I had been walking for so long. I was experiencing exhaustion and hunger like I had never known in my life. I was plagued throughout the entire journey by invasive and overbearing thoughts that consumed me. Was my mother dead or alive? Was she even really my mother, or had we been fooled for our whole lives?
My sisters had surely discovered her by now, what in the world must they be thinking of me right now? Finally, the most prominent thought that ate away at me was about my poor, sweet sister, Abigail. How she had been brought to death far too early, and how that was the fate that awaited all of us if I had not acted. Hopefully, my sisters would believe the truth and realize this was what had to be done.
I saw something in the distance, it was the first semblance of life I had come across since I left the bunker. It was a man, or at least I was fairly certain that it was a man. He was riding on a large green machine out in a field of what appeared to be wheat. I screamed out to him for help, sobbing with joy at the prospect of being saved. The man stopped his machine and ran over to me, he had a big cowboy hat on and was wearing a flannel shirt with blue jeans and boots.
“What are you doin’ out here little missy? You look like a herd of wild hogs got a hold of you and dragged you down a dirt road.” He gently held my shoulder and began to lead me in the direction of his machine. Once he realized how weak I was he put his head under my arm and helped to make the walk a bit easier on me.
I wanted to talk to him, but I didn’t know what to say. I told him the only thing I was sure of at the moment in a winded effort. “I need help.”
“Well, that’s for sure sweet pea. Don’t you worry we’re gonna get you all the help you need, I guarantee it.” His voice was calm and reassuring.
When we made it to his machine there was a vehicle beside it, a truck I believe. Light blue with white accents, it read “Chevrolet” on the back in all capital letters.
“Hop on in darlin’, I’m gonna get you over to Pastor Robert’s place. It’s not a long ride from here.” He walked me over and opened the door so I could make my way into the passenger side.
When he made his way in and shut the door, I asked him a question. “Where am I?”
“Well, you are in the small town of Fern Hollow, Texas honey. Wandered over from a direction where there is no other town for a real good ways.” He started up the truck and put it into drive, kicking up dust as we took off.
I started to try and speak again but had a coughing fit and grabbed my head as everything started to spin.
“Take it easy darlin’, you just go ahead and lay back in that chair and rest up for a bit. Once we make it to the Pastor’s place, we will get you fed, bathed, and all dressed up in some clean clothes. After you get some of your strength back, we can worry about all the details.” He spat some brown liquid into a plastic bottle and placed it in the cupholder.
I was able to manage a weak reply saying thank you and nothing else. As soon as I leaned the chair back, I drifted straight to sleep.
“Murderer! You are a murderer! Look what you have done to our dear mother. How could you do this? You will pay for your sins Madison!”
Wendy spewed venom into my face with Gretchen and Mildred close behind. Chastity was cowering in the corner and crying with Clarissa stroking her head to reassure her.
“You always were the black sheep of the family and this is what we get for not dealing with you sooner. Well, that is ok, but now it is time for US to deal with YOU!”
Hatred filled Wendy’s eyes as all of the sisters surrounded me. They each held large knives in their hands. All I could do was back away and plea bargain, until I felt a thump. Warm breath came onto my neck and I turned around horrified at what I saw. My mother was standing behind me, her face bashed in and disfigured. She looked just like how I had left her, lying there on the cold stone floor.
“You will pay for your sins Madison.” The ghoul who I once called my mother spat at me.
I woke up screaming and began sobbing almost instantaneously.
“It’s alright darlin’, you were just havin’ yourself a real bad dream. Tossin’ an’ turnin’ the whole time. We’re just about here to the church. I’ll help you out when we pull up.” The man was reassuring and helped calm my nerves as much as was possible.
When we pulled up to the little church the man came around the truck and opened the door. He took my arm over his head and helped as I staggered with him towards the building. Once we were through the door an elderly gentleman came rushing over from the other side of the room.
“Dear Lord, what has happened Alan? Where has this poor girl come from?” The pastor was visibly shaken and came over to help guide me.
The man, Alan apparently, who brought me this far responded. “Not sure yet, she came walkin’ from that old dirt road next to my wheat fields. Alls I know is she needs a hot meal, a bath, and a change of clothes.”
“Well, she is surely in the right place for that, poor thing. Right this way.”
We made it to the other side of the worship room to the door that he came from. There was a bed and a bathroom, and I could tell it was where the nice old man lived and spent his time studying while not preaching the gospel. Alan helped me take a seat on the bed while the pastor grabbed a set of clothes and a towel for me from a closet that was stacked with clean clothes, toys, and blankets.
After stacking the items in the bathroom on the counter he ran me a glass of water out of the bathroom sink. He handed the water to me and made his way back through the room stopping at the door to speak for a moment before continuing through.
“Fresh clothes and a towel in from donation waiting for you as soon as you feel up to washing up. I am going to go straight to the kitchen and throw something together to ease your hunger child.”
Alan had taken a seat in the pastor’s chair. It was a large-backed mahogany and burgundy chair that sat next to a small desk with an open bible and a notebook with a pen beside it.
“So ya think I can get a little bit of backstory here? Maybe a name to go with it?”
I took a sip of the water and then took a deep breath. Not sure how to best sum up my situation, I explained it to him the best that I could.
“My name is Madison, I have six sisters who will all need help before long. Well, five sisters now, I guess.” I stopped and fought back tears for a moment before continuing.
“They have all of their necessities for the time being, but once they run out, they will not be able to fend for themselves. Our mother had always provided for us, but my late sister uncovered something sinister that was in mother’s past. This unfortunately for Abigail turned out to be her plans for the present as well.”
I took the stone and the picture with note out of my dress pocket and handed them to Alan. He looked at me in horror and confusion when he felt and saw the blood upon the stone.
“These seven girls were dressed just as my sisters and I and Abigail had found it in Mother’s room and began to suspect something. When Abby went missing and I tried to find her Mother explained the whole thing.
We were to be sacrificed, and I was already too late to save my beloved sister. This was too much for me to bear and I struck her down with this stone which was a symbol of my sister and I’s friendship.”
Recounting this was far too painful and I broke down in tears. Alan came over and patted me on the back while letting me cry into his shoulder.
“It’s alright now. You did what ya had to. There wasn’t no way ’round it Madison.”
After a moment he returned to his seat and looked over the picture, note, and the bloody stone. The first thing he commented on was the stone, the one that matched the one that my favorite sister kept before Mother took her away.
“John 8:7 huh? Let he without sin cast the first stone. That one has always been a favorite of mine too. Tragic that you had to use it for such a horrible task.”
He then turned his attention to the picture and perked up considerably.
“I’ve seen this before.” He held up the picture slowly nodding his head while drifting off deep into thought.
“Margaret… Was that your mother’s name?”
“I… I never asked Mother’s name, and she never told us. I guess I never even realized that she would have another name.”
He continued. “Margaret Sutherland. She would come by the church very seldom. When she did though, she always would come asking for donations. She needed, food, clothes, bibles, you name it. Anything the good parishioners of this here church would provide, she would take. Of course, we don’t get too many chances out here to take care of folks, Fern Hollow being as small as it is. So, when your “mother” came out here searching for help, the town came together like ya wouldn’t believe
We would gather together everything that we could to send her off with every time that she came. Offered to help her get the stuff back to where she was goin’ but she always turned us down. Many years ago, Margaret showed me that picture and said it was her daughters. That was the closest I ever got to any personal information about her that I ever got. She was an incredibly private woman and now I can see why.”
He shook his head remorsefully and handed me back my personal items.
“You get yourself washed up and changed Madison. The pastor’s grub has to be just about finished. I’m sure you could eat a whole horse right now.”
With this being said, he walked out of the room, closing the door behind him to give me some privacy. I went to the bathroom and started the hot water. The dress that the pastor left for me was exactly like the one that I had been wearing, exactly like the one from the picture of the other 7 girls. This made me feel uneasy. I know that Alan said that they had basically given Mother everything that she had. I found it quite strange that they would still have more of the same type of dress they had given her all those years ago.
My hunger drove me to not question it too much. I had to get something to eat, I was starving. Mother may have been a twisted individual, but one thing she never did was let us go hungry. I bathed and changed into the eerily similar clothing before heading to the kitchen. There I was met by Pastor Robert sitting at an empty table and staring at me intently.
In an instant, I felt my hands being pulled behind me and bound tightly by what felt like a thick rope. I was too weak to fight, and he was too strong even if I wasn’t. I gave in and allowed myself to be captured, giving the “pastor” a look that I was hoping could burn a hole through his head.
“Oh, don’t be so feisty Madison. I might as well be your father if you have thought all this time that Margaret was your mother. I remember when you were just a little girl, 2 years old, and Alan here helped me snatch you out of that supermarket.
Yes, I daresay I never thought that I would see you again my dear, but you have proven yourself to be a fighter. Alan, why don’t you show Ms. Madison where we like to keep our fighters.”
With that, he tugged me by the arm with brute force, a far cry from the tender helping hand he had shown me earlier. On the wall there was a large cross from the floor to the ceiling, Alan pressed on a certain section that gave in and turned into a handle. This secret doorway led to a set of stone stairs that were dimly lit and menacing.
We walked down the stairs and there were rows of cages along either side of the walls. They were filled with girls who appeared to be around the same age as myself and my sisters. Most of them hardly looked up while some looked at me with a sense of what I can only describe as hopelessness. I felt a bit of that same feeling starting to creep into me as well until I heard something that made my heart skip a beat.
I knew that voice anywhere. It was Abigail. I saw her in a cage shaking the bars and waving to get my attention. Alan spoke as he jerked me into a cage across from her.
“Y’all can be right by each other fer all I care, that way ya can see the face on the other while ya realize there ain’t a hope in the world.”
He slammed the door shut and locked it tight with a chain and padlock.
“Oh dear, Madison. Where are my manners? We said we was gonna give you some dinner didn’t’ we?”
Alan took the slimy tobacco out of his lip and threw it at the ground in front of my feet.
“Chow down, sweet pea.”
He laughed a disgusting and evil laugh as he walked away, thrilled with what he thought was an incredible joke. I didn’t care about any of that, the only person I cared about at this very moment was in the cage right across from me.
“Abby! What in the world are you doing here? I thought that you were dead, Mother told me you were.”
“I am sure that she thought that I was. As you know I was onto her little plan and I noticed a bottle of cyanide powder in her hiding spot next to her bed. I swapped it out with some powdered sugar when I had the chance.
When she called me in the other room before breakfast, I knew what she was planning to do. She got me to take what she said was medicine and had me lay in the extra room because she suddenly thought I looked so sick, which I knew was bogus.
As soon as she left me there and I heard her going back to the table I made my way out of her secret hatch. The rest of my journey probably looks a lot like the one that you just went through.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but more importantly, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was so happy to have my sister back, that I knew nothing would ever tear us apart again. We were going to get out of there, we had to. I looked at her confidently and as her gaze met mine, I knew exactly what we had to do.
“Abby, let’s get out of here.”
I shoved my hand into my pocket and held up my stone. She beamed and held up her matching one. I reached my arm through the cage and began to smash the padlock with it. Abby saw me doing it and began to do the same with hers.
Once the locks were off, we returned our stones to their respective pockets and pulled the chains off the cages. I took my chain from my cage to carry with me as a weapon and Abigail did the same. We marched forward unafraid of our assailants and empowered by each other’s company.
The girls in the cages beside us were beginning to look full of hope and vigor. They called out to us in hushed tones and we assured them that we would be back to help them escape as well. We crept up the stairs and made it through the secret doorway.
Alan’s voice was coming from the kitchen, it sounded like he was talking on the phone because there was never an answer to the things that he said. I nodded to Abby and we moved in unison like a couple of lionesses hunting a wildebeest.
As we reached our prey, I came up behind him and pulled the chain tightly around his throat. He gurgled and reached his fingers towards the chain. When he tried to start reaching back for me Abby gave him a crack across the head with her stone. This left him unable to struggle as I finished the job that had to be done.
I made sure that he had not moved for a minute or so before loosening the chain at all, I then checked to make sure he had no pulse and looked up to Abby. We both knew what came next, Pastor Robert. We went towards his room cautiously as we knew he must have been alerted to our presence.
Right on cue, the pastor came out with a shotgun pointed at the two of us.
“Drop the chains girls.”
We did so and awaited our fate.
“Losing those chains is a bit symbolic I think because I have an offer for the two of you that I think you will find quite liberating. It is the same offer in fact that we made to the one that you call “Mother” many years ago.
Virgin sacrifice is one of the oldest traditions in the world girls. It has always been around, and whether the world knows it or not, it will always be around. Because the two of you have fought so valiantly, I am willing to give you the opportunity to continue our glorious tradition.
The rewards will be so great that there is no way for you to fathom them in your worldly mind. You will become like Goddesses with more power in this life and the next than you could have ever imagined.
Of course, you can imagine how much better this all sounds when you consider the alternative.”
He cocked the shotgun and pointed it at us awaiting an answer.
“So that is all that you offered her?” Abigail spat out at him.
“What a load of crap, do you think I believe any of that for one second? I thought better of Mother than that. Of course, after recent events, I know that I never really knew her at all.”
I understood what she was doing, and I began to slowly make my way a bit further from her. Pastor Robert pointed the gun at her intently and called out.
“Think of what you are doing girl, you are choosing death over life. Do not be a fool!”
As he said this I called out from where I now stood.
“No, we choose life.”
I threw my stone with all of my force at the side of his head and he went down in a heap. After I grabbed the gun from the ground, I ran over to Abigail finally able to embrace her and tell her how happy I was that we had found each other. Once we both promised to never let the other get lost again, we turned our attention back to the pastor. I had a certain cage in mind for him, one with a first-class meal cooked up by his personal chef.