The autumn air is prismatic, turning the maple leaves outside the church into spiraling plumes of scarlet. A chill wind from the north buffets them into red tides cresting over the black asphalt. The wind dies and they come to rest in rippled crimson pools.
Parishioners leave the church in various stages of grace or lack there of - their souls accountable by the sensitivity or hardness of their own hearts. However, on this day, accountability is neither asked nor claimed; because this day has seemingly begun with a beauty too intense to burden souls with such trials.
Yet, had one looked closer, possibly at the dark clouds barely peeking above the Cascades, or watched the cattle gather in the meadows to lie together in protective circles, they would have thought otherwise.
Possibly, had they noticed the horses standing head to tail in the fields, one watching north, the other south or the subtle change of the wind blowing their manes, they may have been less at ease and more alert - as I should have been.
Both young and old leave the sanctified building, some redeemed, some not. Some edified, some indifferent, some naïve, some good, some evil – each liable in their own way to their choices. Each walking into the autumn day; delighting at the scarlet tide of fallen leaves rustling at their feet – but not all with good purpose.
This pristine day’s clarity is measured by uncluttered skies; and such infinity allows dreams at last to soar, and search unfettered for the face of God. Indeed, a day where the bird is on the wing and all is seemingly right with the world.
Car engines grind to life, and gray acidic fumes billow their exhausted efforts, their chrome, metal and upholstered bodies warming as infused with black blood. Snug, idling vehicles senseless to right or wrong - waiting direction: fast, slow, turn, stop.
Voices play hide and seek in the chilling wind, waxing and waning in pleasantries and admonishments: “Lovely service. Buckle up. Drive safe. Love you. Love you back. Be home in an hour.”
Words, uttered over slamming doors and revving engines, phrases collating into vaporous balloons to mingle without ceremony with the cars’ exhaust, and dissipate into the sky. Invisible words forever lost that will soon - too soon - be sought in vain to recapture the sound of the cherished voice one last time. “Love you back. Be home in an hour.”
And that hour arrives and then passes. And then another. The day’s luster, once heighten by the sun’s attendance begins its tarnish in a graying mist. Curtains are peered through in furtive, anxious glances. The driveway stands empty, no assuring crunch of tires upon the gravel.
The scarlet tide of leaves turns brackish and its rippled crimson pools foretells a chill that no jacket, no glove, no hat, muffler or heated beverage or raging fire can ever abate.
Prayers are whispered. Phone calls are made: “Sorry, we’re not able to release that information. We haven’t seen him since church. Try not to worry. We’ll call if we hear anything”. But the calls never come. Never, and the silence pierces the core of your being.
A frantic search is made and the once small, familiar town becomes an enigma. The streets turn into alleyways with infinite shadows and forbidden dank recesses. The woods turn sinister and dark. You cross a bridge and the river below becomes a fathomless pit emptying into hell itself.
You return home. Sirens wail in the dwindling hours and their sounds become a limbless apparition given ungodly strength to clutch and squeeze your heart. Doubts weigh in. He’s only sixteen. Why did we buy him the car? One of us should have ridden with him… Incorporeal, accusatory voices, soliloquies of an aching, guilt-ridden soul.
Powerless, you clutch your wife’s trembling hand and bring it to your face to taste salted tears. Your eyes meet, searching black, unimaginable depths and finding a light that only God could provide. Your daughter joins you and you cry.
You glance out the window, daybreak has begun. And, as the hours before once past, so now do the days – slow and endlessly, one after the other. Until at last there is a knock at the door. A familiar detective stands there. Eyes rimmed in the same red of the maple leaves of years ago
“One of the parishioners from your church has died,” he says, voice trembling. “We found your son’s car, hidden in his barn.”
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