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By James Dobson
By Kurt Bruner
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A happy home is the highest expression of God's image on earth. And there are forces working to destroy that image, not all of them visible to human eyes. Marriage and parenthood echo heaven, something hell can't abide.
In 1969 I began serving as assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and the attending staff at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. That affiliation continued until 1983. In 1977 I founded what became a worldwide ministry dedicated to the preservation of the home that placed me in one cultural skirmish after another, unwittingly confronting forces much darker than I knew. I don't pretend to comprehend what occurs in the unseen realm. But I know that we all live in what C. S. Lewis called "enemy-occupied territory." The Scriptures tell us Satan will "go out and deceive the nations" at the end of history. A central focus of that deception will be, I believe, the final stage of an assault that began when our first parents believed a rebel's lie.
Over the past four decades I have advised US presidents and cheered exhausted moms as they engaged different fronts of the same battle. Part of my role has been to provide intelligence reports on the war against human thriving. The assignment now forces troubling questions.
What happens in a world where growing up with the protective love of a father becomes the exception rather than the norm? Today's inner-city poverty and violence give us a foretaste of how deeply and widely those ripples will extend.
What happens when the very old outnumber the very young? Demographers tell us the decline in marriage and parenthood is fueling an unprecedented drop in fertility. The growth in global population will soon end, then reverse. The human family will decline at a pace not seen since the fourteenth-century Black Death. As we are already seeing in places like Japan and Russia, economic turmoil always accompanies dwindling population as the few young and healthy are burdened with the ballooning aging and feeble. The best projections show America on a trajectory to tip downward in a few short decades.
This book series is a fictional account of what current demographic, sociological, and cultural shadows portend. But it is also a celebration of God's design for families, which retains a resilient beauty and redemptive power the most ardent forces of hell cannot destroy.
James C. Dobson, PhD
August 17, 2041
I didn't expect the person killing me to yawn in boredom.
The small print under her name, Hannah, reads TRANSITION SPECIALIST. I recognize the title from the online permission form: she's one of the many "thoroughly trained, warm-hearted associates who provide essential services to our heroic volunteers."
She probably exhausted her warmth earlier in the day. She said I'm the fourth volunteer since noon. I counted at least three more in the reception area nervously anticipating their final moments in this very room. Hannah will be eating a late dinner tonight.
I never met the physician. I guess that's to be expected. Doctors don't take temperatures or check blood pressure. They delegate routine procedures like mine. I'm just another lame horse needing a swift, painless end to my misery. No, not a horse. Horses, at least, bring value to the farm. I've been pure expense to Mom and Jeremy for eighteen years, dead weight at a time when humanity needed all hands on deck.
Hannah lifts a dressing gown that looks like an ugly bedsheet. "We need to get you out of those clothes and into this." She speaks loudly, like I'm deaf. Or slow.
I sense Hannah's apprehension. I can tell she's never worked with someone so incapable. Most volunteers probably have a semblance of mobility. But I can't offer any help as she struggles to remove my shirt. I feel her cheek graze mine and taste the salty aroma of nervous moisture on her face as she wrestles my lifeless arm from its sleeve. Then I feel her unfastening my belt to remove my pants and underwear. She quickly covers me with the gown. It's too thin. The room turns cold and suddenly stark.
Hannah's blush diminishes as she wipes my arm with alcohol. The scent stings my nostrils. On her third attempt to locate a viable vein, she sighs at the inconvenience of such gaunt limbs. At eighteen, I'm around seven decades younger than her usual client. I'm sure she expected less aggravation. I guess every job has its little annoyances.
I feel like I should make small talk.
So, tell me about yourself.
Got a partner? Kids?
What's a good-looking girl like you doing killing a guy like me?
Laughter eases tension. But I've never made people laugh. I've always made them uneasy—like an unsightly, but harmless, bug. They instinctively back away. I suppose laughter would be out of place here anyway.
I know what Hannah's thinking. "How could any parent put a child through so much suffering?" The inverse of my question: "Why should any mom make such a sacrifice?"
And none of it necessary.
The sleepless nights.
The condemning stares.
Precious years and a small fortune spent helping me cope in a world designed for those far more capable.
Such a waste.
Hannah glances at my chart. "So, I see you just had a birthday." Her own attempt at small talk.
I wonder if she noticed that my birthday fell on the precise day demographers projected America would cross the tipping point toward depopulation. They were off by three, but that doesn't matter. The date was symbolic anyway. It's been the topic of every headline, talk show, political commentary, academic symposium, and bar stool debate this entire week. I suppose it's fitting that my transition appointment landed on the actual day. We are now officially in the same leaky boat as the rest of the developed world.
So I'm doing my part. Since I turned eighteen on Thursday I no longer need Mom's consent. Mothers have never liked it when their sons enlist. But I know I'm doing what's best.
As the first drops of yellow toxin begin seeping into my bloodstream, Hannah studies the healthy habits chart hanging on the wall over my left shoulder. Though much younger, she reminds me of Mom. Not in her features…in her movements. She carries herself with a sturdy yet motherly persistence. I want Hannah to look in my eyes. She doesn't. She can't.
I kind of wish Mom had come with me to hold my hand or rub my arm. But she never was good at this sort of thing. I remember the time she rushed me to the emergency clinic after my big brother shattered a vase, embedding long shards of glass in my foot. She willed herself to stay by my side while the nurse removed the bundled rags Jeremy had used to slow the bleeding. Then she apologized and slipped out to stand in the hallway. The nurse told me not to cry, that I would see her in a few minutes when my stitches were done.
During our farewell dinner last night Mom said her heart ached like it did when Dad left. What else would she say? Those were hard days. That's when Jeremy told Mom he hated God. I never understood what God had to do with it. Still don't.
I can't remember Dad's face, just the scent of his aftershave. I miss his smell. Mom said she misses his playful whispers in her ear. She blushed when she said that.
I'm pretty sure Dad secretly blamed Mom for me. Like most sensible people, he wanted to stop after one child. But Mom had insisted Jeremy needed a sibling. They imagined a healthy girl. I'm neither.
They call enlisting to transition a "heroic service to the public good." In truth, I'm doing it for Mom. She deserves to have a life. Besides, I'm tired of living on the debit side of the ledger. No one has ever called me a debit directly, but the slang fits. They instead feign sympathy while mentally tabulating the costs. The latest numbers show another significant drop in the ratio of productive workers to elderly and disabled dependents. The math no longer works. People like me divert young and healthy workers from desperately needed innovation and growth. I won't let that continue. I know I'm worthless, but I have my pride.
The procedure should take "an average of forty-five minutes." The clock on the wall says I have twenty-one to go. Hannah checks her watch before retrieving a transparent mask hanging on a hook beside my right leg. She unwinds a bit of slack for the attached air tube: the next step in a tired but efficient sequence. Placing the mask over my mouth and nose, she gently stretches an elastic strap over the back of my head before typing my weight into the digital regulator.
I suppose I'm a lavish coward for choosing the optional sleeping gas. I know they've perfected the treatment to eliminate pain. I just prefer drifting into slumber to counting down final seconds like on New Year's eve. Besides, the extra fee was nominal.
"Just breathe normally." Hearing Hannah's voice brings comfort. I'm glad my transition specialist is a woman, maybe even a mom. I bet she took this job out of a maternal instinct, to create a better world for her newborn child, or perhaps a niece or cousin. She believes this is best for everyone, especially me.
I don't notice the music until a hallway disturbance interrupts its purring melody. Hannah looks away from the chart with a twinge of concern. She listens deliberately, as if hoping an intercom voice will confirm a false alarm. But the noise increases. A door opens and slams. Another slam, this time accompanied by muffled conversation.
"Please, ma'am, you need to return to the waiting room." A woman speaks with hushed intensity, like a church usher scolding an irreverently disruptive child.
Hannah appears alarmed. This has happened before.
"I don't care about your idiotic policies. I want to see Antonio!"
Hannah moves toward the door and reaches for the lock. Too late. It swings inward, knocking her off balance toward my bed. I feel a slight prick from the jolted needle. No harm, just the embarrassment of a mother interrupting my first and only act of independence.
"Ms. Santos?" Hannah asks, regaining her professional composure. "I must insist that you leave. We've entered a delicate phase of this procedure and…"
Hannah's voice and body freeze. Twelve inches from the tip of her nose a small, razor-thin scalpel threatens. At the other end of the knife I see Mom's trembling, extended arm.
"Stop this right now! I've changed my mind." An odd thing to say since she never consented.
I'm surprised to see Mom with a scalpel. She must have grabbed it from another transition room. I had forgotten about the organ donation process. They'll extract my useful parts from this very bed.
Over Mom's shoulder I see the blue shirt of the building security guard arriving on the scene, short of breath and winded from the urgent, three-story climb. The scene unfolding before me feels sluggish, like a film in slow motion. I notice the twenty on the clock become twenty-one. Nineteen minutes left.
"Please, ma'am." The guard looks young and sounds frazzled. "Let me just…can I please walk you back?"
Our eyes meet. In a fraction of a second Mom and I silently converse through forming tears.
"Let me go, Mom. You deserve this."
"I don't want you to leave."
"You know it's best. I'm a burden for you, Jeremy, everyone."
"You're part of me. Part of us."
"I want to go."
The look in her eyes tells me this is more than last-minute theatrics of regret. It is an act of sturdy, motherly persistence.
Mom waves the scalpel toward the needle and the mask. "Please. Remove these now." A tender plea from one woman to another that is also a nonnegotiable demand.
"I can't do that," Hannah says sternly. "A portion of the solution has already entered his system. If I cut it off now your son could suffer a slow, painful death."
"The treatment is cumulative," Hannah interrupts. "Even a small dose is fatal. The more he receives, the quicker the process."
"I don't believe you!"
"Please hear me, Ms. Santos. It's too late. Give your son this one mercy."
The words sting. A clear indictment. "How could any parent put a child through so much suffering?" Mom failed to screen out genetic defects. She forced me to live imprisoned in a twisted, sickly body. Must she also profane my final moments, my heroic act?
Our eyes meet again.
"Forgive me, Antonio."
"I did what I thought was best."
"I know. I understand. Now let me go."
I feel woozy, struggle to keep my eyes open. A long blink before forcing them back. Sixteen minutes remain.
Sensing his opportunity, the rumpled blue shirt lurches forward, awkwardly wrapping itself around my mother from behind. The guard tries to force her arms downward and knock the scalpel loose, but the surprise causes her body to react instinctively. The knife lunges forward, grazing the lower right side of Hannah's jaw.
Both the guard and Mom fall forward, disappearing from sight. I hear a brutal thud and feel the force of crushing skull against the metal edge of my bed. I see Mom's convulsing body topple into view.
Is an act still heroic when it kills the person you were trying to free?
I can no longer open my eyes. I don't want to.
I sense commotion and shouting, but the noise fades.
I submit to approaching waves of slumber.
Julia Davidson took a sip from her second glass of ice water. Pretending to study the lunch specials, she tried piecing together her transformation from rising star to plunging rock. Was it a specific story? The inevitable shift in reader tastes? Or had she lost her edge? A few years ago editors eagerly accommodated her busy schedule rather than the other way around. Now only one even returned her calls.
Paul Daugherty's manicured hand gently squeezed Julia's shoulder from behind. "Sorry, Jewel. Couldn't get away. Been waiting long?" Fiftyish and impeccably groomed, Paul had a pudgy frame that reeked of freshly applied cologne, overpowering the smell of warm garlic bread and a passing pasta dish. The fragrance, like the man, seemed indiscreet.
"I just arrived myself," she lied. "Thanks for carving out the time."
"Don't be silly. I'm always eager to see my favorite journalist."
Former favorite, she thought. Just that morning Julia had read another sloppy piece by Paul's new go-to gal, Monica Garcia.
"Don't you mean columnist?" Julia jabbed to remind him of her diminished post.
Paul waved his index finger at the naughty comment. "Shame on you. I know dozens of great writers who would kill for the top RAP column."
A compliment or threat? she wondered.
"And your numbers remain respectable by any network's standards."
"Respectable"? Is that like "a nice personality"?
"Thanks, Paul. And I appreciate all you've done to make that happen." A bit of flattery, even if undeserved, seemed judicious.
"What can I say? Our target demographic loves your stuff. And you can still turn a phrase like nobody else."
Still? Past my prime at thirty-four.
"Welcome back, sir," the waitress interrupted. "Shall I have the chef prepare your usual?"
"That would be lovely, Debra." Paul was more loyal to a pasta dish than he was to the woman who had propelled his career. Before acquiring Julia, Paul had sat in a cubicle suffering the mindless tedium of copyediting. Now he managed features and columns for the second-largest media company on the planet.
"Let me guess." Paul dug deep to remember Julia's favorite. "Salmon salad?"
"Please," Julia said to the waitress, who retrieved her menu.
"Got a man in your life yet?" Paul's usual question.
"Nothing steady." She disliked small talk. "I'm meeting another one of Maria's friends at the theater tonight."
"Promising?" Paul prodded.
"I have low expectations."
Both smiled as Paul turned to business. "You'll be pleased to know that I come bearing gifts."
"I hope they're better than your last gift."
"Hush," Paul said, raising a finger to his pursed lips. "I think you're going to like this one. It could be a big story."
"That depends on what you find."
"Find?" Julia swallowed back rising indignation. There was a time when Paul's team had delivered the material she needed for a feature.
"Just listen, Jewel. We've contacted the plaintiff who initiated a wrongful death lawsuit against NEXT Inc."
Nothing connected. "I don't follow."
"You wouldn't yet. It was a small story that ran about seven months back. Some eighteen-year-old debit scheduled himself for a transition. His mother freaked out and attacked a clinic employee."
Paul paused to receive his glass of diet soda. Winking a thanks while sipping from the straw, he waited for Debra's departure before leaning into Julia. "Anyway, the woman died."
"No, the mom. Get this. She slipped during the attack and smashed her head against her own son's transition bed!" He leaned back, smiling at the comic irony.
"Who initiated the lawsuit?"
Paul seemed irritated at Julia's anemic sense of humor. "That's the really interesting part. The invalid boy had an older brother who blames the clinic for both deaths."
"Yeah. The older brother said the appointment was made three days before the kid's birthday. He was eighteen for the actual transition, but they accepted his online registration while he was still a minor."
Julia took an unnecessary drink while considering the story's potential. It was uncommon for someone that young to transition, but not unprecedented. And there were a thousand cases of distraught loved ones or religious nuts trying to interrupt transition deaths at the last minute.
"And we want the boy's story," Paul explained.
"I thought the boy was dead."
"Not the debit kid, the brother." Paul moved slightly back so the waitress could slide his hot dish onto the table. Eyeing it eagerly, he continued. "We want to portray him as a pawn of greedy lawyers."
"Sure. Every other transition dispute has been settled out of court. This one went all the way, even demanding punitive damages. NEXT plans to appeal, of course."
"Look, Paul, I'm not sure—"
"I know what you're thinking, love," Paul interrupted. "But I really think this could be interesting. And our editorial board considers it very important. There are people who will try to misuse this story. You can imagine the headlines, Youth Initiative Causes Teen Suicide or Distressed Mother Killed During Illegal Child Transition." Paul sniffed in contempt. "We need to get ahead of this story before some crusading reporter plays it wrong."
- On Sale
- Jan 15, 2013
- Page Count
- 448 pages