“No-No-No! I’m sorry! Ah! I’m such a coward for playing dead” Jack Eaton wailed as he shot up to a sitting position on the bed; his voice ricocheting around the bedroom walls like a pinball off paddles and bumpers. The power of his upward thrust pulled the covers from his wife Shannon, after first rolling her to face him.
“You and your dreams, Jack” was her somnolent moan after being snatched from her own strange yet titillating dream. She rested her head on her right palm, then placed her left hand over her startled and pounding heart, as if to keep it from bursting through her breastbone.
His face was in his hands as he started to cry. With hitched breaths he groaned “I-wish-I ne-ver woke up from the co-coma. Ugh…I…ugh…wish that truck would have killed me with Krista and Rachel!”
As Shannon sat up, her sigh could have been interpreted as one of exasperation, but in truth it was one of frustration. She didn’t know what she could do, other than pray for his earthly comfort, and likewise her release.
She wrapped her arms around his strong yet shaking shoulders and tipped her head to rest against his. Her tousled dark blonde hair was draped over her eyes, but in the darkness of the room she’d be able to see little anyway. She didn’t want to take her hands off him, so she blew upward to move the strands, because they itched her nose. The effort succeeded to a small degree, and she thought she saw something move past the keyhole in the door that let a filament of the hallway light in. Rationalizing that it was an optical illusion, she whispered into Jack’s ear, “I’m glad that trucker didn’t kill you; just like I’m glad you came out of your coma so quickly.”
“My friends were hauled off by the DHS and ATF Gestapo, because that had the temerity to survive the shootout” Jack growled; his weeping having ceased. “I laid on the floor like I’d been shot, so they left me. I should have had the balls to stand with my friends! It’s not right that I’ve been spared, Shan. First the truck, and then Village Green. That’s two times!”
“Obviously, God wanted you to stay alive, and it was three times. Don’t forget you lost your brakes” she murmured, with the intent of reassuring him.
“Google, tell me why I’m still alive and still free when most everyone else in that rec room was either killed or taken into custody” was his sarcastic snarl that was fueled by his dislike and distrust of Artificial Intelligence and voice search.
“Don’t do that!” Shannon exclaimed through a loud whisper. “You’ll trigger that damn evil Google Home app on my phone, and I can’t figure out how to disable it!”
“It’s part of the Beast System, and only Jesus can disable it” Jack replied; his speech muffled as he wiped his eyes with the tail of his black t-shirt bearing the phrase SIGN UP on the chest in white block lettering. The shirt was decades old, and was first worn at a time when Jack gigged in a Fayetteville, New York coffee house, where high-school senior Shannon worked part-time as a barista. Jack was too old for Shannon then, and Jack was married.
“Was it the same set of dreams?” she asked, as she pushed her hair out of her face, and then glanced at the red digital numerals on the clock-radio that showed it was 2:42 A.M.
“Yeah, love; the same one. The brakes failing, East Syracuse, Lucas, the dog…”
He started quivering again, fighting to suppress the sobs. It had been eight years to the day since he’d been hit by the Kenworth, and God had healed him physically. It could have – and should have – been fatal. ER physicians didn’t expect that he’d ever wake up, and yet after forty-seven hours he did just that, and was discharged from Crouse Hospital in Syracuse a week later. His physical recovery defied medical science, but where memories were concerned, considerable trauma remained.
His Ford’s brake failure after leaving Shoppingtown Mall in DeWitt should have killed him first, but he was able to sail through two stop signs before maneuvering the car to a rest along the historic, abandoned Erie Canal. As he set out on a walk back to the Motel 6 where he’d been living in a semi-homeless state, he met Rachel and her daughter Krista, who were walking toward the mall to meet someone who would take them on a missionary trip to Africa. After he gave them directions, the women found a gap in the combination rush hour and Christmas shopping traffic and began to cross Bridge Street. Hurrying, they were unaware of the eighteen-wheeler that was barreling toward them; the driver having dosed for just a matter of seconds. Jack ran into the street believing he could somehow push them out of harm’s way, but he was a second too late. The swerving cab grazed him and knocked him to the pavement, but it had already struck Krista and Rachel. The mother was killed instantly, while the daughter was catapulted into the bed of a pickup truck, where she went home to the Lord ninety-one seconds later.
Before moving back to Camillus, a western suburb of Syracuse, Jack and Shannon had owned a three-bedroom house in the eastern suburb of Manlius. It was a mile from where bass guitarist Mick Chase – referred to as the “Young One” by the other band members – owned his first house. It was in Mick’s basement that the Jack Eaton Band rehearsed and recorded. Stan Frederick as the second guitarist opposite Jack, and Kurt Same on drums rounded out the group. Kurt was the cousin of Jesse Same, a nationally known impersonator of Elvis Presley. The JEB wrote and performed melodic power-pop rock that bridged the Christian and secular formats. The band members believed the best way they could evangelize to non-believers was to avoid using the Christian classification on their music releases, and to perform in secular venues. They sang songs that pointed to the truth of Christ’s gift of salvation without being overt, and their approach reached people that wouldn’t otherwise attend a church and listen to a worship band.
The JEB’s most recent album release Spiritual Warfare had dropped in May, and a U.S. tour was to follow, culminating in December. But, days before the tour was to commence, the band partook of a walk on the old Erie Canal towpath in Canastota. The plan was simply to talk, pray, laugh, and enjoy the fresh air. Spiritual warfare had heightened, and its manifestations were dramatic, peculiar, and physical. The Spiritual Warfare Tour never got on the road, because in many instances the roads were closed.
Still sitting up in bed, Jack fought off a tearful reprise, but the shivering and quivering would not cease. “I’m cold. It’s like I’m outside in the elements” he uttered in a voice just a decibel above a whisper.
“Honey, lay back down, cover yourself up, and try to go back to sleep” Shannon answered, as she pulled back the white curtain on the window next to the bed. She ran her left hand through his close-cropped brown hair while holding the curtain with her right, and after leaning closer to the window she mentioned “the Rachlin’s Christmas lights sure are pretty.” Leaning closer to the glass, she then offered the non-sequiturs “there aren’t any suspicious vans parked out there”, and “when was the last time I told you you’re the most handsome old guy in his mid-fifties that I’ve ever seen?”
The lights from the outside illuminated his face just enough so she could the see his wide, tight-lipped smile. It was rare that he smiled anymore, and she was heartened by it. “You still look like Natasha Henstridge from ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ – even at thirty-nine” he chuckled, before giving her a quick peck on the lips.
“Am I the only thirty-nine-year-old you know, Tiger?” she quizzed him; her head cocked to the right, and her penetrating glare focused on his eyes that were barely visible.
“I won’t take another step without you, Shannon – not now, not ever” he answered as he joined her in glancing out the window.
“I remember you saying that when I twisted my ankle when we were hiking. Then, you picked me up and carried me back to the Blazer, and you ran the whole way” she answered with a grin. Then her countenance darkened before she said, “you laid me on the seat, and then you said, ‘we made it to the cabin, and it wasn’t supposed to go this way.’ I remember you standing outside the Blazer, looking at the sky. You were pushing your right hand on your left shoulder like you were trying to stop a wound from bleeding. You stared at the sky for a while longer and then you said ‘what happened Lord? We were all ready.’”
Jack focused on the Christmas lights across the street that festooned the Rachlin’s porch and the two pine trees on their front yard. Combined with the freshly-fallen snow, the bright and brilliant colors were picture perfect for a Christmas card. Red, white, green, blue, and gold, they cast colored shadows across the snow and into the Eaton’s bedroom. Jack released a quick moan that sounded more mournful than painful, before turning his head from the window. He covered his face with his hands and laid back down.
“I just can’t look, Shannon” he whispered. “It’s just too sad and too painful.”
“Yeah, even after eight years” she lamented, as she laid down again. “We’ve been married for six years, and in that time, we’ve never had a Christmas tree. And since the event in Village Green this summer, you can’t even bear to look at a lit candle.”
“Are you complaining?” he growled like a dog whose food bowl was being pulled away.
“No, baby, I guess I…”
He cut her off before she could finish. “That incident in the Village Green rec room was like what happened at Koresh’s Branch-Davidian compound in Waco! But, it was no damn compound, it was merely a meeting with some people who lived in an apartment complex and knew what was going on in this country! But, because that fake alien spacecraft was shot down, and a big piece of it landed in the parking lot, paramilitary goons from the alphabet agencies got there in record time and turned the entire complex into miniature Martial Law where they shot first and asked questions second! You weren’t there, Shannon! You didn’t hear the screams and see the blood! You didn’t smell the death! You…”
“I know, Jack, I know I…”
“You don’t know, Shannon! You don’t know what I saw when I was in the coma! I saw you, and then you came back into my life in reality! I saw what I thought really happened, and it rips me up, okay?! I saw Jes…” A fresh round of sobs made what he said afterward indecipherable.
“I do know…I try to know, baby. I know the band was with you both times. I know there are this Jacob and Joshua that you want to find; but are they even real? And I know you went through Hell out in Village Green, and your bandmates were hauled away. I know that America has changed drastically in six months. I-I know that you…(sigh)… have a hard time coming to grips with what you saw in a coma eight years ago, and what has actually happened. I know Jack, I know, but I don’t know at this point what in this world I can do for you!”
“And I know you want to leave me because I’m not the same guy that played at Robbo’s twenty years ago” he grumbled, and to that she had no rebuttal.
As he again wiped his eyes on his t-shirt, Shannon was chilled as the light from across the street no longer splashed into the room, and the digital numerals on the clock went dark. “Oh crap, the power went out again” was her lugubrious whisper. “Lord Jesus, please help us!”
“Jesus Christ is a fictional character” the digital female voice of the new Google Home Phone app that she couldn’t delete spoke through her Android, without any direct prompting.