Today's Reading

"In God's name, you better tell me the truth, Hattie Breckenidge," Candace called to her. "Where is Jane?"

Hattie followed the barrel of the rifle to Candace's eyes and looked right at her. "Gone," Hattie said. "I sent her away last night.
She's miles and miles from town now."

Others were moving in on her, forming a tight circle around the edge of the bog and stepping closer, feet sinking and squishing, good dress shoes being ruined.

"If she were here, I would kill her," Candace said.

The words twisted into Hattie's chest, drove out the breath there.

"I would kill her right in front of you," Candace snarled. "Take your daughter away from you as you took mine from me."

"I did no such thing," Hattie said.

"Lucy was in the schoolhouse!" Candace wailed, her body swaying, being pushed down by the weight of the words she spoke. "They just pulled her body out not an hour ago!" Her voice cracked. "Her and Ben and Lawrence. All dead!" She began to sob.

A part of Hattie, the little-girl part who looked over and saw her once-upon-a-time best friend in such pain, longed to go to her, to put her arms around her, to sing a soothing song, weave flowers into her hair, bathe her in the healing waters of the bog.

"Candace, I am truly sorry for this tragedy and for your pain, but it was not my doing. I told you—I told everyone in town—that I foresaw this disaster. That the schoolhouse would burn. That lives would be lost. But no one would listen. I only see glimpses of what will happen. I can't control it. Can't stop it."

She never got used to it—the shock of something she'd seen in a vision actually happening; a tragedy unfolding that she had no way to stop.

"I need you to stop speaking," Candace said, gripping the gun so tightly her hands turned white. "Stop speaking and put your hands up above your head."

Gun trained on her, Hattie did as she was told.

Men came from behind, bound her wrists with rope. "Bring her to the tree," Candace said.

What should I do? Hattie asked the voices, the trees, the bog itself. How will you help me out of this?

And for once in her life, for the one time she could recall in her thirty-two years here on earth, the voices were silent.

And Hattie was afraid. Deeply, truly afraid.

She knew in that moment that it was over. Her time had come. But Jane, Jane would be all right. They would not find her. She was sure.

Hattie went willingly to the tree, the largest in the woods around the bog. When they were young, she and Candace had called it the "Great Grandmother Tree" and marveled at its thick limbs that stuck out like arms in every direction, some straight, some curved.

Tree of life.

Tree of death.

Tree of my own ending, she thought as she saw the hangman's noose. There was a stool directly under it. A simple, three-legged kitchen stool. She wondered whom it belonged to. If they would take it home later, put it back at the table. If someone would eat dinner sitting on it tonight.

The men shoved her over to the stool; one of them put the noose around her neck, the rough rope draped like a heavy necklace. The rope had been thrown over a branch about fifteen feet up, and beneath it, three men stood holding the other end. She recognized them as the fathers of the dead children: Candace's husband, Huck Bishkoff; Walter Kline; and James Fulton.

"You should cover her head," Peter Boysko from the lumber mill suggested. "Blindfold her."

Peter had visited her for herbs and healing charms when his wife and children were so sick with the flu a few years back. They'd recovered well, and Peter had returned to Hattie with two of his wife's chicken potpies to thank her.

"No," said Candace. "I want to see her face as she dies. I want to watch her and know there is justice for Lucy and Ben and Lawrence. Justice for everyone she's ever harmed."

"I've harmed no one," Hattie told them. "And if all of you had listened to me, those children might still be alive."

If it weren't for my daughter, they would still be alive, she thought.

If only she'd been able to see that part. If only she'd known what was coming, she might have been able to stop it. But if there was one thing she'd learned, it was that you can't change the future. You can catch a glimpse of it, but it's not in your power to change it.
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