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All Fall Down
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All Fall Down

4.1 8
by Megan Hart

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In the midst of a chaotic midnight assembly, Sunshine is forced outside into the darkness. Holding a scrap of paper scrawled with a stranger's name and address, Sunny grasps the hands of her three small children and begins her escape.

Liesel Albright has dreamed of starting a family. She never bargained on inheriting one already in progress…or one


In the midst of a chaotic midnight assembly, Sunshine is forced outside into the darkness. Holding a scrap of paper scrawled with a stranger's name and address, Sunny grasps the hands of her three small children and begins her escape.

Liesel Albright has dreamed of starting a family. She never bargained on inheriting one already in progress…or one so deeply damaged. When nineteen-year-old Sunshine appears on the Albrights' doorstep claiming Liesel's husband, Chris, is her father, all they can think to offer is temporary shelter. The next day, they're stunned by the news that the Family of Superior Bliss, led by a charismatic zealot, has committed mass suicide. Sunny and her children haven't just left the compound—they've been left behind.

Now, instead of a baby of her own, Liesel must play mother to the four survivors, while Chris retreats into guilt and denial. For Sunny, however, a lifetime of teachings is not easily unlearned. No matter how hard she tries to forget, an ominous catechism echoes in her mind, urging her to finish what the Family started.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fans of melodrama will cleave to Hart’s latest, which is inspired by the Jonestown massacre and the Peoples Temple cult. Sunshine (“Sunny”), 19, and her three children, who have spent their lives at the Family of Superior Bliss religious compound, are forced by Sunny’s mother to leave. The four of them show up on the doorstep of Sunny’s birth father Christopher, and soon learn that those remaining at the compound have died in a mass suicide. The world of the “Family” had questionable practices: male leaders had their pick of women as young as 15 to bear their children and vie for being “the true wife”; children and adults were often humiliated or brutally punished. Christopher, meanwhile, had no idea he had a daughter with his first wife, let alone three grandchildren. His current wife, Liesel, desperate to have children of her own, suddenly finds herself saddled ostensibly with four of them and now must confront the realities of parenthood. An interesting set-up, but unfortunately, the numerous iterations of Liesel’s discontent prove predictable and whiny. Though Hart (Precious and Fragile Things) works with an unusual story line, the novel lacks the depth that could have yielded a thought-provoking read. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"Hart plunges into the mainstream fiction genre with this haunting, devastating, heart-wrenching tale. She masterfully weaves every off-hand mention of a seemingly incidental detail, every potentially eyebrow-raising plot point together in service to her story and the resulting dramatic climax, which then becomes believable, thanks to Hart's skill. This story will stay with you long after you reach the last page."-Romantic Times Book Reviews on Precious and Fragile Things

"Precious and Fragile Things is an emotional ride where every page delivers a new facet of the story.... The details of each character are so honest and deep that they draw the reader in and keep you turning the pages. I found myself riveted, unable to put the book down and at the end of the book wondering, if I was Gilly, could I have taken the same actions. The book was very enjoyable and thought-provoking." -Night Owl Romance

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5.48(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.09(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sunny didn't want to get up. She'd only just started dreaming. She hadn't had more than a few hours of sleep at a time for the past three weeks. Tugging at the blankets, she shifted on the thin pad of her mattress and burrowed deeper into her pillow.

"Sunshine. Now!"

Sunny rubbed at her eyes, listening. No babies were crying. No alarms were ringing. She heard only the soft breathing of her sleeping children and her mom's urgent whisper.

"Sunny. Get up. C'mon. It's time for you to go."

Sunny sat up then, eyes wide and blinking in the darkness. A tiny crack of light shone from under the door, then the unfamiliar glimmer of yellow from the flashlight her mom held tight against her body, fingers cupped over the lens. Her hand made a shadow like a giant spider on the ceiling. Sunny looked immediately to the crib where baby Bliss lay sleeping. Happy's cot was empty. They'd taken him.

Sunny was up and out of bed, across the room and tearing at the blankets before her mom could grab her.

"Hush! He's here, with me. He's ready to go. You need to help me now, Sunny. You get the baby. I'll take care of Peace. Now!" Her mom's whisper hissed, harsh, not like her normal voice at all.

Sunny's heart pounded. Her palms were sweaty, and she scrubbed them against the soft flannel of her nightgown. The light from the flashlight swung as her mom set it on the cheap dresser missing a leg. The light wouldn't stay steady.

"Mama? Is it time for the rainbow?" The wobbling light hurt Sunny's eyes. Disoriented, sluggish, she could think of only one reason why her mother would've woken them. "Is it time to leave?"

"Sunshine." Mama's face was even harder than her voice. "Hush. You need to get yourself and the babies out of here. Don't ask questions. Hush and do as I say. Listen."

Sunny hushed, going still and quiet. She listened with her heart, as she'd been taught. To obey.

Her mother took both of Sunny's hands and brought them to her lips. She kissed the knuckles. In the pale and trembling light, Sunny's mom looked pale and trembling herself. She looked too thin, her cheeks hollow. There were shadows under her eyes that had been there for a while but now looked extra dark. She pulled Sunny into a tight hug, crushing Happy between them. The boy didn't cry out. He was listening, too.

"Get out? I don't understand." Sunny was awake now. Wide-awake. She moved to the crib to change Bliss's wet diapers and dress the baby in a fresh nightgown. Also the socks her mom tossed at her. A knit cap. A blanket, wrapped tight around Sunny's now-waking daughter.

Sunny's mom grabbed her by the upper arms, turning her. "I have money. Here."

She pressed a soft wallet stuffed with folded bills into Sunny's hands. "I've packed your bags, just one backpack for you and Bliss and Peace. Happy's a big boy, he can carry his own bag, can't you, my sweetheart?"

"I can, Nana."

Sunny looked at her son. At four, he was just starting to lose the baby plump in his cheeks, but it seemed like only yesterday that she'd held him the way she was holding Bliss now. She looked at her mother. Her heart skipped at the weight of the money in her hand and the baby in her arms. With the heaviness of knowledge.

The alarms blared. The lights in Sunny's tiny, concrete-walled bedroom came on overhead, bright enough to startle Bliss fully awake and into a scream. Sunny closed her eyes against the glare.

"No time for that! Come on! Let's go!"

Sunny's mom tugged her forward to sling a backpack over the arm not cradling Bliss. In her cot, Peace sat straight up, small mouth in a frightened O, while Happy struggled into his own backpack. Sunny's mother helped Peace out of bed. She tugged a sweatshirt over the little girl's head and shoved her feet into shoes while Sunny grabbed the blanket up from her bed and slung it around Happy's shoulders. He had no winter coat. None of them did. No boots either, though Happy wore a pair of battered sneakers two sizes too big, the laces shredded and knotted so tight they couldn't be undone. Sunny had a zippered sweatshirt, ragged at the sleeves, the strings of the hood missing. The zip would go only halfway up, and it was impossible to make it go farther with one arm cradling a baby. Maybe not even with two free hands to tug it.

"It'll have to do. We don't have time to get you anything else." Her mother paused to press her fingertips between her eyes, a habit she'd taken up over the couple years that had become so second nature she didn't notice she was doing it…but Sunny did.

It meant her mom's head was hurting her again. Maybe bad enough she'd have to lie down in a dark room. It might even be so bad that John Second would let her miss chapel if this were during the day, but never a summons in the middle of the night. Not when it might be time for the rainbow.

Papa's voice came over the speakers. The commands of a dead man, speaking calmly. "Listen now, my children. Listen with your hearts. The time has come. The time has come. Listen now, family. Listen with your hearts."

Sunny clutched her baby to her chest as her mom shoved Sunny's feet into a pair of men's work boots. Sunny looked down at her mother kneeling, the top of her head, her blond hair shot thickly with silver. When had her mom's hair gone so gray? Her mom looked up at her, and Sunny was alarmed to see tears streaking her cheeks. Her mother never cried. They weren't allowed to cry.

Her mom got up. From the hallway outside came the steady sound of marching feet. Never running. Running was for people who had something to run from, those were Papa's words, even to the children who were found playing tag in the hallways. One foot in front of the other, that's how the family walked, with quiet and careful steps to keep the world from ever thinking they were afraid.

Sunny was afraid.

A knock on the door had Sunny reaching for the handle, but her mother was too quick. She pushed Sunny's hand aside before Sunny could open it. Pressed a finger to Sunny's lips and shook her head.

Sunny didn't move. Bliss wriggled in her swaddling, and Sunny quickly undid a few buttons on her nightgown to slip her breast free, letting the baby suck to fend off her cries—not that anyone could possibly hear an infant's sobs over the blare of the alarms and Papa's steady, unending drone.

"The time has come, family. It is now. Listen with your hearts. Come to the chapel. Come to the chapel."

Sunny's mom cracked open the door and peeked out. In the hall, the white glare of the emergency lights flashed, bright and piercing. They made shadows, black and white. Light and dark. She lifted Peace onto her hip and took Happy's hand. Sunny followed her into the hall, where Peace clapped her hands over her ears at the noise. They'd done this hundreds of times, dozens in the past few weeks alone. Woken from sleep to the ringing of alarms, the glare and flash of lights. More times in the past few weeks, almost, than Sunny could remember in her whole life.

Ever since Papa died, it had been John Second's voice over the speaker system. John Second telling them to listen with their hearts, to go to the chapel where they'd be given the rainbow and tested to see if they were all pure enough to leave. How only when they were truly ready, truly pure of heart, without the weight of their misdeeds, would it be time to leave. Every time, they'd failed and been sent back to their beds, sometimes to be woken again within an hour to the same commands. Maybe two hours. Other times they were allowed to sleep until the bells rang for the morning gathering.

Now, instead of going down the hall toward the chapel, Sunny's mother pulled her and the children in the opposite direction. Through the fire door and down the steep metal stairs, where the lights still flashed in a constant, eye-straining pattern but the voice of Papa was muffled behind the heavy metal doors and concrete walls. At the bottom of the stairs was a set of double metal doors, EMERGENCY EXIT in bright red letters above them. The sign on the door said Alarm Will Sound, but wasn't the alarm going off already?

Mama put Peace down. She pressed a piece of paper into Sunny's hand the way she'd put a wallet of money a few minutes before. "You get out. Go back around the garden and the greenhouses. Stay in the shadows, Sunny. Stay away from the windows. Don't go out the front gate, you find the back fence near the creek. There's a hole. You run as fast as you can. You don't stop for anything or anyone, you hear me?"

"But…Mama, why aren't we going to the chapel?"

Her mom's tears had vanished. She looked hard again, blue eyes glinting and her mouth a thin, grim line. She shook her head. "No more. Not for these sweet babies. You go, Sunshine, and don't you argue with me!"

"But where?" Sunny cried finally, no longer able to listen with her heart. No longer able to simply obey. "Where do we go?"

Her mom crushed Sunny's fingers around the paper in her palm. "You go to your father."

The lights kept flashing. The alarms kept blaring. The steady, muffled voice of Papa continued to murmur on…but Sunny's world broke and crumbled all around her. "John Superior is my father."

"No, Sunny. Your real father. This is his name and address. There's a map and directions to get there. It's not very far from here. It will be hard, but you can do it. You have to do it!"

Sunny looked at the crumpled paper, the words smeared, the lines blurred in the shadows. "How?"

"You go there. You take the babies. And you never come back here! Ever, you hear me? No matter…" Her mom's voice, so much louder now that all the rest of the noise had gone muffled and far away, cracked. She pulled Sunny against her again. She kissed her cheek. "No matter what."

Her mom pushed open the door. Another alarm began ringing, though it was lost in the noise from the others. She pushed Happy out through the door and into the dirty snow. Then Peace. And finally, she shoved Sunny out, too.

"Go," her mother cried. "Run, Sunny. Run!"

Sunny lingered as both her daughters began to sob in the frigid night air. "What about you, Mama? Aren't you coming?"

"No, my sweetheart." Her mom drew in a shaking breath, her eyes again bright with tears. "Why not?" Sunny cried.

Her mother hesitated, eyes shifting back and forth. Her face creased with pain. "I can't go with you, Sunshine. It's better this way, for me. I'm already… I will…" Her fingers pressed again to her forehead. Her mouth went hard. She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. You go. Now. No arguing, you go!"

Sunny's mother bent to hug Happy to her once more. Then Peace. And finally, Sunny. She kissed baby Bliss, ignoring the squalling and snot. Then she stepped back into the building and closed the door behind her.

Sunny grabbed for the handle, but there wasn't one on the outside, just a smooth metal plate. Her ears still rang with the sound of the alarms, but out here in the freezing night the noise was nothing more than a dull and faraway bleat. A gust of wind came around the corner and took Sunny's breath away, sent her coughing and startled Bliss into a gasp and then silence. Sunny pulled Peace close to her and looked into the night-black backyard. The greenhouses were there, off to the right. The barn just beyond it. There was a path under the snow, which was deep enough to come to her shins.

Peace sobbed, clinging to Sunny's knees, but Happy only looked up at her with solemn eyes. Sunny's arms and back already ached from her thin mattress and the way the springs dug into her, from the hours of scrubbing floors and toilets on her hands and knees and even longer hours of listening on the hard chapel floor. Her muscles pulled and strained now from the weight of the bag her mother had packed and Bliss's solid, squirming weight. With Peace clutching at her, Sunny felt off balance, ready to tumble off this small concrete slab and into the snow-covered grass. For one horrible moment, everything around her spun. She thought she might have to turn her head and vomit, but Happy's small face settled her.

She straightened. Her mother had said to run, but she didn't think they could. Not through the snow and ice. They'd slip and fall, hurt themselves. Get wet and even colder. She looked again across the backyard toward the barely visible humps of the greenhouses. Beyond that was the high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. It was supposed to keep out anything or anyone that wanted to hurt them. It did a good job of keeping them all inside, too. But there was a hole in the fence there, near the creek where the drainage pipe ran. Sunny had found it once while running after some of the chickens that had managed to escape their pen; she had no idea how her mom had known about it.

"Come on, my sweethearts. Happy, take Peace's hand. Hold it tight. Peace, hold Mama's hand."

"Told!" Peace cried. Twin runners of snot crept down her upper lip. "Mama, I told!"

"We're all cold, my sweetheart," Sunny said. "Mama's going to take you someplace warm."

But could she? That was the question. This was stupid, ridiculous…terrifying. She should take her children and go around the front of the building. Bang on the doors if they were locked, demand to be let back in. Everyone would be in the chapel, but surely someone would be missing them. Someone would come to the door to let them back inside.

Except that her mother had told her to run, and Sunny had listened with her heart the way Papa had taught them all to do. And her heart said her mother was right.

Sunny ran.

Gripping her children's hands tight, slipping and sliding in the slush and ice, she ran as fast as she could across the yard. Past the greenhouses, silent and still but alive on the inside with the promise of spring. Down the hill toward the fence and the creek. To the hole by the drainage pipe, where they all stopped to sob for breath and shake, their clothes no help against the cold.

Meet the Author

Megan Hart is the award-winning and multi-published author of more than thirty novels, novellas and short stories. Her work has been published in almost every genre, including contemporary women’s fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense and erotica. Megan lives in the deep, dark woods of Pennsylvania with her husband and children, and is currently working on her next novel for MIRA Books. You can contact Megan through her website at www.MeganHart.com.

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All Fall Down 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read that makes you really think about others views and how different ideas can really change somones life. The characters are all loveable and you stay rivetted through the whole book. Sunshine is a smart girl that is kept simple because of what she believes is the real truth.
vitch More than 1 year ago
True to her trait, Ms. Hart leads the reader on an adventure in emotions. No sooner than one hits, that the rug of another is ripped from beneath you. No doubt there will be moments when the reader can feel Liesels struggle...and relate. There is a moment in all of our lives that defines who we are. Join the Albright family as their moment is upon them. A can't put down MUST read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
J4Life5 More than 1 year ago
This book is one that stays with you for awhile after you read it. I did not read the description of the book prior to beginning it, so it took me a couple of pages before I caught on to the topic of the book. I've never read a fictionalized account of the aftermath of leaving a cult, which made this an unusual story for me, which I liked. The most positive aspect of this book is that it is not at all predictable. Most of the time when reading a book, you can see where the author is heading. However, three-quarters of the way through the book, I still was not sure if Sunny would return to the cult, or make it outside of the cult. I think the author did a good job of describing the programming the members endured and what made Sunny and her children behave the way they did. I really enjoy books that have interesting characters with depth to them and this book delivers that. The only thing I did not like about this book was going back and forth in time from the past to the present. It is a literary device that I personally do not enjoy. Overall a good book for the unusual topic and believable characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. Meagan Hart does a wonderful job of making us understand what it must be like for someone who has grown up being taught one way of life, only to try to live a different way and the challenges that everyone in the family undergoes. Well done and thought provoking as well.