"Shadow Among Us" is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales is completely coincidental.
A special thanks to Kimberly Foster for the sentence that inspired this short story.
"Shadow Among Us" is the property of author Othy Jones and may not be redistributed or posted without prior written consent.
WARNING: The following short story contains some mild adult language and may not be suitable for children.
SHADOW AMONG US
By Othy Jones
She walked under the covered bridge wondering if anything would ever be the same again. “Be for warned,” her father, Isaac, had warned her. “You will be tempted, Hannah. The Devil is fickle but persistent. I see not why you must entertain this ridiculous aspect of your Rumspringa. Your sisters, Sarah and Ruth never saw fit to venture beyond our borders. You are my daughter. You belong here with the rest of your Amish community.”
Hannah was advised not to say much to her father. It was safer to let him speak his peace, her brother Thomas had said. So she had. He went on about her returning home and committing to the Ordhung, lest she be tempted by Satan, shunned and mourned. She listened quietly. She admired and respected her father. She knew he and her mother feared for her soul. She partly feared for it herself. How could she not? She was taking the biggest risk of her life living out amongst the English in Lancaster, County.
She didn’t know how long she’d be gone, perhaps a few days or maybe a week or two. Her eldest brother Mark lasted nearly a month and her cousin Mary never came back. That had been the saddest day of her life. She and Mary had been terribly close. It was Mary she’d hope to find on the outside.
As her thoughts consumed her, Hannah left the covered bridge, the known boundary of her girlhood, and embraced the future, her adolescence, all alone in the dark wearing only her black frock and matching bonnet. Unlike her friends, who had known others on the outside, Hannah knew only Mary. Yet Mary would not know she’d be coming to see her.
The only time Mary had attempted to make contact with her was one day, about a year back, when Hannah and her mother had gone in to the English part of Lancaster to help her Aunt and Uncle sell some baked goods. Mary knew their routine well and had shown up, unbeknownst to her parents, and surprised them. Perhaps surprise wasn’t the best word. Shock seemed to better fit the situation. None of them spoke to her, not even Hannah. She was but a shadow among them. Hannah knew she’d be forbidden to talk to her, so she never bothered to ask. The only one who spoke had been Mary.
“You’re growing up, Hannah,” she’d said, dressed in the most audacious of clothing which included a pair of trousers Hannah later learned were made of a fabric called denim. “Soon you’ll be able to choose how you want to spend the rest of your life. Your life, Hannah, not theirs. When you do, you’ll need someone on the outside. I will be that person. I vow to you, that I will not leave Lancaster until your twenty-first year. If you do not come by then, I’ll know where you stand. But should you come to find me, I’ll be in a place called New Hope. Ask for me at the Burnett Inn. Good bye, Hannah, God speed.”
Hannah didn’t know where to find this “New Hope” but it sounded like a promising destination. When an English automobile stopped upon seeing her aimlessly traversing the open road for some time, she felt her heart skip a beat.
“What’s a young girl like you doing out on these roads this time of night?” asked the short-haired somewhat masculine woman behind the wheel. Hannah presumed she must be in her forties, though she questioned herself as the woman’s hair had not yet begun to gray.
“I am looking for my cousin in a place called New Hope. Do you know the way?”
“Yeah, it’s like seventy miles in the opposite direction. How long you been walking?”
“Three hours, I think.”
“Christ you must be exhausted. Come on, hop in.”
“But I do not know you.”
“Name’s Bernie, it’s short for Bernice.”
“Then why not say Bernice?”
“Cause I like Bernie better. What are you my freakin’ shrink? Honestly though, I could use a new one,” she chuckled. “What about you, what’s your name?”
“My name is Hannah Birchberger.”
“Birchberger? Oy, where do these Amish come up with their names?” Bernie seemed to ask more herself than Hannah. She turned to look in her rearview mirror. “Well listen, Hannah, you want a ride or don’t ya? It’s getting pretty late.”
“You seem sincere. Yes, I should like to ride with you.”
“Great, hop in. I need to make run into Morgantown and pick up my wife from work.”
“That’s what I said, dumpling. You ain’t in Kansas anymore!”
Riding in the automobile was a very strange and new experience for Hannah. She had no idea they could go so fast nor be so quiet. The house drawn carriages she’d normally traveled in were so very different.
“You’ll like New Hope. It’s quaint and humble. Lot of artsy fartsy stuff if you’re into that. Big on motorcycles too. I once dated this chick who used to ride in with the rest of the brigade. She ended up being a bit rough, even for me. Man, she sure did look great in those leather chaps though!”
“What do you and your wife do?” questioned Hannah, a bit intrigued.
“What, you mean like for work? Well, Francine’s a veterinarian assistant down in Morgantown and I’m a maintenance mechanic for a water treatment plant over in Honey Brook. I travel around a bit here in there, if they need help at one of the other plants. But, eh, I’m bettin’ you have no clue what I’m talking about.”
“I understand what a veterinarian is. We have many animal doctors in my village. Though to be honest, I wouldn't know how you would treat water.”
“Ah hell, sometimes I wonder the same thing! Well,” said Bernie as they pulled into a parking lot. “This is where Francine works. She’ll get a real kick out of you.”
When Francine saw Bernie’s gray SUV pull up she immediately wondered who was in the passenger’s seat. Francine was a large stocky woman, near six feet tall, with long tangled dirty-blonde hair. She stood under the awning in her pink scrubs smoking a cigarette. After the SUV came to a stop, Bernie popped her head up out of her window.
“You’ll never guess what I found on the way over!” she called to Francine.
Francine took a long draw from her cigarette. “I told you ten times, Bernie, I don’t do threesomes, ” she shouted back.
“Threesome? Francine the girl’s barely sixteen, at best. What do you take me for?”
“All right then, what are you doing with her?”
Bernie opened her door and stepped out to have a slightly quieter conversation with her wife as she’d grown tired of shouting. Hannah watched inquisitively as Bernie made her way over to Francine in her brown and tan uniform.
“She’s Amish,” stated Bernie. “I found her out wandering down route ten about thirty minutes ago. I think she’s doin’ that ramadon-springer thing. Says she’s going to New Hope.”
“New Hope? In the middle of the night?”
“That’s what I was sayin’!”
“That still doesn’t explain why she’s in your car.”
“I was thinking of taking her. You know, doing my good deed for the year.”
“Taking her? To New Hope?! Tonight?”
“Well now, hear me out. It’s a Friday night, you and I are always talking about gettin’ away; needing a break. She told me she’s looking for her cousin down at some inn. We could spend the night there, grab a late breakfast, do a little sight-seeing, maybe get our cards read or something, what do you say?”
“It’s late. I’m tired. I smell like cat piss. I worked a double-shift and I’m hungry. What did you think I’d say?”
“Come on,” said Bernie. “Just look at her,” she added extending a hand to the passenger’s seat where Hannah sat, quietly in her black bonnet. “She’s like little Miss Muffit!”
Francine took a final drag from her cigarette, dropped on the ground and stepped on it. She blew the smoke in Bernie’s face. “I don’t know how I let you talk me into this shit!”
“It’s a gift.”
“Shut up and drive before I change my mind. And I’m not sittin’ in the back. I’m too damn tired for that,” she stated while Bernie headed for the driver’s seat. “And I better not smell her B.O.!”
A little over an hour later, Bernie parked her SUV at the Burnett Inn. It was a humble cottage like place set on the Delaware River just off the main road with a Tudor feel to it. When the three of them walked in they were greeted by a feeble old man with a bushy white moustache and thick round trifocals.
“Evnin’, you need a room?”
“What was your first clue?” asked Bernie in her usual smart-Alec way.
“Could you tell me where I could find Mary Rosenpimpel?” Hannah asked directly.
“Rosenpimpel?” he asked. “I don’t know any Rosenpimpel.”
Hannah’s face fell suddenly with her hopes.
“Don’t worry, Hannah, we’ll find her,” stated Bernie. “This guy’s probably just new to the place.”
“Been here twenty-two years,” he added. “My brother opened the place up. I think I’d remember a Mary Rosenpimpel. Only Mary I know is Mary Yoder, young girl, not much older than this one. Might be she’s got some Amish in her somewhere too.”
“Could you tell us where to find her?” asked Bernie.
“Sure. She works the morning housekeeping shift. It’ll probably be her who makes your bed.”
“A bed sounds lovely,” said Francine. “We’ll take one. Make it with a king.”
“Make it a suite,” added Bernie.
“Now you’re talking,” replied Francine.
“With a pull out for the girl.”
“You’re not serious,” Francine whined. “This night just keeps getting longer and longer.”
Later, while Francine was showering, Bernie pulled out the sofa bed for Hannah to sleep on. “It’s not much,” she stated. “But it’s bound to be better than what you’re used to.”
“My father is a carpenter and my mother makes our quilts and feathered mattresses.”
“All right, don’t get cocky, kid. Just get in the damn bed.”
“Thank you, Bernie. For your hospitality. It is greatly appreciated.”
Bernie nodded. “I hope you find your cousin.”
The next morning Bernie called down to the reception desk for fresh towels before departing with Francine to get some breakfast. They left Hannah behind in her bed, still sleeping. A knock at the door soon woke her and she bolted up. She was not used to sleeping so far past dawn but her travels on foot the previous night left her worn out. She answered the door still completely dressed as Bernie had found her the night before.
“Housekeeping, I brought your to-”, the young woman stared at Hannah for a long moment. “Hannah?”
“Mary!” she shouted. Mary rushed in to hug her and held on to her tightly.
“I knew you’d come one day, Hannah. I just knew it! But how are you? How’d you get here?”
“I met someone on the road and she brought me here.”
“Oh God, you’ve been hitchhiking! If your father knew he’d kill me!”
“He was very upset to see me go.”
“Of course he was! He’s afraid he’ll lose you. And right he should worry. Oh Hannah, there’s so much I want to show you! So much you’ve never experienced!”
“I took my Rumspringa because I wanted to find you, Mary. I wanted to tell you that I’m to be married soon. To Abel Plainfield, at the turn of the season.”
Mary’s heart sank. “Don’t decide to go back just yet. There’s a whole world out here you’ve never known! I can show you impossible things, Hannah!”
“I’m pregnant with his child, Mary. Nobody else knows.”
Feeling defeated, Mary decided to attempt one last try. “The doctor’s out here, Hannah. They’re better than any of the midwives back home. I promise you.”
“If it’s a girl, I’m going to name her Mary. I wanted you to know that.”
Mary felt herself suddenly tearing up. She hugged her cousin once more. “You silly, stupid girl,” she said as she stroked Hannah’s hair.
The two girls chatted away the rest of the day and for the next three weeks they were inseparable. But eventually Hannah knew she must return to the Amish and this time it was Mary who drove her. As her beat up old car passed under that familiar covered bridge, Mary knew this would be the last time she’d ever speak to Hannah.
When they got out, they hugged one last time and Hannah went on back to her house where her father was rocking on the porch reading his scripture. He looked up, happy to see his daughter returned home, and completely ignored the other woman who stood out by that English automobile. To him, to them all, she was no more than a shadow among them.