The five main characters – Esther, Leon, Walter, Millie and Doris – in this story are loosely based on real historical people who lived during that time period. The time settings –1919 to 1923 – and the locations were real.The main character of Otis and all the remaining bit characters are imaginary and have no relationship to any persons living or dead. The personal stories and the dramatic events are works of fiction and are entirely my imagination. The Author. PROLOGUE – Esther and Otis September 23, 1919 Esther sighed as she relaxed against the leather seats and turned her face into the sun. What a beautiful afternoon in Michigan! Fall was definitely in the air. The sumac was already bright red. The green maple trees were painted with streaks of gold, red and orange. Esther closed her eyes and listened to the rhythmic clip-clop of the old chestnut-colored horse, Bess, as she pulled the buggy with ease. Bess knew the way into town. She was a member of the family and had been pulling Esther into town for her voice lesson every Saturday for close to three years, now. Besides, Otis had a firm grip on the reins.Nothing could go wrong.Could it?Esther adjusted her slender body in her seat.Stop worrying and enjoy this day.Esther admonished herself and sighed again. Otis was the hired hand.He had shown up at the farm one day, looking for work.He wouldn’t or couldn’t answer any questions about his family or where he came from.Father allowed Otis to stay in a small sparsely furnished room in the barn while he made inquiries.No missing persons had been reported.Father filed reports with all the authorities and let Otis stay on until someone claimed him.Father could use another hand and Otis was willing to live in the barn and work for his board and room plus a few dollars a month.Otis was what some people might call, “severely retarded” or “not quite right”.The truth was he had multiple disorders. Otis was of medium height, had a stocky build and a rather ungainly gait from having one leg shorter than the other.His hair always seemed to need cutting.His nose was crooked from having been broken sometime or other and he didn’t bother to shave more than once a week or bathe, for that matter. The truth was that Otis had come from a large family. His father had left home and his mother was overwhelmed with her responsibilities.In his youth Otis had suffered from the taunts of other children so he never went far in school and was rather shy.At some point he was moved to an institution for the mentally handicapped and disturbed.One day he simply walked away.The place was so understaffed they didn’t notice him missing for several days and made little effort to find him. Otis had a rather vague memory and little command of the language.He seldom said much.And when he did, one could barely hear and understand him. Nevertheless, he followed orders and seemed content enough in his work.He was physically strong and such a great help to Father that the family put up with him so long as he stayed away from the main house. Esther had given up trying to engage him in conversation months ago. If Esther spoke to him, Otis would look down at his toes; kind of shuffle his feet and mumble, “Guess I dunno, Miz Esther.” Esther didn’t know what to make of Otis. She wasn’t entirely sure he could be trusted. Esther was a lovely girl with melting brown eyes and long lashes. She led a happy carefree life with many friends and admirers. Esther was rather petite, no more than five feet tall with silken brown hair that hung to her waist. She was looking forward to her final year of high school.Next June she would be graduated and ready to go out and have fun. I just hope I don’t run into any of my friends today. What would they think if they saw me riding with this goofy moron? Esther’s thoughts drifted back to her argument with her mother just this morning.“But, Mother, you can’t mean it. Are you serious?No way, no how can I possibly ride into town with Otis.” “Yes, dear,” said Mother, “Just this once. I really must have those few things from town and your Father needs Otis to pick up that feed from the mill. We’re all out.” (this portion cut) *** Otis pulled to a halt in front of Mrs. Lewis’s house. “We’re here, Esther.” Esther opened her eyes, “Already? I must have dozed off”. Otis merely slanted a look her way with a sly smile, “Uh-huh,” he slowly shook his head. “Now, don’t forget, Otis. You are to come back here and wait for me, just as soon as you finish your errands.”Esther slipped down from the buggy and landed on her feet. Her hair gleamed in the sunlight as she swung around and skipped lightly up the walk. Her voice lesson was one of her favorite times of the week. At age eighteen, innocent and beautiful, she had lots of favorite times and few worries. Her whole future beckoned ahead. Soon, she thought. “Yes’m.I’ll wait right here. I sure will Miz Esther.” Otis slapped the reins once and Bess clopped forward. *** To Esther’s relief the horse and buggy was out in front when she emerged from Mrs. Lewis’s music room. Esther skipped down the steps. She smiled and swung her lesson books into the seat before mounting up herself. Mrs. Lewis had praised her today. But, then, she always had something good to say about Esther. Esther did well in all her studies.It was nice to hear. Esther was feeling so good she even smiled at Otis. Otis gazed back at her. Funny,I don’t think I’ve ever noticed his eyes before. What an odd look! Otis was actually grinning. “What are you looking at?” Esther demanded. “You,” Otis answered. Her face fell into a frown. “So? What are you looking at me like that for?” she snapped. “You l-look… purty.” Otis’s grin was almost a leer. “Well you stop it right now!” Esther climbed into the buggy and flounced into her seat. “You just turn this buggy around and take us straight home. Do you hear me?” She crossed her arms and stared straight ahead. “Yes’m,” Otis grinned as he gave Bess a little flick as a signal.“Yes… Esther”. “Hmmmf,” Esther huffed and tightened her arms.I wish Doris had come with us. Darn that sister of mine. Always mooning over her fiancé. Oh, Bill. You are so strong and handsome. Oh Bill, this, oh Bill that. Truly Bill isn’t bad looking, but I will never act silly over a man. Esther didn’t need to. Plenty of young men flocked around her like bees to honey without any encouragement. She was forever being teased – good naturedly, of course. In a way she was rather sorry they hadn’t seen any of her friends, after all. Maybe she could have invited someone along. Probably everyone was home having supper. Her lesson had run a little later than usual. Soon they passed the outskirts of town and Otis gave Bess a little more slack in the reins.A quick snap set Bess into motion. This is good. The buggy is tooling right along. This way we should make it home before dark.Esther gave the sun an uncertain glance. It was edging closer to the horizon. Just then Otis gave a hard pull on the left rein. Bess responded with a snort and toss of her head. “Haw Bess, haw!” shouted Otis as he pulled even harder. The horse turned abruptly left as the buggy careened on one wheel. “What are you doing?” screamed Esther. “You crazy fool! Are you trying to get us killed?” Otis answered with another hard slap of the reins. “Giddy-yap, Bess, giddy-yap!” he shouted. Bess plunged through the ditch and into a rough lane. Immediately the trees and brush closed around them, shutting out most of the sun’s remaining rays and slapping Esther in the face. The buggy bounced and scraped. Bess was covered with sweat. The poor horse galloped ahead heedless of potholes and ruts. The buggy swayed dangerously. Esther’s heart was pounding. Her eyes reflected the terror she felt. Mother of God! What can I do? She couldn’t jump out at this speed. But, if she didn’t jump soon, they could topple over at any moment. “Otis, NO!” she screamed and grabbed for the reins. “Pull back, pull back!” Otis turned to look at Esther with mouth agape. “Help me, you IDIOT! Help me stop this thing!” Esther gasped for breath as she pulled with all her might. Otis reached one strong arm across her and snatched the rein/ribbon out of her hand. Esther fell back. Otis grabbed for her arm as she threatened to topple out of the buggy. “Whoa,” he called. “Whoa back, Bess, whoa back,” Otis commanded. Bess slowed almost as suddenly as she had taken off. Otis skillfully guided her nose into a thicket. Bess began to munch on leaves and grass. Otis calmly pulled the brake and wrapped the reins around it. He turned to Esther without a word and pulled her into his strong arms. “Arrhk,” she screamed, “What are you doing? Get us out of here, Otis, you fool!” Esther slapped at him and dove for the reins again. Otis seized her. She tried to jerk away. He muffled her terrorized screams with a crushing kiss. Her hands pushed against his chest to no effect. Then he smothered her face to his chest.Without a word, he reached behind the seat for a length of rope. He wasted no motion skillfully tying her hands behind her back and a bandana over her mouth. Esther realized then was no use screaming where no one could hear her. She pleaded with her eyes and mumbled into the cloth. Otis went about his work, grimfaced and determined. He laid her down on the seat and threw up her skirts. “Nooommm!” she screamed, uncontrollably and thrashed back and forth. Otis drew back his arm and slammed a fist into her head.She kicked out at him. Teeth clenched, he hit her in the chest, harder this time. She tried to twist away as he beat her repeatedly. She averted her head to protect her face.He slapped her hard with one hand as he wrapped his other hand around her throat, holding her down. He slugged her in the stomach and bile rose into her mouth. She started choking. She stilled as she gagged on her own vomit. Dear God, she pleaded, Help me! Another fist landed in her groin. Esther was weakening. She was unaware that her urine began to leak as her bowels partially let go. The world was going dark around her. Esther became motionless. She sagged back, half on and off the seat. Her eyes fluttered closed. She expelled a long sigh as her head flopped to one side. It was total darkness as old Bess faithfully walked home, tiredly drawing the rig up near the barn.Otis leaped down and began unhitching the animal.He led Bess away toward the barn to put her into her stall. Esther had not stirred, though her chest moved ever so slowly.Now and then her eyelids twitched.Silent tears rolled down her face. Numbness in her limbs gradually faded as pain and sheer terror took its place.Esther fought against reality as it demanded to return.Every muscle in her body screamed in agony. Esther rolled and fell onto the ground in a quivering bundle.She laid there, chest heaving, for long minutes trying to still herself.Gradually she managed to pull herself up onto her hands and knees.Dimly she realized her peril wasn’t over.She needed to reach safety. Somehow she managed to stumble toward the house.She stood outside the kitchen door watching Millie as she busied herself in the kitchen.Esther waited for a few minutes after Millie blew out the lamps and headed toward the bedroom before she pulled open the door and hastened toward the stairs leading upstairs to her own bedroom. Esther threw herself unto her bed and buried her face between two pillows. Sobs racked her body.It seemed like an eternity before her body stopped its shaking and Esther was able to crawl under the covers. She had no energy to clean herself. That would come much later. Esther lay awake for hours alternately weeping and planning how she would hide this from everyone.Finally she fell into a disturbed sleep. In the morning she hid the torn clothes and examined her bruises.Fortunately her face wasn’t touched.She could hide the rope burns on her wrists with long sleeves.Esther pulled on her favorite long flannel night shirt.She decided to feign cramps from her monthly flow in order to escape going to church.That would be a good excuse to stay in bed today while avoiding questions. As soon as everyone left Esther threw a coat over her nightgown, grabbed one of Father’s shotguns and hurried to the barn to confront Otis. “Otis,” she called.“Otis!” she yelled.“Come out of there, now!” Esther banged on his door and backed away with the gun raised.“I know you are in there Otis.Open the door.” “Otis, you come out of there right now, or I’m coming in,” she warned. The door slowly opened.Otis stood in the doorway looking down at his shoes.“H-hello, Miz Esther,” he mumbled and swung his arms in embarrassment.He hid a slight grin and waited. “Otis, look up,” commanded Esther.“See this shotgun, Otis.”Holding the gun about waist high, she jabbed the gun at him and took a half step forward. He raised his eyes just enough to peek at the gun. “Otis, listen to me.You listen to me good!”Esther demanded. Otis seemed to be shaking. He shrank away and crossed his arms over his body to protect himself. “Don’t move!” commanded Esther. Otis flinched. “You stay away from me, Otis.Do you hear me?Stay away from me and Doris and Mother.And you stay away from all the girls in town.You are never to touch a girl unless she says it is okay. That is wrong, Otis.” Otis quaked in silence. “Otis, what you did to me was wrong.Wrong!Do you hear?”The gun was shaking now.Esther tightened her grip and used the gun for emphasis. “You stay here in the barn.You help Father, and never, never, NEVER COME NEAR ME AGAIN!” Esther screamed at him as tears began to flow.“I will shoot you with this gun.I will tell Father what you did and he will kill you, too. I mean it, Otis.NEVER AGAIN!You stay away from me or we will both kill you! First we will beat you up and then we will kill you!” Otis backed away.He slammed the door and ran for the far wall.He cowered into a corner and covered his head with his arms. Esther lowered the gun.She squared her shoulders, backed away and then turned and ran for the house.Esther restored father’s unloaded gun to its safety cabinet, hung up her coat and returned to her room. Tomorrow would be a school day.All she had to do was to get up late and hurry out of the house to escape her mother’s discerning eyes. ***
"Leon and Esther"
An Historical Christian Love Story Novel. A strong man meets a test of his faith. A young woman deals with devastating pain.