Part 1 of this short story can be found here.
Part 2 can be found here.
Part 3 can be found here.
* * * * * *
Caleb took a step forward, intent on confronting the woman that had disappeared five years ago; but Jesse stepped in front of him and raised a hand.
“Jesse, it’s Lana.”
“Caleb, I know it’s Lana.” He turned to study the woman that stood motionless on the wooden sidewalk, staring at them through eyes wide with fear. “But look at her, she’s terrified.”
Even as they watched, her eyes darted back and forth between the general store and them. She locked her gaze on Caleb’s and shook her head pleadingly.
“Caleb,” Jesse said, “just wait a minute. Wait and see … ”
Before he could finish his suggestion, Lana was joined by a young girl that had Caleb sucking in a deep breath. Emily.
He swung his gaze from his daughter to his wife, accusation and questions filling the space between them with waves of feeling.
It was not until Emily looked down that Caleb realized that each of her hands held the tiny hands of two little children.
The littlest one, a tiny blonde girl in pigtails, reached up to Lana. She looked exactly like Lana and Emily. With a quivering voice she said, “Mama. Up.”
Lana bent to hoist the babe onto her hip, all the while sending a silent plea to Caleb with her eyes. With a visible effort, she forced her attention away from the two men and onto her small children, asking to see what they had got in the store. They each held up a piece of candy, already sticking to their tiny fingers.
As that voice reached his ears, Caleb felt a stab in his chest akin to a physical pain. He had believed he would not hear that voice this side of heaven, yet there she was standing almost within touching distance.
It took him a minute to hear the fear that quivered in that voice, the near desperation that filled her throat with unshed tears. When she shifted the baby in her arms, her sleeve rose a few inches up her arm, exposing a dark bruise that covered half of her forearm.
The sight of the ugly mark on her white skin sent waves of fury through Caleb. As he started forward again, he turned to look pointedly at Jesse’s hand on his arm. The hand was dropped and Caleb put one foot onto the bottom step, but before he could advance any further, a man in a blue Yankee uniform came out of the general store and stepped to the group.
The sound of his daughter calling the other man daddy was enough to send Caleb forward again, intent on confronting the usurper that had taken his family. Jesse’s hand once again stopped him.
“Yes, Emily?” The soldier looked down at the girl.
Emily held up a package and the man took it from her, smiling; but the smile was cold and hard.
“Thank you Emily.” He turned those cold eyes on Lana. “I guess you can do what you are told, after all.”
He looked down at the small boy that tugged on the yellow stripe that ran down his blue trousers. In an instant, his face changed and a look of pure delight and joy filled his eyes and his voice.
“Yes, young man.” He swung the toddler up into his arms, making the boy squeal with delight. “Daddy got you a present, Toby.”
The little girl in Lana’s arms reached out to the man and he smiled at her too. “Yes, darlin’. Present for you too.” He sent that cold look at Emily again and said, “Presents are only for good girls and boys, not for stupid children that don’t know how to listen.”
Caleb decided it was a good thing that Jesse still gripped his forearm, as the first instinct in him was to jump the steps and plant his fist into the man’s face.
The man turned toward a covered wagon that stood just feet from him and Jesse. He tossed the boy up onto the seat and climbed up next to the toddler. Lana said something quietly to Emily and the despondent little girl turned to climb into the back of the wagon.
It was then that Caleb saw the dark bruise that covered the side of her face. His angry gaze swung to Lana as she made her way around the wagon to climb up onto the seat.
She glanced at the soldier and then back at Caleb, silently mouthing two words.
Part 5 can be found here.
Part 6 can be found here.
Part 7 can be found here.
Part 8 can be found here.
Part 9 can be found here.
Part 10 can be found here.
Part 11 can be found here.
Part 12 can be found here.
© Drusilla Mott and https://drusillamott.wordpress.com, 2012