The smell of bacon roused me from my sleep. Mother was so good to us, there was not a single morning that she did not have something hot for us to eat as we awoke. As I lifted myself up in the bed, I felt my hair brush against my thighs and stretched my arms out wide. Having my hair braided and being dressed for the day before she finished cooking was paramount. Disappointing her was the worst feeling that could ever be had.
My sisters hurried around the room, each of them working on a different part of their morning routine. I sat with my sister Abigail at her bed and she began to twist my hair into shape. Her and I were partners every morning, we held each other accountable to be awake on time, and made sure that we were presentable before we sat at the table. Wendy, my eldest sister, came up to me and asked me to button up her dress. I did so without hesitation and patted her on both shoulders as I finished.
"See you at the table," I said as she thanked me and walked out of the room.
Wendy was always the early bird, eager to help mother with breakfast and have all of our places set for us before we arrived.
"Stop turning your head," Abigail said as she jerked me back straight by pulling my hair.
"Okay, okay. Jeez Abby, you sure seem cranky this morning. Is something bothering you?" I responded to her quizzically and rubbed the back of my head where my hair had been yanked.
"Oh, it's nothing. At least, I think it's nothing. We don't have time Madison, there is still so much to do." She answered my query tersely. It was obvious that she was not up to speak about it for the time being. She even called me Madison instead of Maddie which she only did if she was upset, so I left it for later. We shared everything with each other, so she would surely give me the details when she was ready and willing.
We quickly finished our braids and helped each other into our dresses. I reached into my dress pocket and felt the smooth stone that had our favorite scripture painted onto it. John 8:7, Abby and I had made matching ones for each other as a sort of reminder to not be so hard on ourselves. I kept it on me always, and I hope that Abby got even half as much comfort from hers as I did from mine.
When we arrived at the table, Mother was still laboring over the bacon and omelets for all 7 of us. Wendy was setting down a glass of orange juice at each of our spots, I thanked her as she sat mine in front of me.
I couldn't help but notice a shifty look on Abigail's face, which was unlike my sister. She was a morning person, and always exuded joy and cheerfulness during our early routines. I believe Mother picked up on it as well because she began to look at her suspiciously. She called out to her from the stove.
"Abigail dear, would you mind fetching my bonnet from the bedroom? It is right on top of my bedside table."
Abby hunched towards me and whispered before standing.
"Look inside your pillowcase."
After rising, she answered in a louder tone.
"Yes Mother, right away."
She walked off with a distant and cold look upon her face. I could have sworn that I even saw her trembling. While I began to ponder what could be affecting my beloved sister so seriously, I heard Mother speak again. She was not talking to us directly but obviously wanted us to hear what she was saying.
"I moved that bonnet into the closet, better go tell Abigail."
After she muttered this, she followed Abby toward her bedroom and Wendy took over handing out everybody's food. After all of our plates were full and the table was ready, we waited patiently for Mother and Abigail. We knew better than to eat before everyone had arrived. The other girls began to talk quietly amongst themselves, but I had too much on my mind to join with them.
Mother came back from her room, still not wearing her bonnet, and took her seat at the table.
"Abigail is not feeling well, she will not be joining us for breakfast this morning. She asked me to pass along her apologies." She said to all the sisters.
I did my best to keep a straight face, but I was terrified on the inside. I knew when Abby was sick and that was not what was wrong with her right now. We knew each other better than anyone and almost had a psychic type of connection. Something was amiss, but I had to bide my time in order to deduce what was happening.
"Madison, Clarissa, you both have hardly touched your omelets. You will need all of your strength so eat up! We have a big day today." Mother said to us in a cheery manner
"Of course Mother, thank you for a lovely meal," I responded.
It was of the utmost importance that I keep up the charade of my being oblivious. Mother knew how close Abigail and I were and would be monitoring me closely if there truly was something terribly wrong. I hurriedly finished my plate and helped gather everyone's dishes to bring to the sink.
Wendy and Chastity were happily washing the dishes as I helped gather them. I left the dining area and was the first to return to our large communal bedroom. As I did, I went straight for my bed and reached into my pillowcase feeling around at a feverish pace.
I felt what seemed to be a folded up note and rushed to put it into my dress pocket alongside Abby's stone before anyone walked into the room. I heard a few of my sisters approaching and reached to my bedside table to grab my Bible and notebook. Gretchen and Mildred strolled in heading to their respective beds and gathering up their Bibles and notebooks as well.
I made the act of joining them seem as natural as possible and we went together into the main gathering room. The sisters slowly began to filter in and turn the pages of their Bibles while jotting down things here or there in their notebooks. Finally, once all the sisters had arrived and settled in, Mother came and spoke to all of us.
"Let's begin our morning meditation girls. We can start the process by saying what it is that we are most thankful for as always. Wendy dear, would you like to start?"
"Of course Mother, I am thankful to have such a wonderful and caring Mother. We are so blessed to have you taking care of us every day and night." A typical answer from Wendy, it seemed that most days she used some form of flattery to express her gratitude.
I couldn't help but notice Abigail was still absent from the group. I was beginning to be overtaken by dark suspicions. Chastity was the next to chime in for morning meditations.
"I am grateful for our home. We are lucky to have never seen the horrors and profanities that lie outside of this place."
"You are surely right about that, my dear." Mother chimed in.
Chastity continued. "I had another night terror last night. I was dreaming of those wretched creatures that Mother has spoken of from the outside world. The men, who want nothing more than to abuse us and defile our pure souls. It's just so horrible to imagine, I.." She broke off into sobs and was rushed over to by Gretchen and Mildred. They held her and reassured her that all was going to be ok.
I took this moment to make my move. "If you all will excuse me, I need to use the restroom, I will be right back."
"Hurry back Madison, we will be continuing shortly." Mother replied before going over to check on Chastity herself.
I nodded as I walked off hurriedly. The restroom was down the same hallway as Mother's room, which was where Abigail was supposed to be. I quietly walked past the restroom and crept into Mother's room. Abby was nowhere to be found, not on the bed as we were told or in her closet, my blood ran cold as I realized the deceit. I remembered the last thing that Abby said to me and pulled the note out of my dress pocket.
Folded up inside of the paper was a picture. It was 7 girls that looked just like us. They had their hair braided the same as ours. Their dresses were so strikingly similar that I was almost certain they were the exact same ones. I moved the picture to the side and read what Abby had scrawled on the paper.
"I found this while cleaning Mother's room. I am sure there is some kind of reasonable explanation, but I can't work up the guts to ask her about it. Maybe we can do it together, it always makes me feel better to have you by my side. Tell me what you think. – Love Abigail"
I began to back away in horror when I felt myself bump into something solid and felt warm breath on the back of my neck.
"Madison darling, we are waiting for you at morning meditation."
My pulse began to race, and the cold sweat began to form on my forehead. I used my best sleight of hand while trying to hide the contents of the note from Mother.
"I… I'm so sorry Mother. I thought I would check on Abigail after I finished in the restroom. I assume she must have moved back to her own bed." I said, ending my thoughts with an audible gulp and noticeably trembling.
"Oh dear, dear, dear. There is no need to worry about Abigail in the slightest. Do you know what the Bible says about sacrifice, my dear Madison?" Mother asked but gave me no time to answer. She began to pace beside me and slowly started circling me as I stood frozen in fear.
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." – Luke 9:24
"A beautiful scripture, isn't it Madison? You see, today is the day that my lovely daughters will be able to do the most glorious thing that one can for the Lord. They will lay down their very lives to glorify his name. You will have new heavenly bodies, gone will be the sins and vices of the flesh. You girls will be awaiting your Mother in paradise, where the streets are paved with gold. Far, far away from all of the evil of this forsaken world." Her voice was soothing even though not a word she said had the same effect.
I reached my hands into my dress pocket to better conceal the note and picture. It was then that I felt Abby's stone in my hand. I thought of the comfort that Abigail had always brought me, and I thought of what terror she must be in right now.
"Mother, where is Abigail?" I said coldly.
She stopped circling me and looked me dead in the eyes before answering.
"She is with Jesus now Madison. Before you know it, the rest of my beautiful daughters will be right there beside her."
Emboldened by hearing this statement I snatched the stone up with a firm grip and struck it down on the top of Mother's head. I lifted and dropped the stone more times than I can remember, crying as I did in remembrance of my loving sister.
I sobbed as I locked Mother's door and went to the place that none of us were supposed to know about. The place where Mother would leave to get our food or any other necessities. I saw her go to it when I was supposed to be taking a nap in her bed many years ago. In the back of her closet, somehow, she made the wall open and ascended into a hatch that presumably went into the outside world.
As I got back into the closet, I shoved her clothes to the side and saw a pin pad in the corner of the wall. I typed in the numbers to Mother's favorite Bible verse. Revelations 13:13. The door clicked and came open as I entered this, and I shoved through and made my way to the ladder and climbed into the hatch. There was a large wheel at the top that I spun as quickly as I could until there was no more spinning left to do. When I reached this point, I pushed upward and lifted the heavy lid.
It was that moment that I saw the sunlight for the first time in my life. It was warm and wonderful, and it made my skin tingle with a sensation that I had never experienced before. I had heard about it and read about it in books, but nothing could compare to feeling it on your skin for yourself firsthand. I grasped my stone from my sweet sister, and I held onto it like a small girl holds a baby doll when she is awoken from a bad dream. I took one step, and then another, and I continued to walk the only way that I could, forward into the great unknown.