By John Thomas Tuft

Jason and Johnna sat in front of the fire, laid in because of the cool autumn mountain air creeping in under the warped door and around the cracked caulking of the windows with the wavy glass. Sierra rested comfortably upstairs under the only thing she had left from her mother, a handstitched quilt given to Annie when she was Sierra’s age by her own mother. The squares depicted a flaming red, yellow and orange sun beating on down a field of golden flowers. In the distance, flowing from purple smoky mountains ran a stream of blue, cool water. In the middle of the field sat a large boulder. Beside the boulder knelt the image of young girl, silhouetted against the brown and green stand of trees behind her. Around the hem of the quilt were stitched in black lettering: The Child of Sorrows.

“Before I got Willow’s letter about inheriting her Testament newspaper, I was on a story about this old couple in a trailer park,” Jason said, trying not to think about his worries over Sierra. “Seems the wife, Marcy Sears, was cleaning out an old closet in their trailer, moved some old Depression glass she had on shelf, and lo and behold, there in the grimy paneling of the flimsy door…was him!” He waved a hand over the imaginary surface of a rickety door. “Who?” asked Johnna. “Why, Jesus, of course. Who else would be in the paneling of an old trailer closet door heated by a smoky oil furnace?” He got up and poked at the fire. “She kept blowing cigarette smoke in my face the whole time. Her husband, Skeet, sat in the living room watching Jeopardy, throwing in his two cents every so often between beers.”

“How did she know it was Jesus?” Johnna looked thoughtful. Jason recounted, “If I remember right, Marcy said, ‘It was like one of them little hologram cards they give you down at Jones funeral home. You look at it one way and you see Jesus on the cross kinda fuzzy, but you jiggle it around and get the right angle and his face jumps right out at you.’ At least, that was her story.” Jason sighed and sat back down. “I guess you see one Jesus in the closet door, you’ve seen them all,” Jason shrugged. “Anyway, some local gospel screecher with more names than the disciples, convinced them it was a sign and people should know. So, Skeet pulls out this chipped china bowl with a little sign suggesting a donation of $5, 10 if you wanted a picture. I take a look out the window, and there’s at least a dozen cars lined up for the evening viewing!”

“What would it be a sign of?” Johnna watched the fire rush the chimney. Jason rolled his eyes. She persisted. “Did you write the story?” Jason let out an exasperated sigh. “There’s no story. There’s no sign. It’s like seeing Elvis in your toast or Obama in your bagel. There’s no story.” A sound on the stairs made them both look up. “Daddy,” Sierra stood there, wrapped in the quilt, the ‘Child of Sorrows’ letters dragging on the floor. “It’s happening. So many people. Mommy is terrified.” Her trembling caused the picture on the quilt to shimmy and the glimmer of firelight made the flowers dance. Jason went to her and wrapped his daughter in his arms. “Mommy doesn’t know, honey. She’s too sick to know. The people with her are taking good care of her.”

Sierra laid her head on her dad’s shoulder. “I saw Mommy today, she was walking in the smoke and flames. It was quiet, Daddy. Nobody screamed.” Jason’s eyes sought Johnna’s, but they mirrored each other’s concern and utter hopeless fear. “Honey,” Jason whispered, “it was a dream. Nothing’s going to happen. Mommy is safe in the nursing home. They take good care of her.” He squeezed his eyes shut tight, willing the shaking of the girl’s thin body to stop. Please stop.

“I’d better be getting back,” Johnna stood up and came over to gently stroke Sierra’s hair. “That’s a beautiful blanket. It must be very special.” Sierra nodded as she untangled from her father and unfurled the precious parament for Johnna. “Who is the little girl in the picture?” she prodded. Without hesitating, Sierra confirmed, “Oh, she is one of the clowns of God. When the Midnight Shepherd gets here, he will keep her safe.”

Later, after getting Sierra tucked back into her own bed, Jason sat in his bedroom in the darkness. Sleep would not come. Finally, he flipped on the computer to try and get some work done on the next story. He started to type out the date for the next issue. Dateline September 11, 2001…

Adapted from Chapter Twelve, Midnight Shepherd

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.