The Storyteller Who Wore Tennis ShoesEpisode 52
How to Avoid Churning Out "Half-Baked" People
Episode 53: Thorns of Glory, Part One: Prologue
Greetings! Welcome to ForeverLDS. This is Chris Heimerdinger. I know, I know. It’s been a long time since I’ve released a new podcast here. Prepping a book for release consumes a lot of energy. Oh, if you haven’t heard, “Tennis Shoes Adventure Series, Vol. 13: Thorns of Glory, Part 1” is scheduled for release on October 1st.
My deepest thanks to those who have pre-ordered the new book and/or audiobook on our new shopsite: www.shop.foreverlds.com. If you don’t follow me on Facebook, I suppose it’s possible you don’t know anything about that. I should think of some new venues where I can announce that. That’s shop.foreverlds.com. Thank you Richard Genck for making it possible for me to launch that. On the shopsite you can get anything I’ve ever written or created, and at the end of the ordering process—at checkout—there’s a place to request a personalized signature to you or your family. Whatever you request. I’ve joked on Facebook that I’ll try to draw something unique and collectible on every copy that’s pre-ordered. Not sure what that’ll be, or how to create hundreds of original, unique things, but I’ll do my best. Also, some time around the first week in September I’ll try to host a Zoom event/conference/question and answer session—something—exclusive to those who place a pre-order on shop.foreverLDS. Never done that before. Could be a nightmare, but it’s on the agenda.
Also, please check out ForeverLDS on Patreon. Soon I hope to use that platform to make available a lot of very cool stuff. That was all part of my negotiaton for Thorns of Glory with my publisher—reclaiming my rights to be able to do that with books and audiobooks like Eddie Fantastic, Daniel and Nephi—all of those titles—and give supporters of ForeverLDS on Patreon exclusive access.
For now, I wanted to present here on the podcast something I’ve never made public before. The Prologue to Thorns of Glory, Part One. I’ve avoided doing that till now because, well, it’s kinda long and involved and just posting “part” of it wouldn’t have quite sufficed. Ah, but now the time has come. So without further ado:
This is usually where my dad starts off with some philosophic rambling. Just Dad’s way of doing things whenever he opens a story about our family adventures. I couldn’t say why it’s fallen to me to pen the opening of this particular narrative. My dad’s prologues are sometimes rather profound. He’s the Socrates; he’s the Confucius of the Hawkins clan. Truth is, I had no idea where my father was, so the task has fallen to me. I’ll do my best to frame the kinda thoughts that crossed my mind just before those heart-rending events that befell me and my family on that dreadful day at Cumorah.
As a boy I experienced a terrible, crippling accident. It happened during the destruction in the city of Jacobugath in the New World, right after the Savior died in Jerusalem. My memory of some details is vague. According to Dad, I was standing under a stone wall. The earth shook; the wall collapsed. Heaps of stones crashed on top of me. I guess I almost died. When I came to my senses, there was no feeling in my legs. I couldn’t move them. Couldn’t budge. If somebody had sawed ’em off, I wouldn’t have felt a thing.
I was like that for about a year. Yup, a whole year. No reason to think it would change. It was a long time ago, but I s’pose I went through all of the same stages of grief as anybody else: denial, anger, depression, etc. I remember the moment my mind settled into a kind of acceptance. It was a couple of months prior to the miraculous healing I received at the hands of Jesus Christ. Still, I really did come to accept that for the rest of my life I’d require the help of others to fully function and make my contribution to the world. I’d taught myself how to get around pretty well using my arms and hands. It drove Dad a little crazy when he’d find me several hundred yards from the spot he’d left me. I was starting to take distinct pride in the fact that, for the most part, I could take care of myself. Plus, my biceps and triceps became rock-solid.
Don’t misunderstand. My gratitude overflowed when Jesus healed my broken body. I also remember that, for a couple days, I felt a strange sense of regret. It was weird. Maybe I regretted losing all the attention I’d been getting. Nah, that’s not it. I’d gained a certain self-esteem during that year. In some strange, nutty way, I feared that self-esteem would fizzle out. Didn’t happen, of course, and that feeling of regret was only fleeting. Before long I was running, jumping, and climbing for all I was worth. And inwardly praising God for His miracle. For His love.
It might sound strange, but in the hours prior to the attack on Cumorah, I thought a lot about that year of my life. All those various stages of anger, denial, etc. Memories raced through my mind as I watched the citizens of Zenephi make their final preparations. After the attack commenced, most of them sorta froze in their tents and hovels, stricken with shock. Nearly all of ’em wore expressions of mortal terror. Fear appeared to burn like acid in their bone marrow. It was tough to witness the scenes before me: children clutching mothers’ robes, specters huddled around fires, sobbing, moaning, mumbling. I heard lots of inquiries about fathers or husbands or other loved ones manning the fortification walls, wondering when, or if, they’d ever see these people again.
I heard other mutterings. The emotions were almost always negative and bitter—expressions of hatred against the Lamanites and Gadiantons. Curses against God, who, in their eyes, had failed to deliver them. And vicious complaints against Mormon and the Nephite Council. No one was above another’s contempt. Every apportionment of their misery was the fault of others. No one blamed themselves or felt a smidgen of responsibility. I listened for prayers, hymns . . . but heard none. Plenty criticized God, but few, if any, sought His protection, His power, His mercy. It seemed beyond all comprehension. How, I wondered, could so many hearts have grown so cold? I marveled and grieved that every vocalization was laced with blasphemy and blame.
Every Nephite man, woman and child—even those barely old enough to walk—was armed with weapons. I saw one kid, no older than four or five, gripping an obsidian sword. He could barely lift it. How could anyone think this boy could effectively defend himself?—that he’d present the slightest advantage when the Lamanites finally spilled over the walls and spread across the bowl like locusts, hacking and chopping whatever moved and breathed? Still, every weapon was distributed; every soul was expected to fight.
Around sunset I watched a young boy and girl spar ruthlessly with each other. They took their duel as seriously as any other pair of combatants. Dodges and parries weren’t pretty, but if their instructors had let ’em, those strikes would’ve been lethal. Trainers were usually women. Mothers. Yeah, it was usually Mom who taught these tykes how to deliver a deathblow. If a child was older, he or she was taught the fine art of slashing the jugular or femoral artery. I winced and shuddered as I watched these sessions. How long had I been on this adventure? One month? Was it November? December? It occurred to me that children in my own century were decorating Christmas trees or sitting on Santa’s lap and telling him their wish lists. Nephite children, on the other hand, were learning how to gouge out a Lamanites’ eyes.
I shouldn’t have felt so judgmental. My own circumstances were no better than theirs. Not only was my family threatened by Lamanite invaders outside the settlement but also Gadianton Ghosts who might attack out of the gloom. Trying to anticipate threats from so many directions sapped the nerves of everyone in our company.
Except me. It may seem weird, but in those initial hours, as the first stages of the assault unfolded, I felt inexplicably calm. Such inner peace was almost abnormal. I did not fear death. Not that I was gonna roll over and let me or any of my family’s throats get slashed. However, if today was my day to die, I could live with that (pardon the pun), meaning I could accept it. It was my memory of being crippled for a year and meeting the Savior that I credited for my state of mind. Adding to my sense of well-being were those lonely years I’d spent on Lincoln Island in the Aegean, honing my skills with a sling, mastering ways to survive.
Most recently, my perceptions were affected by the hour I’d spent—less than a day ago, though it seemed like weeks—with Jonas, one of the three disciples who would never taste of death. He’d visited me while I was in the clutches of King Sa’abkan of the Lamanites. It was Jonas—and my faith in God—that had created a chance for me to escape and rejoin our company. Well, that and two extraordinary animals—a jaguar, Huracan, and my falcon, Rafa. They were just another component of the outpouring of miracles.
Jonas delivered a message to me of breathtaking confidence. Everything, he assured me, was in the Lord’s hands. Even the events of this horrible day—every nuance and variation—were to be viewed in the same way they were understood by the Grand Designer. Maybe this seems contradictory to some: How could a God of love sanction the bloody events about to unfold? How could He allow so many thousands of women and children, including infants—babies!—so many innocent people, to be slaughtered? I was seeing it, Jonas explained, through the perspective of the living—us poor blokes stuck here in mortality. On the other side of the veil, the perception was different. Homecomings were about to transpire—reunions with the Father, concourses of angels, as well as long-separated family and friends. Many who wallowed in terror were on the cusp of relishing embraces of unspeakable joy, a sweet reward to those now enduring the unendurable. Before this day drew to a close, countless souls who’d forgotten whatever names or identities they’d possessed in pre-mortality would have such memories restored in an eye-blink. They’d remember everything. How was it that mortal men had transformed death into a dreaded thing? To thoughtful, intelligent, spiritual souls, dying should’ve been a welcome phenomenon. Yet our fear of this “great unknown” was as deeply ingrained as hunger or thirst.
Who was able to view a disaster like this in its truest terms? Our worldly perceptions relied on instinct. Although, for some—that is, spirits entangled in the coils of sin and degeneracy—I suppose a twinge of terror was justified. Tomorrow would be a day of reckoning. A day of descent into purgatory’s flames. What percentage of the Nephite nation would experience joy and ecstasy, and how many would find themselves in hell? Not for me to judge. I only knew it had been forewarned. Foretold. For decades, God had stretched out to these people his hand, a welcoming hand of redemption. That hand got bit too often. Now God’s judgment would be felt, the only judgment that counted.
Eh, I doubted many Nephites felt the solemnity I did. I wasn’t sure how many members of my own family felt it. All evening, Mary had clutched my hands so tightly it’d practically turned my fingers white. Still, I basked in reassurance. I felt deeply blessed that my soul was encompassed by a warming blanket of peace.
Surely most folks would feel honored to have experienced the miracles that I, Harry Hawkins, had received in my life. Some might’ve been scared out of their wits to receive a visit from someone like Jonas. Others might’ve taken for granted having a broken spine healed by Christ, much like the nine lepers in Luke who dispersed without so much as a thank-you. Some might’ve bragged about such miracles until they were blue in the face. Maybe such boasting would’ve brought about the opposite result—a replication of the curse that had been cured, or some other curse, until the lesson was learned.
No part of our relationship with God was more important than trust. Bluntly put, a recipient of God’s miracles had to learn to shut up. That is, acquire the self-discipline to keep sacred things sacred, unless God commanded otherwise. Blabbering about such things, especially to those who trample them underfoot like pearls before swine, might cancel whatever blessings such miracles were meant to bring about.
The hour I spent with Jonas brought back everything I’d learned during that year I was crippled, plus everything I’d gleaned those three years stranded on Lincoln Island: in short, that God is always at the helm, no matter the outcome. Some might think that means you don’t have to act. You can just be complacent and let fate rain down. That’s not what I’d learned. I’d learned that most of God’s blessings are inseparably connected to our choices. Can’t disconnect the two. Sure, some blessings are “gimmes”—expressions of God’s pure love and mercy—but there is an equilibrium. A balance between feeling buoyed up by faith and acting as if nothing buoys us up at all. Pausing to analyze it is often a mistake. We’ve all heard the expression Believe as if everything depends on God and act as if everything depends on you. I wished that it hadn’t become a thread-worn cliché. In my experience, few people believed that expression when it most applied. This was one of those moments. The Lamanites were launching their attack. My experiences had made the concept of God’s involvement a natural part of my thoughts, like an extra appendage or a separate spiritual gift. I felt sorrow for those who couldn’t find the same conviction.
In the last few minutes, the Lamanite drums had gone quiet. The silence was more haunting than the beating and hammering. I saw my dread mirrored in the faces of the citizens of Zenephi. It frayed or clenched every nerve—a new species of fear.
Mormon’s innermost trench filled with tar was still shooting flames high into the starry sky. This combustible ooze stretched the entire length of the southern line, drawing everyone’s gaze as the night wore on. All was eerily quiet. No whisking arrows. No pounding drums. The Nephites of Cumorah’s bowl had to be wondering what game the Lamanites were playing. No moment in this war had struck me as more unsettling. I almost couldn’t remember the last time we’d conversed without raising our voices above the percussion. For the first time in days, I could hear the inhale and exhale of my lungs. We could hear our heartbeats, the blood rushing in our veins, the rumblings in our empty bellies, and another kind of sound—just beneath all else—a whisper. Dark. Ominous. Impending.
What did it mean, this sudden silence? The change wrapped itself around the Nephite nation like giant tentacles. Were the Lamanites planning a midnight assault? Did they intend to unleash some secret weapon on our fortress in the wee hours before dawn? What if burning away the bitumen moat was a calculated act? A prelude to something incomprehensibly devastating?
The stench of petroleum clung to our nostrils. Smoke was starting to obscure the shapes of tents and people amidst the candles and lanterns. A light breeze blew most of the smoke northward, sparing the lungs of families in the bowl. It would be oppressive for the soldiers of the Scorpion Division under Gidgiddonihah and for other divisions along the eastern escarpments. As the atmosphere became increasingly ethereal, I imagined that hallowed glow—the beckoning light—described by people who had near-death experiences. The “light” that urged them forward, into the arms of their Maker.
My nose was still tender from the beating I’d received at the headquarters of Sa’abkan. My face was likely swollen and purple, like a circus clown. At least my nerves were steady, like Damascus steel. Moreover, they were like those of my companions: Mary, Steffanie, Uncle Garth, Jacobah the Lamanite, even my young cousin Rebecca. SaKerra McConnell, too, seemed solid in her testimony of Christ, although I wasn’t so sure about her impetuous brother, Brock, or her untalkative son, Kidd. Moments ago, SaKerra had approached my uncle with an unusual request:
“Garth, I saw you reading a volume of scripture earlier. May I see it?”
Garth hesitated. I wasn’t sure why. Finally, he replied, “Of course.”
He reached into his travel pack and produced his tattered three-in-one of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. As Kerra grasped it, Garth held on. Looking for something in particular?”
“Comfort,” said SaKerra. “I might read to my son.”
Kidd looked on in silence, finding his mother’s actions curious. I doubted scripture study between them was a regular habit.
As Kerra turned away, Garth said abruptly, “Please return it!” Embarrassed by his tone, he added more gently, “I mean, when you’re finished.” He let go of the book.
“I won’t be long,” said Kerra.
She settled near her son, making the best of the firelight, and thumbed through the pages, seemingly looking for something specific. Garth looked restless. He sighed, as if resigned. Something was going on. Or maybe Garth was just nervous about his only copy of sacred writ.
The only regular member of our company who was not with us tonight was Jesse, the orphan from ancient Israel. I’d first guessed he was about sixteen, having aged among the Nephites the same length of time that I’d aged on Lincoln Island. I was starting to think that estimate was a bit off. Either that or Jesse’d been blessed with genes that’d filled in his adult physique prematurely. He was a tough kid but not invincible. Presently, he was in the care of Mormon’s personal physicians inside the commander’s compound. An arrow had pierced his shoulder in virtually the same place another dart had pierced a few weeks earlier.
Mormon’s compound was brimming with injured warriors—casualties from Joshua’s Fox Division who’d stormed the eastern escarpments earlier in the day to rejoin Zenephi’s forces. The charge had resulted in a terrible loss of life. Many condemned Captain Josh, calling it reckless for his army to cross the marshes in the face of such odds. Most, however, regarded him as a hero who’d made the only possible choice that would allow his division to rejoin Mormon’s forces. Joshua himself had gone MIA during the operation. Gidgiddonihah claimed to have witnessed the very moment my cousin disappeared into a geothermal vent along the cliff. Joshua’s whereabouts were now a mystery—something that only added to the inner turmoil of his sister, Rebecca, and his father, my Uncle Garth.
It seemed only moments ago that Gidgiddonihah, accompanied by a small honor guard, had arrived with news of Joshua’s disappearance. It was just before the drums fell silent. Almost immediately after the message was delivered, a volley of flaming arrows ignited the trench. Gidgiddonihah hustled back to the eastern escarpment with his honor guard, including his second-in-command, a soldier who possessed a similar gruffness and temperament. The Scorpion Commander left behind only Jacobah, the faithful Lamanite convert who’d once served as Ryan Champion’s bodyguard.
Jacobah carried a Nephite spear nearly seven feet long. He stared at me with a strange intensity. I wondered if he was curious about my purple nose and how I got it. Nah, that wasn’t it. Jacobah had something to ask me, but he hadn’t worked up the nerve. Oh well. If it was important, he’d ask soon enough.
In the absence of battle drums, I felt strangely torn between watching the distant walls to see if the Lamanites attacked the fortifications or concentrating on nearby swatches of earth for the materialization of Gadianton Ghosts. Only yesterday these demons abducted Meagan and Apollus. We weren’t sure how. Their whereabouts were no less baffling than Joshua Plimpton’s. No trace offered us a clue about their circumstances. Were they even alive? Could a similar fate swallow any of us at any instant?
Again I met Jacobah’s eyes, intense as ever. Dude couldn’t seem to stop staring at me.
I gave in. “What’s on your mind, Jacobah?”
He glanced downward, then up again. “I wish to serve as your bodyguard.”
This caught Mary’s attention.
I studied him curiously. “You acted as Ryan’s bodyguard for a long time. Now you want to guard someone else? I thought you wanted to serve Gid and the Scorpions.”
“I discussed it with Commander Gid,” said Jacobah. “He’ll accede to my wishes.”
“I feel drawn to another task.”
“Why me?” I said dismissively. “Guard one of the women. How about Becky?”
He shook his head. “We equally serve our women and children. Naturally, if one is threatened, I’ll serve them first. It is my inclination to serve you.”
I scoffed and shrugged. “Why?”
He hedged, then said, “Because, Harry Hawkins, you are clearly less experienced in warfare than some of the others. I sense that your life is . . . particularly valuable.”
I frowned. His offer wasn’t complimentary. “I’m no more important than anyone else. And I’m certainly not as green around the gills as someone like Ryan Champion.”
“Nevertheless,” said Jacobah, “it is my inclination to serve you.”
Others in the group were now listening. Mary was fighting a smile. Brock laughed.
“Wh-what about my uncle?” I said. “He needs your services more than I do.”
“Think about it, Nephew,” said Garth, “An old man like me won’t attract as much as attention in battle as a young bull like yourself.”
“In the heat of battle, I don’t think anyone’s age makes a shred of difference.”
Jacobah recognized my defensiveness. “Don’t be offended, Harrison. I don’t pretend to understand my inclinations. I suppose you’re free to reject my services, but . . .”
“But . . . I’ll probably do it anyway.”
I made a grunt, somewhere between laughter and resentment. “You’ll act as my bodyguard whether I agree or not?”
Jacobah looked down. “It is my inclin—”
“Your inclination! I get it. I just don’t understand it. It’s already my job to protect Mary and the other—”
“Naturally,” he interrupted, “I’ll aid you in this responsibility by association. For now I simply request that you . . . tolerate my increased attention.”
“Ridiculous.” I snorted.
Mary touched my arm. “But harmless.”
“I don’t need a bodyguard,” I said quietly, though everyone heard.
“Of course you don’t,” said Steff with unmistakable levity. “Oh, but Jacobah sounds determined.”
I sighed morosely, then felt a rush of self-reproach, as if God felt my current sense of inner peace and placidity might be dangerous. Thus, God sent Jacobah. Oh well.
“Fine,” I said in resignation. “But if anyone else is hurt while you’re fussing over me . . .” I pondered how to finish this sentence. All I came up with was, “I’ll be very upset.”
Brock cackled again. Even Kidd cracked a smile. Only SaKerra, still concentrating on my uncle’s Book of Mormon, showed no reaction. In fact, her seriousness sobered everyone’s mood. We peered back toward the flaming trench. A cloud of petroleum fumes wafted over us, making our eyes water. Rebecca was coughing. We covered our mouths and noses with hems and sleeves, but the stench couldn’t be entirely filtered.
Rebecca stopped coughing long enough to gaze beyond the burning moat. “What are they doing out there?” she asked no one in particular.
Her gaze was earnest. I squinted in the same location. Did Becky perceive something the rest of us didn’t?
Steffanie asked her, “What do you think you see?”
Kerra arose, as if her legs were on springs. The Book of Mormon sat open in her palm as she gaped at the page. She turned to my uncle. The two stared at each other with odd expressions: Kerra unable to speak, Garth somehow unwilling to speak. Kerra approached him, her finger pressed hard on a certain verse. She sought an answer or an interpretation or just an admission. Uncle Garth, for his part, blanched. She spoke to him abrasively, but I didn’t hear her words.
An unexpected sound overwhelmed us from an unexpected direction. It erupted from behind—a chilling shriek, like the cry of a tortured animal, echoing and twisting as if distorted by some force of physics. I chided myself as I spun around. It should’ve been predictable that the instant we let our concentration slip, the Gadianton Ghosts would strike.
The first thing I saw was a pulsing circle of blue energy, elliptical in shape, hovering a dozen feet away, a couple feet above the earth, spreading outward like a pattern of waves from a boulder dropped in choppy waters. The edges expanded. At first the circle was concave, bulging inward, as if sucking something into its vortex. In less than a second, the bulge flipped outward, convex. Something evil was about to be expelled—regurgitated—directly on top of us.
The reason for Jacobah’s “inclination” to be my full-time bodyguard became clear. I was also “inclined” to acknowledge the truth in his appraisal of my skill level as a warrior. Before I reached back to snatch the obsidian blade from my shoulder, Jacobah leaped in front of me, ready to hurl his seven-foot spear into the heart of the vortex.
Something was emerging from that bubble. The terrible roar transformed into a kind of maniacal death throe. The volume increased, as if it might shred our eardrums and blow us back like an explosion. Whatever was emerging from that vortex, it was huge. There was nowhere to run or hide—nothing to permit our escape.
Okay. That’s it! A cliffhanger, I know, but it wouldn’t hardly be a Heimerdinger novel if there wasn’t a cliffhanger, right? For the next couple weeks I’ll finish up the full audio version of Thorns of Glory, Part 1, and then, I promise, ForeverLDS will once again get the attention it deserves and new podcasts will start to appear, fastly and furiously.
Until then, stay close to the Lord. And if you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday, who moved? Thank you for listening. This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is ForeverLDS.