You might know this author as the creative genius behind:
"The Prophetess of Mars," a short story published in Press Forward Saints: Being an Anthology of Mormon Steampunk, ed. D.J. Butler
“Hey, Elder. See that dog?”
The dog was an orangey thing with mud-flattened fur and a flat expression. It reminded Elder Bradford of the junkies they saw behind the laundromats and taquerias off Garvey Ave.
His companion didn’t respond. He was sending out a dozen we’re-in-the-neighborhood texts in hopes of filling up their next hour, and using his thumbs and ears simultaneously was not a skill he had mastered, so Elder Bradford grabbed his elbow and slowed him to a stop.
Elder Hallin looked up and saw the messy thing dazedly staring at them.
“He looks high.”
“Huh huh, yeah. He does.”
Elder Bradford felt they should turn around and leave the street to the dog. At once. He was about to say so.
“Oh, hey. Lottie says we can teach her son if we’re there in ten minutes.” And Elder Hallin took off at standard missionary pace around the dog. Elder Bradford took a moment to shake out his nerves then caught up. As they approached the dog, it didn’t seem aware of them.
“I wonder if he is high.”
Elder Bradford shrugged.
“Y’heard of the Word of Wisdom, dog?” Elder Hallin snorted at his own humor.
And the dog leapt at him in a single, violent, supernatural leap that took it straight to his throat. Elder Bradford started beating the dog, beating the dog, beating the dog. He took a step and swung his scriptures with all his might, taking the dog from his companion’s throat and sending it tumbling backward, trailed by a rainbow of blood.
He pried the phone from Elder Hallin’s hand and called 911.
The ride to the hospital was out of focus, filled with yelling from far away. President Forsuch picked Elder Bradford up from the hospital that evening and his companion was sent home to his parents as soon as he’d stabilized.
Elder Bradford remained in the area for six months. Lottie’s son was baptized. So was a Mexican family ten days before their sudden deportation. One month before he was to go home, the mission was closed as the Church removed all missionaries from areas in which the West Covina virus was taking hold. His companion and most of the other missionaries were sent all over the country—Boise, Duluth, Tallahassee, Austin, both Portlands. But since he was at twenty-two-and-a-half months, they just sent Elder Bradford home.
Following the birth of Teddy, Jim and Vella Bradford, after much discussion, decided that she should take the faculty position at UCLA, and they packed up and moved. They settled into a much-too-expensive and much-too-small apartment about halfway between the L.A. temple and campus. Jim enjoyed taking Teddy out in his stroller on long walks around the temple and down to Beverly Hills, or up to the beach in Santa Monica. Eventually though, he started ubering to his old mission stomping grounds, wandering around with Teddy and hoping to bump into familiar faces. He wondered if his own face was familiar.
This thinking got him curious about old companions. He hadn’t kept a journal and he wasn’t sure about many of their names. But he took photos of his old areas and put them on Facebook and, sure enough, one day, he received a message from a Jonathan Hallin who was excited to see ol’ Elder Braffy’s face again and what the heck was he doing back in El Monte???
Hallin was a bloated fellow who looked twenty years older than Jim thought he himself looked, but he accepted the friend request without a message back.
Hallin’s updates soon took up a significant portion of Jim’s timeline. Lots of pictures of flowers and sunsets with inspirational misquotations. Images of nieces and nephews and cats. Hospital rooms. Friendly nurses, , lol. Out-of-focus envelopes delivering good or bad news from the latest blood work.
After a year of constant updates, Jim realized Hallin had West Covina. He had received it while serving in the Lord’s own vineyard (lol!) of the California Redlands Mission, and he would carry this fight all the way to the grave praising the Lord for making him strong and giving him strength and sending strength to his family and maybe even making him an example to those who wonder if missions really do change you for the better and etc etc etc.
Jim hadn’t known that any missionaries had gotten West Covina. And he’d thought everyone who had was dead.
Then Jonathan Hallin posted a photo of himself making his first trip to the beach in eighteen years no for me ha ha ha, but he was going to get some sun gosh darn it , and in his shirtless state, Jim could see Hallin’s ragged and torn neck and suddenly saw through the bloating and the lines and the scars and the fat and the sores to the jawline and cheekbones of a twenty-year old kid from…Idaho, he was pretty sure.
“What is it?”
Jim walked over to Vella and handed his phone to her. “This is that guy who got attacked by a dog on my mission.”
“You never told me about that.”
“No, but you never talk about your mission. Nasty scar.”
“Yeah. Apparently he got West Covina.”
Jim sat down in the chair across from Vella and left a comment, the first words he’d ever sent to Jonathan Hallin.
Hallin wrote back in seconds.
hey man!!! so good to see you !! i saw you were on facebook! LA looks cool, man! i would love to go there again!
of course i have to wear shades anyway because of my eyes (wc) but lalaland man! cool stuff!
Jim didn’t know what to say in response so he just liked the comment and set down his phone.
“I haven’t thought about him in years.”
Jim told her. And realized he’d been warned. So it had been—might have been—his fault. He didn’t mention this.
“You could be dead.”
“I guess so. I never even thought he could’ve got West Covina.”
“Now, yeah. But we didn’t see the news. We didn’t know. And it’s not like the doctors talked to me. President sent him home and…that was the last I thought of him….”
Vella set her laptop aside and walked over, placed her tiny body in his lap and kissed him. “I’m glad you’re alive.”
“Yeah. Yeah, me too.”
He was a bit dazed, but Vella kissed him again and pulled her fingers through his hair and let him practice being alive.
Over the next five years, he liked Hallin’s statuses when he saw them. Wished him happy birthday when Facebook told him to. On his fortieth, Jim sent him two lines of s.
Two months later, he opened Facebook to see a message from a Valerie Monrose with her phone number. Urgent. Please call me.
He shrugged. Why not?
“This is Jim Bradford.”
“Jim— Oh! Jim! Of course, of course. My brother always called you Elder B. How are you?”
“Um, great. Who’s your—?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Of course. You don’t know me. Missionaries always working so hard no time to talk of home. Jon talked about it all the time. Anyway, he died. My brother did. Jonathan Hallin. Last Monday. That…virus finally took him. But he held on a long time. Do you know there are only, like, seventeen of them still alive?”
“Jon was the last male too. So…that’s pretty neat. We’re feeling blessed. All things considered. He was a really good guy.” Her voice caught and suddenly she was weeping. Jim didn’t move.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“So the reason I called.” She sniffled and Jim could hear her wiping her arm across her face. “The reason I called is Jon really really wanted to see you. He was saving from his disability check to surprise you in L.A. You know, ‘for old times’.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry to be telling you this. But look. We were all wondering—we were all wondering if you would come to his funeral? I mean—we can’t afford to get your ticket or anything. Keeping him alive was freaking expensive, if you know what I mean. Worth it! Worth it! I mean, obviously. I don’t mean to complain. The Lord knows best. He protects his missionaries unless of course he wants us all to learn something and we’ve all learned a lot but—but he’s gone now and—
“Will you come?”
“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I, Jon, I would have— Please?”
“Monday morning. So the family can all go to church together the day before. It was Jon’s idea. You would be welcome of course.”
“I don’t think—”
“That’s fine. Just the funeral’s fine. If you can fly into Boise, my uncle can pick you up. He’s” —she whispered— “inactive. So it’s fine.”
“Um. Okay. I.” Jim looked through the wall in front of him. Behind him, he could hear Teddy yelling that one of the twins had a poopy diaper. “Okay.”
Monday morning, in his second-best navy-blue suit, Jim and the inactive uncle pulled into a Caldwell chapel parking lot. People were milling about outside and in, grasping elbows and nodding sadly. Talking about what a fighter he was and how it was a blessing really and what a great example he’d been. An occasional laugh. Jim waited in line to look at the scars peeking above the once Elder Hallin’s collar. He shook hands with a bunch of Hallins who expressed joy at finally meeting him. This is the boy who knocked that dog off our boy down there in L.A. Without that quick acting we wouldn’t have got all these additional years out of him. Goldern hero. Goldern miracle.
Hallin’s mother picked a hair off Jim’s shoulder. “I’m sure glad you boys lived long enough to get some gray. What a tender mercy.”
He was invited to sit with the family in the chapel between the large and pink Valerie and her high-school daughter. After the opening prayer droned to a close, he looked at the program and saw his name after the nieces and nephews sang “Give, Said the Little Stream.” He looked at Valerie. She smiled at him through wet eyes and reached over to squeeze his hand.
The bishop got up and spoke of Jonathan Hallin and how sure he was that he was with his Heavenly Father today and chuckling at our tears. The program moved on. The kids sang. The bishop invited up one of Jon Hallin’s closest friends, an old mission companion. The very man who was by his side when Elder Hallin was called to his great and final mission to inspire me and to inspire you and to inspire every person he ever met.
Jim stood and felt his body fall up the stairs and toward the microphone. He looked out at hundreds of teary eyes. He looked out at them. He cleared his throat. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Jim, uh, James Bradford. And it’s true. I was there that day. When the dog. Elder, uh, Jonathan, Elder Hallin, he—he was busy calling people, making sure we would have people to teach. And I was watching this dog. Of course, we were missionaries, we never—we never watched the news. I think, at that point, West Covina wasn’t really a big enough deal that anyone would have thought to warn us anyway. So, um, this dog.”
Jim was certain he was not making sense. He looked out at the faces. These people should hate him. But they were watching him carefully. Hopefully.
“We went down the street. I was senior, it was my mistake. I should’ve— When, um, when the dog leapt. When the dog leapt, um, at me, uh, Elder Hallin jumped in front of me—I’ll bet he never told you that—he leapt in front of me and—he—” Jim surprised himself with a shaky voice and wiped his left eye. “He saved my life.” It was a lie, Jim knew it was a lie, but he chose to believe it. He reached out and folded that lie into his heart and he believed it.
He said something mostly true about Jonathan finding him on Facebook and somehow made “And that’s how he saved my life again” also sound true. After the funeral, as they ate scalloped potatoes and dry ham and iceberg salad, the men came up to him and shook his hand and the women shook hands or hugged or just smiled through tears. Then the inactive uncle took him back to the airport. They rode mostly in silence, a country station weaving in and out of static through blown speakers. As he pulled up to the terminal, the uncle turned to Jim and asked, “So how much of that was bullshit?”
Jim held the door open about four inches and thought.
“I don’t know,” he finally said. “But whatever was—was medicinal bullshit.”
The uncle laughed and clapped him on the back. “I can see why Jonathan liked you. Have a good flight back.”
Jim nodded. He shut the car door and knocked the window twice. He watched the uncle drive away, then walked toward the airplane that would take him back to Los Angeles, where he would need to his next set of truths.