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INTRODUCTIONSome have said that death is an invisible pattern, holding no definitive course or boundary, showing no bias, no profile or indicator, regardless of science, medicine, or statistics. The soldier, the police officer, the firefighter, the priest, the paramedic, and the doctor, who are often first to see death, are constantly reminded that there is no explanation of why it occurs. Many confuse the question of why death occurs with the question of how death occurs, and although the question of how is most often answered, why is never really satisfied. But perhaps there is an answer. Perhaps there is a reason. The truth is often too much for many of us to see or understand. Still, there may be those who find the answer and don't even know it.
Alan's mind balked at the thought of bringing home the charred remains of Antonio Rossi, his fellow Marine.
Why did this happen? he wondered, staring out the window of the plane. How will I explain to the family of this brave warrior that his death came at the hands of those he trusted most?
Adrift in sleep, Alan saw again a brilliant flash of light just before the thunderous explosion threw him from the armored personnel carrier. Dazed, he rushed back to the blazing pile of molten metal and pulled away the crumpled remains of the heavy door. To his horror he saw a charred, blackened body on the ground before him.
'No, no. Rossi…no, this can't be!' Alan knelt down and began to cry, overtaken with tremendous grief at the loss of another young hero.
Ash and smoke billowing around him, Alan barely noticed the hand on his left shoulder. He looked up and saw another Marine standing over him. From the insignia on his collar, Alan recognized him as his company commander.
He continued to cry. 'He's gonewhy was it him and not me?' Alan shook his head from side to side in disbelief, tears rolling down his cheeks to be consumed by the sand below. The captain lowered himself to one knee, keeping his hand on Alan's shoulder. 'Corporal Crane, that's not your friend.'
Alan tore his gaze from the charred remains as realization dawned on him.
'The body you see before you…is yours.'
Alan awoke from the haunting dream with the captain's words still echoing in his mind. Once again, he looked out the window of the plane admiring the sunbeams that illuminated the clouds below and wondered where life's path would take him next. He seemed destined to deal with sorrow without ever understanding why that task had been appointed to him. He alone was meant to survive and comfort. He alone was tasked with making the reality of death less painful. But he often wondered: was he really alone?
CHAPTER ONEMarine Corporal Alan Crane stared at the dull tile floor of the chapel's vestibule. He pulled a small coin purse from his pocket and removed the rosary. Fingering its black, marblelike stones, he admired the silver cross that dangled from the end.
'What's that?' asked a voice. Alan looked up to see Lance Corporal Mark Jameson sitting on a short wooden bench on the other side of the room.
'A gift,' Alan replied. 'Something that was given to me a long time ago by a very close friend when we were kids.'
'I had a friend named Bobby who used to call me from time to timeknown him since we were four years old. Haven't heard from him since he went to jail about a year ago. I hope your friend made out better than mine.'
'No,' Alan replied. 'He's dead.'
Jameson dropped his gaze. Alan could tell by the look on his face that he wanted to say something sympathetic but had thought better of it.
The rosary caught the light and the silver cross flashed. Like a snowflake, Alan thought, remembering that cold winter day so long ago.
Snow fell on the already icy ground as Alan followed his father across the top of the hill that everyone in their town used for sledding. Excitement surged through him as he glanced down at the fresh red paint on the runners of his new sled. The sled wasn't actually newhis father had found it at a garage sale and probably only paid a dollar or two for it. But it felt new to Alan and that was all that mattered.
Alan had inherited most of his father's physical features, including his dark brown hair and gleaming blue eyes. His calm and patient manner had come from his mother, who stayed at home and took care of Alan, his brother, and two sisters. They all lived in a somewhat cramped row home with three bedrooms; Grandma Crane occupied one of the rooms and the four kids occupied another.
His father had grown up extremely poor. Grandma Crane had been forced to sign custody of him over to the State of New Jersey to get him enrolled in a military school. After graduation he worked as a laborer for a scrap iron and steel company, or, as his father commonly referred to it, a junkyard. Thomas Crane always stressed the importance of family sticking together; Alan guessed that this was because he had been raised by an institution and knew the importance of family bonds.
Alan was thinking about his family when he noticed that his father was a good distance in front of him. As he hurried to catch up, he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see his friend Tommy McKelvy smiling from ear to ear.
'Take me for a ride on your sled, Alan. Please,' he added. 'Let's see how fast we can go.'
Tommy was a year younger than Alan and came from a wealthy family. He was extremely intelligent and did well in school. At times Alan envied him; Tommy had the world in his pocket. Even though Tommy had everything going for him he was always friendly toward Alan and even seemed to look up to him.
'I have to catch up to my dad,' said Alan. 'Maybe later.'
'Come on,' Tommy whined. 'Just one ride.'
Alan let out a sigh. He could no longer see his father. Reluctantly he said, 'Okay, one quick ride. I'll catch up with my dad at the bottom of the hill.'
Tommy's smile grew even wider. 'Cool, let's go!'
Alan set the sled down and Tommy lay flat on his stomach and let his feet dangle off the back. Alan lay down on top of him and the two kicked off from the flat crest of the hill. As the two boys whisked down the icy surface they picked up speed. Tommy, steering with the wooden slat at the front portion of the sled, looked up occasionally to adjust their course.
Alan enjoyed the cool sensation of the winter air rushing by, blowing at the tattered scarf draped around his neck. They were sledding on part of the hill where no one else had been. The snow beneath them was fresh and new. Like my sled, Alan thought happily.
As they rushed over the frozen ground, Tommy turned the slat to the left, aligning the sled with a pathway across the narrow bridge that traversed the hollow ravine at the bottom of the hill. Alan felt the back end of the sled beginning to slide out from under them. A slight sensation of fear overtook him as they slid sideways. He was just about to yell when Tommy corrected the slat, putting them back on track.
The newly fallen snow burst into clouds ahead of them, making it hard to see. The sled evened out and Tommy hung his head downward for a moment to clear his eyes. They were far off course, heading for a small stone building that served to house the park guards and their horses.
'Go farther left again!' Alan yelled to Tommy.
The bridge was now very close. They needed to turn sharply if they were going to make it. Alan reached down and grabbed the end of the steering slat, attempting to turn it, but his hands slipped and the sled jerked off course. They hit a slick patch of ice and the sled picked up speed. Alan opened his mouth to yell but the bitter, cold wind blasted the back of his throat, preventing any noise from escaping. The speed of the sled blurred their surroundings. It was dizzying. Suddenly the stone wall of the building loomed before them, terrifyingly close. A horrible sound, like cracking tree branches, was the last thing Alan heard.
©2011. Chris Digiuseppi and Mike Force. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Light Bringer. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442