RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
Do you prefer reading books digitally? Well, then this offer is for you. SET FREE TO LOVE, which is Book # 1 in The Smoky Mountain Series, is available for the next four days absolutely free in digital format.
The book normally sells for $3.99, but since Amazon and I are focusing on The Smoky Mountain Series promotions this month, we’re offering the first book free — for the next 4 days only.
Also, if you don’t own a Kindle device, you can download a free Kindle app for any device that you use. You’ll find the download on the same page where you order the book.
If you enjoy inspirational fiction, I hope you’ll check out Private Detective Maddison Holt’s story in SET FREE TO LOVE. Click on the title to link to the product page for a description and to make your purchase.
When there’s no textbook on love, romance can be a little tricky. But God, who’s the original Author of romance, has all the answers in His own book. And Professor Ephraim Kent is about to get an education with a higher degree than he’s ever earned before.
Purchase your own copy in paperback or digital:
I remember two specific things about those mountains. In one sense they were a little frightening to a six-year old. Highways were not what they are now, and the less developed highways ran in among those mountains with a little more drama than they do today. The inclines were exceptionally steep in places, with warning signs everywhere about making sure autos were in lowest gear and with stories rampant about “runaway” semis going down those inclines. I remember coming around curves more than once where the road looked as though it would literally lead straight into the mountain. It was a little overwhelming in one way, but it was also tremendously exciting as well. The second thing that struck me was that within these mountains and their foothill regions dwelt people of a different culture and attitude toward life. It wasn’t just the Cherokee people who exhibited that difference. It was virtually all the people who called that place home.
That particular trip touched, not just me, but also my parents. They fell in love with Tennessee and decided that they wanted to live there. When an opportunity came to do so – through a job opening in Nashville, TN – my parents jumped at it. Nashville wasn’t in the mountains, of course, but it was a lot closer. I can honestly say that I have never lived any place that was so special to me as Nashville, Tennessee. I fell in love again – with the city of Nashville and the whole state of Tennessee.
In the years following, my family and I made many trips into the Smoky Mountains. We saw the Park and the surrounding towns change considerably during that time, but the area never lost its unique culture. And having a strong Cherokee heritage in my own life, the older I got the more I wanted to know and be known by the people who had given me my great grandmother. My immediate family and I eventually moved back to Illinois, but we have never stopped visiting the Smoky Mountains.
I’ve wondered sometimes if there’s something in my own blood that calls me home to the Smokies. I don’t recall ever visiting any other place – or even living in any other place – that kept pulling me to come back to it the way the Smokies do — or where I felt so much as if I were “home” each time I visited. Over more recent decades, I’ve tried to maneuver some things in my live and work out a way to have my work and my everyday life in the midst of that area of the country. But the Lord has kept opening doors to the ministry He wants me to do in other areas instead. So those other areas remain my world of everyday life. And, alas, I am still relegated to making visits to my mountains.
But those visits, over the years, have gleaned me an entire family of wonderful characters who do get to live and love and work and play right in the midst of the Smokies. So I’ll have to settle for that. When writing the books in The Smoky Mountain Series, I’ve lived there with them and enjoyed being “home” for all those months. There’s one more book to come, so I’ll continue that enjoyment as I write Book 5: This Fire In My Heart. I’m grateful that, through these books, I can truly live in two worlds at the same time.
My heart’s telling me that it’s time I worked things out in my schedule to make another trip to that place that’s the next best thing to Heaven. In fact, on my most recent trip to the Smokies, I picked up a little magnet for my refrigerator door that says, “Heaven’s a little closer in the mountains.” Ahhh, YES, INDEED, IT IS!
If you’d like to read the series, you’ll find the first 4 books in paperback and digital HERE.
Do you enjoy just sitting back and listening to stories? Then you’ll enjoy my newest project: Audio Short Stories. You’ll find the first story on YouTube now. I’ll make it really easy for you and insert it right here, but if you like it, hop over to the YouTube site so you can click the “thumbs up” symbol and subscribe to my channel so you’ll know when I post the next story in the project.
Been going through my Christmas story archives and pulled this one out for today.
“Well, what’a ya know,” Ben whispered, grinning, seeing his breath form vapors on the Christmas air. “Who would have thought it would be the brick sidewalk?”
He sighed. In one unexpected instant – as his feet had tread the bricks of this dear old sidewalk that had run the length of Main Street all his life – it had happened. He knew for sure the place he’d returned to was still ‘home.’
Just yesterday he’d been dreading coming back – as he had been for a week – from the time the doctors had told him he was almost well enough to make the trip. He knew for sure how much he had changed, and he couldn’t shake the deep, gut-wrenching fear that the whole world had changed as well – including the little town nestled at the foot of the mountains in Montana. He’d grown up here, played high school basketball, and dated the girl from three houses down the street until she’d decided to elope with the captain of the basketball team.
He had to chuckle to himself when he remembered how devastated he’d felt back then. It had been his first serious relationship with a girl, but in hindsight, he realized that he hadn’t really been in love – just fascinated with the boy-girl relationship.
Sometimes when he’d been hunkered down in the trenches, waiting the next command to move out into the threat of enemy fire, he’d started thinking about Allyson, and even though she belonged to someone else now, the memories comforted him. He knew even during those hours that it had nothing to do with Ally or their time together, but it was all about ‘home.’ When he thought of Ally, it took him away from the cold, wet, ugly war he was fighting.
Sometimes he’d remember his mother and could smell again the warm vanilla scent that so often clung to her from her constant baking. He’d conjure up the image of Granddad, sitting with his feet propped in front of the living room fireplace, sweet-scented smoke curling from his pipe. He’d hear again his father’s voice as he read the latest news stories from the paper as the family sat soaking up the security of their home and their quiet life together.
Then, sometimes, when he and his unit were on the move and trekking through secure territory, on their way to the next battlefront, he had remembered walking down that old brick sidewalk – past Old Man Chesterfield’s hardware store, Woolworth’s Five & Dime, the candy and tobacco shop, where he’d bought Ally that huge box of chocolates for the Valentine’s Day they’d celebrated together. There was Mrs. Gallagher’s Boutique next, and then Pansy’s Pancake House. Some days, when his senses were crystal clear, he could nearly taste those light, fluffy concoctions smothered in her special Cherry Cordial Syrup.
When he let his memory take him wherever it willed, he usually ended up thinking about Christmas, and he’d see again the decorations strung the entire length of Main Street, with lights in the windows of every storefront, snowmen standing sentry at almost every corner, and wreaths and holly hanging everywhere. He could almost feel the frost in the air and the festive atmosphere that surrounded shoppers and merchants alike from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And oh those chestnuts! The scent of roasted chestnuts hung over the main business district for two whole weeks before Christmas Day. And often he thought that sweet aroma was his favorite memory of all. Sometimes he swore he could smell those roasted chestnuts even though he was thousands of miles away on foreign soil with no hope of even a warm dinner for that night.
He’d been wishing he could have some of those chestnuts just minutes before the ambush occurred, but then bullets and grenades had killed all thoughts and images of anything but the hell breaking loose in every direction. Those same bullets and grenades had killed twenty of the men in his unit as well. When he’d taken the first hit in his leg and fallen, his best buddy had turned back to help him up. But the bullet that had caught his rescuer in the head had snuffed out his life in seconds, and Ben had taken a second bullet in the chest, blacking out at that point.
Five days later, when he’d regained consciousness in the hospital, he’d found himself hooked to all kinds of tubes and machines. The doctor had been compassionate and kind, assuring him that he was going to make it, but that it would be a month or so before he was fit to leave the hospital. When he’d asked about his unit, the news had been brutal, and he’d found himself so frozen by the grief that he hadn’t even been able to cry.
The day he’d been released and given his extended leave for home, his doctor had been wreathed in smiles. “We’re going to get you back to your family in time for Christmas, Son,” he’d said. And as much as the news brought a spurt of joy to Ben’s heart, it also brought a stab of fear.
He’s made a short journey first to the home of the man who’d been his best friend in combat, the man who’d lost his life trying to save Ben. He’d learned that Rick’s body had been shipped home for burial in the family plot. Ben knew he had to visit that grave and spend some time with Rick’s family before he could get started on the longer journey to his own family. And it was with that family, sitting in Rick’s home, remembering his buddy, that he’d finally been able to let the tears come. With his head on Rick’s mother’s shoulder, and her arms holding him tightly – the way she would never be able to hold her own son – Ben had finally cried out the pain and bitterness and loss.
Eighteen hours later, on the day before Christmas Eve, he boarded the bus that would take him to Montana. He had purposely refrained from letting his family know what bus he was taking. He had to walk out this journey one step at a time – in his own way and in his own timing. He had to find out what kind of world awaited him at the end of this journey, and he had to have the security of facing it on his own terms.
His physical wounds were almost healed, but the wound’s in his soul would be with him forever. And that’s what made him afraid. As long as he didn’t go home, he could always try to tell himself that it was still a place of peace and safety and love and laughter – and that life was still good there. But all the time he sat on the bus, heading to that little town in Montana, he battled with the fear. The questions kept circling through his mind: when he walked down the streets of his old hometown – when he stepped into his mother’s kitchen – when he visited the high school campus – when he sat in the park watching the breeze blow across the lake – when he met with friends in a restaurant –would he find what he’d left behind – or would it all be gone – forced out of existence by the same powers that had changed him forever?
Finally, at the end of the seven hour trip, he stepped off the bus, retrieved his suitcase and stood for a few moments just looking across Main Street at the row of well-remembered businesses – those stores and shops that had filled his dreams and imaginations hours at a time in the rare instances between battles.
Everything glowed with Christmas. It looked the way he would have expected it to look back before he’d had to wade through hatred, filth, and slaughter in another land. But could he relate to this place any longer? Could he ever belong here again? Would it welcome him – would he welcome what he found here now? He slowly walked across Maine and stepped onto the sidewalk that would take him from the north end of town to the south, where his parents lived.
He walked – slowly – hesitantly at first. His eyes caressed the old, worn bricks that stretched out ahead of him the whole two-mile distance of the business district, and he began to realize that each step he took was a familiar experience – the same experience he’d enjoyed for years, day in and day out – those warm brown bricks woven together by expert hands generations ago – just slightly uneven but plenty smooth enough for easy walking.
And every step reassured him. He began to breathe easier now, and as he took a good, deep breath, his nostrils twitched a little. Chestnuts, roasting, in a cart just up the street about two more blocks. He walked with more purpose then, his eyes still caressing the worn, welcoming bricks beneath his feet, stretching out before him invitingly.
Finally, he chuckled out loud. Yep … it was okay. … It was really okay. … He was okay. And this good old brick friend convinced him — more with every step he took — that home was still everything he needed it to be.
The following story is an excerpt from my Christmas anthology: STOCKING FULL OF STORIES. If you’re interested in more stories, you can find the book on Amazon in paperback or digital.
Misty laced up her skates and glided smoothly across the ice. It had been more than a year since she’d come to her favorite pond. The trees were stark silhouettes against the deep snow, barren and seemingly useless in this white wilderness. She felt that way herself. The gray world around her matched her gray and barren heart. Words came back to her now from the whispering past.
“You can’t just give up, Misty. Marcus wouldn’t want you to quit skating. He wouldn’t want you to give up the life you’ve always loved.”
She continued to circle the pond, listening to conversations in her head – all from last year. After the accident. “I can’t skate alone. I’m no good by myself. It’s always been Marcus and me together – from the time we were seventeen.”
“But you’re so gifted, dear,” Mother had insisted. “You were skating beautifully long before you even met Marcus. Why, from the time you put on your first pair of skates – remember? – the pink pair you got for Christmas when you were six? – from that very first day, you’ve been a star in the making. All your fans want to see you back out there on the ice.”
Misty had merely hung her head and wept. She new her mother meant well, but she’d never be able to understand. And Misty was glad her mother had never known that kind of loss.
But her family didn’t understand about the fans either. Yes, her own family were her personal fans, but the fans in all the ice rinks around the world hadn’t been hers. They were fans who loved Misty and Marcus – together – “the darling duo” as they’d been dubbed in more than one news story. The fans wanted to see both of them on the ice, not just one lonely girl – lost now in a world that had been her own kingdom little more than a year ago.
The cold wind bit at her, but she welcomed the pain. It matched the pain in her heart. And she welcomed the gray world she skated in now. It matched the world she lived the rest of her life in with Marcus dead.
So she skated – round and round the pond – one hour – then another. And with each trip around that pond of her childhood came the memories – like warm flashes of sunlight: the first time she’d skated in her pink skates; the first day she’d invited Marcus to skate with her there; the first competition they’d entered – and won; the grueling hours of practice that both of them had loved.
Gradually, as the happy memories flooded back and thawed the ice that had held her soul in its lonely, gray world for the past year, Misty began to feel alive again. A smile spread across her face and she flung out her arms as if to embrace this precious pond with its stark trees and white emptiness. She found herself skating into routines she’d used before she and Marcus had become a team. And gradually, she found herself adding moves to those routines. They weren’t done consciously. They just flowed from her as naturally as water flows down a hill when a barrier has been removed.
Her heart began to sing. Her body followed suit. And although the pond and all it’s surroundings were still as gray and barren as they’d been when she’d arrived, Misty discovered that she was now skating in sunshine – in the warmth of her love for Marcus and in the fire of the passion she felt for skating. Perhaps her family and friends had been right after all. Perhaps she did still have a life to live and a gift to give to the world from her kingdom on the ice.
I promised a second story by my dad concerning the WWII years. Unfortunately, lots of other work got in the way of blogging, so I’m behind — well even behinder than usual. But it’s still September, and that means we can still celebrate V-J Day and the end of the war. So here’s the second story of his that I love.
It should have been another ordinary day at the Cole farm, but the conventional pattern of activity was abruptly altered when the letter arrived. In effect, a new day was born and Cynthia was making the most of it with an explosive brand of excitement that seemed especially reserved for such an occasion.
Ben, her husband, suddenly found himself being recklessly danced around the simple but spacious kitchen. He did not resist.
“Just think,” Cynthia gleefully exclaimed. “Just think!” Isn’t it wonderful? It’s … it’s unbelievable!’
She released her encircling grasp from around Ben’s waist, raised to tiptoe, and kissed his tanned cheek. Any exhilaration he might have possessed was not outwardly conspicuous and his distant, empty gaze momentarily puzzled Cynthia.
“Honey, cheer up. Don’t you understand what this means? Our problems are over. The farm! … imagine! … the farm! We can’t lose it now! We’ll have enough to pay it off. And you can buy the new tractor and put up the white fence, even round the whole front pasture. And I can have the new refrigerator, and the sewing machine, and…”
She stopped in mid-sentence; she was bewildered, for Ben seemed strangely unimpressed. Cautiously, as if afraid she had possibly made a mistake, Cynthia hurried to the kitchen table, retrieved the letter and began to read quietly, almost inaudibly:
“I regret deeply that I must inform you of this tragedy, for I am sure Charles Romano was a special type of friend. As the court-appointed attorney to carry out the provisions of his will, it gives me a certain amount of pleasure, however, to advise that you have been named heir to all personal cash and securities in the estate. This will amount to approximately fifty-thousand dollars. I would like to set up an appointed with you to fill out the paperwork as soon as possible. I am suggesting that we meet March 22, at 10:00 a. m. here at my office in Chicago (see letterhead for street address and phone number). If those arrangements are convenient for you, please let me know as soon as possible, and we can close this matter with a minimum of delay. Respectfully, James P. Axtell, Attorney-at-law.”
She looked back at Ben, and her voice carried an accent of victory. “I was right; that’s what it says. That’s exactly what it says!”
He had been silent since reading the letter and there was no comment, even now. She moved closer. “Honey, what’s wrong? Is it a sin for a service buddy to will you some money? Why … why I think it’s fine, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. And he probably didn’t have anyone else. That’s it; he probably doesn’t have a family. Honey, you did know this Charles Romano, didn’t you?”
Ben seemed frustrated. He snapped his dusty, dilapidated hat from a chair and nervously fingered the brim. “Yeah, I knew him. That’s why I ain’t gonna take the money. Now I got work to do.” He moved toward the door but Cynthia was suddenly ahead of him and backed solidly against the latch.
“Now I don’t want to hear no more about it!” he said angrily. “I ain’t takin’ the money and I ain’t goin’ to Chicago! And don’t go askin’ me any questions because you won’t understand anyhow. Now lemme out.”
“Honey, listen to me. This is a gift from Heaven. It’s our only chance to have everything we’ve worked for. Nine years we’ve done nothin’ but dream — dream and work. What we gained, we lost during the bad season, and now they’re going to take the farm. Don’t you want to at least save that?’
Her argument seemed futile and she stepped aside. “You can go if you want to, I just thought if you insisted on throwing away our last chance to hold on, I ought to know why.”
Ben was clearly disarmed. He sauntered back to the table, a picture of defeat, replaced his hat on the back rung and dropped his long frame into the crackling wicker chair. He did not want to talk about it, but he realized now that he had made a seemingly foolish decision, and Cynthia was entitled to an explanation.
The few minutes following seemed endless.
“Do you know why this Romano fella is givin’ me this money? I’ll tell you why. Because once, back on Okinawa, I saved his life. Anyway, he thought I did. I wanted him to think that. I wanted all of ‘em to think it. But I didn’t save anybody. I lied. He ain’t givin’ me the money for nothin’ – just because I’m a friend. He thinks I saved his life. Savin’ a life is worth money, but a lie ain’t worth nothin’.
He paused, grappling with his own thoughts, and Cynthia waited.
“They made me do it!” His fists were clenched so tightly the knuckles grew pale. “They made me lie, because they wouldn’t leave me alone. I wasn’t very smart and I didn’t talk very good like most of the other fellas did. From the first day they teased me about it. I didn’t drink liquor, cuss or use dirty words like most of ‘em did, and they teased me about that too. Then they even commenced teasin’ me about readin’ my Bible every night; callin’ me ‘preacher’ and pokin’ fun like that.
“I didn’t want no part of their bad habits but they wouldn’t let me in on any of the good things either because they said I was an awkward farmer and would just mess up things. I used to lay awake nights tryin’ to think up something I could do to make ‘em treat me different, but they kept right on.”
The recollection was obviously painful, and Ben became so agitated he couldn’t sit still. Slowly he paced the width of the room, hands in pockets; then paused before the window and peered intently over the west pasture, now a sickening brown from the drought.
“What about the lie?” Cynthia inquired softly. “Tell me about it, Ben. Tell me everything. It’ll help.”
“It ain’t a good story,” he continued. “It ain’t good at all, but there ain’t no use tryin’ to hide it from you anymore.
“We were on Okinawa, just behind the front line. One day I was just sittin’ there readin’ my Bible. I read it an awful lot over there, more than I ever did before. Every spare minute I got, I read some out of that Bible. Then, all of a sudden, without sayin’ anything, someone grabs it out of my hands. It was Romano. He was a sergeant then and he always liked to bull around some, especially at me.
“He said I was readin’ that stuff too much and he believed that he would keep that Book awhile so I could keep my mind on the war we was tryin’ to win. And besides, right then he said I was supposed to take a ride with him to deliver an important message to the next division post down the line.
“It aggravated me but I didn’t say much except to tell him that I didn’t care, because if he kept the Bible long enough it might do him some good. I don’t reckon it ever did though; he wasn’t the type that the Bible could get to so easy. He tucked it inside his fatigue jacket and I never saw it again.
“We were about a mile or so from where we were goin’ when all of a sudden our jeep just flew out from under us. We’d hit a land mine. I was just scratched and bruised up a little, but the jeep was tore up bad and Romano was layin’ out to the side of the road, knocked out cold.
“Then’s when I got the idea. I was going to be a hero right then. I didn’t want to be the kind of hero that was wrote about in the papers and got medals, but just enough hero to make the fellas think different about me and treat me right.
“I wanted to make it look real good so I exploded all of my grenades and shot up most of my ammunition. I made an awful racket so they could hear me up the line.
“Then I carried Romano in to the post and reported how we were attacked by a Jap patrol, and how Romano was knocked out right off, and how I fought them off and got him back to safety. I didn’t figure Romano knew what happened anyway, so I wasn’t worried about that.
“It worked real good. The post sent a message back to my outfit and they were waitin’ for me … all of ‘em wantin’ to pat me on the back. They sure started treatin’ me different, and for the first time I began to feel real good. I knew I had sinned, but I never did feel too bad about it because all I wanted was to be treated right. Just the same, I asked the Lord to forgive me, and I thought He did, but now I don’t know.
He buried his face in his hands as if completely exhausted. Regaining his composure, he turned to Cynthia. She was silent, but her eyes were warm with pity and understanding, and he began to feel relieved.
In an instant her arms were tight around his neck and he knew she understood.
Foreclosure proceedings were to commence within a week, and Cynthia had finally resigned herself to that fact. She had been holding on for months to her usual, unfaltering faith that something would come along to save the farm. But nothing could happen now, she decided. The miracle had come and gone.
She began the arduous task of convincing Ben that losing the farm would not be so difficult after all, but inwardly she grew increasingly afraid. He was not the same man she had always known. He seemed to dwell in a form of solitary confinement, oblivious to the usual activities that had always drawn his daily attention. His every action became laboriously mechanical, without heart and clearly without hope. Nothing seemed to matter now — nothing but sheer existence alone.
More frightening was Ben’s sudden rebellion against his characteristic faith in God. Quietly — in his usual manner — but openly, as a gesture of defiance, he began to criticize the wisdom of his Creator.
“ ‘The Lord works in wondrous ways, His miracles to perform;’ that’s Scripture,” he told Cynthia, “but I don’t hardly believe it anymore. He gave me a miracle alright, but I also got a conscience that won’t let me use it. It ain’t a just miracle, that’s what. He ain’t got no reason to torture me like He’s doin.”
Three weeks later, a long black sedan had rolled up the drive and nearly reached the circular turn in the front yard before Ben or Cynthia realized a visitor was on the premises.
Ben eased open the screen door and walked onto the porch, Cynthia following. They noticed it simultaneously: “foreign” license plates. Out-of-state people were not usually seen around the farm – except for a few years ago, when an occasional “city farmer” would drive up to deal for Ben’s prize Black Angus cattle. The promising cattle program had been terminated two years ago when the sale of all breeding stock became necessary to meet payments on the farm.
Now, Ben and Cynthia stood there, surveying the stranger as he approached the porch, lugging a briefcase that seemed far out of proportion to his size. He was a small elderly man, dignified in appearance, yet his face reflected a friendly glow.
“Hi folks,” he greeted. “Just had the most wonderful drive of my life. My, what country! Beautiful I call it, beautiful!”
“Not bad,” Ben retorted, “we always liked it.”
The stranger squinted up at the softly swaying trees shading the yard, then scanned the valley sprawling below to his left.
“Beautiful country,” he repeated, “beautiful.”
“I’m wonderin’ if I could help you,” Ben interrupted.
“If you are Mr. Ben Cole, you certainly may. I was assuming you were since a fellow down the road told me this was the house.”
“I am Ben Cole, but if you’re lookin’ for Black Angus I ain’t had any for two years, and —”
“Whatever Black Angus is,” the stranger chuckled, “I’m sure I would enjoy it, but I’m interested in you particularly. My name is Axtell, by the way, John Axtell. I’m a lawyer.”
He spread the opened briefcase on the edge of the porch and withdrew a bulging manila folder.
“I have something here that I believe might be of interest. I mailed a letter to you about three weeks ago but I don’t suppose you received it, so I decided that I had better handle the matter personally.”
Ben moved closer.
“What did you say your name was?”
“John Axtell, A-X-T-E-L-L”
“Well, you might as well go, Mr. Axtell; I ain’t takin’ the money.”
The lawyer was stunned, but he cleverly withheld any expression of surprise.
“So you did receive the letter?” he asked simply.
“I got it.”
“Why didn’t you at least answer?”
“Because I didn’t aim to take the money three weeks ago, just like I ain’t aimin’ to take it now.”
“May I ask, why not?”
“That ain’t none of your business mister, but mainly on account of I didn’t earn it.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Here is a service buddy grateful to you because you once were responsible for saving his life. I know of quite a few people who have been willed fortunes who did a lot less to earn them. I would say giving a man his life is quite an accomplishment.”
“I didn’t save nobody’s life, but that ain’t none of your business either. If you don’t mind, go and leave me alone.”
Cynthia tugged at his arm.
“Honey don’t be rude,” she pleaded. “You don’t have to do nothin’ you don’t want to do, but talk to him nice.”
Axtell thumbed through the folder then removed the check.
“Here is a Cashier’s Check for fifty thousand dollars, made to your order, Mr. Cole. It’s yours without strings.”
“I ain’t takin’ it,” Ben repeated vigorously, “I don’t want it.”
“Alright, if you insist, let’s get technical. You didn’t save the man’s life. So let’s say that it just happened the Bible was inside the jacket, and it just happened the Bible belonged to you.”
“The one you were always reading. Mr. Romano told me all about you and your Bible the day I drew up his will. Now let’s get on with the technicalities, and you correct me if I happen to go astray.
“According to Mr. Romano, one day on Okinawa you and he were scheduled to make a dispatch run, and when he finally located you, there you were reading the Bible again. Jokingly, he snapped the Book from you and placed it inside his jacket. Is that right?”
Ben grew apprehensive with the fear that his hoax was not the secret he had thought it to be.
He nodded. “That’s right – so far.”
“Well, just before you reached your destination, your jeep ran over a land mine. Romano didn’t remember anything after that until he regained consciousness aboard a hospital ship where he had been rushed because of a concussion. That’s where a doctor brought in the Bible. It wasn’t in a very readable condition then; a huge, jagged chunk of shrapnel had … well, damaged it. The shrapnel was from the land mine; it had cut through the entire width of the Book and was lodged tight.
“It was the doctor’s opinion that Romano would have died instantly if the Book had not been inside his jacket. I guess you could say it was one case where a Bible literally saved a man’s life.
“Now, Mr. Cole, let’s put two and two together and try to imagine how that jeep ride would have turned out if you and that Bible hadn’t been around.”
Ben stood transfixed, hardly believing what he had heard. Tears were streaming down his cheeks unabated. Although somewhat confused by the strange behavior, Axtell suddenly realized that Ben had reached a new decision.
“Just sign this receipt,” he said, offering a pen.
Ben was barely conscious of Axtell shaking his hand as he departed.
He was barely conscious of standing arm in arm with Cynthia, watching the sedan disappear behind a distant hill.
“He sure does,” Ben finally mumbled, letting out a quiet sigh.
“What?” Cynthia asked in a whisper.
“Work in wondrous ways, His miracles to perform. … He sure does.”
Copyright © 1950 Ted Pavloff
Sunday was V-J Day in the United States, celebrating the end of World War II. In honor of that wonderful time of relief from the trauma and sorrow of war, I’m sharing two short stories set in that time period. The stories are by my father, Ted Pavloff, who is now with the Lord. He may not be here with us any longer, but his stories are still with us, just as alive and as powerful and encouraging as they were when first written. Today, I’m posting the first story, and tomorrow, I’ll post the second.
THE DAY I FORGOT TO HATE
(“Even though the characters and events in this story are fictitious, it was born out of my experiences during combat in the South Pacific Theater during WWII.” —Ted Pavloff)
The gray light of dawn was filtering through the dense leafage when we finally pushed our way out of the heavy undergrowth into the small clearing; Corporal Willmet, PFC Conte, and myself. We three made up one of the frequent patrols to probe the eerie stillness of no-mans-land during the bleak hours of night and early morning.
We had sought out this particular clearing many times before (a queer, growth-free patch, isolated in the midst of solid jungle) to comfortably relax with a cigarette and sort out the results of the current trek.
We were a confident trio, and perhaps our gutsy attitude was justified to a certain degree. Encounters with Japanese patrols and snipers were anything but strange adventure, and the fingers of our hands were not ample to count the number of enemy soldiers we had personally annihilated.
The venomous hatred we shared for the Japanese forged us into a natural combination, and we relished every opportunity to satisfy that bitterness by destroying the enemy. We had come to consider the killing of Japs as a sort of game … a release that made the discomforts of war worthwhile.
The usual mixed sounds of the jungle surrounded us this humid morning as we stretched out on the damp turf. There was little reason to suspect approaching danger, and, carelessly, we dismissed the possibility.
Then it happened. They swept out of the jungle from every side and bayonets were pressing against our stomachs before we could touch our weapons. At first I thought it was a nightmare, and it seemed minutes passed before my mind cleared to the realization that I lay at the mercy of the enemy. I should have been terribly frightened, but whatever measure of fear I might have possessed was totally eclipsed by hate, and I could not detect it.
Desperately I wanted to fight back, but there was small profit in inviting certain death. I ordered my companions to lie motionless and hoped the next few moments would bring the break we would need.
I surveyed the Jap soldiers coldly. They were a poorly clad, hungry looking group and, to my eyes, ripe for the sword. The officer in command was extremely youthful looking and clearly the smallest in stature, but his appearance was deceiving.
His orders poured forth with powerful authority, every word emphasized with vigorous motions of his head and arms. The soldiers reacted instantly, and while three bayonets pinned us in a prone position, the remaining troopers hurriedly appropriated the K-rations in our packs.
Then, with a gesture I considered a mocking insult, the young officer tossed several pieces of Japanese currency at my feet, and turned to rejoin his men. It was at this instant he spotted one of his soldiers who had backed off a few paces, raised his rifle, and carefully aimed at my head. With the agility and speed characteristic of the Japs, the officer threw himself at the would-be killer and dropped him heavily to the ground. The hapless offender suffered several solid lashes across his face before he was finally permitted to join his comrades in a hasty retreat from the clearing.
Obviously pleased over the successful display of his prowess, the officer bowed courteously and smiled, then saluted a farewell.
I did not share his satisfaction. The knowledge that my life had been spared for some inconceivable reason was lost in a hatred that made my stomach ache. Vengefully, I hoped for a future meeting … over the sights of my rifle.
During the week that followed we were spared the relentless torture of night patrol, and the day treks were relatively uneventful. Frequently, and often at unexpected moments, I found myself stabbed by spasms of anger that stemmed from the humiliation of having been successfully snared by the enemy. Even though I had not been harmed physically, I stubbornly refused to be grateful. I was furious that I had been captured at all and vowed revenge upon every Jap I could maneuver into firing range.
Revenge was uppermost in my mind that bright afternoon as we trudged through the jungle on a routine patrol. We were advancing in a widely dispersed position, intent upon sweeping as much terrain as possible with a minimum of commotion.
I was advancing slowly in an oblique path toward a peculiar rise of solid rock, when the figure appeared unexpectedly …. I froze. It was a Jap …. Momentarily, I was mystified over his apparent lack of concern about concealing himself, and also the fact that he was unarmed. He was stripped to the waist and the beads of perspiration on his bronze flesh glistened in the bright streaks of sunlight leaking through the heavy foliage. I crouched low as he stepped to a narrow ledge of the rock and looked about him.
Then it hit me like a blockbuster – it was the youthful officer who had captured and humiliated me in the clearing! Ahhh … finally, I thought, we meet again. I gloated silently and promptly began mental preparations to repay a debt I thought to be long overdue. I studied the situation carefully …. I wanted a clean aim. So with unconscious movements of my body, I urged him toward the near edge of the rock.
As if responding to a spoken command, he leaped from the perch and approached a mound of rock directly in my line of vision, then hastily removed a cluster of loose branches and brush from a small hollow in the base of the mound.
I lined up for the kill. I held my breath. Then just as my finger was closing securely around the trigger, my eyes suddenly spotted the crude wooden cross that had been secured in that hollowed out area.
I peered down the long rifle barrel in confused amazement as he dropped to his knees. His right hand raised to his forehead, moved down to his chest, then to his left shoulder, and across to his right – the Sign of The Cross! My hands grew numb and my arms trembled uncontrollably.
I’m not sure exactly how long the moment lasted. But slowly … surely … as surely as I had taken aim at what would have been a sure target, I felt myself lowering that same rifle and letting it slip from my grip. Without any conscious thought, I bowed my head.
I couldn’t account for my reaction. But a miracle had taken place. My fervent, persistent, burning desire to kill the enemy had melted away.
Within a few seconds I relived every detail of the incident in the clearing, when he and his men had captured us, and suddenly the realization hit me: The Jap officer’s actions in preventing my murder and leaving the money were not prompted by secondary motives. This man was a Christian. Painfully, I contrasted these truths with the hatred that fed my incessant drive to destroy the enemy anywhere I found him, and under any circumstances. Tearfully, I surrendered to my shame.
I cannot be certain of the length of time I remained in a state of remorseful meditation, but when I finally raised my eyes, the Cross was again carefully camouflaged, and the officer had vanished. I lingered only a short while. Then I set out to join Willmet and Conte … strangely happy and refreshed … having been set free from the terrible, unbearable burden of hate.
© 1950, 2012 Ted Pavloff
I haven’t had much time to write new stories this past month, but I have a lot of new followers on this site, so I decided I’d dig back through my archives and give a few of the old stories some fresh air. They will be new for many readers, and, hopefully, enjoyable the second time around for a few others.
As Mitzi sat on the bus, she enjoyed the rhythmic movement. And she enjoyed the respite from the heat she’d been walking in for the past hour. She leaned just slightly against Pete’s leg, both for the comfort of knowing he was there and the reassurance that he was all right. He was her responsibility, after all, and she never forgot that for one moment.
Her nostrils flared slightly as she gradually identified and responded to all the various scents that wafted through the air of the full vehicle. There was the expected scent of human sweat, and that was a natural part of Mitzi’s life, so even though one or two of the passengers had probably failed to bathe that day, Mitzi’s sense of smell was not insulted by it. Then there was the unmistakeable scent of cigarettes that clung to the clothing and hair of half the people on the bus – a scent that just couldn’t seem to be erased or camouflaged effectively by any order eliminators. There were pleasant scents too, of course, as various degrees of perfumes filtered through the air, surrounding Mitzi as well. She couldn’t have told anyone which flowers, which wood essences, or which spices had been used, but she most certainly recognized the scents as natural and non-threatening.
However, dearest to Mitzi’s heart during most of her bus rides were all the delicious scents that emanated from the grocery bags and baskets carried by some of the passengers. Many days Mitzi found this trip on the bus thoroughly enjoyable because she could sit and sniff the tantalizing aromas of pork, or fish, or – her favorite – salami from the Italian market at the end of Jasper Street. Her nose was hard at work now, sorting through all the variety of groceries, trying to determine exactly who it was who had that salami. There! Mitzi’s gaze zeroed in on a lady in a green coat, sitting just three rows up from Mitzi and Pete. Delicious! Mitzi was hungry.
But right after identifying the owner of the salami, Mitzi turned her head to the side just slightly and sniffed harder. There was something else in the air. Something new. Something unusual for the interior of this bus. Something … not right somehow. She wriggled in place a time or two, turned her head the other direction, but then brought it right back to where she’d been focusing. Some sixth sense stirred a warning so deep inside that it put every sense on high alert. Even the hair in her coat bristled. She whimpered and moved again, restlessly. Pete reached a hand over and patted her head, then scratched her ear slightly. “You getting’ restless, old girl?” he asked tenderly.
The young man sitting in the seat that faced Pete spoke now. “That’s a beautiful dog you have there, Sir. A guide dog, if I’m not mistaken?”
Pete turned unseeing eyes toward the young man, his hand still resting on Mitzi’s head. “Yes. Yes, she is … and the best in the world. Been with me for ten years now.” He chuckled and ruffed Mitzi’s fur affectionately. “We’re both getting pretty old, but we keep sojourning on together.”
“She seems very affectionate,” the young man replied. “I noticed how she leans against your leg constantly.”
“Yes, that’s her habit. Feels responsible for me, I think.” He turned his head as if to look down at Mitzi, who had glanced up at him. “Good girl, Mitzi,” he said. His voice had grown gravely with age, but there was still a tone of kindness that over-road everything else when he spoke. His eyes didn’t see the look in Mitzi’s. It was a look of concentration … wariness. She was puzzled by what she smelled – by what every nerve in her body was beginning to pick up on – and she wanted her master to know.
Aware, by training, that he would not see her face or her movements, she understood that she would need to convey her concern by sounds and movements he could feel. So she wriggled agitatedly and leaned harder on his leg, still sniffing the air, her head turning several directions, trying to get a reading on exactly what and where the problem came from.
All of her senses eventually focused on a passenger across the aisle and two rows up from Pete. He was reading a newspaper, his black briefcase on the floor, held snugly between his feet. Her eyes focused and a low growl sounded in her throat.
Pete was concerned. Mitzi never behaved in such a manner on this bus. She was used to riding it, and she never had negative responses to people. But she whimpered now, pressing Pete’s leg even harder. He leaned down, wrapping one arm around the dog’s neck. “What is it, Mitzi? What’s wrong, girl?”
Mitzi whimpered again, then whined openly. “Shhhh,” Pete whispered. “Quiet, girl. We’ll be home soon.”
There were two more stops before the corner where Pete and Mitzi got off the bus. That meant at least 20 more minutes, and Pete was a little worried that some of the other passengers might become frightened if Mitzi continued growling – even though it was low.
But Mitzi growled again, and then immediately emitted a sharp bark.
“Mister, you’d better keep a tight hold on that dog of yours. She sounds mean to me,” said an overweight guy sitting behind Pete.
Pete turned in his seat to address the man face-to-face, even though he couldn’t see him. “Oh, Mitzi would never hurt you, sir. She’s as gentle as a lamb.” Just then, though, Mitzi’s growl and tug at her leash indicated things could be otherwise.
“Hey, shut that mutt up!” another man yelled from several rows up.
“Hey, Pete,” the driver called back. “What’s going on back there? Your dog never gave us any trouble before.”
“I know, Randal. I don’t understand it myself.” At that moment, Mitzi barked sharply again and pulled on her leash so hard that Pete only barely held her in check. By this time, she was up on her feet and pulling harder on the leash, whining, and giving Pete every signal she could give to say he needed to follow her lead. She looked toward the man holding the briefcase between his feet. Her eyes were focused on the briefcase, though none of the passengers realized that fact. They thought she focused on the man himself.
“Sir, you need to get that dog off this bus,” came from a middle-aged woman. She didn’t want to insult a blind man, but she was starting to become frightened herself. Pete stood to his feet to try to handle Mitzi better.
At that moment, the bus slowed to make it’s next stop, and there was still one more to go before Pete’s stop came along. But by this time, Mitzi was almost beside herself, pulling on her leash with all her strength, whimpering now, more than growling. It was as if she’d traded her natural instinct to attack the “enemy” for her well-trained instinct to protect her master.
Once the bus was stopped, the driver stood and called back to Pete. “I’m sorry, Pete, but I think you’re going to have to get Mitzi off of here now.”
Pete nodded. “Yes … yes, you’re right Randal. He turned his head in an effort to address the other passengers, just hoping they could see his face enough to recognize his sincerity. “I’m sorry, folks. Mitzi’s such a good dog —”
Before he could finish his sentence, Mitzi had emitted another sharp bark and jerked the leash so hard that Pete nearly lost his hold completely. “All right, girl. I’m coming!” he said and began to move down the aisle behind his dog.
The driver took the time to help Pete down the steps. He knew the old man could get down just fine under normal circumstances, but for some reason, today was anything but normal. “I’m sorry, Pete,” he said again. “You take it easy walking from here.”
“Pete reached out toward the voice to touch Randal’s arm. He made contact and patted the arm. “It’s all right, Randal. I’ll figure out what’s wrong, and we’ll be back to ride tomorrow with no problems, I’m sure.”
The door slid closed; Randal changed gear, and the bus moved on down the road. Pete knelt down to talk to Mitzi. How strange, he thought. The dog was completely calm now. No more growls, no more whimpers. She wagged her tail and licked his cheek. Sorely puzzled, he rubbed her back and spoke reassuringly. “Good girl, Mitzi. You’re a good, good girl.”
As he knelt there beside her on the sidewalk, the bus moved on to the end of the block, and then on to the end of the next block, where it exploded and burst into flames.
Just wanted to let readers know that the inspirational novel The Professor’s Education is now selling on Amazon in paperback and digital. Many of you read the novel free right here on this site a few months ago. And many of you expressed your enjoyment of it as well. Thank you again.
Now, here’s my pitch. If you did read it for free here and enjoyed it, how about purchasing a copy for a friend or loved one who enjoys inspirational romance?
And, by the way, did you know that a lot of men enjoy inspirational romance novels? It isn’t just us gals. I’ve had a number of gentlemen tell me how much they appreciate reading a good Christian love story. Sooooo, girls, why not buy one for your boyfriend or hubby?
And thanks in advance.
This post is a continuation of “Still In Love with Maddison Holt after All These Years.” I included Chapter One of the novel in that post and promised two more. Here’s the final installment:
Exhausted beyond words, Maddison pulled up to the farmhouse, dragged his suitcase out of the trunk and himself up the steps. Since the lights were out except for the one over the stove in the kitchen, he knew he’d need to use his own key.
As he stepped into the kitchen, warm, familiar, homey smells surrounded him and soothed him. In the dim light, his eyes automatically sought and rested on the oversized wooden table that stood right in the middle of the big room, and on all of the white metal and enameled cabinets and appliances that flanked the two walls opposite the door. The stove and sink were modern enough to be convenient, but the cabinets had seen at least two generations of living in this house.
The sight of them, along with the hardwood floor, polished to a shine and scattered with colorful rugs, the dried flowers hanging beside the old wooden coat rack to his right, Uncle Matt’s worn Bible open on one end of the table where he’d had his bedtime snack … they all welcomed him and comforted him.
He crossed over to the table, seeing that there was a note propped against the napkin holder. He picked it up and switched on the ceiling light to see it better. It read:
Since you said you didn’t have any idea what time you’d be here, I didn’t wait up. I figured if you forgot your key, you could pound on the door loud enough to wake me. Just come on in and get comfortable. Your room’s ready, and there’s loads of stuff to eat in the kitchen. Just sleep until you wake up in the morning. We’ll have plenty of time to talk after that. I love you, Maddison, and I’m sure glad you’re going to be here with me for a while.
Maddison grinned and spoke out loud: “Sleep until I wake up. If I do that, Uncle Matt, it may be two whole days before you see me.” He tucked the note into his shirt pocket, picked up his suitcase, turned out the lights, and headed upstairs to the room that was always reserved for him. Just before sleep claimed him, his mind recalled Beth’s engaging face, surrounded by tousled honey-colored curls, her deep golden eyes full of compassion as he’d told her about his brother. And with that unbidden image came an unexpected, quiet comfort that wrapped around his heart and led him to the first peaceful rest he’d had in weeks.
Not too many miles away, Beth was saying “Goodnight” to her mom and brother. They had talked over the plan Maddison had laid out. Adele, naturally wanted Lex to help her understand what had brought him to this place, but all he did was take her hand in his and say, “I’m just too tired to talk any more tonight, Mom.” She knew better than to press right now, so she just hugged him and told him to sleep well.
Just before he left the room, though, another thought struck her, and she asked, “But, Lex, what about the gun?”
“Mr. Holt took it. He said he had a way of getting it turned over to the police without getting me into more trouble.” He grinned and shook his head. “I just bet he can do it too.”
Adele had finally agreed to turn in after Beth promised to do so herself once she’d had a cup of tea. So Beth finally found herself alone in the quiet living room, snuggled into a corner of the sofa, sipping tea, and trying to gather and settle her erratic thoughts.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t tonight’s events that her mind kept returning to. It was last year … her engagement to Derek … and all that had happened since her mother had become ill. She had thought she knew Derek well enough to want to spend the rest of her life with him. They had dated regularly for about a year before becoming engaged.
True, he was selfish at times, but then most all of the men she knew were that way. Her father hadn’t been, but then that was another generation. The world was different now, so people were different. Besides, she couldn’t keep waiting all her life for some “Prince Charming” like she’d read about in all those romance novels she used to turn to during school years as a respite from studying.
Still, the force of Derek’s objections had come as a complete surprise. Their discussions replayed in her mind now, as they had several times this past ten months. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Derek had said. “You can’t honestly be considering messing up our plans and turning yourself into a nursemaid for months! I’m due for this promotion in two months, and we need to get the wedding out of the way, so you can make the move to Maryland with me.”
“But, Derek, to consign my mother to a nursing home, with a visit from me only once a month isn’t right. And you’re wrong about Lex. He won’t do just as well staying with our eighty-year-old aunt until he finishes school.”
“I thought you loved me,” he’d said, a wounded expression on his face.
“It isn’t a question of whether I love you. I love my mother too. She never failed to be there for me, to nurse me and love me through everything .… In fact, she was always there for all of us, never holding herself back. How could it be fair, the way she’s suffering already, for me to relegate her to some strange place, surrounded by strange people, when I’m strong and healthy enough to take care of her?”
“But that’s what those places are for.”
“Derek, I’ve always tried to live by what I see in God’s Word. You know that. I just don’t see anything in His Word that says it’s all right to shove our sick parents off into the hands of strangers when we have the ways and means to care for them.”
“You can’t expect every little decision you make to be covered in the Bible!” Derek had said.
“Actually, Derek, I think you can, at least to some extent. But that doesn’t matter. God’s Word does say to honor our parents. I know that obeying them comes to an end when we become adults, but honoring them is supposed to last their whole life, isn’t it? And I just can’t see that what you’re suggesting is a way of honoring my mother. I just can’t do it.”
It had been the same argument a number of times, and they had finally agreed to get some counseling from their pastor. He had tried to help Derek see that a few months, or even a year, of sacrifice for a loved one shouldn’t be considered as something destructive to the love between Derek and Beth. “If what you two have for each other is going to last a lifetime,” he’d said, “it’s going to have to withstand much greater stresses than this one over the intervening years.”
But Derek had remained adamant, and had even said some things to Beth that had been unnecessarily hurtful, so they had parted. He had maintained that she didn’t love him enough if she could make the choices she’d made, and after a while, Beth realized that probably she hadn’t, at least not enough to be the wife he wanted. Perhaps, after all, God had stepped in and shown her the truth before she made a bigger mistake, and both of them had ended up a few years from now broken-hearted by a marriage that never should have taken place at all.
The heartbreak she’d expected to feel had never materialized. She felt sad that their relationship had ended with bad feelings on Derek’s part, and for a short time, she had mourned not having the marriage she’d dreamed about for months. But she knew now that marriage to Derek wouldn’t have fulfilled that dream anyway.
She’d talked it over with the Lord several times the last few months, and she prayed again now as she had prayed those other times. “Dear Lord, I’m believing You to help Derek find the kind of woman he needs for a wife … one who sees things the way he does and who can appreciate him and his beliefs. … And maybe … maybe not … but just maybe, there’s a man out there who sees things the way I do.” She sighed. “I’ll admit it seems like a long shot, Lord, but if anybody can come up with a man like that, You can.”
Suddenly, in the midst of her prayer, she saw again a pair of black-lashed, searching gray eyes. Once again there was a sense of recognition. … Then the vision was gone, drifting away like all of her other thoughts and words, on a wave of exhaustion that finally forced her to her bed. Trying to understand any of it any better would have to wait for another day.
On sale this week only .
It all started the evening of Thanksgiving Day, 2002. I’d been toying with the idea for months, but hadn’t done anything about it. I’d written non-fiction books and articles for years – and for all sorts of venues – but the idea of sitting down and writing an entire novel was still just that: an idea. I knew I was ready to get started, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted the story to go. Thoughts popped in and out of my head, sometimes melding, but sometimes bouncing off each other, and I didn’t really have an entire plot settled in my mind yet. I did know the setting. I had just returned two months prior from my favorite place on the planet – The Great Smoky Mountains – and I knew for sure that I was going back there in the first novel I wrote.
I had spent most of Thanksgiving Day with my family – feasting, fellowshipping, celebrating. But I excused myself earlier than usual because I was anxious to get home and open up my Canon electric typewriter. I’d made up my mind that procrastination had come to an end, and the time had come to dive into my first novel.
And, yes, it’s true. I was still using a typewriter. I hadn’t moved into the computer age at all, and, quite frankly, had no intention of doing so at that time. I was perfectly happy pounding my little typewriter keyboard and hearing its quiet hum and the gentle, but efficient sound of its carriage return. The only desk in the house was so loaded with various kinds of office equipment that I didn’t even consider trying to clean it off enough to use it for the writing project. Besides, I didn’t have a chair that was comfortable to sit in for long periods of time if I used the desk. So after a little deliberation, I placed a rather large round footstool in the middle of my living room floor, sat my Canon on top of it, pulled up a chair that was just the right height, and sat down to write chapter one.
I didn’t have a title, of course, not being completely sure where I was going with this story. I had the beginning, and I wanted to get it down while it was fresh. Then after that, there would be time to do some more thinking and try to set down some sort of outline for the rest of the project. As a creative writing teacher, I always tell my students to follow their creativity, and when an idea is hot, get it into print right then. You don’t have to wait until you have the entire story in your head and have a clear outline printed out before you start. But once you have the material that was throbbing through your brain safely under wraps, then it’s a good idea to lay out some form of outline (although it can be very informal) to help keep yourself on track as you move through all the succeeding chapters.
I knew my main character, Maddison Holt. He was a private detective from the moment he came to life in my thoughts. I’d had plenty of experience with P. I’s. My husband, after years in regular law enforcement positions, had opened his own detective agency and managed it for many years. He hired others to work with him, and, believe me, after several years of hanging around with those detectives – and serving as secretary for some of those years and writing up their reports for my husband’s agency – I knew what a detective’s life was like. So I had that part pretty well covered. And, of course, I had planned a romance as part of the story all along. And, thankfully, I knew about romance as well – the good side and the bad side.
But as I wrote chapter one, I didn’t know Maddison nearly as well as I was going to before the novel was finished. He grew from chapter one and became a much more interesting and lovable person as he walked through his life-changing experiences.
Now, just in case a few of my readers are concerned that the name Maddison seems strange for a man, perhaps I’d better set the record straight. I’ve had one or two people mention that concern to me when they read the book. But, you see, the name Madison (or Maddison) was, for multiple decades, primarily a name given to boys – not girls.
That habit of naming children incurred a significant change in 1984, when the movie Splash came to the big screen. In that movie, the main female character – a mermaid who turns into a woman — discovers that, in order to function successfully with other people, she needs a name. As she’s walking down the street with the male lead, trying to decide on a name, she looks up and discovers a street sign for “Madison Avenue.” She decides that she likes the name Madison and adopts it for her own.
From that point on, and for at least the next decade, hundreds of baby girls found themselves christened “Madison,” and the tide was turned. Now the name is used for many more girls than boys, but, the truth is still the same. Madison is a good strong name for a man. I’m not sure why I gave my Maddison two d’s in his name. I did so without conscious thought, and once when I considered changing it, I just couldn’t seem to make myself do so. I knew him by that name, and he just wasn’t the same person if I changed his spelling. Call me peculiar if you’d like, but I’m the author, and I got to make that call.
Maddison was hurting when he first stepped onto the pages of Set Free To Love, and he had good reason. He was tormented by problems caused partly by the results of evil at work in this world, and partly by his own faulty thinking. But as he struggled to hold onto his faith in God – and as he learned to let God take control and work through His holy Word to change Maddison – the tide of battle turned, and Maddison came into the victory he so grievously needed. Other characters faced their own crises as well – which also affected Maddison – and they, too, learned to find their solutions in the Word of God. Readers of the book were drawn into the characters’ lives and their victories through God’s Word in ways that, hopefully, encouraged and inspired them as they proceeded through the book.
Well, Set Free To Love came out in the market place about twelve years ago, and since then, many readers have come to know and love Maddison Holt. And they’ve been inspired to trust God every day for His love and mercy in their own lives in the same way they experienced the characters in the book trusting God and receiving deliverance and victory in their lives.
The book has been my best-selling novel by far, and although I truly love all of the other eleven novels I’ve written – and I have to say I have no actual favorites – I can say without hesitation that SET FREE TO LOVE will always have the same special place in my heart that a firstborn child has in the heart of most mothers. And as for Maddison himself – well, let’s just say I’m as much in love with him as I was on Thanksgiving Day, 2002 – maybe more so. And why not? He’s been one of the best things to happen to me in my entire life.
This month is a special celebration month for me. Although I’ve had my books on the market for over twelve years, this month marks my third year of publishing with Amazon. So I’m celebration with a special sale on SET FREE TO LOVE. I’m also posting excerpts of the first three chapters. Just below this paragraph, you’ll find Chapter One, and in the next two posts coming up, you’ll find Chapter Two and Chapter Three respectively. Now, enjoy first excerpt below. And if you feel that you – just maybe – could fall in love with him too, hop on over to Amazon and order a copy of SET FREE TO LOVE for yourself.
SET FREE TO LOVE – EXCERPT
As his vision suddenly blurred, Maddison realized he’d let it happen again. He swiped at his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, trying at the same time to pinch back more tears. He’d have to pull off the highway, if he didn’t get better control of himself. The next moment, he could feel the anger boiling up from deep inside, needing an outlet. He’d swung back and forth like this relentlessly, between the tears and the anger for … how many weeks had it been now … way too many … but then not really enough … not enough to dull the pain or answer any of the questions.
He had cleared his vision in time to see the turn into the rest area he’d been anticipating for several miles. He parked in a space right in front of the two well lit buildings and managed to drag his body from the car, feeling as if every part of him were too heavy to move of its own volition.
“Mmm-Mmm!” It felt so good to stretch arms and legs … and back and neck … and … everything, for that matter. His last stop had been almost six hours ago, and after driving that long without a break, just standing up and breathing the crisp night air felt like a blessing.
Maddison Holt was used to driving, though. It was part and parcel of his work. Ten years as a police officer had naturally included extended hours behind the wheel of a squad car, but since he had established his own detective agency eight years ago, he had really laid on the miles. Even the brand new Avalon he’d bought only a couple of months ago already registered past three thousand on the odometer.
He leaned against the side of that car now, breathing in the fall night, thinking that during those eight years, he must have made close to a hundred stops like this at public rest areas along the interstates he’d traveled. It was late enough that there was no one else around except a couple of truckers over on their side of the park, obviously getting in their required quota of sleep. That was good. He needed the stillness … the aloneness.
He was a tall man … six foot, two, and strongly built … all muscle. There hadn’t been time for any of it to turn to fat, and at forty, he knew it had been a blessing that he’d had to push himself hard enough to stay in shape. But his strength wasn’t all physical. Anyone who met him instantly recognized a power and authority that emanated from him without any conscious effort on his part.
His dark brown hair was streaked with gray, but that didn’t detract from his looks. He wasn’t exactly handsome; most of his features were unremarkable. But thick, curling, black lashes always drew attention immediately to his eyes … gray eyes that seemed to change their shade with every emotion. They lit up, flashing shades of silver and blue when he laughed, which rarely happened these days. But when his feelings became intense, they turned to charcoal. Tonight, though, they were just tired, red-streaked, and burning, from the strain of driving so long … and … he had to admit to himself … probably from all the hours of crying that had gone on intermittently over the past several weeks.
He wasn’t ashamed to cry, but … He shook his head now at his own thoughts. “Man!” His voice was gruff in the still night air. “I can’t even keep from crying any more! How does a tough cop get to be so weak that he just gives in to whatever feelings overpower him at the moment?”
But he finally pushed all these thoughts from his mind as he pushed himself away from the car and headed for the lighted building that housed the vending machines. Coffee, hot and strong, that’s what he needed right now. At least two cups, he thought, as he dug his wallet from his back pocket. “I hope these machines have plenty of change,” he muttered out loud. “I need a load of sugar too.”
He had thrown a couple of sandwiches and some soft drinks into a cooler on the floor of the car, but he had finished those off at the last rest stop, not stopping again until now even to go to the bathroom … a fact that he suddenly now realized needed to be remedied before he slipped this dollar bill into the machine.
Having taken care of that most pressing need, he sat down at one of the isolated tables and polished off a chocolate-coated ice cream bar and a twin-pack of chocolate cupcakes covered with icing, along with the already pre-determined two cups of coffee. Disposing of his trash and heading for the car, he spoke out loud in a surprised tone: “I do feel better!” He couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “I guess maybe it isn’t just the female gender who benefit from all that chocolate.”
Back on the interstate, he was glad traffic was light because his mind kept wandering. In about another three hours, he’d be turning gratefully into the long driveway at the farm. Uncle Matt’s farm … nestled in close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park … just close enough to Gatlinburg to benefit from any entertainment it offered, but just far enough out to miss the relentless press of the tourists.
How many times the two Holt brothers had made this journey together, pushing eagerly to get to the one place on earth they could always totally relax. … The Holt brothers … five years apart in age, but so close in spirit and soul. Maddison had been named for Grandfather Holt, and five years later, baby brother had come along and been christened after their only uncle, Matthew Vickers.
There it was again: the moisture in his eyes … the constriction in his throat… . Maybe he’d made a mistake deciding to come to the farm after all. There’d be so many memories. But he had to go somewhere where he couldn’t keep trying to work himself to death. His mother had certainly insisted that this was the right move. He smiled now at the thought.
What a mother he had! Refused to be dependent on any of her family, but wanted them all close enough to love on. He chuckled softly now as he remembered his last visit with her before leaving for Tennessee. She had speared him with those sharp, still bright, green eyes of hers, pointed her finger in his nose, and said, “Son, you get yourself down to your Uncle Matt’s, and don’t you come back until you and the Lord have got this all worked out, and you have peace and joy in your heart again.”
As he let out a deep sigh, he spoke out loud now, “Lord, when You chose a mother for Matt and me, You sure did a number one job. I know she was devastated by all that happened, and she didn’t need me leaving town so soon. But she could see that her big, strong, hunk-of-lawman son couldn’t handle the pain as well as she could and showed me the door. … Love doesn’t get any more unselfish than that.” He let his thoughts dwell on that truth for a moment or two. “Just take good care of her, Lord, and make her know that I love and appreciate her more than I can ever put into words …”
The big, slow yawn that sneaked up on him made him realize that he had actually started to relax while he’d been praying. “Thanks, Lord,” he spoke again softly. “Even when I don’t know if I can really believe or trust anymore, You’re still there.”
Maddison realized he was only about five miles from his uncle’s place when he passed a familiar convenience store. Seeing the gas pumps triggered an automatic glance at his gas gauge, and he almost choked. It was sitting on empty. As quickly as possible, he made a turn and headed back to the convenience store, chiding himself the whole time. “For crying out loud, Holt, you’ve been in police work for eighteen years! You know you keep your car filled up all the time!”
Just as Maddison slid his car even with the gas pump, the door of the convenience store burst open and a male figure wearing a blue ski mask ran through it and headed across the parking lot. He had ducked his head low. One arm was hidden beneath his jacket, and with the other, he jerked the mask off of his head as he ran, revealing enough of his face to make it obvious that he was only a youth. Just a few feet behind him came an elderly man shouting, “Stop! You can’t get away with robbery!”
Instinct and adrenaline kicked in at the same time, and before he could have a conscious thought, Maddison was out of the car and tackling the boy, bringing him to the ground. A gun flew from one of the kid’s hands and a brown paper bag fell from his jacket as he sprawled across the concrete drive.
From long habit, Maddison pinned the boy’s arms behind his back and hoisted him to his feet, just barely stopping himself before he recited the Miranda rights to him. By this time, the elderly store manager was beside them, and Maddison, straining to keep the resisting boy under control, spoke roughly: “I’ll stick around and help hold on to him until the police get here.”
“Oh, no … no, that won’t be necessary,” the manager said to Maddison, and then immediately addressed the boy. “Lex! It is you! I thought I recognized your voice. … Why Lex? … Why me? … Why at all?” … When he got no response, he turned back to Maddison. “There’s no need for the police,” he said. “We’ll have the money back, and nobody else needs to be involved … except his sister, of course. I’ll have to call Beth.
“Wait a minute,” Maddison almost shouted, “what do you mean no need for the police? This is armed robbery! And I gather you know this stupid punk,” he added, as he jerked the boy into a position where he could force him to precede him back into the store. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and thrust it at the manager with the order, “Pick up that gun with this, and be sure you take hold of it by the barrel! Get the bag too. I assume that’s where the money is,” he added, continuing to push the boy to the store. Maddison could see that the kid’s face was scraped and bleeding on the side where he had come into contact with the concrete, but the boy wasn’t saying a word, nor was he resisting quite as strongly as at first.
The store manager did as he had been ordered, retrieving the gun and the bag, and hurriedly followed them into the store, thankful there were no other customers. “Let’s go to the room at the back where we can talk,” he said.
“All right by me,” Maddison replied, “but you get on that phone to the police, or I will. I can’t hang around here all night to see he doesn’t do you any worse harm!”
“NO! PLEASE!” the manager urged, seemingly more agitated at the thought of the police than he had been by the robbery itself. “Please, let me explain,” he said as he ushered them into a small room accommodating two scarred wooden chairs and an old desk half buried beneath cardboard boxes and stacks of papers.
Maddison shoved the boy into the nearest chair with the threat, “Don’t even look like you want to move!” The boy’s only response was to pull his jacket back up onto his shoulders and hang his head.
“My name is Abel Walker,” the elderly man said as he extended his right hand to Maddison, “and I want to thank you … and … to explain. You see, I know this boy … Alex Hanover. He used to work for me, and he was a good worker. … He was a good kid … until he started running with a couple of local gang members. They need to be in jail, but not Lex. Jail would only do him more harm. He just needs enough time away from them to get his thinking straight again. I’m going to call his sister. It’ll break her heart, but she has to know. Will you just keep an eye on him until I can talk to her?”
“Why not,” Maddison sighed. “I’m into it this far. I guess you might have a point … if you’re really sure this is his first offense.” He pulled the second chair in front of the door and sat down on it wearily. This was about the last thing he needed tonight. Some vacation. … Well, all the years on the force had drilled into him the fact that a law enforcement officer is never really off duty, but … man! … could he use some sleep! He could hear Abel Walker on the phone now in the other room, so he tried to follow the conversation.
“Beth, dear, this is Abel Walker. I’m down at the store. … Yes, it is late for me, but my night clerk couldn’t get his car started. But listen, Beth, Lex is down here … and … he’s in a little trouble. … He tried to rob the store … with a gun, I’m afraid. … Oh NO! NO! He didn’t shoot anybody! Nobody’s been hurt … except for a few scratches on Lex himself. But I thought you’d want to come down, and we’ll decide what to do. … No, I haven’t called the police. I don’t think that’s the solution, do you?”
It’s just a little love story. But, then again, it’s a whole lot more than a love story. It’s about finding out who you really are and learning to like that person – and discovering that liking who you are opens the door for the best relationships with other people. It’s about family – and friends who are just like family. It’s about letting God’s way of loving take control of your heart.
Meet Mariah Jacoby. She’s happiest working under the hood of a car, but she’s convinced that grimy hands and greasy smudges on her face aren’t exactly what guys are looking for in a girlfriend. Unfortunately, though, she’s having trouble holding down a job in any other field, despite college degrees and an upbeat personality. Desperate to change her unemployed status, she finally admits it’s time to face the fact that she’s really a “grease monkey” at heart, but dare she hope there’s a guy in her future who’s dreaming of a girl who smells like engine oil?