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Light Amidst Shadows



And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:  for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).


* * * * *


“How obscene that the  sun should shine on a day like this!”   Mr. Bigelow growled,   dashing tears away from raw, red eyes.


Beneath the gloom of that incessantly sunny day, the poor man’s fellow mourners remained respectfully unreproachful as he poured out his grief.  It was, after all, legitimate.  Even more so because of the sickening, festering situation which had caused the death of his only child.


Like a stone pillar he remained anchored beside the freshly dug grave, as if loath to leave it and acknowledge that his posterity had been cut off from the land of the living.  His gaze was steadfastly fixed upon the glaring white haze of the cloudless western sky.


“Look at him,”  his brother Lenny whispered.  “He’s in a daze, a state of shock.”


“He’ll go blind if he doesn’t stop staring at the sky,”  the dead girl’s aunt replied in a monotone.


“He sees something we don’t see,” Lenny whispered back.  “Notice he’s not so fierce-looking now.”


In that scorched sky the desolate man beheld the likeness of a long-forgotten presence.


“I remember her!”  Mr. Bigelow cried.  “So little, so fresh from heaven.  All she ever did was smile and spread her love all around.  Still too innocent to realize why she was put on this earth.  Just so she could CRY!”


Mr. Bigelow’s drug-dulled eyes roved aimlessly as he rambled on.  “When she was little we used to call her “Bounce-back Betty”.  She’d fall off her bike and scrape her knee on the sidewalk. She wouldn’t even cry.  Her cat Gus got killed.  Her hamster Benny died.  But my, that kid was tough.  She always pulled herself together, just like a cat with nine lives.  I was so proud of my little Betty, always rolling with the punches and all.  She just shrugged off whatever garbage life could throw at a little kid.  Yeah, she’d get up of the floor like a real prize fighter, dust herself off, and keep on slugging away at life till she finally came out the winner.  She always looked on the bright side of life.  She always bounced back.”


“Well, this time she DIDN’T BOUNCE BACK!” he lamented.  “They killed Betty's bright side before they killed her!”


Mr. Bigelow was a massive man, but today she felt more fragile than an eggshell.  Inside he was screaming and cursing Betty’s murderers.  But propped up by Valium, he would retain his forced facade of composure.  His daughter would, in death, at last be given the dignity she’d been so cruelly denied in life.  A few scattered floral tributes encircled the canopy which sheltered her grave.  Not even one hailed from reps of Yellow Valley High.


Assorted family friends and relatives clasped the grief-stricken father on the shoulder, expressing their heartfelt sympathies.  Kerry Carothers, Betty’s sole school chum, broke down and cried.  “Now I’m all alone!  I’ll end up here next!”


“Oh no, you won’t, sweetheart,” her father assured her, holding her tightly.  “We all failed you and Betty when she was alive, but no more.  She’s gone to a far better world, but we’ve been left behind to fight for her cause.  And believe me, we’re going to wage war against this obscene social injustice.”


Coach Miller said apologetically, “I’ve quit my job over this.  I’m up to my neck in it.  Every parent at that school wants to lynch me for tellin’ the truth to their precious babies yesterday.”


“At least they’ve still GOT their precious babies!” Mr. Bigelow wailed in despair.  “All I’ve got left is a broken heart!  Curse this nasty day forever!”


Reverend Hawthorne, the officiating minister, approached him and said, “You still have a beautiful daughter who loves you, Mr. Bigelow.  Coach Miller told me she’d accepted Christ as her personal Savior before departing this world.  She is now resting in the Presence of God.”


“God!”  Mr. Bigelow spat.  “If He’s so all-powerful, why didn’t He prevent this awful thing?  Why doesn’t He raise her up out of that grave right now, if He’s so almighty?”


Sadly the minister replied, “Mr. Bigelow, I might be a well-educated man, but I don’t claim to understand everything God allows while I’m still in this body of clay.  The reason for human tragedy is a great mystery to me.  But I do know that our Redeemer lives, and there will be a resurrection for all the redeemed.


“Mr. Bigelow, I’ll try to answer your question with one of my own.  You know Betty is happy in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is surrounded by God’s perfect love.  Love which will never betray her, wound her, or diminish throughout the ages of eternity.  if she were offered the choice, do you think she would choose this evil world over the blessed one she now enjoys?”


The overwrought father released a floodgate of tears.  “Oh, I know she wouldn’t, but I wish she’d come back to those who love her!”


Reverend Hawthorne continued: “Jesus did raise a man from the dead, Mr. Bigelow.  His name was Lazarus.  He’d been in his grave four days.  His sisters pleaded with Christ to restore Lazarus to them.  He did this for them to demonstrate God’s power over death itself, and His love to the people.


“The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most mysterious:  ‘Jesus wept.’  Why did Jesus weep, Mr. Bigelow, if He knew He was about to raise His beloved friend from the dead?”


“Oh, I don’t know, preacher, you tell me,” the poor man sighed.


“Now this is strictly my own opinion, Mr. Bigelow.  Lazarus was, prior to his resurrection, resting in the Paradise of the Righteous with all the saints who’d gone on before him.  He was finally free of the sickness which killed him.  No longer was he beset by earthly sorrows.


“Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised; not to immortality, but to continue life in an imperfect mortal body.  It was not yet God’s chosen time to bestow incorruptible bodies upon the righteous dead.  Lazarus would have to die again someday.  In all likelihood he would face persecution, maybe even martyrdom,  for Jesus’ sake.


“Lazarus was reunited with friends and family who loved him.  But he was also reunited with enemies who didn’t love him or his Savior_the self-righteous religious leaders of the Jewish nation, who would later conspire to have Jesus crucified.  As news spread of Christ’s power to raise the dead, people believed in Him more and more.  After all, Lazarus was walking, talking evidence of Christ’s own divinity.  The religious rulers plotted to put not only our Lord to death to silence His ministry, but Lazarus as well.  Jesus knew the heart of sinners is so depraved that  one of his parables declares:  ‘Even if a man were to rise from the dead, hardened sinners would still not be persuaded of the truth of His Word, and they would still reject Christ. I live to serve the Lord in a world hostile to Him.


“Know what else, Mr. Bigelow?”  The usually self-contained minister knitted his brows and trembled.


“What, Reverend?  What else could you possibly say to a man in my shoes?”


“That’s just it, Mr. Bigelow, I AM in your shoes.  That’s why I’m standing here, because my own experience helps me understand the dark waters you’re passing through.  The Bible tells us that even Jesus is in a better position to have compassion on others because He Himself suffered the trials of life.”


“I don’t mean to pry, preacher, but what trials did you ever go through, that you could claim to be standing in my shoes?  If I’d been nailed to a cross I couldn’t be more miserable now.”


The minister’s jaw worked.  How unprofessional. How hard to keep his composure so he could be a comfort to the mourners.  “I had only one son, Mr. Bigelow. Ron and his friends were out joyriding one night in an uninsured vehicle.  They  ran several traffic lights.  The driver was intoxicated.  They heard a police car coming after them.  Instead of stopping, they  hit the gas hard.  They took such a sharp turn onto a freeway exit  that a tire blew.  They rammed at high speed  into a concrete embankment.”  He choked out his next words: “There were no survivors.”


Mr. Bigelow clapped Reverend Hawthorne on the back.  “I’m sorry, man. You’re in the same boat,  and here you are, being reminded of it again, just so you can help us.”


“What hurts the most, Mr. Bigelow, is this:  My boy Ron was such a devout Christian.  Never a day passed but that he’d take tracts to school and leave them in the library for somebody to pick up.  Sharing his faith was risky, as you probably know, what with the separation of church and state issue.”


“Amen to that,”  Coach Miller put in.


“Pressure was piled on my son,” the minister went on.  “He could either fit in and conform to the crowd or be a social outcast.  God had been dealing with me a long time to take Ron out of public school and put him in a Christian academy, but I convinced myself it would be moral cowardice to take him out of that environment.


“So guilt was mixed with my already heavy burden of grief.  I sought comfort in alcohol and nearly committed suicide.  My wife left me. I truly believe that if I hadn’t made my peace with God she never would have returned.  Mr. Bigelow, I’ve been through so much hell on earth that if God offered me the choice today,  I would rather be in heaven with Christ, where there is nothing but love and happiness.”


Sighing, Mr. Bigelow conceded, “She’s better off where she is.  Nobody can hurt her ever again.  I’ve got to make peace with that somehow.  I’ve got to go on, whether I like it or not.  I’ve got a cause to devote my life to now.  A hopeless one, though,” he added bitterly.


Reverend Hawthorne had dealt with plenty of grief throughout his long ministry.  but the story behind this grief was one of the most tragic he’d ever encountered.


Compassionately, yet emphatically, he encouraged the heartbroken father:  “A righteous cause might seem to be already lost and those who fight for it few, but take heart. THE GOD OF SCRIPTURE IS THE GOD OF LOST CAUSES.”     


* * * * *

Their feet are swift to run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths (Isaiah 59:7).


* * * * *


As Reverend Hawthorne continued to comfort the mourners, four of Yellow Valley High’s most popular teens piled into Andy Martin’s flashy new BMW to go cruising.


Melanie was triumphant.  “We did it!  We stamped out Bigfoot!  And stupid old Mr. Tyson can’t do a thing about it!  How great it is to be innocent underage children they can’t do nothin’ to!”


Andy grinned from ear to ear as he slid the key into the ignition.  He was delighted with his birthday present.  Ownership of a new BMW conferred VIP status upon a 16-year-old.


Hank was sprawled out in the back seat with Melanie.  His smelly feet were propped up on the back of the driver’s seat, close to Andy’s face.  “Did you do what I told you to, Andy?” he drawled menacingly.


“Yeah, Hank.  It’s under my seat.  My old man’ll never miss it.”


 “Just wait’ll that crackpot coach gets our little present in his mailbox Monday morning,”

Melanie giggled.  “The rottenest stink bomb in the universe!  Man, that assembly was a spasmodic trip!  Wasn’t it, Sandra?”


The dreamy-eyed girl in the front seat barely heard her.  “Uh...yeah!  He should get into soap operas.  He made 3000 enemies yesterday, all in one shot.”


“That fat sow had it coming,” Melanie mocked.  “She must have weighed all of 130 pounds.  I even heard this from Lisa:  Her mother made her clothes!  Ugh!”


An infernal smirk curled Hank’s lips.  “Well, at least her coffin  wasn’t homemade. And she’ll lose all her lard now...on the death diet!”


“Aw...ease up on her, Hank.”  Andy laughed.  “Dead or alive, she’ll always have Coach Miller’s undying love!”


To think that redneck gorilla trashed a big football career just to help a dead stiff!” Hank sneered.  “Too bad the Cougars stopped the Cobras, or he’d be dead too!”


“What’ll he do now?”  Sandra wondered.  Seeing Melanie’s diabolical smile, she hastily added:  “If he’s not thrown into the pen for badmouthing us, that is.  He’d make a good burger flipper.”


“Hell,” Hank snickered evilly, “I’d be afraid to eat a burger made by that retard!  After hurtin’ our feelin’s the way he did, he’ll be lucky to find a job shovelin’ - - - -”


“Hey, Hank!”  Melanie squealed.  “Watch your language!  Ladies are present!”


“What ladies?”  Hank guffawed.  “I don’t see no ladies.  Do you, Andy?”


“- - - -, no!  All I see are two hot chicks!  There ain’t no ladies at our school!”


“And the only thing that ever kept its dress down is DEAD!”  Hank cackled.


“Well,”  Melanie drawled, “it’s a good thing she did.”


“Oooh, barf out, Melanie!”  Andy gagged, clutching his throat and screwing up his face.  “Cool it!  We ain’t even eaten yet!”


Bantering and babbling cruel wisecracks, the four teens breezed down the highway in the BMW. They made   goofy faces and jeered at drivers of humbler vehicles. Andy caught the eye of a man driving a gigantic semi truck. He stuck out his tongue at him and made obscene gestures.


“Chill out, idiot,” Melanie warned.  “Some of those drivers carry guns!”


“Like the fuzz?”  Hank piped up.


Once they had cleared the city limits, Hank announced:  “Hey, Andy!  I’m thirsty!  Gimme that bottle of Scotch!”


Andy withdrew the brown paper bag from under the driver’s seat.  “Here, Hank.”  He thrust it over his shoulder into his buddy’s greedy grasp.  “Try and keep it outa sight till we’re way out in the sticks.  The fuzz’ll take my license if they bust us.  We’re under age.  Remember?”


“Don’t preach at me,”  Hank growled.  Impatiently he unscrewed the cap off the bottle.  “Damn!  It’s bad enough the coach preached at us like he did.   I hate that stupid pile of - - - -”


 “But we got one hell of a show,” Andy chuckled.  “It’s a bummer the Cougars showed up, though.”



“That coach is dumb as mud, but he helped Bigfoot get religion,” Melanie tittered.  “A lot of good it’s doing her now!  What do you say, Sandra?”


“Like you said,” Sandra nodded vacantly, “she’s fertilizer now.”


 “Hey!”  Melanie squealed.  “Sandra and I are bored to death. Put the pedal to the metal, Andy.  Let’s go look for some cops and start a car chase, just like on TV!  Hey, Hank!  Don’t be such a pig!  Gimme a hit off that bottle!”


Grudgingly Hank shoved it at her.  She grabbed it and poured a hefty shot of the scalding liquor down her throat.


“Give it back!”  Hank snapped.  “It’s mine!  I’ll kill it off!”


That Hank could do.  At 17, he had already mastered the subtler techniques of murder.


“Forget the car chase,”  Hank drawled.  “That’s kid stuff.  You guys get back here and I’ll take the wheel, Andy.”


Andy gulped.  But he pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road to exchange seats with Hank. Hank and Melanie snuggled in the front while Andy and Sandra sat in the back, wondering what hair-raising adventures Hank had in store for them.


Before resuming their drive, Hank took time for refueling---himself.  After taking a deep breath, he tilted his angular chin and poured whiskey down his throat in a steady, unbroken stream until the bottle was dry.


Melanie was awestruck by Hank’s drinking prowess.  “How macho!” she sighed, locking her spindly arms round his neck.  “You downed it all on one breath!”


The heady brew fired up Hank’s innards and began to distort his faculties.  He was king of the road and the BMW was his spaceship to glory.  They were well outside the outer environs of the city.  Now they were  cruising along a  remote rural road. Confident that there were no police cars patrolling the area, Hank hit the gas pedal with wild abandon.


“Hey, guys!” he slurred.  “Let’s cut off onto that road past Buzzard Creek.  Let’s head on up to Diablo Peak.  Ain’t no fuzz up there to bug us.  A great place to get it on!”


Before the others could deliberate, Hank had already reached the turn-off from the scenic road.  As the car rattled at high speed over dusty gravel, Andy  fretted about his new tires.  But he didn’t want to be a killjoy.  So he kept his worries to himself.


This part of the Great Sulfur  Desert was marked by extreme irregularities.  The joyriders  viewed Diablo Peak from the perspective of a pleasantly balmy plateau.  The western slopes of the summit dropped to a ravine 2500 feet below the eastern side, which was their direction of approach to the mountain.


What an eerie vista could be seen from that summit! Furnace Canyon was a scorching cauldron of sharp black obsidian rocks competing for space with barrel cacti and clusters of prickly pear.  A dry gulch opened a wide fissure through the canyon floor, the scar of what had been a refreshing river before the desertification of the land.


By now, Hank was really under the influence, and his tongue was loose.  “My great-great-great grandpa bumped off a lot of redskins out here!  Hid out in them hills and picked ‘em off like flies!  Terminated a whole tribe single-handed!”


“Hank!”  Sandra chided.  “Who pulled your string? My stepdad is part Sioux!  That’s not nice!”


Melanie, tossing her blond mane, sniffed, “Be glad he’s not your real dad, Sandra. We don’t want squaws on our cheerleading squad.”


Sandra sighed.  Being popular had its price.


Soon they reached the lower slopes of the eastern face of the mountain.  Gradually the gravel road gave way to an even worse thoroughfare.  It was the trail from hell, known to the locals as  “The Devil’s Backside”.  Only a few foolhardy souls ever risked the perilous ride up that deeply-rutted trail which had no guard rails.  No government funds had ever been allocated to construct a safer road.  But why bother?  Diablo Peak held no attractions for sane individuals.


Rattlesnakes crawled in and out of crevices between the sunbaked boulders  barely restrained by the sandy soil of the mountain face.  The narrow shoulders of the road were pitted from rockslides.  Often the scampering feet of a lizard would upset the balance of the precariously perched boulders and send them hurtling down the slopes of Diablo Peak into Furnace Canyon.


The red BMW strained steadily up the rough trail, jarring and jerking the passengers.  Now and then Andy could hear scraping noises from the bottom of the vehicle.  Nervously he peered backward.  He was horrified.  The rocky road was stained red by leaking transmission fluid.  “Hey, Hank!” he quavered.  “Don’t drive ‘er so hard! This ain’t no four-wheel drive!  You’ll kill the transmission!”


Hank’s lusty laughter split the tranquil desert air.  “Then we’ll have to bury the BMW, just like Betty Bigfoot!  Hell, that hippo was so fat they stuck her in a railroad freight car!”


Melanie collapsed into wild hysterics. Andy, still eyeing the road behind them, obliged Hank with a jittery chuckle.  Hank kept up his comedy act .  Sandra contributed a faint smile. 


She got a rough shove on the shoulder.  “Hey, you sick or something?”  Melanie snapped .  “You better lighten up!”


“It’s nothing,” Sandra  lied.  “My old man says I’m off the cheerleading squad if I don’t raise my grades.”


“Forget the old fool,” Hank cackled.  “Hey, I’ll show you guys a few tricks!  Three cheers for Hot Rod Hank!”


The car jackknifed to the right and to the left.  Hairpin turns excited Hank the most.  As if deliberately trying to wreck Andy’s car, he revved up the engine and jerked the car to a sharp turn.  Andy cried in horror as the right rear fender scraped a sharp rock jutting out of the mountain face.  His dad would surely cut off  his allowance for a month for being so irresponsible.


With syncopated thrusts of his foot Hank played with the accelerator, forcing the car to either abruptly lurch forward or jerk to sudden stops.  Hank’s chilling laugh warned them whenever he was about to skirt the edge of the road, with barely an inch to spare.  Andy began to gnaw at his nails.  Hank was lapping it up.  Maybe he wasn’t as rich as Andy, but he did have power over him money couldn’t buy.  My, how Hank loved making others sweat.


Andy whimpered, “Cool it, Hank!  No kiddin’!  My old man’ll skin me if he has to pop for new steerin’ and brakes!”


Hank just grinned.  He burnt a hole in the seat upholstery with the stub of a cigarette.  Then he lit one up again to burn more holes in the seat.  Andy yelled obscenities.


By now Hank was so plastered that he could barely see the boulders and ruts in front of him.  Andy’s warning only ticked him off.  “Andy,” he drawled,  “you’re a WUS!  Shut up!”


Andy snapped.  He didn’t mind Hank teaching him how to bully others, but he disliked being on the receiving end of Hank’s vicious tongue.  They all knew that school would be a very dull place if no new victim was picked out for everybody to pick on.  But Andy was in no mood to replace the late Betty Bigelow as the school outcast. Melanie was already laughing and pointing at him. He’d better do something--quick.


Sandra held her breath.  Would Andy rise to Hank’s challenge and fight to supplant him as  Top Dog of Yellow Valley High?  As his girl friend, she would automatically depose Melanie, and gain the queenly status long enjoyed by this arrogant beauty.


It was now or never.  Andy,  intent on salving his wounded pride, hovered menacingly over the front seat.  This  annoyed Hank even more.  Andy squeezed through the gap between the driver’s and front passenger’s seats, lost his balance and plopped in Melanie’s lap.  She squirmed free and  sprang into the back seat, shrieking:  “You - - - -ing jerk! Get away from me!  You’ll give me cooties!”


Hank got in a dead drunk rage.  “Don’t you dare touch my girl!” 


“Get outa my car!”  Andy retorted.  “You’re just as ugly and dumb as that jackass coach!”


A firestorm of a  fight broke out.  Sandra was scared witless, although Melanie found it funny, suspecting that Hank and Andy had deliberately staged this stunt just to throw a good scare into the girls.


Petrified, Sandra lunged for the door handle.  But Melanie wasn’t about to let her prey escape.   Melanie pounced on her, knocking the breath out of her and pinning her down in the seat.  The frightened girl was completely helpless now.  This was one time Sandra wished she had not starved herself down to that skin-and-bones look everyone admired her for. Her muscles were so atrophied she couldn’t fight the slightly larger Melanie off.  Melanie clamped Sandra’s head over the edge of the seat. She clutched her hair tightly in her little fists.  “They’re only playing, for God’s sake!  Don’t you dare move, or I’ll rip all your hair out!”


The whole ugly scenario flashed before Sandra’s wild eyes:  The name-calling.  The tacks in Betty’s chair.  The blue paint on the back of her head. The “kick me” sign glued to her skirt. The mustard on her beautiful white dress, that one she’d saved for months to buy.  That sadistic strip search in the girls’ dressing room, which had finally driven poor Betty to escape her tormentors through suicide.  Now harvest time had come for Sandra.


Repeatedly her grandmother had urged her to stop running with the wrong crowd and accept Jesus Christ as her personal Savior.  Now her options were clear:  She could either join Betty in heaven or follow her fair weather friends to hell.


As Sandra heard the blood-curdling cries from the front and saw the hate in Melanie’s wild eyes, she realized that her very life hung in the balance.  Melanie was still sitting atop her, and  might decide to kill her by snapping her neck, which she held in her iron grip. Drunken Hank might still drive them all over the cliff, for his hands were busy attacking Andy, not navigating the treacherous trail up Diablo Peak.  Hank was in no condition to control himself, much less the car.  Now he was a rabid animal, driven by bloodlust.


Frantically Sandra prayed:  “Oh, dear God, I know I killed her.  But Jesus died for me.  Please forgive me and save me from hell.  Grandma was right.”


Enraged by her prayer, Melanie jerked Sandra’s head and snarled: “Shut up about religion or I’ll twist your head off like a chicken!”


Melanie giggled like a fiend.  She was the one perched atop her opponent, the one who held  the power of life and death.  Hank would surely kill Andy for daring to challenge him as Top Dog.  He could simply dump the body over the mountainside and tell the cops Andy had lost his footing.  Maybe, she hoped, the coyotes would come out at night and eat his body.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  Hank turning Andy into dog food.   And the cops wouldn’t be any the wiser because they probably never patrolled this area anyway.  Feeling triumphant over repentant rival Sandra, Melanie taunted her: “That crazy coach is an expert on outdoor johns, is he?  Well, no wonder!  He was born in one!  Laugh, you idiot!” she ordered.  She slapped Sandra and made her cry.


“Please, Melanie,” Sandra whimpered,  “Hank’s crazy.  He’ll get us all killed.  Please let me go home.”


“If Bigfoot didn’t escape,”  Sandra snarled,  “why should you?  You’ll never get out of here alive!”


Even louder than Melanie’s maniacal laughter was the war of words  in the front seat.  In the heat of battle, Hank didn’t notice the  burning cigarette fall out of his mouth and land on the floorboard, igniting a big pile of fast food trash by the gas pedal.


“You don't call the doctor when you get sick!” Hank yelled.  “You call the plumber!”


“You were such an ugly baby, the doctor thought he’d delivered a rat!” Andy retorted, spitting blood. 


Hank was consumed with demon-driven fury.  He would defend his position to the death.  He hit Andy so hard his fist ached .  Oblivious to the torrents of loose soil and rocks cascading down the mountain face, he tore into his rival, fully intent on finishing him off.


As Hank stretched himself over his victim, his right foot bore down forcefully on the gas pedal.  Abruptly the BMW lurched free of a small boulder obstructing its left rear tire.  Hank’s left leg instinctively thrust upwards to give him better leverage to bear down on Andy.  As it did, it turned the steering wheel  sharply to the left_toward their doom.


Melanie stopped tormenting Sandra long enough to notice:  They were flying in mid-air, hurtling down  toward the rocky ravine below.     Hank was still  cursing and choking Andy.  Melanie threw up her arms and screamed. A deafening explosion, then eerie silence.

Now dead to a world of sin and woe, Sandra felt only the glowing purity of the Love of God in Christ Jesus.




Continued in Chapter 3