Sun, Stand Still: Chapter Two

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective
17 min readMar 20, 2021

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Chapter One available here

“Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” — John 11:3

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. — John 19:26–27

Stylized Taurus Zodiac symbol

Wednesday March 20, 2019

Mikaela’s phone was out, and she had been showing Kendra photos from home for the past several minutes. Kendra was doing her best to stay focused on the conversation, but the nagging sensation that she should know the woman across the diner from her was driving her insane. Worse, she was blatantly staring.

“And this is the photo that we took moments before my mom was decapitated by Emperor Palpatine under the auspices of Order 66” she said plainly and calmly, gesturing to the photo of herself and her mother, whose hair still held every bit of red as it did the moment she met her sister in law twenty years earlier. “They just cut her head off right there. It was terrible. They tried to use it as a basketball. Just atrocious.”

“I’m so sorry.” Kendra said, snapping back into the moment.

“What’s with you?” Mickey asked. “Where are you going? You need a beer? A coffee? A bagel?”

No, thought Kendra. I need to figure out where I know this lady from.

Sunday, March 20, 1999

After the shining lights of New Wine turned off for the day, there was a set liturgy for the Jones family, as unchangeable as the red letters of the Bible. There was the sermon, communion, altar call and baptism time. Once the service was over, though, there was also visiting hour. Scott’s father always said it was just as important for the congregation as any other part of the liturgy, and for an introvert like Scott, it could be hell if you didn’t know which corner to crawl into.

The minis and all of the other grade-schoolers who found themselves in the sanctuary for the hour after the service would use the space as their obstacle course, running between rows of chairs or army crawling under them. Monica, book under her arm, always stopped by the front of the stage to give her father the requisite peck on the cheek. Once that was off her checklist, however, she’d barrel over anyone between her and the Upper Room, the dimly lit upstairs youth room where all the moodiest church kids would plop onto a pleather sofa and read in peace and quiet.

After the service, Scott found his own spot, climbing up onto the stage. He had meant to talk to his father first, but the Reverend was deep in a conversation with Mrs. Jennings, and by the way the old widow was holding his father’s elbow, it would be a long talk.

“Sounded terrible, Sully.” Scott shouted to the man, who was bent over the piano talking to Jude.

Sully looked up and cracked an ice-thawing grin. “How the hell would you know, junior? Last time I checked those ears of yours were busted up. It’s the only excuse for that awful crap you keep putting out.”

Scott pulled the older man into a tight hug. “It’s good to see you, man.”

“Good to see you too, rock star.” Sully said. “Didn’t Jude sound good?”

“Oh, stop, Sul.” Jude said, with an exaggerated wave.

“She sounded amazing.” Scott echoed. “Life-changing. I got chills, Sully.”

“I know where you live.” Jude said, giving him a deadpan look and striking a frightening minor chord on the piano. “Stop talking and grab something to play with.”

“Yes, Aunt Jude.”

This time he took the guitar that Sully offered him and sat in the chair beside the piano that Ron, the bassist, had occupied during the service.

“What’re we doing today, Sul?” Jude asked Sully, who smiled and answered the question responded with a descending blues lick, leading them into a simple twelve-bar tune.

“Don called again yesterday.” Jude said to Scott with a knowing look.

Scott’s mouth made a thin line and he nodded.

“How’s Donnie doing?” Sully asked, bending a string. “Ain’t seen him in a minute.”

“He’s good, I think.” Scott answered, sliding back into a chopping rhythm.

“You think your manager’s good?” Sully prodded. “Ain’t you supposed to be a little more in touch with the dude that’s running your life?”

“I’m just taking some time off. I need a break.”

“Kid, you can’t leave that guy hanging.”

“Call him back.” Jude said gently, hitting a few heavy chords for emphasis. “He’s filling up our answering machine.”

“I will, jeeze.”

The tune repeated a few times, with Sully and Jude each taking a round to solo while the other two musicians supported them. Scott’s turn came, and he crept into the song’s spotlight with a languorous solo. Sully took the rhythm back to the forefront as he ended, and kicked Scott’s foot.

“How’s Mrs. Reverend?”

Scott shrugged, and looked to Jude. “She’d know better than me. Still not really talking. What’s with the third degree, man?”

At the end of the twelve bars, Jude resolved the tune with a calm landing and closed the lid of the piano. “I’m starting to get a little hungry, boys. Why don’t we call it a day?”

Scott handed Sully his guitar back, and the man gently took him by the shoulder. “Sorry, junior. Not trying to upset you or anything, I just worry about you all.”

Scott smiled at the man. “You’re good, Sul.”

“Do we get you for a while?” Sully asked, placing the guitars in their cases and walking them to the closet.

“Who knows?” Scott said. “Don’s the schedule keeper.”

Sully nodded. “Well, I’m always thinking of you, kid. Real proud of you. If you’re here next week, come back up.”

“I always do.” Scott said with a smile and followed Jude down to his Father.

Clayton Jones was finally free of his flock, standing to the side of the stage in the crook of the sound booth, jotting down notes. Away from the lights of the stage he looked younger, more alive. His jacket was off and slung across a chair, and his sleeves were rolled up, showing the strong forearms that had held four children and carried a flock.

“You ready to go to lunch?” Jude asked, squaring up to the Reverend and lifting up his jacket.

“I am.” He said with a beatific grin. “Mrs. Jennings needed a little extra time this morning, but we’re done now. Beautiful playing, Judee.”

“Thanks, Clay.” She said, pushing the jacket into his chest. “Seriously, I’m starving, though. And the minis have got to be out of their minds by now. Scott, can you grab ‘em?”

“Rock paper scissors for it.” Scott said, drawing a grin from his father. “Loser chases down the minis, winner grabs Monica.”

Jude rolled her eyes and played anyway, losing to scissors. “Fine, just hurry up.”

“I think I’ll have a while.” Scott said, walking away. “Good luck wrangling the little demons!”

The Upper Room, that haven of barely sewn-together haggard tapestries and splatter-painted walls, was all but empty as Scott arrived, plopping down onto Monica’s couch and poking a wet willie into her ear.

“What the hell?” She screamed, and kicked Scott hard in the shin.

“Don’t swear in a church!” Scott said, feigning absolute horror.

“Don’t be an asshole in a church!” Monica shot back, swatting him on the arm.

He laughed and pulled her book away from her. “What’re you finding out about the dudes in the mountains with the tunnels?”

“Ugh, the Lemurians are so boring. Don’t get me started on that.” She said, grabbing the book back. “They were such an obvious grift. They weren’t even the coolest thing Helena came up with.”

“Helena?” Scott said, “You’re talking about a dead crazy person like she’s your lab partner or something.”

“Helena Blavatsky was cool! She started a whole religion out of spare parts of mythology she found lying around, and she spoke like ten languages. Anyway, the Lemurians weren’t half as cool as the Hyperboreans.”

“What?” Scott said, lowering an eyebrow.

“I’ll tell you about it later.” Monica said, rolling her eyes. “Lunchtime?”

“Lunchtime.”

“Thank GOD.” Monica said, kicking herself off of the couch and barging ahead. “I’m dying up here.”

In the parking lot, the family decided on the pizza buffet for lunch after Monica rallied the minis into defecting from their cause of the burger joint, and loaded back into their vehicles. Before the cars could pull away, Scott extricated himself from the Town and Country and hopped into his dad’s Civic, a nasty brown box that was, in spite of appearances, nearly indestructible.

“Good,” Clayton said as Scott closed the door, “I was hoping for some company.”

As Scott buckled his seatbelt, he began rattling off the various status updates he was used to giving by this point: “Mom let me open the blinds but didn’t talk, Kenny and Ty ate enough of their breakfasts but not the whole thing-”

“Son, stop.” Clayton said gently. “I appreciate it, but stop for a minute.”

Scott stared at his father for a moment, unsure of what to say next while the road pulled ahead under them.

“How are you?” Clayton asked, tapping his son on the arm. “You’ve been home a week, but just barely. Are you getting any rest?”

Scott turned to his father and laughed. “Rest? I’m here to work, and we both know it.”

“Rest.” Clayton said. “You’ve been touring for a year. If you don’t rest, you’ll go crazy. You’ll burn out, I’ve seen it a million times.”

“And I talked to Donnie.” Clayton continued.

“When?”

“I don’t know, maybe the fifth time he called and you ran out of the room? I don’t know why you’re freezing him out right now, but you need to stop. Don’t try to be a parent right now, we’ve already got two in the house. And an aunt. We’re staffed.”

“We’ve maybe got one parent and an Aunt in the house.” Scott spat. “And what, so I’m just supposed to leave it all on Aunt Jude? She didn’t sign up for this, dad. This isn’t her mess.”

“Fine, you know what? Beat up on me as much as you want, go nuts.” The Reverend said the words with an exhaustion that Scott could feel. “But she did sign up for this, Scott.” His father said. “She’s a grown woman and she made a choice. A choice to help us. You’re a kid.”

“But-”

“You need to rest.” Clayton said again, putting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Go out tonight, maybe take Monica with you. I don’t think she’s had a night outside of her room since the last time you were in town.”

“Where are we gonna go?” Scott asked, “There’s literally nothing to do after 6PM in this town.”

“Who knows. Go get into trouble or something. Be a kid.”

Their car came to a stop in front of Old Bill’s pizza buffet, home to some of the least edible mass-produced pizza product Scott had consumed in any town in the states. It was hardly more than a shack, with most of the seating spilled out into the gravel parking lot, and it smelled strongly of burnt mushrooms in a way that Scott was sure no cleaning could ever remove. But, more important than anything else, it was staggeringly cheap for a family of six to eat as much pizza as their stomachs could handle.

The minis tore out of the van towards the door of the restaurant, flinging it open and charging inside, screaming joyful greetings to Old Bill, the dog of the owner, and Carl, the owner himself.

Monica and Jude were turned towards each other, speaking about something in a low voice when Clayton and Scott approached, and as they neared, they broke off in a hurry, spinning to face the men.

“All good?” Clayton said. “Anything we need to worry about?”

“All good,” Jude said with a placating smile. “Go pay before the minis give Carl a heart attack. We’ll grab a table.”

“Everybody good with the usual?” Clayton asked, not waiting for a response.

They all hollered an affirmation towards him anyway, then gravitated to the usual table, a rickety wooden picnic bench that sat under the shadow of a great magnolia bush that Carl had planted years ago from his native Mississippi.

Jude, Monica and Scott all sprawled out for a moment, content to enjoy each other’s silence until Monica blurted out — “Oh, meant to tell you, Donnie called!”

“Oh my god!” Scott shouted. “I’ll call him back!”

“Jeez, what’s your problem?” Monica snapped.

In the corner of Scott’s eye, he saw smoke.

A car was on the side of the road, with a black pillar billowing out from under the hood, and a young woman with fiery hair leaned against the driver’s door, distraught.

Scott instinctively stood and moved to help, but Jude held him by the arm. “How about I go with you?” She asked, less a question than a piece of advice. “You good on your own for a minute?” She asked Monica, nose deep in her book, and got a thumbs up in return.

Scott patted Jude on the back and the two of them walked across the street to where the woman paced by the ruin of her car.

“You ok?” Jude led off, keeping a good distance.

The woman, who couldn’t have been a day older than Scott, looked at them frantically. “Oh, yeah, absolutely fine, never better.”

As Scott’s eyes met hers, something deep and heavy crashed into his gut, and he found himself wishing that he had brought a guitar in the van so he could show off for the woman.

“I’m so fine that my car died like literally five minutes after getting it out of the driveway while I’m just trying to get to the store to get some damn toilet paper so I don’t have to start showering off after every-“

She froze, realizing that too many thoughts had become words, and ran a hand over her face.

“You hungry?” Scott stammered out after an uncomfortably long pause.

The girl looked at him, blinked, and deflated like a balloon. There was something he saw in her eyes in that moment that he knew he could never, ever impress. And between that look and the fact that she looked like the missing link between Debra Messing and Gillian Anderson, he wanted to spend as much time as possible trying.

“I’m Judee.” Jude said. “My family calls me Jude. This semi-mute manchild is my nephew, Scott. Scott, shake the poor lady’s hand and stop being weird.”

“Hi.” Scott said, extending a hand. “Good to meet you.”

“I’m Anna.” She said, taking his hand. Scott’s heart skipped a few She nodded away from the road back towards the pizza shack. “Does this place have a payphone?”

“No, but we’ve bought enough ‘pizza’ from Carl to buy him a house, so I’m sure he’ll let you use his landline.”

“Pizza in airquotes, huh?” Anna asked, taking a tentative step along with them towards the pizza shack. “Is it that bad?”

“Heh-heh, yep.” Scott said, immediately hating himself for the way he laughed. He coughed and put some bass into his voice. “But you know what they say — bad pizza’s still pizza.”

“Fair enough.” Anna said.

In a few moments, Anna had called a AAA tow truck and met Old Bill, who took to her as fast as Old Bill took to anyone — immediately and wholly. She joined the Jones clan at their table just as the pizza arrived, perched on the edge of the bench beside Jude. The Reverend introduced himself and the rest of the family to her. In his best pastoral voice, he assured her that she could eat as much as she liked once the pizza came and stay as long as she needed.

As she sat down, Monica flapped her book shut and looked at her with an expression like a cat watching a mouse cross its path.

“How’d you break your car?” She asked, perching her nose on her arched fingers. “Did you run someone over?”

“No.” Anna said, aghast, looking at Titus and Kendra. “I would never do something like that! I was ramping over Harpeth River.”

Cooool” the minis cooed, and Monica smirked. “I’m Monica. Good to meet you.”

“Anna. Same.”

“Is that Lost Nations?” Anna asked, picking up a piece of pizza and looking at Monica’s book.

“One and the same. Do you follow the path?” Monica asked, doing her best Stevie Nicks witchlike imitation.

“No. I mean, I don’t think so?” Anna said, taking a bite and chewing it thoughtfully before swallowing. “I don’t know what that means. But my brother’s absolutely obsessed with it. He’s been talking about Hyperborea for like four weeks. He loves those Theosophists.”

“You shouldn’t be reading that stuff, it’s the cultic-” Kendra began.

“You mean occultic?” Monica shot back quickly, drawing an eye roll and a nod from Kendra.

“Tommy says you’re gonna get demons in the house and get possessed. Then you’ll have to get exorcised and chained to a bed and stuff.” Titus said, through a mouthful of pizza.

“What if I’m already possessed?! Dad’s gonna have to exorcise me!” Monica said, then rolled her eyes back in her head and made an awful face, leaning across the table to grab both of the minis.

“The power of Christ compels you!” The Reverend said wearily, wadding up a greasy napkin and tossing it at Monica’s face. “In nomine Patris, eat your pizza.”

Titus was aghast that all of this was unfolding before a complete stranger and he felt himself go pale, but Monica kicked him under the table, shaking him out of his head, and he saw that the girl was laughing with them.

“I worried about my brother reading books like that, too.” Anna said to the twins. “I was worried his eyes were gonna turn red or he was gonna get us all abducted by aliens or something, but you know what I think now?”

Kendra took the bait and asked “What?”

“I think they’re just stories. That’s all. And me and my friends all liked to tell weird stories too, like the ghosts over at two rivers.”

Titus’ ears perked up and Anna smiled.

“Telling stories is just something people do. No harm in it if you know it’s just a story, right?”

She looked from the twins to the reverend and Jude, knowing she had overstepped a little but hoping the results were satisfactory, and was met with an affirming smile from both.

The twins shrugged and nodded too.

The Reverend and Jude looked bemusedly at the unfolding of events while the minis stuffed themselves with pizza and talked about their plans for a lego tower back at home, fully invested in the next topic.

“You look familiar.” She said, squinting hard at Scott. “Really familiar. Do you get that a lot?”

“No.” Scott said quietly.

“He’s a rock star!” Titus piped in suddenly.

Scott coughed and ran his hand through his hair, looking hard at his slice of barely-digestible pizza. “You know, I play some shows here and there, it’s no big-”

“Oh my God, you opened for R.E.M. at the Variety Playhouse last year!” Anna shouted.

The Reverend bristled at the blasphemy for a split-second, but spotted a look in his son’s eye and leapt in happily. “He sure did! Were you there?”

“Front of the pit — you guys ruled!” Anna said. “Jeez, the solo you pulled out on Quantico was so good. Man, who woulda thought I’d get saved from my smoking car by the lead singer of Leiper’s Fork.”

“It was pretty fun.” Scott said, turning beet red.

“I bet it was.” Anna replied. “You looked like you were having the time of your life.”

A tow truck pulled up in front of Anna’s car and she stood, stuffing her slice into her mouth. She turned to Monica and said, “Hey listen, you’re really weird and cool. And I want to be your friend. But tell your brother to call me too, ok?”

She pulled a pen from her pocket and scribbled her phone number onto a napkin and handed it to Monica.

“Nice to meet you all. And thanks for the food.”

As she left, Monica turned to Scott. “You’re doing all my chores this week if you want this number.”

On the ride home, Scott switched cars, giving Monica her turn alone with the Reverend, and listened to the CD of Dusk at Cubist Castle he had picked up the night he played the Variety, and while the Minis danced in the back of the car, he talked with Jude about chords and tone, and the conversation spilled from the car to the back porch to the parlor, where they played around with some variations on the songs they had played that day.

He had never fancied himself that good at talking to people, but with music it was different. When he played with someone and the spark was there, there was a bigger dialogue than words could possibly capture, and with Jude it was near telepathy. Every now and again, on days like today, he had to stop himself and wonder at the ease of it all. Any change, whether it was key, tempo, or style, could happen without a word between the two of them, and in the effortlessness of it, Scott would swear he was levitating.

Monica and Dad walked Mom out of her room during their impromptu recital and she sat on the couch, propped up between them like a loving ghost in the room. Scott looked at her from time to time during their playing, and he was almost certain she was smiling.

After a few hours, Jude wound the playing to a halt. She slid down the piano bench and put a hand on Scott’s. “You gotta call Donnie, kid.”

Scott tried to noodle some more on his guitar but Jude muted the fretboard. “What’s going on? What aren’t you telling us?”

Scott looked at his guitar, then at Jude. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it. I’ll call him now.”

“I am worried, Scott.” Jude said. “You’re being really strange about this whole thing. Are you firing him? I won’t judge you if that’s what’s going on.”

“What?” Scott said, stammering. “No, absolutely not. No, Donnie’s amazing.”

“Then what?”

“I promise I’ll call him. I’ll tell you everything after that.”

He stood and hugged Jude tight, then walked down to the phone on the kids’ side of the house. Without a thought, he dialed Donnie’s number and waited for his manager to pick up. On the second ring, he heard a familiar voice shout “What the hell are you doing dodging my calls?”

“Hey Donnie.”

“You’ve had me worried sick, kid!” Donnie said, clearly in the middle of a meal. “I been trying to get ahold of you for a week, and nothing! Not a ‘hey, gimme a minute’, not a ‘I need to be drunk for a few days’, nothing!”

“Sorry.” Scott said flatly.

“You’re gonna gimme a heart attack. I nearly had your drummer drive up from Athens just to see if you were still alive!”

“I said I was sorry!”

“Forget about it, we got other things to talk about.” Donnie said. “You think about what we talked about in Houston?”

“Yeah.” Scott said. “Can we not talk about this right now, Mom’s finally out of her room and-”

“And there’s always gonna be a reason not to have this conversation, but my job is to make you have it anyway.”

“New York or L.A., right?”

“It’s gotta be one or the other.” Donnie said. “You move there, get an apartment for a few years, that’s how-”

“Donnie, I got a mom who’s so depressed she can’t even get out of bed most days. I mean today, it’s like a once-a-year thing.” Scott hissed. “She can’t even talk. Did you know that? Honestly, she oughta be in a hospital someplace, but-”

“Kid, your dad and Judee, that’s their cross to bear, not yours. You know that.” Donnie said. “Besides, you do this, and in a few years you’ll be able to get your mom the best doctors money can buy.”

“I don’t-”

“You’re looking out for your family, that’s good, kid.” Donnie said. “But I gotta look after you. So New York or LA. Think about it.”

Wednesday March 20, 2019

“And so when we talk about that two-dimensional person seeing a sphere pass through their world, they’d just see this, like, weird growing and shrinking line, and then it’d just disappear, so like, any intervention of a higher being wouldn’t necessarily appear as a way that makes any sense to us whatsoever, right?”

“Hm? Yeah.” Kendra said. She had smoked nowhere near enough for this conversation.

“It’s just like, how can we even know what that being would be like? Or what it would think of us? Do we care at all for two dimensional things we create? Sometimes, yeah, but just as often, it’s just a project.”

Mickey was on her third beer, and somehow seemed to only be getting more intelligent as the alcohol hit her blood stream. Instinctively, Kendra flipped through her phone to figure out how far away their hotel was — only a couple of minutes — and she found herself idly scrolling around the map, when a familiar name from a nearby catholic school clicked everything into place.

She looked up, and with a little bit of mental plastic surgery, she finally saw it. Sitting in front of her, surrounded by a different family, was someone she hoped she’d never see again.

“Whoa, you ok Kendra?” Mickey said, blinking. “I know this quantum physics stuff is deep, but I feel like I really lost you there.”

“Mick, that lady over there-” Kendra said, pointing as subtly as she could across the restaurant, “That’s Judee.”

“Oh.” Mickey said, going pale. “Oh shit. Should I call your lawyer now?”

Chapter Three available here

© Phil Lofton, 2021, all rights reserved.

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Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective

Storyteller, Podcaster, Percussionist. Proud member of the Porch Light Collective.