Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Job 4:18

A Fiction

[To read Part One, click HERE.]

Entering the small church, I found myself on one end of a long, narrow corridor, which seemed to me to follow the same route as the center aisle in the nave overhead. On either side of the hallway there were doors here and there that seemed to lead into smaller chambers, classrooms and meeting areas, decorated with colored paper on which small children had crayoned in scenes from Sacred Scripture.

Seeing these wonderful pictures made me laugh. Adult humans, especially in this country, are constantly asserting that they don’t ‘believe’ in miracles because they’ve never seen any. What they don’t understand is that they can probably see them in their homes much of the time. The small children receive the Word in places like this one, and it takes root in their hearts. There it blossoms into spectacular visions: these are what wind up on sheets of colored paper. When pure love meets with innocence, there is a spiritual combustion.

You sightless men and women, I thought, windows into Heaven gape all around you.

From the opposite end of the hall the music trailed out into the air like incense; I breathed it in and followed after. The last door on the right side was ajar. I approached and filled the open space with my large form. A woman in a white sweater and a long skirt sat with her back towards me at a much-maligned piano, dutifully tapping out notes, her head bobbing up and down in an ongoing effort to coax the music from the throats of the innocents surrounding her.

The little children sat in a neat semi-circle around the piano, their bruised limbs curled beneath them, hands benignly folded, faces canted towards the nodding adult, wide eyes spilling over with hunger for direction …

One small child in particular saw me first, a moment before the others, it may have lasted for half a second – but in that one glance so much occurred. She revealed her nature to me – I could see she was pure, of course; but also called, destined to drag God’s beacon forward into the yawning mouth of darkness for the rest of her life. At the same time I felt part of myself fly unto her, and I knew that the very moment she laid her eyes on me she was seared with what some have called the White Burn, the permanent mark of the Heavenly encounter as experienced on earth, like the Mark of Cain but with a positive signature, caused by the same force that discolored Moses’ skin when he came down from Sinai. I am not the Master, but I do carry within me some of His Light.

This small child’s eyes shuttered open, an instantaneous reverse eclipse; then all of the children were gasping and squealing, some of them gawking openly, some hiding behind one another. The woman turned and saw me and her face blanched. I saw and felt her strength waver; she could offer no protection from me and she knew it.

In moments of extreme crisis on earth, such as war, acts of terrorism, natural disasters and so forth, it has been revealed to us through observation that the human character responds to decisiveness. A soldier on the leading edge of battle may stand next to a comrade of three years in one minute and in the next minute he may find himself surrounded by human detritus. At such times the best thing is a directive. Grab your weapon and fall back. Return fire. Attack!

The woman in front of me had arrived at her own version, in one sense, of such a moment. She knew what I was but at the same time she disbelieved what she knew. So I moved in and said the exact same thing we told the shepherds on the night of the Master’s birth. Fear not.

I had come for them. I knew that now, although I hadn’t before. The woman simply had not been called to receive the same message. So I spoke to her, quietly, and said to leave the children with me, for they are safe, and to go join the others outside that I knew would be gathering even then. They will ridicule you for what you say and criticize you for what you have done, I told her, but in your eyes they will see the Truth, which is you had no choice.

With her gone I moved forward in the small room on to an oval of colored carpeting and the trembling children, bested by their blameless curiosity, came to me and surrounded me, and because of my own nature, I slowly, painstakingly unfolded my battered wings, white feathers trailing from them like snowflakes on the desert floor, and held them out high over their tiny heads. They drew in, nine of them, as though my light gave them warmth; a few of them placed their hands on my translucent skin and shuddered as they felt the vibration of the eternal chord within my very form. It was exquisite.

We stayed that way for a time. I prayed for them and I praised the Master for allowing me to fulfill this extraordinary calling. Then I sat down right among them, so close I could feel their warm breath. They crawled, surged, pulsed around me. Their thirst was palpable.

Then the little girl, the beautiful child God had chosen to speak for them – the one God had marked with the vision of me – said:

Tell us about God.

… the door of the church is opening and the schoolchildren are coming out! There you can see – here we go – a single-file line coming out of the front of the church. And they seem to have their coats on and everything, as though someone had organized them and sent them out for recess … now, the parents … look at the obvious relief there in the body language of the civilians gathered on the other side of the police barricade … now the police or the FBI or whoever is represented by those armed men in SWAT gear, the first one has come forward to receive the children …. Janet, can you see anything more?

—Karen, unfortunately I am closer to the other side of the building, where the authorities have also been monitoring the back door, where the suspect went in … now, there, I can see the children up on the front grass. There seems to be a great collective sigh of relief down here that the suspect has released these little children, although no one really knows—

—Whoa! There, suddenly – now the suspect is coming out the back of – what is that!!

—Oh my God! Bob, get this …. over here!

—Look at that! Folks, as you can see, someone has emerged from the back of the church, dressed in white, wrapped in some kind of sheet or cape – vestments! could those be vestments!? – he’s making his way quickly on foot, very fast – he’s heading right for the police cruiser ….

—Karen, this is Janet, it’s erupted into chaos down here, a man in white, cloaked in something, has come out of the church, and the authorities are literally shooting at him – you can see the muzzle flashes I’m sure – Jesus, Bob, take cover!

—The police and federal folks are now firing on the suspect, who is running head down and underneath some kind of white cape or shield–

—Karen, I can see the man now. That is no cape or shield. Holy God.

—What did you? ... straight at one of the police vehicles, where now the sus—

—­My God!

—Oh! Oh! Oh! The suspect literally flung the officer to one side, with great force, and is now trying to squeeze himself into the police vehicle ... the branches are partially obscuring the overhead shot – Janet?

—Karen, the man, or whatever this thing is, he overtook the officer, who was literally shooting at him at the time, just, I don’t know, cast him aside, and has now apprehended the police vehicle … my cameraman got it, I don’t know if viewers are seeing his pictures—

—Janet, could you tell, did he have anything underneath the shield or cover—

—Wings, those were wings. Look out, Bob!

—The police car now containing the suspect, you can see, has launched straight forward, careening right over the lawn towards the front of the church, total disregard for anyone’s safety including his own – there you see – right past the police barricade, wildly back onto the road, several police vehicles already turning after him – we’re going to have a chase —

I sent the children forward, no harm done to anyone, but they met me with bullets. A fear-filled response—unsurprising. I enclosed my entire body when I came out, for protection and concealment, though it did little to achieve either. They cannot stop me with their projectiles, of course, but my wings were now riddled with them, perforated, and I could feel the wounds, the tears in my skin, the feathers torn and trailing away. Fragments of metal, burning, embedded into my tissue. It’s always the first reaction—especially among these totalitarian squads they deploy—the general approach is to begin by shooting and allow things to work themselves out from there.

Bouncing over the grass, avoiding the graveyard, my only purpose now was to put distance between myself and all of those conflicted souls with their murderous instincts … how do they arrive at these places from the small, pure creatures they are at the beginning, among whom I had just spent wondrous moments in communion?

Peripherally, I could see those little children falling into the arms of their mothers, their fathers, after I sent them out. Take care of them, you jaded people, let them live and breathe…you will notice the White Burn on their cheeks and you will know the power of the Lord.

Now I am back on a road driving this vehicle as fast as it goes, and they are giving chase, absurd horns blazing and so forth, they want me stopped, they want me contained. So they can do what? Inflict violence on me for some crime they believe I have committed? I have already been sentenced by the true Judge. Your human ‘justice’ whimpers its meaningless decisions to a courtroom filled with cackling corpses. Your purported authority, which has never been your own but mere illusion, went up in smoke the first time one of you had the gall to cite it.

The howling, screeching sounds and the speeding vehicles have affixed themselves to my trail. It is useless. I will outrun you all, and make my way unimpeded into exile. This is a huge, sprawling wasteland in some places, this earth; I know where to hide where you will not find me. But I helped some innocent creatures, I gave them knowledge that is not of this world …

… we now have images from several helicopters that have converged on, or over, the scene. As you can see there we have at least ten police and military vehicles in pursuit of one police car that contains the suspect who earlier on this very tense and chaotic morning closed himself inside of a church with nine nursery school children, only to release them less than an hour later with no harm. He sent the children out one end of the church, then slipped out the other side, ran through a virtual hail of gunfire to a nearby squad car, wrestled away the officer there, and appropriated the vehicle. That was the start of this high speed chase you see in these startling live images.

As you know if you’ve been tuned in, there is all kinds of speculation as to exactly who, or do I even say what, this suspect is … I don’t think there’s any question that there will be a great deal of ongoing discussion and a reviewing of the pictures from earlier to try to determine what exactly has happened here today. And whether we were capturing video of what was truly a hostage situation or whether it was actually something else entirely, something that has never been seen before, at least not during the cable news era, when we can break stories as they happen …. Janet, your thoughts?

—Thoughts, Karen? …. I … I’m not prepared to make any final assessments on the air, not at all … I know I saw something I have never seen anywhere before, that is for sure … I think it’s like you said, Karen, that there will be a lot of reviewing the footage, and I think that when people actually study the images .. well, the cameras don’t lie, do they.

—No, Janet … they never do … meanwhile, ladies and gentlemen, the suspect has made his way onto a freeway, there you see below the squad car moving extremely recklessly, with a huge armada on his trail, an endless stream of flashing lights, and I’ve just been told that the police have set up a roadblock a few miles ahead. So we may be witnessing the final scenes of this high speed drama ….

Faster, faster, they are all coming with the vehicles of retribution, persecution, when I have brought harm to no one, only good. The Master said this would happen. He said those who are hated because of Him would be blessed. And I feel the strength that brings, the power and the glory of that blessing, the self-assurance that is the right of the anointed. Now I understand: it was never banishment: this was my time to make myself known, for I was not selected on earlier occasions. It was not I who marched into Sodom and tore its structures down forever. It was not I who told those shepherds to fear not. It was not I who came to administer to the Master while he danced with starvation on those desert peaks.

But now it is clear my time has arrived, and I have seized it, I gave those children new life at their tender ages, I praise Him for letting me know what it means to mark souls for all time! Would that I had understood before what this would be like. I would have waited with more patience, conducted myself with more grace, more righteousness … but the Lord had plans for me, larger than I imagined ….

Here, now, I grip this ridiculous wheel with new vivacity, unalterable zeal, unassailable single-mindedness. Yet what is this I see before me: they have brought more vehicles together. I see a few people standing and a few kneeling down; are some of them training their guns upon me again? They have cobbled together a ramshackle wall. Do they not remember what God does to man’s walls?

I can only laugh, and I do so now, largely, loudly, and because of who I am my laughter mutates into song, and my voice bellows within the confines of this clunking chamber with its garish lights. It is the sound of a multitude; there is no silencing it. And while my song ascends my foot descends, suppressing the pedal all the way to the floor of this rolling mausoleum. Here come the vehicles, hurtling forward, see the tiny men scatter and hear them whinny with terror, here now is their pathetic wall. Give way to God’s fist!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Job 4:18

A Fiction


Banished. The Lord God sent me hurtling through the firmament. I felt nothing as I breached the outer layers of gas and bits of rock and other debris, but then as I fell further a bracing wind assaulted me. I plunged through a glittering bowl of crystalline moonlight. Finally my curved back sliced a decaying woodshingled roof over something, like a scimitar flung through a thatched hut. I slammed into a rusted metal vat and fell forward onto a dirty floor littered with leaves and broken glass.

The air was freezing, the darkness absolute. Although it is something we are conscious of and must also negotiate, physical pain such as human beings endure is not experienced by my kind in the same way, so I was able to climb to my knees, then stand. We don’t bleed. But that does not mean we are not susceptible to damage.

In terms of motor capabilities, however, all was well – except for my wings. A few cautious attempts to spread them revealed that they were shattered, irrevocably impaired, and would be of no more use to me, I thought, unless there were some way to regain access to the Throne and prostrate myself before his Divine Mercy. They hung inert from my back. Obviously this was part of the penance; my lot was to accept it. The dead weight of the wings would take on the role of cross for the remainder of my predicament here.

Once I stood up I heard noises outside of the structure. Rustling; the approach of something. I held ground. It was not a man; we can smell them coming. This was different. A moment later a decrepit door hanging askew from one hinge close by was nudged open a few inches, and a long snout pushed through, followed by a pair of great dark eyes. It was a large doe. I reached out and slowly pulled the door all the way open and beckoned the animal forward. When she came to me I rubbed under her chin and neck with my hands and leaned towards her. She moved closer and I spoke softly into her ear. The doe lay down beside me and I used her body to shield my own until dawn. There was no possibility of me freezing, but a living body can always draw warmth and comfort from another.

Good morning, I’m Karen Reynolds and this is IHS Cable News. If you’re just joining us, we’re following a developing story via our affiliate, WFSH, which has been unfolding over the last couple of hours in the quiet rural village of Goshen, Massachusetts. That’s in the western portion of the state, a densely wooded region, populated by farming communities and nature preserves, among other things. It’s a strange situation, keep in mind, and we’ll be bringing you additional details as they are revealed to us.

Here’s what we can tell you so far. What you’re looking at there now is a live image captured by our NewsChopper of a place called Light of Truth Evangelical Congregation, which, it appears to be a small church, and as you can see it is surrounded by a bevy of police vehicles, and now it looks like a couple of military vehicles perhaps from a nearby National Guard unit.
Apparently there is an unidentified man who has closed himself inside that church with a group of nursery school children …. three- and four-year-olds … without anyone else. Somehow he seems to have displaced or gotten rid of the teacher that was with the children at the time he came in. It’s unclear exactly what happened but we do know that the teacher herself is evidently unharmed and at this moment is with the authorities outside the church. Now how she got there, and why she would be out there when all the little children in her charge are inside the building with this, with this man, is not known to us but it’s probably something a lot of people are wondering. Obviously it’s tough to tell from these overhead images exactly what is taking place on the ground. But we do know that there is an unidentified man in that building with, we’ve just confirmed, a nursery school class of nine small children.

Not a lot of activity right now as you can see, just that the authorities have the structure completely surrounded, we don’t know if any attempt has been made yet to communicate with the man. We’re getting one report from the dispatcher that the FBI has been contacted and that a hostage negotiator is en route, but that is unconfirmed. And as you can see there are other vehicles pulling up, I can pick out a few minivans down there, one would have to assume there are some very agitated parents.

At this moment, ladies and gentlemen, all we can tell you about the individual in that building is that he is male, and that he appears to be unarmed, yes, that’s unarmed. So that might make you wonder exactly what is the reason for this very cautious, even tense, stand-off. Well folks, that’s where this story gets hazy – there are wildly conflicting reports about who this man might be – to our knowledge only a handful of people so far have actually seen the man, but according to our reporter on the ground, from the affiliate, whom we’ll hear from shortly, and who apparently spoke recently to one eyewitness, the man is very large, unusually large, and possibly an albino!? We’re hearing that he is white, or very fair-skinned. A witness also said that the man may have some other kind of physical deformity, like a curved spine or a hunchback ….

We know how strange this sounds, but as we’ve been promising all morning, we will bring you fresh information just as soon as we get it ourselves on this harrowing story. We’ll take a quick pause. Keep it here.

The day began to break. I sent the doe forth with my blessing and she gave me hers. I had the strong impression that I would need one from somewhere. She needed food and I needed to move, although to where was unclear. At least to orient myself. As the light grew I took gradual stock of my surroundings.

I was in a run-down wooden shack of some kind, clearly no longer in use, but where some type of specialized craft had been practiced in earlier times. There were two large, squat metal vats, presumably empty, taking up one side of the small structure. Each had thick metal pipes leading from the top and through the roof to exhale some vapor or byproduct of whatever industrialized process had taken place in here.

Normally I am sensitive to things being shot forth into the sky by human beings with little concern for their effects. But this place did not give me a feeling of wastefulness. Here was a trade that had been formerly plied by people who cared about what they were doing and took it as a matter of pride to do it correctly. You could tell by standing in the shack that what had been done in here was once of value to others. Now it all lay in shambles, another example of one of the more noble practices of the human species having been laid to rest and probably replaced by a far less honorable procedure.

The rest of the space was filled with dirt; a few leaves; a scattered carpet of pine needles; a stack of old metal buckets; a workbench with some saws and a few steel spikes on it; a pair of stained work gloves; a series of spigots, of various sizes, intended to regulate the flow of liquid. I took a moment and breathed in slowly through my nostrils, inhaling, probing for information. We have many human features, but a far greater sensual capacity. One needs to draw from bottomless wells of feeling to do our job properly; heightened sensitivity helps to collect what is needed for these reserves. I smelled earth, dust, water, manufactured lubricants, and there, underneath it all, a rich smell, a kind of lifeblood: tree sap. They made syrup in here once upon a time.

I smiled; then heard the sound of a motor being ignited not far away, and the next moment a set of tires was crunching through gravel. I moved to the cracked doorway and peered out. A box-like automobile, fairly large, was slowly making its way down a curved driveway, almost a street of its own, towards the shack. The car, red, rumbled past. A burly, bearded man sat behind the wheel, wearing a baseball cap, chugging from a vessel filled with coffee, most likely, obliviously rolling by the shack with no inkling of my presence.

After the car passed I leaned out just far enough to look up the gravel path it had come down, which climbed an upgrade further into the woods to a large, white, two-story house. It looked fairly new, with three dormers across the front, a large porch with a swing on it and an assortment of brightly colored toys. Even from where I stood I could see various forms hustling around inside the house. I couldn’t see any other houses nearby because of the thick trees. At least these people had managed to avoid one of those overcrowded suburban enclaves that this country – for it was obvious now into which I’d fallen, and wouldn’t you know it – was belittled for in other places.

I tucked my head back into the shack. What would I do? The truth was, it hardly mattered. My only outlet now was to observe. If I was lucky, if the Lord was willing to be merciful, He might ask me to perform some kind of intercession. But it could be years before this opportunity ever came. Millennia.

For the moment, I had to plan my movements, unless I just wanted to sit in the shack until someone came and discovered me there. But I could not just step out and casually stroll up the driveway to the house. I’d surely be seen and the usual human hysteria would ensue.
I looked out the doorway again and saw this time that there were two other vehicles sitting at the top of the gravel path. One was a green, partially rusted contraption that had space to sit towards the front and an open, flat bed on the back half used to transport things, one would assume. It said FORD on the back door of the bed and it looked as though it had been around for a while. The other vehicle was large, also box-like, dark blue, and seemed to be in better condition. It was obvious that you didn’t use this vehicle to transport materials; rather, you used it to carry other people.

I decided to wait a bit longer. I had a feeling. The air was freezing cold but the atmospheric conditions didn’t bother me. I’ve been in all of them before. You want it to be cold before you want it to be hot. After some more time had gone by, which didn’t seem like very much but may have been by the local standard, I heard children hooting and hollering, tiny feet on small stones, a self-assured female voice directing the action, another motor starting, tires on gravel once again. The dark blue vehicle rolled past, on to the road, and away.
This was the time to move.

… you’re looking at live images of an apparent hostage situation. The small white building there is called the Light of Truth Evangelical Congregation, a fundamentalist Christian church, where an unknown, unidentified man has been holed up with a group of nine nursery school-aged children for the last hour or so.

We’re told that the authorities don’t know who the suspect is or where he came from. This is where the story gets a little outlandish, ladies and gentlemen. We’re doing our best to gather as much accurate information as possible with regard to the suspect, but the information we have so far seems unreliable. We’re waiting on video of an interview our affiliate’s reporter conducted with a local resident, an eyewitness to some of this man’s activities before he single-handedly apprehended the church … do we have that video yet? … okay ….

Folks, we’re still waiting for it, we’ll have it for you shortly.

From the information we have so far, witnesses report that the suspect is an unusually large white male, unarmed by all accounts. He is evidently extremely tall, some are saying over six feet, some are saying seven feet or more. Also some witnesses have said he is fair skinned, but others are saying he is not just white as in Caucasian, but white, like an albino. We’ve also heard reports that he has some kind of physical deformity, but we don’t yet know exactly what that means. One witness has said he has a pronounced hunchback.

There you can see on the scene there appears to be some sort of hostage negotiator, a man in civilian dress with a bullhorn, who looks as though he is trying to establish communication with the suspect. There are no indications that the suspect has made any attempt to reciprocate.

What? …. okay …. we have that video now, taken about thirty minutes ago by our affiliate, WFSH. This is an interview with an eyewitness who alleges that the suspect actually invaded his home earlier today. Keep in mind, we just received this video, it has not been edited or reviewed by us in any capacity. This is the first time I am seeing it. The witness, I’m told, is 81-year-old Silas Gray, a Goshen resident. Take a look.

—Mr. Gray, you say you actually saw the suspect earlier this morning?

—Yes, ma’am. He was in my house. He stole my pickup truck.

—Can you describe the man for us?

—This wasn’t a man, dear. He was huge, and he had wings. That’s not a man.

—Excuse me. Did you say he had wings?

—Yes ma’am, I did. A massive pair of white wings. He was about—

—Mr. Gray, how old did you say you were?

—Eighty-one. Does that help you picture what this fellow looked like?

—No … it’s just …..

—Because I’m telling you what I saw.

—Go ahead, sir.

—He was at least six and a half feet tall. He had white skin, alabaster skin. He had no hair. He had wings. He didn’t say a word. I think I tried to speak to him. He subdued me, took my rifle away, tied me up. Then he stole my pickup truck and left.

—You had a rifle on him?

—It was a shotgun actually. I heard someone break into the house. So I got my shotgun and went to investigate.

—Did you try to get off a shot?

—No ma’am, not once I had seen him. I thought he was there on different business.

—What does that mean?

—I thought he was there for me.

—I see. Mr. Gray, do you … are you in good health?

—Listen to me, miss. I’ve been healthy and strong all my life. I’ve lived here in Goshen the entire time. I know what it sounds like. You can ask my daughter, son-in-law, or anyone around here if I’m okay in the head, all right? You asked me what I saw, I’m telling you. I’m a Christian believer. That wasn’t a man. The thing that stole my truck is not one of us.

My thought was that I could find a way to help someone, in some small way, being trapped here. Not in any salvific endeavor, of course, but perhaps in the areas of hope or of faith or simply in easing the general burden of living here. This did not seem unreasonable, and was unlikely to incur a wrathful response, or at least no sentence that would be worse than the one already carried out. We are given certain capabilities, gifts one might call them; it feels like a form of sin not to put them into use.

From the shack I scurried forward, doubled over, up the curved path. I kept my ruined wings folded closely at my flanks. Their tips brushed the small sharp stones. It seemed that the trees would shield me from observation by passing vehicles or neighbors. I was counting on the idea that no one else remained in the house. I’d seen the man leave first, then his wife and children. The third vehicle was still nearby, but it didn’t seem to get much use. It sat rusting almost visibly in the early morning cold. But let’s hope it runs, I thought.

I wasn’t sure if I could fold myself into that cramped space. The designers hadn’t had me in mind. But I had to get away from where I was, under concealment. Flight was out of the question. The idea was to isolate myself in some removed place to regroup. An alien cannot extemporize their way around the country they’ve landed in; everyone there is inherently against them. So one has to think things through.

When I got to the house I hopped the porch rail and sided to the door near the end of the path. It seemed to open into the back of the structure. I wrapped my hand around the chilled metal knob and twisted once. The lock inside the wood fell apart and the door jerked open. A wave of stale warmth blew over me and I became temporarily woozy. My senses were assaulted by a battalion of odors. Food; dust; refuse; ash from a cold grate; an animal, possibly more. I steadied myself, then went in.

We’ve had ample time to observe how these creatures live, so I knew what was needed. God was with me, even though I wasn’t with Him. I located the keys quickly. I thought it would be a longer search, but a ring of them hung suspended from pegs on the wall. I plucked them off. They chimed against one another, which sounded in its own way like a tiny chorus. But which was the correct one? I needed the one that was marked with the inscription ford.

It was then that I heard a pair of human feet shuffling nearby on the wood floor. As though lifting them was an effort. The sun was attempting to force its way into the house through the doorway where I stood, like an accomplice. I turned slowly, rising to my full height, blocking off the flood of light. A wrinkled human came into view. A man, wearing striped clothing and pointing a gun.

The man had white hair standing straight up on end, and small white whiskers on his sunken cheeks. He stood about a foot and a half shorter than I. His whole form was swallowed by my shadow. He lifted his eyes towards my silhouetted face, then lowered the barrel.

Bless the nations, the man said.

I sprung on him. I didn’t want to frighten him but it was too late. He lost consciousness and crumpled in my arms. In the room on my right there was a table and chairs where they obviously broke bread. I pressed his frail form into a chair and looked around some more. There was a second row of wooden pegs in a small chamber nearby with laundry machines. I found several long scarves, various colors and lengths, and used them to secure the old man to the chair. The fabric was soft enough not to cut him, but given his weakened state and the number of scarves I used, he might have been stuck there for some time. His forgiveness would have helped, but there was no opportunity to ask for it.

Before I left, the man stirred. I turned back and lowered my face in front of his, offering him my full-on gaze. The man’s eyes fluttered but he did not wake. My own eyes are awash in jade and azure tones. They resemble this planet when seen from a great height. For a moment I thought the man might open his eyes and look into them, but when I saw that he would not I gradually unfurled both wings, powerless though they were, curved them around the back of the chair, and enclosed his entire body. I held him in that space for a moment, touched my forehead briefly to his, and felt his body quiver.

Moments later I was squeezing myself into the vehicle, wings agonizingly crushed into the small space, my back curved unnaturally, head lowered so as to see out the window. I inserted the key and turned it.

… there was initially a single schoolteacher with the children, of course, conducting normal pre-school activities. We have confirmed that the teacher is 27-year-old Amanda Byers, who is from Northampton and lives in Goshen now. Ms. Byers was with the children but for whatever reason either chose to leave the building or was in some way coerced ... either way we know that she exited the church early in the standoff and was later taken in by the authorities. We have a reporter there trying to find out exactly what happened with Ms. Byers.

Now, meanwhile, we are starting to put together some of the pieces about how the man got to the church and where he at least began the day … you saw earlier our affiliate reporter Janet Batchelder’s interview with 81-year-old Silas Gray, who was accosted by the suspect, and whose vehicle was stolen. If you saw that interview you know that Mr. Gray made some unusual observations about the man that did this to him. Janet Batchelder has made her way to the scene, and joins us now.

—Janet, I understand that you have also spoken to Mr. Gray’s daughter, is that correct?

—I did speak to Mr. Gray’s daughter, Christina, moments ago, she did not want to appear on camera. But I want to show our viewers, if Bob can capture this behind me, I’m standing at the bottom of the driveway of the O’Leary residence, that’s Christina O’Leary and her family, this is their home. Mr. Gray is Ms. O’Leary’s father and resides here with them. But as you can see the house itself is farther up the hill. Here behind me is what was once known as a ‘sugar shack’, a separate building where Mr. Gray, a lifelong maple syrup manufacturer, used to produce his own maple syrup to sell locally. As you can see, Karen, the building is abandoned, but I would direct viewers to the roof of the structure … Bob, if you can zoom in on it … you see a substantial hole has been punched through. Now, according to Ms. O’Leary, that hole never existed before last night. You can see very clearly that either a portion of the roof collapsed or that somehow a breach was made in the structure ... we’re bringing this up because Ms. O’Leary said she was out of the house for several hours this morning and when she returned home about 45 minutes ago, she noticed the breach. Then she found her father, bound to a dining room chair inside the house. Now of course, Karen, there could be many explanations for the roof of the shack, but when you combine it with Mr. Gray’s somewhat bizarre observations about the man that stole his vehicle this morning … well, we have the beginnings of a strange story here.

—Yeah, I’ll say, Janet.

—Furthermore, according to Ms. O’Leary, it looks as though someone or something spent time inside the sugar shack during the night. She said she’s never seen that before in her lifetime, that it’s always been abandoned, but she told us that after unbinding and speaking with her father, she came down here to look inside. And that she saw evidence that someone had been in here.

—A very unusual scenario, Janet.


—What was Ms. O’Leary’s characterization of her father’s state of mind? Did she have anything to say about what he told you earlier?

—We asked her that, Karen, she did not want to comment specifically on whether or not she believed her father’s account. But she did say to us pointedly that she believed he is, and I quote, ‘the sanest, most grounded person I have ever known.’ Back to you.

I guided the vehicle around some curves and over a few inclines until I reached what looked to be the middle of their small town. The cold white sun was harsh and clear, and I knew I was tempting something just by being there. I made an effort to keep the vehicle in constant motion, past the swiveling head of the occasional resident, walking a dog or pedaling a bicycle. I wanted no one to be able to get a on fix me, but inevitably someone probably did.

My only desire was to be of service, to locate someone or something that would be receptive. It collides with our nature to remain silent and inert. He knows this, of course, and figures it into the punishment. My plans, however, were not too grandiose, I thought, and there is a breadth to His Mercy that is often underestimated. In other words, at the time, I felt that there was a kind of safety net below me, as they say here. One might say I was counting on that. Whether this was wise or not, it allowed me to proceed as boldly as I had been.

I did not know my destination just then. I figured I would know it when I got close.

A short time later I arrived at a crossroads in the middle of the village, but it was such a sleepy town that no one was around. I sat in the vehicle for a moment with the machine chugging inside of it like some artificial heart, slapped together by amateurs. Then I heard other sounds, lilting on a fine webstring of air through the glass. Something flickered within me. I turned a crank to lower the window and listened closer. And there it was, a voice. Then several voices. A chorus!
Across the way from where I idled in the vehicle there was a white church. It was not new, because it had been built in such a way as to be recognizable. I know about the churches now that resemble massive hangars of human commerce, soul shopping malls. This was not one of those places.

Slowly I moved the vehicle forward into the parking lot. I followed it around the back of the building, a traditionally-shaped structure with a spire, painted white but with large scales peeling off, clearly in need of basic repairs. There was a large sign out in front of the double doors that had the name of the congregation – Light of Truth – and below this an open space where one could arrange plastic letters to deliver a message. It read:


Evidently this was intended to jolt readers into changing whatever plans they might have had for the Sabbath and attending services instead. How successful this campaign was seemed open to question.

Behind the church in the small parking lot strewn with blackened patches of unmelted snow there were a few other vehicles and a back door. I assumed that this led into a basement or to some all-purpose rooms that were used for church functions other than the ceremonial. With my window still partially rolled down I glided up near to this door, cocked my head and listened.

I could still hear them, the voices. They were beautiful, all of them, scrambling up over a rather tentative, plinking piano rendering a reasonable approximation of ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’. Their untainted sentiments lilted up into the air and out of this place, seeking the ear of the Lord of Hosts, who has said, Let the little children come to me.

Here was my charge. They needed me. My heart gorging, I abandoned the vehicle and went inside.

… the stand-off, ladies and gentlemen, is now upwards of two hours hold and continuing on. At this stage most of the parents or family members associated with the children are gathered outside of the building, they are the civilians you see huddled together there on the lawn behind the barricades of police vehicles and military HUMVEEs.

Now, here are some of the other facts that we know or think we know as of this moment. We know that the man in the church is operating alone. We know that he arrived there in a pickup truck that he stole earlier this morning from a Goshen resident named Silas Gray. That vehicle has since been re-acquired by police and returned to Mr. Gray undamaged. We believe that the man in the church is unarmed; this according to the schoolteacher, Amanda Byers, who was with the children when the man arrived but was compelled into leaving the church entirely.

All morning we have been trying to get some answers to the most obvious questions raised by this situation, such as Why did Ms. Byers agree to leave the children were alone with this man, and Why have the authorities not attempted to enter the church if they believe the man is unarmed, et cetera. Folks, I can tell you that there are a lot of reports and rumors and stories floating around … but we now … are we ready? Great. We now hope to get some legitimate information because agreeing generously to speak to us for a moment in the middle of this crisis is the Deputy Sherriff of Hampshire County, William Cosgrave.

—Deputy Cosgrave, Karen Reynolds of IHS Cable News. Can you hear me all right, sir?

—Yes ma’am, I can.

—Thank you very much for speaking with us this morning. I know the situation is tense.

—You’re welcome.

—What can you tell us about what is happening right now?

—Well … basically we have a suspect in the building alone with nine young children who is not cooperating with us at the present time.

—What does that mean, he is not cooperating?

—It means that the suspect is not responding to any of our attempts to make contact with him in order to negotiate or identify his intentions.

—Has he harmed any of the children, Deputy?

—Not that we are aware of. We’re not in there, that’s the thing. But we believe he has not harmed or attempted to harm anyone at the present time.

—Do you know for certain that the man is unarmed?

—We are reasonably sure, ma’am, that the suspect is not armed, according to the statements of Ms. Byers and Mr. Gray from earlier this morning.

—Ms. Byers being the schoolteacher … Deputy, are those the only two eye-witnesses?

—No ma’am, there is another, a gentleman who happened to be walking his dog in the woodline up there behind me, who saw the suspect go in to the church and saw Ms. Byers come out. He’s the one who contacted the police.

—Who is that gentlemen and where is he now?

—He is still talking to us, he’s on the scene, but he asked not to be identified.

—All right. So, Deputy Cosgrave, I think what most people are probably wondering is, if the man is not armed, why has no one attempted to go into the building? Can you explain that to our viewers? What’s the holdup!?


—Well … Karen, I think that the best way to answer that is to say that we’re being extremely cautious because we don’t know exactly who we’re dealing with.

—Could you …. It is possible for you to elaborate on that, Deputy?

—Well, we don’t …. I’m not interested in alarming people any further, okay? Let’s just say we’ve had some conflicting accounts of what the man looks like and who people think he might be.

—Are you referring to Mr. Gray’s statements earlier today that he believes the man inside the church is not a man at all?

—Karen, it’s best if I do not comment on—

—Have you heard any other witnesses say that the suspect has a pair of—

—Ma’am, the front door of the church is opening. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much.

[To be concluded with Part Two soon]

Friday, May 01, 2009

Journal of a 'Novel'-Entry 53

On Writing Short Stories: A Second Meditation

I got to thinking about writing short stories not too long ago on this blog, as a means of keeping my creative juices flowing when the novel I am writing was sputtering, as it is now again. It seems I have run into some kind of trouble keeping things on course in each of the last 3-4 chapters. Somehow I have managed to work out of the jam in each case so far, which is positive, but the delays this way of writing the novel causes are more or less unacceptable if I ever truly want to see this novel through and get it done.

Other writers, like T.C. Boyle, seem to take a run at a story or several in between novels they have written; in my case, it looks like I have some kind of weird propensity to taking a swing at one inbetween chapters of a novel……which is not very good for the novel’s momentum, of course. And it doesn’t ever seem to advance my prospects in the short story market, because as I’ve said here ad nauseam, after almost 15 years of sending out stories I’m still searching for my first publishing success in fiction. (I have two stories I’m still peddling out there now, waiting to hear their fate, one of which has already been rejected three times, the other once so far. But just to show you that I haven’t given up.)

In any event, here I am working on Chapter VII of the novel and I have hit yet another creative snag. I am struggling on one scene in particular, and sometimes when that happens the whole thing grinds to a halt. It’s hard when you hit these creative dryspells. You learn only through long experience, even if you’re not a household name, that the only way through is straight ahead. You have to kind of power your way through like the pointman of an infantry patrol who has to stay on azimuth but finds himself pushing through thick brambles. We’ve all been there, right?

For me that method doesn’t always mean sticking to the particular scene or story I am writing, but it does mean continuing to write, nearly at all costs. Sometimes you have to shelve something for a small period of time and return to it. It really hurts you on the timing front, more delays to completing your masterpiece, but then again, you never know where your tangents can sometimes lead. My last two short stories are among my best writing in my own opinion, and both of them were written while I was logjammed on the novel.

So I am beginning another short story. The tentative title is ‘Angel Accelerating’. I don’t really know how or why it got started. I had this image pop into my head that had to do with an angel that crashed to earth – operative word ‘crashed’, no soft flight, as if he’d been expelled – and stole a car. Why’d he steal a car? I wondered. Doesn’t an angel have wings? What was he doing down there? Where could he go? This story started as an attempt to answer those questions. Although at this early point it feels like it’s oriented towards a weirder vein than mos t of my other short stories so I am not sure if any, or all, of these answers are going to be provided. We’ll see. It may become more about, well, other things.

This is the second story in a row, if you count my previous short story ‘Suicide Station’, that started with a fragmentary image, and a strange/surreal one at that, and grew out of an attempt to determine what the story behind the image was. The only difference is that the prompt for ‘Suicide Station’ came from my subconscious in a dream, literally, whereas the image of the fallen angel jacking someone else’s car – as opposed to singing God’s praises or rolling stones away or delivering messages or what have you – came to me smack in the middle of the day for reasons that are entirely obscure to the writer. Call it living in a fantasy world to a frightening degree; call it a by-product of my crazy reading tastes; call it what you want, but that’s how the ideas seem to be coming these days. In pieces, and at odd times.

By the way this story is also revealing an even more baffling trend towards two-word story titles on the part of yours truly, if you consider one of my more recent stories was 2005’s ‘Start Something’, and my last two were ‘Auto-Response’ (still two words!) and ‘Suicide Station’. Now here comes ‘Angel Accelerating’. What the heck this reveals is minimal to the point of irrelevance, but it’s still kind of weird.

I feel increasingly like I go into writing short stories in particular with almost no real idea of what I am trying to accomplish. I don’t think this is a bad thing. It may represent me learning some lessons about fiction writing which would have stood me well if I had only learned them like 15 years ago instead of now. But no matter. I’m a late bloomer, I always have been, and that still can give me some hope. My brain these days feels better equipped to dig into nebulous material and find the story there, as opposed to beginning with some kind of concept or plot idea and attempting to construct the story around that.

This story I am beginning now seeems to be informed in an off-handed way by a few things. The first was the image popping into my head as I said before. But following that, there have been other prompts to persuade me to give the story a try. For a while I was listening to an audio version of the New Testament in my car, read by actors, the most notable being Jim Caviezel, best known for playing Jesus in Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. I was listening to the first two gospels, Matthew and Mark, and I kept getting struck by the almost casual mention of angels here and there in the narratives. They would just pop in to Jesus’ words from time to time, or into the narrative itself, but never with much explanation. Like how Jesus, early in the accounts of his adult life, spends 40 days fasting in the desert, the Scriptures say ‘angels came, and administered to him’. What? Who? In what way? Does that mean they brought him food? How many helped him out? But it just kind of breezes past you. Ditto when Jesus is being arrested in Gesthemane, and he tells his disciples, ‘Do you think I could not ask my father right now, and he would send legions of angels? …… but it must be thus, that the Scriptures may be fulfilled.’ He would? How many angels? To do what? Trash the Roman soldiers?? It just got me thinking about the mysterious idea of angels at all. Not human, not God…….

Also I think I am being subconciously influenced by some writers I have read recently. The young but rising writer Chris Adrian’s novels and stories have an abundance of angels in them, and last year I read his collection A Better Angel. In an anthology I just finished I came across a story I had read once before, A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Thing in the Forest’, which is a magnificently written, strange, and sinister tale which recounts a single incident shared by two girls who meet during the evacuation from London during World War II. They are sent to a large country estate, and there they wander, unsupervised, into the woods where they encounter, quite literally, a thing in the forest. The remarkable thing about this story is that even though the entire conceit of meeting a monster in the woods has no basis in reality, the ‘thing’ is described so vividly and the reader experiences it so viscerally that you accept it anyway as the truth of the story. It happened. Reading this the second time around I was not only impressed so much by the writing, but I also realized, again, you can do anything. Just because something can’t happen in real life doesn’t mean it cannot in your story. You just have to find a way to express it in a manner that makes it real. It’s not easy to do, but the idea of attempting to do it is liberating. Finally, I have been reading some of the work of the inimitable Denis Johnson over the last year, and in the same anthology I happened across his remarkable novella called ‘Train Dreams’. This story ends with a kind of wolf-creature howling on a stage in front of a rapt crowd. The notion sounds preposterous. But in the context of this startling and powerul novella it comes across not only as a guttural, harrowing experience, but it seems to reach far beyond that, to signal that an entire era of human history has come to some kind of wounded close, and some new and darker reality is stepping in to plug the gap. Now THAT is powerful stuff. And yet it all comes out of a scene that in my description sounds ludicrous and hokey.

Does this mean my new story will be anything BUT ludicrous and hokey? Probably not….but I know what is possible. And I can dream as hard as I can towards it. Maybe this way I’ll write a good story, maybe someone will want to publish it. Maybe it will simply succeed in breaking the logjam and getting me going on the novel again.

Either way, pressing on with my story is a good move.