By John Thomas Tuft

Jason sat in the vast empty parking lots surrounding Three Rivers Stadium, running the heater in his car against the frigid night air. Across the black waters rose the fountain at the tip of The Point, the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers to give birth to the mighty Ohio in Pittsburgh, festooned with bright lights in the shape of a Christmas tree. Deep underneath the Point lay the shrouded mystery of the Fourth River, actually an aquifer that fed several of the downtown buildings’ water supply. He listened to The Cranberries singing “Dreams” on the radio, keeping one ear tuned to the police and fire scanner on the dashboard. In his second job as a stringer for the newspapers, after he got off work in maintenance at Allegheny General Hospital, he chased stories and his own dreams of being a journalist.

Static from the scanner screeched above the music. Annie, his wife, was at home with the two kids, a seven year old daughter, Sierra, and a two year old son, Joshua and they could really use the money. Annie went on disability after her work as an EMT left her with PTSD from working at the crash site of USAir427 out in Hopewell Township. Jason caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror. The life of flash and dash that went into being a reporter, he scoffed at the reflection. He sighed and ran his fingers through his thick, dark hair. Annie’s symptoms were getting worse, darker, more disturbing. The doctors at Western Psych put her on heavy meds, but they didn’t seem to make much difference. They struggled to keep body and soul together. If he could just get one good break…just one.

Jason began to doodle in the moisture fogging up his window. He drew a heart with an arrow through it and underneath the words, “It has to be. Hideous glory.” He didn’t know why, it just popped into his head. He pressed his lips to the glass, leaving the imprint of a kiss. Something on the scanner caught his attention. “Domestic disturbance. Possible DOA. EMT en route. 1236 Brighton Road.” His heart leapt to his throat. His home. They were being dispatched to his house. “No!” Jason screamed as he threw the car in gear and careered out of the lot. He sped past the signs for the National Aviary and the Children’s Museum where he brought Sierra on Saturdays. As he made the turn onto Brighton Road, he looked left. The heart with the arrow and the words were already running in rivulets down the glass.

When he pulled up to the house, the police were there. A burly officer blocked the front door. “It’s my house. Let me in!” screamed Jason. The officer reluctantly stepped aside. Nothing could prepare Jason for what awaited him. Annie sat on the floor, propped against the refrigerator. Her blonde hair was streaked with a strange brown. In her hand she grasped a large knife. “It has to be. Don’t you see?” she said. Then he noticed the blood on her hands. “What?” was all he could say. “I held him, honey. I held him. The savior of the world.” She tried to stand but her legs would not hold her, and she sank back to the floor. “Who? Who did you hold?” Jason pleaded, his eyes on the bloody knife. “It’s Christmas. The savior of the world comes. Jason, he comes for us. To die, don’t you see? I had to do it, for the world. He came to die for us. If he doesn’t die, what’s the point?”

Jason gingerly stepped closer to her. Then something caught at the corner of his eye. At first it did not register. He concentrated, trying to focus. “See?” pleaded Annie. “Behold the savior of the world. Sent to die for our sins. A single tear leaked from the corner of her eye and trickled down her cheek. His stomach lurched as he recognized Joshua’s blonde curls. What was his hair doing on the floor? And why did it have the same brown streaks as Annie’s? Joshua’s blue eyes stared back at him, lifeless. In a pool of blood spreading beneath his big boy training pants. The breath left Jason in a rush. He wretched and tried to hold it back. With a strangled cry, his foot slipping in the blood, he stepped over to cradle his only son in his arm, holding him close.

“Daddy.” The quiet voice terrified him. The dead don’t speak. “Daddy, don’t be scared.” He slowly lifted his gaze. Sierra stood in the dark doorway to her bedroom, as though she were stepping from a tomb. “I’m still here,” she whispered. “I’m still here with you.”

Just when we figure we can put the Gospel neatly into our pockets, Lent comes along to remind us that the road to Easter is a disturbing and hideous glory.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

Adapted from the opening to THE HEALING, by John Thomas Tuft, due in late 2021, if you would like to learn more of Jason and Sierra’s journey to healing.