Excerpt for The Unfortunate Survival of Peter Cunningham by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



The

Unfortunate

Survival

of

Peter Cunningham


Karen Reis




Smashwords Edition


Copyright 2017 Karen Reis




Discover Other Titles by Karen Reis


No Explanations




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Cover picture of fetus from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/



Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14



Chapter 1



Though the pain was no longer sharp and piercing, but rather dulled by time to an ache that rested in the core of Lindsay Cunningham’s heart, it was always present. Especially today did she feel that pain all the more keenly, for it was the anniversary of her baby boy’s death. It was her custom to go to the cemetery to lay a lily across his little marker stone, an event she both anticipated and was woefully unprepared for.

But first, there was work.

Lindsay stuck her head inside of the front door of her boss’ house. “Bob? Are you up top?”

No reply came. Good. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with his crotchety personality. Lindsay stepped inside and quietly closed Bob’s front door. There was no sign of life in the house, just scattered food containers and opened cardboard boxes with packaging spilling out onto the old green carpet of the living room. If Bob wasn't up here, then he was most certainly down in his basement tinkering away at his latest project. Bob was a scientist who had the extreme luck of having a rich and dead mother who had left him everything, including her house. No longer having to waste time and breath teaching at a university, fighting for grants and the attention of students merely present for the credits, Bob quit and set up shop in the basement of his mother’s house, a place which he left only to receive packages and raid the refrigerator.

After dropping the mail she’d retrieved from the box outside on a table in a bin labeled IN, Lindsay went straight to the kitchen to grab a garbage bag from the cabinet under the sink. Bob was a brilliant man, an inventor, but socially inept and perpetually grouchy. Also, he was a pig.

Into the bag went Styrofoam pellets, ripped open packaging, and a week’s worth of old food containers, some licked clean, some containing molding, congealed leftovers. After the trash was picked up, there was dusting. Books, manuals, charts, and loose papers, covered every surface of Bob’s house. Lindsay did not move any of these things. She simply dusted around them. It would have been suicide to do anything more. Bob’s house was a pigsty, but it was his, and he was protective of his mess.

As she dusted, Lindsay picked up dirty laundry and towels and put them in a small, square plastic basket, slowly making her way to the laundry room. Lindsay was probably the only living organism who saw Bob on a regular basis, besides the UPS guy and the mice, who in their own way tried to clean up after Bob, but instead left a mess of their own for Lindsay to clean up. Bob paid her a pittance to come in during the week and clean his house, restock his refrigerator and freezer, weed his front yard, and sweep the porch to keep the neighborhood association off his back, and pick up after him in general. In return, she lived in the apartment above his garage rent free.

“Ew! Bob!” Lindsay exclaimed, using the tips of her forefinger and thumb to pick up an old fashioned and very used hankie that had been wadded up under a quantum mechanics paper. “Ugh, you really are a pig.”

Loud clanking noises came from behind the basement door in the kitchen, but Lindsay paid no attention as she put her basket full of laundry in the wash machine. She’d heard all sorts of strange and alarming noises coming from below her feet over the five years she'd taken care of Bob. She was extremely curious about what Bob did down there, but on her first day on the job she'd been strictly warned by him.

“Never, never, never open this basement door and try to take a peek at what I’m doing. Or I’ll have you out on your ear. Understand?” Bob had said, glaring at her through his thick glasses.

“What about in an emergency? Am I allowed to call 9-1-1 and let EMTs down there?” she had asked, half joking.

Bob had frowned. “Only if you see smoke coming up or smell the odor of my decaying body.”

He’d been dead serious, and she’d obediently stayed away from that door.

The loud clanking sounds stopped. Lindsay turned the wash machine on and turned her attention to the pile of dishes and silverware in the sink. She opened the dishwasher door and had begun removing the clean dishes when the power went out suddenly. Every once in a while, Bob caused a blackout in the neighborhood, a habit that pissed off the neighbors and the city. But Lindsay just casually flipped the kitchen light switch on so she’d know when the power was back. The bulb flickered on, then off, then on again. She wondered again what he was doing, but still was not concerned.

Lindsay kept working, putting clean dishes away. As she turned towards the cupboard, she paused. The dishes inside it were trembling. Lindsay put her hand down on the counter and felt it -- vibrations. She frowned as the vibrations grew strong enough to start making the dishes clatter together. The Portland, Oregon Metropolitan area was not known for its earthquakes, but there were volcanoes and a major subduction zone. She’d never been through an earthquake before, so she didn’t know what they were supposed to feel like.

The power went out again. It stayed out.

The vibrating increased, and the dishes started to jiggle their way to the edge of the cabinet shelf. Lindsay quickly closed the doors and raced to an open window and looked out of it. No one was coming out of their houses or freaking out, though it seemed like every dog in the neighborhood was barking. Lindsay whirled around and looked in the direction of the basement door. Could Bob be causing the house shake and the dogs to bark?

Confused and worried, Lindsay raced to the door but didn't open it. “Bob!” she called out, hoping he would hear her and answer. “Bob, what are you doing? Is everything okay?”

She waited a few seconds, but she didn't hear Bob answer. “Bob?” she shouted again.

Nothing. During the seconds it took for Lindsay to call out to Bob twice, the trembling quickly grew more and more pronounced till Lindsay had to brace herself between the wall and the counter to remain upright. The cabinet doors were pushed open by the dishes which promptly fell, making Lindsay jump in real fear.

“Bob!” Lindsay shouted as loud as she could, fear causing her voice to wobble. “Bob, if you don't answer me right now, I'm going to come down there!”

Bob didn't answer, and Lindsay put her hand on the doorknob and turned it. It wasn’t locked. A staircase went straight down into the dark basement; the power was still out, but a strange green glow cast odd shadows. Lindsay braced her hands against the railing and the wall as she made her way cautiously down the nine steps to the basement floor, her heart pounding. An electric hum filled the air and made her long hair stand on end.

“Bob!” Lindsay yelled, truly frightened now as she reached the bottom step. She tried to summon up anger at Bob for what craziness he was cooking up, but as she rounded the corner to enter the large basement room, she could only gape in shock at what she saw.

Four tall posts connected to a huge generator stood in the middle of the room. In the middle of the posts spun what looked like a two-dimensional mirrored lake, the source of the strange green light. It was acting like a magnet, pulling everything from Bob’s computer to pens to even a few lose floor boards towards its center, elongating them and twisting them till they appeared to vanish at the mirror’s center. Everything in the room moved towards it, including Bob, who looked understandably distressed.

“Liiindssaay! Geeet ooouuutttt!” he seemed to shout at her. His words came to her as if he was in slow motion.

“Oh my God!” Lindsay said as the shaking grew steadily worse. “BOB!” she screamed, and ignored his warning by lunging towards him to try to help him. What should have been a quick dash across the room was turned into what felt like a plodding lifting of feet that suddenly felt both heavy and disconnected from her body. The house felt as if was being shaken by a giant, and Lindsay lost her footing. Falling didn’t stop her forward movement. Whatever Bob had done - whatever he had created - it was pulling her too, just as it was pulling him.

“Bbbooobbb! Whaaaat haaavvee yooouuuu doonnne!”

It took forever for her words to register with Bob, and she watched him blink, a closing and opening of his eyelids that seemed to take 30 seconds. Lindsay's heart beat so hard in fear that she was afraid it would burst, but even that beat was unnaturally slow. Bob was so close to the vortex now, and his face was twisted in pain and his body looked oddly elongated and flat. He opened his mouth and he spoke, but the words were so slow and stretched out that she had trouble understanding him.

“LLLLiiiiinnndddddsssseeeyyy. IIII’mmmmm ssssooorrryyyyy!”

And then Bob was pulled into the mirror’s center, and he disappeared. The mirror didn’t shut down, and Lindsay knew that she was next. It pulled her, and she couldn’t get up, or make her legs push herself backwards. She couldn’t even feel her legs or arms anymore, or even the floor, and it was as if the air had thinned, making it a struggle to breathe. She closed her eyes because looking down at herself made her want to vomit. Lindsay felt like she was being crushed and stretched at the same time. The pain was incredible and she was sure that she was being pulled apart atom by atom.

I’m going to die, she thought, and opened her eyes, the churning depths of the mirror filling her vision. If she was going to die, she’d do it with her eyes open.

The pain increased. Screaming was impossible. Her thoughts began to slow. Her vision doubled, tripled, and then began to go black. Her last conscious thought was that there would be no remains of her body to bury next to her son’s.

Then she was pulled through, taken apart, reassembled, and spat out.


Chapter 2



“Ho, behold the sunshine! Rise and cover. Your father would shade red to see you now!”

Lindsay blinked and groaned and reached up to grab her head. God, but she felt like she had a hangover. The blinding bright sun overhead combined with the strange man’s loud voice in her ear made her want to puke.

The man, who sounded thoroughly shocked, grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to her feet. “Red woman! Ho! Rise and cover, or if not, I shall trumpet the Swords!”

“What?” Lindsay said, stumbling and yanking her arm from the man’s punishing grip. She had no idea what the man was telling her. He spoke English, but it was unlike any English she’d ever heard before.

“Trumpet the swords?” she asked, looking at him, confusion knitting her brows together.

The man’s dress certainly did not help to clarify matters any. He looked like a geek let loose in a Renaissance fair. He was tall and pasty with thinning, greasy hair and a pointed goatee. He wore a yellow shirt with puffy sleeves and a fitted button down vest that was stiff with embroidery and supported his beer belly. His pants were puffy as well, and ended just below his knees. The finest leather boots Lindsay had ever seen graced his feet and calves.

Lindsay’s mouth hung open as she took in the sight of him, and the smell, because he obviously didn’t own any deodorant. The whinny of a horse behind her made Lindsay whirl around, and if she’d been confused before, well, the sight that met her eyes then left her absolutely flabbergasted.

She was standing in some kind of square paved with stone, and a well sat at its center. Open stalls made out of wood and canvas filled with food and knives, cloth and pottery, and other odds and ends were scattered around the edges of the square. Women and men and children in old-fashioned type dresses and suits stood around and gawked at her. Apparently, it was market day. If so, she had certainly brought commerce in this strange place to a halt.

And that was the question. Where was she? She was definitely no longer in Bob’s basement.

Bob. Suddenly she remembered everything that had happened to her, and she turned back to the man who had grabbed and yelled at her. He was looking at her suspiciously, but Lindsay couldn’t help but take an entreating step towards him.

“Please, sir. Have you seen an older man nearby dressed in a stained white coat with brown pants?”

The man, who in comparison with the other people standing around, was richly dressed, took a step away from her, lifted a hand to his lips and let out an ear-splitting whistle. Lindsay cringed and covered her ears with her hands and looked at him uncertainly.

“If you could help me, please-” she began again, desperate to find out whether Bob was alright or not, but the man cut her off.

“Silence, red woman!” he shouted at her. “Have you no shame? Your flesh is a sight that might send weak men into a pant, but I am no such man! Cover now, or your sentence will be increased!”

Lindsay shook her head and held out her hands. “What are you talking about?” she asked him.

The crowd, which up to that point had been silent in apparent shock, began to recover and individuals started shouting at her, telling her the same nonsensical things. It wasn’t till someone threw a ratty dress into her face that Lindsay finally got it. She was horribly under-dressed, at least by their odd standards. The angry people around her were covered from head to toe, especially the women, whose skirts ended at their ankles and shirtsleeves stopped at their wrists. Lindsay was dressed for a warm Oregon summer day. She had shorts and a short sleeved shirt on. People were calling her a red woman because they apparently thought she was some kind of prostitute.

But that made no sense. She dropped the dirty, ripped dress on the ground and looked back at the rich man. He raised his fingers to his mouth and whistled again. Others around took up the call and the air was filled with their racket.

“What’s going on here?” she demanded to know from the rich man, who seemed to be some kind of authority. “Where am I? Who are you?"

The man took offense to her demanding questions and slapped her hard across the face so that she stumbled backwards a few steps. She gazed at him in dazed confusion, her hand on her stinging cheek. This was crazy, she told herself. This was insane. No one acted like this. It had to be a dream. Yes, she was dreaming she was in some sort of strange commune where everyone thought they were living in the Middle Ages. Perhaps if she just shut her eyes and concentrated very hard, she could wake up. She’d probably dozed off on Bob’s couch while she waited for the dishwasher to finish its cycle.

The sound of approaching hoof beats caused her to whip around. Four men on horseback approached and the crowd parted for them. They wore green uniforms with shiny gold buttons. Sheathed sabers hung from their waists.

“Here, Swords!” called out the rich man. “Here is an offender, a red woman who scorns authority and charity and prances about under the sun to entice weak men! Take her now!”

Before Lindsay could register what was happening, the four men dismounted as one and surrounded her. One Sword drew his saber and watched her through narrowed eyes as the three remaining Swords pinned her arms behind her back.

“Hey, what do you -- Hey, what are you doing?” she yelled as two men thrust her to the ground and the third tied her hands tightly behind her back.

Lindsay cried out in pain and rage and confusion, but no one listened. Instead she was slapped again after being hauled up to her feet.

“You will be silent, red woman!” the guard who slapped her thundered.

Tears gathered in Lindsay’s eyes and her ears rang from the blow. She stopped struggling, though. She didn’t want to be hit again.

Once assured that she would fight them no more, the Swords pushed her towards the patiently waiting horses. Lindsay was hoisted up into the air and thrown over the withers of one horse like so much baggage. All the men mounted, her rider placing a hand on her back to ensure that she stayed in place, and, with a nudge of a spur, the horse leaped forward. Lindsay almost puked again as her stomach bounced to the horse's gait. She cried and yelled and shouted and swore, but the men, the Swords, did not stop.


“Ow!” Lindsay yelled in outrage as she hit the floor. She sat up awkwardly, her hands still bound tightly behind her back, and glared at the guardsman who closed her cell's barred door and locked it tight. “Haven’t you people ever heard of the Constitution? What about Miranda Rights? What is wrong with you?”

The guardsman didn’t answer her. He just left, his eyes telling her that he felt no sympathy for her.

“What is going on?” she asked the air, tears threatening to fall again.

Lindsay sniffed and tried to find a comfortable position. It was impossible to find one though. Her hands felt numb, her shoulders ached, her stomach and ribs were bruised from the ride, and her left cheek was tender from being slapped. The cell of her floor was made of stone. There was no chair or bed, no blanket. It was cold in the prison, with a draft strong enough to make her shiver.

“Okay,” she breathed deeply, trying to remain calm and not give way to helpless, desperate tears. “This is obviously not a dream. A hoax then. This is a hoax or a movie set or a bunch of crazy people who really did start their own commune so they could live like people in the Middle Ages.”

The idea of a commune -- or maybe cult was a better word -- did sound like the most plausible of her options. People were odd, especially in Portland. Except the weather wasn’t right for Portland. It had been cold outside in that market; nippy as if it was the end of fall. By this time Lindsay was covered in goosebumps and she tucked her knees as close to her chin as she could get them, given that her hands were still tied behind her back.

She was silent, but her brain shouted questions that she had no answers to. Where was Bob? Was he hurt? Was he even here? What was going to happen to her? Lindsay sized up her cell. It was small, only about five feet wide and four feet deep. How long was she going to spend in here? Her stomach rumbled. Were they going to feed her?

And what was the normal punishment for prostitutes who scorned authority and charity and pranced about in the full light of day in nothing but their underwear?

She had no window in her cell, but a bit of light did reach her from a lamp that hung in the corridor outside her door. It never dimmed or was turned off, so she had no concept of how many hours had passed before she was woken up from a dose by the sound of a key turning in the lock of her door. The door swung open to reveal two guards, different than those who had originally drug her to her cell. Without a word to her, one guard stepped in and yanked her to her feet.

How long? she wondered. How long had she been in there? She asked the guards as they marched her down a hall filled with cells just like hers, but neither answered her.

It was long enough for her stomach to ache in hunger and her throat to become parched, long enough for joints and her back to stiffen from laying hunched on a cold hard surface. It was hard to walk and to the climb up the flight of 12 stairs, but the guards neither slowed down nor attempted to help her.

“Where are we going?” Lindsay asked the guard in a hoarse voice. Predictably, he didn't answer.

The stairs ended in a set of large, heavy wooden doors, that were opened to reveal a noisy room lined with men and women and children who stood behind a wooden railing. A man in a black robe with a black beanie on his head sat up behind a tall desk on a dais at the far end of the room. A sign hung on the wall behind him read

Justice Peace Andrew Jilt

Mercy, Justice, Wisdom

“Is this a court?” Lindsay squeaked, and dug her heels into floor. “Am I being prosecuted?”

Her guardsmen didn’t answer, of course, and simply picked her up under her armpits and carried her to the middle of the room were a raised platform surrounded by a waist high fence stood, the gate at its rear open, waiting for her. Lindsay knew what that was. She’d watched too many period English movies to not know. That was where the accused person stood, the accused who was assumed guilty from the start, who had no access to a lawyer with a backbone, and who was convicted on flimsy proof and the testimony of liars.

Lindsay’s heart beat hard in her chest as she watched herself being pushed up the platform’s three steps and enclosed by the wood of the fence. She was too terrified to speak, to make any kind of sound, except when a guard shut the gate behind her hard, latching it in place. She jumped at the sound of metal on metal and a low moan escaped her throat. She looked down at the fence railing in front of her. The wood was rough except for two spots that were just right for gripping tightly with her hands. Lindsay envisioned countless people grasping that fence and leaning over it in desperation, begging for mercy, for leniency, and receiving none.

A thin man who sat next to the judge stood up. “The good and righteous Justice Peace Jilt will take order of this judicature and see evidence mustered against this strange, red woman who flouted law and decency and charity in the eyesight of the community. This judicature demands reverent quietude from the witnessing crowd.”

His mouthful of an introduction would have made Lindsay snicker but she wasn’t watching an old English movie. She was being tried as a prostitute in some crazy commune where they had their own police and judicial system as if they believed they lived outside and above the law of the United States of America.

Justice Jilt looked at Lindsay with distaste plain on his fat, jowly face. He picked up a gavel and banged it against the top of his desk. Her trial had officially begun.

The Justice addressed her right away. “You – red woman and stranger. How are you titled?”

It took Lindsay more than a split second to process that request and possibly understand what he was asking her. “Lindsay Cunningham,” she replied in what she hoped was a respectful yet strong tone of voice.

“Cunningham?” the Justice frowned as if the name made a foul smell. “Do you claim a master?”

Not understanding what he was asking and loathe to name Bob in case he was hiding, Lindsay just shook her head. “No?"

The Justice raised his eyebrows. “Let the history for this day read of Lindsay Cunningham: Free Woman and Red, titled thus by her own tongue."

Lindsay had no idea what the significance of that statement was, but she understood the significance of his next question all too well.

He leaned forward and stared at her with intense eyes. “And a Witch too?”

The crowd of people began to talk amongst themselves all at once then, and the Justice had to bang his gavel to gain their silence and attention again.

“What?” Lindsay couldn't help but blurt out. “No! I'm not a witch! What kind of a question is that?”

“You deny the claim of Witch?” the Judge asked her.

“Yes I do deny it. I am not a witch!” Lindsay said forcefully.

The Justice turned to the crowd. “Step forward, Tobias Weatherman. Do you beg to differ the woman’s claim?”

A man, poor by the state of his clothing, stepped forward. He pointed a finger at Lindsay and spoke in a voice so that all in the crowd could hear. “I did yesterday see this woman, who is red and a witch, appear out of the air! I stood by my booth – a cloth man I am – and I saw her come, but not on foot or by animal. By magic she became visible to my eyes – by dark sorcery matched with her nakedness she tried to bewitch me. Then the mayor came to scare her away, but she scorned him and charity.”

Lindsay gaped at the ridiculousness of the man’s statement, and she would have spoken out, except that she saw a ring of the truth to his words. She had seen with her own eyes how Bob, back in his basement, had stretched and then winked out of existence. She would logically have done the same. Apparently, she had reappeared here, wherever here was, winking back into existence. Even to a modern mind, that might seem like magic. But these people at best were ignorant, at worst brainwashed.

The crowd became stirred up at the man’s words, and some began to chant, “Witch, witch, witch." A few threw bits of garbage at her. The Justice silenced them, though he didn’t tell them to stop throwing garbage at her, and asked,

“Where there any other eyes to see as Tobias did?”

Four men stepped forward. Lindsay’s stomach felt sour at the sight of them.

“We say the same,” they all said. “Our eyes saw her appear out of the air. She is a witch.”

“Burn her!" “Drown her!” a few people from the crowd cried, and Lindsay began to sweat and tremble and grasp desperately at the wooden railing in front of her.

“No! I am not a witch!” she cried out.

The Justice stood up and pointed his gavel at her. “Do you title us liars?”

It was a trap. Say yes and she would insult them. Say no, and she would be agreeing with their denunciation of her. Thinking fast, Lindsay cried, “You are simply mistaken. I am innocent. I am a victim and- and foreign!”

The Justice shook his head. “You cannot talk circles to me. You admit to being Red and Free, therefore a victim you cannot be. You are a Witch! And these men,” he gestured to the five who had spoken against her, “are not liars." He flung his arms up into the air. “I know Justice. Throw her into the pit!”

The crowd cried its delight at her sentence, and her two guards hauled her roughly from the platform and down into the midst of the people, who spat on her and screamed in her face and slapped her. They cried, “Witch! Kill her!"

Lindsay didn’t know exactly what the pit was, or how deep it was, but knew that she did not want to go there. She dug her heals into the ground and kicked at her guards’ shins. She twisted her torso in an attempt to break free of their grasp, crying and shouting her innocence. Nothing worked. The guards simply stopped walking, and one guard let go of her long enough to draw back his fist and punch her square in the stomach. Lindsay’s breath went out of her in a whoosh and she doubled over in pain, coughing and trying to get her breath back as tears streamed down her face from the pain and her fear of what was to come.

She was incapable of walking after the punch to her gut, so the guards simply picked her up under her armpits again and walked her outside of the Justice Peace building and out into the sunlight. It felt like morning. The air was crisp and chilly, and goosebumps covered her exposed skin once more. The pit was not far from the Justice Peace building, only about 100 yards away. It was surrounded by an iron fence which she was marched through, the crowd of townspeople following close behind, still yelling obscenities at her back. Lindsay had recovered enough to brace her feet against the ground as she neared the edge, but her guards simply lifted her up again and carried her to the edge.

They set her down very close to the rim so that all she had to do was tilt her body forward ever so slightly to peer into the depths before her. The word pit evoked an image of a cavernous drop onto jagged rocks or into a snake den. What she saw was definitely not a nature-made pit. It was a perfectly circular shaft cut into the ground by machinery, lined with white concrete. Little domes made of what she thought was blacked out glass were embedded in the concrete at regular intervals. It was a mysteriously modern thing in this nightmare place of superstition and covered skin.

It was also deep – Lindsay could not clearly see the bottom of it; surely a fall to its bottom would kill her. Lindsay began to tremble in fear and tried to buck against her guards’ grip. She felt that if she didn’t try to fight, she’d give into despair and humiliate herself by losing control of her bowels.

The Justice, who had followed the crowd at a sedate pace, drew close.

“I’m innocent, damn you!” Lindsay yelled, choosing anger over tears. “This is murder! Do you understand that? This is murder!”

Justice Jilt apparently felt no need to make a reply or even a speech as Lindsay hoped he might, just to hold off the inevitable for as long as possible in the vain hope of a rescue. He merely nodded to the two guards who held her tightly. The one who had punched her let her go and cut her numb hands free from their bindings, and then they both, before she could take one step to run away, pushed her over the edge.

Lindsay screamed as she fell, her arms flailing out, her eyes seeing a cheerful, cloudless sky and jeering, vicious smiles.


Chapter 3


But she did not fall.

The Justice screamed. The people screamed. Lindsay screamed. But she was the first to stop screaming when she realized that not only was she not dead, but she was floating.

No, not floating. She was falling, but slowly, gently, in a controlled way. The black, glass domes beeped gently as she passed them. They must be sensors, she thought.

“Witch!” the people above her yelled in vindication and fear.

“She lives! She does not fall and die!”

“She is falling, but slowly! She is a witch! Behold this uncanny power! She will fall and live and then what will be do?”

“Finish her! Stone her!” people cried.

“Crap!” Lindsay squeaked and tried to look down. She was still some yards away from the bottom and had no idea how to increase her rate of descent.

“I claim the right to cast the first stone!” someone yelled.

Lindsay looked back up. It was the rich mayor that spoke, the one who had whistled for the Swords. He held a rock in his hand the size of a donut, and he had a righteous expression on his face.

Lindsay could do nothing to protect herself. There was nowhere to hide, no cover at all. She couldn’t even reach the edges of the shaft to try to push herself downwards any faster. She was a sitting duck. The mayor threw the rock, which was not slowed down by the little glass domes, and Lindsay barely had time to throw her arms over her head in an attempt to protect herself. The mayor’s aim was true - his rock hit her square on the forearm, which was protecting the top of her head.

The pain was sharp and rocketed through her. That first rock was quickly followed by more. The next hit her shoulder, others glanced off her legs and torso. Lindsay didn’t scream again; small sounds of distress escaped her lips, which were clamped shut. Tears slid down her cheeks at the gross unfairness, at her own powerlessness, and the pain. She didn’t dare move her arms. She could only wait as some unseen force moved her steadily downward towards the floor. The helpless wait was almost worse than the pain that the people above her inflicted.

The minute Lindsay’s feet touched the floor, whatever force that had been holding her shut off, and she was free to move. The townspeople shouted in shock and rage as their target ducked and weaved to the wall of the shaft. Lindsay, her arms still covering her head, couldn’t help but retch as she stepped quickly over bodies in various degrees of decay. She was not the first person to be thrown down this shaft. There were men and women with broken limbs and caved in skulls all around her.

The rocks stopped. Lindsay looked up as she hugged herself to the wall of the shaft. There was no cover; she was still out in the open.

“She’s still alive!”

“What are we going to do? There’s no more rocks.”

Lindsay let out a short, hysterical laugh. That’s why they’d stopped? Apparently, the shaft didn’t turn on for everybody; the people were unprepared for a prolonged stoning event.

“What about hot oil?”

“That takes time, man. That is a witch. If we stop to boil oil, there is no telling what mischief she might spell for us.”

“Mayhap she is not a witch?” someone asked. “Perhaps this is the finger of God at work.”

Lindsay silently cheered for that voice as she peered upwards.

“No, the Justice Peace is wise. She is a witch. God would not work through the body of such a red woman.”

“What if we cannot kill her? What if she is unkillable?”

“Immortal?”

The crazy talk continued. There were suggestions of letting her starve, someone fetching more rocks, dumping poisonous snakes down. Lindsay turned her ears off and took a good look at her surroundings. Was there a weapon down here she could use? The thought of yanking some poor bastard’s femur bone away from his/her skeleton made Lindsay shiver in horror.

Her eyes settled on panel set into the white, smooth wall. Lindsay quickly rushed over, stepping over a woman whose empty skull stared straight up at the sky. The panel had the outline of a hand on it. A palm scanner? The hope that had flickered within her died. Whatever the scanner was tied to, it was unlikely that it would open, or turn on, for her.

“Swords, this is the word of your Justice." Jilt’s voice filtered down to her. “Fetch a rope, and with a knife, you will cut the witch’s throat. The red woman is not unkillable. You see she bleeds even now. She is a witch, but only a woman. Our blades will finish her.”

Lindsay looked at the palm scanner with a beating heart and tried to picture herself beating up a trained killer with a femur bone.

“Please, please, please,” she said desperately as she put her hand on the scanner.

It turned on, a little LED on the top left flashing yellow three times. The light changed to green, and the scanner turned on.

“What is the witch doing? There are lights below.”

“Sorcery! Hurry, the rope! Before she spells us and curses our children!”

A white bar of light moved quickly up and down her palm. A happy chirp was emitted by the machine.

“Welcome Mrs. Cunningham. Have a pleasant walk.”

The voice made Lindsay jump and her stomach flipped at the machine’s eerie and correct identification of her. But that didn’t stop her from stepping through a pair of doors that slid open next to the panel. There had been no seam to give away their existence.

Lindsay looked up. “Thank you,” she breathed, and not to the townspeople above her.

The people above her were shouting, but as she stepped through the door, they quieted. Lindsay stuck her head out and looked up at them. They seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop on them.

Nothing happened, of course. Lindsay was too hurt, too scared, and too exhausted to think of anything dramatic or snarky to say or do. She simply looked away and stepped fully through the doors. They closed tightly and silently behind her.

She was safe.


It was a moving sidewalk. An underground moving sidewalk.

Relief at her successful escape made Lindsay laugh hysterically at her circumstances. She had stepped into a giant tunnel that was nearly identical in size and design to the pit she’d been thrown into. It was long and cavernous; she could see no end to the tunnel. It was empty except for the sidewalk, which traveled down the center of the tunnel’s floor. The sidewalk was wide and spaced every few yards were collapsible benches that sat along one edge. The walls were lit by modern looking wall sconces set into the concrete. Soft orchestral music played over unseen speakers. The sidewalk barrier was glass, and the floor was made of white metal. Lindsay looked down. She was dripping blood all over it.

There were bleeding gashes on her arms and legs, her clothing was torn, and she ached everywhere. Lindsay slumped down onto a bench and checked her head. It seemed okay. Her fingers didn’t come away covered in blood after exploring her loose, tangled hair. She lost track of time for a bit, and when she came back to herself, she saw that the gashes on her limbs bled only sluggishly now.

She had no idea where she was going. At the moment, she didn’t care, as long as she was taken far away from the murderous freaks she’d left behind.

“Mrs. Cunningham,” Lindsay breathed.

The computer had scanned her, identified her. She shook her head. How was that even possible? She’d never even had her fingerprints taken before, let alone her palms. The idea that they’d been scanned into a computer system without her knowledge was disturbing. And what was the Mrs. about? She hadn’t been Mrs. Cunningham in seven years.

Who had built the shaft and tunnel? How did they know her? The tunnel’s builders were modern people who would have not fit in with the world she had left behind. Lindsay shook her head again in confusion and lay down on her side on the bench. It was padded and comfortable. The overhead music was gentle and soothing. Lindsay closed her eyes and dozed…

Beep, beep, beep!

Lindsay’s eyes flew open. The walkway had stopped moving. Lindsay focused her eyes and looked around. She had reached the end of the tunnel. Another palm scanner was embedded the looming solid vertical wall that was so close she could reach out and touch it.

The blood on her arms and legs were dried. She sat up and gingerly lifted up an arm that was stuck to the bench’s upholstery; blood made a good adhesive. Lindsay looked at those doors and licked her dry, cracked lips. What was on the other side?

“Nice, sane, helpful, non-judgmental people,” she told herself, her voice echoing down the empty tunnel. “Water, food. Bandages.”

With a deep breath, Lindsay got up and limped over to the door. She put her hand on the glass panel and watched as it turned on, scanned her again, and beeped cheerfully.

“Good bye, Mrs. Cunningham. Have a good day.”

“That’s Ms. Cunningham to you,” Lindsay said airily as the doors opened for her.

Sunshine streamed in, along with frigid air. Lindsay shivered as she peeked outside. “This is not Portland,” she murmured.

Snow. She saw snow fallen in a thin layer over the ruins of a burnt-out building. Concrete rubble, broken plastic, shattered glass. And was that a pile of cubicle walls in a far corner?

She looked beyond the crumbled walls and caved in roof, and saw nothing but rolling yellow grassy hills frosted with fresh snow. It was desolate and quiet, with only the sound of the wind to break the silence. In the middle of nowhere.

“Okay, let’s throw into this crazy reality one random, destroyed office building in the middle of nowhere.”

Lindsay stepped completely out of the tunnel, the doors closing behind her, and wished that she had taken that dress that the rich mayor had thrown at her. It would have kept her warmer than her ripped shorts and t-shirt. She shivered and stomped her feet and looked behind her at the door. It was closed tight and the palm scanner was -

Broken. Lindsay stared at the shattered scanner and swallowed and fought back tears of fear. There was no going back into the safety of the tunnel. She was stranded, in the winter, in inadequate clothing. Where she was, she had no idea. She was alone; utterly, painfully, alone.

“Who are you?”

The voice was gruff and threatening. Lindsay whirled around in fright as she saw a man step out from behind a wall half fallen down. He was dressed for the weather in leather pants and a long leather coat that hung down to his knees. He had gloves and boots and a knitted hat on his head. His hair was long, pulled back in small black braids that formed a thick ponytail down his back. And he was armed. He had a long knife in one gloved hand and an unstrung bow and a quiver of arrows across his back.

“Who are you?” he asked again, though he didn’t advance on her.

“Lindsay. Lindsay Cunningham,” she said, and tried not to sway. “I mean you no harm.”

The man didn’t speak right away. Her name seemed to catch him by surprise. Then, “Did you come through those doors?”

Lindsay’s face paled, but she nodded. “I did. I’m not a witch. I’m not a red woman. I am very cold. Can you help me? Will you help me?”

“You came through those doors?” the man asked. It seemed terribly important to him that he get that straight.

Lindsay nodded, which made the world spin and this time she did sway and let herself fall to her knees. Broken glass, chunks of concrete, and the cap end of a dirty, smashed BIC pen bit into her skin. She didn’t care. She was done.

She didn’t hear him move, but the man was suddenly by her side, his knife sheathed, his hands on her shoulders, holding her up. “I won’t hurt you, woman,” he said. “What happened to you?”

I was stoned. “I was attacked." She couldn’t keep her voice from cracking.

He was silent for a moment before speaking. He had a deep voice, but he spoke gently. “Can you walk? I have a horse nearby, and there is a town...”

Lindsay’s eyes flickered open. She didn’t remember closing them. “Do you have any water?”

“Here." The man stood, and when he squatted back down, he had a canteen in his hand. “Water. Just sip it, okay?”

Lindsay nodded and sipped.

“Can you walk?” he asked her again as she handed the canteen back.

“Yes." She had to be able to walk to get to the town; she could only believe on blind faith that it had nice, helpful, non-judgmental people in it.

The man hoisted her to her feet and waited till the spots left Lindsay’s eyes and she nodded that she was ready to move. He kept an arm under her elbow as they picked their way through the ruined building and out into the open. Lindsay heard the horse before she saw it.

“There." The man pointed down the hill. The horse was white. It would have blended into the snow very well but for the brown saddle and bulky cloth bags that hung from the pommel.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a car just over that other hill, would you?” Lindsay heard herself say. Then she held her breath at her own stupidity.

Do you want to be stoned again, Lindsay? Shut up!

The man paused and looked at her sideways. “Did you injure your head?”

Lindsay smiled wanly. “It’s a good possibility.”

The horse nickered at the man quietly as they approached. It eyed her but showed no fear of her.

“Hold on here." The man halted her, and when he was sure she wouldn’t collapse, he let go of Lindsay’s elbow and turned to his horse. They both watched him quietly as he took a blanket from the back of his saddle.

“Here,” he said, as he turned and wrapped the blanket snugly around her shoulders.

His hands were still holding the blanket closed as he looked carefully down at her. “Are you married?”

The question came out of nowhere, and Lindsay looked into his eyes, startled. They were dark green. Odd, she thought, considering his dark complexion. “No,” Lindsay croaked.

“But you used to be?”

She frowned. “Yes." Why was he asking? She no longer wore a wedding ring; she’d taken it off years ago.

“What was his name?”

“Trevor Cunningham." Lindsay’s frown deepened. “Why are you asking me this?”

“Divorced?” the man asked, ignoring her question.

Lindsay nodded, confused as to his line of questioning. “Are you married?”

Once again, he didn’t answer her. “Don’t make that common knowledge. Being divorced. People don’t look on it lightly here. It would be better to say you’re a widow, since you can’t prove your virginity.”

Lindsay involuntarily took a step away from him, and he let go of the blanket. “This is surreal."

“More than you know,” he said cryptically. Then, “The village is about a half-hour’s trot away from this place. Do you ride?”

Lindsay shook her head no.

His lips thinned. “Then today you’ll get your first lesson.”

He drew her towards his horse. “This is Bruce.”

Lindsay let a huff of laughter escape her lips, but no more than that. He was a stranger that she trusted only because there was no one else around who could keep her from dying from hypothermia and dehydration. But Bruce? He named his horse Bruce?

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“David. Now you’ll sit up front, and I’ll sit behind. So up you go first. Hands on the saddle. Put your left toe in the stirrup. Your right leg goes over his back." She did as he commanded. “Up you go- whoa!”

She hadn’t made it, not totally, and felt his hand firm on her rear, pushing her up. Lindsay grabbed what she could: saddle, mane, David’s arm. Then she was up in the saddle.

Bruce stood with splayed feet and ears back, unsure of the clumsy human on his back.

“Easy Bruce. She’s a filly. All knees,” he murmured to his horse.

The animal’s ears came back up at the sound of his voice despite the fact that Lindsay was clutching her legs too tightly around his girth and unconsciously on his pulling in his mane.

“Easy woman,” David said. “You’re fine. You’re safe. Bruce is reliable. You okay? Are you going to pass out?”

Lindsay took a deep breath. The black spots in front of her eyes faded. “No. I’m not going to pass out.”

David smiled, and Lindsay wasn’t sure why. “Okay. I’m coming up then. Things may creak a little…”

He was up before she even realized he was moving. Was he that fast, or had she actually blacked out?

His arms reached around her, one hand grasping the reins, the other holding her fast to him and the saddle.

“You bundled up still?”

She checked her blanket, and nodded. Lindsay didn’t know where her voice had gone to.

“Okay. Hold on,” David warned her.

David eased Bruce into a walk, then a bone-jarring trot, and finally into a canter that left Lindsay breathless and afraid of looking down. So she closed her eyes, and her head fell back against a solid shoulder. She was so tired. It would be alright to just fall asleep, wouldn’t it? David would do her no harm. He would keep his word; he would help her. She could trust him.

Why did she think that?

Lindsay’s eyes flew open. Why?

She realized the answer. He spoke regular English. He had an odd accent she’d never heard before, but he spoke an English that she understood. And he understood her.

Why?

She remembered Justice Peace Jilt and the townspeople who’d tried to kill her. Fear of the unknown, of where she was, of where she was going, and what would happen to her when she got there suddenly made her very awake and very still.

Where was Bob? And what had he done to them?


Chapter 4



Welcome to Grass Valley, Oregon

Population 217


“Lindsay,” David’s voice was in her ear, rousing her from the doze she’d slipped into despite her best efforts to remain alert. “Wake up. We’re here.”

Here was… not what Lindsay expected. Bruce walked along a road that was half dirt, half broken asphalt. The rolling grassy hills of what sure looked like northeast Oregon were interrupted by a town that was a mixture of dilapidated but recognizable buildings made of vinyl siding and concrete, and newer, rough brick buildings with hand painted signs that looked like something out an old western show. An old gas station bore such a sign for Tim’s Trading Mercantile and General Information. A building with golden arches and a drive through window was now Missy’s Leather Works. And there were no cars. In place of them were wagons, trailers, horses, donkeys, and a lot feces. People moved around doing their business, but some saw their approach and stopped to watch them. They were all dressed in dull colored winter coats, the men in pants, the women in a mixture of skirts or loose pants. There wasn’t a pair of jeans or a T-shirt to be had among them.

“This can’t be Oregon,” Lindsay whispered.

“Why do you say that?” David asked her casually from behind.

Lindsay stiffened her back in fear and didn’t reply. She’d almost forgotten he was there. Shut up! Stop marking yourself as different!

“What makes you think this isn’t Oregon? Because it is. This is Grass Valley, Oregon.” David repeated, pointing at the welcome sign as they passed it. “About 10 and a half days walk from the state capitol in Portland.”

The capitol was in supposed to be in Salem, but Lindsay swallowed and reminded herself that if she didn’t want to be labeled a witch, she needed to watch her mouth. “Don’t mind me. I’m just tired."

Lindsay tried not to stare at the people they passed with an open mouth, though they unapologetically did stare at her. David greeted the men and women they passed by name, and they greeted him in return. That everyone had questions was clear on their faces, but no one gave voice to them.

No one said a word to her in greeting.

Boys and girls, ran around the street, playing with sticks and balls, all dressed like their elders, in rough spun cloth and leather.

Lindsay felt dizzy. Where am I? she thought again, for the 100th time.

David stopped Bruce in front of a large new building that was a mixture of brick and white clapboard. It had two white painted square wood pillars to hold up the porch roof, which made it the fanciest building she had yet seen in town. It was also the first she’d seen with landscaping in the front. Pruned bushes, flowers and cut grass decorated the grounds. The sign above the front door read Government and School.

David dismounted and tied Bruce’s reins to an old, metal bicycle rack that was sunk deeply into a slab of cracked concrete sidewalk that didn’t match the newness of the handmade building. He looked up at her. “We need to go in here and speak to the mayor.”

“The mayor,” Lindsay repeated dully, and a shiver went through her as she relived being thrown down the pit that didn’t let her fall.

“He is responsible for this place, these people. You are a foreigner, alone, and with no one to vouch for you. And it is the custom to notify him of newcomers to the town.”

Lindsay chewed on the inside of her bottom lip. “Does he like foreigners? People who are different?”

David shrugged. “I’m foreign. And the Professor is foreign. So, I suppose he does like foreigners. Or at least, he likes our ideas.”

“Where are you from?”

David helped her down, holding on to her elbow even after her feet touched the ground. He didn’t answer her question. “Steady? Keep your blanket wrapped completely around you, even when we are inside. You’re underdressed.”

“For the weather or the culture?”

“Both.”

“Why are you so accepting of me?”

David once again didn’t answer her question, but turned a hand-carved wooden doorknob and entered the building, motioning her in when she hesitated. There was a foyer partitioned off from the rest of the building with cloth screens. The handmade tiled floor was covered with crocheted rag rugs. A fire in the fireplace threw some heat into the chilly room, and Lindsay gravitated towards it while David walked up to a desk that held two items: a metal bell with a long handle and small engraved plaque that read Mayor. The desk chair was empty. The place was quiet.

The loud ringing of the bell startled Lindsay and made her jump. “Kevin! It’s David,” David shouted. He turned to Lindsay. “Kevin and his family live here in the building, in the back. We’re after hours now. But the mayor is always on call.”

Lindsay hugged her blanket and gave a thin smile, but said nothing. She was keyed up, nervous about what was going to happen, worried too that she was so far away from where she had landed in this crazy reality. The recurring questions whirled in her brain. What had happened back in Bob’s basement? Where was Bob?

A muffled voice, footsteps, and an odd clunking sound reached her ears after a few moments of silence. Then a short, red haired man dressed in brown pants and a blue button down shirt with brown boots came around the cloth partition. The smile that blossomed on his face at the sight of David faded when he got a look at Lindsay.

“This is the Mayor, Kevin Hartman,” David said. “Kevin, this is Lindsay Cunningham.”

“Cunningham?” Kevin said sharply, giving Lindsay a once over with his small, brown eyes. She swallowed nervously. Justice Peace Jilt had not liked her name either.

David shrugged. “It’s just a name.”

“I suppose." Kevin looked Lindsay over sharply. “You are not a red woman?”

“No!” Lindsay shook her head. “I am not,” she denied, hoping the mayor would believe her.

David stepped forward. “I was out riding, and I spied her plodding the road in a state of undress, very cold and wounded as you see. She called out to me to stop and help her. She said she was traveling from Portland to the Kalamanth Falls in the south. The woman she had hired to travel with her was attacked by a mountain lion and killed. Lindsay ran, and got away, but took a fall down a ravine. Her belongings were lost, and so did she become.”

He was lying for her. Why? Lindsay didn’t deny his story though. Her recent encounter with the unhinged renaissance freaks and their attempt to stone her kept her quiet. That, and the shaft that had floated her gently down to its bottom, and the tunnel with the moving walkway and background music. And the computer system she’d never encountered before but had recognized her palm print, and known her name, Cunningham, a name which made mayors react with suspicion. All those things, those unknown, unanswered, mysterious things that equaled danger to her life, kept her quiet. David said he was a foreigner, and he was healthy looking and welcomed. He obviously knew how to survive in this crazy place. And he had not hurt her yet.

“She told me that she is a widow and was travelling to Kalamanth Falls to stay with an aunt on her husband’s side, and to try to find new prospects. She is alone in the world, by her own admission to me,” David said quietly.

Kevin seemed to buy David’s story. His frown softened and he looked at Lindsay more gently. “I am sorry for your loss. This aunt… Can she support you?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Lindsay saw David give an almost imperceptible shake of his head. “I don’t know. We’ve never actually met.”


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