- Journey From Night
- A Debt to Pay
- Dead Man’s Hat
- Bare-Assed Messiah
- Atomic Punk
Release date: August 1.
Available at online bookstores and direct from the author.
Release date: August 1.
Available at online bookstores and direct from the author.
Zachariah made it clear to Selma that caring for the baby did not take priority over her responsibilities as a wife, so often, Christine was neglected as Selma saw to the needs of her husband. Despite this, Christine thrived, always large for her age. Doctors who examined her thought she was several months older than she actually was and sometimes insisted on seeing her birth certificate to confirm. As she grew, she spent much time with her uncle Alvin’s family in another county whenever her father would declare he was tired of looking at her and as Christine gained awareness of her situation, she was thankful for the warm and loving environment her uncle provided, versus the cold and cruel confines of her father’s house. On numerous occasions, Alvin insinuated that he and his family would be happy to let Christine stay with them on a permanent basis, but Zachariah always said no.
“The girl’s my responsibility,” he’d say. He never called Christine by name, always calling her “the girl” or just “girl” when addressing her directly.
One person who took a lot of interest in Christine was Deacon Frederick, who was his usual warm and accepting self. In Christine’s case, he was especially so, and always had a piece of peppermint candy for her, and took a genuine delight in whatever story she would tell. Christine came to wish that Deacon Frederick was her father and that she could go live in his fine house in town, rather than the modest and unadorned household her mother maintained at Zachariah’s insistence. For his part, Deacon Frederick always felt a closeness to Christine that was different than what he felt for all the other children in the congregation. He frequently scolded Messner for not showing more affection toward his daughter.
“You got you a fine little girl there, Zachariah,” Frederick said once. “It’s just not right to treat her like you do.”
“The Lord has given me this burden to endure and I shall endure it as I see fit,” was Messner’s reply.
Whenever Frederick would raise the issue with Selma, she would get quiet and change the subject quickly.
“He’s my husband,” she’d say of Zachariah. “I must yield to his judgment.”
At age thirteen, Christine was considered awkward and pudgy, with full, rosy cheeks, very long feet and short, dark hair. Zachariah rarely spent any money on her, other than for food and what he paid for upkeep on their house. He especially didn’t want to waste funds on things she’d only outgrow in a year or so, so her clothing was a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs from kindly neighbors with older kids, or tidbits Selma picked up at the local thrift shop for less than a dollar. The kids at school often teased her about her clothes, but despite this, Christine remained outwardly cheerful and friendly, often laughing along with the other kids, though sometimes when she was alone, she’d cry because of their taunting. Her best friend was Jodie Newcombe, and Christine often spent the afternoon at Jodie’s home, studying and doing their homework, since Zachariah forbade her from reading anything other than the Bible under his roof.
In school, Christine was mostly studious and polite, but in one class, English, she earned a reputation for being disruptive, prompting her teacher, Mr. Standridge, to keep her after school a lot. Mr. Standridge noticed, however, that when Christine was in detention, she never acted out, but was always polite and courteous.
“Is it okay if I read, Mr. Standridge?” Christine asked the first time she showed up after school.
“You may work on your assignments, Christine,” he replied. “That’s fine.”
“No. I was hoping I can read some of them books on that shelf,” she said, pointing to the literary works he assigned to the older students.
“If you’d like,” he said.
For the next few days, Christine would report for detention, and sit, quietly reading books from the shelf. The rate at which she finished them astonished Mr. Standridge, who began to recognize a pattern.
“Christine, can I ask you a question?” he asked her one afternoon.
“Yes sir, Mr. Standridge.”
“Why are you always acting up in my class?” he says. “I’ve spoken to the other teachers and they say you’re a model student in their classes. Why not mine?”
Christine lowered her head. “I don’t mean no disrespect, Mr. Standridge. I just wanted to read some of your books and figured if you kept me after class, I could.”
“If you like to read, I can loan you the books.”
“No sir. My father don’t want me reading at the house.”
“You can’t read at home?”
“No sir. My father only lets me read the Bible at home. I have to leave my book bag at my friend Jodie’s at night. He won’t even let me bring my school books in.”
“I’ll tell you what, Christine,” Standridge said, “I’ll let you come here in the afternoon and read all you want. You can tell your parents whatever you need to as to why you stayed after school. I won’t count it against you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Standridge,” Christine said, very excited.
From then on, Christine was a regular presence in Mr. Standridge’s classroom after school. While she normally would greet him when she entered, read for a while, then say goodbye as she exited, sometimes they’d have brief conversations. He came to enjoy having her there, and admired her studiousness.
“Is that your family?” Christine asked about a photo on his desk.
“It is. My mom and dad, brother Rex, and sister Claire.”
“You still close with your sister?”
“I was. She died when we were children,” he said.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Christine said. “Was she in an accident or something?”
“No, she had a rare heart condition. Now they have a surgery that might have saved her, but they hadn’t developed it back then. Such a shame.”
“Bet you miss her.”
“I do, Christine. Very much.”
“Why ain’t you married, Mr. Standridge?” Christine asked.
“Aren’t, Christine. The proper way to say that is, ‘Why aren’t you married’.”
Christine laughed. “Okay, Mr. Standridge. Why aren’t you married? I mean, you’re a good-looking guy. Lot of the older girls got crushes on you.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she said. “I’m just wondering.”
“Not every man is marriage material Christine. I’m still young, though, so, who knows?”
Christine Messner was a large baby, nearly ten pounds, and Selma was in labor with her for twenty-seven hours. Zachariah forbade her from accepting anything for the pain, owing to Genesis 3:16, so Selma was in quite a bit of distress throughout. While the doctors had not known the gender, based on how much weight Selma had gained, she and Zachariah assumed the child would be a boy.
When she learned she had a girl and Zachariah had left the hospital, Selma took this as a bad sign. She wondered if, perhaps, her husband had done the math, or if, maybe the news that his new child wasn’t the son he had prayed for so vigorously throughout her pregnancy was too much for Messner to bear. In any event, his lack of enthusiasm signaled to Selma that the worst was still to come.
She had to call her brother Alvin to come pick her up and take her and the baby home. As she expected, Zachariah wasn’t there. He was most likely at work or the church, which is where she could count on him being when he wasn’t at home.
In fact, Zachariah had taken a drive into Macon to a strip club he sometimes visited when he felt he needed to renew his purpose. He wasn’t titillated by the dancers or their bodies and never interacted with them. He just sat away from the action, observing, judging, filling his mind with images of fire and brimstone, and all the inhabitants swimming in a lake of fire. If he ordered any food, he’d pay for it without leaving a tip then venture forth, back into his existence fueled by his hatred and disgust.
See, Zachariah had already determined that he hated the girl. He knew this from the moment the words left the nurse’s lips at the hospital. His hatred for her knew no depths, but he chose to take a pragmatic approach to the situation and ask himself why God had chosen to test him in this manner. He resolved that he would not be found lacking and at first, imagined himself some evening after Selma had gone to bed, placing a pillow over the child’s face and holding it there as she stopped squirming. As he drove, however, a new idea replaced this one. Smothering her would be too kind, too easy, and he wanted to be sure nothing for her would ever be easy.
Zachariah Messner was a stern and pious man, a deacon at the Messianic Holiness Congregation, a small church in Houston County, Georgia, near Perry, with no known affiliations to any of the recognized Christian denominations. A man with few pleasures in life, he believed himself to be head of his household and insisted his wife arise at least a half hour before him to start breakfast and would not allow a morsel to be consumed before the morning prayer was said. He started and ended each day with a reading of the Bible, and was always mindful of how those around him perceived his and his family’s actions. Those who knew him often commented on his steadfastness and piety. He clung to his beliefs, not because he felt them in his heart, but because they made the world manageable for him.
In this same congregation, was another deacon, James Frederick, and there was no one more different than Messner. Frederick was a jovial man, who enjoyed the presence of others and made those with whom he interacted feel comfortable and more certain in their beliefs. While Messner was rigid and unyielding in his faith, Frederick could read between the lines and recognized the subtle shades of gray that existed in all interactions. One could claim Frederick’s motto was “always forgive” while Messner’s was “never forget”. Frederick also opened each day with a prayer, but while Messner’s tended to be shallow and self-serving, Frederick concentrated on those in the congregation most in need of guidance and assistance. Needless to say, the two were frequently at odds over church doctrine, with Frederick an unapologetic believer in the Apostle Paul’s message of love and fellowship, while Messner called for a rigid adherence to dogma.
In his thirties, Messner met and married Mylene Tucker, an attractive woman twelve years his junior, with a good heart and a pleasant disposition which contrasted sharply with that of her husband. Despite this, their marriage seemed happy as they anticipated starting a family. Within a few months, Mylene announced she was pregnant, but just two months in, she miscarried. Nevertheless, the couple persisted and six months after her first conception, Mylene was expecting another. This one, too, ended abruptly, establishing a pattern that would recur again and again. As it became a predictable occurrence, Messner took to blaming Mylene, attributing her inability to carry a child on some moral failing he had yet to ascertain. Her once cheery disposition withered, as Zachariah found more and more ways in which she failed in her devotion.
The end finally came in the ninth year of their marriage. Zachariah found some lipstick she had purchased and severely chastised her for catering to her vanity. She swore she only did it to help out her friend who was selling cosmetics, and had no intention of using it. Still, Messner was merciless in his condemnation, and ordered her to spend the day reading the Bible and atoning for her selfishness. That evening, when Messner arrived home, he found Mylene dead in the bathtub having cut her throat using one of his straight razors. On the mirror, written in the lipstick, were the words, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit”. Messner wasn’t long in finding another wife and less than four months after burying Mylene, he married Selma, the thirty-five-year-old spinster sister of Alvin Porter.
Theirs wasn’t a particularly loving marriage. For one thing, changing wives had not changed Messner’s fortunes in starting a family. Just as Mylene before her, Selma endured numerous difficult pregnancies, which all ended within the first two to three months. Rather than look inward and wonder if, perhaps, he was the cause, Messner instead blamed Selma’s lack of devotion on their misfortunes. As a result, Selma became despondent, and finally sought out Deacon Frederick for advice and counsel. He invited her to his home so he could counsel her in private. After this had gone on two or three times a week for nearly a month, Selma once again found she was pregnant. When she made it past four months, Messner’s spirits were raised, and when Selma made it to term, Zachariah was certain the Lord had finally given him the son he hoped to mold into the perfect Christian warrior.
At last, Selma announced the time was at hand and Messner drove her to the regional medical center, where he waited in the maternity ward for news. Finally, a nurse emerged and called his name.
“Congratulations, Mr. Messner. You have a daughter.”
“A girl,” Zachariah said with little enthusiasm.
Zachariah took in the news, shook his head and walked out of the hospital. Selma named the girl Christine.
Charlotte Sanger sits on a tree stump in the middle of the forest, leans back, closes her eyes, and breathes in the cool air, listening to the sounds around her. The sun has been up for more than an hour, and Charlotte was here to witness it. She likes the woods, away from everyone and everything, and sometimes sits for hours, thinking, sometimes singing, writing, or interacting with whatever woodland creature happens to cross her path. She’s developed a talent for attracting animals, being very still and non-threatening, in essence, waiting for them to come to her. She’s not very imposing, just a shade under five and a half feet tall, thin but well-fed, with long, strawberry blonde hair that reaches down her back to below her waist and which she often braids to make it more manageable.
In school, Charlotte is known as Echo, because of her disorder which causes her to repeat back words and phrases said to her, accompanied by various facial ticks and contortions. Her brothers and sisters started out calling her that around the house when she was little, but now many of her classmates also derisively refer to her that way. Her friends still call her Charlotte, but they’re few and mostly kids she’s known since nursery school who’ve grown accustomed to her odd behavior.
Her teachers are often annoyed by her disorder at first, but come to realize she’s very intelligent and studious. Ms. Warner, a math teacher, on her first day dealing with Charlotte, quickly became frustrated with her constant repetition.
“Are you mocking me, Charlotte?”
“Mocking, mocking, mock—” Charlotte replied. “N-no ma’am, Ms. Warner.”
Some of the other kids told Ms. Warner, “She can’t help it. It’s what she does.”
“Perhaps you should come to the board and work out these equations.”
Charlotte complied and got them all right, which impressed Ms. Warner. By the following class, she’d read up on echolalia and afterward, gave Charlotte a wide berth in class.
While Charlotte has trouble speaking, she has no trouble singing and sings in the choir at church, where hers is considered one of the most beautiful voices among the members. Her older brother, Brian, who had been the choir director, realized that Charlotte could sing phrases she had trouble speaking and had been working with her to learn how to “sing” responses rather than say them. As a result, she often has a rhythmic cadence to her speech, similar to someone rapping and sometimes she slips into singing words or phrases. Even still, she finds it hard to communicate and often shies away from people. What she likes best about the woods is that she doesn’t have to talk to anyone, and the animals she encounters don’t judge how she communicates with them.
Brian had to leave town the previous year due to an incident most town folk refuse to discuss openly, though Charlotte still hears whispers around her church and school. It had something to do with Tad Williams, the pastor’s son, and while her mother never said what it was, Charlotte knows Brian well enough and pretty much guessed at what had happened. She heard Tad is taking special classes with Pastor Williams, to learn how to be a better husband and father, which pretty much confirms everything Charlotte suspects. Brian is her favorite brother, and has always been her protector, and Charlotte misses him terribly, but he told her before he left that if she wants, she can come live with him in Atlanta when she graduates. That’s now less than a year away.
She leans back on her hands and sings the lyrics to a new song she’s been writing to the tune of a song she learned from the radio. Brian was the one who added music to her lyrics, another reason she misses him. She clears her head of all concerns and allows her mind to wander, allowing thoughts to drift in and out without letting them occupy too much of her consciousness. Nearby, she has her notebook, where she can write down any poems, stories, or new lyrics that come to her. While she’s good at most subjects at school, her favorite is English, and her teacher, Mr. Maynard, encourages her creative abilities. She channels everything she wants to say into her writing, routinely filling notebooks and journals with her words.
Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of pine straw and twigs crunching. Something big is coming toward her, and Charlotte opens her eyes, expecting to see a deer, or a large dog. Instead a young man trudges into the clearing, looking like he has no idea where he is or how he got there. He’s at least six feet tall and well-built, wearing gym shorts and a varsity T-shirt, and jogging shoes. His dark hair is curly, and he’s clean shaven. Charlotte recognizes him as Ned Branch, the captain of her high school football team, and the most popular guy in her school. He stands in the clearing a moment, as though trying to get his bearings, then turns toward Charlotte, and, seeing her, he smiles. She’s at a loss for words.
“Oh, hey,” he says. “I’m not lost anymore.” He considers this. “Unless you’re lost. Then I guess we both are.”
Charlotte still cannot find words, and struggles to contain the impulse to repeat what he says.
“Was that you singing?” Ned asks.
Charlotte nods with her lips pressed tightly together.
“You sound real good,” he says. Approaching her, he goes on, “Hi, I’m Ned.”
Charlotte opens her mouth to respond, but all that comes out is, “I’m Ned. N-Ned. Ned.” She grimaces. Half-singing, “I’m Charlotte. Pleased to meet you, Ned.”
“Hey, I know who you are. You’re that girl they call Echo, right?”
“Echo, echo —” Charlotte makes an effort to control herself. “S-some people call me that.”
“You don’t like it, do you?”
She shakes her head.
“Then I won’t call you that, okay? Why are you out here in the woods?”
Charlotte looks away from him. In a mixture of speech and song, she says, “I like it here. It’s quiet. No one’s around.”
“Nobody but me, right?”
“W-why are you here?”
Ned shrugs and leans against a tree. “Coach said it might be good to go running in the woods. Said it heightens our awareness or something like that. Of course, I forgot my phone with all my tunes on it.”
“It-it’s better to keep your ears open. Y-you can hear the forest sounds around you. The birds. The animals moving around.”
He nods. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I wouldn’t want something sneaking upon me.” He strolls around the clearing. “What do you do out here all by yourself.”
“S-sing, write, think. S-sometimes I just listen.”
“Yeah, there is a lot of noise out here.”
“It’s the birds, mostly. S-sometimes squirrels. Sometimes other things. I thought you might be a deer at first.”
“That’d be something, wouldn’t it? What was the song you were singing?”
“J-just something I’m working on.”
“You wrote that?”
“The words. I d-don’t write music.”
“Can I hear it? I mean, I kind of already have, but can I hear more?”
Charlotte lowers her head. “If you want.”
“Sure.” Ned crouches down nearby.
Charlotte sings a few verses of her song, using the music from before. When she finishes, Ned claps. “You’re great. Have any others?”
Charlotte sings one she wrote with Brian. Ned seems to like it as well.
“You should get a recording contract. You’ve got a great voice.”
Ned rises and looks around. “You must know your way around out here.”
“Think you could show me?” he says. “I was running around for nearly an hour before I heard you.”
“S-sure. I can do that.” She gathers her things and puts them in her bag and rises. “W-want to see the lake?”
“There’s a lake? Sure.”
Charlotte takes the lead, guiding Ned along a trail. As they move along, she moves her head left and right slowly, as though she’s looking for something.
“What are you doing?” Ned asks.
A short way on, she stops and holds up her hand. She focuses on something to her right, then points. Ned looks, but doesn’t see anything at first. Suddenly, as if from out of nowhere, a deer appears, followed by two fawns. They wander around, nibbling on leaves and grass, before disappearing back into the woods.
“That was cool. I guess you do need to pay attention out here.”
They continue on until they arrive at the lake. Several ducks are on the shore, but as Charlotte and Ned approach, they start quacking and get into the water, swimming quickly toward the middle of the lake.
Charlotte and Ned sit on some rocks.
“This is nice,” he says. “I see why you like it out here.”
“Y-you’ve never been out here before?”
“No. I always played in the park downtown when I was a kid. Other than that, I’ve always been busy with practice and stuff. Plus I have to study a lot. I’m not doing all that great. Coach says if I can maintain my grades I could get a scholarship to UGA.”
“Y-you’re really good,” Charlotte says. “I thought we were going to lose that game last week but you threw that pass and brought us back.”
“Oh, I’m good. Coach says I’m the best QB he’s worked with but says football alone isn’t going to get me very far, not even in Georgia.”
“G-Georgia — Georgia,” Charlotte repeats.
“Why do you do that?” Ned asks. “I mean is there some medical explanation?”
“M-maybe. I’ve just always done it. Ever since I was little.”
“People at school tease you, right?”
“Tell you what. Next time kids at school start bothering you, let me know. I’ll stop ’em.”
Charlotte laughs. “Okay.”
They talk for more than an hour, then Charlotte leads Ned back to where he parked.
“Look me up on Monday,” he tells her. “Maybe you can help me with my homework.”
“Wh-what will your g-girlfriend say?”
“Cindy? She could use some help, too. Maybe you can teach us both something.”
A grey bird with a long tail lands on a bush nearby and begins singing.
“Mockingbird,” Ned says.
“A family of them lives in a bush in our back yard. They repeat sounds from all these other birds and create their own special songs out of them. Kind of like you.”
“Take care of yourself, Charlotte. See you Monday.”
He gets in his car and drives away.
Charlotte turns her attention to the mockingbird, listening as it sings its song.
In the first place, the House will be reluctant to draw up articles of impeachment. Democrats don’t have enough power to do it on their own, there is little, if any, bipartisan cooperation in Congress anymore, and Republicans are reluctant to anger their far-right base, and many may have suspicious ties they don’t want exposed. Worse, impeachment wouldn’t solve the problem of Trump, who loves the spotlight and always portrays himself as the victim. A globally-televised trial before the Senate would be just the platform he would relish. If Congress tries and fails to remove him from office, he’ll only become more powerful, having vanquished an important check to his authority.
The current GOP-led Congress does not have the courage to take action against Trump. The reactionary forces of their own party, who are the very people who idolize the president, will keep them in check. Even if they draft articles of impeachment, there is no precedent to guide Congress in how to go about removing him, even if Trump is convicted. On top of that, a trial before the Senate would give Trump the worldwide audience he craves to be able to portray himself as the victim of a political witch hunt, which he would no doubt expand upon via Twitter.
The only option Congress has is to force him to resign. They may not be able to attack the public Trump, but they can go after the private Trump. If they can cut off his avenues for profiting from high office, they decrease his incentive to remain president. To get him to leave, they’ll have to hit him where it hurts. Cancel all government business with his enterprises, threaten to expose his dealings with foreign entities — in other words, sever the ties he’s been unwilling to sever on his own. They will need to bring the full force of the United States to bear against him, by attacking the source of income he’s generating while in office, and make it clear that Trump’s private business is no longer an avenue to the president for foreign leaders, or big donors. Now that there’s a special prosecutor to investigate his ties to foreign powers, Congress needs to scrutinize the avenues via which his company does business outside the US, freeze his assets, and enforce regulations which would prevent him from covertly controlling his company through his children. The question is, does Congress have the stomach for it?
In Judges 4-5, we meet one of the few women who stands on her own in all of the Old Testament. Deborah isn’t just identified as a strong woman, Judges tells us she’s leading the Israelites and holds counsel under the Palm of Deborah. She’s identified as a prophet, and the wife of Lappidoth. Despite being a married woman, who typically had little authority in the ancient world, when the tribes do “evil in the eyes of the lord” it’s to Deborah they turn for guidance. Jabin, king of Canaan is oppressing the Israelites sending Sisera, commander of his army, to keep them in check for more than twenty years. When the Israelites ask Deborah what to do, she instructs them to bring Barak, the son of Abinoam, from the tribe of Naphtali, to her.
It’s likely that Deborah started out as a minor deity worshipped by one of the tribes, or as a consort to a god, who was humanized when worship of YHWH became more prevalent. It’s known that Astarte and Ashtoreth were two local names for the goddess Ishtar, worshipped in Canaan, Persia, and Babylon, and is sometimes mentioned as the consort to YHWH. Kings and Chronicles report that altars to her were destroyed by King Josiah, who insisted Israel follow monotheism. Getting rid of the goddess proved problematic for the children of Israel, however, as prophets, notably Jeremiah, continued to preach against Astarte up to the time of the Babylonian exile, and scribes exiled in Babylon attributed worship of other gods and goddesses than YHWH as factors in why Israel lost favor with their God. Astarte was a goddess of war according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and Deborah fills a similar role in her story, selecting Barak to lead the troops against Sisera, and accompanying him as he marches into battle. The army mainly consists of Naphtali and Zebulun, so it’s likely this story originated with one of those tribes.
When Deborah calls upon Barak to go against Sisera’s army, he agrees, provided she accompanies him. She taunts him by saying that this will mean he’ll get no credit for the victory and that Sisera will be defeated by a woman. YHWH is credited with somehow thwarting Sisera’s army, neutralizing their 900 chariots, so the Israelites are able to rout the army. Deborah’s words to Barak prove to be prophetic, as Sisera flees the battlefield on foot and seeks refuge in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. First, Jael gives Sisera curdled milk instead of the water he requests, then, while Sisera is sleeping, Jael hammers a tent pole through his temple, killing him. When Barak arrives, Jael leads him to the dead body of his enemy. Energized by their victory over Sisera, the Israelites press on and free themselves from Jabin’s oppression.
Judges 5 is devoted to The Song of Deborah, which Isaac Asimov cites as perhaps one of the oldest contributions to the Bible in his guide to the Old Testament. It’s possible that Judges 4 was written to provide context to The Song of Deborah, which mostly gives an overview of the battle against Sisera, praising the tribes that fought, especially Zebulun and Naphtali, but also noting that Ephraim, Issachar, and Benjamin were among them. It contains the usual curses for the enemies of the Lord and any tribe that failed to support the battle, and praises Jael as “Most blessed of women”. The account in the song gives a slightly different telling of how Sisera died, implying he was standing when Jael delivered the death blow instead of sleeping as is stated in Judges 4, but it does include the detail of Jael giving Sisera curdled milk instead of water. Throughout, Deborah refers to herself in first person, but her words do sound similar to a goddess bestowing blessings on her people. Verse 12 seems to be an invocation to Deborah, “Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song!”
It says much about the importance of Deborah that even after worship of the patriarchal YHWH had taken over the land, the editor of Judges felt that her story needed to be included. If Deborah indeed started out as a local deity, it’s possible whoever compiled Judges is the one who humanized her, making her a legendary figure. By the time her story entered the Hebrew Bible, there may not have been anyone left who recalled her origins. Judges tells us that Israel lived in peace for forty years following her tenure as a judge.