Authors: Nancy Mehl
Tags: #FIC042040, #FIC042060, #FIC042000, #Kansas—Fiction, #Mennonites—Fiction, #Violent crimes—Fiction, #Nonviolence—Fiction, #Ambivalence—Fiction
Â© 2013 by Nancy Mehl
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture references are from the King James Version of the Bible.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Paul Higdon
Cover photography by Mike Habermann Photography, LLC
Author represented by Benrey Literary, LLC
To my dear friend and second mother, Kay Curless. You were the embodiment of true friendship. I pray God will help me follow your incredible example. I love you, beautiful girl.
“All I know, Hope,
is that you folks in Kingdom need to be careful.” Flo neatly folded the piece of fabric I'd just purchased, running her thin fingers along the edge to create a sharp crease. “Two nights ago a church near Haddam burned to the ground. Someone is targeting houses of worship in this part of Kansas, and they don't care about the denomination. They just hate Christians.”
“But Kingdom is so remote. Besides, when anyone new comes around, we know it. There's only one road into town.” My words sounded reassuring, but the rash of recent attacks left me feeling troubled. Was our small Mennonite town in danger? The idea that someone was harming people because of their love for God was hard for me to understand.
“Just yesterday someone tried to run a car off the road outside of town,” Flo said. “Folks had a Christian bumper sticker. That was all it took to get them into trouble.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
She shrugged. “No. I think they were just being hassled,
but the car was forced off the road. Something like that could do a lot of damage to anyone in a buggy.”
“Well, no one's bothered us. Except for a few teenagers who drive past our buggies too fast and spook our horses, most people are very respectful.”
Flo sighed. “I know you think Kingdom is special, that you have some kind of unique protection, but whoever is behind these acts of violence has shown nothing but ruthlessness. I'm afraid you're sitting ducks out there, without a way to get help if you need it.”
She put my purchases into bags and handed them to me. “Please, even if you think I'm being paranoid, speak to your church leaders. Urge them to take precautions.” Flo, usually a rather dour person, gave me a rare smile. “You're very special to me, Hope. I don't want anything to happen to you.”
I smiled back, rattled by her words of caution yet appreciative of her concern. Flo and I were as different as night and day, but over the years we'd developed a deep friendship.
“What is your church doing to protect itself?” I asked.
She shook her head, causing the dyed red hair she'd piled on top to tilt to the side. “We don't take chances. Mixing faith with firearms doesn't bother us a bit. We've also added an armed security guard to watch the building at night when it's empty.”
“I guess we'll just have to trust in God's ability to keep us safe. We don't believe in using violence for any reason.”
Flo's right eyebrow shot up. “Not even if you have to defend your lives?”
I stared at her, not quite certain how to answer. “As far as I know,” I said finally, “we've never had to face a situation
like that. But our leaders would never bend our beliefs to suit our circumstances.”
“Forgive me for saying this,” Flo said, shaking her head, “but that sounds pretty stubborn.”
“We're not trying to be stubborn,” I said slowly, “but we are firm in our convictions. Changing our faith isn't an option.”
“I'm trying to understand,” Flo insisted, “but what if the life of someone you loved was at stake? Would you alter your doctrine to protect them?”
I shook my head and picked up my bags. “All I can do is hope I never have to find out.”
She frowned. “Look, I realize you're trying to live by your teachings, but I can't accept the notion that God wants you to stand by and let evil men do whatever they want.” She reached out and grabbed my arm, her eyes bright with worry. “Please don't blow this off, Hope. The Methodist church on the other side of town was vandalized one night while a young man was inside cleaning the carpet. He was beaten up pretty badly.”
I patted her hand. “All right, Flo. I'll talk to one of our elders when I return.”
“Do you swear?” Her grip on my arm tightened.
I laughed. “Now you've asked me to do something else I can't do. Mennonites aren't supposed take oaths.”
Flo's eyes narrowed as she stared at me. “Following a bunch of rules doesn't make you any closer to God, Hope. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I do. But at the same time, why should I swear to something when I've already told you I will do as you asked? Isn't my word good enough?”
Her expression relaxed as she thought this over. “Yes, your word is good enough.” She finally let me go. “But next time you come in, I'm going to make sure you followed through.”
She came around the side of the counter, and I put my packages down to give her a hug. “You're such a blessing to me. Thank you for caring so much.”
Most people would probably think we looked odd. An older woman with bright red hair and overdone makeup hugging a plain Mennonite girl wearing a long dress covered with a white apron and a white prayer cap on her head. But Flo and I had moved beyond seeing our differences.
She let me go and swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “You take care of yourself, and I'll see you next month.”
“I will. Do you think that royal blue fabric I ordered will be in by then?”
She snapped her fingers. “Well, for pity's sake, I forgot all about that. It came in yesterday. You wait here a minute, and I'll fetch it.”
I smiled. “Thank you. My friend Lizzie and her new husband are fixing up a house they bought on the edge of town. I want to present them with a quilt before they're completely moved in.”
Flo chuckled. “Well, if anyone can put it together quickly, it's you. You're the fastest quilter I've ever known.”
“I suppose it's a good talent to possess, since I run a quilt shop.” We laughed, and Flo went into her back room to get the material. She'd just left when I heard the bell over the front door ring.
I turned around and stared at the young woman who'd walked into the store. She was beautiful, with long blond
hair that fell softly over her shoulders. She wore jeans and a white cotton blouse with stitching around the neck. Bright red toenails peeked out from her sandals. The color on her toes matched her long fingernails. A little makeup accented her thick, dark lashes and large blue eyes. I'd seen beautiful women before, but there was something about this girl that caught my attention. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was.
I glanced down at my ordinary dress and my hands with short, unadorned nails. Quilting and sewing forced me to keep my fingernails trimmed, and none of the women in my church ever painted their nails. For just a moment, I found myself wondering what it would feel like to be the attractive girl who seemed so happy and carefree.
The fleeting thought left me feeling confused. I grabbed my packages and hurried toward the door. As I passed the young woman, we locked eyes. Hers widened with surprise as she took in my dress and prayer covering. For a brief second I felt a flush of embarrassment, but it quickly turned to remorse. I wasn't ashamed of God, nor was I ashamed of my Mennonite heritage. I made sure my packages were secure and nearly ran from the store.
As the door closed behind me, I looked back and saw the girl watching me. At the same time I saw my reflection in the glass door. A girl from the world and a girl from a small Mennonite town both stared back at me. The reason for my overreaction became clear. We could have been twins. The look on her face told me she'd seen the same thing.
I turned and walked quickly toward my buggy. Daisy, my horse, waited patiently outside, tied to a post near the door.
I put my sacks in the storage box under the buggy seat and then unhitched her. “You are such a good girl,” I said, rubbing her velvety muzzle with my hand. She whinnied softly, and I climbed up into the carriage. “It's time to go home, Daisy.” I wanted to glance back toward the store to see if the blond woman was still watching me, but instead I kept my eyes focused on my beloved horse. Lightly flicking the reins, we headed into the street.
As Daisy and I turned toward Kingdom, the odd reaction I'd had to the woman in the store dissipated quickly. I had no interest in living a different life. Although several of my friends had left Kingdom at one time or another, I'd never had the urge. I'd been born and raised in the small town, and I loved it. Papa and Mama settled there not long before she became pregnant with me. Then Mama died after a severe asthma attack when I was only seven, and Papa had become both mother and father to me. I loved him with my whole heart. He would spend the rest of his life in Kingdom, and unless God told me to leave, I would do the same.
I loosened my hold on the reins and relaxed back into the seat. I could nod off to sleep and Daisy would deliver us safely home without any direction from me. We'd been making this monthly trip for a long time, and I was confident she knew the way as well as I did.
The main road toward Kingdom was never very busy. The few vehicles that used the road stayed pretty close to Washington, and after a few miles away from the city, I might not see any cars or trucks at all before taking the turnoff to our town. Most of the traffic I dealt with was in Washington itself. Although a lot of the people who lived there were accustomed
to their Mennonite neighbors, some liked to drive slowly by us, gawking and sometimes even taking pictures.
I took a deep breath, filling myself with the sweetness of spring air and deep, rich earth. The wheat in the field was tall enough to wave in the gentle wind, and I was struck once again by the beauty of Kansas.
From the other direction, I saw a buggy coming my way. As it approached, I recognized John Lapp, one of the elders who'd left our church over a disagreement with our pastor and some of the other elders. Kingdom was moving away from a works-based culture. Our pastor taught lessons about the importance of grace and reminded us that Christ had set us free from works of the law. This didn't sit well with some of our members, John Lapp being one of the most vocal opponents.
I nodded to him as he drove past, and he returned my gesture with a barely discernible tip of his head. John's wife, Frances, had been ill for quite some time, and John was constantly driving to Washington for medicines and supplies she needed.
As Daisy's hooves clip-clopped down the dirt road that led home, the buggy swaying gently in time with her gait, I thought back to my conversation with Flo. I couldn't help but wonder who could be behind these vicious attacks. Perhaps I should take her warning seriously, but this kind of hate was beyond my experience. Kingdom was a special place, safe and protected from the outside world. The idea that we were in danger seemed extremely unlikely. However, since I'd told Flo I'd mention something to our leaders about the situation, I began to rehearse exactly what I would say.
Suddenly, the roar of an engine shook me from my contemplation. I automatically pulled Daisy as far to the edge of the road as I could. Glancing in my side mirror, I saw a bright red truck barreling down the dirt road, a wave of dust behind it. Only seconds before it reached us, I realized with horror that it was aimed straight for the back of my buggy. Not knowing what else to do, I pulled tightly on the reins, guiding Daisy into the ditch.
The truck roared past us, spraying us with gravel. The buggy teetered for a moment and then began to tip over on its side. Before it fell, I was able to jump into the ditch, landing hard on my hands and knees. Daisy staggered under the weight of the stricken buggy.
I forced myself to my feet even though my right arm hurt and my knee burned where it had been badly scraped. I stumbled over as quickly as I could to unhook Daisy from her harness, pushing against the weight of the buggy so she wouldn't topple. Breaking a leg could put her life in jeopardy, and I had no intention of losing her. I cried out as I struggled to release her from her restraints, holding tightly on to the reins. Fear caused her to fight me. She whinnied and tried to rear up, and I held on for dear life while trying to calm her. Once I finally got the harness off and she was freed from the buggy, she began to quiet down.
I took the reins and started to lead her back up to the road. Over her soft, frightened nickering I heard the sound of an idling engine.
Surely the driver of the pickup was coming back to help me, regretting his carelessness. Thankfully, his lack of judgment hadn't cost us more than a damaged buggy, a nervous horse,
and a few cuts and scrapes. I hoped he was aware that the situation could have been much worse and that he would be more careful when approaching any other buggies he might encounter on this road.
Although it was difficult to make anything out through all the dust, I could see the red truck had turned around and was parked about fifty yards down the road with its motor racing. As Daisy and I strained to make it up the incline, I waved at him. I hoped he would help me get the buggy out of the ditch and back to Kingdom. One wheel had come completely off, and the axle was bent. There was no way I could drive it home.
It wasn't until he put his vehicle into gear again and stepped on the accelerator that I became aware that he wasn't concerned about my condition. This man had another interest entirely. Whoever was driving that truck was purposely trying to scare me!
I pulled hard on the reins and attempted to lead a terrified and confused Daisy as far back into the ditch as possible before the truck reached us. I prayed as loudly as I could, calling on God for help. The truck's engine seemed to grow louder. Was he already upon us? I turned quickly to look and saw another truck racing down the road, coming from the other direction. It was headed straight for the red truck. A few feet before they would have collided, the red truck slowed to a stop and the blue truck slammed on its brakes. Then it sat in front of the other vehicle as if trying to provoke a confrontation. The driver of the red truck gunned his motor several times, challenging his adversary to respond. I watched this frightening encounter, unable to do anything
to protect myself and Daisy. There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
Finally, the driver of the red truck threw it into reverse and, with engine whining, sped down the road backwards. Then it spun around and drove away, leaving a huge trail of dust and gravel in its wake. The blue truck waited a few moments and then began to back up slowly toward Daisy and me. I trembled with fear, putting my hand to my chest as my heart pounded wildly. Was this driver a threat as well? Flo's warning about a car being forced off the road near Washington rang loudly in my head.