I gasped as the front door of my grandparent’s warm home burst open and the coldness of the Christmas morning swept across the floor like a flood of ice water. Sean shoved the petitions back into the valise in a subtle, protective action. Then he caught my eye, silently stepped toward the door, and slipped out unnoticed, into the winter morning.
I quickly placed the cover letter back in my bag. I had seen what people were capable of. I knew the danger we were in. My blood froze with the blast of arctic air.
Inspector Ward Stoner stormed into the room, his eyes fixed forward. He didn’t even glance at Sean as he quietly slipped out. Stoner shattered the sanctity of my grandparents’ home, with one apparent aim—he was looking for someone. “Christiana Applewait, Jason O’Reilly, you will have to come with me, both of you.”
“Why?” Jason jumped to his feet and stepped between me and the inspector.
“You were seen in the Capitol after hours.” The Inspector’s voice was hard, brittle.
“Seen?” I questioned. I knew there had been no one around.
“The heel of your right foot was evident on a surveillance camera, Missy,” he hissed, evidently quite proud of his detecting work. “I’m sure a careful comparison of the image we have, with your foot, will reveal a match. You were there, Miss Applewait. Any unauthorized presence after hours in a government building is against the law.”
“Unauthorized?” Judge Brunner rose to his full six foot-four inches. “Inspector, these two dedicated people were there under my authority. I am Judge Brunner. I gave them my keys.”
I pulled his keys from my pocket and handed them back to the judge. “I’m returning them to you now, Sir,” I announced.
Stoner glared at me. Evidently, he was not used to being trumped in the little spy game he played with a tremendous amount of gusto.
“There is also another situation,” Stoner proceeded in his game, as if the previous hand had not been lost. “There appears to be a secret group within the Blue Guard of which I have not been kept informed. Somehow, and I don’t know how yet, but I will, you two have some knowledge of these men.”
“I have the information you seek, Inspector,” Judge Brunner interrupted again as he squared his shoulders and straightened his back to rebuff the Inspector one more time. “I ordered a small, select contingent of Blue Guard to protect my home.”
“It was at my suggestion and authority,” my grandfather affirmed.
“Why?” Stoner snapped.
“I beg your pardon,” the Judge replied with authoritative indignation. “I owe you no explanation, Inspector. It is well within my authority to do so.”
“Perhaps you had the authority, but politically it was not very wise . . . Sir,” he spit out the words like they had left a nasty taste in his mouth.
“I am not political,” Judge Brunner edged toward the inspector. “I am a judge by birth and Legacy by the grace of God,” he shouted.
“God?” Stoner yelled back, but there was a change to his expression. “If you are going to hold up a deity as your authority, Sir, can you prove to me that there are gods?” His voice was shrill, not commanding, not controlled. He had lost the moral authority of his position.
Something was stirring within the Inspector. I could see it trying to free itself from his soul. However, the tortured look on his face seemed to be evidence of an evil to come, that blocked the path to freedom.
“I am not defending the gods, Sir,” the judge declared with power and strength. “I am bearing witness to the one true God.”
“Then call him to your witness stand Judge. Let him defend himself.” Stoner was icy in his gaze, but his shoulders lost their square, as one who has already lost confidence in his own argument.
“God does not defend himself, Officer,” the Judge replied more softly than before. “We, all of us, bear witness to his existence in our lives and the work he performs in our own hearts. He heals and pardons each one of us. That is our testimony.”
Ward Stoner’s expression grew weak, and his face was suddenly ashen.
Grand-mère approached the head of the Blue Guard, reached out her steady hand and touched his shoulder. “Inspector Stoner, what is wrong? Has something happened? You were all worked up before, and now you look broken, my son.”
Stoner stepped back, out of her reach, as though Grand-mère’s touch condemned him, rather than soothed his spirit. “Broken? No never,” he insisted with uncertain command. “I am the sole authority in the Blue Guard.” His face was twisted and drawn with emotion that seemed to come from deep within his gut, raw and razor-edge sharp.
Grand-mère’s love reached out again and would not let him go. She put her hand on his shoulder and drew herself even closer. “But your control stops with your office, doesn’t it? Tell me what’s cutting your heart so deeply.”
“My only son Christopher, Ma’am,” he whispered. The Inspector’s eyes darted back and forth wildly as if he were looking for a place to hide from the reality of his pain. “My little boy, I . . . didn’t know he was there in the dark last night. The car bumped him, and he fell.” Ward Stoner couldn’t hold back the secret any longer, not in the cradle of love Constance Richly was offering him. Then his voice melted and could barely be heard. “He couldn’t feel his legs, except for some tingling. My mother and I were up all night with him.”
“You should have taken him to the hospital or doctor’s office,” Jason said. The healer’s heart within Jason dismissed the inspector’s accusations when he first roared into the house and responded only to the need of the man’s son.
Stoner’s eyes were pleading. He looked at Jason with agony on his face. “I couldn’t. He might have been labeled defective.” Ward’s shoulders were racked with pain as they heaved under his stifled sobs. “The . . . never-ending-sleep.”
I knew he was begging for mercy and understanding. “How is he this morning?” I asked.
Stoner rubbed his eyes. His display of grief appeared to embarrass him. “He’s a little better, thank you. He’s stiff but feeling is beginning to return.”
“But, he could have gotten a strike placed in his life file if you had taken him to a health professional,” Jason said.
“I called a physician. A friend gave me his number—but not his name. He said he wouldn’t have to report a telephone call.” Stoner looked around the room at all of us, studying each face. “Why do you care?”
“I am that physician, Officer,” Jason admitted. “The one you called.”
Ward Stoner’s face was gray and drawn as if he had been dragged heart first into Hell. He had nearly arrested the man who had shown his son compassion and had helped him during the second horrible crisis of his life.
“Someday soon, Mr. Stoner, I will tell you about the Special unit of the Blue Guard that is attached to me and my family,” the Judge offered. “As far as the doctor and Lady Applewait are concerned, they have done nothing wrong. They have simply retrieved a paper that I needed.”
“Don’t you worry now, Inspector,” Grand-mère soothed as she directed him to the door. “You go home and take care of your son and enjoy your Gift-giving Day. We will all be around tomorrow.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” Stoner murmured low.
As she guided the inspector toward the door, Grand-mère said to him, “Maybe someday there will be a rescinding of the law about termination through the never-ending-sleep. Perhaps someday, life will be valued again and joy will return to our people.” My grandmother boldly stated what was becoming true, even if the inspector wasn’t aware of it.
Ward Stoner stopped and took both of Constance Richly’s hands in his. “Ma’am, do you think so? Do you know something? Are you all . . . ?”
“We are enjoying Gift-giving Day, Mr. Stoner. Please pass on our well wishes to your son. Perhaps God will bless him with complete healing if you ask him,” my grandmother said.
Then Stoner turned, as a small labored smile crossed his lips. “Something strange has been happening to me lately, and I—.” He stopped and shook his head. “I just don’t understand any of it. I cannot change. I cannot be soft. I cannot bend.”
“You can’t, or you won’t Officer?” Constance Richly asked with a piercing tone of voice.
“I would . . . dissolve. I would cease to be,” Stoner stammered.
“The you who is not you, would cease to be, so the you who God intended you to be, could be born again within you.” Grand-mère smiled lovingly. “Don’t be afraid, my son. God wants only all of you and no more.”
Ward Stoner studied the little grandmother as his personal communication device signaled an incoming message. Quickly, he straightened his back with a snap. “What?” he demanded.
His face contorted as he tried to find the side of life he belonged on, the world of power or the world of love. He turned his back to the happy holiday group and hissed into the communicator. “Bedlam is missing? Did someone call in a report or what? How do you know?”
He paused to listen, his jaws flexed with anger. “What do you mean, ‘People are looking for him?’ Who? What people?” His voice was harsh and full of rage. “I am the people who would have been called and this is the first I have heard of it. First it was that Drummond fellow, then Mari, the end-traveler went missing, now Bedlam himself.”
Again he paused. His fisted flexed and clinched as he listened. “He has left the zone?” His voice grew hard and shrill.
“Inspector, please . . .” Grand-père cautioned.
Stoner’s entire body seemed to be fighting between the spirit that pulled at his heart and the power that dominated his mind. Then, a flash within his eyes changed his surrender to power-hungry anger again. He stepped toward me with a cold, steely gaze once more. “Don’t forget to read the handwriting on the wall, Missy.” Then he smiled a sinister grin. “Have a very Merry Christmas and may God’s richest blessings or his most impoverished curses, be on all of you.”
We all stood there in silence. The display of good and evil from the soul of that one man stunned us. I wondered how safe we all were now. Evil stalked the streets and buried life beneath a mountain of blood. There was Silas Drummond’s warning and our witness to the evil at Howard Mountain. The monster had escaped to a different zone, so evil was loose in the whole world. Yet, amid all that darkness, the Christ child beckoned us once more to the manger of life, where love was born again in the hearts of those who would believe.
The March to Freedom
The Christmas goose had been picked to the bone and the leftovers put away. Some played something that afternoon called Monopoly, an odd game of buying personal property and ransoming others’ ability to make passage around the game board. If a player landed on another’s space, they were taxed with rent payments. The game’s rules were old fashioned to all of us since taxes were no longer levied on the citizens. And, for the most part, people didn’t own their own homes or property. They rented space in high rise apartment buildings like the one I lived in. Most individually owned homes were in and around the Oakwood area of town, a little oasis where an expression of individuality was enjoyed.
“Oh, no!” Mother shouted as she and my father tried to beat Grand-mère and Grand-père at the Monopoly game they loved. Since that type of game had been replaced with individual, solitary games in past years, we all felt lucky that my great-grandparents had saved many of the favorite old ones of their day and stored them in the attic.
“I want to buy this property,” Marge sang out when she landed on a square she coveted.
Thackery and Dahlia were enjoying the lavish grounds that were still beautiful even though it was early winter. In December the icicle show on the bushes and trees sparkled like cut glass and filled their eyes with beauty.
Jason and I spent our time talking. We interspersed our conversation with comfortable periods of silence in front of the fireplace.
“It’s cozy here,” Jason whispered, as if we were in an old sanctuary with stained glass windows smiling down on us.
“I have always loved it here. But Jason, even as we relax, I can’t help thinking . . . in a few days . . . well, my grandparents’ birthdays.” I shook my head. “Their termination just isn’t going to happen like the Length of Days law says it must. I am determined that we can win this.”
“You are an amazing woman, Christiana Applewait,” Jason smiled. “Absolutely amazing.”
I thought about my few days with Jason, and imagined spending many more with him, talking, walking and traveling. “Jason, have you read any of the books that have described travel around the country and even abroad? People used to get in their cars and just drive, for hours, for days.”
“Yes, I’ve read many of them. People would fly in huge air liners across the oceans and take trains to distant towns,” Jason answered.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel out of the country and touch the lives of people in other places? I’ve read about the South Sea Islands, countries on the continent, France, Italy, and the British Isles. Most of us have traveled no more than a few miles from our homes. Jason, I found large picture books in the library with photographs that took my breath away.”
“I’ve seen some too, Christy and . . . I’ve traveled a little.” Jason sounded hesitant. “Wouldn’t it be nice to go to New York, Boston or maybe Philadelphia? The books say that these are the places our country used to hold in reverence.”
“Jason!” I squealed with muffled glee. “It would be marvelous!”
Mother looked over in our direction and smiled. She looked content, even beautiful that late afternoon. She seemed to be enjoying my growing relationship with the son of her old friend.
Jason and I shared descriptions and recreated the word pictures from the books we had read. The firelight sent golden shadows that danced across the room and animated the scenes in my head. The wintery darkness had come on early, gathering familiar forms into her snowy shadows and nestled them there.
“Oliver, dear, please turn on the lights. It’s getting dark in here,” Grand-mère called out.
“I can see fine Connie.”
“Well, yes dear, but I can’t seem to see a thing.”
I laughed quietly. Those two dear old ones. They fit together like two pieces connected in Heaven, then separated at birth, only to find each other again. I wondered if Jason would be my soul companion, and it frightened me a little. All my life, I had only thought about myself.
“Yes, dear, do you have enough light now?” Jason teased.
I looked at the firelight reflected in his eyes. They were as warm as the flames, and I knew I was home. “Yes, I have enough of everything.”
Suddenly, there was a pounding at the door and banging until Grand-père flung it open. “Sean?” He gasped as our new friend stood there in the dim, late day light. Sean wore no coat or hat and appeared to be short of breath. “What’s wrong?” Grand-père asked.
Sean burst into the house. His eyes searched each face. “Christiana, there you are,” he called out, his voice sharp with excitement.
“Sean? What is it?” Fear gripped me again as the memory of that morning’s brush with the Blue Guard flashed through my mind.
“Christiana . . . Jason, it’s wonderful! You won’t believe it. They’re marching, right now. They’re moving out across this city and gathering more and more people as they go!” He dashed from one side of the room to the other.
“Who, Sean?” I couldn’t grasp what he was talking about.
“Everyone, Christiana, everyone. They are marching to the Great Leader’s home, President Alexander, to deliver our petitions. They’re doing it now, as we speak.”
“No, not yet!” I cried.
Sean staggered back. His high mountain of joy seemed to crumble with confusion and surprise. “Why not? Christiana, what is wrong?”
“All petitions require a cover letter, or special form, to accompany them, Sean. You left this morning when the inspector came in. I was showing everyone that Jason and I had gotten the form. Here it is. We have it!” I jumped up with excitement and waved the precious page in front of him.
“Where did you ―” Sean darted about the room and bounced off nearby furniture.
“Don’t ask,” I cautioned as I followed him. I tried to get into his line of view so he could focus on what we were telling him. “Before our Christmas dinner, I filled it out with everyone’s help. We made sure there were no mistakes.”
“We prayed earnestly for all the courage we could muster, and to know God’s will as we put the words on the paper,” Grand-père whispered.
Sean stopped pacing long enough to process what was said. “You have the form? You are very sure you have the right paper?”
“Don’t panic, Sean,” Dahlia cautioned. She and Swifty had come back into the house in time to hear the discussion and witness the wild emotions.
“Yes, we are positive,” Jason assured him.
“Then get your coats and that paper, and follow me to President Alexander’s house.” Sean shouted over his shoulder as he started out the door. Then he turned. “Well, are you coming?”
Sean had run all the way from the transit stop. Time was vitally important. We had to get to Alexander’s house before the crowd handed over the petitions. My parents and Marge rode with Grand-père and Grand-mère. Dahlia, Swifty and Sean were with us in Jason’s car. Jason called Judge Brunner and his wife Sylvia on his communications device and let them know about the people’s walk to President Alexander’s home.
There were few other cars on the streets at that time of the evening on Gift-giving Day, so we covered the first several miles rapidly in spite of the gathering fog. As we came within the last mile along the corridor leading to President Alexander’s home, people were everywhere, in the streets, on the lawns and sidewalks. There was no place, where the citizens of our community had not marched to take back their freedom. Even members of the Blue Guard had abandoned their cars and were walking with the people.
“We might have to go the rest of the way on foot,” Jason said as he tried to look past everyone to see what waited down the street.
“We can’t.” Sean warned. “The people have the petitions. If it’s like you said and they give the petitions to the Great Leader without the cover form, Alexander may dispose of them immediately, on the spot.”
“We have to get through,” I cried. The tension rose within me like a drowning wave. I was worried about my grandparents and the pressure they would be feeling. Finally, I did something I had never done before. I prayed to a God I had only recently heard of, to protect my dear ones, and to make a path through the people so that life could win over death.
“I know.” Sean immediately snapped to attention, opened the car window, and pushed back the people who pressed against it. He swung his body, headfirst, out through the window and then used the opening as a stepping stone to lift himself up onto the car’s roof where he sat down. “Clear the way,” he shouted at the people ahead of us. “We have a piece of the solution. Move, move . . .” he called every few feet as both of our cars inched toward the home of Nathan Alexander, the President and Great Leader.
When we got to the president’s home, Sean stood on top of the car and held up both of his hands. “Everyone, listen . . .”
The crowd stilled. A hush fell over the evening. Lights glistened off the snow and made the spot a hallowed ground where freedom had taken a stand once more.
“Nathan Alexander,” Sean called to the house, “President Alexander, please come out.”
“Let me go up and invite him out,” I suggested but didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ll make sure he knows we mean him no personal harm.” I tried to squeeze out through the car door, but people everywhere pressed against it. I opened and closed the door inch by inch until I could wedge myself through and started up the walk to the house.
“Christiana,” Jason called after me. “I’ll go with you.”
As I neared the steps, Grand-père had worked his way out of his car. “Christiana, wait, I have an important message for you.” He came near and whispered gently yet firmly in my ear with all the confidence I knew my grandfather had.
“Sweetheart, there are some verses from the Bible you must hear. From the book of Luke, chapter twenty-one, verses fifteen through nineteen:
For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. . . . By standing firm you will gain life.”
I hugged the dear man I loved so much, then, I turned. Jason, Sean, and I stepped up onto President Alexander’s porch.