Random Chapter from the Bone Conjurors
Okay Thomas Fans, here it is, a Random Chapter from the presently titled ‘The Bone Conjurors”
My tires crackled over the gravel driveway as I drove up to Olan and Edna’s farmhouse. Their pack of dogs, a herd of German Shepherds and hound dog mutts barked and ran along side the car escorting me down the road as the late morning light reflected off the snow covered cow fields.
I pulled up next to the house and turned off the car, honking the horn as I did. The dogs were only friendly if Olan came outside to greet you. Otherwise, I would have lost a limb as a price for this expedition.
Olan came out and waved, mouthing something to the dogs. They left my car and surrounded him like guardians.
I jumped out and said, “Hey Olan. How’s things?”
“Fine, preacher, just fine. The Mrs. feels much better. Come in and eat.”
I walked into their living room. The TV blasted the Japanese of a Ninja movie. Above the TV, a painting of Edna’s covered the wall. She had done it on a trip to the Painted Desert in Arizona. . The red, blue and gray mixed to look like a dust storm of color. Quite a contrast with ninja’s actively chopping each other in half.
“More ninja’s, Olan?” I said with a smile. Olan loved ninja movies and had one of the largest collections I had ever seen.
“Oh yeah, new one from Japan, rare one. Just got it yesterday. It’s an important movie for the Ninja genre.”
“Nothing more groundbreaking than slicing people in half,” I said.
“He he, that is why I like you boy, you got a sense of humor. Unusual for a preacher.”
“Well, it’s hard not to take ourselves too seriously, as God’s Kingdom depends on every little decision we make,” I said, smiling.
“Thank God, that’s not true,” Olan said.
“So, footprints, let’s see them.”
Olan waved his hand.
“Nah, let’s eat first. Edna will have my hide if I take you tromping around the farm before your stomach is full.”
We went into the kitchen and Edna hovered over the hot pancake griddle. The kitchen is the only expensive looking thing in their house. It looked like something out of a Martha Stewart magazine, pots hanging from the ceiling, granite counter tops, and every kitchen appliance that could be bought from the Home Shopping Network. Olan said it was the only nod Edna made to material wealth, and he had no reason to complain when he received all the benefits.
I smiled at Edna.
Edna wiped her hands on her apron crushing me with a hug.
“Oh Aidan! Thank you so much for last night! Please sit. The pancakes are just about ready. Do you want juice? I also have tea.”
“Both would be great, thanks,” I said, sitting down.
“So, ready for the elder’s meeting go tonight?” Olan said pouring himself some coffee, “Should be a barnburner from what I hear.”
“Olan, how in the world did you know…”
“Boys. No unpleasant talk at breakfast. I’ll not have it.”
She cut us off, swiping Olan with a towel.
“Yes, dear,” Olan said, giving me a little wink.
“Still, I hope…”
“Olan.” Edna said, now thumping him on the head with a wooden spoon.
“Ow! Woman, you’re gonna kill me one of these days doing that.”
“Then I’ll have some peace at the breakfast table, won’t I?”
I hid my smile under the pretense of wiping my mouth. Olan and Edna seemed to be always having a fight of one type or another. If I didn’t want to think too deeply about it, I would have called it foreplay.
“No, I’d come back and haunt you,” he shot back.
“If you did, I would get the house blessed by…”
“Edna.” Olan’s face changed from the half smile he had been wearing to a frown.
“What,” I said, looking from Olan to Edna.
“It’s nothing, Aidan, nothing at all. Eat your pancakes. You are far too skinny. Do you eat at all?”
Okay, so she wanted to change the subject.
“Well, I would, but I’m nervous about the game.”
We ate the rest of the meal talking about the Buckeyes and their chances in the national championship game, a must-have table conversation for anyone living in Central Ohio.
At the end of the meal, Olan pushed back and said, “Well, let’s have a look at those foot prints.”
As he put on his coat, he handed me some big rubber boots that flopped in my hands.
“Here, put these on because there are too many cow pies where we are going for your shoes to handle.”
We walked out behind the house and jumped over the barbed wire fence. My pants leg snagged on the top wire, and I almost pitched on the ground face first.
“Sorry, Olan, we ministers aren’t used to cow pie boots.”
“No, but I bet they would be useful on occasion.”
We trudged through the frozen mounds of earth. The sky had turned from an “it’s gonna be an okay partly sunny day” to a Central Ohio winter gray that I’m convinced had a heavy influence on Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson. Both lived in this area of the country at one point in their lives.
“Here comes the storm.”
Olan squinted at the sky.
“Yeah, I think you’re right.”
“Glad you could get out here before the snow hit.”
“So, how did you notice the prints way out here?”
He didn’t answer for a moment.
“I want you to see ‘em first.”
He slowed down his walk.
“Over there, by the woods. You’ll have to step carefully. They’re hard to see at first.”
I walked over to the edge where the field turned into the woods, the in-between place. At first I saw nothing but some light indentations in the snow, but, when I bent down, I could make out distinct prints.
Olan wasn’t just being general when he said footprints. They weren’t boots, tennis shoes or even high heels; they were bare-feet prints. They either belonged to a woman with very small feet or of a child.
I traced my finger along the faint impression, hardly touching the outer lines of the heel so as not to upset the snowy imprint, up the foot and to the small toes.
I looked up at Olan.
“I don’t understand. Who would let their kid out in the middle of a snow storm?”
Olan gave me a crooked smile.
“No one around here, Aidan. Ain’t no one that stupid. I know some folks are hicks out here, but they ain’t hillbillies.”
“How did you find them?”
Olan stooped down beside me and said, “Edna had a bad dream last night, or early morning I should say. After we got home.”
“A dream about footprints?”
“No, about our son who died.” His voice cracked a bit and he rubbed his hands over his face. I had only seen him do that on one other occasion, the death of a close friend at our church.
“I don’t understand,” I said. I tried hard to remember if Olan had mentioned any other children.
“I guess we never told you about Joseph. Don’t find it very easy to talk about him.”
“You don’t have to,” I said, touching his shoulder.
“Nah, should have told you sooner, and the dream won’t make much sense if I don’t,” he said, staring off at a car moving in the distance.
“When we first started trying to have kids, we had a hard time. We tried for three years. Nothin’. Then, Edna got pregnant and we were pleased as punch.”
“Everythin’ went fine. Remember, there were no ultrasounds then.”
“Well, baby was born, crying was good, but he wouldn’t eat. They did a bunch of tests and figured out that the baby had no esophagus,” I looked at Olan who was staring at the footprints, tears rolled down his cheeks. “Now-a-days, there’s a surgery that fixes it pretty nicely. Then, wasn’t no surgery. My boy starved to death.” He paused rubbing his face again, “There’s nothin’ more horrible in the world, Aidan.”
I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Even though I make my living talking to people, I couldn’t find anything to say.
“So, we had the funeral. Edna – I thought she would never be the same. The second pregnancy was, as you can guess, terrible, full of fear. But, James turned out all right, even if he did go to Michigan.”
Olan smiled a little.
I found my voice.
“Well, no one’s perfect Olan.”
He wiped his eyes, “So, you asked how I found these? You’ll also want to know how I know who made them.”
“Edna sometimes has dreams, only thing I know what to call them. Anyway, she had a dream that she was walking in this field, and she saw a little boy walking barefoot in the snow.”
He reached down to touch a print.
“She called out to him and asked what he was doing there.”
His voiced cracked again, “The boy turned and Edna saw his face. She knew him even before he said anythin’.”
“But how-” I began to ask.
“The mother thing, Aidan. Anyway, the boy spoke.”
“What did he say?”
“Well, that’s the strange part.”
I tried not to laugh at that one. The strange part, as if the rest of this didn’t border on Lost territory already.
“He said, ‘They’ve begun, mommy. The dark men have begun.’”
“What did Edna say?”
“Nothing. She found she couldn’t speak. She was only able to think how much she loved Joseph.”
“How did, um, Joseph respond?”
“I don’t cry much Aidan, never have. But this one, well, could very well have me weepin’ for days.”
He looked at me, tears running down his heavily lined face.
“He said, ‘I love you too mommy. We’ll be together soon.’ She woke up instantly.”
“And she had you come out here?”
“Yeah, she did. I can’t refuse her anything. I know I seem gullible to some folks, but even I had a hard time believin’ her, especially at five in the mornin’ after a sleepless night. But, I came out here anyway.”
“I’ve a strong heart, as you found out last night. Heart of a man half my age, so the ol’ saw bones tells me, but I could feel it seize up in my chest when I saw these.”
He pointed towards the prints.
“Exactly where Edna said they would be.”
“Olan, I mean, I don’t know what to do with that.”
“Do you think I do, Aidan?”
“Yeah but-” I stopped, thinking of…
“You’re thinking of the chicken feed bags, aren’t you?”
My face warmed.
“Um, yeah, to be honest.”
“Thought so. I didn’t think you’d believe me.”
“It’s not that, I mean, maybe Edna just had the dream and someone was running around in their bare feet. Maybe as a joke or for some odd reason, they liked it.”
He looked at me with an almost pitying glance.
“Aidan, think about what you just said, boy.”
“I know, Olan, but the other explanation is just…”
“Too supernatural? I thought preachers were supposed to believe in this sorta thing.”
Shit, he was getting too close. The thing about Olan is he might talk like an uneducated country person, but when people underestimated him, that was their mistake. He had graduated from Purdue with honors and then went on to become one of the most successful farmers in Ohio.
“Besides,” he went on, “how would they have done it? And where are their footprints?”
“Covered by the snow?” I said, searching my brain for a possible explanation.
“Boy, don’t they teach you common sense at that seminary school? If those tracks were covered up, why aren’t these?”
He had me and knew it. He looked me in the face.
“Don’t you believe such things are possible?”
“I do. I mean, not to be blunt, but it’s hard for me to swallow that your son’s footprints are out here in the middle of the snow.”
I shifted my feet and wrapped my arms around my body.
‘Well, because, I mean, I just don’t think it’s possible.”
Olan nodded his head staring at the same row of trees.
“Look, Olan, I mean, God just doesn’t allow dead people to walk around the earth. I mean I hate to be that harsh.”
He ignored my lame attempts at pity.
“Really? Bible say that?”
“Well, no, not exactly.”
I said, avoiding his gaze.
“Not exactly is right. Didn’t they teach you that at seminary school?”
“Yeah, but, maybe I was asleep when we talked about ghosts.”
“Remember Saul talking to Samuel?”
“That was probably a demon or something.”
“Bible say that?”
I opened my mouth then shut it. Come to think of it, the passage doesn’t say that all. In fact, just the opposite, Samuel upbraids Saul for using a witch to call him and then for disturbing his rest.
“No, you’re right, it doesn’t say that, but it also doesn’t say that God sends ghosts to carry message for Him either.”
We both stared at the footprints. I hated to admit it, but I didn’t really have an explanation for them. The crazy redneck explanation didn’t really work. I knew all of Olan’s neighbors. It took a stretch of the imagination to picture any of them doing anything like this. But, I also knew there was no way it could be Olan and Edna’s dead son.
Olan patted me on the shoulder.
“Let’s go walk back to the house.”
We trudged back over the field, avoiding the cow shit as best we could.
“So what do you think?” He asked, holding down the barbwire for me to step over.
“About?” I turned around to hold it for him.
“Joseph’s message, what’s it mean?’
“I have no idea, Olan.”
I didn’t want to think about it.
“Don’t you think we should find out?”
“How in the world we do that?”
“Dunno. Keep a sharp eye?”
I wanted to humor him, but, despite what I said in the field, I didn’t see how their dead son could appear to Edna in a dream and then leave his footprints in a field. There was no doubt about them being there; I just thought there had to be other explanations. My doubts needed it.
“Keep a weathered eye, Commander.”
Olan smiled. He had served as a Naval officer during the Korean War.
“Good boy. I thought you’d fight me on this one.”
“Not at all.”
We walked inside the house and took off our boots, and I walked to the door.
“All right folks, gotta get back to the church.”
Edna hugged me and handed me a ziploc bag full of pancakes.
“Here, Aidan, take these to eat.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
Then she handed me another bag containing a large, white bone.
“This is for Bishop. Bring him out to the farm as soon as possible to get some exercise.”
Olan walked me out to the car.
“Aidan, one thing,”
“I want you to remember something.”
The farmer accent was gone.
“Not everything that is real can be seen.”