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Independence, Missouri, 1833
Mary Ellen stopped, her head cocked as she listened. There it was again; a sound just out of earshot, a movement just out of sight, a knowledge just out of reach. She strained her senses, attempting to catch that elusive something…
“Girl!” Her father’s heavy tread hit the faded floorboards as his roar rushed over her head with all the blunt force of Mr. Lipton’s rampaging bull in the springtime. She braced herself, squeezing her eyes tightly shut, as his boot made contact with the wooden pail and a flood of freezing, dirty water soaked the front of her thin bodice. The puddling cold water stung her reddened, chapped knees where she knelt on the boards and she kept her head down and her shoulders hunched, keenly aware of her brother, Henry’s, snigger from somewhere behind her. She had learned long ago that it was best not to look neither snarling dogs nor Ezekiel Jones in the eye when the madness overtook them.
His voice was low and dangerous and far too close for comfort. She could feel his fetid breath on her hair and she felt rather than saw him clenching his large paw into a fist. He had been drinking again. She knew all the signs and she also knew that someone was in for a whupping. Henry’s bare feet scampered across the floor and she heard him cry out in pain as he caught his heel on the splintered side of the step. His small shadow momentarily blocked the light that fell through the doorway and then there was silence except for the barely contained, breathy, shifting violence of her father’s pent-up anger.
“Run, Mary, run!” The urgent voice was around her and in her and above her and below her. Without stopping to question it, she scrambled to her feet and bolted out the door after Henry, leaving Ezekiel shrieking impotently behind her.