She was crossing a bridge over a rocky stream in Georgia when an old blue ford pick-up rattled up behind her. She pressed against the railings to let it pass. It didn’t. The driver stopped and rolled down the passenger-side window. “Need a lift?”
Peeking into the cab, she saw a man in his late thirties, short blonde hair, brown eyes, a wide nose and full lips in his handsome face, and a winning grin. “Nope. Thank you. Just out for a stroll.” She continued walking.
“You’re a might far off the beaten path.” The truck slowly kept up with her.
“Never cared much for beaten paths,” she increased her step.
The truck kept pace. “I’m not trying to pick you up, Sister.”
She hunched her shoulders and strode forward.
“It’s just, I know you’re not from around here and – and – you look half-starved and a might wind-swept.”
She was nearing the end of the bridge.
“I just can’t stand the idea of one of God’s servants being cold and hungry. And it’s going to snow.”
Gwen stopped and looked at the man. “It’s the first of May.”
“Well, it’s gonna snow sometimes.” He grinned. “My name’s Atticus. I’m pastor at Morning Creek; it’s just up the road.”
Gwen grinned and began walking again.
The truck crept forward. “We’re a huge church. We had nigh twenty-five people last Sunday. And dinner on the grounds. So the refrig in the fellowship hall is stocked with fried chicken and apple pie.”
Gwen didn’t stop, but she peered at Pastor Atticus again as her stomach growled.
“Well look, our insurance agent says we have to keep the church and hall locked when not in use, but if someone were to look behind the stone angel by the double doors, they’d find a key. And if that person were to take what they need and return the key later, wouldn’t nobody mind.”
Gwen stopped and stared open-mouthed at this total stranger.
He smiled. “I gotta go serve communion to the shut-ins. God bless you, Sister.”
He drove away. She numbly raised her hand and saw him smiling at her through the side mirror.
She ate cold chicken standing at the counter and surveyed the room Pastor Atticus had called a fellowship hall. The setting sun sparkled through the jalousie windows, illuminating the dust specs she’d stirred up as she walked across the linoleum floor. She refilled the water bottles and stored them in a raggedy backpack she’d been given in Utah. She wiped the counter and looked back at the full refrigerator longingly.
A door led from the hall to the sanctuary. The church had a dozen nine-foot wide pews on each side of a central aisle. It smelled of cedar planks and bees wax. The altar shone with lemon oil. The evening light fell gently through the nine stained glass windows: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the left; Grace, Joy, Hope, and Charity on the right; and Jesus on the cross behind the pulpit. An upright piano guarded the presbytery and a drum set flanked the pastor’s pulpit. A massive carved mahogany table served as the altar. It held a Protestant cross, a chalice and a paten resting on its charger, and an ancient Bible opened to Luke. There was a brass strip underlining Luke 24:49. ''And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." The two brass candlesticks held half-burnt white candles.
Her vision blurred with unshed tears, her chest expanded, trying to gather in the essence of the air. The happiest times of her life had been in churches. Singing in the choir, praying, teaching Sunday school. Her feet led her forward and she sank onto the front pew. A tiny puff of dust escaped the thin cushion. She bent her head and began to sob.
She woke with the surety that someone was watching her. A man was kneeling next to her, his right hand stretching toward her. Before he could register that she was awake, she grabbed his wrist with her left hand and his throat with her right. Pushing him backwards, she landed on top of him.
“Whom do you serve?” her voice echoed in the tiny church.
“God the Father Almighty,” the man spoke calmly. “And Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.”
It took her a second to realize where she was and another second to relax her grip. It took a third second to roll off the pastor’s chest. He sat up and asked in a humorous tone, “Whom do you serve?”
She put her right hand over her heart, “I serve the Light, the Bringers of light, and the Light Eternal.”
Atticus got to his feet and held out his hand, “Sounds like we’re on the same team.”
She took his hand and stood up. “I’m sorry. I fell asleep praying. You just startled me.”
“You got a strong grip,” he gently rocked her hand in his.
She eyed the side door that led back into the fellowship hall.
“Do you have a name?”
She gently but firmly pulled out of his grasp. “Thank you for the chicken.” She took a step away.
“There’s plenty more.” Light from the full moon through the stained glass of Jesus cast a hallo around the pastor’s head and shoulders.
“I tucked three pieces in my pack. For the road.” She took another step and bent down to catch the pack’s straps, keeping her eyes on his face.
“You running away?” He stepped toward her.
“I’m just traveling.” She hoisted the pack over her shoulder.
“Well, maybe you’ve traveled as far as you need to.” He kept his voice soft. The colored lights seemed to follow him as he stepped closer.
“That would be nice,” she heard herself whisper.
She looked up into his face and tried not to cry again. “No. No, I have to keep – I’m just traveling.” She spun and marched quickly into the fellowship hall.
“He told me you were coming,” his voice echoed from the sanctuary and she froze.
Comes the Warrior
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.