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The Storyville Project: Storyville, #1

The Storyville Project: Storyville, #1

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The Storyville Project: Storyville, #1

Lunghezza:
254 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Jan 20, 2021
ISBN:
9781393782711
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The Storyville Project is a publication of the nonprofit organization, the Lakes Area Writers Alliance and is a collaboration of creative nonfiction and fiction from our Minnesota-based author/members. Because our members come from all walks of life, you will find a variety of subjects and styles within.

 

The Lakes Area Writers Alliance's goal is to encourage and support our fellow writers. 

 

Everyone published in this book, and all who worked to see it come to print, have a strong connection to Minnesota.

 

Authors for this first edition of the Storyville Project include: 

 

  • Beverly Abear
  • Carissa Andrews
  • Matt Black
  • Diane Carlson
  • Kacie Clement
  • Jennifer Dege
  • Rebecca Flansburg
  • Joan Hasskamp
  • John Hurd
  • Janet Kurtz
  • David Liebeg
  • Lucas Mumm
  • Will Paulson
  • Robert Peterson
  • Joe Prosit
  • Barbara Schlichting
  • Candace Simar
  • Jack William Smith
  • Emilee Mae Struss

We thank each and every one of them for their contribution and encourage you to purchase a copy of the Storyville Project today. 

 

*All proceeds go to the Lakes Area Writers Alliance in support of our incredibly talented membership. 

Pubblicato:
Jan 20, 2021
ISBN:
9781393782711
Formato:
Libro

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The Storyville Project - Lakes Area Writers Alliance

Afterword

THE ANCIENT PATH

By Beverly Abear

I woke to blackness and the smell of damp earth and decaying leaves. With no memory of the previous few hours, I sat up and crawled forward a few feet until I felt the sharp stones of what seemed to be a narrow path. Further on, a white mist illuminated the path.

Kneeling beside the path, I searched my jacket pockets for anything to light. In one pocket, I felt a piece of paper, a couple paper clips and a rubber band. No help there. In the other, the keys to my car and dorm room. Attached to the key ring was a tiny cylinder. I pulled it out of my pocket and pressed a button along its side. The narrow beam of a flashlight shone into the darkness. I stared at the unfamiliar object.

Still, I was thankful. Someone must’ve attached it and stuck me out here for a joke. Weird. Getting up, I took a deep breath and coughed sharply. Acrid smoke hung in the air.

Perhaps I was on the undeveloped part of campus, a tangle of dead trees and dense underbrush south of the athletic fields. In my four years at college, though, I had never noticed a path through the area.

As I walked toward the mist, another whiff of metallic smoke stung my nostrils, and I heard a faint clink-clanging sound in the distance.

Eventually, the path curved and came to a sharp cliff. I slowed down, unsure of the ground’s firmness at the cliff’s edge. From the valley below, two large smokestacks rose a hundred feet into the air, their tops glowing red. I wondered what fuel they were burning in the dark building below. Perhaps it was a refinery for some type of ore.

My eyes watered as the wind rushed up at me, bringing a fresh gust of the stench. Lord, what an awful place. It wasn’t really a prayer. In fact, I hadn’t talked to God in a while.

While I stood blinking, a hooded figure came toward me out of the mist and smoke. Relieved that I could ask somebody for answers, I said, Hey, where does this path—

Keeping his face hidden, the man spoke in a low but urgent monotone. Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is. Then he hurried past, disappearing into the darkness behind me.

"What was that about?" My gut knotted at the strange but somehow familiar words.

A shiver started up my spine, so I zipped my light jacket and stuffed my hands into its pockets. Feeling the folded paper, I took it out and opened it, shining the flashlight on bold, jerky letters. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. Jer.6:16."

I almost dropped the paper. Did the hoodie guy put it in my pocket? I peered at the crude writing and noticed the word rest was underlined. Closing my eyes, I felt weariness sweep over me. Since the only rest I wanted was back in my bed at the dorm, I determined to keep walking, not even knowing if this was the way back to campus.

Keeping three feet back from the cliff, I continued along the path as it followed the cliff’s edge to my right. Suddenly, a biting gust of wind dispersed the mist and smoke, enabling me to see my surroundings.

To my left another path opened into a grassy meadow. Straight ahead, the path led directly into dark woods that loomed tall and menacing. I straddled the intersection and thought aloud, "Maybe this is a clue to what I’m supposed to do next—stand in the crossroads as the paper said." A crossroads should mean four choices: the way from which I’d come, the meadow path, the dark forest path and one more. I looked toward the cliff which was directly opposite the meadow path, and shook my head.

Okay so the hoodie guy must be helping with the game. Relaxing a bit, I chuckled. What some campus societies wouldn’t do for fun or hazing! But why would I be a victim of pranks when I was only a couple months from graduation? Wasn’t that something all the new freshman had to suffer during in their first fall semester? I’d escaped it back then, working several hours a week at the town’s canning factory, but I’d always figured they could have found a way to hassle me somehow.

I surveyed the cliff’s edge, the woods ahead and behind, and the grassy meadow to my left and wondered if the paper’s clues were leading me back to campus, my room, and—I yawned suddenly—my bed.

Another thought struck me. Maybe I’m supposed to find some kind of treasure to prove I’ve followed instructions and figured out the game.

I chewed my lip and stared at the swaying grasses of the meadow. I searched my brain for something the college considered symbolic, like the school medallion that was used earlier in the year for treasure hunts. I’d never gone in for many college-structured events, except a few soccer or basketball games. All the Valentine Formals, speech or piano recitals, and fall and spring plays were not my cup o’ tea, as they say, and I’d successfully avoided them for four long years. My taste in social pursuits ran to more off-campus types on the other side of town.

No object the pranksters would’ve hidden came to mind, but as I scanned the area close around the intersection, something caught my attention. Just off the path about knee level, an old-fashioned wooden crossroad sign was sticking above a thick clump of vegetation, its normal tall post broken off and lying to the left of the meadow path. Someone had stuck the top back into the earth.

I flashed my light on the sign. In white letters, the arm pointing toward the meadow read, There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death Prov.16:25. I grimaced. Another Scripture. This game must have been set up by one of the religious nut groups on campus. Slightly annoyed, I considered the message which plainly said, Don’t go that way, though I hardly believed the meadow path would lead to my death. I laughed out loud at the thought, but a feeling of foreboding lingered.

Focusing the narrow beam on the arm toward the woods ahead, I read equally discouraging words. People loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19 Okay, well, the woods were certainly dark and potentially dangerous. I could get behind that warning. No problem.

The arm pointing back from where I’d come said, Temptation (trials)…is common to mankind. ICor.10:13 I sighed. Yeah, what about tonight’s trial: waking up in a foul-smelling wilderness with no memory of how I got here. I let out an irritated growl.

I was willing to play along for some enigmatic prize or even the prize of getting back to my night’s rest—what was left of it—but this was ridiculous. "I’m not supposed to choose any of these paths?"

Frustrated, I ran down the meadow path scanning the area on either side with the flashlight and the thin moonlight from above. Further on, the way seemed to wind narrowly through thick brambly bushes just beyond the meadow. I ran back, and then went a few feet into the dense woods. The path was absolutely dark, making it hard to navigate, even with the tiny flashlight.

I gave up and returned to the place the ways came together. All right. I glared into the night sky. "Where am I supposed to go?" Did I really think God was going to tell me?

Just then, another hooded man rushed out of the woods. As he passed, he bumped me out of the intersection toward the cliff. Do not go out to the fields or walk on the roads. Jer. 6:25.

Hey, you idiot! Cursing, I caught myself before falling over the edge.

Then I let the man’s words sink in. Not the field path or the wooded one. My job was to find the ancient path, one that could not be considered a roadway or even a clear path.

Crouching where I’d stumbled, I stared at the three-way sign a few feet away. I had to consider again that the fourth arm should point over the edge of the cliff and down into the valley. As I focused the flashlight on the place where another arm could’ve broken off, a rough edge indicated that if whole, the arm would point toward the cliff.

I pivoted to examine the area descending into the valley. Almost hidden by grass, fallen rock and rubbish, shelf-like steps led down a barely distinguishable path.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I picked my way along the steep path, trying to avoid the debris. But soon, my foot caught on something and I fell into the tall grass. As I pushed against the ground to raise myself, I felt a small flat piece of wood trapped beneath the grass. When I shined the flashlight on the board, I saw more white lettering. The ancient path…where the good way is…you will find rest for your souls. Jer. 6:16

Smiling, I knew I was finally on the right track. However, if someone had gone to a lot of trouble to direct me, why had they allowed the correct sign to be lost? Lucky for me I had found it. It almost seemed too easy.

Yes, too easy. A ripple of anxiety tensed the muscles of my upper back. How in the world did they know I would fall in this exact spot and find the sign? Working my shoulders, I tried to ignore a gnawing fear that something other-worldly was involved.

Mustering more courage than I felt, I stood up and stepped back on the downward path.

The wind lessened the further I went—the smoke from the stacks less pronounced here as well. Evidently, the wind took it upward and through the area from where I’d just come. I had never noticed smoke or this odor wafting across campus. I winced, realizing I may be miles away from there.

I descended the rest of the way, twice sliding where steps had eroded. At the bottom, another sign jutted between two rocks. Remove the dross from the silver, and a silversmith can produce a vessel. Prov. 25:4

More Scripture. At least this one’s appropriate for a refinery. The presence of another sign meant I was definitely on the right track if I ever hoped to get to the end of this game or whatever it was.

The dark shape of the building rose up from the valley floor several feet away. A red glow flickered through three narrow windows in a huge iron door.

As I approached, I noticed a large board painted in luminous red, its post anchored in cement just to the right of the door. Silvery letters proclaimed, (The refinery is) a tester of metals and My people the ore….They are bronze and iron…The bellows must blow fiercely to burn away the lead with fire. Jer.6:27-9 I shuddered at the thought of people being burned even symbolically.

I read the words again, unbelieving. My people the ore. The game had taken a perverse turn. What type of treasure was I supposed to collect here if what the sign said was to be taken literally—that the refinery was for testing human ore.

Still, it had to be a joke, right? The college faculty must have set up this event for wayward seniors who hadn’t taken the college’s mission seriously. Yeah, that had to be it. They were trying to scare me. All I wanted to do was get back to the dorm, finish out my semester, graduate and blow this popsicle stand.

I gazed hopelessly from the sign to the dark, foreboding door. Was it too late to turn around, climb the hill, and go back to the spot where I woke up? If that’s where the goons had left me, surely campus was closer there.

Then with a grating sound of the heavy door opening, I took a step back. From inside the refinery the clanking grew louder along with the roaring of the fires.

A wave of heat escaped as a frail man in a white coat appeared in the doorway and hurried toward me. Hunched over a clipboard, he seemed to be checking items on a list. Then he glanced at me over dark-rimmed glasses. Ya here to use the refinery? he said in a raspy drawl.

Vaguely amused at the man, I suddenly felt relieved to speak to someone who was in charge of this crazy dance. Use it?

Yep, you gotta use it to get any benefit. He frowned, tapping the clipboard as if I was dumber than a freshman. I had accomplished almost four years with a grade-point average of three-point-five. I’m no genius, but I knew the little guy wasn’t making any sense.

"What would I want to use it for?"

Well, what kind of ore are ya? Folding his arms around the clipboard, he surveyed me up and down.

Ore? I laughed nervously. No ore here, sir. I gave him a curt salute. Just regular human flesh, blood and bone.

Then why have ya come? You must be one of the People, he said, pointing to the sign. Ya can’t get this far without being one of ‘em.

Thick smoke and glowing sparks billowed from the stacks. Someone must have stoked the furnace to fever pitch.

Oh, you mean the Bible verse. I glanced at the sign. The reference to testing and refining the people. Some kind of game, right? Desperately, I wondered where that medallion or treasure box was that I was supposed to find. I surveyed the area, but the only building was the one behind the iron door. Not a single vehicle was parked next to it. I don’t care about finding whatever this hunt is for. I just want to get back to my dorm.

Hmpf, he grunted. This here’s no game, child.

No game? Then I sure didn’t know what this whole thing about.

"Seems as if you’re reluctant to get rid of your dross. We get a lot ‘a them kinds here." He tucked his clipboard beneath his arm, grabbed my hand and tugged me toward the iron door.

Surprised at his strength, I tried to pull back. Dross?

Yep, dross, lead, junk—whatever you call it. The ugly stuff in humans, he said, sounding as if he didn’t necessarily count himself as one of them. Even the youngin’s got some dross these days. Kids used ta be fairly innocent. You know, they had child-like faith.

Trapped in his firm grip, I could feel the heat radiating from the towering, black building. But I don’t get it, I yelled over the clanking noise. "Why are you taking me in there? I don’t want to—I don’t need to go. I just—I want to go home."

You do if you want the Blessin’ of the Purified Life. He stopped pulling, his gray eyes serious.

I stared back and thought, You’ve got to be kidding me. What are you, some kind of psyched up preacher? Reality shifted. I began feeling as if I were in a haunted house with slanted floors at odd angles. Definitely something other-worldly going on.

I tried to focus on what the little guy was talking about. The purified life. Purity. I’d gagged on the word for the last few years. After experiences with the one I was dating my freshman year, I’d decided nobody could be pure. Why even try? The eventual heart-wrenching break-up had strengthened my decision.

Snatches of old sermons I’d heard over the years flooded back, making my head throb. A God of love, they’d said, yet He required perfection. It didn’t make any sense, especially after the break-up. Believing in God or praying to him for anything had become a pointless waste.

I’d soon found people from work who were fun and started doing whatever I wanted, whatever I could get away with. Some of the crazy things we’d done came unbidden into my mind. A hot flush crept up my neck and face as sweat moistened my forehead and upper lip.

I’d been so angry at God. But standing before this terrible furnace and breathing in the harsh air, I realized my way had been a childish, stupid way to live. The chill air cleared my mind. Perhaps God still loved me, even had someone better for me. Someone following his path. Someone pure. Would that person want me though, after all I’d done?

A sob caught in my throat. Spiteful toward anyone who walked with God, I believed them to be hypocrites. What an ignorant jerk I’d been.

I peered through the door as sparks escaped from the refinery’s dark red maw. The refining fire…I’d heard that it melts the metal ore until the dross rises to the top and is skimmed off, like the filth in my own life, the worthless stuff. Did I hate it enough to want it gone? To be pure silver…

The wind howled around us, the man’s lab coat flapping wildly as he braced himself against the wind. Then I saw a gold cross on his lapel. Somehow, this strange man had been sent by God. Game or not, I knew what I had to do.

I’m a poor grade of ore, I finally admitted, in answer to his question of what kind of ore I was.

"The Master sets the value on your ore, child. Do not be afraid. His voice had lost its country twang. You are of extreme worth to him. You will not go through the fire alone. His skin glowed as if he’d taken on some of the light from the fire, and he seemed inches taller somehow. Are you willing to enter?"

Overwhelmed with grief, yet seduced by hope, I felt tears burning behind my eyes. I am willing…to be refined. With those words, something hard and unyielding inside me broke free.

The man’s smile was radiant as he took my hand again but gently this time. Let us walk the ancient path…together.

The gravel crunched beneath our feet as we stepped through the door and it ominously clanged shut behind us. Images of my jealousies, lusts, cruel words, and selfish acts rose before me in the red-tinged darkness.

Time passed. I don’t know if it was moments, hours, or years. Through all the terrible heat and flames, the man walked beside me. Slowly, the burning was being replaced by a comfortable feeling of warmth and then, at last, cool darkness surrounded me. Exhausted, I must have fallen asleep toward the end.

Lying on a soft cushion, I felt the smooth surface of linens, the weight of blankets. I woke, feeling refreshed.

As I opened my eyes, I was surprised to be in my own bed. Morning sun shone through the room’s only window. My roommate’s bed was empty. On the desk beside me lay a stack of books and a black leather-bound Bible.

Mom. I murmured, smiling. She had brought me my grandpa’s old Bible last week. Perhaps I’d been reading something in it before I went to bed last night.

Had the last several hours been a vision or dream? Dream or not, I knew what I needed to do.

I took the Bible and slipped from the warm covers to kneel on the hard tile. Opening the book, I found, tucked in the writings of Jeremiah, a folded piece of paper. I didn’t have to open it to know what it said.

I sucked in a cool breath and offered God

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