Chapter Three – Fate’s Decision

Everyone, and that means everyone who could sing or who thought they could sing, was present for the auditions for the youth choir.  Emily looked around.  Many of her classmates and even friends that were out of school already wanted to take the chance and become part of this new adventure.  It was evident by the turnout poor old Branchford just didn’t have that many exciting things going on.  Bentley sat to the back of the church.  Emily didn’t see him until her warm-up, but it was unbelievable that he was going to audition for the choir, and her body quivered at his mere presence.  She tried to shake it off.

Michael Harrison took his place at the front of the church. “Attention.  Attention everyone.  I want to thank you all for coming tonight.  I must say I didn’t expect this great of a turn out.  I’m pleasantly surprised.  The auditions will be taken in the order that your name shows up on the sign-in sheet.  Now, let’s see here.  Okay.  Here we go, Miss Emily Treece.”  Excitement was in the air as everyone prepared to hear one of the best voices in town.  “Emily, would you please come up to the front of the church.  Go ahead and situate yourself by the piano.  What is it you plan to sing?”

“Well, I thought I would audition with ‘Oh Promise Me’ if that’s all right?”

“Of course.  You may try out with anything you feel comfortable singing.”

Emily loved to sing.  It was easy to lose herself in the music and forget about cares and anxiety, and she soon thought only of the notes that sprang into her own personal delivery of loveliness.  Her soprano voice was clear and vibrant.  Melodic intonations, power with gentle overtones captivated the hearts of the people present.  Michael’s face was in awe of the beauty that enchanted the room.  When she finished, there was nothing but silence.  Michael stood in place for a moment.  His face was flushed and Emily could tell a new admiration had settled within him.  He was moved as was everybody.  Emily, breathless, and Michael entranced were locked in a mutual appreciation of each other’s talent.  For a brief moment, their souls bonded.  Loud applause and whoops and hollers burst forth in the church and the moment ended.

A thrilled Emily looked around the room only to discover that Bentley was also in tune with Michael and Emily’s mutual admiration society.  He glared at Michael and then at Emily.  Hatred oozed from him.  Michael was a threat.  Not only because Bentley saw that Emily had a fondness for him, but because Michael was a man of God and Bentley hated religion.  It all was so hypocritical and he was going to do something about this and soon.  Fate chose a rhythm for its terrifying dance in Emily’s life.  In her soul, it was a matter of fact that what was coming was necessary; that it was preordained and there was nothing she could do about it, and that’s what frightened her the most.  She knew it, Bentley knew it, and she was lost.

The church, which had been teeming with vocalists, soon narrowed itself down to the real talent in the community.  Out of forty youths who auditioned for the choir, only twenty were chosen.  Lucky for Emily, Sally’s rich alto voice captured the interest of Reverend Harrison, so Emily at least had her friend to protect her.  Bentley Madison, however, did not make it into the choir; a decision that infuriated him.  He left the church agitated.

Packing up to go home, Emily and Sally were stopped by Michael.  “Emily, you possess a remarkable talent.  Your Aunt Jenny was right.  I had no idea your voice was so beautiful.  I just assumed it was parental pride.”  The three laughed, but Michael grew serious.  “Would you honor me by performing that duet you and I talked about earlier?”

“Michael, you flatter me.  I … yes, I will do the duet.  Thank you.”

The happy girls left the church.  Nothing but the audition was talked about on the way home.  When they arrived at Emily’s, Sally left her and still dizzy with excitement from the evening, Em wasn’t paying attention to what was around her.  Humming her audition tune, she made her way to the back of the farmhouse.

“Hey, baby angel.”  Bentley stepped out of the shadows where he was waiting for her.  She tried to run back to the front of the house, but he grabbed her.  He pulled her close to him.  His strong chest pressed against hers.  Backing her up to the house, Bentley’s face got so close to hers she was forced to smell his rank, alcoholic breath.  A different expression transformed his face into a fiendish, malevolent veil.  It was evil, and it left her immobile and helpless.  Bentley’s grinding pelvis pinned her entire body against the house.  With every breath that he took he rubbed up against her.  “Emmy, girl.  I told you this morning that I love you.  I really hope you and that Reverend choirmaster don’t plan on having anything goin’.  If you would just tell me you love me, I can make you feel real good.”   He unbuttoned the top button of Emily’s dress.  She squirmed in protest.  He kissed her, and this time his mouth was open and a forced tongue salivated into hers.  Engulfed in his foul alcoholic breath, she choked.  Every beat of his heart, every pulsating movement was angry and tormented.  He unbuttoned the second button and slipped his hand down her dress.  She was powerless.  Bentley wanted more, but a door slammed and the spell was broken.

Uncle Zeb called, “Emily!  Em, are you out here?”

Bentley put his hand over Emily’s mouth.  “Baby, don’t say anything.  He’ll go away and if he doesn’t, you just tell him that you are with a friend talkin’.  You hear me?   Do you hear me?”  Emily was shaken by his terrifying, hissing whisper.  She nodded.  Uncle Zeb was not giving up.

“Emily Marie Treece, you better answer your uncle or there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

“I’m here, Uncle Zeb.  Bentley walked me home from choir practice and we are just talking.  Is that okay with you?”

“Okay, darlin’.  But you come in soon, an’ make er’ quick.”

Bentley let up on Emily.  He buttoned the buttons on her dress and gently kissed her on the mouth.  “You see how wonderful I can be, baby angel?  I love you and nobody is going to love you but me.”  He left Emily trembling.  She knew she had to get a hold of herself before going into the house.  Her aunt and uncle had to be told about this, but in this town, everyone thinks when something like this happens, the girl is to blame.  The girl led the boy on.  Dread gripped her soul.  In the traces of her heart, Emily knew that what was to come was inevitable.  She didn’t know when it was going to happen and she had no idea how to stop it.

Writing As a Slow Boil

As many of you may know, I had some pretty exciting news this week.  One of my novels has been accepted by Aignos Publishing, LLC for publication.  While the editing process for that project is still being set up, I am concluding the final edit for the second edition of Deathlinks, and the pressure is on to deliver the last and best version of my very first novel.

On a regular basis my heartstrings are plucked for the sake of producing what to me is an important message about faith, but more than that, Deathlinks became my teacher and my constant friend as I pursued the dream of becoming an accomplished writer.  I owe it to this old and dear friend to render that hidden chunk of my soul that embraces its depth.

Over the last twelve years, Deathlinks has been read and edited by me over fifty times.  It has become the proverbial practice piece as I saw myself getting better and better at the craft that I love.  This slow understanding of what is good writing and what is bad, bled into new manuscripts which provided me the chance to tell fresh stories with skillful confidence.  Deathlinks was instrumental in helping me find my narrative voice and for that I am profoundly grateful.

Tears well in my eyes as this phase of my artistic development comes to a close.  It is with humility and appreciation that I continue into the role of professional author, and my hope is to learn and grow from those who have been assigned to assist in the cultivation of my work, but it gives me pause to ponder the significance of a first novel, rather a first love.  Deathlinks will forever be my quintessential hope, and for that reason the second edition was a vital step in moving on.

On Friday, August 11, I will post Chapter Three of Deathlinks, and within the next days thereafter it will be available on Amazon.com for purchase.  For those of you who have hung in there through the thick of it, blunders, editing nightmares and all, I thank you, and I welcome you to engage in my future work.  Your support means everything.  As for Deathlinks, cheers, my friend – you have taught me well.

Chapter Two – Timing Is Everything

She sat on the white porch swing, rocking back and forth while taking a break from the heavy responsibility she bore.  The May breezes brushed past her face. Spring air whispered a song to her while caressing and embracing her now thin, salt-and-pepper hair.  Emily Walker knew she was living in the End Times.  She rejoiced, knowing the time had come to engage and defeat the evil in the world; and they were ready. Her band of deathlinks and few compadres had been preparing for years.  She was starting to worry, though.  God gave her dreams and visions of a young minister who was supposed to join them. His spiritual demeanor seemed unstable and moody and she hadn’t seen or heard anything from him.  She feared the old demon, Lucifer, found a way to deter him, or worse, to defeat him, but certainly God would have allowed her to know that. Still, she sensed this young man was naive and this war had no place for naiveté.

Most people look upon evil as having a name, like Lucifer, which is true to a certain extent.  Yet, Emily knew that evil in all its channels and in all its configurations wasn’t just one black and empty soul, but evil was sundry and all acted as Lucifer to bury the human race in sin.  That’s why her task and the task of her deathlinks was so unnerving. Evil manifested in sad sack characters all over the world. It wasn’t just one guy, it was iniquity of every kind and it was determined to defeat the Creator and mankind.

Emily looked out on her Uncle Zeb’s farm and realized this journey of hers started so long ago, even though it seemed like yesterday.  She relaxed to the swaying lull of her beloved swing and allowed the beauty and freshness of the day to sweep and enfold her. Memories flooded her mind; her total conversion, her hard but necessary lessons in faith, and ultimately the spiritual battles that brought her to acknowledge God’s will for her.  All of the events that took place in the past were crucial occurrences in the definitive plan ordained by divine providence.

2

It was a hot September day where perspiration formed under Emily’s lightweight cotton dress and she felt the roughness of her uncle’s freshly harvested crop beneath her bare feet. She decided to lie down in the field where stillness enveloped her.  Even the bees found it too hot to move.  Her dreams that day were of a handsome young man she met at a church social. Her uncle introduced them and their meeting was quite brief, yet she felt drawn to him.  In her heart she knew he was going to be something special in her life.  He was a tall, six-foot, three-inch blonde with curly hair and the biggest blue eyes she had ever seen.  Emily was not usually attracted so easily to young men.  She was labeled aloof and tom-boyish growing up, and the locals loved to tease her about those characteristics every now and then.  But, she was easy to love because of her kind nature and loving, cheerful disposition.  So no harm was ever done.

Michael was his name, Michael Harrison.  What a splendid name.  What a marvelous name for the strong and sensitive being she just had the pleasure to meet.  She was sure he seemed interested in her as well. Who could she ask, though, to make certain?  As if he wasn’t handsome enough, he played the guitar and sang so as to make a girl’s stomach flip flop and heart pound. Like St. Michael, the defender of God’s children, her Michael …

“Well, hello Miss Treece.  What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

Emily was startled by the voice, and couldn’t make out the face for the bright afternoon sun, but the voice … something in the voice.  Jumping up like a jack-in-the-box, she stood face to face with none other than her beautiful Michael and some woman.  Who was this woman?  She hadn’t noticed her at the social. She had to know who she was.

“Emily, I would like to introduce you to my fiancée, Miss Claire Overmeyer.  Claire, this is Miss Emily Treece.  We met earlier at the church social while you were visiting your aunt.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Treece.  I’m not from around here.  Actually, my family is from the East, but my mother’s sister, perhaps you know her, Mary Tuggle, has lived in Branchford for years.”

“How … how do you do.  You … you startled me.  I guess I was day dreaming a little.”  A little, you were darned near knocked out into another universe, you silly girl.

“We are on our way to meet with your aunt and uncle.  Your aunt has offered to help me get started organizing the church’s first youth choir.  I understand that you are quite the singer yourself.”

“Yes, I mean, I guess. That’s what people tell me.  Anyway, I like to sing.  Do you sing, Miss Overmeyer?”  Emily asked because she wanted to know just how much of this newcomer she was going to have to tolerate.

“Lord, no! I couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended upon it.  It’s really a curse, you know. Michael has such a gift and I’m afraid I truly shame him, truly.”

Michael had his arm around Claire and he gave her a slight squeeze.  Emily thought she would vomit right there on the spot, but guessed this would truly ruin any good impression she managed to make up to this point … truly.

The very awkward threesome walked the quarter of a mile to Emily’s house.  There her Aunt Jenny and Uncle Zeb were on the porch, their usual place on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

“Well, Reverend Harrison, what a splendid surprise,” greeted Emily’s Aunt Jenny.

“What brings you out this way, son, and who is this delightful creature you have beside you?”  Emily wanted to sock her uncle for the unsolicited flattery he decided to throw that woman’s way.  I mean, let’s not bring it all to Michael’s attention all over again.

Emily felt very young and unsophisticated next to Claire.  Claire was built like a china doll.  She had impeccable taste in clothing and seemed to have an innate ability to know when to speak, laugh, giggle, and flirtatiously roll her eyes.  On the other hand, there was Emily, with her underdeveloped seventeen-year-old body and her absolute inability to do anything the least bit enticing at any given time, much less know how to do it.  So, there she was, leaning over the porch railing, wondering just when this nightmare was going to end.  A piece of her auburn hair fell down in front of her face.  She started to watch it swing back and forth in a hypnotic fashion and as she started to get caught up in the rhythm of the whole thing, she heard her Aunt Jenny say, “Isn’t that right, Emily?”

“What … Aunt Jenny, Oh, I’m sorry, I … I mean what were you saying?”

“Honestly, Emily, I was just telling Michael and Claire how you sing like an angel. She really does. She brings tears to your eyes. I can’t wait for you to hear her.”

“Aunt Jenny, please don’t go on so.  I’ll be so embarrassed if he doesn’t, I mean, they don’t think so.  Oh, you know what I mean.  Does anyone want any lemonade?”

The afternoon wore on.  Plans were made regarding the new youth choir.  Emily’s aunt and uncle filled Michael in on all the local residents; how long they had lived in Branchford, whether they had past relatives who fought for the Confederacy, and who most likely would be good parishioners.  Rehearsal times were set and Emily was volunteered to make sure all participating youth were advised.

Emily was bursting with the anticipation of working with Michael in the choir.  He mentioned that perhaps they might sing a duet together, and she couldn’t believe it.  She felt she had died and gone to heaven.  Tryouts were scheduled to begin the following evening, but the time from now until then was going to be agonizing.

The next morning, Emily got dressed, gulped down her breakfast and all but ran to school.  In her mind the faster she went, the faster the day would go.  She hustled down the old familiar path, through the woods and was near to the clearing where the old schoolhouse stood when her books were popped out of her arms.  She lost her balance and fell to the ground.  She looked around to determine who did this, and as she got up, the figure of Bentley Madison loomed over her. She never could understand why this boy always unsettled her.  He was relentless in his pursuit.  It’s not as if Bentley were huge. He only stood about five feet seven, and had a husky build. He just was overbearing and mean.  Bentley’s face could have been considered handsome, if he lost that sour expression he carried around with him all the time.  “Hey, sweet baby goodnight, how’s your sweet, good lookin’ self doin’ today?”

“Bentley, please stop pestering me.”

While Emily got up brushing herself off, Bentley grabbed her by the shoulders.  His icy blue eyes shot through her, paralyzing her.  She tried to tug away from the grip he had on her, but she could not budge.

“Listen Emily, you know how I feel for you.  I lay awake nights thinkin’ about you, your body, and your sweetness.  I want you, girl. I want you and you mark my words, I’m goin’ to have you, one way or the other.”

A shiver made its way down Emily’s back.  She froze under his power.  He always frightened her, and there was something sinister about him; some eerie aura that followed him around and he always found ways to get her attention.  Usually they were cruel and unthinking, but he never before said things like this.  She looked into his cold and riveting eyes.  He pulled her nearer to him and before she knew what was happening he had his lips on hers.  The kiss was hot and unlike anything she ever experienced. It was wild and fearsome and filled with passion.  Her senses were rattled. No sooner was the kiss planted than Bentley released her with a jerk and ran ahead, laughing in a crazed high-pitched laugh on to the schoolhouse.

Emily gasped trying to catch her breath and assess what just happened.  Her heart thumped.  She wanted to cry, but she was so shocked she couldn’t.  Bentley was gone, but the evil remained.  That strange aura of insanity hung over her as she picked up her books from the ground, and in a dutiful daze she walked to school.

Inside her schoolroom, everyone was talking about the choir.  He’s a tenor, and she’s an alto, and the other one was a soprano.  Emily was still so stunned she didn’t even take part in a conversation that under normal circumstances piqued her interest.  She felt cold and shaken.  She looked over at Bentley, who stared at her with a half-smile plastered on his face and an expression of quintessential evil.

The school day passed.  Emily tried to ignore the feeling that she was in inexplicable danger.  She just wanted to get through the day. As she was leaving, Sally Traverse stopped her at the door.  “Em, what’s up with you? You feeling sick or something?  Boy, I hope not.  We have auditions tonight, and you are sure to get some kind of solo to work on. You have got the best voice … “

“Sally, please walk home with me.  Please … walk slowly and walk all the way to my house.  I need to tell you something. I don’t know what to do.”

“Sure, Em.  Of course, what’s going on?  Talk to me, friend.”

Emily and Sally stepped out into the bright, September afternoon.  The sun lit up the beautiful autumn sky and a gentle breeze blew through the clearing, which made things seem almost normal.  Sally was Emily’s best friend since the second grade.  They were inseparable.  The townsfolk used to tease them, calling them Siamese twins, “practically joined at the hip.”  Emily told Sally about the morning incident.

“Oh, Emily!  I think that, well it’s, well it’s devilishly romantic!”

“Are you out of your mind?  Sally, it wasn’t like that.  It was as if Bentley were telling me he and only he had power over me; that he could do whatever he wanted to me, whenever he wanted.  It felt dirty. It was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced.”

Sally soon was affected by the story.  “Em, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just pretend this never happened and maybe he’ll stay away.”

Emily and Sally decided to try to stay together.  They walked back and forth to school together.  They thought this would deter any further situations.  They hoped, anyway.