Eva just wants to be a good disciple of Righteous Path. She grew up knowing that she’s among the chosen few to be saved from Armageddon. Lately, though, being saved feels awfully treacherous. Ever since they moved to the compound in Colorado, their food supplies have dwindled even while their leader, Ezekiel, has stockpiled weapons. The only money comes from the jewelry Eva makes and sells down in Bouldera purpose she’ll serve until she becomes one of Ezekiel’s wives. But a college student named Trevor and the other “heathens” she meets on her trips beyond the compound are far different from what she’s been led to believe. Now Eva doesn’t know which is more dangerousthe outside world, or Brother Ezekiel’s plans…
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Down From the Mountain
By Elizabeth Fixmer
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2015 Elizabeth Fixmer
All rights reserved.
My hands automatically form fists so no one will see my trembling fingers as I walk to the front of our little chapel. I try not to stare at the discipline paddle that hangs on the wall near the bare table we use as an altar. Fourteen swats if I mess up the Bible passage. One swat for every year of age.
I try to avoid looking at the pulpit because I know Reverend Ezekiel is standing behind the podium watching me. I don't want to see his stern face and his dark, piercing eyes because they make me cringe.
Oh Lord, please help me recite my verse perfectly for Ezekiel. Thou art my shepherd; I shall not want. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. I know that the prayer refers to God's rod and God's staff, but sometimes I think that Ezekiel is God. Especially since God talks to Ezekiel and has given him the job of shepherding us to keep us pure. He commands us to follow God's will and doles out rewards and punishments to keep us on the righteous path.
I slide into the first pew next to Jacob and Annie, who sit in front to support me. Jacob, right in front, just for me. He usually sneaks into the pew farthest back and keeps his head down to avoid being noticed, but not today. He flashes me a rare smile, letting the empty space show where his two front teeth used to be before the fight. And he quickly gives my hand a little squeeze. I control the tears that want to flow.
"You memorize real good," Jacob reminded me when we were doing chores earlier. "You're good at all that school stuff."
Annie's smile is nervous. She blew her verse the last time and got paddled.
Behind us is whisper, chatter, whisper. The mothers are probably talking about the rumor that Ezekiel plans to make a special announcement tonight. I heard Mother Cecelia say that someone might be with child. That would be great news! God promised Ezekiel a son years ago. But, though a few of the mothers have become pregnant, they always lose the baby in the first trimester. It's because we haven't been worthy. We haven't prayed enough, repented enough, made enough sacrifices. But now we might have another chance. I hope it's Rachel because she wants a baby so badly.
Ezekiel thumps his fist on the podium and the chapel is immediately silent. He begins the evening prayer. I'm tempted to turn my head and look for Mother Martha. Her face would light up and she'd nod her reassurance. But I don't dare. She's my birth mother, and we've been in trouble so many times for having a "special relationship." You'd think that after ten years in Righteous Path, Mother and I would have accepted the rule. It's hard because she is special to me. My rock. But I have to remember that all the women are my mothers.
"Eva, it's time," Ezekiel says.
I walk the few steps to the podium, grateful that my knees don't buckle. The only sound I hear is my own ragged breathing—until I accidentally step on the one squeaky floorboard I thought had been fixed. The squeak just showed up last week. Ezekiel was furious because everything in God's house has to be perfect to honor God.
We built this chapel with our own hands three years ago when we first moved here, using the pine trees from the compound. The chapel is small and modest, but we poured our hearts into building it. It's built in the shape of a triangle—one wall each for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
We built it even before we bought trailers to sleep in or a kitchen or a proper dining room. God must always come first.
Thankfully, Ezekiel doesn't respond to the squeak. He still stands at the podium, so close that I can still smell the sulfur from the wooden matches he always chews. His eyes are knives cutting into me. I stand taller to fight my fear.
"I hope you're ready, Eva," Ezekiel says.
I pull up confidence from some hidden place inside. "Yes, Reverend Ezekiel, I am."
I look out at the people. Seventeen pairs of eyes look back at me. I clear my throat and begin.
"Saint ... Saint Matthew, Chapter 13:3-9." The words are coming back to me, but my throat is so dry it hurts to swallow.
"'And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, 'Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up. Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth.'"
For some reason I can't remember the next part and just stand there frozen. I wipe sweat off my forehead. I look for Mother's face. When I catch her eye, she changes her expression from concerned to confident and sends me one of her sunshine smiles. As if by magic, the words come back to me. "'And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up and choked them. But others fell into good ground and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.'"
My breath is easy now, and when Reverend Ezekiel walks up to me, all smiles, relief floods my body.
"Very good, Eva. Now can you tell us what the parable means?" he asks.
This is the easy part. I know what the parable means because Reverend Ezekiel has told us before. "The seed is really the word of God, and people are the soil. Everywhere outside of Righteous Path, God's word falls in stony places or on soil that isn't deep enough because heathens don't have ears to hear. But Reverend Ezekiel has ears to hear and so we are growing in good soil."
"That's right! Exactly right." He walks over and lifts my chin so that we are looking eye to eye. "We are blessed to be chosen, Eva, to be the soil where the truth of God grows the strongest."
I can feel the smiles of the whole congregation. It's like a warm embrace on my insides, like hot chocolate on a cold day. I'm relieved to be done with my verse, but also grateful that I'm here at Righteous Path, where I have salvation. Ezekiel says that God is choosing only 444 people to survive Armageddon and live in the Kingdom of Heaven when we die. For some reason, I am one of them. It makes me glow inside when I think of it.
Ezekiel motions me to take my seat with a respectful nod instead of the flip of the wrist he uses when he wants one of us to disappear from his sight. I'm all lit up inside but I keep my smile dim so no one can say I have too much pride. I sneak a peek at Mother Martha. Her eyes sparkle and her cheeks glow, and that makes me especially happy. For weeks now she's been looking puny.
When Ezekiel starts his sermon, I pray that it's a short one. Now that I'm done with the recitation I'm suddenly exhausted. He's in a great mood tonight, not angry or warning, which might mean that we'll get a shorter sermon. Sometimes they go till midnight though, and that's tough. Especially if you have to go to the bathroom and don't dare leave.
Tonight he flits around the stage, on fire with God's word. Finally he stops talking. He looks at something in the back corner. "Mother Martha, please stand."
We all look to where she's pulling herself up from the pew.
"It's time to share the news God has blessed us with," he says.
All eyes are on Mother Martha, searching her face, eagerly awaiting the news. I notice Mother Rachel who sits next to her. Her eyes get big and she bites her bottom lip. She's nodding slightly as if she's just figured out the mystery. The color has once again drained from Mother Martha's face, and though she smiles, she looks sick like before.
"The Lord is fulfilling his promise to us. Is he not, Mother Martha?" Ezekiel says.
Mother Martha nods and smiles, but the sunshine is gone from her eyes.
Reverend Ezekiel seems unaware of this. He continues. "She carries my seed in her womb. She will bear a child in spring."
I can't believe what I've just heard. Electricity shoots through me as if I touched the fence that protects the compound from outsiders.
Mother Martha can't have more children. She almost died when she had me, and the doctor told her she could never have another. That's why she and Dad called me their miracle child. No one understands this. Everyone is clapping and making joyful sounds. But as the group moves toward Mother Martha to hug and congratulate her, Reverend Ezekiel holds out his hand to silence us.
"There will be time for congratulations later. But now let us give thanks to God through prayer." Everyone stops wherever they're standing, and we all bow heads. "Let us give Him our praise. Lord, we pray that you bless Mother Martha and the child she carries within her womb. Please do not punish us or test us by having her lose the baby." A noisy sob escapes Rachel's lips. "I vow that we will pray more, fast more, and keep our hearts pure during this pregnancy."
He begins the end prayer. "We trust in you, oh God, and give You praise," he says. He holds out an open hand signaling for us to repeat his words.
"We trust in You, oh God, and give you praise," we repeat.
All my excitement drains out of me. I can't focus on prayers when my brain is full of questions and concerns. Maybe God is giving us a miracle and everything will be okay. But what if Mother dies having this baby? I couldn't bear it. If the baby lives, will I still be important to Mother? Will she continue to find special time for me, or will I shrink into the background?
It's wrong to want her to be special just because she gave birth to me. I know this. I ask God to take away these selfish feelings, but they keep coming. I even feel jealous of the attention Ezekiel will give Mother and the new baby. He'll love the baby more than us other kids because it's his only real child. Mother will love the baby more because he'll make Ezekiel happy. The baby might even be holy like Ezekiel.
"You, Lord, are our salvation," Reverend Ezekiel says.
No, no, no. Stop this! I silently command myself.
But I had Mother Martha first, for four whole years before we joined Righteous Path. And we look just alike. Even the heathens think that. Once when we still lived in Arizona and kids were allowed to go into town with the mothers for marketing, one of the clerks looked surprised when I referred to Mother Miriam as Mother. She looked at me and Mother Martha and said, "Oh, I thought that was your mother. You look so much alike with your wavy auburn hair and blue eyes. You even have the same smile."
"We will follow you every day of our lives, in all that we say and do. Amen," Ezekiel says.
I long for a private talk with Mother Martha right now.
I am selfish, selfish, selfish. Dear God, help me to stop being so selfish.
Mother Esther announces the ending song choice, "Nearer My God to Thee," and uses her pitch pipe to get us on the right note. Usually singing's my favorite part of Evening Service, but my voice is small tonight. As soon as it's over, I make my way to Mother Martha to take my turn giving her a congratulatory hug. When she catches my eye, I try to look happy.
As I walk home, a cold wind suddenly whips up dirt and flings it in my face. Dirt hits my eyes and gets into my mouth. Some even settles in my hair. I hold my sweater out as a shield, rub my eyes, and spit several times. I sure hope this isn't a sign that we're headed for a rough winter.CHAPTER 2
Annie hugs and hugs me when we get back to our room. She's so happy for me that I remembered my passage. And she's thrilled, like everyone else, about the baby news. She didn't see what I saw on Mother Martha's face. Maybe no one except me saw it.
That's just the way it's always been between Mother and me. We seem to see things in each other before others see them. But somehow I missed the pregnancy. Maybe because she's been sort of hiding out lately.
When I wake up to go to the bathroom sometime late in the night, I can't get back to sleep. I keep seeing Mother's face and try to imagine what she's thinking. Is she scared that God will let her die in childbirth? Is she afraid there won't be enough food for us all like last winter?
Last winter was the first time Righteous Path was really and truly out of money. Before that, our money came from members. Like everyone else, Mother turned everything over to Ezekiel when she was chosen to be a member, though I was too young to understand. Soon after we'd moved into the Arizona compound, I remember begging Mother to take me home.
She held my face in her hands and shook her head. "Honey, this is our home. Our forever home. God needed us to sell our Chicago home so we could help Ezekiel collect souls. Saving souls is more important than having a nice house, don't you think?"
By then I knew the term collecting souls. It was what Ezekiel did when he went into town. He would preach and help people let go of their worldly possessions. We were always told that he needed to collect 444 souls, the number God promised to save before the end days. But he hasn't been fishing for quite some time. I think he only went once in the three years we've been in Colorado. That was shortly after our move here. He was gone for three months, and when he returned, he brought us Rachel but wouldn't tell us what happened that kept him away so long. Whatever happened changed him. He seemed angry and skittish about anyone leaving the compound.
For the last two summers, many of us have worked as laborers for the ranch west of ours. It's owned by a Greek family and they mostly do lambing. We tended the lambs, picked vegetables, removed stones from the field, and harvested hay. We each got paid two dollars an hour. The money went straight to Ezekiel, of course, and didn't last through winter.
Dawn is here, and I watch Annie sleep. A couple of times she stirs. I long to wake her up, to talk to her about this, but it's too dangerous. Annie seems to get asthma attacks whenever she's worried or anxious, and lately they've been getting so bad that I find myself being really careful with what I say to her. I don't dare talk to anyone else because if they thought Mother was anything but happy about the baby, or that I was having doubts, they'd report us at a Community Concerns Meeting and we'd be punished for not accepting God's will.
From the edge of my bed, I enjoy the dancing aspen leaves that have scattered over the common area and as far as I can see down our driveway. The trees have been bare for weeks, of course, but thanks to a mild fall so far, they continue to blanket the compound. A strong breeze gives them new life. If I watch just a little longer, I'll get to see them shimmer all golden and beautiful in the early morning sunlight.
Brother Paul's grandparents planted the aspens fifty years ago. Otherwise we'd be looking at nothing but pine trees, pine trees, and more pine trees. They're so thick that they hide us from the outside world, so thick you could actually get lost among them between here and the highway.
The door to the old house opens and I see Brother Paul hurry toward the barn to do the milking. That means it must be almost six a.m. He must be real quiet when he dresses in the morning because my friend, Jacob, his roommate, has trouble getting up for a seven a.m. breakfast.
Jacob and Paul are the only ones of our group to live in an actual house. It's small and kind of dilapidated, especially the outside where the white paint has worn away and the wood is practically bare. The rest of us live in trailers—three for the women and children and a fancy one for Ezekiel.
I scan the trailers that surround our common area, looking for signs of life. Nothing, not even in the trailer Mother Martha shares with Mothers Cecelia, Rebecca, Helen, and MaryAnne. I wonder how Mother Martha slept last night and whether or not she's awake yet. If only I could walk over there right now and check on her. But that's not allowed, of course.
There's no stirring in the trailer on the other side of Ezekiel's house either. That's where Mother Alice, Mother Miriam, Mother Esther, and Mother Rachel live. Mother Rose is the dorm mother in the kids' trailer where the twins, David and Daniel, live and, of course, Annie and me as well.
Excerpted from Down From the Mountain by Elizabeth Fixmer. Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Fixmer. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you're a fan of the works of Ted Dekker, I found similarities between this book and Dekker's book Water Walker (Book 2 in the Outlaw series, if you don't count the prequel Outlaw), which also largely takes place on the compound of a cult. Some scenes are really similar, in fact. There wasn't quite as much suspense or mystery in Down From The Mountain as I was hoping... I was left feeling like this was a good start... but something about the characters felt a little underdeveloped. Still, the novel was far from being a disappointment. I liked seeing Eva grow as she gradually learned to tap into her inner strength. She discovers the power in learning to take control of her thoughts and memories. She also begins to see just how much more precious memories, experiences and education are than any amount of physical possessions could ever be. Just with that little bit of Eva's personal growth, combined with her friendship with "heathen" Trevor (who actually gives her a crash course in religious tolerance / friendship & acceptance without stipulations), I can comfortably recommend this as a worthwhile read.
Cults are kind of a thing for Lacey and I. That sounds so weird, right? I’m not really sure how it even happened, but we’ve read a little handful of books about cults and watched approximately 9 million documentaries, movies, TV episodes, etc. It’s a weird never-ending spiral. Anyway, all things considered, Down from the Mountain might as well have been written specifically for us. From the first page, this book was captivating. The characters are all dynamic and well thought out, even the ones that fall into the background throughout the story. I loved the setting, both the compound and the town, and even more than that, the simplest things in the story were bursting with life, like the weather and the places the heroine went. It was sort of like taking a glimpse directly into a life that’s not my own – which is the best kind of book, to me. The story this book tells is one that’s unsettling, to be honest. Mary’s parents divorced when she was young, and while her father was out of the country, her mother fell in love with the prophet of Righteous Path, Ezekiel. She packs Mary up and moves her to their compound, a piece of land inherited from another member, and from there Mary becomes Eva, one of the chosen few. She’s forced to give up her relationship with her mother, since every one of the women is her mother now and nothing “special” is permitted, her education is heavily controlled and censored, and worse yet, as she grows older, Ezekiel seems to be taking more and more interest in her. Her only income is from making jewelry, but she’s not allowed to keep any of that money, of course. It all goes to Ezekiel. You know, for safe keeping. Or for buying weapons that she isn’t sure why they need. At first, she thinks it’s to protect them from the heathens, also known as the outside world, particularly the inhabitants of Boulder, the place where Eva and the other jewelry makers go to purchase supplies and sell their products. But after a particularly daring venture in Boulder, she meets a college student named Trevor, and he’s actually… nice. She starts to doubt everything she’s been told, and that’s when things get awesome. Trevor is a likable, realistic character, whose kindhearted nature shines through even the simplest of things he says. He’s a religious studies major, and because of this, he takes a serious interest in Eva, especially once he learns she’s never used the Internet, and hasn’t even heard of basically half of the stuff he talks about. Perhaps the best part of Trevor, though, is that he’s not a love interest, or secretly a bad guy. He’s just an average, genuinely good guy, with no creepy intentions or even slight interest in that sort of relationship with Eva. It was refreshing to see a male-female dynamic without even the slightest inkling of romance. My favorite part of the book was that the focus was entirely on Eva and her struggles. There were a couple of subplots but, for the most part, this was Eva’s book. Mary’s book. I loved that. With beautiful and compulsively readable prose, a strong-voiced heroine that demands to be heard, and a gripping concept, Down from the Mountain is an all-around awesome book.
Down from the Mountain was a book that I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did. I tend to avoid books that heavily involve religion, particularly those whose themes revolve around wrongdoings justified by religious beliefs. But this was an extremely compelling and emotional novel. The story takes place within a fundamentalist group in Colorado who call themselves the Righteous Path, living in an isolated compound high in the mountains. With the exception of the leader and a couple of men and boys, the community is almost entirely composed of women. The adult women become the sister wives of the leader, helping him to create a community of believers. Most of these women came to him with children and those daughters are also groomed to be his wives as well. It is a group in which complete obedience is required and their main tenet is that they are the chosen few that will ascend to heaven after the apocalypse. Those outside the community are eschewed, except when necessary for trade and financial gain. The protagonist of the novel is Eva, a 15yo girl being groomed to be the next wife to Ezekiel, the self-appointed leader and prophet of God. She and her mother became a part of the group after her parents divorce. Because of the complete obedience required by Ezekial, exclusive parent/child relationships are strictly prohibited. Instead, all children belong to all women. Despite this, Eva and her mother have maintained a secret relationship, hidden from the community. It is because of that relationship that Eva's eyes have been opened and she starts to question the world she lives in. The conflict of the novel is entirely in the form of Ezekial and his complete control over every aspect of the lives of those in the Righteous Path community. Whether he is delusional or just domineering is debatable, the end result is complete exploitation of the people within his hands. Polygamous marriage is forced upon them under the guise of God's word. Many of the more recent marriages are to very young girls, girls younger than the legal age of consent. Brain washing and isolation are a big part of his methodology, as is punishment. The severity of the punishment ranges from public humiliation to actual physical abuse, depending upon the level of "sin" the person committed. Other punishments can be the deprivation of food and education, especially the girls who don't require education in the eyes of Ezekial. Ezekial is a maniacal, misogynistic, abusive man, a detestable character in every way. He commits his atrocities in the name of religion and expects his followers to accept them for the same reasons and without question. Conflict arises when Eva begins to see him for what he is, due in large part to her recent interactions with the outside world. It is through that that she realizes that perhaps the world isn't what Ezekial has portrayed, that good exists outside the compound and that perhaps what is inside the compound isn't as righteous as she has always been taught. As detestable as Ezekial is, Eva is captivating. Her change doesn't come all at once, but over time and with thought and consideration. She has spent most of her life being groomed, yet she has maintained the ability to think for herself and her character grows through that. The writing of this book was engrossing and compelling, investing the reader into Eva's plight, and that of the other women. There was so much complexity and depth and that complexity carried into the conclusion. I loved that the ending was realistic, showing the good and the bad, showing the differing feelings within the aftermath of a community such as Righteous Path. My Recommendation: I loved this book, despite the themes of religious abuse. I felt like the author portrayed a controversial subject realistically, without sugar coating it or glamorizing it. It was dramatic and thought-provoking and I enjoyed it.
What a strange book! I really loved the premise before I even started this book. Religious cults?! Sign me up. But I was let down with the delivery of this book. For starters, I was really confused by the inclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia. I know what it's like to have a deep love for a piece of literature. Yet the way that the author included Narnia was really strange. It didn't fit into the story. It didn't read like the rest of the story. It stuck out like a sore thumb and really slowed down the book. The characters were really interesting. The author has a way with descriptions that made me feel like I was on the compound and getting to know the members. Reading about the leader, Ezekiel, was chilling. The author knew exactly how to portray him as the sociopath that he is. Eva was a strong character. I enjoyed her curiosity about the world outside of the compound and her spirit. Down from the Mountain was a good read, but ultimately it left me wanting more. The book seemed really short, and I wasn't ready to let go by the time it ended. It seemed like Eva's story wasn't finished and the ending was rushed. If you have an interest in cults, you'll definitely find an interesting read with this one, though! **I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review with no compensation.