Thursday, May 21, 2009

Friday Fiction for May 22, 2009

Welcome to Friday Fiction, which I’m privileged to host this week! Mr. Linky will take you to the terrific submissions this week from the other participants, so enjoy some great Memorial Day reading!



I’m pleased to post the conclusion to the story “Allison” this week. This portion is once again long, and I thought of dividing it so it would conclude on Monday. I really didn’t want to leave the reader in such a place as would have been good to split it, so I decided to risk the length in favor of the conclusion.

If you’re just starting the story, please take the time to start with
Part I, and work through the posts for the complete story before concluding here.

Allison
Part V - Conclusion
By Rick Higginson

If the farewells had been the only indication, Erin would have thought her daughter had been a part of the Pod her entire life, rather than just a couple of days. They were all as enamored with her as she had always been with them. It was good that they had purposed to leave early; by the time the good-byes were finished, they would end up with just enough time to make it to the airport for their flight home.

The parting between Allison and Charles was especially prolonged, and despite her maternal urge to keep a close watch on the two, Erin turned her attention elsewhere. Let her enjoy the moment; tomorrow she’ll return to the hell of another round of treatments.

A hand slipped into hers, and she turned to her daughter. “Are you ready, sweetheart?”

“Not really, but Eva said if I made another round of the Pod, we would miss our plane,” Allison replied. She sniffed, and wiped her cheek with her free hand. “She said I can come back for another visit, if I want.”

“That’s certainly something to look forward to,” she said. Looking back towards the pool, she gave one more smile and wave before leading Allison from the Family Room.

***

Marta gave both Allison and Erin a final embrace. It was easier to do, lying on the bunk aboard the Bitter Pill, and gave a nice conclusion to what had been a rather subdued crossing to the mainland.

Josh was topside, giving instructions to the driver that would take the Quantz’s to the airport, and Erin glanced at her watch.

“We need to go, sweetheart,” Erin said.

“You will come back and visit us again, won’t you?” Marta asked, just as they were about to go through the cabin door.

“I would love to,” Allison said. “Good-bye, Marta, and thank you so much for letting me visit. I really enjoyed myself.”

“We enjoyed having you.”

Allison gave her a sad smile before climbing out of the cabin, and then there was silence for a while.

Marta watched through the porthole as the driver carried the luggage away from the boat, followed by the mother and daughter. You will come back; you’re strong enough to beat this thing. You both are.

***

Allison gazed through the airliner window at the ocean receding in the distance. She thought over the time spent in the old chamber and smiled. It had been a crazy, impetuous thing to ask, but with God whispering so nicely to her, it had seemed the most logical prayer to make.

I’m trusting You on this one, Lord. I know everyone will say it’s impossible, but You can make it happen.

When the coastline vanished beneath a layer of clouds, she turned straight in her seat and closed her eyes. I’m going to hold You to the promise You made to me in the old chamber, too, Lord. We’re going to win this battle before I’m sixteen. You promised.

“Allison, sweetheart? Are you all right?” Erin asked.

She opened her eyes. “Yeah. I was just thinking about a couple of prayers I made yesterday.”

“I think we both said a lot of prayers yesterday.”

“Mom, do you think Peter really walked on the water?”

“The Bible says he did, sweetheart. I think he climbed over the side of the boat, and just started walking right to Jesus.”

“That was impossible, wasn’t it?”

“In human terms, yes. For God, though, it wasn’t any problem at all. Why do you ask?”

“Because I started thinking yesterday, that if Jesus could let Peter walk on water, why couldn’t He let Marta walk on land?”

“Well, He could, if it’s in His will that she do so.”

“That’s what I prayed for, Mom. I prayed that Marta will get to walk on land.”

***

Marta took the envelope from Josh. “This is from Erin? What’s it been since they were here? Three months?”

“Four,” Josh said. “I double-checked the calendar in my office to be sure.”

She slipped one finger under the edge of the flap, and tore away the glue that held the envelope shut. The card inside had a photo of Allison on the front, looking very much the typical young girl with long hair, mischievous eyes, and a toothy grin. After showing the picture to Josh, she opened the card and read inside.

Dear Marta and the Pod,

Allison asked me to send this photo to you, because this is how she wants you to remember her. Yesterday, just before noon, Allison’s battle with cancer ended. She is home now, with the Savior she loves and in a new body that will never feel pain again. While we are grieved that she is no longer with us, we praise God that she is free of the disease and all it entailed, and that we will see her again in eternity. Allison specifically asked that we not act sad at her passing, but that we would rejoice, even as she is now rejoicing in the presence of God. We had hoped that she would hold on another couple of weeks until she turned sixteen, but she said she was ready to go now.

Our family wanted to thank you once again for the joy you gave her in these final months. She loved sharing with the doctors, nurses, and other patients about the fun she had visiting the Pod. She never told me just what went on down in the old chamber, but during the worst of the treatments and the cancer, she said she just imagined herself back down there again, and would be encouraged by the memory. We can never hope to repay what you gave her, but we pray that God would indeed bless all of you for your kindness.

Sincerely, Erin Quantz

“No,” Marta said. She dropped the card and crawled quickly towards the water.

“Marta?” Josh called after her.

She ignored him, and dove for the exit as soon as she entered the pool. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. She was supposed to get better, and to come back to visit us. She turned sharp as soon as she cleared the outside of the tunnel, and skirted along the rocks towards the old chamber. The dark passageway quickly gave way to the subdued light inside the cavern, and she broke through the surface to the lagoon, screaming. “NO, NO, NO! ARE YOU HERE, GOD? MAYBE YOU WHISPER, BUT THIS TIME I’M GOING TO SHOUT!” She spun one direction and then back again, looking around the chamber. “DIEGO SAYS YOU’RE ALL-POWERFUL, BUT YOU COULDN’T SPEND JUST A TINY BIT OF THAT POWER TO HELP A LITTLE GIRL? WHAT KIND OF GOD ARE YOU?”

Splashing the water in her frustration, she yelled invectives towards the ceiling. She stopped splashing and held her fists at her side. “She was like a member of my Pod, and YOU LET HER DIE! You can’t be that loving God that Sally tells me about, can You? How could You be? A loving God would have helped Allison. A LOVING GOD WOULDN’T HAVE LET US BE BORN THIS WAY, EITHER! WHAT ARE WE, GOD? SOME TWISTED GAME FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT?”

She dove for the bottom, and snagged a rock in one hand. She surged towards the surface and beyond, and hurled the rock with as much force as she could muster towards the ceiling. Her landing was nearly flat, and sent a huge splash to all sides. When she surfaced again, she continued her tirade for nearly a half-hour, revisiting any offense she could think of before she finally was too tired to shout any longer.

Crying and out of breath, she muttered between sobs, “Why, God? Wasn’t it enough for Dr. Marcel to curse us as he did? Why couldn’t You help Allison? She loved you.”

The echoes died away in the chamber, and before long there was only the gentle sound of the small waves. Even her weeping had run out of energy.

I know what I’m doing. Trust Me.

She quickly pivoted, looking for the source of the whisper, but there wasn’t even evidence of a dolphin in the lagoon with her. I heard it, but it can’t be real. She waited and listened, trying to decide if she’d imagined it. God?

Every other sound faded until the chamber was deathly quiet. Even the water seemed to settle into a glassy smoothness, as if any source of turbulence was blocked from reaching the subterranean pool. There had been a breeze earlier in the day, but now it seemed the air was motionless. She felt her heart pounding in her chest, but didn’t hear the blood pulsing against her ears. Even her voice refused to make a sound.

Allison says ‘hi.’

Allison?
She closed her eyes and saw the girl as the photo showed her; young and healthy and full of life. She was not trapped in a body that was slowly being taken over by cancer, unable to fully live, and yet not able to die, either. You’re no longer trapped between life and death, are you, Allison? Did cancer make you a mermaid of sorts between this world and eternity? You’re free now, aren’t you?

She floated on her back and stared at the ceiling. I thought we were giving you strength, but you were the stronger one all along, weren’t you? She covered her eyes with her hands. God, I want to be that strong.

***

Marta crawled into their room to find Josh sitting on the floor, waiting for her.

“I read the card,” he said. “The whole Pod has read the card now. Are you all right?”

She nodded. “I wasn’t at first, but I am now. Josh, if I asked you to get me something, would you do so?”

“Almost from the day I first met you, I would have given you anything you asked. Whatever you want, if I can get it for you, I will.”

“You’re probably going to think this sounds strange.”

He shrugged. “I don’t care.”

She smiled, and shared her thoughts with him.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked when she finished.

“I’m sure. I mean, it’s what people do, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s what people do, and I promise you, I’ll help you however I can.”

***

Diego concluded the sermon, and reverently closed the well-worn Bible on the pulpit. Usually, he would give a closing prayer which would segue into a basic invitation, asking any who might be interested in knowing more to raise their hands and then meet with one of the deacons or elders after the service. His parents were visiting, though, and his mother had lamented the loss of the old-fashioned altar calls.

“Would you please stand,” Diego said. “If you’re here today and you’ve made that decision to surrender your life to God, I invite you to come forward and make a public confession of your decision. Perhaps you gave your life to Him a long time ago, but you’ve drifted away and you’ve felt Him prompting you to get your life right again; this is the time to listen to that prompting and take that first step towards reconciliation with your Father.”

The musicians started playing the tune softly, and he nodded to his engineer. The screen on the back wall displayed the lyrics that were also projected on larger screens behind him. “As we sing the words of this great old hymn, I ask you to think about the lyrics and to make them the prayer of your heart today.”

The song leader stood to one side of the dais, and started singing, joined quickly by the congregation.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Diego glanced at his mother in the front row, and she gave him a big smile between verses.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Him, Whose blood can cleanse each spot,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

The door at the back of the sanctuary opened, and a woman shuffled through, leaning heavily on a walker. It took a moment before she lifted her face to look at him.

Just as I am, though tossed about,
With many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings and fears, within, without,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Diego stared, and lost his place in the song. Marta? She wore a long dress that draped down over her tail, though the tips of her fluke would poke out from beneath the hem as she moved. With great effort, she would scoot the walker forward while balancing her weight on her tail, and then lean her weight on the walker to bring her tail beneath it again. He looked around for the deacons, making a subtle gesture for a couple of the men to help her.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind.
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!
.
She shook her head, refusing any help, and continued her slow progress down the aisle. The singing dwindled from those close enough to see the fluke that carried her instead of legs. Her mouth moved to the words of the final verse, but whether her voice made any sound, Diego couldn’t tell.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because Thy promise I believe,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

It was just as well the song was finished, because by that point, everyone in the congregation watched Marta progressing down the aisle. Diego motioned for the musicians to keep playing the tune, and smiled encouragement while he waited for her.

Sally came and stood beside him, laughing and crying all at the same time.

When Marta scooted to a stop in front of them, he could barely contain his own emotions. “Marta, you could have crawled up the aisle like you crawl in the Family Room. We could have rolled you up here on a gurney, if you wanted. I would have come to you, if you’d asked.”

Tears poured down her cheeks. “You would have brought the whole church to the Family Room, if I’d asked. That’s not how it’s done, though, and I was going to walk down this aisle if it killed me,” Marta said.

“Why did you need to, Marta?”

“I want that joy that you and Sally have, Diego. I want to trust like Allison did.” Her voice broke as Sally’s arms wrapped around her. “I want to know this God that whispers.”

He joined his wife in embracing Marta, and though he whispered to her, his lapel microphone picked it up and let the whole congregation hear it. “You welcomed me to your home and your family so many times, and I’ve longed for the day when I could welcome you to mine. Welcome home, Marta.”

***

Erin sat on the grass by the headstone and plucked a stray weed from the base. She adjusted the flowers and smiled. “Joshua Cardan sent these flowers, Allison,” she said. “He sent a video along as well, and I think you would have found it interesting. Marta walked, sweetheart, just like you prayed for. She walked on land, and for the same reason Peter walked on water – she was obeying her savior.”

I learned so much from you, sweetheart. I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to pray for someone else in the midst of so much personal suffering, but you did, and God heard it. Marta wants me to come visit, but I’m not sure I can.

Somehow, it just won’t be the same without you, Allison.

4 comments:

Stina Rose said...

Powerful story!

Patty Wysong said...

Now that I'm a mess...what a story, Rick. wow.

...gotta go find a tissue...

(thanks for hosting for us!!)

Joanne Sher said...

Oooohhh wow. This whole story has been SO incredibly powerful. Wow. Brought me to tears.

Sara Harricharan @ Fiction Fusion said...

WOW. What a story. I must have missed this somewhere, lol, glad I got to see and read it. What a powerful story. the raw emotion and the interaction with the whispers of Allison. I love the way Marta is so real and manages to make it real to the point where you can just feel as if you were right there, experiencing every emotion.