CHOSEN is now a finalist in the Grace Awards!! A huge thank you to all the readers who voted! Now we just have to wait for the judges to make their final decision…
An alien Amish freak
The arid landscape stretched for miles in all directions. Nothing moved in the hot Nevada sun but a lone tumbleweed, tossed about by a sudden phantom whirlwind sending up a spiral of dust and debris. It petered out within moments, releasing the tumbleweed as suddenly as it was caught up.
Miriam watched the particles fall back to earth. She felt a kinship to the tumbleweed, being blown across the country, here and there, never quite sure when the next move would occur, whether they would fall on safe ground or land in the middle of trouble. She was tired. Tired of running. Tired of hiding. Tired of preparing for an endgame that remained elusively out of sight. She often thought of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive and knew that if she were standing at the top of a dam and her enemies were pressing in behind, she would definitely take a flying leap and risk her life and the lives of her family in the pounding water hundreds of feet below. Anything rather than return to stand trial in the place she started from, tried by the creatures she once knew as family and friends. The outcome was already written, forged by the blood of those who had gone before.
She planted her feet against the rough wood planks of the deck and stopped the bench-swing in mid-motion. A bead of sweat slipped from under her bangs and she wiped it away with the back of her hand before it could plop down onto the sewing in her lap. Some habits were hard to break. Sewing and mending came second nature, even though they could well afford to buy new. She finished stitching up the seam that had come apart on a pair of her daughter’s pants and bit off the thread.
“What are you doing out here? It’s sweltering,” Jesse said, appearing at her elbow without a sound. Her husband could sneak up on a Leprechaun and steal the pot of gold before the little man had time to plant it at the end of a rainbow. He sank down on the bench beside her and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
“Just thinking.” She reached out and rested her hand on his thigh. She could feel hard muscle beneath the fabric of his baggy shorts. “You been working out again?”
“A little. What’s up?”
She released a quiet sigh. “You ever wish we could live like other people? Eat out, join a bowling league, shop at malls, maybe take a family vacation to Mount Rushmore or something?”
His eyes narrowed, but his voice teased. “What are you saying? You’d rather be married to a chubby, bald guy who likes to eat at the Rib-Fest every Friday night, works for the local contractor’s union, and sits in front of a TV watching football and drinking Bud light?”
“If that chubby, bald guy was you.”
“Good answer,” he said and grinned, “cause I noticed this morning in the mirror that my hair looked a little thin on top.”
“That’s definitely your imagination.” She laughed and reached up to push her fingers through his shoulder length mane, loving the feel of it. His hair, the color of burnt caramel and just as thick, was one of the first things that attracted her to Jesse. She couldn’t imagine him without it flowing around his shoulders like a modern day Samson. “Your hair is thicker than Bruno’s,” she said, glancing toward their three-year-old Irish Wolfhound lounging at the bottom of the steps in the shade of the house. At mention of his name, the giant dog lifted his head, his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. With no further acknowledgment, he laid it down again and let out a heavy sigh.
“So what’s really bothering you?” Jesse asked, as she leaned her head against his shoulder. He shoved off with one foot and sent the swing rocking again.
Despite the heat, she savored his closeness, cherishing these moments when she had him all to herself. He’d become so preoccupied with security and training and revenge. It made her wish for plain and simple times. “Same thing as the past sixteen years I suppose. Just a little homesick for Minnesota.”
“We can’t go back there yet. Even the weather is on their side. The desert is the only place I can be sure to keep you safe.”
“I know.” She reached up and ran her hand along his cheek, the scritch of whiskers rough against her palm. “Everything depends on timing. She has to be prepared – thoroughly trained, and psychologically ready. As a Shunned One I understand all that. But as her mother…it terrifies me.”
He pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head. “Me too.”
“What are you two doing out here?”
Miriam, startled by her daughter’s sudden appearance, laughed against her husband’s chest. “She’s just like you,” she muttered softly.
“I heard that, Mom,” her daughter said from where she stood hovering behind the swing. She stepped around to face them, her arms crossed over her chest. In black stretch pants, a baggy, black t-shirt with the sleeves chopped off, and her feet bare, she looked like a homeless ninja. “You know, teenagers don’t want to hear that they’re just Xeroxed copies of their parents. Personally, I like to think I’m an original individual.”
“You’re original all right,” Miriam said, unsure whether her daughter understood just how original she was.
On the one hand, she was like any other teenage girl. She wanted to be popular, have a cute boy ask her out, be able to eat junk food without breaking out in pimples, and stay up late texting friends and reading romance novels. The simple things in life. At least the simple life she’d known. On the other hand, she was chosen, like Jael in the Old Testament, her namesake, who drove a tent spike through the head of evil Sisera. Since birth, they had been training and preparing her for this very thing. Yet, it would not be easy to explain to a girl who wanted to fit in, to maybe have a sleepover with girlfriends on Friday night or go to a movie at the mall without her father hovering in the back row.
“Did you finish practicing all the new moves I showed you?” Jesse asked, absently running his fingers over the smooth wood of the swing back. He still loved to work with wood, building and shaping objects of strength and purpose. Nothing too fancy or elaborate, but solid and dependable. The swing was his gift to Miriam at Christmas.
Jael nodded and skipped down the porch steps to sit on the bottom rung and stroke Bruno’s head. “Can Brianna come over Saturday afternoon and hang out? We need to work on our science project together. She could sleep over and go to church with us Sunday morning. That way we’d only have to make one trip to town to take her home.”
Miriam felt her husband tense, his answer already showing in the set of his jaw. She gripped his leg to ward off a brusque denial and spoke to the back of her daughter’s head. “Honey, I don’t think that would be a very good idea. It’s a long drive out here and her parents probably have much better things to do on a Saturday afternoon. Why don’t you plan to work on your project together in the science lab after school Monday, and I’ll just pick you up a little later than usual. Maybe I can do my grocery shopping or something and kill two birds with one stone.”
“I knew it!” Jael turned around and glared back at them. “You never let me do anything fun. Brianna is the first real friend I’ve ever had! She doesn’t mind that I can’t go to any of the school activities, that I’m forced to wear the most hideous fashions, and that I live in the middle of nowhere. She likes me anyway. All I want to do is act like a normal person for a change. Can’t you understand that?”
“We do understand that, Jael. But you need to understand that we are very private people and having visitors to the house is not…”
“Not a good idea? You’ve been using that lame excuse like forever! Why isn’t it a good idea? Are you on the FBI’s most wanted list or something?”
“Jael,” Jesse said, his tone brooked no argument. “Drop it. Your mother said no visitors.”
She stood up and faced them, hands on slim hips. “Most of the kids at school think I’m some kind of freak. Am I a freak? An alien or something? Is that why we hide out here in the desert? Make sure nobody gets too close?”
Miriam stood up and approached the steps. “Yes. We are a family of aliens.” She glanced back at her husband. His lips were set in a thin line, but he nodded. She continued, holding her daughter’s angry gaze with steady resolve. “We should have told you before, but we wanted to preserve your childhood for as long as possible.”
Jael frowned, confusion masking underlying fear. “What are you talking about? I was just kidding.”
“I know. But I’m not.”
“Thee art no freak, daughter. Thee art Amish.” Jesse stood beside Miriam and tried to lighten the news by speaking like Weird Al Yankovic in his video spoof of Amish life. The video had rankled him when it first came out, but now he seemed to find humor in it. Or at least pretend to.
Jael stared at them, dark eyes wide with something akin to shock. “Have you both gone crazy?” When they didn’t respond, she blew out a breath of frustration and moved past them. “Okay fine. I’ll call Brianna and tell her I’m an alien Amish person and that’s why I can’t have visitors.”
Jesse caught her arm. “You need to sit down and listen.”
“No!” she said, pulling away. “I just want to be left alone.”
“Jael,” Miriam called out before she could disappear through the front door. “It’s time to grow up and accept what you’ve been called to do.”
She turned around, still gripping the doorknob. “I’m only fifteen, Mom.” Her voice was soft and fragile and the look in her eyes was enough to put a lump in Miriam’s throat. But Jael slowly released her grip on the knob and stepped toward them, back straight, chin up, the way her father had taught her. “Never show fear or weakness. Stand straight and look your enemy in the eye,” he’d said many times over the years, training Jael in hand-to-hand combat.
Jesse motioned toward the empty swing. “Why don’t you sit down?”
Jael sank onto the hard wood bench as though her life was coming to an end. She bit at her bottom lip, and stared up at them.
This little piggy…
Jesse took Miriam’s hand in his and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “We wanted to tell you this for a long time, but didn’t think you were ready. Jael, you’re…”
“Don’t tell me that I’m adopted!” she burst out, a crease of worry between her brows. “Cause I’ve seen pictures of Mom when she was a teenager and I look just like her.”
“You’re definitely our daughter, honey.” Miriam sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. “No doubt.”
“Then what could you possibly tell me that I’m not ready for?”
“Remember the Bible story about Jael and Sisera?” she asked, brushing a loose strand of hair out of her daughter’s face.
“Of course. I’ve probably heard it a thousand times. Definitely a weird bedtime story for a small child. And a really weird person to name your daughter after, by the way.” She rolled her eyes in that condescending teenage manner they had begun to expect in the past year or so.
“She wasn’t weird. She was strong and brave. A woman you should be proud to be named for,” Jesse said. “Jael wasn’t just a character in a bedtime story. She lived and breathed and fought evil–every day of her life. She was chosen. As you are.”
Jael opened her mouth to respond, then closed it and shook her head.
“It’s true,” Miriam confirmed. “You are her descendant. You have been chosen. It’s been written in the Book of the Shunned.”
Jael jumped up from the bench and strode to the other end of the deck. She stared out at the desert, gripping the cedar rail with both hands.
“You can’t run away from this. It’s who you are. What you’ve been trained for. Why we live this way–apart from others.”
Jael’s shoulders began to shake as she stood at the rail and they thought she was silently crying, until she turned around and burst out laughing.
They looked at each other and then back at their daughter. She was obviously having some kind of breakdown.
“Okay, I’m confused,” she said finally, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. “So I’m really not an Amish freak? I’m actually the descendant of a woman from the Bible who pounded a tent peg through the brain of a vicious general when he fell asleep in her home.” She grinned. “What have I been chosen to do exactly? Put up tents?”
“You definitely inherited your father’s sense of humor,” Miriam stated dryly.
“You guys are killing me. What could be so bad that you have to make up all this crazy stuff instead of telling me the truth?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, kiddo, but you are an Amish freak, as well as the chosen one.” Jesse’s tone had hardened. He was no longer in the mood to break it to her gently. He rubbed a hand wearily over his face and pointed at the bench swing. “Sit.”
Jael plopped back down, her mouth still turned up at the corners as though waiting for the punch line. She pulled her legs up and rested her chin on her knees.
“Jael was of the Kenite people, the descendants of Zipporah, Moses’ wife.”
“Are you talking about Moses, the guy that parted the Red Sea and all that?”
He nodded but wouldn’t be swayed from his course. “Descendants of the Kenite people give birth to a chosen daughter every third generation. She is an only child, conceived on a night of unusual circumstance, with six toes upon her right foot.”
She looked down at her feet and grinned. “I’m pretty sure somebody did a miscount.”
“It’s true, honey,” Miriam nodded. “Your feet were printed when you were born–to show to the counsel–and then I had the doctor remove the extra piggy.”
Jael put her hands up as though stopping traffic. “Wait a minute! I was born with a sixth toe and you never told me? And who the heck are the counsel?”
“The counsel no longer exists,” Jesse explained. “They were all killed shortly after you were born. And we didn’t feel the need to tell you that you once had a sixth toe. After all, we had it removed for your protection so no one would guess who you really were before you had time to train and grow up.”
“And it was gross,” Miriam said with a slight shiver.
“As for the unusual circumstances…” he began, then trailed off and looked to Miriam to finish the thought.
“We left home during Rumspringa to experience the outside world and decide whether we truly wanted to live as Amish. Your father and I were in love and wanted only to be together. Our friends were running wild, drinking and partying all hours of the day and night. They were like pigs let loose in a huge mud puddle during the heat of a summer afternoon. It was horrible. I was ready to go home, be baptized and swear to the faith, but when we arrived at my parent’s house, no one was around. We heard voices in the barn. It was very dark outside but there was a full moon. We moved to the West wall and peeked through the hole left there one autumn by a wayward deer hunter with bad aim.” She paused, memories crashing through with aching force. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deep. “My brother Jacob, two years older than I, was kneeling before the Bishop and chanting. My parents were lying on the dirt floor of the barn, their faces pale even in the dim light of the lanterns. We could tell that they were dead. I wanted to scream, but no sound came out. Thank God for that, or we would have soon met our maker as well.”
“They were murdered?” Jael asked, eyes wide with shock.
“They were sacrificed by the order.”
“Not that kind of order.” Jesse shook his head, exasperation showing in every line of his face. “The Order is a group of monsters that have taken over the Loon Lake Amish community in Minnesota. The place where your mother and I grew up.”
“As well as other Amish communities across the country,” Miriam added.
Jael’s blue eyes narrowed in thought. “When you say monsters…” she began tentatively.
“I mean monsters,” he said. They were matter-of-fact words that begged to be denied.
Eyes wide, she sent a hopeful glance toward her mother.
Jael put her legs down and leaned forward, her hands gripping the edge of the bench seat. “So, all those stories you told me…those monsters we pretended to fight…those stakes I planted in straw bales and stuffed bad guys…were actually getting me ready to fight real Vampires?”
Jesse nodded. “Amish Bloodsuckers. The worst kind.”