Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No disrespect is intended if I just tweak things a bit. No copyright infringement is intended. The rest of this story is mine.
A/N Warning: This story will question a man's belief in God and his church. It is not a criticism of anyone's practices or my own beliefs. It's a story of survival in extreme situations which changes the course of many lives during a very dark and sadly, little discussed period in American History. There will be violence and minor character death. This is not an instant canon couples meet and fall in love. It is told in many character viewpoints which are important to the story. If any of these subject matters are sensitive to you, please do not read this story. Thank you.
My deep gratitude to Lilith, an awesome pre-reader and sounding board. And to an incredible beta, Ficfangirl for her grammar skills and other expertise. Thank you both so much. Any errors are mine as I tend to add or change things around after the edits. The beautiful banner was created by debzdezigns. Thank you so much.
~ Judgment *+* Day ~
People always remember major turning points in their lives. I mean those specific periods in time when events affect or shape who they are. It can result from falling in love, getting married, having children, travel, the death of a loved one, or other major events. It's these exact moments when their lives either take a turn for the better or for the worst.
For me, my defining moment came in the spring of 1918. All my plans, hopes and dreams for my future vanished in the blink of an eye. I was told, believed and lived with one constant truth; if you lived your life serving God and your fellow man, you would know heaven on earth. And when your time came to shed the mortal coils that bind us to this realm, you would then be delivered to the gates of Heaven.
Now I know it was all a lie. It was at this crucial moment when my life, as I knew it—died. This is when I woke up in my own living Hell.
~ Edward Masen ~
~ J *+* D ~
La Porte, Texas
I stride through the open church doors, onto the steps leading down to the public sidewalk, invigorated by the sermon previously delivered by Father Michael. With the sun descending rapidly behind me, I pause on the top step in the shadow of the church, breathing in the fresh air, mixed with the scent of spring flowers bursting to life. I love this time of the year. It's a time for rejuvenation of life after the deep slumber of winter past. A Black-crested Titmouse flies by with a string in its beak and then lands in a nearby tree, fortifying its nest for its future progeny in the fading light of day. The expansive sky is crystal clear, free of clouds with various shades of deepening blue in the twilight hour. It stirs the senses. I feel the residual warmth of the sun on the light breeze as it caresses my black cassock. What a beautiful day it was the good Lord had given us.
The sermon Father Michael gave today regarding the prejudices of man was stimulating. He spoke of how we should be looking for the good in all people, no matter their skin color or heritage. A global war is raging in Europe. It's understandable that people fear for the safety of their family and friends who have been drafted and sent overseas to assist in the war efforts of America's Allies.
Lines are being drawn here in the States as well. An anti-German movement is growing. German-Americans, especially the new immigrants, are being blamed for the aggression of the German Empire. Suspicion is growing and anyone speaking German is now seen as unpatriotic or suspect. Name changes are occurring everywhere. Frankfurters are now called hot dogs. Some families are anglicizing their last names from Schmidt to Smith and Müller to Miller. Anything German has nearly disappeared from the public arena.
Father Michael is proactive and progressive in trying to stem the flow of antagonisms towards a small part of our flock with German lineage. Reminding us that we all come from immigrants and, at some point in time, our original nationality was an instigator in a war of the past. It's this ability to see the needs of our parish which I most admire in him. After the final prayer, as all the attendees start filing out, Father Michael beckoned me forward.
"Father Edward, I want you to see our flock out today," he smiles gently at me. I'm surprised by the notion.
"But, Father Michael, the parishioners look forward to your personal atten…" he cuts me off with a stern, but softly spoken voice.
"Father Edward, you are as well-loved here as I am. Soon you will be attending to your own parish and I think they want to hear of your future plans. You will be missed and I think they deserve some one on one time with you," he sighs and then chuckles. He smiles again as he continues, "I don't know how I will find another more perfectly suited young man to help me with their needs when you're gone."
My eyes mist with the knowledge I will be leaving Father Michael as well. I have been chosen to take over a small parish in Florida on the Gulf Coast. And while I'm overjoyed at the prospect of having my own flock to tend to, I won't have the guidance of this man by my side.
"Go, the parishioners are waiting," Father Michael gently nudges me, dispelling my momentary melancholy.
"Yes Father," I whisper.
As I'm about to turn around, he hugs me and murmurs, "God be with you." Then he turns away and walks back towards the altar.
I can't look at him as we separate as I fear the real possibility of tears being shed. I turn and walk towards those standing by the doors waiting for a personal audience with Father Michael. Not one of them seems disappointed that I am the one to come forward, which brought me great joy. For about forty minutes I answer questions about my future plans and listen to those asking for additional blessings for their loved ones. I'm honored, humbled and satisfied it went so well and I was able to offer comfort for those in need. Once again, I owe it all to Father Michael.
In fact, I'm indebted to him for so much more. I have always looked up to Father Mike, as I'm now allowed to call him. He's been my guiding light, mentor and inspiration, seeing me through Seminary here in La Porte, Texas. My final indoctrination is only weeks away. It's been a little over a year since I was ordained to the Transitional Diaconate. All these years I've been working towards the goal of becoming a fully ordained priest, and it's finally within my grasp. I can only hope I will be half the man Father Mike is.
I rouse myself from my reverie of Father Mike's continued support and walk down the steps with a smile on my lips, nodding to various pedestrians as I make my way towards the refectory for the evening meal. As I'm crossing the entrance to the darkened alley way which is used for deliveries to both church and refectory, I hear a low mournful sound. It stops me in my tracks. I can't see anything in the shadows and wonder if perhaps it was a strange gust of wind or a cat which caused the sorrowful noise. I wait a moment and hear nothing more.
Just as I'm about to continue on, I hear the sound again. Curiosity and concern has me cautiously making my way into the gloom. As my eyes adjust to the dimness, I make a cursory scan and see nothing which could make such a noise, until I hear a woeful cry coming from the very back corner of the church. I'm now moving more quickly as I make my way towards the sound. At first, I only see dark red material. Then a pair of legs encased in stockings comes into view with ankle boots in a style which alerts me to the fact it is a woman who is lying on the ground.
When I finally reach her, I notice her bonnet is askew with her blond hair in tangles around the ties which are digging into her neck. Her face is raw from a savage attack and the lower part of her white blouse is covered in blood. Her hands rest on what must be a wound, centered in her stomach. She appears to be unconscious, but still moans in pain. I've never seen someone so battered and bruised. I have visited hospitals and administered last rites when Father Michael could not arrive in time. I've seen people wasting away due to age or disease. But never have I seen such a display of vicious rage visited upon another human being.
I don't know what to do. All the seminarians received military training at St. Mary's from Andrew Jackson Houston, son of Sam Houston. But that was a course on the use of weapons in protecting these American shores should we be attacked by the Germans and/or their allies. I was classified as a marksman, but it is my greatest hope never to touch a gun again.
My studies haven't prepared me for this type of situation, but instinct and compassion tells me I need to try to help her. I kneel down beside her, quickly untying her bonnet, hoping it aids with the ease of her breathing. I lift up one of her hands and, oh dear God, the wound looks ugly and deep. I put my hand on the wound to try to add pressure and, hopefully, stem the flow of blood.
"We'll get you out of here. Do you hear me? You need to stay calm. I'll get you help," I frantically mumble encouragements to her not knowing if she can understand my words.
"HELP!" I yell at the top of my lungs towards the entrance way. I repeat my plea numerous times. As the minutes tick by, I wonder where all the people went who were on the sidewalk. Evening has settled in and the darkness is overwhelming. By the light of a full moon, my eyes have adjusted well enough to be able to make out her features. I don't know how long I shout, beg and plead. She joins me at times, in my desperation for assistance with her low moans of agony.
I pull up a portion of her skirt for additional padding over the wound and feverishly say a silent prayer for the deliverance of aid so this young woman has a chance to survive. Finally, after what feels like hours, I hear a man call from the entrance, "You need help?"
"YES! Please! I need a doctor. There's an injured woman who is bleeding and needs help quickly," I urgently shout back to the gentleman. I hear nothing back from the man and can only pray he is searching for rescuers.
Within minutes I see a shadow of a man. As he comes closer, I can make out that he has blonde hair, appears to be in his middle to late 20s, and is holding a black bag.
"What happened to her?" He questions as he reaches us, his eyes adjusting to the dim lighting. He takes note of her prone body, swollen features, unconscious state and where my hands rest—covered in her blood.
"I - I don't know. I-I wa- was walking to the refectory and heard a moan. I came down here and found her like this. She has a large wound which I've tried to pad with her skirt and have been applying pressure, yelling and praying for help to arrive. I thought no one would ever come," I stammer out rapidly, so thankful help has arrived.
"Keep your hands where they are. I need to check her vital signs," he orders.
I simply nod my head. I'm thankful it's a doctor who has arrived and I am willing to do anything which could save this poor woman. He steps across her body, so he is opposite me, drops his bag to the ground and kneels down by her head. He places his fingers on her neck for a few moments and then he gently cups her chin, moving her head towards him. He notices the red lines on each side of her neck and below her chin and looks at me.
"Her bonnet was at an odd angle and the ties were tight around her neck. I didn't know if it was cutting off her oxygen, so I untied them," I sigh, wondering if it was the wrong thing to do and again start to murmur the litany I've been uttering for her survival. He nods at me and proceeds to examine her eyes and the bruising on her face. She moans softly when he touches a spot which must cause her great pain.
He opens his bag, pulling out his stethoscope, placing part of it into his ears and the flat part on various areas of her chest. He listens intently, but the frown on his mouth and the creases on his forehead aren't encouraging. He pulls the stethoscope from his ears so it rests around his neck. He reaches for my hand, lifts up the cloth and sighs when he sees the wound. Shaking his head, he pushes my hand back down firmly to continue applying pressure. My heart sinks. I know her passing is close at hand and I quietly speak the words for last rites.
More help arrives in the form of a constable and four other men. The young doctor explains how dire the situation is and pulls a small blanket from the bottom of his bag. "We need to get her to the hospital now. We'll move her onto the blanket and use it a stretcher," he explains.
I move out of the way as the good doctor crosses over her again, spreading the blanket with the assistance of the other men. I move again, squatting so I'm above her head, offering her what comfort my prayers might give. They gently lift her onto the blanket. A sharp clinking noise is heard and her eyes spring open, dazed, confused and obviously in pain. I stroke her hair lightly, offering a gentle smile and hope. "Relax. Help is here and we'll get you to the hospital soon."
When she is resting on the blanket, the Constable reaches down and lifts a silver object. He studies it for a moment and then shows it to us. I stand for a better view of the object in his hand, which is what must have caused the wound. It's a bloody, silver dinner knife. The attacker must have dropped it. But what shocks me most is the pattern on the knife's handle. It's the same pattern as the silverware which is used in the refectory. The recognition must have registered on my face as the Constable watches me closely.
We all turn to the young woman as she becomes distraught at seeing the knife. She is hysterical, panic evident as she first eyes the Constable and then babbles about a man in black. When her gaze lands on me, she screams in pure unadulterated fear, "I don't want to die!"
With blood on my hands and a knife found by her side, the Constable looks directly at me and I know by the intensity of his glare, he has accused and convicted me of this heinous crime.
~ J *+* D ~
I vaguely recall being led away from the alleyway. The Constable told me I was being arrested for the assault of the young woman as he led me to the local jail. My efforts to explain what actually happened fell upon deaf ears and I was told bluntly, 'Tell it to the Judge.' From there I sat for two hours and then I was transferred to a jail in Houston.
Once I arrived, I was ordered to remove my cassock and then physically searched. I felt naked with the loss of my cassock and shoes, but more importantly my Rosary with the silver cross hanging from it. I'm lost without a cross to pray with or to give me solace. The guard informed me guiltily, "We can't let you have any personal possessions in the cell."
Feeling numb and possibly in shock, I merely do everything I'm instructed to do. When a cell door opens, I'm ushered inside and then I stop refusing to move further inside. My head is spinning from the recent events. My mind can only process one thought. How did this happen? Over and over again, it just keeps repeating, how did this happen?
Stunned, it's not until I'm left alone that my senses reel. The loud clank of the barred metal door shutting and locking behind me echoes in my mind. The putrid smell of urine reeking from the corner of a make shift toilet invades my nostrils. The musty odors of the bunk mattress and blanket are so strong, I have to breathe through my mouth. My throat closes as a thick coating of dust and mold causes me to cough, and I feel as if I can't swallow or breathe. The barrenness of the cold cinder block walls sends a chill down my spine. I'm frightened and feel so alone in the alien surroundings I find myself in.
It's such a far cry from my small room at the Seminary where I find peace and comfort. It used to be a hotel so the rooms are a comfortable size. I think of the comforts of my room – the sound of the gentle lapping of the waves of Trinity Bay; the smell of the salty air wafting through my open window; the worn beauty of my desk, polished with bee's wax to a high gloss shine; the rich, dark wood paneled walls decorated with framed pictures of Saints, The Holy Mother and Baby Jesus; my comfortable single bed with clean sheets and quilt, handmade by the Sisters of Divine Providence in Castroville, Texas, right outside of San Antonio; And the Crucifix above my head, which I prayed to multiple times a day, usually protecting me from evil.
At some point during the night, I find my way to the bunk and lay down on my back. I don't ask for food. I don't ask for water. I don't sleep. I don't move. My body is unresponsive in my present state of mind. And for the first time in my life since I was a little child, I don't pray. I can't get past my one thought - How did this happen?
With dry, unblinking eyes, my mind registers the change in light as the new day slowly seeps into the dank cell. I still don't move. A guard must have come to my cell bearing a metal tray with food. I have no energy to move from my position, still lost in my single thought. How did this happen? I only notice it after I'm jarred from the constant question by the solid clank of the cell door and a shadow retreating down the hall. I turn my head and notice the tray of food on the floor by the bars. The guard kindly left me nourishment of scrambled eggs, toast and a tin mug of water. But I am not hungry.
Still eyeing the food, my thoughts suddenly become jumbled and my breathing quickens. I'm having trouble inhaling and exhaling, and I start shaking. Where am I? Why is food on the floor? Then my mind floods with images of the young woman whom I tried to help. Did she survive? Was I in time? Did I help save her? My thoughts then turn to wondering how they can believe I would harm anyone. I'm a man of the church. I'm one who gives solace and prayers for those in need. My life's calling is to bring faith and peace, not abuse. I've never even harmed a fly or crushed a spider. I've never lifted my hand in anything more than a handshake, a gentle pat on the back or the rare hug.
I lay back on the bunk, close my eyes, try to calm my erratic breathing, the racing of my heart, and pray. I pray for her life; for her to survive and explain this misunderstanding which has led me to this cell. I pray for her soul if she succumbed during the hours after I was led away from her. I pray she finds peace from the pain she suffered and salvation in the arms of our Lord. Finally, I pray for myself. Something I have never done. But I do so now. Asking for Him to give me the strength, an innocent man, to weather this ordeal with humility and grace; to see me on my way to absolution; to grant me my one desire - to continue on with my calling in His name; to claim the parish which awaits me, where I can spread the word of His salvation and His love for all mankind.
I'm interrupted from my prayers by the sound of keys rattling in the lock of my cell door. I turn my head and standing with a guard is Father Mike. I take in his tired features, his messy blonde hair and the sad lack of the twinkle which usually resides in his light blue eyes. The laugh lines around the corners of his mouth look deeper due to the glumness of his frown. His cassock is wrinkled, as if he slept in it.
The cell door swings open allowing Father Mike entrance. I swing my legs from the bunk onto the floor and lean against the wall, to allow him room to sit. He eyes my tray on the floor and sighs deeply as he walks towards me. The guard shuts the door while reminding Father Mike, "You have 30 minutes, Father. Then he needs to face the Justice of the Peace." We both acknowledge his words by simply nodding our heads and then he leaves us alone.
"Good Morning, Father Edward. Not hungry?" He nods towards the uneaten food as he turns to sit beside me.
"No. Food is the last thing on my mind, Father," my dry throat chokes out.
He nods his head in understanding. "I did notice you were lost in prayer." Then he looks at me with confusion and concern, "Tell me what happened. I don't understand how this could happen."
"I've been asking myself the exact same question all night," I sigh. Then, taking a deep breath, I explain the events from the previous evening.
When I'm done I look at him, my eyes pleading for him to believe me. Please believe me. Father Mike returns my stare and I can see unequivocally he does. He grabs both my hands, asking, "Do you remember the scripture of Isaiah 54:17?"
It takes me a moment, but then I remember and nod my head. I quietly speak the words, "No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord." I think on the words I just spoke. I look to Father Mike with confusion, "These words were a message to those who spoke against the church. I am but a man accused of a crime I didn't commit."
"But you are part of the church and the church protects its own," he smiles gently. "I've contacted the best lawyer in these parts. You've met him as he attends Sunday Mass faithfully. His name is Sam Uley. He has agreed to take your case. He doesn't believe that you, of all people, would have committed such a heinous crime. He has also never lost a case."
"A lawyer! I never even thought of that. I'm innocent. Surely the Judge will understand it's impossible that I would do something so horrendous as to harm another soul," I stammer, shocked I would have need of such assistance.
"Think of it as a precaution, Father Edward. Let's not take a chance. Shall we say a prayer before you meet the Judge?
I nod and then bow my head. I listen to the words he speaks and pray for this ordeal to be over soon.
~ J *+* D ~
I meet Sam Uley officially in the courtroom for my arraignment. He looks fierce - tall, well-built, but soft spoken and gentle. He introduces me to his assistant. Her name is Rosalie Hale - a tall, pretty, blonde woman with a no nonsense attitude. There are a few cases ahead of mine and Sam asks for the details of last evening. I quietly retell my story and Rose, as she asked me to call her, quickly writes down all the details. Sam knows the service ended at 6pm. He asks when the last parishioner left. I tell him around 6:30 or so. He asks if anyone saw me leave the church. I explain there were few people on the street, but I did pass some. He asks if I knew them and I sadly admit, no. Sam points out an officer who is standing with the attorney for the prosecution and asks, "Do you recognize him?"
He's tall, well built, with dark hair and dark eyes. I'll never forget him, "He's the one who arrested me last night." Sam doesn't say anything. He nods his head and I think he was testing my memory from the events of last evening.
When my name is called, Sam and I move to stand before Judge Rhys Banner. The prosecuting attorney and Constable also stand. As the attorney reads the charges against me, an officer of the court walks up to him, handing him a paper.
The charges of assault with a deadly weapon are read and Judge Banner asks, "How do you plead?"
"I'm innocent your Honor. I tried to help the woman, not harm her," I immediately answer, positive he will instantly agree this is a complete misunderstanding.
Before the Judge can comment, the Prosecutor interrupts, "Your honor. I think you should know, I will be filing additional charges in this case. I've just been notified officially that the young woman, Miss Lauren Mallory, died. This will now become a murder case."
At first my heart aches for the young woman. All her suffering was in vain and I say a quiet prayer for her soul. Then my mind processes the new allegations leveled at me and again I'm stunned. They truly believe I could or would kill that young woman?
The attorney for the State begins again. "You should know, I don't take these charges lightly. We have evidence to prove our case. The murder weapon, a knife, was found at the scene. The knife has the same markings as those used at the Church's refectory. You should also know we have numerous witnesses who heard her accuse a 'man in black' as her assailant. It's our belief she was speaking of this man, Edward Masen, Jr., and we are prepared to prove it."
Murder? I'm now accused of murder? I feel dizzy and nauseous. This can't be happening. God, save me! Please. I beg you!
"Mr. Uley," Judge Banner addresses him. "As you've just heard, the charges against Mr. Masen have changed. I've never known you to take on a client accused of murder. Because of these recently changed circumstances, I am giving you the option now to step back from this case."
"Your honor, I appreciate you giving me a chance to rescind my representation of Mr. Masen. However, I do believe in his innocence. I know the man he is and I believe he is a victim of circumstance. I will do my best to prove these charges leveled against him are false."
Judge Banner nods and accepts Mr. Uley's continued support on my behalf. "Mr. Masen, you are being charged with the murder of Miss Lauren Mallory. How do you plead?"
"I'm innocent your Honor. I tried…" I begin begging for him to understand, but I'm cut off by the gavel pounding on his desk.
"Enough. Let your lawyer plead your case for you from now on, young man. Bail is denied. You are hereby remanded to the County Jail until your trial by jury. The date is set for two months from today. Any questions?" The Judge looks at each one of us and no one says anything. He nods, "Dismissed."
And with that one word, I feel that this is what my life has become—dismissed.
~ J *+* D ~