The Cross of Blue Flame

You’d be walking home after Sunday evening church. A few minutes past the golden hour, to the mauve hour, when the sun shafts are gone, but the sky is still lighter than the tree trunks. Woods on the right, the creek down the hill on the left side, and far across the creek and beyond the fields, the occasional light from a house. The trees are close on this right side, shadowing the road from a stirring roof overhead.

You have long memorized the bumps of the road; you’ve walked it since you were a child. For anyone else it would be too shadowed at this hour for steady steps.

Far off through the trees there’s a light, moving from trunk to trunk, gently, neither hiding nor hurrying, but coming your way. It’s a cool light, toward blue. The blue shimmers like a northern light, with an internal dance that shifts the shape of the flame second by second.

When the flame reaches the road a stone throw ahead of you, it stops. It is clearly there for you. After you also stop and collect your puzzled thoughts toward the blue flickering point, the flame stops dancing, contracts into its own center, then stretches four arms back out into the unmistakeable sign of a Baptist cross, like the one atop all the country churches. There it stands for a long minute, in a brighter, steadier blue glow. It stands, you stand, breathing. Then it contracts again back into its own center, and is gone. The dark returns.

You wait for something else but there is nothing else. Then, when the frogs timidly start again in the creek and the owl resumes her rollcall, you notice how quiet the woods had already become.

It’s always on a road like this and a night like this. It’s always after evening church service. Never across open ground, never near graves. This is not the cemetery wisp. This is no prophecy; no knowledge is offered and there is nothing asked of you.

You’ll only see the blue cross once in your life. You’ll hesitate to tell anyone, because you’re not sure what it meant. But then, always, and within a few days, a death of someone you know. You’ll wonder if the blue cross was to warn you – that’s natural – but it doesn’t feel like a warning.

Later, as you casually ask around, you’ll realize there is no-one you know who has seen the blue cross, but many of them have known someone who said they heard of it.

As best I can tell, it means something like this:

“Death is known to me. I start your mornings and I count your evenings. When the old ones leave the church building to walk their dirt roads toward home, I count their steps. And as the road and the woods and the steeple-bells age, to tell them all their time runs old, I watch. Death is not my friend, but is an acquaintance, and I count his steps too.”

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