Turn Your Radio On
The war had been raging over the Germanies for a generation, displacing millions of Europeans and leaving increasing numbers with post-traumatic stress syndrome. One such victim who has grown to be a Lutheran Pastor is once again displaced and wanders into the town from the future, Grantville.
It’s a case of being in the right place at the right time as he adapts to Grantville’s attitudes on religion and is put in a position to use his speaking skills to mesmerize audiences. Add in the new up-timer radio which allows him the opportunity to reach large areas of amazed down-timers who are already in awe of the changes that have swept over them from the Ring of Fire, and are open to the other new ideas still flowing out, he has fallen into a position to sway the minds of a ready, willing, and able to follow audience that even further increases his powerful potential.
Naturally, such a powerful influencer attracts other great and powerful forces who seek to use his skills to advance their agenda. This is the story of that man, Dieter Fischer, and that radio station, Voice of America, and how together, they were able to influence history.
Late September 1631, Camburg a.d. Saale, Thuringia
It was the screams that woke him. As Dieter Fischer regained consciousness, he felt again the pain of the deep gash on his forehead and the scrapes from being knocked so brutally to the ground by the mercenary with that Swedish sword.
At the sound of a building collapsing from the raging fire that engulfed it, he opened his eyes. The flames that reflected off of the blood pooled around his head stole his attention, until he again heard the screams. He knew the girl. Just this June he had performed her confirmation. She was the first Christian he’d confirmed on this, his first call, taking on his own church after his predecessor’s untimely death in late May.
Now she was naked, being brutally raped by a gang of mercenaries right in front of his eyes.
His first thought was to save her, but his body had other ideas. It had decided that he had already done enough and was going to continue to lie there as if dead like the mercenaries believed him to be.
That’s when she opened her eyes. In the midst of her degradation, her vivid violet eyes seemed to stare right at him. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she seemingly pled for his intervention or forgiveness for what she was enduring.
He lay still, captivated by her anguish. He couldn’t help but watch until he was finally able to close his eyes amidst the sounds of even more carnage. After the Protestant victory over the Catholic mercenary armies at Breitenfeld, his parish of Camburg had been excited at the prospect of the strong Swedish Lutheran King who could protect them against the evil forces of Tilly. The council even authorized sending a portion of the militia off to reinforce the victorious Lutheran forces, leaving just enough to man their village keep in the upper castle walls. So when the approaching mercenaries under the Swedish flag were spotted coming down the old Salt Road, they were welcomed as heroes.
Once inside the walled compound, however, the leader pulled his saber and gutted the mayor. Another soldier swung his sword in an attempt to cut off the head of Reverend Dieter Fischer. Only Fischer’s quick reaction had allowed the blade to cut his forehead instead of his neck.
Now, Fischer’s body had had enough. It let his mind know that it was taking charge until the dangers were past. As he felt his consciousness flow away, his final thought was, “God damn the Swedes!”
October 1631, Northern Franconia
The “Snow Plow,” Ake Henriksson Tott, leaned over his saddle to get a better look at the prisoners. The field marshal about whom Gustavus II Adolphus had bragged “He’ll sweep his opposition aside so the rest of the army just has to follow along behind” was hopeful that this was the end to a diversion of military resources. Resources he could ill afford at this critical point.
A motley bunch they were, he thought, even under the conditions that prevailed in the Central Germanies.
“Are these the last of them, Captain Leslie?” he asked.
“Aye, sir,” replied Captain David Leslie of the Scottish cavalry command in service to the Swedish king.
“When we caught up with them . . . ” Leslie gestured at the captives. ” . . . these ever-dependable Saxons and the rest tried to bluff their way through. Then we ordered a search and found the Swedish flag they’d stolen. As well as a few other baubles stolen as they fled the battle. That’s when they decided to put up a bit of a struggle.”
The flag had been in the Swedish supply trains at Breitenfeld. The Saxon forces had paused to loot it after their rout at the hands of Tilly’s Catholic army early on September seventeenth. At that point, it seemed like the Lutheran army was done for. But then Gustav Adolph had turned the battle around and destroyed the Catholic army, coming out with a decisive victory.
“Most died right there, but these—” Leslie sniffed. “These fine laddies threw down their arms and offered to come into the service of the king. Of course, I’m not seeing where they might have had other options at the time.
“My men have heard them admit to their crimes of pillaging Camburg under a false flag, and ask forgiveness. I guess the damned papist idea of confession runs deep in their souls, even if the Saxons have been Lutheran for a century. Anyway, it’s them all right. The rest are dead. What shall I do with them, Field Marshall?”
Tott wiped the beads of sweat from his balding pate and shook his hand to loosen the hairs that he had lost in doing so. Never taking his eyes off the prisoners, he pulled on his goatee. “Hang them. We need to move on south as fast as we can.” Tott pulled his horse around to ride back to headquarters with his guard.
June 1632, somewhere in Thuringia
Much to his amazement, Fischer was looking through the grass at something that couldn’t exist.
The thing rapidly moved past him as he lay in tall grass beside the road. It somewhat resembled paintings of siege machines, boxy but made of metal, and it moved faster than any horse Fischer had ever seen. Then there was the noise that it made, a low roaring noise like a blast furnace in hell, with a smell unlike any he could remember.
After raising his head to make sure no others were in sight, Fischer got up and walked into the middle of the road. What kind of tracks were these? He kneeled down in the late spring snow encrusting the roadway and placed his finger into one of the tracks on the road. It was freshly embossed into the mud with a curious pattern. The track was deep, up to his first knuckle. After a moment, he brought the finger up to touch his forehead.
The scar seems to have healed. And the Other self has gone away. I wonder how long it’s been this time? Fischer felt the long strands of black hair flowing down over his collar and concluded that it must have been only a few months. Less than a year at the most since...
There was the occasional memory of snaring a rabbit, or catching fish with his bare hands in the middle of an ice-cold stream. Things that his body had needed his consciousness to take care of. Little survival skills his father had taught him as a boy as they fled Upper Austria and Tilly’s armies in the 1620s.
He could remember that part of his life. He could remember how many cities had refused his family entrance due to their citizenship laws. He could remember his father finally finding shelter for his family in Wittenberg and his attending the university there, his ordination, but since then
Curious. I wonder where the thing came from? Looking around again, he rose and decided to follow the embossed tracks back to their point of origin.
Grantville, New United States
Fischer was still amazed at this city from the future. He’d been warmly received and directed to the refugee center located by the power plant. He’d been staying there since his arrival a few weeks earlier.
He’d gladly pitched in with the required labor gang work that was requested of him in exchange for his room and board. This week was digging new footings for some kind of stone tower the up-timers were building just outside the edge of the Ring of Fire cut. It was hard work, but very satisfying. Someone had even registered him to vote in future elections for the newly created New United States. Clearly, this future had much to offer.
Even if there were no Lutheran churches.
On this night, like many others since he’d gotten here, he was walking around town seeing the incredible things that man had—or would have—accomplished in another three hundred years. That’s when he heard the music.
It was coming from the direction of the fairground on the other side of Buffalo Creek. Fischer followed the sound as it strengthened, up the hill to the fairground. He had worked on fixing the fences there just last week.
Now, in what had been referred to as the picnic area, there was a large white tent. It was brightly lit from inside and the music was coming from there. He decided that he would go in to listen.
When he walked through the open flap, a woman, an up-timer woman, came over to him and shook his hand with both of hers. “Welcome, Brother! You’re just in time for the sermon. Let me help you find a seat.
“It’ll have to be up front,” she continued, grinning as she took hold of his upper arm to guide him to the front. “You have to come early to get a back seat! If you don’t speak English, don’t worry. Reverend Chalker was a chaplain’s assistant stationed in Stuttgart, and speaks German well.”
After some jostling to move the people on the second row down a bit, she placed him on the aisle with a wonderful view of the choir that was singing some song in English with a rhythm and harmony unlike anything he had ever heard. They had several musical instruments accompanying them, also unfamiliar to Fischer, along with violins. But they played the violins unlike anything he could remember either.
Finally, the choir finished as the audience—Fischer couldn’t quite think of it yet as a congregation—applauded. Some held their right arms up in the air above their heads, and several people around him yelled out, “Praise Jez-sus!”
A man dressed in a grey suit and using a cane walked up on the podium and took his place behind the pulpit. He was old even by up-timer standards His hair was full, wavy and snow white. It seemed to capture the lights aimed at the stage with almost a halo effect. He leaned his cane beside the pulpit and shuffled some papers on its top. He took a sip from the mug at the edge of the podium and leaned forward.
“My name is John Chalker and . . . ” He paused for a moment, then yelled, “I am a sinner!”
The old man’s voice was obviously just a shadow of what it had once been years before. Even though it wavered from his tired old throat, the force behind it was still there.
As a child, Fischer learned from his father that he must learn to fit in if his family would ever be able to find a new town that would allow them to stay. He’d not only learned the catechisms of the locally mandated religion, he’d also learned to pick up the different ways people pronounced their words from one town to another.
Later, as a student at the university, he’d learned to amuse his classmates with imitations of a number of his professors. The professor from the North Sea area spoke in a very guttural Plattsdeutsch dialect. The imitation that Fischer performed always made his proper-sounding Saxon classmates laugh.
This old man in front of him, preaching of love and acceptance and second chances had such a different way of molding his words that Fischer could not help but try to form some of those words with his own lips. It was very similar to how they spoke in Saxony, but just a little off.
The person to his left bumped into him. Fischer looked around and noticed a large number of the others in the tent swaying to the old preacher’s pacing, holding their right hand up to the sky as if reaching out to be picked up off the bench.
After a time Chalker, who had been leaning heavily on the pulpit, reached for his cane and began to walk toward the front of the podium, all the while continuing his sermon, “You can only die once if you are born twice.”
Taking a few more steps, he said, “Christ said to Nicodemus, John 3:3 ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'”
Another few steps and he thundered, “In Revelations 2:11 it is written, ‘He who overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.'”
Yet another few steps and the preacher deepened his voice and continued, “In Romans 10:13 Paul said, ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Are you saved tonight? Are you safe from the second death? Are you guaranteed a tomorrow?”
Now having reached the very edge of the stage, Chalker gestured to the lady in front of the choir and said, “As Sister Jennifer Copenhaver leads us in our closing hymn, if there is any doubt in your heart of your salvation, if there is any question in your mind of where you are spending eternity, if you are not absolutely certain that God will look you in the eye come Judgment Day and say, ‘Welcome home’ . . . ”
The preacher paused a moment. Then he gestured over his shoulder and continued. “That is not a fancy pulpit. This old band stand is not a fancy altar, but you know that Jesus ate his last supper at a plain wooden table and just stood on some big old rocks to give his sermon on the mount. It just goes to show that what’s important is not the physical things around us. It’s the golden things that need to be in our hearts.
“So make your way to the steps of this simple old altar tonight where we will open the Bible and help you to claim the promises of God.”
Sister Copenhaver held up a blue hymnal in her right hand, and signaled the band to start their lead in. The choir behind her began to hum along with the band and she broke forth in her incredible clear, sweet voice with the words, “Just as I am, without one plea.”
All around Fischer, people began to sing. Some floundered under their benches for a book and a page, others joined in from memory aided by Sister Copenhaver’s prompting. Those without a book seemed to all have one hand—and more often both hands—in the air.
But that thy blood was shed for me.
The woman across the aisle from Fischer not only had both hands in the air but she seemed to bob up and down as if she were floating and was about to leave the ground. Then she left off singing the words of the song in English for another language Fischer couldn’t make out and then left off singing all together to repeat the same mumbled phrase over and over interspersed with “Thank you, Jesus” and “Praise the Lord.”
At the end of the first verse the preacher held up a hand. Sister Copenhaver fell silent but the choir continued to hum and the band played softly.
“Are you here tonight without the Lord? I know you are! The spirit has revealed to me that we have people here who have not claimed the Lord as their personal savior! If you are here tonight, search your heart for the peace that passes all understanding and if you can’t find it, as we sing a second verse of ‘Just As I Am’ make your way to the altar steps here in front of me.”
Sister Copenhaver, both hands still in the air, with the voice of an angel incarnate sang, “Just as I am and waiting not.”
Fischer thought the preacher standing before him seemed to shed his years like an overcoat, becoming younger as he stood at the edge of the bandstand that Fischer now clearly saw as an altar. Pitching his voice to be heard over the song, which did not stop, Chalker looked around the crowd gathered in the tent, stopping just as he made contact with Fischer’s eyes. The preacher seemed to point with his cane right at Fischer as he boomed out, “You can only die once if you are born twice!”
The hairs on the back of Fischer’s neck and arms stood on end. He felt himself rise from the bench and walk to the steps of the altar in front of the old preacher. He fell to his knees and bowed, aware of others also making their way to the steps beside him. He felt a powerful hand place itself on the crown of his head, and the old man said, “Bless you, Brother! The Holy Spirit has much planned for you!”
Brother Chalker settled into the rocker on the back porch and opened the notebook that was in his lap. “Well, I guess it’s time we got started. First, let’s thank Elder and Sister Paul and Ingrid Nemeth for letting us have our Bible study in their back yard tonight.”
After giving some time for the amen’s, scattered applause and thanks to die down, he continued, “Let’s not forget their children Alexis and Jacob for taking care of all of our younguns for us.”
Again some warm applause interrupted him. “Elder Paul was telling me that his oldest, Terrell, is really enjoying being in the army. He might even decide to make it a career. Let’s all hold him up to the Lord so that he might remain safe.
“The pickin’ and singin’ over at the covered-dish dinner was as enjoyable as ever. Now, we’ve been blessed with a lot of new folks here tonight who found their way to our family during last week’s revival. I’m glad to see how well all of you made them feel at home. I do want to specifically recognize one new church member. Brother Dieter Fischer, would you please stand?”
Fischer was startled to be pointed out, but he stood up and brushed the grass off his threadbare pants. “Brother Fischer came over to me after last Sunday’s service and told me that he’s an ordained Lutheran minister!”
As the gathered crowd offered scattered amen’s, Chalker continued, “We want to help Brother Fischer find the gift of becoming a voice for the Holy Spirit that’s inside him waiting for the right time. I have a powerful feeling that Brother Fischer is going to help us spread the Word in this new world.”
Finished with his business, the old preacher set down the notebook and thumbed open his Bible. “Let’s see . . . after the Ring of Fire brought us here, I started these Bible studies by just starting to read through from Genesis 1:1. We’ve continued on every Wednesday since then. Tonight we’re up to Mark 1: 4.”
Chalker gave those with Bibles time to flip open to the night’s passages, then began, “‘John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey.'”
Chalker smiled and related the thoughts that this passage brought to his mind. “You know, I felt that way after the Ring of Fire. I had given my service that morning at my church in Fairmont and they surprised me with the keys to a brand new Chevy Suburban.
“I was absolutely tickled to death. We had been needing a car to get around to do visitations of our shut-ins and to carry meals and such. So, I decided to drive up Highway 250 to visit Sister Lana Soper at the Manning Assisted Living Center.
“Anyway, I was finishing up praying with her, that’s when I heard the thunder of the Ring of Fire. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, but I knew that the Lord would provide. There I was, with just the camel hair coat on my back, a leather belt, no more paychecks and a comfortable home back up-time lost to me forever.
“After the Emergency Committee prohibited any driving to conserve the supplies of gasoline, the Lord guided me into the local car dealership to trade it in for something that I could ride around in.”
The old preacher paused and drank a sip of water before continuing. “Now, I had hoped that that fine new Suburban would have gotten me a wagon and a team of horses and maybe some money to keep going until the Lord was ready to provide me with guidance as to what to do next.
“But the Lord was way ahead of me on that one! The car dealer had just finished his spring tent sale on Saturday before the Ring of Fire and he took me out back to show me the beautiful tent that he had planned on returning to the rental company the next week. Since he didn’t need it, he threw it in on the deal.
“So now, here I was. Cast into the wilderness and the Lord was providing me food and shelter so I could continue in His plan.”
Chalker continued on with his reading of the Bible until he came to Mark 1:16. “‘Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.'”
Chalker paused, then re-read the passage to himself and his eyes lit up. “God be praised!”
Looking at Fischer in the crowd gathered before him in the Nemeth’s back yard, Chalker smiled, “Fischer? That means ‘fisher’ or ‘fisher of men’ doesn’t it?”
Fischer felt uncomfortable as others around him turned to look at him with wide eyes. He acknowledged with a simple nod.
“Brother Fischer, I don’t believe in coincidence in matters of the Bible. That you would come to our revival and the very next Bible study should contain this passage . . . Well, the Spirit is strong in this assembly tonight.”
A man in the back of the gathered crowd began to speak out. But not in any language that Fischer could recognize. It seemed to have an internal structure like a real language though. Then another began chanting out in a different-sounding tongue, and another, and another.
Fischer looked from one to the other, and then several others begin to laugh and cry out, “Amen!” All those around him seemed to be simultaneously raising their right hands above their heads and waving in unison. God help me to understand what they are saying. Help me to learn to do as they do, he thought. But the gift of tongues was not to be his that night.
It had been warm these last few days, even for July, but the kitchen was not hot. Susannah Becker took one last look into the oven to make sure the pork was done. Satisfied, she smiled and ladled the vegetables into Herr Enriquez’s serving bowls. She wiped her hands, walked to the doorway and called out, “Soup’s on! Wash up and come to the table.”
Where these West Virginians came up with the idea of announcing meals by calling out something that was not being served escaped her, but it was one of the small mysteries which she had long ago decided she would never learn the answer to. Like these odd spices that Peter liked so much, she figured that by now she could get used to anything.
Susannah was almost knocked over by the Beyer’s children, little Anton and Vittoria, as she entered the dining room carrying her load of steaming vegetables. “Excuse me, Fraulein Becker,” Vittoria exclaimed in her “too mannered for four” voice. “Papa said the last one to the table gets no dessert.”
Susannah smiled at the little girl. She placed her load on the table and noticed the sly grin on Tony’s face as he climbed into his chair and stuffed the napkin into his collar. “Don’t worry, my little ones. I have enough dessert for all.”
“Don’t be so sure, Fraulein Becker. Our task master of a boss almost worked us to death today,” Anton Beyer said as he entered the room hand in hand with his wife Sybella. “It’s good he invited us to dinner, or Belle would have had to spoon feed me after I finally was able to pluck the chicken that we would otherwise have had tonight.”
“Huh,” Belle retorted, “I practically spoon feed you most days anyway. How any man ever gets along without a woman, I’ll never know.” Anton feigned a hurt look, but he laughed just as hard as the rest did.
“That’s why I’m so glad that Pete found Susannah, Sister Belle,” Fischer added as he followed the Becker family to the table. “Just two bachelors like us in this big of a house wouldn’t, how do they say it . . . wouldn’t have been fit to shoot!”
“That makes two of us, Fischer.” Pete made his way to the chair at the head of the table. “Who would have figured that a Mennonite would be able to prepare Cuban Pork Roast so expertly and keep this house looking like something out of Good Housekeeping magazine?”
Susannah came back from the kitchen with the main course, then sat down at the foot of the table. She had, at first, resisted sitting at the main dining table as if she were a member of the family. But, as with so many curious habits of these up-timers, she had found that they were stubborn in their sense of equality.
After Pete said grace, and everyone had filled their plates, the conversations continued interrupted only by the Beyer’s Tony. He seemed intent upon grabbing everything that came into his sight. His mother picked him up out of the high chair and nestled him close to her breast to finally quiet him.
“I suspect that the Lord knew what He was doing when he took Adam’s rib,” Fischer commented.
“So, then why are two of the most eligible bachelors in Grantville sitting at this table unattached?” Belle inquired.
“Whoa! Don’t look at me,” Pete responded. “Kelly Construction has kept me busy six days and at least five nights a week since we got here. I haven’t had any time to date. Now, Fischer, here’s another story.”
Fischer felt his face flush when Pete brought him into the line of fire.
“A fine young minister like Fischer, always working with the new prospective members, should be able to find a wonderful young lady very easily.”
“A time for all things, Brother Peter, a time for all things,” Fischer responded. “Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe I should be looking for the proper match for you while I meet the new visitors to our church. Yes, that’s exactly what I need to do.”
Pete didn’t expect to have his argument turned on him quite this smoothly and couldn’t think of a retort. Luckily, Susannah did it for him. “That’s a wonderful plan, Brother Fischer! You look for Peter. Belle and I will look for you!”
All but the children laughed at this comeuppance and continued with their meal and conversations. Afterwards, when Susannah and Belle had cleared the plates from the table and served the fresh hot streusel, the idea came back to her.
Why not keep an eye out for Brother Fischer? He was always with Reverend Chalker when Pete didn’t have him working on a job. His nose was always buried in his Bible or scribbling some notes when he came home. Maybe he needed some help adjusting to this strange place from the future and its secular ways. She must talk further with Belle about this later.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Ingrid exclaimed, woken from a sound sleep by her husband bolting upright in their bed.
Paul Nemeth was now sitting upright, bracing his arms behind him, and feeling sweat beginning to glisten on his exposed skin. Leaning over to turn on the light beside the bed, he pushed himself up into a fully sitting position, “It was the weirdest dream. I was at my own funeral. You were dressed in black, Brother Chalker was dressed in a white suit, and Brother Fischer was there in a grey suit. But the oddest thing . . . there were flames flickering behind his head!”
He looked down at Ingrid, still lying on her pillow, “When he went over to comfort you, the flames didn’t burn you or harm you in any way.”
“Paul, if that was the Holy Spirit talking, what could it mean?”
Paul thought for a moment. “I hope it was no prophecy, but why the flames?”
Ingrid scooted up next to him and took his hand. “Well, it could be a prophecy. Fischer is the best chance we’ve got right now for our faith to continue after Brother Chalker passes. Maybe the time is at hand for him to be baptized in the Spirit.
“I’m more worried why it’s your funeral that it happens at. Are you feeling all right? I’ve been worried about your coughing lately.”
Paul frowned. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to go get a check up.”
“Why, Reverend Chalker, what a nice surprise to see you today.” Lana Soper just beamed as she sat in her wheel chair in the recreation room overlooking Buffalo Creek.
“Well, I had to get some things at the Rainbow Center next door, and thought I’d drop in.” Chalker pulled a chair over to where Lana was sitting and eased himself into it. Lana was one of the few babies born in the United States during the 1960s with birth defects due to mothers being given prescriptions for Thalidomide. As a result, she had been born with toes but no legs or feet, and flippers with finger nubs instead of arms and hands. “And how have you been feeling?”
“Fine, fine.” Looking over Chalker’s shoulder, Lana called out, “Johann! Could you come over here, please?”
She turned back to Chalker, “We’ve got a brand new nurses aide I want you to meet, Reverend. He’s just arrived in Grantville and I told him about you and the church.”
“Johann Friedrich, I’d like you to meet Reverend John Chalker. He’s the man I’ve been telling you so much about.”
Chalker stood and grasped Johann’s hand with both of his. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Friedrich. Lana’s telling me you’re taking wonderful care of her.”
Johann smiled. “Thank you, Reverend Chalker. She tells me you have the gift of the spirit.”
“God blesses us all with that. You’ve just got to listen closely when He tries to tell you about it.” After a short conversation, Friedrich went about his duties and Chalker sat back down with Lana.
“So what book of the Bible shall we go over, Reverend? Oh! Wait a minute. This is your anniversary, isn’t it?”
The sad smile that flashed on Chalker’s face confirmed that Lana had remembered correctly. “God bless you, Sister Lana. This would have been Helen and my fiftieth anniversary.”
Helen Chalker had introduced her husband to Lana Soper. She’d moved into the Manning Assisted Living Center when the symptoms of her Parkinson’s disease had advanced beyond John Chalker’s ability to provide for her care himself. Before she passed away a few years later, she had been like a lighthouse at the Center, always holding the hands of those who were depressed, and praying for them. She had practically adopted Lana.
“Reverend, did you ever think about what might have happened if you had found a different care center back in Fairmont instead of way up here in the hills? You might have still been back up there today instead of in the middle of the seventeenth century.”
It seemed like this train of thought gave Chalker a fresh head of steam, “Why, child, it was the best thing that ever happened to me! Dropped in a whole world of souls to save who have never heard of the power of the Holy Ghost. What more could I want?
“Just last week the Lord brought me a fine young man, a trained Lutheran minister no less. He just wandered into our revival and, halleluiah, he heard the call of our message.” Chalker looked out at Buffalo Creek flowing by. “I tell you, Lana, he’s hurting right now, but it’s all part of God’s plan somehow. You mark my words, he’s got the gift.”
Running his fingers through his hair, Fischer grinned. He still wasn’t used to this up-timer fashion of short haircuts. Sister Doreen Murray had offered to cut his hair shortly after he started coming to the Wednesday night Bible study after he joined the church in April. Short on the sides, with longer bangs in the front to somewhat hide the scar on his forehead. Now it was August, and he still thought his hair looked funny, but it was the up-timer fashion, so that’s just what it would be.
He again thought about what a pretty view it was from up here. He had found this spot by an old logging road above the Five Hollows. It overlooked the roofs of Grantville. With the sun just over the horizon, the morning dew made everything glimmer like jewels.
When Reverend John Chalker found out that Fischer was an ordained minister, he just beamed with joy. Ever since the Ring of Fire had taken Chalker away from his home and congregation, he had been trying to record all the things he knew of the history of the Pentecostal movement and beliefs. There were some books in the Grantville Library that covered a bit, and some of the local churches had books that covered some of the details, but John Chalker believed that the fire behind the central tenets of his church would be lost if he didn’t get them back in written form somehow.
Now, with a university-trained convert at hand, Chalker was sure that Fischer was sent by God to translate his papers into German so that they could convert others. Chalker may have been able to speak German well enough, but he certainly couldn’t write it with any skill.
Not as easy as it seemed, thought Fischer. I read and I think, and I pray about it, then I have to ask more questions to make sure I understand what he means.
For some reason, Fischer found this secluded little spot the best place to try to understand Chalker’s ideas. Life had been good to him since he found his way to Grantville. Brother Pete Enriquez had invited him to move out of the Refugee Center and in with him. Pete had even gotten him some work as a carpenter’s helper that didn’t interfere with the time Fischer devoted to learning the Pentecostal faith as Chalker understood it.
True, he hadn’t yet been blessed with the gift of tongues, but as Brother Chalker said, “Son, you just need to keep on seeking and be open. God will fill you in His time. Luke 11:9 and 13. ‘And I say unto you, Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’
“I think we can afford to wait just a little bit longer, don’t you?”
Fischer turned back to studying his papers and lost track of time . . . until the Other brought him to instant awareness with a vision of fire and blood. He grabbed all his books and papers and dove down the hill behind a big rock without any conscious thought.
What happened? Why did I do that? He felt the state of panic and the memory of flames subsiding. Still with little control over his own actions, he began listening as carefully as he could to what was going on around him.
It was the birds. He must have heard a flock of birds startled from their roosts. But why should that scare him? After all, here he was in the middle of the Ring of Fire! The mighty army that defended this place had crushed forces in ways unequalled since biblical times. Then he heard the hoof beats. It was a fast, trotting noise, but unaccompanied by any clattering or other extraneous sounds whatsoever.
That can’t be a group of up-timers out for a ride. Fischer grimaced. It must be danger.
Sure enough, when the six riders came past Fischer’s hiding place, he knew the danger was real. Croats!
The panic once again overcame him as he drifted into the dark recesses of his own mind.
He heard a series of quick pops from below, which then erupted into the sound of a hail of up-time gunfire. Fischer moved up into a crouch to look at what was happening in the town below. Smoke from the gunfire drifted up over the rooftops of Grantville and he saw several hundred Croat cavalrymen bolting away in an unorganized retreat.
It was already noon. Fischer stood up and, after examining the newly ripped patch in his up-timer jeans, made his way down the hill to see what these up-timers had done to this latest threat that had been hurled against them.
The street leading to the bridges looked like a butcher’s market. Dead horses were stacked like cordwood, bodies of dead Croats were still being pulled into neat rows on the sidewalk, and the faint smell of that acrid smoke from the tailpipes of the school buses lingered in the air. But, Fischer noted, there was not one up-timer body to be seen.
“Brother Fischer! Are you all right?”
Phyllis Dobbs, also a member of the congregation, was rapidly walking toward him with a deer rifle resting in the crook of her right arm. “These sinners will sin no more, hey, Brother?” She grinned. “Slater and the rest of the men lit off to help out at the high school. That’s where the rest of these murdering snakes came to attack.”
She looked him over and asked, “How are you? You didn’t get hurt, did you? How’d you rip your new jeans?”
“Oh that. It’s nothing, Sister Phyllis. I fell as I was making my way down the hill into town.” Holding up the bundle of paper in his left hand, Fischer explained, “I was up there translating Reverend Chalker’s work again when I heard the noise down here. I’m fine.
“How can I help?”
Fischer pitched in to help the women and old men pull even more Croat bodies to the row on the sidewalk and kept thinking. Even here we are not safe, but it is better. Yes, it is better. Then frowning, he thought, I could have done something. I could have helped.
It was hard to concentrate. He kept imagining that he saw, out of the corner of his eyes, a reflection of fire in the store windows around him.
Slater Dobbs laid down his hammer, stretched, and sat down on a keg of nails to roll a cigarette. September already. “Summer’s almost gone; winter’s comin’ on,” he whistled. Not that he’d be going anywhere. This job was the kind of work that he enjoyed doing, when he enjoyed working. Mostly, however, he enjoyed fishing and hunting in the back woods.
With all the game native to this part of Europe steadily drifting into the forests inside the Ring of Fire, and no game wardens to chase him off, he just didn’t know what kind of animal he might come home with on any given day. But while the competition was up, a lot of folks didn’t have the passion for hunting like him. The backwoods folks always had poached to fill the pot; now it was just a bit easier to get away with it. Hunting could be profitable if you knew a farmer. Hell, you could get paid just to watch his fields and fill your game bag at the same time!
Still, he’d promised his wife Phyllis that he’d stick with this job for Brother Enriquez until it was finished. Getting on the wrong side of Phyllis was never a good idea. Cracking a grin, he thought, When Mamma’s happy, everybody’s happy. But when Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! And that Phyllis never let you get away without knowing when she was not happy!
Even working with the Kraut preacher wasn’t as bad as Slater had feared. Just because these down-time Germans aren’t as advanced as us West Virginian’s, it doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. His buddies down at the 250 Club wouldn’t agree with him on that, but what were you going to do? It was way too late now to build a wall around the Ring of Fire and kick them out. Might as well just deal with the damn Krauts. They weren’t all bad.
The Kraut preacher took a swig of water before getting back into reading his Bible. Slater thought he was a good sort. Slater lit his cigarette and called out, “Preacher, wanna cigarette? Nothing in the Bible agin smoking, is there?”
Fischer smiled. “No, thank you, Brother Dobbs. Nothing in the Bible against smoking. I just don’t know how it might make my pickled cabbage taste.”
For a moment Slater didn’t know what to think, then seeing Fischer’s grin, he realized he’d been poked fun at and started laughing himself. “All right, Preacher. I promise I won’t call you a Kraut any more. That’s a good ‘un!”
The construction job they were on was for the silo manufacturing plant in the new industrial park on the Saale River just outside the Ring of Fire. Slater and Fischer were assigned to finish the punch-outs of the rafter supports that would be holding the new crane rails. Every bent nail left behind by the building crew had to be reinforced by two nails from the punch-out team. Every structural piece of wood had to be braced and supported by an additional piece of wood below it. When they weren’t placed exactly to specifications, Fischer and Slater had to carefully remove and place the offending support back in the right spot or refit them entirely.
It was later that afternoon when the miracle happened.
A cross-tie Fischer was working on slipped out of position, pinning Slater’s hand in a painful squeeze. He climbed over to lift it, then grabbed Slater’s wrist with one hand and examined the damaged hand. Three of Slater’s fingers were bent the wrong way in more than one place. Several felt like they might be broken. The pain hadn’t hit yet, but from the color of the nails Slater was sure to lose more than the use of his hand for a long time, if it could be fixed at all. Slater swallowed back a scream as Fischer handled his mangled hand.
Below them, Slater heard someone call, “Mr. Enriquez! Where are you? I need you now!” The voice came up clearly to them, even though Slater couldn’t move his attention away from the throbbing of his hand, which was just announcing the abuse he was seeing. For some reason he could only think, Boy, is Phyllis going to be pissed at me.
“Over here! Hi, Lieutenant Ivarsson. What can Kelly Construction do for the Swedish Yellow Regiment today?” Pete smiled as he looked up from his blueprints, down below on the job floor.
Slater felt Fischer tighten his grip on the injured hand and grab hold further up his arm with his other hand. Bones and ligaments popped. Slater inhaled deeply, shocked by the suddenness of it. He looked up into Fischer’s face and saw Fischer’s deep blue eyes turning steely and his complexion darkening, making the long scar on his forehead almost glow.
Below the conversation continued, with Ivarsson forcefully demanding, “I have to have you back at the barracks now. The windows, they still stick.”
“Lieutenant, I told you before. Those new double-hung windows we installed in your barracks needed to be given some time to cure in place before we come back to adjust them. You weren’t supposed to fool with them yet,” Pete answered.
Ivarsson scowled. “What good are windows you cannot open or close? We have twelve barracks and one staff house with no functioning windows. Thank God, the barns have no need of windows! I told you. I want real windows that swing open and closed like proper windows.”
“That decision was made by your superiors long before we started the contract to build your barracks. Listen, I can’t pull a man off of the job we have here, but at the end of the day, I’ll send someone over to close them back up. Give them two weeks to cure in place, and if you and your men still don’t like them, I’ll swap them out for some ‘proper’ windows.” Pete offered his hand to the forceful young lieutenant, and asked, “Fair enough?”
Clearly Ivaarson had expected to come out away from this exchange with nothing short of victory, but since his superior officers had made the decision to install those god-awful, American, double hung, sliding windows, he had no choice but to accept the contractor’s counteroffer. “Fair enough. However, this time it is two weeks. And two weeks consist of fourteen days, Enriquez. Two weeks! Did they train you up-time contractors to say ‘two weeks’ when you meant ‘later sometime’ or ‘when I feel like it’?”
With that, Ivaarson spun about and marched out.
Slater had lost track of the conversation going on below, even though the anger in the officer’s voice kept echoing somewhere in the back of his skull. He was astonished and engrossed by the sounds coming out of the mouth of Fischer, who was still gripping Slater’s injured hand and arm with what felt like a vise.
Slater forgot about his hand as he watched the change in Fischer’s face. My God! This man is speaking in tongues! Fischer’s eyes snapped back up to his at that moment, however they still had a far off focus.
Just as Ivarsson walked out of the building, Fischer seemed to relax and let loose of Slater’s hand. The steely eyes returned to a glowing, caring blue once again. Slater felt the blood rush back into his hand. Only then did he remember the ugly state his fingers had been in only moments before. Slater held the hand up to his face and turned and flexed it. “God be praised, Preacher, you healed it. You healed my hand!”
Fischer blinked, looking tired and confused, then nodded as he sat down on the nearest crossbeam.
“Pete! Get up here! Reverend Fischer has performed a miracle! He’s healed my hand!” Slater shouted, all the while flexing and turning his hand before him as if he’d never seen it before.
Slater wasn’t a simple man, nor was he highly educated, but he was faithful. Phyllis made sure of that, too, and here he’d witnessed a man speak in tongues and heal him. Had anyone else told him the story, he would have dismissed it. He flexed his hand again. He’d still lose a few nails, but his fingers weren’t even swollen and didn’t throb anymore. “I’ll be . . . ” He’d been touched by God through this man and saved again.
The telling couldn’t wait till the next meeting. “Pete! Pete!”
John Chalker secured the flap of his church tent after his visitors left and made his way to the small tent that someone in his congregation set up for him to use as a private space to pray, study and sleep. He hoped the new church could be finished before winter set in.
He stoked the coals in the new iron fireplace he’d recently received, and sat down in his rocking chair. He then turned up the kerosene lantern for some light and laid his Bible on his lap over his knitted blanket. For some time he just sat rocking and thinking. As far as he could see, the future of the entire Pentecostal movement in this new time depended on his next decision.
He had heard the testimony of Slater Dobbs and examined the hand that had been crushed in the accident yet miraculously cured leaving no evidence of any harm. He’d listened attentively to Pete Enriquez as he told of the condition in which he had found Brother Fischer when Pete had climbed up into the rafters after hearing Slater yell.
He’d spent so much time with Fischer over the last few months that he had come to feel like he knew the man had a good heart and a legitimate calling to serve the Lord. Back up-time, Chalker had known many excellent Pentecostal ministers who had come to the anointment after years of struggling to let go and let the Holy Spirit take control of their lives. That it should come upon Fischer in such a crisis was not an uncommon event.
Chalker had looked into Fischer’s eyes as he told what had happened in those rafters from his point of view. It certainly sounded consistent with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Chalker saw no attempt to bluff or to state anything beyond what Fischer knew had happened up until the moment that ‘The Other’ had taken over his actions.
“The Other?” Chalker had asked as Fischer poured out his memory of what had happened in the rafters.
“Yes, Reverend. When I find myself in a dangerous situation, I feel like some other power, other self, takes control of my body and protects me. It used to be that I would lose consciousness when it happened, but lately, it’s still me. I have control, but it’s like I become an observer to the actions this Other takes. I seem to feel the image of flames just out of my sight and then something takes me over and guides me.”
Even Fischer’s description of the experience reminded Chalker in so many ways of his early days of feeling the Tongues of Fire take control of his life and work Its way using him as Its tool.
“Oh, touch my lips with fire divine, Here I am, send me. The dross consume, the gold refine. Here I am, send me!” The old song came out of Chalker’s memory.
Chalker trusted that the Lord would provide a young minister to continue His work and to spread His word. Clearly Fischer had been called to the ministry before the Ring of Fire to the best religion available to him to do God’s bidding in this place and time. Equally clearly, something had drawn Fischer to this very tent and this very doctrine for a reason. The only question was: was this event the anointment of Fischer by the Holy Spirit or was it something else?
Chalker continued to rock as he pondered that question. Finally, opening his Bible to the Book of Acts, he read, “One must be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
They cast lots. They tossed the dice, thought Chalker. On a matter of the greatest importance, they basically flipped a coin.