Monday, August 10, 2009

Opening Heaven's Gate - Part 4

The following short story, titled "Opening Heaven's Gate," was written for an assignment in a narrative theory course I took during my final year in college. This was my first attempt at any type of creative writing.

This is the final post in a series of four. The divisions were not part of the original assignment, and carry no thematic or structural intent. For anyone who would like to read the original story in its entirety, without the divisions, I've posted the complete document here. Enjoy.


“It’s time for you to get up and walk around. Stretch those legs. I know you’re hurtin’. Been through it six times myself. Don’t worry, it gets better, the first time’s always the worst. You’ll find out you have muscles in places you wouldn’t a never believed. Knocked me flat out when I had Dale, thought I couldn’t walk for a week. But when I finally tried, I was so cramped up couldn’t barely stand. Don’t want that to happen to you,” Rebecca advised.

Sarah did not want to so much as roll over in bed, let alone remove the covers, pivot, swing her legs to the floor, stand up, and take a few steps around the room. There was no way her abdominal muscles could take the strain after thirty hours of intense contractions. But she knew Rebecca was right; if she failed to cope with the pain now, it would only end up much worse in a few days. Resigned to the intense discomfort, she sat up in bed, turned, swung her legs to the floor, and stood up. Certainly painful, but not nearly what she had expected. She picked Hannah up off the bed and began to take a few steps.

It was then that she looked out the window and saw the dust cloud approaching along the two mile stretch of dirt road that ran through barren scrub from the entrance to Heaven’s Gate all the way to the main compound. The sight stopped her dead still, and she clutched Hannah tightly to her chest. The cloud grew larger, advancing by the second like a gigantic tumbleweed guided by the force of a divine hand. A large, white metal insect began to emerge from its center, beetle shaped, with an insidious steel proboscis at its front. Two men (or was one a woman?) dressed in grey and black, wearing helmets and holding guns rode atop its shell, using their forearms to shield their eyes from the dust storm the vehicle created. A column of vehicles, blue and red lights flashing, trailed the insect in its dash toward the center of the compound. The insect pulled into the yard of the house, right below her window, leaving tracks on the gravel drive. The two people dressed in black jumped off the top and the insect’s belly opened, birthing six more, all identically dressed and equipped. Sarah could hear screaming and shouting in the house, and boots stomping down the hall. She tried to duck behind the bed, but was frozen in fear, unable to move. Hannah sensed her mother’s fear, and her face began to contort into a scream. She turned red, but still Sarah heard no sound. Two officers, one a woman, kicked in the door and pointed their weapons at Sarah.

“Give me the child ma’am, hand over the child now,” the woman demanded. The officer lowered her weapon, walked over to the mother, and took the child from her arms.

Tears streamed down the adolescent mother’s face. She seemed to be barricading a scream, refusing to let her horror escape.

The child was silent.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Opening Heaven's Gate - Part 3

The following short story, titled "Opening Heaven's Gate," was written for an assignment in a narrative theory course I took during my final year in college. This was my first attempt at any type of creative writing.

It will be presented in a series of four posts. These divisions were not part of the original assignment, and carry no thematic or structural intent. Enjoy.


Sarah didn’t say anything, but agreed that she was. All wrapped in pure innocent white, with a pink shell to protect her, the child had no conception of the life that lay ahead of her, but was somehow contented, like a turtle pulled into a pastel fortress against the world. Sarah knew her child would need to be comfortable around her father, needed to become a strong figure capable of coping with the leering eyes of the community’s grown men who in fourteen short years, no doubt, would be looking for another plural wife. Maybe there was a man out there, already with a few wives of his own, who the Lord had destined to join her daughter in holy union. Hell, rumor had it Abe had gone visiting the Gantry homestead up in Hildale a few weeks ago. Terah Gantry, still virile at eighty years of age, had a few daughters who were coming of age. Sarah wanted her daughter to be strong, familiar with the men so she would not be taken advantage of. Confidence around the men would give her the power to influence decisions, make a difference in the community through influence with her eventual husband. Sarah lifted the child out to Abe.

“I don’t want to hold her, not yet. Only a woman knows how to hold a child proper, and that little foal needs to get further acquainted with her mamma,” Abe said.

Sarah fumed, barely able to conceal the undercurrent of rage that burned deep within her bosom. Her face flushed and she used her free arm to pull the blanket further up over her chest. His lack of attention during pregnancy was forgivable. She had plenty of help from the other wives. But to not hold his child, his brand new, living, eating, breathing, possibly thinking child? His temerarity drove a stake deep into her very core.

“Well I came in because I’ve decided on the name,” he opined, fully ignoring her crimson cheeks. As was tradition, the man in the house always had the responsibility for naming the child. The women conceived, carried, suffered, cared for, and raised the children, but it was the husbands who always decided the name. “We’re going to call her Hannah. It means God’s grace. I was hoping to one day have a Hannah. I’ve almost gone through every other name in the book, but this one’s something special. Look at her blond hair and blue eyes, just like her daddy.”

Sarah’s anger slowly abated. Hannah, the Lord’s good grace, a fitting name. Birthed like an angel, rising up to relieve Sarah from all her pain. The physical incarnation of the Lord’s grace manifested on earth, in a tiny bundle of white cotton and pastel pink. Her personal friend and saviour, a guaranteed package of unconditional love, delivered for her to enjoy for the rest of her life. And best of all, the last syllable of the name rhymed with her own. Hannah, Sarah, just like mother and cub. The cub never straying too far from her benevolent, omnipresent protector. Life would be good, with Sarah to guide her. Hannah would be her daughter forever, tied to Sarah through blood and name, a bond no earthly force could rend apart. There would be a certain musical cadence to the name when, in a few months, the cantor would sing out in his deep bass voice, “Hannah daughter of Sarah and Abraham, be forgiven for your sins,” eliciting a stately echo from the marble walls of the temple’s main chamber. Sarah approached the baptismal font with Hannah grasped close to her chest, clothed in a miniature plain white gown she had sewn just for the occasion. When she reached the font, the elder acting as priest said the necessary prayers and instructed Sarah to baptize her child in the Lord’s life-giving waters. Sarah moved her child away from her bosom, held her above the font, and completely immersed her for a short half-second in the water. The baptismal gown, once a brilliant pure white, now soaked, clung to the tiny body as Sarah pulled her from the water. The cotton turned a shade of grey and felt heavy with the weight of the water, desirously grappling to drag the young girl back into the depths of God’s healing waters. “The Lord welcomes you, Hannah Clarkson, into his full communion,” the apostle said as Hannah shivered, now safe against Sarah’s chest. Shivered, without so much as a sound.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Opening Heaven's Gate - Part 2

The following short story, titled "Opening Heaven's Gate," was written for an assignment in a narrative theory course I took during my final year in college. This was my first attempt at any type of creative writing.

It will be presented in a series of four posts. These divisions were not part of the original assignment, and carry no thematic or structural intent. Enjoy.


Watching the child as she nursed, Sarah slowly unwrapped the pastel pink blanket, wanting to see if the angel that had arisen from between her legs amidst Rebecca’s yelling and her own flights in and out of consciousness was indeed a corporeal being. Careful to keep the child close to her body for warmth, she removed the pink blanket, revealing another of pure white cotton underneath. Removal of this layer exposed spindly arms and legs, perfectly formed hands, feet, and toes, and a pink torso, almost imperceptibly rising and falling with the intake of each short breath. A marvelously formed body, straight from the vaults of heaven: supple, untarnished skin, light wispy hair like the finest of spider silk, all finished off with those cerulean jewel-eyes. The baby’s body looked so innocent, lying in the crook of Sarah’s arm, suckling down milk with healthy vigor, relishing the sublime pleasure of her mother’s provisions. Held tight by the fleeting peace of her daughter’s contented suckling, Sarah wondered if her mother had ever looked at her with similar eyes when she was newborn, a short fifteen years ago. Wondered if her mother had looked at her body before it was assaulted by pastel dresses, bonnets, stockings, proper shoes with a proper heel, the cloistered stares of the adolescent boys and the open gawking of mature men. Or had she thought her ugly, with her brown eyes and nearly black shock of hair, a curse for sins unknown to her? Had she once been innocent too?

A faint tapping on the door startled her from this train of thought. She heard Abe’s voice behind the door, and out of modesty, removed the child from her breast and slid back beneath the blankets. The infant began to kick and the face again turned red and contorted, but no sound came out. Sarah turned her head to make sure her hearing was working, but heard nothing other than the faint huskiness of Abe talking quietly with Rebecca out in the hallway. Everything was there: the flushed, angry, contorted face, the kicking, and the shaking of a scream. Everything but the sound. The child, still frustrated and obviously hungry, was not making any noise. Knowing Abe would soon enter, she rewrapped the child, first in pure white, followed by pastel pink, albeit without the skill Rebecca had developed through six children. Abe entered the room, and walked around the foot of the bed.

“I want to see my daughter,” he said.

Abe was a good catch by any girl’s standards. One of the founding members of Heaven’s Gate Ranch, he was the head foreman and engineer for the construction crew that ran all building operations. Thirty years ago, as a young man of twenty-two years old, Abe left the settlement of Bountiful with four other men and their ten wives, two each, respectively. The story had now become legend at Heaven’s Gate, one journey in a long line of wanderings, dating all the way back to the prophet’s first move from New York to Pennsylvania in 1827. Abe employed his carpentry skills in the construction of the first house in their remote corner of New Mexico, a sturdy, five bedroom dwelling—one for each man and his two wives—which had been expanded over the past thirty years to hold his five wives and close to thirty children. He had since built houses for the other men and their expanding families as well. The once small community had, with its own thriving growth and the arrival of other like-minded settlers, grown to nearly five hundred members. If these people needed anything built—be it house, temple, or something in between—Abe was the man they turned to, from the first conceptual architectural drawings to completion of the final structure. Abe was always building, bettering Heaven’s Gate for the glory of the Lord.

Sarah stood outside the oaken door of the temple’s main chamber, examining the expert scrollwork lovingly carved into the face of the door. The space was divided into six squares, each of equal size. In the center of each square was a series of five concentric circles. She traced her finger along one of the larger circles, going round and round, always tracing the same path in a never ending contemplation of infinity. The temple was cold inside, the lights were out, and the yellow flickering of candles contrasted with the pure white moonbeams that shone through small clerestory windows. A chill ran through her body and the starch of the simple, neatly pressed white wedding dress she wore felt rough against her skin. Yesterday had been her fifteenth birthday, and she had received the dress as a gift, the first recognition of her birthday in fifteen years. Abe Clarkson, the man who she had never met, but only seen from afar, waited inside with the rest of the elders, and she could hear their voices, muted to the volume of a whisper through the thickness of the door. Suddenly, as she traced, the door opened quickly, leaving her finger pointing in midair, her body in a prophetic pose, as if pointing the way to the Promised Land. Sarah’s father gave her a strange, unfamiliar look, and beckoned her inside with an unemotional distance she had never experienced from him. Abe, with his reptilian, sun damaged skin and a slight paunch overhanging his large gold belt buckle, looked all of his fifty-five years, even in a fresh-pressed shirt, black jeans, and black jacket. Sarah could have sworn she saw him flinch nearly undetectably as she entered the chamber.

“She’s beautiful,” Abe said.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Opening Heaven's Gate - Part 1

The following short story, titled "Opening Heaven's Gate," was written for an assignment in a narrative theory course I took during my final year in college. This was my first attempt at any type of creative writing

It will be presented in a series of four posts. These divisions were not part of the original assignment, and carry no thematic or structural intent. Enjoy.


Opening Heaven's Gate

“Almost there, just a little further, another good push or two and this will all be done. Stay with me here, stick with me. Stick with me, you’re ready. Deep breaths. On my count, we’re going to push. One, two.”

Just as she heard three, Sarah prepared to push, summoned all of her will to break through a pain-induced fog. It was not enough. The world quickly reduced to slits, smaller than the eye of a needle, and then, with another contortion, zoomed back in its bright, variegated glory. Starched white curtains and neutral yellow walls were cutting, razor-edged. The lavender pleats of Rebecca’s dress contrasted sharply with her flushed, sanguinely pleading face. The past thirty hours had been rough on her too. Sarah just had to stick with her. Gather the strength one more time. The world began to fade again.

Then a jerk and the plea underwent a spontaneous malevolent transformation.


Sarah supposed the Lord would forgive Rebecca’s single curse in a moment such as this. Spurred to action, she collected her reserves for one final salvo. She bore down with all her might and, miraculously, the acute, searing pressure released. A naked, wingless angel arose from between her frog-splayed legs, held aloft by Rebecca, dripping yellow molasses, tethered to the table, kicking, face contorted in the grimace of a nascent scream. Sarah’s body, its resources spent, gave out, and she spun into the midnight black of a moonless night.

She awoke supine, unable to move her legs, a consequence of the heavy woolen blankets under which she lay, Rebecca’s knowing action taken to guard against the encroaching winter cold. Looking out the second story window, she noticed a teenage boy traipse by on the dirt road outside, preoccupied with a stone he kicked along as he walked. Not in the mood to see any of the outside world, she tried to move her arm to pull the blanket up over head, but instead felt as if she was lifting a weight, something about as heavy as a half empty bag of potatoes. Turning her head and staring, she was startled to find a small pastel pink bundle, the now serene angel face gracing the end closest to her head. Sarah took a closer look, and a set of new bright blue, unfocused eyes connected with hers. Thank God. The cerulean glow of her eyes was just like Abe’s, blue as the sky, not her own muddy light brown. This little one would not have to cope with the incessant teasing of her fellow schoolchildren, as Sarah had.

“Where’d you get your eyes? Devil visit your mamma in the night? My mamma says all God’s children got blue eyes. Just like all the angels. Blond hair too. Brown eyes is real bad.” That childhood scourge would end with Sarah. Her little girl’s eyes and hair were blue and blond, beautiful, normal, communal. Blue and blond, just like Abe. No one could question her paternity; The Lord had colored her eyes just the same as all the children of the other wives.

The miniature face contorted again into the recognizable grimace, though this time out of hunger rather than anger at the eviction from the familiar comforts of its mother’s womb. The child’s mouth opened to release the scream and the face turned three shades of famished scarlet. Sarah felt the frustrated exhalation lightly brush her cheek, but no sound came out. Maybe she was tired, unable to hear anything. But she had heard the boy’s boot lightly scrape the gravel outside as he kicked the stone. Sarah labored out from under the weight of the blankets, propping herself up against the headboard of her large, oaken bed, one of six in the house. Suddenly, she was overcome with a wave of fatigue. Unable to give the silent scream more than a few seconds of cognitive attention, her thoughts and movements relied on newfound maternal instinct. Lifting the bundle with her right arm, taking care to support the head, she bared her breast and the child took as naturally to suckling as the brown calf Abe had delivered last spring. The warm flow of milk made her instantly relax. It was a relief. The child Rebecca birthed a few months ago had trouble suckling just like her other five, but that one lost a pound or two, looked like a starved lizard there for awhile until he figured it out one day. Scared his mamma half to death. Sarah would not need to deal with those problems. This was her first child, and with her children things would be different.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wider post area...

I recently widened the blog's main post area using this modification from The Blogger Guide. I've heard that there may be some issues with this update when viewed on a lower resolution screen. Please let me know if you're having any problems in the comment section of this post, and I will change it back. Thanks!

Monday, December 1, 2008


Nearly a year and a half have passed since we met, but I can still remember the terrified tenor of his screams. I looked him the eyes and caught a glimpse of a once vibrant spirit, now teetering on the edge of extinguishment. He returned my gaze with the precursor of a nascent smile for a short moment before recognizing the familiar sights and smells of his surroundings. A look of horror obliterated the smile, and in a brief nanosecond his expression changed from one of mischievousness to sheer terror at what he was about to experience. His slight three-year-old body writhed violently against the iron grip of the nurse as she attempted to calm him. "Tranquilo, Yason, tranquilo. Shhhhh. Tranquilo."

At this point in my trip to Guatemala, I had been working mornings in the operating room for about two weeks. A small stroke of luck brought me to this moment. I had traveled to Guatemala intending to learn Spanish at a Guatemalan school, with the hope that I would have the opportunity to spend some time observing and possibly helping local doctors at one of the many clinics sponsored by international aid organizations. My first few days of volunteering were spent in one of these clinics, where I encountered a total of three patients in twelve hours. After making a connection with one of the local doctors, I asked for a transfer to a hospital, and found myself on the bus to a small city in the highlands the next morning at 6:00 AM. Upon arrival, the physician in charge asked where I would prefer to work. He was pleased when I chose surgery and sent me down the hallway to the surgical wing of the hospital, which consisted of two small operating suites that had clearly--even to my untrained eye--been built sometime in the late 70s. Seafoam green tile covered the walls, and the operating lights lacked the occasional bulb or two. I changed into a pair of borrowed scrubs, conversed with an anesthesiologist for a few minutes in broken Spanish, and was then asked if I knew how to scrub. My first operation was a cholecystectomy on a thirty-five year old woman--a standard operation in the land of little access to birth control and 5+ parturitions--and I never looked back. I learned how to snip suture, hold retractors, and operate the bovie as I went along, finding the work simultaneously fascinating and immensely enjoyable.

Yason was different. He was three, and, as far as I could tell, had once been the archetypal healthy young Guatemalan. I had scrubbed on a few pediatric cases in the preceding two weeks--hernias and such--but this one was bore no resemblance to the others. Severe burns covered roughly fifty percent of his body. According to the doctors, he had pulled a pot of boiling water onto himself, and had been in the hospital for the past two weeks. New skin was slowly displacing the dead tissue, but pus and scabs were forming over the burns, necessitating disinfection and debridement. This was his fourth trip for debridement since the injury, hence the writhing and screaming. I stood at the scrub sink and attempted to fortify my emotions for what I knew would be a tough case.

Fast forward a year and half. I am sitting in a lecture on child and elder abuse for a class on human behavior. A slide flashes across the screen depicting patterns of injury that indicate abuse, and the moment comes rushing back. Suddenly, I am standing in the OR, gloved and gowned, with the surgeon and a medical student. Weilding sterile brushes with plastic bristles, we scrub--back, buttocks, back of the thighs, parts of the foot, the palms of the hand. Yason whimpers despite the anesthetic, his face flinching now and then, screams and contortions numbed by unconsciousness. Rich carmine blood oozes from the burns, as if protesting our assault on the skin's healing processes. We finish after forty-five minutes of scrubbing, our white gloves stained bright red, bristles glistening. Yason whimpers more as the anesthesia begins to wear off and we apply bandages to the burns. A nurse wraps him in a blanket and spirits him off to recovery.

After Yason was gone, I stepped back from the OR table and removed my gloves and gown, finally permitted the chance to contemplate the event in which I had just participated. My eyes welled up with tears for the young boy, a few dripping onto my mask and darkening its baby blue fibers. I marveled at the seeming lack of fairness. It made me want to scream.

But now--with nearly a semester of medical school behind me--I think my reaction to the case would be changed. If I encounter something similar on the wards as a medical student, the case will hopefully have been referred long ago to child protective services. American burn care is also much more advanced than that available in Guatemala. But I would still want to scream. I hope I never lose that impulse.

(image via Wikipedia)