To me, a creek symbolizes a powerful force that can be beautiful and life-giving but can also cleanse the landscape in a flood. This water is precious to the life of the woodland flora and fauna, the flowers and the fawns. The rippling sound warms my weary heart. The water can dry up, leaving the woodland parched and sad. Then it returns in glory. What better way to commemorate the Resurrection?
Terp swayed with the rhythm of the pounding piano, the well-melded bass voices and the ethereal sweeter-than-birdsong women’s voices. As they began the jubilant Hallelujah part of the refrain, an angry roar swooped in. Singing stopped and children screamed as the freight train roar deafened them. They watched the roof over their heads lift and swirl away into the yellow-tinged black sky as they held hands and prayed aloud. Easter Program announcement flyers flutter down among them. Hail started stinging faces, hopping and popping on the littered paper.
The tornado twisted up into the ominous clouds and soon the adventurous folks of the congregation went outside as others swept and assessed the interior. Terp joined the outside crew and they found the only damage to the church was the missing roof. He stared at the broad car-less strip across the middle of the parking lot, with intact cars and pick-ups on either side. The Preacher’s house, the two beyond it and the little post office were piles of splinters and porcelain fixtures with clothing strewn everywhere like bizarre ornaments.
Terp wiped tears with the swipe of his sleeve. He jerked from the destruction and walked behind the church to look past the cemetery. The farmhouse across the dale looked untouched. A ray of sun shined on a brown and white cow that returned his gaze. He heard the Preacher and his wife walking among their wrecked home sobbing with the twin girls held at the edge, screaming that they needed to find their Nintendo games. His mind felt blown to the four winds at the same terrific force as the tornado; he could not think. There seemed to be nobody hurt, a miracle. He said a few goodbyes and walked swiftly up the road until out of sight. He went home.
Argento, the Choir Master, appeared at the pavilion arch and marched over. “Terpsander, you missed the singing in of the newest Archangel. You know your voice is unmistakable and quite conspicuous by its absence. The effrontery!” He crossed his arms and tapped a toe. “Have you naught to say?”
Terp had sat on the cold, hard stone floor too long anyway. He arose stiffly and bowed to the shorter man. “I apologize Master Argento, I got lost in thinking about something that happened recently. I missed the event without malice or hubris, only from carelessness.” He stood straight. “Do you think I should go tell Yownay how sorry I am?”
“Your attitude is uncalled for. I doubt she’d appreciate your brazen mockery.”
He shrugged; he’d been sincere. “I honor her promotion. May I make amends some way?”
Argento started to pace on the tessellated paving. He stopped abruptly in front of Terp. “I have been granted permission to go down and aid a small group of Kentucky faithful. Seems their church is missing a roof and some houses are kindling. Do you know anything about that?”
Terp peered into his eyes seeking evidence of a cruel ruse or tease. “I do, yes. I held hands with the others in that church as it happened. You knew?”
Argento relaxed a little. “Terp, I cannot reveal my source. We may go help.”
“We? That’s a real surprise.”
“The one who is aware of your above-the-law activities suggested it.”
“Are you going to supervise me?”
“You are going to clue me in on how to move, how to communicate, the vernacular in use. I have never been down there, not anywhere. I trust you are willing?”
Grinning, Terp held out his hand and they made the deal.
On a beautifully cool and sunny Spring Wednesday morning, two angels descended to Earth, stuck their hands into their brown jacket pockets and hiked toward the church in question. They heard the commotion before they saw it. Rounding the corner, Terp saw ladders lined up on the wall of the building. Each ladder had somebody on it with a rock in one fist, clutching the top rung with the other. The rocks appeared to be tethered to a huge blue tarp bunched up in front of them.
Terp recognized the Preacher running the activity. “Not until I say ‘throw’, okay? We all have our rocks back? Great. Over the top and all the way across, right? Like pitching baseball! One, two, three, throw!”
They’d erected rudimentary truss over the roof that might hold the weight of the tarp. Terp and Argento strolled up and joined in the applause as the tossers climbed down.
“Excuse me, Reverend Barlow, I don’t know if you remember but I got hailed in the face with the rest of you last Sunday, I’m Tom. This is my friend Gene. We came by to see if you needed any help.”
“Let me get this cover pulled over and fastened down and we’ll have a chance to talk. Don’t go away!”
As he trotted to the far side of the building, the woman with a silver-gray braid to her waist that had played the piano waved at them, motioning them to the food table.
“Sister Dolores! Meet Gene, a friend from school. Gene, you should hear this woman make one piano sound like six.” Terp nodded toward the roof work. “The money is spread too thin ’cause of the extensive damage from Pikeville to St. Louis, isn’t it?”
Dolores held out a tray with a few cinnamon rolls left on it, but the men shook their heads. “You know it, son. Y’all get any damage up your way?”
“No ma’am, you wouldn’t know there’d been a storm. Isn’t that right, Gene?”
“We were thinking about having a big fundraiser. Gene’s a great singer and I can carry a tune, so we can join in if you allow us.” Terp’s smile fell as she poked her bottom lip out.
“Boys, where you going to have that fundraiser? How you going to get the word out? What can we do that everybody around here hasn’t heard before? Have you ever run something like this? I played session in Nashville for years and I know good and well that you can’t wish a show into reality. Do you have a real plan or just pie in the sky?” She gave them a ‘you idiots’ look when they didn’t reply and shouted, “Verna! Verna, we need you!”
A magenta-haired young woman in a bright pink pair of overalls left the clothes gathering excitement at the Preacher’s house and put her phone in her front pocket before getting very close. “Dolores, I can text and look for panties in the woodpile at the same time. And gentlemen, how do you do?” She took Terp’s hand and held it. “I remember you, Tommy.”
Dolores persuaded a connection in Nashville to bring up their outdoor soundstage package. They set it up with the pine green backdrop between the tarped church and the house remains such that when the camera pulled back to view the crowd, both would be in the frame. KET set up the filming, and said the show might be shown on public stations across the country. Verna arranged for seventeen church groups from all over the state to get transportation and coordinated twelve local church groups. Four local restaurants and seven chains with banners that fought for attention provided food for all starting on Good Friday.
“Well, Gene, have you learned anything about these folks yet?” The church grounds were kept clear for the eager audience. The farmer across the way allowed his fields to be filled with rows and rows of tents. Terp and the Choir Master sat behind the church on the pews that had been taken from inside for the singers.
“Do you think all the ones who committed to be here will actually make it here?”
“Sure. Verna’s posting all the names and places and progress, and most groups are posting from where they are. She said she had over 1200 followers as of dinner. Who would renege with all of that?”
“So many services and businesses have donated. Where did the speakers from here to Farmer Bob’s come from? The Red Cross is here, the National Guard for security, and the money for rebuilding is pouring in. We did nothing!”
“I heard a children’s choir sing a song once, it was about how a mere spark can get a fire going. That’s how it is with love, my friend.” He leaned back and surveyed the grand arrangements. “The weather report forecasts a magnificent sunrise.”
“I’d love to see them sing in the dawn on Easter morn. Alas, we must get back and attend our own duties. I have to coordinate the transmissions of worldwide Easter celebrations for the Archangels’ grand exhibit at the Promenade.”
Oh, how Terp resisted that awful thought. In a few scant hours one church after another would sing about their love of Jesus Christ, all with joy and energy. He wanted the visceral experience of the wind and the laughter and the miscues that always accompanied live performances, not an edited set-piece. “You go ahead; I’ll come back in plenty of time for our next service.”
Argento raised a pointed finger at Terp. “I’ve been warned that you come down here and get into trouble. Don’t! And we had best not see you on exhibit!”
He’d visited many churches over the ages, but had no memory of such a passionate collection of rustic voices. They shouted to glory! The singers held nothing back, the exuberance of the spirited women and men, the divine harmonies between them strummed his inner lyre with joy! He loved a full church and this one had every pew filled.
His limbs tingled with energy, his grin felt permanent. Scanning the rapt faces in the chorus, one face switched the light streaming into his soul off. This sable-haired, acne-faced boy had a dark and forbidding aura. Terp had decided to come to a country church for the music; some other influence may have helped him choose this church. The offering plate went around and the preacher released the youth to their Sunday School classes. That one boy did not go with the other teens. Noting which room the kid went he sidetracked to the Office and left a note for the Preacher.
He opened the door slowly to avoid scaring the young man.
He darted a hand to slide an open bible behind his back and tried to appear casual, leaning back on the kitchenette counter to hide it. “Who are you and why’d you follow me here?”
“You need help.”
“I need you to get outta here and leave me the hell alone.” The boy’s agitated, jerky movements made it clear that the contents of the hollowed out bible were vitally important to him. To have profaned the Word bothered Terp, but he made himself let it go so he could address the person who did it.
Terp looked back over his many other interactions with troubled persons and found nothing solid to guide him. Sailors with opium in snuffboxes. Lawyers with cocaine in gutted fountain pens. Just as he began a pitch designed to make the kid understand his problem was an age-old one, someone pounded on the door to the outside. The boy turned and clutched his bible secretively and told the man at the door they had to leave quick. A loud car sped away.
As he’d supposed when he hid under the table against the wall and napped, someone crept into the room from that unlocked door a couple hours later. Two someones. The kid and the man he’d driven away with. The man carried a long metal bar as if it were a sword. He followed them to the church office. He saw the man pry the door open with the metal rod. As they gawked into the empty strongbox, Terp stepped inside.
“Gentlemen, it’s over. We can pray for forgiveness and repent or we can call the police. You decide.”
The man swung the metal bar wildly. Terp had no difficulty grabbing it and increasing the momentum along the vector such that the man fell forward and hit the floor face first, right in the doorway. Terp put a boot on the man’s neck to hold him. He waved to get the kid’s attention. “Son, you can get help. The Grace of God is all-powerful and can lift you up from this deep hole. There are good people who can help keep you on the straight and narrow path. Jesus without any doubt loves you no matter what you’ve done.”
As he spoke, the boy opened his bible and loaded a syringe full, past the ragged tape that marked a spot about half way. All the while he held Terp’s eye. The kid knew a full syringe would be his last one. The kid knew Terp would not risk the violent man’s wrath by stepping off the guy’s neck to stop him. Those hopeless eyes understood self-preservation, looking out for number one.
Terp clearly stated, “I know who and what is most important here.” In two strides Terp held the boy’s arm inches from completing the mortal injection. The boy still kept Terp’s eye as he said, “I don’t know who you are and I guess it don’t matter. I repent and beg Jesus for forgiveness.” The kid dropped the syringe and shoved Terp backwards, to one side. He hit the Preacher’s desk and fell to his hands and knees.
The heavy metal bar meant for Terp cracked the kid’s collarbone and more, making the young man collapse. Without thought or volition, Terp snatched up the syringe and jabbed it into the demon-infested man’s thigh.
Terp held the boy whose name he never knew and sang his soul into the loving arms of his guardian angel Denis. He watched the murderer on the floor writhe in fatal ecstasy with two thoughts prominent. One, ‘vengeance is mine says the Lord’. He had not willed his hand to slay this person, but his hand had done it. This would haunt him, but now was not the time to linger. The other thought urged him to get back, that choir practice would begin soon and he needed to clean up. He heard an approaching siren. A silent alarm at the office door?
Hours later he sat at the long table careful to pull his jacket close, having no time to clean up after all. “Hello, Yownay. I didn’t expect to see you away from your friends.”
“Oh look, the above-the-law choir boy. I didn’t expect to see you at all.” She rose and walked away serenely.
Altus hurried in and took her spot. “Is that blood on your shirt? Where did you go?”
“Hello Altus. Have you a spare robe? I’ve forgotten mine.” He tugged at his jacket.
Altus tapped his own collar. “Benna said she’d bring one up, said she saw you race by.”
The older man’s bright manner did lighten his mood some. “I went to check on a few things. I hope Benna hurries, we’re due over yonder.”
“Yonder this.” When he turned, Benna tossed the white robe at his face. “Is that blood yours?”
“No.” He turned his shirt collar to the inside and slipped the robe on.
“I covered for you but Yownay came asking specifically for you. She said fooling around those Humans and getting arrested was not a game. Were you arrested?”
Altus stood and shook his head. “You should be concerned about what Yownay says and who she says it to. You don’t want the Archangels on your case.”
Terp stopped and looked at his companions with incredulity. “Do either of you seriously think I am attempting to deceive the Archangels?”
Benna smirked. What’s the difference between discreet and furtive? You go down there with no permission and no authority.”
“I need to go. Can we get on before we hold up the entire practice?”
They followed him toward the choir chamber. Just before entering the vast hall, Benna tugged his shoulder and rubbed something off his face. “You do look worried. It’s the high notes in the big solo, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, that’s it.” His smile might be interpreted otherwise, but it was really for the boy he’d sung the highest notes of all for. True, if he hadn’t interfered both of them would be alive, perhaps. Would surviving in ruin and danger under the horror of an ever-engorging addiction be called living? The kid nearly suicided. How many more children would that devil have destroyed? ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord.’ Might the criminal have experienced an epiphany and been a force for good? Could his soul have been saved? Terp had eliminated the man’s choices. But not by will.
The Choir Master tapped for attention and Terp joined in on the opening stanza.