Read the first chapter of
The Midnight Saint...
The First Day
Wednesday, December 13th
"About a hundred-thirty miles, or seventeen gallons of gas, based on the last tank," she said, staring at the map and mentally adding the numbers between the state line and Little Rock. "Wait, we're still thirty miles from the state line so add another couple of gallons."
"Crap," Daniel sighed under his breath, closing his eyes and resting his face in his hands. "We're in some real trouble here, Jen."
"How much do we have?" she asked cautiously.
"Fifteen bucks and change. Nowhere near enough for the gas."
The old brown sedan had coasted into the station on fumes. The paint was fading, and peeling on top, and the automobile that was so grand in its day was holding on for dear life. Despite the bald tires, the torn upholstery and the sagging headliner, a rosary and cross hanging from the rear-view mirror lent a ray of hope to the car. In the back seat, a child stirred.
"Mom? Dad? Are we there yet?"
"No honey; go back to sleep. We're still a few hours away," Jen said, desperately trying to comfort her daughter. She watched as the girl laid her head back down in the seat, foggy from a child's slumber.
Daniel sighed. "Geez, four years old already, and this is all we can give her." He felt the weight of the world pressing down on him in the front seat of the car.
"We'll be fine. The job's waiting. All we have to do is get to Little Rock."
He shook his head in frustration. "I know, Jen, but how in the world are we going to do that? We're out of money, and almost out of time. It was unbelievably great of your sister to get me this job. If I don't show up by tomorrow morning, though, not only will I lose the gig, but I'll never be able to face your family again."
"C'mon Daniel, everyone knows that it wasn't your fault that the garage closed down. You were the best mechanic in the place, and you always had people asking for you personally to work on their car," she said, smiling at her husband, genuinely proud. She reached over and gently pushed a tuft of hair off his forehead. "So a mom and pop shop couldn't keep up with the national chains. We'll survive. We'll stay with Suzi and Jim for a month, bank a couple of checks, and then find a place of our own."
"I know, I know. I just wish that we hadn't drained our savings in the mean time. So now we're in the middle of nowhere, out of money, out of gas, and a couple of hours away from our last chance. Any ideas?"
"Shhh. Mandy's asleep," she whispered. "Don't talk about M-O-N-E-Y and get her upset."
"I'm upset about M-O-N-E-Y!" Daniel said. "But we've got to hit Little Rock tonight." He looked around the gas station, and then opened the door of the car. "Stay here. I'll see what I can do." Daniel took a deep breath, and then climbed out into the cold night air.
Jen glanced over the seat to check on her daughter, then closed her eyes tightly and prayed hard for their delivery. Opening her eyes, she looked through the windshield and saw the desperation on her husband's face as he stood helplessly at the front of the car. She thought of the day, December thirteenth, and then closed her eyes once again. Whispering the words from her youth, she began to softly say, "Saint Lucia, virgin and martyr, hear my prayer and obtain my petition..."
* * * * *
It had honestly been a good day. With the ups and downs of the economy, Adam's career had been a roller coaster ride over the last year. Today, however, they had received the final word on the lumber factory where half of the town worked: it would remain open, at least for the foreseeable future. There had been an understandable celebration all afternoon, and everyone drifted out early for the day to rush home and tell the good news to their families. Adam had done just the opposite, calling his wife on the phone, and then staying to take advantage of the quiet time to finish up some of the work that had been piling up on his desk. With the possibility of the factory closing looming over their heads, work had slowed to a snail's pace as people worried more and more. It was especially true in supplies and procurement, the department that Adam headed. His group had the responsibility for acquiring every item that rolled through the gates of the plant, from bread for the cafeteria to the timber that would be turned into plywood, planking, and other lumber products none of which seemed to matter if the place was shut down. Christmas was also less than two weeks away and the end of the year was around the corner. Even with the good news that had just been received, the work at the plant would soon be grinding to a halt for the holidays.
Adam started out as a clerk in the department the summer after he graduated from high school, and had shown a genuine talent for working with the numbers and juggling the orders and schedules generated by the group. Every few years he had been given more responsibility, slowly rising through the organizational chart. Two years ago, his boss and friend had called him into his office, closed the door, and told him that he was retiring. His choice for replacement was Adam. The new position brought longer hours and more work, and while he didn't exactly have a passion for his job, he was good at it and loved working with the people in the department. In the past few months, however, Adam had spent many a night tossing and turning in bed, wondering where they would all find jobs if the plant did indeed close.
Fortunately, that was no longer a worry. Hopefully the wheels of the lumber plant would continue to turn. He had at least done his part, completing the sizable stack of work on his desk before locking up his office and walking through the dusk to his pickup. Leaving work this late afforded him the luxury of a leisurely drive home, away from any rush-hour traffic. Christmas decorations were just starting to be turned on as darkness fell, filling Adam with the warmth and nostalgia of the season. There had been a blanketing snowfall earlier in the week, with an occasional flurry here and there since, leaving patchy areas of white in small drifts beside the road. Most yards had a light covering of snow, setting off the brilliantly colored decorations. The Christmas season was Adam's favorite time of the year.
As he drove, he noticed that the truck had dropped below the halfway mark on the gas gauge. Adam considered waiting, but knew that it would be one less thing to remember to do. Putting on his blinker, he turned in to the convenience store by the main highway and wheeled up to one of the gas pumps. He opened the door of his pickup, and stepped into the brisk night air.
Like thousands of other times, he mechanically removed the gas cap, lifted the nozzle, inserted it and squeezed the trigger to begin pumping. Nothing happened. Adam shook his head, removed his wallet, and then went through the credit card pay-at-the-pump procedure. He heard a mechanical click inside the pump, so he squeezed the trigger again and the gasoline began to flow. With one last adjustment he set the handle for automatic cut-off, and then leaned back against the truck to wait.
The monotony was broken by a young man, perhaps twenty-five, who lumbered cautiously over to him from a rough-looking car in the other pump lane. He looked lean and a bit haggard, but for a reason that he couldn't explain Adam sensed that there was something good about him.
"Evening, Mister," the young man said. "How are you doing?"
"Oh, 'bout right," Adam replied casually. The question had obviously been rhetorical, so he just stood there listening to the gas pump churning the liquid into the truck, waiting to hear what was really on the young man's mind.
"You interested in buying some tools?" the fellow asked hopefully. "I've got a great wrench set that cost me a couple hundred bucks a year or so ago. I'll let you have it for forty."
Adam stared at him, trying to size up what was behind the offer.
"They're not stolen or anything, Mister. They're mine. I'm a mechanic, and most guys in my job are expected to have their own tools."
Adam was suspicious. "So why sell them?" he asked. "Getting out of the business?"
"No, I don't want to sell them. Not really. But I have a job waiting for me in Little Rock tomorrow and..." his voice softened; he looked down. "We don't have the money to get there. We're going to stay with my sister-in-law, and I can probably borrow somebody's tools until I can buy my own again, but I have to get there for work in the morning. Please, Mister, the tools are good, and worth a whole lot more."
Adam hesitated, and then reached in his back pocket for his wallet. "Go get'em," he said. Taking out a twenty and two tens, he heard the nozzle snap off indicating that his truck was full of gas. As he returned the nozzle and pulled the receipt from the slot on the pump, he could hear the young man rummaging in the trunk of the car. The fellow emerged with a bright red, metal box, almost the size of a briefcase, and slammed the lid of the trunk shut.
As he walked over to the truck, Adam said, "Let's see'em." The young man opened the case, revealing rows of chrome wrenches, drivers and tools of every shape and size. The overhead florescent lights played on the brilliant metal. Adam admired how neatly they were arranged, and even though they showed signs of wear, it was obvious that they were well cared for, the way that any fine craftsman would do with the tools of his trade. Adam nodded his head, satisfied with what he saw, and smiled at the man. "Here you go," he said, extending the forty dollars and accepting the open case. He rested it across the corner of the truck's bed.
"I can't thank you enough," the young man said. "You got a heck of a deal on the tools, but more than that, you'll never know how much you've helped us out tonight. I really do appreciate it." He walked around to the car as he talked.
"No problem. Just do well at the new job. Oh, and you're going to have to go in and pay before pumping," Adam said. He smiled at the man, and nodded toward the convenience store.
"Oh, right; thanks. And thanks again for helping us out," the young man said, and started walking away with a glint of hope in his eyes.
Adam sighed, and looked once again at the tools. He took his wallet back out, removed another twenty, and laid it on top of the shining wrenches. Snapping the case shut, he glanced back over his shoulder to make sure that he wasn't seen.
* * * * *
Jen sat in silence. She had heard Daniel removing the tools that were so precious to him from the trunk. She watched in the mirror as he sold them to a stranger, an act that had to have been incredibly painful. But inside, she marveled at his strength. He had to really believe in this chance. She knew at that very moment that they were going to be just fine. Once again, she closed her eyes tightly. As she softly whispered "Thank you," under her breath, there was a knock on the window of the car.
Standing beside her door was the man who bought the tools, gesturing toward her with the case. She rolled down her window, and he handed it inside.
"Your fellow seems like a proud man, and I expect that you folks are at your last straw for him to sell something so precious just to get gas money."
"We are," she said softly.
"Well, far be it from me to interfere with your plans. Take back the tools. It sounds like you two have a great opportunity. Go make it work," he said, winked, and walked away.
As the pickup truck pulled onto the city street and sped away, Daniel opened the door of the car and looked inside. "Everything okay?" he asked.
Jen sat crying. "Look, Daniel, just take a look at this. That fellow gave your tools back, and"
Daniel saw the twenty laying in the open case, and shook his head. "Man." He stood up, looking after the pickup. "Thanks," he called in the general direction that the stranger had gone, knowing there was no way that he would ever be able to express the full measure of his appreciation.
He stuck his head back into the car. "Wake Mandy up and see if she'd like a soda," he said, smiling. I'm going to fill up the car with gas, so why don't you walk over to the pay phone and tell Suzi and Jim that we'll be there soon." He stopped to look into his wife's eyes. "This is going to happen, Jen. This is all going to work out."
She nodded her head, and looked at him through a teary haze. "I know it will, Daniel, I know it will."
* * * * *
Adam had driven out of the lights of the small town and into the rural countryside where he lived. The moonlight shown on the fields, reflecting off the snow, a white blanket broken only by the occasional barren elm or oak. A sharp contrast to the Christmas lights a few miles behind him, the serene landscape was breathtaking in its simplicity. He was only a mile from home now, passing familiar landmarks that he had known from his youth. Fennway's barn on the right, perpetually in need of a coat of paint, the Community church on the left a hundred yards further up, and finally the pond in Darden's pasture where he and his friends had swam and fished every summer of their boyhood.
Tonight, the pond shined like a mirror, reflecting the thousands of stars overhead. As he passed it, Adam caught something out of the corner of his eye. A young girl, seventeen or eighteen years old at the most, was seemingly skating across the white field toward the pond. He slowed down, knowing full well that the pond had never frozen over. Still, she skimmed right onto it, and across the water as if she was an Olympic skater with the grace of a ballerina. She wore a flowing white gown, had long black hair, and her face shown as if it was illuminated by a halo of light.
Adam was both captivated and mystified by her. Just as he had convinced himself that it was some dream or illusion, she turned her head toward him. The distance did not seem to matter. They might have been only a few feet apart. Her eyes were gleaming, deep, and seemed to look into his very soul. For a moment, he was lost a thousand miles away, not knowing or caring about anything else, but then she turned suddenly away, and glided away into the distance.
Adam shook his head, marveling at the incident. "Whew!" he sighed aloud. "I've got to stop working so late." As he pondered the sight, he slowed the truck and turned into the long gravel driveway toward his home.
* * * * *
Adam opened his eyes, looking around the dark bedroom to get his bearings. After a moment for his eyes to focus, he was able to see the digital clock on the dresser. It read 12:00 AM. The initial moments of disorientation passed the time when fantasy bleeds into the real world. He had been dreaming, seeing the girl again, wondering who she was. He seemed to be traveling with her as she moved faster and faster across the countryside, their feet barely brushing the ground. He felt the cold December air in his face, and the halo of light around her head drew him closer. In the distance he had heard a dog barking, and as it got louder his conscious mind took control and woke him. It was their basset hound, Elvis, and he was sensing something out of the ordinary.
Elvis had innumerable barks, howls, grunts and whines, all meaning something in a basset language that he just couldn't seem to make humans understand. Adam recognized this particular bark, though, as one that Elvis used when something odd was going on. He glanced over to make sure that Emily was okay, and saw that she was still sleeping soundly. Hopefully, he'd be able to quiet Elvis before he disturbed her.
Emily was truly the love of his life. They had started dating while still in high school, married when they graduated and attended junior college while they both held down jobs. Her long, flowing red hair had initially caught his attention, with her deep green eyes accenting a naturally beautiful, always smiling face. He leaned over and gently kissed her cheek, then carefully got out of bed and felt around the room for his blue jeans. Adam pulled them on, slipped on an old pair of sneakers that had been demoted to house shoes, and crept out of the room.
Even though Elvis was a fifty-pound basset, he was a house dog. Adam often joked with people that no one had ever told Elvis that he wasn't a lap dog, either, since visitors could judge how well they met with the dog's approval by the amount of time it took him to jump up into their lap, lick their face, then nuzzle in for a nap. Elvis had a doggie-door from the kitchen to the back yard, which was enclosed by a chain-link fence. Elvis was in the yard tonight, baying at some situation that he obviously didn't think was quite right.
Adam had reached the back door and opened it, already trying to find out what was going on. "Elvis?" he called in a soft voice. "C'mon boy!" As he stepped through the door and onto the back patio, he was immediately bathed in brilliant, white light. His body seized, temporarily in shock.
Adam didn't know how long he stood there, or at what point Elvis stopped barking. His eyes were transfixed on the center of the yard, where the young girl that he had seen earlier stood or rather hovered a few inches off the ground. Her white robes illuminated the entire yard, and around the top of her head shown a halo of light that could only be described as pure. It was a light such as Adam had never seen, and he knew that he was in the presence of something mystical.
"W-who are you?" he stammered, unable to mask the awe in his voice.
The girl smiled, nodded her head once, and simply said, "I am Lucia."
A thousand thoughts raced through Adam's mind. What to say, how to begin, and other innumerable questions formed in his mind, but he opened his mouth and could only say again, "Who are you?"
Again, the girl replied "Lucia." She took several steps toward him, her feet now lightly brushing the ground. A few yards from Adam, she stopped.
"What do you want?" he finally asked with an unwavering gaze.
"Be calm, Adam, you do not have anything to fear. I am here to tell you something. And to give you something."
"Okay... but, I don't understand..." he said.
She smiled again. "Tonight you helped a couple with a small child. They were in desperate need. Very important people, as it will turn out; especially the daughter. The mother asked for my intercession on her behalf, which I gladly gave. The help that you were supposed to supply was to purchase the man's tools to give them the money that they needed to carry on. But you did much more." Her hands had been clasped in front of her, but she now opened them toward Adam. "So here I am. I have something to tell you, and something to give you. Take my hands."
He apprehensively reached out, and as his hands touched Lucia's he felt his body charge with electricity. He felt warm in the midst of the cold winter air, safe in the presence of this being. He was not afraid. He stepped back, rubbing his hands together, and said, "I'm sorry. It's just that you're so, well, different from what I'm used to seeing in my back yard. This is going to sound crazy, and I can't believe that I'm asking it, but are you an angel?" he asked cautiously.
"I am not an angel," she said with a soft, sweet voice. "Angels are busy on other matters. Some would call me Saint Lucia, but you do not have to be so formal. I am simply Lucia."
"A ghost then?" He studied her as he waited for her reply.
"Nor a ghost. At least... not in the sense to which you refer." She stooped down, and then sat on the ground. Elvis was on her, looking for attention before she settled. He stood with his front paws in her lap, completely calm as she gently stroked his back. "I love animals so much," she said, laughing at his sad eyes and drooping basset face. "But back to your question. I am not some disembodied spirit, wandering the Earth which is what I assume you describe. I guess that the easiest way to explain it is that I was once a living human, just like yourself, but a very long time ago. I died, but I have come to you at God's instruction tonight to deliver a message on his behalf."
"God?" Adam asked, his eyebrows rising. "God like in the Community Church up the road? Like in Sunday School? GOD God?"
"God that lives in your heart, Adam," she replied evenly, her eyes staring up into Adam's as she continued to stroke the dog.
"I'm afraid that you have the wrong guy, Ms. Lucia. I'm certainly not the kind of guy that a saint would be visiting, because I haven't been to church in..."
"That is not how you judge people, Adam, and it is certainly not how God does," she interrupted. "He knows you, and He knows your heart. You are a good man, and God is pleased with you."
Adam was silent for a few moments to digest her words. He finally said, "So you're telling me that you actually talk to God?"
She gave Elvis a final pat, and then stood to face Adam. Lucia looked him squarely in the eyes. Her features were delicate, like a young girl who was just becoming a woman. She said, "Only moments before you drove away from the gasoline station, while you were still thinking about your day at work, while your daughter was asleep at your home and dreaming of Christmas morning, I was standing in the very presence of God, just as I now stand in front of you. He told me what I was to do concerning you, what I was to tell you and the gift that I was to give you this midnight." She smiled. "Yes, Adam, I actually talk to God. But I cannot tarry long tonight, so allow me to do His bidding. I am going to give you a lot to think about. I will tell you what He has instructed me to. I have something to share with you... although I fear that it might be difficult for you to hear."
Adam paused, waiting for her to continue, and finally asked, "Yes?"
She sighed. "What I have come to tell you is this: I am afraid that you, Adam, are going to die."
"Die?" Her words had cut through him, and he was caught completely off guard. Adam felt his heart suddenly race. "W-when? How?" he asked. "You can't just throw something like that out there and"
She raised her hand to stop his questions. "That is all that I am to say about the matter tonight. Except, of course, that you should not be afraid. What will happen will happen, and there is nothing that you can do to evade it."
"But... no..." He looked down for a moment, trying to grasp what she had said. He glanced back up at her. "If God knows me so well, how can he have told you to say that? He must know that there is nothing that terrifies me more than death. Look at me!" he said in a trembling voice. He held out his hands, which were visibly shaking. "I always knew that I would die someday. But to be told that it's about to happen and what about my family? They need me..." he trailed off, tears welling in his eyes.
"I know that you are afraid, but your fear is of the unknown. Remember that I told you that I had a gift for you as well," she continued, "and it is this: over the next eleven days, I will appear to you every evening, and you may ask me one question about death each night. To help you... prepare. The only condition is that you may ask about the exact nature of your own death only on the last night. Other than that, I will answer questions to help you understand and allay your fears about what is to come. She shrugged her shoulders, and said, "You might say that I am here to counsel you in the matter."
He glanced around the dark patio, mind racing. "But that's not fair I'm not that old! How can I possibly..."
"Adam," Lucia said calmly, "children die every day. Infants, even. You have lived a full life. How is this unfair?"
"Because I have a daughter and my wife can't raise her alone, it's too much to ask. They need me!" His tone was desperate, his voice louder.
"And you will wake that family if you raise your voice. We have eleven more nights to discuss the matter. It is not a time to panic."
He took a step back. "Not panic? Not panic, Lucia? What, are you kidding me?" Adam stopped and took a deep breath. "Wait you said that God sent you. God can do anything, right? He can fix this. If He sent you here, He certainly must not want to see me die."
"God does not want to see anything happen to hurt any of His children. And He has the power to do anything that He wishes after all, He spoke this entire universe into being. But He also gave man the gift of free will, and so there are things that, even though they might break His heart, He must simply allow to happen." She paused for a moment, looking peacefully at Adam. "And one of those things is your death. I am sure that it will happen, so please accept your gift, which is to allow me to help you prepare."
He quickly did the math in his head. "Okay, but wait from what you've said, I'm at least going to live until Christmas Day?" he asked hopefully.
Lucia paused, then slowly turned and with a graceful motion started moving away. She moved faster, skating slowly and deliberately across the snow-covered ground. She passed through the chain-link fence surrounding the yard as if it was not there, and as she did she looked back over her shoulder at Adam. "Yes," she said, and disappeared into the night. Elvis ran to the edge of the yard, staring through the fence after her. He whined once, then turned and walked back toward the house, yawning.
Adam sat heavily to the ground and softly said, "Eleven more days; that's almost two weeks. It's plenty of time to figure something out." After a moment of staring into the darkness, he began to sob. "Something..." he said through the tears.
Adam's story is continued in the book
The Midnight Saint by Mitchel Whitington
© 2014 Mitchel Whitington, all rights reserved