Jezebel Smith is different. She can’t talk, she doesn’t look like anyone in her family, and no matter what she does it’s always the wrong thing. God accepts her for who she is, but He’s the only one who does. Then she finds an unconscious man in her favorite cave, and her life is turned up-side down. New people and new rules collide with the old, leaving Jezebel unsure of which set of rules apply to her life. When the strangers in town attempt to help her out of the nightmare she’s grown up in, it promises to change her life forever.
The distant drip of water echoed off the rocky walls as Jezebel Smith wandered through her cave. Pungent fumes from her kerosene lantern stung her nose, and she wished for a flashlight. But her family would miss a flashlight. They never noticed when she took the old lantern from the barn.
Turning her face away from the lantern, she caught a whiff of the familiar scent of the rocks around her. She loved the fresh, earthy smell of her cave. Through countless hours of careful practice, her hiking boots barely produced a whisper on the bumpy path leading to her special cavern. If she swung the lantern on its creaky handle, however, she could fill the cave with a creepy echo that reminded her of Halloween.
She passed through an opening in the wall and entered a large cavern with several ledges in one end. As she approached the lowest ledge, the glow from her lantern touched an unfamiliar lump on the floor below the rocky shelf and she froze. She knew every inch of this cavern — every rock, ledge, and bump in the floor. No one ever came here. Nothing ever changed unless she changed it. The cave was the only thing she could count on to always stay the same.
This time, however, there was something new. The cave had broken its own rules, adding a boulder where one didn’t belong. She crept toward it, fighting tears of hurt that the cave would trick her like everyone else, and the golden light of her lantern revealed it wasn’t a boulder after all — it was the still form of a man. Her pulse pounded in her ears, so loud it threatened to drown out her own thoughts. Where had he come from? Why wasn’t he moving? Her heart skipped a beat. Was he dead?
Fear and the need to know warred inside her, and the need to know won. She moved a little closer and studied the man carefully. When she saw his chest rise and fall she let out a relieved breath. Well, he wasn’t dead, but what was wrong with him? He was close to the higher ledges. Maybe he had fallen off one and gotten hurt. She scanned him for obvious injuries, the light swaying as she rocked from one foot to the other. His arms and legs were at the correct angle, and his neck looked okay, but he had a bleeding cut on the side of his forehead near his red hair.
She knew how to treat cuts, except she’d never bandaged a cut on another human. Only herself and hurt animals she found in the woods. But she couldn’t leave this man bleeding on the floor of her cave. Cuts hurt, and she hated seeing any living thing in pain.
Jezebel ran her mind over the meager contents of the small cavern through the opening in the far wall. She had enough supplies left from the injured raccoon she’d treated last week to take care of the wound on the man’s head. Was it okay to use the same kind of supplies on a human that she used on animals? She used the cloth strips to bandage bleeding cuts on animals, and the man had a bleeding cut. Since she didn’t have anything else, she decided it would be okay to use her animal bandaging supplies on the man. Ignoring the fact that she was making up new rules instead of following the old ones, she hurried to the small cavern that was her sanctuary from the world. Her older brother always said rules were for breaking, never mind that she’d never believed him. Jezebel didn’t agree with a lot of things people said, especially the things they said about her.
Everyone in her tiny rural Appalachian community said she was demon-possessed because she rocked all the time and didn’t talk, but they were wrong. During a revival her parents had forced her to attend three years earlier, she’d silently recited the prayer that the preacher said invited Jesus into a person’s heart and drove out all the evil inside. After saying the prayer in her mind, she’d felt peace for the first time in her twelve years of life and tried to tell her family what she’d done. But the words wouldn’t come, and she’d been taken outside and whipped for trying to stop the “good Christian folk” from hearing the preacher’s message. That was another thing people were wrong about, but she had learned her lesson. Never again did she try to explain she was one of the good Christian folk now. God loved her and wanted her when no one else did, and that was all that mattered.
Jezebel entered her small cavern and picked up the shoe box holding the clean cloth strips. A quick glance around revealed that whatever the man was doing in her cave, he hadn’t touched any of the few possessions she could call her own. Good. At least one thing had stayed the same.
She hurried back to the injured man and discovered he hadn’t moved. A small whimper of fear escaped as she knelt beside him and set the lantern on the floor near his head. Maybe he was hurt so badly she couldn’t help him, but she had to try. She always had to try to help when something was injured.
She lifted the lid from the shoe box and pulled out a small strip of cloth, and then she set the box on the gritty floor so she could fold the strip. With hesitant movements, she carefully cleaned the blood from around the cut the same way she would with a bleeding animal. The man moaned softly as he turned his head a little. The cloth fell from Jezebel’s hand as she scurried back, her heart pounding. She’d made him mad. Now she would get in big trouble, and he’d probably hit her. That’s what everyone else did when they got mad at her. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the blow.
It never came. She finally lifted one eyelid and peeked at the man. He still appeared to be asleep, and he didn’t move again. She crept closer and folded a second strip of cloth then picked up a third, longer one. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, and rocking to keep from jumping out of her skin, she gently pressed the clean folded cloth to the man’s cut and used the other strip to hold it in place. She whimpered as she lifted his head to wrap the long strip around, afraid he would wake up and hit her for touching him. How many rules was she breaking by taking care of this man? Her mind threatened to shut down from fear, and the man moaned again. She fought her instinct to run as she securely tied the strip of cloth and carefully lowered his head to the rocky floor.
She grabbed the lantern and box of cloth strips and hurried back several feet. Rocking from side to side, she forced herself to figure out what to do next. The cool cave air made her shiver. Most people wore jackets into caves because it was cold inside. She didn’t usually notice the low temperature, but since most people did, maybe the man was cold. She’d stuff a box with leaves and grass to keep an injured animal warm, but that wouldn’t work for a full-grown human. If she tried to get a blanket from her house, someone would beat her for stealing. The same thing would happen if she tried to get food for him. How was she going to take care of a hurt human if she couldn’t get the supplies she needed?
Tears filled her eyes as helplessness overwhelmed her. Her mind went blank, and she became fascinated by the flickering flame in her lantern. Suddenly, her mind snapped on again, and she knew what she could do for the injured man. A fire would help keep him warm in the chilly cave. She had built fires in this cavern before and knew the smoke would drift up to the ceiling and disappear.
After a moment’s hesitation, she set the lantern down and put the box a couple of feet away so it couldn’t accidently catch fire. It would be scary to walk through the cave without the lantern, but she had to do it. She didn’t want the man to wake up in the dark and maybe stumble around and get hurt again. Besides, she knew her way around her cave as well as most people knew their own homes.
She held her hand in front of her as she walked away from the light and moved slowly until she felt the wall. Following it to the right, she soon came to the opening and began her dark journey through the familiar passages.