EDEN QUEST, Before the Beginning:
Lucifer’s rebellion has cast the entire universe into chaos.
Millions of innocent lives have been subjected to futility, corruption, and slavery.
His failed attempt to overthrow Elohim, the Creator, has left him bitter enraged and vengeful.
So, surrounded by his defeated and exiled angelic cohorts, he devises a new plan. “If we cannot rule the Creation, we will do everything within our power to destroy it. We will take to the whole Creation what it has never known before…..Evil.”
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul paints a picture of the universe (the whole Creation) as subjected to futility, slavery, and corruption. Yet, in their suffering, there is hope. As in the pains of childbirth, they long for the arrival of the Redeemer. Not the one who visited Earth, for His work ‘is finished,’ but for His disciples. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God.” Rom 8: 19-22
EDEN QUEST, Before the Beginning, returns us to a time before Lucifer’s rebellion, where you will meet Rapheldrn and Milderett. This humble wine and olive oil maker and his wife live in a time before lust, and greed and hatred turned the hearts of the people away from their Creator. Their home planet of Tyros has been targeted by Lucifer and his fallen angelic host to suffer the first attempts at introducing evil into a culture. The success of their wicked plan is beyond anything they could have hoped for. But no matter how great the darkness, there will always be the few whose light can never be extinguished.
You will also meet Bobby (Reed) Westerly. Born in a sleazy motel in Augusta, Georgia, in 1948, Bobby grows up hating God but loving books. An angelic visitation and the “great lion Aslan” eventually lead him to a life of discipleship and study. His knowledge of forbidden texts and his willingness to view the Bible in new and unorthodox ways may give him the tools he needs to save both his world and God’s as well.
Bobby is convinced that the 20th-century descendants of the Watchers, the fallen angels of Noah’s day, are still trying to fulfill their ultimate goal, which is to access a portal to the Garden of Eden and partake of the Tree of Life gaining immortality. The same goal their ancestor Nimrod failed to accomplish. “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into Heaven.” Gen 11:4.
But now, in possession of an ancient and divine instrument capable of opening portals, and the technology of the twentieth century at their disposal, they may yet succeed where Nimrod failed. But before he can stop them, Bobby must answer one inescapable question. How did the Nephilim, the offspring of the Watchers, survive a flood that the New Testament writer, Peter, claims only eight people survived? To answer that question, Bobby must introduce us to one more character in the saga: Nataya, daughter of the fallen angel, Turel.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I have always been a HUGE science fiction fan. My first must-see sci-fi series was the 1954-1955 version of Flash Gordon with Steve Holland as Flash Gordon and Joseph Nash as Dr. Zarkof. In 1965 I was playing in a rock band in Oberlin, Ohio, with a couple of students from the college. Every Friday night at 11:00 about twenty students would get together in the residence hall across from where we practiced on East Liberty St. to watch the Ghoulardi show (A local Cleveland program with Ernie Anderson), which always featured an episode of Flash Gordon. From that moment on, I was hooked.
I missed the initial airing of the original Star Trek series because….well, let's just say I was on a bit of a 'trip' of my own in 1966 and 67, and by the time the series was canceled in 1969 I was already serving in the US Army in Germany. I made up for that grievous error over the next eighteen years by watching every episode of the Kirk and Spock era at least twenty-five times. I was finally transported from the bridge of the original USS Enterprise NC 1701 in 1987 when Star Trek, The Next Generation, began its 'continuing mission.' Watching it together weekly became one of the best bonding experiences with my children ever, and I am proud to say that I have successfully passed on my love for science fiction and fantasy to all three.
On May 25th, 1977, I was visiting my friend, and now co-author of EDEN QUEST, Bob Mertes, in Kerman, California, where he was attending God's Army Bible Seminary.
"Have you heard about that new movie called Star Wars?" He asked.
"Cool, It's premiering tonight in Fresno. We're going!"
About 15 minutes into the movie, I leaned over and whispered into Bob's ear. "Do you realize what we're watching?" He just smiled and nodded his head.
Time went on. Bob and I were involved in ministry in different parts of the country and lost touch for a number of years. I was pastoring a church near Cleveland, Ohio, and while preparing a sermon, I was meditating on a passage from the book of Romans. It goes like this:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons…….Rom 8:18-23
Now, remember, I'm a science fiction junkie. I see things through the eyes of someone who looks up at the stars and imagines Klingons and Romulans attacking Federation outposts. I picture myself in an x-wing fighter alongside Luke and Han, attempting to destroy the Deathstar and striking a crippling blow against the Empire.
So I start to think…..What if when Paul says the 'whole creation' he actually means the 'whole creation'? (what a concept) I mean, like, the whole kit and caboodle. Not just Earth, but…….EVERYTHING!!! The full ball of wax! The entire shootin match. The Universe! Galaxies! Solar Systems! Stars! Moons! Planets! And yes, people!
And what if they really are waiting to be set free from 'futility' 'slavery' and 'corruption,' just as Paul describes. We know that the Universe is out there. But is it just a bunch of stars and empty planets careening through space together.
*Can rocks long to be set free?
*Can dead, empty planets be subject to bondage and slavery?
*Can a nebula groan in the pains of childbirth?
Of course not! These terms make no sense at all if Paul isn't describing real suffering. The sufferings of a populated universe longing to be rescued. Of entire groups of people subjected 'against their will' to the powers of darkness. The whole creation crying out and longing to be saved!
To be saved by Jesus……..Whoa……..Wait a minute……..Stop…..That is not what it says!! They are not waiting for Jesus. Of course not. He said from the cross that His work was 'finished.' Who then?…… Can it be?……. Is it possible? Yes! Yes! THEY ARE WAITING FOR US!!! My mind shouted. I sat there staring at Rom 8:19, and it all became clear….For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons (and daughters) of God.
That was the inspiration for the Songstone Series. The vision of men and women from everywhere, from every time and culture, from every land and country, being prepared to be sent on the most magnificent mission trip since Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth. His work is 'finished', but ours is just beginning. There is a universe out there that needs our help. An ancient enemy that needs to be defeated. EDEN QUEST, Before the Beginning, and EDEN QUEST, The Broken Tower (coming in September) are the stories of how the Universe first fell under Lucifer's domination and the characters that God has chosen from every time and place to travel there and set them free. In reading this story, we hope you will be inspired to come along. The stakes are high. The danger is real. But the sufferings of those who wait for us can not be ignored. This is the way our storyteller describes it in the Prologue of EDEN QUEST, Before the Beginning:
The greatest invasion force ever assembled is being prepared. Not for a war to be fought on the battlefields of Earth, but in the cities, towns, and villages of the most dangerous and depraved planets in the entire Universe. Not an invasion with swords or guns or tanks or with great military strategists leading the way, but teams made up of twelve of the Chosen, selected from men and women who have lived in every time and every nation on Earth. Armed only with love and service and sacrifice. The single mission set before them: Reproduce out there what the Master did on Earth. They will love as he loved. Serve as he served. And if necessary, lay down their lives so that the Song of Creation, the Song of Elohim, may be heard once again……
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Many of the characters from the Planet Tyros are named after family members. Rapheldrn(Rah FELL drin) and Milderett are named in loving memory of my grandparents, Ralph and Mildred Morgan. Jopaul and Natharyn(Nah THAIR ee en) after my sons Joseph Paul and Nathaniel. Tawnora after Nate's wife Tawny. My daughter Rachael makes a major appearance in book 3. In the contemporary story that runs alongside the story of Tyros, much comes from my own experiences, and many of the characters are the real people I knew growing up, playing in bands, serving in the military and in my 50 years of Christian ministry. Names have been adjusted slightly but most of my old friends will recognize themselves. Almost all characters in EDEN QUEST have some connection to reality. Or at least the reality that a young man's mind creates as he grows up and experiences the world.
Tyros: A very long time ago
Rapheldrn opened his eyes, squinted at the morning’s brightness, and breathed in the cool, fresh air that was gently rustling the reeds that shaded the windows on the east side of the bedroom. He rolled over to look at his wife, Milderett, lying next to him, and was moved again by the mere sight of her. Her scent overwhelmed him, as did the taste of her, still on his lips, and the memory of her movements, in perfect concert with his own. He reached out and lightly touched her shoulder, being careful not to wake her.
Their lovemaking last night had been wonderful, as it had been nearly every night for the last 900 years. As he was sure it would be every night in the future until their nearly 3,000-year lifespan was over.
What an extraordinary gift the Creator had given them. Rapheldrn was sure that no words or kindnesses could ever convey to his beloved Milderett the full measure of the love and devotion he felt for her every hour of every day. But to possess her, to possess her body as she possessed his. To be united in body and spirit to the point of losing one’s identity in the depth of the oneness they experienced. To be so lost in a sea of emotion that he could no longer discern his from hers was, according to the songwriters, the closest thing a Tyrosian could experience to the relationship between Elohim, Elyon, and Eloah, the Creators and Sustainers of all things.
Rapheldrn sat up, threw his legs over the edge of the rush- and straw-filled mattress, and felt the cool marble floor under the soles of his feet. He put his feet in the little valleys they had created in the marble over all the years and was deeply comforted by the feeling.
“This is my place in your creation, El,” he prayed. “My place on Tyros. Today I will honor You with my words and my deeds. Today I will sing the Song and tend your garden. Today I will care for my fellow Tyrosians within the sphere of my influence and make You glad You have made me.”
Has there ever been a morning that those were not my first thoughts? He wondered. If there had been, he couldn’t remember. But of all the days of his life, the words had never meant more to him than this day. Today, he would take his place among those who had gone before him in centuries past and begin the long journey to the Holy City of Tyrosia. The same journey that his father had taken a thousand years ago and that perhaps one of his children would take a thousand years from now.
He gazed around the room he and Milderett had shared all these years and whispered another prayer of thanks. Theirs was a small, simple dwelling, as were all homes in the village—all homes on Tyros, for that matter. Made of mud and straw bricks, with a stucco coating on the inside and out, and a door to the front and back. The rear door opened to a courtyard surrounded by a brick wall about a cubit and a half high. It was the place for cooking and sharing meals—the place for simply being together. There was a clay oven for baking bread and sweet cakes, and a copper brazier for roasting vegetables and heating pottages and teas. The interior rooms of the house were small but as comfortable as the people who lived in them: three rooms, all divided by stucco walls, with wooden doors on brass hinges. Each room having a single window to let in Daybringer’s light by day, and oil lamps mounted on the walls to brighten the night. The common room was another place where the family spent time together, singing or playing games, or just discussing the day’s work. Then there was the room he and Milderett lived and loved in, and finally, the one that had once been shared by their two children and that would one day be occupied by his parents in the quiet years before they returned to the Creator.
He walked naked over to the window, parted the reeds that hung there, and saw that Daybringer was just appearing on the eastern horizon. He noticed that many of his neighbors were also beginning to rise, some already enjoying tea and sweet cakes in the courtyards behind their homes.
Rapheldrn and Milderett lived in a village called Obearlyn, in the south-central part of the single continent planet of Tyros. Of the nearly 100,000 inhabited worlds in the universe, Tyros had been one of the first to receive “caretakers,” tens of thousands of years ago. Some of them planted, cultivated, and harvested the fields, orchards, and vineyards surrounding the nearly 1,000 villages scattered throughout the land, while others cared for the flocks and herds that produced eggs and milk and wool for warm blankets. Still, others worked in crafts like stone-cutting, carpentry, thatching, brick-making, and the many other skills needed to sustain the village and the villagers.
On any other morning, that would be what Rapheldrn would be preparing to do. The second planting of wheat, corn, and barley was only a half month away, and there was much to be done. His vineyards and olive groves needed tending. But this year, others would concern themselves with those tasks. This year, Rapheldrn would miss the pruning, miss redirecting the irrigation streams, and perhaps even miss the harvest if their journey should be delayed for any reason. This year, Rapheldrn had been chosen for an even more holy task.
“I’m not sure which brings me more warmth this morning, Rapheldrn,” Milderett said, propped up on one elbow, long brown hair flowing down over her shoulders and covering the curve of her breast. “Daybringer rising in the morning sky, or the sight of your bare backside in my bedroom.”
By the time Rapheldrn turned, walked over, and sat down beside her on the edge of the bed, he had reduced his silly grin to a pleasant smile. He embraced his wife, caressed her shoulders, ran his fingers through the hair at the back of her neck, and lightly kissed her on the lips.
“I’m going to miss you so much, my love,” she whispered into his ear. “Do you realize it has been nearly a millennium since I have awakened without you beside me!”
“You know that I do, Milli,” he said. “And I will miss a thousand things about you, as well. No, ten thousand things.” He kissed her again and pulled her into his arms. “Do you think I should ask the Elders to choose another to go in my place?”
“No, no, of course not, my husband. The honor is far too great, and we must always fulfill our duties to the Creator. It’s just that I have never felt anything quite like this before. I have this great weight bearing down on me here.” She placed her hand between her breasts, “And rain comes from my eyes when I think about it. What an odd thing it is.”
Rapheldrn understood all too well what she was saying. He had felt the same way since the day he had learned that he would be making the trip to the Holy City. “I have heard others speak of this before in the council gatherings,” he said. “From those who have taken the long journey before me. But they say it will pass when I return.” He gently moved her away from him so he could look into her eyes. “Three months, my love, and I will come home to you with such great news as has not been heard on Tyros for a thousand years.”
“Of course, you must go, my love. And with the blessings of your house.” Milderett moved to the edge of the mattress and got to her feet. “Your wife and your children bless you on your journey to the Holy City, and I will stand at the door of our home every evening, watching for your return where the road meets the sky.” She walked to the window, parted the reeds, and looked out, standing in the same spot as he had only a few moments before. “When do we have to leave, my dearest?” she asked.
“When Daybringer is three fingers above the horizon, the whole village will gather at the tabernacle for the priest’s blessing and the Songstone ceremony. Afterward, those who are going to the fields will do so, and Jopaul, Tawnora, and I will leave on our journey north.”
Milderett stretched out her arm toward the window, extending her first two fingers sideways in front of her. She placed her middle finger on the horizon and saw that Daybringer was still well hidden behind them. “Good,” she said.
She turned away from the window and walked back to where Rapheldrn was still sitting on the edge of the straw mattress they had shared nearly all of their lives. She straddled his legs with hers and pulled his face against her, a slight moan escaping her lips. “Then, there is plenty of time, husband.”
Rapheldrn felt a single drop of rain that fell from her eyes gently strike the top of his head.
He smiled as best he could, considering his position, wiped the moisture from his own cheek, and said, “Yes, there is, Milli. Yes, indeed, there is.”
Rapheldrn lay on his back with Milderett’s head in the hollow of his shoulder and thought to himself, Surely, El made us fit together like this. Surely we are meant to be together always. Maybe I should speak to the elders … No, I will do as I must. I will do what others in my family and so many other Tyrosian families have done before me. I will make the journey, hear the words of Elohim delivered by the Archangel, and bring God’s words back to the village.
“Huuummhh,” she said sleepily.
“We leave for the tabernacle shortly.”
“All right, Raphen. Go make tea, and I’ll get myself ready.”
Rapheldrn reached over and grabbed his loincloth and tunic, which hung beside the bed. He placed the loincloth between his thighs, wrapped the ends around his waist, and through the loop in the back and tucked the ends in at the waist. He pulled his knee-length tunic over his head, pausing to feel the smoothness of the fine material, and once again smiled to himself. It was the very same tunic Milderett had given him on their bonding day hundreds of years ago, and he could still remember every word and every emotion from that beautiful day.
They were both standing naked in the tabernacle before the high priest of the village, with all of their families and many of their fellow Tyrosians in attendance.
“Will you receive this loin covering from me, my beloved Rapheldrn?” Milderett asked as she handed him the garment that would forever identify him as a bonded man. “That I alone may see the strength of your passion? And will you receive this tunic from me so that only the wife you have chosen for life may behold the glory of your nakedness?”
After girding his loins and placing the tunic over his head, he responded in the traditional Tyrosian manner—the way Tyrosian men had for tens of thousands of years before him.
“With gladness, I cover myself so that all will know that I belong to another. With joy, I gird my loins with a knot that only my beloved may untie.”
Then he handed her the garment he had received from the high priest. “And now, my beloved Milderett, will you receive this tunic, made by the angels themselves, and anointed by the priests of Elohim, to cover your nakedness, that I and I alone may gaze upon your beauty? May your breasts and womanhood be covered by this holy garment that only I may remove.”
Milderett smiled and pulled the tunic over her head. And with that, they were forever husband and wife.
How strange, he remembered thinking at the time, that the moment she covered herself, his desire for her had increased a thousand-fold, as if that were even possible. For nearly fifty years, he had seen her naked in the village, in the vineyard and the home of her parents, along with all the other unbonded. But now that she was covered, he wondered if he would be able to wait one day to see her beauty again
“I love you, Milderett,” he called to her from the outer room. “Come, have your tea. It is nearly time to go.”…………
……………As they each left the tabernacle that morning, no one spoke of what had happened. It seemed like a gift from Elohim that was intended to be deeply personal. Rapheldrn could not help but notice, however, how tightly Milderett squeezed his hand as they walked down the steps and into the courtyard.
Merianna and the travelers made their way through the crowd, slowed by the many hugs and kisses of friends and family, and arrived at the wagon as Daybringer was reaching its midpoint in the sky.
“You’ll reach Elyrion by nightfall tomorrow,” Natharyn said, as he rechecked the harnesses. “Spend the night there in the inn, and the three travelers from Elyrion will join you for the rest of the trip. The remainder of your nights will be spent on the ground under the wagon until you reach Hylosia, four days outside of the Holy City, then—”
“Natharyn, enough! How many more times are you going to go over this with us before we’re allowed to get going?” Tawnora asked her husband, smiling. “We won’t even make the outskirts of Obearlyn tonight if we stand here much longer.”
Natharyn made an attempt to wipe the moisture from his cheeks without being noticed. “Yes, yes, of course, you’re right, Tawnora.” he laughed as he reached out and took his wife in his arms. “Best you be on your way, it’s just that I …”
Tyrosians generally aren't timid about showing affection to each other, even in the common areas of the village. But the type of kiss Tawnora gave Natharyn as they stood there beside the wagon is usually reserved for the privacy of one’s own bedroom. No one seemed to notice, though, because final goodbyes were being said by everyone.
Eventually, Rapheldrn and Tawnora took their places on the wagon. At the same time, Jopaul mounted the dapple mare called Gentle, and they began moving away from the central market out toward the edge of the village. Children ran alongside the wagon, while the adults shouted blessings and waved them on their way. Merianna bowed her head and offered a final prayer, then turned and headed back toward the tabernacle.
Finally, we’re on our way, Rapheldrn thought. What wonders will we see and hear?
The eyes of all the villagers were on the wagon carrying their friends out of Obearlyn and on to Tyrosia. The room where the Songstone sat upon the altar, covered once more in the scarlet cloth, was empty and quiet. Life in Obearlyn would soon return to normal as the people parted and began returning to their homes or fields. That’s why no one noticed the two celestial beings silently appear behind the altar in the darkened tabernacle.
Bobby ‘Reed’ Westerly, 1959
Bobby Westerly could taste the blood in his mouth even before his head crashed into the wall as he slid weakly to the floor. He fought unconsciousness with all his might, determined not to let his attacker see that he had hurt him.
“Get up, you little son of a bitch,” the man standing over Bobby shouted. “If I ever catch you in my stuff again, you’ll get a hell of a lot more than the back of my hand.”
“Leave the kid alone, Pete,” the woman lying across the bed said wearily. “He’s only twelve years old. You’re gonna kill him one of these days.”
“I caught the little bastard going through my pants pockets again. So if anything is missing, I’m gonna beat him till I get it back, or you’re gonna get your sorry ass out of that bed and get it back from him yourself.”
Not likely, Mary Westerly thought to herself. Not very likely tonight. She was especially sick and weak tonight and wasn’t sure she could even get out of bed, much less deal with her son, Bobby. She had known for a month now that something was wrong, maybe seriously wrong. The pain in her lower back and the burning, while she was peeing was getting worse every day, but there was nothing to be done for it. She couldn’t afford to see a doctor, couldn’t afford to miss work, and Pete certainly wasn’t going to help her. It had been all she could do not to cry out in pain earlier when he was on top of her, not that he would have noticed or cared if she had. At least he’d sent Bobby out of the room … this time.
Sgt. Pete Bristol was a big man, standing over six feet, two inches tall and weighing nearly 220 pounds, and likely would have killed Bobby if he had hit him with all his strength. Bobby wouldn’t have been the first person he’d killed, and it wouldn’t have bothered him all that much if he had. He just didn’t want to deal with disposing of the brat, not to mention that if he killed the boy, then he’d have to silence his mother as well, and he still found her worth keeping around.
Not that anybody would miss either of them or care all that much about what happened to them. As far as Pete knew, Mary Westerly hadn’t been in contact with her family since she’d left her grandparents’ place down in Savannah twelve years ago and moved up to Augusta. If the grandparents were even still alive, he doubted that they had any idea where she was, and they certainly didn’t know about the kid.
Pete knew he was just one more in a long line of men that had paraded through Mary Westerly’s life, but that was fine with him, too. He’d been with her for a few months now, and in another few months, he’d be moving on anyway. One more assignment, and he'd have his twenty years in and would be done with Uncle Sam and could go home to St. Paul for good. A Signal Corps staff sergeant during the Korean War and now an instructor at the Signal Corps training facility at Fort Gordon, all he wanted from Mary was the few hours of diversion she could offer, and all he wanted from the kid was to shut up and stay out of his stuff.
So he kept them both at the motel on Tobacco Road about four miles southeast of the base and came out a couple of times a week and most weekends. It’s where she had been staying the night he’d picked her up at the bar. She said it was as good a place as any and within walking distance of that new chicken place where she worked, and that Bobby could catch the bus to school down at the corner. Even though the kid was a pain in the ass, Pete was impressed with his common sense and street smarts, and he rarely saw him when his nose wasn’t buried in one book or another.
Now Sgt. Pete Bristol stood there, bare-chested, towel wrapped around his waist, dripping water on the motel room floor, as Mary Westerly lay across the bed, naked except for a pair of old dirty panties, while Bobby lay in the corner of the room with blood in his mouth, hating them both.
There was a time when his mother would have covered herself when Bobby was in the room, but those days were long past. At least, she used to cover herself when she was sober, but those days were long past, too. So long past that, Bobby could hardly even remember them. What he could remember, was living in one dump after another, with one creep or another to smack him around and make awful noises with his mom while he lay in the bed next to them.
Motels, boarding rooms, trailer parks, even back seats of cars were the places where Bobby Westerly lived and grew up, and Sergeant Pete was just one more sergeant or corporal or private to make his life miserable.
One of those sergeants or corporals or privates was probably his dad, but if he was, he was definitely gone by now. To another base or another country and certainly to another family. He probably had a wife and kids that lived in a real house where they ate at a real table and had rooms of their own.
He’d asked his mom about his dad one night when they were alone in a room together.
“Mom, do you know where my dad is, ’cause if you know his address, maybe I could, like, maybe write him a letter or something?”
She’d started to laugh, took a long drink straight from her bottle of Southern Comfort, and said, “Damn, Bobby, I don’t even know who he is, much less where he is. I wouldn’t worry too much about him anyways, ’cause he sure as hell ain’t worried about you.” And then she started to cry, and that was the last time they ever spoke about it.
“I’ll probably see you this weekend, Mary,” Pete said. “You gonna be alright to get up for work tomorrow morning? You don’t look so good.”
Pete was standing at the door now, dressed in his green dress uniform. Green pants, green coat with gold buttons down the front, and two gold emblems on the lapels. He wore a tan shirt, black tie, green hat with a black brim, with another gold emblem on the front of the hat. Staff sergeant stripes decorated each sleeve.
Bobby could tell you the rank of every soldier and officer in the entire US army. Three upside-down V’s on top and one curved stripe on the bottom made you a staff sergeant. Two curved lines were sergeant first class, and three on the bottom was sergeant major if it had a star in the middle; otherwise, you were a master sergeant.
Bobby hadn’t met many officers and never really talked with one, but he knew their rank insignias from books he’d read in the school library. One gold bar, or butter bar, as some referred to it, on the shoulder straps meant second lieutenant, while a silver bar was first lieutenant. Two silver bars was captain, a gold leaf was major, and a silver leaf made you a light colonel. Bobby liked the full bird colonel insignia the best. A silver eagle with his wings spread, grasping a sheaf of wheat with his claws. And of course, stars were reserved for the generals.
I wonder what it would be like if Mom brought home a full bird colonel, Bobby wondered. Probably no different, he concluded. They’re all the same.
“I’ll be fine, Pete,” Mary said. “I’ll get a good night’s sleep, and I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, then, see ya in a couple of days.” He closed the door and was gone.
But of course, Mary wasn’t fine at all. She hadn’t been fine in a very, very long time and had pretty much given up on ever being fine again.
She’d been twenty-four when she left Savannah twelve years ago, and not a bad-looking woman. Her typical Southern belle looks—narrow face, pointed chin, pouty lips, and shoulder-length blond bouncy hair—had been both a blessing and a curse growing up.
She was the adorable little granddaughter of Martin and Martha Westerly, but in her mind, she could never escape the reality that she was just the bastard child of Sara Westerly and Robby Banister. Two people she had never even met. Two people that God had stolen from her before either one of them could hold her or care about her, much less love her.
Her father, Robby Banister, had died in France in the final days of World War I, never even knowing she existed. Her mother had died giving birth to her in the bedroom just down the hall from where she had lived with her mother’s parents, Martin and Martha.
Her mother, Sara, had been a student up north at a university in Ohio when she met Robby, a young, ambitious journalist working at a small newspaper not far from the campus. After Robby left for the service and Sara discovered she was pregnant, she dropped out of school and returned home to Savannah, where Mary Westerly was born, and Sara Westerly died on the same day.
Mary’s grandparents’ house was on a beautiful wooded lot in Ardsley Park in Savannah, just north of the Chatham Crescent and only a few blocks from the site of the new First Christian Church of Savannah, where they were members. Hypocrites more than members, Mary thought then. Far more interested in their friends and social standing in the community than living like the Christians they claimed to be. Of course, all Christians were hypocrites, as far as Mary could tell. Living one life in front of the pastor for a couple of hours on Sunday morning and quite a different one at home, the pastor being the biggest liar and hypocrite of them all.
She’d lived in her grandparent’s house all her life, though she couldn’t really say she’d ever lived anywhere. She stayed in the room down the hall from where she had killed her mother and learned early on to play the part of a Westerly offspring while doing pretty much whatever the hell she wanted to when no one was paying attention. And no one ever paid attention to quiet little Mary. Look pretty, say the right things, curtsy properly at the right time, and everyone thought you were the perfect little princess–the ideal little granddaughter. Look good on the outside, and who would ever know that you were dead on the inside?
Mary had heard her grandparents talk about what a happy child she had been when she was little, but she couldn’t remember those times, either. She couldn’t remember even a single day when she had been happy. How could you be happy when God hated you? How could you be happy when you hated God?
“For God sent His Son, His one and only begotten Son Jesus to die for our sins,” Pastor Dedrick said during one of his many incredibly dull sermons.
God sure does love seeing people die. Mary thought as she sat in the pew between her grandfather and grandmother. The only difference is that He made Jesus alive again, and my mom and dad are still dead. Why should He get to have His Son back, but I don’t get to have my parents back? IT’S NOT FAIR, she wanted to scream. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. She didn’t say the words out loud, of course. She never said any of the things she felt out loud. And no one ever bothered to ask her how she really felt, on the inside. If you look good on the outside, she thought, they won’t notice you. They’ll leave you alone. They won’t know that you’re really dead. Then, you can do what you want.
So the real Mary Westerly lived in the shadow of the Mary Westerly she created and propped up for those around her to see. The made-up Mary was a perfect little lady, the quiet princess, and a good student with a limitless future in front of her. The real Mary was a drunk by the time she was sixteen……………..
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