts from one foot to another. He wasn’t in the mood to stand all day.
“Calm down now,” whispered a girl named, Joanna Stone, who was riding him bareback, as she patted the painted horse on his side. “You need to be a little more patient. After all, we’ll be heading home soon, and then Ma can see you.”
Joanna looked up and watched the last traces of the sunset melt behind the hills and distant mountains.
Today, she reminded herself, was her mother’s birthday, and the gift she was going to give her was something they have needed for some time. She looked down at the mustang underneath her and smiled. She was certain her mother would enjoy the gift very much.
Joanna worked long and hard during the early year and tried to keep the surprise as quiet as possible, though she had trouble herself from bursting with excitement. Thankfully, her mother did not expect a thing, or so Joanna assumed.
The girl laugh quietly at that thought then bent down and said into the horse’s ear, “I better get home before she starts worrying.”
His ears flicked back at the sound of her voice as he stomped one of his hooves on the ground eagerly, then started walking on his own accord without her permission as if knowing where to go.
She stopped the horse by pulling back on the reins and told him sternly, “I didn’t say if you could go anywhere. Geez, you’re one impatient horse. Looks like you still have more learning to do.”
Joanna then urged the horse into a trot as she made her way into the woods while ducking beneath low tree branches, leading the mount around tight areas, and over old fallen stumps. Soon the light from the sun soon quickly dimmed and faded away causing it more difficult to see, but the girl knew home was close by and could easily make it there in the dark if she had to.
The smell of smoke drifting from a chimney connected to a small cabin lazily danced back and forth around the home as Joanna and her horse gradually made their way out of the dense bracket and into the small clearing surrounding the home and barn.
Once they made it to the barn door, Joanna quietly lighted off the horse, led him inside where she opened one of the unaccompanied stall doors, and gently pulled him by the reins inward.
Unfamiliar with the new home he nickered with interest and his ears pricked up in curiosity at the milk cow in the neighboring stall.
“Sh-h-h!” Joanna whispered with a finger in front of her lips. She walked out of the stall, shut the door, and leaned against it while saying, “You can’t make any noise until Mama gets to see you.”
She turned to the milk cow, “You too, Hannah.”
The cow stared at her dully as she chewed on her cud. Hannah seemed to care less at what Anna said.
The horse observed her and blinked a couple times then snorted as if saying he could make all the noise he liked without her permission.
She gave a small smile and patted him on the side of his face, then made her way out of the barn, shutting the door behind her.
As she made her way slowly toward the house, the scent of something frying wafted through and out the windows where the soft lamp light spilled out, painting the ground before the home.
Out of curiosity, the girl crept up to the window and peered in, just to see what her mother was doing.
Inside was a woman in her mid-thirties, sitting in one of the chairs next to the dining table, with her wheat blond hair up in a bun and her dark brown eyes etched with worry. Her name was Enna. At least that was what everyone called her.
Enna then stood up from her chair and walked this way and that as if she had the mind to do something but could not decide what she would do first. She stopped and looked down at her apron that was dirty with grease and flour. The woman untied it behind her and placed it on the chair she had formerly sat on but then took it off and threw it in the reed basket that was in a corner of the kitchen. The woman again sat back down in her chair and started twisting a napkin back and forth restlessly.
She’s worried, Joanna thought. The girl didn’t like to see her mother troubled and hated it when Joanna herself caused the concern. I had better get inside.
But before she headed toward the door, something caught her eye.
Her mother put down the napkin with some frustration and reached into her beige dress pocket. Interest shivered inside of Joanna like still water when touched by a drop of rain as she watched Enna pull something silver out and gaze at it.
What was the silver object that her mother had? And why hadn’t she seen it before?
For some reason Joanna sensed it was something important… but maybe she was just getting to conclusions.
She dismissed the thought and made her way to the front door. She reached out to turn the lever to open the door, but stopped herself for a second to straighten her dark brown riding skirt and her blue blouse. After that was finished, she turned the lever and walked inside.
Enna jumped slightly at the sound of Anna’s boots on the wood floor, then calmed at the sight of her daughter in the doorway.
Joanna noticed in the corner of her eye her mother quickly slip the silver object back into her pocket as she stood up from her seat.
“Joanna Stone, where have you been?” Enna said severely. “I have been waiting for you for hours. You shouldn’t have been gone that long.”
“I’m sorry, Mama, I didn’t mean to scare you. I—,” Joanna stopped, went up to her mother, and took her by the elbow. “Come with me, I have something to show you.”
“Anna, I want to know what you’ve been doing—,” Enna started again.
“Please, Ma, just come with me,” Joanna urged with sincerity.
There was silence for a moment as Enna looked into her daughter’s shining eyes. Enna drew a deep breath and forced herself to smile, “Alright.”
They walked out of the house and went to the barn with Joanna ahead, who quickly opened the door and ran inside to light a lamp, then hurried out and eagerly dragged her mother in.
“What are you up to now?” Enna asked as she started to laugh but then the laugh faded away when she saw why Joanna was so enthusiastic.
A horse in one of the stalls poked its white painted face over the wood door and eyed the two together staring at him. He snorted and softly shifted from one foot to another then shook his head, his white and copper mane swinging from one side to the other.
“Happy birthday, Ma,” Joanna whispered looking up at the already tear stained face.
“Anna, you didn’t have to do that.”
“I know, but I’d rather see you riding a horse like a queen than wearing out your feet walking. The school season will be starting soon anyways and you know the town will be voting for you to be the teacher again.”
Enna looked down at the smiling girl and thought, She’s almost as tall as I am, when she noticed Joanna was close to being five-four. She placed her hand on her daughter’s deep auburn hair that shown a blood red in the lamplight, “Thank you so much. You didn’t steal him did you?”
“Ma!” Joanna cried and cuffed Enna in the arm.
“I’m just kidding!” Her mother laughed and gave Anna a hug.
After standing there for a few seconds, Joanna slipped out of her mother’s arms, walked into the stall, and began taking off the black leather halter that was on the horse’s head. She looked up at her mother, who was scrubbing away the last of her tears with her white blouse sleeve, and asked, “Are you going to name him?”
“Name him? What in the world should I name him?”
“Oh, I could think of a thousand names for him, but… he’s your horse.” Joanna gave her mother a mischievous smile, “Got any ideas?”
“Well, I might have one… How does Samson sound?”
“Samson? It’s okay, but I could have thought of a better one,” Joanna joked. “Didn’t the Bible say he had his eyes gouged out…and he died of being crushed to death by pillars?”
“Ha, ha, very funny,” Enna replied sarcastically. “Come on; let’s get in the house. Supper is probably already cold.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll be in there in a second.”
Her mother walked out of the barn leaving Joanna alone with the horse.
The girl then rolled up her sleeves and began brushing and cleaning Samson with the tools she had borrowed from their closest neighbor, Mr. Dalores, and once that chore was complete, she made sure that the horse had his food and water. After Joanna was done with her work, she went to the lamp and blew it out causing everything in the barn to become pitch black.
Dim light from the cabin’s windows spilled through the crack of the open door.
Suddenly, Joanna felt something grab ahold of her.
Late in the night at Silver Creek, Wisconsin, which is only fifteen miles from Michigan’s border, a two-story house lay quietly near a lone barn on an eighty-acre plot of land surrounded by pine, oak, and birch trees.
A long thin dirt lane that was trodden by horses and wagons over the years made its way from the main road to the house and barn. Mature birch trees on either side of the lane usually took the form of white brides in the dark night, awaiting their grooms, but tonight they held a grimmer form; one of white spirits awaiting Death’s Coach to pass by.
Cold air settled in the forest valley giving a bite to the small but noticeable breeze and sneaking its way into the house where those who lived there felt the presence of a forbidding dark form overcome the warmth that spilled from the black iron stove.
In the kitchen, a woman in her late thirties named Rachel Grey, sat at a table with her hands wrapped around a cold tin coffee cup. She had her dark brown hair up in a loose bun and her bangs drooped in her face as she stared blankly at the wall ahead. Her face looked weary and her thoughts far away.
Next to her was her husband, John, also sitting in a chair with an open Bible lying before him. However, he was not reading it. Instead, his head lay within his hands as if he was praying.
Upstairs on the second floor, there are three rooms on the right wall. In the middle room of the three, light filtered onto the wood floor from the slightly open entrance where two girls dwelled within.
One was lying in a bed, weak and scarcely breathing, coughing every now and then, while the other was on her knees on the left side of the bed with her head bowed low.
The girl at her sister’s bedside is Liana Shore. Deep down inside herself, she hopes that Lillian would live despite what the doctor said to her the previous day;
“The knife wound is deep, and she bled excessively. With the constant fevers and the pneumonia, she won’t be able to make it.”
“Are you trying to say she’s dying?” Liane asked as if hoping he would say no.
Dr. Roe nodded as he watched her quickly turn her face from his gaze so that he didn’t see the tears in her eyes.
“There probably isn’t anything you can do about it either?” She asked as she turned to look at the doctor through the corner of her eye instead of directly at him.
He shook his head, his heart heavy.
“I didn’t think so,” she whispered and quickly walked away. As far as she knew, doctors were useless.
It happened two weeks ago when her sister had suddenly disappeared during one evening and returned home at midnight injured and afraid for her life. For two weeks, Liane suffered emotionally as Lillian burned with fever and woke on sleepless nights after having nightmares. How it happened or why it happened, Liane did not know, and when she repeatedly asked Lillian questions, they would always remain unanswered.
“Liane…” Lillian whispered feebly then coughed as she watched the depressed girl kneeled at her bedside.
Liane rose to her feet and numbly began pulling the quilt further around her sister while trying to avoid her observation, “You need to rest.”
Lillian lifted up her hand and wrapped it around her sister’s wrist, “I know, but I don’t have the time. I need to tell you something…”
Liane stopped messing with the quilt and let it go. She gently took her sister’s hand off her wrist and held it in her own hand, still refusing to look up at her sister’s face, “What is it you need?”
“My roses… promise me you will take care of them.”
Liane could not cry, but she felt everything inside her fall to pieces. Lillian loved roses… especially white ones.
Her sister was all that she had left since their father disappeared the year before and their mother left them when they were just an hour old. Once Lillian was gone, what would Liane do?
I‘ll be alone, Liane thought.
A rustling sound caught her ear and she looked up to see her sister was holding something.
It was a small envelope in her hand with something written on it. Lillian pulled her other hand out of Liane’s grasp and replaced it with the letter, “I know you don’t understand everything that has happened… that was my mistake in not telling you about it when I had the chance.”
Liane gripped the envelope but paid no mind to it as she stared inquisitively at her sister, confused, “What are you talking about, Lillian?”
“Protect it with your life, Liane,” the weak girl whispered.
Liane looked down at the envelope confused as the tears she tried to hold back began blinding her vision. It took her awhile to control herself, but once she did, she looked back up at her sister.
However, Lillian was not there. She was gone.
“Lillian…” Liane fell to her knees, brokenhearted as the tears began pouring down her face. She didn’t get to tell Lillian one last thing she always put off for years and even now, she could not speak the words. “Please, don’t leave me…”
Joanna struggled to release herself from the unknown attacker’s grasp that was around her waist as she angrily kicked the stranger behind her, using whichever way she could to hurt him, but it was to no avail when she realized he was too strong.
“You better calm down, girlie,” the man growled in her ear, “or you’ll regret it.”
She felt something sharp and cold slip across her throat. Even in the dark, she did not have to see what the object was. Out of reaction, she reached up, grasped the man’s arm with both hands, and attempted to pry herself free once more.
“I told you to quit messing around!” He hissed angrily as he tightened his grip around her waist. “Which way do you like your mama best, dead or alive?”
Dead or alive? Joanna thought alarmed. What does he want with her? Oh, God, what do I do? Fear and questions began overrunning her thoughts as she struggled to keep herself calm.
“Who are you and what do you want?” She asked shakily as she took her right hand off the man’s wrist and attempted to reach inside her pocket.
“Let’s just say I’m getting paid for this,” he answered crossly and pushed her forward towards the door.
She stumbled then regained her footing as questions and fear assailed any common sense she had within her. Trying to focus, she began thinking of ways to escape. Then she realized something, He just made a mistake. I could easily get away without a weapon against me.
“Start walking to the house, girl,” he said as she heard him put his knife back in the sheaf, “and don’t have the mind to run off or you’ll regret it.”
Two clicks sounded behind her.
On the other hand, maybe he didn’t, she thought as despair crept over her. She felt the barrel of a revolver press against her back.
“I said, get moving!”
Joanna started walking out of the barn and toward the house. She noticed that there were no horses around and that it was strangely quiet.
How did he get here? She wondered.
“Hurry up, I don’t got all day for this,” the man said behind her impatiently.
She walked a little faster and made her way to the door.
She pushed the door open and saw something that troubled her intensely.
Two other men were inside the house, and their apparel was all black except their white wood masks that had square eyeholes and rectangular mouths cut into them. One of them stood behind her mother with a shotgun at her back and the other sat on a chair by the kitchen table with a small pistol in his hand. The man with the pistol stood from his seat and waved the two in at the door and in response; Joanna’s captor took her by her arm and dragged her into the middle of the kitchen.
She eyed the big man with the pistol then glanced at her mother who had dread written all over her expression. She scanned the man with the pistol once more and, unlike her mother, displayed no emotion, though her heart was beating like the hooves of a horse in full gallop. He seems to be the headman, she thought. I wonder what they want and why they’re here…and if we’ll escape if given the chance.
The boss chuckled his smooth deep voice reverberating the room as he walked in front of Joanna, “So, this is your little girl. I must admit you create some attractive offspring.”
He took his right hand and touched Joanna’s face.
Sickened, she quickly shoved his hand away and backed up a step. She had received a cold feeling on contact. Something was wrong about this man. Something worse than the way he looked.
“Has the same spirit, too,” he whispered more to himself than anyone else. He then pushed his long black coat aside with his left hand and stuck the pistol in his holster then pulled out a thin knife, at least six inches long. It was not just an ordinary knife, though; instead of the average single blade, it had two, giving it the look of long silver fangs.
“Leave her alone!” Enna cried as she tried to walk up to the headman, but her imprisoner held her back by the arm. “She has nothing to do with this.”
Joanna was confused. She had no idea what her mother was talking about. Did her mother know this man? If she did, how and why? What was going on?
He whipped around and pointed the knife at Enna, “She has everything to do with it—”
“You and your foolish hate,” Enna interrupted, her voice lowered to a hiss and her eyes piercing into his. “You just had to get revenge… revenge for something that could be easily overlooked and forgotten. Must you come all this way and tear something down that has been put together?”
“Shut up!” The man flipped his knife upside down and cracked Enna on the left side of her head causing her to crumple to the ground within a second.
Horrified, Joanna quickly rushed to her mother’s side and kneeled next to her, “Are you okay?”
The girl noticed that blood began to drip from Enna’s right temple as she struggled to rise to her feet.
Three soft knocks sounded at the door and one of the men opened it up. Waiting at the door was another man dressed similar to the others.
“I have the horses in a safe place,” he said.
Joanna got the answer to her question about their transportation.
“Good,” the boss replied. “How about the roads?”
“Quiet enough. If you ever want a desolate place, this is the perfect spot.”
“Well, it looks like we have the advantage tonight,” the boss said with a chuckle.
As they continued talking, Joanna took a rag from her left pocket and was going to use it on her mother’s gash, but Enna brushed her hand away.
“I’ll be fine,” she said trying to keep her voice low, “but there is something I want you to do.”
Joanna nodded and Enna continued, “As soon as we get the chance I’m going to create a distraction and when I do, I want you to run to the Dalores house as fast as you can.”
“But what about you? What if they take you away before I am able to get help?”
“I will manage on my own,” Enna replied then she took something out of her pocket and slipped it into her daughter’s hand. “I want you to take this with you and do not let them have it or see it. Understand?”
Joanna felt the object in her hand and recognized what it was, “Yes, ma’am.”
The man with the shotgun in front the two turned about and angrily kicked Joanna as he said, “Get up, we need to get going.”
She quickly rose to her feet and stared at him angrily as he pushed her toward the man that had first brought her in the house.
“Hey, boy!” The boss said to the man who had taken care of the horses, “Take Don with you. We’ll take care of the rest.”
The man named “Don” let Joanna go and left with the other man, their figures slowly being swallowed up in the darkness as they made their way further into the woods.
The headman turned his ghostly wood face to Joanna that stood in the door, “Alright, girl, walk slowly outside and don’t do anything stupid. I’m fast with the gun, so if you plan to run, you’ll feel one of my lead bullets in your carcass.”
He walked her outside, his knife still in his hand, and pointed at her back.
Enna finally stood and watched them walk out. God, protect my little girl, she prayed.
“Start following them,” the man said behind Enna.
When she did not move, he shoved her forward so that she fell against the dining table.
Enna rose to her feet once more and looked up at the lamp whose flame lazily flickered back and forth as if not troubled by the ill fortune that was occurring in the house.
She immediately knew what to do.
Liane rose slowly to her feet and pulled the quilt over her sister’s face with trembling hands, then let the quilt go and turned around to face the wall.
Anger began raging inside of her as she blinked hot tears from her eyes.
“God didn’t bring our father back like you said He would and He didn’t heal you when it was most needed, so he obviously doesn’t care about you or me,” she said with bitterness and turned to the spiritless body. “But when I find the murderer, Lillian, I promise you, I’ll kill him.”
Rachel stood from her chair and looked at John, whose eyes were heavy with fatigue. She patted his shoulder, “I’m going to head upstairs.”
He barely nodded in response.
She remained there for a moment with her hand on his shoulder, then turned and headed for the staircase. She took each step slowly as questions, doubts, and fears attacked her thoughts at all sides.
Why did Lillian go out on that night alone? Who attacked her and tried to kill her? Why won’t Lillian tell them what happened? Was it so horrid that she could not tell them? Why didn’t she herself, as a mother, wife, and a woman try to create better precautions when it came to protecting the homeless twin girls she swore to take care of?
She stopped halfway up the stairs, her hand gripping the handrail.
Did I fail?
The question hit her hard in the chest as if a horse had just kicked her.
She stood there a moment and took a deep breath, hoping that maybe it would take the heaviness she felt away, but it only remained.
Rachel slowly continued the rest of the way up until she reached the second floor.
The sound of quiet sobbing reached Rachel’s ears causing her heart to freeze in dread. She knew immediately what was wrong.
In five quick and silent steps, the woman made it to the second room, where lamplight no longer shined from within. She softly pushed the door open and peered in the darkness. If the moonlight had not gleamed through the open window, Rachel would not be able to see inside.
Liane sat curled up in the left corner nearest to Lillian’s bed with her face buried in her arms, her body trembling as she wept.
Rachel walked over to the bed and reached under the quilt to touch the Lillian’s hand only to find it cold and lifeless as she feared. She gently let it go and turned to look at Liane who lifted up her head and observed her with a cold gaze.
The woman felt unsettled by the expression Liane gave her. The once calm and quiet girl had changed intensely with the death of her sister. Throughout the whole year that she had taken care of the Shore girls, she had never seen Liane as the easily angered type.
She slowly walked over to Liane and kneeled by her side while reaching out to touch the girl’s shoulder, “Liane—”
The girl shirked away from the woman and turned her face away to avoid her gaze, only eyeing the wood wall on her left.
The girl turned to look at the woman with piercing eyes, “Leave me alone.”
The woman gazed at Liane for a moment, then stood from her crouched position and left the room, quietly shutting the door behind her.
Though she wanted to help Liane, Rachel knew that now wasn’t the best time.
Eventually, when Rachel strode into the kitchen, she heard Liana sneak through the back door in the sitting room, and walk out into the night.
“If you don’t get outside the door, I’ll make sure your little girl is the first to feel the painful consequences of your mistakes,” Enna’s imprisoner whispered in her ear, his breath smelling strongly of whisky.
Seething with anger, she gritted her teeth and clawed the wood table with her nails as she eyed the lamp. She tried to wait as long as possible, just to give herself enough time for this moment. She hoped that the boss was far enough away, but what about her daughter? Would she be able to escape?
Without a second thought, she snatched the lamp off the tabletop before her, spun around quickly, and threw it on the man with all of her might, causing the glass to shatter to pieces and the kerosene to splatter on his legs and the floor.
Caught off guard, the man yelped on impact and almost instantly, the kerosene lit into flames on the floorboards, also catching the man’s clothes on fire. Shouting in horror, he struggled to beat out the flames that crawled up his pants and on his shirt, while dropping the shotgun in the process.
Seeing an opportunity, Enna grabbed the double-barreled shotgun and cocked one hammer back.
She only hesitated for a moment as she watched the torched man scream relentlessly. She had never killed a man before. But it was only a moment as she remembered what he said he would do to her daughter. Her daughter.
Shoving the barrel against the burning man’s stomach, she pulled the trigger.
The sound of a gun firing echoed throughout the forest, startling Joanna and her captor.
The big man cursed, “How hard is it to bring that woman out?”
They had walked quickly so that they were quite a ways in the dense forest, causing the incident in the house to be unheard, until now.
Anna felt fear flood her whole being, making her stomach feel sick. Did the man kill her mother?
She wished that she could get away for help, or to find out what happened at the house, but the headman tied her hands in front of her. She wished she had the chance to reach into her right pocket for her switchblade.
The man behind her grabbed her right arm roughly and started dragging her back to the cabin, “If your Mama went amiss, she’ll rightly pay for it.”
Joanna had trouble catching up with the man as they jogged through the woods. It seemed like he carried her most of the way as she tripped over anything her foot landed on.
“Stay on your feet you useless girl!” He growled.
Before long, they were back in the small clearing, but the cabin wasn’t like they had left it.
Anna gasped silently at the sight before her. The front of the cabin was engulfed in flames.
Waves of embers flew off the house and started burning anything dry it could find as the heat from the flames suffocated what cool air was available. In the barn, she could hear the cow and horse screaming their alarm at the smell of smoke.
Dragging the girl in the center of the clearing in between the burning house and the barn, the man shouted with defying tones, “I know you’re around here somewhere, Enna Stone! And you can’t leave your little girl behind! So come peacefully and maybe I won’t kill her!”
It was silent, despite the roar and crackle of the flames and the distressed animals.
Joanna could barely breathe as she watched and waited for a response. Was her mother still alive as the headman assumed? If she were, would she be willing to give herself over?
Oh, God, help us! She prayed.
Out of the darkness on Anna’s left appeared a silhouette figure coming closer and closer. For a moment, Anna couldn’t tell who it was, but then she quickly found out.
“Let her go, Jacob!” Enna shouted over the roar of the flames. In her arms was a shotgun aimed at Joanna’s captor.
“Ma, get away! He wants you more than I!” The girl warned as she fought to free herself.
“Shut up, girl!” Jacob hissed, pulling Joanna closer to him and taking his double bladed knife out of its sheath again.
“Let her go and then I’ll give myself up.”
“You know that’s not going to work,” laughed Jacob.
“I could kill you,” the woman said in a low voice. Her eyes imitated the flames on the house, seemingly burning with the selfsame emotion of protection that a mother bear would feel for her cubs. She walked forward slowly until she was three yards away from them.
“And why would you do that? After all, you could easily hurt your daughter, now wouldn’t you? Even if you tried anything, I would kill her.”
Anna felt chills go through her body at the words.
“Yes, I know. But you can’t kill her because you need her to get to me,” Enna said.
“No, I can’t kill her, but I can hurt her,” he whispered only loud enough for Joanna to hear. Joanna didn’t want to know what it would be like to be hurt or killed. If only she could get away!
The knife was in his left hand, pointed at Joanna’s throat, but then he lowered it slightly.
The girl was barely breathing, fear causing her heart to beat at a rapid pace. What was he about to do?
“I said let her go!” Enna persisted, as she fought herself to pull the trigger or not.
“Alright, I’ll let her go,” Jacob said simply and he turned Joanna about and cut the rope that tied her hands.
This isn’t right, Joanna thought. He isn’t the type of man to make this easy.
As soon as the cords fell from her wrists, he smiled slyly through the cut mouth of his mask, causing her to feel sick inside.
Before she had time to react, he took his knife, moving faster than her eyes could see, and raked the blade across her neckline to her left shoulder with such force it caused her to fall onto her left side, hitting the ground with a stifled “thud.”
Enna gasped in alarm, her eyes on her daughter.
Using the distraction at his advantage, Jacob ran at Enna and jumped on her, knocking her to the ground. Enna shoved and kicked with all of her might, her mind still on Joanna. He hurt her daughter! Enna had to do something to let Joanna get away, before it was too late.
While they struggled, Joanna slowly pushed herself to her feet. Hot blood dripped from the two long cuts on her upper chest, soaking her blue blouse until it was a deep red.
Once she was in standing position, she turned to see her mother underneath the man, fighting with all of her power.
Enna knew that Jacob would quickly overcome her soon and take the gun from her in the process, so Enna pushed him back as hard as she could with her arms and tried to point the gun at him.
Jacob easily ripped the gun out of her hands and laughed mockingly, “You fool of a woman! You should have known that I could easily overpower you.”
Joanna took her knife out of her pocket and whipped it open as Jacob hauled Enna to her feet by her blouse. The shotgun was in his right hand. Without hesitation, Joanna ran up behind him and thrust the knife in his back with all the strength she could muster within herself.
The man roared with anger and dropped the gun, which caused it to discharge, and tried to grasp the knife stuck in his back without letting Enna go.
All of a sudden, the two other men that went to tend to the horses ran out of the forest toward the commotion.
“Joanna, run! Get to safety while you still can!” Enna commanded.
Joanna backed up a couple steps as she watched the henchmen come closer, and turned about as quickly as she could and ran toward the forest.
“Johnathan, she’s gone.”
John looked up at his wife, “How is Liana?”
“She’s brokenhearted. You should have seen her face. She isn’t the same.”
John rose to his feet and pushed his chair in at the table, “I’ll tell Aaron to start making the coffin.”
“He already put it together before he went to bed.”
John looked at the floor and sighed, “I’ll take care of Lillian then. You should probably get to bed.”
His wife shook her head, “No, I’ll wait until Liane comes back.”
He looked at his wife alarmed, “She went out alone?”
Rachel nodded, somber, “Yes, but I think she has a gun with her.”
He raised an eyebrow, “What makes you say that?”
“After what happened, she has enough sense to bring one and I heard her check to make sure it was loaded before she went out.”
“It doesn’t matter if she has a gun or not. We need to make better safeguards for this family. Life has been dangerous here since Mr. Brock opened his tavern and it’s better if we are careful.”
“I understand,” Rachel whispered. “I’ll tell her when she gets home.”
“Pray that it’s quick,” John said sharply. “I don’t want any more blood on my hands.”
Both were silent for a moment, then Rachel whispered, “Nor do I, John,”
He sighed, “Though they are your nieces, I feel just as responsible as you.” He hugged his wife, “I pray that God can use us to help Liane. She needs more encouragement than we do right now.”
Jacob threw the blood-covered knife on the ground and shoved Enna toward Don and the young man with him, “It’s about time you got here. Take care of her.”
“What about the girl?” The young man asked.
“I’ll take care of that wretch,” the boss answered and pulled out his pistol.
He turned about, while pulling the hammer back twice, and pointed it in the direction where Joanna was.
Joanna hadn’t gone far with her injured shoulder and had stopped as soon as she was at the forest edge and leaned against one of the trees. She was bleeding so profusely that she felt weak and could barely stand on her feet.
What is wrong with me? She thought. I need to run…. Run from…from what?
She placed her right hand on her injury as pain began stabbing her shoulder repeatedly. She winced as she took her hand off her wound only to find it covered in blood. How deep did he cut me?
Knowing what Jacob was about to do, Enna fought to free herself from the men’s grip as they tied her hands behind her back. “Joanna, keep running! Please keep running!” She begged.
The woman knew it was of no use though. Her daughter was too weak to go on anymore. Even if she tried, she would only lose more blood.
Joanna turned at the sound of her name and gazed at the group watching her. She felt confused and weak. What was wrong with her? Why wasn’t she running? What was so hard about running? But who was she running away from? And who was calling her name?
The girl shook her head. She felt so strange, like she was drugged.
Jacob smiled when the girl turned to look at them again. She was at the perfect angle.
With the barrel pointed at her head, he pulled the trigger without hesitation, and the gun fired.
In that same second, Joanna felt something hit her skull with a burning hot sensation, sending her falling to the ground.
“NO!” Enna screamed. Everything seemed to stop for a moment to her.
He did it. He killed her…
This is all my fault.
“Timothy,” Jacob said putting the pistol back in the holster as if nothing happened, “make sure she’s dead and then dispose of her body.”
“Yes, sir,” the young man said and ran off to the body.
Jacob turned to Don, “Let’s go. Someone is bound to notice the house by now.”
“Let me go!” Enna cried, enraged, as tears began falling from her eyes.
Jacob gave a cold smile, “Too bad she caused so much trouble, otherwise I would have used a more torturous method of killing her. Long and slow.”
Jacob struck her face with his fist, “Silence, woman. Don, when we get to the horses, sedate her.”
Timothy walked up to the body and crouched down to check her vital signs. He picked up her hand and felt for a pulse.
The fire from the cabin illuminated the darkness flooding light on the girl’s body as he watched the blood from her temple drip in her hair, mingling with the auburn curls.
No one should die this way, he thought as he rose to his feet. But I can’t go against the wishes of my brother. What he says, goes.
Timothy grabbed her by her right shoulder and pulled her underneath the nearest bush, then turned from the body and walked away. The thought of the girl was still in his mind.
What if his brother was wrong?
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