After a fire destroys their home when she was a girl, Sarah’s family rebuilds their lives, yet the echoes of the fire’s damage remain. Sarah learned to turn inward, and keep her curious mind to herself, asking God all the questions that her own father used to delight in. But the fire silenced her father, and spread the stillness to the rest of them. Yet Sarah longs to express herself, to find answers to all her questions. A new, young pastor arrives, and captivates her heart. The prospect of a challenging and unexpected life dances before her, but then is held out of her reach. And with the new possibilities come questions she’s never asked herself before. Is she ready for the answers?
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A rest in the shade was tempting, but one glance at the sunlit road ahead changed Sarah’s mind. She bumped her elbow on her little brother’s arm.
“Let’s play road-hop, Joe.” Now that she’d turned nine, the time for games would end soon enough. She had to fit some in whenever she could.
Joe made up the game last year, and it fast became their favorite. They left the cool shelter under the pines to Ma and Pa and scampered out on the dirt road. The sun blistered the top of her head, and its harsh rays highlighted every dried grass stalk and weed in the hard-baked ruts of the road. Dry heat shimmered from the ground.
Sweat sprang out on her forehead. She should rest. They still had an uphill trek to get home from their visit to friends, followed by chores for all of them once they arrived. But she couldn’t resist having some fun.
What a long, dry summer. She and Joe spent their free time splashing in the creek at home, which was now a weak ribbon of its former strength, dwindling in the daily onslaught of heat.
“It has to rain soon,” Pa repeated every day, scanning the cloudless sky. Sarah was sure it would, since Pa said so.
Joe hopped on one foot back and forth over the wagon ruts. A large clod of dirt crumbled into the rut along the edge of his planted foot, challenging his balance. Joe teetered on the edge while his arms sliced the air in erratic, frantic circles. The sight of that, coupled with his grimace and wide eyes, made Sarah chortle and point at him.
Pa chuckled. Joe scowled at Sarah, regained his balance, and said, “Ha-ha. I didn’t fall.”
“Don’t tease each other, children.” Ma’s tone of admonishment made Sarah quench her giggles. But he looked so funny, and when they were alone, most of the enjoyment of the game was the teasing part while they tried to outdo each other.
“Sorry, Ma.” Joe hopped four more times and finally lost his balance. Both feet touched the ground while Joe huffed out an exasperated sigh.
Sarah clapped and jumped in delight. “My turn.”
“Bet you can’t beat eight straight jumps.” Joe crossed his arms, a slight scowl tightening his face.
Sarah wanted to taunt him back but knew Ma wouldn’t like it. She hopped and counted to herself, eyes trained on the ground. Her confidence rose when she made it to her sixth successful jump. Hectic sounds above made her stop, stay balanced on one foot, and gaze up. A large flock of geese honked and sped above the treetops. Why? It wasn’t time for them to fly north.
Thrashing noises escalated from the thick woods on both sides of the road. Pa hadn’t brought his rifle. Cold fear gripped a hammerlock on Sarah’s middle as the noises grew louder and thoughts of bears filled her mind. But bears traveled alone, unless it was a mother with cubs.
Oh, no. Her heart raced. The hopping game forgotten, she ran to Pa. He put his hand on top of her head and peered into the woods.
“Stop shaking now.” Pa patted her head. “It’s only a herd of deer passing.” One of them broke through the trees and took to the road, thundering by them as though they weren’t there. “Something spooked them, that’s for sure. All of you stay here. I’m going up the bend and see what’s going on.”
The noise in the woods faded, and Sarah’s heart began to slow back down.
“Children, come stand next to me.” Ma held her hands out to them. Pa strode to the bend in the road, his long legs swallowing up the short distance in a few moments. His back went rigid before he turned and dashed to them.
“Get Joe. I’ll get Sarah.” Pa scooped her up and onto his back. He commanded, “Run! Fire. We’ve got to get to the lake.”