Arnettsville (Yukon), West Virginia 1861
Sunset on that bone chilling evening in mid January, seemed nothing out of the dull mundane. The sky alight in hues of deep purples and red as the scattered clouds moved across the hills in a slow deliberate pace. I had retired to the porch after a day of hunting with my rather ugly hound Chester. He may be long in the tooth but still enjoys a good chase now and then. The day rewarded a couple hares that my wife Malinda joyously prepared for myself, 4 children and Servant. I had only been home a few days and was already beginning to feel back at ease. Some months ago, I had been forced to join the Confederate army, which I had no business being a part of. I had to provide for my family, and my children were not quite old enough to take care of the ranch just yet. I had refused to join, and the Rebs decided it best to force me and several others down to Little Rock to be incarcerated until we were properly motivated to enlist. As luck would have it, we overpowered our gracious escorts and escaped. All going their own ways. We took all records of our capture and hid the bodies carefully. No proof or signs that we ever were transported. At least that's what we believed.
Malinda, my beloved wife, came out with our oldest boy William. She carried herself with a gleeful stride, though she was a bit older than myself, she had a joy of life not seen in some years. She was thrilled to have me back and in good company. I loved this woman, she was rough around the edges but every bit a lady. "Supper time my love!" she announced as William chased a couple of cats off the porch.
I came into the dining room where everyone was gathered and I took seat at the head of the table. Mary Lee, my middle daughter sat next to me and had the prettiest smile and pig tails, sure to melt the heart of any hardened father. She smiled and asked, "May I say grace tonight father?"
"Yes you may Mary Lee." I smiled back at her. The room was filled with the aromatics of cooking dinner and fresh bread. The dining room sat left of the grand staircase of the main entrance and was elegant and stylish for this part of West Virginia. It was not the largest of such farm homes but it was beautiful both inside and out. It was a plantation some years back, but I sold off and freed my slaves over the past years. One servant remained, a elderly lady with a deep accent from Caribbean islands. She now looked to be about 70 from my best guess, but she did live a very rough life prior to my service. Her wrinkled and freckled light black skin was pretty unique and she always had crazy stories of how each freckle came to be. She believed that each act of kindness brought a new one and that's why she was always so happy and nice to everyone! I had freed Miss Hany about 10 years back, but she had no place to go and was always so kind and caring to our children. She had a lame leg that caused her limp about but she had mastered her cane and got about just fine. She was a mysterious sort, never talking of her past. She held onto some old religion from her home but never discussed it with us other than we shared the same God. She always joined us in grace and never bothered us that she would keep strange relics in her quarters downstairs. Most slaves from these parts had been bought and sent south to the greater plantations in Georgia mostly. Miss Hany had few colored friends left to talk with anymore, so we were about as close as family she could have.
Mary Lee finished up grace and we began our meal. It was pleasant and the mood was joyous. It was a far cry better than a chain gang force marching to Arkansas. Peace had settled over me for now. We had prepared however, just in case, a hiding place for me and my oldest boy in case they came back looking for conscripts to join that infernal war. I wanted no part of the war, either side to be honest. I figured slavery was bound to end sooner than later anyhow. More and more people were moving to the abolitionists movement everyday both North and South. Most of the world had given up slavery years ago, and the world was looking at America to be next. Lincoln had no right to start a damn war on brothers. Just let us be and eventually we would come to our damn senses on the slave issue.
A shot close by rang out somewhere outside with the cries of a hound yelping in agony. In instinct, I ran for the door to see what was going on. As the door flew open I was greeted with a porch covered on blood and 4 burly odorous men wearing tattered Confederate uniforms. The smoke of the pistol still billowing out and the man raised it to my chest with deliberate force.
"Why Mr. Robert Lee, as I live and breath. A deserter! Why boys, we found him just like the others said we would. Why don't we go in and talk about what we are going to do to correct this." He looked behind him where several horses were beginning to gather. 2 men sat up on horses with white hoods over their heads and hands bound. "Hang them 2 traitors!" he yelled out to the other men dismounting their horses. The smell of his rancid breath was that of a plague of the worst type. The other men chuckled as they went about the business of throwing a bloodied noose up over a low branch of the old gnarled tree in the front of the house. The man pushed forward with the barrel of the pistol squarely into my chest. Malinda and the girls screamed in panic as Mary Lee ran forward pleading not to hurt Daddy! Malinda came up behind me and held onto my shoulder tightly.
"Just do what they want Robert! We won't fight you! Just let us be! We will be no trouble!" Malindas voice shook in fear as she held back tears.
"Mrs. Lee, please take your children outside. No need for you to be in here as we talk business with Mr. Lee." The man motioned with his pistol to the open door. When William came walking with his head down the foul man stopped him. "YOU! STAY HERE!", William froze in fear. William only nodded in agreement.
Miss Hany by this time was in her quarters as she heard the commotion unfolding. The cries and yelling alerted her to the trouble unfolding. She had kept a small knife in her dresser and grabbed it as well as her prayer beads. A muffled but careful prayer left her chaffed old lips as she took her shoes off to avoid making noise. She stood in the shadows just before the foyer where Mr. Lee was talking with the strangers. Armed with her small blade and prayer beads she quietly whispered prayers from the shadows.
The foul man paced the foyer as the other 2 men in his company took seats and ordered Mr. Lee to take a seat in the middle of the room. "We gave you mercy last time I understand. Is this correct? We came, you refused, we took you to Little Rock to be convinced to join! But instead, you killed your brothers! YOU ARE A FUCKING TRAITOR!" He raised the pistol to the back of my head.
I could feel the still warm steel on the back of my head. Across the room a old mirror sitting down on the floor, aged and dirty I had meant to mount it. Miss. Hany had brought it home from the market a few days back and had told the children it was a magical mirror which the children had found amusing. I could see the rabid anger in this mans face as he slobbered drool out as he yelled at me. Something else was there, in the image of the mirror, in the shadows. The gleam of steel and a shadowy figure. What apparition was this? Its form seemed to be distorted and wavering within the shadows.
Suddenly William without warning lunged for one of the sitting men and grabbed his holstered pistol and in a seemingly fluid movement, fired off a round that exploded into his chest spraying blood from the point blank shot onto himself and the wall before him. The man gasped a single breath as he fell limp to the floor as blood oozed out the hole now in his chest. William ran out the front door where there were a few more shots fired and screams sounded from the girls outside. William saw the men on horseback now with nooses around their necks as they were ready for hanging. William frantically fired at a couple of men near Malinda and the girls as he ran as fast as he could down the old road. The shots as they rang out however, spooked the horses that were mounted by the other 2 deserters and left the 2 men dangling by the nooses as their bodies convulsed at the end of the rope. All the men outside went in chase of William. Many fading gunshots could be heard as the other man inside with the foul man ran out also in pursuit.
Malinda, by instinct, then took this chance to take flight herself in all the confusion. She held the youngest and the other 2 ran off into the darkness towards the barn house with her. She loaded the kids onto the buggy and hitched up a single horse. As quickly as she could, they headed out the road and went North to make the Mason Dixon Line where hopefully she could seek asylum.
A quiet fell upon the room that seemed to stop time as the foul man looked nervous but resolute in his duty to execute me. Once again the air was filled with gun smoke and the sick odor filled my nose. Once again a image in the mirror got my attention. I hoped that the foul man would not notice it, so I turned to look at him to plead with his sense of mercy. But in his eyes, I saw none. To him I was as already dead. His convictions to this war were fanatical and nothing I could say would persuade him otherwise. I had to try! "SIR! Please, just tell them I escaped! I have a farm to tend, a family! They need me!" This angered him more, he became unhinged and shouted even louder!
"Be silent! No begging will save your skin now traitor!" Just in that moment of fury I saw a hand holding a carving knife reach from behind and cut deeply into the neck of this foul man! The crimson spray shot forth and onto my face. The man stumbled forward and spun around to face me while gargling a incoherent scream of anger as blood coursed down his chest and sprayed in steady beats from his gaping wound. In a flash I saw the muzzle of the gun flash and a thud upon my chest.
The bullet had struck my chest near its center. the foul man collapsed to the floor with a heavy hit. I fell forward from my chair and laid out on my stomach towards the mirror. I could see myself clearly now. Breathing was becoming very labored and the taste of blood and metal filled my mouth. In the mirror I could see Miss Hany stumbling towards me, as I saw a steam of blood coursing from her neck. She was covered in blood and looked to be fading quick. she bent down next to me for a moment, holding her neck she placed a strange assortment of odd jewelry in my hand. The foul man lay there gurgling in blood as red foam seeped from his chest with a sick hissing sound. Miss Hany took the gun from the dying man and shot him point blank in his temple and the sounds of the man dying ceased. As the shot blew through the skull of the foul man, the bullet struck and caused the mirror to crack up and fall into some pieces. Hany then fell to the floor, struggling for a breath and laid there slowly breathing. Her time was coming to an end as well. I could feel my breaths become more and more painful and harder. I turned my head to the mirror and in a sick fascination watched myself and Hany slowly die.
In the now shattered mirror I could see myself in many angles dying and even the dead foul man and the nearly dead Miss Hany. As I struggled for felt like my last few breaths I saw Miss Hany look to me and whisper, "mi deh yah" and rolled over to touch the mirror. With that, I took my last breath, I no longer had the strength to draw another breath. My eyes closed and I felt an almost sense of peace. The pain faded and the things seemed quiet and calm. This must be what death is like I thought, Doesn't seem so bad. I could hear a strange sound, like the cracking of glass perhaps? I wish I could see. But at least the suffering is over. The sound suddenly stopped and then I heard one last breath of Miss Hany as she too expired. Perhaps we will all meet in heaven as surely those monstrous men would surely burn in the lake of fire! I struggled to open my eyes to see what was happening. With that my eyes opened! I expect to see my loved ones, some resemblance of paradise.
What I saw now was the most confounding thing I had ever seen in all my years! I was looking at my lifeless body laying among the others on the foyer floor. It was as if I was looking at this scene from on my knees. I reached out to myself and seemingly I was not able to move from where I was. But suddenly my body convulsed up and took in a huge breath! How could this be? I am dead! I could see myself as if I was someone else?! The body then began to slowly rise up and slowly crawl closer to me. He, I, Us? reached out to me his hand and I felt compelled to do the same and our hands joined flat. Then in a fog of confusion I was looking at myself in the mirror, but the mirror was not me. It looked angry! I now kneeled before the mirror looking in, instead of in the mirror looking out. I touched the wound upon my chest, but it was gone! How? Suddenly, the mirror image sternly commanded me, "Avenge me, Avenge us!" I then turned to Miss Hany who had a pistol on the floor next to her and picked it up holding it tightly like a limb that had been wounded. I then repeated the word, ".....Avenge"