Friend or Foe “Hannah! Get in the safe-cellar. Now!” Hannah turned from the stove to see Caleb loading his rifle. His curt orders and nervous rush caught her off guard. Though they’d only been married a few months, she’d found her twenty-four year old husband to be a calm man, not easily rattled. Unlike his younger brother Jacob, whose whine was echoing around the small two-room cabin. Though only two years difference in age, they were more like father and son, rather than brothers. “Damn, Caleb, I told you that bringing us out to this Texas wilderness would get us killed. We should’ve stayed in Ohio. No cowboys and Indians there!” Hannah wondered that Jacob wasn’t dizzy with his head swiveling between the door and his brother. As usual, he was making no attempt to help Caleb.
Hannah rushed to her husband and touched his shoulder. “What’s the matter?” Continuing to work with his weapons, his voice softened. “There’s a cloud of dust yonder. Enough to tell me there’s many riders. Don’t know if they’re friend or foe.” He looked up. ”I need you to hide. Please.” Hannah wanted to ask more, but trusted his judgment and decided to do as he asked. There’d be time for questions later. She kissed his cheek and went to the hearth. She slid the wood box away, pried up a small board and reached under the adjoining board. It lifted like a trap door. Caleb offered her one of his pistols. She shook her head. “I wouldn’t know how to use it.” She turned and climbed down into a hole designed to hold two people, and then looked up into the concerned face of Caleb. He was blocking his brother from the drop ladder into the hole. “Be very quiet.” Caleb forced a smile. “I love you.” She nodded. “And, I love you.” Caleb closed the door and Hannah heard the wood box slide back into place. The tomb-like atmosphere brought on a shudder. Through it all, Jacob continued to whine. “I need to hide, too. Why’d you stop me from joining
Hannah?” “Cause, I need your help. Grab a rifle and follow me.” “Damn, Caleb, I …” “Now!” Hannah jumped at her husband’s roar. The wooden floor creaked under hurried footsteps, and then there was silence. The darkness, along with a strong earthy smell, brought another shudder. She strained to hear some sound, some assurance that Caleb was all right and that he’d soon come get her. Like he had from that orphanage in Mt. Carmel, just outside Cincinnati. Despite her concern, she smiled at the memory of her fifteenth birthday when she’d came face to face with the new young milkman who would someday become her husband. It was love at first sight. They’d married on her eighteenth birthday and left for Texas to chase their dreams on the very next day. She glanced up, hoping to hear Caleb saying it was safe to come out, but all she heard was silence. The silence continued for what seemed hours. Her legs began to buckle, more from fear than fatigue, she reasoned. She was about to scream, when she heard voices yelling and then laughter. Maybe the riders were friendly after all. Hannah reached up to touch the trapdoor and was about to push upward when a shot rang out and then two more in rapid succession. Footsteps scampered across the floor and she heard Jacob. “Don’t shoot me. I’m unarmed. My brother was a fool to use his gun.” The floorboards thundered with many footsteps. Hannah guessed that a crowd had entered the room. She heard a deep voice threaten Jacob. “Yeah, he was a fool, but a brave fool. Not a liver-belly like you.” Was! Hannah gasped as the word tore through her heart. “Please, don’t shoot.” Jacob sobbed with terror. It echoed though the cabin and down into Hannah’s hiding place.
“Why not,” asked the deep voice. “Can’t leave you alive to tell the law about us, now can we?” The round of evil laughter verified that there was a crowd just above Hannah. She squatted to get as far away from the footsteps and voices as she could. “I know where there’s something for you and your men.” The shrillness of Jacob’s voice cut deep into Hannah’s fear. “A woman! She’s beautiful. Hardly used. My brother’s woman. Only been married a couple of months.” “Yeah?” “It’s true.” “Show me, coward!” “Only if you don’t kill me.” “I make the rules.” “Yes, but if you kill me, you’ll never find her.” After a lengthy silence, Hannah heard the deep voice laugh, and then the many joined him. “Coward, show me this woman and you live.” Almost immediately, Hannah heard the wood box scrape across the floor. Avoiding the light from above, she dropped her head and crouched deeper into the earthen walls. “Woman! Look at me!” came a command. Hannah’s heart jumped and her body twitched at the sound of gun being cocked. “Look at me or the coward dies.” Hannah disliked Jacob more than any human she’d ever known, but she couldn’t allow her actions to cause his death. She looked up to see a giant, clad in dusty riding clothes. Long black hair hung menacingly as he peered down. “Raise your hands, woman.” Hannah couldn’t make herself move. The man turned his head and spoke to someone. “Johnny, kill the coward.” “No!” Hannah cried. She slowly struggled to her feet, afraid to leave the safety of the cocoon where Caleb had entrusted her, yet more afraid to see his body and come face to face with a vile reality. But, Jacob was family. She knew Caleb wouldn’t want him killed. The giant again turned to someone. “Benny, pull her out.”
A large, husky man knelt above the hole and reached down. He caught Hannah’s hair and urged her up the ladder. Her fear and dread turned into pain as she began to feel like she was being scalped. She was given no choice but to hurry up the ladder. Tears threatened, but she wasn’t sure if was fear or pain as her mind raced to understand and cope with the cruel and abrupt changes to her world. Hannah reached the top and stepped up into the cabin. She turned to Jacob, who avoided her eyes. Benny released her hair and stepped back into a pack of half dozen filthy, bearded, leering thugs. A deep voice brought her attention to the giant who was obviously the leader. He circled Hannah twice, stopping once to touch her golden hair and ended his tour staring down at her. She had cringed at his touch and kept her head down as if watching his feet. But, in reality, her eyes darted about looking for Caleb. When he stopped and stood in front of her, Hannah raised her head and came eye to eye with evil. Less than six inches separated them. He leered at her and then nodded. “You’ll do.” The thin cottons of her apron and dress, along with the delicate fabric of her undergarment, gave way to his brutal yank leaving Hannah’s breasts exposed to hungry eyes. “Right, boys?” His answer was a chorus of profanity.
The floor squeaked as Jacob eased toward the door. Without taking his eyes from the feast of the woman, the leader cocked his pistol and pointed in the direction of the squeak. He fired. A wounded Jacob howled. “You promised I could live.” The man turned to Jacob. “I didn’t say how long.” He fired a fatal bullet, tossed his pistol toward his men and turned back to Hannah. With a breast in each hand, he smirked. “Yes, indeed. You’ll do.” The reality of her situation pulsed with terror. Trying to avoid dealing with the degradation, Hannah stared at Jacob’s lifeless body. She was struck by how much he resembled his brother. In his silence, she felt she was seeing Caleb’s body. Slowly, a gray aura began to blur her thoughts and the sights right before her eyes. She allowed herself to be drawn into the aura. All sight and sound became muted as her mind retreated back to the meal she’d been preparing when Caleb had hollered, “Hannah! Get in the safe-cellar. Now!”