"Do you think this is a good idea?"
They were driving home, and Tabitha had been lost in thinking about how this would be one of the last times she would ever ride alongside her husband in a car. She was imagining a horse and buggy, maybe a covered wagon, and almost wistfully leaned forward to adjust the heating vents.
Edward didn't hesitate in his answer. "Yes, I think it is. This world isn't right for us, not anymore."
Tabitha had agreed, less enthusiastically than the others, but she was supportive of Edward in everything. At least in public.
"Isn't there a way to change this world? We could organize, get involved, do something in the community. Couldn't we do something..."
Tabitha's voice trailed off as Edward sighed. They'd done those things, tried every support group and action group and citizen patrol. The newspapers were bloodier than ever and nothing they'd done stopped the shootings, the murders, the cold-blooded wars in inner-city America.
They passed the cemetery where his father was buried and Tabitha watched as Edward bit the inside of his cheek to keep from speaking.
"A horse and buggy," she said, "in a world without guns."
Edward was excited, giddy, almost zealous in his enthusiasm for this project. In the months leading up to their staggered departures (they left in groups of four, not wanting to attract attention), their group meetings had become classes on survival, history, even 19th century linguistics. Edward led each of these lessons, each one more thorough than the last. The women took up sewing, teaching themselves and sharing ideas.
Tabitha had experience in quilting and basic sewing, and took a course at the college on making homemade jellies and jams. She had grown up, for a time, on a working Pennsylvania farm, and she already knew how to pluck chickens. She thought she could kill a pig, if she had to. Maybe. The other women looked to her for guidance, and occasionally solace as they faced the unknown for yet another time in their lives.
They started with a couple of tents and sleeping bags apiece, some food that would quickly run out, and axes, rope, basic building tools. A few of them had wanted to start with even less, until Edward pointed out that early settlers had also come from civilized places to start anew on the frontier, and would have had some provisions. Edward arranged for supplies to be sent ahead, things that might be found in any common, rural American town. In 1870.
The Walkers were the first ones to go, of course, and the Hunts went with them, little Lucius without a father and Alice without a husband. The others would follow every weekend. In the end, only three people opted not to come at all, and they were paid handsomely for their silence.
The women made bread on Saturday, and the men took turns leading worship services on Sunday. The rest of the week was spent in various kinds of work, at first in building and planting and later in upkeep and harvest. They were cold for awhile but acclimated, their bodies remembering what they were capable of doing.
The first illness was a fever and chills, but nothing out of the ordinary, and they had learned the skills they needed to work through it. August Richardson would remember that later, when his wife and children lay buried in the cemetary that was once just a pretty hill in the meadow.
It took exactly a month for Edward Walker to fall in love with Alice Hunt.
It took exactly one day more than that for Tabitha Walker to realize it.
Edward was always oblivious to the way he acted and spoke, especially when he was in a fit of passion over some idea he had. The women were knitting (Tabitha was better than Alice), and he was sitting on a log nearby, giving them an impromptu lecture on 19th century methods for dying fabric. Tabitha was used to these lectures and sat patiently through this one, but Alice began laughing halfway through it and distracted Edward so much that he stopped to stare at her.
"What is it you find so amusing, Alice?" His voice had a flirting lilt to it that immediately pricked Tabitha's ear.
"Nothing out of the ordinary, Edward. Just...you're so excited about dying fabric, maybe you should attempt it yourself?" She laughed again, looking at Edwards' shirt, which was a splotchy dark blue.
Tabitha's face burned darkly and she focused again on her knitting, but not before taking notice of the sound Edward's laugh mingled with Alice's.
The next week, Tabitha re-dyed that shirt and others, and vowed to make sure that Alice never had a chance to comment on her homemaking again, however slightly.
Edward noticed his feelings for Alice some time after that, once the houses were built and the meeting hall completed. They were having a townhall meeting, and Vivian Percy was expounding on the need for crop rotation or some such thing when Edward and Alice shared an amused glance.
It lit him up inside, and when he lifted his eyes once more, Alice was looking right back at him, unabashedly. They seemed to speak to each other in that moment, saying everything that was forbidden, but loving and true and real. Edward felt his cheeks turn red and excused himself for a moment, standing outside in the wind to try and calm down. Tabitha hadn't been there, she was feeling low because of the weather change and stayed home. Thank God.
When he went back inside, he looked at Alice for just one moment, and he hoped his face conveyed what he would never be able to say aloud. For her child was safely sleeping nearby, and he was married to an expectant wife himself.
After that day, he did not touch Alice, and he only spoke to her when it was of utmost importance.
Tabitha had once imagined that she would prefer it that way, but in the end she grew weary of Edward petting her in front of the others and insisted on decorum.
No one else suspected anything, and in time Alice forgot anything had even happened.
Tabitha, however, held a grudge in a world that no longer allowed them.
Tabitha went into labor on a sunny summer morning. To call it difficult would be a kindness; they had no painkillers or other drugs to help her along. In the "towns" (their new word for the world they had left behind), it might have gone much quicker. She might not have needed four weeks of recovery. But then, Tabitha wasn't a particularly strong woman by nature, and they were counting themselves lucky that she'd gotten as far as she did.
They counted themselves blessed when the child was finally born, after nearly thirty-six hours of labor.
Victor was a champion through it all, however, with Alice by his side as a makeshift nurse. All the village waited to see what would come of this; other women were expecting and it was a tense time for them all. Not just because of childbirth, either; these children would go without innoculation, and face anything that was thought eradicated but truthfully only lurked in corners of the world as remote as theirs. If Victor could pull Tabitha through, they might have a little more faith in country medicine.
The Walkers' daughter was a red-faced slip of a girl that they named Katherine. She was quickly nicknamed Kitty by half the village, and it stuck. She was the first child and she was followed quickly by children in the Nicholson, Coin, and Percy families.
A bountiful summer, Edward called it during his late August turn as preacher in the village.
They gave thanks and the elders avoided, for a short time, discussing how they might keep their children close, as they grew curiouser and curiouser with age.
Covington Woods loomed closer every year.
Tabitha tried to find a way to thank Alice for her kindness during the complicated labor. When she could stand for longer periods of time and go about the daily business of running a rural 1870s household, she made pies for her nurse, and gave her the first jars of blueberry jam of the season. Tabitha was the reigning queen of the kitchen in the village; the others were learning from her, but sweets and complicated delicacies were still Tabitha's domain. Of the other women, Alice was having the hardest time doing much more than cooking stew for herself and little Lucius.
She finally decided to invite Alice over for tea one day when the men when hunting. Alice accepted, bringing Lucius with her. He was getting big, outgrowing clothes faster than the women could sew them, and Tabitha and Alice shared a quick laugh about how they knew why shortpants had been all the rage for little boys so long ago.
Not long ago, though. The metal box under the Walkers' staircase gleamed at the women and quieted their laughing.
"Alice, I want to thank you for what you did for me. I don't know that Kitty and I would have survived that awful night without you and Victor."
Alice sipped her tea and looked at Tabitha, her expression frank and open. "You and I have been friends for a long time. I wouldn't have done less," her voice broke over this last word, "and I couldn't have. We need you here."
Tabitha watched Alice wipe her eyes with a measure of surprise. She had expected Alice's usual candor, but she thought it would expose some return of the feelings Edward had toward Alice. She hadn't expected...friendship?
"I know that none of you trust me. None of the women, that is," said Alice, stopping Tabitha's protest with her raised hand. "Why they trust Mrs. Clack and not myself is not much of a mystery, but there you have it. I am single and raising my son alone. It is difficult, with only Lucius for warmth in our drafty wooden house." Her voice held no bitterness; she merely stated fact. Alice smiled at her son, who sat on floor playing with a toy horse August Nicholson had carved for him.
"I did the same for all of you as you gave birth, because you are all helping to foster the growth of our little experiment. But Tabitha, I did it for you because I want us to be friends. I keep thinking that it would be better to see by candlelight or lamplight if I have someone to sit next to and sew with. Will you?"
Alice picked up her teacup again but did not sip from it. She looked down at her lap and Tabitha knew it was imperative to reply in some way.
How could she? She thought of Edward's glances, of Alice's flirtatious voice. She knew the other wives were feeling particularly jealous since their arrival in the village, but she also felt she was the only one who had cause.
She could say something now. She could quash Alice's hopes and send her away in tears, or she could change the conversation altogether and freeze her out as she'd been trying to do since that day with the fabric dye.
But Tabitha watched Alice for a moment, thinking back to the days before they'd come here, when Alice's husband was killed and she was left with her newborn son in an increasingly cruel world. They'd come here to escape cruelty, come to shape a new world. If Tabitha deliberately shut Alice out of her life, she risked the other women following suit. Tabitha was, by default, their role model. And she had vowed to leave cruelty and petty meanness behind with all the other baggage of the "modern" world in the towns.
Lucius held up his horse and giggled, breaking the heavy silence. "Wook! Horsey!" He got up and toddled over to the wooden cradle that held a cooing Kitty. He waved the horse over the cradle and Kitty reached for it, laughing.
Alice and Tabitha watched and when they looked away, their eyes met and they both started laughing. Alice's face was full of hope.
Tabitha felt her heart tug and she reached over to take Alice's hand. "We will always be friends, I swear it to you."
From that day forward, the Hunt and Walker families were the closest in the village. The other women found new things to be jealous of, like Tabitha and Alice going for long walks while Edward watched the children (their own husbands only ever did so grudgingly) and the confidence the women kept. But the jealousy was only ever minor, and soon Tabitha's station in the village was shared by Alice. They were the height of fashion, decorum, and study, and never once did they appear to quarrel.
When the elders formed the idea of making their horror stories come alive, Tabitha and Alice held a private council between themselves and decided to support the idea. Even Edward, who had his reservations, was won over by the women's championing of the cause.
"For our future," said Alice. Tabitha nodded, and the elders voted unianimously to support the idea. Robert Percy went to work the next morning creating horrific costumes for himself, August, Edward, and Victor.
The first village raid was staged, appropriately, on what would have been Halloween in their old lives. Lucius was all of four years old, and had started all of this when he had begun asking to go for walks in Covington Woods. One day he'd simply run from his mother's side to the very edges of the forest, and scared her so badly that she had taken the issue to Tabitha and Edward that very night.
Lucius hid under the bed when the monsters came up to the door of their home. Alice attempted to coax him out but he wouldn't move; he ended up crying himself to sleep amidst the dust that had collected there. Tabitha brought Kitty and newborn Ivy with her on her morning visit the next day; it was only the sound of visitors that brought Lucius from his hiding place.
He was a quiet boy after that day, careful and a little shy. He would sit on the porch and watch the woods, and when asked he told his mother he was waiting. She did not question him further.
"Yes, Edward?" She was bathing Ivy in a metal tub they had brought from the towns.
"Are you happy here?"
She looked up and wiped the sweat from her forehead with her wrist, dragging soap bubbles across her brow. She looked at her husband, who stood in the doorway with his hat in his hands, fidgeting like he only ever did when he was unsure of himself and asking for her approval.
"Edward, look at me."
"Not a day goes by that I regret that place. That life. I am happy here. But that begs the question - are you?"
Edward stared at his women in turn. At Kitty, on a chair he made and playing with a doll her mother had made. At Ivy, giggling in the bathwater and playing with bubbles in a metal tub intended for a feeding trough. At Tabitha, in her homespun clothes and her hand-stitched apron.
And finally, he looked at the wall, as if to bore through it with his glance to find Alice in the village garden, digging up potatoes for storage.
"I am happy here, my darling wife." He walked over and kissed her forehead, wiping the bubbles from her face as he did so.