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From Darkness

[]Disclaimers

Though this book does not contain offensive language or explicit sexual situations it does contain violent and dramatic descriptions of Hell along with adult and controversial subject matter and is not intended for young or sensitive readers.

This book is a work of fiction. All persons and events are a figment of my imagination and are not intended to portray or resemble anyone. If it does resemble you, you really have problems don’t you, so keep reading; it might help.

I give complete credit to the Lord God Almighty of whom I am a humble servant. Without His guidance, love, and grace this book (and all others) would not have been written. On the other hand; all errors, uh-oh’s, oopses, and boo-boo’s I gladly take credit for.

Acknowledgements

For the lost- that they may find the path to the light

For the found- that their feet may always tread on the one true path

For the reader- that they may know which path they walk

From Darkness

by: Sasha Pruett

Copyright 2016 Sasha Pruett

Shakespir Edition

[]Table of Contents

Disclaimer

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Costly Obsession: Animalize Preview

From Darkness

Chapter One

“Can we get a sound check?”

“Bane, you ready?”

“One two, one two.”

“Go ahead Bane.”

Bane Bronson set his glass of Vodka on the nearest amp and walked over to the mic letting the intro lull him into that magic place his mind and body went to every time he performed. It was another full day of rehearsals before the opening concert kicking off another six month run across the states and into Europe, and since he had a habit of skipping out the day before the concert, usually only showing up the day of for a quick run through; his way of bucking authority even at his age; he was prepared for a long run well into the evening. He wasn’t elderly by any means, but his sunglasses had long since been replaced by prescription orders, antacids were popped like candy, prostate exams were common place, and a hearing aid rested nearly hidden under his long black hair that was no longer dyed to cover the brown but the grey.

His head and soul filled with the harsh pulsing melody of the metal rhythms as he entered that space set aside for him and the music, and right on cue he opened his mouth…

“NO MORE!”

The booming voice stopped Bane before he could utter a single syllable and he turned to the sound engineer, “What the…” Expletives of all kind echoed over the speakers, not that he ever needed a reason to swear.

Click, “What was that Bane?”

“What’s the deal?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

“That voice, ‘No More’?”

“Sorry Bane there’s nothing here, is everything alright?”

Auditory hallucinations were nothing new to Bane, but usually he was smashed at the time. He shrugged it off and the music started again and as he began to shout out the first powerful line in the set, nothing happened. Not a peep, not a growl, not a whisper; nothing. Bane cleared his throat and motioned for the band to start again. The beat, the piercing guitar intro, the first verse, Bane grabbed the microphone and began to belt; silence. Just as before not even a gasp of air escaped his throat. The music wavered and died off while Bronson retrieved his drink, downing it in one great gulp then cleared his throat over and over before giving the drummer the signal to go. After all, the third time’s a charm, or the fourth, or whatever.

His music, his cue, his silence. This was enough, fury washed over Bane and he ripped the mic from its stand opening his mouth as wide as he could without tearing his flesh, straining over and over desperate to get the words out in whatever form he could, pushing his diaphragm to the extreme before retching onto the stage from the sheer force of it all. Bane wiped his chin with the back of his hand desperately trying to catch his breath, his face red and purple from the anger, the booze, and the gut wrenching strain. Some rushed to help, but others were unsure what to do fearing Bane’s wrath and some just shook their heads thinking, “Here we go again.” After all, this was Bane Bronson and his reputation wasn’t far from the truth.

“Bane, you alright?”

Bane righted himself then shoved past the stage manager mumbling something to the effect of, “I’m… fine… do this later.” Then disappeared backstage through the maze of corridors and out the gate to his Mercedes. Ignoring anyone and everyone and leaving the crew to set up and the band to do whatever, he didn’t care.

He slid into the leather haven confused, concerned, and just a little scared though he did his best to repress the fear. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before, at least not that he could remember anyway. Of course there were chunks of his life that were gone for good or at least hidden so far away in the depths of his mind he was pretty sure he’d never recover them. Others have told him that he’d had a great time, too bad he couldn’t remember it. Oh well, that’s life and that’s what happens when you “enhance” your day, but this wasn’t like that. He was sober, what little bit of alcohol he’d had was barely enough to release the tension in his neck let alone cause whatever this was. He tested his voice “One… two… three,” yeah he could talk. He tried his lyrics softly to himself… nothing. Dead silence. A chill ran through him. A cold or the flu, that must be it, he’d strained his voice and now he had the chills he must be coming down with something that’s all. He’d get back to his hotel, take something and drown the germs with some alcohol; eighty proof should do it. As for that voice… reverb probably, or some open mic somewhere and if worse comes to worse, if nothing else, it could’ve been a false trip. He’s had them before. It was just another part of life after the drugs, they liked to sneak up on you for a surprise trip every now and then, especially when he’s stressed and with the new concert tour it’s no wonder.

His hands slowly stopped shaking, funny; he hadn’t realized they had been and the chills subsided. It was time to go home and pass out. He’d call Larry, his manager, when he got back to his suite and started the car pulling out of the vast, empty Oracle Arena parking lot and onto Interstate 880. At first he headed for the hotel then changed his mind and made his way to I580 and the six hour drive to his house. If he was coming down with something he wanted to be at home in his own bed. He cleared his throat and tested his voice, but stopped shy of attempting his lyrics. The chills were back.

“Stop being paranoid.” His pep talk wasn’t easing the nagging in his gut so he decided to drown it all out. His demo cd was in the center console, at least he could still work. He’d thought of upgrading his system, just because he refused to give up his baby to a newer model didn’t mean he couldn’t get her some new toys. This car held a special place in his heart and he’d kept her in perfect condition, they may have to bury him in it.

The single was already up and running ready for distribution, but the full album wasn’t set to be released for another few months. The single would coincide with the opening of the tour and the album would fuel it on to its finish, one helping the other. As the newly familiar rhythms bounced through the car he opened his mouth and started to sing, but stopped short of the first syllable, better not push it. He listened to the bass, the melody, the percussion, the keyboard, picking apart each piece in his mind for problems as he wiped the moisture rolling down his face on his sleeve. How he’d gone from chills to sweating was beyond him. It must be the flu. In a matter of minutes he’d grown so warm he’d begun pouring with perspiration and it felt like a sauna in his car. He turned the ac on high, but instead of the refreshing icy blast he was expecting he felt as though he was being breathed on by his Saint Bernard Barney. He looked at the controls wondering if he’d pushed the wrong button or if his wife had fiddled with his settings, but everything was just as he’d left it. Something must have gone out, so he turned it off and opened the windows.

Warm air rushed into the vehicle and he turned up the volume to concentrate on the music, but the heat only intensified pulling his mind back to it. Bane checked both the inside and outside temps, seventy six. Strange it felt like over a hundred. He pressed button after button, something was wrong, it shouldn’t feel this hot. Then it dawned on him, he could have kicked himself as he reached for the seat warmer controls. He must have hit them at some point when he got in the car, but they were off and he could swear he smelled the acrid hint of burning plastic. He looked at the dash expecting to see warning lights and smoke pouring from under the hood as he pulled to the shoulder feeling like his whole body was on fire.

That’s when he heard it, that same voice as before, “No More! No more will you corrupt my children! No more will you do his will or you will face the fire!”

Then he saw the smoke, but it wasn’t coming from the engine it was coming from the stereo. Pouring out in great clouds from the slot as it spat out a melted disc. Bane sat there shaking desperately trying to convince himself that he was having a bad flash trip when he heard a tap on his door frame. He snapped to and peered out the open window.

“Is there a problem here?”

“Uh, well,” he looked over at the warped disc, “having a little problem with my stereo.”

The officer peered into the car and the odor of burnt cd hit him. “Wow, looks like you do. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, yeah just a little shaken up.” No way was he going to tell him the truth; he was freaking out.

“Good to hear it. Is your vehicle alright?”

Bane looked at his dash, no warning lights. “Seems so. I think it’s just the CD player, everything else looks okay.”

“That’s good. Do you need any assistance? Do you think you can get to…?”

“Home, I’m on my way home. No, I think I’m alright.”

“Glad to hear it. It’s fortunate you were able to get off the road without incident. Looks like it could have been real nasty if it had caught on fire. I guess somebody up there likes you.”

Bane stumbled over that thought and his words, “… somebody… yeah…”

“Well, if you’re confident that everything’s alright.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll probably just sit here a moment and catch my breath, let the car air these fumes out a bit.”

“Smart idea. If you need assistance do you have a way of contacting anyone?”

“Sure, I have my phone and the car has its own thing. Help at the push of a button.”

“Okay then, have a good day Mr. Bronson.”

“Yeah thanks, you too officer.” With that he was alone. The smell of exhaust fumes from the freeway were nearly as bad as the burnt plastic and he reached to roll up the windows. A lot of things occurred to him in that moment. First of all he couldn’t roll up the windows because the car was off, he didn’t remember that. Pulling over; yes, but he had no recollection of putting it in park let alone shutting off the engine. Second, he was no longer burning up. There was no heat and no sweating either and lastly it was nearly two hours since he’d fled the stadium that he was now only fifteen minutes from at most. It had all been a flash trip, nothing more, just another stroll down ‘out of his head’ lane, but there was the stereo.

Bane picked up the disc, it was cool to the touch and had hardened into a distorted visage of itself. So was it the sound system or the disc that had been the problem? He started the car cautiously turning on the radio and prepared to bolt if flames shot out, but instead of smoke and flame he heard the chorus of, “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, won’t you open the eyes of my heart…” and he quickly changed the station to one of his favorites, but here was only static. Maybe there was damage. He pressed through the saved stations, but more than half were nothing but static, white noise. So the stereo was shot at least to some extent, but what about the CD player and he grabbed the nearest disc and slipped it in. The irritating tones of some Wiggle Woo’s or whatever his seven year old son called them assailed his ears, but the player seemed to be working fine. He waited a few minutes for any sign the thing was going to blow up or destroy another disc, but after the second song his sense of musical decency could no longer handle any more verses of ‘Fuzzy Doodle’ and he switched to one of his favorites deciding the risk was worth it. He was rich, he’d just buy another one, but no sooner than the stereo queued up the first song he began to burn.

Just like before it grew so hot he felt like he was on fire and he quickly ejected the disc. The burning stopped. He slid it back in and began to burn. Eject, comfort. Play, burn. Something was seriously wrong, but he wouldn’t; couldn’t admit it. He tried another disc, then another and other. Every cd he could scrounge out of the car which fortunately had become a repository for unused discs in favor of iPods, he tried. One by one he would stack the discs in one of two groups, the one that played normally and the ones that… didn’t. He studied the piles, what was it about them that set off such a drastic effect? Was it psychological? Every disc that caused the extreme heat varied from metal to rap, alternative to rock and pop, but he couldn’t see a connection. All the discs in the ‘normal’ pile seemed to be just as varied, kid’s tunes, classical, oldies, rock, and pop. He just didn’t get it.

The only thing… wait… one picture caught his attention as he scanned the stack of problem discs. Quite a few of them featured the same rectangular box with two words inside ‘explicit lyrics’. In fact most of the discs in the pile were labeled ‘eighteen or over’ and the ones that weren’t, well back in the day parents either were or would be rallying over them. What was going on? He pulled back onto I580, his mind struggling to put things into perspective not even noticing when he pulled into his own drive hours later and parked the car. He’d left the stereo off the entire time.

[]Chapter Two

Bane Bronson was in a daze as he entered the mansion that was his home as comfortable and familiar as any studio apartment, mindlessly heading to the nearest liquor cabinet for a bottle of scotch before shutting himself in his private study to drink himself into unconsciousness. Usually his booze induced sleeps were so deep it was as if he lost a minimum of eight to ten hours of his life, sometimes more, but this time was different; this time he dreamt. From the moment the glass slid from his hand to the floor and his head lulled for the last time his mind was transported into the realm of dreams.

Bane found himself in the middle of a deep wood full with the life of summer, but still and silent as if void of atmosphere and reality. There was no breeze; no movement and most confusing there were no sounds anywhere. Even when he walked, stepping on twigs that gave way beneath his feet and the leaves from winter’s past there were no cracks and no crunch, nothing as he wound his way through the labyrinth of trees. He had never been on a trip like this before and the emptiness surrounding him was beginning to frighten him. If this was what it was like for someone to go deaf after a life of glorious sound he felt for anyone who had to go through what he was experiencing in this twisted escapade.

He was starting to panic just a bit, suppressing the urge to break into a frantic run when he suddenly stepped from the trees into a circular clearing with a slight knoll in the very center where there had been nothing but trees a second ago. Bane climbed to the top of the tiny hill and peered up into a cloudless flat blue sky. There was no trace of the sun or which direction it might be in and no indication of east, west, north, or south. With no sign in the sky he began to survey the woods that surrounded him, spinning around and to his surprise, there beside him where there was nothing a moment ago was a man. For a second Bane just stood there staring into this strangers eyes. The man had long brown hair that went past his shoulders and a beard of a few weeks growth. He was wearing a baggy, off white, long sleeved shirt with a slit down the front that was bound with a simple cord, a pair of worn jeans and no shoes.

“Where am I?” The instant Bane asked he thought it sounded stupid, but the man slyly smiled with raised eyebrows.

“Good question. Where are you?”

Bane didn’t know how to react to this man. He should be angry, furious with him. He should cuss him out and storm off, but to where? Somehow he felt this stranger knew so much more; that he had the answer to his question. To all of his questions and he needed to know what this guy had to show him.

“How do I get out of here?”

“Depends on which path you take.”

“What path? There’s no… path?” Bane pointed to the vast woods around them, but when he looked towards the trees he saw they had silently shifted revealing lanes within them winding deep into the darkening forest.

“What? What is this?” He paused uncertain and not willing to believe his eyes, but quickly decided to let it go and get out of this crazy place. “Fine… whatever. Which one do I take?”

“Anyone you want. I can’t choose a path for you, all I can do is show you where they lead.”

“Which one leads back home?”

“Home? Which home?”

He was beginning to get irritated with this hippy on the hill. “Home! You know, reality; sanity! My house, career, money, family! Home!”

“Ah, yes. If all you want to get to is back where you were than all of them will take you there.”

Frustrated Bane stormed off down the knoll towards the tree line, tired of a conversation going in circles mumbling, “Then what’s the stupid point?” Throwing in a few colorful extras along the way.

The stranger only watched patiently as he reached the edge of the forest and stopped cold peering down the paths in front of him. They were so dark, some instantly and others further in that he backed away slightly and looked back towards the man on the hill. “Hey, you. Didn’t you say you could show me something about these trails?” And the man sauntered down to meet him.

“It’s so dark, I can’t see where I’d be going. You said you could help right? So help… and no more riddles.”

“What do you want to know?”

Bane opened his mouth then snapped it shut again. He wasn’t going to give this man the opportunity to spew poetic rhetoric; confusing and irritating him even more and gave careful thought to what the stranger had said. “What did you mean when you asked me ‘which home’ in straight English if you please?”

“There is the home you spoke of ‘reality’, at least as you know it…”

“What do mean by that ‘as I know it’?” he interrupted.

“… and there is the home that all mankind must choose consciously or unconsciously, to spend eternity.”

“I don’t go in for all that eternity junk.”

“Don’t you?”

The look in the man’s eyes and the tone of his voice made Bane feel as though he could see into the deepest darkest part of his soul and it unnerved him and it showed in his voice. “No, I don’t.”

“What about your lyrics? Your clothing? Your tattoos?”

“Just an act.” he bit off, anxious to defend himself, though he didn’t know why he felt like he had to.

“Really?”

The question made Bane flinch and he hoped it hadn’t shown.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s the truth whether you believe it or not. You can believe chaining yourself underwater for a week without air will not harm you, but the truth is your death and judgment.”

“Judgment?” but the man didn’t answer so he turned his attention back to the trees and the paths within. “What about them? I mean, say I go in for all this afterlife stuff; where do they lead?”

“With each decision you make great or small the path changes. Each is different. Some are easily traveled, some are not, but they all lead to the same place in the end. All but one that is.”

Bane’s anger rose, but quickly abated when a new thought rushed over him. “Decisions… you mean these paths aren’t just paths in the woods?”

“Precisely.”

“Then they’re like life’s paths or something?”

“Your life to be exact.”

“So each one of these roads are what happens to me?”

“Depending on what choices you make; yes.”

“That means I can see my future?”

“Only the end result.”

“Then what’s the point? I mean; if all of them take me back home… excuse me… back to reality and they all lead to the same place ultimately then what’s the big deal?”

“Do you want a glimpse or not?”

Bane thought for a moment, but figured he might as well go along with the gag. Maybe then he’ll wake up. “Sure, why not, but just for the record I still don’t go in for all this ever after junk.”

“Choose your path.”

And that he did. Looking around he sized them up choosing a nice, friendly well-lit path. “How ‘bout this one, looks harmless enough. What do I do?”

“Just step onto the one that you choose and when it’s over you’ll be back on top of the hill with me.”

Seemed simple enough and he made for the opening he wanted stopping just shy of it. “You won’t leave me… I mean you’ll be here when I get back right?” Forgetting that he wanted out, not back.

“Always.”

Somehow he knew it was true and it comforted him. Turning back to the trail he took his first step onto the grassy road and was pulled through it like a vortex. He flew through the wood like he was on a high speed roller coaster going past beautiful rose bushes and over delicate flower beds, passing sparkling pools of water and always it was the cusp of summer where warmth and light were sublime and perfect. Bane was enjoying the ride. That is until with a brilliant blinding flash of light he was flung into a void of darkness and there he hung suspended in nothingness. He began to shiver from the inside out, violent tremors he could not stop or even begin to control wracked his whole body and an overwhelming depression seized his heart. His fear was amplified five, ten, a hundred times beyond anything he had ever experienced in his life and loneliness engulfed his soul. It was if every painful emotion, every hurtful feeling he had or could ever have, had grown not only within him, but all around him into a massive invisible monster attacking from every possible direction and he was defenseless against it all. Agony beyond agony, wave after wave slammed straight through him. Bane never knew loneliness and emptiness could be so excruciatingly painful as he screamed and howled desperately out of natural instinct. He flailed wildly and doubled over fearing he’d lose his sanity if left to suffer for one more second when that same blinding flash hit and he was back where the stranger said he would be, on the brightly lit hill top where he started. Standing beside the man with no shoes he wobbled and fell to the ground his hand on his forehead.

“Was that…?”

“Real? Yes, but just a glimpse.”

“How long was I gone?”

“Five seconds.”

“Five seconds? Is that all?”

“Yep. Feel longer?”

“Much. What was that place? It felt like Hell. Only no Hell I’ve ever heard of. It was so empty and…”

“Lonely?”

“Yeah. It was if I was…”

“Separated?”

“That’s it… separated, from every good thing… feeling and all that was left was total…?”

“Despair?”

“Exactly, despair! … but?”

“I know a lot of things Gregory.”

Bane jerked at hearing his real name. Few knew it and after all these years of going by Bane Bronson he’d nearly forgotten it himself. He’d legally changed it decades ago from Gregory Westmore as soon as he was old enough. Partly for his career, but also to escape his past, who he was and who he didn’t want to remember; though he refused to admit that part. He had chosen Bane after his favorite super villain and Bronson after his favorite hero, one that wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty. His gut twisted into a knot, this man not only knew that, but the question hadn’t even reached his lips before it was answered. Then again this was only a dream; wasn’t it? He looked up peering into the man’s eyes. “This is just a dream; right?”

“What do you think?”

“It has to be or else how would you know so much? If this isn’t a dream than it would have to be…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

“Real?”

“Yes.” Stumbling over the word.

“Why not? Why can’t this be ‘real’?”

Bane thought about lying, of making up some sort of pseudo-scientific psychological reason, but as he looked into the strangers eyes he couldn’t form the words. Instead the truth came pouring out of him, gushing forth uncontrollably. “Because if this, this…” he said motioning around him, “is real than that back there would have to be real too.” Fear and a hint of desperation filling his voice.

“I told you it was.”

“But to know everything that you know and warn me against it you’d have to be a god or something.”

“Not a and not something.”

“Okay then, you’d have to be God.”

“So.”

He shook his head, “But you said that that was the road I was on!”

“I did.”

“That means I’m going back there one day!”

“Back where?”

“Don’t play games, you know where, back there; back to Hell! I’m going to Hell… I’m… going to… Hell….” Bane broke. It was finally sinking in. Hell wasn’t just another word in his lyrics. It wasn’t the home of a man in red pajamas with horns, a tail, and a pitch fork. It was the worst place that he could ever imagine, he had been there, he was going back there and that realization terrified him.

The stranger on the hill knelt beside him placing a hand on Bane’s shoulder. “It doesn’t have to be like that.”

“But how?”

“Stand up.” The two men rose and Bane noticed a light shining down one of the paths deep in the wood and the stranger pointed to it. “That is my path. In it there is no darkness; only truth. Follow my word and you’ll never be lost.”

Bane looked down the trail as far as he could imitating Robert Frost, then turned to ask the man one more question, but he was no longer on the hill with him. In fact he was no longer anywhere. It took him only a brief minute to scan the dark paths all around before heading for the light. As he drew closer he heard a voice calling to him. A deep buoyant voice full of conviction and truth and he began running towards it.

[]Chapter Three

Bane awoke with an empty booze bottle in his hand, a spilled glass of the amber liquid on the floor, and his television on a Christian station with a preacher speaking about the Word of God. Confused and groggy he rummaged for the remote in his chair stabbing buttons when he dug it out until the giant screen went black. He stared at the bottle still gripped in his hand and huffed, his thoughts finally beginning to clear and he pitched the empty shell in the trash. The dream; the woods, the stranger, the whole thing was nothing more than a head full of scotch and a nap in front of the TV with the Jesus freak channel on, he must have rolled over on the stupid remote; no way he’d be watching that load of… even in his ‘relaxed’ state. Maybe he should back off the hard stuff for a while or at least not drain the bottle. That wasn’t such a pleasant rabbit hole to fall into.

As he turned to leave his study the phone on his desk rang sending a slight stab of pain through his head. Yes, he still had his land line as well as his cell. Between either forgetting to charge the stupid things, usually while drinking or some other recreational activity, or just plain losing them only God knew where over the years, abandoning the old fashioned home phone wasn’t the best of ideas. Another jarring ring, this had to end. “Hello?”

“Bane, it’s Larry. What’s up buddy, I heard about your exit yesterday and I must say you have us all a bit concerned.”

It was his manager, good old Lawrence Jorgensen. This man could get him into, and out of, almost anything. Bane didn’t know how he did it, but if there was a Devil, Larry probably knew him personally and he’d told him that many times. “Yeah, about that I was going to call. Don’t worry you can put the Prince of Darkness on hold it’s nothing serious; just a touch of flu. Chills, throat problems, fever, you know no biggie. I took some medicine already and I’m feeling much better today. I’ll rest my voice and continue to medicate for a couple of days and I’ll be fine.”

“You sure? There’s no harm getting some antibiotics or flu shots or something. I could arrange whatever you need.”

“You don’t take antibiotics for the flu and the shots only work to prevent it not cure you.”

“Whatever, they have shots and pills for everything now including the flu. I’m sure we can find something to get you through this; you know tide you over?”

Good old Larry. “Yeah I get it, and I’m touched that you care so much about my wellbeing, but I’m fine. I’m taking care of it. If I think I need something you’re the first person I’ll call alright?”

There was silence on the other end and he knew Larry was thinking it over. “Yeah alright. So I can tell Tate that everything’s still on schedule and that you’ll be back in what two three days at most?”

“At most.”

“And you’ll keep me informed.”

“Don’t I always?”

Jorgensen groaned. Of course he didn’t keep him informed that was part of the fun of it.

“Get some rest. I’ll keep checking in on you.”

“Yes mom.”

Jorgensen responded with phrases his mother would never in her life used on the worst days and he chuckled as he hung up, but the laughter quickly faded as the truth about the day before sunk its claws into him. The chills, the heat, the throat problems, it had all happened, but it was no flu. A knot formed in his gut as he began to hum a few notes and to his surprise his voice did fine. He sang a quick verse of ‘Jingle Bells’ and that worked too, but as soon as he opened his mouth to sing one of his own songs his throat closed and he shuddered.

His heart sped up and a slight trickle of sweat traced down his temple as Bane picked up the remote and flipped to a music video station seeing only the grey snow of static. He flipped to another; the same. He had never hoped there was something wrong with his satellite so hard in his life as he flipped to one of his youngests’ kiddie stations. Bright colored characters bounced around the screen doing stupid ticks and playing pranks on each other. He swore and flipped to the pay channels; only a couple worked, then the adult stations; nothing but static on every channel. He stared at the screen, body trembling uncontrollably as he noticed something lying just beneath the snow. That same TV preacher holding up his Bible as the words, “Go to the Word of God” echoed in his ears.

Disgusted and terrified he crossed to his bar, desperate to drown out everything. His hands shook as he sloshed the expensive scotch into a clean crystal glass spilling it all over his mahogany bar, but as he raised it to his lips the burning flared again and he dropped the glass as if it had been a hot coal quickly backing away from it, eyes wide. This wasn’t happening, this couldn’t be happening! ‘Go to the Word of God’ echoed in his brain and he clamped his hands to his temples staggering towards the door. He had no idea where he was going when he grabbed his keys from the bowl on the foyer table and slid behind the wheel of his car, or whether he was going to something or just attempting to flee. All he knew was that he had to go, he had to drive. Right turns, left turns, they all seemed totally random until he found that he had pulled into the parking lot of a large retail book store.

He stood beside his car staring up at the massive three story building of windows filled with signs and posters of sales and the popular items held inside and knew he was where he was supposed to be before walking like a zombie into the nearly empty store. It was early in the day in the middle of the week and like most retail stores held only a few customers. At first this eased the tension in his mind, he didn’t know exactly why he was here although a niggling in his mind told him the reason; a reason he refused to consider. The less people around the less to see him; getting it. Then again the less people that were around, the more the few who were there would focus on him.

Bane casually walked through the book shelves and around the gift items and games refusing to head anywhere near where his body was trying to go while throwing every excuse into the mix he could think of.

‘I could just order one.’

‘You need it now.’

‘I could download one.’

‘You’d never read it, you don’t like using eBooks.’

‘I tried it before and it didn’t work couldn’t understand the stupid thing, won’t be any different. What’s the point, it would just be a waste of money.’

‘There are other translations and I’ll be with you to teach you.’ and before he knew it he was standing in front of the religious section with rows of Bibles from every possible version and translation available, feeling lost and drowning in a sea of options.

“Kind of difficult figuring out which one isn’t it?”

“Huh?” Beside him was a short thin woman with long soft brown hair with a vest and a tag bearing the stores emblem and the name ‘Lanie’, “Yeah it’s a bit overwhelming.”

“Is this your first one?”

“My first one?”

“Bible?”

“Uh, no. I had one when I was younger, but…”

“King James?”

“What, oh yeah. King James version.”

“The wording and the poetry is absolutely beautiful and it really touches the spirit, but it’s a bit difficult to understand and put into everyday situations I’ve found.”

“Tell me about it.” He said more to himself than to her.

“Well, if you’re looking for some everyday answers to what’s been going on in your life I’d suggest this.” and the woman pulled a thick hard back book from the multitude and handed it to him. “It’s a bit big I know, but that’s because it has four versions of the Bible side by side including the original King James, that way you can find the verses that you’re familiar with and be able to read what they are in modern English. Plus the notes at the bottom of each page help you to understand the context. It really opens up your understanding.”

Bane looked at the colorful cover with catching graphics and flipped through the pages with its color coding and side notes and felt an energy surge through him. “Yeah, this should do, I’m mean it should be fine for the research I need to do for a project that is.” Doing his best to feign indifference.

“Of course. I’m sure it will give you what you need.”

Still flipping through the book eyes scanning the pages he barely heard her, “Yeah, thanks…” but she was gone. Looking back at the page he had stopped on his eyes fell to Matthew 7:7-8… seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. He knew into the very core of him that he indeed held what he needed in his hands.

It still wasn’t easy, although he knew in his heart that he needed this book more than anything he’d yet needed in his life, he still felt every other part of him struggling to leave it behind and walk out the door. The idea of Bane Bronson standing in line at a book store to purchase a Bible while patrons and the store clerk looked on was part humiliating and part infuriating. He’d never cared much for his reputation before, but this seemed different somehow. He could just see the headlines now, ‘Bane Bronson hypocrite goes soft turning Bible thumper at local book store.’ It was almost more than he could take, but he did it. Without a word or even a sideways glance at the people around him he laid down the cash, not wanting a paper record of his purchase on his banking records and left the store. Before he knew it he was sitting in his Mercedes in the parking lot with a bag containing the Bible in his hands. All his life he had seen the Bible as a book full of rules and laws and a cruel vengeful God that would tear you to pieces if you didn’t fit his perfect little mold. Don’t do this, don’t do that, all in the form of Thou shalt nots and at one point this one book held everything he was against, but now it held him as tight as he held it.

Slowly he slid it from the plastic bag and peered at the eye catching cover, lightly brushing it with his fingers remembering another Bible from a long time ago. This one wasn’t like his dad’s, nothing like the plain faux leather one with simple gold lettering of ‘Holy Bible’, just like the one he had all those years ago. The one he threw at his father the day he walked out on him and left home forever. The memory was painful more than he wanted to admit especially now and he slid the book back into the bag catching sight of his tattoos covering nearly every inch of his arm. Some were simply beautiful works of artistry or signs of his devotion and love to his family, but others were defiant, vulgar, and blasphemous and for the first time he was ashamed of them and of himself.

He drove home in silence not daring to turn on the radio, his mind flashing on his youth and what he had read in the Bible standing in the bookstore aisle, but his mind couldn’t make sense of it all. On one side was all the fairy tale stuff about global floods, an arc that killed you if you touched it, forbidden trees and talking snakes, men living inside a whale, about plagues and slaves, lions dens, giants, talking donkeys, pregnant virgins, possessions, resurrections, and exploding cities. On the other hand there was Jesus, a man even scientists and historians admit, sometimes begrudgingly, actually existed in some way, a man that Bane had even seen. If one part was just bedtime stories than so was the other, but there was still the other option… if it was true than all was true. God was real, Jesus had really died for him and rose from the grave three days later, Heaven was real, Hell was just as real as Heaven and so was Satan, and if Satan was real than Bane had been…. His mind slammed shut, refusing to let the thought of his own responsibility and accountability come to the surface. It didn’t have to be so black and white, many tales are based on some sort of fact. So what if there was a man named Jesus back then, and so what if he taught about loving thy neighbor or keeping your hands off other people’s stuff including their wives. It made for a great story and some one knew enough to cash in on it. Throw in a bunch of fantastical adventures and you have yourself a bestseller.

He pulled into the circular drive nosing the sedan into the multicar garage with the rest of his collection and grabbed the bag from the passenger seat, sliding it under his shirt and tucking it as best he could into his waistband so no one could see it. Funny; had it been a dirty magazine or video he would have simply strutted right in without a care, but a Bible he hid like a child trying to sneak his report card past his parents. Bane unlocked the door and slowly cracked it open peering in for anyone that might be too close then called out for signs of life, but was met with only a slight echo. Satisfied that he was alone and safe from prying eyes he walked to the kitchen for a beer slipping his purchase from under his clothes and onto the counter, but as he lifted the bottle to his lips the memory of the scotch still sitting on his custom bar came back to him and his eyes fell on the book; he put the beer back down suddenly not so thirsty.

A wave of frustration engulfed him, he couldn’t even enjoy a simple beer in his own home, his own refuge and he snatched the thing off the counter practically stomping to his study and slamming the book down on a side table. Out of sight out of mind and he turned away heading to the furthest part of the house with the loudest distraction he could find, but as he closed the door he felt a pull from the room behind him and the contents of that bag. Bane stepped back into his study closing the door and walked to the table almost hypnotically, picking up the plastic sack and sliding out the ultimate of books that was inside. The bag fell forgotten to the floor while his finger traced the image of the cross on one corner of the cover, his feet moving of their own volition as he rounded one of the custom leather wing back chairs and sat down cracking the cover. He flipped past the first few pages with all the copyrights and instructions for pronunciations and reading tips and started at the beginning of everything.

Hours passed by as he absorbed chapter after chapter of Genesis then moved on to Exodus before he heard his wife Shaylon calling for him, but he still could not tear his eyes from the pages in front of him. Some of it he remembered from his youth and stories that most everyone in the United States had heard of at one point in time in their life, but most of it was new and exciting and more than a little confusing. Even though he couldn’t comprehend the words on the pages at times and had to reread several passages over again to wrap his mind around them he still could not bring himself to stop reading.

[]Chapter Four

Wondering about her husband’s whereabouts and more than a little peeved he hadn’t at least replied to her when she called, Shaylon went on a search for him half expecting to find him passed out drunk as she had the night before. She knew he was home, his car was in the garage this time and the beer on the kitchen counter was most likely his, but the way it was around their house it could’ve been her seven year olds for all she knew; he loved to emulate his father and big brother. Oh well, whoever’s it was it was hers now, ugh too warm.

She walked to the study where she’d left Bane the night before, sleeping like a baby in one of his chairs in front of the television, some movie with exploding aliens battling on some wasteland of a planet blaring away. It made little difference to her, he was a good husband mostly, he brought in good money, was great in the sack, was a pretty good father, and they still had a lot in common so his drunken stupors was something she could deal with; it actually gave her freedom to do what she wanted more often than not. He had his life and she had hers and it worked. They got along together most of the time and they loved each other so to her everything was fine and if something should happen or if she got bored and it stopped working one word would fix everything… divorce. Anything else out there was either worse or a fairy tale made up on television and in those stupid, although addictive, romance novels.

What she found when she poked her head into the study wasn’t what she had expected at all, there was Bane sitting in one of his chairs in a quiet study reading a book and a large one by the looks of it. A bag dropped haphazardly on the floor told her where it had come from, just another popular book store and not an adult one, but as she walked in ready to ask what he was reading Bane shot up out of his seat, slamming the book shut and holding it awkwardly down behind his leg hiding it from view like one of her kids always did. She was met with a red face and a string of angry swear words.

“Shaylon! What are you doing sneaking in here? What are trying to prove? You think I’m up to something? You could have at least knocked. It’s not like I’m in here in our own home with some tramp groupie so why do feel the need to come pussy footing around my study where I work to bring in all that money you like so much?” He knew he was over compensating, that he was going way too far and saying some really stupid stuff that she would make him pay for later, but his mouth was off and running and he had a hard time shutting it.

Shaylon stood there glaring at him with that look she had perfected over the years that said, ‘Alright if that’s how you want to play this go ahead we’ll see how sorry I can make you later.’ and he knew it. “So are you done because dinner’s ready Bane?”

He paused as guilt, embarrassment, and myriad of other feeling made his stomach roll. “Sure, yeah, sorry Shaylon. I guess this new tour has me on edge. I haven’t been feeling well the past couple of days. I didn’t mean to blow up at you. I’ll be in in a couple of minutes.”

Shaylon’s stare eased. She could understand his stress. Bane loved his music and he felt alive and powerful up there on that stage, but each time he went out it took more and more out of him and there was always that underlying fear that unspoken dread that this time he would fall flat on his face and go the way of the dinosaur; having to step aside as those screaming fans moved on to the younger, hotter, edgier performers. “You’re forgiven… this time. I’ll set you a plate out.”

“Okay.”

She took one more quick glance at the book he was still hiding behind him; a look that Bane hadn’t missed, and she left him to whatever he was up to. The door clicked shut and Bane breathed a deep sigh, whether it was relief or whether he’d been holding his breath or both he wasn’t quite sure, but one thing he did know. This thing was getting out of hand. This thing was turning his life upside down and though he couldn’t deny the draw it had on him he was ready to be done with it and he dropped it in the trash without so much as even looking at it, scared that if he took even the slightest glance it would hold him in that grip and he’d never be free of it. He turned off the light and walked out the door closing it shut behind him without another look and joined his family for dinner. Enough was enough.

His plate was on the counter waiting for him just as Shaylon said it would be and he filled it with whatever dish she had made that evening. His wife was a good cook and since she had been on this healthy living kick lately everyone in the house was eating better, although that didn’t stop them from ordering pizza or stopping by the drive through every chance they got. She was always trying some new recipe she’d found online or from some show she’d seen. Some were horrible, but most turned out pretty good so he didn’t mind and at times they’d even cook together; one of those closeness exercises for married couples they’d tried over the years that was actually enjoyable. He grabbed a soda and a napkin and made his way into the family room where dinner usually took place. They only ate at the table for special occasions; most of the time dinner consisted of everyone that was home at the time grabbing their food and heading to some corner of the house and today was no different. Bane, Shaylon, and their youngest son Mitchell sat in the living room while another reality show where everyone is trying to stab everyone else in the back for money, fame and ratings rattled on, but he couldn’t pay attention and could only pick at his food.

Everyone in the room could feel the tension. Usually Bane had a comment or a few unsavory words and names for everyone on the show. At times it was almost a contest as to who would come out on top in each episode. Everyone had their favorite player and even the older kids would participate in who would make it to the end, but tonight Bane was ominously quiet and any banter that went on was between Shaylon and Mitchell or any of the other kids if they happened to make their way into that part of the house. All of which would glance at him and wonder to themselves or each other, “What’s up with Dad?” which was quickly returned with a shrug and a look of, “Who knows.”

The rest of the night went pretty much the same as Bane sat in the same spot nursing a beer he had defiantly grabbed from the fridge staring blankly at the television, completely zoned out in a world that had nothing to do with whatever drama was playing out on the screen. The rest of the family gave him his space sensing that now was not the time to bother Dad. Some even hoping that he’d retreat back to his study so that they could talk without worrying that they’d hit the wrong button and get yelled at, but Bane was too scared to go back to that room and what awaited him there in the trash bin. That book was causing havoc in his happy life and he wanted nothing else to do with it just like all those years ago. It brought up too many memories and he wasn’t about to let that pain and regret take hold of him again. He had put the past behind him, burying it as deep as it would go and he was determined that it was going to stay there until, like compost, it rotted away to nothing returning to where it came from.

It was his life and his decision and he was happy, wasn’t he? Of course he was! His life was great, amazing, near perfect! He had money and lots of it, enough to buy anything his heart desired. He had fame; people all over the world knew who he was, cheered for him, wanted to be him and wanted to be with him. He had fine houses, garages full of luxury, vintage and rare vehicles. A sexy wife and a house full of kids one of which was following in his footsteps and whom he was working with to launch his own career. He partied with the hottest of Hollywood and vacationed all over the world for as long as he wanted. He ate what he wanted, drank what he wanted, went where he wanted, watched what he wanted and did what he wanted. His life was perfect. He was happy… even if he was angry and brooding. He wasn’t like that all the time, and even if he was that didn’t mean anything; no one was happy twenty four seven. So what if he drank a little too much, it could be worse, he’d given up the drugs, most of them anyway; nothing wrong with a little fun time. He liked the taste of the booze and it helped him relax, he could stop that too if he really wanted to, he just didn’t want to. Everything was fine, just fine, perfect, absolutely perfect, and so he sat still nursing that same beer refusing to acknowledge the growing emptiness in his heart and pushing all thoughts of the true state of his life and family to the furthest depths of his inner closet. Finally his eyes closed, his breathing deepened and his mind was free of conscience restraint.

[]Chapter Five

His surroundings were familiar as Bane realized he was back on that same hill surrounded by the deep ominous woods as before and he sighed. He thought he was done with this, that’s what you get for reading the Bible, more cosmic dreams. He looked around for signs of anyone else sent to give him more riddles and warnings of doom, but he was alone this time or at least he thought he was. A small figure at the edge of the forest moving about caught his attention, a figure he recognized instantly. It was Mitchell, his seven-year old son playing with the branches and leaves at the opening to a dark path oblivious to what lay beyond.

Bane swirled around, but his barefoot friend was nowhere to be seen. He tried to yell at his son to warn him, but his voice died in his throat. Had it been himself alone he wouldn’t have bothered, but this was his child and even though he knew this was only another dream the knot of fear in his stomach had too great a hold on him. He had to stop his boy from entering those woods and he took off down the hill quickly falling within a few steps behind Mitchell before the boy stepped onto the path and disappeared into the black void beyond. Bane didn’t hesitate to follow, stealing himself for the agony he knew was to come as he whooshed through the forest and into the darkness, but it didn’t.

He waited and still nothing. No pain, no torment, it was safe, but he didn’t know for how long so he began to trek through the dark abyss after his boy. There were no sounds, no footfalls, no feel of anything beneath his feet, but somehow he could feel an air of movement all around him though he was unsure whether the motion was from him or the deep itself. The faint scent of sulfur encircled him as beads of sweat began to form on his brow from the rising temperature he was only recently becoming aware of. Both grew stronger with each passing minute while the dark faded away into a glow of red embers that surrounded him, lightening with each step and he soon began to feel the crunch of rocky earth beneath his feet the further he went.

Before long the crimson glow lit what Bane began to realize was the sky and everything around him, but not the horizon. Earth and sky melded into one. It was almost as if he was carrying a lantern adorned with a red bulb. Casting its hue all around him, allowing him to see above, in front and behind, but only within a few feet. The heavens were empty, void of stars, clouds, moon, or birds, yet the ground was full of life. What Bane took for dirt and rock crunching beneath his shoes were worms, millipedes, maggots, roaches, and other creepy crawly things darting around the hardened lava-rock foundation. Almost in unison his senses noticed a change in the air, he was unsure what came first, the low hum he now heard carried by the non-existent breeze or the noxious odor of burning flesh and he covered his nose to block the stench, but it didn’t help.

Bane began to turn back, he was no wuss, but he wasn’t stupid either. He loved his son sure, but this was only a dream after all, his dream not his son’s and nothing bad could possibly happen; right? It wasn’t like before; there was no barefoot guide and no internal torture, only this vast nightmare of a wasteland that he was in no way interested in exploring. So Bane swung around, heading to what he didn’t know, but at least it was away from the something awful he knew was ahead. Still the sky brightened with the same red hue, the ground and air grew hotter and he began to see fissures of molten magma seeping up through the ground some flowing across his path forcing him to go around. He turned again and again, but it seemed that with each turn he still drew closer to that which he was running away from.

The low hum had intensified to the sound of an army unnumbered in size yelling their battle cries in the distance, but that too continued to change as each foot was placed in front of the other, mutating into such wails and screams that sent cold shivers racing up his spine even in the intense heat threatening to suffocate him. Desperate to change his surroundings, to wake from the growing nightmare Bane stood his ground refusing to move in any direction, but his feet began to burn and blister inside his shoes forcing him to move even slightly and it sent him further down the unmarked path even when he tried walking in a circle.

Fear held him back, but the burning hot ground forced him forward, ultimately reaching the first of many gruesomely unforgettable scenes. The image burned through his retinas into his brain instantly and eternally. There before him lay a lake of magma and fire with the living bodies of thousands upon thousands, maybe even millions of people of all nationalities. Red, yellow, black, white, olive, no one cared who they were floating next to because all were suffering just as horribly as the next. Each ones flesh sizzled, blistered, and melted in the living fire that was their eternal resting place. The acrid odor of sulfur and burning human bodies churned Bane’s stomach continuously, but no vomit would erupt leaving him on the verge of relief with none in sight as he bent over preparing to hurl. Bane swung around, desperate to put the terrifying sight behind him and found he was staring at two bare feet.

“Oh thank God!” and he meant it. “You gotta get me out of here! Make me wake up, something, anything…please!” Bane begged standing to look the man in the eyes.

“What about your son?”

“What about him? This is my dream and I want it to end!”

“Are you sure this is a dream?”

“It has to be!”

“Why?”

“Because… it just has to.”

The stranger placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and stared straight into his eyes. “Why?”

Bane felt as if this man was staring straight into his soul again. Locked onto the man’s gaze he opened his mouth and told the absolute truth, “Because I’m scared.” and with that omission tears began to well in his eyes.

“Fear not, though this is not a dream, nothing here can hurt you… yet.”

A flood of relief washed over him and his fear melted away before new questions filled his thoughts, “Wait a minute. What do you mean ‘yet’? And how come your feet aren’t burning? If it’s not a dream then what is this place?”

“This ‘place’ has no power over me for I hold the keys. Look inside your heart, you know what this is. As for ‘yet’, your path still leads you here, but it’s not your path that you followed is it?”

Bane’s gut wrenched, he finally realized his purpose in this place of torment. It wasn’t a glimpse of his eternity, but… “My son’s.” He flung back towards the horrors behind him, ignoring every instinct that screamed not to and scanned the burning lava bed for his son. His knees shook and his hands trembled as he laid eyes on his youngest child flailing in the molten lake. His ears suddenly tuned to the sound of his boys wails of pain and agony and his sobbing pleas for mercy. Absentmindedly he reached for the stranger’s shoulder to steady himself and just as he thought his heart would break he realized Mitchell’s cries were not directed at him; none of those sentenced to utter torment in the liquid fire were calling out to him, but to another. Cries of anguish and fear laced with accusations and blame all lain at the proverbial feet of someone else, but who?

Bane scanned the melting crowd, his eyes settling back on his son as he followed Mitchell’s gaze upward. Up to a sight more horrible than the last. How he had missed it at first he didn’t know, but there above them all, hovering face down over the boiling red ooze was Dane, his oldest son; crucified. His shriveling body tearing at the nails in his hands and feet while barbed wire snaked around his entire body in tight coils holding him securely to the cross. His vision filled with the tortures below, unable to turn his head and unable to close his eyes as his eyelids had long since burned from his face leaving decimated stubs in their place; witnessing every atrocity. Bane shuddered uncontrollably calling out to both his children, but either they couldn’t hear him over the never ending wails or he couldn’t be heard at all; neither of the boys even glanced his way. They remained completely locked in their own personal Hells. Full of desperation he turned back to his barefoot companion and begged for help.

“What’s happening? Why can’t they hear me?”

“This is their eternity, you are but an observer.”

“But why? Why is this happening? What did they do to deserve this? My Dane is hanging on a cross forced to watch his baby brother… melt!”

“Your youngest, like so many others, allowed themselves to follow men and women who led them intentionally and unintentionally down this path. Men like you and your son.”

“My son?”

“He is following in your footsteps is he not? Those are but a few of the many that he has led to this place, so he must witness what his life has brought about; as you will.”

Anger welled up inside him adding to the oppressive heat. How dare this man blame him and his son for these sheep in the fire? He didn’t force them to follow him, it was their own dumb fault and he was more than ready to put this self-righteous stranger in his place. Bane turned on him, gazing right in the face of the man he now saw as his opponent… and melted. This man, whom only an instant before appeared a cold hearted monster had only one look on his face. The look of compassionate sorrow and suddenly it clicked.

He wasn’t here to condemn these poor souls, everyone that lay beyond trapped in this vast wasteland of Hell brought heartache and grief. It was like each one of those tortured beyond were his own child and he felt for them all together and as individuals. This stranger, who unlike himself who loved and was concerned with only his two boys, loved each and every one. It was clear that the man was hurting more the he was and instead of the fury he had been prepared to unleash was replaced with the sincere desire to seek his guidance.

“What can I do?”

With a heavy heart the man replied, “Not yet, there is more.”

[]Chapter Six

Not knowing if he could take much more Bane opened his mouth to protest, but instead found himself standing alone in a long, ice cold corridor. Tiled top to bottom with what appeared to be dirty white ceramic that had long since turned a sickly greenish yellow and grey while long naked fluorescents lined the ceiling, flickering on and off like a strobe, it stretched. The hall, straight and empty, extended into the distance as far as he could focus appearing to go on forever and he wasn’t so sure that it didn’t. Along the walls every few feet or so were glass panels; large observation windows that reminded him of the ones in the hospital nursery, that no doubt led to rooms beyond, but there were no door handles to turn and no doors for them to go on either. The thick glass panes were dark, showing only an abyss of blackness inside, and he was glad. He had a sinking feeling that he didn’t want to see what those cells held as his gaze swept rows of darkened panels left and right. Each one empty and foreboding, everyone but four that is. An eerie light spilled from the last four windows at the far end of the corridor, if there could’ve been an end, a sickly glow beckoning him forward.

Bane took a deep breath and planted his feet determined not to succumb, but his body moved toward the tunnel’s edge regardless. He reluctantly walked forward, all doubts of the length of the hall gone as the shadow at the end stretched with every step he took; only the four lighted widows growing closer showed that he was getting anywhere. All too soon Bane made his way to the first large pane. Once again reminding him of his visits to his newborn children in the maternity ward, tapping on the glass partition and waving like an idiot to the infant inside, but this was in no way as endearing and the resemblance haunted him. It was, he knew, to be the exact opposite and he couldn’t help but draw another deep breath before turning to look inside the starkly lit room.

He couldn’t do it, not yet, as he turned toward the window his eyes slammed shut refusing to let in whatever horrifying images he knew was beyond. He laid his forehead on the icy glass placing both hands on either side of his head to give him strength. Stealing himself he pushed his face back to look inside and died within.

“Noooo… oh baby… nooo….” His pitiful cries choked in his throat and fell from his lips as he slid to his knees, his hands squealing as they slid down the cool slick surface of the pane. Sobs rose in his chest while he watched his withered daughter. Her body, a shell of its former self, was nothing more than skin, bones, and the scars of years of cosmetic surgery. She sat on a makeshift cot in the far corner of the small cell, her knees drawn to her chest rocking back and forth. Her arms crossed her chest, one hand tearing at her thinning hair pulling away strand after strand, the other ripping into her shoulder digging deeper and deeper into the bloody mangled flesh. Her tiny, weak voice echoed through her father’s head.

“Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…”

At times her hands would fly to her ears, desperately trying to block out sounds that only she could hear and would never be free from; screaming as if stabbed by hundreds of needles when the voices refused to stop. With each shriek of pain Bane’s heart sank deeper.

“Delilah… baby… what’s happened to you?”

“Her youth was spent, as you would call it, ‘enjoying her life fully’, living free, experiencing everything and exploring her sexuality. She got the attention that she craved from men, but was never happy with herself; not really, and after a while when the men no longer kept her happy she would walk away in search of her next relationship however short. During her second marriage she wanted children and that desire to love and be loved unconditionally by a baby became her obsession. Unfortunately her years of frivolous sex and multiple abortions in her earlier years had led to disease and she could not conceive. It in turn led to many expensive treatments and too many miscarriages for her. Ultimately she and her husband divorced, unable to take the strain. She threw herself into her appearance, desperate to feel good about herself and what satisfaction the mirror could not give her, she would drown in alcohol and other substances. All she wanted was to be loved, to feel loved, completely and wholly for who she was. If only she had known the beauty that I saw in her and knew my love, but she died a shell inside and out. Now she sits in a body of her own making while the cries of the children she so easily murdered call out to her. She can never comfort them or herself and she cannot block their cries no matter how hard she tries.

Bane turned as he stood, expecting to see the stranger whom he’d come to think of as his guide, but the corridor was empty; void of all but himself. Had he imagined it? No, the voice was real and it spoke the truth. Whether it came from an outside source or had been spoken directly to his mind he couldn’t tell, but it was real. He staggered away from his daughter’s cell, towards the light streaming from the next window, but stopped short. After seeing his princess turned from a vibrant beautiful teen, to that wretched soul inside that room he just couldn’t make himself take another step. He could go no further, but what he didn’t realize was; he didn’t have a choice.

“Go.” The voice was firm, but soft all at once. Still Bane could not obey.

“I can’t.”

“Go.”

“Please; please don’t make me! I beg of you don’t!”

“Go.” The voice, still the same as before beckoned him on, but he was determined so the hall moved for him. The sides swept by though the floor never wavered and when Bane looked up from his feet somehow he found he was staring through the glass into the room beyond. He tried to shut his eyes, but they wouldn’t work, nothing would allow him to turn from the sight of Delilah’s twin brother Parker huddled deep in the corner of his own prison.

Video screens lined the floor, walls, and ceiling. Every square inch of the room top to bottom was covered in flashing images of women, young girls, and children sending Parker scurrying from one corner to another like a cockroach fleeing them all, his lidless eyes unable to block a single one. Bane stared bewildered while he listened to his son’s rants.

“Go away! Leave me alone! Get out! Get out! Go away!” Over and over the same exclamations along with many vulgar phrases flew from Parker’s mouth before letting loose a yell of fury, pounding the nearest images with all his might, bloodying his hands, then falling into a shuttering heap in a corner.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“You’ve seen his bedroom. The magazines and books under his bed, the movies in his closet and on his computer and phone, the pictures proudly displayed on his walls.”

“Yeah, so. It’s no different than any other boys.” but inside he knew his defense was futile and wrong.

“The natural curiosity and desire that was not handled responsibly grew to consume him. He walked the same well-worn path as far too many men that derived their manhood from their sexual encounters, porn was not enough… it never is, and he began acting out what he saw to heighten his own excitement. Those women and children on the screen are those he used for his own desires, those he raped and those he molested to fill his growing lust. Now he listens to their cries, their torments, their accusations, never to be released from their gaze.”

Bane watched the images flash across the screens, the women and children whom his son abused, their eyes holding wells of pain and anguish. All he could do was back away from his boy. A wave of disgust flooding over him, but the longer he thought about it the more his disgust shifted from his son onto himself. Still in a daze, Bane was peering into the third room before realizing what or who he was looking at.

Chains, chains of all shapes and sizes hung from the walls winding around an object suspended feet from the ceiling in the center of the room. Suddenly the thing moved and he jumped not realizing it was a person inside the mangled mass. A person bound in a straitjacket, blind folded, wrapped in lengths of chains and gagged with still more. Bane pressed his face closer to the glass straining to recognize the figure inside, but his heart already told him it was his fourteen year old son Mason and the last of children. Without waiting for the question to be asked it was answered.

“Man shall not lay with man as he does with woman, but your son did. His freedom from restraint in life and his refusal to see the truth has led to an eternity of it.”

Dumbstruck, he placed his hand gently on the window as if by that single act he could touch his boy and bring them both some sense of comfort. Could it be true? Was his son gay? Shouldn’t he have noticed it? Sure he’d been gone a lot, but he spent months at a time at home. No, he spent months at a time in the studio, doing public appearances, taking ‘me’ time, or just plain being drunk. Well, so what if his son was gay? It’s his choice after all, it wasn’t like he was hurting anyone and it sure didn’t merit being locked away in this place, but in his heart he knew somehow that he and each of his children had missed out on something or refused to see what was right in front of them and it was that reason why they were here; why he was here.

His mind nearly numb at this point, he moved on to the fourth and final lit pane in the corridor of Hell. He had seen each one of his children, now it was time to see himself and what he was to face as punishment for his failure as a father and as a man. Resigned to his fate he willing stared into the cell inside. It too was lined with monitors like his son Parker’s, each screen locked onto one of his children replaying every second of torture they endured. Only it wasn’t himself sitting in the middle of the room, but his wife Shaylon. Tears poured from her eyes as she was forced to watch her babies suffer, unable to help and unable to turn away, even unable to blink, her lids were molded open; her flesh scarred and creased around her always open eyes. Bane fell to his knees this time for his wife. Her cries tore at his very soul. He loved her dearly, more now than he had in their youth. Yes he’d had many indiscretions, more than he could ever remember really, and if the opportunity presented itself under the right circumstances he couldn’t say it wouldn’t happen again after all he was only human, but that was just sex. Now with each tear of Shaylon’s that fell to the chamber floor Bane felt a searing stab of pain, guilt and grief for each affair whether she had known about it or not.

“Shaylon… oh, Shaylon. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Please baby, it should be me in there not you… not you.” It was the final moment, he couldn’t hold it back any more and broke into great sobs that matched his wife’s, but unlike her he soon felt a great comfort as a hand was gently lain on his shoulder. Without looking he knew it was the barefoot stranger.

“Why aren’t I in one of these rooms?”

“They’re not really here.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is where their minds are for now, they are in the same emptiness that you know of and at times their consciousness drifts between the two states.”

“Do they know it, do they realize it?”

“At times.”

Bane’s heart ached.

“But remember, this hasn’t happened yet; it’s only a glimpse.” With that the man was gone and Bane whether he knew it consciously or not made a decision never to let it happen.

He awoke to an empty room still in his chair, the television still droning on somehow back on the same televangelist, the clock on the wall showing a little after two in the morning, and the bottle still in his hand. He dropped it as if it was a snake about to strike. Shaking the fog from his mind Bane searched for the remote to quiet the room when the words of the preacher stopped him stone still.

“The fires of Hell are waiting for you, but you can be set free by the one who holds the keys!” Frozen in place he listened intently to every word the man holding the Bible pacing the floor said. Not even noticing when his knees became weak and he sunk back onto the edge of the chair. The hour program flew by in what seemed like only a few minutes and when the altar call came Bane instantly and easily slid to his knees and spoke the name of his barefoot friend for the first time.

“Jesus, forgive me. I’m so sorry for the way I’ve lived. I’m ready to follow you. All that I have and all that I am is yours.”

[]Chapter Seven

It felt like minutes, minutes since he had let go of his skepticism, anger, and doubt, minutes since his spirit flooded with peace, pure gentle peace and the love of the Almighty so much so that he felt he might burst. No one and nothing had ever filled him with such joy; not his wife, not his children, not his fame or fortune. Now he knew the truth and he was free; truly free, but it wasn’t over yet. There was so much he didn’t know, so much he needed to learn and all of it was in his study, in his trash. As he opened the now precious book the words came alive like never before and filled his spirit. Verse after verse, page after page, chapter after chapter, Bane sat reading through the dawn of the first day of the rest of his new life with Christ.

He was still reading when his kids left for school or wherever it was they went instead and when his wife went out shopping. No one said good morning, no one said goodbye, no one bothered him so it was after ten before he ventured out of his study into the world beyond, his mind filled with the past present and future. It was only by pure instinct that his hand reached for the beer in the door, but it was his new nature that he felt stirring that led him to pull the pitcher of tea instead and pour a glass. ‘This was going to take a little time to get used to’, he reflected as he glanced over the counter into the living area and started to take it all in, noticing for maybe the first time just how bright, alive, and beautiful it all really was. His wife had done an excellent job at decorating with just the right touches of sentiment to show that a family lived here and not just another cold show room and he beamed with pride at the talent of his wife and family. Life really was a blessing and he had more than his fair share all around him, all thanks to God he reflected as he looked down at the Bible still in his hand. That’s when he saw them, the tattoos covering every inch of his arms and for the second time he was ashamed of them quickly making the decision to have them removed or changed as soon as he could. Then what, what else in his life needed to go, what else would God be ashamed of? Bane quickly grabbed for a pen and paper briefly thinking of writing on the blank pages of his Bible, but no he couldn’t do that, write in the Bible, that would be wrong wouldn’t it and he just as quickly dismissed the idea.

The list was fairly short to his surprise, but involved more than he realized or even knew how to deal with. It’s one thing to know that something needs to be done, but the execution isn’t always so clear. He guessed that’s where faith would have to come into play and he’d think of something so the list read:

1) Tattoos; since that was the first thing that he’d noticed. Not all of them were offensive. Some were quite beautiful and others reflected his love for his family and craft, but others were vulgar, blasphemous and crude and those had to go one way or the other.

2) Porn; there must be a reason all of those channels were blocked mysteriously on his television. He’d checked for outages and unpaid bills and everything was fine.

3) Drugs; he was pretty sure Jesus would not approve of getting high.

4) Booze; at least the heavy stuff for a while. He needed a clear head and if he couldn’t control having just a little, well he hated to admit it, but he might just have a problem with it after all.

5) Career; this one was going to take some figuring. He had a new album set to be released and a new concert tour kicking off, how he was going to get out of those he had no idea, but he couldn’t sing one more word of… any of it.

At least some of these could be taken care of right now and he grabbed the trash can from its cubby under the sink and went from one room to another filling the can more than once as he purged his rooms of anything he could on the list. He deleted files and websites from the computers, cancelled the adult channels, locked away his liquor until he could trust himself again, and flushed the few stashes of narcotics he had hidden away for a rainy day. With each new eradication he felt a weight lift from him and excitement over his new direction in life, like the diet you start after the Sunday dinner. He only hoped that that by Tuesday night he would be just as focused. He pitched and purged through most of the day then deposited two very pregnant garbage bags and one half full one in the dumpster then returned inside to shower and settle into his comfy chair in the living room to read more passages.

At first he’d started at the beginning again, going through Genesis, Exodus, and most of Leviticus, but he got bogged down with genealogies and laws and switched to the Psalms. Finally he started randomly flipping through the pages, Old and New Testament reading passages as they caught his eye. It was fascinating in a way he had never anticipated and barely noticed as his children came wandering home one by one. He hadn’t really thought about how he’d handle his change with his family. Outside of the initial shock, the questioning of his sobriety, and a few references to his sanity (or lack thereof) he had considered his decision a private one that had nothing to do with them. No need to upset their lives, if they wanted to make the same decision for Christ as he had they were perfectly welcome to, but that didn’t mean he had to go all ‘evangelist’ on them. They had to find what was right for them for themselves, didn’t they. Sometimes God answers in small subtle ways, sometimes he’s quiet for a while, but this time was one of those smack you upside the back the head times.

It was the twins that had come in first Delilah and Parker, arguing over some such silly thing, it was their way of communicating. It was when they treated each other nice that you had to watch out. They strode through the kitchen and living room dropping their books at the first convenient moment and grabbing whatever was edible, but it wasn’t his growing sixteen year old twins that Bane saw when he looked at them. It was the hollow, terror stricken images from his vision and it sent chills running down his spine. He just stared at them unable move or speak.

“Hey Dad?”

“Earth to Dad.”

“What’s up?”

“Maybe he’s stoned again.”

“No.” It was soft and made them both jump.

“Oh hey, you okay Dad?”

“Yeah Parker, I’m fine, just zoned out for a minute that’s all and no I’m not stoned. That’s all over with.”

The twins exchanged a look.

“I know I’ve said that before, probably more times than I could ever remember or count and each time I let you down and I don’t blame you for not believing me. I wouldn’t if I were you, I’ll just have to let my actions speak for me. Things have changed, I’ve changed,” he unconsciously stroked the cover of the Bible on his lap, but the two didn’t notice. They were too alarmed to notice anything, they’d heard their father rant, curse, threaten, scream, cry and a myriad of other things, but the calm way he was talking now flat out scared them.

“Are you dying?”

“Parker!” His sister elbowed him in the ribs, but Bane just laughed.

“No Parker I’m not dying, but thanks for the concern. I’m alright I just… well it’s kind of hard to explain, but I guess you could say that I grew up a little. Why don’t you two pick up that mess you just deposited and go do your homework?”

Another look passed between them, that was their mother’s line, but they obeyed unsure what might happen if they hung around. Neither one wanted to stay anyway, and as they headed for the foyer and the stairs he could hear Delilah ask, “Do you ever remember Dad telling us to do our homework before?”

“No, I don’t think he even knows what grade we’re in.”

That last remark stung. Not because it was what his son thought of him, but because it was the truth; he didn’t know what grade they were in. His heart sank as he opened the Bible again, the sight of his children now and from his vision still hanging on as he read Ezekiel 16:15-21.

But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty. You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign LORD.

And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.’

He was still reading when he spied Mason quietly walking up the stairs to his room; Bane hadn’t even heard him come home. What else hadn’t he noticed and the vision of the chains surfaced as his answer. “Lord, what do I do? How do I even talk to him?” and he opened the book, three verses standing out.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ Corinthians 10:13

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ Psalm 139:13-14

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’ John 14:1

The fire inside him grew as he searched the references of each verse. Leading him deeper and deeper into God’s word desperate to know how to reach his son, to reach all his children when Mitchell bounced onto his lap excited to show him the project he’d done in school that day. Bane listened with new excitement, one he didn’t have to fake. He looked at every inch of his seven year olds face tracing it over and over, remembering how proud he was the day Mitchell had been born. He could see his wife Shaylon in his eyes and he could see himself in his ears, and though it hurt to think it, he could even see traces of his own father, Mitchell’s grandfather in his chin. How he could have missed out on so much and now he had the chance to do it right. He couldn’t contain himself and scooped the boy up in his arms into a great big hug. He expected him to stiffen or freeze, but instead Mitchell squeezed back with more warmth and fervor than Bane could believe. This was what it was all about, this moment right here, he would do it right, he would be the man, the father they deserved. It was his responsibility to guide them, to teach them, to show them the truth. He was their father and they were his gifts and if he didn’t want to see them suffer to see them… he couldn’t bring himself to think of their unsaved eternities, then he had to step up. He couldn’t just sneak in the back door of heaven and hope his kids would follow. They might not understand and they might not like it, but things were going to change for all of them.

He heard the fridge close and turned his head to see his oldest Dane chugging a beer. Without thinking he kissed Mitchell on the cheek and helped him off his lap, “I need to speak to your brother for a minute okay buddy?”

The boy just beamed at him and took off like a shot to show his brother Mason his latest accomplishment.

“Dane.” Bane was out of his chair and across the living room to the kitchen counter in a flash.

“Yeah.”

“Look, I know things have been… casual around here, but you’re only seventeen, as in under twenty one and I don’t want you drinking anymore and not just in the house, but anywhere.”

Dane looked at him quizzically, wandering what his dad was on.

“Now I know what you’re thinking,” Dane snorted, “I’ve never said or done anything like this before and no I’m not high or plastered, but I got one He…” he wondered if he should, was it right to use that word, that’s where he was, that’s where they both were so he did, “of a wakeup call over the past few days and I’ve realized that I’ve been doing things all wrong and that I’ve got to change. That means things around here have got to change too and I’m going to need your help with that.” Did he just ask Dane for help?

His oldest son just stared. Okay so his father was having some kind of ‘experience’; no biggie. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone off on some tangent and it wouldn’t be the last. It wouldn’t surprise him if at some point his father didn’t pop out naked on stage. One minute touting the evils of restrictive clothing then yell at his little brother for doing the same thing telling him that no one wants to see his naked rear end running around and to save it for when he gets his own place. So hey, he could go along with it. Who knew maybe this new thing his dad was on would add a boost to his own career as well? “So what does that mean?”

“I don’t know really, just that… well for starters no more breaking the law.”

Dane laughed.

“Yeah yeah I know right, but I mean it. No more drinking. No drugs of any kind, and nothing else that falls under the category of illegal activity. What’s done is done, it’s in the past and you don’t have to tell me about it it’s none of my business, but from now on let’s do things right.”

“Is that all? Be a good little boy?” Dane raised an eyebrow, was this some sort of publicity thing? Usually his father reveled in pushing the envelope. He more than once went to bat for any of his kids that wanted to ‘express’ themselves in whatever way they deemed fit as long as it didn’t hurt someone else directly, but if that’s how his dad wanted to play it so be it. His new tour and album release was within days of launching, maybe this was some sort of stunt and since his dad was his ticket in the door he could go along with things. Sure some people liked to strike out on their own to prove that they had it without help from their connected mommies and daddies, but he wasn’t one of them. He knew he was good and if daddies connections could get him started so be it, he wasn’t about to turn down the leg up; so he could do things his father’s way… for now.

Bane raked his hand across his face. There was so much more, so much to explain and work out together, but where to start? “For now, but I need to talk things over with your mother first.”

Bringing mom into this huh? This must be something. “So what do you want me to do with this?” He waggled the beer in his hand. “Do you want it?”

“No. No, just pour it out.”

Dane was stunned and drained the bottle into the sink without a word. His dad was turning down alcohol? Was he sick or something? Still too shocked to respond he grabbed a bottle of water and retreated to his room where he had a mini studio set up and attempted to drown his thoughts and desire for a cold one in his work; barely mumbling his agreement to ‘behave’ to his father as he left the room.

Bane on the other hand was left in the kitchen completely out of his element. There was so much inside him and he was so full of joy and peace on one level, but he suddenly realized that from here on out he had no idea what he was doing. Their entire lives he and his wife had been telling the kids to embrace life and experience every aspect that they felt like. To not let society tell them that something was wrong or ‘immoral’ that they had to figure out what was right for them, now he was taking all that away. Telling them the opposite of everything they’d been taught. He could see it in Dane’s eyes, the mistrust and the skepticism. How could he tell them ‘not to’ when he himself had done it his whole life? Wasn’t that being a hypocrite? No there had to be a way and hopefully Shaylon would help him find it. The big question was, how was she going to react to his ‘new life’?

[]Chapter Eight

Shaylon pulled her Lexus into the garage, her mind filled with her newest project. She had done it all in the years since she’d first followed her father to the studio as a teen. The same studio where she’d met Bane and in a moment of adolescent angst began a relationship that has spanned two marriages, five children and decades of ups and downs. Her father had been the drummer for Bane back in the day and boy had the fertilizer hit the ventilator when he found out that his darling little girl was fraternizing with the lead singer and Bane’s first wife hadn’t been too happy with it either. Ah youth. Since then she’d tried her hand at modeling, singing, acting, and whatever else had sounded interesting, she had even started writing her memoirs. People just love a juicy story and theirs was the juiciest. From their first whirlwind wedding in pure rock and roll fashion in combat boots and a shredded wedding dress the day after his first divorce was final, to their very public divorce when she decided there wasn’t enough room in their marriage for her, Bane and his much younger mistress. After the divorce she went through her ‘interview’ phase where she told her story to anyone who would listen, mostly just to get the free publicity and help drum up some business as a music producer.

That’s what brought her back into the path of one Bane Bronson. He was on wife number three at the time. Saying ‘I Do’ wasn’t the problem, it was all the other women he was ‘I Doing’ at the same time. She thought they could be professional about their new business relationship, but that fire was still there, burning hot and steady and hard to ignore; so they didn’t. It only took one wild night together for them to realize that neither one would be satisfied with something casual, and she was done playing the part of mistress. Once was enough and once again on the day after his divorce from wife number three was final they exchanged their own vows at the courthouse and this time it stuck. The tabloids ran headlines for weeks blaming her pregnancy for the break-up. True she had been pregnant with Dane, but it wasn’t the reason for his latest divorce, just a happy little bonus. She took a break from work after that to be with her kids.

Now she was helping a friend of hers launch her own designer line of clothes and jewelry and her head was full of every aspect of it. She loved her family don’t get her wrong, but it felt so good to be working to be actually ‘doing’ something again. She didn’t want to be like a lot of the other celebrity wives she knew that lived for the next public appearance and the thrill of shopping. Not that she had any problem with shopping or anything else, she just wanted more and this new opportunity was just the thing.

She grabbed her binders and bag from the passenger seat and headed straight for the kitchen. Then dumped her goods on the counter and grabbing the first cold drink she could get her hands on nearly chocking as Bane slid his arm around her waist from behind pulling her close to him.

“Bane, you scared me! What are you trying to do choke me to death? Look if you’re tired of me there’s easier ways of getting rid of me that don’t include a prison sentence if you’re caught.” She chuckled as she leaned her head back onto his chest. She melted into him as he gently kissed her neck and pulled her tighter in the embrace. She sighed and smiled wide. “The kitchen’s fine, but I think the kids would prefer us to take this upstairs.” She teased as he rested his chin on her shoulder.

“That would be great, but I need to tell you something first.” He felt her body tense against his and she slowly turned to look at him.

“How bad is it?”

“It’s not actually; at least I hope you won’t think it is?”

Shaylon looked at him curiously. “Bane?”

“Let’s go to my study where we won’t be interrupted.” He took her by the hand and led her through the house into the study and closed the door behind them.

“Okay, you got me here. What’s going on?”

Bane took a deep breath and sat on the edge of his desk. It was now or never. “In a word Shaylon, I’ve changed.”

“Changed?”

“Everything I thought, everything I’ve believed in and haven’t believed in.”

Shaylon only stared back at him, waiting.

“I don’t know why, why me out of all people. I still haven’t figured that part out, but… God is real.”

“Bane, you know I believe that there’s some greater force out there.”

“No Shaylon, I’m not talking about some force or energy. I’m talking about God, this God.” Bane picked up the Bible he had left on his desk when she’d come home and shook it. “The God of the Bible, Jesus, the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost God. The one I’ve been rejecting all my life, the one I walked out on the day I walked out… the day I left home. Shaylon, I was wrong about everything and I’m so glad I was because He found me and He saved me.”

“What are you talking about Bane? Found you?”

Then he told her, he told her everything. About the dreams, the barefoot savior, the children; everything. “Shaylon I’m done, I’m done with it all. The excessive drinking, the drugs, the pornography, the woman, even my career; everything. I can’t do it anymore; I can’t make money telling people that God doesn’t exist and that the Devil is the good guy. I can’t sew hate. It’s people like me that have turned this world into the cynical, selfish, cruel place it is where we have to lock down our children because their own classmates slaughter them and people can’t even feel safe in their own homes. Shaylon, I did this. I did this…” Bane’s voice caught and tears began to well in his eyes as the realization hit him. He knew his music would have to change because of his new life in Christ, but the truth of what he had been a part to hadn’t sunk in, even when he relived those moments by the lake of fire and he leaned into his wife wrapping his arms around her as if just being with her could ease the pain. “What have I done Shaylon, what have I done?”

“Hush Bane, hush.” She pulled back to look at him holding his face so that she could look into his eyes. “Bane that wasn’t your fault. None of that was. Those people that did those things were unstable. Anything could have set them off. Look I don’t know what all this is about, but I know that you’re a good man. You’d never intentionally hurt someone like that and as for these dreams; I can understand why they’d freak you out. I know they would me, but Bane you shouldn’t let it bother you. They were just bad dreams, probably brought on by all this stress you’re under.”

Bane leaned back onto his desk torn between what he’d feared and what he’d hoped. She hadn’t treated him like a pariah, but she was on the far end of skeptical. How could he make her understand? How could he do this without her help and support? “Okay, okay Shaylon, you don’t have to believe me. I get that it’s hard… to believe; to believe in me, but what I went through, what I’m going through is real. I was hoping to have your help because I don’t know if I can do this without you, but I have changed. I am changed and even if you can’t believe me now I hope you can soon. I need you Shaylon, I need your support to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, for all of us. You and the kids are the one thing in my life that I don’t regret, but if something happens to you, to them because I was too blind to see, too angry and too wrapped up in myself to see the truth and to be the person I needed to be I could never forgive myself.”

Shaylon closed the gap between them stepping between his legs and running her hands up his arms resting them on his shoulders. “Bane whatever you’re going through I’m here for you. If you say you’re changed then okay. Hey, don’t worry I’m not going to go running from the house screaming. I’m right here.” She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him tight feeling his heart beat between them, but the look in her eyes held the concern she truly felt.

[]Chapter Nine

Nine Months Later

Bane sat at his desk his head in his hands wondering how something that had started out so wonderful had gone so downhill over the past year. All he had tried to do and all that he had tried to change was unraveling and fast. He stood and walked around his office taking glances at the liquor cabinet; his mouth watering with desire and thirst. Just one drink, what would it hurt? No, no he was a changed man. He didn’t need alcohol. He turned his back on the cabinet, his mind full to overflowing with pain. At least he had Shaylon, she had been a trouper through all of this and had accepted his new self without rejecting him, but had he been privy to her private thoughts those first few weeks he would have felt very differently.

*****

She had no idea what might have caused this crazy episode in him. He’d done a lot of wild things in their time together, most of them when he was trashed, but almost all of them brought out either his aggressive side or his lustful one. Nothing like this. What was he doing talking about God and Jesus and salvation? She was seriously wondering if he had either taken one trip too many or was having one massive late onset mid-life crisis. Whatever it was she was worried.

“I wouldn’t bother about it Shaylon. Eventually he’ll sober up and be right back to that lovable bad boy you married… twice.”

“That’s the thing Evelyn he is sober. I haven’t seen him take anything in weeks; he hasn’t even drank a beer!”

“Okay that is strange. He just quit cold turkey? How’d he manage that?”

“He says God delivered him this time, that sometimes He delivers you and sometimes He guides you through. I’d like to know where his holiness was when Bane quit smoking a few years back that’s for sure.”

“You think he’s had some sort of psychotic break or something?”

“I don’t know. I hope not, but this thing he’s going through is still there. I mean I thought like you that after a few days maybe a week or so he’d snap out of it and come back to his normal self. It’s happened before, something would trigger a reaction and he’d go off writing about oh I don’t know stuffed animals are coming to life to suck the souls out of people, but after a while he’d come out of it. Not like this, it’s different; he’s different.”

“Are you scared, I mean that he’s dangerous? What about the kids are they alright? He wouldn’t hurt them would he?”

“No, no it’s not like that; he’s not dangerous he’s… it’s hard to explain. The kids are fine. In fact Mitchell loves this new version of his father. Bane spends more time with him, reading the Bible to him, playing games with him, helping him with his school work. The others are a bit perplexed. I don’t think they’ve ever seen him sober this long and actually interested in their lives, staying with them in the living room watching stuff with them, listening to music with them and asking them about their interests. Delilah doesn’t know whether to hug him or cuss at him.”

“Why?”

“Well he’s started taking an interest in what she’s wearing to school and stuff and he’s made her go back to her room and change more than once.”

“I’d hate it too if my old man did that.”

“Yeah, but it’s the way he does it. Like, he’ll tell her that she’s too beautiful and too smart to dress like that and that she has so much more to offer the world to let them get caught up in her clothes or lack thereof. So it’s like he’s taking away her style, but telling her how wonderful she is at the same time so she doesn’t know what to do. I mean how can you be mad at someone who tells you how special and wonderful you are right?”

“Okay, I get that. What about the others?”

“Oh I don’t know. Dane just smiles and hides away in his studio working on his album and Mason stays quiet most of the time like he’s trying to decide if Bane’s for real. Parker’s a bit upset that he cancelled the adult channels, but he’s got his computer for that. Course I’m not too happy about that myself. I mean he just cancelled them and locked down the account without even asking me if I wanted them.”

“Ouch.”

“Tell me about it. It’s not like I sit there all day with the remote and ogle the TV, but it’s nice to have something to watch and unwind to, but he’s on this kick where he doesn’t even want to look at another woman. He just smiles and wants to sit in the room with us and read his Bible and stuff.”

“Whoa, wait a minute am I understanding you?”

“What are talking about Evelyn?”

“I’m talking about the fact that you’re telling me your husband is taking an interest in you and the children, staying completely sober, and only has eyes for you and you’re complaining?”

“It’s not that Evelyn it’s the fact that he says God did it, that Jesus saved him from himself.”

“I don’t know about you, but it would take an act of God to change my ex-husband like that.” and she laughed.

Shaylon joined in knowing Evelyn’s ex, but secretly the remark buried itself deep in her mind resurfacing on the drive home. “… it would take an act of God…”. It was crazy wasn’t it? He was different and it wasn’t just a knee jerk reaction like after one of his dalliances when he’d get all serious. She thought about the look in his eyes, the way he carried himself, that peace that he seemed to have even when he had no idea what he would do about the kids or his career. He had something she realized, something that was growing from the inside out and for the first time she discovered that she wanted it too. She wanted to be that sure that everything was going to work out. She wanted to be able to lay her head down on the pillow at night and drift off without the anxiety of something gnawing at the back of her mind. She wanted what he had and if that was God then…“God if you’re real than I’m ready to listen.” Bane was due to have a meeting with their lawyer about the concert breach and album release. She knew they had a clause about him blowing a tour, it wouldn’t be the first time, but she also knew that he was trying to pull the album before it was released. He should be home by now. Maybe it was time to talk to him about this whole salvation thing. So that night, alone in their bedroom, when Bane wrapped his arms around her and asked if she’d be willing to go to a new church that he’d looked into she agreed without hesitation.

*****

It hadn’t taken Shaylon long before she was right by his side in the church, home Bible study, everything. At this very moment she was at a women’s club meeting for the next fund raiser they were planning to provide medical care to inner city children. She had been his rock through all of this, but everything else had plummeted. Once Dane had realized he was serious and that it wasn’t just another publicity stunt his behavior was worse than ever saying that his father had gone weak and since he refused to help him with his career he left home. That confrontation had shaken Bane terribly.

*****

“Dad this isn’t working.”

“What are you talking about Dane?”

“I’m talking about you, me, this whole Christianity thing. It’s not working and it’s killing your career. You know as a publicity stunt it was perfect, unorthodox, but perfect and I was right on board, but you’ve taken it way too far.”

“It’s not a stunt Dane.”

“I know, believe me I know and that’s the problem.”

“How is me becoming a better man and a better father a problem?”

“Depends on what you consider better.”

“Dane.”

“What, now you’re revoking my right to free speech too is that it? Look I gave up a lot of stuff because I figured you knew what you were doing. You had a lot riding on this new tour and album, but I never thought you were serious about the whole God thing and now that I know that you are I’m not going to sit by and let you ruin my career like you have yours before it even gets started.”

“I haven’t ruined my career Dane.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me something old man how much money are having to cough up for ditching that concert tour, and am I mistaken or did your push to kill that last album get you dropped from the label?”

“You know why I did that.”

“Yeah because you went and got saved and now you’re all holier than everyone else and you’re dragging us all to that stuff shirt church of yours where you can look down your nose at everyone and make the rest of us feel like we’re trash.”

“That’s not…”

“Don’t give me that. You’ve got Mitchell running around believing in fairy tales and sooner or later his remarks are going to get him thrown out of school. You’re trying to convince Parker that his natural urges are dirty and ugly. Delilah’s going to become a social pariah if you keep wanting her to dress like Mother Teresa, and Mason was just fine with his decision that he’s gay and now you’re telling him he’s an abomination!”

“That’s not true! None of it and if you would just open your eyes and see what’s going on around you you’d know that. You’re so caught up in launching your career off my connections that all you can see is what you want and how you want it all slipping through your grasp without even considering that there’s another way.”

“Just because you haven’t got the stones to perform anymore doesn’t mean you’ve got the right to tell me I can’t.”

“I’m not…”

“Don’t even try it! You created metal, you were there for all of it and fought for the right to do it, to create and express yourself as you saw fit. You weren’t afraid to tell someone where they could go if they didn’t like it. For years, decades I’ve heard you rail about those closed minded bigots that tried to force everyone else to be like them and I heard you say thousands of times that you’d rather go to Hell and shake hands with the Devil rather than be like that and now just because you had some nightmare everything you’ve ever stood for went right out the window. You’re such a hypocrite and I refuse to let you turn me into one. I’m done, I’m out of here!”

“What do mean by that?”

“I mean I’m leaving, moving out. I don’t need you, your house, your rules, your connections, none of it. I’ll do it on my own without you or your help and I’ll be better than you ever were I can promise you that old man. I won’t go soft like you.” With that he stormed from the house slamming the door behind him and squealing tires out of the drive.

*****

Bane hadn’t seen him since, though Dane’s words would haunt him. Not because they were true by any means, but because they were nearly identical to what he himself had told his father forty years ago; a memory that troubled him to this day.

Mitchell was fine despite Dane’s view of things, a little upset that he could no longer play some of the video games that he use to play and watch some of the things he use to watch, but they’d seen him blossom with his new friends at church. One thing Dane was right about though was his school, they hadn’t taken too kindly to Mitchell exclaiming his faith in his new found savior and they’d had to have a discussion about when he needed to keep his beliefs to himself. It was when Mitchell asked that if he loved Jesus why couldn’t he say so if everyone one else could say whom they loved that got their attention. They didn’t quite have an answer to that, but in the end they switched his school to a Christian academy suggested by their church. Some mountains they just weren’t ready to tackle yet, not with everything else going on in their lives. Besides Mitchell needed a good foundation and the more they could give him that the better. He still looked at the Bible stories as stories most of the time and he couldn’t quite grasp how they affected his life, but he had a true heart to know them, but his siblings. It was all they could do to get the whole family to church and Dane had refused from the start.

He had no idea how to address Mason’s homosexuality. At first he and Shaylon had had him tested for hormonal imbalances and any other medical reason that might cause him to be confused about himself, but all the tests had come back normal. Mason was a healthy teenager and he and Shaylon were too embarrassed to bring it up to their pastor. It had become their dirty little secret that none of them knew how to deal with. They had tried to confront him after they’d been to church for a while, but Mason had shut them out retreating into a shell. No matter how much they tried to tell him that he was okay, but his choice wasn’t they just couldn’t get through to him.

Parker flat out refused to give up his pornography. He found every way humanly possible to sneak it into the house. Getting by the parental settings on his computer, phone, and any other device he could get his hands on and they were about to send him to addiction therapy.

Then there was Delilah, they could tell she was torn between acting like a lady and her desire to be loved and to get attention. Bane had only recently begun to understand just how important a father was in a daughter’s life and to her self-esteem. He was still working on himself; he had no idea how to guide her into being a woman of God. He’d thought he had the answers, but now he felt like a failure. Not to mention that no matter how hard he tried he could feel the desire to drink growing inside him. He thought he’d put that past him, but the more he fought with the kids, the more things went wrong the more the longing would rise inside him. He knew there was nothing wrong with having a drink and he wasn’t a teetotaler, but he didn’t want that crutch. If he felt he had to have that drink then that’s when he didn’t need it.

In the beginning of his walk with God His word was so alive, so accessible. If he was having a confusing moment or a hard time with something he could simple close his eyes, open the Bible and look down to where it had opened to find a passage that fit whatever he was going through at the time. It had gotten him through the legal situation with his record label and the concert tour contract. God had been with him every step of the way even to the point where he was able to enact his ‘final say’ clause in his record contract to prevent the release of that last album. Sure they had lost money on it, everyone had, but it could have been a lot worse and they had the money to cover the penalties. It was a blessing that the company had dropped him, it saved him the trouble of another contract dispute, but now…. Now every time he would randomly open his Bible for a special word for him from God all he got was, ‘Woe to you you wicked sinner’. Not even the notes and highlighted verses he’d been accruing in the days since he realized it wasn’t a sin to mark in his Bible gave little comfort. What had he done for God to remove his guidance like that? Had he failed in some way? Not done something he should have done? Done something that he shouldn’t? Had he driven his children away from God? What did God want from him, he was trying so hard? This walk with God, following Him was supposed to make his life better not harder!

Bane walked to his bar and poured a drink, not caring about his promise to himself or to God. Why should he continue to toe the line and be the good little boy if God was just going to leave him hanging? His hand shook as he raised the tumbler to his lips, his mouth watering in anticipation. He was tired of always having to do the right thing, tired of not having the answers, tired of not being able to help his kids, tired… of being tired. Like Dane had said, he was done and as he opened his lips to take that first drink anger and frustration overflowing inside him he flung the glass into the wall shattering it into a few dozen pieces, spraying the room with booze and glistening shards. Bane sank to his knees burying his face in the plush carpet crying out to a God he wasn’t sure was even listening to him anymore.

“God where are you? Haven’t I done enough, what am I missing? What have I done wrong? Just tell me and I’ll change I’ll do it Lord, whatever you want I’ll do it just tell me what it is? Talk to me please, don’t leave me in the dark, don’t leave me all alone here. I’m trying so hard, trying to change, to be the man I’m supposed to be, to be a good husband and father. I can’t do it anymore; I don’t know what you want from me! I’ve tried everything I can think of and I don’t know what’s wrong. What’s wrong with me why have you abandoned me? Your word says you’ll never leave me or forsake me, but I don’t feel you, I can’t hear your voice and I don’t know why. Please help me Lord I can’t do this without you… I can’t do this anymore… I can’t… I…” His sobs choked him, but he couldn’t go on anyway his spirit was poured out and he was drained. All he could do was kneel there on the floor his face still planted on the rug crying out to the savior he couldn’t live without, but wasn’t sure was there.

[]Chapter Ten

Bane had no idea how long he’d been prostrate on his study floor when a light tap on the door roused him, but he was almost positive he’d fallen asleep at some point. He was calmer and the gut wrenching pressure and stress had subsided. His eyes still stung slightly reminding him that only a short time ago he’d been pouring his heart out to God, but now that he’d purged himself he felt lighter than he had in quite a while. He always heard that crying was cathartic, now he understood what they meant. He stood up and took a deep breath to make sure his voice wouldn’t betray his shakiness. “Come in.”

Delilah poked her head in the door, “Hi Daddy, there’s a man from the church that’s here to see you. He said his name was Gordon?”

“Gordon? Gordon? Oh John, John Gordon, yeah, I know him tell him to come in. Oh and thanks Delilah.” She smiled and disappeared back down the hall before a man appeared in the doorway tapping lightly on the frame.

“Hi John, nice to see you come in come in. How are you? How’s the family?” Bane extended his hand to the man then ushered him into the study closing the door behind them.

“Good, they’re good Mr. Bronson.”

“No, no, call me Bane. What can I do for you John?”

“Well, this is going to sound a bit… unusual, but…” the man scratched the back of his neck obviously nervous and Bane couldn’t help but wonder if the other shoe was about to drop. “I was hoping that you’d hear my confession.”

He couldn’t hide the look of surprise and confusion on his face and John didn’t know whether to laugh or apologize and run from the house back to his car. “Confession? I’m not a priest John, by no means. In fact I’m pretty much as far removed from it as possible, or at least I was.” The thought of him as a priest made him chuckle making him feel just a bit easier.

“I know, I know, and I know that we’re not Catholic, but the word says that we should confess our sins to each other so that we can support and learn from each other’s mistakes and while I was praying this evening God laid it on my heart that I needed to confess… to you. I hope you don’t think I’m crazy, because I could really use a friend right now.”

He didn’t know what to think, but what he did know was this man wasn’t the only one that could use a friend right about now. “I don’t know what good I’ll be, but I’m game if you are. If anybody knows what He’s doing, it’s God. I sure don’t at this point.”

Gordon caught the pain and uncertainty in Bane’s voice, but decided to let it go; at least for now. Something told him he’d talk when he felt like it and pushing him might slam the door shut. Maybe that’s why God had lead him here, maybe this man needed help with a problem as much as he did. “Let’s see, how to start. You know I ran this over and over in my mind on my way over here trying to put together exactly what I was going to say. If you didn’t throw me out on my rear that is, and now that I’m standing here I don’t know where to start. Funny huh?”

“How about starting by sitting down.” and Bane pointed to the leather chairs. “Would you like something to drink?” Gordon took to the arm of one of the luxury seats not comfortable enough to sit anywhere else.

“Water would be great.”

Bane walked behind his bar and pulled a cold bottle from the mini fridge concealed below and tossed it to him then sat on his desk opposite him patiently waiting for Gordon to start when he was ready to. It didn’t take long, a couple of swallows from the bottle and he seemed to gather his thoughts.

“I want, no, I need to confess my anger. I mean I know that there’s nothing wrong with getting angry, Jesus had righteous anger, but I let it get too far and I take it out on others, on my family sometimes. I let it boil inside me and seethe until I begin to hate and Jesus equated hate with murder. So I’m here to confess all of it.

I’ve always had a short fuse, been quick tempered and it’s gotten me in trouble more than once, but I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want my wife and kids to shy away from me because they’re scared of me. Not that I’d ever hurt them, but I know I don’t make things comfortable around the house when I’m having a, well I guess if I were honest I’d call it a fit. A fit of anger, rage, or as my father would call it a temper tantrum, let’s face it what I’m having is an adult size temper tantrum.”

Bane chuckled, “Yeah, I’ve been there. Funny, we try to teach our kids that it’s not the right thing to do to throw a temper tantrum. That it’s not grown up and yet we do the exact same thing and justify it.”

“Exactly, because we’re just blowing off steam or because it really made us mad and we just have to get it out.”

“But we don’t always vent the right way and we end up holding things in until our kids or wife says something or does something that gets to us and we explode on them.”

“Then we spend the rest of the night feeling like dogs and trying to make amends. That is when we’re not trying to justify blowing up and actually realize that we’ve been a world class idiot. I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. I mean if you came to the door while I was pitching a fit I’d straighten up and act like the world’s most put together stable man, but when I’m home and it’s just me and the family I let it go and regret it later. If I was at work or church or in public…”

“With people that you care about seeing all sides of you right? Not like your family, they accept all of you so you take advantage of that.” Bane shook his head.

“That’s about the size of it.”

“You know I never had that problem until I got saved. Before I didn’t care what anyone thought if I acted like a… well like you said a world class idiot to put it politely and I still didn’t care after I was done. Now that I care a lot more about how I act, especially in front of the world I feel like I’m two different people sometimes and I don’t know which one I like.”

“How’s that?”

“Well on the one hand in public I act a lot more like the man I should, but I feel constrained especially when that old man rears his ugly head and I want to tell someone off. At home I know that when I slip up and say or do things that I shouldn’t they’ll overlook it, but I hate being that guy that just pops off without thinking out of anger or whatever. Saying things that aren’t true, but at the time just come out. I’m still new at this Christian thing and after the life I’ve lived I’m finding it hard to hold on sometimes. I mean I’m trying so hard to change and be a man of God, but… I don’t know…”

“Well there’s your problem Bane.”

“What is?”

“Trying to do it all yourself, it’s impossible. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t need Christ. Don’t worry we all do it. Every single Christian, at least the grown up ones that haven’t been brought up in Christ all our lives and taught grace properly. I had a devil of a time with it if you’ll excuse the pun. I spent years trying to change everything, me, my wife, my kids, my coworkers and all it got me was a headache. I was actually sitting behind the wheel of my car one day in the driveway pounding on the steering wheel yelling to God about not being able to change things, and when I had finally stopped hollering, when I had nothing left I finally heard Him. I just had to shut up long enough and I guess He was waiting until I ran out of steam because with my temper that’s about the only time I do shut up.”

“Mind sharing with the class I could really use a word myself here.”

“First He reminded me that He didn’t leave me after I had asked His forgiveness and accepted Him into my life to straighten out my mess for myself. Then He told me that He never asked me to change everything, what He asked me was to have faith in Him and allow Him to work through me to change me. He knew what He was getting when He crated me; nothing I could ever do was going to surprise Him. He knew I was a mess and He forgave me anyway because He is love and was and is prepared to spend the rest of my life working out my issues with me and for me. I didn’t have to do it all on my own and certainly not all at once. I was trying to juggle too many balls at once when God had never asked me to do it in the first place. His gift of salvation and grace was meant to be opened, accepted and used not just put on a shelf. Like getting a present all wrapped up in a nice box then putting it on the bookshelf and looking at it, it’s nice and all, but the box was meant to be opened, it’s pointless otherwise. It wasn’t a one-time thing; it’s the gift that keeps on giving no matter how long it takes. Once I realized that I was okay; that God wasn’t mad at me because I didn’t immediately straighten up and act right I can’t tell you how much better I felt. Just knowing that it wasn’t my job to make everyone else change, and that I didn’t have to fix everything that was wrong with me at once, boy that felt as good as the day I got saved.”

“What happened then?”

“He gave me a vacation.”

“A vacation?”

“Yep, a vacation from well… everything. He let me see myself in a new light, I may not be the person that I’m meant to be yet, but I’m still a far ways from where I was. I went from denying His entire existence to not only accepting His existence, but to asking Him to govern my entire life. So I got a break from trying to fix even one thing that was wrong with me, or my situation, a grace period. You know like right after you accept Jesus’ salvation and you get that euphoric phase where everything just seems brighter.”

“Yeah, I miss that, but that phase didn’t last did it?”

“No, but it wasn’t so bad this time; once I let Him deal with me the way He wanted me to, when He wanted me to. He wasn’t going to give me more than I could handle and everything He asked me to face He gave me; He gives all of us the ability to go through.

After that, when I was ready He pointed out my works problem. I was so busy working for God, going to church, serving on church boards, running charity drives, I wasn’t actually spending time with Him. I was looking down my nose at others that weren’t serving, that weren’t acting ‘Godly’ including my own kids that I hadn’t seen that I had turned into the very definition of a Pharisee.”

“I didn’t think they existed anymore.”

“Are you kidding? There’s more now than ever and in every branch of Christianity and more are rising up every day and for the longest time I was one of them. Calling everyone ‘brother’ to their face and then talking about them behind their backs only this time I felt completely justified because they were sinners and I was on team God. Even my church friends and family weren’t safe from my judgment. It was always something, who had a new expensive watch when all they dropped into the collection plate was five dollars, or who was seen drinking at a sports bar instead of being at the church meeting.

I nearly drove my kids away from God. Demanding that they straighten up and act right, put on that good church face. How could they say this or how could they do that, God would be so disappointed in them. I made them feel like they were never good enough and I was spending so much time in my church duties I never spent any with them. I had gotten it into my head that only by serving the church and doing the charity work and being on this board and that was I doing what God wanted of me. Fortunately He slapped me upside the back of my head before it was too late.

I hadn’t show up to my daughter’s recital because of a deacons meeting. It was a small thing at least I thought so at the time, but she had been rehearsing for so long and she had been so nervous and so proud. That night when I came home my wife simply took my hand and said, ‘Which is worse, not serving on a church group or not guiding and teaching the blessing of children that He has entrusted you with? God wouldn’t have given you a family if He didn’t want you to be part of it.’ Then she kissed me. It took a few days for that to sink in and I admit I had no clue what to do or where to go from there and I made so many mistakes it wasn’t even funny, but I’m better for it.

I went from looking down my nose at people who were obvious big time sinners and avoiding them to being afraid to say anything to them at all. I remember this one time I was in the supermarket at the checkout and the girl working the register was wearing a pentagram necklace and all I could see was the heartache that that pendant represented and the spirit stirred within me to say something to her about it, but I was scared. I didn’t want to offend her and sound like some religious nut condemning her so all I said was ‘Do you know what that truly means?’ She looked at me confused and the bagger gave her a smirk and me a sideways glimpse and she raised her head and said ‘yes’. I knew I should have said more, but all I could say was ‘okay’ and I left. After I walked out of the store I kicked myself for not saying more for not doing more to… I don’t know, open her eyes, help her see what kind of road she was walking. That cliff that was right in front of her, but I didn’t I froze. I chickened out so that I wouldn’t come off as crazy. It was pure ego, not wanting to look like a fool even for Christ who had died for me. I couldn’t even do that one thing for Him for some stranger that I would probably never see again and I haven’t.

For years I’d remember my failure to stand up for that girl who couldn’t have been more than eighteen and the guilt was right there every time I thought about it and I’d kick myself all over again for my failure. Then one day while going through the whole scenario in my head for the hundredth time or more God finally took pity on me and asked me how long I was going to beat myself up over that and I said once again how I had failed Him and her. That’s when He put me in my place. Asking me if I thought His power was that limited that He couldn’t work with even that simple question that I had asked her? He created the universe in six days and yet I was limiting what He could do with my confrontation over the necklace as short as it was. Didn’t I think that His Holy Spirit was capable of using that simple question to make her wonder to make her doubt her actions? How many times had one simple statement or question played itself over and over in my mind until I came to some profound realization or to Him? It was like a huge weight of failure had been lifted off of me and it allowed me to forgive myself this time and the next time I failed or sinned and the next time and the next. So instead of spending weeks, months or even years beating myself up and feeling guilty over something I did wrong I can take a deep breath and forgive myself and let it go, striving to do better next time. That’s what really matters to God anyway. Like the apostle Paul said, I do the things that I don’t want to do and don’t do the things that I want, but I’m still alright with God because my heart is in the right place.”

“How’d the kids take the new you?”

“Confused at first, but then again so was I. I had to learn the difference between having a religion with all its rules and rituals and having a relationship with God and that took some retraining. Having a list of rules and conditions and a set of punishments and acts of atonement are actually a lot easier in a lot of ways. You know where you stand, having faith by grace is true freedom, but the faith part takes work and can be scary having to just trust completely; like a child. Prayer had to become a regular conversation with God instead of this formal invocation where I changed the way I spoke and changed my voice like I was calling on some ancient mighty demi-god or performing a sacrifice. Once I got in the habit of relaxing and just talking to Him like a normal person about everything and I mean everything things began to click.

I also had to stop looking at the Ten Commandments as a strict ‘do this or I’ll strike you down’ list of rules and started looking at it as a love letter from my Father. That was another hurdle, looking at God as a Father and not just the man upstairs with a lightning bolt ready to fry my behind if I stepped out of line. The Bible, the Word it all made a lot more sense once I got that into my thick skull. The rules weren’t really rules anymore they were warnings of things that I needed to avoid in my life if I wanted peace and joy. Things that would hurt me, like when you tell your kids not to touch the stove because it will burn them or not to put their fingers in a light socket. It suddenly made since that it wasn’t that He’d punish me if I stepped out of line, but that my actions would hurt me and those I love if I indulged in certain activities. I mean who can cheat on their spouse or rob someone and not have it cause a problem. Just by coveting or drooling over what we don’t have makes us discontent then unhappy, many times consuming us until we either buy what we can’t afford or take what’s not ours. Not that we shouldn’t want a better life for ourselves and our family, but not being content to just be has lead all of us to do some pretty stupid things.”

“Tell me about it. I’ve done my fair share and I have a feeling that I’m not done yet.”

“None of us are really. It’s something that we have to regularly guard against and I have more than one conversation with myself that I don’t need this, or that will only cost more in the long run. The new title and admiration and envy that goes along with it isn’t the only thing that matters and well I’m still at it. That’s part of the reason why I’m here.”

“Yeah you said it had something to do with your temper?”

“Oh it has a lot to do with a lot of things if I were to be perfectly honest with you… and myself. Ego is probably a big chunk of it, admitting I’m wrong gracefully would be helpful too. Around my boss and coworkers it’s not so bad, I take my lumps as they come and push it aside, but at home I just let go and turn into someone I regret being later and each time I make excuses for it.”

“What have you tried, to calm down, curb your anger?”

“Oh I think I’ve tried just about everything. I’ve tried counting, prayer, walking away, a stiff drink, natural calming herbs, saying ‘Help me Jesus’ until the words all slurred together in my brain. Sometimes they work sometimes they don’t.”

“Maybe you need some bunny fluff?” Bane tried to keep a straight face.

“Do what? Bunny… fluff?” The look Gordon gave him broke what little composure Bane had.

Bane chuckled, “Yeah, it’s something my youngest came home with one day. It seems he’d been getting upset over not being able to make one of his art projects at school and the more worried he got the worse he did until he was ready to throw whatever it was in the trash. That’s when his teacher taught him to use bunny fluff and one day a few months back Mitchell saw that I was stressed over something and he slid onto my lap and told me to use bunny fluff to help. He said that if you just take a deep breath and say bunny fluff over and over soon you can’t help but smile and be happy again. I thought it was cute and thanked him, but didn’t put much stock in it until one day I was in a mood and everything seemed to be going wrong and I was having a hard time calming down. Then Mitchell’s words popped in my head and I figured why not, it couldn’t hurt so I started to say bunny fluff nice and evenly and wouldn’t you know it the little guy was right it actually made me calm down and even laugh. It works better if you say it out loud somehow listening to the words ‘bunny fluff’ just sound so odd and makes you picture fluffy little rabbit tails you can’t help but calm down. At least it works for me, maybe between that and the thought of my boy sitting on my lap trying to help me with stress it all comes together.”

“At this point I’m willing to try anything. It wasn’t so bad before, but now…”

“What’s come up, if you don’t mind me asking? What’s changed?”

“Long hours, extra work stress, lack of sleep, my schedule and this stupid situation that I stumbled into and can’t seem to get myself out of. It’s like I fell into this hole that keeps getting deeper and deeper the more I try to climb out and I don’t know what to do anymore, Bane.”

“I’m listening.” He put his smile away and gave his guest his full attention.

Gordon took a deep breath scrubbing his face with his hand, knowing this was really the reason he was here, it wasn’t just the anger it was the root of it and he was about to break under the strain of it all. “It’s like this. I’m in project marketing and our company recently landed a new client that my boss has been courting for years so naturally everyone involved with the project has had to step up their game or step out. I’m good at my job, I don’t quit until it’s the best it can get which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s gotten me into a good secure position at my company, but this particular project has meant more of a workload than I’ve ever had and longer hours to go with it. Sometimes I feel as though I live at the office as well as the other guys, but…”

“It’s always that but.”

John huffed, “You have no idea. I had no idea what I was doing, at least not in the way everyone thinks. I knew what it was like putting in those long hours, how hard it was on me and my family and everyone else that had to trudge along with me including my assistant who had more things dumped on her shoulders than just about anyone. Having to deal with her life, her work load, and trying to handle my person life as well with calls to the wife and reminding me of errands and sometimes doing them for me; so I tried to be sympathetic. I tried to get her coffee when I got me some, or order lunch for us both, to let her know how much I appreciated her, just trying to lighten the load a bit, but she took it the wrong way. I was just trying to be nice like a Christian should be, be considerate of others and all and let her know that I recognized her efforts, but she took it as flirting, as me showing interest in her and since she was single at the time she wanted to pursue things. I don’t know much about her outside of work, I tried not to get too personal, but I did ask her about herself a few times just to be friendly.

I should have known better. I shouldn’t have focused my efforts on easing just her stress. Maybe if I’d gotten everyone coffee or pizza or something it wouldn’t have looked so intimate? I didn’t even see it coming, when she came onto me I thought she was joking, I was stunned. To me it came out of left field, but somehow in her mind it had been going on for some time. I tried to tell her that I was a happily married man figuring that that would be the end of it, but it seems that being married isn’t the deterrent it used to be and she had no problem carrying on anyway. From there it just got worse, I tried to explain that I was just being friendly that I didn’t mean to lead her on and that that was in no way my intention, but she thought I was playing hard to get or something, trying to preserve the image of the dutifully married man. After that it snow balled, badly. The men at the office, not all of them, but quite a few either began patting me on the back or making the worst comments I’ve heard in a long time and the more I deny that anything is going on between this woman and myself the more they’re determined that I’m having an affair with her.”

“Ouch, that’s rough.”

“Yeah? Well that’s not all that’s just the beginning. There’s this woman that works for the company who, how do I say this politely? She likes men, she likes the attention mostly and when she first started working there she went through as many as she could. To what extent I don’t know, all I know is that she was extremely flirtatious and she even tried with me like all the others, but when I didn’t pay her any notice she moved on and that was perfectly fine by me, but now that it’s going throughout the office like wildfire that I’m well…”

“Not as committed to your wife as everyone thought?”

“Precisely, now I can’t get her to leave me alone. She pops up everywhere I go and her flirting has gotten downright vulgar in some ways. She’s always trying to touch me, just enough to look innocent to some people, but enough to let me know her intentions. She makes comments that are clearly innuendoes, but have just enough of a loophole so that she can say they were innocent and I took things the wrong way and if the guys in the office weren’t bad before they’re intolerable now. I tell you I don’t know what to do. I’m so stressed over the whole thing I explode at the slightest thing at home now. Then I feel guiltier than I’ve ever felt before in my life.”

“Have you told your wife?”

“Are you crazy? I don’t even know where to start. I live in fear that one of these women will make some sort of comment to her when they decide to call the house for me or that one of the guys will say something for that matter. I’ve seriously considered quitting my job.”

“Well, it’s definitely not easy no matter what side of the fidelity fence you’re on. It takes a lot of faith in the other person to believe you when you’re innocent and even more when you’re not. I should know.” Now it was Bane’s turn for a little confession. Not that it wasn’t already public record spread over every gossip rag in at least three countries that he knew of, but somehow when he put that part of his life behind him he was hoping he wouldn’t have to revisit parts of it anymore. Guess he was wrong, but if it could help someone, anyone and especially someone that had always treated him with kindness and needed his help now than it was more than worth it.

“Not long after my son Parker was born some woman popped up claiming that I had fathered her child. There of course was a paternity suit and it was all over the news. I didn’t know the woman, but unfortunately back then it didn’t matter. I did more than my fair share of dabbling in drugs and there’s a lot that I didn’t remember. The only thing that saved me this time was that the young woman was claiming that I had fathered her child during one of my concert tours and at the time she said we were together I was working out a scheduling issue with my manager. I knew I was in the clear, but it took quite a bit of faith on my wife’s part to believe that even with Larry, that’s my manager, vouching for me.

I’d thought about letting it go with that, no need to rock the boat, but I was older and a bit wiser at that point. I hadn’t been as innocent in the past and wasn’t planning on being entirely without sin in the future either and I figured that this woman wouldn’t be the only one to bring a paternity suit against me. Usually once one comes out of the woodwork more follow and with my kids getting older I didn’t want to put them through all the scandal and the ridicule of the kids at school. It may sound mean, but you know what little monsters some kids can be, not to mention what Shaylon would go through so I decided to lay it all out on the table. I told Shaylon everything, everything that I could remember anyway and each time after that I told her about it. I can’t say that she was happy, but she knew my heart was hers at least I hope she did and that it was just sex and she understood mostly. One of the perks of liberal thinking. It also helped when someone did come forward we were able to face it together with honesty between us.

Back then I had no real guilt over any of my… affairs, mostly only if I had gotten caught and that was only my own ego rearing up at being caught. Now it’s different, now I wonder how I could have ever done any of it and the guilt eats at me.”

“Just like a cancer.”

“Like a cancer I have no cure for.”

“But that’s not true. You’ve already been forgiven by God and your wife, all that’s left is to accept it, forgive yourself and move on. Don’t give the Devil any more of your life than you already have.”

“Then how about you do the same. Tell your wife everything. It will be much easier with you being innocent of adultery and the two of you need to be united in this. It will be so much worse for both of you if she finds out the wrong side of the story for herself. She’ll go through all those feelings of hurt and betrayal then have to find the strength and faith to believe in you. At least if you go to her she’ll feel like you weren’t hiding it from her hoping not to get caught. You’ll save both of you a lot of grief, take it from someone who knows and it will reduce your stress massively. In fact you’ll probably feel amazing once it’s off your shoulders.”

“But how do I deal with work, with both of these women? Any idea what to do with that one?”

“Yeah, I’ve had a few experiences in that department as well. I know you don’t want to hurt your assistants feelings and that you don’t want to be the bad guy especially when you see it as being your fault in the first place. Not that I’m mitigating that because let’s face it you dropped the ball, but I’ve no room to talk I’ve done that and more. Anyway you have to be straight forward with her, not cruel, but firm and even maybe a little harsh. Tell her there never was anything and never will be, that your kindness was meant to relieve the stress of an already stressful work load and nothing more. Don’t compliment her saying that it’s because you’re married and you think that she’s really nice and that’s it’s not her. Ten to one you may end up with a stalker on your hands that thinks that you really do want her, but that your wife and marriage is in the way. That will end badly, trust me. I’m not saying that’s what will happen and that this woman is unstable, but there needs to be no lingering doubt in her mind. It’s like a Band-Aid, it’s gonna hurt, but you have to just yank it off, going slow only prolongs the pain.

As for the more… flirtatious one, that’s a bit different. Pushing her away may only entice her further, some women make it their personal challenge to go after that one hold out and now that she thinks you’re not beyond indiscretion she’ll pull out everything in her arsenal. With her you’ll have to be more direct and even, to you, a little mean. You can’t give an inch, you have to set boundaries and tell her that you’re intention is not to be cruel, but that other than direct work related issues you refuse to have anything to do with her. She has gotten the wrong idea about you, you are completely true to your wife and family and if she has difficulty in keeping her distance than you’ll have no choice than to report her to her superiors. I know this might clash with the whole be nice thing as a Christian and if you want depending on how you feel things are going you can add that you wish her no harm and that you’ll pray for her, but that you don’t want there to be any misunderstandings. I can’t guarantee it will fix your problem, but it may help at least get things back on track.”

Gordon let those words swim around in his mind for a while. “What about the gossip? I can’t just go up to the water cooler and tell them to back off. Somehow I don’t think that will do anything more than light a fuse to the powder cage.”

“You’re right there, at least that’s what I would think if someone kept denying it. Kind of like a politician, the more they deny any wrong doing the more you think they’re guilty as sin. If you’ll excuse the phrasing.”

“So what would change your mind if you were one of them?”

Bane wondered “Admitting you’re guilt.”

“What!?” Gordon nearly shot straight up.

“Now here me out. I’m not saying that you say you slept with the woman or anything, just tell them you were wrong.”

“But I wasn’t! My reputation, at least what’s left of it would be ruined completely. How would that affect my job?” He began to pace.

“John, think about it. I’ve been there on the full guilty side of it and I can tell you it’s not going to get any better until you’re completely honest with yourself and man up to it. You may not have been outright coming on to her, but you know your actions when you reflect on it were inappropriate, you pretty much told me that.”

It was kind of rough hearing it, but he knew it was true. He may not have meant any of this, but he had brought it on himself and now it was time to step up and take back his life. “Okay, you’re right. I got myself into this and… well…”

“Look John, I’m not saying that you tell them you were flirting with her or anything, just tell them the truth, what you told me. That in an effort to ease the work tension you did buy her lunch and coffee and such and though it wasn’t your intention your kindness was taken the wrong way and that you see now how your actions caused it. Then ask them to forgive you.”

“Ask them to forgive me? For what they’re the ones jabbering like a bunch of school girls? Shouldn’t they be asking my forgiveness?”

“In a perfect world sure, but you forget your actions brought on their misconceptions. Let me ask you this, what was your reputation with them before all this?”

“Well, they respected me as a family man and a Christian mostly; they kept the language at a minimum and held back on the locker room talk when I was around.”

“And now?”

John didn’t answer.

“Exactly. You’ve lost that respect. John, if you put on that stone face, that ‘righteous’ face that talk will only get worse. Before I came to Christ, even when I was younger I always had this anger, this thing about those that claimed to be so good and all. I was just waiting to see the tiniest flaw in them so that I could point it out, even to myself, that they were all just a bunch of hypocrites and whenever I found some of those cracks it just pushed me further and further away from God and those claiming to be His servants. Right now those men you work with see you as a hypocrite, at least on some level.”

“Rrr, how’d I get myself into this?” He scrubbed his hand over his face, drawing a deep breath then settled back down on the arm of the chair. “I know you’re right. I’ve felt the same way myself.”

“The world needs to see us as still humans, with problems and when we screw up so that they can see Jesus working through us. If we’re so perfect than what do we need Him for right?”

“So, I sacrifice my dignity on the alter and tell them I screwed up and ask them to forgive me? For what exactly am I asking them to forgive me though? It’s not like I did anything to them.”

“Not directly no, but you could always ask them to forgive you if your actions has led them to lose any respect in you or caused them to question their own faith; or yours.”

“I never thought of it like that.”

“Neither would I and to be honest I’m not sure where that came from.”

“And what about you? Should I be asking for your forgiveness as well?”

“What a sinner like me, no way. You’ve given something that I wasn’t expecting and really needed.”

“Okay, I don’t know what that could be, but I’m glad that my screw up could be helpful to somebody.”

Both chuckled. “So anything else my royal faux pa could help you with Bane?”

He wondered “I was thinking about what you said about your kids.”

“Yeah, what about them?”

“About how you alienated or nearly drove them away from God. How’d you get past that? I mean, how did you deal with them with…”

“That was a learning experience and well, it didn’t happen overnight. In fact it was so gradual a thing I didn’t even notice it until one day it was just different.”

“Mind expanding on that.” Bane crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow.

“I guess the best I can do is give you an example. My daughter was fifteen at the time and I was doing my best, or what I thought was my best to turn her into a lady. Part of that was demanding that she be polite, you know, please and thank you and the whole mess, but I wasn’t helping matters. I would always point out when she was doing it wrong or reminding her that ‘that’s not how a young lady let alone a young lady of God would act’ and it drove a wedge between us. I was only doing it out of love, wanting her to learn to act and think the right way so that she wouldn’t have such a hard time becoming a woman of God, but I was pushing all the wrong buttons. My wife and I both handled her wrong. She was so strong and so much her own person that it came out as straight rebellion, always rolling her eyes and saying thank you riddled with sarcasm. Then one day after God had been working with me I gave up. Well not exactly gave up, changed tactics more like.

My wife and I had discussed it then we went to Kallie and told her that we knew that she was perfectly aware of how to act and that we had faith that she would become that woman, but we weren’t going to force her any longer, just guide her. Then we did something hard, we let go and tried to trust her. We’d tell her please and thank you and show her respect, but we stopped demanding that she reply correctly. Then one day she brought me a book and when I said thank you she turned back and said ‘You’re welcome Daddy.’ All on her own.

The look on my face must have been something because she immediately said ‘What?’. I was so proud of her at that moment and I couldn’t help asking her what, what had changed? That’s when I had my first glimpse of the woman she was growing into. She said she had been thinking about it and realized that if she couldn’t obey or do the right thing in small seemingly insignificant ways then how could she ever expect to have the strength or even the wisdom to do the right thing when it really mattered and she feared that if she continued to let those little things go by that it would be all too easy to make the wrong decision over something important. I was so proud of her I’m not ashamed to admit I cried when I hugged her. It hasn’t all gone that smoothly with her or the rest of the kids and we haven’t been able to treat all of them the same way, but it was a sign that we were on the right track and that gave us hope and the strength to keep going. Sometimes we had to sacrifice our pride and tell them how we were wrong, others we had to back off and lead by example, and we had to take the time with them to really see who they were. That helped us to learn how best to reach them. Also one more tip, take the time to explain why you’re doing something, the ‘because I said so’ only got their backs up.”

“You have a smart girl there.”

“Don’t I know it, but so do you Bane. I can see you’re really trying hard with these kids don’t give up on them or yourself. So is there anything else I can help you with? You’ve definitely given me what I needed.”

“You know, I think you’ve given me as much as I have you if not more.”

“I’m glad. Well, I hate to confess and run, but I’d better be heading back. It’s getting late and I have a lot to discuss with my wife tonight.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

The two continued some light chit chat as Bane walked him to his car saying goodbye and asking one last lingering question. “John, was the gate working when you came in or was it just open?”

“No it worked just fine I buzzed and it opened. See you Sunday Bane.”

Bane waved farewell knowing that wasn’t how the gate was supposed to work. Later that night he walked down the drive and tested it. It was working fine; only their personal code would open it so how’d Gordon get in? Why had the gate simply opened for him?

[]Chapter Eleven

Bane stood in front of the full length mirror fumbling with his black bow tie, reflecting on more than his image. It had been years since he’d last worn one of these monkey suits and it seemed like each time he’d worn one it had been one of the happiest times in his life. This was number three, the third of his children to take the vow and say ‘I Do’ and he couldn’t be prouder. It was beyond belief these past eight years how things, how life had shifted so dramatically. He had found God or more precisely God had smacked him upside the back of his head and opened his eyes, but it hadn’t gone the way Bane had planned. What’s the old saying, “Man plans and God laughs.” Well no one was laughing back when things had gone so right and so wrong, but now… now was like that fresh breeze that wafts through the open windows in the spring. Crisp, cool with a hint of warmth and fresh renewal. Now was his spring and though problems and insecurities still arose he had a strength and faith to meet them head on.

It’s been a long road to get here, in the small steepled church that he’d once sat in as a boy, watching his father pass the collection plate and pray with whomever was in need. Not much had changed in the forty some years since he’d last stepped through the double doors. The long wooden benches with their red velvet cushioning still stood in their rows, some had been replaced and a few donned small brass plaques in remembrance of some long standing parishioner, including Bane’s own father and new fans lazily spun above them. A new sound system had been installed and the rectory had been refurnished not long ago. The painting behind the baptismal pool had been touched up and the carpet though still worn was different than before, but for the most part it was still the same and Bane couldn’t help but feel a real sense of belonging as he’d wandered through the rooms before retreating to the small chamber designated for the groom and his party to prepare.

Number three, soon he wouldn’t have any single children left. This was the halfway point after all. It seemed like only yesterday instead of nearly three years ago that he stood in a room similar to this only larger in his own family church nervously waiting for the moment when he would walk his one and only baby girl down the aisle; hoping to hold it together as he gave her away and sorely tempted not to. Not that the man she had chosen to marry wasn’t a good one, Bane, Shaylon, and the rest of the family adored Jackson. He was a fine young man of God with his head on straight. The two had met when he had returned from college for winter break and since his sister was Delilah’s best friend Kallie and he was the son of John Gordon it was only a matter of time, but the thought of giving his beloved daughter away to any man was harder than he ever imagined it would be. He and Delilah had grown so close over those years after his late night chat with John that he often felt a sense a grief over the time he’d missed with her, then joy over the realization that he hadn’t missed it all. Not only was she his only daughter, but she was one of the first of his more difficult children they reached and proof that he and Shaylon were heading in the right direction.

Gordon and Bane had become close after that night, feeling each had a confidant in the other that could help steer them in the right direction. If one hadn’t gone through a particular problem the other probably had and could definitely pass on a few pointers. Bane and Shaylon had been there to help John and his wife through the mess with the women at his office. Each providing support in whatever way they could and the Gordon’s helping with a more positive influence for Bane’s own brood. The families soon became inseparable. Thankfully things just clicked between the daughters of both men and Delilah finally had a friend that the Bronson’s weren’t worried about. Someone her own age that had gone through or was going through so many of the same issues and emotions that she was.

It was on Gordon’s suggestion that Bane institute a Daddy Daughter Day every other week and Bane attacked it with a three point plan and a lot of nervous excitement. He never felt so unsure of anything in his life, not since he was a teen was he so uneasy around a girl and this was his own daughter, but he was determined to reach her. Phase one, as he and his wife liked to joke about later, was taking Delilah to all the places that she was interested in to get her talking to him about her likes and dislikes, to really learn about her and the woman she was growing into. Then next phase consisted of taking her to places that he was interested in or that held some kind of significance in his own life, to teach her about the man he had been, the man he was now, and the man he hoped to be. Finally they would go someplace new to both of them, someplace neither had thought to go before, just to try. It didn’t matter where exactly as long as they were together. They could joke over the statues they saw in the park, or pick their favorite paintings out at the gallery, or listen to a band neither had ever heard of before. Over those months a bond had developed between them and he found himself talking about things that he hadn’t expected to in his new life. His old life yes, sex, drugs, and life in general; nothing was beyond his topics of discussion, but now some of those subjects seemed to catch in his throat with Delilah and he spent more than a few nights pondering over the change in him until Shaylon put it in perspective.

“Before, I wouldn’t hesitate about sex or anything else for that matter, but now…. Sometimes I wonder if being a Christian hasn’t shut me up in some ways.”

Shaylon took his hand in hers and sat beside him on the bed, deep in thought, “I think it’s only made you more aware about how important it is. Think about it Bane, would you have answered her the same way back then when you were more open than you would now?”

“Oh no, I shiver to think what I would have told her back then; what I have told her.”

“Okay then, so you recognize there’s a difference. That’s a start, don’t push it. Let her get comfortable with you before you go all Dad crazy on her. Slip a few things in here and there for her to question and think about and when she’s ready she’ll come to you.”

“You sure about that?”

“As sure as I can be. It’s all kind of new to me too, but I know how I’d react in her shoes.”

She had been right. The more Bane got his daughter to talk, first about small things then about bigger, the more Delilah opened up to him. Before he knew it he was talking about all those topics that made his stomach tighten and his blood pressure rise, until one day he was finally able to get across to her what not only he and her mother wanted for her and her life with God, but in some part what God wanted. She hadn’t responded after their talk, but at least he had given her something to really meditate on. Between that and the time she was spending with Shaylon they could almost watch her grow into an amazing woman, just like her mother was.

Unbeknownst to Bane, Shaylon had begun to question her own faith. Sure she felt great serving her church and her community. She felt like she was not only doing something, being active, but that she was doing something good for others, something of value. Until one night, on her way to pick up Mitchell from kids night the church held during the woman’s Bible study she overheard him talking to one of the other boys. He didn’t think she’d take him to the park because she was too busy working for God to do anything with him.

It was like a slap in the face. What was she doing if it meant her own children felt left out of her life, like they didn’t matter anymore? Sure if she hadn’t been a Christian and was just too busy with her activities to pay attention to her family she’d call herself a bad mother, but now that she was working for God what would she call it? There had to be something she was missing. A life serving God couldn’t mean leaving her family and all the blessings that He had given her behind to fend for themselves. Mitchell needed her; all her children did and so did Bane, though none of them ever complained. There had to be something that she was missing.

And there was. It seemed that God had sent John to her husband, but He meant that visit to be for her too. Just like the ripples from a stone in the pond that night reached them all. She went to every one of her children after that and apologized to each for leaving them behind. She didn’t know where to go or what to do, but she wanted to walk this road with them. She went even farther with Delilah giving her a speech about how she had little idea what being a true woman of God meant or was and how the two of them were on equal footing in the matter.

“I wanted to be this great example to you Dee. To show you how great God was and how amazing it was to serve Him, but all I did was abandon you and your brothers to go running after what I thought I should be, but that’s not it. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I want to learn and I need your help to do it. None of us, except your father has been raised to this and I’m fumbling around. I know you have the same feeling, at least in some part, trying to figure out where you fit into all of this. I need to know where to go and when I’m going the wrong way. I need to be held accountable and I want you to be the one to do that. I want us to learn what is to be women of faith together. I figure we can help each other.”

“How do you think I could help? I don’t know anything. I’m just supposed to do what you say aren’t I?” Her mother was using her nickname for now, which meant things weren’t too serious. At least not in the trouble department so she didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm.

“Has that ever worked?”

Delilah huffed, “Not really.”

“Okay then. The way I see it is this. There’s this book called the Bible that’s supposed to have all of the answers to everything in it right?”

“Supposedly.”

“Anyway, it also has the answers to how I can be a better wife and mother and so on.”

“Your point is.”

“My point is that between the two of us I figure we can put our heads together and find those answers.”

“Aren’t there all kinds of self-help books out there to do that?”

“Sure, but then I would be spending my time reading them and not paying attention to you and what’s going on here. I’ve been on the sideline too long and I want in the game not reading about it. You’re a smart girl Dee and I think you can pick up on things that I might miss or take the wrong way. Sure I can study on my own, but at least with you helping me I can determine what works and what doesn’t all that much quicker.” she sighed, “The point is Delilah, I don’t want to just preach to you or at you. I want to be someone that you can look up to, to be a good example for you especially as a young woman. I don’t want you to have to go through all the pain that I have before you finally find your place. You’re still young enough to not have all the regrets and baggage that can follow you even into a Christian life; especially through a Christian life. I know I’m not making it sound very glamorous, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything in the world.

I just don’t want to waste one more minute of your life pointing you down the wrong path. There’s so many things that I’ve done wrong with your father and all of you kids and though I can’t do anything about the past, the future is what we make it and I want to make it to that finish line with my head held high and my children beside me. So can we do this together? Will you at least think about it?”

Two days later while preparing dinner Delilah silently walked into the kitchen and began cutting the vegetables. “So, how does this ‘Woman of God’ thing work? I mean do you have a plan or anything or are we just supposed to wing it?”

Shaylon couldn’t suppress her smile. “How does fifteen minutes a day sound?”

“To do what?”

“Well at first I figured we’d try to map out what a woman of God is. I’ve been going through my study Bible and I’ve been writing down some of the things God lists as the traits of a woman of faith. I thought we could go over a few of them at a time, read up on them and you could tell me how you think I could apply them to my life today. You know, give me some insight on how it might fit in today’s world.”

“All that in just fifteen minutes?”

“If you want to keep going I won’t stop you, but I won’t hold you over that amount.”

“Isn’t Jesus supposed do the teaching?”

“Of course, but who’s to say He can’t use you to do it?”

“Okay, I can do fifteen minutes.”

From there things flourished. She had to admit her intentions were more to get her daughter into discovering for herself what being a woman of God was, but Shaylon quickly began to see that she was the one that got just as much, if not more out of it. With each week the bond between them grew and though there were no real secrets between them about life and the past she found herself opening up about hopes and fears, failures and successes, and feelings that she barely even discovered for herself. She and Bane both had finally earned Delilah’s respect after all those years of not caring about it, and when the time came for them to set down new rules and put down their foot on a new area, they found that Delilah accepted it. Sometimes begrudgingly, but she obeyed.

Bane thought of his little girl now. A grown woman, beautiful, smart, talented and he couldn’t be prouder. She was a pediatric nurse and a good one. The best if he had any say in it, and she and Jackson were expecting their first child by Christmas. His eyes misted as he recalled that afternoon, seeing his baby in her gown of white ready to become Mrs. Jackson Gordon and how his heart swelled when she hugged him tightly and said,

“Thank you Daddy for never giving up on me; on any of us. Because of you and Momma I found who I was and by watching the two of you, how you grew and changed and everything, I saw what love is. What marriage really means. It’s not just this, the gown and the rings and the always being together, it’s the work and the forgiveness, the respect and the faith and so much more. If you two hadn’t been there for us I never would have learned to respect myself and I sure wouldn’t be marrying a great guy like Jackson today, and just so you know, I don’t need Jackson to keep me happy or to complete me. I’m a complete woman all by myself and I’m responsible for my own happiness, he’s just a wonderful perk that enhances my life.”

Yes, that was the first of his birds to fly, and his smile continued to broaden as he pulled his bowtie loose once more, ready to take another shot at it.

[]Chapter Twelve

“Here let me.”

“You’d figure with as many of these that I’ve had to wear lately I’d be better at this by now. It’s not like it’s all that difficult”

“Well we can’t have everything now can we. If I’d had my way we would have been wearing simple ties or none at all even, but Daisy wanted the fairy tale.”

“And you don’t mess with a woman’s wedding dream.”

“No you don’t, but she’s more than worth it. Now turn around and hold still.”

“Yes she is.” Bane submitted and his eldest continued not missing a beat while he worked his father’s bow tie. He looked at Dane still amazed at the transformation his son had gone through in such a short time. From the harsh, brooding young man obsessed with the fame, fortune, and adoration of a towering music career; to a man full of joy and strength, a husband and a father and a first class musician and partner.

He still remembered how it felt; to stand outside the studio where his son was recording. The nervousness, the ache, the fear all jockeying for control over him. The questions that bombarded his mind just kept coming, none of which were encouraging and he almost turned to get back in his car, but his feet wouldn’t move any direction but towards the door. Before he knew it Bane was standing in front of a glass partition that separated the recording booth from a sitting area watching his son deep in concentration fingering the frets of his guitar and making notations on the sheet music.

Dane was good, there was no question about that. He had a natural talent that surpassed his own even in his best condition and Bane had no doubt that his son could do just what he had said in their last conversation. If anyone would outshine him and put him out to pasture he’d be proud for it to be Dane, but what he didn’t want was the separation of their family and it had gone on long enough. It was time to start building a bridge. For months after Dane had stormed out of the house both he and Shaylon had been desperately trying to restore some sort of relationship with their son, to let him know that they still loved him and that he was and always would be part of their family, but their phone calls went straight to voicemail and few were ever returned. When they were it was only through one of the other children or occasionally Shaylon. They invited him to dinner and parties, to holiday celebrations and family vacations, but he never accepted. The entire time the only ones to ever see Dane were his siblings and even then he took great pains to stir up discontent between them and their parents. The look on his face when he noticed his father in the sitting room shown that he was more than a little irritated to see him.

Dane tried to ignore him, but his concentration was blown and all he could see was that stupid shy smile on his father’s face until he had no choice but to see what he wanted and get rid of him. With a shake of his head he set his guitar on its stand and pushed his way through the soundproof door.

“I took a listen in the booth, you sound amazing Dane. Course you’ve always had talent.”

If this was a trick to get on his good side it wasn’t working. “What do you want old man, I’m kind of busy here making the music that ‘sounds amazing’.” His voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I won’t keep you long, I don’t want to throw your flow, I just wanted to talk to you about a job.”

Dane smirked; this was too good, his father was actually coming to him for help. How destitute was he?

“I’ve started my own label and I have a project going and I could use someone of your caliber on guitar. I already have the studio and all the backing I just thought if I wanted a good guitarist why not try for the best one I know?”

Was he kidding, but he had to give it to his dad he could blow smoke with the best, “I thought you gave up smoking?”

Bane looked at him expressionless, and the moment stretched before he burst into a deep laugh that brought a smile that Dane couldn’t hide.

“Good one, I’ll have to remember that, but no I’m serious. You’re good Dane, one of the best I’ve heard and you work hard at it. You’re dedicated when it counts and I’d like that quality on this album.”

“I thought you gave up music, too evil.” There was still an edge to his attitude.

“I could never give up music, you were right it’s part me, of who I am. Just because I changed my life doesn’t mean I have to give up my God given talents. Turns out there’s quite a growing market for hard Christian music out there. Old geezers like me who love the fast pace and the sound, but want something deeper in it. You don’t have to put your name to it if you don’t want to be associated with the album, but you’d get a full cut.” Bane could see the indecision in his son’s eyes and plunged ahead before he lost his chance. “You don’t have to decide right away and if you only want to try a single or two that’s fine, you know to see if it’s a fit. I could give you the sheets and you could put your own spin on it. You’ve always been a great composer so any suggestions would be welcome. It could give you some extra to put towards your own album here. I know this ain’t cheap even with your connections, every little bit helps when you’re trying to get something off the ground and with your talent it’d be a shame to lose time because of a lack of funds, but I leave it up to you. It’s a solid offer with no strings attached and absolutely no preaching; promise.”

Dane had to admit there was a lot of truth in what his father was saying. He may have some issues with the way he threw his life away to join the sheep, but on the other hand he had decades of knowledge and connections that could be worth a few weeks of whatever the old man had planned. “I guess I could take a look at the music, see if there’s a song that might be alright or something. Do you have it with you?”

Bane pulled a folded stack of sheet music from his jacket pocket and held it out nearly shaking as hope flooded his veins mixing with adrenaline. “Right here. Feel free to make suggestions and whatever you decide I accept completely; no hard feelings. Deal?”

Dane hesitated before taking the pages, “Alright.”

It had been a rocky start, but a few days later Bane’s phone rang and his son was on the other end. “I’ve been going over the music you gave me and it’s not half bad,” which was code for ‘I like it’. “So what’s your terms if I decide to do this?”

That was the start, but a start was all they needed. Bane hadn’t lost his gift for music when gave his life to God, if anything it had grown. His focus was stronger than ever and with the new found spirit of the Lord flowing through him his music held more life, meaning, power and creativity than he had known since he first started playing. He finally put to use some of the space of his mansion estate to create his own home studio with everything he’d need to produce his own album and the time the two spent together grew from a single song to the whole album and beyond. Dane had become part of the family again, staying for dinners and visiting for the sake of spending time with them. There was still a divide between their very different beliefs, but Dane came to respect his father in a way. It took a lot of guts to walk away from a life of fame and fortune to follow Christ and stick to it no matter what. Eventually he came to see that his parents weren’t just a couple of sheep, but a loving, dedicated couple who were just trying to do the best with what they felt to be right and at times he even wondered why they couldn’t have been like this when he was younger. Though those moments were few and he immediately corrected himself.

It was about a week after Dane’s daughter had been born. To his parents credit not one word had been said about an out of wedlock baby when they found out his girlfriend was pregnant. The sun had just begun to lighten the horizon as Dane sat in his favorite chair holding his little girl after her morning feeding when his father’s words hit him like a ton of bricks. It wasn’t anything his dad had actually said to him but rather to his brother, Dane just happened to overhear it one afternoon while taking a break from the studio. Once again Parker had been caught with another stash of porn, to Dane it was almost comical, his parents attempts to convince his brother of its evils and Parker’s ability to get around every parental block they put in place.

“Parker I know it doesn’t make sense right now and it’s hard to think in terms like this, but… well how about this, you’re about to be an uncle in a few months right? Well, that niece of yours could one day be one of those girls you’re looking at. It’s like we said that’s somebody’s sister, mother, daughter.”

At the time Dane had chuckled at his father’s newest argument in convincing Parker to give up pornography, but now…. Holding his baby daughter, feeling the love that threatened to burst from his chest as he watched her; the idea of some guy looking at her, leering at her, and all the rest made him want to throttle any male that came near her, spirit her away to a deserted island or single handedly destroy the porn industry. It was no longer funny and for the first time in his life he agreed with his father. The longer he sat with his girl in his arms feeling such a desire to protect, love, provide, teach and so much more he finally heard that still small voice of God answer him when he asked, “What can I do? I want to give you so much, everything I have, everything I am. I want you to know how much I love you every day of my life since the moment you were born.”

‘Then why deny her the greatest love of all? Why deny her My love which is eternal and goes so far beyond your own?’

For days Dane couldn’t get those words out of his head and every question that could possibly go with it crossed his mind again and again. How could he deny his daughter the possibility of God’s ultimate love if it was true, but how could he show his daughter God’s love and teach her about His grace if he himself had no concept of it? It took becoming a father himself for him to begin to understand some of what his own father had been trying to tell him, and what the idea of a Heavenly Father could mean, but did he even believe it? If he did that was one thing, but what if he didn’t? What if he still didn’t go in for all this ‘God is the only way’ stuff? He didn’t know, but something was going on that much he couldn’t deny.

Dane lay on his back, hands folded beneath his head. All was still and quiet, the baby was sleeping peacefully until her next bottle and the only movement was the light streaming up the wall and across the ceiling through the crack in the curtains as a lone car passed by. He’d probably still be awake when his daughter awoke for her next feeding, oh well Daisy could use the extra sleep and he shifted to watch his girlfriend slumber in the bed beside him; her gentle breaths rising and falling in the night. He had asked her right before the baby was born if she’d marry him. She declined. In retrospect saying, “So you think we should, you know? Since we’re going to have a kid and all?” probably wasn’t the best way to propose and his “We could still do the marriage thing”, after the birth was just as bad. No wonder she turned down his ‘generous’ offer. He was only half kidding when he asked her, but he was more than a little relieved when she told him that she wasn’t ready. Now he was beginning to wonder.

“God, if you’re real, if you’re there… show me, help me, do something; anything. Just… just don’t … leave me.” It just popped out before he realized it, but once it was out there, there was no taking it back. Strange thing was, he didn’t want to.

He’d like to say that at that moment a shining angel appeared at the foot of his bed proclaiming the word and existence of God, but not even the light from another vehicle graced his wall the rest of the night. Nor did any miracle arrive the next night or the next or even the next, but something did happen. It was slight, small at first, but there was no denying it was there. The songs his father was working on took on a new meaning, quotes that he had tried so hard to ignore from the Bible would stick in his head, and whenever he held his child that same still small voice he had heard that first night repeated over and over, “I love you my son even more than you love her.” Over time he realized that he was changing as well, he couldn’t explain it and to say that it was ‘just God’ seemed like too simple of an answer, but something was happening in his life, something unexplainable and amazing and even a little scary and in that same bed, with his hands stuffed behind his head and the room just as dark and quiet as before he surrendered.

“Alright, I… I admit it, my dad was right as much as it pains me to say that. You’re real and you’re there and you listen and yes; you answer. You answered me when I’d done nothing but reject you and insult those who had any faith in you. I was wrong and I’m sorry. I don’t know how this whole thing is supposed to go, I guess I should have paid more attention, but bottom line is I know I need you. No more running away, no more doubting, I’m ready for whatever it is you want me to do. Save me, from this world, from my sins, from myself.” and God did.

Dane kept his new found relationship with Christ a secret. He’s not sure why he did, maybe it was because he was afraid. Afraid that Daisy would look at him differently and he’d end up losing her, afraid of what it meant for his future, his career. Afraid of what others would say after he’d spent so much time railing against God and his family’s new found obsession with Him. Or maybe it was because he was afraid of himself, of failing as a Christian and the backlash that would bring with whomever he told, but he couldn’t hide the change that was happening to him and a few months later Daisy said “yes”. They were lying in bed, Dane’s arm wrapped around her holding her close as she gently ran her fingers across his skin. Then softly she simply said, “Yes.”

“Hmm?”

“Yes, if your offer is still good. If you’re serious, then yes; I’ll marry you.”

He was floored and at first she took his silence as a hint that she’d misread their relationship, but she soon found herself rolled on her back staring up into the largest smile she’d ever seen sprawled across Dane’s face. He ran his fingers over her cheek tracing her freckles, then he kissed her; over and over again he kissed her before suddenly stopping. “No wait; wait,” and he slid out of bed running around to her side and dropping to one knee where he proposed like he should have from the start.

Amongst all the wedding planning and hoopla one thought nagged at him daily. ‘Shouldn’t she know? Out of everyone here shouldn’t she be given the opportunity to choose whether or not she wanted to get married to a man that had given his life to Christ?’ He still wasn’t completely sure what that even meant, how would she handle it? Yet each time they surfaced he’d rationalize them back into the shadows. After all she had a lot on her plate between being a new mother and planning a wedding. No need to add to her stress right now, he’d tell her after things died down; after the wedding. Maybe on the honeymoon when they were relaxed and calm, but that voice only grew louder until it could no longer be ignored.

The setting sun had turned the horizon into a masterpiece of color and the gentle surf with its warm salty breeze gave a hint of perfection to the rehearsal dinner and Daisy looked radiant as ever in her strapless turquoise dress. He’d fought long and hard with himself, but he knew he was doing the right thing; she had to know and less than twenty-four hours before they were to take their vows Dane pulled his bride to be out onto the veranda of the seaside resort and told her the truth.

“Daisy, sweetie… you know I love you right?”

“I think you should if you’re going to marry me tomorrow.”

“And there’s nothing in the world I want to do more than to stand up in that church tomorrow and say I do. You have to know that Dais.”

He’d said her nickname a thousand times, but this time was different, “Dane what’s the matter? You’re beginning to scare me.”

“No, no it’s nothing bad, I mean there’s nothing wrong… I just… I think you should know…?”

“Don’t chicken out on me now tough guy not when you’ve come so far. Whatever it is we’ll get through it, I have faith in you; in us.”

“That’s just it Dais, the only reason I’ve come so far is,” he took a deep breath and let it all out, “because I got saved. I gave my life to Christ a few months back; I’m a Christian now Daisy and I don’t regret it not a bit. I know I should have told you sooner, that now isn’t the best time to lay this on you, but I couldn’t let you marry me tomorrow without knowing the whole truth; without knowing what you were getting with the whole ‘till death do us part’ deal.”

She lowered her head and his heart went with it, “Then I guess that means we have one more thing in common.”

Dane could barely believe his ears, it was too good to be true, but there it was written as clearly as the smile he noticed on her beautiful face. It seems that his family had had more of an influence on Daisy than he had ever expected and her admission of also claiming the mantle of Christian was the only thing that could have made this day and the next and the next even more perfect. The two conspired, changing their vows at the last minute to declare in front of everyone that they would indeed be starting a life together as husband and wife under the saving grace of God. Double the tears were shed that day and regardless of those that mocked and murmured behind the couples back nothing could damper their joy and after they returned from their honeymoon Dane became a full partner with his father’s record label.

The arrangement couldn’t have been more perfect as it turned out Dane had a good head for the business side as well as the music. He brought in new talent fresh and helped to expand his father’s dream which quickly became his own as well and Redeemed Records thrived.

[]Chapter Thirteen

Bane looked over at his son, the groom to be, poised on the edge of the antique high back chair, his leg bouncing as if it had a life of its own, ready to spring up at a moment’s notice. Out of all of his children Parker had been the hardest to reach and the most rewarding. When that moment finally came it was nothing short of a miracle.

For months both Bane and Shaylon had been trying to reach out to Parker, spending time with him alone like he had Delilah and the rest of the kids still at home and having serious talks about infidelity, pornography, addictions and such. He showed him the information on the chemicals released in the brain while looking at adult material that induced the addiction and the escalation that must take place to get that same arousal feelings that he was sure Parker was already dealing with at that point. He also pointed out the link between pornography, rape, child molestation and murder, but nothing seemed to get through to him.

It was a last minute change in plans that would never be forgotten. The couple had planned to go to a conference of a well know preacher that was holding an event in their area whom they enjoyed watching on television and regularly supported. It was a three day event and the pair had enjoyed the teaching and the time together, but while driving home after the second day Shaylon suddenly blurted out, “I think you should take Parker with you tomorrow.”

“What? Why?”

“I’ve been thinking about it, tomorrow they have that session with the woman that were rescued from sex trafficking. It might be good for him to hear what those poor girls have had to go through and I don’t think he’d be very comfortable with me there.”

It was a long shot, both Bane and Shaylon knew it, but they were willing to try if it would help their son. So Shaylon stayed home and Parker was “invited” to go along, not that he had much choice in the matter. The audience was filled with mostly women and Bane knew his son was resenting every minute of it.

Parker just sat there in the stadium seat, slouched down, hunched away from his father in protest. The music portion hadn’t been so bad; it was Jesus freak music, but at least it wasn’t a choir howling out those old sleep inducing hymns; but the preaching… it was bad enough he had to listen to it on Sundays. He had nothing against God per se, he believed there was a God and he wanted to be on the Almighty’s good side, but he didn’t believe that a loving God would send any halfway decent person to Hell. Especially not just because they didn’t believe in Jesus or the Bible. He believed God was bigger than that and some people just liked to think that their way was the only one and their rules the only ones like some sort of members only club. Hell was for serial killers, child murderers, and terrorists, not someone with a healthy desire for the female form that He created, even if it was in the shape of a Playboy collection.

Both Bane and Parker sat through the conference session, neither saying a word. Not when it was over, or on the walk to the car, or the entire drive home. When Bane reached the security gate at their drive he put the car into park and turned off the engine, just sitting in the dark, quiet Mercedes. Finally he took a deep breath and turned to look at Parker who was staring out the window just as he had been doing the entire ride home and in the reflection of the glass Bane was certain he saw tears glistening on his son’s cheeks. Then he spoke.

“I just keep thinking. What if that was Delilah? What if even one of those girls I was … I… what if she was one of those slaves, being raped over and over while I ….”

“I know. I mean I knew that it existed, but it seemed so distant; like something from a movie or that only happens in some third world country or to the prostitutes on the streets. It was never so close before. I mean I know I haven’t looked at anything since I got saved, not that I haven’t been tempted because I have; more than once, but now, listening to those girls up there on that stage tonight pouring out their lives like that I wonder if some of the things I’ve seen; that I’ve paid for, put money into the pockets of the people responsible for such atrocities. I suddenly feel more ashamed than…,”

“Really? You’re still… tempted?”

“From time to time. I was delivered from so much when I gave my life to Christ, but the devil isn’t content to just sit there and say, ‘Ok, another one got away, oh well,’ and move on. Men especially, are visual and I make a decision on a regular basis not to go back to it when the urge pops up, or to close my eyes when someone is naked on TV. I don’t want to see that; not anymore.”

“For mom?”

“At first yes, because part of being faithful is not desiring anyone else as you know, but now it’s more for me. The human body is a beautiful creation of God and there’s nothing wrong with appreciating it, but it’s also a precious gift between you and your spouse. A secret shared with them, between them. I don’t want to see what isn’t mine to see whether they want to share it with the world or not. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your body, but you should also respect it as the gift of God that it is and not do anything to lead to the lust of others. I’m not explaining this very well am I?”

“It’s kind of like your drinking isn’t it? Why you don’t do it very much anymore?”

“Yes, actually in some ways it is.”

“Because not only do you want to be sober and not dependent on some substance, but because you don’t want others you might influence to drink too much.”

Bane was proud of his son, he was a smart kid, “Yes, because of who I am a lot of people are looking at me, to me and I want to be a good role model. For so long I wasn’t. I didn’t care who my actions or my music hurt, not even those I claimed to love the most, but now I don’t … I can’t bear the thought of even one person being hurt because of something I did.”

“You’re a good person Dad, but you’re not perfect. You can’t be. None of us can. That’s a title only Jesus can hold. All you can do is the best you can and let God work through you. Isn’t that what you and mom are always telling me? ‘You’re not responsible for the world; just yourself.’ God can use your screw ups as well as when you get it right. I think more people will be affected because you rejected God for so long and did so much that was wrong. If you turned your life around and started living differently, in the exact way you use to insult than that will make people sit up and take notice one way or the other.”

“You’re really a smart young man and a great kid you know that?”

“Yeah yeah, I love you too and Dad?” He still didn’t know how much of that Jesus stuff he really went in for, but…

“Yeah?”

Parker looked back out the car window, “Thanks for taking me to that conference tonight. It made me see things a little differently.”

“Me too Parker. Me too.”

That night Parker slipped quietly into Mason’s room. He had to talk to someone and it’s not a conversation that you have with the guys at school or anywhere else for that matter, but Mason already knew. He was in the same boat after all and it was easy to bond over their latest adversity under their overly righteous parents. Mason knew all about his natural desires just as he knew about his brothers and at times the two were the only refuge each other had and their brotherly bond had grown over the past year. They recognized the same underlying influences, urges, desires and temptations in their lives. If either one needed to vent or be reassured that what they were doing, wanted to do, or had the urge to do was perfectly normal, the other was there, but tonight was different. Parker still needed someone to talk to, to vent to, but not as before.

He’d been thinking about it the entire night, turning it over and over in his mind. He hadn’t wanted to pay attention, he hadn’t wanted to know, to care and at the time he would have handed over his soul to the Devil for an mp3 player and headphones, but he was there, he was stuck and he heard it all. He heard about the young girl lured from her home with the promise of a job, a simple job as a babysitter that was taken across the border then forced into a room filled with other women and girls. Starved, raped, beaten, forced into posing for pornography and sold as a prostitute, before being ‘bought’ then eventually rescued and freed. She spent years in a shelter for women just trying to recover from the trauma before she could even set foot outside again.

Another woman told how she had gotten pregnant four times during her captivity in forced prostitution. The children were taken away from her at different ages, some sold on the black market right after they were born. What happened to the children born to the women and girls held captive turned his stomach. Some were hobbled, crippled, their limbs amputated to turn them into profitable beggars on the streets. Some were out right killed for their organs to be harvested and sold to the highest bidder. Others were sold as sex slaves for those with a desire for children. More were turned into domestic slaves and a few fortunate ones were sold in adoptions if the price was right and it wasn’t just in the third world countries or countries he could barely pronounce let alone find on a map. Many times it happened right here in the US. Slavers would lure those wanting a better life into the United States, illegally shipping them in. Undocumented workers by day in shops and restaurants owned by those involved, their bodies sold at night and images of them available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card.

He had begun searching the faces on the large view screens looking for anyone familiar, yet scared to recognize even one of the women on the stage. To his relief no one stood out, but he hadn’t exactly been looking at the faces of the women in the pictures and videos and shame had flared within him.

Parker couldn’t stay still, he’d sit in a chair then spring up and pace, sit on the bed then pop back up and pace some more even through Mason’s repeated threats to tie him to a chair or kick him out altogether, but Parker just couldn’t settle down. He ranted and paced, he fussed and paced, he volleyed back and forth in a tennis match of morals and freedoms, desires and realities and truths. Finally in confusion, guilt and exhaustion he slowed down, collapsing in Mason’s desk chair with a huff covering his face in his hands. When he finally came out of his hiding place he looked dead at his brother and said, “I just don’t know if I can do it anymore and I don’t know if I even want to.”

The two talked through the night and didn’t stop until the last of the stars began to fade away. Parker lay on his side next to his brother staring off in the distance. He didn’t want to go back to his room, to be alone with his thoughts and the temptation that was stashed all around him. He hadn’t the strength or the energy to deal with it. So he laid there listening to Mason’s deep breathing, finally falling asleep as the first rays of light pierced the sky.

That night held more than anyone could hope for in the Bronson family, it was a turning point for so many and not just Parker. Mason had listened to his brother, saw his fear, anger, desperation and watched as his brother changed right before his very eyes. At first Parker had been in a near panic, overwhelmed with a reality he never wanted to exist. His biggest argument had been, ‘I’m not hurting anyone and it doesn’t involve anyone else but me’, but in one evening that whole philosophy had been turned upside down. Mason didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t argue with anything his brother was saying, he couldn’t dissuade any of his guilt other than to say, “You didn’t know.”

To which Parker quickly added, “It doesn’t matter whether I knew or not, that money could just as well have gone to… you know. Me not knowing isn’t going to stop that part will it?”

Mason didn’t have an answer to that so he just sat there quietly, only occasionally threating him when his pacing became overly annoying. For obvious reason he had never been into the whole pornography thing and since he was still figuring things out about his own desires he’d avoided all of it, now he was so thankful that he had. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. I can’t go back to it. I mean when Mom and Dad use to ask how we’d feel if that was Delilah it was disturbing, but in a whole different way and any thoughts of her would go right out the door when it came to it, but now I don’t think I could ever look at another picture and not wonder you know? What if? I’m not that cold hearted.”

“No one ever said you were.”

“I know. It’s just you’d have to be some sick creep to know about those girls and guys and children and not care. That’s a whole ‘nother level that I’m so not into. If I was to go that far I’d hope you’d help them put me somewhere for some major therapy.”

“Don’t worry at that point I’d be glad to.”

Parker smirked at him. He appreciated his brother’s attempt, but there was still so much on his mind and his heart. “I don’t know Mase, I hate to say this, but maybe Mom and Dad were right. Maybe there’s so much more than I ever thought.”

“You gonna give it up?”

“How can I not? Wouldn’t you?”

“There’s always that possibility that the girls are doing it for fun or money. You know as well as I do a lot of what’s out there is legit. It’s a billion dollar industry. The magazines you know are safe.”

“True, but now there’s this part of me that feels weird about the whole thing.”

“What? Why?”

“I don’t really know how to explain it. Maybe it’s everything Dad has been saying ever since he got saved along with what I saw tonight, but there’s just something deep inside that is disgusted with all of it. I mean you know I hate for Dad to be right, but it’s like this switch has been flipped and it’s definitely turned off. I’m turned off and I’m starting to see things differently and I don’t know what that means or where I’m going to end up, but I know that something has to change. I just have to figure out what.”

“Do you think it will be that easy? To just give up something like that, something you like?”

“I don’t see why not, unless what Dad showed me about brain chemicals and addiction and all that’s actually true.”

“What do you think that’s like?”

“What? Being addicted?”

“That… and giving up something that’s you, that’s part of you.”

“Oh man Mase, look I didn’t mean to make you feel … bad. Like I was turning on you or anything. Your situation is different.”

“Is it? How different is it really? If Mom and Dad are right than I wasn’t born gay, like you I chose to allow the temptation, to follow it, to let it rule my actions, my beliefs.”

“Mase.”

“No listen Parker, I’ve been thinking about this; a lot. What if it’s no different? If what they’ve been saying all along about porn is right, why not homosexuality? If you can be tempted to look at naked women why couldn’t I be tempted to look at guys?”

“And how would that make you feel, knowing that? Or believing that?”

Mason thought about it. “Relieved.”

That wasn’t the answer Parker thought his brother would come up with. “How? How would that make you feel better? I feel horrible.”

“Because if these feelings aren’t natural, if they are coming from some other source.”

“Like the Devil?”

“I know it sounds stupid, but here me out. If these feelings just like yours are sent to cause us confusion and pain and to lead us down a dark path than that means that there’s nothing wrong with me. In fact it means that there’s something very right and Satan wants to destroy that part. It means I’m perfectly alright, I’m not wrong or born wrong or even different.”

“I never thought there was anything wrong with you Mason. Besides you’d have to go in for all that faith stuff. Are you ready to do that?”

“I don’t know?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to believe what everyone else says, that you’re just born gay? That it’s part of your genetics.”

“I’ve thought about that and no it’s a lot harder because in that instance it’s still me. If it was an outside force causing these thoughts and stuff than it’s not me. I’m not the problem, not my genetics, nothing and I can choose. I can choose to go with it or to tell it where it can go.”

“I thought that believing it wasn’t a choice was better?”

“At first I did too, but I think I’d rather be in control of my life. Does that make any sense?”

“Well, yeah I can see that. If it was a choice then that would mean that you were in control of what you do or who you do. If it’s genetic than you’re a slave to it. Still it seems like choice makes things trickier, more complicated.”

“Yeah, but it’s still me that decides, not genetics; me.”

“Does that mean you’ve made up your mind? What you’re going to choose?”

“Depends on what I believe doesn’t it?”

Now it was Parkers turn not to know what to say.

“Well, you’re still my brother that’s one thing I do know and I guess we’re both in for a ride aren’t we?”

The two continued to talk. Sometimes about the conference and sometimes about nothing in particular, but one thing was for sure both their lives would never be the same again. Mason had grown quieter as his brother calmed and turned to his own silent musings. Parker never realized it, but some of the things that he’d said hit a spot deep in Mason and he was becoming more confused and yet more determined than ever and by the time Parker had finally slipped into oblivion Mason had made up his mind and silently slipped out of bed.

[]Chapter Fourteen

Bane and Shaylon awoke to a light tapping on their bedroom door and as their eyes adjusted they saw Mason standing in their doorway looking so small and sad yet still resolved to do what he had come there to do.

“I need help.”

Immediately the two were out of bed and on their feet rushing to embrace their son. Bane looked right at him gazing into his eyes. “We will get you whatever you need, whatever you’re comfortable with and no matter what we love you. We’ll get through this as a family, all of us and if you can’t talk to us we’ll make sure you have someone okay.”

Mason only nodded.

The Bronson’s were ready to ask for help this time and sat down with their pastor. They’d already been doing research on therapy, camps, and other treatment programs, but they found it a bit overwhelming and a third party they trusted could very possibly help them unwind the golf ball of options. They still held some concerns that they may be turned away or even shunned, but they were willing to face it if it meant helping their son and if they were treated like that then they would find a church that showed the kind of compassion and understanding that they preached. They were met with that love, much to their relief and between them and their pastor they came up with some options for Mason.

It was a big decision, but in the end they left it up to him who chose therapy with a Christian based center. He wanted to stay at home with his family, especially with Parker. It seemed that they were sort of going through the same thing in a way and were still each other’s support system. If it turned out not to be working for him then he would submit to go to the camp up state that handled teen issues even if it meant being separated from his brother. It turned out to be a two for one deal, everything that Mason was learning about himself, about faith, and true freedom he was able to pass on to Parker who needed it more than he let on even to his brother. Before long both boys were growing and laughing like they hadn’t done in a long, long time and turning into amazing young men. His parents had almost forgotten what it was to see Mason actually smile.

Bane tried to give both his sons some distance, some space to allow them to deal with everything in their own way. It was a lot to process for each of them, Mason and his therapy and Parker with his new knowledge and even Bane found it weighing on his own mind at times. He wanted to be supportive, giving his sons nods and smiles, patting them on the shoulder and giving each of them an occasional, “How you doing? Doing okay? I’m here if you need me.”

Mason would say he was doing good; but Parker would simply smile back and say, “I’m fine.” then drift away again. He knew that Parker needed to work things through on his own and that trying to push his way in, to make him talk about it would just push him further away, but he yearned to make things better for him. It actually hurt to see him now at seventeen, looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders and many times he trekked up the stairs to Parkers door stopping just shy of knocking then walked on by or simply giving a quick announcement of dinner. It took every bit of strength he had not to step in and ease his son’s mind, but no; Parker needed to come to him when he was ready. Bane prayed every day that this would be the day he could help ease his boy’s burden. That he could finally reach Parker in the way God had reached him, but he couldn’t, he wouldn’t attempt to supersede the Almighty. He wouldn’t risk his son’s salvation, it didn’t matter if Parker went to God instead of him, in fact it would draw him closer to his savior and that was the most important thing. If God wanted him to sit on the sidelines and let Him deal with Parker he’d just have to trust God to work His will and Bane would have to practice some of what he was preaching. It was put up or shut up time and there was too much at risk to let ego get in the way. He would be where God wanted him to be when He wanted him to be there, knowing that no matter how much suffering he saw in his son’s eyes he was in the best hands possible, yet ready to jump in the moment the Holy Spirit moved him to.

And his son was suffering. That first afternoon Parker had woken determined to make a clean break of everything. He couldn’t look at one more picture, one more video, not knowing what he knew now. It had finally sunk in what his father had been saying about those women being somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter. Before his response, though not voiced out load was, “as long as it’s not my sister”, but not anymore. His heart had been broken for those poor people, women, children and even some men, that were treated so horribly just for the pleasure of others and there was no going back. Just like his father had done he purged his room and his life of every instance of pornography, re-established the parental blocks he had bypassed and even added blocks to the devices his parents were unaware that he could and had been accessing adult material with. By the time he was done he felt lighter than air. He knew what he was doing was the right thing and he felt clean again and just a bit proud of himself as well, but it’s always easy to diet Sunday night after dinner; by Monday afternoon you’re stomach’s growling and within a few days Parker was starving.

He tried not to think about it, to be strong and he used every trick he could think of to resist the temptation that was swelling within him. He spent more time with his family; a lot more, especially with his sister and his mother, that helped him immensely. Just being in the same room with one of them was like a cold reality shower and it reminded him why he was walking away from porn in the first place. He also began looking into more hobbies, playing video games with Mitchell helped. Getting into a good game provided him with plenty of hours of complete mind absorption, but it was the time he was alone that was the hardest to get through, especially the nights. Knowing it was all so close ate at him. All he had to do was click a few buttons and there it would be. It got to the point where even the knowledge of the world of the sex slave wasn’t enough to turn his mind, his desires away from it all, culminating to one night with the remote control flipping through the cable channels searching for the closest thing to skin he could find before being slapped in the face with the reality of how far he had truly gone.

He saw for the first time that his parents had been right, porn was like a drug and he was a full blown addict. Even knowing what happened to some of those tortured women wasn’t enough to deter him and that turned his stomach so hard he thought he might vomit. After all he’d seen, all he’d heard he wanted it so bad he was nearly shaking with anticipation. It was true, all those articles about addictive chemicals being released in the brain when a person looks at pornography, the escalation needed to get the same feeling of excitement, the desire that grows no matter how much you wanted it not to, he had it all. He had wanted to be free, be free to do what he wanted, look at what he wanted, but he suddenly realized he wasn’t free at all. Pornography had him in a tight grip and it wasn’t about to let him go easily. He had handed his freedom over willingly, even paying for it to be slowly taken away from him and now he was scared. He thought he could do this by himself; that he could simply walk away from it knowing he was doing the right thing, but it wasn’t that easy. It had a hold on his mind, body and soul and no matter how much he found he now despised it he wanted it that much more.

How? How could he escape? What was left to do, therapy, addiction programs? Who could help him? He couldn’t do it by himself, he was at the end of himself and he was beyond desperate. How had his father done it? He had left it all behind in one afternoon and as far as Parker knew was still free. He could always talk to his father and ask him what to do, but no; he knew what his father would say. The same thing his father had been saying ever since the day he got saved. He’d tell him the only way to get through it is to give it to God, well if this was what it was to be addicted then God could have it, he sure didn’t want it. If something had to have control over his life he’d rather it be God at least God wanted to keep him from jumping off the cliff and not shove him over the edge. “Okay, okay God you win. I don’t want this and I can’t do it by myself. So take it, take me, take it, take everything; just get me free. I’m yours and yes I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I started any of this and for anything else that I shouldn’t have done. Please just take this from me I don’t want to want it.”

Parker sat on his bed, his head buried in his knees that were pulled to his chest as he breathed deep and smiled. He hadn’t realized it and he wasn’t sure how it started, but after his prayer he begun to talk to God; just talk. He talked about his problem, why it had such a hold on him, the people that were caught in the trade, why he had started looking in the first place, his friends, the family, school, church, and before he knew it he had talked the day away and he couldn’t have been happier. Now he had an idea, one he had no doubt came from God, all he needed was a little help in the right places and he knew just who to ask and where he’d be at this time of day.

He was right where he’d expected him to be and when Bane looked up from his sound board seeing the smile that reached from ear to ear on his boy’s face he wanted to shout hallelujah and give him the biggest bear hug either had ever had, but he settled for a strong embrace and a whispered, “I’m so happy for you and very, very proud.” Though he couldn’t stop a tear or two of joy from making an appearance.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Do you want it to be?”

Parker cocked his head. He hadn’t really thought about it, but he didn’t really mind that his dad knew. He was excited about all that had happened and especially his idea.

“It’s only obvious to those of us that love and have been worried about you. I understand if this is all new to you and you’re not too sure where you stand or what you should do. We’re here for you, to help and support you, but know this. If you can’t stand up for God with us, with those that love Him and follow Him too, if you’re not sure of who you are in Him or how much He loves you than you’ll have a hard time, a very hard time standing up for what’s right in this world; especially against those who are strongly grounded in their ways and in their sins.” He hadn’t meant to preach to the boy, but once he started all he’d been thinking about poured out. “Do you understand, because it’s okay if you don’t? It can be overwhelming this new life, because that’s what it is Parker a whole new life for you.”

He paused, did he really know what his dad was talking about? He’d heard it over and over in church, but understanding it was something different. He might as well start this ‘new life’ thing off right and be honest. “I don’t know? I mean I kind of get the new thing, I feel… different, like this heaviness is gone and it’s Christmas morning and the tree is full of presents for me you know. Like for right now, right this minute even with everything that’s going on in the world everything is okay, no better than okay everything is right in the world; everything is amazing. Does that make any sense?”

“More than you, Parker; more than you know.”

“Good then you’ll understand this. I want to help them.”

“Help who?” Bane looked at him, his brows furrowed in confusion.

“The women, the slaves. You know all those people still trapped in the porn and prostitution rings. Like those church groups do, I want to donate some money to help them. Maybe do some fund raisers or something and maybe start a foundation at some point that buys out the girls or rescues them or however they do it. What do you think?”

A smile larger than the one the day Parker was born spread across his face, “Why wait for someday, why not now?”

“Really, you like the idea? I really think God gave it to me. I mean I think it’s what He wants me to do.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out. We’ll take a step out in faith and see if He’s with us, then we’ll go from there, and we’ll start right here. How about if we start by giving a percentage of the proceeds of the new album sales to one of those programs. Meanwhile we can do some research into what it takes to start or align yourself with one of the teams like from the conference and find out from our lawyers what that involves.”

“Would you mind if I did the research and stuff? It’s not that I don’t want you to help, but if God told me to do this shouldn’t I actually do it instead of just telling you and having the lawyers do it?”

“You know, you’re right. If this is what He wants you to do then yes you should take the lead, but don’t leave your old man completely out. I want to help too okay?”

“Deal, I’ll do the research and work up a game plan and then we can get together and go over it and then go from there. I’ll let you handle the heavy lifting and I’ll handle the brain work how’s that?”

“Just keep talking… you’ll see.”

That’s how Redemption Freedom Exchange began. Parker threw himself into the project whole heartedly and came to his father with a proposal that was more mature and informative than he’d anticipated. It seemed he’d already contacted their lawyer about setting up their own foundation, spoke with the pastor at their church, contacted the conference host staff, and even presented his father with a list of individuals from the church that was interested in getting involved along with how they could help. He started local fundraisers and launched a funding website and he wasn’t afraid to contact his father’s more prominent acquaintances from the past. Most of his famous friends dropped him after his conversion, but one thing you can always depend on is a celebrity wanting to have their name attached to a good cause whether out of a desire to help and make a difference in the world or just for the publicity. Parker was shot down more often than he was told ‘yes’, but he would take every bit of help he could get and rejection wasn’t about to slow him down and in time he had even grown to become somewhat of a celebrity of his own.

He should have been on top of the world, he was doing some good in the world; making up for what he felt he had contributed to though he knew God wasn’t holding anything against him, God wasn’t like that. He had been featured on the news a few times and even been invited to appear on a national talk show, but there was still something missing, something just wasn’t right. He sat on the edge of his bed staring at his hands and wondering if somehow in his effort to help he had missed God or even pushed him out of the way for his own glory. Had he taken his calling and made it all about himself? The thought had been haunting him more and more often to the point where he had considered stepping down for a while and letting someone else take the spotlight and he prayed. Alone in his room, in the quiet of a fall afternoon he called out to God with every bit of his heart. Sure he prayed, he did it every Sunday, before meals, at fundraising events and other church functions and when he felt he should, but this was a plea, a cry out to the only one that could help him; and He answered. Parker was always amazed when he heard God speaking to him, whether it was that nudging of His spirit or those words that go from your brain to your heart and then down into the depths of your spirit and this time what God said made him more than a little uncomfortable.

“Help them.”

“I am. At least I think I am, I may not be going out on the streets myself and brining people home, but I am helping them aren’t I?”

“Help them.”

“Am I supposed to be out there doing it myself is that what the problem is? Am I letting someone else do what I’m supposed to be doing?”

“All of them.”

“That’s impossible. I can’t free everyone that’s a slave, I wish I could!”

“You’re only helping half.”

“Half? I’m far from helping half. What do you mean?”

“I delivered you.”

“Yes and I’m so thankful, but I wasn’t a slave.”

“Weren’t you?”

“No I… well… not really I mean I…” but the longer he thought about it the more he realized he was a slave. He had been just as much a slave to pornography as the people in front of the camera. God was right he had only been helping half. He had been so focused on the women and children he had forgotten about those like himself. It was a two sided coin.

Suddenly he was excited again, but that didn’t last. How? How was he going to open the eyes of those cast under pornography’s addictive spell? It had taken an act of God to wake him up. “How God, how am I supposed to do this?”

“Be honest, tell them.”

“That’ll go over real well. Haven’t Christians been yelling about porn ever since cave drawings? I don’t think it will do much good. Wait I have, I have been talking about it. On the website, in the interviews and such. I’ve pretty much said it’s wrong. Okay so maybe I haven’t exactly said all pornography is wrong I’ve kind of glossed over that. I mean it’s a touchy subject nowadays even more than it used to be. It’s not that easy talking against something that’s now considered part of normal life and most not only won’t listen but they get downright angry. I know I did. It took You, my dad, and a conference full of victims to open my eyes.

It’s kind of hard when everyone around you, especially those your age is telling you one thing and just a few are trying to convince you otherwise. I wasn’t listening to anyone that wanted to tell me it was wrong. They were all high and mighty goodie two shoes that wanted to strip every fun thing out of the world. They weren’t like me and my friends and when one of them would get caught doing it in their own homes, turning out to be nothing but a hypocrite it only solidified things. I ended up wanting it even with knowing about the sex slave trade, even my dad said he would get tempted and that was after becoming a full out Jesus freak.” Parker continued to muse over his past and what had brought him to that very day. Wondering through the ‘what ifs’ and being thankful that he had been freed at an earlier age. So many of his class mates and even the boys in church were struggling with porn addiction, what could he possibly say to them that would help them know the truth?

“Be honest, tell them.”

Then he knew, he finally realized what God had been saying all along and the thought terrified him. His own struggle with porn was a private thing, between him, his family and God. Of course his friends had caught on that he wasn’t into it anymore, but that was about all they knew. It was shameful to him, part of who he was, who he had been that he didn’t want the world to know any more than they had to. Just like his father had said, when he was doing it he didn’t care who knew, now that he was changed, his actions affected all those around him and he cared deeply. Parker realized that he had been holding on to the shame and the condemnation all this time, that his work was an effort at penance to atone for his sin. He had imposed his own punishment in a way and that is where all the unrest had been flowing from. He’d held onto his guilt and though God had forgiven him the moment he had asked for it, he had not forgiven himself. That stopped right now, he drew in a deep breath and said, “I am forgiven. God forgave me and I … I forgive myself. No more guilt. It’s done and I am free.” He said it a few more times, and by the end he felt it. Now was the time to tackle the other side of that coin.

The next Sunday he waited patiently in the pastor’s office after the service to ask if he could address the teen boys at the next meeting and told him why. Parker poured out his story to the congregation leader and though he was nervously bouncing his left leg the entire time he got through it, even including his recent experience with having to forgive himself. Two weeks later he was sitting before a room of twenty something young men of their church opening his life to them. His face felt like it was on fire and more than once he had to look down as his hands, his feet, the floor, anywhere but the guys staring back at him. Since it was church they were on their best behavior and for that he was more than grateful, but he didn’t regret a minute of it. There was something there, almost like God had his hand on his shoulder the entire time and it got him through it. As the meeting broke up one of the young men pulled him aside, he had been struggling with the same addiction and being raised in the church he KNEW it was wrong. Parker’s admission had given him strength and he was going to talk to the pastor and get some counseling.

That was the beginning. It snowballed from there. Turns out that one boy wasn’t the only one his speech had an effect on. Over a dozen of the young men present either went to the pastor or their parents with an admission of their own and it opened the eyes of the church leader of the epidemic right within their own congregation. If this many young men stepped up how many more were still hiding in the shadows? Pornography wasn’t just a teenage boy issue, but was one that spanned every age, race, and sex gap. One that the church warned about, but obviously hadn’t dealt with and that changed right now, at least for them. Parker was asked to speak to the entire congregation, after his heart started beating again and his stomach left his throat he agreed. It wasn’t like talking with the guys his own age in a church teen meeting. There were girls, parents, community leaders, people he went to school with, even one of his teachers. Nervous didn’t begin to describe what he felt on the morning he was scheduled to speak and he was disappointed when his prayers for a quick flu or a nasty cold hadn’t been answered.

All the younger children and those that preferred not to listen had left the chapel and he stood at the podium with a few things listed on a piece of paper just in case his mind went blank. His heart thudded in his chest nearly drowning out his own voice, but he didn’t let that stop him and when he was done he was surprised when one, then another, then other stood up and began to applaud. They applauded his deliverance, his work, and his strength on baring his sins and his soul to them. Before long he was being asked to speak at other teen meetings and at other churches in the area and each time he felt that strong hand of God on his shoulder and when he was asked to speak to his own high school he was never more grateful for that comforting touch.

Speaking to a church where it’s already common knowledge that pornography is immoral and dangerous is one thing, but in high school it’s part of everyday life. They already knew him as the guy who raised money to free slaves around the world and that gave him a bit of status, just like in the real world. When you’re doing something to help others you’re generally looked up to and thought well of. Even the skeptics and bullies eventually give you a nod here and there, but go right into the thick of it and parade his skeleton in front of the entire school? His life was going to change and he was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be for the better. It would be his greatest challenge yet, but he knew this was the right thing to do, this was God’s will. All the other times speaking were building up to this and he wasn’t going to chicken out, the devil wasn’t going to win this time. He may only help one person in the crowd, but if Jesus could be tortured and die to save only one person than he could sacrifice his own pride and ego and take on the ridicule if it would help someone be delivered from addiction.

Parker turned his past into an all-out testimony and instead of being scared and nervous as he took the microphone standing in the center of the auditorium he felt a fire, a passion that could only have come from God. Gone was the shy boy that stood free, but shaky. Now he belted out his story, open, honest, and raw. He held nothing back, not when the laughing, the snickers and the taunts came from groups around the room and not when he looked at the girls from his class either. He was strong and he wasn’t going to stop until he had reached someone.

He was right. His life did change, but he found he no longer cared. He saw a lot of the taunts for what they really were, his peers, scared and feeling that slight conviction in themselves pointing the finger at him to take the attention off themselves. He saw the same anger in his classmates that he had had towards his father and he understood it. He had a compassion that he didn’t have, that he couldn’t have had before experiencing it for himself. On the other hand he found he gained a few new friends as well, others that he helped, and some that were impressed with his leadership and strength. Parker found that sometimes there are a lot of people out there that just need someone to stand up and say enough is enough, to give them the strength to do the same. His experience that day became his personal motto, “If I can sacrifice my pride and ego to help free even one person from addiction or slavery it’s more than worth it.”

He carried that creed all the way to law school where he majored in international law tailoring his studies to focus on what it takes to rescue individuals from other countries. His foundation had grown by leaps and bounds and with their connections he was now on the front lines of Redemption Freedom Exchange.

Bane once said after Dane and Daisy’s announcement at their wedding it would take a lot to top it and in the spirit of brotherly competition Parker managed it when he asked to be wed in the very same small country church that Bane himself had grown up in. It wasn’t easy for Bane to handle the idea of going back. Of sitting in the same pews he had sat in with his father. So many memories that he still hadn’t come to terms with swirled inside him, but Parker had asked for so little and come so far he wasn’t about to deny him this. Besides Mya was a wonderful girl and a perfect match for his son. They had met as part of the team working to free a group of girls in Greece, she was a psychologist that specialized in the trauma associated with being part of the sex slave industry. Her own sister had been killed as a young woman, beaten by a man that her pimp knew was a danger. She had been lured by loneliness and youth and the desire just to be loved by a man she had met online. He said all the right things, gave her understanding and compassion, and confessed his undying love for her, all she had to do was run away and come to him and he would take care of her forever. He took care of her alright. Hundreds of miles from anyone she knew fifteen years old, she was trapped with a man she thought was her knight in shining armor. Everything was wonderful at first, then they needed money and he convinced her that she was so beautiful, that she was so amazing, that she was the answer to their prayers. All she had to do was make a friend of his happy for a little while. Slowly he introduced her to drugs, and before she knew it she was a full blown prostitute and addict working to support her habit and under the control of a very manipulative pimp. Mya and her family hadn’t been able to save her sister, but that put her on a path to becoming part of Redemption Freedom Exchange and part of Bane’s family.

[]Chapter Fifteen

“Where are they?”

“Calm down they’ll be here. They’re probably just outside you know how hard it is to keep your brother away from Kelly.” But Dane knew exactly where his brothers Mason and Mitchell were. They weren’t at the church yet because they were still at the house where the reception was being held putting the finishing touches on Parker’s car, Vaseline on the handles, balloons covering nearly every square inch, and even placing a dead fish in the back seat. Payback wouldn’t be pleasant.

Without warning the side door burst open and the two missing tuxedoed tricksters stumbled into the room their faces red with laughter.

“And what have you two been up to?”

“Nothing Dad why? We’ve been out here with the guests.”

“That’s one.”

“One what?”

“Commandment, and in church no less.”

“Ah right, well.”

“I won’t ask. Just keep in mind whatever you two were up to your time will come.” Bane looked directly at Mason. “And how’s Kelly?”

“Amazing as ever.”

“Well at least you already have the tux.”

Jokes like this were nothing new in the Bronson family. Ever since Mason met Kelly at UCLA everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he too said his vows. The family actually started a running bet the day Mason announced at dinner that he and Kelly, who were both studying to be therapists, were planning to start their own Christian counseling center after they graduated that would also work in tandem with Redemption Freedom Exchange. All his little birds were leaving the nest, even Mitchell was taking extra online courses in computer programming and animation for early admission to college, but Bane couldn’t be happier for them.

As the moment came Bane stood beside his sons watching his newest daughter glide towards them and he couldn’t help but remember Shaylon. Her gown rustling in the ocean breeze, more beautiful than the day they met, walking toward him. They had renewed their own vows a year ago on the beach in Hawaii with the whole family surrounding them and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Things were hard at times, and problems like the tide still rose. Sometimes that fleshly man rears his angry, selfish, envious, ugly head, but ever since that night all those years ago with a long talk with a man named John Gordon things got a whole lot better and instead of fighting those air currents of life Bane learned to let go and use them.

The chapel cleared as the newlyweds and guests made their way to the reception leaving Bane alone in the church he had grown up in. Now that everything was quiet, now that it was still, the memories came flooding back and with them all the guilt he’d spent years running away from and he couldn’t stop the tears.

“He’d be proud of you, you know? Grandpa, he’d be proud.” He hadn’t noticed Dane slipping in beside him.

That’s one thing that still plagued him even after all this time. His father had passed long before he’d found his way back to God. He hadn’t gone to the hospital when the call came, he hadn’t showed up at his funeral, and he’d avoided the old man’s grave and now that he had embraced the faith and the savior his father had held so dear he still couldn’t bring himself to visit his father’s final resting place. Still ashamed of the way he’d acted, of the life he’d led, of the time he wasted and was now gone forever, but his biggest regret was not being able to apologize, to tell him that he’d been right all along and that it wasn’t too late for them.

“I just wish I’d had a chance. No that’s not true, I had the chance and I threw it away. I wish he could know…”

“He already knows Dad. Grandpa was a man of faith right? Well then he’s up there right now waiting for the day when our whole family can be together and I guarantee you the day you accepted Christ and those angels cheered he was louder than all of them.”

As the sun shone through the stained glass window. Rays of colored light danced on the small brass plate attached to the bench in front of them that read: Dedicated in the memory of George Westmore and the two smiled as Bane reached out, tracing the engraved letters with his finger. It had been a long time since Bane had seen his father’s name.

“See, I told you, he already knows.”

[]Costly Obsession: Animalize Preview

Prologue

Chapter One

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

I John 5:21

He sat motionless in an obscure booth at the rear of the tiny hotel café mesmerized by exhaustion. He willed his body to move, his eyes to focus, and his mind to come to life. He had to think, to see, to leave this place as quickly as possible, he hadn’t much time. Once he was on the road he wasn’t about to stop. He needed to be alert and ready so he sat sipping his tar black coffee; in an effort to awaken his sore and exhausted body, not caring if he appeared suspicious sporting sunglasses at 6:23 in the morning. A criminal, a drunk, or mad man, no one seemed to notice or at least no one dared to. The glaring light from the nearly naked fluorescent bulbs sent searing pain through his eyes like lightening straight into his brain. All he could think about was being on his way; the hotel, café, and this town would all be nothing but a bad dream.

Leaving a meager tip with the check, he breezed unnoticed through the restaurant doors to his car, pushing his sunglasses closer to conceal his bloodshot eyes from a night of little sleep and even less rest. He unlocked the door with a single touch of a button, ‘technology is wonderful,’ he thought, then slid into his seat and finally relaxed. The car was so familiar and comfortable that he could have fallen asleep right there, but instead he removed his glasses and placed them in the glove box and headed west from the hotel parking lot.

Only five hundred miles stood between him and his final destination, but his concentration was not on his mileage. He was positive he had secured them between his suitcases properly, but every bump and pothole in the road sent doubt throughout his mind and he could not help but worry. He took a great risk, but certain that it was well worth the high blood pressure he pressed on. If he could just keep the heads, his heads, intact everything would be fine. Usually he packed them better, but this time he was in a hurry. He laughed at the thought of taking three heads across two state lines and what the local authority’s reaction to his little surprise would be. He could just picture himself trying to explain that one.

As if the mere thought of cops had manifested itself into reality he passed two state police vehicles parked beside the road. He automatically checked his speed then glanced into his rear view mirror silently praying. Just his luck; both cars were now trailing him and no sooner did he turn away from the mirror did the lights and sirens wail his impending doom. He thought about running, but knew his new model Ford would never outrun a fleet of cops especially in this age of technology (which he began to rethink his view of). Slowly he pulled to the side of the highway careful not to make any mistakes nor appear to be too cautious either still hoping that maybe by some chance the cops would just keep driving right on by. Even if they told him a taillight or something was out, give him a ticket, and then be on their way that would be fine… he was not that lucky.

Both police cars pulled to a stop, one behind him the other in front, encasing him. No one exited the cruisers, which made him even more nervous than before. Miniature beads of perspiration began to form on the back of his neck and his tiny hairs stood at attention. He knew in his gut and mind that the officers would not understand the situation and may never give him the chance to explain. Finally the two officers emerged in unison and trudged towards him, spelling his impending doom. A deep breath welled inside the man’s lungs as he prepared himself for the inevitable. If they failed to notice his precious cargo he would be in the clear, but if they saw the wrong thing then his life may very well be in grave danger, and he knew that no amount of explaining would prevent the confrontation he dreaded. At first all he could see was the uniform and wide brimmed hat of one of the policemen, its metal tassels reflecting a bright gleam of light as the sun bore down at just the right (or wrong) angle, then he noticed the strong tanned arms of a well-built law machine. His shirt had to have been an extra-large to fit over the tight formation of muscles that he was sure was beneath it, his side and rear view mirrors captured the clear reflection of the second officer. This one appeared to be more of the mind over matter type, the type that would sense his uneasiness even at a fraction of what it was. Luckily the larger of the two was the one to make it to his window.

“Good morning officer, is there anything wrong?”

“There’s a report of a car of this make and model that was used in a robbery last night, would you mind please stepping out of the vehicle while we have a look inside and don’t forget your license, registration, and proof of insurance?” It was more of a command than any question he had ever heard, but refusal was not an option, so he complied. Steeling himself for what was to come next he slowly got out of his car careful not to look too “suspicious”, while trying to keep his calm.

He nonchalantly handed over his paperwork while keeping an easy look on his face, pretending not to notice the brainy deputy nosing around the trunk. What would he say? What would he do? What could he say or do?

“What heads officer? Oh…those heads, well you see officer it’s not what you think…it’s actually a very funny story…”

He was greatly regretting which officer had reached his door first when the muscle man led him to his own cruiser. Had it not been for the circumstances he would not have minded. Matter of fact he understood completely. None the less his heart raced, but not from being patted down (as he was being now,) but from the “brain”; who had just popped the trunk open and was heading to the rear of the car.

He could tell he was going to have a very bad day. Everything shifted into slow motion, as the seconds turned into his last minutes on earth.

The deputy on the other hand froze, choking on his own words. “Ssssir… I thhhink you should see this.”

It was all over. A chance to explain was out of the question. He closed his eyes and relaxed against the side of the deputy sheriff’s cruiser; waiting for it to hit the fan and accepting his fate. Maybe his surprise wasn’t such a good idea after all. He was definitely going to be late, maybe permanently.

The deputy sheriff unsnapped his holster expecting the stolen money and weapons, maybe more. What he found was beyond belief. There carefully lain between two suitcases, wrapped in thick, clear, plastic was a decaying, severed, head and two more plastic bags were all but hidden behind the two suitcases in the rear of the trunk. He could see the poor soul’s swollen, bloated, blackened tongue protruding from its still rotting jaw through the multiple layers of plastic. Its eyeballs had long since sunken into their sockets revealing even more of the brown, green, and blackened mass that had once resembled flesh hanging from the exposed bones.

The deputy began retching violently on his shoes, as the deputy sheriff drew his gun, refusing to show his horror to the hideous monster standing before him. He willed his body to portray the air of the tough cop he knew he was and mustered all of his strength into keeping his voice steady. There was no room for the fear that he was feeling. “Hold it right there you sadistic freak! I’ll shoot you without a second thought! Just try me!”

*****

Yeah, he could just imagine that. What a vacation!

The sun had started its nightly decent into the western horizon nearly blinding him, and his two-day trip from Illinois to Nebraska was finally nearing its end. Tired and exhausted he let out a deep sigh of relief and shifted his sore butt in the seat; again. Even a night at the hotel in Iowa gave little more than a few hours of rest and a headache. (The couple in the next room made sure of that. “People who fight that loud at three in the morning should be shot!”)

When the visor became of little use, he dug in the glove compartment attempting to find the pair of sunglasses he had dumped in there earlier. Maps, napkins, straws, and ketchup packets spilled into the floorboard, as did his much-needed sunglasses. Curses flooded his mind as he leaned over and began groping; his arms stretched as far as they could possibly stretch, and his fingers wildly probed the floorboard. Suddenly his car shuddered, banging his head repeatedly into the steering wheel. Panic welled in his gut, and he forced his body to jerk upright. He swallowed the lump in his throat and with it his fear resolving himself to regain control of his mind and his car. The loose gravel clutched the tires, refusing to let go, sending the wild auto into a series of spins. The sound of his spastically beating heart boomed in his ears and brain. He prayed that what he’d heard was true as he turned into the skid and steadily pumped the brake (fighting the urge to slam full force on the oblong pedal.)

His prayers had been answered as the car slid to a stop just inches from a drainage ditch. Unsure of whether he was shaking from the slightly sudden stop or from pure terror he sat clutching the wheel unaware of his white knuckles and cramping digits. Dread turned to anger and vulgarities of every kind traipsed through his mind, yet “You idiot!” is all that came out.

‘All of this over a stupid pair of sunglasses. No, all of this because you were too lazy to pull off the stinking road! How are you gonna get there if you total the stupid car. Jeez you’d lose your head… head? The heads!’ Franticly he wrestled with the seatbelt, flinging himself out of the car and straight to the ground, kissing the gravel. Now he really felt like an idiot, but at least no one was around to witness his Stooge moment, or to see him on all fours shaking his head like a dog in the dirt.

He stood upright into a cloud of dust drifting nearly a mile down the deserted road, though the tracks gouged in the gravel measured only a few yards. He called himself a name even less flattering than idiot as he made his way to the trunk then realized he hadn’t pressed the trunk release button and had to return to his door. Being cautious, the now bruised and battered man looked both ways (just like his mommy had taught him) before opening the trunk and exposing its contents. A wave of relief, no damage had been done to his precious cargo and he was once again reassured that they would survive the last twenty minutes or so of his journey. He excitedly closed the trunk lid and sighed then sped off to the western horizon leaving behind yet another trail of dust to scatter in the dusk.

The dirt encrusted Ford slid into a lonesome driveway at exactly 6:07 p.m., just as the front door of the large log house flung open and out burst the skinny little boy he‘d been wanting to see.

“Uncle Alex, Uncle Alex, what’d ya bring me!?” The ten-year-old boy flung himself into his uncle’s strong arms, giving him a huge hug… Uncle Alex smiled.

More from Sasha Pruett

Animalize-

A small South Carolina’s town is coming back to bite them and shred them, and devour them one by one.

Decay-

Death is stalking Eric Ramis, just how far into Hell is he willing to go to evade it?

Unleashed-

Medford’s newest visitor is getting under their skin and removing it.

About the Author

Author Sasha Pruett lives in the south with her husband and spends the day convincing her pets to let her get the writing and housework done. An avid list maker she fell into writing after making a list of all her story ideas at the time. Until then she had been undecided in a career path.

She enjoys, painting, sewing, reading, gaming, knitting, playing music, sketching, pretty much anything creative, being outside and has a music collection that spans nearly a hundred years, not including her classical compilation.

Never one to follow the pack she has two personal mottos. The first Temet Nosce Selah, a mixture of Latin and Hebrew meaning "know yourself" and "think about it" and the second being simply- Normal is Boring.

Find out more:

www.sashapruett.wordpress.com

Also on Facebook and Twitter.


From Darkness

Aging rocker Bane Bronson was used to living on the edge and not even the slow progression of time could mellow him. He was born, lived and was destined to push the envelope further than anyone else and answer to no one, or so he thought. Someone was about to get his attention and send him on a trip unlike any he had ever been on before. After two trips to the pits of Hell itself Bane made a choice that would affect not only himself, but his marriage, his family and his career forever. Turns out, his brief walk through the darkness of Hell was the easy part. As he questions every decision he’s ever made and his life falls apart around him will he turn to the comfort that leads to eternal torment? Or to the one that leads to freedom? Can he, his family, his career survive? Or will he let them all go? His eyes may be open, but does he even care anymore?

  • Author: Sasha Pruett
  • Published: 2016-06-18 01:40:13
  • Words: 47134
From Darkness From Darkness