The sun passed the mountains early in the day, and twilight had already caused the shadows to thicken. Jason pushed the returning group more with every passing second. He laughed, aware that it seemed as though the child were his own, and that she was in a life or death struggle. Knowing that he would get back to the camp by nightfall, and that John would keep them safe in the meantime, he tried to relax.
Marvin, the closest thing the colony had to a real doctor, was not so young, and could not walk at a hard pace, even downhill. The other member of the little group, James, was a good strong kid--nearly an adult at seventeen--who was able to run the hills in the dark if need be. Jason had thought it would be great to have someone closer to Kyle's age to help them reach the caves, and was sure that the two teenagers would quickly make friends.
Though the sky showed some light, the trail was getting darker as they came out of the trees and saw the fire on the opposite side of the stream. Careful of his footing in the running water, Marvin still slipped, but was saved from a fall by young James.
Hearing Benny calling his name excitedly, Jason jumped across the stream with his longer steps. It did his heart good knowing that he had run most of the way to bring help.
"Told you I'd be back," he laughed, as he walked up to the family and removed the pack he had refilled with goods at the colony. Though the flames gave off enough light to see, it took a moment to find everyone in the shadows. "How's the kid?"
"Still a bit warm," John replied, as Barry stood up to greet the others. "But at least she’s sleeping."
"I boiled the last of those apples," the child's father said, sounding tired. "She ate some, then went right to sleep."
"No problem," Marvin said, as he placed a small bag on the ground next to the fire. "We brought food for breakfast and a few extra blankets."
"Forgive me," Jason mumbled, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. "Barry, this is Marvin Granger, the group's doctor."
"I ain’t no such thing," the older man said in a gruff, country voice, as he knelt by the young girl. "I was an RN and a care-provider for years though. The good Lord has His hands full keeping wild ones like Jason alive, so I do what I can to keep 'em healthy." Turning to James, he added, "Go get more wood. I can hardly see."
Kyle was already on his feet, and the two boys were off into the shadows without another word. Jason dug through the packs and brought out the extra blankets, as well as some tea so they would all be able to have a warm drink to chase the cool, night air.
Suddenly, Shelley was startled from her sleep. Seeing a strange man leaning over her, she panicked and started to shout. Barry laid his hand on his daughter's shoulder to comfort her.
"It's ok, baby girl. He’s here to help."
Her actions still showed fear as she held onto her dad, not letting him leave her side. After a short examination, the old man stood to his feet, and told Barry that his little girl would be fine, as long as they continued to keep her as warm as they could.
"Don't worry little lady," the old man smiled, "I think you're gonna live. Seems like you caught a cold-bug."
The girl settled and pulled the covers back over herself, shivering from the cold as much as the fever.
Later, when the boys returned with an armload of wood each, Jason piled more on the fire, adding light as well as warmth. He glanced at the sleeping child, then rose to his feet and put a hand on Barry's shoulder.
"Go get some rest," he told the man in a quiet voice. "Don't worry. I’ll wake you in time for breakfast."
Barry laughed softly as he walked over to his sleeping wife, and lay down beside her, being careful not to disturb the girl who was resting between them.
In the glow of dancing flames, Jason saw the family huddled together as they slept. It had been a hard week, but his rest would come. For now, all that mattered was that they were safe. Reaching for the last of the blankets, he tossed it to Kyle and sent him to bed as well.
James stirred the coals and cautiously put on another chunk of wood. Across the fire, Jason saw Marvin stretch out, with his back resting against the cliff wall and a long, thick coat wrapped around him, the old man nodded off right where he sat.
Life was a struggle, and as far as Jason could tell, it seemed to be getting worse as time went by.
With the new group added in, there were now forty-five families at the colony--nearly two hundred people--and winter in the mountains was always bitter. The farm down in the valley was the main source for news and goods. Sneaking to the fields for grain was not a problem, but their own gardens had little of the vegetables needed to feed so many.
Once again, Jason sat in the dark thinking of the past--of his wife and the hopes he had held for a family. Now, as he thought of his old life, he saw the Lord's work in it all. God knew they would be separated one day, and had withheld children from them. Sarah had claimed it didn't matter--that the joy they shared was enough, but he had realized that she longed for kids of her own.
For her sake, Jason had tried doing the right things--even going to church. At that time, he did not truly believe, but when she had been taken, the truth was almost too much to bear. From that time on, each child he rescued was like trying to save his own soul. Fighting every step of the way to keep it together and stay alive, Jason prayed more and counted all blessings as miracles.
A sound in the trees caused Jason to look up. It was John, standing in the open area near the stream, looking up at the starry sky, possibly keeping a prayerful vigil in the night. Turning back towards the family beyond the fire, Jason found himself wondering what would become of them all. He wanted the rest that he sought so badly--to be able to sleep, free from fear. To no longer need to go out into the hate of the world, nor see the destruction that Mankind had brought upon themselves through greed.
As James added another stick to the coals to keep the flames burning until morning, Jason said one last prayer, seeking hope in the comfort of his God. Blessings for all those of the colony of the faithful and protection from the evil that continued to grow.
Slowly he drifted off, only to be plagued once more with haunted visions--cities and forests burnt down and laid waste, as bombs fell in a distant valley where armies collided in a great battle at the end of the world.
* * *
The older boys were up at first light. James knew the woods and had taken Kyle to the best place to view the sunrise through the trees. There was a small clearing where the hillside slid away and one could see for miles across the plains below.
The morning was clear, and already the chill of the night had lost some of its hold. They were so near to the colony that the group was allowed to sleep until they woke on their own. It was almost noon before Shelley crawled out from under her covers.
Jason smiled as he watched the family start the day, knowing that the rest had done them good. The last bit of their walk to the main caves would now be an easy one.
Jason had risen with the dawn to boil the first pot of coffee he had been able to have in some time. It was a rare commodity for a man in hiding, but if the advantage came, he accepted it and praised God for the blessing.
* * *
When things had started to go bad after the disappearance of the Christians, one of the Faithful, an old, mine prospector, had gathered his children and made for the hills. As things had become progressively worse within a matter of months, others began to wander into the area--tiny handfuls of humanity, seeking freedom from the chaos of the world. Soon they began seeking out lost loved ones, trying to find those who were still alive and bring them to the safety of the hidden caves.
Jason had looked for his last, living brother, Phillip. His parents had vanished, along with so many others, including his sister, Janice. Phillip and his wife, Jen, had relocated to Denver, but by the time Jason reached there, Jen had already died and Phil was crippled by the plague.
He traveled north after that, on the run from a law that prevented men from having a free will. In his travels, he came across others in hiding, camped in the mountains and only wanting to live a life of peace. To these few, Jason first spoke the truth of the disappearances--that the Lord had returned for His chosen people, and the end had finally come.
After that, Jason found the couple at the farm, and began the way-station drop for those sneaking to the colony. The original pair had since passed away, but had been replaced so that the outpost could continue as a transfer point.
Sitting in the morning sun, Jason watched the years flow by like the ice-melt waters of the stream. He remembered the reason for this latest trip into the world--his wife’s little brother was hooked up with a gang of outlaws in Oklahoma. What Jason had discovered was far worse.
No more than twenty years old, the young man ruled over others by fear; killing in the name of a government that he didn't even understand. He was leader to a group of Hunters that were sent by local officials to remove any Christians they found. Most were burned alive in their own homes.
In a moment of righteous anger, Jason had struck back, making a stand for the family that he had begun to care for. From then, he was marked and hunted for taking vengeance on those who sought to destroy the love of God that took his beloved Sarah to heaven in the twinkling of an eye.
After two weeks of running, he still fought the agony of having killed for the sake of another--even in the defense of a child. Returning to find the station ruined and the people massacred like animals, his fear had grown even more, as did his desire for the coming Judgment Day.
* * *
"You seem lost in thought."
Startled, Jason turned to see Carol and her husband walking towards him.
"Is everything ok? I mean, we’ve made it, right?"
"Ya," he laughed. "Guess I'm still jumpy. Thinking of the past does that to me."
"With what happened...." Carol began to say.
"You're all alive, aren't you?" Jason cut in. "That's all that counts. You have a life before you and, God willing, a peaceful one from here on. The Lord's battle rages. All we can do is wait."
For some time, they sat, not speaking, listening to John moving around at the cliff-side camp. When he called out about the coffee being almost gone, Jason smiled to himself and lifted his old travel mug in his friend’s direction. Immediately, John’s laugh rang in the clear, morning air.
"I remember the day it happened," Carol finally said, breaking the silence of her own thoughts. "The disappearances I mean. I was with Mom at the kitchen table, like we are here, except Mom prefers tea."
Jason could feel the woman’s pain without even seeing the expression of loss on her face. He understood that feeling--regretted doubts. By force of will, he kept his eyes on the water flowing at his feet.
"She was going on about a Bible study," the woman continued, "and a prayer session afterwards. I laughed as always. But now ... I wonder if she's laughing?"
Barry wrapped an arm around his wife and pulled her close, not knowing what to say to bring comfort. Jason knew they had been through the same scene before, searching for answers to everyone's question: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
"Your Mom is crying like you are," Jason said in a soft voice. "If she looked and saw the suffering of the world, how could she not cry?"
"I worked that morning," Barry added, after the silence began to grow. "Heard a crash and a scream, stepped out of the office and nearly got run down by a forklift. The driver had...."
"On my way to a cookout," Jason kept the talk going, while picking up a rock and tossing it to the other side of the stream. "A family reunion my wife had set-up. The pastor was giving us a ride. Lucky I was in the front seat. I had no idea what happened at the time. I just reached over and grabbed the wheel, pulled the car to a stop, and turned to see if Sarah was ok. I was so shocked to find her gone as well, that I barely got out of the car before a truck ran into it."
"We all seen the like," Marvin said as he walked up to the group. Shelley was holding his hand until she drew near, then she dropped it and ran to her mom. "A plane crashed down in my neighbor's yard--wasted his house completely, but he was blessed. He was taken a full minute when the thing hit. I heard of a preacher in St. Louis, raised his eyes after prayer to find his whole congregation missing, with him left behind to wonder."
"Many are called but few chosen," Jason said, answering the confusion on Barry's face. "Who do you think the 'Goats' were that the Lord spoke of? Those that would stand up proclaiming all the things they did in His name, but all for their own glory. And the Lord's reply?"
"Be gone from Me, yea workers of iniquity," John shouted from the edge of camp, "for I know yea not."
"I guess we better move," Jason reached out a hand to the small girl. "The caves aren't far. You feel up to a walk?"
"I'm ok," Shelley replied, though reaching out to Jason’s hand, she remained seated in her mom's lap.
"There are some girls your age that are waiting for another to come along."
"Really?" The sparkle grew in her eyes as she slid to her feet. Carol had to smile at the strength returning to her daughter.
"Twins, no less," Marvin laughed, as the two walked towards the cliff edge to gather blankets. John could be heard joking about another child for Uncle Jason.
Within minutes, packs were ready and the group was once again on the trail for their new home and the comfort of the Faithful.
* * *
The morning sun lasted late into the day, until clouds began rolling across the spring mountains. In the changeable weather of the season, storms would move in, causing flash floods, or even worse, bring a return to the fury of winter, blocking the higher trails with a foot of snow. The caves ran deep in the hills, and such storms caused only mild discomfort. Several connecting tunnels linked the main passages together, making it safe to get around, but having few caverns for living space, seemed overly confining.
About a hundred years earlier, a cave-in had occurred within the complex system of old mineshafts, which resulted in large areas being opened. Once the debris was cleared and the ground leveled, an apartment-setting had been built to meet the needs of a colony, with smaller rooms set aside for family dwellings.
The basic framework was made of split log beams, set up in a scaffold-like structure. Later, as abandoned homesteads were found in the mountains, they were stripped for needed material. Lumber was brought in for the floors and to cover the bare walls. Woodstoves were carried in for cooking, and vents cut to the surface to allow the smoke to escape. All these things helped to make the accommodations better--which was important, as the number of people arriving continued to increase, and room grew less. Soon other passages would need to be dug out and cleaned.
The smaller of these opened caverns, was cleared and maintained as a meeting hall. Situated near the entrance of the main passage, it made a good gathering place and communal dining area. Doyal, the old prospector and founder of the colony, had told how it had been the original quarters for the miners who had worked the hills before he did. The ventilation shafts created even circulation, and with just a few lanterns, the room could be well lit. Living underground meant that temperatures remained constant, with heat only needed for cooking and breaking the damp chill of the caves.
On such days of stormy weather, the large passages were a welcome sight. Most of the residents were families, and the small built-up rooms had been given to them as homes. Those few single men, like Jason, lived mainly in the front hall, sleeping at night by one of the woodstoves, or even stretched out on a table. Though life may have been rough in the colony, it was not unbearable.
* * *
After getting the Winter family settled in, Jason sought out the elders of the community, in order to tell of his trip and all that had taken place. They each welcomed him and offered prayers for his loss.
Jason had been fearful that the elders might call for him to leave the gathering because of his actions, so found comfort, to a point, that none of them spoke a word against what he had done. Instead, they unanimously agreed that Jason should take a rest, particularly as the storm would now keep any danger away. With the Faithful finally within the safety of the caves, he would have time to visit other friends that he had in the colony.
Jason willingly took the task upon himself to introduce Barry and Carol to the others. Though Glenn Jensen, one of the main Elders, offered to do so, Jason thought it would be better for him to do it, as they had grown close to one another over the past weeks.
Young James had quickly started a friendship with the two Winter boys, and the trio were soon inseparable--running through the passages, finding every turn and shadow. It was a true adventure for the city-raised children. Shelley stayed by her parents for most of the day, still feeling weak but, none-the-less, wanting to know more of her new home.
While showing the family around, Jason kept his word and made their first stop at the Granger's, to meet Marcy and Mary. The dark-haired, very excited, twins took to Shelley as though they had been born sisters, and followed along as the adults made a tour of the colony tunnels. The constant giggling from the three placed a smile on Jason's face, and brought joy to his spirit.
After making their way back to the gathering hall for a warm drink and conversation, the children went off to play a game at one of the many tables, leaving the adults to talk. Another of the single men, and a good friend of Jason's, was seated near the warmth of a cook-stove, reading an old, weathered Bible to one of the elderly couples.
Mark was a kind man, but one noticed in his expression the pain that was troubling his heart. Unlike most of those seeking refuge, Mark’s family had all died while trying to reach the colony. The slide that took his wife and children also caught his guide, burying them in a mountain of mud, rock and snow. Left on the hillside to find his own way, he would soon have perished, had a group of men not been out hunting for fresh game.
As Jason sat the new couple down and sought out cups of hot tea, the words Mark was reading aloud in his strong, clear, voice seemed like a balm to the weary soul.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life."
"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," Jason said as he placed a steaming mug on the table. "A wise man, old Solomon"
"Hello Jason," Mrs. Collins, the elderly woman, reached out a warm, but shaky, hand in greeting. "We've all been praying for you. How was the trip?"
"Safe enough," Jason lied, wishing not to trouble the older couple. Waving in Barry's direction, he added, "If not for the Winter family, I would say I should have stayed here."
"You didn't find Sarah's brother, then?" Mark asked, moving over to make room as Jason took a seat.
"I found him," he replied sadly. "He is laid to rest, but not with the Lord."
"I am sorry, my friend," Mark stated, placing a hand on Jason's shoulder.
"The time to mourn is passed," Jason said in return, making light of the trials, as always. "Now I need some laughter. Tell me how things have been here."
After introducing Barry and Carol, he sat and listened to all the tales of the many children and families of the colony--from the birth of the latest grandchild, to one of the men spraining a leg while gathering fresh, spring herbs. It was all healing for Jason's spirit-- being back among friends, with life's daily struggles set aside, replaced with kindness and prayer for one another.
As talk turned to how the Winters had met, and the age of each of their children, Jason once again drifted to his past--to when he had first met Sarah. Back then, his trials had seemed so great, but when compared to present burdens, they were really nothing at all. He remembered, so vividly, the day he had met her, and even now it brought a smile to his heart....
* * *
The rain came down in sheets, overflowing street gutters in seconds and flooding the raised sidewalk in many places. Taking shelter for a moment under the Interstate 20 Bypass bridge, Jason sat on the rail and watched the near-solid wall of water change to falling ice, as hail dumped from the thunderstorm that covered the city in rolling, black clouds.
Feeling some concern about being in the lower parts of town if the river happened to break through the dike, his only thought was to reach safety, and not lose his job if late for work again.
The fact that he had been caught in the downpour may give some excuse, as his employer knew he would be walking--although it was really his own fault. His car had been taken a month earlier for non-payment, all because he had tried a get-rich-quick scheme that his friends had come up with.
"Lost big on that flop of a plan," he mumbled to himself as the sky grew darker still. The wind picked up and he felt there was no choice but to head for the awning of the nearest building. Soaked in less than a minute, he ran as quickly as he could, gusts pushing him back as he struggled across every intersection.
A big van pulled alongside, and the door rolled open to reveal a young woman in the driver's seat, shouting to be heard over the noise of a sign rattling in the gale-force wind. "Get in!"
Jason's foot slipped on the curb, landing him in a deep puddle of rushing water. Once inside the van, closed off from the raging weather, he glanced up at his sister, who shook her head as though the storm was his fault.
"You should have taken the bus!"
"They're not running, remember," Jason shouted. "They're still on strike."
"I thought that was over?" Janice pulled slowly back into traffic.
"So did I, but they aren't out yet." He slumped against the division wall and stared out the window. "I couldn't call a cab because I'm broke till payday, and now this.... My luck is terrible."
"You only need the right motivation, Bro."
"And the idea of living on the streets isn't good enough?" he laughed. "I kid you not, Sis, if I lose my job now, I'm stuck with nothing. No rent money next week, and the utilities already gave final notice. But, on the brighter note, I won't be bothered by a car payment."
"You should work for Phil and Jen," Janice said as she turned in to the parking lot of the mini-mart where Jason worked. "How about food? I might swing some groceries by later."
"I am not working as a flower boy, forget it," he replied as he prepared to dash into the store. "Besides, I don't mind macaroni for every meal."
In a mad scramble for the store’s entrance, he almost ran down the shop owner as he stepped out of the "Employee's Only" area at the counter. Dripping in the doorway, Jason glared at his smiling boss.
"Wow, a new record! You're actually early."
"I hate weather like this," Jason stated, taking off the jacket that had done nothing to keep the rain from soaking him clean through. "I would have been late if Sis hadn't come by making a delivery."
"Well, it'll be an easy day for you, so don't worry," the owner told him, pointing to the young lady at the register. "I want you to help teach our new night clerk the ropes."
"I may still need to replace you," the man said as he headed out. "So train her good."
"Ya, ya," he mumbled at the man's back as he left, before turning to the girl behind the counter. "Hi, the name's Jason."
"Sarah," she smiled warmly and laughed. "And you look like a drowned rat."
"Gee, thanks." Jason reached for a towel and scrubbed it over his head to dry off. "You gotta do what you gotta do to get by these days."
"With the Lord's blessing, Man shall prosper," Sarah told him. "We don't have to struggle when there is help."
He stared at her for a moment, the damp cloth resting around his neck and shoulders. "Or the right motivation," he thought, then smiled as the storm broke up and sunlight streamed in the front window. "I think my luck is changing."
His "luck," as he called it then, had changed in a great way. Looking back, he could see the blessings that the Lord had laid at his feet. Not only in meeting the woman who would be his greatest inspiration, giving him courage and motivation, as well as a kick when he did wrong, and love to fill his world. With her loss in the disappearance of so many Christians, it spurred him on to accept the Lord in truth--if only to be together again with her in the physical presence of God.
* * *
Coming back from his thoughts to the present, Jason saw that dinner was laid out, with a good stew of fresh roots, herbs, and wild game. He knew the taste to be that of mountain goat, and joked with some of the men about "the hunted becoming the hunter," and that he would go out to get better meat.
With only a few men able to leave their families for more than a day, feeding the whole colony became a matter of getting whatever came near. To hunt dear or elk on the lower slopes, or to go down the longer track to the plains for cows, was a job of several days-- possibly weeks. Trying to stay hidden at the same time made it very risky work. Even so, Jason did manage to get a few men to offer to go with him the next day.
The conversation dwindled down, and evening prayer was given by the gathered elders, after which smaller groups headed back to the dwellings set aside for them. Barry had offered a place for Jason, who thanked him, but said that things would be too crowded, and that he liked it near the entrance.
As night settled in on the caves, Jason leaned against an outer wall of the main tunnel. The storm slowly passed and stars began to appear as the clouds broke apart. He stared out at the star-filled sky, with its backdrop of the moon rising over snow-tipped hills. It was always an awe-inspiring sight for Jason, but even more so in the mountains, where the moon and the stars seemed close enough to brush against the fingers of his hand.
"A mirror to the mind of God," he thought, while viewing the heavens. "To actually reach out and touch Him is like touching a star ... or reaching beyond them."
Later that night, as he slept stretched out on a bench by the woodstove in the main hall, Jason did not dream of a world in chaos, but instead, one at peace with his God. Man and beast alike, walking free of fear and doubt. Somewhere in the deepest part of his vision, Jason found the strength of courage to reach out beyond the mirror and touch the Morning Star.
* * *
Watching the clearing from behind the trunk of a large pine tree, Jason laughed at the sight. Fourteen healthy does and six good-sized bucks, all closed into a hunting coral without a single shot wasted. James had told the men about the herd early in the morning, and by the afternoon they were ready for the kill. That was when Mark had come up with a better plan.
"If we can catch the lot alive," he said, "we’ll have fresh meat for months."
"Where would we keep 'em?" Marvin’s youngest son, Milton, asked. "If we tied 'em up somehow, great; but deer just jump any fence."
"Not if we kept them inside the caves," James pointed out. "Remember the pocket cave we found that doesn't go anywhere."
"We thought to use that as storage," Mark agreed, knowing the place James had suggested. Then he started detailing a plan to lure the deer to a small, clear spot in the trees. "If we take the net we used to trap geese last fall, and drop it on them after they enter, we might end up with the whole herd."
"They're not cows," Milton stated with a laugh. "How are we to get 'em back? We can't lead 'em on a rope."
"Drag poles," Jason replied. "We aren't far from the colony. Once the deer are netted and wrapped up, James can run back and bring ten men. With the deer tied two to a pole, we can get the lot and be home by dark. Not bad for a two day hunt."
Seeing the scheme work was a miracle in itself. The netting dropped, catching all but one of the females. It was no great loss to miss out on one. With the two moose they had tracked the day before, they would have more meat than any of the families had been able to have, at one time, in over a year.
Elder Jensen and the others arrived a few hours later, in time to see the men tying the rest of the small herd to poles. Three men held each deer down, as another tied it. Holding 200 pounds of thrashing, panicked animal was a real chore, and the task of carrying them back was no easier--but it was well worth the effort. By sunset, the group had enough meat to last for quite a while, with no fears of it rotting.
Dinner that evening was a celebration. Not only had the men brought fresh game, but they had also discovered that four of the does were expecting. One of the elders joked about having a growing herd.
Although winter depleted the store of food goods, spring showed the greatness of God's blessing for the year.
During the meal, talk changed from food supplies to people, and word spread that someone's daughter had been found in Kansas City, alive but in hiding. As soon as he heard this news, Jason knew the question that was coming--even before Elder Jensen asked it. Even though he had hoped to be free for some time, the needs of others always seemed to come first--at least in their eyes.
* * *
He woke from another nightmare--this time of his wife. She was walking towards him with a tray of his favorite breakfast, only to vanish, leaving him twisted in loss and pain. Coming back to consciousness, questions began to haunt Jason once again. After three days in the colony, with the freedom to leave the world to care for itself, thoughts of staying had caused him to drop his guard and begin to relax.
His talks with the gathered elders the night before had brought on dreams of the destruction of man--burning and killing until he was the last; no more than a shadow wandering in the wilderness.
His was a life of running for the sake of others; it was almost all he could remember.
"Why me?" he had asked the elders. "I’ve only just come back from seeing the results of one hunt--our most needed help killed off by savages. Their bodies left to rot and feed the wild dogs ... and you want me to go back?"
"Now Jason, be reasonable," Elder Jensen said. "We only learned that Lincoln's daughter was alive three weeks ago. Her husband went off to the war last year. If we had known then, you might have been able to make a round trip for both families."
"Please?" Lincoln Pierce was nearly 75, and had never fully recovered from the pneumonia he had come down with last winter "She’s all the family I've got left."
"I understand your feelings, Son," Marvin Granger put in from the opposite side of the split-log dining table. "If I was more able, I'd offer to go along ... just to get out of these caves. Jason, you know what the world's become. Ask yourself--would you leave a loved one in that?"
"I have no loved ones anymore," Jason replied, as he walked out into the dark of the passage to seek the night air.
Even now, in the first light of morning, he could still hear the words of the elder's argument, and the old man's plea for help. But in his dreams he viewed the world as it is--a harsh battleground that needs to be struggled through just to remain alive.
The morning sunlight brought him no warmth, nor did it bring the answer to his prayers. He hoped to stay behind this time, closing off the chaos of Man's making once and for all. To leave forever a place where you worked for pennies, and paid five times as much for a stale loaf of bread. His prayer was that even one person would truly understand what this work was doing to him. More of his heart died with each trip out, while the hate of men grew.
As the day turned toward evening, Jason sat on the rocky shore of the small lake that was a short way from the colony. In any other part of the country, it wouldn’t be anything more than a pond. Calm and smooth as glass, with the trees and mountains beyond reflected on the water like a mirror of God’s perfected world.
Tossing a stone across the surface, he repeated his words of the night before: "Why me?"
He was so wrapped in his question, that he did not hear the others approach until a warm, tiny hand slid into his own. Turning, he found the kids standing behind him, and his heart almost stopped--not from fear, but out of love.
They were all present: Kyle and James, the young Jamison boy, who Jason had once carried for nearly four miles with a snake bite, the Carlton girl, who broke an ankle her first year at the colony, even old Granger's twin granddaughters that had run off in a thunderstorm and got lost. They were all kids that he had given himself to protect.
"You're going away, aren't you?" Shelley asked in a soft voice. She was still weak, but growing stronger every day.
Jason did not say a word. Choked to the point of tears, he took the small girl onto his lap as he sat down on a large rock at the water's edge. He looked around as the children drew near--some sat on the ground, while others stood, all looking as though waiting for him to answer Shelley’s question.
In each one he saw the reason for wanting a child--a love of life and the hope for a better day to come. Memories came unchallenged, viewed for the first time in what seemed a lifetime. His own wish for a son or daughter was not granted, but now he realized the truth of it. These were all his children--but even more so, they belonged to God.
"Sometimes we have to do things we might not like," Jason said after a moment, slowly rocking the girl in his arms, shocked in finding himself repeting the words Sarah had said so long ago. "Following rules and doing our work. It's important because it's right, and if we don't, others may suffer. Jesus was no different. He came into the world to bring hope, and yet knew in the end He would have to die on that cross."
He looked up at their faces, one by one, knowing they understood. Slow and soft, Jason began to hum a tune he had learned as a child. He remembered his grandmother sitting in her old chair, holding him close and singing the song as he fell asleep.
Rising to his feet, Jason headed back toward the caves, with the kids gathered around him as he went. As they walked, they sang the old chorus, growing loader as they drew nearer to the colony.
"Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They're all precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world."
Early the next morning, as the sun first began to kiss the high peaks, Jason was already halfway down the mountain, on his way back to the chaotic nightmare of the world of men. A prayer was in his heart for the protection of those he was once more leaving behind, and for safety on the road that was before him.
Without a word of goodbye, Jason Patterson walked on; headed back to the killing fields of the tribulation.
Note for Pt1, Pt2, and Pt3: Scriptural referance from Psalms 12, Matthew 20:16, 25:31-46, Luke13:27, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3:1-12. NKJ version..