Crossing of Justice and Mercy: the Reality of Fiction

The Cult Trilogy starts out with the true story of my childhood in a cult in the book, A Train Called ForgivenessAlthough the second and third books become more “fictional,” the story is still developed from personal experience and beliefs.

At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy

Here’s the thing. Good fiction is always grounded in reality. In my second book, At The Crossing Of Justice And MercyI take more creative license. But the story is still a reflection of my own life. The story represents my own search to come to terms with the real struggle of being a kid who suffered in a cult.

I’ve already shared the first two chapters of Crossing with you. If you missed them, here are the links:

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read those posts. In the near future, I’ll be posting a few free chapters from my third book, The Track To Redemption. Today, you can read the third chapter from my second book, At The Crossing Of Justice And Mercy. Enjoy!


Chapter 3

My father had died a few years earlier. Since he’d died, I’d occasionally been awoken by the sound of his voice. The first time it happened was about a year after his death. In my sleep I heard my father’s voice. He simply said, “Hey, Andy.” It sounded so real. His voice, always low and comforting, had a way of soothing me. When I hear his voice, it sounds like he’s right there in my room, by my bedside, waiting for me to wake up. His voice felt calm, yet excited, as if he had something important to tell me. When dad was alive, he’d often address me with those same words, “Hey, Andy,” whenever he either wanted to ask me a question, or he had some interesting news to share. Since the first time I heard dad speak in my dreams, I’ve wondered what it means. It’s happened several times since. But each time he speaks, it’s always the same words, “Hey, Andy,” nothing less, nothing more.  I’ve often sensed that he’s trying to tell me something.

My father’s name was John Burden. He was a good man, even if he was easily misled. He was a seeker. He’d been a preacher as a younger man. He grew tired of his congregation.  He said they were spiritual babies and he was tired of wiping runny noses and changing dirty diapers. So, he quit preaching. He was drawn to individuals and groups that dangled on the fringes of traditional Christianity. He met Peter Smith at a commune somewhere near Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1960s. A few years later, he moved our family from Camber Creek, Maine to Bonneveldt, Washington to become part of a fast-growing group that went by the name of Paradise Farms.

After the breakup of Paradise farms in the late 1970s, after Peter went to prison for statutory rape, dad wandered. He acted like a lost dog. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t work. He didn’t have any money. His health went downhill. My mom divorced him. It was hard to be angry with my dad when his own life looked so hopeless. Yes, he put me in a cult, but he was such an easy-going man. When he left Paradise Farms he seemed so vulnerable. He was also gullible, especially when it came to supposed prophets of God.

Dad’s own father, Kenneth, had died when he was young, so dad always longed for a father figure, someone to lead him. When we joined Paradise, he sincerely believed he was following God’s will. Shortly after he left Paradise Farms he found another fringe group, “Love of the City.” Like Paradise Farms, Love of the City touted itself as Christian-based, but had alternative views to the mainstream church. They believed Christ would return as a large body of people. They believed they would learn to overcome death and their leader claimed he already had. Dad was convinced he’d found his perfect place… again.

During the last few years of his life, John Burden changed. He left Love of the City. He said the leader was becoming arrogant and egotistical. He started to research Christian writers from the early 20th century. He became less dependent on being led, and more certain of his own, deep connection, with God. He started a loose-knit group that read extensively, met regularly, and shared their thoughts and feelings about God, Christ, and mysticism. Over the years, dad and I had discussed spiritual matters, regularly, and in depth. He always told me, “Andy, God isn’t a pie-in-the-sky ideal like most people think. That’s all in your imagination.” He humbly declared, “Christ is in us. He is part of us. We are part of him.” Toward the end of his life, my father found a profound sense of peace within himself. I believe he’d reached a spiritual realm that few mortals find. So when I was awoken by his voice on January 1, 2015, I listened. But all he said was, “Hey, Andy.”

I remembered Simon’s email from the night before. I repeated the words in my head over and over:

I think Peter Smith may still be alive. I think Peter Smith may still be alive. I think Peter Smith may still be alive. I think…

I scrambled out of bed, shuffled to the bathroom, stared in the mirror and said the words again:

I think Peter Smith may still be alive.

I brushed my teeth and splashed some cold water on my face. I looked tired, worn down. This news from Simon added to my already-heaping plate. I heard Annabelle stir in her room as I let Charlie out. It was a cold, cloudy morning. I watched Charlie from the back door when I heard my iPhone vibrate. I dashed to the desk, snagged the phone, and checked my messages. It was another email from Simon.  It said:


Check these documents out. Peter Smith never included himself on the Board of Directors of any of his corporations. He was always paranoid about that. He wanted power without legal responsibility.  

I’m still looking for the information about his death that you said Joel had found. Nothing yet. I’ll keep searching.


There were two attachments with Simon’s latest email. Each link led to official State of Washington business documents. Simon was right. Peter Smith never included himself on the Board of Directors of his companies. It was his mode of operation to be in the position of power, yet remain free of any liability on paper. He wanted control without the possibility of legal ramifications. I noticed a pattern. Although Peter was never on the Board, his wife Amy, always was.

Maybe Peter Smith was still alive. Were these happenings merely coincidental: Simon’s message, dad’s voice in my sleep, a business in Arkansas under Peter Smith’s name three years after he’d supposedly died? And what about the manuscript: the one I’d written in my late 20s and left under the seat of the train? About six months after dad had passed away, it showed up in the mail in plain, brown packaging paper. It was tied with a simple piece of twine. The package contained the three tattered, spiral-bound notebooks, the one’s I’d written on the train, and at Joshua Tree National Park? The only other thing in that package was the note that said, “It’s time to tell your story.” The note was mysteriously signed, “J.”  What did it all mean? Perhaps these were all clues. Perhaps they were pieces of a puzzle that when completed would become my destiny: to find Peter Smith, dead or alive.

I sat on my bed, thinking. I focused on that summer day in 2001 at The Silver Frame. I remembered something from that afternoon. I saw someone. I saw a double, a man that looked exactly like Peter Smith. Or was it?

* * *

You’ve just read the third chapter to the second book of The Cult Trilogy. You can now order the entire Kindle version of the trilogy in one purchase at Amazon. Click the following link:

Buy The Cult Trilogy