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By Popular Request … the Prequel to the Olympia Brown Mysteries. On the day of Rev. Olympia Brown’s arrival at a church camp and conference center, a closeted crew member attempts suicide, and Olympia must minister to a distraught community. While beginning to learn the story behind the tragedy, she discovers there is someone creeping around in the woods beyond the campground who is planning revenge. Who can she tell? What can she do?
A fiftieth birthday, whatever else it might be, is a milestone. It can be a warning signal, a turning point or both. It can be loudly celebrated or quietly ignored, but it cannot be denied. It is a time when many will choose to step back and take stock. The Rev. Dr. Olympia Brown had just reached that significant event with as many questions in her mind as she had years logged on the calendar. The two at the very top of the list were, should she continue as a college chaplain and professor of humanities and religion at Merriwether College, or should she leave academia and take on a full time parish ministry?
On the nonprofessional and more personal front there were more questions. Now that her two sons, Malcolm and Randall, were technically out of the safe suburban nest, her status as a not-very-swinging single was lonely. Maybe she should be more proactive about creating a little more action in that corner of her life. Maybe she should move out of her white, middle class, three-bedroom expanded Cape in the town with the good schools and buy a condo in Boston or Cambridge. That would certainly ease her commute and save money on gas.
She could take her mother’s advice, let nature take its course and wait for the universe to reveal what the future might offer—but Olympia rarely took her mother’s advice, so she eliminated that one even before she wrote it down. And so it was on a spectacular summer day in early June, she was sitting in her back yard, sipping iced tea and making a list … or maybe it was a five-year plan. Olympia hadn’t decided which. In big block letters she created three columns across the top of the sheet of paper: Done, Yet to Be Done, and Wildest Dreams/Extreme Bucket List.
If nothing else, and there was a whole lot of else, Olympia Brown was methodical and well organized. She typically set reasonable goals for herself and then in her own determined fashion strategized how to reach them. At age fifty, she knew who she was and pretty much what she wanted out of life. She also knew what she was and was not prepared give up in order to bring that about, or so she thought.
However, nothing that was about to happen in the coming summer was on this list and no one, not even the practical plotter could have predicted or planned for what did happen. She couldn’t possibly know it, but it seemed she was at the mercy of a host of gods and goddesses who were bored and decided to have a bit of fun. The object of their ungodly mischief of fancy and foolishness was a middle-aged, slightly restless college professor who in one unguarded moment said she might be ready for a change.
Olympia’s mother also told her, “Be careful what you wish for.” It would have been good advice, had she listened, but she didn’t, and therein hangs the tale.
There was no doubt she was restless. Her present academic rut was sweet and secure and far too comfortable, but it paid the bills. On the list of things she might possibly do to brighten up her life were: lie about her age and weight and join a dating service, take a trip, change jobs, get another cat, write the great American novel, or simply get away from it all and go camping for a couple of weeks.
Being a college professor gave her the unique advantage of having almost three months every summer to herself, which were intended to be spent in professional study and research. When her boys were younger this allowed her to be home and keep an eagle eye on them as they stumbled through their teenage ups and downs. Now, with the two of them pretty much on their own, it was far too quiet in her empty nest, particularly at night.
She looked down at her possibilities list and wondered what else she might add to it. The words “go camping” caught her eye, and she knew she had her answer. Not two days earlier she’d received a call from Brad Davies, the managing director of Orchards Cove, a religious campground and conference center in southern Maine, asking if she’d consider being their summer chaplain. If she accepted, he said she would be responsible for Sunday morning services, as well as short daily morning and evening gatherings for meditation and prayer, and she was to be available for pastoral care if needed. Other than this, her time would be her own. He was doing his level best to make it sound appealing.
That’s what they always say, she thought, twirling a pencil in her fingers, but what the heck, the timing couldn’t be better, and the price was right. While they would not offer her much in salary, she would have all meals and her pick of a prime spot in the campground. There she could commune with the creatures and beasties that go bump in the night. She’d have a chance to get back in touch with the sounds and smells of nature, maybe write a little poetry, if she so desired, and think about what she might do for the second and shorter phase of her life.