Chapter 25: Terror, Tragedy and Anna
California, November 1849
"No, no, don't cry, sweetheart. It's alright. No one will hurt you as long as Mommy's here." Roberta whispered to young Frannie and May, knowing every word she told was probably untrue. There was no way to evade the hands of the vicious beasts. At least, not anymore. They had hidden and retreated for long, but it was no longer a choice. They were trapped, left with no way to survive like they did the entirety of the previous year. And the helplessness in Randolph's eyes was the final piece of evidence that the unfortunate family required.
The powerful thuds on the tiny front door grew louder and louder by the second. The cries turned to wails, and the wails turned to whimpers. Randolph and his little family sneaked behind the stairs, trying to prolong their eventual fate, waiting for a miracle. But their hopes were not growing true- With a loud stomp, the front door collapsed, losing its battle to defend the family for long. It was all coming to an end.
It did not take them forever to find the weak, unprotected family from the darkness lurking behind the stairs. And the sight of an armless guardian, a meek young lady and two petite children did nothing to conceal the cruelty of the monsters- their eyes only brightened at the enormous heaps of gold, and their laughs only appeared after their valiant conquests. Trying to seize the little ones from their mother's hold, the two soldiers jostled their feeble father to the ground. But their youthful enthusiasm was ineffective against the strength of love the mother had for her children.
Disturbed for a moment at the unfamiliar strength of a woman, the men backed away for a while. But their captain was too courageous and manly to withdraw from a challenge. And that too, raised by a woman. He uncovered the shotgun that he kept away for the most formidable of opponents, impressed by the act of the young mother. But Roberta stood brave, even in the face of a shotgun, because no weapons could ever defeat a mother's love.
And she was correct. Moments before the captain pulled the trigger to end the frail woman's senseless act of courage, an arrow pierced through his ribs, splattering his warm scarlet blood across the woman's face. The children shrieked at the terrifying form of violence- an obscure image to be stacked in their pile of memories forever. The captain fell back, surprised at the unexpected assault. He immediately went into a shock- deep long breaths struggling to recover from an inevitable fate. But the darkness pulled him towards a void of something he had never felt before, and it was too strong for him to push back.
The other soldier was also immediately taken down with a sharp bullet to the forehead, adding to the grim scenes of brutality the children had to endure in a day. His end had not lengthened unlike the captain, quick and nearly imperceivable, he dropped aback- unable to even scream through the agony of his brain getting torn apart. The remaining soldier hastened towards the door, bewildered at the unexpected turn of events in the late evening. Nearly making it out before another arrow and a bullet, the soldier fled from the little cottage, never to return to this forsaken land.
Minutes later, a tall man with a pistol and an Indian with an arrow arrived at their doorsteps. Still cautious of their surroundings, the Indian lingered outside while the other gentleman went indoors to ensure that the family was unharmed. "Are you alright?" His deep, steady voice slightly reverberated inside the little cottage. The family, yet to realise that the threat was no more and their rescuers stood before them, remained blank at their courteous inquiry. The mother embraced her little daughters a little closer, securing them beside her warmth.
Randolph rose from the floor, feeling incapable and pathetic about himself, to respond to the good Samaritan, "Thank you." His words of gratitude were cut short with the horror of the dreadful events that just played out before his eyes. The young man realised the pitiful state of the family, leaving them alone to their homely solace. But before he could walk out of their tiny dwelling, he was taken aback by a question, "May I know your name, good sir?" The young man smiled at the request, realising that he has earned their respect, "James, ma'am. James Kincade."
New York, Christmas Eve, 1849
"And the prince and the princess lived happily forever." Owen got to the conclusion of his made-up fantasy, leaving his limited audience quite empty. Nevertheless, he did succeed in pleasing the youngest member of the gathering, Ms Maria Veronica, whose cheeks turned remarkably red at the joyful ending. "Oh, look at the way she blushed." Hope nearly squeaked, trying to tease her naive daughter, who was for her, indeed, a little princess. Though Owen's story was an overstretched melodrama, it paved the way for more enthusiasm in the comfy, renovated chamber.
Christmas Eve, throughout the centuries, remained a day of festivity and reconciliation between families dispersed across the globe. And it was no different for the Kincades- Aunt Flower and Uncle William joined them a week before, Oliver came back from his little tour, and Owen and Hope decided to remain at their residence. To add a little commotion to the happy mixture, the little children ensured that no soul could ever remain idle on a couch or by the fireplace, not even for the tiniest fraction of a second. So when Aunt Flower took Samuel out on a peaceful evening walk, the rest of the crew had to listen to the whelms of the other sibling, who was way more adamant than her evil twin.
While the mother and the toddler still debated about the truth behind the blushing, Owen crept his way to Oliver, somehow proud of the little story he just made. Though it was Christmas, Oliver was much of a workaholic, spending his time in front of a notebook or a piece of parchment paper, whichever was available. But Owen was in no mood to let his youthful cousin kill Christmas on parchment papers and the scent of ink- he began taunting his brother with pats on the shoulders and stroking his long brown hair. To further add to the discomfort, Owen started asking him questions that made no sense at all, solely for him to cease working. In the end, Oliver surrendered to his cousin's restlessness, immersing himself in the joyful conversation- patiently waiting for an opportunity to take revenge.
And as the cheers went on, Owen finally proposed the question that lingered in his mind. He never was a fan of fiction or fairytales, but the story he accomplished to create within the few ticks of a wall clock created ripples in his mind. Owen neglected the possibility of a probable humiliation, as it seemed irrelevant against the doubt that prevailed in his heart. Was his story good after all? But that particular Christmas Eve did not mark the birth of a revolutionary author, though Oliver ultimately got the opportunity for his vengeance, "No! You are spoiling your child, Mr Kincade."
The family broke into laughter at his quirky remark, and almost immediately, Owen regretted following his intuitions. But little Maria's roaring laughter was not one Owen could endure. He swiftly picked his daughter up from the comfort of the bed, altering his voice into that of a menacing monster, "Suddenly, a mighty dragon swooped in and carried the princess away, squeezing her within its enormous arms." He swayed her in the air, making her chuckle out loud of the excitement- he loved to make her laugh, as any father would do.
"Kids, playtime's over." A call muted the ongoing hustles in the little chamber. "Time for dinner." Diana continued, resulting in a tiresome sigh from the youngest member in the crew, "Coming, grandma." Grandma. It always made Diana feel rather special to be called grandmother. She was one of the very few individuals who adorned their greys, and for a fact, Diana appeared even more elegant with the greys. It made her look beautiful. Every time she saw herself in the mirror, unlike many, she ensured that her silvery strands either hung down or were visible with her usual ponytail.
As the young ones slowly marched out of the room, one by one, Diana remained there, ensuring that their journey made it to the dining hall down the stairs. Even though they had all grown up, they still required a push from the elderly to stop snooping around. But before she returned to the kitchen to help William with the turkey, Diana strolled to her room to see if Tyler was awake. His piercing headache following the afternoon meal reached a better state only by the evening. And when he decided to have a peaceful nap without the bustles of the children, Diana, too, felt it would be the best thing to do.
She carefully unlocked the door so as not to disturb him in his tranquil sleep. Since the curtains were closed to keep away the annoying light from the streets, the room was mostly in darkness. She calmly trodded in her way towards him, trying not to generate too much noise. Even after she realised that her partner had left this world behind, caressing his lifeless frame, her wails of agony did not leave the room. She laid on his chest, knowing that she could no longer listen to his heartbeats.
Baltimore, March 1850
THE GOLDRUSH RAMPAGE CONTINUES
California: Since the day when an ordinary carpenter and sawmill operator, James Wilson Marshall, discovered traces of gold in the California terrain, the locality remains dystopian with immense violence and staggering death rates, along with the influx of foreigners. Though the count of death remains unclear, the critical scenario continues unchained, reaping hundreds of innocent lives. The natives are getting slaughtered in large numbers, and the circumstances can only reprimand with immediate external intervention. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, large hordes of men have withdrawn from the San Fransisco Fire Company, complaining of poor management strategies.
William set down the newspaper, unable to contain all the gore and the havoc that stormed the western lands over a piece of gold. He wiped his face with his palms as if to cleanse the visions of ruthless violence produced in his brain. Drawing a deep breath, William decided to exit his hour-long library routine to join the special Orthodontics lectures guided by Professor Chapin Aaron Harris, co-founder of their institution. He was eagerly waiting for these sessions for the past few months, and his patience received such a huge reward when he climbed up on the dais the previous day. He never expected that his answer would impress Professor Harris to such an extent that he would even arrange a meeting with him that evening. William had never felt this proud in all his life.
As he shouldered his way through the crowd to the auditorium, sending excuses and pardons quite frequently, he never expected to freeze in his course on the sight of something way more beautiful than anything he had ever witnessed in his entire life. The young woman seemed like a magnificent sculpture, unflawed even in the tiniest of details. His eagerness to arrange the front seat of the lecture was, for a moment, forgotten in the bliss. The curly strands of her heavy, brown hair dangled just above the shoulders. Her eyes felt as if they sparkled against the light- large and bright, conveying nothing but sheer delight. Her complexion matching her hair- natural and breathtakingly gorgeous, his jaws remained hung at her indescribable charm. Her laughter was, for him, the language of happiness.
William shook himself out of his daydream, glancing around to see if someone had noticed. But yet, he could not take his eyes off her. He knew it was a shoddy thing to do, but his mind was already miles beyond his grasp. When she descended the rest of the stairs to the third floor, William could do nothing but follow her in her path. When she came to a halt in front of the notification dashboard, William sauntered along. Although his route was sharply the opposite, his mind and body were in total disarray. Gathering all his courage, a few large breaths and tons of self-motivation, he approached her alongside the dashboard, "Hi."
Wrong! William screamed in the insides. He could do way better than that, and why a hi? A two-letter word, a single syllable! Though his features hid the internal discomfort to an amount, he could explode any moment with self-pity. "Do I know you?" The girl asked him in return, to which William had no prepared responses. After spending a few moments in revered silence and stroking his neck, accompanied with monotonous grunting and confused glances, he managed to procure a few words that he had no control over in the least, "I don't think so."
If he had a wall before him right now, William would have banged his head against it a thousand times. If a cliff, he would have leapt down without a second thought. What in God's name am I doing? Somehow, he managed to return to his present self, "Well, this is not the worst time in a day to create a new acquaintance. Is it?" Surrounded by dark clouds at noon, waiting for a downpour, the two stood in the crowded hallway. Create a new acquaintance? William, you are an idiot! Though his thoughts only meddled around in his mind, William knew this was a bad idea.
Trying to sprint away in the opposing direction, trying his best not to look back, William got petrified in his tracks with her next question, "Are you trying to ask me out?" Catching him remarkably off-guard, William immediately swung around at the inquiry. A sly grin now coated her face, leaving William way more overwhelmed, "If I was," William hesitated, careful in crafting the rest of the words of his sentence, "would you accompany me?" He ended in a note of tremendous confusion and doubt. But her answer overthrew William like a blizzard. It was swift as light and sharper than an arrow, "No. The name's Anna, though." She walked away with an odd smirk, leaving William dumbstruck where he stood.