Boone: The Sanctified – Chapter 1
Boone Tackett loved Christmas at Great Crossing. Oversized red velvet bows pulled the unlit garland that hung from the balcony railing into long swoops. The scent of freshly cut pine masked the sanctuary’s usual musty smell. White candles adorned the windowsills, each tied with a ribbon. Poinsettias had been placed along the edge of the altar, with two Christmas trees serving as decorative pillars on each side. The crimson carpet and white pews did their unintentional job of adding to the festive scene.
During his childhood, Christmas at the church meant a time for Advent candles, Christmas plays, caroling, and candlelight services. As he had grown older, and the world around him became more technical and filled with everyday life, Christmas at Great Crossing stayed the same. He could always count on it, and he expected that it would never change.
“Are we ready to go?” Noel asked with her hands on her hips, and a new patterned backpack slung over her shoulders.
“You know you can’t take that girlie thing with you,” Wayne teased, fidgeting with the knife in his pocket.
“Of course I know,” Noel replied smartly. “It’s not like this is my first trip to the garden.”
“We need Jeff, and then we can get out of here,” Boone said nervously. He inhaled through his nostrils, and then exhaled through his mouth, hoping to slow the beating of his heart. Jeff had assured him that they would arrive at precisely the right time.
“He’s not here yet? He should be here by now.” Boone didn’t like that Noel seemed worried.
He anxiously checked the clock on the church wall—12:55. They had agreed to leave no later than 1:00. He hoped to have some time alone with the gardener before the festivities began to discuss what had happened during his last visit.
Of all the possible symbols, why did it have to be the creepy one? Boone thought. A year had passed since he had sketched the symbol of the serpent and cross into his journal. At that time, he would have never imagined he would be wearing it. He didn’t want to think about it, but he knew at some point he would have to accept it and tell the others. He touched his chest and prayed that once they crossed into the garden, the tree of life would reappear on his standard issue work clothing. If not, he would have to explain something that he didn’t understand.
Boone snuck another glance at the clock—12:58. “Breathe! It’s only a speech,” Noel encouraged him.
“Easy for you to say,” Boone mumbled. “Standing in front of large groups has never exactly been my thing.”
“There are over a hundred new workers that would probably disagree with that.” He knew she was referring to the lost, but this felt entirely different. The whole garden would be there—every planter, picker, puller, timer, healer, leader, keeper, musician, observer, and all the other workers whose assignments he couldn’t recall.
“She is right,” Cora insisted. “He would not have chosen you unless he thought you could do it.”
Boone knew that was true, but why him? There were plenty of people that had been in the garden much longer—not to mention the whole issue with the symbol. It would have been nice to have it settled before he had to stand up in front of them all. He had never seen another person in the garden wear this particular symbol, and he was confident he would have noticed something so disturbing. It wasn’t like the others. It was darker and more mysterious.
He had gone over what he had seen a thousand times and attempted to envision it again, but he had no explanation for it other than the gardener had said he was sanctified. Maybe that’s why the gardener had chosen him to give the speech. He thought about asking Noel, or even Cora, but it never felt like the right time to bring up his abnormality. I shouldn’t have waited. , he thought. As soon as they passed through the door, the family would see it. He had to do it now.
“I have to tell you guys something,” Boone addressed his friends. Before he could finish, Jeff emerged from a bright light behind the church’s white double doors.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Jeff said, slightly out of breath.
“No problems,” Cora chimed.
Boone leaned over to her.
“Oh right,” she said with an embarrassed grin.
Her move into the world wasn’t the only change the teens had to face. It hadn’t been easy for them with Jeff gone, especially for Noel, but overall, the church seemed to be adjusting to Not long after they had returned from their last visit, they learned that Jeff’s parents were asked to work in the garden full time. The Thornton family’s arrival made more sense when they learned that Cora’s dad was his replacement.
it should be. His best friends, all together at the church, ready to go to the biggest party the garden had held in decades. They were all excited and had anticipated this day since Jeff had first brought them word that it would take place. Boone inhaled the cold air of the sanctuary one more time, allowing the coolness to fill his lungs. Here I go, he thought. “Jeff, take us back!”
Jeff opened the doors from which he had just entered
“About that Jeff,” Boone said, stopping at the doorway. Every time one of them called him leader, he felt like he was lying to them. “There is this thing that you ought to know before we get there.”
“Whatever it is, it’s gonna have to wait! You can’t be late,” Jeff winked.
“Right, but I think you should know…” Boone attempted to insist.
“Boone,” Jeff said putting his hands on both of Boone’s shoulders. “You’re
Boone couldn’t decide if Jeff’s words were encouraging, or if they terrified him. In the instant that he tried to tell him about the new symbol, he had forgotten about the speech. He hurriedly stepped through the opening, with Jeff close behind.
The garden was into their day and full of life when Boone passed beyond his door. He turned back quickly for a peek, to see if it too had succumbed to the symbol change, but it disappeared as soon as he saw the garden. One of these days, he thought, I’m going catch it before it goes away.
Even with his mind distracted, Boone took a second to close his eyes and breathe in the heavenly aromas that filled the garden. Today, there was a little more cinnamon in the air. For the first time in over three hundred years, Jeff had informed them, Christmas in the world and the garden would fall on the same day. Jeff and Cora had experienced Christmas in the garden, but for Boone and the others, it was a time they had much anticipated. A few seconds later, and they could have missed it, but Jeff had gotten them there on time. Every tree glowed with the illumination of tiny hanging lanterns. Streamers of holly and berries draped from limb to limb. Music billowed over the crash of the waterfalls, enhancing the joy that was always present. Christmas had come to the garden, and Boone was home.
Boone reached up to touch the golden threads on the work overalls that had replaced his blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. “Seriously,” he addressed the mist-filled cave. “Could this not have waited?” He tightly crossed his arms across his chest and prayed that no one would notice the change until he had time to figure out what was going on.
The courtyard was already set up for the celebration. The long tables were in place and covered with their usual white cloths. For the event, Workers, with wooden cups in hand, waited by a massive stone vat set atop a roaring fire for a drink of freshly brewed apple cider. Strings of popcorn and dried fruits adorned the doorways of the stone domes, and children ran freely with bright red streamers flowing behind them.
Hugs and firm handshakes by those he had led in a few months ago welcomed Boone. Many of them he barely recognized without their bandages and tattered clothing. The change in their facial expressions alone was enough to let him know that they were happy, taken care of, and transitioning well. Not a single person passed him without saying hello or giving a nod. He did his best to return their greetings with a one armed wave. The new members of the family held their symbols proudly on their chest. He almost revealed his secret when a new leader introduced herself with a two-armed embrace.
Is it that big of a deal? He thought. Assignments change all of the time. Maybe nobody will notice. However, the more people he passed, the more he was reminded that no one else wore the serpent and the cross. With the gardener nowhere in
He imagined that Jeff and Noel had gone straight to the Keepers Hall. Cora would be in the kitchen ready to serve, Case would join the musicians, and Wayne would be checking out the work that the planters had done while he was away. Boone thought it was funny how at home they were always together, but when they visited here, with the exception of dinner, they rarely saw each other.
The mist was setting; the evenin had something more pressing on his mind, including a way to calm his intensifying nerves. He had rehearsed what he would say a hundred times, maybe more. When Jeff had brought word that the gardener wanted him to speak at the celebration, Boone was flattered.
There were so many in the garden that he felt would be better qualified. Maybe it should have been Eli. Eli was an eloquent speaker, however sometimes cryptic, but he had known the gardener much longer. Boone even thought Aggie, the healer, would be a better choice. He loved her sweet southern accent and would be highly entertained listening to her. But, the gardener had called upon him. He sorted through all of the possible reasons why the gardener had chosen him: Was it because he had led in the new leader? Or could it have something to do with the vision he had seen the last time he had been in the garden? Regardless, he was the one, and he preferred to do the whole thing sitting down hidden behind the table.
figure out a way to leave. He recollected his fall, his forgiveness, and his step into new life. Then, he remembered leading the lost, and seeing their eyes when they looked upon the garden for the first time.
Boone closed his eyes to embed in his mind the sweetness that the memories of the garden gave him, but instead of seeing his friends, or the lost, he saw a fire. A huge fire enveloped everything below him, slashing at the trees, and withering the vines. He snapped his eyes open and gasped for fresh, smoke-free air. No, he thought, unable to believe the future his gift had shown him. It can’t be.
“Hello, son!” the gardener said with his arms wide open.
“Gardener!” Boone exclaimed.
“You seem surprised to see me. You know why I called you here, don’t you son?”
“Yes, Gardener. Sorry, I was confused for a minute.” Boone tried to bring his mind away from what he had seen. “So this is it. Are you sure you’re ready?”
“I am, my friend,” the gardener said, glancing down at Boone’s crossed arms. Boone pulled his arms in tighter. “You haven’t told them yet, have you, son?”
The gardener chuckled. “You’ll be alright leader. They’re your friends; they’ll get used to it.
“So you know what it means?”
“Yes, I do. There are several here that know what it means.”
“Can you tell me?”
The gardener appeared quieter than usual. “You’re the first in this garden. You were chosen before you were born, Boone. We’re all chosen for the garden in one way or another, but there is something that the garden is asking you to do, and only you can do it.”
“But how do I explain this to people,” Boone said pointing to the detailed stitching of the cross tightly wrapped with a serpent. “There’s a snake on me, in the garden! I’ve read Genesis! Snakes in gardens are not good! This is bad, very bad!”
The gardener chuckled. “Only if you choose to make it bad. Honestly, I don’t know much more than the others, son. I do know that nothingit’s what comes from the outside that you should you be concerned about. You’part for something that I hoped I wouldn’t see in my lifetime, but it was given to you. The garden believes in you, and so do I, Son.”
The music around them increased. “But you did this? You were there. How can you not tell me more?”
“Son, I did what the garden told me to do. I was as surprised as you were.”
Boone could sense that there was something the gardener was keeping from him, something he wasn’t ready to reveal “What will I do when you’re gone?”
“Well, seems to me like you’re surrounded by some good friends, friends that will take care of you. They won’t leave you.”
“I know,” Boone said.
“Boone, you’ll be alright. I am real proud of you, Son. You’ve come a long way in a short time.” The voices of hungry people began to fill the area behind them.
“You don’t have to go you know, there’s plenty of room.”
“Son, thank you for loving me so well, but it’s time for this old gardener to move on to what’s next. ’ it up a bit.” He stopped talking. Boone thought he might be holding back tears, so he looked the other way. The gardener cleared his throat. “You think we ought to let them eat?”
Boone grinned, seeing the man who had once visited him at school, stayed by his bedside as he healed, and had patiently waited as Boone discovered who he was. “Them! I’m starving!”
He was pleasantly surprised when he arrived at his end of the table to see not onlyThe father, Saber, sat with his wife. Each wore the customary tunics worn by the binders. They sparkled with the embellishment of meticulously sewn words and languages from places foreign to Boone. Their daughter Em, with her long hair twisted and knotted into a braid, sat across from them. Seated by her side was their adopted son, Zarach. Boone waved awkwardly with the one arm that wasn’t covering his chest. The sight of Em made him sad that his sister Kaylee wasn’t with them. He had hesitated to tell her that they were celebrating Christmas in the garden, but he knew that she would find out one way or another. So, he promised to take her next year.
Boone could not have imagined a more perfect Christmas feast. People that he loved, and loved him back, surrounded him. He She had already positioned herself in line with other the servers, ready to pass out the evening’s meal. Even with all the new volunteer servers, she believed she was needed. Across from Boone, staring off into the distance was Jude, the one who had been chosen to be the new gardener. The gardener had spent every day since his arrival teaching him. To Boone, it felt too sudden to bring in a new guy.
The gardener pushed his chair away from the table and stood up to pray. Boone knew his turn was coming soon. He gulped, attempting to swallow the butterflies that were flying up his esophagus. “Mishpachah let us rise!” The family followed his request as the gardener prepared to ask his final blessing on the garden. “Creator, Provider, Father,” the gardener said, pausing to allow the garden to sing after him, “we are humbled by Your provision, by the feast and abundance, and by the one you have brought to us to oversee that Your ways are fulfilled, that we bear fruit, and that we love. In celebration, we join as one for Your glory. Amen!” Boone looked up at him nervously. He had figured the gardener’s last prayer would be lengthier, and more like a farewell speech, but then Boone remembered, that was why he had been asked to come.
In unison, the family sat down, but Boone remained standing. That was his cue. He closed his eyes and begged himself to hold back all emotion. He had planned this, written this, prayed on this, memorized it, and acted it out in his bathroom mirror. “Gardener,” Boone started. A knot took form in his throat. “Excuse me.” He cleared his throat and took a sip of cider, keeping the other arm firmly across the symbol on his chest. He could sense Noel studying him awkwardly. “It is the tradition among us that a member of our family is never to say goodbye when they are . . . ” Boone didn’t want to say the word. He felt like a knot the size of a walnut was forming in his throat. “Leaving. S
and that there was only one thing I had to say, but I would like to say a bit more if that’s okay.” Everyone gazed at him, pleasantly anticipating what he would say next, except Noel who was questioning his odd body position. “The gardener visited me at school one day, and even though there was a strange man in a straw hat talking to me, I felt safe.” A couple of people chuckled. Boone guessed that maybe they had similar visits at one point in time. “He stayed by my side when I healed, and he didn’t give up on me when I fell.” Heads nodded all around him in agreement and in remembrance of their stories. “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He calls me son.” Boone couldn’t go on. He looked over at Cora. Her smile was an encouragement. “I don’t want to say goodbye, because I don’t want you to go, Gardener. I will say good. He had to get it right. Like Jeff had said, no one had messed it up before. “Shalom, Kol Tuv, Peace and Be Well.”
With the final goodbye spoken, the Mishpachah was back on their feet, clapping and cheering for the gardener. Boone felt so relieved that he had made it through without getting choked up, that as Cora was leaning over him to set down a tray of spiced apples, he let his arm drop to his side so that he could reach for the delicacy, and exposed his symbol to the entire garden.
Cora’s tray smashed to the ground. “No!” she cried. “It can’t be!”
The garden fell silent. Anyone who was close to Boone backed slowly away from him. His friends, the Binders, timers, pullers, and healers, every eye, focusedWhispers spread like a wave to the back of the tables informing those who could not see what the others were witnessing. Each of their faces revealed that either they were gravely concerned, or horrified. Fear was not exactly the reaction he had expected, but nearly close to it.
Boone stepped back slowly from the group. He tried to think of something witty to say that might get a laugh or two, but nothing came to him. Boone stuttered the words, “I’m gonna go for a walk.” When it came out, it sound more like, “I can moon walk.” He turned and swiftly took off toward the suspended bridges.
He knew where he was going. He sprinted across the center of the seven hanging bridges, down the spiral staircase and through the herbs, releasing the aroma of lavender and sage as he brushed by them. Behind him, he could hear Jeff calling for him.
“Boone, wait!” Jeff called, “Leader, stop!” Boone ran harder and faster until his side hurt. When he reached the spot in the orchard that he and his friends had unofficially claimed as their own, he stopped. Out of breath, sweating, and shaking, he crouched down and splashed the cool water of the river on his face. As equally out of breath, Jeff got down beside him for a drink.
“I’m not a leader anymore, Jeff! I don’t know what I am!”
“Calm down, Boone.”
“Calm down? Calm down? Did you see their faces? They looked as if I had some disease! It’s not my fault! I didn’t sew this on myself!”
“I know, it’s just…” Jeff hesitated.
“It’s the sign of the foretelling, and you’re wearing it.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Noel begged, panting heavily from her attempt to catch up with them. The others were behind her.
“Can I touch it?” Wayne asked with wide eyes.
“No!” Boone shot back. He was partly comforted by Wayne’s usual humor.
“You were chosen for the foretelling,” Cora said. She stepped to his side. “I am so sorry.”
“That’s what I keep hearing. What’s this foretelling?”
“There is a prophecy; we call it the foretelling,” Cora explained, “of one who would come and bring destruction to the garden. That one would bear a symbol, unlike any others.”
“Wait a minute,” Case asked, “you’re saying that he’s going to destroy the garden?”
“Of course not!” Boone shouted.
“Boone, we know that you would never harm the family,” Cora comforted him. “What did the gardener say?”
“Not much. Something about being sanctified and that the garden chose me.”
“So, if you’re not a leader, does that mean you can’t boss us around anymore?” Wayne asked.
He felt better knowing that his friends knew his secret, and could find humor in the situation. “Hey, I never bossed people around, did I?”
“I’m trying to be helpful,” Wayne joked.
“Whatever it does mean, we’re here for you! Right?” Noel asked, directing her question to their friends. The others nodded and agreed. “Jeff, will you help me search the Keeper’s Hall tomorrow?”
“That won’t be necessary,” the Middle Eastern accent of a teen dressed in the robes of the binders insisted.
“Zarach!” Boone said, stepping up to greet his friend.
“Hello, Boone,” Zarach said embracing him. “Gardener told us what had happened, so I brought you a gift.”
“Oh!” Boone said uncomfortably, “I didn’t get you anything.”
“Were we supposed to bring gifts?” Noel asked Jeff, embarrassed that maybe she had broken protocol. “I thought that gifts at Christmas were a tradition of the world.”
Jeff leaned in and whispered to her, “We weren’t.”
“It is not that type of gift,” Zarach assured him. He handed Boone a small package tightly wrapped in canvas and secured with a leather tie.
Boone carefully undid the wrappings to expose a book. The supple leather book was similar in size to the many red ones he had seen symbol of the serpent and cross. He turned back the cover as it delicately popped and crunched, breaking in the spine for the first time. Boone was comforted, surely this would have the answers to the mysterious symbol, but inside, all the pages were blank. “There’s nothing on them. Is it like a journal or something?”
“My family has held this for many seasons, not knowing to whom it would one day belong. It has been passed down through generations; waiting for you. It is your book, Boone. It is the Book of the Sanctified.
“But why me?” Boone asked uncomfortably.
all set apart as soon as we choose the garden, but there is something that it has selected for you.”
“What if I don’t choose it back?” Boone asked her.
“I imagine, as with all of our assignments, you have a choice, so you will have to decide if you are willing to accept what the garden has chosen for you.”
Boone stared at the empty black leather book and then looked over at his friends whose symbols welcomed them, and clearly established their roles among the family. “No way!” Case shouted.
“Excuse me?” Noel asked with her hands on her hips. “It’s his choice!”
“It will most likely not be easy for him,” Zarach explained. “But with all of our loyalty, he will fulfill the foretelling.”
“Not that,” Case said rubbing his head. He pointed up at the tree above them, and then down at the apple that had hit him on the head.
Boone reached down and picked up what should have been a firm, bright red apple, but instead, its sides were mushy and brown. “Since when does the garden produce bad apples?”
Jeff took the apple from Boone and examined it closely. “It doesn’t.”
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