daughters unto devils
Prepare for unputdownable thrills in this blockbuster horror film in book form. Think Little House On The Prairie meets The Exorcist!
Everybody, welcome to our new homestead!”
Ma frowns. I can’t help but wonder that if at any point, between the disappointment of the second cabin and the children beginning to cry every night about their hatred for camping, perhaps Pa had considered that taking the word of a couple of farmers about how much opportunity this land held might not have been the cleverest idea.
Joanna and Charles begin to cheer at the mention of the word homestead. Blackjack and Peter, the ox, gain a sudden burst of energy, as if they know that their bones will finally be able to properly rest if they just finish it now, and the wagon begins to glide effortlessly through the prairie. As we gain speed we begin to bump, softly at first but increasingly violently as the wheels tear over animal holes and thick bunches of field grass. I fold my arms over my middle in an effort to keep things as still as possible.
“Slow down,” Ma nearly yells and throws her hand over the upset sunbonnet on her head. “It’s not going anywhere.”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Pa cries out in response, without slowing down. “At last, at last!”
But the dreamy vision of the cabin fades as we draw closer. It becomes painfully clear when we pull up that the yard and surrounding area are in need of some serious work. The bark from the logs is peeling away from the wood as if the cabin is shedding. Weeds have overgrown everything, spreading hungrily over the ground, the bottom perimeter of the cabin, even covering an old busted wheelbarrow that sits behind the fence.
The fence itself is more of just a frame, really. Long pieces of broken wood tilt diagonally away from the posts and disappear into the grasses below. Extra pieces are piled nearby, though not nearly enough to finish the project, also covered in weeds. Sweat rolls down my neck and soaks into the collar of my already ruined dress.
“Beautiful, indeed,” Ma remarks. “It looks like nobody has lived here for years.”
“The weeds grow quickly out here, Susan.” Pa sighs, clearly aggravated at her lack of fervor. He pulls the reins in, and Blackjack and Peter slow to a stop in front of the new cabin. “They’ll only take one good workday to get rid of. And I’ll be able to scrape all that bark off with my draw knife, and re- clay the gaps between the logs...”
Joanna and Charles jump from the wagon as soon as it stops. They run around the new yard like wild ones, cheering and screaming with their arms flapping around their heads. A couple of nearby rabbits flee in a wide- eyed frenzy. I get out and stretch gratefully, careful to hide my swollen abdomen away from my parents so they don’t take notice.
Let this be my place to start anew, I think as I look again to the horizon of trees. For me and for the baby. I stop. The baby, not my baby. Even in my deepest thoughts I cannot feel grateful for it, and this fills me with shame. “Who cares if we have to fix it up, Ma?” Emily says from behind me, pulling me from my thoughts. She heads through the weeds to the front door of the cabin. “Look at the size of it!” Ma and I follow Emily while Pa tends to the animals, eager to see the inside, as well. Hannah sits on Ma’s hip, lowering her hands to glide over the tips of the grasses poking up from below. As we approach the door, it’s difficult to ignore the putrid stench that seems to be growing heavier with each step.
“Ugh,” I say and pinch my nose. “What is that?”
It’s too much for Hannah. She begins to
With guilty secrets weighing down on her, sixteen- year- old Amanda Verner can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or within her soul...
As much as I don’t want to believe it, I know that the liquid is, unquestionably, blood
scream, clawing into the air as if she wants to swim out of Ma’s arms and away from the door, and we’re forced to wait in the odor while Ma runs to set the baby in the back of the wagon so she can crawl around over the blankets. Emily doesn’t even look at me. The sun pounds down on us and the prairie, and I realize that never in my life have I bore witness to weather this hot. And isn’t it supposed to be autumn right now? I wonder if the stench is a dead animal roasting somewhere in the staggering heat. Hopefully the body isn’t inside the cabin.
Ma rejoins us, and her face twists up again in reaction to the smell. She steps in front of Emily and opens the front door. The sight that greets us is silencing. My stomach breaks out in gooseflesh, despite the sweltering heat.
The cabin’s hardwood floor has been completely torn out, and pokes jaggedly inward at the edges. Weeds and dirt and dead grass floor the entire inside, and the light from the open doorway prompts dozens of grasshoppers to fly through the air. Various pieces of furniture, most of them broken, lay scattered over the ground.
There is a dark substance, a stinking liquid that covers the entire edge of the torn out floor. As much as I don’t want to believe it, I know that the liquid is, unquestionably, blood. There is more of it splattered up the sides of the peeling bark walls, and a broken chair amongst the wreckage is also ruined with the red. Fat black flies the size of coins buzz against the filthy glass window that lines the back wall.
As terrible as the sight is, as positively jarring, it is nothing compared to the smell. Emily and Ma and I recoil and groan, our arms over our faces as we peer into the mess of a cabin. It is the smell of rot, thick and warm, it is the unmistakable smell of death. And it is heavy.
“What in Heaven’s name?” Ma manages.
“Why aren’t you going inside?” Pa calls from the front of the wagon, where he holds a bucket for Peter to drink from. “What’s it like?”
“Come over here,” Ma yells back. “See for yourself.”
The edge to her voice causes Pa’s smile to die away in a second. He steps over a piece of broken fence to meet us after checking on Hannah in the back of the wagon. His eyes squint in rage as he takes in the condition of the cabin.
“What in the Hell?” he growls, and Ma doesn’t even scold him for the curse. He steps inside, and we all follow.
“What happened here?” Emily asks, her voice meek. I look to the nearest corner of the cabin only to find that it’s been filled by pillars of dense spider webbing. “Pa, I think that this is blood. It looks like...”
“I know what it looks like,” Pa snaps, his face flat. “Somebody must have slaughtered an ox or horse in here.”
“But why would they do it inside?” Ma says. “This cabin is completely ruined! We cannot settle here.”
“It’s not ruined.” Pa frantically begins picking up the old furniture, most of the pieces completely caked with the dried blood, and tossing them out the front door. “We can remove all of the soiled items, and remove the bark from the wall with my draw knife. And I’ll build a new floor.”
“With what supplies?” Ma challenges. “And what money?”
“I’ll find a way to arrange it,” Pa promises. “We can camp outside until I get it fixed. We’re almost at the end of the map that was drawn for me on the mountain. The nearby settlement should only be a day or so away to the west. I can leave tomorrow.”
“You don’t even know if the settlement will be there!” Ma is starting to get teary. Emily and I remain silent. “They also said there would be ‘ plenty’ of decent homesteads that were unoccupied, as well. Whoever drew up that map could have misremembered, they could be sending you out into the wilderness to die, or it could take you days—”
“Susan.” The tone of Pa’s voice is dangerous enough to silence her outburst instantly. “You will camp outside with the children until I return, and then I’ll fix the floor and the walls and you’ll wonder what you ever had to complain about in the first place.”
How heavy his desperation must be, if he is willing himself and the rest of us to accept the condition of this cabin. “It will be hard work,” he continues, “but the Lord will smile upon us for it.”
I watch Pa work to move the broken furniture out to be burned. Here is my new home, my place to begin clean, a place that is rotted and overheated and covered in filth. I’ve never heard of anybody slaughtering an animal inside their cabin before. It’s almost fitting, in a sense.
I’m starting to believe that Hell is everywhere.