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Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 12
Sunday, June 9, 2002

Preach glanced at Nanci. She seemed calm and collected, not upset, not like she was ready to tear someone’s head off. After the scene up the river this morning, he wouldn’t have been surprised at it, but she didn’t seem to have that kind of fire in her eye. No, there was a different kind of fire burning there, one that awed him a little although it wasn’t totally unexpected. “You might as well,” he said casually, and stepped to the side.

“Thank you for giving me a little of your time, Reverend Whittaker,” she said, but more to the group sitting on the ledges than to him. She turned and addressed the crowd directly as she went on, “We all have special places in our lives, places that mean more to us than anywhere else. This place where we’re at right now is my most special place, and I’d like to take a few minutes to share with you why it is.”

Preach glanced over at Nanci, and was sure now that there was something there that he hadn’t seen in her before. Trying to be unobtrusive, he went over and sat down on the ledge next to his wife.

“Crystal, my brother Jon, and I were all raised in a Chicago suburb,” Nanci went on. “Crystal, how would you describe me as I was about Bethany’s age, when you left to go to college?”

Crystal didn’t quite know what to make of what Nanci was doing, since this was as much a surprise to her as it was to anyone else. “To be honest,” she said tentatively, not knowing what Nanci was fishing for, “you were a young teenage brat.”

“That was very kind of you, Crystal,” Nanci smiled. “I can look back at it now and see that I was considerably worse than that, although I tried to hide it from Mom and Dad.” She paused for an instant, as if seeking the right words to say, “I suppose I can say that I wanted to have friends, to be popular, and to do the things they were doing. I wanted to have a good time by doing the things that growing up allowed me to do. I think Crystal would describe me as boy-crazy, wouldn’t you, Crystal?”

“You were,” Crystal grinned. Somehow she knew to not say more; the floor – or ledge, in this case – was Nanci’s.

“Actually, I think I can say I was considerably worse than that. Now, I can’t really blame my parents for that. Crystal, Jon, and I are all considerably different, and I think much more so than happens in the average family. I think that at least some of you know that Crystal and I are only half-sisters. That probably has something to do with our being pretty different. Crystal and Jon had their own goals in life and our parents gave them the room to explore them. Looking back, I think it worked out very well for them. However in order to be fair, our parents gave me about the same freedom to grow that they’d given Crystal and Jon. That did not work out as well for me.

“By the time I was Bethany’s age, I knew what it was like to be drunk. I don’t mean buzzed, I mean crawling into the house well after my curfew sick to my stomach and hoping not to be caught. I knew what grass was like. And even though it may offend some people for me to say it, I was no longer a virgin at that age. So I think it’s safe to say that I was considerably worse than just a young teenage brat.

“However, I have to say that I was a popular teenage brat, at least among my friends, since I was doing the things they wanted to do and wanted me to do with them. I was very good at partying, and not nearly as good at some of the other things I was supposed to be doing, like studying.

“I made it through high school somehow. My first attempt at college didn’t go as well, mostly because I was taking the opportunity to explore all the new freedoms I had that went along with being away from home for the first time. There is a long and sad story that goes along with that, but this is not the time and place for it. It should be enough to say that it involves lots of drinking, lots of partying, lots of boys, and not much studying. I’ll just sum it up by saying that I did not make it through my first year of college.

“Needless to say, my parents were not very happy when I had to come back home, so I spent all the time I could out of the house. A couple months after I moved home, I moved in with a guy I’d known in college, Kip.” She paused for a moment, again reaching for words before she went on, “Kip was all right up to a point. He had a job, although he thought it was beneath him, so he drank a lot. He was also violent, and he sometimes took his frustrations out on me with his fists.

“The last time Kip beat me up was the worst time. I managed to get away from him, and I drove home, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Kip followed me with the intention of teaching me more of a lesson, but he had the misfortune of tangling with Crystal, who, as you may know, is a black belt.”

Crystal tensed up a little; she remembered the incident well. But she kept silent, letting Nanci talk; she hadn’t heard much of this tale from her sister, and never this emotionlessly. She couldn’t help but wonder where this was going.

“Kip wound up in the hospital, and later in jail,” Nanci went on. She turned to her sister and said, “Crystal, while I’m grateful that you beat up Kip, I’m also a little sorry. If I had stayed with him, I might have been able to avoid some of what was to come.”

She turned back to the group and went on, “I stayed at home until Kip was sentenced. My father was in a rage all the time, but at least he wasn’t violent like Kip had been. We didn’t know at the time, and in fact didn’t find out until a few months ago, that his rage was at least partly caused by a brain tumor, but I was certainly part of the reason why he was mad all the time.

“After Kip was sent to jail, I moved in with a guy by the name of Reggie. Unlike Kip, Reggie wasn’t violent, but he was a stoner instead of a drunk. He had a job, although I’ll never know how he managed to keep it since he was flying on something most of the time, and that meant I was often flying on something, too. I got a job working the grill in a fast food place, and it was the best job I’d ever had at the time. After Kip and some of the other things I’d been through, I thought things were going pretty good. But then Reggie lost his job, and a couple of other things happened, the biggest one of which was that he got beat up by Rich, a guy he owed money to for drugs. Reggie had to literally give me to Rich to pay off his debt.

“I might as well be honest and say that Rich pimped me out to pay off Reggie’s drug debt. I didn’t care too much, mostly because Rich gave me enough dope to keep me not caring. When I say pimped out, I mean exactly that: by then I was a crack whore, and I’m not too proud to admit it now.”

Crystal sat there, scarcely able to believe her ears. She’d known some of Nanci’s story, and she’d known it had been bad, but she’d never heard that. She wanted to say something but decided she’d better not. It was clear to her that Nanci was going someplace else with this story.

Nanci paused for a moment to let the words sink in, then went on in a low, but serious voice, “You must think that’s a pretty degrading thing for a woman to have to do. I guess I thought that when I thought about it at all, which was pretty rarely thanks to the drugs. But I was to discover there are worse things.

“I’ll skip over part of the story, except to say that after a while I was traded to another guy, Curt. Curt was different. He didn’t want me in order to pimp me out. He wanted me to be his slave. I was often kept in chains and I was beaten every day, sometimes twice or more. He only rarely beat me with his fists; mostly he beat my back, my butt and my legs. He usually used what he called a cane, which wasn’t like a walking cane, but thinner and more flexible. He didn’t have to hit me very hard to leave a welt that sometimes bled. It was extremely painful, and I can’t imagine a woman giving birth would hurt any worse. He used to say that if he did it to me enough that I’d learn to like it.” She paused again for a moment, then added with obvious relief, “At least he was wrong about that.”

“I was not the only girl in Curt’s stable. Curt had another girl there, who had been brought in about the same time as I was. Her name was Alison, and I used to call her Allie,” Nanci went on as she turned to look directly at the Fletcher family, who were sitting together in the more-or-less second row of the ledges. Bethany looked dismayed, but Cassie was smiling, as if to gloat over the fact that she’d been right about Nanci after all.

“I never got to know Allie very well, since either she or I were pretty strung out a lot of the time, and we weren’t together for very long. She was younger than me, maybe sixteen, maybe not that old. But I learned a little bit of Allie’s story. She had been brought up in a very strict home. It was very conservative, very Christian, and very righteous. She was not allowed to have many friends, and none without her parent’s supervision, or to find out things about the real world outside her family. Finally she got sick of it and ran away from home.”

Cassie’s gloat quickly turned to a frown as she figured out where this was leading, but Nanci continued. “After what I’d been through by that point, including being a crack whore, I had a degree of what some people call ‘street smarts.’ Allie didn’t. She’d had no idea of what the street was, and had no idea of what she was getting into, let alone the dangers there for a young girl who had been taught all her life to do exactly what other people told her to do. That meant that she was easy prey for a predator like Curt. I had merely been trapped, but she’d been led like a lamb to the slaughter.

“Allie managed to endure things for a while, but she got to the point where she couldn’t take it any more. One night while Curt and I were sleeping, she got into Curt’s drug stash and cleaned him out, taking everything he used to try to keep us under control, crack, meth, coke, horse, and I don’t know what else. With that big an overdose, I don’t even know how she managed to get it all down before she died, but she did.”

All of the Fletcher family looked shocked at the revelation, along with others in the group as Nanci went on, “To say that Curt was enraged is to put it mildly, but I don’t use the words that best describe it any longer. He took his anger out on me just because I was available, and maybe because he thought that I’d had something to do with Allie taking her own life. I had been beaten a lot by Kip, by Rich, and by Curt, but that one was the worst I ever had. He left me lying there on the floor, bleeding and in worlds of pain, and went out to make a buy to replace some of the drugs Allie had taken. As I lay there on the floor, it came to me that maybe Allie hadn’t had such a bad idea after all.”

She stopped and took a deep breath to pull herself together before continuing. “I finally managed to get up, and mostly I was trying to figure out a way to kill myself, but as I was looking for a knife or something to slit my wrists I discovered my car keys. Curt had taken my car away from me so he could drive it and control me more closely, but for some reason he hadn’t driven it this time and he’d forgotten to chain me up. When I discovered the keys I realized I had a chance to get away. I grabbed a couple of grocery bags, threw some clothes into them, and went out to the car. By a miracle it still ran, so I drove away.”

“I had no idea of where to go. I knew that Mom had left Dad by that time and had moved away, although I had no idea where. I knew I couldn’t go home to Dad, not the way I was, and not with his anger being what it had been the last time I saw him. I just drove around aimlessly in the general direction of where we used to live until I thought of Crystal. Maybe a year before I’d talked to a woman who used to work with Mom. She told me that the last she’d heard Crystal was working for Canyon Tours, but that she had no idea what had happened to Mom.

“I knew that Crystal didn’t have much reason to like me, thanks to some things that had happened in college where I’d shown her a great deal less respect than she deserved. But I also knew she’d taken my side by standing up to Kip and beating him up, so it struck me that maybe, just maybe, she might be willing to help me again. I honestly couldn’t think of anything else to do, except for maybe driving the car into a tree or a light pole or something. So I started driving toward Arizona.”

“I had about forty-five dollars hidden in the car from back when I’d been with Reggie. It wasn’t very much, but it was emergency money and it was all I had. It wasn’t enough for gas to get me all the way to Flagstaff, but it would at least get me started. I got enough money to make it the rest of the way by giving oral sex to a truck driver in a truck stop in Oklahoma. It was the only way I had to get enough money to buy enough gas to make it to Flagstaff, and considering the way I looked at the time the truck driver must have taken pity on me.

“I drove all day and all night. I was very hungry, since hunger was one of the things Curt used to keep Allie and me under control. I didn’t have enough money to buy anything to eat. The choice was food or gas. The gas could get me to Flagstaff and food couldn’t, so I went hungry, almost dizzy from the lack of something to eat. I stopped for a couple of hours in a rest stop, but I was so hungry I couldn’t sleep, so I just started driving again. When I finally made it to Flagstaff and Canyon Tours, the gas gauge was all the way down and the low fuel light had been on for a while, but I made it.

“I had no idea if Crystal was still at Canyon Tours. If she wasn’t, I had no more options than I’d had earlier, driving into a tree or something. When I got out of the car I found a dime in the parking lot, and that was all the money I had. I went into the office, and talked to the girl there, Michelle. You’ve heard us tell stories about her. She gave me a doughnut, the first food I’d had to eat in about four days. She also told me that Crystal was still working there, and that she was getting ready to leave on a river trip, a trip on which Mom was getting married again. I almost walked back out the door, mostly because I didn’t want to ruin what I knew would be a happy occasion for Mom, but Crystal came in before I could leave. I was a little surprised that she was willing to take me in and help me out.

“Mom and Al were already up at Lee’s Ferry, but Crystal agreed to take me up there so I could at least see Mom. I won’t go into the details, but three hours later I was starting a river trip down the Grand Canyon, and I was totally dazed at what had happened to me and as strung out from pure exhaustion as I have ever been. Now, Reverend Whittaker was on that trip. He was going to be the minister at the wedding, which took place where we stopped for lunch the day after we ran Hermit and Crystal. He and I talked a lot over the next few days. We didn’t talk about Jesus and salvation very much right then, since I think he realized I wasn’t ready to hear it. Instead, we talked about sin and repentance, and he gave me a lot to think about.

“I talked with some others on the trip too, and some of them were a lot of help. But it was down the river a ways before Kevin and I got to talking about salvation and what it meant to be a Christian, and I have to say that some of the things he said hit me pretty hard.

“That was the situation I was in when I first came to this place, my special spot in all the world. I knew that I had sinned and sinned a lot, not only against God, but against my family and myself. I was sorry about it, but I still didn’t quite understand what I needed to do to make things right, if I ever could. But right down there in the mouth of Havasu Creek” – she pointed with her hand – “I was sitting in a raft, talking with my sister-in-law Tanisha. I hadn’t talked about this with her very much. I was still a little scared of her since she seemed to be so much better a person than I thought I could ever be, but I also knew she’d been brought up as a minister’s daughter.

“I asked Tanisha straight out whether I ought to take Jesus as my Savior and become a Christian. What she said surprised me. She said, ‘there are a lot of people who will give you a flat out yes. My brother is one of them and my father was one of them, but if I learned anything from them, I learned that they’re not always right. ‘Whether’ is a question you have to ask yourself, and it’s one you have to answer yourself, because it’s your faith that has to make the decision.’”

The group was silent as she went on, “I got up from the raft, and scrambled up here. Right here,” she pointed at her feet. “Right where I’m standing now. I got down on my knees, and I started to pray. I prayed for a long time, and I’m not going to tell you much about it, except for the fact that you’ve already heard some of it. I suppose I repeated myself a lot, and I was crying for much of it. But as I prayed, I felt a peace come over me, a peace that I’d never known, a ‘peace that passes all understanding,’ as it says in the Bible. I understood that I wasn’t alone, that my many sins could be forgiven in God’s eyes, and most importantly, that I didn’t have to let the sins of my past drag down my future.

“I can’t tell you how long I prayed here. It was a long time, but when I finally got up I knew I’d come to a decision. I went back down to the rafts where Reverend Whittaker and Kevin and Tanisha were waiting for me, and I found out later that they’d been down there praying for me too. To make a long story short, they prayed with me, I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and within half an hour, down there in the waters of Havasu Creek, I was baptized into Christ’s church and the fellowship of believers. That is why this is my special spot, and it always will be.”

She stopped for a moment, and looked out at the group. Preach wondered if she’d said all that she’d meant to say, but before he could do anything, she started to speak again. “I know that I’m pretty new as a Christian compared to most of the people on this trip. I’ve worked hard to catch up with some of the things you’ve been taught all your lives, and I intend to keep working on it in the future. But I think I know something a little more intensely than many people who have been brought up with it. That is, I know that I’m a sinner, and probably more of a sinner than many people here combined. We’re not talking little sins either, like stealing a cupcake that your mother had made for a church social, or maybe going out in the yard and playing with the neighbor kid when you were supposed to be inside studying your Bible stories.

“Catholics talk about the seven deadly sins. I’m here to tell you, I’ve done them all and not just a little bit, either. The Ten Commandments? Maybe a clean sweep. If I’ve ever actually killed anybody I’m not aware of it, but Allie might still be alive if I’d found the courage to get her to escape with me before she killed herself, so maybe that counts. Graven images? Gotta think about that one.” She stopped for a moment in what was clearly a dramatic pause, put her chin in the fork of her hand between thumb and forefinger, and rolled her eyes upward for a moment before she went on, “Maybe, maybe not.” She put her hand down and added, “There used to be some rappers I thought pretty highly of, but I don’t think I exactly worshipped them, so maybe it’s the not same thing. It’s a judgment call, and I’m not the judge. But when I’m judged as I know I will be, I know I will be forgiven since I know that by believing in Jesus I’ve been forgiven of all my sins.

“How do I know that I’ve been saved by the grace of God? I have more than simple faith to show me. I have evidence I’m satisfied with, although it’d be hard to show you.

“I have to talk about drugs for a minute. Grass is neat, it makes you feel all mellow. Meth makes you crazy, and not always a fun crazy but a violent crazy. Coke and crack gives you a feeling of power, that everything you do is right and you can do no wrong. And then there’s heroin.”

She got a little dreamy for a moment as she went on, “Horse is cool. It makes your pain go away, whether it’s physical pain like Curt working me over with a cane, or just the pain of getting beyond a life that you don’t like for a while, and sometimes it’s the only escape you have. The rush a hit of it gives you is simply incredible. I never got to do a lot of horse, so I don’t think I was very addicted, but I’m sure I was at least a little bit. I know on the long drive I had out here and my first days on the river I could really have used a fix, since at least for a while it would have driven back the pain my body was in. But after I left here on that first trip the haze of desire was gone. I never wanted it again, and I never needed it, so I was healed of my addiction by God’s grace. Now, when you shoot horse into your veins you get tracks left behind on your skin, and I had them on that first trip down the river. I was so bruised up that no one could see them, but they were there. They didn’t go away for a long time, and I think God left them there for a while to remind me that I didn’t need it any more, since He was with me.

“To be very simple about it, I can tell you that God is now with me every step of the way. I know it since I can compare what my life was before to what it is now, and see that it’s better with Him in it rather than trying to defy Him. I think it’s much better to be a boatman running a raft down the Grand Canyon than it is to be a whore working the streets of Chicago, and I think you’ll agree with me.

“I have seen Satan’s works. I have seen the dark side. I can tell you that it exists and that there is plenty to fear there. We all know the words from Psalms, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.’ I can tell you that I walked through the valley, and while I barely managed to survive, I did it with plenty of fear of evil just because God wasn’t with me. I don’t plan on walking through that valley ever again, but if ever I do have to I know that God will always be at my side.

“So yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty new as a Christian. But I know very well the most important part of being a Christian, which is that by believing in God and turning my life over to Jesus, I am forgiven of the many sins that I have committed. My faith may be new but it is strong, for I have ample evidence of what it has done for me, and for what He has done for me as a result of that faith.”

“I said in the beginning that this place is a very special one for me. That’s because it was here that I first experienced the power and the glory of God, and was led to realize that sinner though I am, I am redeemed by his grace.

“I believe that you all are Christians already, so I invite you to take a minute in this special place to rededicate yourself to Him. You’re welcome to do it in your own way, as I had to do it in mine, but I ask you to pray with me to ask for his grace to be upon us.”

Without discussion, she fell to her knees, hands on her knees with her palms upward in her special way, the first time she had ever done it in public, but the manner in which she had prayed in this special spot months before, and began, “Let us pray.”

“Heavenly Father, I come before You as Your servant, asking Your blessings upon us. As I so often do, once again I’m asking You to gather Allie into your arms and give her the love that she was denied on Earth. Let her know that I will be ever grateful for her inadvertently giving her life for me that I might live to give testimony to Your glory, just as Your Son so willingly gave His life on the Cross that we all might have the opportunity to be saved.

“Teach us that we might have a measure of the forgiveness that You give so bountifully. Let us be more tolerant and respectful of our fellow man, that we may better reflect Your goodness and love.

“Let us come before You humbly to ask once again for Your forgiveness that we earn by believing in Your Son. Help us to turn against our evil ways, and walk in Your light as You would have us do. Strengthen our faith, so that we might better do Your will. Help us to bring glory to Your name instead of dishonor. Help us walk in the path of righteousness, never forgetting our respect toward our fellow man. Help us to be better examples of what You would want us to be.

“We are but sinners and need forgiveness. We believe that Jesus Christ shed His precious blood and died for our sin. We are willing to turn from sin, and invite Christ into our hearts and lives as our personal Savior.

“This we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

A chorus of “Amens” came from the group; there were tears in many eyes.

Not rising from her knees, Nanci said, “I think at this time, the Lord’s Prayer would be appropriate.” She bowed her head again, and started out, this time with the group following along, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Silence reigned in the Grand Canyon for some time after that. Nanci remained on her knees, taking the opportunity for a brief private prayer before she got to her feet. “This would be a great place for those who desire it to be baptized to rededicate themselves to the Lord,” she said, a little more conversationally. “But with the river and the creek running as fast as they are, it wouldn’t be a safe idea. I’m sure that when we get into camp tonight Reverend Whittaker will be willing to work something out with you. If any of you would like to pray either with me or with Reverend Whittaker independently, I’m also sure we’ll be willing.”

She turned to Preach. “Sorry to take so much of your time, Reverend Whittaker,” she said sheepishly. “I wound up saying a little more than I really intended.”

“It sounded just fine to me, Nanci,” he said to her, but loudly enough that most of the others of the group could hear it. “It was a lot better than what little I had in mind to say.”

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To be continued . . .

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