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No Dark Valley

From Chapter 1, "The Birds Hush Their Singing," in which Celia arrives in Dunmore, GA:

"We been hoping you'd come," Aunt Beulah called. She stepped out onto the porch, letting the screen slam behind her. "Come on inside before you freeze to death. Everybody's here eating." Her words came out in little white puffs. She was wearing a nubby black sweater over a navy blue dress and pink terry-cloth slippers on her feet.

Celia felt a wave of panic. So that explained all the cars parked up and down the street. If she had known about this, she would never have agreed to come. She had expected only Aunt Beulah and Uncle Taylor, not everybody. "Come on by the house first," Aunt Beulah had said over the phone. "We can have us a littl visit before we go to the funeral home."

"Now, tell me again which cow this is," Al said as they started up the sidewalk. On the drive here Celia had told him the names of her grandmother's five sisters--Clara, Bess, Beulah, Elsie, and Molly--to which Al had replied, "They sound like cows." He had then laughed, for what seemed to Celia a little too long, at his joke. He was right about their names, of course. And her grandmother's name had fit right in with the rest: Sadie.

"This one's Aunt Beulah," Celia said. "She's the only one of them who ever liked me."

"Watch out for that icy patch there!" Aunt Beulah called. "Molly nearly slipped on it earlier. I got Taylor to sprinkle some salt on it, but it might have refroze." She shaded her eyes as she watched Celia and Al approach. "I'm sure glad you could come. I told them you would." The implication, clearly, was But nobody believed me.

Aunt Beulah stepped back and opened the door again. Behind her Celia could see a roomful of people, all jammed together with plates of food balanced on their laps. Somebody cried out, "Mercy, you're lettin' the cold in, Beulah!"

Celia felt her knees go weak as she started up the steps, Al at her elbow. "I don't think I can do this," she said to him. "These people are perfectly capable of violence. There's no telling what they might do." She could picture herself in the middle of Aunt Beulah's living room, surrounded by all her Georgia kinfolk coming at her with their knives and forks.

"Don't worry, I'm here," Al said. "I won't let them do anything." He put his hand on her back. Celia knew he was looking forward to meeting her relatives, to see for himself if they were as weird as she had claimed.

The hum of talk stopped as they entered. Celia glanced around at the cricle of faces and nodded. She didn't actually look at the faces, but at the wall slightly above their heads. She could sense that they were all looking her up and down, that she was being weighed in the balances of their narrow minds and found severely wanting.

From Chapter 25, "One Holy Passion," in which Bruce Healey observes Celia:

On a Sunday afternoon in late October, Bruce Healey was sitting at the patio table in the backyard trying to carve a jack-o'-lantern to surprise Madison when he saw Celia pull into the driveway next door and park her red Mustang. It still surprised him that a woman like her, so efficient, sensible, and reclusive, drove a red Mustang instead of, say, a dark brown Volvo 280.

He had already gotten all the stringy goop and seeds out of the pumpkin and was working on the second eye--a simple triangular design, which was turning out to be larger than the first eye and a little lower on the face, down toward the middle of its cheek actually. So it would be a freak, but who cared? Nobody expected perfection when it came to jack-o'-lanterns.

He paused for a moment to watch Celia get out of her car and walk to her front door. He opened his mouth to call to her but for some reason decided against it even though he had a legitimate question already framed and ready to ask: "How many trick-or-treaters usually come around this neighborhood on Halloween?" In fact, he knew in his heart that he was sitting here in the backyard with the express hope of seeing her. But something about the brisk, beeline way she was moving toward the door kept him from speaking. Not that it was much different from the way she normally walked to the door--as if she had just remembered she'd left a cake in the oven. After watching her disappear inside her apartment, he turned his attention back to the jack-o'-lantern's enormous misaligned eye.

Bruce Healey had met a lot of women in his life. All shapes and sizes, young and old, all kinds of dull and fascinating personalities, faces that made you look twice, others that made you wish you hadn't. When he was in college, he used to say he could never get married because he'd always be wondering about all those other women he hadn't had a chance to meet.

From an email written by Pam Keller, a reader from Dover, PA:

"This morning, I just finished 'No Dark Valley.' It was the most achingly beautiful work I have read in a very long time. Maybe ever. And I am an avid reader of Christian fiction. I am not an overly emotional person and I cried as I finished the last two chapters. It touched something so deep in my heart.

Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Thank you for allowing God to speak through your words. Your work has blessed me abundantly."