Archive for August, 2007

Jesus Days

Jesus Days is an excerpt from the novel Angel Land, set late in the 21st Century—ravaged by the deadly Sept virus, the one time United States has disintegrated into The Fundamental Christian Territories, where Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos, the Zones of Perversion. Aram is a territorial Elder, or administrative officer, in Angel Land, oldest of the territories. He has fallen in love with Harvey, and has arranged a meeting at the Jesus Days festival with the sister from whom Harvey was separated as a child, hoping to reconcile the siblings, and on his way to that meeting, stops to visit his brother’s fiancée.He is not aware that he has been followed there by Senior Elder Dorwin, Harvey’s lifelong nemesis.

 

(from a travel brochure)

Angel Land

The ultimate Family Value vacation!

 Ride replicas of the legendary cable cars “halfway to the stars.”

See—close up—the Bridge of the Golden Gate, once crossed by motor cars*

See the actual ocean, in absolute safety—no bio-hazards

 Visit an authentic restored “Frisco Watering Hole” of the Gay 90s 

Religious services every hour, every day. Baptisms 24 hours

 Plus—Tour free from unsightly perverts or homeless  Angel Land—your paradise on earth!  

Fundamental Christian Values strictly enforced!

No alcohol**, drugs or non-marital sexual activities

All Catholics, Jews and all other heretics must be properly registered.

All tattoos must be prominently displayed at all times.

*For safety reasons, viewing distance appr. 1.2 miles. Actual bridge cannot be entered.

**Holy Spirits, the FCT’s own beer, available at selected locations

Travel arrangements by Halo There, the official travel agency of the FCT.

   

Travel brochure printed by permission of the Council of Churches, ord. 3010a, petition on file


 

 * * * * *

Even from blocks away one could hear the Babel of voices that filled the air:

“Bethlehem Babies, fresh out of the oven, Bethlehem Babies, over here.”

“St. Peter’s Fish on a Stick. St. Peter’s Fish, hot off the fire. Hot fish.”

“Baptisms here. Baptisms.”

There had been a time, Aram knew, when the China Basin Family Activity Center had been used as a sports arena. Sports that were unfamiliar to him, but he remembered as a child his father’s talking about them with nostalgic enthusiasm.

The football game was the one he remembered most: one man held a ball in his arms and ran down the field and the other players tried to catch him. There were countless variations too. They all sounded simple enough, though he supposed there were subtleties that hadn’t been communicated to the child he had been then.

Those sports had all been banned over time. Too violent, some of them, or perhaps too homoerotic, though the Council would never have put it that way. Not that today’s youth were without their sports: there were foot races and relays, often right here in the Center, and somersaults and Stone the Martyr, which had always seemed plenty violent to him.

For sheer spectacle, though, nothing compared to Jesus Days—or more correctly, The Christ in Jesus Family Circus Festival. It lasted a full week and people flocked from all over the territories. “The vacation you’ve been praying for!” the travel brochures proclaimed it.

Strolling the midway, Aram thought that it was certainly the most colorful event in the territorial calendar, with the clowns and the acrobats in their gaudy outfits and costumed Apostles mingling with the throngs.

The scents of frying fish and fresh baked cookies wafted by and thick slabs of sucking pig perfumed the air and left grease stains on shirtfronts. Children passed around Candy Camels and the Crackers of Galilee and in the dirt at their feet crows and pigeons argued over the crumbs.

People knelt by an enormous tub to bob for apples and an enthusiastic group cheered a heavily draped Samson to lift greater and greater weights. Wide eyed children rode swaying donkeys around a roped oval or squealed and cooed at Noah’s Ark with its bleating sheep and goats, even a llama; and of course piglets, new ones each morning, their predecessors having been spirited away the night before to the roasting tent.

Aram paused briefly to regard the inevitable sinners in the stocks (“See The Penance Of Selected Sinners, Every Day”) and, just as inevitable, the young men there to taunt them and, when the guards looked conveniently away, to pelt them with pebbles and clods of dirt. There was a woman of middle years, tears running down her cheeks, and two men, boys really, eyes downcast, faces stoically impassive. He wondered what their sins had been. That would be announced hourly until their penance was complete. Perhaps he had sentenced one or the other of them himself. He couldn’t recall. The sentences seemed to run together in a blur. Had he always been so cavalier? Hadn’t there been a time when he had taken each case seriously, considered individually each person brought before him? When had they turned into faceless numbers?

He found Andra, at the playground, watching the neat rows of children waiting their turns at the swings and slides.

“Is it my imagination or were we a rowdier bunch?” he asked her. “Always shoving and pummeling one another, if I remember, and certainly making more noise than this batch.”

“Mostly, you liked to pull my hair,” she said. “Both of you.”

“You found every excuse to step on our toes, as I recall.”

“And the fact that we were brats does not mean that every generation must follow our example,” she told him primly.

“You don’t think they might be over-indoctrinated?”

“You sound like Elam.” She flashed him an annoyed look. “He’s the one always faulting the church. You used to be so, oh, I don’t know, so orthodox.”

“I’m afraid I lost my orthodoxy with my innocence.” He glanced around. “Where is Elam, by the way?”

“He’s working.” Andra frowned briefly. “Have you seen him lately?”

“Not for a while.” He considered for a moment whether he should tell her that Elam was not at work. He had stopped by the laboratory briefly on his way here, filled with guilt that he had neglected his brother so badly of late, and at the laboratory they had told him Elam was here at the festival.

“I think he’s working too much,” Andra said. “He never has a minute for his painting anymore. Or…” She checked herself, about to say, “for me.”

“I wish you’d talk to him,” she said instead. “He thinks I’m a terrible shrew when I say anything.”

He laughed and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “He adores you. And as for the children, it’s no wonder they’re so well behaved. If I’d had such a pretty teacher I might not have been such a brat myself.”

“Now you’re patronizing me,” she said.

“Only a little.”

“The children know that I love them. They can sense that sort of thing, I believe. I’ve told Elam we must have half a dozen of our own, maybe a full dozen. Which you may be sure elicited great groans of protest.”

He chuckled. “That’s just Elam. He’ll be a wonderful father, you can be sure of it.” He glanced around again. “If he comes, tell him I was looking for him.”

She watched him go and was aware that others watched him too, young women stealing surreptitious glances after him. Such a handsome man. Broad shouldered and slim hipped, with the same cute little bottom as Elam, though it was probably sinful for her to take notice of that. And so masculine, too, it was still difficult for her to grasp that he was…was the way he was. She could not quite say the word even to herself.

She liked Harvey though. He had an infectious quality, a boyishness that was hard to resist. Certainly she could see that Aram couldn’t resist. Watching them together she had been convinced that whatever Aram felt for him was profound, so encompassing that it could not help but frighten her. Where could it lead? What possible happiness could the future hold for them? But even with Elam she kept these doubts to herself. Whatever was in store for the Aram and his friend, it would be quite difficult enough without the burden of her fears.

She was jolted from her reverie by a cry of pain. One of the children had fallen from a swing and she started toward him but before she could get there someone had hurried past her and scooped the child up.

“Elder Dorwin,” she said, surprised not just at seeing him there but too at how gentle and soothing he was with the child. She had always thought of the Senior Elder as such a dour man. It had never occurred to her that he might have a tender side.

He cuddled the youngster and murmured to him and in a moment the tears had stopped.

“You’re very good with children,” she said admiringly.

He handed the little boy to her. “Children are our treasures,” he said. “They are our future.”

She couldn’t have said it better herself. “What brings you here? Surely the Senior Elder isn’t indulging in frivolity?” she asked in a teasing voice. “I thought you never rested from your labors?”

“The war against sin is never ending,” he said, offering her no responding smile. “But it is not always conducted in the church.” He glanced over her shoulder. “Actually I thought this visit might be a learning experience.”

“Yes, I suppose it could be that,” she said, chastened.

He did smile at her then and nodded. “Good day, Sister Andra,” he said, and went on his way.

She was surprised that he knew her name.

#

At a distance, in a moment of watching, you could see the resemblance: behind the thick lenses of her glasses, Jenny Walton had the same sharp-eyed wariness as her brother. The determined set to her shoulders reminded him of Harvey too, though on her it looked more defiant and less convinced. She had been pretty not so long ago, before something—life itself, perhaps—had sucked the vitality, the fire from her.

For the moment, this was not a reunion in the works but a job interview. He had corresponded with her about an opening in Angel Land’s administrative offices and since she would be here this week with Eden’s library delegation, had suggested that they meet. The rest he would play by ear.

“Good afternoon, Elder.” Her mouth was wide like Harvey’s, but thin lipped. Her smile came and went quickly and when it had gone it left little trace of itself. “Would you like to make a donation to the Library Fund? Or perhaps I could give you a demonstration?”

The Library Project had been a subject of controversy since its inception a few years earlier: a planned network of sites where every citizen could go and call up information on almost any subject.

The pilot had gone to Eden and there it had languished. It’s opponents argued that too much information was a dangerous thing, though from what Aram had seen, the “information” wasn’t likely to cause any problems: “The United States: a collection of individual territories with a central government; infamous for crime and vice and licentiousness (this represented by a photograph of a sailor and a girl kissing in something called a Time Square). The country was split into the nine FCT.”

“I’ve already had a demonstration,” he said. “You’re Sister Walton?”

She frowned slightly. “Yes, and you are…? Oh, the Elder, of course, the one who wrote me.”

“Elder Johnson. Is this a convenient time? I thought perhaps an informal conversation, a chance to get acquainted….”

She glanced around anxiously, as if lines of people were waiting for her assistance, but there was no one at her booth and hadn’t been the entire time he had watched surreptitiously from across the midway.

“They’ve got fresh coffee just over there, I tried some earlier,” he said. “You can watch your booth from there. Or,” when she still hesitated, “I can come back later.”

“No, this is fine.” She took a moment to lock up her donation box, which was empty as near as he could tell, and to cover it and her literature with a fringed cloth. Out of the booth, falling into step beside him, she was smaller than he had realized. He supposed he had expected her to be tall like Harvey.

“I trust you’ve given the matter some thought,” he said. “Of course, this is all tentative. For now I only wanted to see how you would feel about moving to Angel Land.” He bought coffee in plastic cups and found them seats at one of the plastic tables.

“I can’t imagine anyone’s not wanting to be here. It’s such an exciting place. It’s like you can feel the Lord’s work going on all about you.” She set her coffee aside untasted and regarded him solemnly. “Only, I wondered, how on earth did you come up with my name? There must be no shortage of candidates right here?”

He gave her a smile meant to be reassuring. “Let’s just say there are people who have a high regard for you.”

She seemed vaguely puzzled by that comment. Her answering smile was tentative. “In Angel Land? I can’t imagine who,” she said.

He ignored the question in her voice. “It is a big step though,” he said. “Leaving behind everything familiar. Friends, family….” He hesitated invitingly.

“I have no family.” She said it curtly, quickly, without self-pity, a mere statement of fact.

“Ah. But surely your file says, let me think, a sister, wasn’t it? Or was it a brother?”

She took her time with this subject, pondering. “I’m surprised that’s still in my file,” she said finally. “I had a brother. We were parted years ago. He ran away.”

Aram nodded, expecting more, but she looked past him into some far distance, momentarily lost in thoughts of her own.

“Ran away? And you’ve heard nothing since?”

“Nothing.”

“That must prey on one. Wondering, not knowing. Family, after all. Hard to let go of those ties, isn’t it?”

She looked directly at him then, fixing him with a steady, unblinking stare. “He was a willful child, full of sin.”

He felt a chill up his spine. It was not exactly what he had hoped to hear. “But, only a child, didn’t you say? One wonders, I suppose, what he might have become. Model citizen perhaps. Church official even.” He hesitated and added, with a slight laugh, “Or perhaps a heretic.”

She took the suggestion seriously. “Catholic, you mean, or, but he couldn’t very well be Jewish could he, or Muslim? Baptist maybe.” She smiled grimly. “Heretics burn in hell, don’t they?”

“Surely Christ speaks of forgiveness.”

“That’s true, yes.” She considered that briefly. “If I knew that he had been saved, that he had come back to the Church in full repentance. Yes, I suppose then I would be glad to see him.”

Which, he thought, effectively answered the questions he had, but he could not resist a final probe. “Perhaps not Catholic, then. Perhaps,” he hesitated. “Perhaps gay?”

Again those eyes behind their distorting lenses seemed to bore into him. “What a funny topic for conversation, Elder. Why this interest in a brother I haven’t seen since we were children?”

He shrugged and looked away. “Curiosity. Family is important, isn’t it? If we were to hire you here and you were subsequently to find him there, well, it could change things, couldn’t it? It’s something that ought to be considered.”

He was wrong about her: she could be fiery. Her eyes glinted fiercely. “Gay, you said? That’s what they call themselves, isn’t it, the homosexuals? Not gay at all, in my opinion. As I see it, Hell is not soon enough for those people. If I had my way they would all be herded into the public squares and burned alive. They’ve no business dirtying the world with their evil ways, corrupting innocent children, poisoning the air with their very presence….” Her voice had gone up. A couple at the next table looked in their direction.

She noticed and paused for a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she said, calmer. She was wearing gloves and she took a moment to remove one and used it to wipe her brow, although the day was cool and rain threatened.

She rested her naked hand on the table. He saw that it was missing the little finger and a chill went through him. He began to understand. He had heard of that, of course. It was, on the books at least, a prescribed punishment for a wayward Born, though he had never heard of a Minister who had actually resorted to it: one finger for a serious offense, another for a second. He couldn’t recall if there was a limit to the mutilations. No more than ten, in any case.

He realized with a start that he was staring and looked up to find her smiling at him. “That was rude of me. I’m sorry,” he murmured, blushing.

“Don’t be,” she said. She held her hand up and regarded it as if she had noticed the missing finger for the first time. “I’m not ashamed. Proud actually. And grateful that my Minister was so firm in his duty. Not all are. It was a gift, you see….”

#

Oh, don’t, please, please, it hurts, it hurts….It’s meant to hurt. It’s meant to make you contemplate the pain you have caused me. The pain you have caused Jesus. Do you think your pain signifies at all in comparison to his, to the pain he suffered for you, ungrateful child? Pray on it. Share the pain. His pain. Share it and thank Jesus for it.

#

“…It was that glorious pain that finally brought me to see the light, praise be.”

Not too far distant a gospel quartet broke into song, their voices floating over the midway in sweet harmony: “Harvest time, it’s harvest time.”

He saw it then as clearly as if it were projected onto a screen in front of him. Harvey had run away and she had stayed. He had bartered his body to survive and somehow managed to keep his soul intact. She had been raped, not physically but spiritually. Her body, he suspected, was untouched, but her virgin soul had been deflowered, violated brutally, cruelly. And for the sake of what? Not God. No, certainly not God.

Others joined in with the singers, a few voices at first and then a growing chorus of festival goers: “…The grain is falling, the Savior’s calling….”

She held her mutilated hand before her and said, in little more than a whisper, “Hallelujah.” She stared hard at him and it occurred to him belatedly that she was waiting for him to reply in kind. He tried to say Amen but the word would not come. It turned to dust in his throat.

He stood up so abruptly that he spilled both their coffees, the liquid splashing across the table’s grimy surface and staining the front of his tights. A jay and a gull, squabbling nearby over a scrap of St. Peter’s fish, were startled into noisy flight.

“I’m sorry,” he said and knew that he was stammering. “Something has…I have to go….” He started away.

“…Oh, do not wait, it’s growing late….”

“Elder?” He stopped, but could not bring himself to look at her again. “You haven’t said, about the job?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll recommend you,” he said,

“Behold, the fields are white, it’s har-ar-ar-vest time.”

It began to rain as he walked. Overhead the retractable roof started to close and jammed halfway. People ran for shelter.

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A Lovely Leave

“Marcie.”

It was a long moment before a sleep-addled voice said, on the other end of the line, “Connie?”

“Did I wake you?” Connie asked in a noisy whisper.

Another long pause. “Connie, it’s, uh…one o’clock in the morning. What’s wrong?”

“Wrong?” Connie giggled like a schoolgirl. She twisted a strawberry-blonde curl around one finger, chewing on the end of it, and said in a sibilant rush, the words tripping over one another, “Nothing, honey, absolutely nothing is wrong. Nothing could be righter, if you want to know, not possibly. Oh, Marcie, I’m sorry I woke you up but I just had to call and tell you, I had to tell someone, it is so unreal, it’s like a miracle. See, I was at Union Station this afternoon, I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I’d stop in and have a drink, you know, that little place on the mezzanine, and you will never ever believe who I ran into there, you couldn’t guess in a million years.”

Marcie sighed. “You’re right, honey, I couldn’t possibly guess. Who?”

“John! Isn’t that incredible?”

“John? John who?”

“John who? John Hagerman, who do you think, silly? My John.”

The pause this time was even longer. “John Hagerman?”

“Yes. Isn’t that the most amazing? He’d just gotten off a train. He got some sort of special leave, I never did quite get what that was all about, but you know how the Navy is. Of course, he was headed straight over to see me, and isn’t that the most bizarre coincidence, my being right there at just that moment, or he’d have missed me and who knows if we’d ever have found one another. Well, I’m telling you, we both just about laughed ourselves silly on the way back to my place.”

“Connie, are you all right? Are you taking your medicine? You know what the doctor told you, about skipping…”

“Medicine? For Pete’s sake, I don’t need medicine. Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? I just spent the night with John. That’s the best medicine anyone could give me.”

“Honey, listen to me, don’t you remember—the letter? John’s…”

“Oops, got to go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

She hung up just as the bathroom door opened and a handsome young man in a sailor’s uniform came into the bedroom, smiled at her a bit hesitantly.

“My, my my, don’t you look handsome,” Connie said, and a bit more wistfully, “Oh, John, do you really have to go?”

He gave her a blank look. “John?”

She sighed. “Well, I guess one night is better than nothing. And it really has been a lovely leave, hasn’t it? Will you get back to see me anytime soon, do you think?”

“Maybe,” he said with a note of caution in his voice. He tugged his wallet from a pocket. “Uh, look, I don’t have much money, but, well…” He took some bills out of the wallet and laid them on the dresser. “Thanks. You know, for everything.” He started for the door.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

He paused, one hand on the doorknob, and looked a question at her.

“You haven’t kissed me goodbye.”

“Oh. Sure.”

He came back to the bed, looking a little embarrassed, and leaned down to give her a peck, but she put her arms up about him, clinging tightly and kissed him back voraciously. After a few seconds, he responded, kissing her with growing enthusiasm. When the kiss ended, he grinned at her, his embarrassment forgotten for the moment.

“Boy, you sure know how to perk up a guy’s leave,” he said.

She gave him a coquettish smile. “Sure you can’t stay a bit longer?”

“I wish. I have a train to catch…” He glanced at his watch. “…Five minutes ago. Crap. I hope there’s another one. Well.” He stood, looked down at her, got serious. “Listen, are you okay? I mean, well, you know.”

“Okay?” Her laugh bubbled up out of her, making her freckled shoulders shake. “Oh, John, I’ve never been happier. You just don’t know.”

“Well, then.” He smoothed his cap. “I better go.”

He paused once more at the door, to look back at her, an uncertain look, as if there were something more he wanted to say.

“I love you,” she said. She blew him a kiss.

He nodded, embarrassed again, gave her a half smile and a little salute, and left, carefully latching the door behind himself.

The phone by the bed rang. She put her head down on the pillow. She could still smell his scent on it: Old Spice, sweat, male odors. She ignored the ringing of the phone, turned on her side, and burrowed her face into the pillow.

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The Voyage

I lost a dear friend, writer Joe McCabe, over the weekend. This is in his memory. It may be that I owe apologies to some unknown writer. I have a vague memory of having read this parable, the same general idea, at least, many years ago when I was a child, but whether that is truly so or not, and if so, who the author might have been, I cannot say. This is simply my take on the theme.

 

The ship sailed out of harbor. Grief in their hearts, the people on the shore watched it until it had disappeared over the horizon. Their friend was gone, too soon, too soon.

Beyond the horizon, others waited at a different shore, watching for a glimpse of white sails over the horizon. Finally, one of them cried in joy, “There, see, here he is. He has come home, at last.”

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The Astral

The following excerpt is from my upcoming paranormal thriller, The Astral: Till the Day I Die (Wildside Press, November 2007)

It was everything just as she had always heard it described: the tunnel, the light, blinding white light, and there was everyone waiting to greet her, gosh, that was her father, wasn’t it, and there was Aunt Fanny, and….

“Catherine.” She heard her name distinctly, from somewhere behind. She looked back, and saw Jack in the distance. Jack? That wasn’t possible, surely, not after all these years?

“Catherine,” he called again, “Come back. You can’t go yet.”

Ahead, her loved ones waited for her, willing her to come to them. When she tried to look at them, however, actually to see them, there were no images. It was more as if she felt them. She simply knew they were there, and she wanted to join them, truly she did. She couldn’t go back. She wouldn’t.

And yet…she glanced back once more at Jack and all the years fell away, and in an instant, she remembered the feel of his arms about her, his lean, hard body against hers. How could she remember anything so physical, here, now?

Someone—some thing—separated itself from the light, something of light itself, but so bright, so intense, that she could not bear to look directly at it, and shielded her eyes.

“You must go back.” It was like a voice inside her head; she could hear it and yet she knew that no sound had been made. “He is there. You must find him. There is something that you must do, that only you can do.”

“I can’t go back. Please, spare me. The pain—I know what happens. It’s more than I could bear.”

“He is there.”

“Who?”

But it was too late, already she could feel herself returning, the voices were fading, the light retreating, further and further until….

Until she was back, in a bed, and the pain was crashing through her, seeming to crush her in its horrible embrace, and somewhere a triumphant voice was saying, “We’ve got her. She’s alive.”

                                          

                                                      * * * * * * *

The scene kept playing over and over, like a tape loop, on the screen of her mind. She saw herself come out of the market. It was a warm Friday, late spring in Los Angeles. She had been shopping for a special dinner to celebrate Becky’s last day of school, and she saw, puzzled, the empty Buick where Walter and Becky should have been waiting, the wide open door setting off alarm bells inside her head.

Her eyes raked the crowded parking lot and as if by magic her gaze went directly to them, to Becky and the two men trying to force her into a rusty black pick up. She saw Becky fighting and kicking, heard her cry: “Mommy, Mommy, help me!”

“Becky! Stop, let her go,” Catherine shouted. She dropped the bags of groceries and ran toward the truck. Startled people turned to look but she had eyes for nothing but the little girl struggling in the arms of two men.

One of them clambered into the truck, dragging Becky with him. The other, tall, skinny, shoved her toward the middle of the seat and tried to get in after her.

Catherine caught the door as he started to swing it shut. “No,” she screamed, “I won’t let you.”

The skinny man, green-eyed, with an artificially bright yellow beard, swore at her and tried to kick her away with one foot that caught her in the belly. She gagged with the pain, but her hands still held on to the door.

“Get away, bitch.” He bared his teeth in an angry snarl and yanked the glove box open, pulled out a gun and waved it wildly. “Let go of the damned door.”

“Mommy.” Becky sobbed loudly. The truck’s engine roared to life.

Somewhere behind her, Catherine heard Walter cry, “Catherine! Becky!” but she couldn’t, wouldn’t take her eyes from the man with the yellow beard. His face was so close she could smell his beer-laced breath and the scent of his sweat.

“Give me back my daughter!” This couldn’t be happening, not to her, not to Becky, it must be a nightmare. She sobbed with terror. The truck began to move, but still she would not let go of the door. “Give her back.”

He aimed the gun in her direction, held it practically in her face, and fired. It felt as if she had been struck alongside the head by a rock. She seemed to be falling upward. Her fingers slipped from the flailing truck door. Gears ground, tires squealed. Her head hit the pavement and blackness fell over her like a thick, dark blanket.

                                                                 * * * * * * *

     “It’s my fault, totally,” Walter said, his voice breaking. He waited for her to say something, waited for expiation. When none came, he went on: “It was only a couple of minutes, I swear it. We walked over to look in the window, at the toy store, you know, and then we came back, and I had just put Becky in the car when this man came up and said I had dropped my wallet. I felt my pocket and, sure enough, it was gone.

“‘Back there,’ he said, ‘back by the toy store,’ so I walked back to look for it, but I couldn’t find it, I was just looking around when I heard you scream, and I saw….” He choked back a sob.

Still Catherine said nothing. She would have to forgive him. Someday. She understood what guilt he was suffering. It would kill him to remain unpardoned. She couldn’t do that to him.

For now, though, her grief was all but killing her, it was all she could manage. She couldn’t even look at him, let alone give him the forgiveness he needed.

“They found her at the beach. They had….”

She found her voice then, an icy, a toneless voice. “I don’t want to hear it. Don’t mention that to me, ever.”

He shrank down in his chair and sobbed helplessly.

                                                  * * * * * * *

       Mommy, Mommy, help me!Becky….

Catherine fought against the restraints that held her to the bed, the tubes that connected her to monitoring equipment.

Even when the nurses came running, even when the sedative had relaxed her body and her struggles had ceased, the cries still rang in her mind:

Mommy, Mommy…

                                                      * * * * * *
  “This will seem a little strange to you,” the woman doctor said. She was one Catherine hadn’t seen before, a pale blonde woman. The light from the window formed a golden halo about her head. After three weeks they had finally removed the last of Catherine’s bandages. With the wrappings gone her scalp felt oddly naked.

The doctor raised a small penlight in front of Catherine’s face and flicked it on. Intense light filled Catherine’s vision. “Don’t blink.”

It reminded her of that other light, blinding, pure. She had told no one about that, had resolutely refused even to think about it, but the light shining into her eyes, blinding her, brought it back. It began to seem to her that she could see something in this light—almost see something, if she just looked a little harder.

She was only vaguely aware of what the doctor was saying: “You must travel. You must learn it. Try, now. Just a little way. I will help.”

Suddenly, she was in the corridor outside. There was her nurse, Millie, coming along the hallway toward her, a clipboard in her hand. Millie looked up and saw her. She blinked, disbelieving, her eyes wide.

As suddenly as she had left it, Catherine was back in her bed, pain threatening to make her head explode. She moaned aloud. She had forgotten the doctor tending her until she said, “Hurts, doesn’t it?”

Catherine opened her eyes. That brought fresh lightning bolts of pain crashing into her skull. “Who,” she started to ask, when the door flew open. Over the doctor’s shoulder, Catherine saw Millie dash into the room and come to an abrupt stop. The doctor did not turn, did not even seem to notice the sudden entrance.

“You’re here,” Millie said. “I thought….”

The doctor smiled and waved a hand to indicate the tubes connecting Catherine to the various life support systems. “How could she go anywhere?” she asked.

For a moment more, Millie gaped. With a mystified expression, she shook her head. “Of course. How silly of me, how could you go anywhere?” She backed out of the room, her puzzled eyes studying Catherine’s face.

Catherine looked at the doctor. “Why did you say that?” she asked.

“Say what?”

“That, what you said, about traveling?”

The woman chuckled and slipped her penlight into the pocket of her tunic. “My dear, I’m afraid it will be a while before you do any real traveling. You rest now.” She got up and strolled toward the door.

“Wait,” Catherine said, “I—I’m confused.”

At the door, the doctor paused for just a second to look back and smile. Up until this moment she had been utterly professional and sweetly bland, a face you could almost but not quite remember, the sort of someone you might know only slightly from church or perhaps one of your child’s teachers. There was nothing bland or sweet about the smile she flashed across the room at Catherine, however. It was fierce, almost demonic. And challenging.

“Of course you are. It will get better, I promise. You’ll be fine. It just takes time.”

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