I started writing this for a short story competition for LDS Radio a few months ago. I didn't finish it in time to submit it, so I thought I'd put it up here. The theme was a fictional story about the pioneers or early days in the church. Enjoy.
Freckles and Faith
The glare of the rising sun made the small figure seem miles away. A loud whistle woke the sauntering old mare into a gallop and less than 5 minutes later John could see a tattered blue dress, yellow-brown stockings and a set of long pigtails all of which belonged to a little girl.
"Hey," he screamed as he pulled back on the reigns. "What are you doing?"
Startled the little girl stepped away from the river and squeezed her knitted doll close to her chest.
"You can't get in that," John pointed to the seemingly innocent river. "It's too cold; you'll freeze, and besides the current is too strong for you."
He dismounted to the relief of the heavily panting mare.
"I just wanted a drink. I am very thirsty." She said sheepishly.
John pulled the half full canteen from his saddle bag and dipped into the cold river.
"Where are your parents?" He asked offering the canteen.
She snatched the cold container and emptied nearly half of its contents. When she finished she pointed to the west.
She smiled and with a tone of a girl playing tea she said, "They said they were going to Zion."
"Zion," John wiped the beads of sweat from his brow. The word had a way of nagging him only second to his mother reminding him of his chores every 5 minutes. His eyes focused on the mighty Rockies. He shivered at the thought of passing over them a third time. "That would truly be hell" he said under his breath.
"So when will they be back?" The small freckles spotting both sides of her nose, her deep blue eyes and the innocent way she carried herself was very peculiar. She stood there clinging to her doll, yet showing no signs of fear. Her head bobbing slightly side to side and her feet fidgeted as if her shoes were denying her great desire to dance. As he waited for her response John searched his limited memories for any hint of having met her before. There was nothing. This was the first time he had ever seen this little girl, or any girl even like her for that matter. She was unique, and immediately he felt a certain bond with her. It compared only to the bond with Jeffery. He quickly brushed Jeffery from his thoughts, and the pain he felt by abandoning his kid brother.
"Not sure," Her response lacked any concern, "I haven't seen my mother in a few days, and I haven't seen my father in a very long time."
"What do you mean a very long time?"
"If I could remember when I saw him last I'd tell you silly." She brushed the red yarn representing the dolls hair playfully. "How much farther?"
"Farther for what?" John pulled off his hat and began scratching his blond head. He had never been so confused.
"To Zion," She laughed, "What else would I be talking about?"
"The guy is pretty silly Molly." She confided in her doll.
John replaced his hat and sat in the dirt next to her and stared. He stroked the soft blond hairs poking through his seventeen year old chin. Such a simple question should not be the cause of such confusion. As he forced his mind to accept what she was suggesting the little girl took a step towards the horse, set Molly neatly on a rock next to the sweaty animal and began hopping. She continued this until she knocked the canteen from the bag. Once the canteen was securely around her neck she picked up her brown leather satchel put Molly inside and then looked back at John.
"I hope you don't mind," she motioned to the canteen. Without further notice she started back up the trail John had just come down.
He watched as she slowly made her way back up the hill. The muscles in his body were irresponsive to her abrupt decision; they were confident that she would turn around any minute. No person, let alone a little girl, would consciously make the decision she is making. For five minutes he waited for any sign that she would turn around, but nothing. It was inconceivable, and he was becoming angry. He couldn't allow this. He couldn't allow her to walk off to her death. So he stood and ran after her.
"Hey what do you think you are doing?" The question was finish just as he fell in stride with her.
"Walking, duh" she said giggling.
"You can't just try and go through those mountains, you'll die."
"No I won't." Her words came without hesitation.
He threw his hands in the air completely befuddled. "This is crazy," he said to himself. Then he jumped in front of her and knelt down to her level.
"I know you want to see your parents, but it is already late fall. You are guaranteed to be caught in an early winter storm and you WILL freeze to death." His conjured up his best serious face. "So you will come with me and I'll find a family for you to stay with until the first companies leave next spring." He was now gently holding her shoulders hopeful that she would recognize her dire situation.
She tapped her forefinger on her chin for a moment, making quite the show of her deep contemplation. The she pulled Molly from her bag and whispered something. After allowing Molly a moment to think she raised Molly to her ear and listened carefully.
"No," She said with a smile and stepped around John.
Once again John watched as this time she skipped up the trail singing one of the torturous hymns he's being trying to purge from his mind.
"What do you mean, no?" He stopped her again.
"Listen, you." She looked straight into his eyes. "I was told that my parents would be in Zion. And I am going there."
"You'll never make it." He said softly trying to appeal to her innocence.
She laughed, "You are silly, you think that God can't keep me safe. You think that He would let me down. "
Then she changed her tone again and looked deep into his eyes. John felt her blue eyes penetrate into what spirit he had left.
"I'm very sorry for you mister. So, so, sorry." The she wrapped her little arms around his neck and held him. The embrace only lasted a moment, but John felt something he hadn't experience before. She gently pushed him away and smiled at him. It was a genuine love that he recognized, but couldn't place.
"I. . uh." He could say nothing. He saw the compassion in her eyes, the sorrow in her face, for to her it was him that was walking off to his death.
She sidestepped him once again and continued humming. She didn't look back. He slowly turned and watched for a second time as she walked away. But this was different. He still knew that if she left now she wouldn't survive, and it would be his fault. He turned back down the trail, his mind exploding with thoughts. He passed the last handcart company a few days back. If he hurried he could catch them. But it would be too late to turn back east. He would have to go back to Salt Lake for the winter. The agony of giving up on his dreams, his freedom and his life were weighing down his every step. Once he rose back into his saddle he saw her disappear behind a large outcropping of rocks. He dropped his shoulders pulled back on the reigns, and after turning the horse around galloped back up the hill.
"Get on," He reached down his hand as he pulled alongside her. "I'll take you to the last company; they can help you find your parents."
She reached her hand out and accepted the offer, and to his surprise she said, "I knew you'd come back."
They caught up with the company two days later and just as he reached the last wagon, a girl about his age turned and waited. He felt a sharp pointing in his back.
"What," he asked his tiny passenger.
"I have to go," She whispered. "You know." It took him a minute to recognize what her wrenched face was implying.
"Oh," he said and helped her down. She ran off into a cluster of trees.
John walked up to the older girl who had turned around. As he drew closer he could see in her eyes something eerily similar. Small faded freckles, deep blue eyes and a smile that brought to life feelings he had never experienced. Her reaction to him was just the same. When the two teenagers came within a few steps of each other they stood motionless looking into each other's eyes.
"Hi," John muttered.
"Hi," She replied.
"I'm looking for this girl's parents." He pointed to the clump of trees she was using for privacy. His words seemed to be coming from somewhere else. He was too focused on her eyes to conjure any ability for a coherent sentence.
She smiled, acknowledging his request. Then they waited for the little girl to emerge from the trees. After a few more seconds, John passed along an awkward smile and ran towards the last place he saw her. The girl followed. As they turned around the largest tree he saw Molly lying on the dirt face down. John picked up the doll.
"Molly?" He said inquisitively as he picked it up.
"How did you know my name?" The girl asked in shock.
John turned to her revealing what he was holding. Her mouth dropped open. And she took the doll from his hands.
"How did you get this?" She examined the doll closely.
"It was hers, the little girl's."
Molly's eyes began to turn red. As she held the doll close to her heart tears slowly formed. "My name is Molly and I gave this doll to a little girl two days ago. She was the sweetest thing I had ever met. She was searching for her parents. I had never seen her before, but it felt like I had known her all my life. The way she looked at me. Her eyes could see into my heart. It was like I was the one she was looking for."
Molly wiped her tears with her sleeve. "After I gave her the doll I couldn't find her. She sort of disappeared."
The words prodded deep into John's heart, and the earlier memory of the little girl's compassionate hug flooded his mind. He could now easily place the love he felt from her at that moment, it was that of finding something once thought to be lost. That is why she wasn't afraid, he thought. She came for me. To find me. Her father.
Suddenly John's eyes opened to see his life clearly. It was a flash, but everything came together perfectly clear. Not only did he see what others had been trying to help him see, but he felt it deep inside. His eyes flashed upward and his lips formed into a smile he'd been suppressing for 17 years. A tiny face full of freckles and faith has just changed him forever, and it wouldn't be the last time that little girl would impact his life. His eyes refocused on Molly and with full confidence he reached out his hand, "Hi Molly, my name is John."
Her face beaming, she interlocked her fingers with his and just as expected, they were a perfect fit.