Copyright 2016 by Matt Kuvakos
Children Under the Stars
Elliot held a photo of his childhood house between his fingers. He tilted the picture within his grasp as if it would animate itself if he held it just right. He imagined the actual house shaking and moving off its foundation with the way he moved the picture. He traced the outline of the peaking, shingle covered roof with his finger, moving it to the white siding and dark brown brick.
“Never forget home.” Elliot repeated the words that were written by his dad on the back of the photograph. He had given him the picture when Elliot moved away for college. He knew there was no place he wanted to be more than home; he just didn’t have any idea where that was, or what it meant to him anymore. Being alone was the only home he knew. Missoula, Montana gave him a job as a probation officer for two years, but does a job make a place a home?
Elliot folded the picture in his lap and returned it to its place in the visor. He idled the truck’s engine from his usual spot at the back of Wendy’s parking lot. He switched on the radio, reclined his seat, and folded his hands behind his head – the same way he usually spent his lunch break on Mondays.
“Today is the memorial service for the Governor of Montana’s daughter, Avery Greenland. As most know, last week she was tragically killed by…” A reporter’s stiff voice rang out from the truck’s speakers. Elliot reached for the dial and shut it off before shutting his green eyes off from the darkening world for a bit.
He was a man who craved peace, something his job lacked, especially on Monday; Monday was worry day. Although Elliot worried most days, Mondays he worried that his clients had screwed up over the weekend, and what he was about to walk into. Today, though, he was enjoying the silence, because silence was the sound of a successful week with his group.
Only a few miles away, the memorial service for the Governor’s daughter was being held in the town’s massive stone cathedral. The Governor, a man beloved by the state and the people who were mourning with him, declared the ceremony open for anyone to attend. He naturally desired as many people as possible to pay respects to his only daughter.
The cathedral, a shining monument of the city, was filled with influential people, making it standing room only. An organist gently played a somber song as the audience settled for the service. On the left side of the church was a colorful stained glass mural of Jesus lifting his hands into a sky bursting with yellows and oranges as if he were calling to the sunset. Standing just below that mural was a peculiar looking man. He too had become important and known like the rest of the audience, but for odd reasons.
The man’s name was Ricky Freemon, the alleged leader of a cult. A peaceful cult, but a group known for doing what was called “signs and wonders.” Ricky had his eyes closed as he began to pray. A small smile formed on his pink lips, and he was nodding his head slightly as if he were agreeing with someone whispering into his ear. His head was covered by long, wild, dark hair with a few stands wrapped in purple beads that dangled in front of his face. He was dressed for the occasion, but in his own way: flow white pants, sandals, and a purple collared shirt. Ricky opened his eyes; one was blue, and the other was brown. People within the crowd had noticed him since he walked in, including the security of the Governor.
The Governor was sitting in the front pew with his wife who began to cry at the sight of the priest walking in front of the closed casket containing their daughter.
“Thank you all for coming, today. May this immense crowd be a testimony to the impact that Avery had on so many lives.” The priest, an older man dressed in the white ceremonial robe with red lining, bowed his head to the Governor and his wife. After some sniffling and coughing in the back rows, the audience became silent.
“Please bow your heads with me in prayer as we begin our remembrance of Avery.” As soon as the priest bowed his head and shut his eyes, along with the audience, Ricky started to walk toward the casket.
“God of faithfulness, in your wisdom you have called your servant Avery…” The priest started, not realizing that Ricky was standing by the casket too. There were a few murmurs from the mourners who noticed and some security guards began to move in from the back, but they were still unsure of what to do. Ricky then shoved open the casket, causing the priest to fall back almost to the ground from the surprise. People jumped out of their seats and security began running, but were slowed by the individuals standing in the aisle trying to get a better view.
Ricky reached in the casket and placed his hand on Avery’s head, and he reached his other, palm first, toward the sky.
“Raise up, in the name of God, the King of the children under the stars.” Ricky screamed, his voice sounding like a raging stampede of bulls.
The Governor was the first to get to Ricky somehow, but Ricky extended his hand holding him off. Both men had tears streaming down their faces. The rushing security seemed to pause briefly at this sight before they tackled them both to the ground.
“She will live. She will live.” Ricky screamed through gritted teeth as more people piled on top of him and the Governor. The audience was now streaming out the doors of the cathedral in a near panic. Police sirens engulfed the city as they came to the aid of the Governor, thinking it was an attack on his life from the reports being given over their radios. One of the police sirens shrieked by Elliot, jolting him awake.
Elliot sat in his office, staring at the newly assigned folder that had been allocated to him. The folder hadn’t moved from his desk for an entire day. He reached for his can of Red Bull and took a slow sip, his stare frozen on the name written on the front of the file, “Ricky Freemon.” He swiveled his office chair away from the file. He wasn’t ready to look it over yet. He then noticed the wooden framed picture of him and his dad.
The picture had been there every day, but now it seemed to pop out at Elliot for some reason. He picked it up and wiped the dust off the glass with his thumb, revealing his dad’s smiling face. They had just gone golfing, and his uncle captured the photo of the two of them. Both of them were wearing striped polo’s and shorts. Elliot was laughing in the picture with one arm around his dad’s shoulder and the other in his pocket. His dad looked to be talking to either Elliot or his brother, Tim behind the camera. The memory flooded into Elliot’s mind.
“Will you shut up for one second, Paul. I’m trying to take a picture.” Elliot’s uncle Tim held the camera in one hand and a cigar in the other.
“Don’t be mad that you just lost to a college kid who never golfs and his old man.” Paul and Elliot laughed as Tim took the picture.
“Hope that turns out right.” Tim shrugged.
“Email that to me will ya?” Paul said as he and Elliot started to walk back to the golf cart.
“Absolutely. This is a rare occasion these days. All of us together, like this.” Tim snuffed out his cigar stub on the bottom of his shoe, leaning on the back of the golf cart.
“Tell me about it.” Paul elbowed Elliot in the side. “He’s a Montana man now.”
Elliot sensed the sarcasm in his dad’s voice. “Well, did you want to pay for my college?”
“He’s got you there, Paul.” Tim laughed as he sat in the driver seat of his golf cart. “Meet you guys at the clubhouse. Since I lost, lunch is on me.” Tim said as he sped past them.
“Sounds good.” Paul and Elliot sat down in the golf cart. Paul took off his white baseball cap and wiped the sweat from his forehead, still thinking about what Elliot said. “You know I offered to pay for you to stay here in, Phoenix and go to school.” He took a swig of water, staring at Elliot from the corner of his eye.
“I know you did. I just didn’t…”
“I don’t understand why you’re all the way out in Montana, playing with the Buffalo. You’re all I got, El.” Paul started to drive the cart. He shook his head, disappointed in himself and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Elliot rested his leg on the dash of the golf cart. They were silent the rest of the drive.
The tapping on the small glass window of Elliot’s office brought his mind back to reality. Elliot turned to look and saw Darren, another probation officer standing in the doorway.
“You starting on that preacher file?” Before Elliot could answer, Darren’s phone rang. “Give me a sec. I got to take this.” Darren walked away to take the call.
Elliot placed the picture back in its place and turned his attention back to the file. For the first time since receiving it, Elliot flipped the folder open across his desk. He already knew what it contained. For Ricky to remain out of jail, he was sentenced to a year of probation with weekly visits or more if needed, and no preaching for a year.
Elliot’s gut told him that this guy was going to be difficult to contain. The Deputy Chief thought so too since he reassigned two of Elliot’s clients to another probation officer.
“Second offense of disorderly conduct?” Elliot read aloud to himself, diving in all the way now. This was what he called the “bonding time.” His finger ran across each line of detail, absorbing Ricky’s life as if he was sitting in front of him sharing his story. That meeting would happen soon enough, though. The next day to be exact.
“Sorry. So that preacher file.” Darren peeked his head into Elliot’s office with wide eyes. Darren was short, stocky and from Boston. His accent always made that obvious. “Should be interesting, man.” He stepped in and sat down across from Elliot.
“Yeah, I didn’t realize this was his second offense. Did he have proba…”
“He served six months of house arrest,” Darren interrupted. “I think. Not sure what he did, but it should say in there.” Darren shrugged and pointed to the file. “I was surprised he only got probation time. Lucky you.” Darren smiled crookedly.
Elliot nodded, but kept his head down, scanning the file. “What the hell?”
“Huh?” Darren scooted forward in his chair trying to get a look.
“In that first case, he was arrested for disrupting the public and inciting a small riot because he…” Elliot’s face furrowed as he rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. “Prayed for a person that was missing multiple fingers, and according to the witness, each finger reappeared…” Elliot glanced up to Darren briefly before continuing to read as if he were being forced to. “Causing hysterics within the community for differing beliefs.”
“So, witchcraft? Magic? When was this?” Darren breathed a quick breath through his nose.
“Years ago in a small town in Illinois. And in his statement, Ricky said, ‘I only do what my Father tells me to do.’”
“Like I said, this should be interesting.” Darren stood up with a grunt, shaking his head. “Keep me updated.” Darren turned around slowly to leave the office.
“Will do.” Elliot closed the file and leaned back in his chair, thinking about how the first face-to-face meeting with Ricky might go. Before Elliot could reach for his Red Bull for another sip, his cell phone vibrated next to Ricky’s case file on the desk.
Unknown number. He pressed the green button to answer the call anyway. “This is Elliot Marisol.”
“Good afternoon, Elliot. I hope this day is treating you fairly.” The voice on the other end of the phone was one that Elliot recognized, but couldn’t pinpoint who it was exactly.
“Same to you, sir. May I ask who this is?” Elliot reached for the Red Bull and sipped slowly.
“My apologies, this is Sam Greenland.”
“Governor?” Elliot sat a little straighter in his chair as if the Governor had just walked in.
“Just call me Sam. Titles make me anxious.” Elliot could tell the Governor was smiling based on his tone.
“Um. Why or what…” Elliot stood up, and his mind that was usually a tornado of thoughts went quiet.
“I’m calling because I know you are going to be seeing Mr. Freemon tomorrow. Correct?” His voice lingered on the tip of Elliot’s earlobe as if his breath reached through the phone.
“That’s right, sir. I’ll be meeting with him tomorrow evening. I actually…”
The Governor interrupted. “His file is an interesting one isn’t it?”
Elliot remembered the Governor’s puffy face streaming with tears, filling the deep wrinkles on his cheeks during an interview the day after his daughter’s funeral. He also remembered the anger he expressed, calling for justice against Ricky.
“Yes, sir. Definitely something you don’t see every day.” Elliot cleared his throat. He did that when he was nervous.
“Be prepared for protestors. I guess they’ve been covering his property for weeks now.” The governor chuckled. “I’m going to be blunt with you, is that alright?”
“Absolutely.” Elliot moved to his office door and pushed it shut.
“Mr. Freemon’s case will be closed after your interview. A man like him should not be allowed to take another step on our soil here in Montana after what he did. You understand?”
“I’m not sure I do. Can you…” Elliot wasn’t sure if this was a fact, threat or just an opinion.
“I thought I put it bluntly enough. But I’ll try again.”
Elliot imagined the Governor standing with his hands firmly placed on top of his desk, leaning forward with his tie slightly swinging like a ticking hand of a grandfather’s clock.
“Don’t let the interview go for too long tomorrow. We’ll be handling Ricky’s case the way we see fit. I don’t want you to be wasting too much time for nothing. I wanted to be the man to tell you all of this, so.”
“My opening introduction doesn’t usually last too long, anyway. Am I being removed from this case? If so, then why should I even conduct the interview?” Elliot thought this was sounding more like a threat of some kind.
“Simply do your interview and leave. I and the Missoula police will be in contact with you after.” The Governor’s voice was quiet. “Goodnight, Elliot. I’m sure you’re great at what you do.” The line went dead on the other side of Elliot’s ear.
He held the phone, lost in thought until the dial tone made him drop it to the desk. He crunched the empty Red Bull can and tossed it into the trash.
Elliot’s hands might as well have been stone on the steering wheel. He wiped sweat away that was dripping down into his eye and took a deep breath. As he drove along the hillside roads toward Ricky’s home, the sun began to set fire to the sky with bursts of reds and oranges, as if the sun itself was shooting off fireworks between the clouds. Elliot flipped the visor down to shield his eyes from the glare, causing the polaroid of his childhood home to fall into his lap. His eyes moved away from the road toward the photograph as he stopped at a red light.
A memory of one of the neighborhood Fourth of July parties came to his mind as he studied the picture. For one day out of the year, everyone would set up chairs and bring out coolers, sitting outside by their garages, sharing food and drinks with each other. All day long, Elliot remembered anticipating the night, hoping the darkness would come quicker so the fireworks could start.
He felt that same anticipation as he sat at the red light waiting for it to change so he could get to Ricky’s house. He placed the photograph back in its place and glanced to the GPS on his phone showing he was close. He didn’t need the GPS much longer to tell him where to turn since there were protesters and police lined up along the road.
“Preacher from Hell.” Elliot slowed down, reading protestor’s signs before turning down a dirt road that had been barricaded by the police.
“This road is closed, sir as you can see,” the clearly stressed police officer said to Elliot as he rolled down his window.
“I’m his probation…”
“Get back, get back please.” The officer pointed to a few protesters trying to get by using Elliot’s car as a shield. “You need to turn around this is private property beyond this point.”
“I’m his probation officer.” Elliot pulled out his identification to show the police officer.
The officer tilted down his glasses to the tip of his nose and looked over the ID and back to Elliot as if he were selling him alcohol. “Ok, sorry Mr. Marisol. I remember being told you would be arriving.”
“No problem.” Elliot rolled up his window as protesters tried to come closer once they saw the barricade being moved out of the way. More squad cars pulled up at the same moment, bringing relief to the face of the one lone officer moving the barricade.
Elliot continued down the bumpy dirt road, shifting his truck back and forth. The bumpier it got, the further away from the noise he noticed he was going. Tall trees lined the sides of the road instead of protestors, and a creek ran beside the trees. Elliot saw the shadow of the house ahead, along with a few structures that looked to be teepees. It wasn’t until then he started to think of the phone call with the Governor the day before.
He couldn’t shake the threatening tone of the Governor’s voice from his mind. It wasn’t like he was holding a knife to his throat or anything, but it was more of an “I have snipers aiming at you from thirty miles away,” type of feeling. This was all out of his control, but the one thing he knew he still had to do and wanted to do, was conduct the interview as if Ricky were going to remain his client.
The engine of Elliot’s truck began to click and clank as he turned it off, leaving him in the darkness overlooking the farmhouse in front of him. There were five teepees to the left of the house, with a group of people gathered around a campfire in the middle. The glow of the fire brushed against their faces, revealing the fact that they were looking in Elliot’s direction. With the shift of the wind the light would disappear, covering their faces in darkness once again.
Elliot took another deep breath and cleared his throat. He wasn’t ever this nervous before meeting a client for the first time. He knew this was different, though. Elliot stepped out onto the soft earth and instantly noticed the stars stretched across the sky above him. For some reason, he thought of the mystery treasure chest he would get to pick a prize out of after a visit to the doctor as a kid. Each prize would be gleaming back at him, shiny and new. The stars beamed above him, a treasure he hadn’t noticed in a long time.
“We have front row seats in the universe.” A voice that sounded like a poem personified came from the dark porch of the house.
“Sure looks like it.” Elliot shifted his stance to face the house, away from the teepees. He squinted his eyes to try and see the figure talking to him. “Mr. Freemon?”
“Are there still protestors out by the main road?” The figure started to walk down the stairs of the porch to Elliot.
“There are. Are you Ricky Freemon?” Elliot asked again.
“I am.” Ricky extended his hand to Elliot.
“Nice to meet you, Ricky. I’m Elliot Marisol, your probation officer.” They shook hands. Elliot felt as if they were meeting in space itself with the thickness of the night and the number of stars looking over them.
“Come on inside. You can meet my family and then we can talk in the study.” Ricky placed his hand on Elliot’s back and led him toward the front door. Elliot was usually the one pushing to start talking in his introductory meetings, but he felt like Ricky wanted to. The house was simple with a warmth radiating within the walls.
“Riley?” Ricky called out as soon as they shut the front door behind them.
“Is he here? Come on, Wesley.” A woman’s voice answered from what Elliot assumed was the living room area.
“This is my wife, Riley, and two-year-old son Wesley.” Ricky motioned for Elliot to keep moving forward until he saw a blue eyed, blonde hair boy stumbling around, playing with a truck along the floor of the living room. Next to him was Ricky’s wife. She looked to be perfect for him. She had dreadlocks pulled up in a ponytail, revealing her ears that seemed to shine like the stars outside with piercings lining the lobe to the tip. She was wearing moccasins, torn jeans and a simple white flowy top.
“Nice to meet you.” Riley looked at Elliot and smiled warmly.
“Same to you, ma’am. I’m Elliot.” Elliot leaned down and shook hands with Riley. He then looked around the room, a little stunned to see normalcy in this man who seemed to be anything but normal. This wasn’t too surprising, though. He realized quickly in this profession that most crazy people were usually pretty average.
“You want to head into the study to start?” Ricky again placed his hand on Elliot’s shoulder. It was then when Elliot finally saw Ricky in the light. He first noticed his happiness. His eyes, one blue and the other brown, just seemed soft and inviting, almost as if he were about to cry.
“Sure, lead the way. Nice meeting you, Riley.” Elliot followed Ricky and waved to Riley behind them. They turned down a hallway and walked into what seemed to be Ricky’s office. Again, nothing flashy. Books were sprawled across the entire room, some opened and some closed. Each one representing a thought Ricky had at one point. There was a desk, but Ricky didn’t sit behind it. Instead, he sat on the floor where there was a fluffy rug, and invited Elliot to join him there. Smiling, Elliot agreed still looking over the room as if he was expecting to find clues to why Ricky did what he did. Elliot did see a wooden slab hanging on the wall with “John 14:12” burned into it.
“What verse is that?” Elliot pointed to the wooden slab while organizing his binder on the ground. Ricky sat Indian style and folded his hands in his lap.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.” Ricky shut his eyes and smirked. “My favorite verse and greatest reminder. Are you a believer?”
“No, no. I was only curious.” Elliot took out his notes, hoping to change the subject. “This is our first meeting and what I usually like to do, is to try and better understand the reasoning of why you essentially committed the crime. This helps…”
“God told me.” Ricky interrupted. His eyes remained closed.
“Can you explain this to me more?” Elliot highlighted the note already in Ricky’s file. I only do what my Father tells me to do.
“I along with anyone who truly believes can hear the voice of God. But you see, it’s usually not booming, but a whisper.” Ricky started to rock slightly as if he were going into a trance. “I woke up that morning to a whisper in my mind, saying ‘Ricky, you will raise a soul from the grave in MY name.’ that was it.”
“But the voice didn’t clarify it was the Governor’s daughter, right?” Elliot watched as Ricky continued to rock back and forth slowly.
“That’s right, but once my Father tells me something. I have to obey. He has and never will lead me to destruction.” Ricky said slowly opening his eyes. “You see, that’s the point of all this.” He spread open his arms and turned, looking throughout the room.
“The point of what?” Elliot watched Ricky still holding his arms out by his side.
“The point of life is to hang out with our Heavenly Father and accomplish what He has set out to do on the earth.” He set his arms down and chuckled to himself for a second. “It’s a simple concept really, and we all like to mess things up and over complicate. You know?”
Elliot had many questions to Ricky’s logic, but he stopped himself from asking. He needed to try and steer the interview a different direction. “You have an interesting life, Ricky. I want you to know that I’m a safe place to share your thoughts with, ok?”
Ricky nodded, shutting his eyes once more.
“With that said…”
“You’re searching for home.” Ricky’s eyes opened wide and met Elliot’s who was caught off guard. “You keep a photo close to you of what you think home is. Why?”
“What is this?” Elliot couldn’t help but smile even though he was becoming more nervous. He pictured the polaroid in his truck as if he were looking at it in front of him.
“Why do you keep that photo in your truck?” Ricky responded as if he knew what Elliot was thinking about. Elliot’s phone started to vibrate in his pocket, but he quickly silenced it.
“How did you know about the picture?” Elliot felt exposed even though it wasn’t anything bad. Again, his phone began to vibrate but like before he silenced it.
“God just told me.” Ricky flashed a brilliant smile. “I know you want to believe that I’m crazy. But, I assure you that I’m not.”
Elliot pushed aside his notes that he wrote out describing himself. “Ok, well I guess I keep that photo because it reminds me of good times. And when I think of good times, I guess that’s where I think home is. In goodness.”
“Absolutely. Tell me about a good time.”
Elliot readjusted his sitting position on the rug and cleared his throat. “Ok.”
Elliot’s interview routine was usually nothing like this. His stories were only professional, nothing too personal. Most of his clients would sit in front of him like zombies until he left. Elliot looked into Ricky’s eyes, and he felt at ease.
“Probably the last day I spent with my dad.” Hearing himself say that out loud to Ricky felt strange. “I was adopted. He raised me by himself.”
Ricky nodded and leaned back, resting on his elbows. “What happened on that day?”
“Nothing crazy. It was my last day in Phoenix before I had to come back to college here in, Montana.” Elliot pulled at the rug by his feet as he remembered that day. “We had steaks and beer for dinner.” Elliot smiled. “He made the worst steaks that day too. It felt like I was eating a tire that had baked in the sun for days.” Elliot looked up at Ricky and saw him lean forward, listening. “Like I said, it wasn’t anything crazy that happened, but it was…” Elliot wiped his nose at an itch that wasn’t even there. “It was the last time I felt some peace, I guess.”
Elliot reached his hand and rubbed his neck, pulling out the rest of his thought. “He wanted me to stay in Phoenix. Finish school out there. We had talked about that a lot. I wish I gave him a different answer.” Elliot shook his head slightly. He noticed tears glistening in Ricky’s eyes.
“So that photo doesn’t always bring up goodness in your heart?” Ricky wiped the tears away.
“No, a lot of the time it’s sadness.”
“I know I’m not supposed to, but I’m about to say a preachy thing to you. Our home cannot be found here.” Ricky pointed to the floor. “But, it can be found there.” He then raised his finger to the ceiling.
Elliot put his hands on his head and moved them along the sides as if he were trying to silence his thoughts. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Did it make sense that I knew about the picture in your truck?” Ricky smirked and shrugged while looking at Elliot. “I’m not trying to force anything on you, Elliot. This is only the mission that I was given since the very first day I set upon following Jesus.”
“If you’re just following Jesus, doesn’t it bother you that you’re known as a cult? I mean, you’re not like every other Christian I’ve come across.”
Ricky pointed to the wooden slab with the bible verse burned into it behind him. “That’s why that verse is my greatest reminder. I’d give up on this life if I forgot that. God knows we need a purpose.”
“Can I ask you a question then?”
“Of course.” Ricky straightened his posture.
“You said earlier that your goal is to accomplish the things that God wants. What are those things? Is this life nothing but a battle to prove one belief is right, and the others are wrong?”
“Like I said, we have over complicated things and lost track.” Ricky ran his hand along the edge of the rug until it reached the wooden floor. “God’s purpose on this earth is to love. Once we realize that love, then we can love others like Him, actually changing…”
“Ricky!” Riley’s voice screamed out from the front of the house. A loud crash and more screams followed from outside by the teepees. Both Elliot and Ricky ran to Riley and looked out the window to see the teepees on fire.
“I’ll call the police.” Elliot took out his phone, noticing the multiple missed calls from an unknown number.
“They’re already supposed to be here.” Riley picked up Wesley as if the ground was about to turn into fire too. They watched out the window as a group of shadows seemed to be attacking the others that lived out there.
“We have to stop this.” Ricky threw open the front door. He turned to Riley, “lock this.”
Both Elliot and Ricky stepped outside and stood, watching the chaos unfold in front of them. As soon as they turned toward the porch steps, “BAM.” A gunshot echoed throughout the valley, stopping the attack. Even the fire seemed to pause burning for a split second. Police sirens then screamed closer from the main road, finally seeing the flames.
“Elliot?” Ricky turned and saw Elliot hunch forward before falling down the steps. “Elliot?” Ricky moved next to him and saw what looked like black sludge leaking through his stomach. The flames of the fire grew and lit up the dark red, flooding Elliot’s body and soaking the ground beneath him. “He’s shot. He’s shot.” Ricky repeated under his breath as Elliot began to go numb.
Elliot didn’t feel or hear anything, but he could see the stars and smell the smoke of the fire. Ricky would appear in his face for a split second, screaming something, then he would vanish. Elliot only wanted to see the stars, the treasures of the universe as he died. He couldn’t believe that he was shot dead at the house of Ricky Freemon. If he could’ve, he would’ve laughed.
Instead, a rim of blackness began to close in on his sight. He held his eye on one particular star that seemed to shine brighter than the others. He thought maybe this was going to be his new home. He then heard his heartbeat within his ears, beating slower, deeper. His vision continued to close in on itself. Until Elliot was in complete silence and darkness, alone.
He then saw an image of his dad at one of the neighborhood Fourth of July parties. He was dressed in a black shirt, jeans and a blue baseball hat stained with dirt. He knelt down by the firework on the driveway and looked back at Elliot. “You loved watching these.”
“Dad?” Elliot realized he could talk within this place. “I’m dead.”
His dad struck a match and lit the rocket in front of him. With a hiss, the rocket raced into the night sky and burst into bright purple sparks. He tossed the blackened match into the street and turned back to face Elliot. “I never let you light one, though.” He held out a match toward Elliot.
Elliot instinctively took the match and felt his dad’s hands. “You’re really here?” His dad pulled Elliot into himself and hugged him. Something shattered within Elliot’s heart, or what he could only describe as being his heart in this new place.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Tears soaked into his dad’s shirt that smelled like his spicy cologne, causing Elliot to cry more and squeeze harder. Elliot felt like he was only seven years old again.
“Sorry for what?” His dad asked.
“For not being there with you.” Elliot looked up at his dad, who looked younger then he remembered.
“You have nothing to be sorry for. I love you, but it’s time.” His dad handed him another match.
“For what?” Elliot looked at the match then back to his dad.
“To keep living. To start, again.” His dad vanished within the looming blackness of the void that Elliot remembered he was in.
Elliot reached and felt within the darkness hoping to find him again. “This is not home.” He didn’t want to be alone, anymore.
“Help me.” Elliot dropped to his knees within the blackness. “I’m ready.” He then saw a single firework within a spotlight beam in front of him. Written on it, in his dad’s familiar writing, it said. Remember to love. It’s the only thing that can burn away the pain.
Elliot struck the match his dad had given him and lit the firework. As it hissed, he began to feel a burning sensation across his stomach. He then heard a powerful voice growing louder in his mind. “I AM HOME.” The voice said as the firework shot up into the sky and exploded.
Elliot’s eyes opened to see that one bright star looking over him, along with Ricky who was bent over him in prayer.
“In the name of God, the King of the children under the stars. Breathe and live.” Ricky placed his hand on Elliot’s bloody stomach and began to feel heat searing across the wound. “It was you. It was you.”
I hope you enjoyed, Children Under the Stars. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story. Please do not hesitate to leave a review, for it is much appreciated. Also, feel free to check out my first young adult novel, Addison’s Mark, the 2016 Silver Medalist for the Illumination Book Awards.
Thank you for reading.
You are loved,
Children Under the Stars follows, Elliot Marisol, a probation officer in Missoula, Montana. His days have grown lonely and uninspired. But, a single question continues to haunt him every day. What is home? With no answer satisfying him, Elliot tries to forget and focuses on his newly assigned case, one of the biggest to come across Missoula in a long time. The client is an alleged cult leader, Ricky Freemon. A mysterious man known for “signs and wonders” and doing only what his “Father” tells him to do. The community wants Ricky to leave, but something about him draws Elliot closer. What Elliot doesn’t realize is that Ricky has the answer to his burning question.