Isaac stared down the gunman, his veins ablaze with adrenaline. He refused to acknowledge the weapon pointed at his chest. No matter how afraid he maybe, he wouldn’t allow the gunmen the satisfaction of knowing they had any effect on him at all. It was the only way to maintain the upper hand.
“What is it you want from me, exactly?” Isaac’s voice was far more steady than he had expected it to be.
“You can come with us. Our boss wants to speak with you.” The behemoth in the middle spoke like he was grinding granite between his teeth.
“I probably would have considered your request had you made it at the bottom of the mountain. Might help if I had any idea who your boss was. Since I don’t, and you didn’t do me the courtesy of making it convenient for me to say yes, I am inclined to tell you to take a hike.” It was the smug look on his assailant’s face that provided him with the resolve to stand his ground.
“That’s unfortunate. It wasn’t really a request.” The gravel in the man’s voice made Isaac’s skin crawl.
“Since I don’t take orders I guess we have a problem.” Isaac worked to put as much steel into his tone as he could, then turned his back on the men and moved toward Devin and the fire.
Isaac was certain that resistance was not something the three masked intruders expected. Clearly, they were used to obedience, unquestioned, and immediate. The fact they hadn’t taken Devin’s comment seriously would be their undoing. Overconfidence had led to the demise of greater men than these. Isaac knew he had their attention and if they were focused on him then they would not be prepared for whatever Devin had in store for them. He would keep them talking as long as he could.
“Who is your boss, and why can’t he speak for himself? Surely he would be better equipped than the three of you to relay whatever message he has for me.” Isaac let derision saturate every syllable.
“You don’t want to find out how well equipped we are. No one who could speak to our skills is still able to speak,” the smaller, bearded man on the left sneered. His accent was definitely not native. Isaac guessed him to be from the Deep South, possibly Alabama or Georgia, based on the genteel drawl burning with mock civility.
Isaac grinned at them, trying to unsettle them with his flippant attitude, and doing his best to learn as much as he could in the brief moments he had to observe them. The bearded man had a tattoo on the inside of his right forearm. It was barely visible below the cuff of his coat sleeve. Isaac wasn’t certain what it was, but it appeared to come to a point like a blade of some sort. The man was not nearly as imposing as his friend. He appeared lithe and his posture indicated a level of comfort in his own skin that was almost unsettling. Definitely a predator capable of violence.
The third man deprived Isaac of any clues as to his identity. His stature was somewhere between his counterparts. There was no question about his strength, with broad shoulders and thick chest stretching the confines of his camouflage coat. He was completely covered from head to toe. A skull cap, sunglasses, and muffler concealed his head and face. Gloves hid his hands and were tucked into his sleeves. He had not spoken, nor had he moved since settling in the clearing. It was his stillness that was most disquieting for Isaac. It indicated complete self-control, and that was truly terrifying. Isaac could only hope that whatever Devin had planned would give them a chance to escape.
Devin used the time and distraction to accumulate as many weapons as he could without drawing attention to himself. If everything worked out as planned he and Isaac would only have a few moments to take out their attackers without fear of return fire. The bacon continued to sizzle and pop in the skillet. He was grateful for the kind wind that wafted the aroma into the woods. Devin was counting on the idea that the mountain ghost who had crossed their path earlier, was ready to eat again. It had been following them nearly as long as the ghouls now entranced by Isaac’s song and dance. When it smelled the bacon, Devin was sure the big cat would come to investigate. That’s when he and Isaac would be able to make their move. The odds would even out and give them a chance. That was the best he could hope for at this point. He had made due with worse odds in the past. The .45 tucked into the back of his jeans was a comfort, but he would have to draw quickly and aim well. There was no question the men were wearing body armor, leaving extremely limited areas of opportunity when it came to putting them down. Devin harbored no misconceptions about the fact the men would need to be put down if he and Isaac were to survive.
As Isaac continued to engage the gunmen he heard a voice in the back of his mind. “Grace softens hearts.”
He nearly lost his balance at its sound. It was his father’s voice. There was no question. An immediate sense of calm and peace enveloped him.
“I will give you the words. Trust me.”
Isaac made his way back toward the fire. He wanted more time to decide what to do next. He also needed to keep Devin from acting before he could finalize a plan and communicate it to him.
Isaac stepped in front of the fire and toward the Goliath of a man in the center. All three of the men visibly tensed at his approach. He spread his arms to show that he meant no harm.
“I’m actually glad you’re here.” The words had escaped his lips before he knew what he was saying. He could feel an intensity pressing against his mind and swelling in his chest. It was overwhelming, and submitting to the calling was the only option that seemed like it would satisfy the force drawing him in. Isaac took a deep breath and gave up control. When he spoke again, it wasn’t his voice, but his father’s that flowed from his lips.
“Alfred, your daughter is going to need you. When her eyes open you will want to be there.” Isaac looked the giant in the middle full in the face as he spoke. He had no idea how he knew what he did, but the change affected on the man was remarkable.
“What did you just say?” The rumble had turned to a whisper. “What did you just say to me?”
“Ellie is going to need her father when she wakes up. She will need the man you used to be. The man you still are in your heart.”
“How do you know about my daughter? Nobody knows I even have a daughter.”
“Your love for her speaks. I can hear your heart, Alfred. I know that you would do anything for her. What you need to do right now is go. She will be awake by the time you reach her. Don’t let her wait long.”
“Ellie hasn’t opened her eyes in a year.”
“I have healed her. Now go!” With these words, Isaac stretched out his hand with his palm toward Alfred, and Alfred staggered backward and gasped as though he had been struck, his eyes glazed over.
“I can see her,” he sobbed, “How are you doing this?!”
“All things are possible through Christ, who gives me strength.”
“But I haven’t believed in a long time.”
“You planted your mustard seed, and He is always faithful, even when we aren’t.”
Alfred’s companions were clearly becoming agitated by his behavior. They edged toward him, keeping their guns trained on Isaac all the while.
“Stop this!” the smaller man snarled. “Release him!”
“Come Leeroy, I tell you truly, your anger only serves to do you harm.” Isaac spoke with an ancient authority. “Leave that life. Return to me.”
“Who do you think you are?” Leeroy sneered at him. “I’ve never belonged to you.”
Isaac raised his other hand to Leeroy and the man fell to his knees.
“I have known you all the days of your life. In your darkest hours of grief and loss, whenever you called upon me, I have been there to comfort you. You have felt my presence. Even though you deny me now, I hear the prayers of your mother and stand here with you, calling you home.”
As sobs racked Leeroy’s body, visions only he could see shattering the barriers of his heart, Isaac turned his gaze to the third gunman. The man had watched Leeroy succumb to Isaac’s words, seemingly impassive. Without a word, he calmly took aim at Isaac and squeezed the trigger of his weapon.
Check out all the chapters of The Mountain by Duane Deats