Two Days Earlier
With his usual clipboard in hand, Henry strolled through the early morning breakers of Coal Mountain. His job as superintendent was important: he had to make sure the work was completed the way the law required. He stretched the rules a bit, too, but with only one thing: making it optional instead of mandatory for young boys to work in the coal mines. He did it for the sole purpose of taking care of Morwick’s family’s children.
Besides, in his generous opinion, boys were far too young to be scouting through the coal mines, destined to be follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Henry reported to the state on a regular basis via telegram, telling them about the status of the coal miners and the work being done.
Typically, by the time the coal miners first came to Coal Mountain, they were in their early thirties and usually either newlywed husbands or beginning fathers. While their wives awaited at home to make sure they came home without a scratch, Henry stayed alone in the mine, pondering how to tell one of the miners’ wives their husbands had been injured. Either that, or the worst—which he had to deal with two years ago for the first time—telling a miner’s wife her husband would never be coming home again.
Henry remembered that terrible day. It had been a day like any other. The runners, laborers, drivers of the coal carts, and regular miners were working about like normal. Christopher “Scout” Taylor had approached Henry, asking about his wife and daughters, and then joked about how his then-pregnant wife “grew bigger and bigger by the hour.” Scout had always joked with Henry how his wife should “stop eating so many pies.” Scout, like everyone else in the mines, had been a devout husband and father. His wife, Patsy had been expecting their second child. They’d already had a little boy, not quite three years old at the time of his father’s death, oblivious to it all. His name had been Christopher Junior.
Henry, with the help of the miners, had decided they needed to blow up a certain coal tunnel because there was bound to be much better coal to dig into on the other side. For some reason, however, the dynamite wires hadn’t been connected correctly. Without waiting for anyone else to volunteer, Scout had—to replace the wires—and then once he did, the rest of the men, including Henry, had witnessed Scout disappear into the dust of Coal Mountain.
The last image Henry had glued in his mind of Scout haunted him sometimes, remembering his victorious big smile once he’d successfully replaced the wires of the dynamite.
He and Cornwall Reaves decided they would have to leave the mountain to tell Patsy her husband hadn’t survived. He remembered the happy look of greeting on Patsy’s face—quickly changed to grave horror—and Henry and Cornwall had said nothing but only bowed their heads at her, hats in their hands with sympathetic eyes.
Henry remembered the blame, remembered how for weeks afterward, Marilyn coaxed Patsy to not be angry with Henry. It hadn’t been Henry’s fault for the incident—it had been Scout’s choice. But Patsy, disbelieving her friend and turning against the entire town, took off with her mother and father only a few weeks following the second child’s birth—a baby girl. She’d had enough of the Jacksons and of Morwick.
It’d taken a long time for Henry to forgive himself for the blame, and also to stop believing over and over that Patsy’s words were correctly stated. It’d taken all of his family’s love and much, much prayer with God for him to finally accept the truth: it hadn’t been his fault. It had simply been an accident.
After Scout’s death, however, Henry had changed things on Coal Mountain. He switched security of the outside of Coal Mountain by hiring Xander Prick—which nowadays had become closer to being a huge mistake. He also altered the hours of labor the men were to work. They would not be allowed to work past eleven p.m. They were commanded to go home every evening to get no less than six hours of sleep. As superintendent, Henry had gone above and beyond for his coal miners and the others workers, for he cared deeply for them. This was his dream career after all, and he did not want to see it diminished by his own actions.
Henry abided by the laws of the state with all of his might, and he took extra precaution to make sure every man understood the regulations. After all, he needed to make sure another man did not suffer the same consequences as Scout Taylor had. His children would never know their father, so alas, Henry needed to prevent reoccurrences of the past as much as possible.
Coal Mountain’s work started at strictly five-thirty a.m. every morning. Every worker had been assigned to be there no later than five-thirty a.m.—and no earlier than five a.m. Every morning, Henry kissed his beautiful sleeping wife on the cheek, threw on his work shirt and trousers, kissed his girls on their sleeping heads, and went off to work at Coal Mountain. First, he made sure the walls were secure to mine and second, that nobody had been left behind during the night to sleep in one of the mines. Although, the men were pretty good at abiding by his orders.
The runners, also known as the conductors who took care of the loaded coal cars and who directed the drivers of the cars, were the first ones there every morning, next to the drivers. The laborers’ jobs were to load the cars of coal once the miners had blasted through the tunnels, bringing about as much coal as before, usually. They blasted no more than ten times a day—according to Henry’s orders—but the explosions also varied due to the thickness and security of the mountain walls.
Henry wished he paid the workers more, too. The biggest pay he gave equaled to no more than a dollar and sixty-five cents per hour, according to state laws. The state commanded strict regulations, though, and as the superintendent he of course had to abide by them. But even though he was also the mayor of the town, no job as mayor came as important as taking care of the safety of his coal miners and the other workers of the mountain.
Having a family of his own, he understood how hard it felt for Marilyn and the girls—particularly Marilyn—to not see him for sometimes, days at a time. Those times were only when a big storm came, and Henry did not let his men work on rainy days because of the fact that they may become sick. During the rain, if they were permitted to work, it turned into harder labor and few meals, although the wives were all warned ahead of time to pack their men extra food in their lunch bags to keep their bodies’ nutrients up. Long days such as those were hardest on the boys who decided to work in the mines, and Henry kept an extra eye on them.
No matter how hard it became for Marilyn and the girls, he also trusted first and foremost that his family understood the importance of the work and the fact that his workers could not get through a single work shift without his help. He valued their lives, safety, and happiness. Most of them liked working in the mines, although the work still remained quite difficult. For the boys, they at least had much easier jobs compared to the men, such as bringing the workers supplies and being there in case they needed to hold something for one of them.
Henry stepped out of the coal mines and into the fresh air, marking off the attendance of the miners on his clipboard. He felt guilty when he went out into the fresh air, but his job didn’t include being in the mines as long as they did. Although he did help them on a regular basis, he did not always need to.
As he walked toward the small, wooden supply house where all the mines’ extra supplies—and his paperwork—were located, he passed the front which the Prick family’s men daily guarded. Xander Prick fell into step with him. His three sons, the other security guards of Coal Mountain, were at his heels.
“You know, Henry,” Xander complained as he followed him. “I’m getting tired of standing outside this stupid mountain, waiting for nothing to happen.”
“Is that so?” Henry lay his clipboard upon the ledge of the shed, and turned toward him. As he did, Cornwall Reaves came out of one of the holed mines of Coal Mountain, announcing that he planned to take his break, where Henry nodded at him.
“It is.” Xander crossed his arms, glaring at him. “And come to think of it, I’m getting tired of how you’re running things around here.”
Hearing this, Cornwall Reaves, drinking water from his canteen, frowned and strode over to where they were.
“Look, Prick.” Henry crossed his arms, copying him. He stood a couple inches taller than Prick, and stronger-looking, too. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking myself lately. Seems that in the past few months, you and your family have been causing nothing but trouble. It’s bothering a lot of Morwick’s residents, in fact.”
Xander crooked an eyebrow. “Oh yeah, Mayor?”
“Yes.” Henry shook his head. “Look, we really appreciate everything you and your family have done for this town. We are grateful for the work you’ve all contributed—you and your family—in making this place a home for all of us.” He sighed. “But I’m afraid you and your family have become too much of a nuisance. It’s time for you all to leave.”
That caught Xander off guard. His gaze filled with hatred and heavy bitterness even more as he stared into Henry’s face.
Cornwall, after washing his face with the water from the canteen, wiped the water over his forehead as he looked on.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” Xander turned around and then began pacing the ground before them. “You’re telling me you’re going to give up the security this pathetic excuse for a coal mountain needs, all because my family’s a big ugly nuisance?”
“You know exactly what sort of havoc you’ve been causing for the good people of this community.” Henry’s voice etched out strong and stern. “Now I’m giving you and your sons two choices—leave town with the rest of your family, or become coal miners.”
“Become coal miners!” Xander screamed, his fists erupting at his sides. “Well, I have news for you, Jackson! This is war! You hear me? This is war!” He came right up to Henry and stared him straight in the face. “This time, you’re not going to get away with anything. This time, you and your family’s lives are going to be ruined forever!”
Without any warning, Xander lurched forward and punched Henry in the gut.
Henry, shocked, bent forward, just as Xander shoved him to the ground. He fell, and abruptly, all three of Xander’s sons sprang into action.
“Henry!” Cornwall called out, hurrying forward, but Sid Prick shoved the end of his gun into Cornwall’s stomach, where he also fell like a rag doll.
Xander kicked Henry in the face, and he collapsed to the side, where Prick kicked him again, several times. As he did, Xander screamed at him: “You are no longer mayor and commander of this town, Henry Jackson! You are no longer in charge of any of us! Do you hear me? Any of us!”
Spitting blood from his lips, Henry lay on the ground still, but conscious, his eyes squeezed shut to block out the pain slamming through his body.
Then, as Jude Prick hurried over to tie up Henry’s hands behind his back—in turn, Sid and Zayn pinned Cornwall against the ground as he struggled against them.
Turning toward Cornwall then, Xander pointed his shotgun toward the younger man, pressing it against his forehead firmly—so hard, in fact, that he cried out in pain.
Then, sneering with anger, Xander cocked his shotgun.
“No!” Henry screamed out then, getting up so fast Jude had to lay ontop of him to keep him from moving. “Please, Xander, no! Please! Don’t do this!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” Xander growled over at him. “He’s your friend, isn’t he? Plus he’s seen everything here.”
“He has a family!” Henry shouted out, his dark hair messy and his face coated with stark grief.
“And you don’t have a family?” Xander glared down at him. “Let me get something straight with you, Henry. You’re not in charge of any part of this village anymore. Is that clear?” He smiled. “That means every person who takes your side—every single person—will suffer the consequences—including your own family. Especially your family.” He chuckled.
Breathing hard with growing anger, Henry glared up at him, his shoulders tight and the veins on his neck bulging with anxiety and deep anger.
“In fact…” Finally, Xander removed his gun from Cornwall’s forehead, causing him to breathe out in relief. “I’ve made a new plan, boys.” He glanced over at Sid and Zayn. “You two, I want you to tie that man up and then—go out and get Cornwall Reaves’ family—his wife and his two young sons—bring them here so we can hold them hostage…and show them we really mean business!”
Staring at Xander in shock, Cornwall—enraged—fought against Sid and Zayn. “No!” he shouted. “No! Please, no!”
“Shut up!” Xander snapped at him, and then glanced over at Jude. “Now, Jude—I want you to go find your mother and sister.” He gazed straight into Henry’s face, as if he sensed his next words would destroy him. “Tell them we are ready.”
Henry glared at Xander. “Ready…for what?” he demanded in a growling tone.
Xander, pure evil, did nothing but smile. “Ready to kill off the entire village.”
Shock encompassed Henry’s face. “What?” he whispered.
“That’s right.” Sneering, Xander raised his eyebrows and told him the stark truth that would be the worst thing he would ever hear upon his life: “Henry Jackson, you are never going to see your wife and daughters—again!”
Six hours later
“Now, I will remind you, Jackson, that you’re treading a steep line.” Xander scowled over at Henry. “A very dangerous, steep line.”
They were standing outside one side of Coal Mountain, beside a long, narrow tunnel that appeared like it had no ending with the length of it. A mess of hard rock and clay were both inside and around the tunnel as well, because the tunnel had been created for Xander’s own reasons the day before. No doubt he was planning something that would shake all of them, not to mention destroy everything Henry and his family had worked so hard for.
Except for the Reaves family and Henry, all of the coal miners were sitting outside the coal mountain, farther away with Xander’s sons, Zayn and Jude. They in turn stood beside them with shotguns as a guard them to make sure they stayed where they were. All the coal miners were gazing with anger toward Xander Prick, and all were completely tied up in ropes, their filthy coal-mucked clothes and faces a drastic appearance from the rest of them.
Henry, his hands tied up behind him, stood beside Xander. He would be helpless to whatever came next. Nearby, the Reaves family stood. Cornwall Reaves leaned against a smaller part of the mountain with one arm around his wife Anna. Anna Reaves had both hands on the shoulders of her young sons, ages thirteen and nine, Nathaniel and Joshua, and she fought back tears. Jude Prick had his own shotgun pointed at them.
“You’ve decided you’re going to take over Coal Mountain,” Henry demanded, sweat at his brow. “Not me. So why am I running this so-called steep line?”
“You’ve never given anyone else the chance to be, as it could be said, team captain.” Xander grinned as he strode over to Henry, and then shoved a tight fist into Henry’s stomach.
Henry let out a loud cry, squeezing his eyes shut and causing Anna Reaves to wince, while her sons hid their own faces against her.
Henry breathed hard as he bent over, pain stark on his dirt-smothered face.
“You think I’m playing games here?” Xander clutched Henry’s hair and tugged his head up, forcing him to look at him straight in the eye. “I’m going to take over this village, this mountain, and this great and wonderful investment. I’m going to watch my wife and daughter return after drowning all of the women and children in the river…and if one of your daughters, or even your wife, returns here alive, I am going to make you watch me burn them…alive!”
Breathing hard in determined anger, Henry glared at him. “My wife is the smartest woman in the village, even smarter than your wife, Prick,” he snarled, and then spat in his face. “She wouldn’t let any bad things occur at that river.”
“Just you watch!” Xander slapped one hand across Henry’s face, and then started to turn away, when a familiar voice called out, as sweet as heaven: “Henry!”
They all turned, and a big smile swept across Mrs. Reaves’s face as all the women, led by Marilyn, appeared outside the mountain. Many were holding lanterns to light their way, and Nova and Ulsa were nowhere to be found.
Marilyn could not keep from staring at her husband’s face as she stopped walking, followed by the rest of the village women who had agreed to come with. There were a lot of them. Ronald, though, had taken his sweet wife home to grieve.
Henry’s face filled with warmth and hope, but also with some blood marks, as if Xander had been beating him.
“The girls?” he called out.
Marilyn smiled. “They and the other children are all safe with Mrs. Price and Mrs. Crest in town.”
Frowning, Xander trod over to the women, all exhausted from walking, and peered into Marilyn’s glaring gaze. “All right, woman. Where are Nova and Ulsa?” He gazed toward the other women, where most of them glanced away as if they were terrified of him. “Well?” He stepped closer to Marilyn’s face, causing her to flinch and tighten her grasp against the soft linen of her dress.
Not getting an abrupt answer, Mr. Prick wrapped his hand around her neck. “Tell me, woman!”
“They’re dead,” Marilyn replied.
Mr. Prick froze. He let go of her and then, cautious, he straightened to glare straight into Marilyn’s face, who looked at him, unafraid.
“I am sorry, but Mr. Jenkins shot Nova in self-defense, after Nova killed Lena, his wife.” Marilyn did not feel sorry at all. “They were going to drown all of us. Ulsa ran away, and we found her dead in a snake den on the way back here.”
Henry shook his head, his face a mixture of shock and true sadness.
Xander clenched his fists at his sides. “They were supposed to kill all of you! I commanded that!” he screamed into Marilyn’s unwavering face. “You fool! How could you have done that?”
Marilyn glanced behind her at the other women, desperate to protect them at all costs, and then glared back over at Xander.
“You’re all going to die now!” Xander yelled out, backing away. “I am going to destroy this village and all of its inhabitants! Mark my words!” He marched over to Zayn. “Zayn, bring all those men to their feet! The men need to see this!”
Zayn and Sid forced all of the coal miners to their feet, while Xander cut loose Henry’s tied hands. “Henry, you’re going to be a part of this, too,” he proclaimed, scaring the women. Walking past the women and the Reaves children, he burst out, “All of you will watch this!”
He strode straight over to Anna Reaves and grabbed her by the arm. As she shrieked, he pulled, half dragged her toward the huge hole of the deep coal mine tunnel.
“No!” Cornwall shouted, but Jude held him back as he struggled against him while both Nathaniel and Joshua ran away to the women in safety. “Prick! You leave her alone!”
“Shut up!” Xander demanded. “Jude, make sure you secure him, or he’ll be next in this extravaganza.” At Jude’s curt nod, he glanced at Anna, who stared at him in shock. “Now listen here, woman! I want you to walk down the tunnel, as far as you can, without looking back!”
Shocked, Marilyn and Henry exchanged glances of pure fear.
“I’m not going down that tunnel!” Anna cried out, trying to jerk out of his grasp. “It’s too dangerous!”
Sid shoved a gun to the edge of her back, causing her to cry out. “You’ll do it!”
Cornwall rushed forward, but this time, both Jude and Sid grabbed him hard, pulling him back. “No! Please, Prick, don’t hurt my wife!” he yelled, his face contorted with pain.
Sid pointed his shotgun over at him. “You wanna die, too?”
Cornwall, fear stark on his face, breathed hard against the strong men.
Xander pushed her forward. “Start walking, woman! Come on! Now!”
“Stay back, ladies!” Mother commanded in a loud, trembling voice, knowing with all of her heart what may happen next.
Anna’s forehead was sweaty and pale in the light of the lanterns, and she swiped her hands on her dress before, terrified, she grabbed onto the edge of the mountain with trembling hands. She walked into the dark tunnel. She tripped over one of the rocks inside, whimpering, her hands holding onto the walls narrowly leaning in on her.
“Faster!” Xander commanded, and Sid cocked his shotgun.
Shrieking, Anna hurried down the tunnel faster, her hands clasped to tight fists against the walls.
Xander hurried over with Zayn and his gun at his heels, and then shoved Henry forward, causing Marilyn to gasp. “Now! You’re going to make a choice. You’re going to choose on whether or not you will save this lady by risking your own life!” He glared. “What will it be, Henry?”
Speechless, Henry glanced behind him toward Marilyn.
Marilyn stared after Anna’s retreating back in shock, unable to believe what was happening before her.
But then she glanced at her husband…and gasped. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared at him.
Henry glanced back at the tunnel, the woman’s whimpers echoing against the walls as she went deeper and deeper into the tunnel at a careful run.
Finally, Henry gazed, and when he did, Marilyn swallowed hard at the rough emotion on his face, filled with such apology and love.
Then, he said brokenly: “I love you, Marilyn.” Every word was noted with such emotion, such power, that tears sprang to Marilyn’s eyes.
She gasped again. “No!” she screamed.
Henry spun around, clutched onto the mountain wall, and then heaved himself inside the coal mine tunnel.
“Hold on!” he yelled to Anna, who peered back to see him hurry toward her as fast as he could. “I’ll help you!”
“You can’t help her, Henry!” Xander shouted. “Give up! There’s no use in making things right! I’m the one who will take over Coal Mountain! I will! I am!”
“Henry, no!” Cornwall squeaked out, his hands clenching into the soft dirt beneath his fingernails, shock on his face.
“Hold on, Anna!” Henry exclaimed, several feet away from grabbing onto her hand. “I’ve got you!”
Marilyn backed away from the scene, sobbing, and shook her head back and forth.
“Henry!” Anna cried out. “I don’t understand what’s going on!”
“We’ll be all right!” Henry demanded, his voice echoing inside the narrow cave. “I promise! I won’t let anything happen to you! Take my hand!” He extended his big, strong hand, determination on his face—when suddenly, out of the corner of Marilyn’s eye, there became a spark of fire.
Holding the lit match in his hand, a smile large and tart on his cruel face, Xander Prick announced: “My town…my rules!”
He lit the stick of dynamite in his hand, and threw it—to everyone’s astounded belief—into the tunnel where Anna and Henry were.
“No!” Cornwall screamed at the top of his lungs, before Sid punched him, bringing him to the ground and then holding him back. “No! Please, no!”
The dynamite landed near Henry’s feet with a soft thud, the flame disintegrating the line.
Henry glanced down at the stick of dynamite, and then, eyes wide with shock and disbelief, glanced back. “No!” he shouted.
Anna’s screams were earsplitting as she fought against Henry to get back toward the tunnel opening, but it was too late—screams of the village echoed around the area as everyone ran from the scene as fast as they could, including the Pricks and Cornwall. Everyone ducked for cover, and Marilyn, after pushing Cornwall to the grass, collapsed to the ground with her body protecting him.
The explosion went off, detonating the entire area. As everyone hid their heads, bits of rock flew everywhere, piercing everyone’s ears. Dirt and rock hit people’s bodies, and smoke rose up from the shifting, large rocks.
The tunnel collapsed, drowning what was left in its midst, taking away all of the air from it, and sinking the entire village’s hearts.
The cloud of smoke was all that remained of the explosion, filling the entire area.
It felt like several minutes before finally, most of the smoke had left and the sounds of rocks collapsing around them completed.
As soon as Marilyn straightened, she looked up and discovered that the tunnel was no longer there. She gasped. “Henry!” she screamed, hurrying toward the collapsed wall, but she felt Cornwall’s hands hold her back. “Henry, no!”
But Henry was gone, and so was Anna.
Xander smiled over at the mountain wall which was now a huge pile of rock debris, and then, he started laughing, like he’d achieved a mighty goal. He stood, but as he turned around, two men came over to him.
“You think you can eliminate people’s loved ones like they were nothing?” one demanded. “What gives you the right?”
Xander chuckled, holding up his hands. “There’s nothing you can do about it now, boys. I’m in charge now.” He took out his gun from his holster, as fast as lightning, and shot both of the men in the chest.
Screams echoed around the entire huge crowd of men, women, and the Reaves children.
The two men crumpled to the ground like rag dolls.
“I will take all of your wives and children!” Xander stormed from the top of his lungs, his voice bouncing around them, making him sound like a monster. “I will strip the food and water from your houses! All of you will die!” he pronounced, gazing up at the night sky like he was king of the universe.
Marilyn’s skin trembled, cold with stark grief.
Nearby, Cornwall lay stomach down on the ground, his shoulders shaking in quiet sobs. Close by him, Nathaniel and Joshua sat on the ground as well, their faces both filled with incredible sadness and deep loss.
“You’ll never get away with this,” Marilyn snapped at Xander, although her voice still shook, and she glared at him. “You will be sorry when you stand before the Lord one day—”
“Trust me, woman,” Xander snarled, pointing his pistol straight at Mother’s forehead. “If anything, you will be the one who’ll be sorry!” He put down his pistol. “I could kill you right now, woman, both you and your unborn child! Not to mention your pathetic children!”
Marilyn slapped him. “Don’t you dare touch my children!”
Xander studied Mother hard, the anger growing even more intense beneath his gaze. “I will do,” he growled, “whatever I so desire anytime I want! Nobody will stop me!” He began shooting recklessly at the mountain, scaring all of the men and women around them.
“Come, ladies,” Mother whispered, although without much of a voice. “Let’s go home.”
By her side, some of the women wept as they made their way away from them, along with some of the rest of the men, women, and the Reaves children, glancing behind them on their way out to make sure Xander wasn’t following them. But soon, other families left Coal Mountain too, leaving Xander and his sons behind them to run their lives.
The following day
Cornwall Reaves stared into space unseeingly as he sat on the sofa inside his home, one arm around his son Joshua as he cried quiet, gentle sobs against his side. Nathaniel, his older son, walked over to his other side from the window.
“Papa,” he whimpered, fear on his small face. “Papa, what happens now?”
Cornwall peered over at him, and then rustled his hair. “We’re going to be okay, boy.” He gave a sad smile. “We’re going to be fine.”
Suddenly, the front door burst open, and Marilyn appeared.
Cornwall bolted upright, and then stood. “Marilyn!” he exclaimed in a shocked voice.
Marilyn glanced behind her, her hands full. Then, she set down her belongings next to the sofa: a small brown suitcase and a basket with a blanket covering the top of it.
“Cornwall,” she said as he stood. “I need you to take this.” She grabbed his hand at his side, and then planted a piece of paper inside it. “It will get you and your boys exactly where you need to go. Listen to me!” She clasped his shoulder. “They’re coming for me, all right? I need you take this suitcase and basket, and get out of here. Quickly! The Prick sons are coming to take me away, and they’re going to burn you and your sons inside this house…alive!”
Nathaniel gasped as he stared up at Marilyn, shocked.
“Marilyn…” Confused, Cornwall shook his head. “Marilyn…where are the girls?”
But Marilyn only shook her head. “There’s no time.” She glanced behind her as the sound of footsteps became obvious on the Reaves’s front porch. “But you need to trust me, all right? Trust me and read the letter! It’s the only way to get you and your sons to safety!”
Cornwall snagged Marilyn’s arm. “Marilyn!” he demanded. “Where are the girls?”
Marilyn frowned at him, and then studied him straight in the eye. “You have to trust me!”
Just then, all three of the Prick sons hurried inside the house. Zayn and Jude grabbed onto each of Marilyn’s arms, pulling her away from Cornwall.
“Trust me, Cornwall!” Marilyn cried over her shoulder as the men carried her out of the house. “Trust me, please! Please, you have to trust me!”
After they disappeared from sight, Sid came straight over to Cornwall. In turn, he stood protectively in front of his two sons, studying the younger man hard.
“Well, well.” Sid grinned a decayed-tooth grin over at him, and then looked him up and down. “Cornwall Reaves.”
Cornwall glared at him, furious anger stark in his blue-green eyes.
“You’re all going to burn.” Sid came up to him and looked at him straight in the eye. “And don’t you even try escaping!”
Grinning, he tossed a lit match to the floor as he exited the home and slammed the door. Cornwall hurried over to the lit match, and stomped on it hard.
But it didn’t matter—there sounded the clinking sound of chains coming about the house door, and then, the sloshing of liquid as the Pricks threw buckets of petrol around the house.
“Father!” Joshua called out as Cornwall ripped open the note and read through it. Then, with a look of disbelief on his face, he glanced over at the suitcase, then the basket.
Nathaniel bent down next to the basket. He then lifted the top blanket—and gasped.
There, nestled beneath other blankets, squirmed a beautiful newborn baby. On the front of the basket, near the infant’s legs, lay a leather-bound book.
Shocked, Nathaniel glanced up at his father. Joshua looked over into the basket, too, and his mouth popped open.
However, smoke seeped through the bottom of the front door. There erupted the sound of laughter, and then, the engulfing of flames.
“Papa!” Nathaniel cried out, panicking.
Suddenly, Cornwall tossed aside the letter. Then, grabbing one of the kitchen chairs, he rushed over to the back window and threw the chair through the window, shattering the glass.
Both of his sons stared at him as he came over. Then, Cornwall knelt before his eldest. “Nathaniel.” He clasped the boy’s shoulders. “I need you to leave! Exit through the broken window there and escape!”
“But where will I go?” Nathaniel cried out, terrified.
“Walk until you reach the nearest town. There, you will find a train depot. I want you to wait there. Help will soon be provided for you after that. All right?”
“But Papa!” Nathaniel exclaimed. “I’m scared!”
“So am I.” Clamping his hands to his son’s face, Cornwall kissed his son hard on the forehead, emotional but with the strength of an ox. Then, after glancing around him at the fire beginning to sweep inside the house, he smiled over at him. “Son, we need to separate so they don’t find us.” He took the book inside the basket, and gave it to him. “And I need you to take this and keep it safe. Do you trust me?”
Hesitant, Nathaniel nodded.
“Do you love me?”
Nathaniel nodded again.
Cornwall smiled. “I love you, too.” He blinked hard. “I’m proud of you, son. I always have and always will be. You’re my eldest son, and I’m very, very proud of you.”
Nathaniel choked on a sob. “But Papa, what if I don’t survive?”
“You will, son. You will.” Cornwall swallowed hard. “Because you’re like me.” He clasped his shoulder. “Now go!” He shoved him forward, and Nathaniel hurried toward the broken window, glancing back only once to see Joshua staring at him, in whom he may never see again.
After he climbed out of the window, he stood near the house—and peered inside.
Cornwall lifted the Jackson’s baby from the basket. As if the baby sensed danger, it started crying, but Cornwall kept it secure to the close of his chest, and then, bending over the suitcase, unlatched it.
The suitcase’s top flew open—and revealed beautiful, magical colors of the rainbow, colors of the sky and birds, colors beyond Nathaniel’s wildest dreams. Shocked, he gasped as, without hesitation, his father said something to Joshua.
Joshua stared up at his father in fearful confusion. Then, taking a deep breath, he jumped inside the suitcase, and disappeared.
Nathaniel gasped in amazement.
Then, Cornwall peered around him at the fire creeping inside the house he’d shared with his wife for many years. Finally, he covered the baby’s head with one hand, and jumped inside the suitcase, too.
Cornwall and the baby disappeared—and then, so did the suitcase, right before a flash of fire took hold of the sofa and engulfed it into flames.
Nathaniel gazed around him, and then stared straight toward the big hill behind their house. Swallowing hard, he stepped forward, and ran up the hill as hard and as fast as he could. He ran and ran, terrified of the Pricks finding him, and terrified of what his life could possibly hold after this.
Once he reached the top of the hill, Nathaniel looked down at what remained of Morwick. The railroad cars in front of Coal Mountain were silent. People were running about, screaming and taking hold of their families as the Pricks set fire to another house, then another, causing pain and misery around the village.
Then, after one final look, Nathaniel turned and hurried down the opposite side of the hill, toward his future and the miles of green trees and land that lay before him. He couldn’t stop—and didn’t stop—for that he should only obey what his dear father had commanded him to do.