The Diary of Ella Monroe, 1852
THE DIARY OF ELLA MONROE, 1852
Issue No. 4 – June 2014
Today, my father shot a marauder and picked the guns from under the corpse. He tried to hand one to me but I didn’t want to take it. He said if I am to survive, I need to learn to shoot. He thrust his repeater into my hands, cleaned the stolen rifle and revolver, and practiced with them on several herds of buffalo as we moved across miles of dry plains. He told me to practice too. I was still afraid, but knowing how my father’s rifle had saved us so far, I was able to muster enough strength to pull the trigger. The stock smacked my shoulder hard and the buffalo started to move. I couldn’t tell if I hit one or not.
Father insists that I keep watch for savages. The way he sees it, if there is one, there are several more waiting over the hill to take everything we have. I still haven’t seen any, but Father is very sure they did not ascend.
I had a dream I ascended. Everything was so blinding I couldn’t open my eyes, but something that felt like Mother’s best silk gown brushed against my wrists and I suddenly felt like I was being carried on a warm wind. I am happy to write about it so I may read this journal again and remember. It will help those mornings when Father says nothing and all I have to listen to is the heavy creak of wagon wheels through the dead grass.
Not every day is lonesome. We came across some folks resting with their horses by the river. They held up their hands to show they meant no harm, and we gave them some cured meat in exchange for rifle ammunition. We asked where they were heading. They said they don’t know, and my father asked if they wanted us to pray for them. They hesitated, but agreed. None of them lifted their heads after we said Amen.
I find that when I pray for people, it is easier to remember the stars. I prayed the family found a place to go.
When I am uneasy about my faith, it is harder to draw a bead on the buffalo. Father reminded me of my ascended child, and how the family blood survives so close to the heart of God. We are more blessed than you think, he told me.
I hit a calf in the knee and watched the herd take off. When I started to cry, Father pulled his horse over to the dying babe and put a bullet through its head. Food supplies were low, so we had buffalo for the first time. Father told me the Indians around here would eat buffalo all the time, and got up and danced and sang around the fire like an Indian to try to cheer me up.
Everything felt very solemn, but the meat was better than any I had ever eaten.
I shot a man barreling down on us with his horse. Because of my courage, my father gave me permission to scour the remains of abandoned towns with him. Usually, I stay behind and out of sight, keeping watch on the roads and hills. While helping him, I found some rations and a full barrel of water in a saloon charred by fire. Our meal of cornbread and canned beans warmed over a fire put me at ease. Father smiled to see me smile. He said if my child was still here, I’d be so busy protecting him from all the evils of this world that I wouldn’t have been holding a weapon in the first place, and we might not have ever found so much food.
I hated to think he was right.
I saw another woman on the plains, so I told father that I miss Mother. He said he misses her too. I wanted to talk about her for longer, but Father went on about other memories like the raw smell of the leather-bound Bibles and the repetition of blessings.
I am told to confess when I sin.
Today, while rummaging for supplies, I met a man hunched over a woman’s corpse. I held him at gunpoint and told him to stand up and empty his pockets. He abided, but as my father once said, an evil soul departs the body from God and controls it. It is at all times an untrustworthy force.
I told the man to strip. He hesitated, but slipped quietly out of his vest, his pants and underpants, and his dirtied-white collared shirt. I noticed his arms were thick, and his knuckles were white from clenching to his palms. I had him bind himself. I was surprised how he listened.
When at last he was completely incapable of harm, I asked him if he believed in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
He didn’t say a word. I nudged him with the barrel of my gun and asked again.
I knew then I was talking to a man gone deaf from his own godlessness, one of the millions that now roamed useless through this country. I approached him, he backed against the wall. I kneeled down. I must confess somewhere else but Father. I lay my hand against this man’s thigh. He twitched, and I became more curious. I felt his stomach, then his chest. I was running my hand against his neck when I felt something soft between my fingers. I gave it a pull and the man sailed up, knocking me against my back. As I looked up, I realized what I felt were the feathers of enormous, white wings.
He left without a word or look of reproach, but I was afraid, and I am afraid now. When I see the great shadows of vultures looming almost motionless in the heavy heat, I am not driven toward prayer, but away from it.
Father said he now feels ill when he tries to read Lazarus. The dead do not rise up from their graves as many believed would happen. They yell, kick, and cry for God from the ground. We passed a cemetery and heard the cacophony of pine boxes trembling beneath the dirt. It is a terrible sort of thunder – worse than any storm I’ve endured.
I suggested we dig them up to free them from being alone, but Father called that a shameful idea. He said their souls are already departed. What salvation could they seek?
I knew he was thinking about Mother. And home.
I am saddened to see babies in the arms of men and women, born perhaps a day, an hour, or a minute before the seven trumpets. They are always crying – they can find no comfort. Their parents find no comfort either, and it makes the children cry even more. The crying is endless.
I saw a woman give birth on the grass, which I had been told wasn’t possible. A whore, Father said. The baby wailed and I felt pity for him, but the woman was overjoyed to hold her child in her hands. She kissed him on the brow, cradled him, and sang There is a Happy Land. I sang the hymn to myself as the child grew quiet in the distance.
I don’t know if it’s right to call him an angel, but he appeared to me again. His wings enfolded his body, and I could tell he wore no clothing beneath. I was ashamed. I realized, as Father passed him without notice, that the unseen things scare me the most. I remember my stomach swelling, the kicking, the yearning to get out, then the nothing. Father was drunk when he demanded to know if there was blood, and I was sure when I showed him he would get mean. Despite the heat of the damp cloth there was nothing. Such things are miracles perhaps.
The angel stood in the empty space of the new world to show me God exists, that Hell is real, and I suddenly had no need for faith.
Ethan Leonard is getting Behemoth Review off the ground while working two jobs, improving grad school portfolios, and trying not to let sports anime consume his life. His previous work has appeared with the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Camroc Press Review, Projector, Grey Sparrow Journal, and others. He can be found distracting himself at 100percentkick.tumblr.com.