Indebted - Sample
Alice Cummings awakened early, her maternal instincts calling. “Time to eat, Jimmy Bob.” As she sat up in bed, her head swooned as with a major league hangover. She rolled toward the cradle at the side of her bed. Her baby was gone.
Eight hours earlier, she had laid two-week-old James Robert II, named after her maternal grandfather, in the secondhand crib that nestled the side of her old brass bed. She had anticipated a middle-of-the-night feeding but had either slept through his fussing or been blessed with his sleeping a full night. Now, alert in a flash, she found not only Jimmy Bob AWOL, but also his crib and meager collection of hand-me-down clothes, baby pictures, and assorted accessories.
She jumped from bed, rushed out of the room and ran to the adjacent spare bedroom. Empty. With hesitation, she eased open the door to her pa’s bedroom and peeked in. He, too, was missing and a sense of relief mingled with her anxiety. She cleared the stairs to the first floor in three leaps, almost missing the step on her second jump, and charged into the kitchen. Nothing but the dark and the colicky hum of a refrigerator in its death throes. She flipped on an overhead light bulb that flickered with the threat of failing and headed toward the front door. She nearly stumbled on her old man’s work boots and that’s when his sonorous breathing identified him as the dark lump on the ragged couch. That’s also when she realized he had made good his threat.
“Wake up, you stinkin’, drunk son of a sow! Where is he?” Alice threw all of her one hundred and sixty-pound frame behind the punches she launched into her pa as he slept on the couch.
“Where is my son? Wake up, you drunk son of …!” The emotions roiling within made it hard for her to continue. She fought for control. “W-what did you do?” she screamed.
Her initial blows seemed ineffective, but soon her pa emerged from his stupor and growled as he sat up. Scowling, he caught her next punch with an iron grip and her hand froze in mid-air. She winced at the squeezing pain.
As he twisted her wrist, she began to cry in agony. She gave him a fierce kick in the shin, but that only fueled his anger and strength.
She tried to pull away, but he used that as leverage to begin to stand. Fearing her wrist about to break, and even more fearful of what he would do once on his feet, she grabbed the side table lamp with her free hand and smacked it into the side of his head but refused to put it down.
He released her and sagged back onto the couch.
“Did what I told ya I’d do, ya little slut. Think you could bring shame on this family without consequence? You should be on your knees prayin’ forgiveness.”
He stood to his full six-foot, three-inch frame holding nearly three hundred pounds and Alice backed off. She’d felt the back of his hand too many times to remain in easy reach. Yet, like a mama bear, she refused to back down.
“Forgiveness? You’re talkin’ about me needin’ forgiveness? You drunken, old fool. Ain’t ever seen you on your knees, or in any church for that matter. Don’t you get preachy to me. Now, where’s Jimmy Bob?”
He smiled a half-toothed smile. “Sold ‘im. Like I told ya I would. I’m not keepin’ no bastard child under my roof.”
“Then why you livin’ here?”
A sudden surge of fear mingled with her anger. He had threatened to take her baby. She hadn’t believed him. She hadn’t believed him capable of “selling” his own grandchild. Now her baby, the only person in the world who would love her without fail, was gone.
“Where is he? Where’d you take him?”
He snarled and moved toward her. Drunk, sober, half in between, the man could move. She’d seen him cover the length of the room in a split second and she wasn’t about to underestimate him now. She threw the lamp as hard as she could at his forehead and turned to run for the stairs. She heard the heavy ceramic shatter, followed by a sinking groan and a thud as he fell to the floor. She knew better than to go back and check on him. The man had suffered blows from two-by-fours and survived to win the fight. That lamp might daze him, but not for long.
She ran to her room and hastily dressed. She threw a couple of changes of clothes into a nylon backpack; grabbed her wallet, a small purse, an envelope with her “important” papers, and a few toiletries and dumped them into the pack as well. She had planned to leave when Jimmy Bob was a little older to forge out a new life beyond the reach of her pa and his destructive ways. She wanted a better life, a happy life with a husband and family to love properly, and Jimmy Bob was her motivation. With plans to leave, she’d already prepared a small suitcase of clothing and hidden it in the tool shed. She would reclaim it from behind the broken washing machine and flee to town.
More problematic was recovering her papers and the inheritance her grandfather had left her. She would need that money to find Jimmy Bob. She had retrieved the small, locked chest a few days earlier, placed a photo of her and Jimmy in it along with her copy of the papers given to her by the midwife, and rewrapped it in rubberized canvas. She would need those papers to convince the sheriff. She had reburied it next to the foundation of the shed. Ten paces along the western wall, at a spot where she’d be able to locate and dig it up in complete darkness if necessary. She regretted not having simply hid it somewhere nearby. She had no time to dig it up now. She needed to leave. Now. She already heard movement downstairs.
At that moment, she hated her father more than she ever had since her mother had died and left her to his abuse. His moonshiner friends and alcohol-fueled rages, along with the verbal and emotional abuse, had convinced her years earlier that she would leave home as soon as possible. Having graduated from high school and turned eighteen a few months earlier, she was old enough to pursue her own life, even if she hadn’t become a legal adult yet. She would hate him forever for what he had done this time.
Through the door, she could hear the stairs groan under the weight of her father’s step. Despite his drunken rages and repeated bouts of abuse, he’d never entered her room. As if it was her sanctuary, her home base where she couldn’t be tagged “It,” her room had always been sacrosanct. She realized he had violated that unwritten rule during the night, to take Jimmy Bob. She also realized by her headache that he must have slipped her a Mickey to make sure she didn’t wake up. To exit that door right now tagged her as fair game in an inequitable contest. She had but one option if she wanted to escape to find her son, to give them both the good life she’d never had.
She quietly raised the lower sash of the old wooden window and laid her pack on the roof of the front porch to the side of the window. A mid-April frost on the shingles confirmed the early morning chill that nipped into her flesh, the cold made worse by a relentless wind whipping up the side of the mountain. Spring came late to the Appalachians of western North Carolina. Daylight had yet to display itself on their western side of the mountain, except for a few shafts of light highlighting the fog at the far end of the valley.
She zipped her jacket tight to her neck and followed her backpack. In a moment, the pack was hanging from her shoulders and she eased down the side post of the porch. In the instant when her feet touched ground, she heard the door to her bedroom splinter under the weight of the man and crash onto the floor of her bedroom, the room no longer a safe haven. She heard his growl from the front window but waited no longer.
With an adrenaline surge fueled by both anger and fear, she ran down the gravel drive to High Mountain Road, turned downhill, and a hundred yards later moved off the pavement onto an old dirt logging road now overgrown to the point of being more of an infrequently traveled path than a passable road. She had played on and walked this trail so many times throughout her childhood that she could traverse it without fear in the dark, blindfolded. She knew when to expect each exposed tree root, every eroded wash, all of the side paths and even how to cross safely the old creek bridge with its rotted, condemned planking.
Fifteen minutes later, she attempted to shimmy up
a small tree that led to her perch on the rocky promontory jutting up from the hillside. Her postpartum body didn’t cooperate, but with more effort, she made it and sat down to rest. The lights of Frampton Corner speckled the valley below her.
She had come here often throughout her teens, to think, to cry, and to escape the slow death of living at home with an unloving alcoholic father. She had shared her spot with Jimmy Bob’s father, JT, and suspected she had conceived their baby at that very spot. Why in the world JT had volunteered for Vietnam, when they had a child on the way, baffled her. He could have had a stateside assignment for a year before going overseas. His death one month into entering that foreign war had devastated her. Yet, many happy memories existed from that very spot overlooking the valley and she tried to focus on those.
The spectacular sunsets, as well as spring and fall foliage vistas here, could be surpassed by only one place, her front porch and front bedroom window. The peacefulness of Nathan’s Rock far outweighed anything resembling quiet at home. After learning “the rabbit had died,” she had sought this spot alone as her refuge to contemplate her future. Yet, none of her deliberations had ever conjured up the future that had now become her present. She would miss these views, the beauty of the valley, and the peacefulness of ‘her spot’, but staying was not an option.
She looked out over the basin and cried. The aching in her breasts did not match that in her heart. Where was Jimmy Bob? How would she ever be able to find him? When she started to show, her pa had taken her to the home of a distant cousin in the middle of the night. She might as well have been a captive in chains with the lack of freedom she had there. The same had been true after she delivered. Dropped off at her home after dark, she’d not been allowed outside with the baby, much less given access to town or to any of her few friends. Her pa was too smart to use that same cousin for the baby. Jimmy Bob could be anywhere.
That thought made her heart sink.
The sun’s rays touched the top of the mountain across the valley, illuminating the white dogwoods and pink redbuds that claimed their glory amidst the green mixture of emerging leaves. As the sun rose, its steepening angle would quickly ease the light down that slope. She had but thirty more minutes before the valley saw full light and she needed to reach town unseen. She glanced around and touched the granite thumb, hoping to imprint its feel into her memory. She’d never see it, or its panoramas, again.
Sliding down a side of the rock, she touched down and worked her way toward town. With time to spare, she entered town behind Shorty’s Used Car lot. The 1966 orange Mustang 2+2 she coveted shone under the single floodlight securing the lot. Not yet two years old, only 11,000 miles. With no job or income, all she could afford was to admire it on the lot, but not this morning. No time. She worked her way around the hardware store, passed several old homes and the courthouse, and eased around the corner of the post office.
She looked both ways down Main Street. No traffic. No sign of Pa’s truck. Had he followed her? She suspected he probably downed another beer to assuage his anger and then reclaimed his spot on the couch, working his body back into the permanent indentations in the deteriorating cushions. He’d stopped caring about her or her whereabouts long ago. That realization made her recognize that he would care even less about a grandchild. Both were simply burdens to him. Both were commodities eligible for sale, just like his precious moonshine.
With no sign of the old drunk, she walked past the post office headed for the sheriff’s sub-station. Outside the building, she saw Sheriff Connelly’s sedan and immediately began to have reservations about being there. She could talk with the deputy, Jake Fischer. She trusted him. The sheriff, on the other hand, had let her old man and his “activities” slide so many times that she suspected he was a regular customer of her pa’s. Upon entering the office, she found him sitting at the desk, conferring with Jake. They turned in unison to acknowledge her as the door squealed closed.
“Alice, it’s good to see you up and about,” Sheriff Connelly said as he stood to greet her. “Your pa said
you’d been having a rough time of it.”
“Yeah,” added Jake. “We’re real sorry about the baby.”
Klaxons of alarm blared in her brain. Her pa?
“So, what can we –”
“Y-you know about my baby?”
“Look, Alice, we’re not here to pass judgment. Mistakes like that happen to young girls all the time. Most folks ’round here knew you were pregnant. Can’t hide it very well in a small place like this. We’re real sorry he was stillborn. That’s gotta be tough to deal with. Your dad –”
“Wait a m-minute. He wasn’t stillborn. I brought him home just a week ago. I breastfed him just last night. M-my pa took him. Sold him. I-I came here to ask you to help me find him.” Tears burst from her eyes.
The two men looked at each other, concern etched on both faces. The deputy slid a chair in her direction and motioned for her to sit.
“Alice, again, we’re sorry about the baby. Why don’t you sit down and rest?” said Jake.
“Alice,” said Sheriff Connelly, “your pa showed us the birth certificate that said stillbirth on it. I’m so sorry.”
Alice’s legs turned to putty and she grabbed hold of the chair. What sort of nightmare was this? She hadn’t imagined it. Her engorged breasts were proof, weren’t they? But then, she wasn’t sure if a woman’s breasts filled with milk after a stillbirth. Maybe they weren’t proof. How could she convince these men when her father had already played his hand and won that round? She heard the two men whispering and heard her father’s name.
“What about my pa?” she cried.
The sheriff turned back to her. “Look, your old man said you’d been taking this hard, imagining things, not taking the medicines the doctors prescribed for you. We just want to help. Let me call Amos and have him come get you.”
“No!” She tried to think. She had underestimated him once again. No wonder he had insisted she and the baby stay home until he was a little older. No one in town could ever claim to have seen Jimmy. No one could support her claims. He had staged his revenge well. Who would believe her against him? “No. He stole my baby. Told me he sold him. I got …”
She’d started to say she had proof that Jimmy wasn’t stillborn, but she had buried the photo and papers with her inheritance. At that moment, she realized the papers given to her by the midwife held no legal birth certificate. What exactly were those papers? What good were they against the legal certificate held by her father? She needed the photo. Unless she could get that photo, no one would believe her.
As the deputy dialed the black rotary phone and handed the receiver to the sheriff, her adrenaline took charge yet again. Alice bolted from the chair and charged out the door. She was near to a block away before she looked back and saw the deputy standing on the sidewalk outside the office, watching her. The sheriff joined him and Jake moved toward the patrol car parked nearby, but the sheriff put a hand on the younger man’s arm and stopped him. She could only imagine what they were saying.
Alice ducked behind the hardware store and made a beeline for the trailhead back to Nathan’s Rock. Where should she go? How? What? When? Her mind flooded with questions. She mentally considered and tossed aside a dozen action plans. One concern overrode all of her thoughts, what her father would do to her if he ever again caught up to her. Only one plan could save her. She needed to get her suitcase and her inheritance, and leave. Once safe, she could send the sheriff a letter and copy of her proof, and then hope he believed her enough to act on her accusations. In the meantime, she would find some way to begin her own search. Somehow.
The trek uphill took a lot longer, but a little over an hour later, she positioned herself at a point in the woods uphill from her house where she could observe the buildings and driveway. She had arrived in time to watch the sheriff shake her pa’s hand, climb into his car, and drive off. Her old man, now forewarned, would be on the lookout. Her hope of success dwindled.
A sense of despair pushed her deeper into the soft forest floor. If only it would engulf her and she could emerge in late spring as a new person, unaffected by the past eight years of abuse. Instead, the emotional fatigue swallowed her up and she drifted off to sleep.
Alice awoke with a start, unsure whether the renewed chill of dusk or the grumblings of her stomach had awakened her. She had no food in her pack, but she had an extra jacket, so she pulled it out and put it on. She stared at the house. Her pa’s truck sat rooted in the same place. The lights in the kitchen, front room, and her pa’s bedroom added to the single gooseneck light illuminating the drive. He seemed to be continuing life as usual, with or without her.
She checked her watch to discover the day had progressed further than she’d thought. The last bus came through town at 7:30 and, after stops in four other small communities, arrived in Asheville at ten p.m. She had to be on that bus, preferably unnoticed. She had only an hour to retrieve her goods and hoof it back to town. Whether awake, asleep, drunk or sober, her pa, inside the house, would be only fifty feet away from the shed and there were scant shadows to hide her as she dug up her cache next to the foundation.
She had no choice. Now or never.
She slid her arms into the straps of the backpack and stood. After one step, she froze. An all too familiar van, followed by a pickup she hoped never to see again, pulled into the drive and parked by the house. Three men climbed out of the van along with two more from the pickup. The first three opened the rear door of the van and pulled a young man and woman, their wrists bound behind them, out onto the gravel. The man looked to be twenty-something, thin and ragged. He appeared to have been beaten, his face bruised and swollen, several teeth missing. The woman was Alice’s size, with similar hair color, but she couldn’t see her face to determine her age.
Her father walked around from the front of the house. “What you bringing them here for? You crazy?” He let loose a string of profanities.
“Them’s the ones told your screwy neighbor about our stills on his property. Feds busted ’em up, plus we lost two month’s worth of product ’cause of them.”
Alice knew the owner of that voice and trembled at being so close.
“Don’t you think I know that? Idiots! What if someone sees them here or with you driving through town? I told ya to deal with ’em. Somewhere else.”
“What do you want done?”
Her pa laughed. “Your choice, Dewey. You know what to do. Don’t bother me with it.” He started to turn back toward the house.
“Hey, where’s that fool girl of yours? She have that bastard yet? She ready for a real man?”
The smile on Dewey Hasting’s face made the scar along its left side crinkle and flush. She’d given him that scar a year earlier when he tried to rape her in her own bedroom. She had inflicted the damage with his own switchblade. Her pa had saved her from his hand that time. She doubted he would do so now.
“Probably down at Nathan’s Rock. She’ll be back. Gots nowhere else to go. Go take care of these two.” He walked back to the van, pulled a jug of white lightning from the back, and carried it into the house.
Dewey walked up to the girl and put his hand on her chin to force her to look at him. Alice couldn’t hear any crying but could see her chest heave with sobs. Or maybe it was fear.
“You’re not bad looking, girl. How about we have a date in the woods?”
With the young man restrained by two of the other men, Dewey began to fondle her breasts. She responded with a knee to his groin. Alice knew better than to make a sound, but for one brief instant she enjoyed watching Dewey fall to the ground. A second later, however, he shot up, that switchblade in hand, and sliced one forearm and then the other. He sliced open her shirt and gave each breast its own bloody mark.
Why didn’t she scream?
The woman started to kick out at Dewey again, but he seemed to expect it and quickly gave one thrust of his knife into her chest just under her breastbone. She fell to the ground and Alice saw that her mouth had been stuffed with a rag.
“Too bad, we coulda had such a good time.”
The young man fell next to her, placing his forehead on hers, tears running down his cheeks. Fear caused his eyes to blaze. He knew he was next, and he bolted up and lunged headfirst at Dewey. A second man caught him and with a quick jerk of the man’s head, broke his neck.
Dewey nodded to the others to load the bodies into the van and followed up by kicking gravel and dirt over the blood evidence. The next rain, likely only a day ahead, would wash it away.
“Let’s dump ’em in the lake. I got some chain and blocks. Meet you at our usual spot in half an hour. Gotta take a quick trip to Nathan’s Rock.” He grinned. He pulled away in his pickup while the others loaded into the van and pulled away.
With little time left, Alice headed for the shed, watching each footfall and wishing she could float. She slid close to the outer wall and maneuvered her way toward the front door. Peering around the corner of the outbuilding, she saw a shadow moving back and forth in the kitchen, but no face at the window. The old man’s actually fixing something to eat? she wondered. Did that mean he was sober? Her heart raced and her breathing picked up. She would have to be extra careful.
As the shadow moved to the far end of the wall, she darted to the shed’s front door and sighed in relief to find it open. One less noise to worry about, she thought.
Once inside, she worked her way through the piles of trash and old machinery to the old washing machine, the rollers of its topside clothes wringer cracked with age and the exposed metal parts sat rusted but movable. She reached back and found her suitcase, lifting it with ease. She’d forgotten how she had packed it and was glad now to find it less of a burden to carry downhill under her time constraints. She parked it next to the front door and moved to the back to find a shovel.
In the waning light, she discovered the shovel she’d used earlier was no longer where she’d left it. That, in itself, was not suspicious. Her pa used it regularly. She moved farther into the deep of the building, groping for similar handles, looking for the same or another digging implement. Reaching behind yet another household relic, she suddenly felt a sheering pain in her forearm and cried out in pain.
She pulled her arm back and held it up for inspection. She couldn’t see it in the dark but felt a warm fluid trickling down to her elbow. The coppery aroma of blood caught her. The pain was nothing like labor but matched nothing else in her experience. She moved to the front door for a better look. The gash was three, maybe four inches long, deep, and bleeding profusely. She forced her forearm against her blouse to provide clean compression. That’s when she heard his voice.
“Who’s out there? Who’s in m’shed?”
Her scream had alerted her pa, but it had also scared something else. Two old barn cats scampered around her and bolted from the door.
The old man’s shotgun echoed across the valley. “Blasted cats! Git outta here!” Another retort followed.
Alice froze just inside the door, unable to make herself peek through the opening. All she could hear was her heart and her breathing. She tried to hold her breath, to stop hyperventilating before she passed out, but fear commandeered her brain for the next few minutes. Finally, she focused on noise outside the shed and realized she heard no approaching footsteps. She forced a quick peek out the door and saw no one.
“Gotta go for it,” she whispered to herself. She grabbed her suitcase with the good arm, held her injured arm tight to her abdomen, took a deep breath, and bolted from the door. She had no options. No way could she reclaim her inheritance now, but under no circumstance would she even contemplate waiting another day. It was time to leave – forever.
As she rounded the corner of the building, her pa’s voice rang out. “Alice, you come back here. You need your medicine.” She heard him huff. “You got nowheres to go, girl! Alice! What’d you see? Get back here, girl!”
Fear turbocharged her legs. Just what kind of medicine did he have in mind? Something lead-based? She wasn’t about to find out as she raced into the woods.
Again, she found her mind deluged with “what ifs.”
He no doubt had seen the suitcase in her hand. The only logical way out was down the mountain, so she would head up. She would climb to the very top and walk down the other side if that’s what it took.
Only one other residence stood between her and the top of the mountain. Curt Umfleet, his wife, Mary, and their two children lived in a home more decrepit than her own. He worked as a janitor at the area high school, while she tried selling Avon, and baked goods, and anything else she could do from her home. Their youngest, the son, had some sort of mental retardation, or learning problem, or something. She knew for a fact that Mary disliked and mistrusted her pa. Maybe her motherly intuition had clued her into the reality that nothing good happened in the house below them. Plus, the whole town knew of the bad blood between Curt and her pa after Curt caught him poaching on Umfleet land. Now, after what she’d overheard, if Curt knew about her pa heading up the moonshiners, there’d be hell to pay. She didn’t want to involve them in this, but did she have any other choice?
Alice found her breathing getting hard and her head getting light as she neared the Umfleet home. She began to wonder if she could make it to their house, much less over the mountain. She struggled to carry the suitcase and her pack without the benefit of her one arm for balance, but every time she pulled her arm away from her belly, the bleeding resumed. The front of her blouse and a good portion of her jeans seemed soaked in that vital fluid.
She could see the building now. Lights were on in the front room and a single, bare bulb lit up the front porch. She stopped to catch her breath and gazed at the house. Could she trust them to help her, and not turn her back over to her pa? Did she have any other option but to try?
With reservation, she moved to the front porch and heaved her suitcase onto the bare planks making up the floor before climbing its three wobbly steps. The noise must have alerted the occupants because before she could knock on the door, it opened and Curt Umfleet stood there looking down at her broken body as she sat on the top step, breathing deeply.
“Somethin’ wrong?” His voice held no pleasure in seeing her.
“I-I need some help,” pleaded Alice.
“Who is it, Curt?” Mary Umfleet’s voice floated from inside, sounding as feeble as Alice felt.
“Well, for God’s sake, ask her in. Where’s your manners, man?”
Curt nodded his head toward the door as his invitation, but as Alice stood his eyes widened at the sight of her blood covering the front of her clothes. “Omigosh. Here, here, let me help. What happened? I heard gunshots. What …”
He assisted her to the nearest chair, a hardbacked, handcrafted Windsor of hard maple, and eased her down. Alice watched as he rushed back to the porch, took a quick look toward the road, and retrieved her bags. Only then did she glance about the room. The children’s bedroom door stood closed and Mary lay in a small bed near the hearth, a fire blazing for the room’s only warmth, her head and back propped up by pillows. The woman looked pale and anorectic. Alice’s injury seemed minor compared to whatever that poor woman was going through. She wondered if the woman would even make it through the night.
“Lord in heaven, child, what happened?” asked Mary. “Where’d all that blood come from?”
Alice slid her forearm away from her belly and displayed the laceration, which again began to drip. “I-I cut myself in our shed.” She saw no sense in wasting these people’s time. “I need to get away. I was trying … I c-cut it on something sharp. The last bus leaves at 7:30. Do you have some Band-aids? I think I can still make it.”
Mary shook her head. “Needs more than that.” She gave Alice a stern, quizzical look. “Where’s the baby?”
At that, Alice broke down. “H-he …” She started to repeat the story she gave the sheriff but remembered his response and changed her tack. “What do you know about my baby?”
She saw Curt re-enter the room carrying what looked to be an old military ammo box. He motioned for her to join him at their dining table. As she hesitated, Mary nodded and said, “Go on. He was a medic in Nam. He can either fix it or patch it up to get you to a doctor ASAP.”
At the table, Curt opened the metal box and pulled out gauze, sutures, and more. To Alice, the tabletop soon looked like a mini-hospital. He handed her a pad of gauze. “Here. Hold this tight to the wound.” He went to the kitchen and washed his hands for what seemed like forever, and then returned and gently took her arm, more gauze ready should the bleeding resume.
“As for your baby, Alice, I know what I heard in the market and I know what I hear at home. The gossipmongers say your baby were stillborn, but I know a baby’s cry when it drifts up the mountain on the wind currents. Sure don’t sound stillborn to me; so
Alice winced at the pain from the man’s strong hand compressing her wound as he prepared to cleanse her forearm.
“Sorry. Some good direct pressure should stop the bleedin’,” said Curt.
As Alice told the Umfleets everything about the baby, the death of Jimmy’s father, and her own father’s claim of selling her son, she saw anger energize Mary. She told of her flight from the house and her encounter with the sheriff. She ended with her rushed departure from the shed. The only aspect of the story she held back was that of her “treasure” chest and the proof within. Despite the help they offered now, she didn’t trust these neighbors enough to divulge that information. Anyone digging up the “proof” she needed would also reveal her inheritance, money left to her by her grandfather.
Mary rose up and sat on the edge of her bed. “I don’t like admitting this to you, Alice, but I never have liked or trusted your father. I-I don’t think I can physically help much myself, but we, uh, Curt can help somehow, I’m sure. If it’d help, I can tell the sheriff that I’ve heard your baby crying and he sure didn’t sound stillborn.”
“First things first,” he said. “This needs stitches, but I don’t have any numbin’ medicine. Think you can put up with six, seven stitches?”
Alice shut her eyes and gulped in a big breath, before nodding. She fought back the tears every time the needle went through her skin, arguing with herself that altogether they didn’t hurt as much as the initial laceration did.
“All done,” announced Curt.
Alice opened her eyes and gathered the courage to inspect her forearm. She was amazed at the man’s workmanship. She’d seen no better by the doctor in town, and she’d had plenty of friends requiring such services over the years. She held it up for Mary to see.
“Told ya he could fix it.” The woman smiled, but briefly. “The clock there tells me there’s no way you’ll make it to the bus on time, even if Curt drives you down there. Plus, that’ll be the first place your father might be waitin’.” The woman paused in thought. “The bus stops next in Cashiers, right? Curt will drive you there. You should be able to beat the bus.”
“I can’t ask you to –”
“You didn’t ask. We’re offerin’. No, tellin’ you. But first, you need some clean clothes. One look at you and the driver’ll be calling the Highway Patrol in Brevard.” She looked at her husband. “Curt, get that big box marked for the church. She should find some things that fit. Lord knows I won’t be getting back up to her size again.”
Alice started to weep. “I-I don’t know how to thank you.”
“No need. The Lord is our provider. He always sees fit to meet our needs.” Mary reached behind her bed and pulled up a purse. She removed an envelope and handed it toward Alice. “Here, take this, too. You’ll need it.”
Alice took the packet and opened it. Five hundred dollars in twenties and fifties stared back at her. “I can’t take this,” she declared.
“Surely you can,” answered Curt as he returned to the room. “If’n it helps, consider it a loan, no interest.” He opened the box and pulled some things out. “Take a look and take what you need. You can change in there.” He pointed to a door to his right.
“How … how could I ever repay you?” She sat there, incredulous. This family had less to spare than her “family,” yet they gave everything to help her.
A few minutes later, Alice emerged from the bathroom in clean clothes. Nothing stylish, but they fit well, were in great condition and would serve her purpose. She held the bloody clothes daintily from one hand, and Curt took them and walked toward the back of the house. To the trash, Alice presumed.
While she’d been changing, Curt had given Mary the box and she had spread several items across the bedcover in front of her. “Don’t know what you have packed in that case of yours, but take these, too. You might need something like them for job interviews.”
Alice picked up a princess-seamed, short-sleeved floral dress, a couple of simple A-line skirts and half a dozen complimentary tops. A quick check confirmed they would fit and she placed them, neatly folded, into her suitcase. She scurried back to Mary and gave her a gentle hug, unsure whether the woman could hold up to anything heartier.
She stood erect and, with Curt again present, addressed both of her benefactors. “I don’t know what to say or how to thank you. I’m going to get settled in Asheville and then I’m going to start looking for my son. And if you’d talk to the sheriff, that’d be a great help.”
“When you find him, let us know. Please. It would mean the world to us to know we helped reunite you somehow. In the meantime, I’ll call the sheriff in the mornin’ and keep my ear to the grapevine here. Any number of ladies from church just love to come by and keep me posted on the town’s comings and goings. The busybodies. And you know for sure if a new baby just shows up out of the blue in a home around here, everybody’s gonna hear about it. Doubt that’ll be the case, but you never know. Anyway, make sure you get us a way to contact you.”
Alice nodded, but for the first time that evening, she noticed Mary grimace in pain. The gesture was subtle, but undeniable. Alice wanted to understand but was afraid to ask what the problem was. Mary must have seen the question on Alice’s lips.
“Breast cancer. It’s already spread to several places. The doctors don’t offer any hope.” Then Mary smiled more brightly than Alice had seen all night. “But Jesus is my hope. If He sees fit to heal me then I will continue to serve him here, and if I go home to be with Him, I know and trust He will take care of my family. Now, get going you two, or Curt might well have to drive you to Asheville.”
Alice hugged Mary once again, more vigorously this time, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. The woman in turn handed her a slip of paper with a phone number written on it in a terse block style. Curt had already gone outside and poked his head back in the door.
“Coast is clear. Let’s go.”
He picked up her suitcase, and Alice followed to the old Ford pickup at the side of the house. A minute later, they were driving down the road. Well before passing her driveway and house, she ducked down to avoid any chance of discovery.
“Don’t see anyone outside,” said Curt. “… but your pa’s truck is there. That be a good sign, yes?”
Alice shrugged. She wasn’t so sure. Once down the hillside, they still had to drive through town and past the reservoir to get to the road that would shortcut them to Cashiers. She wouldn’t breathe easily until they were well out of town. They passed Shorty’s and the hardware store. As they passed the sheriff’s office, the other deputy, Mike Albritton, emerged from the building. She ducked – her heart racing and her mind unsure whether she’d been seen. A minute passed. Then two. Then five. No car in pursuit. Maybe, just maybe, she would make it. Escape. Freedom. A new life. Hope. She would find her son, and they would succeed together.
They traveled on for another fifteen minutes in silence. Curt broke the quiet. “Alice, I know once you get to Asheville, you’re gonna start to think ’bout how to repay us. Please don’t worry about it. I got some family land we rent out, so we’re not hurtin’ financially as much as it might look. Been our choice to live frugally and use our money for God’s work. As a single woman, you’re gonna face enough hurdles. I know; my sister’s been there. We helped her, too. Focus on your goal. Find your son and create a good life for the both of you.”
Alice mulled over his words. In her heart, she knew his advice to be sound. Yet, no matter what money they had, she would repay them. Somehow. She would be indebted to them forever.
Ten minutes later, they entered the town limits of Cashiers and saw the bus as it came to a halt at the covered bench of the bus stop. The bus would wait ten minutes before departing, so Alice relaxed. They had made it. She had made it.
She leaned across the seat and kissed Curt on the cheek. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
He smiled and nodded. As she opened the door, he placed his hand on her shoulder. “Got one more piece of advice, if you’ll take it.” She looked him in the eyes. “I’ve seen your writin’ and your artwork, on the display boards at the school. It’s a God-given talent. Don’t waste it.”
Alice was surprised at this comment. No one had ever complimented her on her work before. “I, uh … thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
She stepped out of the truck, paid her fare, watched the driver load her suitcase, and climbed aboard the bus. At the driver’s suggestion, she took the seat right behind him.
Ten minutes later, the bus pulled out of the stop and she caught a glimpse of the Umfleet pickup in the driver’s side mirror as it shrank from view. She’d never forget them. Her new life started right then. Only Jimmy could bring her back to Frampton Corner. Otherwise, to the people there she might as well be dead.
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Indebted – Copyright © 2013 by Braxton DeGarmo. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this book on-screen or in print. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Braxton DeGarmo.
E-Book and Paperback Editions Publication Date:
2nd Edition: July 2015 (new ISBN)
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-943509-13-3
eBook ISBN (mobi): 978-1-943509-06-5 eBook ISBN (mobi): 978-1-943509-07-2
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogs are products of the author’s imagination and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The use of real places and companies is done to add a sense of reality, but the circumstances surrounding such use is also fictional. The employees of such companies, their actions, and their comments are fiction and should not be construed as implied or explicit endorsements by or the beliefs of said companies. The use of public figures, such as politicians, is also done for the purpose of realism. Actions or comments attributed to them may be fiction, but may also come from public records, such as their own writings.
Cover design by Brianna Lock of Word+Design, LLC
For my children, Braxton Jr. and Stacey.
You both continue to make me proud.
As always, I again want to acknowledge and thank my loving wife, Paula, for giving up time that we might have spent together and for her valuable proofreading skills, help and encouragement. She even added a new notation to the proofreader’s lexicon: yuk! Fortunately, I only got a few of those red marks. (As always, any typos or errors are mine alone.)
Similarly, my son, Braxton, and our friend Kendra Duffield contributed with their comments and proofreading. Thank you both. In addition, many thanks to Susanne Lakin for her in-depth critique. Her valuable suggestions helped raise this book to the level needed for publication. Likewise, thanks to Lenda Selph for her valuable proofreading.
I’d also like to thank Sam (Nadara) and Jeff Feldman of the Bridgeford House B&B in Eureka
Springs, AR for their warm hospitality and fount of information on their delightful city. Crescent Dragonwagon, formerly of Eureka Springs and “founder” of the city’s B&B industry, was the inspiration for one character. Thank you, Crescent.
And … a final note of appreciation to Sgt. Emory Albritton, who retired at the end of 2011 after 30-plus years in law enforcement. Now, you get to be the “bad guy.”