Amy: The Fire that Burns Continuous
The coach back up the hill to Pithole fills me with dread. All day yesterday my mother and I walked around the city of Franklin, trying to find a law enforcer or even a newspaper who would take our story seriously. None of them would take it on. They all had an excuse. They said Pithole wasn’t officially a town and therefore, couldn’t be governed by any of the laws we assumed were present in any city. Or they’d say that whoring is legal here (and in most other states). Or they’d even argue that kidnapping is difficult to prove. When I tell them that we have an eye witness, they say, yes, Steadman is a witness but he ain’t seen you there but that one time. There is no way to prove you been there the whole time and that you ain’t got there on your free will. The newspapers said they’d think about it, but suggested instead we go see a man named Crocus in Pithole itself. They said he’s the reporter at large in this region. So, here we are, climbing the dusty hill again to Pithole. Late this morning my Pa got on a train insisting that he was fine and he would not even think of taking my mother away from me.
“You two ladies are on a mission.” He says with a glint in his eye. Then, he turned and sat in a window so we could see him wave through the glass. I could see the pain he’s trying to hide wash across his face as the train pulls away. At least he is safe. I think.
We are rising up the dusty hill, probably only ten miles from the depot, when a pair of horses gallop up next to the stage. The horses skin is raw and singed and hairless, but saddled with heavy riders nonetheless. I can hear their snorts loud through the wooden wall of the coach. When I heard the hooves approaching fast I knew something was wrong. Dust rose and covered the coach in a choking cloud. Then the gunshots rang through the air. We flinched. A woman screamed. A flock of birds scattered. I could hear their wings flapping frantically to escape. When I looked around all I could see were faces filled with fear. My Mother paled. All I remember is how I could not feel anything. Not fear, not anger, just a dark nothingness and an eerie clarity. Then, his dirty face appeared in the coach.
“This here is a robbery!” The man says real loud. “Get out! Real slow,” the man said, “or everyone dies.”
The men don’t take long. They shove their way into the coach and push a burlap sack in our faces. “We ain’t leaving until this is full!” I see people hesitate and something in me erupts.
I grit my teeth and steady myself. We don’t have much to give but when the man sticks his face in the coach I can smell his greed seeping in. I know we gotta find something to give him or what we’ll give him is our lives.
“Do as he says!” I say louder than I knew I could.
The other people in the coach look at me like I’ve gone mad, but begin to take off the little jewelry they have. I see a few things drop into the bag. I take the cross from around my neck. I kiss my mother’s hand and then take off her wedding ring and place it in the bag. The man just looks at me with a crooked grin on his face.
I glare back at him and sit back. Thinking, they got what they want, now we are safe. The blow takes me unexpected. When I hit the floor, my face is hot and I can taste the iron of blood. I hear him hit a couple other passengers. I hear their sharp cries. Then I hear a swift kick and see my mother wince. Another kick, my mother winces again. I place my body over my mother’s as the men just snicker and jump down from the coach with the burlap sack full of our belongings.
Then, there is a strange silence. After the robbery, we expected the men to leave. We expected them to take their loot and ride off. But as we anticipate the sound of hooves and the cloud of dust rising around us, there is nothing. The men stayed. We could hear them whispering to one another. Another shot in the air makes us all jump. Then, his dirty face peaks in again.
“While don’t you ladies and gentleman climb on out and join us?” He smelled like whiskey and tobacco and sweat and dirt. After we comply, the robbers prod us with their guns until we are huddled in a circle and they are surrounding us.
“Now, listen here! We gonna take ourselves a little walk,” says the tall one who shot his gun in the air.
The passengers around me erupted in sobs. All except one, a tall, thin man who had kept himself under control through the whole ordeal. I looped my arm through my mothers and tried to comfort her. She was very shaken up and I could tell her lip and eye hurt from where the robber had kicked her, but she forced a smile back at me.
“Alright passengers,” the tall man said, “it’s time to start walking.”
We obediently fell in behind the tall man. The fat one took the rear with his hands fingering his pistols at his belt. The tall man marched us through the low bushes down toward the creek. Each step brought new cries from the other passengers. I think most thought we were walking to our death. That the robbers were taking us somewhere so they could shoot us all and not leave a big mess for anyone coming up the road to Pithole. But, I still felt nothing. I had no idea why fear hadn’t seized me, but it hadn’t. I kept my arm laced in my mothers and walked on keeping my eye on the tall man and the passenger who was keeping it under control. We walked at least half an hour before the man stopped next to what looked like a large crack in the earth.
“This here,” he said, “is the very hole this godforsaken town was named after. The first people who saw it thought it was a gateway to hell itself. Guess you all gonna find out if it is, ain’t you?” He laughed as he pushed the first passenger down into the crevice that belched steam and the smell of rotten eggs. A blood curdling scream rose from the earth. The crack was at least seven feet wide. It looked like someone had ripped two giant stones apart. Steam rose from the darkness of its opening. The fat robber started pushing the rest of us from behind. One by one each passenger fell into the darkness. With one swift kick the fat robber loosened my grip on my mother and pushed her into the hole. I screamed and dove in after her. I landed in a dark wet place filled with sobbing screaming faces. It was dark except for a small strip of light that shone above us. When I looked up to the light I could see we were perhaps 15 feet below the earth and peering down at us from the crack of light were the two robbers. They looked small and harmless from this distance. As if to counter this thought, the tall one shot his gun off in the dark. The large crack echoed through the hollow cavern.
“Ain’t none of you better have any ideas about leaving before we ready for you to leave, ya hear? My partner and I gonna wait here for a while and then we gonna leave. You try and crawl out before dawn tomorrow we shoot you. Understand?”
We all nod uselessly in the dark. I’m frantically searching the darkness for my mother and calling her name.
“Ma,” I say, “Where are you Ma?” Then her voice rises out of the dark. “Here Amy, I’m here!” and my I find her and hold her tighter than I’ve held her in my life.