This piece of flash fiction was written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challege: Pop Culture Mash-Up Edition
I chose – by random number generator – #15 The Stand by Stephen King and #20 The Bible. What, pray tell, do these two books have in common other than their epic size? A significant amount of their story, really. One that is right up my alley and begging to be told. Everything happens for a reason. Thanks for les bonnes idées, Chuck!
2000+ words for the challenge, but the ideas in this piece need to be fleshed out into a full novel some day, I hope.
“Are we living in hell?” Sebastian Cruz spoke out loud to himself. Like a once lost driver who turns down the radio to shift their undivided attention to finding their way, he pushed away from his desk to focus on that monumental question. Sebastian stood up and ran his fingers over his dark curly hair as he walked to the window, staring at the heavens above. Dawn had yet to break. The night sky over British Columbia was something to behold with breathtaking views of an indigo velvet sky with millions of twinkling stars visible to the naked eyes. He lived on the free Canadian side of Sumas Mountain, sandwiched between the small towns of Abbotsford and Chilliwack. The foothills of the Rockies blocked out most of the man-made glare, allowing the subtleties of milky way to shine in all its glorious splendour unimpeded by light noise from the big cities.
Sebastian returned to the heavy oak desk and picked up his well-worn Oxford Bible (NRSV), flipping through the pages until his fingers landed on familiar words in the New Testament’s last Book of Revelation, Chapter 12 Verses 7 to 9. The silky lightness of the paper belied the ageless durability of the words it contained.
“And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Sebastian sat down again, the weight of his question dragging him under as if a great monolith landed on his shoulders. If God so loves us, why would he sentence all evil to live on earth beside us? Are we the fallen angels?
He recalled the wise words of his mother, passed down generation to generation, from one Maria to another.
“We live our heaven and hell right here on earth,” she said. “You get to choose which version you want to live.”
“Redemption, maybe?” he asked himself. “Is that why we are here?” Sebastian wished he had paid more attention to her teachings. Adopted as a baby, he had pockets of emptiness in his childhood. But he had fond, loving memories of his family. His mother skillfully blended art with science, science with religion and spirituality with life. She was wise, but impatient, and could tell you to go to hell in such a way in which at first you would find delightful. Until you realized she had just called you a fool. She was gifted, for sure. Able to find the tiniest speck of light in infinite darkness.
“What colour are my eyes?” she asked him once. He wept in her arms, the rhythmic sway back and forth of the rocking chair in his bedroom lulling him into calmness after a painful experience at school.
“Brown” he replied, rubbing the tears out of his own eyes.
“And the colour of my hair?” she whispered.
“So, we are more alike than not,” she stated. “Why does it matter if I am white on the outside and you are black?”
She loved him as deeply as any mother could, always defending him, soothing hurts while building him up and guiding him to the success he enjoyed today. They were proud of each other, fiercely loyal, yet separated by one small detail.
She believed, and he didn’t.
She left him a legacy of questions.
“How did you find God?” he once asked.
“You don’t,” she smiled and kissed his forehead. “He finds you.” She fully believed that when the student was ready, the teacher would appear, because that had been her path to enlightenment. You have to be born again, but in a divinely spiritual way, as if one of life’s greatest mysteries unfolded before you. But that was only the first step. “You have to be ready to receive the blessing of God. It’s the best kept secret in the universe. But, you have to listen carefully when he calls and reply.”
How do you get ready? He struggled to remember. You live. You love. You laugh. You lose. You hurt. You feel pain. You cry. You covet. You lust. You help. You give. You ask. You question. You seek, and finally, you will find. If you decide that there can be no God because bad things happen, you entirely miss the point. Light does not exist but for the darkness. Our darkest hour is just before dawn.
Sebastian had his AHA moment just moments before. The Big Bang was a breath.
Genesis 1:1-2 clearly said, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
Then God said (sighed … breathed), “Let there be light,” … and there was light.
That explained how the universe was created, but not why. WHY ARE WE HERE? Keep reading, she would say. Take all that you know and don’t know and mash it together.
All of this – ALL OF THIS – was just because. Just because what? God needed a place to dump the hell fires of hatred? Is that it? Humanity certainly met that criteria. If people could find something different about each other, they would hate it. Sex, race, language, religion, politics, preference, colour, animal, vegetable, or sports team.
Who is God? God isn’t Him or It. It is Us. Or Them.
It’s the ultimate game. Good vs. Evil.
“Jesus Christ!” he screamed. It was both a curse and a prayer.
Sebastian needed to reread his Mother’s journals, but they were kept safe in a storage locker in Vancouver. He was the sole heir to her estate after cancer killed her. She was ready to go and didn’t fear death at all, in fact, she welcomed it. She couldn’t wait to see to the other side. The books alone were worth more than gold to him, as they contained her most carefully cultivated thoughts and ideas. Even in their price-tagged jackets of $10.99, they were worth more than the combined sum of his deadbeat biological dad. The ole’ boy had even pocketed the measly five thousand dollars from the estate sale of his brother’s apartment contents – willed to Sebastian – in a bout of Ebenezer greed. The scrooge as good as killed his bio-Mom. She tried so hard to be a good parent, but died soon after trying to raise him alone, uterine cancer spreading and taking her quickly. His adopted Mom swooped in to save him from the foster program. Heaven and hell, indeed. He’d lived through it before he turned one.
He would head west to get the books, then south to the United States. He had to see Professor Ivankov. Misha was the only man Sebastian knew who had PhDs in Theology, Quantum Physics and Astrophysics. And a collection of other degrees.
He had to pack quickly. Sebastian threw clothing and toiletries into his suitcase and took it to the car with his laptop. He checked the checklist on his phone, armed the security system with the failsafe ChubbApp then started his car from the AudiApp and keyed in the first destination.
The Zd9 roared to life, instantly configuring itself to his preferences. LED lights on, twin turbo side engines automatic dynamometer online, cockpit temperature set to a cool 19C, exterior PM colour selection of silver metallic with hi-vis orange, interior ambient lighting subdued except for the virtual dashboard, and a favourite music playlist set to 73 Decibels. It noted that there was no drinking water in the bottle holder, but he didn’t have time to run back. He’d stop to eat somewhere in Vancouver.
The driverless car drove while Sebastian folded his rugby-sized frame into the front seat (left side out of habit) and started up his laptop.
… Gone, gone, gone, she been gone so long …
“Zeedee, switch to FM 99.9 please.” The car instantly turned off the music playlist and switched to the radio station in time for the first newscast of the morning.
“… reports of a strange flu-like illness killing people in SoCal.”
Sebastian fired off a quick email to the professor to ask where he was. Maybe they could meet in Northern California if there was another pandemic outbreak in the south.
The car registered its license with the Trans-Canada Highway app and picked up speed to merge with traffic on the entrance ramp. It would take 45 minutes to reach the storage yard if he didn’t stop for breakfast. He would do that after he had the journals safely stowed in the hatch.
For now, he would sleep. Sebastian sipped a precise dose of sleep medication to knock himself out for the trip. He needed some shuteye to rest his brain which had been running in AI overdrive. He was asleep within 30 seconds.
The car woke Sebastian as it pulled up to the storage facility. It sent the electronic signature key to open the gate and drove to the 24-hour entrance door. Sebastian walked through the heavy metal door after it scanned his body and found storage unit 93. He opened the unit and the light automatically switched on overhead. Finding what he came for, he carried two large red cryosteel (Canadian made and subject to U.S. tariffs) storage bins to the car. Rain had started so the car backed up to the entrance and opened the hatch so he could stow the boxes without getting wet. Sebastian went back to see if there was anything else he needed. He stood in the midst of the locker with closed eyes and sniffed. It still smelled faintly of her. His Mom loved the mandarin orange scents he bought her every year from the Body Lab.
“I miss you, Mom” he whispered. He hoped she was there looking down on him.
He and ZeeDee drove through a breakfast bistro/charging station. They would both fill up before the long drive south. Sebastian’s order had been sent ahead on the blockchain and was delivered as soon as they connected to the SAudiCharger. He ate a full breakfast of fresh cubed fruit piled over buckwheat and protein blocks and an extra grande coffee. He stored bottles of orange vitamin juice and water for the ride.
He called the professor, hoping to catch him before the start of class.
“Zdravstvujtye. Bonjour. Hello.” the professor always answered in three languages. His native Russian always came first and was followed by a greeting two of the sixty languages he spoke without a TranslatorApp.
“Professor Ivankov! It’s Sebastian Cruz. Zdrah-stu-it-eh to you.”
“Sebastian! How are you, my friend? To what do I owe this early morning call?”
“Listen, Professor … I’m on my way down the coast and was hoping to meet with you. Is everthing shutting down with another flu pandemic. Are you staying at UCLA?”
“Nyet. I am up teaching in Berkeley.”
“Excellent! You aren’t quarantined yet, are you? Send word if you are. I will be there in approximately thirteen hours.”
“Not yet, Captain. What makes the Trips so urgent?”
“He called you?”
“Yes. No. I have questions.”
“I hopefully have all the right answers.”
“Are we living in hell? Or is this Purgatory?”
The professor remained silent for so long, Sebastian wondered if he would respond at all.
“Why do you think that?”
“My mother said something a long time ago. But I never listened. I’ve had a change of heart and ears. Is this hell?” he repeated.
“Look around you. What do you think?”
“Did we sin before or after we got here?”
“So the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil doesn’t exist on this planet?”
“No. The forbidden fruit is metaphorical. There was a struggle amongst the Gods, and He cut out that which was bad. Because we were cut off from God, we were set apart from the true source. And the two halves of this spirit chose sex over eternal life, giving a need to cycle through birth, life and death.”
“So, sex is the forbidden fruit?”
“No. It is only part of our carnal wickedness. But we were cast out of heaven to find our own salvation. In the end, we can choose good or evil. I have to leave for the campus soon. I will send you a collection of papers to read. It may help answer some of your questions.”
“OK. Thank you, Misha. I never knew your name meant Messenger of God until today. Quite appropriate.”
“Thank you and Adios, my friend!”
Their phones disconnected from the call and Sebastian sat there for the longest time thinking. Why would God make this jail so exquisitely beautiful, yet so harshly ugly and hateful? Enslaved by our very physicality. We have physical needs and desires, yet we are clearly mismatched. Was Sin introduced by the female spirit? Or did Sin know it had to fool her first in order for the male to follow? She was punished and bore the brunt of that penalty throughout the ages.
With his appetite topped up and the car fully charged, Sebastian left the station. He would head south on Highway 99 and cross the Canada – U.S.A. border within 30 minutes. Burying himself in the file folders of documents, he searched for answers to his questions.
Will the Book of Revelation foretell if the battle at Armageddon has already started? Sebastian was sure it had. The end was nigh.
Stay tuned for Chapter Two!
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