I was starting to get tired of it and was thinking of going in for a slice of cake (if Con and Andy's friends had left any), when that shadow fell over me and my battlefield again. I looked up and saw Mr. Jacobs, holding a glass of water.
"I borrowed this from your mother. Can I show you something?"
He knelt down again and poured the water all over the top of Skull Mountain.
"It's a thunderstorm!" I shouted, and made thunder noises.
"Uh-huh, if you like. With lightning. Now look." He poked out two of his fingers like devil horns and pushed them into the wet dirt. This time the holes stayed. "Presto," he said. "Caves." He took two of the German soldiers and put them inside. "They'll be tough to root out, General, but I'm sure the Americans will be up to the job."
"Add more water if it gets crumbly again."
"And remember to take the glass back to the kitchen when you finish the battle. I don't want to get in trouble with your mother on my first day in Harlow."
I promised, and stuck out my hand. "Put er there, Mr. Jacobs."
He laughed and did so, then walked off down Methodist Road, toward the parsonage where he and his family would live for the next three years, until he got fired. I watched him go, then turned back to Skull Mountain.
Before I could really get going, another shadow fell over the battlefield. This time it was my dad. He took a knee, being careful not to squash any American soldiers. "Well, Jamie, what did you think of our new minister?"
"I like him."
"So do I. Your mother does, too. He's very young for the job, and if he's good, we'll only be his starter congregation, but I think he'll do fine. Especially with MYF. Youth calls to youth."
"Look, Daddy, he showed me how to make caves. You only have to get the dirt wet so it makes kinda almost mud."
"I see." He ruffled my hair. "You want to wash up good before supper." He picked up the glass. "Want me to take this in for you?"
"Yes, please and thank you."
He took the glass and headed back to the house. I returned to Skull Mountain, only to see that the dirt had dried out again and the caves had collapsed. The soldiers inside had been buried alive. That was okay with me; they were the bad guys, after all.
These days we've become gruesomely sensitized to sex, and no parent in his or her right mind would send a six-year-old off in the company of a new male acquaintance who was living by himself (if only for a few days), but that is exactly what my mother did the following Monday afternoon, and without a qualm.
Reverend Jacobs--Mom told me I was supposed to call him that, not Mister--came walking up Methodist Hill around quarter to three and knocked on the screen door. I was in the living room, coloring on the floor, while Mom watched Dialing for Prizes. She had sent her name in to WCSH, and was hoping to win that month's grand prize, an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. She knew the chances weren't good, but, she said, hope springs infernal. That was a joke.
"Can you loan me your youngest for half an hour?" Reverend Jacobs asked. "I've got something in my garage that he might like to see."
"What is it?" I asked, already getting up.
"A surprise. You can tell your mother all about it later."
"Of course," she said, "but change out of your school clothes first, Jamie. While he does that, would you like a glass of iced tea, Reverend Jacobs?"
"I would," he said. "And I wonder if you could manage to call me Charlie."
She considered this, then said, "No, but I could probably manage Charles."
I changed into jeans and a tee-shirt, and because they were talking about adult things when I came back downstairs, I went outside to wait for the schoolbus. Con, Terry, and I attended the one-room school on Route 9--an easy quarter-mile walk from our house--but Andy went to Consolidated Middle and Claire all the way across the river to Gates Falls High, where she was a freshman. ("Just don't be a fresh girl," Mom told her--that was also a joke.) The bus dropped them off at the intersection of Route 9 and Methodist Road, at the foot of Methodist Hill.
I saw them get off, and as they came trudging up the hill--squabbling as always, I could hear them as I stood waiting by the mailbox--Reverend Jacobs came out.
"Ready?" he asked, and took my hand. It seemed perfectly natural.
"Sure," I said.
We met Andy and Claire halfway down the hill. Andy asked where I was going.
"To Reverend Jacobs' house," I said. "He's going to show me a surprise."
"Well, don't be too long," Claire said. "It's your turn to set the table." She glanced at Jacobs, then quickly away again, as if she found him hard to look at. My big sister had a wicked crush on him before the year was out, and so did all her friends.
"I'll have him back shortly," Jacobs promised.
We walked down the hill hand in hand to Route 9, which led to Portland if you turned left, to Gates Falls, Castle Rock, and Lewiston if you turned right. We stopped and looked for traffic, which was ridiculous since there were hardly any cars on Route 9 except in the summer, and then walked on past hayfields and cornfields, the stalks of the latter now dry and clattering in a mild autumn breeze. Ten minutes brought us to the parsonage, a tidy white house with black shutters. Beyond it was the First Methodist Church of Harlow, which was also ridiculous since there was no other Methodist church in Harlow.
The only other house of worship in Harlow was Shiloh Church. My father considered the Shilohites moderate to serious weirdos. They didn't ride around in horse-drawn buggies, or anything, but the men and boys all wore black hats when they were outside. The women and girls wore dresses that came down to their ankles, and white caps. Dad said the Shilohites claimed to know when the world was going to end; it was written down in a special book. My mother said in America everyone was entitled to believe what they liked as long as they didn't hurt anybody . . . but she didn't say Dad was wrong, either. Our church was larger than Shiloh, but very plain. Also, it had no steeple. It did once, but a hurricane came along back in the olden days, 1920 or so, and knocked it down.
Reverend Jacobs and I walked up the parsonage's dirt driveway. I was interested to see that he had a blue Plymouth Belvedere, a very cool car. "Standard shift or push-button drive?" I asked.
He looked surprised, then grinned. "Push-button," he said. "It was a wedding present from my in-laws."
"Are in-laws like outlaws?"
"Mine are," he said, and laughed. "Do you like cars?"
"We all like cars," I said, meaning everyone in my family . . . although that was less true of Mom and Claire, I guessed. Females didn't seem to totally understand the basic coolness of cars. "When the Road Rocket's fixed up, my dad's going to race it at the Castle Rock Speedway."
"Well, not him, exactly. Mom said he couldn't because it's too dangerous, but some guy. Maybe Duane Robichaud. He runs Brownie's Store along with his mom and dad. He drove the nine-car at the Speedway last year, but the engine caught on fire. Dad says he's looking for another ride."
"Do the Robichauds come to church?"
"Um . . ."
"I'll take that as a no. Come in the garage, Jamie."
It was shadowy and musty-smelling. I was a little afraid of the shadows and the smell, but Jacobs didn't seem to mind. He led me deeper into the gloom, then stopped and pointed. I gasped at what I saw.
Jacobs gave a little chuckle, the way people do when they're proud of something. "Welcome to Peaceable Lake, Jamie."
"I got it set up while I'm waiting for Patsy and Morrie to get here. I should be doing stuff in the house, and I have done a fair amount--fixed the well-pump, for one thing--but there's not a whole lot more I can do until Pats gets here with the furniture. Your mom and the rest of the Ladies Auxiliary did a terrific job of cleaning the place up, kiddo. Mr. Latoure commuted from Orr's Island, and no one's actually lived here since befo
re World War II. I thanked her, but I wouldn't mind if you thanked her again."
"Sure, you bet," I said, but I don't believe I ever passed that second thanks on, because I barely heard what he was saying. All my attention was fixed on a table that took up almost half the garage space. On it was a rolling green landscape that put Skull Mountain to shame. I have seen many such landscapes since--mostly in the windows of toyshops--but they all had complicated electric trains running through them. There was no train on the table Reverend Jacobs had set up, which wasn't a real table at all, but sheets of plywood on a rank of sawhorses. Atop the plywood was a countryside in miniature, about twelve feet long and five feet wide. Power pylons eighteen inches high marched across it on a diagonal, and it was dominated by a lake of real water that shone bright blue even in the gloom.
"I'll have to take it down soon," he said, "or else I won't be able to get the car in the garage. Patsy wouldn't care for that."
He bent, planted his hands above his knees, and gazed at the rolling hills, the threadlike power lines, the big lake. There were plastic sheep and cows grazing near the water (they were considerably out of scale, but I didn't notice and wouldn't have cared if I had). There were also lots of streetlamps, which was a little peculiar, since there was no town and no roads for them to shine on.
"I bet you could have quite a battle with your soldiers here, couldn't you?"
"Yeah," I said. I thought I could fight an entire war there.
He nodded. "That can't happen, though, because in Peaceable Lake, everyone gets along and no fighting is allowed. In that way it's like heaven. Once I get MYF going, I plan to move it to the church basement. Maybe you and your brothers would help me. The kids would like it, I think."
"They sure would!" I said, then added something my father said. "You betchum bobcats!"
He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. "Now do you want to see a miracle?"
"I guess," I said. I wasn't actually sure I did. It sounded like it might be scary. All at once I realized the two of us were alone in an old garage with no car in it, a dusty hollow that smelled as if it had been closed up for years. The door to the outside world was still open, but it seemed a mile off. I liked Reverend Jacobs okay, but I found myself wishing I had stayed home, coloring on the floor and waiting to see if Mom could win the Electrolux and finally get the upper hand in her never-ending battle with the summer dust.
Then Reverend Jacobs passed his hand slowly above Peaceable Lake, and I forgot about being nervous. There was a low humming sound from under the makeshift table, like the sound our Philco TV made when it was warming up, and all the little streetlights came on. They were bright white, almost too bright to look at, and cast a magical moony glow over the green hills and blue water. Even the plastic cows and sheep looked more realistic, possibly because they now cast shadows.
"Gosh, how did you do that?"
He grinned. "Pretty good trick, huh? 'God said, Let there be light, and there was light, and the light was good.' Only I'm not God, so I have to depend on electricity. Which is wonderful stuff, Jamie. Such a gift from God that it makes us feel godlike every time we flip a switch, wouldn't you say?"
"I guess so," I said. "My grandpa Amos remembers before there were electric lights."
"Lots of people do," he said, "but it won't be long before all those people are gone . . . and when that happens, nobody will think much about what a miracle electricity is. And what a mystery. We have an idea about how it works, but knowing how something works and knowing what it is are two very different things."
"How did you turn on the lights?" I asked.
He pointed to a shelf beyond the table. "See that little red bulb?"
"It's a photoelectric cell. You can buy them, but I built that one myself. It projects an invisible beam. When I break it, the streetlights around Peaceable Lake go on. If I do it again . . . like so . . ." He passed his hand above the landscape and the streetlights dimmed, faded to faint cores of light, then went out. "You see?"
"Cool," I breathed.
"You try it."
I reached my hand up. At first nothing happened, but when I stood on tiptoe my fingers broke the beam. The humming from beneath the table started up again and the lights came back on.
"I did it!"
"Betchum bobcats," he said, and ruffled my hair.
"What's that humming? It sounds like our TV."
"Look under the table. Here, I'll turn on the overhead lights so you can see better." He flipped a switch on the wall and a couple of dusty hanging lightbulbs came on. They did nothing about the musty odor (and I could smell something else as well, now--something hot and oily), but they banished some of the gloom.
I bent--at my age I didn't have to bend far--and looked beneath the table. I saw two or three boxy things strapped to the underside. They were the source of the humming sound, and the oily smell, too.
"Batteries," he said. "Which I also made myself. Electricity is my hobby. And gadgets." He grinned like a kid. "I love gadgets. Drives my wife crazy."
"My hobby's fighting the Krauts," I said. Then, remembering what he said about that being kind of mean: "Germans, I mean."
"Everyone needs a hobby," he said. "And everyone needs a miracle or two, just to prove life is more than just one long trudge from the cradle to the grave. Would you like to see another one, Jamie?"
There was a second table in the corner, covered with tools, snips of wire, three or four dismembered transistor radios like the ones Claire and Andy had, and regular store-bought C and D batteries. There was also a small wooden box. Jacobs took the box, dropped to one knee so we'd be on the same level, opened it, and took out a white-robed figure. "Do you know who this is?"
I did, because the guy looked almost the same as my fluorescent nightlight. "Jesus. Jesus with a pack on his back."
"Not just any pack; a battery pack. Look." He flipped up the top of the pack on a hinge not bigger than a sewing needle. Inside I saw what looked like a couple of shiny dimes with tiny dots of solder on them. "I made these, too, because you can't buy anything this small or powerful in the stores. I believe I could patent them, and maybe someday I will, but . . ." He shook his head. "Never mind."
He closed the top of the pack again, and carried Jesus to the Peaceable Lake landscape. "I hope you noticed how blue the water is," he said.
"Yeah! Bluest lake I ever saw!"
"It's really just paint. I muse on that, sometimes, Jamie. When I can't sleep. How a little paint can make shallow water seem deep."
That seemed like a silly thing to think about, but I didn't say anything. Then he kind of snapped to, and put Jesus down beside the lake.
"I plan to use this in MYF--it's what we call a teaching tool--but I'll give you a little preview, okay?"
"Here's what it says in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel. Will you take instruction from God's Holy Word, Jamie?"
"Sure, I guess so," I said, starting to feel uneasy again.
"I know you will," he said, "because what we learn as children is what sticks the longest. Okay, here we go, so listen up. 'And straightaway Jesus constrained his disciples'--that means he commanded them--'to get into a ship, and to go before him to the other side of the water, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain to pray--' Do you pray, Jamie?"
"Yeah, every night."
"Good boy. Okay, back to the story. 'When evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves, for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightaway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not a
fraid.' That's the story, and may God bless his Holy Word. Good one, huh?"
"I guess. Does spake mean he talked to them? It does, right?"
"Right. Would you like to see Jesus walk on Peaceable Lake?"
He reached under Jesus's white robe, and the little figure began to move. When it reached Peaceable Lake it didn't sink but continued serenely on, gliding along the top of the water. It reached the other side in twenty seconds or so. There was a hill there, and it tried to go up, but I could see it was going to topple over. Reverend Jacobs grabbed it before it could. He reached under Jesus's robe again and turned him off.
"He did it!" I said. "He walked on the water!"
"Well . . ." He was smiling, but it wasn't a funny smile, somehow. It turned down at one corner. "Yes and no."
"What do you mean?"
"See where he went into the water?"
"Yeah . . ."
"Reach in there. See what you find. Be careful not to touch the power lines, because there's real electricity running through them. Not much, but if you brushed them, you'd get a jolt. Especially if your hand was wet."
I reached in, but cautiously. I didn't think he'd play a practical joke on me--as Terry and Con sometimes did--but I was in a strange place with a strange man and I wasn't completely sure. The water looked deep, but that was an illusion created by the blue paint of the reservoir and the lights reflecting on the surface. My finger only went in up to the first knuckle.
"You're not quite in the right place," Reverend Jacobs said. "Go a little bit to your right. Do you know your right from your left?"
I did. Mom had taught me: Right is the hand you write with. Of course that wouldn't have worked with Claire and Con, who were what my dad called southpaws.
I moved my hand and felt something in the water. It was metal, with a groove in it. "I think I found it," I told Reverend Jacobs.
"I think so, too. You're touching the track Jesus walks on."
"It's a magic trick!" I said. I had seen magicians on The Ed Sullivan Show, and Con had a box of magic tricks he got for his birthday, although everything but the Floating Balls and the Disappearing Egg had been lost.