The Apostate — Part II
By L. Stewart Marsden
Sam Martin “came to” with a loud gasp as suddenly as he died. Everything around him was white-yellow bright, and he could see nothing discernible.
“Oh, there you are, Sam!” said a pleasant voice close by. “I was wondering when you’d see fit to join us again.”
Sitting up slowly, Martin gathered his senses. It was still very bright about him, but he could now see the shape of a man sitting beside him on what appeared to be a chaise lounge chair. Martin lay prone on a similar chair.
Large multi-color beach umbrellas with chaise chairs and sunning people dotted a snow-white beach all about him. Just beyond glistened an aqua sea, its waves braking softly onto the shore.
Martin turned to the man, who was dressed in all-white loose-fitting cotton pants and shirt, then sat fully upright. The man remained resting on his chaise and adjusted his sunglasses then tipped his broad-rimmed hat to shade his eyes.
“Am . . . I . . . “
“No,” interrupted the man, smiling and squinting due to the sun in his face. “You are not dead.”
“Well, at the moment.”
“Is this heaven?”
“Barbados. Which, in my book, is a bit of heaven. Nice, don’t you think?”
A waiter clad in white cotton approached with a tray that held two very large pineapples. The tops were cut off, and Martin could see straws angling out of each. As the waiter bent between the two chaises and offered, “daiquiri?” Martin could see each pineapple held a pink concoction that smelled delicious.
“Please indulge, Sam,” instructed the man beside him. “It’s on me. Put it on my tab, please,” he said to the waiter, who bowed and smiled, then handed Martin and the man a pineapple drink.
Sam put the straw to his lips and sucked in. Strawberry ice cream! Coconut! And, rum? He put his drink on his knee and looked the man over carefully.
“Aren’t you supposed to look like Morgan Freeman?” he finally said.
“Ha! I hear that all the time! Actually, I tried that a few times, but you know, Freeman’s got so much mileage and money out of that gig! If he keeps it up, he and I are going to be mistaken by folks for eternity!”
Martin tipped his drink up, smelling the pineapple and coconut and strawberry as he drank deeply. When he put his drink back down, he looked over at the man.
“Whoa! What happened?”
The man was no longer a man, but a sleek and beautiful brunette, with skin that glistened with a deep tan. She wore a bikini, and stylish sunglasses, and her lips were painted bright red, as were her nails and toenails.
“I have many looks, Sam.”
“Can you please change into something else, then? It’s making me nervous thinking I’m lusting after God!”
“Oh, sorry.” And he changed into a very dark-skinned old man, with white curly hair, broad nose and plump lips. When he grinned, he revealed mostly pink gums. He wore white cloth wrapped about his waist and loins.
“Better?” he asked, with a decided foreign accent.
“How do you do that?” Martin queried.
“You know, I’m not exactly sure. It’s something I learned when I was younger and developed. Now I can do it pretty much without thinking. It’s like the horse of a different color in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Do you remember that movie, Sam?”
He then transformed into a small boy with bright red hair, blue eyes and freckles. He spoke with an Irish accent.
“So Sam, are you havin’ any misgivins’ ’bout yourrr life yet?”
Martin looked at the young boy and shook his head.
“So — this is what? A holy intervention? A wakeup call? A visitation of the three Christmas ghosts moment?”
The boy laughed, and as he laughed, transformed into an Indian woman, dressed in a colorful silk sari, her forehead marked with a bright red dot. She smiled and laughed heartily.
“You could call it that.”
“It’s because I’m agnostic, right?”
“It’s because I am afraid I am going to lose you, my son,” and with that, he turned into a Catholic priest in black cassock and white-collar.
“You already have.”
“And yet, here we are.”
“Yes. But in reality or in my head? Like Dickens said, ‘You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato . . . ‘”
“I just love that part. Scrooge was such a great doubter! Agnostic — as you say — to exponential powers! No. I’m not beef nor mustard nor cheese nor potato. I am who you think I am.”
“Why are we here? What happened to me? What’s going to happen?”
“Well, I thought it might be nice to have a little chat at this point in your life. As angry as you are about everything — “
“I’m NOT angry about everything!” Martin interrupted vehemently.
“Then, as introspective as you are — will that work for you? — I thought you might like to ask me some questions.”
“Why not? As my son, you deserve the very least.”
“You didn’t exactly create yourself, Sam. Finished your drink? Come, let’s go take a walk down by the water. I like the wet sand squishing between my toes. And I’ll answer any question you have to the best of my ability.”
A slight breeze from off the water cooled them, and the sun, despite shining down from what Martin thought was a high-noon position, did not beat down upon them. It was pleasant. Plus he still a bit tipsy from the daiquiri.
Along the way, his companion shape-shifted every couple of yards, rolling into a myriad of types of people, nationalities, costume and religion. “You see,” he explained,
“Mankind — is that politically correct? — was made in the image of God. Not the other way around.”
“So you embody all of us, but we do not embody all of you?” Martin asked.
“Close enough. You have only bits and pieces of what I’m really like.”
“And what is that? What are you really like?”
“Can’t show you that, Sam. You and the rest of the world are unable to stand in that kind of revelation. So! We’re not here about me exactly. We’re here about you. Ask away. What do you want to know, Sam?”
“So much to ask! I don’t know where to start.”
“Take your time. A simple question. Start with that.”
“Okay . . . creation. How’d that happen?”
“Wow! I say ‘simple,’ and you ask about creation!”
“You could say, Big Bang for short. I’d get that. Or, you could say the Biblical creation theory. I wouldn’t get that, so much.”
“Yeah. Okay, I need to use a Star Trek analogy here.”
“You’re a Trekkie?”
“Great show! Watched every episode, AND all of the movies. Any-way . . . remember the transporter?”
“Creation began with my thoughts and ideas. Mulled them around for a couple of eons before I set things in motion. So, where the transporter analogy comes in is me, transporting those ideas out into space — which at that time was null and void.”
“Hard to imagine.”
“I know, right? So it wasn’t exactly a big bang, although things did pop a lot at the time. I mean, you can’t hear sound in space. Actually, I was the only one around to hear it — the old if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it sort of things. So, I set things in motion.”
“Then the deists have it right. You started the ball rolling and sat back and watched.”
“No! Nobody has it right. Only partially. Bits and pieces. Like this ginormous picture puzzle with a billion times a billion puzzle pieces. Glimpses.”
“Did you know how things were going to work out? I mean like the evolution of animals and things? Like why the dinosaurs? And why in god’s name the cockroach? Sorry.”
“No problem. Okay, so I learned. I really liked the dinosaurs. That’s the little boy in me, you know. And cockroaches? Really complex in the scheme of things. They get a bum rap — kind of like flies and mosquitos, in my opinion.”
“But then, your opinion means a lot! You’re God.”
“Sam — when was the last time you ever cared about God’s opinion?”
“Well, uh — I . . . “
“Sorry. Trick question. You can only know about me what others tell you. It isn’t like you and I go on these walks every day. And most everybody is so wrong!”
“What about evolution? Survival of the fittest?”
“Plagiarized. I thought of it before Darwin, but he still gets the credit. And he doesn’t let me forget that to this day!”
“And war? Why wars?”
“Not my idea.”
“But the Old Testament — “
“Old, schmold! Who asked me about those things?”
“But, Moses . . . “
“Look, Moses had his day. Did a few tricks. Frankly Penn and Teller amaze me more. But, as a result he kind of had the world by the balls.”
“So, you’re not for war?”
“You have two girls, Sam. They fight and argue continuously. Do you like it?”
“Ex-actly! Nor do I.”
“So, in a war, do you pick sides?”
“Do you pick one daughter over the other? Love one more, or love one less?”
“No. But then I do have to punish every once-in-a-while.”
“Yep. Parenthood is not an easy thing.”
“You didn’t pick sides in WWII?”
“In WWII, I had to discipline.”
“Did anyone come out of that war unscathed?”
“I guess not.”
“It was a matter of the level of discipline.”
“So when a soldier gets killed, that’s part of your discipline?”
“I didn’t say that. You did. And others. And that goes for accidents, and illness, and all of the other bad things that happen to both good and bad people — despite what they say at Westboro Baptist.”
“So there are good people and bad people, then?”
“People are people. They are neither good nor bad. They do good or bad, however.”
“And those that do enough good — do you love them more? And those that do bad, less?”
“Again, I didn’t say that. When your girls accuse you of loving the other more, how do you respond?’
“Well, sometimes I . . .”
“No. That’s not love. That’s like. I don’t always like what my children do. But I always love them.”
“I never promised you a rose garden.”
“Isn’t heaven a rose garden, so to speak? Aren’t we going to live forever? Aren’t we going to either heaven or hell?”
“What do you think?
“Until today I thought we all die, decay and add to the peat moss. Now, I’m not so certain.”
“Ex-actly! That’s my intent!”
“Not knowing. Uncertainty.”
“Uncertainty is a good thing? How’s that?”
“A life of certainty is boring. It’s not motivated by anything. Everything is resolved for the person of certainty. Posh! Why would I foster that on anybody? My life isn’t full of certainty. And it’s plenty exciting as a result. Look, when I seeded earth with humanity, I had no idea how that experiment was going to turn out.”
“Hence the flood.”
“That was a local story blown up to mass proportions. I hate the media.”
“It didn’t happen?”
“It happened, but not on a world-wide scale. I didn’t wipe out the earth, otherwise how would there be so many flood stories in the various world cultures? Big, devastating flood? Yes. But all people and animals did not die.”
“But the Bible says . . . “
“People have their Bibles, their Qurans, their Books of Mormon and on and on and on. Doesn’t mean I had control over how they wrote or edited. I didn’t publish them. You don’t see my name on the copyrights.”
“Besides, the Baptists are wrong.”
“The King James Bible is not the original bible.”
“Everybody knows that . . . “
“. . . Except the Baptist!” they both said together, laughing.
“I don’t understand the religions part. Why did you do that?”
“Once again, religion is not my idea.”
“Yeah, but the Ten Commandments and all of the rules and regulations! Stoning and banishment and judgment and hell fire. That’s not you?”
“I kind of gave Moses a free hand there, but I think he overdid it. Look, early humans were a pretty rowdy bunch. They had to fend for themselves against all the animals and nature — and each other. It’s not like Roberts’ Rules of Order was the prevailing guide back then. So, Moses asked, and I said, ‘Okay.’ Actually he asked several times because I couldn’t understand him. He stuttered, you know.”
“It’s all thou shalt nots. Negative. Not very encouraging, if you ask me.”
“Yeah, well . . . nobody’s perfect.”
“I thought you were.”
“Look, Sam . . . laws and rules aren’t meant to harm anyone — just the opposite. They keep people from getting hurt — or worse.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery came about because Moses knew that if you went sneaking over to your neighbor’s house and had a little tryst with the wife when the husband was away, all hell was bound to break out when the guy found out! The same thing for murder, and theft and all those other things people were doing. So Moses thought, just don’t do it. The antithesis of Nike.
“What else you got?” he asked Martin.
“What’s the purpose of life?”
“The purpose of life. Don’t you mean what is your purpose?”
“Because, if everyone’s purpose in life is the same, that would be kind of disappointing, right?”
“What if everyone’s purpose is the same? What if it’s to get through life in the best way you can? To do the best you can with what you’ve got, and to make sure along the way you do no harm to anyone? What if it’s the Boy Scout motto: do a good turn daily? Help someone. Encourage someone. What if I told you that you make your own purpose daily — that the purpose of life in the larger sense is to come together with all that’s around you? To blend with every other creation in the world?”
“Then I’d get into the Lotus position and start humming ‘Ohmmm.’ Don’t go existential on me.”
“Okay, it’s not quite that bad. But close. There really is a larger picture. And guess who is in charge of that?”
“If that’s true — and it is — then there’s got to be a level of trust. You’ve got to begin to trust me. Everybody needs to trust me. Instead, you’ve all got your heads down, and you focus on the small stuff. That’s what religion is — focusing on the small stuff. And like you, I hate religion.”
“But how can we trust a concept? Something we can’t see or actually hear?”
“You see me now. You hear me, right?”
“Sure, but are you telling me everyone is going to have to die to come to that point of trust? That you stay hidden until a heart attack occurs?”
“Not everyone needs a heart attack, Sam.”
“Oh yeah. Faith. The substance of what you can’t see.”
“Shall I remind you of electricity?”
“Right. Can’t see it — but you know it exists by turning on a light. That’s not what I mean. And there’s not exactly a God switch. You’re God, not an automatic current at my bidding.”
“Glad to hear you say it.”
“Ah. And that’s why you brought me here? So that I would say you’re God? To get me turned around in the correct direction? Notice I didn’t say ‘right direction.'”
“I brought you here to give you pause to think about things. Specifically about me. And us — you and me. I know you don’t disbelieve in me.”
“And, like I said earlier, I know you’re upset — about the religion thing.”
“And I understand that.”
“Good to know.”
“The upshot of all this is that I’m not the one responsible for your anger. Can you see that? Whatever the question is, the answer is much, much simpler than how mankind has come to see things. I’m not a complicated guy — really!”
“So, you aren’t responsible for all the religion crap?”
“Nope. Ask me what denomination I belong to.”
“What denomination do you belong to?”
“None of them. Now, ask me which religion I support?”
“Which religion do you support?”
“None of them. Now, ask me which people of faith I am for?”
“None of them, right?”
“See? Is that so complicated?”
“I guess not.”
“You look disappointed.”
“Because . . . ?”
“The simplicity thing.”
“Hey, I’m not that complicated. And that’s what I want you to tell them.”
“You mean like stand on a soapbox on the street corner kind of thing?”
“Not at all. Those who ask.”
“And why will they ask?”
“Because you almost died today. You have a story to tell.”
“Wait — all this so you can get your commercial out?”
“It’s not a commercial. It’s the truth.”
Sam Martin paused on the beach to ponder the implications. Foam from a broken wave eased up over his toes and stuck.
“So, I’m to be a kind of modern-day prophet?”
“I guess. Sure — why not? I officially knight you Sir Sam Martin, Prophet of the Truth.”
And with that, Martin heard the distant woo-wooing of an approaching fire truck, and the loud ‘ee-oo-ee-oo-ee-oo’ of an ambulance. And he crumpled to the pavement.
* * * * *
“That’s it?” asked Scratch.
“Yep. Pretty simple, huh?” responded his uncle.
“So, Martin is going to spread his experience in church? He’s going back to church? How the hell does that help The Cause?”
“Scratch, my fine boy — subtlety is the mark of a true deceiver. We don’t win through lies. Lies get exposed. We deal in half-truths, just like the politicians. Remember, ‘You will not surely die.'”
“Oh, yeah! That was pure genius!”
“But you passed yourself off as — you know — He who shall not be named.”
“I never did. Sam assumed who I was. I never said otherwise.”
“Remember, the most destructive worms are those that hatch from within the body — not those that assault it from the outside. People are very protective and defensive. They hardly ever look at what’s going on inside them. Cancer cells are already inside a person’s body. They don’t enter in through the body cavities necessarily.”
“So, do you think I’m ready for this, then?”
“Patience, Scratch. Your time will come. Steep yourself in my wisdom a bit longer, and you will be among my elite soldiers. Now, tell me about our inductees for today.”
“It being Sunday, the numbers are high. All those who nodded and greeted others at church while lusting in their hearts at the time of their deaths.”
“Open the doors, then.”
Huge steel doors slowly opened, supported by thick strap hinges. A grating sound accompanied their movement. Outside a throng of countless individuals turned, beckoned by the opening doors, looks of awe and fear etched on their faces.
“WELCOME TO HELL, MY CHILDREN!”
* * * * *
Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 11 October, 2014