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In the autumn of 1815 when I was nine I walked into the woods past the cornfield near our stream, filling a flat garden basket with leaves the color of cherry skins, rooster necks and Chloe's boiled corn. My prizes dropped from the gracious limbs of oaks, poplars, maples and elms standing tall as God above me and I was grateful, for we were soon to have our first schoolhouse harvest pageant, and Professor Powell had requested all of us to gather fall leaves for decorations. The stream played a loud song, running high from recent rains, and I searched carefully with my bare toes for round stones I might step to. I felt very content, admiring my beautiful leaves, but I was struggling to keep hold of my pile, for it had grown so large, some flew out on the breeze of my movements and when I jumped to catch them, others sneaked over the edge.
All of a sudden, I stepped into a cold spot. The air was abruptly brisk and also very damp, the way it is when you progress to the back of a deep cave. The bare skin of my forearms began to tingle and a shiver straightened my spine. I looked about, dusk was falling quickly on the land, the way it does that time of year. I saw the tree trunks turning black with night. In the distance, across the cornfield and up the hill, I could see the back side of our house, faintly glowing with the lamps already lit behind the window glass of the kitchen. Our house was hewn from the finest double logs in Robertson County and though it was far away and partly obscured by the trees in the orchard, it was a sturdy and comforting sight.
I had the impulse to bolt away but at that moment I felt a pair of icy hands on my shoulders and I cried out in fear, for they were real, yet there was no one there. I started forward, slipping up the bank, and when I reached the field I tore across it and up the hill into the orchard, my precious leaves flying from my basket. I saw a few pretty blood-red maple ones caught in the folds of my skirt. I looked over my shoulder to where I had walked by the stream and there I saw a light flash. I stopped, thinking there must be someone there. I called my brothers' names, suspecting Drewry or John Jr. of playing a game with me, but I only heard the early hoot of an owl in response. The light did not appear again and I saw no movement in the darkening woods. I stood still by the side of the road, frozen, watching to see what was coming, but then the dark wind of evening brushed my cheek and rustled up under my skirts and I ran, lickety-split, away.
I was late for the evening meal and when I entered our hall I saw Mother, Father and my brothers waiting to be seated at the table in the dining room. Father frowned at me and I was so ashamed, I said nothing at all about what had happened in the woods. Our entire family was present, and my eldest brother, Jesse, took the chair to the right of Father, who sat across from Mother, and as though we were arranged in order of age, John Jr., Drewry, myself, Richard, and Joel took our seats. Father said the blessing and Mother said Amen, then Chloe began serving boiled hominy, cornbread and sweet potatoes roasted in the ashes. A tense silence reigned at our table, as no one made any effort at conversation, and the only sound was the clicking of our forks on Mother's treasured china supper plates and from the kitchen came the hissing of the fire.
"Let us retire to the parlor," Mother said, folding her napkin by the side of her plate. She stood, leaving the lamps for Chloe, to aid with the washing up out back. Some nights Mother and I cleared the plates but most often Chloe managed it alone. I was happy not to do it and I quickly rose and followed Mother across the dark hall.
Father pushed his chair back from the table and came after us, taking one of the two lamps. I watched him carry the light to his handsome writing desk that occupied the front corner by the parlor window. Reaching inside, he withdrew his silver whiskey flask, his book of accounts in which he documented the running of our farm, and his quill pen and ink. I watched as he took a long drink and prepared to write.
"Take this candle, Betsy, and bring me out the hairbrush." Mother passed the light to me before settling in her chair with the velveteen cushion by the fire. I obediently went into the dark bedroom she shared with Father off the back of the parlor. I found the wooden brush with the wild boar bristles on her bedside table and I gripped it tight, hurrying from the room, for the dark shadows in the corners reminded me of the coldness I had encountered in the woods. I wanted to tell Mother what had happened. I returned and knelt in front of her on the hooked parlor rug before the fire, tucking my legs under my skirt.
"Betsy." Mother bent forward and whispered in my ear while untying and loosening my plait. "Your father cherishes your yellow tresses and the rest of you, as if you were real gold. He adores you so, try to be worthy of his affection." Her hand rested on my spine, warm as the box iron. This was a gentle reprimand, but I drew my chin closer to my chest. I knew Father loved me in a special way and I did repent my lateness, but into the silent atmosphere I could not tell my story. Even Joel and Richard, who often had to be prevented from wrestling after supper, sat quietly on the wooden bench by the entrance to the parlor, swinging their cottonstockinged feet from their dresses, loath to provoke Father. I focused my eyes on the carpet as Mother gently began to brush my hair. The rug had a bright border of red and blue flowers entwined and I found the pattern lovely to contemplate. Father put his flask, book and pen back inside his desk and closed the writing leaf with a bang. He stoked the fire with another log, then sat beside it in his hickory rocking chair, opposite my mother. He liked to read to us from the good book after supper.
"Darling daughter," he looked to me and I saw a certain brightness in his eye that told how he loved me like no other and would protect me always. Maybe I could tell him about the cold place in the woods. "Come and sit beside me, here." My hair was all undone and fluttered like the yellow flames of the fire when I stood. He bade me turn and kneel and he positioned his chair so the hem of my skirt was trapped under its wide legs.
"Tonight we shall hear no less than salvation history, for it shall instruct us on the right true path, eh, Betsy?" He placed his hand on my head and pulled my hair gently back so my neck twisted slightly and my chin tilted up. His eyes met mine.
"Yes, Father," I answered, feeling his genuine loving concern for my welfare and education. His fingers stroked the line of my jaw and came to rest on the nape of my neck. Perhaps I would not mention why I had been late. I wanted nothing more than to be worthy of his love.
"God," he cleared his throat and began to read, "at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets ..." He stroked my hair between the turning of the pages and his fingers grew heavy on my head. My movements were greatly restricted by the trapping of my skirt and soon my legs turned numb to pins and needles, but I did not protest, for it was Father's will that I should sit that way and I felt blessed to be his darling daughter. The words of the good book in my Father's deep voice acted like a lullaby on me and I began to feel myself drifting away. As I passed into sleep I wondered if perhaps I had imagined the cold place in the woods, for how could there be such a thing on God's good earth?
Excerpted from All That Lives by Melissa Sanders-Self Copyright © 2002 by Melissa Sanders-Self . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted August 10, 2013
Posted December 24, 2011
Ladies beware-- this book has 'explicit female content' which most guys find 'interesting', if you know what I mean. The character is indeed female, so female reprecussions are more less neccessary. But guys who are now processing this into your brain, please beware--this is NOT a view easily for men.
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Posted September 23, 2002
I think this new author could have put more 'meat' into the story, but nonetheless she was able to keep me turning the pages. As a history buff, this was a great story. As a horror story lover, I was left a little hungry in the end. She didn't examine a lot of the issues she raised, which left it kind of bland. And the ending hung just a little too much leaving me feel as if I just read all those pages for no gratification in the end. I would recommend this book to a history lover for it includes so much, in a wonderful style. I loved hearing about the slaves and the schooling, she did a magnificent job in my opinion. Too bad she wasn't able to keep up the rest of it. It actually took me quite a few references before I caught on about her father, and I kept waiting for it to be disclosed to the rest of the family once I learned the reason of the ghost's haunting, but it never came. I felt so let down when it was never brought into the main plot, just left in the background. It also took WAY too long for her love with Josh to become a real part of the book. So long in fact that once you actually start to root for these two young lovers the book is over and you have no idea what Besty ultimately decided. Good book but left a lot to be desired. Pick it up if you have nothing else to read as it will keep you interested, but if you have another book available pass this book by.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Early in the nineteenth century in Robertson County, Tennessee, thirteen-year-old Betsy Bell begins hearing strange tapping noises coming from inside the walls of her family home. A few days later, the poltergeist making the noise slaps Betsy in the face and pushes her down to the floor. Yet no visible manifestation is present. <P>Not long afterward, Reverend Johnston begins a prayer session that he hopes leads to God¿s intervention and ultimately removal of the mute demon. However, instead of exorcising the evil essence, the Spirit begins intelligently reciting Scripture in tones that the Reverend envies. Everyone is stunned by the revelation that the invisible voice eloquently speaks scripture. As rocks fall from the sky especially at Betsy and her father, the Spirit prophesies what the future holds for the Bells if certain fatherly molestation does not halt. <P>If a reader expects that ALL THAT LIVES is a nineteenth century Turn of the Screw or Poltergeist, they will be proven wrong. Instead the novel is more of a period piece that describes life on an 1819-1820 Tennessee farm beset by seemingly supernatural forces. The story line when looked upon as historical speculative fiction as opposed to a supernatural novel is an engaging insightful tale. However, as a supernatural or psychological suspense account of the famous Bell Witch this project falls short, but shows that Melissa Sander-self has the ability to tell a vivid story. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.