~ Broken ~
Fog. Black fog. Grey fog. White fog. Mason blinked. Bright light… then more pale fog. He groaned. His throat hurt. His arms and legs felt sore and tight. He opened his eyes again. Where was he? The room was white, with white and greenish linoleum on the floor. He was in a white bed. A blue-green curtain was draped from the ceiling nearby, hanging on a track that curled around a heavy wooden door. A hospital.
He moved to sit up, but pain tore up his left arm and gnawed into his shoulder. He jerked and gasped. The pain spiraled down to his left leg and wrapped itself around it, curling and grasping like a grapevine. He lay as still as he could, panting, feeling sweat break out on his forehead. Slowly, the pain quieted, and he breathed easier.
Someone tapped on the door, and then it swung open. His mother peeked her head in. Her red-rimmed eyes widened in a smile when she saw her son awake. “Oh, honey, you’re awake!” She flew to the bedside and showered him with kisses.
“James is dead,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He was sure of it already.
“Yes, sweetie,” she answered, her eyes brimming over. “He was killed instantly, they say. It’s a miracle you weren’t, too.” She sighed. “His funeral is this afternoon. I just came in to check on you. I’m so sorry you’re not able to come.”
Mason wasn’t sorry. He had seen enough of James dying to last a lifetime. A lifetime. He shuddered. His mother stood and kissed his forehead, then left the room. Mason leaned back, listening to the click-clack of her heeled shoes die away.
He tried to wiggle his left toes and winced in pain. The car had hit his side, shielding James. Why was James killed and not…? “It’s a miracle you weren’t, too,” his mother had said. Luck. The terror he had felt as he had drifted from consciousness gripped him. He tried to push it away. Luck. It was just horrible chance that killed James and not him. That had killed James over and over again. And had kept him alive.
But in his gut, he felt a sick dread swelling. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t chance.
Mason was finally allowed to go home several days later, with crutches tucked under his arms and his left leg in a cast. His left shoulder still hurt, but it hadn’t been broken. That night, he waited until the house had long been silent and moonlight pooled on the floor of his bedroom. Then he slipped out of bed, pulled on a pair of jeans, and crept out of his room and down the stairs. His crutches thumped awkwardly on the floor, but he managed to keep them quiet.
Crickets sang in the cool darkness under the lacy forest canopy. He breathed in deeply as he set off down the street. There was something soft and comforting about the midnight breeze. He let it fill his lungs and calm him. Everything would be fine. He’d find Ken and go back again. He’d save James this time. This time.
A breath of wind tugged at his forelock. He chuckled to himself. James sure would be confused by the busted leg. But maybe he’d be healed when he went back this time. Maybe the change in time would fix it. Would fix it all.
At last, he broke into the clearing and faced Ken’s house. Hens muttered sleepily to themselves from their coop. “Ken?” he called.
“Ken?” he yelled, louder this time, “You awake in there? It’s me, Mason! I wanna go back!”
The chickens began scolding. There was no other reply. “Come on, man,” he muttered, trudging up onto the porch. “Wake up!” he bellowed, pounding on the door until it groaned in protest. There was still no reply. “You in there? You asleep? You ignoring me? Are you even alive?” He yelled until his throat burned. Nothing stirred but the enraged hens.
Now what? It had never occurred to him that Ken might not be here. How could he go back and save James if Ken wasn’t there? He gritted his teeth. “Then I’ll do it myself, buddy,” he muttered, heaving his good shoulder against the door and grasping at the knob.
To his surprise, the door swung open easily – it hadn’t even been locked. Mason was flung onto the floor of the little cottage. His leg throbbed. “That was dumb,” he told the air. He struggled to his feet and looked around.
The house was empty. No broken furniture. No torn rugs. No dated computers. No bright cords.
No time machine.
Outside, the trees rustled gently. Mason shivered, suddenly cold. The snaking chill clutched at his heart. Everything felt terribly, terribly heavy. Wearily, he stepped back onto the porch into the chilly night, shut the door behind him, and started walking. He didn’t care where. Just away.
He didn’t know if it was minutes or hours or years later that he found himself back in town. The streets were dimly lit by foggy lampposts. He collapsed on a park bench under a tree and let his head fall into his hands.
What was he doing out here? What did he think he could do?
What if James never came back? What if he never would live past this same, despicable week? What if they never saw each other again? Mason’s eyes burned. His chest heaved. He was glad that he was alone. Glad that no one could see his tears. He wished that it had been him that had died, instead of James.
Suddenly, some of the words that Pastor Booker had read on Sunday crashed into Mason’s mind.
“The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; The LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth, And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everyone says, ‘Glory!’”
The treetops swayed and groaned with the force of a sudden gust. Mason felt his whole core shiver with a terrible truth.
James’ God was real. And He was here. He could see Mason. And He knew.
Mason clutched his hands and stared up into the black night in terror. He couldn’t see anything, but he knew he was seen. He grabbed his crutches. He wanted to run. But he knew in an instant that he couldn’t. It was no use. There was no place in all the world where he could run and hide from this terrible Presence.
“Please, just go away!” he pleaded, hating the fear in his voice. Yet, even as he begged, he knew that this God would not leave. He knew what Mason had done. He would never forget. And He would never leave.
Mason buried his face in his arms and sobbed with terror and shame.
Photo Credit – https://weneedfun.com/forest-at-night-pictures/