Gone Before Dawn

By JMScott All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Scifi

Day Five

Delta called for her while Moira slept in the backseat, “Jeff is here. We are on the move. We have a girl with us. Her name is Mercy Waverley.”

“Is everyone okay?”

“Not really. Jude let Vince go after we had him tied up. Then no one wanted to find Vince so Jude went after him,” Delta said in her mind. Moira could tell they were walking in the black woods.

“What are you going to do?”

“Leave them. I’m sure no one will miss Vince, but Jude has his mom. He lives with her so she might care,” Delta said.

“What do you want me to do?” Moira asked.

“I don’t know. Do you believe in God?”

“I don’t know what I believe.”

“I don’t either, but I am praying that Jeff takes us home,” Delta said.

“Be safe, Delta. We will be waiting for you.”

They were at a hotel in Cape Charles. Korah and Brian were getting rooms. Sam was sitting in the van.

“Did you talk to Delta?” he asked.

“I did. She is okay and so is Sherry. They are walking now. It is dark there. They lost Vince and Jude,” Moira said. “I could use a drink.”

Sam squeezed her hand, “you need to sleep.”

“You are probably right.”

“How did they lose Vince and Jude? Did they die?” Sam asked.

“I don’t think so. Delta said Jude let go after they tied him up. Then when Delta told them about the Puritans, no one wanted to get Vince so Jude went after him.”

“And they left without them?” Sam said.

“I guess so, I don’t know too much.”

“I wonder what happened that are not sticking together. They are a close group.”

“That’s only what you see, Sam, but you know that can’t be true.”

Korah and Brian came back out with two keys.

“So how do you want to split up? Boys and girls or one boy and one girl?” Korah asked.

“I can pay for my own room,” Moira said.

“There are no more. Anyway you are one of us, Moira,” Brian said.

“I will bunk with Brian, if that’s okay,” Sam said.

“Fine by me,” Brian said.

Brian rented a large boat, and they went out to find the island Jeff talked about. It was a scrappy piece of land that was probably only ten feet long and shaped like a horn. The bay met with the ocean not far from the island and the water was choppy.

“This is garbage. I wonder what it looks like when the tide is in,” Brain said.

“Well I hope they come back in daylight,” Korah said.

“I want to go there,” Moira said.

“What if you get sucked in?” Brian asked.

“I don’t know what will happen. When Delta was on the other side, she threw rocks at the portal she came through any nothing happened. Maybe she was there the wrong time or really is one way and only opens at a certain time. You can’t tell me, you don’t want to check it out Brian?” Moira answered.

“You’re right. Let me get the boat anchored and we can go over. Korah and Sam, you will keep watch,” Brian said.

They dropped anchor. Moira and Brian got in the dingy on the side of the boar, and Korah lowered it. They were about ten feet away from the little island. Brian took off his shoes and pulled the dingy ashore. Once the boat was secure on the island. They walked around.

“What are you hoping to find?” Brian asked.

“Energy. Sometimes us sensitive folk can feel energy.” Moira answered. “What are you hoping for?”

“I play that video over and over. And I still can’t believe what I saw. I know it’s real, but I wonder if I play this for the scientific community if they would believe me,” Brian said. He scooped a handful of sand and tossed in front of him.

“You know where it is. A man of your intelligence and wealth can probably fix it so no one travels on that road. You have the power to change the future.”

“What if I do? And the future where Delta is now still comes true. I started reading some of that book. What if it doesn’t change anything?”

“Honestly, I don’t know much about this stuff. Time travel portals and that gives me a headache. I would rather live in the present,” Moira said. “Maybe we should have the others come over. We can spend the night here. We can take turns walking around the island.”

“We can do that,” Brian said.

“Jeff said it was daylight when he crossed over. So I am guessing the portal is open during the day,” Moira suggested.

“So what time does the other portal open?” Brian wondered out loud.

“Well Jeff went back there at around 6:30 a.m.. What are you thinking?” Moira said.

“That these things travel, or only open at certain times.”

“It might. Don’t you employ some kind of science person to do some kind of math?” Moira asked.

Brian smiled. “You know I do. Let’s get back. I want to make sure Delta can reach you if she needs to.”

“Did you guys find anything?” Korah asked.

“No but we are coming back in the morning. I am going to talk some people first.”

***

Liam woke them up while it was still dark, “where the hell did Mercy go?”

Vince rubbed his eyes and focused on the candle, “what are you talking about?”

“Mercy is not in her bed. She is not in the house. So where is she?” Liam demanded.

Cassandra rushed down the stairs, “her bike is gone as well.”

Jude woke up, “she asked where we left the other group and I told her.”

“Why did you tell her? Are you stupid? That means she probably went looking for them,” Liam said.

“She is not our concern. She was the one who came down here and asked a bunch of questions. She accused us of being liars and said we were with the group. And we are not. We answered her questions and that is all.”

“What are we going to do Liam?” Cassandra asked.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Liam put his face in his hands and cried. He regained his composure and said, “get up anyway. Carter will be here soon. You are part of the search party.”

Liam and Cassandra went upstairs.

“You think she went with them?” Liam asked.

“I know she did. I know those boys are from the group as well. Mercy told me she saw inside their bags.”

“You think that Jeff guy can lead them to a different world?” Liam asked.

“I do, he was the one that was that woman Christmas from the other side. Remember they burned her while she was pregnant?” Cassandra said.

“I do remember. How do you know he went to a different place?”

“Because everyone was looking for him. He went to Cape Charles. They saw him in the water and then he just disappeared. Now he is returned.”

“I wish he could take us all,” Liam muttered.

“It is too late for us,” she put a finger to her lips. “Breakfast will be ready soon. Please do not worry. We will get Mercy back. They can’t be that far.”

“No, they can’t. I will tell Carter she ran away,” Liam started.

Vince and Jude came upstairs and sat at the table. Cassandra put a plate of toast and coffee in front of them. The toast tasted stale and flat and the coffee had no taste.

Carter and others came within the half hour while it was still dark.

“Carter, I think my daughter Mercy went with them,” Liam said.

“Why would she do that?” Carter asked.

“I don’t know, I think those boys are not who they say they are. I think they told her stories and being silly, she believed them. I saw inside their bags,” Liam said.

“Well we will see about that. Right now, we have to find those dangerous people. And we will find your daughter. I give you my oath,” Carter said.

Carter divided the men into two groups. One group was going to Lulu’s and the other was going south. He split Vince and Jude and put them in different groups.

“You can identify these people that’s why we need to separate you both,” Carter said.

They all lit their torches and flashlights and went their respective ways,

Jude looked at Vince and knew he wouldn’t see Vince again or at least free and walking around. He heard Cassandra and Liam whispering before they came upstairs. Liam whispered to Carter. Something wasn’t right. He knew it but he couldn’t place his finger on it.

***

Jeff navigated them through the woods. They were quieter than he expected. He came to his old shelter which stood was nestled by the river. They, as in the Puritans, must have never come here. He touched his hand to the shelter as the others stopped and drank water. He saw her, Christmas with her growing belly. They way she looked when she smiled and they made love. She laughed and giggled and wrote him stories to pass the time.

“You okay, Jeff?” Delta asked.

“Yeah, I used to live here, with Christmas,” he said and sighed.

Delta squeezed his shoulder, “I don’t know if I ever can thank you enough Jeff. For what you’re doing.”

“I wasn’t going to. I hated it here. First, your dad beat the shit out of me and then Moira talked to me some,” Jeff said and took a swig of water.

“What is she like? I can never see her. I can only hear her voice.”

“She is skinny and looks she is always scared. Well let’s go guys, I know it’s hard but we have to walk as much as possible. We can take a break in another hour or so. Daylight will come then.”

The group trudged forward. Shane slipped next to Delta and grabbed her hand.

“I must say you look rather lovely in a black dress,” he said.

“Like a fine pilgrim woman. Just call me Goody Risotto,” she said then took her hand. “And Mr. Salazar, please refrain from this kind of lewd engagement.”

He laughed and kissed her hand.

“What is it like where you are from, Delta?” Mercy asked.

“It is different from here. It is May back home. The sun is so warm and it stays light out after 8:00 p.m. We have computers and cell phones and women can do and say what they want. You can wear whatever clothes you like. How old are you Mercy?”

“Sixteen years,” she said.

“I am sixteen too,” Delta said. “You seem so much younger than me.”

“I hate to say it Delta, but someone actually lives a more pure life than you do,” Sherry said.

“I didn’t think that was possible,” Delta said.

“Yeah because she is from a different time, the past and the future,” Sherry said.

“What is your relationship with Shane? Will you be married?” Mercy asked.

“We are sort of dating. Marriage is something I don’t want to do until after college. I have early acceptance to MIT my dad is going to give me a job in his company when I graduate.”

Mercy didn’t say anything more. Delta didn’t know what to say. Everyone else seemed distant as if they were living in a surreal dream land. Maybe they were all hoping to wake up and be at Jolly Rodger’s. She wished she was there. She wished her mom had a chance to sneak off with Mr. Myrnachick. She wished Sherry snuck off the roller coaster genius. She wished she was in North Carolina with her dad. Maybe she should bring Shane next summer. Would he go? Was he only schmoozing up to her because he also thought they would be stuck here forever and create a new world?

What new world? It was full of Puritan freaks. It would be a short-lived world nonetheless. Daylight appeared with its yellow hue.

“Do you see the sun?” Delta asked Jeff.

“You might see a little more when we are closer to the bay.”

They walked for a little more then Jeff said. “We should rest here for a little bit. Then we will head back out when it gets dark.” His eyes were tired. How long has he been awake?

***

They reached Lulu’s, and Liam saw his daughter’s bike thrown in front of the restaurant.

“That’s her bike,” Liam said but his voice was flat.

The party stopped and went into the restaurant.

“Tell me Jude, how many people were in your party?” Carter asked as the others looked at the empty cans and scattered clothes laying on the floor.

“Just my brother and I,” Jude said not to get tricked by this stupid man.

Carter lunged at him and tackled him to the floor, “Liar. You are a liar you were with them. Tell me again, how many people were in your party?”

“There were ten of us. Three others were buried by the bus,” Jude sputtered out as Carter squeezed his fingers around his throat.

“Ten of you now there are eight with that pesky Jeff Bishop and it appears Liam’s daughter. Interesting.” Several men on horses came to the restaurant from the direction of the bus.”

“If Jeff Bishop is back, then he killed Orville Monatgue. We found his body laying on the road. Dead for a couple of hours,” one of them said.

“Did you find a bus in the woods?” Carter asked.

“Yes we did. It hit a tree. We also saw three freshly dug graves. These children are murderous,” the cavalier replied.

Carter turned his attention back to Jude, “tell me, Jude where are they going?”

“Even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you because you would kill me anyway,” Jude said.

“Now, you are loyal? I am wondering what kind of people you are. It goes to show how horrible the old world was. I do not want to kill you, Jude. There is a great unrest and I think it would be wise to use you to reteach our ways, the wholesome way to live. Loyal? Were these not your friends? They must have been because you traveled together.”

Jude struggled under Carter’s hand, “it wasn’t like that. We were part of a club. They weren’t my friends just Vince and Delta but Delta betrayed me first.”

“Who was Delta?” Carter asked.

“She was my girlfriend. We had something special,” Jude replied.

“Girlfriend? Fornicators” Carter snapped.

“No, I waited. I waited. We had a relationship online. She was my girlfriend when we came over. She promised to start a new world with me.” Jude started to whine.

“Horrible, you people are horrible. You come here and try to sway a sweet young girl of sixteen to run away.”

“Delta is sixteen. I know she was with Shane. They were always together. She’s the devil, not me. She played me,” Jude reasoned with Carter.

“Why is she the devil?” Carter said rather curiously.

“I can’t explain it. She is just evil. She uses people like they don’t matter. I thought she loved me but she didn’t. She is horrible, Delta Risotto is the devil’s spawn,” Jude said righteously.

“Delta Risotto, you said?”

“Yeah,”

Carter let him go. “She is the devil’s spawn. She created the world in which computers really did take over for the most part. It was her world that we destroyed. Now I can kill her,”

“I don’t understand,” Jude said.

“Three hundred years ago, technology took a toll on our well-being as humans and the environment. Delta Risotto started the process when she took over lead researcher at her father’s company. She created these little nano bots that could do anything, and since they were affordable people got them for everything. The human race was too reliant on technology and it was destroying the human race. Thus, the new Puritans came to light. We got rid of technology and we restored the environment and changed our lives for the better.” Carter preached proud and all mighty like a crazy heathen-saving, god-loving preacher man with the all mighty’s healing hands tucked in his underwear.

“How is this world better?” Liam finally spoke breaking his sermon of Puritans rule the world speech. “We have six hours of sunlight a day. There is an earthquake every day. Our women are forced back into the middle ages. There is no advancement, no books, no anything. How is this better?”

“Really? Liam, I thought so differently of you. We are living in this world, in harmony with this world. God takes care of those who ask, Liam. Will God take care of you today? Have you asked him?” Carter said.

Liam didn’t back down, “I hope Jeff leads them out. I hope Mercy goes to and I hope this world fades away into nothing. You say you want to kill Delta Risotto then this world will no longer exist. Because she won’t exist to create a world you destroyed.”

“I don’t care. I want to watch her die,” Carter said. “Just like you.”

He pulled a large silver knife with a bone handle and Carter sliced Liam’s head right off.

Some applauded. Others did nothing but stare. Some even kicked Liam’s head around.

“Answer me, is Delta loyal enough to you to risk her life for yours?” Carter asked.

“She will come for me. She won’t for Vince. She hates him.”

“We are on another time line or so I have been told by the government scientists. Even if Delta Risotto were to die right here and right now, it will not change our time line, it would only change yours. I am sure I am doing you a favor. Trust me on this; Delta Risotto must die.” Carter said. “We have been trying to seal off the portals for decades.”

Carter stopped and sat in a chair. Jude quivered lightly as if a cool mist plucked at his body hair.

“I have an idea, Jude. If this works and I kill Delta, I will allow to live here with your friend Vince. But you must live like us and obey our rules,”

“I will do anything you ask,” Jude said.

“I know where they are going. There is a portal in Cape Charles. I don’t know how Jeff got out before, but he did. Jeff is going back. I will kill him and her. I will burn them both.” Carter said and clapped his hands gently and smiled as if he himself ate the devil.

***

By the year 2100, the world had become in a word, horrible. Pollution was at a time high. Cars and trucks continued to burn fossil fuels. The population was an all time high. It was a wonder anyone got married. People just sat on their asses emerged in a virtual world when they weren’t at school or at work. Computers and technology literally controlled their lives. People sat on their cell phones, on the internet day in and day out. Global warming became a very real thing. Mining for coal was changed to mining for metal to make better batteries for cars and gadgets. But, Amos Brady wanted better for his people. He wanted a clean earth and a return to the roots of his people, where they worked and communicated with one another. Amos Brady wanted to wash the world and start a new one. It was time to bring old-fashioned morals back to the world. The world needed and demanded it.

It started with Delta Risotto, with her brilliant mind created such wondrous technologies that helped amputees and fight cancer cells. Her little nano bots could do anything from weight loss to better than penicillin treatments for the most infections. She received awards and notoriety by the time she died, her technology had started to become popular and mainstream. Companies pushed for new uses for the nano bots including reading other people to find the perfect mate, the right job. It did seem like a utopia but dependence on technology was becoming a serious problem.

Amos Brady was saved by Risotto’s nano bots. The little bots repaired his heart. And they did a lot of good, but now it was bad. He met with others who valued his opinions. There were many leaders of the developed world. Within two years they were all in power.

The first thing to go was cell towers. They outlawed all cell phones and destroyed towers across the world. At first there was an uprising but they were handled, made into examples of how the new world will be. Getting rid of cell phones was the easy part. Amos Brady died in the 2150. He was the leader of the United States and he accomplished one of his goals. His successor was a young man of Richard Carroltown.

Richard Carroltown was a devout Christian. As people started adjusting to a way without cell phones, Richard wanted to bring morality back in addition to continuing his mentor’s dreams of cleaning the planet. Carroltown and the world leaders outlawed the production of oil and mining for coal. It did cause another uprising especially from the Middle East who continued to manufacture most of the world’s oil supply. The leaders encouraged scientists and business leaders to use natural resources to power cars, trucks, houses and everything else. The unrest in the Middle east came to a breaking point, the leaders decided those in the Middle East had to go. With a series of bombs more than 90 percent of the people died. Those that were left had to no choice to move somewhere else and join with what was now called the Puritan movement.

Carroltown wanted to do more. He wanted to bring morals back and he didn’t start a war but finished it and those who were against the Puritan movement died by either shooting or the most popular was bombing. Carroltown sent a strong message to the rest of the world. He became the face of the Puritan movement. He burned books and libraries. Museums and art works. Thousands of years of human achievement went up in flames. This became the end of Carroltown and he was assassinated by another member of the Puritan movement, John Hummel in 2065. John Hummel’s claim to fame was the emps that he set off all over the world, almost sending many nuclear reactors in meltdown. The most extreme of the Puritans, he wanted no technology because he believed technology was the root of all evil. For some reason other Puritans in other countries were fine with the reduction of electricity. They saw it as strength of leadership for the movement.

Yet, John Hummel was radically religious and in his own country, women were hung if they got “out of line.” No one knows for sure when everyone that wasn’t man or a Christian lost their rights. Voting ceased to exist and people regardless of color had two choices. Join and embrace the Puritan movement or become a rebel and try to fight it. Rebels were always killed and women stayed at home and kept their mouths shut. Generations of hard work unraveled and it was back to the middle ages. Some women did keep their jobs as nurses and shop owners and other womanly duties. Often, these women would no longer work when they married and they had to be married by the time they were thirty or they would die. Widows were the exception to the rule since they may resume working after the death of their husband. They did not have to remarry but if a man asked her she was obligated to marry him. If someone practiced a different religion not including the Jewish people since they all believed in the same God and Moses, those people would die. John Hummel created more than three hundred specific laws in his time, laws that were never challenged at all. By now people knew, death was imminent if they didn’t follow the law. Local governments were given complete control to uphold the law. Archaic punishments were re- introduced and it was up to the mayor to choose the punishment since he would be the most wise. There were no trials or jail time. Almost all crimes were punishable by death there were some crimes where someone might lose a finger or some other torture but it depended on the mayor.

Other things quickly changed, guns were only allowed to be used by the military. Military people were paid well and could shoot anyone they felt was “lawless.” Scientists were selected by a lottery and it didn’t matter if the child wanted to be a scientist, if they scored high on an IQ test they were packed up and shipped to the one of the five remaining colleges in the country then given jobs in field such as food growing, energy production and portal decimation. Men who wanted to be doctors had to ask permission and they would get to college and then medical school.

Hummel saw this as progress as a vision fully realized. Only two types of factories were permitted to run, provided they meet government standards, canned food and clothing. Media outlets were controlled wholly by the government. People who lived near the factories made good money and lived in the city. People who lived out in the country either worked in large greenhouses or jobs around the town they lived in. For some people the Puritan way of life was much better and it did provide a good old-fashioned sense of hard work and well being.

The only problem was the environment. The government scientists can’t figure out why there are only six hours of daylight at the most. The winter only gives four. They can’t figure out why there are earthquakes every day. All they know earthquakes started after the emps went off. There are theories, but no way to fix them at least government approved ways of fixing them. The trees turned black and the animals mutated and with no answers, those government scientists just keep searching, coming up with ideas and keeping the government happy.

***

“So that is what happened. I wrote it in my book,” Jeff said.

“I did this?” Delta asked.

“Not you, and definitely not intentionally. It was you on this world in this time line.” Jeff said.

“Chances are, I will still do this make these nanobots. You know people are making stuff like this why do I get the blame?” Delta said suddenly.

“I don’t know. Yours worked the best. Yours were inexpensive to make and to control. I don’t know the answers. You were eleven when I went to your house in Maryland. I was going to tell you everything but it wouldn’t do any good. Because I don’t know what else was different on your time line. Not much to be honest. History before you was the same. We just lived it first. We should rest,” Jeff said and closed his eyes.

Mercy looked at Delta and said, “I think you could change your world, if you wanted to.”

Shane grabbed her hand and squeezed it, “remember this is a different time line. Our future is unwritten.”

The others lay on the ground and wanted to sleep. Some tossed and turned. She laid down but couldn’t sleep. How could she do that? But it wasn’t her, it was another her who lived in this world on this time line. It made some kind of sense, she was going into bioengineering so nanobots would fit. She planned on going to MIT and work for her dad. What else could she do? There was nothing she was good at. There was nothing she was interested in. From the time she was small, it was always MIT and then the company. Her mom was different from her dad. She liked doodling in the margins and traveling across the world. She was a writer. Her mother told her once to live a little. Of course so did Sherry.

Delta looked at Sherry who slept beside her. Sherry was so beautiful and smart but yet she had dates and got in trouble. She even got arrested once. Sherry thought Korah was the most awesome mom in the world and thought her own to be boring and uninteresting. Delta wondered if Sherry had time to cry over her mother. How could she have time? Her thoughts drifted back to her own mom and how she was always mean to her just because she was wild and different. Sleep wouldn’t come at least not right now. All Delta wanted to do was just go home and then what? Start in motion that could destroy the world and how many other worlds?

***

Christmas was six months pregnant. Jeff loved tracing his fingers over soft stomach. They moved closer to Orville just a month or so before she was due in the winter. Orville’s family had a one room cabin deep in the woods. It was a risk, but both Orville and Jeff agreed if someone came around Orville would play dumb. Jeff always planned to take care of Christmas.

He had a ring. It was Jill’s ring. She gave it to him because she didn’t want it anymore. She always told him that he might need it. Should some other man come around looking for a wife, Jeff would come in and marry her right away. Then she was taken and killed. But he had the ring. It was a simple gold band with tiny little diamonds. It was passed down through Jill’s husband side of the family.

Christmas was laying on the lumpy bed. In front of the fire. The snow just started to fall as he came in with more wood and a small fox.

“Hey baby,” she said. “While you were out the baby kicked.”

“Did she?” Jeff asked and smiled.

“How do you know it will be a girl? Could be a boy,” Christmas said.

Her clothes didn’t fit well. She wore a thick black robe that was untied. Her tattoo of a tiger ran down her leg. She also had some kind band that wrapped around her one arm. If they saw her, they would know she was not from around here. Tattoos were forbidden.

“So Chris, when spring comes, I think we should head to North Carolina to Hatteras,” Jeff said.

“Why is that?”

“It is supposed to be safe from the Puritans. Has been. I don’t know why but it is. We can make it there but it will be a lot of walking.”

“I don’t care, as long as I don’t have to live like a Puritan,” she said. He went over and rubbed her stomach as she kissed him.

“Christmas,” he said and pulled out the gold chain with the ring, “will you marry me?”

She squealed, “Jeff, yes of course. I love you.”

He put the gold chain around her neck and kissed her, “I will always take care of you Christmas.” She pulled off her bathrobe.

The door was kicked in and it was Carter Olsten and some of his goons.

“Who are you?” Carter asked.

“I am Jeff Bishop from Shasta Falls, Oklahoma and this is my wife Christine Bishop,” Jeff said as his heart skipped every other beat. He thought in his mind please don’t let them see her. But maybe she was too late to cover herself up Carter yanked her out of bed and she fell to the floor.

“She is a demon. Look at those markings!” Carter screamed. “Take this filthy demon whore away.”

“She is my wife,” Jeff pleaded, “she is having my baby.”

“Jeff,” Christmas screamed and cried. One of the men that held her whacked her hard against the mouth. Jeff went to tackle the man but Carter stopped and hit with the butt of the gun.

“I know where she is from. She is marked. It is not your fault. She bewitched you.”

Christmas struggled against the men who refused to cover her up. Carter looked around and saw the books laying on the table. “Books?” He picked them up and threw them in the fire.

Jeff tried to get up on his own but Carter grabbed him and handcuffed him.

They made them walk the seven miles back to the town square.

‘ “She is pregnant and she has no clothes on,” Jeff said.

“Like it matters,” Carter said from his horse.

Jeff couldn’t get close to her. She held her head down and walked in pain.

Carter yelled for the town to come look at the demon whore. Many came out and stared at her nakedness.

They came to the town square and Christmas doubled over in pain. Clear liquid spilled from her.

“The baby is coming,” she murmured. “Please let my baby live and then you can do with me as you will.”

“And spread your demon seed on this town. Not a chance,” Carter announced. He bent down and talked to Christmas just loud enough so Jeff could hear, “though I find demons to be quite subservient when they are fighting for their lives. If it was just us, honey pie, I would make you work for your life. And bring me pleasures only a demon could.”

Christmas screamed in pain. Townspeople gathered around her as she cried on the snowy ground. “Help me! Jeff please”

He fought against the man who held him.

“ Get the pyre ready,” Carter commanded.

“She is having a baby,” a woman said from the crowd.

“Defiant aren’t you?” Carter said and slapped her across the face and she stumbled backward. No one came forward to help.

Carter dragged the screaming Christmas to the pyre. She tried to fight against him but the contractions were forceful. She doubled over in pain. Carter tied her arms above her head so her breasts hung gently over her belly. Then he forced her legs apart and secured them. The man holding Jeff forced his head up. Jeff looked at her.

“Christmas I love you. I am so sorry. This wasn’t meant to be. We were supposed to go to North Carolina and be happy,” Jeff screamed. Then he saw it as Christmas screamed and wiggled. It was the head. The head of his baby.

“The baby it’s almost here. You can save him Carter. He is innocent,” Jeff pleaded with Carter but instead Carter took his torch and set the pyre ablaze. Christmas screamed. Jeff watched the baby slide out and hit the flames. Women in the crowd turned away and he could hear their faint weeping. Carter laughed as did his stupid fat wife and some other Puritans.

The screaming stopped and Christmas’ flesh peeled and dripped away like candle wax.

Carter dragged Jeff to a tree and hung by his cuffs, “for enabling this demon and for breaking the law of reading banned books, Jeff Bishop from Shasta Falls Oklahoma will hang at first light tomorrow. Now everyone go inside your homes and be warm. Remember life is better here and now because of the Puritans. God be with you.”

The town square emptied and Jeff wept. Snot and tears ran down his face. The fire in the center died down and soon he was in the dark. Alone and ready to die. Yet, he heard faint footsteps.

He couldn’t see the person but his hands were released from the cuffs.

“All I ask is if you kill me. Go to North Carolina you will be safe there,” an older man said.

The man opened his hand and Jeff could feel the butt of the knife.

“I am kneeling in front of you and I am facing away, pull my head back and cut my throat.”

“Why?” Jeff asked.

“I let you free and I will be tortured before my death comes. You will take away their joy of torturing me, please hurry and do it. I brought you a pack. It’s at your feet. You don’t have much time,” the old man said.

“Who are you?”

“Abe Salazar.”

Jeff felt for his hair and pulled back his head then slit his throat. Abe gargled some. Jeff laid him on the ground gently. He felt for the pack and picked it up and ran into the woods. All he knew was he had to go east.

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