The sheriff grabbed me by the collar after struggling to his feet. His six-shooter was held steadfastly against the small of my back.
“Don’t try nothin’ stupid Ash. I’ll put you down right by your old buddy here.”
He motioned to the body of the man who had been the bane of my existence for most of my life. The man who murdered my parents but who shed light on the reality of what is happening in this town for me. I felt the sheriff’s spit hitting the back of my neck as he continued speaking.
“I knew it was him that killed Andrew & Stephanie, knew right from the jump. Just didn’t care enough about your useless maw and paw to go lookin’ for him. You know they fought us the whole way along about our little operation here.
Probably woulda been a couple turncoats as soon as they was able to. Hell, if he hadn’t done what he did, they might be right here gettin’ locked up with you.”
Rage pulsed through my body as I lashed out in anger, yelling at him and turning towards him.
“Don’t you ever talk about my parents like that you fucken hick! I’ll make you regret everything you ever did to them.”
He shoved the pistol hard into my chest and grabbed his handcuffs with his free hand before replying.
“Yeah, yeah, you keep on talkin’ boy. I’m gonna put these on you, don’t want you actin’ like you’re gonna try and wiggle free. I’m gonna need to use you to try and talk some sense into those little girls when they get back.”
I gave him my hands knowing there was no way around it. He clicked the handcuffs down on my wrists and squeezed them extra tight once they were there. I felt them cutting into my wrists and stopped myself from making a noise or showing it on my face. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. He laughed to himself about it anyway and led me forward through the door. We stepped over the body of my now late friend, Ronald.
The hobbled sheriff led me to the large cross at the front of the chapel and revealed a secret passageway leading down into a dungeon. As we made our way down into the dank cellar that was full of cages, I saw one man moving about inside of one. He called out to the sheriff.
“Sheriff Hudson! You must get me out of here. Those girls locked me in here and they killed Alan!”
The sheriff tossed open the door to the cage that was closest to the stairs and threw me into it. He slammed the door shut and locked it before slowly making his way over to the cage of the man who was calling out to him. He responded in a wavering voice.
“Yeah, then they came up and shot me on their way outta here. That’s too bad bout Alan though, he was a hell of a guy and a damn good poker player too. We’ll be missin’ him at the game on Wednesdays. Where you keep the keys at Pastor Robert? Got plenty more folks on the way to help put these girls back in their place.”
“They took my keys with them I assume, but Alan has a spare behind that loose stone in the corner over there.”
The sheriff wiggled the protruding stone out from the wall and pulled the shiny key out from behind it. He tossed the stone to the floor and grabbing at his wound came back to let the pastor out of the cell. After he unlocked it, I noticed that he attached the key to his key ring on his belt.
“Let’s go get you bandaged up Sheriff, we have some first aid supplies and medicine to help relieve some of the pain. You can fill me in on how we will be restoring order to this. As you well know it is time for the cycles to be completed and for the blood to be shed.”
These sick bastards were not going to get away with what they were planning on. When they made their way in front of my cage, I spit at them both and the sheriff came thrusting at the cage. He was mouthing off to me and getting into my face.
I pressed up against the cage yelling at him and continued to rile him up. I was shoving him and doing my best to distract him from the sleight of hand that was coming. He was so busy telling me off that he didn’t even realize when I snatched the keys away from him and hid them with the aid of my handcuffs.
After a moment the pastor and the sheriff made their way up the stairs looking back at me disgustedly a couple of times as they did. I waited until I heard the door close shut at the top of the stairs and gave it a little bit of time just to make sure they didn’t come back in for anything. Once I felt secure that they would not be coming back in I found the smallest key and undid my handcuffs. As soon as those were loose, I dropped them to the floor and went straight for the lock to get myself out of the cage.
My first stop was over to the cage that contained the body of the man that they called Alan. I rifled through his pockets and found a couple of items that would be worth stashing for the journey ahead. A large pocketknife and a lighter. After grabbing these I walked over and grabbed the stone that the sheriff pulled out of the wall. I held it in my right hand and walked across the path between the cages and up the stairs to the secret door where the sheriff and pastor had just gone through.
I leaned in close to try and hear any sign of the two but was met with silence. They must have soundproofed the door because the church was not large enough to explain my not being able to hear anything. I took a deep breath and considered my options. I tucked the stone under my arm and grabbed the pocketknife flicking it out and revealing the rather large blade.
“Fuck it,” I said to myself.
I pushed the door open and quickly stuck my head through to scan the area. There was no sign of either the pastor or the sheriff, but I was pretty sure that I could hear them talking to each other in the kitchen. On top of that, I was hearing what sounded like more vehicles arriving in the front of the church. All I had to do was make it to the sheriff’s patrol car that was parked either on the side of the building around back.
There was a door on the side of the church across the way from the kitchen and what appeared to be a bedroom. It appeared to be one that would lead outside and hopefully be out of sight of whoever was showing up to rally behind the two leaders of the operation. I knew I had to move quickly so I slid out of the door and ran over to the front pew and crouched down in front of it.
I made it down just in time before an influx of people came piling in from outside. I felt the sweat begin to fill my palm and bead up on the back of my neck. I stayed low ensuring that my head was not in sight. It must have been over a dozen people, they looked like the definition of an angry mob.
I closed the knife and tucked it into the side of my shoe to hide it in case I was captured again. After that, I sat the stone on the pew in front of me and waited anxiously for something to happen. I heard the pastor and the sheriff come out from the kitchen and the sheriff spoke out to the group.
“Thank y’all for joinin’ us on such short notice. We’ve run into a bit of an issue with the girls, but it ain’t nothin’ we can’t handle. The girls escaped, but we got their friend locked up down below.
Most of y’all should remember the Ash family, the ax murders from our own little town here. We have the boy, Jacob, restrained and ready to be used against them however we need to.
Hopefully, we can use him to get the girls to turn themselves over. If not though, I got no problem puttin’ his head on a stick to show them girls who they’re messin’ with.”
I lost my footing as I heard this and shuffled in place only slightly. It was enough to draw attention as I heard the pastor hush the room and speak quietly.
“Did anyone else hear that? I think that it came from the pews.”
I could not see where they were all looking but I knew I had to think quickly. I picked the stone up from the pew and chunked it underhanded into the open door that led into a bedroom. At the sound of this, all the people charged to find the cause of the noise.
I used this opportunity to move quickly and as silently as possible over to the door on the side of the church. I opened it and slid out without anybody in the mob taking notice. The sheriff’s car was not on this side of the building. That meant that it had to be either around the back or on the other side. I had to find it to get away, his keys to the car were surely on the same ring that I was able to snatch away from him.
I began to head towards the back of the building when two people came around the corner. They were startled at first but quickly drew their weapons. Each of them pulled out a pistol and pointed it directly at my chest. It was a man and a woman that appeared to be middle-aged, roughly the same age as my late friend Ronald if I had to guess. The man spoke to me in a steady tone.
“That’s far enough. Put your hands up and we’re going to bring you in to see the pastor alright? No need to do anything we will both regret.”
The lady was looking at me intently and had a look of confusion on her face. She leaned toward the man and whispered into his ear. I couldn’t hear anything that she said but I could hear him replying in a hushed tone.
“What? No, there’s no way. That’s impossible.”
He took me by the arm and led me gently toward the church and back toward the group that I had so narrowly escaped just a moment ago. My head and shoulders sunk. I knew I could still have a chance to get away at some point, but they would likely have me guarded now and it would be significantly harder to accomplish. The lady spoke as we entered the church.
“Sheriff Hudson, we found this gentleman outside looking rather shady and sneaking about.”
The crowd of people had made their way back into the chapel and the sheriff and pastor were at the front of the pack. Everyone looked over in astonishment as the woman alerted them to our presence. The sheriff charged over and grabbed me roughly by the elbow. He got within an inch from my face and growled out a vicious warning.
“You pull one more stunt like this n’ I’ll blast your brains all over these walls, Ash.”
A look of recognition came over the faces of the two people who had captured me on my way out. They looked towards each other with a knowing glance and the woman grabbed onto the man’s arm. The sheriff continued his tirade.
“Now why don’t you hand over whatever you used to get yourself out of those cuffs before I change my mind and paint this place red right now.”
I slowly reached and took out the keys that I had taken from him in the cellar. He couldn’t believe his eyes and quickly reached down to the area where he had kept them on his belt, patting away furiously.
“Now how the heck did you get those away from me you slippery little… You know what, give me those.”
He angrily snatched the keys out of my hand and shot me a glance that looked like he was trying to burn a hole through my head. He grabbed me by the collar and just as he was about to spew more venom straight into my face, the man who caught me outside spoke up and caught the sheriff’s attention.
“Sheriff, I know you and Pastor Robert were busy getting everyone lined out. Why don’t you let me take care of this one? Sarah and I will apply his restraints and stay with him in the cellar to ensure that there is no chance he will wiggle free again.”
The sheriff loosened his grip and sat for a moment stewing in his anger. The pastor came over and patted him on the shoulder as he responded to the man’s request.
“That will be very good Matthew. Thank you for the kind offer. We have much left to go over with the rest of these fine folks and we will be happy to fill you two in as soon as we get the chance.”
The sheriff gave me one last look that could kill and shoved me hard releasing my shirt as he did. He gave the two a curt nod and took off back towards the group of people with the pastor close behind him. They each held one of my arms and we made our way back to the cellar behind the giant cross.
As we entered the stairway, they closed the hidden door behind us. We walked down the stairs and through the walkway between all the cages. I was confused when they kept walking me past all the cages and to the back of the room.
They stopped at the wall near the area that I had picked up the stone that the sheriff pulled out to reveal the key earlier. When we stopped there, they both released me and stood together looking at each other before the woman asked me a question.
“Your name is Jacob Ash, isn’t it?”
I looked at the two of them and nodded slowly, unsure of what that could mean to them. She appeared as if she knew this was the case and continued.
“My name is Sarah, and this is my husband Matthew. We were best friends with your mother and father. They were good people and they never wanted to be a part of any of this. Many of us never did.
We are forced to adhere to the demands of the sheriff and the pastor. Those of us who question this or try to fight the way of Fern Hollow, are tortured or murdered. They are very public about setting these examples so that the rest of us get the message.
Matthew and I, we never had kids of our own. We cherished you as a child though, we were always babysitting you and playing with you when we came to visit your parents. You were like the baby we never had, and it came as no surprise when your parents asked us to be your godmother and godfather.”
My jaw dropped when I heard this, and they came in to embrace me. They both held me close for a moment and squeezed my back tightly. I was in shock at this revelation but before I was able to take the moment in Matthew gave me a firm pat on the back as they both released me, and he spoke to both of us.
“We are going to have to meet up with the girls who escaped to join forces with them. It is going to take as many of us as we can get to take down these sick people. We are going to need a diversion when we get out. They can’t notice that we are getting away or it will ruin everything.
This is going to be incredibly dangerous, but now that you are here it is something that we have no choice in. We will stick by your side the whole way through and we will fight against this evil with everything that we have in us.”
Matthew reached for a stone that was near the stone that hid the key before. He was struggling with it and spoke in frustration.
“I need something to wedge this thing free, they obviously have not used it in quite some time.”
I reached into my shoe and took out the knife, handing it to him to use. He used it to pry the stone free and then it pulled out and revealed a handle causing the wall to reveal a door that led to some wooden stairs and a hatch at the back of the building. He gave me the knife back before we all made our way up and out to the back closing the secret door behind us.
“This place is like the H. H. Holmes Murder Castle,” I muttered quietly while sticking close behind.
They had a 4×4 vehicle with large tires very close to where we came out from the back of the church. All that I could think of was how we could make a diversion to draw attention away from the vehicle starting and us kicking up dust en route to find the girls and team up to come back in full force.
I looked all around the sides of the church and it hit me as I looked at one side that had loose hay stacked high on the side of the building. I dug into my pocket and found the lighter that I had taken off the dead man’s body in the cellar before. I flicked open the lid to it and looked to my newly discovered godparents to give them some warning.
“Y’all go ahead and hop in the car, I’m going to send this church back to hell where it came from. That should give us a pretty good distraction, and it is what this place deserves and then some.”
Matthew nodded at me approvingly and the two of them hopped into the car, waiting to turn it on until I got back from starting the blaze. I walked over to the pile of hay with the lighter’s lid flicked back and I looked at the side of the building in disgust.
How many poor young girls had their life taken in this church? How many were tortured and forced to turn against everything that they ever stood for? A deep and overbearing sense of darkness came over me as the thought flashed through my head and for a moment, I wept inside with all of those girls. I felt the pain that this place had caused them, and I would deliver the retribution to the building that housed all that pain.
I struck the lighter and the flame was lit. I touched the flame to a few different areas on the dry hay and then placed it in the middle of the pile and watched as it began to roar into a large and unforgiving blaze. Matthew cut on the engine as I ran up to the vehicle and Sarah reached back and threw open the back door so that I could jump in on the run.
We drove away as the side of the building went up in flames and I looked back in amazement. They would pay for all they had done, and we would make sure that they were never able to do it to anyone ever again. As we drove further and further away from the flames, I let myself fall lax across the backseat, exhausted. Before I realized what was happening, I drifted off into a deep and restful sleep.