It would be their last supper together, yet no one knew it at the time. They sat ready to enjoy a multi-course Thanksgiving bounty prepared by a highly skilled staff. It was a proud family tradition going back generations. They had many things in common. Everyone at the table had the surname of Christian. That name bore with it a proud Anglo-Saxon heritage which could be traced to back to England and a ten-week boat ride aboard the Mayflower in the Fall of 1620. All were residents of New York State, specifically the Huffington Beach area of what people referred to as “upstate”, near breathtaking Brickton Lake, less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. They were also very wealthy, born into opulence, and would never understand how the rest of the world existed without a bottomless trust fund and pocket money that could feed a family of four for a year. The most ominous of the things the Christians had in common on that Thanksgiving was each one of them wanted a person at the table to die. Oddly, at this last supper, that would be the least of their concerns.
At the head of the table sat the patriarch, 87-year-old Bryce Sheffield Christian. His wife, Maryann, died only two months before at the age of 86 from a heart attack. It was because of Maryann that the family was sitting at the table on Thanksgiving. She loved the tradition that went back generations. Maryann was the matriarch of the family and loved tracking the genealogy for every branch of the Christians. She also researched her own family, the Oehlers, who were German immigrants to the United States during the Great Depression. Bryce promised her that he would keep the family coming for Thanksgiving when she knew the end was close, battling a terrible case of COPD from years of cigarette smoking. He didn’t tell her that he planned on this being the last one.
The Christian estate was an 18,000-square foot mansion on 100 acres of partially wooded property which bordered the north side of Brickton Lake. It was breathtaking to see while driving along route 18, heading north from Huffington Beach, on a hill with a spectacular landscape. There was also a fountain, multiple water features, and a variety of trees and bushes – sculpted with precision. There was a large orchard that produced wonderful Gala and Jonagold apples which Bryce had his chef use for pies, cider, and other things. The home had 10 bedrooms, two living rooms, a commercial-sized kitchen, formal and informal dining rooms, a large game room in the lower level, a ballroom, a small gym, a movie theater, detached servant quarters, and various outbuildings for storage. It was much too much house for Bryce to live in alone, but he liked to entertain when he felt up to it, and now they were enjoying the formal dining room that had a wonderous view of the extensive back yard. At his advanced age, Bryce spent much of his time reading and napping with Rusty, the family German Shepherd, who was 12 years old and geriatric himself.
Through the large picture window in the formal dining room, guests could see the magnificent oak tree behind the house. It had been there before the Christians came to Huffington Beach. Since Maryann had died, a small plaque was displayed on a metal signpost near the tree. This was Maryann’s final resting place, as her ashes were scattered at the base of the oak tree when she was cremated. Those were spelled out carefully in her final wishes since the oak tree was her favorite place to sit and read, especially once the kids were grown and out of the house. It was also where she spent hours playing with the children when they were little. With the family in the house eating their Thanksgiving dinner together, having a view of the oak tree meant that Maryann was watching over them, and in some way, there in spirit.
For all the pomp and circumstance that came with the Christian family, there was also a dark side. Every family has their secrets, and the Christians were no different in that regard. They just buried the skeletons a bit deeper or pushed them further back into the dark folds of the closet. As a matter of fact, just as their wealth and status in the community was second to none, so their darkest secrets were that much more dreadful. If one were to drive by the estate and see the expansiveness, they would envy a family like the Christians. If the balance in their bank accounts were known to the outside world, along with their obscene investment portfolios, trust funds, and material things, people would become hateful and jealous. Yet, beneath the surface of this seemingly blessed family lies a darkness so endless, it would cause anyone to cower in primal fear.
This secret was one that had not been uttered between them since that horrible night in July of 1976. Each family member present on that night remembers the finest thread of detail. It has consumed each of them in its own awful way, yet the pain they’ve endured has been a private hell. One which was unique to each, and their experience dealing with it varied. Each had their own concrete cell to think about the horrible events that transpired on that humid summer evening at the estate in Huffington Beach, New York in July of 1976.
In July of 1976, Bryce was 42 years old. He was in the prime of his career as an investment broker and partner at Christian & Christian with his brother, Ethan. Both brothers graduated from law school at Yale University in New Haven, CT at the top of their classes. Bryce made more money with investments and didn’t practice law. Ethan was the firm’s attorney but also had many investments which did extremely well. The amount of wealth that Bryce and Ethan accumulated was simply incredible and dwarfed the massive trust fund that each of the men received on their 21st birthdays for winning life’s lottery as a member of the Christian family.
Their father, T. Filmore “Skip” Christian, had invested wisely in property and made a lot of money with the railroad when the industry exploded in the early 20thcentury. Skip Christian was also one of the principal investors in the diesel engine that changed railroad travel in the 1940s and from that alone was able to retire to a life of philanthropy, fishing, hunting, and chasing much younger women. He left both of his sons a vast fortune when he died in 1967, which included two hundred acres of property near Brickton Lake. Bryce took his 100 acres and built the estate they currently were using for their holiday meal. Ethan didn’t build on his 100 acres, but instead chose to live in New York City upon retiring. When he died from a massive stroke in 1988, Ethan’s widow and four children decided to sell the property to Bryce, who left it as timber.
On that early afternoon in July of 1976, approximately 20 miles to the west of Huffington Beach, was the Greenfield State Prison in rural western New York State. It was a massive institution, built in the early 20th century, and looked like a midlevel castle from a distance. There were a total of 17 buildings on the 200-acre property. With 40-foot-high concrete walls topped with razor ribbon, it was an imposing sight, especially to new inmates. It was lacking the modern security measures that the newer prisons in New York had, and was slated for demolition the following year. A new prison would be built on the same property to the east, so eventually the inmates could be moved from the original prison to a new, state-of-the-art penitentiary named after Q. William Britton, the first warden who served from 1908 to 1933.
At 1:20 pm that afternoon, a dangerous inmate escaped from Greenfield. His name was Arthur Snyder. He was convicted of killing seven young women and teenage girls from the fall of 1973 to the summer of 1975. After violently raping his victims, he strangled them with a nylon stocking, and posed some of the bodies in a sexually suggestive manner. He disposed of his last victim in a large salvage yard on the south end of town, but a man walking his dog found the body wrapped in a roll of old shag carpet.
A witness came forward, describing a green work van with the company name, “Werner Plumbing and Heating”, on the side of it. He said the driver got out of the van and threw away what he thought was a large roll of carpet. The witness said the driver disposed of the carpet in an open area of the fence that bordered Poughkeepsie Auto Salvage. The witness was a retired corrections officer who lived across the street. Arthur was a plumber who worked for Werner Plumbing and Heating the past three years, and was the only employee doing service calls in that part of town on the day in question. In addition, Arthur had a prior record with the police for burglary and a few minor drug offenses.
The police wanted to talk to Arthur Snyder, so two detectives were sent to see if he was home. They would see if they could get him to voluntarily come to the station to answer some questions and get a warrant to search his work van. To be on the safe side, a patrol car was waiting outside with two officers, in case things got violent.
Someone at Werner Plumbing and Heating called Arthur to tell him the police called and were asking questions about him. It was one of the office staff that liked Arthur and disliked their employer.
Arthur panicked after hearing about the police calling for him at work. Someone had seen his work van when he dumped the last victim at the salvage yard? Anxiety was palpable as his mind raced. His wife, Sharon, was in the living room with their two children, 5-year-old Thomas and 3-year-old Susan, watching TV. Pacing back and forth, he kept looking out the kitchen window to the street below. Violent thoughts filled his head and concern at what Sharon would say when the police told her what he did. He did horrible things to degrade and defile those girls. Two of them were 16, and the rest were in their early 20s. They were prostitutes, and Arthur felt he was doing society a favor by ridding them from the world. They were disgusting and filthy to him, and because of this, he wore a condom when he raped them. Arthur vomited after he ejaculated. He took a thorough hot shower when he was done to wash their filth from his body. Ironically, he could be found at the North Avenue Christian Church every Sunday with his wife and children, singing and clapping louder than the rest.
As police were on the way to Arthur’s apartment, he marched into the living room and beat Sharon and the two children to death with an aluminum baseball bat he kept in the broom closet for intruders. Police arrived and took him into custody minutes after he did the heinous act, completely covered in blood and hysterically laughing. He patiently waited for the police outside of the apartment, smoking a cigarette, and drinking a beer. Blood dripped from every part of his body. He didn’t resist one bit and confessed to all the murders before they even got him down to the police station. Arthur told them emphatically it was “his mission from God” to murder those girls to save them from themselves and to keep men from giving into their carnal desires. Arthur’s public defenders tried for a “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea, but it didn’t work, and the jury found him guilty on all of the charges. Sadly, there were ten victims in all. He smiled as the deputies led him from the courtroom, the families of the victims weeping.
Arthur had been sent to Greenfield earlier in the year and was facing the death penalty, but since capital punishment was federally abolished in 1976, his sentence was commuted to life. Arthur wished for death, rather than spend a long, terrible existence with the inmates at Greenie. He knew that crimes against women and children were frowned upon by the prison community and he would be targeted daily by an institution filled with vicious predators. It was a notoriously brutal prison that the old timers feared the most. Due to the graphic nature of his offenses, the State of New York decided Greenie was a good place for a murderer like Arthur.
Arthur escaped Greenie in a laundry truck and was extremely lucky to get out of the vehicle before being discovered by anyone. Lax security at the prison’s sally port, and two new correctional officers covering the lunch shift, was the stroke of luck that Arthur needed. It was discovered nearly an hour later when they were one short on the count. A call was made to Warden Emil Thomlinson at 2:02 pm and every State and local resource was employed to find the fugitive. The warden notified authorities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as the Canadian police, due to their proximity to the prison. The story made it to the evening news that night at 6pm, but Maryann was outside with the children, preparing to let them sleep in tents for the night, after cooking hotdogs on an open fire.
There were four children and she loved them dearly. The oldest was Brendan, a very gifted 12-year-old that was being groomed to be the next Christian family member at Yale Law School. Then there was Helen, also an extremely bright student who loved art, and at the age of 10 had already decided she was going to be an architect and move to New York City to build skyscrapers. The twins, Barnaby and Lorraine, were both 8 years old, and were mentally challenged with IQs in the low 40s. Maryann had a severe case of German measles when she was six months pregnant with them, but technology at the time could only predict that it was likely the twins would be born with deficiencies. The doctors weren’t sure how much the disease would impact the children. Even with the might of the Christian money and influence, no better tests were available in the late 1960s. Bryce and Maryann waited and prayed those last three months of the pregnancy, hoping the children would be healthy and be able to lead normal lives.
The babies were born on October 13th of 1967 and were a blessing to Maryann despite the fact there were obvious problems. The infant twins were born with water on the brain, which caused them to have enlarged skulls and protruding foreheads. The doctors told Bryce and Maryann the twins suffered moderate to severe mental retardation and would need assistance to do even routine things their entire lives. Maryann was devastated but loved the twins just the same.
Bryce did not take the news well. He was concerned that their condition and appearance would be perceived by others in a negative way and besmirch the Christian family name. Bryce was weighing his political aspirations at the time and planning to make a run for governor the following year. This was at a time when society looked at this subject much differently than today. Bryce felt it would make him look defective himself, despite Maryann begging him to not let those thoughts change the way he was toward the children. Bryce was distant from that day forward toward Maryann, finding her repulsive after the twins were born. He also blamed her family genes on the twins’ condition, refusing to believe he had anything to do with the matter. Arguments were heated, and on more than one occasion, he even told Maryann he wanted a paternity test to be sure the children were his. She was accused of having an affair with just about every male employee that worked at the estate. To say his attitude created a strange dynamic in the home was an understatement. She wanted to leave him, but she was afraid he would kill her, rather than pay alimony and child support.
Maryann, Brendan, and Helen loved the twins and showered them with attention and love. They were the reason the children were camping behind the estate on that July night. Ever since their Uncle Ethan took the kids camping at Niagara Falls last summer, the twins absolutely loved sleeping in tents under the stars. Brendan and Helen made it fun and told scary stories by the fire, made S’mores with them, and other fun activities. Maryann loved seeing the four of them together like that. It made her forget about how cold Bryce was toward her and the children since the twins came into the world. She loved her time at the oak tree behind the house, where her mind would allow an escape from the prison walls of the estate.
Arthur Snyder had proved himself a worthy adversary to authorities and remained on the run all day, avoiding capture and managing to find some clothes on a line behind a farmhouse. He was able to get rid of his prison uniform for a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. He found a hose and was able to clean up before hitching a ride with a traveling salesman who enjoyed the company. Luckily, the man had his radio turned off and didn’t hear the breaking news of the prison escape. Earlier, Arthur had jumped out of the laundry truck at a stop sign near a steep slope on the side of the road. He slid into the shadows before anyone noticed he was gone. The driver of the truck was listening to a Yankee game on the radio, cursing at whoever struck out to end the inning before he realized an escaped convict had been a passenger of his.
The talkative salesman dropped Arthur off at a gas station along route 18. It was 25 miles from Greenville. Arthur walked east to a wooded area as the sun was setting behind him. He knew that it would be difficult to make his way through the dense forest with no light, but it was also a good place to hide from the many police officers at the local, county, and state level that had been in a frantic search for the escaped rapist and brutal murderer. He continued on, despite the humid conditions and dwindling daylight. He could see a large body of water to his left and wasn’t sure exactly where he was. There were some boats on the water, but they were at a distance and couldn’t see him. Arthur continued through the woods, staying close to the tree line as the sun set and visibility was next to nothing. He was hungry, tired, and sweaty as he decided to hide for the night. In the distance, about two hundred yards away, on the other side of an apple orchard, he saw a fire. Something was cooking that smelled pretty good to him. His desire to eat outweighed the risk of getting caught. Arthur seldom made good decisions under pressure.
Brendan insisted they have beans and weenies on the fire, just like he had done dozens of times when he went camping with his cousins. Brendan and Helen enjoyed helping their mother cook over the fire, since it was something they rarely got to do. With a full staff at the estate, the children almost never got the chance to prepare anything for themselves. Maryann gave the help the night off and bought them tickets to the county fair in Rayburn. It was just her and the children in the back yard by the fire, cooking a large pot of beans and weenies, with a touch of brown sugar and a few other secret family ingredients added. It smelled wonderful and the children were excited. Maryann made cornbread in the oven and brought it out, wrapped in tin foil, to warm up as the rest of the food was cooling off.
Maryann sat in a lawn chair, smoking a cigarette with a glass of red wine, watching the four children eat their supper. Barnaby was enamored with his older brother, Brendan, and mimicked what he did, dipping a piece of cornbread into the beans on his plate. Helen helped Lorraine with her corn on the cob, cutting the kernels off to make it easier for her sister. The older children had picked a few campfire songs they wanted to sing together after they finished, and Maryann was going to head back into the house to get her acoustic guitar when she heard the sharp crack of a branch breaking. The kids were quiet at that moment, so the sound seemed to be magnified in the spacious back yard by the oak tree.
“Mom, did you hear that?” asked Brendan, setting his plate down for a moment. He looked around, wondering what the noise was.
“Yes, I did. Sounded like a branch snapped. Is anyone there?” she asked, wishing she had a flashlight with her. The campfire flickered but was already starting to go out. It didn’t give them much light to see.
There was another cracking sound that came from the orchard that bordered the back yard and separated their property from Brickton Lake. Her pulse throbbed as she looked around the campfire, making sure all four of her children were accounted for. Helen also sensed something was wrong.
“Mom, I think we should go in the house,” Helen said, finishing a last bite of her dinner. She stood up and took Lorraine’s hand. “Come on, Lorrie.”
“Yes, I agree. Let’s go into the house, children. We can come back out later,” Maryann said, her eyes searching the darkness for something that was making the noises they could clearly hear.
“Oh, come on!” exclaimed Brendan, “we don’t need to be worried about some raccoon or possum that’s out there in the woods. I’m sure that’s all it is.”
Suddenly Maryann felt a sharp blow to the head, and everything went black.
When Maryann regained consciousness, she found herself tied to the metal gate that went around their inground pool. Her vision was blurry, and the back of her head ached with a sharp pain from being hit with a large rock. A sneering Arthur Snyder stood over her, staring at her long legs. His eyes were wild and darting back and forth. He was just under 6-feet tall and of average build with a military-style crew cut. Maryann looked at him through blurred vision but could tell there was something off about the way he stared at her. It was like something was happening inside his head that no one else was hearing. Maryann was wearing a one-piece bathing suit and despite having four children, she looked good for her age at 52. Despite what Bryce thought of her, her Oehler genes were sound.
“You’re a filthy whore!” said Arthur as the lights from the pool illuminated his face, blood flowing down his chin. “You bit me!” His eyes were a hazel green and seemed to pulsate. He smiled wide at Maryann, his teeth stained red from the blood pouring out of his mouth.
Maryann was stupefied at what was going on; she strained to focus. Her face was wet with bright red blood, and it flowed down the front of her torn bathing suit. She pulled at her restraints but was unable to wriggle free from the tight knots that held her firmly in place. Arthur used a roll of twine that was in the back yard. Brendan had been showing Barnaby the various knots he learned in the Boy Scouts. She felt sharp pain in her lower abdomen and feared the worst as this madman stood over her, blood gushing from his mouth, where apparently, she had bitten the right side of his lower lip off. Arthur had savagely raped her while she was unconscious, cutting her bathing suit away to expose her from the waist down. As Maryann regained consciousness, she instinctively bit down, and his lip was the closest thing to her. She vomited immediately afterward.
Maryann was now filled with panic about the children despite the threat of further violence. Her vision was slowly coming back as Arthur was stood only a few feet from her, staring down at her in a menacing way. She could see the oldest two, Brendan and Helen, also tied up on the other side of the pool. They were both bound and gagged and frantically trying to break free but were unable to move much at all. Maryann hoped he hadn’t raped Helen, too. As her sight improved, Maryann could see the childrens’ eyes bulge in obvious fear at the terrible situation unfolding. She strained to look beyond to find out where Barnaby and Lorraine were, but she couldn’t see them.
“You wanna act like that? You’ll see what I got in store for you. You rich bitch,” screamed Arthur again, as he walked away from her and toward the pool house. “The Lord is telling me what needs to be done here!”
Maryann was frantic as sweat was pouring down her face. She tried to scream out but couldn’t. It was as if a hand was over her mouth, but there wasn’t one there. Then she saw the figure of Arthur walking toward the pool and he was carrying Barnaby, bound like Brendan and Helen, kicking and screaming the entire way. He tossed the young boy in a heap at the edge of the pool and then turned back to the pool house. Maryann tried from deep within to cry out but had no voice at all. No matter how hard she tried, her vision was flickering in and out as if she was watching the horror show on a small black and white TV, crackling with fuzzy reception.
Moments later Arthur emerged from the pool house with Lorraine, her tiny body tied up tightly to where she could barely move. Her blonde curls were sticking out from the restraints. Lorraine’s gag wasn’t quite long enough, so it fell off as Arthur carried her. Lorraine screamed the entire time. She was calling out “Mommy” and “please let me go” but no one was able to do anything. Arthur was in control and in his mind, he was doing the right thing. He believed God was telling him what to do. He was saving Maryann the shame of raising two children like Barnaby and Lorraine. When Arthur was six years old, he saw his grandfather suffocate his infant cousin with a pillow one night at his apartment on Fish Avenue in the Bronx. He told Arthur he did it because the baby was “slow” and wasn’t going to have a normal life. He could hear those words as if his grandfather was there next to him.
“You better not tell anyone, Arthur. Or I’ll do it to you when you fall asleep,” his grandfather’s words came forth from the darkness.
Arthur never uttered a word, but he remembered that twisted lesson.
Thankfully, Brendan and Helen’s view of the pool was partially obscured by a row of hedges. Maryann was able to see the entire thing. Arthur smiled wide, believing he was doing a righteous thing, as he threw Barnaby and Lorraine into the pool, one after the other. Blood was still streaming down his chin from where Maryann bit him. The shaking bodies of the children thrashed in their bindings as they sunk toward the bottom of the pool. Each was looking up to the surface as the last of the bubbles emerged from their tiny mouths. They were now motionless near the drain.
Maryann’s vision got darker and darker until the lights went out once again.
In the weeks following the horrific incident in the back yard, Bryce was even more distant to Maryann. He was also avoiding interaction with Brendan and Helen. The three of them woke up in the hospital the following day, well sedated and hazy about what happened. Bryce made sure that things were kept quiet about the cause of the drowning deaths of Barnaby and Lorraine. The autopsy report would make no mention of the twins being bound with twine. The following day, Arthur Snyder was shot dead after a car chase with an alert New York State trooper. No one would know that he was in Huffington Beach that night and Bryce made sure to pay Sherriff Stan Novak to handle the drowning investigation. It was ruled an unfortunate accident. The rape of Maryann was not investigated nor discussed again. Bryce used his tremendous power and wealth to buy silence.
The local newspaper would report the tragic drowning of the twins and there was a small, private funeral for them at the local Methodist church and cemetery. Brendan and Helen were given months of psychological counseling to get past the horrible incident and were led to believe the story of the accidental drowning. They never spoke about that night again, so each stewed in the violent, nightmarish memories - alone. Maryann, Brendan, and Helen had a silent bond which formed as a result of the terrible incident. None of them wanted to be the one to come forward to defy Bryce. His power was smothering, and he frightened them. It was easier to keep it inside and not bring it up. As time wore on, the lies began to sink in as reality. Privately, each would reflect on that night, usually laying in bed, unable to fall asleep.
As Brendan and Helen got older and went off to college, Bryce paid the tuition, room, and board for the very best schools and gave them a generous trust fund to live from. He was able to buy their loyalty to him and keep the Christian family name intact. As for Maryann, she was sentenced for a life with Bryce, despite her hatred of the way he treated her after the incident. Yet, in his own twisted way of thinking, Bryce did blame Maryann for getting German measles and causing the birth defects that plagued the infants. He also scolded her for giving the staff the night off and allowing the awful events to unfold the way they did. All the while, he was gone on business and was somehow innocent in the entire thing. She hated him for that.
The ironic thing was that Bryce ran for governor of New York twice and lost both campaigns. He didn’t have the necessary qualities necessary to win an election. Without charisma, gravitas, and a smile that made voters turn out to the polls, he wasn’t able to make it happen. So, all his efforts to scrub his personal life clean of any blemish didn’t send him to the governor’s mansion in Albany. It didn’t seem like it was worth the tremendous price he paid with his family. For the first time in his life, Bryce Sheffield Christian didn’t get his way, and he didn’t like that one bit. He would become bitter over it. The political failures seemed to emasculate him and erode his thinking.
On the surface, the Christian family seemed like an American dream. A story of immigrants coming to the New World to seek their fortune. No one would expect the rank and fetid cancer that was bubbling just beneath the surface, ready to explode.
On this Thanksgiving Day, the family sat around the table to have their last supper together. Bryce made sure they all came. It was the one day of the year they saw each other. As much as it pained the family to come to see Bryce, they knew that it wasn’t worth arguing. So many years had passed since that humid night in 1976, and their wounds were covered in scar tissue, buried down deep. It was the way Maryann wanted it while she was alive. She loved to see the kids, even though they brought those awful memories flooding back to her. Now that she was gone, things would never be the same again. Their hatred of Bryce was immeasurable.
Now, as Bryce looked at the table in front of him, he could see Brendan to his left, now 56 years old and looking more like he was in his 60s. He did become an attorney, but the terrible nightmares and depression he suffered never relented. He turned to alcohol to self-medicate and it aged him. He looked a lot like Bryce, with many of his features, yet his quiet and caring demeanor came from his mother’s side of the family.
Next to Brendan was his wife, Amy, and at 48 years old, she was blonde and petite. She opened her own fitness center and juice bar in nearby East Hillsboro and was there from 5am to 5pm every day except Sunday. She certainly didn’t need the money, but she liked to keep busy, especially now that the boys were out of the house. Their two adult children, Christopher and Bryan, were lawyers as well. Both were working in New York City and spending the holiday with their in-laws in Long Island.
Bryce looked to his right and saw his daughter Helen, now 54 years old and aging very well, like her mother had all her life. She was retired from her job as a structural engineer after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known as MIT. Her husband, Thomas, was sitting next to her and was a successful plastic surgeon in Manhattan only a year from retirement. They had only one daughter, Samantha, who was spending Thanksgiving with her fiancé at his parents’ home in Greenwich, Connecticut. They were planning to marry in the spring after both graduated from Harvard Medical School.
Normally Maryann would sit at the other end of the table, as far from Bryce as she could physically get. She liked to look past Bryce and out the window to see the oak tree. It was her only peace. Whenever her thoughts of that night were getting the best of her, she would sit under the monstrous oak tree and escape. It had been her sanctuary back in 1976, when she looked at the estate as her own prison. The family expected Maryann to want to move away from the estate and the memories that lingered behind, but instead she wanted to stay. The inground pool was taken out and filled in, and a wonderful flower garden in its place. She told Bryce and the children that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered near the oak tree and flower garden, which is exactly what they did.
As the family dinner was wrapping up, and small talk was made over coffee, Bryce stood up to say a few words. Although he was a little slow to stand, he was surprisingly steady for his advanced age.
“So, it’s Thanksgiving Day 2020, and your mother’s wish has been fulfilled. I want to thank you all for coming to celebrate this last supper. I don’t believe we’ll have another one together. I don’t know how many more Thanksgivings are in this mortal coil of mine,” Bryce said, looking at his children and their spouses, who nodded in agreement. They all wished he would sit down and end the charade of pretending they were a normal family.
Brendan was privately wishing his father would drop dead at any moment. He didn’t need his money or possessions, though he spent most of his life tolerating his father because of it. The last thing he heard was that the family was written out of the final will upon the death of his mother. Bryce was donating everything to charity. It was just the kind of thing that Bryce Sheffield Christian would do to be spiteful. He kept up appearances for his own political aspirations and while his wife was alive, but now that she was gone, and he was almost 90 years old, Bryce had nothing to hold him back.
Helen was having similar thoughts as her father spoke. She despised him for what he did after the twins were murdered. How could a father act like that didn’t happen? How could a husband pretend his wife hadn’t been savagely raped only to further his political aspirations? Vivid memories of the days following the incident in 1976 were fresh in her mind. Helen was disgusted at the sound of his voice and was tired of having to act like their family was wonderful. She hated everything about being a Christian, even though her last name was now Halloway. Just like her older brother, Helen wished the old man would drop dead at this last supper they were having together. The idea of not dreading Thanksgiving every year was wonderful. The only thing that would make it any better was if her father didn’t live to see another sunrise.
There was a tremendous clap of thunder that made the entire family jump. Bryce had a look of terror come over him that no one noticed at first. Sweat began to pour down his wrinkled countenance and he began to tremble. Another huge rumble of thunder sounded and the sky outside became an ominous black sea of turbulence as lightning sizzled in the distance. Bryce kept his head still, but his eyes were glancing around the room. He felt dread deep in his bones.
Helen let out a cry as the ground beneath them shuddered violently. The massive estate shook from its mighty foundation. The sky continued to churn like a dark cauldron. Another sizzle of lightning sounded, followed by a resounding boom that sounded like it was close.
“What the hell is going on?” asked Brendan as he held his wife’s hand. She was beginning to panic like the rest of them.
Bryce’s face was trembling and became ashen white.
“Father, are you OK?” asked Helen.
The ground beneath them began to shake more violently, and none of them knew what to do. It was like an earthquake, but in New York, that just didn’t happen. The room continued to vibrate as decorative plates that were mounted to the wall for display fell to the hardwood floor and shattered. The dishes and glasses toppled from the table, crashing to the floor. Brendan, Helen, and their spouses got up and ran to the door that led out of the formal dining room and into the hallway. Instantly the door slammed shut! No matter how hard Brendan and Helen’s husband, Thomas, pulled at it and twisted the doorknob, it wouldn’t budge! Brendan punched the door in frustration.
Oddly, Bryce remained in his seat, yet he was covered in sweat as his body trembled amidst the chaos that swirled around him. It was if he knew something horrible was coming and was accepting of it. That’s when the wood floor gave way and from the fissures came roots bursting to the surface, reaching for something. No one realized it at the time, but they were the roots of the mighty oak tree that sat stoically in the back yard, just like it did in July of 1976. They were coming to settle an old score.
As his children were pounding on the door to get out of the dining room, the roots wrapped themselves around Bryce. First, they grabbed at his ankles, then two more took hold of his feeble wrists as the old man thrashed under the restraints. He was being pulled apart from each direction as he felt tendons snap, bones break, and the most intense pain he ever imagined. He screamed out in mortal terror as the roots pulled at him without mercy, inches at a time, tearing into his taught flesh. Then all the glass shattered in the window behind him, the same one that Maryann would look through to see the oak tree. Shards of glass tore into his skin like shrapnel as he continued to scream, barely audible in the turbulence. Branches from the tree crashed through the broken window and wrapped around Bryce’s neck with the force of a hydraulic jack. His screams were finally silenced as his body erupted into a miasma of blood, flesh, and bone.
In the moments before Bryce exploded, he knew it was Maryann who was causing all of this. Her smiling face stared at him from the tangle of branches and roots that squeezed the life from his pathetic, frail body. Maryann had good reason to want the family to get together one last time. One last supper. She wanted the children to see their father pay for his horrible, selfish ways for so many years. Maryann wished her ashes to be scattered by the oak tree in some sort of dark pact she made back in July of 1976 when her children were horrifically taken from her. Now the man who made her life a living hell was getting what was owed. His debt would be paid in full with a sentence of eternal agony.
Despite the dreadful act that they had witnessed, there was a sense of peace in the room; the blackness of the sky subsided, and the sun came out, shining upon the majestic oak tree. It had done its job. Maryann’s plaque was gleaming in the afternoon sun. She had ordered it before she died and scheduled it to be delivered to the estate upon her death and put in the ground next to the tree. Bryce didn’t bother to read it when the workers arrived to deliver and install it.
Maryann Elizabeth Oehler 1914 – 1976
She died here in July 1976, with her youngest children, Barnaby and Lorraine. Her body was lost without a soul until September 2020. Now she can rest with them, and her hateful husband, Bryce Sheffield Christian, can burn in Hell for eternity.