The Second Vow of Chastity Baker C2

Group of happy friends cheering with wine and beers at boat party. Diverse men and women having drinks at sunset yacht party.

Chapter 2

A New Life

 

The next morning, the newlyweds took a flight to the Florida Keys for their honeymoon. Having only flown once, plane rides was still a new experience for Chas, and she loved it. Charlie made sure to give his new wife the window seat. The flight from Memphis to Miami was a two-hour flight giving Chas plenty of time to admire the view of the clouds and earth below. Just a few years before, she never thought that she would see outside the city limits of Memphis and now, having been to the Maldives with her girlfriends just four months prior, she was getting the privilege of flying to another tropical destination.

Chas could not keep her head out of the window. She stared in awe at the sea of billowing clouds just below them. The morning sun shone brightly in the East.

“Oh, Charlie look at those clouds! It looks like there’s no end to them! “Chas said in amazement.

Charlie just sat there and smiled, enjoying seeing his new wife gaze out of the window and stare out into the vast sea of clouds with child-like wonder. He beamed, pleased to be the man who was giving Chas the pleasure to experience things she had always dreamed of experiencing but had never had the chance. He watched, feeling very much like a superhero as Chas continued gazing at the world below, cooing over the view.

“Wait until you see the ground. It looks nice too!” Charlie told her.

Off on Their Honeymoon

Soon, the clouds had reduced to only a few white speckles and Chas could see the earth below.

“Wow!” She marveled in a whisper.

The ground looked like a vast quilt with squares, rectangles, and other shapes of different colors of green, brown, red, and orange. The roads were just tiny, bright white lines drawn across the squares. She could also see bodies of water which looked like small mirrors of glass reflecting the sun. Then she looked across the blue sky to see the occasional distant white trails of vapor left behind by other aircraft that had left their mark. Chas could not get enough.

She couldn’t see any people or automobiles because they were too far up. But during the descent before landing, Chas could finally focus on the automobiles that moved down the veinous network of highways and roads below. They reminded her of a long trail of ants from an anthill, looking for a picnic.

The Flight

After they landed, the newly married couple rushed through the crowded airport, through the exit and finally caught a cab. It would be a few hours before their Cessna was scheduled to depart for Key West and they decided to do some shopping at a few of the marketplaces near the airport. On the way back to the airport to board the Cessna, Chas stared out the window, mesmerized by the outside surroundings.

“My, gosh! The last time I saw so many palm trees was in the Maldives with Tori and the girls back in December! Oh, I just love palm trees!” She gushed with the excitement of a child on Christmas Morning.

Charlie smiled, loving the fact that Chas appreciated life more than most women. Because she had experienced such a hard way in life, she never took anything for granted like most people tend to. Her appreciation for her new blessings was as pure as the heart of a newborn babe and Charlie only wanted to give her more.

“Wait until we get to the beach!” He said softly, running his fingers through her curls.

The overweight but friendly cabby looked at them through his rear-view mirror.

I take it that it’s your first time being in Florida,” he chirped.

The Florida Keys

“It is.” Chas answered back.

“This is our honeymoon. I’m taking her to the beach this afternoon,” Charlie told him.

“Congratulations, both of you,”

“I just bought a swimsuit, cover and a couple of beach towels,” Chas chirped as she dug through her shopping bags and took out one of the pretty beach towels to show Charlie.

Charlie’s father had given them five thousand dollars spending money for a wedding present. Soon, the couple boarded the Cessna and were in the air again. Chas did just as she had done during the flight to Miami. She could not stop gazing out the window.

During the first day of their honeymoon, they checked into their hotel, then went shopping at a nearby shopping mall. They ate their meals in the hotel cafeteria. Later, they went to the beach. Chas had only seen the beach once and once was not enough. She had become addicted to the sights of white beaches, clear blue water, palm trees and sunny skies. Unable to keep her eyes off her new surroundings, Chas eyed the palm trees, then looked back at her husband.

“Where are the coconuts?” She asked him.

The Beach

“I don’t know. Either it isn’t the right season for them, or we’re not far enough south. I think we have to be within the tropics and closer to the equator to see coconuts, honey,” he told her.

As they walked across the hot sand, Charlie carried two lawn chairs and Chas toted a bag carrying their beach towels, suntan lotion, and sunshades. He stopped and set up the lawn chairs, covering them with the beach towels while his bride stared in awe at the ocean in front of them. She could not believe how blue the water was. The ocean was a beautiful aqua color. And the sand on the beach was a snowy white color.

After setting up their spot on the beach and slathering each other down with suntan lotion, Charlie and Chas ran toward the ocean and got into the water, jumping the waves and bodysurfing. Wading chest-deep in the ocean, Chas looked down at her feet, completely amazed. The water was so clear, so free of sediment, it was as if she were looking through glass. She could see her feet and the white sand beneath them so clearly! She watched as a huge school of tiny fish swim around her ankles with their silvery scales and fins seeming to glisten in the light of the sun. When they grew tired of swimming, Charlie and Chas walked along the beach, hand in hand, listening to the seagulls cry and the crashing wave.

Beautiful Sounds of Seagulls

The newlywed couple spent their second, third, and fourth days on the beach, where they both sunbathed and swam, taking small breaks in between to rub each other’s backs down with suntan lotion. On the fifth and sixth days, they spent their time at an amusement park, riding roller coasters and eating cotton candy. The last night before going back to Tennessee, Charlie and Chas took a twilight stroll on the beach.

It was a beautiful night. The stars twinkled in the sky as the ocean breeze blew gentle gusts through their hair. A full moon lit up the sky like day and glinted beautifully on the ocean. They both felt inner peace while hearing the waves roll onto the sandy beach.

“Oh, Charlie! This is such a beautiful place. I don’t want to leave,” Chas cooed.

“I don’t either, honey. But we must go home tomorrow. We must pack so that we can move to Nashville to be near my family,” Charlie replied.

“Oh, well. Who knows? Maybe we can retire here one day,” Chas gushed.

“Ya never know,” Charlie said as he slipped his arm around her shoulders and they walked on.

Moving From Memphis to Nashville

The next morning, Charlie and Chas prepared to leave the Keys. It would be a honeymoon that they would never forget. The next two weeks were spent packing to move to Nashville. Charlie gave a notice of transfer to the MPD. He would be transferring to the Metro Nashville Police Department.

On his last day at the Memphis police department, Charlie was given a going away party by his fellow officers. His fellow officers would miss him very much. Charlie and Chas had already moved their belongings to Nashville, where Charlie’s father had them put into storage. Early the next morning, the happy couple left for their new home. On the way, Charlie and Chas talked and looked at the scenery. They made several stops along the way, Cuba Landing on the Tennessee River, Loretta Lynn’s place, the Buffalo River, all for sight-seeing.

“Before I left for the Maldives with the girls last December, I had never been outside of Memphis. Traveling is such a new experience for me, and I love it. I have always wanted to travel, to get out and see the world. And praise God! It’s happening now!” Chas said, beaming with excitement.

The Trip

“Well, you and I are going to do a lot of traveling over the next few years. I promise you that,” Charlie said with a smile as he glanced at Chas off and on while driving down the interstate.

After about four hours of driving and making frequent stops, Charlie and Chas arrived in Nashville at about noon and spent the night in a hotel. After a refreshing nights’ sleep, Charlie and Chas drove to the home of Charlie’s’ family at around nine the next morning.

Chas was surprised to find that Charlie’s’ family was very wealthy.

Charlie drove out of the metropolitan area and into a countryside of rolling rolls and windy roads. After fifteen minutes of driving through country, Charlie made a turn and pulled onto a long driveway which was about a half-mile long. Chas looked ahead and could see a huge white plantation style mansion with swimming pool. She paused and gave Charlie a puzzled look.

“Is this where you grew up, Charlie?” She asked in amazement.

“It is,” Charlie answered with a smile.

A Huge Surprise

The mansion sat on a huge dude ranch with several beautiful horses. In the front of the house was a huge porch and balcony, garnished by several white pillars. The Riddick’s owned well over three hundred acres of land. The vast acreage was a huge green carpet of grass. Off to the east of the house, on a hill sat a huge red barn with white trim. At the foot of the hill, on the east side of the barn, was the shady lot and stables where the horses were kept. The rest was just flat countryside for as far as Chas could see, with foothills barely visible on the horizon.

Maurice, Charlie’s’ father, was a big-time businessman. He was co-owner of Jarrett & Riddick Advertising. Charlie introduced his new bride to the maids of the Riddick household, Anita and Celestine. Chas was amazed but managed to contain it. She greeted the maids with a ‘hello’, smile and handshake, then looked at Charlie and smiled, wide-eyed and full of anticipation of their future together.

Afterwards, Charlie led Chas upstairs to their new bedroom, and the maids entered, carrying their suitcases and sat them down at the foot of the Alaskan king-sized bed before excusing themselves. Chas looked around the huge bedroom and noticed the fireplace, the huge bed, the huge private bathroom and the French doors which led outside. Chas walked over to the French doors and opened them to reveal a beautiful veranda furnished with white, wicker-style patio furniture.

Getting to Know the In-Laws

“Oh my gosh! This is beautiful!” Chas gushed. She then turned to Charlie and he walked up to her and put his arms around her.

“Charlie, you never told me about any of this. I had no idea that you came from privileged beginnings,” she said in astonishment.

“You never asked,” he reminded her.

“Of course, I did. Remember? Off and on, I asked about how you grew up? What values you were taught, what school you went to…you know? Things like that,” Chas continued.

“But you never asked about our lifestyle and I just didn’t think to tell you,” Charlie replied.

“True. But anyone worth their salt wouldn’t ask questions like that. So, is this where we’re going to live?”

“For the time being. Until we find a place of our own.”

Charlie grabbed a blanket and took Chas around the estate. He showed her the stables where the horses were and introduced her to the ranchers who worked for the family. Chas was taken by the horses.

“The horses are beautiful,” Chas said as she stroked the mane of one of the horses.

“Maybe after dinner, we can go horseback riding. Are you game or lame?” Charlie offered with a grin.

The Ranch

“You know I’m game,” Chas chirped, “But I don’t know how to ride a horse, never even been on a horse.”

“I’ll teach you how or you can take lessons,” Charlie assured.

Charlie took Chas to the lake, where they sat on the blanket and talked, while watching the ducks swim on the water.

“Wow! I’m totally floored by all this! Back in Memphis, you and I both lived in crummy apartments, and I figured that when we got married, we’d live in just another crummy apartment,” Chas admitted. “Your family has so much, Charlie. I can’t help but wonder how they felt about your living in a two-room apartment?”

“Well, they didn’t like it, of course. But I’m not the type of guy who lives off my family’s fortune,” Charlie told her, “And besides, Mom and Dad haven’t always been this well off. Believe it or not, they both came from poverty. They grew up dirt poor.”

They got up, before Charlie took up their blanket and led Chas to the big red barn, where the two climbed up to the hay loft. There, Charlie spread the blanket across the plush, sweet-smelling hay. He and Chas laid across the blanket and nestled against one another. Charlie wrapped his arms around her and drew her nearer to him.

Charlie Tells Chas about His Years Growing Up

“My dad went into partnership with a guy he grew up with and they started a business together. My dad worked his tail off…I mean busted his hump to get us where we are now. It wasn’t always easy. My dad worked long hours to get the business of the ground…sometimes up to eighteen hours a day. There were years when dad was hardly ever home and it was hard on my mom and my older siblings.”

Chas listened attentively as he talked about life growing up. Charlie then looked down at his new wife and ran his fingers through her hair. As their lips touched, he cradled her cheek with one hand. Chas unbuttoned his shirt and pressed her lips against his chest. He loved her tenderly, caressing and cradling her as he showered her flawless face with kisses until she felt dizzy. Chas ran her fingers up his back and through his hair. After lovemaking, they lay beside each other in the afterglow and took a thirty-minute nap.

When it was close to dinnertime, Charlie and Chas got dressed and walked back to that thirty-six-room house. As they walked, Chas had some questions to ask Charlie.

“Charlie, I don’t understand. Not that I don’t appreciate your being a cop, but your family has so much. Why didn’t you just become a doctor, or a lawyer, or even a business man, like your father? I figured that most people that came from wealthy families usually followed in their parents’ footsteps,” she said softly.

Charlie, the Blacksheep of the Family

“Well, it’s funny you said that. My parents did want me to go into the business field like Daddy. But my dream was to become a police officer. Ever since I was a small boy, I have wanted to be a cop,” Charlie said.

“I’ll bet that your parents were disappointed when you told them that you wanted to be a cop.”

“Yes. They were. But I couldn’t pick a career that I wouldn’t be happy with. No. Cops don’t get paid much. But it’s what I do best. It’s what I enjoy,” Charlie explained.

They stopped walking and gazed into each other’s eyes. Charlie cupped Chas’ face in his hands. Without saying a word, they continued to gaze into each other’s eyes.

When the happy newlyweds arrived back at the house, Anita was just putting dinner on the table. Charlie’s’ mother, Isabelle had already started to worry about them.

“Where have you two been? I haven’t seen hide nor hair of you two almost all day,” Isabelle complained.

“I was just showing Chas around the property,” Charlie replied.

Charlie had a large family. The entire family lived in the same household. There were Maurice and Isabelle, Charlie’s’ parents, and his oldest and alcoholic brother, Jim and his wife Lucretia. He had a second oldest brother, Jake and his wife, Katrina. And he had two sisters, Chelsea, who was married to Christopher, and Brooke, the baby of the family, who was single and in college.

A Large Family

“Charlie, son! Glad you and Chas could join us for dinner,” greeted Maurice.

They all sat down to dinner. After saying grace, the family enjoyed lobster, boiled shrimp, stuffed peppers, and zucchini squash. For dessert, Anita served cheesecake with blueberry topping.

The Second Vow of Chastity Baker C1-2

When the happy couple arrived at the hotel, they stopped at the front desk and the clerk checked their reservations, then handed Charlie the key card to their room. After taking the elevator up to the seventh floor, the newlyweds arrived at the door of their hotel room. Charlie unlocked the door before picking Chas up and carrying her inside.

As soon as the door was shut behind them, Charlie took Chas into his arms and they both engaged in a long and passionate kiss. Charlie broke the seal and looked at his new wife.

“I will love you forever, sweetheart,” he said softly.

Chas smiled.

“Wait here, I’ll be right back,” she said.

Chas went into the bathroom while Charlie waited by the wedding bed. During the wait, Charlie changed into a masculine red satin robe, then called room service and ordered two glasses and a bottle of pink champagne on ice. Five minutes passed, then ten. When fifteen minutes passed, Charlie looked at his watch.

“Oh, Chas! I’m waiting, darling,” Charlie called out in a sing-song voice.

Honeymoon!

Suddenly, the door of the bathroom opened, and out stepped Chas dressed in a stunning white negligee. Charlie’s eyes widened as he beheld his wife’s beauty and how the negligee fit his wife’s svelte form. He gazed in admiration, as Chas twirled around the room, showing off her sexy white spaghetti string negligee, smoothing the bodice that hugged her trim waist with her hands, then placing her hands on her hips. She then stood there and gave her new husband a look which said, “Come hither”.

“You look beautiful,” he said softly.

“I’m glad you like it. You look very sexy in that robe.” Chas commented as Charlie approached her. She then wrapped her arms around him and planted a soft kiss on his lips. Charlie reached for the Bluetooth radio and turned on soft music, then danced slowly with his new wife.

“I love you, Mrs. Riddick,” he whispered.

At the sound of her new title and last name, Chas’ heart leapt in her chest as she continued to slow dance with her new husband.

“Say it again,” Chas pleaded softly as he twirled her.

“Mrs. Riddick.”

“Ohhh, say it louder now!” Chas said in a playful voice.

“Mrs. Riddick.” Charlie repeated slower and softer as he gently pressed his forehead against hers.

“Ooo, I love the sound of that!” Chas moaned as she leaned her head against his chest.

Room Service

Minutes later, they heard a knock at the door. Charlie answered it to find a man decked out in a tuxedo, pushing a cart atop of which sat two gleaming wine glasses and a bottle of bubbly champagne half buried in a silver bucket of ice. The porter rolled the cart into the room before Charlie politely tipped him.

“Thank you kindly,” Charlie said before the porter left, giving the newlyweds their privacy. Charlie then popped the cork with the corkscrew, shooting some fizz from the bottle, then filled both glasses half full. He handed one to his new bride.

“To a very long and beautiful life together,” he said, raising his glass.

“Cheers,” Chas cooed.

They clicked their glasses together and sipped their champagne. After putting his glass down, Charlie wrapped his arms around her and pressed his lips against hers repeatedly. They continued to stand in the middle of the hotel room, swaying to the slow, soft rhythm of the music. After turning the lights down low, Charlie hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the outer doorknob, then gently closed the door.

The Second Vow of Chastity Baker, C1

The Second Vow of Chastity Baker

Chapter 1

Preparations

“Okay! The church is booked, the reception is booked here at The Rotunda, the wedding cakes are ordered, my bridal gown and the bridesmaids dresses are ordered and ready, I have Charlie’s wedding ring…Oh Lord! What else? I know there are things I’m forgetting! Ugh!” Chas cried out of frustration, running around with the checklist in her hand, “Tori, what am I forgetting!”

“Chas! Calm down! Just sit down and rest, honey! We’re working on it! It’s all coming together! You’ll see!” Tori called back while helping to decorate the ballroom at the Rotunda.

“Great! And I want to make sure the wedding cake is complete in time!” Chas called back from the kitchen.

“Come on, Chas! Relax, girl!” Camille, another lady from the group urged. A third woman from the group, Emily gently grabbed Chas by the shoulders while Sandy, a fourth, pulled out a chair for Chas to sit in. Emily took Chas by the shoulders and gently guided her to the chair.

Pre-Wedding Day Jitters

“Sit down! Rest! We’ve got this!” Emily urged as Chas took a seat, sighed and rubbed her forehead.

“I just want this wedding to be perfect!” She sighed.

“A perfect wedding is like a perfect world- there is no such thing,” Sandy reminded her.

“Oh, come on, I need positivity around me right now,” Chas whined.

“Girl, if you don’t hush, we’re going to have to put you on the next episode of ‘Bridezillas’!” Emily began.

Chas chortled.

“Alright, alright. You ladies are doing a fantastic job. I guess I’m a little nervous,” Chas admitted, chuckling.

“Honey, you’ve just got the pre-wedding jitters. We all get those.” Tori chirped, “My sister was a nervous wreck during the week before her wedding. Trust me, what you’re feeling is completely normal. That’s why we want you to take a breather.”

A Spring Wedding

It was Springtime in Memphis and there were two weeks left before the big day arrived. Chastity Diane Baker, soon to be Mrs. Charles Riddick, was busy checking off her checklist of wedding necessities. Tori and the ladies from the S.A.S.H.E. (Students Against Sexual Harassment Everywhere) a group from the college Chas attended and whom held meetings every first Saturday of every month on campus, was busy helping Chas prepare for her upcoming wedding.

To save up for the coming wedding, Chas had taken a second job at the hospital as a nurses’ assistant. On top of two jobs, she was looking forward to starting Nursing School at the University of Tennessee – Nashville in the fall.

Finally, the big day arrived. Charlie’s’ family had make the three-hour trip from Nashville to Memphis, to attend the wedding. At eight that morning, Chas rose from her bed and walked over to her mirror and stared at her reflection for a moment, feeling blissfully happy. She could not believe that the most special day of her life had finally arrived.

“I’m finally going to be Mrs. Charles Riddick. Hmmmm, Chas Baker- Chas Riddick. That definitely has a nice ring to it. Chas Riddick!”

The Day Has Finally Arrived

It was a beautiful morning with the sun shining brightly in the sky. The flowers were blooming and the sweet fragrance of spring filled the air. Birds were singing sweetly in the trees. Chas concluded that she and Charlie could not have picked a better day to get married.

She had to be at the church at ten o’clock. Earl would arrive to pick her up at nine thirty.
She showered and fixed her hair into a French bun and wisps of bangs in the front. She put on her make up, then slipped into her gown and put on her veil. Chas wanted to look perfect for this occasion.

When she was finished preparing herself for her husband to be, she looked in the mirror. Chas loved what she saw. She was decked in a snow white long flowing satin wedding gown with a laced bodice, long train, and V-shaped collar. Her veil was made of white pearls and lace. Before long, Earl arrived to take Chas to her wedding.

There were several guests at the wedding, including Lt. Jenkins and some of Charlie’s’ fellow officers. Sandra was there also.

When the wedding ceremony began, Earl escorted Chas down the aisle as the organist played ‘The Bridal March’. As Chas slowly walked down the aisle, she thought of her brother, Ricky.

Missing Ricky

“I wish he could be here for this,” She thought sadly, “My little brother should be walking down this isle with me. He should be the person giving me away to my husband, not Earl.” Chas had tried so hard to get her brother out of the situation he was in. She never believed for a second that Ricky wasn’t trying. Every time she had gone to Memphis to visit her brother, he had lost yet another crummy job and was still living with his girlfriend. And now he was so broke that he could not make the trip to be at her wedding and she knew Ricky really wanted to be there. How her heart ached! Chas only hoped that having to bounce from job to job was the worst of his problems.

The organist began playing Clarke’s “The Prince of Denmark’s March”. As she slowly made her way down the aisle between the rows of pews with Earl escorting her, Chas could see a beaming Charlie waiting at the alter with the minister, decked in his formal police uniform. When Earl and Chas arrived at the altar, Charlie joined arms with his bride and they both faced the minister. She slowed her breathing as the butterflies swarmed in her stomach.

The minister opened his Bible.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in the holy bonds of matrimony…” began the minister.

Wedding Vows

As the minister continued, Charlie and Chas looked at each other and smiled. They were full of anticipation, so full of hope of things to come. Their future together looked so bright. The happy couple were so eager for the minister to get to the part where Charlie would kiss his bride. They were overwhelmed with happiness. Chas stood there and cried tears of joy.

When the ring bearer presented the rings, the happy and hopeful couple each took one and Charlie placed the wedding band on his bride’s finger before saying his vows. Once he was finished, it was Chas’ turn to say hers. She looked lovingly at her husband-to-be as she took her vows.

“…I now pronounce you, husband, and wife. You may kiss the bride.” said the minister.
Charlie took Chas in his arms and kissed her gently.

During the reception, the entire Riddick family got to meet Charlie’s’ new bride. A huge luncheon was held at The Rotunda. The inside of the ballroom was decorated with huge white bows in every corner. Each table was covered with a white satin table cover and topped with a beautiful white candle surrounded with baby’s’ breath in the center. Everything was garnished with pink and white roses and baby’s’ breath. Candles were lit, giving off a romantic setting and there was plenty to eat. A long buffet contained barbecued and fried chicken, pork chops, country style ribs, potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, beef steaks, and other foods. Desserts and beverages were also among the smorgasbord of different foods. A huge wedding cake sat in a corner behind the buffet, trimmed with yellow roses and surrounded by bowls of nuts, mints, and wedding punch. The sounds of beautiful music filled the air.

The Reception

Charlie and Chas took the first slice of cake. The newlyweds fed each other their first bites as the guests took pictures. Then, they picked up their glasses of wedding punch and gave each other a sip of the other’s glasses.

Chas reflected on the night she’d met Charlie, just a few years earlier, which was the night he’d arrested her for drugs and prostitution. It was amazing how things had changed since then. Chas had matured from a young, teenage junkie and prostitute, who loathed cops and had a bitter outlook on the world, to a blushing bride who realized that the night Charlie had arrested her had been the night he had saved her life.

The arrest had been just the swift kick in the pants, she needed to make major changes in her life and redirect her path. Charlie had lit a fire under Chas. He had opened her eyes and made her realize that if she didn’t make changes soon, she would likely end up in prison, or worse, dead in a ditch somewhere.

It had taken a while, but miraculously, Chas had gone from hating Charlie, to loving him, to marrying him. It had not been the typical start to any relationship. Not by any stretch.

When the reception was over, guests threw rice at the newly married couple as they both exited the church. Chas turned around.

“Get ready, all you single ladies out there!”

Just Married

She tossed the bouquet in the air. Charlie’s’ youngest sister, Brooke caught the bouquet. Next, Charlie removed the garter from Chas’ leg and threw it into the crowd of single men and several of Charlie’s brothers from the Memphis Police Department cheered, whistled and clapped as a smiling Earl leapt in the air, reached for the flying garter and caught it before holding it up for all to see. Lt. Jenkins gave Earl a thumbs’ up.

In front of the church, sat Charlie’s new SUV, a black Ford Explorer, decorated with shaving cream and streamed with bunting. Cans hung from the back of the SUV and the words, “Just Married” were boldly written with soap on the back windshield. He and Chas got into the car and drove off, waving at the cheering guests. They had made reservations at The Blues Hotel, a first-class hotel in downtown Memphis.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C16

Chapter 16

The Wake

Two days later, Chris, Daniel, Atticus, and Popeye all sat at Atticus’ house, in his huge, eat-in kitchen, drinking coffee. Grandma Bennett, Kim, and Brielle came into the kitchen, fixed themselves a cup, then sat in the breakfast nook.  As they all gathered in the Carpenter kitchen, they watched the flatscreen on the wall. Suddenly, a newsbreak came over the airwaves. Popeye and Atticus leaned forward in their chairs to give it their full attention, as did the rest.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Crystal Cades,” said a young, blonde reporter with a gleem in her eye.

“And I’m Andrew Waller,” said the handsome, dark-haired male reporter who sat next to Crystal.

“We have breaking news. News channel twelves has just received word that the bodies of forty-four prison inmates who escaped from the Tennessee State Maximum Security Penitentiary in Sugar Village, were pulled from the waters of the Mississippi River early this morning. Twenty-seven of the escaped convicts have been arrested and returned to state custody and thirteen of the prison escapees have been apprehended in the surrounding states and are awaiting extradition. However, thirty-six escaped convicts are still unaccounted for.”

“We believe that an online security breach caused the security systems at the prison to shut down, which caused a massive exodus of inmates from the prison on Halloween night. However, that has not been confirmed at this time,” the young, male news anchor reported.

“But there is an even more bizarre twist to this story,” Crystal announced, “It has just been reported that fifty-four people, mostly Glover County and Thomasville city officials and prominent business leaders, are missing. Among the missing are Sheriff Bobby Earl Crabtree, his wife Rita Winchester Crabtree, and son, Mason. Also among the missing are Deputy Ashton Childers and his wife, Sarah, Deputy Grant Lindsay and his wife Misty. We will continue to give updates as more information comes in.”

Grandma looked at Kim and Brielle.

“How’s Raina?” she asked.

“She’s holding her own. She lost the baby, but the doctor says that she can still have children. It will probably be another week before she gets out of the hospital,” Kim answered.

“From what I’ve been told, Chess County Hospital is a good hospital. They’ll take care of her. She’s not out of the woods yet and Kim and I are going back this afternoon to stay with her. The doctor is keeping a close eye on her and will continue to update us on her condition and her progress.” Brielle added, “Paul is with her now.”

Cindy and Shannon came into the kitchen after overhearing the new broadcast and everything that was said. Shannon and Cindy fixed themselves each a cup of coffee as Grandma Bennett took two large pans of raspberry muffins out of one of the ovens and sat them on folded towels on the counter.

“So, what do we do? Do we report it? Do we keep quiet about it? I mean, chances are pretty high that they’re all dead and almost no one knew that those tunnels even existed,” Cindy said, “Chances are also pretty good that the child trafficking ring and Satanic cult were all killed in the collapse.”

“We still have to report it, Cindy,” Shannon said, “They’re all dead, but we still have to report it. Not only is it the right thing to do, but their could be a few of them who weren’t in the tunnels when they collapsed, or who survived. And, if so, do you think they’d ever stop doing what they were doing? Someone must investigate this or more children might be harmed. I don’t want that on my conscience and I’m sure you don’t. And none of the rest us want to carry that burden either.”

“You’re right,” Chris said, “But realize that this could go much higher than just the county officials. They probably had bigger bosses over them and we’re going to get a lot of press over this.”

“Surely, they could keep our names out of it,” Atticus said, “Maybe say something to the effect of, ‘very reliable sources submitted evidence of’ blah-b-blah?”

“I don’t know. We might, and I say, might be able to keep our names from getting any ink on this. But if we do, it’ll only be for a while. Stuff like that has ways of leaking,” Popeye warned.

“That’s true. But we still must do the right thing,” Daniel said.

“But what if the big bosses decide to come after all of us? And not only that, what if the state and federal law decides to prosecute us for taking the law into our own hands?” Grandma Bennett asked, “Don’t get me wrong. The children who are being exploited need to be rescued and kept safe and this stuff needs to come out in the open. I’m all for that. But I’m also for keeping us out of the public eye.”

“None of us want to either be running for the rest of our lives or stuck in some witness protection program. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. And these children?” Brielle said.

“Hopefully, that won’t be necessary,” Chris said, “If they’re all dead, which they probably are, it’ll be easier to stay out of the witness protection program and live the rest of our lives in peace. Maybe the people who investigate this will keep our names confidential. We need to hang onto hope.”

“I hope you’re right, Chris,” Daniel told him.

“At least all the kids have been returned to their parents. How are the girls, Brielle?” Kim asked.

“They’re still upstairs asleep. The girls have slept a lot since they’ve been home. They’re so exhausted,” Brielle answered.

“I’ll contact a few friends of mine who are still in the CIA and see if I can’t get them to pull a few strings to keep you all anonymous,” Daniel assured, “I’m sure they’ll get it done.”

“I feel a lot better knowing that. Thanks, Daniel,” Chris said.

He then looked at Grandma Bennett, then at Brielle and Kim.

“In the meantime, we’ll send the evidence to several white hats we know who are battling this child-trafficking epidemic and we’ll do our best to keep you all incognito. The evidence will be safe with Daniel. And we’ll keep copies. Miles will keep one and Shannon and I will keep one. Daniel will put other copies in a safe location. We don’t want any of the evidence to be kept in Thomasville. So, Brielle, you and your family should be safe. Atticus, you and Jo should also be safe. Kim and Raina, Popeye…everyone here can go on with your lives,” Chris continued.

“Welp! Our job is done here. I’ll go ahead and book us all a flight back home,” Daniel said.

Brielle dug into her purse. She took out an almost overstuffed, small, sealed Manilla envelope and handed it to Shannon and Chris. Chris took the envelope and opened it.

“It’s all there,” Brielle told them, “You can count it just to make sure.”

Chris looked at Shannon.

“She helped us get Kelsey back. I think that’s payment enough. Don’t you?” he told her.

“I agree,” Shannon replied.

“Keep it. You’ll need it for airfare back home,” Brielle said.

“Brielle, we’ve got enough to last the rest of our lives and to leave to the kids once we’re gone. You need this money more than we do. You helped us get Kelsey back and that’s worth more than what’s in this envelope. Keep it and spend it on those babies,” Shannon urged as she passed the money back to Brielle.

Brielle’s eyes flooded with tears before she said, “Thank you. Thank you so much!”

“No. Thank you! You and your friends helped save Kelsey’s life and the lives of all the kids,” Chris told her.

A week later, as they all stood at the entrance to the airport, Atticus, Popeye, Big Bruce, Malcolm, and Bruce stood in front of the first checkpoint and shook the hands of Chris, Daniel, and Miles. Brielle, Jane, and Grandma Bennett hugged Shannon, Cindy, Kelsey, and Alexandra.

“I can’t thank you enough, Brielle told Shannon. At least I can breathe now, and I can raise these girls in peace.”

“Have you thought about moving away from Glover County, Brielle? I just can’t imagine wanting to stay there after all that’s happened,” Shannon said.

“Thomasville is my home. All my family are there. I might move again a few years from now after the girls are grown. But until then, I want to stay put. After all, I just bought my house just over a year ago and I’m not ready to pull up roots and start over in another area just yet,” Brielle told her.

“I completely understand,” Cindy told her.

“Me too. Moving is a huge chore,” Shannon added.

After hugging, Kelsey looked at Jane and smiled.

“You got my number and address programmed into your phone, right?” Kelsey asked.

“Absolutely!” Jane answered.

“You call if you ever need us,” Alexandra told Jane.

“We sure will,” Jane assured, as Bruce walked over beside her and put his arm around her waist.

Malcolm put his arm around Brielle’s waist as all the Bledsoe’s bid their goodbyes and headed toward the first checkpoint.

Atticus, Malcolm, Popeye, and all the Bennett’s and McCauley’s waved goodbye as the Bledsoe’s were searched and passed through the checkpoint. The Bledsoe’s then gave one last wave goodbye before disappearing into the crowds of people.

As Atticus, Popeye, and the Bennett’s and McCauley’s headed across the parking lot toward their parked vehicles, a huge passenger jet screamed overhead as it ascended into the blue sky.

THE END

Notice:

This is only the second draft. Now the editing process begins as I send the hard copy to my editor and friend to critique. The plot in the story will not be changed but errors will be corrected and there will probably be a few additions before the final publication. Thank you so much for reading and for being the extra sets of eyes I needed. I also thank you for your feedback, the positive and negative. It will help me to write even better in the future! Bountiful blessings to each and every one of you!

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-9

Once the surface doors opened and they were lifted above the ground, the elevator stopped. Chris then shifted into drive, floored the gas, and peeled down the wide gravel road toward County Route 16. Atticus followed.

Chris looked through the rearview mirror.

“We’ve got to get away from that platform. The water pressure will blow it sky high and water will shoot into the air like a damn geyser!” He said as he sped toward the highway, slinging dirt and gravel.

As dawn began to break in the east, Popeye, Alvin, and the rest cheered when they saw the two vehicles come up through the ground in the distance and take off down the wide gravel road.

“They made it! Yeeeah!” Miles cheered as he jumped to his feet, then pumped one fist up and down. Alexandra jumped up, then leapt into Miles’ arms before he twirled her around and around. Popeye and Alvin gave each other high fives, then hugged each other as they cheered. Jo and Oliver hugged each other in the back.

They then jumped into the vehicle before Popeye cranked the ignition and backed away from the bushes. He then turned onto the gravel road and headed back to 16. Finally he turned onto the County Route and floored the gas, heading in the same direction the others had.

As they passed what they’d referred to as the Elysian Fields, a huge geyser of water shoot high into the air, blowing the platform over a hundred feet in the air.

“Damn!” Alvin shouted in amazement as he watched the huge fountain of water shoot into the air, then slowly lose its power.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake, four dark figures crawled out of a makeshift well, deep in the woods, then broke into a run, disappearing  into the night. Once they were clear, the well began to overflow with murky water. The water spilled over onto the ground for about twenty minutes, then subsided.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-8

“Oh, shit, Chris!” Daniel shouted.

Seeing the rocks fall, the water pour, and Chris swerve about thirty feet in front of him, Atticus’ eyes widened.

“Holy Mary Mother of God!” Atticus shouted as he drove the second vehicle about twenty feet behind Chris. He swerved to miss the pile in the road.

“Son of a bitch!” Malcolm screamed from the front passenger seat as he grabbed the dashboard.

Although they all had their seatbelts on, they still put their hands out to brace themselves.

The eyes and mouths of both Brielle and Cindy opened wide, and their arms flailed as the two women felt themselves rocked by the force of the violent swerve of the SUV.

Just then, as they all thought that things couldn’t get any worse, “Oh, SHIT!” Chris, Daniel, and Jesse yelled over the comms as pieces of brick and stone began to give way and go flying across the road in front of them as new, pressurized streams of water squirted from the walls like someone had turned on a fire hose.

Fuck! Get us the hell outta here!” Big Bruce yelled.

Seeing what was happening ahead of them, Malcolm flinched in his seat.

“Whoa!” He yelled.

Brielle and Cindy screamed, and terror filled Atticus’s eyes as he yelled, “Get dooown! Everybody! Down in your seats!”

Malcolm, Brielle, and Cindy ducked down as large, golf ball and baseball-sized hunks of brick and stone turned into projectiles. The projectiles torpedoed across the archway with such force that they smashed into the wall on the other side of the road. And the pressurized water behind them sprayed with such force that it reached the opposite side as well. More chunks continued to fall from the ceiling.

Atticus swerved violently, doing everything he could to dodge the falling chucks and flying projectiles. Ahead of them, Chris did the same, weaving back and forth as more pieces fall from above them and flying pieces either whizzed past their vehicles or dinged up the sides of them.

The occupants inside both vehicles either grunted or cried out as loud thuds sounded from the projectiles hitting the sides of the vehicles they were in.

A huge hunk came flying through the side windshields that were next to the rear of the second vehicle, shattering the glass to pieces. Cindy and Brielle screamed as they got down in the seat.

Keeping his eyes on the road and trying to dodge the debris, Chris saw a glimmer of hope when he noticed that they were now approaching the foot of the incline. Brielle turned and looked through the back windshield. She could see for a long distance down the straightaway from whence they had come. Cindy also turned to look back.

The two women’s eyes widened as they saw a huge section of the tunnel collapse about a half mile back and a loud rumble shook the entire tunnel as a huge rush of white water came barreling after them.

“Ooooh, SHIT! Atticus, punch it! Get us the hell out of here!” Brielle screamed in panic, while Cindy screamed, “Go-go-go-go-GO! Just GO!

They reached the incline, speeding up it as it grew steeper. With the gas pressed to the floor, Chris and Atticus continued to guide the SUVs up, up, up the steep incline, further, and further still, until they finally reached the platform at the end of the road and tunnel. Chris slammed on his breaks before coming to a stop on one side of the huge platform. Atticus’s vehicle came to a screeching halt beside them.

As the platform began to lift the two vehicles up in the air, then through the hole in the ceiling of the tunnel, the rumblings below grew louder and louder.

“Oh, come on, come on!” Chris groaned as the elevator slowly took them up to the surface. Daniel, Jesse, and Big Bruce only sat there, each holding his breath.

Atticus sat in the second vehicle beside Chris, praying anxiously.

“Please help us, Lord!” he prayed while Malcolm sat in his seat, on pins and needles. Brielle and Cindy sat silently in the back, holding on to one another tightly as the white wave of the lake, churning with bricks and huge chunks of cement, gained speed not far behind.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-7

Atticus took aim, squinting one eye into the scope of his gun.

Suddenly, as the High Priest raised the dagger high over the shrieking baby, Atticus fired once and his bullet entered the back of the Satanic High Priest’s head and exited the center of his forehead, producing a red cloud around him before he fell to the floor behind the sacrificial table on which little Kennedy lay.

The other cult members gasped, not knowing what had just happened. As several of them ran toward the pulpit and table that contained the crying baby, Atticus, and Chris fired a hail of bullets and took out about twelve of the running Satanists, keeping them away from the child. Jesse then fired his shotgun at even more Satanists as they ran toward the baby. Big Bruce also began firing.

Amid the melee, Brielle and Cindy tore off their hoods, signaling to the gunmen on their team that they were the good guys. Brielle ran up on the stage and quickly unfastened Kennedy from her restraints while Cindy fired her gun at three cult members who charged her, raising their daggers. The Satanic trio dropped to the floor and didn’t move. She then fired her gun at two Satanists who ran on stage trying to attack Brielle. Daniel fired his gun, wounding yet another four cult members.

Brielle finally freed Kennedy from her restraint and lifted her in her arms. As she began to run with her baby in her arms, another cult member tried to block her way. Shifting the baby to her hip and holding her with one arm and raising her gun with the other, Brielle fired several shots in lightning-fast succession, killing the Satanist who tried to block her. Atticus then came running out on the stage from behind the red curtains, firing his weapon to keep the rest of the cult away. He and Malcolm joined Brielle, firing their guns, shooting their way through the crowd and clearing a path to the front doors of the underground sanctuary. Jesse and Big Bruce begin running down the catwalk and then down the stairs to the bottom.

Once they were out of the sanctuary, there were only about ten cult members standing.  The remaining cult members started giving chase, running toward the front doors. After Daniel pitched a smoker into the sanctuary to confuse them, smoke filled the sanctuary and Atticus took the grenade that hung from the loop on his belt and unclipped it from the ring. He then pulled the pin, turned around and threw it into the sanctuary at the remaining cult members before he, Chris, Jesse, Big Bruce, Malcolm, Daniel, Brielle and Cindy met in the tunnel outside the sanctuary and began running back toward the fork and remaining vehicles as fast as their feet could carry them.

They heard the blast about three seconds after they began running and the blast was so loud, it shook the tunnel and they heard the roaring sounds of the sanctuary collapsing. The blast shook the tunnel such that cracks spidered across the arched ceiling of the tunnel and water began to spray or pour from the newly developing cracks.

Chris, Atticus and the rest of the group stopped and looked up at the leaking ceiling.

“Holy shit! Get to the cars! Fast! We gotta get the hell out of here!” Atticus screamed.

As Popeye, Alvin, Miles, Jo, and Alexandra continued to watch, they felt the ground shake under them then heard a muffled boom in the distance. The sound came from the direction of the lake.

“What the hell was that!” Popeye cried.

“Damn! Did you feel that?” Alvin asked.

“Earthquake?” Jo asked.

“Nah! That was no earthquake,” Miles said, “That was a blast from a freakin’ grenade.”

Meanwhile, Chris, Daniel, Jesse, and Big Bruce jumped in the first vehicle. Atticus, Malcolm, Brielle, and Cindy jumped in the second vehicle. They then heard another loud roar as the tunnels shook with a vicious tremor.

Jeee-zus!” Jesse groaned as he looked out the window and noticed more leaks springing from the walls and ceiling.

“Oh, shit, Chris! You better punch it, man!” Big Bruce said nervously.

Chris turned on the ignition and threw the van into reverse. He then spun it around, shifted into drive, and floored the gas. The loud scream of squealing tires echoed throughout the tunnel as Chris took off.

Atticus followed suit, then took off behind Chris as the leaking from the ceiling intensified.

Further up the tunnel, Shannon, Raina, and all the kids reached the end of the underground road. They drove onto the elevator platform and stopped. Suddenly, they heard a distant boom behind them. The boom was followed by a tremor that rocked the vehicle and frightened everyone inside, prompting Kelsey, Jane, Roxie, and Brenda to gasp in horror.

“Hang on, everybody,” Shannon said as the platform began to rise, lifting the vehicle up. The set of doors automatically opened above them and they ascended through the ceiling of the tunnel toward the surface of the ground.

Popeye sounded over the comms after watching across the field and seeing a vehicle rise up from underground on the secret elevator. The vehicle then proceeded up the gravel road toward County Route 16.

“Shannon is that you?” he asked.

“In the flesh, Popeye. All the kids are with me. We got them all out safely and we found Raina, but she’s hurt really bad. We’ve got the get her to the hospital,” Shannon responded.

“I gotcha, Shannon,” Popeye said with a sigh of relief.

“Make sure to contact Paul and let him know that we found Raina. She’s hurt but she’s alive. Tell him to meet us at the hospital,”

“Will do, Shannon,” Alvin assured.

Back in the tunnel, the two vans sped down the paved underground road. Atticus drove behind Chris as the archway continued to spring more and more leaks.

“C’mon, Chris, get a move on, buddy! That damned lake is about to come crashing down on top of us, dude!” Atticus thought aloud but in a breathy voice.

“I’m driving this thing as fast as it’ll go, Atticus,” Chris said over the comms.

“I know. I’m just- I’m nervous as a whore in church. This is not how I want to die,” Atticus told him, touching his earpiece and mic with one hand.

“Amen on that, man,” Chris agreed.

Overhearing the conversation over the comms, Shannon gasped as she drove down 16, speeding toward the bluff.

“Chris, you got to get out of there, honey! Please!” Shannon said as a tear ran down her cheek.

Kelsey looked over at her mother.

“Mom, is Chris going to be okay?” she asked.

“I don’t know, honey,” Shannon answered in a dreadful sigh, “From the conversations I’m hearing over the ear comms, it sounds like the whole tunnel is about to collapse.”

Jane looked up as her eyes widened.

“What??? Oh, God, Ms. Shannon! My mom, Uncle Jesse, and baby sister are down there! And so are your husband and in-laws…and Bruce’s dad!”

Bruce clutched his gold crucifix that hung around his neck. He took the cross, kissed it, and began praying.

Popeye and his group were also listening.

They all sat in the Escalade with looks of terror on their faces. Tears ran down Jo’s cheeks.

“Oh, God! Atticus! Hurry! Just hurry!” she cried.

“C’mon! C’mon! Hurry up and get the hell out of there!” Popeye grunted anxiously.

Back underground, Chris, Atticus and the rest continued to speed through the tunnel. By this time, the road was wet and the walls and ceiling were leaking like a sieve. Atticus turned on his windshield wipers.

Suddenly, several stones in the walls and ceiling began to give way from the water pressure. As a result, a few stones fell from the ceiling in pieces, dropping onto the road in front of Chris, followed by a stream of water that ran from the resulting hole in the ceiling like turning on a spigot.

“Holy shit!” He yelled as he swerved, dodging the pile of large stone pieces, causing the tires to squeal.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-6

Deeper inside the tunnel, Bobby, Ashton, Johnny, Stephen, and Breanna stood over a bound Brielle as she and the rest of the captives were held in a holding area. The rest of the cult members who’d escorted them earlier left to attend the ritual. The chants of the Satanists were loud and in the next room. With her hands and feet tied up, Brielle sat there and gave Bobby a defiant look. The other captives sat behind her, also with their hands and feet bound.

Bobby returned the glare.

“Why do you look at me like that?” he growled.

“Really, Bobby? You don’t know already?” Brielle asked in a defiant tone.

“Well, hell. I guess that would be a stupid question. Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a fuck what you think of me. Your opinion of me means shit!” he growled, baring his teeth.

“Likewise,” Brielle bit back.

“You know, Brielle, none of you are in any position to make wise cracks! Being a smart-ass is going to be your undoing, sweetheart!” Rita threatened.

Brielle the Smartass 

Suddenly, before their hooded captors had time to react, Chris, Atticus, Jesse, and Malcolm burst into the holding area and fired a few shots, hitting Johnny and Ashton before they collapsed. Brielle and the over captives, with their hands still tied, squirmed out of their chairs and hit the floor.

Atticus then smashed Bobby in the head with the butt of his machine gun, knocking him unconscious as Chris threw a punch and knocked Stephen unconscious. Breanna tried to escape, heading for the door to the sanctuary, but Atticus fired a shot, hitting Stephen in the back and Jesse blocked the door, pointing his pistol in Breanna’s face.

“All your friends are indisposed now. I wouldn’t move a muscle if I were you, little lady. If you want to see your eighteenth birthday and know what it’s like to finally be a legal adult, you won’t make a sound,” Jesse warned.

After untying Brielle and Big Bruce, Chris removed the Satanic robes from the unconscious cult members, then looked at Brielle and Bruce.

“Untie the rest and you all head back to the fork. Put the kids in the vehicles and wait for Shannon and Cindy. They’re on their way! When they get there. Load all the kids into Shannon’s truck. Tell Cindy we’re going to need her.  Then Tell Shannon to take all the kids back to the surface and wait across the field with Popeye until the rest of us get above ground. Go, do it!” Chris said before he turned to Jesse, “Jesse, you and Malcolm take Breanna to the cellar. Tie her up, gag her, then lock her up. Big Bruce, hang with me and Atticus.”

Atticus stood over Johnny and Ashton.

“These two are dead,” he said.

“Then we’ll get them last,” Chris advised.

Chris, Atticus, and Big Bruce bound and gagged the unconscious cult members with duct tape before dragging them out of the holding area. It took them a while to get them to the waiting vehicles, but they did it without being seen.

Once they got them to the cells, Big Bruce stood as the lookout and Atticus took the keys from Bobby’s police-issued belt. They then drug each of the unconscious cult members into the cells, then slammed and locked the doors.

Next, they went back, collected the dead, then drug them to the cellar and locked them away. After locking the doors to the cellblock, they hurried back to the fork.

By the time they got to the fork, Shannon and Cindy had arrived and Brielle was getting the kids into Shannon’s vehicle. Shannon and Kelsey embraced, crying.

“Oh, Mom! I’m so happy to see you!” Kelsey sobbed.

“I’m so glad to see you too, baby! But we’ve got to go! We’ll have plenty of time for this later,” Shannon told her, “Get in the car, honey!”

They helped the injured Raina into the car and laid her down in the very back, next to the hatchback door. Jane got out of Atticus’s van and joined the kids in Shannon’s SUV. Cindy got out of the vehicle and joined Brielle as Shannon jumped into the driver’s side and slammed the door. Cindy looked at Shannon.

“Go! Get above ground as quickly as you can!” she said before Shannon backed up and swung the car around to face the opposite direction. She then took off.

Now that the kids were on their way to safety, Chris, Daniel, Big Bruce, Jesse, Atticus, Malcolm, Brielle, and Cindy could finally make their move. Daniel, Cindy, and Brielle donned the Satanic robes to blend in with the cult members and keep from being seen. Chris handed Big Bruce a gun, and they, Jesse, Atticus, and Malcolm took their positions.

As Daniel, Cindy and Brielle entered the front doors of the sanctuary in their disguises, the Satanic High Priest stood on the stage of the sanctuary as the parishioners continued to chant praises to their god. The High Priest then spread his hands and arms, then turned his hands, palms down and lowered them, signaling to the evil congregation to be silent.

Meanwhile, as Shannon drove back up the tunnel with an injured Raina and all the kids in the back, she noticed that, on her way out, more sections of the tunnel were leaking from the arched ceiling, then they had been when she was on her way in. In several spots, water rained from the leaky ceilings. In some areas, the leaks were as a sprinkle, in others, a downpour.

Her gut seemed to fall through the floorboard.

“Oh, my God! This is not good!” she mumbled under her breath.

Kelsey, who sat in the front passenger side, looked over at her mother.

“Is everything okay, Mom?” she asked, concerned.

“I hope so, Kelsey. But to tell you truth, I don’t know, honey. This tunnel is leaking awfully bad,” Shannon said in a tone mixed with fear and dread.

“I know. We’re under the floor of a big lake,” Roxie told them.

“Exactly,” Shannon sighed.

“We need to get Raina to the hospital,” Jane called from the back.

“I know, Jane. We’re going as fast as we can, honey. You just keep an eye on her. Okay?” Shannon said.

Everyone in the back were packed in the car tightly and it felt like riding in a sardine can. There were so many people in the SUV that Brenda had to sit in Andy’s lap on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Roxie sat in the middle with Nanda in her lap, and Bruce sat on the passenger side. Then Jane sat in the second back set next to the hatchback with Raina’s head in her lap. Jane rubbed Raina’s shoulder.

“It’s gonna be okay now, Raina,” she assured softly, “Just hang in there.”

Bruce turned around, looked at Jane, and placed his hand on her shoulder.

“I love you,” he mouthed silently.

“I love you too,” Jane mouthed back.

Suddenly, they began to drive up an incline. The incline grew steeper and steeper and Shannon pressed harder on the gas as they drove upward, toward safety. They drove through another downpour of leaking water as they drove further upward. Shannon turned on the windshield wipers as she continued to drive through the eerie but lit tunnel.

Back in the sanctuary, Atticus took his position behind the curtain of the stage, facing the High Priest’s back. He readied his weapon and poked the barrel through the crack between the two huge, red curtains.

Jesse and Big Bruce took their positions on the catwalk amid the stage lights. They aimed their guns down on the congregation, looking for any sign that anyone might recognize Daniel, Brielle or Cindy and come for them.

Chris took his position on the balcony, aiming his weapon down and watching for any movement among the cult members that might signal danger. Cindy and Brielle blended in with the cult members, walking slowly down the aisle between the rows of pews, readying their guns under their robes. And Daniel took his position at the door, behind the last row of pews.

The High Priestess emerged from the crowd of devil worshippers and approached the High Priest, holding Kennedy. She then passed the baby to the High Priest. Brielle’s eyes widened under her hood.

“No! Not my baby!” She groaned in terror under her breath.

She quickly approached the pulpit where the High Priest was standing over a table, holding a crying Kennedy. He lifted the baby up high, presenting her to the congregation before laying her down on the table before him. The High Priestess buckled Kennedy’s little ankles and wrists in the restraints that held her still.

The baby began to cry louder, then struggle against her restraints.

“No way you do, goddammit!” Brielle growled as she ran down the aisle between the two rows of pews in which the rest of the cult members stood.

“Brielle, stop! No!” Cindy cried in a grunting whisper amid the eerie organ music.

The Satanic High Priest slowly picked up a dagger from another table that was beside him. The top of the table was lined with a selection of different blades. He then took the dagger and, holding it with both hands, raised it over the screaming baby.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-5

The kids gasped and a few even screamed, but Brielle only jumped back to her feet.

“Can’t handle it, can you, Bobby?” Brielle quipped back before Bobby pulled his gun and started to shoot Brielle.

“Nooooo!” Olivia shrieked.

Luckily, Bobby got a little too close to Brielle and within her reach. She swiftly knocked the gun out of his hands as it fired, provoking startled screams from the kids. Brielle then took it and aimed it at him.

“Brielle! I wouldn’t if I were you!” Rita called.

Brielle looked over to see that Rita had grabbed Olivia. She held Olivia from behind and placed a gun to her head. The other hooded men and women had guns trained on Big Bruce, who held Raina and on all the kids.

Bobby Loses It

“You even think about growing a brain and we’ll drop every one of these pieces of shit!” Misty’s voice roared from underneath one of the hoods.

With that, Brielle dropped the gun and raised both hands in the air.

“Now, that’s better,” Rita sneered as a smirky smile spread across her face.

Suddenly, another hooded person removed the huge, drooping hood from his head. Brielle’s eyes widened as she recognized the face of the person from the news articles and broadcasts. It was Johnny Crabtree himself.

“Now, you were saying?” Johnny said as he flashed a smug smile.

Former Deputy Jason Eves also removed his hood, as did Ashton and other bullies Brielle knew. Sarah showed her face. Then more of the hooded removed their hoods, which revealed the faces of Stephen Crabtree, Audrey Crabtree, Kevin Hearns, and Breanna Lindsay, Janessa Holtz, April Hart, and Samantha Criss. Brielle instantly recognized Jane’s bullies from school and they too were aiming guns at Brielle and the rest of the captives.

The Hooded People Reveal Themselves 

“Where’s Jane, Brielle?” Breanna asked, “I have a special treat for her.”

As Chris drove the first SUV and Atticus, the second, the two groups drove deeper and deeper down the tunnel. As they passed the cell blocks where the prisoners had been kept, Jane recognized them. And she saw that the doors were wide open.

“Wait! Stop! Those are the doors to the cellblock where they took me, Bruce, and the rest of my friends! Kelsey McGregor is also in there!” she cried.

Chris came to a stop and Atticus stopped behind him.

“Did, you hear that, guys? Back up!” he said.

The two vehicles backed in front of the doors. Jane jumped out as did Chris, Atticus, and Jesse.

“Daniel, Malcolm, you stay here and be our lockout! Get behind the wheel and wait for us. If you see anything or anyone, give us a head’s up on the comms!” Chris told them in a loud whisper.

Empty Cells

Daniel and Malcolm each moved from the back, into the driver’s seats of each vehicle.

“The doors are wide open!” Jane whispered loudly.

Everyone ran into the cellblock to find that the cells were empty.

“They’re all gone!” Chris grunted.

They then ran through the doors to the second cellblock and found that all those cells were empty as well, except for the one that housed an unconscious young man dressed only in his tee shirt and underwear. Jesse looked at Chris.

“I know this punk! He hangs with the Crabtree kids!” he told him.

Atticus opened the cell. He then noticed a bucket in the middle of the floor outside the cell that was half-full of water. He then looked up to see water leaking from the stoned ceiling above and into the bucket. He grabbed the bucket as Jesse stood over the man aiming his pistol down at him. Atticus then took the bucket and splashed water all over the man’s face, causing him to jump and stir.

The Hostage

“Wakey-wakey, fuckface!” he said, before the man’s eyes popped open and he opened his mouth wide to scream.

Jesse and Chris stood over the man and cocked their guns.

“Ah-ah-ah! You open your mouth and it’ll be the last thing you ever do, shit-for-brains!” Jesse warned.

Atticus held his gun with one hand and jerked the young man up by his tee shirt. Chris then grabbed a hold of his tee shirt also. The young deputy’s eyes widened with fear.

“Take him, put him in the truck and tie his ass up! He’s got some s’plaaaning to do!” Atticus said, ending his last sentence in true Ricky Ricardo fashion before he and Chris spun him around and shoved him out of the cell from behind. As they walked back to the waiting vehicles, he and Atticus continued to shove the young man with each step he took.

“C’mon, punk! Move your fucking ass!” Chris said as he gave the man an open-handed slap on the back of the head.

As they forced the man into the first van and crawled in behind him, they heard chanting, a loud blast, and screams that came from down the tunnel road.

Suspicious Noises

“What the hell was that!” Atticus called over the comm.

“Sounded like a gunshot! And it sounds like a bunch of people chanting in the background!” Chris said over the comm.

“And screams!” Jesse added.

They came to a fork in the road and Chris pulled to a stop.

“Jane, can you tell us which way to go?” he asked over the comm.

“I don’t know Mr. Bledsoe. They didn’t bring me this far. They only brought me as far as the cellars,” Jane replied.

“Oh, that’s just great,” Chris said.

Atticus got out of the second vehicle and approached Chris in the first. Chris rolled down his window as Atticus approached.

“I still hear chanting and it’s louder now,” Atticus told him, “shut off your motor and let’s listen for a minute,” Atticus said before he scurried back to the second van and shut off the motor. Chris shut off his motor and turned to look at Jesse and Daniel.

Chanting

“Get out, keep a lookout and guard the vehicles while Atticus and I take the tunnels in the fork and have a listen,” he instructed, “Jane, stay inside the vehicle and keep your eyes peeled. Malcolm, you get out and stand guard too. Popeye, have you seen any vehicles going underground besides us?”

“Nope. So, far, it’s been clear, Chris,” Popeye radioed in over the comms.

“Well, let us know if company shows up,” Chris said.

“You bet I will, Chris,” Popeye assured.

Chris and Atticus each stood in front of the fork. They listened for a few seconds. They also noticed water leaking profusely from the arched ceiling of both tunnels. The water looked like a hard rain that pelted the road beneath, creating a puddle that ran down the sides of the subterranean road. They then looked at each other.

“Right fork?” Chris said.

The Fork

“Yup!” Atticus agreed, “And that’s an awful lot of water leaking through that ceiling, Chris! I don’t like this! We’re under the floor of a huge Lake, ya know.”

“I know. I don’t like it either, Atticus. Let’s go,” Chris said as they crept back to the waiting vehicles. They all climbed back inside.

Atticus opened the back passenger door to the first vehicle and grabbed the captive young deputy by the shirt. He then drug him out of the SUV, then shoved him up against the side.

“Alright, start talking, asshat! What’s going on down there! And how many assholes can we expect to walk in on?” he demanded to know.

“I don’t know,” The frightened young man answered.

“Wrong answer, fuckstick!” Atticus said as he openhandedly slapped the young man across the face, before grabbing his shirt again.

Jesse who stood behind Atticus, ridiculed the captive man.

“Goddamn, boy! He bitch-slapped you! Man, you are a fucking pussy, ‘you know that?” Jesse laughed.

Question Time

Chris leaned against the car next to the hostage bad guy and got in his face.

“If I were you, I’d start singing like a little canary-bird!” Chris told their hostage, “This guy here, he’s ex-military and he’s been in combat! Also, one of the Crabtree’s killed his wife and baby years ago while he was fighting overseas. And as if that wasn’t fucked up enough, the guy got off with a slap on the wrist! So, trust me, this guy here?  He’s one pissed off son of a gun. And the last thing you want to do is piss off a combat vet, especially a crazy-angry combat vet! Because a war vet who’s crazy-pissed off? He’ll kill you and then play golf with your goddam testicles! After that, they’ll go home and have cake and ice cream! You won’t even be an afterthought!”

Atticus tightened his grip on the hostage’s shirt and leaned in so close that his nose practically toughed the hostage’s nose. His eyes blazed as he looked the man in his eyes.

“You heard him. Now, sing, you dickless shitbird!” Atticus growled.

Instilling the Fear of God

The man began stuttering and stammering as hot yellow liquid ran out of the leg of his boxers, then down his leg, creating a huge puddle at his feet.

Jesse looked down, then burst into cackles.

“Look at this pathetic lump of shit! Pissin’ his undies like a little baby!”

The captive young man began to cry. As he cried, he spoke.

“They’re having their yearly Halloween Ritual. They’re going to sacrifice a child, a baby girl. Blonde hair, about two-years old. They’re also going to sacrifice all the kids,” the man sniveled, “And maybe a couple of adults because they know too much.”

“Oh, fuck!” Malcolm said under his breath.

“How many assholes are there? And remember, you lie, you die,” Atticus said. And with a silencer screwed into the barrel of his M-16, he pressed the nose of the weapon against the man’s forehead.

Answers 

“There are about fifty of them, give or take,” the man answered as he stood there, sweating profusely.

“How many hostages do they have?” Atticus asked.

“Three adults, one injured. Seven kids, including the baby,”

Chris turned and walked over to the front of the first vehicle.

“Shannon, Cindy, can you hear me?” he asked over the comm.

“Loud and clear, Chris,” Shannon said.

“Are you still sitting across from the courthouse?”

“No. A cop made us. We put up a distraction to get him off our ass, then we drove down here to the bottoms,” Shannon told him.

Shannon and Cindy to Assist

“Okay. You can tell me the details later. Drive to the Elysian Fields, turn onto the access road, and get on the elevator. The elevator is activated by the weight of the vehicle. You’ll be lowered into an underground tunnel and on an underground road. Now, the road will take you underneath the floor of the lake. Follow it all the way to fork. You’ll see two dark-colored vans parked at the fork. Malcolm, Daniel and Jane are still in those vehicles, and they’ll meet you when you get there. We’re going to need your vehicle to transport hostages back up to the surface of the ground. Be careful,” Chris told them.

“We’re on our way,” Cindy assured as Shannon cranked the ignition and took off.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-4

Brielle immediately recognized Brenda’s voice.

“The kids!” She gasped to herself before answering, “Relax, sweetie! It’s Brielle! I’ve come to get you all out of here!”

“Holy shit! Ms. Brielle!” Bruce cried.

All the kids jumped up and ran to the bars of their cells.

As Brielle unlocked the first cell, Bruce’s cell, she stopped and put a finger to her lips.

“Shhhhhhhhhhh! Not so loud! Somebody will hear us and then we’re all screwed!” she said in a loud, gruff whisper.

When she got to Olivia’s cell and unlocked it, Olivia ran to her and threw her arms around her as her back heaved in quiet sobs.

Finally Finding the Teens

“Mom! Oh, God! I’m so glad you’re here!” Olivia tried to whisper.

“Shhhhh! Sweetie, we have to be real quiet! Okay?” Brielle told her.

“Don’t forget Nanda! She’s at the very last cell on the end of the block!” Olivia told her.

After Brielle unlocked all the cells and all the kids were free, she looked at each of them.

“Stay behind me and be quiet. I’m going get you out of here.”

“Ms. Brielle, I’m Kelsey McGregor! Have they notified my mom?” Kelsey asked.

“Your mother is here, Kelsey. She, Chris, Miles, Alex- they’re all here,” Brielle assured.

Olivia took the hand of the scared silent Nanda and took her to Brielle.

“Mom, this is Nanda. She’s the missing girl Popeye told us about,” Olivia told her.

“Okay. Just be quiet and follow me,” Brielle whispered in a gruff voice.

They all crept down the cellblock, through the double doors and into the main tunnel, where they met Big Bruce, who was carrying an injured Raina. They crept single file- Brielle led the way with Olivia directly behind her, then Nanda, Roxie, Kelsey, Brenda, Andy, and Bruce. Brielle looked at Olivia.

Sneaking Through the Tunnels

“Where are Jane and Kennedy?” She asked.

“They came and took Jane, Mom. I don’t know where they took her. They took the baby too and I don’t know where they took her either,” Olivia whispered with tears in her eyes.

“We’ll find them both! Don’t worry. Just stay calm and stay quiet,” Brielle said as she led them down the road in the main tunnel. Across the road was a row of arches in the stoned wall.

Remembering which way Sheriff Bobby, Deputy Ashton, and Misty had brought her in, Brielle began to lead the kids down the same route when suddenly, they heard the drone of a vehicle as it approached.

“Quick! We got to hide!” Brielle said in a loud whisper as they all scattered and hid inside the arches.

The dark van came to a screeching halt and dark, hooded figures with automatic weapons exited the van and approached the dark archways where Brielle and the kids were hidden.

Hooded Figures

Meanwhile, in the field across from Opaque Lake, Popeye and the rest of his group watched closely. They noticed two pairs of headlights approaching the dirt road that led to the lake. The two vehicles slowed to a lurch, then turned onto the road.

Popeye spoke into the mic of his earpiece.

“Chris, it’s Popeye! We’re in position, come back,” he said.

“Hey, Popeye. Sorry we lost you there for a while,” Chris responded.

“I see two vehicles. They just turned onto the road to Opaque Lake,” Miles said.

“Gotcha, Miles. That’s just us. I’m driving the first van and Atticus is driving the second. We’re headed to the elevator in the road- the one Jane spoke of. We’re driving vans we found parked in the tunnels,” Chris told them.

Popeye sighed with relief, as did the rest of his group.

As Popeye and his group watched, they could see the two vehicles parking side by side to one another. Finally, the vehicles slowly disappeared as they were lowered into the ground via the secret elevator.

“Here we go, guys,” Chris said over the earpieces quietly.

“Good luck Chris, Atticus. For God’s sake be careful,” Miles told them.

Getting Closer

Meanwhile, below, as Brielle, Big Bruce, Raina, and the kids were being escorted by six heavily armed, hooded people down a dark, dimly lit corridor, they began to hear distant chants and an organ playing an eerie tone.

“You’ll never get away with this! Never!” Roxie shouted angrily.

The hooded person behind her shoved her forward.

“Shut your mouth, bitch!” the hooded person shouted in a female voice. Brielle instantly recognized the voice- the voice of Rita.

“Up yours!” Roxie fired back.

“Keep talking bitch! Because it’s the last time you’re going to use that sharp tongue of yours!”

“Gee, I’d know that voice anywhere,” Brielle quipped, “Nice to see you again…Rita!”

“Shut up and keep walking!” the second hooded man ordered in a voice that sounded like Bobby. As they continued to walk, the chants grew louder still.

“So, where are you taking us? Sounds like some kind of freak show!” Kelsey said in a smart-alicky tone.

“You won’t be so cavalier for long, Miss Smartass!” Misty growled from underneath her hood.

Chants

“I swear, you’ll rue this day, Bobby! You’re all going to fry for this!” Brielle growled with a voice dripping with bitterness.

“Oh, how naïve thou still art!” Bobby sneered, “You see, Brielle? There’s fantasy world and then there’s the real world. Now, we live in the real world. And in the real world, there’s a hierarchy. And in the hierarchy exists three categories of people. There are The Desirables- the highly sought after and envied, who are at the top- where everyone else wishes they could be. Then, there are those in the middle- they’re the majority. Now, these people aren’t necessarily sought-after and not as desirable as The Desirables, but they do our bidding and stay in line, so they’ll do. We call those people, The Acceptables. Then, at the very bottom of the hierarchy, are The Undesirables- people like you, your little daughters, and the rest of you losers, for instance. Now, The Undesirables get the shit-end of the stick…always. They are the slugs we Desirables love more than anything else, to step on. ‘You see? The Desirables- those at the top decide who bodes well in this world and who doesn’t. We keep track of The Undesirables. We know where they live, when they get a job, when they marry, have babies- oh yeah! We keep track of those things. We flag people like you. We keep a very close eye on you, that way, we can keep you down and out. Because we decide who enjoys success and who endures failure. We decide who we favor and who we oppose. Also, we decide who gets what privileges, perks, and resources and when they get them. In short, we decide who we deem worthy and who we deem unworthy of life and all it’s pleasures. You might say, we have our very own local Social Credit System,” Bobby explained in a tone of evil and glee.

Local Social Credit System 

“You don’t get to decide what I do or how I live. And you don’t get to decide what I get out of life. Only I can decide that. So, fuck you, your little hierarchy, and your Social Credit System!” Brielle bit back.

Bobby only chuckled at Brielle’s last rebellious clap back.

“Oh, if it were only that easy, Brielle. You know how the system is. It’s fucking us all anyway. Hell, I’m just a small-town, country sheriff. So, the system fucks me too, but at least, I have a little bit of power. And shit always rolls downhill. The good thing about having even a little, tiny bit of power is that it keeps you off the bottom, where it lands. The shit that rolls downhill may roll on you and get you a little stinky, but it rolls on past you. But when it lands on the bottom, it stays on the bottom because there’s nowhere else for it to go. It just sits there and rots until the next turd comes rolling down. ‘You see? Not only does shit land on the bottom, it piles up at the bottom,” Bobby continued.

“Maybe. But there’s always a pooper-scooper lying around somewhere,” Brielle quipped.

“I don’t understand you, Brielle. How do you do it? How do you stay so positive? And against such odds!”

Brielle’s Strong Will and Determination 

“Hell, you don’t know, Bobby? People like you only strengthen my resolve. ‘You see? There’s something you don’t know about the- oh, now, what did you just referred to us as? ‘The Undesirables?’ There’s something about people like us that you don’t understand- couldn’t even comprehend. And that is that we ‘Undesirables’ have a strength and spirit that people like you could only hope to have. We’re not only survivors but overcomers. We have the will and the grit to rise above people like you. Because we have determination that eventually supersedes your power. You see, we’re the real badasses. And I guarantee that if you lost your power and ended up on the bottom, you couldn’t handle it. In fact, your little world would be turned upside down and you’d probably blow your brains out because you couldn’t survive the fall. Because the higher up you are, the further you fall, the faster you fall, and the harder you hit when you land at the bottom. It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s that sudden stop at the bottom. Just ask Big Brother Johnny, Bobby. He could tell you all about that, now, couldn’t he?” Brielle fired back in a calm and cool manner before flashing a smirk.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch! Shut the fuck up!” Bobby screamed. But Brielle only continued.

“Shit Rolls Downhill…”

“Damn! All that effort to take Shannon down! And what did it accomplish? Where did it get him? Where, did it get him, Bobby? It got him sent off to federal prison for the rest of his miserable life! In trying to destroy Shannon Crooke McGregor, he ended up destroying himself in the process. So, shit may indeed land at the bottom. But it also has ways of coming full circle.”

With that, Bobby grabbed Brielle and slung her into the wall.