For a parent and a community, there is no greater loss than the death of a child. This was the nightmare that Ellie Lane's parents endured seven years ago in the enchanted land of the Cherokees deep in the Smoky Mountains.
Then the miracle occurred. Seven years after her death, Ellie returns.
Her still-grieving parents confront fear, superstition, and suspicion as Ellie begins her new life, the second life she has somehow been given. In a world where people are divided by the contradictions of skepticism and fanaticism, science and religion wage war to claim the answers. Cults are born to worship the young girl as a deity. Legends and apocalyptic visions come to life. Celestial signs portend that something beyond comprehension is coming. A rough beast to end all days? Ancient astronauts in chariots of fire? Winged seraphs strumming harps of gold?
Does Ellie's return mean a new beginning for mankind - or its end?
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)|
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By DAN MARSEE
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Dan Marsee
All rights reserved.
There is a hill on the edge of an emerald forest. The hill rises from the depths of a small valley hidden deep in the foothills of a great mountain. From this hill the dreamer can gaze upward into the clouds or stare downward into the clay that molds the valley and the people who live there. This enchanted land was once home to the Cherokees long before it became known as Eden Cove.
There is death on this hill. Thousands rest here beneath modest stone or wooden monuments. The sleepers speak only through the epitaphs inscribed on those monuments. Some bear only the names of those sleeping on the hill. Some bear terms of endearment from loved ones left behind who have since joined them in their slumbers on the hill. Many of those terms are now indecipherable from the ravages of time.
There are men, women, and children sleeping on this hill. Each was once the beloved of someone. The men and the women who engendered the children lie together beside their children, some who died early and now sleep beneath their little markers in the earth.
Those who linger long enough above these places on the hill may hear the laughter of little voices in the earth. They may see the cherubic faces floating in the air. They may feel the sense of loss and anguish and sorrow felt by others so many years ago. They may feel the sense of dread in the certain knowledge that this is their destiny and the destiny of those they love. And, with that sense, they may feel the yearning to return home to hold their loved ones closely.
It has been said that all people have the strength to bear the misfortune of others. At least until they realize that the misfortune of others is also their own misfortune. Nowhere is this realization more painful and sadly imminent than on this hill.
From atop the great mountain, the onlooker can barely see this seemingly insignificant hill except as part of the vast forest below. This hill is home to generations who have been born and who have died in this forest. The monuments and markers are scattered throughout the trees and the vines that enshroud the hill and shade the sleepers there. The hill is a dark and cool place even in the heat of summer. The hill is an even darker and cooler place in the snows of winter.
Not far from the base of this hill stands a mound of earth that the Cherokee Indians had long revered as consecrated ground where some of their most honored and beloved forefathers had been laid to rest. Centuries ago a plague had driven most of the tribe deeper into the emerald forest. Soon after the plague, this holy ground was defiled when the white settlers invaded the enchanted land. Only the mound and the ones interred there were left behind.
Time, it is said, passes slowly year after year, decade after decade, and century after century. But here on the hill, time seems to stand still. Nothing changes except for coming of the new sleepers who are brought to their new homes on the hill. Even then the hill retains its character as a resting place among the trees and the vines. Within a short time even the newcomers settle in and assume the look of their older neighbors. Nature preserves the status quo.
There is a primary trail up the hill. This trail has been blazed by bereaved travelers for hundreds of years. Some flat stones have been placed on this trail to make the ascent more accessible for the sleepers and for their mourners. These stones have been worn down by the hooves of horses drawing the death-wagon up the final hill. Other travelers have made their own trails up the hill, some on foot, some on horseback, and some more recently in 4-wheel drive vehicles facing harsh censure by the conservators of the cemetery, except when used to transport the elderly and the infirm up the hill.
Even though nature preserves the status quo of the hill, the people of the cove had over the years been diligent in not allowing nature to desecrate the resting places of the sleepers who reside there. The descendants of those on the hill recognized their obligations to maintain the graves of their ancestors, even for those ancestors far removed from memory. But as time passed and as some of the only remaining descendants died, this burden of responsibility became much heavier for the people of the cove. The cemetery had suffered from the forces of nature, and many of the forlorn graves had grown over with neglect. Then a stranger came to accept that burden.
No one was quite sure when Gabe came to Eden Cove. It has been told for many years how a broad-shouldered, older, graying black man came to the home of the pastor on a sweltering summer day offering to work for food. The pastor gave a meal of mustard greens and cornbread to the man without requiring any work in return. The man thanked the pastor and promised to repay this kindness as he walked away toward the hill and the shade of the trees.
The next morning a frenetic widow pounded with both fists on the pastor's door. She told the pastor how she had gone to the hill to put flowers on her husband's grave where she saw a strange, black man. She was frightened, and she scurried down the hill to alarm the others in the cove. At the request of the widow, the pastor climbed the trail up the hill. Exhausted and lathered in sweat by the time he reached the cemetery, he saw a black man kneeling in the dirt pulling weeds and vines from one of the graves. Upon approaching the man, the pastor recognized this to be the same man who had accepted food the day before.
"What are you doing?" asked the pastor.
"Paying my debt," answered the black man who continued to work without turning to look at the pastor.
"Well, thanks, but you really don't owe me a debt," said the pastor.
The black man said nothing and continued to work.
The pastor asked, "What's your name?"
The black man turned to speak, still on his knees. The pastor noticed that he appeared to be an older man with gray hair and very wide shoulders.
"Sir?" he asked.
"What's your name?" the pastor asked again.
The black man spoke, "Sorry, sometimes I can't hear too good. I'm Gabe."
"Well, Gabe, where are you from?"
"Lots of places, I guess."
"Where are you going?" the pastor asked.
"Sir?" Gabe asked.
"Where are you going?" the pastor asked again.
"I don't know," answered Gabe.
"Do you have a family or a place to live?"
"I don't know. I don't think so," answered Gabe.
"You surely must know that," suggested the pastor.
"No, Sir. No. I don't know."
"What's your last name?" the pastor asked.
"I don't know."
"You must know your last name," insisted the pastor.
"No, Sir. I don't know that either. I can't remember having one."
"Well, what do you remember, Gabe?" asked the pastor, now even more perplexed.
"I remember walking a long way to get here. I remember asking you for food. I remember you giving me some food. I remember falling asleep under a shade tree yesterday. And I remember waking up on this hill this morning. So I started working to pay for the food you gave me," answered Gabe.
The pastor was stunned. "Are you telling me you don't know who you are or where you're from?"
"I guess I am," said Gabe now standing up and putting his hand to his head as if in disbelief himself.
The pastor, with a sense of uneasiness, saw a tall, massive man with large, calloused hands holding clumps of weeds. He saw a barefooted man wearing old, torn overalls and what used to be a white shirt buttoned at the top. The pastor thought that this stranger might have escaped from a jail or from an asylum and that he could be dangerous. The pastor asked no more questions.
"Well, Gabe, you have more than paid for the meal," said the pastor, embarrassed by his fear. "You don't owe me anything."
Gabe smiled at the pastor, then looked up at the mountain and then to the sky. After a few moments of what seemed like meditation to the pastor, Gabe returned to his knees and went back to work. The pastor retreated down the hill.
When the pastor returned to his church, there were several of his members assembled expecting answers. All the pastor could tell them was that the man's name was Gabe and that Gabe had been paying for the food given to him. Even though the people were curious, they were not curious enough to confront the stranger on the hill.
A few weeks later a little boy came home to tell his mother that he had met a black man named Gabe who had been eating an apple in the orchard near the hill. The boy was unharmed and spoke about how friendly this man had been. Now the people of the cove had to confront the stranger. They convinced the pastor to accompany them to the cemetery. When they reached the top of the hill, the people beheld an amazing thing. The cemetery that had been steadily and shamefully deteriorating had undergone a beautiful transformation. What had become a garden of weeds had become a virtual Garden of Eden. The blighted and broken trees were now gone. The vines that had encircled the tombstones and markers had been untangled and removed. The tombstones and markers, once crooked and broken, again stood upright and glistened in the sun. Some of the people openly wept at the sight. Some thought that surely there must have been some miracle. The pastor knew that the miracle had a name.
The pastor called out for Gabe. When Gabe came out from the trees into the sunlight, the people stared in awe. Gabe still wore the same old overalls and the same old dirty white shirt buttoned at the top. His calloused hands were red with dried blood and scarred from the hard work on the hill. His bare feet were bloody from the briars he had walked through in his toils.
It was told that the people of Eden Cove were so appreciative that they welcomed Gabe into their community with very few reservations. They did have the county sheriff investigate to confirm that no one of Gabe's description had escaped from a prison or from an asylum. The county sheriff even fingerprinted Gabe, but nothing was found. Not even a full name. Gabe was given a place to live in an old shed behind the church. The people provided Gabe with clothes and food and tools.
In exchange, Gabe would have a permanent home and a permanent job taking care of the cemetery. He had become the caretaker of all of the sleepers on the hill. Although he was important to the people of Eden Cove, he never really became a member of their community. He did not attend their church. He did, however, stand in the back near the trees at all grave side services on the hill. He had no companions. He seldom spoke unless spoken to—and then only sparingly. He always wore the same overalls and a white shirt buttoned at the top. The people had bought him a pair of boots, but most of the time he walked barefooted.
He was known only as Gabe. He had no history but for his existence at Eden Cove.
No one could say just how many years had passed since Gabe had come to Eden Cove. All they would say was that Gabe had been there for as long as they could remember. A great many of the people, including the parson who had welcomed Gabe to Eden Cove, were now sleeping on the hill.
Most people gave little thought to the hill or to its permanent residents, except on special occasions such as funerals or outdoor Easter services. And even then the people only had to remember and mourn for a moment. They could walk away and get back to their lives. They did not want to think about their inevitable fate and the tiny spaces reserved for them on the hill. This was their time to live. Death would have to wait.
The children of Eden Cove ran and played, giving no thought to their mortality. They were giddy with excitement over the first day of school. Ellie Lane, her light brown curls blowing in the morning breeze, hurried to take her father's hand for their walk down the dirt road to school. She gave no look toward the hill that had watched her so closely since the day of her birth.CHAPTER 2
The First Day
Little Ellie Lane held tightly to her father's hand as she walked happily past the hill on her way to school in the early fall. She was eager to meet her friends for her first day of first grade. She already knew these friends from the same kindergarten class and from Sunday School, but this was somehow different. They were all going to the real school and she was a big girl now. She would occasionally glance up at her father who would be looking down at her with a proud smile on his face. Whenever their eyes met, they would laugh out loud as if some silly joke had just been told.
Ellie was dressed in her prettiest yellow dress—the finest one her mother could find at the Walmart in the city on the other side of the mountain. She wore white tennis shoes adorned with the exotic face of Dora the Explorer, and her dainty white socks had ruffles at the tops. She carried a shiny new lunch box decorated with colorful images of Winnie the Pooh and his whimsical friends. Inside the lunch box was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with her favorite snacks, a Twix bar and some grapes, which had been lovingly packed by her mother early that morning. Everything was beautiful. Perfect. Just perfect, Ellie thought.
When they reached the front of the school, Ellie's father bent down to give Ellie a kiss on her cheek. Just then Ellie's mother who was also known as Mrs. Lane, a third grade teacher at the school, came down the steps to greet her daughter. Hugs and kisses showered down—but not too many Ellie thought or her friends might think she was still a baby. Ellie was glad to have her mother so close at the school, and she was proud of her father who was the pastor at the church. They had told her that she was very special—just like all the other children. This had made her laugh.
Ellie was an only child, but her home seemed to be always full of children of all ages. Ellie's mother tutored students from elementary to high school. Ellie's father had Bible studies and cookouts with youth groups from the church. Ellie did not feel like an only child. But sometimes she did feel like the family pet. Someone was always patting her on the head. Or lifting her up to the ceiling. Or taking her by the arms and whirling her around the room. Or calling her funny names like "Baby Girl" or "Sunshine" or "Goldilocks."
On this first day of school, Ellie hoped to become "one of the guys" (in her words) and to blend in with the other children.
Many children were arriving at school at the same time. Some came on foot walking from town. Some of the Indian children walked from the hills miles away. Other children were just getting off buses and others were getting out of cars at the loop beside the school. Many of the children came from the farms which dotted the hills around Eden Cove. Those children were happy to be back in school and not at work on the farm. They had already done some chores such as milking the cows, feeding the chickens, and slopping the pigs, before coming to school. Some still had the aroma of the livestock wafting on their clothes. Many of the children were dressed in multi-colored outfits, some made from patchwork quilts. It was a colorful sight to behold. The hills simply burst alive with all the vibrant colors.
All of the children seemed giddy and talkative, and they were especially loud on this first day of school.
"Bye, Daddy," Ellie told her father.
"Bye, Ellie, have a great day," said her father.
"Come on, Ellie, let me walk you to class," said her mother taking her by the hand.
"OK," Ellie said with excitement in her tiny voice even though Ellie had already met her teacher, one of her mother's friends, Mrs. Byrd. Ellie thought what a great name for a teacher—Mrs. Byrd!
Mrs. Byrd greeted each child who entered her room with a smile and a perky "How do you do? I'm your teacher, Mrs. Byrd. And who are you?"
Ellie said, "You know me, I'm Ellie Lane."
Mrs. Byrd replied, "Well, I do believe I know you, Miss Ellie Lane. Welcome to the first grade. We're going to learn a lot of things this year. And have lots of fun."
Mrs. Byrd said the same thing to each child, but that was all right with Ellie. She found her friends and was busy telling them about her summer. She told them how she had traveled over the mountain to see the big city and how she had met so many people there. Although it was only a one-day trip, Ellie remembered every detail. How she and her parents had browsed for what seemed like hours in a magical mall. How she had gone to see a 3-D movie. How she had eaten new foods at a grand restaurant. How she had gone to see a doctor about a headache. And how she had slept in the car all the way home that evening.
"I got to go to Disney World this summer," beamed Rachel Browning, Ellie's best friend. "I saw Mickey Mouse and I even shook hands with him."
"I went to the river and camped out and fished. My daddy said I was the best fisher in the family," boasted Billy Franklin, grinning from ear to ear of his freckled, sunburned face.
"My grandpa taught me how to drive a tractor," said Micah Riordon, showing ample proof of that fact with his farmer's tan.
Excerpted from Ellie by DAN MARSEE. Copyright © 2014 Dan Marsee. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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