Where They Wanted To Be

The Eternity of Their Darkest Desires

By J.A. Hart

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“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

– C.S. Lewis

“Last stop!”

Not fully awake, I heard the voice but ignored it; it was part of a dream.

“Last stop!” I heard the voice again as I opened my eyes, expecting to find myself safely at home in the quiet darkness of my bedroom.

The zipper on the backpack I was using as a pillow had been digging into my cheek, my neck ached, my head was pounding.

“Last stop!”

I sat up and, as my eyes began to adjust to the light, I realized I was somehow on a bus.

“Last stop!”

“Alright, I’m going.” I shot back at the impatient driver as I moved through the impossibly white all plastic interior of the bus to the door.

“Enjoy your stay, Sir” I heard the impeccably dressed driver with a face as pale, cold, and lifeless as the hard plastic interior of the bus say as I stepped out into blazing hot sunlight.

Head, neck, and cheek aching, my eyes now burned as if I had just walked out of a movie theater in the middle of a sunny afternoon.

Where was I? What I had I been doing on a bus? Except for a handful of times in my 40 years, I never, ever traveled anywhere by bus, not since school anyway.

I sat on the curb, reached around to my back pocket, retrieved my cigarettes, opened the crushed and half empty pack, and; broken, broken, broken…all of them.

“Perfect.” I thought to myself.

“And the creepy bus driver took off with my backpack, wallet, keys, phone…”

I had to get out of the heat. I looked around and, as far as I could see in either direction, other than an endless rocky brown desert, was a freshly blacktopped two lane street with a sidewalk on either side, lined with blood red Japanese Maples, evenly spaced, all the same height and shape, none capable of providing any shade.

So I started walking. There had to be something or someone, somewhere, and some relief from the oppressive heat.

Although I could feel the heat of the sun it was impossible to determine its location, judge what time of day it was, or know what direction I was traveling in because, horizon to horizon, there was nothing above but blinding, hot, featureless, white.

So I walked.

And walked.

And walked.

Exactly ten paces between the trees, brand new looking trash cans, all dark green, all empty, all with a fresh white liner, and a bench stood, side by side after every tenth tree. There was nothing else, anywhere, except utter silence and an overwhelming feeling of despair.

No hum of cars zipping by on a nearby highway, no birds chirping or dogs barking off in the distance, no wind…nothing but the sound of my feet hitting the concrete with each step. Even that was more of a vibration than a sound, an endless succession of dull thumps on the ground, radiating upward, ending at the dull throbbing in my head.

I had to get out of the heat.

So I walked…

Stopping behind one of the benches to catch my breath and, grabbing on like a runner might during a pre-run stretch, I cried out.

“Oh God, what the Hell is going on?”

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, I heard the sound of a squeaky wheel behind me as I felt an eager tap tap tap on my shoulder.

I turned around and was surprised by two men dressed in Tyvek protective suits standing by a cart full of painting and cleaning supplies. They were both exactly the same size, looked like twins, and both had the same pale and cold complexion as the bus driver. One of them was glaring at me and the other was silently staring at his hands while slowly turning them; palms up, palms down, palms up, palms down.

Not knowing what to do, I stood up straight, looked at my own hands, turned my palms up, and saw fresh dark green paint that came, I guessed, from the bench I had been leaning on.

The man who had been turning his hands looked at me, as if in shame, waved his finger at me like he was scolding a child and, without so much as a word, grabbed his glove at the opening, spread his fingers pulling the glove tight as I imagined a surgeon might, made a fist, swung, and landed a punch that opened up a gash in my aching cheek.

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, I heard the cart roll away as I hit the ground in pain, everything went dark.

Scorpions

My eyes were matted shut, my consciousness came back slowly as if someone pushed the button on an old tube TV, pooled blood oozed out of the corner of my mouth, head still ached, I wanted to rise but could not. The gash in my cheek was glued to the hot cement with a combination of dried blood, sweat, and drool. I wanted desperately to move but could only lay there, paralyzed, helpless.

I tried to bring my hands up to my shoulders, envisioning a push-up movement, but my arms wouldn’t comply. The only movement my body seemed capable of at all was blinking and moving my jaw, which only caused the scabs that had formed between my cheek and the cement to tear, grinding my torn flesh against the hot rough surface.

“Oh God!” I cried out but could make no audible sound.

“Oh God.” I mouthed the words through cracked lips, blinking in a futile attempt to flick the stinging sweat from my eyes.

Tick, tick, tick…

I felt a presence but saw nothing.

Tick, tick, tick…

Whatever it was came closer, from behind my head.

Tick, tick, tick…like a fingernail tapping on a laminate countertop.

Tick, tick, tick…

It came closer.

Tick, tick, tick…

Silence.

The sound of the intruder moving behind me was replaced with the feeling of eyes peering at the back of my neck, beneath the skin as if they could see the blood coursing through the arteries. I felt no physical pain from them, yet somehow the gaze burned.

“Oh God!”

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…the sound resumed at a frantic pace, like someone had dropped some chattering toy teeth behind my head.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…Jab!

A needle, then another, and another, and another, the thing crawled up the back of my neck, behind my ear, onto my forehead, needle-like jabs with every step. I blinked feverishly, trying to remove the creature while blowing puffs of air toward my brow. Not bothered at all by any of my efforts to move it, it dug the tips of its feet into my skin and held its ground; I closed my eyes tight enough to see spots.

“Oh God!”

At once it crouched, dug in deeper, and sprang from my face, landing inches from my eye, staring, tilting its head like a confused puppy might.

Although I had never seen a scorpion in person, this one was much larger than I imagined them to be, gloss black, tail with a razor sharp stinger at least twice as long as it should be.

Dancing like a deadly cobra the tail darted close enough to my eye that I could feel it but did not touch, head tilting, staring deep into my pupil, the tail struck again, then again, then again, stinging my eyelid as I blinked, pausing and reeling back further each time it struck.

“Oh God!” I managed to cry out as the tail swung back, like a whip then struck with the intent, I thought, to skewer my eyeball with its entire length then pry it from its socket

Thud! The heavy boot landed, close enough that I could feel the air it moved. Every muscle in my body tensed at once, ripping my face from the cement as the creature’s innards splattered. The brief feeling of relief was quickly replaced by the thought that the next thud of the boot would crush my skull. I lay there, trembling, waiting, terrified.

“Oh God, indeed.” I heard as my conscience flickered, collapsed into a white line, and faded away.

Mr. Jones

“What a splendid sight.” He thought as he bent down over the body, poking at it with the tip of his walking stick.

“Get up!” He demanded, tracing the line of the body’s spine upward to the base of its skull.

“Get up!” He stood, raising the stick, pulled back his leg, and landed a kick in the body’s ribcage with enough force to flip it over.

Arms crossed, gently stroking his chin, staring at the lifeless body at his feet stood Mr. Jones.

An intimidating presence of a man dressed in jeans, a white tee shirt, and brown cowboy boots that bore the scars of years of hard work. He had dark hair, closely shaven, almost military style, a week or so worth of salt and pepper stubble, the beginnings of wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and eyes. He appeared to be about fifty-ish but had the tall, lean, and muscular body of a performance athlete half his age.

Aging yet tough and dignified leading man looks with a rock star edge. In a tailored suit, he could be a doctor, lawyer, dignitary, or captain of industry. As he appeared now, he would look at home under the hood of a car, or wielding a heavy axe in a forest.

He epitomized, in every regard, a man who could be the desire of all women and the envy of all men. Tough, rugged, stern, oddly gentle, with an aura that demands confidence, trust, love, and loyalty. A man everyone should fear, admire, respect, and take seriously.

“Get up!”

Not moving, Mr. Jones grabbed the body’s wrist, dragged it through the door, and let go in front of the bar where it lay, as lifeless as it was outside.

The Saloon

It was a large room with a long bar on the far end. Quiet and dark with a single patron at each of the dozen or so tables, all pale, all hard drinking, none of them seated together, and none of them saying a word.

There was nothing but black screens on the multiple TVs; there was no jukebox, and no waitresses. Just lonely, sad, and desperate looking people sitting, drinking, silent. One man stuck out for no reason other than that he sat in front of a large ashtray that must have had hundreds of cigarette butts in it. They were on the table, on the floor at his feet, stuck to his clothes, stuck to his yellowing hair.

The place looked, in every detail down to the spittoons and rail outside to tie up horses, like an old west saloon except that everything in it was made of shiny plastic or cold, hard metal.

And a body in front of the bar that slowly began to rise, dazed, disoriented, lost, and in pain.

“What the? Where am I?” Rubbing my head, trying to asses my surroundings, I got out of the way of the new patron so she could approach the bar.

The Junkie

She was unspeakably beautiful yet lost and distant, pushing an empty baby stroller. Sad, lonely, frustrated, and quiet. Without cause or reason I sensed that peace and happiness were bubbling just beneath the surface eager to come out yet…

“Hey Stephanie, I know where your baby is.” The man behind the bar interrupted my thoughts.

“You do?” She asked excitedly.

“Well, he knows.” Mr. Jones said, nodding at me.

“Tell me sir, where is she?”

“Um, what? I’ve never been here in my life, and I don’t have any idea who either of you are, let alone where your baby is”

“Come on, tell her.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about; I don’t even know where I am.”

“Doesn’t matter what you know…Come on, play along, she’ll make it worth your while.”

“What? How?”

“Pleasuring men, it’s all she knows, it’s all she’s ever been good at.”

“But she’s hurting, she misses her baby, she wants her baby, she needs help.”

“She’s a whore; she never cared about her baby.” Mr. Jones said in a voice a mother would use to coax mushy vegies down the throat of a fussy one year old.

He moved behind Stephanie, brushed the hair off her neck as he kissed her softly, causing her to shudder.

“Just a dirty wittle whore, aren’t you, dear?” He tore her shirt, exposing her breasts.

Still in pain and confused, I was now fully awake.

“She lost her baby whoring it up in a park bathroom, with men she met online, for a cheap fix. When she got back to her car, the police were waiting with the baby she left alone. The state took her little brat, she hasn’t seen her since. “Mr. Jones said with palpable disdain in his voice.

“No self-worth, no self-esteem, no value, always easy prey, my favorite kind.”

“But she’s human.”

“There have been times off and on when she thought so too but it was always easy to convince her that she’s garbage, it’s child’s play with her really, it’s why she got high and ate a bullet.”

A TV sprung to life behind the bar showing Stephanie walking to her car following a church service with a spring in her step and a smile on her face.

“Glad you could make it Steph.”

“Me too Mom, I think this is what I need to turn my life around.”

Unseen by anyone, a dark translucent figure in the back seat of Stephanie’s car reaches under the seat, feels around, retrieves a tiny plastic bag, places it in the cup holder, and fades away.

“Bye Mom, love you.” Stephanie says, hugging her mom before getting in the car.”

“Bye bye dear, I love you too. And, God loves you.”

“I know Mom.” Stephanie said with a genuine yet strained smile.

“God loves me.” The thought danced in her mind as she looked in the rear view mirror, adjusting it slightly, reaching for the seatbelt. Snapping the belt into place, she noticed the bag, picked it up, placed it in her palm, and closed her fist tightly around it. The color faded from her face, she slumped in the seat, lowered her head, and wept.

“God loves me.” She sobbed.

“Boom!” Mr. Jones said, pointing a finger under his chin like a pistol, smiling.

The screen went black, she stared, captivated, lost, alone, gently rocking the stroller back and forth, back and forth.

“Jesus loves me this I know…” Softly, the words fell from her mouth.”

“Pathetic!” Mr. Jones said, turning toward her. “Jesus never loved you at all, did He dear?”

“No, I guess not, no one did.”

“That’s my girl.” Jones opened his arms to embrace Stephanie, motioning for two men in the corner to approach.

“There there, everything is going to be OK, I promise.”

“Now, are you going to tell her where her baby is so she can reward you?” He looked at me.

“I don’t know where her baby is.”

“Worthless and weak, just as you have always been.” He clapped his hands twice and the two large faceless men whisked Stephanie through a door behind the bar.

“What are they going to do with her?”

“They will tell her they know where her baby is, she will believe them, they will get her high, have their way with her, and leave her on the floor like the garbage she is. She will wake up crying, crashing down from her high. She will realize the strangers didn’t know where her baby was, she will be racked with punishing guilt…and she will do it all over again tomorrow, the next day, the next day…”

Jesus loves me this I know. Mr. Jones whistled the familiar tune as he returned to his place behind the bar.

“It’s easy to convince people that Jesus doesn’t love them in the least, too easy almost.”

“But Jesus doesn’t love anyone, He’s a myth invented by Bronze Age peasants.” I offered my unsolicited opinion.

“He’s as real as anyone who’s ever walked the Earth and you, are a fool.”

The lights flickered, Mr. Jones, the saloon, everything disappeared…

I looked around and, as far as I could see in either direction, other than an endless rocky brown desert, was a freshly blacktopped two lane street with a sidewalk on either side, lined with blood red Japanese Maples, evenly spaced, all the same height and shape, none capable of providing any shade.

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, the baby stroller rolled by, Stephanie following it, naked, disheveled, strung out.

“Have you seen my baby sir?” She stared at me, as if she had never seen me before, desperate for an answer.

“No.”

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, she walked away, singing.

“Jesus loves me this I know…”

I had to get out of the heat.

The Runner

I sat on the bench, elbows on my knees, face pressed against my palms, baking in the sun.

Thump, thump, thump I heard the sound coming toward me.

Thump, thump, thump…

A man dressed in jogging attire, headband, iPod lumbered down the sidewalk.

Thump, thump, thump…

Mid 40s, I guessed; overweight, slow, clearly not a runner, obviously in pain, laboring, lumbering, suffering.

He paused, folded his arms so his forearms rested on the top his head as a sprinter might after a race only to lunge forward as if he were kicked in the small of his back.

“Move!” I thought I heard a voice from behind the man.

Thump, thump, thump…he picked up the pace, down the sidewalk, he disappeared into the horizon.

“Fantastic, isn’t it?”

I jumped, startled to see that I had been joined on the dark green bench by Mr. Jones, reclined, feet crossed in front of him, smoke drifting upward from the cigar clenched in his teeth.

“What’s fantastic?”

“Outer darkness, Matthew 25:30”

“Weeping, Matthew 8:12”

“Wailing, Matthew 13:42”

“Gnashing of teeth, Matthew 13:50”

Smiling, laid back as if he were bragging about a significant accomplishment, Mr. Jones went on.

“Flames, Luke 16:24”

“Everlasting fire, Matthew 25:46”

“Furnace of fire, Matthew 13:42”

“Separation from the righteous, Matthew 25:46”

“Eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord, 2 Thessalonians 1:9”

“Everlasting punishment, Matthew 25:46”

“The lake of fire burning with brimstone, Revelation 19:20”

“And my personal favorite.” He looked at me, grinning.

“Torment, Luke 16:23”

“The jogger that just went by, Fat John I call him, wasn’t particularly burdened and had no demons, as you and Stephanie do. He was just a run of the mill non-believer, good by human standards, but fat and lazy. His eternal torment is doing something he hated doing on Earth, running. Day, after day, after endless day he runs and runs and runs, never stopping.”

“Fantastic, isn’t it?”

“You’re out of your damned mind old man, I have no demons, there are no demons.”

I looked at Mr. Jones; all that remained was the smoke of his cigar, rising up, into the binding hot light.

I had to get out of the heat.

So I walked.

And walked.

And walked.

Exactly ten paces between the trees, brand new looking trash cans, all dark green, all empty, all with a fresh white liner, and a bench stood, side by side after every tenth tree. There was nothing else, anywhere, except utter silence and an overwhelming feeling of despair.

The Baby

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, the stroller appeared again, Stephanie behind it, as beautiful as she was the first time I saw her, and beaming.

“Would you like to see my baby sir?” She grinned as if she were the happiest mother that ever lived.

“Mommy loves you, yes she does.” She said as she lifted the baby, neatly wrapped in a pink blanket, from the stroller, pulling the blanket down so I could she.

“So special, so perfect, and so good…Mommy loves you, more than anything…Mommy loves her little angel…yes she does.”

I looked at the baby but saw what looked like a tiny drug addict, sweaty, filthy, plugs of thinning hair sticking to her tiny face with sweat, crooked black teeth where no teeth should be, holding a needle like a rattle.

Repulsed by the sight, I recoiled, trying my best to act as if nothing was wrong.

“Isn’t she precious? Mommy is so proud of her little baby…yes she is.” She proclaimed as she gently set the baby back in the stroller.

“Aw, how touching.” Mr. Jones said as he reached behind me, putting his hand on my shoulder.

“Same sickening love Stephanie’s own mother had for her once.” He said with disgust as he put his foot on the stroller and pushed it out into traffic.

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, barely making it in front of a speeding car, stopping in front of an approaching bus.

“My baby! Somebody help me! My baby!” She screamed as people walked by, on their phones, waiting for buses, hailing taxis. Off to work, off to school, off to shop, everyone in their own world, few people noticed what was going on, and no one seemed to care.

“Why isn’t anyone doing anything?”

“Why would they?”

“It’s the right thing to do, someone is in trouble, and she needs help.”

“Why is it the right thing to do? Right thing to do according to whom?”

“It’s the right thing to do according to everyone.”

“Obviously it isn’t, look around.” Mr. Jones said as the bus bore down on the stroller.

I ran into the street, pushed the stroller out of the way, just in time. Blinding pain, a flash of light, I hit the ground.

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, I heard the stroller roll away, Stephanie behind it, as the light began to fade.

“Thank you sir.” She said with genuine gratefulness in her voice as she walked away singing, “Jesus loves me this I know…”

“Excuse me sir, have you seen my baby? I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find her, please help me.” She asked the first person she saw.

My head hit the ground with a thud, everything went black.

Mom

“Mom?”

I was standing in a field, green, lush, and peaceful, face to face with my mother. All my injuries were gone and I felt no pain. Nothing, in fact, but warm sunlight and a pleasant spring breeze.

“Mom?” It couldn’t be, cancer took her from me 20 years ago. She reached for my hands and looked me up and down. She was as beautiful as I remembered her before she got sick. She held my hands in hers like she did when I was a little boy, looked at me with a kind and caring smile.

“You should have listened to me dear. I tried to tell you. I tried to warn you.”

“I know mother but I couldn’t believe you, I just couldn’t.”

“Bye dear, I love you.”

“I love you too Mom.” I let go of her hands to give her a hug and clumsily stumbled over a bar stool.

“Lovely woman, wasn’t she?” Mr. Jones asked from behind the bar.

“What the?” I yelled angrily, kicking the stool.

“You should have listened to your mother, son.”

“She took you to church, told you about God, read the Bible to you, told you she had a relationship with Christ.”

“You should have listened to her.”

“And then cancer killed her. How could the supposedly good God she supposedly worshipped take her from me, from my sister, from my father? You know that her death nearly destroyed him, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, I used it on him, and on you.”

“You what?”

“I used it. The guilt, anger, resentment, doubt, loneliness…I used it to lure you away from God. Hard to have faith in a loving God when life kicks you in the junk isn’t it?”

“But there is no God, my mother meant well but she had it all wrong.”

“Did she?”

“Of course she did?”

“Really? Then how do you explain what has been happening to you lately?”

“A dream, I guess, there has to be an explanation.”

“An explanation other than the obvious one, you mean?”

“There is nothing obvious going one here, it’s a dream, a cruel joke, bad food, too much alcohol, I was drugged…there has to be a logical explanation, there has to be.”

“Weeping, wailing, torment, suffering, pain? Any of that sound familiar?

“What? But why? I’m the good guy here, God, if he existed, is the evil one.

“Are you the good guy? According to whom are you the good guy?”

“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; Romans 3:10”

“What a load of crap.”

“According to whom are you the good guy? Let’s go for a walk.

Everytown USA

We exited the bar onto a street that could have been a suburb in any town in America. People walking, playing in a nearby park, cars passing by, dogs barking, birds chirping, sun shining. The only difference is that no one could see or hear us and we passed an odd cast of people, all pale, all with the same somber expression, same sunken eyes, and same look of utter despair.

Cristina, a smartly dressed woman, in her mid-30s. Civil rights attorney and accomplished champion of the little guy and proud atheist who wholly rejected God because of all the injustice that plagues the world.

Ron, late 50s dressed in blood soaked surgical scrubs. He once saved lives for a living and set up an emergency hospital in his town following a natural disaster. Despite the fact that he grew up in a Christian home he never accepted a God who could cause such suffering.

James, 29 a dedicated Army Major who died leading his men from his unit on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. In a selfless act of heroism, he threw his body on a roadside bomb, saving the lives of at least three people. Never knew Christ, never wanted to, now he is here.

Lisa, mother of four small children limped by, dragging a mangled leg behind her, blood oozing from a large head wound. Killed by a drunk driver on the way to a children’s hospital cancer ward where she selflessly volunteered. Kind of liked the idea of church thought Jesus was a good moral teacher, but never really bothered with any of it. She had no time, she was too busy.

Shawna, 63, stunning for her age, dressed in a cable knit sweater, walking a dog. She was as good as a person could be by every human standard. She loved the idea of God but firmly rejected every strict and, she thought, intolerant definition of a divine being in favor of a spirituality that accepted all beliefs as truth.

Tom and Josh, 44 and 16 respectively, father and son. Tom, a good father, grew up an atheist who hated God with a passion, a belief he was not afraid to share with everyone who would listen. Josh attended church a few times with friends, even a weeklong retreat that ended with him wanting to accept Christ. Dad talked him out of it, explaining that the whole idea of religion and God were preposterous. They were killed when Tom fell asleep at the wheel on the way to a weekend at the lake. Mom, who was saved before she met Tom and thought she could change him, would never see them again, and never know their suffering.

We reached the edge of town, the last business, Mr. Jones’ Saloon. All I saw ahead of us was a freshly blacktopped two lane street, sidewalk on either side, lined with blood red Japanese Maples, evenly spaced, all the same height and shape, and a line of pale, sullen, tormented faces that went on, seemingly forever.

“Shall we go on?” Mr. Jones asked as he opened the door and disappeared into the saloon.

“But, but?”

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek…”Have you seen my baby?”

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek…”Have you seen my baby?”

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek…”Have you seen my baby?”

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek…”Have you seen my baby?” Stephanie started down the line, desperately looking for her baby.

I followed Mr. Jones inside and took a seat at the bar.

Through the Gate

“That’s new and, I might add, out of place.” I said, motioning to a folksy looking sign with the words of C.S. Lewis hand painted on it.

“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

“Out of place perhaps, but true, one of my favorites in fact.”

“How is it true? Who would choose this? I beg you, who in their right mind?”

“Well, you and Stephanie, just to name two.” Mr. Jones said confidently.

“I assure you, this was no choice. It was a trick, I was deceived.”

“Really? Were you deceived when you read the Bible a dozen times just so you could refute it? Were you deceived by your mother, who desperately tried to get you to know God? Where you deceived by your Christian friends, family members, and coworkers who tried over and over again to tell you about the message of the cross? Were you deceived by your own conscience telling you that they all might be right?”

“Were you deceived when the whole of creation cried out to you that there is a God? ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20’”

Mr. Jones placed his hands on the bar, leaned in close, “Please. This nonsense about you being deceived, or not having enough evidence, or being too smart to believe in ‘made up myths’ might fly where you came from but not here, not with me. You’re pathetic and a weak and a worthless waste.” He yelled as he vaulted over the bar, spinning me around in my stool, landing in front of me.

Lightning fast, he punched, blacking both of my eyes, and breaking my nose. I hit the floor with a thud, spitting out teeth and blood, choking, coughing, and gasping.

“Worthless!” He yelled kicking me in the ribs, again, and again, fracturing bones each time.

“Liar!” He kicked.

“Fool!” He yelled as he lifted his heavy boot in the air prepared, I thought, to crush my skull.

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek…”Have you seen my baby sir?”

He sprung like a panther, landing in front of her, delivered a punishing blow to the side of her face and, as she rocked back on her heals, blood oozing from her fresh wound, he moved behind her keeping her from hitting the floor.

“My favorite person, what a surprise!” He said as he tore off her shirt.

“There there dear, everything is going to be OK.” He whispered into her ear, wetting the tips of his fingers with blood from her cheek, down her neck, circling her breasts. He kissed her ear like a lover would, slowly sliding his hand down her stomach, easing it into her pants. Her body responded as if she loved him, wanted him, and needed him. She raised her arms, griped the back of his neck, her pants fell to the floor.

“Wait!” He yelled as he pushed her to the floor where she collapsed in a heap.

The lights flickered, Mr. Jones stood in front of the large windows of the saloon, seething with rage, hands clinched into tight fists at his sides, muscles bulging. The two men who were about to have their way with Stephanie morphed into translucent black vapor, floated like shadows across the floor, and disappeared into a grate.

“Enough of this!” He raised his fists to the sky. The saloon exploded around us and vanished, leaving darkness and silence.

A single beam of light appeared from above. Mr. Jones, who was now a good two feet taller than he had been circled me, cigar clinched between his teeth, glaring. He kicked Stephanie’s naked and limp body out of the way.

“What do you make of this now, fool?”

“I’m curious. What does the arrogant fool who stood beyond the gates of Hell and told the devil himself it was all a dream or something think now?”

“Well?” He asked, blowing a thick cloud of gray cigar smoke into his hands.

“Well?” He formed the smoke into a circle in front of him where it hung, perfectly still.

“Well?” He waved his hand, spinning the smoke ring between us.

“Well, good and loyal servant, denier of the one true God, sinner? What say you now?”

The smoke ring turned sideways and, with a slow but deliberate motion of Mr. Jones’ hand, it floated upward.

“You wanted to be here.”

The ring of smoke grew, spinning faster.

“You chose to be here.”

The ring of smoke widened, extending upward as far as I could see, spinning faster.

“If I gave you the chance to leave you wouldn’t, would you?” He demanded an answer over the sound of howling wind.

“Would you?”

The wind knocked me off my feet, slamming me backward, lifting me. My vision blurred, I could feel the g-force pulling blood into my extremities.

“Oh God!” I cried out and faded.

When I came to, I was floating down gently, slowly, whole, free from pain. I could see nothing but felt the presence of a woman next to me, holding my hand. We fell together, landing on soft ground, still surrounded by nothing but silence and darkness.

“Where are we?” The woman asked.

“I have no idea.”

The swirling wind stopped, the wall of smoke fell around us, melting into the ground. We were in a forest clearing, in front of what appeared to be a small quaint chapel. Stephanie and me, holding hands, amazed by our beautiful surroundings.

“Good afternoon.” A friendly voice greeted us.

“Mr. Jones?”

“You were expecting someone else?” Mr. Jones asked with a welcoming smile.

“What’s going on? What happened? “I asked Mr. Jones who was now dressed in a fine tan linen suit with a pink silk tie.

“Oh that? Don’t worry about any of that. I have a flair for the dramatic and tend to go too far sometimes. Please forgive me, won’t you?”

“Um, I guess.” I said.

“In fact, we can make all memory of that whole messy ordeal go away if you want.”

Stephanie’s Choice

“You two make a lovely couple by the way.” Mr. Jones said lovingly, almost like a doting grandfather might.

“Here’s your baby Miss Stephanie, she’s been fed, bathed, dressed, and had her nap.”

“Thank you my dear.” Mr. Jones motioned for the nanny to leave them.

“She is beautiful, isn’t she? Spitting image of her mother, I have to say”

Given what I had just gone through, I had never felt happier or more at peace in my life. Wherever I was now, I did not want to leave, ever.

“So?” Mr. Jones asked.

“What do you want to do Stephanie?”

“Do you want to stay here forever, with your baby, your mother, your friends?” He asked as he removed a tiny plastic bag from his pocket, flipping it with his fingers like a slight of hand magician with a trick card.

“Oh, I want to stay with my baby, I love her more than anything in the world.”

“Do you?” He tossed the bag on the ground next to a hole surrounded by an orange plastic construction fence, Stephanie’s eyes following it.

“Are you sure dear? All you will have here is unconditional love, peace, and happiness. You know you don’t deserve those things, you never have.

“But I’ve tried sir, I’ve really tried.” Stephanie said, eyes moving back and forth between the tiny package and Mr. Jones.

“Have you? Have you listened to your mother? She desperately tried to get you to turn your life around and, every time there was hope, you threw it away to chase a desire, a fix, or a thrill. You say you wanted to be happy but you didn’t, did you? Mr. Jones had his hands on her shoulders, calmly reasoning with her as if she were a small child.

I stood nearby as they talked, watching, listening, unable to speak, holding the baby, the beautiful, perfect, special baby, clutching a rattle in her tiny fist, smiling, cooing, peaceful, content, and happy.

“You are one of the most beautiful people God has ever created, Stephanie, has anyone ever told you that? I mean anyone but your mother who is supposed to tell you such things.”

“No.”

“Do you deserve to be told that? Do you deserve to feel special, feel loved? Look back at your life, what have you ever done to deserve anything good?”

“Well, I’ve made some mistakes but I’m not a horrible person.” Tears ran down her face as Mr. Jones’ words sunk in.

“No dear, you’re not a horrible person, few people are. But you have to admit, you’re not a good person either, are you?”

“I guess not, but I try.”

“Do you? You say you’re going to but, do you? Have you ever?” Mr. Jones slid the package closer to the edge with his foot; Stephanie instinctively reached her hand out grabbing a handful of air. She wanted it.

“Come on dear, you know what you want, what you’ve always wanted.”

“If I told you that, starting right now, you could have eternal love, peace, happiness, and forgiveness from everything wrong you have ever done, would you want it?” He kicked the tiny bag over the edge, it disappeared into darkness.

All the color washed from her face as she dropped to her knees, sobbing.

“Or do you want to chase your desires into the pit of despair where you belong.” Mr. Jones moved his eyes from Stephanie to the hole and back, prompting her.

“It’s OK dear; you know what you need to do.” With a wave of his hand, the plastic fence vanished.

“Mommy loves you baby.” She said, reaching her hands out to her child before casting herself into the pit.

The rattle hit the ground at my feet, the pink blanket collapsed in my arms, empty, the hole slammed shut, mom and baby were gone, forever.

“See how easy it is to convince someone they aren’t worthy?” Mr. Jones looked at me, smiling.

“Want to tell me again what no one in their right mind would choose?”

My Choice

“So, what do you want?” Mr. Jones asked me as he put his arm on my shoulder, guiding me toward the small chapel.

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is that it’s time for you to choose.”

“What do you mean; I’m not like Stephanie at all, why do I need to choose? What do I need to choose?”

“What do you mean you’re not like her, in a way, all people are exactly like her?”

“She was a junkie who made nothing but bad choices. I am a good person, a happy person. Sure I’ve made mistakes but I learned from them.”

“Did you? What have you learned, exactly?”

“I’ve learned to love people, to love life, to respect others, to be kind…”

“Hogwash!” Mr. Jones interrupted.

“Trite, self-serving, arrogant nonsense is all that is. You’ve learned nothing!”

“Sure I have old man. I’ve learned that life is what individuals make of it. That each of us defines what happiness is. That there is good in everyone.”

“There is no good in you, there is no good in any man, you are all sinners, all of you.”

“Well I reject the concept of sin and God. I don’t need either.”

“Then your choice has been made.”

“What choice?”

“You can stay here and worship God eternally in a place, where there is no pain, no tears, no sorrow, no death, and no mourning. Or you can leave and go back to the world you want.” He said, pointing to the door of the chapel that was now open.

“The world I want? Go on.”

“Yes, a world where there is no sin, no God, no morality, no religion. None of anything you have been rejecting and despising for years.”

“Through that door?” I asked.

“Yes, walk through that door and you will be free of God forever.”

“If I can be free of God and you forever, I’ll take it.” I walked through the door.

Where I wanted to be

The beer I had been drinking splashed onto my leg as I was jarred awake.

“What the?” I thought as I looked around at my living room, in my house, at my stuff. Everything was there, exactly as I remembered. No weird trees, no crazy old man, no crack whore, no saloon, no heat…

Apparently nothing unusual at all had happened, I had just dozed off on the couch in front of the TV as I often do.

To be sure, I ran to the bathroom, clicked on the light, and looked in the mirror. Although I looked like I just woken up, I had no gash on my cheek, all my teeth were in place, there was no sweat, no dirt, no grime, no green paint…nothing.

I smiled.

“I knew it. It was all a dream, a goddamned bad dream.”

Relieved, I walked back into the living room, still a little confused, still not fully awake, and took a sip of the beer I had been drinking. Still cold, I obviously hadn’t been anywhere.

I retrieved the pack of smokes from the coffee table, grabbed a lighter, a fresh beer from the fridge, and headed outside, leaving the front door open behind me.

Broken, broken, broken, broken…I pulled cigarettes from the pack one at a time, broken, broken, broken, broken…

“Ah, a good one.” I smiled.

“Take that, God of Abraham!” I said defiantly as I sat on the step.

“No, actually, don’t take that. Take this!” I yelled as I raised my hands to the heavens with my middle fingers extended.

“Take that!”

Slam! The door closed behind me.

Startled, I sprung from the porch, beer crashing to the ground, shattering at my feet.

I looked around and, as far as I could see in either direction, other than an endless rocky brown desert, was a freshly blacktopped two lane street with a sidewalk on either side, lined with blood red Japanese Maples, evenly spaced, all the same height and shape, none capable of providing any shade.

Eeeek, eeeek, eeeek, the baby stroller rolled by, Stephanie following it, naked, disheveled, strung out.

“Have you seen my baby sir?” She stared at me, desperate for an answer.

I had no answer.

I had to get out of the heat.

So I walked.

The faint smell of cigar smoke lingered over the first bench I passed.

“Fantastic isn’t it?” A voice from the dissipating smoke inquired.

*This is an original work. If you would like to use all or part of it, please credit the author and link back to this blog.



Categories: Christianity

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19 replies

  1. James

    That was insanely disturbing….but I mean that in a good way.Quite graphic in places but not inappropriate at all given the context. Definitely held my attention the whole through. Your descriptive language was awesome….I could see the maples providing no shade as if I were making the walk myself.

    Stephanie was so so real. I could see her whole life in just a few paragraphs.

    Any story which makes me literally see visual images in my head is to me well done. That played in my head like a movie on the screen. Really.

    I am pretty sure you hit most of Satan’s tactics…Mr Jones…his tricks. You hit all of the objections and excusees too.

    Only two things I felt somewhat vague on. The first is the baby. It was hazy to me if that was actually the baby. Obviously not since no baby is cast in the pit…but sort of confused me some. And I got that the protagonist was only dreaming….but some might think Stephanie was choosing after her death.

    And perhaps I read wrong. But…having said that…..James that was just amazing. ..wow and more wow.

    Like

    • Wally,

      Thanks for the feedback, glad you liked it. As far as your questions go…

      There really was no baby, Stephanie’s torment was hopelessly looking for something she loved and lost due to her poor choices. She has eternal hope she will find her baby someday but she never will.

      The protagonist wasn’t dreaming at all. Although everything he experienced was real, he denied it, as skeptics often do.

      Both the protagonist and Stephanie were dead from the beginning of the story and both of them died as non-believers.

      I took some liberty with them chosing where they would spend eternity after death to make the point that everyone who is in Hell does chose to be there.

      Who knows though, Satan could trick the damned into wrongfully believing they have a way out. It could be part of the torment.

      Thanks again for the time, I truly appreciate it.

      Just so you know, I am going to edit this a few more times before publishing it on Moday.

      Have a great weekend.

      James

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Truth in Palmyra and commented:
    This short story was written by a friend of mine. If you only read one thing today this should be the one thing.

    Like

  3. It was real good. I enjoyed it. It did make one think they have a choice to make God or devil.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well done. Very imaginative. Very persuasive. I “got it” from beginning to end.
    It made me glad that I lived long enough to choose Jesus, and sad for my friends who will probably choose Mr. Jones despite my pleas against it.
    Now, start your next project as soon as possible. Keep up your momentum as God feeds your creativity for His purposes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting riff on CS Lewis here. You’ve definitely got a richly imagined concept. I can see where the complaints about length are coming from – this is a lot to read on a computer or phone screen. Eyes fatigue faster on those. Once you go over 1000 words, things start looking like a sea of text, especially as your paragraphs get longer. Have you considered publishing through KDP/Smashwords? It’ll take a little formatting, but nothing you can’t do with Microsoft Word and a couple hours. This would be a much less imposing story on an ereader.

    If I was going to give any major suggestions it would be to really comb through and ask yourself at every turn if you can say the same thing with fewer words. The most consistent example I saw is in your dialog tags…you tend to combine tags with beats. For example, you’ll say something like “I know,” he said as he put a hand on her shoulder…when it would be more efficient to say “I know.” He put a hand on her shoulder. Stuff like that seems little, but the more you do it, the cleaner things will read.

    Other than that, really watch out for comma splices and other punctuation issues. Just fixing those will make your work a lot punchier.

    You mentioned you have a unique style, so if those are all stylistic decisions and you have reasons for those, then that’s your privilege as an author. Just understand that when you go against convention, it often happens at the expense of clarity.

    Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Taylor,

      Wow, thanks for the comments, that was much more than I expected.

      I have alreay broken this down into smaller sections that I am going to post daily for two weeks.

      I am also going to edit it again and clean up the dialogue as you suggested.

      I am also going to look into publishing but honestly don’t know a single thing about the process.

      Thanks again, your comments and the time you took are very much appreciated.

      James

      Like

  6. Wow! That was so terrifying. You described the eternal torment of Hell so well I could see and feel it. I am one who usually wants a happy ending, I was hoping he would wake up and find out it was all a dream and he had another chance… sheesh it sounded like he maybe had a second chance but still chose Hell while being in Hell. I have a hard time finding things to read that keep my full attention, yet I never once strayed away or skimmed your story, your writing style is exactly what I look for in a good book. I am not sure if you have ever published a book or not but if you do or if you have already I would love to read it. Great writing and great story!

    Liked by 1 person

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