Again, all are asleep, but I am not. I need sleep, but though I read and I pray, I feel too awake. My mind paces the floor.
There are shots now and again, bursts here and there, far away, and I cannot sleep. I think of this man in his hunger, shot like a rabbit raiding a garden. For what, Lord? For stealing corn intended for pigs and cattle, like the hungry prodigal helpless in a strange land.
I can hear his voice.
When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community is caught up in the devastating aftermath. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) in the cities become increasingly desperate, they begin to invade nearby farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the gentle communities.
Written as the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob who tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos. Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they do, can they survive?
David Williams’s debut novel is a thoroughly engrossing look into the closed world of the Amish, as well as a thought-provoking examination of how we live today and what remains if the center cannot hold.
Release date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Print pages: 256
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When the English Fall
I should not be writing this tonight. That thought is in my head right now.
I should pray. I should sleep. I especially should sleep. I should not write, for it is wasteful and prideful. Or so whispers my uncle’s voice, from long ago. So chides my father. His voice is stronger.
But still, I write.
It is a prideful thing, that I sit here in the faint light alone. So the echoes of my past tell me. Around me, the house is asleep, as I should be. I like the sound of it, this sleeping house. It is not empty, because even though I can barely hear it, the softness of breathing fills the house like goose feathers.
Jacob barely stirs, strong boy that he is becoming. Sadie, oh, Sadie. She sleeps well, soft and safe tonight so far, thanks be to God. I pray, O God, that she will sleep tonight.
I say that I must stay awake until my heart is stilled, and I say that I must stay awake to listen for Sadie. But Hannah knows. She knows that I need to write.
Hannah is so kind, to understand. I should be in our bed with her, and I will be. But soon.
Today was good, a blessing, like every day is a blessing. I suppose that is why I still write here, to remember the blessings. And all things are blessings, even the hard things.
Memory is why I began to write. It was why I wrote as a boy, to remember my dreams and the hopes I had. I read back those old books now, written in secret. I am still that boy, I think.
But I needed to write, too, all those years ago when I was out in the World, out among the English.
I wanted to remember, to remember what I thought and felt and knew. It was so different, amazing and terrible, and I wanted to remember. Others left with me, when the time came for our running around. Some came back. But others didn’t return, not to the hard coldness of the community where we had grown up.
Atlee fell into drinking, and then he was gone. Martha, with her laugh, with that twinkle in her eye. That twinkle was gone when I last saw her, and her laugh was hard like brass. So many terrible things in the world.
And Simon. Simon had never liked the Order, never been at ease with the life of the plain. I should not miss him, but I do miss him, his mischief, his joyous playfulness like a young goat. He chose rightly. He was at home in the world.
I was not. Though I could not stay in the Order that my father had taught me, neither was the world for me. The world made me sick.
Not with hate. Not sick with hate. Just sick. It was wildness, churning chaos. It upset my soul, making me dizzy like a little boy spinning circles in the field. The spinning is fun at first, but then you cannot stop, because if you stop, you fall and your stomach turns inside out.
I haven’t ever liked that. And I like spirit sickness least of all.
She stirs now. A little cry. O Lord. Now more. I must stop.
I am very tired tonight. Today was very busy, and my hands and back are tired. Four chairs, perfect and complete, rest in the shop. This is good. It was a good day, even though I am tired.
I also walked the farm today, all of it, all the way around. I do this, just to see how things are. I could ride Nettie, and that would be quicker, but I choose not to. It lets me stop, to see things that I would otherwise miss, to feel the grass against my pant legs. We have forty-eight acres, about all we can manage, being such a small family. Five or six we rotate in and out of use for planting, there are a few patches of trees for windbreaks, and a stand of trees on about two acres to the northern corner of the property. That is good for firewood. The rest we have as pasture for our small herd of cattle. Thirty-five head, some for milking, but most for beef. It is not a long circuit, although the day was hot. And from what I see, things are well. The fields look fine, ready for the plowing and planting for the fall.
I worry about the fields. Not this year or the next, not now when we are still strong. But it will be hard as Hannah and I grow older. Around us, our friends are a help, but it is odd to have so little family around us. No sisters or brothers, no cousins. It was a hard choice to come here.
But my father’s settlement? The settlement of my uncle and all of my family? Though my blood was there, my spirit could not stay there. It could not, not if my soul was to survive. Hannah, too. It was so much worse for her. Even now, I can feel the memories of it pressing on me.
And now I am awake, and it is late.
Hannah tells me that I must sleep, that the care of Sadie is for her to do as my helpmate, and I tell her that she is right, and that I am a fool. But still, I am her husband, and when I say my heart is moved for our sweet, strange little bird, that I am her father and my strength must be hers, she cannot say no. I see the tiredness in her eyes, too.
I tell her that we are two together, made stronger just as Solomon said in his wisdom, and that Sadie is no burden but is a blessing to test and strengthen us, and other things I remember from worship.
“You are a fool,” she says, and those words were never spoken with such love.
My prayers are all about Sadie, in the morning and the evening. I should be better about praying for others, but I cannot think of much but her. I read back across these pages, and it has been nearly a year now since it began.
I did not understand, not at first, the strangeness that overcame her that morning. She woke, but did not dress, and did not do as she was asked. Hannah came to me, and at first we together were stern.
She had always been so bright, so light. But now that brightness burned, and the lightness was brittle. Nothing made sense, nothing she said, and her hands danced like fires as she jabbered and moved about the house.
I chastised her at first. What did I know, O Lord? Sometimes anger rises up, as it did with my father. I am not so different, as much as I try to be. So the words came out.
“Do not be lazy! Do not speak such idle talk! Listen to me!”
But my words were unheard, and when I realized her eyes did not see me, my fatherly anger melted to fear.
And then she fell hard on the hard wood floor, and her body drew up like a bow, and her eyes rolled back, and she was choking on her tongue.
It was a terrible sound, like blood in the throat of a slaughtering pig. I remember it so well I can hear it.
I can still hear it.
Jacob was a great help today. His hands are still so young, but he strengthens. He is growing, up to my shoulders now. More important, his mind is sharp. He takes to the craft so swiftly, so easily. The chest of drawers for Mike will be done, and even sooner and better than if only my own hands had done it. Only five more pieces. A blessing, indeed, is a son who honors his father with the labor of his hands.
Hannah tells me it was not so good with Sadie today, not good at all. She did not sleep last night, that I know. And she was so distressed today, Hannah says. There were no seizures, but she is so unhappy.
She broods, and will only sleep, or talk in strange circles, as she has since it got worse.
But now it is only one thing she can seem to think about. She talks about the lights, and about the darkness. The skies are bright with angel wings, she will shout, suddenly. The English fall! The English fall! Again and again she says this. The skies filled with angel wings, about the English, and about the fall. We give her the medicine, and it quiets her, but the quiet passes more quickly.
I confess I am troubled, and I am praying much over it.
Sadie was always different. Before the doctors told us there was something wrong, before the seizures, she was different. She was born with a caul, which means nothing. I have seen calves born with cauls, and there is no magic I can see in them. They get eaten, just like all of the other calves. Their jerky tastes no different from regular jerky. But sometimes the old women still talk, Hannah tells me.
The angel’s touch, some said she had. And the folk still remember what she said about Bishop Beiler, before even the first signs of the cancer. And about the Hostetler girl. And about that calf. It was strange, and Bishop Schrock had many talks with me about the whisperings that should not be part of the Order.
“There is no Christ in this,” he said. “This seems the Devil’s work,” he said.
I nodded, but told him she was a good girl, because she was, even if she did say strange things. I felt anger, too, for Bishop Schrock can be a hard man. Of the bishops in this district, his heart turns most quickly to discipline. But prayer and more prayer returned my heart to the grace of Christ.
And now she moans in the night, and I hear her whisper. Every night, every night for a month, as I read back.
And every night, it is the same thing.
The angel wings, and the sky, and the English. And the fall.
Though she is my little girl, barely more than a child, the hairs rise on my arms as I write this. It is just a sickness, I say to my soul. Just a sickness of the mind.
But I do not believe myself when I say it. I cannot but worry that something bad will happen.
Worship was good today, but it was very hard for Sadie. In the singing, she is fine, but the first sermon she struggles, and the main sermon is difficult for her to manage, and the long silence as we pray together is very very hard. It strains her. And as hard as it is for Sadie, it’s harder for Hannah. She watches her. She worries. Even when Sadie seems calm, she worries. The medicine stilled her enough for the day, but things got worse after the sun set.
Tonight Sadie hurt Hannah, but she does not want me to tell the doctor or the deacons. Sadie’s arm lashed out as she cried and shouted and flailed. She bloodied Hannah’s nose and bruised her eye. She did not mean to, I know she did not. It was like she did not notice her mother was even there.
I had to hold her, and hold her, until the medicine and the strength of my arms stilled her. So thin and frail she is now. I feared bruising her, but I was afraid she would hurt herself even worse.
It was hard on Hannah, good mother that she is. I don’t want them to take her away, cried Hannah. I cannot lose my baby, cried Hannah.
She remembers how David, the second of the Sorensons’ children, became. So angry, so hateful. They tried to care for him, and prayed, but though he had chosen to return, his soul was broken and shattered. It was like keeping a wild dog in the house, and they had to think of their other children. Just twenty-one. Such a young man. The English call it skitzofrenia, I think that is the word, I am not sure.
I mean, I know that is how you say it, but I also know that I am spelling it wrong. I will look in the dictionary later.
Jacob will be our last. Just Jacob and Sadie, both blessings in their own ways.
Sarah died inside Hannah, and it was then the Lord’s desire to close her womb. We don’t want to lose Sadie, our first, to have her leave the house to be treated among the English. We lost Sarah. We lost the promise of a full house, of children to work by our side, to be our strength when age takes us. This would be a third loss. With God’s help we would bear it, but it would be hard.
We prayed together, and with Jacob, that the Lord might bring Sadie healing. We say these prayers often. I know God hears them. The time will come. We have to be patient.
I will see what the doctor can do tomorrow. I will be true, but gentle with truth.
I am very tired.
Awoke before the sun, even before cockcrow. My mind leaps to all that must be done.
The cows gave a little less milk today. The steers I bought to fatten up for the winter are coming along well, putting on plenty of weight and eating well.
Plowed three acres and put in the wheat. That was my day. Jacob watered the horses, good lad.
TONIGHT SHE IS QUIET. The new medicine helps, thanks be to God. The doctor came, Doctor Jones, and though we did not tell him everything, I know he knew that things were harder. We held him in prayer. He is a Baptist, he says. A good man. He has always had kindness in his heart.
I am tired, but I’m still awake, and so I stood outside for a while. It was beautiful, the stars bright. But brighter still was the glow of Lancaster, off to the south, so many miles away. It is not really dark at night. I notice this. I wonder about my grandfather’s father, and how he and I share the same place, yet even as we live beyond the English and their ways, their light still fills our skies.
I think of Mike, and his anger. Today he came to check on the order, and when he talked, he was very angry about something he had heard on the radio in his truck. The radio person was angry about “the global warming hoax,” and “the economy,” and everything. I do not know why Mike listens to the radio if all he receives is anger, but he does. The things I hear in my life are so different. I read. I listen to the worship, and to the singing, and to the teachings, and that is not what I receive. I listen to the stillness in our times of silent prayer especially.
It is a funny thing, to listen to silence. I do it when I am done with my prayers for my neighbors and my own struggling soul and the world around me. Then, I try not to pray at all. Why would God need to hear me babbling on about myself? Instead, I try to listen.
Even in silent prayer, when we are in worship, all is not quiet. Not if you are really listening. All around me, my brothers and sisters move and shift and rustle, like young leaves in a soft spring breeze. It is calming, to hear them. And a comfort.
I wish, sometimes, that Mike could hear such things.
But I am not Mike.
Mike was mad again at the president, and about the Congress. Apparently things are bad among the English. Another bridge failed last week, and many died. The lights in Lancaster have been dark more often lately. Others in this district do not see it. Best to sleep early after a long day, if you can. But I am often awake at night. The stars are so much easier to see, when the lights are out.
Mike is angry about that too. He says it’s all a mess, that no one trusts anyone, that nothing seems to work. But mostly, he talks about how he is no longer free, and how the new taxes make it hard to buy fuel to drive his big truck.
I don’t know. This has been a strange year again, sometimes so hot, at other times too cool. The rain has not come often these past few years, and when it comes, it comes fierce like a fever. Deacon Sorenson remembers when it wasn’t so, and will fret now and again, although we k. . .
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