Chapter 4

This post is part in a series of rough draft chapters of a novel in progress.  You’ll find Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 by clicking on the links here. I wanted to push things out into a little different direction here with an addition to the plot.  Enjoy!

SOUTH

 

The bulletin came over the computers a little after 2:30 in the morning.

Charlie Reynolds sat on the balcony of the Reynolds Observatory.  The telescope looked like something out of a movie, located on a hillside ten miles from the old University of North Carolina. Reynolds himself was an alumnus, coasting through the science program since the building had his name on the front.  Montgomery Reynolds, one of the founders and key members of the Manhattan Project, split his fortune between the university and his only son.

The steeple of the district church glowed in the distance, sending a blue shaft of light into the night sky.  He took a pull from his cigarette, cursed his luck, and flicked it over the side of the wall.  His supply was dwindling and the “criminals” of the new order weren’t established enough.  He had tried to find more, driven for days around North and South Carolina, and came up empty.  A half carton waited in his desk.

He squeezed the tension from the back of his neck.

His cell phone vibrated on the concrete and he picked it up. An alert he didn’t recognize showed on the screen. A tornado had been spotted to the west, moving quickly towards the area.  All residents were advised to get inside. He put the phone back on the ground.

Clear sky. No wind. No emergency sirens, if they even worked anymore.

It had to be a fluke.

He shut his eyes and yawned, thinking about the bedroom he had built-in the lower floor of the observatory. He’d taken many a sorority girl to see the sights, literal and figurative.

The bed called.

It would be a short journey and he could be sleeping in minutes.  He inhaled, reaching for the final cigarette in the pack and felt it skitter away from his hand.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

He stood to chase it just as the pack fell over the side of the railing.  A gust of wind pushed hard enough to send his shoulder into the railing and he cringed. Thunder crashed and the stars disappeared as the storm system arrived. The top of a funnel cloud formed over the observatory. He needed to warn people, get the word out somehow.

The sirens remained silent.

He reached for his phone and the world went white.

pexels-photo-29970

A hand, cold and soft, lay on his forehead. He opened his eyes to see the night sky, clear again. The atmosphere, though, crackled with electricity. He leaned forward to a shot of pain and pressure.  The figure kneeling before him blurred into focus.

It started as a swirling wind of matter like its own universe somehow centered on the balcony two feet away. He squinted and it settled to the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Her hair was black, cascading in a viscous mass around her head.  Her eyes were almond brown and, for a moment, he was lost. Colors moved and changed inside them. She wore a slate grey business suit.

He attempted to look at her body but couldn’t move.

“Don’t be afraid.” The words seemed to come from the air.  Her voice was the sound of ringing bells. He opened his mouth but nothing came. “Charles, I have a message for you from the Lord.”

He tried again to speak and felt his throat tighten as if a pair of hands constricted against it.

“Silence.”

His breath cut off completely and he thrashed on the ground pulling at the invisible hands around his neck.

“You will tell a story to change this world.  Your journey starts at dawn.”

Blackness came at the corners of his vision. He tried to stay awake.

“I will see you again soon.”

Thunder crashed. The funnel cloud appeared where she had stood moments before. His ears popped with pressure and he screamed, finally able to pull in breath and shut his eyes.

In the span of heartbeats, all was calm again.

He stood, head spinning, waiting until he could walk. The elevator ride almost made him vomit.  He crawled to the bed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

The room was dark. It shouldn’t have been dark, not with the large window across from the bed.  They had built it to overlook sunrise to the east as a natural alarm clock. His throat was dry, his arms and legs sore.  He rolled over and felt for the light, flipping the switch.

Nothing changed.

He sat up in bed, forcing his eyes open.  The room remained dark.

What happened?

He scrambled to the floor just as the phone started to ring and vibrate on the side table. It took a minute to find it with roaming hands.

“Who is it?”

“Charles, why do you persecute me?”

The voice cut deep into his heart.  It was the woman, the thing or whatever it was, from the night before.

“What? What happened to me? Who the hell is this?”

“Go into town and you will receive your instructions there.” The call ended. He threw the phone and listened to it crash against the wall.

If only his parents were still alive. They would know what to do. He wouldn’t be stuck in this monstrosity of a building by himself.

Somehow, he was blind.

Blind.

He tried to imagine what was around him but the images were fleeting. The only constant figure was the woman and the storm.  She did this, somehow.  He needed to take inventory and figure out a way to get in town and go where?

The tears came before he could stop them and they puddled at his feet.

 

 

Advertisements

Early Retirement

I’ve written before on here about some of my favorite podcasts. A few weeks ago Scott Kramer, one of the pastors at our church and a friend of mine, recommended finding some ministry podcasts to listen to while working out or occupying your spare time.

I took the challenge and have found myself learning and being challenged with a variety of new and interesting messages. One of my favorites is from Pastor Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles.

McManus is an interesting figure. I’d recommend any of his books you can find.  He’s a mix of scholar, pastor, communicator, encourager, and cultural architect.

His message last week was on knowing and asking God for exactly what we want. He stated his belief that some of us ask small because we are afraid of “proving God doesn’t exist.” We feel like we need to protect God by lowering our expectations when, in reality, more and greater things than we’ve ever dreamed await us.

He mentioned a friend who was retiring at an early age.  He had asked this friend why he was choosing to retire.  The man’s responded that he was ready for a quieter and more peaceful life. He wanted simplicity.

McManus commented about the nature of the man’s ideas and that he personally wanted to stay active, leading a community in a loud and noisy world until “the day the chariots of fire came to get him from Heaven.”

He then said something that struck me directly in the heart.

pexels-photo

He said there were younger people listening to the message who had hit “retirement” long before leaving their twenties.

It was like a card house falling, a lens sharpening into focus. The statement vocalized my state of mind quicker than anything I could have said at the moment.

I’d spent years lounging in the lull of simplicity, of sitting back and sitting on dreams, of the easy road holding off chances to make a dent in the universe.

I’d thought myself not good enough to dream, beaten down and hopeless, just happy to survive another day. Worry had ruled far too long.

Those days are over. It is time to start on the first steps of a new journey. It is time to get back in the game.

So I’ll fight with words, new projects, new books and bigger dreams. With a desire to inspire anyone who takes a moment to read and find hope.

Are you with me? Check out Mosaic’s podcast and stream the message titled What Do You Want?  I promise you will not be the same.

~Matt

 

The Journey

Tonight Val and Carter leave for a long drive to Florida.  They are headed to her family reunion.  Heading back home from dropping them off, crossing under the night sky in the midst of lightning, my mind went to the concept of the Journey.

As writers we talk about the Hero’s Journey. We know that stories follow a certain flow and that, most great ones, keep to this formula.  Sometimes you’ll find a fresh take that will catch on but, looking back, the main points are the same.

On Sunday we went to the cemetery to visit the graves of my grandparents.  I stood over the marker bearing my grandfather’s name, a small American flag blowing in the wind just above it.

I thought of the days we’d spent together.

He would take me fishing in the morning, park his old truck on the side of the road, and lead me around a pond large enough that we could have room to cast our lines. We’d get home to find my grandmother had made lunch; turkey sandwiches and fresh iced tea, and we’d sit on the porch.

He’d tell me about the war, about battles and marching for miles up the middle of Italy.

We had just told him about Val being pregnant with Aiden before he was called home to Heaven.

His journey had ended as mine continued.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

The process is a double-edged sword. I get intimidated at the thought of what my boys will remember about growing up.  It is inspiring to think of the road that remains and the work still to be done.

I know God isn’t finished with us.

I wish I’d learned to grasp his my grandfather’s sense of peace.  He faced down enemies attempting to take his life, seen things I couldn’t have imagined, and was able to take his only grandson fishing on quiet mornings.

I wish I’d learned his strength. When he spoke, you listened.  It was the virtue of a man of few words.  He was a rock, in my memory, for better or worse a member of the generation that raised men without the attacks of today’s societal forces.

I’m working on learning his storytelling.  In two sentences he’d given me an image: his back against a low concrete wall with chips of it flying in his face as bullets hit above. He was on a front line attack attempting to liberate a village of people he hadn’t known and would never see again, in the midst of a war that had taken him away from a wife and two children.

When he spoke, I could see it.

Tonight, I pray your journey is also inspiring.  I pray you have a past you can draw from for strength, inspiration, or the anger to push through when you are on the last moment energy. Have courage.

Write your hero in a dark spot and watch them fight their way out.

Know that you will do the same.

~Matt

 

Invested

We live in a world of noise.

Over the past week, I’ve worked in an office spot that allowed me a view of a waiting room television. It stays on one channel throughout the week, the local ABC affiliate, and the day is a cycle of news and talk shows.

Everyone has an agenda. Nothing is unbiased. Between shootings and alligators taking children, Florida is in the midst of a horrific stretch.

I’ve subscribed to a few different newsletters and one gave me something valuable on Wednesday.  It included a free copy of Steven Pressfield’s new book, No One Wants to Read Your Sh*t and What You Can do About It.

I loved his book, The War of Art and this is another powerhouse about writing. His opening chapters make a powerful point.

No one wants to hear what you have to say.

pexels-photo-28194

There is a solution to this problem, according to Pressfield.

Know your concept. Inject it with emotion. Make it unique. Make it stand out.

We often write, and speak, to hear ourselves talk.  We stand on our message and think, for the sake of our own importance, it will automatically spread like wildfire.

Some marriages and families operate like this for years.

Emotion, and honesty, are risks. What if we lived like we had to earn our audience? How would that change our communication? How would it shape our stories?

This weekend, think about investing value into your days. Make the conversations and experiences count.

As a husband and father, I’m trying my best with Val and the boys. I’m trying my best with myself, looking into the mirror and being honest, having faith, and keeping the courage to move forward.

If you are alive and reading this, your story isn’t over yet. Make it count.

~Matt

 

The First Stone

I am in the midst of reading Malcom Gladwell’s, David and Goliath.  The book, as you can imagine, is an examination of the perception of the underdog. Gladwell takes readers on a journey through places where disadvantages can become assets and strength can be found in weakness.

In one section, he writes about the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King, in Alabama, needed the notorious sheriff Bull Connor to show his hand and reveal his racist intentions.  The act of aggression would be enough to start a movement. It happened more than once, with Connor’s forces turning fire hoses and police dogs on protestors.

My friends, the enemy has shown its hand in one horrific moment inside a Orlando nightclub.

The question remains, how do we respond?

pexels-photo-47498

There’s a scene in the Bible where a woman caught in adultery is taken in front of Jesus.  When you read the text, it seems like she was literally caught in the midst of it and dragged to a public street.

Jesus looks up to see an angry crowd.

They explain what happened and pick up stones to kill her, as with the legal penalty of the time.

Jesus states, “those without sin cast the first stone.”

There’s way too many stones getting tossed around. My social media feeds were political jabs all day from both the left and right sides; terrorism, gun control, mental illness, ISIS, LGBT hate and anger, etc.

This is the time for a response, as King had the right strategy.  The church needs to stand up in love and protect those targeted by terrorist forces. Doors, and arms, must open.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough.  Enough of the hate, anger, bickering and politicizing. Enough of both sides picking through the bones of victims to prop up their arguments.

I was listening to the end of Pastor Stephen Furtick’s podcast this week where he spoke about the book of Revelation. He stated that a seminary professor summed it up this way:

Evil is real. God is greater. We win in the end.

The Orlando community will recover. Families will ban together and churches, if they are truly standing on the words of Jesus, will step in and do their part. Conversations will happen about how to prevent another shooting and they must be led by love.

I believe the world can change, that we should not be surprised at the depth of evil and never forget the strength of good. We must grasp even harder to our calling, keep our eyes forward, and see hope in the faces of the generations to come.

~Matt

 

Chapter 3

You can find Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here of this novel in progress.  Enjoy!

WEST

 

            On a normal afternoon, she would listen to a podcast or audio book. The path of the jog looped miles out of town, across a section of woods ending at a beach with rocks shaped by pounding waves. She would stand on these rocks, often taking her shoes off to cool down, and think about the future.

The past was too painful.

She’d close her eyes and hear gunfire.  They had tried to fight, the university as a whole, standing on the grounds of academic and intellectual freedom.  She was one of the new breed at the time, fresh doctorate in hand, leading students through the finer points of Romantic poetry, not much older than they were. For a month they met as faculty in a lecture hall at midnight.

A flurry of activity followed, publications, protests, the rallying cries of youth.  Her department chair, a veteran professor, warned what was coming.  He said it would only go so far until they came to quiet the noise.

One Thursday morning in March, a caravan of vehicles entered campus. Troops arrived and locked everything down.  Faculty and students were removed and any resistance met with deadly force.

She opened her eyes as a seagull cried overhead. The breeze from the forest carried a smell she would always associate with the Pacific coast, though it was not called that any longer.  They were part of the West, the union between two outside forces that somehow had become real.

Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her green sweatshirt, the old University of Oregon O blazing on the chest in fluorescent yellow. She tapped the answer button on her ear piece.

“Where are you?”

His voice carried the smoke of sleep.

“The same place I go every morning.”

“I told you it’s not safe.” He yawned.

She imagined him stretching, the body of the athlete she had met as an undergraduate remained tight under his t shirt. His temples had grayed slightly but he still existed as the coiled ball of energy from his youth.

“You don’t need to worry about me.” She cringed as a stone cut her foot, bent down and picked up the offender, throwing it into the surf that shown the purple of morning.

“I live to worry about you.”

“I’ll be home soon.” She walked to where her shoes waited on the sand, sitting next to them. She checked the display on her cell phone.  They were nearing two minutes, the unofficial limit where tracking would kick in from the network. “Keep breakfast warm for me.”

“Will do.  Love you.”

“Love you too.” She laced her shoes, wished the ocean goodbye, and started back down the trail.

road-sun-rays-path

The white Suburban SUV appeared within a mile.

She was mentally preparing that afternoon’s lecture, hypnotized in the road rhythm, when the streak of color passed in her peripheral vision. She turned her head as it made a U turn and accelerated back.  There were two options and with nothing around but trees, one was clear. She pulled up and stepped to the curb.  It parked behind her.

“You know, running out here alone is dangerous.”

He wore his usual suit, pulling the jacket closed and buttoning it.

“I’m used to it.”  Her voice cracked, even though she tried to stop it.

“How do you get more beautiful every morning?” He stood in front of her and brushed a strand of brown hair off her forehead. She saw him as he was that morning in March, the soldier breaking into her classroom.  An hour later, under individual interrogations, they had made a connection.  In a week they were having coffee after his shift ended.

They had started sleeping together after a night of drunken confessions.  She had felt like a ship, unmoored and tossed in the storm of this new reality. He was a vortex of trust and danger, the enemy and the only one open as all others pulled away.

It felt good to play both sides. It became an addiction.

She supplied information and was allowed back at her old job.  Things improved. She was promoted to a supervisory position within the English department.  Curriculum came from the new government to be delivered without deviation.  Education was still important as long as the line was kept. She taught the importance of following the wisdom of the past.

The flame of rebellion remained, though deep inside.

It took a night at the Joe’s Coffee to change things.  The café, located in the old Student Union, was no more than a handful of tables and tea light candles. Faculty gathered at the end of every week and that night she had sat in the corner of the room flipping through an illegal copy of Heart of Darkness. The sound of a guitar came from a darkened stage.

Conversation stopped.

“Where are you?”

She shook her head and blinked, not able to tell if the question came from her ear piece or the man standing in front of her, two points in the universe on this empty forest road at dawn.

“Sorry.”

“We’ve received word of something coming in a week or so. Listening devices picked up conversations around a gathering, all centered on a freshman.  This young man, named John, will be transferred into your class tomorrow morning. You will find what we need to know.”

“Okay,” she looked at her shoes.  He loved when she played to his power.

“Don’t worry my dear.  Your freedom will come soon.  Your service to the cause is valuable.” He kissed her on the lips, a fleeting touch, and walked back to the vehicle.  It sped past as she stretched her calves, cued up a song on her phone, and started at a faster pace towards home.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2 of a rough draft in progress.  You can find Chapter 1 by clicking here.  Enjoy!

NORTH

 

The white building stood out in contrast against the Manhattan skyline.  Not that it functioned as Manhattan anymore. The towers once built to prosperity and ambition had fallen, only to rise again as centers of study and contemplation.

The city had improved.  Crime vanished.  All the perversions once considered art were confiscated and burned on barges that circled the land in constant reminder.

It took some time, yes, but the populace came around.

This morning an aria echoed from deep inside the bedroom broadcast on speakers to reach the limits of the porch.  The porch was that in term only.  It consisted of Italian marble, a grand fountain, luxury furniture and a media center covering all areas of the territory.

Even with the spread of options, Father Paul Kramer sat with his journal on his knees and a pencil in hand.  The wind rising up the building shifted what was left of his hair. He was writing notes on the cross and the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The flow of logic gave much-needed comfort.

For what were they without logic?

They were the bastard children of Rome.

When word came that all funding and support would be cut, they had to get creative. It was not time to panic.  It was time to gather and set plans in motion.

He stopped writing and looked to the horizon.  Far below the workforce would be starting their morning commute. The war had ended.  Things looked different now. This was a second chance.

This was the new center of faith without corruption, Rome without the scourge of revisionist history.

“He requests your presence.”

The statement came from his left. Kramer checked his watch.  The bastard was always on time.

“I’m on the way.”

The attendant scurried back inside.

 

pexels-photo-27406

The elevator to the Holy Residence rose in blinding speed.  They had adapted it from the tech firm that owned in building in the time before.  It was accessible only by retina scan and monitored by three levels of security.  Kramer watched the floors blink by until the numbers vanished.

No one really knew how high they were headed.

In a moment, the doors opened.

He always thought of the temple, of their Lord and Savior clearing out the tables of the money changers.  The scriptures had said he fashioned a whip and drove out all those seeking to business in the house of the God.

What would Jesus say about this?

A vault of gold and currency, guarded by soldiers. A communications center four times the size of his own. A media studio broadcasting the morning news. Conference rooms with men in suits talking seriously over cups of coffee.

Kramer walked past all of this ignoring their fleeting glances.

Finally, when it seemed he would stride off the edge of the floor and fall into nothingness, a set of doors stood in his path.  These guards, four altogether, moved to the side.  One keyed in a code that changed daily.   The doors retracted and he walked through as they closed behind him with the hiss of pressurized air.

The far wall was glass from east to west. The bed had been constructed here, overlooking the city but not close enough to the edge that a stray member of the media could take a picture. A body laid on the bed, deep under a mound of covers.

Two doctors passed a tablet back and forth looking at images. A nurse replaced an IV bag.

“How is he?” Kramer asked.  One of the doctors turned to him.

“Good morning Father.” The man went to bow and Kramer waved him off.

“Tell me.”

“Two weeks, maybe six.  The cancer is spreading.”

Laughter came from the bed.  Kramer walked to the edge and touched the skeletal hand that rested on the blankets.

“You still use that thing?”

He looked at the pocket of his coat and the edge of the journal sneaking out. Even with a tumor in his brain, his vision was still sharp.

“How are you doing Vinny?”

The nurse cringed.  When Kramer made eye contact with her, she smoothed out her scrubs and left the room.

“Fine brother. Just fine.”

Vincenzo had risen through the parishes in the midst of the war. He was young, a star of the faith.  He delivered fiery messages that grew the church.  He was the architect of this new world.

He was still the kid from the Bronx that would play pickup basketball after school.

“Soon this will be yours.”

“No, sir.  Not me. No one knows you’re sick.  We can milk this as long as we need. Set up a stable transition.”

“There’s nothing stable anymore.”

“When’s the last time you heard of any conflict?”

Vinny laughed again.  The laughter turned to a deep cough that rattled his lungs.

“You remember Sister Margaret?”

Margaret was a nun of the old order, ancient when they were kids.  She ran her classroom like a dictatorship and they’d gone home with many years of scarred knuckles.

“Of course.”

“She always said silence was deadly. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and all that.”

They stopped talking.  Machines beeped in the background.

“Get Father Paul a chair.”

One of the doctors looked over for a second and went back to his reports. The movement happened in a blink. The arm that had rested on the blanket now gripped the doctor’s hand.  The guy dropped his tablet as it skittered across the floor.

“Now.”

The doctor left the bedroom and returned with one of the chairs from outside.

“Leave us.”

They left together. Kramer settled in the seat.

“You didn’t have to do that Vinny, scaring the kid.”

“I still got it, don’t I? Now get that journal out.  We have some business to discuss.”