Another Eternity

By Bob MacKenzie

Action & adventure, Crime & mystery, Thriller

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2074
8 mins

Chapter XXI - Death at the Coal Mine (1)

Hank and I are at the top of a very high hill, facing outward. The edge is slightly rounded, but I can see that the drop is very steep and must be at least several hundred feet. Far below, I can see the hoodoos like icons set into the hillsides, the scrub spread like some crazy carpet across the valley floor and, cutting it all in two, the river. Is it the Red Deer? Or Rosebud? Or what? I am not at all sure: it might as well be the Styx for all I can tell.

We look at each other briefly. Then, we run full tilt and side by side, straight ahead and off the bluff edge. We are sailing high above the valley like birds. Each of us is hung in the sky by some sort of hang glider: a system of straps and braces attached to a kite in the shape of a bird's wings. The winds are our servants, and all the universe is ours to roam.

This was my idea, and up till now I have taken the lead, but now Hank takes over, I suppose simply because I allow him to. We glance at each other across the void, and he points upward, far beyond the clouds. He is pointing, I am almost positive, at the sun. Or at something hidden in the sun's glare. Before I can consider my response, he is gone and I must simply follow behind.

We are flying up the sky faster than I had thought possible. It is as though we had drawn all the winds in the world under our wings. We are flying up and up toward the sun itself. I remember the old Greek story and I shout to him across an eternity of sky.

"Don't get too close. Your wings will melt!"

But he is gone far ahead of me and I am not even sure he has heard my joke. The wind roars loud around my ears, so I am certain I would not have heard him if he had been the one making the joke. I concentrate on catching up with him, but it seems I can never quite close the distance between us. It seems to me that he is very near the sun.

Hank turns suddenly, and I see the look of terror on his face as his wings fall away from him. He hangs there naked of his powers for a brief moment, then he plunges past me, toward earth. But it seems almost that he does not so much plummet as float. For what seems a thousand years, he plunges toward, past, and away from me, almost like a dream.

I try to follow as fast as my wings can take me, but I must be careful not to destroy myself in the process. I swoop along behind Hank but it seems I will never catch up. And if I do catch up, I am uncertain anyway about what I can do.

I pick up a racing downdraft, and it pulls me faster and faster, so that at last I begin to close with Hank, and I think I might somehow be able to pluck him from the air, if only my wings will hold. Something draws my attention down to earth. Fire.

It is as though we are above a sea of fire raging below us.

Only a split second. That is all, yet I have looked away long enough that Hank is again some distance out of my reach. As I turn down toward him and search again for my stream of air: it has gone. The air does not shoot downward now, carrying me with it, but sits thick and heavy like oriental cushions, so I am left hung in the air as a reluctant spectator. Hank is falling like a comet now, straight to the centre of that burning sea.

And he is gone.

Chapter XXIX - Death at the Coal Mine (2)

Words fail.

How was I to know? How was Hank, when he got the call? We had been having a few beers and discussing this Campbell thing, when the telephone rang.

That was yesterday. Elvie was in Drumheller, shopping I suppose. It was somebody who said he had information about Seamus Ferguson--very interesting information. And he wanted to meet Hank. Right away. Hank said okay. He said he would meet the caller at the swinging bridge outside Rosedale.

I was to wait for Elvie to get back. If Hank needed us he would call. There was no call.

Not until this morning: the Mounties. Calling for Hank. They had discovered his truck parked at the entrance to the old Atlas mine, kilometres from Rosedale and closed for more than six years. Did we know where he might be?

We did not. The keys were in the ignition. Hank was not the sort to just leave the truck like that, not with the keys in it. The Mounties would check further and let us know.

What could we say?

We waited. All day we waited. We had a cab bring us food from the Diana for lunch. It was after three before the call came. Elvie answered.

All her colour seemed to drain into the telephone and away to some distant exchange. She barely said a word, and when she did speak, it was in whispers, as though her breath had been taken from her.

She said goodbye, but she held on to the receiver for what seemed to me the longest time. And she sagged against the edge of the table, so that she seemed more a pale cloth statue of a telephone caller than she did a real person. When she finally hung up, she did not speak. Not for a long time. And then I had to ask.

It was Hank. The Mounties had found him. There had been an accident at the Atlas Mine site. Coal is a very volatile material. The weight of the old slag heaps creates compression that encourages spontaneous combustion deep within these black hills. Packed coal and pockets of air smoulder for years beneath the thin, weather packed surfaces, eating great areas away. Inside the slag, gaping caverns burn like the furnaces of hell. Warnings are posted to stay off the slag heaps. Someone had not obeyed the signs. He had been climbing and the crust had broken under his weight. He had fallen nearly fifteen metres. Death may have been instantaneous. Or he may have burned to death. The Mounties think it must be Hank. Could we please come to Rosedale and give them a positive identification? They can send a car.

Words fail. Elvina and I say nothing after we have seen Hank's body. Hank would not be so foolish.

In the morning we take a train to Edmonton. The Mounties keep the truck.

Chapter VIII - Flight

When Josh saw that he was free and clear, and that the congregation of his cousin was far behind him, his relief began to turn to anger, and this anger became a fury within him. He would not allow John to use him any more as he had in the past. John would soon realise the peril of his blasphemy. Joshua Horace Erdmann was no man's pawn.

It was already dark when Josh stopped the car near the driveway to the mansion he now knew to be the chief Temple of the Miriam Church. He was certain everyone had gone to the service in the clearing, but he took no chances. In the trunk of the car he found a tire iron and a length of tow chain. As he walked along the drive, the dogs began to bark. Josh knew they were safely in a compound at the side of the house, but he could not afford the noise. The dogs felt the full weight of his wrath as he ran to the compound, entered and, while he beat one dog insensible with the tire iron, whipped the others into whimpering submission with the chain. Too late! He heard the front door open. Someone had heard the uproar. The dogs continued to cower as Josh ran around the corner toward the front door, then they ran free across the countryside. Brother Jude had no chance to defend himself. He had been asleep alone in the house when the dogs had begun barking. He was still not quite awake when the dervish flew around the corner of the house flailing at him with an arm of steel and the wrath of God.

Josh went first to the basement chapel. His anger consumed him as he overturned the altar, hurled chairs, smashed the ankh and candlesticks, tore at the carpet with his tire iron, and screamed his rage at the empty temple. When he had done, he realised he had not yet done enough. He walked out the front door past the prone Jude and searched the sheds in back. On his way back into the house, he set down the two twenty litre containers only long enough to drag the shattered apostle further from the house. He poured the contents of one container over the altar, and along the galleries of pews in the basement chapel. With the other he poured a path up the stairs to the front hallway, where he saturated a large area of carpet. Back downstairs, he lit a piece of paper and dropped it on the altar. By the time he had run upstairs the flames were racing merrily after him. To be sure, he lit another piece of paper at the front door- way and threw it on the soaked carpet. The Edmonton Temple of Osiris burned very quickly to the ground. Josh did not stay around to watch the spectacle. He drove toward the east, his rear view mirror glowing red with the burning sky behind him.

♀♀♀

Brother Jude was fortunate to be alive. He could recall little of the incident except that whirling, flailing chain flying about his head. He was later to say that Satan himself had come in a whirlwind and had attempted to destroy the Miriam Church in a burst of hellfire. John knew whose hellfire. The temple was destroyed but the church would live. And his cousin Josh would live to regret his vengeful act: John would make certain of that.

Chapter XI - Showdown in Banff

Upon thinking it over, Josh decided that Banff, like any other town in Alberta, was a gamble. Wherever he stopped he would be taking his chances; all he could do was try to hedge his bets as best he could. It was after midnight when he arrived at Banff. He stopped only long enough for a quick coffee, then he left again. All the time he had been driving westward. He said something to the waitress about Vancouver, then he went back to his car and drove five kilometres south to the Storm Mountain Lodge and took a room. He would still be able to visit the hot springs once before leaving. Perhaps that would help erase his tension.

Brother Lazarus had been awake anyway. The call came as a pleasant reprieve from his meditation. The Lord had been seen in a downtown coffee shop. The waitress had apparently not paid much attention to anything he had said, but one thing was certain: He had arrived. Soon the Miriam Church would again be possessed of the Lord, Yeshua Horus. Brother Lazarus slept well in anticipation of the new day.

Josh felt good that morning. He had been much more tired than he might have admitted, even to himself, had he not covered his tracks so well. Out of his sense of security sleep had come deep and long, so that it was very near noon when he finally awoke. It was as though the bright sunshine outside permeated every cell of his being as he enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant at the lodge. For the time being at least, he was safe. He did not notice the girl at the corner table watching him. He did not notice her leaving the restaurant at about the same time as he was getting into his car. He did not see the car following a judicious distance behind his: the same car that had been his shadowy companion all the way from Shepard the night before. Josh was full of sunshine and thoughts of the soothing waters of the hot springs.

The calls came to Brother Lazarus and Brother Hyme at about the same time. The Lord had passed through Banff. It looked like He was driving toward the hot springs. It was just a matter of time and vigilance. He would again walk among His people.

As he stood framed in the doorway before entering the pool area, Josh surveyed the group of people before him. On average they were younger than he might have expected. The oldest was a man of about fifty or sixty lying near the pool's edge. Near him was another man, apparently his attendant or nurse. Eight or ten other men and women were spotted around the pool. None looked terribly dangerous to Josh. They had obviously come to take the waters. He walked out toward the pool. The two who had followed him from the locker area stayed about six metres behind. As he came nearer the older man on the chaise, the others began to move in either direction around the pool toward him. Josh was almost beside the chaise before he became aware of the vhorl of men and women he was creating. Too late.

The man, abruptly robust and healthy, was off the chaise, was grasping at Josh. The attendant came right behind the man. Adrenalin panicked through Josh. He was a superman. He propelled the two backward, their knees buckling against the chaise, so that they exploded into the pool. He spun around. Two burly young men blocked the doorway he had come in by. Along the edge of the pool the others were moving toward him. He had no choice. Madly he charged the single file along the edge of the pool. They had not expected that. One by one he launched his would be captors into the hot sulphur bath while the line behind him stood and gaped. The two at the door had begun moving toward him. He had hoped for that. He waited for them to come near, then careened around them toward, through the now vacant doorway. It was only after he had run through the building and out to the parking lot that he realized he had nowhere to go. His car keys were with his clothes in the locker room. That was when he saw the girl.

***

It was not that the Lord had fled. That would not have surprised Brother Lazarus. He had fled before. It was written somewhere in the prophesy: flight from the adoring multitudes in order to contemplate before returning again to His people. No, that was no surprise. It was the others. The two men who had appeared in the doorway after the Lord had passed through, who had held back the Apostles several minutes before barring the door and then fleeing themselves. It was as though the Lord had invoked angels and they had stood in the way of the Lord. It was wrong. His people would not be kept from Him. Except by Satan: they must have been the black angels of Satan, sent to keep the Apostles from the way of the Lord. There was no other answer for it.

***

The girl was across the parking lot, waving at him, moving toward him, calling to him; not Yeshua Horus but Joshua Erdmann. He had no choice. Two men had run out of the building behind him. He ran toward her as she turned back toward the car and got in. She had pulled out of the parking spot by the time he reached the car. She told him to get in. He did. What else could he do. As they raced down the mountain, she told him his clothes had been taken from the locker room, his car was being picked up, and she would drive him directly to the Storm Mountain Lodge to pick up his things. He was puzzled. Where had she come from, he asked. She laughed. Josh wondered if she had been sent by his cousin to get him, and his face showed it. She began to explain. Her name was Magda Lenz. She was a friend of Nick Adamas, and of Peter Dobrachuk. She and others had been sent to keep him from his cousin's reach. He would be kept safe until John's diabolic heresy could be headed off and stopped for good.



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