The Hastings Harvest by Newton Webb

Updated: Sep 6

Jessica’s Journal

3rd October, 1747

Father lost his job today. We had to flee Hastings. I don’t know what happened. Nobody would tell me. Now they want to arrest him. Mother is furious. We have no coin and precious little food. Mother filled a cooking pot with utensils and I took my journal, writing roll and of course, my Bible.

4th October, 1747

We live in the caves now. Mother is dreadfully cross with Father. It’s cold and wet by the sea. We can’t have the fire outside in case it is seen, and the caves get too smoky if the fire is lit for long. I am so hungry. We have boiled some seaweed and some crabs, but Father can only forage after dark. I help him when I can as he doesn’t see as well as I do at night.

11th October, 1747

I was out last night, foraging as usual, when a fisherman found me as he walked home across the beach. He was awfully kind, but Father was scared he might have told others where we were, so he hit him with a rock. When I started to cry, I was slapped. We have to be quiet. I helped Father carry the body back to the cave. Mother and Father are arguing now about what to do with him. They don’t have the tools to bury him. I am reading the Bible now by the light of the fire. It is my only solace. I am so hungry.

Mother has come to an agreement. She is-- It is nauseating to even write it. She is butchering the corpse. Heaven help us. It smells so good on the fire. I hate myself for even feeling temptation. Satan stalks us, I am sure and is pleased as we tumble ever closer to his embrace. I will not join him.

12th October, 1747

Mother and Father have stopped arguing now and have become inseparable. They bonded over their ghoulish feast last night and have come to terms with their new life. The bones wouldn’t burn in the fire, so the blackened skull sits atop the pile and judges us. I judge us. The remaining flesh is sat in the pools of seawater to pickle. The caves reek. I welcome the smoke now.

My parents are laughing now, more in love than ever. Father is talking about where he can find more flesh. What have we come to? I will not join them.

14th October, 1747

The hunger has left me weak in body and spirit. My teeth are loose, and my body is gaunt. Father had brought back the carcass of a smuggler, along with three barrels of rum. Finally, I couldn’t hold back any more. God help me, I gnawed on a freshly roasted piece of flesh. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever tasted.

Then I remembered what it was and violently vomited it up. Mother and Father were filled with rage. They beat me for wasting food. They beat me for acting as though I was better than them. But I am better than them because I can still resist the Devil’s temptation.

I know now what I must do for the sake of our immortal souls.

They are asleep. I apologised profusely. God forgive my deceit. I congratulated them on their cleverness. They celebrated their good fortune with the rum and I refilled their cups again and again. They made me wait outside in the rain whilst they engaged in carnal congress.

I spent the time wisely, gathering all the driftwood I could find, both dry and wet. When I returned, my parents were sound asleep and snoring. Father still had his trousers down. I waited to be sure then bound their hands and feet. I banked up the fire with wet wood until the cave was thick with smoke. Taking a brand to the pile of dry timber I’d left by the entrance, I blocked the cave with another fire. It was hot and fiery, a precursor to our inevitable fate. I hope that I can explain my actions to them when I see them again in Hell.

They woke from the coughing, but their cries were already weak. I put the last of the wood on the fire and sat sobbing outside until they fell silent. Lord have mercy on our souls.

15th October, 1747

Jeremiah found me on the road, weak from hunger and exhaustion. He is a sweet-hearted man, a widowed carpenter. I praise the Lord for sending him to me. He confessed to me whilst he nursed me to health that he cannot read, write or do sums. I have promised to repay his kindness by minding his home for him and managing his books.

He may not be fair of face, but he is noble of spirit.

And he looks delicious.

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