This story is by Wade Flaming and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bart chuckled. To outside observers, the sound of aircraft tires spinning up as they touched the tarmac sounded like a kid burning rubber, but here in the cabin, only a rough “thump.”
San Diego in May felt like a perfect mixture of spring and summer. He and Jared had started their business trip early to enjoy a San Diego weekend.
After checking into their Shelter Island hotel, they walked along the Shelter Island shoreline. Many others were there. Families with children, college students, couples, people on roller blades.
Looking out over the bay filled with sailboats, they saw an aircraft carrier coming into port.
“It’s huge!” exclaimed Jared, using his phone to record it passing by, its deck towering over the two tugboats being used to guide it.
“Won’t be the same on video,” said Bart. “Nothing ever is.”
“Yeah, but it’s the next best thing,” said Jared.
The best thing, thought Bart, would be to convince Jared of his dangerous situation, a danger he didn’t know or care about. Bart knew Jared had no interest in spiritual things. Oh, Jared knew about God, but when a conversation turned to those areas, he’d feign interest, then change the subject.
As the downtown buildings silhouetted the carrier, Bart said, “You know, carriers have changed little from what you see in the books, at least not from the outside.”
Jared shook his head, “Books bore me. Movies are better, more real life.”
He held up his phone, playing the video he’d recorded, “a book would never do that justice. Not like a video.”
Bart nodded, “From a visual perspective, I agree with you. But from a private perspective, no. For example, do you know what any of those men are thinking? Or the captains of the tugs? Or what’s going on anywhere you can’t see on the surface?”
Jared eyed him, “No, but we don’t know that now either.”
“Aha! Exactly! And that, my friend, is something you would only get in books. That’s one reason I’ll take a book over a movie any day. Makes going there easier too.”
Jared squinted at Bart. Going there? What was up with that? Mentally or physically? Bart sometimes used phrases that could have two different meanings.
They’d reached the end of the path and turned back.
“You mean going there in your mind? You do that while watching a movie too.”
Bart was shaking his head, holding up his hand.
“I mean physically.”
Okay, thought Jared, this is getting weird. Freaky weird. He changed the subject.
That evening the two of them ate at a seafood restaurant by the Embarcadero. Afterwards, they began exploring the little shops.
It was at a souvenir shop that Bart saw his opportunity.
“He really died,” he said as they gazed at some figurines, one of which was of Jesus on the cross. “And I have to tell you, the way they portray it today isn’t anywhere near reality.
“The movie The Passion of the Christ comes closest, but even then you don’t hear everything, or smell it, or feel the temperature of the air.”
“You sound like you were actually there,” Jared teased.
“I was. I went back and saw.”
Jared rolled his eyes. Bart was going off into the “travel inside a book” route again. He saw Bart shudder.
“I wish, sometimes, that I hadn’t,” Bart stared out over the bay, seeing, but not really seeing it.
Jared said, “There are many places I’d rather go than to see a man being crucified. Even if that were possible.”
“I wanted proof,” said Bart. “I’ve never recovered from seeing what really happened. I saw him hanging there, in between the other two.
“You might compare it to a horror movie, but this was far worse. It was real. And people that say he didn’t die,” Bart shook his head slowly, “do not understand what they’re talking about.”
Jared’s mind fluttered. Bart really believed this fantasy of going places described in books. But it was impossible. No one could one go back in time. Or rise from the dead. Time and death. Those were bounds every person had to accept. Death, in fact, was the ultimate boundary. That was it. Over. No second act. No repeat performance.
Bart thought back to what he’d seen. It had been brutal. Ugly. Bloody. Jesus hadn’t even looked like a man. Too weak to carry his own crossbeam. The two thieves carried theirs, but someone else carried the one they used for Jesus.
He’d heard the cruel taunts from those well-dressed leaders. They wanted him dead, and were mocking him, just like he’d read in the Bible.
The soldiers didn’t care. They were playing a game that looked like dice, and the elated winner received the bloody robe that Jesus had been wearing.
And the nails? Spikes would be a better description. He remembered turning aside and almost retching. He couldn’t watch as they drove the spikes into Jesus’ body, nailing him to the cross.
He’d stuck it out though and had felt goosebumps run up his back and neck when he heard Jesus’ scream. He knew from what he’d read that it meant, “It is finished!”
He hadn’t expected to hear a shout like that. He could see the soldiers hadn’t either. It wasn’t a scream of anguish so much as a roar of triumph. And then, it had been obvious, he’d died. It was as if he’d been in control the whole time.
He’d watched the hardened soldiers break the legs of the men on the outside. And then jab open the side of Jesus instead of breaking his legs.
He’d seen them take away Jesus’ body and put it in a cave. Then an entire group of soldiers standing guard around the cave.
Realizing he’d been talking the entire time, Bart looked at Jared.
To Jared it had sounded very much like a bad dream. Those could seem real, he’d had them too.
“You’re putting a lot of confidence in this religious experience of yours,” he said.
Bart nodded, “I went back there again on Sunday, I wanted to see the empty tomb. And yes, it was the same cave. Nobody there.”
He gazed at Jared, “He did it. It really happened. Everything matched up with what it says in the Bible! He’s the one person who defeated death.”
He saw Jared appeared to be unconvinced.
“You know how death seems to be the end?” Bart asked.
“It’s really not. It’s the beginning of an eternity of being grateful or miserable about whether one accepted the gift offered. Accepted in this life, now.
“For the person who rejects Jesus’ offer, the meaning of eternity becomes far too horrendous to even contemplate. Jesus rejects them for all eternity. Forever. Separated from all that is good. Can you imagine? Boundless regret and endless torture?
“Alternatively, changing one’s mind now and believing in Jesus results in boundless joy for all eternity, together with him.”
He fixed his eyes on Jared, “Either way, it’s forever. Boundless joy. Or boundless suffering.”
Jared studied Bart and saw the certainty in his eyes. It sounded legit. Jared bit his lip, then leveled with Bart, “Something this serious I can’t trust to a dream.”
“You don’t have to. That’s why he’s told you himself, in his word, the Bible. And you know what? He says those who believe he died for them and rose again, even though they haven’t seen him, are blessed. The question is, will you trust him?”