This story is by Malcolm Allen and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Larry Redfern received two surprises upon his death. The first was that he died: he honestly had not seen nor heard the train that sped down the track as he stepped onto the level crossing, smashing into his body and killing him instantly. The second was that he remembered his death.
It was all quite clear to him. It hadn’t hurt at all; he supposed that the impact was so great, the damage to his body so extensive, and the shock of it all so much that he hadn’t time to register any pain. He was, simply, alive one instant and dead the next.
After he recovered from the surprise of his death, Larry’s next realisation was that he was thinking. And seeing. And somehow feeling and moving too. He wasn’t sure how that could be, but it occurred to him that there actually must be an afterlife, and he was in it. He supposed he must now be some sort of spirit form because he could see his body, lying where the train had thrown it after the mangling of the impact. It looked rather horrible to Larry; he’d never seen such awful injuries on any human before and there was blood everywhere. The pool of red around his body was much larger than he’d imagined would ever be possible, he hadn’t thought there could be so much blood in a human body. The train itself had stopped some distance down the tracks, having taken quite a while to slow from its breakneck speed, and the driver was shakily walking back to examine the scene.
Larry’s next idea was that if he was in the afterlife, obviously the stories were true. The religions of the world, those that espoused an afterlife at any rate, had got it right. All of it. He’d known it all along, had always been sure but now he had proof. Here was the proof. Larry’s thought then was that he wanted to meet his Creator.
For Larry, belief had started when he was just a boy. At age six his mother had taken him to church for the first time that he remembered; he had been before then but had no recollection of the events. The reason this visit to church stood out for Larry was the new preacher. The Reverend Thaddeus Hollander was a late middle-aged, fiery, Gospel-preaching evangelist whose implicit belief in everything Holy, as interpreted by him from his Christian Bible studies, informed his life and everything that he did.
That Sunday, The Reverend Hollander had been in fine form; he’d been telling his congregation about how God saw everything they did, heard everything they said, knew everything they thought. And he had looked directly at Larry, sitting next to his mother in the second row, and had repeated it: “Everything,” The Reverend had seemed to grow in stature behind his pulpit as he roared, “all you do, for all of your life. He knows you. Never doubt it!”
Larry’s eyes had widened, staring. He had sat higher in the pew and listened intently. He hadn’t understood much of the sermon, he wasn’t really sure what constituted sin or why earthly pleasures were sometimes – it sounded like a lot of the time – bad but he was willing to take it on face value that Reverend Hollander was telling him the Truth. Not the truth with a small “t” but some sort of deep, for-all-time, important and all-overriding Truth. A man of conviction like Reverend Hollander could not speak but with the authority of the Almighty, Larry thought, and the way he spoke His Word carried all the force of a soul-deep belief behind it.
After that, nothing would satisfy Larry except that he would go to Church every Sunday, to hear The Reverend Hollander preach. Larry began reading the Scriptures. A lot of what he read didn’t make sense to him at first, and his mother was well-intentioned in trying to answer his questions but unsophisticated in her own knowledge and understanding, and not much help to him. As the years went on and Larry read and re-read the Bible, gradually he began to figure it out and interpret it in his own terms. He especially liked the ideas that poor people would make good, and often daydreamed about how that could happen for him.
Sometimes he would visit to ask Reverend Hollander about the meaning of parts of the Bible when he couldn’t work it out on his own. By the time Larry was twelve, he and The Reverend were as close as a middle-aged preacher and a twelve-year old boy could be, and Larry and his mother were a frequent fixture at The Reverend and Mrs Hollander’s house for dinner. In the absence of his own father, long departed by the time Larry’s first sermon memory had formed, The Reverend became something of a part-time replacement to Larry. That Reverend Hollander drove a very nice car and lived in a very nice house in a very nice neighbourhood didn’t escape Larry’s attention.
About the time that Larry was thirteen, Reverend Hollander asked him if he would like to try teaching the youngsters in the Sunday school group. He was keen to help Reverend Hollander to mould younger, less-informed minds into the Way of The Lord and he took to the task with gusto. During his first year instructing Sunday school Larry found that, with just a small amount of intimidation, the children would pay well for good reports of their Scripture knowledge to their parents. Only occasionally would one need a little more encouragement.
By the time Larry was in his mid-twenties he was regularly taking sermons for Reverend Hollander when the now-old man wasn’t up to it. It had been a revelation to Larry when he began preaching, that with just a bit of fire in his manner and conviction in his voice, he could make not just a living doing this but that he could make a very good living indeed. He soon made plans to expand his horizons and his preaching beyond what Tad Hollander had been able to teach him.
In his early thirties, Larry already had a nationwide congregation that he reached primarily through his syndicated TV show. He was a millionaire many times over in personal wealth and he controlled an organisation that pulled in nearly a billion dollars every year. Larry personally saw to it that even his lowliest and poorest followers gave something, and often more than they really could afford, at every opportunity he gave them. And he gave them many opportunities.
After their nine years of concealing an increasingly-antagonistic marriage, Larry’s first wife tragically drowned, disappearing during an evening party on his palatial yacht while they holidayed off the coast of Sardinia. Without a body, the Coroner left her verdict open at the inquest. Larry’s public grief was inconsolable for almost three years although the numerous girlfriends he invited home helped greatly to soothe his bereavement in private.
Larry was fifty-four when he decided to tour the country with one of his current mistresses – he had convinced his second wife not to travel so late in her pregnancy – to fundraise for another airplane. This one was to be a very fast private jet because he needed to travel quickly to visit many of his congregations and be back in time to screen the next show. It was then that he decided to take the fateful walk to look at the small bushland at the edge of town, stepped off the pavement onto the level crossing, and died.
The clarity of his vision was remarkable, Larry thought as he walked. “Walked?” he wondered. Since he had no body how could he walk? Or see without eyes? Yet he did both. Although perhaps he wasn’t walking so much as simply moving. There was no directedness to where he was going, he realised, he merely wanted to go to God, and he knew that was where he went. And there was a light, that too was true, and it was toward it that he moved.
Somehow the grass, the trees, the railroad that had taken his life, seemed to fade into a hazy distance even as he moved across them. He was still seeing clearly but all around was becoming indefinite except for an immensity just coming into view through the light. It resolved into a huge being, a man apparently, and the words came to Larry as if spoken, but unspoken, “you will become part of me. Your base being will become unto my glorious being.” Larry hurried forward in his anticipation.
And the man-likeness that Larry stared at changed into a demonic figure of colossal proportions, reached out to hold Larry and tear his formless soul apart, rending him into pieces, and swallowing the parts of Larry’s soul as he screamed in his unbearable pain, his anguish, and his terror.