By Carla Coon
Clarice 1982 The long splintery picnic table in the backyard of the two-story duplex sat empty now except for the eight pink paper plates smeared with remnants of wet chocolate cake and melting blobs of strawberry ice cream. Presents abandoned in a messy pile of ripped paper and trailing ribbons had been forgotten as fast as Jamie Sanders had grabbed the new kickball and chucked it at one unsuspecting Deidre Morgan declaring a dodge ball war against the girls without having to say a word. A gaggle of high pitched screams laced the otherwise sleepy Poughkeepsie neighborhood as eight children ran from the swirly blue kickball. Clarice Martin squealed as she darted around the corner of the stucco house barely evading a hit. She hugged the wall about to peek for Steve, but instead she felt a sudden whoosh in the pit of her stomach. Oh no, it would stink if she threw up cake at her own party. But no this felt different, more like dropping fast down a slide. She looked up, flinging a hand out to the rough wall as the scene in front of her waved like a mirage. Everything was fading - the bushes, the yellow siding on Snyder’s garage, even the other kids – melting away, till all of them looked see-through like they were made of Lucite plastic or something. Clarice squeezed her eyes, only when she opened them, things seemed even less real, every tree and house replaced with a ghostly image of itself. Ahead, her friends Lizzy and Ema were translucent too, but surrounded by glistening lights, shimmering with life. All the kids seemed to be wearing these shields of dancing diamonds. Barely aware of anything physical, even the stucco biting her palm, Clarice stood captivated. Slowly she became aware of a thin black cloud slithering overhead. Swiftly it swept in and around the protective lights, as if trying to gain entrance, bouncing off one kid then swirling to the next. Equally fascinated and repulsed, Clarice watched the oily presence, when all of a sudden it stopped. The black swarm seemed to turn and face her, pulsing like a heart, and focused directly at her. Bam! She felt a smack upside her head and heard Jaime’s yucking laugh behind her. Clarice watched the blue kickball roll off a foot away, coming to stop by Snyder’s garbage can, which was grey and solid again. “You’re out, Reece,” Jamie yelled, pushing past her to the backyard. That night alone in the dark, Clarice stared out the door of her bedroom to the wallpaper in the hall. A wisp of a girl, Clarice Martin felt tiny in her new pink nightgown in her overly pink room. From the silly poster bed drooling in pink chiffon to the frilly curtains, to the Pepto Bismol walls and cotton candy throw rugs her bedroom reeked of pink. Gross! It was her mom who liked pink, and except for being smaller than most girls, being forced to wear too much pink and to curl her hair, Clarice saw herself as more of a tomboy. After all, she was the first one to shimmy Boyle’s birch tree, and the only one to take the boy’s dare and jump off the garage roof. She was no chicken, and besides she was seven now. If only she could figure out what she saw, what it meant. But who could tell her? What the heck? Could she even say what she saw? Had she really? Was it there or .. Clarice kicked the covers. Then feeling the chill, like icy fingers on the exposed foot, she tucked herself back in. If she had a sister like DeDee did, she could talk to them, but her mom never had any more kids. She said, “Lordy, but one was enough!” There’s no one to tell, Clarice thought. “Nothing to tell!” she yelled in her mind, “quit it, quit thinkin’ ‘bout it.” She concentrated full force on the hall wallpaper with the gold carriages that looked like Cinderella’s coach. Nothing to think about.. just carriages, and Cinderella, her new skates, and birthday candles . . . the cake, and new kickball, and carriages, and . . . Clarice woke facing her wall and rolled over looking for the trusty wallpaper, when something on the second-story window caught her eye - a hand, a huge hand, palm side down splayed against the pane. Her mind froze unable to process the impossibility of what she was seeing. She blinked, but it was there, really there. A scream registered in her throat then stuck like peanut butter, and immobilized, she could only stare at the man’s hand, really big, bigger than her dad’s; it could have been beautiful, if it wasn’t so scary. It had no arm. Where was the arm? Maybe she just couldn’t see it. Suddenly it was as if the hand knew she was looking at it. Clarice snapped her eyes to the wood floor feeling her heart thump against the silky nightgown. She waited. The house was weirdly quiet - no dripping faucets, moaning pipes, or creaking wood like she usually heard when she lay awake. The quiet made a sound all its own as Clarice debated what to do. She pictured the trip down the hall to her dad’s room. He’d know what to do. No way would she scream or look at the hand or let on how scared she was. One. . . she pictured her arms throwing back the pink covers. Two. . . she saw her feet on the floor. Three! Clarice tore off the covers and ran keeping her eyes front. Two seconds later she stood by her dad’s bed tugging his striped pajama shirt. “Daddy, wake up. C’mon please. You gotta come and see ..it.” She didn’t want to say see the hand, cause if he could see that it was a hand, it would prove she wasn’t dreaming. Her father wouldn’t budge. Clarice tugged some more and raised her voice a smidgen careful not to wake her mama. Finally he gave in and allowed her to lead him down the hall. The hand was still there when they returned. Her dad walked over to the window with Clarice slightly behind. “It’s right there,” she pleaded with him. “Ooookay now calm down, Reecie,” he said after dutifully looking out the window then back at his daughter. He ran a hand through his sandy hair, yawned, then turned her around towards bed. “It’s nothing,” her dad mumbled gently pushing her little shoulders back on the pillow. Clarice stared at the hand. “I see a hand, Daddy. I see it.” “A hand? Out there?” He pulled her sheet and blanket over her giving it a little straightening tug. “Now Pumpkin.” He always called her Pumpkin, and usually the endearment made almost anything bearable - Mama’s ridiculous outbreaks, her weird airs, her mean streak, but tonight his tone meant he was putting her off. He kissed her forehead and smiled sleepily. “Maybe it’s the hand of God.” She looked back at the window as her dad retreated, thankfully leaving the hall light on as he passed. The hand was gone. Poof – just gone. Clarice lay wide awake at first concentrating on the window pane, ready for any stray appendages that might affix themselves to the glass like a Garfield car sucker. Finally satisfied, she scrunched her skinny legs a little tighter, as if they could disappear any further under the puffy comforter, and looked out to the welcoming glow in the hall, where gold Cinderella-carriages and fancy footmen covered the wallpaper. Hand of God? Well, it was gone now, but one thing was for sure, Clarice Martin thought, she didn’t want anything to do with it. No way, nothing! * * * March 1991 “Are you crazy or something?” Clarice blinked, her eyes fluttering like light was something new to them. Her head lobbed to one side looking down a row of streetlights, their drooping sunflower heads casting yellow veils of cone-shaped light in the parking lot like so many vaudeville spotlights. She was outside the gym not in it. Hadn’t she just been inside cheering, watching the game? She remembered Mrs. Strucz, Dad’s hospice nurse, telling her to, “Go, just go and enjoy the game.” She never got to go out anymore. It wasn’t safe leaving Dad alone with Mom, now that her mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “Like whatsa matter with you?” the voice demanded. Clarice realized she was lying on her back. It was cold, the voice somewhere above her, the smell of cigarettes in the air. Two, no three faces came into view - two guys and a girl’s staring down, curious but unconcerned. Beyond them rose the looming red brick of the High School, its two Notre-Damish parapets and heavily barred windows staring down at her. “You drunk?” one of the faces asked. “Course she’s drunk, dim wit. Why else would she pass out on the fucking sidewalk.” “Well, help her up already, dumb ass,” a girl voice cried. “Should we call someone?” “No! What the fuck, we snitches or something?” Clarice felt a rough hand on her elbow pulling her up, smelling his smoky leather coat in her face. A moment later, she was standing as the girl pushed the boy away. “Jeesh, Gary let ‘er breathe, will ya.” “It’s ok,” Clarice moaned, embarrassed beyond belief and trying to think of what to say. “I’m ok.. I’m.. thanks.” The three parted like the red sea. One of the guys laughed, the snigger catching in his throat ending in a snort. Clarice felt snow on her backside melting into her jeans and sweater. She began walking, leaving the three smoking Samaritans in front of the gym. She crossed the parking lot, turned on the street heading back to the apartment. There was no debate about getting her coat – the vision of pulsing blackness that drove her outside - screaming she thinks - was coming back to her. No way was she going back in there. No way.
“They Found It” June 1, 2006 Low afternoon sun streamed in the tiny bedroom of the Miller’s Cape Cod throwing a sabre of white light across the oak floor and ending just in front of a pair of sturdy black oxfords. Mrs. Michelle Nicestrum sat perched on the edge of his bed a bible in her lap. She’d been keeping vigil by her charge’s side ever since he lapsed into another of his catatonic trances. Michelle noted the hour hoping his parents would not return before the boy came to. These episodes were always more dramatic when they were here. She reached out, placed a hand on Jackson’s stiff leg, cold as a corpse, like he stepped out of his shell. Nearly five, the baby fat was all but gone except for the face. His rose bud lips were parted, and his green eyes open, staring into space. Michelle glanced up at the picture over his bed comparing Jackson’s blond curls and sweet mouth to the print. Light of the World, wasn’t that the name of the painting? She remembered giving the garage-sale find to his mother for the baby’s room, pleased with the handsome frame. That was the first time she’d noticed Clarice’s aversion to anything religious, but the girl had been too polite to deny the gift, and the picture hung first over his crib and now his bed. Michelle sighed and shifted her position, short legs pushing the matronly figure on the mattress edge. Even when uncomfortable, Mrs. Nicestrum sat regally. A sturdy five-foot-two practical dresser in tweed skirts and soft sweaters, she had been with the Millers since Jackson was born. Snowy white hair in a dignified upsweep met a pappy face of feathery skin, intelligent eyes, and a compassionate smile. The kind of woman who’ll say oh well and roll up her sleeves when disaster strikes. She owned that quiet, earned authority, given respect not for any great feat, but for her daily and personal charity. She’d been sitting so long her joints ached with arthritis, which was bad today. Well, what can’t be helped should be ignored. Her head bent to the familiar Psalm. Near indeed is salvation for the loyal; prosperity will fill our land. Love and truth will - “They found it.” His clear voice sliced the verse like a paper cutter. Little Jackson gazed up, vacuous eyes returning to normal. Mrs. Nicestrum’s breath caught at the news, but managed to level her voice peering over her reading glasses. “They have?” Jackson sat up nodding, a dampish blond curl falling across his forehead. “Well now,” she stroked the lock from his eyes, “it won’t be too much longer then, will it?” “Mommy doesn’t understand, yet.” Mrs. Nicestrum pulled her glasses from her nose and let them drop on the pearl chain. “I know dear, but she will.” He was quiet, his eyes cast down. She could never ask his thoughts or what he had seen in his ecstasies. The little boy, who only an hour ago had played with those Legos on the floor, sat alone contemplating a destiny she could but glimpse. Oh, if only she could spare him! But her task called for his protection alone. “Nicey, when will I go there?” “Now, now, you know that has not been revealed. The time will be shown to us.” Jackson pushed himself up and into her arms almost knocking her off the bed. She sat there comforting the boy wondering just how much he saw in these trances. Such an extraordinary being, intuitive, genius, articulate, graced with compassion and empathy, yet just a boy. She alone understood the complexity of this child and the grandeur of his purpose. He squirmed in her lap, nuzzling in, unbalancing her. She attempted to lift them both higher on the bed, her bones crying in complaint. At eighty, she felt old and tired. How much longer could she protect him? Oh my! She choked on a more frightening possibility. If Clarice and John have found his sanctuary, who else may know of it? There would be some who would stop at nothing to prevent him from reaching the silva templum. Yet, Jackson must wait for the appointed time. She held him closer thinking of the danger ahead. * * * HE The farmhouse was old and rundown. If it had ever been painted, it would be impossible to say. The hundred year wood had turned a murky grey, perhaps in quiet sympathy to the neglected yard. Truth was no one in Cobleskill could even remember when the land had last functioned as a farm, and most would be surprised to learn the property was actually in use. But to the members of Ordinatio Triune Orbis it was known only as The Ranch. The sun slid further behind the hill deepening the fingerlike shadows creeping across the plank floor pointing all the way to the ornate desk where he sat. “They found it,” He said opening his eyes. A brawny, long-haired Italian bodyguard named Sergio turned from the front window, where he’d been looking out at the barns and bunkhouse, but his boss closed his eyes again. Sergio studied him unsure whether he was being addressed or not. He always looked the same in one black suit after another – made by some Hong Kong tailor once upon a time. Tall and unnaturally thin from years of self-deprivation, full gray hair swept back with one shocking black streak at the temple, an undeniably handsome face even considering his eighty years on earth. He sat stiffly, bony fingers resting on the arms of the red-leather, high-back chair. The chair was a gaudy. Everything in the room was, Sergio thought, his eyes roving the once simple parlor, a minute imitation of a king’s throne room from the Louis XIV desk on the heavy oriental carpet to the long gilded mirror across the room reflecting a hundred dangling crystals on the chandelier. Looked like Madame Tussaud threw-up. The whole of the room sat in ludicrous contrast to the run-down farmhouse that contained it. “Found what?” Sergio said always feeling a little dull in his presence. But the compelling black eyes remained closed, so Sergio returned to looking out at the ranch. His mind chicked off a list. He’d checked the barns, where Lee and Gage were feeding the girls. Shit, it reeked in there. How did they stand the stench? He made a mental note to have the barns hosed again. The gate was locked, he’d seen to that himself and every inch of the mile of barbed wire cordoning off the private property had been inspected. No one was getting in or out. “The sanctuary, Judas.” He rose, walked over to join Sergio at the window. Sergio’s teeth clenched at the pet name. He called him Judas cause he’d betrayed his own friend for drug money. He renamed Mark too, the other bodyguard. He called him Cain because Mark killed his own brother in cold-blood. Both he and Mark were indebted to him. Mark’s ass had been seconds away from life in prison, and his own treachery had left him a hair’s breadth from being maimed by his former gang. He’d given them new lives, fed their every fantasy, given them every privilege as they gleefully fell further and further from any speck of goodness in their pathetic lives. He could care less that they hated him, Sergio thought, so long as they stayed fiercely loyal and obedient, aware of their place under him . . . and in Hell. The nickname bugged Sergio all the more, since he rejected his given name, if he ever had one. His arrogance was bar none, refusing to be called anything by his lessers. Sergio cringed smelling his vile breath so close. He hesitated, unsure of whether he was expected to continue the conversation. “Do you know where it is?” Sergio said. “Imbecile,” he hissed, “I’m not omniscient.” He dragged his s’es like he was a fucking snake. He fell silent. After a full minute, he spoke again almost as if Sergio were his confidante. “We must reach the boy before he is led to the sanctuary, Judas. We still have time to find him.” One gaunt hand caressed the other, and Sergio stared down at the odd habit, thinking aside from the rapes, it was probably the only human touch he enjoyed. “The boy’s parents are blind to his purpose, and his protector’s light grows dim.” Why should they care if some kid lives in the woods, Sergio wondered. What kind of threat could a little boy be? Besides, wasn’t it enough they risk getting caught kidnapping the girls he requires to impregnate? Suddenly, the old man’s hand flew across Sergio’s temple. Blood oozed from the fresh cut. “Idiot! None of those things are your concern.” Sergio watched him lick blood from the yellow nail that had swiped him. Never sure how to react when his thoughts were read, he swallowed his hatred, tried to make his mind blank, and awaited his next command. * * * SIMEON “They found it.” Father Simeon started at the sound of his own voice breaking the stillness of the chapel on the wooded Hermitage. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but the vision caused him such joy that he’d broken the rules. The grey-clad monk of a different order two pews in front of him turned to inquire in a respectful whisper, “What’s that, Father? Do you need something?” Simeon shook his head, then flicked his hand to make the concerned young monk turn back around. When the monk seemed in no hurry to obey the flickery, he bent his head back to his beads more fully ignoring him. The trouble was the other religious here held him in too high a regard. They saw a tall, sinewy, Merlin-like figure with a longish gray beard and eyes that twinkled with suspicious inner-knowledge of all their faults. Simeon had become cranky in the winter years of his long life, but those who knew him excused the rudeness as impatience for this world and longing for the next. His judgments were true and never minced with false charity. The almost accidental founding of Mount Charbel forty years previous had gained him, he felt, undeserved attention and undue respect. As a young priest he had come up here to live a solitary life of contemplation and prayer, but was eventually hounded by throngs of people looking for a guru. Mount Saint Charbel, in the hills of Maine, NY was really born of the people, not him. So even though the Marionite Order of the monk two pews ahead now owned the Hermitage, he, a cantankerous old Franciscan, was revered and coddled as its beloved founder. It was no use. He could barely concentrate after the vision. Simeon gave up on his rosary and re-slung it through the thick rope on his brown habit. Rising, the ancient bones in his knees rebelled with an embarrassing crack, and then had the gall to crack again, when he genuflected in the short aisle holding the wooden pew for support. Outside, he reclaimed his walking stick and made his way along wooded paths to a favored bench by the pond. St. Francis Lake, really a large dug out pond, was a tranquil spot, placid grey water completely surrounded by a forest of maples and pines. Brisk air nipped Father Simeon’s cheeks, and he blessed his woolen cassock. Blue sky seen through a cathedral like canopy of budding greens was turning that delicious pink azure marking the end of another day. The ducks gathered to beg crumbs the moment he sat, and Simeon reached in his robe to find the roll he’d saved for them. “They found it,” he said tearing tiny pieces of bread, “but the child is not delivered yet.” Several ducks began a skirmish over a larger chunk. “Squabblers!” he chastised and continued thinking out loud. “I don’t know where he is, or who he is. Even the boy’s protector remains unknown to me. Oh, but what I have seen! Such mercy! So many souls to be affected by just one.” His brow creased, he directed his speech to one particularly precocious duck. “It isn’t all roses you know. No, my no. Some will see his message of salvation as a threat. There is one at least who won’t easily suffer the loss of so many souls.” The big brown duck jammed his bill into Father’s hand, which in his distraction had ceased tearing crumbs. “Ow! Cheeky aren’t you?” But somehow the attack called to mind the boy’s imminent peril. Oh when would he be able to help the child reach safety? “Why show me so much,” he cried looking up, “when I can do nothing until I meet him?” But that wasn’t true. The bread gone, Father Simeon watched the ducks swim away, freed his wooden beads, and began to pray.
S I M E O N Mount St. Charbel, 1982 Whaam. Whaam. One ax followed the other, the sound of the blows chopping into the afternoon quiet of the Mount. Simeon worked alongside Ed Holmes, their tools swinging, taking turns. It was nice of the doc, Simeon thought. He was a good friend, lending a hand with anything the priest happened to be doing at the Hermitage. It wasn’t regular, wasn’t planned, but sweet as Pete he’d show up at the right time and pitch in, no questions asked, no uncomfortable can-I-help-you’s, nothing but a silent work partner for the day. This morning Simeon had been chopping, heard an ax echo his blows, looked behind him and there was Ed Holmes, short, balding, robust, and despite his heavier frame, strong as an ox. They were working to replenish the woodpile, which had to be topped off now and again, not so much to heat his modest cabin as for the chapel and the morning Mass lot. Hard to believe people would drive out here in the wilderness, freeze their buns off on logs masquerading as pews, kneel on hard planks to hear Mass by an odd ball Franciscan turned hermit, but there you go. Everyday more people were discovering Mount Charbel, 600 acres in the hills of the little town of Maine, NY. Simeon took another whack at the tree in front of him, let go of his ax and stepped over to the bucket of water getting a sloppy drink off the ladle, water dripping off his scruffy beard. “You believe it, Ed? Twelve years ago there was nothing here but woods and ponds.” “Yeah and you living in an army pup tent, saying Mass for the squirrels and deer.” “Aaannd,” Simeon winked, “they were as grateful and attentive as the fishes who heard St. Francis.” Ed stopped and came over, joined him for a noisy slurp. “Now now, Father, you can’t tell me you’re not glad to be housed in a proper cabin after three years in that tent and then that thing you called a hut.” Ed wiped his mouth on his sleeve. True enough, Simeon admitted, but only to himself. For Ed, he gave a stunted grunt. It was best not to overly encourage these do-gooders. They’d have him eating bon-bons in a chalet one day if he let them. The log cabin wasn’t the only sign of progress since he first came here. Today visitors found a rustic chapel next to the sturdy cabin, paths galore, two outhouses, and a huge donated statue of Our Lady of Peace. She stood in a clearing on the highest hill overlooking the surrounding valleys and towns praying for the world. Magnificent! And they were beginning giant crosses for the fourteen outdoor Stations. The priest watched Ed arch his back, shoving his fists into thick hips and cracking his back. They were both pushing sixty, Simeon thought taking up his ax, only he would push it right back where it belonged. Six foot three, with strong chest and arms, Simeon took a healthy bite of air and swung his ax a little higher, came down a little harder. Ed was still by the bucket. “You ah.., doing ok since those fevers and chills few weeks ago? You suffering any joint pains or fatigue recently?” “Do I look tired?” Simeon barely broke stride, but in truth Doc had touched a chord. He’d been feeling positively old for weeks. Bah, old age was for sissies, the trick is just to keep busy. Those who sit still too much and wallow, those are the ones who curl up and let age overtake them. Ed followed Father’s lead and went back to splitting logs. As he worked, Simeon pictured himself when he first came here. He was only about 45 then, when he’d begged his Order to allow him to live as a hermit on his family’s land. His superiors acquiesced, concluding time alone would be helpful to the priest, who seemed so ill-suited for the communal life of the Franciscans. At first Simeon lived in an army pup tent, alone day in and day out, spending himself in almost constant prayer. For his body as well as his spirit, the new hermit worked. He cleared areas, gathering the rocks to build stone walls, here and there, just anyplace really, and for no apparent reason. Creating nothing aside from a great outdoor altar to say Mass. Then one day he heard the Holy Spirit whisper on the wind. Wouldn’t it be wise to build a chapel? And so began his first building, elegant in its rustic simplicity, log after log, built the old-fashioned way. That’s when Ed first showed up. Came at his family’s request to check his health and pitched in that very day. Later the doc’s wife, Marge started bringing food and supplies. Eventually word spread as word does when curious behavior is afoot, and inquisitive Christians made their way to visit him, pick his brain, hear him preach, or most often just to talk about their life or why God put them here. “You hot?” Ed stopped, leaned on his ax. “As blazes,” Simeon said. “I’m losing mine, Padre. Try not to get distracted.” “Not to worry, Doc, you’re not my type.” Simeon laughed lifting his arms to free himself of his wet tee shirt. Ed’s practiced eye squinted at him. “Father, raise your right arm again. Let me see something.” “Oh, you’re impressed with my youthful physique,” the priest said raising both arms and flexing some fairly impressive muscle. “Simeon, this is serious. What is that?” Doctor Holmes reached out to examine the questionable area of a three-inch patch of rashy skin underneath his armpit, a red-ring in a bulls-eye pattern. “Doc, you’re off today.” Simeon said, reclaiming his arm, taking up his ax again. “You don’t have to look for patients among these peaceful trees. It’s nothing, a bug bite or something.” They finished chopping, drank and doused themselves with water from the creek, then commenced carrying the wood, load after load, stacking it on the pile between the chapel and the cabin. After the last load, thanks was conveyed in a pat on Ed’s thick back. Anything more, anything said would only embarrass his friend. “Father I can’t tell you how much I envy you up here, living this solitude, working, praying,” Ed said brushing bark off his jeans. “I just feel like it’s easier on the Mount, easier to hear God, you know?” “That it is, Ed. That it is.” Simeon wiped his brow and looked about wistfully. “But even I’m no island, not alone anymore. God sends more souls every day, doesn’t he? I could have gone on in solitude in that tent. Prayer was the only thing I needed. Still is. I hear Him whisper on the wind. You have to be real quiet to listen to the Holy Spirit, Ed..quiet on the inside, the kind that spills to the outside.” “I know just what you mean, Father. I, um..I’ve had that spilling over thing happen at work.” Simeon’s eyebrow lifted. “Yeah, hard to believe for a busy doctor, but once in awhile, I’ll be so united to prayer, my work so focused, my spirit real quiet like you said, my patients all become ... I don’t know brothers and sisters, even Jesus in disguise, or ..or maybe it’s like I’m healing them and they’re healing me. I don’t know how to say it, but I do get it.” Simeon scratched his tangled whiskers and looked at his treasured friend thanking God for the gift of him - all five foot three good, honest ball of muscle of him. The way he’d close his practice for a day and just show up. The way he'd work right next to you and not need to talk. Ed got it, he did. He understood how to meditate and pray while expending himself in physical labor, that effort at continual union with the Creator. Simeon felt flushed, as Doc Holmes bid him farewell for the day. He noted the worried look on Ed’s face. He’d been telling him to slow down, and Simeon had been faithfully ignoring him. Bah! Doctors were like mothers, nags and worry-warts. Dinner was easy. Someone had dropped off a bag of canned goods day before last. Simeon pulled a can off the lone shelf. Still no electricity, but those meddling devotees, he knew were all a-buzz with talk of how to make it happen on the hill. He had no control over that merry bunch of faithful followers. At the sink, Simeon pumped some water from the well into a glass. With no ice in the ice box, and in the summer no way to keep milk cold, he had to rely on powdered milk. He reluctantly stirred some of the stuff into his glass. Ed’s wife Marge was probably right about him needing calcium. He felt kind of achy lately and bone tired. Simeon swigged the concoction and followed it with the beans eating them straight from the can. From a hook on the wall he grabbed his cassock and a small towel headed to Sacred Heart Lake. It was the furthest pond, very private, surrounded by drooping pines, invigorating on a hot day, but murderously cold when the weather turned. Today the black water was exquisite and Simeon returned to the cabin refreshed. He hung his wet things on the rope line and headed for the chapel. The old screen door banged behind him as he entered pausing a second to decide if there would be enough daylight left to read his Divine Office prayers. The space was simple, not much wider than it was long, and that a mere 18 feet. It had one aisle flanked by three short rows of log benches ending in a simple hand-carved altar. A cool scent of evergreens and cut lumber wafted through the open window. No statues as yet, but there was talk, he thought grinning. Simeon genuflected and retrieved his breviary and reading glasses from a small table. Kneeling in front of the altar, the waning sun cast a glow on the shiny tabernacle as he began the Liturgy of the Hours, joining his prayers to those of his brother priests and millions of faithful around the world, all praying the same evening prayer. After the final song of praise, which Simeon actually sang in handsome Irish tenor, he fell quickly into a meditative state. In time he could feel the Spirit take over, sharing his thoughts, guiding and enveloping him in pure love, and Simeon floated pleasantly on the good and perfect Will of his Creator. In point of fact Simeon did float some twelve inches off the floor. A phenomena he guessed was happening but would not have confirmed till witnessed one day by a little Vietnamese nun. Transported in this state, Simeon steadily became aware he was looking at a hand. The hand lay flattened against the pane of a window. The sight was so out of place in his meditation, it made no sense, yet he was conscious of being outside with the hand. It was huge and beautiful. Simeon looked down – bushes, a sidewalk, it was an apartment building, and the window with the hand plastered on it was on the second story. He looked inside, he and the hand a pair of peeping Toms, seeing a bedroom, a girl’s bedroom everything covered in pink. The little girl too wore a frilly pink nightgown and couldn’t have been more than six or seven. Simeon watched her. Her head turned slowly towards the window and her eyes widened in fear. At once, the tiny head of golden waves snapped away. Clearly the hand, splayed palm side down against the pane, had frightened her. Poor thing! Was it his? Simeon pulled his own hand away, waved it in front of his face, aware he was in the chapel, even somewhat aware he was floating, but floating in two places, outside the little one’s bedroom, and here in the chapel. Bilocation? His hand was his own, he decided, not the handsome dismembered one on the pane, which ended as naturally at the wrist as if no forearm had ever been designed for it. He looked back inside. Where was she? The frilly pink bed was empty. She wasn’t by the white painted dresser or closet door. A doll lay on the bed, a white bow stuck to its head, a few boxes and bows with trailing ribbons were piled on the dresser. Was it the little one’s birthday? She returned, coming in the door leading a man by the hand to the window. Her father? “Dad, can’t you see it?” Simeon heard her say. The dad answered, yet no sound met Simeon’s ear. Still it was obvious he didn’t see the hand as he led his daughter back to bed. He was tucking her in. She looked horrified, poor child. Why wouldn’t he stay with her? The father kissed her and left. The little girl lay stone still, big green eyes squeezed shut against the image of the hand. Simeon didn’t want to scare her, but she wasn’t looking at him, she’d only seen the hand. He watched her while trying to process something. She was... chosen. She was being chosen to bear him one day! The revelation barely sank in a surge of power emanated from the hand and sailed to the figure in the little pink bed. A bright glow of light shone from the girl even as her beautiful eyes remained tightly shut against the hand and its power. But she had received it, he could feel it, see it. She was too young to reject it, too pure really, and too new to understand it. Was he, Simeon, choosing her, he wondered, or was he merely being shown that she was chosen? He wasn’t sure. Did it matter? What did matter? He struggled to think. No! He was doing it wrong, trying to capture thoughts. He had to let go in this state, empty his mind to understand the Spirit. He saw it now. She would bear a son one day.. on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. . . But what year? Not clear, or not being shown that? Again he told himself to let go. Let the spirit guide him. It came again. Her son, the son she would bear would need Simeon, need this girl, his mom, just as surely as the world needed her son. This little girl in pink, eyes tight and arms clasping her doll, would bear a great gift.. a gift to the world. “Thank God, praise the Father and Son and Spirit,” Simeon released his breath in snippets of praise. Abruptly, the hand, the pane, the pink room and the girl vanished, and Simeon was jolted away and floated on a blank canvas.. the empty white darkened, gradually opening to a new scene. The first thing he noticed was the man’s gray hair with the unexpected streak of black slicked back against angular bird-like features. The man dressed in all black, but he was no priest. Eyes closed, thin lips chanting as his body swayed. Behind him, hooded figures held long black candles, their bodies too waved in unison. The flames of the candles burned in an odd manner, seeming to shed darkness instead of light - none of that brightness or peace of the candles at church. Beyond the robed ones, he could just make out the walls, dripping water into frozen calcite popsicles..a cave. They were all in a cave. Simeon returned to the chiseled countenance of the leader, whose back faced the worshippers. Oh yes they were worshipping something powerful, but nothing worthy of praise. He stared into the undeniably handsome face and just as he did so, the eyes popped open, black and soulless. They flickered for a second, and in that instant Simeon realized the man was surprised by Simeon’s presence. The look of surprise faded, and the comely face glowered back, his mile-deep black of his eyes boring into Simeon’s. Here, he concluded was his rival, and the worst kind of enemy for her child to be. Determined to end the magnetic glare, but compelled to study those soulless eyes once more, Simeon forced himself to steel up and look a moment longer, deeper and more intense. He must have been meant to do just that. For an instant deep, deep, deep down in the pools of black, he saw the man as a little boy on a swing. A pretty middle-aged mother smiled and dutifully pushed her little boy. His jet black hair was neat and trim, his scrawny legs pumping as hard as they could, joy all over his face as he turned to look at his mom with love. “Aaarrggg!” The scream caught Simeon completely unawares, cutting through him like a sword. But just before the chilling screech made him look away and slip away, Simeon managed a smile. He sent a knowing smile straight to the evil heart of his newly discovered arch-enemy. “Now, I know you,” he whispered, “I do.” The next morning Ed Holmes held Margie’s hand as they trudged up the steep path to the chapel of the Mount. Quarter after six, they were fifteen minutes early for morning Mass, but both of them liked time to prepare. Marge was always slightly out of breath at the top, and they paused on the tiny stoned area by the front door to let her breath catch up to her short legs. She smiled sweetly, grateful for her husband’s attentiveness. She was even shorter and heavier than Ed. After ten children, her worn heart didn’t allow for exercise beyond the daily chores of raising their large family. Still Margie worked harder and longer for others than she ever would for herself, Ed thought. Her charity extended far beyond their home and unconditionally embraced everyone who came in her path. She looked towards the clothesline. “Oh Ed, look at that,” she tsked, “he didn’t use the clothespins I gave him. I told him, they’d be wrinkled.” “Now Margie, his work clothes don’t suit the squirrels any less when they’re wrinkled.” “Ed,” she slapped his arm and laughed. Inside they found nothing lit but the sanctuary light, which was odd since Father was usually there by six to say his morning office before Mass. “I’ll light the candles,” Ed whispered to Marge as she settled on the front bench. There were two candles in back on the wall, two free standing ones in front, plus the two on the altar. When all were lit, he slipped into the tiny side room, which served as a sacristy for the vestments and communion items. Ed counted six hosts from the small plastic bag to be consecrated at this morning’s Mass. If one or two more showed up Father could just break some in two. He placed the wafers in the ciborium, topped it with the paten and linen, then poured a small amount of wine. These he carried out to the altar. Still no Father Simeon. Ed knelt by Marge and both of them turned hearing the screen door. It was Joe Hand and behind him, Anita Perez. Only one more, Joy Webker would probably show up. The five of them were the usuals this summer, although once in while they saw a new face. Come the hot busy months, only a handful came to morning Mass here, although more and more were hearing about Father Simeon and learning of the Mount, so you never know. Ed checked his watch, 6:22. Marge put her hand on Ed’s wrist to see for herself, and shrugged. By 6:26 Joy came in and Marge leaned over. “Ed, maybe we should check on him.” Ed nodded and held Margie’s hand as she genuflected. Outside at Father’s cabin door, Ed knocked loudly and waited, then knocked again. He called out, “Father? Father Simeon,” heard nothing. He looked at Marge, for confirmation because he was about to invade the privacy of a priest. “Go ahead,” she said flicking her hand. Ed continued to call as he stepped inside, then he yelled to his wife who had stayed by the door. “Margie come quick!” “Sweet Mother of God!” she shouted, seeing the priest laid out flat on the plank floor. Ed was already taking his pulse. “He’s flushed with fever, unconscious.” “Should I stay with him while you go for help? You’re faster than me.” Marge said already recovering. She was great in a crisis, never fell apart in the 40 years he’d known her. “Yes, remove his sandals, wet towels, and cool him down. Start with his head-” “Eddy, it may have been 35 years ago but I think I remember how to deal with a feverish patient.” She smiled, then allowed one worried look to pass her sweet features, “Ed, do hurry.” “I will Dear, but we may see this is a blessing.. his being unconscious I mean. You know he never would have allowed us to take him to a hospital. I’ve been telling him for months, and then last month that drop-dead flu that wouldn’t let go, and yesterday -” “Later dear, tell me later.” Ed took off. It took the ambulance a full 35 minutes to get there and then find the road. Even with Joe, Anita, and Joy standing in the road trying to flag it down, it whizzed by and missed them. On the second pass, they managed to catch the driver’s attention, and ten minutes later the ambulance was racing Father Simeon to Ideal Hospital in Endicott.
Copyright ©2010-12 Carla Coon
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