Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Three distinctly different people must come together, racing against time and their own personal demons in a desperate attempt to stop an unstoppable killer and save their town.
Welcome to Paskagankee, Maine. You may not survive the visit."
Over the next week or so I will be featuring a chapter a day right here. If you like what you see, I would love it if you buy the book and consider leaving an honest review when you've finished reading.
Here we go!
November 16, 1691
Stephen Ames shivered in the gathering darkness, a bone-chilling cold seeping into his body as he sat waiting for the girl’s arrival. The wind whispered and moaned through the bare trees as the Great North Woods prepared for winter. The silence was all-encompassing, unrelenting. He wondered if the bronzed young Abnaki woman would come as she had promised and if she would bring the child whose existence he had discovered just yesterday—his child—to meet him for the first time.
Stephen was a member of a small group of missionaries traveling up and down the eastern seaboard of this strange, wild country; their mission, to convert the native savages to Christianity and thus save their souls. It was a difficult and dangerous life, nearly impossible at times, but also incredibly rewarding when he was able to make a positive impact on the lives of the people he converted.
It was also a lonely job. The dedicated band of missionaries numbered roughly a dozen; though the exact total was constantly in flux as men joined the group or dropped out, unable to handle the stressful life, difficult travel and unrelenting physical danger. The last time the missionaries passed through this remote area, working with a tribe located in a small village hard by the Penobscot River, he had met a Native girl, roughly his own age of twenty-two, and had taken refuge in her arms from the constant, crushing loneliness.
That was two years ago. The missionary group spent a couple of months working with the savages and then moved on, converting no one but making what they felt were potential inroads with a small number of the tribe’s more influential members. Unfortunately, the chief, an older savage with a deeply lined face and decades-old battle scars crisscrossing his body, had been unreceptive to the well-intentioned band of young men, eventually dropping all pretense of civility and forcing them to move on under threat of violence.
Now the men were back in the area, nearing the northernmost portion of their territory, and had decided to pay another visit to the village to see if the situation with the tribe had changed. Perhaps the old chief had died and a new warrior had taken his place, one more receptive to the missionaries’ soul-saving message.
It was during this visit two days ago that Stephen spotted the Native girl walking through the village and signaled her. She had run to him, recognizing him immediately, and in a curious combination of English, French, and the strange Abnaki native tongue, the two had worked out a time and place to meet the following night. She seemed nervous and anxious, glancing around furtively as if fearful of being observed, and after getting her message across to Stephen, disappeared quickly into the bustle of activity in the village.
At their meeting last night, Stephen received the shock of his young life when he learned he was the father of a now eighteen-month-old baby girl. The Native woman had become pregnant by him and given birth long after the band of missionaries had been forced to move on. She related to Stephen how she had nearly been sacrificed by the tribal elders when they learned she was with child, but had been spared due to her age and the fact that the baby’s father had left the area, never to return. The child would be raised as a Native in the customs and traditions of the Abnaki.
Shocked by this development, Stephen knew immediately he could never allow his child to be raised as an Abnaki. The heathen savages refused to permit the introduction of Christianity into the community, and Stephen was well aware of what that meant for his child: suffering in the fires of hell for all eternity. Although he had never met his baby, although he had only known for twenty-four hours that he even had a baby, Stephen realized he must do something to give his little daughter the opportunity to experience eternal salvation.
So he had begged the Native girl for a chance to meet the infant, to see his child if only once, and she reluctantly agreed. Stephen thought how strange it was to have fathered a baby with a savage girl whose name he didn’t even know. They had tried numerous times two years ago to relate their names to each other, but the language barrier was simply too wide—the savage girl’s name sounded like nothing more than guttural nonsense to Stephen, and he assumed his name sounded the same to her.
Stephen was surprised the Native girl had agreed to his request, as she was clearly suffering tremendous pressure from the village elders. The savages had never expected to see the band of traveling missionaries again, and the Native girl was obviously worried that either she or her baby would suffer some horrible fate Stephen could not comprehend thanks to their return.
All the more reason, Stephen thought, to rescue my child from this primitive land, to give her a chance at a real life back in England. His parents would be shocked by the baby’s arrival, but he knew they could provide proper care for her until Stephen could return home following his missionary calling and raise her himself.
Now, the night of the promised meeting, Stephen sat perched on a mammoth boulder, body heat leaching away in the freezing cold of the Great Forest. He feared the young mother had changed her mind about allowing him to see his baby. Perhaps the elders had somehow learned of the meeting and were even now holding her captive, forbidding her to leave the village. He hoped not; it would make a bad situation that much worse.
But at last the girl padded silently down the narrow hunting path. On her back a sling made of thick animal fur had been fastened and buried deep inside it, swaddled in still more fur to ensure warmth, was Stephen’s child. The baby was fast asleep, and the Native girl was reluctant because of the cold to lift her out of the sling, but Stephen glimpsed her luxurious head of jet-black hair peeking through the top of all the fur. Her hair was thick and full and had a sheen and color identical to that of the Native girl.
The Native girl’s entire body was shaking but not due to the temperature. If there was one thing the missionaries had learned about the savages in this strange land, it was that they knew how to keep warm in the winter. They survived in this harsh and unforgiving climate by utilizing skills perfected over the course of centuries to overcome the frigid winter temperatures. No, this was something else—the girl was clearly terrified. Stephen was glad he had decided to rescue his child from the clutches of these savages; it seemed obvious to him that something was very wrong.
As he admired the baby—or at least the top of her head—the remainder of the close-knit band of traveling missionaries appeared, stepping out from behind trees, bushes and rocks and surrounding Stephen and the Native girl. He watched tensely as she turned a full three hundred sixty degrees, looking from face to face in terror, understanding instantly she had been tricked, that this late-night meeting was not going to go as planned.
Stephen hated having to ambush the frightened Native girl like this, but he could think of no other way to wrest his baby away from clutches of the Abnaki savages. After meeting the girl in this isolated location last night—a good two miles from her village and at least another mile from the missionaries’ camp—and discovering that he was a father, he had requested council with the rest of the group.
The men had been unanimously shocked by Stephen Ames’s admission of having lain with the savage two years ago, but they quickly agreed that action must be taken to remove the innocent child from the heathens, that she be provided the opportunity to grow to adulthood in civilized society. In a strategy session lasting deep into the night, a plan had been hastily devised. Stephen would meet the Native girl as agreed, and the remainder of the missionaries would show themselves upon her arrival. The resulting show of force, they reasoned, should be sufficient to intimidate the frightened girl into handing over the baby.
After that meeting had broken up, however, Stephen had learned from his closest friend that the missionary leaders convened a second session, one to which Stephen Ames had not been invited. They suspected separating the child from her mother might not be so easy and knew they might require a second, more forceful plan, to be utilized in the event the young savage resisted. That was all the information Stephen had been able to pry out of his associate but was more than enough to cause him grave concern.
Now, as Stephen watched with his heart in his throat, the young girl turned on her heel and began hurrying as quickly as she was able with a sleeping baby on her back down the narrow hunting path. She found her passage blocked almost immediately by two of the missionaries. They approached her with their hands held out, palms up, in identical gestures of supplication, speaking to her calmly, telling her she had nothing to fear. Stephen knew she did not understand and could see things were spiraling quickly out of control.
He rushed up from behind, hoping to avert disaster, but as he did the rest of the group closed in on her as well and now she had nowhere to go, nowhere to run. The young mother tried to shoulder her way past the man nearest her as Stephen reached for her elbow and missed. The missionary shoved her roughly, and she tumbled into the forest ringing the path. Stephen shouted and the man grabbed for the baby and that was when all hell broke loose.
Abnaki war cries pierced the air as savages seemingly materialized out of nowhere, rushing to protect their tribal member. They moved quickly and within seconds had fully surrounded the missionaries. One warrior struck the man who had pushed the girl, hitting him in the face with his fist. Blood spurted and bone cracked and the man fell to the ground with an anguished cry.
This seemed to panic the missionaries, and one of them pulled a strange-looking silver cylindrical device from the pocket of his long overcoat, pointing it at the Abnaki warrior who had rushed to the girl’s defense. Fire erupted from the end of the cylinder and a frighteningly loud boom shook the woods as the side of the warrior’s face disappeared in a pink and grey stew of blood, bone and tissue. The warrior dropped to the ground and lay still.
Immediately bows were drawn and arrows launched by the Abnaki tribal members and knives and hatchets appeared. More silver cylinders were drawn out of more missionary pockets, belching more fire; the awful booming noises crashed through the forest and men on both sides of the conflict fell.
Stephen screamed and tumbled to the ground as he was struck in the shoulder by a hatchet thrown from he knew not where. He had known the missionary group would be armed; they always carried weapons when dealing with savages, but they had never before been forced to use them against this particular tribe.
His left arm felt numb and his hand tingled violently; he knew he was badly injured. Blood covered his shoulder and ran down his chest in a great wave. He looked for the Native girl, the mother of his child, but could not find her. Smoke from the missionaries’ guns hung thickly in the air, obscuring the moonlight and casting the scene in an eerie nightmarish hue. Screams rent the night, whether from missionaries or tribesmen Stephen could not tell.
His vision began to narrow; he found himself peering down a long tunnel and soon the black edges of that tunnel began squeezing his vision into a steadily shrinking circle. The screaming and the cries of anguish now seemed to originate from a point much farther away than they had previously, although Stephen knew that was not possible. He was lying in the middle of the battle zone. He guessed he was dying and wished he could hold his baby daughter just once.
Stephen Ames opened his eyes. He was still lying on the frozen ground of New England in November. He felt incredibly, bone-chillingly cold, colder than he ever had in his entire life. He was surprised he was not dead and wondered how long he had been lying in the forest unconscious. He attempted to stand up and only then realized he could not move. Stephen knew that unless someone helped him, and soon, he was going to die. He was surprised to discover the prospect didn’t frighten him.
Moving his head, which seemed to be the only part of his body he could convince to work properly, Stephen scanned as much of the area as he could see. Bodies littered the forest, some of them Abnaki tribal warriors and some of them missionaries; men Stephen had lived and worked with for the past three years. A few of them were moaning softly, but most lay unspeaking and unmoving. Stephen suspected the majority of them were dead. Blood was everywhere, congealing on every surface, more blood than Stephen would ever have imagined possible.
His most pressing thought—his only clear thought, really—was for his baby. Was she still near? He didn’t think so. None of the bodies he could see on the ground appeared to be those of women; although he knew he could not see all of the dead. He hoped fervently that the Native girl and his child had somehow escaped the carnage, as unlikely as that seemed.
Motion in his peripheral vision caused Stephen to peer down the hunting path. The smoke from the gunfire had by now cleared, and the moon shone brightly in the frigid November sky. Struggling up the path was an elderly Abnaki tribesman. Stephen had never before seen the man and that was strange; until now he thought he had met everyone in the small tribal village at least once. The man looked older than anyone Stephen had ever seen—ancient even. Lines etched his face which was haggard and drawn. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He took slow, measured steps and remained utterly silent as he reached the scene of the bloody conflict.
The old tribesman’s arms were laden with strange-looking items like roots and cloth sacks filled with what Stephen could not imagine. At last the man reached a point roughly in the center of the carnage and set all his accoutrements on the ground in a neat pile. He still had not said a word as far as Stephen could tell.
Stephen thought briefly about crying out and alerting the ancient Native to his presence. He knew that by doing so, he would probably seal his fate. The man would certainly kill him after what had been done to his fellow Abnaki tribal members. But Stephen didn’t care if the man killed him; he decided he would welcome death after this tragic night had gone so horribly wrong, but he was curious as to what the old man was doing all by himself in the middle of the night in this place that reeked of treachery and death and destruction.
He remained quiet and watched the scene unfold. The elderly Abnaki sat cross-legged on the cold, hard ground, arranging his materials in a tight semicircle. It appeared to Stephen that the man was chanting under his breath—his lips were moving but Stephen could hear nothing.
Stephen knew enough about the customs of the Abnaki and about Natives in general to know the elderly man was performing some sacred ritual. He was a tribal medicine man, an individual possessed of incredible power and mysticism. His voice was now intelligible to Stephen, strengthening in volume as he continued to chant. He mixed ingredients into a great bowl placed on the ground in front of him. The man added water to the mixture and stirred slowly for a long time, staring into the distance and chanting. Tendrils of steam rose lazily from the bowl, clearly apparent in the bright moonlight, despite the fact there was no fire beneath it.
Eventually the elderly Native stood, moving ever so slowly, and walked among the bodies littering the forest floor. He stopped at each of the Abnaki dead, smearing some of the mixture on the foreheads of the men and ignoring the missionary dead.
Stephen’s vision began to waver and he knew he would soon be joining his fellow missionaries in whatever afterlife awaited them in the wake of this disaster. He hoped God understood he had not planned this slaughter and prayed he would still be permitted entrance into heaven. He prayed also that his daughter, the baby he had met just once, was alive; although he knew that was unlikely in the extreme.