The Brightest Ray of Darkness
A Short Story by: B. Chantel
Author of The Storms of Time trilogy
The squeal of the locked train wheels deafened Amelia as her body thrust forward. Although the seat in front of her was covered in a red, velvety fabric, the blow to it with her face blurred her vision and disoriented her mind. Her thoughts didn't have time to process when she felt an exploding rumble and was tossed from her seat.
The train car jerked sideways and then began to roll, her body hurled through the air and in what seemed like slow motion, she could see the seats twisting and turning, the line of windows were both above and beneath her and she finally landed with a bone crushing blow onto the ceiling of the car. As fast as the crash had happened, it was over.
Amelia took a moment to refocus her eyes. Her vision was blurred and a warm sensation ran down her face. Although she felt no pain, she ran her hands down her body to assess if any damage was done to her. As she reached her legs all she felt was that familiar velvet. She was pinned.
"Henry?" She squeaked out, barely audible.
She brought her hand up to her face to rub her eyes. Her once snowy white gloves came back down saturated with pure red.
"Henry!" She tried again.
With all the strength she could muster, she sat up and pushed against the seat that had her trapped. Her limp and broken legs finally slipped out from underneath.
Weak and filled with fret, she slithered around the mangled mess that now lay on the ceiling of the car, desperately seeking for any sign of life.
"Henry!" She called again.
At that very moment, her hand reached out and grabbed a pale, lifeless arm.
Amelia sat straight up in bed with a gasp. Her breathing was rapid and her head felt dizzy.
"It was just a dream." She said through a long drawn out breath. Although relieved at that moment, a tear escaped her and rolled down her cheek. How tragic it would be to lose my husband only months after being married, to have him perish while traveling across the country to start a fresh life together. She thought.
Her hand went to the other side of the bed to wake her husband. "Henry, you'll never believe the dream I just..." Her hand searched, both hands frantically rifled through the pile of linens. She tried swinging her legs over the bed to go see if he'd simply gotten up early but they wouldn't move.
Whipping off her blankets, she discovered her left leg bandaged, stiff as a board.
"HENRY!" She screamed.
She fell back and sobbed into her pillow. It was true, the crash had happened, her husband was gone and she was now left all alone.
"Amelia, it's been two and a half months. It was a clean fracture and the doctor said you're able to try walking again."
"I know Ma." She replied without turning from the window that sat next to her bed.
It was early June, 1891, and that spring had been much more pleasant than the previous year. The wet and mild weather allowed the land to be more green and plush than Amelia could ever remember, living her entire life in that small town.
Her mother's hand fell gently onto her shoulder.
"I brought you home to give you a fresh start, my dear. You can't do that from bed."
A songbird's chirps and twitters filled Amelia's mind as she gazed upon the shadows spread across the ground from the sunlight spilling through the leaves and branches. She could almost make out pictures from within them.
Her mother kissed her forehead and gracefully slipped out of the room. The door closing snapped Amelia from her daze. She hadn't meant to ignore her mother but how could she possibly understand? What kind of fresh start could she have without her husband by her side? He was the only one for her and she knew it from the moment she set her eyes upon him.
She remembered back a year and a half earlier - only a month after her 15th birthday. That fateful morning when the threshing team brought the big machine to separate and thresh the autumn harvest of wheat. Her pa had used this machine before with the people of their town but that year, the neighboring town had come to help in exchange for use of the machine.
Amelia stayed in the house with her ma, helping prepare the afternoon meal for the crew.
"Why don't you take the water bucket out to the men." Her ma said mid that morning. "They must be parched."
Amelia grabbed the bucket from the front step and filled it to the brim from the well. She made her way over to the rackety machine trying not to spill the water down her dress. The men were certainly grateful as they took turns scooping up the refreshment with the dipping ladle.
Amelia stood nearby waiting patiently for them to finish when she spotted the bluest eyes she had ever seen. There behind the machine was a striking young man with hair as golden as the wheat. He met her gaze and slightly curled up his mouth at her.
Although the stare lasted only seconds, she felt it was hours, days... She could feel her face redden as she scurried back to the house.
The rest was history. She thought with a slight chuckle.
Within her reminiscent daydream, she recalled how he would ride his horse over to her home every Saturday to see her. Even the piling snow didn't stop him as he would pull up in his folks' sleigh and take her out for a ride around the frozen prairie. Even with the chill in the air nipping at her ears and nose, she never felt warmer, safer and more secure. She was in love. She knew she had found her future husband, Henry James Raddemer.
Amelia knew for certain that he felt the same way when that spring he took her to the lake and proposed to her.
Her ma and pa liked Henry very much and felt he was well suited for her. However, they were adamant that she not marry until she was 16 years old. The wait, she remembered was excruciating.
Three weeks after her birthday, almost one year to the day after they'd met, she walked down the aisle toward him to become his wife.
A smile spread across Amelia's lips as she saw his face within her mind. He was radiant. She couldn't believe how lucky she was to be marrying such a wonderful man. He was kind, gentle, handsome and on his way in life. She was proud to be by his side.
Her smile suddenly faded and tears trickled down her face. If only she'd known she'd be his wife for six short months...
"God, why didn't you take me too?" She sobbed.
Amelia watched the sun rise as she had every morning. The nightmares plagued her every night and the sounds and motions of the crash seemed to be getting more vivid with every passing, terrifying one.
The fresh morning sunlight streamed through her lace curtains casting eerie shadows upon the wall. All she could see within them was smoke and twisted metal.
A light tap on the door made Amelia jump. "Please tell me you'll join us for service this morning." Her mother asked with pleading eyes.
"Thank you... no." She replied.
Her mother hung her head and let out a long, drawn out breath. She made her way to the bedside and sat down taking her daughter's hand.
"Amelia, Henry was a wonderful young man. I could never have guessed what the future would have held for you two but what I do know is that he loved you very much. We were blessed to have him in our lives even for a short time. I know he would want you to be happy and move on. It will take time, I'm certain, but the first step would be to at least get out of bed for a couple of hours a day."
Amelia's eyes began to well up. She knew Henry loved her and they were a perfect match, they had their whole life together ahead of them and that was viciously ripped away. She didn't know how she could live with that. That pain knowing that she was going to live her life when Henry never had that chance. She was going to have to go on without him when she was convinced that she should've been the one to go.
"I'll leave you now but hope you'll join us next Sunday. Pastor Gillions has been asking about you."
Amelia simply nodded and tried to paste on a smile for her mother. She feared it would not be believed.
"You have lost a lot my dear, but you have many wonderful memories of your times together. Hold onto those and he will live on." Her mother gave her a kiss on the cheek and trying to hide her own pain, gave her a gentle smile.
"If only that were true... that someway, somehow, Henry could live on..." Amelia said, pleading toward the Heavens.
"Your leg is healing nicely." Dr. Brooks stated after her check up. "Your mother is telling me that you're not getting up and using it as you should be. It's imperative that you exercise it regularly in order for it to heal properly."
"I'm sorry doctor. I have meant to but I really have not been feeling well lately." She replied in a low tone.
"Oh?" He stated inquisitively. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Nothing too serious. I've just been rather tired and a little sick to my stomach. If I get up out of bed, I have dizzy spells. The only thing that worries me is the cramp I get in my lower belly area." She said pointing to her middle.
"Well, let's take a look." He said with a genuine smile.
After a few minutes he tapped her on the arm and told her she could sit up.
"Do you know what it is?" She asked seeing the expression on his face.
"I surely do, Amelia..." He said with a wink. "You are going to have a baby."
Amelia's jaw dropped and her eyes widened. "Tha... that can't be." She said in utter shock.
"It certainly is. I am sure of it. I'd say you're a good three months along. You didn't have any suspicion?"
She merely shook her head as she stared into space. "So that means... the crash... it was there when we crashed." She said more to herself.
"Just, I'd say. You couldn't have been more than a week or two. Well, congratulations my dear, I guess I'll be seeing you more often then." He shot her a smile and patted her on the shoulder before leaving the room.
Amelia didn't move, she couldn't. Her first feeling was fear. How can I raise a child without a husband? What would people say? How would I get along as a single mother? If only Henry...
"Henry." She said aloud remembering her plea for her husband to someway, somehow live on... this was the answer to her prayers. Henry will now live on through his one and only child.
"Amelia, it's so nice to see you up and about!" Her mother said ecstatically.
"Yes, I'm feeling better today and thought I'd get up early to fix you and Pa some breakfast."
She bent down to remove the fresh baked bread from the oven. She hobbled to the water pump and filled the coffee pot, limping back over to set it on top of the piping hot wood stove. Her leg was not causing her pain but was weak. She felt regret not doing her exercises to keep it strong during her recovery. In the same thought, she wondered if she'd still be wallowing in bed if she'd not found out about the baby.
She sat hard in one of the dining chairs and let out a long sigh. "I just don't know what I'm going to do." She said solemnly.
"What do you mean?" Her mother asked with a puzzled expression.
"How am I to make a living once this baby is born? I can't stay with you and Pa forever."
Her ma placed her hand on top of Amelia's. "You know you're welcome here as long as you need. I enjoy the company especially during harvest season when your pa is working the fields from dawn until dusk. First cut hay will be ready anytime now." She said with a slight chuckle.
Amelia cracked a smile. "I appreciate that but it's not a long term solution. There will come a time when I will need to venture off on my own with my child." She let out another sigh. "I just wish I knew where to start. What does a woman in my situation and condition do in these times? No one will ever want to marry a newly widowed mother. Even if someone did, I couldn't possibly accept. Nobody could replace Henry." She said in a lower tone.
"And he wouldn't even try if he were a decent man." Her ma replied. "Pastor Gillions said something last Sunday that I think may help you. He read from Proverbs 3, verses five and six - 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.' It's not up to you to figure everything out, it's not your path to determine. God already has a plan for you, He has a plan for this child and yes, He even had a plan for Henry. Go to Him, Amelia, pray for that strength and guidance. He will lead you but you have to trust that direction."
She threw her daughter a soft smile and patted her hand. "Now, how about some of that coffee?"
As her mother rose to fetch the mugs, Amelia lost herself in thought. With everything she'd been feeling and with all she'd just been through... could it be that simple?
* * * *
A couple of months passed. Amelia slowly watched her belly grow and grow and had begun feeling tiny flutters. They seemed to all happen at once and around her entire mid section. I've got an active one in there. She thought.
Growing up in a Christian home and having faithful parents, she knew her mother's constant reminders to pray was the right thing to do. She thought about it often and tried stuttering out a choppy prayer here and there. Something had changed within her, however. She didn't feel as close to the Lord as she once had. Should it be this difficult to speak with Him? She still felt very abandoned. God had taken her husband from her and now she was to submit and have Him lead her? The only path she wanted was to be able to raise this child with Henry.
These thoughts and feelings of bitterness frightened Amelia. She didn't want to stray from her beliefs, she didn't want to shut the Lord from her life. She didn't know how to get over these facts, however.
Her leg was almost completely healed and she was able to take her walks into town. Most times it was to take the eggs to the mercantile in exchange for necessities such as sugar, flour and coffee. Today, though, she was on another mission. She headed past the general store in her small, older fashioned town and headed straight for the church.
"Amelia, to what do I owe this pleasure?" Pastor Gillions stated in a pleasant voice. "Please, sit, get off your feet." He motioned her toward the front pew.
He sat down beside her as Amelia tried to rummage through her thoughts. She didn't know how to specifically ask or how to start the conversation. She hoped that the pastor would at least understand and let her know that she was not alone in these feelings. She knew he could not solve them for her even though she wished he could.
"Pastor, I'm afraid." She paused. "I feel that I may be losing my faith in God. I've tried praying for guidance and direction but I'm still very upset over losing Henry. Why did He have to take him from me?"
The pastor's eyes lowered and his brows turned in with sorrow. "Amelia, I can't take away your pain of this loss but I can provide much needed comfort and support. What I can give you, however, is small compared to what the Lord can. He had Henry's life mapped out before he was even born. He knew when he'd be calling him home. In return for your loss, look what He has given you. Even if it was a short time, you and Henry shared a wonderful bond and you were able to experience a love you never knew before. You will now be able to continue that true love through this child. This baby is just as much a part of Henry as it is a part of you. That is a bond that will never be broken. In these times of trial, we are to lean upon the Lord and thank Him for what He has given us even in the midst of the darkness. It's His way of shining that light upon you so that you can see the way. It will take some time to get past this hurt, the loneliness, confusion and yes, even the bitterness, but immerse yourself in the word of the Lord and even if it feels bumpy at first, speak with Him. He's still with you and He's just waiting for you. As Romans 10:17 states '...faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.' Know that you are not alone, Amelia, we're all here to help you and you're loved very much."
"Thank you pastor." She replied while wiping away her tears. "I shall try my best."
That night, Amelia sat alone in her room. By the pale lamplight, she opened her Bible and from memory found Romans 10:17 right away. She read the verse over and over again. She recalled her upbringing, strong in faith, her family never missed a service and she trusted Pastor Gillions with all of her heart. She found much comfort in God's word and with speaking with Him. She believed that He had a hand in everything that had happened in her life... including meeting and marrying Henry. The Lord had brought them together, but why? If God knew He'd be taking Henry in a few short months... perhaps it was so that Henry could live on in this world through his child. Rang out within her mind. Or maybe the pastor was right, to show her what true love could be. She didn't know the answers and she may never, but now was the time to trust, beg for forgiveness and move forward within His plan for her.
Still experiencing pain when she knelt on her left leg, she sat on the edge of her bed and bowed her head. "Lord, I come to you with a broken heart. I know that it was time for Henry to go home with you. It was your will and there was nothing I could do about that. Please forgive my thoughts and feelings of bitterness. You spared me because you still have a plan for my life. I thank you for this child and that Henry and I will always have something to share together. Please help guide me into the next season of my life and show me where you want me and what I am to do."
Amelia squeezed her eyes shut allowing the tears to flow. She felt broken and healed, she felt shame but lifted all at the same time. She could feel Him there with her. It was a strange calm within the storm, the brightest ray of darkness. She felt at peace and the hope that she could and would move on. She was going to trust, open her heart and allow Him to lead the way.
* * * *
Autumn was upon them. The hot, stifling air turned cool and the breeze held the sweet smell of the crisp, falling leaves. The land was covered in radiant shades of red, orange and golden yellow. As usual, Amelia helped her ma with the upcoming winter preparations. They had completed several cans of stewed tomatoes, pickled onions and cucumbers, along with the carrots, potatoes, corn, squash and several flavors of jam. Most of the crop fields were bare as the men feverishly worked throughout the day threshing their wheat. It was Pa's turn with the separating machine and Amelia performed her usual duty bringing him and his crew the water pail. As she approached the machine, a gentleman emerged from behind it, his golden hair and blue eyes shined out as the background and noise withered away.
"Henry!" She dropped her bucket of water, gasped and brought her hands to her mouth. The gentleman tipped his hat to her as she clenched her eyes shut. When she opened them, he was gone.
"Amelia, are you alright?" Her pa exclaimed running up to her.
She blinked hard again and looked past her father toward the machine. No one was there.
"I... I umm, I'm fine. I just dropped the water." She said still looking beyond him.
"Don't worry yourself, I'll go refill it. Maybe you should go in the house and rest your feet awhile." He gave her a kiss on the forehead and headed toward the well.
Amelia wafted back to the house as if in a dream. She had seen Henry. For the first time since the accident, she didn't feel saddened or abandoned, she felt grateful and at peace.
After service that Sunday, Amelia was making her way out of the church when the elderly owner of the boarding house called out to and approached her.
"Yes, how are you Mrs. Cole?" Amelia greeted her.
"I wonder if you may be free this afternoon for tea. There's a matter of some importance I'd like to speak to you about." The old woman stated in her feeble voice.
"Certainly." Amelia responded. "Pa has some business here at the church to attend to if you'd like to meet now."
"Of course. Why don't you walk with me." Mrs. Charlotte Cole said, linking her tiny arm with Amelia's.
After she had prepared and set down the tea tray, Mrs. Cole sat next to Amelia on the other porch rocking chair. "Amelia, my dear. I have a business proposition for you." She started immediately.
"Business proposition? What do you mean?"
"I am an old woman now and I cannot keep this boarding house up and running on my own anymore. After Charles passed, I tried but I just don't have the strength. My only son lives in the city and he doesn't want to move out here to take it over. I did some heavy praying about the situation and you kept popping into my mind. Next spring, I will be moving in with my son to spend the remainder of my days. This boarding house is a staple in this small town and I'd hate to see it close down but I'd only want it in the hands of someone I trust. That's you, Amelia."
Amelia drew in a breath. "Me?" She squeaked out.
"Yes, you are young and vibrant with a lot of energy and new ideas. You have been a part of this community your whole life, I've watched you grow. I would be here to show you the ropes and give you the time to have that darling baby of yours but then you would take over full time in the spring. I'd be leaving at the first sign of the thaw. Think about it my dear and let me know as soon as you can."
Amelia couldn't possibly sleep that night. What a great responsibility to suddenly become a business owner. A sense of dread filled her as her doubts took over her mind. On the other hand... her body straightened and her eyes grew wide. This could be another answer to my prayers. I've prayed for direction toward what to do with my life, for how I am supposed to support myself and this child and something worthwhile I could do to allow me to move on... Her thoughts ravaged. Was God really showing her the way?
Amelia took several weeks to faithfully pray, she felt God had spoken to her, giving her the answer she was looking for. It was a joyous feeling when she met with Mrs. Cole later that November and accepted the offer. They decided to have her move into the boarding house that day because it would be easier for Mrs. Cole to show Amelia how to run the place if she lived there full time. She would be closer to Dr. Brooks too for when it was time to have her baby. She only had a few weeks left and her belly had grown so much, she could only shuffle around. She was grateful for a first floor room.
Amelia slowly unpacked her trunk. After her clothes and items were carefully put away, she laid down to rest awhile. She knew she'd miss living with her folks but she felt a great sense of independence. She felt a surge of well being and security. She remembered back to the day she had discussed her fears with her mother over coffee. All she had to do was submit and trust that the Lord would care for her and He most certainly did.
She looked down to her bulging middle. She prayed that she would learn enough before the baby was born to be able to pass down those valuable lessons. How grand it would be to have a little girl to show that anything is possible. With determination and hard work, prayer and trust, she could accomplish anything. Having a little boy, however, Amelia knew that Henry's name would live on forever. She couldn't quite decide which she'd wished for more. It didn't matter. Having a healthy baby, being able to look into their eyes and see a tiny piece of Henry, having them grow strong and happy... that's all that mattered.
"Well, I'd better get to it." She stated with a grunt trying to sit up. "Supper service needs to be..." A sharp pain pierced her middle causing Amelia to lose her breath. Something is wrong! She screamed in her head. Another sharp pain squeezed her insides.
"Mrs. Cole!" She screamed. "Please fetch Dr. Brooks..."
The doctor's stern expression softened after examining her. "What is it doctor? What's wrong?" She asked through her labored breath.
"This baby doesn't waste any time, Amelia... It's ready to make it's entrance into this world."
"What? Now?" Her head filled with fog as her breathing got more rapid, the pain was unbearable and she wished her ma was there with her.
Her mother rushed in some time later and stood beside her. Amelia recognized her even though her vision was blurred, her thoughts were fuzzy and her body was exhausted. The progression of the labor was faster than the doctor had ever seen before and he refused to leave the room even only for a moment.
"Amelia, it's time to push." He stated a short time later.
Amelia didn't know if she had the strength to do it. She had never experienced this kind of exhaustion before. God give me strength. She pleaded in her mind as she began pushing.
Amelia woke feeling groggy and weak. She hadn't realized she'd fallen unconscious. "Is it over?" She said, barely audible.
She tried focusing on the corner of the room where she could make out the doctor and her mother.
Dr. Brooks turned to her holding a bundle. "Congratulations Amelia, it's a girl!"
Tears streamed down Amelia's face.
"and a boy!" Her mother stated turning around holding another bundle.
"Wha... what?" Amelia stammered.
"Twins!" Her mother said through her joyful weeping.
Both babies were set upon Amelia as she cradled them, one in each arm. "Twins..." She said through a long breath.
Another prayer answered. A girl! A little piece of her to mold and raise into a beautiful, strong and independent woman... and a boy! To be a strapping and kind young man just like his father. To carry on the Raddemer name.
"Well Mama? What are their names?" Her mother asked with a glisten in her eyes.
There was no question in Amelia's mind. She had already determined their names. "Clara Mable and Henry James Raddemer." She stated with pride. "After you, Ma and after Henry..."
Her thoughts went through the last eight months. She had gone from an injured, grief stricken widow to a business woman and mother of two... my, how things came together for my family and me. She could only credit God. She would never forget Henry and would always love him, but she looked forward now to the life she was given and had hope for not only herself, but for her children as well.
"We're going to be all right." She whispered to her children. They both stared up at her with their bright blue and familiar eyes. "Yes." She said. "We'll be just fine."
Written by: B. Chantel -Author of 'The Storms of Time' trilogy
The Storms of Time can be found at:
Monday, September 9, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
*It may be spring time and the grass, leaves and flowers are sprouting up but I have just been reminded of this story and thought I'd share anyway. Better late than never...
As I individually wrapped my well planned and thought out prank gifts for my children just days before Christmas, I had to chuckle to myself. I could just imagine them opening the packages with big smiles across their faces only for their expressions to drop and look up at me with wondering eyes. The more I thought about it, however, the more I wondered: What if this was all I had to give? What if these were their only gifts? The gifts did take a lot of thought and planning and I took the time to select each item for each specific child. Although they were meant to be funny, I put my heart into these gifts.
The Christmas prank suddenly turned into the perfect opportunity to teach my children a very important moral. Christmas was not about getting all of the newest, most expensive gadgets. It's not about the number of gifts under the tree. It's not a competition to see who gets the most; it's about the joy of the heart, of giving and most importantly, to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus who selflessly lived his life and gave his life - for us!
My plan had now changed. To thicken the plot, I decided to throw one more moral into the mix. Nothing irritates me more than children tearing down those stairs on Christmas morning and in three chaotic minutes, have everything ripped to shreds. With a blink of an eye, Christmas morning is 'over'. With any other reward in our lives, we must work for it. I took that fact and turned it into a fun adventure.
After wrapping the special gifts, I hid each box in a different part of our home. On Christmas Eve, I carefully attached a string (in a different color for each one of my kids) to each box and weaved it through the house. A spider web of green, blue and pink littered my home, around chairs, through curtain rods, wrapping around the ceiling fan blades. It looked like laser beams protecting a wealthy society bank vault.
I had to let out another chuckle to think of what the kids would think when they bounded down the steps the next morning. Would they laugh? Would they be confused?
Christmas morning came. I woke to find three people standing near my bed with wrinkled brows and confused eyes. "Mom?" My oldest said. "There's string all over the house. Is that supposed to be a barrier so we can't get to the tree?"
I had to laugh at that one.
As we made our way out, I told them that nothing in this life is easy, free or just handed over. If you want to enjoy the rewards of this day, they were going to have to work for it. In our front closet was each of their backpacks which each held the beginning of their strings. One by one, bumping into each other and weaving in and out of the lines, they began winding up their strings following it to 'the end of the rainbow'.
With some frustration and a few giggles, they all found their packages. Almost breathless but excited, they all sat down and opened them one by one.
"One more thing." I had to add. "These will be your ONLY gifts this year. The packages under the tree are just empty, wrapped up boxes." Even through their astonished expressions, they were ready to tear into the gifts that sat in front of them.
My oldest, Austin (16) opened his first - He received a forked stick in one package and a simple office rubber band in the other. Riley (9) opened his to find a rock and a paperclip and Madelynn (5) tore through hers to find a button and piece of string.
What happened next, I could never have predicted!
Madelynn squealed with delight and came running into my arms. Austin, although completely baffled, looked over his stick and rubber band and began arranging them stating he was going to make a sling shot. Madelynn decided her string and button would make a beautiful necklace. Although Riley was at a loss of what to do with his rock and paperclip, everyone chimed in to give him suggestions.
I was a proud momma! I didn't quite expect anger or tantrums but I never would have guessed that they would be so inventive and accepting of this little test and lesson that I decided to bestow upon them that morning. It showed me how incredible my children are and showed myself that I must have been doing something right all of these years.
I thank God every day for my children and pray that He continues to guide me through their upbringing. He is the reason for that Christmas being one of our best ones ever and will forever be in our memories and hearts.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have. Hebrews 13:5
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
(1998) “OPEN THE GATE.” the front guard called. With a buzz, the gate slowly opened. “I hope to not see you back here, Chris.” The guard added as Chris stepped out.
The warm May afternoon seemed to energize his body. He wanted to run and do cartwheels through the streets. He could have but then quickly realized he didn’t know which way to go. He had no where to be, nobody waiting for him, not with good intentions anyway.
He knew his gang hung out on the eastern side of town, so he headed West, toward the river, toward the Oak Forest Park.
With his head down and his hands shoved into his pockets, he strolled down the street. ‘What now? Do I sleep in the park? I’ll have to find somewhere less conspicuous to sleep than a family park. Oh, grandma, I wish you were here to tell me what to do and where to go.’
Not even thinking about why, Chris turned left, the opposite direction of the park. As he realized his mistake, he looked up to find his bearings and found himself staring at the Coar City Christian Church. The bell chimed as if to welcome him urging him to enter.
Chris walked through the door and peeked around with the fear that he’d be caught even though he was doing nothing wrong. He shuffled up to the front as his eyes fell upon the three crosses displayed on the front wall. A strong sense came over him as he dropped to his knees.
“Ok!” he said out loud. “I have nothing left, so I will trust you. Do with me what you will. Whatever you see fit. I don’t care anymore.”
After what seemed like hours waiting for God to strike him down, to end his suffering once and for all, Chris rose to his feet and trudged out of the church. This time heading Southeast. He needed to find a place to lay his head. He could start again tomorrow, start what exactly, he didn’t yet know.
The only thing he was certain of was that the Coar City gang would soon know of his release and be after him. He had betrayed Joe-Z and the group, so severely that it could only be punishable by death. He had a target on his back the size of this city. He couldn’t avoid them forever. His only options were to fight or run. As the sun set on this day, his remaining choice for the night was to simply hide.
Homeless, hopeless and on the run, he huddled near a dumpster in the alley off of 5th Avenue for refuge.
Alone, cold and confused, he drifted off to sleep.
* * * *
A cold morning breeze swept over Chris making him wake without yet opening his eyes. ‘I don’t want to open my eyes.’ he thought, for he remembered that he was sleeping behind a dumpster with nowhere to go, with no one to care for him, with no hope.
Another breeze chilled him to the bone. He reached around hoping to find some newspapers, bags or anything that would suffice as a blanket in this heartless city that had turned it’s back on him.
‘City? Why was it so silent? Do I actually hear crickets?’ he thought as he reached around him.
His fingers found no answers to his questions but ran along sharp blades of dew moistened grass. The ground beneath him was cold like concrete but soft and supple, grainy but rich.
Chris forced his weary eyes open only to be blinded by the rising sun spread across the endless horizon. He slowly rose to his feet as he crept in a full 360 degree circle. The trash was gone, the dumpster was gone, the buildings, the concrete, the people, traffic and noise had all vanished.
Instead he rested his sights on a never ending prairie with flowing grasses. One direction was as flat as could be while the other had soft slopes covered with hundreds of trees. The rest of the landscape seemed to fall in between as the land flowed in soft hills as if blowing gently in the breeze. Scattered throughout the grass were thousands of large patches of flowers, purple and white, almost as white as the billowing clouds that speckled the immeasurable, deep blue sky.
The air was free from pollution and smog and only the crisp, cool scent of the natures morning filled Chris' head. He'd not smelled air this clean as far as his memory would go back.
The sun rising past the crest of the horizon made the trees and plants sparkle and perk up as if they were greeting the sun, thankful for the new day. They seemed to be reaching for it's warmth.
Chris looked around, full of confusion but couldn't quite ignore the splendor. Glorious or not, he needed to find his way out of here and fast.
In the distance he could see a wooded area that seemed to have a large gap in the middle.
“A road?” Chris said out loud, unsure. He decided his only option of finding his way home was to find a road and follow it until something looked familiar. He couldn't be too far from Coar City.
Chris took in a deep breath and began trudging through the tall grass that seemed to want to grab him and pull him down.
“I cannot believe they found me!” he fumed, stomping down the grass in front of him. “Joe-Z and his mindless followers must have drugged me and dumped me here in the middle of no where! COWARDS! They couldn’t confront me like men?”
Even though he could see his destination in front of him, it took miles to reach the tree line. He could feel the exhaustion from his anger and the walk through the tall weeds and grasses. It was as tiring as trying to run through water. He’d not eaten or had a drop to drink since his release and felt his body screaming for nutrients. He found the road and began following it towards the Northeast, as he figured from the position of the sun.
He had paid some attention in school to know that the sun rises in the East, rests overhead at noon and sets in the West. If only he'd taken some wilderness training as a boy, the scouts would have taught him what to do in a predicament like this.
After what seemed like hours, he spotted something up ahead. A house. A shack more like it, it could not have been larger than the apartment Chris grew up in. It was built out of logs which were notched out and criss-crossed in every corner. From what Chris could see from the road, the house had only one door and one window. A similar looking building lay across the yard but had a larger door and a fence around it that appeared to be made of nothing more than tree branches and twigs. A rope was tied from the tiny front porch to the door of what Chris guessed was a garage or a very small barn.
As he approached the house he noticed a clothes line, a tiny shed that appeared to be only large enough to stand in, a wooden barrel and a small, un-kept garden. The rest of the property was surrounded by tall grass as far as the eye could see.
Chris stumbled up the two steps to the door, noticing that there was no door handle. Instead there lay a rope coming from a hole at the top of the door. He knocked despite his confusion with an ounce of fear mixed in. He knocked again, a little harder. With the extra force, the door swung open only enough for Chris to pop his head in.
“Hello?” he softly called.
The room smelled of kerosene and smoke as the fire in the fireplace dwindled down. A large kettle sat in front of the fireplace next to a high back arm chair. The only other furniture in the room was a bed in the corner that had only one leg. The other three sides seemed to be attached to the walls. A dining table with two chairs sat on the opposite side of the shack. On the table sat a kerosene lamp, a small wooden box and a pipe. The one door and one window had indeed been the only in this tiny huddle, the smallest house Chris had ever seen.
“Hello?” he managed to choke out.
Obviously no one was in the house. Using the rope, he pulled the door shut and turned to look into the wilderness that stood between him and home, wherever home was. He wasn’t sure if he had a home in Coar City. His mother didn’t want him, his father had vanished, his only friends were his fellow gang members who had banished him to this remote place. If he went back, they’d kill him for sure. The only person that would help him or show him any love had left him over thirteen years ago. A tear formed in the corner of Chris’ eye as he tried to shake the thought of his grandma out of his head. Even if he found a phone, who would he call?
‘I guess I need to find out where I am first.’ Chris thought.
He made his way down the two steps and down the narrow drive. Half way to the road he stopped short and turned his head to hear better. Silence. He turned to walk again and stopped. He kept hearing a faint jingle, like metal on metal. It was coming from around that second building, the garage. Chris apprehensively but desperately made his way to the building.
“Hello?” Chris almost shouted.
“In back.” Came a gruff voice shouting back at him.
Chris made his way around the building to see a man hooking two horses onto an old wagon. He’d seen these wagons before but only on TV.
The tall slender man wore a long sleeved brown shirt under his overalls which tucked snuggly into his boots. His brimmed hat shaded his face as he turned to Chris.
“Just let me finish hookin’ up my schooner and I’ll be right with ya.”
Schooner? Who was this guy? Chris studied his face to see if there was any hint of crazy in this man. There has to be a reason he’s choosing to live this way. Other than the dark, sagging eyes, full dirty beard and dusty face, he didn’t seem completely out of the ordinary. Still, Chris took a step back as the man turned to him.
“Now, what can I do for ya, son?” Son? He had a lot of nerve! “I haven’t seen you around these parts, you new to this area?”
What parts? All there is here is area.
“I’m just passing through.” Chris finally answered. “actually, I was just wondering if I could use your phone.”
“Phone?” the man said, looking confused as he scratched his beard.
“Well, I noticed there are no wires going to your house but I was hoping you’d have a cell or something, I’m really lost.”
“Cell?” ‘Ugh, maybe this guy was out of his mind!’
Their silence made the man speak up again. “Son, I’m not sure of these contraptions you speak of, but if you’re lost, I can see what I can do to help. I’m Louis Kinsley.” he said, holding out his right hand.
Chris hesitantly reached out to shake his hand.
“I’m Chris Scholt. Actually, could you just tell me where I am?”
“Well, you ain't more than two miles east of the Oak Forest River, near the town of Coar, Christopher.”
“It’s CHRIS! Wait.. What? I can’t be two miles from the river in Coar City.”
“City? Well, it is growin’ a bit, but we are far from bein’ a city. I have heard the boardin' house was going to be rebuilt bigger and better, there’s talk of that bein’ done by the fall of 1870. I own the Livery in town, I’d love to do some expandin’ on that.” 1870? This man was insane! “Would you like a ride into town, son?”
“NO! Thank you.” Chris crept slowly backward and turned away almost running down the drive. “Wherever Joe-Z dumped me, it’s crazy-ville for sure.”