Translation-Chapter 7

Saturday, May 8, 2010 8:26 PM By crosswaysnet , In


Chapter 7 (Saturday, 3:30PM - enroute to Canyon West, TX):

C.R. pulled out onto the feeder road and came to a halt at the temporary stop sign. The construction signalman waved him into a left turn over the half-completed bridge. Between the traffic, the construction, and the back end of a slow-moving train just clearing the nearby crossing, it took them five minutes just to get across the Interstate. By the time they were beginning to move again, Mitch had finished his lunch, crumpled up the sack and stuffed it on the floor below his seat. He couldn't remember feeling that hungry in a long time.
C.R. spoke first.
"So, which way are we heading? Do you have a favorite place to talk?"
Mitch thought about it a minute. His best thinking always happened while he was driving, preferably behind the wheel of his own little pocket-rocket. His best talking had always been done with Sonja in the passenger seat, on the way to nowhere in particular. In half a year he really hadn't talked in-depth with anyone but his counselor. Mitch decided that needed to change. Now was as good a time as any. He still wasn't convinced that he was fully sane, or that he wasn't hallucinating the past two days, but he knew he had to trust someone. He couldn't think of anyone who might actually believe him, other than the lean, quiet fellow sitting right next to him. Especially after the frightening episode at Dairy Queen.
"I don't know. Just drive. How 'bout the scenic way back to my place? If you think it's safe to go back."
C.R. shook his head. "I doubt that, but I don't know where to go just yet."
C.R. continued down a small town main street, away from the freeway. From the continuous line of construction-related trucks, this was now a booming bedroom community to Austin. They passed under a banner stretching across the street announcing the "Firemen's Annual Fish Fry - This Saturday!" In ten minutes they were taking in the sights of Texas ranch country, on the way to Wimberley. So close to the modern Texas, and still a whole other world, thought Mitch. He sighed.
"I'm not sure where to begin, C.R. How much time do you have?"
C.R.'s expression was serious.
"Mitch, this is 'Priority One' for me until we get to the bottom of this. Why don't you start at the beginning..."
Here we go. .. Mitch frowned.
"I'm sure you'll have plenty of questions, but if you'll bear with me, I'll try to give you the nutshell, first."
Mitch went on to explain the events of the first night, admitting how Sonja's suicide continued to haunt him. He described the restless night and details of what he referred to as 'the dream.' C.R. hung on every word as Mitch laid out one event after another. He had reached the point in the story following the bleary morning coffee and the discovery of his stolen car. When he had finished telling about the walk to the mail box, he paused.
"Now this is where it gets really strange... I open the paper, and read what I've just told you."
C.R.'s brow furrowed a bit, keeping his eye on the pickup passing him doing seventy. Early 90s Ford with chrome package. Deep red and immaculate. A weathered but well-pressed cowboy gave the one hand Texas salute as he merged back into the correct lane. C.R. waved back. He looked back at Mitch. "What do you mean you 'read' it?"
Mitch was shaking his head a little. "It was right there in black and white, and I knew the details better than the reporter. I ripped out the article out of the paper and stuck it in my... Wait a minute - I've got it right here in my back pocket.”
Mitch pulled out the crumpled newsprint he'd transferred to his new clothes after his shower. It still smelled faintly of the fire at the cemetery. He read every word out loud, and some passages more than once as C.R. questioned the details.
"You mean you saw this happen? Like in some kind of vision?" C.R. asked.
"No - it was more than that," Mitch said, looking down at the blisters on the palm of his hand, now starting to heal. Two of them were drying out and hard. He was careful not to press too hard on the other three, still tender around the edges. "I think I got these when I was running to help the person trapped in the minivan."
"Well that doesn't make any sense Mitch - are you saying you were actually there? The story says there were no casualties in the accident."
"I know it doesn't make any sense, but..."
"But what?" C.R. asked, looking directly at Mitch.
"There's more," said Mitch.
"There's more... OK, go on."
Mitch relived the long walk along the highway and the mysterious peasant that appeared out of nowhere.
"After walking for a while my mind wandered back to Sonja. She was the only thing on my mind when the little guy stopped in his tracks and wheeled around on me. He looked me right in the eye and said something I didn't quite catch. The whoop of a police siren distracted me."
Mitch looked off to the shoulder of the road like he was trying to recreate the scene from the perspective of the patrolman who had almost arrested him. A long split rail fence zipped by, measuring off the distance in quick, ten-foot metronome ticks. A pasture several hundred yards deep blurred by. Close to the tree line beyond stood a collection of large metal sculptures. A giant rusty knight of old corrugated roofing, cogs and well pipes appeared to be in a wild sprint. His abandoned sword and shield stuck up from the grass and wildflowers. The cause of the poor warrior's panic wasn't far behind - a metal monster a hundred feet long. This whimsically fierce dragon seemed to slither its way through the ground itself, like an iron sea serpent. Would the knight make it to the safety of the trees before being ground up in those mechanized jaws? It was hard to tell. I know just how you feel, buddy, Mitch thought to himself. He smiled a little, but the scene vaguely disturbed him. What if something he couldn't see, something underground was chasing him down like a... what? He tried to shake it off like the half-baked thought it seemed to be, but it lingered.
"And?" said C.R., reminding Mitch that the story wasn't finished.
"Oh, he - well, he disappeared."
C.R. glanced over at Mitch. "The little guy? He just 'disappeared?' Where to? Off the road somewhere?"
"No, I mean, disappeared," said Mitch, a little more forcefully.
C.R. glanced over again with that chin-low, cocked eyebrow expression he'd used more than once. Mitch knew his friend's 'willing suspension of disbelief' was fading quickly. "What? In a puff of smoke? Up into a UFO? Come on Mitch..." He let out a sigh.
Mitch began again, more quietly. "Have I ever lied to you, C.R.?" The driver began to shift around in his seat. He looked uncomfortable. "I mean it - have you ever known me to pull your chain?" They'd had their laughs over the years, but Mitch had never been known as a joker. It was Sonja that was frequently telling him to 'lighten up.' Something echoed by others from time to time.
"No, I don't suppose you have. But it is really hard to swallow what you're telling me, Mitch. People don't just pop in and out of places like that. Everything has an explanation." He didn't have to add that one of those explanations might be that Mitch was losing his mind.
"How do you know?" asked Mitch a little defensively. "Didn't your home group just get through some study on 'angels?' Isn't that what they do? Jump around from place to place helping people out?"
C.R. rolled his head around. "Are you saying you're an angel, now?"
"No, no. Come on, man! I'm just saying that wild stuff happens sometimes and it's not just in our heads."
"Is that what you'd tell one of your counseling clients if they brought you this story?" It was the biggest accusation C.R. could have made, but it just came out.
It stung.
"Well... of course not," Mitch finally said, "but I'm not worried about my career right now. I just want to know what's going on. You're supposed to be helping me, remember??" Simmer down, Mitch.
"Alright... mouth is zipped, ears are open. What did the officer say about the little guy disappearing?"
"I don't think he ever saw him. It's probably why he got so suspicious now that I think about it. Must've thought I was drunk."
"So, did you happen to get the officer's name?"
"Sure did - Reynolds, badge #522. I think he was highway patrol."
C.R. hit the brakes hard, almost throwing Mitch into the dash. "Are you kidding me? I know that guy!" He put his foot back on the gas.
"You wanna take it easy on the reactions, there? I'm sore enough." Mitch let the seatbelt snug up a little tighter. They were coming into the winding little town of Wimberley. The decidedly un-square town center was off to their right, tucked in along the Blanco River. "You mind stopping here? I could use a pit stop."
C.R. pulled into one of the slanting spaces in front of a biker leather shop. Mitch asked around a couple of curio stores to find the public restroom while C.R. stepped into some shade and made a phone call. He was finishing up when Mitch returned.
"Yeah, that's right. I don't think there's anything to worry about. Hey, would you be available to do a little moonlighting? I've got a project that could use your help... Sure. Best to Jan and the kids, alright? Bye."
Mitch stayed outside the cell phone bubble until C.R. had holstered the little machine in one fluid move. Just one of a million modern-day cowboys. Except now there weren't any more true gunslingers. The weapon of the day was 'communication' and loaded with information, not bullets. The speed-dial button was the new trigger. There was a hard look on C.R.'s face, now, like something out of a Louis L'Amour novel. He didn't look Mitch's way as he spoke.
"OK, pal. That story of yours checks out. Let's back it up a few steps and let me do some more asking."
"Sure," said Mitch, both relieved and surprised at the renewed intensity he felt from the man. He wasn't insulted by C.R.'s sleuthing.
"What happened at the DQ? Where did you go?"
"I didn't 'go' anywhere, C.R. I think you sent me somewhere."
"Excuse me?"
"When you started praying... stuff started happening."
"Like what?" C.R. asked, his eyes narrowing a little.
"Well, you were talking about me being in danger, and something about 'bringing light into the darkness.'"
"I wasn't speaking out loud, Mitch." The hackles were starting to go up on C.R.'s neck.
"Your lips weren't moving, alright. I thought at first you were throwing your voice or something... Then I saw it."
"Saw what?"
"Well, you were praying about 'light' and 'darkness.' I saw both... kind of moving around you."
C.R. stood rock still, staring Mitch in the eye, not saying a word.
"It started with these really bright snowflakes dropping down, kind of settling on your shoulders, then dark spots, or shadows started sliding away, like the room was getting flushed out of stains. You said "take him where you want him to go," and everything went white. Next thing I know I'm at the hospital in New Kassel."
C.R. stood there with his jaw clenched. He had always considered himself an individual genuinely committed to his faith. But he had never considered in his whole life that spiritual things could take tangible form. All kinds of mental and emotional alarms were going off like klaxons in his head. He kept his cool. "We gotta go, Mitch." C.R. marched straight to the car and popped the locks. The engine was on and the parking brake off before Mitch had closed his door.
It was closing in on sunset as they wandered their way south along the ranch roads that led back to Canyon West. From the Devil's Backbone ridge they could see the silver ribbon of Lake Frederick winding to the east. A hazy purple was settling over the sprawling suburbs of New Kassel beyond, as the first lights of evening blinked on. The soft greens of Canyon West ranchlands lay to west, still washed in the last sunlight of the day. Neither of them spoke much as C.R. kept a steady pace with the light traffic. He was tapping the top of the steering wheel with his middle fingers as he thought.
"Mitch, I think it best if we keep you hidden in plain sight. Come stay at our place a few days. That will keep you close while Sylvia and I do our investigating. Do you have any appointments you need to break?"
"No," replied Mitch. "I'd cleared out the whole week to get away. But I'm due to pick up the kids next Friday."
"Good. Let's play it low-key for a day and see where we are."
Mitch was agreeable. "Guess we should stop by my place for some clothes?"
"No. I've got plenty of things that'll probably fit you. For the time being, you don't exist."
"What, have I joined the CIA, or something? Are you going to disavow all knowledge of me? Is smoke about to pour out of the tape player?"
The wise-cracks didn't get a rise out of C.R. "This is dead-serious business, Mitch. Whether you're having hallucinations or teleporting around for real, there is still dangerous stuff going on back here in the 'normal' world."
A few minutes later, C.R. took a circuitous route back to his house, studying unfamiliar cars and faces along the storefronts of the little cedar post-themed village. A couple more turns and C.R. was convinced they weren't being followed or tracked. It was fully dark when they pulled all the way into the garage. C.R. waited till the door was shut before exiting the vehicle.
C.R. showed Mitch to the guest room and pulled out a few things from the closet that might fit. Mitch stayed to sort through them and set up for the night. In the kitchen, C.R. finally turned back on his cell phone and got a steady series of chirps notifying him of the many times he'd missed his wife's calls. He was still clearing the little screen when Sylvia practically burst in through the front door.
"There you are! You had me worried sick! Where have you been?? First the shoot-out at Mitch's, then you disappear completely. Are you OK?" There was an angry/scared/hurt edge in her voice.
"I'm OK, hon. I was with Mitch the whole time." He stepped forward to hug his wife, drawing her agitated arms inside of his. They stood there for a couple of moments while C.R. quietly listened for her breathing to settle down. They'd done this more than once in their marriage. She eventually pushed back a step to look him sternly in the eye.
"I can't believe you'd be that thoughtless, C.R. You must have known I'd be a wreck. Why didn't you call? Why didn't you at least leave your phone on? Mueller and Williams had no idea where you were."
Mitch stepped into the kitchen to greet Sylvia. She almost jumped from the surprise. C.R. turned to see what startled her.
"I'm having Mitch stay with us for right now." Turning back to his wife he said "I asked Mueller to keep it completely quiet while I got Mitch out of there. We can't afford loose lips right now."
There was a sudden, frosty look on Sylvia's face. "Oh, so I have 'loose lips' now, do I?"
C.R. frowned back. "No, honey, that's not what I meant. I just wanted to make sure that we kept a lid on things. No one without a 'need to know' needed to know."
Bad choice of words. All three of them understood that as soon as the words left C.R.'s mouth. Mitch could sense this was quickly heading for a Class A marital spat. Sylvia had a temper and her husband had just invited it in for an extended visit. Mitch quietly retreated to his bedroom as the conversation between the other two devolved. He didn't know how long it would take for his friends to patch it up and he hated that he was at the root of it. He heard their heated discussion fading down the hall as they took their disagreements to the other end of the house.
Fingers woven behind his head, Mitch looked up from the mattress, jotted his thoughts on mental file cards, and spread them on the ceiling above him. Looking over the details he made an honest effort to sort out what was really going on. He'd given up thinking that a trip to the psych ward would do any good. Too many people were involved and affected now. Disappearing for a week wouldn't help them. The bomb in the truck made it clear that someone was really trying to kill somebody - that somebody probably being Jim Hughes. As he thought about it further, it looked like someone was trying to kill the lady he'd almost met along Highway 281. He didn't remember the truck braking. If he didn't know any better, Mitch thought there might be a theme developing.
Mitch tried all the mental tricks he'd learned to let associations reveal a hidden truth. Nothing was working. There seemed to be no more insights. It always ended with that strange metal monster swimming across the ceiling, chasing the tin man and devouring his mental files one by one. Like some kind of fantasy Alzheimer’s, this leviathan was inexorably swallowing all the details, memories, the meaning. If there was any revelation from this little exercise, it was that Mitch was genuinely afraid of this monster.
"Now that makes no sense," said Mitch, out loud to himself. There are real killers out there, and you're worried about some strange cartoon dream of a dragon. But the fear felt as real as anything else in the past two days. Something is out to destroy you, Mitch. To devour who you really are. It suddenly occurred to Mitch that he wasn't afraid of dying nearly so much as not living; not understanding who he really was; not understanding why he'd lost Sonja; not understanding what he had to live for. Maybe you need the psych ward after all, Mitch.
With a sigh, Mitch let the monster finish its meal of his mental notes. The tin man made his escape - for now. He looked over at the dresser. Sitting there was the familiar box of Sonja's letters. He sat up quickly. C.R. must've brought them in. Can't believe I didn't notice them right away. Mitch grabbed the box and set it down on the bed in front of him. Carefully, he removed the top note. The last she ever wrote to him. Well, maybe not the last, he thought. Not if you're counting the suicide note. Mitch felt the bile rising in his gut. He set the letter aside. The next was dated the previous September.


Dearest Mitch,

I'm sorry for the harsh words I used last night. I didn't mean for my frustration to be hurtful to you. You said I wanted to see my church succeed more than our marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth. If it came down to it, you would be my first choice. As hard as that is to say, I would leave my job to save 'us.' I know God would see it as a service to you and to Him.
I do believe, however, that we need the real kind of friends that can help us through life's rough patches. That's why I've invited you to our home group so many times, and why I invited them to meet in our home. They are fine people who love God and want to be our friends. I want them to know why I love you so much. They have a lot to offer us, and we have a lot to offer them. Please reconsider.
I love you and I pray that God brings us both exactly where He wants us to be.

Sonja.


A dark spot marred the bottom of the page and crept toward Sonja's signature. Mitch quickly rubbed away the rest of the tear before it bled into the precious ink. He quickly set the letter on top of the last as he lay back on his pillow. I'm sorry for being so stubborn... Through all that transpired after Sonja's death, those friends from the home group had proven to be exactly what she had promised, and more. Even when he ignored them. Even when he shut them out. Even now, when Mitch Blackman appeared to be losing his screws, one by one.
A gentle knock came from the door, still ajar. C.R.'s leathery knuckle appeared around the edge.
"Mind if I come in?"
Mitch shifted on the bed. He was surprised to see him so soon. "Not at all. Did you two patch it up alright?"
"Enough to take it to the dance hall, I reckon."
C.R. had a saddle bag full of odd and colorful expressions. Mitch had grown up with a few of them. It made Mitch feel comfortable around the man no matter the circumstances. He smirked a little. "Well, I'd hate to think I came between you."
"My mouth does that all on its own, Mitch. I promised to keep her in the loop from now on. Are you hungry, yet? I'm trying to decide on what to fix." C.R. lowered his voice a little. "It's part of my peace offering to Sylvia. She's partial to my grilling. Probably 'cuz my baking ain't up to par."
"Well, fire up the grill, then. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Just keep me company while we watch the steaks. Got some nice ribeyes at the Crosshouse Meat Market yesterday. We'll just stay out of Sylvia's way for a little while."
They both smirked and nodded a little.
"Come on, now," said Mitch. "Her temper can't be that bad, even if you did step in it pretty good."
C.R. just gave Mitch one of those 'you don't really want to go there' looks.
"Well," Mitch continued. "She'll undoubtedly be on her best behavior with a guest around."
"You're probably right about that!" and C.R. slapped Mitch on the back as they made their way to the kitchen. Sylvia hadn't emerged yet, so Mitch kept himself busy at the stove with a pot of baracho beans another with corn on the cob, while C.R. monitored the steaks on the porch. Twenty minutes later, the meat was ready and the corn was done. Mitch was finishing up the salad when Sylvia finally rejoined them.
"Hi, Mitch. Sorry about that, earlier. You're welcome to stay as long as you need. And do tell me everything that's happened today." Sylvia looked at both men when she said it. They all sat down to give thanks and dig in. C.R. took the lead in the conversation, leaving out the stranger bits at first. The pieces weren't fitting together very well for Sylvia, and she started asking more penetrating questions.
By the time they broke out the Blue Bell for dessert, Sylvia had stopped listening to her husband and was asking Mitch all the questions. Mitch glanced at C.R., who just gave him a 'what's the use holding back?' look. He studied his ice cream intently as Mitch laid it out for her. It ended in silence with Sylvia staring hard at Mitch. There was neither disbelief nor astonishment on her face. She would have made a terrific poker player. The light clacking of C.R.'s spoon came to a stop as he set aside his bowl. Sylvia finally turned to look at him.
"So, what did you make of all this, Mr. Detective?"
C.R. wiped his mouth on a paper napkin. "I believe him."
"I'm sure Mitch thinks this all happened, too. I mean what do you make of it?"
"I mean," C.R. continued, his hands spreading over the table, "that I think Mitch is telling the truth, and it happened the way he says it did."
"He's being zapped around like an alien by forces unknown. He's a  super hero, saving lives everywhere he lands." Sylvia's voice was dry and without humor. Still it wasn't angry or incredulous. Mitch glanced between the two, trying to read their body language.
"Yeah, that about sums it up," said C.R., folding his arms across his chest and leaning back into his seat.
"You're serious."
"Dead."
These two do play poker, Mitch thought. They just don't need cards.
"And the evidence?" Sylvia continued.
"His stories check out. I even called the hospital to talk to Connie. Mitch was there."
Sylvia's poker face was softening. "I... I can't imagine how this would be happening. What does it mean? I mean, how?" Sylvia just waved both hands in a couple of circles, trying to urge the thought along.
"You and me both," said Mitch. "I have no idea what's going on or why. But Sonja told me a while ago that I could trust you guys, and I'm doing it now. There's got to be a reason for it."
C.R. stepped into the conversation. "There's a reason for everything, Mitch.Your case stretches believably but doesn't change the facts. We'll do whatever we can. We owe that to you... and Sonja." Sylvia nodded grimly at the thought of her missing friend. "There are spiritual things going on here. I think we all need to acknowledge that and treat it seriously." He looked square at Mitch. "You can't seriously doubt that God's got his hand in this. That means God's got his hand on you. You need to get that into your head if it isn't already. The sooner you let Him lead you in this, the better off you'll be. Let Him take the lead."
Mitch shifted uncomfortably in his chair. What did that mean? He really wanted to trust C.R.'s counsel, but the religious talk made Mitch writhe. "OK, so some 'power' is out there messing with my life... or mind right now. I'll accept that. It's as good as any explanation so far. What am I supposed to do about it?"
"It's not some 'power,' Mitch. It's God. G-O-D. He's a person, not an 'it.' I don't know what his purposes are, but you can be sure he has them. He's pursuing you for a reason."
So this is the monster that's pursuing me? Not very comforting. "I'm sure you mean well, C.R., but that's a little much. I've never been a religious man, and I sure don't want to start now. I'm just trying to get through today and put this little episode behind me. Get back to normal. Get on with my life."
"There is no 'normal' when God's pursuing you, Mitch. And it sure looks like others are pursuing you, too. And they don't intend to do you any good. It looks like a race to me. Who's going to get you first?"
Mitch was at the point of getting angry with his friend. He pushed back from the table. "If you don't mind, I think it's time to get some rest." He turned to Sylvia. "Thank you for your hospitality. I hope I'm not putting you out too much."
Sylvia rose politely. "Not at all, Mitch. You are welcome for as long as you need. Is there anything I can get you?"
"C.R. took care of it earlier, thank you. Good night." At this point, Mitch had no intention of staying more than one night. He left the room directly and closed the bedroom door behind him.
"Was that necessary?" Sylvia looked sternly at her husband. "To come on that strongly? Are you trying to completely drive him away? It's exactly what Sonja feared would happen if he ever got close to us. He's fragile enough right now. It's like you're trying to crush him."
C.R. was tapping his knuckles softly on the tabletop. "I know it doesn't make much sense, Sylvia. I feel the same way. But I also felt the urge, and strongly, to say exactly what I said. If we're going to see him through this, we've got to be listening for God's leading as well.”
Mitch sat down on the bed again, staring at the letter still staring back at him. "...I pray that God brings us both exactly where He wants us to be." The words seemed to mock Mitch. So, is this where God wants me to be? Without you? Without my sanity? With friends cramming spiritual garbage down my throat? Where's the hope? Where's the meaning in that?? The ceiling answered back with a resounding silence. Nothing from Sonja; nothing from God. Wait - Jim said he'd seen her, and said what? She didn't do it. You believed him. You believed her... 
Mitch wasn't through with his complaint. OK, God. So you wanted Sonja with you. I guess you thought I didn't deserve to keep her. Probably not. But YOU hurt my KIDS too by taking her away!... Mitch was about to really vent but couldn't bring himself to say 'hate' in God's direction. He was surprised that he was pulled up short in expressing the rage he thought he felt, and felt sure that God deserved. Fine, if you think you know so much better, and have it all mapped out so well, take me where you want. Have at it.
Mitch reached over and abruptly yanked the chain on the side table lamp. He flopped over angrily and stayed still, forcing back the echoes of his conversation with the Colpoys. He willed away the images of the monster pursuing his tin man. He finally fell into a fitful sleep. He hadn't even bothered to change his clothes or remove his shoes.


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