Autumn’s Return

Hearts and flowers, chocolate candy… hardly the stuff of true crime or civil disobedience; But the legend behind Valentine’s day tells the story of a man who dared to stand up for his faith in the face of overwhelming political obstacles and who paid the ultimate price for his stance concerning Christian marriage.

Saint Valentine: Holy Priest of Rome: The date of this Saint Valentine’s birth is not known. Along with Saint Marius and his family, Saint Valentine assisted the martyrs during the persecution they suffered under the rule of Claudius II (also known as Claudius the Goth and Claudius the Cruel). In addition, since Rome was at the time involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns, the emperor found it difficult to recruit the male populace into joining his military leagues. Believing this to be because Roman men were adverse to leaving their loved ones or their familes, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements within the City of Rome. Saint Valentine and Saint Marius, however, continued to perform wedding ceremonies in secret. When is was discovered that Saint Valentine was defying the emperor’s decree, he was apprehended and dispatched by Claudius to the Prefect of Rome who, being unable to force the saint to renounce Christianity, ordered that Valentine be clubbed, stoned and then beheaded. According to tradition, while Valentine waited in prison for his execution, he corresponded with those under his care by sending letters and love notes to his parishioners. It is also believed that while incarcerated, the Bishop fell in love with a young woman who visited him during his confinement. According to some sources, this was the blind daughter (whose name may have been Julia) of of Asterius, the jailer. It is said that God enabled Valentine to miraculously restore the girl’s sight. Popular belief indicates that Valentine’s farewell message to his love contained a closing that has now transcended time: “From Your Valentine.” The saint was executed on February 14 in either 269 A.D. or 270 A.D. In 270 A.D., Pope Julius I is said to have built a church near Ponte Mole in the saint’s memory at a location once known as Porta Valentini and now called Porta del Popolo. The relic bones of this Saint Valentine, who may also have been a physician, are now housed within the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome.”

Excerpted from http://www.novareinna.com/festive/saintval.html

At any rate, for me Valentine’s day is really about the enduring power of love and marriage in the face of terrible obstacles. To that end I offer this story up for the Daily Posts writing challenge found at

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/writing-challenge-valentine/

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Autumn’s Return

The October sun set over the mountain bursting into a penumbra of red and purple as it careened into the pointed apex of rock and forest.

John brushed a weary hand through his salt and pepper hair letting it stray to his aching shoulder. He sighed and heard in the exhalation of breath the reminiscence of steel grating on pavement. The memory of fire danced before his eyes as the sun sang its final song over the landscape.

A crow screamed in the trees.

He heard in the bird call, “Daddy! Daddy help me!”

He knew the raven’s cry was just a call to worship for the murder. He was a regular congregant of Nature’s mass. It was the only release from the condemnation he clung to with the shadow strength that grief had left him.

The murder gathered in the highest branches of the pinions. As the last rays of day surrendered to the violent grip of night, crow calls filled the air. Louder than a city traffic jam they screamed in Autumn’s voice, “You let her die!”

His whole life was a haze: There was before the accident which he could only behold with the most conscious of efforts and there was after which started with a white room in the hospital. Black-out faded to dim understanding. He wept with the agony from his broken shoulder and the image of his little girl slumping into unconsciousness as smoke and flame consumed her.

What he needed was absolution. What he got was the forever scream of crows that spoke with Autumn’s voice. What he got was an empty apartment returned to after a month’s stay in the psych ward. What he got was the weariness and the Prozac migraine that kept suicide at bay. What he got was the catharsis of sunlight sprayed across mountains burning into the interminable silence that had become his life.

He came daily to relive, through sun fire and crow scream, the events that had brought him here. He hoped that someday his Sisyphean devotion to the act would set him free. Yet, no penance could ever satisfy hungry guilt. Somewhere inside he knew it would never be enough but it was the only payment he had to make.

As always the avian cantata rose suddenly to a deafening crescendo and then without warning fell dead siphoning away with it all his dreams.

The stars were up. He felt the whisper of the moon’s breath upon his neck.  Blame, held at bay for the few moments of Nature’s symphony, came rushing back in with an audible groan. He waved good bye to the tree tops and rose to go.

He heard the crunch of autumn leaves behind him. He turned and gasped. Autumn stood illumined by the street light. Tears streaked her leaden features. She held out her hand.

“It’s time to go home John.”

The Good Shepherd Pt. 1

The idea for this story was birthed from a writing prompt in The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Dystopia http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/writing-challenge-dystopia/

Write a short story or piece of descriptive faux-journalism describing your personal idea of a dystopia — a dark future when everything you hold dear is on the chopping block.

The Good Shepherd

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      The power has been out for two days. I haven’t told Mother but I don’t think it’s coming back on. Somewhere inside I think she knows but she keeps encouraging herself with the thought of cooking in the microwave again once the lights return. Maybe she’s doing it to comfort Anna who has spent the last day skirting the edges of utter despair on the edge of her cot by the wood stove. The old lady hasn’t moved since we brought her in from the cold yesterday.

    Sunday night was the last of our normal times, if I’m right. I was agitated because altar call went long. A new lady was weeping over a tough break up and kept our prayer counselors until almost ten thirty. Now I wish we had prayed all night.

   I got to bed about midnight and when I awoke the alarm was black, the sun was bright and the house was cold. Mother had already been down to check the furnace to make sure it wasn’t out of water. She had to check it by candle light because the flash light batteries were dead. Go figure, an eighty year old lady crawling around in a dark dirty cellar by candle light. Thinking it was just a black out she had already started the wood stove  to keep the living room warm.

      “Coffee’s on the stove.” She chirped motioning to the kettle. She seemed almost happy. Troubles like this always bring out the best in her at least initially.

     “Phone’s dead.” I replied pouring myself a cup from the pot while checking my cell. I added sugar and cream to the steaming liquid and went to the dining room where I’d left my computer bag. I knew something was up when all I got from the PC was a black screen.

      None of the clocks worked but I am guessing it was about eleven when  Anna showed up.

     “Jerome can you be a good kid and give me a jump-start? The car battery’s dead.”  Her voice always reminded me of something between a growl and a sour burp.

      “Call me Jerry Anna please. Are you sure it’s the battery?”

      “I’m 87 Jerome. Most days I’m not sure of my own name. All I know’s the key won’t start the *&*!^!* thing.” She said.

        I ushered the old woman into the living room and gave her a seat by the fire which she seemed to appreciate though she would never admit it because that would ruin her reputation as the nightmare crab of the neighborhood. I left her slumped in the seat chatting with my mom about an old obituary she had found in a newspaper squirreled away in the drawer of her curio cabinet.

       My car wouldn’t start either. When I knocked across the street at Nikki’s house he  told me their three cars were also dead.

        “Well I have got to get my milk!” Was all Anna could say when I told her that all the cars in the neighborhood were incapacitated. “It’s not like I can walk down street!”

         Mother saved the day, “Jerry, dear, why don’t you walk down to the grocery for Anna and pick up the milk. We’ll stay here and enjoy another cup of coffee.”

       As I left I heard her throw the dead bolt on the great oak front door. She hadn’t locked that door in over 25 years. She knew there was trouble. Down street was only a block away but as I came around the corner my whole world changed. Central  street was  a ghost town. Winter wind was the only sound on the deserted roadway. None of the stores including the grocery were opened. Duray’s tow truck was  in the middle of the  road, hood up with a  green Subaru hanging off the back. The driver had long since given up on the machine and moved on.

      I stopped at the police station to inquire about what was going on. Twenty other citizens had gathered there as well to hear the police chief read an official statement drafted by the town selectmen.

     “At three fifteen A.M. this morning the power in Winchendon went out. Nothing either electric or battery powered operates within the borders of the town as far as we can tell. We don’t know if this phenomenon goes beyond our borders or not. The town council is sending a committee to neighboring towns to investigate. As we get more information we will make it available to the public. Don’t panic.  Do your best to keep warm. Emergency shelter is available at the Whitcomb house where a wood furnace will be kept burning throughout the day.”

     When he finished reading the notice, he tacked it to the front door and exited  through to the  security locked offices, his world of safety. I went home and shared the news with Mother and Anna.

      I haven’t been able to reach any of my children or their mother since Sunday. The girls as far as I know are in Haverhill and my son is in Pennsylvania. Their mother I am hoping is  safe in her home in Gardner. But the world has changed. Yesterday I had four ways of knowing where they all were in a moments notice. Today I am cut off from everyone. Yesterday I could have flown across the ocean to see my sister in eight hours.  Today twelve miles might as well be Mars.

     I keep reminding myself that no matter what God is with us. That’s His promise and that, at least, doesn’t rely on electricity. The church survived the Middle Ages. We will survive  this, whatever this is. I just wonder how it fits into the prophetic world picture….Someone’s at the door.

Next week Pt. 2