Fire and Rain
When they finally set out to return home from Butch's abbreviated baseball game, Hal was a bit concerned that they had spent so much time up in the town. Dad had wanted to cheer Butch up by getting them lunch before the long drive home, but now Hal thought that it might have been a better idea to cheer him up once they actually got back home. To west, there were storm clouds and in between home and here was the threat of brush fires. The wind was rising and there was something ominous about the darkening sky.
When he realized how late they were, Dad stopped at a gas station to call Mother, only to find out that the pay phone there was out of service. After prudently topping up his tank with gasoline, they began the slow ride home just as the wind was picking up. As the sky darkened, it seemed to be closer to twilight than daylight.
Fortunately Butch viewed it all as a big adventure. He was fascinated by everything going on around them, from the smoke in the hills to dark clouds gathering below. Even the wind was continuing to pick up. Hal was trying to remember if there had been any other stopping points along the road before they hit town, but now he recalled that it was a pretty desolate stretch of highway. There were other intersecting roads that he knew must go somewhere, but without a map there wasn't much they could do about it. This was no time to go exploring.
The radio wasn't offering much information. It was always hard to pick up stations out where they were, surrounded by the hills, but now the lightening flaring up in various directions caused interference. They briefly picked up one report of brush fires in the area and thunderstorms due in town by five, but they really didn't need to listen to the radio to know that. Since all they were getting was lots of static anyway, Dad eventually snapped it off. And the wind kept picking up. They could see that from the car windows as the trees and brush were blowing almost horizontal in some places.
Slowly they continued their descent out of the hills and into town. At one point, they could actually see the flames of a smoky brush fire up one of the hills from the car. Butch quickly sobered up when he realized that the drive wasn't some kind of a carnival ride. The danger was very real.
As always, Dad projected calm and confidence, but his white knuckles as he gripped the steering wheel betrayed his inner tension. The air was becoming thick with smoke and visibility grew poor. Dad turned on the high beams, but they hindered more than helped as they reflected off the sooty air. Hal looked at the odometer to try and figure out how far they still had to go, but he only had a vague idea of what the mileage had been when they had left the other town.
"Why aren't there any other cars on the road?" asked Butch suddenly.
He and Dad were silent.
"Do you think that they know something that we don't know?" asked Butch.
Probably, Hal thought, but answered, "No, I think that we're just the only ones traveling at this time."
"Well," said Butch. "I think that they do know something and it's something not good."
"Put a lid on it, Butch!" replied Dad tensely. "I can't concentrate on driving with all your yammering."
Butch looked surprised and then nervous. Hal knew that if his father was becoming impatient with Butch that he must be pretty worried. Hal looked around and realized that he couldn't even be sure of where they were anymore. If they were caught in a heavy rainstorm, the smartest thing to do would be stop and ride it out.
But if they were surrounded by the brush fires then it could be better to keep moving, even if only very slowly. The closer that they got to town, the less likely that it was that they would run into an actual fire. And the coming rain would certainly tamp it down.
When the rain hit, it too was almost horizontal. Thunder and lightening were crashing around the car. Hal was thankful that the rubber tires grounded the car, so they had no fear from the lightening, but the road was becoming slick and visibility was just about zero. Although there were no actual mudslides, the loose ground was now coating the pavement with a thick mire that made it difficult to tell where the roadsides began and ended. It was also an older road and the drainage was poor.
They were at a point in the road where it was both hilly and curving, a challenge to drive even in good weather. Tensely Dad told them to buckle their seat belts if they hadn't already. Dad had a large, late model sedan that was relatively easy to maneuver and built like a tank. Nothing made his father more nervous on the road than careless drivers. He always said that he wanted to be well protected in case of an accident. Although he and his brothers often teased him about his paranoia, at this particular time, Hal was grateful for it.
He knew that his father was in a quandary. Should he keep driving or pull off the road? Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to tell where it might be safe to pull off. Out here in the middle of nowhere there were no guardrails. Slowly, they were inching their way towards town. Hal knew the road relatively well, but it was now impossible to see landmarks. The inside of the car was getting steamy, but the car had no air conditioning and it was impossible to open the windows without becoming soaked. He saw the beads of sweat forming on his father's forehead and realized that they were now in a fairly grave situation.
Hal lacked the faith of his wife, Phoebe, but over the past year he had seen the hand of God working in many, and often mysterious, ways. The premonitions of Aunt Henrietta came into his mind of the "blinding light" and "three lives hanging in the balance." And of course the "innocent would suffer." He thought of his wife, eight months pregnant and waiting for him to return home to her. He thought of his other two children and the one sitting in the backseat trying to be brave.
He looked over at his father who he knew was also thinking of them and his wife of almost fifty years. Then he thought of Trelawney, the funny little girl who called him her gallant knight. At the moment he was not feeling especially gallant. And then he thought of his first wife Helen and the courage with which she had passed the last days of her life. Helen, like Phoebe, had had a great faith in God, especially towards the end. And what had Trelawney called her? An angel. She was Prudence's angel Mommy.
Trelawney had always believed that Helen had wanted him to marry Phoebe to provide a loving mother for his children. She had even won over Bernice, Helen's recalcitrant mother, into accepting her as his new wife. He had only just recently rediscovered the beauty of the child and her faith in God and angels. It was one of the many things that he did not want to lose.
But he also recalled that Phoebe's parents had lost their lives on a lonely mountain road in the dark. In all probability, the last thing that they had seen was the blinding light of the truck coming towards them. For them there had been no escape. Emmeline had told them that it had happened in the blink of an eye and they probably never knew what hit them.
As the car began to slip and slide along this lonely mountain road, he could feel himself praying to Helen, asking her to intercede so that their children would not be orphaned by this storm. He was afraid of what could happen to Butch, huddled in the backseat such as he was. He feared that such cataclysmic news might harm Phoebe and Maisie. He prayed that God would take them into His care and that the foolish words of that silly old pagan Aunt Henrietta would come to naught.
A huge lightening bolt struck close to the car, illuminating everything for a brief second. As the thunder crashed very nearly on top of them, suddenly the car skidded wildly. Dad did his best to turn the wheel into the skid but the next thing he knew they were sliding downhill. They stopped with a thud and they all snapped forward and back in their seat belts.
Hal looked around. Dad and Butch looked back at him. All three of them were stunned, but alive and well. As they gradually realized that they had survived the crash uninjured, the next thought that came into Hal's head was, where the hell were they? And how long would it be until somebody found them? In the intervening time, what else might happen?
Those Who Sit and Wait
Phoebe was beginning to feel very anxious because Hal, Butch, and Rob had not returned yet. Catherine turned on the television to a local station to try and get some news. What they heard did not sound too promising. There were thunderstorms sweeping up to town from the southwest, bringing with them damaging winds. Catherine pulled out her flashlights, candles, and battery powered radio just in case of a power outage. The sky was growing very dark.
The television station also reported brush fires up in the hills not far from the state park where she and Hal had enjoyed hiking and stargazing. They recommended that drivers stay off that particular area of highway. Now Phoebe could really feel her anxiety rising. She knew enough about that area to know that they would have to drive back on that particular bit of highway in order to get back to town. The very thought made her feel queasy. Maisie seemed to give her several kicks of agreement. Sensing her rising anxiety, Catherine sat beside her and patted her hand.
"Don't worry, dear," she said in a comforting voice. "You know how cautious Rob is. I'm sure that they are riding out the storm in a safe place."
"Then why don't they call?" she asked.
"Perhaps they couldn't get through," she replied. "You know that storms like this bring down phone lines as well as electrical lines."
"It just seems like they have been gone for longer than they should have," she worried.
"Maybe the game went into extra innings," suggested Trelawney, even though she knew it wasn't true. But while Trelawney never lied, she was not above a little subterfuge when it suited her. And she had said, maybe.
"You know when we played that team at home it was a very close game," she added.
"Yes, of course," said Catherine a little too quickly. "And if they won, no doubt Rob would have taken them out for a victory dinner."
"I bet Butch was the hero," said Prudence, putting in as her two cents. "I bet that he saved the game"
"Well, that settles that!" said Emmeline heartily. "The game ran long. Butch was the hero. And Rob took them out to eat so that they could celebrate. The weather turned nasty and so they stayed up in town until it passed, but then they couldn't call because the phone lines were down."
"So when will they be home?" asked Phoebe uncertainly.
"After the storm passes, of course," said Emmeline. "And then they'll laugh at us because we worried over nothing."
Phoebe turned back to the television. She couldn't be entirely sure, but she knew that a couple of the brush fires were close to the highway that they were traveling. She did not really believe a word that Emmeline or any of the others had just said. Suddenly, there was knock at the front door and they all jumped.
Catherine rushed over to open it and who was standing there but Pastor Jason.
"Hey, everyone!" he said with his usual cheerful grin. "How are you all doing this afternoon?"
"Pastor Jason!" cried Trelawney. "How marvelous of you to visit! And just as a storm is brewing too!"
"Well," he replied. "My wife and kids are out of town this weekend and I thought that I might be able invite myself to dinner. And I haven't seen you all in quite a while."
"What a splendid idea!" she continued. "You do know that Mama Kate makes the most scrumptious dinners! What are we having tonight?"
Phoebe was bemused as Catherine explained that she hadn't really thought about it. But she was sure that she could whip something up with whatever she had in the fridge. She asked the girls to come and help her, leaving her and Emmeline with Pastor Jason.
"Well," he said cheerfully. "It looks as though I have crashed some kind of a sorority party."
"Butch had a baseball game out of town today and Rob and Hal drove him up," replied Emmeline. "But they're not back yet."
"Well that's not very gentlemanly, leaving you ladies to fend for yourselves in what promises to be another rough storm," he commented.
"I think that we can manage quite nicely without them," responded Emmeline, with an amused look on her face. "We're quite self-sufficient, you know."
"Yes, I do know," he said. "Rumor has it that Trelawney's Mama Kate is more than a match for any threat to the family."
"Word of that has even reached your ears?" chuckled Emmeline.
"There's very little that goes on in the town that doesn't reach my ears sooner or later," he said. "Of course once Mrs. Fowler knows about something, so does half of the western world."
"That sounds about right, but why are you really here?" she asked.
"Well, I really have been meaning to catch up with you all," he said. "And I really don't have anywhere else to eat, unless I cook for myself. And I'm really not known for my culinary talents."
Despite his and Emmeline's attempts to make light of everything, Phoebe was feeling more and more concerned. She knew that the little charade that they had played earlier about what the men were doing was intended to calm her fears. None of them had really believed it. Rob, Hal, and Butch were somewhere between here and the town in the hills, but nobody knew exactly where. And there was no way to find out. If only they would call.
Seeing that her attempts at levity had failed, Emmeline sat beside her and put her arm around her.
"See here, love," she said gently. "They'll be fine, you'll see. Storms like these are a nuisance because you have no way of knowing who is where if they're not close by."
But Phoebe was not convinced. Suddenly, a thought paralyzed her. She could feel her child begin to stir anxiously and felt a pain like a cramp. Emmeline felt her tense and gently stroked her hair.
"What is it, Phoebe?" she asked soothingly. "Tell your Cousin Em."
She looked up at Emmeline and said, "Three lives hang in the balance."
Emmeline and Pastor Jason exchanged a glance as bright lightening flashed and thunder boomed at almost the exact same time. They could hear the rain begin to teem down as the wind rushed past the house. Phoebe felt another stomach cramp.
"The blinding light . . ." she began.
" . . . is nowhere near Rob and the boys," she finished. "Love, this is no time to start making something of Auntie's premonitions. You know as well as I do that she's nothing more than an old faker. Take her too seriously and you'll never be rid of her."
But Phoebe was struck by another memory, of another dangerous motor trip that had resulted in the deaths of her parents. Like Hal and the others, they had been driving on a lonely mountain road when the blinding light came out of nowhere and snatched them away, forever. She began to shudder.
Pastor Jason sat on her other side, and put his arm around her as well. But she could find no consolation in the fatherly gesture. She bent forward as she felt another cramp and could feel the tears well up in her eyes. She was only vaguely aware of what might be happening to her, as her mind was consumed with fear for her husband, son, and father-in-law. She looked up. Pastor Jason's face now displayed deep concern.
"Emmeline is right," he said quietly. "They are all safe. You know the old saying that bad news travels faster than good. As far as we know the telephone lines have not been knocked out. No news is most probably good news. Try to stay calm."
"I do know that stretch of highway is very desolate," she said slowly, trying to convince herself but failing. "And knowing Rob, he'd be driving very slowly if it were too smoky."
Her throat was caught in a sob as the full realization of the potential tragedy of the situation swept over her. She began to feel very sick.
"Or if it was raining very hard," said Pastor Jason.
But she was no longer capable of responding. She felt herself sinking into a well of despair. She closed her eyes and felt a pain deep inside. She was fighting a battle with her own doubts. And she was losing.
"Look at me," said Pastor Jason sternly, as he sat back and released her. His voice dragged her back from the darkness that now enclosed her.
Phoebe looked up at him and he took her hands. The glow of his yellow aura turned into a deep golden color, the color of wisdom, of deep spirituality. She saw the white lights twinkling within, the sign of the presence of an angel. From his hands, she could feel the warmth of God's love flowing into her and through her. She then felt her restless child settle a bit, as the peace of God even entered her very being. She looked into his eyes and knew that they were both in God's hands.
Beside her, she heard Emmeline catch her breath. She remembered that Emmeline did not know who the angel was. In fact, she did not even really believe in angels. Her cynical mind had scoffed at the very notion, claiming that just because someone was very good, it did not make him an angel. Yet, Emmeline, like all Figalillys, could read auras. Pastor Jason was taking a very great risk by revealing himself to her. He nodded.
"Yes, Phoebe, I am," he said simply. "And yes, Emmeline I am. We really do exist. I came here tonight, because I was needed. In this case, the innocent will not suffer. The blinding light will come, but it will not destroy."
"No, it will not, Phoebe," said a sweet little voice from the doorway. Trelawney was standing there, very straight, with her hands neatly folded in front of her.
They all turned to look at her. Phoebe saw the deep, clear blue of her peaceful aura. It was a common sight these days. And within the blue, for the first time, for a single instant, she saw the twinkling white lights. The realization then struck her that Trelawney was truly a child of light.
"Mama Kate and Prudence are well occupied making dinner," she continued quietly. "They will not disturb us."
Phoebe stood up and held out her arms. Her sister walked into her embrace. She could feel the child's strength enveloping her, protecting her, strengthening her. She knew that it had happened before. She could hear Emmeline gasp once more. She guessed that no one had told her of the merged auras. She gently stroked her sister's hair, as the young girl softly spoke.
"Shh! My little Maisie," she whispered. "Your Daddy will be safe. Auntie Trelawney has made sure of that. There are always several gallant knights in every tale. And one right now is racing to the rescue. He will not fail."
Phoebe closed her eyes and held her tighter. Whatever she had done, this sweet little girl had, indeed, made it so. They would be safe. They would return. She could feel Pastor Jason helping her to sit down again and making room so that Trelawney could snuggle up to her. The child laid her hand upon her belly and gently stroked it. Then she felt Maisie respond. It was almost as if the child sensed Trelawney's strength, and sighed with relief. All was well for them both. There would be no more cramps.
Emmeline was restless. Phoebe knew that this powerful spiritual experience was greater than anything that she had ever known or imagined. She suspected that her days of being an agnostic were finally over. She could hope that anyway. There was no denying the hand and purpose of God in these events.
"What the bloody hell is this all about?" she said in wonder.
Pastor Jason looked at her and said, "We have just averted a potentially dangerous situation here for Phoebe and Maisie."
"I called for Pastor Jason earlier," she said. "I sent Topher to find him. I knew that only he had the power to help my poor Phoebe and my dear little Maisie. I could not do it alone."
"What are you talking about?" Emmeline asked, now completely bewildered.
"Pastor Jason is my angel, my very own guardian angel," she replied. "He guides me and protects me. But as I told you before, Phoebe borrows him from time to time. When Topher came to pick up the girls, he was not only very concerned for the three others, but for Phoebe as well. He had made a promise to Hal before he left. But he could not be in two places at once. So I told him to send us Pastor Jason."
"Where is Topher now?" asked Emmeline.
"He went to find the others," she said and then added as she turned to Phoebe, "Have no fear. Topher is also a child of light, although he doesn't know it. His light is not a blinding light. It is a steady golden light. It will bring them safely home through the darkness."
"Topher stopped off at the rectory before he left town," explained Pastor Jason. "He told me where he was going and why. And he told me that I was needed here."
Trelawney nodded once again.
"Yes," she said. "Topher knew that, but he didn't know that he knew that. He is indeed my gallant knight. Tonight, as well as saving our three men, he protected the two that I love best."
Emmeline looked at them all in amazement. Then she spoke. She said the words aloud that the others all knew in their hearts. For them, such knowledge needs no words. But because she lacked their deep faith, she could only believe them by speaking them. She was still not fully a true believer.
"If Pastor Jason had not come, then Phoebe would have gone into labor early. And we would not have been able to get her to the hospital on time," she said in realization. "Things would have been very precarious."
"Yes," said Trelawney. "But that didn't happen. And now it can't. Not today."
"What about tomorrow?" asked Emmeline.
"I do not know," replied the child. "It is not allowed."
"Emmeline," said Pastor Jason. "You must consider all that you have seen and heard today very carefully. It is the faith of her sister, and that of a very special young man, that ultimately saved Phoebe's child and the others, at least for today. You need to understand that you can do nothing without God's help. If you wish to take up the burden of being godmother to this very special child of light, then you must turn your heart towards God. Unless you do, you will not be able to adequately protect and guide her."
Phoebe looked at her cousin, praying that she would have the faith to commit herself in this way. She loved Emmeline more than any of her other extended family relatives. It had always grieved her that Emmeline refused to accept the light and truth of God in her life. This was her chance to begin anew. Trelawney was looking at her oddly.
"My Phoebe and my little Maisie need you, Em," she stated simply. "Please say yes to God."
Wordlessly, almost stunned, Emmeline nodded in agreement. Pastor Jason looked tenderly at Phoebe. Against all odds, she had been blessed with the gift of this most special child of light. As she returned his gaze, she felt her daughter almost leap with joy within her. Trelawney smiled at them all. Then without warning, she snapped back to her innocent, childlike self.
"Mama Kate will have dinner ready soon," she said as if nothing had happened. "I am now quite hungry."
She went skipping off to the kitchen as the three adults looked after her.
"How did she know?" asked Emmeline.
Pastor Jason exchanged a glance with Phoebe. That was one question that no one could answer, except God. And He keeps secrets better than anyone.
The Guiding Light
Topher made his way up through the hills, doing his best to stay ahead of the storm. His VW van was doing pretty well around the curves. Thank you, God, he thought, for that good old-fashioned German engineering. He could see the areas that were scorched or still burning, but he also knew that the approaching deluge would douse a lot of it.
He looked up at the St. Christopher statue set on his dashboard and then down at the medal he always wore around his neck. His Mom, though not terribly superstitious, had insisted that he put the figure there when he had first gotten the vehicle. The medal had been a gift from his Catholic grandmother who put faith in such things. She told him that it would serve as a reminder that, because he was named Christopher, he was always God's faithful servant.
To calm his mind, he focused on what he knew of St. Christopher who was his patron saint. He had heard it mostly from this same grandmother. He knew that he was a convert to Christianity, and persecuted during the late Roman Empire. He knew that the picture on the medallion as well as the figure on the dash, was of the saint carrying a small child on his shoulders.
St. Christopher had been an enormously strong man, and, once converted, had taken up the duty of helping travelers to cross a certain river with especially treacherous water. One day, a small child came and asked him to carry him to the other side. The farther he got into the river, the heavier the child became. When he finally reached the other side he expressed his amazement that the child had grown so heavy. Only then, he discovered that he had actually been carrying the Christ Child and with Him the burdens of the world, on his shoulders.
As a Presbyterian, he didn't think too much about saints, and didn't put too much stock in the story. He had liked it though. It had helped him to understand the meaning of his own name and life. During the work project last summer he had spent some time talking to Fr. Bob, the Catholic priest who was helping, about it. It was he who had explained to him that the name "Christopher" was derived from the Greek words for "Christ bearer." St. Christopher not only helped travelers, but also gave aid to anyone in need.
Topher thought about all of that as he continued up the mountain. As the rainstorm hit with a fury, he hoped that St. Christopher was out there on his side. He was going to need all the help that he could get to just make it to wherever the Everetts were. He knew that they needed his help. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew. He didn't know how she did it, but Trelawney had told him.
When he had gone to pick up his sisters at the Everetts' house, Trelawney had followed him out to the van. When he turned to look back at the grandmother, he noticed that from behind her, she was staring at him. Her gaze seemed to speak to him, asking for help. The most obvious thing that he could do was drive out to make sure that the guys were okay, but she seemed to want him to do something else.
Then he remembered how she always called Pastor Jason her angel because he was always there when she needed him. In a flash he remembered his conversation with the pastor when he had expressed his own fears about Mrs. Everett and the baby, because he had made a promise to Hal before he left for Cal Tech. He had promised to look out for them and keep them safe.
Trelawney's eyes seemed to indicate her knowledge of this, and she quietly said, "Yes."
Realizing this, he dropped the girls off at home. He still had some gear to return to his boss, but decided that this was more important. And besides, there was nothing that anyone could do with it in the rain anyway. He drove quickly over to the rectory. Pastor Jason was there alone. He gave him the short version of the story and concluded with, "I really think that Mrs. Everett needs you. And I'm going out to find the others."
"Do you have any doubts about this?" asked Pastor Jason seriously.
"None," he immediately replied. "This is what God wants me to do."
Pastor Jason nodded and gave him a quick blessing.
"I'll go over to stay with the women," he said. "Don't worry about them. Completely focus your mind on getting up to the men safely and bringing them home. This is the best way that you can help Mrs. Everett. And remember, God is with you."
Topher had nodded and left.
Right now, as his windshield wipers were furiously chugging back and forth, barely able to keep up with the rain as it pelted the van, he kept his mind firmly on his mission. Thankfully, there were no other cars on the road. It was now almost impossible to see, but as he came around a bend, he noticed a pair of headlights off to the side. Then he saw that they were actually lower than the road.
As he drew closer, he could see that a dark blue sedan had slid into a ditch, about twenty feet lower than the road. He couldn't be sure, but he suspected that it was Mr. Everett's car. Oh, man! He thought. How am I going to get down there, much less get the three of them back up to the road? Then he thought of St. Christopher carrying the whole world on his shoulders. Two men and a kid could not possibly be that heavy.
After he pulled over, he looked around the back of his van to see what he had to work with. Fortunately, his work boots were still back there, and a sunhat that would help keep the rain off his face. But then he saw something that could not have been anything less than a miracle. Because he had not stopped to return them to his boss, he still had the ropes and rigging that they had used to bring down the tree limb earlier that day.
He had set the emergency brake, but now he also took the precaution of putting blocks under the wheels. Thunder and lightening were crashing all around him. He ignored it. This was no time to start to doubt himself. The Lord had brought him out here. He had given him the tools he needed to do the job. And the Lord would keep him safe.
He hooked the end of the rope to his front bumper and strapping on the harness lowered himself to where the vehicle was. It really wasn't that far down, but the hillside was so slippery with mud that he doubted that anyone could climb it without help. When he hit the ground, he went over to the car and knocked on the driver's side window.
The next thing he knew, he was looking into Mr. Everett's astonished face. In the passenger seat was the Professor and Butch was in the back.
"Nice day for ducks!" he said cheerfully. "That's what my Mom always says anyway!"
"Topher!" exclaimed the Professor. "What the hell are you doing out here?"
"Oh," he replied, trying to keep it light. "I heard that you were late getting back and I thought that you might need a little help."
"Well, you were wrong!" cried Butch. "We don't need a little help. We need a lot of help!"
"I can see that," said Topher, now getting serious. "I have the ropes and gear from the tree trimming work that we do at the landscaping business. I can use them to haul you guys out and then I'll drive you back to town. We're really not that far out. When the weather clears, you can send someone back out here to get the car."
"Son," said Mr. Everett. "I don't know who sent you, but you sure look like an angel to me."
"Who do you think sent me?" he asked. The three Everetts looked at each other knowingly. There was only one person with that kind of prescience, Trelawney.
"Now, I have a plan," he said. "I'll go back up top and send down the rope. You can hook in Butch, Professor, and I can pull him up. Then, you can hook in your Dad, and Butch can help me pull him up. We'll bring you up last."
"Sounds like a good idea," said the Professor.
"Good!" replied Topher. "We have no time to debate it. Now Butch, get on your cleats. It will make it easier for you to get traction on the hill."
"Wait!" said Mr. Everett. "Butch, my golf cleats are back there somewhere."
"Excellent," said Topher. "Then we'll be able to dig in to haul up the Professor. He's going to be the hardest because there won't be anyone left below to hold the rope steady."
"Dad," said the Professor. "You stay in here until you need to get out. Come on, Butch. I think that you're in for a very cool, albeit wet, ride."
As the Professor and Butch got themselves out of the car, Topher turned and breathed a sigh of relief. This crazy scheme might actually work, he thought. It felt like the diciest part was the thunder and lightening all around them, but they were all so concerned with getting everyone up to the road safely that no one even thought about it.
And it did. His scheme worked perfectly. He was strong enough to easily pull himself back up with the Professor holding the rope steady below. Butch was so light, that he came up in no time, and then Mr. Everett. The Professor came last. The two older men had surprisingly good upper body strength, probably from all the golf they played. Once Butch was on high ground and realized that they were all going to be safe, he got very excited. Topher had to tell him to cool it or he would be more of a hinderance than a help.
By the time they were all up, everyone was completely soaked. But nobody cared. Topher grabbed his gear and loaded it into the van. Fortunately, the rain was showing signs of easing off. He started up the van and drove them back down to town. He wanted to get them back to Mr. Everett's house as quickly as possible so that Mrs. Everett wouldn't have to worry anymore. He didn't have time to think about the huge risk that he had just taken or what it would mean to the family. He had to keep his eyes on the road.
The Reluctant Hero
After hours of anxious worry that by now felt like days, Catherine almost didn't believe it when Rob, Hal, and Butch showed up on her doorstep, soaked and bedraggled, but otherwise no worse for the wear. Hal didn't even wait to say hello, he immediately strode into the living room and the arms of his waiting wife. Within seconds, she was soaked with rain water and her eyes flooded with tears. As she now released her own tension, Catherine realized just how frightened she herself had been. In her concern for Phoebe and Maisie she hadn't had time to think about it.
She had a hug of her own for Rob. Butch also allowed himself to be hugged, but recoiled at the idea of being kissed. Coming up in the rear was Topher. All four of them, in addition to being soaked, were caked with mud. Their appearance told the story as much as their faces. But as usual when people come through traumatic events safely, as time passes, the story becomes more exciting and less frightening.
Catherine insisted that they clean up and dry off first. She was mostly concerned about her husband because at his age, it had been a rough experience. But Rob scoffed at her pampering. Still, she insisted on getting them all into the shower and found clothes that fit them all. She threw Topher's clothes into the washer with Butch's because she didn't really have anything on hand that was suitable for either to wear outside the house.
Pastor Jason went with Emmeline and the girls into the kitchen to add to the meal that she had prepared. Phoebe refused to leave her husband's side and insisted that
Butch sit by her as well, much to his disgust.
"Aw, Mom," he said. "It wasn't a big deal. I knew that Grampie would drive us home safely."
But Catherine could see that underneath his tough guy exterior, he was pretty glad to be home and was not as annoyed by his mother's fussing as he claimed. They decided on holding off telling the story until everyone was there, so they wouldn't have to repeat anything. Fortunately, they did not lose power, so Topher was able to call his mother to let her know that he was safe. When he got off the phone, he had a somewhat guilty expression on his face.
"Something tells me that I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do when I get home," he said sheepishly. "Mom is pretty darn mad that I didn't tell her that I was going to be so late. I had just told the girls that I had to pick up something."
"Well," said Trelawney. "That is true. It just took you a little longer than you had anticipated."
"You try and tell her that," he grimaced.
"I think that you're a hero!" declared the girl. "Once again my gallant knight has come to the rescue. Pity about the way it worked out though."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"It's like this," she explained. "Auntie is certain to hear about your little adventure and be sure to make the most out of it. But there is a bright side."
"And what might that be?" asked the Professor.
"We won't have to listen to anymore rubbish about the blinding light and the innocent suffering," she said grinning. "And I'm afraid that the three lives hanging in the balance, quite literally I might add, has been proved out also, but not with the dire circumstances that she alluded to. You should be very pleased with yourself, Topher."
"Why is that?"
"Because you have prevented three of her premonitions from coming true, of course!" she replied gleefully.
"Yes, love," said Emmeline. "But I wouldn't get too excited about that yet."
"Oh, Em," she replied. "Let's not be a wet blanket already."
"Poor choice of words, little one," she answered in amusement. "Auntie will now claim that because she had the premonitions, we were all on the watch for them. She will take credit for everyone's safety by saying that her warnings had us all on the alert, so to speak."
Trelawney opened her mouth as if to respond and then shut it. Emmeline was right. As usual, Aunt Henrietta would be able to talk her way out of this one.
Catherine could feel her own hopes that Aunt Henrietta would pick up and leave for good, dashed.
"That would be too easy, Catherine," said Emmeline. "As long as there's a penny to be made, you're stuck with her. This is sure to add to her value."
"Aunt Henrietta or no Aunt Henrietta," commented Pastor Jason. "Everything has worked out for the best. And you all are not going to like this, but her "rubbish" as you call it, actually helped in this situation."
"How is that?" asked Rob.
"Is it okay if I tell now, Topher?" asked Pastor Jason.
"Yeah, why not?" he said.
Everyone else looked at Pastor Jason expectantly.
"Before your son, Hal, left town," he explained. "He asked Topher to keep an eye on you all. He was especially worried about Aunt Henrietta and the effects of her premonitions on you, Phoebe. Topher, of course, took his promise very seriously and has been keeping his ear to the ground, so to speak, with regard to her."
"So then you knew about the premonitions?" asked Catherine.
"I knew that she had started up again," relied Topher. "And what they were. I also found out that there were two kinds, the fake and the not so fake."
"Yes," said Emmeline. "That's usually the way they are. And the more premonitions that she has and predictions that she makes, the more difficult it is for her to keep them straight and for us to sort them out."
"It didn't take long for me to figure out that the more comprehensible they were, the more likely they were to be fake," said Topher. "She's a crafty old witch. But it's kind of hard to know what to do with the other stuff. Especially since now it looks like three have proved out and were avoided."
Trelawney was silent.
"She was missing a key bit, you know," she said quietly.
"What was that?" asked Rob.
"She made no allusion whatsoever to my gallant knight," she said as if she was thinking aloud. "You see, the lovely lady and the fair maiden were in grave danger. Even the good queen did not know. But Trelawney knew and sent the gallant knight to the rescue. He sent the angel to guard us and retrieved the wise gentleman, the gallant knight, and the young fool from danger."
"Hey!" shouted Butch. "Who are you calling a fool?"
"You, love," said Emmeline. "Especially if you don't hush up and let her speak. Trelawney, what do you think that means?"
"Auntie's mischief is only one-sided," she explained. "She will only predict the bad ends. We must figure out for ourselves how to subvert them."
"How can we do that, little one?" asked Emmeline, this time more gently.
"We must have the good king," she replied. "Phoebe, it is time."
Catherine looked at Phoebe, who nodded.
"Tom Williams is the good king," she said quietly. "It is he who has the power to protect both Trelawney and the baby from those forces who would work through Aunt Henrietta to cause them harm."
"What about me?" Hal asked. "I am the baby's father."
Trelawney looked at him.
"You are the gallant knight," she said softly. "The gallant knight protects the lovely lady and by protecting her, you also protect the fair maiden. But it is not the same. You no longer protect Trelawney. The fair maiden needs the protection not only of the gallant knight, but also the good king."
"What the heck are you talking about?" asked Butch, confused by Trelawney's usual jumble of archetypal explanations. "What does Papa have to do with this?"
"It is obvious now why you are the young fool," answered Trelawney matter of factly. "You do not understand why he is the good king."
"I know why," said Prudence, in her smart tone of voice.
"Why is that, love?" asked Emmeline.
"When Trelawney lived in England, her Papa was the good king," she explained. "Now our Papa is the good king."
"Of course, my wee fairy," said Trelawney, with a smile. "It is so simple that even a child can understand it. In fact, it took a child to understand it. Except that Phoebe knew, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Phoebe. "I knew that at home, Papa was the good king. It made sense that Tom, whom the children call Papa, would be the good king here. He is very much like Papa in many ways."
"So what does this all mean?" asked Catherine. "Tom doesn't live here in town. And technically, he's not even related to the baby."
"Tell them, Phoebe," said Hal, who had obviously made some connection of his own.
"Back on the day of the opening of the Science Fair," she explained. "Tom offered to stand in as a grandfather for the baby. He laid his hand on my stomach and the baby kicked. It was the first time that anyone other than myself had felt her move."
Catherine was silent. In fact everyone in the room was silent. It was an extraordinary bit of information, but looking back it made sense. Tom had always been very kindly towards both Phoebe and Trelawney. She also knew that the one time he had seen Aunt Henrietta's show he had been very disturbed. What Phoebe said next was no surprise.
"Tom should also be the baby's godfather."
Pastor Jason nodded. "He is worthy."
Catherine noticed that Pastor Jason had looked over at Emmeline when he said this. She looked away. No doubt, his words were meant to chide her and challenge her own worthiness as godmother. As she had said earlier, there was a certain irony in an agnostic being the godmother. But Pastor Jason clearly saw this as no joke. The godparents of Phoebe's unborn child would no doubt bear a heavy burden.
She looked over at the humble young man who had played a key role in saving the day in wonder. There had always been something about him that had fascinated her. As gifted and talented as he was, he never flaunted his abilities. Looking at the tall, lanky young man with the brown ponytail and long sideburns, all that she saw one of your typical teenagers. In fact, if she passed him on the street, she would have noticed nothing special about him, except that maybe he needed a haircut.
As Topher had predicted, his mother laid into him but good when he arrived home. In fact, she berated him for five minutes straight before he could a word in edgewise. It was his Dad who finally shut her down so that he could tell his story. When he finally had the opportunity to explain the situation that he had found when he had arrived to pick up the girls, she blew her cork again.
"I thought that I told you to mind your own business about that!" she snapped angrily.
"You told me to stay out of the middle of the stuff with Aunt Henrietta," he said mildly. "All that I did get Pastor Jason to go to the house to be with the women. And going out to find the men had nothing to do with her. And Pastor Jason gave me a blessing before I left."
"Well," she replied sharply. "It sounds as if I need to have a word with the Pastor about encouraging you to do reckless things."
"Mom," he explained patiently. "If I hadn't gone out, who knows how long it would have taken someone to find them? Mr. Everett is not a young man. And Mrs. Everett was real scared. Suppose something had happened to the baby? And there's one more thing."
"And what might that be?" she asked sarcastically.
"Before we left Jones' house, I offered to take the ropes, harnesses, and gear back to the boss," he replied. "But I didn't have time because first I had to pick up the girls and then I had to get Pastor Jason and then I wanted to find the Everetts. There is no way that I could have helped them out without that gear. Now don't you think that that is an awfully huge coincidence that I still had it with me?"
Topher's Dad was a taciturn man. And he left the raising of the children mostly to his wife since he had to work long hours just to keep up with the bills. However, he had done his best to instill the values of kindness and service into all of his children. He was very proud of his son. For once, he decided to speak up.
"Janet," he said. "When all is said and done, our son did a very brave thing tonight. He demonstrated through his actions all of the values that we have been working so hard all of these years to teach him. He had a very difficult choice to make and he chose to put the wellbeing of others before his own. Something tells me that this won't be the last time, so we better get used to it. Son, I'm damn proud of you."
"Thanks, Dad," answered Topher. "Pastor Jason and I had a talk a while back about how hard it was to do the right thing sometimes, but that didn't mean that you didn't do it. Mom, I'm sorry if I frightened you, but I had to do what I knew was right."
His mother looked uncertain, but finally agreed that Topher had done the only thing that he could do as a good Christian. And he was after all, living out the values that she and her husband had taught him.
The story of Topher's bravery circulated all over town the next day. He of course brushed off the compliments by saying that anyone would have done it. When Harvey Sloan called to ask for an interview for the local television station, he told him blast off. Aside from the fact that he didn't want the publicity, he had not quite forgiven him for the way that he had unmercifully pursued Trelawney the previous summer. Besides, the family had all agreed to withhold the most critical element of the story. That was the fact that Topher's brave action and its timing had calmed Phoebe so that she would not give go into labor too soon.
Without that information, at first, some people said that Topher had been foolish to take such a risk and that his gesture was reckless rather than brave. As usual, Topher shrugged it off. All that mattered to him was that Mrs. Everett and the baby were safe. Yeah, he knew that once the storm had passed that someone would have come along and gotten the guys out of the car, but who knew how long that would have been? Or what else might have happened. Then he found out that something much worse really could have happened.
When the wrecker went out to pick up the car the next morning, they discovered that it had slid further down the canyon and flipped. While that would probably not have been fatal, it would have generated a lot more fear and anxiety for everyone. And who knew how hard it would have been to find them after the women had finally realized that they weren't coming back that night? No, the critics were shut up and the faithful viewed it as divine intervention.
On Sunday evening, he got a call from Hal up at Cal Tech thanking him for taking care of his family. It was a pretty big deal, since he didn't have enough change for the pay phone to make the call, so one of his professors had let him use his phone. Apparently his Dad had called him to tell him the whole story about how he had gotten Pastor Jason to go look after the women while he went up into the hills after the men.
However, he knew that the story was far from over. He had to wonder about this guy Tom Williams that Mrs. Everett had said should be the godfather of her baby. He thought that it was pretty cool that he would offer to be a grandfather to Mrs. Everett's kids, even though they weren't even related. And since Mrs. Everett's own Dad had passed away, it was a really nice gesture.
Of course it was a little creepy that Mrs. Everett's father had been called Papa and that's what the Everett kids called Mr. Williams. But all of the good queen/good king stuff made sense if you knew Trelawney. She sure was some kid. Here was Aunt Henrietta trying to scare her off by telling her that she was bad for her sister and the baby and, yet, she was the one who actually saved them. It was weird that everything had worked out the opposite way that the "Princess" had predicted.
True to form, as soon as she heard about what happened, Princess Lotus Blossom began to squawk about how she was the one who had actually saved the day. Just as Emmelne had predicted, she manipulated the whole story for her own benefit. She pointed to the "blinding light," the "three lives hanging in the balance," and the "innocent suffering" as proof of her foresight. And of course if she had not warned them, they would not have been on the look out for these potential disasters.
As a result, she had more customers than ever. And as long as she had suckers to pay up, no one was going to budge her from town. For the time being, he decided that he would obey his mother and stay away from her. However, he still planned to keep watch over Mrs. Everett and Trelawney. Hal was not due back for another four weeks, and the baby was due to be born before then.
He knew that there were still a few predictions floating around out there. And he had a feeling that he would be needed again, but he just hoped that it wouldn't be too soon. It would be nice everything could stay calm until the baby was born. The time was coming close. He wondered if the baby would be a girl or a boy. Either way, he knew that everyone would be very relieved that the baby was safely there, he, no less than anyone else.
For those too young to remember, back in the 1970's, communication was relatively primitive. There were no cell phones or satellite navigation systems. For weather reports, one was reliant, not on satellite weather maps, but on whatever hit or miss reports the weather reporters made. Things have changed a lot in the last forty years!