streaming down my face from the smoke and the fumes, I reached out to the bloody hand and clasped it in mine.

It ceased twitching and writhing at my touch, and for an instant all was still. I didn’t feel the searing heat of the metal through my apron and dress. I even ceased to hear the crackle of fire. I only sought to give some bit of comfort to the person in the wreckage. For that moment, we connected. The hand felt still in mine, as if soothed by my presence. I could see that it was a man’s burly hand. I saw a green sleeve of a jacket pulled past his wrist, slick polyester from a manufactured uniform. I thought that he must be the pilot. He gripped my hand tightly. I could feel the fear pulsing in his palm. I did not know what I intended to do, only that I could sense the desperation clasped in my fingers.

Suddenly, his arm jerked, and sound came rushing back to me. I heard him scream, and he clutched my hand tighter, so hard that I cried out. He pulled against me, and I felt myself sliding against the hot metal, into the wreckage.

But it wasn’t the pilot pulling me. He was still screaming as he was dragged back into the wreckage . . . by something else. I peered into the smoke-encrusted glass and saw a pair of red eyes, glowing with reflected light like a cat’s in the smoky darkness.

My heart lurched into my mouth. Whimpering, I struggled against the urge to extricate myself from the viselike grip—I wasn’t sure if I was trying to pull him free, or me free of him. But his fingers spasmed around mine, and I was lifted off my precarious balancing point on the helicopter nose.

“No!” I cried, yanking back with all my might. I might be small, but I was strong from years of hard work. I braced my shoe against a crease in the metal . . .

. . . and a splash of blood struck me in the face like a slap.

I gasped. The blood and sweat in my palm slipped against the pilot’s, and his hand slid free. His arm lashed back into the cockpit, like a fish on the end of a line, and I landed hard on my backside on the scorched ground.

My spine ached from the impact, and I stared up at the glass, dazed. I heard another short scream, then nothing. My fingers wound in the burnt grass, and my heart hammered. I knew, deep in the core of my being, that there was something terrible in there . . .

“Katie!” I felt arms around my waist, hauling me to my feet. I blinked stupidly at Elijah, who gaped open-mouthed at my face.

I looked down. My chest and apron were spattered with blood, as if I’d slaughtered a pig. My stunned gaze slid back to the wreckage. I could hear popping noises inside the metal shell, like popcorn in a kettle. “The pilot is in there,” I whispered. “We have to help the pilot . . .”

“Get back!”

A familiar voice thundered over us. It was a voice from Sunday church service. The voice of the Bishop. He stood yards from us, holding a shovel, his salt-and-pepper beard damp with perspiration. Other Elders had materialized from the corn, sparks bright against their black clothes.

“Get back!” he shouted again, brandishing the shovel. “Get away from it!”

The others backed away, receding into the corn. Plain folk were supposed to be obedient; they did not question an order from the Bishop.

But I paused, as I always did. I never followed commands as a reflex. The Bishop had remarked on my lack of submission before, had said that was a failing in my character. I stared at the fire with my breath rattling in my throat, trying to understand why he would order us away when someone needed our help. God charged us to help those in need, and I had never seen anyone more in need of—

“Katie!” Elijah dragged me back into the tall stalks with the others. I struggled against him, transfixed by the fire and still hearing the echo of the pilot’s scream in my head. I felt the shadow of the corn closing over me, my shoes scraping in the dirt . . .

And a boom thundered through the wreckage, shaking the leaves around us. I threw my hand over my eyes as I fell back against Elijah, tangled in his limbs and mine. He covered my head as bits of shrapnel rained down on the field. I heard him hiss and wince, slapping at an ember threatening to ignite his shirt.

On hands and knees, I crawled to the edge of the blackened corn, watched as an orange fireball raced to the sky, turned black, and dissipated.

I swallowed hard. The Bishop must have known that the helicopter would explode again. I should have listened to him.

But that was not my nature. I always questioned.

I stared helplessly at the wreckage. There was nothing left but a split-open, flattened bit of metal that burned, like a tin can in a campfire. I could see nothing in it. No glass, no pilot. No bodies.

Just a fire that burned black at the seams.

* * *

Our community fell upon the wreckage like ants.

We had to.

Above any other thing aside from God, Plain folk feared fire. We had no fire departments, no running water from bottomless city lines. We had no telephones to summon help from Outside. If a fire caught and fanned itself to life, it could devour a field, houses, barns. We were defenseless against it.

Except for the earth the Lord gave us. We had plenty of dirt, and we used it.

Unbidden, men and women streamed to the field with shovels. Someone handed me one, and I worked in silent fellowship beside them. We heard the sound of the flames crackling behind us, the slice and cut of the shovels in the skin of the earth, the hiss of dirt raining down upon sparks. When we ran out of shovels, women went into the corn and crushed down the smoldering stalks with their shoes, stamping out the leaves.

We worked the fire line for hours, interrupted only by the Bishop’s orders to advance and retreat. A child brought me water, and that was the first time I paused to look back at the shell of the helicopter. It stunk of plastic and something like kerosene, but there was nothing in it anymore except for a fine gray ash that made me cough. The ash shimmered dreamily in the setting sun, like the haze of mosquitoes at a river at dusk. I smeared the foul- tasting ash across my face when I wiped my lips with the back of my hand.

And I realized that we were alone. There were no English among us. My brow creased at that. Surely they would have sent someone for their helicopter. Surely they would have responded to Mrs. Parsall’s call by now?

“Enough,” the Bishop called out. He leaned heavily on his shovel. Sweat stained the front of his shirt, dripped from his beard. “The fire is out.”

I stretched, my back aching from the hard work. We gathered around the Bishop, smelling of dirt and sweat and that synthetic burning stink. This corner of the field was destroyed, but it seemed that most of the crop was salvageable.

“Let us pray.”

I lowered my head, clasped my hands. Our voices murmured in the gloaming, merging into one, lifting beyond the stalks of corn into the darkening sky. This was the Lord’s Prayer that the English knew, but it was our prayer for all purposes and all seasons, spoken in our own Deitsch tongue:

Unser Vadder im Himmel,

Dei Naame loss heilich sei,

Dei Reich loss komme.

Dei Wille loss gedu sei,

Uff die Erd wie im Himmel.

Unser deeglich Brot gebb uns heit,

Вы читаете The Hallowed Ones
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