John Thomas Tuft
4 min readFeb 17, 2024


By John Thomas Tuft

(Excerpted from chapter 13 of The Nightcrosser)

Gideon wiped the sweat from his forehead then picked up the shovel again and resumed his labors. His left thigh muscle still got stinging pains in it from the old knife wound that Luther Quinn inflicted years ago. Luther was dead now going on four years, although the fallout from 9/11 looked like it would reverberate for a long time to come. He sighed and his breath settled down into the mulch and plant food that he placed around the bulbs. Laurel insisted that they plant flowers for the next spring. Sarah watched him with keen interest.

“Momma always said, ‘plant for what you need and add a little for what you want. Beauty feeds the soul.’” She paused, lost in thought for a moment. “She also said that when stuff that isn’t supposed to happen, really happens, or what you did not plan for comes to pass, it might mean your imagination is too small.” She looked at Gideon, eyebrows raised. “Do you know what that means?”

Gideon chuckled. “Your momma was amazing, rest her soul.”

“Why do people that you heal still die, Gideon?”

“Do you remember when we first met?” Gideon knelt in the warm dirt and selected a bulb. “Up on Backbone Mountain?”

“You and Laurel were coming up the mountain in that rickety old truck while me and the kids were in the woods beseeching. Momma was sick unto death, and I knew who you were the moment I laid eyes on you, Mr. Gideon.” She stopped, looked thoughtful, before asking, “Do you still do healing?”

Gideon paused with a bulb in his hand, looking hard at the dirt, “I haven’t tried lately, to tell you the truth.” He dropped the bulb in the hole and kept talking as he pushed earth over top of it. “Being the Healer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” The words left a frown on his face.

“But you saved Momma.”

This brought a small smile to Gideon. “The gift saved your Momma. You can thank Laurel for that.”

“But didn’t it make you a part of something much bigger than you?”

Gideon studied the teenager, who looked so earnest, yet untouched by the strange events that occurred around this “Something bigger than you.” “If that’s the case, then it made you part of it, too. Right?”

Sarah shrugged, back to the insouciance of her biological age. “Momma still died.”

“Yes, she did. Everything that lives also dies. That’s how we know what life is.” He sat back on his haunches. “I’m planting these bulbs a month earlier than they should go into the ground. All the signs say that the Exodus is coming, and this is our way of saying, okay, let it come. These may be flowers, or beauty, left for someone else to enjoy. The only real question in life is what are we leaving behind? Love and laughter, or pain and emptiness? Because there is no question about it, we are all going. And what we leave behind certainly is not for us. It’s for those still alive. Life is a psalm of lamentations and rejoicing. Both.”

“I don’t always understand you, Mr. Gideon, but I sure like listening to you talk.” They both laughed at this. Sarah looked down, chewing on her lower lip. “Do you think anyone will know that I was here?”

“That’s up to you, now isn’t it? What we leave behind are memories. Back in Pittsburgh there are lots of things with the names Mellon, Carnegie, Forbes, Heinz, even Clark on them. They are just names on buildings now. There’s a big difference though between being a name on a building and a name in a heart. You know who leaves a name in hearts? People like Roberto Clemente and Fred Rogers. They don’t put their names on buildings in order to be remembered. No, they’re in people’s hearts because of who they are.”

Gideon looked up at the sky, watching an airliner’s vapor trail etch a path through the blue. Then he looked east, toward the nearest ridge in the distance. “Between here and that ridge,” he continued softly, “lies Shanksville and the Meadow.”

“I remember,” Sarah’s voice was barely audible. “I was eleven at the time of the Bloodfire Sacrifice.”

“They want to put a memorial there, where the plane went into the ground. Little do they know…” his voice trailed off.

Sarah stepped close and laid a hand on his head, as though ordaining him to a calling of grief. An afternoon gust of warm wind blew down the slopes behind them to the west and stirred the loose dirt. A shadow passed over the two figures hunched over the planting of promise. They both looked up and caught sight of the old owl who hung around the barn, gliding on the breeze, enormous wings spread wide, his eyes fixed on them as though he knew some secret that they did not.

“Gideon! Gideon, come quick!” Desperate cries reached them, distorted a bit by the sound of the wind in their ears. “Now. Please. It’s your daughter. It’s Zanna!”

Gideon spun around to see Johnna sprinting across the open space between the house and the ancient red barn. He took a step toward her. “What?”

Johnna tried to yell as she ran. “Laurel’s wit…with her. Barn. In…the…” she waved behind her. “Hurry. Gideon, she’s…she’s…” Johnna bent over, gasping, a few yards from them. “She fainted. I heard her stumble against the tack rack, then she fell. Gideon, she stopped…” She hesitated. “She stopped breathing.”

Gideon set off at a dead run.

Sarah and Johnna followed close behind, neither of them noticing that the old owl had wheeled around, flying escort to the drama below.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.



John Thomas Tuft

John is a novelist, retired mental health counselor and minister and sheep farmer, who now lives in Roanoke, VA.