They made their way under the protective cover of darkness.
Five women with the barest of their belongings strapped to their
backs in crop sacks and bundles made by tying the corners of sheets
together. Satchels were slung over weary shoulders. Food was
crammed into the pockets of aprons and skirts. Rolled strips of dried
meat that would keep without having to be iced. Handfuls of dried
beans and rice grabbed at the last minute. Rounds of bread,
potatoes, and apples shared a hand-woven bag cinched at the top by
a cord made from thick strands of woolen yarn. Six canteens stored
clean drinking water.
Leading their way was a boy of fifteen named Brenton Moore,
who they knew from the market as being the blacksmith’s son, and
because he bought their bread each morning for he and his father,
when the rounds were fresh and hot from the kiln.
They were hesitant to trust him at first. Because he was so
young. What could he possibly know about the danger they were in?
At his age? And did he truly realize his own jeopardy? The risk he
was taking in aiding them?
He insisted he understood, and that he told no one where he
was going, not even his father. He promised that if he were caught
sneaking back into the house, he would tell his father he’d been
stuck in the outhouse with squirting bowels. That should do the
trick, he told them, considering his father’s weak constitution; that
would be the end of it. Besides. Who else was going to show them
where to hide? Who else was willing to help them? No one.
And so they followed him. Through the thick trees and brush of
the northern wood. Where red clay dirt was replaced by dark fertile
98 A. Shockey
earth fed rich by the swamp. Where tall pines were few and
cypresses were plenty. Now and then they came across giant
magnolia trees. But there was no time to stop and admire them and
little point in wanting to, since it was the dead of night and they had
only Brenton’s lantern to light their way.
Their progress was slow and treacherous through the cypress
stumps and boggy soil. Where their boots caught on roots beneath
the muck and mire, causing them to stumble repeatedly. But
Brenton insisted this was the safest route. No man on horseback
could possibly maneuver the northern wood. Which was one reason
the land was still uninhabited.
For hours they walked without stopping to rest. Longing for the
warmth and comfort of the homes they had been forced to leave
behind. Shivering from the cold as they traversed acre after crowded
acre. Mile after tiresome mile.
When the swamp gave way to a stand of woods that was much
easier to navigate, having flat grassy areas here and there between
breaks among the trees, they couldn’t have been more relieved.
Surer steps made for faster walking and a greater distance covered.
Here were grassy knolls inhabited by ancient oaks that would one
day shade cobblestone streets lined with colonial style homes, and
spread their majestic limbs over park benches and flower garden
paths, stately fountains, and historical monuments. But these things
and the seasons of change that would bring them were many
lifetimes away into the future. For now there existed the bleakness
and the opposing beauty of an untamed land.
Beyond the grassy break, they entered another wooded area
that proved just as difficult to make their way through as the first
they had crossed at the start of their journey. Jagged tree limbs
slapped at their faces. Scratched their skin. Lower branches and
briars caught on their coats and skirts. Snagged and tore holes in
their stockings. Brenton did his best to help them through the tangle
of brush by holding back limbs and stomping down the thick briars
in their path. But they were all walking so fast, his kind efforts and
his thoughtful consideration of them was of little help at best. They
could not afford a slower pace. They were too afraid they might
have followers. A group of men had been scouring the village for
them. Banging on doors with angry fists and shouting at
homeowners. Demanding in their questioning concerning the
The Purple Rose: Into The Tap 99
women’s whereabouts. First and foremost, they wanted Caylin
Breene, but did not know exactly where she lived, and so were
going door-to-door in their efforts to locate her.
It was Brenton who had rushed to her aid with news of the
search. He had been awakened from sleep when the mob of men
arrived at his father’s house, bellowing and beating on the front
door. Brenton had quietly and fearfully slipped from his bed and
went to hide in the pantry, to listen in on what the one man was
saying to his father. What he heard sent him into a near blinding
panic. With the men still at the door, he quietly grabbed one of the
lanterns from the shelf in the pantry and went back to his room for
his shoes. Then he climbed out a window on the backside of the
house. He crept along the dark alley until reaching the square, and
then ran to the smaller establishments just on the outer perimeter of
the village. Where he knew Caylin Breene lived. In a small house,
the white one with the green shutters and the wisteria growing
beside the steps of the tiny front porch. Her name was one of five
specifically mentioned to his father by the angry voice of the man
heading up the search party. Brenton also heard this man declare
Caylin Breene a witch. And he warned that anyone caught hiding
her would be punished so severely, they would pray for a merciful
Brenton had needed to hear no more. He knew Caylin Breene
from the market. She sold him bread, and was nothing but kind to
everyone who had dealings with her. She could not possibly be a
witch. Witches were evil. Something Caylin Breene was not.
Anyone with good sense knew she was a decent, respectable
woman. He had never known a single soul to whisper as much as
one ill word about her. Or her four friends, whom he could not, with
clear conscience, leave behind.
One by one, he and Caylin had helped the others gather what
meager belongings they could carry. Then they had all fled the
village on foot. Having decided against stealing horses from the
livery. Doing so would have proved pointless, anyway. They
couldn’t have made it through the marshy woods on horseback. But
neither could the men who were after them.
They could not be absolutely sure they had not been seen
fleeing from the open junction at the northern end of the village,
where they had broken into a wild run toward the northeastern
100 A. Shockey
border of the woodland. Only after they had ducked into the cover
of the trees did he dare strike a match and light the lantern. Then
they were on their way.
He knew of a place where they might be safe. A place he had
once heard a story about while lurking in the dark alley behind the
tavern and eavesdropping on the women who came outside to
smoke and take a break from the noise of the music and the drunken
men playing poker inside. He would sit crouched on his heels in the
shadows. Sipping his root beer and listening to their private
conversations. Ever curious. He learned all sorts of things this way.
Including the fact that some of the women who worked at the tavern
engaged in sexual acts with men in exchange for money. And there
were some who stole money from poor drunken gents too
incapacitated to notice a delicate hand reaching into the breast
pocket of their jacket and carefully withdrawing their wallet or coin
Witnessing such acts, Brenton was both impressed and
appalled. But even at his age, he understood the nature of survival.
He related it to a balancing act. What was unfortunate for one was
fortune for another. And in random or calculated acts of badness,
some form of good often revealed itself in the end. Most of these
women had hungry children at home to feed, and could not manage
solely on a barmaid’s wages. Knowing this made it easy for Brenton
not to judge them for the things he saw them do.
On one particular night, while sitting in his usual spot of
seclusion, he heard a new voice among those of the women whose
voices and faces he was familiar with. Because of it, this night
became one he would always remember. It was the night he poked
his head out of the shadows and first saw Rebecca Sampson. A new
girl recently hired to work at the tavern. She was very young, and
very pretty. With long blonde hair she wore pulled up and curled
around her delicate face, and dark eyes filled with mystery. She had
a small pert mouth, to which she applied red lip stain and did so
perfectly using one finger and without the aid of a hand mirror,
which most of the women carried in a skirt pocket or waist pouch.
She was the most beautiful creature he had ever set eyes on, and he
fell in love with her right then and there.
A few of the long-established barmaids were anxious to hear
her story. Wanting to know all about her. They drew her further out
The Purple Rose: Into The Tap 101
into the clean night air to sit with them on the wooden crates
situated at the corner of the building, near the entrance to the alley.
Brenton listened in as they talked. As Rebecca told them about why
she and her older sister had recently relocated and were now living
here. She said that the two of them had just come out of hiding only
a week ago. After finally being cleared of wrongful charges filed
against them by their stepmother, who, in a drunken rage, had
murdered their father by stabbing him to death with a letter opener
and then telling the authorities that it was his own daughters who
had killed him. It was a scandalous tale that was eagerly eaten up by
those who heard it, including Brenton, who was so shocked that his
heart ached and the spit dried up inside his gaping mouth.
Certain details concerning the exact location of where Rebecca
and her sister had hidden themselves away for an entire month were
not disclosed in her conversation with the other barmaids. Mainly
due to the fact that she had been sworn to secrecy about it at the
time by their father’s most trusted friend, who had led them there in
the dark of night and made them swear on their very souls that they
would never reveal it. However, Brenton was still able to piece
together enough information so that he believed he might be able to
find the place.
Now, feeling almost certain he knew where it was, he led
Caylin Breene and her dear friends to what once proved a safe
haven for the girl who had stolen his heart.
He thought about her now with each passing step. Believing
that what he was doing was good, and right. He hoped one day to
tell Rebecca about it. It would be a secret between them. Something
only the two of them would share. If ever he got up the nerve to
actually speak to her. He wanted to. And maybe when he returned,
he would. For now he contented himself with visions of her lovely
They trekked on. Crossing ten more acres of dense woodland,
and finally emerging on the other side. They were exhausted, and
breathing heavily from their furious, encumbered pace. They
stopped a moment so Brenton could get his bearings. Holding the
lantern out in front of him, he peered ahead, and saw through the
darkness the shape of the old church. Or rather, its charred remains.
It was the Lutheran Church of Saints. The place had been
nearly completely destroyed by a fire that had occurred more than
102 A. Shockey
twenty years before and the cause of which remained a mystery to
this day. Not having the necessary funds to properly rebuild their
sanctuary, its members had gone their separate ways, seeking out
and attending services held at various other small churches scattered
throughout the neighboring regions.
Because the church had been completely abandoned after the
fire, its grounds were overgrown with weeds and vines and thorny
brush. Knee high in most areas. Brenton was sure they were all
sharing similar thoughts concerning poisonous snakes and spiders
and rabid vermin. Still, he led them forward. Crossing the grounds
could not be avoided. As a safety precaution, he found a long stick
and used it to beat at the bushes in their path and hopefully scare
away whatever might be hiding there. With luck, they might avoid
having a member of their party step on some unsuspecting creature
that was capable of deadly retaliation.
They crossed the churchyard without incident, and walked
around the standing remains of the fire-ravaged structure itself, to
the small cemetery behind it. Here, the women stood huddled
together in the darkness as Brenton combed over the headstones and
gravesites, using the lantern to cast light on them, one by one. There
were no elaborate statues. Just simple flat slates either protruding
upward out of the ground or lying flat and nearly buried beneath the
weeds and soil. He saw nothing remarkable. Until he stumbled and
nearly fell backwards over an exposed corner of the stone covering
the gravesite he’d been searching for. Excitedly, he knelt on the
ground and held the lantern close to the partially revealed slab. Then
he grinned and scrambled to his feet again.
“Over here!” he whispered urgently, and the young women
“What is it?” Caylin asked, also keeping her voice low.
“This is it,” he told them. “We’ll have to move this stone. The
tunnel is underneath. Look. See how it’s pushed aside a little?”
They looked to where he indicated, then up again, and stared at
him in disbelief. One of them, the youngest, looked absolutely
mortified. All five of them started in on him at once.
“…all this way, to a grave?”
“…must be mad!”
“I’m not going down there!”
The Purple Rose: Into The Tap 103
“…a corpse in there!”
He was bombarded and heard everything in bits and pieces and
was helpless to get a word in.
“…and dark, and it’s probably wet down there, too.”
“We’ll all catch pneumonia and die!”
“…don’t have much clothing as it is. Everything will be
“Our food won’t keep. Where are we going to get more food?”
“…a snake’s den for sure.”
“I should turn you into a troll!”
Caylin whirled round on the one who said this and admonished
her sternly. The way one might reprimand an unruly sibling. “Geva,
please! You’ll do no such thing. Now let’s all just calm ourselves
“You can’t be serious,” one of the other girls said to her.
“Really, Caylin. You don’t mean for us to stay here. Do you?”
Caylin sighed. Closed her eyes a moment. Took a breath.
Caylin snapped her eyes open. Said nothing. And stared down
at the exposed part of the covering stone, a section of it that they
could all see, and sighed again. More heavily this time. It was
evident by the expression on her face that she was just as troubled
One of the girls stepped forward and touched Caylin’s arm.
“Caylin? It isn’t wise. Please reconsider. Staying here? In your
Roughly Caylin pulled away. But then looked at her friend
apologetically. Obviously frustrated. “I’m perfectly aware of my
“Excuse me,” Brenton managed to cut in, regarding Caylin
Breene with new concern. “Are you ill?”
“She’s pregnant,” the one called Maddy blurted out in
Brenton blushed. “Oh.”
“And not by choice.”
“Please, Lana,” Caylin said.
104 A. Shockey
“What did you go and tell him that for?” Geva whispered
harshly. “Why don’t you tell the whole world about it?”
“I won’t…say anything to anyone,” Brenton offered kindly. He
“It doesn’t matter,” Caylin said. She waved a hand. Looked
pained. Tiredness was taking its toll on her. There were dark half
moons beneath her eyes, and a slump to her thin shoulders.
“The world will know anyway once the baby comes,” Lana
said, making a face at Dellia. “No one will care. Only we care. This
is our family. And we must stick together.” She looked at the faces
of the other girls, one by one. “If Caylin stays here, she can’t do so
alone.” Measuring. “The lot of you can do what you please. Risk
your lives, and for what? A handful of men who are blinded by hate
and their own stupidity? Who hunt us down like mongrel dogs? I
will not die by the hands of those men.” Her eyes filled with tears
she blinked hard to keep back. “My life is my own. I will live it as I
please, or I will end it of my own volition.”
Everyone stared at her. Deeply touched. Moved. And
frightened. No one dared say it but all were thinking it. Suicide?
And the resolute lift of her chin and the conviction showing in her
eyes let them all know she meant what she said.
“Lana, you mustn’t say such terrible things,” Geva said, her
young face a mask of worry and fear.
Lana looked at her. Her own expression softened. But her
resolve did not yield. She was tough, this one, Brenton thought.
With dark hair and even darker, brooding eyes. Lending even more
evidence of her inner strength and will. She carried herself with
confidence. Holding her head high and her shoulders back. Young
Brenton had never seen or met a woman so determined to hold her
place in the world. She would stand her ground no matter what.
Caylin put a hand on her hip and sighed. “I suppose we should
have a look.”
“It won’t be pretty down there,” Brenton warned.
“I don’t expect it will,” she replied.
Lana stepped forward. “No lifting for you,” she told Caylin.
She turned. But her asking was not necessary. Maddy and Geva
were already dropping their packs and bundles to come forward and
help with the moving of the stone.
The Purple Rose: Into The Tap 105
Brenton snapped into action. He passed the lantern to Caylin.
“We’ll need two on each side.” He knelt.
Geva came around and joined him. He tried desperately not to
look at her undergarments as she hiked up her skirt and tucked the
gathered material between her parted thighs to get it out of the way,
so she was able to bend and move her legs more freely as she
squatted beside him. On the opposite side of the grave, Maddy and
Lana did the same. Brenton immediately averted his gaze. Shifting
his eyes to the covering stone itself.
“We’ll need to dig this corner out first,” he said.
The women moved in closer beside him, and they all set to
work. Tugging and pulling with both hands at the wiry grass and
weeds. Then with their fingers they loosened and dug some of the
black soil out from around the corner of the thick gray slab. Their
movements helped to warm their bodies against the sharp chill in
the brisk night air.
Brenton sensed that these women had been through something
big together. Something that made them the close friends they were.
What this something was, he might never know. Presuming the ugly
rumors about the five of them to be untrue. He couldn’t believe
what he’d heard about them. That they were witches. Given, he did
not really know them. But these were good and decent women as far
as he could see. Putting aside Geva’s threat to turn him into a troll.
He thought more about that. She couldn’t really do such a
thing, could she? She had been frightened when she’d blurted out
this bit of nonsense. Those men were wrong. They had to be.
Didn’t witches have ugly hairy moles on their noses? And
drooping jowls with deep crevices in their gray sagging faces?
Didn’t they have long grimy fingers with pointy black nails? And
didn’t witches wear ratty old garments with long sleeves in order to
hide the festering sores on their arms? Sores they got while brewing
their potions that spewed onto their skin as they stirred and stirred
their black bubbling pots of poison? And didn’t they carry a casting
stick with them everywhere they walked? And didn’t they stink
something awful, because they didn’t like to bathe? Didn’t they
smell like rancid meat? Or cow dung? Or sour pig’s vomit?
“I think you can stop now,” Lana told him.
106 A. Shockey
Brenton paused. Looked up. Without realizing, he had been
digging furiously in the dirt around this edge of the slab. Now they
were all staring at him.
He clenched his fists to keep his hands from shaking. He had
succeeded in scaring himself. He couldn’t look at any one of them
directly. They would see. How much of a boy he still was in
comparison to the man he had yet to become. Why didn’t he just ask
them? He wanted to. He needed to know.
He opened his mouth. Tried to speak, but couldn’t. His tongue
felt paralyzed. A dead lump in the well of his mouth.
Lana leaned closer and peered at his face. Frowning, and
wondering what was suddenly the matter with him. She touched his
right shoulder. “Brenton?”
When he didn’t answer (because he couldn’t, no matter how
badly he wanted to), she leaned even closer to look into his eyes.
She was so close, he could feel her warm breath on his cheek, and
smell the dirt she had accidentally smeared on this side of her face
when she’d pushed back her unruly hair. Then her expression
changed, and he knew she saw it. What was in him that would not
come out in words. And what she did next and what she said
surprised him beyond any means of comprehension.
She removed her hand from his shoulder and lightly touched
his cheek. “There now, Brenton,” she said. With such tenderness, he
felt like a small boy. Like a child being carefully tended to. Soothed.
Comforted. “I suppose we do owe you something for bringing us all
this way. We do feel your…reaching for explanation. But the less
you know, the safer you will be, if you are caught when you get
back and those men question you about us. You won’t be able to tell
them anything.” She touched a lock of his hair. Smoothed it back
and tucked it gently behind his ear.
He could not look away from her. Listening. Mesmerized.
“You sense our difference, and it frightens you. But you
needn’t be afraid. Because when you leave here tonight, and you
return home and creep into your bed…you will sleep a deep sleep
that will help ensure your safe keeping.”
She peered deep into his eyes. And he felt her touch him
somehow on the inside. Somewhere in his center. As if with an
invisible finger that left behind a slight impression of odd warmth.
The Purple Rose: Into The Tap 107
“And when you wake, you will feel refreshed, and well and
rested. You won’t remember the events of this night. You won’t
remember bringing us here. Nor will you remember how to find this
place. You won’t even remember the men who came to your
father’s house, or that they did so. Your father will tell you about
them in the morning. He’ll be amazed that you slept through all the
noise they made banging on the door. The two of you will have your
eggs and bread and milk, just like always. Together at the little
wooden table in the corner of the kitchen. All warm and safe and
She drew in a deep, silent breath. Then pursed her lips and
blew the air gently out of her lungs and into his face. As softly as a
baby’s breath. His eyelids fluttered. Closed. Opened again. He
blinked. Dazed. Disoriented. As if he had been dozing the entire
time she had been speaking to him in that hushed, soothing tone.
Now she took his hands. Stood, and drew him up with her. He
swayed on his feet. The shadows and the yellow light from the
lantern spun round and round him, making him dizzy. He blinked
his eyes again. Focused. Steadied himself.
“What’s…happening?” he muttered.
Lana smiled. “We’re saying goodbye.”
“What? But…we were…doing something…weren’t we?” He
frowned. Swayed. Caught himself. “Moving the…something.”
“We’ll manage the stone,” Lana said. “It’s time for you to go
now.” She turned him around by the shoulders. “Home, young
Brenton,” she whispered, just behind his right ear. “Go home.”
And he did.
Forgetting his lantern, he walked along in the darkness. Not
once did he stumble. Nor did he lose his way. Not even in the
crowded wood, where the trees blocked out the moonlight, and the
brush was so thick, he could have easily been swallowed up by it.
The path he traveled now was invisible in the physical sense, but
perfectly outlined inside his head. And he went as easily as if he
possessed a built-in compass and an ingrained map.
The closer he got to home, the more of what he’d done, who
he’d been with, and where he’d gone, gradually faded into a gray
haze he could not see through. More and more was engulfed by the
haze, and more and more forgotten as he walked. The details left
him, one by one, with every passing step.
108 A. Shockey
Later, when he noticed one was gone from the shelf in the
pantry, his father would ask him about the lantern that was missing.
If he knew where it was. He would say he did not, and together they
would spend an hour hunting through the house and then the barn
for it. He would not remember where he had left it.
With Caylin Breene.
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