Chap. 1—White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

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ONE

Revelation 6:1–2. 1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” 2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

“What is that?” Sarah Van Dam whispered to herself as she stared off into the distant watercolor sunset. Mixed among a smear of peach and rose-colored clouds was a small blue dot. She leaned forward toward the pickup’s steering wheel as if doing so would bring the orb into better focus. Could it be a big balloon, one of those that car dealerships sometimes raised high into the sky to draw attention to their latest sale? Not likely, she thought, it was too high and too still. Maybe it was a bright blue star or a Halloween prank; it was that time of year after all. The highway curved. A long line of roadside poplar and elm trees began to obscure the object until it was no longer visible.

Sarah sat alone in the cab of her father’s old Dodge pickup. She had inherited it upon his death several months ago after he had died of lung cancer; surprisingly the smell of stale cigarette smoke still filled the cab. It was no wonder that this disease overtook his body; the murder of her mother and the lifelong companion of her father came at a high cost. It tore the family apart. Except for her two sons, Willis and Georgie, Sarah was alone.

She continued her drive home to West Michigan, the blueberry capital of the world. Before fields of blueberry bushes stretched across Lake Michigan’s countryside, there stood mighty Grand Junction Oaks, Walnut trees, and pines. Old-timers would grumble at how the blueberry industry destroyed the pristine landscape. Now it was Sarah’s home.

Dropping her teenage sons off at her ex-husband’s house was difficult. Larry Sallo had been convicted of domestic violence a few years back. Not only was he physically abusive to Sarah, but he was also mentally abusive. Lies would roll off his serpent tongue with such ease and persuasiveness that any remaining family Sarah had turned against her in support of Larry. Someday, she thought, Larry would get what was coming to him.

Sarah’s mind wandered between her kids and that strange blue light as she drove the hundred-mile trek back home; a distance that enabled her to start fresh, away from the people and places she knew.

Before long she was turning onto her long gravel driveway. She followed it a quarter-mile into the woods along a walnut tree ridge until it met her blue-gray colonial home. As she parked next to the side door, her Labrador-German Sheppard mix ran up to greet her.

“Hey, Jibber,” Sarah said, patting her on the top of the head. Jibber’s tail wagged enthusiastically as if Sarah had been gone for eons.

She opened the red steel door; Jibber wasted no time pushing her way in between Sarah’s legs and the doorjamb. “Slow down, girl!”

Sarah took her shoes off in the mudroom, hung the keys on a hook by the phone, and walked to the kitchen where Jibber was waiting, sitting with its tail brushing this way and that, as if sweeping dust on the hardwood floor. She looked briefly at her calendar notes on the refrigerator door before opening it and taking out a cold can of beer.

She grabbed a bag of salty potato chips from the cupboard and went upstairs to her bedroom, Jibber right behind her. “What’s gotten into you?”

Leaning back on the large overstuffed pillow that lay against the headboard of her canopy bed she began searching through the blankets for the TV’s remote control. Finding it rolled up in her quilted bedspread, she turned on the television and took a swallow of the beer’s cold bitterness.

As she was reaching for the laptop next to her in bed, a news broadcaster interrupted the laughter of a sitcom, on the local Kalamazoo channel.

Buttoning his suit jacket and adjusting his earpiece as he rolled his chair in close behind the broadcast desk, he spoke. “We are interrupting your current programming to bring you this important update. The brightest and most intense Aurora Borealis is currently taking place. This unexpected event, also known as the Northern Lights, can be seen as an undulating red and blue light show. Meteorologists report that there is nothing to be alarmed about, but they are looking into what is causing this quickly developing and exceptional phenomenon.”

Sarah watched as the reporter paused and turned in his seat while a director with a headset approached him, pushing a wheeled desk chair. He spoke quietly in the newscaster’s ear before walking back off camera.

The newscaster cleared his throat as the camera panned out. A middle-aged man, looking as though his game of golf was just interrupted, approached and sat next to the newsman. A young stagehand with jeans and a Mohawk placed a microphone on the man’s yellow polo shirt and then walked quickly off camera.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is meteorologist Andy Wilkins from Western Michigan University.” The newscaster turned toward the slouching man. “How are you?”

The meteorologist paused, hesitating as if he was afraid of the camera, and then said, “I’m fine, thank you.”

“What is causing these spectacular Northern Lights?” the newscaster asked, staring at the camera-shy man.

The meteorologist looked at the people around the camera, took a drink of the water that had been placed in front of him and turned toward the newscaster. “Charged particles from our Sun’s solar wind produce an aurora or light emission in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The magnetic field of the Sun’s solar wind collides with Earth’s magnetic field, and when conditions are favorable, we get a light show, also known as a geomagnetic storm.”

“I’ve never seen a storm this bright and intense, Mr. Wilkins. Would you say this one is setting a record for us here in Michigan?”

“Please, call me Andy,” he said, looking no more relaxed than when he first walked on the set. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this Aurora beats the great geomagnetic storm of 1859.”

“Andy, should we be worried? Are we in any danger?”

He shrugged. “In folklore, it’s believed that the Northern Lights are an omen foretelling disasters such as war or famine.” Drawing in the side of his mouth, he said, “But I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Although, ham radio operators may have trouble communicating because auroras can affect some radio wave frequencies.”

The newscaster let out a breath, smiled and said, “I’m sure we’re all relieved to hear that, except for the ham radio operators.” Turning forward toward the camera, he said, “Stay tuned to Channel 3 for further updates.”

Programming then switched to a Halloween Superstore commercial. Sarah got out of bed as an image of ugly rats flashed on the screen. “Come on, Jibber, let’s go outside and check this out.” She put on her worn clogs and motioned for the dog to follow her.

Sarah went downstairs, out the front door, and onto the front porch. She crossed her arms over her chest to ward off the chilly evening air as she walked to the north end and leaned against the railing. She did not need to have a clear view of the night sky, free of treetops, to notice that the sky was bright with red hues that seemed to squirm far overhead as if alive.

“Wow, look at that, Jibber,” Sarah said, pointing toward the mysterious rose glow as she knelt down to hug her faithful companion. “It’s so bright I can see deep into the woods.”

Jibber broke away from Sarah and ran into the yard where she began to pace and whine. A blush of pink was cast onto Jibber’s black coat as Sarah followed the dog into the dewy grass. “What’s wrong, Jibber?”

Sarah knew it was not normal for the Northern Lights to look this twisted and intense as if it was searing like a steak on the grill. An eerie feeling came over her as her skin began to tingle, and the hairs on her arms began to stand up, not from the cold air, but from what felt like static electricity. She looked straight up at the ribbons of red light, dancing like curtains blowing in the wind.

“This isn’t right, there’s something terribly wrong about this,” Sarah said as she grabbed Jibber’s collar, causing the dog tags to clink together. “Let’s get inside.”

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