A young woman ran along a damp dirt road between the dripping hickories, hard legs pumping evenly, her breath coming in small frosty clouds.
Racing the sunrise.
One slim hand grasped her calico skirt tightly and lifted it above her feet while her other hand was buried in the soft folds of a white threadbare shawl that was wrapped around her shoulders.
The sun was chasing her.
She was a skinny, sprightly girl of nineteen, with smooth, sun-bronzed sienna skin and long chocolate hair tied back in a messy knot against her head.
The light was creeping over the horizon.
She'd been wearing the same thing for weeks now; a faded purple cotton dress with white bodice lining and blue calico buttons, some of which had popped off days ago. On her feet she wore scuffed black leather gusset shoes, the soles nearly worn thin from her almost constant running.
The April sun finally peeked its forehead over the horizon. It spread its golden beams across the ground, but not before the young woman had sprinted into the woods, laughing out loud as she slowed and placed her hands on her waist.
Rebecca Williams had always loved to run. Even as a little girl, living as a slave child on the Shropshire Plantation in Georgia, she could always be seen dashing through the cotton fields, her sun-bleached bonnet flying behind her head and her hair whipping about in the wind. Many times during these runs she would accidentally spill the cotton she was carrying in her apron, and as a result her big master would beat her with his large and frightening bullwhip.
However, life was good now. She’d left those memories behind when she’d run away from the plantation about two weeks ago. There had been nothing left for her there; her father had died from bronchitis and her siblings had all been sold off. Her mother had passed on after giving birth to her youngest brother.
The day was proving to be beautiful. The gray, overcast sky was beginning to burn away as the waking sun rose higher. The soil, wet with recent rains, began to steam a little from the warmth, and with it came the earthy fragrance of wet stones and soggy, rotting leaves.
The path Rebecca was walking down wound smoothly through hickories and oaks that towered over her like the giants in the tall tales her father used to tell her.
A small smile spread across the girl’s lips as she remembered lying on her tiny cornhusk mattress late at night while her father sat beside her on a stool. He would hold her tiny, soft hand in his callused fingers, his dark face smiling down at her and his brown eyes full of love for his little girl. She adored the stories he used to tell her as he spoke softly in that slow, rhythmic voice that reminded her of honey.
“…and so I ran and I ran, s’fast as my legs could carry me, but the giant reached down an’ scooped me up in his big hand of his…and as I was sittin’ there, scared like a jackrabbit cornered by a nasty old hound dog…wouldn’t you believe it, Becca, he smiled at me, a great big, giant smile! And then you know what happen next? Why, he propped me righ’ up on his big giant shoulder and walked off down the road, whistling to hisself!”
Becca laughed out loud, kicking up the wet layer of leaves that covered the ground like a large, soggy coat. A clump flew up into the air, broke apart, then fell back to earth like a flock of dead birds.
When she rounded a bend, she lifted her cocoa eyes from the ground. To her surprise, there stood a squat little building beneath a large oak, right before her very eyes. She hadn’t known anyone lived in this desolate area.
Becca stopped walking, caution replacing her childlike joy. Who was in that house? Better not be the white man, she thought, remembering her master’s coal-black eyes and the way they’d stared down at her from inside his pale face.
She took a few tentative steps forward, squinting at the strange building. It seemed to be a little log house with only one door and no windows. It was only when her eyes rose up above the door that she realized this wasn’t a house at all.
At the very peak of the roof stood a tiny cross, the mark of the Lord’s House. A smile spread across Becca’s lips and she started walking again, breathing a soft sigh of relief. There was no danger in the House of the Lord.
She came to the tiny open doorway and peered inside. It was quite dark; the only source of light in the church was coming through the gaps between the large heavy beams that made up the walls. It smelled like old wet lumber and dampened dust.
There were three roughly crafted pews facing the back wall, on which another wooden cross was nailed. Becca moved forward carefully, the wooden floor creaking under her slight weight. She took a seat in the first pew, remembering to fold her hands and sit up straight. “Be a humble sinner,” her father had always said.
She sat there in the silence, her large brown eyes resting on the little wooden cross. She wasn’t really praying. She was just sitting with God, right there on that old splintery pew. They were listening to the birds chirping outside together. They were breathing the wetness of the earth and the musty wood floor together. They seemed to understand each other, Becca and God, and strangely enough, they didn’t have to say a word.