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Adrenaline poured through my veins at what I was about to do. The night was clear, and the moon shone brightly on the surrounding forest, causing deep shadows in the woods, but long, lighted stretches of gravel roadway. The coast was clear, and thus far, we were safe. In a few moments, my friend and I would embark on a dangerous mission to join our fellow Christians in an illegal meeting. Police were stationed strategically to capture and question all who were out after curfew, but we were prepared. Our excuses were ready, and we had the advantage of experience; twice already we made this journey and had not been caught.
"Are you ready, Alycia?" I asked my friend. She nodded, and I saw the mixture of courage and apprehension I felt mirrored in her own eyes. We were as ready as we ever would be."
She took the lead, being more familiar with the way by night than I. The place of meeting was kept secret; to know where we were going, we needed to go to the common dumpster and inquire one of the leaders of the Christian Underground. Hopefully, we would not be apprehended.
We flitted from shadow to shadow, our dark clothes blending in and doing much to hide us. When the flashlights of the police swept the field to the left, we crouched in the darkness behind the trees, well shrouded.
We approached the gravel roadway, unable to make it further without attracting the attention of the police. Together, we huddled in the darkness, our clothing soaking up the dew of the night. Other than the sound of a policeman patrolling the road, the only sound was our quiet breathing, hushed in the damp leaves. Alycia and I exchanged glances, her brown eyes glinting determinedly in the moonlight.
Suddenly, a light flashed on, mere feet up the road, catching three crouching people in its light. Alycia and I caught our breath, our hearts pounding as though we were the ones bathed in that fateful light. We knew we could easily be next.
"Let's go," she whispered resolutely.
Our only chance was to take advantage of the distraction; we took off, sprinting down the edge of the road in the grass so our feet wouldn't pound on the gravel. Behind us, we heard the policeman bellowing with terrible authority to his victims, "Hit the ground! Hit the ground!" Even over my gasping breath, I heard their bodies drop to the gravel with desperate force.
Fear drove us onward.
At last, as I thought I could run no more, we turned up a dirt path. From here on, the journey would be easy; few police patrolled this area. We slowed to a walk in the shadows of the trees, still gasping although as quietly as possible. There was no time to waste, however, and we hurried onward, picking our way through the trees cautiously. Ahead, a dying fire flickered in front of a small trailer, but no one was outside, and we passed safely, crouching for a moment in the darkness beside a shed.
"We're almost there," Alycia whispered.
"I know. We'll make it."
We did. The last few yards to the common dump, we jumped from shadow to shadow between shafts of moonlight. The silence was thick around us, almost suffocating, when a sudden scream rent the air. I knew what that was about, and I swallowed the sour taste of fear.
Behind the common dumpster, we encountered the kneeling leader, and we crouched beside him. The moonlight didn't penetrate this large shadow, and it was possibly one of the safest places for us to discuss where we were meeting. The nearest policeman was pacing several yards away, completely unaware of the illicit meeting taking place just behind him.
"Did anyone see you?" the leader, Matthew, inquired.
"No, but three others were caught," I told him.
"Three?" His voice showed his surprise.
"Yeah. They were headed this way along the road."
"Fools." He shook his head sadly. "You took the woods?"
"Good. The meeting is going to be held under the pine tree in the lower left field. There's a policeman patrolling the corner, so watch out, and there a few scattered throughout the fields. Be careful."
We nodded, feeling the warning was unnecessary; we knew that our lives were at stake. As we slowly rose to leave, I heard footsteps approaching, and Matthew needlessly hushed us. Deliberately, the footsteps grew closer, and, after a brief stop, the sound turned and walked the opposite way. Policeman.
"Wait here a few minutes to make sure the coast is clear," Matthew insisted, and Alycia and I settled in the wet grass beside him, our backs against the cold dump.
The seconds ticked by, but we were content to wait for security. The night stars glittered above us, but I tucked my head into my knees and prayed for protection in the shadow and safety to live another day. The sound of a snapping branch caught our attention, and all three of us became alert, our eyes straining in the darkness for a glimpse of who was coming. My heart thudded and my mouth went dry; I was sure we were caught when two others approached us. My fears were soothed when I saw their stealthy stoop; they weren't policemen, but other illegal Christians.
"Did anyone see you?" Matthew demanded as soon as they joined us in shadows.
"No, but someone was killed on the road."
We exchanged glances, but no one said a word. "The meeting's in the lower left field. There're policemen all over the area, so watch were you go. The path through the woods would probably be safest, but don't go the way you came." He peeked around the edge of the dumpster. "Go now; there's no one around."
Alycia and I hurried off, the two men leading the way. We ducked through the darkness up to a random point, and then turned into the forest where there were few policemen. Here, the blackness was so complete that it was difficult for me to make out our leaders' silhouettes’. We hurried,plowing on through underbrush, cracking twigs, leaping and racing through the darkness heedlessly until lack of breath forced us to stop. We crouched in anxious silence in an unused fire pit. I strained to see in the black night, as all I could hear was our ragged breathing.
"Where are we?" Alycia wanted to know.
"Sshh. Don't worry about it," the teenager told us.
The man stood slowly. "Let's go," he instructed. "Greg, you take them on."
"Dad-," he protested, but his father cut him off.
"Take the girls to the field. Don't get caught. You know we'll all get caught if I don't distract the policeman out there."
Greg silently accepted his father's will and watched regretfully as the man disappeared into the dark. I was encouraged by the man's courage, as well as his son's, and felt the fierce pride of serving Jesus swell in my heart, despite its great risks. Greg may never see his dad again, just as I lost both my parents, and Alycia, her grandmother. Nevertheless, when we heard the cry of, "Freeze!" from the policeman, we rushed on through the woods, forsaking sentiment.
The woods thinned out, and the gravel roadway appeared. Crouching low and after glancing in both directions, we crossed the road into the tall grass of the field. Now, we were free to army crawl the remainder of the distance between here and the pine tree. If we were caught now, the entire meeting would be in danger, so when a bright flashlight swept the field, we lay low and held our breath fearfully. The light passed over us and flicked off; we were safe.
Desperately, we slithered through the field, our clothes growing damp from the dew of the night. At last, we found ourselves amidst a cluster of other believers huddling together on the ground. Greg, Alycia, and I were greeted quietly.
For several minutes, we waited in silence for Matthew to join us. As soon as he did, we would begin, but until then, we lay low with baited breath, praying to ourselves and fearful of being caught.
Soon, I caught sight of a dark shadow far off. The way the shadow moved through the darkness, I had no fear that this was a policeman. After a few seconds, the figure disappeared into the field, and I saw it no more until it surfaced in the center of a group. He was Matthew.
"Are any more coming?" someone wanted to know.
"No. Sam is behind the common dump, now, and anyone who wants to join the meeting will have it beneath an abandoned train station," he explained.
"Let's get started," someone instructed. "I'll open in prayer, and then someone can recite a scripture."
After prayer and the scripture, everyone took turns quietly discussing any area of the Bible we remembered. Since Bibles were outlawed, it was up to us to recall the holy words and apply them to our lives, and we shared for no longer than half an hour. Any more time, and we ran the risk of being caught in the early sunlight.
"You guys know the rules," Matthew reminded us after the closing prayer. "You're dismissed with the people you came in with; you go your separate ways. Don't take the path that will lead you directly to your house, and above all, don't get caught. Who were the first ones here?"
Two women near the edge of the gathering prepared themselves to leave.
"You have five minutes before the next group goes," Matthew stated. "Be careful."
The ladies vanished into the grasses.
Matthew reminded each group of these rules before he dismissed them, and those of us waiting our dismissal lay still and silent, listening for the inevitable sounds of our fellows in Christ being captured. Long minutes passed, and we heard none, much to our great relief.
"Alright; you guys ready?" Matthew asked when Greg, Alycia and I remained.
"Yes," I whispered.
Directing this question to Greg, he asked, "Are you going to go with them?"
"I can go with them so far," he answered.
"Is that okay, girls?"
"Yeah," Alycia breathed.
"Great. Move on out, don't get caught, and I'll wait here five minutes. Make sure you're out of the field, then, and we'll be able to use this place again."
Relieved, we crawled out in the same way we entered. A group of three people ran a greater risk of being found out, but it was comforting to be lead by someone with enough faith to continue despite the capture of his father. I felt secure knowing he was with us, and such security was encouraging in the face of danger.
We were out of the field and onto another road, this one more dirt than gravel. The trees above us provided darkness for us to hide under, a darkness so complete that although I knew where to look to find Greg, I could scarcely see him. After a few moments of ducking along in the shadows, we came to a stop behind a boulder.
"There's a guard down the road," Greg told us softly. "Be very, very quiet, and pray."
Alycia and I lay in the wet leaves behind a boulder. Behind us, the forest completed the darkness, hushing our fearful existence. On the road, I could see the silhouette of the police man, his shadow tall and unafraid. His light was off in an attempt to keep himself hidden, but we Christians were adept at spotting creatures of the night, now.
In the silence of the night, a cold voice seared my conscience like a hot wire. "Well, well, well, what have we here?"
My heart stopped, and the brilliant light swept at our backs, revealing very clearly that we were not a boulder. Dread made my bones heavy, and the fact that I was cold, wet and cramped faded into nothing with the arrival of this new terror.
"O'Henry, come over here!" the voice barked.
The policeman we had been watching previously joined us, his own light flickering on to illuminate his ghastly sneer. At his side, a pistol gleamed, and fear knotted my stomach. The danger surely was real, yet no one expects the price to be paid with her life.
"Well, seems we have a couple of curfew busters, Jones," O'Henry jeered.
"Turn around," Jones instructed.
We dared not disobey.
"They're awful young," he remarked, the light glaring into our eyes. "Not yet twenty, any of them. I wonder what reason they have to be breaking curfew."
We didn't say a word in reply, which cost Greg a sharp blow to the head with Jones's baton.
"Get on the ground, and don't move."
Hastily, we complied. My mouth was dry with anxiety, and all I could smell was dirt so strong it seemed I was eating it.
"Perhaps, you three are on your way to some meeting. Is that the case?" O'Henry asked us.
"No, sir," Greg replied truthfully. Indeed, we were on our way home from the meeting.
The officers surveyed us in silence, the tension mounting as the light bathed us. We were drenched from the night dew, muddy from head to toe from crawling, and various other bits of evidence clung fiercely to our clothes. At last, O'Henry broke the silence.
"Are you lying to us?"
"No, sir," Greg responded.
The focus of the flashlight hit Alycia, and she replied, "No, sir."
Again, the light moved down the line onto my head. "No, sir."
"Go figure," Jones said with mock thoughtfulness. "A few Jesus Freaks who don't know anything about a Jesus Freak meeting. What will we do with them?"
"You know what we do with liars, don't you?" O'Henry asked us. "Let me demonstrate."
I heard a dull thud, and then a sharp gasp of breath from Alycia. I didn't dare raise my head to see what was happening to us, but in seconds, I knew. The toe of O'Henry's boot ground into my face, kicking near my eye at my nose. I cried out and paid for it with another swift kick. Wearily, I lay my broken face in the dust of the road and tasted the metallic taste of blood on my tongue. I was silent.
"We'll ask you again," Jones said patiently. "If knowing about a meeting is too complicated for you to understand, let me put it this way: why are you out after curfew? Are you Christians?"
A fierce pride swelled in my heart, replacing all fear and pain. I didn't even wait for someone to answer before I said, "I am."
Greg and Alycia echoed my response, both of them talking through bloody mouths.
"You shouldn't have lied to us in the first place," Jones said, his flinty voice resigned. "Take them away, O'Henry."
We were roughly bound with handcuffs, and O'Henry led the procession, then Greg, Alycia, myself, and Jones. We followed the dirt road until it turned out of the line of trees onto the gravel road. In about twenty minutes, we were loaded into a cattle truck where eight others already were, Matthew included. The door was closed, and the truck's guards repositioned themselves, as though any of us were fit for escape.
"So, you were caught, too?" Matthew mumbled his voice barely above a whisper.
"We were," I answered.
"My Dad's not here," Greg muttered dejectedly, his eyes straining in the darkness.
"There's a lot of people who were caught and aren't here," Matthew told him. "It's a good thing for your father that he didn't make it here."
Greg nodded and fell silent.
"Did you tell them about the meetings?" Matthew inquired.
"No," I answered. "And they punished us for lying."
"It's only just begun," he murmured, coughing up what sounded like blood. "The policemen are bluffing. They just want us to rat on our friends and family. Fortunately, there isn't anyone else here from our meeting, yet, but a lot of these folks got caught on their way to the common dump or from the meeting before ours. There's actually this one guy in here who swears on everything he think of that he doesn't know Jesus."
"Then what was he doing out after curfew?" Alycia wanted to know.
"Beats me." Matthew coughed again, and I heard something rattle in his mouth as though a few teeth were loose. When he spit, something tinked against the wooden floorboards, and I winced.
"Well, we're in for it, that's for sure," Greg mused forlornly.
A man's voice spoke harshly through the silence, saying, "You bet, you dirty Jesus Freaks. You're all in for it, and I won't go down with you!"
"Quiet!" a guard shouted. "No talking!"
After a few moments of silence, Matthew took a rattling breath and dared to say softly,"God have mercy on to souls of us Jesus Freaks."
"Amen," we murmured in agreement.