Dressing for the road was a two-minute affair. Slip on a coarse, fairly worn petticoat over her panties and a loose-fitting, sleeveless, knee-length dress over that. A long scarf or mooshwehr covering her head, wound firmly around her forehead and tied at the back of her head, another tied securely around her waist, and a pair of cheap, but sturdy shoes that left her toes and heels exposed completed her outfit. She was ready for the road! Look at her sleeping children on the bedding-covered floor and feel a slight pang at the remembrance of the passing of Theresa and Felix soon after their birth, before gently shaking Thomas awake so he could secure the door from within when she went out. She didn’t have to give him any instructions; he already knew all he had to do. Then lift her bucket of fish to her scarf-covered head, step out of the open door into the dark cool of the morning, and watch as her son closed the door after her.
Vitalien usually traveled with two other women who hawked their own stuff. They were close friends, and had decided it was safer for them to travel together. They had never encountered any major incident, except for that one time when, just before four in the morning and less than one hundred feet from New Village’s main entrance and exit point, they had come upon a large, dark mass that almost filled the small road. The crawling sensation they experienced at the back of their necks and on their heads and the feeling of lethargy that suddenly enveloped them convinced them they were in the presence of something occult. Their quiet chatter ceased and they stopped dead in their tracks forty to fifty feet from the silently menacing apparition. Five, ten, fifteen minutes of fear went by. The thing had not budged. One of the women wordlessly and abruptly made an about turn and headed back home.
What had saved the day for the two remaining women was Vitalien’s anger. Her fear had turned to fury at the thing blocking their path and preventing them from pursuing natural and lawful activities to feed their families. Approximately forty-five minutes had gone by and the outraged woman decided they couldn’t wait until the thing decided to make itself scarce. Speaking quietly and calmly to the other woman, Vitalien managed to convince her that if the thing had meant to harm them, it would have done so already and since they didn’t mean no harm or pose any threat, she didn’t see any reason to wait about. Taking the lead, she positioned herself at the extreme left of the road and began a slow, cautious walk. When they finally passed the object of their dread, their bodies were on fire and they were both drenched in sweat. Quickening their pace, they had fairly run out of New Village. They had not looked back.
Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story, “The final journey”, from the novella, “House of Tears” now on Amazon kindle.