is a story about love, loss and self discovery. This book
and Trulove Clement, the novel Arnold is currently working
on, will form two-thirds of a compelling triology whose characters
occupy a true, yet invented world in which life's ironies abound
and mystical destinies are revealed.
a tornado roars through Bluff Springs, Arkansas, destroying
everything in its path, 10-month-old Sam Lanier is torn from his
parents' arms and sucked into the violent spin. Somehow he miraculously
survives, while both his parents are killed. The world's attention
is drawn to this bizarre quirk of fate as a sign, a miracle from
God. Hallelujah! Sam has been spared! There's something different
about the baby. Something mystical and compelling that draws them
in. If they see him, they feel better. If they touch him, they
are healed. The tornado changes his world forever, and he is transformed
into the messenger of God called Innocent Lanier.
As the numbers of pilgrims grow, the orphaned boy is caught between
one set of grandparents and their fundamentalist pastor who promote
Innocent's destiny as an evangelical tool, and his other grandfather
who despises the whole
As they fight over him, the boy has his own inner struggles
to survive losing his parents and determining who he really is.
As he grows up trying to find his way after the storm's trauma,
there are only a few people he feels safe with-an odd mix of people
who for one reason or another the wind has swept his way. The
tornado has changed the course of all their lives, and as Innocent
tries to find himself, they search for themselves as well.
is an exerpt from the book Innocent Lanier:
It was the storm that blew the feathers off the chickens. Lifted the scum right off the surface of the pond and flung it through Miss Mary Butz’s worn-out, red gingham curtains turning them a pukey green. Even under the cherry bed, the one in which she and her mother before her were born, the old woman wasn’t safe. The scum splattered every crag and crevice of Miss Mary’s amply wrinkled face.
Some folks silently wished it had killed her, though they wouldn’t even whisper it in the godforsaken still of the Jewish cemetery or the gossip-laden clamor of the local Cut N Curl. These silent wishers knew Miss Mary to be as deadly as a water moccasin, and they were tired of getting tongue bitten—but they didn’t want to be struck down by Providence for saying it out loud.
The storm skipped over her buxom niece, Freda, who lived next door. Freda and her man friend, Gene, were engaged in their weekly tryst. She had on her bunny ears. He was wearing a smoking jacket like he’d seen Hugh Hefner wear.
The storm left one of Earl Miller’s heifers cut in half by a telephone pole, entrails scattered along Route 55. Raymond Cutler’s fancy hay baler was dropped in the middle of Ella Lipscomb’s expensive manmade lake. Then the fierce airborne tilt-a-whirl cut a path across the river, sucking up carp, bass, and crappie before shooting them like shrapnel through the plate glass window of Steak Eater’s Paradise, whose logo included “Nothing But Red Meat Here.”
But right before it would’ve demolished the Better-Love-Jesus Christian Chapel, the cyclone swung out east of town. Out toward the Lanier’s place and the brand new house they’d lived in for the last two months.
Lemuel “Lem” Lanier had thought it looked like storm weather all afternoon. The temperature was wrong too. It was in the 70’s, too hot for late November, and the cumulonimbus clouds were as unstable as Weird Butch down Bayou Road. But Lem just kept watching and doing what he was doing, which was cutting his new lawn of his new house with his new riding mower.
His wife, Teri, had just gotten off work from Grady’s Furniture where she was a salesperson and “country” decorator because that’s what most people wanted around there. But Teri was more interested in an eclectic mix of styles and had recently been studying 18th Century rococo. She was mesmerized with the ornate patterns and longed to use her real decorating muscle and create such a villa, or at least give one a handsome fluff-up.
This fantastical hope grew so large in her heart that it had become a real wish. And on one moonlit night in April, it metamorphosed into a dream that claimed a life of its own. Occasionally, it appeared as a romantic fairy tale: Prince Estival, overcome with passion for her elegant aesthetic as well as her in and external beauty, sweeps her up madly and implores her to stay in the vision that she herself created.
Though there were moments on blue days, especially when PMS had settled in, that the dream felt as transparent as an illusion. Teri tried to keep those thoughts away with creative visualization and journaling, self-help propaganda terms that were nothing more than picturing what you wanted and taking a little time to consider how you felt.
Teri didn’t have time for that psychobabble bullshit. She called it the way she saw it, except sometimes when she was in her salesperson mode. There were just some people whose opinions you could never change no matter how wrong they were. In those cases you had to go with the customer flow—and with enthusiasm—their taste, their money. They had to live there. Not her.
But life was mostly blue sky for Teri, and between now and this future plane of her career, she knew she’d just have to settle for expanding her reputation with Glenda Carver’s 4,000-square-foot modern house.
Teri had run by the babysitter’s and snatched up Sam before heading home. As she pulled into the gravel driveway, she spotted Lem chugging along on his shiny, green mower. He waved his Harold’s Bait Shop cap around in the air like it was a 10-gallon Stetson and hollered out one quick, “Yippie-yi-oh-ki-a,” before cutting a neat corner.
Teri slid her white Honda wagon into the carport and jerked the emergency brake up. Even though their farm was on a piece of flat land, she thought you could never be too careful, especially with a baby on board. The white car was met by two hounds, a beagle and a Golden Retriever, which explained the kind of hunting Lem did—deer, rabbit, and duck—although he occasionally scoured the woods and picked off a squirrel or two.
Teri thought she’d like to have grilled venison chops for dinner, a green salad, and rice with consommé and mushrooms. Maybe she’d even make an egg custard pie, Lemuel’s favorite, and Sam could gum some of the warm custard.
The menu was flying through her head as the dogs jumped up and slurped her a time or two. She didn’t mind them getting that slick dog mouth goo on her, but she couldn’t stand it on the baby. Teri was trying to get him unbuckled and into the house. “That’s enough,” she said, shooing the swarm away. “Go on. Sam doesn’t need any more of your slobber.” The screen door latched shut with its tight new springs the second she closed it. Teri was happy. It had been a good day.
“Sammy, Mama’s going to let you play while I get supper ready,” Teri said, sticking her fingers in his diaper to make sure it wasn’t wet. Then she plunked him down on the floor and spread some of his toys around him, including her measuring cups and spoons.
Sam looked up at his mother, blinked and yawned. He was ten months old now. Teri could hardly believe it. He was sitting up like a big boy, laughing and crawling around. It seemed like he grew right in front of her eyes, and his head was full of dark curls.
“How are my two favorite people in the world?” Lem called out as he opened the door. Teri was washing the green leaf lettuce, and Lem came up behind her, put his arms around her waist, and squeezed her tight. Her body relaxed into his strong grip. It made her feel safe and loved when he held her in his arms like that, like he could make anything that was wrong be all right, or at least make it better.
Teri was still struck by how handsome her husband was. He had a medium build and dark brown hair cut ultra-short, and he’d always kept in shape. Lem was strong and lean and looked sexy in a raw, Marlboro man kind of way, especially in his jeans. He looked a real gentleman in his navy suits.
And Lem had really been understanding about sex ever since Sammy was born. First, Teri was sore from the stitches. Her body needed more time to heal. Then they both had to adjust to a baby who demanded her time and attention 24 hours a day. After that, she was simply and completely exhausted. Teri’s lack of desire worried her, and she felt bad for Lemuel. But her friend, Ona, who had two kids of her own, said it was normal. Teri would get it back some day.
Teri turned around and kissed Lem on the cheek. Then turned back to take care of business. Sam let out a big coo, and Lem bent down, picked him up and held him high in the air. “Here’s my boy,” Lem said with a big grin spread across his face. “Did you learn some new moves today?” Sammy smiled at his daddy and squealed with delight as Lem threw him up in the air. Teri smiled to herself. She had done well for herself so far.
“Let’s go in here, bud,” Lem said,” and you can sit on Daddy’s lap while I watch the news. “Hon, I’ll be in there to help you in a minute. Do you want me to cook something on the grill?”
“I thought we’d have some venison chops, and I’d just sear them on the stove a la Steak Diane.”
Teri tried to keep them on a healthy diet without being a nut about it. Her philosophy was that there was a happy medium between eating right and enjoying life. Her gastronomic heroine was Julia Child.
But with as much as Lem ate, Teri didn’t know how he kept from gaining. She hadn’t lost all the baby weight yet, and that bothered her too. Why did fat want to stick on women more than men? Especially since women were judged so harshly by their busts and butts, a fact she found elementally offensive, though she sure cared how she looked.
Before Lem could sit down, he checked Sam’s diaper. “You need fresh pants. Don’t you, pal.” Then he took Sam back into his cloud-covered room. Teri had wanted Sam to have high expectations, to feel like he could reach up and touch the moon and the stars anytime he wanted. So she had the high school art teacher paint them on Sam’s ceiling.
Lem had had a good day too. He practiced law, farmed on the side. Today he’d settled a case that would pay off substantially over the long run. To celebrate, he’d taken off early to try out his new mower.
Being outdoors, working with the earth felt natural to him. He could be blue as the sea and that physical touchstone would make his spirit soar. It would make him feel whole, and a part of a good and right world, a transcendence that always surprised him. He thought that if every person had a piece of land to call his own, to lie down on and look up at the sky and dream, the world would be a more hospitable place.
Lem had grown up in this country. Graduated from high school here before he went off to the state university to get degrees in business and agriculture. That’s where he and Teri had met in their senior year. She’d been dating one of his fraternity brothers, and when they broke up, Lem had asked the guy if he minded Lem taking Teri out. He hadn’t. It had never been a hot and heavy relationship. They were still friends.
Lem felt like he’d scored. He had loved the way Teri hooted with laughter when something struck her as funny, the wry way she looked at the world. He loved the way her silky hair bounced on her small shoulders when she ran, her full lips, the curve of her ass. He loved that she always made a nest with her mashed potatoes and green peas and that she cried at sad movies without shame. He loved it that she liked to please but never acted dumb or played up to him.
Teri had womanly balls but treated him like a man. Lem liked that feeling. Like his testosterone was running upstream the same as spawning salmon.
Teri and Lem had gotten married in a big church wedding at precisely 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Teri had definite ideas about how things should be and look, and that’s one of the qualities that drew Lem to her. But in this case, she had one last bone to throw her mother—the grand wedding her mother never had and in the church Teri never stepped foot into again.
After law school, the young couple had moved to Bluff Springs for a small town life, family roots, and the geography. To the south and east of Bluff Springs, it was pretty much flat farming land brimming with mosquitoes and rich earth. But the town itself sat on the beginning of a ridge that ran through the northeast corner of the state, the foothills.
Nestled in those foothills, smack in the center of town was the spring that had been drawing people all the way back to the Indians. It was called the Bluff Spring because it was under a tall rocky ledge, but the bluffs further out made the rocks in this town of 4,783 look like a young girl’s breasts just beginning to bud. Lem thought his family and the other settlers must have been longing for the mountains they’d left.
Lem and a buddy opened a law office, and Lem helped his father with the farm. His goal was to move it beyond mere survival and to build it back up. The keys were patience, timing, and not saying “I told you so” as well as commanding an occasional covert operation. His old man lived in another mind zone and was stubborn as hell.
So far all Lem’s plans had worked out better than he’d hoped. You could say he was ahead of schedule.
Lemuel watched the sky, and he could see the storm brewing. Could smell it too. As the afternoon wore on, the heavens turned from pale blue to battleship gray and then slowly seeped into a jaundiced yellow.
“Okay, pal. You’re done,” Lem said looking into Sam’s wide open eyes. “Let’s go check out the weatherman.” Lem picked Sammy back up and hauled him into the den, but before he could get the TV turned on, Sam started fussing.
“Do you mind feeding him?” Teri asked, rolling out one of her flaky piecrusts. Lem’s eyes lit up when he spied it. “Egg custard,” she said. He licked his wind-chapped lips.
Lem fitted Sam into the wooden high chair that had been Lem’s when he was a baby. He pulled out jars of Gerber’s rice, chicken and veggies, and another of pears. Sammy kept fussing.
“I don’t like the looks of it,” Lem said, opening the jars, eyeing the sky through the window. “It’s too yellow, sick.” Rain began peppering the ground outside, and Zemo the Lab pawed the door. Teri stopped fluting the crust and turned on the TV in the den. “There’s a tornado watch,” she said and stepped back into the kitchen.
Harold Carr could see it was turbulent—a funnel cloud—and then it sprouted what looked like a tail. Harold stood straight up and saluted to God and His Almighty Power as the then-writhing column dropped out of the gray cloud base above, touched the ground, and became a roaring tornado. Harold’s fear of the power of this nature glued him to the boards where he stood.
It whirled by Harold’s bait shop and sucked up his worm beds across the road. Sent the dogs to cowering. The lower half of the twisting wind had turned from gray-white to black with churning debris.
Shortly after, and on the same side of the river, Miss Mary got hit with the green scum. The new tornadic system was being tracked by Doppler radar.
Freda had just hopped over to Gene. “Drink? Cigarettes? A blow job?” she purred. Then one by one, she unhooked her fishnet hose from the satin garter belt. As she was going down and he was coming up, they heard the ever-louder thunder but kept on with abandon. At the peak of their crescendo, the tornado blew off the roof. They both felt it was a heavenly omen about their profound man and womanhood.
On the TV picture, the station’s weather icon changed from yellow to red. “The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for Martin and Logan Counties in north-central Arkansas,” Hal Prince, the weatherman, said. “If you live in those areas, take cover right away. I repeat. Take cover right away.” Sam was banging on his tray with the measuring cups and spoons and throwing them on the floor. The rain changed to hail at the Laniers.
By the time that wind got to Steak Eater’s Paradise, its force was 198 miles per hour and the funnel rose several hundred feet into the air. People in town were ducking for cover as fast as they could. Richard and Cathy Elms burst in their teenage daughter’s door—the music was rocking and she couldn’t hear them—and dragged her out. They leapt into the bathtub and covered up with sofa cushions. Except for a few shattered windows, they were spared while their neighbor’s house had caved in.
Harvey Davis and his employees, who happened to be taking inventory at the time, raced down into the basement of his Ace hardware store. By the time they came up, the merchandise was flying. Harvey and his employees could go home. No need to take inventory now.
The Better-Love-Jesus sign cracked Brother Jerry over the head and sent him reeling. He got 63 stitches in the ER, and the doctor noted that the gash barely missed Brother Jerry’s vocal chords.
Through a lull in the Laniers’ after-work kitchen frenzy, the weatherman persisted his admonition. Teri looked up alarmed. “What did he say?” she asked, heading for the den. “The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for Martin and Logan Counties,” the man answered. The tornado was swirling their direction, east of town.
A rumble filled the Lanier’s house, while the air surrounding it felt eerily still. As Teri grabbed Sam out of his chair, Lem threw the door open. The dogs rushed in, and Lem stepped out watching. “Oh...my...God,” he whispered to himself.
“It’s running parallel with the highway. But a long way off.”
“Get in here this minute,” she screamed. “We’ve got to get in the hall and close the doors.” Sam began crying. He was heavy with his mother’s fear.
“It’s not coming our way,” Lem hollered back.
“Lemuel Lanier get in the house this minute,” Teri wailed, slamming doors as fast as she could. Lem looked behind the tornado to see if he could find the path, if it was changing directions. He couldn’t see a thing. He turned his head to see what lay ahead. Damn, it was the Prickett place. George and Helen had been there 47 years. Really built it up, too. Lem had made out their wills. Thank God, they were visiting their daughter in Charlotte.
The funnel took the Prickett house in its spiral. Seconds later, it was regurgitated up all over their 20 acres and the Smith place as well.
“Lem,” Teri said crying, standing at the door. “Please come in the house. If you won’t do it for me, do it for Sam.”
“We’re all right. It’s not coming our way. I’ve never seen a tornado in person. Man, it is unbelievable. Got the Prickett place. Looks like nothing’s left. Been there for all these years. The next second it’s gone.” Lem nodded for Teri to come on out.
She hesitantly stepped onto the carport and looked out at the storm. Sam sat on her hip, and she stood nervously rocking him from one side to the other. Lem pulled Teri to him and enclosed them in his arms. “It looks evil to me, like a big devil,” said Teri, hugging Lem tight. “Let’s go in.”
“It just looks...Well, like a mobile atom bomb. A time bomb. A here and now bomb depending on where you are. A life bomb that can destroy everything you worked your whole life for—in the snap of a finger. Look at the power.” Lemuel heard Teri close the door.
“I’ve seen enough. Please come in,” she pleaded.
“I’m coming,” Lem said, looking back at his beautiful wife. He turned to go in, but before he opened the door he turned back. In that split second, the storm took a 90-degree turn directly toward them. There were several small vortices whirling around the big daddy funnel, and Lem smelled the stink of its destruction. He suddenly saw that being a Homo sapien didn’t mean anything, didn’t mean your life would be protected by any force like God. What were we to him—another immortal soul? Lem started moving faster.
“Dogs get out!” shouted Lem. “Make a run for it!” He pushed them out the door and glanced once more at the oncoming disaster. He thought Teri was right. It must’ve come up from Hell.
Lem felt a nebulous freedom in the notion that he may have just lost his religion. He found out the immorality of God. The next moment he was praying while he pulled a bed mattress over his family. Sam was locked between them.
Teri was thinking that maybe Freud’s idea of a death instinct was true. Why did they build a house on this spot? Why did they move here two months ago? Because they wanted to be killed by a tornado? She didn’t think so. Maybe they’d been too lucky. Maybe they hadn’t been good or grateful enough.
Sure, she’d smoked some pot and popped a few pills in college. Lots of times she’d had too much wine, too many beers or drinks. But she thought she was a good person. She’d pretty much always tried to do the right thing. All right, she’d felt guilty ever since she was 10 years old for calling Judy Moffat “Fat-Gut.” But she really didn’t set out to do people harm.
“Baby, I love you,” Lem told his wife.
“I love you too,” Teri said back.
“I love you, Sam,” they whispered in his ears.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Lem shouted.
“I know,” Teri shouted back. She wanted to believe what Lem told her.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” said Teri. As the noise became deafening and the pressure was palpable, they snuggled with their son. “I thought you said we didn’t need a storm cellar,” Teri said out loud.
The storm hit them head-on. For an instant, Lem thought they were lifted up by the palms of an angel, a breezy figure skater, pulling them into his benevolent spin. Then he saw the whirling dervish.
And the Laniers were sucked up and tossed away along with the rest of their belongings.
The storm blasted through everything that was unlucky enough to be in its way for 33 miserable miles.