Drama Fiction

Wesley's doctor demanded that she take a leave of absence. Yes, you read that right, Wesley is a female. I expect that is a shocker for you, as it is for lots of others. Being female, Wesley was hassled daily due to her parent’s choice of her name. When introducing herself, people often asked, “Leslie?” or “Wendy?”. It was beyond their imagination that a female could be named “Wesley”. What followed was some version of they had never met a female with that name, or questions about why she was named, or exclamations that they loved the name for a female. The actual reason? Her parents said it was a family name on her father’s side. His name was Wesley, as was his father’s and some other relatives long since dead. Over the years, her patience had worn thin from the name hassle, she simply decided to introduce herself as Susan whenever possible. Susan was the most normal sounding name she could think of.

With seven weeks remaining on leave, Susan was getting restless. The urge to work was overwhelming, but since her abrupt departure, her position had been filled. True, her illness would prevent her from returning, but she missed the chaos sometimes. There were many hours in the day when she felt that she could contribute to the world somehow. How, was the question.

After watching every true crime documentary on almost all streaming services, Susan sat on the couch, trying to dream up ways to occupy her time. One of her favorite places was a discount bookstore on the north side of town. With all the time on her hands, she wondered what took her so long to remember that place. She would go to the bookstore, find some interesting materials, read in the small cafe, and take her notebook with her in case she had a brainstorm. 

The new best sellers were all prominently displayed in the front of the store. Susan scanned the section and added some titles to her “must read” list in the notes section of her phone. There were already thirty-six books on her “must read” list for 2022, but she couldn’t help adding a few more. 

Meandering through the store, she went to her favorite sections picking up books that interested her with the intention of reading the first chapter of each, once she sat down at the tables in front of the cafe with a frozen latte. She found a few interesting books, and walked slowly toward the open cafe table. On the last row before the cafe, there were old photographs for sale. It caught her eye because she had recently inherited a box full of old photos that she treasured. To her, they were priceless. She thought about the people who had sold the photos to the bookstore and wondered what kind of monsters they would have to be to let go of precious family heirlooms. There were baby pictures, family pictures in front of old homes, pictures of people with their farm animals, and then she saw it. On the top shelf, an old scrap of paper was taped to the bottom of a black and white photo. The paper had the name, “Wesley Avery”, and above it was a singular man. He was tall, handsome, and young. He wore a long-sleeved shirt and overalls, and stood in the middle of a field. His long hair hung to his shoulders and appeared to be light, though she couldn’t say for certain because he photo was so old and, black and white. Her hand extended on impulse to pick it up. It was silly, but she had to have it. That was her birth name, “Wesley Avery”. 

Written on the back of the photo was “Marion County, Arkansas 1875”. Though her father had long since passed, she had heard him mention that his grandfather had lived in Arkansas many years before. Coincidence? She looked for a price and didn’t find one. She took the photo to the sales clerk who said that the photo was put out by mistake. The photo couldn’t be sold until it had been assigned a price by someone in the purchasing department. Susan had to have it and wasn’t easily put off. After haggling, the manager agreed to five bucks. Susan felt like a child with a new toy. Instead of reading in the cafe area, she left the store immediately, ordering a frame online before pulling out of the parking lot. She would hang the picture in her home office. 

She sat in her home office, staring at the picture. Was there family resemblance, or was she just bored and imagining things? Opening her laptop, she Googled, “Wesley Avery”. Several results proved that it was a popular name. She added “Marion County, Arkansas”, and a single return showed a headstone. 

Wesley Park Avery

August 3, 1870 - September 10, 1904

There were many people with the name in today’s times, but how many could there have been in Arkansas at the end of the 19th century? After searching hours on the internet, she found that there was a nearby town called Avery. Avery was incorporated in 1902. A small brick building in the town square contained the Avery Historical Society. Excitement began to bubble in Susan’s gut. What were the odds that she meandered through a discount book store and stumbled onto a piece of her own history? She opened the Map App on her phone. Avery, Arkansas was about 450 miles away. It could be a short road trip. What else did she have to do? Nothing at all, but rest. It didn’t take much convincing before she had booked a hotel and loaded her SUV. 

The seven hour drive to Avery flew by, mostly occupied by a Stephen King audiobook and an endless supply of snack food. She checked into the hotel, unpacked, and laughed at herself for creating a mystery to solve out of boredom. It was possible that she would find nothing or she could find something about her history that no one in her family had known. Either way, the thrill of the hunt was exhilarating. 

The continental breakfast was sparse, as were the hotel guests. She sat alone in the tiny dining hall with lukewarm coffee and toast with strawberry jam. The first stop would be the Avery Historical Society, which opened at nine a.m. She had time for a quick drive through the town. 

At the center of the square was a large, red brick structure. The courthouse. Surrounding the courthouse on the opposite side of the streets were two story brick buildings side by side, and in various colors. Some were coffee houses, others restaurants, and most were some type of store. There was a hardware store, thrift shop, antiques, and clothing. The people out in the square were taking their time, speaking to one another as they passed, and most even waved at Susan. She immediately felt at home in Avery. She found the historical society building with an hour left before it opened, so she walked around the town enjoying its charm. 

A woman in her 70s opened the doors right on time. Her name tag read Doris. She was startled to see Susan standing at the door, as if no one ever visited. Susan apologized,stepped through the door, and introduced herself as the bells jingled from the hinge. She told Doris about the photo that she had found all the way down in Dallas at the bookstore. 

“Wesley Park Avery founded this town in 1902, you know?” Doris said, her eyes lighting up with the telling. 

“He did? Yes, what else can you tell me about him?” Susan was interested. 

“We do have his journals. They were found in his house after his murder.” 

Murder? Now, that perked up Susan’s ears real quick. 

“He was murdered? How? Did they find the killer?” Susan rattled off the questions in quick succession. 

Doris explained what she knew, but was careful to say it was all hearsay. It was a town legend. Wesley Park Avery. 

Susan asked about the protocol for reviewing the journals and was told that they couldn’t be borrowed, but that she could look through them in the society reading room, as long as she agreed to the preservation protocols. 

The journals told an eloquent story of the Avery family journey from South Carolina to Arkansas. Trading posts in between, native tribes, and a vast expanse of nothingness filled the pages. Hopes for the future that Arkansas would bring for the family, consisting of Wesley, his brother John, younger by 2 years, sister Sarah, younger by 5 years, and their parents, Edith and Alfred. They left South Carolina a few years after their father returned from the war. Their farm in South Carolina had been decimated by war, and there were mines in Arkansas, beckoning miners to come from the east. Alfred sold the farm and every belonging that was not essential, packed a wagon with their two of the five remaining horses to pull it, along with three cows, and a calf, and set out for Arkansas in early spring in 1870.

“Excuse me ma’am. We are about to close for the day.” Doris said gently, her hands clasped together in front of her plump belly. 

Looking at her watch, Susan wondered what had happened to the time. She asked if she could come back the next day, and Doris politely agreed. She added that she would ask her mother what else was known about the Avery family and, if anything, she would tell Susan when she returned the next day. 

At the hotel, Susan ate the drive-thru meal she picked up after leaving the historical society, and looked through the notes that she had taken while reading Wesley’s journal. It made sense. Before he passed, her grandfather told her that his father’s name was John. His mother was an Indian from the reservation near their town, named Sadie. Susan wondered if that was her actual name, or a “white” name given when her actual name couldn’t be pronounced. According to what she read in the journals so far, Wesley must have been her uncle. How exciting. Susan didn’t have much to compare to, though. By the time she was born, her grandfather was in his mid-seventies and she rarely had the chance to talk to him about the olden days. She strained to remember every detail possible from their too few conversations, and tried to make sense of what Doris had told her about the murder. 

According to Doris, Wesley’s brother John somehow offended the natives that lived on the nearby reservation. In John’s defense and as the leader of the township, Wesley went to try and make peace, and was shot and killed. His killer was hanged in retaliation by John and some of the townsfolk. The story played nonstop in her dreams throughout the night. She awoke with a burning question on her mind. Wesley Avery was killed by local natives, but her great-grandmother was a native. There had to be a connection. 

Susan was at the door when Doris arrived, just as she was the day before. Doris welcomed her in and walked with her to the reading room. She told Susan that she had learned some more information from her mother, although her mother was in her 90s so who knew if it was an accurate recollection or not. Doris prefaced by saying that what her mother said didn’t match up with what she had heard from others in the town. Susan was anxious to hear it, true or not. 

The older woman recalled the story that Wesley Avery had married a white woman, who was barren. After several years of marriage, his wife died with a fever. He employed some of the natives from the reservation to work his farm, one of whom was a teenage girl. Apparently, they fell in love and the girl became pregnant. When the news got out that she was carrying a half-breed child, her family disowned her. She had to leave the reservation for good. Wesley decided that he would marry her, being that it was his child and it was the right thing to do. Wesley’s family was disappointed, her family was distraught, yet the two married in a small ceremony before her child began to show. John Avery, at first indignant about the whole affair, began to see that the couple cared deeply for each other, and welcomed Wesley’s wife as a sister. The natives didn’t feel the same way. 

Wesley and his new bride were expecting their baby in late September 1904, according to the local midwife. He was ecstatic having always wanted a child but unable to conceive with his first wife. He was considerably older than his new bride, but he had accumulated enough wealth to take care of her and their children long after he was gone. Surely that would be a long time coming, or at least that’s what he thought. 

As her pregnant belly grew, Wesley’s wife was unable to do the most basic of chores. Sarah, Wesley’s sister, volunteered to come help in the final weeks of the pregnancy, since she had never married and had no children of her own. In fact, this child would be the first grandchild of the family, if their parents had still been alive. With Sarah helping, Wesley felt better about staying out in the fields and tending to the animals later into the evening. 

The sun was setting on a crisp autumn day. Wesley was riding back to the house with so much gratitude in his heart. Soon he would have a son, he hoped, and he couldn’t wish for more prosperity. Not only that, his siblings were finally accepting Sadie into their family, as a true sister and not a savage from the reservation. His prayers of gratitude stifled in his throat as he heard screams piercing the air from the direction of the house. He kicked his spurs into the horse and sped toward the blood curdling sound. In the distance, he saw several horses mounted with natives in traditional gear. Sadie, his bride, was standing at the door to the house, one hand over her mouth and the other cradling her swollen belly. She was staring intently at the horseman in the front of the group, terror in her eyes. That is when Wesley saw that his sister, Sarah, was laid across the horse arms and legs dangling on opposite sides of the saddle. Wesley rode on faster, but the group had disappeared into the woods that bordered the reservation before he could reach them.

Sadie told him that the leader was the man that she was betrothed to, prior to her indiscretion with Wesley. She told him that the warrior took Sarah as payback. Wesley was enraged. He loaded his wife into a wagon and drove her to John’s farm, about twenty minutes north of town. There, he relayed the story to John, then the brothers set out to retrieve their sister, by force if necessary. Part of him felt that the situation was all his fault. If he would just give Sadie back, then the whole incident would be squashed. He came to his senses. No, he could not give Sadie back, not even for Sarah. Sadie was the mother of his child and he loved her. There had to be another way. 

When they reached the reservation, the warrior who had taken Sarah was on horseback with at least 30 others behind him. Sarah was nowhere in sight. Wesley spoke in the broken native language that he had learned from his farm helpers and his wife. 

“I came for my sister.” Wesley’s voice was unwavering. 

‘Yes, but I see that you did not bring our sister for trade.” The warrior’s stone cold eyes bore into Wesley like daggers. 

“If you are talking about Sadie, she is my wife, She is carrying my child. She is happy with me, so no, I will not return her to you.” 

“In that case, I will keep the white woman and she will become my bride.” 

John reached for his rifle and leveled it at the native in front of the group. From the trees, arrows flew toward the brothers. John fired, and began to scramble for cover. Their horses fled behind them. Hunkered down behind the trees, Wesley saw Sarah run from a teepee, screaming his name. An arrow pierced her back and poked out the middle of her chest. She grabbed it with both hands and looked up at Wesley and John, blood staining her hands. Wesley took off running towards her. John screamed for him to wait, but it was too late. Wesley was shot through the neck with an arrow and then trampled by a warrior on a horse. By the end of the day, Wesley and Sarah were dead, and John was genuinely alone for the first time in his life. He was lucky enough to escape uninjured. A few days later the army arrived to exact revenge on the natives who started the squabble, and retrieve the bodies of the Avery siblings who were murdered.

John buried them in the Avery cemetery. On the same day, Sadie went into labor. After many long hours, she gave birth to a baby boy, Wesley Park Avery, Jr. John decided to raise the child as his own, and take Sadie as his wife. They moved away from Avery, south to Texas for a fresh start. She never returned to the reservation and John never returned to Avery. 

Susan was riveted by the story, yet had no living family to tell. It was then that she found her calling, writing the life stories of the long since dead, and using the pen name, Wesley Avery. 

January 28, 2022 22:12

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Prince Prose
02:53 Feb 03, 2022

This is such a good story! I love how it turned from simply telling 'Susan' Wesley's tale, to telling the story of a whole other Wesley. The story had me hooked the entire time!


Astrid Mercier
05:03 Feb 03, 2022

Thank you! I really appreciate your comments!


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