Monday, August 31, 2015


            Jack dove forward to the controls, yanking back on the throttle to level the plane. The water was racing towards them, covering their entire plane of view. It fell away slightly as the plane began to ease up but it wasn’t enough. The wings groaned in protest. Somewhere, a piece of metal was stripped loose, shrieking as it was pulled from the craft. Jack continued to pull back, no longer concerned with the plane. A flash of lightning lit the sky, and Jack glimpsed the choppy waters below.
            Madeline plowed into the water with a violent lurch, thrashing its contents within. Harold hollered in pain as a small toolbox crashed into his arm, spilling its contents hazardously into the air. Bodies tumbled in the air, smacking against one another and the unforgiving metal of the cramped cabin. There were ragged gasps and screams of agony.
            When the movement stopped, it took a moment for Jack to find his bearings. Down was up. The floor and seats were now the ceiling; the controls and throttle were somewhere above. Cabin lights were sparking sporadically, offering fleeting glimpses of the mayhem at hand. Outside the windows lay a solid wall of water. A spider leg crack in the corner of the windshield was letting in a spout of water as wide as a finger. Time was running out.
            Jack wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, feeling something warm and slick there. He didn’t have to look to know it was blood. But at least he was conscious. That was a miracle in itself. He coiled up from his position against the pilot’s seat and glanced back at the other two.
            “Guys? Are you ok?” It was the strongest voice he could muster. Harold’s eyes were opened but he seemed to be in shock. Jack glanced him over quickly. There was blood everywhere. It was difficult to know how bad the injuries were.
            “I can’t feel my arm,” Harold said in an eerily quiet voice. He lifted his right arm, and Jack could instantly tell it had been broken. It bent at an unnatural, sickening angle. But he’d live. Hopefully.
            “Hyde?” Jack said, a little louder this time. He crawled towards the rear of the craft slowly, acutely aware of how quickly the shifting weight could cause new problems.
            Hyde lay crumpled against the rear bulkhead, obviously unconscious. His face was smeared with blood. Jack pressed two fingers to his neck and closed his eyes.
            “Is he… dead?” Harold stammered. Jack shook his head.
            “No, but his pulse isn’t strong. We’ve gotta get out of here.”
            Harold squeezed around Jack and tried the rear door handle with his good arm, cradling the other at his chest.
           “It won’t budge, Jack,” Harold said after a few tries. Jack put his back against it and braced his legs on the opposite side of the cabin. They pushed together. But it was hopeless.
            “What’s going on? Why isn’t the door opening? You think it’s broken?” Harold said with an expression of horror.
            “I don’t know, It could be the water pressure against the outside.”
            “Then what are we supposed to do? What if we can’t open it?”
            “We’ll have to wait till the cabin fills with water. The pressure will start equalizing, then the door will open.”
            Harold said nothing as he stared at Jack with wild eyes. Jack turned back to Hyde and began feeling his body for broken bones. A sharp snapping sound turned their attention back to the cockpit, where the crack was forcing its way across the windshield. A sheet of frigid water raced through it, spraying the interior.
            “Oh god, oh god,” Harold began mumbling. “I’m going to die. This is it.”


            Charlie and Naomi stepped into the guest cabin of Alden and Tomiko Yates at 4:45 AM. They’d been walking the entire night. The door was unlocked, as usual, and the bed was made. They took a steaming hot shower and tumbled drowsily into the sheets. They slept for only five hours, at which point they promptly woke, dressed, and resumed their trek through the mountains.
            Taking the eastern trail around the Chipwa mountain range, Charlie and Naomi were able to reach the Gervis airstrip by four thirty that afternoon. Mack wasn’t in the best of moods when they traipsed into his hangar, but he seemed to understand that he wasn’t the only one facing loss. They shook hands, stood around a map and briefly discussed a flight plan, and then piled into his wife’s blue Aerielle. Within thirty minutes of their arrival at the hangar, they were in the air with the valley falling away slowly beneath them.
            Mack Gervis asked about their runaways. Charlie explained the story obligingly, but his wife noted his exhaustion. She knew that more than anything, he wanted this to be over. Whichever way it went.
            “Bad storm passed through here last night,” Mack finally said when Charlie had finished.
            “Oh?” Naomi asked after a few moments of silence. Like Charlie, she didn’t feel much like talking, but if Mack wanted to make conversation they at least owed him that.
            “Yeah, strong winds. I’d say thirty, maybe thirty-five mile an hour winds. Not good for a little plane like this.”
            “They were flying a plane like this?” Naomi asked.
            “Actually a bit smaller than this.”
            Naomi tried to ignore the gnawing sensation in her gut. A plane crash in paradise? Could it even be possible? Would Jehovah let it happen? Then again, things had gone this far…
            “Any ideas where they might be headed?”
            Mack shrugged. “Who knows. If they were smart they would’ve landed at the first sign of trouble. That’s what any good pilot flying a small craft would do, Old World or New. It just isn’t sensible to take risks.”
            “Where could they land?”
            “There’re a few airstrips northeast from ours. The nearest is the McGaughlim strip. But I don’t think they landed there. I radioed them last night and they hadn’t seen or heard anything. After that it’s the Levlee strip. I couldn’t get a hold of them last night or today, so I say we head there first.”
            Naomi gazed out the window as blue-green hills covered in evergreens rolled beneath her. The sun sat low on the horizon, casting a milky afternoon haze into the atmosphere. Even at seven thousand feet, the smell of autumn pines was strong and unmistakable. Eyelids heavy, Naomi slipped into a fog and dozed off.
            It was another hour before she was stirred awake. Her husband’s hand was on her knee, shaking her to life. His face was grim. The plane banked, carving a wide arc into the sky. To the plane’s right and far below, lay a massive crystal blue lake. And there, in the center and far from shore, was the scattered wreckage of a solar plane.


            The room was a blur. Blotches of color and light swayed and fused as a dull headache hammered away behind some dark fog. He moved his head, sending tendrils of hot pain lashing against his neck and shoulder. He grunted and gave up, resting his head back against the pillow. The fingers of his left hand bent and twitched, tapping against one another. That was good; things were at least working there. The same was not the case with his right hand, which was cold, stiff, and useless.
            What had happened? Where was he? Harold’s mind scrambled to piece the fragments together. There’d been so much water. Cold, cold, rushing water. They were trapped in something. A car accident? No, it wasn’t that. There were controls, a cockpit. A small plane. Why had they been in a plane? And who were the others? Harold winced. It hurt to remember.
            Harold attempted his vision again, opening his eyes a fraction and forcing himself to focus. He was lying in a large bed and covered in a dark blue sheet. Pictures on the wall, but too far to see clearly. Not yet. There was a smell in the air. Something familiar. Herbal. Fragrant. Pleasant.
            Harold rotated his head slightly to the left, bracing for the pain. It came, but with less ferocity than at first. He let out a breath and opened his eyes, wider this time, and caught a dark figure. Someone sitting in a chair? Harold opened his mouth and tried to speak, but a quiet gasping noise was all that escaped his lips. The figure leaned forward, placing a hand on his shoulder.
            “Easy, Harry, you don’t have the strength yet.” That voice. It struck a memory somewhere deep down, like a string plucked in a dark, empty corridor.
            Who? Harold mouthed silently.
            “In due time. For now, rest. You’ve been asleep for a whole day. Gather your strength.”
            Harold tried to nod, but was unable. Instead he closed his eyes and was stolen away into sleep.

Monday, August 24, 2015


            The colors in the sky had begun to shift less than an hour after taking off in the sleek solar aircraft. The bold and vibrant blue had slowly drained away, giving way to a pallid and lifeless green grey. Storm colors. Jack eyed the changes carefully. They were still far from any cloud masses and Jack had yet to spot lightning, but something told him landing was in fair order. They’d already passed one airstrip several minutes before, but Harold had urged that they move a little farther on to see what was on the horizon and make good use of their mobility.

            The craft was surprisingly nimble and easy to fly. It responded well to Jack’s fingers as he plied the throttle this way and that, getting a feel for the plane. It was agile and eager to be in the air, despite its unwieldy wingspan and modest speed. Jack had been watching the airspeed indicator when they’d taken off–it had needed only sixty miles per hour to attain liftoff. Not bad for a three-man craft, Jack thought. Now they were moving at approximately ninety miles an hour, which was slow compared to the jets Jack was accustomed to in the old days, but still much better than slogging through the woods on foot.

            “Harold, how far did you say the next airstrip was?” Jack asked over his shoulder.

            “It should be right over the next ridge once you pass the lake,” Harold said. Then added, “Why? Are we landing?”

            “I think so,” Jack replied.

            “Why would we do that? I say we keep going until we absolutely have to land. Put some distance between us and them, you know?”

            Jack was shaking his head. “It’s best not to chance it. We’ve been in the air for an hour, the distance should be enough.”

            “But the sky’s perfectly clear. I don’t understand–“

            “Yeah but the color is strange. Neither of us really understand the weather patterns here, but this doesn’t look like clear skies to me. Best to land and wait it out,” Jack said with finality.

            The cabin went silent. Suddenly a high pitched noise filled the small space as a gust of wind whipped against the plane, rolling it to the right and pushing it stiffly aside. Harold made a noise through gritted teeth. Hyde whimpered. Jack released the throttle, deciding not to fight the wind. He was unsure of how much tension the aircraft’s wings could endure. If he pushed it too hard he risked fracturing the struts, a problem they were in no way equipped to deal with.

            Jack let the wind carry the plane off course for several seconds, then gradually reclaimed control. The plane lurched into the air as the wind slipped back beneath its wings. Harold and Hyde braced themselves as their stomachs plunged.

            “What was that?” Harold demanded once the nausea had passed.

            “Just a little turbulence. Shifting wind currents could mean a storm.”

            “Well then, we need to think about landing,” Harold said, as if he’d been insisting on this course of action all along. Jack wanted to glare at him but kept his focus on the controls.

            “Hyde, see if you can locate any backpack-looking things back there. They might be under the seats,” Jack instructed. Hyde did as told, feeling under his seat with the tips of his fingers.

            “What am I looking for?” He asked, his terror manifest by a wire-thin trembling in his voice.

            “Parachutes,” Jack said.

            “Parachutes! Why?” Harold said quickly. “You don’t expect us to…”

            “It’s just a precaution. If you find them, strap into them. I don’t know this plane and I don’t know these storms. Better to be safe than sorry.”

            Hyde continued searching. He kneeled on the cabin floor and reached his arm all the way back under the seat but found nothing but a small plastic toolkit. Next he tried peeling back the carpeting on the floor. Nothing. Finally, a plastic panel behind their seat backs opened to reveal a pair of black, rectangular packs with straps and plastic buckles.

            “Jack, I found them. But there are only two,” Hyde said, his voice catching.

            “That’s fine. You two put them on. I don’t expect to need them.”

            The sky was darkening. Distant flickers of lightning could be seen in faraway storm clouds to the west of the craft. Jack leaned forward in his pilot’s seat, staring down at the tops of trees. There, in the distance, was the hazy, grey outline of a large body of water.

            “There’s the lake,” Jack announced. “We should be there soon.”

            But Jack’s fleeting optimism was interrupted by another gust of wind, stronger than the first. It came from the rear of the aircraft and caused the plane to tilt downward and plunge. Harold and Hyde placed their hands on the ceiling of the cabin, pushing against it as the gravity vanished. It took all their strength to keep them in their seats. The weightlessness was terrifying.

            Jack nosed the aircraft down to gain speed, pushing air back under the wings of the plane and allowing it to stabilize. In another thirty seconds the cabin normalized but they’d lost nearly two thousand feet of altitude. All three were breathing hard.

            “We should’ve never listened to you,” Hyde spat angrily at Harold. “We should’ve just landed back at the first strip when we had a chance!”

            “Don’t pin it all on me, boy, it was the pilot hotshot that insisted to fly this deathtrap!”

            “How stupid do you think we are?” Hyde yelled. “You were the one that pressured him to keep going!”

            “Well, Jack claimed to be a pilot! How was I supposed to know he was incapable of handling a little inclement weather?” Harold scoffed.

            “Both of you just shut up,” Jack grumbled. He was only vaguely aware of their argument as he struggled to keeping the plane level. It was becoming increasingly difficult as the winds shifted, battering them from new and terrifying angles. The wings creaked and groaned as they twisted into unnatural shapes. Jack held his breath in dread as the left wing was caught by a sudden draft and plied upward, though it quickly sprung back to its original shape as the wind passed. Jack’s relief didn’t last long. He knew time was running out. He need to find the airstrip, and fast.


            Naomi watched her husband pack his backpack from across their bedroom. She saw in him dogged determination that she’d not seen in many years, and it both fascinated and frightened her. He’d been home barely one day, and here he was, ready to leave again. He needed rest. He wasn’t thinking logically.

            “Charlie, I know how bad you want this, but it’s crazy to leave now. The sun is down and the wind is picking up. It sounds like a storm is coming,” Naomi gently pleaded.

            “They took a poor brother’s plane, Naomi. They killed animals. They stole from us and lied to others. I need to take responsibility for this,” Charlie said flatly as he stuffed a few pairs of socks into one of the pockets of the bag.

            “How is this taking responsibility? What do you expect to do?”

            “I expect to find them and stop them before they cause any more damage.”

            “But they’re in a plane! You’re on foot! What can you do?”

            “Yes, they’re in a plane and eventually they’ll have to land. There are airstrips just north of where they took off. I’ll visit every one of them if I have to. Then I’ll put a stop to this.”

            “How? What will you do? Handcuff them? Throw them in prison? What?”

            Charlie paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “Naomi. I know this is hard for you to understand. Adrina is doing well, and I’m so happy for you. But there are two–no, three–men on the loose out there, and they’re on a rampage. And two of them–they came back here, in my center. This is all on my head. I need to do this. I can’t just sit around and wait for more calls from strangers telling me what awful things they’ve done.”

            “That isn’t just your center, Charlie. If you’re going to blame yourself you might as well blame us, too. We all had a part in what happened there.”

            “You know what I mean, Naomi. My name is on the building. When there’s a problem, I’m the one that gets the call.”

            Naomi got up from the bed and walked over to her husband, placing her hands on his carefully. “Look, babe, I know how hard this is for you, but you keep thinking this is your fault and you’re wrong. It’s not. They are free moral agents, just like you and me and every other human that ever lived or will live. We can’t force them to do the right thing. We can’t make those decisions for them.”

            “Oh, I don’t expect to change them,” Charlie said with a sardonic laugh. “I think it’s far beyond that now. But I do expect to contain them. This is damage control, plain and simple.”

            “What are you so afraid of, Charlie?”

            “More things than I can even begin to describe for you. What if someone tries to stop them? What if someone gets in their way? What will they do? Need I remind you that one of those men is a trained killer? Who knows how many people he’s stabbed or shot or tortured.”

            “He was,” Naomi corrected gently. “It’s in the past. You don’t know that he’ll do it again.”

            “And I don’t know that he won’t do it again, either.”

            “Don’t be anxious about the next day, dear,”

            “I’m not. I’m anxious about right now, and I’m going to do something about it. I can’t just sit here and wait it out. I need this to be behind me.”

            “Ok,” Naomi finally said, giving her husband a tight squeeze. “I’m letting you go on one condition. You take me with you.”

            “Naomi, I don’t think–“ Charlie began, but Naomi put a finger to his lips.

            “I said one condition. Take it or stay. But I’m not going to go another day without my husband. I need you, you know.” Naomi stared deep into her husband’s eyes, glimpsing his strength and tenderness all at once. She leaned close and kissed him softly.

            “What about the kids? And Adrina?” He asked.

            “You say it like they’re children, Charlie. They’ll be fine. They can stay. Daniel’s more drained from this than he’s letting on and needs some rest. Adrina’s been pretty quiet lately, too. Sophie can look after her.”

            Charlie mulled over this for a few moments. Then he shrugged. “Ok. But we’re leaving tonight.”

            But Naomi was already headed for the closet, where she kept her outdoor gear.


            Madeline tossed and tumbled above the treetops as the storm worsened. Thick droplets smacked against the windshield and smeared across the glass windows. Jack fought the controls, looking desperately at the ground for any signs of a tarmac. Even a stretch of grass, really. Anything would do. But he had to get her down and quick.

            “Can’t you do something about the turbulence?” Harold whined. “Maybe fly above the storm?”

            “No, if we fly too high we’ll never find the airstrip. We’ve got to keep low and keep our eyes open.”

            “I think I’m gonna be sick,” Hyde moaned. Jack couldn’t blame him. They’d been in serious turbulence for nearly twenty minutes with no signs of improvement.

            “Sorry,” he said. “Nothing I can do about this. Just hang on as best you can.”

            “Why didn’t we just land at the last strip,” Hyde grumbled. Jack agreed but didn’t respond. There was no sense in pointing fingers now. They could sort that out once they were safely on the ground.

            “I guess that’s just one more thing we have the professor to thank for,” Hyde added snidely.

            “I’ve had just about enough of your sniveling,” Harold glowered. “I had no way of knowing about this storm. It came out of nowhere and you know that just as well as I. Now perhaps you can manage to keep your mouth shut for the rest of our flight, hmm?”

            “Yeah, that’s convenient. As usual, you’re the one calling the shots until we run into trouble, and then you shift the blame. You’re a coward.”

            “How dare you say such a thing,” Harold hissed.

            “And another thing: I’m sick of you always talking down to me! You think you’re so much smarter than the rest of us just because you went to some uppity college. Well guess what, no one cares!”

           “I didn’t just go to some college. I was a professor at Cambridge, one of the most accomplished universities in the world. Not that I’d expect you to know that.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “You said it yourself a few days ago–you’ve never left your country. You barely got around to leaving your little backwater hometown. You’re a typical American, isolated and ignorant to the world beyond you. Have you even heard of Cambridge?”

            “Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Just because I never went there myself doesn’t mean I don’t know anything. I’ve seen pictures.”

            “Oh, that’s just swell then, I’m sure you learned a lot from pictures. I hear it’s a fabulous way of learning for those with limited attention spans.”

            Jack had abandoned all attempts to diffuse the conflict. After all, anger was easier to accept than fear. They were simply coping with a trying situation.

            “I was talking about photographs, not pictures in some book,” Hyde said.

            “And where, might I inquire, did you ever encounter photographs of my university?”

            “We had ‘em lying in a box in our house. They belonged to my mom. She visited there on a summer trip with friends. They had planned to visit some other areas too but she sprained her ankle and they had to cancel the trip.”

            Harold’s face changed as he looked suspiciously at the teenager next to him. “She sprained her ankle?”

            “Yeah, why? You gonna make fun of my mom now, too?” Hyde challenged.

            “What year was this?” Harold said, ignoring the taunt.

            “I dunno, why do you care?” Hyde said with a scowl.

            “1979,” Jack said from the front of the cabin. The mood in the small space had changed and Jack’s keen senses hadn’t missed it. He was approaching the lake now and hoping the runway was just on the other side. He was counting on Harold’s memory.

            “Your mother’s name…” Harold said slowly, his voice barely audible above the whistling wind. “Was it Fiona?”

            Jack’s heart skipped a beat. His eyes went wide. It took every ounce of composure to keep from whipping his head back to stare at Harold and force him to repeat what he’d just said. For a few brief seconds, he saw nothing beyond the windshield of the cockpit. No grey skies, no tree line, no lake, no storm head. There was only a face. His mother’s face. Then there was Hyde’s voice.

            “Wait. What? What did you just say? How did you… What is this? What are you trying to do? What’s going on?” Hyde was slower to piece things together, but Jack and Harold were locked in stony silence.

            “Hyde,” Jack said in a slow, measured tone that his brother could hear from the back. “There’s something you need to know about Mom. She lied to us.”

            “What? What are you talking about? What do you mean ‘she lied’?”

            “About her trip to Europe. When we were little she always said that same old story–that she tripped down a flight of stairs and sprained her ankle and that’s why they left early. But that’s not the whole truth.”

            “What do you mean? Why would she lie about something stupid like that?”

            “Hyde, listen. Our mom had a drinking problem. She was like that even when she was a teenager. You know about her trip to Europe with her friends after high school. Well, on one of the first days after landing in England, they toured through Cambridge and found a pub near the campus and started drinking. She met a guy that seemed to like her. On the way out of the bar she tripped and twisted her ankle. The guy took her back to his dorm, where things escalated. She woke up the next morning with a swollen ankle and a hangover. She couldn’t remember much of what happened, but after a trip to the hospital she and her friends decided to cancel the trip and come home.”

            “Ok, fine, whatever. I don’t see what the big deal is. So what, she was just out of high school and looking for some fun.”

            “Hyde, you’re not getting it. Mom got pregnant on that trip. She never knew the guy’s name, never even remembered what he looked like. But I think we just found him.”

            Hyde’s face contorted as he pieced it together. “Wait, you’re saying that this guy…” Hyde trailed off and shook his head in disbelief.

            “Heavens, you look so much like her,” Harold said quietly.

            Hyde was silent for a few moments, but when he spoke again it was a thin hiss through clenched teeth. “Don’t you dare talk about my mother.”

            “It was just one night. One stupid night. I had no idea she was–”

            “I said stop it!” Hyde screamed, his voice almost deafening in the small cabin.

            “Hyde, you need to pull it together! This is not the time or the place,” Jack yelled. Hyde fell silent. When he spoke again his voice had changed. It was calmer, yet insidious, a leaking gas valve waiting for a spark.

            “Jack, don’t you see? This is the reason that everything went wrong. If he hadn’t left, things would’ve been different. Mom would’ve never had to raise me on her own. We wouldn’t have had to struggle so much. I probably wouldn’t have gotten so sick. And she would’ve never met James… It’s all because of him.”

            The tone of his voice sent chills up Jack’s spine. “You can’t know that, Hyde. Mom was young and reckless. You can’t blame it all on Harold.”

            “Sure. Sure I can,” Hyde said. His voice was cold and icy. Jack heard the crack of bones meeting flesh as Hyde’s knuckles crashed into Harold’s face. Harold moaned as a trickle of blood leaked from his nose and through his fingers. He lifted a hand to shield his face and managed to fend off Hyde’s second blow, which slammed into the cabin interior. Hyde howled in pain and fury.

            Jack turned his head and glimpsed the chaos. Fists were flying. Both men were now bleeding and battered, clawing at each other as the plane rocked back and forth in the turbulence.

            “Stop it!” Jack screamed, but Hyde and Harold seemed determined not to notice. Jack leaned forward in the pilot’s seat, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the runway, but there was only the bluish-black glaze of lake water staring back at him impassively.

            “Help! Jack!” Cried a muffled voice from behind. Jack turned again, beginning to panic. Harold was struggling to push Hyde away with both hands. Hyde was propped against his seat, pushing with his legs against the side of the cabin. In the hand of his outstretched arm, Jack spotted it–the glistening blade of his pocket knife.

            “Jack, please! He’s going to kill me!” Harold pleaded. His voice came through in gurgles and spats, his throat caught in the clutches of Hyde’s other hand. Jack glanced one last time at the trees and the water and the sky and then squeezed himself around the seat and into the fray. He deftly disarmed Hyde with a sweep of his arm and then wound his bicep around the boy’s neck, hoping to cut off his circulation and render him unconscious. But a sudden draft from below the plane threw the cabin into confusion. The plane banked and pitched downwards, headed straight for the trees. Hyde was still squirming, still trying to fight.

            Harold was screaming. Jack turned to face the front of the craft and realized why. Outside the windshield, there was no sign of sky or clouds. There was merely the endless expanse of black water. The planed had dipped downward and they were headed straight for the lake.

Monday, August 17, 2015


            Charlie sat behind his ancient desk of polished pine, a desk that had been built with the very timbers that had resulted in the cabin in which he now sat, on the second floor study, gazing out the large picture window and the mountains and trees beyond, like a living painting that was ever changing, alive and breathing. Charlie found himself occupied often by the view beyond the window, sometimes spending hours in a single day just sitting and staring. He’d think back on his experiences, on his family, and on his Creator. And it was in those moments of quiet contemplation that Charlie truly felt his age, a bi-centenarian and then some.
            On the surface of the desk laid a large map that Charlie had been working on since his return to the cabin the night before. But it was not a map of locations. It was a map of events. Events that began with the few details Charlie had of Jack and Harold’s previous lives and traced the events connected with their resurrection and subsequent escape. But the map contained more; between the events Charlie had postulated possibilities, trying to understand their actions, thinking, and motivations.
            That Harold and Jack would leave–and together–had been shocking enough, but their conspiring with a boy who had turned out to be Jack’s older brother seemed all but impossible. The chances of coincidence, Charlie realized, were practically astronomical. Something else was at work here. Could it be Divine? Had Jehovah allowed this? As tempting as the thought was comforting, it raised a host of additional questions. Why was it allowed? What good could come of it? If both Jack and Hyde had rebelled, how could their meeting result in anything positive? Two wrongs couldn’t possibly make a right. Or could they? Charlie found the questions baffling and wearisome. He pushed his chair away from his desk and sighed.
            The piercing shrill of a high-pitched bell struck the still air of the Lewis house. Charlie hopped up from his chair and jogged down the stairs into the kitchen, where he lifted the receiver of their phone.
            “Ah, hi there, is this the Lewis residence?” Said a gruff, baritone voice on the other end that Charlie didn’t recognize.
            “It is, this is Charlie Lewis speaking.”
            “Oh, that’s good. Just the man I wanted to talk with. I’ve got some important news for you. I would’ve come by to tell you in person, but it’s rather urgent, given the circumstances,” the man said with an air of importance.
            “That’s fine. What is it?” Charlie said, suddenly anxious.
            “Well, first let me introduce myself. My name is Gerard Mendosa. I’m with the Bighton Trailblazers.” Charlie had heard of the newly established team only once before. Their job was to keep the mountain passes free of fallen trees to ensure their safety and accessibility.
            “Yes, I’m aware of the Trailblazers. What can I help you with?”
            “Well, ah, yesterday afternoon our team was doing some routine maintenance on the north trail leading from Clive. Are you familiar with it?”
            “Yes, I believe so,” Charlie said, wishing the brother would get to the point.
            “Yes, well, that’s good. It’s a swell trail. Any case, ah, we got an anonymous call recently about something strange in the woods. Some of the volunteers with my team went to check it out. They found something, ah, interesting off the beaten trail. A cave.”
            “A cave?”
            “Yes. Just a small one, formed naturally, I suppose. But, ah, inside, the volunteers found some strange things. Lots of garbage, empty food tins and whatnot. And a small fire pit. There were also some clothes in there. And a map...” Gerard paused, apparently waiting for Charlie to interrupt, but nothing was said. Already Charlie knew where this was going.
            “Yes, well, ah, the map, see, well it has your name on it. It’s from your welcome center on the hill.”
            Charlie let out a heavy sigh and closed his eyes.
            “You still there, Brother Lewis?” The voice said after a few seconds of silence.
            “Yes, yes, I’m here. We’re dealing with some issues here at our center. Two of our guests ran off with some of our supplies, including that map. They’re somewhere in the forest and we haven’t been able to track them down.”
            “Guests?” The man said dubiously.
            “They’re of the unrighteous,” Charlie said grimly.
            “Oh, I see. I’m sorry,” he said, embarrassed.
            “What trail did you say that was, again?” Charlie asked, reaching for a pencil on the counter to make a note. Gerard repeated the directions and gave the coordinates.
            “Look, ah, I know this must be a pretty difficult time for you and your family, but, unfortunately there’s more that you need to know,” he continued. Charlie felt a little bad for him now, having to be the bearer of such bad news.
            “I’m listening,” Charlie said.
            “Well, the anonymous tip mentioned something else. And after we found the cave we went looking. We found some more stuff hidden in the trees and partially covered by leaves. It looks like your, ah, guests set up traps. I’m not sure what they were aiming to catch, but fortunately none of our brothers were hurt in the process. However, in the last trap, we found a deer. Its legs had been tangled and it had died there, in the woods.”
            Charlie drew a sharp breath and bowed his head, feeling the full weight of the words press down on him like a thousand daggers. Harming an animal for any reason was a serious sin, and in all his decades in paradise Charlie had not once come across an instance of it.
            “I see,” he managed to say softly. The two said an awkward goodbye and Charlie hung up, feeling another bout of pain and sadness swelling up in his chest.


            “They did what?” Naomi asked with a look of tragic disbelief.
            “You heard right. Hunting in the mountains. Some brothers found a dead deer in one of the traps,” Charlie said grimly. Naomi gasped. Her eyes were suddenly red and beginning to water.
            “So what’s next?” Sophie asked.
            “I’m not sure there’s much more we can do,” Charlie said. “If they’re on the run and keeping to the woods they could be anywhere.”
            “I don’t understand,” Daniel said softly. “Why would they want to destroy an animal? How could they be so cruel?”
            “Probably for its meat, to eat, dear,” Naomi said, wiping her eyes. Her son’s face contorted. He’d heard of Old World carnivorous diets but still found it a difficult concept to fathom.
            “Could’ve been for the hides, too. Maybe they were having trouble keeping warm. Although the animal that was found in the trap hadn’t been skinned or eaten. Apparently it had been there for awhile.”
            “Well that doesn’t make much sense,” Naomi said. “Why go through the trouble of building and setting up traps and then not bother to check them?”
            “I don’t think they had a chance. I think they had already abandoned the area when the team found it. It didn’t sound like they’d left much behind. Just a lot of garbage. And the map they took from the center.”
            “Well that’s strange, too. Why not take that? Wouldn’t they need it to navigate the woods?” Naomi asked.
            “Maybe not. That map only covers this immediate area. Maybe they were heading into an area off the map.”
            “Like where? And why?”
            “Jack’s smart and military-trained. Maybe he knew that staying in one spot for too long would eventually get them caught. Maybe they even scouted out some other areas, made their own map… Who knows?”
            “I remember reading about that stuff in Jack’s file, the one we received before he was resurrected,” Daniel said. “It said he was in the army for a few years and before that was in the Air Force. I never had a chance to do much research on the Air Force job, but I understand that he did have a lot of survival training with the army.”
            “The Air Force was for training military pilots. They’d teach the men to fly planes and helicopters,” Naomi explained.
            “I’d forgotten about that,” Charlie said. “Jack knows how to fly planes.”
            Charlie glanced at his wife and saw in her wide-eyed stare that they were thinking the same thing.
            “You don’t suppose he’s headed to an airstrip, do you?” Naomi said. Without answering, Charlie grabbed the phone from the receiver and began dialing.


            Mack Gervis wiped his brow with the back of his sleeve. In spite of the sudden temperature drop and the clammy air, he felt hopelessly hot and sweaty. He hadn’t even begun to understand what had just transpired at the little, unassuming Gervis airstrip of which he and his wife were caretakers. His wife, Madeline, sat at his side, patting his arm consolingly.
            “Perhaps it was just a prank, honey, a harmless practical joke,” Madeline suggested with a forced smile.
            “You don’t do that to a man, Maddie. You don’t sneak into his plane and fly it off without telling him. It’s just not something you do.” Mack frowned and rubbed his temples.
            “Well, I still say it’s just some kind of misunderstanding. How can you even think it’s been stolen? That’s not possible here. Nothing like that has happened for centuries, dear.”
            “Sure it has. It happened just now, with my plane, and I want answers!” Mack said, jabbing his pudgy finger into the soft flesh of his thigh. The shrilly ring of their phone suddenly pierced the air. Madeline gathered the long skirt of her dress in her hands and whisked off towards the noise.
            Moments later she waved to her husband. The call was for him.
            “Hello?” He said gruffly into the receiver.
            A man named Charlie Lewis was on the other end. He explained his situation. He and his family ran one of the nearby welcome centers. Two of their guests had run away and had been missing for a week. One of them was a pilot and they suspected they might be heading for an airstrip and were making calls to investigate.       “Runaways, eh?” Mack grumbled into the phone.
            “That’s right. Have you seen anything?”
            “Well I didn’t see anyone, but this morning one of our planes was stolen from right under our noses.”
            Mack could sense the agitation on the other end of the line. The man didn’t speak directly into the receiver but there were other voices, indistinguishable, in the background.
            “Ok, ok. First of all, I’m very, very sorry about your plane. I’ll do my best to get it back to you in one piece as soon as I can.”
            “I sure hope so,” Mack glowered. “She’s brand-spankin’-new. We just got her last week. The paint’s barely dry!”
            “I understand, and again I apologize, but it’s very important that we get some details from you. We really need to track down these guys.”
            “I’ll say!” Mack said. Whoever heard of runaway second-lifers? Outrageous. Simply outrageous!
            “Can you tell me which direction they were headed?”
            “They took off from the north end of the strip, then turned the plane a bit to the east as they gained altitude.”
            “I see. Any chance there’s a tracking device on the plane?” Charlie asked.
            “A tracking device? No, of course not. We don’t lose planes in the New World, Brother Lewis,” Mack said.
            “I’m sorry. I know nothing about planes. Just thought I’d ask. Just one more question, do you have any idea where they might be headed?”
            “How would I know? I never talked to the guys, never even saw their faces. I don’t even know how they got in the plane. I pulled it out to the runway and turned my back for an instant and the next thing I knew, my new bird was in the air.”
            The man apologized again and promised he’d do his best. But Mack wasn’t so sure. As he hung up he glanced outside and saw a sight that made his heart drop. A storm was approaching.