“Jedidiah, it’s me, God. Are you listening?”
I perk up and try to focus. It’s been a while since God has talked to me. I whisper, just in case anyone else is in the computer lab with me, “yes.”
“Good. Jedidiah, listen closely and whatever you do, do not turn around.”
The deep, almost guttural voice coming from behind me exudes authority. A jealous God, mom used to say. It’s not exactly what I’d expect, but it is him. Of course, the last time God talked to me was when I was maybe twelve. That’s when I learned to trust God. He saved my life.
I had just thrown a strike at Lucky Lanes when I heard a calm voice from behind tell me to move. I jerked around to find the source of the voice, but there was no one within thirty feet of me. Having remembered stories from my mom’s youth about avoiding disaster by following the voice of God, I decided to obey the voice. I walked briskly back to the benches where my friends gave high-fives, disconcerted by my hollow expression.
Timmy began walking to the ball dispenser for his turn when an overhead light fell down, crashing just feet from where he stood.
That’s when I knew it was God who had talked to me.
So here I am, years later in Southern Methodist University’s library computer lab at about 10:30 pm, working on an Econometrics assignment and God is talking to me again. When I got here a few hours ago, there was a smattering of kids here, books spread across tables, whiteboard markers squeaking, passionate whispering. The computer lab, where I’ve been camped out for at least three hours, has had a handful of students filter through. Some of them fellow Econometrics students.
I’ve never been ashamed of my faith. I’ve always taken pride in being God-fearing. So, resisting temptation, I obey. My ways are not your ways. I fix my gaze straight ahead and wait for my next instruction.
That’s when I notice I’m not alone. A girl in a striped dress sits three rows in front of me. I recognize her from my Econometrics class. Rachel, I think.
“What do you need, God?” I whisper, hoping Rachel—or is it Rochelle—doesn’t hear me above the buzzing fluorescent lights and the occasional whir of computer fans.
God says nothing.
I feel my skin start to get hot, my mind running through all the things that God could be telling me.
Is my computer going to explode?
Did my mom die?
Rachel closes down her computer, gathers her things, and stands up, turning towards me. She takes a few steps forward before she notices me. “Oh! Hey, Jed,” she says, flashing a polite smile.
I swallow, realizing I probably look nervous. “Hey—”
She stops in her tracks, her eyes narrowing as her gaze moves from my face to just above me. Her hand covers her mouth.
I start to turn around, as a reflex, to see what she’s looking at when the voice stops me.
“No,” God says.
Rachel whimpers, gives me one more glance and runs for the door. I hear the door squeak open and clap closed.
I take a deep breath. “God?” I say, louder this time. “Why can’t I turn around?”
“You remember what happened to Lot’s wife?”
“Yes,” I say, remembering the first time I heard the story in Sunday School. What exactly is a pillar of salt? I asked Brother Collins. Faith, he said. A pillar of salt is faith? No, the point of the story is faith. We should have enough faith to trust in God no matter what. Turning away from God for even one second, as Lot’s wife did, could be fatal.
“Jedidiah, stand up and keep looking forward,” God says.
I obey, seeing that I am now alone in the lab. I listen closely for any activity outside in the library lobby. I think I hear the distance clicking of a keyboard but can’t tell.
The computer monitor three rows ahead, where Rachel was sitting, flickers on displaying a security camera feed from the road in front of the library. The feed is motionless. I lean forward on the desk in front of me, focusing on the screen. After a moment, Rachel enters the screen from the bottom, stepping down the curb to cross the street. Her phone is up to her ear.
“Look closely,” God says.
“But, does she need help? Why are you showing me this?”
“Keep looking, Jedidiah.”
Rachel stops in the middle of the road, phone still up to her ear. She slowly turns around and faces the camera directly. Her face transitions from terrified to somber and she puts her phone down.
A flash of headlights briefly enters the scene before a Mack truck slams into her, wiping the feed clean. The only thing left behind is a small spray of blood on the ground and her phone.
“Oh, my g—what the heck!” I scream. An intense pit grows in my stomach and my heart starts pounding in my throat. Others had to have heard the crash. “God, what are you doing? Tell me, please.”
“Did I do that, or did I let it happen?” The voice booms behind me, sounding impatient.
I try to steady my breathing. What could God possibly be trying to teach me? “Who are you?” I ask through clenched teeth.
“You modern humans think you know me. You take far too much liberty upon yourselves to interpret my intentions. And I must say, you paint a very creative—very rosy—picture of me.”
This can’t be God. God wouldn’t—
“I know what you’re thinking, Jedidiah. I always know what you’re thinking. I know everything you do. I saw the way you looked at that girl.”
“But I didn’t—”
“By the way, her name isn’t Rachel, it isn’t even Rochelle. It’s Nicki. Rachel is the girl who normally sits by her in class.”
That might be true.
“I see that deep empty cavern in your soul. You try to fill it with school, or with friends and love interests, and we all know how that goes.”
A door shuts in the distance.
“You try to fill it with religion—with me. You’re not alone, by the way. Why do you think your mom and dad forced religion upon you from before you could walk?”
“Yes, Jedidiah, because they also lived with that great void. It’s why they named you Jedidiah—a Friend of God, by definition. Modern humans wear this facade as if they have found ways to cope with that void. But they haven’t, not really. No one has. And you know why? Do you know why the void exists in the first place?”
My knees shake, my palms sweat. I glance around the room, looking for something—some way to get out.
“Jedidiah, do I need to remind you that I can read your thoughts? Focus on me please.”
“Okay, God.” My vision blurs as tears well up in my eyes.
“It’s death. It’s always about death. Death waits around the corner for everyone—every living being. Yet no one knows what awaits them on the other side. People pretend to know, but no one actually knows. And it’s that unknowing that creates the cavernous void you all pretend to peacefully coexist with.”
Don’t think about mom, don’t think about mom.
“Ah, yes. Your mother. Sweet Rebecca. She loves you dearly, doesn’t she? Truly Christlike, that one. From what I understand, she has breast cancer, doesn’t she? Caught it a bit late, huh? Maybe I should have spoken to you then. Wouldn’t it be tragic if she died? Wouldn’t it be tragic if she died tonight? From something completely unrelated to her condition? What if she decides to go on a late-night walk? I know Lorien Drive is a busy one. What if a newly licensed teenager coming home from a night on the town gets a text at the right time? From a girl he’s had his eye on? A text that can’t quite wait until getting home. Hmmmm, let me see. Alan Waters meets that criteria. He’s just stopped into Walgreens to buy a gallon of water. His friend Jaren told him that if he drinks a bunch of water after a night of partying, he won’t have a hangover the next morning. He’s getting back in his car. Oh, and there goes your dear mother Rebecca, she’s getting her shoes on right now.”
“No, God, please. Why me? Why are you doing this to me?”
“Because, Jedidiah, you need to face death. The only way to fill that void, or at least partially fill the void, is to look death straight in the face and confront it. I know that you are a weak one. You know that as well as I. But you have great potential. Consider this a favor. A little extra boost.”
“I know you’re not God. God wouldn’t be doing this.” What am I supposed to do when faced with a demon? Something in the name of Jesus Christ…
“I turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, didn’t I? Just for turning around. You believe that, right?”
I clench my fists.
“Mr. Alan Waters is turning onto Lorien right now. Rebecca is two blocks east. Are you ready for this? Of course not. No one ever is. Now as this happens, I want y—”
…look death straight in the face and confront it…
I swing my body around, knocking over my chair. Floating just below the ceiling is a dark, scaly entity—a man whose dark face shimmers in the light, with deep black sockets for eyes and a gaping wide mouth stretched into a smile. His head is bald with tufts of black hair coming off the sides of his head. His chest and shoulders are covered with a black cloak.
“In the name of Jesus Christ!” I yell.
He opens his mouth to speak, and an intense wave of heat blows my hair back. Black ink spews from his lips and his voice takes on guttural overtones. “But what if I really am God? Then your little trick won’t work, Jedidiah, friend of God.”
The computer lab is overtaken by a hurricane of black dust and intense heat. I clench the desk in front of me, but it’s scalding hot. The ground begins to shake, and ceiling tiles begin falling, crashing all around me. Computers fall off tables, shattering on the floor. The overhead lights flicker and die. The entity grows taller and taller, his smile becoming penetratingly sinister.
For a moment, I’m floating in the sky above my mother. She’s out for a walk, as I feared. She’s in a daze and I can tell she’s been crying. I hear the screech of a car from just up the street. My mom darts her eyes up fearfully—
The fire alarm in the computer lab pierces the rumbling, growing louder by the second. The shaking intensifies. The entity opens its mouth wide and a thousand blood-curdling screams emanate from seemingly all directions, drowning out all else.
I lose feeling first in my feet and hands, then in my legs and arms, and then finally in my stomach and chest. I begin shrinking and my vision grows cloudy. I try screaming but can’t get anything out. My hearing becomes muffled.
And then I taste salt.
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