“Pathmaker” Ep 5: The Float Trip

Skip was hungry. The screams and gunfire from last night had left him uneasy, but the deer assured him that almost all his pursuers had been dealt with, almost. He focused on the river which occasionally would widen to nearly one-hundred feet across and then diminish into a rough channel of water less than two car lengths wide. Some white puffy clouds had made their way into the sky and overall, the day was beautiful. A slight breeze seemed to scoot the clouds through the tangled mess of tree branches letting a few rays of sunlight to break through the canopy and touch the soft earth. Little white and yellow butterflies danced between trees. Squirrels thrashed about the underbrush arguing with each other in a language of tiny little barks and chirps. They never really rested, only slowing the pace a few times. She eventually wandered off and brought back another branch of berries. The day was flying by.

“We will reach the boat soon.” She said without breaking her step. He allowed himself to wonder if there were Inquisitor Office agents in the woods looking for him right now with no idea the size of force they would bring. He noticed the doe standing as still as a rock focusing on the woods, her head would swivel to a different direction after she had looked in one place for a long moment.

“Let’s go. There is still a hunter in the woods.” They once again were moving up stream. This time their pace was deliberate, and they moved with a sense of urgency. Then he saw the wooden fishing boat ashore on a gravel beach a few dozen yards ahead. He rushed up to it and tossed his pack in. The small boat smelled of mildew and moss, and there was only one old wooden oar in the bottom of the vessel.

“You sure she is sea worthy, captain?” He said to the deer with a little chuckle. She did not respond. He pushed the boat into the water a little and looked back at his guide. “I guess this is goodbye.”

“Goodbye, path maker. Find your way.” She turned and bolted into the forest her white tail flagging with each bounce. He was now alone on the shore with a rickety old boat, and his assumption being it he was to now float down this little river until he found someone or something that would begin his new life. He pushed until the scraping sound coming from the shore ended and the boat felt stable. This was his first attempt at climbing into an old boat like this, yet after a few tries he managed to climb in and only get his pants, shirt, and most of the contents of the boat wet. He rowed out into the middle of the water and hoped the rougher waters would not be the end of his boating career. He found it nearly impossible to steer and regularly wound up facing up stream as he helplessly drifted backwards. He decided to fill his bottles with river water despite his knowledge that it could be less than pristine. Rounding a corner he could see bouncing white tops of the narrower rough part of the river. From this perspective they looked far more dangerous and daunting than from the shoreline. The boat’s speed increased with every few yards. He soon began to bounce from wave to wave which forced him to drop the oar and hang on to stay upright. The boat spun and heaved splashing water over the sides drenching him. Water was starting to stand in the bottom of the boat and the first considerations of structural integrity became concerns. Then, like that, it was over.

He looked to the floor of his boat and began bailing the water with his hands. He had just tossed the third handful of water over the side when a bullet skipped off the edge of the boat just in front of him causing an explosion of ruptured wood into the air. His head snapped to the shoreline thirty feet away. He saw a man in a black suite with dark hair pointing a black handgun at him. He dove to the bottom of the boat as another shot shredded the surface of the wooden plank he had been sitting on.

“I finally found you heretic,” Trevor shouted from the shoreline. “You are mine, and God’s judgment your only mercy.” He aimed at the side of the boat where he thought Skip would be ducked. He squeezed the trigger putting a hole in the side of the boat eight inches above the water. Skip felt the boat wiggle with the impact of the shot. He did not want to die in the bottom of a crappy old fishing boat he stole with the help of a deer on an adventure he took up because a rabbit told him said it would be a good idea. He put his hand up. When it was not blown off he looked over the edge at the man. He stood slowly.

“Okay, you got me, just don’t kill me.” He yelled.

“I do not even know how many agents were sacrificed to hunt you down. I plan on ending you.” He drew the gun up to his face and lined the sights up just above where he guessed the target’s heart would be. He softly exhaled and put pressure against the curve of the trigger. He squeezed with ecstasy.

Skip watched as the gun was leveled at him and aimed carefully. He closed his eyes and heard a shot followed by a splash. He opened his eyes to see the man thrashing in the waters of the river, as two wild dogs tore and crushed flesh and bone. The man was flailing about, panicked cries that would haunt Skip for life. He turned away looking down river until the cries stopped. He turned back to see the dogs trot back into the forest, and he could just make out the black, floating body bobbing near the water’s edge. Soon the river carried him away from the scene, and soon he found himself looking forward rather than back.

He had survived the NRCC’s hunter, and as the water pushed him, he made the decision to seek out and help others that had escaped the agencies grasp, to make a path for others.

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“Pathmaker” Ep 2: The Inquisitor

I sat in the living room of a target that had slipped away. The disappointment from when a target slipped through the cracks swirled in my mind, and the superiors will look at the report asking how this lowly unbeliever had escaped. I already knew the answer. The scheduling is what tipped him off. Undoubtedly, the sight of his neighbor being taken into custody inspired his flight. The two houses were supposed to be taken at once, but somebody failed to coordinate the business effectively. Looking towards the front window gave me the view; the subject would have seen commotion the across the street. I could tell that nothing had really been moved or taken. A search was already underway, but his car and license plate were the only leads.

Moving to the bedroom, I looked about for any clues as to where the target might have gone. Any clothes in the closet had all been taken, yet the room looked as though someone was still living within. I sorted through some useless mail on the dresser it slowly dawning on me that this was a dry hole.

Opening the loosely hinged back door, I moved into the back yard. Woods completely dominated the view giving an immediate sense of solitude. A path into the woods across the yard was the only gap in the foliage; my impulse was to enter the darkened entrance. The target had obviously spent a great deal of time crafting the trail, so I decided that I would pay homage and walk the path myself. The undergrowth had been manicured in such a way that gave a U-shape to the canopy of branches above. A little sunlight streamed through the bows to allow complete and comfortable vision down the path and into the wooded surroundings. I walked a while, thinking about what the target must have felt when contemplating the act of deserting such a marvelous creation for his home. It would have been difficult for me.

A small rabbit crossed the trail about thirty paces away, pausing only a moment to look my direction before bouncing off. After about twenty minutes of walking I noticed that the trail started to bend to the left. After a short distance, I noticed that there was a branch off of the trail to the left that was styled the same. Looking forward and then down the new path, I guessed that the trail made a large loop. I turned back towards the entrance noticing the beginning was not visible from this location. Complete solitude, how nice.

There had been no surveillance on the home, or the target himself for that matter. Nobody from his office or the neighborhood had noticed the man had left until they arrived to arrest him. That meant that his head start could be anywhere from a handful of hours to nearly an entire day. Disappointment set in again. Letting down my superiors was bad, but my personal sadness at letting down God created a pit in my stomach. There seemed to be no clues in the house, no tips from anyone, and no ideas on where to start. This was the first failure for me in this office, and as Head Inquisitor, my reputation would hinge on this situation.

I had taken down far more important people since the “war on sin” had started. Great thinkers and vocal dissenters alike had been captured and detained under my command, and this lowly citizen could not blemish my name on a national level, but I would know; God would know too. Walking back towards the house, a bit of purpose had seeped into my stride, carrying me out of the wooded area faster than I had pushed into it. Once back in the yard, looking at the house, I could only shake my head. I felt my fists curl up at my sides, anger started to cloud my thinking. The next move would be very important to closing this case, and I didn’t need emotions bubbling up to distort my decision making process. I took a slow breath and tried to let the rage pass, as pain in my right palm began replacing the anger. Looking to my palm I noticed my finger nails had been digging into my flesh, bleeding a bit. This put out my internal fires. Such a weak and pathetic display was not becoming of a vessel doing God’s work. I needed to remember that. He would guide me and assist when I needed, so letting emotions and personal ambitions would only lead to distraction, which would lead to more failure. I needed to put my faith first and let it guide me.

I moved to the middle of the yard and knelt down. Placing my hands on my thighs I closed my eyes and tilted my head to face the sky letting my eyes follow the tiny spec of an airplane cruising thousands of feet above me.

“Lord, I come to you in this moment of weakness. You have granted me great success and prowess in doing your biding. “I have always been so diligent in my efforts to make the world a place of faith, but this cursed and immoral creature is still free to infect the minds of the weak with doubt. I know that I am filled with faults, but I cannot bear to fail you in this task. I am an imperfect creature though, and I have made a mistake doing your good work to cleanse this great nation and people. I have let a deviant slip through the gaps of my efforts. I have no means to peruse the heretic. I turn now to my faith and trust in your guidance to rectify this failure. I humbly ask for your help, your servant in all things for all of eternity. Amen.” I let my torso fall forward putting my hands on the ground in total submission to the will of God.

I noticed that the ground was cold on my knees, and I become aware of the breeze rustling the leaves in woods behind me. Feeling the sun beating down on my back, the Holy Spirit filled me. I felt tears well up. My eyes opened slowly, slightly blurred by the misting of tears that still lingered between my eyelids. Still kneeling, I looked to the backdoor of the empty house. The paint job was like a rainbow exploded. I wiped away the remaining tears and collected my resolve, cleared my throat, and stood, dusting the bits of grass and wetness from my slacks.

Going back into the house and into the bathroom to compose myself for the task ahead my nerves were still humming. My reflection revealed a navy-blue suit coat which still had all the shape it began the day with. I used a little water to wash the shame and tears away, preparing to face the world and give the orders that will bring this escaped sinner to justice. Toweling off the remainder of the water around the edges of my face and absentmindedly straightening the black and white pin-stripe tie that lies against my gray shirt, I run my hand through my thick white hair and settle it back into a composed part. Those emotions would not distract again while on this case, nothing but the most hardened focus from this point out, and there was plenty of work to do. Heading out the front door, I reached into my inner coat pocket and extracted my phone. A few swipes and a tap later the phone was ringing. The call was answered with a respectful greeting.

“I am coming back to the office, call Preston and Brooke, please. Tell them that there is a meeting in my office at one o’clock. Thanks.” I replace the phone and climb into my official jet-black Mustang. On the way back to the office, the feeling that I am in for some surprises on this job came over me, so I must be sure that there are some surprises of my own to dish out, when the time comes.

At the meeting I line out the plan of attack. Full search was the model, in the air for the vehicle, surveillance on the house, and local sheriff’s offices for the ground search. After the meeting my team of three got on the phones issuing orders down the appropriate channels. I also decided to get the technology division to put out social media flags allowing the public to be a part of my team. By midnight the plan was fully engaged. I lay back on my office couch to catch a nap.

A hum against my chest woke me. We had a hit.

***

The report said that a few hikers passionate for the cause had noticed the target’s car parked in a national forest lot several hours away at the “D” trail site. The sheriff’s men were the first on the scene, and had reported that it was the correct car, but the target had not been spotted. I accelerated faster down the state highway leading to the park anticipating the hunt to come, and it was only a few more hours until that time. My only real worry was that he had left the car here and found some other form of transportation, but I had my doubts. He was there, and would be found somewhere in the forest. Only a little further now.

I felt the vibration emitting from my phone, with a single hand I answered the phone.

“Go for Trevor.” It was one of my agents at the campsite telling me that the car was now completely searched and its contents itemized. They only waited for my arrival to proceed. “Good work, if you would please take a few officers and cover the perimeter at about two-hundred yards from the entrance to the trail, and post at least one guard at any auxiliary trails you find, even if it looks old or rarely used. I don’t want random hikers wandering in and out of our investigation site.” The voice on the other end confirmed that the tasks would be seen to immediately. Everything would be in order by the time I arrived. I would walk into the environment and have a two-way radio placed in my hand, and my two lieutenants would be waiting to brief me on anything they deemed important. Then we would dig this heretic out of the woods. I smiled in spite of myself and couldn’t help but daydream a little about what the encounter would be like. The various possibilities darted through my mind moving from scene to scene. I was passing the time, but it also served a purpose of preparing me for anything that might come up. My team would be ready.

As I saw the “D Trail” sign rays of sunlight poured through the trees lighting the road and the entrance into the parking area. This was a sign showing me the way. Pulling into the parking lot, I was greeted by one of my agents who pointed me to the target’s car and explained that the van to set up a base camp was within half an hour of arriving. I was anxious to start working. The hatchback was surrounded in sheriff’s cars, and a small troupe of agents and officers sifting through items from the vehicle. I found a space off to the left, parked, and strolled over to the scene. As imagined, an agent walked over to me and handed me my radio. “Channel 13, Sir,” the agent said as he turned to get back to work. Looking over the scene everything seemed very much in order and my mind moved to other business. Searching the faces I saw my second, Brooke. She had long brown hair that she kept in a braid under a black cap. She had obviously dressed for the occasion as she was in black combat fatigues and black hiking boots. Her clear blue eyes were already on me when I noticed her. I motioned for her to come over and we met halfway to the abandoned car. She handed me the list of items from the interior of the car and watched me as I scanned over the paper.

“Sir, how would you like to proceed? The car and area are secure.”

“Thank you, Brooke. Let’s get the base camp tent set in the parking spaces on the other side of his vehicle. Then once you see that is moving along fine radio me. Where is Mr. Preston?”

“Scouting some of the trails we have found.”

“Has he a radio?”

“Sir,” she said with a nod.

“Good, go ahead with base camp when the van arrives.”

She turned and walked with purpose over to another agent and began getting the area cleared for van’s arrival. I lifted my radio, “Preston, this is Trevor, over?” There was a short pause before his voice came over the radio.

“Preston here, copy.”

“What’s your twenty?”

“Coming back down a side trail that leads southwest from the main. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, and no sign of our target, over.”

“Understood. Come on back to the lot and we’ll get our ducks in a row, over.”

“Copy that, on my way.”

I let the radio drop to my side and begun to notice the world around me. The tall forest was mixed evergreen trees of various breeds and leafy counterparts in equal numbers. The undergrowth was sparse for the most part near the trail entrance. I imagined that it became a little thicker deeper down. There were birds and rodents all calling out to each other, and likely to us, complaining about today’s ruckus in their woods. It had occurred to me is that it would be virtually impossible to hide for very long anywhere near this location. If he didn’t know that we were here and readying search efforts, it could be a short day. If the target was aware of the force that now congregated to track him, he would not have stuck around for very long. Chances were that Preston had already scouted more than one trail, so the target was going to be hid, possibly deep in the woods, and possibly dug in pretty well. I noticed Brooke was walking my direction, soon Preston would arrive and battle plans would be drawn up. I was ready.

“Pathmaker” Ep 1: Skip Estes

Skip’s neighborhood was normally safe by civilized standards. Except this particular morning a commotion across the street brought him out of a serious breakfast focus. His curiosity got the better of him, so he tried to sneak a peek through the blinds hanging over his living room window. There were three white, windowless vans lining the street in front of the neighbor’s house. Two police cruisers blocked the driveway making a “T” shape that leaned to the left. The neighbor’s name was David Freelin, and he and Skip had been neighbors for years. He had always been a good neighbor. The memory of the time when David ran an electrical cord across the street during the last ice storm once the power started going out, but he had a generator and shared it with him until the power came on again.

Skip hated the reason that David was being harassed. The Constitution used to state that religion was not something in which the government would dabble. That part had recently been removed, and before anyone had a chance to repeal it, things began to take a turn for the worse, becoming dangerous. A new government office, The NRCC, National Religious Control Center, and their enforcement organization, The Inquisitors Office, started removing the resistance. They began with the most vocal of the nonreligious people. Once most of those were removed their attentions moved to the more common citizen. They claimed they were just doing an “extra census.” Commercials stared to air right when the census takers began knocking on doors around the neighborhoods of the entire nation. Skip remembered when the media started to change. The television commercials explicitly say, “Get religion or we will come get you,” but that is what he thought they meant. About two months later the white, windowless vans accompanied by police cruisers began showing up in neighborhoods. They were arresting, or abducting as some called it, the people who had not answered their extra census questions asking about religion satisfactorily.

Once the NRCC realized the loudest voices of opposition were cleared away they would virtually unregulated access, to everyone. This was Skip’s best guess to explain the current environment in which his wonderful neighbor was being abducted.

He understood the federal policy like this: everyone must have a recognized religion. The rationale presented was nonreligious persons cannot have an objective moral sense, and this caused of all the social trouble, leading to criminal behavior. Considering this was a US policy, it seemed odd to Skip they were open to most religions as long as it was a recognized one. Even though the people still had freedom of religion, the modern change had an unmistakably Christian root. All other religions claiming that there might be more than one God, or less than one, became the same as “terrorists” and that a proactive measure should be instituted for citizen safety. The media aired nothing but propaganda to accuse the extra-religious and the nonreligious. This was segue to the introduction of the NRCC.

For David Freelin, his life had been labeled “terroristic and an undermining of the American way,” by the rhetoric accepted as truth. Still in a thin white T-shirt and dark boxers, they lead him into the back of the left-most van. The van drove off leaving the remainder of the posse in and around the man’s home. Skip watched as several things were brought out of the house and loaded into the remaining vehicles. “Evidence no doubt” he muttered to himself. Once the yard had emptied, he let the gap in the blinds fall. He backed away, still looking forward. His mind began whispering to him with worrisome ideas. Anxiety began to creep into his mind. The answers given on his new census would not be to the liking of the Inquisitors’ Office. I might be next, echoed in his mind. It didn’t take him twenty seconds to decide that he would be next, this catalyzed anxiety into panic. He sprinted out of his back door and into the yard. They could be coming right now, he thought.

His back yard was fair in size, but the truly dominating feature in the environment was the dense forest not more than twenty yards from his back door, and the canopy bordered the entire neighbor hood on this side. Skip had spent several years carving a walking trail that traveled into the woods a few hundred yards before looping back around to the left, intersecting back with itself about fifty yards from the beginning. It was not an escape plan, being as it is a closed circuit, but he decided to walk it anyway hoping it would calm his nerves bringing some much need clarity to his thoughts, regarding a solution for escape. He went back inside to prepare a bottle of water and grab a handful of almonds. He hopped out the open door way and was almost running for the little opening to the homemade trail.

The woods quickly enveloped him, as he eventually slowed himself down several notches, and after a few minutes his pace resembled a stroll rather than power walk. Despite his leisurely pace, an expression of deep concern as deep lines creased his forehead accompanied by pair of eyes that darted around frantically. The poets of old seemed to find some solutions hidden within nature, but at this moment he was could see none.

In that very moment, a light grey rabbit hopped onto the path before him freezing him mid-step. The rabbit turned to look at Skip. The forest seemed to quiet, and all attention was on these two creatures in the stream of time existing together. He could not seem to draw his gaze away from the rabbit; mystified by the amount of attention it now invested doing the same to him. In a high pitched voice the rabbit asked, “Why so worried, path maker?” Skip blinked and one nervous chuckle that sounded like a cough shook his torso in spasm.

“What?”

“You look so worried. We have never seen you bearing the posture of fear with such intensity.”

Skip, positive that he was now insane, figured his fear of persecution for tolerance must have pushed his mind over the limits of constructing a rational design of his surroundings. Indulgence seemed dangerous, but he answered in spite of the impulse of caution. Skip professed, “I’ve a lot of fear right now, little rabbit.”

“That is terrible, path maker. I believe you will choose wisely. You make good paths, path maker,” it said with a tone of simple understanding. The rabbit gingerly bounded within a few yards of Skip.

“What?”

“You saved us when we were young, so we think you can choose rightly.”

“How did I save you?”

“When we were young, my litter reached the age when the nest was no longer large enough to contain such numbers of sprouting children. Our mother told us that we must learn the way of the forest around our nest so that we may expand the amount of feeding and sleeping places. She explained that children grow larger more quickly than seasons of the year can change, so the family must do this or suffer great losses. We listened like good children and began adventuring and playing under all the new trees we found. We ran and jumped from every new stone and rolled in the patches of grass where the beams of light find the forest floor. This time of childhood brought unmatched joy in the litter’s life. We share no greater memory of the past. After many days of jovial frolicking, our view of life would be changed by the nature of the forest forever.

“We were venturing far from the nest one very sunny day, frolicking like every other day. Then, one of us cried out with terror, “Hunter.” We all echoed the warning cry and then ran. We ran with our ears put back. This was a narrow eyed hunter that uses terrible claws extending from paws where they lie hidden under fur. They pounce on their prey in a great bite coupled with the extension of those claws. They can pierce fur in half-a-dozen spots, killing in a moment’s time. It seemed at least one of the litter was doomed when we luckily came across a clear place on the forest floor, clean to the bare earth. We each raced down the clear path. Without any obstacles to slow us we ran as fast as the wind blows before a storm. The diamond eye could not keep up at such speeds, so it quit the chase. Eventually we came to the end of the cleared path when we saw a great boulder of many colors and knew that we were safe at last.

“We returned home to tell our mother of the dangerous adventure. She lamented that we were almost prey for a hunter, but rejoiced in the discovery of the clear path. The whole family has used the path for survival for many generations. We all have used the path often as we have grown into adults, with litters of our own, some of us. We show our children how to use the path to navigate the forest and use it for escape. It is a good path.”

“So you see, path maker, it saved us. Maybe you may make a path for escape as you did for my litter.”

Profundity struck Skip. He did not want to run, leaving his home behind. He did not possess much, but he enjoyed what he had gathered. The thought of abandoning that life seemed regrettable. He said to the rabbit, “So you think I should run from my hunter, even if it means finding a new home?”

“That is what all rabbits must do when the litter grows too large for the nest, or when hunters take over the land. It is the only strategy we use, and it has made rabbit families since the beginning.” The rabbit’s nose quit wiggling, as he reared up on his hind legs and asked, “Path maker, will your hunter catch you?”

“Yes, little bunny, they are the great hunters. They will catch me if I stay at my home.” Skip felt tears come to the corners of his eyes.

“You must run, path maker, do not let the hunter consume you. We would be so sad. You must run and find a new nest. Then you can keep making paths for future litters in far away forests.” With that the rabbit sped off into the under growth. Skip was left standing alone. He knew the little rabbit was right. He spun around and ran down the path towards his home. Once he had broken free of the forest into his back yard he paused. The back of his house had color all over it, and he realized this was the colored boulder. Skip decided right then and there he would find another place and create more paths. These walks were one of his great joys here. He would not make this the last of his homes, but he would free himself to make another. He readied his departure.

Skip had a blue Pinto. The hatchback burned a little oil but could get him around. He stuffed everything he could fit into his car. He tidied up the house a bit and left a note for whoever would enter the house next.

The Path Maker was here, but now escaped, with a new path to make.

He stuck the note to the refrigerator with some scotch tape, put the tape in his pocket, grabbed his keys, and headed for the Pinto. He stopped right before he climbed in and looked to the forest behind the house, “Thank you, little bunny,” he said aloud, and off he went.

“Sick” Ep 4: Final Episode

Anticipation roiled behind his eyes, and he would have run if his footfalls weren’t crunching loudly against the leaf-covered gravely surface of the road. The light at the top of the hill was growing in size. Whatever the source was, its increase in size marked an inexorable fate closing fast. He was prepared no matter what was revealed. After another hundred yards toward his target the sword began a very low vibration. The light was obviously a building with a rectangular opening like a garage or barn door. There was a shadow of movement across the front of the light. He crouched down instinctively, straining his eyes to notice any other shifts light. After a few moments of no change, he resumed his pace up the hillside, keeping his lowered posture. The reflection of a couple vehicles off to the side of the bright entrance were now visible. He pushed ahead as the ground started to level out. He could make out two figures at the opening of the structure moving about and voices began to reach him. The dirt driveway made a slight turn to the right letting the light spilling from the entrance illuminate a curve to the left leading to the entrance.

Thank you Lord,” he whispered as he made his way around the hook in the road. Once he was facing the entrance, he settled into a crouch behind a tree, lowering the weapon to keep the any glint from the weapon from revealing him. Voices mingled with high-pitched music that carried no certain tune, spilling out of the building into the darkness. He began to study his forthcoming battlefield.

There was an old pickup and beat-up Jeep parked single-file to the right of the entrance. The area leading up to the entrance of the shop was white gravel leading to a concrete slab as wide as the entrance and ten yards deep connected to the entrance. The men inside were of opposite height and girth. The shorter being the wider, wore a ball cap. The thinner of the two wore long hair tied back. The fat man wore a black T-shirt and blue jeans, while the skinny one had on a white sleeveless top with black pants. From what he could tell at this distance, they seemed to be working over a large flat item suspended on four sawhorses. They were either sanding or drawing on it, then they would stop and speak to one another, followed by a measurement taken by the tall one. He decided that he did not know enough about the scene to make his assault yet, so he risked a closer inspection. Checking around and satisfied he could move with stealth, he slowly made his way to a tree several feet closer to the entrance. He repeated this action a few more times until he was within fifty feet of the entrance. Sweat trickled from his head and body. Every muscle was drawn tight. He his breathing was calm despite the setting before him.

The faces were contorted versions of human faces. Twisted mouths leaking thick strands of drool and large flat noses lead up to wild eyes under a protruding brow covered in dark hair from temple to temple. Their fingers were long and spindly with black claws. There were red pentagrams painted on the walls. Neither were wearing shoes and instead stood upon black hooves. He didn’t see any weapons near them, but he was sure that they could defend themselves. He listened closely to their speech. A demonic language with words of guttural grunts and snorts. Michael told him to announce his presence and intentions of execution. He set his teeth with determination and silently strolled out centering himself with the concentrate entrance.

The sword leaning over his right shoulder he called out, “Demons of Hell, God has sent me armed with a weapon of Heaven to cast you from this world into oblivion.” Both of the demons turned from their work to see him for the first time. The short one pointed at him, shook its head while grunting and growling at him.

You cannot scare me with your threats. I will not leave until you are both crushed by the wrath of God.” He felt the warmth of Heavenly power surge through him. It felt as though he was glowing. His sword vibrated, “Now.” The enemy had moved to the entrance of the shop. They were pointing at him and turning to speak softly between themselves. “Prepare yourselves, demons.”

He began to walk toward them, and they both adopted aggressive stances. He whispered, “Praise God,” as he used the next two movements for longer strides, coming to a run by the third. The two targets looked to each other quickly before stepping forward to meet the him. He gripped the sword with both hands, and brought the weapon into a deadly arc from his shoulder aiming for the collarbone of the tall demon. He felt the weightless blade cut through the air, leaving a dark blur in its path . The tip whistled with speed for only an instant before the edge of the sword drove onto the body of the demon. A blast of white light exploded from the point of impact with a force that stopped his sprint and drove him to the concrete. The side of his skull fractured upon impact with the edge of the slab. “God grant me strength!” he thought. It was his last living action.

The two men looked down at their attacker. Blood was streaming from his left ear in a thin stream. The taller of the two checked his shoulder where the stranger’s switch had whipped him. He cautiously nudged the body with his work boot. “Holy shit, Dillon,” he said making sure there was no blood on his fingertips. “What the fuck you spose’ that lil’ fucker was up too, anyhow?

I don’t have the slightest clue, man.”

All that hollerin’ about God, he mustev’ been some crazed Bible thumper.” Dillon moved over to look at the dead face whose eyes now stared blankly down the edge of the concrete into the dark woods

I don’t recognize him.” The heavy man said gazing down the driveway, back to the bloody-faced man on the ground, and gritted his teeth in anger. “Goddamnit, Will,” he looked to the taller of the two. “We are gonna have to go into town right fuckin’ now to get a cop out here. If we try to move him they’ll assume we hurt him and it’ll be fuckin’ huge mess, man.”

Will looked to the shop, and back to the dead stranger. “Yup, yer right.” He started to walk into the shop, “I’ll drive, my Jeep’ll git us there quicker.”

Alright. Goddamit. You little fuckin’ twerp. What the fuck?” Dillon flipped off the body on his shop’s driveway.

The men climbed into the old Jeep and headed for the little town. At the police station, there was a hand written sign on the door that read, “Restroom—5 Min.” After much more than five minutes, an officer came to the door and looked at the two standing outside. He twisted the lock and motioned with his head for the two to enter. They walked in shortest first and waited for the officer to seat himself behind the counter.

What can I do for you boys tonight?” The officer asked while picking up a white foam cup off the work surface below the visitors counter.

Officer, we need to report a death on our property,” Dillon said. The officer stopped mid drink and cocked an eyebrow to the two.

I see.”

This dude appeared at the front of our shop and started telling us that God sent him to kill us. Then he charged us with a switch your mom would have had ya cut, hit Will with it,” Will leaned forward to show the officer the red mark that was still evident on top of his shoulder. “Then he fell over and died. Started bleeding out his ear. We didn’t know he was even out there until he was ready to fight.” Dillon’s voice had steadily risen through the telling of the story, and now, he stood wide-eyed waiting for the officer’s response.

The officer turned to Will.

Yessir, boy was crazed ta’ all get out,” Will said.

The officer began to get some papers out from under the visitor counter, he said, “Alright, have you moved or touched the body?” Both men answered simultaneously, “No.” “Good, we’ll have you each fill out a statement, sign it, I’ll call in the county sheriff, and you fellas will lead him to the location. Clear?” Nods from each were answered with pre-printed affidavits. “I’ll need your full names and driver’s licenses right quick.” Once all cards and names were exchanged, the officer chimed in on his radio requesting county sheriff’s officers to respond to a death in a rural location in the county. The boys finished their statements and handed them to the officer. He offered each coffee, which they both accepted. The officer pried into the details of the location and situation taking a few notes. Eventually the front door to the station opened as a county officer entered. The story was retold and the county officer checked the mens’ hands and cloths for any signs of struggle. Satisfied that neither had beaten anyone bloody, he asked to be lead to the location. The two warned him that their shop’s drive wasn’t passable with his vehicle. He quickly called in a sheriff’s truck to meet them at the country store along the way. The officers noticed the old Lincoln taking up half of the dirt road and ran the plates, guessing the car belonged to the deceased. The men were questioned and business cards given. The body was bagged and taken down the hill in the bed of the truck to an awaiting coroner’s vehicle at the bottom of the drive. The old Lincoln was towed away a few hours later. The autopsy revealed an aneurism and hemorrhage from the skull fracture. His funeral was held at the church. The switch he used against Will was never used as evidence, eventually tossed outside where some other sticks had fallen.

“Sick” Ep. 3

He awakened slowly. It was bright. The luminescence prevented him from seeing anything. He tried to shield his eyes, but the light seemed to be everywhere. “Have I died?” he thought. “Is this Heaven?” He closed his eyes and felt around. He immediately felt his notebooks all around. “I thought it was dark when you were blind,” he said to himself. A spike of panic at the proposition of failing to fulfill God’s message forced him to check his eyesight again. His lids drew open a fraction of an inch further allowing the piercing light to attack his retinas. He thought he could make out the outline of his bed and the window beyond. His gaze to drifted to the floor, he could see his thighs stretching out in front of him surrounded by the rectangular outline of notebooks. His eyes adjusted some allowing him to make out the spiral spines of notebooks, pant folds at his knees, and the slight texture of the medium carpet between the shapes surrounding him. It was uncomfortable, but he managed to bring his gaze back to the edge of the bed. The light source emanated from just above his bed like a spotlight pointed directly at his face. Vision growing more detailed, he said “Thank you, God for sparing my vision.” Something moved behind the light.

Who’s there?”

Hello,” a soft but confident voice answered back.

This sent him springing to his feet. The quick movement after unconsciousness gave him a head rush, and the light-headed feeling made him lean back using his hands on a shelf to maintain balance. “What do you want?” He heard the creak of the bed, a sound it made every morning as he climbed out.

Calm yourself, believer,” came a smooth voice. The voice was supple and understanding. It filled him with comfort. “I am Michael.” He fell to his knees and instantly began to weep with convulsive sobs. He hadn’t heard any footfalls, but he became aware of the someone standing over his bowed form. He tried to speak, but sobs held his voice silent, all he managed was a gurgle. He felt a large open hand lightly press into his back, “Be at peace, child,” the smooth voice answered. He pleaded, “Michael, I have received God’s message and I am a willing and ready servant.“ Tears traveled down the length of his nose, dripping off the tip, leaving a cold spot where the drops departed to the floor. “You are true in the eyes of The Lord,” Michael said. He wanted nothing more than to look into Michael’s eyes, but he wouldn’t. “Rise, child,” the angel commanded, so using a hand on his knee he pushed himself up to stand. Eyes still lowered to the floor he asked, “What would you have me do?”

He noticed the brightness of the room had diminished to the glow of a lamp. “Look to me my child,” Michael requested, and he felt a finger lightly touch under his course chin lifting his head. He could see large powerful muscles running down the arm from a white robe that connected to the finger lifting his chin. Fear poured ice into his veins. He managed to look upon the perfect face. The eyes were pure black. He could clearly see his reflection in both obsidian colored orbs. Michael was at least six foot-five with long blonde hair pushed back atop broad shoulders. To his disappointment, no wings rose from behind creature. The face he looked upon had a sharp nose and chin. Michael was clean-shaven revealing soft lines around the lean features.

Michael withdrew his finger, returning his arm to a relaxed position. “I bring a gift from heaven, so that your task of destroying Satan’s minions will come to pass.”

He nodded in response. “How will I be able to destroy them? I am a weak member of the flock and do not know how to fight our enemies.”

Michael drew back a fold on the left side of his robe revealing a sword at his hip. “This weapon of Heaven shall be your blessing. This sword saw the battle with Satan in the first age and smote the demons he commanded.”

He felt guilty. “I don’t know how to use a sword.” Worry this would prevent him from doing his duty for God came as the words were said. Tears began to fill the corners of his eyes. Michael’s expression lightened, as a small smile crossed his face.

The power of God will guide your hand, and you will know the power of the Holy Spirit when your enemies wither before you.” The smile faded back to a wide-eyed stare that was as stern as any he could remember. “Are you ready, to go hence, and stand before your enemy? Vanquish fear from your heart, servant of God, for the power of God will be with you. Come.” He followed Michael through the house and into the cool morning air. The silence of the environment struck him immediately. He heard no birds chirping, or squirrels barking discontent; there were no cars on the roads, or planes in the sky. The only sound was the crunching orange, red, and yellow husks of the summer’s canopy underfoot.

You must travel with haste to your enemy. Announce to your enemy your intentions. Then take up my sword against them all who bear the mark,” Michael said with a voice low and serious.

What mark?”

You will know the mark.”

Okay, I believe you and I am ready, even if my enemies kill me, I will be forever grateful at this chance of grace.”

Michael‘s right arm went across his body and he drew the sword from his waist. Bringing the sword to an upright position, then lowering by turning his wrist to the left and resting the tip in his left hand, the sword was held before its new warrior. He looked the length of Michael’s weapon and noticed it swirled with a dark mist across its surface. Micheal removed his hands from beneath the blade. It hovered only for a moment before dropping to the ground,. Rustling leaves swirled away from the impact. A stiff cold wind blew past him carrying more leaves over the sword and past his feet. He looked up to find Michael was gone, and that it was no longer a cool, bright fall morning. The clouds had returned and with it an emptiness. With a deep breath he bent down allowing his fingers to wrap around the sword’s pommel. His heart raced. The sword was warm and impossibly light. He brought the sword to the same upright position the Michael had shown him a moment ago. He looked up and down the sword in awe of the absolute beauty imbibed within the terrible weapon of Heaven. He could feel power emanating from the blade, and the blade’s black swirls seemed to excite, sliding and twisting across the mirror shine. His muscles were tight giving him the feeling of a loaded gun, hammer back and ready to fire.

Where am I going?” he asked the sky.

Your enemy resides to the east,” came a voice on the wind.

How will I know my enemies location?”

The sword will show you the way, and then you will see the marked ones. Now go.”

He walked into the house to grab a the bottle of juice, his black Navy coat, and pack of peanut butter crackers. The door of the Lincoln Continental welcomed him with a loud squeak. Placing the sword across his lap with the tip toward the passenger door, he started the engine and paused at the edge of his driveway. The instant before he engaged the accelerator the sword hummed with the words, “Go left.” He looked to his lap with astonishment.

Did you just talk?”

Go left,” was the reply.

Wow. Praise God. Let’s go,” he said, as he depressed the accelerator. The sword led him down familiar roads at first. Then further into uncultivated regions with fewer paved roadways intersecting the main byway. The weapon hummed at intersections and turn-offs upon approach. He was lost after a bit, there was an effort to notice road signs and landmarks as they appeared, but he was too excited to keep them in order. Soon the paved roads turned into gravel and dirt. The unkempt dirt roads slowed his pace. Collapsing houses with small junk yards for lawns and mud pits for driveways became the common home. The journey became a collection of “No Trespassing” signs, and the horrible roads continuously assaulted the old Lincoln. He looked to his gas meter and noticed it was resting on “E.” The sun neared the horizon, and the thought of the coming night worried him a little. Any uncertainty he resisted with faith, grabbing the sword pommel, remembering his charge. Eventually, the sun moved behind a hilltop and never peaked above the horizon again. The dusk caused him to wonder how long he would have to search. He had assumed that this would be a trip directly to his target and a safe return home, but if he had to, he would walk his forty days in wilderness. He only needed to keep faith. When the old Continental finally sputtered to a stop the darkness was complete. Once outside the cold wind stripped his flesh of warmth. The sword hummed, “Continue.” Putting the sword on his shoulder, he set off down the road.

The total darkness forced him over to the side of the road where the tree and fence lines were easier to detect. There were specs of light on hillsides and as he walked, he noticed lighted windows across dark fields and thinning tree tops. Every now and then, the dark woods would pop and snap at him, keeping secret the source disturbance. The calls of cattle could be heard from distant fields. A gunshot rang out somewhere in the hills at a great distance. The sword began to hum upon approaching a narrow driveway to his left. “Go left,” the sword instructed.

The driveway was little more than a path, and it was obvious the Lincoln would not have made it. Only one vehicle would fit on the driveway, and the ruts and pot holes were shin deep at times. A large hand painted sign reading NO TRESPASSING, TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT was nailed to a large tree dominating half the driveway. The incline of the drive began to steepen and after what had to be several hundred yards, the sword hummed to life and said “There.” He brought his gaze up the hill and noticed a yellowish glow broken into many little pieces by foliage. He gripped the sword tightly uttering, “God give me strength.” His pace quickened with each step.

Morning Meditations #27: Thank You Fayetteville

A shout out to all of Fayetteville Arkansas for passing Ordinance #5781. Civil Rights prevails again; the people have spoken.

I get to go back to the dentist today. Yesterday went flawlessly, and since I have more work which needs to be done, they have decided to finish this phase tomorrow. The level of efficiency this office operates is pretty amazing. Coupled with my ability to handle anything the dentist throws at me has us cruising right along with my treatment plan.

Today I will study math for my GRE. I would be lying if I were to try and convince anyone I am not very intimidated by this particular section of the test. While it is true I am an English student and math will not likely be the part of the test the authority will focus on, there is still method to this madness. The way I figure, if a Creative Writing student can even show a tiny handful of mathematic prowess, it will translate into the caliber of student I am. This is what I want to show these universities. You put me in your program, not only do you get twenty years of business operation and management experience, they will also get a fantastic student and an academic par excellence.

There are several other things afoot today. I have a morning meeting about a project that I cannot reveal to the public yet, but I am excited to see where the meeting will lead. Then this evening, I get to go to a new acquaintance’s, hopefully turning friend, home and conduct the second of my character study interviews. For all of those who don’t know about this, feel free to quiz me and find out. Thus far, only one woman has had the courage to step up and answer some deep (and not so deep) questions about belief, society, and themselves. This second subject is male and has already done one interview with me about another subject. He seems ready, and the opportunity to do a second interview after months of work, as well as patience, has me giddy already. I hope we get to jam too.

For those of you that are following the newly released fiction, thank you. I would like more technical feedback, but I know we are all busy and workshopping blog entries isn’t not high on the majority of readers’ minds. I invite anyone to try. So far everyone who has commented has had wonderful things to say about this first piece, but I have already caught one mistake myself in the first episode that I fixed. Please, if you are worried about my feelings or sensibilities—don’t be. I am a pro and can take any amount of criticism. One of the best compliments I have ever had as a musician was, “The music y’all play in here sucks.” It was my band Cover of Darkness’s second album. She thought she could anonymously insult it because that self produced record sounds crazy good. I informed her that it was my band to which she responded, “the drums are good.” That’s right they are, and so are my stories. Feel free to tear them apart; I will love it.

Something I love about myself is:IMG_0501


22. My Dr. Doolittle nature. I have always had a way with animals. There’s been more than one occasion when somebody catches me mimicking bird calls to elicit a response or barking at squirrels just to see if I can rile them up. When a wild animal is near me and shouldn’t be, nobody, including myself, has ever been hurt. Domestic animals are harder to predict, as they have adopted some of humanities idiosyncrasies often making them more dangerous than any wild beast. (My Jack-Rat niece Bella, check with D about that creature)

“Sick” Ep. 2

The headlines he had seen for years were really calls to sin on the authority of men. He had never seen it so clearly before. There were false religions everywhere. The answer was laid out in The Bible when God gave no mercy to Levites worshiping the golden calf, why should he? Even though all those people had traveled in the name of God, like the government had always done, behaving in the name of God, they still needed to be punished. He sat back a little and tried to relax. He had gotten carried away for the moment. The United States of America is a God fearing nation of mostly good Christians. The country’s government wouldn’t be the problem. The highlighted word was the first sign, but not the entire message. He needed to remain calm.

Closing his eyes he tilted his head back and prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of sight. I will continue your work.”

It wasn’t possible to change people’s minds with the truth alone. In the past he had tried to explain to those of weak faith using the truth as he received it, but they rarely listened to his message of salvation and joy. Even those that professed to agree seemed unwilling to have the commitment required for making God’s word their world. Despite this, nobody ever asked him to speak to the congregation or wished him to teach a Sunday school class. Remorse filled his heart when thinking on their sins. Realizing his focus was drifting, he lay back on the bed searching his mind for the next move. Only a few superficial thoughts poked into his awareness before sleep took him. The sleep was dreamless.

Light coming in the bedroom windows woke him from the thoughtless sleep. He stood from bed and for the moment, his mind empty. After the bathroom, he went to make oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar for breakfast. The pressing matter of his task quietly began to eat at him while water boiled. A lump in his throat made him shift uncomfortably with a rush of emotion and awareness. Rather than letting panic distort focus, he moved his thoughts to simple things for the day. There was obviously more research to do. He would start with The Bible today. Steam from the oatmeal worked like incense in his home filling every room with the scent of the morning ritual. He cleaned the kitchen utensils, retrieved the juice from his room along with his Bible, and began to reading some of his most beloved passages. It worked to energize him, as story after story of God’s prime creation forsaking his blessings galvanized his resolve. “It was in man’s nature to take the evil path, and that nature should never be forgotten, or more dangerously, underestimated,” he thought after the first three verses of John 18. The disease, already within people, to which God provided the only vaccine and no faithful person would decline the duty to be well. Christian’s lackadaisical acceptance of gays, foreign faith, and work on the Sabbath made him sad, sad and sick. He would flood the world tomorrow if he had the power, or rain a cleansing fire the great cities of the world. He had lost focus again. The Bible was closed and put aside. He decided to take the air.

He strolled around his yard hoping for something to come to him but nothing did, so he decided to work, to write instead of read. The writing session continued into the evening. He ate another sandwich with pen in hand, lines of notebooks filled with passion. Once the notebook he worked in was filled he glanced around for a new one. Frustration hit him, as he realized there were no more blank pages to fill, but there was so much more which would unfortunately have to wait. Wednesday service was tomorrow night, and he would replenish his medium after. Unfulfilled, he crawled into bed bringing the sheet up so the edge would be across his shoulders. Ideas began to take on voices of their own as he faded. He began to listen closely allowing them to become louder and more numerous. His final clear thought was, I get to listen in on the conversations of Angels plotting God’s glorification.

The next morning he drove into town to get some pens, a bottle of juice, a stack of new notebooks, and a pack of bacon. Once his home was stocked with the newly purchased supplies, he headed for Church.

He always arrived early on Wednesdays to get everything ready for the evening service. He went around to each class room and straightened rows of chairs, emptied trash cans, cleared chalk boards, and vacuumed. This took him a few hours to complete, but the church paid him a little wage every week which was all he needed. He would have done it for nothing, but the church reported the wage for tax purposes. Once the little church was in order, he headed home to get ready for tonight’s service. While he prepared, a hope of something in tonight’s service came to him. The idea of such an event added urgency to his movements, and soon, he was back in the Lincoln.

He smiled noticing the parking lot of the little church was quite full for a Wednesday night. The walk to the entrance was graced with the sounds of children playing outside before having to come in for the service. Every step and the familiar smell of strong perfume brought him closer joy. As he reached the door, a rush of cold air ushered him into the foyer. The main room hummed with conversations which echoed inside the small space.

He was greeted often during his journey down the center of the room. “Evening,” and, “Well hey, stranger,” came from either side of partially filled pews. Returning each greeting with a handshake or hug, he strode to the front of the room. He preferred to sit in the second row, “it allows me to be at the front, but still be a part of the group,” was his philosophy. He continued to converse with fellow followers about things they deemed important. These conversations could be awkward for him, as only the Word was important, yet he managed to seem interested, and when the opportunity permitted, interjecting a relevant Bible reference. Those references often brought compliments on his level of study forcing him to suppress pride. He knew Bible study was important for everyone, and he shared this knowledge with people educating them until the organ would announce the beginning of service. He always enjoyed observing the silence slowly wash over the room in anticipation.

He turned to the pulpit to see the secretary and speaker for the church, Ellen, walk up to the podium, adjusting the microphone down to her height followed by a look to the organ. Once the organ music reached an end she said, “Good evening.” The congregation echoed the greeting with little variation. She was dressed in a flowing gray blouse and gray dress pants with tiny black speckles covering them. Her dark-brown hair stood away from her lightly tanned skin, held in place by ample quantities of hairspray, in waves that cascaded down each side of her face. Even though her wrinkles had become more numerous since he was a boy, he still felt she was an attractive and captivating woman. Nobody doubted her devotion to the church or to her faith.

She opened by addressing a few minor administrative issues: winter vacation bible school schedules, Thanksgiving and Christmas events, attendance numbers over the last week, donations for a local family in some troubles, and the announcement of a religious country band booked for late January were most of the big picture items. She spoke quickly, yet melodiously. A few questions came back to her from the audience which spawned some back and forth discussion. This was his least favorite part of Wednesday service. God is almost never brought up during this exchange. Putting any needs, before attending to the Lord’s work, was not the kind of Christian he aspired to be, but he had to admit good things for the church sometimes came of the discourse. After the business of things was out of the way, she thanked everyone for attending the Wednesday service and proceeded to introduce the choir leader who presented a few hymns to sing. The unsteady pitch created from a room full of less-than-amateurs possessed a charm. He was always amused at the blending of voices during hymns, sure that most of the church members did not sing often, and many, or likely most, of them only sang at church. Once singing concluded, Ellen returned to the microphone. “That was beautiful y’all, thank you. Now let’s open the floor to our own Reverand Spurian,” she said looking to her left, as the Reverend approached the podium she gave him a warm smile and stepped back, out of his path.

Reverend Trevor Spurian was a thirty year veteran of the pulpit. He wore a light green suite and his auburn hair had a swooping part that started above his left eye. He was tall and wide, but his round face and contoured expressions were ageless. His sermons tended to be compassionate, calling on the good nature of Christians fellowship while presenting the Word with an artistic clarity that revealed the beauty in difficult verses. The congregation knew they were lucky to have such a preacher.

The Reverend looked over the rows of submissive eyes and opened his Bible. “In second Kings, chapter 21, verse 2, the book tells us Ma-năsss’eh, the king of Jerusalem, did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord by adopting ‘the abominations of heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which his father had destroyed, and he reared up altars for Baal… And he made his son pass through fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord.’ You see brothers and sisters, Ma-năsss’eh was questioning the will of God. It is not for us to know the will of God, but resist it, and a child bound for the grace of Heaven will fall as Satan did when he We move to verse fourteen, and God warned his prophets he would deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies. Because they have done that which was evil in my sight.’ Ma-năsss’eh had tested the Lord’s resolve, even though the book tells us that his own father had done God’s work. Many people in the modern world behave the same way as Ma-năsss’eh. They want to be able to understand faith, thus making faith an easy road.” The preacher let his gaze float over the room allowing the listeners to digest his words. “Children, faith is not an easy road. Faith has never been easy. Jesus asked of his father while dying upon his cross, ‘why hast thou forsaken me?’ Abraham was given the test of sacrificing his son, and Lot suffered the loss of his wife under the tests of faith.

“In the mighty city of Constantinople, a city that had been gifted by angles to Emperor Constantine, and given him was great glory for submission to God. Along came the Persian force of Mehmed II who laid siege to Constantinople for fifty-three days. The Christians inside the city walls were given the opportunity to convert to the false gods of the mighty Persian empire, but they refused.” Gripping the front of the podium with a left hand and with the right holding the Bible out to the congregation, the Reverend’s voice increased in volume and resonance, “They were trapped inside while the forces of evil raised the city around them and murdered them with deadly weapons of war,” using the Bible as a pointer bouncing it at a new face with every syllable. “The streets were flooded with the blood of the innocent, and the great city of God fell into darkness.” The moment the Reverend finished, something changed in the church.

The light around Reverend Spurian grew darker and the pews began to vibrate. An expression of confusion covered his face as he looked to the esteemed minister. His heart started to pound inside his chest. Looking back at the first two rows to see if anyone else looked uncomfortable, his skin went cold as all eyes were on him. He risked looking at rows of pews further into the room. Everyone stared at him, wide eyed and unmoving. He looked to the Reverend who was leaned over the podium clutching the top with both hands now, looking directly at him with the same wide-eyed stare. “Trapped,” the Reverend spat, trembling. “The demons of Persia wanted to crush their faith. They wanted those Christians to forget God. All God’s enemies are abominations. They will envelope this world in darkness. Satan has released demons into the world to tempt us and our neighbors. We must punish their wicked ways, administer God’s wrath to demons and sinners alike.” The Reverend looked to the congregation and cried, “Retribution!” They chanted the word in response. “Retribution,” the Reverend’s voice was no longer alone. A second disembodied voice croaked the word in unison. Again the congregation answered. “Retribution,” the reverend’s voice was so loud it filled his head and forced him to cover his ears.

In an instant, all returned to calm. He looked to his neighbors. They were listening intently to the Reverend. Not a single person noticed him. He looked back to the rest of the congregation, no one even glanced in his direction. It had to be another message. “Let us end with a prayer,” the Reverend announced. After the closing prayer he did not stay to hear Reverend Spurian thanking members for attending, or to shake hands and provide pleasantries. He moved for the exit nearly jogging, momentum sent him crashing into the foyer as the glass doors rattled on impact. The outside had grown dark to match the cold. Wind that politely ushered him into the church before, now sliced through him. The car provided in silence and solitude. He closed his eyes, started his car, and sped off dodging parked cars and slinging more gravel. Fear and confusion filled his thoughts.

The need to write it all down screamed at him the whole way home and launched him through his front door. He wrote feverishly describing the scene in as much detail as he could remember. He looked for answers in the scene from church. Understanding it was all that mattered. Grabbing yesterday’s writings, he searched for an unnoticed clue. If a link to the event at the church existed, it had to be found. He still wrote and studied when morning light began to once again leak through his bedroom window. He finally, and unknowingly, fell to sleep with pen in hand.

His dreams were of Reverend Spurian and the congregation. They were clawing at him. “Retribution,’ the preacher called out to him from a podium a dozen feet directly above. The congregation pressed him into the bottom of the tall podium making breath labored. Fingers began to push into the flesh of his face. Foreign fingers crossed the threshold into his nostrils makings his eyes water and between his lips scraping against his teeth. Their bodies crushed into him, he tried to push back, but their weight was overwhelming. Sweat poured from him while elbows crushed into his midsection driving out the last of his breath. The preacher continued to scream, “Retribution!” The throng began to drag him down using fistfuls of his flesh to drag and pull him while continuing to moan responses to the preacher’s call,. He cried out, “Stop!” His plea was unheard. They meant to suffocate him and were succeeding. He struggled but another breath would not come, panic gripped him.

He sat up in bed, his sweat very real. There was no memory of getting in bed. His shirt was on, but his tan slacks were removed, and his writing area looked as though he had abandoned it without thought. He crawled to the end of the bed scanning the room for his jeans. Once up, he snatched a notebook off the floor, and began again.

The smooth paper was bright, and the lines allowed him to concentrate. Words appeared without effort onto the page. He could see the message forming. He dropped his pen and sorted through some of the writing from his last volume. He circled a section here and tore out the page. Moving from tome to tome, circling and removing for a few minutes before settling down with a mess of pages to begin studying and writing again. He moved with purpose, perspiration collected at his brow as he copied and added text. Methodically eliminating pages as they became of no more use. He tore the page free he was writing letting the notebook slide out of his grip landing at his feet in a twisted heap. The lines he knew were important lay in the middle of the jumbled mix of manuscript, and he began folding the paper. Folding the page in half, and again, narrowing it until only a few lines were visible.

“Family is where God’s word takes root, growing His kingdom. Satan understands this so his forces will pose as simple men of families, creating families of heretics. Destroy the minions teaching evil and where they create their works of blasphemy. Kill the root of evil.”

“Retribution,” escaped in a whisper from his lips. The paper fell from his hands. This was the message. God had spoken to him in the church twice, and through his writings. He was never happier. The smile on his face would not subside. Unsuccessfully suppressing a giggle he said, “Amen. Amen. Amen. Hallelujah.” Then the pain silenced him.

“Sick” Ep. 1

He stood, looking across the carpeted stage at the silver cross above the baptistery. This tool for ritual occupied the space where the back wall of the stage would have been. The rear wall fanned out from the baptismal tub to the left and right making the stage appear to funnel back into the place of prostrations. With him on the stage sat a gray couch on the left and four chairs of the same color to the right. To his left at the front of the stage stood a darkly stained podium with a stainless steel adjustable aperture jutting from the lectern near the front. The black microphone with rounded black foam sat in the mic clip at its pinnacle. Looking around, he noticed several other microphone stands lining opposing walls of the stage behind the furniture. They reminded him of Nativity plays.

He had walked from the foyer down the center aisle, and as he moved toward his present location, the fluorescent lights of the sanctuary reflected a diagonal band of white light, which began at the top and descended the metallic surface with each step. At this point on the stage, the reflected light had sank to the bottom of the idol. He had stopped when the very bottom of the cross had been coated with pure, white reflected light. Something was about to change. He felt it, and as soon as he moved one step closer to that cross and the reflection moved from its surface, there would be no going back. It only took a few seconds to build up courage.

He took a step closer, and the white light vanished below the metallic surface. A hot flash halted him, within seconds another. The third left him feverish, and already a couple of lines of sweat glinted off his left cheek where two beads trickled down. Pressure grew from nothing behind his eyes and between his temples. Two more drops fell from his shaved chin.

He shut his eyes hoping to escape the pullulating discomfort but the increasing pressure behind closed eyes wouldn’t be stopped, not yet.

The sensation of spinning started slowly. Placing his hands so that each palm covered all but a little space in the center of his forehead, he pushed against his cranium. It brought no relief. As the perception of spinning increased velocity, his balanced began to fail. The two lines of perspiration were joined by several others, as well as dark patches on on his blue T began to show on his lower back and underarms. Boundaries of pain failed, ballooning past skull-splitting levels. Both hands still atop his head, he rocked back onto the earth-toned, thinly carpeted floor. The surface felt especially cool through his sweat dampened shirt. He took a breath.

As soon as it’s exhaled completely, the spinning in his head lost momentum causing the thoughts to become piled up the back-force of which created an unraveling mind. Visual contrast brightened by the second, dragging panic into him with equal pace. “God please,” was little more than a whisper.

His elbows, now pointed to the ceiling, swayed a bit as gravity seemed to increase. With a series of wobbling, each arm fell a little further causing his hands to slide from his forehead. A hiss began to accompany the whitewashed view, sounding distant at first, but it outpaced his failing vision rising to an uncomfortable intensity before he noticed no longer held is head. Strength diminishing into nothingness, his left arm landed long his side, and his right above the shoulders. A small, seemingly insignificant part of him took notice that his right index finger touched his ear. An unsatisfiable urge to reach for his head demanded a response, but his arms remained lifeless. If this was death, he had no fear of it. He felt ready before, and if he could have composed thoughts he would feel it now. The static had grown into a roar, scrambling thoughts, emotions became inseparable from sensation. Something stirred deep within his head.

In a flash, the world turned pure white. His mouth opened wide, in a silent scream, and the soft moan he actually made dissipated into silence before reaching the front pew. His bleached world was a solid with crushing static, in a split-second everything was reduced to a tiny point amidst pure black before the sensation of his cranium exploding silenced any remaining consciousness.

A rhythmic snore slid out of his mouth occupying the current pinnacle of a now peaceful and relaxed expression. The thin blue shirt was sticking to his body in large dark patches of sweat all over. You will see… the words… look. The ghost of his pain was still whispering something to important to him when consciousness resumed. He tried to move his fingers wondering if they would respond. Relief hit him as he could feel the tight weave of the thin, cool carpet on his fingertips. He looked around happy to see that the same quality of light was streaming through the windows as before he had fallen. Slowly pushing himself into a sitting position allowed him to look to the silver cross on the wall above the baptism tub; a tinge of guilt sprang into his mind. He forced his body to move past his sitting position onto all fours still looking to the crucifix.

“God, please forgive me for being such a feeble vessel,” he said with a shaky voice. “I know the pain I suffer must be your way of telling me something. I live to listen. Please, Lord, give me the strength to rise above this affliction to do the work you have put me here to do. Amen.” By the end of the prayer his voice had regained some strength and the focus brought him back to himself. He decided to risk standing, and found he had the strength.

Once on his feet, he turned to look at the first row of pews on either side of the small church. His eyes traveled the length of the room until he found the front entryway. Looking in front of himself to assure a clear path, he began to walk toward it.

Old memories of he and his cousins’ childhood hangman games during sermons to the room full of small town believers played inside his mind. His memory traversed down the various halls of simulated-wood-grain paneling to Sunday school classes, each hall reliving the advancing phases of Bible study. He and the other church kids ran all the halls when the church wasn’t holding regular services: vacation bible schools, Christmas plays, and other events with names forgotten. Images of children in the nursery drifted into his thoughts. That the women of the nursery had to miss the songs and sermons struck him as problematic. As he walked to the front of the building, he decided to discuss this conundrum with the pastor at the first opportunity. Everyone coming together, the family and friends, the acquaintances and strangers, all celebrating the glory of God with song and community, those were the moments which made this church feel like a home, and nobody should be left out on account of caring for the future flock’s youngest.

He supposed that everyone in his Church was able to feel the power of Christ, even those in the nursery, but he also knows he is different, special. He wondered if it was like this for Jesus too. Wanting to do God’s work, knowing God’s work, yet the path of faith is not always clear, and rarely easy. He could not cure the sick or perform miracles as he wasn’t a Messiah. No, only a vessel. Yet knowledge was revealed to him. He and Jesus were both made to suffer. Despite his pain, he could not bear the thought of disobedience or failure. This is the way God worked, so unquestioning, he followed the Word.

He couldn’t be absolutely sure why God chose his burden. Others had pain, worse than his. He decided long ago his wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle to achieving God’s grace, but rather a test of strength and will.

A few people at the Church who he had told about the episodes urged him to seek some medical treatment, but that would be blasphemous. God gave him this pain, and its purpose would be revealed in time.

Once outside he took a deep breath, his head tilted back, drinking in a cold fall wind. The sky was mostly white with little shades of gray drifting across the bleached backdrop. Leaves that had already fallen were skittering across the blacktop of the two-lane highway tumbling over themselves reminding him of the dizziness from before. An uneasy feeling crept into his mind, this isn’t what he’d come for. He had come to the church to pray for guidance, but he admittedly missed the message this time. Lines of concentration creased his forehead while he contemplated. The force of the wind made his pant legs flap a little.

Gazing down the two-lane blacktop road to the left, it occurred to him God might have been presenting an opportunity. Most of his messages were more direct: a voice on the wind, a very obvious symbol in the world around him, and there were his notebooks. “This could be an opportunity to seek a message,” he whispered to himself. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but

whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered,” he said with out loud. He needed to get home.

Walking quickly, his hastened footsteps crunched on the gravel parking lot. He threw himself into the driver’s seat of the old brown Lincoln Continental with key at the ready. Excitement growing by the second, the car would not turnover fast enough, and once the engine sprang to life he applied heavy pressure to the accelerator. This is the inspiration he had come to the church for, it may have taken a second to sink in, but he had waited. Rewarded.

The force of his tires spun gravel into the red brick of the church walls, and the car bounced dramatically, squeaking with age, after hitting the slightly elevated blacktop. The trip home was filled with wonder and readiness. Mere contemplation of his place in God’s plan had always been fascinating. Potential realization—ecstasy. The story of his life would be numinous. Joyful tears began to collect in the corners of his eyes, as the sentiment echoed in his mind.

He rounded the hill and noticed his mailbox, coming at him too quickly. He nearly lost control turning the massive brown vehicle onto his dirt driveway. The engine quieted, he jumped out of the lengthy Lincoln jogging up to his front door fumbling with the key before getting it into the bronze knob. “Take it easy,” he said in reprimand to his hastiness. With a click and a twist the door swung inward. He went right to the refrigerator and after a long pull from a two-quart bottle of grape juice, he stood leaning against the white counter silently debating his next task. His eyes were absently focused on the green fleur de-swirl pattern of his kitchen tiles while strategies of discovery bubbled up from his subconscious. A quick twitch of his head broke the spell.

Carrying the container of juice to his bedroom, the search began at the bookshelves next to his bed. Notebooks filled the bookshelves to the ceiling, full of thousands of pages dedicated to his work. Some were journals, others were commentaries and articles, and some were translated messages. He pulled a handful off the top shelf and spread them out on the purple comforter spread atop the well made bed. Sitting amidst them, he started scanning through the black and blue inked jungle of his scrawlings. When a notebook proved fruitless he snatched up another. The next ended up being a journal. Next, notes on past projects, but still nothing called to him. He repeated the entire process with a new stack, and eventually the daylight faded

The change of light inspired him to take a break. He needed to eat, and the search had whetted his appetite.  He made a dry, white-bread and ham sandwich. The myriad of words he had read scrolled through his mind while he chewed slowly. His eyes were wide, while more notable passages echoed off each other. After filling a cup and replacing the juice container in the refrigerator, it was back to the notebooks. Reorganizing the clutter, he began to jump from volume to volume.

After several dozen notebooks, a sip was lifted at too severe an angle spilling little droplets from the corners of his mouth onto a notebook page. He quickly swept the whole notebook across his pant leg to clear the liquid from the handwritten text and inspected the page for damage. The hair on his arms and legs stood as a chill of exhilaration griped him.  One drop had left a purple smear highlighting a passage that read, “Evils of false faith will cover the globe.” He read the line again and again. This was it.