I skipped a few days there posting sample chapters, because I was finishing my edit of the novel! I’m super excited to move on to querying agents and editors and see if I can get this story published. So, here is Chapter 5 of the first part of the novel. Please let me know if you would like additional chapters posted, or I will just move on to something else. Thanks!
The Little Seer, Part I: Exodus
Escaping the Darkness
“We never should have elected a treasurer with an emotionally unstable daughter!”
Ms. Nancy’s accusation hit Aria like a kick in the gut.
“How dare you!” Aria heard her mom stand up, her high heels clicking on the cold floor of the church sanctuary.
“Now, ladies, please sit down,” Mr. Stauffin said. He cleared his throat.
“I will not sit down!” Aria rarely heard her mother yell. “You can’t expect me to just sit here while you throw out wild accusations at my daughter—behind her back!—and not even give me the chance to answer the charges! Besides, this is just a distraction from the real issues at hand, and you know it.”
Aria shivered. She wished she had her sweater, which was with her mother’s things a few pews away. She couldn’t stand up now or people would see her.
“No one is charging you with anything,” Mrs. Stauffin said. “Now don’t you lose your perfect poise.”
“What?!” Aria heard her mom sit down heavily.
The other elders at the meeting shifted in their seats and cleared their throats.
Why are you all being so mean? Aria twisted her hands in her lap. You’re supposed to be our friends! Especially you, Mrs. Stauffin.
But Aria hadn’t seen Mrs. Stauffin for her weekly tea with her mom—not since the argument.
What did I do? thought Aria. What if I really am unstable?
Aria’s chest heaved just to breathe normally. On the edge of her imagination, dark winged shapes flitted up in the wood rafters. It made her stomach do flips.
Aria shook her head to clear it of her dark thoughts, but she couldn’t shake a vague sense that something was about to jump out at her from the shadows. She realized she was digging her fingernails into her palms. She studied the red slices in her hands.
Aria was supposed to have gone outside with the other kids, but Jenny and Tara just wanted to flirt with Jesse and play flag football with the youth group. Aria had crawled under a pew and was folding her church bulletin into an origami crane when the fight had erupted above her. It was a good thing the back of the pew was one solid slab that reached to the floor. No one could see her, as long as she didn’t move. But now Aria was wishing she could run.
Ms. Nancy’s comment still rolled around Aria’s mind.
What if I’m crazy? How do I know this is really God?
She heard Ms. Nancy shift in her seat and tap her loafered foot on the floor.
“Your husband can’t keep his own house in order,” she shot at Aria’s mom, “so how could we expect him to keep the finances in order in the house of God?”
Aria’s mom gasped. “What makes you such an expert on husbands and children?” she threw back at her.
Aria could feel Ms. Nancy recoil.
Several parishioners stood to their feet and started shouting: “House of God? I don’t think even God would spend this much on a building!”
“How are we supposed to know what’s going on when the elders have a closed inner circle? When we founded this church we agreed the leadership would be transparent!”
“Yeah, we were in this together! Now we’re just names on your membership rolls! Something is going on, and we demand to know what it is.”
Aria tried to breathe slowly.
What is going on? she begged the bottom of the pew above her. She pictured the squinting face of Ms. Nancy, her teacher who had taught her so much about God.
“God is wise and loving; he is always in control,” Ms. Nancy had said to her class.
The church could sure use you now, Aria thought, and rubbed her arms to warm her cool skin. If you really are that way. In the back of her mind, she could hear the winds of the tornado that had ripped through this building in her dream. She shuddered. What if God wasn’t the way people said he was at all?
“Back up!” said a voice, and Aria heard Phil Donagee stand up.
“You!” he said to Ms. Nancy. “Explain! If you’re going to throw accusations around about a little girl, I want to know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s simple!” Ms. Nancy said. “Jim and Lily let the inmate run the asylum at their house—literally!—so it’s no big surprise that Jim didn’t spot the anomalies in the budget. Their disturbed daughter is running around telling people she dreamed of Pastor Ted ordering evil birds to attack her, and we expect Jim to be able to handle our church finances?”
“This has nothing to do with Jim, and you know it!”
The yelling resumed.
Aria curled up into a ball and rested her head on the floor next to her paper crane. The bird stared back at her blankly.
Never should have told. Never should have told. Now what?
Aria crushed the bird in her hand and threw it across the floor.
Pastor Ted was still silent. Aria remembered his face from her dream. She wondered if he knew she was sitting there and imagined his eyes glowing red and boring through the back of her pew.
Help! she prayed to the rafters. She curled up into a ball.
“Psst, Aria!” Aria jumped and turned to find Mrs. Coghill crouching over her between the pews, her curly white hair glowing under the overhead lights. She put a finger up to her bright pink lips and began to duck walk her way to the glass door at the end of the row.
Aria scrambled out from under the pew. She crawled to the glass door, which Mrs. Coghill opened as she kept her head down out of sight.
She helped Aria squeeze through the opening and then passed through herself, holding her lower back as she stood up stiffly in the hall. She then grabbed Aria’s hand and pulled her away from the sanctuary.
“Where are we going?” Aria asked.
“Out,” Mrs. Coghill said tersely.
Aria cringed. Mrs. Coghill’s skin wrinkled differently when she frowned.
Mrs. Coghill seemed to soften a bit.
“I’m getting you away from the darkness in there, darling,” she added. “You don’t need to be exposed to any more of that tripe.”
Aria stared up at her senior citizen neighbor. “You mean you see them too?” she asked. “I’m not crazy?”
“Who can say if you’re crazy, honey?” Mrs. Coghill winked at her. “But really, it’s getting hard to breathe in there. Let’s get some fresh air.”
They stepped out into the sunshine and headed across the lawn.
“Oh,” Aria said, pausing as they sat down under the oak tree, “you just meant the darkness because they’re fighting.”
Oh, please don’t ask me what I mean! she thought, and hugged her knees to her chest.
From her vantage point she could see the darkened classrooms on the lower level of the church and the windows at the back of the sanctuary. Mr. Bob was standing with his back to one window, gesturing wildly.
“No, I’m talking about the demons,” Mrs. Coghill said.
Aria caught her breath.
She stared at Mrs. Coghill.
“There’s no difference,” Mrs. Coghill finally continued in a quieter voice, “between the darkness you feel because of the fighting and the darkness of the demons.”
“That’s real?” Aria said, incredulous. “I’m not crazy?”
The dark winged shapes in the sanctuary were circling like flies over the adults now. One by one they peeled off from their black cloud and dive-bombed a parishioner—Phil Donagee, Ms. Nancy, then Mr. Stauffin. They perched on the shoulders of each adult and dug their long yellow claws into their shoulders. One particularly knotty-looking demon sat right on Mr. Bob’s shoulder in the window. Its long black tongue started to explore Mr. Bob’s ear.
The demon suddenly whipped its head around to look at Aria, seeming to sense her gaze. Its totally black eyes opened wide, and its nostrils flared.
Aria opened her mouth in horror, but before she could say anything, the demon exhaled hot steam onto the window. She could no longer see inside.
Aria stood up from the grass quickly, brushing dry clippings from her dress, but Mrs. Coghill caught her arm.
“If I’m not crazy, then they need help!” Aria protested, straining against Mrs. Coghill’s grasp.
“You can’t help them right now,” she answered. “They need to figure out what’s right and wrong for themselves.”
“They don’t know?! But if they don’t know what’s right and wrong, who does?”
Mrs. Coghill paused. “Maybe you do, honey,” she said, and let go of Aria’s wrist.
“I’m just a kid!” Aria said, stamping her foot on the firm ground. “Why is God letting demons in his church?”
“He wasn’t the one who let them in,” Mrs. Coghill said with a dark look.
“I think you already know.”
Aria pictured Pastor Ted standing up at his lectern with sheet music flying past him, his eyes bulging and his mouth gaping open.
You’re right, she thought. I do know. But I don’t know why he would do such a thing. And I don’t know how! And I don’t know what kind of a God would let that happen!
“How can you be so calm?” Aria was practically crying now as she imagined demons digging their talons into her parents’ heads and brushing their hair with dark, leathery wings.
“Oh, I am upset,” Mrs. Coghill replied. “It’s why I’m not in church every Sunday anymore. I just can’t stand the state of the church sometimes. I thought these revival meetings would make a difference, but revival only takes off if people are open to God changing them with his love. It turns out that only a few people here really want to know God, so it all just spun around and went nowhere.”
Mrs. Coghill leaned back against the tree. “All of this would bother you less if you knew how God felt about it,” she said with a sigh. Then she closed her eyes, adding, “If you spend enough time with him, all of this kind of fades into the background.”
“I don’t understand,” Aria said. “How is that possible?”
She sat down heavily next to Mrs. Coghill. The bark scraped her back through her dress, but she didn’t feel it.
“What do you think would happen if you asked God all your questions directly?”
“I do ask God questions, but he doesn’t listen,” Aria said, a lump rising in her throat.
“Can I pray for you?” Mrs. Coghill asked suddenly, opening her eyes.
“I guess so,” Aria replied.
She watched Mrs. Coghill. She expected her to say a fancy prayer like they did in church during the Confession and Pardon, or to raise her eyes to heaven and shout like the revival preacher had. But Mrs. Coghill just put her fingertips lightly on Aria’s shoulder and quietly said, “Show her what you want her to see, God.”
Aria closed her eyes. Even though she was still aware of the stubbly grass scratching her legs, she also saw a movie play out in her mind.
She was walking through a field of tall grass blanketed in bright sunshine, running her fingers over the tops of Queen Anne’s Lace. A fresh wind rippled over the grass out toward the horizon.
She followed the wind to the edge of a cliff, where a bright blue sea spread out in front of her one hundred feet below. The sea breeze whipped at her back, edging her toward the cliff.
Aria took a deep breath of fresh air.
Then, a presence.
She wasn’t alone.
Aria’s heart started to pound as she turned to face a man, whose features she couldn’t quite make out. His face was in shadow against the shimmering sun.
Aria couldn’t catch her breath. She felt an intense passion radiating from the man. It made her feel exhilarated and uncomfortable all at once.
“What do you see?” Mrs. Coghill asked.
Aria snapped back to reality. “What? I—I don’t know. It’s gone now.”
“But you did see something.”
Aria was speechless. Was it him? The man she had seen in the vision that had started everything? If this was real—if she wasn’t crazy—then that could mean—
She didn’t dare think about what that would mean.