Chapter Forty-Eight: End of the Line, Western Jefferson Line

Editor’s Note: Kaylie is an old friend of Jonah’s. When she heard I was writing about the panic around the Hayes murders/Wallace disappearance, she told me her story. To me, it encapsulates the contradictory mindset that had overtaken the people of Vine in those days. 

I had just turned 11 when the fuss about the Wallace girl occurred.

Not too long before that they found them two boys murdered. It looked ritualistic: one had stones in his pockets in a shallow part of the river, the other buried up to his shoulders in the banks beside his brother. But sloppy: both had their throats slit before anything else happened. My mother believed I was too young to know this information. But I could read the newspaper, and Father let me.

Everyone got real scared real fast. Folks started patrolling the town square with their pistols or their “VINE MILITIA” signs on their trucks and driving slowly around the edges of town. Ma wouldn’t let us play outside after school—no more riding bikes for me—and even though she cooped us up in the house, she still insisted upon monopolizing the TV. Endless speculation and wonderment about was this the killer from ten years ago come back. Like MTV was gonna rot our brains but she weren’t worried about her own soul callousing over with all that fear coming from Elder and Mrs. Vance getting all bent out of shape on their local news hour. 

About three days of all that and then the Wallace girl disappeared. They showed her mother all on the news crying and pleading too. Insisting that Joan’s body was out there somewhere. Then the camera would go back to Elder and Mrs. Vance in the newsroom—I didn’t know why I expected them to be comforting Mrs. Wallace. 

Cops done their search and said No Body. Said maybe Joan got spooked about them boys and ran away on account of a few clothes and a backpack missing from her room. Her mother said no, said it couldn’t be, said Joan’d die before leaving Vine, and said over again until her voice broke and she wasn’t saying anymore. 

Meanwhile my mother, muttering prayers with her eyes glued to the TV, not moving from the couch, not daring to step outside.

It seemed natural to me. I was too young to know of Flaming Swords. Why shouldn’t the girl leave Vine?

“I don’t understand,” I said. “If Joan’s left then she can still go get her. Why’s she talking about Joan has to be dead?”

“Kaylie, don’t start,” Ma said. 

“Hasn’t anyone ever left Vine before? Don’t people live places other than here?”

“Kaylie, stop this,” Ma said.

“So what if Joan wanted to go somewhere where there’s not some serial killer?”

“Kaylia, shut your mouth now!” Ma yelled.

Frustrated in a way I had never seen, my father grabbed his coat and told me to follow.

But it weren’t Ma that shocked me. Daddy stood up with a force. I don’t know how to describe it except a force. It almost felt like the house shook but that couldn’t have been possible. He looked around and tapped his foot, huffing. Then he fixed his eyes on me like a trailer locking into a truck hitch. 

“Get your coat,” Daddy said. “Follow me.”

“Karl, don’t,” Ma said. 

“It’s just the woods,” Daddy said. “We’ll be safe.” 

Ma couldn’t even finish her sentence before Daddy was out the door and did I ever know better than to not follow. Ma worried too much about the woods anyway. Daddy and I were careful certain and safe when we walked in the woods. Even during the daytime. 

We often walked in the West woods, but seldom would we leave the path at night.

The nettles were dying but still thick and autumn leaves had started to pile over the path. Wind was infrequent but when it hit I became grateful for my coat. Daddy was walking unusually fast with no regard for the ground while I kept stumbling on roots and slick leaves to keep up. Daddy was not a man of temper. He was quiet firm deliberate. But I sure believed he had such a focus boiling in him it would not matter if we did run into a serial killer. Whatever I’d said—which I still did not know what that was—had been bad.

“That girl, Joan Wallace,” my father finally spoke. “She never met her aunt who she’s named after. That woman crying on TV? That’s Jeannie Wallace. Jeannie’s older sister Joan tried to run away from Vine when Jeannie was just five years old. They found her body washed up in the river. Mutilated by sharp rocks. Tree branch wrapped around her leg like she’d gotten stuck there. Ran away only to drown in a river. All over some argument the elder Joan had with their mother. No way Jeannie’s daughter gonna be one to run off from Vine. No way. Younger Joan is dead. You’re not gonna be one to run off from Vine neither.”

He didn’t turn to me until after he’d finished speaking. It was like he needed to speak so that the whole of the west woods could hear before he could gauge my reaction. His face had the edge of a stiff pile of boulders and his eyes searched me before locking mine. 

“You’re not gonna be one to run off from Vine neither.” 

Then he turned back into the wind and led me off the path.

My jeans were ripped and all I wanted was to go home and sleep when the trees thinned and an old station appeared.

Having shed their leaves the trees were easier to push through but they were also sharper. My jeans were ripped and the wind lashed at any exposed skin. We deviated from the path plenty on our walks but never at night. I was determined not to be scared, but the woods started looking unfamiliar in a way that could not have only been the darkness.

“Long before I was born, or even my father was born, a man named Hershel MacHenry left Vine. Tried to make his fortune out west. Ten years later, they found his body at the edge of this forest on the mountain, mutilated like he’d been mauled by a bear with woodchippers for paws. Didn’t even look like buzzards had touched him. Some thought it was some sort of demon or monster who killed ol’ Hershel as punishment for leaving Vine.”

Demons and monsters. Seemed like a good reason not to leave the path at night. I might have been a kid but I heard all the tales of strange deaths in these woods. Monsters whispered about at slumber parties. Bodies with no sign of struggle or harm but collapsed as if their souls had been snatched from them. But I’d never heard of any kind of punishment for leaving Vine. 

My boots tripped on iron in the dirt, and then again. I looked down and kicked around some leaves and saw what seemed like an old railroad trying not to be swallowed by the earth. Then a sign, tangled in leaves, read “End Of The Line, Western Jefferson Line.” I turned to ask Daddy where we were but he was knelt and bowed in prayer. 

When he stood, he spoke and said: “This is where Vine was supposed to connect with the outside world. A controversial dream disallowed by forces beyond human control. The Outsiders, those con artists, they thought a railroad would bring commerce and modernity to Vine. Some people in Vine wanted to connect. Some thought our town was too holy; the outside world is a corrupting force, after all.”

“But the refrigerator was not invented in Vine,” I said. “Our TV says Made In China.”

“Obviously we figured out trade later Kaylie don’t interrupt,” Daddy snapped, his tone breaking from how formal and reverent he’d been trying to be a minute ago. He composed himself: 

“Station got built. Connected all the way to the Capital and ended here. Yep, Vine was the end of the Western Jefferson Line. Most of its trains, too. Couldn’t stop having accidents. One month in, a storm swept a train clean off the tracks. Rolled over about six seven times killed everyone inside. Three months in, some outlaw Outsiders tried to rob a train, figuring Vine had to be hiding some sort of fortune. They rigged bombs but set them off wrong and the whole train blew up. Six months in, some conductor not only gets drunk at the wheel but also gets struck by lightning at the wheel and the train comes screaming into the station a fiery blaze and now the station half-blows up.”

“Daddy that last one cannot be true.”

“Keep in mind this weren’t long after the Civil War. During war, Vine stayed separate, but there were skirmishes at the borders. Plus some folks run off to fight for both sides. None of them ever come back. Message has always been clear: Vine is our paradise. We do not survive in the outside world. Seminarians, they have time limits, and outside contacts who are dutiful shepherds. Trade, sure, there’s some. But the Elders are holy men, and do not take more than is sensible. The rest of us, the people of Vine? Who live humbly and serve God? This station is as our Flaming Sword sentry byside Eden. We cannot take our consecrated land for granted.”

Then he pointed just ahead of us, to a sign that faced away from town:



The weight of the sign’s message sat atop me and hasn’t left since.

A feeling swarmed me, like I could hear the screams of the dying on this border. How was this a border? It’s not like there was a landmark. No river or mountain or highway. The woods was more sparse but it was still woods. Yet something elemental rose up in my bones. Like I could feel not exactly where or when the land changed, but that it did. One side felt like home and the other side felt foreign. In that moment, I could picture the angel with the Flaming Sword, guarding the Garden of Eden. It felt like they were smiling.

“Some folks spend their entire life looking for a home, but you were born with one,” Daddy said. “You belong to Vine, not to that world.”

I looked at Daddy expecting to see him praying again. But he was watching me with an intention focus understanding I couldn’t remember seeing in him before. He looked at the sign again. Looking up almost like to Heaven.

“I’m ready to go home Daddy,” I said. 

“Some folks spend their entire life looking for a home,” he said. “But you were born with one. You belong to Vine, not to that world.”

I nodded and took his hand. 

We walked in silence and I was nearly whimpering with tiredness, but also felt newly at peace. When my feet started to drag, Daddy softly sang-hummed a melody I had never heard but somehow knew. “Carry Us, O Holy Vine,” he said. “Old hymn my granddaddy used to love.” His garbled notes drifted over our path until we saw the porch light of home.

We walked in silence until I couldn’t help but whimper in tiredness. My father carried me the rest of the way home, softly singing an old town lullaby as I dozed on his shoulder.

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