The words aren’t exactly flowing tonight, so I thought I’d pull something out of my creative vault again. Don’t worry, though, no poem this time. It’s a work of fiction I wrote with a Christian slant about nine years ago, I guess. I don’t think George R.R. Martin or any other successful fantasy/sci-fi authors need worry about me knocking them off the bestseller lists, but I seem to recall that a few friends and acquaintances back then gave it at least modestly positive reviews (there are plenty of things I’d change if I wrote this today, but I’m not into rewriting my past, so I’ll let it stand or fall on its current merits or lack thereof). Anyway, enjoy. Or not. Thematically, this story hearkens back to the subject tackled in my post End of the Line? back in the earliest days of this blog.
He watched death bear down on him with at least some clinical detachment. His foot had gone one inch too far; his momentum was a fraction too far gone—and he knew it.
Despite the deep, wrenching fear that gripped him at the base of his belly, at least half his brain knew there was no way to maneuver himself out of this predicament as he had with so many other problems in life.
Not for want of trying though. Even as he watched the van slide toward him, its screeching brakes insufficient to halt its deadly inertia, he tried to get out of the way.
So while one part of his mind simply logged this off as the last moment of life—game over—the other part made a panicked attempt to get him back on the curb. His survival instinct decided that it did not at all like the shape of things to come.
But the panicked frenzy that part of his mind brought to bear simply managed to get his legs hopelessly tangled, forcing him to the ground and guaranteeing that his end would come just a bit more messily than fate had originally planned.
At that last split-second before impact, both parts of his brain finally agreed on one thing, though: He was totally and irretrievably screwed.
So it came as quite a shock for the man—known to friends and acquaintances as “Wallace” and to his competitors as “that damned Wallace”—to suddenly find himself walking next to a dour-faced, vaguely Middle-Eastern man dressed like a 1940s-era Hollywood version of a private eye.
The foggy road they were walking on was painfully quiet and empty, and Wallace had the unnerving sense that everything behind him was falling away. He was afraid to find out what that might look like. Eyes forward, he told himself. Don’t look back.
So he settled for turning his neck just enough to look at the man next to him and make some half-hearted attempt at whatever counted as small-talk in the hereafter.
After a great deal of throat-clearing and several deep breaths, Wallace managed a rather uninspiring, “Hey, … uhhh … you.”
The man stopped, and Wallace did as well. The man turned quickly on his heel, but Wallace turned more tentatively, afraid of what he might see the way they had come. As it turned out, the view was much less dramatic than he had feared. He still had the sense that something was falling away but visually, the only notable thing about what lay behind them was that it was a bit more hazy and indistinct than what lay ahead.
The man looked at Wallace but said nothing, leaving Wallace plenty of time to admire the man’s charcoal gray overcoat, his black linen slacks and black tie, his butter-hued shirt, and his well-worn but stylish fedora.
As the silence grew into something almost palpable in the air between them, it was Wallace who could no longer bear the tension.
“I suppose,” Wallace ventured, “that you are the Angel of Death.”
The man managed a small, amused snort. “I am an angel. In fact, I am your angel. But death is not at the top of my job description. Right now, death is simply what has brought us face to face. And now we are taking a short walk to the end of your life’s journey. My name is Senezalqin.”
The angel began walking again, and despite some reluctance to continue with this strange being, Wallace felt compelled to walk with him. The solidity of the angel was much more comforting than the idea of being left alone in this quiet and ghostly landscape.
As he caught up with Senezalqin’s pace, Wallace made another stab at conversation.
“So, uhh, where are we heading?” he said with his most disarming smile. “Heaven or He…”
“There is a saying in the earthly world, Wallace,” said the angel, interrupting him. “If you have to ask how much it costs, you cannot afford it.”
Despite his fear of being left alone, Wallace stopped at once and watched, mouth hanging open, as the angel continued to march onward. After a while, Senezalqin stopped as well.
Without turning, the angel told Wallace, “Stop walking if you will. But you cannot avoid the end of this journey.”
The angel was at least a dozen yards away and his words little more than a whisper, but they carried clearly all the way to Wallace’s ears.
“You think this is unfair?” Senezalqin asked, turning finally and walking back to where Wallace remained stock-still.
“To Hell? Why?” asked Wallace. “Because I was a bit aggressive in my business? Because I’m a jerk sometimes? Didn’t I give enough to my church? Was it because I cheated on some taxes once in a while?”
“Far more than ‘once in a while,’ Wallace,” Senezalqin responded. “But no, none of those reasons singled you out.”
“Then what?” Wallace’s voice was rising now, a little anger creeping in among the fear there.
“Because you did not bother to get to know God’s son.”
Several times, Wallace opened his mouth as if to speak, then stopped. For what seemed like an eternity, his thoughts and his mouth could not seem to get in sync.
“What are you talking about?” he snapped. “I believe in Jesus. I went to church—pretty often. I gave to charity. I never hit my wife or kids. I was a pretty good person.”
“You still think that the worldly things you did are what counts,” Senezalqin muttered. “You want to know whether your activities were good or bad enough to send you to Heaven or Hell. What you did in life is not at issue here. It is what you failed to do. You did not accept Jesus. You did not bother to learn anything about him.”
“I believe in Jesus, I tell you! I’m a Christian!” Wallace shouted.
They were not walking, but Wallace could see a strange darkness up ahead that seemed to draw ever closer. Were they moving toward it, or the other way around? He could feel his time drawing short. His knees buckled and he began to sob.
Senezalqin stooped down to a crouch; leaned in close to Wallace’s face. “So you believe in Jesus. So what?”
The words hung in the air. Wallace had no answer.
“Satan believes in Jesus, too, Wallace,” the angel continued. “Do you think he will go to Heaven?”
“I don’t understand, then,” Wallace said. “What could I have done different? Was I supposed to keep every commandment without fail? Was I supposed to pray three hours a day? What? What are the rules? I’m only human, by God!”
For a moment, Senezalqin’s eyes softened, and he sat down on the ground next to Wallace.
“You still do not see the problem, Wallace. You have always been concerned about you. Never God. Never Jesus. When did you ever speak to God except to complain about the unfairness of life? Did you ever give Him glory for your successes? Or did you take credit for every single one?
“And Jesus. Did you ever bother to pay attention in church or pick up a Bible? Did you ever try to learn about why he died, and what he suffered for your ungrateful little soul? Did you ever ask him to forgive a single one of your sins? For that matter, did you ever really feel sorry for any of those sins?”
Wallace had stopped crying. Much as when the van had rushed up on him, a part of him knew he had lost the race.
“I thought God was love.”
“He is Wallace, He is. He allowed His only son to be a sacrifice for the souls of billions upon billions of ungrateful, disobedient people. That’s how much He loves. He was willing to let Jesus bear the burden so that humans could have one sure path to salvation. They had already proved through the millennia that they could not obey God’s laws.
“So God made it simple. Have faith in His son and ask forgiveness for your sins. Do not simply believe that Jesus existed but also acknowledge his sacrifice and thank him for having loved you enough to die for your sins.”
“So there’s no reprieve, then?” Wallace asked. “No second chance?”
Senezalqin laughed and shook his head. For a moment Wallace was angry, then he realized he was not being laughed at. Senezalqin was clearly dumbfounded and amazed.
“Do you remember when you were in the hospital with pneumonia as a child? Do you remember when you fell off that ladder and came within a hair of breaking your neck instead of just your collarbone? Do you remember when a stranger pulled you away from the curb on a busy intersection and kept you from being crushed by a taxicab? Do you remember when you had your heart attack in the doctor’s office instead of alone at home?”
Senezalqin paused, staring into Wallace’s face. “Satan wanted your soul a long time ago. How many more chances did God have to give you to evaluate your spiritual life and, more importantly, Jesus’ place in it? You had untold numbers of chances to redeem your soul.”
The darkness that had been growing steadily closer was now almost upon them, and Senezalqin stood up.
“I have a gift for you, Wallace.”
The angel reached into his overcoat and pulled out a large black book. He flipped idly through the pages until he reached a stack of six $50 bills. He let the cash fall to the ground and handed the book to Wallace.
“This Bible is immaculate, Wallace,” the angel said with a wry smile. “Hardly been read. In fact, it seems to have been used more as a place to hide money than as a source of education and inspiration.
“Incidentally, Wallace, burglars are not vampires. They can touch the Bible. In fact, if I were a thief, it would be the first place I would look for money in a house.”
Wallace simply stared at the Bible in his hands.
“Why are you giving me my own Bible? And why now?”
“Believe it or not, you will have moments of peace, even in Hell. They are short-lived, though, and they are not completely free of suffering. But God makes sure you all have enough free moments so that you can study His Word.”
“What’s the point?” Wallace asked with a sneer. “If I’m already damned for eternity, why read this? God’s already given up on me.”
The darkness was no more than a hundred yards away now, moving slowly but inevitably toward them.
“I tell most people to start by reading the gospels, but I think you should start with the Book of Revelation,” the angel suggested, glancing toward the advancing void. “You might find something interesting there. Hell is not forever. The Lake of Fire is the place of punishment that lasts forever. But no one goes there until after the final judgment.
“The question is, Wallace, when that time comes, will you be able to say you really understand what Christ did for you? Will you really be thankful that he made it possible for you to save your soul, even at the eleventh hour? Or will you simply be as you are right now—so afraid of the punishment that you will say anything to save yourself, but not mean a single word?”
Wallace’s eyes were desparate now with a mixture of fear, wariness and hope. “I promise, I will accept…”
Senezalqin raised a hand.
“Be quiet, Wallace. Please do not make any promises. Please do not get my hopes up that you will yet reach Heaven. I would rather be pleasantly surprised. You will find that when the judgment comes, more people than you think—maybe you along with them—will choose to join Satan in his eternal damnation and suffering than to go with God.”
“No …” Wallace began.
“Yes,” Senezalqin responded. “They will be too busy blaming God for the suffering in Hell that they brought upon themselves. They will be too busy making excuses that they have spent centuries in Hell honing to perfection. But far fewer than you think will actually be repentant.
“They will not have learned anything. They will have no appreciation or understanding of how patient God has been for thousands upon thousands of years, despite so many unfaithful people. Even at the end, many will turn away from God and Jesus, simply out of spite. The door will still be open, and they will slam it themselves.”
Senezalqin started to turn to walk away as the wall of night slid forward to claim Wallace.
“You don’t like me, do you?” Wallace asked.
The question caught Senezalqin off guard, and he stopped for a moment. He wondered if it was a good sign. No more pleas, no more arguments. Just a question. He wondered if this one might yet learn and save his soul.
“I am only disappointed in you, Wallace. As I said at the start, I am your angel. I could have been your guardian and guide. Instead, you have thrust this unhappy journey upon me. And I have watched your prospects drain away as you walked closer and closer to Satan and farther from Heaven.
“When you stand before Jesus on his judgment seat, please give me reason to be proud of you. Please cheat Satan out of at least one more soul.”
With that, Senezalqin finally turned and walked away. He could hear the eerie approach of the darkness. A sound of low moans and endless sobbing. A sound that spoke of emptiness and loss, and potentials unrealized.
Senezalqin walked as Lot did when heavenly fire rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah—eyes forward. I will not be like Lot’s wife, he told himself. I will not look back.
The angel heard Wallace’s last croaking sob as the darkness caught up with the man, and then there was nothing but silence. The journey was over, and the human gone.
“May judgment day come quickly, Wallace, for you and all the others with you,” Senezalqin whispered, in a voice that was half prayer and half plea. “And may all of you be ready for it when it does.”