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Excerpt from Motherless Soul


On the eightieth anniversary of her mother’s death Emily wrote a letter to a hypnotist. Her mother had died when she was two, so Emily’s only memories of the woman were imagined events inspired by old photographs. She’d polished those conjured recollections to the point where she could feel the thick fabric of a cotton skirt against her mother’s strong thigh and smell the Ivory soap on her mother’s bare arms. But as Emily’s body grew slow and soft and the reality of her own mortality became clear, she found that her lifelong desire to know the person from whose body she’d come was overwhelming. She thought that a hypnotist might help her reach into the back corners of her mind to make her dream a reality.

“The death of your mother was probably more important than you realize,” Glen Wiley wrote back. The rest of his letter followed the theme of his first sentence. He wrote of the particular importance of a mother’s role in the life of a woman, stating that it went beyond the need for a loving, nurturing environment that all children share. He said that daughters often grow up to be images of their mothers. “Without that clear role model,” he continued, “a woman runs the risk of feeling worthless.”

Mr. Wiley’s response felt exploitive to Emily, as if he were attempting to raise the importance of her situation so she’d be certain to pay for his services. She wrote him back, this time by email. Although his words had been phrased in a generic manner, she took them personally and felt the need to defend herself.

Emily Vinson told Glen Wiley that her life had not been worthless. She had been a teacher before she retired and she continued to serve others through her church work, which recently included teaching Sunday school classes and volunteering as a cook in a mission program that helped feed and shelter homeless families. She was proud of how she had lived.

“Those are good things,” Glen wrote, “but you should know why you do them. Are you expressing gratitude for the life you’ve led? Or are you looking for something that you’ve never known? There’s a world of difference. The relationship between a teacher and a student can be intimate and powerful, but it isn’t family. The student will eventually be in someone else’s class and the teacher’s role will shift from molding a supple young mind to nodding hello in the hall. I’m not saying a permanent relationship and children are for everyone, but maybe you’ve always been too scared to know for sure. Without a mother to show you how to love, you may never have learned how.”

Emily had read an article in TIME about successful hypnotists, notably in the people section, not the science section. The article had said that Mr. Wiley had succeeded in pulling memories from the early years of his patients’ lives and that those patients sometimes included celebrities. Emily wrote him in the hope that she could reawaken experiences she’d had during the first two years of her life, when her mother was still alive. That was the only reason she had contacted him. She didn’t need or want any help regarding the quality of the life she had led. But Glen Wiley’s words infuriated her because there was some truth to what he said. Her mother was twenty-four when she died. Emily often found herself looking in her bedroom mirror and trying to imagine what her mother would have been like if she’d had the same opportunity for a long life that Emily had. Emily had very pale skin with numerous age spots all over her body, especially on her chest, neck and the back of her hands. But she had inherited her light skin from her father, so her mother would probably not have had the same issues. Emily used special toothpaste to keep her teeth from becoming too yellow. Her mother wouldn’t have had that choice, so she probably would not have shown her teeth when she smiled. Emily’s hair had been similar to her mother’s, judging by the old photographs. It was currently solid gray, thin and just barely long enough to pin up when she wanted to get it out of her way. She thought her mother’s would have been the same. Emily’s eyes were dark brown and hadn’t appeared to grow lighter as she aged. That was unusual, so she imagined her mother’s would have been a lighter color. Their statures were similar, so since Emily had not gained weight as she had aged she didn’t believe her mother would have either. One disparity she was certain of was their height. She was five foot seven. Her mother had been two inches shorter. Emily thought about that difference every time she pictured her mother giving her a hug. And Emily couldn’t remember a day in her life when that image hadn’t been there. Emily’s father had reacted to the loss of his wife by throwing himself into his work and ignoring her. The sense of abandonment from the death of her mother and her father’s reaction to it had affected every relationship Emily had throughout her life. Glen Wiley was right. She liked the bonds she had with her students because there were predefined ends to them. She made sure her relationships had the same limitations. She had been in love a few times when she was much younger, but she had always pushed the men away rather than risk being hurt by them.

“I’m a different person than I would have been if my mother had not died when I was so young,” Emily wrote. “I realize that, so it’s not a point you need to make. It also seems clear that having an idea of what my mother was like would be pleasant, even now. So I’m asking, can hypnotism bring out the early memories? And, if so, would you be willing to try?” In Glen Wiley’s next email he told her he would love to hypnotize her. He said that everything we’ve ever experienced is buried in our brains. That includes our earliest memories and more. He switched the topic from the subject of Emily’s personal life and began discussing a broad philosophy. “Everything we know is part of something bigger than itself,” he wrote, “while at the same time consisting of elements that are smaller. This is true of our world and our solar system and of our own bodies and the bones, blood and flesh that make us the people we are. It is also true of our souls.” Emily liked the turn in the tone of Glen Wiley’s emails. She wrote back with numerous questions and a few guarded opinions. During that process she stopped addressing her notes to Mr. Wiley and switched instead to calling her new friend Glen. She was careful with how many of her own beliefs she revealed in her writing because her thoughts on some topics, especially life after death, were very different from traditional Christian teaching. Her church had always been the place where she had discussed the broad questions of life and death, so Emily had become accustomed to holding back. But Glen’s ideas touched on concepts that she liked to consider. “We all lead multiple lives through reincarnation,” Glen told her. “My work has given me the opportunity to experience many cases that can’t be explained in any other way. I’ve also observed that there’s a tendency for specific events to occur in multiple past lives, especially when those events create major disturbances and emotional trauma. There could be a possibility that your mother’s death might have occurred previously and not just once. It probably happened over and over and, I believe, will keep on happening until someone stops it.” Emily had thought about multiple lives and even repeating events, but she hadn’t considered the hell of a never ending repetition of her mother’s death. Her stomach twisted. She took a deep breath and managed to control her emotions.

Glen Wiley also told Emily that he had found some success recovering experiences from the past lives of a few of his patients. His theory, if true, would mean that there were memories hidden in the recesses of Emily’s mind that might have affected every moment she’d been alive. Glen was offering to help her identify those past wounds so she might deal with them. The concept was frightening, but enticing.

Emily found herself scratching and picking at it as if it were a physical wound. “I would like to come up there,” was the next thing Emily wrote to Glen. She lived in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to Yahoo Maps, the trip would take her a little over three hours. The length of that drive had made her hesitate. She was a careful driver, but her responses weren’t as quick as they had once been. Still, the idea of learning why she had lived the life she’d lived proved to be tantalizing enough for Emily to overcome any fears she had. “Everything spins,” Glen said in his next email. “The planets spin around the sun. The moon spins around the earth. The electrons in a molecule spin around their nucleus. So doesn’t it make sense that our souls have a similar pattern? Imagine the model of a solar system with the events of a lifetime spinning around a cluster of individuals. The events would keep passing by us again and again. Incidents that happen at one time will occur again at another time. At the center of the system is a group of individuals or what I call the soul of a family. The family is, of course, a spiritual family, not a physical family. It’s made up of friends and enemies, of relatives and non relatives. What makes them a group is the fact that they are always a part of each others’ lives, time and time again.” As she read his note, Emily felt disappointed that Glen didn’t appear to be responding to her suggestion that she make the trip to his home. But after the first paragraph he switched the subject back to her. “A few hours won’t be enough time with you,” he wrote. Emily was pleased with that comment and thrilled with what he said next. “I’ve researched hundreds of people throughout the course of my career. I know potential and you’ve got it. I promise you that. I’ll pay your mileage and cover your meals.” He wanted to talk to her in person enough to pay her expenses. “There’s an Econo Lodge a little over a mile from my place,” he added. “I’ll pay for that, too. You can get to my apartment from there with very little trouble. And one more thing. Bring loose clothing with you.”

“I call the concept Circularity,” Glen wrote at the end of his email. “When you come here I’ll tell you more about it. I think I can help you understand.”

Clouds - Appeared in Space and Time #67, Winter 1984/85

Pain beat its way through Wyatt’s body. He opened his eyes. The world was spinning, whirling, an ocean in a tempest. In the eye of the storm was a head of a woman, an anchor for the world gone haywire. She wore a white lace cap. Her copper colored hair was parted in the middle, pulled tight, and braided in back. She was bending over Wyatt, touching his leg. Pain shot through him once more. This time the hurt rose from where the woman had placed her hand. Wyatt cried out. The woman’s face turned toward his. Her eyes, which were as deep a copper color as her hair, met his and her lips began to move, forming the words “Be still.” Wyatt thought he heard her voice, but wasn’t sure. The pain was too great. He closed his eyes and the whirling stopped.


Wyatt’s eyes opened to the sterile walls of a hospital room.

“You certainly did a job on yourself.”

Despite the pain, he turned his head toward the voice. It was a nurse.

“Motorcycles are no toys. My son wants one, but I told him no. He’d end up in a bed next to you, for sure.”

Wyatt closed his eyes again. Did they think it had been an accident? He didn’t know. For the past five years he had wanted off the descending spiral of his life. He had tried, but still he was here.

“It’s time to send you home,” the nurse said, as she positioned the wheelchair next to his bed. “We’ve done all we can do. You’ll heal if you let yourself.”

“There was a woman, about my age,” Wyatt said, while struggling into the chair. “I saw her leaning over me. Who was she?”

“You mean at the accident? That was a farm girl. She’s the one who saved your life. She stopped the bleeding on your leg and called the hospital. If it wasn’t for her you could have laid in those woods for a month.”

“What’s her name?”

“Zook, Amy Zook.”

The nurse pushed Wyatt out of his room and into an elevator. When they reached the proper level she wheeled him out and turned left. A woman stood waiting for him at the end of a long hall.

“You’d better be careful,” the woman said. “Some day your timing will be off and you’ll wind up bleeding to death in a ditch.”

Wyatt turned his head toward the cashier’s office. Inside, at a small desk, a young black man was typing while a white man, about forty- five, watched with obvious impatience.

“I signed you out,” the woman went on. “Let’s go home.”

He twisted himself out of his wheelchair and onto his good foot with some difficulty. His leg was in a cast from the mid-calf on down and he had not yet acquired the basic skills of manipulating crutches.

“Lean on my shoulder.”

“No. I’ll be all right.”

He shifted forward and positioned the two silver sticks, then half stepped, half dragged himself up to them. He was awkward, ungainly, like a new-born colt, but without the sense of eager anticipation which comes with new life. Instead he maintained a sense of loss, more like that of an old raccoon who had just gnawed off a paw to escape a steel jaw trap.

“I can’t understand fake suicide,” she said.

Wyatt finally looked at her. Indy wasn’t nearly as pretty as she had been before Claire. It wasn’t an external change as much as a different state of mind. Her blonde hair still bounced and shined. Her body was in good shape and her few wrinkles added character rather than age. Yet something was gone and if Wyatt had to pinpoint it, he would place it in her eyes. They no longer sparkled. They still looked blue, but they felt grey.

“That is what it was, right? I mean, no one could really try as many times as you have and not succeed.”

“Maybe I should leave it to you. You’re real good at death, aren’t you?”

Wyatt paused. Now he had said too much and he would have to back down, or at least appear to. He caught Indy’s eyes again in the corner of his vision. They were dry.

“By which I mean ‘at killing me’.”

“Sure you do.”

He wouldn’t say more. He had meant Claire. That’s how she had taken it. It was her negligence that had caused their daughter’s death and on that day he had promised to keep her memory alive. Five years later he still forced the void to remain clear in Indy’s mind, as often as possible. They finished crossing the parking lot and opened the doors of the old yellow Nova. “Can you take me to Liberty tomorrow?” Wyatt asked.

“If you wish.”

“I have to talk to her.”

“The farm girl?”

“Yes...the farm girl.”


The following morning Wyatt and Indy arrived at the Zooks’ farm. They made their way up the long gravel path at Wyatt’s pace with Indy half shuffling her feet in order to keep from gaining ground on her husband. It was summer, and hot. The trees were green, but dry, with the edges of their leaves just slightly withered. In the spots where the Carolina clay poked through the grass, it showed itself to be baked hard and cracked. The home was just as Wyatt had pictured it, an old, white, two story farm house with an open front porch. There was a large barn set back to their left, about a hundred feet from the house. It was red, again as he had expected it would be. They climbed to the front door, with Wyatt taking each of the fifteen steps one at a time and Indy keeping one step behind him. The door was ajar. As Wyatt knocked, it swung open a bit more.

“Hello!” he shouted.

“Just a minute.”

Once Wyatt knew Amy had heard him, he nervously turned away from the door. Indy crossed his glance, but he didn’t stop there. He moved on around to look over the green, manicured yard, which was enclosed by a white post and rail fence. On the other side of the fence was a pasture and ten or twelve grazing cows. Above was a blue sky with seven small clusters of clouds, white lace ones, like Amy’s cap.

“You’re the fellow with the motorcycle, aren’t you?”

Wyatt looked back. Amy was mostly as he had remembered, pretty features, white cap, black skirt, a purple blouse the shade of an Easter egg, and copper hair, and copper eyes. Yet there was one image he had not remembered, wooden crutches older than his metal ones and a white leg that protruded about six inches out of her long skirt, then abruptly stopped in a stub end.

“We wanted to thank you,” Indy said.

“There’s no need.”

“Oh, but there is,” Wyatt said. “If you hadn’t stumbled by...”

He stopped. It was a poor choice of words to direct to a one-legged woman.

“What Wyatt means is that he could have died,” Indy went on. “It was just by luck that you were there, willing and able to help.”

“It was the will of God. But it’s not death which you should fear, it is being without Him. Perhaps that is why you have been spared, Wyatt, to change your direction toward a life which will lead you to heaven. Now come in and I’ll fix tea.”

Amy turned and hobbled away. Wyatt quickly followed close behind, while Indy watched for a moment. How many years must Amy have spent as an invalid? Yet for some reason she was even less agile with her crutches than Wyatt was with his.

“You must have had quite a problem hauling me in from the woods,” Wyatt said as he entered the kitchen.

Amy grabbed a kettle from the surface of the old cast iron stove, but Indy saw she was struggling and rushed to help. Amy then took a seat while Indy poured the tea.

“It wasn’t easy by any means, you being unconscious, but my father and I managed. You are like the one lost sheep. If we can bring you back to the fold, that will be well worth our efforts.”

“Your father?”


“I’m afraid I don’t remember much.”

“It was he who first saw you.”

“I’m sure Wyatt wants to thank you both,” Indy said as she took a seat beside her husband. “Is he around?”

“He’ll be down shortly.”

The kitchen was large, neat, and clean, squeaky clean like a hospital. There was a long grey counter along one of the walls with light birch cabinets, an old porcelain sink, and a window framed with a bright blue curtain. The window looked out over the cow pasture. The kitchen table was a large oval supported by a massive leg in its middle and shaped like a mushroom. It was covered with a grey oil cloth that showed its age through its frayed edges, but still maintained an unwrinkled surface. The chairs on which the three sat were straight-back, wood seats, stained to a deep brown. A few decorative embroideries hung on one wall alongside a large blue plaque with hand-painted white letters which read: “Behold he cometh with clouds: Revelation 1 verse 7.”

“Oh my God!” Indy said, as she looked up to see a man in the kitchen doorway.

Amy picked up one of her crutches and limped over to greet the man. “This is my father, Thomas Zook,” she said. He was tall and thin with black hair and beard. He wore baggy grey pants, dark suspenders, and a white shirt. But it was hard for Indy or Wyatt to notice anything about this man beyond his face, for Thomas Zook had no eyes. Like a cave fish, he had nothing but a layer of thick skin covering the surface where the source of his vision should have been.

“My father has seen God,” Amy told her speechless guests, “and I have walked with Him. These are small prices to pay for that ecstasy. I do not mean this in a figurative sense. We have actually been with God. Revelation 11 verse 12: ‘And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud’.”


Wyatt lay on his back, staring into the darkness. It was too hot for even the weight of a single sheet. He wore pajama bottoms with the legs cut off for his cast and for comfort. Indy lay beside him, asleep on her side, dressed in a light beige nightgown that was old enough for her to have worn it when the couple had last made love. Claire’s death had marked the end of their sexuality. Wyatt had lost all desire. Yet on this sticky night it was not the heat which kept him awake. It was the irrepressible fantasy of a one-legged farm girl. He rolled to his side, leaned over and kissed Indy’s neck.


“Don’t talk.”

Her voice had broken the image for one second, but he pulled it back. The hair was copper, not blonde. His hands slipped under a stiff muslin skirt, not a soft nightgown. And pressing on the back of his thighs were one foot and a stub leg, not two feet.

“Do you love me?” Indy whispered when his body finally stopped. He didn’t speak, but simply pulled himself away from her and rolled over her left leg. He lay on his back again.


There was still no answer. Indy got up and shuffled to the bathroom with her hand between her legs. Amy curled up in Wyatt’s mind and rested her head on his chest. They were both sleeping soundly when Indy returned.


“You sure you don’t want me to stay?” Indy asked, without turning or releasing the wheel of the Nova.

“I’m sure.”

“I don’t see why you have to talk to her again. You said your thanks. Let it go at that.”

“I owe her more than a simple thanks.”

“Why would she tell you her blind father was the one who first saw you?”

“I don’t know.”

“They’re fanatics, that’s why. It’s an old story, handicapped people turning to God for an explanation of why they were cheated.”

“Then maybe I’ll find out why I was cheated. Or do you already know?”

“I’ll pick you up in a couple hours. Just be careful.”

This time Wyatt found the door shut. No one answered his knock, although he repeated it four times, each one harder than the last. He cursed his luck. He limped down the stairs and ended up in the yard overlooking the cow pasture. The day was marked with stillness. The leaves did not rustle. The sky’s few clouds did not drift. It was also humid and Wyatt moved as if his cast was lead. He walked toward the fence, then slid underneath it, struggled back to his feet and hobbled into the middle the pasture. One or two cows raised their eyes slightly in wonder over the intruder, but quickly lowered them and rejoined their companions as they grazed.

Beyond where Wyatt stood, the field sloped off and at the base the incline a tiny brook flowed. He limped on toward that stream. He watched the water brush along the sides of a smooth stone, about ten inches thick, forming whirlpools, ripples, and waves. Once he had brought his family to a brook very much like this one. Indy and he had pulled off their clothes and splashed about in that brook, while Claire, still in diapers, had watched warily from the shore. They had picked up and skimmed stones. They had sent leaf boats down the current. Indy had found and caught a frog while Wyatt had lectured her quite seriously about warts growing on the hands of anyone who held one of those creatures. It seemed so long ago.

He rested on the thick green grass, while across the brook, on an equally rich portion of pasture, sat a cloud. Wyatt perked up. It was not the type of day for patches of fog. He slipped off the shoe from his good foot, tore off his sock, and rolled up his pants’ leg. Then, maneuvering carefully so as not to slip, he waded the stream, reaching the other side without even a drop of water on his cast. The cloud was dense. Only a faint image of objects on its other side could be seen. Yet at its widest part it was no more than a foot thick. Wyatt passed his hand through the mist. It seemed to shiver slightly. His hand was moist. The cloud bent in the middle and slid more of itself onto the ground, leaving Wyatt looking down on it. It was white, except for a hint of copper on the top. He leaned over to study it. As he did, a small portion of the cloud reached out and stroked his hair, leaving it wet and cold. Wyatt jumped back. The motion of his body blew the small section free from the rest and caused it to slowly drift away. The cloud rose and crossed the brook.

From a distance the cloud appeared even more fascinating, with sleek flowing curves to its shape and graceful movements which had to be self-initiated, since there was no wind. Wyatt brought his crutches back into position and began to follow. He was led across the stream and pasture, under the fence, up the fifteen steps of the Porch, and through the front door, which had somehow opened. The cloud then entered a worship room to the left of the vestibule. Wyatt followed. It was soon before his eyes again, but as he turned the corner to see it, he found it had taken the shape of a woman. There were no facial features, but the copper tint remained as an illusion of hair.


The cloud spun around, losing its shape. Why had he raised the name of the farm girl? It had taken her stature, but it couldn’t be her. It began to spin. And in spinning it raised a wind. And the wind knocked over a podium. And from the podium, a book fell to the floor, a Bible. The wind blew the pages until they turned to I Thessalonians. Then the cloud stopped spinning and brushed over the book, leaving the following outlined in dampness:

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

When Wyatt looked up from the Bible he saw that the cloud had again assumed the shape of a woman, but this time with well-defined features. It was Amy.

“Can you talk to me?”

Amy shook her head. She moved forward, drifting rather than stepping on legs which had not yet assumed a distinct form. She touched Wyatt’s cheek, then kissed him gently. Her lips were cold.

“Are you with God?”

Amy smiled and nodded, then rose and drifted out of the room. Wyatt closed the Bible and followed her. Amy left the house.

“Are you dead?”

She did not respond. It took Wyatt a long time to hobble down the front steps. When he finally reached ground, Amy was gone.


“It says here that everything living is made of cells. Most cells are a nuclei surrounded by cytoplasm and the few cells without nuclei, such as red blood cells, are also principally cytoplasm. Now what do you think this cytoplasm is made of?”

Indy shrugged and continued to pour the boiling water through the one cup coffeemaker which sat on top of her green mug.

“Mostly water. We’re all made of the same thing, water. They must have some method which can turn cytoplasm into mist, then reassemble the cells by reading the chromosome structure.” Wyatt closed the book, stood up, and faced Indy, who was tossing a used coffee filter in the garbage.

“You realize what this means, don’t you?”


“‘Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds...’”

Indy turned on the faucet and rinsed out the coffee maker.

“It means Claire!”


“She’s with God. ‘Together with them in the clouds...’ must mean with those who have gone on before us. We can be with her. We can visit the dead, then return. Don’t you see?”

“What I see is a couple of lunatics doing something that rips off their legs and wipes out their eyes. And I see another lunatic who for five years hasn’t let his daughter die in peace!”

“Die in peace!? My God! You killed her!”

“Well, you finally said it, you bastard. After five years of innuendoes, you finally came out and laid the blame right on me.”

“Where it belongs.”

“It does not, God damn it.”

“Don’t use God’s name that way. He’s our last hope. Don’t ruin that, too.”

Indy reached for her coffee, but tried to pick it up before she had a firm grasp. It fell to the floor and splashed across Wyatt’s feet.

“Still spilling, aren’t you?”

“I didn’t spill that pot of water. It was on the stove. Claire reached for it and pulled it down. It wasn’t my fault!”

Wyatt moved out of the kitchen, through the tiny corridor, and to the front door. He turned for a moment to look at Indy who was fighting to hold back her emotions by busying herself, picking up pieces of the broken mug and mopping up the coffee.

“You believe what you want and I’ll do the same,” Wyatt said, then stepped out. Indy watched the closed door while the erratic sound of the crutches faded away. She held a sharp piece of porcelain against the palm of her hand and pressed until she drew blood. Life was so easy to stop. Why couldn’t Wyatt bring his to an end? He claimed that’s what he wanted, to be with Claire. Was there anything wrong with that? Was there any reason he shouldn’t be? She sat on the floor and stared again, this time off into space. She hated herself, her memories, and even Claire. But most of all she despised Wyatt for making her feel that hate. She tossed the broken cup back on the floor and followed out the door.


Without Indy to drive, Wyatt was forced to use a cab. This process involved a phone call and waiting for the taxi to arrive. So when Wyatt finally began to hobble up the porch steps, Indy was already there. She was hiding behind an old horse buggy, watching her husband.

“We’ve been expecting you,” Amy said. This time she only had one crutch. She had lost her left arm and could not manage a second. They went inside and into the worship room, where Thomas Zook was sitting. Indy circled around the house and crouched under the window of the room, listening.

“Pick up the Bible, son, and read me I Corinthians chapter 15, verse 50.”

“Yes, sir.” Wyatt moved as quickly as his injured leg allowed, then flipped the pages and found what Thomas Zook had requested. “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”

“Have you ever wanted to die, Wyatt?”

“Yes, sir. I guess that’s what I tried to do on my bike.”

“I know. But the word of God says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Since the word is law, that way will bring you only the fires of Hell.”

“But what can I do? Life is Hell, for me.”

“You’re naive. Most all of us are. We have no idea what Hell is really like.”

“Can you teach me?”

“No. But I can show you Heaven. I can teach you what God is like and why we must follow his commandments. I can give you a chance to give up your corporal existence for a moment and visit with Him. Now follow Amy and give me your hand so that you may be my eyes.”

Amy opened a door to the farm’s cellar and Wyatt was instantly greeted by the intense musty feeling that pervaded the room beneath them. It was mildew, smelling like a used bookstore, but stronger. It was fog, like a steambath, but cold, very cold.

It took a minute for Wyatt’s eyes to adjust once the three had reached the base of the stairs. What he saw when his eyes finally focused looked like a large oil furnace, with a metal tank and two pipes protruding from the top like insect antennae.

“What is it?”

“It is my life’s work.”

“What will it do?”

“It will take you to God.”

“I had a daughter who died five years ago. Will this thing take me to her?”

“Perhaps. But that can only be decided by the will of God.”

“Whatever happens, Wyatt,” Amy said, as she opened the door that led to the main chamber, “the experience will make your life worth living again. Try it. Please try it.”

Her voice was hypnotic. Her eyes searched him and their copper color bled into his heart. Whatever she said he could trust. He stepped inside.

Throbbing cells of his skin, bone, and muscle tore apart in a manner as random as the spattering of raindrops on concrete. The vibrating cytoplasm separated from each nucleus and started to generate heat. Liquid parts instantly boiled away while pulsing, beating solids turned to liquid and finally joined their fraternal cells as steam. This vapor then gathered around the nuclei forming a mist, in the same manner that clouds are created when water vapor attaches itself to particles of air dust. Red corpuscles, void of nuclei, also vaporized and somehow held onto the hidden structure that would pull them all together. The mist was then pumped up one of the top pipes and out into the Zooks’ yard. Wyatt was a cloud.

Wyatt felt freedom and power. He could drift or move faster than the wind. He was the wind. The colors and shapes of everything around him increased in intensity beyond the capacity of his past imagination. He did not see things as much as he felt them. He knew the blue of the sky and green of the pasture. He understood the sense of those colors and their gifts. He had grown beyond his human tunnel vision to a point where his senses could simultaneously create a visual image of all around him, above and below. A blue jay cried from the branch of a tree and Wyatt’s attention soared to it. The bird’s head twitched from side to side. Wyatt could understand its muscles, its feathers, its hollow bones. He reached out to touch it with a part of him that was perhaps his right shoulder. The jay flew. Wyatt felt the slight strain of the bird’s wings, while a small portion of his being blew off into the sky. It was unimportant. All of Wyatt could now do anything. He could see and smell with his feet. He could dance with his eyes. The sound of the water in the brook rushed to him with the smell of the leaves and the feel of the grass. He drank the world’s pleasure.

But where was Claire? This was not the death which Wyatt had sought. This was more an extension of life. He was still in the world. He was not with God. Wyatt grew angry, for he had hoped for so much more. He swirled about, raising a wind that blew with the force of a gale. Branches fell from the trees. Water rushed upstream in the brook. Crickets jumped, cows bolted, and birds flew, until Wyatt’s anger began to ease.

Claire was all to Wyatt. She had been that before her death and she remained that today. In a world etched with vulgarity, she was the only mark of innocence. She was love. Wyatt now knew that only death would bring him to his daughter and he lost his fear. Something had kept him hanging onto his existence, like a possum cringing on an empty country road. But the steps he had taken today had taught him not to fear. It would not be long now.

But while Wyatt’s thoughts moved to Claire, Claire’s mother moved to Wyatt. He woke from his daydream to discover Indy within him. She was dancing, waving her arms around. It felt good and for an instant Wyatt simply enjoyed the bliss. But tiny bits of the cloud began to blow away and soon Wyatt realized that if there were no cells left to regroup, he would never know death! He moved, but not too far, for Indy’s steps increased in speed and the warmth of her motions soothed him. He knew he had to leave, but somehow he couldn’t. Arms blew away and legs, eyes and ears, hands and hair. Indy began to sing.

Then at last Wyatt broke free and moved back to the farmhouse with blinding speed. Amy and Thomas were waiting. They brought him back, but not as the Wyatt they had sent out. He was a lump of flesh beyond recognition, a faceless mass, writhing on their floor. They knew in an instant that he could not breathe and they rushed to help him, “Thou shalt not kill,” the Bible says, and they didn’t. First a simple incision to let the air in, then the mass which was now Wyatt was hoisted onto Thomas Zook’s shoulders and carried to a second floor bedroom. Amy began at once to provide the care required to keep him alive. She would continue her task for years to come.


The apartment door opened and Indy barreled into the heat. For three days the summer sun had dealt with her empty home like it was wrapped in foil and lying in the coals of a campfire. She had finally reached her limit reading the Gideon Bible and had decided to abandon the Days Inn and try to reestablish order in her life. Now she was back and the place felt like Hell.... But she wouldn’t think that way. There was no need. She had acted right, giving Wyatt what he had always wanted, just didn’t have the guts to take. The garbage had turned and filled the apartment with the rotten smell of moldy fruit and macaroni. The broken porcelain still lay on the floor. She would take care of that right away. Her solitude had been strange at first. She missed Wyatt, in the way an abused puppy misses his master. Their relationship had given her a security, without which she was forced to find new points of focus. But she would do it. Perhaps she would take a class, or spend a few nights at the singles’ bars, or even go back to church. There were so many things she could do. She set her purse on the kitchen table, bent over, and began to pick up the pieces, one by one.