Steve's Vision (Incomplete story)
Copyright 2018 Brian Davis - CC-BY-NC-SA
Steve was a middle class, middle age, man. He lived in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house, about 2000 sqft in a mediocre suburb of your typical prosperous American city. He had been married 18 years to his college sweetheart Amy and they had two kids, Brandon 14 and Alice 11. Steve worked as a quality control engineer at a car parts manufacturer. It was his responsibility to ensure that every part his company shipped fit within certain tolerances and specifications. The designers set the specifications. The manufacturing group made the parts. Steve made sure the parts met the specs. He was good at it and respected and rewarded within the company but for a long time now there had been a looming threat of outsourcing the manufacturing part of the company to China. It had been a threat for a long time and most people had either learned to live with the risk or moved on. Steve had become convinced that even if the company laid off the local manufacturing he would still have a vital role to play at the company. So he stayed.
Brandon, his son was a freshman in highschool. The school was the local public highschool and it wasn't great, but public highschool had been good enough when Steve was a kid, so it was good enough for Brandon. Sure he (Steve) had gotten into some trouble, gotten mixed up with some people he shouldn't have, but it had all worked out. He'd gone to college, got a degree, had a good time and now had a pretty good life. He hoped as much for his son. Lately it seemed like the only thing Brandon wanted was more time to play video games with his friends, but that was fine thought Steve, he'll have to grow up soon enough.
Up until a year ago Alice had been the model daddy's girl. She was into ballet and girly stuff like that. And some nights when Steve watched TV after dinner she would snuggle up next to him on the couch. But a couple months ago things had started to change. Alice started wearing makeup and spending more time with her friends. Now she sometimes came home in weird clothes, that she borrowed from them and her nails and eyelids painted black. She was talking about tattoos and piercings. It was a phase Steve and Amy said. Best to let her explore her independence. After all those things weren't bad in themselves. Just part of growing up. Still, Steve missed his little girl and snuggling up in front of the TV.
Amy and Steve had met in college. They had been part of a circle of friends who did a lot together. They took spring break together a couple times, summer vacation, parties after finals. Of the 7 or 8 regulars in their group there had formed 3 couples all married in the first couple years out of college. One of those couples was Amy and Steve the other two had divorced. Amy and Steve had first met at a party at Amy's sorority. They had fallen madly in love and moved in together after 2 months. They married about a year later, had Brandon 2 years after that and Alice 3 years after that. They didn't see their college friends much anymore but a few still sent out Christmas cards.
Amy had tried the stay-at-home-mom thing when the kids were little and found she just wasn't cut out for it. So when Alice had started school she had gone to work for local non-profit writing grants, fundraising, organizing events and generally running the business end of things. It was a small organization that promoted women's rights in muslim countries and once or twice a year she would travel overseas to Afghanistan, or Thailand or somewhere.
Steve and his family had never had much use for religion. Amy had grown up in a church of some kind (Steve couldn't tell you which) but she had left that behind along with all it's silly restrictions and rules when she got out on her own.
Steve was the youngest of three kids. His dad believed in himself and said there was no point in relying on anyone else. His mom had left him as soon as Steve left for college. She had gone on some kind of European backpacking trip for a year and now lived in Alaska in a little cabin in the woods. His dad still lived in the little suburban house Steve grew up in. He drank and smoked religiously and still owned and sometimes operated the 76 Station on the corner of 68th and Washington.
Steve had just turned 42. He had not had a mid-life crisis as such and took some pride in being "just fine" with being 40-something. He drove a non-descript sedan. His hope for the next couple years was to upgrade his 12' aluminium boat to a 18' fiberglass with inboard motor. Maybe he'd even spring for the 22' model with the beer cooler. Now that would be something.
It was nine in the morning on a tuesday. Steve's work week, and work day were both in full swing and he felt good like he always did when he was doing a good job. His job was important to the company. He was important to the company and he liked that.
Robert called Steve into his office. Steve had worked for Robert for many years and they has risen together in the company. They liked each other. Steve smiled, "What's up boss?" Robert's face was ashen. He set his jaw then tried to begin but choked on the first syllable of his prepared speech. Instead all the he said was, "I'm sorry Steve. I tried to change their minds but..." He trailed off as he handed Steve a yellow packet. "I got you a decent package at least. Should give you some time to look around. I can give your name to some friends I have at FastPace if you want... I'm sorry."
Steve opened the packet with dread. SEVERENCE
Steve drove home mechanically. The thought in his head, TERMINATED. Terminated? After how hard he had worked? How could they do this? He thought he had mattered... WHAM!
Ssssssssssssssssssss. Steve's 2001 Ford Taurus abrubtly brought him back to reality, and to a complete stop in a huge cloud of steam at the side of the road. Steve got out and looked under the car. "Great, just great." and he muttered a curse at the widening puddle of coolant and oil. He pulled out his cell phone and stopped. He didn't want to call Amy to pick him up, he didn't even want to talk to the operator at the towing company. He was only a mile or so from home and it was only about 11am. He made a decision. He set the brake, locked the doors, and started walking down the road.
Steve trudged down the road getting angrier and more depressed. His mind was darkening and the world was getting narrow and dim around him. He repeated the words over and over, TERMINATED, what am I going to do? how could this happen? I thought what I did meant something? I thought I was worth something...
He rounded the last bend and saw his house. He was not ready to face his family. Seeing an open door to his left he turned in without looking or thinking.
He was confronted by a smallish old man with a bizarre face. It had fat cheeks, giant glasses, weird tufts of hair behind the ears, a shiny bald head and an impossibily big smile.
"Goodmorningpleasecomein! Sonicetoseeyou! Wehaveplentyofopenseatsrightthiswayplease.", the face said, and Steve was ushered (he'd never known the verb could have so much force till know) into a chair at the back of a big room without any choice in the matter.
Steve had only done one really reckless thing as a kid. He'd been out with some friends by the lake. They were drinking and showing off for some girls by jumping off the high rocks into the lake. Not really dangerous stuff until Steve got a little too loud and boastful and somebody called him on it. He felt he had to do it, jump off the BIG rock. The one nobody jumped off of, cause it was crazy. Steve broke both ankles and was in a wheelchair or crutches for a couple months.
When Steve hit the chair that falling feeling came back to him in a rush. He blinked and tried to breath but couldn't because the air was going by so fast. His heart was racing but felt like each beat was an hour. He grabbed the edges of the chair involuntarily. He was sitting in the back row of the church perfectly still but couldn't shake this feeling of falling off the rocks. The words of the preacher praying seemed to come from far away: "any.. here.. in.. darkness.. your.. Spirit.. come.. let.. them.. AWAKE!" The last word came to Steve like the sound of a thunder crack, and he hit the water with all the pain and force he remembered from that night at the lake, only he didn't really hit anything. He was still sitting in the chair. But he opened his eyes expecting to see water everywhere or at least the rubble of a brick wall lying around him. Instead he saw something much stranger.
The church was gone. The plain, seated church-goers were gone. In there place was a huge stone building lit by blazing torches and filled with a throng of warriors dressed in armor and holding swords aloft, singing and dancing in exhultation. Before them was one, like a man, wearing white. He wasn't tall or strong per se. But he held Steve's eyes and attention. All the warriors were fixed on him. Their revelry centered around him as if they were so happy to be near him they couldn't hold it in. Steve couldn't bear to keep looking at him and he couldn't look away so he shut his eyes.
When he opened them again he saw the church. The people still seated with heads bowed. All was silent for a moment. The preacher said some things that Steve didn't take in and, as one, the congregation placed something in their mouths. A moment of silence again, a song and a dismissal. Steve blinked many more times but the stone room and warriors did not return and although he didn't see the man in white again, he couldn't shake the feeling that he was still staring right at him.
The Three Addicts
As the congregation stood and began to mill and greet each other, Steve slipped out the back. For a moment he cuaght site of a shining head bobbing in his direction but he ducked out the door and into the glaring sunshine. Steve squinted and started walking without waiting for his eyes to adjust. He didn't know where he was going or what he was thinking he just had to get away. A bus stopped in front of him and the door opened. Without thinking Steve stepped on, dropped a bit of change in the till and sat down. At last a quiet place to think.
What happened back there? Am I hallucinating? Did I hit my head? Steve had almost come to the conclusion he needed to go to the hospital (even though he hated hospitals) when the yellow packet came back to him. oh yeah, TERMINATED. Steve groaned and rested his head on the back of the seat in front of him.
Steve did not hear anything for a long time. He did not notice people getting on or off the bus or where it went. Unbeknownst to him it now traveled parts of town that Steve had never seen and would never have vistited of his own free will. Something from the group behind him began to intrude on his private agony. Words began to filter through the fog in his mind, "...when'll Mikey have some more XXXX? I need some soon." "Keep it cool, keep cool man. He said today." "When we meet that XXXX huh?" "'bout three. He said three at the place." "How much you guys have?" There was a rustle of paper and clink of coins. "I gotta a benny." "Good that'll do. Whata you got Karl." "I got Twenny-six and seventy-five cence." "XXXX man that aint gonna buy a single hit. Why you never got any money?" The realiztion of what sort of people were behind Steve was puncuated by the smell of unwashed bodies soaked in stale beer and urine. Steve had never smelled anything like that... well not since college anyway.
Steve stayed perfectly still hoping not to be noticed and waiting for the bus to stop. He decided to get off if the addicts did not, and stay if they did. "Where am I gonna get some more dough?" "I don't care. That's yo problem XXXX." The bus stopped and no one moved. Just as the operator reached for the lever to pull the door shut Steve launched himself upright and out the door. As his feet hit the pavement he breathed a sigh of relief, but was stopped short as he turned and saw the three addicts from the bus directly behind him. Steve had expected ratty clothes, dirty hair, unshaven faces. But that was not what he saw. The world around went dark. The door to the bus became a portal to some underworldly cavern and through stepped three of the most pitiful creates Steve had ever seen. Their clothes no more than rags and there hair was dirty and unkempted but long, like men uncared for, for decades. Bellies swollen, toothless mouths, bare and bloody feet. Skinny arms and legs were bare and enclosed around each were shackles leading to heavy iron chains. Behind each prisoner was a demon. Steve had never paid attention the few times he'd been church. His grandma had taken him to Sunday school for a while but he had no memory of ever hearing a description of a demon. Popular culture could tell him demons were little red men with horns and tails who carried pitchforks to torment people, or possible sell you a cheap vacuum cleaner. These were nothing like that, but he knew in his gut what they were. Little more than clouds of palatable darkness that followed, no hounded these prisoners. Emanating from them were feelings of fear, despair, and hatred so strong that Steve doubled over in pain and vomited right there. From within the dark clouds black cords with hooks on the ends reached out. The hooks stuck in the bodies of the men who had followed Steve.
The bus was gone. There was no one else around. Steve could see nothing but the horror before him. While he should have been afraid of the evil smile on the man's face who hadn't had enough money, Steve was like a man outside of his body. He watched as he stammered, and handed over his mostly empty wallet to the addict. They got angry when it had so little in it. They rushed at him and started to hit him and search his clothes, tearing his watch right off his wrist. All the while Steve could not take his eyes off the horrible menacing figures that followed, prodded and tormented the addicts. Even as they kicked him on the ground Steve felt nothing but pity for the three men hurting him. All he could see was how much pain they were in.
The Homeless Knight
The three adicts argued about whether they should keep beating Steve, hoping to discover more money or go find another source. Steve lay on the ground in the fetal position staring in horror at the demons surrounding the group. Suddenly there was a breeze and a rush of light pierced the three demons. Screaming they vanished, cords, hooks, and chains melting into nothing. The three adicts were thrown to the ground and from the nearest building doorway stepped a man carrying a sword and shield. The sword was long, straight, and two edged. It was the source of the light and made it's bearer hard to see. But his shield was clearly visible, tall and white with a red cross so vivid it almost seemed rise up and tower over the men lying on the ground. The light flared and no one could see anything but the red towering cross and it faded.
Steve opened his eyes not realizing they had been shut. He lay on the ground in the street, in a puddle of his own vomit and blood. The blood was coming from his nose and lips. The addicts were on the ground near him struggling to sit up and shaking their heads as though their ears were ringing. "Jesus Christ, what the XXXX XXXX XXXX happened?" "Did I get hit by the XXXX XXXX bus?" In front of them stood an obviously homeless person. Ragged mismatched clothes, some of them help on by bits of twine. He had a ratty beard and long scraggly hair that was hard to tell where it ended in the mass of beard and clothing. He stank as bad as the addicts and worse. But there was something in his eyes that sparkled. "Jesus Christ indeed my friends. He is what happened. Whether you knew or not you were prisoners and lost. Whether you want it or not you free and found. He, Jesus has set you free." After these words two of the addicts stood up and bolted. "XXXX, it's crazy John. I'm otta here!" "You'll never get me you freak!", they shouted as ran down the street. The third man, the one who had started the attack on Steve just sat, leaning back on his arms, looking like he had indeed been hit by a bus, staring at "crazy John." The homeless man stepped forward and offered his hand to Steve, "I am John", he said simply. "Thanks", said Steve in a daze, taking it and standing up. John held out his hand again, as though inviting Steve to move toward his attacker. John had a broad grin on his face and said, "Go ahead." Steve stepped up to the dazed addict in the street and without knowing why offered XhimX a hand. The addict looked at Steve's hand dumbly, as though he didn't know what it was or why it was there. Then finally grasped it and Steve hauled him to his feet. John laughed, a short but pleasant sound that seemed very out of place from such a miserable looking creature. John placed his hand on the shoulders of both Steve and addict and said, "Jesus sent me to you to tell you that He loves you. Would you like to know how much?" The addict felt absently at his wrists and said in a breathless voice, "Yah. I think I would."
The Girl in Light
The addict's name was Tom. Steve and Tom followed John down the sidewalk. John was humming something and walking in anything but a straight line. His course took him from one lonely, misbegotten soul to another. Another tramp pushing a cart full of trash bags, a young woman covered in piercings and tatoos sitting with her back to a stone facade, a ancient looking man hunched over his cardboard sign, a weary looking police officer stopped on his bike, wiping his brow, an anxious mother clutching her little boy's hand, they each and all received something from John. Outwardly it only looked like a smile, a good morning or a squeeze on the shoulder. A few were offended and hurled curses at him, most were startled, a few were returned his welcome. But all of them received something more, something that glittered and sparkled in the air but refused definite shape. Steve almost missed it, almost convinced himself it was his imagination but it could not be denied. There was light in the air around John and everyone he touched received a little of it.
John led them to a city park. Teenagers grouped around a half-pipe watched a pair of boys doing wild things with skate boards. After a few minutes of jumps and flips the boys has an accident. One of them lost his board at the top of his trick and came sliding down the half pipe into the other boy. They landed in a heap at the bottom. Cursing each other viciously they rose shouting. The yelling quickly escalated as the crowd split into two camps instantly and joined in. Time slowed for Steve and the boys prepared to give and receive blows. Out of the corner of his vision he saw alarming movements as teenages, kids, on either side of the park began arming themselves with bats, chains, knives and guns. A battle was about to be fought here. Steve looked to John and started when he didn't see him. Tom stood next to him, mouth agape, eyes blank. As he searched for John, a police officer, someone to help, but everyone was either moving toward the conflict with obvious intent to join the coming violence, or fleeing. Except for a young girl who caught his eye. Maybe nine or ten years old she ran toward the knot of angry kids. Her tight black braids bounced behind her. Her face was not angry. In fact, Steve had the sense that anger had never found a home there. Her eyes shone with a other worldly light. He suddenly had a vision of who this girl was. He saw her in a Sunday dress, a worn one, but still pretty, smiling and leading old people by the hand to their place at church. He saw her visiting someone bedridden with a smile on her face and little fist full of dandelions. He saw her gently comforting a little child with a skinned knee. The light in this little girl's eyes was the love of Jesus. He saw it in all it's gentleness and tenderness and it cut Steve's heart like a knife.
The girl reached the half-pipe and jumped in. She landed badly, half slid down to the bottom, and jumped up, blood covering her skinned right arm. She ran right to the stop boys in the center of the conflict and pushed between them. "Stop!", she shouted, pushing the boys apart with her hands. Everyone froze. She left bloody marks on their shirts where she touched them. Her eyes were fierce, but still not angry, not the light of hatred that was in the eyes of the boys, preparing to hurt and kill. No the light in her eyes burned bright and her face was set in a fierce determination that their hatred crashed down on, and while Steve half hid, not wanting to watch the girl's destruction, she bore up under the gaze of anger and hatred, like a stone cliff before the stormy sea. The waves crashed against her furiously but broke like water. She towered over the older children. "We all are brothers and sisters.", her voice rang through the park. "Y'all are loved by your mothers and fathers, and by Jesus. How would they feel 'bout you fighting?" But even powerful than her words the light of love on her face washed over the two factions. Fists slowly uncurled and weapons were put away. The crowd slowly turned and murmured quietly as they drifted away. The two boys in the half pipe looked at the girl between them. One of them, with a bloody handprint on his white t-shirt seemed to soften. He looked at his enemy and shook his head. The boy was about to turn when his enemy's face harden and drawing a pistol from his waist band he fired.
Steve flinched, jerked, and hurt as though the bullets passed through him. The face of the boy shooting was twisted in a screaming rage. He fired again and again. But even as he let the hatred take him and dealt death to his enemies, tears poured from his eyes. The crowd returned and shots were fired at him from above. People poured into the half-pipe screaming curses and animal sounds. Fists and weapons flew. Blood splattered the ground. Then suddenly everything stopped. The teenagers stood around for a moment staring the ground and each other. Steve search for the girl but couldn't see the press of bodies. Suddenly Tom, beside him, leaped forward and ran to the half pipe, tumbling down the edge heedless. Steve followed close on his heels. They pushed through the gang members to find the little girl in the center. John was bent over her, cradling her head. Her eyes were closed. She was not breathing. Surrounded by the bodies of the boys she'd tried to stop, she was dead.
Steve's Anger and God's Love
Steve's vision blurred and hot tears poured down his face. He could hear the sobs and cries of many around him. The injustice, senselessness of what had just happened hit him like a sledgehammer. He went to his knees but suddenly the ground was gone. He fell and tumbled and finally landed, SMACK, on what could have been wet sand. It was dark but he looked up and could just see the white tops of waves crashing on the beach before him. The confusion of where he was and how he got, did not touch him in his grief. She was so beautiful, so innocent. He thought of his daughter Alice as a little girl. All the innocent trust and hopefullness, snuffed out. Gone. Dead. For nothing. Steve found it hard to breathe. He cried with primal anguish then screamed in anger. It's not right!, his mind raged. "You are unfair! You didn't love her!", he screamed senseless things at the pounding surf.
He yelled himself hoarse and cried until he couldn't cry any more. "Why?", he wimpered out. With shock he felt strong hands take hold of his shoulders. Before him knelt the man from the vision at church, the one the warriors danced around. His eyes were kind and tears were in them. "I love her. I made her to shine brighter than any star, and she does. Her body is broken and gone. I made her a new one and she will dance in fields of joy forever. She deserves no less." The sound of His voice was something. The pound of the ocean surf was not more powerful and yet it was gentle too.
A New Day
(Eph 6:12, Heb 11:1) First entry in Steve's new journal: As I crossed the threshold at my office I blinked and it happened again. The familiar comfortable world I knew slid out of focues and was replaced by that other place.
(I Pet 5:8) confusion and horror assaulted me. I stood on the knife edge of a huge rock, jutting out of a roiling black seas. I was facing into the teeth of the gale. Rain and hail stung my skin and the wind fought to throw me into the waves.
Great chains hung tighly round me and stretched down into the sea. they pulled and I bent double. I had no hope of resisting the forces attacking me. I would fall any moment.
(Eph 2:1) But then the unknown heat in my chest sparked into life. I still could not name it but this time I clung to it. I cried out for it, but choked on my fear and my scream was silent. But still in my heart I begged, "whatever you are don't leave me here." (Rom 2:14, Mark 9:240
(Jer 20:9) The spark burst into flame. My bones were on fire. I could not keep quiet. "Jesus save me!", I screamed. (Rom 10:13)
(Heb 12:29, Mat 3:11, Luke 3:16) I was struck by lightning. White, hot fire consumed me, chains, rock, sea and all. (I King 18:38) I saw a writhing mass of rotting meat. A voice said, "This is your heart full of sin." (Is 64:6) The fire burned me. I was burning alive. the filth and rottenness were consumed. (Is 48:10, Zec 13:9, I Pet 1:7)
(Eze 11:4, 36:26, Mat 21:44) Next I saw a cold hard stone. The voice said, "This is your heart without me." The stone began to glow, first dull red, then brighter until it blew apart sending molten rock everywhere. The pain exploded and everything went dark.
(Rev 22:1) Next I saw a clear blue sky. I saw a green meadow and a crystal clear stream. I wanted to drink from that stream so much. Where the fire had brought pain, I was now filled with a aching longing. (2 Cor 5:4, Rom 8:23)
I blinked again. Before me was my office. I was still standing on the its threshold, its beige fabric walls as mundane as ever. But before stood someone like a man. His smile warmed me from the inside. His eyes saw into my soul where the sea still raged. In His eyes I saw the fire, the blue sky, the meadow and the stream.
(I Cor 15:26) Without a word He stepped forward and took me in His arms. He kissed my neck. "I love you." He said, "I am always with you. One day we will go there and we will long no more. Do not forget."