Continuing with The Way that Leads to Death. . .
Make sure to read the Prologue first.
I'm dividing up the story into two parts, marking the two significant parts of Karl's life. I love quotes, so I'm trying to find an appropriate quote to start each chapter (a la Daniel Deronda) and to intro each of the two parts, though I haven't successfully found all the quotes I want yet. We shall see.
Oh, and please tell me any suggestions or criticisms you have :). They would be much appreciated. One thing I'm working on is a balance in the portrayal of Greta. I want her to come across as angelic, but human, if that makes sense. We've all met young girls who just seem to naturally be sweet and good, but yet they're still depraved like the rest of us!
Anyway, enjoy, and I hope to be back on Monday :).
Some beautiful, sacred memory, preserved since childhood,
Is perhaps the best education of all.
If a man carries many such memories into life with him,
He is saved for the rest of his days.
And even if only one good memory is left in our hearts,
It may also be the instrument of our salvation one day.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Lord's Day
June 1929 Sunday
The sun rose over the sleepy village of Wilhelm, Germany, and across the farm fields the crow of roosters could be heard. In one particular farmhouse outside the village, the family was just waking. Franz Altschuler headed to the barn to milk the cows, and his wife Marie started breakfast with the help of her young daughter.
The Altschuler farmhouse was a large, old stone structure that had been in the family for generations, passed down from father to eldest son for over a century. The downstairs boasted a spacious kitchen, necessary for a productive farm like the Altschulers’. Next to the kitchen was the family dining room, furnished with a stately dining room set handcrafted by Franz’s father some 50 years before. The front parlor was used only for guests, but the family room at the back of the house was always occupied by the family in the evenings, where they would gather to pray and read the Bible, do homework when school was in session, and when time permitted, to relax with a father-son game of checkers.
The upstairs of the farmhouse had 5 large bedrooms, full in past decades, but relatively empty now. Franz and Marie shared the largest bedroom at the back of the house, and their two children each had a bedroom at the front. The remaining two rooms were used rarely, when the family had overnight guests.
“Karl, Karl! Time to get up! We’ll be late for church!” Marie Altschuler stood at the bottom of the stairs calling up to her son.
The door to the bedroom at the top of the stairs opened, and the tousled head of a sleepy-eyed 10 year old peeked out. “I’ll be right down, Mother,” came the drowsy reply.
“All right, but hurry, or Greta may eat your breakfast,” Marie replied with a smile.
Karl chuckled with the thought. His sister was one of the sweetest, most angelic children God had ever created. At the young age of six, she possessed a selflessness and goodness that others could only hope would be theirs after decades of Christian life and service. On her fourth birthday she had knelt at the altar of the village’s small church, by far the youngest that had stayed after the service to commune in prayer and repentance as the rest of the congregation filed out of the sanctuary. Yet none had been more serious or more completely committed than Greta had been as she had offered her simple, childlike prayer of repentance and devotion up to her Savior and Master.
At the very moment that she had knelt at the altar, a shaft of light had appeared, coming from the skylight above. The beam of light had rested on Greta’s golden curls, which for a moment had seemed like a halo. An instant later the light had left the sanctuary of the quaint country church, but it had remained in the soul of the small angelic girl at the altar that day.
Karl loved his little sister fiercely and was devoted to her, and she to him. Although Karl was rather confrontational by nature, it was impossible for him to argue long with such a sweet and loving child as Greta. Greta had a gift for soothing his hot temper and wild spirit, often when no one else could.
Karl quickly dressed in his Sunday best: black trousers, a starched, white buttoned-down shirt, suspenders, and freshly polished boots. He tried to wet and part his unruly blond locks, which never seemed to lie quite right. Using water from the basin by his bed, he scrubbed his face, neck, and ears until they smarted. He definitely looked the part of a model young churchgoer as he headed down the stairs to breakfast, grabbing his Bible and catechism on his way down.
As Karl entered the kitchen, his mother handed him a plate of farm fresh eggs and bacon. “It’s still pretty warm,” she told him, with a peck on his cheek. A typical German farm wife, Marie was dressed in a long flowered dress, over which was tied a clean white apron. Her faded hair, once golden, was coiled into a low knot at the base of her neck.
As Karl sat down at the breakfast table, he ruffled his sister’s golden curls with a smile. Greta looked liked a cherub that morning, with her pretty white dress and rosy cheeks that dimpled when she smiled. Karl would not have been surprised if a harp had suddenly appeared in her hands, and just at that moment, with the sun shining in through the kitchen window, he could almost see a halo resting on her dainty head. A trick of the morning light.
Karl hurriedly ate his breakfast as he studied his weekly memory verse. He was expected to recite it to his Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Schnell, a saintly woman who had invested a lifetime of work in the small fry of the village. The church of Wilhelm held Sunday school every Sunday evening for the children in the congregation.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,” Karl recited falteringly.
“Thus saith Isaiah, the Lord’s messenger,” proclaimed Franz Altschuler, as he entered the kitchen. “And do you know of what Isaiah was speaking?” he asked his son, as he settled his tall frame into a chair at the breakfast table.
“Sunlight?” Karl replied, somewhat dubious.
“No, not the sun that hangs in the sky. The light spoken of in the passage is the Son of God. The darkness is the black of sin, the evil in men’s souls. Just as the sunlight causes darkness to disappear, so the Son of God washes away the filth of sin with his precious blood.” After a brief pause Karl’s father continued seriously, “But you must ask for this cleansing, my son.”
Karl nodded silently. His father had counseled him in a like manner before. Franz and Marie loved their son dearly, and they were concerned for his spiritual welfare. Although Karl was a dutiful son, helping around the farm, making good marks in school, and going to church with the family every Sunday, he did not seem concerned with spiritual matters.
Franz was a man of deep faith, and it wounded him to see his son treat religious matters lightly. He had lived a dark, troubled life before he had finally fallen on his knees before God, and he did not wish the same for his son.
“The Lord will draw Karl to him at his appointed time,” said Marie, breaking the awkward silence in the room.
“Yes, he will,” agreed Greta confidently, as she hugged her brother. Her smile proclaimed the trust she had in both her brother and her Savior.
The church in the small village of Wilhelm, Germany was a century old structure of brick and stone that had withstood the war and poverty of the past decades. The front of the building had large brick columns and two huge oaken doors on which was carved Wilhelm Lutheran Church Est. 1820. High above the doors, on the granite facing of the building, the words of an ancient psalm were hewn into the rock: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Karl’s family silently filed into the sanctuary as the organist began playing the prelude to worship. The sanctuary of the church was small, yet ornate. The sides were lined with elaborate, stained glass windows that reached to the high vaulted ceiling, which boasted a breathtaking replica of Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam, etched into the skylight above the altar. The carving on the humble altar read, Turn to me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth.
Their close friends, the Abrams, were already seated when the Altschulers entered the sanctuary. As there was not room for both families to share a single pew, Karl and David Abram gladly slipped into the pew directly behind their families, as they did almost every week.
The Abrams were Messianic Jews: Jewish by birth, Christian by faith. The family had converted to Christianity three generations back, however, so few of their neighbors were even aware of their Jewish heritage.
The Altschulers and Abrams had been close friends since before Karl and David had been born. Karl and David had been best friends since birth, and among their favorite pastimes was plaguing the lives of their younger sisters. David had three: Leah was 9, Rachel was 7, and Sarah was 2. Karl, of course, had Greta, who was 6.
The congregation stood for the opening hymn. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing . . . ,” the congregation sang loudly, proclaiming the might of God. Karl knew the words of all the great hymns by heart, and the hymn book in front of him remained untouched as he joined with the congregation in singing the morning hymns. As a lover of music, Karl enjoyed this part of the service.
The sermon of the day was titled The Faith of Daniel. The text was the sixth chapter of Daniel. Karl kept one ear open as the minister preached. He was expected to remember the text of the sermon and the main points the minister made. The minister of the church made Karl’s weekly task easy, however, since he always summarized his sermon at the open and close of his discourse.
By the time Reverend Schlesinger had begun the second point of his sermon, Karl and David were already rather fidgety. They always started each Sunday service as perfect models of decorum, but they gradually grew weary of both the sermon and the hard wooden pew on which they sat.
A fly buzzed nearby, and the boys watched as it circled high towards the vaulted ceiling before coming back down to land on the nodding head of an elderly gentleman in the congregation. Herr Glecht was past 70 and was known to occasionally snooze during Reverend Schlesinger’s longwinded sermons. The boys giggled as the fly buzzed around the old man, finally coming to rest on his nose. Herr Glecht did not awaken, but the boys did receive a few stern glances from their mothers, who turned around, silently admonishing them.
Glancing around it was evident that the boys and Herr Glecht were not the only ones in the congregation who were not captivated by the sermon that morning. Pretty Louisa Libech, just 16, was making sheep eyes at the young man across the aisle from her, who was blissfully ignorant of her existence. Two young scallywags on the other side of the church were sharing a wad of gum, choosing to occupy their mouths rather than their minds.
Not a sound or movement could be heard or seen from the pew in front of Karl and David, however. Their parents faced straight forward, backs straight, listening to the reverend’s every word. Even David’s youngest sister, only 2, was sitting quiet as a mouse. The older girls, also sitting still, each had their hair braided in two long pigtails that hung over the back of the pew.
Leaning forward, David gingerly pulled on the end of his sister Leah’s hair ribbon, untying the bow as Karl did the same to Rachel’s hair ribbon. The boys deftly tied Rachel’s and Leah’s longs braids together with the ribbons, and then leaned back with satisfaction. They knew they would later be punished, but for now they did not care. The present relief from boredom was worth a temporarily sore backside later.
“Nice sermon, Reverend,” Karl commented, as he reached the back of the sanctuary with his family.
“I’m glad you found it edifying,” replied Reverend Schlesinger with a knowing twinkle in his eyes. “I am always pleased to see the youth in the congregation take such an eager interest in the things of the Lord. What was your favorite part, Karl?”
“Um . . . well,” Karl stuttered, caught off guard. After a brief pause, “I particularly liked your point about the all-seeing gaze of God,” Karl replied smugly, having regained his composure. “It is so comforting to know that God always sees our troubles.”
“Yes, from heaven God does see all.” The reverend paused for effect. “And even from my pulpit I can see much,” he finished evenly.
“Good Sunday, Reverend,” mumbled Karl with a nod as he continued out the door, slightly flustered by the reverend’s remark.
“Karl, Reverend Schlesinger did not talk about the all-seeing gaze of God,” Greta scolded, as she followed her brother out onto the church lawn.
“Well. . . God saw Daniel in the lions’ den, and he helped him, didn’t he?” replied Karl lamely.
“Oh, Karl, how I wish you cared,” sighed Greta, as she turned to wait for their parents, who were still inside.
Greta’s pained expression cut at Karl’s heart. He would do anything to please his sister and raise her spirits. I will try harder, he vowed vainly, as he had often done before. To please Greta, I will.