Fawn still sat by the river with Arctic Sun drinking from the water’s edge. Memories assaulted her spirit. When she was ten years old the year was 1868. She, her mother, and Nana visited the graves of their fallen men. The journey had been arduous. The roads were nothing but mud tracks from the early morning rain. Wagon wheels slipped and spun causing the horse to strain forward and sometimes misstep. Along the way they still passed broken muskets, canons, canteens, and pieces of uniforms from both sides of the conflict. Tears could not be contained as grief gripped their hearts.
Burned out cabins and clapboard houses dotted the countryside. Some of them had blood stains on the doors and house exteriors. There were blood spatters still on the ground in some places, a constant reminder of the war that divided families and pitted brother against father, neighbor against neighbor.
She did not understand why the war had been fought. Why could people not just let each other live as they pleased? She asked her mother.
Lottie was distraught herself and wrapped in her own thoughts and grief. She looked at her ten-year-old daughter and saw a weak and frightened little girl, a Shawnee who should be more mature than to ask such a question. “What a stupid question. Our decisions all affect each other. You need to learn this. Like when you wear your Shawnee clothes to a white school. Then you come home crying because they were mean to you. What did you expect? You as much as told them you wanted nothing to do with them.” Lottie turned her head away from her daughter and looked at the passing countryside.
Silence reigned for several minutes as Fawn sat and wept in silence.
But Lottie heard her sniffling. “Stop that right now. You have nothing to cry about. Save your crying for the families who have lost everything in this crazy war.” She again turned to watch the countryside.
Fawn stole glances at Nana who sat on her right in the wagon. She had remained silent but Fawn noticed Nana’s soft expression as she patted Fawn’s hand. Nana usually managed to make Fawn feel better but not this time. What was wrong with the question she had asked. Was she supposed to understand war? She had just returned last week from spending two years with her white cousins in Harper’s Ferry. The gory details of the hanging of Frederick Douglas still made her feel ill. Her cousins had laughed and mocked her about her squeamishness.
Fawn’s habit was to retreat to her Shawnee heritage whenever she felt nervous, frightened or upset. It always seemed to make things worse but she couldn’t seem to help it.
As she sat on the rock ruminating, it occurred to her that maybe she didn’t respect her heritage enough. It wasn’t enough to dress in the clothing, which had all been destroyed in the recent fire; she needed to live Shawnee. That had to be why her prayers weren’t being answered, why her ancestors were not answering her or helping her. They felt she was not sincere in her devotion to them. She would prove them wrong.
She wandered the woods along the water looking for wild onions and other plants she could use as dyes. She would paint her face and pray. She would fast and seek the wisdom of her elders. She would sacrifice her own comforts, forsake her friends if necessary, if that would bring her the peace she craved.
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Fawn took Arctic Sun out for a ride. It had been three days, or had it been longer? She had lost track of time. They both needed exercise. Melanie and Sarah Beth had wanted to join her but she really needed to be alone. Two weeks crowded in a house with five other people plus her grandmother while waiting for their house to get finished. Sure they were friends, and they were kind, but the close proximity put her in a position to hear conversations that were none of her business. She felt like an interloper and an eavesdropper. She was a burden, an intruder upon the lives of her friends. The thoughts crowded her mind, pushing against each other, then seemed to race around each other. She leaned forward, clinging to Sun’s neck as he galloped, his mane and forelock flying in the wind.
The late morning air was crisp. The scents of pine, lavender, and wild hyacinths wafted on the breeze. Sun slowed to a canter, then a trot, and finally a walk. Now and again he would stop and munch on the grass and bushes that lined the path between the Gardner place and Pine Trail Road. They rode down Pine Trail Road and turned down River Trail Road toward the Bluestone River.
Once on the River Trail they stopped and Fawn dismounted. She had ridden bareback with not so much as a halter. Now she walked beside him, patting his neck and combing his mane as she talked to him.
“You’re lucky, Sun. Your routine doesn’t change much and you don’t have to feel like you are a burden to other people.”
The horse nickered and bobbed his head.
“You don’t have turmoil around you. No one treats you like a charity case. You are accepted for who and what you are.”
He munched more shrubbery. Nothing seemed to daunt him or give him any cause for concern. Envy filled Fawn.
“I know the Gardners don’t think of us a burden. Neither does Mr. Browning, but that doesn’t change the way I feel. Now we’re getting a new house built that we cannot pay for. And I contribute zero to this world.” She hugged Sun’s neck and jumped back on. With no one around to see her skirts fly up in the air as she straddled his back, there were no opinions to worry about. They took the rest of the trail to the river where Sun could get a fresh drink of water and Fawn could find a rock to sit on and muse.
Bluestone River, Mercer County, WV
Photo by Thomas E. Dye
Angel sat on a bale of hay in the barn. Joel stood across from her,his blood pressure rising.
“I don’t know what you expect. I’ve done all of your dirty work and nothing is going right. You have the deed, which you already knew about. I am done. I will not forge a legal document. You are not worth my career.”
Her chocolate eyes bored into his blue ones. She leaned back with a beckoning look and reached out her hand. “I told you, Joel. I own you. I know things and I can ruin your career. There is nothing you can do about it.”
He reached out to strike her but drew his arm back. She would relish it. The vixen thrived on conflict and being in control. Yet she was not willing to risk her own pretty neck.
“It is true, you can ruin my career, but not without Daddy Dear finding out what you have been up to. You are as much at risk as I am. If I go down, you go down.” He snapped a twig he had picked up. He wished it was her neck.
Angel smiled as the door opened and Hank came in. “You silly boy. Did you think you were only working for me?”
Joel didn’t get a chance to see who hit him from behind before he was knocked to the ground, dragged out of the barn and tied across his horse. The animal’s reins were loose enough to let him move his head. With a thump on the rear Joel was on his way home.
Dear Reader, tell me what you think. What can make this section better?
This is a novelette or short story consisting of about eight chapters. The story is about a street-tough actress-turned-nun who considers it her calling to injure people who are about to do serious harm to themselves or others. Her methods are less than stellar in the eyes of the diocese and she often finds herself being reprimanded. Yet the nun has a kind heart and much compassion for children.
James Scott Bell is a master story-teller whose characters are quirky and humorous. I have read three of his novels and have enjoyed all of them. His characters are like neighbors in an apartment building or RV park: they seem like people you really know, people you like sometimes, laugh at sometimes, and other times want to leave alone.
He knows how to weave a tale, make you laugh, and sigh with relief that the events in his books are not part of your life.
Rain had stopped progress on the Jackson house for three days. The relentless deluge took its toll in a landslide that blocked Route 20 between Lerona and Pipestem. Work on the railroad between Athens and Hinton had come to a screeching halt. Tempers flared and fists flew at the tavern. Joel wasn’t hurt badly. He gave worse than he got, and it had been worth it to get away from Angel. There was nothing in life more irritating than a bored woman. And Angel was bored. She was the reason he went to the tavern in the first place. Well, that, and he was in the mood for some arm wrestling and dart throwing.
Angel paced her room, wearing a track in the braided rug her grandmother had made. Frayed threads poked up between the once neat rows of coiled scrap material. She looked around her room, stopping in mid stride.
The heavy brocade drapes did nothing to elevate her mood. Gloomy clouds and gloomy surroundings created a morose atmosphere. She walked to the window and yanked the drapes open. As the rain pounded the roof and pelted the window bolts of lightning split the sky and stabbed the ground. Two bolts collided and struck the Virginia pine that stood in the center of the six-tree border twenty feet from her window.
The tree split as it smoldered but did not catch fire. She jumped back in shock and stared as the electricity from the strike tingled through her body and made her raven black hair stand straight out. Yet she could not make herself move. Never had she seen a storm like this one.
Conscience pricked her. I deserve to die. God is giving me a warning because I killed my little brother. But I didn’t mean to, God. You know I didn’t.
Yes you did, her soul answered back. You hated him because your mother loved him more than you. Admit it.
Laughter bubbled from somewhere deep within, but it wasn’t funny. Was she a monster? Was God really giving her a warning? She had heard people say that God punishes the wicked, and she knew in her heart the adjective applied to her.
But if my parents loved me I wouldn’t be wicked. I would be sweet and nice. I would not have to find ways to punish myself and hurt others in the process. But I have a right to happiness. I have a right to be loved. But no one has ever loved me. I am too evil to love. So I will do my worst.
She reached up to close the drapes again. A figure stood outside, its back to her, looking up at the sky. The person wore no protective coat or hat; he seemed to be welcoming the storm. Then the figure disappeared. Was it real or was she losing her mind?
She closed the drapes and lit the lantern beside her cherry four-poster canopied bed. She took off her dress and put on her night clothes, then burrowed under the covers and hoped morning would bring sunshine. Another day of this rain may prove to bring huge problems for someone.