Hartslog Valley, the Shadow of Death region, in Central Pennsylvania is haunted by a history of violence. The horrific Dean Massacre occurred there in 1788. Just south of Harstlog in Woodcock Valley, a band of fifty Indians and two white collaborators tortured and murdered ten of Captain Phillips Rangers in 1780. In 1754, Captain Jack returned home from hunting and found his wife and two children slain by Indians. Seeking revenge, he scoured the wilderness. The expert tracker and hunter left a bloody trail of scalps strung from the trees and Indian lodges of his enemy.
Now two hundred years later, the violence continues. Skeletons are found wired to a tree on Blood Mountain. Hostages are taken in a Mennonite school, resulting in the death of a boy. Two girls are kidnapped from Twin River High School. Hartslog Valley is again thrown into chaos.
When local authorities are ineffective, enter the vigilante. Following the tradition of Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, and Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, Vietnam War veteran and Twin River High School custodian Gene Brooks vows to protect the students.
Twin River sophomores, Conner Brooks and Matt Henry, are caught in the turmoil. Harassed by the chief of police, community thugs, and school bullies, the boys fight to survive in the modern wilderness of Hartslog Valley.
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By Michael Fields
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Michael Fields
All rights reserved.
Shadows of Death
Two hundred miles west of Philadelphia, the town of Water Street on the Juniata River consisted of the three-story Water Street Inn and a single row of weathered log cabins. Standing on the steps of the most dilapidated cabin, Jacob Hare wore a luxurious fur coat over a silk-embroidered shirt. His face was smooth and thin, his blond hair long, reaching his shoulders. Large earlobes protruded from the carefully brushed flow of hair. His narrow eyes squinting, Jacob watched a rider race his horse down Pike Road. The rider, short and chunky in the saddle, was tightly clothed. Recognizing Jacob, he waved and guided the horse to the cabin steps. After shaking hands with Jacob, the rider took an envelope from the inside pocket of his leather coat.
"Your father sends his regards."
"Come inside," Jacob said, taking the letter. "You should rest before you start back."
"There's no time for talk, Jacob. There's rebellion up and down the river."
"Rumor has it that the British have marched into Philadelphia."
"George Washington's Patriot army of farmers is no match against the best-trained soldiers in Europe. The British captured Philadelphia with no resistance."
"And my parents?"
"They prosper. Your father is a shrewd businessman and has always shown loyalty to the Crown. They worry about you alone in the wilderness."
"Assure them there is no need to worry. My future lies with our true king. Once the rebellion is crushed and the settlers are run out of this area, I'll purchase land at a cheap price and build a grand estate on the river. I'll import quality quarter horses from Virginia. On May Day we'll race down Penn Street in Stone Town. My parents will have a fine time when they visit."
"I'll inform them of your plans. I'm sure they'll be delighted." The messenger saluted, turned his horse east, and galloped down the pike. With the envelope clutched tightly in his hand, Jacob watched the rider disappear. Then he entered the cabin and sat at the table. Staring at the ornate style of writing on the envelope, Jacob laughed.
"You don't find such quality penmanship out here," he commented, carefully opening the envelope. The parchment inside was thin, the words transcribed in a flowery script.
Jacob was raising the letter to the light when the door slammed open and five men burst into the cabin. Two of the men grabbed Jacob and pinned him against the table. The leader of the group, Captain Simonton, was a tall man with a chiseled face. He had a muscular chest, wide shoulders, and large calloused hands. The captain ripped the letter from Jacob's hand and proceeded to read in a loud, overbearing voice.
Dear Beloved Son, Jacob,
On September 26th, your mother and I and prominent Tory merchants welcomed the British to our fair city. We were granted an audience with General Howe at Masters-Penn House on Market Street. When the general requested assistance in lodging, we agreed to board three of his officers. You will be pleased to know that the officers, all gentlemen, will bed in your room. General Howe guaranteed that the so-called Patriot army, now setting up camp in the wilderness at Valley Forge, would be defeated and the rebellion would be crushed soon. Once order is restored, all Tories and King's Men would be rewarded for their loyalty.
"You traitor!" Simonton shouted, throwing the letter on the table. He pulled out a razor and pointed at the exposed earlobe. "Let's mark the Tory!" And then he added with contempt, "This loyal subject of King George."
"I got it!" Leaping into position, a young, muscular man wearing dirt-spattered farm clothes grabbed Jacob's right ear at the fleshy apex and stretched the skin taut. Simonton steadied the razor, and with a swift motion, he sliced off the ear.
Jacob screamed in a shrill voice; blood spurted vertically toward the young farmer, who lurched clumsily out of range, dark circles spattering his shoes. An elderly, stout man dressed in a gray shirt and tight vest stepped forward. He had a light complexion, bright eyes, and thin lips. He spoke in a smug, authoritative tone.
"Went in at the one ear and out at the other. Proverbs," Reverend Dean annunciated in a loud manner. "While we're at it, let's rid the Tory of his remaining protuberance."
"Just grab the other ear!"
"I got it," the young farmer said again. Annoyed, scraping at the blood on his shoe, he cleared away the strands of blond hair. Captain Simonton paused for a moment. Then he lowered the razor flat against Jacob's skull and sliced off the left ear. Blood streaming onto his silk collar, Jacob collapsed to the floor. Laughing, Captain Simonton placed both earlobes neatly in the center of the letter. Red smears soaked into the parchment, blurring the fine print.
"We Patriots ain't hung yet," Captain Simonton said, leaning close to Jacob's head. "Can you hear that clear enough now that we've unclogged them Tory ears?" His face white, Jacob pressed his fists into the stubby holes, stemming the flow of blood.
* * *
Two weeks after the incident at Water Street, Jacob Hare paddled a canoe down the Juniata River. The setting sun reflected in a glow over the water. Thin lines of smoke curled high into the air from the cabins on the bank. Looking past the smoke, Jacob saw Fort Standing Stone and angled the canoe toward the bank. After pulling the canoe onto the grass, he tucked his shoulder-length hair under his coonskin cap and walked up the bank to Stone Town. Muskets slung over their shoulders, two Rangers from the fort were walking down deeply gutted Penn Street.
You don't know nothin' about King George and the great court, Jacob thought, cursing silently. And yet you want to be free. You and your kind will never be free!
A horse and rider moved slowly past the Rangers. The horse was a sure-footed Narragansett Pacer; the leather saddle was polished smooth. The rider, a wealthy landowner with relatives in London, was middle-aged; his chubby face was full and cleanly shaven. John Weston dismounted, tied his horse, and motioned to Jacob. After a brief exchange, he and Jacob went inside the Stone Pub. Talking in gruff voices, farmers, woodsmen, and Rangers filled the wooden tables. Aged and bearded, the town tanner sat at a prominent position at the end of the center table. He coughed and raised his voice, silencing the chatter.
"Captain Jack came in the fort this morning all cut up. Four Indians jumped him at the Narrows. Jack killed all of them."
"It'll take more than four savages to put Jack in the ground," a Ranger commented. "Livin' in the wild so long, Captain Jack thinks like an Indian. After he lost his family to them, he started practicin' their ways. Ain't that why he's kinda crazy?"
"Yeah," the tanner confirmed. "When the captain returned home from huntin' last year, he found his wife and two children butchered. He's been killin' Indians ever since."
"Even the good Indians?" a farmer asked.
"Good or bad, it don't matter," the tanner said with conviction, staring at the blank expressions around the table. "I mean, it's like killin' them rattlesnakes when you clear rocks off the land. It's a good snake because it can't strike at you anymore. That's my reasonin'. Rattlesnakes and Indians—they're all good when they're dead." The men at the table roared with laughter. John Weston stepped back and whispered to Jacob.
"The Indians won't stop hunting Captain Jack. He'll be caught and scalped soon enough." Dropping some coins on the bar, John grabbed a bottle of whiskey and led Jacob through a blanketed door into a dark room. Two men, empty glasses in front of them, sat on benches around a table that tottered on the floor.
"Nathaniel." Weston nodded to a wiry man with a narrow face and protruding nose. "And my good friend Joseph," he said to a bearded, stocky man. After filling the empty glasses, Weston raised his over the table.
"To King George!" Weston said resolutely, his fleshy jowls lifting and falling flat against his neck. The Tories drank the toast with enthusiasm.
"Who you got with you?" Joseph asked, placing his empty glass on the table. "Who's this blond-haired gent?"
"Jacob Hare," John Weston answered. "He's one of us."
"You the one from Water Street?" Joseph asked. "You're the one they cut, ain't ya?"
"Yeah," Jacob muttered. He removed his coonskin cap and placed it on the table. Using both hands, he lifted the blond strands of hair out of the way.
"I'll be damned!" Joseph gasped. "It's true what they did."
"Let me see that," Nathaniel demanded. Moving closer, scrutinizing the scarred cavity, he had a puzzled, jocose expression on his face. "It's not as bad as I first thought."
"What are you talking about?" Jacob asked, replacing the coonskin cap.
"I bet you hear lots better now," Nathaniel declared in a laughing voice.
"Shut the hell up," John Weston said. Nathaniel's face reddened.
"Holy shee ... it!" Nathaniel slurred, dropping his jaw. "I didn't mean nothin'. I've seen men scalped and gutted. But I've never seen anything like you got. How'd it happen?"
"A bunch of settlers ambushed me in my cabin. They said I was a Tory bastard and held me down. One pulled out a razor and sliced off my ears. It was that damn Captain Simonton and Reverend Dean. I plan to take care of them tomorrow."
"I hired me some Shawnee."
"Nathaniel and I will join ya'," Joseph said. "Dean has a big family. He's got a pretty daughter and those twin boys. It will be our pleasure watchin' 'em die."
"We can sleep at my place in Water Street tonight," Jacob said. "Then in the morning, we'll march to Hartslog and kill us some Patriots."
"I'll toast to that!" Joseph responded enthusiastically. Raising his glass, he laughed and pounded the wood with his fist, the table rattling with the impact.
* * *
That evening the members of the Dean family ate a dinner of turkey, corn, and potatoes. Reverend Dean and his wife, Mary, were drinking tea at the table when their daughter, Sally, began clearing the plates. Dean had fresh powder on his face and hair. Spending more time than usual in the washroom, he had vigorously rubbed powder into the dark spots on his vest.
Dressed in a white cap, a blue short gown with lace ruffles on the sleeves, and a dark blue petticoat, the reverend's wife had a cheerful, kind face. Her brown hair curling to her shoulders, Sally had her mother's soft facial features. Slender in build, she wore a yellow short gown over a white petticoat. After taking the last dishes to the water basin, Sally joined her parents at the table
The eighteen-year-old Dean twins, Will and Ben, sat on the porch steps. At five-foot-ten inches tall, they had identical lithe, muscular bodies. Will's black hair was cut short; Ben's was long, dropping low over his forehead. They had bright blue eyes and clear skin, tanned bronze by the sun. A scattering of crows dipped in and out of the cornfield in front of them. Will nudged his brother, who didn't react, a pensive expression on his face.
"You were late for dinner, Ben."
"I was busy nuturin' my relationship with Sarah."
"Why don't you just say courtin'? You're like Dad—always throwin' big words at people."
"Sarah treasures big words. And usin' them wisely but judiciously, I slid so close to her today that our bodies were touchin' before she knew it."
"Then you finally got to kiss her?"
"No," Ben said despairingly. "I put my hand on her knee and began leanin' toward her face, but she jumped out of reach. I'm gonna try again tomorrow. We're plannin' a picnic at the big pool where the Little Juniata and Juniata Rivers come together. Right where they're buildin' the new schoolhouse. They've got a wall up and part of the bell tower. Since Henry Dobb was donatin' the wood, he said it should be called Dobbs School."
"That's a foolish name. The Indians burned down Fort Dobbs. They should name it Twin River Schoolhouse because of the two rivers meetin' there." Then Will asked, a smile on his face, "What'd Mama say about you and Sarah picnickin' alone at the river?"
"She wasn't pleased by the news. She talked about the need for chaperones, so she and Sally are comin' to spy on us. Mama said that Captain Simonton and his son, Matthew, will be here tomorrow to help Dad at the spring. They're bringin' Beatrice. I'm thinkin' you should invite Beatrice to the picnic."
"Early this year, Beatrice and I went pickin' berries right there at Twin River. We sat on the river bank to rest. I was talkin' and lookin' at her blue eyes and the pretty freckles on her cheeks. We were just expectin' to cool off, but things got real serious."
"What do you mean, Will?"
"It was so hot that day. Without thinkin', I stood and began to undress. Beatrice smiled and looked away. Then she got to her feet and began to undress, too. When she lifted the shift over her head and dropped it in the sand, I felt my eyes would pop out of my head. Her body was all smooth. Her breasts were full and a beautiful pink. Right then I swore that I loved her. As soon as she heard the words, she motioned to me. We came together on the riverbank. But it was mighty poor judgment. Beatrice told me something secret today. Beatrice told me she's expectin'."
"A bun in the oven!" Ben exclaimed. "That's great!"
"You talk crazy, Ben. How can Beatrice havin' a baby be great?"
"You can have a wife you love, not one of those arranged women. No one will think ill of you and Beatrice, Will. Half the girls married last year in Hartslog and Stone Town had a baby within months. You can bet there'll be a big celebration. We'll roast a pig. Everyone will come to the weddin'." Ben laughed and slapped Will on the shoulder. "At Twin River tomorrow, I'm startin' a family with Sarah just like you did with Beatrice."
"How you gonna do that? Mama and Sally will be spyin'."
"I'll take Sarah berry pickin'. I'll tell her I love her. It worked for you."
"I'm thinkin' it worked too fast." Will lowered his head and was silent. The moon cast a bright glow over the barn and the cabin. The low howl of a wolf sounded from the distant mountain. Will heard hooves; looking past the cornfield, he saw the dark silhouettes of horses on Pike Road.
"Out kind of late, aren't they?" Ben asked.
"Probably damn Tories. Dad says the Indians and Tories are up to no good."
"I can't worry about no Tories now. I'm plannin' big things at Twin River with Sarah. Let's go to bed so I can rest up." Ben pulled Will to his feet, and they entered the cabin. There was a candle burning above the fireplace. The twins climbed to the loft, undressed to their long shirts, and settled into bed. The candle flickered brightly and went out. Crickets chirped in the yard; an owl hooted from the barn rafters.
Within walking distance of the Dean farm, Water Street echoed with shouts and laughter. A boisterous Jacob Hare swung a jug of whiskey in the air when he ushered Joseph and Nathaniel up the warped wooden steps into the dark shadows of his log cabin.
* * *
At the first light of dawn, clad in a knee-length white linen shirt, Jacob Hare heard noise in the yard, crawled out of bed, and pulled on his stockings. He quickly got into his trousers and tucked in the long shirt. After putting on his waistcoat and shoes, he went outside. Standing in a circle, their faces intricately painted in dark red-and-black hues, eight Indians turned and stared belligerently at him. Three of the Indians held muskets; the other five had bows and arrows. The Indian in the center of the circle had a scar on his forehead and was missing an eye. A short, stocky Indian with a deformed hand, two middle fingers stitched together, a rope tied around his waist, stood next to him. Pulling on their clothes, Joseph and Nathaniel sauntered through the doorway.
"How long they been waitin'?" Joseph asked.
"I don't know," Jacob answered. Glancing nervously at the blackened eye socket, he walked down the steps into the circle.
"Chief One-Eye, you're welcome here."
"You promised me scalps. You promised me captives I can trade in Canada." The Indian stepped menacingly close to Jacob. "You look at my eye! Because you like?"
"Yeah, I like." Jacob swept his hair back, exposing a scarred ear. "You like?"
His mouth dropped open; Chief One-Eye glared at the black hole. Then, a look of glee spreading over his face, he grabbed the wrist of the Indian standing at his side.
"You No-Ear, me One-Eye, and this Two-Finger!" The chief rotated the deformed hand, swinging the stitched fingers in a grotesque warrior salute. Jacob laughed and returned to Joseph and Nathaniel.
"They're a happy lot," Joseph said. "Who the hell is the chief?"
"He's no chief," Jacob said. "He's an outcast. In a battle against the Delaware, he hid under a tree. Watchin' the butchery, he began to think clever, so he made a cut across his eye. When the Shawnee chief arrived and saw the dead warriors and one wounded survivor, he knew. Snappin' off a branch, the chief ordered the Indian bound. Then he stuck the sharpened end of the branch in the chief's eye socket."
Excerpted from Twin River by Michael Fields. Copyright © 2013 Michael Fields. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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