The sound of the alarm woke me from my peaceful slumber. Through my squinting eyes, I could see it was only 6 a.m. Though tempted to lie back down, I quietly got out of bed, as not to disturb my partner.
My cat met me at the bottom of the stairs, and sounded the wake up alarm for his brothers. Every morning started out the same. The cats needed to have their breakfast first, or they would starve, so they would have you think.
As I sat down for my smoke, I flipped on the TV and noticed that my cigarette tasted horrible. I stubbed it out, lighting up a replacement. Darn, the same thing. Hmm, maybe God is trying to tell me something. I looked at the cigarette, as if it were suddenly going to explain this strange occurrence.
I then turned my attention to the news on TV. Something big was happening, as I saw pictures of thousands of people crowding the streets. This must be news from Iraq, or another part of the country. The only time that many people fill the streets here is for a riot. I noticed the name New York, at the bottom of the screen. The crawling words across the bottom stated that the end of the world was near. I scratched my head, wondering if I was fully awake yet. The end of the world, they say? Shouldn’t there be fireballs, and angels with horses and chariots? I turned up the volume, to listen to what was going on.
Apparently, word had come from the Vatican that the end of the world was to happen tonight at midnight. Priests and pastors alike had confirmed what the Vatican was reporting. It appeared that pandemonium had hit the streets of New York. I flipped to a local station here in Wisconsin, and saw a similar scene. People were running through downtown, carrying rosary beads, and wearing the cross around their neck. I recognized one of the newscasters and listened intently. Prepare for the coming of judgment day, the day of the Lord is near.
I shook my head, as if I were in some sort of bad dream. I turned off the TV, and turned it back on, hoping that this was just a silly prank. The same scene was playing itself out, over and over across America. I dropped the TV controller, and ran up the stairs to wake Jen. She stirred, as I violently shook her.
“Jen, get up you have to see this.”
She opened her eyes, startled by the force in which I had awoken her.
“Come on, you have to come downstairs and see this. They are saying this is the end of the world.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
I pulled her out of bed, into a standing position, and then began to drag her down the hall. “I am serious, they are saying this is the last day of the world! What is happening?”
We ran downstairs, and I turned on the TV, anxious for her to confirm what I had seen.
“What, I don’t see anything,” she said.
I flipped through the channels, but the morning traffic report and local news, were all I could find. Where were the people, I had seen? Where was New York in a frenzy, where were the reporters? I turned off the TV and turned it back on, expecting to see widespread panic. Instead, I heard about a shooting, which had occurred on the north side of town.
“This is what you got me up for?” She shook her head, and staggered back up the stairs.
What is going on? I know what I saw, only moments earlier. I started to say “But I saw it,” and she responded, “Don’t wake me up until later.”
I sat back down in the chair, and rubbed my eyes. Maybe I was dreaming or going crazy. I turned the TV on again, and saw a pastor, giving a sermon to hundreds of people, gathered on a sidewalk.
“Behold all sinners, today will be the Day of Judgment, today will be the day of truth.”
I turned the channel, and there was the wide spread panic, happening in New York City. I studied the faces of the people that I saw running through the streets. They looked scared, as if they were running for their lives. In the background though, I saw the face of a young boy. He was calmly taking everything in, not moving, yet avoiding being crushed in the swell of people. I sat forward in my chair, to get a better look at him. He was young; maybe he was too young to understand what was going on around him. But how could he not be scared by all of this? Where were his parents? Was he lost? I shook my head, as I watched his expressionless face. How was he so calm? I whispered to myself, “Who are you?”
At that moment, he lifted his face, and appeared to make direct eye contact with me. I lost him from sight, as people ran in front of him, but every time there was a clearing, his eyes seemed to find mine. I turned the TV off, and threw down the remote control. I walked to the back door, and opened it wide, wondering if I could hear any signs of commotion. Silence, there was nothing but silence. The cats had even ventured back upstairs, almost as if they were spooked by what I was experiencing.
I stood looking out the window for a moment, and caught sight of the neighbor boy, in his window. I smiled at him, and he looked at me strangely, almost sadly. I tilted my head sideways, as if to gesture what’s wrong, and his head disappeared. I could see his curly brown hair, hiding just above the pane of the window. I laughed, as I saw him poke his head back up, to look at me. I covered my face with my hands, and then moved them away, with a smile. He laughed, and then hid his head below the window. I covered my face again, but when I opened my eyes, it was not the neighbor I saw, but the face of the young boy on TV.
I stepped backwards, as my eyes grew large. The boy smiled at me, and shook his head yes. I shook my head from side to side, not understanding what he was saying to me. He shook his head yes again, and pulled out the crucifix that was around his neck. I stepped back from the window, and ran into the bathroom. I turned the water on cold, and splashed it on my face. I looked in the mirror and repeated my name, my address, and the date, anything I could think of that was concrete. I wiped my eyes hard, and then headed back out into the living room.
I avoided looking out the back window, as I walked by. I sat down, and forced myself to light a cigarette. Damn, still tasted like shit, but I smoked it anyway. Something had to be routine today. As I exhaled the smoke, I shut my eyes, and remembered what I had just seen. I couldn’t have seen that same boy, in the window next door. I must have been confused or delusional. There was just no way that could have happened.
I fumbled with the remote, almost hoping that the TV would not turn back on. I hit mute, and closed my eyes. Everything was going to be all right, this is just some sort of weird experience. I opened my eyes, and to my chagrin, there was a scene of downtown Milwaukee, peaceful and calm. I scanned the channels looking for any information to validate what I had seen, but there was nothing. Cartoon shows were beginning, as the early morning news ended. I smiled, relieved that nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. I flipped back to a local station, and what I saw next, astonished me. There must have been a morning mass, and the camera was panning the church perish. The pastor was offering communion, and my eyes fell upon the back of a very young member. It struck me as peculiar, that such a young child would be receiving the Lord’s Supper. The pastor walked in front of him, as if he didn’t even notice him kneeling there. It was then that I realized he wasn’t there, the pastor could not see him. I drew a sharp breath in, as the boy got up and turned around. His eyes met mine, immediately. There was no mistaking it this time; he was the boy I had seen on the TV in New York, and the face I had seen in the window.
Fear struck me, and my mouth dropped open. What was happening to me? As if he sensed my panic, he broke into a smile, and again, touched the crucifix that he wore around his neck. I felt drawn towards the TV. I was terrified of what was going on, but I felt a strange connection to this little boy. I knelt down, and slowly reached out my hand towards the screen. At the same time, the boy reached out his hand. I was horrified to see that they appeared to have been injured, almost as if something had ripped right through them. As my hand touched the screen, I felt an immediate sense of calm. His eyes bore straight through mine, almost as if he could see my soul. An image of my father, burned across my mind. Flashes of his smile, memories of him washed over me. Tears began to stream down my face, as this sense of love enveloped me. It was then, that I heard a voice — one that I could not pin point. I was not even sure if it was auditory, or in my own head. But the message was as clear as this boy’s face.
“Make your peace today, share your love, and prepare for the eternal tomorrow.”
These words echoed in my head, as I lifted my hand from the screen to wipe away the tears on my face. I sat on the floor, with my head down. For what seemed like eternity, I remembered all the memories spent with my dad. I remembered the bond that we shared, the pain that I felt, when we lost him. And then I smiled. “Prepare for the eternal tomorrow.” I knew what I had to do.
Grabbing the car keys, I raced out of the house. If today is my last day I thought, I want to do as much as I can. I drove towards downtown, not exactly sure what I would find. I parked on a side street, and began walking down streets, that I would have otherwise never ventured down. A man approached me, jingling some change in his hand.
“You got some change, to help a brother?”
I smiled at him, as I reached into my pocket, grabbing a few of the coins that I had. I placed them in his hand, and when our flesh touched, I received a jolt, which made me step back.
He looked at me with a smile, and said “You know, I probably don’t need this. Why don’t you give it to someone else who can use it?”
I looked at him perplexed, as he walked away. I settled in, at a small caf» on the corner. I never drank coffee, but if this was the last day of my life, then I might as well try it. The waitress looked tired and frail. As I sat quietly, I overheard the gentleman next to me, commenting on the slow service. I tried to ignore his remarks, but they only grew louder, as the waitress came back.
She took his order, and with a bewildered look said, “Honey, I will be with you in a moment.”
As she walked away, the gentleman looked at me and said “That will be more like 20 minutes.”
I shook my head and said “That might be, but at least we don’t have to get it ourselves.”
The man looked at me and his face broke into a smile. He extended his hand, as he offered his name. Again, I felt energy go through me, but he didn’t seem to notice. As the waitress brought out my coffee, the man told her that she could keep the change. I looked straight ahead, so as not to embarrass him if he’d left no tip.
As the man walked out the door, I caught a look from the waitress. She had a huge smile, and was shaking her head. I heard her mumble, “You just don’t know about some people.”
I asked her if everything was all right, and she said that he had left her a $50 bill, on a $5 order. I smiled, knowing that she probably needed the money more than he did.
As I made my way out of the caf», a younger man was walking towards me. He was attempting to count his money, though I could tell that he was having difficulties. By his slow speech, and his demeanor, I derived that he might be a little challenged. I noticed the folded single dollar bills that he was grasping in his hand — three to be exact. He was heading for the caf», with three dollars. It might be enough to grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut, but it was not enough for anything more. I reached into my pocket and grabbed a $5 bill. As he reached out for the door, he dropped his singles to the ground. I bent down and picked them up, mixing my money, with his. I smiled at him and said, “I think you dropped this.” I watched as he walked into the caf», recounting his money. His lips grew into a smile, and as he turned around, I waved and continued my walk downtown.
It had always been fascinating to me, how people could sleep in the shadow of a doorway, with seemingly no disturbance. I stopped, as I spotted a man huddled under a blanket, in front of a store. I felt the bills in my pocket, almost absent-mindedly, and concluded that he probably was in need of money, more than I did.
I walked towards him, and I saw him cower beneath the blanket.
“Stay away from me, I didn’t do nothing.”
I smiled and bent down, putting my hand on his shoulder. I felt a slight tingle, and lifted my hand off him. “You look like you could use a hot chocolate or coffee, this morning. It isn’t summer yet, you know.”
He smiled mawkishly, and said “Boy, I haven’t had that in a long time.”
“Well, coffee it is then.”
The man dug deep into his pocket, and I said, “Don’t worry. I will get it for you.”
He stammered, “Well I am not allowed in that McDonalds, they say that I am a bum.”
I smiled at him, and walked towards the restaurant. As I stood in line, I thought about how cruel it was, for people to have to live on the streets. No protection from the cold or rain, scarce food or drink. I got up to the counter, and asked for a large coffee.
The woman looked at me and said, “You donÌt normally order coffee.”
I smiled and said, “Well, the gentleman outside deserves a coffee.”
She looked at me confused and asked, “Are you talking about that bum that sleeps on the street?”
I said, “He isn’t a bum. He is just like you and me, only he is in need of a little help.”
She rolled her eyes, and said, “Is that what he told you?”
As I put the money in her hand, I saw her look at me startled. “You know what? Why don’t you let me get you a breakfast to go? I am sure he could use something like that.”
She came back with a bag filled with a sandwich and pancakes. She smiled and said, “Will you see to it, that he gets this?”
I thanked her for her kindness, and walked back towards my waiting friend. I handed him his coffee and said, “The lovely ladies have sent this out for you. They can’t make it a daily occurrence, but they wanted you to have it.”
I handed him the bag, and his eyes got wide as he searched its contents.
“Thank you ma’am,” he stammered. “No need to thank me,” I said, as I began back down the street, towards my car.
I drove down to my mother’s house, excited to see my sister, playing outside with her young son. I ran over and picked him up, giving him a kiss on the forehead. I talked with my sister, while we watched him play in the driveway. We rehashed old memories, of the things we used to do, of people we wished we had kept in touch with. I made my way inside, and talked with my brothers. We talked about baseball season, and about my brother’s new job. I went upstairs, and found my mom in her bedroom. I walked in, and shut the door.
“I knew you were coming,” she said, without even turning around.
“Why is that?” I asked.
She turned to me and smiled. “Did you watch the news this morning?”
I sat down, not knowing exactly what she had meant. “I watched the news this morning, why?”
She took a step closer, and sat down beside me. “I knew you would understand. You have always had that connection, even when you thought you didn’t.”
I shook my head and said, “But why me, why can I see, when other people can’t? Jen couldn’t even see it on TV this morning.”
My mom smiled at me and said, “That is your job to help her. You have so much kindness and love to share with the world. That is why you can see what is happening.”
I stammered, “But, Jen didn’t even believe me.”
She answered, “Speaking of Jen, don’t you have more work to do?”
I sighed and said, “I am scared mom, I mean I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what is going on.”
She brushed the hair out of my eyes and said, “What is done, is already done. Your job is to share your love, with those that matter most.”
I stood up, and gave her a kiss on the cheek, as she hugged me. “I love you, no matter what happens. I will always love you.”
She smiled and said, “I know.” I headed downstairs, and hugged my brothers and sister. As I left, I smiled, feeling confident that they were in good hands.
I began the long drive back home to Milwaukee. It was dark out, the moon barely peeking out from behind the clouds. I smiled, as I thought about seeing Jen. I began to reminisce about all the crazy things I had done or said. I remembered the first time that I had met her, how shy she was. In the middle of my thoughts though, I began to remember all the harsh words I had spoken, the fights I had caused. I pictured her sitting alone and crying, as she sometimes did, after we fought. Tears began to well up in my eyes, and I whispered, “I am sorry, I am so sorry.”
I couldn’t wait to get home, to talk to her, to explain what I had been through today. As I turned onto the last highway near our house, I noticed the taillights of the car ahead of me. They were pulled to the side of the road. I was so anxious to get home, that I didn’t want to stop. But as I passed by the car, the pit of my stomach dropped. I thought to myself, how would I feel if I was pulled over, and no one stopped to help me.
I put the car in reverse, and backed up. I go out, and began to approach the driver side door. I heard shots ring out, deafening the silent, still night. I felt a hot pain, pierce through my side. I staggered backwards, trying to maintain my balance. I covered my stomach with my hand, and as I took it away, blood dripped off my fingertips. My knees wanted to buckle, and I struggled to make my way back to the car. My hands slammed against the trunk, as I fell forward. My head hit the pavement, and my eyes, now glazed over, stared into the dark night sky. I heard screaming in the distance, but couldn’t see anyone. I struggled to keep my eyes open, as I heard the roar of police sirens. My last coherent thought was, “is this my final judgment?”
Lights — bright lights. I squint my eyes, trying to block them out. Where am I? I feel like I am floating, almost like I am weightless. I hear faint music in the background. Suddenly, I hear someone calling out my name. It echoes in my ears, as I try to place it. Keep saying it, I think. I will find you, as long as you keep calling me. I feel a strong hand on my shoulder, and I fight to see through the blinding light. As I squint, I make out a figure standing above me. I look closer and realize it is my father.
Dad, oh my god, you are here. Then it hits me, if he is here, then I am here too. I should be happy; because it means I am — but it also means I didn’t — I block those thoughts from streaming into my head. It is my dad; I haven’t seen him since he died.
Oh dad, I can’t believe it is you. I feel my mouth forming a smile, and I try to speak, but he puts his finger over my lips.
“Shh,” I hear him whisper.
I hear another voice in the background. The person is laughing. It is a laugh I have heard a hundred times. I strain to lift my head, and see my grandfather walking towards me. It is almost as if he is gliding, he gets there so quickly. A smile breaks across his lips, and then he looks at my father. Suddenly, their smiles fade, and they both look concerned. I try to speak, but I can’t seem to make a sound.
I see a tear forming in my dad’s eyes, and he pushes me backwards. Dad, what are you doing, I want to stay with you, dad, come on. Please let me stay. He whispered, “I love you,” as his fingertips, release from mine.
Instantly, everything is pitch black. Where am I now? Was I in heaven with my dad and grandpa? Suddenly I feel that same jolt as I did, when I touched the hand of the boy, on the TV screen. I feel like I am flying through the darkness. I hear familiar music the background, and when I open my eyes, I am back in my car. The clock reads 11:30 p.m., the same time it did before.
Wait, does that mean that I didn’t ÷ ? I turn onto the last highway near my house, and see those familiar taillights, on the side of the road. Instinctively I want to stop, but I keep driving by. I shudder at the thought of what could have happened if I had. I pull into the driveway, and fumble for the car keys. I run to the house, and open the door. The house is dark, where is Jen? I run up the stairs, and she is fast asleep in bed.
I shake her, anxious to wake her up. “You wouldnÌt believe what happened to me today, Jen you just wouldn’t believe it.”
She smiles at me, trying not to fall back asleep. “Really? Where were you all day? Your mom called, all worried.”
My mom called, I thought to myself.
That is strange. I just talked to her. I went down the stairs, and into the kitchen. I listened to the voice mail, and there was a message from my mom. She said, “I just wanted to call and say I love you. I am not sure if you are coming home this weekend, but if you are, please be safe. You never know who is on those highways.”
The message ended, and I heard silence. I sat down in the chair, wondering if my mom had known what would be happening, or if it was just a coincidence. Absent mindedly, I flipped on the TV. I had forgotten. It was almost midnight. I had yet to talk to Jen. I walked upstairs, and tripped over something on the ground, in front of the bed. I picked it up, and it was the Bible.
I laughed to myself, because I knew Jen would never read it, unless she had to. I didn’t even know we had a Bible in the house. I leaned over, and sat on the edge of the bed. I put my hand on her, and shook her lightly. She opened her eyes and said “Now what do you want?” Sounds just like my Jen. I looked at the alarm clock, which read 11:50pm. I crawled into bed next to her, and wrapped my arms around her.
“Honey, why are you being so weird tonight?”
I pressed my face into her back. “It has just been a really long day.” I paused, thinking about the Bible. “Did you know there was a bible on the floor?”
She said, “I don’t know where that came from. I was having this crazy dream, and when I woke up, I turned over and found it next to me.”
I looked at the Bible, and then back at.
“Do you remember the dream at all?”
She said, “It was really crazy. I dreamt that you were talking to your dad, and then I kept seeing this kid, everywhere I went.”
I immediately sat up and whispered, “Do you remember anything about that kid?”
She said “Come on, I am really tired. Why do you keep waking me up?”
I lay back down, perplexed by the notion that she could have actually known what was going on, without consciously realizing it. I watched as the clock crawled towards midnight, and then 12:01 and 12:02. I touched my own arm, and then Jen’s, to make sure that we were both still there. I laughed and shook my head. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen, at the stroke of midnight. I wasn’t even quite sure, that I understood what had happened to me at all. I crawled out of bed, careful not to wake Jen, and made my way back downstairs.
I replayed the voice mail from my mom. It perplexed me, how she could have known about the danger on the side of the road. I flipped on the TV, not expecting to see anything in particular. The late show was just ending. For good measure, I flipped through the other channels, to make sure that the world wasn’t in mass chaos. I laughed, and turned the TV off, dropping the remote onto the chair.
As I took a step towards the hallway, the TV clicked back on. I took a step backwards, and slowly turned my head, to find a breaking news report, being aired live. I looked closely, to see if I could make out what had happened. It looked as if someone had been shot, along the side of the highway. I peered at the TV, vividly remembering that same stretch of road. I fell back into the chair, shivering at the thought of what I had seen earlier. The medical workers were loading a body onto a stretcher. I could only it’s faint outline, stretched beneath a white sheet. I looked closely, as the camera panned across the scene. My mouth gaped in horror, as I saw my face. My heart dropped into my stomach, as my eyes slammed shut. The events of the day, raced through my mind — the homeless man, the caf», my own family members. This isn’t happening, it canÌt be happening, I prayed. I tried to yell, but I couldnÌt make a sound. My heart ached. I donÌt want to die, God, I donÌt want to die. I felt tears welling in my eyes, and I squeezed them even tighter.
What is done is already done. My mom’s words haunted me, as they rang hollow, in my ears. I opened my eyes, and stared at the TV. I didn’t die, I thought I had made it. I thought I had woken from that dream. The person on the stretcher slowly turned their head sideways. It was not me. It wasn’t my face. Oh my god, it was so much worse. It was the face of the little boy that I had seen throughout the day. I cried out, “No, why is it him, he didn’t do anything.”
His eyes burned through mine, the way they had when I saw him in the church. I shook my head, softly sobbing. “I am sorry, I am sorry, it shouldn’t be you.” He shut his eyes, and for a moment, I thought he had passed. As his eyes opened slowly, I noticed something reflecting light, from under the side of the sheet. I knelt down, leaning closer, so I could see it. His cross, it was his cross that was dangling from his neck. My eyes moved back to his face, and his lips pursed slightly, drawing the corners of his mouth into a faint smile. I saw his hand, move beyond the side of the stretcher. It rose up, palm facing me. I drew my own hand up, and placed it on the TV screen. Suddenly, the TV went blank. It had turned itself off.
I let my hand fall from in front of me, as tears began to stream down my face. Deep, cleansing sobs of joy, overwhelmed me. It was then, that I heard it. The words resonated again and again. “He, who believes, shall be saved.”
That little boy was the face of God. He had communicated with me, when I was in doubt. He had sacrificed his own life, so mine could be spared. I remembered my mom’s words. “It is because you understand, you have always had that connection, even when you thought you didn’t.”
God sacrificed his own son on the cross, so mankind could be saved. When I needed him most, he had shown me the way. God’s love took the form of that little boy, and as he lay on that stretcher; I was given a second chance. Tonight was my hour of judgment. However, it was not the end of the world, but the dawn of a new beginning.