Michael Was Saved
While Jason and I were being driven back to his car by one of the Blue Guards, Jason asked me how I knew Rebecca Brunner, and I told him.
Rebecca Brunner was my friend. She was older, but we had a similar interest, painting. Rather than talking about my love of words and how authors can paint alphabet pictures that can place the reader in another time, another place, we talked about the breathtaking vistas around us.
Rebecca and I would take our artist palettes, canvases, and brushes out to the foothills of the mighty peaks and paint for hours. I enjoyed painting, but Rebecca was the real artist.
“Christiana, that is a beautiful color,” she would encourage my efforts. “How did you see that particular yellow tone in that green? It makes it sparkle like a jewel. You have a talent buried inside you. I see the fluidity, the sweep of movement. You have an inspired gift that you are holding back for some reason.”
I only smiled. Now, I wish I could have simply said, “Thank you.”
One late-day afternoon, she was talking about Vonny. “She is beautiful. She must get her good looks from her daddy.”
“She looks like you, Rebecca,” I said.
Rebecca had thrown her head back and laughed.
“Where do you two get all that elation? It must be in the water,” I had laughed
“You know, there may be something to that. Michael puts little pills in his water so we keep a pitcher of it in the kitchen. Vonny and I drink it too. It doesn’t taste any different, but we seem to have more energy after we drink a glass.”
At the time, I didn’t know what Rebecca was talking about. Now, Rebecca and Vonny’s unheard of happiness made sense. Michael’s detox pills, that they all took, were the key that unlocked the flatness of life for them and opened them to a full palate of emotions.
That evening, Mrs. Brunner told us, Michael and Rebecca had built a cabin near where we had gone to paint. The young Brunners would hike and wander through the forested area near the base of the mountain. Occasionally, they would mountain climb with ropes and harnesses and all the equipment. That was how it had happened.
Michael had led the way up the last face of the mountain and helped Rebecca to the summit where her hands grew cold and stiff. She lost her grip and fell. Michael reached for her, lost his own footing, and plummeted from the top. After several days of unresponsiveness, Rebecca’s life was terminated.
“That would be awful, to see your loved one slip through your fingers,” Jason whispered.
“Oh Jason, maybe being in love isn’t so wonderful after all. Maybe, not feeling is better than broken feelings.”
“Christiana, you wouldn’t want that. Not now,” Jason said.
“No, not now. Not now that I have experienced feelings and now that I have met you.” Somehow I knew that Jason was smiling.
“It took a doctor dedicated to life to give Michael the opportunity to live. I’m surprised the hospital went along with it,” Jason added.
“The hospital wasn’t consulted,” the Blue Guard driver said. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted,” he apologized.
“No, please, tell us,” I answered.
“I know the judge wouldn’t mind if I tell you. He tells it proudly to those he trusts.” He paused. “In the morning of the second day of Michael’s stay in the hospital, his physician, Dr. Kundred, came into his room. Michael’s eyes were closed; the doctor just patted his leg.
“Good morning, Mountain Climber,” the doctor said, then he laughed as if Michael had just responded to him. “Well, that’s great,” he said to Michael, still comatose in his bed. “Your dad will be here to take you home in a few minutes, so you just rest for now.”
“What if they got caught?” I wondered out loud.
“They almost were. A nurse who started to enter his room questioned, ‘Home, Doctor? He was unresponsive the last time I checked on him.’
“A few minutes later, Doctor Kundred and Judge Brunner whisked Michael out of the hospital. He began to recuperate in his room on the first floor of the Brunner residence. When he regained some strength and heard that Rebecca was gone, life no longer had any meaning. Later, he knew he had to live for Vonny.”
“Thank you, officer,” I said. Finally, I understood these new feelings. With the sunshine comes the shadow. If I wanted to experience love and joy, I would have to accept sorrow and grief that accompany them.
The Capitol at Night
It was nearly 9:15 when the Blue Guard pulled up to where Jason’s car was still parked. The Guardsman opened the doors for us, and I jumped out quickly and into Jason’s car. I knew full well that time was precious. My heart pounded in my chest so loudly I wondered if Jason could hear it above the sound of the motor once it was started. Would we be able to follow Judge Brunner’s instructions with the keys to doors and files in the Capitol? Would we be in time?
As we raced toward the Capitol through the darkened night on our Godly mission, I noticed that Jason kept checking in the rear view mirror.
“Is someone following us again? Will this ever stop?” I was exhausted from running, from feeling, from being exposed to evil. “Will we be hunted for the rest of our lives for what we are doing tonight?”
My thoughts rushed back to words I had read. The framers of the Constitution risked everything, and many lost it all. I would have to be willing to stand up and be counted among them, regardless of the cost.
“Let’s see if this guy stays with us even if we . . .” Jason jerked the steering wheel and snapped around the corner just seven blocks from the Capitol. On a side street, we buzzed through a grocery dispensing window where runners picked up food to distribute. Then we dashed down an old alley behind the shops that serviced the inner city and darted into an open, single car garage behind an apartment building. Jason turned off the lights and engine. Everything about the night was still. The traumatic energy in the car felt explosive. We sat there in the darkness so as not to draw attention to ourselves. We nearly held our breath as silence overtook the night. Hyper-vigilant, we scanned the empty alley. We waited in fear, yet prayed in hope.
The black strata-car I had seen around town all day sped through the narrow, one way, one lane passage behind us without slowing. It appeared he was still on the chase, not the careful search.
The night suddenly seemed too quiet and still, as we sat there in the dark. Jason took my hand but said nothing. I was afraid the people who owned the parking space would come home, find us there, and report us as intruders. We already knew the fate of those judged to be unnecessary or dangerous to Society. My eyes darted from the door that led to the entrance of the residence, to the alley behind us. Nothing stirred except my stomach as it churned with anxiety. Strange. I suddenly felt hungry and the humor of that clanged with the reality of the danger we were in.
“Here we go,” Jason whispered as he backed out of the parking space and into the back alley. He allowed the downward slope of the driveway to carry us silently out of the garage. Rather than turning left and onto the thoroughfare again, he rolled across the street and continued into the alley. He crept along and allowed the momentum of the descent to carry us forward without gunning the engine. He slowed as gravity no longer propelled us forward.
“This won’t work from this spot on,” Jason spoke with measured caution.
At that point in the city, all of the roads and alleys took an upward grade. Generations ago, the city planners had placed the Capitol on a mound in the center of the city to insure the safety of records and other materials in the event of flood. As the need for space increased, existing, adjacent structures were torn down as the Capitol’s wings spread out across the city like tentacles that reached out and touched all the areas of the citizens’ lives.
A transit bus went silently above the street that ran parallel to the back lane but few other vehicles were on the road. I wondered what had happened to that black car that had been following us. But, thinking about it only made fear rise within me, and that fear could corrode my resolve. I had to calm down or our cause could be lost. Our own, personal fate would also be sealed if we were anything less than totally successful.
“Let me see . . .” Jason mumbled, as much to himself as to me.
I saw the back entrance to the Capitol waiting ahead like a refuge from a rolling storm. We eased through the narrow, lower level entry into the huge complex via a valet-hosted entrance to the parking garage. We were inside the basement but not yet all the way in the structure. The entry-bar was down and blocked the way since there was no attendant on duty to raise it. I gripped the keys Judge Brunner had given us tightly in my fist. The mechanism that raised the bar hummed slightly as if it had been activated. I panicked again as a new wave of fear gripped me.
“Is someone nearby, taunting us with the parking bar?” I whispered as I gripped the key ring more tightly. Again the mechanism hummed. Then, I realized I had been slightly depressing a button on a tab attached to the set of keys. I held my breath and pressed the button firmly again. The bar jerked and then rose.
“It’s a remotely activated, electronic tone to open the garage gate when an attendant isn’t on duty,” Jason said as he shot through, under the raised bar, and drove around the ramp. I pushed the tab button on the key chain again and the gate lowered. He parked the car in a space out of sight from anyone who might pass in the alley.
It felt a little safer, parked there in the vast cement cavern of the empty garage. Without saying a word, we carefully opened our doors and slipped out. We checked in all directions for the exit. I grabbed Jason’s hand as we hurried across the wide expanse of driving area. The sound of our footsteps echoed as we walked. I tried to elevate onto my toes but that only slowed me down. When we got to the door, Jason peered through the glass cautiously and then used the master key to open it. We slipped silently inside.
We were on the lowest level of the parking garage, so we began walking up the two flights of stairs that took us to the main floor. Again, Jason checked for any movement before opening the door into the large rotunda. It looked different at night. No light streamed through from the stained glass dome above the great hall. But, the wall of windows to the front of the building, which looked out onto the holiday lights of the city, allowed festive beams to shine in.
“Up the grand staircase,” I whispered anxiously. We crept up the steps against the inside wall. It reminded me of mice as they scurry through a maze while hugging the walls of the partitions. I’m endowed by my Creator with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I rehearsed in my head. I am not a mere mouse. I have a righteous obligation and duty to complete the task at hand, not only for Grand-mère and Grand-père, but for Michael Brunner and who knows how many others who may be hiding in back bedrooms of silent homes. I knew they were worthy of living their lives to the fullest, by virtue of God’s precious gift of life.
The second floor, our destination, was a few steps away. I started to move ahead of Jason, when I noticed in the dim light, a bracket attached to the wall near the ceiling. “One of those cameras,” I whispered. It was facing the doors on the opposite wall, including the door I needed to enter, and it wasn’t stationary. The camera slowly panned the area, back and forth. If we moved, we could be seen. My eyes also caught the now familiar people-detecting device that was embedded nearly unseen near the base of the door, another monitoring portal. Then, I had an idea. I reached in my pocket and removed the chip that was still wrapped in the tissue.
“I can’t be detected,” I whispered and returned the chip to the pocket of my cloak. I took it off and handed it to Jason. “You wait here with my cloak, and I’ll take the keys and go inside.”
“Christy, no.” Jason protested. “It may not be safe.”
“Then it won’t make it safer if we are both in there and set off buzzers. Besides, we may have already sounded an alarm for all we know,” I insisted. I thrust my cloak into Jason’s hands and waited until the camera had panned to the left. Then, I darted across the hall, undetected by the people-buzzer and out of view of the camera. I put the newer master key into the lock and felt it turn the tumblers with quiet ease. Once inside the room, I waited until my eyes adjusted to the semidarkness. The room was windowless except for one small window, which, along with the open door, let in enough light for me to move around. I felt more secure in the smaller space. Scanning the far wall beyond the desks and files, I saw another door, an older one. It looked heavy, with raised panels and fancy millwork.
The old key with the ornate head fit easily into the lock, but when I tried to turn it, it didn’t budge. I was afraid the shaft would snap off if I forced it. I panicked again. My heart began to pound so loudly, I could feel the beat of it behind my eyes. My hands began to tremble, and I nearly dropped the keys on the concrete floor.
I must use this fear as an ally if I’m going to succeed, I demanded of myself. My panic had to be translated in my mind to a motivating force for good.
Go ahead and panic, I thought. The more the panic, the more worthy and justified my cause. I felt calmness overpower my fear. Now, I had to think of a solution for the key.
I remembered something from an old book. A woman was using fancy scissors called pinking shears to cut some cloth. The sheers were dull and would not cut, so she folded a sheet of material called waxed paper and cut it with the shears. The wax made it possible to cut the fabric. But where would I find wax? I looked around the room and saw a desk with a lamp. I turned the light on and opened the lap drawer and several side drawers until I found what I hoped would be there, a small cube of wax. I had seen file clerks use wax to lightly tip their fingers, making it easier to leaf through a stack of paper.
It flashed through my mind that electronic devices were supposed to have eliminated the need for paper and filing, but when the chaos of the past century hit the country in a vast array of safety breaches, including the crash of all computer servers and systems, it became necessary to file important papers in cabinets again. There had to be a paper trail of the events and contracts we needed to find.
I touched my finger tip to the wax and gently applied it to the shaft of the old key. When I placed it back in the lock . . . it turned. Praise the Lord, my heart sang, and I smiled as I thought of Silvia Brunner.
Once inside the old records room, the file cases were much different from the ones in the outer office. Rather than numbers on the end of each drawer, there was a brief account of its contents. I looked for the words, Old Orders. There was nothing. Then, Old Forms appeared like a miracle.
I riffled through the files frantically, aware of the time. There it was: “Referendum Cover Sheet.” I snatched it out and held it to my chest. It had to be in time. It just had to be.
Out in the night, Ward Stoner pulled to a stop outside the Capitol and parked in the security parking space. He stared at the glass fronted building, the interior of which was illuminated by the Gifting lights. He shook his head. They have to be in there somewhere, he whispered into the frozen air. Their chips say so. Suddenly, he thought he saw a movement inside the building near the staircase. It was fleeting, as a shadow of someone or something ran down the steps. He waited. No one emerged.
At first, the ever present anger that constantly gnawed at his insides, flared like a fanned flame. He fought with the negative thoughts that bombarded his professional self-concept. No one will believe this. They’ll say, “Old Inspector Tombstone is exaggerating again, casting aspersions on someone as fine as Christiana Applewait.” They won’t listen to me. Why do I even talk sometimes?
He shook his head as he tried to clear his thinking. Stop it Stoner, he demanded of the demons that haunted him. They’ll have to listen to this tale. This is real and it’s happening right here in front of me. They will learn who has the power, and they’d better not cross me.
As he watched the door to the Capitol, Stoner rolled the old argument over and over in his mind. He had believed that everyone thought he was wrong since he was a young boy and had cowered at the fierce criticism of his stepfather. When he was in his late teens, he had taken an internal stand. I am not wrong, you worm. You are!
From that day until the night he found himself chasing phantoms through the city streets, he had done battle with the specter of his stepfather whom he saw in anyone who challenged him. He still fought for power constantly, while he held one of the most powerful positions in society. Only with Miriam was power not part of the relationship.
Stoner continued his vigil, but still, no one emerged from the Capitol. Time seemed suspended. He thought he could hear the tick of a distant clock. He translated the long wait and the loss of the one he had chased, as a personal affront to himself.
So, it’s a game of hide-and-seek is it? He jeered. He pulled his car back into the street and drove slowly around the building. Nothing. He shined a flood light into the private parking area, but no one was there. The bar was down, intact and obviously undisturbed.
“Where did you go, Little Ghost?” he mumbled into the darkness.
Stoner pulled the strata-car around to the side entrance and parked. A set of concrete steps with a pipe-style hand rail ran up to a platform that provided an entry apron for the non-public entrance. With a hand-held tone controlled master opener, he sent a signal into the lock and opened the door. The inspector emerged into the rotunda. He found it still, silent and empty. He could see well enough with the glow of the festive lights outside coming through the windows and illuminating the great hall.
From what he had seen from the car window, he believed someone had been on the stairs, so he mounted the steps, and inspected each, one at a time. He searched the marble treads for even a bit of disturbed dust. The cleaning crew is too good for an investigation like this. There was no sign of a living soul having passed that way.
Ghosts, he mocked in the dimly lit space. I guess I’m becoming a ghost hunter rather than a Blue Guard Detective.
At the foot of the stairs, he pulled back a mirror-like panel that hid a person-sensor. He taped the portal monitor that counted and announced anyone who might step onto the upper floor. Two beeps counted two intruders. Midway up, he tapped another monitor. One beep. At the head of the stairs, there was nothing. He stopped and smiled. Well, well, little spook. I have found you.
He opened the door to a supply closet around the corner on the second floor and took out a step ladder. Placing it beneath the camera he had mounted earlier that afternoon, one of several he had placed around the city, he climbed up for a better look. Well now, we will just see what we have here.
In the back of the camera was a modest sized viewer. Stoner pressed the rewind button and zipped it back far enough to reveal the activity in the previous half hour. The hall was dimly lit but the screen was bright.
Okay Pluto, let’s see who is not here. He watched the screen that showed no activity at first. If Clyde Tombaugh could find a planet in 1930 by studying the images he took of the night sky, and discovered Pluto by noticing what was not there . . . so can I. There is the hall. The next few seconds of the image revealed the door to the records’ room across the hall from the steps as it closed the final few inches. A few minutes later, the lower leg and heel of a woman’s shoe were seen as she crossed the hall back to the staircase. He tapped the top portal, no beep. Again, mid-stairs, two beeps. Well, well, well, she was not there at the portal . . . and suddenly . . . voila, there . . . there she is. So Miss Daring Spook, I don’t know how you did it, but you are my holiday ghost.
A New Emotion - Rage
We had left the Capitol at 10:27 p.m. I had grabbed the paper and hurried to the door of the records room. Jason had given the signal that the camera had panned out, so I could slip past safely. When it was clear, I had darted out. We had carefully and quickly made our way down the staircase, around through the grand hall and out the back door to the private parking garage where we had come in. We hadn’t known if anyone was out front when we pressed the button on the key ring and drove back out into the back streets of the city. We had gotten away and had not seen anyone. No one was in the building. No one had followed us.
• • • • •
“A blessing for your thoughts,” Jason whispered once we were back in his car.
We rode toward my apartment in near silence. I was thinking about how much had happened. So many memories stirred. So much pain and horrible evil had been exposed.
“I’ve been thinking about Grand-mère and Grand-père.” I looked out on the ice that sparkled on the trees and bushes. Everything was so beautiful, and I felt so ugly and dirty from the filth I had been exposed to. “This is no longer about me and the loss of my grandparents, is it Jason?” I looked at the enormity of the world around me. I had never really noticed it before. If I wasn’t checking the weather to determine how it would affect me and my own needs, I didn’t even see the blue sky or feel the soft rain. “I don’t know if I’m big enough for a task of this magnitude. I don’t know if I’m brave enough. I guess I think in micro-bites. I have no big picture panorama inside me.”
“You may have seen the smaller picture in the past, Christy. But, you have been called to a larger cause, bigger than your grandparents, bigger than any one of us.” Jason squeezed my hand to reassure me.
“How is that even possible, Jason? Nothing ever happens to challenge anyone anymore. We live on railroad tracks, never steering right or left, never going backward, never hitting a bump, always rolling toward . . . nothingness.”
“Christy, there is a strength you can call on. I know how new you are to the Kingdom, but trust me we are not marching toward nothingness. For those who believe, we are always moving toward home. The porch light has been lit, and they’re waiting for us.”
“All those who have gone before . . . and Jesus.”
“I’ve started reading about him. It’s like I’m learning about someone I always knew.” Suddenly my eyes flashed on a movement up ahead. A woman and a small boy ran out of a building and across the lawn in the direction of the road. They had no coats and the boy had no shoes. “Jason, what ―”
“Hold on,” he commanded as he slammed on the brakes just as the two ran to the edge of the road.
I grabbed the safety strap above the door and held on. The road was icy and the surface shone like a giant diamond, beautiful but dangerous. With the help of the DSR 210, Distance Safety Restraint that detected the presence of others in the periphery, Jason was able to control the vehicle and swerve past them to the curb.
“Please,” the woman begged as she clawed at my car window. “He’s coming.”
I left the window safely closed but spoke into the side communicator opening. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s coming, please let us in,” she implored as she checked over her shoulder for what was chasing her. The small boy clutched her leg.
Who was this woman? Was she an operative of the government? Had they found out that we had discovered their evil? Had they come for us, in order to keep their secrets?
At that moment, a large man, sweating, shirtless and wielding a wooden bat above his head, charged out of the apartment building like a raging bull stampeding out of the pen. I eased the door open to let the woman and child climb in, but the burly man pushed them aside and grabbed at my wrist. He jerked me from the car in one motion, so fierce I was almost lifted out of my shoes. I struggled to stay on my feet as the man tightened his viselike grip on my arm.
“Christiana!” Jason yelled as he jumped from the car and flew over the hood and landed on the man, jumbling all three of us to the ground in a scrambled heap.
“Charles, no!” The woman screamed and clutched her son close to her body.
The man looked at her without releasing his hold on me. “Ruth?” He looked wild, bewildered.
Then, I saw Jason, unconscious and flat on the ground. Fear seized me when I heard him moan and saw him try to move from under the huge man’s foot. He had pinned me down also, and I felt helpless. In that instant, I knew the man’s mind would not be reached with more struggling.
The man got to his feet and dragged me with him. “Charles,” I smiled as casually as I could muster, “something is bothering you. Can I help?” Suddenly, I felt at peace and words came forth I had never known before.
“What?” he stammered, still grasping my arm.
“You were chasing this woman and boy, Charles,” I said. “What’s the problem my friend?” I patted the man’s hand where he held me tight. I hoped he would release his grip.
“No . . . that’s Ruth, my wife,” he stared at me with wide, blank eyes.
“Christy? Are you okay?” Jason gasped as he regained consciousness and tried to get up, but the man had planted his foot on Jason’s chest.
“I’m fine, Jason. It’s Charles here who needs our sympathy. I want to help him.” I swallowed my panic and spoke softly, hoping to calm him down. “I think Charles is just having a really bad day.”
“Bad day?” He waved the ball bat he was still holding over his head; his eyes flashed and he raised his voice wildly again. “No. I was showing my son how to play baseball, with a bat like this one.”
“Have you been taking little pills lately, Charles?” I asked. “They’re great, aren’t they? Did you get them from a friend?” I knew this had to be the answer.
“Yeah, from a friend of a friend.” He lowered the bat and blinked like he was trying to see everything more clearly.
“Hey, should I call the authorities?” A man yelled from the doorway of the apartment building across the street.
I looked at Charles and his little family as we stood in the snow on Christmas Eve. We were all held by a man who didn’t even know he was out of line. “What do you think, Charles? Are you going to be able to calm yourself down on your own? Or, should we have this man call the Blue Guard and have you put in jail on Gift Day Eve?”
“No, no,” he protested and stood back a little. He took his foot from Jason’s chest. By this time Jason was aware of the situation and slowly got to his feet.
“Should we ask your wife if she wants you to go back in your home with her and your son, Charles?” I asked.
He looked over at his wife. I could see fear on her face. He looked at her in shock and grief. “Ruthie, you’re afraid of me? Of me?”
Charles took one step in her direction. She jumped back and dragged the frightened child with her.
The man’s face froze with sorrow and shame. “Ruthie . . .” he reached out to her again. She recoiled and tightened her embrace around her son. Charles stopped and looked at the bat in his hand. “What . . . ?” he looked at his family again and then at Jason and me, the two strangers he had threatened.
“That’s right, Charles. You’re not well this evening. What should we tell your neighbor?” Jason said. “Are you going to be able to get yourself under control on your own? We believe in you. I think you can.”
I felt Charles’ hand release my arm, but I did not pull away. The touch seemed to quiet him. The medication he had taken may have worn off.
“I’m fine. I’m okay.” He turned to his wife with pain in his eyes. “Ruthie . . . I am so sorry.”
“Charles, I’m a doctor, and I think you will be fine if you get some sleep. We can help you,” Jason said.
“I think we’ll be all right,” I called to the neighbor who had offered help. I hoped we had made the right choice.
“I’ll stay at my brother’s home tonight, Ruthie. Or, I’ll sleep in the jail if you would feel safer.” His voice was softer, calmer.
“That might not be necessary,” Jason offered. “How many of the white tablets did you take today?”
“Ten,” Charles admitted, looking down as if he knew he had overdosed.
“I have some medication in my bag that will counter the effects of those pills, Charles,” Jason said. “Take them right away with plenty of water. The white tablets you had taken will dilute quickly and drain from your body immediately.” Jason went to get the medical bag from the trunk of his car.
“We’ll come in while you calm down,” I suggested. “If that’s all right with you,” I asked Charles’ wife. She looked at Jason as he came back with his bag. Then she looked cautiously at both of us as she motioned for us to follow her into the apartment.
Charles responded to the medication Jason administered just as he had predicted. We sat for a while and talked with the family about the holiday. Charles admitted he had been overdosing for days. He had started taking the medication on the promise that he would get back some energy he had been lacking. After Ruth put their son to bed and knew what had happened to her husband, she assured him she was no longer afraid and they would be fine. Soon, he was ready to settle down for the night.
“Thank you both so much,” Ruth said as she escorted us to the door. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t been here.”
“I’ve taken the rest of Charles’ supply of white pills with me. Have him make an appointment right after the holidays. Do not let him go out on his own. He will be feeling tired and may go in search of more pills. He cannot do that.”
“Yes, Doctor,” she assured Jason. “And, thank you My Lady. You were like an angel. Bless you Miss.”
“An angel, Ruth?” I was surprised to hear of heavenly beings again.
We wished each other the happiest of Gifting Days and made our way back out into the snowy night. We were soon back in Jason’s car, heading home one more time.
“You are most definitely brave enough, Christy.” Jason assured me as we drove through the night. His words filled me with added warmth.
“I was brave?”
“You don’t know?” Jason’s voice sounded like he was surprised.
“No, Jason. I was afraid, not brave.”
“Bravery doesn’t mean you’re not afraid, Christy. It means you do what needs to be done in spite of the fear or anger you may be feeling. You weren’t thinking of yourself this time. You were more focused on that couple and their little boy and making Christmas Day happy for them, than you were concerned about yourself.”
I thought about all that Jason had said and held the words close to my heart. Everywhere around me, my life was changing, coming alive. I was now seeing the world with different eyes, and I didn’t even know when it happened, when it changed. Regardless of what Jason said, I had not felt brave or up to the task when I was talking to Charles, but I had felt the presence of something powerful in my life that seemed to counter balance the self-doubt. Yet, the thought kept coming back. Would we win the battle against the evil that had gripped our country for so long? Would we be able to save my grandparents? Or, would the glory of the victory be meaningless without my grandparents to share it?
“I’m done for now,” Inspector Stoner stated with finality as he made his way out of the Capitol back to his car. He put the camera on the front seat and slid in out of the snow. The follow-up could wait until morning. Confronting Lady Christiana Applewait and starting an internal probe of the activities of a clandestine unit of the Blue Guard would both come in due time. In the morning, Gift-giving Day would have to share the clock with his never-ending responsibilities. It would be more than just a morning of gift exchanges with his son and family and a breakfast of hot chocolate and homemade pecan rolls. He would have to go over to Oakwood and intrude on Oliver Richly and his family. Never mind that it was a holiday. Stoner shuddered at the thought of the extreme breach of protocol, wound up and bound in the career-ending step of invading the home of one of the Council of Elders. That was not something he looked forward to. He wasn’t afraid of Sir Richly. He admired him and, in his mind, there were very few people who deserved his admiration.
He drove along the streets of the city, his streets, and for the first time he wondered how long it had been snowing. He hadn’t noticed. Stoner didn’t mind spending time in his car. He felt he was surveying all that he owned.
Because of Ward Stoner’s job, he was privileged to own a single family dwelling. As head of the Blue Guard, it was necessary. He could be called at any time to inspect a situation. He couldn’t disturb other people as he would if he lived in an apartment building. An efficient workforce required eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Stoner owning his own home was for the greater good of the collective.
As Stoner pulled onto his own street, he saw that the lights were still on at his house, and he felt good for the first time that day. He had to have nerves of steel and the bearing of a tyrant all day long. His job demanded it. But, if he couldn’t lay down the facade of the archfiend of Capitol City at the end of each day, he believed he would turn to dust and blow off into the barren dessert of his own soul. Miriam had helped him shed the mantle of aggression in the past, but she was gone now.
Twinkle lights beckoned him to the front room window, and he smiled. His mother may have let Christopher stay up until Daddy got home. Gift Day Eve had always been a special time of family games and laughter. Even though Miriam had been placed in the sleep chamber, his son deserved a Merry Gift-giving Day. Somehow, he had to pull together the remaining acting talent in his playbill of fictitious characters to create a happy day for his son, and it was late.
He drove the car farther into the driveway. Suddenly, it felt like he had hit a bump. Christopher, what did you leave in the driveway this time? He chuckled to himself as he thought about all the toys and tools he had mangled under the wheels of the car in the past. A fairly new wagon, a red tricycle, and a black tool box were recent sacrifices to Christopher’s play.
He opened the car door and came around to the walk that led to the house where he saw Christopher laying on the ground near the edge of the driveway. Stoner’s heart fell from his chest and landed on the small broken body of his son who sprawled between the lawn and drive.
“Oh, my god!” Ward screamed in agony.
The front door burst open and Stoner’s mother ran out into the night. Fear gripped her voice as she tried to scream but no sound came from her throat. She rushed to Christopher’s side, fell down on her knees on the snow covered ground, and gathered him in her arms, rocking him the way she had rocked his father when he was a child.
Christopher must have snuck out to surprise his daddy, thinking he was standing on the edge of the sidewalk. He often got a little too close to the drive and Stoner had warned him about staying back. But, it was dark and foggy that night. Perhaps Christopher had not been able to judge his position on the grass.
Stoner’s blood froze within him. Damaged children were discarded. He knew that all too well. Christopher’s condition was not important to the authorities; an injured child could always be replaced. Stoner had to hide the child immediately.
“Hurry, Mother, hurry! Let me carry him inside. He can’t be seen out here like this. The authorities―” Ward Stoner reached for his son.
Sarah Stoner hung onto her grandson’s bleeding body and brought his sweet cheek next to her own. “You,” she screamed, “you are the authority that you now fear!”
Stoner was stunned by her words—shocked to face the sudden truth of his life. He was the one who hunted people down who were just trying to live their lives as fate had endowed them. He was the intruder. He was the ghost of this life, hiding in the shadows, waiting to snatch away the breath and shorten the lives of others. Now, the broken body was Christopher’s. Now it was his family’s tragedy. Now, he held the entire span of his son’s Length of Days in his own blood stained hands.
Sarah Stoner would not relinquish her grandson, not even to the child’s own father. She struggled to her feet, carrying the child’s limp form as she moved. Ward ran ahead of her and held the door while she took Christopher inside and placed him on the couch. Stoner fell to his knees beside his son and listened to his chest. “He’s breathing,” he whispered.
Sarah soothed the child’s cheeks until he opened his eyes. “Hello Sweetheart.” Then she turned to Ward. “We have to take him to the hospital to be checked out.”
“Come on Big Guy,” Ward said as he scooped up his son and carried him into his own room. He placed him comfortably on his bed then turned. “I’ll be right back, Christopher.”
“The hospital? No!” Ward hissed through gritted teeth as he returned to his mother in the living room. His face was strained with worry and twisted in fear at the thought of anyone knowing that his son had been hurt.
Sarah’s face was ashen and the grip of fear was already etched there. Suddenly, she raised her arms with hammer-like fists and slammed them down on Stoner’s back and head. Blow after blow landed on his shoulders.
She lashed out with her inner rage at all that was evil in the land, embodied in her own son.
Ward did not fight back. He seemed to welcome the attack. Perhaps the mortification of the flesh imposed on him by the little woman who beat him, like a necessary whipping from a devoted mother in the ancient past, might cleanse his soul.
Finally, Sarah let out the raging screams that had been mute when she held her small grandson. Then, completely spent, she ceased the thrashing.
“Mother, Mother, shh.” Tears Stoner could not shed when Miriam died welled up within him and broke forth in great sobs and pains of anguish. He cried uncontrollably, his body heaved with emotional pain. Ward’s body went limp and weak and the agony drained all life and meaning from him.
When Sarah saw her son, broken and weeping, she called out to him. “Oh Ward, I am so sorry,” Sarah sobbed. “I have hated your job from the very beginning . . . but I never hated you.”
“Daddy? Grandma?” the soft little voice of Christopher called out from the bedroom through his injuries.
“Christopher?” Sarah gasped and hurried to his side. “Oh thank God.”
Stoner wiped his eyes and rushed to his son’s room. He put the back of his hand on Christopher’s forehead. He wasn’t hot. “Where do you hurt, Son?”
“I don’t know.”
Ward went numb. Was his son paralyzed? Could he not feel his body? “What do you mean?” Stoner ran his hands down the child’s arms. “Can you feel this?”
“Yes,” Christopher laughed as he started to get up. “Why can’t I feel my legs? They feel like they’re asleep.”
“Christopher, you can’t feel your legs?” Sarah’s tone was calm but her timbre was weak and shaken.
“Tell me about those legs, Son,” Ward coaxed, longing to hear some words of hope.
“I can feel them, sort of, like they’re prickly but they’re not awake either.” Christopher didn’t seem to be in pain, just curious. “Why, Daddy?” He placed his small hands on his father’s face and patted his cheeks.
Stoner’s facade crumbled into rubble at the touch of his son’s gentle, innocent hands. With fear and dread he asked softly, “Well . . . did Daddy’s car run over your foot or anything like that?” Stoner dreaded to hear the answer. How could he live with himself if he had actually struck his own child?
“No, the car bumped me over and I hit my head and bottom on my new wagon,” he admitted sheepishly. “You told me to put it away this morning. I’m sorry Daddy.”
“You know you aren’t supposed to be that close to the car and driveway don’t you?” Sarah smiled. “It’s okay this time. Just be more careful the next time, Honey.” Sarah looked away, perhaps so Christopher wouldn’t be able to see the fear on her face.
“Maybe it’s just a pinched nerve,” Ward suggested.
“What if it’s permanent?” Sarah breathed low. “I know what you said, but maybe we should take him to the hospital, now, tonight.”
Stoner turned his back and tried to mouth and whisper the words that had to be said. “We could, but let’s think this through. Even if he heals, and he’s just fine in the morning, this is serious. He would have one strike against him. With very many strikes, he would be declared defective.”
“But, if we wait,” Sarah tried to keep her voice low and muffled with her hand across her mouth, “what may not be a permanent injury now, may become one without proper treatment.”
“I know someone who may be able to find a doctor for us. I’ll call him.” Stoner reached for his personal communication instrument and touched in the number. It rang several times.
“Hello?” the familiar voice answered. Stoner explained his need for a doctor with integrity, one he knew would have compassion for an innocent child. The person gave him a blind phone number, a contact without a name, and Stoner placed the call. It was a frightening moment. He wondered how much he should tell the doctor. Yet, how could he withhold information the doctor may think could be pertinent to the case? Either way could be disastrous for Christopher. Up or down could be the wrong move. He didn’t know which way to bounce.
Stoner knew that physicians had one main object in mind, to protect his own family and career. He didn’t know if the person he was calling would be the genuine healer he hoped for, or someone who would place his Christopher’s health and needs far down on his own priority list. But, for Stoner, the hunter needed his son to survive before he became the hunted. Stoner’s truths, so ridged in the past, could turn into lies in a matter of seconds if necessary.
Stoner placed the call which connected within seconds. “This is Chief Inspector Stoner, here. Someone gave me your number.”
There was no sound at the other end of the connection.
“Doctor?” Stoner questioned.
“Yes? What can I do for you Inspector?” a deep voice answered.
“It’s my son. He . . . fell a little while ago. At first he was unconscious. When he awakened, he said he had fallen on his head and bottom. Now he says he can’t feel his legs like he should. He said they tingle.”
“Perhaps you had better take him to the hospital. I could meet you there.”
Now it was Stoner who was silent with apprehension and fear. “Do you think that’s wise?” He hoped his veiled words would be understood.
Again there was silence. “Are you afraid of . . . never mind. If you decide to keep him home tonight, you’ll have to try to keep him awake in case he has a concussion. Does he complain of a headache?”
“Does your head hurt Christopher?” Stoner asked his son.
“No, I don’t think so,” the child patted at the side of his head and paused like he was listening for a slow leak in an inflated ball.
“He said ‘No’.” Stoner leaned low and covered the mouth piece with his hand. “I would like to avoid the record of an injury if at all possible.”
“I understand,” the doctor concurred. “If I don’t see the boy to treat him, I don’t have to make a report. Well, I’m here at the end of this communication line. If you are refusing treatment tonight, there’s little I can do. Watch him for twenty-four hours.”
“I would have done more in similar circumstances and have already done as much in the past,” Stoner admitted like an accused man admitting he had committed a crime. “I would have had the authorities take over the care of an injured child if the parents refused treatment.”
“Yes, Sir . . . I imagine you would have. But, I am not you,” the doctor on the end of the line responded crisply.
“No, Sir, you are not. I want to thank you for that distinction. My wife is gone, but my mother and I will stay up with Christopher tonight. We will call right away if he takes a turn for the worse.”
“How old is the boy?” the doctor asked.
Stoner’s eyes filled with tears as he thought of the possibility of his son being labeled defective. If he were anyone else’s child, Stoner would not have valued the boy’s life at all. Suddenly, he felt that blood seemed to drip from his own hands, and he wrung them in an attempt to wipe away the guilt that justifiable clung there. Ward Stoner cleared his throat and tried to speak. Finally he whispered, “Doctor, my son is only five years old.” Stoner’s heart crumbled into gravel at his feet.