Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Last Revelation

by Alex Granados


"Crap. They got her," Pelan stared intently at the screen.

"That's no good. Does anybody else know the plan?" Xetu asked.

"Nope. Without her, there's no way we will be successful; you will have to go in."

Xetu looked away from the image on the screen. He had already gone in once this century -- it was fairly rare to go in twice in so short a time. He hated the feel of the skin, the rumbling of the voice, the inexactness of the senses...but he was good at what he did. In there, he had the preacher's tongue, they said. So, yes, he would have to go.

"Okay. I'm ready whenever," he said to Pelan with a sigh. "I hate the 20th century."

"Good. Her name will be Eliza. When you meet her, you will know that you have a job to do."

####

Marcus had spent most of his life as a miscreant and a troublemaker. His childhood was filled with talking back and fights, both of which ended with him being kicked out of public school and being forced to a private Christian school. Adolescence and early adulthood were marked by alcohol and drug use, and later, addiction, but his exposure to the faith had a profound effect on him.

Not being raised in a religious household, he never had much use for God. But despite his increasing intake of intoxicating chemicals, he had found himself believing more and more in the God of the New Testament and His Son -- Jesus.

His newfound faith was a fortunate byproduct of the fact that his parents had no other place to send him than a Christian school. They didn't mind his new zeal. Even as his weekends and weeknights were filled with benders and binges, his school days were devoted to school, and to the faith he was slowly developing.

In his 20s, he hit bottom; the secular college he was attending kicked him out for missing too many classes. He was broke, without friends, distant from his family and totally unable to go a day without drinking or using drugs. He vowed that it must end -- life was too miserable to continue in this manner. He had his last drink days after his last drunk on May 25, 2005. He was 25 years old.

Entering Alcoholics Anonymous, he found that the tenets of the program bolstered the faith that had been growing in him since he had entered Christian School. While he had put his faith somewhat on the backburner while his addiction took hold of him, it flourished in his new sober atmosphere.

It wasn't long before he went back to school for theology, graduated, and devoted his life to Jesus.

Now, he didn't feel the need to settle down to any particular church or calling. Rather, he wandered the streets of the United States of America, preaching to the down and out, the destitute, the decrepit and the soon to die. He relied on the charity of strangers and his faith in God, and without ever having to ask, he found that he never wanted for food or shelter. At the end of the day, somebody was always willing to offer him a place to stay. And whenever he felt the familiar rumble in his stomach, a kind hand always held out bread or meat for him to eat.

He had made his way from the Midwest to the streets of a small city called Manassas in Virginia. While the city center wasn't much of a downtown -- it only had a few streets and shops -- Marcus found that there was still a pretty decent homeless population that was in need of learning about the faith; they were hidden in its forgotten corners.

He spent quite a bit of time in the little city administering to the spiritual needs of the down and out populace. Every time he thought he should move on, another poor soul would come around seeking comfort and solace in Marcus's good words.

Before long, Marcus realized that he had been in Manassas a month -- a good two weeks longer than he had spent in almost any area he had visited. The people's need for God must be particularly strong here, Marcus imagined.

It was in the midst of the fifth week while administering to an unkempt, former crack addict in the SERVE shelter of Manassas that Marcus decided it was time to leave. Staring upon the wispy strands of white hair that remained on the top of the old man's head, Marcus felt the thinness of his own tolerance for this place. It was wearing him out.

When he was done saying a prayer with the man, a pair of hands, stained at the tips from the heat of holding a crack pipe for all those years, clutched his, and a two-toothed hole of a mouth formed the words "Thank you," though they were barely audible to Marcus's ear.

"You're welcome, my son. Now, I must move on."

Marcus moved away from the man. In this shelter, Marcus appeared a man of the cloth, thought formally, he was not. His closely cut blond hair formed a bowl around his head, and his small facial features leant him the air of someone who was perpetually a boy, though he was nearly 30. Marcus encouraged the image of himself as a clergyman by wearing all black. It was his only outfit, but he washed it daily, usually at the home of some kind soul who offered, seemingly out of the blue, to let him come in and use what he needed.

It wasn't his custom to say goodbye when he left an area, and he did not intend to behave any differently here. Marcus moved directly for the front door of the SERVE shelter, waving blandly as he passed some of the men and women he had spoken with during the last few weeks. He was almost to the door, almost able to feel the sweet succulence of the outdoor air that would accompany him on his next mission, when a voice called his name.

"Marcus...Where you goin' boy?" Estelle asked.

Estelle was one of the managers at the shelter and one of those who most appreciated Marcus's services. She was a large black woman with a pear shape and an easy grin. She always looked like she was going to hug you when she approached, though she never did. Her house had always been open to him while he was in Manassas, so he felt bad ignoring her question now. He turned and faced her. "My time here is done, Estelle. I'm moving on to the next place."

She fixed him with a sideways stare and pursed her lips in a manner of disapproval. Her hands went to her hips as she fixed his eyes with her accusatory glare. "You leavin' us? So soon? There's lots of people need your help, ya know."

"There are always many who need administering to," he said calmly. Tranquility was a mood he had cultivated over the years; just as someone who practices an instrument for years masters it, Marcus had become expert at radiating peace. "But there is only one of me, and I feel called to leave," he finished.

"Mmmm hmmm," Estelle hummed. "Well, before you leave, perhaps you can do me a favor. There's this woman I know: old, near death, livin' with relatives near Old Town. She's been an atheist near as long as I can remember, and I don't want her to go without believin' in the blessings of the lord. You the best I ever met for changin' people's minds, Marcus. Will you go to her...just her? Then you can be on your way."

Marcus looked at Estelle while he tried to think of a way to gracefully detach himself from the request and this town. "I don't think it is God's will for me to stay," he said lamely to Estelle.

"Oh, please Marcus. Eliza is such a sweet lady, and I just hate to think of her burning in eternal hellfire because she never learned about the father who loves her so much. Won't you please reconsider?"

At hearing the name Eliza, a feeling gripped Marcus like he had never experienced. He felt a draw and a prodding, one that attacked like an impossible-to-satisfy itch. Strongly, the presence of God swirled around him, and he felt sure he must see this woman.

"I will go," he said to Estelle. "It must be immediately."

"Oh, fantastic Marcus...Thank you so much!" she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. "I'll call her daughter Cynthia and ask her if someone can come pick you up. We'll get you over there right away. Thanks so much, Marcus -- you have made my day."

Estelle beamed as she dialed the numbers on her cell phone. Marcus calmly pondered what the feeling flowing through his body must mean.

####

It was only about 10 minutes after the call that a rectangular, old-model Volvo pulled up in front of the SERVE shelter. Marcus had waited outside, not wanting his presence to give anybody the idea that he wanted to do more ministering. The car pulled up in the circular driveway, and the passenger side window rolled down. A pretty blond woman, probably in her forties, ducked down in the driver's side so that Marcus could see her. "Hey fella...you must be Marcus. Hop on in."

Marcus turned around to see if anybody from the shelter was watching him go and might expect a goodbye, but there was no one around. He breathed a sigh of relief, walked up to door, opened it and slid into the comfortable leather seat.

"Hello," Marcus said to the woman. "Are you Cynthia?"

The freckled face turned toward him and her button nose wrinkled up. "Ooh...you must really be a man of God. How'd you know my name?"

Marcus giggled a bit at her reaction. He was used to people taking him very seriously--so seriously in fact that he sometimes felt as though he were wrapped in a winter coat on a hot day. Cynthia's lighthearted air was refreshing.

"Yes," Marcus said with a joking smile. "God decreed to me that I must go find the woman Cynthia and she would lead me to the Promised Land."

They both laughed at that, and when it died down Cynthia stuck her hand out to Marcus.

"Cynthia McDowell," she said firmly. "Nice to meet you."

Marcus took her hand and she shook firmly with three solid pumps. "Nice to meet you too," Marcus said. "I take it Eliza is your mother?"

"That's right." Cynthia pulled out of the SERVE shelter and took a series of turns that Marcus couldn't follow. "Mom is near the end, and I often talk to Estelle about how I wish she could find the peace that belief in Jesus Christ would afford her. But she's stubborn...says there's no God."

"Has she always believed that?" Marcus asked.

"As long as I can remember. She never talks much about her adolescence or young adulthood, so who knows?"

"It is rare for someone to be an unbeliever their whole lives," Marcus pointed out. "Usually, they have either lost their faith along the line, or they gain or regain faith at some point. A strict atheist from birth to death would be an interesting person."

"I guess so," Cynthia said. "Well, it's only a few minutes to the house. Not far at all. I'll make you some coffee when we get there if you'd like," Cynthia said.

"Sure, that sounds great."

The ride was short and before long they were pulling up in front of a long one-story house. The yard was well kept and scattered about were flowers and trees. The house itself seemed to be as good as new. Marcus imagined they must have had some work done on it fairly recently.

"Welcome to mi casa," Cynthia said.

"Gracias," Marcus replied. "¿Hablas Espanol?" he asked Cynthia.

"Only a little honey...just what I pick up from the illegal immigrants."

She turned the car off and got out; Marcus followed suit.

"Now, mom is very stubborn in her ways," Eliza explained to Marcus as they walked up the driveway to the open garage. "She may come off as a little rude or even insulting. Don't take it seriously."

"Oh, I'm used to that," Marcus told her. "I'm very good at not taking things personally in that regard."

"Good." Cynthia flashed him a smile. The two reached the door inside the garage that led into the house. Cynthia opened the door and stood back to let Marcus through. "I got some things I want to do around the yard really quick, but I'll be done in a jiffy and I'll get that coffee for ya. Mom's in the room straight down the hallway all the way at the back on the left. You can't miss her...it's the last door. Good luck."

Marcus smiled at Cynthia as he walked past her into the house. She shut the door after he entered.

####

The house looked like a throwback to the ‘60s, complete with a tie-dyed mural and incense burning in every corner. Marcus imagined that the ‘60s must have been a good time for Eliza, thus they made the house up in that manner in order to make her comfortable.

He walked through the kitchen and followed the hallway at its end all the way until he was stopped by a wall. He knocked on the closed door cautiously, afraid to wake a woman who might be sleeping.

"Is that the damn fool preacher?" a voice called from inside. "Well come on in, I suppose." The voice sounded curiously strong for a woman so weak in health.

Marcus opened the door and pushed it open. Inside, a skeleton of a woman sat weakly on the bed. If it weren't for her open eyes and slowly moving chest, he would have sworn she was dead already. Her voice, however, left no doubt as to her living presence on the earth.

"Well, come in already," she shrieked at Marcus. "What're you waitin' for? Ain't you never seen a woman who was gettin' ready to die?"

Marcus smiled at Eliza and closed the door behind him as he entered the room. He sat down in a wooden chair set at the end of the bed, evidently for him. "I have met many such people," he told Eliza. "My name is Marcus."

"I know what you're name is," she snapped at him. "And you know mine. So, why don't we cut to the chase and you tell me why I should believe there is a God."

Marcus could sense within the woman a lack of any faith or desire to have any. Fortunately he was practiced and very skilled. His power to convert had little to do with the actual words he said, but the manner in which he said them.

Leaning in toward the woman on the bed, Marcus began to speak slowly and hypnotically about the man Jesus and how he had died for humanity's sins. He spoke about the eternal struggle between good and evil. He explained the redemption and eternal life that awaited any who believed in Jesus. His gaze fixed on Eliza's eyes and did not move the contact until he was done. He fell into a trance so that an hour rolled by in what seemed to be minutes. At the end of talking, Eliza had nothing to say, but a beatific smile was on her faith.

"Now you understand?" Marcus asked.

"Yes...yes I do." Eliza laughed. "I understand that you are as full of shit as anybody I've ever met!"

This battered Marcus's cool. "What the --? You mean to tell me that you didn't believe a word I said?"

"Oh, don't feel bad, honey," Eliza said, still giggling. "You did a fair enough job trying to hypnotize me there, but I'm an old woman...people been trying to convert me my whole life; and some of them are a damn sight better at it than you are."

Marcus sighed. His powers lay underneath the words. If they weren't working, if he wasn't able to convince her with those, then the words wouldn't do any good. They certainly weren't anything she hadn't heard before.

"What happened to you?" he asked. "Have you always been without faith?"

"I had faith as a child," Eliza began. "But I started dating one of those Buddhists when I was about sixteen, and his faith sounded more liberating, ya know?"

Marcus nodded. He hadn't imagined she could possibly have maintained atheism for her whole life.

"When the relationship ended," Eliza continued, "I kept trying to follow the Buddhist faith, but it left me hollow, and eventually I began studying philosophy. At that point, I realized that there is no way to know that God exists. I realized it was a choice. And I chose nothing, instead of God."

"I understand," Marcus said. "The emptiness should have been a signal to you that you were on the wrong path. Instead of going back to your original one, you thought all was lost. It is common. But now you need fear no more."

"Please, Mr. Marcus. Don't give me that. It's all a bunch of baloney, and somewhere deep down inside of you, you know that too. Don't ya?"

Marcus wanted to come back with a quick rebuttal, but he knew he could not. Somewhere inside of him, for a while now, emptiness had been developing.

Marcus was saved from answering when the bedroom door opened and a flustered Cynthia came in the room bearing a tray with a cup of coffee on it. "I'm so sorry about the coffee. I was caught up and completely forgot to fix it."

"Peace," Marcus said halfheartedly as he rose from his chair to assist Cynthia.

"How are ya'll getting' along in here?" Cynthia asked cautiously, stealing a glance at her mother to see how her mood was.

"Oh, go on and get out'a here, Cynthia," Eliza spat. "Ain't no man gonna convince me of what isn't true."

Cynthia paused and looked apologetically towards Marcus. "Oh..." she said.

"We still have some work to do," Marcus said. "If you'll excuse us."

"Sure," she said as she turned. "Thanks for trying."

And she left the room.

####

Marcus sipped his coffee and sat down opposite Eliza again.

"Cat got your tongue?" Eliza asked mirthfully. "You ain't said anything about your faith. So what is it? You feelin' the baloney factor too, aren't ya?"

Marcus didn't know what else to do but be honest. His ordinary avenue of approach hadn't worked. "I have been feeling empty for some time, though this is what I have done my whole life: convert people," he said. "To be honest, when I was told that you were in trouble, it was the first time in a long time that I felt the urgency inside of me--the need to come and talk with a person."

"There ain't no urgency, boy," Eliza said. "I may be dying, but you don't need to worry about my eternal soul."

Marcus leaned in anxiously. "But that's just it," he said. "Ordinarily, that's how I feel, too. I have a talent for preaching, yes, but I haven't gotten much out of the converting, at least not since the early days. Mostly I just content myself knowing that these people go on to live more productive lives. But with you, I know it's different. Whether or not you have the faith is important. It does have something to do with what's going to happen to you after you die. I can't say how exactly, but I just know it's true."

"That's absurd," Eliza retorted. "How about your faith? It seems wanting."

"I know, I know," Marcus said. "But I think talking with you is returning it, because I feel with a certainty that you are in danger if you don't believe. I know it, in a way I have never known anything before."

And he did feel a spark within him. He knew it was his job to save this woman's soul. He knew. He realized that it mattered whether this woman believed. Maybe it didn't matter for anybody else; but it mattered for her. "Do me a favor," Marcus said. "Believe for me. If you believe, then I can believe again, and this is all I have. Don't take it away from me, Eliza. Please don't take it away from me."

"That's nonsense, son. There is no way I can just choose to believe. You either do or you don't."

"No, no, that's not true," Marcus said. "Faith is a choice...it's always a choice. Just choose God. Just choose and we will both be saved. Please, it means so little to you, but for my sake, please."

Eliza stared at him long and hard. "I've never seen anybody so determined to 'save' another," she said. "I think you're full of it, Marcus. I want you to know that. But if it will help you, I believe. I choose God. I devote myself to him."

"Will you pray with me?" Marcus asked.

"Sure. What shall we pray?"

"Our father . . ." Marcus began the Lord's Prayer. In a few moments, they finished it together. Marcus knew it was done. Eliza didn't feel any different, but he was sure that she was.

She died that night, and Marcus went on his wanderings, but never since that day did he feel so strong in his sense of purpose. For the rest of his days, speaking hollowly again of the faith, he became convinced that he had already done what he was put on this planet to do, and he was OK with that. At the age of sixty, he died peacefully in a stranger's bed.

####

Through the interspatial doorway, Thenasal passed back into existence. Pelan and her teammate Misantu were there to greet her.

"Thenasal! Thank goodness we have you back," Misantu said excitedly.

"Yes...we were afraid we would not be able to win without you," Pelan added.

Thenasal shrank back toward the door, a fearful look coming over the cloud of her face. "Who are you? Where am I? What's happening?" she screamed.

"Oh dear. She hasn't remembered yet," Pelan said. "Give her a few minutes to adjust; it will come soon."

The two turned away from Thenasal who curled up into a ball in the corner of the metallic room. Misantu and Pelan studied the display, observing the remaining rapid-paced life actions of Xetu. "We are lucky to have one so skillful as him," Misantu said.

Thenasal ignored her and continued to watch. "There...look. He is laying down to die now. He shall return shortly."

Thenasal and Misantu turned toward the interspatial door and waited. A moment later, Xetu trotted through. The gaseous form floating around his skeletal core alternately glowed purple and green, distinguishing him as the individual he was. As his flowing footsteps moved toward the two by the console, he glanced to the corner where Thenasal was huddled.

"She doesn't remember yet?" he asked.

"No. We were just going to ignore her 'til she came around," Thenasal said.

Xetu moved over to the form and grazed the yellow and black gas form hovering inches over the delicate skeleton of Thenasal. "Eliza," he said. Thenasal looked up at him with hope in her eyes.

"How do you...how do you know my name?"

"It is Marcus. I know I don't look the same, but it is me. You don't look the same either. I remember now why it was important for you to believe. The choice to believe freed you of that world at death. What you saw wasn't real. That world was the Game. This is the real one. You must let go of it so that you may remember."

Thenasal looked up at him in disbelief and then glanced down at the spectral fingertips wafting off of her boned fingers. She looked over toward the console and spied the other two: Misantu, an all black gas cloud in humanoid form, no skeleton visible beneath the dark substance; and Pelan a dark red, white and turquoise swirling gas cloud, unrecognizable as humanoid in form but for the unclear skeleton peaking through. Thenasal looked back at her own hand and shook her head. Then she stood up with the help of Xetu.

"I'm remembering some of it. I was caught? Right? The Buddhists convinced me to be an atheist, and I lost the faith and couldn't get out."

"Good...you're coming to your senses," Penal said.

"And what of God?" Thenasal said. "Is this heaven?"

The three others chuckled.

"If God could be said to exist, then his name would be Mansales," Xetu said. He was the greatest inventor our people had ever seen, but he suffered a shock from one of his experiments. It shattered his skeleton and left him only gas. The scientists plugged what remained of him into the discernment machine to extract any remaining technological ideas he might have, but all they found were a myriad of imaginary worlds floating about his mind, populated by characters acting out imaginary roles with no knowledge of their nonexistence." Xetu pointed at the screens surrounding them on the walls. "These display the different aspects of our arena: Earth. This all comes from inside the head of Mansales" He paused for dramatic effect before going on. "The scientists abandoned Mansales as useless after they discovered the worlds, but us immature cloud forms caught on quick that we could go into them, into his head, and use the worlds in our competition. We chose to battle on Earth. Others choose other worlds inside his head. In our arena, we are the Christian team and that is our battleground where we fight the Muslims, Buddhists and others, each trying to dissuade the other from their one true faith. Everyone who falters is trapped and must be rescued by a team member. I was sent to rescue you."

"But why me?" Thenasal asked. "Surely there must be others trapped in there..."

"Yes, but you're our leader," Penal chimed in. "And you developed a plan in there that you were supposed to come out and tell us about. It's a strategy to win the whole thing!" Her gaseous form bounced and the strands that served as arms appeared to clap together soundlessly.

"So you lied to me?" she asked Xetu somberly. "There on Earth, you lied to me."

Xetu stepped near to her, almost touched her. "No. For the first time on that planet I did not lie. I believed what I said. I knew that you had to believe. I knew that it was important to your afterlife, though I could not remember why. I leveled with you about that...I didn't promise you heaven, but I felt strongly that you had to believe. I didn't know why. And you believed for me, because deep down, you must have felt our connection too. We are a team, Thenasal. I just wanted to get you back."

Thenasal continued to stare at Xetu and the other two, but gradually, the colors of her gas grew darker and more substantial until her skeleton was no longer visible. Finally, the gas seemed to coalesce into a more dominating form, and then it began to speak, this time with no uncertainty.

"I remember it all now." Thenasal moved over to the console and pushed the other two out of the way. "Thank you for coming in Xetu. You are a valuable team member." She turned to Misantu. "How many players do we have ready to go in?"

"About two thousand." Misantu answered.

"Very good."

"What is the plan?" Xetu asked.

"Well it's not all that original really, but I think the mood might be just right for it, and if we pull it off, we could eradicate much of the other team. What do you all know about the Second Coming?"

The four forms pulled together and merged into a gas cloud with skeletal centers. They exchanged thoughts, information and plans in the most direct way they could, and in the end, their strategy was ready to implement.

One year later, the game on Earth was finished -- the Christians were declared the winners.

THE END


© 2010 Alex Granados

Bio: Alex Granados is an editorial page editor living in Northern Virginia. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005. Alex has been a science fiction and horror fan his whole life and recently decided to try his hand at the art form.

E-mail: Alex Granados

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