~ Sunrise ~
The sun glowed brightly over the lacy woods, smiling radiantly with the joy of a new day, as Mason and the three Bookers crashed through the underbrush. Breathing in the fragile morning air, Mason knew everything was different. It was as if he had died and reawakened as a new person. That was why he was going back. Even if he had to watch it all again, he had to tell James.
At last they arrived on the edge of Old Ken’s clearing. Mason cleared his throat. “Maybe you should all wait here for a bit. Just until I get a chance to talk to Old Ken,” he added at Maia’s indignant frown. “He kinda hates Christians.”
“Really,” Pr. Booker said wryly.
Mason strode up to the shack. An odd shiver ran down his spine. Something felt off. “Old Ken?” he called, rapping on the door. “It’s me. I want you to take me back. Are you home?” There was no answer.
“Daniel, come give me a hand with this,” he called, leaning into the door with his shoulder.
As Daniel jogged up, followed by Maia and Pr. Booker, a window in the house creaked open and Old Ken appeared. “Who’ve you got there, kid?” he asked bitterly.
“The Bookers…” Mason began. But Old Ken cut him off.
“Christians,” he spat. “I’ll hope for a minute that you came here to ask if I had some sort of teleportation device to plop you all in Mordor so you could toss the lot of them down a volcano. That’s right. Isn’t it?”
Mason clenched his fists. “No. They’re my friends. We’re going back.”
“And who’s taking you?”
Mason ignored him.“I need to see James one more time.”
“You think you’ll save him with his murderers breathing down your neck?”
Daniel jerked indignantly, but Pr. Booker silenced him.
Mason took a deep breath. “I’m not trying to keep him from dying. Not anymore. I just need to tell him…”
“To tell that weakling cousin of yours that you’ve turned into one of those Christians, huh, kid?” he growled.
Mason met his old friend’s glare. “Yes, sir. I have.”
“You’ve given up your semi-intelligent, twenty-first century mind for some two-thousand-year-old fantasy bologna invented by a bunch of asthmatic, blind old creeps buried in an Italian monastery?” Old Ken exploded.
Mason braced himself, and looked the red-faced old man squarely in the eye. “I was a fool. James was right all along. About all of it. It’s all true. I see it now. Christ is the King, the true Savior of the world. And He saved me.”
“You stupid kid,” Old Ken ground.He whirled on Pr. Booker. “Can’t stand to see me win just once? Maybe I should just kill you now and have done with it.”
“Go ahead,” Pr. Booker said. “For all I know, you’ve already done it a thousand times. But that doesn’t change anything, does it?”
Old Ken swore. “It will,” he growled. “One day, it will. And I won’t quit going back until it does!”
“But, that’s the thing,” Mason cut in. “No matter what I did, or what I do, James will still die. I don’t think you can just change things like that. Not if… well, if God has other plans.”
“But you still want to go back,” Old Ken scoffed. “What for? You think that maybe, magically, your God will give James back cause you’re on His side now?”
Mason cringed. He hadn’t realized how much he had wanted that. “No,” he replied. “I guess He won’t.”
Old Ken swore again and ducked back in the window. Mason heard crashing inside. When the red-faced man reappeared, he held a cracked kerosene lantern in one hand and a fistful of straw in the other. With a terrible glitter in his eye, the old man held the fuel to the flame. The stalks dried and curled as the orange tongues danced around them. He let the flickering handful fall to the floor at his feet.
“Wait!” Daniel cried. “Mr. Hackett, you don’t have to do this! There’s hope for you, too!”
Old Ken laughed, then threw the lantern down on the porch with a crash. The boys sprang back as fire spilled everywhere. The window slammed shut.
“Dad!” Maia shrieked. “The whole house is on fire!” It was true Old Ken had set it all alight. Flames devoured the ancient timbers with roaring rage.
“Ken!”Mason shouted, flinging himself against the locked door. “We’ve got to get him out of there!”
But it was no use. The cabin was a seething mass of flames in minutes, and the door never budged. They were forced to retreat to the edge of the clearing.
Mason watched incredulously as the roof caved in with a deafening crash. His smoke-burned eyes watered freely as ash rained down.
He felt Pr. Booker’s hand on his shoulder. “We tried, Mason,” he said. “And I’ve a feeling that Old Ken had a few more rustbuckets in there that’ll get him out of that. He might be dramatic, but he’s not about to give up his life.”
“But I wanted to tell him about Christ and true Life,” Daniel moaned.
“Son, I’ve told him that story more times than I can count. Many are called, but few are chosen. No amount of persuading can change that.”
“I wanted to tell James,” Mason murmured, as the walls crumbled to a glowing pile.
“Well,” Pr. Booker said with a grin. “You’ll see him again. In a little while.”
A gentle rain began to fall as Mason realized what Pr. Booker meant. The slow drops quickened into a downpour. The smoldering rubble hissed and darkened as the black smoke gave way to steam.
“What if he goes back and changes everything?” Mason asked. “I mean, about me believing? He might try that.”
Pr. Booker smiled at Mason over soot-streaked glasses as the sun broke through the clouds. “Don’t worry. I promise you, there’s nothing Old Ken or anyone else can do to keep the Good Shepherd from bringing one of His sheep home.”
Several evenings later, Mason wandered into a corner of the forest where a stream ran through a stand of great oaks. He sat down on the knotted roots and leaned against a tree, listening to the water wash over stones.
“I wish I could tell James,” he said, staring up at the starry heavens. “But I guess You know better. Thank You. For James. And for everything.”
Mason felt a cool breeze caress his cheek as the branches overhead rustled with the song that the faithful have been singing for generations…
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who knows the mind of the LORD?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.
I would just like to take a minute to sincerely thank all of the friends, family members and faithful readers who have stuck by my story all year. Thanks especially to Rachel Shey, who has taken the time each month to carefully and thoughtfully edit my chapters into the best that they can be. Thanks also to my family, particularly my wonderful mother, for listening to me bounce off story ideas as I worked on refining Mason’s often rebellious character and the adventure I put him through. And thanks to each of you who have come back to my story month after month, loved it, and brightened my days with notes of encouragement in the comment sections. Each one of you has made this experience such a delight. You have blessed me wonderfully! Thank you again, and have a wonderful summer!
Yours, Emmeline Arehart
Photo Credit: https://www.telapost.com/hdr/