"Journey to the Center of the Earth Story"
By John Pirillo
Tumbling down like soft kisses from the sky wet, flaky winter fell onto his hair, his shoulders and arms as he went down the long slope before him. Strewn with fallen trees, massive scorch marks from the wreckage of a passenger jet that finally gave up the ghost and crash landed, spewing its passengers and guts across the mountain, leaving only memories and what might-have-beens echoing in the air.
He paused a moment to pray for them, knowing that it was too late to help the fallen ones recover, but not too late to forgive himself for not being able to catch them and save their precious lives. His name was Father Brown. He was a Church of the Real God pastor and proud of the work he had done over the years, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw as he descended the mountain.
The mountain itself had crumbled in many places, leaving huge chasms he had to find another way around, or else struggle to cross, hoping he wouldn't plunge into their depths as he did so. It was a treacherous and dangerous decent.
As he eyed the smoking ruins of the jet, he thought of the retreat he had scheduled for this weekend, where his followers could learn more about the earth and the delicate balance that man and environment danced together. He was not a spiritualist, a man who condemned the weak. He was a simple man who held a vast amount of faith in the goodness of God and the growing goodness of man.
After all, men were not beheaded for stealing anymore, nor their hands cut off because they were thieves. Women had rights. Men had rights. Gays had rights. It was as it should be in the kingdom of God and of man.
But something had still gone awfully wrong. And he prayed every waking moment for God to show him what it was, so that he could pray for it to be undone, to spare those still struggling to survive, and were yet to struggle from the results of the massive aftershocks.
He flashed back to the retreat on the top of the mountain and the narrow dirt road that led to it from a single lane highway that only truckers usually traveled, bringing cut trees down the mountainside to the saw mills deep in the valley below. It was still the edge of winter, and so there had been none of those traveling the single lane when the Big One struck, or else there would have been more deaths than had happened.
He felt his face flush with anger at himself, and his throat constrict with grief as he thought of the twenty one souls who had been in the meeting room waiting for him as he prayed outside. Had he been inside with them, maybe things would have ended differently.
He remembered turning around when the first jolt struck. Startled, he had been about to enter the building, when a second jolt struck, even stronger. He was flung from his feet. He heard screams inside the building. He got back to his feet to go inside and see if anyone needed help, when the Big One finally lashed its whip and took the whole building down into the gaping mouth of the mountain beneath it.
He hadn't realized that the building was built over any kind of subterranean structure. No one had told him. He suspected someone knew, but failed to disclose it, thinking this event would probably never happen. So much for wishful thinking.
He had been thrown backwards, away from the mouth of the mountain that opened wider and wider, engulfing the building and the screaming people inside. The most heart-breaking moment was when a mother, June Allison, reached the door as it began to break apart with her child. Three years old.
"Please catch him. Save him, Father Brown."
He had managed to scramble to his feet, but the moment she flung the child, the gaping mouth had opened too wide and the building was swallowed hole, breaking apart as it did in splinters of screaming humans, no longer blessed to be alive. Victims of a crime they would never understand. Nor he.
He had reached for the child as it flew through the air, crying its heart out, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
He almost had the child when the earth beneath him rose and shook him backwards, but flung itself up and over the child, smothering its cries of pain and loss, then dropping over the building, burying it forever.
He had lain there stunned and broken, a mannikin used for the worse by nature. He stared at his hands, cursing them for not being longer, cursing himself for not being stronger. What good was he, when he couldn't help those he was there to protect and nurture? Why had God let this happen to all those good souls, to him?
He lay on the trembling earth, occasionally being thrown up or sideways, but never into the massive pit in the top of the mountain where all his followers had been consumed by the most massive earthquake in modern history.
He lay there, in shock, hurt, bruised, aching in his heart, mind and spirit.
He lay there for hours, wading through layer after layer of self pity, sense of betrayal and anger towards God, and then the earth began to settle again. When it did, he sat up. Above him in the skies massive storm clouds pitched forks of lightning at each other, lancing the blue heavens with piercing flames of blue fire.
The hair stood up on the back of his neck, his head and his wrist and forearm.
Then a miraculous thing happened. One that restored his faith.
A small doe stumbled into the opening before him, followed by its parents. A large buck and its mate. They stopped and watched him, making no further movement, but the doe continued towards him, haltingly, but steadily, having just found its new legs. It was new born. Even in the midst of so much pain and death life goes on.
He sat there still in shock and pain, his eyes bloodshot from crying, his throat hoarse from screaming out in useless dismay.
Then the doe reached him. It gently stretched its neck, and then nuzzled his face with its nose, which was moist and firm. He looked into its eyes and saw...hope. And salvation.
He was about to reach out and touch it, when it vanished, as if never there. He looked to the parents and they still stood there. The buck swished its bushy tail, made a short snorting sound, shook its rack at him, then it and his mate walked proudly back into the trees and brush that were so t hick at the top of the mountain.
He sat there a long time, absorbing the impact of his vision, the feel of the soil beneath his body, the crackling of thunder and lightning above, the strong wind that had begun to whip through the trees not knocked down. So many were. Yet, so many also stood as well.
He stood up and staggered a moment, recapturing his balance. He didn't look back. He knew what was buried there. Instead, he began making his way down the mountain. The single lane road that abutted the dirt one was broken up and shattered its entire length. It's like it had been a string of rope so brittle it had broken from the momentous force of the Big One. There was no way home on that path of destruction. Most of the road had fallen away, leaving huge gaps he would have to leap if he dared to follow it.
He doubted he had it in him to do such things anymore. He was sixty nine, approaching seventy. Still youthful in many ways, but also feeling the years weigh down on him, as his body complained about the many bruises he had just suffered.
He limped at first, but as he continued, something altered his stamina, and he stopped limping. He almost felt like running. Don't ask why. He just did.
He retreated from his memories and examined the wreckage again. Maybe he could find something of use there. He had lost his cell phone in the quake. It had been on his prayer table, set aside during the prayer of silence he and his congregation always partook in.
He began to tear up again and wiped at his eyes, smearing the memories on the sharp rocks of reality. It was gone. All of it.
He reached the wreckage, praying as he climbed around it. Not a living soul stirred. Bodies were everywhere, broken and sightless like dolls broken and set aside. The light snowfall was beginning to dress them up, making them look like fallen snowmen and snowwomen.
He saw several children and for a brief moment hope flared, then when he saw the impossible position of their necks and bodies and their glass eyes, frozen in death, he shuddered and looked away.
He went through the pockets of a man who was less broken and bloody than the others. He found a cell and was about to pull it out, when the man's eyes opened and he gripped Father Brown hard by his shoulder. "It wasn't our fault! Tell them! It wasn't our..." Fading out. "Fault."
His eyes stayed open and his grip fell from Father Brown's shoulder.
Father Brown said a brief prayer over the man, then stood up and faced the direction he knew he would now travel alone for a time. Surely there would be rescue copters this way, but he saw no point in waiting. If it had struck so hard here, there must be greater need elsewhere. He was nothing, if not practical.
He lifted the cell. The battery was fully charged. He dialed emergency.
He dialed every number he could. No tone.
Finally, he switched the cell to Chrome and punched in a web address. Weather channel. That would report what had happened. Chrome came up perfectly, but no webpage imaged. No address he punched worked. Finally, Chrome reported that the server connection was missing.
It was then, at that moment, that he realized the Big One had struck much more deeply and widely than he had thought. He looked across the mountain towards the valley below, where the city of Marysville was. Huge billowing clouds of dark smoke filled the air. He looked towards Yuba City and the same.
He descended slowly to his knees, and then bowed his head.
He didn't pray out loud. No one would hear him. There might not be any left to hear him here, or anywhere else.
He struggled against the deep sense of grief he felt, as the skies became a battlefield of hard falling rain and hail, lightning strokes and thunder.
Amid that he once again saw the doe, and felt its nose upon his cheek. He raised his eyes to the sky. "I...will...not...give...up!"
He stood uncertainly for a moment, and then continued his descent. Praying with all his heart and soul that there were still some alive he could help. For this event must strike a terror so deep and horrible that any caught in it would need all the hope they could experience. He felt the presence of the doe walking alongside him, even though he couldn't see it. It gave him strength and courage to face what must be done and the challenges he must overcome.
"Though I walk into the valley of death..." He began praying, his voice lost in the thunder and lightning flashes as he continued to descend. And as he walked, fear grew on both sides of him, but before his eyes, the warm image of the doe remained, fixed in his heart.