Translation-Chapter 3

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 8:18 PM By crosswaysnet , In


Chapter 3 (Saturday Morning - Rio Claro, TX):

Blanco County, 4am. Brian Cox reporting:
"A Hill Country woman narrowly escaped a fiery death early Saturday morning when her minivan was destroyed by a hit-and-run driver along a lonely stretch of US 181, just north of Lubach."
Mitch was suddenly feeling thirsty, even though he'd only walked two hundred yards. He stood next to his mailbox, tightly gripping the whole newspaper. A fly was up early, lazily buzzing around Mitch's left ear. He ignored it as it settled somewhere on his hat.
"Preliminary reports indicate the woman, Susan Thompson of Marble Run, was returning from a visit to friends in San Antonio when a flat tire forced her off the road. She was attempting to fix the flat when an unidentified big rig rear-ended the late-model Chrysler, completely destroying the vehicle.
"According to Mrs. Thompson's statement, the driver of the truck did not stop to render aid. She was unable to provide any additional information on the make, model or visual description of the truck."
Single forty foot trailer with red and black markings, Mitch thought to himself.
"Not long after the accident, other motorists phoned in the information to 911. DPS and local police were on the scene within seven minutes where they found the victim hysterical and being held by good samaritans.
"According to eye witnesses, Mrs. Thompson was insistent that an unknown man had been on the scene and had pulled her away from her vehicle in the knick of time. She claimed that he was trying to reach the wreckage immediately after saving her when the vehicle exploded. Officers and the local fire department spent over an hour searching the area for other victims but none were found.
"Mrs. Thompson was transported to St. Stephens in Austin for observation and treatment of apparent shock."
There were related stories on road fatality statistics and delays on highway improvements that might be contributing to the high rate of collisions along that stretch of highway. Mitch flipped through the rest of the A section, seeing nothing more about it.
The only other item that caught his eye was a brief mention of OSHA investigating anonymous complaints of violations at the Oak River Fellowship Relief Distribution Center. It was one of the many huge ministry operations that his wife had overseen during her tenure as Administrator of the megachurch that was Oak River Fellowship.
I'm not surprised, thought Mitch. They still haven't been able to fill Sonja's shoes. No wonder things are getting out of hand.
Mitch didn't know much about the operations of that church, and hadn't cared to. In seven years, he'd visited precisely nine times, seven of those for a Christmas event. He'd had no interest in spiritual matters, though he was secretly proud that Sonja was doing so well at her job. The only thing he knew was that Oak River was practically a rock star in the church world, having grown from thirty members in a local theatre to over five thousand active attendees.
According to his wife, the church was highly unusual in that fifty percent of its budget was dedicated to missions and disaster relief. They had their own distribution center along I-35 in New Kassel and had recently completed the first phase of their new fifty acre campus with a six thousand seat fine arts facility. They expected to grow into it quickly. Next would follow a Christian school, and major extension campus of the famous Foster Theological Seminary. They had hosted their own church growth seminars and recently been voted one of the "10 most influential churches in America" by Time Magazine readers.
Until this moment, Mitch hadn't given the place a second thought in five months. After the funeral, he hadn't been contacted once by a single person on staff. He didn't know them, it was true, but it still rubbed him raw that the family hadn't even received a card.
The home group Sonja had finally talked him into visiting was a different matter. There were at least two hundred members from their community of Canyon West that attended Oak River Fellowship. Probably half of those were involved in various weekly at-home meetings. Mitch was quite familiar with many of those people. The seven families the Blackmans met with last Fall had been the ones providing meals, rides, dropping in unexpectedly, doing yard work unannounced, etc. If Mitch would ever admit to being part of a church, this is what he'd mention.
Mitch flipped the newspaper back to the front page and his face darkened again. As good as they are, though, those folks probably wouldn't want to be helping out a crazy man.
Mitch was seriously alarmed, confused, fearful and angry, all at the same time. He still had no explanation for what was going on. He felt less crazy and more out of touch with reality at the same time. Had he really been there at the accident with this Susan Thompson woman? If so, how had he gotten there? Was he having some sort of 'out-of-body' experience? That didn't seem right, since the woman specifically claimed a man had been there with her. Now she was looking crazy. Mitch began to feel serious compassion and empathy for the lady. But what about that person stuck in the minivan? The article made absolutely no mention of anyone else. His stomach sank thinking that there was still a victim unaccounted for.
It was starting to get hot. Mitch looked up to see the sun cresting the bluff to the right of the cabin below. It was time to get on the move. Studying the sandy road in front of him, he could see two sets of the same tire tracks coming and going.
Too bad I didn't catch the paper carrier. Sure would've saved a lot of walking today.
Mitch tore off the front page of the newspaper, stuffed it in his back pocket and picked up his water bottle. He headed for the highway. Ten minutes later he had reached the ranch road and headed southeast toward Lubach. Traffic was still light though there were a few cars and service trucks heading both ways. Mitch didn't stick out his thumb. He was still thinking hard.
OK, Mitch. What if these things really happened and you were there. What does it mean?? You've got to work this through logically...
After walking a mile, no satisfactory 'logic' came his way. Suddenly, a sickening thought crowded his mind.
What if you've already lost your mind, Mitch? What if you're hallucinating right now?
A new kind of dread crept down his spine.
What if none of this is real?
He looked up at the sky - it was as blue as any Texas Spring day he remembered. The sun was bright enough to make his eyes water. Mitch lowered his sunglasses and focused on the sun's bright dot for an extra second to make sure. He felt the heat on his face. Squinting more, he felt a throbbing sting on the side of his head. He reached up to feel the puffy healing of a recent cut. All of this felt absolutely real. He took a drink of water and ran a little over his head. He soaked the sweat band of his hat and jammed it back down on his head. The coolness felt reassuring.
Mitch walked on for another five miles, alternating between confidence that this would all sort out in his mind and abject panic that he was completely deceiving himself. He was breathing harder and his water was running low. He decided it was time to get serious about a ride, so he swung around and put his thumb out. He got another shock that brought his hand down instantly.
Ten feet behind him was another man walking the same direction. Mitch's eyes flashed around. What else have I missed? Do I need to defend myself? How did he sneak up like that?
The other man slowed and looked at Mitch. He seemed to be a migrant worker -- slight build, threadbare clothes and worn-out sandals. A torn straw hat shaded his dark face.
"Hola," said the stranger, a little shyly.
"Who are you?" demanded Mitch, more defensively than he intended. The slight man just waved his hands near his waist in the universal language of 'I don't want any trouble.'
"No problema, senor. I walk." As the little man passed him and kept going Mitch suddenly felt like a total fool.
Impulsively, Mitch decided to fall in with the stranger, who kept an even pace heading the direction of town. Mitch put his thumb out, though he didn't expect anyone to stop with this scraggly character walking next to him. He wasn't feeling pity for the man. More than anything Mitch was craving the assurance of another human being nearby to convince himself he wasn't crazy. Wasn't alone. After a few minutes, Mitch offered the man what was left of his water.
"Si," came the eager reply, and he gratefully gulped down three or four swallows, emptying the bottle.
Mitch and his traveling companion resumed walking. Cars flew by. Mitch kept rolling the questions of last night over and over in his mind. Finally his thoughts froze on the image of his wife standing in front of him, radiant from head to toe.
The little man stopped his walking and looked directly at Mitch.
"Sonja con Dios," he said quietly.
The short whoop of a police siren spun Mitch's head around before the words had registered in his brain. An officer was stepping out of the vehicle and walking toward him. Mitch seemed frozen.
"You alright, pardner?" came the officer's laid back voice. His body language said something else. It was tense, guarded. Mitch finally found his voice.
"Oh yes, sir! I'm glad you stopped. My friend and I here were looking for a ride into town." Mitch poked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate his recent walking partner. The patrolman looked around Mitch then down the ditch and up to the cedar post fence and barbed wire beyond.
"I see," said officer Reynolds, badge number 522. "Do you have some identification?"
"Umm... No, sir," said Mitch. "My car's been stolen and I was heading into town to report it. My ID's with the car."
"Mm-hmm," said officer Reynolds. "Do you mind stepping over to the vehicle with me?"
"Sure," Mitch replied. He looked behind him to see if the other man understood, but he was nowhere to be seen. Mitch narrowed his eyes. It was at least two hundred yards in any direction to a tree. There was no cover out here. Where was he? And, what was it he had said?
"Are you coming, sir?" the officer now sounded more impatient and authoritative. Something wasn't right. He motioned for Mitch to precede him, and gave him plenty of elbow room.
At the cruiser, Officer Reynolds pulled out a clipboard and was starting to jot down some notes.
"What is your name, sir?" began the interview.
"Mitch Blackman."
"And where are you from?"
"Canyon West."
"And what are you doing out here this morning?"
"I told you - my car's been stolen. I'm walking to town to report it. It's an '05 Mini Cooper S, dark metallic blue, white top... Is this something we could finish up at the station? I've been walking in this heat for quite a while."
"Just a couple more questions," said the officer non-commitally. "And where was this car stolen?"
"From my place. I noticed it missing early this morning." Mitch rubbed at the ache beginning in his legs.
"In Canyon West..." Officer Reynolds was sounding more skeptical. Mitch shook his head which was now pounding with a fresh ache of its own.
"No, no. I've got a place up the Rio Claro. Can we get a move on it? I'm starting to cramp up."
"Anything to drink this morning, Mr. Blackman?"
"Only from my water bottle that I gave to the other guy." Mitch was getting annoyed, and he wasn't feeling great. The exhaustion of the night before, the walk and the heat were getting to him.
"I see," said the officer, tersely. "And how did you get that gash on the side of your face?"
"I don't know," said Mitch, getting angry.
Officer Reynolds opened the back door to the cruiser. "Would you mind taking a seat in the car, Mr. Blackman? I think it's time to go."
Mitch was seriously agitated now. He could see the officer holding the door with one hand and the hilt of his gun with the other. This wasn't looking like a friendly ride into town. And all that reinforced wire between the back and front seats was as inviting as a glass of hot iced tea.
"Would you mind if I just rode up front with you? That cage back there makes me claustrophobic."
Officer Reynolds laid a firm hand on Mitch's shoulder to get him started in the right direction.
Instinctively, Mitch shrugged off the officer's grip. "Hands off, man! I'm coming with you. Just don't treat me like a criminal."
A moment later, Mitch was slammed into the side of the car, his right hand pulled up tight behind his back. He could feel steel snapping down around his wrist.
"That's enough, pardner. Just calm down and we'll get you into town. Everything'll get sorted out."
Mitch felt his feet being spread on the gravel. He slumped a little against the side of the cruiser, his sore cheek pressing into the top of the car. The policeman was pulling in his other hand.
God, get me out of this, moaned Mitch inwardly.
Officer Reynolds momentarily lost his grip on the suspect and fell forward against the car, hitting his forehead hard on the door frame. He swung around to see where Mitch had moved so quickly. His right hand brought up the revolver in a flash. Startled at not seeing anyone he jumped back from the car, expecting his suspect to be hiding underneath. He crouched down. No one there. A flash caught his eye. It was the handcuffs, laying in front of the open door.
Mitch tripped forward along the road and spun around. The cruiser was gone. The sun seemed to have shifted to directly behind him, directly down his side of the road. Had he blacked out? Soon he figured out where he was - back on the ranch road toward home...again. He was only about a mile from the cemetery. How had he gotten here?
Sonja con Dios, the little guy had said, Sonja is with God. Mitch stopped in his tracks. How did he know about Sonja?
An off-road water truck passed him going the other way. When the driver spotted Mitch, he slammed on the brakes, pulled over and stepped from the cab.
He hollered back, "Hey, is that you Mitch?"
Mitch realized it was Jim Hughes of the Canyon West VFD. He waved as his friend jumped back in the cab. The big diesel water carrier hopped out of the ditch, crossed traffic and headed back his direction.
Jim rumbled up next to Mitch and slowed to a stop. "What are you doing out here, buddy? I guess you need a lift?"
Mitch just nodded his head. He was stuck in his last thought and couldn't get himself to speak.
"Hey Mitch, you OK? Your car broken down someplace?"
Mitch looked up at his friend who's expression was growing concerned.
"No, it was stol..." Mitch began, but his voice trailed off. After standing there for another moment, he leapt into action, hopping up on the skid plate, opening the passenger door and climbing into the cab.
"Yeah," he said. "Can you give me a lift to the cemetery?"
Jim's brow furrowed. "Sure... You're car's broken down at the cemetery?"
"No, but I think the battery's dead. You got jumper cables in here?"

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