Chapter Forty-Three: Correspondence With the Dead Part One

Editor’s Note: not long after the Hayes murders, Joan Wallace disappeared. Vanished, not a trace, worried mother. The double blow of tragedy took a toll on the people of Vine. Below are letters given to me by Jeannie Wallace, as well as some reporting by me from interviews done in the course of researching the Hayes murders. 

Letter From Jeannie Wallace, Stamped by Vine Post Office, November 21, 1980

Dearest Joan, 

Of course this letter cannot reach you. I suppose I am writing it as a form of prayer. May the angels carry my thoughts to you. It has been six long weeks since you disappeared and not a day goes by where I do not grieve. One day this day had to come. The day where you like a blown dandelion would need to disperse. I knew it but did not want to prepare for it. By the window I sit with ashen-tasting tea and watch the grass stay green in spite of me.

Do you remember when you were a baby? Your eyes were the brightest green. Your hair came in blonde like the brightest sun shining on flowering lilies. Your father believed you were a true cherub. The most angelic blessing from God. When you turned five your hair turned the pitchest of black. Your father said “she’s still my angel” as if you had been somehow sullied by shifting phenotype. I have always known who you are and loved who you are.

Your father of course does not know what to do. He has finally been going back to work after three weeks. His drinking has worsened. Each day I find the bin filled to the brim with beer cans. Who knows how much longer he has left. Won’t it be nice when the burden of anticipating is lifted and he is finally gone. Oh what a terrible thing to say! I do of course love your father. But is it our destiny in Vine to experience this loss? Do we control our fates in Vine? Of course Julie could not control her fate. 

Of course I do not believe you dead. A mother’s love—a daughter’s presence felt—I will know. Of course I know you not to be dead. 

With the love of the ages, 


Thus Has Hell Come To Vine

The search for the murderer began with asking around. Had the grocery clerk seen Joan. Had the farrier seen Joan. Had the preacher seen Joan. Then the search evolved into torches. Police urged calm and caution and were ignored. The woods were swept and the rivers dredged. Lights were shut off and doors locked at sundown. Only Gentleman Jim’s remained remained open and even they were only serving searchers and cops. 

“Mark my words it’s a Satanic cult” Adam Davies said. “Satan has come to Vine.”

“It’s the young people” Amy Wilkinson said. “I seen them in the woods. Up to all sorts of unknowable things. Singing. Dancing. But in no way I ever heard of how to sing and dance.”

“Not that Wallace girl surely” the Bartender said. 

“I seen them in the woods” Amy said. 

“It’s a Satanic cult” Adam said. 

As the days stretched into weeks the urgency of the search gradually dissipated but the fear hung in the town square like rancid meat. Folks spoke to each other less. Kept eye contact to a minimum. The sunniest days seemed only warmed by Satan’s graces. When crops bore fruit the farmers did not believe it—so prepared were they for blight and suffering. The Church of Vine reported regular attendance numbers doubling. Elders began researching exorcisms even relying on Catholic texts for guidance. Preachers dared not sleep at night and instead spent dark hours in prayer begging the Lord for forgiveness.  

Letter From Jeannie Wallace, Stamped By Vine Post Office, March 14, 1981

Dearest Joan, 

O how I hope you are well—may your feet touch grass and the earth move you and sky embrace you. O Joan I wish nothing for you but truest harmony vibrating throughout your entire body like a swarm of fireflies blessing you with natural light. O Joan the moon cycles like a fixed gear and here I am affixed to my chair by the window imagining the world as you must be experiencing it. 

Evil has fallen over this town—as we knew it would. I knew something was shifting even before your sister got sick. Even before your sister was taken from us. We live at the precipice of a waning age. Ahead the path is foggy and marred by thickets. But we are in touch with ourselves. You and me and even Julie—I can feel her in the afterlife. She sings to me. Melodies without words. Flowing melodies like the calmest river in the clearest of meadows on the day when apples are ripest from the tree. It is only the strength you and Julie give to me that steadies my heart and hand in these times of creeping hellishness. 

What must your life look like now? What sights have you beheld? Where now do your gardening hands toil? O the miseries of knowing that which cannot be known!

With the love of the ages, 


And Ye Shall Know The Lord’s Vengeance

“Since when did we stop punishing evil-doers in Vine Preacher?” the detective said. “I can’t give up on them boys and I can’t give up on that Wallace girl. Since when did we not meet evil with righteous justice in Vine Preacher?”

“There are mysteries The Lord our God sets in motion upon Earth” the Preacher said. “Why do the crops fail and livestock succumb when no known sins have been committed by the farmer? Why are the most beautiful of moons shrouded in the thickest clouds? Why were we chosen by God to be stewards of this sacred land when others had already tiled its soils for centuries?”

“If we’re so chosen why are there so many evildoers in our midst?”

“Do not the righteous bear responsibility if evil is not stamped out?”

“How is a righteous man not to lose hope in the face of relentless evil?”

“Can a lion call himself a hunter if the antelope is too fleet of foot?”

“When shall the Lord be satisfied? When will there be peace in the chosen land?”

“Only the End Times—which are coming when the Lord says they are coming—and Kingdom of Heaven can bring peace. Only the Second Coming of Christ Our Lord can bring everlasting peace. Before peace there will be trials and tribulations. Surely you know this detective? Or surely you would have become a farmer and submitted yourself to whims of The Lord God’s Earth. Am I wrong? Or did you become a detective? An agent of justice in this holy town that God has established with his chosen flock in the New World?”

“Thus is the will of the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Letter from Joan Wallace, Procured Later, Not Stamped By Vine Post Office, Dated May 21, 1981

Dear Mother,

I am safe. I am in a garden. All around me are helping hands. Scallions. Squash. Tomatoes. Spanish Lavender. Hibiscus—we use the flowers to make tea. At night when I lay my head to rest I am surrounded by paintings of the brightest colors. It is cold here but I am warmed by handmade blankets and dreams of once again reuniting with you in the next life. I am alive and in Chicago and I love you. 

With the love of the ages,


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