My name is Hepzibah Landless and I’m old, toothless and so skinny my bones near to shows through my skin. Even so, I’m called Earth Mother by The Brethren, and I’m treated with reverence as the bearer of great men. I guess I’m lucky to be cherished above all other women, though that wasn’t how it started out to be.
I look at my twisted and gnarled hands and I know myself for a spoilt old crone, but inside I’m still the dirt ignorant little girl I was all them years ago. The girl what kept her mouth shut at all costs.
I ain’t a girl no more, though, and I knows I have to to write down what happened on that sunny day when the world took a lurch to the side. Nobody will see it until I’m gone ahead. I’ll make sure of that, ‘cause when they do…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to begin at the start.
It was Sunday, Temple Day, and we was going home between services to care for the beasts. The rest of the family was socialisin’ and eatin’ barbecue. But not us. Me and my brother Eli, and the hired hand, Zeb, what was a hard worker if not too bright, was given a sandwich to eat on the way and told to be back by three o’clock service or face a thrashing.
Eli was driving the buckboard and complaining.
“Three Sundays in a row now. Three Sundays in a row…”
I listened for a while but then I got bored with him moaning.
“I bin being sent home between services every Sunday for the last three months. I ain’t seen none of Ma’s sticky ribs since about February. What you got to gripe about?”
“Yeah,” he said smugly, “so you have. But you’re a girl and ripe for marryin’. You gotta be kept pure.”
I musta made a rude noise because he laughed, not unkindly, and pulled my braid. But at least he give over moaning.
We had just breasted the rise that is the last hill before home when it happened. There come a light from the sky like nothin’ I never seen before nor never since. The horse reared and bucked and it was all Eli could do to stop him from bolting off into the forest. He hauled on the reins while Zeb jumped out and grabbed ole Chestnut by his bridle.
“Whoa boy,” he said softly and gentled the frightened animal with his hands. “Whoa boy.”
I don’t rightly know what happened next. All I can say is as I woke up somewhiles later laying on something soft with some sort of a person standing over me.
The voice was gentle and I dared to open my eyes. As I stares at the face above me I hears Eli.
“Her is a she not an it. And her’s my kid sister.”
“What means ‘she’, and ‘sister’?” The voice was now interested.
Eli done his best to explain. “Critters of all sorts is he’s and she’s. That how little ‘uns comes about. And sister means we got the same Pa and Ma.”
The face looking down at me kinda creases as it tries to understand what Eli means. Another voice speaks from behind me.
“Take it from the small one’s brain. It is the more intelligent. I begin to wonder if we did wrong leaving the other behind.”
I couldn’t help myself. “If’n you thinks Eli is dumb youda been drove mad by Zeb. He’s a good boy but he don’t understand nothin’ beyond his supper.”
The face above me creases up some more before I feels a pair of cool hands on my face.
What I remembers of the next while would be frightening if’n I wasn’t looking back on it after better than seventy years – at the time it about turned my bowels to water. It seems to me, even to this day, as if a tall shining person took me by the hand and walked with me through my memories. Sometimes we stopped and the personage spoke to me, asking that I explain something, or why such-and-such was so. I done my best and I guess it must have been okay, because when we got to the moment where old Chestnut reared up his fool head and tried to light out for the hills I felt a touch on my face and I was back sitting on the softness in the bright lights of wherever I was. The place was like nowhere I ever imagined, and as well as me and Eli there was three tall shining people with wings on in the room. Two were sitting just watching me, while the other was fiddling with something that bleeped and flashed. It made me think of Cousin Beulah and her typewritin’ machine, only faster and more frightening.
I think I would’ve bin scared right out of my wits if it wasn’t for Eli. He come over and set himself down next to me.
“You okay Hepsie?”
“I guess. I got a headache some, and I wish I knowed what was going on.”
One of the shining figures come and kneeled down beside me. “You have pain?” it asked softly.
I nodded, and it put two hands on my head a bit like a hat. In a minute my headache went away and I felt good.
“Thankees.” I said. “Now I’m hungry. I never did get my sandwich.”
The one who I thought walked through my head with me brung a bowl and a spoon. I et the stuff, but it was mighty strange, kinda smooth and sweet and cold. Eli grinned.
“They says it is called ‘ice cream’, seems to me to be one of them things the Brethren calls sinful.”
“You have never tasted it before?” One of the winged ones seemed surprised.
“No sir, not neither one of us.”
With my headache gone and my belly full, I grabbed a handful of brave and asked the question what was right at the front of my mind.
“Are you angels?”
All three on them laughed, but it didn’t feel like they was being unkind. The one with the beeps machine turned away from his work to face me.
“You can think of us as angels if it helps,” he had a deep, calm voice and it come to me that I could trust him with my sanity if I had to, so I spoke the truth.
“I dunno if it do help much. If’n you’m angels then me and Eli is dead. Only I don’t feel dead.”
“Oh, you re most certainly not dead. In fact we will return you to your people soon.”
Part Two of Hepzibah’s Deposition will be here next Saturday.