Dear Reading Friends, we ask you to join us in prayer for the great needs in Indonesia. Pray for many to come to know Jesus through this disaster. Why do bad things happen? You might find comfort in these past posts: “Hope When There Seems no Reason to Hope,” and, “When Tragedy Opens our Eyes,” and, “How to Gain Perspective on Natural Disasters.”
If you’ve been reading The Steadfast Series, then you’ve been enjoying the suspense of America’s Last Days as seen through the eyes of Eric Radner. Every now and then, I like to bring other characters into the storyline to give us another perspective. Today, I have what we call a Steadfast Short. This is the 4th Steadfast Short Story I’ve written, in connection with the novella series. You can read the other three shorts here. I have many more to come! Now, I invite you to meet the Karl Sibley family in “The Red Scarf of Hope.” See you on the next page!—David Telbat
The Red Scarf of Hope
by D.I. Telbat
It had not been easy raising a family after the collapse of America. Karl Sibley and his wife Brooke knew that God had shown them favor while hiding for years in the safety of the woods of Northern Colorado. If his three children had been younger, or if he or Brooke had caught the Meridia Virus in the first years, the outcome would’ve been different. But after seven years of isolation, Karl was feeling a tug to take his family elsewhere.
Karl used his binoculars to scope the north-to-south highway far below. Their family cabin was set high up in the mountains where even hunters rarely ventured over the rugged terrain. The few woodsmen who Karl had come across over the years had been passing through, and after a few words in conversation, Karl never saw them again. It was those short conversations with strangers that continued to gnaw at his conscience. Some had told him that pockets of civilization had been restored, and Karl had begun to wonder if keeping his family in hiding was still necessary.
A party of four travelers were moving down the highway below Karl’s mountain range, and for twenty minutes he watched them draw closer as they moved at a slow pace toward him.
There were three classes of people now in America, as far as Karl was concerned. There were those who had preferred to survive like rats in the cities. Then there were those who had run into the wilderness to hide. And the third class were those who constantly moved around, looking for hope or resources—or victims.
Karl saw himself in the second class—a person who had fled into God’s creation to live off the land. But after seven years in the wilderness, his oldest boy, Jacob, was now fourteen. His middle boy, Isaac, was eleven, and his youngest boy, Joseph, was nine, born two years before Pan-Day. Brooke was content to keep their boys hidden from the world, but now Karl wasn’t too sure he was doing the boys, or the world, any favors.
Growing boys needed to interact with other people to grow socially, Karl had been privately thinking, and to be tested in their faith. Protecting them from potential dangers that might exist had been necessary while they were young. But now they were maturing. Jacob could hunt, track, and hike as well as a grown man. Karl didn’t want to keep the youth at the family cabin longer than the boy wanted to be, even if Jacob hadn’t said anything about leaving yet.
The four travelers on the highway below left the cracked pavement to kneel at the water’s edge of a stream that cut across the landscape. Karl could’ve called out to them from his place on the forested ridge, but he continued to watch them instead. Discerning who was a threat and who was simply another survivor in America’s last days wasn’t always easy. This party seemed to be made up of two men and two women. The men carried rifles and packs. The women carried only packs. All four seemed tired, and were lacking in vigilance, Karl noticed, as they all were dipping their faces into the water. Even Karl’s sons knew to always leave one person as a lookout in all circumstances—familiar or unfamiliar situations—so no one could surprise them.
While the four travelers were distracted and drinking from the stream, Karl slipped out of the trees and down the ridge to the grassy plain. He moved all the way to the stream close to where the travelers knelt. They were drinking from one side of the stream, and he approached on the opposite bank. There, he crouched and watched them only yards away. But they still hadn’t noticed him.
Being this close, Karl could see they were a weary lot, but not without resources. Their clothes were weathered, but not patched, and their boots appeared almost new, maybe even factory-made.
Movement thirty yards to his left startled Karl and he flinched to the side. He saw the form of a slender man also crouching on Karl’s side of the stream. Peering a few seconds into the mid-morning sunlight, Karl recognized his own son, Jacob, and guessed the youth had followed him from the cabin. Although the family had rules about hiking to the east like this, Karl knew that he couldn’t keep his boys caged up forever. Besides, those rules had been for when they were younger and needed more guidance.
Jacob gestured to Karl, directing his father’s eyes back toward the four travelers, and Karl felt a welling sense of pride in his son’s caution. The boy had probably come down from the trees to watch over his father, so that any interaction with strangers didn’t go awry. They both had hunting rifles, though Karl had taught his boys to never take an animal’s life unless they intended to eat it. And there would never be a time to take a man’s life, since man was created in the image of God. As far as Karl knew, this was Jacob’s first interaction with strangers since Pan-Day.
Across the stream, the eldest of the two women glanced up and noticed Karl crouching there. She alerted her companions, and all four rose to their feet, their eyes open wide. Only then did they realize there was a second person farther to their right. But neither Karl nor Jacob rose from where they crouched. Nor did they aim their rifles at the strangers.
Karl tensed as he watched the uncertainty wash over the travelers’ faces. They’d been caught by surprise. The two men with rifles seemed as if they would raise their own guns, but instead, they slid their weapon slings over their shoulders. They weren’t interested in aggression, which was strange to Karl. He thought that most people would try to kill others before they were killed.
The younger of the two men raised one hand in greeting. He then slipped off his stocking cap so his face was more easily seen. Karl looked into the eyes of a man no older than twenty, he guessed, and any initial fear the young man may have had was now gone. In its place was confidence and even friendliness. These weren’t enemies, just fellow Americans.
Karl rose to his full height of six feet and glanced at Jacob. The boy remained motionless at the side of the stream.
“We’re messengers from the town of Mastover,” the young man said. “My name is Ross. This is my wife, Amy, and my father-in-law, Hal, and his wife, Nina.”
For a moment, Karl continued to study them. He hadn’t kept his family alive this long by being hasty. This wasn’t the first time he’d spoken to strangers on the highway. Usually it was just for a little news of what might be happening in the country. And he’d always been extremely careful about how he’d done so. He’d never taken Brooke to speak to strangers, but he’d returned from his excursions to whisper to her any news he’d discovered. Rarely had he returned with positive news. However, now Jacob was involved, and his brothers would be curious as well as to what might lay beyond the woods of their upbringing.
“Messengers for what?” Karl asked.
The four strangers exchanged glances, then the older man raised his head.
“This country has never needed the message of hope and peace more than now. We’re messengers with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“You mean, you’re missionaries?” Karl frowned. “I’ve never heard that Mastover survived the collapse.”
“Mastover didn’t survive the collapse,” young Amy said. “The town rotted and died in the years that followed Pan-Day. The Lib-Org saw to its demise. But then a man stood up and offered his life for us all. His name was Eric Radner. From him, we learned about Jesus Christ in the Bible, and we started to print Bibles on an old printing press. The Bible had been banned from Wyoming months before.”
“The Bible was banned?” Karl shook his head. “I didn’t know that.”
“So, Mastover has been reborn,” the woman continued. “For the last couple years, we’ve been studying the Bible and growing in the Lord. We’ve been living in the contentment and joy of our salvation, but we knew we couldn’t do that indefinitely with a clear conscience.”
“What do you mean?” Karl asked.
“There are many across America who don’t know the peace that Jesus has graciously given all people. They need to be told to turn from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.”
“It’s too dangerous.” Karl gestured to the highway. “If I were a bandit, I could’ve killed you a dozen times since you left that highway. None of you should be traveling on the open road—not without an armed escort, at least.”
“God will provide,” Ross said with a shrug. “We know we’re going to places that will be dangerous, but we can’t keep our mouths shut. We were raised in cities, and though there are no cities left, we still have to go to what is left. People are lost, and they need to know the way to life.”
Karl sighed and looked at his son, who still hadn’t moved. Jacob was wise for his age, and Karl wondered what the boy thought of the four foolish travelers. Although he and Brooke had raised their three boys to be well-versed in the Bible, Karl had never taught them to be careless when it came to risks. He hadn’t needed to introduce them to dangers outside the woods to warn them of what might be out there.
“Well, where are you going?” Karl asked. “You don’t look like you have much on you. Do you expect to meet up with people in the next town? How far are you going?”
“Just south, to start with.” Ross smiled. “We’re looking for people who haven’t heard the gospel, or if they have heard it, to help them understand it. Do you know, sir, that Jesus died for your sins so you might have eternal life?”
“Yes, I’m already a believer. My whole family is.” Karl shook his finger at Ross. “Don’t change the subject! You don’t know what you’re doing out here. You have two women on a highway that’s known for violence. You have no escort, and you’re ignorant about the towns to the south. Your confidence won’t keep you from being killed for this foolishness! You need to go back to Mastover and get properly set up for a journey like this.”
“No, we’re the four that Mastover chose to send, and we’re prepared enough. We’re willing to die, if God wills it, to speak the message.” Hal tilted his head. “If you know so much about what lies to the south of us, and you’re a believer, why don’t you come along?”
“Yeah, right.” Karl scoffed. “I have a family, and I’ve heard what’s out there just waiting to rob us of everything I’ve kept safe all these years.”
“It’s by the grace of God you didn’t get the virus,” Amy said. “That wasn’t you protecting your family. That was God. We can’t control what we can’t see or know. That’s why we trust God.”
“Dad?” Jacob called.
Karl turned to see his son signaling him to the side. Stepping away from the stream, Karl set a hand on his son’s slender shoulder, their heads inches apart.
“They’re Christians, Dad. We have to help them.”
“There’s no helping them. Listen to them. They’ve been living in Mastover, where they’ve been safe. They have no idea how to live in the wild or how to travel along highways like this. By the look of them, they’ve probably never even hunted deer. They won’t listen to reason. They’re clearly going forward with or without our help.”
“Then we help them go forward.” Jacob raised his eyebrows. “I’ve memorized the maps of all the towns and roads to the south, as far as the Mexican border. You’ve taught me how to be careful, to observe, and to track. I can go with them for a few days, just to make sure they find good company.”
“Jacob, you’re fourteen years old. It’s out of the question.”
“If I was with them, would it help them?” Jacob asked. “Do I know enough to help them, Dad?”
Karl scowled at the grass and looked back at the four travelers who were speaking quietly amongst themselves. Brooke would never forgive him if he let Jacob go with strangers.
“You know the wilderness as well as any person I’ve ever heard of, Jacob, but what lies to the south is more than wilderness. There’s burned-up cities and bandit ambushes, wild animals, and crooked traders.”
“And you’ve taught me all about those things.”
“Yes, but you’ve never crossed them.”
“Dad, I don’t mean to argue with you, but neither have you. We’ve all been in these mountains for years.”
Karl felt his shoulders droop a little. His son was right. He knew only rumors and potential dangers. He’d never actually been to a looted city or burned-out town since Pan-Day. But he was a man, and his son was just a . . .
“You’ve become a man while I wasn’t looking,” Karl admitted sadly. He watched his son’s countenance brighten with hope, and Karl envied Jacob’s sense of adventure and even his yearning to do and go where few would dare. “Your mother won’t rest until you make it back safely.”
“If I’m more than a week, I’ll send word with people traveling north up this way.” Jacob drew a worn red scarf from inside his jacket. Even though the spring weather was warming, the boy had been taught to always be prepared in the outdoors. “I’ll give this scarf to someone traveling this way. You’ll see them wearing it, and you’ll know they have news from me.”
“Well, at least you have your pack on you.” Karl nudged his son’s pack, which was about half-full. “You have clean socks? Take care of your feet.”
“I know, Dad.”
“When you scout ahead, stay off the beaten path. You won’t see ambushes, otherwise.”
“Keep yourself safe and healthy, or you won’t be able to protect others.”
“All right.” Jacob was grinning, but there was sadness in his young face as well. He threw his arms around his father. “I won’t let you down, Dad. Tell Mom and Isaac and Joseph that I’ll pray for them every night.”
Karl squeezed his son tightly, then held him at arm’s length.
“It’s just a few days, son, but things can happen quickly in the world. If you come to the end, remember the Lord. Finish your race with courage. I’m proud of you, and I’ll be watching for that red scarf.”
When Jacob bounded across the stream to the four strangers, Karl didn’t go with him. Instead, he remained where he stood, allowing the tears from mixed emotions to fall from his eyes. He watched as Jacob explained to the ignorant travelers that he would guide them south, since he was a trained outdoorsman and hunter. The party welcomed their young guide, and after filling their canteens at the stream, they waved at Karl and headed back to the highway.
Karl sighed loudly as the five travelers walked out of sight beyond the trees. His melancholy was short-lived, however, for he remembered that Jacob wasn’t only his child, but he was God’s child. Jacob wasn’t alone. For a little while, he and Brooke had raised up the boys in the solitude of the mountains, but it was clearly time to now offer them up to the trials of the world. Their faith would be tested. They might experience some failure and suffering. But ultimately, they were in God’s hands, and he didn’t need to be overly cautious about their protection any longer.
He started up the ridge toward the cabin that had been his family’s home for seven years. The news that the town of Mastover was a center for Christian learning and ambassadorship was interesting. Such a place would be a good first step for his young family to visit. Besides, he wanted to meet the man who the travelers had called Eric Radner. Maybe America, even in its last days, still had some good people in it after all. He felt he was ready to meet them.
NOTE-1: Do you enjoy listening to Audio CDs? BOOKS IN MOTION is having a 40% off BLOWOUT Sale on CDs only! Visit the link and use coupon code “blowout” at checkout. They have many Christian books in audio, including The COIL Series.
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COMING UP: Join us next time for an author reflection by David Telbat, as well as a peek into his next novel series in, “Immediacy Alarm for Christians.”