Then There Were Seven

They rode white-lipped and silent through the pass, hands clamped hard over the six panicked faces of the women they’d abducted. The snow this early in the season was wet and treacherous, and any sound risked an avalanche. Once through, they whooped with joy to watch the snow come crashing down behind them, sealing the way out of the valley until the spring thaw. Plenty of time to win them over; their only regret was that they hadn’t managed to grab a priest to put a gloss of Christianity on their Sabine plot.

That joy doesn’t last — the women exile them from the bunkhouse, and refuse to so much as make eye contact. Millie, Adam’s wife, is beyond disgusted; they retreat at gunpoint, still laughing. Edged laughter, but still laughter. Give them space — at the end of the day there are six of them, broad and massive as the barn they sleep in. They can afford to be patient. Adam is the only one truly outraged, and storms off in a fury to the hunting lodge way up in the hills to brood.

Benjamin is the first; face down in the snow by the sheep pen. They laugh when he doesn’t come to the barn, then get worried as the killing cold night stretches on, then spread out in a panic in the morning. His body is cold and frozen hard as the ground they pickax open for a raw wound of a grave.

Caleb is next, weeks later, tumbled among the banked snow of the fields, glued to the earth with his own frozen blood. Blood on the horns of the ox tells a story, but Caleb was careful and the ox was docile. They cannot quite bring themselves to doubt.

But then Daniel, then Ephraim, then Frank, until only Gideon is left, alone in the now-silent barn. At the top of the hill, the lights blaze bravely in the house, and the sound of laughter and singing echoes faintly through the valley. He buries himself deep in the straw and curses himself for a reader.