The Legacy of “Loco” Komoko

by Chris Mikesell

“Prescott! Bogie on your six.”

The squadron leader chanced a look over his shoulder. Enemy coming up fast. No quarter. No mercy. Prescott stalled and pulled his nose up. The bogie shot underneath, spinning, trying to clip Prescott with a wing as it flew by.

Prescott looked west. Conklin, too banged up to do any good, was heading back to the base; Petrone flew escort. The coast was heavily defended—more of Barlow’s treachery, no doubt. With a third of the squadron out of the fight it would take a miracle for the mission to be a success. Then again, didn’t it always?

Under a bruised beet-purple sky, the angels—Prescott, Morgan, Gunderson, and Croyden—and countless, nameless demons fought their unceasing battle for the souls of mankind. Their immediate target, Steve Jenkins, lazed on a bluff overlooking the ocean, unaware of the conflict overhead.

+ + +

I lie on my stomach, gazing out at the Pacific under a flawless California sky. The ocean is black, vast, endlessly deep. The sky? A Technicolor, Paul Newman-blue backdrop. A sea breeze carries the crash of breaking surf, the scent of salt water and kelp. Traffic is light on the P.C.H. A few diesel-belching semi-trucks can’t compete with the scenery.

This could be Heaven.

I smile. It’s come to my attention I use that word way too much. I’m in Heaven. The surf is Heaven. This pizza smells like Heaven. I rode that wave to West Heaven and back.

All of which, of course, reminds me of Preacher Dan.

My smile disappears.

+ + +

Thunder rumbled overhead. Morgan shouted through static, “Press, should we make our move? Things are looking dicey.”

Prescott toggled a switch on his flight suit, repeated the question on a scrambled frequency.

“No, we hold up here,” he relayed the order to Morgan and the others. “Long as things stay stable on the ground, we keep off it.”

Prescott liked the aviator motif: the jumpsuits, the helmets, the comm system. Holding his second set of arms out perpendicular to his body had felt odd at first—well, having the second set of arms felt odd, sticking them out felt ridiculous—but they were a lot less cumbersome than the old feathered wings. He missed the hats and swords of the recent Musketeer days, but it was great to be in the air again.

The demons had changed their look, too. It was still insectile, but they’d added a new layer of ugly to it.

BWWWWAAAAAARRRRRRRR

A grasshopper-hornet-thing buzzed by Prescott, waking him from his reverie. He banked left, escaped the taloned forearms. Then the thing turned and kicked him square in the chest with its hind legs.

Prescott spiraled out of control.

+ + +

Preacher Dan has been a feature at Rincon Point for a couple years. One day he planted a double-wide office trailer at the far end of a parking lot, decorated it with driftwood, and put up a sign: The Surfside Chapel.

At first none of the locals would go near it or Preacher Dan. He wore Aloha shirts and huarache sandals; we all figured him for a poser. Then we learned he used to surf until a tiger shark took a chunk out of his thigh and left him with nerve damage. Brain damage, too: hydrophobia.

Dan’s a decent guy, a little on the old side. Or maybe the limp and driftwood cane just make him seem that way. He talks about Jesus every chance he gets—part of the job description, I guess. He doesn’t get put out when we shine him on, though. Doesn’t mind us tracking sand on the floor, either, or stopping by just to use the head in the chapel. It’s a better-grade chemical toilet than the ones down on the beach. Pine-scented air freshener, too.

I was in to use the facilities this morning. On my way out I said, “The curl’s Heaven today.”

“No,” he said. “It’s only a symbol of Heaven: jubilant, eternal, full of life.”

I nodded. Okay. Whatever.

“Plus, you use that word too much.”

“That’s harsh, dude.” And it was for Dan. “What’s up?”

“You hear Donny Komoko died?”

“‘Loco’? No way.”

“Last Friday. Got surprised by a spring tide off Maui. Wiped out hard into a reef, broke his back. He panicked and slashed his throat on the coral.”

“Whoa....” My knees buckled. I collapsed onto a folding chair.

“His folks had his body flown back. They asked to have the funeral here, this evening.” He sat down next to me and sighed. “You ready to die, Steve?”

“Not like that.” I shook my head. “When I’m eighty or something, fat, used-up, asleep.”

“Donny’s folks want his ashes scattered in the ocean. The idea is we paddle out, empty the urn, and ride a wave back in for Donny. I’m ready to die, but I don’t know if I’m ready to do that yet.”

We sat in silence.

“Whatcha gonna do?”

“Read my Bible. Pray.” He laughed, but there wasn’t any humor in it. “Lock the door and pretend no one’s home.”

Silence again.

“Did you know him at all, Steve?”

“Naaah. I’d see him out there once in a while. We partied together a couple times, but we weren’t crewbies.”

“Did he know Jesus?”

“You serious?” I began to roll my eyes, but caught myself. I stared instead at the crossed pieces of driftwood on the far side of the room. “It, uh, it never came up.”

Sometimes out in the curl, the world goes quiet even though thousands of gallons of water are roaring around you. It’s silent, serene. Real silence is nowhere near as peaceful.

“Do you know Him?”

“I just told you, ‘Loco’ and me ... oh, Jesus, you mean.”

Preacher Dan nodded. “Want to?”

I stood up. “Look man, no offense, but....” Dan closed his mouth and nodded again, looked away from me. I stood there. I thought about how the waves were breaking perfectly. I sat back down. “If it’ll take your mind off the water, go ahead. I’m not saying I’ll bite, but I’ll listen.”

So Dan got a Bible, started in to it. He talked about Jesus, humanity, sin, death, eternity, Hell. Heaven. He dog-eared half a dozen pages, handed me the Bible, asked me what I thought.

“So basically, I ask Jesus into my heart and when I die I get killer tubes forever with no kook speedbumps. I don’t, I get snaked by surf weasels from here to eternity.”

“That’s not the King James Version, but it more or less holds.”

“Sounds selfish. I mean, I don’t know the guy, so basically I’m saying ‘whatever’ to get into Heaven.”

“Altruism’s often a learned behavior, Steve.” Dan smiled, stretched out his legs and rubbed his left thigh. “Let me ask you this: On your way to dying in your sleep at eighty, do you plan on getting married?”

I nodded.

“Got a girl in mind?”

Do I? “Her name’s Stacy.”

“Do you care more about how Stacy makes you feel, or how you make her feel?”

“Well, bo—“

Dan chuckled. “Be honest.”

“How she makes me feel.”

“So is your future marriage going to be doomed because while you were dating you were such a damn cowardly bastard?”

We stared at each other.

“I mean selfish, not....”

We burst out laughing.

“Oh, it feels good to let that out, Steve.” He wiped the tears from his cheeks. “Thanks for listening.”

I stood up.

“Why don’t you take the Bible? Think it over.”

The Bible is tucked into the back of my trunks. I think about taking a look at it, but keep staring out at the sea. Is this Heaven or is there a better one?

+ + +

Morgan grabbed Prescott as he spun out of control. One thousand feet. Nine hundred. Eight. Morgan countered the spin and slapped his boss. The shock brought Prescott around.

Arms out, Prescott flew back into the fight. He scanned the battle for the grasshopper-hornet who’d kicked him. Zeroed in. Grabbed its wings and ripped them off. Watched it fall toward the ocean.

“Ha ha! Back to Hell with you, you scalawag,” Morgan laughed off to his right.

“Scalawag, Morgan?” Gunderson asked over the comm. “You feeling all right?”

“Just got tired of calling them ‘fiends’ all the time. It’s good to broaden your vocab—“

“Cut the chatter, boys,” Prescott ordered. “We got action on the ground.”

A giant stinkbug-cockroach trundled away from a pit fifty feet from the target. Half a dozen mantis-katydids climbed out after it and ran toward the prone figure.

Another grasshopper-hornet swooped in and grabbed Croyden from behind. The angel’s four arms pinned, the pair plummeted earthward. The demon attacked with its stinger, but the angel kept his feet dancing.

“Croyden!” Prescott shouted. “Quit fooling around. Pull up, then get down there and stop those drones.”

The angel grabbed the ripcord built into his flightsuit and the back-up parachute billowed out. The demon, unprepared for a sudden stop, clawed for purchase, but did nothing more than shred cloth and leather as it continued to fall.

Five hundred feet below, the beetly demon trudged down the hill toward the ramshackle church. The drones were on the far side of the body, pushing it toward the pit.

Croyden pulled a knife and cut the ‘chute cables and sped to the ground.

+ + +

I roll over and down a slight incline. Stopping on my back, I look at the sky. It’s funny how the ocean seems so limitless, but the sky just seems there.

The Bible’s an uncomfortable lump beneath me, so I roll over again and pull it out of my waistband.

Down on the beach several cars pull up to the Surfside Chapel. Where is Donny “Loco” Komoko? In the sky somewhere or down in the deep? Preacher Dan comes out and greets the family. He’s wearing his least loud Aloha shirt, white with ivory-colored pineapples. He takes a small box from a woman in black. What about me? Where am I headed?

I roll over again and sit up and cross my legs. Opening the Bible to one of the dog-eared pages, I try to remember which part Dan had pointed out, then read the whole thing. John, Chapter 3. Parts of Romans and whatever “Colossians” means. What am I supposed to say? “Jesus I know it’s selfish of me, but I want to date you?”

(lame!)

What else have I heard people say? “God, I want to be your child.”

(what? are you in kindergarten?)

I brush a hand at a drowsy bee near my head. The little bugger buzzes off. I flip back to Romans, Chapter 10. There, verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

+ + +

Prescott led his angels in wedge formation toward the blockade of demons, toward the man sitting yards away from the pit. When he had opened the Bible, the drones had backed off. Nevertheless, they chittered insults at him, attacking his spirit, trying to overwhelm him with doubt.

Croyden knelt beside the man. He looked heavenward toward his enemies and allies and smiled.

(I do.)

A white light streaked through the sky. A comet. A meteor. It tore through the trio of angels. Shattered the wall of demons.

(I do believe.)

It streaked toward the ground. One hundred, two hundred feet per second.

(Jesus is Lord.)

The light struck the man and exploded. Croyden dove backward, into the pit. With nowhere to escape, the demons were caught in a ball of fire brighter, hotter than the sun. It crushed their exoskeletons like tissue paper, ripped through the exposed viscera beneath, and sent them flying off the bluff into the ocean.

The light receded and the man stood there, blazing; not burning, but luminous all the same. He stood staring out at the ocean, transfixed.

Croyden climbed out of the pit. He looked at the man and laughed. Then he spread his arms and flew back to his squad.

“Hey Prescott, was that our last target?” he asked.

“That it was. There’s gonna be a party tonight, boys, so let’s get to it.”

They turned and flew toward the horizon, still purple, but slightly less bruised.

“Press, not that I’m complaining,” Morgan said, “but are we going to be keeping this look for a while?”

“Why, what do you have in mind?”

“I was thinking Justice League, or maybe the X-Men.”

“Angels ... with superpowers? You’re a big nut, Morgan. Now let’s fly.”

To their right two streaks of light blazed through the sky. A moment later, two explosions.

“Is that Peretti from the 86th at the funeral?” Gunderson asked.

“That’s her squadron all right, but from the sound of it a couple souls were reborn, not buried.”

Morgan sighed, “Aaah, twins ... hey, you know what that means there’ll be at the fiesta.”

“Yep. So let’s quit jabbering and get there already.”

+ + +

I stand at the edge of the cliff and watch the procession of surfers head out to meet the tide. Preacher Dan’s limp is more pronounced in the sand and without the help of his cane. He carries the box with both hands. The man beside him manages two surfboards.

Dan stops at the water’s edge, then steps back. The man puts a board in the water and helps him onto it. Placing the box toward the nose, Dan lies down and paddles out.

I look at the horizon. A marine layer has formed a mile or two out, golden in the setting sun. The water reflects the gold, an ocean of fire. I breathe deep; the smell of rain blends with seaweed and salt. Seabirds fly west.

In the darker sky overhead, stars begin to wink on. Jubilant. Eternal. If the crackpots on the radio can be believed, full of life.

If I stand perfectly still, I can feel the tingle beneath my breastbone. It’s selfish, but I don’t ever want that feeling to go away.

This is Heaven.