Hey Tennis Shoes Fans!
I suppose it's about time. I've considered posting the Prologue for a couple months now. There's always a trade-off. Folks seem to like to know that I'm busy writing, but irritated that there's a brutal cliffhanger at the end of these postings. With that in mind, dive in! I'm presently focused on other parts of the book. No predictions on when I'll be finished. I just go to work every day.
Oh, someone asked me about books like Eddie Fantastic or Daniel and Nephi on Audio. Yes, I can still get those for customers. After all, I'm the author. :) Just call the number above.
Oh, someone asked me about books like Eddie Fantastic or Daniel and Nephi on Audio. Yes, I can still get those for customers. After all, I'm the author. :) Just call the number above.
As always, ignore typos or other errors in this Prologue. This is only a rough draft. Uniquely, it's written from the perspective of Jim's son, Harry, which is a first. Enjoy!
This is where my father usually starts some kind of philosophic rambling. It's just my father's way whenever he opens a story about our families' adventures. I couldn't say why it's become my task to write the opening of this particular account. I think my father's prologues are actually rather profound. He's the philosopher. I'm not the philosopher. At the moment I'd had no idea where my father was, so somehow the torch has fallen to me. Therefore I'll do my best to offer some of the thoughts that crossed my mind just prior to the devastating events about to befall my family at the Hill Cumorah.
When I was a boy I experienced a terrible accident that had left me crippled. The accident took place during the destructions that befell the city of Jacobugath in the New World after the death of the Savior. My memory is vague on details. According to my father, I was standing beneath a stone wall when the earth shook and the wall collapsed. Hundreds of stones buried my body. Apparently I almost died. When I came to my senses there was no feeling in my legs. I couldn't move them. Couldn't even budge. Somebody might've sawed them off and I wouldn't have felt a thing.
For the next year I remained in that physical condition. I had no reason to believe it would ever change. This all happened a long time ago, but I suppose I went through all of the different stages of disbelief, anger, denial, resentment, etc., that anyone who experiences such a tragedy goes through. And yet I distinctly remember that my mind eventually settled into a kind of acceptance. I'm not sure of the exact moment that I reached this mental state. I think it was a couple months prior to the miraculous healing I received at the hands of Jesus Christ. Yes, I really came to accept that for the rest of my life I would require the help of others to fully function and make the most of my contribution to the world. What I remember distinctly is that I taught myself how to get around pretty well using just my arms and hands. I think it drove my father a little crazy when he'd find me a couple hundred yards away from the place where he'd left me. I was starting to take pride in the fact that for the most part I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Plus, I remember my biceps and triceps became rock-solid during that year.
Don't misunderstand me. My gratitude was overflowing when the Savior laid his hands on my head and healed me. But I also remember that for a couple days I felt a strange sense of regret. Perhaps I regretted that I was going to lose all the attention I'd been receiving. No, I don't think that was it. I'd gained a certain sense of self-esteem during that year and in some strange, nutty way, I think I was afraid that self-esteem might evaporate. It didn't happen, of course, and any such fears or regrets were only fleeting. It wasn't long before I was running, jumping, and climbing for all that I was worth and praising God in my heart for the miracle that He'd bestowed upon me.
It might sound strange, but in the hours prior to the attack on Cumorah, I found myself pondering that year of my life. I pondered the various stages of fear, anger, denial, and acceptance that I went through. All those memories coursed through my mind as I observed the citizens inside the fortifications of Zenephi. After the attack commenced they remained still in their encampments, mostly stricken with shock. Nearly all of them wore expressions of mortal terror. Fear burned like acid in the very marrow of their bones. It was heart-wrenching to witness the scenes before me: mothers with small children clutching her robes, people huddled close to fires, sobbing quietly, relatives inquiring about a father or husband or some other loved one who manned one of the fortification walls, wondering when or if they might ever see this person again.
I could hear other mutterings from Nephite encampments. The emotions were almost universally negative—hatred against the Lamanites and Gadiantons and curses against God, who in their eyes had failed to deliver them from this catastrophe. I also heard rabid complaints against Mormon and the Nephite Council. To the average citizen of Zenephi, no party was above contempt. According to them every bit of their circumstances was the fault of others. No one acknowledged a particle of responsibility. I listened for vocal prayers among the masses and heard none. Oh, there were plenty who criticized God, but none who appeared to seek His protection, power, or mercy. This alone seemed incomprehensible. How could so many souls have grown so cold? My heart wept that the only vocalizations I heard were laced with blasphemy and blame.
All of the women and children – some toddlers barely old enough to walk – were armed with weapons. I saw one kid, no more than four or five years old, gripping the hilt of an obsidian sword. He could barely lift the thing. How could anyone think this boy could fight back?—that he might offer the slightest advantage when the Lamanites finally spilled over the defensive walls and spread across the bowl, hacking and chopping everything that moved or breathed? Nevertheless, no man, woman, or child who could wield a weapon was spared the responsibility.
Earlier in the evening I'd watched two young children – one of them a girl – sparring with remarkable determination and ruthlessness. They took the match as seriously as I've ever seen amidst any pair of combatants. Their dodges and parries may not have been skilled or pretty, but if their instructors had allowed it, their strikes would have been lethal. The instructor was usually a patient mother. A mother, yes, but she taught these children exactly how to deliver an effective deathblow. If the child was over the age of 10 they were educated in the fine art of slashing the femoral artery below an enemy's groin. If the child was younger, they were taught to stab toward an attacker's face. I winced and shuddered whenever I saw these practice sessions. What time of year was it? November? December? It occurred to me that as the children of my own century decorated Christmas trees or waited in line to sit on the lap of Santa Claus, the children of the Nephites were learning how to gouge out the eyes of a Lamanite warrior.
Of course my own personal circumstances were no less dire than the rest of these condemned souls. Not only was my family threatened by the prospect of Lamanites invading from without, but we also worried about Gadianton ghosts materializing out of the gloom and attacking from within. It was a terrible reality to feel so many threats from multiple directions. Yet these were the emotions that would likely keep all of us awake for the rest of the night.
It might seem peculiar, but in those initial hours, as the attack on Cumorah unfolded, I felt unreasonably calm. My sense of inner peace seemed almost abnormal. I had no fear of death. That didn't mean I was going to roll over and let myself or my family be killed. However, if today turned out to be my day to die, I was completely willing to accept it. And I felt sure it was my memory of being crippled for a year and meeting the Savior that was responsible for my state of mind. Adding to my placidity were the years I'd spent on Lincoln Island in the Aegean Sea, honing my skills with a sling and finding other ways to survive. And perhaps most recently, the thing that had honed my perceptions of this calamity was the hour I'd spent that morning with Jonas, one of the three Nephite disciples who would never taste of death. He'd visited me while I was in the clutches of King Sa'abkan of the Lamanites. It was Jonas – and my faith in God – that made it possible for me to escape and rejoin my family.
Jonas had delivered a message to me of unparalleled confidence. He'd assured me that everything was in the Lord's hands. Even the events of this horrible day – every nuance and variation – was to be understood as it was overseen by the universe's Grand Designer. This might seem contradictory to some: How could a God of love ever sanction the awful and bloody events about to unfold? How could He allow the slaughter of so many thousands of women and little children – so many innocent lives? But Jonas had explained, through the Spirit, that such a grim outlook represented only the perspective of the living – us poor blokes stuck in the temporal world. On the other side of the veil the viewpoint was entirely different. Homecomings were about to occur– reunions with the Savior and His angels, not to mention reunions between long-separated family and friends. Many of those who wallowed in terror were on the cusp of relishing a sudden embrace of relief – a welcome reward after enduring the unendurable. Before this day was over, countless souls who'd forgotten whatever names and identities they may have held in the pre-earth life would have such memories restored in the blink of an eye. They'd remember everything. How was it that death had ever become a thing so dreaded by humankind? To any person who was thoughtful, intelligent, and spiritual, dying should have been something to be welcomed and embraced.
No one ever viewed a disaster like this in those terms. They saw it purely from the perspective of the world. And certainly for some – those whose spirits had become irretrievably evil and corrupt – it would be a day of reckoning, a day of descent into the purging fires of hell. Who could say what percentage of these souls on Cumorah's slopes would experience an ecstasy of joy or a crucible of guilt within the next 24 hours? It wasn't for me to judge. I only knew that it was all meant to be. It had been forewarned. Foretold. For decades the Lord had stretched out his hand to the Nephites – a welcoming hand of redemption. That hand had been swatted away one too many times. The fruits of judgment were about to be reaped. Every portion and parcel of tomorrow's events were being shaped, whittled, and honed by God's justice and mercy. I knew that the Nephite people felt nothing of the solemnity that I felt. Shucks, I wasn't even sure if many members of my own family felt those same perceptions. During much of the evening Mary had been clutching my hands so tightly that it turned my fingers white. Nevertheless, I felt such perceptions. I felt terribly blessed that somehow the warm fires of peace had managed to encompass my soul so thoroughly.
Surely most people would feel honored to have experienced some of the miracles that I, Harry Hawkins, had experienced during my life. Eh, perhaps some might've been scared out of their wits by a visitation from someone like Jonas. Others might've taken for granted having their broken spine healed by the Savior of the world, much like the nine lepers in Luke who quickly dispersed without so much as a "thank you" to the Master who'd made them whole. Some might have bragged about any clear and obvious miracles until they were blue in the face. And maybe such bragging would've brought about exactly the opposite result of what they'd expected. I believe no aspect of our relationship with God is more important than trust and loyalty. To put it rather bluntly, a recipient of God's miracles must have the self-discipline to "shut up." That is, they must have the ability to keep such things secret in their hearts, unless God commands otherwise. Blabbering about such events, especially to those who would trample them underfoot like pearls before swine, might nullify some of the blessings such miracles were meant to bring about. Even when it came to sharing such events with our dearest loved ones I had the attitude that great care had to be taken. I just felt it was best to keep sacred things sacred.
That hour with Jonas had reconfirmed everything I'd learned during the year I was crippled. And also during those three years as a castaway on Lincoln Island—The idea that God is undeniably in control – no matter the outcome of any situation. Some might interpret a philosophy like that as an excuse not to act, to become complacent and just let fate rain down upon them. However, that's not the lesson that I learned. I learned that most often the blessings that God showers upon us are integrally connected to our individual choices and actions. The two can't be separated. There's a peculiar balance between feeling buoyed up purely by Godly faith and feeling compelled to act as if nothing is buoying us up at all. Pausing to analyze such things too fastidiously is often a serious mistake. The idea is to just flow with these kinds of things. We've all heard the expression: Believe as if everything depends upon God and to act as if everything depends upon you. Oh, how I wish that sentence could never strike anybody as a threadworn cliché! Because in my experience there are very few people with the courage to believe this expression is true at that critical moment when it mattered most. This was one of those moments. The Lamanite warriors were finally launching their attack. Truthfully, I think my life experiences had made the concept of God's intimate involvement a natural part of my thought processes, almost like a fifth appendage. And I couldn't help but feel a keen sense of sorrow for those who had not attained the same conviction.
Over the last few minutes the Lamanite drums had gone utterly silent. This silence had come after what had seemed like weeks of relentless pounding, hammering, and thundering of instruments across every sector of the Lamanite and Gadianton ranks. Now every drum had become hauntingly still. The effect of this unexpected change upon the Nephite masses was palpable. It further frayed or clenched every human nerve. It seemed as if a new kind of fear was building intensity amidst the people.
The trench filled with bitumen tar between Mormon's innermost defensive wall and the natural obstacle of the Sacred Deer River continued to rage in flames. This black ooze stretched along the entire length of the southeastern line. As flaming arrows had ignited this substance it sent up a wall of flames 100 feet into the starry sky. This was the only sight to occupy our eyes as the night wore on. Despite the burning trench, everything else was eerily quiet. No additional arrows. No more drums. Every Nephite sheltering inside Cumorah's bowl had to be wondering what game their enemies were playing. No moment yet in this war had struck me as more unsettling to the average soldier. An eternity had passed since the besieged populace had been able to speak without raising their voices above the percussion of drums. Now, for the first time in weeks, they could hear the inhale and exhale of their lungs. They could hear their own heartbeats, the rush of blood in their veins, the rumblings inside thof empty stomachs, and the awful whisper of impending death just beside and somewhat below their listening ears. We could also hear the quiet rumble of flames in the trench and the mournful groan of the wind. What did it mean, this sudden silence? The change in Cumorah's atmosphere wrapped itself around the Nephite nation like the tentacles of some invisible monster. Were the Lamanites planning a midnign assault? Did they intend to unleash some secret weapon upon our fortifications in the wee hours before dawn? What if burning away the bitumen moat had been a deliberate, calulated act? A prelude to something incomprehensibly horrifying?
The stench of petroleum was thick in our nostrils. Smoke was beginning to obscure the shapes of tents and the silhouettes of people amidst the candle and lantern light. A breeze blew most of the smoke northward, sparing the lungs of most families in the bowl. It would be particularly oppressive for the soldiers of the Scorpion Division under the command of Gidgiddonihah, as well as other divisions defending the eastern escarpments. As lantern light near and far appeared ever more ethereal in the din, I imagined that hallowed glow – the beckoning light – described by those who'd given accounts of near-death experiences: the "light" that urged them forward into the arms of their Maker.
Still, my own nerves remain steady, like Damascus steel. I credited some of this steadiness to the fact that I was surrounded by loved ones, men and women of extraordinary faith – Mary, Steffanie, Uncle Garth, Jacobah the Lamanite, even my young cousin Rebecca. Sakerra McConnell, too, seemed firmly entrenched in her faith, although I wasn't so sure about her impetuous brother, Brock. The only regular member of our company who was missing was young Jesse, the orphan from ancient Israel. He was presently in the care of Mormon's personal physicians inside the commander's private compound, suffering from an arrow wound in virtually the same spot in his shoulder that had been pierced a few weeks earlier. It seemed likely that Mormon's compound had by now been overwhelmed by the injured warriors of Joshua's Fox Division—those who'd recklessly and courageously stormed the eastern escarpments earlier today in an effort to rejoin Mormon's forces.
The result of Joshua's charge was terrible loss of life. Causalities no doubt littered the grounds inside the commander's headquarters, hundreds who had suffered at the hands of the Lamanites and lightning warriors of Teotihuacán. Many condemned Captain Josh, calling it foolhardy to think his army could ever cross those marshes and reached the walls considering the odds he'd faced. But most described Joshua as a hero—a man who had surveyed his only opportunity to join re-Mormon inside Cumorah' iss fortifications and acted quickly by way of the only possible route. Joshua himself had gone MIA during the operation. Gidgiddonihah claimed that he'd witnessed the very moment when my cousin disappeared into a geothermal vent in the side of the cliff. Right now Joshua's whereabouts were an utter mystery – a fact that only added to the turmoil in the hearts of his sister, Rebecca, and his father, my Uncle Garth.
It seemed only a moment ago that Gidgiddonihah, accompanied by a small contingent of warriors, had reached us with news of Joshua's disappearance. Gid arrival was just before the drums fell silent. Only moments after his message had been delivered the volly of arrows had begun to ignite the trench. He was quickly summoned back to the eastern escarpment by his second in command, a soldier of like mind and temperament named Ukiah. The Scorpion commander departed leaving behind only Jacobah, the faithful Lamanite convert who'd once served as Ryan Champion's bodyguard. Jacobah carried a Nephite spear, nearly seven feet in length, one that had been cleverly designed like the Roman lance or pilum (or so Apollus had boasted) to snap on impact so that it couldn't be retrieved by the enemy and flung back. I noticed that Jacobah stared at me with a strange intensity, as if he had something to say, but had not yet worked up the nerve to say it.
In the ominous absence of battle drums, we felt sorely torn whether to watch the lands before us to see if the Lamanite Army would rush through the flames or study the near distances behind us and on either side to defend against a possible attack by Gadianton ghosts. Only yesterday these demons had somehow abducted Megan and Apollus. Our companions' whereabouts were no less mysterious than the whereabouts of Joshua Plimpton. Not a trace had been left to offer us a clue about where they'd gone. There was no way to know if they were alive or if any of them would return, and it was clear that such a fate could swallow any one of us whole at any instant.
So even while my heart was at peace, every nerve-ending along each inch of my flesh remained on high alert. If a ghost had appeared in front of me, I'd have reacted out of habit and training, not out of fear. Maybe this wasn't a good thing. Maybe a warrior's reaction time would be swifter if he was just a little terrified. Any thread of complacency – however thin – might be the difference between life and death.
As we waited and watched to see what would happen next on this epic night, I once again met the intensity in Jacobah's eyes. He couldn't seem to stop staring at me. Finally I called him over.
"What's on your mind, Jacobah?" I asked casually. "It's obvious you want to say something."
"Yes," he confessed. He glanced at the ground, then looked directly into my eyes. I think he also studied my nose, still a bit purple and bent out of shape from abuses it had received at the hands of King Sa'abkan and his minions.
Jacobah ultimately just came out with it. "I wish to serve as your bodyguard."
Mary glanced from me and back to him.
I studied Jacobah curiously. "You served as Ryan's bodyguard for a long time. Now you feel compelled to serve someone else? I thought you were serving Gidgiddonihah and the Scorpion Division."
"I have already discussed this matter with Commander Gid," said Jacobah. "He is willing to accede to my wishes."
"Why serve me?" I said dismissively. "I'd rather you served one of the women. Or perhaps young Rebecca."
Jacobah shook his head. "All of us serve the women equally. Naturally, if one of them is threatened, I would serve them first. But it is my inclination that I should specifically serve you."
I crooked an eyebrow. "Why?"
He hedged a bit and replied, "Because, Harry Hawkins, it is clear that you are less experienced in warfare than some of the others. And yet I sense that your life is particularly valuable to this company."
I frowned visibly. His statement was not complementary. I felt embarrassed. I think in the firelight I might have even been blushing. "I'm not any more important than anyone else. And I'm certainly not as inexperienced as someone like Ryan Champion."
"True," Jacobah agreed, seeming to take in my broken nose once more. "Nevertheless it is my inclination to serve you."
Others in the group were now listening in on our conversation. Uncle Garth looked away, fighting a smile. Brock blurted a single laugh.
"Wh-what about my uncle?" I asked awkwardly. "He certainly needs your services more than I do."
"Perhaps so," Garth replied, "but shucks, Harry, I don't think a middle-aged man like me is going to attract as much as attention in battle as a young bull like yourself."
I countered with, "In the heat of battle I don't think anyone's age is going to make any difference whatsoever."
Jacobah realized how embarrassed and uncomfortable I felt. He said, "Please don't be offended, Harrison. I don't pretend to fully understand why I am beset with this inclination. I suppose you are free to reject my services, but . . ."
"But . . . I will probably follow my inclination anyway." He continued to stare humbly at the ground.
I grunted with a sound that was somewhere between laughter and resentment.
"You mean to tell me you're going to serve as my bodyguard whether I agree to it or not?"
Jacobah nodded, still looking down. " It is my inclin—"
"Your 'inclination!' Yes! I get it. I just don't understand it. I don't need a bodyguard, Jacobah. It's already my job to protect Mary and the other –"
"Naturally," Jacobah interrupted, "by association I will aid you in such duties. For now I simply ask that you . . . tolerate my increased attention."
"It's ridiculous!" I snorted.
Mary touched my arm. "It also seems harmless."
"I just don't need a bodyguard," I repeated to her quietly, though everyone else overheard.
"Of course you don't," said Steffanie, a hint of levity in her tone. "But Jacobah sounds rather determined."
I looked skyward, still shaking my head. I felt a sudden rush of self-reproach. It was almost as if God had recognized my inner placidity and interpreted it as pride. Therefore He'd sent Jacobah to assuage any dangerous tendencies toward cockiness. Well, God was never wrong about these things. Therefore, I sighed in resignation.
"Fine," I said to Jacobah, rather tartly. "But if anyone else in this company is hurt because you're sticking so close to me –" I pondered how to finish this sentence and came up with, "–I'm going to be upset."
Brock now laughed unreservedly. Even one corner of his sister, Sakerra's mouth had curled into a smile.
As suddenly as our hearts had lightened our expressions sobered and our countenances fell. The weight of the moment settled back upon us, and the anxiety everyone felt about our missing and injured loved ones. We stared back toward the flaming trench. A waft of petroleum fumes curled over us and made our eyes water. The stench sent Rebecca into a coughing fit. We covered our mouths and noses with our hands, but there was no way to entirely avoid it.
Kerra squinted as she seemed to peer intently into the blackness beyond the flames. "What are they doing out there?" she whispered to no one in particular.
Her gaze was so earnest and concentrated that the rest of us felt drawn to gaze at the same location where her eyes were focused. Was it possible that she perceived something that the rest of us hadn't? Or was she just exercising her intuition?
It was her brother who asked, "Do you see something out there, Sis, or are you talking just to hear yourself talk?"
Kerra paid her brother a fleeting, scornful glance, tempted, I think, not to answer his question at all. When she noticed that others appeared to have some form of the same question on their minds, she quipped, "The latter, for now. But I have a strange feeling that—"
That's as far as she got before an entirely unexpected sound overwhelmed us from an unexpected direction. It erupted from behind us – a chilling sound – like the infuriated cry of a monster or some other gargantuan beast, but echoing and twisted as if the noise had been distorted by the forces of relativity. I was berating myself inwardly even as my body was spinning around. It should have been perfectly predictable that the instant we allowed our concentration to become fiercely drawn elsewhere that the Gadianton ghosts would strike.
The first thing my eyes perceived was a pulsing circle of cold blue energy, elliptical in shape, hovering about 10 feet away and one meter above the earth, spreading outward like a pattern of waves created after dropping a boulder in choppy waters. The edges were expanding rapidly. At first the circle was convex, bulging inward, as if trying to suck something into its vortex. But in less than a second the bulge flipped outward, concave. It was immediately apparent that something evil was about to be expelled—regurgitated—directly on top of us.
In that instant I realized the seriousness of Jacobah's "inclination" to become my full-time bodyguard. I was also forced to acknowledge the truth behind his appraisal of my actual skill-level as a warrior. Before I could even reach back my hand to snatch the obsidian blade from behind my shoulder, Jacobah had already leaped in front of me and hoisted back the full weight of his 7-foot spear to hurl it into the heart of the vortex.
Something was definitely emerging from that concave bubble. The terrible roar transformed into something like a monster's maniacal death throes. It increased to a piercing volume, as if it might shred our eardrums and blow us backward like an explosion. Whatever was coming out of that vortex it was massive enough that we all felt certain there was nowhere to run or hide – nothing to permit our escape.
Copyright @ 2015 Chris Heimerdinger