All three vehicles were loaded with people who were armed and ready for war. Now that we had three experienced drivers on the team, we had each of them driving a different one. Jacob drove the van that he and Ronald found us at the church in, his godfather Andrew drove the truck that Alan brought me to the church in, and his godmother Stephanie drove her own 4×4 vehicle that they had just used to save Jacob.
Leah and Esther’s sisters were enthusiastic about joining our side in the fight. They were as shocked as all of us had been to discover the truth behind their mother and the place that they had called home for all this time. Their names were Helen, Marjorie, Rose, Annie, and Margaret. We told them we were all sisters now and that after this battle we would all be one big family, looking out for each other the rest of the way.
I was in the truck with Jacob driving. Abby sat in the front seat with me with Wendy, Bethany, and Ada in the back.
“No, I don’t blame you. Not one bit. I would have done the same thing if she was able to find me.”
Bethany was reassuring Ada who felt conflicted about having just killed the one that Bethany had called Mother. Ada responded sounding down regardless of Bethany’s helpful words.
“Thank you. It is just so crazy though, isn’t it? We live with these psychopaths our entire lives, and then it turns out they were never even who they pretended to be. It’s just kind of hard to wrap your mind around.”
Wendy was staring off blankly, she hadn’t looked right since we found her in the bunker. Like something had snapped inside her after what she did, and she was just reliving it over and over. Indoctrination can be a terrible thing in the worst of circumstances and Wendy was proof that this was true. She followed everything our mother wanted blindly and submissively. If only we were able to understand earlier who it was that we were dealing with, maybe the tendrils that she wrapped so deeply around Wendy’s mind would not have been strong enough to drag her into this hell they created.
Jacob explained what we were heading into to me and Abby.
“I set fire to the church on our way out of there. Hopefully, it went all the way to the ground, but even if it didn’t that should have sent them scrambling to readjust. If we can catch them while they are still on their heels it will be a huge advantage.”
“I hope it burned all the way down with every one of them in it,” I said hatefully.
“They may not be all bad as you think. It’s crazy how far good people will go when they’re being ordered to do so. I’ve read about Stanley Milgram who did some experiments in the ’60s that showed people are willing to do some messed up things when it comes to obedience to authority, especially when they think it’s for the greater good.”
I didn’t have anything to say back to that statement by Jacob, although it did not change how I felt about them, to be honest. The anticipation of what we were about to do started to set in and we all grew quiet. Determination, fear, and a variety of other emotions ran through us as we awaited our fate. There was no telling how many of us would die, or if we had the necessary firepower to take down the sheriff and his people.
I sat with my thoughts for what seemed like an eternity. On the horizon, I saw the smoldering shell of what was once the church where we had all been held captive. Smoke was rising from the ashes and I couldn’t help but grin as I looked to Jacob.
“Serves them right, I hope some of their people are in there with Ronald.”
Jacob nodded sullenly and pulled the car to a stop. He spoke to everyone in the vehicle and reached for his weapon.
“We need to comb over the area and look for any sign of where they all went. Stay vigilant, they are most likely expecting us to return here and could be camped out from any side.”
“Let’s go together and have the rest of the group stay behind in case of an ambush. We don’t want them taking our vehicles or supplies.”
Jacob agreed and we explained our plan to the rest of the group who armed themselves and prepared to defend their positions. Jacob asked Matthew and Sarah to explain how to correctly work the firearms to each of the girls and then walked up with a handgun for each of us.
“This is the magazine, here are some extras to keep on you in case you run out of bullets. You release it right here, and just pop the next one right in. This part is called the slide, you just pull it back and then aim it where you want to shoot and pull the trigger. This is the safety, make sure it is off if you are ready to fire.”
I shot back at him more kidding than anything.
“Did you not see that shot I hit the Sheriff with? I think I will be fine. Thanks for the info though, it really was just dumb luck. Let’s see if there is any part of the building that isn’t burnt to a crisp.”
We made our way to the smoldering building and I noticed the area where Ronald Sutherland’s body lay was completely caved in and covered in ash and charred wood. We were going to avenge his death and he would be happy to know that his tomb was the destroyed remains of the heart and soul of this damned city.
Around the corner revealed more of the same. It appeared that they either did not attempt to put the flames out or otherwise might have failed miserably in trying to do so. The whole building was leveled and burned to the ground. It was difficult to tell if there were any casualties, we would have to do some digging to find that out. Before I could suggest that we snoop around a bit I heard Jacob call out enthusiastically.
“We have to check the basement with the cages. If anything would have survived it is the room down there. I know an entrance around back, follow me.”
As we stepped up to the doors that lead down into the basement, I felt my adrenaline begin to rush. I made sure that my gun was ready to fire as Jacob pulled open the hatch and stepped onto the wooden stairs. I had not noticed a door when I was in the cages with Abigail and the rest of the girls. It had to be a secret door that was built into the stone wall.
I followed close behind and watched him push open the door that presumably led into the cellar. The opening of the door was met with an almost instantaneous loud booming gun blast from within. Jacob grabbed his leg and fell back against the stairs. I quickly closed the door so no further shots could come through the stone wall on the other side.
He took a second to catch his breath and gain his composure before continuing.
“We have to advance carefully. This is the only way in so they will be ready for almost any move we make.”
He pulled out a blade from his pocket and cut off a length of his shirt to tie tightly around his fresh wound. As I caught a glimpse of the knife I shot responded with a gleam in my eye.
“Besides a surrender”
“What? No! We will never, we’ve come too far to do that.”
“Come on, I have a plan. This is our only way in without a new hole in the head.”
I cracked the door ever so slightly and called out to whoever was inside.
“Listen, we are willing to give ourselves up. We have a lot of back up waiting for us and taking the two of us alive will give you an incredible edge in bargaining with the rest of the girls.”
I heard a voice reply that I would know anywhere, the icy cold voice of the pastor of this desecrated church.
“That’s alright Madison. You two just go ahead and slide your guns across the floor nice and far. Understand that if you make one false move Sheriff Hudson has you dead to rights and will not hesitate to eviscerate both of you.”
I pushed the door open just a bit more and slid my gun across the floor then reached back to Jacob’s before doing the same. He forced himself to his feet and was able to put pressure on the leg that had been shot. After making sure that he would be alright to continue I pushed the door open slowly and proceeded into the cellar with Jacob limping close behind.
The room was empty other than the Pastor and Sheriff which was just as I had hoped. The Sheriff turned bright red and yelled at Jacob and me.
“Yer’ gonna regret what ya did to this place Ash! Our people already got those girls surrounded by now and when I turn the one who burned their beloved church up over to them, they’re gonna get real creative with ya.
Same goes for you girl, you’re the reason we got this whole mess on our hands. Now both of you stay right there and keep your hands where I can see em’.”
The Sheriff held a shotgun trained directly at Jacob and the Pastor pointed a rifle right between my eyes. They approached us slowly and the Pastor spoke to us in a calm and measured tone.
“Alright, you two turn around and stay close. We are going to bring you up to the battlefield now and if you make the slightest wrong move it will be the last move that you make.”
We did as they said, and I felt the cold steel of the Pastor’s rifle dig hard into the small of my back. They led us up the stairs and around the burnt building. The scene before us was much like the Sheriff had described in the cellar. Our crew was defending their positions but there were vehicles and people around them from all sides. Both groups had enough firepower to blow this place to hell, but it looked like we were outnumbered. The standoff was tense.
As we made it to the group the Sheriff began to speak in a cold and callous demeanor.
“We’re through playin’ with you girls. This is where we finish the job that your lousy Mother’s couldn’t get done. The time to turn yourselves over is finished. This is an execution, and each one of you is gonna watch the next one pay for crossin’ us.
Ask Lester over here how we did his family when they thought they were gonna leave Fern Hollow and let the next town over know about what we got goin’ on over here.”
He gestured to an old man who held a revolver but averted his attention when the Sheriff made this remark.
“Or Margaret over there. Why don’t you ask her about her little bastard of a son who thought he was gonna be a hero and stop the whole damn thing himself?”
The middle-aged woman took a deep breath and her hands began to shake noticeably as the Sheriff nodded towards her.
“That’s right, pathetic. We don’t tolerate that type of business here and this operation is much bigger than any one of us.”
The Pastor interjected at what he seemed to think was a great point.
“Indeed, it is a divine mission that has been given all of us. We must succeed or we are failing the very God of our existence.”
My attention was drawn towards Wendy. She was looking around shiftily and behaving strangely. There are some times when things seem to go in slow motion. It might be because that moment will be played back over and over in your head for the rest of your life. It’s like it is your mind’s way of letting you know that something important is happening and there was a time before this thing happened, and everything else will be the time after. A pivotal moment. I’m really not sure the reasoning, but at that moment, everything seemed to become still and quiet other than what was happening before my eyes.
Wendy held the handgun with both hands and jerked it away from the townspeople of Fern Hollow. She pulled it back towards the area of friendly fire. When I saw who it was that she was turning the gun towards I felt my heart drop to my feet, and I called out for my sister.
It was the last time I was ever able to see that look of recognition on her face. She heard my voice and looked towards me, but as she did Wendy fired two rounds into the side of her head. My sorrow was replaced with adrenaline as she turned towards me.
“One more sister and the cycle is complete. I will make the best Mother that this town has ever seen Madison.”
She was cut short by a shotgun blast to the back from Ada. Blood ran from her mouth as she dropped her weapon and then fell to her knees before falling flat in the dirt. During all of the commotion, the Pastor and Sheriff had taken their guns off of the backs of Jacob and myself and pointed them at the crowd.
I looked towards Jacob and whispered.
“Jacob, your knife!”
He wasted no time and reached down to reveal the blade while turning quickly and shoving it straight under the Sheriff’s chin and straight into his brain. I had run my hand into my pocket and found my stone while he finished the Sheriff off and ducked around the rifle that the Pastor was swinging towards Jacob.
As he did, I leaned back and put all my weight into a swinging bash against the Pastor’s temple. He fell to the ground and dropped his rifle. I picked up the rifle and shot the man right between his eyes. The blood formed a pool underneath his head.
I looked up and there were a handful of townspeople approaching with weapons drawn. We had no way to escape to the rest of our group, so I placed the gun down and held my hands up. Jacob had dropped his knife and held a similar position just feet away. The two masterminds and overlords lay dead before us.
I noticed one of the men approaching us as Lester who the Sheriff had spoken of before his demise. He looked toward the bodies on the ground, looked toward the two of us, and then he threw his gun onto the ground.
The rest of the group hesitantly kept their guns pointed straight at us until the woman who the Sheriff had called Margaret stepped forward and threw her gun to the ground as well. She grabbed onto Lester and the two of them wept. I still don’t know if they were tears of joy at the deaths which had happened or tears of grief for their loved ones who were lost.
The rest of the townspeople followed suit one by one and threw their weapons before them at their feet. After all of them had disarmed and stood down the girls from our side and Jacob’s godparents began to do the same as well. Once I was sure that the standoff was over, I ran to my fallen sisters.
I fell to the ground and held onto both of their bodies tightly. My chest was heaving, and I could not control the sobs that were coming. I backed up and looked at what they had become, what this place had done to them, and thought of what I could have done differently to save them from this terrible fate.
I reached into Wendy’s pocket and found the matching stone that was just like mine which Abby had given her after we discovered the horror that she unleashed within the bunker. I held it by mine, which was covered in blood, both dried and fresh. After I pressed them to my head for a moment to take in the weight of the moment, I placed Abigail’s stone on Wendy’s chest and my own stone on Abby’s.
As I looked into the sky taking everything in, I was rushed and embraced by the girls, Michael, and Sarah. They were raucous and cheering as they hoisted me up and hollered loudly. We had done it, after all, we had achieved what each one of us had set out to do, although there had been much pain and suffering along the way.
As they turned me around, I caught a glimpse of Jacob as he stood there propping himself up to take the pressure off his wounded leg. He saw me look at him and he smiled. Although I hadn’t been able to up until then something about his smile gave me enough joy that I could smile back. After all this time, it was done. We could finally see what came next.
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