Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lost and Found in Midian, Montana

Please enjoy the first chapter of my work-in-progress, Lost and Found in Midian, Montana. This is the manuscript that I am actively pitching to agents and publishers. Tell me what you think in the comments, or on Facebook and be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for updates and giveaways!



The soundtrack to Shane Olson’s demise was fitting for the nation’s most promising up-and-coming pastor. Awkward greetings bounced unanswered off his enflamed face as he crossed the threshold of Crosspointe, the church he had shepherded for five years. At the Welcome booth, a coffee urn sputtered its last drops in the cup of the children’s director, who watched through fearful eyes as Shane demanded, “Where’s Jonah?” Just like the car radio during the frantic drive from his house, the soothing worship song from the foyer’s speaker system tried to reason with him. He raced past petrified church members with whom he had helped through various hardships. Prayers against infertility, addiction, bankruptcy and lust echoed in his memory with each bewildered face he passed.

Ignoring the screams of the Holy Spirit in his head, Shane burst through the doors of the sanctuary. Above the pews that he bathed in prayer prior to every church service, the air was thick with tension. His breath heaved, as Sunday afternoon gossip slithered between the congregants, forming a steady, serpentine hiss.

On the stage, a guitar, which had two hours earlier strummed about mercy and grace, protested with a clamor as an elder callously removed it from its rightful place. The motorized whirring of the descending white screen promised to educate those in the pews, although instead of offering scripture, the screens were expected to show all the reasons why Shane needed to be removed from his position. He was too rogue, too direct, too progressive and too transparent. His biggest flaw, though, was having everything his closest friend had always wanted.

Standing at the podium, Jonah Tanner, the best man at his wedding, cleared his throat and stretched his neck, ready to complete his betrayal.

“Jonah!” Shane yelled, surprised at the gruff sound of his own voice.

Jonah, sporting a smug grin, extended a Machiavellian handshake as Shane bounded up the church steps. Using his momentum, Shane swung his fist towards his friend’s face, cracking the cheekbone. Screaming pain entered his knuckles and traveled up to his shoulder. Jonah stumbled and fell on his side in front of the piano. Consumed by the rage that he had long buried under spiritual disciplines and prayer, Shane launched himself on top of Jonah. Shane no longer heard anything. The furious pounding of blood in his ears drowned the Holy Spirit’s voice as he ravaged the man who had stolen everything he loved in this life: his job, his church, his reputation, and his wife.  

God, why? Haven’t I been faithful? Haven’t I loved her unconditionally as you have loved the church? Tristan is the only girl I’ve ever loved.

The sight of her laying in their bed, twenty minutes earlier, wearing the satin slip he had given her for their seventh anniversary had seared into his mind. She had been startled to see her husband in the doorway, mere moments after her lover had left her side. Fire engulfed his insides, raging up his throat and out his eyes. When hands finally separated the two men, Shane saw his wife standing over her lover’s blood-soaked face. Her eyes shone curiously at Shane. Was it shame for her own actions?  Pity, perhaps, at her husband’s miserable state? No. It was disgust.
God, what have I done?

He had to turn away and found himself facing his church family, looking on in horror. It was then that he noticed the dozens of cellphones, recording his downfall—sheep, offering up their loving shepherd to the wolves.

***

In one moment, the world as you know it can end. It was a truth of which Ryann Ashcroft was reminded as she pressed her back against the icy stone, eighteen hundred miles away from the Crosspointe church stage.  

The newspaper had predicted the first snowfall of the season for that evening and the morose clouds hovering above the Gallatin mountains seemed keen to obey. A cold breeze glided over the hills, startling the fallen leaves into a scurry. Shivers pulsed through her, seizing her bad shoulder so that she didn’t know where the physical pain ended and the sorrow began. She swallowed down the sob threatening to choke her. She gasped, but the thin air didn’t satisfy her burning lungs and she collapsed onto the blanket of grass. One tear, then another. They felt hot upon release and quickly cooled as they rolled down her temple and into her hair. Foregoing her usual fa├žade of confidence and gloss, she wept, just like the night she lost him. She imagined that the tears, which now salted the grass and dried leaves, instead soaked into his shirt as she lay with him on their bed. Her chest constricted. The memory of their final moments only caused her to ache more.

Lord, I still miss him every day.

The thought which haunted her was knowing it was her fault he was gone. She had made one mistake, but that mistake led to more consequences than anyone should have to endure. Six long years of consequences which fettered her soul and shackled her foreseeable future.

I’m so sorry. I’d give anything to take that night back. I’d give anything for a second chance.

The sorrow was heavy. She felt herself sinking into the ground, the grass reaching its blades around her. Rolling onto her back, she folded her hands across her chest, released her breath and watched it rise to join the grey clouds in the sky, content to allow the ground to swallow her whole. A peregrine soared overhead, seeking sustenance for its journey south. She pitied the mouse or songbird who would lose its life so that the falcon would live.  They had no choice in the matter. She still did.

Give me a chance for redemption. Give me a purpose, even if it requires sacrifice.  

She set her eyes on an aspen branch above her. One single golden-brown leaf stubbornly remained despite the wind that whipped it back and forth. Does it know that its fate is sealed? Does it care? Either way, she applauded its efforts. She admired that kind of resilience.

Lord, I’ll need your strength to endure.

The breeze weakened and a warmth overtook her. She sat up and brushed away the red wisps of hair, matted to her tear-soaked skin.  With a composed breath, she urged herself to face the marble stone. Her fingers traced the grooves, waltzing up and down in lines and curves: Beloved Husband.

“I love you, Matthew,” she whispered, before standing tall and brushing off her jeans. Ryann thought she heard footsteps, crushing the October leaves. She perused the field of headstones. The only other figure she could see was the concrete angel in the center, the peregrine falcon perched atop her head, watching Ryann. She felt uneasy and hurried towards the parking lot, careful not to step on the grass directly in front of each stone. The smallest one drew her attention every visit. Fresh flowers and a small, pink teddy bear leaned against it. Little Annie Lawrence. Ryann had gone to school with her parents. It was hard to believe that the same river that flowed peacefully past her cabin at her parents’ resort had taken the toddler’s life. She shuddered. They weren't like her. They did nothing to deserve their tragedy.

Out of sight, an engine roared to life. It stopped Ryann cold. Dread filled her stomach and spread through her body. She was a fool to think she was ever truly alone. Sullivan Ashcroft wouldn’t allow that, especially not today, October 22nd. She and Vann would be bound forever due to the events of this day six years ago-- her 21st birthday and the day Matthew died.

Ryann pulled open the door of her old Jeep. Before she could climb inside, the flapping of wings startled her. The falcon ascended towards the clouds with the pink teddy bear clutched in its talons. A knot formed in her stomach at his choice of prey, but the feeling soon gave way to a strange sympathy for the predator that she could not explain.

Lord, give me strength.

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