(To make up for running so late with yesterday’s chapter, I’m posting earlier than usual today. I’ll also try to get tomorrow’s chapter — the final chapter — posted early in the day if possible.)



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner



The following morning, the mayor of Hamsted called Noah. “I’d like a chance to talk with you about this whole witchcraft thing in some more detail, Sheriff. Would you have some time today?”

“I think so. When is the best time for you, Mayor?”

“Well, this morning is best for me, but I’ll work something out for later if we need to.”

“Not necessary,” Noah replied. “How about I come to you office in about an hour?”

“I’d be grateful.”

“See you then,” Noah replied and hung up. He immediately called Jim Carlyle and Serenity to ask them to pray, and when he arrived at the mayor’s office, he felt total peace about the meeting. Not knowing where the mayor stood on the subject, he’d decided to tread lightly until he was sure what the man wanted from him, and he was greatly encouraged to find that Chief Weston had been asked to join them.

As it turned out, the mayor shared with them, in confidence, about a family member who had been involved in some witchcraft activities several years ago, and he expressed genuine concern that they not let this problem go any further in Hamsted. “I’ve also spent some time on the phone with two of our school board members, and I can assure you that they are ready to bring a screeching halt to these programs in the school. They plan to bring up some suggestions for doing so at the council meeting.”

Noah and Art just looked at each other and grinned their relief. With the mayor and two school board members already on their side, the tide of battle was definitely beginning to turn.

That evening, however, in Adrian Parker’s apartment, the same five people who had met before were together again, but this time they were not calling on their inner guides. They were arguing and casting accusations and blame at each other for why their plans had been thwarted to such an extent. “There’s no question about it,” one of the men said. “If we’re going to succeed here at all, this resistance has got to be taken out!”

“How many people are actually leading this fight against us?” one of the women asked Adrian.

“Well,” she sighed as she answered, “I’d say there are only two real leaders. This Noah Bennett and Serenity Lawrence. But they have several parents on their side now, as well as the police chief, if I can believe the reports that came from our representatives at Monday night’s meeting.”

Another member of the group spoke up: “I knew I felt something definitely wrong when I first heard that Noah Bennett was in this area, but I had no idea it would reach this degree of danger for us. I think if we can take him out, the others will start to lose interest, and the whole resistance will lose momentum.”

“I’m not so sure,” Adrian answered. “That Lawrence woman and her friend Elizabeth Matthews have really been stirring up a stink about the work we’ve gotten established at the school. And if we lose that, we’ve lost completely. If we can’t get the minds of the next generation renewed to our level, we won’t get anywhere here.”

“I still say getting rid of this Sheriff Bennett is the first step,” another member of the group said. “And we need to do it before this town council meeting!”

The only one who hadn’t spoken yet was another man. He and Adrian Parker has been in an intimate sexual relationship for several years, but no one in Hamsted knew that. He spoke now in a soft voice as he perched against the back of the sofa behind Adrian. “I agree. That must be our next step.” His voice took on a beguiling tone as he slithered his lean body along the back of the sofa and ran a caressing finger slowly down Adrian’s arm, his warm lips against her ear: “Do you think you could take care of that situation for us, Adri?”

Me?” she asked, turning slightly to face him, her eyes wide with shock.

He straightened immediately, lifting his hands, palms up, and shrugged his shoulders. “Well . . . this is your territory. It’s your spirits that rule Hamsted.”

“Yes, but . . . I . . . I don’t know . . .”

In another room of the apartment, Lacey had been working on some material she had received over the Internet. She was entering her second phase of training now and often spent many hours a week at Adrian’s apartment, learning from her. She had been listening to the conversation, and when the discussion turned to getting rid of Noah Bennett, her heart began to beat faster. That idea struck a chord deep inside of Lacey. After all, it was Noah who had been so mean to her about riding the horse. And now, he was about to destroy everything that was important to Lacey in this town. If he got rid of all the witchcraft and the people involved in it, she’d never be able to finish her training. She couldn’t let that happen. She just couldn’t.

So while the conversation drifted back and forth in the other room, with all five of the occupants still arguing over who should do what, Lacey began to form her own plan. She didn’t stop to analyze why she felt such an intense hatred for Noah over the decision he’d made about her riding Moondancer. It hadn’t occurred to her that those feelings were all out of proportion with the event itself.

And although she knew she had a spirit guide and was often asked to do unusual things by that guide, she didn’t yet understand enough about demonic possession to realize that she had actually been taken over totally by the spirit that pretended to guide rather than control. Nor could she have known at this point that it was the same spirit that had been defeated by Noah Bennett almost a year ago. All she knew was that she had to be the one to destroy this man who belonged to a source of power that threatened everything she wanted.

She didn’t say anything to Miss Parker or her guests. She just continued to work in the back bedroom until they had all left. When Miss Parker came to check on her, she was just closing down the program she had been using, and Miss Parker, who seemed very jittery and distracted, suggested that Lacey go on home. So wishing her tutor a good night, Lacey left the apartment and walked to her home, continuing to plan the execution of her archenemy. And she knew exactly where she could get a gun.

Two days later, Lacey knew what she was going to do. She’d been listening to the voice inside her head for the last forty-eight hours making the plans for her. She had hardly slept or eaten. She just concentrated on that voice, and finally, when she knew it was time, she moved to carry out the plan. She knew her aunt and uncle would be shopping in Barclay most of the day, and that they always left an extra key under their planter by the back door. So she sneaked in and went straight to the master bedroom where she knew the gun was hidden.

Several months ago, when she had been baby-sitting her younger cousins and playing hide and seek with them, she had hidden in the bathroom that was attached to that bedroom, and she had seen her uncle come in from his target practice and reach up into the top closet shelf for the gun case. She could see everything he did clearly. He was putting the gun in the case and returning it to the shelf for safekeeping, but because he was very conscious of gun safety, her uncle had also emptied all the ammunition out of the gun before putting it in the case, and he had put the ammunition in its own box in another place on the shelf.

She had no clear understanding of how to load bullets into the gun, but she knew that she felt driven to get her hands on that weapon and do something to stop Noah Bennett from causing so much trouble. She’d figure out how when she got her hands on the gun. She and her family had a picnic planned on the beach that afternoon, and this was the perfect day to destroy this so-called “Man of God.”


A few hours later, as she approached Noah’s cottage, everything was quiet. She stepped onto the porch, but she still didn’t hear anything. She opened the door slowly and looked in, but she could tell that no one was there. So she walked around the side of the house and looked in the corral. Moondancer was gone too, so she guessed Noah was riding. She’d have to wait.

So she went back to sit on the porch, still hiding the gun in the straw beach bag she carried. She had been sitting close to thirty minutes when she finally saw David returning to the corral on Moondancer. Okay, she thought, maybe she could get rid of this crybaby too. That would be almost as much fun as killing Sheriff Bennett.

David dismounted, sliding off of Moondancer’s back onto the raised step Noah had made especially to make this maneuver easy for him, and as he did so, he spotted Lacey coming into the corral. At the same time, Moondancer became agitated, much as he had the last time Lacey had been there, but before David could think what to do, Lacey was standing in front of him, pointing the gun at him. He froze, too shocked to be consciously aware of anything else — even fear. He didn’t say anything. He couldn’t.

Then as he transferred his vision to the area behind Lacey for just a second, he saw Noah running toward the corral. He had been visiting the neighbor in the first cottage, and had been walking back when he realized what was happening right before his eyes, in his own corral. The sand muted the sound of his footfalls as he ran with all his strength, and as soon as he was close enough to be sure David saw him, he put his fingers to his lips to ensure his silence.

But the moment he stepped inside the corral, Lacey swung toward him, her eyes filled with hate and her hands, as they held the gun, shaking with rage. The demon within her had sensed Noah’s presence and turned at once to defend itself against this man of God. Noah’s voice was deadly quiet as he spoke: “David, step inside the shed right now.” David immediately backed his way into the shed, and, at the last minute, took hold of Moondancer’s reigns to try to quiet the horse, which was stamping the ground and snorting in a way he never did under ordinary circumstances.

Lacey laughed a fiendish laugh. “Let him go. It’s you I came to destroy,” she said in a voice much deeper and more gravely than her own. The laughing intensified. “You, Man of God!” she said, her tone of voice mocking that title now. “Others may call you a man of God, but there is no god but Lucifer. You’re a fool! That’s what you are, and I’ll soon be rid of you!” she shouted now, motioning the gun toward him. “You drove me out once, but not this time. This time, I’ll drive you out! I’ll send you to your God, such as He is,” she added, her demented laughter growing ever louder.

Down the beach about a half a mile, Gloria Dillard was becoming anxious as she looked at her watch and realized her daughter had been gone close to an hour now. She had told Lacey that they would be eating in thirty minutes, and it wasn’t like her to miss their picnic meals. She was half afraid that something had happened to her — and half afraid that she was causing trouble somewhere. She had been so weird lately, and not at all obedient.

She turned to her husband now. “Carl, I think we need to go see about Lacey. She was supposed to be back in thirty minutes, and it’s getting closer to an hour. I’m worried.”

“Well, we can walk that way and see what’s going on then,” he answered and got up from his lawn chair as Gloria did the same. They started down the beach in the direction Lacey had gone, and when they finally came near enough to Noah’s cottage to see what was transpiring in the corral, they froze in shock. They didn’t notice Serenity and Elizabeth coming from the other direction, with Trent holding Elizabeth’s hand.

They too had stopped dead still, paralyzed momentarily by the horror of the scene being played out before their eyes. “Mommy!” Trent squealed, looking up at his mother, petrified, and Elizabeth quickly covered his mouth with her hand, admonishing him as gently as possible to be quiet for safety’s sake.

Serenity whispered to Elizabeth. “Run back to the Bishop’s cottage and call Chief Weston, and then call Pastor Carlyle. If he isn’t in his office, try his home number and . . . and . . . maybe the nursing home . . . or anywhere else you can think of.” She spoke hurriedly, her confused thoughts resisting rational, orderly processes, but Elizabeth was able to understand and took off running with Trent to the cottage they had just passed a couple minutes ago.

Serenity’s heart was about to beat out of her chest as she watched Noah facing this death trap. She had spotted David hiding just inside the shed door, holding fast to Moondancer’s reigns, but she didn’t want to say anything or make any noise that might send Lacey over the edge of her apparently fragile sanity. It seemed as if time itself froze, and then when she did realize that she heard talking and saw some movement, everything seemed almost to be in slow motion.

In actual fact, the Dillards had stopped only a fraction of a second before Gloria let out a piercing scream that should have drawn Lacey’s attention, but didn’t. Lacey’s glazed eyes never wavered from Noah, and she took a step closer to him, holding the gun with both hands, aimed straight at his chest. When she didn’t even flinch at her mother’s scream, her father, now frightened beyond anything he’d ever experienced before, yelled her name. “Lacey!” He stepped closer to the corral. “Lacey, for God’s sake! What are you doing!”

Still the girl never moved a muscle of response to her father’s words or his voice. She stared at Noah, the fiendish look still on her face and the bizarre laughter escaping her intermittently. Noah had raised his hands in a sign of surrender only to make sure she wouldn’t be pushed over the edge by thinking he was going to go for a weapon of some kind himself. He tried speaking to her in a quiet voice. “Lacey, listen to me —”

“She can’t hear you!” screamed the deeper voice coming from Lacey. “She’s under my control now. She will hear only me!

Noah tried again. “Lacey, I’m speaking to you, not the demon.”

“Shut up! She won’t listen to you. She’ll do only what I tell her to do, and you’re going to die!”

By that time, Gloria, who was almost demented herself, was running toward the gate of the corral, intent on grabbing her daughter and forcing her to listen to reason. “Lacey, no!” she cried out, coming through the open gate. “Stop this!” was all she got out before her husband, who was right behind her, grabbed her and pulled her back.

“No, Gloria. She can’t hear you! She’s beyond that now. She’ll kill you if you go any closer!”

Serenity was praying with everything in her for the Lord to intervene. Noah was praying under his breath, for intervention, but also for God’s wisdom. He knew he had to hear from the Holy Spirit if he were going to handle this right. Elizabeth prayed as she made the calls, and then she left Trent in the safety of the Bishops and returned to Serenity’s side.

“Chief Weston is on his way and so is Pastor Carlyle. He said he’d have his wife call the prayer chain and get immediate back up.”

“Thank You, Lord,” Serenity whispered now. “Thank You for Your protection, and for Your own angels fighting for Noah and David now. And please, Lord . . . please deliver Lacey from this horrible thing that has control of her.”

Inside the corral, Noah slowly lowered his hands and then began speaking in a strong voice. “In the name of Jesus Christ, no weapon formed against me shall prosper!”

“Shut up! Don’t say that name!”

“In the name of Jesus Christ and by the blood of Jesus Christ, I have power to tread on serpents and scorpions -—”

“Stop it!”

“ . . . and power over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall, in any way, harm me!”

“Stop it!” Lacey screamed and raised the gun higher and pulled the trigger. Noah had been shot once before in the line of duty, and he remembered the searing pain as the bullet had torn into his flesh — but this time he felt nothing. By the time he realized the bullet had missed him, Lacey had fired again. Over and over, she pulled the trigger, screaming in that hideous voice, “Die, you son of God! Die in the name of Lucifer!” Noah’s dazed mind could hardly credit the fact that all the bullets had missed him, but now he was hearing only the click of an empty chamber.

He stepped closer to Lacey, and commanded, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I command you to come out of her now and be gone from here!”

“We have a right to be here!” the spirits spoke through Lacey. “She invited us in, and now she belongs to us!” Lacey was now shaking so violently that her hands dropped the empty gun.

Noah had suspected that there was more than one demon involved, but he knew by the Spirit of God that the same demon of sorcery that he had cast out of the witch in his home county was the one ruling Lacey and her life. When he got rid of that one, the rest would have to leave also.

He spoke again, his voice strong and unrelenting. “Jesus Christ came in the flesh and died for Lacey and rose again and is now Lord of all. He has come to set her free, and you cannot resist Him! Nor His blood!”

By this time, Serenity, who had finally realized that the gun was indeed empty, was at his side, praying in support of Noah as he followed the leading of the Spirit. They could hear the sirens cut off as the police pulled up on the road that ran behind the cottages. Pastor Carlyle’s car was right behind them, and he had no trouble keeping up with the chief and his two officers as they ran toward the group at the corral.

Although unseen by any of the human beings, an army of angelic hosts had filled the corral and stationed themselves around it as well. Naam had been standing tall at Noah’s right, almost touching him, his golden sword held out horizontally, creating a fiery shield across the front of Noah’s body. Another angelic warrior stood on Noah’s left, and as the unfurled wings of the two beings touched over Noah’s head, they had formed a solid protective canopy around the rest of him during the whole encounter.

Each person there was being watched over by at least one member of the Hosts of Heaven, and David was shielded totally by the wings of his own guardian angel. Even Moondancer was covered by the wingspan of one of the mighty warriors. Two angels walked beside each of the law enforcement officers, and as Pastor Carlyle came on the scene, ten more heavenly warriors were marching with him, ready to add their holy strength to the fight.

The detachment of the Hosts of Heaven that were standing in a circle around Lacey had their wings furled and their swords sheathed, but each one had his hand firmly on the handle of his sword, waiting. When the final command was given in the name of the Lamb of God, Jesus, they would be free to draw those swords with the speed of a lightning bolt and use them to literally drive every last demon from this place. Their eyes were on the man of God — their ears attentive to the Word of God, which they had been created to obey.

Noah spoke again: “The blood of Jesus Christ is against everyone of you demonic spirits —”

“Nooo!” Lacey screamed again, falling to the ground and crouching over with her hands over her ears. “No, No, No!”

Noah ignored the pleas as he continued to speak. “The blood of Jesus is against you, and in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I command every one of you to come out of Lacey right now and be gone from this place!”

Screaming, Lacey bent over farther, until her head touched the ground, and then suddenly, she fell limp and lay there with her eyes closed.

In the unseen realm, hideous black beings screamed as they were forced by an invisible power to pull their talons out of the girl and let her go. As they emerged from her body, trying to hold on, but inevitably losing their grip, they came face to face with the Hosts of Heaven. Jehovah’s warriors glowed with the splendor of His holiness, and the demons, their screams of terror increasing, fled before the fire of those holy swords.

Not only did they flee, but as they moved over the town of Hamsted, they were joined by several of their cohorts who had been wreaking havoc all over town. Those lesser spirits now realized that with the defeat of this spirit who was second only to the strongman over Hamsted, they were better off leaving as well. Of course not all of the demonic hosts in the town were that smart. Several tried to hold onto the ground they had taken, but the Hosts of Heaven concentrated only on the evil forces they had been assigned to deal with by Noah Bennett’s words. The rest would have to be dealt with as Jehovah instructed at a later time.

However, as all of that activity transpired in the realm just beyond man’s perception, Lacey’s mother tore loose from her husband’s grip. “Lacey!” she screamed as she ran to kneel beside her daughter. Carl followed instantly, and as he knelt down, Lacey finally opened her eyes and looked at him. She seemed once more to be the same little girl he had always known, and he reached out and took her into his arms.

“Daddy,” she said, her voice choked with tears, as she wound her arms around her father’s neck. “Daddy . . . what happened?” She was crying now. “What happened?”

“It’s all right, Honey,” he said, holding her even tighter, as Gloria gently smoothed her daughter’s long hair away from her face and caressed her face with loving fingers. “It’s all right, now,” Carl spoke again. “You’re going to be all right now.” He was gently rocking her back and forth as they knelt on the ground.

Chief Weston, with long years of experience behind him, had sized up the scene in a matter of moments, and having determined to his own satisfaction that no one’s life was in danger any longer, motioned for one of the officers to retrieve the gun while he talked with Noah. Pastor Carlyle had stopped to get more of the story from Serenity, and now he moved up to where Noah and the chief were conversing. Art Weston, who by now was convinced that this whole situation was as much in the domain of the church as it was in that of the police department, shifted his position to include the pastor in the discussion.

Once Pastor Carlyle had confirmed that he had the right understanding of what had transpired, he immediately turned to Lacey and her parents. Serenity moved over to them then and introduced her pastor. “He can help you understand what has been happening to Lacey and how to help her get back to normal,” she told Gloria and Carl.

Gloria had tears streaming down her face, but she couldn’t seem to speak. She just looked at Jim Carlyle for a long time, and he looked back with the love of Jesus in his eyes. Finally, he saw a glimmer of hope light up Gloria’s brimming eyes, and he smiled at her. “We’ll get through this,” he said, patting her on the shoulder and squatting down between her and Carl.

“We don’t understand all of this,” Carl said to him now, “but since what Sheriff Bennett told us about is what really has come to pass, we’re ready to say that you obviously know something we need to know.”

Pastor Carlyle gripped Carl’s shoulder. “That’s a good enough place to start,” he said and then looked at Lacey. She had stopped crying now, and was sitting on the ground between her two parents. She looked up at him, and he realized that it was the first time he had looked at the child and not seen hatred in her eyes. He spoke directly to her now. “Would you like for you and your parents to spend some time praying with me, Lacey, so that you can get to feeling better and be more like yourself again?”

She nodded her head at first and then finally spoke. “Yes, sir,” she said, in little more than a whisper, but that was all Pastor Carlyle needed to know. That simple agreement cleared the way for him to be able to minister to this child and her family. And when they were delivered and healed, he was almost sure the rest of the people who had been equally deluded and ensnared would follow suit.

“Thank you, Jesus,” he said out loud now, as he smiled at Lacey and rose to his feet. Lacey and her parents did likewise, and the pastor asked them. “How about if I come home with you for a while and we’ll pray, and then we can make arrangements to meet again after you’ve all had some rest.” They agreed readily, and as they turned to leave, Pastor Carlyle stopped to confer with the police chief.

“Is there any necessity for you to take anyone into the office now, Chief?”

“No, I don’t think so. Since the gun was already on the ground and Lacey was bowed down and screaming when I got close enough to be sure what was going on, I can’t consider myself an eyewitness to an actual crime. So my legal options are limited unless Noah wants to press charges, and Serenity and Elizabeth are willing to give a witness account.” He smiled at the pastor. “And, under the circumstances, I don’t think either one of those things is very likely, do you?” Jim shook his head, smiling at the chief, grateful that Art Weston had turned out to be a man who could recognize when God was the only real answer.

“However,” Art continued, “I will want to talk with Lacey’s parents about how she managed to get a gun without their knowledge and what we need to do to make sure she’s under better supervision.” He glanced at Carl and Gloria, who had stopped to listen to what he had to say. “But I’ll give you a call later this evening, and we’ll arrange a long talk.”

Carl held out his hand to the chief. “Thank you, Chief Weston. We’ll be available to talk whenever you want,” he said and then turned, with one arm around Lacey and one around Gloria, and started toward the section of beach where his family had left all their possessions.

Chief Weston gripped Noah’s shoulder. “You all right?” he asked, his eyes boring into Noah’s. Noah laughed out loud, at the same time reaching out to put his arm around David, who had come to snuggle up beside him. His eyes took in Serenity’s beaming face before he looked back at the chief. “For the first time in about a year, Chief, I believe I’m really and truly all right.”

Art nodded and stooped down to talk to David. “And you, David?” The boy nodded his head. “Yes sir. Noah knew what to do, and God sent us his angels.”

“I just believe you’re right, Dave,” the chief answered and stood up. “Noah, I’ll give you a call in the morning and give you an update.” He turned to his officers. “Boys, let’s head for the office.”


Don’t forget: Final chapter tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


As Noah stood at the huge glass window watching Serenity step through the door of the plane and start down the stairs, his heartbeat doubled. Ever since his conversation with David the previous evening, he had been unable to get Serenity out of his mind. Of course, that was getting to be a difficult task whether he talked to David or not. But last night had been the hardest time he’d ever had. He’d relived every moment they’d shared together — every kiss — and he could still feel the warmth of her arms around him, her breath on his face.

He’d longed for her so much that he hadn’t been able to sleep a wink until finally, at 4:00 this morning, he’d drifted off, only to dream of seeing her walking down a church aisle toward him. Then he was awake with his alarm at 6:00, unable even to lie back down because of the excitement of seeing her again when he went to the airport. It was the same kind of excitement that seemed to infuse him whenever he was with her. He was unsettled, yet totally settled when he was with this woman. Her zest for life and her physical beauty kept his senses stirring and his temperature and heartbeat uneven, but at the same time, he always felt as if he had come home to his own personal haven of rest when he came into her presence.

Today was no different, and when he saw how her face literally ignited in joy when she caught sight of him, he didn’t want to hold back all of the love and joy that was engulfing him at the same time. So he didn’t. He hurried toward her as swiftly as she did toward him, and without giving any thought to the numerous people bustling around them, they threw themselves into each other’s arms, laughing and breathless. And then the kiss.

The sensation of finally being home — really, truly home — was what engulfed Serenity as she gave herself to that kiss and let herself be swept up into the tide of this love she couldn’t deny any longer. And she knew at last that what she was receiving from Noah had to be something close to what she was feeling herself. He hadn’t declared those feelings in any words, but she surely couldn’t be too far off in her reading of his actions and the look on his face today.

He finally pulled back and looked into her eyes, smiling. “I sure missed you, woman.”

She grinned up at him. “I kind of got that idea.”

He grinned even wider, lifting his eyebrows in a questioning manner. “And don’t you have something to tell me?”

“Tell you?”

He let out an exasperated sigh. “Something like, ‘I missed you too, Noah.’”

“Oh . . . that,” she said, laughing openly now.

Noah shook her a little, and his face took on the look of a disappointed little boy. Serenity put her hand up to his cheek and smiled tenderly. “I missed you more than I thought possible, Noah Bennett. How’s that?”

His eyes darkened, and Serenity realized he intended to kiss her again, only this time it would be one of those kisses that left her senseless, so she hurriedly pulled away and said. “Let’s get my luggage and get on the road.”

Noah looked for just a second as if he were coming out of a daze, but he recovered quickly and took her hand, leading her toward the baggage claim section. Soon they were on the road back to Hamsted, and Serenity was filling him in on her trip, obviously pleased by the way everything had gone with her agent. Noah gave her a detailed report of the sailing adventure, and by that time, they had reached the lighthouse.

“Clint invited me for supper, if that’s all right with you,” he said.

“It’s great. What are we having?”

“He didn’t say, but I accepted his invitation without hesitation anyway. I like being with you and your family as much as I can, you know. It wouldn’t matter to me if we had bread and water.” With those words, his face took on a serious look. He had stopped the car in the drive behind the lighthouse and sat looking at Serenity, his heart in his eyes. She looked back at him just as seriously, knowing he was needing her to say something, but not sure exactly what it was. She prayed for the Lord to lead her, and after another moment, she spoke.

“I think when people love each other, they are happy just to be together, and they don’t really care where they are, what they’re eating, or even how they’re going to work out the problems of life. They’re just thankful to be with the people they love.”

Noah’s eyes lit up, and he reached out and took her hand in both of his, gripping it tightly. “Do you really believe that, Serie? I mean . . . would you . . . would you feel that way if you loved a man enough to marry him?”

“Of course.”

“I mean . . . if that man weren’t sure where he would be for the next several years of his life . . . where he’d be working . . . or what the Lord might lead him to do . . . would you . . .” He stopped and sighed, looking away for a moment.

Serenity reached out gently and turned his head to face her again. “What exactly are you asking me, Noah?” She couldn’t believe she was being this brazen. She knew what she hoped he was asking, but what if she were wrong? Would he think she was throwing herself at him. And could she take it if she were wrong about where this conversation was headed?

Noah let out a long, slow breath. “I hadn’t meant to bring all this up right now. I would have planned it out better and tried for someplace more romantic, but I’ve just been blindsided by what I feel for you, Serenity, and I need to tell you.”

“I’m listening, Noah,” she said, almost holding her breath. He shifted his hands and took hold of both of hers now, looking deeply into her eyes.

“Serie, I love you. I don’t think that’s a surprise to you, but I haven’t declared those feelings before now because I’ve been doing so much soul-searching concerning my own future in law enforcement . . . or out of it. I’ve been struggling with whether I belonged in that field anymore, and finally I’ve realized that I do, but I don’t believe the Lord really wants to send me back to the job I’ve had for the last six years. The problem is that I don’t know yet where He wants me, and although I could find a job on a police force in a number of towns, I don’t want to do that until I’m sure I’m hearing clearly from Him.” He sighed again and let go of one of her hands to run his through his hair. This was hard, but he was started now, and he had needed to say this to Serenity for quite a while. He wasn’t going to stop now, so he looked at her again as he continued.

“The thing is, Serie, I love you so much, and I want you to be my wife . . . and I want David to be my son.” He thought he saw her eyes light up, but he needed to go on. “I just don’t want to put you in a position of having an uncertain future for the time it’s going to take me to get the directions from the Lord that I need. Does this make any sense at all?”

Serenity smiled at him, lighting up the car like the sun. “It makes the sweetest kind of sense to me, Noah.” She reached up and touched his face gently again. “Let me be sure I understand. Are you asking me to marry you?”

Oh No!” was his instant response, and he heard her gasp as she pulled her hand back. Immediately, he reached for her. “No, no, no, that isn’t what I mean! I mean yes, I want you to marry me. I don’t think I’ll ever feel complete again without you. But no, I don’t want you to have to give me an answer until you know where I’ll be working and what your life will be like as a result.” She could see by the desperate look in his eyes that he really did want her to believe that he wanted to marry her, so she took pity on him as she answered.

“But didn’t we just agree that those things are not the important things when you really love someone . . . as long as you can be together?”

“Do you mean that you’d really consider my proposal without know all of that ahead of time?”

“Noah Bennett, if you want me to marry you, then for Heaven’s sake, ask me, and let everything else take care of itself!”

Noah’s eyes ignited, and he grabbed Serenity into his arms roughly. His kiss was one of desperation and hunger, and lasted so long she barely had breath left. When he forced his lips to release hers, his voice was husky as he pled, “Please, Serenity, put me out of my misery and tell me you’ll be my wife!”

Serenity laughed, looking up into his eyes. “Well, I’m not so sure that I won’t add to your misery once in a while over the next seventy or eighty years, but I’d be delighted to be your wife, Noah.”

He pulled her to him tighter, his breathless whisper in her ear. “Oh Serie . . . Serie . . .” Then between his words, he began to plant little kisses along her hair, her ear, her neck. “My darling, darling Serie! I love you . . . I love you.”

Their lips met again, and this time the kiss held all the strength of the promise that was in their hearts to love and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. As they brought that kiss to an end they heard a noise outside the car and looked the direction of Serenity’s window. There stood David, grinning from ear to ear, his face aglow with excitement. Serenity opened her door and held out her arms to him, ready to tell him how much she’d missed him, but as David crawled in enough to talk to them he said, “Gramps said to come and tell you supper’s ready, but I didn’t want to bother you while you were kissing . . . in case you had something real important to decide on.”

Noah burst out laughing. “Good hinting, David, but it isn’t necessary. Your Aunt Serie and I have already done our deciding, and we’re pretty sure you’ll agree with our decision.”

Serenity looked questioningly at Noah and then back at David, whose grin grew even wider as he asked., “Really, Noah.? Is it what we talked about? The secret?”

Now Serenity looked back at Noah with even more question in her eyes, and he laughed again. “You see, my dear Serie, your bright little nephew and I have been praying about how we all might arrange to have our future together. We didn’t want to tell you until the time was right, but I quite frankly just couldn’t hold out any longer.”

“You mean you told David you wanted to marry me?”

“I didn’t put it into those words, but I think Dave and I both had the same hopes along those lines, didn’t we, Son?”

“Yeah,” David said, nodding his head and smiling at his aunt. “But Noah said I couldn’t say anything. I had to just pray. So I prayed before I went to bed, and then every time I woke up last night, and then again as soon as I woke up this morning. And then Gramps and I prayed about it when we read our Bibles at breakfast.”

“Gramps is in on this too?” Serie asked.

“Well, I was the one who prayed first, but then he said that he’d been praying secretly that God would let you and Noah get married. Is that what you’re going to do now?”

“It is!” Noah said, putting his arm more tightly around Serenity’s shoulders.

“And will that make you really happy, Dave?” she asked her nephew.

Real happy! ‘Cause then I’ll have a new mommy and a new daddy, and we’ll be a whole family!”

Serenity hugged David to her tightly, but she looked at Noah with tears in her eyes. “You see . . . it doesn’t matter where you are, or what you have or don’t have. It’s just being with the people you love.”

There were tears in Noah’s eyes now too, and he leaned over and kissed Serenity gently on the cheek and then leaned down and did the same to David. Immediately, the boy threw his arms around Noah’s neck and was shifted to his lap for a tight hug. It was a hug that Noah cherished more than he could have put into words.

When they finally got out of the car and started toward the house, they saw that Clint was standing on the porch, hands on his hips, waiting, his face beaming just as David’s had been. “Well, well, well, you all look like one happy family to me.”

Noah had one arm around Serie and the other around David. “That’s exactly what we are, Clint. You’ll be the first to know that your granddaughter and I are going to get married, and David has offered to be my official son.”

Clint reached out and hugged Serenity. Then gripped Noah’s hand fiercely. “I couldn’t be happier. Not one bit happier. Neither could this one,” he added, picking up David and grinning at him.

“Our prayers sure worked fast, Gramps,” he said, hugging his great-grandfather.

“They sure did. Of course, I think the Lord, being smarter than we are, has been working on this plan for some time now. But we helped it along, didn’t we?”

“Yep,” David answered, nodding his head again. “And I can’t wait to tell Trent!”

“Have you decided on a date yet?” Clint asked then.

“Well, not yet,” Serenity answered, laughing. “We did well to get this one decision settled. And Noah isn’t sure yet where he will be working by this fall, so we may wait until we know his plans a little better.”

“But I want it to be soon,” Noah said and sighed deeply, looking off into the distance for a moment and then back at Serenity. “And that being the case, maybe I should just go ahead and stay in my present position for the time being. I know they still want me as sheriff out there. And it was going to be hard to leave, but I just felt that’s what I needed to do.” He sighed again. “However, if the Lord hasn’t shown me anything definite within another few days, I’d say we need to stick with what I have now. At least it will let us get a good start on our new life together, and then if He shows us a move in the future, we can make it then.”

Serenity looked at him with all of her love in her eyes. “If you really believe you can be in God’s perfect will doing that, Noah, that’s fine. But let’s not rush the decision too quickly. I don’t want you to have to take something second best to what God really wants for you in your work right now. It wouldn’t really be good for any of us. We’ll all pray about it more together.”

Noah nodded, his heart full of gratitude that this woman God had obviously chosen for him knew his heart well and wanted nothing more than to be a blessing to him.

“I’m hungry!” David announced. And that point made, they all trouped into the kitchen and sat down to the greatest time of celebration any of them had known in a very long time.

The following morning and evening the congregation took an hour to pray together for the meeting coming up the next evening. On Monday morning, Clint, Noah, and Jim Carlyle met with Chief Weston and prayed for quite a while again. They went over the things they believed needed to be covered at the meeting, and asked the Lord to show them anything else that they might be missing.

By 7:00 that evening, the town hall was crowded. Noah was actually surprised that so many people had shown up, but Art Weston wasn’t. “Well, as I said, some of them are here because we’ve had those two episodes that look like satanic rituals. It’s scared some of them, and made others just plain curious. But some of them are here because they genuinely want to know and understand about all of these books and movies that propagate witchcraft. I heard a few conversations as I walked around while everybody was getting seated, and I was relieved to hear some of the people indicating that they thought we should get rid of a lot of this stuff.”

“Praise the Lord,” Jim Carlyle said in answer to that information, and Noah just closed his eyes and breathed a prayer to the Lord. He was relying heavily on what he believed he had heard the Lord tell him a couple nights ago on the beach: “This time they will listen.”

Finally the chief brought the meeting to order and he began by introducing all of the people who would be speaking or offering assistance concerning the problems under discussion. He then explained to the townspeople about the two local cases of ritualistic animal sacrifices, filling in more detail than the newspaper had carried, and making it clear that the final verdict was that these activities were definitely associated with witchcraft.

“Now,” he said, after filling them in on all the facts, “I won’t beat around the bush about the fact that I have good reason to believe that all of this rash of books and movies on witchcraft have helped open the door to all of this activity around here. I also believe it has the potential to open those doors even wider and bring some very real and very dangerous threats to our community.

“Part of what I’m basing my judgments on is what I’ve learned from Sheriff Noah Bennett, who’s had nineteen years of law enforcement experience, and has recently had to deal with this kind of thing in great detail. I’ve asked him to share with you what he has been gracious enough to reveal to me, including all of the actual case files on the events he’s going to tell you about. I’m asking that you give him your undivided attention, and then I’m going to ask several parents to share with us what they have discovered about more occult materials and teaching programs in our school system. When they’re through, we’ll open the floor to questions.” He turned and held out his hand toward Noah as a signal that he was to take the floor.

Noah quietly and solemnly told his story — the whole story — leaving nothing out. The chief had asked for everything he could bring himself to tell, and the Lord had made it clear to him that he needed to share everything — except specific names of the people involved, of course. As he moved through the events of last year, he could hear audible gasps of horror from time to time throughout the audience, and one or two ladies had to take out some tissues to blot their eyes. But no one interrupted him, and the concentration was so great that except for the occasional gasp or sniffle, there was dead silence during his whole account.

Chief Weston took over again at that point. “Now I’d like you to hear from the spokesman for the parents who visited the school and the spokeswoman for the parents who called and talked with our school board members.” He turned the meeting over to Ben and Serenity, who explained in detail about the programs that were being taught and some of the negative effects that had already resulted in a few of the children who had attended. They also shared that most of the school board hadn’t seemed to understand the materials being taught and therefore hadn’t seemed concerned about the situation. They had just trusted the principal and Miss Parker to use materials that were highly recommended and let it go at that.

“Personally,” Serenity said, “I think we need to make it clear to our board members that we expect them to be much more aware of what is being done in the classrooms than they have been up to this point.” Quite a few people nodded their heads in agreement with that, several of them turning to give glaring looks at the two school board members who had attended the meeting. Then the chief got up again and opened the floor for questions.

Several hands went up immediately. The first man the chief called on said, “I just want to be sure I have this straight. You feel that having all of these books and movies come into a community opens the door to witches and the like moving in and starting their various activities, is that right?”

The chief nodded in the affirmative and then looked at Noah, who spoke. “That was our experience. As I tried to make clear, it was the pre-occupation with Sally Stone materials that led to the club, governed over by two people who were secretly active witches, and that in turn allowed our kids to be exposed to the danger. And then the fact that so many of the kids had read this stuff until everything in the books seemed almost normal to them led two of them to willingly accompany members of the coven on that Halloween night, and as a result, become prisoners for the sake of sacrifices.”

One of the mothers waved her hand energetically, and the chief called on her. “But what you’re saying is that you think all of this has to do with Satan, and that you had to pray to the Lord to get the help you needed to get rid of it, so aren’t you talking about the city government getting involved in religion?”

Noah looked at the chief questioningly, and the chief nodded for him to go ahead and answer. “Whenever witchcraft gets an active foothold in a community, you definitely have religion in the picture because witchcraft is always connected either with Satanism or Wicca, or both, and they certainly are religions, at least according to the definition of the word religion.

“However, where law enforcement or city government are concerned, the situation has nothing to do with religion. Any time there’s active witchcraft, there are crimes being committed, sometimes extremely serious crimes, due to the sacrifices that are part and parcel of most of this stuff. I can tell you tonight that the crimes you’ve experienced up to this point . . . and don’t be deceived . . . because stealing someone’s animals is a crime; so is killing another person’s animals. But what you’ve experienced at this point is just the tip of the iceberg if these people are allowed to get away with their ritualistic activities here in Hamsted and the surrounding area . . . as I think I’ve proven by our experiences in my own county. These occult worshipers never diminish their activities. They always enlarge and expand them unless either legal or spiritual powers bring them down and bring them to justice.”

Chief Weston spoke up then. “Make no mistake about it, people; witches and other people involved in occult activities are a serious danger to all of the people in our community. And really our attempt to thwart them has nothing to do with hindering their freedom of speech or religion. You need to remember that the bill of rights doesn’t allow anyone to harm another person or his property under the guise of having those freedoms. Remember, the people actively involved in witchcraft don’t deal only in the supernatural. They also deal in drugs, prostitution, kidnapping, and murder. Personally, I think we have a duty to rid our community of everything that is welcoming to the occult in any form.”

“And these games being played at the school are witchcraft too?” another father asked.

Noah answered that question. “They’re actually new age, which is often used as a disguise for Satanism and witchcraft. But what we learned in my own county was that the games seemed to draw more of the kids into active involvement with something that they considered supernatural enough that they obeyed the voices they learned to hear through this game rather than their parents or any other legal authorities. Some of the kids who get into this seriously even commit crimes and don’t feel any guilt at all because they believe they are following their spirit guide, who is a higher form of being than mere humans. As a result, they believe they are right to do whatever they are instructed to do, no matter who gets hurt.”

The evening wore on with question after question. Eventually a couple of people began to voice the positive things they had read and heard about the Sally Stone materials from reviewers and even pastors who had been interviewed in magazines concerning the subject. Those views repeated all the same flawed reasoning Noah had answered dozens of times before, and he responded with the same answers this time, finally concluding with the one thing most of them couldn’t refute.

“If you have a huge selection of literature and movies to choose from that will teach all of the same great character traits that we’re being told the Sally Stone materials teach, and you know these other types of literature can’t possibly harm your child, why would you want to choose material instead that has had a history of leading children into destruction?”

At last the questions were over, and everyone just sat looking at each other, wondering what to do next. But the chief had a plan. “The city council meeting is next week. I think we all need to go home and think and pray about all that we’ve heard tonight. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to come by my office. Also, Pastor Carlyle, of Christ Community Church, and the other leaders of that church, have offered to talk or pray with anyone who wants to understand this thing from a more spiritual standpoint. He assured me that his office will be open to anyone needing his help too.

“Over the next few days, decide where you stand personally on this subject, and then write out any suggestions you may have for the town as a whole that may help get rid of the problem. Bring those suggestions to the council meeting next Tuesday evening, and let’s see where that will lead. How’s that?”

Most of the people nodded their head in agreement. They had heard so much in one evening that most of them didn’t think they were capable of making any definite decisions until they had managed to sort out what they had been faced with in this meeting. So the chief dismissed the meeting, and gradually people drifted out, talking in groups of three of four, much more subdued than they had been when they had arrived.

Noah slipped over to the chief and whispered. “I guess you noticed that the principal and Miss Parker were both conspicuous by their absence tonight.”

The chief nodded. “Yes, I did, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t expect them. I think they both know that if the people in this town decide they don’t want any of this Sally Stone stuff, and other things like it, both of them will be the ones to take the flack. I think they’re hoping if they keep a low profile it might all blow over. But . . . with the Lord’s help . . . that won’t happen.”

Noah nodded. “Well, I’m going to take Clint and Serenity home. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Noah,” he said, putting his hand on Noah’s shoulder firmly. “And don’t think I don’t know what it cost you to tell all of this again tonight. I’m very grateful.”

Noah nodded. “I’m trusting it will make a difference. Goodnight, Art.”

“Goodnight,” he answered, and then turned to shake Clint’s hand and wish him goodnight also.

Noah had intended to speak to Pastor Carlyle before he left, but when he looked over his way, he saw that he was in a serious conversation with two parents. He decided he’d give him a call later this evening, so his next move was to round up Serenity, who had been deluged with more questions from mothers who had waited to talk to her one-on-one. But finally, she was alone, and he slipped his arm around her and said, “Let’s make tracks while we can. Your grandfather said he’d be waiting in the car.”

She smiled up at him. “I’m definitely ready. I’m exhausted, and I’m sure you are too, but . . . Noah . . . I really think the people are starting to see the truth here. Thank you,” she added, putting her hand gently on his chest. Her eyes told him how proud she was of him.

Over in the far corner, Pastor Carlyle was still sitting with Kelly Emmerson’s parents. “From what you’ve described to me,” he said now, “I’d say that there definitely is a problem with demonic oppression, possibly even possession. And yes, you need to get help for her right now. However, I can also promise you that Jesus is more than a match for this evil assault on your daughter, and I will be very glad to minister to her if you’d like to bring her to my office. My wife and I will pray with all three of you, and we’ll definitely get your little girl set free and back to normal.”

Kelly’s mother, who had been shedding tears quietly as she and her husband told the pastor their story, now smiled for the first time all evening. Tears were still running down her cheeks even faster than before, but they were tears of relief — relief from the horrible terror she had felt for the last three days over her daughter’s experiences.

“Dan and I have always gone to church, but we don’t really know our Bible very well, and we didn’t have a clue about what to do to help Kelly . . . until tonight,” she said, letting out a deep sigh as more tears leaked out. “Thank you, Pastor. We’ll bring Kelly to see you tomorrow,” she said, glancing at her husband to make sure he was in agreement. He nodded and added his thanks. “We appreciate what all of you have done to bring out the truth here, Pastor. Please be sure and thank the others for us too, will you?”

“I’ll be glad to do that, and I’ll plan on seeing your family in my office about 10:00 in the morning.” He reached over and laid a hand on each of theirs, adding, “Now let me pray for all of you to have a safe and peaceful night.”

Look for Chapter Twenty tomorrow.


The following Monday, Serenity sent a letter to the editor, expressing concern that there was so much attention being given to the Sally Stone books and movies, and the evil activities they seemed to commend. She mentioned the fact that much of that material was creeping into school curriculums, including some of those at Hamsted Elementary.

She wasn’t sure if the editor of the paper would have the courage to publish something that was bound to be so controversial, but she received a pleasant surprise when Noah brought her a copy of the paper the next Thursday morning, with it folded open to her own letter. The editor had included a note inviting other people to voice their opinions on the subject. The following week, there was a letter from a woman who said that she still didn’t see anything wrong with the Sally Stone books and movies and admitted that she enjoyed them as much as her two children. But there was also a letter from a father of one of the fifth grade boys, who said that he agreed with the concerns Serenity’s letter had addressed.

When the church group met on the Tuesday following the printing of Serenity’s letter, they decided that perhaps they really did need to consider a meeting for the community in order for Noah to share much of his story and for all concerned parents to voice their opinions openly. They discussed possible ways of publicizing the meeting and agreed on two or three possibilities, subject to the police chief’s agreement with their plans.

After the meeting, Noah drove Serenity and her family home and then returned to his cottage and immediately saddled Moondancer for a good run. He was bothered about sharing all of his experience with the whole town — or however much of it turned out for the meeting that was planned. He was remembering how hard he had tried to get the people of his own county to believe him, but the majority of them, even the pastors, hadn’t done so — at least not until after the trials. And he remembered all too well the pain and agony of seeing people just turn their backs on the truth and walk right into destruction. He ended the ride earlier than usual and just walked along the beach, leading Moondancer, trying to come to grips with this next step in the plan.

He stopped walking and just stood for a while looking out at the ocean, it’s deep, ebony currents just barely touched by the moonlight. He shook his head now, sighing. “Lord . . . getting one pastor to believe and even one police chief is a far cry from getting the general populace of a town to listen and really believe. You know that. I’m not sure I’m up to it. I promised to do whatever You asked, and I don’t want to let You down again, but . . . but, Father, is this really the best plan . . . or do we need to do something else?” He didn’t hear anything in his spirit for several minutes, so he continued.

“You know, my namesake in Your Word had the same problem. And he was building a huge boat right in front of them every day . . . as evidence that what he’d told them had merit. But they still wouldn’t listen! He was totally frustrated by the people who wouldn’t believe him, and I’m sure his heart was broken over all of his friends and loved ones outside the family who just refused to receive the truth and were destroyed. You know, Lord, that’s the way I feel. I can hardly bear the thought that they will reject everything I have to say, and I might have to watch all of them go through the destruction and the same hell that I watched my own people go through. This whole plan may all be for nothing, and then I’d just have to live the whole horrible mess all over again.”

He fell to his knees, tears rolling down his face. “Please, Lord . . . tell me something. I suddenly feel as if I’m all by myself again. I know that sounds stupid because Serenity and Clint and Pastor Carlyle are backing me and even pushing me to do all I can. Even Art Weston seems to be in favor of my efforts to expose the truth. Why do I feel so alone then?”

The only sounds that shared the night were the gentle lap of the waves as they slapped the shore in rhythmic sequence and the soft blowing sound Moondancer made periodically to remind his master that he was waiting to finish their ride. The stars looked close enough to touch as Noah lifted his eyes to the sky, searching for some kind of connection that would give him some definite answers. “Please, Lord,” he whispered . . . “please tell me something.

He folded his body over then, so that his head was only inches from the sand, his eyes closed, his hands clenched on his legs. And he waited — and waited — and waited. He knew from experience that if he really wanted to hear from the Lord, he couldn’t get impatient. Then, after what seemed like an hour to him, although it hadn’t really been quite that long, he recognized the voice within his spirit.

He had heard that voice a few times before, and he knew it was his Heavenly Father: “Noah . . . My Son . . . do not be afraid and do not hold back. This time, they will listen. . . . This time, they will listen.”

And with those few words, a current of peace began to flow through Noah, saturating every fiber of his being and releasing a joy that engulfed him until he couldn’t hold back the laughter. He stood to his feet, and he laughed, letting the power of it ring out over the ocean. Finally, he was able to talk again. “Thank You, Father. I’ll trust You. I won’t hold back anything You tell me to say.” With that commitment, he swung himself back up onto Moondancer and let the patient horse have his way for one last run before heading home.

At another home, in one of the quiet neighborhoods of Hamsted, Kelly Emmerson was just getting into her bed after sneaking into the house about 11:00. She had been to the meeting of The Middle School Order of the Magic Arts in the abandoned garage. Tonight the group had read from the newest Sally Stone book, each one taking turns reading a chapter. Kelly felt a little sick by the time the meeting was over, because the things that happened in this new book were even more dark and hideous than anything from the earlier books. In this one Sally had taken possession of an animal’s body and had viciously bitten an old man, then just stood by and enjoyed watching him suffer.

Kelly had heard some kids at the Library Club talking about that scene, but she had hoped that they had been exaggerating. She had tried to cover her ears when Lacey had read that part, but she’d still been able to hear the words. And her mind was able to see the whole thing clearly — all the blood — all the pain and agony on the old man’s face. She had almost thrown up, but thankfully, after that chapter, they’d all decided to close the meeting and go home.

Now she crawled into bed, shaking. She clutched her beautiful stuffed angel doll to her chest. It had been a birthday gift from her grandmother, and it was the only thing that made her able to get to sleep at night. At least it had been that way since she had started going to these meetings — or maybe since she had started reading those Sally Stone books. She wasn’t sure. She was just sure that she was scared, and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t think her parents would understand if she told them everything she had been doing, and how she had sneaked out of the house for the meetings and then back in again, sometimes at midnight.

But about an hour later, her parents were awakened by her piercing screams. They ran into her room, their hearts pounding. They were surprised to see her bedside light burning, since Kelly was obviously still asleep, in the throes of a very bad dream.

“Kelly, wake up, Honey,” her mother said, leaning over the bed to try to settle the thrashing movements of her daughter. “You’re dreaming, Honey,” she said, but she couldn’t control the violent slapping motions of Kelly’s hands in the air as if she were fighting something off her.

“No! No! NO!” she screamed. Her father took hold of her hands, and her mother shook her shoulders then, calling her by name again, and finally the child came partially awake, but she wasn’t coherent.

“He’s eating me! He’s eating me!” she cried, over and over, a wild look in her eyes, and then she pulled her hands free and clutched at her stomach. Finally, her mother managed to get her arms around her and get her to settle down enough to stop screaming.

“Shhhh. It’s all right, Kelly. You were just dreaming. You’re all right. Daddy and I are right here. By that time Kelly had stopped thrashing but was now sobbing pitifully. “It’s all right,” her mother said again, and then Kelly’s dad spoke.

“It was just a bad dream, Kel. You’re safe in your own bed. Now try to stop crying and see if you can go back to sleep.”

“I’ll sit here with her a few minutes, Dan,” he mother said, beginning to rock her daughter a little as she sat on the bed beside her. “You go on back to bed, and I’ll stay until she’s settled down.”

Her husband nodded and turned to leave. He glanced back at his daughter once more. It disturbed him a little that the dream seemed to be so violent, but he knew that with what kids saw on TV and movies these days, that probably wasn’t too unusual. “You’ll get back to sleep, and everything will be back to normal in the morning, Pumpkin,” he said tenderly. He touched his wife’s shoulder gently and left the room. It was another half hour before Kelly drifted off to sleep again, and her mother finally returned to her own bed, but she was too disturbed to sleep. Something about that dream seemed different from any others she’d ever remembered her children having.

By morning, however, everything seemed normal, and Kelly was her usual self as she prepared for school. Of course, she had seemed a little different to her mother for several months now. She didn’t seem to be the happy, easy-going child she had always been, but her mother had decided that it was her age and all of the changes going on in her body and mind at this stage of life. So she put all of those troubling thoughts out of her mind and went on about her day’s routine.

But that night, when she and her husband were awakened again by their daughter’s screams, she knew something had to be wrong. The scene in Kelly’s bedroom was the same as the previous night. She seemed to be trying to fight off some attacker, and she kept screaming, “He’s eating me! He’s eating me!” This time, both of Kelly’s parents tried to talk to their daughter about what might be causing the dreams, but she wouldn’t discuss the problem with them at all. They both sat with her until she drifted back to sleep and then got up and began to slip out quietly.

Just before she closed the door, however, Kelly’s mother noticed the Sally Stone book lying on top of Kelly’s school materials. The picture on the cover was hideous, and immediately, she wondered if that book could be causing these horrible dreams. She picked it up, turning it over and reading the blurb on the back cover. She flipped it open and thumbed through a few pages. It was too late to start reading it now, but maybe tomorrow, she’d take a closer look. She laid it back where she’d found it and went on to her own bed, but again, she didn’t go back to sleep at all. She was remembering the letter she’d read in the paper about all of that Sally Stone material. She had just tossed it out of her mind after she’d read it the other day, but now — now — she was beginning to be afraid.

Noah had spent several hours with Art Weston over the same two-day period, and the police chief agreed that there needed to be a town meeting to inform people of what had been taking place locally, as well as how it compared with Noah’s experiences last year. He had called Noah, Clint, and Jim Carlyle to meet with him in his office to plan such a meeting, and now he was laying out his ideas.

“I’ve gained courage with all three of you praying for me in the midst of this thing. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help and your consistency in this. And, Jim since you came to my home and counseled Shirley and me, and prayed with us the way you did. Shirley has finally come to the place that she’s not afraid for me to take the stand I need to take. I would have taken it anyway, you understand. But this way, it’s a lot easier on me, because she has peace about it too.

“Besides, the way I figure it, since I’m planning on retiring next year anyway, if I mess up my reputation by aligning myself with this fight, I can just take that retirement a few months early. And I think Shirley and I both have enough faith now to believe that the Lord will protect us in every other way.

“So here’s my plan. As Chief of Police, I’m the logical one to call for this meeting at this time. We’ll make it a town meeting, in the town hall. I’ll have the newspaper put a notice on the front page, and I’ll have the radio station announce it several times over the next few days. We can put up a few fliers also, but I think word of mouth will carry the whole thing after the newspaper article anyway. What do you think?”

“I think it sounds perfect,” Jim Carlyle said.

“I agree,” Clint added, and Noah nodded his head in agreement too. Then Noah asked a question.

“Do you plan to give them more details about what’s been taking place in the area relating to the rituals and slain animals?”

“Yes. I’ll add more than what the paper had. And since we’ve had a second episode that will just be reported in this Thursday’s paper, I think a lot of people will come just for that reason alone. But that’s all right. At least they’ll be there. And then I want to turn the floor over to you, Noah, and I don’t want you to hold back anything you think you can manage to tell them.” He sighed deeply. “I’d like to have Jim stand up and tell them how to get delivered from all this stuff if they’ve been involved in it, but, as you know, as a public official, I’m not in a position to be free to do that. However, I am going to let them know that I’ve worked closely with Jim, and that he and his elders are ready to help anybody better understand this thing from a Biblical standpoint if they want to do so. And that all of them will be available to pray with any individuals or families who feel they need prayer.

“I know that sounds as if I’m catering to just one pastor, but I’ve tried to feel out the other three pastors in town about this subject, and none of them seems to be taking it seriously yet. So I’m going to do what’s right . . . as far as I can understand it . . . and let the chips fall where they may.”

“And what night were you planning on for the meeting?” Clint asked.

“I think next Monday. That’s a night that has no church meetings or club meetings scheduled, so I think it’s a safe choice.”

“Sounds like the best choice to me,” Jim said. “I’ll encourage all of our people to spread the word and encourage as many people to come as they possibly can.”

Art nodded. “Thanks, Jim. I’d like for all of us to meet briefly Monday morning here in my office and just double check our plan if that’s agreeable.”

“Sounds good,” Noah said, and the other two men agreed readily.

“All right. I guess that about does it . . . unless one of you has something else we haven’t thought of.”

After glancing around at each other, all three of his guests shook their heads and rose to prepare to leave. They all shook hands, strong in their mutual support of each other in this vital mission — a mission none of them wanted to be on, but one that they wouldn’t turn their backs on no matter how rough things got before it was ended.

That Thursday, Serenity had plans to fly to New York to talk with her literary agent, and she wouldn’t be returning until Saturday. When Noah learned of her plans, he insisted that he take her into Barclay to catch her flight and then pick her up on her return. “And if it’s all right with you, I’d like to offer to take David and Trent out on a sailboat Friday. They’ve been asking about going, and this would be the perfect time. That way, Clint could have a day to do anything he wants all by himself. I have a feeling he’d enjoy that just once in a while.”

“I have a feeling you’re right,” Serenity said, laughing with him. “And I know David and Trent will enjoy a day on the boat with you, but are you sure you want to have to deal with both of them by yourself?”

“No problem. Will you ask Elizabeth or should I?’

“I’ll call her, and I’ll tell her that you’re available to talk to her if she wants to contact you.”

“Great. I’ll plan on that then, and since you’re flight leaves at 1:00, I’m taking you into Barclay early, and we’ll have a nice lunch.”

“Boy, you’re getting awfully bossy lately, Sheriff,” she said, grinning at him, her eyes sparkling in that way that always ignited something deep inside of Noah. He reached up and touched a finger to her hair, smoothing it behind her ear on one side and letting his finger skim along her ear and down her neck. Serenity trembled slightly. She tried not to, but she felt a trail of fire along every inch he touched. He leaned closer and whispered. “I can’t seem to remember that I don’t have that right, Serie. And I’m not sure what I’m going to be able to do about that problem.”

“Which problem?” she asked, whispering also, mesmerized by the flame in his eyes as they held hers.

“What do you mean?” he whispered back, his eyes never wavering.

“Which problem are you wanting to do something about . . . the problem that you can’t seem to remember . . . or the problem that you don’t have that right?”

“Uh . . . I . . . I don’t know.” He moved closer. “All I know for sure is that I want to kiss you, and I’m not going to think about anything else until I’ve done that.” By that time, his mouth hovered just over hers, their breath mingling. Serenity’s eyelids drifted shut, and she let out a quiet sigh just before Noah’s lips touched hers. It began as the gentlest of salutes, but fire engulfed both of them in an instant, and it was a long time later that they realized how tightly they had bound themselves to each other. Breathless, and unable to deny that they both wanted so much more of each other, they forced themselves to concentrate enough to release their embrace and step apart an inch or two.

Noah let out a deep sigh. “I’d better go, Serie . . . and I’d better go right now. I’ll call you in the morning to see what time I should come for you.”

Serenity just nodded her head in agreement. She couldn’t have spoken if she’d been able to figure out what to say. Her world was upside down, and she wasn’t even sure she wanted to put it right side up ever again. It was probably a good thing that she would be gone for two days. She needed that time away from Noah Bennett if she were ever going to be sensible again.

Friday dawned clear and bright, and by 9:00, when Noah helped the boys aboard the sailboat, everything about the day was picture perfect. David and Trent were so excited they could hardly hold still, but when Noah began to explain how to do the jobs he had designated for each one of them, they became serious and went about their responsibilities in earnest. After they had sailed for a couple hours, they finally pulled into a little cove and went ashore to have lunch. They spent a while exploring the new territory afterwards, and then set sail again back towards the lighthouse. They had promised to be back by 4:00 so that Trent’s parents could pick him up and take him with them to visit grandparents for the weekend, and the little boat landed safely at its destination with five minutes to spare.

Noah had promised to keep David until later in the evening, and Clint had taken advantage of the time to go bowling with two of his old buddies. So David helped Noah carry supplies from the boat back to the lighthouse, and then the items that needed to go with Noah to his cottage they put in David’s wagon and pulled it behind them as they walked. “I was thinking about roasted hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches for supper. What do you think, Dave?” he asked the boy.

“Oh, boy! That sounds real good, Noah! Can I roast my own on a stick?”

“I think so. We’ll get a fire started and then whittle us a couple of nice long sticks, so we don’t have to get too close to the fire, and I think you’ll be fine. So they ate and talked and ate some more until they were just too full to take another bite. After that, they just sat side by side on Noah’s front porch and watched the sun slip into the ocean in a blaze of glory.

David had seemed a little sad the last couple days, and Noah had been glad to see him shake off that demeanor during their day of sailing. But he had been concerned, and now that the day was drawing to a close, he could see that the boy was looking downcast again. Noah had been thinking that he knew at least part of the problem, but he wasn’t quite sure how to go about bringing up the subject. Finally he made an attempt to work his way into it, trusting the Lord to guide him.

“Boy I’ve really enjoyed being on the beach this summer and getting to spend so much time with you and your family, David.”

The boy looked at him with his familiar grin. “Me too, Noah. I wish you could stay all the time.”

You like living here all the time?”

“Unhuh,” David nodded enthusiastically as he answered, and then he lost his smile, his mind obviously drifting to something less happy.

Noah had a feeling the problem had to do with being without his mom and dad, so he said, “You and your Gramps and your Aunt Serie sure make a nice family. All of my grandparents are gone to be with the Lord now.”

David looked up at him again then. “All of them?”


“What about your mom and dad?”

“My mom and dad are still alive, but they live in Canada.”

“They do? Don’t you get to see them very often?”

Noah shook his head. “Not too often. But I went to visit them for a week before I came out here, and I’ll probably go back for another week before I go home . . . or wherever I decide to go from here.”

David’s face took on the sad look again, and he dropped his head down a little. After another minute, he looked back up at Noah and said, “Why do you have to go? Why can’t you just stay here with us?”

Noah put his arm around David’s shoulders and smiled. “That’s the nicest thought, David. I’m glad to know you like me well enough to have me around all the time, but I have to do something to earn a living, Son.”

David’s eyes lit up just a little at that and he asked, “Would you like to have a son, Noah?”

Suddenly, Noah thought he knew where the conversation was leading, and his heartbeat accelerated. He didn’t know if he could deal with this subject in a way that wouldn’t cause some hurt — maybe even to himself. Because the truth was that he would very much like to have a son of his own, especially if he could be like David — or better yet — if he could be David. But that wasn’t something he felt he could take on with so much of his own life still up in the air.

He tousled Dave’s hair and said. “You know, even though your mom and dad are in heaven, your Aunt Serie makes a wonderful second mom, don’t you think?”

“Unhuh. She talked to me one day about adopting me, so I would be her real son. Do you think it’s all right if I call her mommy then?”

Noah smiled at the boy as he answered. “David I think it would be the greatest thing if you called her mommy. And I think it would make her very happy.”

“Good,” he answered, smiling himself again. “Now all I need is a second daddy too, and I’ll have a real family.” He looked up at Noah with adoring, trusting eyes and waited. Noah swallowed a lump in his throat — and waited — because he didn’t know how to explain. Finally David said, “I wish you could be my new daddy, Noah. I’d be good and mind you and try not to give you any trouble.”

Noah just couldn’t get that lump to go down. He reached out and picked David up and sat him on his lap, letting out a deep sigh as he spoke. “Oh . . . Dave . . . I think I’d like being your new daddy very much, but I don’t think I can.”

“Why not? Then you could come and live with us at the lighthouse, and you wouldn’t have to go some place else to work.”

Noah laughed gently. “No, David, that’s not how it works. You’ll learn as you get older that God intended for the man of the family to work and provide a home and food and clothes, and all kinds of other good things for his wife and children. So, you see, wherever I live, I need to work. But that’s okay, because I like to work. I like being a law enforcement officer. I wasn’t sure for a while there, if I still wanted to do that kind of work, but now I am sure again. I’m just not sure where I’m supposed to be doing that work.”

“Can’t you do it here?”

Noah shook his head. “I don’t think so. And besides . . . and you have to promise me that you will keep what I’m going to tell you a secret . . . do you understand?”

David nodded his head. “I promise, Noah.”

“Okay. The other thing that makes a difference is that your Aunt Serie would have to want to marry me and spend the rest of her life with me, and I’m not sure I’m the best person to make her happy for the rest of her life.”

“I think you make her happy now.”

Noah chuckled. “Maybe . . . a little . . . but that’s different from promising to live with someone every single day and night for the rest of your life, David. That isn’t always the same, and right now, I’m not sure that I’m peaceful and happy enough inside myself to be able to make her a good husband . . . or you a good father.”

“Well . . . why don’t you ask her?”

Noah sighed again. “No, David. I don’t think that’s a good idea. And . . . remember,” he said, pointing his finger at the boy, “you’ve promised not to say anything about this to your Aunt Serie or anyone else.”

“Okay, Noah,” he answered, his lower lip puckering a little and his face shadowed by the sadness again. Noah squeezed him to his chest. He really did love this little boy.

After another moment, David looked up at him and said. “But Noah, whenever I’m sad or upset, Aunt Serie puts her arms around me and hugs me and gives me kisses, and then she prays for me and sometimes she sings to me about Jesus and how much He loves me, and then I feel really happy again. She would do that for you too, and then you’d be happy . . . and we could all live together.” It was obvious that, as far as David was concerned, that idea solved the problem.

Noah’s mind wondered into imagining, not for the first time, what it would really be like living with Serenity, having her do just what David described — put her arms around him and kiss him every day — pray with him and sing to him in her lovely voice. But then he’d imagined what it would feel like to put his arms around her and hold her securely against him with the promise that she wouldn’t have to fend for herself or David ever again. He’d thought about sharing more kisses with her that took their breath away. He’d thought about even more intimate sharing — those things that he’d chosen to wait to share with the one woman that he knew would be his life partner.

And he’d never really hungered for those things with any other woman before Serenity. Now, he did, but he still felt too unsure of what he had to offer her as security, since he wasn’t sure where he would find himself this next year as far as employment was concerned. There were a number of law enforcement jobs out there that he could, no doubt, take. But he needed to be where the Lord really wanted him, and that meant some more soul-searching and a lot more praying and waiting on the Lord. He’d learned one thing, for sure. He couldn’t rush the Lord when it came to getting His direction. God had a perfect plan, and Noah knew that he had to pray and stay in the Word of God enough to become ready for that plan before the Lord revealed it to him.

Noah let out a sigh as he finally brought his thoughts back to David’s statement. “I’m sure she would, Dave, but a man has to be in a position to be able to do the same thing for his wife too.”

“But you can, Noah. Aunt Serie is real happy every time she’s with you. And when she’s getting ready to go out with you, she sings and hums all day. She didn’t used to sing that much, but she does now. And I watch her sometimes when she’s getting ready for you to come and get her, and it’s like some kind of light shines on her face . . . and it makes her even more pretty.”

Noah’s heartbeat doubled, and he was on the verge of tears springing to his eyes at David’s words. In the innocent description of this child, he had caught a unique glimpse of how Serenity really felt about him. It thrilled him, but that was all the more reason for him to be completely settled in his own heart about his life and his future before he asked her to become a part of it.

“I’ll tell you what, David. You can do something for me. You can pray that the Lord will help me and your Aunt Serenity to do exactly what He wants us to do. Will you do that?”

David nodded enthusiastically. Here was something that made him feel he was making a little headway at least. “I promise!”

“And you’ll still keep our conversation a secret?”

“I promise that too, Noah.”

Noah gave him another squeeze. “You’re a very good boy, David. I’m proud to know you. Now how about one more ice cream sandwich before I take you home?”

Only thee chapters to go. Chapter Nineteen — right here — tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


By the following Monday, Lacey had decided that the spell on Moondancer had failed. Troy and some of his friends had been on the beach that weekend and seen the horse alive and well, so she decided she needed to get more help if her plan were going to succeed. That’s when she made the decision to ask Miss Parker about getting some more books for her. She went to the school early, with the excuse that she would offer extra help, since this was the last week of the club, and when she entered the library, Miss Parker seemed glad to see her.

Lacey didn’t want to tell her exactly what kind of spell she had failed to have success with, so she tried to talk in generalities, hoping Miss Parker wouldn’t ask too many detailed questions. While she helped put out materials for the students she asked, “Miss Parker, you know those spell kits that Troy and I ordered through the Internet?”

“Yes, I remember. Have you been having fun with them?”

“Well . . . sometimes . . . but I don’t seem to be able to do everything right, and I wish I could learn more about being a real witch. Are there any other books that could help me?”

Miss Parker stopped what she was doing and looked long and hard at Lacey, as if she were sizing her up somehow. She had recognized the presence of a strong principality in Lacey, and she wanted to make sure it didn’t try to take over her own domain here in Hamsted. Finally, she seemed to come to a decision and spoke. “Lacey, I know something that could help you develop to a much higher level if that’s what you really want, but you would have to be sworn to secrecy concerning everything I tell you or show you.”

“Oh, I can keep a secret, Miss Parker. I keep lots of secrets now that Luna guides me in my life. She’s helped me understand that most other people aren’t able to understand the level that true sorcerers live on, and so I must keep a lot of what she tells me and what I do to myself.”

Miss Parker nodded. “But this would be even more serious, Lacey, because if you told anything of what you learn from what I have in mind, it could be very dangerous for you personally. Do you understand?”

Lacey looked at her silently for a moment, and then, as if accepting a challenge, she lifted her chin a little and said, “You mean I could die if I told what I learned.”

“It’s possible,” Miss Parker said. “You see what you read about in the Sally Stone books really is the way witches and the supernatural forces in their world function.”

Lacey nodded. “I understand, Miss Parker . . . but I want to be a witch. I want to belong to a real coven and practice all the magic arts the way the characters in the books do. I feel . . . I feel like that’s what I was born to do. Luna has helped me see that.”

“All right. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I know of a real coven that you might be able to become a part of . . . but there will be a price to pay. You will have to be willing to do whatever is asked of you by the leaders,” she added with a warning tone in her voice.

“Oh, Miss Parker!” Lacey scurried over to stand right in front of the librarian. “Do you really mean it? I can’t believe it. You know about a real coven? Around here?”

“Did you understand what I said, Lacey. You will have to do absolutely everything the leaders require of you, and you cannot tell one soul what goes on in those meetings . . . ever.”

“That’s all right. I don’t have any real friends anymore anyway, and, like Luna has told me, my mom and dad don’t understand me or really care anything about me, so I wouldn’t have anybody to tell.” She reached out and touched Miss Parker’s hand, a pleading look in her eyes. “Please show me how to be a part of this coven.” Suddenly a new thought struck her. “Oh . . . are you a member?”

“That isn’t necessary for you to know right now, Lacey, but I am in a position to take you to a meeting and let the leadership decide about you.”

“Oh, thank you, Miss Parker. Thank you so much!”

At that moment, several of the other students began to filter into the library, so Miss Parker told Lacey that she would explain more after the Library Club was over for the day. Lacey could hardly wait. Finally, she felt, she was going to get to do what she wanted to do more than anything else in the whole world: learn how to be a real witch! Now she wouldn’t just be reading about the exciting life Sally Stone lived. Now she, Lacey Dillard, would be living that life too.

So the following Saturday night, Lacey met Miss Parker at the school parking lot. She had told her parents that she was going to a movie and spending the night with one of her friends from school, knowing that friend would be out of town that weekend. Miss Parker had told Lacey that if they were very late, Lacey could sleep over at her house, and go home in the morning. It never occurred to Lacey that she was doing anything hurtful to her parents, or that it was wrong to tell so many lies. She had become so immersed in the Sally Stone way of life that she now saw lying and deceiving as tools to be used to accomplish whatever goal seemed worthy to her, and her conscience had become seared against truths she’d been taught in Sunday School all the previous years.

That night, as she met with the leaders of the coven, she was drilled with so many questions her head was spinning when they were through. But she had evidently answered all of them satisfactorily, because she was received into a training program, which would include her attendance at certain specific meetings of the coven. She would certainly not be allowed to participate in any of the rituals at this point, but she was moving closer, one step at a time, to her highest goal. She did learn that Miss Parker was indeed a member of the coven, and she was turned over to that woman for the major portion of her training.

The next morning at Christ Community Church, Pastor Carlyle announced the special meeting for the following Sunday afternoon. After service, several people asked him what the meeting concerned, but he told them he felt it best to explain everything when everyone could be present at the same time. That was not a very satisfactory answer for some of the members, but they had to accept it for the time being. And Pastor Carlyle was hoping that even those who wouldn’t ordinarily come to such a meeting might come this time just out of curiosity. He smiled to himself as he spoke quietly to the Lord. “You have a sense of humor, God. You’ll even take advantage of some people’s nosey nature to get Your work done. But I’m really believing that most of the people will show up because they really care about this body and what Your will is for it.”

Monday, when he met with Noah, Serenity, and Clint for prayer, he told them that he was expecting a good crowd the following Sunday, so they all got to their knees and prayed for the Lord to prepare hearts to receive the truth that would be presented to them at the meeting. They decided to meet together and pray again on Thursday and Saturday also, and during those sessions of prayer they asked the Lord to guide the pastor and Noah both as they spoke to the congregation.

By 2:00 Sunday afternoon, the time set for the meeting, the church sanctuary was full. Pastor Carlyle walked to the front of the room. He was a tall, handsome man, his brown hair liberally streaked with silver, and he commanded attention almost anywhere he went. That fact was no different among his own congregation. The people in general respected him for his solid stand on the Word of God and his gracious and comforting manner to any of his flock who were hurting. He had proven himself a faithful and loving shepherd over the past eight years, and today, he counted on that fact to help cause his words and requests to find favor with the people assembled before him.

“Good afternoon everyone. I’m so glad for such a great turnout. I’m sure you’ll find that this meeting was well worth your time. Let’s begin with prayer, shall we?” he said, bowing his head, and everyone in the room followed suit.

“Dear Heavenly Father, we are gathered this afternoon in the name of Jesus to make ourselves available to You and what You have to tell us. We want to be obedient to all that You require of us, Lord, and we may need extra help from Your Holy Spirit in order to do that. But we rest assured that all the help we need will be forthcoming. Please give us spiritual eyes and ears to see and hear and understand, Father. We want to please You above all, and we ask that You be in control of this entire meeting. In the name of Jesus we ask it, and we thank You. And every believer here says . . .”

Everyone spoke with him . . . “Amen.”

A large contingent of the Hosts of Heaven were also in attendance in the sanctuary. They were not visible to any human beings in the room, but they stood shoulder to shoulder around the perimeter of the sanctuary, with at least one angelic being standing beside every believer who was assembled there. Two huge warriors stood on either side of Noah and two more on either side of Pastor Carlyle, as extra protection, and outside the church building, another company of warriors stood shoulder to shoulder around the entire building and across the roof.

A few of them were almost late in arriving, because they had been working faithfully up to the last minute making sure their charges made it to the meeting. Some of the people could be convinced only by words spoken into their minds by their invisible angels. Some of them had to have words quickened to them that would combat the demonic voices that gave the hearers all kinds of excuses not to go. And a couple of them had to even be tugged along by the arm until they finally got going under their own steam and started toward the church. Then there were a couple of them who had run into legitimate hindrances that their angels had been required to fix in a hurry. But now all were present and accounted for — both in the human realm and in the angelic sphere. Prayer had paid off again.

Pastor Carlyle continued: “Well, we’re here to pass on some important information to all of you and then to discuss what our responsibility is concerning an evil spiritual attack on our whole community. But I think we need to begin by looking at what the Word of God has to say concerning the subject at hand. I did suggest that you bring your Bibles with you, so if you would turn to Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 26-28 please.” He paused while the congregation found the passage, and then he turned to one of the elders who sat on the front pew. “Howard, would you read those verses out loud please?”

“You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying. You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.”

“Thank you,” Pastor Carlyle said and looked out over the congregation. “Is there any question about what this verse is saying?” He waited for a minute, and since no hands went up, he continued. “Good, then let’s turn next to chapter 20 of Leviticus and read verse six. Howard, if you will ….”

“And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.”

Pastor Carlyle looked out over the people again. “Okay, any questions concerning this verse?” He waited a reasonable time and then spoke again. “I think when I included some of these verses in a sermon or two last year, most everybody got a really good understanding of them then, but if you do have a question of any kind, please ask it now.” One lady’s hand went up. “Yes, Mrs. Tennison.”

“I wasn’t here last year, so I’m not quite sure about one thing. Exactly what is a familiar spirit?”

“Very good question. I’ll give a simple answer for now, and if you would like more information later, I’ll be glad to enlarge on my answer for you. Basically a familiar spirit is an evil spirit that is familiar with a human being and his habits, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Often, when people go to mediums to try to contact a loved one who has died, and the medium tells them that they can speak to that loved one, what actually happens is that the medium calls up an evil spirit that knew the person well. A familiar spirit will know how the person spoke, how he acted, and any number of other things about him, and can emulate the person quite well enough to deceive someone who doesn’t have the Lord’s protection and who wants to believe what the medium tells them.”

Mrs. Tennison’s eyes were wide. “You mean there really is a way for someone to call an evil spirit and have it come to them!”

“Yes, there certainly is. And that’s why the Lord is warning His people to stay away from all of that. The Lord’s power is the greatest power in the universe, but the devil can use spiritual power also to bring a great deal of evil and harm into people’s lives and into God’s creation. So God is telling us to stay away from all of it.”

Her eyes were still wide, and her mouth was open slightly. But she answered him in a somewhat subdued voice. “Oh . . . I . . . I see.”

“Anyone else have a question?” Pastor Carlyle asked, and when everyone seemed to be shaking their head, he continued. “Very well, now let’s turn to Deuteronomy 18, verses 9-14.” He nodded at Howard again, who began to read.

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abominate to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.”

Pastor Carlyle spoke again. “I’m pretty sure these verses are clear enough. However, I want Howard to read one section of the passage again.” He looked at his elder. “Verses 10-12, Howard.”

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abominate to the Lord —”

“I think that’s far enough, Howard,” the pastor interrupted. “Thank you.” Then he turned his attention to the group as a whole again. “Now . . . what I want to ask you is this: How many of you believe that these verses that we just read are the Word of God? Raise your hand if you believe that they are.” Everyone raised his hand. “Next . . . how many of you believe that the Lord meant exactly what He said here in these verses?” Again everyone raised his hand.

Pastor Carlyle nodded his head and smiled at them. “Good. I felt sure that you believed that, but it’s important that we get that truth firmly established before we go on.” He had been standing in front of the pulpit, on the same level as the rest of the congregation, and now he walked up beside the front pew and leaned his weight against it as he continued. “What we need to talk about today is the rampant increase of a great deal of literature and other media that is being loosed on the public, and especially our children, that is intended to draw people into practices such as these that we’ve just read about in God’s Word. The plan is to deceive the general public into believing that all of these books and games are harmless entertainment, when, in fact, they are precursors to more intense interest in the occult and open doors to demonic possession.”

“Are you talking about stuff like the Sally Stone books?” one young mother asked.

“Yes, Linda, I am, in fact, referring to all of the Sally Stone materials, and a number of other things like them . . . some of which have been around for generations, but have become more popular recently because of all of the newer occult subject matter coming onto the market.” There was a general stir among the people seated before him, and the pastor could sense a slight current of something negative as well as just curiosity in the crowd. He knew there was bound to be some degree of defensiveness on the part of the people who had been reading the material and seeing the movies, but he was hoping that it wasn’t to the point of being a feeling of animosity toward the stand he was taking. There were a few whispered comments in scattered areas, and he put his hand up to quiet the congregation. “You will all be invited to say or ask anything you want in a little while, but first, I need to finish my main point.”

He took a long, slow, deep breath. “Now all of these materials involve the readers, or movie audience, or game players in all of the kinds of activities that the verses we just read explicitly describe as being an abomination to the Lord. And since He tells us to stay away from all of them, I believe that we really need no other reason to throw those materials away and abstain from participating in them in any way. However, there are some first-hand experiences connected with those materials that will give some of us concrete, present-day reasons to stay away from them also, and that’s part of what we’re here to share with you.

“Now, as we discuss all of this, I want you to be thinking, not only about what you should do concerning your own involvement, and your children’s, but also how we can help rid our whole community of this evil before we have some of the horrible consequences that the Lord wants to protect us from . . . and which other people have had to suffer as a result of not obeying God’s Word on this subject.”

One of the young fathers raised his hand. “Yes, Brent?” Pastor Carlyle said.

“I just want to make sure I understand. Are you saying that we should totally refuse to read any of these books or let our children read them . . . or see any of the movies . . . for any reason?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“But I’ve read an article or two written by other Christian leaders saying that anyone who refuses to let their children read them is just trying to shelter their kids from the realities of the world, and that unless we expose our kids to these kinds of things, we’re going to cause them to grow up handicapped in some way.”

“Yeah,” one of the young woman added, “and I read an article the other day that really made a lot of sense . . . that said if we’re going to decide what we’ll read or allow to be in our libraries or schools based on whether the author believes the way we do about the Bible, then we’re going back to the way people acted in the Dark Ages.”

“And besides,” the woman beside her piped in, “we don’t want our kids growing up thinking that the devil and spiritual forces don’t exist.”

“You’re right,” Pastor Carlyle responded to her first, but hoped what he said would cover all their questions and comments. “We don’t want our kids failing to understand about the devil and all of the demonic spiritual forces at work in the world they live in. But that’s just my point. If they continue to read these books and watch these movies, they are going to be living in deception. They won’t really understand those forces and how to deal with them at all.

“Now listen to me carefully. I’m not suggesting that our children should be sheltered from knowing about Satanism or witchcraft. What I’m saying is that they should be taught the truth about them by their church and their own Christian parents. Our kids should be made to understand that witchcraft and Satanism are real and that they are forces of total and unrelenting evil that came from the rebellion of Satan in Heaven and then moved into the earth as he gained authority here, through man’s sin.

“They need to understand that there are only two sources of supernatural power and activity. One is from God and always glorifies Jesus Christ, no matter how it’s used. The other is always from the devil, and no matter how it’s disguised, will always wreak evil and eventually destroy everyone who uses it or takes part in it.” He could see that he had their attention completely, and he thanked God that he recognized some expressions of agreement on several of the faces before him. So he shifted his weight against the pew a little and continued.

“They also need to be taught that even though the devil, because he is a spirit, knows how to use the spiritual power that is available — it isn’t his power, you understand, but he knows how to appropriate it for his evil purposes because he is from the spirit realm — but the important thing is that even though the devil can use the spiritual power, Jesus alone has supreme power and supreme authority. So even when the devil uses the power that is available to him, Jesus and His Church can defeat him. As our Lord says in Matthew, all authority has been given to Him. And make no mistake about it, beloved saints of God, nothing except Jesus and His authority can defeat these evil forces. We, as the church can do so only as we are in submission to Jesus and acting as His representatives on the earth.

“But these Sally Stone books, and all the other books and movies and games similar to them, even some of those that have been considered classics for generations, don’t teach those truths. Some of them teach that all of this is like some game people can play and not be affected by it for the rest of their lives. Others teach that all supernatural power is the same, and that there is a way to use that power for good without being connected to Jesus Christ. Both of those teachings are lies, and it’s our duty as parents and the church to safeguard our children from those lies and deceptive snares.”

“I don’t understand,” one of the other men said. “I just heard a pastor on a radio talk show the other day saying that he encourages his young people to read the books because they teach the ideals of friendship and courage, and show how people can fight oppression and prejudice.”

Noah raised his hand at that time, and Pastor Carlyle acknowledged him. “Noah, would you like to respond to that question particularly, or did you want to share your experience right now?’

“I’d like to respond to this brother’s question, if you don’t mind, Pastor.”

“Come on up here,” Pastor Carlyle said, and as Noah came forward, the pastor explained to the congregation. “Most all of you are acquainted with Sheriff Noah Bennett by now, and I’ve asked him to come here today to share his own personal experience as a law-enforcement officer concerning the horrible events that can result from an involvement with these kinds of materials. So I think I’ll let him respond to the question on the floor and then go ahead and tell you his story.” He turned to Noah and stepped back a little.

“Good afternoon, everyone. I’m glad to see so many of you hear today to discuss this problem and hopefully help solve it. First of all, in response to this brother’s question, let me say this. These Sally Stone books and movies, and all of the others like them that have been around for several years have absolutely no value! All this talk about their holding forth ideals of friendship and courage is a lot of smoke-screen! There are thousands of examples of true friendship and courage in the stories of the Bible, as well as the millions of pages of wholesome literature that have been written for generations. The same goes for teaching people how to fight oppression or prejudice, or any other evil of society. There’s wonderful literature out there that covers all of that thoroughly. And there are many such stories that are being written right now that do the same, but none of them requires entering into the realm of sorcery and Satanism in order to get those messages across.

“What I’m trying to say is that there are plenty of books out there, for all ages, to teach those ideals without drawing the readers into the powers of darkness that will have a lasting evil effect on them. Why let your children read these stories that could eventually destroy them or someone else in their lives . . . why even risk it . . . when they can choose from all kinds of literature that is really good for them?”

A middle-aged lady spoke up then. “You and Pastor Carlyle keep referring to something in these books and movies being able to cause evil consequences and destroy people. What exactly are you talking about?”

Noah looked at the pastor, who nodded his head to indicate that it was time to tell the story, so he turned back to the congregation. He took a deep breath. “I think if I tell you what I experienced last year, along with all the people in my county, it may make it a little easier to explain what we mean. But before I begin, I’d like to make sure you understand that a lot of what I have to share will be horrifying to hear about, and that’s why the pastor limited this audience to people only over the age of twelve. However . . . if any of you have children in here today who, although they’re older than twelve, still might be likely to have nightmares or emotional problems from hearing about real-life satanic sacrifices and the activities that accompany them, you might want to send them out until we’re finished with this part of the meeting.” He looked over the congregation and waited a minute. He saw a couple sets of parents confer with each other and then ask their teenage children a question. But after a couple of minutes, when no one left the room, Noah figured he’d given them enough warning and could proceed with his story.

As Noah retold his story, exactly as he had told it to the Lawrences and Pastor Carlyle, he felt a continuous flow of grace and courage from the Lord. His voice faltered a couple of times, and he had to stop twice to fight back the tears that had filled his eyes and threatened to spill over, but he didn’t break down. There were a few gasps from some of the members as certain details came out, but there were no interruptions. The people could see that telling the story was causing him pain, and their compassion for him was obvious. The fact that he was allowing them to share his emotions made them even more receptive to the truths he was presenting to them, and when he had finished, there was absolute silence throughout the room.

Noah let it hang there for a while, and then he spoke again. “The reason all of this has come to a head right now is that a number of things have happened in this immediate area that are similar to the way things began out in my home county.” He proceeded to tell them about the two ritual animal sacrifices in the Barclay area and then about the whole episode with David and Moondancer after Lacey’s abnormal behavior.

“Now, I can’t prove to you that everything that happened with David and Moondancer is the result of witchcraft, but all of my experience, as well as my spirit, tells me that it is exactly that, and that if we don’t move now to put a stop to this, the people here could find themselves facing the very same thing we faced last year, maybe at the same level . . . maybe worse. I’m planning to talk to Chief Weston tomorrow, but we wanted to let you know what’s going on first and hopefully enlist your prayers and your faith in this battle.”

After a couple of minutes, Pastor Carlyle stepped forward and said, “I think the best thing for us to do right now is spend a few minutes in personal prayer. If you want to come to the altar, you’re welcome, or if you want to just sit or kneel right where you are, that’s fine too. Let’s each spend some time talking to the Lord about what He’s wanting from us concerning all of this situation.” With that, he turned and knelt before the altar, and Noah, Serenity, and Clint joined him there. After another minute, all three elders knelt beside the others at the front of the church, and almost everyone found a place to bow before the Lord.

The Hosts of Heaven waited. Some of them were bowed before Jehovah also, and the others stood with their heads bowed in worship, waiting for the results of the meeting to become evident. They hoped these people would be able to see the truth and accept the responsibility of doing something about it. It would make their own job easier, because faithful prayer and obedience by Jehovah’s people always opened the way for the spiritual warriors to fight and win against the evil kingdom.

Gradually, as the people continued to pray, some of them silently, but most in subdued voices, the Hosts of Heaven began to feel a rising energy within themselves. They knew that was an indication that the prayers of the saints were reaching the throne, and Jehovah was releasing the power to bring forth the answers. One by one, the captains of each detachment of Heavenly warriors called their troops to attention and began to give them their orders.

The warriors surrounding the outside of the church came to attention, each one clasping the handle of his golden sword. There was new activity in the spirit realm. The demonic powers that had been prowling around the perimeters of the well-guarded territory during the earlier part of the meeting were now pulling in reinforcements and obviously preparing for warfare. They were aware of the prayers of the saints within the church, hearing some of the words as they passed through the airways, and they were now on alert to find an opening through which they could attack and turn the Godly forces back before they got any farther in their plan to overthrow the carefully devised strategies of the demonic kingdom in this region.

But Serenity and a few of the others were praying specifically for God’s protection on all of them as they moved forward to lay out a plan to defeat all of this evil. And with those prayers, Jehovah had a way open to send his mighty warriors into the enemy troops to rout them and hold them at bay until the saints could implement the plan He would give them.

Inside the church, the people were rising and taking their seats again, and Pastor Carlyle spoke to the whole group again. “Now I’m not going to ask each of you individually what you’ve decided to do about all of this. But . . . if you feel that you want to stand against this evil, and you’re ready to rid your own home and your own life of all of this stuff . . . because unless you do that, you can’t fight it anyway . . . if you want to make that stand, I’m asking you to remain for a few more minutes to plan another meeting where we can decide how we can help our whole community get free from this evil. If you don’t feel that you can commit yourself to taking that kind of stand right now, then you are free to go at this time, but I ask that you do so quietly and without any extended conversation. Since this meeting has lasted so late, I believe we need to set aside our regular evening service, and you can use the time to spend with your families this evening.”

There was a slight stirring through the group, and six people got up and slipped out of the room without saying anything else. The rest turned their attention back to the pastor, and after he had breathed a deep sigh of relief, which in itself was a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, he began to suggest possible meeting times during the following week. They decided to hold a meeting the following Tuesday evening and pray that the Lord would give them His own ideas to share with each other at that time. Pastor Carlyle closed the meeting with a prayer that the Lord would keep their body of believers in love and unity in spite of some differences of opinion on this subject, and he prayed again for the protection of all of his flock as they prepared to take their stand in faith for the Kingdom of God.

Tomorrow: Chapter Sixteen



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


Serenity was on her knees with her arms around him instantly, praying for him. After several moments, Noah recovered enough to raise his head from his hands, and wipe his face with the borrowed handkerchief. Finally he reached his arm around Serenity and hugged her. “Thank you, Serie . . . for praying. But please don’t stay down there on the floor on your knees. Sit back up on the sofa where it’s more comfortable.” When she didn’t move, he said. “Please, Serie,” so she gave up and did as he asked.

“So they had sacrificed the little girl?” Clint asked Noah quietly.

Noah nodded and finally managed to say, “Yes . . . and . . . that’s enough for me to tell you. You know enough to be able to imagine what kind of death it was and what other butchery was involved.” He let out one more heavy sigh. “I can’t begin to tell you how it feels to see that something like that has happened to a real child from your own community. . . . Or how it feels to know that you were the one responsible for protecting that child, and all the others like her, and that you had failed utterly.”

Clint reached out his hand to stop Noah. “That isn’t true, Noah. Deep in your heart, you know it isn’t true, and you’re going to have to make yourself recognize that fact.”

“Well . . . anyway . . . it was the most horrendous thing we’d ever had happen in our county since I had been appointed a deputy years before.” Noah rose from the footstool and moved over to the sofa again, sitting back far enough to lean against the back of it. He still had more to tell, but at least the worst was over. God had gotten him through it.

Clint got up then. “I think you need a cold drink. I’ll bring a glass of that lemonade I saw in the refrigerator. Take a breather until I get back, and then you need to tell us the rest.”

Clint brought over glasses of lemonade and sat back down. “So then what happened?” he asked.

After taking a long drink of the cooling liquid, Noah answered. “Well, needless to say, we stepped up the investigation. We were still pressing to find out who the other members of the coven were, and Danny had never seen any of them without their hoods over their heads. However, he was finally able to tell us how he and Melinda had gotten separated from the rest of the kids. They were all sent out on what was supposed to be a treasure hunt, and as he and Melinda were wondering around in the dark close to each other, they were approached by two figures in gray cloaks with hoods.

“Evidently they said something to the kids that was much like a line right out of the Sally Stone books, and since they were so used to reading all that stuff, it didn’t seem particularly abnormal to them. The two figures told them that they had been sent to help them find the treasure, so the kids went with them, and of course, they ended up at the meeting of the coven and the ritual ceremony.

“Danny saw what they did to Melinda, and while that was going on was when he finally managed to get his ropes loose enough to escape. And even then, he wouldn’t have made it home when he did if he hadn’t been able to run through the woods and fields. It would have taken him close to two hours to get there if he had used the roads.”

“Did the people of the county finally see the truth about the Sally Stone books and all the other horrible stuff like it?” Serenity asked.

“Some people did finally realize that it was dangerous and threw away the books and games so that their kids weren’t exposed to it anymore, but you know how people are, Serenity. A lot of people in the county just sent up a great hue and cry against me and my department because we hadn’t done enough to keep this kind of thing from happening in our county. And they were right in part . . . in a large part . . . but when I had tried, through the pastors, to help the community see what we were up against early on, I didn’t get a whole lot of cooperation either.

But … after days of intensive prayer for the Lord to show me what steps to take, I finally managed to trace the two sponsors for that club back to the coven, and then I knew I had a little clout to work with.

“I arrested those two on suspicion of their connection with Melinda’s murder, and we managed to bring enough evidence to get a judge to deny bail. I tried to get information out of them, of course, but they kept denying their involvement with any coven . . . until I presented them with the evidence I had, and then they finally stopped acting like they didn’t know anything about it. After about a week, one of them got really cocky and started making some remarks that sounded too much like a threat of more plans by the coven for additional kidnappings and sacrifices for me to ignore it.

“So the first thing I did was to make sure we had Danny covered. He was getting some pretty intensive counseling, and we arranged with his family to have a security officer on hand at all times until we had the whole case put down. The only other thing I could do where the children in general were concerned was to encourage parents and school personnel to be extraordinarily diligent and protective of all the children at all times . . . and I put on two extra deputies to help with that job.”

“Was your own church standing with you in the spiritual warfare of this whole thing?” Clint asked now.

“Well, after I got to know Mark pretty well and realized that he believed what I was fast coming to recognize was absolute truth from God’s Word, I moved to his church. And I can tell you this; those people went to war for me and for the whole county. They had intercession around the clock in that church until the whole thing was over, and I don’t think I would have lived through it if they hadn’t been praying continuously for me. Nor would I have had the wisdom to do the job even as well as I did it. But I was attacked with several things in my body during that time, and I know it was prayer that got me delivered and healed. And then there were other attempts made on my life too, but God kept me.”

For the first time in the whole conversation, Noah actually relaxed back against the sofa as he told the next part of the story. “Anyway, we gradually collected more evidence concerning the whereabouts of the other coven members on Halloween night, and I finally had enough to arrest two more of them. I had been torn all along, trying to decide whether to arrest the ones I could prove something on (which would warn the others that we were onto them) or to wait until I could get everyone in the coven at the same time. But I finally decided that if we arrested enough of them, at least it should shake the others up enough to stop their activity locally, and our children would be safe.

“Of course, that still left the coven free to practice their deadly sorcery somewhere else. So my constant prayer was that the Lord would show us a way to bring all of them in. And to be completely honest, I don’t think my faith was very strong that we would ever get those results, but Pastor Mark and the congregation were still doing spiritual battle around the clock, and praying especially for the conversion of the four witches we had in custody.

“Mark came once or twice a week to try to talk with them, and finally . . . one of them . . . one of the sponsors of the Sally Stone Club . . . repented of her involvement with Satan and surrendered her heart to the Lord. Mark and I prayed for her deliverance, and we transferred her to another jail for her own protection. But before she left, when she was alone with me and one of the deputies, she told us about a plan within the coven to kidnap another child before Christmas and sacrifice her as a way of appeasing Satan for the sloppy work they had done in October.”

Noah sat forward and drank the rest of his lemonade before he continued. “You can only imagine how frantic I was at that news. How do you protect every child in the county . . . especially when so many of the adults who are supposed to be leaders in the care and nurturing of children . . . in schools and churches . . . didn’t believe there was a real menace out there anyway? But I did everything I could think of, and rather than sound like I’m defending myself by listing all those things, I’ll just say that I’ve racked my brain since the event, and I honestly can’t think what more I could have done. And, without question, it was the consistent prayer that actually brought us success.

“In spite of everything, though, I got the call at 10:09 on the night of December 21. I remember it as if it had happened yesterday. It was the first missing child report since Halloween, and it practically caused my heart to stop beating. I sent my best deputy ahead of me to the parents’ home to start getting all the facts he could. I called in every deputy I’d ever used and told them to report to my office as fast as possible. And then I threw myself on the floor, face down, and pled with the Lord to show me every step to take so I wouldn’t make any mistakes or lose any time. I prayed until I heard the deputies assembling in the outer office, and when I went out to join them, I finally had a sense of victory in my heart.

“I met my other deputy at the child’s home, met the parents, and after hearing all the facts, I just began to give out instructions concerning where we were going, and what we would do when we got there. I knew the Lord was speaking through me, and when we ended up at a deserted house, not far from that abandoned school, we could tell there was a ceremony in progress. My heart almost stopped again until I had sneaked up to a window and seen through it enough to see that the little girl was still alive. After that I felt so empowered by the righteous anger of the Lord that I knew that night would be the end of the witchcraft from this group.”

“You captured all of them?” Serenity asked, her eyes burning with the same kind of righteous indignation that Noah’s were.

He nodded. “I won’t go into all the details, but I can say humbly that no member of my force had ever performed better than they did that night. It was as if we could almost read each other’s minds, and we worked in such synchronized precision . . . and I know that was because angels were making every move with each one of us … and because the prayer cover was keeping us hidden from the demons controlling those witches. We had all of them surrounded and in custody in a short time, and with enough evidence of the kind of crime they were in the process of perpetrating that they didn’t have a chance.”

“So that was really the end of it?” Clint asked now.

“The end of the activity, but not the end of the story, because the trials were pretty horrendous in themselves. They couldn’t all be tried together because of varying degrees of charges lodged against different ones, and all together, the trials were strung out through May of this year. It was especially hard on the families who had lost, or come close to losing, their children, but the whole county suffered through all of them. In order to get the convictions we needed, we had been forced to go after other evidence of the coven’s activities too, and the testimonies and other articles of evidence were pretty horrific at times.”

Noah had been leaning forward with his elbows on his knees again, gripping his hands in front of him, but now he leaned back again, laying his head on the back of the sofa and closing his eyes. “Four of them were convicted of first degree murder. Four others were convicted of second degree murder, and the other five were found guilty of concealing a homicide, as well as a number of other charges that should keep them locked up for several years.” He let out a heartfelt sigh. “Thanks to the Lord . . . and only to the Lord.”

Serenity reached out and took his hand in hers, squeezing it gently. “I’m so grateful you were able to tell us all of this, Noah.”

“Did most of the people in the county finally change their attitudes about the Sally Stone books and movies and other things like that?” Clint asked.

Noah had squeezed Serenity’s hand too, and now he raised his head and smiled at her before he looked at Clint and answered. “Most of them did . . . at last. They had been through hell and back before they had been willing to see the truth, but when they did, they began to act accordingly. Now most of the libraries and schools are clean of that trash, and I don’t think any theatre owner in the county would dare to bring in one of the movies again.”

“Praise God!” Serenity said.

“Praise God, indeed!” Noah answered, squeezing her hand again.

“Amen!” Clint added, leaning back in his chair and taking a deep breath of relief.

Serenity got up, saying, “I’m going to peak in at David again,” and left the room. After she did, Noah looked at Clint, his eyes intent upon the older man’s.

“Thank you for praying for me tonight, Clint. I’m not sure I could have gotten through all of it without your support . . . and Serenity’s.”

“I appreciate your courage in telling us all of it, Noah. Not to mention your courage in doing the job you did. But I can see why you needed a rest and a good deal of inner healing.”

Noah nodded his head. “Yeah . . . and I’m not sure that’s all it is. I’m not positive that I’ll be going back to that job.”


“Not because of the people . . . and not because I’m afraid to go back to it . . . but . . . I don’t know. I just don’t have any sense of joy in doing that job anymore . . . the way I did have when I took it. And that’s one of the things I’m here to seek God about. I need to know what He wants me to do.”

“What He wants you to do about what?” Serenity asked, getting back in time to hear the last statement.

“About continuing to be the sheriff back home. I think it may be time to move on to something else, but I still have to have some answers from the Lord.”

“Noah, one thing still puzzles me,” she said. “What did you mean when you were standing at the window fingering your earring and asking the Lord to forgive you?”

Noah instinctively reached his hand up and gently touched the ring in his ear, fingering the cross and smiling before he answered her. “You remember David told you that I had put this ring in my ear to signify that I was becoming the Lord’s servant for the rest of my life. And I promised the Lord then that I would do whatever He wanted whenever He wanted it done, without hesitation and without asking questions. But when I began to realize that some of the same witchcraft was getting a foothold here, and that I knew how horrible it could be if it weren’t stopped dead in its tracks immediately, I made a decision that I was not going to be involved in all of it again. So I turned my back on it as much as I could. In short . . . I broke my promise to the Lord. Because deep in my heart, I realized that He’d brought me here for that very purpose . . . to stop it dead in its tracks.”

Noah rose and paced back toward the bookcase and then turned and leaned against it again, looking at Serenity. “When I realized that David and Moondancer were the victims of that same witchcraft . . . and that we had almost lost David as a result . . . I finally came to my senses and started really listening to the Lord, and I finally made the decision to obey Him.”

“And so you believe that what happened with David and Moondancer today was the result of that same kind of witchcraft?”

Noah nodded “Yes . . .” He paused to collect his thoughts. “Last week, some kids on the beach came down to my cottage to see Moondancer and ask for a ride.”

“David told me it was some of the kids from the Library Club, Lacey Dillard and her friends,” Serenity said.

“Yes, her brother did call her Lacey. But the oddest thing was that when she was there and making the big scene, I kept thinking I’d met her somewhere before . . . that I should know her . . . but I couldn’t remember any place at all where we had met. Then today . . . after what happened with Moondancer and David . . . I finally realized that what I thought was recognition of the child was actually recognition of the demonic spirit inhabiting her. I had seen that same evil being look at me out of the eyes of the witch who was finally delivered. And, of course, I saw a multitude of similar spirits showing themselves in the eyes of all of them. But evidently that spirit now inhabits Lacey and recognized me also, and that’s why the vicious attack.” He sighed again, but smiled at them. “But the Lord has protected us . . . praise Him for His merciful love!”

“So what do you feel the Lord is telling you to do about the problems here, Noah?” Clint asked.

“Well, I still need to pray for more direction, but as I’ve talked with the two of you, I’ve had a plan begin to form in the back of my mind. I’d like to run it past both of you and get your input, but I really think we’ve discussed enough of this witchcraft business tonight, don’t you?”

Serenity looked at her grandfather, and he lifted his eyebrows in a question. “Serenity . . . what’s your answer to that?”

She let out a deep sigh. “Well . . . I want to know your plan, Noah, and I want to help with it as much as I possibly can . . . but I think you’re right. I think we need to refocus our thoughts and emotions on the Lord and try to get some rest. Besides, it’s already 9:00 now, and we’re not going to be able to confirm a plan and start carrying it out tonight. So why not wait until we’re all fresh tomorrow?”

“Sounds right to me,” Clint said, leaning forward in his chair. “I say let’s pray together now and then collect our little boy and head for the lighthouse.”

After prayer, thanking God for his merciful protection and asking Him for wisdom and strength to do whatever He called on them to do, Clint went into the bedroom to get David, and Serenity stepped over to Noah, slipping her arm through his. “I have no words to tell you, Noah, how grateful I am that you risked your own life to save David’s”

Noah shook his head. “Only the Lord saved David, Serenity. If I had been willing to act on my knowledge and experience sooner, that whole event might not have happened. So it was my own disobedience that opened the door to putting David in that danger.”

“No, I don’t believe that, Noah. It’s reasonable that you had to have the time you’ve taken to be able to decide to throw yourself into a horrendous problem like that a second time. And I doubt that the enemy would have gone very long without finding some way to attack all of us, simply because of the stand we’ve taken against all of the Sally Stone materials and new age curriculums. Besides, you didn’t send David out into that ocean after Moondancer. And you didn’t cause the wind to start whipping that ocean into fierce waves that far out. Remember that! But you did go in yourself and save him. Remember that too!” she added, stretching up and kissing his cheek.

Noah grinned. “I’ll try, Serenity.”

Clint returned to the room leading a very sleepy David by the hand. The boy was rubbing his eyes and yawning, but he managed to thank Noah again for his rescue. Clint reached out and patted Noah’s shoulder once more. “Goodnight, Son.”

“Goodnight and thank you both . . . more than I can say. See you tomorrow.”

Only 8 more chapters to go. Look for Chapter Fourteen here tomorrow. And thank you for reading.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


Noah finally returned to a standing position, wiping his face with his hands and then immediately wrapping his arms around Serenity and gripping her to him as if she were a life preserver. The sobs had ceased, and Noah was trying to take slow, deep breaths to quiet himself enough to speak. Serenity still had tears trickling down her cheeks, but she clung to Noah as fervently as he did to her.

After another moment, Noah felt quieter, and he released his hold just enough to reach back to his back pocket for his handkerchief, forgetting that he had given it to David. Serenity had stepped back just a fraction and, realizing what he was trying to do, she looked around for some tissues. Clint stepped over to them and handed Noah a clean, folded handkerchief. “You gave yours away, remember?” he said, smiling at Noah. “Use my clean one.”

Noah reached out and took it, nodding his head as he unfolded it. “Thanks, Clint,” he said in a husky voice, and proceeded to blow his nose and finish drying his face. He took another deep breath and looked straight at Serenity. “I think it’s time I explained some things to the two of you.”

“Please, Noah,” she answered, her eyes pleading even more than her voice. In unison, they all turned back toward the table to resume their seats. “Why don’t we sit in the living room a while,” Clint suggested.

“That’s fine,” Noah said, and picking up his coffee cup from the table, turned to lead the way into that area of the cabin. The living room area consisted of a sofa and two chairs, each with a footstool in front of them. Noah sat down on the sofa, and Serenity joined him there, still feeling a need to try to comfort him — or protect him — she wasn’t sure which. Clint took the chair that let him face the other two and leaned back, trying to relax and hoping he could help Noah and Serenity do likewise.

“Just take your time, Son, and tell us everything you think you should. As I said, nothing needs to go any farther than this room if that’s the way you want it.”

Noah looked at Clint and tried to smile. “Thanks, Clint . . . I trust you and Serenity as much as I would anybody . . . and really none of this is a secret. My whole county back home knows the story inside and out, but it isn’t something I’ve wanted to talk about.” He took a deep breath. “Mainly because I would really like to just forget it, although I know that isn’t possible . . . and then partly because it’s so horrible a story to tell that I cringe, even now, at the thought of your having to hear it.”

He stopped and looked at Serenity. “I think you should slip in and take a peak at David. Make sure he’s sound asleep, because I don’t want him to overhear any of this. It might frighten him terribly.”

“Okay,” Serenity said and rose to go and do as he asked. She came back momentarily, smiling. “He’s out like a light . . . even snoring a little bit.”

“Good . . . that’s good,” Noah said, letting out a deep breath. “Well . . . I might as well start at the beginning . . . at least at what was the beginning of my involvement. But promise me that if you want me to stop at any time in the telling of this . . . if you just feel you don’t want to hear anymore . . . you’ll tell me so.” He looked at both of them, and they both nodded.

“I promise, Noah,” Serenity answered first.

“You have my word, Son,” Clint said then.

Noah nodded and leaned back on the sofa, trying to relax, knowing it was impossible. “Well . . . last summer, we began to get reports in our office from some of the local hunters and farmers around the county. They had come across evidence of some unusual activities out in the woods or sometimes one of the fields that had been left idle during that season in order to let the land rest. They didn’t seem to know what was going on, but a couple of times they reported seeing strange lights and hearing what sounded like some kind of chanting.

Most of them didn’t want to get too close, but one or two did ease in close enough to see that several people were standing in a circle, all saying something together. There were lighted candles in some of their hands, which worried one of the farmers, because we had been short on rain during that particular time, and things were pretty dry. One time, a hunter reported that the group was standing around a huge bonfire, and he would have thought it was just some kind of campout except that they all seemed to be wearing capes with hoods. Each time, I sent men out to check the areas, but the calls had come in after the fact, and my men just found a few traces of a campfire or footprints, but nothing that indicated a problem.

Then some time later, we got a call about lights that were seen moving around in an old abandoned schoolhouse. That particular elementary school had consolidated with two others in the county, and a new building had been built to accommodate the whole student body, so the building was left empty. It hadn’t been used for two years, and the county was trying to make a decision about what they wanted to do with it.”

Noah stopped to take a drink of his coffee. When he did, Serenity, who had been sitting toward the edge of her seat, looking directly at Noah, finally sat back and rested more comfortably against the back of the sofa.

Noah sat his cup down, still leaning forward in his seat, and the story began again.

“About that same time, we began to get calls from the local farmers about missing animals. About once a week, someone else would report an animal lost . . . or stolen . . . and most of the time it was one of the goats. It became almost an epidemic, and we were stumped until we began to come across those same animals slain and gutted . . . and often mutilated in bizarre ways . . . again out in the woods or some fallow field.”

Noah had been sitting with his elbows on his knees and his hands in front of him. Now he gripped his hands together so hard his knuckles turned white, but then he began to relax them again. “And then . . . we found the pentagrams. . . . The first one was actually painted onto the ground in broad brush strokes with black paint. We found mutilated animals in the same vicinity. The second one was painted onto the asphalt parking lot at that abandoned school. And again, there were parts of a mutilated animal on the scene.”

“So you’re saying that the animals evidently had been used for some kind of satanic ritual?”

“It appeared that way, and shortly after those two symbols were discovered, two of the farmers began having bizarre calamities occur on their farms. One of them had a major fire, and the fire department was never able to figure out how it could possibly have started in the place that it did, especially considering all the preventative measures that farmer used on a regular basis. And by that time, we had been blessed with plenty of rain, so that wasn’t the problem. And there were other things. One farmer reported that a pitchfork had come at him from his hayloft, as if it had been aimed and thrown at him deliberately, although he had left that pitchfork stuck in a bail of hay outside of the barn that afternoon. . . . And . . . well, there were other incidents, but I don’t need to go into all those details.”

He took deep breath, letting it out forcibly and finally tried to lean back again. “Well, I had been trying to tell myself that all of the sightings in the woods and fields had been innocent camping parties, amplified by the imaginations of the witnesses . . . or by their intake of alcohol … or both. And then when the animals started showing up, it was harder to explain, but I still tried to make myself believe it was coincidence. . . . You see . . . I knew that there were Satanist in this country . . . and that they did some kinds of bizarre things . . . usually around Halloween . . . but I had never learned any actual facts about what all that activity involved, and I just assumed that normal people wouldn’t be bothered by them as a general rule.

“And my church taught the basic gospel message well enough, but they never spent any time discussing the activities of the devil, or even any of the passages where Jesus had to deal with demonic powers. So I had just kind of let all that slide too.” He sighed again, and finally got up and began to pace around slowly. “But when we started finding the pentagrams and the animals together, I finally had to admit that I was up against something that I didn’t understand. Then when we added in the factor of the bizarre, so-called accidents on the surrounding properties, I finally faced the fact that I was just plain scared.

“I wasn’t really scared of the devil or his activity as much as I was of the fact that I had to find a way to protect the people in my jurisdiction, and I didn’t have a clue how to do it. And because I didn’t, my whole force was totally ill-equipped to handle the situation.”

“Your church couldn’t help you at all?” Clint asked.

Noah shook his head. He was leaning against a bookcase along the wall between the sofa and chair where Clint sat. “I talked with my pastor, and he said he didn’t really know enough about any of it to teach me anything, but that he supposed I should be able to handle all of these problems the same way I did other minor crimes.” Noah let out a bitter laugh. “Minor . . . he called them minor. Can you believe that? Oh, I know stealing and killing an animal isn’t the same as first degree murd —” He stopped suddenly and sucked in his breath, swallowing hard and closing his eyes. Finally, he shook his head as if to clear it and opened his eyes once more, breathing deeply.

“As I was saying, those aren’t at the top of the list of the most grievous crimes, but when you consider that the animals were stolen for the purpose of mutilating them to worship Satan, and that the acts were repeated on a regular basis . . . and then that damage was done to private property and attempted on some of the people themselves . . . I couldn’t see the situation as minor at all.” He sighed once more and finally sat down on the sofa again, leaning forward, one elbow on his knee.

“Anyway, I finally contacted the state to ask about other jurisdictions and their handling of these kinds of things, and they informed me that there was some instruction available through a state program to better acquaint law enforcement officers with ritualistic crimes and the best ways to deal with them. So I attended the classes first, and then I sent two of my sharpest deputies to do the same. We learned quite a bit, but I still wasn’t satisfied that I was in control of the situation.

“So my next move was to seek out a minister from the area who was known for his belief in casting out demons, Pastor Mark Houston, and I asked him for an interview. I felt I had to tell him all the details of the crimes, even though we were trying to keep some of them quiet so as not to alarm people unduly. As I poured out my story, he was instantly sympathetic and told me in no uncertain terms that the Word of God had the answers I needed.

“So I began to study my Bible as I never had before, and twice a week, I met with him so that he could explain anything I didn’t understand on my own. I got a real crash course in spiritual warfare; that’s for sure. I can tell you that I prayed like I hadn’t prayed in a long time . . . actually in ways I had never prayed until then. But the Lord really taught me. I began to truly understand what we were up against, and even more important, I understood that although I had to do everything I could from the natural, legal standpoint, I couldn’t depend on the legal governmental structure to effect the complete remedy in this case.” Noah stopped for a moment, looking away from both of them, obviously caught by another thought that had come into his mind.

Serenity was impatient, although she was trying not to be. “So, were you able to track down the people responsible?”

Noah looked at her again, took a deep breath, and finally answered her. “It got a lot worse before I got that far, Serenity.”

“Oh . . .”

“We conducted an investigation in as thorough a way as I knew how, of course, but we were getting virtually nowhere. I blame myself for that now. I should have been giving it the highest priority of anything my office was dealing with, but I didn’t. I knew it was important, but so were all of the other ordinary types of crimes, and we had a rash of other events that . . . at the time . . . I believed demanded my attention before those satanic things. I don’t think I’ll ever stop blaming myself for not moving on the whole problem harder and faster.”

“Noah, you’re human after all,” Serenity defended him. “Hindsight often makes things look as if you did the wrong thing at the wrong time, but if you look seriously at the past events, you’ll probably see that you did the best you could with what information and knowledge you had.”

Noah shook his head. “I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I did do one other thing that I thought at the time might help. When I asked Pastor Houston how all of this kind of activity managed to get such a stronghold in our area that these people could hold these meetings and steal and mutilate animals without anyone being able to catch them, he told me that they had been moving in so gradually and subtly over an extended period of time that most people weren’t aware of if at all.

“And when I asked how, he told me that one of the easiest ways was through the media. He mentioned specifically the Sally Stone books and movies.”

“Sally Stone!” Serenity sat up on the edge of her seat again.

“Yes. And the use of some of the mind-expanding games straight out of the new age movement . . . like ‘Inside Myself.’” Serenity’s eyes grew wider. “That’s why I told you in no uncertain terms that I believed you did the right thing taking David out of that Library Club. That librarian is using those demonic tools to ingest the demonic message into those children in order to prepare them to accept witchcraft and the demons that go with it. Oh, she may not be aware of what she’s doing. She may just be that ignorant. But it’s happening, nevertheless.”

“And the children in your county were being exposed to all of that too?”

“Yes, and the parents. Adults read those books too, and they flock to those movies by the droves. Mark Houston helped me see how Satan uses the books and movies, as well as the games that go along with them, as mediums to open a door to the evil spirits attached to them so that they can enter the community and even the people themselves. Those spirits blind people’s minds to what’s really going on around them. They make people apathetic about getting rid of evil of any kind, and even worse . . . they stir people up to commit evil that they wouldn’t have committed if they hadn’t been under the control of those demonic powers.

“That environment then gives the witches greater leeway to work, and prepares the children . . . the innocent, unsuspecting children . . . that we adults are supposed to protect . . .” Noah’s voice grew harsher with each statement. “It prepares those children to accept witchcraft and supernatural visitations as normal and makes them want to know more and more about all of it. We eventually discovered that even some of the children who weren’t exposed to the game and actually taught to seek out a spirit guide still recognized some kind of spirit being as having a place inside of them, trying to direct them . . . or sometimes force them to do certain things.”

“And did all of this involvement with these books and other media lead to more crimes then?” Clint asked.

Noah got up again, agitated now beyond being able to sit still or even hold himself still. He paced back over to the bookcase, running his hands over his head and around the back of his neck in angry strokes. “Yes,” he said in a course whisper. Then he turned back to face them. “Yes, it led to much more horrible crimes. After a while, some of the children formed a Sally Stone Club in several towns in the county and met on a regular basis to read the books and watch the videos and play the games. Then all the clubs in the county met periodically at the civic center at the county seat. I learned that they even began ordering other witchcraft materials via the Internet. And the whole county knew that they were planning some kind of big celebration for Halloween.

“So . . . and this is what I referred to earlier as the other thing I did for prevention’s sake . . . I called all the pastors together and asked them to talk to their congregations about the dangers of those books and accompanying materials, and to warn their people that their children needed to understand that this problem was real and something they needed to stay away from. Some of those pastors shook my hand and thanked me for filling them in. Two told me that they had been praying fervently for a breakthrough in all of the deception that those books had been responsible for.

“But several of the pastors said I was being an alarmist, and that they were not going to discourage their people from engaging in what they considered to be harmless entertainment. However . . . I then discovered that there was a coven of witches in operation, actually over in the next county, and there were certainly no barriers to keep them from holding ceremonies and slaughtering someone’s animals in our county too. So I called the pastors together once more to inform them of those facts. At that time, a couple more of them took the whole thing seriously, but most still didn’t.

“At the same time, I became very unpopular with a number of people in my county as a result of what I did and said, but I didn’t care. The only thing I couldn’t do was get out and speak publicly against all of this as something demonic that we needed to take spiritual authority over. I wasn’t allowed to do that as sheriff, and I didn’t think the Lord wanted me to jeopardize my job enough to lose it right in the middle of the investigation. There was a good chance a new sheriff, knowing how unpopular the subject had made me, wouldn’t have picked up the investigation and continued it. So I figured I was wiser to keep my mouth shut a little and still be able to carry out the search for the perpetrators and, hopefully, put an end to all the witchcraft activity in our county.”

Noah sat down on the footstool in front of Clint’s chair, leaning his elbows on his knees again, clasping his hand together in front of him. “Serenity . . . go check on David one more time before I tell you the rest. Make sure he’s asleep.”

Serenity looked up at him, but his head was bent down. “Okay, Noah,” she said quietly and rose to go to the bedroom. She was suddenly afraid . . . afraid for herself and Gramps because of what they’d have to hear . . . but even more afraid for Noah . . . because he would have to relive all of it in the telling. She wished she could take the hurt for him, but that wasn’t possible. “Please help him, Jesus,” she whispered just before she eased open the bedroom door. David was still fast asleep, peace on his little face, and tears sprang to her eyes at the thought of how the Lord had protected him all of his life.

Clint could see that Noah was so tense that his shoulders were strained tight. He placed his hand on one shoulder and began to pray. “Dear Lord, please give Noah Your peace right now. And give him the strength to tell us everything You want him to tell us, Father. And please . . . keep him from any more pain. Thank You, Lord.”

Clint was just finishing his prayer when Serenity returned and assured them that David was fine. Noah was still sitting on the footstool, so Serenity moved to the other end of the sofa where she could be closer to him. She reached over and laid her hand on his hands. “Just tell us as quickly as you can without trying to spare Gramps and me, Noah. You just need to get it all out.”

He turned his hands and grasped hers in both of his, nodding his agreement with her. He straightened up but didn’t let go of Serenity’s hand. “Well . . . my deputies and I had gradually been able to identify several of the people in that coven, but we didn’t have them all yet. And two of the people we didn’t connect with it were the two people who were the sponsors for the kids’ Sally Stone Clubs. They seemed like upright citizens, very civic-minded and interested in a number of children’s programs in the community. They even attended one of the churches in the county seat.

“We hadn’t caught on to their connection with the coven of witches, but we had started identifying a pattern in the ritual ceremonies and the farms the animals were being stolen from. We even managed to sneak in close enough to watch their rituals on two different occasions, and I felt like we were almost there . . . almost to the place where we could find a way to put a stop to all of it. Then Halloween week was upon us, and, of course, most of the people went all out to dress in horrendous costumes, put on scary parties, and all the rest. You know how the world does.” Serenity and Clint both nodded their understanding, and Noah let out another bitter laugh. “Did I say the world?” He shook his head. “ It seems to me that most of the church jumps in to celebrate that evil holiday with just as much enthusiasm as pagans do.”

“Unfortunately, you’re right,” Serenity said.

“Well, anyway, from my first year as sheriff, I had made it a practice to put all of my deputies on duty on the night of Halloween. We have a couple of towns overrun with taverns, and they usually had a full house, dressed for trick or treat and full of liquor. That usually led to some pretty wild activity along about midnight, so I liked to be prepared. I had thought that maybe I should stake at least one man out at the two sites that we knew were used most frequently for those rituals, but before the evening shift started, two of my men called in sick. Vomiting, diarrhea . . . really sick . . . and it had hit both of them all of a sudden. I know now that it was a pre-planned spiritual attack to keep me at a disadvantage, because that left me short-handed, and I dropped the idea of covering those secluded places. My reasoning was that I needed the most manpower in the more heavily populated places, since the most people’s safety was at stake there.”

Noah began to grip Serenity’s hand harder, and he swallowed convulsively before he went on. “About midnight I got a call that two children had been reported missing. One was a twelve year-old girl and the other a ten-year old boy. They weren’t related, and there was no reason to believe they would be together, so I took one family and sent a deputy to the other home to get all the information he could. Both families lived just outside the city limits of the same city, but in different directions.

“The parents of the boy told me that he was a member of the Sally Stone Club, and there had been a county-wide Halloween party that night, for all of the kids in the clubs. But it had been held in the civic center of their own town, and they had expected their son to call for a ride home by 10:30. They’d waited another half-hour, thinking he was just dawdling in getting away from his friends, but then they’d called the civic center. There was no answer, and figuring the office must be closed, but that the party was still going on, the father had driven by there, but all the lights were out. So that’s when they called 911.

“I checked with my deputy to see if the girl had turned up yet, and when he spoke with me, he told me that she too was supposed to have been at the Sally Stone Club Halloween Party.” Noah’s grip tightened even more on Serenity’s hand, and she put her other hand over his to try to comfort and encourage him as he went on. “I can still feel exactly what the knot felt like in my stomach when I realized that the party had to be the connection.

“And then . . . all of a sudden, the back door of these people’s home burst open, and a boy, who I later learned was the missing son, ran through the house to the living room where we were sitting. He looked absolutely wild with terror. His eyes were huge, his face was red, and he could hardly breathe from having run so far and so hard. His mother grabbed him up into her arms, and his dad knelt beside him trying to calm him. He was trying to talk, but between the gulps for breath and the convulsive sobs, he wasn’t able to say any words for several moments.

“Then I saw the marks on his wrists. They looked like rope burns, and then I knew . . . I just knew . . .” Noah’s voice had dropped to a whisper, and his eyes were filled with tears that began to trickle down his cheeks. After a few seconds, he cleared his throat so that he could speak more normally again. “I tried to get the boy to speak coherently, and finally, he began to mumble out some words between sobs. First it was just the girl’s name . . . Melinda . . . she went to the same school as he did, so he knew her . . . and then he said something like ‘they killed her.’ Of course, it was all jumbled up with his sobbing, and it still took me several minutes to find out if he meant the witches. When I got that much out of him, I needed him to tell me where they were, but he couldn’t right then.

“I called all my men and alerted them to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Then I began to describe the two places we were already familiar with as ritual sites, and the boy, Danny, finally recognized one of them, so I was pretty sure we had the location. I took off at top speed and radioed my men where to meet me, and we converged on the place in about fifteen minutes. It was a secluded wooded area, and there was dead silence all around. We couldn’t see or hear anyone, and I was afraid we had the wrong place.”

Noah’s grip on Serenity’s hand was causing her pain by now, but she didn’t dare let go. She could tell that he was barely holding himself together as he continued. “But as we began to sweep the area carefully, we could see that there had been some activity there earlier.” He swallowed hard. “And we finally came across the pentagram and a fire that was still smoldering . . . and then . . . a few feet away . . . we saw . . . Melinda.” The last words were choked out on a sob as Noah covered his face with his hands and finally lost the fragile control he had been trying so hard to maintain.

Look for Chapter Thirteen here tomorrow.


Sorry I didn’t post a chapter yesterday. Time just got away from me. But to make up for it, I will post two chapters today — but in separate posts.


© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


About fifteen minutes later her grandfather was at the door with dry clothes, and not five minutes behind him, Noah came in and threw himself into one of the kitchen chairs. He tossed the towel, now soaked, off of his shoulders onto the back of his chair and said, “Is that coffee I smell?”

“Sure is,” Serenity said, setting a big mug of the steaming liquid in front of him. “But you need to change clothes as soon as you can Noah,” she added. He looked up at her, and at Clint, who was standing with his hand still resting on the stack of dry clothes he had laid on the table.

“You go use the bedroom to change first, and get David into something more his size,” Noah said grinning a little at the boy, “and then I’ll change. Right now this coffee is the best sounding thing to my mind,” he added, taking a big gulp and then leaning over so that his elbows rested on the table, his hands wrapped around the mug. He had his head bent, way down, and he looked as if he were off in a world of his own thoughts all of a sudden.

Serenity took the clothes and slipped into the bedroom, returning just a couple of minutes later, dry and neat. Then she took David in and gave him an outfit of his own clothes to put on. She left him dressing, since she knew he always wanted to dress himself whenever possible. When she returned to the kitchen, she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. “David will be right out, Noah, and then you must change your clothes.” She looked at his mug and saw that it was empty, but he hadn’t done anything about it. The poor man was probably too spent to even get up off of the chair, she thought, so she refilled his cup and added four spoons of sugar.

He looked up at her then. “I thought that coffee tasted different than usual, but I was too tired to figure out why. You should know by now that I don’t use sugar,” he said, with half of a grin.

“And you should know by now, after all your years dealing with crises of one sort or another, that sometimes a stimulant is called for. Right now all I have to offer in that line is coffee with sugar, so you’re going to drink it,” she said with a determined look on her face that, at least, caused his grin to widen. He drank his sugared coffee obediently.

After a couple more minutes, David came out of the bedroom and took his seat at the table where Serenity had put his mug of hot cocoa. Noah got up then and went to change clothes, and Clint refilled his cup and began to look in Noah’s refrigerator.

“I think it’s getting close enough to supper time that some bacon and eggs would go pretty good, don’t you?” he said, pulling out a carton of eggs and a package of bacon as he spoke.

“Well, I don’t know that we should stay that long, Gramps.”

He looked straight at her and spoke especially quietly, nodding toward the bedroom as he did so. “That man needs to talk to somebody, and it might as well be us.”

Serenity knew her grandfather was right, but she wasn’t sure Noah would agree. However, she yelled toward the bedroom. “Gramps is suggesting he fix all of us some bacon and eggs, Noah. Can you tolerate all of us long enough for that?”

“Sure. It sounds good if you don’t mind missing church to stay and do that.” Noah stepped through the bedroom door then, in a light yellow knit shirt and blue jeans.

“I think all three of you need to dry out and get some rest instead of trying to go to service tonight.” Gramps said. “Sometimes God has other things to do that are important too . . . and besides . . . I’m gettin’ hungry.”

“Then be my guests,” Noah said, chuckling and sitting back down at the table. “Did you find everything you need?” he asked Clint.

“Sure did. Now the rest of you just sit there and rest, and I’ll whip up one of my gourmet meals.”

David had kept looking at Noah in sideways glances repeatedly, but he hadn’t reached for his mug yet. Serenity noticed it was still untouched and she encouraged him, “David, you need to drink your cocoa, Honey.”

Suddenly, David burst into tears, covering his little face with his hands, and before Serenity could get to his side, Noah was squatting down beside his chair, cradling David to him. After a moment, David was finally able to get some words out through the tears, and he said, “I’m sorry, Noah. I’m sorry.”

Noah pulled back enough to look into David’s eyes. “Sorry about what, Dave?”

“I’m sorry I let that happen to Moondancer. Is he going to be all right?”

Noah shifted enough to take hold of David’s shoulders and look him squarely in the face. “David, you didn’t do anything wrong. What happened to Moondancer was not your fault at all. And I mean that. You even tried to swim out and save him for me. Of course,” he added with a chuckle now, trying to get one out of David too, “that move on your part put a little scare into me, but it was a very unselfish thing to do.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t my fault?” he asked, his eyes serious, but less tearful now.

“Absolutely! It was nothing but an attack from our old enemy, the devil. He tried to harm Moondancer and you, but the Lord didn’t let him get away with it.”

David threw his arms around Noah’s neck then. “Thank you for coming for me, Noah. I couldn’t swim any more myself. I was just too tired to keep moving.”

Noah’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m just so grateful that you were able swim as long as you did, David. You’re a very brave boy, and I’m proud of you. But please, promise me that you won’t ever go that far out again . . . not for any reason.”

David nodded his head, and sniffed. “Okay,” he said. “I promise, Noah.” He sniffed again, and Noah handed him his handkerchief.

“Here. Blow and then drink your cocoa before it gets cold.”

So David blew his nose and laid the handkerchief on the table to pick up his mug.

“Is it still hot?” Serenity asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head. “Mmmmm, it’s good!”

“Okay, bacon’s done,” Clint announced, setting the platter on the table. “Is scrambled all right for the eggs?”

“Sounds great,” Noah said, moving to the cabinet and taking out plates and silverware and carrying them to the table.

The eggs were done shortly, and they all ate like truly hungry people. Serenity was surprised that they had that much of an appetite after what they’d been through, but she didn’t question it. She knew that good, hot food was often as good a tranquilizer as anything else . . . at least in the right company, so she tried to just enjoy the meal. David hadn’t finished everything on his plate before his eyelids began to droop heavily, and by the third time he tried to blink them open, he had lost the battle. He fell sound asleep sitting in his chair. Noah got up and picked him up. “After that kind of experience, good hot food and warm clothes go a long way toward relaxing you,” He said, grinning. “I’ll lay him on my bed until you’re ready to head home after while.”

Those words made Serenity think that Noah did want to have their company for a while longer, so she hoped he would talk to them openly. When he sat back down, Clint handed him another piece of toast with jelly, and he ate it, still not saying a word. Serenity decided it was time to ask some questions.

“Noah, what made you think that everything happened because of a spell being put on Moondancer?”

“What’s this?” Clint asked.

“When we were praying for the Lord to somehow save Moondancer . . . after Noah had already rescued David . . . he jumped up and began to break a spell and take authority over demonic spirits.” She looked back at Noah. “How did you know?”

Noah looked away from her in thought, and it was then that he realized why he’d thought he should recognize Lacey Dillard. It wasn’t the girl’s eyes that he had seen before. It was the eyes of the demonic spirit that was inhabiting her. A chill ran through Noah, and Serenity laid her hand on his arm. “Are you cold, Noah?”

He refocused on her and shook his head. “No . . . just a little reaction. I’m fine.”

“Are you going to answer my question about how you knew what to do?” Serenity asked him, looking directly into his eyes. He looked away a little and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess the Lord just quickened it to me right then.”

“But . . . the . . . the way you took that authority, Noah . . . it seemed as if . . . as if you’d had a lot of experience doing that kind of thing. I mean . . . well . . . I’ve prayed against demonic power a few times . . . and I’ve heard one or two other people do so . . . and I know it’s necessary sometimes . . . but there was just something about the way you did it.”

“You’re letting your imagination run away with you,” he said, trying for a casual grin that just didn’t come off.

“Well . . . I suppose it could have been my imagination . . . but . . . I don’t think I really believe that, Noah. . . . I think it was the look on your face and the fierceness in your voice. It seemed as if you were dealing with forces that you recognized and understood . . . and —” she threw up her hands before she continued. “Oh, I don’t know . . . it just seemed as if you knew exactly who or what you were dealing with, and that this wasn’t anywhere near the first time you’d dealt with it.”

Noah got up from the table and walked over to the windows. He stood looking out, not saying anything. Serenity looked at her grandfather, and he just raised one finger as if to say that she should give Noah time. So she sat back in her chair and concentrated on keeping silent. As she watched him, she saw him raise his hand and finger the gold ring in his ear. He held onto it, gently fingering the gold hoop and then the tiny cross, as he still looked out the window. Then she heard him whisper, “Forgive me, Lord. Forgive me for breaking my promise.”

Serenity could hear the anguish in the quiet words, and her heart ached for this man. She didn’t know yet what he was dealing with, but it must have been serious indeed to cause that kind of tone in his voice and his hesitancy to discuss it at all. After another moment or two, Clint spoke. “Anything you want to tell us won’t have to go any farther than this room, Son . . . if that’s what you want. But . . . I think you do need to talk, don’t you?”

Noah still didn’t turn around, but in a moment he spoke again, in a more normal volume. “I . . . I just can’t bear to think that I almost let another child die because of the witchcraft!”

Serenity opened her mouth to ask what he meant, but Clint put a restraining hand on her arm to stop her. Then he spoke. “Are you talking about David, Noah?”

Noah didn’t say any words. He nodded hid head in answer, at the same time leaning forward and bracing himself on the window ledge as a heavy sob escaped him, followed by another and another. Serenity’s tender heart just couldn’t take anymore. She jumped up and ran to him, throwing her arms around his shoulders as he leaned way over on the window ledge, his head supported on his closed fists now. She held him as closely as she could while he sobbed, and tears were streaming down her own cheeks, as she hurt for him and didn’t even understand why.

No one in the room could see the fourth occupant. Naam, the “beautiful, pleasant one,” stood faithfully on the other side of Noah, spreading his glorious wings over this weeping couple. He smiled now, knowing that it wasn’t really his presence that was giving his charge comfort right now; it was the presence of this woman of God whom the Eternal Father had chosen to be this man’s helpmate. They didn’t know that yet, of course, but they were learning — one day at a time — and that was enough for now.

But Naam also knew that his presence was for protection right now even more than for comfort. He had been charged with Noah Bennett the day he had been conceived, and he had faithfully executed his duties to guard and keep this man in all his ways. And many had been the times, especially this past year that he had also been his comforter, although Noah had yet to see him with his own eyes.

Naam knew, though, that Noah had felt his presence many times. And, of course, he had been aware that he had received supernatural protection a number of times in his life as a law enforcement officer. This past year had certainly been the most challenging. Naam had been forced to call in extra help from the Hosts of Heaven to cover Noah effectively during that time. And the battles with the demonic powers had been horribly intense on two different occasions. But the Hosts of Heaven had won! Naam smiled to himself now as he remembered. Yes — they had won.

But Jehovah had warned Naam that there would be more battles to come, and Naam had understood that some of those battles would be within Noah’s will. Naam couldn’t interfere with that, of course, but it was his job to make Noah able to find the right places in Jehovah’s Word that would give him direction, and to come into contact with the other members of the Body of Christ that the Lord had chosen to influence him. Those two accomplishments would help to keep Noah’s thinking clear and sound, and help keep his emotions shielded from the deceptive pressures of the enemy. That way, Noah could make his decisions on the basis of Jehovah’s truth alone.

So far, this man had been faithful at every turn in the road. This past two weeks had been a time of fierce struggle, though. Noah had wanted so badly to be allowed to turn his back on this terrible development here in Hamsted. But, finally, today, as Naam had stood beside his charge on the edge of the ocean, the Eternal Father had spoken to the angel and told him to speak to Noah the words that would open his eyes to the fact that he had no choice but to step out in faith and use the authority he had been trained by the Holy Spirit to use.

And then, just a few minutes ago, Naam had been given permission to speak to his charge again. Noah had been so troubled lately that he wasn’t really listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit as he needed to do. So Naam had received instructions to remind Noah about the promise he’d made to the Eternal Father when he had put that ring in his ear. And to Naam’s great delight, just the one little reminder was all that Noah needed to cause him to realize that he had come close to breaking that promise. In the next instant, he had committed himself to it anew.

Look for Chapter Twelve immediately following this one.




© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


On Friday afternoon, Lacey and Troy and two other children came to the beach not far from the lighthouse, brought there by their mothers to swim and have a picnic. After swimming for a while, they all sat down to eat and then put up a badminton net where the children began a game. While they were playing, David and Trent came riding down the beach on Moondancer, and when they got close, Troy recognized them.

“Hey,” said Troy, “isn’t that those two scaredy-cats that quit the Library Club?”

Lacey and the other kids looked that direction, and Lacey answered “Yeah, that’s them. Wow! Is that their horse? He’s gorgeous!” She had stopped playing now and began to walk over to where the horse was slowing to a walk. David pulled Moondancer to a stop when he saw Lacey getting close, and then she spoke to them. “Is that your horse?”

“No, he belongs to Noah Bennett. He lives back that way,” David said pointing in the direction of Noah’s cottage. “He just lets us ride him.”

“I ride horses a lot when I go to my grandpa’s farm. Can I ride this one?” she asked, getting close enough that she reached out a hand to pet Moondancer’s neck. The horse instantly shied away from her, surprising David with the sudden move. Lacey stepped closer and started to touch the horses nose, saying, “I won’t hurt you, Boy,” but Moondancer snorted and backed away from her again, becoming more agitated. “What’s wrong with this stupid horse, anyway?” Lacey asked, looking at David.

“I don’t know. He’s never acted this way before. But Noah says he doesn’t usually let other people ride him.”

“Well, if you two babies can ride him, I know I can. Get down and let me get on him.”

“We can’t. You’ll have to ask Noah. And we have to go back now,” David said. Trent nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, we got to get Moondancer home,” he added. “Bye.” And David steered the stallion back toward Noah’s cottage.

“Stupid horse!” Lacey said as she rejoined her friends. Then she looked after the boys. “I think we’ll just go down there and see where he lives. I bet I can get a ride on him after those two little scaredy-cats leave.”

“Aw, finish the game first, Lacey. You’re holding up everything!” one of the other two children said. “Yeah,” her brother added. “When we see who wins this game, then we can go find the horse. They said he lives down that way.”

So they finished the game and then told their moms they were going for a walk. “All right,” Gloria Dillard said, “but keep an eye on your watch, kids. We need to leave in another hour.” Lacey and Troy both looked at their watches and nodded. “Okay,” they said, and all four kids took off. They weren’t expecting to have to walk quite so far, but they were all in good health and very active, so they didn’t really mind, and Lacey kept prodding them along because she definitely wanted to find that horse.

In the meantime, David had told Noah about the encounter, and Noah hadn’t found it too surprising that Moondancer shied away from a stranger, but the extent of his agitation . . . at least as David explained it . . . did surprise him a little. Well, thought Noah, maybe David had considered it worse than it really was, since he had never seen Moondancer do that before at all. And the fact was that this horse was particularly sensitive and intuitive. That was one of the things that endeared him to Noah so much.

Noah had invited the two boys in for some lemonade and popcorn, and while they were all enjoying that, Lacey and her friends walked by the cottage and spotted Moondancer in the corral. They went running up to the fence and climbed up on it. Noah had glanced out the window and seen them pass, but he didn’t think anything about it until he heard Moondancer. As soon as the kids had mounted the fence, Moondancer, who had been standing right beside it, began to neigh and snort loudly and back away. Noah thought he needed to check on the situation, so he told the boys to go ahead and eat, and he stepped out to check on his horse.

When he saw the kids on the fence and saw Moondancer’s agitation, he knew there had to be some connection, but, for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was. He approached the kids, who hadn’t paid any attention to him until he spoke. “Hello there. Are you kids from around here?”

“Hey mister,” Troy said, “is this your horse?”

“Yes, he’s mine. What can I do for you?”

“I want to ride him,” Lacey said, getting off the fence and walking right up to Noah. She seemed a little cocky in her attitude, Noah thought, but kids today sometimes were so undisciplined at home they couldn’t help turning out that way. Noah shook his head.

“I’m sorry, young lady, but Moondancer doesn’t let strangers ride him.”

“I saw those other two boys riding him, and they’re nothing but big babies. I know how to ride, because I go to my grandpa’s farm once a month, and we ride all the time.”

While she had been talking, Moondancer had still been rearing and snorting in agitation, and Noah knew the horse had to be reacting to these children. There was no way he could allow them to get on his back. He’d throw them off instantly. “I’m sorry,” he said again, “but Moondancer is agitated at your being close to him for some reason, and it wouldn’t be safe for you to ride him.”

“Well, I’ve ridden horses that stomp and rear up sometimes,” Lacey answered. “I know how to ride them. And if you let those other boys ride, you should let me ride too!” she added stomping her foot a little. But Noah shook his head again.

“Not today. If you’re here another time, and Moondancer seems quiet and peaceful around you, we’ll think about it then, if we get your parents’ permission, but there won’t be any riding today.”

“Come on, Lacey,” her brother said. “We’re going to be late getting back to Mom if we stay much longer anyway. You don’t have time to ride today.”

“Oh, Mom won’t care, and it’s not fair if they get to ride and not me.” She turned back to Noah. “It’s not fair!” she shouted at him, stomping her foot again. By that time, her brother was pulling on her arm. “Come on, Sis. Maybe next time.” But as he pulled her away slowly, the other kids turning to leave too, Lacey looked back at Noah again. There was something in her eyes that made Noah think he should know the girl, but he couldn’t place her. He didn’t think he had met her on the beach or at church before. But something . . . .

He turned to go back into the cottage now, and was just opening the front door to do so when Lacey ran back from her group of friends, heading straight for the fence again. Noah didn’t see that she had a big rock in her hand until she was right up to the fence. Suddenly she raised her arm, shouting, “You stupid horse!” and threw the rock right at Moondancer. The rock hit him on the shoulder, sending him into a frenzy of agitation, and Noah ran toward Lacey.

“Hey, you stop that right now and get out of here!” he said, his anger barely under control. “And don’t you ever come back here, do you understand me? I will not ever let you ride Moondancer now . . . not for any reason. Now go on!”

Lacey turned toward him, those eyes that he thought he should recognize burning at him. “You’ll be sorry!” she spat out at him. “You’ll see! You’ll be sorry!” And then she ran back to her little group farther down the beach. Noah stepped into the corral and settled Moondancer, checking his shoulder. It was a minor wound, and quickly taken care of, but something in Noah’s spirit was disturbed far more deeply than was understandable to him. He wasn’t sure what it was, and in the midst of trying to figure it out, he heard David’s voice right behind him.

“Did she hurt Moondancer, Noah?” he asked tentatively. “We saw her from the window when she threw the rock. Is he hurt bad?”

Noah turned to the two boys who had come up beside him by then, and he smiled at the tender concern for the horse in their faces. What a difference in children, Noah thought. No wonder Moondancer took to David immediately, and didn’t like that little spitfire of girl at all. He chuckled at the thought a little and answered David. “No, Dave, he’s not really hurt. I put a little salve on his shoulder, and he’ll be all right. Did you guys finish your snack?”

“Yeah, thanks,” they both answered at once. “I guess we need to go home,” David said then, “but will Moondancer be able to ride tomorrow?”

“I’m pretty sure he will,” Noah answered. “I’ll give you a call in the morning and tell you how his shoulder is, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, beaming. Then he reached up and rubbed the stallion’s nose. “Don’t worry, Boy. Trent and I love you, and we’d never hurt you.” The horse moved closer to David and nuzzled his neck, blowing gently the way he always did when the boy petted him.

“He knows that, Dave,” Noah said, tousling the blond head. Then he reached out and patted Trent’s shoulder. “You boys run on and enjoy the rest of your day together now.”

“Okay,” they chorused and turned to leave the corral. “See you tomorrow,” David called as they started down the beach toward the lighthouse.

“See you then,” Noah called in answer, patting Moondancer once more and turning toward his own cottage.

Gloria Dillard sat in a folding lawn chair with her friend, waiting for the children to return. She had been concerned the last couple of weeks about Lacey and Troy’s attitudes. They seemed to be more impatient and foul tempered than they used to be, and they didn’t mind well at all sometimes. Nick’s mother had said the same thing about her son when she had been talking to Gloria one day. Of course, they knew the children were going through those years when everything was changing, and that meant emotions could run pretty wild at times. Both mothers had decided that the age factor was probably the biggest cause. Still, when Lacey came back to their picnic site looking like a severe storm in the making and wouldn’t talk to her about it at all, her mother felt another twinge of concern all the same.


As Lacey read to her small group on Monday morning, she found herself absorbed by the story again, lost in the world of sorcery, feeling almost as if she were Sally Stone. She liked that feeling. It gave her a feeling of importance — and even better — a sense of power. But suddenly, she found herself reading about the time that Sally had put a spell on a neighbor’s dog because it had barked and growled at her and wouldn’t let her go into that person’s yard. She had called on the forces of darkness to drive the dog out of its mind momentarily and send it running into the street right in front of a truck, so that it was killed.

Lacey stopped reading. She looked up from the book, but her eyes did not focus on the students she had been reading to or on anything else in the room. She was looking away from all of that, envisioning her own revenge — on a horse — and his owner. She laughed gleefully now and whispered to herself, “You won’t dance for much longer, Moondancer. I’ll send you to a watery grave, and then you won’t be able to give anybody a ride.”

The younger students that had been listening to her read just looked at her curiously. They realized she had stopped reading, but thought she was getting ready to explain something to them about the witchcraft in the story, because she often did that. Lacey knew a lot about witches and their spells. A couple of their older brothers and sisters knew Lacey and Troy and knew that they got a big allowance, so they were able to order all kinds of witchcraft things from the Internet to practice with.

Some of the kids didn’t really believe the things she told them about the power of spells and curses, but most of them did. However, most of them, even though they loved hearing the Sally Stone stories, still didn’t want to get any closer to real witches and spells than the book itself. They hadn’t had enough experience to know that if they continued to involve themselves in the stories, they would come under the influence of the forces behind the stories and be drawn deeper into the occult world. So they sat with open mouths and bated breath whenever she told them some of the true things she knew about in the dark world of wizardry.

Later that afternoon, Lacey got out one of her spell books, and the book on incantations and secret potions that Miss Parker had found for her, and by the time the Middle School Order of the Magic Arts met the following night, she was ready to enlist their help to put a deadly spell on Moondancer. They were getting pretty effective at putting spells on animals by now. Most of the time they did it just for fun, because it gave them a feeling of power and control. But this time, Lacey intended for the spell to do some lasting damage.

As the group chanted and called on the powers of darkness, they didn’t really see anything particularly wrong with what they were doing. The six Sally Stone books they’d read had made all of this kind of activity seem normal, at least for anyone who had an interest in sorcery anyway. And although they couldn’t get quite enough information from the books alone to always know which potions and enchantments to use, they had been very successful, since money was no real hindrance to Lacey and Troy, in getting more detailed material via the occult sites on the Internet.

Of course, Lacey and Troy had had to sign up to become members of a secret organization in order to get some of the material from the Internet. And they had had to mail in a personal article of their own to that organization, so that they would be attached to it forever, but that didn’t matter. It opened up a much broader world of sorcery to them, and that’s what they wanted. And then, of course, Miss Parker was so thrilled about how far they had advanced in responding to their inner spirit guides, just as she had taught them, that she encouraged them to satisfy their curious minds by ordering even more books and materials for them through her library connections. Two of the books she’d ordered for Lacey had been written by real witches.

So now they called on the powers of the dark arts to work with them as they cast the spell on Noah Bennett’s beautiful stallion. They called for Moondancer to become totally confused in his mind and to be driven straight into the ocean, not stopping for any reason until he had drowned and was dead.

The next afternoon, David walked down to Noah’s cottage, as he was in the habit of doing now, and Noah helped him saddle Moondancer for their ride. Serenity had given her nephew perimeters for his rides, and David was always willing to obey those perimeters, because he knew that it meant he’d be allowed to ride Moondancer all summer. He wasn’t sure what he’d do when Noah left. He didn’t like to think about that because he’d not only come to love this horse; he’d come to love Noah too. But today, he was able to put all of those worries out of his mind as he prepared to mount the stallion.

For some reason Moondancer seemed a little skittish today. Noah noticed it, but he didn’t credit it as having any particular cause, and the horse nuzzled David’s hand and shoulder just like he always did, so David wasn’t the problem. He decided he’d walk along with them for a while, though, just to be sure. “Have you noticed that Moondancer is a little skittish today, Dave?”

“Yeah, he’s not sick though is he?” he asked with genuine concern in his eyes.

“No, he doesn’t show any signs of being sick, and he obviously still considers you a friend. But I think I’ll walk along with the two of you for a bit and make sure everything’s normal.”

“Okay,” David agreed readily. “Do you want to ride too?”

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s probably nothing more than the fact that he senses some unpleasant weather or something. We do have a bank of clouds a few miles out that could bring us a thunderstorm or two. But it doesn’t look like anything dangerous, and it’s a long way out yet. May not even get this far,” he answered as he lifted David to the saddle. They walked along together to the end of David’s territory on one end and then back as far as Noah’s cottage. Moondancer seemed to be himself, so Noah told David he could go ahead and have a good ride back the other way, and he would follow them, after talking a few minutes with the man who lived in the cottage next door.

David gave Moondancer his customary signal to go for a run, and the stallion took off. Not quite a quarter of a mile down the beach, though, Moondancer stopped suddenly, almost dislodging David, and Noah, seeing it, instinctively began to run that way. But in the next instant, Moondancer had reared back, almost like a wild horse, and David fell off into the sand. He seemed to have landed on his bottom, so Noah had hopes that he wasn’t seriously hurt, but he couldn’t believe what was going on with his horse.

The stallion kept rearing and making wild noises; then suddenly, he took off straight into the ocean. He ran as if he were being driven. By that time, David was back on his feet and calling for the horse, running after him straight into the ocean. The surf was making a good deal of noise periodically, but Noah was close enough now to hear David’s shouts for Moondancer to come back. Noah, in his turn, shouted at David. The boy was already swimming beyond the depth where he would be safe, and the sea was becoming choppy.

Suddenly, panic seized Noah. His midsection tightened with a fear that he hadn’t known since last year. He loved this little boy, and he was about to see him drown before his very eyes if he couldn’t get to him. His immediate response was to pray, of course, which he did fervently, but he also ran like the wind. He’d always stayed in good shape physically, and he’d had to literally run down a criminal or two in his time, but this run was even more critical to him. This run was life or death for David. “Please, Lord, keep him safe. Please, let me get to him in time.”

Noah didn’t even try to follow Moondancer. David was all that mattered to him. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Serenity was running toward him where he was just entering the water himself. He half turned back toward her and yelled above the surf. “Stay there! I’ll get him; I promise!”

His next words were in prayer. “Oh, dear Jesus, help me keep that promise!”

David was floundering now, unable to fight the strength of the waves that far out. It had been only a couple of minutes, but he had gone much farther than he could have realized, his eyes focused only on Moondancer. Noah saw David’s head go under, and he plowed through the rough waves with everything in him. Finally, after what seemed a horrible nightmare, he reached the boy. David’s head had gone under once more, but he was bobbing up again, barely. Noah reached him and grabbed him, holding him so tightly that it must have been a miracle, he thought later, that he hadn’t cut off the rest of David’s breath.

It was a struggle, but slowly, finally, Noah got them back into easier waves, closer to shore, and then at last, he was close enough he could stand in the surf and carry David normally. By that time, Serenity was that far out herself, soaked to her waist, tears streaming down her face. She met Noah and David, throwing her arms around both of them, panting for breath. Noah was panting too, so much so that he could hardly speak, but he managed to at least reassure her. “He’s alive, Serie. And he’s conscious.”

They made their way back to the beach, and Serenity grabbed the one towel she had had around her shoulders as she had been walking toward Noah’s cabin. They laid David on his stomach to help him get rid of as much water as possible, and then wrapped him in the towel. He was shivering, but Noah held him. Serenity looked at him, her eyes still filled with shock. “What happened?”

Noah just shook his head. “Moondancer . . .” he stopped. He had forgotten his horse in his desperate fight to save David. He looked back out to the stallion now. The beautiful white horse was beginning to flounder, being much farther out than David had been and in much more dangerous waves. “Dear God, please,” he said in anguish now, “please help him! . . . help us! What can I do, Lord?”

Serenity was praying too. “Please Father, Moondancer is one of Your creatures. And he belongs to your faithful servant. Please save him!”

Suddenly Noah sprang to his feet, and shouted, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I break this spell on Moondancer, and I break the power of these demonic spirits that have been assigned to kill my horse! I command every one of you spirits to stop this attack now! Moondancer belongs to me, and, in the name of Jesus, I command you to leave him right now and never return!” Serenity looked at him with her mouth open. Was that what had happened? There had been a spell placed on the horse? She knew witchcraft was real, but she had never had any firsthand experience with it. How did Noah know?

But she didn’t have time to voice any of her thoughts because, suddenly, Moondancer turned around. He was still floundering somewhat, but he was at least making an attempt to swim toward shore rather than farther out into the ocean. Serenity kept praying, and she could hear David’s shivering voice praying also, as she held him tightly in her arms. Gradually, the horse gained momentum. He must surely be exhausted, thought Serenity. Only the Lord could give him the strength to swim back all that way.

But by now Noah was wading out into the water again. He couldn’t just stand there and watch this horse that he had bonded so closely with struggle all the way back to shore — if he could get all the way back. He could hear Serenity shout at him, “Please be careful, Noah!” But he kept going. He was swimming now, moving steadily toward Moondancer, and finally, by the time the horse was far enough to shore to have his shoulders above the water, Noah reached him. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to physically help the horse make it in, but he could talk to him and pet him and give him the encouragement to keep trying, so that was what he did, as he swam beside the flagging horse.

At last . . . solid ground. Noah dragged himself as far as he could before he collapsed on the beach. Serenity and David were right there, helping him up onto his hands and knees, so that he could at least crawl all the way out of the water. Moondancer stood beside him now, panting and snorting, obviously exhausted, but seeming to be his normal self. Finally he sidled up close to Noah and nuzzled his shoulder. Noah reached up and patted the horse’s nose. “Good boy, Moondancer. Good boy,” was all he was able to get out, and that in a breathless voice.

When he had recovered more of his breath, he straightened the upper part of his body, although he was still kneeling in the sand. “Get David inside, and get him warm, Serenity. I’m all right. But David’s body has been through a shock. You need to get him dry and get him something warm to drink. Take him to my cottage. It’s closer than the lighthouse.” He could see the deep concern in her eyes, and the gratitude — and perhaps — he’d like to believe he saw love there — but he was too exhausted to be able to know for sure. “Go on,” he said to her now. “I’ll follow as soon as I get more breath back.”

She dropped to her knees and embraced him, kissing him on the cheek, her tears mingling with the salt water on his face. “Thank you, Noah,” she managed to say through the tears. “You saved David’s life! How can I ever thank you?” Suddenly she was kissing one cheek and then the other, and then his lips. It wasn’t a romantic embrace; it was all the overwhelming emotions inside of her needing an outlet, but it was like new life to Noah. “Thank you,” she breathed out one more time and then turned to David again. He was still shivering a little, so she wrapped the towel more tightly around him, holding him to her side as they began the walk back to Noah’s cottage.

When they got there, Serenity grabbed two more towels. She dried David thoroughly, rubbing him briskly, and then found one of Noah’s heavier shirts to put on him, just as Noah had done the night of the storm. Then she dried herself as well as she could and moved to the phone to call Gramps. She told him as briefly as possible what had happened, and he promised to be down in just a few minutes with dry clothes. Then Serenity put milk in the microwave for David and began a pot of coffee for her and Noah.

When it started to perk, she glanced out the window and saw Noah leading Moondancer across the yard toward the corral. She knew Noah wouldn’t come inside until he had made sure Moondancer was all right and had gotten him warmed up too, so she grabbed the two heaviest beach towels she could find and ran outside with them. Noah was just removing the saddle from Moondancer when he saw her coming toward him with the towels. “Serenity, go back inside. I’ll be in shortly.” But she ignored his words and reached up and threw one of the towels around him, pulling it tightly around his chest. Then she threw the other one across Moondancer’s back and turned and ran toward the cottage without saying a word.

Find Chapter Eleven here tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner



The next morning when Lacey and Troy got to school for the Library Club, they were early enough that only one or two other students were there, and they were busy setting up some materials Miss Parker was going to use that morning. “Oh, I’m glad you two are here early,” she said to them. “Troy, I need you to count the number of take-home packets we have left on that shelf by the window, and Lacey I could use your help in my office, if you’re willing.”

“Sure, Miss Parker, “ she said and followed the librarian into her little office while Troy moved over to the bookshelf by the window to do his part.

“Now, Lacey, I’ve ordered a number of new books for the library, and I’d like for us to be able to use some of them this summer, but I haven’t had time to check to see exactly which ones have come in so far. Would you be willing to go through all the books in these two boxes and put a check mark beside the titles on my list if those books are here?”

“Sure,” she answered taking the list that Miss Parker handed her, along with a pen from the desk and going over to the two boxes sitting on the floor in the corner. As she worked quickly, she didn’t pay any attention to anything else, until she realized she was hearing Mr. Kelso’s voice. At that she glanced behind her briefly and saw that he was standing in the doorway talking quietly to Miss Parker.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t get to you earlier, but I was tied up with some other problems and got here later than usual. I wanted you to know before you start that you won’t be having David Hartford and Trent Matthews in the program anymore. Their mothers withdrew them yesterday.” Miss Parker made some kind of face that he had never seen her make before, and he didn’t know exactly what it meant, but when she answered him, it was in her usual tone of voice.

“Well . . . I’m not really too surprised. They just couldn’t seem to fit into the program at all. They almost seemed afraid to play the mind-expanding games, and I heard both of them say something about the books not being something God wanted them to read.” She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s a shame, but some people just won’t allow themselves to progress in the development of their inner selves.”

“Well, I think there was a problem with one of them having some nightmares too, and some strange events that the two ladies attributed to the material they had been exposed to here. I told them about how much the program has helped some of the other students, and that it is positively received here because of that, but they just didn’t feel comfortable about the boys coming back. I’m sorry, Miss Parker. I know you try very hard.”

“Thank you, Mr. Kelso. I do try very hard, and I’m seeing some fine progress with most of the children, so I’m not going to take this little event as a setback. But thank you for telling me as soon as possible.”

“Oh, and I meant to tell you that Miss Lawrence did ask to speak with you personally yesterday before she saw me, but you were unavailable, of course. So I assured both ladies that I would fill you in thoroughly, and both of them said that if you should have any questions, you should feel free to call them.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. As a matter of fact, Mr. Kelso . . . well . . . I hope you’ll understand what I mean by this . . .” she paused as if searching for words. “Well, let me just say that sometimes if you have a person who cannot get into the spirit of the project, he can often interfere with the development of the other people who really want to succeed at it. I think perhaps, in the long run, this is for the best.”

“Well, I’m glad you can look at it that way, then. I’ll go now and let you get to your work. I see most of your students are here now. Have a good day.”

“You too,” she said, as he slipped back out into the hallway and she went into the main room to welcome the children.

So, Lacey thought now, the two smart alecks who thought they were too good to read the books the rest of us read aren’t coming back. About that time, Troy walked in and told her Miss Parker was beginning the class. “Hey, Troy did you hear? Those two boys, Trent and David, have quit the Library Club.”

“How come?”

“Well, you know they said all kinds of silly stuff about God not wanting us to read the Sally Stone books, and they wouldn’t play the games with the rest of the kids. Miss Parker said they were scared. And that’s just what they are: scaredy-cats and smart alecks. I’m glad they’re gone.”

“Who told you?”

“I heard Mr. Kelso telling Miss Parker. She thinks it’s better that they’re gone too. We can all get more out of the classes without somebody like them around. One of them is just an old cry-baby anyway. He had some bad dreams, and now his mommy doesn’t want him to come back.” Her nasty, mocking didn’t seem to affect her brother. Troy just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I guess they’re just too young to appreciate it.”

“But you started reading the Sally Stone books when you were only a year older than them, and you appreciated them, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right. Anyway, class is started; get out here,” he added, turning back into the main library room, and Lacey followed him, a gleeful look in her eyes. For some reason, she felt that her day had just taken a turn for the better.

By late Thursday afternoon, Serenity was a bundle of nerves. She hadn’t been out on a date since she’d gone back to Cincinnati for several days during Easter week. Then she had gone to dinner twice with a man she had dated frequently before moving to the lighthouse. He was a photographer, and they had worked together on several magazine articles and had become good friends. But Serenity didn’t feel anything beyond a strong friendship for him, and she certainly hadn’t had any butterflies or sweaty palms as she prepared for their evenings together.

Tonight would be different. She knew that as surely as she knew her name. She couldn’t have explained it, but she knew that what she felt when she was with Noah was altogether different from anything she had felt with the men she’d dated before. As a result, she was torn between excitement at having the chance to examine those feelings further, and concern that her feelings might be leading her to a place of heartache when Noah left the area.

“Aunt Serie, how come you’re just sitting there staring at your mirror?” David asked from behind her. She hadn’t heard him come into her room, and she couldn’t help chuckling a little now as she turned and looked at him, still in her dressing gown after her shower.

“I’m just thinking, Dave. Did you and Gramps decide what you’re going to do for supper?”

“Yeah, that’s what I came to tell you. We’re going into town to the fish restaurant, and then Gramps said we might even go to the movie. It’s one about a racehorse. Is that all right with you?”

“I think that sounds like fun. I bet you’ll both have a good time.”

“When’s Noah coming to get you?”

Serenity glanced at her watch. “Oh, my goodness! He’ll be here in about thirty minutes!” she said, shocked that she had sat so long thinking. “Come give me a kiss and then you scoot so I can get dressed quickly.”

“Okay,” he said, giggling. “You must think this is a special night if it’s taking you so long to get ready.”

“Well, it is . . . kind of. Noah and I have never gone out to dinner before.”

“Does that mean you like Noah a lot?”

Serenity tried to decide how to answer that question. “I think we all like Noah a lot, don’t we?”

“Yeah. He’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

“I’m glad. Now you tell Gramps that I said for you two to have a great evening.”

“I will,” he said turning and running back to the hall to carry the message to Clint.

Twenty minutes later, Serenity was standing before her mirror in one of her favorite evening dresses. It was black and sleeveless with a squared neckline that showed off her lovely tan to perfection. The dress fell from an empire waistline in soft folds all the way to the middle of her calf, and she had completed the look with high-heeled, sandals with very thin straps. She had pulled her hair up into a cluster of curls on top of her head with a few wisps floating around her face, and her only jewelry was a pair of single pearl earrings and a single pearl on a short, delicate, gold chain around her neck. When she walked out into the living room, Clint was just on the point of coming to tell her he and David were leaving. But he stopped in his tracks and whistled.

“Now that’s what I call classy, Granddaughter. You’re sure going to attract attention tonight!” he said, grinning broadly at her. David ran up to her then, his eyes bright.

“Gosh, Aunt Serie, you never dress up like that here! You look beautiful! Noah will think so too.”

“Thank you, both of you,” Serenity said, blushing a little as they both still stared at her. “Well, you need to get going, don’t you?” she asked.

Clint chuckled and took David by the hand. “We can take a hint,” he said. “Come on, Dave. We’re not needed around here right now. See you when you get home, Honey,” he said to Serie, and whisked his great-grandson out the door.

Serenity sat down and tried to slow the rapid beating of her heart as she waited, but in no time, she heard Noah’s knock on the door. He was a little early, but at least she wouldn’t keep him waiting. So she walked over and opened the door, inviting him in and stepping back into the full light of the room. Noah stood there with his mouth slightly open, his eyes registering blatant approval of how she looked, but it was several seconds before he said anything.

“Serenity . . . you’re absolutely beautiful!” He wanted to say more, but he was having trouble getting his feelings translated into words. He had recognized the natural beauty of the woman before, but he just hadn’t expected the impact that he’d sustained when she’d opened the door tonight. Where she was usually fresh air and sunshine, tonight she was one hundred percent, tantalizing, provocative woman. And to make the package even more irresistible, there was an innocence about her that made it clear she didn’t even realize how alluring she was.

“Thank you, Noah,” she said almost shyly. “I’m ready if you’d like to leave now,” she added on a questioning note, not quite sure how to react to the look in his eyes. She would have described it as hunger if she had allowed herself to be honest, but instead, she tried to move both of them into the ordinary activities of getting away. She just wasn’t ready to deal with the other yet.

So when Noah finally cleared his throat a little and nodded that he was ready, Serie turned out all the lights except one by the sofa and walked through the door as Noah held it open for her and locked it behind them. It was the first time she had ridden in his car, and she enjoyed the fact that the interior smelled just slightly of his cologne. She inhaled the scent deeply, feeling little ripples of pleasure go through her as she did so. Then she let out a long, slow breath. Get hold of yourself, Serenity, she told herself. Don’t let this evening go to you head, for Pete’s sake.

“Comfortable?” Noah asked, looking at her and glancing to make sure her seatbelt was secure.


“Good. I know the Suburban isn’t exactly the ultimate in transportation for a rather formal evening out, but it was my best choice for this trip to the coast, since I was hauling the trailer with Moondancer. Oh . . . by the way . . . I have some news I think you’ll want to hear.”


“I’m a new uncle!” he announced, beaming.

“June had her baby!”

Noah nodded, still grinning. “A little . . . or rather . . . a big baby girl. Keith said she weighed in at nine pounds and twelve ounces.”

“No wonder June didn’t feel like doing much for the

last couple of months,” she answered, laughing. “And they’re both fine?”

“Both perfect,” according to Keith, and he gave me just about every detail he could remember. “I’m going to call and talk to June tomorrow. She was already asleep when he called me, just about an hour after the birth, and I didn’t want him to disturb her.”

“Well, I’d like to send them something. You have their address, I suppose.”

“Sure. I’ll get it to you tomorrow.”

“Oh, you haven’t told me her name.”

“Evangeline Joy Campbell.”

“Wow, that’s a mouthful, but I like it.”

“Me too,” he said, glancing at her and smiling. “As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that we like a lot of the same things.”

“Well, people who have great taste would naturally like the same things, don’t you think,” she asked, grinning at him.

“Absolutely. And speaking of great taste, I hope you like this restaurant. It’s the newest thing in Barclay . . .The Sandcastle. It’s only been open about three weeks.”

“I read in the paper where they were having their grand opening, but I haven’t been there yet. It sounds like a fairly fancy place. I hope I’m dressed formally enough.”

“You’re dressed perfectly. I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said, smiling at her as he briefly took his eyes from the road to glance over her quickly once more. “Besides, I didn’t have a lot of choice myself. I brought only one suit with me, along with two dress shirts and two ties. I intended to loaf and rest during this period of time, so they’ll have to take me in this suit and tie or do without me altogether,” he said, laughing now.

“Well, considering how you look in that one suit, I don’t think they’re going to turn you away . . . especially if the decision is left up to a woman,” she answered, joining in his bantering mood.

Noah laughed out loud again, as he answered her. “Remind me to take you out to dinner often, Serenity. You’re very good for my ego. Would you like some quiet music?”

“Sure,” she answered, and he reached down and flipped open a small CD case. “Look through these and choose something you like.”

So Serenity chose an instrumental worship CD and put it in, adjusting the volume so that they could still talk when they wanted to. As they listened to the music, they did continue to talk sporadically, mostly about general topics and local happenings, and before they realized how much time had elapsed, they were driving into the restaurant parking lot.

The dinner was everything they could have wanted it to be, and the atmosphere in the restaurant was conducive to quiet conversation, which was what they wanted. Noah asked Serenity about her work and her years living in Cincinnati, but whenever she asked him something about his work, he gave very short answers and steered the conversation back to her as quickly as he could. She did, at least, manage to find out that he had been a police officer for several years in a large city in the Midwest before moving to the Southwest and becoming a deputy sheriff. In response to her persistence, he told her about being elected sheriff, but after that, Noah took the conversation in a totally different direction.

“Why is it you’ve never married, Serenity. You’ve surely had offers.”

She laughed lightly, but she blushed too. “Well . . . actually . . . I haven’t had any proposals yet.”

Noah’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open just a little. “Good grief, are all the men you’ve known blind or stupid?”

Serenity laughed out loud then. “Well they could all see well enough, but I don’t know for sure about the other.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I think it’s just that none of the relationships ever seemed to click . . . you know . . . that little extra something just wasn’t there. I’ve been great friends with several men in my life, but . . .” She shrugged her shoulders again and then added. “I don’t really have any explanation, I guess . . . and . . . now . . . with David in my life . . . I’m not sure that there are very many men who will want to even try and find out if something special could develop. But I certainly wouldn’t even consider not raising David. I love him as much as if he had been my own.”

“I can tell. And he feels the same way. But it’s a huge responsibility all by yourself. It was a very unselfish thing for you to do, Serenity. I’m sure the Lord is pleased with you. And . . . don’t sell yourself short . . . or most of the men in the world. There are still a few of us out there who appreciate children too.”

“Oh, I know that’s true. And I didn’t’ mean to sound as if I were accusing men of not being interested in children. It’s just that most men want to begin with just a wife for a few years and then have their own children, only when they’re ready.”

Noah shrugged. “It depends on the man. And you, Serenity, are a very special woman. I’m sure any number of men would be glad to share their life with you and help you raise David.” As he spoke he looked deeply into her eyes. They were large, emerald green jewels, and he felt as though he could look into them for hours at a time. Serenity held his gaze, her face solemn for the moment, wondering what Noah’s words just now had really meant. But after several moments, she lowered her own eyes and began to make little folds in her napkin beside her plate. They had finished eating and were having a second cup of coffee, and she knew the evening needed to come to an end soon. For some reason that made her sad, but she had to force those feelings aside.

Noah still hadn’t spoken anything else, and when she glanced back at him, he was still looking right at her, the look in his eyes more like a smoldering fire now. He sat as still as a stone, the only movement the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, and that was rather rapid, Serenity noticed. Of course, she realized that her breathing matched his, and her heartbeat was now double what it had been five minutes ago. She had to do something to break this connection between them because if she didn’t she might drown in those eyes . . . or worse yet . . . she might say something she would regret.

She managed to tear her eyes away from his and look toward the other side of the restaurant. She took a couple of deep, slow breaths and cleared her throat. Then she glanced at her watch. “Well, it’s getting late, I guess. Do you think we should go?”

Noah glanced down at his own watch. “Not so late, really. But if you’re finished, we could leave and go for a drive down to the beach. It’s a beautiful night.”

“Yes, it is. That sounds like a good way to end the evening. The moon should be right over the ocean about now.”

So they left the restaurant and drove down to the beach, glad that there weren’t very many other people there at this time. “Shall we take a walk,” Noah asked her. “Of course, you’d have to take your shoes off. I’m sure those heels won’t make it in this sand.”

“That’s no problem,” she said and slipped off her shoes. He opened her door and took her hand, leading the way almost to the water’s edge. They strolled along, hand in hand, their fingers entwined, not saying much of anything, just feeling the beauty of the night and the warmth of each other’s presence. After several minutes, Noah realized the breeze was getting chilly, so he took off his jacket and placed it around Serenity’s shoulders, leaving his arm draped over it as they continued walking.

Finally, after they’d strolled a considerable way from the half a dozen other beach combers, they came to a small rise in the ground with a large rock formation jutting out of it toward the sea. Noah placed Serenity against it and stood in front of her as a shelter from the breeze, which was a little stronger on this part of the beach. As she leaned against the rock, he leaned toward her, placing his hands on either side of her just above her shoulders. His eyes, as he looked into hers, were burning with that same fire she had seen in the restaurant, only now it wasn’t nearly as controlled. She felt an answering flame leap within her, and she couldn’t take her eyes away from his.

Slowly, Noah moved his right hand from the rock and gently traced the line of her cheek with his index finger. Serenity shivered as his hand came to the front of her face, and he began, even more gently, to trace the line of her lips, now slightly open as she tried to reclaim her breath. Suddenly, Noah removed his hand from her and straightened up, shoving both hands into his pants pockets, his eyes still on fire.

“Serenity, you know that I want to kiss you.” His voice was low, the timbre of it vibrating over her, touching every nerve. “. . . And I think you know how much I want to kiss you.” She didn’t say a word, but her eyes burned into his, and he knew that he was right. “But I’m not going to kiss you . . . because . . . because . . .” He saw her swallow hard and knew she was fighting the same battle that he was. He tried to pick up the train of thought and finish his explanation. “I’m not going to start something that I don’t know if I can finish . . . even though . . .” His voice had become husky. It was hard to get his breath. He tried to drag in a deep breath to continue, but everything else that he was feeling was consuming him.

Suddenly, he grasped Serenity’s shoulders, and with a groan, he pulled her to him and captured her lips. His reason told him that he was making a mistake, but everything else in him was singing with joy at the experience of connecting so completely with this woman. And Serenity’s response thrilled him even more . . . so much so that he deepened the kiss and wrapped his arms tightly around her as she wrapped her own around him with equal fervor.

Several long moments later, Serenity finally made a slight motion to pull away, and Noah begrudgingly released her lips, but not his embrace. Immediately, his mouth traced a line of kisses along her cheek, nestling momentarily at her ear, and then moving just below to the tender spot on her neck. Serenity had felt searing heat engulf her the moment Noah’s lips had touched hers, and even now, she felt the same trail of heat as he moved his mouth gently against her skin. She rested her head against his shoulder, and as he placed one hand against the back of her head, he whispered in her ear. “So much for my good intentions.”

At that, Serenity gave the tiniest giggle, and although she tried to smother it, she failed. But that response managed to defuse some the energy of the moment, and as she pulled back, Noah was able to slacken his hold and finally release her, except to place his hands gently on her shoulders. He looked into her eyes. “I’ve come to care very deeply for you, Serenity. But I don’t know for sure what that can mean for us. I’d like to think you feel the same, but I’m not going to ask you to confess that, because I have no choice but to continue doing some very serious soul searching right now. And . . . that being the case . . . I can’t afford to let myself focus on anything else or anyone else too deeply.”

“Well, I’m not sure what my future as an instantaneous mother holds either, Noah, so I’m not ready to make any declarations either.” His eyes searched hers, and there was an undeniable longing in them, but Serenity could tell that he had gotten control of himself again, and he would force himself not to give in to satisfying that longing until he was satisfied about everything else in his life. She smiled at him now. “I think we probably should start for home, though, don’t you?”

Noah nodded, letting out a deep sigh, and turned back toward the way they had come, taking her hand in his again. They made the drive back in silence for the most part, but it was a peaceful, pleasant silence. Each of them needed to sort through their thoughts and feelings, and neither wanted to risk hurting the other. They listened to the worship CD again, and somewhere along the middle of the program, Serenity fell asleep. When they arrived at the lighthouse, Noah patted her shoulder gently. “Serie,” he whispered, but had to do so three times before she woke. As she came awake, before she opened her eyes, she felt his warm, breath on her face, and inhaled the sweet scent of him, remembering the kiss for another moment. She smiled then and finally opened her eyes, looking right into his.

“Sorry, Noah. I guess I was pretty boring company on the trip home.”

“No need to apologize. You’re very beautiful when you’re asleep, and you didn’t even snore,” he said, grinning, as she sat up straighter and unfastened her seatbelt. Noah got out and came around to open her door. He took her hand and held it all the way to her own front door. Then he took her key and unlocked the door, holding it open for her to enter. Just as she stepped into the doorway of the silent house, she turned back to smile at him and thank him for dinner.

“It was my pleasure . . . and . . .” He paused and barely touched his index finger to her lips. “Thank you for sharing that beautiful kiss with me, Serie.”

Her throat felt clogged suddenly — with what emotion she wasn’t sure — but she couldn’t get any words out. Finally, she just smiled once more and whispered, “Goodnight, Noah,” and turned to step the rest of the way into the living room.

“Night, Serie . . . sweet dreams,” he whispered and turned toward his car.

Look for Chapter Ten here tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner



At 8:30 Tuesday morning, Serenity called the school office and asked if Miss Parker would be in that day. The secretary told her that Miss Parker didn’t come in on Tuesdays and asked if she could be of assistance.

“No, but if I can’t get in touch with Miss Parker, then I need to see Mr. Kelso sometime today. Would that be a problem?”

“Not at all, Miss Lawrence. May I ask what the meeting is for?”

“It has to do with some problems that have come up in the Library Club, and I’m not sure that I can send David back. I need to discuss the whole matter with Mr. Kelso.”

“Very well, he has time to see you late this morning, around 11:00, or after lunch at 1:30.”

“We’ll be in at 11:00 then. Mrs. Matthews, Trent’s mother, will be coming in with me.”

“Okay, I have you down for 11:00. See you then.”

“Thank you. See you at 11:00.”

When the two mothers sat down in Mr. Kelso’s office, they were still trying to decide where to start their explanation. They had prayed together on the way over, asking the Lord to give them the right words, and now they knew they just had to trust that He would.

“Miss Maxwell said there seemed to be some kind of problem with the Library Club that you needed to discuss with me, is that correct?” he asked, his features pleasant and his voice kind.

“Yes,” Serenity said. “And we want you to know that we haven’t come to you in order to go behind Miss Parker’s back. I did ask to meet with her, but she won’t be in today, and I intended to meet with you after I had seen her anyway, so . . . I hope it’s all right with you to do it this way instead.”

“Certainly. I want to know if we have a problem of any kind here.”

“Well, there are probably a number of parents . . . actually, there evidently are a number of parents who don’t think there is a problem, but for Elizabeth and myself, and our families, there definitely is. David and Trent always share with us what they’ve done each day, and it seems that both times they’ve come they have been subjected to long sessions of readings from books on witchcraft and demonic activity. Then they have been asked to pretend that they could become some kind of animal that could give them great power to do secret things. And in yesterday’s session, they were told to lie down on a mat, with the lights out in the room, and imagine that they had some kind of being coming from the inside of them that they could talk to and receive directions from.

“Now both of our families are strong Christian families, and all this witchcraft and sorcery teaching, as well as the imagination games, which are indicative of new age meditation techniques, go completely against what we believe and allow our children to practice. We’re wondering why those specific things are being taught under the auspices of a Library Reading Program.”

Mr. Kelso smiled at the two ladies. “I know the program you’re referring to, ladies, but I assure you that we are not engaging in some kind of sorcery or new age religion. Miss Parker explained to the board about how these games free the students to begin to use their minds more energetically and, as a result, enable them to get more out of their regular academic subjects throughout the year. The games also draw out the natural creativity in each child. And I can tell you first hand that last year some of our students who were quite shy and were underachievers, before being exposed to those games, became very extroverted and began to accomplish a number of tasks better after learning to play the games. And most of our students read more books during the year since Miss Parker has managed to introduce some of the more current and very popular books into our library.”

“But, Mr. Kelso, there are any number of games that will challenge and even quicken a child’s intelligence that don’t require them to practically go into some kind of trance and imagine they are speaking with another kind of being inside of themselves,” Serenity said.

“Are you sure the boys aren’t exaggerating just a little about what they’re being instructed to do? Sometimes children do that when the experience is totally new to them. And I think that would be likely with David especially, since you told me he had been through a traumatic year and had been home schooled as an only student during the last school year.”

“Mr. Kelso, each one of these boys is considered higher than average in intelligence, according to all of their test scores, and each one of them has had a great many experiences due to living in more than one place as well as traveling a good deal. I don’t think they’ve been so secluded or shielded that they would find it necessary to tell lies or exaggerate about their experiences here. Furthermore, each one of the boys told the exact same story to two different mothers at two different times. I think that alone makes their information more than plausible.”

Then Elizabeth spoke. “That’s right, and they didn’t exaggerate at all about what they’re having read to them for about an hour and a half each day, because I checked the content of those books myself. They’re horrid! And there are certainly hundreds of books on the market that are written specifically to interest children that don’t require them to study the science of witchcraft. Kids don’t have to read about a person turning into an animal, or possessing an animal’s body, or having body parts cut off and thrown into a boiling cauldron to effect some kind of spell in order to learn to love reading, surely!” Her voice had risen a little by the time she finished her statement, and Mr. Kelso lifted his hands in a motion that evidently was meant to calm her.

“Please don’t get so upset, Mrs. Matthews. I assure you we encourage our children to read all kinds of literature. This summer, Miss Parker is just centering her program on the Sally Stone books because they are so popular, and they lend themselves very well to rounding out the work with the mind-expanding games. Perhaps if you gave the program a little more time, you would begin to see the value in it for your boys.”

Serenity felt a knot form in her stomach. Something was terribly wrong that this man couldn’t see the harm in what was being taught in his school’s library. She felt a little sick at her stomach, and tried to tell herself that her feelings were not coming from fear. Finally, she spoke again. “Well, Mr. Kelso, as I said, our families are Christians— ”

“Oh, I’m Christian too,” he interrupted her to say.

“Well, that’s good to know, but the fact still remains that the things that are being taught in the Library Club so far are actually part of a religion. The games are the same things taught in Hinduism, and the sorcery books are basically teaching the satanic religion. So I have no peace about exposing David to that kind of influence, and I won’t be bringing him back.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Lawrence,” he said, and sounded as if he really meant it. Then he looked at Elizabeth. “And do you feel the same way, Mrs. Matthews?”

“Definitely,” she said. “Mr. Matthews and I will be withdrawing Trent from the program too. I probably should tell you something else too. Trent has been having horrible nightmares since he started coming to these classes. He even had an experience when he was awake when he thought he was being visited by some other weird being. We even called our pastor and had him come over so that we could all pray until my son had peace again. He has never had any experiences like that in his life until he came to these classes, and now that he’s free from those horrible things again, I definitely will not expose him to any more of what caused them.”

Mr. Kelso shook his head sadly. “Well that’s very unfortunate, of course. I’m sorry you son had so much trouble. And I’m sorry the boys won’t be participating in the rest of the program. I’m sure Miss Parker will be sorry too, but I’ll explain it to her the way you’ve explained it to me. If she does have any questions, is it all right if she calls and talks to you?”

“Certainly,” Serenity answered, glancing at Elizabeth for confirmation, and her friend nodded her head as well. Then Serenity continued. “But there may be another problem, Mr, Kelso. I need to find out from you if the material taught throughout the year will also include this kind of thing, because if so, I can’t send David here to school at all.”

“I can assure you, Miss Lawrence, that this particular program is a specialized one and is used only as part of the library and reading advancement curriculum. Your nephew would not even be exposed to any of it in any of his other classes.”

“And would he be required to take part in it during their class visits to the library?”

“Not if you don’t want him to. He can always just go to the library and check out a book that he wants to read and sit at a table and read quietly while the other children take part in whatever Miss Parker offers that week. Would that be satisfactory?”

Serenity looked at Elizabeth and could see doubt in her eyes that matched what Serenity herself was feeling. “Well,” she finally said, “I need to talk this over with my grandfather, since he’s actually helping me raise David right now. I would certainly want his input before I make a final decision. Let’s just say that we’ll leave David enrolled for next year . . . at least for now . . . and perhaps I can talk with you again after I’ve had time to think it over and pray about it some more.”

“Very well,” he said, smiling again. “And you too, Mrs. Matthews?”

“I think that’s the best plan for us too, Mr. Kelso. At least until I have a chance to talk more with my husband. He may want to come in and talk with you himself.”

“Anytime,” he said and than glanced briefly at his watch.

Serenity took the hint and rose from her chair, as did Elizabeth. “Thank you very much for taking so much time to discuss this with us, Mr. Kelso,” Serenity said, extending her hand to shake his.

“It’s all part of my job,” he answered, turning to shake Elizabeth’s hand next. “Mrs. Matthews, tell your husband to feel welcome to come and talk to me if he needs to.”

The two women walked back into the main office. The secretary smiled at them from where she sat at her computer terminal. “Have a good afternoon, ladies,” she said.

“You too,” Elizabeth answered for both of them, and they started for their car.

Serenity and Clint invited Elizabeth and Lucas to dinner that evening so that the two families could discuss the pros and cons of leaving the boys enrolled in Hamsted Elementary School. Serenity had thought that if all four of them could share their thoughts and their hearts, they might be more likely to cover all of the aspects of the problem and reach a better decision.

She had wanted to invite Noah too, but she hadn’t asked Elizabeth about doing so, and they didn’t know him as well as she and Clint did. Besides, why should she put him in the position of having to hear all of their problems? He was here to get rest himself, and he’d be gone after August, so none of this would affect him at all.

Suddenly the gravity of that knowledge hit her with a jolt. He would be gone. And she most likely would never see him again . . . unless his sister and brother-in-law took the cottage another time, and he came for a visit. But that wasn’t likely with Keith and June having a new baby now. There was a deep sense of emptiness inside as Serenity contemplated her life without Noah in it. And wasn’t that silly, she told herself. She hadn’t really even known the man before four weeks ago. How could she feel an emptiness at the thought of his being gone from her life again?

Well, she didn’t know how; she just knew it was so. But she could shake off that feeling surely. Their relationship hadn’t moved into anything intimate, after all. Even after Noah had hinted several days ago that he wanted to take her some place romantic, nothing had developed. She got up now from where she’d been sitting on the porch looking at the ocean. She needed to get the meal started and get her mind out of this depressed train of thought.

Their meal progressed cheerfully. The boys always had fun together, and the four adults were beginning to feel as if they had been life-long friends. When they sent the boys out to play and finally began to discuss the school and its difficulties, they found that all four of them were on exactly the same wavelength. It looked as if they were all leaning toward the idea of sending the boys to the Christian school at Barclay or home schooling them both.

“If we pooled our knowledge and resources,” Elizabeth said now, “we could teach both of them at the same time and share all of the work load . . . maybe even alternate days, so that neither of us had to be tied to it every day.”

“That would make it a lot easier,” Serenity said. “Especially when I’m trying to meet a deadline from time to time,” she added chuckling. “I’m notorious for barely making it under the wire most of the time anyway.”

“Well, let’s all pray together right now,” Lucas said, “and then we can continue to pray the rest of this week and see what the Lord will show us.”

“Sounds good,” Clint said and reached out his hands to either side, indicating he was ready to join hands and hearts in that prayer. After that, they called the boys in, since it was getting dark, and Serenity insisted that they stay for her to put on a fresh pot of coffee and serve another piece of pie all around. Lucas said he just couldn’t resist another piece of the strawberry rhubarb pie, so they stayed. When they were walking to their car to start home, Noah came riding along the shore toward the lighthouse, so they waited to speak to him before they left.

After bidding the Matthews goodnight, Serenity turned to Noah, who had dismounted and was standing holding Moondancer’s reins. “There’s strawberry rhubarb pie left, Noah, and plenty of coffee. Would you like some?”

She could see interest flicker in his eyes, but he asked, “Are you sure you’re not too tired for more company?”

Serenity laughed. “Not at all. All we did tonight was talk and eat. Come on in. I’m sure Gramps will join you for coffee at least.” So they all trouped back into the kitchen, and Serenity told David that he needed to get his bath and prepare for bed.

“Oh, Aunt Serie, can’t I stay up and talk to Noah?”

“You can come and talk just a few minutes after you get your pajamas on and brush your teeth.”

“Okay,” he said, showing a definite lack of enthusiasm, but he obeyed just the same.

“Let’s sit in the living room this time,” Serenity said. “We’ve been sitting around this table for hours. We had so much to discuss that we just got right into it after dessert and never moved from our spots.’

“Problems of some kind?” Noah asked.

Serenity told him as simply as she could about her and Elizabeth’s visit to Mr, Kelso that morning and the results. Noah listened attentively enough, but at the same time, he seemed distant somehow . . . almost as if he were in his own world while he was listening to her tell about the events of the day. But when she had finished, he responded immediately.

“I think you and Elizabeth are very wise to take the boys out of that, Serenity. Most people don’t recognize how dangerous some of that stuff can be,” he said, letting his eyes stray from her face and focus somewhere off in the distance, as if he were seeing something else. It was a most unusual feeling that Serenity had as she watched him, and yet she felt sure that he was really paying attention to what she said to him.

Finally, she asked him. “Do you know a lot about this kind of thing, Noah?”

He lowered his eyes, staring down at the floor for a few moments, but eventually answered her in a very quiet voice. “I know enough.” Then he looked back to her face. “But it isn’t something I really want to discuss. Let’s just say that I know enough to tell you that you did the right thing taking David out of the program.”

“Well, now what we have to decide is whether to leave the boys enrolled there for the regular school year or not.”

“Where would they go otherwise?”

“Well, we’ve contemplated home schooling again . . . or possibly the Christian school in Barclay . . . but it’s so far . . . about a forty-five minute drive both ways.”

Noah nodded. “Yes, I’ve been over there a time or two since I’ve been here. Well, are you leaning toward one of those solutions more than the other?”

“Maybe,” Serenity answered, saying the word slowly. “But it’s early days yet.”

“Well, I’ll be praying that the Lord will give you clear answers,” he said, setting down his empty pie plate. “And now I’d better get going. The pie was absolutely delicious. Oh, and by the way, I never got back to you about our unfinished plans that we discussed on the phone the other day. What do you say to a nice, quiet, candlelit dinner one evening this week?”

“Uh . . . well . . .”

“She says ‘Yes,’” her grandfather answered for her, grinning. When she opened her mouth to say something, he wagged his finger at her. “I’ve told you, young lady, it’s time you gave yourself as much consideration and care as you do others.” He looked at Noah. “She’ll go. Just tell her what night to be ready.”

Noah laughed and looked at Serenity, his eyes twinkling. “Well, Miss Serenity Lawrence, it seems you’re going to dinner with me, so we might as well make it as soon as possible. What about Thursday?”

Serenity smiled at him. “I would like to go to dinner with you, Noah, and Thursday’s fine.”

“Good. We’ll go into Barclay, so I’ll make some reservations for 7:00, and I’ll pick you up about 6:00, how’s that?”


Just then David came bouncing in and ran to sit on the footstool by Noah’s chair. “Aunt Serie said I don’t have to go to that dumb old Library Club anymore, Noah.”

Noah reached out his hand and pinched him lightly on the nose. “I think you have a very smart aunt, David. I hope you’re giving her lots of hugs and kisses to show how much you appreciate her.”

David nodded his head vigorously. “I do. I give her lots of hugs and kisses, don’t I, Aunt Serie?” he asked turning to her now.

“You certainly do, Sweetheart, and they’re what gives me the energy to keep going. Now Noah has to leave, so tell him goodnight and go hop in bed. I’ll be in before long.”

Clint got up and reached his hand out to David. “How about Gramps reading the bedtime story tonight, Cowboy?”

David jumped up. “Great!” he said, and then turned back to Noah. “Goodnight, Noah. I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”

“For sure,” Noah answered him and watched as he kissed and hugged his aunt and started for the bedroom with his great grandfather. Just before they turned down the hallway, David turned back to Noah.

“You should give Aunt Serie hugs and kisses too, Noah, to show her how much you liked her pie,” he said innocently and then was off to bed again. His great-grandfather chuckled and just continued down the hall with David without saying a word.

Noah looked at Serenity, a smile on his face, and when he saw the blush that covered hers, he said. “Please don’t be embarrassed. It’s a thought I’ve had a number of times myself . . . but . . . well . . . I’ve learned that it’s not always good policy to follow through on every impulsive thought.” He rose then and so did Serenity as she answered him.

“Yes, I’ve learned that lesson too,” she said and smiled as she led the way to the door. They stepped out on the porch into the moonlight, and Noah turned to her and reached up his hand, touching her cheek as gently as a feather with his fingers.

“I’ve got a lot to work through personally right now, Serenity. I’m not sure exactly what my future holds at this point . . . for a number of reasons . . . except that I’ll most likely be leaving here after August.”

“Noah, you don’t owe me any explanations,” she said hurriedly.

He dropped his hand to his side and thrust both hands into his jeans pockets. “I know,” he said, looking out toward the ocean. “I know I don’t owe you any, but I’d like to give you some. I just don’t know for sure how to do that right now.” He looked back at her, a smile on his face again. “Well, it’s late. Maybe we can finish this conversation Thursday . . . that is if you’re still willing to go out to dinner with me?”

“I’m willing,” she said grinning, a teasing light in her eyes. “I think I’ve taken bigger risks in my lifetime.”

Noah chuckled, as she had meant for him to do, and then he stepped off the porch and headed for his horse. She walked out that direction part of the way, and as he mounted Moondancer and turned him toward home, he said, “Goodnight Serie. Sweet dreams.”

“You too. Goodnight,” she said, and then walked back to the porch and sat down, watching him ride along the beach as far as she could before going inside.

When Noah got home, he took a shower and got ready for bed. Then as he stretched out on the bed, he picked up the Barclay paper that he’d bought that afternoon. Hamsted’s paper was just a weekly affair, and Noah liked to keep up more than that, so two or three times a week he bought a copy of The Barclay Chronicle. He hadn’t taken the time to read it yet, but since he was too keyed up after his visit with Serenity, he decided the paper would provide a way to shift his thoughts and, hopefully, shift gears in his emotions. The two front-page articles had something to do with national politics, and Noah just scanned them, having heard most of the information on the TV earlier. But when he turned to the first inside page, he came face to face with a scene right out of his own memory.

There was a picture of an obviously very worn wooden floor with a pentagram painted on it in black paint. Several candles were scattered around the floor, all well used, some of them completely burned down to the holder. But most captivating of anything in the picture were the large, dark stains on the floor in the center of the painted symbol. The article identified them as bloodstains, coming from the blood of the animal that had been slaughtered right at the scene sometime within a twenty-four hour period prior to the picture being taken.

Noah snapped his eyes shut, shaking his head as if he could shake the picture out of it. It was like having a flashback – or having the dream again. He’d had so many during the last several months, and only since coming here had he thought he might be rid of them. But as he sat there with his eyes closed, the headline flashed onto the screen of his mind. His eyes had simply skimmed over it on the way to the picture, but evidently it had registered. “IS SALLY STONE RESPONSIBLE FOR SLAUGHTER OF LOCAL ANIMALS?”

Noah opened his eyes and looked at the article again. As he read down the columns, he discovered that this kind of crime had been discovered twice since the newest Sally Stone movie had come to the Barclay area. A few inhabitants had suggested that these crimes indicated that there really was such a thing as witchcraft, and that people shouldn’t take it so lightly. But in the interview with the county sheriff, the reporter got a lengthy quote discounting that possibility.

“That’s nonsense,” the sheriff was quoted as saying. “These two crimes were obviously perpetrated by some kids or some weirdos who got ideas when they saw the movie and then went out and acted out exactly what they saw. As near as we can tell, the two situations we’ve discovered are identical to the two such events in the movie. Somebody is out to play a mean joke on the public,” he said. The article continued for some length, but Noah let the paper slip from his fingers as he closed his eyes again.

“No,” he whispered. “No,” he said again, a little louder. Then he bounded out of his bed, shouting, “No! No! No!” He put both hands up to his head, holding it as if it hurt, but it wasn’t physical pain that was tormenting him. He paced back and forth across the room a couple of times and then walked back to the bed and picked up the paper. This time he concentrated on the picture of the sheriff. “You idiot! It is real! . . . very real!” Noah gripped the paper as if he were gripping the shoulders of the sheriff whose likeness he was staring at. “Don’t be a fool and wait too long the way I did!” he shouted at the photo and then threw the paper down on the floor with a despairing groan.

He paced back over to the bedroom window and slammed his open hand against the window frame as he looked out. “Lord, don’t expect me to do anything about this. I’ve done my part, and I wasn’t any good at that! You should have gotten someone else . . . You should have made sure someone else became sheriff in that last election because You knew what was coming and that I’d bungle it.”

He looked out at the night sky and tried to take a deep breath to settle himself, but it didn’t work. The thoughts came to him hard and fast about all that he’d learned during the last year as a sheriff facing the kind of spiritual warfare his church hadn’t prepared him for. Yes, he’d learned — finally —  and the decent people of his county had won in the end — but at what cost? He shook his head. “No,” he spoke aloud again and then turned and moved across the room in a flash. He pulled on his blue jeans and then grabbed the paper, almost running outside to the barrel where he burned items from time to time.

With a thrust of his arm, he made sure the paper was securely stuffed as far down as it would go and put the lid on the barrel. “This time it’s somebody else’s problem. They’ve got the Bible. Let them learn to study it the way I did. Let them learn too, Lord. Maybe they’ll even do a better job than I did. And don’t ask me to try to help. They’d only consider it interference.” He turned to walk over toward the corral. “Besides, I’m not their savior . . . You are,” he added, opening the corral gate and reaching up to pet Moondancer, who sensed the chance for another ride in the moonlight. He saddled the stallion quickly and then mounted and took off. He let Moondancer have his head. He needed to run like the wind himself . . . to get away.

So they ran, Moondancer trying to race with the moon, but Noah just trying to race away from the darkness. But where was he going? What was he racing toward? Just running away without some destination at the end of the race was no good, and he knew that, but he kept running. He had to have some relief, the kind he’d found before on the back of this magnificent stallion that the Lord had provided for him. God had truly been good to give him a horse this special. He knew that, and he was grateful with his whole heart. But he couldn’t let himself think too much about the Lord right now. He knew where that could lead him, and he couldn’t bear the thought.

So he raced through the night . . . and the Hosts of Heaven watched . . . and the hosts of hell watched . . . and His Eternal Father, Jehovah, watched . . . but as Jehovah watched, He smiled. He knew what was really in the heart of this son of His, this warrior of the kingdom who had proven himself so faithful in the past. And He knew that Noah would do the same again this time. So even while Noah ran, Jehovah smiled. It wouldn’t be long now, and Noah Bennett would turn and begin to race straight toward the Light again — and then the battle could begin.

Find Chapter Nine her tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


When they went inside, Noah decided maybe it would be best to have David get ready for bed before the movie, figuring it was late enough that his guest would probably be asleep before the end. But within a few minutes they were sitting on the sofa with their feet propped up, watching a good old-fashioned cowboy show. Halfway through, Noah put a bag of popcorn in the microwave, but before David’s bowl was empty, he was sound asleep, still in a sitting position with the bowl on his lap. Noah relieved him of the bowl and picked him up carefully, carrying him into the second bedroom and putting him into the twin bed.

Back in the living room, Noah sat down in front of the movie again, but he wasn’t watching it. His mind had gone back to the things David had told him about his day. Noah leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees and putting his face in his hands, letting out a painful sigh. Finally, he reached over and turned off the video and the TV. He stood and walked out onto the porch. He was too restless to sit still. He stepped off the porch and looked up at the night sky. The moon was almost full, and the stars were so brilliant they seemed almost within arms’ reach.

Usually looking up into that vast panorama filled him with a special kind of peace, but tonight, he couldn’t capture it. There was no peace for Noah Bennett. Not now — not after what David had told him. “Why here, Lord? Why now? You know . . . You know I can’t deal with it again!” He spoke softly, but his words carried pain in them. He took a few more steps into the yard. “Don’t expect me to get involved this time, Lord. I can’t. . . . I can’t!” He turned and walked out to the corral to check on Moondancer. The horse had been for the ride with David, but Noah could tell that he was eager to go for a moonlight run with Noah.

“Not tonight, buddy. We’ve got company, and I don’t want to leave David alone in the cottage.” He stood there petting the horse’s nose and then his neck. He finally leaned his head against Moondancer’s neck as if to draw some kind of solace. The horse whinnied softly, nuzzling Noah’s shoulder, sensing his master’s mood. At last Noah chuckled a little and pulled his head away from the horse. “You know me pretty well, don’t you, Boy?” He patted the horse’s nose once more. “We’ll go for a run in the moonlight tomorrow night. I promise,” he said and turned back to the cottage, hoping, somehow, he could get himself to sleep before dawn.

The following Wednesday morning, at the Library Club, David was upset to find out that they were going to hear more from the same book that Lacey had read from on Monday. This time the events she read about were gruesome as well as evil, and after several minutes, David covered his ears so that he couldn’t hear it very well. He noticed that Trent was listening, but he didn’t want to say anything to him and cause Lacey to stop and scold him for talking, so he just tried to put his mind on other things.

After the snack, Miss Parker sat them down and explained a new game she said they would really like. “The name of this game is ‘Inside Myself,’ and when you play it, you get to find out what all kinds of interesting things there are inside of everyone of you.” She told them about some other students who had played it and met some special spirit guides who lived inside of them. “It’s been very exciting,” she said. “You just have no idea who or what you might meet until you play the game a few times.”

David and Trent looked at each other with a look in their eyes that suggested maybe Miss Parker had lost her mind. And David was surprised that three other kids from his church were in the club and seemed to be agreeing with everything Miss Parker said.

“Now,” she continued to ease them into the game, “I’m going to turn off the lights, and I want you to lie down, close your eyes, and get completely still.” When the students had all complied with her instructions, lying on little rug mats that she had provided, she spoke again. “Now I want you to try to picture all the thoughts in your mind and all the feelings that you are feeling right now as little birds or butterflies. . . . Concentrate. . . . Can you see them, flitting around in your head?” One or two of the children answered, “Yes.”

“No, don’t talk,” she said. “Just listen and do as I say, and when I ask you something, just answer in your own mind, but don’t make any sounds. Now, I want you to picture every one of those little birds or butterflies flying out of your head one at a time, and then your mind will be empty. Make sure you imagine any anger or fear or any other feelings the same way and see them fly away.” She paused for several minutes and then continued.

“Now I want you to listen to this word that I say over and over, and then I want you to begin to say it with me.” David listened, but what Miss Parker was saying didn’t sound like any words he’d ever heard. It was some weird sound, between a word and a sort of loud humming sound. He sneaked his eyes open and looked at Trent. His friend was lying there with his eyes closed, but he wasn’t trying to say the word either. And David certainly wasn’t going to do so. He didn’t feel good about any of this. He didn’t really know why, of course. He was too young to really understand that the Holy Spirit inside of him was guarding him from all of this. He just knew that it made him uncomfortable, and that his Aunt Serie wouldn’t approve of it.

After a few more minutes, Miss Parker said, “Now as you are saying this word, begin to imagine a being coming from deep inside of you, taking shape and coming into focus in your mind. This being will smile at you and may even reach out a hand toward you, and if you’ll concentrate really hard, you may even be able to hear it speak to you. . . . I want you to concentrate very hard.” All through the exercise, Miss Parker had kept her voice very quiet and soft, almost as if she were trying to put them to sleep, David thought — the way Aunt Serie did when she was reading him a story in bed at night.

Finally after what seemed like a long time to David, Miss Parker said, “All right now, students, in your own mind, with your thoughts only, I want you to ask this being what its name is, and then the very first name that comes into your mind will be the answer to your question.” So she gave them time to carry out her instructions, and then said. “That’s enough of the exercise for today, so I want you to smile at your new friend and think the words, ‘I’ll see you again soon,’ and then let the being drift away, back down inside of you. Keep your eyes closed until your new friend is completely gone, and then you may open your eyes and sit up.”

One by one the students began to sit up, and David and Trent followed suit. David looked at Trent again, and they both grinned at each other and rolled their eyes. Miss Parker got up from her chair and turned on the lights. “Now, the last thing I want you to do is take out a piece of paper and write down the name of your new friend and then write one or two lines describing him or her or it. Then, if your friend told you anything, I’d like for you to write down what it was, and turn the paper in on my desk as you leave. Also, don’t forget, Wednesdays are the days to check out a book to take home and read. Two of the eighth graders will help you find what you want. Now sit down at a table and start writing while everything’s fresh on your mind.

David and Trent went to a table together and sat down. David took a piece of paper out of his notebook and then handed one to Trent, whispering. “I didn’t see anything, did you?”

“Nope,” Trent said, shaking his head. “I don’t think I like this game.”

“Me either. And I don’t think Aunt Serie is going to like it either.”

“What are you going to write?” Trent whispered.

David thought for a moment and then began to print one short sentence. When he was done he pushed the paper over for Trent to read. Unfortunately, Trent couldn’t hold back a giggle when he read, “I didn’t see anything” written on David’s paper.

“Boys, no talking or giggling,” Miss Parker admonished from across the room where she was already beginning to read some of the papers the students had turned in.

Trent hurriedly wrote on his own paper, “I didn’t see anything or anybody. Sorry.”

Both boys laid their papers on the desk in the midst of several other students doing the same thing at the same time, so Miss Parker didn’t have time to see what was on David’s and Trent’s. She was talking with one of the girls about her paper anyway and seemed very pleased at what the girl had written. She was one of the students that went to David’s church, and he wondered how she could be so eager to take part in all of this. But his next thought was that he wanted to check out a book to take home before the time was up, so he and Trent began to wonder in and out of the rows of bookshelves, trying to choose.

Trent selected a junior level biography of a baseball hero, and David chose a story about a palomino pony. The boy behind them asked for one of the Sally Stone books, but the eighth graders manning the library desk said that all of them were checked out already. Gosh, thought David. That meant a bunch of these kids really did like reading those stories. He just shook his head in confusion at that thought, and by that time, Miss Parker was lining everyone up to leave for the day.

About thirty minutes later, when Elizabeth brought David home, she asked Serenity if she had a minute to talk. Serenity assured her that she did and insisted that Elizabeth and Trent stay for lunch. Since the boys were usually starved by the time they reached home, the women decided to eat first and then have their talk afterwards, but Elizabeth couldn’t keep from asking Serenity one question while they were putting food on the table.

“Did David tell you what all the children did at the Library Club on Monday?”

“He told me most everything, I think, and I’m pretty sure what your next question is. Did it cause me to be concerned about whether I should keep sending him? And the answer is yes, but Gramps and I decided to let him try going one more time and see what happened, in case the events on Monday were an isolated event.”

Elizabeth nodded her head. “That’s pretty much what Luke and I decided, but when I picked the boys up today, they started right in telling me everything that happened as fast as they could. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to let them tell you and Clint while we eat, and then maybe we could discuss what we ought to do about it.”

“That sounds like a good idea. I’ll call Gramps from

upstairs if you’ll yell at the boys to come in and get washed up.”

So over lunch, both boys talked — taking turns — mainly because that was the only way either one could have time to take a few bites of food. Otherwise, they probably would have been talking at the same time, stumbling over each other trying to tell everything. Serenity could see that both boys were disturbed by what had been going on at the school library, and she made up her own mind right then that David would not be going back. But when they had finished their story and had been given permission to go outside, she waited for Elizabeth to say something first.

“Would you think I was being foolish or alarmist if I said that I don’t think I can send Trent back into that?”

Serenity reached out and laid her hand on her friend’s. “Absolutely not! That’s exactly what I’ve decided as I’ve been listening to all of this. Furthermore, I think it’s time I had a talk with Miss Parker and maybe Mr. Kelso. Would you like to come along?”

“Yes, I think I would. Let me run all this by Luke this evening, just in case he has any good reason to object to that plan, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be a hundred percent in favor of it.”

“Can we go out now?” David asked, since he and Trent were finished eating.

“Sure, just don’t play too hard until your food settles,” Serenity answered, and both boys headed for the door.

“How to do feel about all of this situation, Gramps?” Serenity asked now.

“I don’t think you have any choice, Serie. David definitely doesn’t need to be in that kind of atmosphere on a regular basis, and I think we need to know if this program is indicative of the kind of things he’ll be taught during the normal school year. We may just decide to home school him again this year . . . that is . . . unless you feel that you’d have to take him back to Ohio and put him in school there.”

Serenity turned to Elizabeth to explain that statement. “I lived in Cincinnati before I came here last fall, so that David could have this peaceful environment and his great-grandfather to help him recover from the loss of his parents. Gramps and I had been praying about whether I should move back now or stay on here for a while, and I had decided to stay, assuming David could go to school at Hamsted. I don’t mind home schooling him, but I was just hoping he could make more connections with other children his own age if he went to a regular school.”

Elizabeth nodded her head in understanding. “Would you move back to Ohio if you don’t feel you can put him in school here then? I hope not,” she hurriedly added. “Luke and I would sure hate to lose you and David as close friends. We’ve felt so comfortable with all of you from the first time we met you, and Trent has never had a closer friend than David.”

“I know. Dave feels the same way. No . . . if I decide not to send him to Hamsted, I think I’ll still stay here, at least another year. He enjoyed the home schooling last year, so I don’t think it will cause any problems to just do that again.”

“Of course, there’s the Christian school in Barclay,” Elizabeth said. “But that is about a forty-five minute drive each way. I’m hesitant to take Trent that far every day for nine months. But it is an option, at least.”

“That’s true. I hadn’t really considered it, because I liked the people in Hamsted, and they seem to be very interested in keeping their school up to date and involved in the community. I thought perhaps it would be a good atmosphere for David, especially since we teach him so much about the Lord here at home. That, along with his involvement in everything at church that he can be involved in should cover any needs he has for spiritual training. But now . . . well . . . I guess the school in Barclay is something else to pray about.” She stopped and sat there in thought for a moment. “Maybe we’ll know more after we talk with the people at school.”

“Right,” Elizabeth said, getting up. “I’ll give you a call after I talk with Lucas, and maybe we can arrange to go tomorrow, before there’s another meeting of the Library Club.”

“Sounds good. I think the sooner the better.”

Clint spoke up then. “You know, what really bothers me is that David said there were three other kids from our church who go to that Club, and that they seem to be getting involved in everything that’s going on. I can’t understand that.”

“Me either,” Elizabeth said. “And come to think of it, Trent mentioned that he had seen several kids from our church at the club too.”

“Maybe we need to talk to our pastors too, and see if we can find out what’s going on,” Serenity said. “Although, I always hesitate to do that because I don’t want to sound like I’m talking about some other members of the congregation. Boy,” she added, shaking her head in a frustrated gesture, “this is starting to get complicated, isn’t it?”

Elizabeth chuckled slightly, trying to lighten the moment just a little. “Well, I’d say that probably means it’s prayer time again.” And with those words, she started to the door, Serenity rising by that time and following her.

“Trent,” his mother called to him across the yard, “it’s time to go, Hon.”

He and David came running up together, and Trent spoke first. “Do we have to go back to that dumb Library Club?”

“No, Honey,” Elizabeth said, brushing the hair off his forehead. “Serenity and I agree that you and David don’t need to go there anymore.”

“Yea!” they both shouted, obviously relieved and thrilled, and Serenity and Elizabeth just looked at each other, their concern so heavy that it was almost tangible.

Find Chapter Eight here tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


Monday morning David was up bright and early, eager to go to the Library Club. He had told Trent about it, and his friend had signed up to go too, so Serenity was going to pick up Trent on the way and drop off both boys. Then Trent’s mom was going to bring David home. Serenity liked Elizabeth and Lucas, Trent’s parents. They were strong Christians and had become members of one of the other churches in town very shortly after moving to Hamsted. Serenity and Clint had met the family on the beach, and the Lord had just seemed to unite all their hearts together immediately. She was grateful that the Lord had provided David with a good friend who was being brought up to love Jesus and obey His Word.

When she got to the school, she was surprised at the number of kids that were attending. She wondered how Miss Parker could handle all of them herself, but maybe she had some help that Mr. Kelso hadn’t mentioned. Of course, he did say that she often used the middle school students as helpers, so that was probably enough. She went to the library door to see if there was anything else she should know before leaving the children, and she was surprised to see that several of the students were sitting quietly at tables already reading avidly. Wow, this program must really instill a desire to read, she thought.

When Miss Parker assured her that she needn’t be concerned about anything else except to have the boys picked up at 12:00, Serenity told David and Trent to have a good time and went back out to her car. She had decided to do the grocery shopping while in town anyway, so she headed for the store. As she was going down the cereal aisle, she came up behind Noah, standing there trying to decide between corn flakes and corn pops. She couldn’t resist surprising him by sneaking up close and getting as close to his ear as possible to say, “You might as well take one of each,” but before she had finished her statement, he had jumped and whirled around so fast that he almost knocked her over. Instinctively, he dropped both boxes of cereal, which conveniently landed in his cart, and reached out to grab Serenity with both hands.

The shock of the whole event had nearly taken Serenity’s breath away, and when Noah grabbed her around the waist to steady her, she gasped, using up what little breath she had left. He instinctively pulled her closer to him, until her hands rested on his chest, and since her eyes, wide with surprise, were intent on his own, he was momentarily lost in their depths, unable to say anything else. Finally, he roused himself to say, “I’m so sorry, Serenity. I didn’t mean to practically knock you down. I didn’t know you were there.”

“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have sneaked up on you like that,” she said, finally able to laugh lightly at the whole episode. But she was still shaking inside, not from almost being knocked down, but from being held so close to Noah Bennett. She stepped backward a step and removed her hands from his chest, but he didn’t let go of her immediately, so she tried to take another step away from him.

With that move, he did release his hands, the look on his face indicating that he had actually forgotten that he was holding her. “So you’re not hurt?” he asked now.

“No,” she answered on another shaky laugh. “How about you?”

“No, I’m fine, but then I didn’t have some big brute of a man almost knock me off my feet like you did.”

Serenity glanced down at his cart. “Well, at least your cereal landed in your cart safely,” she said.

He looked at it then. “Yeah . . . and what was that you were telling me when I turned on you?”

“Oh . . . I just said you might as well go ahead and get both.”

“Why is that?”

“Because, if you’re having such a hard time deciding, it usually means you’d like to have both of them, and whichever one you take home, by tomorrow, you’ll be wishing you had a bowl of the other. This way, you can have whichever one you’re in the mood for when you get up each morning.”

“You know, I’ve never done it that way before, but you’re right; I have gotten home from the store and ended up wishing I’d made the opposite choice . . . a number of times.”

“Well, I’m glad I could be of help. I guess I’d better finish my shopping.”

“Are you in town on other business too — oh, I remember, David started his library thing today, didn’t he?”

“Right. I drove Dave and Trent to school, and Elizabeth will pick them up and bring David home.”

“That sounds fair enough. Well, listen, are you in a hurry to get home?”

“Well . . . not particularly I guess. Why?”

“Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with me. I skimped on breakfast this morning, and I’m starting to feel it now. I suppose you ate a healthy meal?”

“We had scrambled eggs this morning, but I guess I could drink another cup of coffee.”

“Good, and maybe I can talk you into eating a little something else too.”

“The only problem is that I have to get milk and yogurt, and I don’t want to leave them in the car.”

“Well, let’s get everything that isn’t perishable, and then when we’re through at the restaurant, we’ll come back and grab the one or two remaining items that need refrigeration. How’s that?”

“It’ll work, I guess.”

“Great. We can put the groceries in our cars, and walk to the café in the next block.”

“All right. I’ll get going on my list then, and I’ll meet you at the check out lane.”

Noah nodded. “See you there,” he said, and took off for the next aisle.

Over at the school, Miss Parker was well into her day’s work with the students. She had welcomed them and given each one a name tag so that they could get to know each other more easily. Then she began with the younger students, and any middle school students who weren’t familiar with libraries, and she showed them how to make use of the various parts of the library itself. She assured them that they would go through all of these points again and again during the month, and that they would each have ample opportunities to practice what they learned until they could use everything in the library that they might need, including the two computer terminals.

By that time, it was time for their snack, and right after that, she began to give out reading assignments. She began with the youngest and when they were started, with an older student to help them, she progressed through each group. She had chosen Lacey Dillard to be the helper for David and Trent’s group, and their reading for this week was to be from one of the Sally Stone books, Sally and the Shaman’s Secret.

Lacey introduced the book as one she had read twice herself, and she told them that the school library had three copies if they wanted to check a copy out when they got ready to go home. Then she began the story, reading with enthusiasm and even changing her voice to portray each character realistically. Most of the children sat enthralled. Some of them had read the book, and most of them had seen the movie, but they still sat quietly and attentively, as if they couldn’t wait to hear what happened next.

David understood most of what she read, but he knew that all of the stuff about becoming a witch and the descriptions of what the witches did was not something he was supposed to read. He put up his hand to tell Lacey so, but she didn’t pay any attention, so he leaned over to Trent and whispered, “This stuff is bad stuff. We’re not supposed to read about this,” he said, and at that point, Lacey did pay attention to him.

“You have to be quiet while I’m reading,” she said. But she didn’t have a chance to read another word before David answered her. “We’re not supposed to read that stuff. It’s bad, and God says not to be a witch and do all those bad things that witches do.”

“All witches aren’t bad. In these books the good witches almost always win in the battles with the bad witches and wizards,” Lacey answered him.

“But there’s no such thing as good witches.”

“Unhuh!” two of the other students spoke up, nodding their heads, and one of them added. “Yeah, in this story Zota is a really good witch. She only puts spells on people who are mean . . . well, and sometimes people who make her mad . . . but she teaches all the new wizards how to fight the most evil witch there is.”

“That’s right,” Lacey added. “Now just be quiet, and you’ll see.” So she continued to read, and David became more and more uncomfortable. She had just finished the part about how the shaman changed himself into the shape of his animal spirit – the spirit that gave him his power – when Miss Parker rejoined their group. She sat quietly with the group until Lacey came to the end of that chapter, and then she told the children that it was time for their first project.

“The modeling clay I had each of you bring is for you to use to create the kind of animal that you believe would be your animal spirit, like the shaman had in the book. I want all of you to get a package of clay and sit at one of the low tables, and then I want you to close you eyes and get really quiet. There’s to be absolutely no talking. While your eyes are closed, I want you to think about what kind of animal you would like to get extra power from . . . you know . . . try to imagine what kind of animal would be most likely to make you able to do some of the things you find it hard to do, or maybe things you secretly want to do. Then I want you each to create that animal out of your clay.”

So the children got up from the floor where they had been sitting, on a colorful rug, listening to the story, and they each took their package of clay to a table toward the back of the room. David closed his eyes, but he couldn’t concentrate. This was the silliest thing he had ever heard. Nobody got power from a dumb animal. People only got power from God . . . or sometimes the devil. But he didn’t want to cause trouble, so he sat there with his eyes closed for quite a while, but that was all he did.

When Miss Parker came around again, she noticed that David and Trent hadn’t made anything out of their clay. She stooped down to talk to them, since they were sitting side by side, and asked, “What’s the trouble, boys?”

“I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do,” Trent said. He was dealing with the same feelings that David had, but he didn’t know quite how to put them into words. David didn’t seem to have that trouble.

“People don’t get power from animals. They get power from God or the devil, but they don’t get it from animals.”

“Well, it’s true, many people can’t, David, but special people can, and I’d like for all of you students to have a chance to find out this summer if you are some of those special people.”

“That’s stupid!” David said, feeling uncomfortable enough that he forgot momentarily that he’d been trained to never raise his voice to grownups. Miss Parker was experienced enough to understand that she was dealing with a problem that resulted from David’s obviously extensive religious training . . . something she personally thought had far too much influence in the lives of some young people these days. But she was also wise enough to know that a serious confrontation at this point would only stifle the development of the other children who didn’t seem to have the same reservations as David and Trent. So she spoke placatingly. “Well, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you two just create the kind of animal that is your favorite . . . maybe your own pet, or an animal that you’d like to own as a pet. How’s that?”

David thought for a few seconds and then nodded his head. “Okay, we can do that.” He looked at his best friend. “Can’t we, Trent?”

“Sure, I can do that,” he agreed.

“Great,” Miss Parker said and moved on to check on the work of the other children at the table.

A little before noon, she came around again and checked one last time on the work, and found that David had created a large white horse, and Trent had created a brown and white dog. “Well, you like horses, I see,” she said to David.

“Yeah, this is Moondancer. He’s Noah’s horse, and he lets me ride him.”

“Well, you’ve done a good job. And you’ve done well with your little dog, Trent.” She looked around the room then. “Each of you may take your project home if you like, or you may leave them here for the rest of this week.” She then had all the children clean up their work area and begin to collect their possessions and line up to be dismissed. At 12:00 sharp she walked them all out to the front door of the school, and saw that they were being met by someone they knew. When they were all gone, she breathed a deep sigh of relief.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to handle David Hartford. She certainly couldn’t come right out and say that his religious training would hinder the whole project. This little community wouldn’t be able to handle anything quite so progressive yet. But it was coming along. The positive reception of all of the Sally Stone books and movies had gone a long way in opening up the thinking of the people in Hamsted, but as a firm believer in new age humanism, Miss Parker was zealous to push them along as quickly as possible to even higher levels of revelation.

When David arrived home, Serenity was just fixing lunch, and as she put a tuna salad sandwich and some pickles and chips on the table for Gramps, David, and herself, she asked him about the morning.

“Some of it was fun. We learned a lot about using the library. I’ll be able to find a lot of books there to read,” he said excitedly.

“Wasn’t all of it fun?” she asked.

He took time to swallow a mouthful of food and then stick a couple more chips in for good measure before he answered, shaking his head. “Some of it was stupid.”


He nodded. “They read to us from some dumb book about witches. I tried to tell them that we aren’t supposed to read about that stuff, but they didn’t listen to me. Me and Trent were the only ones in our group that even knew there isn’t any such thing as good witches! Can you believe that?”

“What was the name of the book?” Serenity asked, her concern growing stronger with each point David made.

David shrugged as he took a drink of his juice. “Oh, I don’t know . . . Sally something . . . and some kind of secret.” He shook his head again. “It was stupid.”

“Well, I’m proud of you for trying to tell the other kids the truth. What else did you do? I see you brought home a white horse. Did you make that?”

“Yeah!” David said, jumping up and going over to the chair where he had deposited his things when he came in. He brought the horse back to the table. “This is supposed to be Moondancer. She said to make my favorite animal, so I knew I had to make Moondancer.” He looked up as if he had just remembered something. “Oh, yeah, that was another thing that was stupid. This weird guy in the story thought he got power from an animal . . . its spirit or something . . . and Miss Parker wanted us to imagine what kind of animal we could get power from and make that. But I told her that people don’t get power from animals, and she said I could just make whatever was my favorite. And Trent too. He made a little dog with great big ears,” he said giggling now.

Serenity looked at her grandfather briefly, seeing that he was a little concerned too, but she didn’t say anything else until after David had finished eating and gone outside to play. “I’m concerned, Gramps,” she said now. “What he was telling us sounds a lot like new age teaching to me. And I know these witchcraft books are really popular now, but I wouldn’t have thought that the school would promote them.”

“Maybe you should talk with Miss Parker on Wednesday when you take David.”

“Well, this is his first experience with the other kids he’ll be going to school with all next year. I hate to make a fuss or cause a problem right at the beginning. It could turn out to be embarrassing for Dave. I’m not sure what to do.”

“Well, pray about it. And I don’t think waiting one more time or two will hurt. He certainly seems to have known how to handle himself . . . and the ‘stupid’ material,” he said, grinning at her.

“That’s true. All the Godly things Tom and Patience taught him from his earliest years have really taken root in him.”

“And you can add to that everything he’s learned virtually at your knees this past year, Serenity.”

She nodded. “And all the Bible stories his Gramps tells him evidently haven’t gone amiss either,” she answered, finally able to grin about it all herself. “I think I’ll give it a little time and pray and see how things go the next time or two.”

“I think that’s wise. Now, I’m off to George’s cottage to help him paint his boat.”

“Okay, see you at the next meal,” she said, laughing. “I think I’m going to chain myself to my computer until I get the next three chapters of my book done.”

“I’m anxious to read them,” he said walking to the hat rack by the door and taking up his cap. He placed it on his gray head and winked at his granddaughter. “I’ll see you about 5:00.”

“Have a good time, and both of you try to get more paint on the boat than on your clothes.”

At that, he walked back over to her and pinched her nose the way he had when she was a tiny girl. “Girl, I’ve been painting more years than you’ve been alive, so I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head.” They both laughed, and he turned and headed out the door.

Noah had told Serenity that he had some business to take care of in Barclay in the afternoon, and he wouldn’t be back home until early evening, but he insisted that David could still get in his ride on Moondancer. He had promised to call when he got home and arrange for her to send David down to his cottage. So about 6:30 that evening, with the sun still plenty high enough for a long ride, David took off for Noah’s place, and, by 7:30, Noah was on the phone again saying that David wanted to stay over at his cabin for the night.

Serenity didn’t mind David staying, but she didn’t want him to be a nuisance either, and she told Noah so.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Dave and I are pals. We enjoy each other’s company,” he replied and then spoke away from the phone to the boy. “Isn’t that right, Dave?”

“Right!” he yelled loud enough for his aunt to hear him.

“And this cabin has the extra bedroom with the twin bed, remember?”

“Well, okay, but doesn’t he need some pajamas?”

“We’ll ride down on Moondancer pretty soon and get them.”

“Well, that’s fine with me if it is with you and David. But promise me that you’ll call if he turns out to be more than you bargained for.”

“I promise. And you can take advantage of an evening to pamper yourself without a little boy running around.”

“What I’ll probably do is take the extra time to write. I’m finally getting toward the climax of this novel, and I could use two or three more hours of uninterrupted concentration.”

“Personally, I think you work hard enough as it is. I still vote for the pampering, myself,” he said with just a hint of a chuckle.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think I know how to pamper myself. I guess I’ll just have to wait until there’s someone else around who knows how to do it,” she replied, entering into his bantering tone.

“Well, lady . . . you’re talking to a man who knows how,” he answered now, his voice taking on a serious, almost intimate tone. “Maybe it’s time I showed you.”

“Uh . . . well . . . I . . . I wasn’t hinting, Noah.”

He chuckled again then. “I know you weren’t, Serenity. But I was. However, since I have company this evening, I’ll get back to you on it.”

“Well, you two enjoy your evening.”

“Oh, we will! We’re going into town and get a good video and then we’re going to build a fire on the beach and roast marshmallows before we settle down to watch it.”

“Wow, I think I’m jealous.”

“Sorry, this is boys’ night. Can’t invite you. Besides . . . what I have in mind for you calls for some place a lot more romantic than these four walls.”

Serenity cleared her throat. Her heart had picked up its beat when he started talking to her about pampering her, and every added comment just quickened it that much more. But she didn’t want to be reading something into this relationship that wasn’t there. She needed to be careful.

“Well, I’ll say goodnight then,” was all she could think of to say.

“Goodnight, Serie. Sweet dreams.” Noah hung up the phone and sat for a few moments thinking how glad he felt to be able to give Serenity a whole evening just for herself.

Later, as he and David sat roasting their marshmallows and watching the sun splash its last orange streaks across the horizon, Noah picked up the clay horse that David had brought down with him in order to show it to Noah. “You really did a great job with this, Dave,” he said now. “What else did you do today?”

But when David answered him, telling him pretty much the same things he had told Serenity, Noah felt his chest tighten and his heart start to pound. By the time David had finished, Noah was wishing with everything in him that he hadn’t asked the question. The strain he was feeling must have registered on his face momentarily because David asked suddenly, “Are you okay, Noah?”

At those words, Noah forced himself to take a deep breath and smile at the boy. “Sure, I’m fine. I’m just thinking about something. So . . . uh . . . what did your aunt say about what happened today?”

“She said she was proud of me for saying what I did, and then I heard her talking to Gramps about maybe talking to Miss Parker about what we learn at the Library Club.”

“Well, that’s probably a good idea.”

“I heard her say she would pray about it and wait until I went another time before she decided.”

“I see,” Noah answered, and then was quiet for several minutes. “Well . . . what do you say we douse this fire and go watch our movie?”

“Yeah,” David said, jumping up, ready to do his part in putting out the fire the way Noah had taught him.

Find Chapter Seven here tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


Monday afternoon, Serenity met with Jim Kelso, the grade school principal, and he showed her around the school grounds, gave her a copy of the handbook, explaining a few things from it personally, and then let her look through some of the curriculum.

“As you can see, this curriculum hits all the basic elemental subjects very thoroughly, and we have also instituted a new curriculum, which covers more social awareness subjects that students can choose from, even in the lower grades. It will begin this year. And our new librarian, Miss Parker, has worked hard to cultivate the children’s interest in reading and communication of various kinds. In fact, she has developed quite a following.”

“It’s always rewarding when children learn to love reading. I’d like to meet Miss Parker some time.”

“Oh, definitely. As a matter of fact, if you decide to enroll David here, you may want to let him come to the Summer Library Club during the month of July.”

“Library Club?”

“Yes, Miss Parker volunteers her time three mornings every week during the month of July to offer a program of reading and activities for any interested children. Each child must bring his own snack, and various other materials that coincide with whatever project they’re working on, but she lets the parents know in advance what those materials will be.”

“Does she do all ages at one time?”

“Yes. She starts the younger ones on a project and then moves on to the middle school students. And she often lets some of the middle school children help with the younger ones. It’s worked very well. At least . . . last summer was the first time we tried it, since that was her first year with us . . . but it was wonderfully received by students and parents alike.”

“Well, it sounds interesting, and I’m sure David would like it. Is there any charge at all?”

“No, the town board decided that if Miss Parker were so willing to volunteer her services, the town would take care of any extra expense incurred by the school in connection with that program.”

“That’s very generous. I’ve noticed before when I’ve talked with some of the townspeople that they are really proud of their school,” she said, looking around her as she spoke. “And I’d say they have a right to be.”

“Thank you, Miss Lawrence. Now, before I leave you, did you have any other questions?”

“I don’t think so, thank you, Mr. Kelso. I’ll talk things over with my grandfather, and I’ll probably let you know something by next week.”

“Good,” he said, walking back with her as far as his office door. He turned to walk through it and nodded at her once more. “I’ll look forward to hearing from you then, and I know we’ll look forward to having David if you decide to send him.”

“Thank you again. Bye now,” she answered, moving on to the exit doors.

When she returned home, she filled her grandfather in on what she had learned, and then they sat down with David and talked to him. When he understood that he had a choice of staying here with his great-grandfather and going to school instead of moving away to a larger city as they had talked about before, he made an instant decision. He seemed so eager that Serenity took that as a confirmation from the Lord, and made her own decision as quickly. Her heart wanted to stay here anyway, so why not. After all, Gramps had said that she should try to make a life that was satisfying for herself too, and she had never felt freer or happier than she had felt here this past year.

So the next day, Serenity took David to register for the second grade at Hamsted Elementary School. The secretary helped them fill out the forms. “So David’s last name is Hartford and not Lawrence?” she asked.

“Yes, he’s my nephew, although I’m now his legal guardian.”

“Oh, yes, I see that a couple lines down now,” she said glancing through the rest of the pages. “Well, I think that’s all the information we’ll need for right now, Miss Lawrence. We’ll look forward to having David with us next year.”

Just as they were coming out of the office, they met Miss Parker, on her way to lunch, and received her personal invitation to attend the Summer Library Club each week in July. Miss Parker seemed to Serenity to be a very enthusiastic young woman, about twenty-five or twenty-six years old. She had blond hair that looked quite natural to Serenity, and she wore it in short, loose curls that framed her face in a vibrant halo. She seemed to literally radiate energy, and she smiled constantly.

David liked that, of course, and he committed himself to take part in the very first Library Day, which was a week away. “I’ll be seven before then,” he told Miss Parker. “My birthday is Saturday.”

“Well, may I wish you a very happy birthday, then, David. I hope you get lots of presents and all the cake and ice cream you can eat.”

“Oh, I will. Aunt Sere already bought me a present, and my Gramps said he ordered me something special, and I have a new friend, Noah, and he said he’s getting me something extra-special!”

“Wow. Sounds great to me.”

“And my best friend Trent is coming to have supper with us, and he’ll probably bring me a present too.”

“Well, he may, David,” Serenity answered him, “but even if he doesn’t, you just remember that the best gift he can give you is his friendship.”

“That’s true,” Miss Parker agreed. “And we’ve been reading and discussing some books that teach a lot about good friendships this past year. Maybe you can learn to enjoy them this summer, David.”

“Okay,” he said, nodding his head.

“Well, I think we’re done here, Dave,” his aunt said. She reached out to shake Miss Parker’s hand. “Thank you for all your encouragement for David. We’ll see you next month.”

“Great. I’ll look forward to it.”

With that, Serenity and David left the school and went shopping for a few more clothes and the school materials that were on the list Miss Parker had given them for the first Library Day project.

Saturday dawned bright and shiny. That kind of weather was getting to be a habit. The only rain they’d had since the severe storms had been abolished had been two or three late afternoon showers, and they had dissipated before sunset. David was especially glad about the weather today, of course, this being his own special day. “Aunt Sere, are we going to cook outside for supper?” he asked while he ate his breakfast.

“Yes, we’ll have your favorite. Hot dogs,” she said, grinning at him. “And maybe some hamburgers for the rest of us.”

“Noah likes hot dogs too,” David said, enthusiastically shoveling another big bite of pancakes into his mouth. “And Trent loves ‘em, just like me!”

“Well, I’m glad.”

“And he did get me a present too. He told me so last night when I talked to him on the phone.”

“Well, it sounds like you’ll have plenty then. Listen, slow down a little on those pancakes. They won’t run off, and you’re getting your mouth too full to be trying to talk at the same time.”

“Okay, I’ll just eat,” he said, taking another bite that was a little bigger than his mouth, and Serenity gave up. She started putting breakfast things away a little at a time and began to wash the dishes. By the time she had everything done except for David’s dishes, he was finished and ready to hit the beach.

“Remember, don’t go in the water until I tell you it’s been long enough after eating,” she reminded him. She knew that he wasn’t really likely to forget, but ever since he’d been left to her care, she had been just a little more anxious that normal about safeguarding him. Of course, she knew that the Lord was the only One Who could really keep him safe, and she prayed scriptures over him everyday, both in her own personal prayer time, and also when she prayed with him a few minutes right before breakfast.

“Okay, I’m gonna sit on the porch and read my new book until you say I can go in.”

“Good idea. Thank you.”

With that he was out the door, and Serenity finished her work in the kitchen. Her granddad had taken off early to go out in the sail boat with two friends of his, and he wouldn’t be back until late afternoon, so she had time to plan the birthday dinner and maybe even finish that article she had been working on for the Christian Family Magazine. In fact, she was deep into that work a couple of hours later when the phone rang. It was Noah.

“I wanted to know if you had any objections to my giving David and Trent a ride on Moondancer at the party tonight.”

“No, none at all. They’ll love it.”

“Well, I’m not positive how Moondancer will take to Trent alone on his back, but I can let David ride with him, and I can walk along beside them if I think it’s necessary. David’s been riding like he was born in a saddle the last several times he’s gone out. And Moondancer looks forward to having that boy on his back as much as he does having me. In fact,” he said, chuckling, “I’m starting to get a little jealous.”

“Yeah, you can’t fool me, Noah Bennett. I see how that horse is with you. You two have a bond that’s beyond the natural. Nobody could ever disrupt that, and you know it.”

He laughed more now. “Yeah, you’re right. I just sort of fell in love with that stallion the first time I saw him, and I guess it was mutual. It’s nice to know horses live a long time. At least it should be a long and happy relationship.”

“David’s so excited he can’t hold still anticipating tonight. And he keeps talking about your gift as if you’ve told him it’s going to be something really unexpected. Is there anything I should know about this gift?” she asked with teasing laughter in her voice.

“Nope. You just gotta trust me.”

There was that phrase again. The one he’d used when he’d told her to trust him about David’s safety on the horse. And Serenity did trust Noah. More than she ever remembered trusting any man that she hadn’t known well almost all of her life. She still felt a tingle all the way through her when she remembered his threat to return her kiss. But at least, she hadn’t felt self-conscious when she’d seen him the next time. Of course, both of the times they’d been together since then had been times he’d brought Moondancer down for David to ride. The other times, David had gone to Noah’s house and ridden from there. Tonight would be the first time she and Noah would actually spend any extended time together, and then she’d be busy acting as hostess for the birthday party.

“Did I lose you somewhere?” Noah’s words on the other end of the phone cut into her wandering thoughts.

“Oh, no, I’m sorry. I got a little sidetracked with thoughts about the party.”

“Well, I need to let you go so you can get everything ready.”

“Actually, I wasn’t working on the party at all when you called. I was working on an article.”

“Oh, I am sorry then, if I’ve interrupted your creativity.”

Serenity laughed. She’d laughed more since Noah had come than she had at any time since her sister and brother-in-law had died. “Don’t be silly,” she answered him now. “I was just about finished with it, and you haven’t caused me any setback. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll even be able to take it in to the post office before time for the party.”

“I have to go into town anyway in about an hour. Would you like for me to take it in?”

“Well, if you’re sure it won’t be extra trouble for you.”

“Heavens no! As small as Hamsted is, you can almost travel from one end of town to the other in the time it takes to blink your eyes,” he answered, laughing himself. “But I’m not complaining,” he added. “I like this little place, and the village atmosphere. You can really get to know people. And I’m glad you invited me to Christ Community Church. I might have waited a few weeks before I went looking for a place to worship if you hadn’t really encouraged me to attend right away. I really like Pastor Carlyle. He and I have had lunch together a couple of times, and I have more respect for him every time I’m with him. He’s a true man of God.”

“Yeah, I’ve always liked him very much myself. And his wife, Jennifer, is just as great.”

“She is a sweet lady. They invited me to dinner one night last week, and I was surprised at her sense of humor. It doesn’t show a lot on Sunday morning, but she had me almost in tears from laughter the other night.”

“I’m glad. From what I’ve noticed about you lately, you need to laugh more.”

“Well, I can tell you that I’ve laughed more since coming here and meeting you and your family than I have in a long time.” He spoke the words lightheartedly, but Serenity sensed a serious tone beneath them also.

“I’m glad,” she answered him on a serious note herself. “In fact, I was just thinking the same thing about the time we’ve spent with you.”



“That’s good to know. It’s nice to think I might make someone’s life a little brighter.”

“Well, you can rest assured that there’s someone else whose life is a lot brighter since you came into it, and that’s my nephew. He’s almost a different person.”

“I’m glad. I really like David a lot. I think he reminds me of myself a little, when I was a kid. Although, that thought might not be very encouraging to you, come to think of it.”

“Are you fishing for more compliments, Officer Bennett?”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. There it was again. That sense of having brought up something hurtful to Noah by addressing him as a law enforcement officer. She wanted to ask about it, but not over the phone.

“Well,” she hurried to change the subject, “I guess I will hang up and go back to my article, since I have my own postal delivery service coming by to pick it up in an hour. Thank you, Noah.”

“Glad to do it. Will an hour give you enough time?”

“I’m sure it will, if I hang up now. See you then.”

“All right. Bye for now.”

One hour later, on the dot, Noah was standing on her back porch knocking on the screen door. “Is it you, Noah?” she called from the bedroom where she was just sealing the large envelope.

“Right the first time,” he replied.

“Come on in and have a seat. I’m finished, and I’ll be right out.”

“Take your time,” he said as he walked into the kitchen and sat at the table.

The next minute, Serenity walked in and laid the envelope on the table in front of Noah. She was wearing light blue shorts and a white V-neck knit shirt with blue flowers embroidered along the neck. She had pulled her hair into a high pony tail, with just the slightest fringe of side-swept bangs and curling tendrils working loose from the sides. Her eyes sparkled, and Noah found himself hoping it was because she was as glad to see him as he was to see her. She looked completely casual and ordinary, yet Noah, once again, felt something stir to life inside of him from just being in her presence. What was it about this woman that captured him this way, he wondered again. In fact, he’d been asking himself that question ever since the night he’d brought David home after the storm.

He looked right into her eyes now, and saw an answering flicker of . . . something stronger than mild friendship . . . but what exactly? He couldn’t quite put a name to it, but it was powerful enough that their eyes held for several moments, neither of them saying anything else during that time. Finally Serenity looked down at the envelope she’d laid in front of him and cleared her throat to speak.

“Thanks again for taking this for me, Noah. That way I can get the cake done earlier.”

He looked down at the envelope too, and finally picked it up, rising from the chair. “No problem.”

“Shall I send the money with you now, or would you rather wait and see how much it is? I do need it to go first class.”

“Just wait. It can’t be too much as light as it is,” he said. “Well,” he added on a sort of sigh. “I’ll be off. I’ll be back over about 5:00 then.”

“Great. We’ll eat about 5:30, and then open presents and play a couple of games that David especially likes.”

“Sounds good,” he said and turned toward the door. He made himself walk out without saying anything else. What he wanted to do was just stay here right now and sit in the kitchen with Serenity while she cooked and prepared things for the party. He shook his head as he let the screen door close behind him. He had to get control of these thoughts and feelings. He was here to rest . . . and maybe think about a new direction for his life. He hadn’t let himself think about that possibility in such concrete terms until this week. But now . . . he was facing the fact that he just might not be able to go back to his position as county sheriff again. . . . Yeah . . . he had to keep his head clear . . . and his heart unattached . . . if he were going to make such a major decision this summer.

At 5:00, Noah came riding Moondancer along the beach to the lighthouse. Trent’s parents were just getting ready to leave after dropping him off, but Serenity encouraged them to stay and meet Noah. He dismounted, and when he did Serenity noticed a large wrapped package that was strapped behind him, and about that time David noticed it too. “Is that my present, Noah?” he said, his eyes getting big and bright as he walked up close to Moondancer to look closer at the package.

“That’s your present, but you can’t have it until your aunt says it’s time to open gifts.”

David motioned for Trent to come closer. “Look, Trent; look how big it is!”

Trent came close to Moondancer, looking mostly at the large white horse. He wasn’t exactly afraid, but he wasn’t used to horses either, and he just wasn’t quite sure how to take this one. Noah stepped up to him then. “Trent, let me introduce you to Moondancer,” he said, beginning to rub the horse’s neck soothingly. “He’s become one of David’s good friends the last few weeks.”

“I know,” Trent said, seeming to relax more as he stood close to Noah. “He told me all about how he met him. He said you let him ride everyday almost.”

“That’s right. And I’ll tell you what. If you want to, I think we could let you ride with David after supper. Do you think you’d like to?”

Trent looked up at the horse, and tentatively put out a hand to pat his neck. Moondancer looked toward the boy and made the soft blowing noise he always made when he was relaxed and in a good mood. Trent seemed to like that. Finally, he answered Noah. “Yeah, I think I’d like to ride . . . but only with David,” he added seriously.

“You got it, Partner,” Noah said, and looked toward David, who was still walking around eyeing the gift, trying to figure out what it was. “How does that sound to you, David?”

“Sounds fine,” he answered Noah and then looked at Trent. “You’ll love it, Trent. Remember how much fun I told you it is? Just wait until you try it.”

Noah spent a couple of minutes talking to Trent’s parents to make sure it was all right with them if he gave Trent a ride, and when they had assured him they were in favor of it, they returned to their car and started for home.

Serenity was getting the charcoal into the grill by then, and Noah insisted that he light the fire and do the grilling. So she acquiesced, turning her attention to carrying out the colorful table cloth and paper plates and arranging them on the picnic table. David and Trent decided they wanted to swim before they ate, so they both took off for the water.

David knew exactly how far it was safe for him to go in the surf, and he never disobeyed that restriction. Serenity was grateful for that, and for the fact that, surprisingly, for an only child, David was really a very obedient child over all. He had a period once in a while when he pushed a little hard to get to go somewhere or buy something, or stay up an extra hour to watch something on television, but Serenity had never seen any rebellion or even any pouting in him. Perhaps that fact was partly due to the terribly tragedy of losing his parents as such a young age. She often thought that enduring that loss had made David feel more appreciative of the family members he had left, and he wanted to please them.

Both boys had worked up quite an appetite by the time the food was ready, so after several hot dogs and plates full of chips, they both managed to put away two pieces of cake, with ice cream. When everyone was finished eating, Serenity rose and said, “Well, I guess it’s gift time.”

“Yeah!” David said, jumping up and clapping his hands.

“I’ll go get them,” Serenity said as she rose from the table. While she carried those gifts out, Noah went to get his off Moondancer, who had been tied to the old fence just behind the lighthouse. He told David to open all the other gifts first, which he did very quickly, enjoying each one of them. He got two new books, a CD of children’s worship songs, a new video Bible game, and a gift certificate to the local pizza restaurant for four pizza dinners. Then it was time for Noah’s gift.

He lugged it over and placed it on the bench of the picnic table in front of David, who didn’t waste any time ripping off the paper. “Wow! A saddle! A real saddle! Look, Aunt Sere, a real saddle!”

Serenity walked over closer to see the gift, her own mouth open a little in surprise. “Noah, that’s . . . well . . . I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t say anything. David says, ‘thank you,’ and then he enjoys his gift,” he answered grinning at her. Then he turned back to David. “It’s a special-made saddle, just for someone your size, Dave. That way you can get your feet into the stirrups and ride the way you’re supposed to. It’s really safer that way, and since you’re getting good enough to ride alone a lot of times, I wanted you to have this.”

“Oh, thank you, Noah!” the boy said, flinging himself at Noah to give him a tight hug. “It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s stupendous!” he said, using the newest word he’d learned a couple of weeks ago.

“Well, shall we put it on and let you try it out?”

“Yes!” shouted David. “And then will Trent be able to ride with me too?’

“Oh, yeah. After you ride, we’ll put Trent up there in your new saddle, and we’ll let you get on behind him, since you’re the experienced rider.”

“Okay,” David said. “Come on, Trent,” he added, as he followed Noah to Moondancer. When Noah had changed saddles, the riding began, and didn’t come to an end until about an hour later. By that time, the boys had decided that instead of the games they had planned to play, they wanted to go inside and play the new video game, so Serenity, Clint and Noah sat out on the beach and talked.

Serenity tried twice to ask a question about Noah’s work as a sheriff, but he just refused to be drawn into that subject. He kept turning the conversation to something else, and finally, Serenity gave up, allowing the evening to come to an end without finding out any more about what was really troubling Noah Bennett about the past year of his life.

Look for Chapter Six here tomorrow.



© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner


Monday had turned out to be just as pretty a day as Sunday had been, and when Monday night had come and gone, again without another storm, the people along the coast breathed a deep sigh of relief. It looked as if that weird weather system had finally dispersed. Nobody in the weather service had been able to explain it even yet, but the citizens of Hamsted and the surrounding beach area didn’t really care, as long as the storms were over.

Tuesday morning, Noah called Serenity and invited her family to a cookout at his cottage, along with the two neighbors who had rented the cottages on either side of him. Everyone accepted immediately, and offered to bring a dish of some kind to add to the menu. So around 5:00 that evening they all gathered at Noah’s part of the beach, one or two bringing along beach umbrellas and several bringing folding lawn chairs and blankets to sit on. Noah had set a picnic table out where all the food could be spread out, and each person helped himself to a plate full and then milled around until he found a seat that suited him.

There were two other children, twins, who had come with their grandparents for a month on the beach. They were ten years old, but since David was fairly mature for his age, they didn’t seem to have any problem joining with him in playing some games and having fun. David asked Noah if he could take the twins to visit Moondancer in his corral, and Noah agreed with the stipulation that they were not to open the gate for any reason, and they all agreed.

Noah had been riding Moondancer along the beach every night since the storms had passed. They usually rode for about three miles along the coast and then back to the cottage. It had been good for both of them, and Noah wasn’t sure which of them looked forward to those moonlight rides the most. He had let David come every day to pet Moondancer and talk to him, but he had kept his word about waiting a whole week before giving David another ride. The week would be up on Friday, and David had reminded Noah of that fact every time he saw him. Noah just hoped that Moondancer was as receptive to the boy’s riding him the second time as he had been at first.

About 8:00 the group built a small bonfire on the beach and began to roast marshmallows. By that time everyone was tired and wanted to just sit and share thoughts and memories. The kids told each other their own stories, in between mouthfuls of their sticky treats, and then the twins’ grandmother moved over to the kids’ group and began telling them one of her favorite stories. The other guests were talking about some memories of previous years when they had all visited the coast, and eventually the talk turned to a history of the lighthouse itself, which suited Clint perfectly.

Noah sat silent, looking out over the ocean, breathing deeply every so often, trying to let the peace soak into him, but having to work a little at keeping nagging thoughts from the past year from forcing themselves into his mind. Serenity was sitting within arm’s reach of him, and she couldn’t help watching him. The firelight flickered over his face, casting shadows in such a way that the tension in his features seemed even more noticeable. She was sure he was troubled about something, and she was trying to decide whether to ask about it or not. Finally, she decided to ask a question and see if he would open up to her.

“You look serious, Noah. There’s something troubling on your mind isn’t there?” she asked in a quiet enough voice that the others engaged in their own conversations couldn’t really catch her words clearly.

Noah turned and looked at her. For the first second, he seemed to have just then realized that she was there, but in the next moment, his eyes began to skim over her face in a look that was almost a caress. Serenity felt warmth suffuse her, but then she told herself that she was letting her imagination run away with her. Why would Noah Bennett look at her in that way? He barely knew her. But it had seemed that his eyes registered pleasure in what he saw. He still hadn’t answered her though, so she tried again.

“Is something bothering you tonight, Noah?”

He dropped his eyes for a moment and then looked back out to the sea. Finally, he spoke in that soothing, baritone voice she had come to appreciate over the past several days. But he too spoke softly, as if he didn’t really want anyone else to hear. “We seem to be on the same wave length all the time, don’t we?”

He hadn’t answered her directly, but Serenity knew what he meant. They had both sensed the same sinister element in the storms they’d had. Then Noah had known exactly what Serenity had needed him to say to David to back her up in her discipline. Now tonight, she had picked up on his troubled spirit, even though he had done nothing all evening to indicate that he had problems on his mind.

“Sometimes it just works that way, I guess,” was all she could think of to say. “Would you like to talk about it?”

He gave a quiet chuckle, but it really had no joy in it. It was more of an indication of some kind of bitter irony in what he was about to say. “No, actually, I don’t want to talk about it, but I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s what I need to do . . . with the right person, that is.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d qualify, but I’d certainly be glad to listen, and I can promise you it won’t go any further.”

He nodded briefly, still not looking at her. “I think I know that. But I’m not sure it’s something you need to be burdened with.”

“I don’t usually take on burdens. I usually pass them on to the Lord in prayer, whether they concern me or someone else that I care about.”

He gave her a sideways look then. “You’re not only beautiful; you’re also very wise,” he said with a grin, watching her just long enough to see her blush. It was visible even in the dim light, and for some reason he seemed to enjoy causing her to blush like a schoolgirl. Then he looked back out to the ocean, silent again.

“Keith mentioned that you’d been through some pretty trying experiences in your work this past year and that you were hoping to get some rest during the two months you were here.”

Noah looked at her again, concern on his face. “I didn’t realize he’d told anyone that.”

“Oh, he didn’t say any more than that,” she hurried to reassure him. “He didn’t indicate any details at all, and I really think I’m the only one he told. I had come down to help him air out the cottage and get it ready for you. June was just too close to her time of delivery for Keith to let her do any of the work, so David and I volunteered our services,” she said grinning.

“That was kind of you. I know they both appreciated it . . . and so do I, by the way. The place was spotless and as fresh as spring when I arrived. Thank you, Serenity.”

“It was no trouble at all, Noah. And truly, your brother-in-law didn’t tell any of your personal business beyond saying it had been a trying year, and he hoped you’d get some much deserved rest. I hope that hasn’t upset you.”

Noah shook his head. “No . . . I’m not upset.” He sighed deeply. “It’s just not the kind of thing that’s easy to talk about. In fact . . . with most people, it would be impossible to talk about.”

“So am I one of those people?”

“No . . . not at all. At least . . . I’m pretty sure you’re not. I’m just not sure I can bring myself to go into all of it now, Serenity. But if I can at a later time . . . I’d be more likely to do so with you than anyone else I can think of right now.”

“Then I won’t push you, but if you do need to talk, Noah . . . or even if you just want to talk . . . I’d be honored to think you could trust me.”

“I’m sure I can . . . and thank you.”

Serenity just nodded and then glanced over to the large blanket where the kids were. David was sprawled out, most likely sound asleep. “Well, it looks as if David has called it a night.”

Noah followed her glance and then he chuckled. “He’s had a full day. I guess the lullaby of the sea was just too much after all that hard playing.”

“I suppose I need to get him home.” She turned to her grandfather. “I think David’s conked out on us, Gramps. Do you think we need to be getting home?”

“Probably a good idea,” he said, and the other adults began to get up from their seats too. “Yeah, we need to go too,” the twins’ grandfather said, and, gradually, they all collected their dishes and lawn chairs and began to make their way toward their own places, as Clint began to put out the fire.

Noah moved to help with that, and then he said, “You two go ahead and collect your dishes, and blankets, and I’ll pick David up and carry him back to the lighthouse.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Noah,” Serenity said. “I’m sure I can get him awake enough to get him home.”

“Don’t be silly, Serie,” he answered, calling her by her nickname for the first time. It gave Serenity a warm feeling. Noah continued: “Why should you wake him up, when I can easily carry him down there. It’s not as if I have a whole lot of other pressing things to take care of, you know.” He was grinning at her by the time he’d finished, so she gave in.

“All right, Sheriff Bennett, I yield to your voice of authority,” she said, chuckling. But she wasn’t prepared for the pain she saw flash through his eyes momentarily when she had addressed him that way. There was definitely something troubling this man, and it had to do with his work as a law enforcement officer. She wished she could help him. But for now, she packed up their two covered plastic bowls and stuck them in their picnic basket, along with David’s ball, and his plastic pail and shovel. Clint picked up the two beach blankets they’d brought. When they were ready, Noah lifted David into his arms, and except for a very drowsy move to reach one arm up around Noah’s neck, the child barely indicated he had wakened at all. And he was obviously sound asleep again before they had gone ten feet.

Friday morning, David was exuberant at the breakfast table. He hurried through his cereal and English muffin, even though his aunt kept admonishing him to slow down. And when he hopped off his chair announcing he was ready to go ride Moondancer, Serenity had to grab his arm and insist that he sit back down until he’d finished his juice. “And then you have to wait twenty minutes for your food to settle before you take off,” she said.

“Oh, Aunt Serie . . . I’ve been waiting a whole week already!”

“Well, then, twenty more minutes won’t make much difference, will it?” she asked with a wide grin.

“But what if Noah forgets and goes someplace before I get down there?”

“You know he won’t, David. And even if he did, you can ride later on this afternoon.”

“Okaaaay,” he said, giving in ungraciously, but he did sit back down and drink his juice.

“Good,” Serenity said. “Now if you want, you can go outside and sit on the porch steps for twenty minutes, and I’ll come and tell you when that’s up. Then you can go for your ride.”

So David slipped out onto the porch and sat down, fidgeting a little every couple of minutes, but he managed to stay seated at least. In about ten minutes, Noah came riding along the beach on Moondancer, and headed straight for the lighthouse. David jumped and yelled for his aunt. “Aunt Serie! Aunt Serie! Noah’s here! And Moondancer!” With that he was off the porch and racing to meet his guests before they had entered the yard.

Serenity came to the door and then stepped out onto the porch about the time Noah was dismounting. She didn’t speak immediately, because David was talking a mile a minute. “I’m sure glad you remembered, Noah. I was coming to your house, but Aunt Serie made me finish my juice first, and then she made me sit on the porch . . . to let my food settle, she said. And then I was coming.”

“Well, I figured you’d be anxious to get in your ride as soon as possible.” He looked up at Serenity then. “Good morning.” He suddenly felt flooded with sunshine as he looked at her standing there in a yellow cotton sundress, with her hair pulled back at the nape of her neck and tied with a yellow ribbon. He didn’t think she had on any makeup, but the woman didn’t need any makeup — she didn’t need anything extra at all to make herself the focus of his attention.

“Good morning, Noah,” she answered, smiling in that way she had that lit up her whole face. Fleetingly, he wondered what it would be like to wake up beside her every morning. Whoa! He shook his head slightly. Where had that thought come from? He’d better watch his step for sure. He needed rest, not an emotional roller-coaster called romance!

“So is it all right if David goes for his ride now?” he finally asked.

“I guess so,” she said, looking just a little unsure. “Are you sure it’s safe, Noah? I mean . . . Moondancer is so big.”

Noah laughed. “You forget, Serie. Your nephew has already been on this horse’s back and enjoyed a ride that, from what I could tell, was a little on the brisk side . . . if not downright wild. I’m sure he can handle something a little tamer. Besides, I’m going to get on and ride with him first, and then walk alongside. Then next time, if everything is still going well, we can let them ride along the beach on his own for a while.”

“Well, if you’re going to do it that way, I guess it’s bound to be all right.”

“I promise, Serenity. I won’t leave him alone with Moondancer unless I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“Noah, did you say that I can ride Moondancer again? More than today?”

“Yes, assuming you and he get along as well as you did the other night.”

“We will, won’t we boy?” David said, gently caressing the horse’s neck.

“Well, then, let’s get you up here,” Noah said, picking the boy up and lifting him into the saddle. Then he got up behind him. “I know you’re used to riding bareback, but I like the saddle when I ride, and I figured it would help you stay in place better, even if your feet don’t reach the stirrups.

“Okay, Noah,” David answered, grinning and almost bouncing in the saddle.

Noah gave the horse a flick of the reins that was their own signal for him to start off in a slow walk, and gradually, as they covered more of the beach, he let the horse move into a trot, and eventually into an easy run. On their way back toward the lighthouse, Noah had Moondancer walking again, and he began to explain to David more about handling the reins. When they returned to Serenity, sitting on the porch watching them, Noah dismounted and handed the reins to David.

“Now, David, you and Moondancer can go for a walk back toward my cottage, but don’t flick the reign again and try to get him to run yet, do you understand?”

David nodded. “I promise, Noah.”

“Okay, I’ll walk beside you this time, and then maybe next time you can go all by yourself.”

“Okay,” he said and urged the horse into a gentle walk.

Serenity laid her hand gently on Noah’s arm, and he felt the heat of that touch travel to his chest as he turned to look at her.

“Are you sure, Noah . . . about letting him sit up there by himself? You said Moondancer usually didn’t want anyone else riding him.”

“Serenity, very few people are truly natural-born horsemen, but your nephew is one of those rare people. And Moondancer knows it. He’s taken to David as if he’d belonged to him all his life. I don’t understand it, but I know it’s a fact.” He reached up and nudged her under the chin very lightly. “Trust me. He’ll be fine,” he said and started to turn away to catch up with David, who was several feet along the beach by now.

“Noah,” Serenity said, and he turned to look at her again. As he did so, she came closer and reached up and kissed him on the cheek, very briefly. Heat engulfed him so that he barely caught her words. “You’re very sweet to take this much time with him. I haven’t seen him this excited about anything in a long time. Thank you so much.”

He smiled slightly and nodded, turning to go again. But he had taken only a couple of steps before he turned around again, his caramel-colored eyes piercing her dark green ones. “If I don’t catch up with David right now, I’m going to find myself returning that kiss. . . . And it won’t be on your cheek.

Even though she blushed to the roots of her hair, Noah managed to tear his eyes away from hers and take off jogging down the beach toward the horse and rider. Serenity felt hot and cold all at the same time, and as her knees began to feel just a little unsteady, she turned to sit back down on the porch.

What on earth was wrong with her that just the thought of kissing Noah Bennett had her shivering like a teenager? She’d certainly been kissed a number of times before. But she had to admit that none of those kisses had brought on a reaction like this — and so far he’d done nothing but threaten to kiss her. She wrapped her arms around herself as she sat there lost in thought. At least she guessed that it would be considered a threat. Actually, she hoped that it was more of a . . . promise.

Clint came out on the porch then, his second cup of coffee in his hands. “We just got a call from the secretary at the elementary school, Serie. She said she needed to change your appointment with Mr. Kelso to Monday afternoon instead of Monday morning. I knew you all were getting David started on his ride, so I didn’t call you in. I just told her I thought that would be fine, but if not, I’d have you call her back before noon.”

“That’s no problem. Monday afternoon’s just as good. I just need to get a better idea of the school and how it’s run . . . and exactly what they teach . . . so that we can decide for sure what to do for the next school year.”

“Well, you know, of course, that I’d love to have both of you stay here, but if you feel that it isn’t what’s best for David . . . or for you . . . then you’ll have my blessing on whatever you decide,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders.

“I know, Gramps. And I’ve been thinking that maybe staying here a few more years just might really be what David needs most. He seems to be getting his joy and lust for life back, and he loves it here so much.”

“But there’s something else to consider, Serenity, and I think you keep forgetting that.”

She looked up at him, concern in her eyes. “What, Gramps?”

“You’re forgetting yourself, Child. You can’t start making every decision you make just for David’s benefit.” She opened her mouth to interrupt, but he put up his hand in a restraining motion. “No, hear me out, Serie. You are only thirty-two years old, you’re beautiful, inside and out, and you’re a talented writer. You deserve a full, satisfying life for yourself . . . including a good man to love you and share that life with you. And in the long run, you will serve David’s interests best if you do what’s truly best for you personally. Because then you’ll be a more fulfilled, more satisfied person, and therefore better able to help him be the same.” He looked at her sternly for a moment. “Do you understand me?”

Serenity nodded, tears brimming in her eyes, and then she reached out to hug her grandfather. “I understand, Gramps. And thank you.”

He just nodded his head and then drained the last of his coffee. “Now,” he said, rising, “I need to go up and clean the lenses.”

Serenity got up too. “And I need to clean off the breakfast table,” she said, going in ahead of her granddad. “I forgot to ask Noah how long he and David would be gone, but as long as he’s keeping an eye on him, I guess I won’t worry about it.”

“That’a girl,” he said. “I’ll be up top if you need me,” he added, and started up the spiral stairs.

Look for Chapter Five here tomorrow.


© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner

If you haven’t read the previous chapters, you can find chapter one HERE.


The following night another storm moved over the coast, a little more severe than the one the previous night, and the weatherman on the late night newscast said that the national weather bureau hadn’t been able to establish a specific reason for the repeated pattern over the last two weeks. They had mentioned several possible causes but had not been able to make a definite determination yet. The most unusual aspect of the storms was that they materialized out over the ocean about five miles from shore and after hitting the coast along a five mile stretch and moving as far inland as the county line beyond Hamsted, they just seemed to wear out.

The following day was Sunday, and Serenity and her family attended services at the Christ Community Church just outside of the town. There were three other churches in Hamsted also, but Serenity’s great-grandfather had helped found this one, and they liked being a part of it. The sermons were always encouraging messages from the Word of God, and the worship was beautiful and heartfelt. They had invited Noah to services there, and he slipped into one of the back pews just as the first song was beginning. He loved going to church, but he hadn’t been in the community long enough to really get to know anyone yet, and he didn’t feel up to a lot of conversation with new people this morning.

At the close of the service, Pastor Carlyle called for anyone who needed prayer to come forward, and after they were prayed for, he suggested that the congregation as a whole stand and pray against the serious storms that had been plaguing their area. “I think it’s pretty clear that these storms are a result of the evil forces trying to misuse the elements of weather that the Lord planned for our good,” he said, “and we have authority over that. So I think we need to come into strong agreement this morning that those evil forces will be bound and their power to usurp the elements of weather for unnatural uses be broken.”

Several people said, “Amen,” and everyone stood to their feet. The pastor led the prayer, inviting anyone else to add something more if they felt led to do so. Noah felt really good about that prayer . . . and about this church. This was a church that he was going to feel comfortable in, he was sure. So as everyone began filing out, he waited to speak to the pastor and a few of the members. David came bounding down the aisle to talk to him and shake his hand in a grown up way, and following him came Serenity and Clint.

“Good to see you this morning, Noah,” Clint said, shaking his hand.

“It’s good to be here.”

At that time, the pastor turned to their group, and Clint introduced Noah. “Welcome, Noah. We’re glad you joined us this morning.”

“I am too, Pastor. I got a lot from your sermon, and I was really in agreement with your prayer about the weather. I believe we’ll see a turn around in that storm situation tonight.”

“Amen. I like that kind of talk,” the pastor answered. Someone else had touched his elbow to get his attention, but before he turned around he added, “Please come back to service tonight. We’re having a service that’s all testimonies and worship.”

“I’d like that. I’ll try to make it.”

“Good. Talk to you folks this evening then,” he said as he turned to the member wanting his attention.

While that conversation had transpired, another conversation was going on in the part of the atmosphere that was just beyond the visible realm. One of the captains of the Hosts of Heaven was addressing his troop of angelic hosts, all of them dressed in brilliant white garments, their glistening, diaphanous wings unfurled in readiness to carry out their orders. Each of the angels wore a large golden sword, sheathed at his side. Their commander was dressed much as they were, except that he also wore a golden sash across his chest with words in the language of Heaven inscribed upon it.

At his command, each angel drew his sword, and suddenly the brilliance of the golden fire that shot from all of those swords lit up the surrounding atmosphere brighter than the sun that was shining high in the center of the sky. “The saints have prayed in one accord,” the captain said. “They have spoken the words of Jehovah against the demonic powers that have been ruling the elements of weather over Hamsted and have bound them on earth. Therefore, Jehovah, true to His Word, has bound those forces in the heavens.

“Now . . . you are released, Hosts of Heaven. Go at once to the north, the south, the east, and the west. You now have the authority to rout all of those demonic hosts without exception. Then minister peace to the wind and the water and command them to rest for the next seven days.”

Instantly, there was a mighty rushing sound as the army of angelic beings separated to go in four directions, singing the praises of Jehovah as their battle cry, and speeding out to put the enemy forces to flight and bring victory into manifestation for the people of God. It didn’t take long. By 1:00, the sky was the clearest blue the people along the coast had seen in months, and the air was fresh and sweet, and carried along on a breeze so light and gentle it was like a caress. The sun shone without let-up until it slid gracefully beneath the horizon at a little after 8:00 that night.

By that time, the members at Christ Community Church were deep into their worship service. They were singing at the top of their lungs, clapping, shouting, and even dancing around the sanctuary with joy in the Lord. Some of the members of the Hosts of Heaven, although invisible to the human eye, were nevertheless present in the little church also, and were enjoying and even participating in the praise of Jehovah and the Lamb. They liked nothing better than this rejoicing that came from the redeemed of the Lamb. There was just nothing else like it, even in the halls of heaven. The redeemed of the Lord, coming with singing unto Zion, as the Word of the Lord described it.

The longer the praise continued, the more powerful came the presence of Jehovah Himself into the little sanctuary. After a while, most of the people were on their knees or even lying prostrate on their faces before the Lord in worshipful prayer.

But hidden away in the garage that belonged to the empty house beside Lacey and Troy Dillard’s home, the group of would-be sorcerers were applying every work of divination that they had learned up to this time, still attempting to conjure up another severe storm, specifically a hurricane. They repeated all the enchantments that they had learned from the Sally Stone materials and the connected web sites — at least all of those specifically about using the elements of weather to effect their own purposes or to bring evil consequences on someone who had treated them in an unacceptable manner. But when Lacey sent Troy to look outside, they discovered that nothing was working.

In the unseen realm, there was activity, but not what the group wanted to achieve. In truth, there were plenty of demonic spirits prowling around the edges of the atmosphere surrounding the coastal community, but they couldn’t get past a certain point. The beautiful, majestic Hosts of Heaven were on guard. They were stationed, north, south, east and west, permeating the whole atmosphere around them with peace and light. They could see the demonic beings pacing back and forth, red eyes piercing, tongues hanging out from panting with the desire to gain back the territory they had occupied for two weeks prior to this afternoon.

It was indescribably sad to watch these beings who had once been part of the glorious beauty of Heaven. But pride and rebellion were ugly things, and they produced ugly offspring. So these pitiful demonic beings had horrid black, leather-like skin in place of their once glowing, bronzed, angelic bodies. They moved in slinking, crawling, shameful ways, and right now they were pacing and prowling and growling . . . wanting to get into this space and cast the elements into chaos once again. But they just couldn’t break through.

The angelic hosts didn’t say a word. They didn’t have to. They were on duty by Divine order, as a result of earnest, faith-filled prayer by righteous sons of Jehovah, the redeemed of the Lamb. And as long as those prayers were in effect, Heaven’s occupation of this territory couldn’t be thwarted. In fact, the Heavenly Hosts were beginning to feel even stronger as the evening wore on. And eventually, they received more of their troops coming alongside as reinforcements. They knew what that meant. The people of God were releasing their faith in worship and prayer even more.

Sure enough, in the little church, the believers were thanking the Lord again, out loud and in unity, for His deliverance from the storms. They were confessing that they would all sleep in peace that night, free from the troubling elements that had brought uneasiness to them for two weeks now. Then they began to praise God again for His goodness. Finally, the service drew to a close and they began to disperse.

“My goodness,” said one lady as she stepped outside of the church. “Doesn’t that sky full of stars look beautiful? I haven’t seen the night sky that way in so long, I’d forgotten how beautiful it is.”

“Yes,” Serenity said as she stood beside the woman. “And I don’t see a cloud even on the horizon.”

“Does that mean the storms are over, Aunt Serie?” David asked.

“I believe so, David.”

“Goody!” he said and then turned to speak to Noah, who had just walked up to them. “The storms are over Noah!”

Noah nodded at David. “I know, Dave.” Then he looked at Serenity briefly before his eyes scanned the sky again. He took a deep breath. “Feels good, doesn’t it?” he asked her.

She nodded her head. “Mmhmm!”

Clint joined them just then. “Come by the lighthouse for a cup of coffee before going home, Noah.”

“Are you sure it isn’t too late?”

“Of course not. It’s only 9:00. Another hour won’t hurt surely.”

Noah looked at Serenity. She was looking especially beautiful tonight. She had left her hair down, and wore it swinging freely around her face from a simple side part. Her lightweight slacks and top made her look fresh and unsophisticated, although Noah knew that she was actually quite a sophisticated young woman. She was rather well known in journalistic circles. She had done a good deal of free-lance work for a number of periodicals, and she had two books on the bookstore shelves across the country. She wasn’t exactly famous, but she was making a name for herself.

“Would I be interrupting any of your work, Serenity?” he asked her now.

“No, I’m taking this evening off, so don’t let that bother you.”

“All right,” Noah said, turning back to Clint then. “I’ll come over for a short visit.”

“Good, good,” he answered and started walking toward the parking lot beside Noah, while Serenity and David followed at a slower pace.

Back in the garage, Lacey was growing more and more angry. Finally she jumped up. “Ooooohh! It’s those believers! It’s those believers!”

“What?” asked Darrin. They were all looking at Lacey, a little worried at the force of her tantrum. After a minute she answered.

“My spirit guide, Luna, told me today. She said it’s the believers who are blocking us. Their prayers!”

“Well, I’m tired of this anyway,” Nick said now, but Lacey continued as if she hadn’t heard him.

“Luna said we’d have to arrange a worthy sacrifice if we want to succeed.”

“What . . . what kind of . . . of worthy sacrifice?” Kelly asked, swallowing hard, trying to swallow down her fear. She was remembering the kinds of sacrifices described in the Sally Stone books, and she could hardly bear to think what Lacey might have in mind.

But before Lacey could answer, her brother spoke up. “Aww, I agree with Nick. I think we’ve spent enough time on the weather. This is getting boring. I want to do some fun stuff. I though that was why we started studying those books and playing the games anyway . . . so we could have some fun with these spells and curses.”

“Yeah, I wanta do some of that stuff they did in the Sally Stone movies,” Nick said. “That was really neat. That’s what I want us to do.”

“Let’s vote,” said Troy.

“No!” shouted Lacey.

“Lacey, when we started this coven, we all agreed that we would vote on what we would do,” her brother reminded her.

“I told you we can’t be a real coven until we have thirteen witches! We’re “The Middle School Order of the Magic Arts.”

“I know; I know, but still, you gave your word, and you can’t go back on it now . . . and you can’t change the rules without us voting on it.”

“Yeah,” Kelly chimed in.

“Oh . . . all right . . . if you all have to be such babies about it.”

“Babies!” Darrin said, obviously insulted and becoming angry himself.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Lacey finally said. She was getting tired of trying to convince them anyway. Her head hurt and she felt a little queasy in her stomach. She decided she was ready to go home anyway.

“Okay,” Troy said. “Everyone in favor of ending our plan to conjure up a hurricane raise your hand.”

Every hand except Lacey’s went up.

“Majority rules,” Troy said. “No more hurricanes.”

“So what are we going to do?” Darrin asked.

“I want to find out how to get my spirit guide to appear to me,” Nick said. “I can hear her voice, but I can’t see her yet. I must be doing something wrong. And Kelly said, she can see hers, but she can’t always understand what she’s telling her.”

“Well, we need to play the game some more,” Troy spoke up. “That’s how Lacey and I got to know our inner guides and understand how to follow them. We played the game over and over with Miss Parker in the after-school library hour.” He looked at Darrin then. “And, Darrin, you do pretty good now with your guide, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m getting a lot better at hearing him and seeing him.

“Well, okay,” Nick said, “bring the game when we get together Tuesday night, and we’ll play it.”

“All right,” Lacey answered in a disgruntled voice. “Now I’m going home. I don’t feel good,” she said and got up and blew out the candle that sat on the floor right in front of her.

“Me too,” Kelly said, following suit with her candle.

Troy shrugged his shoulders and looked at the other two boys. “Might as well. Oh, by the way, Lacey and I are going into Barclay next Saturday with Mom, and we’re going to go to the big bookstore there and buy the new Sally Stone book that just came out last week. Maybe it will give us some great ideas.”

“Great!” Darrin said. “Do you think, if I got you the money, that you could pick one up for me too?”

“Sure,” Troy said. “Anybody who wants a copy, just bring your money to Lacey and me by Friday.”

“Okay,” they all chorused.

Troy looked over to where his sister had been standing, but he saw that she was already leaving the garage and starting to their house. “Well, we might as well get out of here. Lacey’s already halfway to the house, so I need to catch up with her. If we go in at the same time, we have less chance of waking up Mom and Dad.” He picked up his equipment and turned to go. “See ya later.”

“See ya,” the others replied and filed out of the garage and closed the door behind them.

Once again, they all went their separate ways, all of them except Lacey secretly glad that they hadn’t had to live through a real hurricane. And Kelly was even starting to wonder how she had let herself get so far into something this scary anyway. She didn’t like it. It wasn’t the kind of fun she thought it would be when she’d read the first two books. She thought maybe she wanted out . . . but . . . if she remembered what the books had said . . . nobody really got out . . . because they couldn’t be trusted to be on the outside once they’d been on the inside, learning how to be a real witch. And she didn’t think she wanted to get to know her spirit guide any better. She didn’t like talking to her.

When Miss Parker, the school librarian, had started teaching them how to play the “Inside Myself” game last year, Kelly had thought that it sounded like something really grown up, and she had looked forward to learning things that would help her feel more sure of herself. But the more they played and practiced receiving their inner spirit- guides, the more uncomfortable she felt.

Of course, the Sally Stone books made it all sound so ordinary — listening to a spirit and letting it tell you what to do — the books made it sound as if there were nothing to be afraid of — but she was afraid. She began to shiver just thinking about it, and when she got to her room, she didn’t even bother to undress. She just jumped into her bed and covered up, with the covers all the way over her head — and then she cried herself to sleep.

But out in the unseen realm, the Hosts of Heaven were smiling and putting away their fiery swords. The enemy had turned back. One by one, and then two and three at a time, the demon spirits had spat out one last abusive insult and turned away and fled, leaving the atmosphere free of their filth and their stench. This battle was over. The faithful believers had stood their ground and won.

Oh, the angels knew that Jehovah would keep a contingent of the Hosts of Heaven in the area for a couple more days, just to ward off any of the enemy that might get the silly idea into their heads that they could make a comeback any time soon. But the heavenly troops felt sure that the actual warfare was over. At least this particular battle for control of the elements of weather in this specific area. But there would be more warfare in the near future. They had known the day that Gloria Dillard had bought Lacey the first Sally Stone book to read that they were soon going to be engaged in a vicious battle for the souls of the people of Hamsted and this coastal community — as well as those of others who were interconnected with the people who lived here.

It was no secret to the Hosts of Heaven that demons were assigned to move into communities and homes where the Sally Stone books were welcomed. They used the books as mediums through which to connect with the people who read them. That was bad enough, but the books then led to the movies. And when the first two movies were brought to Hamsted and shown in the little theater, an army of the powers of darkness had marched into town with them. And, of course, as the human beings watched the movies avidly, they automatically opened themselves up to become new hosts for the spirits that had come to town looking for just that opportunity.

The angels could only hope that the believers here would listen to Jehovah as He attempted to give them the revelation of what was going on and how they must fight against it on their knees and in His Word. Because until the redeemed of the Lamb, who were the priests of the covenant on the earth, began to pray and speak the Word of God out of their mouth, the Hosts of Heaven were restrained. After all, man had given the devil a legal right to function on the earth. And the only authority that could over-ride the devil’s power in the earthly circumstances was the authority of a man of God speaking the Words of God in the name of Jesus.

One of the glorious beings spoke to their commanding officer, asking the question on all of their minds. “Do you know yet, Captain, what these believers in Hamsted will do?”

He shook his head. “Not yet. Of course, Jehovah knows, but He hasn’t passed that information along to me. It must not be the right time yet.” Some of the angels on duty wondered now what Jehovah was thinking, knowing what His people would do in response to this attack of the enemy. Was His heart grieved because He knew they would fail to believe and obey — or was He rejoicing, proud of these children of His, because He knew they would trust Him and love not their lives unto death?

Some of the Hosts of Heaven who were in this particular detachment had worked with Noah Bennett last year — when he’d gone through the most trying events of his life. They discussed their concern for him now. “That situation was similar to this,” one of the angels was saying, “only even more serious.”

“Certainly more deadly,” another answered. “At least so far.”

“But Noah was totally committed and faithful then, and he did everything Jehovah needed him to do,” a third member of the hosts added.

“But,” the first angel spoke again, “he was severely wounded emotionally in that battle, and like any wounded soldier, he’s seeking rest and healing. I don’t know if he’ll be ready to stand in faith the way he did last year . . . or if he’ll even want to do so anymore.”

“Surely Jehovah will give Noah’s personal angel — who is it that has charge of him?”

“Naam has him,” one of the others answered, and his friend continued to make his point.

“Well, surely, Jehovah will give Naam something special to say to Noah that will give him courage and hope to try again.”

The others nodded in agreement, and then their captain spoke. “He must try again, because it looks more every day as if the people of Hamsted are going to need Noah Bennett and his experience desperately.” He paused thoughtfully before continuing. “But perhaps that is why Jehovah has led Noah here to recover. Because He knows what’s in Noah’s heart . . . even better than Noah himself.”

“Yes,” they all agreed, “Jehovah knows.”

“Yes,” the captain added, “and He always has a plan to rescue His people, if they will just listen to Him and obey.”

Look for Chapter 4 tomorrow.