Copyright 1995 Donald M. Hart
The Missionaries had walked a long way. The old dirt road had many ruts that had filled with muddy water from the last three days of rain. Elder Power, the senior of the two Elders, had tried to jump over the last of the biggest puddles. He had been unsuccessful. His left foot, overextended, had caught the very trailing edge, and he had slipped backward, landing with a big splash of red muddy, oily water. Elder Thomas had laughed for about two minutes straight, causing his side to ache from the effort. Not thinking the incident very humorous, Elder Power, admonished his companion and asked for his assistance in withdrawing himself from the puddle. Elder Thomas, still laughing, extended his hand and helped his companion to his feet. Elder Power began to wipe the grime off of his trench coat and pants legs. They were in the back woods of the upper part of South Carolina, close to the North Carolina border, just north of a community called Cleveland. A place with the reputation of having people who had never given up hope that the South would rise again.
They had been walking for some time when Elder Thomas asked, “Are you sure this is the right road to this man’s house?”
“Yes the directions came directly from the Mission President. He was very precise when he gave them to me because Mr. Bogan’s house is so far out of the way; off the beaten path.”
“Well, I just wish we had our bikes. We’ve been walking for the last hour, and my feet hurt.”
“Elder Thomas, I’m sorry about the bikes. I regret that we even stopped at the restaurant for breakfast, but we had to eat.”
“That’s not the point. The point is the sheriff of this one horse town didn’t even care.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I guess it was the way he said, ‘You know boys… You Mormon types an’ us country folk don’t cotton to each other very well. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised, no-sirree if’in those boys what took your bikes didn’t take them up ta Myers pond and sling em out ta the middle just ta see how fast they’uns would sink’.”
“And I guess the other reason I think he doesn’t care is when you asked him if the boys would be arrested, and our bikes brought back, he said, ‘You young men mean well in ta thangs yall’re doin’. But upin these here neck of the woods, you’s just tha outsiders and folk around these heah parts don’t like having their kin locked up. So with something as minor as this kids prank is, I think it be left well enough alone. My bestest advice ta youins is ta write home ta yo mamma’s and ask them ta send you more money and buy yall new bikes’.”
Elder Power chuckled at his companions imitation of the Sheriff.
The rutted and over used road seemed to stretch on forever – as country roads have a tendency to do. When they rounded the next bend, Elder Thomas stopped and pointed.
Elder power who had continued walking, with his head down watching where he was putting his feet, noticed the absence of his companion.
Turning to look back, asked, “what are you doing?’
All his companion could do was point straight ahead and mouth the word, “Look.”
Elder Power followed the outstretched hand of his companion to its end and then continue to follow the invisible line toward the thing his companion was pointing at.
Straight ahead like a scene from the movie Psycho stood a three-story clapboard house, weathered with age, with white paint peeling from the hand-hewn siding like leaves falling in an autumn wind.
As they stood looking in awe and wonder at the kind of a dilapidated house they only saw in movies, a high-pitched cackle began softly and slowly rolling across the wind.
The cackle grew in intensity, like the approaching sound of a great steam locomotive. The Elder’s skins began to crawl.
Silas Bogan was an old man. He had lived a long life of ninety-three years. Standing over six feet four inches tall, his frame thin and wiry, he reminded people, from a distance, of President Lincoln.
The only time he had gained any weight was during the occupation of France after World War II; being a master sergeant had its perks.
Now, all his body parts showed their classic signs of age; the sagging pocket of flesh under his chin, the loose skin where muscles used to bulge from his forearms, and his loose drooping emaciated looking thighs.
Silas was bestowed a good life. He had been fortunate enough to work a number of jobs after the war and save his money to build the biggest and best house in town, a beautiful garden, and a shop out back where he could start his own business.
At one time, his house and grounds were the talk of the town. People would come from miles around and make the muddy trek down the quarter mile drive to the turn around just to marvel at the magnificence and beauty of the house, and it’s surrounding gardens.
He had spent all his army retirement and savings to build it. It had been his pride and joy until his health had prevented him, at age eighty-three, from doing the necessary maintenance. Now it was no longer a beauty to behold - it was in mortal dis-repair.
Silas, at one time, was a compassionate and loving individual. That had been before the turbulent sixties, when the whole world (in his opinion) went crazy.
The teenagers in the bigger cities had started disrupting the natural order of things with sit-ins and protest over the war in Vietnam. The Democratic national convention in Chicago had been a scene of chaos and anarchy. What had started as a peaceful protest turned into a massive melee disrupting the convention and causing the party to become a laughing stock in the minds of the American public.
The situation didn’t bode well with Silas. He was a life-long Democrat. Shortly after the fiasco at the convention, the town began to have troubles of a similar nature. And Silas, with his big house out in the “middle of nowhere” became a primary target for pranksters throwing rocks and vandalizing his property.
The Elders, still standing and staring, didn’t notice Silas, laughing loudly, walking out from behind the giant oak tree at the right corner of the house. He was holding a double barrelled, over-under, rested red, 12 gauge shotgun leveled at the two Missionaries.
“You two boys don’t move a muscle or even breathe.”
Both missionaries began to shake from fear.
“Ye..Ye..Yes..Si..Sir” stuttered Elder Thomas.
“I said, keep still and quite!”
Slowly Silas raised the shotgun until the stock rested in the pit of his shoulder. His head bent slightly over the barrel as he began to take aim.
“We are going to die,” Elder Power said under his breath.
Everything from the missionaries perspective began to move in slow motion. They could see Silas close his left eye and sight along the barrel of the gun. Panic stricken they saw his right index finger position itself at the angle required to fire both chambers at once. Silas’ left arm tensed and his left hand tightened on the grip. Slowly he pulled the shotgun tighter against his shoulder. His right index finger began to pull back toward te stock of the gun.
Elder Thomas had come out three weeks ago. He was a “greenie”. Life as he envisioned it was one of semi-poverty, diligence, prayer, chastity and working hard for the church on the behalf of the Heavenly Father. Thomas considered it an act of providence that he was paired with Elder Power who had been out six months. Power was an industrious and meticulous worker.
Thomas knew, because of his diligence, his companion was slated as the next District leader in the lower part of the state. As soon as Thomas finished training, he knew Power would be transferred, and they would both get new companions. Such was the life of a 19-year-old man on his mission.
Elder Thomas remembered the day of his arrival distinctly. He had no time to unpack. Elder Power had three afternoon appointments, a dinner appointment, and one evening appointment. He was thrust into the fire from the beginning. Now he was under fire. These thoughts shot through Thomas’mind, as well as others, depiction home and family in the split second it took for him to watch Silas Bogan’s finger squeezed gently back on the triggers.
A tremendous explosion split the air.
Both Missionaries hit the ground.
Cackling, Silas walked past the missionaries prone bodies. Reaching down, about three feet behind the heel of Elder Thomas, Silas picked up the body of the snake that he had just obliterated.
Raising his arm toward the sky he laughingly said, “Supper tonight boys. You young fellows were real lucky that I happened around the corner when I did. That rattlesnake was coiled to strike. We have a lot of those around here, and you need to be careful walking in unpopulated areas.
“We really appreciate you looking out for us,” said Elder Thomas, shaking and while from fear, as he picked himself up from the ground. Throwing the snake carcass into the weeds
along the side of the road, Silas helped Power up, and the three of them went to the front porch to sit down. They sat in silence on the porch for about five minutes.
Standing up, Silas said, “Let me take this gun in the house, and I’ll get us a bite to eat.” Returning a few minutes later with white grape juice and cherry turnovers.
“You fellows walk all the way out here?”
“It’s not that far,” replied Elder Power.
“It’s over three miles from the town to here.”
“Uh.. we actually live on the other side of town at the Terrace Apartments. Do you know where that is?”
“I sure do. They are right next to the shopping center- that’s a good five miles from here. Why did you young men walk all the way out here just to give an old dried up man a copy of the Book of Mormon? That seems like a long way out of your way to go for someone like me?”
Elder Thomas spoke up, “Our Mission requires us to make sacrifices in order to do the Lord’s work.”
“I thought that the Church would furnish you with transportation.”
“We have to supply our own way of getting around.”
“Well… we did have bikes until this morning.”
“What happened this morning?”
“Our bikes were stolen.”
“Stolen? By who?”
“A bunch of young guys in a red pick-up.”
“I don’t know why teenagers have such a mean streak these days. I really hate you lost your bikes. When you get ready to leave, I’ll get ‘Ol Sal’ and drive you back to your place.”
After a time of getting to know each other a little better and learning that Silas had graduated from Harvard shortly after the end of World War I, the missionaries began teaching the first discussion concerning the Plan of Heavenly Father.
At the conclusion of the first meeting, which included a tremendous amount of Biblical referencing and reading, Silas asked Elder Power to say a closing prayer. “Dear Heavenly Father, we are thankful for the opportunity to meet with Silas today and share with thy gospel. Help as he strives to find the truthfulness of this gospel, and the Spirit be with him and that his prayers are answered. Please bless his household that it will be kept from dangers seen and unseen. As we depart, we ask you to keep us safe till we gather together again. Father we thank you for all the many blessings you have given us. We say these things in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ, amen,” prayed Elder Thomas. The Elders inquired if they could come back for a second lesson and Silas said yes.
While the Elders waited on the porch, Silas disappeared around the side of the house. After a minute or so they heard an engine start in the distance. The roar of the engine got closer,
and the Missionaries stepped down from the porch just in time to see Silas, in a shiny solid black 1952 Chevy pick-up, come from the back of the house. Silas pulled up next to Elder Power.
“Climb on in fellows. Ol Sal may not be much to look at, but she will get us there in one piece.”
The three of them rode the five miles back to the apartment, bumping, chugging, and rattling all the way. When they got back, Elder Thomas asked, “How long have you had this truck?”
Pulling away from them, Silas leaned his head out the window and cackling loudly over his shoulder yelled, “I bought her in ’52.”
The Missionaries continued meeting with Silas every week for three more lessons. Each lesson was a trial for the Missionaries because Silas was full of questions. Most of the questions dealt with the relevance of The Book of Mormon to the King James Bible.
Every time the Elders came to Silas’ house, they were greeted at the door with a tray of tarts and three glasses of grape juice in one hand and the rag-tagged, weathered,dog-eared,marked, and remarked eighty year old family Bible, his mother had given him, in the other. He would invite them in, they would talk for a few minutes, and then one of the Elders would open the lesson with a prayer. That was the way the ritual went each time they visited. Nothing varied. Nothing changed. Nothing, that is until they got to the fifth lesson.
The Elders were walking up the now familiar rutted drive when Elder Thomas noticed the front door closed. Turning to his companion he asked, “Do you have the appointment book with you?”
“Yes,” was the answer as Power pulled the folded blue planner from his shirt pocket.
“What time is it,” Power asked?
“2:30. Isn’t that the time we’re supposed to be here?”
“Yes unless you wrote it down wrong.”
“No, I’m sure I didn’t. You know how Mr. Bogan is; he told us that if we were ever late not to bother to come because he would send us away.”
“Yeah – I know.”
The two approached the house, mounted the steps and crossed the porch to the front door. Elder Thomas pressed the doorbell. After a few seconds with no answer, he pressed the button again. Becoming a bit anxious because Silas had always been waiting for them in the past Elder Power pulled open the screen and rapped the ring against the brass lion head door knocker. The sound of brass on brass and a hollow thudding emanated from behind the big oak door.
Elder Thomas began to get uneasy. He reached for the knocker and rapped it as hard as he could. After what seemed to the Missionaries as an infinite span of time, Elder Thomas looked to his companion and asked, “Do you think something has happened to Mr. Bogan?”
“I don’t know. Let’s try looking around, maybe he’s fallen and severely hurt himself.”
“Or worse, he could be dead.”
“Don’t say something like that.”
Both Elders began walking across the porch trying to look into the windows. Doing so was almost impossible the dust and grime from so many years of neglect prevented them from seeing anything but hazy images: images that resemble an early spring morning in the Great Smokies as the fog lifts and burns away from the valley.
Elder Thomas pulled the sleeve of his shirt down over the heel of his hand and began wiping individual panes of glass to get a better view. Seeing this, Elder Power did likewise.
After looking in all the windows they could from the porch, each went around the house in opposite directions doing the same all the way around.
When they both turned the corner of the wall to the back entrance of the mud room, they almost collided.
Power spoke first,”Did you see anything?”
“Neither did I.”
“Did you hear anything?”
“Maybe we should knock on the back door?”
“Yeah, good idea,” said Power as he immediately acted upon the suggestion by grabbing the screen door handle.
Elder Thomas stepped forward and with his hand balled into a fist, thumb out, pounded, with all his strength, on the heavy door. He paused; then repeated the process twice more.
The house was silent. As a matter of fact at this point in time the whole world seemed quiet – too quiet – like a tomb.
“Let’s go to the shop and look around there,” Power said.
“No. You know Mr. Bogan told us never to go near his shop, or he would never ask us back again.”
“I know, but what if he needs help? I would hate to think we were this close, and he died because we didn’t try.”
“You’re right. Let’s go!”
With Elder Thomas leading the way, the young men started toward the shop. The only sound anywhere came from under their feet on the dried leaves of grass crushed beneath their weight. As they got closer to the shop, Elder Thomas nudged his companion and pointed. On the right side of the shop barely visible was Ol Sal. This eased their mind a little because if Ol Sal were here then Mr. Bogan was here somewhere.
When the Missionaries were within ten feet of the shop, the door flew open and Silas, red with rage from the neck up, stepped out.
“I told you boys never to come out here!”
“But we thought you might be hurt,” said Elder Thomas.
“You boys leave my property … NOW!”
“But…,” began Power.
Taking a step toward the two and raising his fist in a threatening manner Silas screamed, “I said GO!”
The two Elders turned and with their heads down walked back around the house, up the dirt road and then back to their apartment, sullen and not speaking. That night they discussed the events of the day with their District Leader and he told them not to worry, everything would be O.K.
Over the next week, the Elders tried to call Mr. Bogan and he would either not answer or hang up on them.
As the days passed and the Elders continued the work of Heavenly Father, they thought less and less about Silas Bogan. Three weeks had passed since their last visit with Silas.
On the first day of the fourth week, the phone rang at 7:30 a.m.
Elder Power picked up the phone, “Hello?”
“Yes is this the residence of the Morman Missionaries Elders Power and Thomas?” asked the voice on the other end.
“Yes it is. I’m Elder Thomas, may I help you?”
“I suppose so… I need the two of you to come to Silas Bogans’ house as soon as possible.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I think could say there was a major problem. I’m Silas’ son, and I need you to come to my father's house as soon as you can.”
“We can be there within the hour.”
The Missionaries walked the familiar road to Silas’ house, hypothesizing as to the reason for the unexpected call. As the rounded the last curve, they saw a silver Mercedes parked in the turn-around.
The door to the house and a white-haired man approximately fifty-five years od stepped onto the porch. He was wearing a three-piece suit and the trademark red Republican tie. His stature was completely opposite from that of his father. The Missionaries walked closer to the porch.
“I believe that you two are the Missionaries that impressed my father?”
Elder Thomas answered, “Yes we are.”
“I’m Montgomery Bogan. I have a letter from my father for you.” Reaching into his inside breast pocket, he withdrew a sealed white envelope. Stepping forward he handed it to Elder Thomas.
Elder Thomas read the front; “To the Missionaries.” He turned it over gently in his hand and began to open it. He took out the yellow sheet of paper and unfolded it. Written on the piece of paper in a scrolled antiquated were these words; “My son has been instructed to take you to my shop. Please indulge me.” Elder Thomas folded the letter and replaced it in the envelope and looked inquisitively at Mr. Bogan.
Without saying a word, Mr. Bogan walked down the steps and started around the house toward the shop. The Missionaries followed in silence.
Not a word was spoken between the three of them as they approached the shop. The only sound was of the keys being extracted from Mr. Bogans pocket. As they reached the door, he extended his hand and inserted the key into the lock. The lock clicked, and he pulled the door open.
“My father told me to allow you boys to go into the shop and remove what’s behind the white sheet.”
“No, I am not. What is behind the sheet is yours. Just take it and leave.”
The Elders walked up and pulled the sheet away to expose what was behind it.
There, with the sunshine shimmering off the meticulously painted frames, were two hand-built bicycles. Taped to one of the handle bar of one of the bikes was a note with these words written on it; “To my friends who taught me a lot in the twilight of my days. Use these wisely and only for the Lord’s work.”