A Southern family finds themselves drowning in their own bigotry.
|If you're adverse to graphic language & violence move on. It serve's the story...trust me
This is the first chapter of a novel that began life as a short story. It was meant to be stand-alone, but the people who read it said that I should take it further. Now, the damage is done.
I feel that I should make one thing perfectly clear. THIS IS A STORY. I AM NOT A RACIST OR A BIGOT. The language and violence in this chapter serves only the story. If you look at my port, you will see that I am not a genre writer. I write what my muse sends to me. I have no idea why this story came to me when it did. Possibly, it is too controversial to ever be published. I would like to know what you think.
Fate Laughs - Never Say Never
Sometimes, fate laughs. Sometimes, life looks you dead in the eye and has a good old belly laugh at your expense. Sometimes, everything we know about ourselves, everything we believe about ourselves; our loves, our lives, what we want, who we are, is a lie.
Because, given the right circumstances, anybody is capable of doing anything.
Because, sometimes, even the best intentions...or the worst, are not enough.
What happens when the hate you send out into the universe comes back to bite you in the ass?
She threw another rock. This one missed its mark. Wanda had to admit; if that coon was anything, she was fast.
She hefted the rock in her hand, but she dropped it on the ground instead. The whore was out of range.
Wanda looked over at Shooter. He was doubled over, laughing uncontrollably. "I don't think I've ever seen a nigger move that fast," he said, standing up and wiping some tears from his eyes. He straightened up and put a sturdy, freckled arm over Wanda's shoulder. "Sis, your aim is getting better and better every day."
A huge grin spread over Wanda's face. There was nothing she wouldn't do for a word of praise from Shooter. He was her big brother, her sun and her moon. "Thanks. I guess I'm lucky. Not everyone gets to have the best teacher in all of Georgia."
"My, my Wanda, you are becomin' a woman of discernin' tastes and sensibilities."
Wanda jabbed him in the ribs. "You know I hate it when you call me that."
"What? Discernin'?" he said, laughing.
"No stupid, a woman. I'm just 15 and I'm still your little sister."
Shooter snapped the elastic on her training bra and laughed. "You won't be little for long. Not if you take after Ma."
Wanda crossed her arms protectively over her budding breasts. "Knock it off Shooter. I can't help it that I got born a girl."
She hated having breasts. They got in the way, they made her self-conscious and they hurt. Most of all, she hated her new anatomy because of the way they made Shooter look at her; not all the time, just every so often, when he thought she wasn't looking. That look felt like bugs crawling on her skin.
Wanda skittered out of Shooter's grasp. "I'll race you home."
"You haven't won a race with me since I stopped letting you win," Shooter hollered, as he set off in pursuit.
"Oh yeah? Big talk from someone who's still behind," Wanda shouted over her shoulder.
Sure enough, as soon as they turned onto Hickory Lane, Shooter had overtaken her and was running backward, taunting her.
One minute, Wanda was looking at his smug, smiling face. The next minute he was gone.
Wanda ground to a halt and ran to her brother, where he lay, sprawled on his back. She knelt beside him. "Are you alright? What happened?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. I must have tripped on somethin'." He sat up, grabbing a large tree branch off the packed dirt.
"Next time it'll be a rock instead of a stick and I'll be aiming for your head, not your legs." The black boy stepped out of the trees.
Shooter jumped to his feet in a swift, cat-like movement. "Did you throw this at me nigger?" he asked, waving the branch.
Wanda grabbed his arm to restrain him. The other boy was big, too big. Shooter was tough, but she didn't think he was tough enough to get the best of this kid.
"Sure enough, I took you down and I'll take you down bigger 'an that if you don't leave my sister be."
"Your sister, you mean that little black bitch?"
The other boy clenched and unclenched his fists. "You need to start thinkin' before you open that hole in your face, or I'm gonna wipe the floor with you, whether the girl's here or not."
Shooter feinted forward. "You're free to give it your best shot, you stinkin' coon."
The other boy didn't even flinch. "Say what you want about me. I couldn't care less about what some bumble-headed redneck thinks about me. But you leave my little sister out of it." He turned and walked away, unhurriedly.
Shooter bent and picked up the tree limb again. He took aim and cocked his arm back. Wanda grabbed the branch. She looked her brother in the eye and shook her head.
Shooter slowly lowered his arm and let the stick drop to the ground. "Only because you don't want me to," he said, but Wanda could see what looked like relief in his eyes.
"C'mon. Let's go home. It's getting late," she said.
They turned and walked the rest of the way home in silence.
Shooter slammed through the screen door first. His bravado had returned full force. "If I see that nigger again, I'll kill him. I swear it."
Their mother was standing at the kitchen sink, peeling
potatoes. "Shooter, you know I don't like that kind of talk." But she said the words without conviction; like an adult who has repeated the word 'don't' once too often to their two-year-old child, knowing full well that the word would be ignored yet again.
Wanda's mother was a haggard shell of a woman. She was substantial in appearance, but barely there in every other way. Too much bread and potatoes had broadened her hips to an impressive degree. Her limp, lackluster hair was the color and consistency of straw. The skin around her eyes had more wrinkles than an elephant's backside. In short, Betty Whitaker was a woman who had been chewed up and spit out by life.
Wanda didn't see any of that. When she looked at her mother, she saw the woman inside, the woman Betty had been before she'd had the life kicked out of her.
Her mother had been attractive, even beautiful at one time. Long, lustrous, yellow hair framed her fair face, which was set with the most beautiful blue eyes. This had only accented her trim and athletic figure.
Wanda came up behind her mother, wrapping her arms around the woman's ample mid-section. "Hey, Ma, can I help?"
Betty turned around, wiping her hands on a spotless apron. "You're always helping sugar plum. Just hearing your voice helps." She gave her daughter a hug that squeezed the air right out of her lungs.
"Ma...not so tight."
"Sorry Baby. I just love the stuffing out of you. You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah Ma. Me too." Wanda looked around, self-consciously. "Where's Daddy?"
"He had to work late today. They had some kind of emergency at the plant. He should be home shortly."
"Ya wan' me to set the table?"
Betty just stood there, looking sternly at her daughter.
"What?" Wanda asked, laughing. "Okay Ma'am. Do you want me to set the table?"
Betty was fighting an uphill battle, trying to counteract the bad grammar and cursing in the house. She had pretty much given up on the men in the family, but she still held out some hope for her daughter.
For Wanda, it had become a game. She would intentionally slip things in to see if her mother would notice. She always did.
"You don't need to set the table. I can do it. Why don't you go check on your sister?"
"I can do the table first, and then I'll check on Katie." Wanda went to the cabinet and took down a stack of plates.
Her Ma never asked for help. Betty Whitaker did everything around the house. In the Whitaker household, there were no 'man's jobs' and 'woman's jobs', no 'kid's chores'. Everything just fell on her mother's shoulders. From cooking and cleaning to household repairs, yard work and snow shoveling, it was all up to Betty.
Wanda loved her Dad, but she didn't love the way he treated her mother. It was almost as if she was a slave or something.
Wanda finished the table quickly and rushed into the other room. Katie was there, sitting on Shooter's lap, watching TV.
Katie was the lucky one. Whereas Wanda, like Shooter, had inherited her father's red, freckled complexion, Kate had inherited her mother's blond, blue-eyed good looks. On the five-year-old, the combination was nothing short of breathtaking.
Wanda flopped onto the floor in front of her little sister. "How was Katydid's day?"
Katie laughed and extended a pudgy hand toward her sister's face. Katie was special.
Unfortunately, God - if there was a God - had only seen fit to bless Katie with beauty. In other departments, he had seriously shortchanged her.
The little girl's mesmerizing blue eyes were nearly sightless. The doctors said that Katie could see shadows, but not much more. A thin line of drool ran down the child's chin. Katie was also, what the doctors labeled, 'learning impaired'. The kids at school called it retarded.
'Dumber than peanut butter,' that was the newest chant, whenever Katie went by. Of course, they wouldn't say it if Shooter was in hearing distance. But Wanda had been in more than a few fights to protect her sister from cruel taunting. Fortunately, Katie did not understand that she was being taunted. On a good day, Katie barely recognized her own name.
Wanda picked Katie up, hugging her tightly, as she whirled her around the room. The little girl hugged her back. Sometimes, Wanda thought her heart would explode with love for Katie. If she could somehow trade an arm or a leg to make Katie normal, she would do it in an instant.
A slammed door and a flurry of expletives heralded the return of their father. Wanda rushed into the kitchen with Katie in her arms. It wasn't good to leave Dad alone with Ma for too long.
"Hi Daddy. How was work?"
"It sucked sugar. Those damn niggers are so slow. We're never gonna meet our quota."
"James!" Betty said quietly.
As usual, her father just ignored his wife's admonition. It was as if she didn't even exist. Jim Whitaker continued. "You just need to make sure you marry yourself a good man, so you don't have to spend the rest of your life working like a slave."
Wanda didn't bother to point out the contradiction in her father's words.
Shooter emerged from the other room. "Hey Dad."
"Hey Son, I was talking to Bob at the plant. He says he might have a job for you this summer."
"Great Dad, did he say what it was?"
"No. But you can ask him about it at the meeting tonight."
"There's a meeting tonight?" Wanda asked as she lowered Katie into a kitchen chair. "I want to go. You said I could come to the next one. You promised."
"Wanda," her mother said. "You know I don't want you going to those things."
Wanda grinned inwardly. She knew that would seal the deal.
"Okay baby. A promise is a promise. Just remember, you're only there to watch."
"Sure Daddy. I won't say a word," she said, mimicking locking her lips. Wanda went to the fridge and grabbed a beer for her father.
The big man folded himself into a chair and grabbed his fork.
That was the signal - it was dinnertime. Wanda and Shooter hurriedly sat down. Betty Whitaker now had approximately 30 seconds to get some food on the table before all hell broke loose. In this house, the dinner hour had nothing to do with preparation time. It was purely the dictate of Jim Whitaker's appetite.
Betty quickly placed a bowl of steaming vegetables on the table. She always did whatever was necessary to avoid a confrontation with her husband. Sometimes, it just wasn't enough.
Jim Whitaker never beat his wife, but Wanda could testify to the fact that some of the worst wounds could be inflicted without ever raising a fist.
Wanda's father was not the most eloquent person in the world, but he undoubtedly had a most daunting command of the English language, when he deemed it necessary. 'Good 'ole Jim' could wield harmful words better than surgical steel. Before they knew what had happened, his unsuspecting victim, usually her mother, would be picking their severed heart off the floor.
Her father's anger was rarely directed at her, but on the few occasions that it had been, Wanda wished he would just beat her instead. Those wounds would heal and fade. His hurtful words never seemed to go away. They would just roll around and hide in the crevices of her mind, attacking when she least expected it.
They all ate in silence. Wanda's mother didn't bother to sit down. She just flitted around the table; cutting Katie's food, bringing more bowls to the table and removing empty dishes. Wanda couldn't remember ever seeing her mother sit down with them to eat a meal. Jim Whitaker frowned on sitting where his wife was concerned. There was too much to do and he intended to see that she did it.
"We chased off a nigger girl today Daddy," Wanda said.
He reached over and ruffled her red bangs. "Good for you, Baby. But you be careful. I don't want you startin' anything you can't finish. I don't want my baby girl gettin' hurt."
"Don't worry Daddy. I was with Shooter. We got her somethin' good," Wanda said. She left out the part about the confrontation with the girl's brother. "What time is the meeting Daddy? Can I carry the banner?"
"The meeting's at eight p.m., so you better finish eating."
"You know girls can't carry the banner. Can I Dad?" Shooter asked.
"Dadda, Dadda, Dadda," Katie chanted.
"Sure Son." Jim Whitaker didn't even spare a glance to his youngest daughter. It seemed like the little girl barely registered on her father's radar. This husband and father never acknowledged when he made a mistake. In his mind, that was all Katie was - a colossal mistake. He refused to recognize this walking, talking stain on his manhood.
Katie started to cry, frustrated by the lack of attention.
Wanda pulled the little girl onto her lap.
"Why can't I carry the banner?" Wanda asked.
"That's just the rule, honey pot. Sorry."
The Purity League had a lot of rules. The main rule was 'no blacks, Hispanics or Jews allowed'. Actually, it was a little broader than that. The membership of the Purity League was strictly limited to, born in the south, white folks, mostly men. Everyone else was actively discouraged from being a member.
Of course, membership did have its privileges. For the past hundred years, the head of the Purity League was also the president of the steel plant, the biggest employer in town. Anyone that thought discrimination was not alive and well had never been to the Altuna Steel Mill. There was not a supervisory position in the whole plant, hell, maybe all of Altuna, that wasn't held by a member of the Purity League. It worked out beautifully for card-carrying members, because there was nothing they enjoyed more than pushing niggers around.
Fortunately for them, Altuna was just chocked full of beat down blacks who were working for slave wages and were just primed for pushin'.
Wanda wanted to be part of 'the League' so much she could taste it. She wanted to be one of the guys. She knew how most men in Altuna treated their wives. Incredibly, some of those women had it much worse than her mother.
Wanda left her Ma to clean up as she hurried to get ready for the meeting. She scrupulously avoided eye contact with her mother, as she left the room.
Despite the fact that she had never voiced her opinions out loud, Wanda knew exactly how her mother felt about the Purity League.
She rushed into her room. Getting ready for the meeting did not involve make-up and fixing her hair. The official dress code for the Purity League was a white dress shirt and white slacks. There was a shop in the Altuna mall that sold nothing but that outfit. It was the busiest boutique in town.
Wanda went to the closet and pulled out a hanger. The outfit was still covered with protective plastic. Her father had given her the uniform for her 15th birthday. She had been waiting ever since for the opportunity to wear it.
Wanda dressed quickly but carefully. She did not want to risk soiling the pristine white material. When she was finished, she gave herself a quick inspection in the mirror.
She headed for the door. Wanda stopped and went back to her bureau. She carefully added a wide white headband that covered most of her hair. 'That was better'. Wanda hurried out of the room with 15 minutes to spare.
When she entered the kitchen, Shooter and her father were already there, anxiously pacing back and forth.
"C'mon girl. I don't want to be the last one there."
Dad and Shooter looked so handsome, all decked out in their uniforms. "I'm ready Daddy." Wanda glanced quickly around the room. Her Ma must be putting Katie to bed. Wanda was relieved. She didn't want to see the look of disapproval on her mother's face.
They piled into the two year old Lincoln Town Car. Next to his two oldest children, this car was Jim Whitaker's pride and joy. It was yet another benefit of League membership. Her Dad would tell anyone, who cared to listen, about the sweet deal he got from his good buddy at Altuna Motors.
Wanda had to admit that it was a nice car. Comfortable leather seats, a state-of-the-art stereo, power everything and a built in two-way radio, were just some of the luxury features.
Wanda settled back into the soft leather. She had butterflies in her stomach. This is what she'd been waiting for. She was finally going to be accepted as one of the guys.
Her father guided the car into the large parking lot. The league was based out of an old Victorian mansion. It had been renovated and updated to suit the league's needs. This was easily the most lavish piece of real estate in Altuna.
Upstairs, there was a beautiful, broad, oak staircase, and a fully stocked bar that extended almost the length of the room. To the right, was a library/game room. Wanda guessed that the books lining the walls rarely got used, but the felt on the three pool tables in the corner looked worn and battle scarred.
On the other side of the bar was an enormous open room. This was equipped with yet another, more ornate, bar. The room was lavishly decorated with rich looking drapes and chandeliers. Wanda had come here for her cousin's wedding, over a year ago. It had been beautiful. She had never been upstairs and could only imagine the mysteries that resided there.
They would be going downstairs, to the basement. That was where all the meetings were held.
This room was the definition of unremarkable, except for its size. Generic linoleum and paneling lined the floors and walls. Rows upon rows of folding chairs were lined up in front of a small stage.
The room was buzzing with noise. Wanda felt a rush of adrenaline as she looked at the sea of people milling around. She peered more closely into the crowd. So far, she had not seen a single woman.
Wanda turned around to ask her father about it. She felt a jolt of panic as she realized that she was standing alone. Both Shooter and her father had disappeared into the crowd. Wanda craned her neck and pivoted 360 degrees, anxiously looking for her father. Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped and spun around, bumping into several people standing behind her.
"Hey little missy, watch your step," one of the men complained.
She turned toward the friendly voice. 'Thank God'. She wasn't the only girl here after all.
"Hi," the woman said, putting a hand on Wanda's arm. "I'm Diane Peterson. Your Dad asked me to come get you."
Relief flooded through Wanda's body at the mention of her father. "Do you know where my Dad is?"
"Yes. He's up on the stage with your brother. They're getting the banner ready. Why don't you follow me," Mrs. Peterson said, turning and walking toward the back of the room.
"But...I want to sit up front with my father."
The other woman let out a humorless laugh. "Oh, you won't be doing any sitting."
"What do you mean?"
"Women aren't allowed to stay in the meeting area. Didn't your father tell you?"
"No. What do you mean? I came to attend the meeting."
"Well. You'll still be able to hear some of the goings on. C'mon, they'll be starting soon."
Wanda looked back toward the stage. She briefly contemplated rushing up there and finding her father, but she reconsidered. Jim Whitaker did not take kindly to being embarrassed. Wanda shuddered to think how he would react if she made a scene in front of his league brothers.
Mrs. Peterson tapped her arm and Wanda turned and followed her placidly into the back room.
The room was actually a huge kitchen that spanned the width of the building. It was filled with steam, boiling vats and about a dozen bedraggled women.
Mrs. Peterson handed her a snow-white apron to put over her clothes. 'Can't ruin the outfit'.
Wanda was still in shock, moving on automatic pilot. She wasn't being accepted as one of the guys after all. Her hopes of rising above, of being better than the other women in this town, evaporated in a cloud of fragrant steam.
Mrs. Peterson set her in front of a large sack of sweet corn. "You can start by shucking this corn."
"All of it?"
"Yes. When you're done, come find me. There's plenty back here for you to do."
Wanda sighed and grabbed an ear of corn out of the large canvas bag.
It felt like an eternity, but it was only another ten minutes before Wanda heard a muffled voice over the clanging pots and pans. The meeting had started.
Wanda rushed to the swinging door, pushing it open a crack. She peered over the sea of heads. It looked as though every single seat was filled.
Standing in the middle of the stage was Mr. Bellweather, president of the steel plant. Wanda recognized him because her father had pointed him out once in church. He was an imposing figure and his voice boomed out over the loud speaker. "These niggers are trying to take over our town. They're in our stores and our schools. They're trying to take our jobs. Hell, I saw one last week, trying to sit at the diner. I want to know - what are we gonna do about it?"
"Get 'em out," yelled the crowd.
Someone touched her shoulder and Wanda released a little squeal of surprise. She turned to face another girl, roughly her own age.
"I didn't mean to scare you, but you really shouldn't be here. You'll get in trouble."
"I want to see the meeting. That's why I came," Wanda said.
The other girl looked at her in shock. "You're kidding, right?"
"What do you mean?"
"You honestly came here because you wanted to?"
"Yeah, didn't you?" Wanda asked.
"No way," the girl said. "My Dad had to drag me here, kicking and screaming. I didn't want to be anywhere near this room full of white supremacist losers."
Wanda looked at the girl suspiciously. "What are you, some kind of a nigger lover or something?"
The other girl shook her head sadly. "Is this whole stinkin' town in some kind of a time warp or something? Wake up people! It's the 21st century."
"If you don't like it here, why don't you leave? Nobody in Altuna wants your kind here anyways."
"Believe me. I'd leave if I could. And the minute I turn 18, that's exactly what I'm gonna do. What do you mean, 'my kind'?"
"Fakes, phonies, white on the outside, black on the inside. You people make me sick. They never should have allowed you in here."
"You don't even know me. You can't judge me," the girl said.
"Sure I can. I've met your kind before," Wanda said. "People passin' through Altuna, trying to tell us how to live, calling us backward. My Dad hates you folks as much as the niggers."
"There you go with the hate again. Why do you have to hate anyone?"
Wanda was quiet for a moment. Then, "oh, we've got plenty of reason. If you'd shut up and listen to Mr. Bellweather, you'd know why we hate them so much."
"Oh yeah, right! I heard him. 'They're stealing our jobs'. He's got to be kidding. That jerk practically runs this town. No black person has a chance of getting a decent job as long as he's pulling the strings."
Wanda had heard enough. She launched herself at the girl and they fell to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. A half dozen women surrounded them, trying to separate the girls. Wanda could hear Mrs. Peterson speaking in frantic, hushed tones. "Wanda, stop it this instant. You're going to disturb the men. Your father will be very upset."
At the mention of her father, Wanda sobered up. She stood up and backed away, brushing invisible specks of dirt from her white uniform.
As she bent to check her slacks, the other girl came slamming into her, pushing her through the swinging door and into the meeting hall.
"Hey!" Wanda yelled, as they fell to the floor.
The room had gone deathly silent. All Wanda could hear was the other girl's breath, wheezing in her ear.
The ride home was quick and quiet. Shooter sat in the passenger seat, with his arms folded across his chest. Her father was gripping the wheel with both hands, his eyes fixed on something in the distance.
"Daddy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it. If you could have heard the things she was saying."
Jim Whitaker moved his hand slightly from the steering wheel, to flick on the radio.
"Daddy, please listen to me."
Jim reached over again and cranked the volume up several notches. It was so loud, it was nearly unbearable.
Wanda pushed herself back into the leather seat, as several tears came squeezing out of her closed eyes. She had never seen her father this mad. He had rocketed right past his biting sarcasm and angry ranting to dead silence. He was literally too angry to speak.
They pulled into the driveway and her father shut the car off. The sudden silence made Wanda feel as though the music had finally succeeded in rendering her deaf.
Without a backward glance, her father and Shooter got out of the car. Jim Whitaker slammed his door shut with such force that the whole car shook. Yet another measure of his anger. Her father was always telling them not to slam the doors on 'his baby'.
Wanda just sat there, wondering how she was going to fix this. 'That damn girl'. Wanda didn't even know her name, but guaranteed, the next time she saw the bitch, she'd kick the livin' spit out of her and ask questions later.
She looked up to see her mother standing in the doorway. Wanda reluctantly got out of the car, gently easing the door shut. She walked slowly up the stairs and into her mother's waiting arms.
Pressing her face into Betty's ample bosom, Wanda began to cry.
"Hush now baby. Come inside and tell me what happened."
"Didn't Daddy tell you?"
Betty Whitaker laughed humorlessly. "Both your father and Shooter just came in and went right upstairs." She turned her daughter around and guided her to the kitchen table. "You just sit down and I'll make you a nice cup of hot cocoa."
Wanda's mother came to the table with a steaming mug. As usual, she hadn't bothered to get any for herself. Uncharacteristically though, she slid a chair out from the table and sat down, angling it so she was facing her daughter. "Tell me what happened."
Wanda began to cry again, softly. "It was terrible. I ruined everything." She looked at her mother sadly. "I've never seen Daddy so mad."
"What did you do that was so terrible?"
"I got in a fight." Wanda saw the look of disapproval pass over her mother's face.
"You know that I don't like to hear that you've been fighting, but your father has never had a problem with it." Betty put a hand to Wanda's face. "You weren't hurt, were you?"
"No. I'm fine. I didn't even manage to hurt the other girl." Wanda clenched her fist. "She won't be so lucky the next time though."
"Wanda," Betty said.
"I'm sorry Ma. It's just...you should have heard her. The things she was saying about Altuna, the Purity League and Mr. Bellweather..."
"I take it that this girl is not from around here?"
"Not by a long shot. I don't know where she's from, but I wish she'd go back there. It's her fault Daddy is so mad at me."
Betty was quiet for a long time.
"I just don't know why she had to come here, saying all those nasty things," Wanda said.
Betty grabbed her daughter's hand. "This may be hard for you to understand. You've lived here all your life. But you should know. You're old enough now."
"Know what Ma?"
"Well. It's just that Altuna is not like other places. It's not like most places."
"I know. It's better."
"Why do you think that?" her mother asked.
"Well, Daddy says so all the time."
Betty sighed heavily. "I guess it's my fault for not setting you straight earlier."
"What do you mean, setting me straight?"
"You know, in the history books, where you learned about the civil war and abolition?"
"Yeah. That damn President Lincoln. It was good that they shot that nigger lover."
"Wanda! I don't ever want to hear you say anything like that again." Her mother got up and started pacing back and forth, talking to herself. "It's my own fault. I didn't want a confrontation with your father and I was so busy with Katie. I never imagined that things had gotten this bad."
"Ma, what are you talking about?"
"Your mind has been poisoned, and I let it happen."
"Yes," Betty said. "That girl knew it, I know it. Everyone in the world knows it except for the people in Altuna."
"Ma, don't say that."
"It's true. This is an evil place, filled with evil, ignorant people."
"Ma, how can you say that? You've lived here most of your life. If you hated it so much, why didn't you leave?"
"I thought about it once or twice. I couldn't bear the thought of leaving you and Katie and Shooter. Your father would never have let me take you with me."
"You wanted to leave Altuna?" Wanda asked, shocked.
"Yes. I wanted to go back East, but your father wouldn't hear of it."
"Why would you want to leave?"
"This town is poison. Nowhere else could a group like the Purity League exist. It's like there's a cancer, spreading hate through the whole town."
Wanda stood up quickly, sending her chair crashing to the floor. "How can you say those things?" She turned and ran from the room.
She rushed into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Wanda threw herself face first onto her bed. The tears began to fall, soaking into the handmade quilt her mother had made for her 15th birthday.
How could everything have gotten so screwed up? Less than four hours ago, everything had been normal. How could her mother have said those things; poison, evil, cancer, spreading hate? If the girl at the meeting had said those things, Wanda would have thrown her 10 times the beating she had given her and to hell with the consequences. But this was her Ma, the person she loved almost more than anyone in the world.
There was a huge crash and Wanda heard her father's voice rise, like a tidal wave. "You dumb, lazy bitch, I won't have you filling her mind with that crap. What the hell do you think gives you the right?" There was another crash. This one fairly shook the house.
Wanda sprang into a sitting position. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that her father was taking his anger out on her mother. But this was different. Jim Whitaker could rock the house with his voice alone. He never resorted to breaking things. He always told her and Shooter; 'if they wanted to crack each other's skulls, that was just fine, but they'd better not break the things he'd spent his, hard-earned money to buy.'
The sharp sound of breaking glass reached Wanda's ears. She just sat there, gripping her pillow to her stomach. She felt sick. This was all her fault.
Her father's voice rose up again. "I won't have you turning my children against me, you sloppy whore." There was no reply, just the sound of crashing furniture.
She should do something, try to stop it, but Wanda was paralyzed by the thought of jumping into the path of this windstorm.
Altuna, the Purity League and most importantly, her family, meant everything to her. But it was all falling apart, right in front of her eyes.
Images of her mother, downstairs, cowering before her husband's wrath, filled Wanda's mind. The sounds rising from the floor below were almost unbearable. After this confrontation, her Ma might be doing more than picking up her figurative severed heart off of the floor.
Wanda did not know how to resolve her feelings about these two people that she loved so much. These two people who, from all appearances, hated each other.
There was another crash and a scream. Wanda jumped off the bed. If this didn't end soon, one of two things would happen; someone, probably her mother, would get seriously hurt, or Wanda would lose her mind... maybe both.
She couldn't stand it anymore. Wanda yanked the door open and went charging down the stairs. What she saw was almost beyond comprehension. The devastation was complete. Broken glass and furniture were scattered everywhere. The kitchen table was overturned and most of the chairs were nothing more than kindling now. It looked as though someone had turned a wild animal loose in their kitchen.
Wanda's father was standing in the middle of the room, holding a large hunting knife. The blade was slick and wet.
Shooter was sitting in the corner with a hand pressed to his right bicep.
Blood oozed out between his fingers. He looked at Wanda and shook his head, gesturing for her to get out.
Wanda's eyes traveled back to her father and the red pile of clothes lying at his feet. But it wasn't a pile of clothes, it was her mother. Wanda couldn't understand where all the red had come from. 'So much red.' Her brain simply refused to process what she was seeing.
All of a sudden, Katie started crying. Wanda could empathize. If ever there was a night for crying, this was it.
Jim Whitaker turned at the sound of the little girl's voice. He started to move, slowly, toward the stairs.
"Daddy, what did you do? Where are you going?"
But the big man just continued walking toward the stairs. It was painfully
clear where he was headed and what he would do when he got there.
Shooter painstakingly eased himself off of the floor. "Dad, you need to stop now. Give me the knife."
When his father failed to respond, Shooter lunged at him, grabbing for the knife in his hand.
Jim Whitaker slashed the knife backward, in one fluid movement. The blade sliced across Shooter's right hand, taking three fingers with it. Shooter bellowed in pain as he grasped what was left of his hand.
Wanda stepped backward in fear and shock. This was all too much. But she had no time to process it now. Her father was halfway up the stairs, headed to Katie's room.
She turned around, frantically searching for something, anything. But nothing was where it was supposed to be. Her world was completely and utterly out of order.
Wanda finally found the case of hunting knives. She pulled it out of the rubble and yanked it open. It was empty. The knives must be here, somewhere. She pawed frantically through the debris. A sharp stabbing pain ran up her hand. Wanda ignored the pain and grabbed the blade.
As she bolted up the stairs, she flipped the knife so that she was holding the handle in the palm that was now slick with blood.
Wanda passed the blade to her left hand long enough to wipe her blood covered right hand on her white slacks. 'So much for keeping her uniform clean,' she thought.
She passed the blade back to her dominant hand. Wanda was comfortable with knives. She had gone hunting with her father on several occasions and he always let her gut the deer.
When she arrived at the doorway of Katie's room, her father was standing over the crib. Even though she was already five, her mother had kept Katie in the crib, for safety reasons. But how safe was she now?
Jim Whitaker raised the knife over his head. The little girl had stopped crying. She was lying there, gurgling and repeating the word Dadda, over and over.
"Daddy, stop. Put the knife down. You're not mad at Katie. She didn't do anything wrong. I did."
Her father didn't even flinch. He didn't blink or turn around. Wanda wasn't even sure that he'd heard her. She started to repeat her words, but her father's arm began to move in a downward arc.
Wanda had no time to think. She ran forward, ramming the blade into her father's back, right in the middle of his spine.
Ironically, it had been her father that had shown her just where to strike someone if you wanted to paralyze them.
Her father dropped to the ground like a sack of cement. Wanda stepped over the body to look down at her little sister.
Katie had started to cry again, probably sensing the tension in the room.
Wanda dropped the knife and wiped her hands on her clothes again. Then and only then did she pick her little sister up.
She walked out of the room without a second glance at the man lying on the floor.
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