When I wake in the morning, Iris is exactly where my heart believes she should be. I spy the tightly rolled bundle beneath her bed and use my toes to push it further into the shadows. I don't want her to leave, but I don't want her to be punished, either.
After Iris wakes, we dress and chatter as we do in the mornings, and I try to convince myself that this won't change. Though I know that it's likely she will not stay here another night, I won't be able to face the day thinking of a time when she'll be gone.
"It's stuffy in here." She wrinkles her nose and bends to pull on her shoe.
"Let me get the window." When I open it, the commotion reaches us from below. The men and older boys of the commune are running, some of the women after them, all of them calling the news to each other. Loud and clear, ringing across the yard, a man shouts, "Get Elder Benjamin, a hired man's been killed."
My gaze snaps to Iris; from across the room, I can see her pulse beating.
I don't look back toward the window. We rush down the stairs, and Iris grabs my hand as we emerge from the dwelling house.
One of the flowerbeds beside the house is trampled, and Benjamin stands over it, frowning. "What's happened?"
I hear a voice. Pete's voice. "Something spooked one of the horses. Killed a hired man."
"Mmm." Benjamin kicks the dirt. "I'll see that someone gets these replanted."
My heart lurches into my throat. I want to fly at my cousin, to tear at his face with my fingernails, to give him a reason to send me to the mad house. Then I realize that if Pete is standing beside my cousin, only two hired men are unaccounted for. And one of them is dead.
Iris and I race toward the stables, visions of John Quill's broken body clouding my mind. She breaks from me and pushes through the throng. I don't have to follow her to know Quill's fate. Her eyes widen, and she sways on her feet, hands flying up to cover her mouth. I rise on my toes to see over the shoulder of the man in front of me.
Ross's body lays still and smeared with mud. John Quill is on his knees beside him. Seeing Iris there, Quill’s expression crumples with pain that looks far too similar to the agony written on hers.
"I'm sorry, Iris," is all he says as he rises to his feet.
I expected a fair amount of blood, dashed out brains, something to make it clear to us why Ross is dead, but it isn't gory enough to seem real. A trickle of blood leaks from his lips, and it smears Iris's face as she falls beside him, babbling a constant stream of denial that escalates into a ragged howl. She clings to him, her knuckles white, and her screams seem to raise the wind around us. It’s a coincidence, but one that convinces me that we, all of us, are living characters in a ghost story.
I look to John Quill, and he turns away, wiping his forearm across his brow. To see him there, whole and unharmed, fills me with such a powerful relief that I'm ashamed. I have all that I hoped for. Iris won't leave, now. Quill isn't dead. My heart turns to stone.
I stagger from the scene. I did this. I caused it with my wicked thoughts.
I try to run, but I don't get far before my legs no longer hold me up. I hear a chorus of alarm before I hit the ground.
* * * *
When I open my eyes, I'm in the little clapboard house. Sister Anne is holding a cool cloth to my forehead, calling out, "She's awake!"
Her urgency makes her concern for me obvious. I want to tell her not to trouble herself with me. I'm a horrible person. I killed the hired man and spoiled the happiness of a friend.
YOU ARE READING
After her father’s death and her mother’s hasty remarriage, Evelyn Whitney is handed over to the Shaker commune of Bannock, New York, into a life she has little chance of escaping. When the dead become monsters and community loyalties fracture, Evel...