“I love the ethical, moral and religious themes that were brought up by the story. Very complicated and messy, like in real life.” |
Quote from Katja Baker’s review of Reverberation, The Novel, my historical-fiction book .
REVERBERATION, THE NOVEL
Monday, August 18, 1828
The old musket recoiled against her shoulder as Esther stood firm and the ball stayed its course. Pain from the impact of the gunstock radiated across her chest and upper back; gray smoke from the ignition of the charge seared her eyes; the acrid smell of scorched gunpowder burned her nostrils.
It was, however, the accompanying sound that immobilized her. The deafening report reverberated around her. It penetrated her skull, numbed her brain, stamped her mind with its sinister implications. The amplified explosion culminated in mental shock waves which overrode the physical discomfort of the discharge.
The sound continued to assail Esther as it echoed off the gray stone house across the path, ricocheted off the towering façade of the adjacent wooden barn, beat at her from the woods which provided her shelter. The blast seemed to repeat itself, the clatter resonating once again, heightening her consciousness of her single shot, underscoring her unwelcome awareness of the malevolence of her deliberate act.
New sounds, coming from the direction of her target, steadied Esther. Voices, female voices, cried out. A sob, a broken plea for help vied with frightened whinnies and the muffled pounding of hooves striking the hard-packed earth.
She raised her eyes and looked at Squire Richard Holt, the man who had been in her sight. He sat straight in the saddle of his rearing horse.
“My shot,” she said the words aloud. “It went wild.” Esther’s initial disappointment was replaced by an unexpected feeling of relief. She stared at the squire as his horse flailed the air with its hooves before landing on the path in front of the imposing stone residence.
“No. My shot was true.” She spoke in a whisper as she watched her victim grasp his shirt with his right hand and slump sideways in the saddle. A red stain spread across the white fabric and Esther winced as Richard Holt loosed his grip and relaxed his soiled fingers.
The roan reared again and the stricken man fell to the ground, one foot twisted in the stirrup. The horse, confused by the loss of its rider, returned to standing. It glanced down at the prostrate horseman and then bolted, dragging the limp body behind him.
Esther’s chest tightened, bile rose in her throat. The scene swirled around her and then returned in sharp focus when she heard the sounds of someone running near her. Her uncharacteristic emotionalism evaporated and she was instantly on guard.
She turned her head and looked over her right shoulder. A scant fifty feet to her rear, she glimpsed the figure of her brother-in-law. A long gun clasped to his chest, he pushed through tall brush and struggled to run from the scene.
Esther was shocked to see James Daunt. A short time ago, the two of them had been sitting in her keeping room. She had intentionally kept her visitor well-supplied with rum as she outlined the plan she and her husband, Elias, had discussed before his arrival. Unfortunately, she had been overly generous with her spirits, and by the time she had finished explaining their scheme, James had collapsed, too drunk to comprehend her proposed conspiracy.
Seeing him behind her, and recalling the eerie echo of her solitary blast, Esther realized he must have, coherently or not, acted upon her proposition. Two separate shots had been fired at the squire. One had come from the musket she carried, the other from the firearm handled by James Daunt. At least one of those two shots had found its mark.
“Uncle! No! Uncle!”
“He was hit by lightning. I saw the flash. I heard the crack.”
“No. He was shot. Look at his chest.”
“Help! We need help!”
Esther returned her attention to the scene in front of the main house. The female voices belonged, not to adults, but to Richard Holt’s two young wards, the daughters of his recently deceased younger brother.
The horse had ended its frightened flight and come to stand in front of the children. Squire Holt’s foot was still held captive in the stirrup and Esther watched as the older girl labored to work it free. Her sister, hands covering the lower part of her face, stood staring at the bloodied, dirt-encrusted body of her guardian. Choking on soundless screams, she turned and ran to the house where she was finally able to cry out for help.
Esther’s stomach heaved at the sight of the young girls and the mangled corpse of their uncle. Sharp pains, accompanied by nausea, surged through the trunk of her body. She folded her arms under her breasts and bent to relieve the torment. Only once before had she experienced such physical and mental discomfort. Then, as now, her anguish had been the result of a spontaneous act of indiscretion.
Her previous misstep had brought her unbearable shame; and a stranger for a husband. In order to cope with her disgrace, Esther Hicks Latch had fine-tuned her personal code of ethics until it was flexible enough to support her most controversial decisions. Following her moral transformation, she had rarely known guilt, felt remorse or allowed herself to doubt the validity of her final choices.
This time, things were different. The possible consequence of her assault on a living human being became a probability and threatened to undermine her resolve. In self defense, she closed her mind to the reality of her recent actions and concentrated, instead, on the need to arrive at her home before James Daunt. It would do no good if he found her, and his musket, missing.
For more information, visit Reverberation, The Novel.
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