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ISBN: 9781608448234
224 pages

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Excerpt from the Book

Chapter 1

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
John 3:8

The graceful bare limbs of the trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains stood in stark, wintry elegance the day the secret was revealed. Like the lovely, naked forest stripped of its leafy mantle, the truth, if only in part, was exposed, adorned solely by its own harsh reality. Most who heard the news would not, could not, believe it as fact. It was, after all, an unbelievable story. Many Scotch-Irish fundamentalists, Southwest Virginia mountain people, shook their heads somberly, unmoved in detached resignation. Most were certain that their God, full of wrath and fury, had intervened, sending swift and terrible retribution for unpardonable sin. But a few introspective souls realized that truth, like an actress in the footlights, sometimes masquerades as illusion. They knew too that truth’s sweet cousin, illusion, moves forever in murky twilight, always parading as truth.

It was one month to the day past Christmas, bleak and bitterly cold, in the late afternoon darkness of January 1910. The swirling Southwest Virginia winds of Mount Rogers and White Top whipped about unpredictably, angrily. Then, raging downward in frigid vengeance, they raced unrestrained through the gaps and across the knobby lowlands, but when they reached the town, they mellowed like weary travelers mesmerized by a long journey. Now, dissipated by their own fury, more glacial breeze than fierce highland wind, they brushed against icy windowpanes, moaning in the darkness. They called softly to those people who chose to hear, but call was all they did. The winds move where they please and whisper to whom they choose, but it is left to the souls of those who hear to give language to the wind.

The secret was revealed in winter before the earth’s renewal, but, as always, it followed its own course, eventually turning winter to spring.

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple.”
Proverbs 1:22

On a Saturday afternoon in late May of 1908, eight King College boys stood huddled together on the platform, looking westward waiting for the marvel of the age, a magnificent black Norfolk and Western steam engine. Finally, they saw it, barely visible as a speck of light in the distance. As if mesmerized, all stood immobile, gazing down the tracks like cadets on a parade ground. Their destination, Martha Washington College, “a finishing school in Abingdon for fine young ladies,” was fifteen miles away. As always with the arrogance and madness of masculine youth, they fed on themselves, convinced that their station in life existed only for their own glorification. For all the young men but one, the abandonment and madness were heightened because their school year was drawing to a close.

The conforming rebels were drawn to the quest simply by the adventure itself, by the sheer excitement of rail travel and by the compelling force of their lives, churning testosterone. Because that condition eradicated rational intellect, none could see that their goal was as obvious and transparent as the retractable isinglass curtains on the carriages of the day.

As the train came to an elongated stop, twenty-two-year-old Bentley Thompson pulled himself up the steps into a coach. He was a few years older than the others, but because of his boyish good looks and small stature, no one noticed. At five feet eight inches, the shortest of the group, he also stood apart in another way. He was clearly the best turned out, the best dressed. His pale blue eyes, incapable, it seemed, of true intensity and his light brown hair cast him more like a prep school boy. Bentley, ironically, had recently dropped out of college to work full-time at J. S. Simpson’s, the best clothing store in Bristol. He took courses from time to time working toward an accounting degree. A natural salesman perfectly suited for the clothing business, Bentley kept a significant following from the college crowd. Although he did not have a close friend, he was popular and well liked. His engaging personality and quick sense of humor allowed the others to forgive him for a subtle but pervasive arrogance.

As the train jerked forward, Bentley sat beside Big Jim Hoggard, a young man of six feet four and two hundred forty pounds. Hoggard’s thick black mane of wild, uncombed hair flew as he threw his head back, roaring with laughter at “The Bent.” Hoggard’s outrageously full mustache twitched as he grinned at his traveling partner. His deep-set eyes, dark as small pieces of coal, twinkled under thick, unruly eyebrows, while his clothes failed to conform to his gargantuan hulk. His rumpled appearance seemed worse in contrast to the immaculate Bentley. The antithesis of Bentley in another way, Big Jim possessed a sweet disposition and an unaffected and simplistic approach to life. He remained an academic freshman after two years at college, two years during which he had struggled and applied his meager mental resources to their fullest. A happy person, Hoggard took playful delight in feigning a sinister disposition to intimidate friends and strangers alike with his dark, imposing looks; but those who knew him well realized that occasionally his frightening threats were legitimate. At first the giant had a limitless reservoir for alcohol, drinking for hours; yet, sometimes he reached a dark threshold in which he would sit, eyes glazed, until his anger burst forth, unleashed by the slightest provocation, real or imagined. In a flash the dark shadow of his soul could erupt, turning the simple boy into a menacing man, a danger to anybody. His friends were thankful that the metamorphosis occurred rarely. All who witnessed the profound change feared the big man, knowing that the possibility of his madness always loomed darkly in the background.