“Sick” Ep. 1

He stood, looking across the carpeted stage at the silver cross above the baptistery. This tool for ritual occupied the space where the back wall of the stage would have been. The rear wall fanned out from the baptismal tub to the left and right making the stage appear to funnel back into the place of prostrations. With him on the stage sat a gray couch on the left and four chairs of the same color to the right. To his left at the front of the stage stood a darkly stained podium with a stainless steel adjustable aperture jutting from the lectern near the front. The black microphone with rounded black foam sat in the mic clip at its pinnacle. Looking around, he noticed several other microphone stands lining opposing walls of the stage behind the furniture. They reminded him of Nativity plays.

He had walked from the foyer down the center aisle, and as he moved toward his present location, the fluorescent lights of the sanctuary reflected a diagonal band of white light, which began at the top and descended the metallic surface with each step. At this point on the stage, the reflected light had sank to the bottom of the idol. He had stopped when the very bottom of the cross had been coated with pure, white reflected light. Something was about to change. He felt it, and as soon as he moved one step closer to that cross and the reflection moved from its surface, there would be no going back. It only took a few seconds to build up courage.

He took a step closer, and the white light vanished below the metallic surface. A hot flash halted him, within seconds another. The third left him feverish, and already a couple of lines of sweat glinted off his left cheek where two beads trickled down. Pressure grew from nothing behind his eyes and between his temples. Two more drops fell from his shaved chin.

He shut his eyes hoping to escape the pullulating discomfort but the increasing pressure behind closed eyes wouldn’t be stopped, not yet.

The sensation of spinning started slowly. Placing his hands so that each palm covered all but a little space in the center of his forehead, he pushed against his cranium. It brought no relief. As the perception of spinning increased velocity, his balanced began to fail. The two lines of perspiration were joined by several others, as well as dark patches on on his blue T began to show on his lower back and underarms. Boundaries of pain failed, ballooning past skull-splitting levels. Both hands still atop his head, he rocked back onto the earth-toned, thinly carpeted floor. The surface felt especially cool through his sweat dampened shirt. He took a breath.

As soon as it’s exhaled completely, the spinning in his head lost momentum causing the thoughts to become piled up the back-force of which created an unraveling mind. Visual contrast brightened by the second, dragging panic into him with equal pace. “God please,” was little more than a whisper.

His elbows, now pointed to the ceiling, swayed a bit as gravity seemed to increase. With a series of wobbling, each arm fell a little further causing his hands to slide from his forehead. A hiss began to accompany the whitewashed view, sounding distant at first, but it outpaced his failing vision rising to an uncomfortable intensity before he noticed no longer held is head. Strength diminishing into nothingness, his left arm landed long his side, and his right above the shoulders. A small, seemingly insignificant part of him took notice that his right index finger touched his ear. An unsatisfiable urge to reach for his head demanded a response, but his arms remained lifeless. If this was death, he had no fear of it. He felt ready before, and if he could have composed thoughts he would feel it now. The static had grown into a roar, scrambling thoughts, emotions became inseparable from sensation. Something stirred deep within his head.

In a flash, the world turned pure white. His mouth opened wide, in a silent scream, and the soft moan he actually made dissipated into silence before reaching the front pew. His bleached world was a solid with crushing static, in a split-second everything was reduced to a tiny point amidst pure black before the sensation of his cranium exploding silenced any remaining consciousness.

A rhythmic snore slid out of his mouth occupying the current pinnacle of a now peaceful and relaxed expression. The thin blue shirt was sticking to his body in large dark patches of sweat all over. You will see… the words… look. The ghost of his pain was still whispering something to important to him when consciousness resumed. He tried to move his fingers wondering if they would respond. Relief hit him as he could feel the tight weave of the thin, cool carpet on his fingertips. He looked around happy to see that the same quality of light was streaming through the windows as before he had fallen. Slowly pushing himself into a sitting position allowed him to look to the silver cross on the wall above the baptism tub; a tinge of guilt sprang into his mind. He forced his body to move past his sitting position onto all fours still looking to the crucifix.

“God, please forgive me for being such a feeble vessel,” he said with a shaky voice. “I know the pain I suffer must be your way of telling me something. I live to listen. Please, Lord, give me the strength to rise above this affliction to do the work you have put me here to do. Amen.” By the end of the prayer his voice had regained some strength and the focus brought him back to himself. He decided to risk standing, and found he had the strength.

Once on his feet, he turned to look at the first row of pews on either side of the small church. His eyes traveled the length of the room until he found the front entryway. Looking in front of himself to assure a clear path, he began to walk toward it.

Old memories of he and his cousins’ childhood hangman games during sermons to the room full of small town believers played inside his mind. His memory traversed down the various halls of simulated-wood-grain paneling to Sunday school classes, each hall reliving the advancing phases of Bible study. He and the other church kids ran all the halls when the church wasn’t holding regular services: vacation bible schools, Christmas plays, and other events with names forgotten. Images of children in the nursery drifted into his thoughts. That the women of the nursery had to miss the songs and sermons struck him as problematic. As he walked to the front of the building, he decided to discuss this conundrum with the pastor at the first opportunity. Everyone coming together, the family and friends, the acquaintances and strangers, all celebrating the glory of God with song and community, those were the moments which made this church feel like a home, and nobody should be left out on account of caring for the future flock’s youngest.

He supposed that everyone in his Church was able to feel the power of Christ, even those in the nursery, but he also knows he is different, special. He wondered if it was like this for Jesus too. Wanting to do God’s work, knowing God’s work, yet the path of faith is not always clear, and rarely easy. He could not cure the sick or perform miracles as he wasn’t a Messiah. No, only a vessel. Yet knowledge was revealed to him. He and Jesus were both made to suffer. Despite his pain, he could not bear the thought of disobedience or failure. This is the way God worked, so unquestioning, he followed the Word.

He couldn’t be absolutely sure why God chose his burden. Others had pain, worse than his. He decided long ago his wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle to achieving God’s grace, but rather a test of strength and will.

A few people at the Church who he had told about the episodes urged him to seek some medical treatment, but that would be blasphemous. God gave him this pain, and its purpose would be revealed in time.

Once outside he took a deep breath, his head tilted back, drinking in a cold fall wind. The sky was mostly white with little shades of gray drifting across the bleached backdrop. Leaves that had already fallen were skittering across the blacktop of the two-lane highway tumbling over themselves reminding him of the dizziness from before. An uneasy feeling crept into his mind, this isn’t what he’d come for. He had come to the church to pray for guidance, but he admittedly missed the message this time. Lines of concentration creased his forehead while he contemplated. The force of the wind made his pant legs flap a little.

Gazing down the two-lane blacktop road to the left, it occurred to him God might have been presenting an opportunity. Most of his messages were more direct: a voice on the wind, a very obvious symbol in the world around him, and there were his notebooks. “This could be an opportunity to seek a message,” he whispered to himself. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but

whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered,” he said with out loud. He needed to get home.

Walking quickly, his hastened footsteps crunched on the gravel parking lot. He threw himself into the driver’s seat of the old brown Lincoln Continental with key at the ready. Excitement growing by the second, the car would not turnover fast enough, and once the engine sprang to life he applied heavy pressure to the accelerator. This is the inspiration he had come to the church for, it may have taken a second to sink in, but he had waited. Rewarded.

The force of his tires spun gravel into the red brick of the church walls, and the car bounced dramatically, squeaking with age, after hitting the slightly elevated blacktop. The trip home was filled with wonder and readiness. Mere contemplation of his place in God’s plan had always been fascinating. Potential realization—ecstasy. The story of his life would be numinous. Joyful tears began to collect in the corners of his eyes, as the sentiment echoed in his mind.

He rounded the hill and noticed his mailbox, coming at him too quickly. He nearly lost control turning the massive brown vehicle onto his dirt driveway. The engine quieted, he jumped out of the lengthy Lincoln jogging up to his front door fumbling with the key before getting it into the bronze knob. “Take it easy,” he said in reprimand to his hastiness. With a click and a twist the door swung inward. He went right to the refrigerator and after a long pull from a two-quart bottle of grape juice, he stood leaning against the white counter silently debating his next task. His eyes were absently focused on the green fleur de-swirl pattern of his kitchen tiles while strategies of discovery bubbled up from his subconscious. A quick twitch of his head broke the spell.

Carrying the container of juice to his bedroom, the search began at the bookshelves next to his bed. Notebooks filled the bookshelves to the ceiling, full of thousands of pages dedicated to his work. Some were journals, others were commentaries and articles, and some were translated messages. He pulled a handful off the top shelf and spread them out on the purple comforter spread atop the well made bed. Sitting amidst them, he started scanning through the black and blue inked jungle of his scrawlings. When a notebook proved fruitless he snatched up another. The next ended up being a journal. Next, notes on past projects, but still nothing called to him. He repeated the entire process with a new stack, and eventually the daylight faded

The change of light inspired him to take a break. He needed to eat, and the search had whetted his appetite.  He made a dry, white-bread and ham sandwich. The myriad of words he had read scrolled through his mind while he chewed slowly. His eyes were wide, while more notable passages echoed off each other. After filling a cup and replacing the juice container in the refrigerator, it was back to the notebooks. Reorganizing the clutter, he began to jump from volume to volume.

After several dozen notebooks, a sip was lifted at too severe an angle spilling little droplets from the corners of his mouth onto a notebook page. He quickly swept the whole notebook across his pant leg to clear the liquid from the handwritten text and inspected the page for damage. The hair on his arms and legs stood as a chill of exhilaration griped him.  One drop had left a purple smear highlighting a passage that read, “Evils of false faith will cover the globe.” He read the line again and again. This was it.

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