Read an excerpt from Meg Moseley's debut
novel, When Sparrows Fall.
If running late showed a streak of rebellion, Miranda
Hanford was already in trouble. Pulling her van to the
side of the narrow road, she tallied the other vehicles
lined up on the shoulder. She wasn’t the last to arrive
at Mason’s emergency meeting. She could steal a moment
She picked up her camera and climbed out. Working
quickly in the cold, she framed the last sliver of sun,
as red as a forest fire above the pine-stubbled peaks.
In the foreground, a maple sapling curled its bare limbs
around the sunset, unwilling to let go—like sweet,
stubborn Martha at bedtime, refusing to believe the day
Miranda clicked the shutter. Before the sun abandoned
the Blue Ridge to the night, she nailed five promising
shots. She tucked the camera into its case and locked it
in the van. An old lady who’d seen more of the world
than her owner ever would, Jezebel deserved tender care.
Holding her cape closed, Miranda hurried up the long,
steep driveway. Mason had called only the single women
for this meeting. Six who hadn’t married yet and two
She hated that word. Widows were supposed to be meek,
gray things with grandchildren and arthritis.
Around the last bend of the driveway, the lights of
the house shone their welcome. Snow flurries swirled
like silver glitter as she ran up the steps to the
She knocked lightly and joined the women in the
living room. They’d congregated in a semi-circle of
folding chairs near the feeble warmth of the fireplace,
their hands clasped in their laps and their voices
subdued. Like the others, Miranda left her cape on, but
a draft crept under her skirt and up her legs like icy
fingers. She sat beside Lenore Schwartz, the other
“Where’s Nicole?” someone asked.
No one knew. Abigail too was missing, her absence
making the room colder still. If Mason’s wife had been
home, she would have been dispensing hugs and peppermint
The ladies hushed when their pastor strode into the
room. Mason crossed to the hearth and picked up the
poker. He shoved the logs into compliance, making sparks
Amid the smell of smoke and ashes, he hung up the
poker. He cut a handsome figure, his temples barely
touched with gray and his face remarkably unlined for
his fifty-some years.
“Ladies, thank you for coming on such short notice. I
want to share what I announced at the men’s meeting last
night.” He paused, surveying the semi-circle like a
watchful shepherd inspecting his lambs.
One of the flawed lambs, Miranda shifted in her
chair. It squeaked in the silence.
“I have a word from the Lord.” Again, Mason took a
moment to study the women. “I am to move from Slades
Mason leaving town? Miranda’s heart made an
unexpected leap, but Lenore bleated in distress and
twisted her age-spotted hands together.
“We’re moving to North Carolina,” he said, “to a
beautiful little town called McCabe. Where people take
care of themselves and each other. Where the government
stays out of people’s business.”
Miranda fidgeted again, and her chair betrayed her
restlessness with another creak. If the government
didn’t stay out of people’s business in Georgia, it
wasn’t likely to be much better in North Carolina.
“If it’s the Lord’s will, it’s the Lord’s will,”
Lenore said, “but I don’t know how we’ll get along
without you and Abigail. We’ll miss you terribly.”
“No, you won’t.” Mason smiled. “You’re coming with
us. All of you. It’s a new beginning for the whole
church. There are jobs in McCabe. Inexpensive housing
too, and clean air and water. It’s practically
A wave of excited whispers rustled through the room,
but defiance woke within Miranda and prowled like an
angry cat. She couldn’t leave Slades Creek. She
“I’ve already put our house on the market,” Mason
said, “and the other men will follow suit as soon as
they can.” He nodded at Lenore, then Miranda, the only
single women in the church who owned homes. “I’ll be
glad to help you start the process.”
Some of the men might have argued, but these women
without men didn’t. They embraced their marching orders
All but Miranda. She saw an escape route.
Yet, as Mason answered questions with a twinkle of
amusement in his eyes, she felt a pang of loss. The
church had become her family. She would miss the women,
especially Abigail. Friends, secret-sharers,
burden-bearers, these women were the sisters Miranda had
never had. The mother she’d lost to an Ohio jail.
Once the discussion had played itself out, she spoke,
veiling her agitation with a downcast gaze and a
respectful tone. “I’ll miss everyone—very much—but Carl
wouldn’t have wanted me to move.”
The room hushed to a shocked stillness, punctuated by
the snapping and hissing of the fire.
“I only want to honor his wishes,” she added. “He
always said we should hang onto the land, no matter
what. For the children’s sake. He said it’s as good as
money in the bank.”
Mason’s silver-blue eyes flashed a warning. “We’ll
discuss it later, Miranda.”
She studied the blunt toes of her sturdy brown shoes.
Now she’d reinforced her status as a troublemaker.
But so what? Her pastor was leaving town. And soon.
She frowned. Why the rush? Well, Mason and Abigail
could hurry. They had no family. No children to uproot
from their home or leave behind.
Miranda looked up, startled, when a paper appeared
before her, in Mason’s hands. She took it, and he gave
one to Lenore too.
“A checklist to help expedite the process,” he said.
“Weed out, fix up, sell. It’s almost spring. The perfect
time to attract buyers.”
The photocopied list was written in Mason’s neat,
square printing. With bullet points. With tips for
increasing the value of a home. With phone numbers of
handymen, painters, and real estate companies. He’d even
included the donation drop-off hours for the local
He dismissed the meeting. Each woman folded her chair
and leaned it against the wall beside the piano.
Abigail’s living room returned to normal except for her
“Somebody needs to tell Nicole,” Lenore said. “I
wonder why she never showed up. And where’s Abigail?”
Mason laughed and opened the front door, admitting a
gust of cold. “Why should my wife attend a meeting of
Because she’d attended every other women’s meeting,
Miranda thought, wondering if Abigail’s absence was
related to Nicole’s.
“Well, tell her we missed her.” Lenore turned to
Miranda. “You’ll find another nice piece of property,
honey. You’ll find a new husband, too. You’re so young.”
Lenore seized her over-sized handbag in one hand and her
cane in the other and led the charge to the front door.
“All you pretty young things, you’ll find husbands
Miranda hung back as the chattering pack traipsed
onto the porch, exchanging their good-nights. When Mason
closed the door on the cold and faced her, she’d never
felt so much like an ungrateful and obstinate child.
“Miranda, Miranda,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I
hope you aren’t serious about staying behind.”
“I am.” She folded his checklist in half, then in
half again. “I can’t imagine uprooting the children. And
the land has been in Carl’s mother’s family for
generations. I can’t sell.”
“Land is only land. Your children are young enough to
adjust to a move. So are you. You’re young enough to
The paper rustled in her fingers as she folded it
twice more, making it a tiny rectangle. “I don’t want to
start over. I want to raise my family right here in
“It’ll be harder to raise your family if you don’t
have help from the church when you can’t quite pay the
“And what if there’s a good, godly man waiting for
you in McCabe? What if God plans to play matchmaker?
Don’t take this lightly, Miranda. If you deny God the
chance to act, you may be depriving yourself of a
husband. Depriving your children of a father. You need
to hear from God about this. It’s a question that
deserves fasting and prayer.”
She would start fasting, all right. She’d fast down
to skin and bones so no man in his right mind would want
“You’d better start packing,” Mason added. “The move
will take you beyond the chastisement of God to true
repentance and blessings.”
“Wouldn’t the church be better off if a black sheep
like me stayed behind? I know I’ve been a trial to you
“No, no. Black sheep or not, you’re part of my flock.
Of course you’ll move. And you’ll be careful not to sow
seeds of rebellion in the others.”
She hesitated, wary of his new sternness. “I need to
do what’s best for my children.”
“Then you’ll submit to the authority God has placed
over you.” Mason shook his head. “I’ve invested in your
life for years, Miranda. I’m the one who made sure Carl
had excellent life insurance, and I’m the one who writes
the checks from the benevolence fund. You would have
lost your property years ago if I hadn’t looked after
you, and now you won’t listen to my guidance?”
He still spoke softly, but this wasn’t the genial
pastor who preached on Sundays and prayed for the sick
and made a mean chili for potluck suppers. This was a
different man. A hard, unreasonable man.
“What’s right for the church as a whole isn’t
necessarily right for me,” she said, quaking inside.
“Remember, Miranda, ‘rebellion is as the sin of
The prowling cat inside her tested its claws. “I’m no
witch, and it’s not rebellion to make my own
“Before you make this particular decision, remember
you’re still paying for some of Carl’s unwise
Her knees went weak. “What does that have to do with
“This is your opportunity to put some distance
between yourself and the things you’d like to keep
quiet. If the state ever gets wind of what happened, if
DFCS steps in . . . .”
She twisted her hands together behind her back.
“I’ll take my chances.”
“Don’t be foolish. As you said, you have to do what’s
best for the children. You want to protect them, don’t
Tears stung her eyes. “Of course. Always.”
“Then you’ll move to McCabe.” Mason came closer,
exhaling minty toothpaste. “I won’t be held accountable
for the consequences if you stay.”
The veiled threat took her breath away.
She imagined a car in her driveway. A car that bore
the state seal on its doors. At the wheel, a social
worker who had the right to tear a woman’s children from
her arms and feed them to the foster-care system, backed
up by the Bartram County Sheriff’s Department. It
happened, all too often. It happened even to parents
who’d done nothing wrong.
“Agreed?” he asked. “You’ll sell? You’ll move with
the rest of us?”
She shivered. She’d seen his anger before, she’d even
been the target of it, but she’d never seen him as an
Now, though, he had threatened her children.
Slowly, she nodded. Fingers crossed behind her back.
Mason squinted, seeming to assess her sincerity. His
somber expression warmed with that Hollywood smile.
“Excellent. Now, don’t make waves. Don’t try to sway
anyone into staying behind. Good night, Miranda.” He
dismissed her with a nod.
Speechless, she stepped outside, jamming the
checklist into the pocket of her cape. Night had fallen,
and the cold mountain air chilled her to the core. She
stared numbly at a cardboard box in the corner of the
porch, stuffed so full of clothing that its flaps
refused to stay folded down.
Abigail must have started weeding out their closets
for the move. Her Christmas pullover lay on top, the
same red as the construction-paper hearts the girls had
cut out for Valentine’s Day. Abigail’s sister had mailed
it from Topeka, but Mason said the color wasn’t
appropriate for a pastor’s wife and the neckline was
Rubbish. It was perfectly modest.
Miranda tiptoed across the porch and snatched the
sweater. She tucked it under her cape and ran down the
steps. Now she was a thief too, but what was one more
black mark against her?
She jogged down the steep driveway, slick with the
barely-there snowfall. “I’m not moving. You can’t make
me.” The jolting of her footsteps made her voice bounce
as if she were jiggling a baby on her knee. That was
what finally made her cry.
Her children. He had threatened to send the state
after her children. They’d be like the family that had
been in the news, their little ones scattered to
different foster homes and the parents helpless against
In the morning, she would ask her attorney about
naming a new guardian. Someone outside the church.
Someone with no ties to Mason. She had no family though,
with Auntie Lou long gone. No brothers, no sisters, no
Jack? It might have to be him, but she couldn’t call
him yet. Couldn’t risk giving him the idea of showing up
on her doorstep again. Not until it was safe.
With unsteady fingers, she unlocked the van. She
fumbled the key into the ignition and shone the
headlights on the dark, twisting road before her. She
hadn’t felt so alone in years. Nine years.
It was even longer since she’d felt free.
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