Sooner or Later

Here is a short story that I wrote four years ago.  While I feel I’ve become much better as a writer, I refrained from modifying it at all so as to maintain its original integrity.  In respect for your time, I also want to inform you that it’s 3,079 words in length, or eight single-spaced word pages.  Enjoy.

“Sooner or Later”

I was next in line… I didn’t know what I was in line for; I just knew that my turn was coming and that I didn’t have a choice in leaving or not.  Only feet ahead of me was a door, it was rustic and droll, boring beyond all imagination, but the strangest feeling flowed from beyond it.  Something unbelievably massive was on the other side and I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out what.  With a quick glance over my shoulder I saw a line of people that stretched further back than my eyes could make out.  We were waiting, but I don’t believe that any of us knew what we were waiting for. I looked into some of their eyes, but they didn’t seem to notice me, their attention too strongly fixated on the door that they had no choice but to pass through.

A being robed in glowing vibrant colors of blue and white stood to my side; he too, made no eye contact, nor would he answer any questions that I posed to him.

He simply opened the door…

With a grace beyond understanding, the ethereal being slid its hand around the door handle and turned it slowly.  It walked past me, opening the door as it moved.  An elegant curtsey and he ushered me inside.

My throat caught as I took several reluctant steps through the mouth of the passage into a void of darkness.  The pace of my heart quickened as the door closed behind me, but out of shock and fear I didn’t move, stationary in an ocean of blindness.

After a moment, I saw a sliver of flickering in the distance; a minute sparkle that rapidly exploded into an expanse of light.  The darkness had nowhere to retreat to and was dispelled before this magnificent brilliance.

I slammed my eyes shut; they burned as if I had stared for hours upon the sun’s majesty.  Only a moment later did my eyes force themselves open, and they burned no more.  But where was once a span of formless light now stood three entities.  Two, similar to the being that had ushered me in, were found kneeling beside a third, much more fantastic figure.

Between them, and directly in front of me, facing me, was majesty countless echelons greater than any sun or star.  He shone with a unique luminosity, a face seemingly of gold and garments of a white so pure that one would think the threads were light itself.  And His eyes…they were the deepest, richest blue I had ever seen.  I was positive that in no imagination was there anybody or anything as beautiful as Him.

He towered over both I and those that kneeled beside Him, but something told me that He was far larger than this; restricting himself only for the sake of my comprehension.

His arms rested to His sides and grasped in one hand was an immense red book, the words ‘Book of Knowledge’ laced on the cover with golden thread.

He opened his mouth to speak and a scent of sweet fragrance washed over me.  I breathed it in, my heart and mind seeming to open up and my chest feeling light.  But I knew not what He would do or what He would say…and that frightened me.

He called my name.

A voice that angels would envy flowed from his lips, so gentle but full of authority; it kissed my flesh with its elegance.

“Do you know who I am?”  He asked me.

His voice made me shake.  I nodded hastily, a solid affirmation of who spoke to me.  There was no doubt by now, this was, and could only be, the God of Everything.

“Do you truly?  Why then do you tremble at my voice?”

My heart skipped a beat and I could feel my legs weaken, but I knew…I knew I had to speak, to say something, “I- I am just…I’ve never experienced anything with such grandeur.  Your Presence is overwhelming.”

He paused for a moment, as if examining my words; but he showed no sign of confusion or puzzlement.  “My child, do you know why you are here?”

My child? The words felt good, a splash of water in my face, it felt wonderful.  But unfortunately, I did not like my answer, “I do not, Lord.”

“This is the passing of one stage of life to another, an eternal life.  This is the Judgment.  Do you now know why you are here?”  Unlike everyone I’ve met thus far, not only did he lock eye-contact with me, but it was unrelenting.  I could go nowhere to escape his soul-penetrating gaze.

My tongue felt numb and heavy, a clump of useless led in my mouth.  I felt like I should be confident, but before a presence so phenomenal and perfect in essence I could do nothing but feel as I was, what I was…inferior.

“To be judged.”  It didn’t come out like a question; it came out like acid; the words spilling out of my mouth as I began to lose my stability and focus.

His response was no more than a subtle nod.  He raised the crimson book closer to his golden face and cracked open its pages with a slide of hand.  Cupping it in His open palm, words made their way between his lips as He read its contents…

“Do you confirm or deny that you are guilty of sin?”  He asked with a firm but smooth tone of voice.

I hesitated for a breath before answering, “Of course I have, I am just a man, we all-,”

“Do you confess that you have not believed in me and my power?”  This question carried more force and command.  “Do you confess?”

Weight fell upon my shoulders and my knees quaked.  I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t pull myself away from His eyes.  They were a reflection of emotions, they flooded me and I couldn’t think.  All that I was began to shrink as His eyes and mine burrowed into one another.  They were full of pain, suffering, and even deeper…a great sadness.

What have I done?

In that moment I felt a brace cuff my wrist.  My eyes cut down towards it.  It was connected by many chain links that led to nowhere.  With a dry mouth I uttered sloppily, “Yes, I-,”

Only now did I notice that on all sides stood beings like the first, clothed in robes of splendor and light.  These were the Heavenly Hosts.

An audience…

Suddenly my heart wavered and I felt the chills overcoming me as countless eyes bore into my core.  “Please, stop…”

“Do you confess yourself to be a liar and thief?”

The question caught be off guard, “N-No! Well, I don’t know…maybe there was this one time…”

“How about a murderer, a taker of lives?”

I felt exposed, naked before the onslaught of questions.

“My Lord, I…” My heart began to falter and tears slowly began to well as all of my life rushed through my mind, flashes of instances where I did what I knew was not right.

Another cuff snatched me up by my other wrist and by an unseen force, the chains pulled tight, pulling my arms above my head and to the sides, spread-eagle.  It did not hurt, but it definitely was not comfortable.

The light pooled around my legs like a mist.  A soft brush against my bare feet sent a relaxing sensation through me.  I have hurt Him.  I was hurting Him even when I didn’t know…

“Upon this moment do you confess that you brought down your fellow man and did not raise him up?”  The Lord asked of me.

I swallowed as the recollections of me walking past a homeless man, paying his need no mind, made its way through my head.  Also did I see fellow students at my school, which, through cruel injustice and isolation, sat alone at lunch…ignored. Alienated. Unimportant.

I paid them no mind, because I was no better than the next person to pass them by.  Where was my heart back then?  Why did I let it get so far from me?

“I could have helped them…talked to them,” I cried softly, “Anything…”

“Do you confess that you have been ignorant of those around you, folded into yourself and cold-hearted?”  His voice fell, still beautiful, but sorrowful.  I looked up to His face; His eyes were upon the text of the ‘Book of Knowledge’.

Then it crossed my mind…did it have everything about me in that book?  The realization made me shake more.  “I am guilty.” I pleaded.

There was silence before He spoke again, “Do you confess that you have envied your neighbors household?  Or do you deny the jealousy you’ve had towards many people throughout your life, being ill-content with what I’d blessed you with?”  I knew that He didn’t like saying the words any more than I liked hearing them.  Not only was my heart breaking, but so was His.

“I…am.”  I bobbed my head in shame, “Please forgive me.”

“Do you confess of having a sharp tongue and being swift to anger?  Do you confess that in your wrath you judged and demeaned those in your life, and that you sowed seeds of bitterness between you and they?”

Many memories came to mind, but I shook them off, not wanting to reflect on the foolishness of my actions.  Ignoring the half-hearted revelation towards my twenty-twenty hindsight, I simply bobbed my head slowly.

And so it continued for a time seemingly eternal… My actions and thoughts were being brought to the surface in the presence of all these magnificent hosts.  My gluttony, my shame, my hatred, how I slandered his name and had cursed that of the world, and with each one that passed, a new chain would vice me, exposing me for who I was and placing me under the bondage of my choices.  My heart was distraught and my soul was clouded with disgrace…

…but He still hadn’t mentioned those which I feared the most…

“And my child,” He slowed down, waiting for me to look at Him, something could be seen deeper in His eyes, something troubling, “do you confess that you have disrespected and lusted after those that I trusted you not to?  And do you confess that your host of prides have often blinded you to the reality of what was around you?”  He seemed to choke on the words as he read them and my heart slowly tore as the countless thoughts burned through my mind and soul.

I had nothing that I could say, too ashamed to even face Him any longer…

One final white-hot chain slammed into my back and twisted itself into my spine.  A blinding pain screamed through my body, but not even the slightest utterance left my mouth.  I was too deserving to even complain or deny that this pain belonged to me.

My body went limp, all remaining strength eluded me.  I now faced my fate.  Not only had I received this punishment, but I knew in my heart that at times throughout my life, I had asked for it.  I was guilty of all He had said, every last word of it…

I cried before the Lord, my tears landing in the beautiful light beneath my feet.  I didn’t deserve to be here, I desecrated this place, this wonderful, beautiful kingdom with my humanity.  I didn’t deserve any of this, I didn’t-

…And warmth flooded my heart as I felt a pair of gentle arms slowly wrap themselves around me, the chains immediately melting into nothingness.  My weak body fell into the embrace of whoever it was that held me as I caught a glance of God smiling back at me, tears also flowing from His eyes.  A strong outpouring of love and safety settled over me as the arms pulled me tight, “Don’t worry,” I heard a soft voice speak, “I’ve got you.”

I turned my head to see the Son’s face, and more hot tears poured down my face as I looked into eyes of true love.  He too, was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen, and he was right here…with me now…when I needed Him the most, He didn’t abandon me.

Time was irrelevant as I rested in His arms, before He finally released me and stepped forward towards the Father, the God of Everything.  “Father,” He spoke.

Jesus turned and looked me in the eye, unwavering.  “Though your child may have done all that you have said, they did much more than has been spoken as well.”  Jesus smiled a large, cheerful smile.  “Eager to be humble, reaching out a hand to those who needed help, giving up what was theirs for something bigger than themselves…

“Your child, my friend, tried their very hardest to make you proud and do what they knew would make you happy.  They were a teacher to those that you put in their life, they resisted temptation the best they could and when they failed they turned to me and asked for help and forgiveness.”

I began to smile and weep more as Jesus, my best friend, continued, “Pushing themselves to develop the gifts that you had blessed them with, being thankful for everything in their life and holding fast to keep your commands are all things that are very precious in their heart.  They loved and cared about everybody.  Even those that hurt them they loved.”

“And ultimately, they knew of what it was that I had done for them, and from the depths of their heart they asked me to forgive their sins and for my help in dedicating everything they had to give to you for the rest of their lives.”

Jesus came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, “And as it is, every time they felt overwhelmed or their heart was burdened, they turned to me out of love and asked for my help, as I promised I would give them.”  He kissed my forehead.  “This among other reasons, Father, is why I ask you now to celebrate and receive your child into our kingdom.”

I buried my head into His chest and wept tears of joy…

this was love and kindness.  “Thank you.”  I breathed.

“It is okay, I love you so much…I would do it all again if I had to,”  He pulled me in tight again, “But thankfully, my friend, that won’t be necessary.”

“My child,”  I heard God speak to me.  Slowly I turned from Son to the Father and saw the smile on His face as He tore a page from the large Book of Knowledge and threw it into an endless blank whiteness behind him.

“What did He just do?”  I asked Jesus.

“He threw it into the Sea of Forgetfulness.  Your sins are forgotten.”

Those words were so enlightening that I felt like I could fly if I tried…and for some reason, I felt like in a little while I was going to get the chance.  I sheepishly smiled at the thought…

“Come to me.”

And I did so.  He bent down to me and with a soft tap on my head, an incandescent glowing cloud of diamond dust appeared.

“Your crown,” He declared with the pride of a father.

I was literally bouncing with vibrant joy, my smile surely from ear to ear with all the happiness and love in my soul.

A gate formed behind him where the Sea of Forgetfulness once was, a gate of such astounding grandeur that I could hardly contemplate its size.  It opened to a brilliant majestic new world beyond the most vivid of wonderful dreams.

“Enter the Kingdom of God.”  Jesus gestured me inside and I went with glee.  A small dove flew through the door and landed on my shoulder.  “May the Spirit guide you.”

The dove nuzzled my neck and flew a few paces ahead of me, beckoning me into the Kingdom.  I turned to God and Jesus, wondering…

“No worries,” Jesus answered before I asked, “we are always with you, you will see us again soon.”

I simply nodded and ran through the gates, which began to close behind me.  I caught a brief glimpse of another person walking through the first door that I had come through, a look of confusion just as I had not long ago.

What will their fate be?

The Spirit led me past a beautiful creek of lightly rushing water, small children splashing about in its peaceful tranquility.  It lead me past breath-taking green hills and exuberantly colorful gardens with both people and angels tending to them, obviously enjoying themselves with the large pearly whites that were always at full spread.  In fact, I didn’t pass a single person that didn’t seem to have anything but joy on their features.   People waved to me as I passed by, I even met some new people that I had a feeling I would get to know very well with my time here.  It then occurred to me that they were worshipping God!  They were thankful and happy with what they were given, this wonderful paradise.  In all that you say and do, you can worship the Lord.

After passing much more, the Spirit lead me to a large house in a magnificent kingdom…

And I was greeted by all of the friends and relatives that left before me.  I ran up and gave them all great big hugs.  “We’re so glad to see you!”  They declared as I embraced each one of them.  “We promised we’d wait for you outside of the home that you’d be living.”

“M-my home?”  I asked only to know that I was right.

The Spirit landed on my shoulder again, and I felt its love flow through my body.

This is where I belonged, this was my home.  Here with everybody I loved, with the Spirit, with God…

And I couldn’t be more thankful to the man who gave it all so that I may be where I am right now because sooner or later you have to think about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.  I opened the door to my humble abode and stepped into a new life, joyful and eternal, excited to see and experience everything that God had readied for us.  His children whom He loves.

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Her Name Was Clementine

I recently had the opportunity to acquaint myself with a wonderful little girl named Clementine.  We didn’t have much time together, but what little we did share was a blessing.  Clem is only eight years old and spent her entire life growing up in rural Georgia.  Both smart and reliable, she thought school was a cinch.  Instead of doing what other children do nowadays like play with dolls or watch television, Clem instead chose to act out fantastic make-believe stories from her tree-house.  She had a pet hamster that she told me on one occasion got out of its cage and ate half a box of cookies by the time she found it the next morning.  Clementine is earnest, considerate, playful, and she’s sincerely loved by both of her parents.

When I met her she was wearing a baseball cap given to her by her father as a birthday present.  This seemed to be the most important thing in the world to her.  I wish I could tell you every small detail about Clem, but I will save you the time and afford you the opportunity to find out for yourself.  You see, Clementine isn’t real.  Clem is a character from Telltale Studio’s “The Walking Dead”.  Not the television series that appears on AMC, mind you, though both crop up from the same graphic novel series.  What’s more, this adaptation of The Walking Dead is a videogame.

That last statement would be a turnoff to some, but I plead that you stay and listen a while.  Since starting college four years ago, I haven’t really had much time for videogames, but I do still play a little bit.  Until college, that was just about my only hobby, so I have had my share of experience with the activity.  But here I am, one week after having completed this ‘game’ called The Walking Dead, and I feel almost obligated to share something.  The following four days after completing the game, nearly 80 percent of my thoughts had been held captive by this little girl, and her relationship with a man named Lee Everett, who acts as her guardian.  This has never happened before.  Never have I been so emotionally enraptured by characters from any story, let alone a videogame.  One might consider this obscene, perhaps a little ridiculous, but I am in a position where I am inclined to share about this.  I feel responsible to do so.

IF YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE INTEREST IN PLAYING THIS GAME, PLEASE STOP NOW AS THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

I must lead by saying that no words I share with you will be able to do any sort of justice to the authentic and sympathetic nature of this game.  In TWD, you play as the aforementioned ‘Lee Everett’, a man convicted of murdering a state senator who held an affair with his wife.  Lee (or, rather, you) was on his way to prison when things went haywire.  To save on the details, shortly after this, you become injured and find yourself in the care of a little girl that was hiding in the upstairs of her house, alone.  This is Clementine.

From there you begin to bond with her.  People come, people go, and the sort of grim adversity you would expect to find in a realistic zombie story sets a dark and melancholic tone for your world.  All the while, you are trying to help Clem find her parents, who were out of town when the Walkers cropped up.  The story forces you to make stressful psychological decisions, usually on only a couple seconds of notice.  There’s one dilemma I remember well.  Your party is short on food, and it’s on your shoulders which three of the eight or nine people in your group get to eat that day.  You know how hard it is to choose people over one another, knowing that everybody is observing and will change their opinion of you accordingly?  Even with unreal characters?  It’s quite tough.

What’s more, Clementine is always watching, always looking to you as a model for behavior.  Clem sees whenever you choose to spare a life or take it, she modifies her language depending on the words you say, to an extent she adopts your mindset, and so much more.  On top of this, she remembers it.  When the party wants to take food from an abandoned vehicle, she demonstrates that she feels it is wrong and that somebody might still come back for it.  You then have to choose whether you care about what she has to say or not, and because I couldn’t bear to do wrong before her or convince her that we weren’t stealing, I stood off to the side with her, holding her hand while everybody else scavenged the vehicle.

I am empathetic by nature.  For many years I have also aspired to be a father, and have entertained many dreams where that has come to pass.  Looking at Lee and Clementine in this world, I became deeply absorbed into their relationship.  As Lee, I’m a man that has murdered and deserve very little sympathy, despite the underlying causes of my actions.  My reasons do not matter.  I did this.  When my route to the prison was diverted and I was left alone, without family or friends, I found a bundle of innocence worth protecting.  She was not my daughter, and I was not her father, yet somehow we cared for each other in such a way.  I could not lie to her, I could not hurt her.  And in the end, I never had to tell her that I loved her, because I’d spent our entire time together showing her.

Clementine is a child, with childish naivety, (like when curiosity drove her to lick a cow’s salt-lick), but she’s not a fool.  Clem is not snobby, she is patient, she’s not oblivious, she is intelligent.  She knows that most consider me a bad man and that I’ve hurt people before, but she does not hold that against me.  Clem tries to understand me, and ultimately trusts me.  How could I undermine that by being anything other than the best I can be in a world that doesn’t expect you to be merciful or kind?

The final scene of the game is so powerful and emotionally connected on a personal level that I’m not even going to try and speak of it here.  But the implications of it were enough to jostle me awake in the morning and keep me up at night for days after.

If even just a little bit, Clem and Lee changed my life.  I can love a little better, now.  I owe it to them to be inspired by their boldness and compassion.  This might seem kind of unfair, but should I ever have a daughter (Lord willing), I would be a terribly blessed soul if she was half as wonderful as Clementine.  My heart has been further tempered to share a father’s love, and to not withdraw it from others just because they might not be my natural-born family.  When things are that bad for somebody, things like genealogies and biology don’t matter, just sharing yourself and doing all that you can to protect them are what matter.  Maybe a tired notion, but only if we let it be so.  I still believe in the strength of humanity and our potential to add up to something greater than ourselves.  So, Telltale, thank you for sharing with me the lives of these characters and letting me take part in their story.  I recommend that any inspiring father play this game, or anybody that enjoys an immersing, compelling story.  Thanks for listening.

I’m going to miss you, Clementine.