Publish Novellas 19 January 2022
EPISODE 5 – REBORN
Partial information yields different theories about what happened to missing children.
⚠️ Reader Discretion: Mature dialogue.
Conversation between parents…
Jamie looks around and asks her husband, “Where’s the wagon? Gerald, the chil’ren must’ve gone to church!”
“They mentioned they was gonna go but I never seen ’em leave,” Gerald replies.
By now, neighbors begin showing up with lumber. They recommend rebuilding in the spring since winter weather is so cold. For now, they might append sleeping quarters onto the barn. That way they won’t have to sleep directly with the animals.
Another family with a ranch offers them a place to stay until the building is complete. The wife and children accept the generous offer to stay with the neighbors. Jamie is fearful that the fire will exacerbate her husband’s war hysteria.
“Are ya gonna come join us when yer done, Gerald?” asks Jamie.
“I think I should stay here, in case the older kids return. If they see the burned house, they won’t know what happened to us. With the help I got, I can frame the basic structure today. I’ll move the stove in here tomorrow and vent it. It can provide warmth.
“By the weekend, I can get some power and phone lines. I’ll be fine in the barn till then.” Gerald suggests. “When we eventually get the house rebuilt, this’ll make a nice guesthouse.”
“Okay, Gerald. Ya know where to find us,” Jamie says, though in her heart, she is silently happy that they will be separated for awhile following this trauma.
Sheriff speaks with parents…
Knowing the phone lines are down, the sheriff returns before Jamie leaves. “Pastor Franklin said the chil’ren were at the services last Sunday, but not at yesterday’s services.”
“With our wagon gone, I must believe somethin’ happened to them on the way to church.” Jamie says. “Gerald, what if somebody kidnapped my darlin’s?”
“All them kids is a lot of kidnapping. But if they’re alive, we’ll find them,” Gerald promises.
With this new theory, the sheriff promises to get some deputies and conduct a search. “By the end of the week, we should know what happened. I’m hopin’ they got cold and turnt off course to warm up at a nearby neighbor’s house.”
“I hope yer right. That’s somethin’ I need to do right now—warm up at a neighbor’s house,” Jamie says as she and the children get into the neighbor’s wagon and head down the road.
Family has difficulty moving on…
Over the course of the week, Gerald makes good progress on the guest house. Meanwhile, Jamie saves chicken and beef bones from her meals to conduct her own experiment. She builds a campfire and tosses the bones in. Keeping the fire burning for an hour, she observes that the bones are still recognizable. She is not convinced that her children burned up in the fire.
Many volunteer for the search party. But there are no results. The sheriff has no updates on the children’s whereabouts after a week has passed.
During a telephone with her husband, Jamie suggests erecting a billboard along Route 16. Gerald agrees and offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to the return of all children or the conviction of abductors. Gerald hopes to find Malcolm, so he includes this fifth child’s photo as missing.
Reports of sightings come in. A woman claims she served them in a restaurant. Someone else says she saw one of the girls in the passenger seat of a car with an Italian man. Another person says four of them were seen at a hotel with three adults. None of the leads pan out.
The Shoemakers are devastated when they receive notification that the police investigation has concluded. No longer treated as a missing persons case, the official cause of death is accidental death from faulty wiring. This irritates Gerald.
The parents scoop up some of the soil from the ash and conduct a funeral service. Jamie wants no headstone until they are found. Jamie plants a tree in front of the home that burned down as a remembrance. In the spring, Gerald rebuilds a larger family home for his wife and five children.
A month after the children move in with Emily Jackson, Mattie confesses two things to the widow Jackson.
“Ya said we can talk to ya in private. Like Joann, I’m also pregnant and I still lust after what my father did to me.”
“He has roused in ya somethin’ ya always remember. It’s what a widow knows all too well. I reckon ya figure out what to do ’bout them feelin’s soon enough. But pray fer the Good Lord to send ya a husband in his due time.”
Following up after six weeks, the widow asks Mattie, “Have ya figured out how to control them feelin’s ya mentioned?”
“Nana, I’ve found a way, but it’s not the same,” Mattie admits.
“Well, if it’s what I think, it should be much safer than other choices. Ya need to stay wholesome wit’ yer kinfolk on this farm,” advises widow Jackson.
“Yeah, Nana. What I’m doin’ won’t get me pregnant so I reckon it’s wholesome. Ain’t much privacy sharin’ a room. We try to act like we don’t know what all of us is doing when the lamp’s out. Thanks fer yer advise,” Mattie concludes.
Widow Jackson ends the uncomfortable conversation with the reply, “Sounds like y’all got it worked out. Just none of y’all best be sharin’ yer personal satisfyin’. Is I clear?”
“Yeah, Nana. Ain’t none of us never done of that yet.”
Later in the evening when the lamp goes out in the bedroom Mattie shares with Joann and Bettye, the only audible sounds are crickets and an occasional owl hoot. While Mattie quietly satisfies herself, she hears bed covers rustling and deep breaths from across the room.
She breaks the silence by asking, “Doesn’t this feel good y’all?”
Her two sisters giggle before Joann replies, “I’m glad somebody finally said somethin’. It’s obvious what we been doin’ fer a long time.”
Five years later, failing health prevents the widow from providing adequate supervision. The bad example of Shoemaker parents, the familiarity with an immoral routine, and the desire for love affects Mattie. She begins enticing her younger 21-year-old brother with provocative behavior during barn chores.
“Why ya lettin’ me do this?”
He relents, then exclaims…, “Is this whatcha was complaining ’bout back home?”
Blushing at his reaction, Mattie replies, “I ain’t never complained ’bout how it feels. It was who should be doin’ it.”
“Ya mean ya always been wantin’ me…. How am I different from father? I mean, I’m not yer… husband.”
“No, I ain’t always wanted ya… but wit’ me bein’ a woman and ya becomin’ a man…. Anyways, ya ain’t father. So nothin’s the same as back home! If this makes ya feel sad or guilty, I’m sorry. Ya ain’t gotta do it no more.”
“Mattie, I’m likin’ this even if it’s wrong! It’s all I can think of now,” Leland responds eagerly.
“Ya ain’t gonna get no resistin’ from me,” Mattie confirms.
Their secret rendezvous then become frequent. Mattie and Leland keep making up reasons to do chores alone together without drawing suspicion from their other two sisters.
After several months, Mattie reveals more than her feelings. “Leland, I don’t want whatcha been doing to ever stop. Tell me ya love it the same.”
“I likes it a lot… especially when we warmin’ by a campfire… and think ’bout ya even when we ain’t doin’ it. I’m in love wit’ ya, Mattie,” Leland admits.
“Them’s called fantasies—ya thinkin’ ’bout me when I ain’t around ya. I can tell ya love me. Part of me wants to keep ya to myself, but we ain’t the only ones on this farm wit’ desires.”
“Does ya be havin’ fantasies ’bout me too?” he asks.
”I been havin’ ’em… every day, Leland. But we can’t be fallin’ in love—no more than we already has. I been treatin’ ya like a husband behind everybody’s back. This been a big secret from our sistas. Findin’ out I took the only man fer any of us is gonna cause some evil jealousy. And we can’t hide it no more… ’cause… I’m pregnant.”
“Wait… if we ain’t supposed to be lovin’ each other, shy we been doin’ this? Oh no…. It’s my fault… fer not stoppin’. I should run away,” Leland replies with dejection.
“Ya ain’t goin’ nowhere. Everybody needs ya here. Yer the man of the farm. I wanna keep havin’ yer babies,” Mattie reveals. “We just can’t keep our feelings secret no more. If ya was any other man, ya might wanna marry, not run away. Would ya want that if we weren’t kinfolk?
“I reckon so,” Leland replies while battling his feelings. “So now everybody’s gonna know what we been doin’.”
“Yeah, but it ain’t the first time I had no baby. I ain’t askin’ ya to stop satisfyin’ me. Our sistas got desires too. Knowin’ how competitive they is, I don’t think they wanna let me keep ya to myself. We need their help takin’ care of chil’ren and other chores. Can’t be no evil envy on this farm.”
“I known from the start what we doin’ ain’t natural. But it felt good and nobody knew nothin’ ’bout it. Now ya want me to be unnatural wit’ everybody?”
“Try not to call it unnatural. Havin’ babies wit’ somebody ya love is natural. Keepin’ our sistas from the same joy I’m gettin’ is gonna cause problems. They need to decide if they gonna want it too.”
“Don’t make me ask ’em. They might think I’m comin’ to abuse ’em like father done,” Leland replies.
“Hey, yer not abusing nobody! Sooner or later, somebody was gonna satisfy yer desires. I love what we doin’. Tell me ya love it too.”
Leland is crying. “I love it but I’m scared. When I feel like this, I wanna see fire.”
🔥 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) files pyromania in the disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders section.The essential feature of pyromania is the presence of multiple episodes of deliberate and purposeful fire setting. It can include pleasure, gratification, or relief when starting a fire.
“Snap outta it! I waited till ya was all grown up fer this. I can ask them in private if they wanna share ya.”
“I rather ya do the askin’…. I’m gonna be a real papa?”
“Yep, and I’m hopin’ it won’t be the last time.” Seeing Leland’s fear, Mattie holds his head within her bosom for consolation. “Everythin’ will be good. Ya was brave in sayin’ ya love me. I’m happy to know it. Any way it goes, I’ll love ya and the child ya givin’ me.
“I’m hopin’ I might stay special to ya even if I gotta share. Don’t ever forget I’m yer first woman and the one that’s learnt ya ’bout everythin’. Fer the next few weeks, let’s keep enjoyin’ each other. Then I’ll tell ’em.”
“It’s strange fer me. When sayin’ I love ya, do it mean like a sista… or girlfriend?”
“It’s both of ‘em. I know ’cause it’s the same way I feel ’bout ya. It’s tough to separate ’em,” Mattie admits.
”If ya would just be my girlfriend… or marry me, Joann and Bettye could stay sistas. Sometimes I wanna kiss ya like a girlfriend in front of everybody. Then I says to myself, right now I’m yer brotha.
“It’s like I’m two different people. Do ya think if I give all my sistas babies, it’s gonna feel more normal… or worser?” Leland questions.
“I wanna tell my sistas that we in love and I’m gonna keep havin’ all the babies. But I’m tryin’ to be fair. When we’re alone like right now, I’m yer girlfriend fer all yer desires. Maybe yer gonna feel the same way ’bout them. But since ya can’t marry any of us, ya gonna treat us like sistas when yer not lovin’ us. There ain’t no other women fer ya to choose.
“I ain’t gonna lie. If they feel as good as ya do, I won’t refuse ’em…. It’s probably best so I don’t hurt the baby.”
“Ya ain’t tradin’ me in ’cause I’m pregnant. I can still give ya satisfaction’. The baby’s in a safe place different from where ya… do it. When my belly gets big, we can get in a better position. Sharin’ the man I love with my sistas will be one of the hardest things I ever done. Whoever yer romantic wit’ is yer girlfriend. So yer gonna treat us all the same.”
“If ya ain’t jealous fer me doin’ more of what I’m likin’… wit’ somebody else, I ain’t puttin’ up no fuss.”
The widow Jackson is terminally ill and bequeaths her farm to the children. Before Mattie’s conversation with her sisters, they bury the widow in a private service with Pastor Franklin.