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Chapter Thirty-Two

"The Return"




    As my neck snaps, the world blows up and I'm hurtled against the ground. At crippled rest, I can't move, but the pain's so bad I know I'm not dead. As my bloated lungs labor, my eyes open onto nothingness. While a thousand sharp pangs merge into one awesome ache, I struggle to see something - anything. Gradually, as the pounding pressure in my body dampens, the harsh blackness that's drowning me dissolves - to a soft gray matte. And my soul floats upwards at last.
    Off to my right, two brilliant balls of white and blue light form while I ascend. I squint in their brightness as they first unite, then focus into one vertical, blue-white beam. At reaching my azimuth, my soul is surrounded by sparkling stars of a royal-blue evening. Hypnotically, my eyes follow the clean bar of light back down - and gaze upon the haloed image of my aborted body, now lifeless amidst a charred world.

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     Strangely, the miniature silhouette of a man wanders into the circular wash of the blue-white spotlight, then moves with confidence toward my remains. Still above, my vision telescopes into the scene - as he kneels beside my body. Suddenly, the light beam pulses and I feel pain again. Shutting my eyes, I pray it will go away.
    But - feeling a heavy hand press on my forehead, I know I've returned to my battered flesh. Scorched lids cracking open, I gaze up at this sinewy soul bent over me. Floating high above us, the blue-white light bar endows his flowing black hair with a silver halo. I try to move or speak, but can't.
    Gently, this man clasps my shoulders in his gloved hands and takes a mighty breath. "I am Judah."
    The cold ground trembles and the beam above pivots horizontal and explodes into a round and yellow sun. Now in daylight, I look upon this man's familiar features - from another place and time.
    Sitting up easily, I remember. "You're Judah Maccabee, defender of the second Temple and hero of Hanukkah." I feel my body now limber, free of pain. Thank God.
    With a smile, the gallant traveller helps me to my feet and wraps me in a fresh cloth. "And you are David Daniels."
    Holding golden sun, the sky now blows clear blue over the fertile valley below this, our mount of life. In my knee-length robe, I stand straight beside my bearded friend of old - my body vibrantly renewed. We look out upon our refound garden, at the rolling slopes of green grass, rich brown soil, and stout trees.
    Holding his right hand aloft, Judah rests his left on my shoulder. "Come with me, David, for together we shall sift the sands of time as never before possible." He hands me a small leather satchel from his belt, and a great whirlwind forms, lifting us skyward.

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     Sent soaring to the northwest, we soon circle a burning city - just as its flag of the risen sun bursts into flames, then falls into the ashes of Hiroshima.
    As I open my sachel to pour crimson sand into my palm, I look into my friends eyes. "Judah, I'm just another soul looking for a purpose to continue."
    While we settle into the carnage of the streets below, Judah says there are many in need of us both. "And we in need of them."
    Suddenly, a shock blasts my arm and knocks me to the ground again. While the bombs above us melt into white heat, Judah takes an egglace from his pocket and hangs it on my neck. "David, a young daughter of the Axis Apocalypse has let your blood by chance." He rubs my arm - and the wound is healed.
    Standing at my side again, Judah hoists his hands as a shield from the small arms fire and beckons to a young girl hiding in the rubble of a schoolhouse. "Drop your weapon into the ashes, sister. We, your brothers, mean you no harm."
    Throwing down her rifle, the girl and joins us, and we help her bury family and friends. She says her name is Faith, so I scribe a simple marking on the bloodied mound of ash with Judah's knife:

The Family of Faith

    As Faith tells of an unscathed city with a greedy dome, Judah takes another, softer pouch from his belt. "Drink of this honey, my family, for we are soon to embark on a journey which shall test our souls, temper our flesh, and rewrite the pages of history for millenia to come."

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     After we taste the sweetness, Judah hangs a ballast of sand on Faith's back. Leading us away from the flames, her sack bursts and its red grains sift down into the yellow ash. Thus, Faith loses her grief as we soar upward and west with newfound hope.
    Coming upon the notorious city of a chrome dome that masquerades as pure, we penetrate its curtain of contrived perfume - and find it rotten to the core. While generators whir and elevators descend to hell, we pace a three mile spiral into the city square. There, a harlot couples with a dog in the gilded gutters while a thousand onlookers drip with drug.
    As Judah dumps a sack of sand into the city's switches, its metropolitan lights dim to orange. "David and Faith, we best serve these sexist pigs and sodomizers by sending them to purgatory for a spell."
    While the sinners turn slowly to stone, we discover an infant LAMB in a wooden cradle; and Faith brings it with us. Sailing far from the frozen dome, deep into the night, I feel the Lamb's softness - our newest child. At morning's first light, in a distant pasture, Faith asks Judah where our long journey will take us.
    Judah stands hunched for but a moment, then hoists his mighty arms to a cross. "The good and the bad now mingle everywhere." He opens his right palm, upward. "When we finish sifting the sands of time, only the righteous shall be to our right." His left fist clenches downward, tightly. "And only the evil shall be to our left." Judah kneels and strokes the Lamb. "Within the span of a decade, the evil shall slide into the bowel of hell for a thousand good years. The righteous shall join the left to the right and hold the world as one, at last."
    With the heavens rumbling like raindrops at the speed of sound, Judah and I sleep, our weary backs resting against a mammoth stone. On waking, we find Faith has shorn the Lamb. Igniting the fallen wool with flint, Judah mixes the ashen residue with twenty pounds of topsoil.

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     From the far side of the boulder, I bring a Prussian caisson and load nineteen bags of the sooted soil into it - its two-wheels pressing deep into the Earth with the weight. Judah divides the other pound among ten pouches on his belt and we move on - each taking our turn to pull the caisson and hold the naked Lamb.
    When we arrive at Gettysburg, Judah takes an ounce of the sooted soil from his belt and sprinkles it into the barrel of a rusted cannon. After the cannon fires in the dusk,dawn comes again, and a hundred thousand souls of the South walk from their graveyards, embrace a hundred thousand of the North - and they walk together to our right.
    Howevre, after three hundred of each emerge from the grave next, to spit on each other, Judah directs that six hundred to the left - and young Faith asks why. "Do they go to hell for a spell, my master?"
    Judah answers plainly. "No man is your master, Faith. David and I are simply instruments from the past and future - and above."
    With gusto from above, from a high field to our front, come two white horses - and a tan mule. After we name the white chargers TRUTH and TRUST, Faith lances her right thumb with Judah's saber and uses the blood of her ancestors to write on the side of the caisson: DETERMINATION.
    With the nameless mule hooked to the wagon, our little armada moves on - the Lamb resting quietly in Faith's lap as she rides in the caisson called Determination.
    As Judah and I man the chargers on her either side, Faith says our adventure will only end when her wagon of sand is empty. With a wink, Judah raps the temple of Truth while I bring Trust to a gallop, the wind in our hair serving to intoxicate our souls.
    Diving into the clouds, Judah bellows. "Follow me onward, my friends Daniel and Faith."

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     Soon, we hover above a burning courtyard, then descend to the side of a shallow pit - of burning flesh. The graven image of a skull-and-crossbones dance on the wall of the grotto as two soldiers of the third reich work to hide the filth of their history.
    Judah slaps the helmets from their heads. "Scoop up your leader's burning skull from the pit, you scoundrels!"
    After they place the burning head at our feet, I rip their tunics. "Go find your mothers and beg their forgiveness."
    While they flee in fright, Judah removes the caisson's axle and uses it to skewer the flaming head. Nazi blood and flesh splatter at our feet as Judah hoists the nasty skull into the air. Truth stands on his haunches and snorts wildly while Judah empties a small pouch into his palm and blows its gray dust onto the flaming face.
    I spit on the greasy face. "So, mindless führer, what do you have to say before you are finally judged?"
    The molten features break into wild laugh. "Ja, Ja, I knew it. I have been raised from the dead, for I am the true messiah. All the world will..."
    Judah rips the jaw from the face and passes final Judgement. "All the world shall - rejoice. You, Afterloch hitler, malignant hemorrhoid in the mind of man, have been resurrected to spend all eternity where you belong - in the spleen of hell. You will lay wide awake on a bed of burning coals beside Nero, Atilla, Herod, Vlad Dracula, Mussolini and stalin."
    I make my own judgement. "You'll share your hell with the likes of Khomeini, Waldheim, Ceausescu, Li Peng, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Haffa Asad of Syria, Saddam Hussein of Iraq - and all those other wasted souls who mock the Lord's Covenant and oppress His people."
    Judah says each tyrant shares in the others' demise. "But you, Herr
hitler, will be hung and rehung on a meat hook through the back of your neck, sixty million times and more - once for each soul you've scarred and more. Every repentant sinner who leaves purgatory after their time will be taught that if they ever return, they will hang on a vacant hook beside you - far under the floor of purgatory, forever in hell."

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     The jawless shroud of a head screams wildly. "Nein, ich bin...."
    With a swing of the axel, Judah hurdles the smoking skull back into the pit and speaks to the flames. "Fraulein Eva Braun, you shall remain in purgatory for but a short time." Judah's grimace turns to smile as he turns to Faith and me. "Come, let's go, my good travellers."
    Remounting Truth, Judah sprinkles sand on the rims of the caisson and I ride Trust into the Heavens. Hovering high above, when we look down upon Berlin, then southwest to Baghdad, their bombed-out streets resemble the final smoothings of a master wheelwright along the inner rim of time. With eternal joy, we witness the living souls of six million Jews lead the way to Heaven - as the Hebrews lift with every other oppressed people from the lifeless stacks of all the world's dead reiche.
    When clear air of the East blesses our caisson once more, Faith and I look where Judah points. "Down there - the curtain, the wall and every other man-made barrier to universal freedom come down all over the world."
    While we drift across two continents, I proclaim our agenda. "The prisoners of war and conscience and poverty - and the hostages of all nations - will come home forever."
    On passing over the Pacific, Judah directs our attention to a coral atoll below. "As it will be written from the wqinds of time to the chapters of history, we now lift the fallen souls from the pounding surf of Guadacanal, from the frozen waters of the Chosen Resevoir, and from the poisoned swamps of the Mekong Delta - all to march at our side oncemore. Together, with all who have fallen for right, we will plow under the greed of the millenia which pour into the abyss."

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     Later in the day, as we circle a quiet harbor, I open my palm to beckon those below. "Come, the sunken spirits of the battleship Arizona and USS Utah, sail at our sides as we purify the seven seas of the garbage of gluttony." With well over two thousand angels lifting from the shallows to join us, we swim through the clouds toward the east.
    There, in the fields of Virginia, Judah descends with Truth to a vast tract of white stones. While he sifts the dark soil with splayed fingers, his words echo up to Faith and me and the multitudes. "As the unkown soldiers of Arlington step from their garden of stone, the scars of sacrifice shall melt from their foreheads and the names of life, liberty, and love shall breed in their hearts forever - for rascism and apartheid will dwell in the burial pyres of all peoples."
    As soon as the Maccabeean returns to our cloud, a southern wind blows us over the Florida penninsula and the Hammer issues a decree. "That - the angels of Apollo 204, Spaceshuttle Challenger, and fallen Soviet Cosmonauts shall also be freed to soar at our side and filter the skies of the fumes of selfness - is now realized."
    With a smile, Faith looks toward the morning stars. "Soon, all the Heavens and Earth will be as one."
    After Judah and I launch all the world's nuclear weapons and waste into the sun, we travel for many more days - until Faith says her caisson is empty of sand and our Lamb's fleece has returned. "May we rest, my brothers?"
    While Judah and Faith await my answer, I hold my hand to my egglace. "Before we rest and replenish our supplies, we must recover the Ark."
    Judah smiles wide. "So be it written from the winds of time. Onward."

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     Now, over the hub of America, my egg glows brightly on its northern side. Using it to guide us, we descend through a fiery cloud into the Flint Hills of Kansas.
    After twenty minutes to roll a giant boulder aside, we enter an ancient Kaw ceremonial cave. In the cavernous void, lit only by sunlight reflecting off a rushing stream, we uncover the Ark of the Covenant - at last. Loading the acacia Ark into the caisson, we wheel it outside - and the sunlight dances on its solid gold lid where two angels still face each other after all these years. Their beauty is overwhelming. Bezalel was indeed a master craftsman.
    A reverant while later, Judah inspects its platinum latch. "David, only your special Star of Sapphire can open our Trunk."
    I reharness the mule to the caisson. "We will rest only after we find a holding place for the Ark until we can build a Tabernacle."
    For several hours, we follow the ground, along an old settlers' trail east - until Judah spots an abandoned railroad tunnel. On securing the Ark in its temporary vault, the three of us, the Lamb and the mule rest in an open field, on prairie erth.


    When I woke, it was dark and chilly. I called out for Judah or Faith, but the only answer I got was the click of light switch and a few words from Smitty. "After the paramedics choppered you home from Columbia, Doc checked out your neck and says she'll be as good as new - after a month or two of quiet. You been unconscious ever since that lightning bolt struck the tree and saved your life, guy." Smitty went on to say that Granny had fixed up the old study above the Pipe Club for me to recuperate in, and when I told him that he wouldn't believe the journey I'd taken with Judah Macabbee, he smiled. "Yes I would, guy. Granny's out jogging, so why don't you write it down before you forget it?"

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     So, in the days that followed, I did just that. After Herbie got my computer from PR's to take dictation (my fingers were temporarily paralyzed), he suggested I begin with some background. So I started when I left to the chase the sun to Florida the summer before.
    We worked long hours every day; and it proved to be a lot harder to write a book than I thought. Herbie suggested that it might help my concentration if I isolated myself from the outside world until I finished. While I worked with Herbie and watched the seasons change out the window, the only other person I saw was Smitty - when he brought the meals Granny fixed for me (when she wasn't dealing out justice on the Hound Dog or proofreading my manuscript).
    I knew no one would believe the truth, so I wrote my story as fiction. Chapter by chapter, my neck healed - along with the rest of my body. By the time winter was gone and I was feeling like a new man, we'd finished all but the last chapter. It was almost midnight when Herbie suggested I take off my neck brace and go for a walk in the morning to think about the conclusion.
    When morning came, I walked outside and down the Pipe Club stairs, into the warm sun of a beautiful spring day, and noticed Dreidel soaring on the far side of the market, in the direction of my apartment. Butterflies fluttered everywhere as I jogged along at an easy pace, anxious to see if I still had a place to live. I wasn't sure how many months had passed since I last paid Dotty my rent. The old town air was fresh and clear, and I slowed down to savor it. The Rising Star's roadways were as clean as its sidewalks. Bicycles, mopeds, and an occasional sports car slipped quietly by as I headed for Poor Richard's. Everybody seemed to be out in their yard chatting with neighbors, and most of them waved at me when I walked by.
    A sky-blue moped zipped past, and its chubby rider waved. "How you doin', David?"

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     I was shocked. It was Herbie - and he obviously wasn't blind anymore. Overnight, the healing power of peace appeared to have spread everywhere. While Dreidel waited outside, I raced up Poor Richard's stairs to check on things.
    Beside my unlocked door, I transferred a kiss to a beautiful gold Mezuzah and stepped in. Everything seemed pretty much as I had left it - except considerably tidier. In the back room, while I changed into a dapper pair of aquamarine corduroys and a white tennis shirt someone had put out for me, I wondered about Herbie. What a miracle.
    So I headed back up to Smitty's - to see if Granny could shed some light on things. As I moved up the Overland Incline toward Sante Fe, Dreidel joined me from a nearby bell tower. Turning into Smitty's alley, I found Granny working away in her herb garden.
    She adjusted her magnificent Easter bonnet and gave me a hug. "How's the neck and knees, sonny? Your headache all gone for International Freedom Day?"
    I explained that I felt great. "But how'd Herbie's vision return?"
    Granny held my hand and said it was the first day of spring. "Isn't it beautiful when everyone is in love with life, David? Thank God, the Lord's lightning struck that winter tree they were going to hang you from. Let's go for a stroll around the triangle - I'll update you on all the good news that's happened while you was holed up editing your story."
    While we promenaded southwest, Granny filled me in on the local happenings first. Officer Weiland and Fannie had sealed their New Year's nuptials aboard the Freedom Flyer. Rosie O'Grady came to town with her Obbie's and ended up engaged to Smitty - not long after the newlywed Walkers adopted the Rodriguez kids. Herbie had so much fun finding the Lewis and Clark Jewels (with a few hints from yours truly) that he reburied them - so someone else, a hundred years down the road, could share in the joy of the search.

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     On the regional scene, when Jessie P. showed Bitsey the light, she opted to postpone her operation and join him on the road. Furthermore, Granny explained to me, M. Pyre had told my father, when I was a pubescent, that my alabaster egglace was black magic. That's why he kept it from me - supposedly. Liz Lump succumbed to a stroke when she heard the news that her most profitable abortion clinic was destroyed. Lenore bought the farm when lightning struck the bus's gas tank. Rudolph Capol was barred from medicine for dissecting a terminal patient in one of his drunken stupors. Not long after my father got sent to SCUF (Seniors Correctional Unit at Formington) for raping Coleen, his junk bonds went kaput and my mother moved to Kansas.
Granny rubbed my shoulder. "She lives in Menachem's old trailer out in DeSoto. Maybe you'll want to visit her some evening."
    When I said that I would see, Granny told me that Herbie's vision returned that very morning. "First thing, David, he repainted his moped and went for a ride to dry it."
    Steering us around Dante's Hairpin, Granny brought me up to date on national and international events. She said that Eastern Europe was free, that the Cold War was over, that dictators all around the world were falling. Even the United Nations was doing what it was intended to do - for the first time. The United States was starting to clean its house, too. Granny contended that drugs, illiteracy, poverty, bigotry, pornography - they were all on their way out.
    A gentle breeze cocked her bonnet as she talked with joy. "Sonny, a billion opppressed souls now nurse at the bosoms of Freedom and Democracy. Thank God, even apartheid is fading. Peace and understanding are breaking out everywhere. Even a Middle East Accord is imminent. After the first Russian election in history, Leningrad is St. Petersburg again and the Balkans are free. The nuclear nightmares have been removed from their bomb bays and the crews who once lived in the silos are home with their families. All the governments of the world have ordered their soldiers to stand down - and it's only the beginning."

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     Awe-strucken with the wonderful news, I smiled inside as we followed Dreidel around Legler Lake.
    When we found workers busy constructing a stage in the middle of the park, Granny got giddy as she described the big day ahead. "We got a special town-picnic and concert scheduled for this afternoon. Biff's catering the affair; and, sonny, you're scheduled to read my favorite passage from your omnovel - a real dusey."
    Before I could ask who called my book an omnovel, "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND" blared from the park speakers. After the healthy old lady told me Peter, Paul, and Mary were just getting geared up for the real thing later in the day, I asked about Ména and Judy.
    Granny said they were both fine. "When Ména discovered that you'd finally found yourself, he knew his sacrificial mission had worked and was easily able to overwhelm his and Judy's captors. Already, Judy's half done redrafting the UN Charter - with her mentor's help."
    As walked back west, the old curmudgeon went on to say that Mr. Sam was healthy again, and Joanna and Susanna were doing well too. "Your big sister Victoria is healthy as a newborn babe, and your Aunt Pearl and Uncle Iz have a deluxe cottage out in Clearview City." With that, Granny handed me a document from her sweater pocket. "I took the liberty of signing it for you, sonny."
    Inspecting the International Publishing Agreement, I followed Granny toward a giant peach tree, until - across the street from O. Henry's Emporium, in the tree's variegated shade - we joined our fellow travellers from Twola.

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     Assembled in a quarter arc, joyful tears filled everybody's eyes as Mr. Sam, fitter than ever, stepped boldly forward and squared his burly shoulders. "Suma, Survivalist Two of StarFlight Salvation, prepared for duty."
    Susanna Cole took a graceful pace forward. "Sola, Culturist of StarFlight Salvation, prepared for duty." With a soft smile, she added that Eddy was waiting for us out at the park. "Your favorite daughter's helping your favorite student Judy with the musical arrangements."
    Joanna Cole moved to her half-sister's side. "Sidra, Navigator of StarFlight Salvation, prepared for duty with child - daddy." That said, Morningfertile tilted our beautiful baby my way.
    Wiping the silly grin from her face, Grandma Mary levelled her festive bonnet. "Fela, Flight-Engineer of StarFlight Salvation, prepared for duty."
    Finally, Ména Menachem strode two steps forward. "Mena, First-Officer of StarFlight Salvation, awaiting your orders - Captain Danu. Welcome Home at last."
    I clasped my First-Officer's forearm. "Mena, you've weathered the storms of Earth's worst centuries with great courage. Have you yet activated the homing baton to summon Salvation for our return to Twola?"
    Ména spoke crisply. "But Captain Danu, the baton is locked in the Ark of the Covenant - where you put it."
    Walking over to inspect Junior Daniels, I continued the discussion with my First Officer. "Mena, I left the Ark in a railroad tunnel near Monticello, just this morning. But we need the special Star of Sapphire to access it."
    Flight-Engineer Granny pulled a six-faceted, flaming-blue jewel from her bonnet. "Captain Danu, we did keep one of the Lewis and C     lark Jewels for ourselves."

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     While I tickled my tiny son, Ména explained that he'd gleaned the genetix of good Earth souls into his Ohla since Salvation's last rendezvous. Once our starflight arrived, he said, only a short time would be required to harvest the collected codes into the vessel's bubble memory for transport to Paradise.
    With gusto, Mr. Sam, my Survivalist #2, added that as soon as we returned home, he'd materialize the harvested souls' flesh using Twola's most time-efficient recarbonizers. "At the rate the Gredeans were degenerating our inter- and intraspecific moralities when we left, there's probably been no Golaen life at home for almost three daez. Nevertheless, I'm totally confident that the catalytic exercisers I attached to the recarbonizers before departure have performed their jobs more than adequately."
    I told Mr. Sam he'd done well too. "You're now Survivalist One."
    Feeding our little one, Joanna said the souls apprenticed on Earth would thrive along Paradise's Rainbow. "At last, what a wonderful world all our babies will have!"
    Granny clapped. "The Grant Connells have prepared an awesome laser and particle beam show. So folks, I suggest for right now we bop on out to the park and sing praise to Gola."
    That said, while we marched away in an easy wedge, Ména smiled like a little boy. "Later, after we properly house the Ark and actuate Salvation's baton, we'll take a look at our New West Jerusalem - if you wish, Captain Danu."
    With Joanna and child on my one hand and Susanna on the other, I ordered my crew to call me David while still on Earth and led them into the spring sun. Not counting Granny - two sweethearts? I never said I was perfect. Beside's I was a Twolaen.

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     Anyway - Dreidel fluttered on top of my third sweetheart Granny's bonnet as we passed the Emporium where Dale, Eddie, Coleen, and April joined us with a couple feisty little Dachson pups I named Sparky and Pip. Well beyond the 87th Street berm - as we made our way toward the melody of "BLOWIN' IN THE WIND" - I could see a pair of white and gold flags wave in the clear breeze. They blew outward from their center into the winds of time ~ live dreams for all mankind.



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