An Angel by Her Side (Heaven On Earth Series #3)by Ruth Reid
Katie has lived through tragedy and heartache. But with the angel Elias by her side, the best years of her life are just ahead.See more details below
Katie has lived through tragedy and heartache. But with the angel Elias by her side, the best years of her life are just ahead.
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An Angel by Her SideA Heaven on Earth Novel
By Ruth Reid
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Ruth Reid
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA gust of wind swept through the open windows of the one-room schoolhouse and sent the children's papers skittering across their desks.
"Keep working on your math problems, children," Katie Bender said without looking up from her desk. Another burst of air lifted the paper she was trying to grade. Katie tossed her pen on her desk and stood. The initial breeze was welcoming, especially after the past week of unseasonably sultry weather, but she couldn't have the classroom disrupted by children chasing their papers across the room.
Katie crossed the room to the window. She pushed down on the window casement, but the wood was still swollen from the prolonged rain last month, and the casement wouldn't budge.
In the distance, dark clouds rolled rapidly over the Masts' nearby field of winter wheat. The little town of Hope Falls didn't need more rain, not after the ten straight days of it in late April nearly ruined Katie's garden. Amos Mast's winter wheat field looked as though it still needed drying out yet too.
The shifting direction of the wind pushed another fitful gust through the window. Katie shivered from the noticeable temperature drop. Her prayer kapp ties flapped over her shoulder as she worked to jiggle the casing loose. She pressed harder, and finally, after using all the brute force she could muster, she freed the jammed window. It slammed closed, vibrating the plate glass.
Katie brushed the peeled-paint chips from her hands and moved to the next window. She was all for recycling, but installing old, refurbished windows hadn't made sense five years ago when the schoolhouse was built, and it certainly produced frustration when the casings swelled on humid days like today.
The sunlight disappeared behind the clouds, and the room darkened.
"The sky is green," one child said.
Several other children murmured while they shifted in their seats to look out the windows.
"Children, please continue your studies."
She scooted in front of the next window. It slid down with ease and she paused to inspect the sky. The children were right. The sky had turned an eerie pea-soup shade. A shudder crawled down her spine. In her five years of teaching, it had never been so dark at noon that she had to light the oil lamps.
She craned her head toward the pasture. During one storm last growing season, her frightened mare snapped her harness and trampled the Masts' wheat field. Amos Mast voiced his complaint to the bishop, which prompted the men to fence an area for Peaches to graze while school was in session. Her buggy mare wasn't grazing now. The pending storm had the horse on edge. With her ears perked and nostrils flared, Peaches paced the barbed wire fence.
Katie squared her shoulders, not wanting the children to notice the razor of panic cutting through her, and returned to her desk. Raindrops pinged against the tin roof. She disregarded the noisy distraction and continued correcting the stack of papers before her, until the thrumming annoyance changed into a heavy barrage of what sounded like mothballs beating down on the roof. That wasn't easily ignored. She clenched her pen.
Noah Zook, seated in the back of the room, raised his hand. "Teetshah?"
"Jah, Noah." She cleared her throat to settle the quiver and hoped his question wouldn't require a lengthy reply.
He pointed to the window. "That's hail kumming down."
She pushed off her chair just as a cast-iron bell clanged in the distance. The faint sound didn't register until she reached the window and looked outside. Hailstones littered the lawn.
Katie whirled around to face the children. "Everyone"—she took a calming breath before continuing—"please hold hands and form a line at the door." She motioned to two of the oldest boys, Noah and Eli. They hurried to her, and she pulled them aside. "once we're outside, I'll need your help to open the cellar doors."
The boys nodded as the two youngest students sidled up to Katie.
"I'm scared." Ella Sue's lips trembled.
Mary Lapp whimpered, "Me too," and clutched Katie's dress.
When a low rumble of thunder vibrated the glass in the windows, even some of the older students echoed their fear.
Katie squatted to the five-year-olds' level and put her arms around them. "god is watching over us. Do you know that?" When they nodded solemnly, she stood to address the others. "Everyone hold hands." She made a quick scan of the group, then headed for the door. "We're going straight to the cellar. Do not let go of each other." She touched Eli's shoulder, and he and Noah opened the schoolhouse door.
Short bursts of whirling wind kicked up gravel from the driveway and pushed them a few steps backward. She wasn't sure which stung worse, being pelted by gravel or hailstones. Katie tucked her chin against her chest and pressed forward, leading the way. The boys lost their straw hats in the wind as they ran ahead to the side of the building.
Noah and Eli worked in unison, yanking on the cellar's wooden door. Once it flapped open on its hinges, the children filed into the underground storage area. Katie entered last and tugged on the door.
"It's stuck," she yelled over the boisterous wind. "give me a hand, boys."
Her muscles quivered, fighting against the wind's forceful pull. Finally, with the boys' help, she managed to get the door closed. The storage area went black except for a few pinholes of light surrounding the door frame. They were safe for the moment, but with only a flimsy inside latch, she wasn't sure how long the hinges would hold under the wind's force.
Katie hunched over to avoid hitting her head on a beam and inched away from the door. "Is everyone sitting?" Her voice cracked, and she silently chided herself to control it. For the sake of the children she must remain strong.
"Jah," they replied in unison.
"I'm kalt," said one girl.
"We all are, Sarah," one of the boys replied sharply.
"This isn't the time to get lippy nau." Katie blindly followed the foundation's stone wall and, finding an empty space, lowered herself to the cold, dirt floor. She inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself, but instead gagged on the musty odor.
The cramped space wasn't meant to house a classroom of children. Rather, the old dug-out root cellar offered a dry storage area for the wood under the school. At least the diminished winter's supply meant more space. A blessing for sure.
"As I say your name, I want you to answer." Katie called out the first names that came to mind, pausing between each one to listen for their reply. "Rebecca Fischer? Sarah Plank? Emily Trombly? Peter Wyse? Esther Miller? James Yoder?" She stopped. "James?"
"He stayed home sick today, remember?"
"Jah, denki, Eli, for reminding me." Between the thrashing wind and whimpering youngsters, her concentration waffled. "Sarah Plank?"
"Jah, but you already called me," Sarah replied.
"Sorry." She needed to calm herself before everyone panicked. Think. Who hadn't been called? "Have I called Daniel Hershberger?"
"I'm here," he said.
Inside the classroom, she knew immediately who was absent by what desk was unoccupied. Now in the dark and under stress, she didn't want to rely on her memory. She rattled off several more names. "Did I miss anyone?"
"You didn't call me, Mary Lapp."
Katie squeezed the child's hand. "That's because I'm sitting next to you."
Five-year-old Ella Sue squirmed on her other side. Katie tapped the girl's knobby knee. "And I know this is Ella Sue King on mei right, ain't so?"
"Jah," she said faintly, then poked Katie's rib and whispered, "I have to use the outhaus."
"Nett nau, we must stay—" Katie's breath caught. "Samuel Fischer, are you in here?"
"Samuel?" But even as she repeated his name, she remembered giving him permission to use the outhouse. He hadn't returned to the classroom. Her stomach knotted.
"He's nett answering, teetshah," Ella Sue cried.
Ach, nay. Bile burned the back of Katie's throat. "Everyone stay put," she said, pushing off the floor. Then, tangled in a web of sticky threads, she flailed her arms, batting the spider's clinging web away from her face, and stifled a scream. Don't panic. But she was panicking and she'd run into plenty of spiderwebs in the barn before.
"Don't leave us." Mary pulled Katie's dress hem.
"I have to find Samuel. I'll be back." Katie eased her way to the entrance and nudged the door with her shoulder. At the same time, the wind caught the door and slammed it against the building, jetting her outside. The boys scrambled to pull it closed while Katie leaned into the wind and tromped toward the school. A nearby tree cracked under the wind's force, then shed one of its limbs. It hit the ground with a thud.
"Samuel?" She swiftly panned the area and stopped on the overturned outhouse.
Oh, Lord, please don't let him be harmed.
Pressing forward, she ran to the site. As she searched the area, the flailing branches of a weeping willow whipped against her, stinging her face and entangling her with their ever-bending rod-like shoots.
No answer. No sign of him at all. She broke loose from the willow and ran toward the schoolhouse. She barged inside the abandoned building. The windowpanes rattled against their casings as though someone were knocking.
"Samuel!" She rushed toward the front of the room and called again.
A movement under a desk caught her eye. Crouched beneath the wooden desk with his arms hugging his chest and his head buried between his knees, the eighth grader rocked on his haunches. Samuel lifted his head, his reddened eyes vacant and wide.
"Kumm on, we have to get to safety."
The pale-faced boy continued to stare at nothing in particular.
"Samuel," she said strongly, "we must hurry. Nau, you kumm out from under that desk." When her words didn't seem to register, she grasped his hand firmly. "You must listen to me, Samuel," she said, tugging his arm.
Samuel stood. He looked about the room, still dazed. "Where did he go?"
"Who are you talking about? All of the students are waiting in the cellar."
"The man with white hair." Again, Samuel canvassed the classroom with his eyes. "He led me in here and said I'd be safe until you came for me."
The building groaned, and Katie steered Samuel toward the door. "We have to get out of here nau." She looked over her shoulder but didn't see anyone else in the room.
They sprang outside into an eerie calm. Although the wind had died down and the hail had stopped, in the distance, a dense wall of ash gray with a low-hanging funnel cloud moved toward them. Thankfully, she needed only to point at the approaching tornado for Samuel to regain his senses. Even with his childhood limp from falling off a barn roof, he kept stride with her as they raced for cover.
She gripped the cellar's handle and, with a jolt of adrenaline that burned her veins, yanked the door open. The two of them tumbled into the makeshift shelter, wrestled the door closed, and collapsed against the wall, unable to catch their breath.
The floor joist above them vibrated and dirt sifted through the cracks. "Everyone, crouch down and cover your head." Katie braced for impact.
The door burst open again, flooding the area with light. Katie lifted her head as a man entered, then pulled the door closed behind him. The cellar darkened once more.
"I hope you don't mind if I seek shelter with you. I saw you and the boy take cover in here," the man said.
A rumbling noise similar to the sound of a train filled her ears and the ground rippled with tremors. Katie's eyes burned with tears. "god have mercy on us all."
Chapter TwoSeth's eyes hadn't adjusted to the darkness when something outside thumped against the cellar door. He'd made it to shelter just in time. As the whirling cry of the wind careened closer, he heard a tinny wail, a metallic scream that was quickly swallowed by the din of the storm. The woman next to him shrieked, jolting upright and knocking heads with him.
"You okay?" He rubbed his forehead.
"What was that?" she said through panting breaths.
He almost said his head, but he knew she meant the noise outside. "I'm pretty sure that was the roof." He'd worked in construction and easily recognized the flailing sound of distressed roofing tin. More flapping noise carried into the distance.
"Ach." Her gasps feathered his face with warm air.
Assuming the roof was gone, the walls would collapse next, but he couldn't tell her that. At the rapid rate she breathed, he expected any moment for her to faint from hyperventilating. The full impact of the storm hadn't even hit yet. But as his thoughts rambled, the structure gave off a high-pitched screech as boards pulled away from their nails. Daylight seeped through the cracks where a moment ago it was dark.
"Get down!" he yelled.
It seemed as though time stood still before the howling wind passed. When it did, an unnatural silence loomed.
"Is it over?" A child's frail voice broke the silence.
"I ..." The woman cleared her throat. "I think we're safe nau, children."
Children? He'd only seen one running with her for cover.
More whimpers came from the opposite direction. Seth shifted his eyes, but without more light than what penetrated through the cracks, he couldn't decipher anything but shadows in the dark.
"How many children do you have?" His thoughts escaped aloud.
"Twelve," she replied. Then added, "Is everyone all right?"
The children might have thought she sounded composed, but he heard the tremor in her voice. He sat quietly and listened as the children's faint responses rang out.
A small hand tapped his arm. "Where did you kumm from, mister?"
"Mary, don't be so bold," the woman corrected.
"I'm sorry," said the child in a weakened voice.
"I'm Seth Stutzman." His hands gritty, he wiped the dirt on his pant leg. "I'm from the Saint Joseph County settlement in Centreville." With his district 135 miles south of Hope Falls, he didn't expect the child to know where he was from, but he said his district for the woman's benefit.
"Seth from Centreville, would you mind opening the door for us?"
Good idea. He lunged off the dirt floor, banging his head on the overhead beam.
"What was that?" asked one child.
"Only me." He rubbed the sore spot.
"Are you okay?"
Hearing the woman's motherly concern, he smiled. "Jah, at least we know one beam is intact. My thick head didn't seem to shift the structure any."
"That's a blessing," she said.
"Having a thick head?"
Several children laughed, and the woman hushed them immediately.
"I meant the sound structure is a blessing," she clarified, her voice a mix of authority and jitters.
He chuckled as he moved cautiously to the door. Maybe his thick head would figure out a way out of here. He patted the wooden door, searching in the dark for the handle. Gripping it firmly, he nudged the door with his shoulder. It didn't open. He tried again, using more force. Still, the door wouldn't release. "It's jammed."
"That doesn't make sense. It must be latched," the woman said.
"Nay. I heard something slam against it just after I entered." The noise was loud enough that she should've heard the same racket outside the door. Then again, firsthand experience had taught him how fear paralyzed one's senses.
"Are we going to have to stay in here forever?" a small voice squeaked. Several of the children sniffled.
He wasn't thinking straight. He should've held his last comment and not riled the children.
"We'll be rescued soon." The woman's soothing voice settled most of the whimpering.
Seth rammed the door harder and vibrations rippled throughout his body. The hinges rattled, but the door wouldn't give. Whatever had struck the door during the storm was solid and somehow had lodged itself against the entry. He drew a deep breath. As a builder, he'd belly-crawled through several narrow crawl spaces and never felt claustrophobic, but now, trapped with a woman and her frightened children, he expected the walls to close in.
"I'm hungry," one child said.
"Me too," another one added.
The woman shushed the children as he barreled his shoulder against the door again. The force dislodged debris from overhead, causing an echo of shrill cries in the darkness behind him. He readied for another shove, but a hand grasped his arm and he stopped.
"Are you sure forcing the door open is safe?" the woman whispered.
"Do you have a better idea, Mrs....?"
"Katie." She dropped her hand from his arm. "And nay, I don't have a better idea."
He plowed his weight against the door once again. This time the structure groaned. Beside him Katie let out a similar noise under her breath. He peered up at the new pinholes of light. What was he thinking? He couldn't risk a cave-in.
"You're right. Let's sit down," he told her.
Her shadowy figure shuffled away from the door.
Excerpted from An Angel by Her Side by Ruth Reid Copyright © 2012 by Ruth Reid. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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