Crows are appearing in Logan, South Carolina, and no one knows why. No one except an elderly blind man Mr. Charlie and a timid young agnostic Ruth Cleveland.
When Nate Baxter, falls in love with Ruth, he's unaware she is hiding a secret that threatens his Christianity and will drive him far from her.
Will God use this unlikely trio to save the town from an evil never imagined by the residents of Logan?
Wednesday, May 8
Mr. Charlie tapped the end of his white cane against the first of five steps leading up to the Logan County Courthouse. Groping for the metal railing already hot in the South Carolina sun, he lowered himself onto the third step and shifted his body to the right until he touched the coolness of the grass. Now, anyone with business in the large stone building could pass him.
He settled in to wait, just as he had for the past two years. But today his breaths were shallow. Tension stiffened his spine. They were gathering; time was short. He hoped he had prepared her enough.
A single crow sat in the tall dogwood and cocked its head as Ruth Cleveland exited the door at the Anthony Dunlap Law Office. With the workday over, Ruth headed toward the center of town. The snapping sound of her worn sandals hitting the back of her feet mingled with the rumble of passing cars.
He would be there; she knew it.
Historic houses, now converted to professional offices, flanked both sides of Main Street. A passing bus spewed oily smoke into the air, and she held her breath, hoping the evening’s breeze would drag away the noxious fumes. She slowed, savoring the shade provided by the canopy of a live oak, then pushed herself back into a fast-paced stride as rivulets of sweat ran down her back. She was unsure why she felt a need to rush when she never had before. He would be there‒and yet a strange unease disturbed her usual peace.
Five minutes later, the two lanes of Main Street widened into four. The smell of melted asphalt rose in twisted wisps as she passed City Bank. Ahead of her, built one against the other, stood Reiss Pharmacy, Hazel’s Cut and Curl, Nola’s Diner, and Spencer and Sons Hardware, with three abandoned storefronts set among them. By the time she reached the distant corner and spied the county courthouse‒seven stories of gray, unimaginative block‒she was almost running.
Professionals, laborers and secretaries joined Ruth on the sidewalk, cellphones pressed to their ears and one thought pounding in their brains: If they beat the traffic light, they could reach the parking lot thirty seconds sooner. Ruth wasn’t headed to a parked car like the rest of them. She stood and waited with the crowd for the walk sign to signal go.
He was there, sitting on the courthouse steps just as he’d always been, Monday through Friday, for the past two years. His gnarled hands were wrapped around the white cane, and he seemed focused on the nothingness that drew him to the same spot each day. The sentinel of the county courthouse: that’s what she liked to call him. Ruth had no idea why he kept this routine, and she never questioned him about it. They had forged a bond, she and Mr. Charlie, a friendship built on the simplicity of both of their lives. Ruth could be mistaken, but she might be his only friend; she knew he was hers.
Mr. Charlie’s mouth widened into a welcome; scattered teeth standing proudly along his gums, his ebony skin shiny with sweat. Cloudy eyes drifted left of her face.
A wave of nausea and dizziness swept over Ruth and passed a moment later. Everything around her remained the same, yet something had changed. Ruth’s stomach tightened against the unknown threat.
“You’re five minutes late.” His voice scratched as if from disuse. “That boss give you trouble?”
Long ago, Ruth gave up challenging the blind man. Somehow, in his darkness, he just knew things‒like when she was close by or how she was late when he didn’t wear a watch. “Attorney Dunlap never gives me trouble; I was just busy.” Ruth smoothed the back of her blue skirt and settled on the sunbaked step beside him.
“You need to quit that dead-end job and find yourself a better one. You can do more with your life.”
Ruth sighed. How many times had he given her the same advice?
“A bright thing like you, young and full o’ life. You must be what, twenty?”
The light on the corner turned green, and cars accelerated.
Ruth hated the smell of exhaust. A pickup truck raced by—diesel engine from the sound of it. She covered her nose with her hand. A man in a gray suit unwrapped a piece of gum, folded the soft stick into his mouth and tossed the paper to the street where it fluttered like a discarded leaf before settling against the curb.
“Twenty-three. Time to work for yourself.” Mr. Charlie wouldn’t stop until he had his say. Ruth listened, knowing he would soon run out of words. “There must be people who need papers typed. With your speed, you can crank out work faster’n they can get it to you.”
That’s what she feared—nothing stashed in the in-box. She had to prove she could live on her own and make good decisions in spite of her mother’s lack of confidence‒and the times she had proven her mother correct. Now distance separated her and her mom, and luck had helped her land a position at Attorney Dunlap’s. Although the job was boring, she had no reason to leave. She had no reason to return to Atlanta where she would be forced to keep hidden why she left in the first place. Mr. Charlie tried to push her beyond her level of comfort, to make her believe she was more than she was.
“You find the work, Mr. Charlie, and I’ll quit my job.” A tired laugh rose from her throat only to become lost in the rumble of tires and the blare of rap music from a passing car, the base so high it vibrated the cement beneath her feet. Ruth rubbed her arms against the tingle on her skin. “Do you think it’s going to rain?”
Mr. Charlie turned toward her and pinched his eyes together. If she didn’t know better, she would think he was looking into her soul
Question 1: Mr. Charlie sits on the courthouse steps every day and people walk by, either ignoring or not seeing him. Why does God use such an invisible man rather than a more public figure like, perhaps, Pastor Clark? Have you ever felt ignored by others? How does this change your behavior and your image of yourself?
Answer 1: God knows our hearts and sees what others do not. The world may see us as nothing, but in God's eyes we are heros.
Question 2: How does holding the secret of an unwed pregnancy and giving her child up for adoption impact Ruth’s personality? Why did she keep the pregnancy secret? Was she right in doing this? How would things have been different if she had told her mother about the pregnancy? Have you ever held tight to a mistake you made, believing it to be unforgiveable?
Answer 2: God can forgive anything, even when we think our sin is unforgiveable. If Ruth had shared her secret with her mother, God still would have found a way to get Ruth to Logan, to meet Nate and to save the town.
Question 3: How does the closing of the church impact Nate? Does he change in the process? Do you feel so busy serving God at times that you neglect quiet time with your savior?
Answer 3: Nate served God by doing, and had to learn to let go and lean more on faith for his salvation rather than works. To Nate, the church represents God, and the damage to the building is defacing God.
Question 4: South Carolina as a state needs to improve its basic infrastructure but lacks the money to do it. When a new congressman, Joseph Ackerman, suggests taxing church real estate, the motive seems good. Satan has a way of making evil look appealing. Did the legislature have any way of knowing that Satan was behind the proposal? Have you even encountered something too good to be true, only to find out there was a hidden agenda behind the offer?
Answer 4: There is always a danger in seeking the easy way out. Prayerful consideration of all major changes will help to keep the outcome in God's will.
Question 5: Did the crows have any impact on the anger felt by the town members? Have you been in situations where something in the environment, perhaps the weather, the unpleasant water or food, or an angry neighbor, affected your mood and response?
Answer 5: The crows added to the creepy factor hovering over the town. The presence of an additional aggrivation makes hating the church come easier. It is easire to hate when anger is at the surface already. Satan uses this tool often and well.
Question 6: God’s hand is on Ruth throughout the story. His plan for her is in action from the fateful night she conceived a child, till the end of the book. There are many times when Satan tries to intervene. Could Ruth have made decisions that would have changed God’s plan for her happiness?
Answer 6: Ruth has free will, just like all of us. She could have chosen to marry Joseph, or she could have chosen to not stand up to the armed men at Mr. Charlie's house. God would have found a way to achieve His outcome, but Ruth would have lost the blessing.
Question 7: Betsy Ross seems to be the perfect Christian wife and mother. When she reveals her secret to Ruth, did your opinion of her change? Did her reaction to finding out who Chip’s birth mother really was surprise you? How did God comfort Betsy? Have you ever found out something that shook the core of what you believed to be true? How did you react?
Answer 7: The church is made of imperfect people. Betsy's flaw proves God's redeeming love. God gave her a stable home, a child, and gave her the courage to ask for forgiveness of Ruth.
Question 8: Joseph Ackerman changes in the course of the story. What were Joseph’s weaknesses and how did Satan use them?
Answer 8: Joseph belongd to a successful family. He felt inadequate next to their achievements and needed to prove his worth. When he failed to meet his goals on his own, he grabbed at any opportunity to be the big man. Unfortunately, he did not seek power from the only one who can give real power.
Question 9: History is full of examples of people following leaders because of their charisma and vague promises. Joseph was able to attract those who were angry at the church, and it seems they asked few questions but accepted his promises at face-value. God used a timid non-churched woman to stand up to the men and cause them to see reason. Why do you suppose God chose Ruth over Pastor Clark or Chet Ross who were also there at the end?
Answer 9 The men would not have listened to the voice of authority. Ruth, however, had not reason to tell them anything but the truth. God chooses the one who can do the job, and it is not always the most eloquent or the most well equipped for the job.
Question 10: In the beginning of the book, Logan was a quiet southern town. How did the closing of the churches impact this, and was the change initially good or bad? How did the town redeem itself? Have you gone through a rough time in your life, only to come out the other end better for having lived in the storm?
Answer 10: Initially closing of the churches was celebrated among the non-church people. When the expected money did not come, the joy turned to anger, then revenge. In the end, the example of the Christians proved stronger to the basically moral community.