MOMENT IN TIME
read more of Mickey’s stories at mickeyminner.com
This novel is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
1683 – Maplewood Settlement, Colonial New Hampshire
Sarah nodded but remained seated on the hard cot that had served as her bed for the past several weeks. With sad, tearless eyes, she watched the guard kneel and insert a key into the lock that secured thick chain to the heavy shackles to her ankles, the skin worn raw by the rough metal. The chain clanked loudly as its links was pulled free of the iron ring bolted to the log floor.
Sarah obeyed the order. She didn’t feel like refusing this morning. After all, it would do nothing but momentarily delay the inevitable. Shuffling as best she could on painful legs, Sarah moved toward the door where two more guards waited, one holding a twisted piece of cloth in his beefy hand. She didn’t have to question why it was necessary to silence her for she knew her enemies in the village were determined that she not have any opportunity to speak the truth that she knew. Sarah stopped before the two men and waited for them to perform their ugly duty.
“This will make it easy on everyone. No one wants to hear any more of your lies.”
She felt muscular fingers clamp onto her arms and tightened until she felt like screaming. The gag was forced into her mouth and tied tightly at the back of her head. Then the men stepped back away from her.
She didn’t move. Her head slowly rotated as her she looked into the face of each of her tormentors, her eyes conveying her thoughts of pain, anger and frustration. Why would no one listen to her? Why was she being made to suffer for the crimes of another? These were men she had known all her life. They had played together as children. They had worked side-by-side in the fields tending to the village’s crops. One had even courted her. Yet here they were about to lead her to her death and not one of them dared to even speak her name. Her eyes met theirs and saw nothing but hate and disgust reflected back at her. Her shoulders slumped.
But Sarah was determined to face her imminent demise displaying the dignity, confidence and self-respect she had shown her whole life. She straightened her frail body, squaring her shoulders and lifting her head high. The fire returned to her eyes and she took a strong stride forward. Then another. And another. Without looking back to see if her guards were following, Sarah marched out into the morning sunlight where a crowd of villagers waited.
Sarah lay in the bottom of a shallow pit, the cold from the exposed soil seeped into her back but she didn’t notice. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had. Waiting for her punishment to be delivered, she looked skyward wanting that vision to remind her of the beauty she had experienced during her shortened life. Her view was abruptly and permanently blocked when a board four feet wide and six feet long was placed on top of her.
“Who will be first?”
Sarah heard the words and knew it had begun. At first, she only heard the sounds of stones being placed on the board. But as stone after stone was added, their combined weight began to press down forcing the rough wood into her soft skin. In a futile attempt to keep her mind from focusing on the pain that was increasing with each passing moment, she tried to withdraw memories of happier times from her frightened mind. But each added stone made thinking more difficult and it wasn’t long before it was all she could do to force much needed air into her compressed lungs. She needed to scream but her attempts were foiled. The gag, still in her mouth, made both breathing and screaming impossible.
It seemed like an eternity before Sarah’s world went black. And still stones were piled on top of her until finally…
“It is done.”
“Leave her for sunset. Any who might care can bury her under cover of the dark so her evil need not be seen again. None are to speak her name again.”
“As you wish.”
2006 - Northbrook, New Hampshire
“Damn.” Sitting at her desk in her cramped office, Bridget Donovan finished reading the crisp sheets of paper held in the thin binder. The sheets were scanned pages from a late 17th century diary.
“I can’t believe they did that to her.”
“Did what to who? Or is that whom?”
“Not funny, Ted.” She glared at the occupant of the second desk crammed into the small office.
“Was to me. What are you so upset about?”
“Did you or did you not give me this diary to read?”
“What diary? Oh, you mean that one the main office sent us.”
“What about it?”
“Did you read it?”
“No. That’s what I have you for.”
“Read it. Damn it, aren’t you listening to me?”
“I’m listening. I just can’t figure out what the hell you’re talking about. Is there something in that diary worth us spending time on?”
“I don’t know. Do you think a woman being pressed to death is something our readers might be interested in?”
“Depends. What does ‘being pressed to death’ mean?”
“You are forced to lie on the ground, a board is placed on top of you and rocks are piled on top of the board until you suffocate or your internal organs are crushed and you bleed to death. Did anyone ever tell you that for an editor of a history magazine, you have a real limited knowledge?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, you do quite frequently.”
“Doesn’t seem to have much effect.”
“Sure doesn’t. My specialty is military history, remember? You’re the expert on the more domestic stuff. And I’m only a feature editor, I’m not the big Kahoona, you know.” Ted smirked but he could see his office mate was in no mood for his normal facetious attitude. “Okay, who was the woman and why was she pressed to death? And why should History of Colonial America care?”
“Sarah Goodson. She lived in the settlement of Maplewood and it seems she had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Well, the diary is a little short of facts. In some ways, it almost seems as if it was started by one person and finished by another.” Bridget had noticed that the early entries were written in a delicate script and contained lengthy descriptions of village occupants and daily life. While the entries made after Sarah’s arrest and captivity were written in a bolder script and described events with little additional comment. The final entry had been exceptionally short: She is passed. Her name is no more.
“Isn’t there a Maplewood Village north of here?”
“Yes. Quaint little town not far from the Mohawk River.”
“Any chance it could be the same place?”
“Possibly. The description of the area is a good fit. I could check and see if the Village records go back to the 1600s.”
“If they do, is there enough of a story to interest our readers?”
“Sarah was pressed to death. Don’t you think that, in and of itself, would interest them?” The magazine she wrote for, History of Colonial America, provided glimpses into the life of the founders of present day New England cities and towns.
“She was innocent. She had done nothing wrong. Ted, we have to tell her story.”
He looked across their desks. Pulling his thick glasses off his face, he rubbed the bridge of his nose that always seemed to have a sore spot no matter how light the frames he purchased. “Am I missing something?” he asked as he replaced the bifocals. “Why are you so… I don’t know, so distressed over this?”
“It’s not right what was done to her. She did nothing wrong.” Bridget said as she looked at the book still held in her hands. “And after she was executed, her name was forbidden to be spoken ever again.”
“That happened to a lot of people. Look at the Salem Witch trials.”
“But the wrongs committed against those innocent have been righted. We know they were wrongly accused and put to death. Sarah deserves the same. And the one who committed the murder should be named. And the others that allowed an innocent woman to die like that. It’s has to be done.”
“Bridget, let’s get real here. All these people died four hundred years ago. It’s not like we have a murderer running loose. There probably aren’t any of their descendents around either or very few of them. Who’s going to care?”
Carefully, almost reverently, Bridget placed the notebook on the top of her desk then she pushed her chair back. Standing, she paced the two steps to the windowed wall of the office. She stood looking out the window for several minutes.
The office was on the third floor of a five story building located in the downtown area of Northbrook. The one good feature of the magazine’s branch office was the unobstructed view of Simms Stream flowing into the Connecticut River.
Ted waited patiently. He knew his friend’s habits and knew she was sifting through her thoughts, picking out just the right ones that would convince him the story was worth pursuing.
“Have you ever been asleep?” Bridget finally spoke in a soft voice. “Deep asleep. But for some unknown reason you wake up. You try to move but your arms and legs refuse to follow your commands. It’s almost as if something very heavy is pressing down against you, preventing you from moving. From breathing.” She turned away from the window but leaned back against it. “Have you ever felt that?”
Ted sat quietly, trying to imagine what Bridget was describing.
“I have. And I can tell you, it’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had. But, as I became more fully awake, I realized it wasn’t real. I could move my legs and arms. I could breath. But imagine what it must have been like for Sarah.”
Ted shuddered at the thought. It wasn’t a voluntary reaction and it sent chills down his spine.
“Imagine hearing the sound of rocks being placed on the board. Imagine the weight increasing and the board pressing down on her body. Imagine the pain. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t even scream. She could do nothing but wait until death finally claimed her.”
“It must have been awful.” Ted felt his stomach roiled as he imagined the agony of Sarah’s last minutes of life.
“It must have been more than awful. And to know that she had done nothing to deserve such an horrendous death.” Bridget stepped away from the window. Placing her hands, palms down, on her desk, she looked straight into her editor’s eyes. “I have to write her story, Ted. I have to.”
Ted’s head was nodding in agreement even before Bridget finished. “See what you can find out. You said the diary was a little short of facts. You’ll need to find enough to flesh out the story.”
“I’ll find it. Sarah deserves no less.”
Bridget took her usual route, turning right out of the office parking lot and driving toward Highway 3 and north of town where she lived in a two hundred year old house on five acres of wooded land. She had spent the past several hours searching the internet for everything she could find on colonial settlements in the Great North Woods region of New Hampshire.
By the time Bridget shut off her desk lamp and prepared to call it a day, her back was stiff and her eyes burned but she had found little on Maplewood Village and nothing on Sarah Goodson. The woman’s name did not appear on any of the population lists of colonial villages. Nor did she appear in any of the state’s birth and death records dating back to the late 15th century. It was as if Sarah had never existed. But the diary was proof of the opposite.
As she drove, Bridget could not get the image of Sarah’s final moments of life out of her head. She ran through the events described in the diary hoping she could fill in some of the missing pieces.
The first part of the diary had been written in first person and had begun when Sarah celebrated her fourteenth birthday and received the diary as a gift from her mother. It told of long days toiling in the settlement’s fields tending to the crops with the other young boys and girls her age. Of carrying buckets of water from the nearby river to fill the large kettles used to wash the family’s clothes; of rising before sunrise to help her mother prepare the morning meal and of spending the last hours of daylight cleaning up after the evening meal. In the Puritan village, hard work took up most of Sarah’s day leaving little time for her to play with the other children. She would write in the diary just before going to bed and only until her father commanded that the candle flame be blown out to save the wax for the next dark night.
It was in the summer of Sarah’s nineteenth year that the “misfortune” began. That was how Sarah described the events leading to her imprisonment. And it was when Sarah’s entries became less frequent and less informative. It started less than a year after one of her childhood friend’s was married to a farmer in a nearby village. The man owned several parcels of land, many of which shared a common boundary with a farmer in Sarah’s village. The men did not get along but Sarah never wrote as to the cause of their animosity. Then one night, the husband of Sarah’s friend was murdered.
That is when the handwriting of the entries changed from Sarah’s delicate script to that written by a heavier hand. And that is when the diary entries become shorter and much less informative.
Bridget’s focus returned to the road and she realized she had driven right past the long dirt driveway to her house. She had no trouble getting her bearings as this was a road she drove often, taking many weekend trips to the area to enjoy the fall colors. She looked up ahead and recognized the sign announcing the turnoff to the meandering secondary highway that led to Maplewood Village.
She thought of turning around. After all, by the time she reached Maplewood it would be too late to do anything. The courthouse would be locked tight for the night and few, if any, of the unique shops and antique stores would be open along the town’s main street. But then, tucked in the car’s trunk was the packed overnight bag she always carried. She had her laptop in her briefcase and, resting beside it, the diary. And Maplewood had its share of bed and breakfast inns.
Bridget made up her mind as the highway crossed the Mohawk River. She would drive into Maplewood Village and look for a place to spend the night. If she found one, she could start her search first thing in the morning. If not, she would drive back home and try again the next day.
Return to the Academy