by Michael Moore
I was daydreaming about going to my local gym for a workout, which I normally do after work, when he entered the office. The man wore a threadbare woolen robe, and carried a gnarled wooden staff. His stringy white hair hung loosely about his face, failing to completely hide the deep lines beneath. He shuffled into the office, closing the door gently behind him, and took a seat across the desk from me.
He fixed me with two deep blue eyes that held me to my chair and seemed to look within my soul. I shivered under that all-seeing gaze, and when I finally found my voice it shook slightly despite my best efforts.
“How did you get in here sir? This is a counselling office for children. And how did you get past the school’s front desk?”
“I’ve come to speak with you, Abigail Caruthers,” he said calmly.
“Listen sir, I think you’ve made some mistake. I have a two o’clock appointment, and you certainly don’t fit the description.” I was beginning to gain back some of my confidence. After all, this was my desk and my office. Then it dawned on me that he had known my name, and I hadn’t given him that information.
“How did you...”
“I know many things, Abby. I know what I need to know. God makes sure of that.”
He said this statement as if it was the most logical thing in the world to say. It made me nervous. The last thing I needed was to be in the presence of a religious zealot.
“Look sir, there’s been some mistake. This isn’t a church, and I have no time for sermons. If you have something to say, then kindly say it and leave.”
“There’s been no mistake, and believe me when I tell you that you have nothing more important to do then to hear me out. It’s His will that you listen.”
“I don’t give a crap what His will is!” I said, anger finally giving me the strength to stand, and give him a cold stare of my own. “Unless He has an appointment, then he has to wait in line like everyone else.”
Instead of backing down, the old man folded his hands atop the end of his cane and leaned on it casually. His piercing eyes never left mine, and I noticed that there were small grains of sand nestled within the folds of his skin. I wondered briefly what it would feel like to reach out and touch those wrinkles of flesh. Where had they come from? Everything about this man was a mystery, and I wanted to ask him, when he spoke breaking my thoughts like leaves before a brisk wind.
“Abby, many people go their entire lives casting about for God. They have forgotten how to look inside themselves for the small, still voice, and most never have the opportunity to serve him directly. I am offering you that choice, but remember that for each choice there is a price. I can’t force you to hear me out because of the free choice covenant, but I know a part of you wants to hear what I have to say. A part of you yearns to know God.”
A part of you yearns to know God
Those simple words transported me to another time. A time when I was still innocent, and my father had still been the world to me. I could still smell the sharp pine scent of the oil that was used on the pews, and see the imposing figure of Christ looming over me from his stain glass heaven. The wispy haired and bespectacled man at the front droned on about the consequences of sin, and the human condition; all of which meant very little to me at the time. I was interested in finding God, but I certainly couldn’t find him in the stunted man bent over the bible at the front of the congregation, or the hushed silence of the cathedral.
“Where was God?” I asked my daddy after we had left the church that day.
He paused for a moment, and turned towards me. We hadn’t yet reached the car, and I still remember the way that the sun had broke through the clouds at that precise moment, and limned my father in light.
“Why, he’s everywhere Abby. A part of you yearns to know God, but another part rebels, and is frightened.” He said, and I nodded my head, and he put his arms around me gently, and squeezed. I have never felt as safe in my whole life, as I did at that moment.
It was two days later that my daddy had stepped into traffic for the last time. A drunk driver got to him before he could move out of the way in time. He’d died, and so had my “yearning to know God.”
“Your crazy old man, I’m not even religious! I don’t go to church, and I’m not even sure that I believe in Him.” I slammed my hand down on my desk and a part of me realized that I was losing control, but at the moment I didn’t care.
“God rarely chooses the believer, Abby. He already owns those souls; it’s the unbeliever he wants.”
With some effort, I found my seat again, and sat down. I put my head in my hands, and took some deep calming breaths before answering.
“I don’t know what you’re babbling about, and I don’t really care, but I can see that unless I forcefully kick your butt out of here, you’re going to tell me what you have to say, so spit it out, and then get out.”
Silence followed my outburst, and I was starting to think that the old man wasn’t going to answer, so I raised my head. His strange eyes were still riveted on me, but they seemed to be looking through me, as if I wasn’t really there. He was also muttering under his breath so low that I had to strain to hear it at all. It wasn’t English, but some other archaic language that I couldn’t understand. I raised my hand and waved it in front of his face, hoping to elicit some kind of reaction, when he seemed to shake himself, and the glazed look left his eyes.
“You have been chosen for a task, Abigail. You can choose not to do it, or you can choose to follow the path that God has set for you.” The man’s voice droned on in a monotone, as if all life had been taken from him. “Very shortly, you will be faced with a hard decision.”
“Why me?” I blurted, and immediately wished I hadn’t. The man’s flesh seemed to glow softly with an inner light. His eyes were now like two lamps, trapped within his face. His greasy white hair, started to float around his head, and I had the feeling that I was no more than a speck of dust.
“Because you are the tool at hand,” the man intoned, and then the light left him, and he was just a dishevelled old man once again. I was gripping the edge of my desk so hard that the knuckles had whitened, and I was breathing like I had just run the mile. Sweat stung my eyes, and matted my brow.
“Who are you?” I asked “And how will I know when I need to act?”
The man gathered what strength he had left before answering. “My name is unimportant, I am but a messenger. You’ll know when the time comes.”
I awoke with a start, and immediately noticed that my hand was throbbing. A quick glance down confirmed that I had been gripping the edge of my desk too hard. My fingernails were bleeding and the edge of the desk showed furrows where my nails would have been.
The chair that the man had previously occupied was now empty, and I berated myself silently for a fool. Then I noticed something strange. I came around the desk cautiously, as if a tiger were crouching on the other side, and not just a cheaply upholstered chair. I brought my face down to the level of the chair, and examined it closely. Scattered along the seat, were fine grains of sand just like the ones that had been scattered on the old man’s face.
What other explanation could there be for the sand? The man had been here. He wasn’t just a figment of my imagination. But what had happened to my two o’clock appointment? I must have slept through it.
I stood up, and felt myself shaking. My mind raced, coming up with possible explanations and then discarding them almost immediately. The high pitched clanging of the schools final bell broke my concentration, and I automatically grabbed my purse from beside my desk, and made my way from the office. The secretary had already left, and the empty outer office filled me with foreboding. I clutched my purse closely to my chest, as if it could somehow protect me from any danger. My heart was hammering in my chest almost painfully, and sweat trickled down my cheek, and dropped onto the front of my new blouse.
What am I afraid of? The sand means nothing, and this is the same office that I’ve worked in for over fifteen years. Nothing’s different, stop being a foolish old hag, and step out into the hallway.
I thought this, but at the same time I still felt as though I was trying to fool myself. I forced myself to walk across the space that divided me from where I stood and the door that lead out to the hallway, and the safety of my own car.
When I stepped into the hallway, I was immediately surrounded by the river of humanity that flowed down these halls everyday at three o’clock. I stood there like a rock in the middle of a fast moving stream, unable to move.
In the middle of the corridor, just out of arms reach stood a youth. He too wasn’t moving, and that’s what caught my attention first, because he should have been eagerly making his way to towards the big set of double doors like the rest of the kids. He was wearing a blood red bandana that completely covered the top portion of his skull, and gave him a sinister look. He was facing away from me, but a name floated into my mind. Being the only guidance counsellor at a school meant that I had met all of the children in it at some point and time.
Dennis Hurst wasn’t a regular visitor to my office, but neither was he a forgettable one. He was tall, and broad, giving one the impression that you were viewing someone that shouldn’t be messed with. The problem was that as soon as my eyes fell on him, I knew I was going to do just that.
You’ll know when the time comes.
The messengers words crashed in my head and my brain felt like it had been hooked up to a car battery, and boosted. Pain blazed through my entire body, and my purse dropped from nerveless fingers. Everyone else in the hallway seemed to disappear, and only Dennis remained. I watched him reach into his jean jacket, and before I could think again I was in motion.
Like a pro line backer, I knocked kids from my path, barely hearing their muffled exclamations of surprise. My world had narrowed down completely too just Dennis, and the hand that was reaching into his coat ever so slowly. I felt like I was running through mud, each step an act of will. Each moment could be the difference between life and death.
I reached him, just as he withdrew the gun, and I managed to twirl him around. I saw the look of surprise that was plastered to his smug face, just before I embraced him. I heard the muffled report as the gun went off, and I felt like I had been punched solidly in the stomach. It wasn’t exactly painful, but it knocked the wind from me, and I felt my legs begin to buckle. I held on to his chest like a drowning man hanging onto a life preserver, and heard another muffled blast from the gun.
I heard screaming, as the other children in the hallway finally figured out what was happening. My head was resting on Dennis’s shoulder, and I could just make out a few of the other teachers running towards me. Their faces looked grim, and scared. My arms lost there strength, and I slipped towards the ground, my legs folding beneath me like a cheap tripod. The hallway lights looked abnormally bright, and as my body hit the floor, I caught a glimpse of Dennis being tackled, and hauled to the floor beside me. I closed my eyes, and slipped off.
* * *
When I next became aware of my surroundings, I found myself unable to move anything but my eyes. I felt like I was floating, but that may have been because I had no real point of reference. The only things that I could see were the lights. I felt like I was surrounded by them, and they stung my eyes so fiercely that I was forced to squint against the glare. I was scared, and alone.
A weathered hand descended out of nowhere and caressed my brow. When it touched, it felt like a cool cloth touching my forehead, while I was in the grip of a horrible fever. I sighed, and relaxed for the first time since the man that had named himself the Messenger had entered my office that afternoon.
I closed my eyes, and then he spoke.
“You’ve done well child, and God is pleased.” he spoke in the same measured, calm tones that I remembered from earlier today.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You are in a safe place for now, child,” he replied.
“Am I dead?” There was a subtle pause, before he replied. “No, you are just in a dream of sorts. You will wake up soon, and know that you did well. You saved many lives today Abby, you should be pleased with yourself”
“Why didn’t God do his own dirty work? Why’d he have to use me?” I could feel my face growing hot. I was getting angry, although I knew that it wouldn’t do much good.
“Along with free choice comes responsibility Abby. You were given a choice, and have become stronger because of it. You may not understand now, but in time you will.”
“But if I had let Dennis shoot those poor kids... I don’t...”
“Then they would be with God. Sometimes God must be cruel, to be kind. Nobody knows this as well as I.” and with that, the surrounding lights began to dim at the edges, and then I found myself alone in a hospital bed.
The sheets had been pulled up to my neck, and when I turned my head slightly I could see the blinking machine that kept track of my vital signs.
“Ah, you’re finally awake, I’m so glad.”
A chubby, jovial looking man had entered the room without my noticing, and he was watching me intently. He strode purposefully towards the bed, and judging by the stethoscope hanging around his neck, I guessed that this must be the doctor.
“How are you feeling? You had some internal bleeding, but thankfully the bullets missed the vital organs. You’ll be quite sore for some time, and we’ve added some painkillers to your IV drip, so you shouldn’t be feeling much at the moment.”
I tried to push myself to a sitting position, so that I would be able to talk to the man without feeling so vulnerable, but found that my arms wouldn’t obey my commands. Next I tried to move my legs, and got the same result. I looked questioningly at the doctor and didn’t like what I saw there.
His round, pudgy face had taken on a solemn look. It was the face of someone that has terrible news to impart. It reminded me of when my father had been informed of his mother’s death; that doctor had looked the same as this one did.
“Why can’t I move?” I asked, nearly hysterical with worry.
“I’m sorry to tell you this Ms. Caruthers, but the bullets that miraculously missed all of the major organs and arteries... well they did clip your spinal cord. It wasn’t totally severed, so there’s still hope that you’ll walk again, with extensive physiotherapy, of course, but...”
I began to scream.
Copyright © 2005 by Michael Moore