Copyright © 2012 by Laura Bickle
After the end of the Outside world, the Plain folk survived.
At the time, I didn’t know that the end of Outside had happened. None of us really did. We knew that something was wrong, of course. That knowledge trickled in slowly, like a leak in a roof. The signs accumulated, and then there was no denying the dark stain spreading over the pale ceiling of our world.
My first inkling was on a day in late September under a cloudless blue sky. The ravens had begun picking at the corn that was drying in the fields, black specks in the gold. I leaned on the wooden fence post, watching the birds scratch and listening to them caw to one another in their inscrutable hoarse language. The wire fence was pierced here by a wooden gate, to move farm equipment and cattle. This was a remote part of our little settlement of Plain people, but it made a good place to get away from chores and parents.
Beside me, Elijah had picked up a rock to scare the birds away.
“Don’t throw that,” I said, automatically. “It’s mean.”
Elijah looked at the stone, shrugged, put it down. He was a year older than me, but he would do anything I asked. Tall and lanky and sunburned from working outdoors, he cut a handsome figure: dark hair and hazel eyes that crinkled when he smiled. I wasn’t sure what I thought about that yet. We had grown up together. But things were changing. We both could feel it.
He leaned against the fence beside me, staring out at the field. I knew what he was looking at, the same thing I was . . . at what lay beyond the field. At the black ribbon of road just beyond the corn that carried the English to and from their business Outside. They drove their shiny cars down the two-lane highway, intent on going home or to work or school. At this distance, we could barely make out the drivers. Sometimes men or women drove boxy sedans in pressed suits and blouses. Often they would be couples with children strapped into harnesses in the back seat. Other times the drivers would be people around our age, talking on their phones or chatting with friends in the passenger seat. We were too far away to see their expressions. But during the summer, with the windows down, we could sometimes hear snippets of their laughter.
Since the time we were children, Elijah and I had made up stories about the people in the cars. We imagined that they were driving to the movies or going to parties. Once, we spied a sleek black limousine and fancied that it contained men in tuxedos and women in evening dresses. Maybe a group going to prom. It was as far away from our everyday world as we could envision.
“Someday that’s going to be us out there,” Elijah said, gesturing with his chin toward the road.
“Soon. Three more weeks.” I’d been daydreaming about Outside for so long. And it was almost time for Rumspringa. Literally, it meant “running around.” It was the time for young Amish men and women to go beyond the gate and taste the Outside world. After years of begging and pleading, my parents had finally relented and let me go Outside this year, on two conditions: that I wait until the harvest was completed, and that Elijah go with me. We wouldn’t be formally living together, of course. I intended to room with one of the girls I’d grown up with, Hannah Bachman. And one of Elijah’s friends, Sam Vergler, would go too. Sam and Hannah had been courting since Hannah had turned sixteen. We’d have a girls’ apartment and a boys’ apartment. Proper. But for all practical intents, Elijah and I would be going on Rumspringa together.
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