by Steven Fromm

Zemuel started it off. Maybe just his name. Zemuel.

He drove the horses, two massive Percherons, one spotted grey, the other black, their withers twitching with the effort of pulling their wagon—loaded with eight tourists, including Sue and Elliott—through the late fall landscape.

As soon as Zemuel introduced himself, Elliott gave her a look. Sue knew what it meant. It wasn’t just a name. It was a taunt. They hadn’t even pulled out of the parking lot when Elliott, sitting at the head of the bench right behind Zemuel, started peppering him with questions.

 How much do they weigh? Right around 1,900 pounds. Where did they originate? Somewhere in France. When did they come to the U.S., Zemuel? Somewhere in the 1830s.

Zemuel, picking up on the smirky way Elliott intoned his name at the end of the last question, expanded on his answer, a clear sign the Amish didn’t care for sarcasm any more than electricity.

“About four were in the very first shipment,” Zemuel said, “but three of ‘em up and died right from the start. The one that survived, a stallion, he ended up siring something like 400 foals.”

Zemuel gave the horses a flick with the reins. They were fully out of the parking lot now, on the asphalt of the two-lane highway, the massive hooves marking out their progress in heavy castanet clip-clops. He turned even more toward the passengers. “You want to guess what that lone stallion’s name was?” The wagon stayed silent. Zemuel waited full three sets of clip-clops before answering. “Diligence,” he said.

There was about five seconds of silence before the older gentleman next to Sue let out something resembling a guffaw. The rest joined in, except for Elliott, who drilled Zemuel with a look that could have spooked the Percherons. 

Two cars came from behind, pulled into the opposite lane and slowly passed the wagon. The Percherons didn’t break stride, aided by well-placed blinders. Sue couldn’t remember PETA’s position on blinders, or, for that matter, if the Amish had a position on PETA. She’d have to Google it later. Elliott was still staring at Zemuel’s back, right at the point where his black suspenders crisscrossed over his white shirt. He was waiting for a few minutes to pass before starting up the next round of the Amish Inquisition.

Sue looked up, pretending to scan the horizon, but was covertly taking in her fellow passengers, four each on the two benches that ran down the length of the little wagon. They were all cut from the same loaf: a good 15 to 20 years older than she and Elliott, the men with their grey-to-silvering hair and creased khakis, long past the self-conscious effort of sucking in their bellies. Their spouses were every bit as homogenous, with tinted hair and flannel slacks, tightly clutching their purses.

She snuck a sideward glance at Elliott as the wagon jerked and clopped its way past Amish farmhouses and outbuildings. He’d stopped tearing into Zemuel’s back, and was looking out at the passing countryside. But it wasn’t over. Elliott didn’t view his fellow passengers as a set of temporary companions on a little tour. They were a jury to be educated and convinced. It was in his nature. It’s what he did. 

The group stayed silent as they rolled on. There were few Amish in sight. They were either off doing whatever mysterious things the Amish did in their down time, or hiding from the endless stream of tourists trying to peek through their windows. There wasn’t much else to look at. The fields were fallow this time of year, and what trees there were had been stripped of their foliage by a grinding nor’easter that had ripped through the region one week before.

Sue looked down at the little map she took from a display table in the foyer of the B&B earlier that morning. As far as she could tell, they were on a stretch of road located somewhere between Bird in Hand and Intercourse.  When Sue was doing her Web-based research, she took note of the names. The B&B she chose was in Intercourse, which was just north of Paradise, and just east of a place called Fertility. At the very least she and Elliott could have fun with the names.

 If all else failed, they could drive 45 minutes east to a place called Dutch Wonderland. Elliott would smell the blood on that one a mile away. She could almost hear the snarl unfurling at the back of his throat. She remembered a time when she didn’t particularly care for that part of him. Those days were over. She’d welcome it back. That was the whole point of this little Lancaster safari: to distract him from all of the fallout at work, the ever-encroaching malignancy of layoffs and budget cuts.

Their Amish adventure didn’t start on a promising note. They arrived at the B&B with Elliott in a foul mood from a torrential rain that backed up the interstate and then stalled them in Bristol, Pa. Even without the rain, Bristol could carve a deep crease into anyone’s hopeful mood.

“Jesus,” Elliott said as they slid along the Bristol Pike, the fast-food joints, diners, appliance stores and porn shops pressing in on either side.

“It’s got its good points,” Sue offered in attempt to divert him.

“Yeah,” Elliott said. “It’s got to end somewhere.”

“It’s where the Bristol Stomp comes from.”

“The what?”

“You know. The song. From the Sixties.”

“Never heard of it,” Elliott said. The traffic was moving, but the car in front stayed still. The driver’s head was down, a sure sign he was texting. Elliott leaned on the horn. The driver’s head jerked up and he started moving, but they came to halt in 20 feet. Sue reached for her phone. She Googled the Bristol Stomp.

“The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol,” she said.


“That’s the first line from the song. The Bristol Stomp.”

  Elliott didn’t say anything, but she noticed his grip on the steering wheel had loosened. His knuckles weren’t as white.

“It came out in ’61. A group called the Dovells sang it.”

“Never heard of it,” he said again.

“It apparently was quite the thing,” she said, trying to keep it up. “No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100.”

“But are they?”

“Are who what?”

“The kids. From Bristol,” Elliott said, looking out the driver’s side window at a pink stucco building call Karla’s Kornocupia of Porn. “Can they possibly be as sharp as a pistol?”

She started laughing. Elliott nearly managed a smile. If the rain had stopped, if the traffic had started moving, they would have riffed on Bristol, the Stomp, anything that came into their heads. But the rain kept coming down in sheets. By the time they’d gotten out of Bristol and started due west toward Lancaster the silence settled back in, only the whoosh and click of the windshield wipers filling the car. Sue fiddled with the radio, trying to find something. She’d take it as a karmic sign—the affirming kind--if she ran across the Bristol Stomp on one of the oldies stations, but she couldn’t even find an oldies station. 

The rain ended minutes after Elliott finished lugging their bags from the car to the B&B foyer. The timing didn’t improve his mood. They were promptly greeted by Muriel, the B&B’s owner, a puffy Englishwoman in her sixties who felt obligated to natter on about the history of the house, though all they really wanted was to see their room, clean up and find somewhere to eat.  

The rest of the night had gone smoothly enough. They found a decent Italian place in a town, then managed to sneak past the first-floor residence of the chatty Muriel and up to their room. The king-size bed had a firm mattress Sue wanted to take home with her, but any carnal activity would have to wait. She’d long ago deciphered the rhythms of her marriage. Elliott needed at least one night to decompress, which was just a fancy word for hanging back until he drifted somewhere into the general proximity of a civil mood. The TV, for some reason, was located on a side table next to the bed. Sue didn’t feel like watching anything, so she cracked open Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary. Elliott lay diagonally across the bed, his legs resting on top of hers, his head propped by a pillow so he could catch the last hour of Key Largo. Ok. No carnal activity. But she liked the feel of his legs on hers. It was a good end to the day.

And then came breakfast. As Muriel served them coffee and several rounds of deadly-rich pastry, she asked Elliott what he did.

“I’m a journalist.”  

He didn’t offer much more. Muriel sensed the reluctance. They soon fell into a conversation about the local Amish. Sue sat back and sipped her coffee, tuning them out and trying to relax.

I’m a journalist. It came out flat. There had been a time when it sounded different. Then came the Internet. The world changed. Newspapers went from vital to irrelevant overnight. Elliott survived several rounds of layoffs. Now he was one of only three news reporters on the staff. Sue had been a copy editor at the same paper. That’s where they’d met. She saw the end coming, and started going to law school part-time. She had her JD in a little over four years, and was an associate specializing in elder law at a good law firm. Elliott hung on at the paper, watching in bewilderment as all his buddies faded away via staff cuts and exile to government hack jobs.

The world in which they thought they played a vital role had moved on, leaving them to look dated, almost quaint. They’d become the new Amish.

“Are you hearing this?” Elliott asked her.

“Sorry,” she said, putting down her cup. “What?”

Elliott looked up at Muriel, giving her the floor.

“I was just telling your husband that most of the Amish don’t work on Sundays,” she said. “So some of the folks out there today may look Amish, and talk Amish, but--”

“—they’re actors,” Elliott said, never willing to cede the floor to anyone for long. “They’re fake Amish.”

“Well, not all of them are actors,” Muriel said. “Some of them are, you know, more liberal. They work on Sundays.”

Liberal Amish?” Elliott asked.

“Some are more, what would you call it? Orthodox. They don’t work,” Muriel said. “Others don’t adhere to certain strictures.”

Elliott shot her a look. Muriel fended it off with a shrug. 

“It’s not that big of a deal,” she said.

“Of course it’s a big deal,” Elliott said. “It’s a con.”

Muriel looked at him, coffee pot in hand.

“Can I have some more coffee?” Sue asked.

Muriel didn’t answer. She kept looking at Elliott. He glared right back.


Zemuel was finding his groove, deftly answering questions from his passengers on everything from ordnung to rumspringa as he gently tapped his horses with the reins. They’d stopped for about 15 minutes at a small Amish grocery along the road. Everyone piled out of the wagon, used the bathroom and then wandered the aisles to marvel at two young women—clad in simple light blue dresses and white bonnets—stocking shelves with everything from peach pecan jam to pickled sweet watermelon rinds. Elliott hung back, near the grocery entrance, alternately watching the Amish girls go about their work and peering out at Zemuel, who was tending the horses. Elliott sidled up to Sue when everyone was trooping back to the wagon.

“You notice?” he whispered.

“What? That a jar of watermelon rinds costs $16?”

“No. One of the ‘Amish’ girls,” he said, his voice flexing on the word Amish to insinuate the quote marks.

“What? You catch ‘em snacking on the rinds?”

“Their feet,” Elliott said, ignoring her. “They’re wearing tennis shoes.”

Sue gave him a neutral nod, deciding not to divert him. The Fake Amish Conspiracy was preferable to his fuming over future layoffs. Once they were all back on board and settled into their seats the wagon jerked into motion. After about two minutes of silence, perforated by the steady clopping of the Percherons, the questions from the group started up again.

They touched on the usual subjects, including the dangers of Hochmut, the value of Demut and then the lesser-known Gelassenheit. When asked if he’d ever actually shunned anyone, Zemuel hesitated for a moment, then said he’d come close, but never had. Sue could have sworn on a copy of the Martyrs Mirror that he’d flicked a glance back at Elliott when he answered.

An undeterred Elliott started quizzing Zemuel about the origins of the Amish, and nodded his head steadily as Zemuel spooled off a fairly detailed history, going all the way back to the schism between the Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists, led by one Jakob Ammann.

“What year was that?” Elliott asked.

“What year was what?”

“The schism?”

“Sixteen hundred and ninety-three,” Zemuel replied.

As he turned the wagon onto a short dirt road leading up to a farmhouse, Zemuel threw in a few post-schism details: in the early 18th Century, a large chunk of the Amish and Mennonites journeyed over to Pennsylvania. Most speak a form of Pennsylvania German known as Pennsylvania Dutch, while the Old Order Amish, particularly in and around Adams County, Indiana, would likely use a Swiss German dialect.

“Dialects,” Elliott echoed. “Interesting.”

They passed the white clapboard farmhouse, a rhythmically squeaking tower windmill serving as its sentinel. The windows were dark, and the place looked deserted until the wagon stopped just outside of a barn situated behind the house. An Amish man, maybe in his mid-thirties, wearing a dirt-smudged white hat, a dark green shirt with a black vest and pants, came out carrying an overloaded basket. It was filled with cookies wrapped in cellophane, bottles filled with a dark brown fluid and plastic bags of what looked like some kind of nuggets.

“Feel free to buy some refreshments,” Zemuel said.

“What do we have here?” an older man asked, peaking down into the basket.

“Peanut butter cookies and mustard dill chips,” the Amish man said.

“Which Anabaptists bought over the dill from the Old Country, Zem?” Elliott asked as several of the wagon’s occupants loaded up on the basket’s contents.

Zemuel didn’t answer.

“Want to get something?” Sue asked.

“Sure, why not?” Elliott said with a shrug.

“What’s in the bottles?” Sue asked the Amish man.

“Root beer,” he said. “Made right here.”

Elliott said something under his breath. Sue handed over her money and took a bottle. The basket was soon empty. Elliott watched the Amish man folding the bills.

“He must be one of the liberals,” Elliott said.

Sue unscrewed the bottle and took a careful sip. It wasn’t bad. Very sweet, but it had a deeper root beer flavor than the store-bought kind. She held the bottle out to Elliott. He eyed it for a few seconds, then shook his head. Sue put the cap back on the bottle.

Zemuel tapped the horses back into motion. They made a careful circle turn in the courtyard and headed back to the road. The Amish man had disappeared into the barn.  A woman started asking questions about the different types of Amish, and Zemuel obliged him by rattling off the names of several, including the Beachy and the Swartzenturber Amish. Elliott asked him to spell Swartzenturber. Zemuel led it rip with no problem. Elliott looked at Sue, eyebrows raised in some kind of triumph. She mouthed a silent What? Elliott, not taking his eyes from Sue, asked Zemuel how long the Amish attended school. He asked it with the assurance of man who already knew the answer.

“Not much past 8th grade,” Zemuel said.

Elliott smiled at Sue. It wasn’t the pleasant kind.

A man next to him chimed in with a question about who taught the Amish, and when Zemuel started saying something about unmarried women, Elliott leaned in close to Sue.

“So he knows about dialects? And the precise date of the Schism?” he asked. “And notice how he said it, sixteen hundred and ninety-three, all hee-haw style.”

“So what?” Sue said. “Maybe all the Amish are drilled on that stuff in 5th grade or something.”

“And he can spell Swartzenturger?” Elliott asked. “Rolled right off his tongue. This guy’s got an 8th grade education like I’ve got a third leg. He’s an actor who’s rehearsed.”

Or a poor Amish schlep who’s given this ride to about 50,000 witless tourists who ask the same questions over and over. But Sue didn’t say it aloud. There’d be plenty of time to debate this on the long trip home, particularly if they got stranded in Bristol again. Zemuel took a left when they hit the road, a sign they were heading back to where they started. The questions from the passengers thinned out, then stopped. The wagon’s occupants started conversing with each other in the relaxed, casual manner of a group sensing that it was about to disperse for good. Another man on the trip, whose name Sue never did catch, tried engaging Elliott in a discussion on Amish architecture. Elliott tried to pretend he was interested, but he couldn’t fake it past the first two sentences. He was rescued by another man, who mercifully jumped in to offer his opinion on the similarities between Amish and Shaker design.

They were just turning into the parking lot where they’d started when one of the women asked about the horses. She wanted to know their names. Zemuel seemed to hesitate for a few seconds before answering.

“Travis and Dick,” he said.

Elliott sat up straight at the exact moment the name Dick passed through Zemuel’s lips. Sue could’ve sworn she saw the muscles twitch in Elliott’s neck.

Travis and Dick.

Zemuel gave the reins a final tug when they reached the middle of the parking lot, just in front of everyone’s cars. He stepped down from his perch and moved to the back of the wagon to help the passengers off. Each couple said thank you to Zemuel as they handed him a tip. Sue was prepared. She’d already fished a ten out of her purse. Elliott had something else for him.

“Travis and Dick, huh?”

Zemuel looked at the horses, then back at Elliott.

“That’s their names,” Zemuel said.

“Right,” Elliott said. “The Amish would really name their horses Travis? And Dick?”

Zemuel moved his hat back on this head. He looked confused.

“Yes. Travis. And Dick. I named them.”

“Like hell you did,” Elliott said.

Sue reached out with her ten. Zemuel didn’t see her, so she moved it down and touched his hand with it. He took it, but it was pure reflex. He hadn’t broken off his stare with Elliott.

“What?” he asked.

“I said like hell,” Elliott said. “They’re not your horses, right?”

Zemuel took another look back at Travis and Dick, as if they’d help him decipher what this English wanted. They weren’t much help. Zemuel turned back to Elliott.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Sue didn’t say anything. If she interceded, it would just make things worse. She watched the other couples drifting back to their cars, off to lunches, holding hands, buying knick-knacks and emailing their grandchildren cheery little photos.

“You’re an actor, right?” Elliott asked.


“Ok. A contractor. A reenactor. That what you like to be called?”

Zemuel looked at Sue, but she offered as much help as Travis and Dick. She gave him a benign smile with just a hint of pleading in her eyes. Just go along with this. We’ll be gone soon. Gone forever.

“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” Zemuel said.

“What I’m getting at is you think you’re fooling us, but you’re not,” Elliott said. “At least not me. You can just admit it. It won’t kill you.”

“Admit what?”

“It’s ok. You can stop, they’re gone,” Elliott said, nodding at the other tourists. Most were in their cars, started up their engines and pulling away. “So just tell me.”

“Tell you what?” Zemuel said. His tone had changed. He wasn’t the helpful guide anymore. Just a pissed-off Amish guy.

Sue stood beside Elliott for a few more seconds, then decided to walk to their car. It was the only one left. She hoped Elliott would see her walking away, but he kept at it with Zemuel.

“Travis and Dick,” she heard Elliott said. “Sixteen hundred and ninety-three. That’s all real cute. Not very Hochmut though, is it?”

“I don’t understand,” Zemuel said

“The hell you don’t.”

Sue was soon out of earshot. When she reached the car she dug out her set of keys, unlocked the doors, sat down in the passenger seat and slammed the door shut, hoping Elliott would hear it. He didn’t. The discussion had heated up, with Elliott pointing his finger at Zemuel’s chest and Zemuel standing his ground, hands on hips.

Sue watched for a few more moments, then reached over and pushed the start button. The dashboard lit up. She turned on the radio and started searching for something to listen to. Elliott and Zemuel were now nose to nose, with Elliott gesturing jerkily in the air.  She hit on a tune that sounded familiar. It was the Dovells singing the Bristol Stomp. Sue smiled, turned it up and listened to them singing about the stars spinning on Friday nights. She sat there and tried not to smile, but it came out anyway.



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