Jeremiah led me down a winding dirt path toward a cluster of overgrown trees at the foot of a small hill. Once over the hill the path abruptly ended and a huge cornfield began.
I was instantly reminded once again of that long ago day when I first made my way through this maze of towering cornstalks. The sun high up in the spring sky, staring down on me as I galloped along mimicking my favorite barnyard animals.
I was brave then. Even though I was mildly unnerved, I refused to allow myself to be conquered by some childish fear of being lost or confused…or forever trapped in some diabolical labyrinth of farm crops.
Instead, in my youthful vigor I simply forged forward…toward my chance encounter with Mary. Toward my future.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had not been in another cornfield since then. But was that so strange really? Why would I? I’m not Amish. I’m not a farmer. The times spent here after Mary and I had been engaged and subsequently married were few and uncomfortably short. Not playful or joyous. We didn’t play tag or hide and go’ seek.
In fact, it’s almost as if some part of me instinctively knew to stay away from these cornfields. As if fate had an alternate plan for me, if only I would enter into her eternal maze just one more time.
Silly thoughts. I focus back on the present and realize Jeremiah has pulled several yards ahead of me and the light from the lantern is fading. I hurry my steps to catch up, and my mind wanders again…
Was I traveling the same path now that I did back then? My feet stepping over the same soil? Was my destiny driving me toward the same abrupt exit into the open field that it did so many years ago?
And who would my chance encounter be with this time? Some soul hungry Pagan Celtic God with seven toes and wings spread wide? Perhaps Satan himself?
I looked around at the shadowy grey-yellow stalk monsters surrounding me.
They looked different now then they did then. Of course, they would, wouldn’t they? Difference being, back then it was day and now it was night.
But it was more than that. It was texture. It was vibrancy. It was heartache.
Seasons change things. It had been spring then. Fall now.
Or maybe it was just me? The years change things too. Perspective. Courage. Also heartache.
Had I any premonition then that this was the future I was heading for…I would have turned around, went back to my car and hitchhiked to the nearest service station.
Mary would still be alive.
The preacher’s plans, whatever they are, wouldn’t revolve around this innocent community of hard working, God fearing people.
It would be somebody else’s problem.
Or did I ever have a choice? Was this my destiny all along? Written in stone before I was even born.
Something jolted my senses back to reality. And just like a noise that wakes you up in the middle of the night, I couldn’t identify exactly what it was…but I knew it wasn’t right.
I realized I had once again fallen well behind Jeremiah. I could see the light faintly up in the distance, broken up by a variety of meaty and sinewy stalk arms protruding into the path. However I couldn’t see him anymore.
‘Damn wandering mind.’
Forgetting about the peculiar something that had snapped me out of my daydream I dashed forward gingerly, holding the tire iron out in front of me to ward off any lunging stalks or invisible monsters. I did a cursory check and found the flashlight still tucked firmly into my back pocket.
As I approached the light the situation suddenly became clear to me and I felt a tinge of panic welling up in my chest.
Jeremiah was gone. Only the lantern was there, burning weakly as the surrounding dark insanity penetrated in toward it.
I spun around, and around…and around. Searching through the tight stalks. Squinting my eyes against the blackness. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. Except the thundering of my heart.
I dared not call out his name. I don’t know why? Instinct told me not too.
Then I heard it…from my left. Unmistakable sound of someone or something moving through the stalks.
I gripped the tire iron firmly and held it up, ready to strike. I took a step back…and willed my eyesight to penetrate the darkness. I thought I saw it…a shadow in the shadows. A black figure outlined upon a black canvas background. My mind raced.
‘April 11th…The day I met my Mary.’
‘This one will be worth remembering.’
The rustling stalks got louder. Closer. It was almost upon me.
I cocked the tire iron.
“Peter?” From behind me.
I spun on my heels, lost my footing and fell backward, awkward and hard onto my ****.
When I regained my composure and thrust the tire iron out…I heard the giggles.
It was Jeremiah. Hand over his mouth, stifling a laugh.
“I am so sorry Peter. I did not mean to frighten you.”
I was mildly angry, but more relieved. I let my arm sink down in front of me with the weight of the tire iron.
“That’s okay Jeremiah. I guess I’m just a little jumpy, what with all the ghost stories and all.”
His mood quickly became somber again. He bent down to pick up the lantern.
“I only stepped off the path for a moment because I had to, um, relieve myself.”
“I understand Jeremiah.”
The sadness and confusion in him caused me to continue, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. I just wanted to say something to try and cheer him up a little.
“You know…Mary, (hemm), I mean your sister, she really cared about you. She loved you. A lot. She, I mean, we…really appreciated your support when we were married.”
He nodded toward me but did not smile.
A moment of silence passed between us. I wasn’t sure I should continue. I looked at my watch. It was 11:56 pm. Almost midnight.
Almost Samhain. Were the lost souls already out tonight? Gathering someplace. Anticipating the sacrifices that had been religiously bestowed upon them for centuries.
Or did they know there was a beast on the prowl. Lurking in the shadows. Waiting for the festival to begin and the catalyst to summon it to action and devour the lot of them all at one time.
I shivered with the thought of it. And then nearly laughed with the absurdity of it.
And then caught myself…because it wasn’t necessarily as absurd as it sounded.
I looked at Jeremiah and for as much as he was trying to be courageous and protect his family he only looked like a frightened young man. I wondered…
“Jeremiah…have you not mentioned any of this, these strange visions and dreams and footprints to your father? I know the two of you don’t always see eye to eye but surely he would trust you to tell him the truth and he would…”
I saw the confused hurt take control of Jeremiahs face. He was in mental pain.
“You…do not know do you?”
My turn to look confused.
“Know what Jeremiah?”
I saw a crystal tear form in his eye and drop heavily down the length of his sun-touched face.
More tears…flowing now. I became uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to having other men cry in front of me. It wasn’t natural. I did my crying in private.
“Yes, Jeremiah…Amos, have you spoken with him today?” I urged him on, wishing I had simply left it alone. However, a tiny thought had sprung to life in the back of my mind…Why had Amos really come to see me? It was so unlike him, seeing as how he never wanted to see me when Mary was alive. I was hoping Jeremiah could shed some light on it for me.
“He’s passed on Peter. I am so sorry to have to tell you like this. Sammy’s, John’s, Amos is dead.”
I almost burst out laughing. Dead! Now that was Absurd.
I did chuckle…just a little.
Jeremiah looked at me with such a hurt and curious stare…so innocent; I knew in an instant that this was no joke. He was telling the truth, as far as he believed.
The light from the lantern suddenly flickered and pinched out, casting us in complete emptiness.
I quickly pulled the flashlight out and fingered it into action. A beam of light shot straight up and quietly illuminated the area around it.
I had to get to the bottom of this. I looked at him…
“Yes Peter. The Lord had other plans for Amos. He took him from us over two months ago now.”
His tears were now thick and impatient.
“On his way back from dropping Annie off at Doc Samuels. His carriage was struck by a man in a large truck.”
“But Jeremiah, I…”
I didn’t know what to say. I had never known Jeremiah to lie. He must be mistaken then. I had to know.
“…I just saw him. He stopped by my house.”
His look didn't change.
“Today Jeremiah. Today! He’s the reason I’m here right now.”
“Then it must be Gods will Peter. God came to you in the form of Amos and asked you to help us. He…”
“WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I blew up. I couldn’t take the pressure anymore.
“Jeremiah, Your father was in my kitchen, just today, telling me about this Preacher.”
“And what was he telling you Peter? About Maliki’s accident at the pond? How this mysterious Preacher was spotted there, in the woods, just a short distance away? Or how he was seen riding a horse through Sassy grass field when Suzi fell from the barn and ripped her ear open on a nail? Or how when father died he was described as the man who was driving the truck that killed him? Did he mention any of that?”
I opened my mouth to respond and a flash of light whooshed by me and buried Jeremiah.
I pressed the flashlight straight in that direction and…
“Quick, put it out…please…put the light out.”
I hesitated. Shock!
I was being addressed in a soft feminine voice by a large, light blue skinned humanoid looking thing with huge transparent white eyes and tiny multi-colored irises. It realized it had my undivided attention and relaxed its grip on Jeremiah.
“I am a friend. I am here to preserve your destinies. Too much has already been lost. Now extinguish the light!”
As I moved my flashlight beam slowly over the beings torso I saw two gigantic wings on its back…and further down, seven toed feet.
“It was you…that left the book on my doorstep.”
Its face was relaxing, and nostalgic in a way I couldn’t explain. It was angelic.
“First, the light...”
Reluctantly, I clicked it off.
“Yes, it was I. We needed you to stay focused on the most important day of your life.”
“The day I met Mary?”
A flushed reddish-pink glow illuminated its entire body and I saw that it was smiling. It’s teeth were petite and brilliant.
“Yes Peter. The day you fell in love with Mary.”
I smiled too.
“It’s the day that fate was cheated and your destiny was re-written. You unwittingly cheated the devil that day Peter. That’s why I’ve been sent here, to protect your soul. That’s why I left you the book, so that you could remember.”
“But just Me? I mean, what about my wife? And my Hannah and My Micah? What about Amos…huh? Who’s gonna protect his soul?”
I heard Jeremiah whimpering. I felt a pang of guilt. This was extraordinary for me…however, after a lifetime of comic books and Friday the 13th sequels I was programmed to accept the unknown. Jeremiah was a virgin to such fantastic ideas.
“Peter…I am an angel of mercy. I do not choose those that I save. They are chosen for me.”
The Angel stood, allowing Jeremiah to sit up.
“I was sent here by your creator Peter. You are a very special person, and I am to keep you from the darkness.”
I inspected his face as best I could, but it was a mask. An angelic, sexy, fantastic mask.
I was about to tell him to go **** himself when….
“Well, well…what do we have here?”
The unmistakable Pennsylvania Dutch accent of one Sammy’s, John’s, Amos.
“Peter, you wouldn’t be going behind my back now would ya son?”
My equilibrium tottered as I caught the first glimpse of a rotting Amos standing just to my left, down the trail.
“It’s Samhain my boy! All those lost souls out looking for some handouts. Pathetic in life…pathetic after. And not so tasty either. Not like the souls of the living. And I know a certain God who hasn’t eaten one of those in about four hundred years.”
This couldn’t be happening. I chanced a peripheral glance at the supposed angel. His right wing was spread wide, protecting the cowering Jeremiah. His glaring luminous eyes were fixed on the image of Amos. He shouted:
“You will never succeed in summoning Sa’Awen! You must realize that by now. He’s been stuck in purgatory for eons while generation after generation of his family’s descendants have failed to release him.”
“That’s why I am here simple angel. To make sure the **** job gets done right this time!”
He spread his arms wide and bursts of fire appeared at his feet. He turned his head toward me and I saw little horns protruding through the top of his skull.
From somewhere in my head I heard…
‘ Dad likes you Peter, I know it! Please try to become good friends...’
It struck me...The evil preacher was Amos. Amos was the evil preacher. He was also some sort of demon.
“You ready to fulfill your destiny Peter Scarsdale?”
I was weakened with the sudden knowledge that I was the catalyst. I was the descendant who was supposed to release Hell unto earth. I felt my mind closing down…and I was about to succumb to whatever fate had in store for me, when a brilliant flash of electric white light exploded out of the surrounding stalks and maneuvered right between the one claiming to be Amos and myself.
The spell was immediately broken and I quickly attempted to rally the troops to action. I grasped Jeremiahs shirt and pulled him to his feet. I started to reach out to the Angel but his voice touched me, inside my brain, and it ordered me, ‘RUN!’
So we took off…full speed…racing through the stalks. Tire iron and flashlight lost in the mix.
I heard beastly cries from behind me and picked up the pace. I actually didn’t care who won…as long as the damage done was enough to spare Jeremiah and me. Survival of the fittest right. When some of the pride dies you don’t give up, you just fight harder and dedicate your next victory to their memory.
I was logical enough to realize I wouldn’t ever get my family back.
Death meant gone.
The best I could hope for was to triumph over evil and meet them in the afterlife.
I pushed forward, my feet somehow all of a sudden fleet. I pulled Jeremiah along roughly and he offered little resistance. Somehow I had become responsible. Me.
I swung my right arm wildly before me, my wrist denting the skins of any stalk ignorant enough to cross my path.
All of a sudden it felt to me like I had done this before. Deja vu. I felt the spring sun dancing high above me. I felt the relaxed aimlessness of youth as I slowed my pace down, turned sideways and began to gallop. I felt an old familiar song on the tip of my tongue.
‘and a quack-quack here, and a quack-quack there…’
And when I looked straight ahead of me, I spotted no sunlight at the end of the row. Still I galloped on…
And I continued to pull Jeremiah behind me.
Until at last, just when I felt my lungs had sucked in their final possible breath, I stumbled across the threshold into a familiar open field.
My feet tripped over each other and I released my left hand from its death grip on Jeremiahs shirt. As my equilibrium toppled me to the ground I heard Jeremiah cry out: “Sister!”
Familiar girly laughter followed: “Oh Dear Brother!”
I rolled over a few times and then sprang to my feet, fists cocked.
I looked around wildly for someone or something to dictate my next move.
And out of the shadows, stepped my Mary.
“It’s so nice to see you and Jeremiah getting along so well sweetheart! Now if you could only make nice with Father.”