Trigger warning: rape
One of the township’s deputies relieved his partner for the night shift at the four-cell jail. He brought along a shallow plate of lukewarm campfire beans and a single dry biscuit for the small lockup’s sole resident. Securing the keys his partner handed him to his gun belt, he slid the meager dinner through a horizontal slot in the cell door and onto a low table. The prisoner’s face remained unmoved and hidden behind his long blond bangs as he slouched against the cold stone wall on the bottom bunk.
The deputy tipped his hat to his departing partner, sat down and kicked up his dusty boots on the sheriff’s desk before sneering, “Y’all better enjoy yer last meal, ya dirty snake-in-the-grass, cuz you’re a-swingin’ at dawn.”
The teenage boy ignored the insult and the suggestion. Instead, he remained as silent as the jail cell’s shadows.
The bearded jailer didn’t let up, “I gotta know, kid, why did ya do it?”
The inmate mutely lingered.
“Listen kid, the judge already found y’all guilty, so ya don’t need to carry on with yer right to remain silent.”
A mouse boldly climbed up the end table onto the dinner tray and began nibbling at the bland legumes.
The deputy fathomed that he wouldn’t get a straight answer, so he attempted to come up with something on his own. “Well, I can see why ya wanted to have a poke at the potter’s daughter; she’s as fine as frog hair split four ways, but why’d ya hafta grind up her daddy and mommy in the bone crusher?”
The boy showed not so much as a flinch when the cowboy tersely described the forcible rape and brutal murders that took place not three days prior down at the potter’s mill. The old potter utilized water-powered millstones to grind flint and bone down to a fine powder to be added to the clay mixture so as to make the stoneware his family produced stronger and whiter. The blood that was splashed across the machinery, sprayed around the mill, and spattered on the boy’s clothing after the old potter’s body was decimated had been enough to convict. However, when the deputies had arrived at the scene, they stopped the boy’s progress just as the lower half of the girl’s mother was liquidated. It would be a long while before the mill would produce beautifully bleached pottery again; it would take weeks of cleaning to ensure that clay fired in the kiln wouldn’t come out ochre.
The lawman continued his monologue, “They literally caught ya red-handed, boy! Why did y’all stick around? Did they ketch ya a-havin’ yer way with their little girl? Yer pistol we found at the scene was short five rounds outta six; two were in momma and two were flattened by the millstone when you minced daddy; the fifth was lodged in the wall; it mutsta glanced off the side of the girl’s head. It’s too bad ya missed, cuz she awoke before we had ya hauled off and she had to witness the whole bloody scene.”
The felon brushed back his flaxen bangs, shooed away the thieving rodent, picked up his plate, dunked the desiccated biscuit into the beans, and took a bite. He chewed slowly and kept his mouth closed.
“Boy, y’all truly are a yella bastard for shootin’ that girl; sunrise can’t come too soon for ya.”
When dawn arrived, the sheriff and two of his deputies tied the convict’s hands behind his back and led him up the hill to the newly erected gallows. A small crowd had already gathered to witness the execution even though the wind was brisk and the ground was frosty. Taunts and admonitions increased with each step he took to the top of the scaffolding.
“Y’all are lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut!”
The two deputies forced him into a chair that sat in the middle of a trapdoor hatch. They secured his hands to the back of the chair and cinched the noose knot around his neck. They then retreated down the steps leaving the sheriff standing next to the swing-door’s trigger handle.
“Well, kid, before we get on with it, I have to ask, do you have any last words to clear your conscience?” The sheriff waited patiently as the mob mumbled but the boy’s lips remained sealed. Based on how the stubborn youth had behaved at his trial, the lawman expected no less. During his testimony he’d only repeatedly denied that he’d murdered the potter and his wife when the evidence was all but crystal clear. Even the frustrated judge had declared, “Boy…that dog just won’t hunt.”
The tin-star waved off the reverend, “He has no need for a final confession, Preach. Let’s get on…”
Hoof beats interrupted his order and a scarlet-haired rider approached; it was the potter’s daughter. Just like the deputy had alluded to the previous night, she was a fine-looking young lady, and her creamy thin dress ruffled wildly in the cold morning air emphasizing the shapes of her womanhood. She pulled the reigns on her father’s heavy black draft horse and swung herself off at the gallows’ landing. She had a bandana wrapped around her brow covering her recent head injury. “I have some final words for him, Sheriff!” Her voice cracked with unbridled emotion. The lawman decided to let the girl vent. After all, she’d been restrained from expressing herself at the trial by courtroom etiquette.
The girl climbed the stairway and swept passed the sheriff to face her bane. She roughly grabbed his chin and forced him to look her in the eye as she called him by his given name. “Dylan…why did you do it? Why did you mutilate them?”
He just looked at her with glistening sapphire eyes that reflected the emerald of her own.
“Answer me! Why? You should’ve known you couldn’t cover it up! You should’ve known that the pistol shots would bring investigators.”
His voice was but a whisper when he finally spoke, “Bonnie…I…I did it for you.”
“How dare you say my name?” she shrieked, and then she tossed back her crimson tresses and cuffed him hard on the cheek. The slap echoed off the wood of the newly hewn gallows.
For several moments there was no sound on the gallows hill. Then something took place that nobody could have foreseen. Bonnie swung her leg over her attacker’s lap to straddle him; she then cupped Dylan’s face tenderly in her hands and fervently kissed him. The next instant, with her right hand, she pulled a knife that had been strapped to her thigh and cut loose the ties that bound his hands while at the same time, with her left hand, she pulled the hangman’s loop off his neck.
Once his hands were free, Dylan lunged out and pulled the trapdoor handle dropping them both, along with the execution chair, to the frigid ground below. The wooden chair shattered, taking the brunt of the fall, and before the sheriff or any of his deputies could draw their guns, the pair was aboard her ebony draft horse and galloping down the hill to the outskirts of town.
“He’s a-getting’ away faster than green grass through a goose!” shouted the deputy who’d watched him overnight.
The sheriff added, “So is she! Fire!”
Pistol and rifle smoke wafted in the small town sunrise but none of the projectiles found pay dirt.
Thirty years later, a discovery was made by the new owners of a small cottage on the island of Freeport in the Bahamas. It was a diary written by someone named Bonnie Freeman. In it, she revealed the whole truth behind the infamous Potter Massacre that took place in 1860 near the southern border of the Kansas Territory. It began with a three word sentence: Dylan is innocent.
Dylan is innocent.
He is guiltless of murder.
He is blameless of rape.
His only crime was to try and cover up my guilt.
He was caught up in the aftermath of my rage.
On my sixteenth birthday, I told my father I was in love with Dylan.
I told him I was leaving, and he became irate.
He forced himself on me for the last time.
I struggled underneath him as he blew his tobacco breath in my face.
Two shots from Dylan’s pistol penetrated him just as he had penetrated me.
Dylan wasn’t there.
It was my finger that pulled the trigger.
When my mother found us in the mill, rather than console me, she berated me.
She threatened to have me arrested for what I’d done.
Two more shots found their mark in the center of the soulless witch’s back.
Dylan came because he’d heard the shots.
Others would surely be coming too.
I shouldn’t have stolen his handgun.
He tried to stop me from ending my life.
He tried to pull his gun from my hand when I pulled the trigger a fifth time.
The barrel was aimed at my head but he managed to divert the bullet from its target.
I slept while he “worked.”
He attempted to erase all my mistakes.
When I awoke the lawmen had already made up their minds.
They railroaded him at a trial that took less than a day.
He was held for two more days in the city jail.
They would string him up at sunrise.
I had to stop it.
He chose to keep the truth hidden.
I chose to keep it hidden too, but I had a plan.
I kept up the charade until I saw the mist in his beautiful blue eyes.
I cut him free and we fled together.
Gunfire chased us as we ran.
We rode my father’s horse until it came up lame.
We stowed away on a Mississippi barge and then stole a sloop in New Orleans.
The ocean nearly took us twice, but we made it to Freeport at last.
We married and we both changed our last names.
We’re in Freeport and we’re finally free.