Author: Harry E. Gilleland, Jr.
Reading the first few chapters of Harry E. Gilleland, Jr.'s novella, Zack's Choice you might hazard a guess that you may be in for a plot dominated by a religious theme. Keep reading and you will be surprised how Gilleland throws us quite a curve in developing a far different story with a mix of humor and suspense.
The protagonist, Zack Gresham is a twenty-year old Yale pre-law sophomore student who before returning to college embarks on a motorcycle trip through the USA. In New Mexico he meets and befriends a penniless hitchhiker who initially appears to be a young teenage boy, but as we will discover, is in fact a female. The boy tells Zack that he is an orphan and his name is Bobby Smith. Feeling sorry for his new found acquaintance and playing the Good Samaritan, Zack treats him to a meal and agrees to share a motel room with him. He also promises to provide him with a ride the following day.
The next morning Zack wakes up to discover that his wallet with all of his money has disappeared along with his debit and credit cards as well as his cell phone. Bobby is nowhere to be found. Frantically, Zack calls home and asks his mother to wire him some money to help him continue his cross-country voyage. Upon reaching Las Vegas Zack encounters Bobby and it is here where naively he is about to be duped into believing a preposterous lie that will have him becoming an accomplice in a felony of enormous magnitude.
Bobby convinces Zack with his cockamamie story (and here is where the religious theme seeps in as above mentioned), that he is “The Chosen One, who has to battle the forces of evil, namely the minions of Satan, or the Devil, to prevent them from gaining the Sword of Damascus that would enable them to open the portal between our human world and the Realm of Darkness, or Hell.” If this were to happen, the Devil, his demons, and all his minions could invade our human world and conquer it. In order to prevent this from happening, the sword must not fall into the hands of these forces.
Zack learns from Bobby that the Sword of Damascus dates back to the seventh century during the Muslim's Umayyad Caliphate, which controlled the fifth-largest empire the world has ever known. Several centuries later it had been recognized as a very valuable religious object worth millions of dollars. Apparently, the Christians came into possession of this sworn when Saladin presented it to Richard the Lionhearted as a sign of good faith upon agreeing to a truce in the Hold Land. For centuries it had been kept within the Vatican's museums and for the first time it will be on display in the USA at the Los Angeles Museum of Art.
The narrative is played out against the backdrop of extreme naivety and you will have to read the book to find out what Bobby has in store for Zack, who were her parents, and who really is this mysterious teenager?
Gilleland has presented his readers with an engrossing study of distortion inflicted on someone that should have known better particularly that he was brought up in a home where his mother is an attorney and his father is a judge. Through Zack's Choice the reader may feel what it means to lose one's bearings and to be made to look ridiculous. It is also a tale of choices one is up against particularly when romance glides in unexpectedly.