To Hell & Back A Test of Faith

To Hell & Back A Test of Faith

Status: Finished

Genre: Thrillers


Status: Finished

Genre: Thrillers


Here is a copy of the first three chapters of my Spiritual Thriller, a story that lays the foundation for what follows. I have included a taste of chapter four as well, where the main character finds herself in a battle for her very soul.


Here is a copy of the first three chapters of my Spiritual Thriller, a story that lays the foundation for what follows. I have included a taste of chapter four as well, where the main character finds herself in a battle for her very soul.

Chapter1 (v.1) - To Hell & Back A Test of Faith

Author Chapter Note

Here ia a copy of the first three chapters of the story that lays the foundation for what follows. I have included a taste of chapter four as well, where the main character finds herself in Hell.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: July 17, 2012

Reads: 655

Comments: 2

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: July 17, 2012



To Hell and Back


Test of Faith





VL Parker






Copyright © 2011 – VL Parker

All rights reserved worldwide.

No part of this book may be copied or re-sold.





I would like to thank my children Matthew, Sarah and Jessica for your patience during the creation of this story. I would also like to thank my beautiful and talented sister Gina for believing in me and encouraging me to finish this book.


I am forever grateful for God blessing me with my amazing family, especially my wonderful husband Robert. I thank you my darling husband for your assistance, your love and your support.  This book would never be what it is without your insight, and feedback.


I also would like to thank Jessica for her feedback and encouraging me to enhance certain battle scenes. Your advice has enhanced the story.




Part One:

Before We Live, We Die



Something that’s Worth Dying For 


“Between shadows and death we will reach out for the light.” Catherine once told me this in the dark of the night, but I didn’t believe her. In the darkness there is no shadow and in death there could be no life, and yet like a moth drawn to the flame I was compelled to follow her.

Our lives were separate as were our paths, still destiny determined they would become entwined. As a plant longs for the sun and the rain, as the desert thirsts, and as we require air to breathe, so too I came to need Catherine. I wanted her to save my soul; to restore my faith in humanity, for she was my last great hope, to resurrect all that had died in me.

I felt some deep force within me forcing me to follow her and yet she was a believer in a god I did not know and a leader of a group I did not understand. Their faith was blind, being led by prophecy and dreams, but I refused to be a pawn of the gods. I would choose my fate and control my own destiny. This is what I had always clung to, but now the world had changed.


I was lost and alone; I was perplexed and confused, as chaos made me victim to circumstance. Catherine would become my cause, she became my dream and I would follow her to the ends of the Earth. For her I could live; for her I could die.



As I sit down to write this story I question where I should begin. Perhaps I will tell you just a little about the forces that shaped me, and the circumstances that brought me into Catherine’s life.

It was the first year of The Great War, some said it was Armageddon, others World War III. Regardless of what one chose to call it, it was bloody, it was endless, and it had taken on a life of its own. By the time I crept into Catherine’s camp I was under its control.

The carnage could trace its roots to the War on Terror, which had been launched by the United States following that terrible September morn in 2001. The attack on Iraq was swift, and then the assault on Afghanistan was legitimate. One war flowed like blood into the next, as decades of warfare shaped our lives.

It was now decades later and Jerusalem was being attacked on all sides. Throughout the previous winter, terror spread across the city, covering it in a blanket of shadows, as rivers of blood flowed through the streets. Israel’s enemies, the Palestinians and the surrounding Muslim countries, were besieging her on all sides. They proclaimed that nothing but the complete annihilation of the Jewish people would suffice.

America and Britain endeavored to protect her, but the solution was an enigma. The more we supported Israel in her struggle, the more fervent became hatred of the Jews in the region. Our support only escalated fighting throughout the Middle East. Our War on Terror married into the war to free the Jewish people from Muslim aggression.

We have been in a perpetual state of war ever since, a confrontation against Islamic extremists. We were never resting, nor relenting from eradicating the enemy before they could destroy us. Kill, or be killed, this was why war was waged and this was the atmosphere in which I grew up. It was an age of fear, an age of anger, and an era of broken dreams. Still, in the darkness a small flicker of hope remained and we were determined that our voices would never be extinguished.

I vowed to defend democracy. I would live and die for this ideal. I was always sure of whom the enemy was. There was never any doubt about what was worth fighting for; it was only a matter of which side you’re on.

Our allies and our own spies supplied us with ample evidence against terrorist cells and the nations who supported them. We had the technology and the will to destroy them. Then the world began to change as truth was portrayed as lies and our great American nation soon became despised.

The world had long fallen into darkness and chaos as a result of the never-ending bloodshed. It was a world I could no longer understand. The atrocities of war were no longer worth dying for. I was a soldier without a cause, a man without a soul, desperate for some hope, but with a heart that had grown cold.

I had lived for freedom and I was willing to die for democracy, but what was I to do when democracy ceased to exist? I could not give up on this dream. It was in my blood. It was a part of my being. I had to find a way to defend it, to save it from the reign of dictators who swayed the nations of the world.

There was one woman who shared this dream, or at least she shared the same enemy. We were kindred spirits, compelled to fight and die for, if necessary, that which we believed.


Peter Roberts

Captain, USN




Chapter One:

Flirting with Death


It was late into the night when I arrived in Catherine’s camp. She was the leader of a renegade group that was hiding out in the mountains of Washington State following the Freedom of Jerusalem Campaign. I arrived at the camp just as Catherine’s followers were settling around the campfire. Catherine was speaking when I sat down across from her on the other side of the flames.

“Are you sure you want to hear this tale?”  Catherine inquired to those sitting around the fire with her. They were eager to hear the story even though many had heard it before.  She sighed, It will take much of the night.”  Everyone sat back after pouring themselves another glass of wine, preparing to hear the legend. She poured herself a drink and then she began.

It was the last day of school in Dublin and I had just returned from my final martial arts class. I was pleased to have done so well in school that year and I was especially proud of receiving my level three black belt.

Master Ming said, “I am pleased you have succeeded in achieving your goals. I enjoyed guiding you and hope you will continue on your journey toward discipline and enlightenment.”

Master Ming cautioned his students, “Remember, what you learned here stays here, unless all other alternatives fail, but if you must fight, fight to win.” He said this as he punched his right fist into his left hand and declared, “Peace over Power.”

We repeated in unison as we punched our hands into our fists, “Peace over Power.”  Then we genuflected as we all punched the floor bowing before him; we continued with one voice, “Should we fight, we fight to win.” We rose and bowed to our sensei. Following that we were dismissed.

 I admired the belt around my waist for a moment before changing. I had to hurry back to my room. I said some quick good-byes to some classmates and then I rushed out the door.

I bumped into my sensei as I was running out of the change room, so I took the opportunity to thank him for his guidance as I said, Master Ming I want to thank you for all you have taught me over the past four years.  I hope I will live up to your expectations for me.” I knew however, that I was far too impulsive to ever fulfill such an unattainable goal. 

I hurriedly bowed to him again and as he bowed back, he commented in his gentle and melodious voice, “Catherine, your physical skills are unsurpassed. You are my best student; however you must overcome your propensity for rash and impulsive behavior.”

I giggled and apologized, but I found it difficult at that time in my life to receive a compliment coupled with criticism. I did not know how I should react so I replied, “I will endeavor to overcome my impulsive nature Master Ming, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

I gave him a quick kiss with a foolish smile upon my face. He shook his head as I turned to run, but I noticed a grin upon his face as I turned to wave one more final good-bye. I dashed out the door and rushed to my apartment.

 I had to hurry home to walk King, my German shepherd. I lived in a room in an old gray stone house, located beside a church at the edge of the university campus. My father bought it for me to ensure King and I would not be separated. I couldn’t survive without my dog. My father and I were not very close.  He was always too busy working, however I never lacked for anything financially. He believed it was a man’s responsibility to provide for his family and he did that very well.

I do remember being very close to him as a child, but my father was unable to relate to me when I became a young woman. He began to work more and more the older I became, and it was almost like he wanted to avoid me.

I suppose my unabashed expressions of my own opinions, which I was convinced were the only reality and gospel truth, often divided us. The cruelty of life, mainly his preoccupation with the never-ending war and his obsession with economic concerns, tended to divide our family. Still there was nothing I could not afford. Daddy’s money was my money. In short I was labeled a, ‘spoiled little rich girl.’ I was wealthy and opinionated.

I was also introverted and filled with a deep-seated rage that was growing up inside of me, stemming from my resentment of the lack of attention, the lack of protection, and the lack of love that I received from my father. My father and I were not close. Oh well, that stuff does not matter; I’m wandering off topic. 

Where was I? Oh yes I was heading home.

When I arrived home King was very excited to see me and was anticipating his walk. “Hello boy. Did you miss me or do you just want your walk?

King jumped with excitement and I laughed. King hugged and kissed me with a few quick licks and then he brought me his leash. I patted his head and I said, “I see you want to go now. Alright, come on then.”

It was late May, but it felt like a hot summer night as we walked along the cliffs above the beach. It was often pleasantly cool by the ocean, but this day it was hotter than usual. I was so warm that I had to sit for a few moments to catch my breath. I had never felt that kind of heat in Ireland, during all of the years I attended university. When I had the opportunity to sit and ponder my future, I was often torn between joy and an overwhelming sense of dreadful apprehension. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, or what destiny held in store for me.

King began to bark impatiently. He never did allow me to indulge my pensive nature for very long, so we continued our walk above the beach.  I could see the fishing boats coming into shore and hear the sounds of music and laughter floating across the bay. After a long while I sat again and watched the sunset. As the sun vanished so did the warmth of its rays, along with its crimson beauty.

Once the sun disappeared beyond the horizon I walked amidst the shadows of the night until I reached a promontory, where I stood isolated above the vast ocean below. I heard the waves lapping gently against the shore, as I gazed off the edge of a precipice at the darkness below me. I suddenly felt vacant, as if my soul was unexpectedly detached, and a shiver ran up my spine. I resumed my walk down toward the harbor lights in order to escape the chill and darkness of the night.

King now barked again because he wanted to run and play. We continued our decent to the beach below.  In our haste down the rocky escarpment, I slipped and scraped my knee. The blood slowly trickled down my leg but I was able to walk, so we resumed our decline after King had licked my wound. I patted his head and I assured him, “I’m fine King, now stop that or you'll give me an infection.”  I observed that the first star had come out and silently, I made my wish to find love. 

The new sliver of the moon shone illuminating a unique alignment of the stars. I could see them shining in a linear formation across the western horizon. Night had fallen and the harbor lights, flickering like candles, beckoned me from the darkness.

I stopped at a quaint little bar along the beach for a whiskey and sat on the patio to enjoy my last evening in town, before returning home to New York the following day. The spirits quickly dulled my pain, and with the removal of this distraction I began to watch the people around me. There were many British and Canadian sailors drinking in the bar that night, alongside some American Marines.

The bar was a pub with giant fish mounted on the walls and nets hanging in the corners. There were several old pictures of fishermen showing their manliness by holding their largest catches, alongside photos of local heroes lost in the Middle Eastern conflict.

I heard a group of sailors talking about the war. I listened as they talked gallantly, assured that God would support them in their endeavor to destroy the enemy.  I heard one sailor dressed in a white wool sweater proclaim, “Sorry mates, but I have to warn you, it’s a bitch to be there.”

The man who made this comment had worn leathery skin like that of a fisherman. His beard was beginning to gray, showing his age despite his young looking physique. His deep green eyes stood in contrast to his darkened complexion and he spoke with a thick Scottish accent. His tone and the deep furrow of his brow told me that he had his own story to tell. I was sure that the weariness in his eyes meant that he must have been to hell and back.

A young marine with red hair pushed himself toward the older gentleman and said, “How the hell would you know, you old fart?” He was quite obviously drunk.

The older man downed his whiskey and replied as he stood up, “Because boy, I just returned from that God-forsaken place.” The gentleman then turned and limped out of the bar with the aid of a cane as he warned, “Prepare your selves for hell boys. This is just the beginning of the third Great War.”

The boy shrugged him off saying, “Gramps is just pissed at being a cripple.”

Then their commander raised his glass and toasted, “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori.”

Another young marine inquired, “What does that mean Cap?”

I glanced over to see who had asked the question, it was a young boy, barely a man, with wavy dark brown hair. Despite his muscled physique his facial features were still that of a young teenager. I took another sip of my drink after identifying who had spoken and I continued to listen.

The Captain replied, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

Then the redhead marine that had previously insulted the old man raised his glass and bellowed, “To honor and death.”

The whole bar joined in a war cry shouted out, “To honor and death.”  I refused to join their toast to bloodshed.

My stomach turned at the hypocrisy and futility of war. These young boys believed the myth of the glory of war. I suppose they must if they are to rationalize killing and dying for one’s country. Wilfred Owen must have turned in his grave that night, had he known that the irony of his poem was so misconstrued by these young rogues.

The Captain of these men was walking toward me and he noticed my scorn. He stood beside me and asked me to not judge them too harshly, “After all,” he said, “If they didn’t put an end to the atrocities then who would? These men will eliminate the reign of terror in the world.”

“Only God can do that.” I replied.

He apologized and conceded, “You might be right, but I still think we have to try, don’t you?”

“Perhaps,” I agreed.

He inquired, “May I buy you a drink?”

I motioned with my hand for him to sit as he asked, “So what are you drinking?”

“A double shot of whiskey on the rocks.” I replied

He smiled with his perfect teeth and perfect lips, and then he ordered one for each of us.

We sat and discussed many topics throughout the evening and he inquired why war unsettled me as he teased, “Are you a pacifist?”

I laughed out loud, “No I would not go that far, but it feels like we have been at war most of my life and sometimes I question why and then I remember 911. I was a little girl, but I recall it as if it was yesterday. That tragic September morn is still vivid in my mind’s eye.”

I shook my head as the Captain responded, “Me too. I will never forget that day either.”

He placed his hand on mine with such gentleness. I smiled as I continued, “I had been deeply troubled by a prophecy that my brother James had emailed me shortly after the catastrophic event. It read,

“Subject: Here is an interesting quote from Nostradamus.

"In the year of the new century and nine months,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror...
The sky will burn at forty-five degrees.
Fire approaches the great new city...
In the city of York there will be a great collapse,
2 twin brothers torn apart by chaos
while the fortress falls the great leader will succumb
the third big war will begin when the big city is burning"


“I never verified that quote, for I was only a child when he emailed it to me at private school.  Still, it sent my soul into turmoil whenever I recalled it. I never forgot it. It stayed with me, as did the destruction itself. I still remember my mother holding me in her arms, rocking back and forth, as tears flowed from her grief stricken eyes.” I was almost moved to tears as I allowed myself to remember that day.

“I’ve never heard that quote before, but I have heard of Nostradamus. Didn’t he live during the 1600’s?” The Captain questioned as he motioned for two more drinks.

“Yes I believe he wrote that prophesy in 1654.” I answered

“Where were you on the day the twin towers fell?” He asked as our drinks arrived.

I smiled at the waiter and thanked him and then I continued, “James and I were supposed to be getting ready to go to school, we were both quite young. We were all sitting down for breakfast. My mother turned on the news as she did every morning. My father had been sipping his coffee as the cook served him his eggs and toast. He got up from the table and stared the TV dumbfounded, in shock. My mother slowly walked toward the screen and I did too. She fell to her knees clasping me to her chest, weeping. After a short while when the second plane flew into the tower dad seemed enraged. He stormed from the room and stomped off to his office and shut the door. Mom continued to sit in front of the television as tears streamed down her face. I sat there all day and held her hand. James, my brother, ate as if nothing was wrong and continued to enjoy his day off school; entertaining himself since everyone else seemed obsessed with the attack.”

Captain Robert sighed, “Yes, I must confess that day is forever with me as well. It amazes me how some people, like your brother who were wrapped up in their own lives and seemed to be unaffected by that event, it was a turning point for our nation. It shaped our lives.”

I nodded in agreement, “I was internally divided that day, as I literally shared my mother's tears and my father's rage. Our lives were changed by 911. The day marked an end to our decadent, carefree life and replaced it with a spirit of fear and a spirit of vengeance and wrath. My parents grew up in an era of security and comfort. I grew up in an age of apprehension, hate and paranoia.”

“What is it that your father did for a living? Did he work with anyone in the World Trade Center?” Roberts questioned.

“I don’t know if he knew anyone, but it is possible. My father's assets were extensive and our wealth was obscene. He had numerous business interests and relationships with many high profile businessmen. He owned a large high tech weapons manufacturing company that profited greatly from our government’s ongoing commitment to wage war on any nation that bred extremist factions of any kind.  He also was a majority stakeholder in a large energy company, and many manufacturing companies. He was the majority shareholder in Eco Air that designed energy efficient aircraft.  Eco Air opened a few years after 911.” I shook my head and laughed to myself.

“What made you laugh?” The Captain asked me.

I replied, “Oh, I was just remembering the dinner parties. Officials were often at our dinner table and I would creep down the stairs, whenever I was home, to listen to their long discussions concerning recent aggressions against the free world. They would talk much about business, but they mostly focused on politics. I gradually learned how closely tied business and politics were. Although few of the business leaders in North America were overtly involved in politics, they were certainly able to influence not only who held power, but how that power was wielded. Many prominent politicians, bankers, as well as industry leaders attended mother's exquisite dinner parties.”

I could not help but smile as I continued, “When I was a young child I loved the excitement, the dresses, and the decorations, but what I loved most was hiding and listening to after dinner conversations. I felt like a spy, I would often take notes and make a game of it creating elaborate conspiracies. I would then have to connect all the clues to save the world. It was not long however, before I became a woman and such games had begun to cease.”

The Captain smiled, “I’m sure you were the most adorable spy ever. It is sad that such innocence and games are left behind, but I do believe I can still see that childlike fascination in your eyes right now.”

I laughed and I believe I did blush a little as I looked down for an instant. I regained my composure and I continued, “I longed for the peace and joy that my mother so often loved to recall. She would tell me about her childhood and how it was in the years before the war. It sounded idyllic, but I sometimes wondered if it were not a mirage, a tainted memory, or fantasy. Our life, because of our wealth, was beautiful and ideal too. In many ways I was shielded from the darker aspects of the world beyond the gates of our estate and beyond the privileged private schools.”

The Captain asked, “How long was it before you saw the world through different eyes?”

I was surprised how much we conversed, but I continued to reveal myself to him and I answered, “I was less shielded as time went on. I would watch the news, read news articles on-line and it was not long before I discovered the poverty and the pain all around me. How could anyone help but see the world around them in this age, with information at our fingertips?”

“True.” Roberts agreed as he continued to question, “Was it the news coverage that made you anti-war?”

“Perhaps,” I sighed, “I was angry and sad, as I thought of where war and hatred had brought us, but my martial arts instructor, Master Ming, also taught us that sometimes our freedom had to be protected. I endeavored to live at peace with everyone, however I was determined to never be a victim, and as a woman I felt this need to defend myself growing with each passing year. I was confused with a longing for peace and anger at all the injustice in our world. Maybe we do have to fight, but sometimes I wonder if violence begets violence. I felt like there were two distinct personalities warring inside of me, one bent on justice and fighting for what was right and another that just wanted peace and security. The news can really warp a child’s perspective and I fear it did with mine. I became increasingly anti-war when I saw the atrocities that the soldiers participated in against some of the Iraqi, and Afghani people. I became increasingly critical as I grew older and I realized we only sent our troops to avenge or where we could financially prosper, but if you are a poor country with a desperate need for freedom and equality, no matter how grave the situation then, sorry we can’t help you be free.

“I agree, but war is very expensive. The cost is a legitimate consideration.” The Captain said sincerely as he noted with some tone of disapproval, “It is sad when some soldiers become inhumane, but the majority of soldiers are risking their lives to better the world, to fight back the darkness, not to become a part of it.”

I smiled as I said apologetically, “I’m sorry if I seemed judgmental and harsh earlier when you led your men in a toast. I’m grateful for my freedom, and I am grateful to men like you who protect it, but sometimes I question if the continual fighting does not make the darkness become a part of you. How do you retain your humanity when fighting the inhumane and how do you know if you’re fighting a worthy cause?”

He said, “That is a difficult question and a deep conversation that may have to wait for another place in time. I will say this though; I believe it is love and beauty like yours that keeps us human. If I had you at home to return to following the war I am sure I would survive it. I believe there is nothing love cannot heal.” He stood up and gave me his hand as he asked, “Now why don’t you allow me to alter your opinion of a sailor and share this dance with me?”

I smiled and replied, “Well on that note we can agree, I too believe that there is nothing love can’t heal.”

 He grinned as he led me to the dance floor.

 I cannot recall the number of dances we shared, however I remember that the other marines called him Captain Roberts. I recollect getting lost in the music and drinks, and I will never forget what he looked like.

He was about six foot one with gorgeous, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. His smile was the kind that could make a woman swoon and his lips were just the perfect size, summoning you to steal a kiss. His broad shoulders made you feel as if he could hold you forever in his arms.

He embraced me closely as we swayed slowly to the music. I loved the warmth, security and protection his presence provided. He took my breath away and I was becoming entranced by his allure, but I had to maintain the upper hand, so I played the tease.

 I felt so sensual and alive when I danced and I took pleasure in knowing the affect my dancing had on the men around me. Our final waltz was tranquil and far more tempered then our previous dances. As we swayed slowly to the music I felt his heartbeat, it was strong and steady.  I too was excited and my heartbeat quickened; I apologized abruptly, “I’m sorry, but I have to leave; I have to get up early tomorrow.”

He pulled me closer to his body and whispered into my ear, “Surely you will not leave me with nothing before I go off to war, perhaps a kiss?”

 As he spoke these words I felt his hot breath flutter past my ear. He brushed my black hair gently out of my eyes. Beads of sweat were running down the hollow of my chest and I allowed him to lift a single drop just below the nape of my neck. He was forward and yet gentle and sweet and I wanted to kiss him, I believe he knew it because he did kiss me. I confess I kissed many boys in my young dating life, but he was different. He was a man and more than that he made me want more. I never experienced that before. He took my breath away.

After our kiss he beseeched me, “May I walk you home? It is well after midnight and it is beautiful night for a stroll, beneath the stars and the moonlight.” 

I loved his deep and gentle voice. I played with the idea of having him as a lover for just one night, but I quickly dismissed the thought. “I would love to join you however, I am a virgin and I intend to stay that way, at least for tonight.” My blunt reply seemed to only intrigue him more.  I grinned as he pulled me closer to him and my eyes danced with delight at his confident, but gentle nature.

Some of the more proper of Catherine’s followers shuffled with discomfort. They did not approve of Catherine quoting the soldiers’ foul language and they hated hearing about her former licentious behavior, but she never allowed them to think she was in any way perfect. Still, they were idealists.

 I on the other hand loved her passion, her free spirit, and her beauty. She still had her long black hair, her deep blue eyes that glistened reflecting the fire and a body that drove men crazy, especially me. I could not suppress the smile, which crept across my face as I admired her flawlessness. Catherine put another log on the fire and briefly glanced at me through the flames. I swear I saw her eyes dance with delight as she continued her story.

 King barked and gave the marine a threatening growl. I laughed and bent down to give him a hug. After I declined the walk, I thanked Captain Roberts, “Thank you for a wonderful evening, but I must be getting home.”

He gallantly helped me to my feet and then he took two steps back, as he bowed and kissed my left hand. Then he replied, “My lady the pleasure, I assure you, was all mine.”

“Don’t be so sure” I teased.

He smiled and then he continued with an innocent look, “I promise to be a perfect gentleman if you would permit me to walk you home.”

I stared at him with equal self-confidence, however I was unable to suppress my grin, “I thank you for your noble gesture, but I already have an escort.” I flashed him a smile as I patted my dog’s head. With a nod I then proceeded to walk back up the beach with King faithfully at my side, knowing the Captain’s face had placed an imprint like a photograph on my heart and his kiss claimed my soul. I was young with a wild heart that needed to be tamed.

Just below the cliffs near my house I bathed my feet in the ocean, as the salt cleansed my skin, the chill of the night air caused me to shiver, and the frigid water caused goose bumps to appear and blemish my once perfect skin.

Catherine got up again to pour herself another drink and she took a deep breath before she continued. I too remembered that night and could only imagine the pain it caused her to remember that part of the evening, so long ago.

I recalled ordering another drink on the patio. I sat watching her walk blissfully unaware, as she strolled back up the beach. I heard however, a group of the men talking about how beautiful she was and crudely commenting about what they wanted to do to her. I won’t repeat it. I also noticed they hurriedly paid their tabs as they quietly left the bar, hoping to go unnoticed. They proceeded to follow Catherine up the beach.

Catherine sat down by the fire, and after taking a deep breath laced with liquor, she summoned her courage to continue sharing her story.

 “I did not know that some of the sailors had followed me; the wind must have carried their scent away, because King hadn’t detected them either.  I had just put one of my shoes on when they came and circled me. King growled ferociously as I prepared to fight.”

 I recognized the nasty redhead from the bar as he remarked, “There was no need for you to get your shoes on lass, and we would prefer you to start with taking them off.” I spit at him as they laughed and they proceeded to hem me in.

I remembered Master Ming telling me, “Fear is your greatest enemy, but it can also be your closest friend.” I did not understand what he meant at the time, but now that I was terrified I realized I could become paralyzed with fear, or stand and fight with a vengeance. I took a deep breath and I faced my attackers, as adrenaline rushed through my veins.

I noted that I began to tremble in fear, so I forced myself to take another deep breath. King attacked one and I was forced to fight the other three. I kicked the red headed soldier in front of me in the groin with a front snap kick. He collapsed in pain and nausea. Then I turned swiftly and tripped another on my left with a sweeper kick. He fell to the ground with a thud, but the sand was soft and I knew he would get up quickly.

I saw King ripping into the arm of one of my attackers. He yelled in pain and then I heard King yelp. I turned out of concern as I witnessed one of the marine’s buddies stabbing King’s side with his knife. I sprang in a fury toward him. I was enraged that he stabbed my dog. Murder was in my heart and all my fear diminished, as hatred consumed my soul.

I managed to disarm the one that had injured my dog. I kicked him in the back and he dropped the knife to his side as he flew forward. I lunged for the knife and used it against him, as I slashed his right arm and thigh in quick succession.

The red head sneered, “Now you are going to get it bitch!”  I suddenly felt his kick sideswipe me. I had barely managed to lift my arms to block it. Initially I was dazed but I was still gripping the knife tightly. I began lashing out at them in desperation. I fought with a blind rage, as I sliced the arm of the red headed brute. This only angered the other men and increased their determination to defeat me quickly.

I fought well but with King injured my chances of defeating these men was slim. The marines were too strong and too well trained; still I took pleasure in knowing the knife had sliced two of these beastly men.

A tall blond marine licked the blood flowing from his forearm and then he said with a sinister hiss, “Let me have the slut first. I’m going to teach her a lesson for dancing like a whore. She obviously likes it rough and so do I.”

As he uttered these words I saw the blade of his own knife glitter in the moonlight.  We lunged at one another and I felt a burning sensation on my rib cage. I was filled with so much adrenaline that I quickly dismissed it.

Then he swore at me, calling me a slut as he kicked me. The kick was so fast that I could not block it, let alone use the knife against him. He kicked me so hard in the ribs that I doubled over in pain. I collapsed; he pinned me to the ground. I was defeated.

 He sat on top of me and he held his knife to my face as he said, “You little bitch, you think you can get away with slicing me and my boy without us repaying in kind?”

I replied, “Why don’t you go take care of your boy you pig.” I spit at him in the face and he backhanded me.

I said, “Does that make you feel like a man, hitting a woman half your size?”

He smiled a wicked grin, “I will cut out your tongue and shut you up, and then I will show you what a man does to women like you.”

 I was not afraid when I thought he would cut me, but I did fear he would rape me, I would rather die than suffer that. I struggled to free myself, but it was futile and the brutes laughed at my helplessness and then, a gunshot rang out in the night. The men turned around. It was the Captain from the bar.

“Get off her Private!” Captain Roberts ordered, as he kicked him in the ribs. The men moved away from me and faced their commanding officer. 

“You sick bastards.” he continued as he walked forward. Then the Captain punched one in the nose and elbowed another in the face, and they dared not fight back.

He snarled “I should shoot you worthless pieces of shit right now, but I’m going to need every marine I can get when we ship out for the Middle East. Now get your asses back to the ship.”

 The men turned with their eyes cast down as they obeyed the order. They helped the cad I stabbed earlier get up and then they slinked away.

The Captain helped me up and asked if I was okay. “I’m fine, but those assholes stabbed my dog.” I said as I rushed to King’s side. I knelt by him, and he was bleeding heavily. I hoped the wound was not fatal. The officer picked up my dog and followed me to the campus infirmary.

As we walked Captain Roberts said, “For someone who proclaims to abhor violence you sure as hell fight like a soldier.” 

“Everyone has the right to self-defense, but as you said earlier, ‘Someone has to put an end to the atrocities’ and I’m so glad you did.”  I replied.

We continued up the cliffs toward the university grounds as an awkward silence fell between us. I could no longer speak as a lump began to develop in my throat.

When we finally arrived we went to the dormitory located at the edge of the campus. I knocked on the door of a room belonging to a longtime friend of mine, who was named Brother John.

 I turned to Roberts as he held King in his arms and I continued to knock on the door, as I explained, “John is a friend of mine who works in the campus infirmary as a volunteer and he has a set of keys.  He will unlock the infirmary for us.”  He must have been sleeping deeply because I knocked for some time.

Brother John and I had developed an intimate friendship over the four years I had attended university in Ireland. We met shortly after I arrived and we spent almost all of our free time together. He was my closest friend and the only person who ever really knew me.

He was studying ancient languages and religious prophecy and I was studying ancient religions and prophecies. The monks were a disappearing order and their own monasteries had closed long ago, so those who chose to give up the world were now forced to live in it. They had to, ‘die to the flesh’, without the security of seclusion, this was no easy task. We shared some classes together and grew very close. I can’t go too deeply into our history for it is too long, but I’ll say this, I trusted and I loved him deeply.

“What happened?” Brother John asked as he saw King in the Captain’s arms. He hurried us down the dimly lit corridors toward the medical room.

“I’ll tell you about it tonight if you will stay with me for a while.” I replied.

As I walked into the brightly lit room he noticed the bruises on my face.  “Oh my darling Catherine, what happened to you?”

He gently caressed my face and I assured him, “I’m okay, really!”

“My face must have been bruised when I was kicked.” I continued and then I noticed my ribs hurt as well. I placed my left hand on them and I felt the gentle stream of a warm liquid upon my skin. I stared down in shock at the blood on my hand. At that moment I did not even remember being cut.

“Catherine my dear, you’re bleeding!” noted Brother John with the deepest concern, as he ordered the Captain to tend King, while he led me to the next room.

“Take off your dress!” he ordered.

 I protested, “But I, I can’t do that.”

“Catherine, enough of this nonsense, this is no time for modesty. Besides I’ve seen you in a night gown and a bathing suit before, a bra is no different.” He said firmly. “Here is a small towel to cover your breasts, but I must attend to your wound.”

I removed my dress as Brother John got some antiseptic and I covered up, and lay back on the table. He cleaned my wound.

“I’ll have to give you some stitches. You are lucky this cut isn’t too deep. It slid over your rib cage. ” He notified me of this and then he noticed that I began to tremble.

He squeezed my hand gently and asked, “Are you sure you’re okay?” I nodded yes, but I could not stop the tears from coming. I hated crying it made me feel weak. I could be strong, but not when he showed me concern and compassion. The tears started flowing. He finished the stitches quickly and then bandaged my wound.

I dressed again and then he came over and held me in his arms. I crumbled and lost my composure. I cried in his arms as he gently stroked my hair. Tears streamed quietly down my face. I took a deep breath and told him, “I needed a few minutes to pull myself together.”

John kissed my forehead and he said, “Alright Catherine, but I’ll just be next door if you need me.” I sobbed a brief reply and he walked out the door.

When I returned to the next room Brother John and the Captain were dressing King’s wound and they assured me he would be okay. John notified me, “King’s stab wound did not penetrate any organs. He is going to be okay Catherine, but he has lost a lot of blood, you both have. So take it easy, are you light headed?”

“A little,” I confessed, “but I’m okay.” I said as he took me by the arm. I continued, “John, how can I ever thank you?” 

Then Roberts motioned for me to follow him into the hall. I took John’s hand and he held mine as I said, “I’ll be right back Brother John.”  I kissed his cheek and he nodded and went to administer another sedative to King, to ensure he would sleep throughout the night.

I followed the Captain down the hallway. “Thank you for saving me.” I told him with all sincerity.

 He took my hands in his with an odd sense of familiarity. He then carefully touched my face. I cringed, for even the slightest touch caused me to flinch and he inquired, “Honestly Catherine, are you going to be okay?”

I thought, “There is nothing you can do about it anyway, no one can.” I didn’t want him to worry about me. I refused, to be a victim around him so I replied, “I think I got my arm up just in time to block his kick. There isn’t any serious damage.

He said, “I didn’t mean your face.” I nodded my reply. I felt my throat closing up again as if a giant ball was growing in it.

 He apologized, “I hate to leave you like this, but I have to get back. I’m shipping out at dawn and I also want to make sure those bastards didn’t go AWOL on me.”

Fear took hold of me and I had no voice to speak. I began to tremble again.

Then he looked as if he wanted to kick himself for rising up any fear inside me. He paced a little and then held my hand again and softly assured me, “They couldn’t get far if they ran and they all know that. Besides Catherine remember that they don’t know where you live and you are leaving tomorrow too.”

I took a deep breath and replied, “Of course, of course, I have nothing to worry about I’m just a little shaken.”

Roberts responded, “Let me make a call,” He continued, “I’ll see if they returned to the ship.”

He made the call and gave the order to have an M.P. hold them until he arrived.  After he hung up he informed me they were being detained. “I can assure you Catherine that these men will be severely punished.” I nodded then he lifted my chin. “I really am sorry.” He declared gazing deeply into my eyes.

I managed a brief smile and told him, “It was not your fault. I’m just glad you showed up when you did.”

He expressed regret again saying, “I really wish I arrived even earlier than I did. I wish I could stay with you now, but I am afraid I must go. I hope you will be all right.”

Brother John came out and replied for me, “Catherine will be fine. I will make sure of it.” John said this as he placed his protective arm about me.

Then John said, “I just finished giving King a sedative. He will be fine until tomorrow, so let me walk you back to your room.” I nodded my reply.

 The Captain said good-bye and left after John thanked him for helping me. John blessed the Captain, “May the Lord be with you and bless you for all you have done.”

 The Captain looked somewhat awkward receiving the blessing but he said, “Thank you”

“Wait,” I said and then I walked up to him and kissed him gently on the lips and I said, “Thank you.” I knew it was crazy and made no sense after being attacked, but I was compelled to kiss him, fearing it was the last time I’d ever feel like that about any man ever again. It was foolish, and yet I did it anyway.

Then he tipped his hat bowed and walked away. I never saw him again.

 Brother John walked across the courtyard with me toward my house. I told him what happened from the time I left the bar, after which he chastened me pleading, “Catherine, I wish you would take my advice more and stop going out alone late at night.”

I angrily replied, “I was not alone. King was with me.” Then I felt guilty for snapping at him. He didn’t deserve my wrath.

I took his hand saying softly, “I am sorry.” As we arrived at my room I asked him, “Will you stay with me tonight, at least until I fall asleep. I’m afraid without King.”

 He agreed, “Of course Catherine. Go get ready for bed.”

I went to change into my red satin nightgown and robe. He lay beside me in bed as he held me in his arms and caressed my hair. I lay my head upon his chest as he placed a cold pack on the injured side of my face.

“My darling Catherine you have to promise me you’ll stop going out alone at night”

I attempted to sit up as I replied, “I can’t live in fear. I won’t allow some cowardly scum bags to force me to forfeit my freedom!”

He placed my head back down upon his chest saying in a gentle tone, “Catherine, I’m not asking you not to go anywhere. Just make wiser choices. Stop going to bars by yourself, and places that put you in danger. You fight well, but there will always be a foe with greater strength than your own.”

I resented what he said, and yet I knew he was right. I hated feeling weak, but a part of me was afraid and I felt I was partially to blame, so I acquiesced, “You’re right, I need to be more careful and I promise I will be." Feeling secure in his arms I quickly drifted off to sleep. Still, I felt him gently kiss my forehead before he left the room.

Morning came all too quickly, as the cold breeze and the sound of the rain falling upon my balcony forced me out of bed. I shut my bedroom window. The weather was so strange lately; one day it was hot and the next it was as if a cold north wind blew in. I went quickly into the shower to escape the cold.

While I was in the shower I was pondering a strange dream I had about Captain Roberts the night before. In the dream the Captain had died and was walking around as if he was alive. I was angry with people around me who did not acknowledge that he was no longer dead. It was the Captain and yet he was not the same man. Then the dream changed. It was as if I was suddenly transported into a different place and time. I was standing with Captain Roberts near a horse track that encircled an open field. I was entered into the horse race. I ordered the Captain to go prepare my steed, but he struggled to saddle a sow for me instead. I was angry and told him that I could not ride such a filthy creature. Then behind me there was a beautiful majestic and spirited black stallion. The trumpets announced the race had already begun. I grabbed some reigns and harnessed the black horse and rode him bareback. He rushed past all the other horses with ease. We ran as swiftly as a rushing wind. We crossed the finish line so quickly that we could not stop and I saw a great cliff before us. I jumped off the horse, while still holding on to the reins. The horse went over the cliff and even though my feet were slipping I would not let go and I refused to be pulled down as the dirt gave way. I slipped further and then I summoned a great strength and pulled the horse safely back upon the land.

Despite my desire to relish the hot water, it was beating against my skin hurting my cut a little, even though a waterproof bandage covered it. I was driven from the warmth of my shower, forced to abandon my thoughts as the cold distracted me from discovering the meaning of my dream.

I then realized the time. I had to hurry if I wanted to attend early morning mass before flying to New York.  I also wanted to say good-bye to Brother John before departing and I had to check on King, so needless to say I was in a rush.

I wore my royal blue velvet dress, and loosely tied it at my breasts.  I convinced myself that this was to avoid accentuating my cleavage and it would provide me with warmth, for there was a chill in the air. How I hated the cold. This dress was a heavy warm material with a long flowing skirt and tight waist. A form fitting, blue velvet vest was attached to the skirt and I wore a low cut white blouse with long puffy sleeves beneath. 

I had this dress specially made for me based on a statue I had once seen in Ireland of a woman pushing a cart of bread in the market. The outfit accentuated her feminine attributes and I attempted to do the same. This was a case of life imitating art, but unlike the statue whose hair was up in a bun my hair was left down. My long black hair fell to my waist and I brushed it to the side to hide my face. I then hastily decided to tie it partially back with a black velvet band.

I admired myself in the mirror for a moment and was thankful my face was not damaged too severely. I loved how the blue velvet intensified my already dark blue eyes. I grabbed my hooded raincoat and I quickly ran across the courtyard and toward the oratory. I was in some pain; however I did not give myself time to appreciate just how fortunate I was, considering what could have been.

I shivered as a gray fog swirled about me and the cold ocean breeze began to blow in. There is nothing as chilling as a sea fog. It encapsulated my being. I had to draw my cloak more firmly about me. I stumbled as I attempted to hurry my steps, for I could see no more than a few feet in front of me. A disturbing silence hung in the air that day. It made the echo of my heels upon the cobblestone all the more unnerving. The sound of the church bells beckoned me from the lifeless courtyard. 

I was flushed and a little late, as mass had already begun. I noted that Brother John could not help but admire my beauty as I removed my hood and handed an usher my cloak. I knew he was looking at my face. I noticed that he allowed himself the brief pleasure of studying the gentle curves of my body beneath my now disheveled dress. I had the courage to allow my eyes to meet his. His eyes were like fire, as the flames from the candles reflected their light.

Then the haunting Gregorian chants sent a chill up my spine. I’ve always hated Gregorian music ever since I saw the Omen One and Two movies. They were very old movies from my parents’ generation. I remember watching them when I was a young child.

I don’t know why my parents let me watch those horrific movies, I guess they enjoyed them. I hated them but it didn’t stop me from curling up on the couch watching them with my parents. I must have taken some disturbing pleasure in being frightened or, perhaps a distant part of my soul was enticed by the darkness.

The music played during these horror movies made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as I waited for the impending evil to appear. For many years after I watched these movies, I would be filled with fear whenever I heard that style of music. It is strange how vivid the feelings are that certain childhood memories can evoke in adulthood.

I was an independent young woman, and yet the music still affected me as if I was that scared little girl from long ago. Fear could have easily consumed me had I not noticed that Brother John was staring at me. I felt his eyes burn through me as I blessed myself with holy water. I genuflected before I sat down in my pew.

I gazed into John’s brown eyes and remembered how he gently kissed my forehead only a few hours before. It is strange, I was deeply drawn to John, it was not a sexual attraction, but it was a deep longing for a connection and security I only found in him. Yet there was another side of me that took pleasure in his attraction to me. Vanity, pride or arrogance I did not know what it was, but I admit I loved the attention and concern he showed me.

I did not have time for confession today but I knew I would have to confess my sins someday. How often had I sensually tempted John? It was cruel and unfair. I was never really attracted to him, and yet I wanted him to want me.  I was however attracted to Captain Roberts. As I sat in church I remembered Captain Roberts' face and his broad shoulders embracing me. I allowed my thoughts to lead down a dangerous path as I bowed my head in prayer in a personal confession to God. He was the man I did desire. He awakened a passion in me that would not be silenced.

After mass I whispered into John’s ear, “Follow me.” I led him down one of the dimly lit hallways. I wished to say good-bye to him in private and give him a gift of a picture of the two of us together.

I hugged him gently and I kissed his cheek as I said, “I know I will probably never see you again John, but I don’t want you to forget me.” I handed him the picture of the two of us together as I continued, “Your friendship has meant so much to me over the past four years. You have been a light in my life. I understand why you plan on retreating from this world, but I will miss you terribly and I wish you could remain a part of mine.”

John was going to live in the wilderness in the Canadian Rockies. Soon he would remove himself from the modern world and seek the face of God. He took a Celtic cross off his neck, which was made of white gold. It had a single diamond figure of Christ on it and tiny rubies were placed where the nails in his hands and feet had been and a golden crown of thorns on his head. There was a flat circle of tiny diamonds in between the Celtic chainlike design that encircled the top of the cross. It was so beautiful as it dangled on its gold chain.

John placed the necklace gently about my neck saying, “Catherine, I want you to have this to remember me by, and always remember, Jesus will deliver your soul from death and He is your help and your shield.”

I was very touched by this gift. I knew his mother gave it to him as a birthday gift the year he decided to become a monk. Brother John came from a very wealthy family, as did I. He hated how obsessed his family was with the material world and that drew him to seek the spiritual. Still, I knew how deeply he loved his mother and the gift mattered to him. Perhaps this is why he chose to give it to me. It was his way of becoming more detached from the world around him, or maybe he just wanted me to remember him like I wanted him to remember me. Regardless of his motive I felt honored he had given his cross to me.

John touched my face gently and sighed, “I’m going to miss you too, Catherine.” He gently kissed my forehead and he turned toward the confessional.

 I returned to the side altar to light a candle and I started praying for a safe and swift journey home. I knelt before a large statue of a robust middle aged man. He was very tall, perhaps seven feet, or more. His feet were standing in water and on one shoulder he carried the beautiful Christ child, while in the other hand he held a golden staff carved in such a manner so as to give the impression of wood. His staff had emerald green leaves inlaid along its upper portion, so as to give a subtle impression of a tiny fig tree.

The name of this statue's plaque had been removed, however I knew from my religion classes that this was a statue of Saint Christopher. The local church did not remove this statue, for local fisherman and sailors alike revered it. However the statue’s name was removed in the churches’ attempt to comply with Vatican orders issued in the twentieth century.

The Vatican de-canonized Saint Christopher in the late twentieth century as they attempted to purge the list of saints. The church questioned Saint Christopher’s life and origins, but I loved his story.

Saint Christopher became the patron saint of travelers after he carried the Christ child across a river. Although his story was never recorded in the bible, legend has it that he devoted his life to helping feeble people across a difficult span of water. Then one day as he is carrying people to and fro, a small boy appears before him and asks the large man to carry him across the river. Christopher agrees and carries the lad across, but as they proceeded the child’s weight steadily increased and the large man struggled to carry the child across. Each step becomes increasingly difficult as Christopher’s strength diminishes and the child becomes so heavy that it is almost impossible for the large man to bear the weight any further. Christopher summons the last of his strength and places the child on the other side, collapsing at the water’s edge. After catching his breath the giant of the man inquires, “How is it that such a small child could weigh so much?”

To which the child replied, “Because I hold the weight of the world’s sins upon my shoulders.”

Mariners, travelers and ferrymen worshiped him for centuries. Despite the fact that his status was downgraded to that of a legend by the church, many Catholics continue viewing him as the patron saint of travelers.

Thus I lit a candle and prayed, “May my journey be swift and may I arrive at my destination safely my lord. Saint Christopher, pray for me. Amen.”  My prayer was short, but I had spent some time visualizing Saint Christopher’s encounter with the Christ child.

The distant sound of a clock chiming and the gentle touch of Brother John, who had returned from the confessional, reminded me it was time to depart.  John’s hand rested gently on my shoulder as he said, “Catherine, it is time to go. You go get ready and I will prepare King for your flight. I have to check his dressings and I’ll give him another sedative. I will pick you up in twenty minutes.”

“You’re driving me to the airport?” I was surprised I expected to be going alone.

He smiled and laughed, “Of course I am Catherine; did you really expect me to let you move King on your own? Why must you try to do everything alone?”

I shrugged my shoulders and blushed, “What will I do without you John?”

He beamed as he answered “I don’t know Catherine, but I’m sure you will have no shortage of young men jumping to your aid should you request it.” I kissed his cheek and he rushed off as did I.

 I returned to my room to gather my belongings and change for the flight. I found a beautiful, fragrant bouquet of red carnations, filled with lush, rich green ferns and baby’s breath outside my door, with a card signed by Captain Roberts.

It had a sweet and simple message in them that read, “Catherine I chose these carnations for you, for they are flowers that endure, retaining their sweet aroma. My heart aches at the thought of not seeing you again. You have captivated and intrigued me. I hope our paths will one day meet again. Regardless, the sweetness of my memory of you

© Copyright 2019 VL Parker. All rights reserved.


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