Sarah's Song

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It’s the 1940’s, in rural East Tennessee, Appalachian country. For most everyone, there is only work, and possibly church, if there’s one nearby. People rise before the sun is up, work hard, go to bed early, and rest in church on Sunday. Little chance for much else to happen. Right?
So, why would keeping one little secret for over sixteen years be so important? What could possibly have happened, that could change the lives of so many people, if the secret were to be revealed?
There are only three people alive that know the answer to that question. For now. 

 

 

Prologue

 

June
2, 1940

 

 

 

Hidden from
view, he sat staring at the house, waiting patiently, watching for
the last lamp to be blown out, the lust for his moment, building
inside him. It had taken over a year for this day to come, his thirst
for revenge growing day by day. His mouth was literally watering at
the prospect of finally ending it all. Soon! It was down to just
minutes now. Sweet revenge would be his! I’m gonna show
them!
he thought. Show them what happens to anyone who messes
with Zeke Kufner! Oh how I hate them! Ever single one a them! They
think they’re so high an mighty! Runnin me outta town! Causin me ta
be shunned now by my own family! Hell, I cain’t show my face
anywhere!

He’d had to return under the cover of darkness. His anger flared,
threatening to take over, and he made himself take a deep breath. He
was too close, to make a stupid mistake now. He inhaled deeply again,
calming himself, and an eerie grin spread across his face. Nodding
his head in acceptance, he thought, That’s okay. Yeah,
everythin is gonna be jes fine. He’d discovered that he liked
the darkness. He’d learned that everything looked better in the dark
of night. Especially what he was about to watch!

 

~~§~~

 

Carl Jenkins was having a hard time going to sleep. Even seeing
his wife Rebecca sleeping peacefully and watching the gentle rise and
fall of her chest with each breath she took, had not calmed the
feeling of uneasiness that was keeping him awake. Sighing, he quietly
rolled out of bed, and barefoot, made his way in the dark to the
kitchen. Uncovering the water bucket, he lifted the dipper and took
several swallows of the water, still cool, from the spring. Sated, he
draped the towel back over the bucket, taking care that it didn’t
slip down inside. Hoping he could go to sleep now, knowing he had to
get up before dawn to work the fields, he turned to go back to bed
and noticed a strange orange glow coming from the children’s room. It
was then that he smelled the smoke!

“Rebecca!” he yelled, turning back to grab the water bucket,
thankful that they made sure it got filled up every night. Water
sloshed over the sides as he ran to find the source of the fire, but
as he approached the room where his children lay sleeping, a man came
through the doorway, meeting him in the hall.

“You!” Carl shouted. Without thinking, he dropped the bucket
and crashed headlong into the man, sending them both sprawling to the
floor.

The commotion startled Rebecca awake and she ran out into the
hallway to find the two men thrashing about, wrestling furiously.
Fear gripped her heart and she screamed, but before she could react
further, acrid smoke seized her lungs and she realized that the
intruder wasn’t the only threat.

The smoke immediately began to burn her eyes causing them to
water, but her instincts to protect her children had taken over, and
she didn’t let her blurred vision slow her down. Moving as fast as
she physically could, she rushed into their room and was horrified
when she saw that the foot of Tommy’s bed was in flames.

Her breath hitched sharply in her throat causing her to inhale
involuntarily, the thick smoke sending her into a vicious fit of
coughing. But her children were in mortal danger, and her adrenaline
kicked in, propelling her to move even faster, despite her lungs
screaming, desperately, for air. Her eyes kept squeezing shut, in
protest to the smoke, and she swiped at the blinding torrent of tears
that were further distorting her vision, but it wasn’t enough. Her
foot caught on something she couldn’t see and unable to stop herself
she went down, her head hitting hard on the floor. Sweet oblivion
began to caress her, taking her to a place where she could breathe,
and with that breath, she forced herself back to consciousness and to
her children. Pulling her knees up under her to stand, it occurred to
her the reason she was still able to breathe was because the smoke
was much less dense, down closer to the floor. Gathering every
molecule of air in her lungs, she screamed to awaken her oldest
daughter, as she scrambled on her hands and knees across the floor
and pulled Tommy from the burning bed.

Rebecca could hear Sarah coughing behind her now, and with Tommy
securely in her arms she turned to make sure Sarah was getting Aubry.
“Stay down low! The smoke isn’t as bad! Go!” she yelled to her,
motioning to the door with a nod of her head. Shielding their bundles
and themselves, as best they could, from the heat and flames, they
ran through the doorway.

As soon as they were out the bedroom door, Rebecca stood Tommy on
his feet and urgently nudged him toward his big sister. “Get them
outside, Sarah! I have to get Faith!” she explained, hurrying back
into the bedroom she shared with her husband.

Sarah heard grunts of pain and the sickening sound of fists
connecting brutally with flesh and bone. Following the sound, she
spun around to see her father fighting with the intruder. She turned
back to Tommy, pulling him up close to her protectively, and when she
looked back toward her father she froze. Bile rose in her throat,
when she found herself looking into the cold crazed eyes of the man
her father was trying valiantly to protect his family from. In spite
of the heat from the fire, chills ran down her spine, and she latched
onto Tommy’s hand and ran, as fast as she could, out the front door.

She was unaware of the slight advantage her presence had afforded
her father, for when the intruder saw her standing there, he faltered
just long enough for her dad to land a punch, that sent the man
reeling.

Outside, weak kneed, Sarah gently stood Aubry beside Tommy, just
as her mother, only seconds behind them, came rushing out with Faith.
She thrust the three month old baby into Sarah’s arms, demanding,
“Run to Papaw Samuel’s! I have to go try to help your father! Go!
Now! Run! We’ll be right behind you!”

“Mom! No!” Sarah cried out, pleading with her mother to stay
with them, but Rebecca was already running back into the house.
Struggling not to let the little ones sense her fear, Sarah’s
attention was torn from her mother disappearing back into the
shadows, by the sound of shattering glass and the flames that began
shooting out the window of their bedroom. Beyond terrified now, her
facade beginning to crumble, she carefully shifted Faith to cradle
her in one arm, and bent down to extend her other arm to Aubry, who
stood silent and wide eyed. Only four years old, Aubry gladly hopped
up into the security of her big sisters embrace and nestled her face
in the crook of Sarah’s neck, effectively shutting out all the scary
stuff she didn’t understand.

Sarah warily eyed the expanse of dirt and sparse patches of grass
between them and the wall of corn stalks, beyond which stretched rows
and rows of stalks, before they would reach Papaw Samuel’s. She was
worried about Tommy being barefoot, the fact that she was as well,
not entering her mind.

“Are you okay, Tommy?” she asked him.

Mesmerized at the moment—as any seven year old boy would be—by
the flames raging out of control from the window where he had just
been sleeping, he simply nodded his head, not fully understanding the
gravity of the situation.

“Okay then. Come on!” She began to run as quickly as her full
arms would allow, being careful not to fall and keeping an eye on
Tommy, who kept trying to look back and was lagging behind. She
opened her mouth to call to him, the words “be careful” still on
her tongue, when he tried to look back again, got his feet twisted up
and fell in the dirt. Before she could ask if he was okay, he was up
and running again, this time keeping his eyes straight ahead.

He ran several feet, then stopped dead in his tracks. “Whut
about Mama and Daddy?” he cried out, beginning to realize now, that
something was terribly wrong.

Sarah stopped too, grateful for the break, even if it was for only
a moment, her arms aching beneath Faith and Aubry’s weight. “They’ll
be along! Come on, Tommy! I need you to help me get Aubry and Faith
away from here,” she said, hoping to appeal to his
protector-of-little-sisters-role, so that, maybe, he wouldn’t panic.
It apparently worked, as he began running toward the corn field
again, the fire behind them lighting the way.

Once they were surrounded by the willowy stalks, they crouched
down to catch their breath, and watched, waiting for their parents to
emerge from the flames. Faith’s arms and legs were flailing about, as
she screamed at the top of her lungs, extremely unhappy about being
awakened and jostled about. Aubry began to cry for her mommy too, and
Tommy’s tears were leaving streaks in the soot and dirt on his face.

They waited in the glow of the flames until Tommy’s tears had all
dried up, Aubry’s voice was completely hoarse from calling for her
mommy and daddy, and Faith had cried herself back to sleep. They
continued to watch in silence, willing and waiting for their parents
to come out, until the roof of the house fell in, sending a plume of
smoke and embers high into the night sky. In shock, Sarah pulled the
children close and rocked them. Quietly, she began to sing, the
lyrics foreign to her ears, coming straight from her heart…

“God’s little angels

you brighten up his day.

Don’t be afraid now,

he’ll show you the way.

Smile away your troubles,

laugh away your tears.

Keep him in your heart,

and he’ll take away your fears.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Hurricane Hollow, Union County, Tennessee

Spring/Summer 1941

 

 

 

Sarah woke with a start, the nightmare nearly a daily reminder of
that horrible night almost a year ago. Every now and then, a few days
would pass without it rearing its ugly head in her sleep, but she
never forgot.

Out of habit, she looked over to check on Aubry and Faith, then
crept to Papaw Samuel’s room, to look in on him and Tommy. Everyone
was fine. Safe and sound.

Tommy, eight years old now, had started sleeping in the room with
his papaw shortly after they had come to live with him, because,
Papaw said, the girls needed their privacy. Sarah supposed it was
also so Papaw could keep an eye on Tommy, who, since his parents had
died, had been testing the limits of his boundaries. He’d been
getting angry, so angry and bitter, missing his mom and dad. Unable
to understand or control these intense feelings, he’d been acting out
on his emotions, doing things, mischievous things, totally out of
character for him. Papaw Samuel had been patient with him, giving him
some space and time to vent, but at the same time ruling with a firm
hand, keeping Tommy from getting too far out of line.

Sarah suspected that Tommy was a constant reminder to Papaw of his
only child, his son, Carl, Tommy’s father, who had died that night,
trying to protect his family, and so he held a special place in
Papaw’s heart.

Papaw Samuel was a good man. He loved the Lord and his family, and
still mourned the loss of his wife, of twenty eight years, Martha,
who died in 1935 of influenza. She’d succumbed to the disease shortly
after tending to a sickly woman and child who lived on a nearby farm.

Sarah was only eight years old when her mamaw died, but she
remembered her vividly, either in the fields, the kitchen, the
garden, or helping someone in need, working from before sunup till
after sundown. She recalled the days Mamaw spent teaching her how to
can vegetables from the garden, and how to make preserves and jam
from the berries they’d picked. She missed her mamaw, but was very
grateful for the things she had learned from her. It sure made it
easier for her, she thought, for her to carry on taking care of the
family.

She knew her papaw would never stop missing Mamaw, but she hoped
that her being there to look after him, continuing some of Mamaw’s
traditions, brought him some small measure of comfort.

Papaw worked hard in the fields and taking care of them, and
though they could never match the work their father and grandmother
had contributed, Papaw said that Tommy had been doing a fine job, and
had been a tremendous help. He’d told Sarah that her mother and
grandmother had taught her well, that her cooking, and especially her
cornbread, was as good as theirs had been.

She smiled as she thought about that on her way back to bed.
Checking the girls again, she straightened Faith’s little nightgown.
Faith, now fifteen months old, walking, and talking a little,
thankfully had no recollection of the fire that night, being only
three months old at the time.

But Aubry? Poor little Aubry’s last words had been screaming for
her mama and daddy, before silence had overcome her, and she’d not
spoken a word since. Papaw had old Doc Mathews check her over when
he’d come around, but he didn’t find anything physically wrong, and
said she’d talk again in her own time. She’d become Sarah’s shadow
since then as well, following her every footstep, not letting Sarah
out of her sight. They had learned to communicate with each other
without Aubry’s words, and so far and been doing okay, though Sarah
still talked to her as if she expected her to answer. It had been so
long since Sarah had heard Aubry’s sweet little voice, she was afraid
she was going to forget how she sounded, and prayed every night that
tomorrow would be the day that Aubry started talking again.

She went around to the other side of the bed and laid back down.
As soon as she closed her eyes, visions of the nightmares sprang to
life again, and even though she was exhausted, she lay awake, forcing
herself to think of other things.

She’d make a batch of biscuits in the morning, and some gravy to
have with them, for Papaw and Tommy. They were going to be working in
the fields, so she’d fry up some of the ham, and put it on a few of
the extra biscuits to send with them. Mama used to do that for Daddy
sometimes, when he was working pretty far out.

Mama. I sure do you miss you, she thought. I miss tending to
the garden with you, and you showing me how to cook and can the stuff
we grew. We didn’t know then how soon I was gonna need to know how to
do all that stuff, did we? I miss picking berries with you in the
summer time. I remember when Tommy went out with us, and him
squashing the berries and how his hands were purple for days!
She
chuckled to herself at the memory, then continued the talk to her mom
she usually had, when she couldn’t sleep. Most of it had been said
many times before, but it was updated, as new things occurred. This
year I plan on showing Aubry how to pick them. I think I was about
five years old when you showed me. Papaw’s been taking real good
care of us, Mama. I know he misses Daddy, but I think it’s been real
good for him, having Tommy here. Tommy’s been needin Papaw too. He’s
been kind of angry like, since you’ve been gone, but him and Papaw
always works it out. I’m glad too, cause I just couldn’t take the
place of Daddy. I cain’t take yer place neither, but at least the
girls have me, another girl, to tend to them. Aubry’s still not said
a word, but she will, I just know it. And Faith, she’s as pretty as
ever, and growin like a weed too. I especially miss us sewin together
at night Mama. I just don’t know whut we would have done if you
hadn’t taught me how to sew. Papaw took us to town, cause I guess you
know we wasn’t able to save anything from our house. All our clothes
and everything burned up, so he got us whut we needed to get by on,
and got me some of the nicest material to make us some more. I’ve
gotten real good, Mama. I think you’d be proud. But I sure am
thankful that Papaw bought Tommy some Dungarees and overalls, cause
those would just be too hard for me to make. Papaw got us some writin
tablets too, so I could teach Tommy and Aubry everything you taught
me about readin and writin. Tommy’s doin real good, and Aubry’s been
writin pretty good. Course I don’t know if she can read anything she
writes cause, well, you know. And Papaw listens real close like too,
when I’m tryin to teach them. A couple of times I saw him studyin on
their papers, but he laid them down real quick, so I made sure to
leave them where he can find them. He had me to take over readin the
bible out loud on Sunday mornin. He said it sounds prettier when I
read it, but he still reads it to himself, whenever he has time. So
you can tell Mamaw Tillman, that even though she’s gone, her school
teachin is still goin on, even though we don’t have her schoolin
stuff no more. And speakin of Mamaw Tillman, I guess I know now, how
much you must have missed your mama and daddy. But you done them
proud Mama, and us too. I know I told you all this before, but it
makes it all so much better to talk to you, so I hope you don’t mind
hearin it all again. We miss you and Daddy somethin fierce.

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Author

Vicky Whedbee