Angelica pulled up into her driveway and got out of the car slowly, then stretched as best she could with all of her aches and pains. She did feel better after her examination and treatment with Lucent Keener. Lucent was certainly intelligent and professional, but she was also warm and caring. After about five minutes with her in the exam room, Angelica felt comfortable … not totally comfortable, but comfortable enough.
Now that she looked around, however, she suddenly felt very unnerved. Across the street she saw one of her neighbors, a man in his front yard watering one of their flower beds. He stood there, just holding the hose, staring at her with blank eyes and face. Angelica didn’t really know him – and she’d never really wanted to know him – but she did know he attended Ebenezer Bible Church. Then she saw the hand parting the curtain in the front room. His wife was staring, too.
She turned around and headed for the door. Angelica was so shaken she couldn’t seem to get a good grip on the keys. They dropped onto the little portico just to her right. She reached down and picked them up only to notice another neighbor, two houses down from the blank-face man and his wife. This woman was standing at her mailbox with a handful of letters and ads staring at her with that same eerie, blank look. If she wasn’t mistaken, this lady also attended Ebenezer.
Angelica quickly tried to insert the house key into the door lock but couldn’t seem to get the damn thing to cooperate. Of all the days! Dammit! I’m f**kin exhausted and desperately want a couple of cold beers with a couple of pain killers and at least a half-pack of cigarettes! She was getting frantic. Now I’m f**kin stuck out here, out here in the open being spied on by Sloughheart’s Gestapo, and…
“Good afternoon!” came a rather friendly, booming voice. She turned around to face another neighbor but, thank God, one she actually knew and kind of liked, especially his wife Marilynn. L. Gunner Sharpe was an impressive man: not too tall, but tall enough; well-built and obviously fit as a fiddle; keen eyes that yet had no need for glasses; kind, to be sure, but in a more statesman-like manner. He and Marilynn had never visited much, or at all really, but they’d been friendly to Morris and her; Marilyn had even brought over a “welcome to the neighborhood” something-or-other. At least they were decent, well-mannered folks who might give half-a-rat’s ass whether she lived or died. At the moment, she felt some comfort in his presence.
“Looks like you may suddenly have some admirers, Angelica,” he spoke calmly enough, just stating the facts. No beating around the bush with Gunner Sharpe, then; no pleasantries to exchange. Just right to the obvious facts, and that’s they way she liked it … but would she talk to him about it? Was it really any of his business? After all, she didn’t really know him that well at all. On the other hand, with three more faces staring out of windows of the two houses now, Angelica decided to make it his business, especially since he was at her front door now and he’d ask. What the hell? Gunner may be of some help … and what’ve I got to lose now anyway?
“Yeah, kind of creepy,” she answered with a nervous half-laugh. “I’ve never really run into this sort of thing before.” Angelica looked straight at Sharpe. “You think maybe they think I’ve won the lottery or something?” She tried to make a light joke of it, bur Gunner didn’t crack a smile.
“Or something, I’d say, but…” he looked at the blank-face watchers, giving them each an obtrusive glare that turned them away one by one. “Let’s go inside for a moment, if we may.” It wasn’t really a question, and at this point, it wasn’t an order Angelica was inclined to disobey. If Sharpe could help in anyway, even keeping them from being harassed by the Sloughheart Gestapo, it would be worth hearing him out if only for Morris’ sake. He was her number one concern, and she wanted to do every damn thing she could to protect him … well, at least, to protect him from further cruelty and violent abuse.
“Well, please come in, then,” she held the door open and Mr. Gunner Sharpe entered in and wasted no time coming to the point.
“I’m the chief, you might say, of the River Oak Neighborhood Watch.” He looked her straight in the eye. “I received a call from a member asking us to keep especially sharp eyes and ears open for the welfare of you and your son.” Sharpe held up his right hand to dissuade any questions or protests. “Mind you, I don’t know all of the details involved, and I don’t think I really need to, given this particular member of the Watch.”
“Uh-huh!” Angelica half-smiled. “Give me three guesses and I’ll bet I can tell you who it is … or maybe even just one guess: Reverend Joy Brighterday.”
“Maybe,” Sharpe replied in his somewhat relaxed voice, giving himself permission to crack just a bit of a smile … for two or three seconds anyway. “She certainly has my respect and admiration, so I would probably never give her the third degree on any one of her requests.”
“So what does this mean exactly? I mean, I guess I should be flattered, and I am thankful so many folks are willing to look after us, but … well, back to my question: What does this mean exactly?”
“First of all, rule number one in dealing with requests made for someone else is to let that person, or those persons, know the request has been made.” Sharpe was trying to find the right words. “Obviously, we don’t want to end up being the suspicious ones, so we want the individual or family to know and to let us know if this is o.k. with them. I guess I’m saying, we need to know if you would like for us to keep sharp eyes and ears open on behalf of you and your son.”
“Umm … I, uh, guess, but like I asked just now, what would this mean? What would the Neighborhood Watch do precisely? Do you have a kind of game plan in place already for ‘keeping sharp eyes and ears open?’ Do we need to do something?” Angelica kind of warmed up to the idea, but it was still vague. She knew if Morris and she were going to feel any safer, she needed to hear definite details … particulars.
“The basic security of your home would be priority number one. This would mean checking all of the doors and windows to make certain they’re secure; also, security lighting. If any repairs are needed, as long as they’re relatively minor, we would simply take care of those, no problem. Second, we would want to make certain you have the names and numbers of every member of the River Oak Neighborhood Watch, and of course that they have your number. Knowing your basic schedule, and your son’s, would be helpful, and it would really be helpful if the two of you got to know ours … which really just means getting acquainted.” These were the kind of particulars Angelica wanted to hear. She was warming more and more to the idea, and even feeling a bit thankful.
“Most importantly, I suppose, is keeping suspicious unwelcomes at bay, so to speak, like your new admirers. If one or some of us see an unwelcome walking up your front yard, we’d just make it a point to be there, too … you know, to say ‘hello,’ ask how you’re doing, and generally make ourselves a pest until the unwelcome leaves. If he or she seems to present more of a problem, then we have non-violent and mostly non-confrontational ways of ending the contact with the unwelcome, followed immediately by his or her leaving… Generally, they don’t come back.” Sharpe drew in a deep breath before continuing. “Your situation appears to be somewhat different, though. I can tell that from some folks in our neighborhood suddenly finding it interesting to stare at you, even peeking through windows to catch a glimpse … but I have been assured by our most erudite and saintly member that we would not be engaging ourselves in anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We would simple be providing some safe covering for a woman and her son who need it right now.”
“Yeah … yeah,” Angelica could hardly think what to say, especially since she really didn’t want to connect with people right now. The problem was, she was already connected with one particular person, who might as well be the devil himself, along with so many of his minions. Here and now she had the opportunity, maybe, to connect with the right kind of people. Although she just couldn’t help asking herself in that moment, where the hell were all these good people when we really needed them? They barely said f***kin ‘hello’ to us before now. Are they like ambulance chasers? Want the thrill of a crisis to get their middle-aged, middle-class adrenaline pumping? “Sounds great, thank you, Mr. Sharpe. We … appreciate it, thank you.”
“No problem; that’s what we’re here for,” Gunner Sharpe answered with his first full smile, and Angelica could see why he didn’t smile very much, too. “We can get started today, if you don’t mind … at least checking your doors, windows, and security lighting.”
“Umm, yeah, that’ll be fine,” she was somewhat mesmerized. Suddenly she and Morris had a company of earthbound guardian angels surrounding them. I’m beginning to think that’s the only guardian angels there are; either that, or God has shit for timing, or he needs to fire some of his guardians. At least if God ever appointed any guardian angels for Morris and me, they must have their heads up their heavenly butts! They’re almost as worthless as … well, yeah … God.
“O.k. then, I’ll be back with a friend in about … oh … ten minutes,” Sharpe was already to the sidewalk heading back across the street.
“Alright then,” she lifted her right arm for a short wave. It still hurt like hell. “I’ll be waiting for my River Oak guardians.” She laughed what was meant to be a good-natured laugh but one that came out with an edge of cynicism. Sharpe didn’t seem to notice. “Thanks again!” He waved his hand back as he stepped up onto his own front porch.
Yeah, I’ll be waiting here for my very human help… Finally! And no thanks to the Big Cheese in the Sky either! Huh! Angelica wiped a tear off of her right cheek. Yeah … human help to help Morris and me out of this hell on earth that some neurotic, psychopathic God created. Alleluia!
“Thankfully, very thankfully, Effete Mann Sloughheart has had copies of all of her legal records sent to us, in PDF via electronic transfer, today. And all forthcoming legal documentation will be sent to us immediately in the same manner,” Suĳnwe explained. “She has also agreed to meet with us later this week for at least one hour; that will be very crucial.”
Morris was sitting in his chair, hunched forward, his face coated with tears after the trauma of telling all to Grace and Suĳnwe Caring and Dr. Sage Wiseman. Grace was gently rubbing his back while they talked. The information Morris had relayed was highly disturbing, saddening, and enraging, but also strategically necessary in bringing down the Reverend Fen Sloughheart.
“What you have so boldly shared with us today, Morris,” Suĳnwe said as he looked over at the young man with nothing but kindness and sympathy, “is so very, very important. Oh my dear young man, I know it hurt, but this has been so vitally important … I cannot find words strong enough to describe the import of what you have relayed to us.”
“Yes,” Grace continued. “And we are standing with you, Morris … all the way. You are surrounded by a group of people – not just us – who love you and care about you, difficult as that may be to believe right now. But you are not alone. Reverend Joy Brighterday, Dr. Sage Wiseman and all of us here at Phoenix Rising … your new friends, Able and Moxie and Blue Poorman … Lucent Keener and so many others are all in your corner, ready to fight for you. And we will!”
Morris started crying again. He’d never been so saturated by love, with the exception of his mother; he was overwhelmed. In fact, he wished his mother was with him to experience this, but all in good time. She was, or had been, with Lucent Keener and Morris knew Lucent was a good person. She would do everything she could to take good care of his mom, if she hadn’t already. His mother might actually be at home by now. It was getting along well into the afternoon. She probably was at home, hopefully resting peacefully and comfortably enough.
“So, what do we have so far, in terms of likely charges,” Sage asked.
“Well,” Grace responded with a deep breath, “this would certainly be a case of aggravated sexual battery, which is classified as a third degree felony, possibly a second degree. This would be true for Morris’ mother, as well, based upon what Morris has shared with us. Of course, we’ll have to talk with her, too. Anyway, we’re looking at, potentially at least, two separate third degree felony charges of sexual battery. Obviously – well, to us here in this room – Fen Sloughheart certainly engaged in psychological manipulation, coupled with gross degradation and insinuated threats, which ultimately pushed Morris to the act of committing crime on his behalf … but, as I think you know, that will be quite tricky to prove in court.” Dr. Wiseman nodded. “However, with Effete offering her own testimony, we may very well be able to add multiple charges of aggravated sexual battery; that remains to be seen. Naturally, we’ll push hard for maximum sentencing…”
“This means, though,” Suĳnwe interjected, “that when we strike we have to be absolutely certain we hit and hit perfectly. And by the way, Phoenix Rising does not bargain, most especially in cases such as this one. It only remains to be seen just how far and how deep Sloughheart’s criminal activity goes. Something tells me we are now only looking at the tip of the ice-berg.” Heavy silence followed for a few moments.
“I know it’s bound to take time, and I’m in trouble anyway, which I should be,” Morris looked up with red, burning eyes. “But I hate it… I just hate it… I hate him! I hate what he’s done, what he’s doing, and everything about him! I hate myself for ever getting sucked in by him! I can’t believe I was so stupid! Why … how can he just go on and on and on? All of these years, and … people expect me to believe in some loving, righteous God?” Morris felt badly after he blurted it out. He knew these were very kind and gracious people, who also happened to be people of faith, but what was out was out.
“First of all, Morris Graver,” Suĳnwe looked at him and placed a gentle hand on his knee. “We don’t know what kind of trouble you’re in, but you have been ruthlessly abused and greatly, deeply traumatized. That makes all the difference in the world on its own accord. Add to this the fact that you have struggled very painfully with depression since at least pre-adolescence, and you are and have been vulnerable – not at all stupid, Morris, quite understandably vulnerable – and well… The court will certainly take all of this into very serious consideration. We cannot make promises, and we dare not even predict, but I will tell you to please try not to worry so much. I do believe you will come through this whole agonizing legal process better than you are now imagining. In my heart, I know you will.”
“As for your question about Fen Sloughheart and God, you remind me of the question the prophet, Jeremiah, asked: ‘Why do the wicked prosper and the treacherous live at ease?’ Often times it does seem as if the wicked prosper and that individuals, such as Fen Sloughheart, live at ease. In fact, much of the time the wicked seem to get away with their evil over and over and over again, or as you said, they go on and on and on for years. Why? This is an important, perennial question and, my young friend, I must admit in all honesty that I do not know the answer. Working as we do in in our chosen field, this is particularly frustrating, too … most especially, I think, as we struggle to maintain our faith.”
“One verse of Scripture we find it very important to remember as we continue our life work is found in St. Paul’s Second Letter to St. Timothy,” Grace interjected. “He writes, ‘For these things I suffer, but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that day.’ Of course, this is a double-edged sword and also why it is so appropriate for us here at Phoenix Rising. You see, if we expect God to keep what we have committed to him, then we are also responsible to keep that which has been committed to us.”
“Yes, most certainly, such as in your situation, Morris,” Suĳnwe picked up. “You have come here to us, and you have trusted us, and you have committed your case to us. Will we be faithful? You see, in a very real sense we believe that we are called to be, one might say, the eyes and ears, the hands and feet of God in the world, and specifically for people just like you and your mother … the hurting, the suffering, the grieving, as well as the persecuted and marginalized and so forth.”
“What say you, Doctor?” Grace asked with a broad smile, already anticipating the answer.
“There is one central reason I entered the field of psychology. It was to help hurting people,” Sage responded slowly and very thoughtfully. “And there is one reason I continue in this field. It is because I continue to find hurting people who need help … just like me.” She faintly smiled as she looked at Morris. “You know, I have asked the same question about God in relation to the overwhelming pain and suffering we see in the world. I’ve grappled with the question regarding my own life. I’ve asked, ‘Why me? What have I done that was so horrible that I deserve this?’”
“So far, I haven’t found an altogether satisfactory answer, but I do know from the depths of my soul that I want to help hurting people precisely because I myself have been helped. There have been others, who have been to me the eyes and ears, the hands and feet of God. They have seen me, heard me, held me and even carried me … and so I, too, want to be the eyes and ears, hands and feet of God. Very importantly, though, all of this is grounded and rooted in the firm belief that God was first, foremost and primarily his own eyes and ears, hands and feet about 2,000 years ago … quite literally. This is the point to which my heart and mind always return when I’m struggling with the question of immense pain and suffering. It is, one might say, a cross-centered frame of reference: God did not eliminate our pain and suffering; instead, God entered into our pain and suffering. This does not put an end to the question, to be sure, but for me, and others as well, it is at least the starting point … the fundamentally crucial starting point.”
Suĳnwe and Grace looked at Sage then Morris. They both concluded that, all in all, this had been an arduous but good day for this sorely damaged young man. Morris looked totally spent, yet also greatly relieved, like an enormous burden had rolled off his shoulders. Suĳnwe and Grace knew well enough that he still had a long way to go in healing, but their confidence in Dr. Sage Wiseman was solid and unwavering. She not only had superb education, plenty of training and experience, not to mention down-to-earth common sense; Sage also had the rare gift of authentic empathy. She could and would get down in the trenches with Morris; she would walk the path of healing with him as far as she possibly could, sparing nothing, yet all the while maintaining an admirable professionalism sadly lacking in so many counselors.
“It sounds as if Ripper really wanted to get rid of Fen as soon as he possibly could,” Joy surmised from her hospital bed. “So what can we say except, ‘Bravo!’ I’m so glad you went ahead so proactively in bringing closure to your cases as quickly as reasonably possible… I’m glad you got Case off his ass to do his work, pronto!” Joy chuckled and smiled. “I’m really, really impressed with you, Effete! My heavens, you really cut him down a couple of notches!”
“I didn’t intend to be so brash and rude,” Effete smiled, nevertheless, and even blushed a little at Joy’s compliment. She was growing stronger, and she liked it. “I still think Justin’s a good man and a good lawyer.”
“Oh, I think he’s an all-round, o.k. fella and, yes, a competent attorney, but his continuing success mixed with his youthful good looks has made him prideful, and we know what the Good Book says about pride, do we not?”
“Yes, yes, dear Joy,” Effete laughed and shook her head. “But I’m not praying for his downfall. I think Justin just needs more time for growth and maturity. Besides, you’ve got to admit, you’re probably too emotionally involved to see him in a clear and objective light right now… Uh-uh. No, don’t protest. You love me and you deeply love my children – thank almighty God for you – so how could you be objective? You’ve been our protector and provider … so you automatically went in like a mother hen.”
“Mother hen!” Joy squealed. “Effete! How could you?” She and Effete both laughed a good, long belly laugh. In fact, it made Joy’s side hurt. “Ah! Oh no! I’ve gotta stop … or I’ll be pressing that damn pump button!”
“Ha! You probably haven’t pressed it one time yet, have you?”
“No, of course not, and I don’t intend to,” Joy answered emphatically. She was stubborn, for sure, but a good kind of stubborn; one might even say righteously tenacious. “At any rate, back to Fen. If Ripper was so obviously anxious to be rid of his case, then you can bet Ripper knows more than he’d likely ever divulge. Unless, of course, it was worth his while…”
“Hmmm, now you’re sounding a little underhanded and devious here,” Effete smiled while she spoke the words, but she was serious, too. What was going on in the mind of Joy Brighterday?
Effete stretched and yawned. She’d been up since 5:30 a.m. and going ever since. Thankfully, the hospital kindly provided her lunch along with Joy, but now she really felt like taking a nap. Unfortunately, there was certainly no room in the tiny hospital bed. Effete thought there was barely enough room for Joy! Did they mistakenly give her a kid’s bed? Damn if they did! She’s not that fit and trim… Or, o.k., maybe she is, Effete thought to herself as she admired her friend’s almost flawlessly shaped, athletic body. She envied her. Maybe, just maybe, I can get back in shape despite myself, she told herself. I’ll give it one helluva try, that’s for sure!
“I have nothing illegal or even unethical in mind … or, at least, not completely unethical, but certainly not illegal,” Joy responded in a rather monotone voice.
“Joy! You are serious, aren’t you?” Effete was not surprised by Joy’s tenacity and determination, but bordering on the unethical concerned her deeply. “Do you really think Ripper’s worth that much … I mean, enough to quite possibly tarnish your reputation, or worse?”
“Effete, give me more credit than that, please.” Joy rolled her eyes in teasing disgust, smiling impishly. “Just something along the lines of hanging him up by his balls and beating him with a stick until he talks, that’s all.” They both laughed again.
“You’re something else, Joy Brighterday, and you know it, too!” Effete thought she probably loved and admired this woman now more than ever. This lovely lady had come through the trauma of being shot with courage, integrity, grit and determination … and her wonderful sense of humor still completely intact. On top of it all, Joy had forgiven the very one who’d pulled the trigger; in fact, had brought him securely into her fold, so to speak. Morris Gunner was now ally, not adversary, and he and his mother were receiving the help they both so desperately needed. Effete shook her head, looking kindly at Joy. “I love you. I just love you.”
Joy smiled broadly. “I love you, too, Effete Mann. I love you, too.” In the stillness that followed Joy thought she felt something of the presence of the guardian … his warmth, gentleness, kindness, pure goodness. “But you know, the road ahead is still a long one. Even after your cases are closed, there will be many more steps to take … with others, too.”
“Yeah, I know, and of course I’ll do everything I can to help,” Effete responded quite seriously. “In fact, before I left Case’s office I signed all the necessary paperwork to have copies of my file – both current and forthcoming – sent directly and immediately to Phoenix Rising.” She paused. Joy looked pleased. “Justin didn’t seem too thrilled.”
“Well, too bad for Justin.”
“No, I mean something else. It was like he … not only knew about Phoenix Rising, which isn’t at all surprising, but like he … I don’t know, like the mention of Phoenix Rising left a bad taste in his mouth … like there was some very specific reason he didn’t like them, and really didn’t want to send them anything.” Effete looked at the floor. “To tell the truth, it kind of gave me chills, but I went through with it anyway.”
“Good!” Joy responded emphatically. “I don’t know what Justin Case could have against those good people, but I personally know they’re good people. In fact, if they handled divorce cases I would probably have taken you there. No … I don’t know if Justin had an unfortunate run-in with them, or just an unpleasant introduction for some reason … I don’t know, but I don’t question the upstanding character and integrity of Phoenix Rising. They’re one of very few legal groups who actually want to make a difference for the good, to really and truly help people … people just like you and Morris and his mother.”
“Speaking of Morris and his mom, what’s next for them?”
“Well, no one can say for sure, especially where Morris is concerned, but really I think the better question is, what’s next for Fen Sloughheart?” Joy adjusted her position in bed to sit up more. “We’ve got a good team assembled so far: Drs. Sage Wiseman and Pert Kibitz, Phoenix Rising, Captain Bernard Ruff, Lucent Keener, and Blue Poorman. Of course, naturally, Able and Moxie will continue helping all they can, too, and that’s no small matter. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget the neighborhood watch in our neck of the woods,” Joy added with some excitement. “They’re important, and importantly led by one I. Gunner Sharpe, retired law enforcement officer, captain in the Air National Guard, active member of the Verdure County Citizen Corps,” she said with obvious pride.
“He’s as gentle as you could expect any gentleman to be, yet as vigilant and brave as you’d want any officer to be … or any neighborhood watch chief.” She smiled. “Best of all in our case, he and his precious wife live right across the road from Morris and his mom – that is, across from the front of their house on the other road… Well, you know where I mean. And all of these folks have their scopes pointing directly at Fen Sloughheart, and he probably doesn’t have an inkling … even with his army of spies.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Joy,” Effete responded apprehensively.
“No, I know what you’re thinking, but so far this operation has been pretty damn tight; we’ve just gotta keep it that way. No, I really don’t think your husband knows what’s coming.”
“What exactly is coming?” Effete asked innocently enough … but suddenly Joy heard again the voice of the guardian: Acheni! Shetani kuchukua wewe! Mungu atakuwa na siku! God will have his day. Joy stared vacantly at the ceiling. The devil take you! God will have his day! And she pictured the grotesque form of Fen Sloughheart with his oozing sores, long claw-like fingers, splotches of hair on his flithy head, his stinking body… She felt like she was about to regurgitate her lunch. “Joy? Joy! Are you alright?” Effete started to reach for the call button.
“Uh … yeah. Yes … no, don’t call … I’m o.k., Effete, really.” But she was white as a ghost. Effete knew something was wrong, and Joy knew Effete knew. “It’s just a dream I had, that’s all. It just came back to me all of a sudden … but, really, I’m o.k.” She looked over at her friend and managed what she hoped would be a reassuring smile. By the look on Effete’s face, though, she apparently failed to reassure her. “Anyway, there’s no doubt in my mind.” Joy reached over and took Effete’s hand. “‘How often is the lamp of the wicked put out? How often does their destruction come upon them, the sorrows God distributes in His anger?’ There is a God in heaven … and on earth, and this God apparently has Fen Sloughheart in his scope as well.”
Effete shivered despite the warm temperature of the room. Unusual for Joy Brighterday to talk quite this way, but there really was nothing she could think to say, no questions to ask.
Just a whisper, but clear, from Joy… “Mungu atakuwa na siku.”
The gravel drive was long and winding, beautifully lined with evergreen trees about eight to nine feet tall, perfectly spaced and nicely trimmed. The lush, green lawn was well-manicured as was the shrubbery buttressing the front of the completely ranch-style mansion. It was the old Caring Ranch, the childhood home of Grace and Suĳnwe, her adopted brother. This is where they had lived most of their lives until each went away to pursue further education.
When their parents died, of course, they bequeathed the home and property, about 10 acres, to their two children. Grace and Suĳnwe had always been very close, and they’d always dreamed of growing up and somehow working together. In fact, most of the childhood games they played had them teamed up together to fight crime, solve some mystery, save the earth from destruction or whatnot. They were truly like “two peas in a pod.” Of course, neither one of them considered selling Caring Ranch; instead, they decided to make it both home and hub. Grace had just recently passed the bar exam, and Suĳnwe had only just earned his Master’s in Social Science at the time.
Grieving the loss of their parents, whom they both loved without reservation, they nevertheless talked excitedly about their plans for an investigative, communally-minded law firm. The name came easily. Both Grace and Suĳnwe had always been fascinated by the Phoenix. The mythical creature conveyed powerful hope as it rose from the ashes; even more, eternal hope in nothing less than resurrection from the dead. The Phoenix rebelled against human reasoning, defied the naturally possible, and cried against the inevitable end of life. Thus, Phoenix Rising was born.
Dr. Wiseman, the strikingly handsome 48-year-old, well-respected psychologist from Grand Oak, made her way slowly up the drive, breathing in once again the magnificently crisp, cool, fresh air that always seemed to permeate this place. She glanced over at Morris who, though obviously tired, seemed somehow at peace. This place – Caring Ranch – has a way of doing in minutes what a dozen priests and an army of psychologists could not do in months! I’m not surprised… Not at all surprised. Thank God, then! Maybe he’ll feel perfectly comfortable just opening up to Grace and Suĳnwe… Then again, that may be hoping for too much!
It only made sense for Dr. Wiseman to pick up Morris and bring him to Phoenix Rising. Lucent had to work, Able and Moxie had classes, Blue was at Lucent’s home “holding down the fort” and awaiting phone calls and further instructions. The boys, thankfully, actually wanted to go to school, most probably as a much-needed break from all the trauma! Joy was in the hospital, of course, and Effete was out and about taking care of business … business of the most important kind. This left Dr. Wiseman, who was well-acquainted with Phoenix Rising anyway, to convey Morris to Caring Ranch and make the friendly introductions. Morris’ mother would not be visiting today; she was at the Hart Community Clinic now being further examined and treated by Lucent, at least as best as possible given the fact that Angelica did not want doctors involved.
Sage Wiseman pulled her car to a stop next to two other cars parked out front. Evidently, the whole team was here … at least somewhere in the mansion compound. She opened her door and stepped out. Morris followed suit. The magnificent home, beautiful as it was, stood so strongly and boldly, it was just a bit intimidating. Even after her many visits, Sage found her first few steps up onto the porch somewhat difficult. She heard the guard dogs, all three German Shepherds, properly restrained but somewhere nearby. Chills ran up her spine, but she managed some comforting words for Morris.
“It’s o.k. They’re restrained. They won’t come after us.”
“Comforting,” Morris answered with a mock smile.
“Welcome,” came the delightful voice of Grace Caring. “Come in, come in! Hello, Dr. Wiseman; such a delight to see you again, as always!”
“Thank you, Grace,” Wiseman hugged her. “It’s always a delight to see you, too, and your dear brother and friends… In fact, it’s always rather refreshing to be here in this magnificent oasis. Coming here I always feel as if I’m on a bit of an emotional/spiritual retreat.”
“Wonderful!” answered the clear, soft-spoken voice of Suĳnwe. “I believe we feel the same way … certainly blessed to be able to continue living here in our childhood home.” His broad smile radiated warmth and serenity. “I have been most intrigued by your latest essay on alteracentrism, Dr. Morris.” He wasted no time as everyone entered the foyer of the ranch-style mansion. “Most interesting; the central idea seems to parallel the ancient priest.”
“Ah, in many ways, yes I believe so, although I’m not an historian or anthropologist, professionally speaking,” Wiseman happily replied. “No matter,” Suĳnwe laughed, “neither am I, but socially most ancient peoples, I believe, looked to the priest to communicate with the god or goddess, or pantheon of deities, perhaps; then, in turn, to communicate to them on behalf of those deities, one or all. They were, in essence, the vox dei, the voice of god. No wonder, then, they were so very powerful.”
“Yes, of course, and eventually in the growth and maturation of early religion, I believe, they became, or subsumed, three roles into one; that of the priest, prophet, and king. This, of course, eventually led – and again, I am no expert in this field, but… – to the deification of the king, the potentate, the sovereign lord.”
Morris listened to the ongoing, informative conversation, but he was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the place. He was surrounded by white walls that looked like brilliant marble. Just inside the foyer, or short hallway, there were two plants at each corner. To his left and right were two nicely framed pictures, each with a votive candle about two feet beneath, resting atop a slender candle-holder. The first picture to his immediate left was one of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Next to him was another photo of the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and just opposite the founder of the Sisters of Mercy was Mohandas Gandhi. Finally, to his immediate right, next to Gandhi, was Amy Wilson Carmichael. Interesting, he thought. Good choices, but interesting. And what of Grace? She almost looks as Indian as her brother?
Almost as if reading his thoughts, Grace Caring answered, “I am half-Sioux and half-Latino,” she laughed. “What a rare combination, you think, but not so rare. Fortunately, my brother and I were able to grow up looking like real brother and sister.” She smiled over at Suĳnwe. “Of course, as we’ve learned to say, we are still bound together by blood … the strongest blood of all, and that it what matters most in our relationship, aye?”
“Aye!” Suĳnwe answered with an infectious laugh. Dr. Wiseman smiled broadly and even Morris couldn’t help but smile, too. “But as I was saying, Dr. Wiseman, this situation is relatively foreign to contemporary, Western sensibilities … which includes, of course, my own. After all, I’ve lived in Western civilization since almost two-years of age. Nevertheless, we are faced with something not only foreign, but quite ancient as well.”
“Yes, the primordial version of the Pontifex Maximus,” Sage interjected.
“Quite right, of course,” Suĳnwe continued. “This Fen Sloughheart is, in crudest form, the qassis il-kbir, the yompristi ophakeme, wadaadka sare leh … or, as you say, prophet and priest and chieftain all rolled into one. His tribe or clan? This is the congregation, his congregation.”
“And they are very loyal and, thus, very dangerous,” Grace added. “Which is where you come in, my dear friend.” She looked at Morris. The young man was enchanted. Grace was radiant and mysteriously intoxicating … enchanting, hypnotic. Deep smooth, brown skin; brightly shining smile; dancing, sparkling, deep emerald eyes; finely contoured, healthy breasts; obviously strong arms and legs, but glossy and downy-soft. His heart and gut hungered and burned with the natural, raw instinct of any young man … which didn’t seem to perturb Grace in the least, though she clearly noticed. She only smiled more broadly and reached out her hand. “Come.”
Morris followed like a puppy, but a puppy well aware of how he must appear to Grace, and the others, right now. He kept his head down; his cheeks were flush, and he suddenly felt dirty in their presence, particularly in the presence of this earthbound angel. Morris felt like filth was clinging to his body and soul, and he couldn’t get the sounds and images out of his mind. Suddenly, he felt (yet again) like dying. Wouldn’t it ultimately be better if he were dead? But, then, what about his mother? No, somehow he had to stay alive long enough to make sure she was o.k. Not surprisingly, Angelica felt exactly the same way.
They entered a comfortably, delicately ornamented sitting room with just the slightest hint of incense floating through the air. Morris took his seat in a large, plush recliner while the others sat down as well, all in a non-threatening circle. Grace and Suĳnwe purposely sat on each side of Morris, with Dr. Wiseman directly across from him.
Grace gently placed her hand on Morris’ left arm. “There is no reason to be afraid here, Morris. Here at Phoenix Rising, we do not simply take cases. We concern ourselves with people, real flesh-and-blood people, like you and your mother. Look around you, as doubtless you already have, and you will see we are quite comfortable where we live. We are not in this business – or really any business at all – for money. We truly need no more than we already have; no, we are here in the interest of victims and of authentic justice… We are here for you, Morris Graver, and so we are in your service.”
“And so,” Suĳnwe picked up where his sister left off, “this morning we are simply here to listen, to listen to you. We will not force ourselves on you, and we will not try to force you, either. We wish for you to talk to us as openly, honestly, and freely as you will. Of course, first and foremost, we are interested in what has happened to you and your mother … at the hands of Fen Sloughheart. As for the shooting, well … we will come to that as it comes to us.” Suĳnwe smiled broadly again, reassuringly. He was almost as comforting as his sister, although not nearly as enticing. “So, Morris, much has happened … much that is terrible and painful.”
This was, of course, an invitation for Morris to speak, to open up and begin telling the horrific, sickening tale of his relationship, if that word could be used, with one Fen Sloughheart. So Morris took a deep breath and began…
Effete sat upright in the moderately comfortable chair in the office of Justin Case, her attorney. She looked at him with quiet determination, having made her decision, and now only awaiting his response.
“So, you want to agree to lower the charge to First Degree Misdemeanor for Domestic Violence, with the understanding and legal agreement that your then ex-husband will, aside from and without any consideration of alimony and child support, pay for all medical and health costs, including professional counseling and therapy, incurred by you and your two children for no less than three years following the closure of this case,” Case spoke very calmly and clearly. “That is, 100% health and medical, psychological and psychiatric, and dental coverage for three years for you, Effete, and both of the boys. After which, Fen Sloughheart will assume responsibility for 65% of the above-mentioned coverage for each child until each child reaches the age of 18. And all of this you are willing to concede with the very important understanding that your ex-husband will concede to giving sole custody of the two children to you, while retaining only the right to one monthly supervised visitation for no more, nor less than one hour as well as one ten minute phone conversation per week with each child, at the most. Additionally, you are insisting that such visitation and phone conversations only begin four weeks following the official closing of both cases, which ever one may be wrapped up last. Am I right?”
“You are, indeed, Mr. Case.” Effete answered with an equally calm voice.
“Well, I’ll have to say, even though you’ve accepted the bulk of Ripper’s counter-offer, you’ve also pulled the noose a little tighter around your soon-to-be ex-husband. Of course, I can’t say I blame you, and in fact, your minor but somewhat significant modifications are quite reasonable. I really don’t see why Ripper wouldn’t accept this; it’s really more a matter of whether or not Fen Sloughheart will accept it. I understand he doesn’t exactly like being bested by a woman.” Case chuckled … and Effete was starting to realize why Joy had become so irritable with the handsome young man. He was quite obviously full of himself … arrogant. Good, maybe, but arrogant.
“Of course, the amounts of alimony and child support, and timetables for such, have not and will not change, right, Mr. Case?” Dead-level stare that let Case know he was dealing with an intelligent woman quickly regaining her confidence and footing in the world.
“Of course,” he responded more pleasantly. “None of that will change … so I’ll get on this first thing…
“Today, Mr. Case. You’ll get on this today while I sit here and listen.” Effete was still calm but very determined and not at all intimidated. “Mr. Case, I know you’re an excellent attorney, but you still work for the bread you earn, too, and through the generosity of some rather prominent members of this community – God bless each of them – you are being well compensated. So, no, we will not leisurely wait till tomorrow morning, while you treat yourself to another cup of coffee and bagel and shoot the bull with colleagues and friends. This is a work day, and you’re here to work for your clients, specifically the one sitting in your office now, so … let’s pick up the phone and see if Ripper’s in his office. No reason for delay.”
Justin Case was quite honestly shocked and also perturbed. Who did this beaten-down, abused woman, who couldn’t possibly help herself, think she was all of a sudden? How dare she tell him his business, even assume a vaguely threatening attitude? Too much of Joy Brighterday, evidently, is what Case concluded … and he was quite honestly liking that woman less and less, despite the tragic shooting.
“What? Now listen, Effete … or, excuse, Ms. Mann, if you prefer now,” Justin was shaking his head. “I don’t want to come across rudely, but you hired me because I am a damn good lawyer, so it’s best you let me do my job, and to do it the way I see fit… I don’t know of any particular credentials you have in jurisprudence. Do you? No … so I think if I believe I need to wait till tomorrow morning to contact Jack Ripper, then I’ll wait till tomorrow morning, and trust that the next time we meet, you’ll have a much better, far more respectful attitude, because I sure as hell don’t appreciate the one you’re displaying now.”
“Let’s make one point clear,” Effete leaned forward in her chair and daggered Case with her eyes. “I may be here because I need or want your services, but first and foremost you’re here for me as your client … your client to be served in her best interests, not be demeaned or subjected to deprecating remarks. I’ve had plenty of that in my life; besides, Mr. Case I have very good reason for pushing you to call now. Very important, personal reasons, and there is no practical barrier here preventing you from picking up the phone and calling Ripper. Point in fact, during our little misunderstanding you could have already been taking care of all this, so … let’s waste no more time; after all, you are a good attorney, but you’re not the only good attorney here.”
Immediately, the fact that Joy Brighterday had been shot and Effete was likely blaming herself, plus her natural, maternal concern for the welfare of her children smacked Justin Case in the face like a bucket of ice cold water. His innate humanity began to return, and his heart softened a little. He would call. Without saying a word, he reached for the receiver and dialed the number.
“Hello, Mr. Ripper! How are you today?”
“Oh … well … I guess I’m sorry to hear that; castor oil is still a good old-fashioned remedy…”
“No, I’m not calling you to give you medical advice. I’m calling you on the Sloughheart case. My client is with me now in my office, and she is ready to accept your counter-proposal with only some slight modifications.”
“If I said ‘slight,’ Ripper, then that’s what I meant, and both personally and professionally, I know this is the best deal your client’s going to get, so … do you want to hear it or not?”
“Alright, then, Effete Sloughheart will agree to lower the charge to First Degree Misdemeanor for Domestic Violence, with the understanding and legal agreement that your client will, aside from and without any consideration of alimony and child support, pay for all medical and health costs, including professional counseling and therapy, incurred by my client and her two children for no less than three years following the closure of this case; that is, 100% health and medical, psychological and psychiatric, and dental coverage for three years for Effete Sloughheart, and both of the boys. After this, your client will assume responsibility for 65% of the above-mentioned coverage for each child until each child reaches the age of 18. Furthermore, your client will concede to giving sole custody of the two children to my client, while retaining only the right to one monthly supervised visitation for no more, nor less than one hour as well as one ten minute phone conversation per week with each child, at the most. Additionally, my client is insisting that such visitation and phone conversations only begin four weeks following the official closing of both cases, which ever one may be wrapped up last.”
“How’s that?” Case looked shocked. “Well … yes, we’ll have the paperwork ready to fax in … oh … fifteen minutes at the most. Has your client conceded? Do you know he will?” Case pause, obviously listening to Ripper rant and rave.
“Well, yes, that’s fine.” Justin responded. “You’ll have your copy, of course, and we’ll have ours. We’ll plan on meeting at the courthouse tomorrow at 10:45 a.m. to have all documents signed by both parties and their attorneys, notarized, and promptly sent to the Judge… Sounds good to me!” Case was quite obviously pleased with himself, and Effete was breathing a sigh of relief. This part is almost over, she told herself, and then on to Phoenix Rising for whatever good that may do … but I have to do it, not for my sake, but for the sake of so many others!
“Well, o.k.” Justin looked at Effete, still smiling. “Good call! Damn good call! Ripper had no doubt whatsoever that Sloughheart would agree and sign; in fact, he said he’d make sure of it!” Case couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m sure he will, but I don’t want to be around when he does!”
“Well … bully for you, Mr. Case. You’ve just earned another notch in your belt while managing to fatten your wallet a bit more. I’d say your well on your way to being an extraordinary lawyer someone, someday will doubtless want to write about.”
Justin didn’t know quite whether to take her comment as a direct insult or simply a back-handed compliment. What difference would it make? For some reason, Effete Mann apparently no longer liked him … probably no longer trusted him, and he really couldn’t figure that one out. However, Justin Case had fallen into the same trap into which so many professionals fall, and that is, an enigmatic combination of tunnel vision interwoven with professional snobbery. Often times, victims of this infuriating malady do not even realize they are afflicted.
Effete quietly gathered her belongings, not many, and headed for the door. “Well, then, I suppose I’ll see you at the courthouse tomorrow at 10:45 a.m.” Justin nodded. “Good. Then I suppose at that point, we will have done all we can reasonably do to completely wrap up this morbid mess.” Again, Justin Case nodded. “Again, that’s good; a very longed-for relief. Thank you, Mr. Case, and good day.” She spun on her heels and walked out the door without looking back.
Effete was walking forward now, and she was determined to keep walking forward, and she had no desire to look to the left or to the right, although if she could she would help others unravel their sordid, painful messes … if she realistic could; if not, she had her own life and her two boys.
God will have his day.
Joy lay in the silent darkness of her hospital room contemplating what the guardian had said to the rotting, demoniac version of Fen Sloughheart. Mungu atakuwa na siku! Surprisingly she remembered the words. Foreign but powerful. Raw in brutal truth. An almost tribalistic recognition of the numinous that lay buried deep within the soul of every human being. There is God. In all the aweful terror of absolute mystery and unrestrained power, there is God. The holy in the pure, primordial meaning of the word. God.
Joy had felt very safe with the guardian, very secure, tranquil, even warm and loved. Now alone and fully awake in the middle of the night, she felt the dreadful weight of the reality of the Divine. God will have his day. The words made her shiver. She tried to pull the thin sheet and blanket more tightly around her, but to no avail. She thought about calling the night nurse for some more covering, but she really had no desire to talk to anyone. Not now. The very air in the room seemed to move and breathe with otherwordly life. God unmasked and terrifying.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, came to mind, along with our God is a consuming fire … and wreaks vengeance upon the nations; till he destroys the scepter of the proud, and cuts off the staff of the wicked. Verses of ancient script she knew but upon which she had never long meditated. The living God. Consuming Fire. Vengeance. Destruction. Fen Sloughheart and the other wretched, howling demoniacs. It never even entered the mind of Joy Brighterday in that mystifying, fearsome moment to question why God seemed so selective in pouring out his wrath on some and not upon others; to question why God seemed to overlook the weak and innocent, while winking at and passing over evildoers. God will have his day.
An ancient Roman proverb came to mind. Called or not called, God approaches. God comes at God’s own will, in God’s own time, for God’s own purposes, in God’s own way. Tremendous. Overpowering. Overwhelming. Paralyzing. The unseen life-force that permeates the whole of the cosmos … how little we really know … or understand, Joy thought with another shiver running down her spine. This is the God of whom the Hebrew people said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.’ Now I begin to understand… Mungu atakuwa na siku! And it frightens me! Oh my guardian, where are you now?
Joy had always conceived of God as Love, as Life, Light, Peace, and Truth; but the guardian’s command, spoken with such authority, seemed to illumine a chilling, sobering side of God she had not much considered. God untamed and wild. An ancient saying of Islam came to mind that teaches, Verily, there exist seventy thousand veils of light and darkness before God. If He were to lift them, the light of the Majesty of His countenance would consume all of creation within sight. This somehow struck very deeply and poignantly the truth-chord playing in her soul.
And had she been so arrogant in believing she actually knew the Everlasting One, the Holy One, the Creator God and Governor of the Cosmos? Perhaps. In the beginning was God; today is God; tomorrow will be God. Who can make an image of God? He has no body. He is as a word which comes out of your mouth. That word! It is no more; it is past, and still it lives! So is God. So teaches an African hymn of one of the traditional religions in Zaire. God is alive, and God is ever present, but God is as illusive as the breath-word that leaves your mouth.
So much came to mind now. Revere the anger of Heaven, and presume not to make sport or be idle. Revere the changing moods of Heaven, and presume not to drive about at your pleasure. Great Heaven is intelligent, and is with you in all your goings. Great Heaven is clear-seeing, and is with you in your wanderings and indulgences. So taught Confucius … but Joy had never honestly grappled with “revering the anger of Heaven,” much less “the changing moods of Heaven.”
Then Joy remembered reading in the grand story of Judith, There is no way that you can understand what is in the depths of a human heart or find out what a person is thinking. Yet you dare to read God’s mind and interpret his thoughts! How can you claim to understand God, the Creator? No, my friends, you must stop arousing the anger of the Lord our God! To understand, comprehend, to grasp the living God… Was it possible? The guardian would know. He was also keeper and captain, which she didn’t fully understand, but she intuitively knew that meant something quite significant. Yes, he would know; she had a deep sense that he knew God.
Oh, how she longed to have the guardian by her side now. Joy had more or less reconciled herself to celibacy upon entering full-time pastoral ministry. It was a voluntary choice on her part to sacrifice the possibility of marriage and children, but one she very thoughtfully made to this God on behalf of the vocation to which she believed she had been called by the Divine. Now, however, she very much desired the companionship, the soul-companionship, of the guardian. If he could just be with her now, to hold her, and comfort her.
If she was practically frozen in primal fear and struck speechless, Joy Brighterday did at least have an understanding of what the guardian had spoken to Fen Sloughheart: Stop! The devil take you! God will have his day! Perhaps the words meant much more, but they were directed at the fiendish maleficent who had wrecked so many lives in so many ways. It was apparent, then, the guardian had guaranteed divine retribution upon Fen Sloughheart. Joy could not begin to imagine what that would look like, given the condition of the putrefying, demoniac Sloughheart of her dream-vision. Something worse was almost unimaginable to her. But God will have his day with Fen Sloughheart… She couldn’t feel the least sympathy for the man.
And the key to the new and glorious Splinterbit? She had the key, but Joy also had no idea, no comprehension of this key. What exactly was this key? The guardian had told her she already had it, but where precisely was the key? Within her heart? Her mind or soul? Did using the key have something to do with everything she was trying to do now? It had to at least impinge upon her present plans and actions. But another fact she knew for certain, and that was that Fen Sloughheart had no place in the new and glorious Splinterbit … but the devil would take him anyway, right? That is, at least, what the guardian had commanded, and it was a command. He had spoken quite imperatively and with an authority she’d never before encountered.
The people were so amazed they asked each other, ‘What is happening here? … He even gives commands to evil spirits, and they obey him.’ The verse from the Gospel of St. Mark rolled into her head. Is this the guardian … my guardian? She wondered. Ah, but what would that say about God? Her eyes felt heavy. Joy yawned with her mouth closed; she felt like it was more appropriate to keep her mouth closed … or, really, she was scared to open her mouth. Silence seemed to be the high call of the moment. Silence shrouded in darkness. Thankfully some sense of peace returned and calmed her mind and spirit. Sleep crept in as friend to an exhausted soul and body, gently persuading. She closed her eyes completely, breathing deeply now.
God will have his day.
He was about as tall as Joy, but young – mysteriously, eternally young – strikingly handsome and strong, virile, wildly enchanting, somewhat frightening. Long, silky dark hair waved down over his deep, tanned-colored shoulders. His body was perfectly contoured. Indian? Middle Eastern? Latino? Joy didn’t know, but he stood at the gate of the gargantuan cage that imprisoned creatures that reminded her of the frenzied, animalistic-like characters in the movie I Am Legend, one of her favorites until she now found herself face to face with these monsters.
Ugly, revolting, brutal creatures issued forth blood-curdling screams, without pause, as they clawed and beat the side of the (thankfully) thick fencing. Joy looked up and could not see the top. She looked right and left, and could not see any corner. It was as if this strange compound was infinite. An up to date version of hell or purgatory, perhaps? The boy-man smiled at her as he placed his hand on the latch to the gate. Joy froze inside. Was he going to snatch her into that seemingly everlasting torment? Why? Was she being punished?
“Je, unataka kwenda?” he asked and smiled broadly. His deep, cyrstal blue eyes sparkled. His melodious, baritone voice practically danced in the air. None of the montrous dæmoniacs bothered him. In fact, it seemed as if they hardly noticed him, yet at the same time they kept their distance. They did not threaten him. Of course, Joy knew he was asking her something, but completely failed to understand. She couldn’t even make out the language, though it sounded to her ears vaguely African.
“Hola. Mi nombre es Joy Brighterday. ¿Hablas Español o Inglés?” She knew some Spanish, and dearly hoped he did, too, but then he rather surprised her.
“Mihi nomen est custos, et loqui linguis gratiam,” he spoke in Latin. It had been quite a few years for Joy, and Latin, being a “dead” language now, was one she’d actually only learned to read and, minimally, to write. Yet she managed to work out that his name, or title, was “guardian” and that he possessed the grace to speak languages, presumably many. What of English, then? Joy decided that being straightforward was her best and only option.
“Please, I don’t understand. I only barely speak Spanish. Latin is an exquisite, ancient language I learned to minimally read and write. Honestly, though, aside from also learning some Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in seminary, I’m afraid I can only effectively communicate in English… And I’m frightened. Please … I’m scared.”
“Why are you here? And why are you afraid, Joy Brighterday?” the guardian asked. His eyes now bespoke affection and his slight smile nothing less than tenderness.
“I …” She started to say she didn’t know why she was there, but then suddenly realized she did. “I’m here to go to the other side,” Joy answered, knowing intuitively that the other side, whatever precisely it was, was most assuredly better and exactly where she needed to go. “And unexpectedly I don’t feel so afraid anymore. Strange.”
“Ah, well, this is a strange place, Joy Brighterday, with many strange sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams and nightmares, and so much more.” The guardian smiled broadly again and then laughed heartily. “You have nothing to fear, my chara. Come.” He unlatched the gate and held out his strong right arm for Joy. Joy immediately grabbed hold and he pulled her to his side. None of the dæmoniacs approached, although they continued screaming their gutteral, barbaric screams.
Chara? Dear? That’s right… my dear. Joy mulled over his latest spurt of Latin. But who is this guardian? My guardian angel?
As if reading her thoughts, the Guardian answered, “I am no angel. I am custos, custodis, et ducem; mlezi, mlinzi, na nahodha; guardian, keeper, and captain. And I am taking you to the other side, Joy Brighterday.”
Just then Joy looked over to her left and, deep in the bizarre, misshapen, fiendish multitude she spied Fen Sloughheart. He was pale with only splotches of hair atop his head. His eyes were bulging and vacant. He wore only tattered, filthy pants. His cheeks were sunken. Open wounds covered his body, oozing poisonous blood and grimy filth. His fingers were unusually long and shaped like claws. She could almost hear him, but he sounded like he his mouth was stuffed or his tongue overly thick. When he saw Joy, he threw back his head and screeched, then ran straight towards her like an insane Brahma bull.
“Acheni! Shetani kuchukua wewe! Mungu atakuwa na siku!” the guardian shouted. Fen stopped dead in his tracks, panting, growling. The odor from his body was noxious, putrid, rancid. Joy thought she was going to throw up, but the guardian pulled her even closer. She smelled something like clean linen with just a hint of lavendar. She breathed deeply, her arm still tightly intertwined with the strong arm of the guardian. Refreshing. There was no fear. Peace. Tranquility. Even in this imprisoning abyss. Safety. Assurety.
“You are alright, Joy Brighterday. Everything will be alright.” The guardian was looking at her much as a mother might reassuringly look at her little child. Funny. He was so much younger … or was he? Eternal youth? Eternal youth filled with the vibrancy of life … no, Life. “Let us be on our way again. This one has chosen his place of pain, and so shall he be left with his choice; yes, and no one will share his chosen place. Come.”
They walked some distance more; Joy had no idea how far. She didn’t care. So long as she was in the keep of this strange guardian, so wildly enchanting and strong and handsome … and otherworldly, she didn’t mind. He could take her anywhere and she would compliantly go, but she knew he was making a straight course for the other side. And what exactly would she find there? Where exactly was she now? In a dream? In a vision? Or had she, perhaps, died shortly after closing her eyes to go to sleep?
“What did you say to him?”
“Stop. The devil take you… God will have his day,” the guardian answered calmly without looking at her.
Finally, they reached the opposite gate and to her great surprise, she saw Splinterbit on the other side of the fencing. Splinterbit, shining brightly under the noonday sun. Radiant in splendor. Not the old Splinterbit, but Splinterbit nevertheless. The streets and parks and buildings seemed to be empty. She somehow knew the houses were empty, too, and the schools and library, yet there it lay … Splinterbit in bizarre, awe-striking glory. And they stood at the gate, but the guardian did not reach for the latch.
“My chara, I cannot open this gate,” he explained somewhat sadly. “This gate you will have to open, Joy Brighterday.”
“But I have no key to unlock the latch!”
“Ah, but you do, my chara. You have been given the key, and so you have the key, even now. You do not have to search long, far and wide for the key, Joy Brighterday; the key is already in your possession.”
Just then Morris Graver appeared in front of her.
“Reverend Brighterday, are you awake?”
“Huh? What? How did you… How did you get here?” She was feeling woozy and put her hand up to her head.
“Are you alright, Reverend? Joy?” Morris sounded concerned, maybe even worried. “It’s 10:30 but if you need to go back to sleep, I’ll understand. Are you o.k. though?”
“Uh … yeah, I think so,” Joy answered as the hospital room began taking shape around her. She batted her eyes a few times, then ran her hands over her face and looked at Morris. “Yeah … I guess I’m o.k. Umm … yeah, maybe.”
“I think you were dreaming.”
“Dreaming?” Joy asked with a tone of surprise. “Dreaming… Yeah, dreaming.”