Atonement
By Robert S.C. Cutler  
The harmonic sound of distant bells echoed across the snow laden woods and fields of central Wisconsin .  Mitchell Koehler stood on the front
porch in the cold December air, too occupied with his girlfriend to notice.  He felt as if he was living a dream..  Never before had he brought a girl
home to meet his grandmother—Becca was the first.  Thoughts of asking her to marry him on Christmas Eve gave him butterflies in his stomach.  
He had the ring tucked away neatly in his suitcase—he now only needed to explain about his family—but that could wait for later.  
Mitchell was lost in thought when Becca’s quiet, sweet voice broke through the haze.  “I’m sorry; did you just say something?”
“I said, aren’t those sleigh bells beautiful?  They just make the night,” she sighed.  
“Sleigh bells?  Oh, no!” he gasped. “What day is it?”
“Thursday.  Why?”
“No, I mean the date!”  Beads of sweat started to form just above his brow.
“December twentieth,” she stated, glancing at her watch.  “Oh, it’s just past midnight .  I guess it’s actually the twenty-first.  Mitchell, what’s
wrong?”
He released her and ran to the front door.  “Oma!” he yelled for his grandmother.  “Oma, we’re late!”  
Gerda Weis, Mitchell’s sixty-two-year-old grandmother, came running out onto the front porch, drying her hands on the daisy print apron tied
around her waist.  Her usual pale complexion was void of all color.
“Oma, are we too late?” Mitchell asked.  His face was equally ashen.
“Not if we act right away,” she answered with a steady voice.  “You’ll have to do it for Me. ; I won’t make it in time.  Do you remember the way?”
Mitchell nodded his head.  “Which one should I take?”
“The nasty, little speckled one.  He bit me twice last summer,” she stated with confidence.  “You better hurry now.  They’re getting louder,” she
urged.  Mitchell obeyed and was headed for the barn before another word could be said.  
Becca stood quietly on the front porch watching her boyfriend run down the snow covered drive, trying to figure out what on earth he was so upset
about.  She felt a tender touch and then a forceful tug on her shoulder.  Gerda had her by the hand, pulling her firmly into the house.
“You don’t want to stay out in that cold wind, dear.  You’ll catch your death!” Gerda scolded.  “How about a nice cup of tea or coffee?  You need
something to warm those bones of yours.”
“Tea would be nice,” Becca answered.  “What’s going on, Oma?  Why is Mitchell acting so strangely?”   
“Just family business, dear; just family business.”
The ringing of the bells became more distinct.  The distant baa of a goat made Gerda pause.  Her weathered hands shook as she filled Becca’s cup
with hot water from the stove top kettle.  The goat’s protests, loud at first, were covered up by the increasing intensity of the bells.
“Is a neighbor or an acquaintance on their way?  Are those their sleigh bells I’m hearing?” Becca queried.  Something didn’t feel right to her.  
Something seemed dreadfully wrong.
Before Gerda could answer, Mitchell burst through the front door out of breath.  His right hand was covered with blood and his pants were soaked
with snow and feces from the goat.  The bells became deafening prompting him to take up refuge with his grandmother and Becca in the kitchen.
“Oh, my God, Mitchell!  You’re hurt!” Becca exclaimed.  She rushed over to him and attended to his hand immediately.
“That damn goat,” he laughed shaking his head.
“I told you he had bitten me,” Gerda proclaimed..  “Was it done proper?” she asked her grandson.
“Yes, Oma.  I did it just like you taught me,” he reassured.  “Stupid goat!  It pooped all over me too!” he laughed.
Becca had never heard a goat scream before.  She wasn’t aware that they were capable.  Terrified by the eerie sound, she turned toward Mitchell and
Gerda who each wore an expression of fear on their own faces.  
Gerda gripped Mitchell’s arm and closed her eyes—the floor rumbled beneath their feet.  In an instant, the goat’s screams were gone as were the
bells.  A sense of calm washed over her, knowing she had six more months of peace.    
Mitchell walked calmly over to the kitchen sink and began to rinse his injured hand.  He had already changed his mind about proposing on
Christmas Eve knowing Becca would have definite second thoughts after what had just happened.  She would want an explanation and he wouldn’
t be able to offer one.  He knew the rest of the visit would be painfully awkward and the long ride back to school would give her just enough time
to think of several ways to break off their relationship.    

***

Life in Madison was lonely enough for Mitchell without seeing Becca in most of his classes.  Three months had passed without as much of a glance
or word.  After an awkward pairing as partners in their statistic’s class, she warmed up to him once again and the two of them started dating.   On
the day after finals, he proposed in front of the library where they had first met.  For what seemed to Mitchell as an eternity, she accepted, but with
one condition—he would tell her everything about the strange night in December.
“I don’t understand,” Becca commented.  “What does your dead grandfather have to do with anything?  I wanted an explanation about the sleigh
bells and the goat, not what pact Grandpa Weis and the local Indians agreed upon.”
“I’m getting to that part,” he defended himself.  “Like I was saying; the land that my grandmother’s farm is on was once sacred to the local tribes.  
The small hill about one-hundred yards behind the barn was used for ceremonial sacrifices.”
“Sacrifices?  Like human Sacrifices?” she asked wide eyed.
“That part I’m not completely clear about,” he shrugged. “I think they only sacrificed animals...I’ll have to ask Oma.”
“So they sacrificed ‘what ever’ to their gods, right?”
“Pretty sure.  More like spirits—one spirit to be exact.”
“And the bells?  I’m assuming the sleigh bells I heard was the spirit...and the spirit ate the goat,” she explained for him rising up her eyebrows.
“That’s about it.”
“If you’re not going to be serious, Mitchell, then...I don’t know.”  She searched his eyes for the truth.  He looked more like a ragged teenage boy,
with his shaggy brown hair and thin freckled face, than a twenty-one-year-old business major..  Tears started to well up in her eyes.  All she wanted
was an honest explanation.  She thought about that night and the sounds she heard.  The fear on Mitchell and Oma’s face was so sincere, but her
plain common sense wouldn’t allow her to accept the answer she was given.
Mitchell reached out and gently touched her arm.  “If you don’t think I’m telling you the truth, then speak with Oma.  She’ll explain everything a lot
better than I can.”
“I don’t know...”
“Don’t know about what?  You know she’ll be more than honest with you.  There’s nothing nonsensical about her.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust your grandmother; I’m...I’m afraid to go back to the farm.  I was so frightened that night—you have no idea.”  Tears
were now flowing freely down her cheeks.  
Taking her in his arms, he whispered into her ear.  “I’m sorry.”  Her body trembled against his.  “Oma wants us to come out in about a month...
on June twentieth...if that’s okay with you.”
“I guess that will be fine,” she sniffed.  Her eyes and nose were red from crying.  “It will give me more time to think.”
“About your answer?” Mitchell fretted.
“No, silly,” she smiled.  “I already said yes!” she gushed, throwing herself at him and wrapping arms tight around his chest.  “I love you so much,
Mitchell...but right now...I’m still not comfortable with the thought of going back to your grandmother’s farm.  You understand, don’t you?”
He nodded his head knowing a month was more than enough to convince her that the farm was safe.  Right now, he just wanted to soak in the
moment of Becca actually agreeing to marry him.

***

The evening of June twentieth Mitchell and Becca arrived back at Gerda’s farm.  She was waiting out on the porch to greet them—her face aglow
with happiness for her only grandchild and the sweet girl he was going to marry.  Becca was still apprehensive about being there.  She emerged from
the Corolla with a smile for Gerda but on shaky legs.
“Hello, you two!”  Gerda waved smiling back.  “Supper’s still warm.  You’re just in time.”   
“Oma!  Oma, look,” Becca squealed showing off the half-carat diamond ring Mitchell still had yet to pay-off.   “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Oh my, yes it is!”
“Mitchell, bring in the bags.  Oma and I need to visit in private; you know, girl stuff,” Becca ordered.
Surprised by the tone in her voice, he didn’t respond, but merely did as he was instructed.  He watched with great curiosity as the two women
disappeared around the side of the house.
“Oma, I need to know something.  I need to know what happened that night I heard the sleigh bells,” Becca nervously asked.  “Mitchell tried to
explain but I don’t know whether to believe him or not.”
“Oh, dear me,” Gerda sighed.  “I guess if you’re going to be family, then you better know.”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  “Tell me
what Mitchell told you and I’ll try my best to fill in the gaps.”
“Well, he mentioned his grandfather back in the eighteen hundreds and some Indian tribe...and that the tribal leaders sold the land to your family.”
“That’s right.  My husband was a direct descendant of the first Weis to set foot on this land.  As the story goes, the tribe that once lived here were a
very desperate people and almost gave the land away,” Gerda expounded.  
“Why would they do that?  Were they forced off by the settlers?”
“Didn’t Mitchell tell you?  They had no other choice.”
“You’re talking about the sacrifices, right?”
Gerda hesitated.  “Atonement more than sacrifice—as the folklore goes: all those who occupy theses lands shall pay penitence to the Great Spirit or
suffer eternal darkness,” she explained.  
“Great Spirit?  You don’t believe in the sort of thing—do you, Oma?”
“What you heard that night, Becca, was the spirit.  At the sound of the first bells we must be inside with all of the doors and windows shut until it
passes by,” she explained further, staring off into the distance.
“What would happen if you didn’t...if you just stood out on the porch?”
“I’d rather not discuss that part.  I can’t...”  Gerda’s eyes became moist with tears.
Seeing she was becoming upset, Becca tried her best to divert the conversation back to the goats.  “So...you tie a goat to an old post on the rise just
south of the barn and wait?”
“Yes,” Gerda nodded and wiped her eyes.
“Is that what the Indians did?  Sacrifice a goat?” Becca asked with a confused look in her face.
“No.  They didn’t keep live stalk.  They believed all of the animals belonged to the land...and the people belonged to the spirit world.  Every six
months on the eve of the winter and summer solstice, the tribal elders would choose an infant child by way of a system very similar to a lottery.  
The baby was then separated from its mother and placed on the top of the rise as offering to the Great Spirit.”  
“That’s awful!” Becca gasped.     
“The winter before Augustus and his family arrived, there was a wide spread illness that greatly decimated the tribes population.  Only a handful
survived.  There simply weren’t any babies left to offer, so they either had to flee the land or face annihilation by the spirit.”
“Augustus didn’t sacrifice any babies, did he?”
“No.  Of course not!  He thought it was all just silly Indian folklore and put it out of his mind.  It wasn’t until the eve of the summer solstice that
he found out it wasn’t.  At midnight , he heard the same bells that you did.  Curious, he ventured out of the small cabin he had built for his family
and walked toward the rise in the earth.  The cabin was located roughly where the barn is today.  The noise became so loud, it shook the ground.  
Augustus’s teenage son, Rolf, heard it also and joined his father outside.  Over the hill,
a bright, white light hovered.  Augustus stood mesmerized, unable to move.  Rolf, however, couldn’t help himself and ran toward it determined to
find out what it was.  His father’s pleads for him to turn back were ignored.  As Rolf reached the mound, his body became engulfed by white
flames.  He let out a high pitch scream and then he and the light simply vanished.  Augustus was never the same after that night, blaming himself
for not listening to the tribal leaders.   He spent many a day searching for his lost son.   
By the winter solstice he was ready for the spirits return.  He placed a post in the ground—the very one that is there today—and then tied a calf to
it.  He and his family waited in their cabin with all of the lanterns and candles extinguished.  When the eerie sound of the bells echoed across the
land they braced themselves for the worst.  The vibration was so great; it broke windows and knocked dishes onto the floor.  The calf let out an
unnatural cry and then there was only silence.”
“That’s awful,” Becca trailed off.  “Why didn’t they just move on after they lost their son?”
“They had spent or traded almost everything they owned.  There was no place to go.  All of their family was still in Germany .”
“So your family has been carrying on the tradition for more than one-hundred-fifty-years?”
“Not a tradition,” Gerda corrected.  “We are more or less paying for the privilege of using this land.”    
“Why use a goat instead of a calf?  Doesn’t this spirit-god care?”
“It doesn’t appear so.  My husband’s family started using goats around sixty-years ago because they were simply cheaper,” she laughed.  “It worked
the first time, so they just continued.”
The conversation had started to give Becca a headache.  She had an overwhelming urge to hop into the car and leave—with or without Mitchell.  
“Why are you still here?” she asked, turning abruptly.  “You married into the family...like I’ll be doing.  I don’t think I would stay.”
“This place is all I’ve known for the past forty-four-years.  I gave birth to Mitchell’s mother right in the very same bed where I lost my husband.  
They’re both buried on the north side of the farm with the rest of their family.  I hope to join them there one day, but not too soon.”
“I’m sorry, Oma.  I didn’t mean any disrespect,” Becca hung her head and apologized.
“I have a wonderful idea!” Gerda gushed clapping her hands and slightly bouncing.  “You can help with the goat!   That is you can help Mitchell.  
All you have to do is walk it up to the post and tie it off.”
“I don’t know...”she hesitated.  “We might not have time to drive all the way back here.”
“Drive back?  Oh....no, dear.  You don’t understand.  The summer solstice starts at midnight .  The Great Spirit will be here in less than five hours.”
Becca became lightheaded—the ground spun around at her feet.  Beads of sweat formed all over her face.  “I don’t feel so right...Oma.  I need
Mitchell.”  Her voice was dry.
“Mitchell...Mitchell!”  Gerda yelled toward the house.
He came running from the backside of the house just as Becca sat hard on the ground.  “Becca!  What’s wrong?”  She sat with her head between her
knees.
“I think it was my fault,” Gerda fretted.  “I mentioned that it would be nice if she could help you with placing the goat.  I don’t think she knew it
was tonight.  Didn’t you tell her?”
Looking quite guilty, Mitchell shook his head.  “I didn’t think she would come out here if I did.  I’m sorry, Becca.  I should’ve told you.”
Becca grabbed hold of his arm and looked into his eyes.  “Just take me home.  Please, Mitchell.  I can’t stay another minute in this place.”
“All right.  I’ll get our bags,” he exhaled.  “I’m sorry we can’t stay, Oma.”  He was too embarrassed to look at her.
“I can’t do this by myself, Mitchell.”  Her voice was flat and steady.  “My heart isn’t as strong as it should be.  My doctor told me that any stress or
strenuous exercise could bring on an attack.  It’s all I can do to get myself around to tend to the goats.  I need the both of you to stay.  I can’t....”  
She trailed off and turned away with her hand over her mouth, trying to conceal that she was crying.
Mitchell looked at Becca, pleading with his eyes for her to change her mind.  Before he could say a word, she sat up and answered for him.  “Oma,
don’t worry.  We’ll stay.  I’ll be more than happy to help.”
“Are you sure?” Mitchell asked wide eyed.
Becca stood up and dusted herself off.  She ignored Mitchell and walked directly over to Gerda.  “Just this time, Oma,” she reaffirmed holding
Gerda’s hands in hers.  She turned her head and stared Mitchell directly in the eyes.  “For me to ever come back, someone would have to re-earn my
trust.  I won’t stand being deceived—especially by one whom I love so deeply.”  She let go of Gerda’s hands and walked into the house without
another word.  Gerda left Mitchell kneeling on the ground.  She shook her head, clearly disappointed in her grandson.  

***

Becca stayed in the guest bedroom until eleven-fifteen in the evening.  She politely refused an invitation from Gerda to have some supper and
ignored all requests by Mitchell to talk.  Walking through the dimly lit house, she passed Gerda asleep in her easy chair with a wind-up alarm clock
set to eleven-thirty close to her on the end table.  Mitchell was nowhere in sight so she figured he must be at the goat pen getting prepared.  
Outside, the scent of rain traveled on a cool breeze.  Flashes of lightning illuminated the south-west night sky.  She walked hesitantly along the
overgrown pathway wishing she had never agreed to stay.  Although she was angry at him, the sight of Mitchell standing in the lantern lit goat pen
calmed her down.  He was messing with a rope fashioned into a lasso, mumbling something inaudible at the goats.
“Is that how you’re supposed to catch them?” Becca asked, trying hard to be nice.
“Oh, hi,” he responded—his face flush with embarrassment—too ashamed to look her in the eyes.  “No.  I’m just goofing around, killing time.”
“For a minute there, I thought you went ahead and did it without me.”
“Did what?  Oh...the goat.  It’s not time yet.  They have a tendency to eat through the rope and get away.”
“What do you do to stop them?  I wouldn’t think it would take too long for one of them to get loose.”
“We wait until we just hear the bells and then dash up the hill and tie the goat so close to the poll it doesn’t have room to chew at the rope,” he
quietly explained.
“That’s a long way to run.  No wonder you were out of breath that night.”  She climbed over the fence into the pen and was instantly mobbed by a
group of young goats in search of a hand out.  “Oh, my God!  They are so cute!  I could never tie one of these sweet, little things up to a post just
so some ancient god can eat it up.  It would break my heart.  How do you do it?”  
“It’s easy.  We use the adults.”  Mitchell smiled feeling a little more at ease.  “Usually an older one.  That’s how my grandfather used to do it.”
“How did he die?”
“Opa?  He had a heart attack...about five-years ago.”
“He couldn’t have been more than sixty-years-old; right?  Did he have heart problems too?”
Mitchell didn’t answer.  He looked away hoping Becca wouldn’t push.  How his grandfather died was the last thing she needed to hear.  Her hand
on his shoulder sent shudders through his entire body.  She turned his head and they gently kissed.  Her soft lips on his melted his heart.  “I can’t
tell you.  You’ll leave and I’ll never see you again.”  He was close to tears.
“No I won’t.  I promise.”  Her eyes were sincere.  “I told Oma that I would stay and help.  I’m not going to break my word.”
Mitchell felt sick.  The thought of how his grandfather had died frightened him as much as it would Becca.  
“It was the spirit, wasn’t it?”
Mitchell nodded.  He was now crying.  “He and Oma overslept and was late getting the goat.   By the time he had tied it to the post the spirit was
already there.  He started to run but tripped just as he stepped away.  When he looked up the spirit was standing over him.  Oma heard my
grandfather scream and ran after him.  It took her almost an hour to get him to their bed.  Before the ambulance could get there, he was gone.”
“Did he tell her what it looked like?”  Becca asked staring past him.  She felt disconnected from the world.  She couldn’t believe what she was
hearing.  
“Oma never said and probably never will.”
Becca scooped up one of the younger goats and scratched its head until it kicked to be let go.  “Which one?” she asked.
“You’re not frightened?”
“No.  Not really.  I feel kind of numb..”
Surprised by her reaction, Mitchell simply pointed to an all white female standing in the corner of the pen by itself.  “That one,” he pointed.   “It’s
either really old or really sick.”
A clap of thunder exploded over their heads announcing the arrival of the storm front.  The deafening noise caused them both, as well as the goats,
to jump.   Becca glanced at her watch and announced it was fifteen till midnight .  
“Already?  We need to hurry!”  Mitchell made quick work of placing the noose around the goat’s neck.  “Come on, Becca.  We have just enough
time to place the goat and get inside the house.”
She followed him out of the pen and past the barn.  The ground lightning from the storm, that would in most cases make her nervous, was of no
concern.  She could think of nothing else but getting the goat to its destination and then running as fast and far away as possible..   
The pelting rain soaked through their clothing and made holding onto the rope exceptionally difficult for Mitchell.  Which each clap of thunder the
nanny struggled to break free.  He had to drag her the final few yards through the wet grass and mud.  
“Help me hold her down,” Mitchell grunted as he applied all of his weight against the struggling goat.  He wrapped the rope several times around
the post and pulled tight.  
Becca grabbed her around the mid section.  The smell of wet goat tasted bitted on her tongue.  “Are you almost done?  This animal stinks!”
Mitchell took her by the hand and guided her back down the hill in the direction of the barn and house.  The sky let loose soaking their already
drenched clothes.  “I don’t know if we’ll be able to hear the bells in this weather,” he announced.  “We better go straight into the house and wait.”
Becca didn’t say a word back.  She just wanted to get out of the rain and have it be the next day so she could go home.  She had had enough of the
family stories, the spirit, and the goat ritual.  
Halfway to the barn they were passed by a small, white animal dragging a rope behind it..  “Shit!  That was the goat!” Mitchell exclaimed.
“Grab the rope, Mitchell!  Hurry!”
Mitchell took off ahead of Becca.  He splashed through the long grass and mud puddles kicking up debris in his face.  As if sensing his presence, the
goat looked back and picked up speed.  She didn’t let up until they were back at the pen.  Cautiously approaching, he took hold of the rope—
another clap of thundered rumbled directly over their heads.  The goat spooked and bolted forward catching Mitchell off guard, causing him to lose
his footing and the rope.  His left foot became caught up in the fence railing—his ankle turned and snapped in two places sending a hot jolt of pain
throughout his entire body.
“Mitchell!  What happened?  Are you okay?” Becca anxiously asked finding her fiancé writhing in pain on the muddy ground.  “What happened to
the goat?”
The faint melodic tone of distant bells echoed across the fields in between rumbles of thunders.  Mitchell’s face, red from anger, turned white in
seconds from fear.
“Oh, no!  It’s coming!” Becca exclaimed.  “What do I do?”
“Grab another goat!  You have just enough time before it gets here!” he shouted.
Becca climbed over the fence and grabbed hold of the first one she saw.  It slipped from her grip scraping up her forearms.  She tried desperately to
catch the others but they were all too fast.
“Becca. You’ve got to do it now!” Mitchell panicked.  
“I’m trying!  They’re just too quick for me!”  She had started to cry.
“Grab one of the younger ones.  They will do just fine.”  Gerda ordered, approaching swiftly from the direction of the house.  She too was soaked.  
The sun hat she used for gardening was tied around her chin in a neat bow.  
Becca reluctantly picked up a young black and white patched goat that was nibbling on her tennis shoes and climbed back over the fence.  “There’s a
new rope hanging by the shovel and rake,” Mitchell called to her.
“Got it!” she yelled back.  
“Becca, you need to hurry.  There isn’t much time left!” Gerda pleaded.  
Becca ran full out with the young goat wrapped tightly in her arms amidst the thunder and increasing intensity of the bells.  Her legs pumped hard
and her feet slapped against the saturated prairie grass.  The mound seemed miles away and she felt as if she were in a nightmare..
“How bad is it, Mitchell?”  Gerda asked watching as Becca disappeared around the barn.
“My ankle’s broken, Oma.  I don’t think I can stand,” he winced.
“Just stay still.  I’m going to help Becca.  She shouldn’t be doing this all on her own.”
“But, Oma.  What about your heart?”
“I’ve already lost my husband to that thing.  I refuse to lose my future granddaughter!  I’ll be just fine.”  She took off running through rain
puddles filled with mud and muck—vanishing into the dark night.
Becca collapsed as she reached the post and almost dropped the goat.  She struggled to tie a noose around the squirming animal’s neck—its hind
hoofs digging into her thighs.  “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she apologized.  “I’m trying not to hurt you.”
Reaching for the post, she suddenly stopped.  Her heart sank.  She couldn’t bring herself to do it.  She couldn’t kill that innocent baby.  Even as the
incessant clamor of bells grew closer, she sat in the mud holding the goat close to her body.  
“Becca!” Gerda’s voice broke through the wind and rain.  “Becca!  Tie the goat to the post and get out of there!” she cried.
Becca turned toward Gerda shaking he head.  Behind her, a few hundred yards out, the sky and ground became illuminated by a white, pulsating
light.  Like a shadow on the earth, the light traveled quickly across the field in their direction.  
“Becca, for God’s sake, you’ve got to do it now!” Gerda yelled once more as she ascended the hill.  She fought through the saturated ground with
all of her strength—her chest tight with burning pain.
Becca saw her lurching for the goat and tried to turn away, but was too slow.  Gerda snatched the struggling kid from her arms and, wrapped the
rope around the post the best she could.  A bright flash of ground lightning momentarily blinded her causing her to drop the rope.  The goat
worked itself out of the poorly made noose and ran back down the hill in the direction of the pen.  
“Becca!  Catch it!” Gerda yelled.
Becca started back down the hill and was stopped by a terrifying cry.   She turned quickly toward Gerda who was cowering behind the post.  The
bright light was upon them both.  The bells were so loud; she could no longer hear the wind and rain.   
Standing before them was a hulking figure over ten-feet in height and adorned in ornamental feathers.  It had the face of a gray wolf bearing its
teeth—a shimmering golden bow and arrow was clutched tight in its massive hands.  
Becca struggled to get back up the hill, crawling on all fours to maintain her balance.  Black, lifeless eyes fixed on Gerda.  The Great Spirit pulled back
its bow and aimed it directly at her heart.  The ground shook violently beneath them causing Becca to tumble backward.  She raised her head just in
time to see the arrow release and plunge into the center of Gerda’s chest.  She let out a primal scream—her frail body consumed by white flames.  
And then as if neither had ever existed, the Great Spirit and Gerda were gone.  The storm had traveled to the east and the skies were once again clear.
“Oma!  Oma!” Becca screamed.  She lay soaked with rain and covered in mud.  “Oma?  Where are you?  Oma!”  She managed to pull herself back up
the hill only to find the post with the rope still wrapped around it and but no sign of Gerda.  Frantic, she searched the surrounding area close to an
hour, never finding a trace of Mitchell’s grandmother.

***

The weeks following the summer solstice, Becca helped Mitchell with everyday life while his ankle healed.  She also made sure Gerda had her own
stone next to her husband’s.  In the absence of her body, Mitchell placed photos of her life in a shallow grave.  Unable to fully forgive Becca for his
grandmother’s death, he grew cold and distant, eventually breaking off their engagement.  
Becca returned to Madison the beginning of August in hopes of gaining control back over her life before the start of fall semester.  She neither could
fully forgive Mitchell for dragging her into his family’s nightmare.  She should never have been there—she wasn’t ready.  In her mind, his lies cost
Gerda her life.  Now one person was dead and two person’s lives would never be the same.
In the long days to come, Mitchell sat alone in the house and waited for the first moments of winter when he must again obey his earthly duty and
serve the very thing that had blessed his family with the rich land that he now owned, and then with great malice, had taken the person he loved
most in the world.  His last thoughts of the day were often filled with the horrid cries of his grandmother—his dreams filled with the haunting,
melodic tones of the bells.  Although he could have left months prior, something deep inside urged him to stay—pure guilt in the pit of his
stomach.  Guilt so strong it would surely kill him unless he acted twice a year with full and selfless atonement.