When Miriam Gulch is forced to give birth to her child in an abandoned old farmhouse, she doesn’t remember much of it: A long car drive to the place that appears to have no purpose other than to facilitate the birth; a couple, awaiting the child’s delivery; and awakening later in her own room to empty arms. All she is left with is a foggy memory no one else in her world will acknowledge. Her parents insist she is going insane...
Miriam has but one goal: to someday find her child. She already suffered the horrific loss of Dex, and thought she could never love again. At first, due to her father’s threats to have her committed, she is afraid to speak of the child she lost. But now she has met Chance Blakeford, the one man who believes her--and wants to help. Together, they try to piece together what took place.
Eventually, Miriam uncovers a horrible truth. Long ago, she and her unborn child were unwittingly entered into an evil pact. The only way to eradicate the evil is to destroy the very place where the evil began...
J.E. Sayles is the pseudonym for a writer, mother, and social worker. Sayles is well acquainted with adoption issues. Adopted at birth, she is familiar with the struggles adopted people face.
Her primary areas of interest lie in adoption and race issues. She currently uses a pseudonym to write, in order to provide separation of her professional life from her creative endeavors.
Sayles lives in Missouri with her three children and a possessed cat. She currently juggles parenting, social work, and, whenever possible, plotting out her next novel.
“Momma,” Miriam Gulch cried out. “Momma, it hurts!”
Her body jerked in response to being torn in two, for quite literally, it was: Her body, and the life inside that it had nurtured for the past nine months, were soon to be separated.
“What do you expect?” came at last the cold voice of Pearline Gulch, from the front of the vehicle. “Birthing babies was never designed to be a pleasurable task.”
From where she lay captive in the back seat of her family’s grey Sedan, Miriam could not see her mother. The blindfold over her face stifled her view, leaving the passing scenery as much a mystery as the expression on her mother’s features. Even so, Miriam could well imagine. Pearline likely wore the same look of disdain that she had throughout the duration of her pregnancy.
“Least of all babies born in sin,” Pearline went on. “The good Lord made it a man’s duty to stand by his wife in her time of need. When a baby is born in sin, the pain of labor comes twice as hard.”
As much as Miriam had tried to beg and plead with Pearline over the past nine months, her mother still held the same opinion of her pregnancy. “The work of the devil,” she had called it, more than once.
It angered Miriam whenever Pearline said this. Calling her pregnancy illegitimate and implying it had been brought about by Satan cheapened the love she had shared with Dex.
“Momma, he loved me,” she protested. Her emotional pain at her mother’s words seemed to bring on another contraction, for as soon as she said it, she doubled over, almost unable to hear her father’s words that came next.
“I’ll hear no more of this,” he said. “We’ve discussed it before. Dexter Harlow is dead. The Lord took him as penance for his sin.”
More tears flowed, soaking the rag tied tightly over Miriam’s face, as she fought the inner voice reminding her that she was now alone, completely alone. Although her parents had refused to discuss the situation with her, deep down she knew that they would never let her keep this baby. She was sixteen and dependent upon them. Her illegitimate pregnancy was a stain on the family name.
She knew it went much deeper than getting pregnant outside of marriage, already a sin in the eyes of her parents. It was also the result of miscegenation. The races were not to mix. And as her parents kept reminding her, they had a reputation to uphold.
She could no longer rely on the security of Dex’s presence to help her, even though he had been excited about her pregnancy once he got over his initial reaction of shock. After all, they were little more than two children themselves who were now bringing another child into the world. Their naďve, passionate pledges of eternal love for one another, their avowed determination to find some way to raise this child together... Miriam choked back a gale of sobbing as she recalled what they had once shared. And now he was gone, as if he had been some sort of surreal fantasy or dream; as if he had never existed. The only remnant of him that lingered was this child she carried.
She willed the birth process to stop, so she could hold on to this one part of Dex that remained, but another laborious cramp took over, reducing her to tears. She clutched at her womb in a futile attempt to put a halt to her agony. It was time. Dex’s baby was coming, and there was nothing she could do about it. Nor could she change the reality she knew and feared: that this baby, too, would be taken from her.
As she had done throughout her prior contractions, she weathered through this one alone, without comment or concern on her parents’ behalf. She half-heard her mother speaking to her father.
“Hurry up, Ebner. We’ve got to move faster. We’re running out of time.”
“I’m hurrying,” Ebner snapped at his wife. “You know how these country roads are. Do you want us to get stopped by the police? The last thing we need is Satan sending another obstacle our way.”
Almost as soon as he said it, the car flew into a huge pothole in the road. The vehicle jutted downward and back up, swaying from one side to the other. The pain was an electrical current, shocking Miriam’s every last nerve ending, the intensity startling her from her tears. She screamed. Oh, they had never been this cruel to her before...at least, not physically.
“God will aid us through this,” Pearline said. “So far, everything has been working out according to plan.”
Ebner gave pause. “The best thing that could happen would be if this baby is born dead,” he stated, at last.
Miriam’s baby stirred within her, as if to announce: No, no, I’m quite alive. Her most recent contraction subsided to give her blessed relief, and Miriam felt her anguish make way for deeply rooted anger.
“Don’t say that,” Pearline said, to Ebner. Miriam felt gratitude toward her mother for coming to her baby’s defense until she listened to her continue. “It would have been easier for us in the short term, but in the long term, I shudder to think what would happen if...” Pearline trailed off. “You know we have to do this. The arrangement has been sealed. We’re blessing them with the child they’ve always wanted.” Miriam thought Pearline’s voice sounded laced with contention.
“We’re living up to our end of the bargain,” Ebner corrected her.
“Yes. I’m just relieved it’s all coming to an end at last.”
They’re talking about me and my baby, Miriam thought. And now she was the one filled with contempt...and fear. Stunned by Pearline’s words, Miriam realized all at once what her parents had planned for her. It explained everything. It explained the rushed car ride when she had announced the first signs of her labor coming on. It explained the way they had approached her, Ebner from the front and Pearline from behind, to blindfold her and bind her wrists together behind her back before they had forced her into the vehicle. It had all happened so fast, she’d had little time to struggle. It explained the state in which she now sat, bound and sightless, as her parents ushered her, quite against her will, to the destination known only to them and their God. They were going to give her baby away. It was just like them to make such important plans for her life without letting her knew what they were.
“Where are we going?” she demanded to know, for the tenth time. Helpless though she felt over her current state, her voice came out sounding so clear and strong, it surprised even her.
“We are going to get rid of the problem that you have created,” Pearline said. “You’ll know soon enough.”
The bite in her mother’s voice might have hurt if Miriam weren’t so angry. Shouldn’t she be used to it by now? She had grown up with the woman. She had always believed a mother’s love for her child should be inherent, but Pearline Gulch seemed to love no one but the Lord. Like a dutiful slave, Pearline attended church three times a week, prayed multiple times a day, and could condemn anyone else’s sin with a given verse she had memorized from the scripture. When it came to warmth toward humanity, however, she came up empty. She was neither a kind nor loving person. It was no wonder she had attracted Ebner, who was her equal in that regard.
“My baby will be born alive,” Miriam snapped at both of them. “No matter how many times you’ve tried to curse her existence, she’s coming. There is nothing you can do about my giving birth to a healthy baby girl.”
She had not even been given prenatal care, and she had certainly never been pregnant before, but somehow, she knew. She just knew this baby would be born healthy and strong. She knew by the way her belly had grown so large that she now struggled to get around. She knew from the stirrings, from the lumps and bumps she often felt inside of her as her baby moved. She had no way to know the sex of the baby, either, but deep down inside, she just knew it was going to be a girl. Although she wished to have a boy who looked like Dex, her sense of premonition told her otherwise. She knew it would have made Dex happy to know she was giving birth to a baby girl who would look just like her.
Ebner and Pearline met her comment with detached silence.
Miriam wished her parents would acknowledge her anger, but they never did. In the past, when she would become angry, her parents would only quote scripture about respecting one’s parents, as if expressing one’s emotions was a disrespectful thing to do. In her parents’ world, it was. In their world, showing emotion was equivalent to admitting a lack of control, and if there was one thing Ebner and Pearline valued, it was to be in control. In fact, they insisted upon it at all times.
Miriam gave her head a vicious shake, attempting to free herself from the rag over her eyes, but it was bound too tightly. Her hands, fingers grasping below the strip of cloth that bound her wrists, were useless to her. As horrific as the mind-numbing agony of labor was, her uncomfortable stranglehold amplified her discomfort that much more.
Tears of frustration prickled at her eyes. There had to be a way to circumvent this fate that her parents had planned for her. How could she, when she had no way of knowing where she was, where she was headed?
Her vision impeded, she tried to elicit her other senses for clues as to her whereabouts. Her exploring fingers could feel nothing more than the worn but once-luxurious leather interior of the Sedan. The windows were closed, rendering her unable to gauge the outside weather conditions, although it had been warm and sunny when she had been pushed inside the car. Surely nightfall must be nearing, for the drive had already been interminable, the contractions growing closer and closer together.
She breathed inward, a deep inhale, hoping to discern some fragrance or aroma that might provide her some sort of clue. She could smell only the odor of her parents’ car. Although they had owned the vehicle for many years, it still had the scent reminiscent of a new car, thanks to their almost obsessive need for cleanliness and order.
Defeated, Miriam gave in to the sudden exhaustion taking over. The contractions had taken their toll, taxing her body. Although she still had a long labor ahead, she felt overwhelmed by the power of sheer fatigue. She lapsed into a light sleep.
In her dreamlike state, she saw him. He stood before her, smiling, his black hair appearing almost blue against the sunlight. He held out his hand to her. When she took it, he led her across the field of wildflowers in which they stood.
“I love you, Miriam Gulch,” he said. He leaned toward her, kissing her lips, his lips soft against hers. She could feel every bit of his aura. She was certain this must be real. He was right there with her...his image, his touch, the smell of his toothpaste, his cologne...the feel of his arms around her shoulders.
“Oh, Dex, what will we do?”
In her dream, just as she had in real life, she felt shock and fear upon discovering she was pregnant. But there was no way to deny the signs before them. She had missed her period for two months in a row. Her breasts felt swollen and hard, her clothing tight against her normally slender frame. The nausea she kept experiencing could not possibly just be the flu.
“I love you, Miriam,” he repeated. “We’ll figure out a way to be together, just you, me, and our baby.”
“But our parents...”
“My family has never been accepted in Hatfield,” he reminded her. “At first, it was only because we’re colored.” He spat the word out with a venomous bite. “But then my father died in that accident. And my mother became a lush who’s forgotten that I exist.”
She stroked his hair, kissing him, wondering why such a curse had been placed upon his family.
“I’m a man now. I have to take care of myself. And I want to take care of you and our baby as well. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to keep me from doing so.” He paused. “The way I see it, the only real problem we have is your parents.”
Miriam fell into silent agreement at the weight of his words. He was right; the problem was her parents. When she met Dex at school, they fell in love instantly, but decided to keep their love a secret. For months, they held hands between classes, sneaked kisses after school. Miriam began making excuses to Ebner and Pearline in order to spend time with Dex. They had already grown suspicious of her sudden interest in after-school extracurricular activities. They disapproved of the idea of her being interested in boys at all. They began to insist that her already-low hemlines drop lower, her necklines grow higher, until eventually she was clothed as if she came straight out of the Victorian era. Her classmates teased her that she looked like a storybook character from a long-ago time. That did nothing to hamper Dex’s love for her, and so they continued to see one another in private. Once she became pregnant, she had to expose her secret. She had no choice but to tell her parents of her love for Dex, so she told them everything.
“Momma, Pa...I’m in love! I’m in love with a boy named Dex Harlow. He lives here in the village.”
“Harlow.” Ebner shot Miriam a long, hard look. “That’s that nigger boy, isn’t it? The one whose family lives up on the hill.”
Pearline’s hand flew to her cheek, her face growing pale. “Oh, Miriam, no. Tell me it isn’t true.”
“I love him,” she repeated. “He loves me too. And through our love, we’ve created a child.” She rubbed the belly where her baby lay beneath, still far too small to be seen. Her parents gazed at her midsection as if she were nine months full, horror written upon their faces.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before, Momma. I knew you’d be ashamed of me. You’ve always taught me that fornication is a sin. But Momma, Pa...It can’t be sinful, because Dex and I love each other. He’s going to take care of me, and this baby, too.”
When she had told them, their stunned expressions turned to anger. They had met her with the same steely silence she had since grown accustomed to whenever she tried to mention the baby now.
They did not banish her from the home. They did not tell her she could not keep the child. In fact, they refused to mention another word about the situation from that moment forth, even when she tried, in vain, to discuss it. They said nothing, as if pretending her pregnancy did not even exist.
She and Dex still had another full year of school to complete. She had no alternative but to turn to her parents. She needed their help, craved their support. Judging by their reactions, however, Dex was right. They were the problem.
Dex tried. He had started to look for work, to save up money for the time their child came. He told Miriam he could manage a job and still attend school as well.
He was a man. He could take care of them. The three of them could be a family, together.
He had been trying his very best...until that day.
It had been over a month since she had revealed her condition to her parents. There was no denying it, now: her earlier nausea had made way for a burgeoning belly that belied her otherwise willowy frame.
As she went to find him after school, she had a horrible sense of knowing that he would not be there. They usually met behind the school building, but true to her fears, she could locate him nowhere. She searched throughout the school, and then all over the village, but found no sign of him. Deep inside, she knew she would not. She could usually feel his presence as she approached him, but she no longer felt him anywhere near. She stumbled up the hill toward his house, hoping perhaps he might be there, her dread and apprehension growing larger with each step. No one answered her pounding fists at the front door.
The very next morning, she was eager to go to school, hopeful that it had all been a misunderstanding. Ebner stopped her at the door, insisting that in her “state of embarrassment,” from this day forth she must be schooled at home.
“Pa, no,” she cried, for she knew it was as much a ploy to keep her away from Dex as to hide her pregnancy from the outside world. Nonetheless, she was left with no choice but to comply. When she tried to call her friends from school to inform them of her whereabouts, she found the phone lines had been cut.
Her only escape would be to run, run away...but where could she flee? Without Dex, she had nowhere to go, no hope of survival in this world on her own. And so she sat, with child, while Pearline schooled her on her basic subjects. She was not even to attend church anymore, the one place she had always been forced to go until now.
It was many weeks later. Ebner, reading the newspaper, looked over at Miriam and asked, “Did you see what has become of your boyfriend?”
He turned the paper toward her. In the tiny village of Hatfield, sudden disappearances made the front page. The headline shouted at her:
Search for Local Boy Continues
Her mouth flew open as she continued to read:
Authorities are searching for clues to help solve the disappearance of a missing local boy, Dexter Harlow, 17. Authorities suspect foul play, and encourage anyone with information to step forward.
Beneath these words was information about a memorial service planned to honor his life.
Tears stung her face. She was unable to speak. Her mind reeled. Foul play, that meant death. Dead, Dex was dead? The wonderful boy she loved, whose child was yet growing inside of her...how could he possibly be dead?
But with a heavy sense of defeat, she knew he was. Dex would never have abandoned her. He’d planned to fight to find a way to help raise this child with her; he had promised to do so. He would not have broken a promise like that. Coupled with the terrible vision that harm was coming his way, the image that had shaken her so, she had no choice but to accept that it had come to pass.
Dex was dead.
“His service,” she managed to gasp.
Ebner pointed to the top corner of the page, tapping the date of the paper. It was dated two weeks ago.
“I’m sure it’s already passed,” he said, cruelly.
“You monster,” Miriam said. She felt a pang of guilt, worried that God might strike her dead. She had always been taught to respect her elders, but she could contain her anger no more. “All your talk of God...where is he now? Why would he leave me to raise this child alone?”
She sat back, almost scared that she would face a sudden doomed fate for her words, but nothing came except Ebner’s dry retort.
“God,” he responded, through clenched teeth, “most likely struck Dexter Harlow dead for his sin.”
“How has he sinned, Pa? How?” Miriam cried. “His only sin was loving me. I loved him, too. What did he do to deserve death?”
Ebner stared at her with his cold, grey eyes. “The wages of sin is death, Miriam,” he said. “Sex before marriage is a sin. And the Lord said in the Good Book that the races are not to mix.” He leaned in toward her, looking directly into her eyes. “Dexter Harlow paid dearly for his sins. And you’d better pray, Miriam. You’d better pray long and hard that you’re not next.”
“That’s not fair,” Miriam said.
Her father’s image dissolved before her as she began to pull away from her memory-dream.
Before she could process dream from reality, she found herself back in the vehicle, doubled over with a fresh wave of labor.
“It’s not fair,” she yelled. She hated the fact that Dex had been so real just now, until he had been replaced by the stern image of her father.
In the front seat, Ebner and Pearline barely even winced.
“Quiet,” Pearline admonished her. “Do you think it’s fair, what you’ve done to our lives? Is it fair that we now bear the shame of your sin? Don’t talk to us about fair.”
The vehicle pulled to an abrupt halt. Miriam, still suffering through her latest contraction, startled.
“We’re here,” Ebner Gulch announced.