The Saga of Amberlin – Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Herb gazed into the bathroom mirror as he straightened the narrow black tie, but his thoughts were far away.  He had realized upon awakening this Sunday morning that it had been three years since he’d offered to become Amberlin’s teacher, and as he had thought and hoped, Rose had never bothered to question the decision.  Of course, it was to his advantage that his granddaughter was particularly smart and an easy student to teach.  Teaching her had also become one of his greatest joys in life. It truly felt like a fulfillment of his purpose and destiny.

Of course, Amberlin had learned much more than her three R’s under his tutelage.  She’d also learned to be much more careful to hide her growing gifts and talents, while also becoming more comfortable with their unique qualities.  Like her grandmother, Amberlin seemed to have the ability to discern things about people she met that she couldn’t know any other way.  Along with this she appeared to be strongly empathic, knowing also how other people were feeling even when they tried to mask their emotions.

Herb wasn’t sure but he suspected another gift may have begun to show itself.  Over the past three years, Amberlin had spent many hours reading and studying in the Sanctuary with Ruffin lying next to her with his head in her lap as she stroked his mottled coat.  At age 11, Ruffin was showing signs of age, including a graying around his muzzle.  But it seemed to Herb in other ways he had grown younger.  His previously stiff limbs that that had been particularly evident in the morning, seemed much more limber, and his eyes appeared clearer, with no evidence of the grayness of previous years that had suggested the start of cataracts.

Perhaps I should start having Amberlin stroke my hair, Herb thought, as he brushed his own thinning yet still thick white curls.

Sundays were the highlight of the week for the Golden Acres Community, and as one of the most prominent families of the community, the Gentrys’ Sunday mornings started with an early breakfast, before dressing up in their “Sunday Finest.” They then piled into Papa Herb’s Buick and drove the short distance to Our Lord and Savior Church that was the center hub of Golden Acres Community, resting on the pinnacle of a knoll, like some giant vulture standing guard over a decaying carcass.

The church was one of the oldest structures in the area, dating back to 1827, only a few years after the Gentry’s manor was built. The church started out as a private chapel for the Gentry family but when Rose’s great grandfather, Charles Gentry, donated much of the surrounding land to the Followers of Christ Assembly, he also deeded over the chapel, which was then expanded to become the spiritual Mecca of the community. It also became the burial grounds for many of the prominent families that migrated to Golden Acres where they could worship in peace and later be buried in like fashion. The entire knoll was filled with gravestones of various shapes, sizes and ages, including the final resting place of several Confederate soldiers. The practice of burying the local community members wasn’t limited to just the surrounding hillsides, but also included in the church itself, where some of the most prominent Followers of Christ found their mortal remains put to rest. Along much of the wall of the main sanctuary were ornate plagues with inscriptions like:


And, IN LOVING MEMORY OF HENRY IZARD MIDDLETON, BORN JANUARY 27, 1881, DIED DECEMBER 9, 1952. For many years Organist and Benefactor of this Church and a devoted member of this Parish.

Our Lord and Savior Church’s architecture was a cross between a traditional Episcopal church and a Southern Baptist church. The main sanctuary was long and narrow, with rows of pews, each with a place for hymnals on the back with a tall pulpit at the front left of the church where Reverend Stover stood each Sunday to deliver his scalding messages of fire and brimstone.

But while the church was the centerpiece of both worship and fellowship for the rest of Golden Acres Community members, for Amberlin, as her powers continued to develop, the church was rapidly becoming the focal point for many disturbing feelings and emotions, making it increasingly difficult to enter the hallowed archway that led into the sanctuary.

She had always found the inner sanctum of the church less than inviting with its preponderance of dark wood and musty odor, mingled with the smell of furniture polish, but these emerging feelings were different, arising from deep within herself. Or was it that her inner self was connecting with the residual spirits that surrounded the church? In either case, she found the sensations increasingly difficult to tolerate, and she found herself caught between the desire to be a “good girl” and do what she was told, and the growing feelings of distress each time she thought of entering the church.

When she mentioned these feelings to Papa Herb, he nodded quietly, and patted her hand. Then, taking a deep breathe, he said, “Your gifts seem be going through a growth spurt right now, a little bit like your body recently did when you were always hungry and we couldn’t seem to keep you filled. Do you remember that?”

Amberlin nodded. “But I’m not all that hungry these days.”

“No,” Papa Herb chuckled, “But you may start to be. We’ll see. For sure, you’re growing inside. The question is what to do about it. Rose will raise a huge ruckus if we tell her you can’t attend church. She’d be sure the Devil had possessed you in that case.”

“We wouldn’t want that,” Amberlin said.

“That’s for sure. I think it’s time for you to begin to take control of your newly acquired talents, at least to the degree you can,” Papa Herb continued.

“What does that mean?”

Papa Herb thought a moment before replying. “Well, you know how you can close your eyes if there’s something you don’t want to see, or cover your ears to keep from hearing something?”

“Yes,” Amberlin said with a hint of uncertainty.

“Well, this gives you some control over your senses. In the same way, I think you need to develop the ability to monitor what you allow into your ‘psychic senses.’ Not to deny them or suppress them but only to be more responsible for them. Does that make sense?”

“I guess so, Papa Herb, but how do I do that?”

“Boy, this is a little like the blind leading the blind here. I’m not sure how you’re to do that since I don’t really have these special gifts myself, least not nearly to the degree you have. So, I’d simply suggest you play with them for a while. Each time you go near the church, for example, try different things to see what opens up your channel and what closes it down. You may not remember it now, but I imagine this is just what you did when you were a baby and were discovering how to see and hear.”

Today would be the first time they’d visited the church since that conversation, so in a way Amberlin had mixed feelings about the trip. On the one hand she was excited about the idea of playing with her growing gifts, while at the same time she wasn’t looking forward to the uncomfortable sensations she knew she’d have to go through.

Sure enough, as they approached the center of the community, the troubling sensations started to grow. No time like the present to start playing, Amberlin thought as she first saw the church out of the car window. She started by closing her eyes, and interestingly enough, did feel a slight drop in the uncomfortable feelings. She next tried covering her ears, but found it made no difference. So, she sat in the back seat of the car with her eyes closed, trying to guess where they were along the drive to the church.

She then discovered that if she took her mind off the trip completely, thinking about something else, particularly something pleasant like playing with her dolls in her room, the discomfort almost completely left, so she quit trying to guess where they were and instead imagined that she was back home playing in her room. So, she was surprised when Papa Herb announced that they were at the church.

“All out who’s getting out,” Papa Herb said as he pulled up to the door. As with most of the older members of the church, Papa Herb had a habit of dropping Rose and Amberlin off at the door, then driving down the hill to the parking area, since the deceased members of the church who were buried around it took precedent over the parking area that was relegated to the flat land at the bottom of the hill.

“Can I walk up with you, Papa Herb?” Amberlin asked, her eyes still closed.

“Why, sure, I’d love the company, sweetheart, as long as you don’t mind the walk.”

Rose got out of the car. “Make sure you two aren’t late. You know how I hate for any of us to be late. With our pew being up front, everyone notices.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be on time,” Papa Herb assured her. “If need be, I’ll carry Amberlin up on my shoulders.”

After Rose closed the door and they started driving back down the road to the parking area, Papa Herb asked, “How are you doing, Sweetie?”

Amberlin explained what she’d learned so far. “Interesting. Well, you keep playing with it. I’m sure you’ll be okay. Just take your time.” Papa Herb said as they pulled into a parking space.

It was finally time. Amberlin could put it off no longer. She opened the car door, her eyes still closed. As her foot hit the pavement, a shockwave of emotion struck her in the solar plexus so hard that her eyes flew open which only added to the wave of feeling.

FEAR. That’s what it was. A wave of fear threatening to overpower her, like the time she’d been at the beach about a year before, and an unexpectedly large wave had come on shore, knocking her feet out from under her. It felt like that now, her knees felt like someone had suddenly struck them from behind. She stumbled for a moment before recovering her balance.

“Are you okay, Sugar?” Papa Herb asked as he came around the corner of the car.

She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breathe, both which seemed to help. She stood next to the car holding on to the door. “Yes, I think so.” Least she would be she told herself. I can do this. I can do this. She repeated over and over as she took a second deep breathe and slowly opened her eyes. A second wave of fear passed over her but she was better prepared for this one, so it’s wasn’t as bad. It was working. She was learning to control the sensation. She braced herself, then looked up first at Papa Herb who was smiling down at her reassuringly. That helped. She turned slowly and gazed up at the church allowing herself to take in first the graves then the tower of the church, as she continued to breath slowly and deeply. It was going to be a long morning.