Through Me, the Way
Lightning struck and I flinched. The rain came down in hard pellets, but I kept watching Abe and Miho as they drifted away. I waited until they disappeared into town before I walked inside my house, dripping wet. The sound of the storm was a steady roar on the cedar shingles above me, but the stone walls, silent and still, filled me with a sense of safety. I didn’t light any lamps, and the gray afternoon filtered in through the windows.
There was a small open area inside the front door of my house. To the left, a fireplace along the outside wall. To the right was a rather long, galley-style kitchen, and at the end of it a narrow space where I ate and wrote and spent time thinking. The wide double doors that faced out the back were open, but they were sheltered by the eaves of the house so the water wasn’t coming in. I stared at the plains sweeping away in a graceful downhill for a long, long way, covered in a dense curtain of rain that hit the ground before rising in a ghostly mist.
I went into my bedroom, the only separate space in the house, and changed into dry clothes. I tried to think of other things, but my mind kept coming back around to the conversation I had with Abe and Miho.
Mary was leaving.
Mary was leaving.
Mary was leaving.
After she left, it would only be Abe and Miho and me, plus Miss B, John, Misha, Circe, Po . . . was that everyone? I ran through the names again in my mind as I walked to where my desk was pushed up under the large window facing the mountain. I thought back through a handful of the people who had left a long time ago, and it filled me with a deep melancholy.
I sat there at my desk and watched the rain run in rivulets down the glass, pooling above each mullion, dripping down to the next pane. The wind came and went, rattling the wooden frames. Lightning flashed and thunder followed. It was a good afternoon to be alone.
I pulled one of my many journals from the back corner of the desk. I picked up a pen and played with it, ran it over my fingers, took off the cap and put it back on again. It was still dark in the house except for the gray light, and I didn’t write anything. I thought of my brother. I wondered where he was in that moment, if it was raining on him too, in the mountain. I wondered if he was alone. I hoped he was alone. I couldn’t remember much from my time there, but I did remember wanting solitude, and the terror that came when those who were in charge paid you any attention.
My house was so close to the mountain that when I was inside, I could barely see the top of the steep range through the windows. My eyes drifted over to the left, to the mouth of the canyon, the place from which all of us had emerged at some point.
And I saw something move.
I stood, stared harder through the rain. What was it? Could it be . . . someone was coming out of the mountain? I leaned closer to the glass, held my breath, willed the rain to stop.
There, I saw the movement again.
A hunched form stooped and leaned against one of the last boulders barely outside the canyon. They stopped right beside the wooden sign someone had posted beside the canyon
opening a long, long time ago. I had read it many times, because I often walked to the canyon mouth and willed my brother to appear.
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE ETERNAL PAIN
THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST
And then a few lines that were no longer legible, faded as they were, followed by one final line at the bottom:
ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE
Why would anyone ever enter there? Why would anyone ever go back?
The person who had just come through the canyon tried to take a step forward, but they tripped, fell onto all fours. They crawled a few feet and lay down in the rain.
Could it be Adam? A flutter of hope tried to rise in me, but I shoved it down. I stood, willed the person to keep coming, but I didn’t move from my spot. It wasn’t worth trying to help them yet—they had to find their own way at first, like a newborn calf finding its footing. I remembered coming through that gap and seeing the plains and the small stone houses and feeling like I could finally breathe again. I had wept and cried in agony and crawled down the grassy path when I could no longer walk. Abe had welcomed me.
Yes, it had been Abe. The memory came up from some deep place. It had been Abe. I would tell him that the next time I saw him, that I remembered it had been him welcoming me, helping me down from the canyon to his own house in the village.
This strange, unexpected person crawled down the greenway, and I could see now that the form was a woman. A stabbing sense of sadness moved through me—This is not my brother—and I no longer held my breath. She was all knobby bones and stretched, naked skin, typical of those who came out. There was so little food in the mountain, and no spare clothes were ever handed out, at least not that I remembered. She was covered only by her own long black hair draping over her torso. She got to her feet, shaking. She walked like a toddler, one unsteady foot in front of the other, and came closer. Closer. After what seemed like an eternity, she reached the part of the greenway that ran directly in front of my house.
She was a pillar of pale skin and jet-black hair, and I couldn’t see her face. She turned off the grassy lane toward my front door, wobbling with each step, and disappeared into that area close to the front door that I couldn’t see through the window. I heard a weak knock.
It had been so long since someone had come out of the mountain.
(C) 2020, Shawn Smucker, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, reprinted with permission from the publisher
Before Dan opened his door to find a wounded woman who had escaped from the tormentors in the mountain, his life had become rather quiet. He and the eight other people in the mostly abandoned town had become friends. They spent peaceful evenings around the campfire and even made vague plans to journey east one day and leave the ominous mountain behind.
But the woman's arrival changes everything.
Who is she? How does she know so much about Dan's brother, who is still held captive in the mountain? Why are long-forgotten memories rising to the surface? And why does Dan feel so compelled to keep her presence in his house a secret?
Visionary writer Shawn Smucker is back with an unsettling story that invites us to consider two challenging questions: To what lengths will we go to assuage our own guilt? and Is there a limit to the things we will do for the people we love?
Inspirational [Revell, On Sale: June 30, 2020, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780800735302 / eISBN: 9781493423132]
Shawn Smucker is a co-writer, ghostwriter, and author who lives in Lancaster, PA, with his wife and their six children. You can find out more about him at his website: http://shawnsmucker.com.
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