Once, a young boy had dreamed of a place far away, where turquoise water crested in sparkling foam and tumbled onto a sugar- white  beach, scattering sandpipers and gulls in its path.Where the summer sun glinted off the fingers of the relentless tide, as  God smiled at the perfection He had bestowed.

               The boy grew to manhood, praying that there would be a moment, when even he could bask in this perfection. He dreamed of sharing this beauty and the hope of his tomorrows with the one who had taught him to love and to laugh and … to live.

              The waters were to be a baptism of sorts. An affirmation of a sacred bond that had grown and flourished under His watchful eye, that would someday be consecrated in the crystal- capped waves of that special place.

              Two boys had shared this dream as the years tumbled by and the Others fought the Light, held at bay by His mercy, and the sharp steel of His sword.

              It was to happen, for it had been understood. At least, in a faithful servant’s heart…

  November 1975

                One thing was clear in Matty’s mind as the scenery unfolding before him changed from the rolling hills of Virginia into the flat marshlands of Georgia and beyond… The new life that he had started would be fraught with unpredictable tests, and people of all types. Most of the plans he had conceived in his teenaged dreams would be turned upside down, and he would have to be vigilant if he were to survive in this new, unstructured world where he would soon find corruption of the worst kind. He had not planned on the detour in Virginia, but it had revealed something odd that he had never considered. Something that would have been of fleeting significance, except that a pattern had started to emerge.

               With Bobby in his life, things had been different, or he had just never noticed. But whether or not this phenomenon was now born of that changed circumstance, in the next decades, it would become a truism that he would have to live with… He had become a lightning rod, at a time when he was most vulnerable. Something fundamental was being challenged, deep inside…

               The auburn- haired youth thought back to the stay with the Demmings. He shuddered at the images that tumbled thru his mind’s eye… The young boy who had tapped into something deep inside. The father who had somehow felt his torment. Who seemed to know who he was. Who had treated him like a son, and who he had betrayed, at least in his inability to act. He would spend many hours praying for  some kind of understanding, but life would provide only cryptic answers.

               He was left with uncertainty and a terrible sense of foreboding. What had happened? Had he failed some kind of test? What had been expected of him? There were far too many questions, and Matty lost himself in the impossible task of finding clarity where there was still the awful chaos of loss and the crushing pain of loneliness…

               He crossed the line into Florida as the pungent smell of the Georgian swamps slowly gave way to the treesweet fragrances of the Jacksonville suburbs. It was nearly midnight as the welcome sign on the two- laned  interstate came into focus in the amber headlights of the rumbling Firebird. The ‘Sunshine State’… at last!  The weary young man shifted his weight in the molded bucket seat, and reached to the back of his neck. The tightness that had started on the cold sidewalks of Washington was back. Matty twisted his neck to the right and back again, trying to work the kinks out with the pressure and kneading of his strong fingers. He massaged the taut muscles for a minute or so and then sighed, as the  lights of the passing city flickered on the open ‘Rand McNally ‘ map on the passenger seat. If he waited for the right moment, the boy could briefly make out the bold line he and Bobby had drawn so long ago, and the final destination that was circled with the blue ink from his ‘Bic’ pen. Vero Beach… A seaside community that was resplendent with tennis clubs and flower- surrounded bungalows. The perfect place to start his new life. The land of sunshine, opportunity, and peace. But first, he would have to get the ‘lay of the land’, and because his eyes were burning and his neck was throbbing, he calculated the distance to a reasonable spot to layover for a few hours.

                 Everything pointed to Daytona Beach. It was not an unknown place, by any means. In fact, he had learned of the flat beaches where people drove their cars to the water’s edge, from a cadet who spoke lovingly of the place, and insisted that it was a ‘must see’ for a young guy on the ‘hunt’. The young man hardly fit the bill, but his curiosity was pulling him there, and since Daytona was only an hour and a half away, Matty ‘throttled up’ and felt the surge of the powerful engine as the Quadrajet carburetor gulped the extra fuel and the speedometer broke through the 90 mark.

                 The jet- black car swooshed down the two lane runway and seemed to be floating above the dark pavement. The road was empty this time of night, and the young man checked the rear view mirror and then checked the mile markers. They were now a blur, as the wide tires gripped the gentle curves and Matty goosed the pedal even more.  95…. 100… 105… 110… 115… He was flying now, and nothing could stop him… 120… 125. The front of the car lifted now as the steel underbelly became a type of wing. There was almost no vibration… no pressure pushing back at the boy thru the leather -wrapped steering wheel. The tires seemed to be barely touching the road. And yet it was not enough… 130… 135. The tall young man had become stone -faced. There was no feeling left at all in his hands or even his neck. He was more alone than he had ever been, and racing time. His mind quieted. He reached inside and felt the crushing pain of loneliness and the ache in his heart where there had been so much joy. 140… The speedometer was ‘pegged’ and there was no telling what speed the hurtling mass of steel had reached.

                  It really did not matter, tho. The years were racing by and the memories were flooding back as the 21- year -old boy searched inside for the Voice. But the only sounds he heard were the fluttering wings of the wounded dove. He saw the spot of blood on the cream- colored feathers become a pool, and in it floated the medal of St. Christopher that he had given Bobby for protection in the treehouse that night… The silver  medal was reflecting the strobing lights of the emergency vehicles.

                 The engine was screaming now, as the boy released the steering wheel and closed his eyes… He dropped his hands to his sides and asked for forgiveness, for all of the things he had done to cause Bobby’s death. He asked for absolution, for he and Bobby, and prayed that he would be taken back to the place he had never wanted to leave. That the tribulation might be over at last.

                 There is little memory left of what really happened in the next moments… Only the darkness of shadows, and the comforting sensation of my fingers intertwined in his. The warmth of his breath on my neck, as I lay in bed with his arms around me in the last, precious darkness just before dawn. I was home, if only for a moment.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

                  The night was still, all around him. Matty opened his eyes and shuddered. He felt exhausted. His hands gripped the leather- clad wheel like a vise. Somehow, he was sitting by the side of the empty highway, just yards from a shadowy exit sign. The sounds of a tranquil marsh wafted through his open window. Matty blinked and looked around. He had no recollection of opening the window, and no idea what had stopped the speeding car. He slowly inhaled the tropical fragrances and assessed his surroundings. The exit sign loomed ahead, beckoning him in the strangest and most comforting way. He had no choice, so he engaged the clutch, and gently moved the curved racing shifter into first gear. The throaty rumble greeted him and spoke the words he had yearned for somewhere deep inside, as the car’s wheels regained their purchase of the silent asphalt and the long, sleek hood led the boy onto the new path.

                 He was in the outskirts of St. Augustine, a town as ancient as any. The tall boy had no idea why  he had found this place. But, at least he was leaving  the two -lane racetrack that had lured him in awful ways, so he breathed deeply and anxiously followed the new path.

                 It was close to one o’clock in the morning as the shiny car crossed the bridge and found Route 1, and the signs for the church. He was drawn, even tho he had never heard of the strange name… Our Lady of La Leche. From a distance, the solemn lad could see the towering metal cross, lighted like a beacon to travelers and weary souls. He navigated a sequence of narrow roads until he could go no further. The Intercoastal loomed before him, its darkened waters reflecting the sparse, coastal lights.

                 Matty shut the engine off and sat in the darkened car, looking out into the peaceful waters, unsure what to do. He was tired and toyed with the notion of giving in to the gnawing fatigue, but there were too many unnerving thoughts peering out from the dark corners of his conscience. He opened the door and stepped out, onto the sandy road. Behind him was the wrought iron gate and the path leading into a type of compound. He was alone in the darkness as he touched the ancient painted iron and peered down the winding path. In the distance, he could see the shadowy outlines of a small building…

            It turned out to be a shrine that overlooked the Intercoastal Waterway, where Spanish missionaries had first set foot in the ‘New World’… There was something about the place that demanded his presence , especially on this night. He found the heavy doors unlocked, and slowly walked inside  the dimly lit chapel. A red sanctuary candle flickered near the altar, so Matty genuflected as he had been taught, so long ago. He made the sign of the cross as he knelt on the stone floor, and bowed his head in reverence. Not a sound could be heard, save the sound of his own breathing.

           He rose to his feet and walked slowly to the front of the tiny chapel and sat down on the simple wooden pew. There, he sat and waited, hoping for answers to  questions that had tormented him. He shifted his weight foward and covered his face with his slender hands, and began to pray. A vortex of memories and feelings intermingled with his prayers despite his best efforts. The tall boy fought for control, but they were relentless, and he was being drawn back as the shadows on the stone resisted each flicker of  the solitary red candle….

August, 1966

            The blond boy peered into the murky water. Somewhere, in the impenetrable depths, the old quarry lurked. He had seen it twice now. Once, on the end of his screaming line as the monstrous catfish tore the monofilament from the time- worn reel. It had lasted just seconds tho, as the shadowy prey had careened off the still surface, shattering the placid pond in the most violent way, as if to assert his dominance to the shocked youngster, and then, just as quickly, he was gone. Matty had reeled in the remnants of his limp line. There was nothing left of the hook, or the multiple weights that had held the squirming bait close to the bottom of the pond.

          ‘Old Demonface’, as Matty had named him, had made one other appearance. It was a few days later, as the 12- year- old boy had arrived in the late summer afternoon, and was just settling in for a rare, summer eve catfish quest. As he was baiting his hook, the water near the partially submerged log had swirled, and as the boy glanced down, the beady eyes on the blunt- nosed head broke the surface and looked directly at him. It seemed almost demonic that the fish knew he had arrived. The boy had shuddered once the fish slowly sank from sight, leaving the rippling water as the only evidence of his presence.

          This evening, the lanky boy had a new plan. Since the last encounter, he had walked the extra two miles to the local sporting good store with a gaggle of friends, all clad in damp swim trunks and barefoot, the way they had met at the local pool. It was Matty’s birthday week or none of this would have been possible- the carefree swimming or the trek to H.G. Gellis, the store all of the town boys salivated over. You see, there a boy could get just about anything he lusted over in his outdoor dreams! Hunting slingshots, supercool jack knives, every conceivable fishing lure and the best rods and reels on the market, including ‘Mitchell’ and ‘Orvis’ if the boy had a rich daddy or worked on a farm…

            At the store, the 5 boys had scattered excitedly into various isles, their bare feet padding out their enthusiasm on the polished linoleum floors. Matty had made a beeline to the fishing department, and there, he had found the 20 pound test line that would replace what was left of the 3  pound version that ‘Old Demonhead’ had so casually destroyed. He was a strong fish, but the blond boy doubted that there was any way he could snap this new line. Not without some help! Matty smiled, thinking about a cartoon he watched on saturdays, during the winter. His mind often wandered to comical things when he was excited. Sometimes, the strangest things triggered these flashbacks! Like Rocky trying to extricate Bullwinkle from a tree that had ensnared his antlers!

           Chuckling, he took a 300 yard spool of the strong fishing line and headed to the nearby hunting area where one of his cousins was trying to draw back on a compound bow that was on display. His skinny arms were trembling and his teeth were gritted, but he was making little progress, red face or not! Matty giggled and walked over to cheer him on, but he was now embarrassed and  sheepishly looked at the camouflage bow as if it was defective. The tall blond boy had never owned a compound bow, but had practiced long hours using a simple long bow that had been a gift on his 11th birthday. He loved the bow and imagined himself in the role of Robin Hood sometimes, navigating his way through the lush vegetation of Sherwood Forest, barely escaping the armored patrols of Prince John, or the manhunts initiated by the Sheriff of Nottingham… He had relentlessly practiced, trying to split a centered arrow, but had hit the notch of the embedded arrow three times, only to have the airborne projectile ricochet  maddeningly away instead of splitting the arrow like Robin Hood could do on request.

          But, that is as far as he wanted to go with the weapons he owned, including the BB rifle and the homemade slingshot that he devised using some purloined elastic straps from one of his sisters bras! The slingshot was quite powerful and like the bow and rifle, quite capable of killing. He shuddered to think what some of the boys wanted to do, the moment he showed them his ‘collection’.

           The pond was a sanctuary from all of that. He came here alone, some of the time, preferring his deep thoughts to the agitated convulsions of some of his fishing buddies, who grew impatient if ten minutes passed without a nibble. Here, he could also disappear from the frenetic house where the chaos was interrupted infrequently at best. Where his baby brother was sometimes the most intelligent mediator, even if he spoke his own language.

           Deep in thought, the youngster baited the hook with the squirming nightcrawler and then re- cinched the split shot weights by biting down on them. He didn’t want them falling off! The bait needed to be on or near the bottom of the pond if the monster fish was to find it…

            Finished, he picked up the old rod that his uncle had given him, and opened the bail on the reel… He set his sights on the target, a place 10 feet to the right of the sunken log and with his best technique, snapped the tip of the rod briskly, sending the bait on an arching trajectory to the imaginary target. It was a perfect cast, and he bit his bottom lip in anticipation.

           It would have been his best cast ever, but almost simultaneously, everything changed as the silence was broken by a voice that startled the 12- year- old youngster.

            “What do we have here?” came the voice, dripping in sarcasm…

             Matty spun around. He had been so engrossed, he had not heard the two older boys approaching.

             “Looks like a skinny little faggot!” The stockier of the two grinned maliciously. “So, all alone faggy boy?”

              Matty glanced around. He was trapped, and he felt the sickening fear in his gut. He knew both of these guys and neither of them was someone he wanted anything to do with, especially here, hidden by the underbrush and cattails of the nearby swamp. Flight was possible, but only if he abandoned everything and outran the trouble. He toyed with the idea, but gritted his teeth and decided against it. He had been minding his own business, and these two had no right to interfere, and definitely no right to the fishing equipment he cherished!

              So, he turned away, hoping against hope, that the fiendish pair would just go away, or that someone older and compassionate would see what was happening and intervene. In a perfect world, that might have happened, but on this warm summer night, it was pure fantasy. A nasty voice cut through his increasingly panicked musings.

               “Don’t turn your back on me when I’m talking to you, pussy! What’re you deaf or somethin’? Fuckin’ faggot…”

                “Leave me alone, Greg, I’m not bothering…”

                “AWW… leave me alone… ” The 15 year old delinquent whined sarcastically, mimicking the youngster’s plea. “Fuck you! You’re bothering me! I didn’t give you permission to fish here! Skinny little freak! ” He looked at his sneering companion for affirmation and the smaller boy laughed like he had just heard the funniest joke ever… It was a forced laugh, and it exposed the crooked yellowed teeth that came from his years of smoking.

                  Matty felt his blood run cold, and the hair on the back of his neck bristle. It was only a matter of time, and he had little choice, but to plan a strategy… Either he gave in to the two and took whatever abuse they had in store, or he made a stand and at least got his pound of flesh. He slowly began to reel in the bait as the two boys closed in…

                  “Bet you wish you never came here, huh pussy?” Greg Martinelli snarled. Matty knew him well… In ways that defy explanation at the present. They were connected in ways that even Greg would never understand. A boy growing up in a fatherless house… He shuddered, just thinking about what had happened, as the lead weights of the baited line suddenly clicked up against the metal guide on the end of the bronze- colored rod. If this boy had his father’s blood coursing through his veins, he was capable of anything…

                     “Maybe if you suck our dicks, we’ll let you go, little faggot!” the bigger boy said, reaching for his zipper…The look on his face told the slender boy it was now or never. They were getting too close! He swung the rod around in a vicious arch directly at the face of the tallest boy. It connected with a glancing blow, as the stocky hoodlum tried to duck, emitting a dull ‘thunking’ sound. This froze the other boy momentarily, as Matty whipped the rod again, this time missing the second boy. In the process, he tripped over the small tackle box at his feet and stumbled foward, losing control of his balance and literally ramming into the waist of his assailant with his right shoulder.

                        Before he could regain his balance the older boy had recovered enough to smash his fist down on the upper back of the slender boy, knocking him to his knees with the fishing rod under him, the hook somehow imbedding itself in his Converse sneakers. The second boy took the opportunity to jump in as well and kicked the stunned 12- year- old in the throat sending him sprawling onto his side, gasping for breath and shielding himself from the blows that were now raining down on him, amidst the taunting obscenities that accompanied each strike.

                       The boy was growing numb to the incessant barrage, and unable to do much more than kick out at the two tormenters with his untangled leg, had assumed a fetal position to protect himself the best that he could. There was a brief lull, and Matty could hear the hoarse breathing… He felt the hot breath on his neck, and the stench of cigarettes… A heavy weight had his legs pinned and another was forcing his shoulders and head into the grass. He waited, sure that the worse was to come…

                          And then, it happened. A resounding ‘thud’. More of a ‘crack’, really… Then the deep, surprised, gasp, and suddenly he was being released. Another ‘crunch’, and ‘thud’, followed by a scream and a scrambling, frantic tussle. Matty looked up and saw the white chinos, and the white Converse sneakers… Only one person he knew dressed like that! A strong but gentle hand was tugging on his arm now, as he returned to his senses. He was still choking and gasping for air as he got to his feet and stood, doubled over momentarily, Bobby’s strong and reassuring hand on his back.

                         “Bubba… you all right? “

                           The boy straightened up and caught his breath. He nodded slowly, still holding his throat. Bobby stood before him, shaking, still gripping the stout piece of wood. A ‘Louisville Slugger’, with a maple- colored handle and a black- painted barrel. In the grass, 10 feet away, lay a tan -colored baseball glove.

                           On the ground, Greg Martinelli was curled up, groaning in pain, holding his ribs, while his partner- in – crime cowered to the side, holding his left arm, his face white as a sheet.

                          “Let’s get out of here… they’ve had enough. For now.” The blond- haired rescuer glared down at the incapacitated demon seed. He never knew what he had saved me from.

                          It was the last time Matty saw the older boy up close. Like his father, his future was already written. He is mentioned here, only in the chronicling of this memory and the salvation that came to a desperate boy so long ago. God bless you, Bobby…

Continued in Part 13…

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