Read an Extract from Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

Read an Extract from Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

The first time I lay with the post boy was on a Sunday, and I broke three commandments to do it. Honor thy father and thy mother, thou shalt not lie, and remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Why couldn’t I stop counting all of my sins? It was as if I was craving the wrath that was to follow them, challenging it, if only to make certain that I was, indeed, alive.

There used to be a time that I would have feared the consequences of acting out in such a way against the Lord, but not anymore, not after last winter, not after being trapped in the cabin for months and losing my mind and seeing the devil in the woods. Clearly, the Lord had forgotten all about me, and therefore I would no longer be following his rules.

“When I die, I will see Hell,” I whispered after we were through with our sins of the flesh, but the post boy did not hear me over the sound of the water from the creek. “The devil has claimed me already.”

I wished that the boy would turn over so I could study his face. I didn’t know it very well yet, wasn’t even sure if his eyes were brown or blue, to be honest, but I wanted that to change. This boy had saved me from my Hell on earth with the wonderful distraction that was his body.

The screaming, oh, all that screaming, and the claws, and the bloody footprints in the snow, and the devil who knew my sins…

I should have known his name.

Henry, I remembered. His name is Henry. I asked him in a louder voice if he’d be coming back again to see me after today. He said he would.

“Good.” I sighed and ran my finger slowly down his spine. “Because if you didn’t, I would be cross with you.”

He turned over then, not to kiss me like I hoped, but to contemplate me with genuine curiosity. His dark eyebrows furrowed. I noted that his eyes were green, like lucky clover, and that his nose was attractively askew.

“You’re strange,” he said after the silence became uncomfortable. “What’s different about you?”

I was chilled at the question. Too many things, Henry, I thought. This is only the second time we’ve ever met. Still, the question awakened the memories of last winter unmercifully, the ones that were too painful to bear, the ones that ended up causing all sixteen years of my life to slip away from me like water through open fingers.

The screaming, oh, all that screaming, and the claws, and the bloody footprints in the snow, and the devil who knew my sins…

I noticed that Henry was still watching me in silence, waiting for my answer. What’s different about you, Amanda Verner? It would be a lie to claim that the question didn’t irritate me; I was here for good feelings in abundance and good feelings only.

I pulled my frown into a shy grin. “I think I’ve already answered that question for you, have I not?”

“Oh, yes.” He smiled, and kissed my fingertips. “I suppose that you have. The four-hour ride to get here was more than worth it, I would say. I hope you don’t think less of me, pursuing your body with such haste—”

“Of course not.” I cut him off with a kiss. “I know it is sinful, but it also feels…necessary. How can that be?”

And it was true. Already I found myself wanting to be with him again, my flame in the dark, my rescuer.

On more occasions than I care to admit, my mind creeps to a dark, spider-webbed place where my new baby sister is the reason I’ve turned into such a soulless liar.

“I understand exactly what you mean.” Henry’s hand slid down my side, and I forgot all about the devil in the woods, as well as the secret that made him come for me in the first place. “I wonder how I went so long making deliveries to Crispin’s Peak, never suspecting that the lady of my dreams lived right on the other side of the mountain.”

I didn’t like to imagine Henry leaving the mountain to deliver post to other settlements. The idea of not having a reason to steal away from the cabin and my family whenever the tension became unbearable was troubling, but Henry insisted that he wouldn’t stay away long.

“I’ll come back as often as my schedule allows it,” he promised. “Worry not, sweetling.”

After Henry’s trousers were back on and he was riding away on his horse, General, toward the trail that would eventually lead back to the settlement, I walked home through the trees, pulling pine needles from my hair and securing the buttons at the neck of my dress with fumbling fingers. At the sight of the cabin I became overcome with a most indecent bloom of shame, the shame of sacrificing my body and liking it, really liking it. Did it mean I had no conscience? Pa would have certainly thought so.

Ever since I could remember he’d ingrained in us the knowledge that to betray our Lord was to betray ourselves, our souls. A woman’s body was to be for her husband only, and anything less would result in the Lord’s profound disappointment and, by extension, the dismissal of the daughter from the family. I wondered if Pa would really cast me out if he discovered what I had just done with Henry. Part of me believed he would, but it was hard to say.

I wished I could ask my sister Emily.

Emily is my dearest friend, after all. I do tell her everything.

But I haven’t told her about Henry. She doesn’t even know that he exists.

She doesn’t even know that he exists and I’ve lain naked with him in the woods not once, not twice, but eight times now. And it’s because of this that I think I must have truly lost my mind, because after witnessing the birth of my youngest sister, Hannah, I wouldn’t wish pregnancy or child birth on even my worst enemy.

Hannah.

On more occasions than I care to admit, my mind creeps to a dark, spider-webbed place where my new baby sister is the reason I’ve turned into such a soulless liar.

Because sometimes in the blackest depths of the night, I pray for something bad to happen to Hannah. Sickness maybe, or a quick accident during her bath.

The horrible thoughts pain me, cause me to sob quietly into my pillow, but I become temporarily numbed from the evil as I think about my ma and how much she has changed since the winter and the sickness and the birth.

How much we all have.

The woman who wove grass halos for Emily and me when we were children is long gone, a slave to the unconditional love she has for her poor, helpless baby, born deaf and blind and full of confused rage as a result of it all. Ma’s worry for Hannah never ceases, never slows, constantly showing itself through dark circles under her eyes and a newly formed hunch in her stature that wasn’t there before last winter.

(Could it be I who is responsible for those circles? I who have pulled her shoulders down with the weight of the entire world? I cannot bear the thought, no, it must be the baby, the ever-wailing baby who screams with such tremendous, earned rage.)

Surely if the baby hadn’t survived the birth, things wouldn’t be as dire as they are now, as positively changed. So I bring myself to pray for Hannah’s death, beg really, and am afterward reduced to a shriveling shell of a girl with no soul and a craving for the odd post boy who likes having his parts tugged.

Of course, after the tears dry up and I’m left hiccupping in bed, I realize that what I’m doing is despicable and morbid and wrong. The Lord would hate me for wishing death upon one of his creations, but by now I am quite certain that the Lord hates me anyway.

Sinner. My wish for Hannah is my darkest secret, the one that called the devil upon me, the one that will be my undoing.

When I remember this the tears usually start again, this time rolling down a face that burns with regret and shame. Shame, the constant. Shame, the stain on my soul that can never be washed away.

I heard once that long-term isolation can have an effect most wicked on even the most competent of minds and seasoned mountain men, and also that guilt on its own is capable of ruin. By the time I met Henry the post boy in Crispin’s Peak while I was in for supplies with my pa, I’d experienced both, and my mind was eaten with rot.

I believe a part of myself may have died last winter.