Browsing Category

Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read the latest installment in our new book. If you’re just joining us, you may prefer to start at the beginning. The Introduction, which is beneficial to understanding the story, can be found here. If you would rather jump straight into the story, click here for Chapter 1.

Click on one of the following bookmarks to jump to that chapter:
Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15

Chapter 13

chapter 13

The ground around the base of the new mountain was still warm from the battle, steam rising around the crevices and fissures slowly healing from the abrupt and violent adjustment of tectonic plates. Where the ground was slightly cooler, memorials of flowers and medallions, pieces of the thousands of magic souls lost, sparkled in the dew of early morning sunlight. The population of magic souls in the home tree community more than tripled overnight as word of the council’s destruction at the hands of the troubled ones spread across the continent. Only the oldest among them could remember a sorrow as deep as what they were feeling together at this moment.

Some gathered in the bars and pubs, sharing the tales of magic lives over pints and bottles of specially-mixed healing elixirs. Others gathered outdoors in the shade of large flowers or the umbrellas of massive mushrooms that had sprung up from the tender soil overnight. Trees, having spread back to some degree to give themselves breathing spaces, saw their branches teeming with magic souls, many of whom had never ventured to the home tree. Together, they cried.

Mourning was so rare an experience among the Nawa’Diyo that few knew how to deal with the emotion. Pockets of violence popped up in isolated areas as anger over the loss overwhelmed young souls not accustomed to such strange feelings. Those who were older did their best to guide the younger ones forward through the traditions of the past but they found the rituals of seasons long ago inadequate for soothing their grief.

The largest of the memorials was around the base of the home tree where Pai’s sword seemed to drip with blood as it hovered in the air above the mounds of tributes offered to the fallen consort and counselor. No one could yet explain how he might have lost the sword intended to protect him. In the swirls of heat and black smoke, confusion had caused many to lose their bearings, becoming unsure of where they were or the closeness of the nearest troubled one. As many clamored to get out of the way, the collision of friends was inevitable. Dominant speculation held that had someone knocked the sword from Pai’s hand, even for a moment, he might not have been able to find it again in the darkness that had covered the valley. Many souls across the Nawa’Diyo had known Pai, his reputation as both a diplomat and a lover rapidly taking on the girth of legend as souls recalled their encounters with him.

While mourning lights continued to flicker around the base of the home tree, the massive oak itself had gone dark. Passageways to the throne room were shut down as no state visitors were yet allowed. Only a select few were permitted to attend to the grieving queen. Bockwimen had stationed guards outside her chamber and armed them with the strongest magic available. No entry was allowed without the queen’s explicit request, and she was making no requests.

No one could recall ever seeing Apa’ii’s countenance this dim. Even with the sun shining brightly, the souls felt the shadow from the loss of her ethereal presence. She spoke only regarding those few matters that required her specific attention. She gave to Pockwatch, whose own core was burned and chipped, the responsibility of arranging a public memorial pyre in the ancient traditions. She had asked Kuveni and Fleau, both representing large clans of magic souls, to oversee the recovery of broken cores and their identity if possible. All would be treated as heroes, martyrs to the freedom and protection of Nawa’ Diyo. Their names and legacies would be honored among magicians everywhere in every realm.

More than anything, however, Apa’ii cried. Never had she felt such a crushing pain and a sense of defeat. That the entire army of troubled ones had been disassembled was nothing to the fact that nearly 8,000 Nawa’ Diyo had died at their hands on her watch. She had not been strong enough to protect them all. She, for the first time, had not anticipated the attack. The gaps in her magic had left souls vulnerable to the wrath of the vengeful troubled ones. The losses, especially that of her dear Pai, pained her as deeply as though one of Freyr’s arrows had struck her core. Her tears were not abated as the account of each death now came to her one after the other. So heavy were the tears soaking into the whole of the home tree that moss began to grow on its bark.

Outside, Bockwimen had taken a defensive attitude, knowing that the troubled ones would not be deterred by a singular loss of such a small army. Assembling his scouts and assembling recruits, he sent them out to look for any signs of activity. If the troubled ones were to strike again, it likely would not be at the home tree. Their anger was not so much with the Nawa’ Diyo as it was with the Hantu Air. The problem was that while the two were distinctly separate realms, their physical proximity to each other was often close. Just as humans had settled near streams of water, so, too had the Nawa’ Diyo. The troubled ones had no distinction as to which realm they might attack. 

At the same time, there seemed little doubt that the Hantu Air themselves were a threat. Bockwimen did not yet have the details of Dasheng Sen’s betrayal but the troubled ones made it quite clear that what was supposed to be a diplomatic mission had turned into an assassination. If Dasheng Sen would do that to one leader, she was inherently a threat to them all and the Nawa’ Diyo would need to be ready to defend themselves against her and the magic of the water realm.

Nawa’ Diyo had not maintained a standing army since the Dark Ages of humans and Bockwimen alone did not have the authority to raise one. While he felt certain that Apa’ii would give such an order once the period of mourning had passed, he could not in good conscience wait before making sure they would have the support they needed from the clans with the strongest history of warfare. Remembering who had stood with him prepared for the final attack, he went looking for Arviss and was not surprised to find him in a pub with a pitcher of grog. What did surprise him was that the dwarf was alone.

“I bring you greetings,” Bockwimen said as he sat down opposite the councilor. He looked quickly around the pub before asking. “Are your brothers not here with you this morning?”

Arvis shook his head, his hair frayed and his beard unbraided. I sent them home to recover,” he said in a quiet voice that belied his character. “Their injuries are many and the magic they need lies in our mountain, not here. I will stay through the mourning and then I will join them.” He paused long enough to take a drink from the pitcher in his hand. “I suppose you’ve come to inquire about weapons for the coming war.”

“Simply how long it might take for them to be ready. I don’t expect you’ve had cause for maintaining any stockpile,” the scout answered.

Arviss shook his head. “We do have old weapons lying around of course, but they’re not gonna do you any good. I singed my beard in the heat those giants brought to the battle. You will need something more than catapults and magic swords to defeat them. We have to be able to put out their fire without getting so close that ya’ might be burned.”

“You have such a weapon?” Bockwimen asked hopefully.

“No,” Answered Arviss abruptly. “Why would we need such a weapon before now?”

“But you can create one, can’t you?” the scout asked.

“Meh, there’s a chance we might can conjure up somethin’,” Arviss said dryly. “I can’t say how enthused my brothers and kin might be ‘bout firin’ up the kiln and all. As much as you know I like war’s ability to generate a profit, we’ve all become rather accustomed to this whole manner of peace.” Pausing for another drink and then wiping his face with the back of his sleeve, he added, “They’ll be upset, of course, when they see the injuries my brother’s take home w’ ‘em. When they hear the story, though, how it was that dammed Hantu Air queen that caused the whole mess, they’re likely to be more interesting in going after her than messin’ w’ the troubled ones.”

“But you can’t think that the troubled ones would attack once and then leave us alone do you?” Bockwimen challenged. “All our communities are at risk and we must be able to protect them.”

Arviss was not moved. “Try to look at this from the perspective of those who ‘aven’t had the protection of the home tree their entire lives. We’ve had a lot thrown at us. First, the humans are gettin’ all aggressive an’ it turns out they know ‘bout us. Then we’re told that the shifting poles are changing the magnetic fields and our magic may not work. That was enough right there to overwhelm the most of us. But then, the water queen betrays us all, assassinates the leader of the troubled ones, an’ there ya’ go, we’re at war on so many differen’ fronts we don’ know which direction to shoot first. An’ then ya’ come to me, of course, lookin’ for weapons that can fight off vengeance at the same time. Can ya’ see how my kin might be a li’l reluctant to get involved? We’ve fought wars against other magicians an’ we won. We’ve fought wars against humans and’ that was more of a draw. Now, you’re takin’ on both at the same time an’ I’m not sure any of us are quite ready for that.”

The dwarf took a deep breath. He could see the desperation and fear in Bockwimen’s eyes. The dwarves had been loyal to Apa’ii for too many seasons to back out of the challenge now. “Tell ya’ what I’ll do. I’ll talk to my kin ‘bout weapons to use against the troubled ones and the Hantu Air. We know magic an’ how to fend it off better than anyone. Fighting humans, though, you’re gonna have to find someone else. We jus’ don’ have it in us to do everythin’. I won’t put my brothers and my kin under that kind of strain. We’re not the only weapon makers in the realm, ya’ know.”

Bockwimen leaned forward and spoke softly. “Are you suggesting I go to the elves?”

Arviss sat back, his eyes wide as though he were facing some great horror. “Good Barthardy, no!” he exclaimed, pounding a fist on the table. “Ya’ cannot trust elven magic in the hands of anyone but elves. Freyr’s li’l trick with the arrows wouldn’a worked even w’ out the queen’s curse on ‘em. Ya’ jus’ don’ go ‘round givin’ elven weapons to random souls. Unpredictable things happen when ya’ do that. No, I think there are others whose magic is a wee bit more stable. Maybe talk to ol’ Aapo, the alux, if you can find him. He and Ohdow neither one like bein’ seen all that much but they carry powerful magic that might be useful against the humans. An’ if ya’ need to build stuff, no one better than Ali’i an’ his clan. Easy enough to find. Jus’ wave around a banana. He’ll come runnin’. An’ if ya’ get desperate, there’s always Leanan an’ her kin.”

“Hasn’t she been banned from contact with humans?” Bockwimen asked.

“Aye,” Arviss said with a smile. “An’ for good enough reason, too, that’s why she an’ her clan make for a good backup plan. They’ll have humans doing themselves in before ya’ know it.”

Bockwimen drummed his fingers on the wood table as he considered his options. “Do you suppose they could pull back just a bit, distract humans without driving them to a fateful death?”

Arviss shrugged his broad shoulders. “I dunno. Their charms don’ affect magic folk. An’ they haven’t been allowed in the human world in so long it could well be that their wiles are not as effective as they use ta’ be. The question ya’ gotta ask yourself is are ya’ desperate enough to find out?”

Light inside the pub visibly dimmed as dark skies announced the arrival of Queen Belinda. As smaller souls rushed to the windows to catch a glimpse of the air queen. Arviss leaned across the table and softly said, “Don’ discount what the sylphids bring to a fight, either. Belinda is heir to the power of Zeus. When it comes to fighting the water magicians, she’s a powerful ally and is going to bring some weapons to the table that we’ve never seen. The only real question here is whether Queen Apa’ii is gonna do somethin’ this time or if she’s sittin’ on her hands again?”

Bockwimen shook his head. “I don’t know. She was crying most the night, more than I’ve ever seen her grieve before. Other times, she wants to talk through her pain. This time she sent everyone away. I hardly know what to expect from her. Apa’ii has always risen above her emotion. This may be the one time she’s not able to do so.”

“Might be a blessin’,” Arvis said as he finished off his grog. “Mix her sense of strategy with a little anger and this who war might be over before any new weapons are needed. We all need a little righteous motivation from time to time. Queen Apa’ii is one soul I trust to turn her anger and pain into somethin’ powerful.”

Bockwimen nodded and stood. “I should go. Please carry a message back to your clan. Any way they can help is appreciated.”

“Aye, that,” Arviss said. “I’ll let ‘em know ya’ asked for them specific like. They’ll like that.”

Hard rain was falling as Bockwimen stepped outside the pub. He looked toward the home tree and noticed it was glowing orange. Apa’ii was agitated. It was going to be a long day.

Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Brad Lofton was scrolling through a social media feed on his cell phone with his right hand while absent-mindedly spilling coffee from a green ceramic USGS mug onto his white shirt with his left hand when Nadia Rabentix walked over and gave him a blank stare that made the 46-year-old feel uncomfortable no matter what he was doing. “What’s up?” he asked, hoping he sounded sufficiently casual. Nadia was a brilliant scientist who also happened to be extremely attractive, the latter having led her to file multiple sexual harassment complaints with HR, causing many in the office to avoid interacting with her at all. Brad was micro-examining every interaction he had with her.

“NOAHH just called. They’re wanting to know if we recorded any seismic activity in Northeast Pennsylvania over the past 24 hours,” she said flatly.

“I assume you looked,” Brad said as he realized the mess he’d made of his shirt.

“Yes, obviously,” Nadia said, perturbed that she didn’t seem to have Brad’s full attention. “Nothing is showing on any of our monitors.”

Brad sat down his coffee mug on the closest desk and looked around desperately for something to blot the stain on his shirt. “Okay, that’s not surprising. You’ve called them back?”

Carol Waters, whose desk was hosting Brad’s coffee cup, handed him a stack of fast food napkins she kept in a drawer for random emergencies. 

Nadia waited a moment, giving Brad time to vainly attempt to scrub the stain. When it seemed apparent that his actions were not producing the desired result, she said, “Brad, they’re saying a new igneous formation, what they’re calling a mountain, appeared overnight. Our instruments show no plate movement of any kind, we’ve got no public report of any kind, and there are none of the other natural phenomena that should occur with such a disruption, but I’ve looked at the satellite imagery from this morning’s pass and there’s definitely something there.”

Brad stopped wiping and said, “Then we need eyes. Grab a team and go take a look.”

“Excuse me?” Nadia replied, caught off guard by Brad’s seemingly dismissive instruction.

Brad tossed the napkin into Carol’s waste can before explaining. “You’ve been wanting to do more fieldwork, right? And this could be one of the most important events of our lifetime. There’s a reason satellite shows a change our instruments didn’t pick up. The weather in that region has been stormy the past few days so I expect it to be some combination of the storms causing deforestation and probably taking our equipment offline or something to that effect. But if that’s not the case, this could be something for the history books. You’re the best geologist in the division. Put together your dream team and see if you can be out there by tomorrow morning. I’ll sign off on any equipment you want to take.”

Nadia smiled at the assignment. Brad reached to pick up his coffee mug and bumped his elbow on the corner of Carol’s cubicle, sloshing coffee onto his khaki pants and her desk. She reached for more napkins as Brad grumbled, “I might as well go back home.”

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

We don’t have to do this now,” Belinda said as she watched Apa’ii pacing back and forth across the floor of the throne room. “I’m sure we can wait until after the pyre memorial. No one expects you to have an immediate response.”

“That’s exactly why we need one,” Apa’ii answered, her tone serious as a deep orange aura glowed from her countenance. “We have to get out in front of this now before it overwhelms us. The dangers are too many and the number of souls at risk too real. I’ve already sent Bomenak to retrieve those settled in the high desert and I’m concerned that I only sent the young elf with him. I should have given him a battalion of magicians.”

“Dasheng Sen has gone quiet,” Belinda said. “I don’t understand why she would want to start such a conflict now, at a time where her own magic is less powerful than it was. Why start a war that she doesn’t have the strength to fight?”

“Why start a war at all?” Apa’ii answered back. “How are any of us supposed to respond to the humans if we cannot trust each other? The only reasonable way to deal with them is in concert. We need the power of the waters. She has a much at stake as either of us. Her actions have no logic to them at all.”

“Especially when she was such an active participant in our plan to address the human problem,” Belinda added. “I’m not sure any of it is salvageable without her being involved. Her betrayal puts us more on the defensive than is going to make anyone comfortable. Few of our souls are going to agree to any aggressive activity against humans if they’re having to watch their backs for attacks from the troubled ones or the Hantu Air,” Apa’ii mused. “We have spent many seasons teaching our souls how to resolve our differences through dialog and peaceful compromise. Where there have always been those like Bogmenak and Gui that disagree with those concepts, those precepts have prevented us from having any significant conflicts for some 5,000 seasons. The number of souls we have with any practical knowledge on war are all older, too old to be taking to any kind of battlefield. Many of our younger souls don’t know the defensive spells to keep themselves safe from the kinds of attacks the troubled ones bring. Fewer have any knowledge of attack or offensive spells and how to use them effectively. I fear we could lose many souls from the misapplication of our magic. And that’s assuming our magic works at all.”

Belinda rolled clouds around her as thunder shook the home tree. Neither queen was sure what to do and both were feeling pressure from their subjects to do something to avenge the deaths caused by the troubled ones. The anxiety and frustration caused by the lack of choices left them both feeling angry.

Apa’ii suddenly twirled around and faced the jeweled door. Her countenance turned blood red and she brought it low so that none outside the room would know the concern she was feeling. “We have an unexpected guest wandering the community,” she said quietly. “One that shouldn’t be here.”

Belinda’s clouds darkened even more and outside the tree, the clouds were so heavy as to nearly blot out all light from the sun. Sylphids who had come with their queen took this as a sign of danger and went on guard, ready for trouble. Nawa’ Diyo, understandably anxious from the attack, left their mourning lights, and rushed to places of safety, casting protection spells around them as they went.

“He has broken the conditions of his exile,” Belinda said softly.

“Or someone decided to set him free,” Apa’ii countered.

“Or the magic holding him in exile simply stopped working,” a deep voice growled behind them.

The queens turned, immediately tossing up defensive shields around them. There, smack center in the throne room stood Ulaf, the Elbenkönig, dressed in flowing black robes surrounded by a putrid black smoke that smelled of burning sulfur. He was tall and gaunt, handsome despite his severe age. His blonde-silver hair flowed behind him almost to the floor. His beard fell to his knees. From the dark hollows on his face, his eyes glowed red. For one to be inescapably suave, the Elbenkönig leader was a frightful sight.

“Imagine me walking along the edge of that pitifully little realm you gave us and discovering that the delightful little shield that kept us hidden from the world, preventing us from doing our will and keeping the humans in check, was, poof, suddenly gone,” Ulaf said, gesturing dramatically with his hands. 

“I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought perhaps one of you were playing some kind of trick on us,” he continued. “I tossed a few pebbles across the boundary to make sure, and then a few boulders, and, okay, I may have caused an avalanche on one of those mountains with all the snow on them. But once I was sure that our prison had been lifted, that our exile was no more, I hurried here as quickly as I could, dear Apa’ii, knowing you would be oh so glad to see me!”

Ulaf laughed at himself then looked up. “I certainly didn’t expect to run unto you, Belinda. Since when have you and your Sylphids started hanging around the earth-bound? That seems so very unlike you. Oh, you’ll want to know that the valkyries wasted no time returning home. I dare say they’re probably very unhappy with the state of the skies and the lack of honorable war. How you both have managed to make such a mess of things in a mere, what has it been, 2800 or so seasons? My, time does fly when one is in exile.”

Apa’ii pulled herself up to her full height, flashing white-hot light that pulsed through the home tree. “We will find a new place for you and your demon-kind,” she warned. “We will not have you running loose, wreaking havoc and endangering our existence. I know a mountain range far in the East that is well suited for you and your allies.” She drew back her hand, ready to cast Ulaf, the valkyries, and all the exiled souls back into prison. 

Ulaf held up his hands in defense and shouted, “Hold on there, dear queen. Before you go slinging your magic around, perhaps you might consider the possibility that you need us, that you need me to help you with this mess that you’ve gotten yourself into. I know how Dashen Sen betrayed you. The new has spread all over the magic realms. The waters of the far East are already boiling with activity and the mer have begun to rise from the depths. Great trouble is coming and the only way to combat trouble is with trouble and no one knows trouble better than the Elbenkönig, am I not right?

“Oh, and how are your troubled ones? I hear they’re a tad bit upset after their leader was so brutally assassinated. We both know they don’t care who did the assassination, they will come for every magician they can find and they will smash all our cores into dust. Do you think the two of you can take on both the troubled ones and the entire realm of Hantu Air by yourselves? I am the only one who can help you defeat Dasheng Sen. You need a certain kind of magic, that beautifully dark brand of elven magic, that only we possess. We would both do so much better as allies rather than enemies, don’t you think?”

“We will not be persuaded to return to the ways of the past!” Apa’ii roared. “There is no longer any room here for your deceit and trickery. We cannot allow you and the Elbenkönig and the valkyries to run your murderous rampage over the realm of the humans. Things have changed. Humans have changed. They are a threat to our existence, the existence of everything on this sacred ground. They no longer hold the honor of the ancient kings. They don’t even care about the destruction of their own lives, much less ours. They will not fear your tactics as they did before. They have a magic of their own now and if you make yourself and your kind known to them, especially in any way that appears threatening, they will hunt you down and disassemble each one of you so that they might mix your magic with their magic to dominate the planet and bring an end to everything that is not human. Too much has changed, Ulaf. You are better off, safer, to remain hidden in exile.”

Ulaf smiled and took a cautious step forward. “But, your majesty, do you not think that we, too have changed over the many seasons? We have gone this entire time without the taste of blood in our mouths and I dare say we would find it offensive now, as you do. We can fit within the culture and environment of the current time, I promise you.

“Let me make a proposition, if I may. The Nawa’ Diyo has never been all that aggressive. Even in days of old, you have urged restraint, have you not? Yes, you protected them and us, during the great wars, but you never did go for the ultimate kill. You don’t have it in you. That’s why you put us in exile rather than incinerate our cores as some suggested.” He threw a side glance up at Belinda who rumbled strongly in return.

“So, why not let us be your army? I pledge to you, my queen, we would do only your biding, but we would do it with greater efficiency, and more frugality, than your little-winged subjects. You need souls that can put fear where there needs to be fear and action where there needs to be action. Give us your charge, my queen, and this war shall be yours.”

Apa’ii looked at Belinda, who nodded her consent. Neither of them was foolish enough to trust Ulaf without strict boundaries. The bloodings legacy of the Elbenkönig and the valkyries were well known and their renewed presence after so many seasons in exile would be a matter of concern for all the Nawa’ Diyo. Still, there was no denying that, if controlled, they would make a powerful army at a time when every available resource was needed.

“We need time to consider your offer,” Apa’ii said, maintaining the strength of her voice. “You will all return to exile while we complete our mourning and prepare a strategy that represents our best interest. I give you my world and my oath. Go peacefully now and we will give you a reasonable hearing within five sunsets. Choose your words and your actions well. We must be certain that you are loyal to all Nawa’Diyo, that you will respect our laws, and that you will do no harm to the magic souls of land and air.”

Ulaf nodded and bowed in consent. Apa’ii quickly performed the complex spell that would keep all the Elbenkönig and valkyries in a new mountain exile until they were called upon. The valkyries were especially unhappy with Ulaf’s arrangement as they were curious as to the ways of modern humans but agreed to abide by whatever plan the queens established.

When the throne room was again clear, Belinda turned to apa’ii and asked, “DO you dare to dance with the devil that caused our realms so much pain?” Dare we trust that their blood lust has been abated?”

“Do you trust your own souls?” Apa’ii asked in return. “There are many among us who once fed off the blood and bones of humans. They have evolved and adapted for their own safety. We exiled the Elbenkönig many seasons ago and have left them there to their own devices, to either survive without human flesh or to not and die. Obviously, they did not die.”

“But is that enough reason to trust them?” Have they ever had it in them to be loyal to anyone other than themselves?” Belinda asked. “I don’t trust Ulaf and I certainly don’t trust the valkyries. I’m sure they will have figured out that Odin is dead and Vallhalla is no more. They will want answers from the humans. Never have I known them to be creatures of mercy. If we allow them freedom I cannot expect them to be kind or cooperative.”

“Perhaps kind and cooperative is no longer the qualities we need,” Apa’ii said as she took a seat on her throne and spread her robes around her. “Sit here with me and together let us take counsel on the matter. We should not rely only on what we can see. We will mourn and we will then plan. Our problems continue to grow and we cannot dare to wait long before taking an action that changes the balance between humans and magicians. We have a sacred responsibility to save this earth at any cost. We cannot afford to not consider all the options, even those that may seem to defy our purpose.”

Outside, the home tree once again sparkled with the soft yellow glow of Apa’ii sitting on her throne. The Nawa’ Diyo resumed their activities confident in their queens’ power to protect them and blissfully unaware of the dangers they would soon encounter.

Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read the latest installment in our new book. If you’re just joining us, you may prefer to start at the beginning. The Introduction, which is beneficial to understanding the story, can be found here. If you would rather jump straight into the story, click here for Chapter 1.

Click on one of the following bookmarks to jump to that chapter:
Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

At the base of a 400-year-old oak tree, in a pub overgrown with moss and leaves, Bogmenak sat alone at a table drinking a local ale that he wasn’t particularly enjoying. The morning’s council meeting had not gone the way he wanted. He had not been able to talk nearly as much as he would have liked and when someone seemed to share his anti-human views, they hadn’t appreciated his support. The committee to which he had been assigned had given him leave, saying they were already well aware of his opinion. He sat at the pub quietly fuming to himself, sure that the council would once again fail to take any substantive action. There were too many councilors who were against violence and almost as many who still felt that humans should be ignored. Either opinion, in his view, would lead to certain destruction. He liked the stance of the Hantu Air and the Sylphids, but neither queen nor anyone in their entourage would acknowledge him.

A couple of tables away to Bogmenak’s left sat a rather young and tall soul of elvish descent dressed in a hooded coat, his face turned away from the light as he hunched over the table. Bogmenack had noticed the young one when he came in—elves were difficult to miss for many reasons. For Bogmenak, what bothered him most was their smell, which was too sweet and too close to that of European flowers for the desert dweller’s liking. He might have moved further away to avoid the stench, but this elf was a hybrid, bark covering his forearm and shins, so his fragrance wasn’t quite as bad.

Deep into his thoughts and the third pint of ale, Bogmenak had all but forgotten the elf was present when the young one stood up and walked softly over to his table. “You’re one of the desert councilors aren’t you?” he asked. “My name’s Freyr, from the land along the sea known as Gahada. I heard your speech to the council this morning. I like what you had to say and would like to talk with you if you don’t mind.” The young soul pushed back the white-blonde bangs that had fallen onto his slender face, hiding his well-chiseled features.

“Shouldn’t you be in another meeting about now, Councilor Freyr?” Bogmenak asked bruskly without looking up.

“I would ask the same of you,” Freyr said as he helped himself to a seat and leaned in closely. “I don’t think the committees like what either one of us has to say”

“I don’t think the committees like how you smell, elf,” Bogmenak shot back. “Feel free to back yourself up so that fragrance isn’t quite so intense.”

Freyr sat up slightly and adjusted the bow slung across his back. “I just know our opinions are not popular among most in the council. I was hoping we might form our own alliance so that we can be heard.”

“I’m heard,” Bogmenak countered. “I’m rarely heeded, but no one says Bogmenak is never heard. I don’t need any help in that department, especially from an elf.”

Freyr turned back toward the shadows and said, “So, you’re no different than the others, all talk, no action. You enjoy big drama but you won’t risk getting your magic dirty.”

Bogmenak responded angrily by tossing a barbed tumbleweed at the back of the elf’s head. Freyr deftly blocked the attack, causing the crumbled pieces to land in Bogmenak’s ale. The grumpy magician pounded a fist on the table and growled, “If we were not in a public space I’d pummel you, you arrogant snot dripper!”

“To no avail, old soul. I am of royal birth, my magic is greater than yours without me even trying,” Freyr said with his back still turned.

Bogmenak fumed, “Royal? Then what in the name of hadeivas hotweh are you doing in here complaining about being heard? You have passage to the queen, do you not?”

Freyr shook his head. “I renounced all traces of royalty; it is an outdated and ridiculous system of which we have no need. All manner of magic souls deserves to lead and have their voices heard, not just those born to privilege.” He re-adjusted his bow as he stood up. “If you are not interested in the overthrow of the queen, then I will go elsewhere.”

Bogmenak reached up and grabbed the young one’s coat, forcing him back to his seat. “Wait one damn minute. You didn’t tell me anything about usurping Apa’ii. You have a plan?” The councilor looked around cautiously. “And keep your voice down if you do. She is quite popular in these parts.”

Freyr looked over his shoulder, shifted his bow, and lowered his voice. “Queen Apa’ii only enjoys popularity here in the home tree. Everywhere else, magic souls are languishing. They have complained about gaps in their magic for many seasons. Only now, when it threatens the home tree, does she notice or bother to care. She has ignored their pleas for help, disregarded the human destruction of their sacred magic places, and given them no aid or assistance to fight off human aggression. Apa’ii is weaker than she realizes. Magic souls are ready to rise up. All they need is a strong leader. I was hoping that  might be you.”

Bogmenak smiled, or, at least, the bristles around his mouth moved upward. He knew the dissatisfaction of the desert souls but was unaware that others felt the same. This was an opportunity worth considering. “How many in number do you think would follow?” he asked.

Freyr shrugged. “Certainly all those who live East and South of the mist. They have seen the humans turn their sacred spaces into lakes and amusement parks. Yet, Apa’ii’s edicts keep them from fighting back. They are ready to revolt. I do not know about those around Amaligme and Gowaneh, the great rivers. There are fewer places for one to hide as I travel Westward. Those in the desert you know well, of course, and I was quite surprised to hear that the pixiemandalons helped anyone with anything. They’ve been uncooperative on every level for many seasons. The magic souls out there are more independent and I’m not sure they would give the slightest heed to anything the council might say.”

Bogmenack considered the elf’s analysis. He knew of those allies in the desert he had cultivated. He hadn’t spent enough time traveling to know the political environment elsewhere. He was only mildly surprised to hear that dissatisfaction with the crown was widespread. Many thought Apa’ii was too old and needed to be replaced with someone younger. Others were ready to ditch the concept of a monarchy completely. Freyr was one of them and was likely influential among elves of his generation. As many times as Bogmenak had tried to unseat Apa’ii and failed, it seemed as though this current situation offered him his best opportunity yet. “How many of the council’s votes do you think we can sway?” he asked Freyr.

The elf looked up, having been mindlessly playing with a feather he had found on the floor. “Easily? A third. With some mild persuasion, more than half.” He twirled the feather between his palms then added, “I’m not sure that council votes necessarily matter, though. Many would just as soon disband the council. Even if the council adopts the queens’ proposal, there are more than enough magicians willing to act against it. I wouldn’t consider the council a deterrent.”

“What you’re telling me is that the magic realm is ripe for a revolution,” Bogmenak said carefully.

“No, phrase it that way and no one will go along with you,” Freyre said. “They want a change in leadership and then want to be left alone. They want to know that there’s unity when humans do something globally stupid, but they’re tired of the queen holding them back, especially when they look at the Hantu Air and Sylphids and see the freedoms they have.”

“But, for all their talk, neither the Hantu Air nor the Sylphids have been effective in their assaults, have they?” Bogmenak challenged. “Using their tactics and strategies could be dangerous.”

Freyr tossed the feather into the air then used a touch of magic to drive its quill deep into the top of the wooden table. “No one’s asking to repeat someone else’s failures. We simply want the freedom to deal with humans on their own, to address problems as they happen without needing the approval of a committee or a council.”

“That could lead to chaos,” Bogmenak warned. “Of course, I tend to like chaos, it can be rather useful at times.”

“What it could lead to is rule by magic rather than rule by humans. A return to the natural order, the way it was intended,” Freyr said softly. He stood up again, pulled his hood down over his face, and adjusted his bow yet again. “Think about it when you vote tomorrow. Nothing the queen proposes is going to pass on the first vote. Your opportunity is in that moment.”

No one in the pub seemed to notice as the elf slipped out the door. Bogmenak sat there wondering whether fate had granted him victory or insured his final defeat.

Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Deep in the hollow of the home tree were a number of rooms any one of which was impossibly larger than the massive tree itself. Magic used within the tree had allowed the boundaries of space and, when necessary, time to be altered to fit the needs of the moment. This particular moment called for a room with a high ceiling and a large lake to accommodate the visiting queens. As they arrived, they each filled their space and made themselves comfortable.

As Belinda spread across the top of the room she asked, “Do you think I came on too strong? I feel a bit bad about scattering your little ones like that.”

Dashan Sen eased into the waiting water and gave a deep sigh. “I think the Nawa’ Diyo have a whole new respect for all of us. The entire display was quite dramatic, even for us.”

Apa’ii smiled, filling the room with light. “As was predicted. Don’t worry about the little ones. They’re not nearly as fragile as they look nor as needy as they sometimes pretend. No one in the council needs applause in order to survive. What you did was guarantee that when we present a united plan in the morning there will be little dissent.”

“You don’t think Bogmenak or Gui will try to pull some kind of trick?” Dasheng Sen asked. “They both seem to have some disagreements with your current administration.” She paused and changed her form to that of a lovely flaxen-haired mermaid. “I’ve had similar issues with both the mer and the sprites from time to time. They can make a unified assault rather difficult.”

“And how do you think they’ll respond to our plan this time?” Belinda asked. “The magicians of the air seemed skeptical whether we can all actually work together. There are reasons for our realms being separate.”

“Those reasons are still valid,” Apa’ii said calmly. “These are special circumstances. Once we have everything back in line and the humans under control, we go back to our natural boundaries I don’t think it is within any of us to maintain the level of energy we’re going to need to make this work. Humans have developed a fearful habit of ignoring anything subtle from nature. They see the changes taking place, they can calculate the dangers that their actions pose, yet they do little, if anything, to change their habits. They put their comfort and convenience above everything else.”

“It’s not like we haven’t tried to warn them,” Belinda said. “By the way, Dasheng, those have been some incredibly impressive tsunamis you’ve been tossing around of late.”

Dasheng Sen smiled at the compliment. “Thank you. If only they did any good. Even when thousands of humans die at our hands, they mourn their loss for only a couple of sunsets and then go back to doing the same thing they were doing before. Those waves are getting more difficult to produce. The disturbance to our marine friends is severe and they are less inclined to be cooperative at the moment.”

Apa’ii changed her countenance to a calming blue-green. Her powers didn’t affect her counterparts in the same way as they did her subjects. Neither queen could be manipulated so easily. The mood change was still appreciated and the royal majesties basked in their momentary isolation.

“My only concern,” Apa’ii said after a long moment, “is the troubled ones. I know you saw them deep in the shadows. They were there and listening, something they’ve not done before. That tells me there is fear and a loss of magic among them as well. I do not expect them to respond in any manner we would consider rational. Where our efforts are strategic and calculated, their response is likely to be more severe. Where they see an opportunity, they’re almost certainly going to take it and I have practically no control over them. They are not pure Nawa’ Diyo. My magic only holds them for so long.”

“If your magic can’t hold them is there anyone who can?” Dasheng asked, obviously concerned.

Apa’ii’s answer was perhaps a bit more honest than comfortable. “I don’t know. We’ve never done anything to push them beyond my limits. I’ve always been able to talk them down when matters have become critical, but we could be opening a whole new door for them by allowing the use of magic unfiltered in the human world. I can’t imagine them not taking advantage of that.”

“But they’re susceptible to the magnetic fields as well, aren’t they?” Belinda asked. “If we’re having trouble, they are, too. Isn’t that was you said? How do we know they are not losing powers as fast or faster than we are?”

Apa’ii paced in slow, gentle circles. “You may be correct. Many of our councilors as well as home tree advisors say they were being chased through the mist. That’s an old trick they’ve not used in a few hundred seasons. Before, and mind you, this was back during the great wars, they would sneak up on those in the mist, chase them down, and steal their powers, or at least, the energy from their powers. I don’t recall there being anyone we couldn’t restore but it was still a frightening experience. That they caught no one while chasing many may be a hint that their power is waning. At the same time, I don’t know that they would be here if they weren’t in crisis already. They’ve always turned down invitations to join the council.”

“Who is their leader?” Dasheng asked. “Perhaps now might be a good time to talk with them, give them a choice so that we have some idea what to expect.”

“Our scouts were able to verify twenty-seven troubled ones in our mist this morning,” Apa’ii answered, “and none of them was their leader. His name is Wasnogai. He rarely leaves their mountain base. Going there is a bit trepidatious, no matter who one is. He doesn’t treat guests especially well.”

“If we went together?” Belinda suggested. “If he had spies in the mist I’m sure they caught our ferocious act and have reported how ‘angry’ we are with each other.”

“Or he might see our union as an attack and respond accordingly before we get there,” warned Dasheng. “Besides, those mountain areas are a bit on the dry side this season. I might have some challenges myself.”

Apa’ii twirled as she thought, casting off a spectrum of light that caused the two others to shield their eyes from the brightness. There was a lot at stake and while making a trip to elicit help from Wasnogai made sense, it also came with significant danger to all of them. A surprise visit would put him on the defensive. If they announced themselves, he would have time to set a trap. The trap would fail, of course, but it would be time-consuming and potentially dangerous to any soul nearby

When she stopped spinning, she looked up at Belinda and asked. “You’ve had dealings with Wasnogai before, haven’t you?” How did that go?”

Belinda stirred the clouds around her as she remembered the occasion. “It was not one I would wish to repeat,” she said as thunder rolled behind her. “He creates storms almost as strong as any sylphid. Our encounter came on account of him chasing after sylphids as they passed over the mountains. He carries a wicked whip and he would use it to strip lightning from our souls as they passed, giving them nothing to announce their wind and rain, making our own storms more dangerous for animals who respond appropriately to the lightning.

“When I tried to visit him, he built a great fire, sending a thick, black smoke up into my face. When I blew it out, he stomped hard with his massive feet, sending ember up into my clouds. I would send heavy rain and he would dam the runoffs and use the pools to shoot water spouts in my direction. We fought like this for three days, his troubled ones fighting just as hard alongside him as my sylphids did their best to keep them in check. By the time I finally wore him down there were new carvings in the mountains from all the erosion and a new river ran down into the desert. I don’t want to think how many souls might have been damaged in the process. Our magic was so strained that we could do little more than blow hot air for the next two seasons. I’m not up to another battle like that, not with the magic being unreliable.”

“So, our best chance is to catch him off guard,” Dasheng said, more to herself than anyone. She jumped into the lake for a moment then returned in a darker form with soft skin like that of marine mammals, a necklace of seashells around her neck, and black tentacles that held her up on the level as Apa’ii. “How many souls live in the valley nearest his mountain?”

“About 15 million,” Apa’ii answered. It’s a favorite place this time of season. They like making the mountain plants bloom.”

Dasheng Sen smiled a most wicked smile, the kind of smile that devils smile as they’re dragging a soul into the fires of destruction. “Leave him to me,” she said with a growl. “I’m betting a resident of the high dry country doesn’t know how to swim. Have your souls evacuate to neighboring valleys and I’ll have an answer from him before we meet in the morning.”

The queens howled with laughter so loud that the leaves of the home tree shook. Magic souls from the outside worried that the earth might be starting to move. Those inside the tree held on as the walls and floors around them trembled. Never had they heard such a sound coming from the center of the tree.

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Pai was sitting on a limb just over half-way up he home tree watching the sunset and relaxing after a day full of meetings in which it was his job to represent the queen’s interests and uphold her point of view. That she had committed to a unified approach across all the realms made it easier for him to calm those who were panicking and back down those favoring a radical response. By the time resolutions were agreed upon and sent to the queen, he felt certain that the morning would see a peaceful joint resolution and that the worries of the day would soon enough dissolve into nothing as so many worries had done before.

Reclining against a cluster of trees, the queen’s consort had let his mind wander along the lines of pleasurable endeavors when Pockwatch flew up and landed on the branch near him. The senior advisor looked worn and worried as he approached. “You don’t look as though you fared too well, my friend,” Pai said a bit more cheerfully than his guest might have appreciated. “Please, have a seat and rest yourself. I can conjure some refreshment if you like.”

Pockwatch took a seat on a separate cluster of leaves but held up his hand to refuse refreshment. “I’m happy to rest my worn core for a moment, he said, “but relaxing with refreshment is not enticing right now. Tell me, how sure are you of our committee votes on the queen’s resolution for tomorrow? Did you leave sensing unity or discard?”

Pai thought a moment before answering, looking up at the darkening sky as though his response might be on a passing cloud. “There were certainly some contentious moments,” he eventually replied. “I thought at the time we had ended in full agreement but your question has me second-guessing my assessment. I may not have been as objective as thought. So, I can’t say for sure that they are truly united. Maybe some supported the recommendation so they could get out of the meeting and on to other things.” He paused again and then added, “I assume you ask because you are aware of some dissension. What is it you have heard?”

Pockwatch leaned back and crossed his legs. As dusk settled into night, the twinkling presence of the milky way filled the skies with color, creating a sense of calm and wonderment. “Not so much what I’ve heard but what I’ve seen. Our younger councilors feel too safe when they’re here around the home tree and don’t take care to watch their steps. Freyr, the young elvish hybrid from Gahada was talking with Bogmenak earlier. They seemed to be making some sort of deal, though exactly what I can’t say. Freyr then spent the rest of the day visiting with members of every committee. He seemed welcome everywhere he went. He has a dashing and somewhat charismatic demeanor to him that the smaller ones especially find attractive. One might get the impression that he was trying to build a coalition of disagreement among the councilors.”

Pai chuckled and sat up enough to show a level of interest that was not yet sincere. “Isn’t there always some young, good-looking upstart who thinks they have a better idea? You’ve seen how Apa’ii deals with them. They forget that there are no secrets around the home tree. She picks up on dissent quickly and uses her powers to stop it. When have you ever known of such a plan making it to the council floor?”

Pockwatch nodded, aware that Pai was dismissing his concerns. “You’re right, the queen’s magic is powerful and what she gets from the tree’s neural network alone should be enough to make us all watch our words carefully. Tell me, though, do you know of any spells that might block the queen’s powers to any degree? Or, perhaps, something that might give her false information, cause her to think everything is well when it isn’t?”

That question was enough for Pai to sit up completely and consider the possibility. He had known the queen for many seasons and seen her combat many challenges to her power and her decisions. One of her strengths was that she never seemed to be caught by surprise. She always was one step ahead of everyone else. Her powers of perception were too strong to be fooled easily and Pai couldn’t quickly recall a time when anyone had made too-serious of an attempt to try. “Not that I can recall,” he said. “A few have tried to shield their thoughts from her, but that tactic alone tells her they are being dishonest and she uses her various skills to find the truth. Do you think someone is trying such a thing?”

The elder counsel stood and began to pace a short distance along the branch. “I’m not certain. I do know that Freyr has been distributing quivers of arrows among some of his acquaintances large enough to handle them. There’s obviously some magic attached to them in the way that their feathers glow. What they are intended to do or how he plans to use them, I can’t say, but it does seem rather obvious that he’s planning something and that he doesn’t expect to be subtle about it. I know Apa’ii can block most magic but Freyr himself is royal, from a strong European lineage. He may well have magic that could cause problems for the queen.” He paused a moment, looking over the edge of the branch. “Would it help to have some of the arrows?” he asked, knowing the inevitable answer.

Pai gave him a stern and somewhat frustrated look that the advisor would bother to ask such a question. “If you could get one, why didn’t you bring it with you?”

Pockwatch grinned mischievously. “Because it just now became available,” he said, a hint of teasing implied in his tone. He pointed toward an area at the base of the home tree. “You can see for yourself, leaning against the wall outside that fragrance shop. I told you, they’re being careless. It’s almost as if they want to get caught.”

Pai stood and walked to the edge of the branch where he could see the quiver of arrows leaning against the door frame of the shop. Unlike Pockwatch, however, he wasn’t smiling. “That’s too easy. Elves have always guarded their magic closely, often with elaborate traps. I don’t think they’re being careless. I think they’re trying to provoke us into starting trouble.”

Pockwatch stood next to Pai, looking at the arrows. “You can read the magic from here, can’t you?”

Pai nodded. “Eight with mesmerizing spells, six stunners, and …” he gulped hard, “two core killers—death arrows. We’ve not seen those since…” his voice trailed off.

“The great wars,” Pockwatch said, finishing Pai’s sentence. “Do you think the soul to whom it was given knows that they had?”

Pai shook his head. “If one is not familiar with elven magic they can’t tell the difference. The way they’re typically deployed, the first few arrows, mesmerizers and stunners, create chaos and panic. Then, when no one is paying attention, the death arrows hit their target without anyone knowing who fired the shot. The anonymity protects the guilty. How many of these quivers would you say exist?”

“At least 100,” Pockwatch said solemnly. “Apa’ii was always cautious about trusting anyone of elven lineage. Their magic is tricky and doesn’t always do what one expects, which, again, makes the apparent carelessness all the more curious.”

“It’s a double-edged trap,” Pai responded. “The quiver is set out there in hopes we’ll see it, figure out its contents, then grow alarmed and try to confiscate them all. That will cause fear and distrust among the council so that they’ll argue and question each other’s motives. If we don’t take the bait, then they go ahead with whatever plan it is that they have. Either way, we have chaos that interrupts tomorrow’s vote.”

Pockwatch was silent for a while as they both watched souls coming and going through the fragrance shop. After several minutes, the shop’s owner closed the store and left. The quiver still sat unclaimed by the door. “Do you think we should tell the queen?”

“She knows,” Pai said calmly. “She’s doubled the guard and will apply some magic of her own. The arrows won’t be able to fly when they’re launched.”

Pockwatch was about to reply when the home tree shuddered in an unfamiliar way, one none of them had felt in many seasons. Pockwatch grabbed hold of the nearest leaf cluster and gasped, “Oh dear, that wasn’t what I think it was, was it?”

Pai was kneeling on the branch, holding on tightly to the bark. “Yes, someone with great magic just died. Apa’ii is trying to measure her reaction. I’m not sure she knows who it was but she’s furious. I need to go.”

Pockwatch blinked and Pai disappeared through a hidden door in the tree. Apa’ii would call for him soon, also, but it was not a summons he wanted to anticipate too soon. He watched as those below came out of their homes and hovels, already fearful at the loss they all felt. He tried casting a spell to find where Freyr was, certain one of his arrows had been the cause. The elf was nowhere in the community.

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1

Chapter 11

Chapter 11

By the time the council began to gather the next morning, concern over the mysterious death had grown with rumors circulating wildly as to who or what might be to blame. Some said it was humans who had captured another magical soul. Others worried that there was a natural cause, something completely depleting the magic until the core ceased to be. 

What bothered Apa’ii most was the fear that the troubled ones had caused the death. That was the one fear she couldn’t easily explain away. Everyone knew they had been standing along the edge of the mist and that they had failed to catch anyone passing through. Never mind that they had never actually killed anyone before; the odds were leaning in their favor.

Councilors also speculated as to who the deceased might be. Death among the Nawa’ Diyo was rare on any account and most often it occurred as the result of an accident or a magic spell going wrong. Only the violent and unexpected death of a powerful magician could have possibly caused the home tree to shudder in the manner that it had. They each watched carefully for the arrival of the more prominent members of the council to arrive. Only when everyone had been recorded as present did the council begin to ease its fear in the slightest degree.

Apa’ii was most concerned that there seemed to be gaps in her magic. Normally, she would have known exactly who died and precisely how it happened. To not be able to discern those details only meant that some other magic had to be interfering. She momentarily wondered if perhaps the humans had some new technology that effectively blocked the magnetic waves that provided her the information she needed. That reasoning failed to make any sense, though. They had scouts and spies who not only kept a close watch on weapons development but also expertly sabotaged tests so that nothing new seemed to work. She also remembered how devastatingly clear she had felt all the deaths when the humans had detonated the two atomic bombs. She had felt the demise of each soul, knew every name. There had been no filter to prevent her from being overwhelmed.

What had happened this time was a new experience. The emotional impact of the loss had been strong enough to knock the queen off her feet before the whole community felt the death wave. She had been taken by surprise with no hint as to who was involved or why this had happened.

As Apa’ii prepared to address the council, she checked with both Belinda and Dasheng Sen. Both queens had felt the death wave but neither said they could determine its origins.

“This felt different than the loss of a magic soul, more external as though it were coming from a non-magic source,” Dasheng Sen told her.

“Definitely not the kind of loss I’m accustomed to, either,” Belinda agreed, “but my assumption was that it was because the death didn’t occur in my realm. In fact, that the death of a Nawa’Diyo bothered me at all makes this different. I’m rarely affected by the magic in your realm.”

Apa’ii nodded her understanding. Looking out over the assembled council, she could feel the unrest and anxiety building. “We aren’t doing ourselves any good by waiting. Let’s see how well this proposal is accepted.”

All chatter and small talk came to an abrupt end as the three queens made their way to the front of the Deyóhso:t. Apa’ii had warned the other queens about Freyr and the arrows already planted among the council members. They would be looking for signs of trouble.

Apa’ii’s countenance was bright as she stepped forward, overwhelming the smaller magicians closest to her. Her radiance filled the entire valley with a calming light as she began to speak. “My dear ones, it is with great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment that Dasheng Sen, Belinda, and I bring to you a joint proposal by which we hope to address both the incursion of humans into our realms and the shifting magnetic fields causing an unsettlement with our magic.”

That was as far as she got. From the back of the Deyóhso:t, emerging from the mist with a roar that shook the ground of the entire valley, stepped an army of troubled ones. Their appearance was frightening. Each one was as tall as a mature fir tree and twice as broad. Their cores were composed of red stone and dark pitch in what seemed to be an incomplete construction as the pitch didn’t quite cover all the stone. Their eyes burned a flaming orange and smoke rolled out from their mouths. Each one carried a shield to protect them from aggressive magic. The shields glowed crimson and gold, every one a different pattern of the holder’s design. They moved with precision as one body, coming up to the very edge of the Deyóhso:t, knocking councilors such as Kuveni to the ground as they moved forward.

When they had all emerged from the mist, some 600 of them, the largest and most fierce looking stepped forward and spoke in the most horrible and menacing tone one might imagine. Pointing a fist toward Dasheng Sen, it roared, “You have come to our mountain, flooding our valley, bound our leader, and drowned him in your dark water. You have killed Wasnogai. You all will pay! We will rule!”

The troubled ones charged forward together as a massive force trying to get to the queens. The members of the Dehnítaëh were caught off guard, precious seconds passing before they began flinging their spells in defense. Those larger souls toward the back were either pushed aside and trampled or ripped in half as the army pushed its way through. Kuveni took to the air, silently ripping off the head of a troubled one and slinging it into their midst. Her magic was strong and kept many of the middle lines from advancing at any speed, but she was not powerful enough to stop them all.

Freyr and his armed cohorts, their plans now useless, turned their arrows on the troubled ones only to find that Apa’ii’s magic had rendered them ineffective, each one falling to the ground as soon as the feathers cleared the bow. Other councilors of elven descent attempted to throw their powerful spells at the troubled ones but most were batted away by the magic shields. When a spell did hit its target, they did little more than stop the troubled ones in their tracks for a few seconds.

Apa’ii glared at Dasheng Sen and shouted, “This is your problem. Get busy!” She quickly put a protective shield around the smaller souls unable to defend themselves from the giants and moved them out of the path of the battle. Where she could, she shielded other small groups but could not as easily protect those already attempting to fight.

Belinda immediately began firing lightning bolts at the army. Each one was strong enough to disassemble three or four troubled ones, sending their pieces flying across the valley. Within seconds, dozens of sylphids and other air magicians emerged from the sky and began pelting the army with hailstones that burned, causing thick, black smoke to rise from the Deyóhso:t. Meliae and her clan soon joined and began using massive winds to keep the troubled ones from moving forward. From behind them, Dawágetdit created a line of tornadoes and sent them powering toward the back lines, leaving the army no path for retreat. 

It had not taken long before Bockwimen had assembled all the available scouts and other Nawa’Diyo of significant power, forming a battalion that surrounded the Deyóhso:t. The air grew thick with the magic of every kind being used to try and stop the army.

Such a violent display of magic had not been seen since the great wars and never had this valley been part of any such aggression. Certainly, any human attackers would have been defeated within a matter of minutes.

The troubled ones were not as small and weak as humans, though. More than rock and pitch, the magic they possessed was as strong as that of any Nawa’Diyo and made stronger by the power of righteous revenge. Deftly, they used their shields to protect them. They threw bombs of molten lava onto the Nawa’Diyo who not under Apa’ii’s protective bubble, cause their cores to burn to a crisp. They belched a toxic smoke into the air, making it difficult for the sylphids to target them with precision and crippling Maliae and her clan. As many magic souls fell from the sky, not all were able to get up before their cores were crushed under the feet of the troubled ones.

Apa’ii, at her full size, removed councilors from the fray as quickly as she could. She looked around for Dasheng Sen but couldn’t find her. A wall of water would have been a welcome defense at the moment but the Hantu Air queen had disappeared. Apa’ii looked to Belinda, whose dark clouds seemed to meld with the black smoke and asked, “Do you think we can create a strong enough wind to take them off their feet?”

Belinda tossed a couple more lightning bolts into the darkness, not sure whether she had hit anything or not, before answering. “We might do better to move the ground under them. How loose are the plates beneath the crust here?”

Apa’ii gave the matter some thought as she tried to contain the troubled ones only to have them break through a gap in her shield. The mountains here were old and had not moved for thousands of seasons. Doing anything to change the landscape would require more magic than she had on her own. Together, though, the two queens might be able to conjure enough force to at least make the earth uneven enough to catch the troubled ones off balance. Their only option was to try. She nodded back toward Belinda and shouted, “Let’s give it a shot!”

The effect wasn’t noticeable at first. Belinda created a circulating wind that reached well outside the valley. As the wind gained in power, Apa’ii began applying a strong, downward pressure on the Deyóhso:t and the surrounding valley. 

At that moment, the trees began to move back from the edge of the Deyóhso:t, not in the manner of pulling up roots and locomoting in any ambulatory sense but shifting the ground that contained them, moving both themselves and the earth so that there was more room for Apa’ii’s magic to work. As this made the forest denser, the fog from the mist rose and began to spread into the crevices, increasing the power of Apa’ii’s magic. Further and further the trees retreated, taking with them the homes and communities of magic souls, helping to keep them away from the detritus of the battle. Finally, the Deyóhso:t and all around it were clear of any innocent being. The battle was isolated and the troubled ones were without any means of retreat. Sensing the desperation of their situation, they pushed harder, grabbing magicians out of the air to either crush them in their hands or rip their core into pieces. Their feet pounded harder into the ground. The balls of lava grew larger, the splatter from their explosion wounding valiant fighters on the ground.

Bockwimen watched in horror as the number of his troops began to dwindle. He assembled those left, a smaller group of barely 100 souls, so that they might make a more strategic assault. Standing together increased the power of their magic. Together, they might produce enough power to begin driving back the troubled ones. To his left, Arviss and his brothers stood at the ready, the magic in their broadswords gleaming with power. To his right stood Bogmenak and Gui, equally fierce in their determination to fight back.

Bockwimen was ready to give the order to attack when Apa’ii’s protective shield appeared around them and moved them quickly out of the way. The ground where they had been standing gave way. The great winds coming down off the mountains blew with the strength of a dozen hurricanes. What had been a mist was an opaque magic blanket of power. As the ground yielded, up from the crevice came a massive slab of slate and granite surrounded by igneous layers, severing the lines of the troubled ones and disassembling the members of the army where they stood. As the ground rumbled throughout the valley, the massive wall of stone continued to grow until its base filled the valley and began to tower above neighboring mountains. Only when there was nothing left of the troubled ones but a pile of rubble and black mud did the mass stop growing.

In the resulting silence, Belinda pulled back her wind. The mist eased back into the forest. When she was quite certain that it was safe, Apa’ii eased the protective shields from around the Nawa’Diyo. 

Slowly, with an abundance of caution, what was left of the Dehnítaëh began to assemble at the base of the new mountain. Many were injured, having had limbs torn off or wings removed from their backs. Others had their core singed by the flaming lava. What quickly became obvious was that their casualties had been severe. Fewer than 4,000 of the councilors survived. A mere 600 troubled ones had decimated the Nawa’Diyo.

Belinda took a bipedal form, her dark gray gown billowing like storm clouds as she walked down from the mountain to stand next to Apa’ii. What little that was left of the Deyóhso:t was covered in the ashes and broken cores of council members who had been the victims of the troubled ones. “I guess we know whose death we felt last night,” Belinda said with frustration in her voice. “I never would have expected an earth-bound monster to have any power to crush our air magicians.”

Apa’ii put her hand on Belinda’s shoulder. “Please accept my deepest apologies. I never expected them to behave so violently.”

“I only hold Dasheng Sen responsible for both our losses. She was sent to negotiate, not murder. Even if Wasnogai’s death was an accident, that she returned without telling us what she had done demonstrates her intent. For whatever reason, she wanted a war. She had to know they would retaliate.” Belinda paused, looking down at the growing crowd around the base of the mountain. Magic souls from the home tree communities came carrying mourning lights to commemorate the fallen. Even those who had no direct part in the battle looked beleaguered and worn. Each death had its effect on all the Nawa’Diyo. “Your souls have suffered greatly today. Do you think there will be more attacks?”

Apa’ii nodded. We’ll have to completely evacuate the high desert. I’m not certain how many trouble ones remain but I know this army was small compared to what they are capable of bringing. They underestimated us this time. I won’t expect that to happen again.”

A crown of sylphids began to form around Belinda’s head and as they cried it began to rain all across the magic realm. No one left. Together, they stayed at the base of the mountain as they mourned. For many, this was their first experience with battle and how it affected them all. They were afraid but also resolute. There were now deaths to avenge. All they needed was for Apa’ii to tell them where and when. If there was to be a war, they were determined to win.

As the sky cleared and the sun began to set, Apa’ii dimmed her countenance and stepped back into the shadows. She felt so much pain that she did not wish to be seen. So heavy a toll after so many years felt worse than she remembered. The queen had not yet begun to assemble a list of those who died. She knew the information was there for later retrieval but the energy to sit and memorialize each soul was not present. She ould give time for the news to spread to all the communities and then hold a more formal tribute.

Glancing down, she saw the shadow of a soul stealing away from the assembled crowd of mourners. “Where would you go now, hidden in the darkness?” She asked, shining a light on the surprised magician.

Bogmenak looked up with an expression of fear Apa’ii had never before seen on his face. “Please, I beg your pardon, your majesty but I fear I must return to the desert. My clan lives too close to the troubled ones to be safe. The monsters will assemble their forces and I fear our souls, despite their great knowledge of battle magic, would make too easy a practice target for an army looking to avenge their fallen leader.”

“Of course, you are correct. You have my blessing and as much protection as I can give you. Travel with haste and do your best to remove all magic souls from the high desert. Those who wish may come here and reside on this new mountain,” the queen said. “Do take note of those who choose to go elsewhere. We may need them or to rescue them later.” She paused then added. “And be careful as you cross the great rivers. Our enemy is plural. Dasheng Sen betrayed us and set us up to die. There is no trust to be given to the waters and the Hantu Air who control them. I might suggest you take your new friend Freyr with you for added protection.”

Bogmenak took a couple of steps back, stumbling over a rock and nearly losing his balance. He realized that the queen knew about their meeting and all they had planned. She had been the reason their arrows hadn’t worked. “I’m sorry, your majesty,” He stammered, fearing he might yet become the victim of her wrath. “I never intended…”

“I know what you intended, Bogmenak,” Apa’ii interrupted. “I also know you both fought valiantly against the troubled ones. You both lost comrades today. We will discuss your intentions when this is all over. For now, though, I call upon your loyalty to your clan and all the magic souls of the high desert and those entrusted to your protection. Get them out of there, Bogmenak. Get them out and keep them safe.”

Bogmenak bowed deeply and then disappeared.

Apa’ii began walking slowly back toward the home tree, re-evaluating everything that had happened, changes she might have made had she known what was about to take place. She was angry at herself for trusting Dasheng Sen and not making more of an effort to read her intentions. She also found it curious that the arboreal neural network had not told her that Wasnogai had been the one murdered. Such important information usually made its way to her quickly. That she had not known and been caught completely off guard was troubling.

As Apa’ii neared the home tree, she noticed another group of magicians gathered around the base with mourning lights. Her first thought was to ascend through the branches and enter the private area of the tree without attracting any attention. As she stepped closer, though, she realized they were building a shrine. Someone they all loved had fallen. She took a few more steps and saw a sword leaning against the base of the tree at the center of the memorial—the sword she had given the Pai, the sword that was supposed to give him eternal protection. Apa’ii dropped to her knees and let out a scream heard by every magic soul on the planet.

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

A young radar operator looked at the screen in front of her then reached for the three-ring binder that listed all the symbols and graphics that could be displayed on the monitor. She flipped back and forth through the pages where any corresponding graphic should have been but found nothing. She reluctantly pressed the button on her station summoning the lead meteorologist on duty, certain she was about to be upbraided for not recognizing the symbols she was supposed to have memorized.

“What’s up, rookie?” the meteorologist teased as he approached her station. “Don’t tell me you have a tropical storm brewing in the Poconos.”

“No sir,” she said, quietly rolling her eyes. “It’s this point here in Northeast Penn, sir. The book doesn’t have anything to explain that.”

The meteorologist looked closely at the monitor then reached over the operator, punching a few buttons on the keyboard to bring the image into higher resolution. “That’s not possible,” he murmured. “We’re going to need a lot more help. Call the folks at the U.S. Geological Survey. See if they show any seismic activity in the area. If I’m not mistaken, this is showing a mountain where there shouldn’t be a mountain and a tightly located storm around it. This makes absolutely no sense at all.”

The Thinning Veil

Welcome, or welcome back as the case may be. If you are just joining us, you may want to start by clicking here. This is a critical chapter so having that background will be helpful. Today’s post consists of only Chapter 7 due to its length. To ease reading, we have placed bookmarks for Part 2, and Part 3 so that you don’t lose your place if you can’t get to it all in one sitting.

Chapter 7

Some four furlongs to the South and West of the home tree was a large earthen depression said to have been formed when giant beings roamed the planet long before the Nawa’ Diyo came into being. Officially, it was called the Dehnítaëh, which, loosely translated, meant “let us talk.” The most ancient ones knew it as Deyóhso:t, or Standing Mouth. The natural curves and shape of the depression was a perfect place for the council to gather as its inherited acoustics meant everyone had a chance to be heard, no matter how small in size one might be. Here, more than 12,000 representative Nawa ’Diyo would gather to resolve questions and matters that pertained to the greater magical community. 

Anyone could petition to become part of the council provided they could prove that they represented an otherwise unvoiced group of magic souls. In theory, there was no minimum size limit, but the council had not seen fit at any time to offer admission to a group smaller than 100 magicians. Those smaller groups often formed coalitions to ensure that their shared grievances were heard.

Because of the significant size of the full council and the strain their meeting put on the home tree community, full assemblies were limited to those occasions where a matter stood to directly affect the entire population of magic souls. In the early days, before humans, and especially in the days before humans learned to fashion and use weapons against each other, the council tended to meet less often. Such meetings were strained as not all humans interacted with Nawa’ Diyo in the same way. Arguments would last for days with little to no consensus being reached on most matters. Some saw the humans as like kind, only bigger. Others considered them harmful and a threat tot he magical way of life. The majority, however, had considered them largely insignificant and assumed, due to the relatively small number of humans and their comparatively short life spans, that they would die out soon enough and, thus were not deserving of any attention in the way magical souls behaved to and around them. 

During the period leading up to the great wars of what humans refer to, perhaps appropriately, as the dark ages, the council decided it was better to let regional committees address situations pertaining and limited to geographic regions. As such, few of the Nawa’ Diyo in North America knew about the terrors of the many European wars. Few in Europe knew the severity and barbarity of the tribal wars in Africa, and almost no one spoke of the Asian wars as so many magic souls had not survived those struggles. Island souls had their own tales to tell, as did those of the seas and of the air. Each was overseen and addressed by the appropriate committees who did their best to provide wisdom in their judgment and dealings. They had not always been successful.

The last great council meeting had been during the human year 1941. By that point, magic souls were largely invisible across the globe as the human wars were so atrocious and their weapon experiments so frightening that none dared leave the protection of the sacred magical places. The threat of the human achieving atomic power was a threat that the magical community could not ignore. The council risked meeting, knowing that the presence of such a magical force was likely to attract attention. Fortunately, despite interest from various human sources, there were enough spells cast to prevent the council from being discovered. There, for the first time, they had decided to interfere directly with human activities regarding the development of atomic power. While they were successful in keeping the weapon out of the hands of the German humans, the Americans had prevailed. The two bombs dropped on Japan had killed over 14 million magical souls, completely wiping out three different species. 

After that, Queen Apa’ii had vowed to never again let any human government develop the power to threaten them in such a way. A program to sabotage nuclear power plants had proven successful and none of the human governments yet realized that none of their siloed nuclear weapons were capable of working. All had been disabled by magical interference.

Now, as the council prepared to once again take up a human threat against magic souls, councilors had arrived with a palpable resolve to not allow humans to progress in any way that might continue to threaten the existence of any magical species no matter how small. There would be no tolerance for any further encroachment. Action would be deliberate and firm.

Queen Apa’ii watched from atop the home tree, her countenance sending out a signal that it was time for the Dehnítaëh to commence. The valley and sides of the Deyóhso:t sparkled in the sunlight as it filled with magical beings of every kind and from every region. The smallest of them sat toward the front with councilors growing in size, some the height of trees taking their place along the edge. There were no words spoken among them as the seriousness of the moment enforced a solemnity no magical soul would consider violating.

When every seat was full and the valley sparkled in the sunlight as though it were filled with diamonds, Apa’ii glided down from the home tree in all her brightness, taking her seat at the head of the Dehnítaëh. She grew to her full size, larger than the home tree, more massive than the surrounding mountains, her voice thundering as she spoke, “I hereby call this meeting of the Dehnítaëh to order. May all herein find justice, fairness, and peace.”

Then, together they stood and began to sing.

We who stand inside the mist
Born of earth’s great magic tryst;
Keepers of all things that live,
Guardians of a world active

This our bond thru magic be,
This our oath eternally;
May we evermore pursue
Wisdom from the gods’ own view.

Guard forever,
Protect them all;
Wisdom prevail
With no bewail.

We who stand upon this place
Take our pledge to not disgrace
Faith bestowed by others, who
Bear the soul of what we do.

This our bond thru magic be
This our oath eternally;
Wisdom shin on us your light,
Guide our speech t’ ward all that’s right.

Guard forever,
Let none e’ er fall
Into the doom
Of foolish gloom.

We who stand within the breach,
May our words inspire and teach
Those who feed at wisdom’s trough;
May our words be not cast off.

This our bond thru magic be
This our oath eternally;
Justice, fairness be to all,
Mercy, blessing be our call.

Guard forever
Where wisdom stands,
Our lives, our souls,
Not part, but whole.

Guard forever
These souls that we
Protect and save,
This earn’st conclave.

They sang the ancient hymn each in their native tongue, the sound blending as a great chorus, unlike anything human ears have ever heard. Each voice in perfect tone with individual timbre coloring the harmonies like a massive organ in an outdoor cathedral. Around them, all of nature stopped and listened. As the music floated into the home tree communities, magical souls stopped what they were doing as the delicately crafted waves of sound filled them with hope and peace. There were many wonderful songs written and sung by magical souls, but this one, its rhyme and meter simple, its melody and rhythm without complication, was most beloved and instilled pride and unity among even the most disagreeable.

The members of the council smiled as they listened to the echo of their voices playing among the mountains. Only when the last strains melted away did the council sit down in unison. Anxiously, they waited for the Queen to speak.

“My dearest friends and councilors, as much as I would dearly love to welcome you here with joy, I fear we once again find ourselves forced to deal with a menace perpetrated by the human race that threatens our mutual lives and well-being. As most of you know by now, one of our younger scouts who had transmuted to a bird form was kidnapped and removed from the forest along with a great number of birds of varying species. Our best intelligence on the matter is that they were taken to a human lab in the city, fitted with radio bands for tracking purposes, then crated and flow to another like facility in the West, to be released and their migratory habits studied. As cruel as such a displacement is, that alone is not sufficient reason for us to gather.”

Apa’ii paused, looking over the council spread out below her. She had not yet told them anything that hadn’t become known through the various neural networks. What would come next would shatter this temporary peace. She smiled assuringly as she continued.

“Our first hope was that perhaps this kidnapping had been an error, that there was no ill intent. Then, earlier this morning, thanks to the efforts of our family beyond the great plains, our scout returned. So you will not question the veracity of his testimony, I will allow you to hear the words from our scout himself. I introduce to you, great council, Puckwudjinee, an aviary scout of the home tree division.”

Puckwudginee stepped cautiously out from behind the queen. Appearing in his natural form, he was considerably taller than a sparrow, yet he felt smaller as he looked out across the vast council. He had never seen such a wide variety of Nawa’ Diyo in his life. His feathered arms shivered with excitement. 

Likewise, Puckwudjinee represented one of the more recent blendings of magical souls that many of the councilors had not seen before this moment. While his arms were feathers like the wings of a bird, his legs were long and stick-like as a mantis while his head and torso hinted at an elvish influence with a bit of sprite thrown in for fun. As he stepped toward the center of the queen’s light, murmurs of wonder at this new young form scattered across the gathering.

Two words were enough to strike fear into the whole assembly. “They know,” Puckwudjinee said. His voice wasn’t loud nor was his tone forceful, but the councilors responded with such panic that Apa’ii felt the need to blow a calming breeze over the unsettled crowd. “I wasn’t sure at first,” he continued. “I was convinced that my capture had been a mistake, but I was wrong. Only after my friends from the West, who I thank profusely for facilitating my escape, only as they snipped the radio band from my leg did we become aware of the humans’ true motives. They know we are here. They know there are many of us, and they want to capture us for scientific study as they do our animal friends.”

This was enough to put the complete council in an uproar. Everyone was aware of how little regard humans had for animal life. Fear of being captured and dismantled while still alive became an immediate threat. Apa’ii waited, letting their emotion run long enough to find voice then helped them return to calm. “Perhaps,” she said softly, “we might be helped to know how they knew to set the trap for you.”

As murmurs continued across the crowd, Puckwidjinee took in a deep breath, fullying knowing the weight of his words. “They’ve caught our transitions on their cameras,” he said carefully. “Specifically, they’ve caught us coming out of invisibility and transmuting into animal form. They have these small cameras all around the world, watching for us. They’re in trees, mountains, underwater, and even positioned to watch the sky. They observe these cameras through the technology network they call the internet. That was how they knew where to set the trap that captured me. They had hoped that by banding me like a bird that they might be able to track me back to the home tree.”

“They know of the home tree!” declared a frightened voice from the crowd, starting off another wave of murmurs.

Puckwudjinee raised his hands to ask for quiet. “They do not know of the home tree specifically. They do know there are places their cameras can’t see and have correctly assumed that we gather in those places. Yet, at the same time, they are wholly unaware of how prevalent our presence is in their own world. I was aided by a group of pixiemandalons that live in the eaves and tresses of their own laboratory! They have no clue that there is magic that close to them every day. They think we are mere leftovers from the human tales of many seasons past. They’ve no idea we flourish and are strong, nor that we outnumber them to such a dramatic extent. They know we exist and are real, yes, but they are still largely ignorant of who and what we are.”

“And that ignorance is what makes them dangerous,” shouted a voice from near the center of the council. Bogmenak stood and the queen provided a light for him to be noticed. “We have watched before and seen what happens when humans are driven by their insatiable curiosity. They are worse than cats at upsetting the balance of nature and causing greater problems in their alleged search for answers. Once they make an assumption, intelligent or not, they do not thoroughly think through the consequences of those assumptions, the potential for disaster as they disturb world of which they are not a part. Are we to stand here once again and remain, pacifists, as their curiosity dismantled everything about who and what we are, ruining our way of life? I say no! I say we stop this intrusion now!”

Cheers went up from a portion of the council seated most closely to Bogmenak, but further aware the councilors, especially those who sat toward the back and along the periphery remained silent. 

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1

Chapter 7, Part 2

As the cheers died down, another voice was heard. “The only way to end any aggression is to refuse to commit further aggression,” said the soul. Apa’ii turned her light to recognize Shang Ti, a magician with historical ties to the ancient East but also modernized in his evolution. His core, slightly rotund but not excessively so, was formed of pure jade. Across his shoulders draped a robe composed of dragon scales that shimmered effervescently in Apa’ii’s light. The robe was known for changing colors with the seasons, or sometimes Shang Ti’s mood. It would be red in the summer, white in autumn, and black with gold trim in the winter. Since the council was meeting in Spring, the robe was a beautiful blue-green that reflected gently onto everyone around him. 

“If we are united in hate for humans, we become the slaves of that hate. If we are united in fear, we become the captives of that fear,” he said, continuing. “We have tried aggression in seasons past and it has failed us in every way. Aggression is what led us to hide behind the mist, giving up our freedom for safety that was never real. We have interacted safely with humans before and if we educate them rather than fight them I dare say we can do so again.”

Shang Ti’s words received enthusiastic applause from the council and a coveted smile of approval from Apa’ii. Bogmenak sat back down, quieted momentarily by the response.

More toward the front of the assembly, Ochuko stood to speak next. With a core born from the wood of a rare Ceylon tree, his polished ebony was largely covered in dense, coarse black hair, making him difficult to see in the shadows, or the bark of cottonwood trees, which he preferred. Despite his diminutive size, though, he possessed a powerful voice that could not be ignored. He waited until Apa’ii gave him light before speaking.

“Those of you who live within the mist have become soft from its protection,” he said. “Many of us, you forget, live every day in full view of the humans. We do not feel the need nor do we have the desire to employ invisibility spells. While we might take advantage of transmutation, we do so for our own convenience, not that of humans. You heard from the scout himself that the pixiemandalons that saved him have been living right around his captors and they had no awareness at all. Humans still think magic is a myth. Even the young ones who are more likely to spot us than are their elder counterparts, think they have created us from their own imagination. They do not suspect at all that we are real, corporate beings who reside in such great number.

“While I do not feel we can allow the scout’s kidnapping to go without response, neither do I see any benefit in that response being an aggressive one. Perhaps, rather than continue to hide in fear, we would do better to make our presence more readily known to demonstrate to the humans our relevance, our worth, and to no small extent, our number.”

Applause had started in response to Ochuko’s speech but was quickly dampened when Kuvani, a buxom Yakshini of some renown stood to speak. Kuvani’s height alone was enough to demand attention, but her light brown core formed from the wood of an Ashoka tree and long-flowing black hair that was in constant movement around her gave her a sense of superiority that many Nawa’ Diyo found mesmerizing and attractive. Apa’ii gave her light and her voice sounded like a song as she spoke.

“Do we forget all that we control?” she asked. “The air and the ground are ours. The seas and the fire lie under our control. We gave those and many other gifts to humans many thousands of seasons ago because we found them in need of favor. At no time, however, have we relinquished control, and perhaps it is worth consideration, dear council, that it is in our use of those resources that we might guide the humans intent on our discovery. We would only be returning to them the knowledge their ancestors took for granted. Perhaps now, we might use that knowledge to guide their behavior in a way more beneficial to both the planet and our own existence. They can be quite supplicant when given the proper motivation.”

Without giving the council a chance to respond, Gui, the leader of the Mogwai, jumped to his feet, his almost translucent form shimmering in the meager sunlight, giving him an eerie ghost-like presence that had no real shape or form. Angrily, he screamed, “No! There can be no placation of the human scourge if we are to survive! Better for us it would have been had they all been squashed in the mud from which they first emerged. They have proven time and again that they are not to be trusted and with this most recent incursion they demonstrate their intent to not merely find us but eliminate us from existence. We dare not tolerate their vile intentions. If, as the pretty one states, we control all things, then perhaps we would do well to use them so that nature itself is seen to turn on them and squash the very life from their fragile and disgusting bodies. Any talk of peace or favor toward humans is nothing but nonsense.”

Bogmenak and his allies applauded heartily for a moment but the complete silence from the rest of the council caused it to sound hollow and the gesture was short-lived. Apa’ii took advantage of the moment and nodded at Fleau who smiled and stood, looking like an angel as she shimmered in the sunlight. Even without the aid of Apa’ii’s spotlight, she had everyone’s attention.

“My dear friends,” Fleau began, “If we are to respond to this dreadful situation, we must first address a more serious matter I know you noticed, if nowhere else, on your way to this assembly. The magic is retreating along the lines of places we have used to hide ourselves. That our invisibility has been compromised is not a matter so easily laid at the feet of humans. The earth’s poles are once again shifting. We have experienced this before with little discomfort. This time, however, the magnetic waves spreading across both land and sea are changing as well. 

“Our magic and the ease with which we use it is intrinsically tied to earth’s magnetic fields. The changes we are seeing, though small and limited at the moment, are only going to grow and there may be little we can do about it. If we pick any kind of fight with the humans, if we encourage interaction with them even in a friendly manner, we may not only find ourselves exposed but helpless without the use of magic when we need it. We stand the risk of putting ourselves and all of our existence in danger if we don’t look first to protect the magic from which we are all created.”

Murmurs again spread across the Deyóhso:t. “Alarmist!” screamed a lone voice. “We’re doomed!” yelled another. Panic was rising quickly, especially among those smaller souls for whom invisibility and transmutation were critical to their survival.

Apa’ii watched with careful interest. She had learned over the millennia of seasons to not let momentary spasms of panic among the council give cause for concern. If anything, panic was the most frequent response to any issue. Younger souls, those who had not seen the ancient wars, were especially given to these reactions. The Queen knew that the discussions between councilors would calm to a more reasonable response quickly enough. Cutting their conversations too short only added to their combined anxiety.

As Apa’ii watched over the Dehnítaëh, she became aware of a small soul who had moved quite close in an attempt to get the Queen’s attention. She looked down and saw Amoo Omala, a preciously small yet beautiful peri, desperately flapping her wings and waving her arms. Apa’ii motioned the little one closer to hear what she might have to say.

“Your Majesty, our clan has experienced and studied these changes for several seasons. They started small but are growing stronger. We believe we may have found both a way to track this anomaly as well as an explanation for its cause. This is rather technical and detailed, though. Do you think I should address the whole Dehnítaëh or is it a matter best left to conversations among those who can understand our studies?” Amoo asked.

Apa’ii considered the question with some trepidation. Quickly discerning that Amoo’s research was valid, she knew that not every Nawa’ Diyo shared the same capacity for understanding the sciences and matters involving mathematics. While the peris had long excelled at such studies, others were challenged to understand how the mixture of two inert chemicals could produce a dramatically devastating result. Those who could not easily understand inevitably responded negatively to such matters, creating division among the council. Still, there was no denying that Amoo’s research was pertinent to the conversation.

“Go ahead,” the Queen said. “I’ll give you all the light you need.”

Knowing she could not be seen at ground level, Amoo flew to a plane slightly above the rim of the Deyóhso:t, Apa’ii’s light shining on her in a way that caused the peri to glow.

“My dear friends,” Amoo started, her tiny voice magnified to fill the entire space. “This threat to our magic is not as new as it may seem and the same thing that seems to be causing the threat to our magic is also what threatens our planet. My clan has studied for several seasons the archaeomagnetic spikes or jerks that have been occurring around the world. They have steadily grown in size and frequency over the past 200 seasons and particularly within the last 40. We have documented these changes and aberrations all across the magnetic field and find that their occurrence and severity aligns with the changing patterns of weather and, most specifically, the rise in rates of carbon dioxide.

“The challenge for us may not be so much that our magic is completely disappearing but that it is increasingly unreliable as we never know when or where these archaeomagnetic spikes are going to occur. Their relation to the movement of the magnetic poles is one of amplitude rather than frequency. They will only get stronger and happen more often as the carbon dioxide rises, throwing off the realignment of the poles.”

Amoo paused and the council sat in stunned silence as they tried to comprehend what they had been told. While every magic soul understood that there was a relationship between magnetism and magic, most had never bothered with the details of how or why. Amoo looked back at Apa’ii, uncertain whether to continue. As the Queen smiled and nodded her encouragement, Amoo felt a sudden rush of confidence fill her, a gift from Apa’ii. She turned back to face the council as she spoke.

“I know this all seems very technical and difficult to understand, but I ask you to consider the times over the past few seasons when you might have attempted to use a spell, and either it didn’t work the way you expected or perhaps it didn’t work at all. Yet, in a different place at a different time, the same spell worked without any issue. This is the direct effect of the archaeomagnetic spikes. 

“One never knows when the magnetic force might suddenly shift, making our magic in that place unusable, such as what has happened in the perimeter around this sacred space. We cannot use invisibility in that area because of a growing variation in the magnetic wave that creates our border. As it grows, more of our magic will become useless. Soon, our ability to transmute will be affected, then our defense spells, our healing spells, and others that require intense levels of magic will randomly stop working within that space.

“The speed at which these spikes increase is relative to how much of the planet’s surface is affected by increases in carbon dioxide and the earth’s rising temperature. Already, our ocean friends have told us of their pain in not being able to stop the salinization of their waters. What we are experiencing on land is the same thing in a different form. We can no longer trust with assurance that our magic is going to work, especially outside the sacred space.”

There were plenty of suspicions on both sides, but the seriousness of the current situation required at least an effort toward cooperation. As she began to speak, her voice low and powerful like the breaking of waves, the ground beneath her shook, causing those around her to move further away.

Buy our stuff!

Chapter 7, part 3

Across the Deyóhso:t, Dasheng Sen, the Hantu Air representative, stood to speak. She was the physical antithesis of Amoo, standing tall at the back of the Deyóhso:t. Without Apa’ii’s light shining on her, she would have seemed nothing more than a shadow. As she stood, those near here recoiled from the dank smell of old saltwater mixed with deep ocean mud. In her natural form, she seemed as though the darkest bottom of the deepest ocean had come to life. She looked out across the waves of beautiful and glittering magicians, wondering if they would consider what she had to say. She looked at Apa’ii whose own expression had responded to the water queen with seriousness. While this was not their first meeting, the two had never bothered to become acquainted, leaving their rare communication to diplomatic pouches delivered by third parties unrelated to either realm.

“Precious Nawa’ Diyo, the problems we face are dire and I thank your gracious Queen Apa’ii for including the magic souls of the waters in this discussion.

“We have fought long against the humans from the moment they crafted their boats to hunt and exploit those that live within our boundaries. They have polluted our streams, dammed and re-routed our rivers, and treated our lakes and oceans as their personal dumping grounds. In return, we have sunk their boats, turned our largest inhabitants against them, thwarted their travel, and left them with vast deserts incapable of growing food. We send massive waves to wipe them from the islands and storms to punish them for destroying our coasts. They have never been our friends and we are not inclined to change our minds in that regard.”

Bogmenak and those near him responded with cheers and applause to have what seemed to be a great ally. Dasheng Sen growled in response, however, frustrated by the interruption. As their applause died, she continued.

“Our waters have seen many changes as humans became industrialized. Our reefs in many places are barely alive. Our ice is melting and our magic is being affected. As your little one has said, dramatic increases in carbon dioxide are changing the magnetic fields in ways we have never experienced before. We have lost many of our smallest magic souls in just the past 40 seasons. Powers among the Mer and the Sirens are weak and cause them to stay deep to avoid detection.

“As we Hantu Air have fought long against the humans with little benefit, I am of the opinion that only a concerted and cooperative effort on our part here can save all of us from extinction. If that means the destruction of the human species, then so be it.”

A great gust of wind interrupted Dasheng Sen, forcing her to take her seat and sent all but the largest Nawa’ Diyo sprawling across the ground, the smallest clinging to blades of grass to avoid being blown away. Apa’ii knew immediately who was responsible and roared in response, “You will not disturb the members of this gathering or else you will leave, Belinda! You are a guest here and must conduct yourself accordingly!”

The wind quickly died down and as the now disheveled members of the Dehnítaëh reassembled themselves, Belinda took a clouded form of a familiar fay, though larger and still covering the whole Deyóhso:t. Her gray, angry face was parallel with Apa’ii’s as she spoke in ferocious voice.

“You all so easily forget we are here. How else am I to get your attention? I apologize for those I might have ruffled but I have had quite enough of your contribution to increased heat in this valley. You talk of danger and peril to the existence of magic yet when was the last time the Nawa’ Diyo did anything to actually stop the humans? You could not even keep them from developing nuclear power. You’ve been no help in fighting against their destruction of air and water and have allowed them to destroy your own land! You use our shared resources for your little tricks and stunts, but you avoid humans and hide behind your mist. Only now, as we have a complete loss of our powers and possibly our lives do you finally step up and call a council meeting and do what? Talk. That’s all I’ve heard. Noise!”

“You have no right to come into our gathering and belittle us like that!” Apai’ii responded in a massive voice matching that of Sylphid queen. “You’re always going off in some huff over one thing or another without thinking about who you might hurt in the process. How many of our communities have you destroyed with your storms, giving us no warning of any kind? How many times have we asked for your help and gotten no reply from you at all? You don’t dare come in here and make such vile charges against us!”

Belinda drew back and responded with an even greater rush of wind and lightning than before, clearing the center of the Deyóhso:t of its members, pushing all of them back toward the edges. Apa’ii responded with a blast of her own magic, scattering Belinda and all her clouds to the furthest edges of the horizon. As much as the Sylphid queen tried to break the barrier, she could not.

“When you decide to address us in a more civil manner, you are welcome to return. Until then, you may stay up there and watch quietly,” Apa’ii said, her voice sterner than any of the Dehnítaëh could remember hearing from her before.

Slowly, the council reassembled itself, re-adjusting crumpled wings and untangling body parts as they each returned carefully to their seats. Members whispered carefully to each other, none feeling confident enough to speak boldly after the queens had demonstrated such awesome power.

Apa’ii waited patiently, knowing that her magic was strong enough to hold off both Belinda and Dasheng Sen if necessary, though she didn’t consider the latter an immediate threat. She watched as the council reset themselves and was aware of the fear, concern, and frustration they were feeling. As they began to calm down, she spoke in a more gentle and calming voice.

“As difficult as it is to hear, Belinda’s criticism of us and of me is not invalid. We have deliberately not been aggressive in our response to the destruction of the earth at the hands of the humans. That we must now take stronger action than ever before needs little debate. We must remain open, however, to the possibility that the earth birthed them for a reason. As much as they are part dirt, they are also part water and part air. I do not particularly like them nor trust them, but if we eliminate them, the earth herself may wake up from her slumber and respond with something more vile.

“There is a balance we must maintain between all the forces of nature. We who possess and are composed of magic are not omnipotent in what we do. We are still held accountable for both our actions and our inaction. We must work together or we risk the real possibility that we all may perish.”

She paused for a moment, sensing at least compliance if not agreement from both Belinda and Dasheng Sen. Smiling, she said, “Many of you have feelings you have not yet voiced. Is there anyone else who would like to address the full assembly?”

The Deyóhso:t was quiet for a moment. Council members looked anxiously at each other, still worried that anything they said might incur the wrath of one of the queens. Finally, with a more somber and recalcitrant tone than he’d had the night before, Arviss stood, his hands on his swords, his head bowed in respect as he waited for Apa’ii to recognize him. Only when the spotlight illuminated his presence did he begin to speak.

“Your majesty, those of us who, like yourself, remember past times when we was, each in our way, somethin’ less than hospitable t’wards humans, know that they respond horribly. If we are gonna do somethin’, I think it right and proper that we protect our own in the process. I don’ trust ‘em, your majesty, an’ I don’ think many others do, either. They know we’re here. If’n we’re gonna start this war, put me on the fron’ lines but keep my brothers an’ my kin safe.”

There were nods and murmurs of agreement around the council. Apa’ii smiled and responded, “You are wiser than you are given credit, dear Arviss. You are correct. For all the damage we might do, we cannot endanger innocent lives in the process.”

The Queen relaxed the protective bubble holding back Belinda and increased her own countenance so that the entire valley was bathed in warm light. “We have heard the warnings and are sufficiently aware of the dangers before us. I dismiss you now to meet as your committees and submit your ideas and concepts for how we might proceed. Belinda and Dasheng Sen are cordially invited to join me at the home tree for further discussion of how we might work together. We shall return tomorrow with a plan of direction.”

Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read the latest installment in our new book. If you’re just joining us, you may prefer to start at the beginning. The Introduction, which is beneficial to understanding the story, can be found here. If you would rather jump straight into the story, click here for Chapter 1.

Click on one of the following bookmarks to jump to that chapter.
Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

Chapter Four

What had been a rather beautiful spring day changed so suddenly that human meteorologists were scrambling to try and explain what happened. Cloudless skies were suddenly dark with billowing and boiling clouds as Maliae and her clan went to work around the borders to the mist. By the time Dawádetgit starting twirling winds into a corkscrew, sirens had sounded and humans had all run for cover. 

Apa’ii’s alert had been followed to the letter. Those animals who were already close to the mist were allowed inside. Those further away, and those who would be in the path of the storm as it moved East, were given magical protection as they took shelter in the best places they could find, lower to the ground, in hollows and ravines. For the millions of Nawa’Diyo who lived outside the mist, magic protection protocols, something they all practiced together regularly, were put into motion, creating a protective yet invisible shield around them. Humans who might, for some ridiculous reason, happen to pass by would neither see nor feel any change. Humans would still get wet and could potentially experience damage. Nawa’ Diyo would all be safe in their homes, their communities, and clans untouched by the storm.

Having been instructed to keep the tornadoes off the ground, Dawádetgit set a base for her storm about forty feet off the terrain by human measurements. She calculated that this height would spare most of the younger trees that were still growing and widely necessary to the environment. From this height, most human homes would be spared from complete destruction as well, though the risk of wind damage was significant. 

The breadth and width of her first funnel were impressive. Having built up a frightful shelf of clouds, Dawádetgit slid the first tornado off, letting it widen to five, then eight, and finally twelve furlongs. Entire human towns cowered as it passed overhead. She then spun off two child tornadoes to the north, each about six furlongs wide, and one to the South at eight furlongs. The wind speed she achieved rivaled that of the greatest hurricanes. 

Despite their position well off the ground, there was hardly a human-built structure that wasn’t damaged. Windows shattered, letting in the blowing rain. Roofs were blown off and dumped in the middle of what would have otherwise been busy highways. Automobiles were turned over and the electric power system on which the humans so foolishly depended was largely dismantled. Repairs would take weeks to complete.

As the initial tornadoes moved Eastward, scaring humans in towns and cities all the way to the Atlantic ocean, Dawádetgit continued producing rains and strong straight winds relentlessly, taking a short break only to let loose another string of smaller tornadoes so that the humans would all stay inside. The ground, soaked from all the rain, reached its saturation point after about an hour and began sending its overflow into the small streams and tributaries. Tose quickly reached their capacity and began to trow outside their boundaries. The water moved quickly as it flowed downward through the path of least resistance, into streets where sewers were clogged with debris, trying to find their way to the nearest river or lake. Within a couple of hours, the waters were teasing the doorways of human homes and an hour later they were inside.

Apa’ii’s plan worked as her initial fear was realized—none of the council’s members, the strongest magicians in the world, were able to produce sufficient spells to keep them invisible as they moved through the areas where the mist had been. While they could still protect themselves from the storms overhead, they all felt, as Pai and Bockwimen had earlier, that the magic was not as strong as it had been before.

By nightfall, the community in and around the home tree was full of fearful speculation. Was the problem growing and how quickly could it eliminate the mist entirely? What could happen if the veil began to thin and recede in other protected areas? So many thousands of seasons had passed since the mist barriers had been established, what horrors would take place if the supposedly extinct animals, especially the larger ones, were suddenly allowed to roam free and discovered that their once-sacred grounds were now populated by humans? How would humans respond to the sudden appearance of animals that no one living had ever seen?

Worst of all, though, and a worry shared by all Nawa’ Diyo and other magic souls as well, was how the humans might react if the magicians suddenly lost the ability to keep everyone invisible? Invisibility wasn’t a skill that everyone mastered anymore they hadn’t needed to maintain the practice because of the high level of protection they had enjoyed for so many seasons. Some worried that younger souls might not be able to work invisibility spells at all, though those fears would later prove to be unfounded.

Apa’ii set at the top of the home tree with Pai, Pausnuck, and Pockwatch, her radiance serving as a beacon for those late in arriving. She heard their worries. She felt their fear. “What can we tell our guests and our clans that might help them feel more at ease?” she asked of her counselors. “Right now, there is such great fear among them that reason and calculation are almost non-existent. If the council meets under these conditions they will not make wise choices and our actions may be regrettable.”

Pockwatch was the first to speak as he sat cross-legged in the center of a leaf. “This is a new experience, one that we have not encountered at any significant level at all. Fear and a lack of understanding are natural. We should not act to make anyone feel shame for experiencing fear and having questions.”

“Neither can we allow that fear, natural and understandable as it may be, to influence decision-making,” Pausnuck said as he paced along a small branch near the queen. “I think thorough and comprehensive distribution fo the facts as they are currently known should help calm nerves considerably.”

“Or aggravate them even more,” Apa’ii said gently. “We have long been a tribe capable of reading between the lines, paying as much attention to what is left out as to what is said. The absence of firm answers will not go unnoticed by even the youngest of souls. We put ourselves in a position of weakness when we leave space for someone else to provide answers that may be inaccurate.”

“Perhaps I can help provide some more accurate messages,” said a white-clad vila as she lit a leaf opposite Apa’ii. A magic soul of ancient Slavic origin, her name was Fleau, a respected and much-loved magician who had migrated to join the Nawa’ Diyo when the white walkers were starting to spread across the continent “I was visiting family in the old country when the announcement of the council meeting arrived. They, too, live behind the protected veil, and there, as it has here, it has started just recently to recede. They have no invisibility where it once existed and the ability to transmute in that area is growing weaker. Taking the form of a horse, for example, is most painful.

“That is most disconcerting,” Apa’ii said. “You’ve en transmuting into a horse for so long I would have thought it to be a very natural process for you. Is it only in the areas formerly affected by the mist that creates this problem?”

In response, Fleau lept from the leaf and landed gracefully on all four hooves as she reached the ground, presenting herself as a stunning white mare. She pranced once around the base of the home tree before leaping upward and returning to the leaf in her natural form. “See, no problems!” she said as she sat down. “I was completely surprised when it didn’t go well. Even when I was first learning the magic from my mother and failing often, there was not the level of pain I felt today. We have a global issue ahead of us. I’m sure that other councilors have similar stories to tell. Coming through the mist here was also a challenge.”

Pausnuck stopped pacing and cocked his head to one side. “Wait, do you mean in the are coming to the mist or inside the mist itself?” he asked.

“Just before the mist was a repetition of the pain I felt in Europe. I couldn’t stay invisible so I painfully changed to horse form until I was well within the mist,” Fleau explained. “But even within the mist, where we’ve always been safe, reverting back was difficult and I couldn’t escape the feeling that something or someone within the mist was chasing me or trying to catch me.”

Fleau’s story sparked a sudden emotion in Pai, a sense of fear with a touch of shame He didn’t say anything but Apa’ii picked up the emotional transition quickly. 

“You didn’t want to tell me, did you?” the queen said as she looked over at her partner.

“When I returned home after seeing Maliea,” he said, looking down at the leaf rather than meeting her gaze. “At first I thought it was just my imagination, my emotions getting the better of me, perhaps. But as I passed deeper into the mist I  am almost positive I felt of possibly heard someone following me. Only when I reached the clearing did that peculiar sensation go away.”

Pockwatch was now standing on the edge of a leaf, gazing out over the lights of the assembled community below. “That particular sensation is not new, my queen,” he said quietly. “Thought, it has been many seasons since it was last mentioned.”

Apa’ii dimmed her countenance and the first around them lowered its voice to a gentle whisper. “Being followed? Yes, that’s a familiar trick the troubled ones have used when they’re especially angry. That doesn’t explain Fleau’s difficulting in reverting back to her natural form. They don’t have that power. I if something in the mist is effecting Fleau’s power, it’s almost certainly effecting theirs as well, and I can’t imagine that making them happy.

“We’ll double the sentries tonight. We don’t need the troubled ones trying some of their nonsense while the entire council is here. They were invited to participate, as always, but once again they declined.”

Fleau’s own radiance dimmed slightly lower than Apa’iis as she stepped over to speak directly with the queen. “If I may, your majesty, I do have a thought about what could be causing our magic to diminish.”

“Anything to help begin to explain all this would be appreciated,” Apa’ii said. “You’ve always been a wise and thoughtful member of the council.”

“Thank you, your majesty. I am grateful to have your confidence,” Fleau replied. “We’ve always known that magic, all magic, is the strongest and most resilient where earth’s natural magnetic waves are also strong. We have, from the earliest beginnings, known this and established our communities and most sacred places accordingly. We also know that there is a link between the health of the planet and its magnetic forces. As a particular species of beings, we have stood by and not intervened as humans have done more damage to our home than we ever thought imaginable. The magnetic poles have begun to shift in response to this ecological horror we have witnessed. Everything I’m saying is documented well, your majesty, and I know most of this knowledge has come through your own generous leadership. So is it not possible that, as the poles realign, so are the waves on which we’ve based our magic for thousands of seasons?” Is it possible that we are experiencing a realignment, and if we are, is it also possible that a strong ecological re-establishment movement could alter that alignment?

“Yes, I am aware that such a preposterous idea would require global cooperation from all magic souls and yes, I also understand that any such measure would likely have to be completed  despite human interference, but I do believe it could be done.”

The top of the tree was quiet as Apa’ii considered Fleau’s words. She hovered above the very top branches, her radiance pulsing as she thought. Her presence was inescapable and everyone in the community below noticed, coming out of their homes to observe the magnificent waves of light as they danced through the color spectrum. Each wave of light represented a complete line of thoughts, the advantages, and disadvantages of every argument as she reasoned her way through the range of possibilities in what Fleau had described. 

As her internal debate intensified, the sky filled with color, amazing magical souls across all of the continent, letting them know that their queen was considering a most important and critical matter. Out in the desert, the troubled ones noticed, too, and stopped to watch the amazing demonstration of Apa’ii’s incredible mental power.

When the lights finally dimmed, Apa’ii floated back down to the assembly at the top of the home tree. Her expression was one of radiant peacefulness as she sat cross-legged on the leaf, her arms outstretched with her palms upward. Everyone around her bowed respectfully, each one warmed and astonished by what they had witnessed. Only as the light dimmed to its normal glow did Apa’ii begin to speak in a gentle and musical voice. 

“I have seen the earth through many seasons,” she began. “We have comforted her through great heat and the upheaval of her curst. We have preserved her when a great chill froze so many other forms of life. This is our mother, the source from which our life’s energy flows. We are this planet’s most fervent protectors and, at times, it’s gardener, removing the weeds so that more vibrant life can grow.

“For many seasons now, we have looked at these humans as something of a lesser kind, beings who were lacking in reason, too given to emotion, and so distrusting of their own wisdom that their magic has yet to be discovered. They are lowly creatures in need of great guidance, something I have been slow to give them. My hope has always been that humans would finally, one day, come into their own and develop into useful partners.

“After thoroughly testing Fleau’s premiss, however, I am no longer convinced that our mother can survive long enough for humans to reach their destiny on their own. While magnetic shifts have regularly occurred, completely reversing the poles every four or five hundred thousand seasons, we have not, in my lifetime, seen so tremendously large a shift has been observed; a reverse in polarity that is detrimental to the magic community around the globe.

“There is no stopping this coming reversal. It is happening within the bounds of the universal schedule and to try and stop it could have devastating effects. What we can do, however, is examine the degree to which human interaction has aggravated this current shift, causing a mutation of magnetic eaves that is threatening our magic and, perhaps, our very existence.

“I can tell you now that our mother is feeling pain from all her inhabitants, including us. Therefore, during tomorrow’s council, let it be known that I will entertain well-thought and reasonable suggestions for slowing or altering the magnetic eave patterns with this current reversal. I know there is great wisdom among us. I expect only your best.”

As Apa’ii ended her speech, she lowered her countenance, allowing darkness to cover the community around the home tree. She looked at Pai and said softly, “I believe I will go and rest now. I do not require companionship in this moment; you are free to enjoy whatever your pleasure may find. My only request is that you be the only one to wake me. I do not desire an audience at such an early hour.” 

The assembled magicians bowed again as Apa’ii left the top of the tree and retreated to its heart where she could rest without danger. Fleau looked over at Pai and asked, “Does that mean you are free to drink?”

He smiled back, “Whatever pleasure you might find entertaining.”

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1

Chapter Five

Chapter 5

Scattering out along the root system of the home tree laid a large and vibrant community of magical souls consisting of almost every variation and blending of species one could ever imagine. Here, magic was a way of life. There were partis with exploding desserts, bars with drinks that refill themselves, and instruments playing music all on their own. By day, the community was bustling with souls zipping back and forth taking care of responsibilities such as guiding migrating birds across changing landscapes, showing bees new patches of pollinating flowers, and making sure the forest floors stayed moist. Life in the community was vibrant and almost always enjoyable for both residents and guests.

On this particular evening, the streets had been full of guests as council members have brought family and extended clan members for a chance to see the home tree. Each had hoped that they might catch a glimpse of Queen Apa’ii and she had not disappointed them. The sight of her atop the home tree with her brilliantly changing aura had thrilled everyone. As she had dimmed her countenance and retreated into the tree, the lands and paths below had returned to a festival atmosphere. Tomorrow the council would debate some of the most serious issues to affect magical populations in several thousand seasons. Tonight, however, was given entirely to frivolity and pleasure.

At a large table in a small stone pub sat one visiting council who seemed to ignore all the noise outside, preferring instead to sit at the table with his brothers and a few friends of a similar kind from other continents. Arviss was a pure dwarf, one of a handful of tribes of dwarves that had survived by digging intricately carved tunnels through all the world’s mountain systems, allowing them to travel anywhere without needing to use an invisibility spell to avoid detection by humans.

Arviss looked much as one expected, nearly as wide as he was tall, his long brown beard braided down his chest and carefully tucked into his belt along with two massive brad swords that sang when unsheathed for battle. The dwords were largely for decoration, though, and to help maintain the tough reputation dwarves had within the magic community. Hundreds of seasons had passed since there had been any wars to fight. There was none now, save for perhaps the troubled ones, who was foolish enough to challenges the dwarves. They never traveled alone and the absence of war had given them plenty of time to refine, improve, and sharpen their weapons.

Tonight, Arviss was celebrating a reunion with his cousin, Tupi, a red-haired dwarf from the land humans referred to as Brazil. Tupi traveled rarely owing in large part fo the fact that his feet were on backward. While that trait had been an advantage back when humans tried to catch him, not it was just another nuisance that made his life a bit harder than it was for his kin. As a result, he tended to have a more sour disposition, especially when it came to the topic of humans.

They were well into their fifteenth, or maybe their twenty-first round of grog, that magic elixir that left one feeling happy without dulling their senses, when the radiant colors from Apa’ii’s countenance had filled the small pub. They all had, naturally, rushed outside to watch, but now that it was over, they gathered back at their table, pitchers refilled with grog, discussing all the queen had said. 

“Bloody mess, this whole magnetic wave alignment,” Arviss said with his customary growl. “Although, you realize, brothers, there is perhaps profit to be made here as some of the weapons we’ve made for others may need realignment as well.”

“Do you really think anyone is still using those old catapults and such,” his eldest brother, Argmin, challenged. “No one’s used those damn things for nigh one 1600 seasons or so.”

“Nah, your math is daft, as always,” replied Alyn, the next younger brother. “More like 2800 seasons. We haven’t left the mounting in 1800 seasons A lot has changed out here.”

“Humans have been busy, that’s for sure. I wonder who’s building their weapons for them now?” Arviss questioned. “With storms like what the humphs whipped up today, I bet they could do with some iron roof coverings. That was quite a wind they were a’whippin’ up there, wa’n’t it?” I’m pretty sure I saw some things a’flyin’ that tweren’t meant to be a’flyin’.”

“Si, it would have been frightening had we been taller,” Tupi responded as he finished off another pitcher of grog. “At least the tunnels up here came right up to the border, or where the border normally is.” He paused and took a large gulp from the re-filled pitcher. “Everything, it is all changing. You don’t leave the mountains for a few thousand seasons and when you come out nothing is where it was the last time. Crazy, I tell you.”

“Aye, cousin, it would have been nice had the humans settled down and been satisfied with what they had. We use to be at peace with them. Now, here they are a kidnappin’ our scout? The old humans would kill the new humans if the old humans were still alive, and we’d be a’makin’ their weapons for them,” Arviss grumbled. “Out lives were better when the humans weren’t tryin’ to do everything for themselves. They want to be the bird and the fishies and the bear all at the same time and they haven’t figgered out how to human yet!”

“So, what will you tell the queen tomorrow, dear brother?” Alyn asked, wiping grog foam from his mustache.

Arviss took a massive swig of grog and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “I’m gonna tell her majesty that if humans are going to start capturing magic folk, then perhaps its time we reinstituted the policy of kidnappin’ humans. We used to do that, ya’ know. Her majesty stopped the practice because she said it made it impossible for the humans to trust us. But look at ‘em now. Who’s the ones what bein’ all untrustworthy like? I say we take one of them for every one of ours they snatch.”

“An’ what we gonna do with ‘em when we snatch ‘em?” Argmin asked. “I don’ know ‘bout other folks, but I never found their taste all that appetizin’ an’ I’m sure they ha’ent gotten any better.”

“Aye, we don’ wanna start eatin’ ‘em again,” Adwin, the youngest brother said, speaking for the first time in a while. “I still remember wha’ it was like. Eatin’ humans made folks mean, not jus’ to humans but to everyone. We go back to eatin’ them an’ the wars is likely to start back up.

Arviss rubbed his hands together and smiled. “Think of the profit we could make from that! The wars weren’t really all that bad.”

“Arg. Are ya’ kiddin’ me?” Tupi replied. “The wars were a disaster. I can’t run fast enough to return to war. I think we are better to take a kid or two and dump them down a ravine. I know of a few good ones.”

“We are forgetting something, my brothers,” Alyn said. “We always used invisibility to protect us in the old days. If we lose that now, we are in no shape to be kidnappin’ nothin’. We could end up being caught ourselves.”

The dwarves looked at each other then took another drink from their pitchers. None of them were anxious to admit that Alyn was right. To enter the human world without the benefit of invisibility, however, would be almost certain suicide, something dwarves had never done.

“We don’ know for certain that the magic is gonna disappear from the human realm,” Arvis said after a moment. “An’ we don’t have to assume that any of we dwarf folk would be the ones what do the actual kidnappin’. The Elbenkönig were the ones what were always good at that sort of thing. Lure the wee ones away to certain death, they did” He paused and thought just a moment before continuing. “Ya’ know, I’m not sure whatever became of those folk. Not heard a word about Elbenkönig in a few thousand seasons. I know there are none on the council, not purebloods at least.”

Tupi spat on the ground next to the table. “That’s the trouble with all these mix-breed folk They’ve lost all the heritage of we ancient kind. The  Elbenkönigcould never resist a pretty young

magic thing, anyway. Any part of them that still exists is likely unrecognizable now. A shame, it is. So many of the pure breeds, completely lost.”

The dwarves around the table nodded in agreement. Arviss raised his pitcher. “A toast to the purebred who are no longer with us. May the strength of their heritage rise up to serve us in our hour of need.”

The other dwarves raised their pitchers in a hearty “aye,” in agreement. They then sat there the rest of the night telling stories of magic folk who hadn’t been seen in their original form for hundreds of seasons, drinking grog, and feeling good about themselves.

Chapter Six

Chapter 5

Bockwimen waited patiently at the edge of the mist. The storms had delayed Pudguwigen’s return and he was anxious for the news. He had seen the reflection of the light from the home tree and knew that Queen Apa’ii had been considering something important. He had also watched as the various council members had arrived with their entourage of various sizes.  That none of them were able to hold their invisibility was frightening. As planned, the storms had achieved the purpose of sending the humans back to their homes. The councils should have been able to walk or fly into the mist without any worry. He knew, however, that the humans might have left behind cameras or other technological means of tracking movement and he didn’t trust that they hadn’t left any such devices behind. Had there been any watching devices, they would have seen only a large gray wolf standing at the edge of the forest.

Bockwimen waited patiently into the night. We watched as the clouds disappeared and the sky filled with stars. He made a game of looking for his favorite constellations, letting out a very wolf-like howl when he found them.

Finally, deep in the night, Pudguwijen appeared in the form of a common ground dove, blending in deftly with the trees around him. He perched on a low limb just above the wold and said, “I followed the human vehicle, an SUV I think they call it, but I fear my report remains incomplete.”

“Tell me what you know,” Bockwimen said, his voice deep and growling like the wolf.

“They took him and all the birds to a laboratory first. As far as I could tell, Puckwudjinee was doing well transitioning between his bird form and invisibility. The humans did not notice the transition at all. But then, they started placing radio bands on a leg of each of the birds. He tried to avoid being banded by staying invisible, but he wasn’t able to hold that form too long and when one of the humans noticed he didn’t have a band, they quickly grabbed him and put the tracking device on him.

“Obviously, this presents a new problem. With the band on, Puckwudjinee can switch between bird form and invisibility well enough, but he can’t return to his natural state. He can’t change into another form, either.” 

Bockwimen paced around the base of the tree while Pudguwijin gave his report. When he paused, Bockwimen replied. “The tracking device is a problem. If, or rather when we rescue him, he cannot return until we have him free of that device. The last thing we need is a bunch of humans trapesing through here trying to find him.” The scout paused a moment, listening to the sound of a wolf call in the distance. “So, this lab, you think we can get in there?”

“Sure! Easy!” Pudguwijen replied. “But it won’t do us any good. They took all the birds, put them in special crates, and then put them on an airplane.”

Bockwimen’s astonishment was so great that for a second he lost control and switched back to his natural form. “You mean to tell me that these crazy humans took birds, beings that fly on their own, and put them in one of their machines so they could fly to… Where were they sending them?”

The younger scout hopped from limb to limb as Bockwimen paced furiously below. “Someplace they were calling the ‘Portland Launch Facility.’ Not sure where that is.”

“There are multiple choices,” Bockwimen growled, “but most likely the one on the West coast. They’ve done this trick before, only in reverse. They brought birds from the West and let them loose in the forests just to our South, cruelly dumping them in unfamiliar territory, just to see if they could find their way home. Apa’ii found out and helped them, of course, but that wasn’t enough to undo the trauma those poor birds felt.”

Pudguwijen gave a couple of low calls to maintain his cover. “How do we find this Portland place? Are there Nawa’ Diyo who can help?”

“Yes, and we will let them handle matters there. They are good souls and will know of this place. They will also know if strange birds are present in their forests. We must tell Apa’ii, though, in the morning. The council will want to know.”

Old Man Talking Swag!

Welcome! This week we begin in earnest the story of the Nawa’Diyo and Queen Apa’ii. If you, by some chance, missed the Forward and Introduction, we strongly suggest you click here to do so now. The Introduction provides much-needed background information that the narrator assumes the reader already has.

This section encompasses three chapters. Don’t feel like you have to read them all at once. Take your time and use these links to jump to the last chapter you read.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

Chapter 1

The Thinning Veil, Chapter One

Bockwimen flew through the trees of the mist, his long, blue arms reaching out and flinging him from one branch to the next. Had anyone seen him, they wouldn’t have been faulted for mistaking his long gray hair for wisps of smoke. His speed made it easy to be mistaken for a random breeze. Being visible wasn’t such a handicap when he blended in with his surroundings so well.

Rushing through this forest posed no danger for Bockwimen. He was there when the saplings first began to grow hundreds of human years ago. He had been there when the ground was little more than a rocky cag formed as competing tectonic plates had collided, forcing one skyward while the other dipped. Humans had not yet arrived. Animal and plant life struggled to survive. Most lasted a few hundred seasons and were gone. 

Bockwimen had been young when this ground was hot, gaining in knowledge and understanding when it suddenly and ferociously cold. Many like him had not survived those days. Magic itself was too often misunderstood and used in ways that were not intended. Bockwimen had used that time to hone his skill, mastering his magic so that earth’s changing elements were no longer a threat to his survival. One by one, he had woven spells of protection and camouflage around him. When he discovered invisibility, he embraced it as though it were a part of himself that had been mislaid.

By the time the first stumbling humans arrived, Bockwimen was invincibly strong, a force that could make the fragile and short lives of these new creatures either comfortable or miserable according to his mood of the day. He found the humans interesting and teachable to some degree, though too troublesome and independent to maintain as any kind of companion. They posed no threat to him. He taught them how to gather fruit and how to hunt for meat and fish with respect. Others like him helped keep the humans safe from the chaotic and often harsh weather. They shared their language with the humans and the walkers, as they were sometimes called, shared their language in return.

Bockwimen found it sad, at first, that humans were so stuck to the ground. He had certainly tried to teach them to at least levitate to lighten the weight of their souls despite the ever-growing weight of their already enormous size, but none of them, no matter how willing they might be, could learn the magic and work it on themselves well enough to leave the ground. Bockwimen had then tried to teach them to at least climb the trees and swing from one limb to another, the exact thing he was so gracefully performing at this moment. The humans had proven themselves too clumsy, though, and after having to men the multiple injuries of his students he had decided humans were better left on the ground.

The days when he could work with humans were well in the past. Once the pale walkers had shown up in large numbers, killing those who had been his friends, matters and relationships changed. Humans proved increasingly unworthy. Bockwimen had been betrayed too many times for him to trust them now. This morning’s latest aggression, whether intentional or not, was an affront to the entire non-human world. He had no choice but to inform the queen as quickly as he could get to her.

Somewhere behind Bockwimen, there was a full company of Niwa’Diyo doing their best to keep up. Not all of them had witnessed the atrocity but they all felt the fear rise in their core when it happened. While they had all witnessed violence the walkers perpetrated on each other, not since the days before the pale ones could any of them recall aggression against the Niwa’Diyo. For the most part, humans had stopped believing they exist. How could they attack something they didn’t believe existed?

Above the mist, birds of many species gathered, making their way toward the magic forest where they knew they would be safe. The humans had attacked them as well. Fear was spreading quickly. Humans, being consumed with their own desires, did not realize that the skies had gone quiet.

Bockwimen focused on staying one the fastest course through the mist, hir arms moving as fast as hummingbird wings. By now, Queen Apai’ii would know that something had happened, but details were what she needed. The arboreal network, as thorough as it was, could be slow, its protocols giving most of their attention to taking care of their own. Communication with the queen was a courtesy and come second to the resource needs of the forest.

Seeing the end of the mist ahead, the chief scout prepared himself for the great leap into the massive, centuries-old white oak where Apa’ii held court. From the perspective of the scouts behind him, it would appear that he had disappeared into the clouds overhead. What they would likely never see was the labyrinth of trails, doors, and checkpoints required for one to make their way into the queen’s throne room. Intricate carving adorned the walls, distracting all but the most dedicated. Doors made of precious gems each required a unique spell to open the lock. Strong winds seeming to come from nowhere cleaned on of external diseases that might have attached themselves. Magical mists removed any loose dust. Finally, the tree’s own fibrous network checked the identity of anyone attempting to enter. Those not having sufficient permission were sleepily deposited outside at the base of the tree’s trunk with no recollection of anything they had experienced.

At the first door, Bockwimen encountered an egress carved of emerald with the likeness of Apai’ii glowing with a warm magical light. He was forced to pause as a sentry delivered a message.

“Queen Apa’ii anxiously awaits the confirmation of denial of allegations to a rumored deliberate attack by the humans on the Niwa’Diyo,” growled the stone sentry from its permanent perch.

Bockwimen nodded and continued past the amber door etched with a vision of Agibcochook, the ground mountain to the East, and through the door of topaz upon which was carved a scene from the Haderondah mountains. At the ruby door, its carving representing Giha’hogen, the great river, there was another message from another stone sentry.

“The Queen requests that you enter quietly without fanfare or dramatics as there are those present in the court who must now know of your report.”

Again, Bockwimen nodded his understanding and continued.

Upon reaching the door made of blazing sapphire, Bockwimen was confronted with his own reflection whom he had to congratulate in a particular verse for being worthy of the queen’s presence. The verse, of course, was a spell particular to Bockwimen. Other Niwa’Diyo would see their own reflection and their own verse would need recitation. Opening the amethyst crustal passage required a recitation fo the variations of oak trees with magical powers of their own. There were 648 of them and Bockwimen had turned the list into a rhyme to make the passage go quickly.

Finally, as Bockwimen approached the door made of pearl, he lay prostrate before the door and waited He felt the magic as it questioned his purpose and challenged his sincerity. Only if one was deemed worthy and sincere would the door open, allowing him to enter. The magic knew Bockwimen well, though, and sensed the urgency of his message. He stepped quickly through the doorway and just as quickly and silently it closed behind him.

If anyone in the throne room had seen him enter, they made no move acknowledge such. Bockwimen stood in the shadow of a canopy that shaded the pearl door. Across the room, he could see Apa’ii talking with Pockwatch, her eldest and wisest counsel, and the scoundrel Bogmenak. He could not hear what they were saying, nor did he want to. The presence of Bogmenak in the throne room meant that there was some other trouble within the realm, likely one which Bogmenak himself had caused.

Bogmenak’s appearance couldn’t help but be uncomfortable to some degree. He had been born of thistle and sagebrush. As such, his personality tended to be equally as jagged and unpleasant. Being more round than he was tall, Bogmenak fought hard to be noticed, often disturbing places where he was not invited, frequently using magic where it was not warranted, and constantly countering Apa’ii’s peaceful approach to dealing with delicate matters.

More than anything, though, Bogmenak was fiercely anti-human. He and those like him had existed peacefully across the Western deserts for many centuries before the humans rose up from Ongtupqu, the great canyon. The humans considered the land theirs to exploit and began using the sagebrush, a frequent home to magic souls, to feed their fires. Bogmenak and his tribe retaliated with magic that caused the sagebrush to pop and explode, sending sparks that would cause the human’s belongings to catch fire.

When the pale walters came, with their horses and wagons and cattle, they trampled the sagebrush and other desert plants with no regard for the myriad creatures, both magical and animal, who lived there. Magic souls had no choice but to retaliate harshly, digging holes that crippled cattle, sabotaging wagons, and stirring up dust storms that made the air impossible to breathe. Humans persisted, though, and gradually developed means by which they could counter the magic used against them.

Bogmenak’s hatred fr the humans was well known among magic souls. Bockwimen understood why Apa’ii would not want him within earshot when delivering his news. Concern and fear would be heightened enough without the provocation Bogmenak would inevitably bring to the situation.

Bockwimen waited patiently for the safety of the queen’s attention. He watched as she floated some distance off the floor, her countenance reflecting a warm amber light brightly across the whole courtyard. Her core, carved from the great-great-great-grandparents of this very tree, was tanned from her years, her outer bark highlighted with bits of soft green and blue. Her slender face seemed to barely contain her wide eyes and broad smile. Her long arms, like branches of a tree, were firm and strong. Her legs, if that’s what one chooses to call her lower appendages, were as long as her arms, ending in a web of wispy tendrils that picked up the slightest communication whether spoken or thought. 

In her wisdom, Apa’ii waited and let each one speak for themselves, knowing that thoughts and words were not always the same. Thoughts could be involuntary responses to something out of one’s control. Words were chosen and uttered with intent. THoughts could more readily be forgiven or ignored than could words. That did not always man that Apa’ii ignored one’s thoughts. Rather, she chose to let them help interpret and color the worlds one chose to say. This gave her great insight into knowing one’s motivations and worries when bringing matters before her.

At the same time, Apa’ii had the ability to influence one’s emotion, another gift she used to most everyone’s advantage. Few souls came to her without feeling some anxiety, fear, or anger, no matter what their basic premise was. With each soul she would send calming waves of assurance and comfort, giving to them the clarity to speak without the undue influence of excessive emotion. Most souls left her presence feeling better nor matter what decision the queen might make.

Only those like Bogmenak were not swayed by her talents. Whatever complaint he had brought before Apa’ii was not being addressed in a manner that suited him. Upon being dismissed, he hugged and growled, storming away through a granite door at the opposite end of the throne room.

Once the door was shut behind Bogmenak, Apa’ii gave some inaudible instruction to Pockwatch, who bowed so deeply that the fern-like tendrils atop his willow head brushed the polished wood floor. He also left through the granite door, leaving a plume of daisy petals behind him.

Apa’ii watched the granite door close, took a deep breath, and motioned for Bockwimen to approach. The scout responded swiftly and bowed appropriately in front of her. “I am troubled, Bockwimen,” she said softly. “I am getting communication from birds and squirrels as well as trees along the border of the mist. Your haste in coming to me is unusual. I gather something has happened to one of your scouts?”

“Yes, your highness. Packwudjinee, an aviary scout, has been captured by the humans. A deliberate trap, I’m afraid, along with some 200 birds of various species who were nested along the border. They’ve all be taken. I do not know where or to what end. I dispatched Pudguwijin to follow the vehicle in which they were taken, but your majesty, we’ve never experienced an afront like this right on our own doorstep! Usually, the humans stick to the other end of the forests. They don’t like carrying their gear over great distances and rugged terrain. We’ve never seen them this far into the forest unless they were lost!”

Apa’ii floated toward the domed ceiling of the throne room, a gesture Bockwimen recognized as a sign of great alarm. She paused there for a moment and upon her return asked, “Is it at all possible that they took Packwudjinee by mistake, thinking he was a bird? I’m told he had transmogrified into a white-capped sparrow, which would make him an unexpected sight to the ornithologists that keep poking around.”

“Yes, your majesty. That is his chosen and common form when speaking with most of our friends, especially inside the human city. He’s still young and has not developed the strength to stay invisible for great lengths of time, though I would imagine he’s working on better developing that skill at this very moment.” Bockwimen added, “He was talking with a raven when they flew into the trap. A great net fell and gathered them. The raven’s wing was broken. I’ve no knowledge whether Packwudjinee was hurt or not. I fear he was for if he was well he could most certainly have alluded capture.”

Apa’ii twirled furiously in a rare display of anger. “Were all the souls they captured wounded in the process? This is unconscionable! She spun herself again before coming back to Bockwimen. “News like this is spreading already. Birds are in retreat, requesting sanctuary in the first within the mist. I am inclined to give it to them and extend the borders…” she paused and looked carefully at the scout, “but you have more to tell me, don’t you, about the border?”

Bockwimen nodded. “The border is set back 40 furlongs from where you last set it, your highness. How this is possible, I do not know. We were last at this border just over a moon ago. It seemed firmly in place. Pockwudjinee was inquiring of the raven how long he had been there, outside the mist. If the raven had given an answer I did not hear it. I was busy observing the construction of yet another highway passing through the forest.”

“How close is the highway passing to the boundary?” Apa’ii asked.

“Less than two furlongs from where you originally had it placed. Two communities of deer, four bobcats, and 18 bear have been displaced. All are accounted for but the bear are grumpy about the whole matter,” was the cautious answer.

“When are bear not grumpy these days?” Apa’ii asked rhetorically. “Seems like one a few moons ago when they and their cousins roamed this forest and the mountains in great number. They were good friends.” The queen wandered the perimeter of the room as she gave consideration to the situation. As she moved, the light moved with her, causing fleeting and time times eerie shadows to be cast upon the carved walls. After some time, she returned to Bockwimen and said, “I see little choice but to gather the full council for a meeting. There are already rumors of what happened and more rumors starting of how we might respond. He will have an audience. Our cause would be helped if your trailing scout, Pudguwijin was it, could give us more information. See what you can do, Bockwimen. I’d rather avoid starting a war with the humans today.”

Bockwimen bowed deeply and hurried through the granite door, onto a heavy external branch of the tree. Pockwatch, looking very much like a leaf sitting on a knot on the branch, was waiting for him.

“She’s going to have to assemble the council, isn’t she?” the counselor asked quietly. He instinctively knew the answer but it was always best to have confirmation.

Bockwimen nodded affirmatively, his gray hair now sparkling in the sunlight, forming a halo around him. “This is the first time since what, that noisy and insipid war the humans had over whether or not to enslave each other?”

Pockwatch nodded in reply. “Remember how rarely the council was needed before the pale walkers invaded our space?”

“Remember how rarely the council was needed before the humans were among us at all?” Bockwimen answered. “Bogmenak will have more than a few interested ears when he speaks, I fear. We have hidden ourselves in response to the human invasion and the magicians of the desert are not the only ones who think we may have given them too much latitude.”

Pockwatch pulled a pipe made from the stem of an oak leaf from his belt and magically lit it with a drop of sunlight, taking a long draw from its bowl before handing it to Bockwimen, who did the same before handing the pipe back. Pockwatched tucked the pipe back into place and then said, “We must tread carefully and speak with scrupulous thought. These pale walkers are still new here by our terms. We must not take actions that might hinder their growth as beings. The Fae tell us the humans in Europe are actually getting better, more respectful of each other and the things around them.”

Bogwimen reached his arms between two branches and performed a graceful flip. “I am aware also, as are others, that it took two horrible wars and still more seasons of unrest before those humans came to their current understanding. Even with that, half of them don’t see how the litter of their existence ruins everything they touch. They are very slow-minded people to be sure. Urging the council to have continued patience with them could be difficult, even for Queen Apa’ii.”

Pockwatch walked lightly across the tree branch a few steps, then turned and said, “Do you know why Bogmenack was here today?”

Bockwimen shook his head. He knew better than to ask questions to which he didn’t need to know the answer.

The counselor continued, “Humans have upset the troubled ones by attempting to lay yet another of their pipelines across sacred land. Already, they are whipping up tornadoes and storms in an attempt at scaring them away, but the humans are less afraid than they were a few seasons ago. Their technologies warn them before the storm gets too close. The troubled ones respond by making the storms stronger and in doing so, they destroy the mantle of the curst, wiping out millions of Niwa’Diyo homes, sending the smaller ones flying and leaving the larger ones disoriented. Bogmenak thinks we should appease the troubled once, sacrifice the humans to save our own.”

“He knows we can’t do that!” Bockwimen said adamantly. “As disruptive as humans are, they are still living souls. They have a right to exist!”

“But after today, he will have an audience more willing to consider his request,” Pockwatch countered. “I’m not sure the Queen has enough votes to stop him if we cannot prove that your scout is safe by the time the council meets.”

Bockwimen cocked his head to one side and listened to the sounds above him. “I think,” he said softly, “that answer is arriving soon.”

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1

Chapter 2

The Thinning Veil, Chapter Two

“Whether or not the scout is safe, the council must take some action that the natural, non-human world can see as progressive or else we risk losing their support,“ Pausnuk said as he wandered the throne room in concentric circles. His stride and pather were the only external way of knowing that the young advisor was upset. Representative of the evolution of the Nawa’Diyo, he had a head shaped like a tulip, crowned in bright red, a boding covered in brightly colored feathers, and large, quad-fold wings as delicate as any fae had ever seen. His legs were the bly-green of the ocean and his arms were white as foam. His natural radiance was one of perpetual happiness, belying his true emotion. “The last thing we need, your majesty, if I may,” he continued, talking as he walked, “Is for there to be a divided response. I can tell you right now that ocean-dwelling mammals and magic folk are not likely to be on board with anything short of a planned disruption. Already, the Hantu Air are agitating the seas and threatening to stir up storms. They’ve been upset with what humans have done to the waters for several hundred seasons. To them, this is a good excuse to fight back. 

“Similarly, the Sylphids have long been upset with the humans and are ready to choke them on their own polluted air. I’ve already reminded them, gently of course, that any such adverse action not taken by unilateral agreement would be considered a violation of multiple agreements and treaties, but they’re simply listening to the souls around them.

“You’re majesty, I know we could retreat, we could create protections for the non-human lives for which we have taken responsibility, but I can assure you that a growing number of souls outside the Nawa’Diyo are growing restless, tired of letting these upstart humans have their way when the many billions of us have been here longer.”

Apa’ii floated above Pausnuk as he spoke, her light defining the limits and boundaries of the circles he walked. The queen liked Pausnuk very much and found him unusually wise for one so young. He did, however, have a flair for the dramatic that made her giggle as she was aware of the outlandish thoughts he entertained while speaking. “I am all too aware of the Hantu Air and the Sylphids. I have asked them to send representatives to our council and both have accepted.

“My more immediate concern is the safety of our own animal souls. Yet more reports of forced displacements are occurring. We’re growing close to the limits of what we can keep hidden without the human’s technology taking notice. I understand their anger at humans but they forget that they must get close to humans to do any harm. Humans have guns and show no care at all in eliminating animals who are merely defending their sacred grounds. 

“Any action anyone takes has to be done with magic from within the hidden places of our realm. Humans must think it is nature in revolt, not us, and certainly not animals. We cannot commit to any actions that reveal our presence. If they had any sense of the degree to which they are outnumbered, they would panic and immediately look for ways to exterminate us, even if it means devastating their own lives in the process. Humans have such an unreasonable and unnecessary view of war, the nobility of sacrifice to their artificial countries. They cannot be trusted to respond in a logical and thoughtful manner. They don’t even listen to their own scientists. They are that disease we cannot cure and must live with if for no other reason than to save them from themselves.”

Pausnuck had stopped his wandering as Apa’ii spoke. He was overwhelmed as the queen not only filled the room with light but his core with peace. Her ability to calm his emotions was the foundation of his dedication to her. “Your majesty, what would you have me do?” he asked.

“Go quickly as you can to the creatures of the Northwest, beyond Yamakiasham. Talk to the moose and the elk. Ask if their interactions with humans have been more aggressive than normal. I want to make sure what happened today was an isolated incident, not part of a broader campaign. Listen carefully to those who travel the most, also, the monarch and the hummingbird. They have seen more than other creatures and can speak to human patterns. Do try to be back before the council’s meeting though. I need as much factual information as possible before the rhetoric starts flying,” the queen instructed.

Pausnuck bowed deeply and rushed from the throne room. Apa’ii turned to the shadows near a hidden door of carved wood. “Dear Pai, my love, you know better than to entertain thoughts of trying to surprise me,” she laughed. “Come out here where I can kiss your face.”

Pai smiled as he emerged from the shadows and embraced Apa’ii closer than anyone else in the realm would dare consider. Though marriage did not exist in the magic realm as it does with humans, the two had been coupled longer than humans had lived on the continent. Pai was a smidge shorter than the queen and his core was made of bur oak. As a result, he sported a unique fringed cap at the top of his head rather than the willow-like leaves of Apa’ii. The bark that covered the lower half of his body was more coarse and with age, he had begun to gray a bit which gave him somewhat a more sophisticated air.

Despite his long relationship with Apa’ii, however, Pai was not considered royal and would not be in line for succession should something happen to the queen. In fact, there was no line of succession established. Apai’ll had assumed the throne created by a now-ancient Nawa’Diyo treaty that united all magic people in North America. No one else had ever been considered because no one else possessed the calm negotiation skills that came so easily for Apa’ii.

Pai was quite happy not having the pressure of being royal. While he still carried a title as one of the queens closest advisors, he also had enough anonymity, especially away from the home tree, as to slip through crowds and listen to conversations without being recognized, especially by the younger Nawa’Diyo who weren’t familiar with the realm’s governance methods at all.

“I’m afraid you’re not going to be pleased with what I have to say,“ he whispered through their prolonged embrace. 

“I’m afraid I knew before you returned,” she said, kissing the top of his cap. “You’ve never been good at keeping anything from me. I would think by now you would have given up trying.”

Pai kissed her on the cheek then took a step back. “So, am I right that this is a greater emergency than the missing scout?” he asked.

“It is a different emergency,” she said, lowering her countenance so that only the two of them were included in its glow. “That the border of the mist is receding all over the world means that it is almost surely unrelated to the kidnapping of the scout. That both the events would occur or, at least, that we would notice them on the same day may seem suspicious but without evidence of any directly connected events I am inclined to treat them as separate disasters. Unless you have evidence to change my mind?”

Pai shook his head. “No, I don’t see any immediate connection. What I do see, though, is a problem with the magic. The border area where Bockwimen was this morning? It already receded another furlong. It will lose two more by morning. I tried every spell I know and could not get it to reset. Worse yet, invisibility spells didn’t work where the mist had been.”

Apa’ii turned suddenly toward the open room then back to her partner. “That means those we had hidden are now at risk. What about beyond the initial boundary? Did you risk going out that far?”

“Yes, of course, and for now everything works there the way it is supposed to.” Pai paused and paced a short distance from the queen. “Where the mist had been, it felt different. My magic felt weaker. Flying, jumping, casting a simple spell to water a fern, all were more difficult. I think more is happening than losing the mist.”

“You think something is wrong with the magic,” Apa’ii said softly, knowing what the was afraid to say out loud. “That is troubling. I wonder if it is just the magic of some or the magic of all? There is no way to know unless …” She paused, a look of horror coming over her face. “The council! You said invisibility spells weren’t working. Our councilors will use these spells to travel. What happens why they reach where the borders once were?” They’ll be exposed and visible! Not all of them can transmute into animals. If there are any humans around why they reach the border…”

“They’ll be visible,” Pai said, finishing her sentence rather than her finishing his for a change. “What should be done? This could affect every Nawa’Diyo in existence.”

“Our most immediate concern is to care for those who are traveling. They must be protected. Quick, get a message to Dawádetgit. We need her special skill,” the queen instructed.

“And if her magic doesn’t work?” Pai asked cautiously.

“She forms her magic in the skies, not on the ground,” Apa’ii explained. “She nor her magic should be affected by what is happening on the surface.” She paused, then added. “Yes, if I’m wrong, we’re in more trouble than we ever dreamed.”

Chapter 3

The Thinning Veil, Chapter 3

Maliae was a tiny blue nymphatic soul who possessed an incredible amount of magical skill that could become fearsome if she were ever angered. At the moment, however, she was contentedly sitting on a day lily swinging her feet off the edge of a petal and blowing bubbles. Maliae loved bubbles and spent a great deal of her time blowing and crafting them into various shapes that might fill her imagination at any given moment. 

Today, she was imagining various kinds of animals, some of which were real and others that might have been had she decided to create them. The nymph didn’t want the responsibility of having to care for a new species of living beings, though, so instead, she simply blew on the bubbles to send them floating and then turned them into clouds, letting them float on into an otherwise blue sky, the shade of blue against which she could fly unnoticed even by other magical souls.

She had been sitting on the day lily most of the morning and well into the afternoon.  Maliae’s normal responsibilities involved keeping weather patterns running on schedule and at that particular moment, everything under her domain was running well. Even the troubled ones had taken a day off. She was happy.

It was just after she had sent a bubble shaped like a wolf into the sky that an unexpected breeze caught her off guard, knocking her from her perch. Catching herself before she hit the ground, Maliae looked up to find Pai sitting exactly where she had been, wearing a large smile and holding what was, for her, an extremely large strawberry. “Pai, you silly loon!” she scolded playfully. “You could have caused me damage! For that’s you’ll have to give me a kiss.”

Pai smiled and flew down to meet her, their lips connecting with enough passion as to cause a small whirlwind around them. “I bring you greetings from the queen,” Pai said as he offered her the strawberry.

Maliae took the strawberry, which was almost as big as she was, and helped herself to what was, for her, a large bite, leaving red strawberry juice on her face. Very little of the strawberry had been consumed and she would enjoy sharing it with those in her clan. “The queen sent me a strawberry, huh?” she asked with a mischievous grin. “She’s being rather friendly, isn’t she?”

“The strawberry is from me. The queen has a rather dire and serious request of you,” Pai said, sitting on the flower again. “We need to keep humans away from the border of the mist.”

“I didn’t realize that had become a problem,” Maliae said as she took another bite of the strawberry. “Is that why she’s called the council?”

Pai tipped his head back and rocked for a moment before answering. “Not initially, not that is a whole other matter. This one snuck up on us. We might not have known had the other matter not come up.”

Maliae used the back of her hand to wipe the strawberry pulp from her face. “You’re talking in circles without telling me anything, my love. Or did you forget that I’m a member of the council as well? I know about the scout. Pockwatch’s dispatch was alarming but clear. But you’re saying there’s more?”

Paid nodded. “And part of the urgency is that we don’t know yet how severe this new issue could be. We need to make sure absolutely no humans are lingering near the border of the mist when the other councilors arrive from outside.”

“So, you want some rain, I’m guessing,” Maliae said as she did a headstand on top of the strawberry. “I can handle that.”

Pai caught the nymph as she dismounted from the fruit and the two kissed again. “Mmm, your kiss gets sweeter all the time,” he whispered.

“That happens when you feed me such delicious fruit,” she giggled. “When would she like the rain?” 

“She wants something stronger than rain,” Pai said. “She wants to bring in Dawádetgit.”

Maliae sprang into the air, scattering strawberry pulp everywhere. Her wings fluttered quickly so that she lingered well above the lily. “Damn! Her majesty isn’t one for subtlety, is she? I assume she remembers what happened the last time Dawádetgit did her thing in a forest? Those saplings are just starting to come back. Is she going to sound any kind of alarm first?”

“I am sure she will, and probably warn the animals as well. We can’t risk there being any humans nearby when councilors reach the mist’s boundary,” Pai said.

Maliae sat atop the strawberry, her elbows on her knees, her heels kicking into the soft flesh of the fruit. “Council is set for in the morning as the sun fully crosses the horizon. That means most of them will arrive tonight, coming through the mist before the sun is set. That doesn’t give us a lot of time. I’ll have my clan go ahead and begin adjusting the air pressure and pull moisture into place. It takes a minute to create the kind of storm you’re wanting, you know. Dawádetgit doesn’t show up and start throwing tornadoes around like Zeus’ lightning bolts. Go ahead and have the queen issue the warning. We want everyone, including the humans to have time to take cover. 

“If any magical lives are damaged, it’s on the queen. She’s asking for this. I won’t allow Dawádetgit to be a scapegoat if something goes haywire, and with these things, something always goes haywire. Good intentions are never strong enough to stop bad things from happening. In fact, now that I think about it, good intentions actually attract bad things. Have you ever known good intentions to go as planned?” The nymph was on a roll and didn’t wait for a response. “Of course you haven’t. It never happens. And when shit happens, there’s always someone to blame. Well, this one is totally on Apa’ii. She might as well go ahead and own up to it now. No one from my clan is going to take the blame.

Pai sat awkwardly on the lily, face inward. While he knew Maliae was correct in her assessment, he also knew there was no way of stopping the natural order of balance. “Why must we blame anyone for the outcome of nature itself?” he asked. “Dawádetgit doesn’t control the storms she creates, neither does Apa’ii control who listens, ignores, or fails to respond appropriately to her warning. Fault lies in deliberate harm, not the natural malice of the universe.”

Maliae hopped down from the strawberry and sat net to Pai on the lily. “And you know, no matter how correct you are, and yes, I can agree with you in principle, no one in the council is going to listen if someone from their clan gets hurt, or an animal under their protection is killed. Reason yields to emotion in all living souls. Apa’ii is one of the few who has the ability to not let emotion overwhelm her; that is why she is the queen. Even Apa’ii with all her wonder and talents, can’t dictate how the general population responds to an event. 

“Perhaps, this time, there will be little destruction. I’ll tell Dawádetgit to keep the storms high, not rooting through the crust as the troubled ones do. That should be sufficient to keep the humans back a few furlongs.”

“More than a few, please. She needs to run about 60 furlongs from where she finds the border,” Pai said. “Staying high is good, but it needs to scare the myths out of the humans.”

Maliae lept off the lily and few a couple of circles around the flower. “Consider it done. You’ll be signing signs before you get back to the home tree. Just one more matter before you leave.”

“What’s that?” Pai asked taking to the air as well.

“When all this is over I want a whole night with you, okay?” The queen has been keeping you far too busy,” Maliae said, sweeping down to give him another long, strawberry-flavored kiss.

“Consider it a deal!” Pai said as he turned and moved quickly toward the home tree.

The Thinning Veil


Here we are, starting another book, serialized online partly for your amusement, and partly to provide myself with the discipline to make sure that I’m writing on a regular schedule and actually getting things done. That this is the third such book feels somewhat incredible as prior to adapting this method I’d rarely made it past chapter ten over many abandoned attempts. I’ve considered going back and resurrecting some of those books, but I find I’m not nearly as interested in them now as I was when I first wrote them, and I would have to completely re-work them for them to even be marginally readable. We’re in a different place, a different mindset, and it shows.

That being said, there are some changes in the way I am approaching this book, partly for my own convenience and partly because I think they make for a better reading experience. I am also aware that writing in the midst of a pandemic that not only affects how we, as a society, behave but how we think and read, requires some modifications in how I approach telling the story.

One significant alteration is in how this story is presented. I am using a slightly larger type this time to help guard against eye strain. I am also increasing the distance between lines for the same purpose. As we all have stayed home and are reading more, our eyes grow tired more easily. Hopefully, this makes for a more pleasant online reading experience.

Formatting gets a makeover in this book as well. One of the things I noticed half-way through Pastors’ Conference, 1972 was that limiting the format to two chapters of approximately 3,000 words each sometimes forced me to compromise the story. That’s going to mean a lot more work in the re-write that hasn’t started yet. I want to avoid that with this book. So, my intent is to arrange chapters within the logical flow of the story. That means some weeks there may be only one chapter. Other weeks, there could be four chapters of varying sizes. 

At the head of each week’s entry will be a set of bookmarks with the chapter titles and, possibly, specific chapter sections. Clicking on those bookmarks will take one directly to that section. My hope is that by adding this feature, we remove the feeling that one must read the entire selection in one setting. This should make it easier to return on different days throughout the week and easily pick up at or near where one left off without having to do all that scrolling.

Readers will also, hopefully, see more interstitial requests for funding. Some of these will be through the “Donate Now” buttons placed between chapters. Others will be direct ads for Old Man Talking merch, which should be working but no one ever looks at, which I find disappointing. The reasons for doing this are multiple. First, like many, our income has been diminished by the need to quarantine. We need your support to help pay the small but continuing costs of this website. Second, there is an ethical argument to be made regarding taking advantage of one’s creative work without providing compensation. This is a draft, so asking a normal retail price isn’t appropriate. Slipping us a couple of bucks every few weeks, however, indicates your appreciation for our effort. Think of it as a form of tipping.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is recognizing that this is a different genre than our previous books and one needs to be in a somewhat different mindset when reading. This book unapologetically falls into the realm of fantasy; think C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien without the genius or, perhaps, the length. Whether or not this book could be the first of a series depends as much on whether you enjoy reading it as well as whether I enjoy writing it, so I make no commitments to that end. However,  I do want to be thorough in creating this new universe so that it, at least, feels plausible to the degree that such topics can ever be considered plausible. 

In creating this story, it is necessary to write a new canon regarding magical creatures. Through considerable amounts of research as to the varying types and qualities of those commonly, and often mistakenly, referred to as fae, we have found a number of situations that are untenable for this story. I won’t bore you with all of them, but let’s get past some major points.

First, nothing about this story is set in Europe during the dark or middle ages. There is no stilted formal language among any of the characters unless it is appropriate to a specific occasion. While influenced by the past, our characters are wholly modern and the world we create for them is contemporary, having evolved from all the stories of the 18th and 19th centuries with which we are already familiar.

Second, as our story takes place in North America, the descriptions, names, and appearances of our characters reflect the influence of the indigenous peoples who populated this continent some 13,000 years ago. Their rich folklore and their method of storytelling are woven into the fabric of our story. Where North American-derived characters meet European, Asian, and/or African-derived characters, my hope is that we illuminate the depth of each culture, representing the differences that exist in each region’s indigenous tales.

Third, and perhaps as important as anything else I might say here, is the warning that I have no intention of making this tale “cute” or in any other way palpable for children. This is a book that addresses life among mature creatures whose lives are filled with hundreds if not thousands of years of experience. Characters do not have cute names. The creatures whose lives we explore are not Disney-fied, and neither is the universe in which they live. There is no more sparkle and glitter in their world than there is in your own; perhaps less. Serious topics are raised and their resolution follows their own rules of conduct on such matters. 

I raise these issues here, before you begin reading, in the hope that readers do not bring into this story any preconceived ideas that these characters must have traits similar to or behave in a manner consistent with any other fantasy one might have read. This is a different universe with different creatures and their own set of rules. Those sources influencing my writing do so only in terms of the quality and thoroughness of the worlds they constructed. This is not Tolkien. 

Telling of this story comes with some trepidation. The world I am about to show you is probably not going to match up with anyone’s childhood fantasies. As much as people love the anthropomorphized white lion of C.S. Lewis and the elven creatures of Tolkien, our story introduces us to a different world, the ancestors of those fabled creatures. Their traits have changed—they had to in order to survive. Fans of a particular creature tend to dislike such changes to the way they’ve traditionally viewed them. I may well be making enemies for myself.

Biting off more than should be chewed is a character flaw I have difficulty leaving behind and this may yet prove to be another example of that failure. Only the writing will tell whether this is an act of inspiration or insanity. Our hope is that you will go with us on this journey, letting me know when a matter becomes too clouded or unfathomable as well as the elements that one might find exciting. I’m leaving the comments open at the end of each entry. Feel free to use them.

Let us, together, take a big breathe and jump into this story, right after this announcement from our sponsor.

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1


The Thinning Veil

The story I’m about to tell you is one of fantasy born on the wings of legend and steeped in the myth of the world’s native peoples. Their ways remain unknown and misunderstood by those who only see the result of their actions. 

To call them people of any kind is insulting to their ancient origins. To call them creatures is to diminish their gifts and magical talents. Humans of the First World named them differently with geographic relationships and understanding. The fae came from across Europe. Asian peoples told of Shin and the Mogwai. Yaksha haunts Hindu and Buddhist tales. Peris are known throughout Persia. Alux and Chaneques linger in Mexico. Aziza came to North America with humans from Africa. Together, they and others still exist and today we pull back the cover of their lives and their shared existence for without them humanity would most surely have killed itself off many centuries ago.

Yet, were it not for humans they would not have been brought together in the form or conditions in which they now exist. None ever knew of the other in the way they do now. Each lived in their own place, attached to and caring for the existence of nature and humans living in their native lands. There was a kinship between magical beings and the living, breathing souls around them. With greater global migration, both voluntary and involuntary, they found themselves thrown together, sometimes in matters of mutual aid and at other times in defense of their own traditions. As they gathered in what humans now call North America, they became known collectively as Niwa’Diyo—small good ones (pronounced nee-wah dee-yō). 

Living in their world has not always been peaceful and even now to make such a claim would be naive. That is not to say that their world has more perils than our own. Here, perhaps more than in the realm of humanity, there are forces of good and forces of evil and plenty are those whose thoughts and actions might be swayed by either. One dare not assume, on the unlikely chance of encountering a Niwa’Diyo, which direction their moral compass might swing as that determination is rarely absolute and change according to the conditions of the encounter.

Among the Niwa’Diyo remain traces of the beings told about in the stories and legends of old. They, too, know the stories and the truths that lie behind the legends. They each have an appreciation for and deep knowledge of their ancestry, their culture, and their heritage. Such knowledge and recognition does not make them exactly like their ancestors, or at times, remotely similar to the beings known in books humans have written. Like humans, they have evolved, adapting not only to the changes of the natural earth but also the exposure to and inter-mingling of magical souls from other lands on other continents. Not that they interbred in the same way that humans have, but as various souls have been friendly in their co-existence they have shared powers and physical traits that would make them unrecognizable to those whose stories have already been told.

Therefore, dear reader, put away your assumptions and the presumption of knowledge you might have taken from the literary lore of days in the past. We are no longer in those realms, not among those peoples. We write now of their descendants, those who are the children of survivors from those often terrible and tragic events These are the souls that inhabit a modern world, have a contemporary language, and a view of all the earth, not limited by race or geography but experienced travelers all with refined magic that is more precise in its outcome and less guesswork in its methods.

At the same time, we must now understand that the souls living around us today are less aware of human presence than they have ever been. The fine mist that once existed between our two worlds is more of a wall. Few are those who have knowledge of how to enter or exit. Fewer still are those who dare to wander back and forth. They care not for what humans have become. They consider us to be a race of fools and imbeciles that have lost our relationship to the natural world and too stupid to know what we are missing.

The language they speak is not one any living human would recognize. Once, when the mist was thin and magical souls traversed among humans, they communicated quite freely, but as humans became more developed and began to question the existence of magic, they slowly forgot the magical languages. Today, even if there were a human who still recognized the old languages, and there hasn’t been such a soul for many generations, they would not likely recognize what the Niwa’Diyo now speaks. As the languages of humans have evolved, so, too, has the languages of other realms, gradually blending and mixing until they have achieved a universal tongue recognized by all manner of Niwa’Diyo regardless of their ancestry or origin.

Accordingly, when one reads their dialogue in the following pages, it is an interpretation of that language provided by no one less than Apa’ii herself, for which we are most grateful. Being a magical translation rendered by royalty, we can be certain of its authenticity and accuracy. We need not question whether what is written is what was said, for every word on every page as been checked and confirmed by the Queen. To question this text, therefore, is to question the Queen who does not take such challenges lightly. She can be fierce when she considers her integrity insulted.

One should also note at this point that all of the souls in this magical realm, regardless of their ancestral origins, are largely immortal, which sets up some rather unique conflicts. For example, as depressed as Apa’ii’s chief scout into the human world, Bockwimen, may get, he can never truly kill himself. Hence, he has never thought to do so. Similarly, no matter how angry the oppositional agitator Bogmenak might become with Apa’ii and her administration, he never plots to kill her on the grounds that doing so only results in a waste of resources. Mind you, he has frequently made attempts to usurp her power, and more than a few times he has come close to succeeding. Murder or assassination, however, is not thought and does not exist in the Niwa’Diyo vocabulary, at least not insomuch as it might be targeted toward each other.

Be aware, more than a few Niwa’Diyo have the thoughts, the powers, and the means to remove the lives of humans from their bodies. Again, many years have passed since such onerous activities were legal or common among the magical community. Few would even consider those procedures once common among Sirens and such to hold the slightest amount of personal fulfillment. Human elements, whether their blood or bones or spirits, no longer have the life-sustaining power that they once held for magical souls. In fact, one could argue that they barely hold enough power to sustain a human for the brevity of their lifetime.

Magical life is consumed with the fulfillment of responsibilities to the planet and the powers of the universe. 

Those who possess magic know they are not alone. Many are those who still recall the once frequent visits from those who live among what we know as stars. Among those interstellar guests, it is those born of magic that are the true and rightful inhabitants of the earth. Humans that once seemed to hold promise too quickly squandered and misuse what had been given to them. Their constant wars and seeming inability to learn from their errors eventually drove those star souls away, having determined them to be a race unworthy of further development.

By the beginning of what humans count as their twenty-first century, Apa’ii and her kind were so far removed from any meaningful interaction with the humans that the humans considered their legends to be tales of fiction and young magical souls considered humans to be the monsters of elder stories designed to teach them care and compassion. Only Bockwimen and his troop of carefully trained scouts dared to venture beyond the deep mist. They know how to stay invisible and out of the way. They know to avoid the manner in which humans carelessly use electricity and observe with caution the technological progress that allowed humans to feel that they were achieving forward momentum even as the power of their collective conscience continued to wane, especially in the regions where humans had first appeared.

Scouts follow strict results that Bockwimen enforces with a heavy hand. Scouts must not consume anything of human construct. Scouts must remain fully invisible while within the human realm. Scouts must avoid any interaction with humans save to protect from one of them accidentally crossing through the mist. While scouts must be fluent in the human languages, they are not allowed to speak them at any volume that might be picked up by human ears or their electronic listening devices. Bringing human objects back through the mist is prohibited.

Only Bockwimen makes reports to Apa’ii and her court. No other scouts are allowed to speak of what they see or hear. Neither does Apa’ii allow her court ministers to speak openly of the report. The purity of the magical realm is to be maintained at all costs. At least, that was the case up until the events recounted in this book. 

Magical souls live everywhere. They must, given that they outnumber humans by several billion owing to their near-immortality. Each magical species has its own unique method of reproduction, though they have become more common and unified as the Niwa’Diyo has blurred the lines between similar species. Regardless of the species, though, the moment a new magical soul breathes its first breath sends ripples of excitement through the entire universe. Even Queen Apa’ii herself feels a rush of pleasure with each new life. In a similar fashion, they all know when a magical soul is removed from them. Joy and sorrow are communal emotions that none of them can fully escape. Because of this, there has always been a closeness among magic souls, an emotional connection, unlike anything humans have the ability to comprehend.

Battles and wars between species, common in ancient times and unheard of now, exacted a heavy toll on all magic souls as they all felt each one that fell on the battlefield. If anything, that unbreakable link they share is largely responsible for the peace that has existed between them for over 200 human years.

While the Niwa’Diyo is ubiquitous across the planet, they still tend to gather in those places where magic itself is the strongest. For the most part, these tend to be places where nature has been allowed to go largely untouched. Even humans can feel magic in these places. Of course, they don’t recognize it as magic; some refer to the places as spiritual or peaceful, occasionally pristine. What humans cannot realize is that not only are they feeling magic but also the peaceful souls of all the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of Niwa’Diyo who live there. 

In days past, these magic centers were often places of healing for humans. Kind magic souls were happy to help those wounded. What Niwa’Diyo soon discovered was that humans, even the kind and gentle ones, inevitably brought violence and hate to the magic places. No, the humans didn’t mean to introduce their faults to these revered places, but the species seems unable to escape them. As a result, more and more, with no small amount of sorrow and discussion, the magic places were walled off from humans. Not physical walls, of course, but the invisible and impermeable kind that allows humans to see the beauty without feeling the full effect of the magic. Sure, humans say they feel something special in these places, but that is from within their own nature. There is no human still living who has experienced the full magic right in front of them.

One of the things important to realize is that magical souls don’t have “skin” in the same way as humans. That is because all magic comes from the earth in one way or another, causing those who are made of magic to be composed fully of those elements used in their creation. Some, for example, are made of pure stone, others of metal, some of various minerals, and a few composed wholly of precious stones. Most, however, like Apa’ii, are made of a mixture of elements. Apa’ii herself has a beautifully carved core of white oak around which bark forms a light covering, with strands of hair that have the texture of willow leaves. When light hits the wood just right, Apa’ii seems to glow and her hair flutters capriciously even in the slightest breeze. Were she to ever choose to make herself visible to humans they would have no doubt succumbed to her great beauty and done anything she might ask. Apa’ii fears that even she might not be able to resist the evil side of such power, though, and keeps herself hidden from humanity’s safety.

Niwa’Diyo tends to look at humans as inferior beings. As a group, they still remember when humans first emerged on the face of the planet. Some climbed up out of the canyons, others emerged from the mud, while still others descended from high mountain lakes. Early humans were welcome. Being born of the earth, they were naturally in tune with all living things. While they were easily deceived and often tricked by both animals and magical souls, they learned lessons as they went, growing in their knowledge of natural life and learning how best to use earth’s resources to meet their needs.

Over time, though, humans began to grow cocky and conceited. They started considering themselves the masters of all things, the dominant species on the planet, expecting subservience from all manner of plant, animal, and magical being. Obviously, every other soul was offended, especially the animals, whose natural instinct remains to fight back. Animals proved to be no match for human weapons, though. Magical souls saw no choice but to step in and use magic to hide those who were being over-hunted. Humans thought they were wiping out entire species when, in reality, those in danger were being hidden; some underground and others using invisibility charms.

That method worked for a while but such magic requires great amounts of strength and endurance on the part of those casting the spell. Each time a magical soul would slip and let an animal be seen, thousands would be killed by poachers who were always waiting at the ready. Finally, the magic ones had little choice but to permanently move many of the most endangered animals into sacred magic spaces where no humans can ever find them.

Niwa’Diyoh don’t live in homes the way humans do or even caves or burrows as do the animals. Granted, they do have their preferred spaces, places they frequent that are convenient to their normal paths of travel. Still, magical souls prefer to rest among the material from which they were born, in the woods, among the grassland, in the flowers, along the beaches, in the rocks of the mountains, along snowbanks, and floating among the clouds. Because of their connection to nature, many magical souls are forever transient, moving with the seasons so that they can easily find their favorite places to rest. 

Only the souls of the wood, such as Apa’ii, are reasonably stationary. Woodland souls are hearty by design and during cold winter months need only to sleep deeper into the grain to stay comfortable. 

Souls of the rock don’t necessarily have any requisition for travel as the changing of seasons affects them least of all. Yet, travel they do because it is easy for them and they enjoy visiting with their like kind from other regions. Sometimes, stone souls make problems for human scientists as they leave behind sediment and stone markers that are not native to that region. Geologists often try to find excuses for why humans might have transported the rock from one place to another but one can be quite certain that all such theories are composed of pure fiction.

Neither do Niwa’Diyo recognize family in the same manner as do humans. Being mostly beings of great age (as humans count years) and given that their manner of procreative is quite different and often more complicated than that of humans, there is no inherent parental relationship among them. They do understand the concept of parentage among humans, but magic souls are born through a magical process that may involve both magical souls and wild animals or flowers or insects. This is why some Niwa’Diyoh hide easily among humans simply by changing into whatever form of animal or plant that is part of them. Such magic also explains why most animals can see or are at least aware of the presence of magic when humans haven’t a clue.

While it is true that most Niwa’Diyo are at least tolerant of humans, in fact, the greater majority of them pay humans no mind at all and are completely oblivious to their presence. There remains the vile fact that the magic realm, too, has its rogues and frights. Most all of them stay well out of sight of humans. Their experience in ancient days taught them that humans are prone to kill that which they fear, especially when one’s presence is intimidating. Within the magic community, however, they are openly malicious, especially when provoked or imposed to aide by some agreement forced upon them without consideration.

Apa’ii is cunningly careful to either invite them to any negotiations, which they always decline, or otherwise exempt them if such a decree does not need to address them in the first place. There are others, though, regional governors who at times exceed their authority or do not take sufficient care in their crafting of decrees and, resultingly, anger the dark-minded souls. This is most often the cause for malicious mayhem and dark-minded souls revel in the opportunity to create chaos and lay waste to the communities that have been established.

Among such brooding souls, there can be no peace. Their restless nature pushes them toward aggression. Many were, in fact, born from the lava pools of molten rock that lie deep beneath the earth’s surface. Others were created in great storms that once shook the earth and shaped entire continents. Destruction and chaos are their reason for existing and if they go too long without being given sufficient cause for disruption then they manufacture a reason simply to give them an excuse to run amuck.

Because the grim ones are predictable in their need for slaughter and ruin, Apa’ii must constantly be aware of the messages she gets from the trees and the animals that live underground. More often than not, the fibrous network the trees use for sharing nutrition and information starts humming at a low, almost-inaudible frequency the moment the vile ones begin preparing to instigate any kind of attack. As that humming increases, the trees are able to tell Apa’ii which demons of the earth are upset and where they plan to attack. By using this information to keep the evil ones in check, Apa’ii has saved humanity from even knowing the monsters exist. For most humans, such creatures are the things of fairy tales and horror movies. Only among the magic realm is the reality of the evil ones known personally.

Life for the Niwa’Diyo is complex and full. Responsibilities are taken seriously but so, also, is recreation and the development of their personal magic skills. As with any dimension of existence, it is the upsets and failures that make for a good story, and here, behind the veil, there are many stories all happening under our noses without us ever having a clue they exist.

Pastors' Conference 1972

This is it. This is where our book ends. I want to thank you for sticking with us over the first half of this year. We’ll be back with a very different story on the first Sunday in July.

Chapter 49

Chapter 49

Tom found her less than two minutes before Glynn arrived. Claire was unconscious, huddled with her suitcase at the inset of the front steps to the high school, which provided minimal but critical protection from the snow. Tom unlocked the school door and the two men took Claire inside. Glynn removed his parka while Tom ran to the office and called Hub then called Linda. Getting her to the hospital in Arvel was going to be treacherous but it was the only choice if they were to save her. 

Hardly a word passed between the two men beyond what was absolutely necessary. Anger glared in Tom’s eyes as hot as guilt coldly contracted Glynn’s. When Hub arrived the men helped him put the teenager on the cot, covered her with warm blankets, and put her in the ambulance. Hub insisted that Glynn ride up front with him while Tom rode in the back with his daughter. While both men had been focused on Claire, Hub could see that neither of them had been fit to be out in the weather, either. All three would need medical care.

News of Claire nearly freezing to death made its way around town quickly. Word that Sunday services were canceled did not. As phone calls intended to notify members about the church were hijacked by concern and anger over Claire, it wasn’t long before the Sunday services were forgotten completely. As a result, come 10:00 there were five elderly women standing at the front door of the church wondering why they couldn’t get in. Rose could see them from the front window of the funeral home and had them come there to wait until she could arrange rides home for them. 

Hub was, for the time being, stuck at the hospital in Arvel due to the sheriff in Ridell County declaring the roads too unsafe for even an ambulance. Rose called Buck who, in turn, called Horace, who, thinking additional backup might be good, called Alan. More than an hour passed before the three deacons made it to the funeral home.

Alan was furious when he arrived. “Why didn’t anyone call these ladies and tell them there were no services today?” he shouted at Buck as he stomped up the ramp to the funeral home. 

“The chain was started,” Buck shot back firmly. “Obviously, you knew. Horace knew. Most of the church members knew. Somewhere, someone failed to continue the calling. There’s no way to know who it was, so let’s just get these women home and be done with it.”

“Had the preacher called off the services when I told him to, this wouldn’t have happened. There would have been plenty of time to get the word out,” Alan insisted, pushing his point. “The problem here is that the preacher doesn’t listen.”

“You mean he doesn’t listen to you,” Horace said sternly. “I told him to wait. I thought we’d be able to get some blades out on the street and I thought the county would have salt trucks out. Had those things happened, Claire would have made it home safely and we could have had church this morning. It’s the county’s fault as much as it is anyone’s.”

Alan clenched his fist and got in Horace’s face. “That’s horse pucky and you know it. When was the last time anyone’s seen county salt trucks on Adelberg streets? 15, 20 years at least! He was a fool if he listened to you and you were a bigger fool for suggesting it.”

“Glynn’s not been here long enough to know that the county ignores us,” Buck said, stepping between Horace and Alan. “And as pastor, he has an obligation to consider what’s best for the church as a whole. He’ll be as upset as anyone that the word didn’t get around.”

“By the way, where is he?” Horace asked. “I kinda figured he’d be the first one Rose would have called.”

Buck shoved his hands in his pockets to protect them from the numbness he was beginning to feel. “The hospital kept both him and Tom,” he said. “Neither of them needed to be out in the snow any more than Claire did. It’s a wonder they’re not all three dead.”

“That’s what ignorance and stubbornness will get you,” Alan said. “They’re all three book smart and think they know everything. We see where that got them.”

The three men delivered each of the ladies to their homes, being careful to walk them to the door so that they wouldn’t slip on the ice. Traveling anywhere, even short distances, seemed to take forever. While the snow had stopped falling during the night, the wind had taken over and blown the snow into massive drifts that blocked the road in some places and left the slick ice bare in others. Once the men had finished their deliveries, they each crept home with every intention of staying there no matter who asked for help. Being on the roads at this point was suicide.

Glynn had asked the hospital call Marve when they admitted him. She wasn’t surprised by the phone call. She also knew that they would have to keep him until the roads cleared up. If Hub couldn’t make it back there was no way she was going to risk making the trip. Instead, she sat by the telephone in the kitchen, answering one call after another. Everyone was angry and Marve understood but had no answers for anyone. 

Marve was confused when Roger, Clement, and Bill had all called in succession to ask if Glynn had seen the morning newspaper. She might have understood had their paper been delivered, but roads were so bad that even paper delivery had been canceled in Adelberg, though it had managed to arrive everywhere else. Instead, she told them what had happened with Claire and that Glynn was back in the hospital. “I don’t know if the cold caused the MS to flare up or if they’re treating a serious case of stupidity,” Marve told Roger. “It’s probably best that he’s there where he’s only getting limited information. I think everyone in town is upset with him right now.”

Each of the three preachers had a different response. Clement tried to be comforting and asked if Marve needed anything. Roger was more pragmatic. “These things happen and the bad news seems to come in waves. I’m sure we can work through this.” Bill showed a broader concern. “I’m worried for him, Marve, and I’m worried for our association. Nothing feels right this morning.”

Marve found Bill’s response curious but chose to not press for details. It was obvious something was up in the association and at this point, she really didn’t care what it was. She had enough to worry about with Glynn being back in the hospital and the focus of everyone’s anger. She thanked Bill for his concern and went hung up so she could answer the next call from yet another furious church member.

Glynn laid back in the hospital bed and tried to be thankful for the relative peace and quiet. The nurses had assured him that Claire was going to be okay, despite some frostbite and the severe cold essentially burning the inside of her lungs. What they didn’t tell him was that Tom now had full-fledged pneumonia and was on a ventilator. Had he known, Glynn likely would have tried walking down there and making peace with Claire’s father. Whether the omission was accidental or on purpose would forever be a point of speculation. As it was, he was lying there practicing the breathing techniques he had been given when Bill walked into the room with a newspaper tucked under his arm.

“Please tell me I’m not the only reason you’re here,” Glynn said as he sat up and shook the other pastor’s hand. “There’s no way the roads have started melting already.”

Bill shook his head and smiled. “Are you kidding? The old folks in my church are what keeps this hospital in the black. I always have a reason to be here. I talked to your wife earlier, though, and she told me they were keeping you until this mess clears up. I thought you could use some company.”

“Your wife got tired of having you underfoot, huh?” Glynn teased.

“Well, yeah, I’ve been pretty animated this morning, I’m afraid,” Bill said. “This landed on my front porch before I had my first cup of coffee. Roger said he’d called you yesterday when he found out.” He tossed the front section of the newspaper at Glynn whose jaw dropped when he saw the headline.


If Roger had spoken with the newspaper’s reporter, he had not succeeded in getting them to hold back on any of the details of the accident. The article, which completely occupied all the space above the fold, blamed Larry for almost everything short of driving the pickup that had hit him. The sheriff was waiting to arrest him. The district attorney was promising to prosecute the most severe charges he could. And there, in the middle of everything, was a damning quote from Roger that read, “If Rev. Winston has indeed done anything wrong, he will surely know the wrath of God.” 

Glynn put the newspaper down and looked at Bill. “Did he really say that?”

Bill nodded, his arms crossed in front of him, his expression stern. “He insists that the paper took him out of context, that he said that in the middle of a larger statement that they omitted. That’s irrelevant now. This is what every person in both counties woke up to this morning. It’s a good thing all the churches were closed or we might have had a riot on our hands. I’ve already run into a couple of Larry’s church members here in the hallway. They’re ready to lynch him.”

Glynn sat up a little more. “Crap, I hadn’t thought … He’s still here in the hospital, isn’t he?”

“He’s in intensive care,” Bill said, “and if God has any desire to show him mercy, he’ll just call him on home. There are police staked out just outside the unit, ready to arrest him the moment he’s conscious. The hospital has asked his wife to stay home to avoid there being any difficult scenes.”

Glynn looked at the newspaper again, shaking his head as he re-read the article. “What about the kid’s parents? This doesn’t say anything about their response.”

Bill pulled up a chair and sat down. “They’ve lawyered up and aren’t speaking to anyone. Roger tried to contact them to offer to pay for the funeral but they wouldn’t take his call. I can’t say I blame them. I know you weren’t here, but there was an Assembly of God pastor a few years back who was accused of raping a girl in his church. Their denomination got him out of town before charges could be filed, no idea whatever happened to him. There were a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of anger over that situation and this has brought all that back up with even more intensity. I’ve had a couple of church members ask if we’re all depraved sex freaks. If church members are thinking that, I’m not sure I want to know what those outside the church are saying.”

The two pastors sat there in silence as Glynn read the article again. While the reporter expertly guided his words to avoid making any deliberate and possibly slanderous charges, there was little doubt left in the reader’s mind that Larry Winston was a deplorable person who hid behind the cover of being a pastor while drinking heavily and doing unspeakable things to boys. That a truck had slammed into his car, killing the boy and severely injuring him was treated as an afterthought. The truck driver’s name wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. There was no police statement saying he’d been arrested. 

Neither of the men had any sense of how much time had passed when Dr. Guinn appeared in the doorway of Glynn’s room. “Brother Waterbury, I thought you’d want to know, Horace Lyles was just admitted a few minutes ago. For the moment it looks as though he’s had a heart attack brought on by being out in the cold. We’re doing the best for him we can but it’s too soon to make any more of a diagnosis.”

Glynn sighed and put his hands over his face. He felt dizzy but didn’t want to lie down. “Thanks for letting me know. Is his daughter here with him?”

The administrator shook his head. “It was a sheriff’s deputy that brought him over. He said the road was too slick for anyone to follow. I guess it took several minutes for him to get out to the farm after they got the call, and then over an hour to get him here to the hospital. In that respect, Mr. Lyles is lucky to be with us at all.”

“Let me know when he’s in recovery and awake. I’ll try to make it down there to see him,” Glynn said as though this were routine and he could hop up any time he wanted and leave the room.

“Hold on there,” Alton said sternly, walking over and putting his hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “I’ve seen your chart. You’re lucky I don’t have you in a hospital gown. If your oxygen levels aren’t better at the next check, I’m hooking you up to a bottle and probably an IV. I’m keeping Dr. Dornboss in the loop, of course, but for the duration of this ice, we’re pretty much limited to the staff immediately available. I’d appreciate it if you’d not give them more to do.” He smiled as he spoke, trying to mask the seriousness of Glynn’s condition by keeping the tone light. He turned and motioned for Bill to follow him into the hallway, closing the door behind them.

“Can you stay here and make sure he doesn’t leave his room?” Alton asked Bill. “We’ve got three of his church members here already and two other people from Adelberg he doesn’t know about. This isn’t the time for him to be playing pastor. The cold hurt him a lot more than he knows. I don’t really have any justification for hooking him up to anything yet, though. I need him to stay put, keep his blood pressure down. If you could help with that it would be much appreciated.”
Bill agreed to stay and used a telephone in the lobby to call his wife before returning to Glynn’s room. “Looks like they’re not letting anyone leave now,” Bill said as he returned to the chair next to the bed. “Hope you don’t mind being stuck with me for company.”

“Well, you’re not the prettiest guest I could hope for, but since my wife is stuck at home I guess you’ll have to do,” Glynn teased. The two pastors chatted casually for a while and eventually, Hub made his way down to the room, pulled up a chair, and joined the conversation. Hub’s stories did a lot to lighten the mood and kept both pastors laughing.

Marve called to check on her husband and everyone else around 3:00. She didn’t tell him that she talked with Claire before talking with him. The girl’s throat was still raw and her voice hoarse but she had managed to tell Marve she was sorry for over-reacting and causing so much trouble. Marve had done her best to console the girl, telling her that at any other time leaving would have been the right thing to do. Neither did Marve tell him that she’d talked with Dr. Guinn and knew that the odds for either Horace or Tom surviving the night were slim. By the time she talked to Glynn, she knew she needed to paint a picture that glossed over the severity of the entire situation.

“Don’t worry about anything here,” she told him. “With everything that’s happened, no one else is going anywhere. The county superintendent has already closed schools for tomorrow. The radio is saying it’s supposed to be a little warmer tomorrow and that maybe that will melt the ice a bit.”

“How bad were the phone calls this morning?” Glynn asked, knowing that few of his church members were likely to have withheld their opinions.

“You’re going to have some explaining to do, for sure,” Marve warned. “Even your own children want to know why Daddy made Claire cry. You’d best start practicing your humility now. Be glad that news about that Larry Winston guy is distracting everyone.”

Glynn gulped hard. He had assumed no one in Adelberg had seen the newspaper. “So, you know about that?”

“Yeah, it’s been on the radio all day. Alan’s making a lot of noise, saying he wishes he’d killed him at the annual meeting and not many people are disagreeing with him. He’s also suggesting that there needs to be a board or committee to oversee pastors, but you know Alan, he likes talking big.” Marve stopped, wondering if she’d said too much. The last thing she wanted to do was get Glynn more upset than he already was. She carefully brought the conversation to a close, told Glynn she loved him, and hung up hoping that things wouldn’t get any worse while knowing instinctively that they would.

As the afternoon ceded into darkness, the hospital stayed busy. From inside Glynn’s room, the sound of multiple alarms and code alerts made it clear that the small staff was being pushed to their limit. There was no shift change. The same staff that had been on duty when Glynn arrived the night before was still working. The reality was that they needed at least three more doctors and a dozen more nurses. Dr. Guinn knew better than to issue that order, though. Every emergency case they had received that day was tied to the weather in some form. Calling in additional help, risking the lives of doctors and nurses he needed, was out of the question. 

Eventually, a nursing assistant came through handing out trays of food. “Since no one can leave, everyone gets to eat,” she said, apologizing for the lack of selection. She looked weary, her smile forced, half-hearted at best. Everyone needed a break but there seemed to be no break coming. A nurse came and checked Glynn’s vital signs. She then left for a few minutes only to return and hook him up to oxygen, start an IV, and a heart rate monitor, forcing him to lie back in the bed and limit his talking. 

As the hour grew late, Bill figured out that the chair he was in reclined. An orderly brought in a similar chair for Hub along with some blankets. The men felt guilty for relaxing when the staff was getting by on 30-minute naps between emergencies. When Bill asked if there was anything they could do to help, Dr. Guinn had sent back the message that staying out of the halls and keeping Glynn calm was sufficient.

All night long, bells dinged, alarms sounded, code alerts were announced. With each one came the sound of nurses and doctors running back and forth along the hallway. As the night progressed, there was one death, then another, and just before dawn, a third. 

When a nurse checked Glynn’s vital signs the next morning, she took him off the oxygen and IV. An orderly brought them coffee, scrambled eggs, and dry toast. Bill jokingly remarked that this was the worst camp he’d ever attended. Eventually, Bill and Hub both left the room, Hub to check on his ambulance, Bill, ostensibly, to stretch his legs and make some phone calls. 

No one but Glynn was in the room when the door seemed to open by itself. There sat Claire, unescorted, in a wheelchair, her hands and feet still bandaged from the frostbite. She rolled the chair as close to Glynn’s bed as she could. 

He could see that the girl had been crying. He sat up in bed and reached over to take her hand. “I’m so sorry, Claire,” he started.

“My Daddy died last night and they didn’t even tell me,” the girl said in a rough whisper. “I didn’t get to say goodbye. No one got to tell him that he was loved. Mom can’t even get here. And it’s all my fault.”

Glynn got out of bed and knelt beside the wheelchair. “No, Claire, it’s not your fault. If you need someone to blame, blame me. I shouldn’t have talked to you like that. I should have stopped you from leaving.”

Claire shook her head as more tears streamed down her face. She tried to speak but no sound was coming out of her frost-burned throat. 

“I’m so very sorry, Claire,” Glynn said, choking on the lump in his own throat. 

A nurse walked into the room at that moment, interrupting the conversation. “There you are, young lady. You had half the staff panicked because no one saw you leave your room. Come on, let’s go back now. You can talk with Rev. Waterbury later.” 

Claire bowed her head and sobbed hard, giving into all the grief inside her as the nurse pushed her out of the pastor’s room. Glynn wanted to chase after them, wanted to continue apologizing. If anything, the whole matter was his fault.

“Get your backside back up in that bed,” Dr. Guinn said sternly as he suddenly appeared in the doorway. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you earlier. It’s been a rough night. Rev. Winston passed around 11:00 and that was a mess to deal with. Then, Mr. Lyles died around 2:00. It took so long for him to get to us, there really wasn’t anything we could do to repair the damage. Mr. Huddleston passed just before 6:00 and before you and Claire both go off on some guilt trip, he almost certainly had pneumonia at least a day, maybe two before. His lungs were weak from smoking. Even if he hadn’t been out in the cold I doubt we could have saved him.”

The report was a lie, one of those doctors would tell to ease the pain from an unexpected death. The administrator understood the signs of depression and knew that the truth, that yes, Tom had pneumonia from being out in the ice and snow on Friday but would have recovered, could send either Claire or Glynn spiraling into a tomb of self-doubt from which they might not recover. The death certificate would have listed the same cause of death either way. 

“I know you’re anxious to get up and be the great pastor who comforts everyone,” Alton said as he helped Glynn back into bed, “but not today. And if you’re not careful, you won’t be able to help anyone at all. A lot of people live a long time with MS, but you’ve got to respect it and not push or it will kill you.”

Glynn dropped his head back on the pillow, consumed by a grief and darkness he had never known. Questions filled his mind. Where was God? Why was this happening now, right before Christmas? How was he supposed to handle not just one but two funerals of men who were critically important to the community? What was he supposed to say to Claire and Linda? What was he supposed to say to anyone?

There were no answers coming. He prayed, and prayed, and pleaded with God, but all he got for his efforts was the steady beep of the heart monitor.

Our story continues below this break

Thank You For Reading

We hope you’re enjoying our story so far. Charles’ books are published here, raw and unedited, without any kind of paywall. However, if you enjoy reading, would you please consider making a donation? This helps us cover the basic costs and feels a little less like you’re taking advantage of our generosity. Amounts are set low. We’re not asking much. Please consider making a donation today.

Thank you.

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $1

Chapter 50

Chapter 50

Winter funerals are mercifully short. Even packed gymnasiums are still drafty. No one stands around to exchange memories of the deceased. Graveside services are as brief as possible. In almost every instance there is a dominating but unspoken sense of “let’s just hurry up and get this over.” Bereaved families mourn more internally, less expressive, and with greater inward contemplation. 

Glynn managed to preach both funerals without any physical incident, though everyone was certainly watching to see whether the pastor would hold up under the strain. Horace’s service was on Thursday afternoon in the church, every bit as packed as Joanne’s had been a few months earlier. His daughters, sitting on the front row, cried just enough to be respectful but they had already decided between them to put the farm up for sale after the holidays and let Adelberg become a memory in their still-young lives. 

Tom’s service was held in the school gymnasium on Friday. School was canceled for the day and educators from across the region were in attendance. There were some, sitting at the top of the bleachers as far removed from actual mourners as possible, who anxiously watched to see if the preacher would crack, rubbing their hands together not so much to keep warm but in gleeful anticipation that he, too, might become a victim of the grim reaper’s scythe. 

Claire was still in a wheelchair and would be for a couple of weeks as multiple treatments were needed to repair her lungs and throat. Linda hung tightly to Marve as both women still held that it was their own husband’s thoughtlessness, not the other’s, that had brought them to these circumstances. Together, they sat in the cold metal folding chairs placed on the gymnasium floor, realizing that it was the fault-filled nature of humanity that complicated their perspective of the day. Words rushed past their ears without being heard or having any meaning. They left the gym, sad for the necessity of the event, thankful that it was over, hopeful that they would now be allowed to mourn in peace.

Glynn preached short sermons the next two Sundays to a half-empty sanctuary. Not everyone stayed away for the same reason. Some feared a cold rain might turn to ice and bring a repeat of the same deadly conditions. There was also a handful of elderly church members for whom venturing out on cold weather was simply not an option. Among the others, however, lied a blanket of resentment, anger, and mistrust that would never go away. Watching the difficulty with which Linda pushed Claire’s wheelchair into the sanctuary and the manner in which the device partially blocked the center aisle was, in many minds, symbolic of the effects of carelessness. That the pastor’s condition was frail seemed to many to be a just consequence for his part in all that had happened, however small it might have truly been.

In between Sundays, there were many conversations, some hushed, others shouted. In the monthly deacon’s meeting, Alan was not hesitant to charge Glynn with gross negligence and pushed for a vote of no confidence at the next business meeting.

“You’re full of cold dishwater if you think I’m going to let that happen,” Buck charged. “We need to unify this church right now, not split it further apart!”

“Then let the church unify around justice for Tom and Horace and Claire,” Alan pushed back. “Don’t you realize what we’ve lost here? Seat cushions aren’t going to soften the blow to this church’s ability to trust and follow this pastor. He has exhibited a severe lack of judgment and I’m not convinced, nor are many other church members, that he is capable of leading us forward!”

Buck stood and leaned over into Alan’s face as close as he dared, putting a hand on Alan’s shoulder in case he should think of taking a swing. “If anyone other than you is thinking such derogatory and sinful thoughts it’s because you put them in their head, Alan Mayes. We keep finding ourselves on opposite sides of this barbed-wire fence because you are an aggressively power-hungry big mouth who gets off on telling other people what you want them to think. It’s not going to work this time, Alan. I’m standing up to you right now and I will continue to do so. You’re wrong, what you’re doing is sinful, and if there’s anyone who has exhibited a severe lack of judgment here it’s you!”

Alan attempted to stand but with Buck’s hand on one shoulder and Roger Sutherland holding the other, he quickly realized he was overpowered and angrily pushed them both away from him. He was about to fling a bucket of insults at both men when Marcus spoke up from across the room.

“I’ve been in this church longer than either of you,” the elder deacon said quietly, “and I can tell you right now that the greatest damage that has ever been done to this church has been because of this group right here, the deacons, the men who are supposed to be the spiritual foundation of this church, getting into fights and not once thinking of what’s best for the church or considering what God might have intended. I don’t know what you three think we’re supposed to be doing right now, but I can promise you that yelling at each other isn’t going to accomplish a dad-burned thing.”

Buck sat back down in his chair and Roger moved his chair slightly away from Alan’s. Glynn, who had been sitting quietly in his office chair letting the deacons control the meeting, was wishing that he could be completely invisible or, preferably, not present at all. 

Marcus continued. “Look, nothing we say or do is going to change a cotton-pickin’ thing that happened. Yes, mistakes were made by multiple people but the consequences of those mistakes were sufficiently severe that any further action does nothing more than make a bad situation worse. It seems to me that if we can’t stand behind our pastor right now as a united body then we really have no church at all. We’re just playing.”

After several more minutes of tense conversation, the group finally decided to issue a statement of support for Glynn that would be read at the conclusion of the next Sunday’s service. Buck was tasked with typing it up and the other three would sign it before the service. When Glynn finally sat forward in his chair to say something, the men were startled, having all but forgotten that the preacher was still in the room.

The reaction from the church to the deacon’s statement was pallid, though, and did little to sway general opinions in the town. No longer able to take casual walks around to chat with everyone, Glynn felt distanced from his congregation which made his assessment of their response more negative than it needed to be. As the community saw less of the pastor, they less frequently considered him as someone to seek out and their opinions tended to remain negative. 

Cautioned even more about attending potentially emotional events such as associational meetings, Clement would instead drive over and visit with Glynn, letting him know what was happening and trying to pull the pastor’s opinions out of him. Response to Larry’s Winston’s death had been muted. Roger had let everyone know that this was not the time to be speaking ill of their late colleague even if the circumstances did appear damning. Larry had died without any opportunity to defend himself. The whole situation would be allowed to pass quietly away and never spoken of again.

Clement found it interesting that on the same weekend, a pastor down in the Southwestern part of the state, a James Swathmore, had been driving on rain-slickened roads late that night and apparently skidded off the road, down an embankment, and ended upside down in a creek. No one seemed to know whether it was the accident or the cold or the water that had killed the pastor of First Baptist, Latimore. This was just one of those tragic things that had happened. Most of the pastors in the state didn’t find out until after the funeral.

“It’s that time of year when everyone’s swapping churches,” Clement told him. “No one’s really paying attention to anything else going on in the convention. Dr. Hobbs resigned at First, Oklahoma City, but Gene Garrison seems already positioned to take that spot. Jackie Draper’s leaving First Southern, Down City for someplace down in Texas, one of the Dallas suburbs that’s growing really fast. I’m thinking about putting my name in for that one. I think I’ve had about all the closed-mindedness I can handle. What about you? You going to stick it out here?”

Glynn shook his head. “I’ve not even thought about it, really. Until the MS settles down and I know what life is going to be like I don’t think I can consider doing anything different. I’m damaged goods.”

Calvin called a couple of times to check on Glynn’s progress. The calls seemed more formal and obligatory than they had been, though. There were no offers for any kind of additional assistance beyond the assurance that the hospital bill was handled by the convention.  Even Calvin’s seasonal “Merry Christmas” sounded hollow. 

Frances and Marve managed to cobble together a children’s Christmas pageant for the Christmas Eve service. The decision had been made to forego Sunday school that morning and start the service at 10:30, allowing it to be a bit longer yet not slip over much past the noon hour. Richard had the meager choir prepare a couple of seasonal songs that would be presented in a most ear-cringing manner. The sanctuary was decorated with plastic poinsettias and strands of holly that were dusty from having set in a box in a storeroom since the previous Christmas. Brown paper bags were filled with nuts, fruit, and hard ribbon candy to hand out after the service.

Glynn stood in front of the bathroom mirror that morning, attempting to shave while Marve and the children scurried around him. Lita was looking desperately for her white shoes, proclaiming that an angel could only wear white, referring to her role in the Christmas pageant. Hayden was roaming around the house practicing bleating like a sheep. Marve regularly reached around her husband to retrieve something from the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. The accidental bumps and shoves were enough that Glynn was thankful he wasn’t trying to shave with a straight razor. 

“I’m told Christmas is the biggest Sunday of the year,” Marve said as she dried her hands on a towel. “Think it will hold up?”

“There are children in a pageant, right? We may not set any records, but we’ll do okay,” Glynn said. “The kids are the draw this morning, not me. By the time we get to the sermon, half the congregation will be ready to leave. I’ll keep it short, don’t worry.”

Even with the service not starting until 10:30, the Waterbury’s needed to be there by 9:00. There were still decorations to set up, stage props tp get ready, and costumes to fit as children slowly trickled into the fellowship hall. Everyone seemed jovial with Merry Christmases on their lips. 

Claire was out of her wheelchair now, walking carefully in special shoes that helped balance her weight. Two fingers on her left hand were still bandaged but that didn’t stop her from jumping in to help put little ones in costumes. Her voice was still hoarse and raspy, something the doctors assured her would go away over time. She had decided she didn’t mind so much, though, as it made teachers less likely to call on her in class.

The pageant went as small-town pageants do. Some of the “sheep” were mooing. Some of the “cows” were neighing. Of the “host” of angels, only two were singing, Lita being the loudest, proud that she knew all the words to all the songs. “Baby Jesus,” who was nearly two years old, hopped down from “Mary’s” lap when he spied his mother sitting in the congregation. Many pictures were taken. Most of the spoken lines were butchered. No one really cared. Their kids were in the pageant. That was enough.

The pulpit had been moved to provide room for the pageant, so Glynn was a bit nervous about not having anything to hold onto or lean against as he began his sermon. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ had been read twice already, so he skipped any additional scripture reading and jumped straight into his homily.

“Merry Christmas,” he started.

“Merry Christmas,” the congregation replied.

Glynn looked out over the packed congregation, seeing many faces for the first time, almost everyone smiling as though everything was completely normal. “Isn’t it wonderful how practically everyone loves a newborn baby? We love that smell of powder and baby oil. We love the innocence they project. We love the potential they bring for doing something great. Babies are a symbol of the newness of life, a chance for humanity to try again, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get it right this time.

“But as we all know, babies don’t stay small and cute forever. They grow up, they develop minds and opinions and wills of their own and as Mary looked down into the wrinkly, reddish-brown skin of the miracle to which she’d given birth, she cherished those simple moments of his childhood. There, in that stable, Mary became Christ’s first disciple. Looking down into that precious face, she believed as only a mother can believe. She knew her child would change the world.

“From that very moment of his birth, however, that child, that little baby, was a challenge to authority. Herod knew it and slaughtered thousands of baby boys in an attempt to silence the message Jesus brought to the world. Even when Mary and Joseph brought their family back from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth because bringing a message that saves the world is not always popular. 

“Jesus, however, didn’t come to be popular. The birth of Jesus Christ represents, more than anything, a new chance for the people of this earth to start over. They had messed up the system of religious laws so badly, they had created such an amazing tangle of nonsense, that God had to either destroy them or forgive them and through the birth of Jesus, he offered us forgiveness.

“We like the sound of that, don’t we? Forgiveness? We are all happy to embrace God’s willingness to wipe our slate clean, let us stand before him pure and blameless. But Jesus didn’t package that forgiveness in a box with pretty ribbons and a cool tag that said, ‘To Glynn, From your favorite Savior.’ The salvation that Jesus offers came packaged in a baby who grew to become a young man who caused a lot of trouble. 

“Jesus was only twelve, still in many ways a child, when he sat in the temple and challenged the religious leaders. Right then, they knew this boy was going to be trouble. As he grew older and began to draw an entourage of rough men and women of questionable reputations, the forgiveness, and healing, and unconditional love Jesus offered became a threat to the religious community.
“Who knew that love and forgiveness could be so controversial?” Glynn paused and looked at Claire as he continued. “Still, today, we’re struggling to figure out the fullness of Christ’s message because it doesn’t always fit comfortably with the structures that we’ve built in our worship of him. We’re just now figuring out that Jesus was all about equal rights. He was practicing and preaching equal rights long before there was a proposed amendment, long before there were feminist magazine articles, and long before there was a civil rights movement. 

“We’ve gone so far in trying to make the story of Jesus fit our own narrative that we’ve eliminated the fact that the twelve disciples we so frequently refer to was a mixed bag of ethnicities whose attachment to Judaism was sometimes more a matter of business than belief. And we’ve all but omitted the role of women in Jesus’ ministry because that doesn’t play well with our concept of patriarchal dominance. 

“In his birth declaration of peace on earth, Jesus brought trouble and conflict to the status quo. The life of that little baby whose birth we celebrate was not comfortable, was not conformative, and often challenged authority. Imagine the brazen audacity of someone who stood up and said, ‘You have to listen to me because my Daddy gave me all authority in heaven and earth and He told me to do this and my Daddy is bigger and better than your Daddy.’ Can you perhaps see why that didn’t go over so well? 

“We come to church this morning enjoying the festivities of the holiday spirit. We enjoy watching the children and we like this simple, rural picture of Christ that we’ve created. We see a baby born in a barn and it feels like he’s one of us. 

“But if we fully embrace the baby in the manger, we have to equally embrace the adult he became and that means we have to embrace the possibility that the way we’ve always thought about God and about the Bible might not be correct. The Rabbis, Sadducees, and Pharisees that Jesus challenged represented thousands of years of study, and there he sat telling them that they were getting it all wrong. If we’re going to embrace the baby in the manger, we have to accept the likelihood that Jesus would tell us the same thing. We’re getting it all wrong.

“Fortunately, for us, there is forgiveness and this baby brings us salvation and a chance to look at the new year with the hope that maybe we’ll do better this time. Maybe we won’t be so quick to judge. Maybe we’ll listen when a teenager challenges our spiritual world view. Maybe we’ll see that sometimes, peace is a revolution.”

Glynn looked out across the congregation and could see that only a handful were still paying attention. Among those, Claire was smiling her biggest smile, Buck was nodding his head in agreement, and Alan Mayes sat on the back row, his arms folded in front of him, an unseasonal scowl on his face. 

The pastor knew that he had not created a smooth path forward for himself. He was painfully well aware of the physical stress and trouble that would come with standing behind what he had just preached. 

As they drove out to Buck and Frances’ house for dinner, the kids in the back seat comparing and trading the contents of their goody bags, Marve reached over and took Glynn’s hand. “That was quite a package you delivered this morning,” she said softly. 

“Merry Christmas,” he said, smiling.

Pastors' Conference 1972

Pastors' Conference, 1972

We’ve reached the penultimate entry and next week the whole story ends! If you’re just now joining us, there’s a lot to read. Click here to start from the beginning.

Chapter 47

Chapter 47

For the next two weeks, Oklahoma City was the focus of conversation for almost everyone in Adelberg. While Glynn was undergoing sometimes painful and stressful tests, the town occupied itself with attempting to diagnose his illness on their own with polio being the leading favorite. That the BGCO continued to send its top people to fill Glynn’s pulpit, with Assistant Executive-Secretary Lyle Bastion driving up one week and the convention’s Director of Evangelism, James Turner, the next, was barely a matter of concern for anyone who lived in the small town or attended its otherwise-insignificant Baptist church.

Every other pastor in the association noticed, though, and it was a topic of conversation at the pastors’ conferences in both counties. Predictably, it was a different set of concerns voice in each meeting. 

“There are pastors in Ridell County that honestly, fervently, believe that the state convention is going to swoop in and take control of their churches,” Roger told the group assembled at Emmanuel Church in Washataug. “Theirs was one of seven resolutions submitted to the resolutions committee at the convention addressing either the broader topic of heresy and disassociating with those churches, or Adelberg and the two Grace churches here specifically. That the resolutions committee saw to not bring any of those resolutions to the floor is something they see as a sign that either the convention doesn’t care or has already been consumed by its own heresy. Larry Winston is talking about pulling his church out of the convention altogether.”

“Let them go,” Carl said rather grumpily. “What bothers me is the way the folks in the Baptist Building are playing favorites. I called up there and asked Calvin to send someone to cover for me while I went home for my parent’s 50th anniversary and you know who they sent? Some wet-behind-the-ears string bean of a fellow who’s never pastored a church in his life and came in with some strange idea about splitting up the sermon, putting part of it right after the first hymn, and by the time I got back my congregation was as angry as a bunch of hornets. I’m supposed to be gone again after Christmas but I guess I’ll find someone myself.”

“That raises another question,” Roger said, jumping into the conversation to keep Carl’s melancholy from spreading to the rest of the group. “How many of you are doing both services on the 24th? Most of the Ridell churches are only having a morning service.”

A quick poll of the pastors present showed that, for the most part, they too were only holding Sunday morning services on Christmas Eve. Clement was the only one doing anything different. 

“We’re trying something unusual,” the host pastor said. “Since Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday doesn’t happen very often, we’re opting to have just a brief, chapel-like service in the morning for those who insisted, then we’ll have a fuller, extended service starting at 4:00 in the afternoon. The kids’ pageant will start, which pretty much guarantees a packed house, then the youth will do a couple of songs, then we’ll have a candle-lit service starting about the time it gets really dark.”

“That sounds interesting,” Roger said. “I may have to drive over for that.”

Bill’s chair squeaked across the linoleum floor as he leaned back in feined boredom. “I tried talking with my deacons about doing a candle-lit service. They said it sounded too catholic, as if any of them have ever set foot in a Catholic church in their lives.”

One of the newer pastors to the association, Phillip Winetraub, pastor of Washataug’s Olivet church, spoke up. “It is a narrow line, attempting to preserve the faith and message we have as Southern Baptists and still not be so closed-minded that we don’t appear cult-like in our actions. I keep telling my church we need to be more creative in our thinking to draw more people, but every idea that comes up is either too catholic, or too Church of Christ, or too Espicopalian, or something. And I’m with Carl on getting any help from the Baptist Building. I call down there and either get passed around from one person to the next or ignored completely. I’d love just a fraction of the attention Glynn’s getting. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but the rest of us could use some, too.”
“Call Oklahoma City and tell them we’ve all come down with a case of the Bafflement,” Bill said, intentionally injecting some humor into the conversation to keep the conversation from enough tension to ignite any level of anger that might be lurking.

“I’m going down there tomorrow,” Roger said. “I’m checking on Glynn and Marve, seeing as how they won’t be home for Thanksgiving. The medical center isn’t too far from downtown. I might swing by and put a bug in a few ears about them being more generous with their time.”

Clement chuckled as he leaned back in his chair, his posture matching Bill’s. “Good luck with that. If your church’s name doesn’t start with ‘First,’ you’re automatically second tier. I’ve been fighting that battle since I got here. They’ll come up for some big whoop they’re doing over at First church, then when we try to do something similar, they’re suddenly out of resources. That’s why I think the association is so important. We need to not look to Oklahoma City for all our answers and find the support we have, or should have, in each other.”

Roger smiled, glad that Clement had turned the group’s disappointment into an endorsement for the association. While it didn’t take the base issue off the table, it focused attention on the need for them to work together rather than trying to do everything on their own.

Thanksgiving felt as though it was coming early. November 1972 had five Thursdays, which meant that celebrating on the fourth Thursday, as was dictated, had the odd perception it was happening in the middle of the month rather than at the end. Tom and Linda had promised Marve they would bring the kids down to the medical center to see them, but as an early ice storm brought less-than-safe driving conditions to Oklahoma roads, those plans had to be canceled, leaving Marve and Glynn alone in a nearly-empty hospital for the holiday.

Once again, Glynn was feeling better. He could get up and walk around the room, hold conversations for a couple of hours at a time, and not seem to be ill at all. Eventually, though, the energy would leave him, his legs would go weak, he’d begin to feel dizzy, and he’d have to spend the next several hours in bed.

Late Wednesday evening, after nearly everyone except the night-shift nurses had gone home, Dr. Alamin Teller, a specialist in autoimmune diseases, had come to the room and confirmed the MS diagnosis. “At least, that’s what the tests seem to indicate,” he said. “We’ve eliminated every other possibility. There’s still a lot we don’t know. If I could have a look at your brain, that might help, but that kind of technology is still several years away if it ever happens at all. You seem to have a mild case, though, which means that with medication you should be able to return to a fairly normal life. You’ll simply have to learn the warning signs of when you’re about to have a flare-up and make sure you’re someplace safe when that happens. And you should avoid severe stress. Stress makes the flare-ups happen more often.”

Before leaving for the weekend, the doctor prescribed a new batch of medications so that by the time every one returned to the hospital on Monday, Glynn was already showing signs that the medicine was working. The medical center team would spend most of the next week teaching Glynn and Marve how to tell when a flare-up was about to happen, how to increase the time between flare-ups, dietary and exercise adjustments, and how to treat the flare-ups without having to go to the hospital every time. 

As Glynn improved, though, Marve was growing more exhausted. While his private room, paid for by the state convention, included a couch where Marve could sleep, the constant coming and going of the nursing staff prevented her from getting any real rest. She was also missing her babies. Each evening’s phone call tugged strongly at her maternal instincts, telling her that she should be home with them. 

Glynn tried to convince her to take a few days and go home. He insisted that he was doing better and that the nurses were more than sufficient to handle anything that might come up. Each time he almost had her convinced to make the drive home, though, he would have another flare-up, removing any sense that it might be safe for her to leave his side.

“This is going to change the way we do everything,” she told him after a particularly challenging session with a physical therapist. “I don’t know that I’m going to feel safe letting you go anywhere alone now, no matter how innocent it might be. What would you do if you were in an associational meeting and had a flare-up?”

Glynn sighed. “I don’t know that I dare attend associational meetings after all this,” he said. “I mean, Roger’s not going to ban me or anything, but he’s already split the pastors’ conference into two locations. That tells me he’s concerned that the whole thing could blow up again. Associational meetings and those damn pastors conferences were what got me into all this mess in the first place. If I’d just stayed home and minded my own business, we’d be fine.”

Marve reached over and held Glynn’s hand. She could tell he was agitated and given that he’d been having a relatively good day she didn’t want their conversation to mess up his progress. “You’ve made friends, too,” she reminded him. “Clement, Bill, Carl, all those guys have been down to see you. Calvin’s been here almost every afternoon. Several of the Oklahoma City pastors have been here more than once, also. You’ve been in the state less than a year and have already made a big impact, a good one, something you can be proud of.”

“I’ve caused more than my share of trouble, too,” Glynn said, not giving up the argument. “I’m still a Yankee to a lot of these people and a lot of the old animosities that have been in this denomination since its beginning have flared back up.”

“That makes absolutely no sense,” Marve said. “You told me a long time ago that the Southern Baptists split off from the North over slavery. How is that even still relevant?”

“Because the argument then came down to a matter of biblical interpretation. Those pastors from the Southern states were unbelievably finding ways to twist scripture to support their view. They were deplorably wrong but they were also stubborn as heck and refused to back down, so they split, years before the Confederacy took hold. In fact, Southern Baptist pastors of the mid-nineteenth century were some of the biggest traitors since Judas.”

Glynn reached behind him and readjusted his pillows so that he could sit up better. “One of the great challenges to preaching today is that we still understand so little about the original languages and the original texts. The best copies we have are centuries away from when they were first written and we can tell by the difference between one copy and the next that they were tampered with. Catholics still argue with everyone else over which books belong in the Bible and there are people who will challenge whether some of the minor prophets or all of Paul’s epistles should be in there. Almost every page in the Bible has something that Southern Baptists will fight over. They’ve always been that way I don’t see them ever changing.”

“Then maybe being Southern Baptist isn’t what’s best for us,” Marve suggested. “Those Methodist folk seem rather nice and outside the music thing, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between us and the Church of Christ. Perhaps its time to consider our options.”

Glynn shook his head, a movement he had to be careful to not engage vigorously. “I’m damaged goods at this point,” he said quietly. “You heard the doctor the other day. He made it pretty clear that I can only preach one sermon a week, and even those have to be restrained. How’s the church going to handle that? Do we cancel Sunday and Wednesday evening services? Do I let the deacons take turns, because you know that wouldn’t end well? We’re too small to take on an assistant of any kind. They barely pay my salary and expenses. There’s no way they can add to that.”

“They wouldn’t necessarily have to,” Joe said as he let himself into the room. He paused and smiled before continuing. “Good evening, Marve, sounds like he’s feeling better today.”

“If by ‘better’ you mean ornery and cantankerous, then yes, definitely,” she answered, smiling back. 

“And how long have you been standing out there listening to me throwing fits?” Glynn asked, more teasing than not. He didn’t mind that the Executive-Secretary might have heard him complaining. Certainly, he, of all people, could understand the situation.

Joe reached over and shook GLynn’s hand before answering. “Just long enough to confirm that you’re doing exactly what Dr. Teller warned me you’ve been doing. He’s worried that you’re worried and asked if there was anything we could do to help. And the answer is that there might be.”

“Joe, there’s no way you can keep sending people from here all the way up there,” Glynn objected. “I’ve appreciated everyone filling in, but especially with this winter weather trying to pretend it’s Michigan, it’s just not safe.”

“I think we may have a better solution,” Joe said, “And I want you to think about it a couple of days before we mention it to anyone at your church. I’ve talked with Roger, and Floyd Lockman in our state Missions department, and with a couple of people at the Home Mission Board in Atlanta, and I think that we might be able to cobble enough support together to pay for a part-time associate pastor for the church; someone who can fill in those gaps you’re not going to be able to do for yourself.”

Glynn leaned back into the pillows on the bed. His mind was instantly swirling with objections. “I don’t know, Joe. I can see all kinds of problems there. Having to manage a staff member could be just as stressful as doing everything myself. And to whom would he report, me or you guys or the Home Mission Board?”

“We’ve talked about that,” Joe said calmly. “And I think the right person would be more help than hindrance. There’s a retired, widowed pastor who lives in Washataug, his name’s Gordon Winsockit. Clement knows him well. In fact, he’s Clement’s default fill-in any time he has to be gone. He could come over on Sundays and Wednesdays, maybe take care of hospital visits in Washataug for you, and wouldn’t need or likely want to be involved beyond that. He’d still be a church employee and his salary wouldn’t need to be all that much. We’d funnel the collective funds directly to the church so that they stay in control. I’d like you to meet him, maybe give him a turn in the pulpit. Consider the option.”

Glynn considered the offer for a minute. Doctor Teller had warned him repeatedly that trying to return to a normal, busy schedule could have devastating, perhaps even fatal effects. Still, he worried that multiple pastors might result in divided loyalties among the congregation. Would they still want him if the new guy could do just as well without all the health expenses? “Do you think he’d handle the controversy?” Glynn asked. “I mean, to some extent being my assistant is rather like stepping into a powder keg with a lit match.”

Joe smiled in what seemed like a fatherly way, warm and caring yet slightly impatient. “First off, the controversy is about to go away. I was talking with Jackie Draper at First Southern, Down City just yesterday. Some of the same people had been after him over some nonsense about marrying people who’d been previously divorced. This had been going on for over a year, really raising a ruckus among the church down there, and he finally took a full week, last week, and went and visited directly with every one of those guys that’s been causing trouble. Only two of them wouldn’t talk to him, the two who are causing you trouble as well. But he’s effectively dismantled their network. Most of these guys are basically good, trying to do their best, but they don’t have the education and are easily influenced. Jackie’s a gentle educator and was able to get through to them that they’re hurting more than helping. Jerry and James are isolated. They don’t have the support they once did. I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about them after the first of the year.”

Marve leaned in and put her head on Glynn’s shoulder. “I think you should really consider it, honey. This could be the answer you’ve been looking for. I think it would be a good thing.”

Glynn closed his eyes. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe he could fill the pulpit this Sunday, see how the people react.”

“I think that’s a good move,” Joe answered. “I’ll talk with Gordon and with Buck, let them both know what we’re thinking. One step at a time, Glynn. We’ll get you there.”

Chapter 48

Chapter 48

Winter in Oklahoma is rarely troubling. Out-of-season tornadoes are more likely than below-freezing temperatures and snowstorms, especially in the Northeastern part of the state. When a super-cold snap does come along, it rarely lingers for more than a couple of days. Ranchers, especially, rely on these mild winters. Cattle are allowed to roam more freely, spend less time in barns, meaning less fat and more meat in addition to lower costs. This was not going to be one of those winters, though. 

Eventually, after tempers died down and a couple of people died, most of those who survived the ordeal admitted that it all could have, should have, been handled differently with deeper consideration all the way around for the feelings and needs of those involved. At the time, though, it was one disaster piling on top of another, some natural, some inevitable, and some born of pure stubbornness. 

Marve brought Glynn back home on the morning of December 1. Knowing the length of the trip and with inhospitable weather in the forecast, Dr. Teller made sure that Glynn was discharged by 8:00 that morning, not an easy feat with all the insurance and medical records that had to be prepared by an overnight staff that wasn’t accustomed to the pressure. The doctor was more concerned with getting the Waterburys on the road before it got too cold than he was with making sure that all the necessary paperwork was complete and correct. Paperwork, he assumed, could always be re-done. Lives couldn’t.

Frances and a couple of other women from the church, along with Ellen Stone next door, had made sure the parsonage was ready when the pastor and his wife arrived a little after 12:00. Having been practically unlived in for the past three weeks, there was plenty of dusting and routine cleaning that needed to be done. Beds were made with clean sheets, the few dishes that had been left in the sink were washed and put away. The refrigerator was stuffed with enough ready-to-eat meals for a week and Frances knew there were more planned for the rest of the month. Irene Hendricks spent the morning insisting everything had to be sanitized, which was largely impractical in such a short time. The women hardly noticed when the rain started. 

Marve thought she felt the back tires of the car slip a couple of times as she drove up the hill to the house but didn’t say anything. There was always enough loose gravel on the street to make a little slipping a rather common occurrence. She was more concerned that there were so many cars in front of the parsonage and that their personal space had been violated without their permission. She tried putting on her happy face as Glynn reminded her that surely everyone’s heart was in the right place and they didn’t have anything to hide in the first place. 

Everyone was excited to see the preacher home and walking without help, even if he was still a little shaky and frail-looking. Glynn settled into his recliner and tried to answer the influx of questions that were being flung at him by the assembled women. He assured them that, yes, while MS is often fatal, that no, he wasn’t dying just yet and that he’d be able to continue being their pastor. He secretly wondered how severe the rumors of his impending death had gotten but decided it was probably better to not ask.

Marve would remember that it was around 1:15 when Buck bounded up the front steps and entered the house as he knocked on the door. “I’m sorry to break up the party,” he said, slightly out of breath, “but the roads are starting to ice. Ya’ll best be gettin’ on home while ya’ can. None of ya’ want to be slidin’ down this hill. Ms. Irene, if you can hop in the truck I’ll take you to the house.” He then turned and warned Frances, who had her own car to drive home, “Be careful ‘bout that turn there at two-mile junction. Between the ruts and the ice you could ruin a tire.”

While the women gathered their assorted cleaning supplies, Buck sat down next to Glyn to confirm that Gordon Winsockit had agreed to fill the pulpit that Sunday, essentially coming in view of a call as associate pastor. The details needed to be worked out and Buck warned that Alan wasn’t completely gung-ho on the idea. Still, he felt sure that the church would agree to Gordon taking the position since it wasn’t going to directly cost them any money.

On his way out the door, Buck looked up at the unusually dark sky and said, “I think I’ll stop by the school and suggest Tom call the buses to take those kids home. This storm’s lookin’ like it’s gonna cause some trouble.” 

Later, Tom would tell the school board that he hadn’t heeded Buck’s advice because it was less than two hours before the busses would run anyway. By the time he called all six drivers and got them into town, it would have only made 10-15 minutes worth of difference. His assessment was almost certainly correct but not popular. School let out at the normal time with parents carefully inching along slick roads to pick up children who would normally have walked. The incidence of a couple of small fender-benders was a bit of a nuisance, perhaps, but Tom insisted that all six drivers felt confident they could get their kids home safely.

By 3:40, the sky was dark enough it felt like the evening had arrived early. Claire and Linda had dropped off Lita and Hayden but hadn’t stayed owing to the weather. The kids were, naturally enough, excited that their Daddy was home and Marve found herself repeating warnings that jumping on Daddy was not going to be acceptable. Neither child was inclined to listen, though, as each little body contained volumes of information that had been stored under pressure, waiting to explode in a torrent of chatter so severe all Glynn could do in response was nod.

The couple had already decided that Marve was to answer the phone exclusively for the foreseeable future. She was to use her discretion in determining which messages were important enough to be passed on to Glynn. When Rose called, however, Marve had to take a moment to decide how, exactly, to break the news in a way that wouldn’t have him wanting to jump up and run out the door.

“Who was that?” Glynn asked as Marve walked into the living room and sat down.

In the distance, the sound of the siren on the ambulance echoed through the town, its long wail piercing the quiet that inevitably comes with a winter storm. Everyone in town heard it, but only three people knew what the emergency was and where the ambulance was going. Had more people know, they would have done their best to respond.

“That was Rose,” Marve said as nonchalantly as she could. “She knows you’re in no condition to really do anything, but wanted you to be aware that apparently, a bus slid off the road out toward Bluebird.”

Glynn sat up in his chair and leaned forward, a dozen questions rushing to his mind. “Did she say which bus? There are two that go out that way, Gary’s and Norman’s. Gary’s route splits off at the old feed silo and goes north. Norman’s goes on down to Bluebird Road then heads south. Were any of the kids hurt? I mean, I guess someone was if Hub is going out there. She didn’t say how many kids were still on the bus, did she?”

Marve reached over and put her hand on Glynn’s arm. “She didn’t tell me a thing other than Hub’s on his way. This is one of those situations we talked about, honey. You can’t do anything but wait for more information. If anyone actually needs you, then maybe the kids can go next door to the Stone’s a play while I take you. But until then, just sit back and try to not let it get to you.”

No one ever called to say that Glynn was needed, though perhaps had he been out there, he might have helped cool tempers who were blaming Tom for the injuries. Norman Reed’s bus had slipped off the narrow dirt road and turned over in the four-foot-deep ditch. Norman broke a leg and his right shoulder. Two children, high school students, both boys who had been standing up at the time, waiting for their upcoming stop, had broken arms. Almost all fifteen of the remaining students had cuts and gashes from the glass, a few of which needed stitches.  

Hub wished that he could have gotten Norman and the kids to the hospital faster, but the roads wouldn’t allow it. The last thing he needed was to slide off the road himself and perhaps make the situation worse. He had no choice but to drive painfully slow, Norman on the gurney in the back with one of the teens sitting next to him, and the other teen sitting up front with Hub. The only sound other than the constant, annoying wail of the siren was an occasional groan from Norman. What would have normally been a 12-minute drive took almost an hour. 

By 5:00, it was not quite dark but it was close enough that one couldn’t see much without a light of some kind. A half-inch of ice coated everything, which doesn’t sound like much until one tries to walk on it and suddenly finds themselves sprawled out in the middle of the road. The ice was practically invisible in most places, making the danger even worse. Parents retrieved their children from the overturned bus, shouted obscenities at Tom for not having acted sooner, then took their kids home to bandage. While some would have benefited from going to the hospital, no one was worried enough to risk the trip. There wasn’t a farmhouse in the county that didn’t have quinine and bandages at the ready. Parents would take care of their own.

Marve pulled the first casserole out of the refrigerator and put it in the oven to heat. As much as she loved cooking, she was thankful to not have that obligation in front of her for the moment. The kids were always excited to try something different, though, in this case, their excitement was dampened when they discovered the casserole was all vegetables, especially heavy with carrots. Still, there was rhubarb pie for dessert and everyone left the table happy. Lita helped her mother clear the table while Glynn and Hayden retreated to the living room. Hayden played with his toy cars in front of the television he was ignoring. The national news broadcast was on now, serving merely as background noise as Glynn watched out the front window. 

Snow was falling. Perhaps, under some other set of circumstances, Glynn might have been thankful for the large, fluffy flakes that quickly placed a white blanket over the small town. The snow reflected the light from street lamps and sparkled enticingly in the darkness. The pastor knew from experience, though, that this snow was dangerous. If the ice had been difficult to see before, it was completely hidden now. Any traction one might have in a normal snowfall was gone when there was ice underneath. Anyone with any sense would stay inside until the county sent out salt trucks to help melt the mess. There was no chance of that happening before morning. 

The phone rang four more times that evening. The first was Frances letting Marve know that they were expecting the Waterburys to have Christmas dinner with them. She was making the call early so that Marve wouldn’t need to worry about buying additional food. Marve asked multiple times if she could bring anything but Frances insisted that all they needed to do was show up.

Two minutes later, Buck called back, upset that Frances hadn’t bothered to ask how the pastor was doing. Marve assured him that all was well except for the fact Glynn was frustrated at feeling helpless given the weather. Buck assured them that most everyone was feeling that way and went ahead and floated the idea that if the county didn’t get the roads salted on Saturday that they might want to cancel Sunday’s services. They all knew that if the doors were open, there were a handful of older church members who would insist on being there or at least trying. They didn’t need to be responsible for anyone else getting hurt.

Claire called next, upset with something she had read in a book she had gotten on interlibrary loan. Marve conferred briefly with Glynn and they agreed that Claire could come over, and bring the book, Saturday morning on the condition that she walked for her own safety. The teen was excited to have the pastor’s attention for a while. Glynn, on the other hand, dreaded the distinct possibility that he wouldn’t have the answers she wanted. Claire wasn’t yet in college and already her level of religious studies exceeded his.

Gordon Winsockit was the final call for the night. Roads in Washataug were as bad as those in Adelberg and Gordon was concerned as to whether he would be able to make the scheduled visit with Glynn on Saturday afternoon, especially if weather forecast held true and the snow continued through the night. They agreed that if such was the case they would talk instead by phone, each thankful that calls within the county were not considered long distance. 

By the time Glynn finished the conversation with Gordon, Marve had put the kids to bed and made hot tea for them both. They sat together on the sofa watching the late local news from Tulsa as best as they could, primarily for the weather forecast. The wind kept playing with the television antenna on the roof of the house, though, making the reception almost as snowy as the conditions outside. When they finally made their way to bed, thoroughly exhausted, that had little hope of Saturday being the least bit productive. 

Sleeping in would have been nice and appreciated, but with two children in the house anxious to watch the very first cartoon that showed up on television, that was impossible. Marve tried to convince Glynn to stay in bed and rest while she got up and fixed the kids’ cereal for breakfast, but he was too restless after a night of worrisome dreams that challenged his adequacies on every level. Besides, the aroma of fresh coffee was too enticing to ignore. The pastor got up, slipped on a loose-fitting shirt, old slacks, and a pair of slippers that had barely been worn. 

The first phone call came at 7:30. Alan’s message that the county was not going to be able to get over to Adelberg until after noon could have easily enough been relayed through Marve, but he insisted on speaking with Glynn directly. His reasoning soon became clear. Alan wanted to be the first to suggest that the church cancel the next day’s services. He felt certain that the late arrival of salt trucks would mean that little would melt and that what did would likely turn back to ice overnight, making the roads just as dangerous. The deacon also expressed doubts as to whether a person as old as Gordon needed to be driving in such cold and hinted that perhaps the pastor himself could return to the pulpit if they waited a week.

Glynn took the call relatively calmly at first, but the longer Alan talked the more agitated the pastor could feel himself becoming. Finally, after listening to Alan’s negative reasoning, Glynn snapped, “Look, I have to consider what’s best for the entire church, not what’s best for Alan Mayes. I appreciate your opinion but I’ll talk to others as well and we’ll ultimately do what’s best for the entire congregation.” He knew the moment he hung up the phone that he’d been too brusk but he ignored the voice in his head that urged him to call back and apologize.

Horace called shortly after 8:00, urging the pastor to postpone any decision about morning services. The farmer was convinced that he could marshal enough tractors with shovel blades attached to the front to scrape the town’s streets once they’d been salted. He told Glynn that the country roads weren’t as bad since the ice didn’t have the same effect on mud as it did on asphalt. Glynn agreed to wait and give Horace a chance to address the roads before making a decision. Glynn was the only one in town, however, who would give Horace such a positive response. 

The telephone refused to stop ringing. Marve was able to handle most of the calls. Yes, Glynn was feeling better and enjoying being home. No, Sunday services hadn’t been canceled yet but could be later in the day. Yes, they had sufficient food and supplies to get them through the snap of bad weather. 

When Roger called a little after 9:30, he was careful to press Marve as to whether Glynn might be up to handling some difficult news. The Director of Missions was hesitant to give Marve any details, telling her only that one of the pastors had been involved in an accident and the circumstances were raising some questions. When Marve handed the phone to Glynn, Roger still did a verbal dance asking Glynn how he was feeling and how the church was responding before getting down to the purpose of his call. 

“Listen, I called primarily because I wanted you to hear the news from me before it likely shows up in tomorrow’s papers,” Roger said, his voice quiet and somewhat conspiratorial in tone. “Larry Winston was in a car accident last night and is in critical condition at Baptist Hospital. The accident itself wasn’t his fault. He was parked along the street there in front of the Five and Dime when a guy in a pickup, driving too fast on the ice, slammed into him pretty hard, squashing his car up next to the building.”

Glynn hoped his voice sounded somber enough when he said, “I’m truly sorry to hear that. Is he going to be okay? Was his wife with him?” He wanted to sound concerned but he was having trouble holding back the thought that the trouble-making pastor was getting what he deserved.

Roger hesitated before continuing, knowing that what he was about to say could be taken as a form of character assassination if it proved untrue. “That’s just the trouble, Glynn, his wife wasn’t with him. This was a bit after 10:30 last night and there was a 14-year-old boy in the front seat with him.”

“What?” Glynn exclaimed loud enough that the kids looked up from their cartoons. “You’re not suggesting…”

“Hold on, it gets worse,” Roger said, interrupting. “The boy died at the scene. His body is completely smashed.”

Glynn felt his stomach turn. He didn’t like where this story was going. “Oh dear…” he said softly.

Roger continued, “To make matters worse, Glynn, the police are saying Jerry was drunk. There was a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the car and his blood-alcohol level was so high the hospital had to start a transfusion before they could treat his injuries. Then, they’re telling me, almost joking about it in fact, that Jerry has his pants down around his ankles. They’re laughing about it, but Glynn, you know as well as I do what’s going to happen if this hits the papers.”

Glynn fought back the urge to throw up. “Any chance you have enough influence at the paper to get them to hold off on the article? Sunday morning is a bad time for that to hit.”

“Only if something more sensational comes along,” Roger said. “I know some of our churches have already canceled services tomorrow because of the weather and I am tempted to look at that as a good thing, but at the same time, if they’re all home reading an article like this, that may or may not have its facts straight, they’re going to leap to conclusions that may not be true and it could be another week before we have a chance to address them. By then it will be too late. The damage to our reputations as pastors and as a denomination will be severe.”

Glynn didn’t want to hear this. As much as he personally disliked Larry, this stood to become an issue that would plague the church for years if it wasn’t tamped down. They would all be painted negatively and regarded with suspicion. “What about the boy’s parents? Have you talked with them? How are they reacting?”

“They’re understandably devastated,” Roger replied. “He was their younger of two sons. They said he had been in trouble a bit earlier in the year and that Larry had taken a special interest in him over the past couple of months. They said his behavior had changed in that time, that he had become more reclusive, but they didn’t mind much because at least he wasn’t in trouble. They’re a poor family. Dad drives a truck, isn’t home much. They’re worried about how to pay for the funeral. It will have to be a closed casket, though. That poor kid’s body is hardly recognizable as human.”

“Maybe we can pay for the funeral,” Glynn suggested. “Not the association directly, of course, but maybe the pastors pool their money. Let the family see us as good guys and perhaps they’ll not look too deeply into what Larry was doing with their son.”

Roger gave the idea some thought. “That might work. Let me talk with Bill and some of the other pastors over here. Let’s try to keep the whole matter quiet for now. If you hear any rumors, try to play them down. I’ll see if I can contact the reporter at the paper. I can’t ask them to lie, but maybe they could leave out some of the more damning issues. Get them to focus on the guy who was driving the truck that hit them.”

Glynn agreed that sounded like a good approach to take. After a little more “how are you feeling” chatter, the call ended just as Claire knocked on the door. She was carrying a rather large suitcase and both she and the suitcase were covered in snow.

Marve answered the door with, “Good heavens, Claire! I didn’t know you are moving in!”

The teenager shook off the snow before stepping inside then answered. “I didn’t know any other way to safely bring the books with me. They’re old and I didn’t want them to get wet. But yeah, Mom had me bring some spare clothes in case the weather gets too bad for me to walk home. Neither she or Daddy want to drive up the hill to get me and after the bus thing yesterday, I’m not sure Daddy should be out at all. He came home coughing and sneezing and I’m pretty sure he has a fever.”

Marve helped Claire get her coat off then laughed at the half-dozen additional layers of clothes she had worn. “How did you even walk in all that?” Tea was made. Friendly chatter was exchanged. Both kids had to have their turn at talking to Claire. Finally, Claire opened the suitcase and pulled out two ancient-looking volumes, neither of which were in English. 

Glynn looked at the books and warned, “I hope you’re not expecting me to translate those for you.”

Claire laughed as she opened the books to pages she’d bookmarked. “No, it’s simple German so the translation isn’t that big of deal. You remember Junias who was in prison with Paul?”

The pastor had to stop and think. The name was certainly familiar but had she pressed he couldn’t have told her exactly where the person was referenced. “I think so,” he said cautiously. “Refresh me.”

“Romans 16:7. Paul tells them to salute Junia and Andronicus, who had been in prison with him and were apostles before him,” she explained. “For the most part, everyone seems to treat that as a throw-away verse. But then I came across a place in a book I was reading a couple of months ago that referred to Junia as actually being Junias in the oldest manuscripts and that kinda changes things because Junias is feminine. How could there have been female apostles, right?”

Glynn simply nodded and let the girl talk as she went on about the evidence that existed that there had not only been female apostles but disciples as well, that Peter’s wife and several others were just as large a part of Jesus’ ministry and the growth of the early church as were any of the men involved. Her argument was detailed and involved and all Glynn could do was try and keep up. There was little of it that he understood.

“I guess maybe this could explain why Paul felt he needed to go all-in with the ‘men are the head of women’ thing in Timothy,” Claire continued. “I think he was threatened by the fact that the women were staying more true to the original cause of Christ while Paul and Peter and the others were getting distracted by the whole power structure, which was probably what eventually got them all killed.” She paused and looked up for a second before asking, “So, what am I supposed to do with this? I don’t have to keep reading a bunch of reference books to know that the Church has gotten this wrong. Paul said himself that there is no male or female, jew or greek, but I’m afraid if I say anything I’m just going to get talked down at, told I need to shut my mouth and listen to the men, and honestly, Pastor Glynn, I think the Church needs a feminist movement but I don’t know how to start one.”

Glynn leaned back in his recliner and sighed. “You’re not going to like my response, Claire. First of all, I’m not sure you’re right. I’ll admit that I haven’t studied the matter nearly as much as you have, but basing your argument on a couple of hidden statements in 19th-century books hardly seems conclusive. I mean, how do you know that the authors of those books were even legitimate scholars themselves?”

He leaned forward so that there wouldn’t be as much distance between them and added, “Look, Claire, I love how excited you are about the Bible and going to Princeton and everything. You’ve already got me beat by a mile. I can’t even keep up with you anymore. But the reality is that you’re going up against centuries of tradition and study, and you’re a girl. I’ve been yelled at for the past four months because I dared to say that death is an absolute. How do you think they’re going to respond to the idea that there were female disciples or a feminist re-writing of the Bible? They’re going to tear you apart, Claire. They’re going to tear you apart and they’re going to enjoy doing it because it makes them feel righteous.”

Tears welled up in the teen’s eyes. She closed the books and put them back in the suitcase. “So, you’re telling me I’m wasting my time, that I should just shut up and not rock the boat.”

“No, not at all… “ Glynn started, but Claire wasn’t paying any attention. 

“I’ll just go before the weather gets any worse,’ she said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I thought maybe you’d be different.”

Marve tried to convince Claire to stay. Another inch of snow had fallen since the girl had arrived. There were no signs of salt trucks or plows. No one else was out. Claire refused to listen. With all her layers of clothes back on and her coat fastened tightly around her, she kissed each of the kids good-bye and headed out the door into the cold.

Marve turned and glared at Glynn. “You couldn’t have humored her just a little, could you? You just crushed that little girl’s dreams. If something happens to her on the way home, it’s your fault.”

Barely a word was spoken between the couple the rest of the day. Marve’s anger only seemed to grow as the day wore on. Glynn, not feeling up for the fight, simply stayed quiet, making the situation worse in doing so.

Gordon called at 3:00 and Glynn answered the phone himself. “The roads are horrible and no one seems to be doing anything about it,” he said. “There’s no way I can make it over there tomorrow.”

“That’s understandable. Would you like to push it out a week?” Glynn offered. 

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone line. The older preacher finally said, “No, let’s wait until after the holidays. I think your church needs to hear from you. If I have my timeline correct, it’s been what, nearly a month? You’re their pastor. They need a sound of hope. They need a reason to rejoice this Christmas season. I think I’d rather wait and after the first of the year we can talk about whether you really need an associate.”

“If I can make it through the stress of Christmas events and services, I doubt we’ll need to have a conversation at all,” Glynn fired back a little more roughly than he intended.

Again, there was measured silence before Gordon responded. “You’re probably correct. You know where I am if you need me.”

The line went dead and Glynn stood there holding the phone not quite sure what had just happened. He hung up the phone and almost immediately it rang.
“We have to cancel services,” Buck said the instant the pastor answered. “One of the county’s salt trucks slid into a ditch and now they’re not sending out any of the others. We’re stuck.”

“What about Horace?” Glynn asked. “I thought he was going to try and …”

“Yeah, that didn’t work,” Buck said, interrupting. “No one wanted to risk their tractors in this mess. I think he tried getting his tractor out, but I’m not sure he made it very far.”

“Okay, then,” Glynn conceded. “Let everyone know.” He sat down in his recliner and barely moved until dinner time. Even then, the table was mostly quiet. Even the kids picked up on the level of stress in the house and kept their chatter to a minimum. 

Marve was clearing away the dinner dishes when the phone rang one last time. It was Linda. “Is Claire spending the night with you guys?” she asked. “She was supposed to call me by 3:00 if she was and I haven’t heard anything. Just wanted to check.”

Two minutes later, Marve came to the living room door and tossed Glynn’s parka at him. “Put that on and find your boots. I don’t care how sick you are, you need to go find Claire.”

Where we pass the hat

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $20

Pastor's Conference, 1972

We’re nearing the end! With only two more weeks after this one, now’s the time to start catching up. Just joining us? Click here to start at the beginning!

Chapter 45

Chapter 45

“Can you imagine attending a church service where everyone in the church was a Christian?”

There was a moment of stunned silence at the manner in which Joe Ingram had begun his Sunday morning sermon. In this small-town church with just over 100 people in attendance, where the congregation sits on wooden pews older than most of the church’s members, where the only version of the Bible they carry is the one authorized by King James, where the majority barely had a high school education and the few that had been to college barely managed to graduate, the question coming from the pulpit seemed strange. Sure, they could imagine a church service where everyone in the church was a Christian; that was the composition of almost all their church services. The most frequent source of new Christians was children growing up into an understanding of salvation, or at least the concept that it was better to pretend to understand than be viewed as a sinner.

For the few who understood the politics and hierarchy of Southern Baptist, it had been quite a shock when the Executive Secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma walked in and announced that he was their substitute preacher for the day. They were a small church and the general perception was that convention leaders never came to small churches; they couldn’t be troubled with congregations this tiny and remote. For everyone else, he was a smart-looking man dressed in a nice suit and they wondered if it was remotely possible for this guy from the big city to relate to their rural lives.

The behind-the-scenes story was that when Calvin had told Joe that Glynn was still ill and needed someone to fill Sunday’s services, Joe had immediately said he’d go himself. Tiny First Baptist Church of Adelberg had unwittingly become the center of a growing controversy within the state convention. To send someone from Calvin’s list of pastors-in-waiting, men who said they were called to preach but were perpetually “between pastorates,” was too risky. Someone in the church, whether intentionally or not, was leaking the contents of every sermon to someone disenfranchised who then spread the news throughout the churches poised to cause trouble. Joe knew this because too many phone calls he received began with, “Hey, did you hear …” He had heard of Roger’s safe and easy sermon last Sunday before he had finished lunch. By going there himself, Joe would be putting the argumentative and disagreeable groups on notice that he wasn’t going to just let them steamroll First, Adelberg out of the convention without a fight. 

No one sitting in a pew that morning was aware of that battle, though, and if they had few would have cared. The convention and, by extension, the whole denomination was of little use and less concern. While they were appropriately flattered that someone of relative distinction would drive the four hours to speak to them, they were confused and unimpressed by his opening statement.

Joe understood, though. He had been raised in a small church just like this one. He recognized the looks of confusion and skepticism on faces in the congregation and proceeded cautiously. “I know, that sounds like a bizarre question, doesn’t it? Surely, there is no one sitting here this morning who doesn’t claim to be a Christian. Yet, I want to challenge you with the possibility that there are among us wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who claim to follow Christ but are, in reality, liars, deceivers, others who have fooled themselves and those around them into thinking they have a relationship with the Savior.

“No, I’m not here to make accusations. I don’t really know anyone here and it would be inappropriate even if I did to make charges against someone from this pulpit. Rather, I’m here this morning so that you might know and you might be watchful for those who would call you brother and sister while leading you astray. 

“Jesus raises the issue himself in Matthew 7:21-23.

21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“Jesus knew that the world was full of people looking for power and prestige and that for some the Church would be an easy path to that goal. There are people who see us as gullible: if we’ll believe in God we’ll believe in anything. There are some who view the pulpit as the final authority and whatever the pastor says is what everyone should do. There are also those who view Christianity as the key to a political theocracy, a chance to conquer the entire United States if not the world.

“How are we supposed to respond to Jesus’ warning? How do we know who is telling the truth when they stand in this pulpit? Most of you have never seen nor heard of me before this morning. Can I be trusted? How do we know?

“The first step is in our attitude when we come to worship. I’m reminded of an old story that’s been told hundreds if not thousands of times about the family who had a habit of sitting around their dinner table after church on Sunday morning. ‘The pastor’s sermon wasn’t his best this morning,’ the father would say. ‘The choir was completely out of tune,’ the mother would complain. ‘It was too hot in there and those pews are uncomfortable,’ the daughter would moan. And then the youngest among them, a little boy of about six years old, would reply, ‘Well, I guess it wasn’t a bad show for seventy-five cents.’ Seventy-five cents was the amount they had put in the offering plate. 

“When we come to church looking for things other than God, we’re setting ourselves up to be fooled. God is not found in lofty words that tickle our ears. God is not found in the snake-oil sleight of hand that some call faith healing. God is not necessarily found in perfectly performed music that makes our skin tingle. Neither is the presence of God dependent upon a temperature-controlled environment that makes everyone comfortable. 

“If we come to church on Sunday morning looking for a show, we’re in the wrong place. You might as well stay home and turn on your television where fancy preachers in big cathedrals are experts at putting on a show. 

“However, if you’re looking to know God in all His fullness and glory, this is the place. If you’re looking for absolute and complete forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, this is the place. If you’re looking to find peace and contentment in the presence of the Holy Spirit, this is the place. If you’re looking for Truth in a world swirling with confusion and doubt about whether anything we experience is real, this is the place. If you’re longing for a relationship with a God that wakes you up every morning and says, ‘I love you, unconditionally,’ this is the place. 

“When we come to church looking for more than a show, more than something to occupy our time, we can then find the Truth that God has for us and in embracing that Truth, in making that Truth part of our lives, we become aware of the charlatans among us.

“When we embrace the Truth, we understand that God’s word lives in us and is not limited to the translation of scripture commissioned by a King looking to cover his own sin. Knowing God’s Truth allows us to see the Church as a compassionate, loving extension of the Spirit of God. Living in God’s Truth compels us to forgive as we have been forgiven. God’s Truth shows no favor, requires no creed, extorts no payments, endorses no other authority, and makes no idle promises.

“At the same time, God’s Truth is a secure foundation that makes it okay to have doubts, encourages us to ask questions, and challenges us to explore its deepest meaning. We don’t have to understand all the mysteries of the universe and we don’t have to have all the answers. God doesn’t dump a whole bucket full of Truth on us at the moment of salvation and say, ‘Okay now, you take that and go have a good life.’ 

“So, when someone comes along and says things contrary to the Truth, we know they are not of the Truth and we distance ourselves from them.
When someone demands that you must believe exactly as they believe, they are not of the Truth.
When someone claims that only they know the Truth, they are not of the Truth.
When we hear a voice claim authority over the Truth, they are not of the Truth.
When people claim they are too righteous to be questioned, they are not of the Truth. 
Those who would tell you they have a different Truth from the Truth of the gospel, they are not of the Truth. 

“We are surrounded by charlatans, wolves in Christian clothing, wearing their suits, standing in our pulpits, and preaching a false gospel. They preach a fire-and-brimstone gospel that is void of love, lacking in grace, and absent of forgiveness. They would rather condemn than congratulate, chastise rather than compliment, and punish rather than preserve. 

“We find ourselves in the midst of traitors, those we thought were family, who pretend to worship with us, and to dine with us, and to pray with us while, like Judas, plotting our demise.
They say the right words to our faces, they sing the hymns, they lead the Bible Studies, but behind our backs, they tear us down.
They spread lies and rumors with the intention of inflicting pain, causing distress, and driving people away.
They claim to be protecting the purity of the church when in reality they are the ones polluting it.
They send away those who seek, they discourage those in need of grace, and if given the chance they would stand at the gates of heaven and deny entry to those they deem sinners or heretics.

“A constant war exists within the Church that is greater than any force from the outside, a battle for Truth, a fight for control, an assault on grace, and combat over forgiveness. There are forces gathering right now in our own convention that seeks to define a doctrine so far removed from the Truth as to smother compassion, choke out the mercy of the cross, and suffocate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In place of the Truth, they would insert dogma, creedalism, and conviction based on hearsay. They would kick out those who challenge their narrow mindedness, censure those who speak out against them, and deny fellowship to those who administer grace in its fullest form.

“Our response must be to hold firm to the Truth that we are all children of God, that Jesus died for the sinner, and that the power of the resurrection saves anyone who believes. If we do not, if we allow the evildoers to dominate, then the cause of Christ is lost and the Church as we now know it loses all relevancy.”

Few of those sitting in the pews that morning had any concept of what Joe meant and to a large extent, that was okay. Denominational controversies rarely impacted the daily lives of church members. Yet, for a handful, those who paid attention to the denominational publications and read the various articles and letters, Dr. Ingram’s message landed as a declaration of war against preachers like Larry Winston and Roy Moody. 

Buck looked at Alan. Alan looked at Horace. Had the head of the state convention just insinuated there was a traitor within their own church? The trio met briefly in a Sunday School room after the service and agreed that they had to consider the possibility that someone was actively undermining the church and specifically Glynn. Who that could be, they had no idea, but from that point on, every word of every conversation would be considered suspicious.

The Edmonds were hosting Dr. Ingram for lunch and had invited Marve and the kids to join them. Having spent the entire morning in bed, Glynn asked to join them, saying it would be good to get out of the house a bit. He was still visibly weakened but, at least for the moment, he could hold himself upright and walk a reasonable distance without needing help. 

Conversation during the meal was lively and friendly, peppered with humorous stories Joe was happy to tell. The mood was intentionally light and at times frivolous as they chatted about the need for fried chicken in a pastor’s diet and how church potluck dinners were the ultimate exercise of faith. Glynn seemed chipper and was enthusiastic about devouring his food. Had it not been for the pale tone to his skin, no one would have thought he was ill. 

Once the meal was done and the kids had all run off to play, Frances served coffee and the adults’ conversation grew serious. Marve had told Glynn about the sermon and the questions it raised. The deacons weren’t the only ones who caught the apparent allegation of their being a traitor in the church and Marve was certain that even if not everyone caught it at first, they would catch on if they gave the matter any thought at all. 

“I know Claire caught it,” she told him, “and probably Tom and Linda as well. Claire had been hunched over taking notes, as usual, and she sat up so suddenly that I don’t see how everyone around her didn’t notice.”

Buck strategically waited until everyone had taken a sip of their coffee before asking Dr. Ingram, “So, did I hear you right this morning, did you say there’s someone in our own church trying to undermine us?”

Joe was ready for the question and was glad that Glynn was at the table to hear his hypothesis in person. “I’m fairly sure of it. Pastors around the state have known what was preached from this pulpit every Sunday since the end of September. Last week, I hadn’t even finished lunch before a pastor from Tulsa called asking if I’d sent Roger over as a spy. The only way that information can be traveling that quickly is if someone in the congregation is feeding the rumor mill. I wouldn’t think as much about it if the questions were coming later in the week, but I’ve known every sermon preached in this pulpit no later than Monday morning. There’s no way this is accidental or even incidental. Someone’s deliberately making an effort to spread rumors.”

Buck, Frances, Glynn, and Marve all exchanged glances. Having had time to prepare for this answer hadn’t softened its blow. Adelberg was a small town and the church was a focal point. A betrayal of the church was a betrayal of the entire town.

“Well, we know who the biggest gossips are,” Frances said, interrupting the awkward silence that had developed. “I know Hannah Montgomery is always on the phone, but she’s always more concerned about what someone said in her Sunday School class. The only time I can recall her complaining about anything during the service was that Sunday a couple of years ago when Buck had to lead the singing.”

The group laughed at the dig on her husband as Frances continued. “Maxine Waterman forgets to put in her hearing aid half the time so she doesn’t even hear the sermon when that happens. Grace Tillich likes to talk but that dear woman doesn’t know what year it is. She’s more likely to tell you about a sermon from 50 years ago than this morning. And she hasn’t been there much this fall. No one else really comes to mind.”

“Let me help focus the conversation a bit,” Joe interjected. “Yes, every church has its gossips, but they’re rarely mean spirited. Whoever this is, they likely have some beef with the church, or perhaps directly with Glynn. Has there been anyone who’s been causing trouble?”

Glynn and Buck looked at each other and Glynn leaned forward on the table. “Edith Mason?” the pastor asked as he looked at Buck. 

It took Buck a moment to register what Glynn was referencing. When he did, he shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s been pretty quiet since that whole thing with Carol. She slips into the service late, sits on the second pew from the back, and is quick to leave. I don’t see how that’s causing any trouble.”

Glynn looked over and saw the questioning expression on Joe’s face. “Part of the fallout from the Grace, Washataug incident,” he said, knowing Joe’s involvement with the matter. “Edith Mason’s daughter, Carol, was a member there and rumored to have been involved.” The pastor looked tentatively at Buck before continuing. “Since Carol grew up here, she moved back home and her mother mentioned that she’d likely be joining the church. It created an uproar and the decons and I were meeting at the church to decide how to handle the situation when she overdosed on pills. She was in a coma for several weeks and hasn’t been the same since. Her mom has to take care of her and her kids now. We failed that whole family as a church. I don’t think Edith’s spoken more than two words to me since.”

Joe considered the information for a moment before beginning to analyze the situation out loud. Folding his hands on the table and leaning in, he said, “I can see where someone like that might have a beef with the church. It doesn’t sound like she’s really participating so we have to ask what her purpose is for continuing to attend. Don’t rule out the possibility that despite feeling let down, she could still experience some spiritual benefit from coming to the service. Worshipping God could be the boost she needs to get her through the week. There’s also the matter of who she would be connected with enough to call every Sunday. We know the former pastor at Grace, Washataug isn’t an option. How many other pastors in the state does she know that well?”

Glynn looked at Buck and the deacon shrugged. Edith had lived in Adelberg her whole life. The only pastors she knew were those who preached in First Baptist’s pulpit and none of the former pastors were still in the state.

“What if…” Frances said haltingly, “What if she’s not calling a pastor directly? What if, for example, she’s calling a friend who’s shut-in and can’t attend services, and that person talks to a pastor who happens to be a family member?”

The group looked at Frances quizically. 

“That seems oddly specific,” Buck said. “Who are you thinking about?”

Frances sighed, the look on her face one of exasperation as she didn’t want to cause trouble for someone but felt the need to tell what she knew. Small towns don’t keep secrets well and casual conversations sometimes reveal more than an FBI investigation. To some degree, there was a sense that each conversation was being held in confidence, yet, at the same time, everyone knew who could keep their mouth shut and who couldn’t. Talking with some people was almost the same as printing the conversation in the newspaper.

“Fannie Littleton,” Frances said while twirling her hair around her index finger. 

Glynn cocked his head to the side. “I’ve heard that name. She’s one of the church members I’m not allowed to visit.”

Joe looked up in surprise. “Why are you not allowed to visit?”

“She’s an invalid, can’t get out of bed on her own,” Glynn explained. “She’s on oxygen and has to avoid any kind of outside contamination. I don’t know why she’s not in a facility somewhere, but the only people allowed in are her home nurses, and they have to wear special clothing from what I understand.”

Frances nodded. “She’s not in a facility because even that is too risky. Her nurses have keys to the house. They change into sanitized clothing when they get there and take them out to be cleaned when they leave. There’s someone with her twenty-four hours a day, partly to guard the door against visitors. The smallest outside germ could kill her.”

“That’s tragic, but what connection would she have to another pastor?” Joe asked.

“Well, you see, that’s where I’m not exactly sure,” Frances answered, pulling on her hair like an adolescent who’d been caught sneaking out a window at night. “Fannie never had any kids of her own that I know of. If she did, they never come around to check on her. She does have a nephew who’s a pastor somewhere, I want to say down near some military base or something? I’m really not sure on those details.”

“How do we know she’s calling him, though?” Marve asked. “And even if she is, why would she tell him about a worship service she didn’t attend?”

“Well, she’s been like this for a few years, you know, and I remember Edith saying once, that she keeps her phone by her bed with a list of numbers,” Frances explained. “Her doctors are on the list, of course, and she and Edith talk because she was friends with Edith’s momma before she passed. Sweet woman. The home health agency is on the list, the pharmacy, and the only family member she has any contact with, her nephew. He and Edith are really her only connection to what’s going on outside her house.”

Joe sat back in his chair and sighed. “That would make perfect sense. She talks to her nephew and relates what she’s been told simply for the benefit of conversation, no malice intended on her part. The nephew then takes the information and causes trouble because of what he sees as a heretic on the loose. If we knew who her nephew is, maybe we could put a stop to it.”

The room was silent for a moment as everyone tried to think of a solution. Frances got up and refilled everyone’s coffee cup and then insisted Joe and Glynn both have another piece of the pineapple upside-down cake she had made. 

They were just about to give up when Buck suddenly sat up, causing the coffee in his cup to spill over onto the table cloth. As Frances gave him a stern look he said, “Ask Hub. Better yet, ask Rose. I’d bet a nickel against a hole in a donut that they have her next of kin information because you know she’s going to pass soon and they’re going to need someone to take care of arrangements. Rose is particular about those details. I’m sure she has the nephew’s name and phone number in a file.”

The deacon didn’t wait for anyone else to act. He stood up and walked to the phone in the living room and called the funeral home. Sure enough, Rose had the information. Buck wrote down the name on a piece of paper and returned to the kitchen with an expression of anger and frustration as he tossed the paper onto the kitchen table. “James Warrington,” he announced. “Pastor of Hope Church down in Latimore.”

“Why is that name familiar?” Frances asked, reaching over and looking at the name as though that would reveal its inner secrets.

“Because the pulpit committee considered him before we got Glynn’s name,” Buck answered. “Complete waste of time driving down there, too. He was loud and obnoxious, kept calling people fools, said all of our political leaders are demons, kept going on about overthrowing the government, and setting up a new one that made attending church the law of the land.”

Joe shook his head. “I know exactly who you’re talking about. He’s been stirring up trouble down there for four or five years. He seemed okay when he first went there, but then he went to that Jimmy Swaggart thing they had down in Dallas a few years back and they caught him up in that nonsense hook, line, and sinker.” Joe paused and looked at Glynn before adding, “And he was at the pastor’s retreat this year.”

Marve looked at Glynn as what little color he had drained from his face. “I think it’s time I get you back home and back to bed,” she said softly. 

Joe and Buck quickly stood up as the change in Glynn’s physical condition became obvious. “I’m sorry, Glynn,” Joe apologized. “This is all stressful for you, I’m sure. Don’t worry, I’ll address the situation.”

Glynn forced a smile but was unable to speak. He felt the energy leave his legs as he attempted to stand. His body trembled as the two men helped him to his car. They then followed Marve back into town so she wouldn’t have to try and carry Glynn on her own. She surprised them, though, when instead of going home, she turned and pulled into the parking spot next to the ambulance at the funeral home. Hub met her as she ran to the door. “Glynn needs to go to the hospital, now,” she ordered.

Hub nodded and said, “Let me grab my keys.”

Chapter 46

Chapter 46

The church sanctuary was as packed for the Sunday evening service as it had been that morning. Everyone in town had heard the ambulance leave and several noticed that it was the preacher’s car chasing it, with Marve driving. Word spread through the community quickly and the call for a special prayer meeting at the church received a broad response from people who hadn’t been to church since Easter. They prayed until nearly midnight hoping that they would eventually be told that Glynn had experienced a miraculous recovery. That call never came.

Joe left the service before it was over, around 10:00, to drive back to Oklahoma City. He wouldn’t have much sleep before packing a trunkload of materials and heading to First, Tulsa for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. 

To some degree, the BGCO convention was a larger version of the associational annual meeting, except larger, with better speakers, and at times excruciatingly boring. Every department within the state convention’s office was required to make a verbal report which then had to be approved. The reports were all pre-printed in case anyone really wanted to read them (few ever did) and that gave the department heads an opportunity to use their allotted time to say whatever they wished in support of their department. Some departments, such as Evangelism and Missions, brought in guests who were dynamic speakers and gathered a lot of attention. For less glamorous departments, though, such as Education and Camps, the sanctuary would be half-empty as messengers chose that time to go to the restroom, stand out in the hallway and chat, or visit the bookstore display set up in a separate room. Parliamentary procedure was tightly administered and outburst from the floor were not tolerated. Requests for changes or resolutions had to be submitted in advance and were considered by a committee before being brought to the floor on the last day. Most requests were denied. 

Joe had the opening sermon Monday afternoon, and the resolutions committee would be approved just before he spoke. Joe didn’t miss his chance to preach an as strong and intentioned sermon as he had the day before. His tone was forceful as he laid out an agenda rejecting dogma and emphasizing growth through inclusivity. He challenged what he called “gross misinterpretation of scripture” and attempts at forced adherence to a creed. He told the assembled group of church pastors and staff that they must hold themselves to a higher standard, carefully examine the words they said, and be unimpeachable examples of Christ. 

As soon as his sermon ended, the meeting adjourned for dinner. Joe fought his way through the crowd of well-wishers to find Ferris Polk, the just-elected chairman of the resolutions committee. Pulling him off to the side, Joe asked, “Have you been handed the list of proposed resolutions yet?”

Ferris held up a three-inch black binder. “You mean this stack of nonsense? Yeah, looks like some of the same old malarky we see every year. Any concerns?”

“Make sure nothing silly or unnecessary makes it to the floor,” Joe said in a hushed tone, communicating the seriousness of the matter. “Hultgren’s on the committee and he’ll back you up if necessary. Nothing about censuring any pastors or removing fellowship from any churches. Nothing about forcing churches to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message, either.”

Ferris rolled his eyes. “The same guys make the same requests every year. They don’t seem to understand that the convention does not have the power to tell local churches what to do or dictate to pastors what they say from the pulpit. I’d be willing to bet there’s something in there about the Authorized King James Version of the Bible being the only approved translation, too. This is my seventh year on this committee. The same resolutions are submitted every year and they’re all rejected every year.”

Joe smiled. “Expect some firey ones this year. We’ve had a couple of incidents at the associational level.”

“So I’ve heard,” Ferris agreed, nodding, and looking around to see who might be trying to listen in on the conversation. The afternoon crowds were never that large and it didn’t take long for the hallways to empty out as pastors went in search of their evening meal. “Did a pastor really get punched up in Arvel?” he asked softly.

Joe nodded. “A deacon didn’t take nicely to his pastor being called a heretic. That’s another topic to reject, by the way.”

The committee chairman shook his head. “Maybe we need to spend more time on what it actually means to be called of God to the ministry. Too many of the men here think it’s some kind of power trip. They don’t understand that the very word ‘minister’ means exactly the opposite. We don’t lead crusades against each other, we get down in the dirt and the mud to help those in need without thought to our own station.”

Joe smiled and patted Ferris on the back. “Keep talking like that and someone’s going to recommend you for a speaking position on next year’s schedule.”

“I’ll pass,” Ferris said. “I get enough criticism of my sermons from my wife. I don’t need letters from every disgruntled pastor in the state.”

Both men laughed and promised to reconnect later, but the Wednesday morning conversation was largely irrelevant as the committee had only approved the mildest and polite resolutions, including one thanking the restaurants in Tulsa for feeding them. Joe was thankful that the meeting ended on a positive tone with no overt disagreements or complaints to be settled. 

Returning to his office Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Ingram ignored the unsurprising stack of mail and messages waiting on his desk and tried calling the Waterbury residence. When he didn’t get a response, he looked up Buck Edmond’s number. The news wasn’t good.

“The doctor is wanting to transfer him to a hospital in Tulsa,” the deacon said of Glynn. “Tests here are hinting that he might have some form of Multiple Sclerosis but the results are less than half certain about that. He was feeling better when I was over there this morning. Marve’s exhausted, though. She hasn’t left the hospital since Sunday night.”

“What arrangements have they made for the kids?” Joe asked, knowing that child care in these situations often made the situation more stressful.

“They’re staying with the school principal and his family. Their daughter, Claire, is the kids’ normal babysitter anyway, so that seems to be going well. I’m covering prayer meeting tonight but we’re going to need someone for Sunday again and honestly, the way our church is responding right now, it probably needs to be someone who can show some compassion and not try to save the whole town.”

Joe smiled from the other end of the telephone. “I think I know just who to send your direction,” he said calmly. “I’ll confirm with him and have someone give you a call back. Do you have Glynn’s room number?”

“Sure, he’s in room 211,” came the reply. “But they’re talking about moving him Friday.”

“Thanks, I appreciate the information,” Joe said, ending the call.

The Executive-Secretary stood there for a moment holding the phone’s received in his hand, considering whether or not to call the hospital. After a few moments’ thought, he hung up the phone and walked out to his secretary’s desk. “See if you can move tomorrow’s meetings to sometime next week, or perhaps have them go on without me. I need to make a run to Baptist Hospital in Arvel tomorrow. It’s rather urgent.”

“Glynn Waterbury’s not doing well?” she asked.

Joe shook his head. “They’re looking at a diagnosis of MS and his doctor’s wanting to move him to Tulsa, St. John’s I assume. I’m going to suggest they consider bringing him here to Baptist Medical Center. Not only do they have better resources, we can do more to make sure the bill is eliminated.”

Dr. Alton Guinn, the administrator of the 45-bed Baptist Hospital in Arvel, often complained they were the most underserved and overly ignored hospital in the group of eight hospitals the convention helped to fund across the state. Construction of two additional floors had strained the hospital’s resources and had caused some doctors in the area to send their more critical patients elsewhere. When he did get a phone call from Oklahoma City, it was usually to complain about spending exceeding the budget in some manner. While the state convention had to approve the hospital’s Board of Directors, rarely did anyone from the Baptist Building ever visit the facility.

The elderly volunteer at the front desk didn’t recognize the well-dressed man walking in on Thursday morning, asking if Glynn was still in room 211. Several preachers had been in and out to visit the ailing pastor and there was no indication he wasn’t another. When he signed the register, though, she noticed that he was from Oklahoma City and thought the name sounded familiar. As the visitor walked toward the elevator to the second floor, she picked up the phone and called Dr. Guinn’s secretary. “Deloris, this is Elly at the front desk. A Joe Ingram from Oklahoma City just signed in. He’s on his way to Rev. Waterbury’s room. That name sounds familiar.”

“He’s only the boss of the whole Baptist Convention,” the secretary said, over-stating Joe’s position. “I’ll let Dr. Guinn know he’s here.”

Joe knocked gently on the closed door to room 211. 

Marve waited a few seconds, expecting a member of the medical staff who normally knocked and came on in. When the door didn’t open, though, she got up and answered it, trying to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress and straighten her hair as she walked across the room. She was surprised to open the door and see Dr. Ingram standing there. “Dr. Ingram! I didn’t realize you were coming!” she said as she opened the door wider.

“I thought about calling yesterday, but it’s been a while since I’ve stopped by the hospital anyway. It made sense to come on up, check on Glynn, see how things are going with the construction,” Joe explained. “How’s he doing?”

Marve looked over at her husband who was currently sleeping with the aid of a muscle relaxer. “He’s doing better, anxious to get out of here, of course. Always asking about things back at the church. He’s worried about what’s not getting done.”

Joe nodded. “I understand his doctor is talking about moving him to Tulsa?”

“That seems to be the plan,” Marve sighed as she returned to the chair beside the hospital bed. “I’m not sure how to handle that. Obviously, I want him to have the best care possible, but that’s too far for the kids to come and visit and he looks forward to them coming up after school in the afternoon. I don’t know whether to stay with him or stay here with the kids. I don’t want him to be alone over there. I’m just not sure what to do.”

The tears in Marve’s eyes were unmistakable. Joe pulled over the stool the doctor used for consulting purposes and took Marve’s hands in his as he sat down next to her. “Don’t worry, we’ll work something out, okay? That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to make sure he’s getting the best care, but I also want to make sure you and the kids are getting the care you need as well.”

There was another knock at the door and Dr. Guinn and Dr. Dornboss came in together. After exchanging the necessary greetings, Dr. Guinn said, “No one told me you were comping up today, Joe. I understand you want to check on Glynn, here. Is there anything else you want to see while you’re here? Is there anyone I need to call?”

Joes shook his head and then looked over at Marve. She had reached up and taken Glynn’s hand, petting it softly while he slept. He motioned toward the door. “Why don’t we step out in the hall a minute?” he suggested.

The two doctors followed Dr. Ingram and he shut the door behind him before speaking. “I’m concerned that you’re transferring him to Tulsa and not Oklahoma City,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Why the choice to take him out of the system?”

“I don’t have privileges at the Medical Center,” Dr. Dornboss answered. “Plus, Tulsa’s two hours’ closer. I don’t have to compromise my practice to check on him.”

“I appreciate the difference in distance,” Joe said, “but as a doctor with privileges here, you automatically have privileges at any hospital in the network. If there’s any question, Alton should be able to verify that with a phone call.” He looked at Dr. Guinn and added, “If the diagnosis I’m hearing proves accurate, the family is going to need a lot of help. He’s on the state insurance plan and I’m pretty sure coverage for critical disease drops to something like 60 percent. If we keep him within the Baptist Hospital network, then we can help mitigate that a little bit. I can’t help him a bit if he’s at St. John’s.”

Dr. Guinn stuck his hands in his trouser pockets. “That seems a little extreme, Joe. I understand your concerns, but we’ve had pastors in here before and I don’t recall anyone ever taking a position like this. Typically, we just let insurance and the local churches handle the cost.”

“This isn’t a typical situation, Alton,” Joe fired back. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t stress a primary trigger for MS?”

Dr. Dornboss interrupted, “We haven’t confirmed yet that it’s MS, that’s why we need more tests.”

Joe nodded. “I get that, but my point is that it’s convention-related stress, not pastoral-related stress, that’s likely responsible for the condition he’s in. He’s hurting because no one protected him from the bullies in the denomination. We kept it from bubbling up at the convention this week, but I know those guys, they’re not going to give up their cause any time soon. What they’ve done to Glynn they’ll do to others. I want to set a precedent right now that lets pastors know we’ve got their backs. We unwittingly set Glynn up for this and we’ve got to take care of him.” He turned back to Dr. Dornboss. “Obviously, this is a medical decision and if you say Tulsa’s best then that’s what we’ll go with. But please, I strongly urge you to consider the advantages of the Medical Center in the City. “

“Wow, the television reception here is especially lousy today,” Glynn said from inside the room. 

The three men laughed. “Let’s go see how he’s doing, and perhaps talk the options over with him,” Joe said as he opened the door to the room. 

Glynn looked up and saw who was coming to visit him and said, “Oh heavens, Dr. Ingram and Dr. Guinn? Look, if I’m dying just give it to me straight.” He smiled and gave Marve a wink.

Where we pass the hat

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $20

Pastors' Conference, `971, ch. 41-42

If this is your first time joining us, you may want to click here to start from the beginning.

Chapter 41

By the time Sunday came around, Glynn’s anxieties were showing in ways only Marve noticed. The tone of his voice wasn’t as bright as normal. He paused more when talking. He relied more heavily on his sermon notes than usual and lost his place more than once. He cut the invitation so short that he caught the entire congregation by surprise. 

Anyone who might have known what was going on would have excused Glynn’s behavior. Hayden’s eye surgery the next morning was enough to make any parent anxious. Adding to that, however, was the looming arrival of Marve’s parents and that was enough to make the pastor forgetful and seem unattentive. Glynn was good enough at maintaining his composure in public that no one seemed to notice. They were caught up in their own lives with plenty of worries to keep them from noticing the few anxious tics of their pastor.

Marve noticed, though, because she was as anxious as her husband, if not more so. As the weekend had progressed, Hayden was asking more questions about the surgery, and the more questions he asked the more anxious she became. It didn’t matter that the doctors boasted a 90 percent success rate with the surgery nor that the team was widely considered to be one of the best in pediatric ophthalmology surgery across the United States. What mattered was whether her little boy would be safe and if Marve could contain her anxieties through what was expected to be a two-hour long surgery. 

Lita seemed excited to see her grandparents again, but she was the only one who felt that way and her bubbly attitude about everything, including getting to ride to school with Claire and Linda, was the dominant noise over lunch. Hayden finished his chicken leg and mashed potatoes then went to his room to play with his cars. So much was happening that he didn’t understand. His visual world was getting fuzzier but the concept of cataracts was more than he could comprehend. How could he have something in his eye that he couldn’t see when he looked in the mirror? Why couldn’t Mommy take it out? Playing with cars was an easy way to avoid those questions and Lita’s annoying babbling.

Glynn helped Marve clean the lunch dishes then made one final inspection of the house before her parents’ arrival. They had decided to let the Roberts use their bedroom and Glynn and Marve would sleep on the sofa’s pull-out bed. Fresh sheets were on both beds, clean towels were laid out, everything was precise, and in order. All they had to do was wait. 

The trip from the Roberts’ home in Hadelsville in the Southeastern corner of the state to Adelberg was a little over three hours long, depending on how many times one needed to stop. Being a Sunday, there weren’t many options for stopping in the first place so Marve was expecting her parents to show up somewhere around 3:00. They didn’t. 4:00 passed and still no sign of them. By 5:00 Marve was beginning to worry. She called their home to make sure they were still coming and got no answer. She assumed they were on their way. She worried that their car might have broken down or had a flat tire. There were long stretches of highway with no shoulder and no pay phones closeby to call for help. 

Glynn had to leave for Training Union, the denomination’s Sunday-evening emphasis on teaching doctrine, at 5:45. Marve had said she’d bring her parents with them for the evening service. Surely they’d arrive by then. They didn’t. After the service, for which Glynn’s sermon was even more disjointed than the morning’s had been, the pastor called the parsonage to see if they’d at least called. Marve had heard nothing and was beside herself with worry. Glynn talked briefly with Tom and Linda to make arrangements for Claire to spend the night at their house. 

Hayden was sound asleep, his small suitcase packed and sitting ready at the foot of his bed, by 9:00. The girls were in bed even though their excited whispering could be heard clearly in the living room. Marve was certain that something horrible had happened to her parents and was pacing frantically. 

The evening news was ending and Glynn was about to suggest they go on to bed and try to sleep when headlights poured through the living room window as the Roberts’ car pulled into the driveway. Marve ran out to greet her parents, tearfully excited that they were indeed safe and extremely curious as to what had caused the delay.

“Your father, you know how he is about not looking at maps and not asking directions,” Mrs. Roberts explained, “got us so very lost that we ended up in Arkansas and didn’t know what to do but turn around and drive back the way we came. Then we had trouble finding a gas station that was open. And it got dark and we still weren’t sure we were on the right highway, so we got lost a couple of more times though not as bad.”

“Why didn’t you at least call?” Marve asked, as her worry began to be replaced with anger.

“We thought about it a couple of times and I guess we should have, but you know, your father and I don’t either one carry that much change and we didn’t want you to have to pay for a collect call,” her mother said. “I’m sorry if we caused you to worry, but at least we made it here safely, right?”

As Marve showed her mother into the house, Glynn helped his father-in-law with the luggage. Despite the brevity of their trip, they had packed four large suitcases and two overnight bags, all of which were extremely heavy.

Edward and Virginia Roberts were a near-perfect example of how opposites attract. Edward, who as always called Edward, never Ed nor Eddie, was tall and thin to the point of being lanky. He tended to be quiet and soft-spoken, wearing blue and white striped Roundhouse overalls with black round-toed boots everywhere except to church. He could sit in a room and go completely unnoticed until he lit his pipe, which only happened when he was bored. 

Virginia, on the other hand, was shorter than Marve by about an inch and round in a happy sort of way that made it easy to assume that she enjoyed cooking, which she did. Known as Ginny to her friends, Mrs. Roberts could hold a conversation totally on her own for over an hour without actually saying anything of value. She was the type of person who had opinions about everything and was quite certain that everyone else in the room was interested in hearing them even if the topics were not necessarily appropriate for the audience present. She had insisted that they pack extra clothing in case something happened and they needed to stay longer, though she insisted, they really couldn’t stay past Thursday because she was the secretary of the flower club and absolutely could not miss their meeting on Friday. 

Marve and her mother were in the bedroom by the time Glynn and Edward managed to wrangle the suitcases into the house. The sudden increase in volume from Ginny’s talking had awakened both children, who had run excitedly to see their grandmother, while Claire stood off to the side, observing. Another 30 minutes would pass before Marve could get the kids back in bed. Claire pulled her to the side and suggested giving her mother a call, asking her to arrive a few minutes early in the morning for fear that Ginny’s neverending conversation might otherwise make them late for school. 

Only when he looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly midnight did Glynn insist that everyone needed to go to bed. Making the day-long trip was hard enough and only getting three hours’ sleep was going to make it all the more difficult. Not that he nor Marve could get any rest. Marve worried whether she had given her mother enough instruction to be able to find everything she would need to prepare meals. Glynn kept going over the route to Oklahoma City, wondering which truck stops and service stations would be open along the way. He knew they would have to leave promptly by 4:00 in the morning to make it to the hospital in time to get Hayden checked in and ready for surgery. 

As it turned out, the couple’s mutual anxieties helped provide them with more than enough energy to get up early and be on the road by 3:45. Hayden, of course, immediately fell asleep in the back seat and one she was confident that Glynn had the driving well in hand, Marve was able to nap for a few minutes. They arrived in Oklahoma City with time to spare, checked in at the hospital, and then helped Hayden change into the hospital gown and get ready for his surgery.

Marve was caught by surprise when they wouldn’t let her go with Hayden into the surgical prep area where he was given a light general anesthetic. Instead, she was ushered into a separate room where she was given a surgical gown and mask with instructions on how to scrub her hands, all the way to the elbows, in the same manner as the surgical staff. She was then taken to the surgical center where the nurse explained everything that would be happening during the surgery, where Marve was to sit, and the importance of her not moving from that spot unless her presence was requested by the doctor. 

Glynn was taken to an office where he filled out what seemed like an endless amount of paperwork then was shown to the waiting area. For the moment, he was the only one there. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the 20-gallon pot provided by the hospital auxiliary, picked up a newspaper, and sat down to wait. He never had been all that consumed with politics, which is all the front section seemed to contain, but at least the Sooners were having a good season and the comics were amusing.

As additional people came into the waiting area, Glynn fought back the urge to pastor them. He had to remind himself with each new occupant of the white-tiled space that he wasn’t their pastor, they didn’t know him, and no one had asked for his services. He wasn’t there as a pastor, but as a Daddy to a very frightened little boy. Being a pastor was a lot easier, he decided, as the anxiety of waiting and the slowness with which time seemed to pass created a sense of tension and worry where every possible negative outcome was imagined and had to be pushed down.

An hour into waiting, Glynn was on his fourth cup of the stale coffee, trying to make sense of the articles in the business section of the paper, when a man about his own age walked in, looked around as if expecting to find someone he knew, poured a cup of coffee, and then, because it was the only seat left, sat down next to Glynn. Glynn smiled and nodded politely and perhaps wouldn’t have given the man’s presence a second thought had it not been for the fact that, like Glynn, and unlike everyone else in the room,  the man was wearing a suit. Marve had tried to get Glynn to dress more casually for the day, but he had insisted that he was more comfortable in the tie and jacket and that it would be more appropriate should the need arise to minister to someone in the room. 

A few minutes passed before the man, likely desperate for some distraction from the boredom, glanced at the section of newspaper Glynn was reading and said, “Domestic crude is really taking a beating, isn’t it?”

Glynn nodded. “I guess so. I really don’t understand the whole 30-day, three-month, six-month thing. I know I’ve never seen gas at forty cents a gallon until this morning.”

“It’s all a calculated guessing game designed to maximize profit in an unstable environment,” the man said. “We produce a lot of oil in Oklahoma and that comes at a calculated cost. When we go to sell that oil, though, we have to compete against foreign providers and increasingly, especially with changes in politics, providers like OPEC have been able to beat our prices by quite a bit, forcing us to drop prices considerably if we want to compete. No one in Washington seems to understand that it’s already putting a number of smaller oil companies out of business.”

“I thought the oil business was one of the most lucrative in the state,” Glynn said, surprised by what he was being told.

The man shifted his position in the chair so that it was slightly less uncomfortable to engage in conversation. “It’s lucrative if you own the land or own the company. Right now, we’re producing more oil than we can sell. Companies are starting to cap new wells rather than pull the oil from them. Too much oil drives the price down and OPEC has been producing double what they were and now the market’s flooded.”

Glynn nodded as though he understood. He wanted to understand, but numbers and corporate business had always been concepts he found it difficult to grasp. He looked at his watch anxiously, knowing that the surgery should be over soon if everything had gone well.

“Waiting’s never easy, is it?” the man commented.

“I guess not. The last time I was in a waiting room like this was when my son was born,’ Glynn responded. “Now, he’s in there having surgery and it’s taking everything I have to not let the worry drive me crazy.”

“That’s probably true for pretty much everyone in here,” the man replied, crossing his legs and pulling a pack of cigarettes from his suit coat pocket. “You mind if I smoke?”

Glynn shook his head. He didn’t smoke cigarettes, never had found a taste for them, and he particularly didn’t like being in a room like this where the smoke hung thick around the ceiling. He didn’t feel as though he had any right to object, though. While he felt that smoking and drinking both violated the Biblical mandate for keeping one’s body “clean before God,” smoking was the less obvious of the two sins and one that even a number of preachers did with no apparent thought to paradox. The concept that smoking was dangerous was still relatively new and not a warning many people in the Southwest took seriously. 

The preacher walked over and refilled his coffee cup yet again. He was about to return to his seat when he saw Marve coming down the short hallway. He hurried over, catching her well short of the waiting room. “Well, how’d it go?” he asked anxiously.

Marve gave him a big hug and said, “It was just fine. One of the nurses kept telling him silly jokes so he giggled all the way through it. And he asked a lot of questions. He got a little impatient toward the end and kept asking how many more pieces they had to remove. But he likes the eye patch he has to wear. He’s certain that he’s a pirate now.”

Glynn laughed as much from relief as with the thought of Hayden playing pirate. “So, what happens now? Are they taking him to a room?”

Marve nodded as they walked to the waiting room. “They told me to come down here while they get him in a room and get everything set up. They want to monitor him coming off the anesthesia. They said sometimes there can be some lingering pain and they want to address that. We should be able to see him in a few minutes. How have you done out here? Did they have enough coffee?”

“Yeah, just sitting here talking with a guy about oil prices,” Glyn answered. “Not like I know what he’s talking about.”

Marve stopped walking. “Wait, you don’t know anything about oil prices. Is this guy a couple of inches taller than you, good looking, probably wearing a suit and acting like he owns the building?”

Glynn started, “Well, he is wearing a suit, but…”

Marve ran the rest of the way to the waiting room and began looking through the crowd of people standing around. She found him quickly. “Doug!” she nearly shouted. “You came! You never said for sure so I wasn’t expecting you!”

As the two embraced tightly, Glynn calmly walked over and extended his hand. “I guess I should have introduced myself. I’m Glynn Waterbury.”

Doug shook Glynn’s hand. “Doug Carmichael. Nice to finally meet you.” Turning to Marve he asked, “Did everything go okay?”

Marve nodded. “He did just fine. Can you stay long enough to meet him? He’d be so excited!”

“Sure! I took the day off to ‘do some field research,’ so we have plenty of time to catch up. It’s been so long! You grew up good, baby sister!” Doug looked back at Glynn. “You know, the last time I saw her was at her high school graduation, and that was only because I snuck into the back of the auditorium and left before our parents could see me.”

“Oh, I’m sure nothing’s changed,” Glynn teased. “She’s still as spry and lively as she was when she was 17.”

“Sure, with a few more wrinkles and a lot more weight than I had then,” Marve said. “How are Barbara and the kids?”

“Spoiled,” Doug said with a big smile. “Barb will be up here around noon. She’s anxious to meet both of you. I’m afraid we’ve gotten so accustomed to staying away from both our families that we’ve neglected the ones we still care about.”

“You don’t see her family, either?” Glynn asked, hoping that he wasn’t prying too much so early in getting to know his brother-in-law.

If the question bothered Doug he didn’t show it. “No, her parents divorced when she was six. We don’t know even know if her dad is still alive. He’s a raging alcoholic, spent some time in jail, and the last anyone heard from him he was in Arizona. Her mom drinks almost as much, has a number of health problems, and the temper of a woman who blames her children and the world for her life not being perfect. Barb has three older brothers but we’ve not seen them since we got married. One’s in Seattle, one in Texas, and the other in Philly. We exchange Christmas cards but other than that there’s no one anxious to have a family reunion.”

The rest of the day was spent exchanging all the information and details of the past several years. Hayden was recovering well and enjoying the fact that the hospital would give him all the cherry gelatin he could eat. Meeting his Uncle was nice but not as exciting as having a television in his own room and being able to watch cartoons.

Glynn drove back home safely enough but was frustrated to walk in and find that Claire and Lita were up late, still doing the dishes from a dinner that hadn’t been served until after 7:00. He tried to be gentle in reminding his in-laws that Lita’s bedtime was a strict 8:00 and that staying up late on a school night was not permissible. 

When the same thing happened Tuesday night, though, he was intentionally more brusk in his response. The house was a mess with newspaper and clothing strewn around the house, dishes piled high in the sink, and dirty pans still on the stove. Glynn called Tom and got permission to take Lita out of school the next day, then drove Claire home. When he told Ginny and Edward that he was taking Lita with him the next day and that their services were no longer needed, they went to bed in a huff, complaining that their “sacrifice” wasn’t being appreciated.

Lita, however, was thrilled to miss a day of school. She was excited to meet her aunt and uncle and was full of questions about the hospital. She also enjoyed getting to ride in the front seat of the car, peppering her Dad with all kinds of questions about everything they passed. 

Glynn was concerned about what the house would look like when they returned. He had done his best to clean up what he could before falling asleep, exhausted, in the recliner. He knew that, without anyone there to provide oversight, Ginny and Edward might leave the house in a terrible mess. Much to his surprise, however, the house was perfectly clean when the family returned home just in time for Glynn to run to the Wednesday night service. 

Ginny did leave Marve a letter, complaining about how rude Glynn had been to them and that they would not bother to offer their child-sitting services again. Marve tore up the letter and dumped it in the trash.

Hayden would have to wear a patch over his eye for the next week, which not only made him the most popular kid in Kindergarten but all of the lower elementary. He was thrilled with all the attention. 

By the time Friday rolled around, everything seemed back to normal. The family went to the last football game of the season, happy that the team ended with a win while shivering in the suddenly cold evening temperatures. Years would pass before Marve would mention her parents again and the promises of keeping in touch with Doug would fall flat as other stressors demanded attention. What had started as a dramatic week ended in a whimper that would eventually be lost to other more pleasant and important memories. It was almost as if the week had never happened at all.

Chapter 42

Glynn could feel the tension in the air Sunday but wasn’t able to exactly place the source. Emotions were running high as evidenced by the lack of conversation between Sunday School and the morning’s worship service. There were no smiles, no warm greetings. Everyone took their seat and waited. Quietly. The music was lackluster. Some were already squirming in their seat before Glynn started his sermon. 

Looking out over the congregation, he noticed there were some not in their normal seats. Buck and his family normally sat on the right side of the sanctuary. Today, they were on the left, directly in front of Horace. Alan, who normally sat on the left side, directly behind Horace, was now on the right. The same applied to a half-dozen others.

Glynn made a point of asking if everything was okay as people left the service. “Sure, pastor, everything’s fine,” they would say with a forced smile. Even Alan, who was usually quick to identify even the smallest problem, was dismissive with, “Just another Sunday morning, pastor.”

He checked with Marve, who normally was aware of changes in the community before he was. “I can’t say that I’ve heard anything,” she told him. “I wouldn’t worry about it. We’re at that strange time of year where there’s nothing really going on and I think it makes people uncomfortable.”

The pastor wasn’t so convinced but also knew better than to go poking around. No one liked a nosey preacher. He knew any serious problem would eventually bubble up to the top but he would much rather find a solution before it reached that point.

When three more disgruntled letters arrived in Monday’s mail, Glynn decided it was time to call Calvin. While he still wasn’t concerned about the comments in any one letter, the volume of them was disconcerting. More than a month had passed since his sermon on death had rattled the pastor’s retreat. He thought pastors would have turned their attention back to their own congregations by now. 

Calvin sounded genuinely surprised to hear that Glynn was still getting letters. “We only got feedback here for a couple of weeks and then it dropped off. Do you mind telling me who some of the negative letters are from?” he asked.

Glynn reached into the bottom desk drawer where he had tossed the negative letters and read some of the names from the return addresses on the envelope. Glynn found it interesting that none of them had written anonymously. They were willing to take on a fight if he chose to engage it. 

“Interesting, more than half of those are from pastors out in Telleconix Association, out along the western border. Sounds like someone out there is keeping them all riled up,” Calvin said. “That’s usually a pretty quiet association. Most of the pastors out there are bi-vocational and either teach school or ranch as a profession. We rarely see any of them at state gatherings because of the distance and their inability to get away. Let me see who from out that direction was at the retreat. If I can, I’ll reach out to their Director of Missions and see if he can put a lid on the problem.”

Glynn thanked him and hung up the phone hoping that the whole matter would go away. He was trying to focus on his sermon for the associational annual meeting. This was being yet another example of trying to find words to greet an audience at an event he had never personally experienced. Sure, Baptist Associations in Michigan had annual meetings, but he had never had the time, nor actually the desire to attend one. 

The concept of an annual meeting was that since the association operated on the collective donations of churches in that association, they needed to be accountable for what they did with those donations. The same thing was true of the state convention’s annual meeting in November and the Southern Baptist Convention in June. At their essence, they were little more than business meetings intended to demonstrate some level of accountability for the funds and responsibilities with which they were entrusted. That they were treated as more than that was, in Glynn’s opinion, a heaping shovel full of religious pomposity. He did not need someone to preach to him on the power of mutual cooperation when the biggest argument he’d heard so far had been over the autonomy of the individual church. Yet, that was the topic Clement had taken. Neither did he need someone to spend 30 minutes dramatizing the need for evangelism when he was daily made aware of the degree to which Christianity had over-saturated the local market, leaving only a handful of sinners for which they all clamored so aggressively as to convince the uncommitted that they were probably better off with the reliable spirits found in a bottle than the schizophrenic Spirit presented by 14 different denominations all bent on saving their soul. He would listen to Bill’s sermon politely, but he expected no lasting benefit from it.

His own topic was supposed to be the Importance of Building Strong Youth Programs. He had borrowed books from both Clement and Bill again and read all the articles in the current denominational and general conservative Christian literature but still felt as though the entire topic was something that existed in someone else’s reality. His church had only a smattering of “young people,” those between the ages of 13 and 18. Besides Claire, only Roland Hughes could be considered a regular and the difference between the two teens could not have been more stark. Claire was deeply involved in her independent religious studies that far outstripped the meager preparation that Frances Edmonds attempted late on Saturday nights. Russel Daniels would show up about half the time, but neither of his parents was especially regular and when he was there it was more likely because Roland had some other topic of interest on which the two would spend the morning service passing notes back and forth. There were others who came and went, of course. On any given Sunday there were five or six people in the classroom. Yet, the church had no official youth leader. Even among the teens themselves, there was no one who could unify the group all that well. Claire was the most popular but even she wasn’t prone to getting everyone together. Each one tended to do their own thing. Glynn would do his best with the sermon, but he didn’t expect anyone to be inspired by his words.

The association’s annual meeting was held at First Baptist, Arvel, whose large sanctuary and high ceiling felt both impressive and imposing. This was the largest church in the association with a budget larger than the association’s which meant that they tended to do their own thing and leave the association to the smaller churches. Dr. Harold Bennet was the pastor here, a well-dressed, well-educated, gray-haired preacher whose voice ranged from gentle words of wisdom to thunderous indictments of eternal damnation. He made the necessary greetings, gave the opening prayer, and then promptly disappeared into his office. 

For most of the pastors in the association, this was their first time seeing each other since Emmet’s dramatic exit. They greeted each other cordially enough, though there was still some trepidation among them as to who might have done what. There were also several new faces in the crowd, mostly younger pastors who had stepped into the pulpits of those churches whose pastors had left abruptly and under questionable circumstances resulting from Emmet’s letter to the state convention. 

Dr. Bennet’s prayer was followed by a couple of requisite hymns, another prayer, and then Clement called the meeting to order. The speed with which chaos ensued was mind-boggling. Immediately, Larry Winston stood up and shouted so everyone could hear, “Point of order, Mr. Moderator. I would move that the messengers from Grace Church, Arvel, Grace Church, Washataug, and First Church, Adelberg not be seated as their churches are out of fellowship with the association.”

There was a second to the motion from someone toward the back of the sanctuary, though no one was certain who that might be. Immediately, Clement countered with his own parliamentary maneuver. “The motion is denied given that none of the messengers have yet to be seated, therefore there is no one in standing to make the motion.”

Grumbling and confusion scattered across the assembly and Alan leaned over and asked Glynn, “What does he mean that we’re out of fellowship. We’ve been sending our checks, haven’t we?”

Glynn shrugged. “As far as I know. This is the first I’ve heard about anything. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Bill stood up and made the more customary statement. “Mr. Moderator, I move that all the messengers who have presented themselves as duly elected representatives of the stated churches of this association be seated as voting delegates of this annual meeting.”

Again, there was a second, though Glynn recognized Carl’s voice this time. Still, the second had hardly left Carl’s mouth before Larry was on his feet again.

“Point of order, Mr. Moderator. I would move that the messengers from Grace Church, Arvel, Grace Church, Washataug, and First Church, Adelberg not be seated as their churches are out of fellowship with the association,” he insisted.

This time, there was a gap of several seconds before Roy Moody reluctantly seconded the motion after Larry had turned around and given him a harsh look.

Bill had waited until the second had been given before he shot Larry’s motion down again. “Mr. Moderator, said motion is out of order insomuch as associational bylaws state in section 14, paragraph six, that churches continuing to participate in the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention cannot be removed from the association nor can their messengers be denied without the recommendation of the Executive Committee following a public examination of the charges against them.”

Glynn looked at Marve, then at Buck and Alan. “That was awfully specific,” he said quietly. “No way he knew that off the top of his head.”

“Sounds to me like we’re being set up for something,” Buck replied.

“Motion denied,” Clement said quickly. “All in favor of the motion to seat messengers say aye.”

A thunderous “Aye,” rose from the assembly.

“All opposed say, Nay,” Clement continued.

Larry shouted his Nay but the few voices joining him were meager to the point of being reluctant. 

“And the motion carries,” Clement said. “You should have been given upon entry a copy of the minutes of the 1971 annual meeting. Do I hear a motion…”

“NO!! I will not allow this meeting to continue!” Larry shouted. “We cannot sit here and tolerate the presence of murderers and adulterers and that heretic over there!” As he said “over there,” he pointed hard in Glynn’s direction as though attempting to jab at him from across the sanctuary. 

Alan looked sternly down the pew at Glynn, then back at Larry and before anyone could move fast enough to stop him he was on his feet and moving out into the aisle. “Who the sam-hill are you calling a heretic?” he shouted at Larry. “I don’t recall seeing your face in any of our services. You don’t know what you’re talking about and I demand an apology to our pastor and our church!”

Buck stood up and touched Alan’s shoulder but the deacon pushed him away.

“And you don’t have any control over your own pastor!” Larry shouted back. “He’s running around all over the state spreading heresy!”

Alan threw his Bible onto the pew and stepped aggressively across the aisle. “You will take that back and apologize right now!” he shouted.

Clement banged a gavel on the pulpit. “Order! Gentlemen, we will have order in these proceedings!”

No one was paying any attention. “I will do no such thing!” Larry shouted back.

As Alan was moving, Buck was reaching to stop him but was half a second too late. Even if he had managed somehow to catch Alan’s elbow it is unlikely that he could have stopped him. The full force of the rancher’s fist connected with the soft tissue of the preacher’s face, instantly breaking his nose and causing blood to spurt onto everyone around him. Larry fell backward, hitting his head on the back of a pew before landing on the floor with a hard thud.

Naturally, men from Larry’s own church came after Alan as Buck and Glynn both struggled moving past their wives to reach him and pull him back. Alan was ready for the fight, though, and two more men went down before Glynn could get around in Alan’s face and yell at him to stop. As Glynn and Buck pulled Alan from the fray, though, others joined, punching and pushing each other, no one really knowing which side anyone else had taken but determined to come to the defense of one or the other. All the while, Clement stood banging his gavel, screaming for order.

The actual fight lasted less than three minutes. Glynn and Buck wrestled Alan out the door and into the parking lot where Glynn told Alan to go home and not bother returning. “You are a disappointment to me, a disappointment to your church, and most importantly a disappointment to God,” he said. They would be words he would come to regret but at the moment they felt necessary. He watched Alan storm to his pickup and drive off then turned to Buck and asked, “What in the world do we do now?”

“You got me, preacher,” Buck said, his hands shoved in his pockets. “I can tell you that having Alan Mayes angry is never a good thing. I’ve not seen him this mad at another person in years and never at a preacher like that. He’ll cool down in a couple of days, I suppose, but I’d give him some distance.”

Glynn and Buck turned to walk back into the church building just as the ambulance pulled up along with a couple of police cars. People were hurriedly leaving through another door. For all practical purposes, the day’s meeting was over. Inside, Buck went to talk with Marve and Frances while Glynn found Clement and Bill talking with Roger Gentry who was now, technically, Director of Missions.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see that coming,” Glynn said as he approached the group, feeling somehow responsible for Alan’s actions.

Roger shook his head. “It’s not your fault, Glynn. We underestimated how volatile Larry’s disruption would be. One of the messengers from Grace Church here was headed that direction as well. Yours just beat him to it.”

“Wait, you knew Larry was going to say something?” Glynn asked. He felt a sudden surge of anger at the possibility of being betrayed.

“Sort of,” Clement admitted. “He called me when we mailed out the schedule and he saw your name on it. He wanted you off the roster and when I refused to do so he started getting nasty, calling me names and such. He didn’t say for certain that he’d do anything here, but we were anticipating some kind of challenge.”

“Why didn’t you call me, at least give me some kind of heads up?” Glynn charged. “I would happily give my speaking spot to someone else to avoid a disaster like this!”

“That’s my fault,” Roger said. “I thought we’d be able to nip the whole thing in the bud, save all three churches from any sort of public embarrassment. Since neither of the other churches have pastors, there really wasn’t anyone there we knew to contact. And I was afraid you’d back out of speaking if you knew.”

“I definitely would have backed out!” Glynn said, trying to keep some hold on his temper. The four men watched as Larry was taken out to the ambulance, followed by his wife and the other messengers from his church. Glynn looked around at the near-empty sanctuary. “So, what do we do?”

“I think this meeting is over and everyone needs to leave,” Harold Bennet said as he walked up to the group. “I never thought I’d see the day when anything like this would happen. This is a disgrace. We’ll be sending the association a bill for the cleanup, of course, and at this point I’m not sure we’ll continue our giving. That it happened at all is embarrassing. That this happened in my church is unconscionable.”

The senior pastor turned to Roger and continued, “I would strongly suggest that you look at ways you might mute some of the more ignorant pulpit robbers among us. We might not be able to stop churches from hiring uneducated and illiterate men like that but we don’t have to let them participate and poison the waters for the rest of us.”

Looking at Glynn he added, “Young man, don’t think I’m not aware of the melee you caused at the pastors’ retreat. I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but know this, there’s a price that comes with speaking the truth to people who don’t want to hear it. We hedge the gospel, all of us do because in its raw form it’s insulting to people’s lives. If we were honest, we’d have to tell people how wretched and miserable their lives are. We can’t run churches like that, though. We have to finesse Christianity so that people see it as a way to feel better about themselves, not a means for wrestling their own pathetic nature. Never forget that truth is a game for martyrs.”

He looked at Clement, “You’ll wrap this up and get everyone out of my church, correct?”

Clement nodded in agreement, not daring to meet Harold’s harsh gaze.

Dr. Bennet took a couple of steps away before finishing with a final warning. “Don’t ask me to use our facilities for associational gathers ever again. The answer will be no.” He walked back toward his office, leaving the four preachers looking at each other in silence.

There wasn’t much left to do. After some brief discussion, it was determined that being well short of a quorum, the meeting was automatically adjourned and required no further parliamentary action. 

Glynn walked back over to where Marve, Buck, and Frances were waiting. Marve knew the look on Glynn’s face and was concerned as to what could have him so angry. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“They knew,” he responded.

“What?” Marve and Buck asked in unison.

“They knew that Larry was going to try to get us kicked out. They thought they could stop him before it got to the floor,” Glynn explained. “I don’t know what to think. I’ve never seen a fight like that in church before.”

Buck reached over and put a hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “Look, pastor, none of this is your fault. That yahoo insulted the entire membership of three different churches. I don’t know of anyone in Adelberg that’s likely to take that sitting down. I know what Alan did was wrong, but its what every one of us wanted to do. Where’s that tallywhacker from, anyway?”

“Small church here in Arvel, over there east of the junior college. Pretty small group form what I understand, 30-40 people in Sunday School,” Glynn said. 

“And they couldn’t keep him from standing up and calling you a heretic?” Marve asked, sharing some of Glynn’s anger. “I mean, had we known we wouldn’t have come at all, would we?”

Glynn shrugged. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m so angry I can hardly see straight. We need to go, though. Dr. Bennet’s more than a little upset and has asked everyone to leave.”

“I can’t say I blame him,” Frances said, speaking up for the first time. “Someone makes a mess in your house, you kick them out.”

Marve looked at Glynn. “You know, we have a baby sitter until late tonight. Why don’t we drive over to Joplin for dinner? Get away from this nonsense for a while.”

Buck reached in his back pocket and removed his wallet. “I think that’s a good idea, pastor. You two drive over to Joplin and catch your breath a bit. I’ll even pay for it.” He removed a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet and tucked it in Glynn’s shirt pocket. “Don’t even think about arguing with me. You guys go. I’ll check on Alan and talk with you tomorrow.”

Glynn and Marve thanked Buck and Frances then walked out to the parking lot where only a few cars remained. “I wasn’t all that excited about sitting through two days of boring reports in the first place,” Marve said and Glynn started the car. 

Glynn sighed. “This isn’t going to blow over, you know. I’m sure the rumor mill has kicked into overdrive. Maybe we should call Claire and tell her to not answer the phone this evening.”

“She’s not out of school yet,” Marve reminded him. “We can call when we find someplace to eat. Just drive.”

Glynn followed the road to the highway then turned East instead of heading toward home. The mixture of anger and embarrassment resulted in a heavy foot on the gas pedal. He wished he could drive straight to Michigan and never look back.

Page 1 of 51234...Last »