Please enjoy this teaser of Sister Wives, the third novella in Devils.
When I came to, I was sitting in a ladder-back chair with my left wrist handcuffed to a two-inch eyebolt driven into the table. I blinked hard, trying to clear the mud out of my mind. Other women surrounded me. The table top was four inches thick and made from rough-hewn planks of oak. Eyebolts were set into the wood at every place setting, but I was the only woman handcuffed to one.
“Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this bounty.”
The words boomed from behind me. The speaker was a man—an older man, judging by his craggy voice. I tried to turn to face him, but a stupid bonnet tied onto my head caught the back of the chair.
“We thank Thee for guiding us through the land of the Gentiles and for bringing us to this secluded spot where we are free to worship Thee as Thou commanded. We thank Thee for the calling that brought Sister Rena into our midst.”
My name was Rena, but I certainly hadn’t received any calling. The last thing I could remember was looking for a warm place to sleep since all the shelters were full. I remembered something…something about an old pickup truck. But my memories were hazy.
I jerked my wrist, and the handcuff rattled against the eyebolt. The woman sitting to my left put her palm on my knee. Her hand was warm and gentle as she gave my leg a little squeeze.
“We thank Thee for allowing Sister Rena to wake, and to partake of this fine feast that Thou has granted us in Thy bounty and mercy. We thank Thee, Heavenly Father.”
“What is this?” I hissed at the woman with her hand on my knee.
“Hush, Sister,” she whispered.
“O Heavenly Father, grant us Thy continued blessings. Protect us from the Gentile government that seeks to destroy our way of life, to stop us from serving Thee in righteousness. Please allow the spring planting to proceed apace, and grant that the summer be filled with rain and blessed sunlight, each in its own right and according to Thy divine will.”
“What is this?” My voice was louder this time, and a restless rustling awoke in the women around me. “Where am I? Where are my clothes? Where’s my backpack and my phone?” The words came tumbling out in a rush. Again the woman squeezed my knee.
“Heavenly Father, give us the strength to bring Sister Rena into Thy warm embrace, for she is a Gentile, a sinner, and knows nothing of Thy ways. Grant Sister Rena the patience and wisdom to accept Thy teachings, Heavenly Father. Protect her from the evil that tempts her. Grant us the strength to resist the temptations she might bring into our midst.”
“Who are you people?” I glared at the women across the table from me. Each sat with her arms crossed over her breasts, head down, eyes closed. They ranged in age from late teens to a matronly looking older woman sitting at the end of the table. They all wore long gray dresses sewn from homespun cloth. Each had a black bonnet covering her hair.
I glanced at the woman who was now squeezing my thigh with a grip like iron. She peeked at me, her one open eye dilated with fear. She shook her head—just a little shake—and punctuated it with another squeeze.
The voice behind me sighed. “Heavenly Father, grant me patience, I beg Thee, for I am sorely tried in my own house.”
A chair scraped against the floor as someone stood up.
“We love Thee, Lord. Thy will be done. In the name of Thy son, Jesus Christ…” The voice sounded closer than it had before.
A heavy tread approached me from behind.
“Amen,” said the voice. It was right in my ear.
Everyone around me repeated the word and then the room went as silent as a church.
“Sister Sara,” said the man behind me. His voice had lost its booming quality, but it was still deep and rich. “Even as I prayed for the strength to resist temptation, you were giving in to it, chatting away, patting knees.”
Suddenly, the woman’s hand was gone from my thigh. She sucked in a breath, a fear-filled gasp. “I’m sorry, Brother Abraham. I was trying to keep her from interrupting the prayer.”
“Ah. Good intentions, then. Jacob, what do we know about good intentions?”
“They lead us down the path to Hell, Father Abraham.” The boy’s voice was piping, and he sounded young. Four or five, at best. Far too young to be worried about Hell.
“Yes, my son. You have learned well. Sister Sara, on the other hand…” He left the sentence hanging in the air, ripe with implied threat.
“I beg your forgiveness, Brother Abraham,” said Sara.
“Again, you disappoint me, Sister.” His voice was mild, but the air was pregnant with tension and suppressed violence.
Abraham’s voice was loud in my left ear, and I turned in that direction. Sara’s face had gone white—so white I thought she might faint. I tried to grasp her hand, forgetting that I was handcuffed to the table.
“A good instinct, Sister Rena, to offer comfort to those in need of it.”
A man’s head crept into view, like a demonic jack-in-the-box. He had salt-and-pepper hair, a bulbous nose, and a thick, full beard of white, wiry hair. His gray eyes reminded me of a doll’s eyes—shiny and dead.
“Sister Sara,” he said, turning toward her. “First, the prayer. Then begging me for forgiveness as if I held power over your eternal soul.”
Sara’s eyes widened, and her right nostril and the lip below it trembled. “I beg Heavenly Father’s forgiveness for my stupidity. I have always been headstrong, Brother Abraham, and prone to speak before thinking.” Her voice was small, contrite.
“Only speaking before thinking?”
“No, Brother. I also act before I’ve thought things through.” Her eyes were searching his face for clues of what he wanted from her.
“A night with Sister Mavis, then,” he said with a serene tone.
Sara’s face went even paler. Paler than I thought a living person’s face could get. Her eyes filled with tears, but she bowed her head and nodded.
“I need to hear it, Sister.”
“Yes, Brother Abraham. A night with Sister Mavis will do me good. A time to reflect and pray.”
“Yes, Sister Sara, as you say.” Abraham turned away from her and looked me in the eye. “Young Sister Rena, you are not yet aware of how Heavenly Father has commanded us to live. You are not yet responsible for your actions as Sister Sara is. That, we shall soon remedy. Heed what has happened here tonight.”
“And what has happened?” I spat. “Have all these women been kidnapped?”
“Sister Sara made an error in judgment. With my guidance, she came to realize it and to cauterize her sin before it could fester. She realizes that Heavenly Father has called me to be the head of this household that I may help and assist each and every one of you into his warm embrace at the end of days.”
“God didn’t put me here. Some sick fuck with a pocketful of roofies did that.”
To my right, a woman gasped, and then the room went as quiet as a crypt. Abraham’s eyes crawled over my face, mean and cruel. His breath was on my skin, and by the stench, he hadn’t been to a dentist in a long, long time.
“Sister Rena.” His tone was mild, but there was an undercurrent in his voice that sent shivers down my spine. He twined his fingers into my hair in a methodical manner.
I knew what was coming, but even so, when he jerked my head back, and the white-hot agony spread across the back of my skull, I cried out.
“Better to feel this pain, here on Earth, then to feel the pain of the Outer Darkness, Sister Rena,” he whispered in my ear. “I’m going to tell you how things are here, in the hope that it will save you some pain and me some aggravation.
“I am the head of this household, by divine right. The patriarch. I am a prophet of the Lord, and He speaks His will for this family through me. You will give me your respect. You will obey me.” He let go of my hair, and my head fell forward, neck aching, tears falling into my plate. “You will come to love me, and your sister wives, in time. Until you do, fear will be enough.”
Abraham withdrew. I couldn’t stop a sigh of relief. He walked back to his place. His chair scraped against the floor as he sat and then creaked as it took his weight. “Before we eat, are there any other questions or concerns from the sister wives that need to be addressed?”
There wasn’t a peep from the thirteen women around me.
“Good, then,” said Abraham. His tone became pleasant, as if he were discussing the events of the day. “Let’s eat. Pass those potatoes, Matthew.”
I glanced at Sara. She was looking down. Tears plopped, one by one, into her lap, but she didn’t make a sound. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
Sara didn’t acknowledge the whisper. She sat still as a statue, rigid as stone.
Her skin was beautiful, pale and firm, and I guessed she was in her mid-twenties. I couldn’t understand what was scaring her so much. I was the one in fucking handcuffs. I looked down the table at the woman at its head.
She was heavy—thick-limbed and bountifully bosomed. Her face was severe as if it were a sculpture of brittle stone titled Discipline. Her eyes—small, dark marbles—reminded me of a ferret’s eyes.
I didn’t want to play whatever twisted little game they had going. I wanted answers. “You’re Mavis, then?” I asked.
For the third time, the room fell silent.
A small, pestilent grin appeared on the big woman’s face.
“Sister Rena,” said Abraham. His sigh ripped the air like a saw pulled across a metal file.
“What?” I asked. “How am I supposed to learn if I don’t ask questions?”
Another sigh assaulted the air. His chair scraped back. “I see I’m to have no peace during dinner tonight. No harmony in which to eat my food, no tranquility in which to digest it.”
There was a small voice in the back of my head shouting for me to keep my damn mouth shut, but I’d gone nineteen years ignoring that voice, and I saw no reason to stop now. “Are you Mormons? Because if you are, you must have missed the memo about giving up polygamy.”
The large woman at the head of my table swallowed and then cleared her throat. She put down her spoon, folded her napkin, and placed one atop the other next to her plate. She slid her chair back with the same ferocity that Abraham had. Her eyes never left mine as she walked down the length of the table to stand behind Sara’s chair.
Abraham’s heavy treads approached my chair. “Sister Lilith? If you would, please.”
“Of course, Brother Abraham.” Her voice was oily, as smarmy as a used car salesman at a junk yard. She stepped behind me. Pain ignited across the back of my skull like a brush fire as she jerked my head back, exposing my throat.
“Bitch!” I shrieked.
“You’ve made this bed, Sister Rena,” said Lilith. “Don’t cry about the uncomfortable mattress.”
I jerked my hand, rattling the cuff against the metal eyehook. “Let my hand free, and I’ll make your goddamn bed for you!”
“Sister! There are children in this room.”
“It’s okay, Sister Lilith. Sister Rena’s actions show the depth of her love for the devil and his ways. It’s good for the children to see how tight the devil’s grasp is.” Abraham’s knotted hand drifted into view, and he untied my bonnet and placed it on my empty plate.
“As you say, Brother Abraham.”
“Just so. As to this one,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder and digging his fingers into my flesh, “we begin her education here and now.”
I tried to get to my feet, but something both freezing cold and burning hot stretched across my throat. A reflection flashed on the rafters. I glanced down. Abraham held the biggest knife I’d ever seen in his big, scarred fist.
“Do you know what a Bowie knife is, Sister Rena?”
“It’s what I am holding here at your throat. John, can you tell Sister Rena what a Bowie knife is?”
“Yes, Father Abraham. A Bowie knife is a long-bladed knife with a cross bar and a clipped point.” The boy didn’t sound much older than Jacob.
“Excellent, John. Isaak, can you tell us what a Bowie is used for?”
“Knife fighting and butchering, Sir.”
“Yes. Good job, boys. I’m proud of you.”
I tried to twist my head free of Lilith’s hold, but that icy fire spun across my exposed throat again.
“That’s two,” said Abraham with a kind of perverted glee. “Shall I go deeper on the next?”
Hot blood ran down my neck into the top of the homespun dress. He’d cut me with that big knife! I froze, my eyes going wide.
“Do I have your attention, at last, Sister?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Yes what?” said Lilith. She punctuated each word with a savage twist of my hair.
“Well, that will do,” said Abraham. “But you might as well learn to call me Brother Abraham as do the rest of my wives.”
I will never be your fucking wife! I would rather die! I shrieked inside my head. I didn’t dare say it aloud.
His grin was lazy and sardonic as if he knew what I was thinking. “Well?”
“Yes, Brother Abraham.” My voice shook with equal measures of fear and fury.
“That’s better. Since you seem ready to learn, let’s start with a set of rules for you to follow.” His voice sounded mild, in control. He looked at me and twitched his eyebrows up.
“Yes, Brother Abraham.”
“Ah, you can learn. Rule number one, Sister Rena. Unless Sister Lilith or I speak to you, you keep your fucking mouth shut!”
He screamed the last part at full volume, right in my face, and his eyes went from calm to crazy in a heartbeat. Spittle flew from his lips and spattered over my face.
“Yes, Brother Abraham.”
“During dinner, you keep your fucking mouth shut. That’s rule two.”
“Yes, Brother Abraham.”
“Good, good. Rule three—and here you may start to sense a pattern—rule three is you keep your fucking mouth shut, or I’ll slit your throat and let you bleed where you sit.” His crazy eyes drifted up and past me, looking at someone behind me. “It’s okay, Jacob. Daddy’s helping Sister Rena learn.”
His eyes snapped back to mine. “Aren’t I, Sister Rena?” There was a threat and a promise in his gaze.
“Yes, Brother Abraham.”
His hand snapped up, and he grabbed my chin in a vice-like grip. “Tell him, you stupid cow,” he whispered.
“Yes, Jacob. Brother Abraham is huh-huh-helping me.”
“What does the Lord thy God tell us about things that cause us to stumble, Jacob?”
“I know, Father Abraham! I know.”
“Yes, John, I know you do, but give your brother a chance to answer first.”
“He says that if thy foot aff…off…”
“Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee,” said Abraham with a caring, loving tone as if he weren’t holding a knife to a woman’s throat.
“Oh yeah. Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee.”
“Yes, good, Jacob. John, can you finish it for Sister Rena?”
“Yes, Papa. It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.”
“Excellent, boys. Aren’t they clever, Sister Rena?”
He squeezed my chin until I thought my teeth would pop out. “Yes. Th-thank you both, Jacob and John.”
“Now, Matthew, can you please explain to Sister Rena what that verse means to her?”
“Yes, Father. I’d be happy to.” Matthew’s voice was the deep, resonant baritone of a young man past puberty. “What it means, Sister Rena, is that if you don’t keep your fucking mouth shut, Father Abraham will cut your fucking throat from ear to ear and then gut you like a pig.”
“Splendid, Matthew. Thank you, Sister Lilith,” said Abraham.
The red-hot fire across the back of my head faded, but I didn’t dare move my head, not with that pig sticker resting against my skin.
Pulling the knife away from my throat, Abraham grabbed the back of my chair and yanked it out from the table, spinning it around as he did so. I ended up looking at another long table—identical to the one I sat at, but with no eyehooks—with my arm wrenched behind me, the handcuff digging into my wrist. What I assumed to be Abraham’s many sons sat along both sides of the table, ages ranging from three or so to older than me.
At the foot of the table was an empty place setting. Resting on the plate was a picture of a woman who looked close to Abraham’s age. Like the other sister wives, she wore a gray dress and a bonnet, but hers was white. The question of whether this was Sister Mavis, at last, tickled the back of my mind.
“Perhaps an apology is in order, Sister Rena?”
“I-I-I’m sorry, everyone.” I’m sorry this sick fuck kidnapped and brought me home with him! I thought.
“You can do better than that, Sister, don’t you feel?” The knife was back at my throat, it’s keen edge biting at my neck.
“Please forgive me.”
“Dearest family,” Abraham prompted.
“Duh-dearest family, please—”
“Forgive my ill manners. Forgive my ignorance, my pride.” The knife made short scrapes on my neck with each phrase.
“Dearest family, please forgive my ill manners. Forgive my ignorance, my pride.”
Abraham grunted. “You’re not nearly as stupid as you pretend to be. Spoiled, ungracious, yes, but not entirely stupid.”
“Yes, Brother Abraham.”
He looked at me for a long moment, his eyes intent on mine. “Perhaps tonight you will help Sister Sara prepare for her evening. Since you are so interested in who Sister Mavis is.”
“Yes, Brother Abraham.”
Abraham grunted and took the knife away from my neck. He slid it into the sheath on his belt. He wore a black suit with a white shirt, but his hands were thick and calloused like one used to hard manual labor. His eyes narrowed for a moment. “And perhaps you shall sit and watch the boys and me eat tonight since you seem so disinterested in eating yourself.”
“Yes, Brother Abraham.” The disgust and hatred I was trying hard to conceal, tweaked my tone.
For a split second, he looked disgusted, and fear blossomed in my belly. Then he looked at Sister Lilith. “She’s going to be a trial. Best be ready.”
“Yes, Brother Abraham,” said Lilith. “We’ll sort her out. Leave it to me.”
“Very well, then.” Abraham went back to his chair at the head of the other table and sat. He left me facing away from my own table, my arm growing numb. “To answer your earlier question, we are not Latter-day Saints. They left the path of righteousness when Wilford Woodruff capitulated to the Gentile government. We follow the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Lion of the Lord, Brigham Young.” After that, all talk ceased, and eating commenced. When the meal ended, everyone trod out of the room—everyone but me. I was left sitting in the chair, handcuffed to the table behind me, my arm going numb.
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