Emery’s eyes glimmered sharply in the flickering light of the lantern. The hand over her mouth loosened slightly, and Glad’s voice whispered in her ear “don’t make a sound”.
The desire to cry for help had totally left Abby. In its place was an absolute inability to say anything at all. She gaped, stunned. Her brothers had been captured, how were they here? Was this a trick?
Glad’s voice whispered again “we need to get you out of here. I convinced the militia to let me and Emery come back for you because we know the house better than anyone.”
Abby began a stuttered protest “what about mom, dad, and Vera?”
“There’s nothing we can do for them now. Follow me.”
Glad stood, extinguished the lantern, and crept slowly toward the hallway. Abby followed, not knowing what else to do. Emery followed, gently closing the door behind them.
Glad led them into the western wing. As they walked, Abby whispered “Why are we leaving? Won’t they kill us?”
Emery gave a grim smile. “They isn’t quite what you think. We’re surrounded, sure, but we’re surrounded by the Virginia militia.”
“Why-” Abby started.
“Vera isn’t running from crooks who want her husband’s gold. She’s running from the militia that’s trying to recover the gold she stole.”
Vera stole the gold? Why? How? Why come here? Why involve us? A thousand questions raced through Abby’s mind.
Glad correctly guessed the meaning of her silence. “I wish I knew” he said as he neared the exterior door. He pushed the door open, and all three of them were blinded by an unexpected light.
Abby blinked wildly, her eyes adjusting to the unexpected brightness. The image came into focus: Vera, waiting for them, a lantern in one hand, a pistol in the other.
“Hi there.” Vera smiled, but there was no joy in her smile. “Let’s go back inside”.
Glad’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Vera marched them back inside and motioned toward the western wing. Abby walked slowly, listening to the creak of the floorboards and frantically trying to think of a way out.
Vera shuffled them into an empty room, then ordered: “Down”.
Abby stared, confused, until Vera motioned to a crack in the floorboards at her feet. Abby squinted in the dim lantern light. There was another cellar door.
Emery knelt down and found an edge with his fingers. He began to lift.
“Slowly” Vera whispered through gritted teeth. “No need to announce our presence”.
Vera waited at the top of the stairs as Glad, Abby, and Emery made their way down into the Western cellar. The light from Vera’s lantern burning above was barely enough to see where to place their feet to avoid tumbling down into the darkness.
Once they reached the dirt floor at the bottom of the ladder, Vera followed. As she neared the bottom step, an unexpected light caught Abby’s eye. A yellow glimmer shown from the opposite side of the cellar. Vera stepped to the floor, and her lantern illuminated a pile of gold the size of a beer keg.
Bewildered, the three of them looked at Vera in confusion, until Abby noticed a hole about three feet in diameter, creating an inky black gap in the dark gray of the cellar walls. Next to it a spade and two shovels were visible. They stepped closer, and saw that the tunnel was only about 15 feet long.
“How far do you expect us to dig?” Glad asked. “It’s a half mile to the woods!”.
“It’s a half mile to the woods, but it’s about 5 feet to the other side of the collapse.” said Vera with a wicked smile. “I’ve been using this tunnel for a long time. A couple hours of digging and I’ll be out of here”.
Abby and her brothers grabbed the digging implements and crawled into the tunnel.
As the three of them climbed into the dark tunnel the faint light from Vera’s lantern was immediately squelched to nothing. They reached the apparent end of the tunnel and found that it took a sharp turn to the right. From the feeling of the tunnel wall in front of them some large rocks had fallen in and Vera tried to burrow around them. Not knowing what else to do, they continued to follow the tunnel.
It was completely black now, Abby led with one hand extended at all time waiting for the inevitable dirt wall representing the five feet between Vera and her escaping. With her hand extended, she gasped as she felt not the cool dirt and stone she expected, but a warm and sweaty shirt on apparently someone’s back. A voice in front of her immediately grunted. A split second later she realized the voice belonged to her father.
Glad apparently realized that too, “she got you too, huh?”
“Yep I went poking around because I noticed she wasn’t in her room, she caught me and sent me down here to dig about two hours ago. Anytime I moved back towards the cellar and the light she’d wave that gun and tell me to get back in here and keep digging. For a while I just banged a shovel on the walls and tried to make it sound like I was digging, but we’re going to have to do something because she knows how far she dug before, and we don’t want her to find out we haven’t made any progress.”
“What happened to mom?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen her since Vera brought me down here.”
“I hope she realized what was going on and was able to get away.”
“Won’t’ she come looking for us?” Asked Abby.
“I doubt it.” Replied her father. “It’s been years since she’d been able to bring herself to come to this side of the house...” He trailed off.
Her father must have guessed her train of thought because he interrupted their pause with a quiet sigh.
The silence dragged on until Emery, clearly growing impatient said, “What are we going to do?”
“There’s four of us and only one of her. Maybe if we tell her the tunnel is finished, she’ll put the gun down long enough that we’ll be able to get it away from her.”
“It’s worth a shot.” Her father grunted. “We’ll have to spend some time digging to convince her that we actually finished it.”
They spend the next half hour continuing to make the best digging noises they could while making as little progress as possible digging a tunnel. When his patience had clearly run out, Emery dropped his shovel and said, “That’s it, let’s tell her.”
They crawled back out of the tunnel and emerged to find Vera nearly asleep sitting on the floor on the opposite side of the cellar. The pistol rested in her hand on her lap. Before anyone spoke, Emery began creeping across the floor toward her. Abby wanted to scream at him to stop, but for fear of waking Vera up, she stayed silent. Emery got within a foot of Vera when suddenly her eyes snapped open and trained the pistol on Emery. “Step back, right now.” She walked Emery back toward them, pistol in one hand, and lantern in the other. “That’s it, I thought I’d be able to leave you guys alive, but your turning out to be more of a headache than you’re worth.” She gestured toward Emery with the pistol, “you on your knees now.”
In the wavering light of Vera’s sole lantern, Vera caught a glimpse of motion on the opposite side of the cellar. She rushed in front of Emery, between him and the pistol, “Please stop, don’t! We’ll finish it! We’ll finish it!”
“Get out of the way, unless you want to be - “ Vera’s last word was caught off by the dull sound of a shovel impacting the side of her head. She crumpled to a heap on the ground. The lantern had fallen. A hand reached out of the darkness and picked it up. Finally casting light on their savior’s face.
Tears streamed down Abby’s mother’s face. Wordless, the family embraced. They gathered up the pistol and bound Vera’s hands and together climbed back into the light of the early morning sun.
Abby ran to the door and threw it open.
“OUCH!” Said a voice. Abby peered around the door, to see a militia man crouched with one hand holding his forehead. He stood slowly, “So you guys are okay, I guess?” “Yep, I guess so.” Replied Abby.
Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith