Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"The Seventh Soldier," an exerpt from a novel in progress by Brad Latham

In the dead of night the phone rang and the nightmare began. Ed could hear the voice on the other end, a paramedic, there has been an accident. Ed Shaw, a burly man in his late forties, grabbed his wife Helen. “Get up.” 

His heart raced tightened his laces as fast as his fingers could move. They leapt out of bed leaving the receiver dangling. Bounding down the old wood stairs, their front door left to snap shut on its own, as the truck engine roared to life. Racing through the night in the pouring rain the old country road that twisted and turned along the hillside, and then they saw it, a wall of police cruisers.

The truck slammed into park. Ed scrambled to loosen his seatbelt, with his eyes locked onto the accident. The yellow and black police line rippled in the night air. A small crowd had gathered. They kept their voices low with their breath fogging in the cold wind. Everyone wondered just how this could have happened in such a peaceful town.

The steady strobe of blue and red emergency lights reflected off the metal and glass of crushed vehicles. Just beyond the flickering tape a lifeless body lay behind the wreckage. The blood from her wounds washed down the sewer in the falling rain. Ed ran for his daughter, and while Helen followed cautiously, the grief had already begun to spread to her heart.

The young officer tried everything to stop him, but quickly realized it was of little use. Ed pushed past the line racing to her lifeless form. Kneeling down one could only image what had happened. The sirens, the ambulances, were of little comfort. A medic firmly placed a hand on his shoulder, “We need to move her, sir.”

But Ed fought it, tugging at her shoulder hopping somehow, someway this lifeless body, his daughter, would respond. The tears began to well up, the sadness set in, she was gone. With his daughter wrapped in his burly arms, deep inside the pain began to set in like a knife. With the wind and the rain beating down, Helen could only look on. Sensing the husband she loved, the daughter she grieved, was a wound that may never close.

Days later Ed barricaded himself inside their country home. The townspeople screamed out for justice and the endless calls from MADD, asking him to be their spokesperson didn’t help matters. His daughter was gone. If only he could have been there, if only he could have warned her, but nothing he did was going to bring her back.

*   *   *

The town of Dakota Springs was not unlike most quiet towns in the northwest surrounded by lush pine cone forest, even the town air smelt sweet to the senses. Fall was setting in and most of the roads leading out of town were already lined in brightly colored leafs. The wooded areas surrounding the town were too dense for hiking, and usually with all local town events no one ever bothered to enter them.

Nothing unusual ever happened in Dakota Springs, life continued on much as it did the day before.

Evening was setting in as the sunset began to fade. The wind whistled through the small town streets as the local parishioner prepared the church for evening mass. It was an annual event and most of the townspeople loved to attend. Candles were lit and offering baskets were prepared with the usual dried soda crackers that substituted for the bread of communion. One of the prettiest services all year, it was one Helen looked forward to most.

Sitting on their country porch, Ed mumbled to himself while fastening the last lace of his heavy boots. Helen was a strong sensible lady with short whisk silver hair and dark almond eyes. Still slender and in shape, she was quite the catch back in the day.

Now she looked down at him with tired eyes, she loved him, but often worried if he could ever let go of their daughter's death. And although it had been many months after the accident, Ed still carried around a heavy heart. Hopefully church would relieve the burden, if only for moment, or at least so Helen prayed. “Let’s go pokey.” She said with a strict but keeping it light tone, “it’s still a fair walk to the church.”

Down the main street, the brisk county air filled Ed’s lungs the sensation for a moment seemed to let him forget the death of his daughter, “this year would have been her 25th birthday.”

Helen wrapped her scarf around her shoulders, ignoring the comment while braving the cool evening air down the small street. “Can’t we just enjoy church for once without thinking about it, just once?” Her tone sharpened. “Just once dear, it would be nice.”

Ed scoffed beneath his breath, “And what good will church do? Why do we bother?’

*   *   *

The church, nestled on the outskirts of town by a deep forest, was beautifully lit with candles lining the window ledges. The building seemed to radiate beautiful melody as the organ called to worship the parishioners gathering in the cool autumn. The trees in the courtyard released what few brightly coloured leaves they had left. Behind the gray wood and brick building was an old cemetery that was rarely used and even less often visited. But beyond it was a deepening wood that created a thick wall, dense and impenetrable by human sight, an almost haunting quality.

The church inside was scarcely lit other than the warm flicker of candle light that seemed just enough for the faithful to find their way to their seats. The parishioners one by one filled the pews, slowly unbundled their coats and scarfs. Most, content to be in from the cool air, kept to casual chat about the unusual blustering weather.

The church had a musty oak smell and the hard wood pew creaked as Ed slumped into it. The choir robed in orange and yellow, gathered before them with hymnals cradled in their arms. The choir master signaled all to rise. Though the singing was beautiful as the music filled the air, ED just didn’t seem to care anymore. As far as he was concerned they were being asked to stand up and sit down far more than he would bother to. He would be glad when the service was finally over.

Out of the corner of his eye a small boy playing with the latest action figure, obviously brought by keeping carefully concealed beneath his jacket. The boy was strategically placed at the end of the pew by his mother, hoping the toy would keep him distracted as she bounced her newborn baby in her arms. It was all she could do to keep both children occupied.

The large window adjacent to the pews, was a mixture of clear glass and floral pattern, the magnificent window nearly spanned the entire height of the wall giving Ed a clear view of the deepening forest. In the church courtyard the wind picked up whipping through the trees, unexpected given the time of year.

Without warning, the double doors, solid wood but poorly latched together, thundered open, slamming against the back wall. Embarrassed by the sudden clatter, an usher quickly pulled the doors together securing them tightly.  But restlessness was spreading thought the congregation. Everyone could feel it as the building began to creak and moan. The windows knocked and the wood panes shuttered. People looked on nervously as they continued to sing. Some began to fidget with their coats, wondering if they should quickly leave.

The wind howled in the courtyard, twisting and circling the building, like a stalking predator.  A tree branch, without warning, slashed across the window like a dark claw, startling the congregation. Ed looked on curiously as the entire building began to creak and moan.

The candles on the altar began to flicker, but what bothered him was they were flickering in the same direction, the wooden church was old but there was little wind in the room.

Outside the roar of thunder rippled across the country side. A flash of white light burst across the sky as the clouds above swirled in unnatural patterns. Completely absorbed in his own world, the small boy continued to play by the window. The single mom looked about nervously while cradling her baby. Finally, she extended a hand to her son, forcing him to stop playing, “Stay close.” She whispered.

The wood floor boards began to creek apart. The parishioners stopped singing. Each gazed around at the wondering if the building would hold. The candles flickered once more then silently went out.

Everyone remained breathless as the room grew dark, fearful to what would happen next. Before any could breath, a thunder so loud shook the building. The panels of glass crackled, exploding across the room like sharp daggers. Without a second thought, Ed lunged for the small boy using his large frame as a shield. He yelled at the terrified single mom, “Get your baby out of here. Go now!”

But before he knew it, in the pitch dark, smoke bellowed into the room. Ushers scrambled to find what flashlights they could. People’s voices turned to panic, then fear. The church elders had to act quickly. Two men in the back pews fumbled in the dark with the worn out door latches. “I need a light!” one deacon shouted.

Clicking the flash-light on, the other deacon, a tall slender man, was quick to point it on the latch. He jerked up on the rusty handles, again and again. One woman cried out, “Get us out of here.” Parishioners covered their mouths with coats and scarfs as the thick smoke billowed into the room. Finally, the latch was free, the doors burst open.

As smoke poured into the courtyard, two latecomers watched in horror as the forest lit up in brilliant flame surrounding the church. Looking on, the woman clutched her husband. “Call the fire dept, quickly.”

Ed made for the back door with the boy tucked beneath his arms, pushing through the billowing smoke. Once outside, he yelled to Helen, “I need to make sure everyone is out.”

Charging back into the church hunting for anyone still remaining he glanced around the room as something caught his eye. Out of the far smashed window a thin trail of smoke faded off into the dark forest. Branches had been forced aside leaving a trail plowed through the woods. He was curious but this was no time to follow it.

With his sleeve covering his mouth, there was time for one last glance around the room. Satisfied everyone was gone he charged outside. The forest fire raged as the local pumper pulled up to the front of the church. The fire crew worked furiously to unravel the fire hose. Many of the locals volunteered to douse the flames with buckets of water. Tired and worried, the parishioners huddled together in the small courtyard, looking on as the building lit up in flames, each wondering how this could have happened.

The crew continued into the night pouring water on the buildings charred remains. As Ed watched intently, something about the church roof caught his eye; a portion looked indented, as if something had bounced off it. His eye followed the trial, it lead deep into the wood.

As the firemen opened the nozzles spraying down the church, all the members were out and accounted for, no one was hurt. The little boy safely returned into his mother’s arms, and for the moment, Ed felt a sigh of relief. The firemen continued to battle the blaze as he took Helen’s hand and strolled for home, it had been quite a night.
*  *  *

Brad Latham lives in Mississauga with his two children Corbin and Julia. Brad has written and produced several well received plays for local community churches. As a writer of supernatural tales, he loves to explore the broader themes of redemption and the moral state of man. He would like to thank Brian Henry for his encouragement during his classes and workshops. Tonight he is reading a suspenseful chapter from his second full length novel."

For information about Brian Henry's upcoming weekly creative writing courses, see here.

See Brian's full schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos to go with Brad's great story!


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