By John Thomas Tuft

“Do you even have any idea what this is all about?” The man came through the trees, slipping in and out of the shadows cast by the moon, stepping around the memorial stone for the doomed USAir Flight 427. “What is it people say that they fear the most?” The moon slipped behind a cloud and for a moment the trees loomed like spectral ghosts around the clearing, whispering among themselves about meteors playing tag with the stars high above. Luther stopped next to Danny, leaned over and muttered directly into his ear, “It’s not death.”

He straightened up. “What happens when your faith and your life go different directions? Lead to different conclusions about what is real, what is true?” He held Danny with his gaze, as though daring the younger man to dispute the questions. “This world is built on blood sacrifices. Sometimes we call it evil, an unjust cause. Sometimes we call it patriotic, a worthy sacrifice for a just cause. So, which one was this?” his arm swept over the dark vestiges of the crash site. “C’mon, Danny, cat got your tongue?” Danny tried to settle his thoughts. “When the Chippewa on this side of the Ohio River tried to drive white settlers out of the valley, who was right? Both sides felt they had the right to ‘stand their ground,’ as some like to put it. Whose cause was just? In the end, does it matter what you die for?”

 “Maybe it’s all about what we leave behind.” Luther sat down and leaned against a tree. “There were a bunch of kids right down the hill from here practicing soccer. The plane didn’t hit them. What was that, a miracle?” Danny sighed. “The cockpit recordings show the pilots fought it all the way down. What was that, inability to defy the laws of physics?” Luther chuckled. “I like you kid, no matter what they say about your kind. But humility doesn’t put food on the table, and you can’t take joy to the bank. Wake up and smell the coffee.” Danny eyed him warily. “This whole area was covered with little flags. Red and yellow flags that marked human remains and jet airplane pieces. Aviation fuel and blood soaking into the earth. Biohazardous waste and toxic waste. Is that what we are? Biohazardous waste?”

Luther sat silent for the longest time. Finally, he offered, “Humans want certainty and legacy. You live and this is what it’s all about, and the ones at the top are who make it possible to fill in the blanks. You die and this is what that’s all about, and we fill in the blanks. Accomplish this much, leave behind that much, and we tell you that’s happiness, that is fulfillment. You feel better about it all. There’s nothing evil about that.” Danny rubbed his tired eyes. “Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Conquer the world, leave behind a mountain of money…you’re still leaving, like it or not. Why do you wear the sign of the Parousia around your neck?” Luther looked down, then met Danny’s gaze. “We are the arrival, we are the Presence. We protect our God given right of human existence.”

Danny was growing weary of this conversation. “How’s that working out for you? Why are you so afraid of a little group who say that life is about humility and joy, attained through sacrifice and service? The BloodFire. Remembered in stories, ancient and recent. That’s all Willow ever talked about.” Luther decided he was done toying with his subject. “Do you know what people are most afraid of? It is isolation. It is emptiness. And uncertainty. We fill that up for them and they will follow wherever we lead. Even die for us, because we took away the isolation and emptiness. Promised that death would be very meaningful. That even death brings a certainty and legacy, just like in living.”

Danny studied the moonshadows shrouding the bloodstained clearing on the hillside. “What if there are other worlds? What if there is more? What if this world is simply some sort of sanctuary provided to us so we can learn about such things? What if we are to take this like it was some sort of gospel, some kind of good story, well told, that doesn’t belong to us, doesn’t belong to anybody?” He stood up to leave. “What do I know? Willow knew all about it. And she’s gone. My parents are gone, and even my sister…” He choked on these last words. Luther came to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s been hard for you, I know. And I also know,” he tightened his grip,  “who killed your sister.” He whispered into Danny’s ear ever so briefly.

The moon slipped behind the clouds again and plunged the memorial ground into darkness. When it reappeared, Luther was gone, simply gone. Leaving Danny with a name…and a choice.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.

(The saga of the Midnight Shepherd continues…)