I went to the room with the questions, armed with a bucket of white paint. Before even the first brushstroke, Apollyon and Danny came rushing in. Danny pulled me back and asked if I’d lost my mind, but I struggled against him and kept painting over the walls, getting rid of every last question. I even painted over the door, no longer caring whether or not life was a bastard.
Once finished, I explained it to him in a way that I hoped he would understand. “You weren’t sure whether or not answering the questions would get us into heaven—well neither am I. But out on the ocean today, the lord spoke to me. Danny, the lord sent Gabriel! He posed a question, one we hadn’t written down; is humanity worth saving? The world is in our hands mate. We need to figure this out.”
Danny began to speak, but before his thoughts could become words, Apollyon ran out into the hallway. As always Danny followed after her, and as usual, I followed him. Apollyon led us to the office. She leapt onto a chair, then onto the desk, and then onto a newspaper. She nosed through it, seeking out a certain page, and when she found it she tugged it out from the rest of the papers. I picked it up, and Danny looked over my shoulder as I read.
The page told about the closing of a church in San Samarra. While there were many other churches in the area, The Kingdom of the Redeemed served a special role. It focused on taking people from the streets and transforming them into a functional member of society through the lord’s grace. However, they didn’t have enough funding to keep up the effort, and so they were forced to shut down. In closing, the paper said that the building would be auctioned off on the following Monday.
“Refresh my memory Aidan, today is what day?”
“And we have how much money?”
“More than enough to buy a church.”
“Hm, so it’s settled then,” Danny resolved, following Apollyon out of the room.
“Nothing’s settled,” I protested, chasing after him. “What do we need a church for?”
“Could it really hurt? This rat is a demon on the path to becoming an angel, your best mate is a ghost brought back to life, and you’re a prophet who was given a task from the Lord himself. I’m just saying, if anyone deserves to have a church, it might as well be us.”
Given the circumstances, I don’t know why I’d bothered putting up any fight at all. I left the penthouse and went walking through downtown San Samarra, with a rat in one coat pocket and an absurd amount of cash in another. I didn’t think much about getting robbed. If Liam’s gang had anything arranged for me, then it wouldn’t matter how much money I was holding.
There was quite the crowd at the auction, and when I saw the church for myself, I could understand why. It was surrounded on all sides by the most desolate urban environment imaginable, completely dissimilar to the uptown San Samarra that I’d been living in. The place was so degraded that I suspected it would be easier to survive in the desert.
Yet the church stood out. Its walls were painted a pure white, and stained glass windows stretched from the green ground to the peaked roof. Unlike the other buildings, the church didn’t look apt to collapse at any given moment, and it was one of the larger structures in the area. Looking through the eyes of a prophet trying to determine whether or not humanity was worth saving, I understood why that particular church would be perfect.
I signed up for the auction, and while I waited for it to begin, I looked out over the crowd. Most weren’t bidding at all. They were there to see what would become of their church. The crowd that day struck me as one of the gentlest I’d ever witnessed, and compared to the sinners and drunks I’d been spending my time around, it was a refreshing change. There was, however, one soul which didn’t match the rest. On his neck was a tattoo of a black crown. He held a briefcase in his left hand, and a bidder paddle in his right. I didn’t know him, but I knew what he stood for, and I knew what he wanted.
When the auction began he was the first to bid, starting on a number so high that many left the moment he said it. There were a few who tried to surpass him, but he didn’t hesitate to go even higher. As soon as the bids tapered off, I raised my paddle and shouted a number much larger than was remotely necessary, just to see if it would throw him off. While I did get his attention, I didn’t get his surrender. He and I continued to raise the stakes as the people in the crowd whispered to one another, trying to figure out who these people were who so vehemently wished to rule The Kingdom of the Redeemed.
The man with the tattoo raised his paddle again, and I could tell from the bitter desperation in his soul that he was raising his paddle for the final time. I won the auction. I had my very own church. Danny gave me a pat on the back, and said I’d done a fine job. The crowd gave a round of applause, though I could see that it was only a gesture of politeness. Nothing more.
One man spoke up through the applause, raising his voice to be heard by the entire crowd.
“Hey, rich man! Before you go running, I gotta tell you something. Growing up, my life had a lot of emptiness. I played the guitar in this place called Brackney, and for a while I thought that that was happiness. Then I realized that I was never gonna get any further than that in life. One day I got a call from my cousin. He said I had to come down and check out this church, because it would turn my life around. And you know what? He was right. Thanks to this church I’ve got a job, I stopped using, and above all else, I got to feel His redemption shine upon me.
“That’s what this church means to me, and I don’t think I’m the only one who it means something to. So I’m asking you rich man; what does this church mean to you?”
All eyes were on me. Looking back at the crowd, I could tell that he wasn’t lying; nearly every one of them held The Kingdom of the Redeemed dear.
“What’s your name lad?”
“My name is Bill.”
“Bill, I want you to gather everyone who ran this church before today, because next Sunday these doors will be open, and redemption will be offered to anyone who can accept the true word of the lord almighty.”
The announcement was met with another round of applause, only that time it was different—that time it was real. I saw the joy in their souls flourish, and it gave me chills. The only one who was displeased was the man with the tattoo, but his contempt couldn’t rival the adoration of the crowd, the clapping and whistling, the shouts of excitement and the cries of happiness.
A man in a black collared shirt stepped forward. Shaking my hand, he said, “I don’t remember seeing you before, but you showed up in the nick of time. I’m Father Hansen, and I’d be happy if we could go over a couple of things.”
Father Hansen, Bill, Danny, myself, and a half a dozen others retreated into the church, where a more peaceful discussion could be held. Father Hansen led the way, bringing us down a flight of stairs and through several corridors before we arrived in a compact room. The walls and floor were nothing more than rough cement, the furniture was merely a round plastic table surrounded by creaky wooden chairs, and the sole decoration was a cross hung upon the wall. We each took a seat around the table. Father Hansen spoke first, using a voice so gentle that it reminded me of Danny’s, back before he’d died.
“I can’t express how grateful we are, honestly. I dread to think of what would happen to this church if the man with the black tattoo had won the auction. The lord works in mysterious ways—we’ve long been aware of this—but forgive me if I try to make some sense of it. Why did you do this Mister…” and here he trailed off, not sure how to address me.
“O’Moran,” I finished for him. “Aidan O’Moran. I came here because an angel sent me.”
“Are you for real?” Bill asked, his posture stiffer and his soul quick to guard itself.
The others reacted similarly, aside from Father Hansen, whose soul hadn’t changed a bit. His voice remaining just as soft, he said, “Please, go on. Tell us everything.”
So I did. I told them about my friend Danny, and how he’d come back to visit after years of absence. I told them about the Feldtmann fortune, and of course, the misfortune which surrounded it. I spoke of Danny’s first attempt at suicide, and of the divine vision I’d received as a result. When I revealed Danny’s eventual death I was anticipating a great deal of surprise. He was right there with us after all, listening along as though it was all brand new to him. But nobody seemed to mind that he was right there with us; not one of them questioned it.
Moving on, I told them about my time in San Samarra. Father Hansen tensed at the mention of Apollyon. It seemed to be the only thing which truly bothered him. I told them about Danny’s return, and about the questions: how Danny, Apollyon, and I sought to answer all of them. I did leave out the murder. Perhaps I would have told Father Hansen in confidence, but I couldn’t risk the others knowing.
I told them about the angel Gabriel, who spoke unto me the words of the lord almighty. I repeated for them the question He posed. Finally, I ended on Apollyon’s directions to come to the auction, and how—divine intervention aside—helping The Kingdom of the Redeemed just seemed like the decent thing to do.
When I’d finished my story, nobody rushed to be the next to speak. Everyone sat in a reflective silence, aside from Danny, who said that the lot of them could stand to liven up a bit. They ignored him though. Everyone did.
Bill was the first to grab their attention. “Father, you gotta let us into that head of yours. What do you think about all this?”
“I think, Mister Joston, that I must consult a power much higher than myself. Thank you again for your contribution Mister O’Moran. You’ve changed more lives than you realize, and if what you say is true, then you may have the chance to change countless more. But today our faith is being scrutinized more than ever before, so there’s no such thing as being too careful. While this is being sorted out, please feel free to—”
Apollyon leapt from my pocket and onto the table. Most shot out of their chairs and pressed their backs into the cement walls, as though they were attempting to sink right into the foundations. Bill fled through the door, openly screaming as he did. Danny and Father Hansen both had a much different approach; they both lunged towards the rat. Father Hansen was the first to reach her, wrapping his hands around Apollyon and holding her in place.
“Careful!” Danny commanded, backing away from the fuming priest. For the first time, I saw that a man devout to God could have just as much fire and brimstone pulsing through his soul as any sinner on the streets. Attempting a more soothing tone, Danny repeated, “Careful.”
“This is The Kingdom of the Redeemed, is it not?” I reminded Father Hansen, and his grip on the rat relaxed a small bit. “Of all redemptions, surely this one matters the most.”
Father Hansen released his grip. Apollyon stood on her hind legs at the center of the round table, staring at the priest with her black, soulless eyes.
“I must consult a higher power. Good day Mister O’Moran.”
I left The Kingdom of the Redeemed as the sun was dipping behind the surrounding buildings. Danny walked beside me, going on about how thrilled he was to be making actual progress on a holy mission for once. I nodded as he spoke, and I was glad as well, I truly was. But I also had my worries. The lord had chosen me. What if He made a mistake? It wouldn’t be the first time. I would do anything and everything to answer the lord’s question, but I just couldn’t shake my doubts.
A man stood on the sidewalk in front of me and Danny, and he gave us temporary reprieve from our thoughts. On his neck was a black tattoo of a crown. He held a briefcase in his left hand, and a shotgun in his right. He pointed the weapon at me and I stopped in my tracks, resting both hands on my cane.
“Doorman said you made him a deal; you stay out of our business, we stay out of yours. Ringing any bells? I sure hope so. He left town because of you, and he even did you the favor of taking care of Tonya, since he knew you wouldn’t.”
“Let him go Bruce,” came a voice from behind me and Danny. The speaker stepped forward, so that he was stood between me and the man with the shotgun.
“Bill?” Bruce questioned, squinting into the night. “Damn brother, you—”
“I’m not your brother anymore, and I haven’t been for a long time.”
“These church going motherfuckers really brainwashed you, huh?”
“Don’t play games with me Bruce. I don’t know if you believe in Hell, but I know you believe in death, because you’ve seen it too many times not to. ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’ John 15:13. This man is my friend. He’s my brother, and I won’t let you hurt him.”
Bruce lowered his shotgun. “Fine. You want to let this go, I’ll let this go. But don’t ever expect me to forget it. You’re running out of freebies O’Moran; I’ll be sure the next one costs you.”
With those parting words, Bruce crossed the street and walked off into the night. I turned to Bill, but he wouldn’t meet my gaze. Glancing instead at his feet, he explained, “I go the same way to get home, and uh, I just saw what was going down, and so, yeah. Sorry I ran out earlier. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
“Goodnight Bill!” Danny called as we left, chuckling to himself.
“What’s gotten into your head lately?” I asked. “You’ve been acting different. More lively, I suppose would be the word.”
“That’s because I’ve got a reason to be. Aidan, I’m going to see her again! I’m going to answer a question and I’m going to see the love of my life! I can’t help it if that puts a skip in my step and a lilt in my voice. You should be overjoyed too, honestly; He spoke to you. To you, Aidan! Consider that for a moment. There are billions of people, and He chose you.”
“So what if He chose me?” I asked as Danny danced around me, not a single care about what a fool he looked like. “Jesus chose Judas, and that didn’t seem to work out too well for either of them.”
“Are you Judas?”
“What?” I asked. I heard him just fine, but I could barely process the question.
“You heard me; are you Judas?” he repeated, still smiling like a fool.
“No Danny, I’m not Judas.”
“Then don’t worry about it, you’ll do fine. He has a plan, doesn’t He? God I mean; He has a plan.”
“Yes Danny, He has a plan. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Peachy,” he responded, quite literally skipping at that point. “We have a church, we have a question from the lord himself, and wouldn’t you know it, the two coincide perfectly. He must have a plan, because that can’t happen by mistake, can it Aidan? Can it?”
I was running out of words for him. “No Danny, that can’t happen by mistake. Settle down, will you?”
Danny sighed, and returned to a walk. “You’re not as much fun as you used to be.”
“Getting so familiar with death will do that to a person. You might have been brought back, but as far as I know, mortality is still alive and well within me. It’s more of a burden than you seem to remember. When we were held at gunpoint just now, did you even feel anything?”
Danny chuckled again. “He was pointing the gun at you mate.”
I shook my head and pressed on, keeping my mouth shut for the rest of the walk. Danny continued to pester me and make a fool of himself, but I paid him no mind. Once back at the penthouse, I took Apollyon out from my pocket and placed her on the ground. She scurried off to the terrace, and Danny followed her, wishing me a good night. I told him to sleep well, not knowing if he even slept at all, and I went to the master bedroom.
There, I prayed. There was no great favor I wanted from the lord, and no immediate problem that was beyond my ability to solve. I just wanted to keep in touch. I wanted Him to know that I was doing my best to answer His question, which He seemed to care so much about.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, July 2015