Exodus by Susannah Stonebraker

I ran through the streets, paying no mind to the way my petticoats soaked with mud, or how my hair escaped my coif in the wind. My chest became hot, I gasped for breath, But I kept running. When I came to her house, My hands fumbled with the doorknob, I was far too upset to grasp it. 

I closed my eyes and breathed in, for today Temperance Wheaton had been killed, and there was no time for my hysterics. I steady my hand, and opened the door to a house that had once held a family, but now only held two children, one who now had to become an adult. 

“Amity!” I cried, and ran to my friend who sat in tears by the fire. 

“Abby, you came.” she rose from her chair to embrace me. 

“You know you mustn’t call me by that name, it’s wicked.” I lightly chided her. 

“I will hear nothing about wickedness today. They killed my mother.” She shook her head, and we sat down. Together improperly slouched by the fire, we wept. 

“Why, I mean. Was she a…” I lowered my eyes, and quieted my voice. “a witch?” 

She looked at me in fury, her brown eyes blazing with the fire’s reflection, she pushed away from me. “Abnegation Penry! How could you ask such a thing of me?” 

“I– I’m sorry. Amity, I believe you. I believe her.” I mentally scolded myself, kindness is a virtue.

She continued to cry with her back to me. Her hair was damp and plastered to her face, her skin hot from crying and excitement. 

I once again tried to negate my thoughtlessness. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. You know I’m on your side. Always.” 

“She wasn’t a criminal” She sobbed. “She- she just didn’t go to church.” 

I reached out to her. “Please?” I took off my coif, letting my blonde curls hang around my waist. I held it to my chest, as if a praying man. “Please?” 

She laughed despite herself, “Well, I suppose. It was a fair question anyway. I-I can’t fault your curiosity.”

Actually, I thought, she certainly could fault it, but of course I didn’t complain. 

I pulled her hand into mine, and sat with her. Her black hair was tangled and dirty. Her face was puffy and red. Her shoulders racked with sobs. She clutched her face and pulled at her scalp and snot ran from her nose. I knew there was a God, because nothing else could have made something as beautiful as her. 

“I told my father I would be staying with you tonight, to pray and mourn.” I added.

She smiled. “Good.” She shuddered again, and put her hair behind her ears in self-consciousness. I’m not sure how I could get through tonight without you.” 

My chest filled with warmth and flutters at her praise. 

“Oh Abby,” She rested her head on my shoulder. “I love you.” 

I nodded. “You are my sister in christ.” And she was. Ever since we had met, when we were girls, I had been entirely devoted to her. Since we had snuck from our chores and into the field, I had known no greater love. We would sit together, under the hot sun. Though I feared my father, and knew the punishment that awaited my wayward self when I returned, I would run away with her as often as I could. We were one. “We are joined in our salvation.” I said. 

“No, no.” she shook her head. “I mean-” she paused, and then kissed me; her heated lips pressing against mine, and just as suddenly she broke away. 

I was dumbstruck. My throat became dry, and I was silenced. 

I reached out to her, but she flinched back from me. Her eyes widened in fear and filled again with tears. “For-forgive me, Abby. I… have sinned. Please, please don’t- I mean I was just grieving and-” 

I gently reached my hand out, taking care not to move suddenly. I wiped the tears from her eyes. “Amity, please don’t cry.” Eighteen years passed before my eyes. Eighteen years of my life, eighteen years of words against sin. Eighteen years of repentance and prayer and- abnegation. Eighteen years of people who had been shunned; people who had been killed for their trespasses. I loved God, I love God. I love Amity. 

I kissed her back, clutching her hair in my fist, only breaking from her to breathe. 

“We can’t…” She was flustered. Happy, granted, but flustered. “I mean not here.” 

“But we have a night.” I pointed out. 

She laughed. “And so much can happen in a night.” 

“So very much.” I agreed. 

An hour later, we were pouring over an old diary of Amity’s great uncle, and a make-shift map. 

“You say he lived in a cabin?” I asked. 

“Yes. He died four years ago, and we weren’t permitted to give him a funeral due to the banishment. But word still reached us, along with his book.” 

I nodded. Obediah Flavel was a heretic and a drunkard, who had been forcibly removed from the town just after my sixth birthday. Frankly, I hadn’t much respect for him, but that day, he saved my life. 

“Very well, so say we can get past the river, and to the cabin. Then what?” I asked. 

“How long have we aided our fathers in tending their farms?” she paused. “Now that I am the eldest In the family I can take what seed we have left, and the cow.” 

“I hate that cow.” I said. 

“Do you like eating?” Amity asked. 

“I suppose.” 

“Well,” she went on businesslike. “Say we pack my buggy with our belongings, and ride across the river.” 

“Say we do” I urged her on

“Well winter is almost over, it would be time to plant when we were settled. So we’d have food for the next winter. And I can handle an axe. I know you can handle a plow.” 

I nodded, thoughtful. “So I don’t see why we couldn’t.” 

“But,” She wrung her hands. “What about Faith?”

Faith was Amity’s younger sister, only three years of age. She was sleeping upstairs, not yet aware her life was about to be uprooted. 

“We’ll take her.” 

Amity shook her head. “I am already asking so much of you, but to care for a child… I can’t let you do that for me.” 

I kissed her again. “But for us?” 

She smiled. “Perhaps for us.”

We stood, gathering all but the house into baskets and boxes, piling blankets and dishes and tools into the wooden buggy. 

Amity put a bridle on her horse, Sam, and hooked him to the cart. She strung a thick rope around the necks of three sheep, her cow, and a pig. The calves and piglets went into the buggy with us. So, in between the boxes and the blankets and the dishes and the animals crouched Amity, me, and the warm bundle that was Faith. And we rode into the night, the air thick with fear, and love, and adventure. 

For we knew we couldn’t stay. Amity was suspected of witchcraft, which is to say the Noose was already around her neck. And due to my outspokenness and vanity, I was surely close behind.  

By the time we reached our destination, the sun was rising over the hills. The cabin was beautiful if small, and the garden around it was overgrown with mint and chives and parsley, remnants of the man who had lived here before. 

I squeezed Amity’s hand. While we unloaded our buggy, we felt surreal as if we were walking on air. The breeze nipped our faces and we were giddy with excitement. I unhooked the animals, and pushed them into the gated fence.  

Faith stretched and yawned, and looked around. “Why is this?” she asked. 

I laughed. “Home.” 

Susannah is a high school student in Georgia. She loves to Write and even more to read. An aspiring writer, she is beginning to dip her toes into the literary world.

This short story was part of the compilation, “6 Good Things About 2020” a collection of short stories of the 2020 Collective Folk Fiction writing competition.

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