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The Dead in Christ Part 9: While He Still Had Time to Forgive

Solihull High Street

For information on this story, click here. To start reading at the beginning, click here.

When the police constable called, Vicar Penn was in his study, revising the next day’s sermon. He heard the doorbell, and felt a wave of peevish anger Nancy was not around to deflect it for him. He did not think to ask God’s forgiveness, while he still had time.

“Jerry, good day to you! What brings you about?”

“Vicar,” — and with that one word Vicar Penn knew that this was not the usual distraught teenager or domestic situation.

“Come in,” he said, to put off the moment, for even then he had a premonition. As he walked into the anteroom of the manse, Jerry trailing him, he felt as if he had stepped on deck to find himself facing the towering crest of a tsunami. All the paraphernalia that had been so useful during his quiet voyage had lost their meaning.

“Sorry, Vicar. Can’t stay. I don’t suppose you know. There’s been a plane crash.”

“Oh dear.” Vicar Penn didn’t want to remain detached. His nature did it without him.

“We don’t know yet how many survived or what happened. Soon as we know we’ll pass it on to you.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you need anything?” Those four words showed a depth of compassion Vicar Penn could only dream of conveying.

“No.” Vicar wanted to add he would pray for them, but his notion of God as a comfortable sweater suddenly seemed so inconsequential right now.

“Please pray for them, Vicar. And for the families.”

Vicar smiled, nodded his head, and closed the door.

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The Dead in Christ Part 8: The Ways of Zion Do Mourn: All Her Gates Are Desolate

Solihull High Street

For information on this story, click here. To start reading at the beginning, click here.

Throughout the rest of the day, with the sickening plunge of a roller coaster the details became clearer. At noon, the police were going from door to door of the parents. Yes, there has been a plane crash. Yes, it was the school’s flight. We don’t know how many survived. We are truly sorry.

By one or two in the afternoon all hopes had been dashed. Elan along with many of the other downtown shopkeepers had wandered up to the Miller’s Wheel and couldn’t work up the courage to return to their stops. They sat listening to the radio reports and spinning their forks on their empty plates. Each time a new report came through, a low moan swept through the pub.

Somebody, at some newsroom somewhere, found out about the school tour. Within fifteen minutes, Colwick was flooded with reporters, each looking to get his own particular angle on this human tragedy. The television crews set up a small shooting location at the end of High Street, the only picturesque view that they could find. When they invaded the pub, and started pestering each one of the patrons for anecdotes and histories of the dead, Elan knew it was time to leave.

Back in his shop, he found he didn’t have the strength to turn on the radio. He drew the blinds and retreated to the back room, where he got down on his knees. He tried to pray, but he couldn’t force any words past his clenched throat. He felt he had accidentally stepped out of the Godly world in which he had been living for so long now, and into some grotesque nightmare, where the God he knew could not be found at all.

Then he started to cry. There, on his knees, he cried in pain and anguish and despair. Some tremendous force was pushing the sobs, wave after wave from deep within his body. A small part of his mind was saying: When my father died, I didn’t cry like this. Why am I crying over someone else’s children? But that part of his mind had surrendered control to the great wave of despair.

The Dead in Christ Part 7: All Nature Waits with Bated Breath

Solihull High Street

For information on this story, click here. To start reading at the beginning, click here.

In the moment before the deluge, all nature gathers in hushed expectation at the fringes of one’s perception. The very colour of sky and the smell in the air take on significance. They wait like a choir of angel-faced boys who know what blast is about to erupt from the pipe organ. You are the one who is unprepared.

Elan would remember for the rest of his life the sense of that fateful morning. He never forgot the preternatural quietness of the barbershop and of the expanse of the downtown street in front of him. How the sky was clear, unusually for Colwick, and how its light etched lines in the empty road.

There were many, in the weeks to come, who said they had been warned. Elan had no right to that claim. In the shop, that morning, after cutting a lone customer’s hair and ordering supplies, he had settled into one of his chairs, Bible in his lap, to seek God’s face. He read a passage from Second Timothy. He lifted prayers for Pastor Johnson’s revival and for the children travelling. As far as he knew, his prayers were accepted.

After closing his Bible, Elan stood to face the window of the shop. That was when he observed how the sunlight had etched clear lines on the sidewalk outside. The time was nearly eleven. Elan found the music and commentary of modern radio disturbing, but he liked to catch the news, and it was rare that he remembered close enough to the hour that he actually got to listen to it.

When he pressed the volume button on the radio, he didn’t hear the sugary commercial he had been expecting. Instead, from the speakers, came the crackled and tinny voice of a field report. The quality was so poor, and the sound so unexpected, that Elan did not make out before the report was finished anything the reporter had said.

“That was Brendan Felix, reporting live from Flanders. To repeat, we are following this story: Villagers of Rondes, a small village near Flanders have reported wreckage that could be the BT Charter flight that went missing this morning on the way to Frankfurt. Rescue crews are on their way to the scene. Repeat, we are not sure this is the flight or what is the state of the survivors. BT Charter flight 892 to Frankfurt disappeared earlier this morning in bad weather over Belgium, with a hundred and twenty people on board. After the regular news we will return with more information on what may be Britain’s worst plane tragedy this year. Now stay tuned for the regular news after a short commercial message.”

Elan blinked, and offered up a small prayer for the families of the crash victims. He then noticed Gladys Rehnquist walking faster than usual along the street outside his shop. She ducked into Gelles Hardware directly across the road. Barely the moment she was in the store, Dennis Gelles tore out and ran full-speed up the street. He still wore the overalls of his trade, and ran without a coat.

Elan, touched with a feeling of guilt about being a gawker, pushed open his door and stood on the sidewalk. His neighbours on either side emerged at the same time. Tess McQuire, who lived upstairs and one over, chose that moment to lift her sash. The same radio sound that leaked from inside Elan’s shop was coming, in a curious unsynchronized echo effect, from her flat.

“The plane! It’s crashed!” she yelled.

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