I start running after school. Usually I get enough of a workout between practice and gym class that I don’t do extra, but this week I feel like I might explode if I stop moving. So I run. I run up and down the streets of Palermo, looking at the houses and coloured leaves on the trees and trying to hold on to the feeling that my body is my own and limitless. I run on the country roads, the gravel crunching under my feet—until the smell of pine makes me feel sick and I fly back to the safety of concrete sidewalks. I run and run, and when I finally fall asleep at night, I am tired enough that I don’t remember my dreams.
One night, I pass the church my father and I attend whenever we’re both home on Sunday morning (so . . . about once a month, in a good month). I’ve passed the church every other night this week, but tonight the light in the office is on. Once upon a time, churches were always open, a sanctuary if you needed them. But the world changes, I guess. I haven’t given a single thought to the church since it happened, but when I see the light on, my feet slow down of their own accord, and I am knocking on the door before I know it. My fist sounds heavy against the wood. I am already having second thoughts, but it would be rude to run away. Just when I think maybe the light was left on accidentally, the door opens, and there is the minister, dressed in normal clothes, and looking a bit confused. When he sees me, his eyes widen for a moment before he makes his face neutral.
“Hello, Hermione,” he says. I wonder if he remembers my name because he’s good at his job or because I’ve been on the news. He doesn’t ask me if I’m okay. Instead he waves me in, and shuts the door. Maybe it’s because I’m in a church. Maybe it’s because this is the man who baptized me. But I’m not afraid.
“Hello, Reverend Rob,” I say, and the door latch echoes in the hallway. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
“No, no. Just practicing for Sunday. All this time, and I still get a bit of stage fright leading up to a sermon.”
I follow Rob back into his office, which is warmly lit and full of old books. He waves me into one of the seats. I have just realized what it is I want to say, what I want to ask him.
“Would you like water or tea?” he asks. “That’s all I have on hand.”
“I’m fine, thank you,” I say, feeling profoundly awkward. I keep finding new ways to do that. “I don’t come here very often.”
“That’s okay.” He’s sitting comfortably in his chair. People are never comfortable around me anymore. “I know how life goes. Schedules and the Church don’t always get along, so I do my best to operate an open door policy.”
“Right,” I say. “I have two favours to ask. One’s a bit presumptuous. The other is . . . also presumptuous.”
“Please. Feel free to ask.”
“Thank you.” I pause for a moment to gather my thoughts. I think of the looks I’ve been getting at the grocery store, and take a deep breath. “Please don’t ask people to pray for me.”
Excerpted from Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Copyright © 2016 by E.K. Johnston. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.