Publish Novellas 16 January 2022
EPISODE 4 – DEARLY DEPARTED
Something goes terribly wrong as children seek outside assistance.
The children are on pins and needles all week long. Joann is sewing a garment to conceal her pregnancy. Mattie prays every night for Malcolm and her other siblings. It appears, it has some good effect, as there is relative peace in the house that week.
When Gerald does visit the girl’s room at night, Mattie asks to go with him to the barn. He complains about the cold, but she shows him extra bedding. Away from the other children, he asks, “We don’t never talk ’bout what we doin’. I ain’t gonna tolerate ya lecturin’ me out here!”
Mattie amorously replies, “Ain’t no complainin’ goin’ on. Instead of Joann or Bettye, I wanna be the one honoring my father, as the Good Book says. Please… let it be only me.”
“Well, it sounds like yer maturin’ and acceptin’ yer responsibilities. But there’s more heat in the house.”
“Yeah, but Joann is pregnant and sleeps next to me. We have more room in the barn fer me to fulfill yer desires. I’ll try my best to keep ya warm.”
During the cold evenings, Leland is eager to light the fireplace. The family bundles up and sips warm milk together until bedtime. Later, the temperature reduces the number of nightly visits since Gerald prefers not to go outside.In the barn, Mattie intercedes in behalf of her siblings twice before the weekend.
Gerald enjoys Mattie’s more accommodating participation. This is due to unknown approval from Jamie, the mother.
Mattie and Joann request father’s permission…
On Saturday, Mattie tells her father that Joann wants to attend church with them in the morning.
“In the dead of winter? She is in no condition to go,” he objects.
“Father, come see. She’s been sewing a garment all week to keep herself warm and conceal her condition. We’ll sit in the back and bring no reproach on this house,” Mattie insists. Joann then models the long heavy hooded garment.
“Y’all apparently, put some thought into this,” he reasons. His objections are also suppressed by Mattie’s recent satisfying conduct.
“Yeah, father, I really wanna go wit’ ’em,” Joann begs.
“Okay, when will ya’ll return?” Gerald inquires.
“We’ll learn how to love our parents more. They’re havin’ special services wit’ songs, Bible readings, and food. We should be back before supper,” Mattie replies.
Gerald then gives approval. “That sounds fine, we’ll have some quiet time in the house tomorrow wit’ less yappin’. Now, come girls. Give yer father a kiss… and pray fer me tomorrow.”
“Thank ya, father,” each of the girls says.
Throughout the day, the four children hide essentials within the wagon.
Dialogue of fleeing children…
Before daybreak Sunday morning, the eldest children bring fresh milk and eggs into the house.
While Leland hitches up the horse, Mattie says softly to Joann and Bettye, “It may not seem like it, but what I done wit’ father this week was to protect y’all.”
Then they climb on the wagon and head to church. As they get about a mile away, they observe black smoke ascending from the vicinity of their home.
Mattie shouts, “Turn back! There’s a fire!”
Leland replies, “Remember the wife of Lot.”
“What did ya do?” screams Mattie.
“What makes ya think I did somethin’? I’m just sayin’, the Lord works in mysterious ways. When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, there was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night between them and the Egyptians,” Leland says without looking back.
“Yer gettin’ all yer Bible stories mixed up,” Mattie replies as the wagon keeps heading to church.
Joann and Bettye are afraid to look. They just cover their eyes and begin humming spiritual hymns.
Leland continues, “It could be a trap to make us return.”
“Ya scare me sometimes, Leland,” Mattie says as she tries to put it out of her mind.
Eldest children meet widow…
The children arrive at church and meet Emily Jackson. The pastor makes the introduction, “This is the nice family I told you about.”
“They’re so beautiful. I hope y’all chil’ren are as happy as I am to welcome y’all into my home.”
“Thank ya Mrs. Jackson,” they say in unison.
“We gonna to hafta come up wit’ somethin’ less formal. How ’bout callin’ me Nana?”
“That’s fine, Nana,” they all reply.
“It’s my pleasure. Now, hitch my horse to the back of yer wagon and I’ll take y’all to yer new home.”
Leland responds, “Yea, ma’am.”
When they arrive, Emily tells Leland to get the fireplace started while the girls bring in their belongings.
“The rooms are small, but I have a separate one fer Leland. There is enough room fer all us girls to share a room, unless somebody wants to sleep in the livin’ room,” Emily suggests.
Leland says, “I don’t mind sleepin’ in the livin’ room. I’ll be close to the fireplace and can keep it burning durin’ the winter to keep the house warm. Besides, ya should have some privacy in yer own house. My sistas are used to sharin’ a room.”
“Yeah, please, Nana, take a room to yerself. The three of us will be fine by ourselves in a room,” Joann agrees.
“Very well then, it’s settled. With good communication we have worked out our sleepin’ accommodations,” Emily says with excitement. “Does anyone wanna help me prepare lunch?”
“Yeah, ma’am… I mean, Nana,” Mattie replies.
Joann asks to lay down. The other two girls are eager to prepare food.
“What meals have y’all learnt to fix?” asks Emily.
“Our chores ain’t included much cookin’. We feed and milk cows, churn butter, gather eggs, and sling chickens. Joann and me has slaughtered hogs. But we can fix pancakes and fry eggs,” Mattie replies.
“Well, them some useful skills. Slaughterin’ hogs is a big job fer girls! Why don’t ya fix up some pancakes? Can Bettye go feed the cows in the barn and Mattie bring in a chicken? Then I’ll show two of y’all how to fry it up? How does that sound?”
“Fine, thank ya, ma’am” the girls respond.
“Leland, while the girls and me cook up some vittles, can ya go out back to chop up some firewood and sweep the front porch? We can finalize chores over lunch,” Emily says.
“Sure, Nana,” Leland eagerly replies.
During lunch, Emily tells the children, “I understand that y’all have been through some tribulations. Without knowin’ the specifics, I’m not here to judge y’all. I’m here to protect ya. It’s up to y’all, if and when ya decide to share any details. Otherwise, y’all is just family that’s moved in fer keeps.”
“So I don’t hafta hide my pregnancy from ya?” Joann asks. “Not that I could, livin’ under the same roof wit’ only two more months to go before havin’ my baby.”
“Oh, girls—any of y’all—don’t be shamed to talk to Nana if yer pregnant. We’ll work things out. And Leland, ya respect yer sistas’ privacy.”
“Yeah, Nana…. But ya don’t think that I’m the one that got my sista pregnant, do ya?” Leland somberly asks.
“I’m not makin’ accusations or judgin’. There is no way I can know who did this to Joann or how she feels ’bout it unless she wants to tell me.”
“It wasn’t Leland. He ain’t never done nothin’ like that to me,” Joann responds in his defense.
“Me neither,” Mattie adds. “Though I suspect, ya and me should be talkin’ soon ’bout private stuff.”
“Nana ain’t got big ears fer nothin’…,” Emily says, “And remember, we read a chapter from the Bible every Sunday.”
Across town, Gerald does all he can to get his family from the burning house. He saves the crib and his wife. All five of the youngest children are accounted for.
People from nearby farms come to help when they see the smoke. Within 45 minutes, the home completely burns to the ground.
The town sheriff asks if any lives were lost in the fire. Gerald cries out, “Five of my chil’ren are gone!”
“I am truly sorry fer yer loss. When the ashes cool, we’ll try to locate their remains so y’all can bury them properly,” says the sheriff.
The family sleeps in the barn, thankful to have made it out alive. Gerald becomes suspicious when the other children do not return home from church.
Conversation of sheriff and parents…
Sheriff Dobbs returns Monday morning with some bread, coffee grounds, and beef jerky. Jamie lights a campfire in the yard to make coffee.
“How are y’all gettin’ along here?” the sheriff asks.
“We slept best we could in the barn last night,” replies Gerald. “I’ll begin building soon.”
“Many neighbors have volunteered to help, especially since yer a veteran. Some are already gathering lumber. I don’t reckon y’all be sleepin’ in a barn fer long,” the sheriff assures.
“That’s wonderful. I appreciate ya puttin’ in the good word,” Gerald replies as Jamie nurses the youngest infant from her breast and feeds bread to the children.
The sheriff looks through the ashes but finds no bones or bodies. “I don’t think yer other chil’ren were here. From what I can see, it may have been an electrical fire. Perhaps somethin’ short circuited.”
“That might be good news,” Gerald replies. “The chil’ren may be alive. But the electricity should be sound. I am an electrician by trade.”
“Is there any place else yer other chil’ren could be?”
“They may’ve gone to church, but they would’a come back by now,” says a visibly distraught father.
“I’ll give the pastor a call and let ya know what I find out,” says Sheriff Dobbs. “A man who is an expert in these matters will take a look at the ashes later today.”
The sheriff leaves. Around noon, a man who introduces himself from the fire department arrives. Jamie walks through the ashes with him and sees no bones. He takes samples from the ashes but suggests the children’s bones may have been turned to ashes in the fire.
🔥 During cremation, a furnace (called a retort) reaches temperatures near 1800° F. The resulting gases and bone fragments are then placed in an electric processor that grinds them to resemble ashes.
“Intense heat can burn bones just like when a body is cremated,” the fire inspector reasons authoritatively. He is the second person to imply faulty wiring as the cause.