Monday, March 10, 2014

Aubrey's Vigil excerpt # 1

            John Aubrey was four years old when his mother scooted him through the backdoor one clear November evening, out from underfoot while she prepared supper.  John had the backyard to himself, none of his brothers and sisters nearby to keep an eye on him.  There wasn’t much for him to get into.  The soft ripe chinaberries for which John had developed a fancy, no longer littered the ground in the back corner of the lot.  A solid picket fence was there to keep him reined in.  Mary clearly remembered the rope on the gate looped over the top of the fence post, too high for him to reach.  The gate straddled the back trail that led up steeply beyond, onto one of the hillsides that formed Bennett Holler.
            So he was left alone, Mary rushing back to fry some sweet potato slices.  She prepared ham and cabbage that night – she recounted it for years – cornbread, field peas and sweet potatoes.  Twenty minutes later Nell showed up and Mary asked her to fetch in John.
            Nell found the backyard empty.  She moped back into the kitchen, plaiting her hair at the side of her breast.   "He ain't out there," she announced.  Mary stepped to the door.   She surveyed the yard.  Spotting the open gate, she let out a shriek that stiffened little Nell's body. 
            "Git your daddy, Nell, John's done wandered off up the mount'n."
            Stuart Aubrey and his eldest, Lamar, were just home from the quarry, washing themselves at the well spigot when Nell came running.  She had not spoken a word before they heard Mary calling for John.   They took note of the fear in her voice, trotting around back.  Martin and Kate showed up about that time, too.  The whole family spread out, searching the fenced yard and the cleared land.  Calling out for John Farris Aubrey.   
            Stuart ventured a short way up the path that led to the mountaintop.  The deeper into the woods, the darker grew the path.  He studied the sun over his left shoulder.  It was wallowing between the west hills, near to treetop level.  He let out a whistle that brought his wife and children running.
            "Looks like he went up the mount'n."
            "Oh, Lordy," said Mary Aubrey.
            "Lamar, git the Tuckers.  Martin, you git Horace Stringfeller.  Mamie, too, if she'll come," said Stuart.  "Tell 'em to bring some lanterns," he called out behind them.  "We got to find him soon.  It'll be down aroun'  freezin' tonight."
            "How could he've gotten out?" Mary asked.  "I checked the latch – "
            Stuart’s look cut Mary short.  Nell grabbed her mother around her knees and began to whine.
            "Shush, little Nell,” Stuart told her.  “Don't worry.  We'll find John.  You go in the house with your mama."
            Mary met Stuart's eyes.  "I got to help look."
            "Put away supper.  Make us some coffee.  When Lamar comes back, tell him to go to Miss Wimberley's an' borrow her telephone.  Tell him to call the doctor.  Lewis an' Jimmy, too."
            "Stuart – "
            "You'll git your turn.  None of us can stay out all night ... if it comes to that."
            The three families of Bennett Holler showed up to search for John.  Runt Tucker and Ivy with two of their boys; Horace and Mamie Stringfellow, the black family who lived just across the vale.  Mamie was the midwife who had delivered John the night the bridge washed out, stranding Doctor Peterson on the far side of Stone River.  Ivy Tucker and Mamie took over Mary's kitchen work so she could join the search.  The rest of the folks took up into the woods, scouring the hillsides, lanterns held high, voices echoing across the hollow.
            The night was clear, but it was close to a new moon and the woods were thick and black.  From the Aubrey's back porch, Nell could see the lanterns above her flickering among the hardwoods and dense pines.  The voices hollering out, coming down unanswered, were chilling to the spirit as the night stretched out cold and bitter.  Searchers trooped down every so often for coffee and biscuits.  Some asked for a coat or an extra shirt.  Stuart couldn‘t make himself put on a coat, knowing little John was somewhere on the mountain in his shirtsleeves. 
            More people arrived the early morning hours.  Sheriff Hall rousted out the Bertram Volunteer Fire Department.  Doctor Peterson, too old to search, waited on the ready.  He had the women keep the fire stoked high, blankets warmed, water hot on the stove.  Close to sunrise, the searchers gathered on the back porch, faces exhausted, eyes narrow and fearful.  Some of the women were close to tears.  The feed store thermometer on the Aubrey back porch read 25 degrees.
             The searchers took an account of themselves and found only Horace Stringfellow still on the hillside.  Mary collapsed on the steps and they carried her into her bedroom.   They sat Stuart down in a chair.  Preacher Mayfield prayed for John, down on one knee, his hand clamped on Stuart's forearm.   Lewis Aubrey talked to his brother about going inside to lie down.  Sheriff Hall and some others discussed the situation in hushed tones among themselves, trying to agree on a plan of action.
            It was at that moment that Horace Stringfellow, low on the hillside and toward the east, let out a howl that penetrated the heart of every person gathered at that farmhouse.  They strained to hear a second call....  It came.  No one could make it out, the words nor the import of it.  There came another cry, sounding closer than before.   Red Phelps, at the back gate and partially up the slope, was the one that heard it first.  "He fount 'im!" Red shouted.  "God Al'mighty, he fount 'im."
            A cry was torn from every throat, but cut short by another call from the hillside.  Deathly quiet prevailed.  "What's 'at?" asked Red aloud.  "I cain't make it out."  Again Horace called in the distance.
            "He said, he's alive!" shouted Lamar Aubrey who had run farther up the slope.  He hustled up the path, followed by the hardiest of the searchers.  Most folks were rooted where they stood.  They heard a shout from Lamar, then others and Horace came into view, fairly leaping down the mountain path, all smiles, little John in his arms, peeking out curiously at the gathering below.  Everyone clustered at the back gate where Horace handed John straight into his father's arms.  The crowd parted to let Stuart through to the porch.  Mary had just come out the back door and she grabbed up her son, squeezing him to her breast, yielding her hold only at the insistence of Doctor Peterson who brought the boy into the warm kitchen.  His large, gnarled hands expertly examined him.  John sat quietly, wondrous at all the commotion.   The doctor pronounced to the crowd:  "Healthy as a horse."  A cheer went up and the celebration commenced, hugs and handshakes, claps on the back, folks laughing themselves into tears. 
            The doctor took Stuart to one side.  His voice was level and calm:  "Sump'm' strange here, Stuart.  That boy spent twelve frozen hours up there on the mount'n.  An' come out like he'd been for a stroll through the peach grove."
            Stuart eyed his son, wrapped in his mother's arms.  "What you thinkin'?"
            "Damned if I know," said the doctor.  "See if you can git a story from him.  I'd like to know what he tells you."
            They never got much from John.  Nothing that made sense.  As a rule, John was a talkative child, but asked about that night on the mountain, he drew up silent.  He seemed somewhat confused about it.  Why he didn't answer when the folks were calling him?  John would shrug his shoulders.  He answered Mr. Horace.  Had he been scared?  Nope. Cold?  He'd shake his head.  You were lost all night, John.  He said no.  He wasn’t lost. I wasn’t gone but just a minute, he said.   He'd been with Mister Horace, up on the hill".
            The story grew with the telling until it became not only a part of the Aubrey lore, but part of those hills and hollows, a part of Marlow County, a story told in various forms all through North Georgia about a boy named John Aubrey who was lost, then miraculously found, surviving a night on the mountain among the foxes and bears, without a scratch or scrape, without fever or chill.  Most people told the story straight – just to marvel at the child's providence.  Of course, there were others who never heard a story they couldn't make more daring and marvelous.  The name John Aubrey settled into the depths of many a folk's mind, a name perhaps forgotten with time but still familiar and somehow faintly wondrous.

Aubrey's Vigil excerpt # 2


             John walked wearily down from a vigil on the hilltop; just before the new year of l956.  Vigils were held every time the ministry made it home to Bennett Holler.  John had spent three frozen nights up on the mountain.   He was forced to erect a tent and build a fire to keep from dying outright, but he kept his fast, not a drop to neither eat nor drink.  He asked God to bless his work, offering physical suffering as evidence of his sincerity.  He stumbled down the last stretch of trail, surprised at the back gate by the parlor piano with two voices in harmony:  Jesus is Coming Soon.  The loveliness of it trembled through his compromised body.   It unexpectedly brought him to tears.   John recognized Lois's voice.  The other was unfamiliar to him:   lively, joyous and masculine. 
                                    Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever.
                                    He sought me and bought me with His                                               redeeming blood.
                                    He loved me ere I knew Him and all my love                                     is due Him.
                                    He plunged me to victory beneath the                                                 cleansing flood.

            John walked to the front of the house.  A late model Cadillac was parked under the pecan tree.  It had a Troup County tag on it.  John stepped up to the front porch, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder.   Lois spied him through the screen, her last, lingering note  tweaked with a disharmonious gasp.  The man at the piano swiveled around, his short, thick body rising from the stool.  As the man told it years later, seeing John Aubrey right then, was like seeing an Old Testament prophet just wandered in from the
wilderness, surely fed on locusts and wild honey.
            "John Aubrey!" snapped Lois. "What do you mean sneakin' up on people like that?"
            John was weak on his feet.  "I jus' walked through my front door –"
            "You were slinkin' around like a thief."  John stared at her.  He couldn't quite read her face, but it looked like guilt upon it.   Sniffing her nose, she said, "Meet Mr. Clayton Ponder."
            "An honor to meet you, Brother Aubrey," said the man.
            "Clayton," said John.
            "Jus' call me Clay," said the man. 
            "I don't know what Mr. Ponder will think of you, John.  You look like a hobo," Lois said, trying to make her voice light.  John stared at her a few seconds.  He looked Mr. Ponder over.  He was not a heavy man, really, but he gave that impression at first.  It was those plump, freckled cheeks, set high on his face.  His hair, oiled back from the forehead was curly, dark and abundant.  His face was shaped younger than his years.  John estimated him to be eighteen, four years younger than Lois, ten years shy of himself.  John reckoned at that moment he must've looked twenty years older than the both of them.
            "Excuse my appearance.  I’ve been up on a prayer vigil.  I'm 'bout tuckered out.  Mind if I sit?"  He sank heavily into a chair.  "Go ahead and play some more.  Sing some more.  Let me hear y'all sing.  This ol' house could use a gospel song ringin' through it.  Where's everybody, anyway?"
            "Your mama has the baby over at Nell's.  Stuart's in town."
            "The baby's at Nell's?"  John asked distractedly.  "Go ahead.  Play somethin’," he said.  In the darkness of the old house at midday, grizzled and probably stinking; hungry an' exhausted, he felt suddenly abashed.  He was a trespasser in his own house.  An intruder among the genteel.  
            Clay chose Victory in Jesus and, then, When I Can Read the Title Clear.   Lois joined him on Precious Memories.
                                    Precious memories, unseen angels,
                                    Sent from somewhere to my soul.
                                    How they linger ever near me
                                    and the sacred scenes unfold ....

            The song caused tears to roll down John's face unabashed.  "Y'all sound real good," he told them, their harmony stirring up unseen angels in John's soul.
            "Don't he play wonderfully?" offered Lois.  John could tell by her manner she was embarrassed by her husband's state.
            "Sounded real good," said John again.
            "I play the guitar, too.  The banjo an' the mandolin."
            "Is that a fact?"
            "His voice is powerful," said Lois.  "A gift from God."
            "I heard you preach," said Clay Ponder.  "In La Grange last month.  I never seen anything like it.  I never felt the Holy Ghost more."
            "What'd I preach on?"
            "The ten virgins with their lamps."
            "That's one of my best."
            "I thought the world was comin' to an end right that night."
            "That's how I wanted you to feel.  Might’ve happened that night.  Who could say?"
            "Felt like it."
            "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."


            John looked him hard in the eye.  "Best be ready for it."
            "Yes, sir."
            "John," Lois broke in, "Clay heard we were lookin' for a piano player."
            "I come up here to inquire about the job."
            "I don't know that we can afford us a piano player right now."
            "The pay is the least of my considerations, Brother Aubrey."
            "You ever been on a crusade?"
            "I jus' left Tweedell Ministries out of Baton Rouge."
            "You were on the circuit?"
            "For four months.  'Fore that I played for the Lyle Hough Gospel Quartet for near 'bout over a year."
            John rubbed his hand across his jaw.  "I sure could use a cup of coffee," he announced, casting a glance toward Lois.   
            "I'll have to brew it," Lois said.
            "Fine.  Fix me and Mr. Ponder a cup of coffee.  We'll be out on the porch talkin' business."
            The day had turned off mild.   Clay Ponder sat in the porch swing.  John slid a rocking chair into the sun and dropped into it; stove-up, old and tired.  His clothes hung sourly on him.  By contrast, Clay was smartly dressed in a gray flannel suit, sitting on the edge of the swing.  His hair was neatly combed, his clean shaven face fair, soft of skin.  Something unsettling about him, thought John Aubrey, something in his smile, or in the darting glances he gave John out of the corners of his eyes.
            "You come from a wealthy family, Mr. Ponder?"
            "Please, call me Clay.  Yessir, I do.  My father owns several enterprises aroun' the city of La Grange, one or two in Hogansville."
            "What kind of enterprises?"
            "Feed stores, cotton gin, automobile dealership.  I reckon I should be workin' in his office, learnin' a trade.  But the Lord had other plans for me.  I've always been attracted to music.  Been playin' the piano since I was five.  An' a couple of years ago I got a callin' to be out among the common folk, singin', playin', bringin' the good news to them."
            "You’re not one to hide your money, are you, Clay?  Not with the way you dress, jeweled rings on each hand, those fancy boots, that car out yonder."
             "I wrangled with my daddy for a long time about joinin' up with a tent crusade.  He tol' me I was throwin' away my life.  When he saw I was determined to do it, he give me that car as a ... a donation, kind of.  He said I'd better have me a reliable vehicle."  John leaned over to get a better look at the car.   "He gets them at factory price," Clay added.
            "What'll people think when they come to a revival meetin', poor people, mostly?  What'll they think when they see you up there on the stage playin' the piano, flashin' them rings?"
            "Well, sir, Brother Aubrey.  I tell you.  I don't just wear these rings when I play the piano, sometimes I wear me a cowboy hat.  I wear me a fancy colored coat, sometimes white, sometimes pink, gold, sky blue.  Something to catch people's eye.  Look here, when they see me in all my finery, they're going be struck by the uncommonness of the sight.  They're going go home an' call their sister an' their cousin, an' their neighbor down the way an' tell them what a sight they saw at that camp meetin' last night.  An' what a voice they heard.  An' what fancy piano-playin'.  An' I think they’re go’n’ come back for more, Brother Aubrey.  They go’n’ come back an' they’re go’n’ bring their sister an' cousin' an' neighbor with ‘em."
            "You think so?"
            Clay smiled.  "It works, Brother Aubrey.  It worked on the Tweedell Crusade.  It'll work for you.  Listen, sir, you preach the gospel.  You do the real work, the sure enough true work.  I'm the entertainment.  I do the least work, but it's important.  I give ‘em a show, somethin' they ain't seen the likes of before.  I can work up a crowd for you.  You know what it's like.  You know the difference in preachin' to a happy, friendly crowd buzzin' with excitement as opposed to preachin' to a poker-faced, tired ol' collection of scoffers an' nay-sayers.  I draw ‘em in, an' set ‘em up, then you put the Word on ‘em.  They won't know what hit ‘em."
            John sat back in the rocker studyin' the man.  He'd never come across anybody quite like him.  His enthusiasm engulfed John for a few moments, through the dull haze of fatigue.  Lois came out with the coffee on a fancy serving tray.
            "How do you take your coffee, Mr. Ponder?" she asked.
            "Cream an' sugar, if you don't mind," answered Clay Ponder.
            "Not at all," she said.  John noticed that his wife was excited by the man's zeal, his good-natured energy.  He suddenly envied them both.  They were free of John's bindings.  Burdened by God's hand, he felt a hundred years old.   The sun lay dazzling out beyond the shade of the porch.  The coffee was an exquisite pleasure.  'How could they know?' he thought as the three sat in silence. 'They'll never know.  Not even the least of it; like the dark smell an' taste of this here coffee, the way God has given it to me.  ‘No,’ John decided.  'I don't envy them, their innocence, their lightness.  Load me up, Lord,' he prayed.  'Burden me.  Bury me under the crush.  And thank You, for the little sweets you offer me, the tender mercies.'  John leaned deep in his chair.  He came near to drifting off to sleep.

            "John?" Lois called.
            "Forgive me.  I'm tired."
            "That's all right," said Clay.
            "I couldn't pay you much," he said.
            "I don't ask for much.  Money is the least of my concerns." 
            "We leave in less than a week."
            "I've got my stuff in the back of the Cadillac."
            "Where are you stayin'?"
            "Don't rightly know, yet."
            "Well, bring in your suitcase.  We got a spare room or two in the house.  I'll talk to Lester tonight an' see what we can offer you in the way of money.  If you want to join up with us."
            "I tol' you, Brother Aubrey.  I heard you preach.  I want to join you.  It's why I drove up here all the way from La Grange.  I want to help you, sir, reach the unsaved."
            He held out his hand for John to shake.  John searched the man's eyes.  But he held them only for a second.  Clay shook Lois's hand, then bounded off the porch to fetch his things.   Lois showed him to an empty bedroom.  John fell asleep in his chair, the empty coffee cup rolling across the porch boards.

Aubrey's Vigil excerpt # 3


            It rained about all day on the twelfth of September in the hills surrounding Bertram.  The clouds moved off toward late afternoon, leaving everything wet and cold; the roads slick, hillsides glistening darkly green.   The Wednesday night prayer meeting at the Beulah Baptist Church began at six promptly like every Wednesday.  They sang some. The Reverend Waters delivered a short sermon.  The Reverend Rupert Jones rose and spoke about the dignity and rights of the Negro as a citizen of the United States.  He talked about recent occurrences throughout the nation concerning Negro rights.  It was somewhere during the tail end of his talk that the congregation first heard the whoops and hollers, the rumble of automobiles and the sharp crack of guns being fired. 
            Four automobiles, men hanging from the windows, came down the main street of Blackbottom, shotguns and pistols brandished.  Someone bore the Confederate bars and stars, flapping wildly in the draft of the automobiles.  They were drunken to the man, in high spirits, but the terms of their shouting were hateful as they roared down the narrow street, making as much noise as possible with their guns, car horns and throats.   Negroes on the street scattered at their first pass; were gone by the time the caravan made the block and came roaring back again.  Folks peeked out through the cracks of doors or the edges of their shades.
            At Beulah Baptist, they ran to the windows and watched them pass.  The second time around the automobiles pulled up hard in front of the church.  The men fired their shotguns into the air; waved their flag.  Shouted and cursed.  Folks inside the church locked the large front door, settled down below the windows.   Brother Jones appealed for calm as he stood among the worshippers. Brother Waters initiated a prayer.  Everyone down, praying softly but urgently while Rupert Jones went to the front window.  He watched two shadowy figures leave the first car, carrying something between them.  They planted it in the sparse church lawn.  In an instant it was ablaze, a fluttering yellow fire in the shape of a cross.  It was small, hastily built:  the cross piece hung crookedly from the spar.  Brother Rupert got a good look at one of the men as he stood beside the cross, glorying in its light and heat.  He had a bandanna wrapped over his face but, Rupert studied the man's shape in the starkness of the firelight:  the short, solid body, thick neck, close-cropped hair ... and the ears, small, round, sticking straight out from his head.
            A man back at the lead car fired a shotgun and the glass above the front door exploded inside the church.  People screamed, sprayed with glass; hunkered down closer to the floor.  The front door flew open in a burst of light and Rupert Jones was through it.  Out onto the porch.   He stood a powerful shadowed figure in the doorway.
            "This is the house of God!" his voice thundered.  "This is the temple of Jesus!"
            Silence reigned.  Except for the rumbling of the car engines, the crackling of the fiery cross.  One of the men near it sidled off toward his automobile.  The other, the short, thick man stood watching the black figure in the door of the church.  Eye to eye, both men silhouetted by the light behind them.
            "May God have mercy on your soul for defilin' His church," said the Reverend Jones.  "May God have mercy on you."
            An automobile's engine roared full-throttle. It backed straight out onto the street.  The others followed behind.  The man at the cross yelled up at Rupert.
            "You the one need's God's mercy, nigger!  You a dead man walkin'!  You one dead nigger."  He laughed aloud, stabbing the air with his finger as he backed up toward the waiting open door of the last automobile.  The door slammed shut on him and the car sped off into the black Georgia night.

            The old DeSoto made it fine to Piedmont, where John left his daughters with Kay Polk.  It was fifty miles on down the highway from there when the soft punk of an explosion sent clouds of steam streaming out from under the car's big white hood.  John pulled over onto the grassy shoulder of the lonely two-lane.  It was flat, piney country. He was still a good hundred miles from Dallas.  After a time he was able to lift the hood, releasing a billow of steam and he could see the damage that had been done; relieved to find that the replaced water pump didn't appear to be the cause of the malfunction.
            He felt a presence near him and lifted his head from under the hood.  There was a raggedy pick-up truck pulled up behind the DeSoto with three dogs in the bed.  They began to bark when they spied John.  An old man with shaggy hair and beard sat behind the wheel, watching John through the windshield.  He made no move to get out of the truck.  He tapped his knuckles on the back glass and the dogs grew silent.  John walked back to where he sat.
            "Hello there, sir," said John.
            "Troubles?" asked the man.
            "I think it's just a busted heater hose.  I pro'bly can fix it with some tape I got in the trunk.  But I need some water to refill my radiator."
            The old man flung the door open and climbed out of the truck.  The dogs jumped down and followed him over to the DeSoto, giving John a good sniffing on the way.  His clothes were as dirty and raggedy as the pick-up truck.  He stuck his head under the hood to look things over for himself.
            "It's right there," said John, pointing to the tear in the hose.  "See it?"   Up close, the old man stank strongly of sweat, dogs and cigarettes.
            "My place is down the road a piece," said the man.  "Let's tape her up an' I'll take you there an' git you some water."   As he turned to face him, John was shocked to see that the man wasn't old at all, maybe in his late thirties.   His filthy condition made him appear old, his hair matted and tangled, the lines of his smudged face caked with dirt.
            "I'd be much obliged," said John.
            The old truck rattled along the highway at about fifteen miles an hour, the dogs roaming the bed of the truck.  The man was in no hurry.  He lit up a hand-rolled cigarette and offered one to John.
             "No, thanks," said John.  "My name's John Aubrey," he said, offering the man his hand.
            "Cyril Rodgers," said the man. 
            "I'm mighty grateful to you for stoppin'.  An' to the good Lord for sendin' you my way."
            Cyril turned toward John, his eyes wide with mock surprise.  "The good Lord sent me?  You mean it was the Devil who busted your radiator hose?  Or was it the good Lord?"  John was surprised into silence. "I believe it was the Lord," said Cyril.  "He's always up to some mischief.  I wonder why He done it."  John couldn't think of a thing to say.  Cyril laughed at him.  "Where you headed?" he asked.

            "You a preacher, ain't you?"
            John's eyebrows shot up.  "How'd you know?"
            "Soft hands, pasty skin; fancy clothes, but drivin' a beat-up ol' car ....  What you goin' to Dallas for?"
            "I'm speakin' to a conference of pastors."
            Cyril took a long draw on his cigarette.  "Would that be the one put on by the Reverend Harris T. Black?"
            "My God, who are you?" John blurted out.
            Cyril looked him over curiously.  "Maybe I'm an angel from heaven," he said.  He burst out with ragged laughter at the look on John's face.  "You been visited by angels before, ain't you, Brother Aubrey?"  He laughed again.  Sucked on his cigarette.  "I was a preacher once," he said.
            "What happened to you?" asked John.  Cyril exploded into laughter again, bent against the steering wheel, bangin' his fingers on the dashboard.  The dogs in back started barking and he rapped on the back glass to quiet them.  "I'm sorry," said John.  Cyril's laughter turned into a coughing fit.  John kept a wary eye on the road as the truck weaved across the center stripes.  Cyril pulled it back in line. 
            "What happened to me?" said Cyril.
            "Did you lose your faith?"
            "No," said Cyril.  "I found it."
            "I don't understan'."
            "No, you don't.  You a preacher.  You live by words.  Words never tell the truth, Brother Aubrey.  God’s too vast to fit into anybody’s mouth ... or their ears."  And, as if to emphasis his point, he clamped his mouth down tight.  The truck rattled along for a ways.  John searched uneasily the piney roadsides for the sight of a house or a storefront.  Nothing but thick woods beyond the littered, overgrown shoulders.   Cyril spoke again.   "When I quit preachin', I started listenin'.  When I started listenin' all the words dried up in me.  I stood mute before the Lord."  He stared at John, stomped down the clutch, the engine sputtering, the truck slowing down. 
            He turned onto a dirt trail that led deep into the piney wood.  John was startled to see three crosses of rough timber stuck up in a clearing to his left.   The two lesser crosses were raw wood, but the center cross was painted red and bore a Bible verse in white paint:  Eli, Eli, la-ma sa-bach-tha-ni?
            "My God, My God.  Why hast thou forsaken me?" quoted John.
            "Yes!" said Cyril.
            There was another cross coming up on John's right made of pine logs, tied at the crux with rope.  Three more on his left, white, painted with verses.  And then the old truck turned a corner of thick pines and there stood before John hundreds of crosses, clustered in random ways, various sizes and colors.   They stood in front of, and to the side of a one room shack, the exterior walls of which were covered with roofing shingles of many different colors.  The roof itself was corrugated tin, rusted a dark brown.  Smoke rose from a stack jutting through it.  Cyril cut off the truck motor.  John sat gaping at the crosses.         
            "I don't preach no more," said Cyril, quietly.  "I make crosses." 
            "It's wonderful," said John.
            "It's the Lord's work," said Cyril, as if he expected a challenge from John.
            "'Course it is," said John.  "Can I look aroun'?"
            "He’p yourself," said Cyril, his manner withdrawn and apprehensive.  "I'll fetch a couple of pails of water."
            John wandered among the crosses; in the shadows of crosses, many of them full scale, some the size of grave markers, all stuck in the weedy, hard, dry scrabble of central Texas.  The dogs walked leisurely along side him.  Some of the crosses had scripture carved or painted on them.

                         For I was hungered and ye gave me meat.

                         Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour
                        wherein the Son of man cometh.        
                        And many false prophets shall rise.

            Cyril came back with two buckets of water.  They rode back to the DeSoto in silence.  Cyril seemed chary of discussing the crosses.  John was overcome.  No words came to mind.  What the man did was somehow self-explanatory.  John felt the presence of God on that patch of land, inside that old dog-smelly pick-up truck, hidden within the dirty, ragged covering of Cyril Rodgers' soul.
            They filled up the DeSoto's radiator with water.  When John cranked the motor, the tape held.  He shook Cyril's hand, parting there on the shoulder of the highway.  Thanked him once again.  Cyril loaded his dogs back into the truck, was preparing to climb in himself when he turned a last time toward John.
            "What happened to me, Brother Aubrey," he shouted above the noise of the two idling motors, "was God put out His great big ol' thumb an' He squashed me with it.  I'm under the thumb of God, Brother Aubrey.  That's all I'm tellin'."  He climbed into his truck and drove away.