Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 95-107
Buck Williams’ wife, Chloe, is trapped in the crumpled wreck of his Range Rover somewhere off the side of Lake Shore Drive. Buck is “walking quickly” to her side.
He’s already run more than a mile, and now:
There was no running left in him, despite his fear that she might be bleeding or in shock.
“I’m in the strangest place,” she said, and he sensed her fading.
She babbles on for a bit, “dreamily,” sounding “as if she were about to fall asleep.” She drifts in and out of consciousness and occasionally Buck hears “her groan painfully.” And he walks on. Briskly.
One odd thing about this whole Buck-searching-for-Chloe sequence is what does not happen in any of this. Buck doesn’t pray.
The heroes of these books often make a show of pious prayer. Readers were even made to endure a multi-page silent prayer session in Bruce’s office in which their spiritual — and literal — groaning was at once, like a poorly written sex scene, overly explicit and helplessly vague. Buck and Rayford frequently pause to pray for guidance or divine protection or wisdom before meeting with their boss, the Antichrist, or before undertaking some more mundane task.
Yet here Buck hasn’t got a prayer.
That’s odd to me, since these are exactly the sorts of situations in which I’m most inclined to pray. I think that’s true for most people who believe in God even in the vaguest sense. Trekking on foot through a smoldering city, with scenes of devastation all around, many of us would reflexively be offering up some variation of the “God help those poor bastards” prayer. If I were desperate to find my injured wife and had no idea which direction to turn, I’m sure I’d be blurting out some form of your basic “A little help here!” prayer. And once I’d found out where she was and heard her weak, fading voice over the phone, my every sentence to her — “Hold on, I’m coming!” — would be accompanied by a pleading demand of a prayer making the same urgent request/command.
(In such dire situations, I confess, my prayers tend to sound a bit like those of Pedro Cerrano in Major League — “I’m pissed off now, Jobu. Look, I go to you. I stick up for you. You don’t help me now, I say ‘F–k you, Jobu.’ I do it myself …” — but these are still prayers. The book of Psalms, by the way, is filled with prayers very much like Cerrano’s.)
After that bit quoted above, with Buck having “no running left in him” even as “he sensed her fading,” I really expected the next lines to be Buck praying the beloved words of Isaiah 40:31 — “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” — and then for him to feel suddenly energized, sprinting to Chloe’s side as though on eagle’s wings.
Such a direct, instantaneous answer to prayer might not seem realistic, but it would be more realistic than the idea that Buck Williams, a real, true evangelical Christian, would be in this situation without praying such a prayer.
So from page 96 through page 99 we get a phone conversation between Buck and a dazed, groggy Chloe in which she describes her predicament. And then on pages 102 and 103, Buck arrives and describes the same situation in much the same words.
Repetition, alas, does not provide clarity. Buck’s Adventure With the Range Rover and the Tree, which unfolds over the next several pages, depends on readers being able to picture this scene quite precisely, and Jerry Jenkins doesn’t give us much to go on.
We should give Jenkins points here for degree-of-difficulty. This sort of scene is not easy to pull off. It’s a kind of writing that almost requires one to story-board out the sequence as though you were preparing to film it. Unless the writer has a perfectly clear image of the scene in mind, there’s no way we readers will be able to get a clear picture of it in ours.
The Range Rover was lodged between the trunk and lower branches of a large tree and the concrete abutment. “Turn those lights off, hon!” Buck called out. “Let’s not draw attention to ourselves now.”
That bit about the lights and an upcoming little bit about Buck using a flashlight are the first indications we have that it’s nighttime. Maybe I missed some earlier clue, but it wasn’t until I got to the flashlight that I realized that Buck has been running/walking around in the dark this whole time.
Buck doesn’t want to draw the attention of rescue personnel for the same reason he was so evasive when speaking with them earlier. Readers are apparently supposed to understand what this reason might be, but I don’t. It seems to me that the attention of police, firefighters or EMTs is exactly what Chloe needs just now.
I suppose Buck’s reasoning is that all such emergency responders now work for the one-world government of the Global Community, and thus they are all in a sense in the employ of the Antichrist. But Buck is too. It also may be that he’s worried that while rescuing his ailing wife, those emergency personnel might stumble across the print-outs from Bruce’s hard drive in the back of the SUV. You know how it is after the nuclear destruction of a city — cops are on the prowl for reams of email print-outs that they can skim in search of potentially troubling theology. Rather than risk that, Buck decides it’s better to deny his wife professional medical assistance. Better safe than sorry.
The next paragraph gives us a slightly better picture of the scene, but only slightly:
The wheels of the vehicle pressed almost flat against the wall, and Buck was amazed that the tree could sustain the weight. Buck had to climb into the tree to look down through the driver’s-side window.
Here’s what I’ve got: The Range Rover is tilted onto its right side, with the passenger door facing the ground. The wheels of the SUV are touching a concrete wall of indeterminate height or purpose.
And there’s a tree. It’s large. Based on the apparent abundance of lower branches, I’m guessing it’s some kind of pine tree.
Is the passenger side of the SUV lying on the ground? Or is the vehicle suspended, somehow, in the branches of the tree? Maybe it’s tipped nearly onto its side, leaning partly against the “trunk and lower branches” of the tree? But no, the wheels are “almost flat against the wall,” and that would mean the side of the SUV is also almost flat against the ground, right? So in what way is the tree having to “sustain the weight”?
Chloe’s position is a bit clearer. She “seemed to be dangling from the seat belt” of the driver’s seat. The driver’s side window is facing up, but it’s closed. So we get half a page of Chloe painfully squirming to turn the ignition on so that she can open the window. (Those of us driving no-option, no-extras models with dependable manual windows are excused for feeling a little smug here.)
“Can you unlatch your seat belt without hurting yourself?”
“I’ll try, Buck, but I hurt all over. I’m not sure what’s broken and what isn’t.”
“Try to brace yourself somehow and get loose of that thing. Then you can stand on the passenger’s-side window and lower this one.”
Our image of the SUV comes a bit more into focus — flat on the ground on its right side. And I guess the roof of the car is pressed up against the tree somehow.
Chloe can’t get out of the seatbelt, but she does manage to get her window open.
Buck reached down with both hands to try to support her. “I was so worried about you,” he said.
“I was worried about me too,” Chloe said. “I think I took all the damage to my left side. I think my ankle’s broken, my wrist is sprained, and I feel pain in my left knee and shoulder.”
… “You’re not bleeding anywhere?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I hope you’re not bleeding internally.”
“Buck, I’m sure I’d be long gone by now if I were bleeding internally.”
“So you’re basically all right if I can get you out of there.”
Yeah, she’s fine.
This next bit I can actually picture, except for how the tree fits in:
Buck lay across the side of the nearly upended Range Rover and reached way down in to put one forearm under Chloe’s right arm and grab her waistband at the back with the other. He lifted as she pushed the seat belt button. She was petite, but with no foundation or way to brace himself it was all Buck could do to keep from dropping her. She moved her feet out from under the dashboard and stood gingerly. Her feet were on the passenger’s-side door, and her head now was near the steering wheel.
Apart from wondering how Buck grabs something with his forearm, I followed most of that. The SUV is lying on its right side. Buck is lying atop its left side. Still not sure about the tree, or how “nearly upended” is meant to describe “flat on its side,” but I think I know where Buck and Chloe are at this point.
Chloe begs for help getting out of the SUV she’s been trapped in for the last several hours:
“I really want out of here in a bad way, Buck. Can we get that door open, and can you help me climb?”
Buck responds to this direct request with some ill-advised banter:
“I just have one question for you first. Is this how our married life is going to be? I’m going to buy you expensive cars, and you’re going to ruin them the first day?”
“Normally that would be funny –”
And then Buck shows he wasn’t entirely kidding, because instead of opening the door and helping her climb out, he asks Chloe to give him the flashlight from the glove compartment so he can inspect the damage to his precious.
He looked all around the vehicle. The tires were still good. There was some damage to the front grille, but nothing substantial. He turned off the flashlight and slid it into his pocket. With much groaning and whimpering, Chloe came climbing out of the car, with Buck’s help.
As they both sat on the upturned driver’s side, Buck felt the heavy machine moving in its precarious position.
For just a second there I was sure I had a clear picture of the scene. The car is lying flat on its right side, Buck and Chloe are sitting on top of it. But no, that can’t be right, because it’s position must be “precarious,” and a boxy Range Rover lying on its side isn’t going to be “moving in its precarious position.”
Chloe decides its easier to “go two feet up to the top of the abutment” than to climb down from the top/side of the car, so I mentally readjust the height of said abutment, still wondering what it is that it’s abutting, while Buck gives Chloe a boost up onto the top of the wall — wherever that may be and whatever might be up there.
And here I completely lose track of Jenkins’ storyboard:
When she made the last thrust with her good leg, the Range Rover shifted just enough to loosen itself from the wickedly bent tree branches. The tree and the Range Rover shuddered and began to move. “Buck! Get out of there! You’re going to be crushed!”
Buck was spread-eagled on the side of the Range Rover that had been facing up. Now it was shifting toward the abutment, the tires scraping and leaving huge marks on the concrete. The more Buck tried to move, the faster the vehicle shifted, and he realized he had to stay clear of that wall to survive. He grabbed the luggage rack as it moved toward him and pulled himself to the actual top of the Range Rover. Branches snapped free from under the vehicle and smacked him in the head, scraping across the car. The more the car moved, the more it seemed to want to move, and to Buck that was good news — provided he could keep from falling. First the car moved, then the tree moved, then both seemed to readjust themselves at once. …
And, like Buck, I’m struggling to readjust as well to my ever-shifting attempt to picture what’s going on here.
… Buck guessed that the Range Rover, once free of the pressure from the branches, had about three feet to drop to the ground. He only hoped it would land flat. It didn’t.
The car was suspended off the ground? That’s something Jenkins might have mentioned earlier.
The heavy vehicle, left tires pressed against the concrete and several deeply bowed branches pushing it from the right side, began slipping to the right. Buck buried his head in his hands to avoid the springing out of those branches as the Range Rover fell clear of them. They nearly knocked him into the wall again. Once the Range Rover was free of the pressure of the branches, it lurched down onto its right side tires and nearly toppled. Had it rolled that way, it would have crushed him into the tree. But as soon as those tires hit the ground, the whole thing bounced and lurched, and the left tires landed just free of the concrete. The momentum made the left side of the vehicle smash into the concrete, and finally it came to rest. Less than an inch separated the vehicle from the wall now, but there the thing sat on uneven ground.
I’m willing to give Jenkins the benefit of the doubt here and guess that repeated close and slow readings of this scene might yield some coherent sequence of physical events. I’d bet that if we gave him a half hour, some graph paper, a white board and some miniature models, he could walk us through all of that and show us what he was imagining in a way that made sense.
Or maybe not. But even if I don’t understand how we wound up here, I think I understand this part:
Except for the damage to the front grille and the scrapes on both sides, one from concrete and one from tree branches, the car looked little the worse for wear.
And it still runs. Buck climbs in and slides behind the wheel … but, oh no! — now the SUV is trapped in a rut. The adventure continues:
The Rover was in automatic and four-wheel drive. When he tried to go forward it seemed he was in a rut. He quickly switched to stick shift and all-wheel drive, gunned the engine, and popped the clutch. Within seconds he was free of the tree and out onto the sand.
And readers, too, are back on familiar ground as Jenkins settles back into the Cliff-Claven-esque narration we’ve come to expect. (“Ya see, dere, Sammy. When you get stuck like that, whatcha need ta do is switch to stick-shift and all-wheel drive, then pop the clutch. Works like a chahm …”)
The top of the abutment turns out to be an overpass. Like the Range Rover, Lake Shore Drive, the (pine?) tree, and the rest of Chicago, the overpass is “little the worse for wear” after the nuclear bombs, so Buck drives up onto it and helps get Chloe back in the car.
He fastened her seat belt and was on the phone before he got back into the car.
Of course he was, but here he has a good reason — calling Loretta to “call around and find any doctor in the church” to tend to Chloe once they arrive.
Buck tried to drive carefully so as not to exacerbate Chloe’s pain. However, he knew the shortest way home. When he got to the huge barrier at Michigan Avenue on the LSD, he swung left and …
Yeah, ya see dere, Norm, the most direct route isn’t always the shortest. Now to someone who doesn’t know the area as well as I do, it might seem like you’d want to swing right there, but …
And on like that, for half a page more. It’s almost, but not quite, as thrilling as reading directions from Google Maps.