BOOK DETAILS

A Religion Called Love

A Religion Called Love

by David Trock

ASIN: B01G96LA84

Publisher BookBaby

Published in Mystery & Thrillers/Mystery, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

$4.99

Lovers of crime fiction and murder mystery take notice - when a young kindergarten teacher confesses the truth about her unorthodox religious beliefs, a throng of angry parents take matters into its own hands and confronts her. The next day, she is found dead in her home, and the man who loved her most is suspected. Who will untangle the knots and discover the truth? From a brave new storyteller in the spirit of Harlan Coben, Paula Hawkins, and James Patterson, "A Religion Called Love" is exquisitely written and unlike any before.

Sample Chapter

Kathryn knew the kids were up to something. The day before, they surprised her at the dismissal bell with an ambush of hugs that got her to laugh so hard she could barely breathe—but this time she was ready. With one eye on the clock, she sat behind her desk at the front of the classroom and quietly tended to her papers. The children inched forward in their seats, anxious to pounce, when Kathryn startled them all—she jumped from behind her desk and rushed after them. They screamed and scattered to all corners of the room.

Kathryn—Ms. James to the kindergartners—took a swipe at Emma’s flying ponytail, then she turned to grab Cody and realized, as he slowed and stumbled into her arms, that he was actually trying to get caught. He writhed about and protested for everyone to hear, but Kathryn wouldn’t let go, and when the other children closed ranks to take a few hugs of their own, Cody held tight to the epicenter of the swarm, wishing it would go on forever. The look in his eyes as he gazed up at Kathryn was as innocent as it was beguiling, and she had no problem with it; she knew exactly how he felt.

A moment of exultant calm followed. Kathryn lowered herself to the floor and sat cross-legged to catch her breath. The children followed her there and gathered around like newborn puppies pressing against the warmth of her. She savored their oddly familiar smells, and it occurred to her as they rolled about with slit-eyed grins and sniffles that that these were her children; if she were never to bear a child of her own she would remain happy and whole.

All at once, the loud dismissal bell rang and a new crescendo of shrieks and laughter erupted. The children jumped from the floor and hurried about in all directions before falling in line. Kathryn said a few kind words to settle them down for the day and asked them to gather their coats and lunchboxes. When they were all bundled up and ready to go, she led them outside to a grumbling bus at the curb. Cody was last in line, the last to climb aboard. Kathryn gave him a pat on the behind as he struggled to climb the high steps then followed him in to have a look around. Satisfied that all were safely seated, she nodded to the driver and stepped back.

A grunt of gears followed a puff of smoke. The children leaned toward the curbside and tapped against the windows, mouthing unintelligible farewells in Kathryn’s direction. She waved in return and blew a kiss. Cody puckered like a goldfish and pressed his lips to the window, but Kathryn had already turned and started walking back toward the building.

She arrived at her empty classroom once more and sat at her desk to think about life as it was. The room was quiet and cavernous without the children in place, the air still brimming with their enthusiasm, and Kathryn had an idea. From a locked drawer on the left side of her desk, she removed a composition book titled, A Religion Called Love, and began to write. It would be her last entry.

*

The following morning, all five kindergarten classes were taken by bus to an indoor petting zoo known as the Animal Nursery. The converted warehouse contained dozens of farm animals separated by rail and post fencing. The dirt floor was well groomed and covered with straw. A musky aroma was readily noticeable to the adults but did not seem to bother the children at all. Kathryn handed each of her students a small white paper cone filled with dried food pellets to feed the animals as they wished.

Emma was the first to enter the goat’s pen, where she was quickly seized upon by a family of hungry goats. She giggled nervously as they fed directly from the paper cone in her hand. They devoured every last food pellet and the paper cone as well. In a neighboring pen, Cody befriended a hairy llama with long eyelashes and a crooked, buck-toothed smile. He ran a hand over its furry mane and decided that they should be friends. He looked around for Ms. James, but couldn’t find her anywhere.

Inside the sheep’s pen, a frail little girl named Sarah stumbled forward onto her knees and spilled her entire cone of pellets. Three boys burst out laughing at the sight of it—and when Sarah crawled around and tried to pick up the scattered food pellets, a young ram butted her in the rear and thrust her face-down onto the dirt. Immediately, the boys’ laughter intensified, leaving Sarah flat on her belly, humiliated and distraught.

Kathryn sensed the commotion and rushed toward the sheep’s pen, where she promptly lifted Sarah from the dirt and carried her out of view. She cradled the crying girl and gently stroked her hair until the tears stopped flowing. It didn’t matter to Kathryn that she didn’t actually know Sarah, whose teacher was apparently elsewhere; she explained in affectionate terms that young rams are playful and like to make friends that way. Minutes later, she handed Sarah a new paper cone and brought her back to the sheep’s pen where, after a moment of discretion, the child forgave the animal.

Throughout the ordeal, the other kindergarten teachers were oblivious to the incident; they stood by the entrance discussing their junior colleague’s relaxed attire and absence of makeup, her choice of peasant skirts and open sandals. They shared rumors about Kathryn’s personal life, tales that were largely untrue but amusing nonetheless—and they were friendly in person but made sport of her in private, mocking her as sensitive and weak. Only Kathryn’s closest friends knew that her inner strength belied all superficial assumptions; she was sensitive, but not weak. She understood the needs of little children, their adaptation to the social pecking order, their quiet trepidation of unannounced immersions into new situations, and their ability to forgive—it seemed to be the reason that Kathryn was so uniquely suited to be a kindergarten teacher; she was a sponge for their emotions, a guardian for their needs. She comforted children in ways that mystified the other teachers. In turn, the children willingly sought her guidance, long before the insoluble barriers of adolescence set in.

At Kathryn’s urging, Emma took Sarah’s hand and the two girls became fast friends; they entered the henhouse where a warm red light over an incubator drew their attention. Emma cupped a yellow chick in her hands and marveled as it peeped and wriggled about. Sarah stood by, watching with a huge smile on her face. It seemed for the time being that her humiliating incident had long passed. The boys who had tormented her moments earlier found new mischief in the pigpen, where they threw fistfuls of hard food pellets directly at the pigs’ heads. Frightened and squealing, the pigs were unable to dodge the sting of the pellets. Cody stared incredulously, hesitant to laugh along with the others.

Mercifully, a giant shadow emerged and a magnificent Irish Wolf-hound ambled into view. The tremendous dog, affectionately known as Falkor, stopped at the center of the petting zoo and allowed the children to pet his wiry coat. Inching about, sniffing the ground for errant food pellets, he shoveled his wet nose into the dirt. Cody was awestruck by the size of the animal—forty inches at the shoulder and nearly seven feet on his hind legs. Emma and Sarah managed to reach through and pet him as well, an experience they would never forget.

The best part of the morning, as the children would later attest, was a spontaneous, live birthing of Holland Lop bunnies, narrated in real time by a thoughtful attendant. Cody held tight to Kathryn’s hand during the entire spectacle, a gesture that she didn’t seem to mind. She was aware of the boy’s needs and the emotions that kept him fastened to her. There was little doubt in her mind that she was equally available to the other students—it was a paradox that grown men had similarly come to learn about Kathryn James: she was at once accessible and unattainable.

Outside in the parking lot, the bus drivers passed the time with odd stories and a smoke, amusing themselves with tales of the road and their dealings with kids over the years—bullies, crybabies, nice kids, shy kids—and every permutation of parent. A nature vs. nurture discussion ensued for half an hour until the doors flew open and the children emerged with broad smiles and souvenirs. Kathryn walked happily among them, immersed in the joyful simplicity of the moment, unaware that her professional character had been called into serious question.

The issue began shortly before Christmas when the pastor’s son brought in a shoebox diorama of the nativity scene, a worthy effort for the five year old, with a cotton-ball sky, plastic animal figurines and a tiny cradle at the center. Kathryn had asked him to explain its meaning to the other children then politely asked him to bring it home. A dozen finger paintings of winter landscapes and cutout paper snowflakes adorned the classroom walls that winter, but Kathryn said no to the nativity scene, a decision that did not go unnoticed.

The following week, during a storybook reading about telling the truth, Emma raised her hand and asked if God is always watching. Kathryn hesitated, careful to align her response to the story they had just shared and answered yes, God watches all those who believe. But when asked if she believes, Kathryn told the truth.

Hardly a provocateur, Kathryn did not subscribe to any particular religion. She understood the meaning of faith in the lives of others and considered most of the churchgoing people in town to be decent, hardworking people—she merely questioned the origins of their faith and the practice of religion in general. To her way of thinking, she believed in something more remarkable than religion; she believed in people.

But not everyone believed in Kathryn. By the time Easter break came around, the children’s paper snowflakes had been replaced by the watercolors of spring, and while the other schoolteachers supervised the dipping of hard boiled eggs into pink and blue dyes, Kathryn brought her class to the botanical gardens. Her children pledged allegiance to one nation indivisible, an omission that got the attention of parents and teachers. Beside the flag were three rules posted at the front of her classroom:

Be nice - show respect for all living things.

Be truthful - treat others fairly.

Be responsible - if you make a mess, clean it up.

Such were the lessons that Kathryn imparted each day to her kindergartners—a simple message of kindness and respect that was genuinely believable. If her five-year-old students understood and accepted it, so should their parents, the adults.

But that didn’t happen. When word of her atheist attitude spread, she was snubbed in the teacher’s lounge, anonymously harassed online and marginalized by a small but formidable core. At dismissal one Friday afternoon, she found herself surrounded outside the door of her own classroom by a throng of angry parents. Confronted by pointed fingers and accusations, she was forced to field questions from all directions. What kind of teacher are you? What kind of values are you teaching our children? You’re a disgrace to the school!

Kathryn flinched, thinking an object had been hurled in her direction. The brief misperception tugged at her playful sense of humor—she had nearly smiled but thought better of it. By chance, a security guard was making his rounds and diffused the situation by his mere presence. He strolled past the adults, who nodded politely in unison, and when he was out of sight once more, their angry pitch returned. Don’t put confusing thoughts in their minds! You don’t have children of your own, stay away from ours!

Kathryn tried to assure everyone that her personal beliefs were no threat whatsoever to their children. She insisted that only kindness and fairness and the Golden Rule were emphasized in class—but their anger only escalated. Finally, she said, “I’m going home now.” She squeezed through the fray and turned to say one more thing: “By the way, if you’re certain that having a religion is required to be a good teacher, then my religion is love—love for one another—love and respect for all living things. That is my religion.”

Kathryn walked away from the spectacle that Friday afternoon and made little of it. She ended her week in the usual way, on the top step of her cement porch with a cup of green mint chocolate chip ice cream. A roach clip sat in the porcelain ashtray beside her. “Sugar Magnolia”echoed in her thoughts. A crescent moon lit a corner of the sky that evening and she slept well.

The following day, Kathryn’s body was discovered at home with no sign of forced entry—no evidence of rape or robbery. She was only twenty eight when it happened, a crime that roused the neighborhood from its provincial slumber. Neighbors whispered from behind the yellow police tape that she should have been more careful. A patrol car idled silently at the curb with lights running. Curious onlookers gathered to see what was going on, speculating among themselves about the pretty kindergarten teacher inside. Detectives arrived in short order to ask them what they had seen or heard, and their responses were predictably useless. No less than a dozen different stories belied the fact that nobody knew exactly why Kathryn James was dead or who was responsible.

A five-block area was scoured for evidence. Detectives went door to door looking for clues. One reclusive neighbor protested for being questioned more than once, but Detective Robin Noel didn’t care; she was accustomed to that kind of response.

Continuese...

Excerpted from "A Religion Called Love" by David Trock. Copyright © 2016 by David Trock. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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