Julia Spencer-Fleming

All Mortal Flesh

The fifth book in the Reverend Clare Fergusson series, 2006


If every publishing company was as supportive as St. Martin’s Press, authors would have nothing to complain about over drinks. Thanks to Ruth Cavin, Toni Plummer, Rachel Ekstrom, Matthew Baldacci, Pete Wolverton, Matthew Shear, Talia Ross, Ann-Marie Talberg, Sally Richardson, and everyone in the art, marketing, and sales departments for taking such good care of me.

Much appreciation to my former agent, Jimmy Vines, enjoying his retirement, and my new representative, Meg Ruley. She, Christina Hogrebe, and the folks at the Jane Rotrosen Agency routinely leap tall buildings in a single bound and make it look easy.

Several people allowed me to pick their brains (mmm, brains!) for this book: Thanks to the Rev. Mary Allen, the Very Rev. Ben Shambaugh, Timothy Lamar, Roxanne Eflin, and Ellen Pyle. My thanks also to Joanne Wetter for suggesting the title.

A writer spends her time alternately avoiding all human contact and relying utterly on the kindness of family and friends. Thank you, Ross, Victoria, Spencer, and Virginia Hugo-Vidal; John and Lois Fleming; Dan and Barbara Scheeler; Patrick and Julia Lent, Calvetta Inman Spencer; Denise Hamilton, Mary and Bob Weyer, Jamie and Robin Agnew, Ellen Clair Lamb, Rachael Burns Hunsinger, and Leslie Smith.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

– Liturgy of St. James; para. by Gerard Moultrie

The Hymnal, 1982, The Church Publishing Company

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, And with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly-minded, For with blessing in his hand Christ our God to earth descendeth, Our full homage to demand. King of kings, yet born of Mary, As of old on earth he stood, Lord of lords in human vesture, In the Body and the Blood, He will give to all the faithful His own self for heavenly food. Rank on rank the host of heaven Spreads its vanguard on the way, As the Light of Light descendeth From the realms of endless day, That the powers of hell may vanish As the darkness clears away. At his feet the six-winged seraph; Cherubim with sleepless eye, Veil their faces to the Presence, As with ceaseless voice they cry: “Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, Lord Most High!”


Monday, January 14

Midway this way of life we’re bound upon, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, where the right road was wholly lost and gone.

Clare smelled the smoke first. She came to a standstill, breathing in the chill and windless air. Pine tar and wet wool and the frozen freshwater smell of snow. And smoke. She had crammed as many logs as she could into the cabin’s woodstove before she left that morning, but they would have burnt down into glowing cinders by now, their smoke long vanished into the air.

So. Someone had stoked the woodstove. She wasn’t alone. She clutched her poles and almost-almost-turned back into the woods. She had food and matches and a blanket and a knife in her day pack. She could escape.

A cold touch on her bare hand startled her. A single fat snowflake melted onto her skin. As she watched, another fell. Then another. She sighed. There was no escape. She trudged forward, breaking through the last of the hemlock and white pine, clambering over a hard-packed wall of snow thrown up in the wake of the private road’s plowing.

Gathering her poles in one hand, she sprung her bindings, stepped free of her snowshoes, and scooped them up with her free hand. Her legs felt shaky and insubstantial as she tottered toward the cabin.

Thank God, thank God, she didn’t recognize the SUV parked next to her car. It was a clean, late-model Scout, anonymous in this area where everyone spent the winter in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. She supposed it could belong to a relative of the cabin’s owner. Mr. Fitzgerald had offered the place when she told the congregation she was looking for a post-Christmas retreat, but he was into his early eighties and perhaps had forgotten promising the space to a grandkid.

She mounted the steps to the uncovered front deck and hung her snowshoes and poles on two of a row of pegs jutting from the log wall. Please, Lord, let it not be someone from my congregation. Anyone making the hour-and-a-half drive from Millers Kill would have to be hurting bad. I don’t have it in me to minister right now. She opened the door.

The man rooting beneath the kitchen counter stood up and up and up before turning toward her. “Ms. Fergusson. Finally. I confess, I was beginning to feel a bit concerned.”

Clare blinked. “Father Aberforth?” She looked around, as if there might be someone else who could explain why Albany’s diocesan deacon-at-large was standing in the kitchen on a Monday afternoon holding a battered teakettle. The open floor plan didn’t leave much scope for hiding, however, unless the presiding bishop was lurking in the

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