Lightning flashed as Joshua carried Heath down the stairs and across the threshold, into the rain. Though it was still morning, the sky was darkened by angry clouds that seemed to imitate the night. Rain pattered on the old man and the boy, soaking them quickly and rinsing the blood as fast as it came. Joshua mumbled as he walked and crimson droplets began to secrete from the pores on his face. Soon his robe was stained down to his ankles, and Heath, in a trance, could feel something like a vibration inside him. His muscles spasmed, rain hit him in the eyes, and he whimpered as Joshua carried him down the driveway. With Heath’s head hanging back over one elbow and Heath’s knees bent on the other, Joshua cradled the boy and walked. Splut, splat, splut, splat. His slippers shuffled across the watery cobblestone. The sky rumbled and crackled. The trees drooped low, collecting the rain on their broad leaves and sending the water crashing down in huge drops. Joshua walked with eyes half-open, clutching Heath who began to cough. And the trees watched as a miracle took place beneath their sagging branches. Though it could hardly be seen with all the spray of the rain and the noise of wind and thunder, the bleeding stopped, the deep tissues were mended, and finally the skin itself was knit together. Heath cried out as the healing caused him to shudder and seemed to burn and sting even more than the wound itself. Joshua walked on, around the hook of the driveway and down the last twist before coming to the white gate, where the cobblestone river spilled out onto the streets of reality. With the straight lines and pale colors of suburbia before him, Heath slowly became aware of himself and though he still couldn’t lift his head more than a few inches, he looked around as if to get his bearings. His shirt was still torn and red, but no puncture wound remained. He was still groggy from shock and the cold made him feel stiff, but Joshua’s arms were warm beneath him.
Coming to the end of the driveway, the hooded trees on either side appeared to Heath as if to bow before the patriarch of the Christopher estate. The wind picked up and the rain came down in sheets. As he stepped out onto the sidewalk lightning tore the sky, as if to herald his coming. It had been more than a century since Joshua Christopher had seen the outside world, but he did not seem surprised at the closely huddled houses, blacktop streets or squarish lawns. The telephone lines wobbled in the gusts and the black clouds churned overhead. Streams of rainwater rushed along the curbs and poured into storm drains. Joshua staggered. He grunted and let Heath’s legs down gently to the ground. Catching himself and leaning against Joshua still dizzy as if waking from a nightmare, Heath noticed there was still blood coming from somewhere. A red stream curled like strands of hair from Joshua’s feet over the curb and into the running water of the gutter.
“Joshua, are you bleeding?”
Joshua winced and gripped his ribs beneath his left arm. The scarlet stain was still growing there, and he began to wheeze,
“No worries my boy. This way…” and Joshua pointed in the direction of Heath’s house. Heath came with him and the two leaned on each other.
“Can’t you heal yourself?” worried Heath.
“If I did, I would be taken under the same curse as my children. It is their selfishness that has clouded their minds. And your brother’s too. Those who bless themselves lose the ability to bless others. I will not waste what little time I have left by abating my own suffering. Look…” About a block ahead of them Heath looked and saw through the gray of the downpour a ghostly figure, swaying as it walked toward them. A long gown and a puffy coat both drenched by the rain, and on her head, a bright orange beanie.
“Mom!” Heath screamed, now fully cognizant. She should not be out in weather like this. He could tell even from this distance that she was shivering. Her moccasins were soggy and she could barely lift her feet, but she cried out in a weak voice,
“Heath…” and she collapsed. Glancing at Joshua with a look of horror, Heath dashed toward her. He stumbled to his knees by her side.
“Mom! What are you doing!”
“Your brother… I was afraid he… I had to come find you Heath…”
“C’mon, we have to get you home” cried Heath. Then she saw the red on his shirt.
“Blood,” she shuddered, “What did he do? What happened?”
“It’s OK mom, I’m fine. Now get up we have to go. You’re soaked and cold.” Her eyes were beginning to roll back in her head. And she spoke faintly between labored breaths,
“No, I’m so tired. Let’s just stay here for a minute” Heath cradled her head and cried.
“Joshua! Help! Please, you’ve got to help her!” he pleaded, his voice filled with panic. Joshua came close and knelt, still grimacing from his own wound and appearing almost as feeble as Heath’s mother. He reached out his shaky hand and placed it on her forehead. Turning to Heath with a look of pity, he said,
“There is certainly healing to be done, but it’s not what you think…” Just then he was interrupted by the sound of swiftly approaching footsteps. Expensive shoes and baggy pants sprinted up behind and Joshua was gripped by the shoulders of his garments and thrown to the pavement away from Heath and his mother. Luke only stood over him for a moment before pouncing. He began to pummel the old man. Blood flowed and Joshua did not retaliate. He only attempted to shield his face while Luke shouted and cursed swinging his fists wildly. Heath jumped on Luke’s back and tried to wrestle him away, but was easily cast aside. It gave Joshua a second’s time to squirm away, but Luke stood up and kicked him hard, shouting,
“You think you can lock me in!? You think you can drag my mother out in the street!? Man you got nerve!” He paced in the street as he rambled, “Man I don’t have time for suckers like you. This old perv needs to be taught a lesson.” He pulled out his knife, much more deliberately this time, as if he were rehearsing a violent skit. No one heard it, but a newly acquired pill bottle rattled in his pocket as he drew out the blade. He unfolded the pocket knife with a snap and rain smacked the steel. Joshua lay with his head against the curb and the noisy rain battering his eyelashes as they quivered.
“Luke, I am only trying to help. See for yourself…” Joshua pleaded, motioning toward Luke’s family.
“Shut up. Don’t try to lie to me!” Luke howled pointing accusingly with the knife, “Leave them out of this! They’re all wrong about me anyway. You don’t know nothin’ old man.”
“I know you want to stop yourself but you can’t. It’s like you’re trapped inside, watching someone else do these things. But there is a way out and you know it…”
“This-Is-Not-My-Fault!” Luke screamed. And he stepped forward poised. But he was interrupted by the sound of swiftly approaching tires and the rev of an engine. Screech! Crunch! Luke’s legs were swept out from under him and his head cracked against the windshield of the lime green hatchback, which rocked to a halt, allowing his body to tumble forward off the hood. The engine choked and died and Hawk jumped out with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. He was so captured by the moment it did not even cross his mind to practice profanities.
“What did I do?” he gasped.
“Hawk! Help me,” Joshua called. And Heath’s attention returned to his mother. Hawk ran to Joshua Christopher and helped him up. He turned to walk toward Heath, but Joshua said,
“No. Get Luke.” Luke was beginning to moan on the ground. His knife was tossed far away and by the time Joshua and a conflicted Hawk reached him, his moans had turned to howls of agony. One of his legs was bent in a bad way and there was blood on his hands and his head. He began to have difficulty breathing and started to cough blood.
“Oh my God. Oh no,” Hawk’s cocky detachment melted away into the worried whimpering of an honest kid. He began to paw at Joshua and tried to avoid looking at Luke’s contorted figure.
“What’d I do, what’d I do?” he prayed, “I didn’t mean to kill him. Oh my God, is he gonna die? Is he gonna die?” Meanwhile, Heath’s mother stopped responding. She was still breathing, barely, but her eyes closed and her head hung limp.
“Help,” Heath screamed. And he began to sob, “No! Please! Mommy wake up! Help Joshua! Please! I don’t care about Luke! Help my mom…. No, mommeeeee… please mommeeeee!”
“Heath,” Joshua called. Heath turned and peered at him through streaming tears, “It is appointed to everyone once to die, and after that, the judgment,” Heath sniffled, “Your mother is ready for that. Luke is not…” But Heath interrupted,
“I don’t care. Luke had his chance! My mom is good. She deserves to live…” Joshua retorted,
“Everyone deserves to live Heath, but everyone must also die. Death is where the final healing can take place. And your mother is going where she can receive that. She has no need for the lesser healings that I can offer. But Luke, he needs me now…” Heath’s shoulders shivered as his tears mingled with rainwater. His mother’s hands grew even colder. Joshua continued with his hand pressed against his own wound, as Hawk listened with tears also in his eyes,
“Don’t worry, my boy. Everyone gets healed in the end.” Unmerited kindness was in his face and his eyes shone like swirling galaxies. He turned and placed both hands on Luke, one on his breast and one on his brow, and Joshua bowed his head. Blood.