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E. J. Jacobson
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sabbatumsanctum.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2010

“Sabbatum Sanctum”

 

E. J. Jacobson

 

 

The musician lay dying on the hillside.

 

“D . . . D . . . Don’t go,” he whispered.

 

“I need to get help,” said Joshua, panting.

 

“No, don’t go. They are hiding now.”

 

“What? Who?” Joshua was searching the musician for the wound, the source of the blood. But he found nothing. It all came from his mouth, coughed up from his lungs and his belly, like he had been beaten in the stomach with bats held by angry men. Yes, everything was smashed inside. Joshua could do nothing for him.

 

The young man’s arms and legs were twisted grotesquely. A discarded marionette, Joshua thought. The musician’s dark brown hands clawed at the lawn under him, and a smashed instrument case rested by his side. Blood spattered his white suit. His face was swollen and his large lips were quivering in red spit.

 

“They’re coming back for me. . . .They went to get something to carry me. . . . Don’t go. Don’t leave me. . . .” whispered the musician. These words came with difficulty. Fluid filled his mouth and throat, and he was drowning in it.

 

Joshua looked up, and about a hundred yards out was the forest. Great pine trees swayed and softly roared as the wind pushed them in the twilight. It was still very dark. No sun yet. The trees’ black pits were impenetrable. He could see nothing, nobody in them. He could hear nothing but the wind beating their branches. He looked around. With the exception of the school, up the hill, trees were on all sides.

 

“Which way did they go?”

 

The musician shook his head. He did not know.

 

“I am going for help. Police, ambulance, whatever. There’ll be security up at the school. A phone . . . Hold on, buddy. Hold on.”

 

Joshua sprinted up the slope across the long grass. His fists and arms pumped vertically, as if to help the momentum of his legs.

 

The conservatory was a huge brick house, reminiscent of an Edwardian manor. “Finest music school in the South,” people said of it. And it hosted a Mozart festival each year, an event praised by national critics from distant cities. None of the local townspeople attended though, not even a Yankee like Joshua, even though the event brought a mountain of commerce to their village each year. The faculty of the school, without exception, lived about an hour away, in a larger town that was home to the state university.

 

Accelerating now, Joshua made it to the front entrance of the school in a few more seconds. On an ordinary day, he loved running here. He savored the cacophony of the practicing musicians. They entwined their sounds down from their open windows, and he matched the beat of his shoes striking the gravel of the school’s driveway. In such moments, it felt like he had never left Boston.

 

But this morning, the school was closed, quiet, empty. A light was on inside, but when Joshua pounded on the door, nobody came. There was only silence. It was the day before Easter, a very early Saturday morning. He was out much earlier than normal today, a victim of insomnia driven by the financial peril of his struggling mail order business. Today he’d have to tell his wife about it, and on a holiday weekend. He had to. His lawyer wrote up the papers yesterday, and he needed Tanya’s signature now.

 

Joshua ran around the building, looking in windows and other entrances, pounding on them, yelling hard. If the blanket men could hear him from their place in trees, he wanted to sound scary.

 

Joshua paused and looked over his shoulder. From where he stood, he could no longer see the musician. He suddenly feared for his own safety. He held his heavy breathing for a moment. The air was full of sound: the rushing wind through the surrounding pines. But nothing else.

Joshua, sweating in his T-shirt, jogging shorts, and running shoes, raced back down the hill.

 

The musician lay on the grass motionless, just has Joshua had left him.

 

“There was nobody up at the school. . . . I’m running down the hill to find help. . . .” Joshua panted.

 

“No!” whispered the musician.

 

“I need to go now. Hold on. . . . I’ll be right back. You are going to be fine.”

 

The musician’s head shook back and forth. His eyes went wide. But Joshua was already gone.

 

The speed and distance Joshua ran astonished him. In minutes, he sailed a mile down the drive, through the forest, to the main road. Usually, he ran cautiously. He’d lost his father to a heart attack at a young age; Joshua was convinced that if he ever overexerted himself, they’d find him dead on this road. But not today. Today, he ran like a buck. His energy had no limits. 

 

The last year had been so terrible. The bank, the locals, Tanya’s parents, everyone here had believed in his little business, and now they were all unsuspecting creditors. Until this morning, the embarrassment of bankruptcy had seemed so terrifying.  But now, this run . . . He needed more runs like this one—mad sprints fueled by primal things. The gravity of saving a human life washed his soul and conscience cleaner and cleaner with every step.

 

The road opened out to a meadow, about a half-mile across. This part of the morning route was always difficult. The pollen here left his throat itchy and swollen. As he ran, he tried to itemize things. He thought about internal bleeding, how to treat it and how much time a victim has. He had learned such things in Boy Scouts, as an adolescent, while assisting in a first aid demonstration at a large shopping mall. But the memories were twisted. Joshua wasn’t sure if what he had learned could help. There was something in his memory about not giving a victim water, but he wasn’t sure of it. Yes, running for help was the best course of action here. He was certain. He could do nothing for the dying man himself.

 

Joshua visualized the attackers, the men now seeking a means to haul their victim away— spiders coming back to wrap up a captured fly. Why had they left him on the front lawn like that? What did they need to carry him away? A truck? Every farm in the county had one of those four-wheeler ATVs, with a chain in the back for dragging out small trees.  Were they as scared as he was? Maybe so. He might be able to use that to his advantage, Joshua thought.

 

When he had first moved here, Joshua resented this town, this thief of his cultured New England lifestyle. But in ten years, he and the locals had become accustomed to each other. Now, he was a part of it. He was a part of them. In some ways, he fit in better now than his wife, a county native. Mysteriously, in these ten years, he hadn’t seen a hint of the bigotry he anticipated before moving here.

 

How this morning’s events could happen sickened him as he ran now. Who was capable of this? The old guys who shoot pool at Lucky’s? The screaming high school boys who speed down Line Street on Friday nights? It didn’t matter. Just like everything else here, what he had seen this early morning was a part of him too. Yes, he felt a burden to fix things, fast.

 

Headlights now. A pickup was coming. Joshua recognized it. It was Fitch, a friend of Tanya’s family. Joshua waved him down.

 

Fitch slowed and rolled down his window. The sky was gray now. Joshua could see him well.

 

“There’s been . . . something awful . . .”

 

          “Get in!” said Fitch.

 

A moment later, the truck took off down the road with Joshua inside.

 

“Which way?” asked Fitch.

 

“Up at the conservatory . . . On the front lawn . . . There’s a student up there. . . . Someone beat him up bad. . . .” Joshua felt the effects of his sprint now. He gasped for air in the dirty truck.

 

Fitch kicked the accelerator all the way down and almost rolled the truck as it shot across the meadow. The truck’s engine, all many liters of it, roared to a humbling chorus. Tons of torque locked on to the wheels, throwing, kicking, ripping the road into the forest behind them.

 

“He’s beaten up terribly bad. We’ll need to get to a hospital. . . .You have a cell phone?” asked Joshua.

 

“No . . . But we can get him to a hospital real fast.”

 

“He said the people that messed him up . . . are coming back for him. The police . . .”

 

“State trooper barracks are a half hour away. I got a shotgun hangin’ behind you though. Pull it down. Shells are in the glove compartment.”

 

Joshua did as he was told. His hands were trembling. His sweaty fingers left wet marks on the gun. He had never held one in his life. There were five shotgun shells in the glove box. With a few words of instruction from Fitch, he loaded two in the gun and held the other three in his hand.

 

“The little black switch on the side . . . The safety . . . Flip that up and forward,” said Fitch.

 

The panting runner did as he was told.

 

Joshua looked at Fitch. He was a short, heavy man—a local. He wore jeans with a big buckle and a tight blue cotton buttoned shirt. His gray hair was slick and neatly combed. He spoke with a smoky voice. Joshua eyed Fitch’s large hairy knuckles on the steering wheel. Local boys would be scared of him, thought Joshua. He felt a little safer now.

 

Joshua thought of the last time he saw Fitch, just a few weeks ago. His wife’s parents had thrown a big cookout on a sunny day. Joshua’s daughters had sat at a picnic table, with other children, listening to Fitch tell a story about a fisherman and an alligator named Pappy.

 “Real scary up there,” said Joshua.

 

“We’ll be all right.”

 

The speedometer was touching sixty, on a back road. They would be there in just a few more seconds.

 

“The kid . . . a colored kid?” asked Fitch.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“In a white suit?”

 

“Yeah. Do you know . . .”

 

“Well, I’ll be damned. . . .”

 

“What?”

 

“That kid played the fiddle last night at our church,” said Fitch. “Good Friday. Sounded like heaven.”

 

In his mind, Joshua conjured an image of the soulful musician standing in Grace Baptist. He could hear his soaring violin melody ricocheting off the rafters, defying the humidity, filling the ears of the all-white congregation with a sweet sorrow, the kind you want to pull down and hold in your heart.

 

“How’d you find him?” asked Fitch.

 

Joshua looked down at his clothes. It was pretty obvious. And there wasn’t another jogger in Sweet Pines. He was the only Yankee in town.

 

“I was out running. For my morning exercise. I run up there every morning.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“I found him lying on the hill. I ran up to the school, but there was nobody there.”

“All gone home for Easter.”

 

The woods thinned now. The men fell quiet, ready. Joshua took his right hand off the gun for an instant to feel something on his face. Sweat? Tears?

 

The truck shot out of the woods as the drive opened up onto the lawn, winding its way up to the school. The several streetlights lining the drive now lit up a morning charcoal fog, rising from the grass.

 

“Where?” shouted Fitch.

 

Joshua was silent.

 

“Where!” shouted Fitch again.

 

“Stop. . . .” said Joshua.

 

Fitch hit the brakes. Joshua jumped out of the car. As he did so, Fitch pulled the shotgun off Joshua’s lap and got out, too. Joshua sprinted several steps, and then his gait slowed to a stop.

 

All at once the fog lifted. Sunlight broke over the roof of the school. The blackness in the trees disappeared. Everything before their eyes went clear now.

 

“No . . . no . . . no . . .” whispered Joshua.

 

The eyes of both men scanned the lawn frantically. This could not happen. Joshua had run so fast. And every step of that morning flew back through his mind now. Fitch’s eyes and shotgun surveyed the rising mist for any sign of the evil men and their prey. But there was nothing. Joshua and Fitch were too late.

 

“Sweet Jesus, no . . .” said Fitch softly.

 

The musician was gone.

 

 

E. J. Jacobson has been writing dark fiction with faith-based messages for many years. His first published story "Road of Elizabeth" appeared in Einstein's Pocket Watch.  He is a member of the Ann Arbor Writers Workshop, and I has a degree in writing from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

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