No one believes young Tommy when he tells the story of how he was saved from drowning by the hand of his dead father. Reiko is a girl living in Japan when she is saved from certain death in a blazing barn by mysterious spiritual forces. Years later, Reiko travels to America, where she meets Tommy and soon discovers they have more in common than just the love they share.
Since the day his father pulled him to the shore, Tommy has known he was saved for a special reason. Now, he is waiting to find out why. Reiko barely remembers anything from the day when her life was spared, but her father secretly hopes the gods will eventually reveal their plans for her. But when Tommy and Reiko's romance is interrupted by a devastating bus crash that once again finds them miraculously protected, their life's journey take an unexpected turn that leads them to a cult hidden deep within a forest.
With a future threatened by a dangerous sociopath who will stop at nothing to have Reiko for himself, Tommy must prove to Reiko that his love for her is real-before it is too late.
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By ALLAN YASHIN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Allan Yashin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHIRTY YEARS LATER
Of course, no one believed young Tommy when he told them he had been saved from drowning by his dead father, Cal. But Tommy insisted that was what really happened on the day he went to the park for a picnic with his mother.
Tommy and his mother Lucinda, often came to this park on the outskirts of Seattle. They packed Tommy's favorite peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches that he had been eating for lunch every day for the past two school years. Lucinda brought yogurt for herself; since they lived a half hour drive from the park it was still cool by the time they started to eat. They spread their food out on Tommy's old bedspread that was now too small for the "grown-up" bed Tommy had graduated to when he turned nine this year. He still loved to look at the embroidered pictures of firemen and policemen going about their duties on his old bedspread.
Lucinda always responded warmly to the memories of Tommy telling her as a young child, "Mom, that's goina be me when I grow up. I wanna be helping people when they in trouble." Lucinda understood what it was like to be in trouble and then having no one who could really help. Maybe Tommy would make a difference in someone's life one day. Till then, he made a huge difference in her life.
After they finished their lunch, Lucinda would lean against a tree, reading a paperback mystery she had taken out from the library, while Tommy explored the banks of the stream that stretched alongside the picnic meadow. His science teacher had told the class that since it was the beginning of spring it would be a good time to look for tadpoles. Tommy had brought a net and a glass jar to the park and planned to bring the tadpoles he caught into school the next day.
But the stream was running fairly quickly and deep from the winter runoff and Tommy couldn't spot any tadpoles in the rushing water. He moved further and further downstream hoping to find something to catch with his net.
Lucinda was used to Tommy exploring the park so she didn't look up from her book. If she had, she would have noticed that Tommy had followed the stream deeper into the wooded area behind a thick growth of trees.
He walked bent over, peering into the stream until finally he spotted something. In the middle of the stream, protected by a near circle of large rocks, Tommy saw a pool of calmer water. Despite the shade caused by the overhanging branches, he thought he saw a school of tadpoles. He stepped out onto one of the rocks in the center of the stream, but the rock was slippery. As he tried to bring his other foot over onto the rock he fell into the water.
The water was far colder and deeper than Tommy would have imagined. He began to shiver as he reached out to grab hold of one of the rocks but the swift water started to carry him downstream. Tommy realized that he was in big trouble. His movements became more frantic as he splashed and turned towards shore hoping to be able to pull himself out. But his head smashed into a rock that jutted out of the stream and he started to go down. He couldn't keep his head above water and closed his eyes as he went under for the second time. Even as this was happening, Tommy thought of his mother reading under the tree and wondered if she would ever find him.
And then a hand with a rocking horse tattooed on it reached out for Tommy. He was grabbed by the collar and pulled gently out of the water and carried to the side of the stream. Tommy lay there panting, not thinking... just feeling the solid ground supporting him. He turned and looked up to see the face of the man who had saved him, just as his rescuer walked away and back into the woods.
Lucinda walked along the stream calling Tommy's name. When he didn't answer she broke into a run looking for signs of him on either side of the water. She found him standing at the side of the stream staring out toward the woods. As she got closer she realized that he was soaking wet. She dropped to one knee and turned Tommy so that she could look into his eyes. "My God, Tommy! What happened?"
The boy stared back at his mother. Despite what he had been through he was remarkably calm. "I was looking for tadpoles and I fell in the water. But I'm O.K. He saved me."
"Saved you! Who saved you?"
"It was Dad. Dad saved me."
"So, please sit down while I take a look at your file, Miss Benson. Hmm, so let me see, Lucinda. Is it alright if I call you Lucinda?"
"That's fine, Officer Washington."
"So, you put in a Missing-Person report on your husband, Cal, about two weeks ago."
"That's right, but he's not my husband. He's the father of my child, Tommy. We were living together until a year ago but we never got married."
"Not so unusual a story these days, is it, Lucinda? And he just disappeared one day?"
"Not exactly; we were having problems and we'd talked about the possibility of us separating for awhile."
"But you said that was a year ago. Why'd you wait till now to put in a Missing-Person?"
"It was better for us, Tommy and me, that he was gone. It all goes back to Cal's father. He was dead before I met Cal, but he gave Cal this notion that we're each responsible for helping other people when they're in trouble. That's a nice concept, but I always thought your biggest responsibility should be to your own family first. Cal seemed to have a lot of trouble living his life that way. Instead, he involved himself with a group of marginal-type people. Drugs were a big part of what was going on. He was trying to help them, said it was his calling, but things got out of control. When they started to use our house as a meeting place, with Tommy sleeping upstairs, well that was more than I could tolerate."
"I can understand you feeling that way. So what made you change your mind two weeks ago?"
"I saw Cal ... I mean Tommy saw him ... in the woods, down by the park. Tommy said he pulled him out of the water, maybe saved him from drowning. I guess he's still around. Maybe he does care about us. I'm worried about him. And I'm also scared that he's following us ... I thought that it's time I let you try to find him and maybe he can get some help."
"You did the right thing, Lucinda. But the trace on him just came back and whoever that was who helped your son in the park, it wasn't him. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but our records show that Tommy's father died of an overdose six months ago."
Chapter TwoThe wind was howling so fiercely that Reiko had to push against the front door of her home with all of the force in her small body in order to shove it open so that she could walk out into the swirling snow.
It was only six in the morning and still dark in the northern mountains of Japan, but Reiko needed to do one important chore before the school bus came to pick her up in an hour. The family cow, Mioshi, had acted strangely yesterday, refusing to leave the barn to graze, and Reiko wanted to see if she could find the reason. The cow was too old to produce much milk and Reiko knew that her mother only kept the Mioshi because Reiko had always been attached to it. And now, Reiko was the only one in the family who could approach the cow without fear of being butted or kicked.
Reiko trudged over the path that led to the wooden barn 100 feet away from her home. Now that she was nine years old she was strong enough to lift up the heavy log that kept the barn door closed. She closed the door behind her and even though it was still dark in the barn, she managed to see the cow standing in her stall.
Mioshi mooed when she saw Reiko and came to the front of the stall to have her head rubbed. When Reiko saw the cow was limping she decided that she would have to get a good look at the cow's foot. She retrieved the oil lantern always kept in the corner of the barn, lit it, and walked into the stall.
Normally, Reiko's father or older brother would have been there to help her, but early this morning they had left from their farm on the outskirts of Kasagi to drive their old truck to the farmers market in Kyoto to sell their crop of snow cabbage, and they wouldn't be back until later that day. So Reiko carefully put the lantern on the floor of the stall and walked closer to her cow. Reiko made the kind of cooing noises you might normally make to a young baby and gently rubbed the cow's head and patted her flanks.
Reiko bent down and slowly lifted the cow's left rear leg and saw what was causing the problem. In the light from the lantern she was able to see a large nail protruding from the bottom of the hoof. Reiko had seen her father remove similar things from the cow on many occasions, so she knew just what to do. She went to the tool box kept in the barn and selected the pair of pliers her father used. She went back to the stall and again gently lifted the cow's leg until she could see the nail. The cow mooed but let Reiko do what was necessary.
Reiko got a grip on the nail with the pliers but when she tugged she realized the nail was embedded more deeply that she had thought. Reiko took a tighter grip on the pliers and yanked on the nail as hard as she could. The nail came free, but Mioshi bellowed in pain and kicked back with her leg. Reiko was knocked backward and landed on the lantern. She quickly got to her feet but in seconds the straw in the stall was ablaze. Almost instantly, the fire spread to the rest of the barn. The flames climbed upward as they consumed the old wooden framework of the barn.
Reiko wouldn't leave the burning barn without Mioshi, but thick smoke was filling the barn and she was unable to pull the frenzied cow from her stall. Reiko finally decided that she couldn't save her cow but had to get out of the barn herself.
But the path to the door was blocked by a wall of flames. She ran towards a window but a wooden beam from the ceiling crashed to the floor and she couldn't get through. She started to cough and gag as the smoke filled her lungs. She remembered that in a fire the fresher air was always at the bottom so she lay down on a patch of ground that wasn't on fire yet. The heat and smoke burned her eyes, she closed them and lay there listening to the sounds of the fire crackling and roaring around her and the wild mooing of her cow as it ran back and forth in the stall.
As the air filled with smoke Reiko tried to hold her breath as long as she could, but each time she was forced to inhale she took in more and more smoke, her nostrils burning from the heat of the air. Even though her eyes were closed her head started to swim. She strained to remain conscious despite the intense heat surrounding her. She heard Mioshi collapse on the ground near her. And then in a few seconds she felt and heard nothing at all.
Reiko's father saw the smoke in the sky as he rounded the last bend in the road leading to his farm. He pushed his old truck to its maximum speed and jumped to the ground as soon as he reached his driveway. His son was already crying as he ran after his father to the barn. They found Reiko's mother kneeling in the snow, her head in her hands, sobbing. The barn had collapsed in on itself, a wreck of smoldering wood. Reiko's father stared at what once had been his barn. Then he placed his hand on his wife's shoulder. Trying to comfort her, he told her that the barn was old anyway. It was time for a new one.
She didn't look up at him, but only pointed towards the barn and said one word, "Reiko!" Reiko's father charged into the smoke-filled barn, calling Reiko's name as he pushed his way past the barn's wooden supports now lying at odd angles on the blackened floor. He saw nothing but burned wood and random patches of still-burning hay.
He feverishly searched for any sign of Reiko and then noticed a charred mound in a corner where the stall once had been. He stepped over fallen beams and approached the body of Reiko's cow. Reiko's father had difficulty breathing in the smoke-filled air, he stopped to put his hands on his knees and lower his head. Then he saw Reiko's foot sticking out from under the cow's body. Shoving with all his strength, he managed to roll the Mioshi over and there he saw his daughter lying on the burned straw.
Reiko's father gently picked up her limp body and carried her out into the cold morning air. He was not the type of person who gave himself permission to give in to his emotions, but as he carried Reiko's body over to his wife and son, tears filled the creases in his weathered face.
And then Reiko opened her eyes and gasped for air. She hugged her father tightly and, between coughs, managed to say, "Mioshi, Mioshi, where is she?"
Five minutes later, Reiko's breathing had returned to normal and as her mother gently washed the soot from her face, she looked beseechingly at her father. "Please let me see Mioshi, father. I must help her."
"I wish I could tell you something different, my daughter, but your cow has perished in the fire. It is too late for her."
"Then let me say goodbye to my cow, father. Please let me do that!"
Reluctantly, Reiko's father carefully led her back through the smoldering ruins of the barn. When they reached Mioshi's body, Reiko's father placed his arm on her slender shoulder. "See, her body is still. The lungs are filled with smoke. There is nothing that can be done."
Reiko knelt down and petted Mioshi's head. She leaned over and kissed the cow on its forehead, then stood and took her father's hand and they began to walk out of the barn. But then they heard a noise behind them and they turned to see Mioshi's tail thumping back and forth against the burned hay. A moment later she struggled to her feet and then slowly walked over to Reiko and pressed her big head against Reiko's chest.
Chapter ThreeSandor had to take his little brother Billy with him whenever he went out to play. He hated having to do this. He stood in the doorway of his home and complained to his mother, "I'm nine years old. None of the other kids my age have to drag along their little brother when they go out."
"Don't tell me about the other kids. It's ok with their moms if they sit home and stare at the tube all day. Not me! If you're going out in the fresh air to have fun, Billy's going along too. So, if you're not taking him with you, get your rear end in here and close that door."
Sandor grabbed his little brother's hand, pulled him out the front door, and started the mile walk to the park. Hiding the hurt that he felt because his big brother hated to go out with him, Billy started to taunt Sandor, "Mommy made you take me. Mommy made you take me!"
Sandor squeezed his brother's hand until Billy winced in pain. "Shut up, you little jerk, or I'll leave you out here!"
"You can't leave me. I'm only four years old. You be in big trouble if you leave me."
They walked in silence for a while, Sandor mulling over all the injustices he had to endure at the hands of his mother. And as usual, his thoughts returned to an even bigger irritant than his little brother. It was his very name. All the kids made fun of him.
"Sandor, who the hell ever heard of the name Sandor?"
"Here comes the sandy door."
"Get the vacuum cleaner; it's getting Sandor in here."
They were all so stupid, but he hated to hear them anyway.
Why couldn't his mother have given him an ordinary name, one that nobody would ever notice as being different? He looked at his brother and thought, "I get Sandor and she calls him Billy. Just how not fair is that!" And he gave his little brother's hand an extra-hard squeeze.
His mother always told him "You should be proud of the name Sandor. It was the name of your father's great-great-grandfather and he was a general during the Civil War." Sandor's mouth twisted in an ugly grimace as he thought to himself, "Who gives one big crap about the Civil War or my father! When the hell's the last time I saw him or he even called me? Like I bet he doesn't even know I'm nine years old already!"
Billy broke the silence between them by asking, "Are we get there soon? I'm tired of walking."
"Then you shoulda stayed home with your Mom-my. Come on! We'll be there in a coupla minutes."
The land was so flat in this part of Idaho that Sandor could see the park about a quarter of a mile off in the distance. The railroad tracks and a few ugly scrub trees were the only things that caught his eye as he looked across the windblown trail that led to the playground.
Excerpted from Protected by ALLAN YASHIN Copyright © 2011 by Allan Yashin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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