- 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.
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.
While many might believe life on Earth would be simpler if we could all be brought together under a single, unifying philosophy, no one can come to any sort of agreement on what that should be. Every social, political, economic, and religious movement since the dawn of civilization has sought to unite people under a common set of beliefs, or economic system, or way of life. Utopian movements speak of such a time, when everyone finally agrees on a guiding set of principles as the end of history. This does not mean the end of human advancement, just the end of our struggles to find a system which best promotes that advancement.
Few can doubt that the old order is swiftly passing away and a new one is taking its place, but rather than controlling how the future will develop, I see people like the current administration in the US as a catalyst for finally destroying what’s left of the old ways of thinking. They’re the last gasp of the tribal mentality dying out. Once they and their cronies are done, it’s up to the enlightened throughout the world to pick up the pieces of what’s left and start over.
We are seeing, on the world stage, the beginnings of a global movement aimed at protecting the environment, insuring peace and prosperity for all, encouraging women and protecting them from such brutal practices as enforced marriage and genital mutilation, and respecting individual rights and beliefs. We need to take the initiative to insure that what develops promotes the goal of uplifting and empowering all people. Philosophies such as that of the Taliban, which holds that it’s okay to shoot a teenaged girl in the face for wanting an education, are so abhorrent that they deserve no place in the discussion, and humanity will be best served when such ideas are wiped from the face of the Earth.
Race, religion, politics, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status, are all used to exclude people. Remove these as barriers and we all have a seat at the table. The truth is constantly being revealed to us. It’s not written in any particular book nor does it come from any particular period of world history, but it’s always there, always speaking to us in everything that exists, and all that occurs. We should stop assuming any one set of beliefs should predominate and start embracing the uniqueness of each individual. In a universe of infinite possibilities, we exist. We should strive to make the most of this opportunity.
Isaac is almost a footnote in the history of Israel. He’s born; he’s almost sacrificed by his father; he marries Rebekah; he buries Abraham; he fathers Esau and Jacob; he almost gives Rebekah to Abimelek; he’s tricked into giving away Esau’s blessing to Jacob; then he reconciles with Jacob and dies, all in the span of a few chapters. Abraham’s story takes up most of Genesis 12-25, from the call of Abraham to his death. Isaac’s story overlaps Abraham’s in chapters 21-25 and by chapter 27, the story of Jacob is starting to overlap that of Isaac. By chapter 28, the focus of Genesis has shifted to Jacob, now on his way to his uncle Laban’s household, where many of his adventures will occur, and we only have a few mentions of Isaac from here on. The only story about Isaac that’s not tied to either Abraham or Jacob is Genesis 26, which is a verbatim retelling of the story of Abraham and Abimelek, from Genesis 20, but unlike his father, Isaac doesn’t get cattle or grazing rights out of the encounter. The incident with Abimelek adds nothing tangible to the story of Isaac, and seems to have been inserted simply to give Isaac an adventure of his own before skipping to the story of his son Jacob.
Even in stories where he’s featured, Isaac takes a secondary role. When YHWH tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (something that was never done with Ishmael, the oldest) it’s to test Abraham’s faith. Abraham accepts the request without question, which seems rather odd. Recall that in Genesis 18, when YHWH tells Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed, Abraham barters with YHWH to gain concessions for the denizens of those towns, yet here, YHWH is telling him to sacrifice the son he’s waited until his old age to have and Abraham seems totally okay with it. We’re not told how old Isaac is, but at one point, he speaks to Abraham, so he must be at least five or six years old, and maybe as old as eight or nine. Despite this, he doesn’t say anything when it becomes apparent Abraham is about to sacrifice him.
In the ancient world, whenever a town was founded, often the founder would sacrifice his oldest child, usually a son, to become the guardian spirit of the town. There’s a mention of this practice in 1 Kings 16:34, describing the rebuilding of Jericho. In this instance, however, Abraham is not founding a city, as he’s still depicted as a nomadic herder. There are clues to suggest that in the original legend, Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and this fact was altered by the author of Genesis, who was writing after human sacrifice had been abolished. The death of Sarah immediately follows the story of Abraham being tested, and the death of a son she had at an advanced age, combined with all the other factors working against her, might have been sufficiently stressful to hasten her end. If this is so, it placed quite a burden on the author of Genesis to account for an individual who wasn’t originally in the story line.
The solution seems to have been to make Isaac the conduit through which Abraham was connected to Jacob. Either that or there was a tradition among the tribes that Isaac was the father of Jacob but that they were somehow descended from Abraham, so the author of Genesis made the logical leap. In genealogy, it’s often a common error to attribute a child to a nearby family with a similar name. It’s also possible that then, as today, many different people claimed descent from Abraham with no rhyme or reason as to how and Isaac was used by the children of Israel to make their connection. Unlike Abraham, who started out as Abram, and Israel, who started out as Jacob, Isaac is not given a new name, signifying a covenant with YHWH. His “covenant” was through that of his father, and fulfilled by the descendants of his son.
In all probability, these stories are based on authentic legends about Isaac and Jacob, since they don’t show Jacob in the best light, being deceptive in taking his brother’s birthright and later in deceiving his uncle Laban (who pretty much deserved it) into giving away the best of the flock when they divided their assets. Most of the story of Abraham and his descendants through Jacob are part of the “hidden book” discovered by Richard Elliott Friedman in the pages of the Old Testament and chronicled in his work, The Hidden Book in the Bible.
With the rise of nationalism and religious fundamentalism throughout the world, many are left to wonder if the human race has lost its mind, but events across the globe seem to be signaling the end of one way of thinking and the beginning of another. Like any birth, it’s destined to be difficult and painful, as the old tribal way of life, with its patriarchal focus and “us versus them” mentality fades into the nether region of our collective consciousness. The Internet, global telecommunications networks, and the ease of international travel have combined to make the world much smaller and far more accessible. Unfortunately, the “old ways” won’t pass away easily and will be accompanied by great misfortune and turmoil for a significant number of individuals.
One concept that’s definitely changing is the notion of work. In a tribal society, each person has a job to do, and those who don’t “pull their weight” according to established norms, are ostracized and banished. There may be room for recreation and pleasurable activities, but only after the hard work is done. We see vestiges of this thinking today, in the belief that people on public assistance are “dead beats” or “mooching” off those who are employed, when in fact, many are unemployed due to automation or the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, something over which individuals have little control. Automation is putting an end to traditional labor, as jobs once done by people are increasingly taken over by machines that can work ceaselessly, and safer. Where does this leave traditional workers?
Humanity has always been wary of catastrophic change and has looked to the stars for clues to what’s coming and how to handle what looms on the horizon. Long ago, astrologers noted a phenomenon called the progression of the equinoxes, where the constellations change over time as a different astrological symbol becomes prominent in the night sky. This process has been rounded off to occurring every 2000 years, but probably takes closer to 2170 years to complete. Sometimes these changes coincide with monumental shifts in history. Christianity, for instance, began in the early years of the Age of Pisces, which is why so much early Christian iconography depicts fish. Earlier, the Egyptians, who flourished during the Age of Taurus, used bulls for their religious icons, and the Israelites followed this, molding a golden calf to worship while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. Mithras, another notable deity associated with a particular epoch, is said to have slain the heavenly bull, ushering in the Age of Aries. Even the Gospels make mention of astrology, when Jesus instructs his followers to seek out a man bearing water (Aquarius is the water bearer), and to follow him back to the house where they will hold their Passover seder (the Last Supper). Aquarius follows Pisces in the progression.
The rise of nationalism and religious fundamentalism are vestiges of our tribal past which are slowly being discarded as we move toward a secular, global society. ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the election of Donald Trump in the United States are two sides of the same coin, as adherents to the old ways struggle to stave off the changes that are coming. All progress is feared on some level, particularly by those who are happy with the old order or who benefit from it, so, when rapid progress threatens it, there’s a backlash. I believe that’s what we’re seeing now throughout the world. These movements coincide with the advent of a new age, that of Aquarius.
The astrological event is associated with lots of negative “new age” stereotypes, but the phenomenon itself is real and has a cause rooted in natural science that our ancestors wouldn’t have known, the wobbling of Earth on its axis as it rotates. Unlike ancient astrologers, I don’t attach mystical significance to it, since a lot of world-changing events have happened outside the context of such phenomena, but just like the dawn of the Piscean age, it’s happening just as we’re undergoing changes in how we relate to the world around us. Apprehension over the dawn of the new millennium in 2000/2001 was a reflection of the fears people naturally have about change around the world, but the turn of the millennium also brought much hope and optimism. Unfortunately, it also brought strife, in particular from those, like the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, who saw their path to power being limited and who took radical measures to hold on to it.
The world, as we know it, is changing, and there are a lot of new perspectives on how we live our lives and make use of the resources available to us. It’s within our potential to create a world in which every person has a say in where we head and what we accomplish, and a share in our combined resources, but we must have the courage to accept change and realize we may not have all the answers ourselves. We also have a challenge to not just protect our interests, but to look out for the safety and well-being of other creatures and cultures which may not have reached our strata of development. We should remain tolerant of those with different approaches and opinions than us, but we should not allow reactionary forces to stifle the advance of those willing to expand the limits of human potential.