The Lady in White by S. Rives

The first girl to go missing was Sallie Anne. She was the Reverend’s daughter and also the prettiest girl in Seneca and Lenore’s class. Seneca and Sallie Anne looked much the same with blonde hair and big green eyes – a fact that Seneca’s momma liked to remind the neighbours: “My baby girl was once mistaken for Sallie Anne, can you believe it?”

Sallie Anne was loved by all, particularly by the church ladies with wine-stained teeth. All the men in Lovwhem loved her too, young and old, teeth decaying from the newest strand of Appalachian rock. Sallie Anne was known for kneeling in more places than at the pew, and Seneca would never forgive her for the summer before ninth grade when she found her boyfriend flat on top of Sallie Anne. Naturally, Seneca thought Sallie Anne was a bitch, and to be completely honest was secretly glad when Sallie Anne’s father, Reverend McCormack, broke down at the pulpit pleading to God to bring back his missing daughter.

Lovwhem’s church was small and white, a singular rectangle wooden building with a steeple that was always in the shadow of the mountains. There was no bathroom in the church, and it was stuffy and often infested with wasps. Gardenia perfume constantly was wafting through the exposed beams of the church; leftover from the handful of ladies who tried to cover up the scent of Saturday night’s moonshine seeping through their pores in Sunday church.

Seneca and Lenore’s mammas went to the church twice a week with twenty other ladies to pray for the safe return of Sallie Anne. During a tea break, Seneca’s mamma remarked to Lenore’s mamma, “I hope the lord intercedes and returns Sallie Anne.” She took a deep gulp of her Lipton. “She could be dead.” She added another packet of Sweet n’ Low to her tea. “Or worse pregnant.” Sallie Anne still did not return. Reverend McCormack hung himself.

The church ladies wondered if their new Reverend would be as attractive as McCormack. They stuffed themselves with pimento cheese the same color of their reddened cheeks at his wake, and discussed the color of the new reverend’s hair. Would he be brunette? Or perhaps blond?

Five girls had gone missing by the time Seneca and Lenore reached their high school graduation. Their absences did not make national headlines. It was almost as if the two towering ranges encircling the town cut the townspeople off from the outside world. Seneca liked to believe that Lovwhem was a place that outsiders could never enter.

The sheriff reassured the town that the disappearances were nothing to worry about and that because there was no evidence of a forced exodus, it was likely that the girls ran away with a boy. This confused the boyfriends of the missing girls who had not made any plans to run away.

Seneca and Lenore often discussed the disappearances in the rundown saloon, The Mating Falcon. Tucked into the side of the mountain, The Falcon was surrounded by the forest and lay at the end of the road out of town. The inside of the bar was much like the rock grotto it was in, and was dimly lit even on the brightest of days, when the sun would try to sneak it’s way into through the paint chipped red shutters on the windows.

Even though Seneca and Lenore were only eighteen, everyone knew that if you wore a short enough skirt to the Mating Falcon, the bouncers would turn a blind eye. Most girls went to the Falcon in search of a husband, and Seneca and Lenore needed to keep up the pretense for their mammas that they were doing the same. The short snakeskin skirt and red boots that Seneca wore were not to impress any man, but for Lenore.

Her mamma thought that the nights she spent at Lenore’s after a night of revelry, her daughter was with the former captain of the high school football team. Seneca tried men before, but she found that she could never find arrogance and conservative ideals attractive. But when Lenore’s long auburn hair tickled her neck when she leaned her head on Seneca’s shoulder, Seneca’s heart would leap. Lenore was short and had the temperament of an angry fairy. Her big hazel eyes were what first betrayed her feelings for Seneca six months earlier, and what started off as “we’re both girls so it doesn’t count” quickly turned into something more for the two. After graduation, Lenore took up a job at the library were she could hide her quick temper amongst stacks of books, and Seneca started work at her mamma’s salon.

During one particular night at the Mating Falcon, the night after the tenth girl, Joellene, went missing, Lenore and Seneca noticed something strange. Since the Falcon sat just a few feet from the forest, it consequently was packed during hunting season with hunters – a fact that most of the girls in Lovwhem adored. However, this night there were so many hunters inside of the bar that it looked like a moving forest, a sea of trees with alcoholic sap spilling out the sides of their gaping mouths and running down their identical mangey beards.

Seneca and Lenore clung to each other as they waded through the crowd, eyes downward like they had learned as to not disturb the pack of hunters. One particularly unoriginal man tugged at Lenore’s ponytail.

“Hey there little missus, where’d’ya think yall are sneaking off tah?”

Seneca clenched Lenore’s hand. “We’re meeting our boyfriends.”

Both girls had learned long ago that the only thing a man can respect is the property of another man, to which unfortunately, female significant others often fall. Yet the hunter still silently pursued them, and it was not until the girls had found seats at the back of the bar did the hunter speak again.

“Yah know I saw a girl who looked a lot like yahs a few months ago.”

His beady eyes observed Seneca and Lenore under a singular dark bushy eyebrow that covered most of his forehead. Seneca slowly moved her hand to her right thigh where a .38 caliber pistol was concealed under her pink floral dress.

“That little lady is dead now, I’m sure,” the hunter said taking a swig of ale. He then produced a ziplock bag from the folds of his camo. “Jerky?”

The girls shook their heads.

“Are yah sure? It’s fresh, I just made it. Good game out there this season.”

After not getting a response from the girls, the hunter turned and left.

The church picnic was on the lawn at dusk when the heat was diminished. Citronella candles and gingham decorated the crunchy yellowed grass. Seneca’s mamma had made enough deviled eggs to feed the whole state. Though, her mamma prefered to call them “angel puffs,” since saying Satan’s name is asking for trouble and they could not be called angel eggs. Everyone knows angels do not lay eggs. Her mamma shoved a lukewarm tupperware container into Seneca’s hands.

“Go give some angel puffs to Reverend Coffman will you?”

Reverend Coffman had recently replaced Reverend McCormack. Seneca’s momma had won the bet amongst the church ladies: as he was blond and a bachelor. Thus, every mother in Lovwhem was trying to pawn their daughters off on the new young reverend. Last Sunday he had asked Seneca to join him for lunch, but she declined, having no intention of letting her mother know. She was surprised that the Reverend had even asked her. When he invited her to his study after church that afternoon she was sure it was because from behind the pulpit he saw Lenore’s fingertips trace the hem of Seneca’s skirt in church. Instead he sat Seneca down with a cup of sweet tea in his study and asked if he could take her to lunch. Reverend Coffman’s study’s walls were covered in anatomical illustrations of the human body and of several other animal species. Above the dusty crucifix behind his desk hung a rifle and a hunting knife. Beautifully polished, Seneca noticed. The Reverend followed her gaze to the half mutilated stuffed deer on the wall, its stomach splayed and organs frozen in resin. He quickly explained to her that before he had become a reverend he was a biologist and had recently taken up his hobby of study the local species of animals in Lovwhem.

After visiting his study, Seneca went home and washed her hands with soap until they were raw. Something about Reverend Coffman disturbed her, and throughout the rest of the afternoon she spent with Lenore, Seneca had a distinct feeling that she was being watched.

Seneca’s Momma shoved another container of angel puffs into her hand.

“Mamma, Reverend Coffman already has been given deviled eggs by Lenore’s family,” Seneca said.

Her mamma grabbed her by the wrist and whispered sharply, “I know that, but it’ll give you an opportunity to talk to him. He’s a nice young man, Seneca, and you’re not getting any younger.”

“Mamma, I’m eighteen,” she said pulling her arm away.

“I was already married and pregnant with you by your age.”

“Well that’s all well and good for you mamma, but I’m just not interested in the reverend.”

Her mamma sighed. “You know Seneca, if I didn’t know any better I would think that you don’t even like men.”

Seneca raised her eyebrows. “And what if I didn’t?” The deviled eggs perspired in the Tupperware.

“Now don’t be difficult, you’re always trying to stir the pot.” Seneca stared back at her mamma. Her mamma let out a shrill cackle.

Seneca rolled her eyes and walked towards the Reverend’s blanket. It was not the time for this conversation and she wanted to leave the picnic as soon as possible. It was her and Lenore’s six month anniversary and she wanted to enjoy the evening with Lenore untainted by anger from her mother’s words.

Reverend Coffman lounged back on the picnic blanket, mismatched tupperware surrounding him – tributes of pimento cheese, collard greens, and chicken from his faithful flock. His sleeves were pushed up to his elbows and the top two buttons on his shirt were unbuttoned, ready to spring to his feet to do god’s work at a moment’s notice. The O’Toole family had just departed from his blanket after unsuccessfully trying to pawn their pock scarred daughter Janice onto him. Janice had been at the top of Seneca and Lenore’s class, but no one gives a fuck about smart girls. The Reverend had a smug expression on his face and he didn’t stand as was accustomed when Seneca approached. “My mamma wanted me to give you these here deviled eggs,” she said coldly, thrusting them into the Reverend’s outstretched hand.

“Why that’s mighty sweet of yah mamma,” he said opening the container. Slowly he took a bite of a deviled egg, all the while never breaking eye contact with Seneca. “My, my, my, the good lord will surely bless yah mamma for her delicious deviled eggs and for her delicious daughter.”

Seneca inwardly gagged, and was once again very aware of the pistol she had strapped to her thigh, tastefully concealed underneath her pink and teal Lilly Pulitzer dress. She had recently gotten the holster monogrammed and was just rearing for a fight. However, she doubted that her mamma and the law would let her get away with shooting the Reverend at the church picnic. As the Reverend droned on about the power he had as the only man of god in Lovwhem, Seneca decided that if she were to shoot him it would not be fatal. Perhaps she’d go for the leg, or maybe the groin.

She was quickly roused from her bullistic fantasies when Lenore gently touched her elbow. “I’m sorry Reverend, but I need Seneca to help me bring some tea over from the house.”

“Oh it’s no problem at all Miss Lenore,” the Reverend said. “I’m sure Seneca and I will be able to finish our little chat later.” He winked.

One they were a safe distance from the prying eyes of the Reverend, safe in a grove of boxwoods, Lenore said, “Lord almighty Seneca, you can’t go around shooting every man who harrasses you.”

“What, who said I was going to?”

“I saw your hand near your gun, you ain’t fooling me.” Lenore paused, looked around to make sure no one was watching and quickly kissed Seneca. “Now, I have a surprise for you later tonight.”

“Oh do I have a surprise for you too,” Seneca said thinking of the antique engagement ring she had stashed away back home.

“No it’s not just that,” Lenore looked around again and lowered her voice, “I think I’ve figure out what has happened to all of those missing girls.”

Seneca was about to ask what she meant, when the two peered through the bushes to see the Reverend Coffman slowly ambling his way towards them. “I can’t tell you here. Meet me at the Falcon in an hour, there’s something I need to confirm first.” With another quick glance at the Reverend, Lenore disappeared into the woods.

Seneca thought of Sallie Anne and the ten other missing girls from Lovwhem. Could it be a serial killer? Or maybe they all got involved with drugs? Drugs were a huge problem in the region, and it was not uncommon for someone to disappear after a serious meth binger.

“Ah, I love the forest. Just started going hunting with some of the local boys in town. Great game out there this season,” the Reverend said a few inches from behind Seneca.

“Reverend, I hate to seem crass, but I’m not really interested in your hunting or really anything else you do,” Seneca replied taking a few steps back from the Reverend.

“Why my child, that’s only because you’re possessed by the devil,” the Reverend said, his eyes darkening. Slowly, Seneca and Lenore’s parents emerged into the boxwood grove.

“Excuse me?” Seneca said thinking she might have misheard.

“Where is Lenore?” the Reverend demanded.

“I don’t know she left earlier. What’s going on?”

Seneca’s mamma’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry my baby girl, but you’ll be back to your old self once the demon is gone.”

“Mamma, I’m not possessed.”

Seneca’s mamma looked to the Reverend for reassurance.

“That’s exactly what a demonic soul would say. Satan has got a hold of your daughter something fierce.” The Reverend pushed her to the ground, and Seneca and Lenore’s parents held her down as she struggled to escape.

“The devil has possessed you to fall in love with a woman,” the Reverend said producing from his pocket the engagement ring that Seneca had planned to give Lenore. “I know something was up when you rejected my offer to lunch last Sunday, and then your mamma found this. Surely the work of Satan himself.”

“All of this because I wouldn’t go out with you?” Seneca turned to look at her parents faces, red from embarrassment. “Mamma, can’t you see how ridiculous this is?”

Before her mamma could reply Seneca’s vision was blurred with the dosing of holy water. Seneca choked as the water filled her lungs but didn’t have any time to recover as the Reverend started hitting her, commanding the demon to leave her soul. After a few moments, Seneca blacked out.

She awoke to the sound of voices arguing from downstairs in her parents house. She was on her bed in the dark, her clothes still damp from the holy water-boarding. She had to find Lenore before the Reverend did. Seneca slowly arose from her bed, her body aching, and crept across the old wooden floor to her window. Without overthinking it, she leapt out of her window and landed in the soft grass below with a thud. She stood up recognizing the stings of pain in her left leg, but with no time to dwell on pain. She hobbled into the forest towards the Falcon.

It did not take long for Seneca to find Lenore. She was only a few hundred feet away from the Falcon at the edge of the forest when she saw her. Lenore lay in a patch of moss, her hazel eyes open staring at the night sky through the trees, her auburn ponytail undone. Where her legs had been were replaced by the lower half of a deer. There was a bullet through her head.

Seneca screamed in agony. She did not know how long it took until someone found her and Lenore’s body in the woods, however by the time the sheriff had confirmed her death and returned her to her home, her parents had gone and so had the Reverend.

The day after Seneca found Lenore’s body in the woods she went straight to the vintage shop downtown whilst her mamma cried into her glass of sweet tea secretly loving the attention she was now getting from the neighbors. “Lenore was almost like another daughter to me” she said.

At the shop, Seneca bought the 1970s wedding dress she had always told Lenore that she would wear to their future wedding. Next she bought an arsenal of bullets, and putting on the dress, sat outside the Mating Falcon until nightfall. At midnight the exodus occurred, first a young woman would leave the bar alone and shortly after a hunter would follow, heading into the woods. Seneca would follow them into the woods, the hunters too focused on their prey to notice the woman in white following behind them.

Every night for the next year Seneca would hunt the hunters. However, her first night was the most memorable. Once the lights of the Mating Falcon had faded behind her, would she shoot. Seneca could feel nothing. She wanted to cry when the bullet entered the back of the first hunter. She wanted to laugh when the fifth hunter tripped over a fallen branch when he was running from her. She wanted to scream Lenore’s name when the bullet entered the tenth hunter’s skull at point blank. But even with chunks of brain matter splattered onto her white dress, she felt nothing.

After sixty seven kills, Seneca had yet to find the Reverend, who in the wake of the rumors of the “lady in white” who roamed the mountains killing innocent hunters, had fled Lovwhem. When word spread around town that the Reverend was living in a small fishing village on the coast of Maine, Seneca announced to her mamma that she would be moving to Maine to open her own salon.


S. Rives is a graduate student at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with a BA in Creative Writing from Eastern Mennonite University. Her work is inspired by the absurd and magical realism. In her free time she enjoys scuba diving, and spending time with her pet lizard, Steve.

 

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