Father Samuel runs through the dark jungle toward the drums and fire.
Dressed in black he is shadow weaving within the underbrush, vines slicing at his face. Sweat drips down into the stiff white ring circling his neck; the collar floats in the dark, a disembodied halo. He reaches, tears it away, lets it fall, rips open his shirt, pale chest heaving.
Ahead the light dances and he is drawn to it through the dense woods. The path is there, then not there, choked to nothing, but he forces his way. From around and above him comes the rattling and cackling of unseen creatures. He runs through air heavy with its own lusting pulse and the smell of coming rain.
He breaks into the clearing and shields his eyes with his arm like a man emerging from a cave suddenly staring into the sun. The worshippers do not notice him; he has interrupted their ceremonies before; they no longer fear him, or what he believes.
What I believe…
He stands panting before the great bonfire, the gyrating bodies, headscarves of white silk, yellow, and green bob in the phantom air like moths, skin burnished copper against the flames. Samuel smells smoke, sweat, soil, his own sick fear. The fire lusts at the stars with yellow tongues. Embers spit and lance out into the dirt at his feet, then stare up into him like eyes.
The drums give fever to everything. Dancers thrash and howl. Now Samuel cannot move his arms or legs. Someone wails as if dying or being born and then a man appears before the flames holding a scarlet rooster above his head, one hand around its neck. The animal is still, resigned, neck curved. The man’s teeth are daggers.
A scream struggles inside Samuel’s throat but no sound escapes.
What I believe…
Drums summon spirits into the circle of night. Dozens move as one, hands, sticks, bones against stretched skins, bodies contorting, and now the bird lowering to mouth, all heads lurched back, necks slick-shuddering with demons.
Samuel cannot look away as teeth close slowly and red drips out onto sinewy arms, the severed head now in one hand, dangling neck in his mouth, stick-legs hoisted and the painted man drinks from a twitching bag of blood.
Sweat-glossed bodies fall to the ravenous earth and writhe like snakes. The witch doctor lifts the sacrifice into the emptiness above the wide white of his eyes and red teeth. Samuel buries his face in hands, sobs drowned by the thunder and curses and prayers torn from a hundred throats, shoulders shaking but he cannot hear his own pain coursing just beneath the chants, dlo kwala manyan, nan peyi sa maman pa konn petit li…
A hand on Samuel’s shoulder.
The tall man is staring into him. His eyes are the color of sapphires burning from deep in the arched ebony cheekbones. He wears a purple robe. The fierce fire roars reborn with gunlike explosions, spirals of sparks soar up like specters rising to do battle with the stars. Samuel tries to look down, away, but cannot, sees the gossamer hand around a tall wooden staff, dangling gold loops encircling wrists reflecting sparks of firelight, and his eyes are drawn back into the piercing blue jewels.
Thunder rolls down from the mountains, the low rumblings of a lion, crouched and stalking in the hills, blending with the drums. Samuel cannot stop shaking.
Rain falls. Softly at first, sizzling into the flames, pauses, then torrents and there is now only one living thing, all merged, a steaming serpent, undulating, nan peyi sa, fre pa konn se li, dlo kwala manyan, primal songs of sin and sanctification, chanting out to the dead. The inhabiting apparitions come to feed. All around him the bodies jerking, mud-caked masks the slate-gray color of death.
The ebony man speaks, though his mouth does not open, and beneath the throbbing rhythms their minds wordlessly meet.
Who do you seek, Samuel?
Baron? Are you Baron?
Who do you say that I am?
Please, tell me. Are you Baron Cemetiere?
You say so.
How can I hear you? Am I insane?
No, only lost, Samuel. The eyes stare into him. Why do you seek me?
They say you can raise the dead.
The old priest weeps—My faith has betrayed me.
The blue eyes reflect shards of firelight, bronze islands drifting in deep waters— You have betrayed your faith.
His hopeless fear—Damn you, devil! Can you? Can you raise the dead?
The tall man touches Samuel, lightly, with two fingers just at the heart.
The drums stop.
Samuel cries out; crushing pain coils in his chest. His legs collapse. From his knees there is only the angry steam hissing off the unrepentant fire, the people still and staring, garments stripped away and floating down like dying birds.
Samuel cannot breathe.
The tall man says without speaking—Samuel.
The wails rise up on sparks of souls singing, mouths gaping as the bowl of blood is passed.
…dlo kwala manyan, nan peyi sa maman pa konn petit li…
The black king is an island surrounded by savage storms.
Can the dead be raised? Samuel’s shattered heart cries, and the heavy hands are on his face, soft with power, the rhythms and primordial lamentations for a moment quieting.
Do you not know me? The tall man’s eyes are living pools specked with gold embers. The old priest grasps at the robed arms like a man falling.
Look into me, Samuel. What do you see? And the eyes convict, forgive, condemn, resurrect, planet-eyes of vast blue seas, golden continents—What do you see?
The tall man raises one hand. Stillness. The hushing rain. The expectant silence of gods and men not breathing. Rain turns to smoke on the hot earth.
And the drums begin again, building, faster now as the possessed spin and leap before the flames. The lion is upon them, earth quaked by thunderous paws. And the wailing worshippers fling themselves onto all fours pawing, gnawing at the grass, flames leaping up at the shores of space, fire fanned by winged things. The thunder and drums are a single heartbeat within one womb, the pulse of creation.
Samuel grips the crimson robe—Please, please tell me. Can the dead be raised?
Samuel. This single, soundless word. Slate palms are warm and wet against Samuel’s cheeks. The voice. From a time before man was first dreamed into the world.
Pain twists inside him. He cries out. Samuel takes in one last breath before his heart explodes. His voice is small against the thunder. “Please…can the dead be raised?”
Death has no power, child.
The eyes, jeweled planets flooded with tears.
The dead are raised already.
August 18th, 2005]
David Benton sat very still, eyes closed, chin resting on the pointed steeple of his fingers.
His client’s voice drifted around him, disembodied, droning. He allowed the sound to fade away until finally all that remained was the gurgling of the aquarium. Although he knew the tank sat across the room against the wall to the woman’s right, it seemed to him that all of creation was submerged.
Half-opening his eyes, he watched the fish glide through the water, ghostly and malformed through the blurred prism of his eyelashes. He felt that if he were to reach out nothing would be there to touch—the lamps, the furniture, the framed art and licenses on the wall. Again he hid behind closed eyes, floating in calm water.
He lowered his hands, eyes still shut, and leaned his head back against the soft leather of his chair; this would appear, he knew, as if he were listening intently. Rather than trying to subdue it, he allowed himself the mental image of the woman hanging upside down, her head in the tank, bubbles coming out of her mouth and nose. Her red hair writhed in the water like Medusa’s snakes. A mangled giggle gurgled up and out into the room, and without opening his eyes he realized the sounds were his own, and so he finally spoke—“Yes, go on”—in order to keep from laughing out loud. He reached one hand into his pocket and took out the little bottle.
He looked at the face of the talking woman. Her lips were parted expectantly, perhaps waiting for her therapist to disclose what she might have said that he found so funny. But he could think of nothing to say, and when no explanation came, she began talking again. Every movement and sound—her face, hands, body, voice—seemed unrecognizable to him. Her glossed mouth moved, but all he heard was the embryonic sound of rising water: deliberate, unceasing, disturbed only by a soft, rhythmic rattling.
“I don’t care,” he heard himself say.
He looked down into his lap, at his fingers turning the amber bottle; pills tumbled, tapping—in concert with the water, it seemed to him—connected. And then there was a subtle change, a stillness. Three little words, finally spoken: I don’t care.
“What?” the woman asked, as if she were hopeful for some sort of punchline.
He looked up into her wondering face, took in a breath, and let it out.
“The water in that tank is less than two feet deep,” he said.
She sat very still.
“The average person might not realize it, Melissa, but someone can easily drown in that amount of water. You can drown in a lot less, actually. It happens all the time. Obviously if the water can cover your mouth and nose, it can kill you.”
He saw something resembling fear cross her face like a shadow. “I’m sorry,” he said, pulling himself up straighter in his chair. “I shouldn’t have said that, I suppose. Just can’t seem to help thinking out loud lately.”
“It’s all right, David.”
“To be perfectly honest, it’s not all right. The truth is, I haven’t been paying attention to a word you’ve said. I haven’t paid you any attention whatsoever for the last thirty minutes. I’ve tried, but I can’t for the life of me seem to give a shit.”
Her mouth pursed around some soundless word; perhaps she thought he was attempting an up-to-now unused method of psychotherapy. This thought threatened to send his suppressed laughter bubbling over again. For the first time since he had met her, the woman seemed at a loss for words. It suddenly seemed so absurd to him, the power he held over her; a shameless grin bloomed across his face.
“Look there,” he said, pointing at the tank. “See that pale white fish? There, about three inches long. Can you see it?”
“That’s a very unusual creature, Melissa. It’s called a blind cave tetra. You’re sitting close enough, take a good look. Can you tell me what’s so strange about it?”
She hesitated, her uncertain gaze flickering between him and the tank. “It doesn’t have any eyes.”
“Correct. The species evolved in the deepest caves of Mexico. No light meant no need for eyes. It gets around fine, though, as you can see. Apparently it bounces waves off surrounding objects. Like a bat, I guess.”
“That’s why I haven’t been paying attention to you. That's why I just can’t give a rat’s ass about anything you’ve been saying.” The look on her face made him laugh out loud; she flinched. “I’ve been thinking about that fish, Mel. What lessons can we learn from that fish?”
“It’s a rhetorical question, so I’ll answer it myself and save you the trouble. What I’ve learned from that little white fish is that if a creature is cut off from light long enough, he will become so accustomed to the dark he’ll lose not only his sight, but, eventually, even his eyes. Are you following me, Melissa?”
“Again, rhetorical. The fact is, I can relate to that little fish in an intense way.” His thinking crystallized; he felt a surge of confidence. “Why are you here, Melissa?”
“Well, to see you. Like every Wednesday.”
“Yes. But why do you come to see me?”
“Because you’re my therapist.”
“Yes. I am, aren’t I?” He felt his smile widening. “But why do you keep coming back here to see me?”
Her head tilted. “You’ve helped me understand a lot of things. Things I’ve always wondered about.”
“Well, like I’ve told you, counseling had never worked for me before. People said you were different. That you were a priest—”
“I was a priest,” he said. “I’m afraid I wasn’t really cut out for that line of work, though. I was too unstable, they said.” More laughter slipped out. “Too unstable to be a priest, but not too nuts to be a therapist, huh?”
He tilted his own head now, watched the woman’s body language subtly change—shoulders sagging, arms drawn together in her lap, frame folding into a shell—in a matter of minutes returning to the shape she’d worn during her first appointments months earlier. He felt like he was watching her from outside of his own body—watching his own uncharacteristic euphoric madness consume him, unable to save her from the pull of his destructive gravity. A part of his old self hated it. But something new inside him pushed forward.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, but he could not relent. He paused for only a second. “Why me?”
“Why did you choose me?”
“Well, I’d read your articles…and I could tell right away that you knew. Because you had been through a lot of…hard things. I just felt like you would understand. In ways the others couldn’t.”
“And what have you learned from me?”
“I’ve learned some things about who I am. Who I really am.”
“And who are you?”
She tried to straighten. “I’m Melissa West. I’m thirty two years old. I have a husband, and two children. Still have them, by the grace of God.”
“Yes. The grace of God indeed. What else have you learned?”
“I’ve learned that I’m a person who all my life has been…I've always felt afraid.”
“That’s right. And what have you been afraid of?”
“Of everything, I guess. Just like you. You told me you’ve always been afraid, too. And lonely.”
“Yes. I shouldn’t have told you that, probably, but yes. And what else have you learned about your fear, your loneliness?”
The woman clenched her hands in her lap. “I’ve learned from you that the fear isn’t real, that the isolation isn’t real.” For a moment her face regained a semblance of hope. “You’ve taught me that my feelings of fear and shame and loneliness only have as much power as I give them.”
“And you have felt more…what, exactly?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You say you’re not afraid any more. What do you feel instead?”
“I’ve come to feel safer, I think.” She nodded, as if to reassure herself that this was the answer he was looking for.
He scooted to the edge of his seat and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Melissa, I need to be honest with you. Because I feel as though I’ve been telling you a lot of things for a while now, things that have sounded like truth to you, but in fact were not. Even after my time away, for the hour a week we shared in here, both of us have usually come away feeling better, haven’t we? Safer, you said. Haven’t we come away feeling safer?”
Even in the dim amber light of the office her face seemed to pale. David looked her in the eye until she blinked. He leaned closer.
“But guess what? It’s all lies. The world isn’t safe. Sometimes good people are butchered and shot and tortured and the bad people get away with it. We want to think there’s some kind of divine purpose, but the truth is you and I have been sold a bunch of bullshit our entire lives.”
“David.” He could hear her pleading now. “I’m just so sorry. For you, for your loss…” He watched her tears well up until the soft light in her eyes shone like little pools. Her mouth moved but she seemed unable to speak.
He hated her then, hated the pity that filled her eyes and dripped out of her painted mouth. In truth he hated the pity more than he hated the innocent woman. But this hatred stirred in him a kind of predatory anticipation, a realization that he was now capable of doing something dark and dangerous: a paralyzed part of himself, finally given permission to move. It was true that Melissa West now meant nothing to him. But even more true, nothing at all mattered.
“So many people say something like that—my loss, I lost them. As if I’d misplaced my wife and baby like car keys or a wallet or pair of sunglasses or something.”
The little pills tumbling inside the bottle.
“Vehicular homicide,” he said. “Isn’t that funny? I mean, the irony of it, Melissa, the god-awful irony. I finally sober up, and then out of nowhere some drunk guy drives…do you think it might have been some sort of joke? Was it planned? The whole time that idiot was throwing back shots at happy hour—” A laugh came out of him, and he was surprised at how high and strained it sounded in the room; he squeezed it back in his throat.
“Please, David. I’m so sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry you’ve come in here and wasted your money. I’m sorry for you, me, both of us. So please just stop it, for God’s sake. Stop crying, dammit. I know you’re feeling betrayed. The worst thing I could do right now is hurt you, ethically speaking. But I cannot begin to express the extent to which I no longer give a damn about any of this.” He saw her flinch at his laughter, dabbing a wad of tissues against her nose and mouth.
“Stop it.” Her body shook.
He paused and watched tears make little streams down her face. He felt blissfully unmoved. “You know, I’ve often sat in this chair, listening to someone tell me about their pain, and the thought would rush into me: This person has no idea how insane I am. They’re paying me money, and don’t realize I’m crazier than they are. Isn’t that ironic? How can I help lead anyone out of hell when I'm trapped in my own?”
“Please, David, stop it.”
“All my life I’ve been listening to confessions, playing God, granting absolution—as if any human could grant such a thing. I’d hear the steps moving away, people taking their darkness back into the world, and me bound by the seal not to speak a word of it. But you know, at least in that booth sin was faceless. Now when people come to me, every sin has an identity. There are things hidden in the human heart that would shock and sicken you, Melissa.”
He paused to breathe, licked his lips. He felt a deep thirst.
“There’s only so much sin a man can take, whether it's his own or the sins of others.”
She stared back with the eyes of an accident victim. “Oh, David—” Her voice broke; she struggled to catch her breath. “Please don’t. This isn’t who you really are. You’re the kindest, sweetest, gentlest man I’ve ever—”
“No,” he said; something deep in him tried to surface, then sank. “You know, it’s funny. My father—the Father Samuel Benton, God rest his sanctimonious soul—taught me lots of so-called truths, most of which over time have proven to be superstitious nonsense. But one thing he taught has proven to be quite true indeed: There are duel forces in each of us, Melissa.”
Sweat felt cool on his forehead. He looked at the hands in his lap, tangled like two spiders grappling at the medicine bottle, pills tumbling, click-click-click. He lifted his eyes to the aquarium. “It’s like those fish,” he said. “After a while, if you stare into the darkness long enough, darkness becomes the only thing you can see.”
He saw her sitting there, mouth open, tears on her face. A deep sorrow began welling up and for a moment he wanted to release the innocent woman, but it was too late for that. He bit the inside of his jaw, revived himself with the taste of blood. Staring down at his hands. Trying to slow his breathing. He blinked back the blackness.
His office had changed, unfamiliar to him in every way. He did not know exactly where he was. He barely noticed the woman on the couch; he no longer loved or hated her. The inevitable truth of his immediate future came into him, a blossoming, intoxicating cloud, and he could feel a silly smile spreading on his face. Though some vague sense of what he might eventually do had played at the edges of his mind for weeks, the thoughts had never formed into any kind of coherency until now: the certainty, the almost holy beauty of it, rose mercifully in him like a forgiving tide.
“I once believed there was some reason for it all,” he said out loud, to himself, to her, to God, to no one, “some meaning to the suffering. That's what I told you, isn't it? But now, Melissa, I’m inclined to believe just the opposite. Things don’t happen for a reason, they just happen.”
He raised the bottle and rattled the pills near his ear.
“I’ve come to trust a much simpler theology now,” he said. “There are only two possibilities left for me to believe in—either God exists, or he doesn’t. And if he does—” He stood.
“If God is real,” he struggled to swallow, “then God killed my wife. God killed my baby boy.” He shook the bottle one more time; the pills rattled in his palm like dice.
“Let the games begin.”
He tossed the bottle into the wastebasket beside the desk. He saw but did not see the woman with her mouth hanging open, reached into the open briefcase on his desk, pocketed keys, wallet, cell phone.
“May God bless and keep you, Melissa West,” he said.
He left the rest: papers on the desk, candle burning, fish tank gurgling. He walked out the door and down the hall until he could no longer hear her crying.
Dusk settled on the city as he worked his way out of East Nashville. From high on the arched bridge the Cumberland River reached out on both sides beneath him, silver water lolling like mercury, the last glimmer of sunset extinguishing on its surface. Ahead the buildings of downtown shone and the freeway moved him around and past the brightening skyline until he made the exchanges that would take him south.
It had been years but he knew the way. More than five hundred miles stretched out between him and New Orleans, but he was acutely awake. He knew he would not sleep for some time, felt he could drive forever if need be.
Night descended and deepened until there was only the yellow wedge of headlights ahead, white lines on the pavement firing towards him only to be sucked under the hood one after another. In the rearview mirror everything dissolved into blue-black shadows, the hazy domed light of the city growing smaller and smaller until it was extinguished by the darkness.
He punched out the number on his phone. The voice that answered already sounded a million miles away.
“Where are you? Your client left here in hysterics.”
David could picture his old guru sitting in her crowded chaos of books and file cabinets, impressionistic paintings askew on the wall, incense smoldering, white hair a braided rope down the length of her back. He wondered how long she had been preparing for this call.
“She’s not my client now, Ang. You can have her.”
A pause. “So you’re quitting.”
“I’m done. I tried.”
“You came back way too soon. It’s my fault, I let you talk me into it. This work eats at you even when things are good.” He could hear the sadness in her now. “Oh, my dear, sweet David. It’s all you know, the only way you know. You empty yourself. But running away won’t work. It never does.”
“That’s kind of an old cliché, isn’t it, Ang?” He felt the electric exhilaration building at the base of his spine and moving up into him like warm syrup. “You're right. Running won’t bring them back.”
There was silence on the other end.
“Goodbye, Ang,” he said finally. “And…thank you. Thanks for everything. You gave me another chance when no one else would.” He felt tears rolling down his cheeks but didn’t bother wiping them away.
“Listen to me,” her voice low, urgent. “Don’t throw it away. You’ve worked too hard. Come back. We’ll figure things out, the two of us.”
“No,” he said finally. “Nothing to figure out. There’s nothing left in me, Ang. Not any more.” His own voice sounded too melodramatic, controlled. He wanted to scream.
“David, please be rational, try to breathe. For God’s sake, I found your meds. Please. At least promise me that you won’t stop taking your meds, okay? We can work through this—” He heard a choked cry.
“Goodbye, Ang,” he said. He pressed his foot harder onto the accelerator, rolled down his window, and threw the phone into the gathering darkness. As the bare glow of life disappeared behind him, the road ahead beckoned.
David Benton leaned his head out into the hot wind and screeched like some wild, soaring bird.
Wallace Crowe was all but beaten.
He had never lost before, had until recent years never allowed himself to consider such a thing, and even now there was something unreal about the moment: the sparks flashing in his head, left eye swelling closed, the strange deadness in his arms. His opponent moved towards him, taller, heavier, stronger. Crowe watched him coming, blinked the sweat from his eyes, took two steps back before shifting his weight and throwing a left jab to slow him. But the younger man could sense it now; he walked right through the punch and kept coming.
—He thinks he’ll be the first, Crowe thought.
He could not see the face clearly, but he knew shape and movement, was aware of his enemy’s feet, hands, torso. He moved to his own left and threw another meaningless jab. Crowe saw the big body square and swat away his punch, felt the front kick dig at his belly, trying to set him up.
White glare and low hum of mercury vapor lights hanging above; awed stillness of the two-dozen-or-so students standing along the outside edges of the blue mat; the salt-sweat smell of the leather gloves tucked around his chin; metallic, bitter-bright taste of blood; the sharp stabbing pain in his ribs with each breath. Crowe was aware of all this but his focus was elsewhere:
The blurred shape in front of him—angle, height, distance.
He saw the right hand coming over the top and moved away to his left, bending down, but too slow: the blow glanced off the top of his right shoulder and onto his temple, and from far away he heard the tensed hiss of breaths being taken in and held, then the gym brittle again with silence, a sharp ringing in his head and a feebly-thrown counter right of his own landing harmlessly near his opponent’s armpit. He swiveled at the waist back to the right, away from the lifting knee he knew would come, catching most of the blow on his forearms. He tried to make his feet dance away but could not. He sensed that at any moment the referee might stop the match—probably only his own reputation had convinced the ref to let it go this far—but didn’t seem able to push his body past exhaustion.
Murmurs rose around him, and with them a moment of clarity. Crowe knew the students thought him finished, their hero old and done. He realized they pitied him. The enemy was goading now, toying, performing a bad impersonation of the Ali Shuffle. Crowe knew then that the young man had no fear, but also no honor.
Another punch slapped into the side of his head, fire flashing behind his eyelids. He felt he might go down, but something held him up. Indignant anger entered him like a bullet.
Crowe went inside himself. Everything slowed.
Sounds, sensation. Red-streaked battle and the voices of ancient warriors. Crowe saw his opponent with new vision: the leering face, muscles tightening, the gloves coming, but there was time enough now. In one frozen frame he became weightless and immortal. Inner silence. A familiar place.
The big man was on him now, shoving down on the back of his head; he saw the hairy feet squaring on the mat below. His opponent was trying to open him up, expose him for the kill, now raining short blows down, confident. Overconfident.
Again he felt the knee come up, twice, then short, sharp punches down onto the sides of his head, pawing at his ears. The man tried to lift him with a vicious uppercut, heard the breath come out of him when it didn’t land full. Crowe heard him growl; he stayed another few seconds bent and subdued, absorbing punishment until he heard the labored panting, sensed his foe’s hands dropping, widening. The opening was there, like a gift.
Crowe reared and pushed off with both gloves, took a half step back to create space, loaded his weight onto his right foot. As natural for him as breathing: he shifted his left shoulder toward his opponent’s chest, pivoted, folded at the waist.
He felt his body flare, like scissors opening. The kick was less than perfect: fatigue caused his foot to barely miss the chin, raking the nose, finally blasting into the right eye socket; Crowe felt cartilage crack under his heel. His enemy recoiled, hands reflexively covering his eye, one step back, two, falling hard on his ass as if a chair had been pulled out from under him. Blood erupted down his cheek, gushing onto the top of his Gi, spreading down to the knotted black belt.
The referee shouted, waved his hand; there was a brief swath of silence before the swirl of movement and voices erupted. Two instructors attended to the fallen man, who sat dazed and disbelieving, glaring down into the pool forming on the mat between his spread legs.
Crowe bent over, hands on knees, watching drops from his own nose and brow falling in slow-motion onto his feet: his blood beaded purple against black skin. He looked up. Curly stood at the edge of the mat, arms crossed, lips pursed, an expression poised somewhere between disgust and amusement on his round face.
The man on the mat cursed and tried to stand, monstrous brow jutting out. Three men restrained him, the eye already swelling shut; he appeared more shocked than hurt. Crowe saw the rage and frustration in the bloodied face, the one good eye glaring: I had you, Wallace Crowe, the eye said. I had you, and you know it.
And Crowe did know, had known it from the first exchange. He’d known it for months, maybe years. He knew it now, sucking air like a landed fish. He’d gotten by on smarts and experience for a long time. But time was a relentless opponent.
Still, he wouldn’t give his enemy the satisfaction. He forced himself to stand straight, returned the man’s stare, and raised one glove.
“I win,” he said.
The students gathered around him, slapping his shoulders. With voices both relieved and reverent they said his name.