Hampden was a small knot of dusty paths. Like the spokes of a wheel, out of distant cities came those who dispersed into a waterhole where the New England countryside glinted the summer sun and beneath their thick pine canopies lay pandemonius shadows of vendettas, one tormented soul looking to deliver another's coming judgment of retribution. There will be smoke ravaging the canopy and black trickles through the fertility of our trees, emerging to smile with their charcoal faces in the sun and they will know they have ascended into nobility at last. The Scantic river's meandering once tuned so delicately through the parted curtains and into the relaxed ears of Hampden folk. The Scantic's claps through town came with warming winks of the sun. Judgments themselves shall clap through the streets with their charcoal faces and blackish eyes squinted in hoarse laughter, their plumes are their dark pasts. And they won't be clapping their hands they'll be clapping handcuffs and shackles against the stone streets and rattle their chains in the presence of whomever awaits a judgment. Their pitch uniforms contrasted heavily even in the most dull of scenery, which to say in our summer sun they stood out like tall, thin plumes of smokeless fire with smiles and no glint of summer sun in their eyes.
Gwendolyn hurried her little one whose head of summer wheat was pulled into pigtails with green ribbons symbolizing Hampden's community theme of healthy, happy family. The green ribbons weren't as such symbolic to the little one, she thought they looked pretty. Gwendolyn knew if she were later than usual to this town meeting, she'd be stuck by the back so hurrying her summer wheat along with no stops to adopt new turtles and frogs. Gwen knew she should have invested in a puppy.
Her little summer wheat hopped along the banks of the Scantic a moving glint of summer sun, with her "Lovey" secure in her arm. Gwen's seen her run this path dozens of times, she knew where the dangerous spots were. The winter before she witnessed little Anthony Jacobs wander along the frozen banks a little further up and the frozen mud giving in to his light load. She looked on helpless as he face-planted into the ice sheet, two of his teeth skated along the grey surface and the ice immediately fractured beneath him. He was under long enough. For his lungs were filled with ice. His stiff body was discovered at the edge of Rattlesnake Cove, where the Scantic meanders towards Connecticut. Just off to the west from there you have the Scantic marshes where many of children had wandered alone and weren't found till days later. Not by their horrified mothers, not by a curious passerby alarmed by the intoxicating stench, but the summer sun which brewed that morbid brew to our distaste. But that was winter, the frozen mud should have avalanched slow and now it's soft summer mud Gwen thought. She called out to her baby to run through the field off to the left of the path which was dotted with sunflowers. Then Gwen remembered his little body took two days to thaw for the autopsy.
Gwen recalled the incident repeatedly in her mind as she watched her little one run ahead and disappear around the stump of a fallen pine. Its black roots stuck jaggedly into the summer air.
"Turtle!" Gwen called out. The little one peaked her little face out from behind the jagged legs of the great pine and giggled.
"I mean it! Stay with mommy!" Gwen dipped her head.
"Where those funny men mama?" Gwen braked her graceful walk, her polished leather boots plowed somewhat into the mud.
"What's that baby?" Gwen was shy to speak.
"The funny men" Turtle said swinging around a jagged leg. "Ya know! The men that beat up Sasha the other day!" she dropped down. Her hands blackened by the root.
Gwen stood like a rigid column. Then she jerked her arm up do stabbed the air with her finger and motioned Turtle to come to her. This was a moment Turtle wished she had a shell to tuck into. Her little face dipped out of sight. Her head of wheat gold resembled her own Gwen thought. Her genes prettier than her fathers.
"Look at me."
Turtle raised her glossy eyes to mama.
"We said no talk about those men."
Turtle raised her head some more to speak.
"No more baby." She kissed her little forehead. Then Gwen thought more of the Scantic marshes; "and no more playing around there" Gwen pointed towards the marshes.
"But mommy everybody does!" "I don't care baby!" Gwen took Turtle by the arm and briskly led her back on the dusty path towards town.
Plumes of dirt hung over the path and dissipated at the speed of a sloth. Gwen and Turtle were engulfed. The passing carriage made little effort to heed way. Gwen thought things she wouldn't say aloud beside Turtle. She squirmed to break her arm free when she pointed just left of the road in the direction of Cold Arbor Field, a farm that hosts many local festivities. Gwen darted her head. In one of the cleared, muddy patches at the edge of a corn field, she could see a small mass of black somewhat camouflaged in the muddy background. They had faces, charcoal faces with smiles and eyes so black they didn't glint in the summer sun. Their uniforms so richly pitch they almost gave life to the lifeless mud at the base of their jackboots. Some stared back at them.
"Don't look baby. Look away from them! Don't ever look at them!" Gwen cradled her baby's face in her warm hand, but Turtle maneuvered her eyesight to see them.
"They all look the same" Turtle spoke curiously.
Gwen felt a coming tear as her face began to feel hot and sweaty. She adjusted her hold on Turtle with a grasp around her shoulder. As Gwen turned eye to the smokeless mass a stern voice hollered from within but not into their direction. A single plume of black smoke stepped out of the mass and motioned its arm off to somewhere behind a small dilapidated barn. Gwen couldn't see what they were all anticipating. There were there also two great, horses black as the night itself in daylight. They looked content as they were being closely tend to by another black smile. They were suited up in fittings Gwen did not know. Then a shriek out of the dilapidated barn, whether from a woman or a man suffering in some extreme physical torment cried out in a gibberish shriek. Turtle crunched forward to see but mama cradled her soft face again.
"Remember baby. Don't look" Gwen knew then.
She even started to hymn a popular church tune to drown out the rasp of death. Gwen’s eye shifted cautiously. She could make out the voices now. Each word stung Gwen’s thin skin. Two people dressed in rags and tinted in blood emerged from the barn. Some of the black mass clouded around the two. There were more screams. One was certainly a woman, the other an old man. She fought on, he rested like a pile of boulders. One horse nay and the other squeals. Metal clinked, and leather fastened. The woman was strapped both wrists to one horse, her ankles to the other. The woman gave up and allowed her head to fall and the horses were whipped and squealed as they pulled forward. Gwen grasped, and Turtle pressed her ears harder into mama to drown out the deafening scream. Gwen held her chin up and guided Turtles chin to do the same as they passed by two more trickles of black smoke from where they stood on the earth. These were not smiling but watching Gwen and her little one on their way.
Then came into focus a tall thin man standing on the top of a ditch staring back at them. Gwen’s instinct told her to shift away for she knew exactly who he is. She knew the immense authority he commanded and how much the shadow eclipsed his sun. Whatever the two being racked did matters not. They were judged and found guilty for some crime. Turtle will know better Gwen thought. The man was unlike his henchmen as he was not richly black as the others but more like a smokeless flame with his golden blonde hair and pale blue eyes. First glance a gentle man, later the angel’s cape burns away.