This story is by Janine K. Bryant and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Long and Winding Road.
They stood one behind the other. Silently. Except for the screams which pierced the emptiness. It was a queue of finality. A snaking line of hopelessness and helplessness, stretching further back than the eye could see. Silent tears tracked down the faces of many. A waterfall of regret. If only …
There were no offerings of comfort. The air was rent with fear and solitude. Young children were ushered away by guards, they were exempt from this terrifying experience.
The old man stood behind a young, scantily dressed woman. Her clothing barely covered her voluptuous body. The lighting was dim, but the man could see beads of sweat on the back of her shapely neck below her roughly sculptured hair. Her body wracked with noiseless sobs. He wanted to comfort her, but it was too late. What could he say?
The sequence of people stepped forward in staggered unison. One step closer to their final destination.
Graham looked behind him and saw that the line seemed to be getting longer by the minute. Somebody from far back waved to him, he returned the silent acknowledgement with a nod of his head.
“Keep facing the front!” one of the guards yelled in his face.
‘I did not sign up for this’ he thought to himself as he turned to face the back of the sobbing woman. The smell of death hung low in the air, permeating every cell. Graham had encountered the end of life many times before. But not like this. Never his own. He recognised the smell. It was like rotting flesh and faeces mixed together.
He should have been on his way to Wales with his family. He should have been enjoying a break in a beautiful holiday cottage accompanied with sunshine and fishing and golf. He realised it would be a long time before he saw his beloved family again. He began to hum We’ll meet again. Don’t know where don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
He wondered if this was how everybody entered the afterlife. It brought back memories of the Nazis herding the Jews on to the trains to transport them to the death camps.
It was one year ago to the day that Graham had been recording a teaching about the invisible world. The spiritual life that is usually hidden but is far more real than the seen world. The church was empty except for the few essential masked volunteers. A tiny virus had made it unsafe for the spiritually knowledgeable and the God seekers to meet together. It was now a law that no more than thirty people could congregate in the place of worship. Everybody had to wear a mask and no singing was allowed. No touching or hugging or shaking of hands was permitted. The evil cosmic powers were laughing. They thought they had prevented God’s people from praising and thanking Him for all He had done. In fact the opposite was true. God had protected His people and there were so many people looking for the answers to life and trying to find the Saviour of the World. Many who would find it difficult to attend an actual church service had begun to watch the house of worship on their phone or laptop. Young couples with children and shift workers and people of other faiths were all seeking the Truth. So many families and singletons had been touched by the angel of death. It had caused many people to stop in their tracks and really assess their meaningless lives.
Graham had been a main advocate in telling people that the only way to ensure a place in heaven is to seek out God and all that He has done for us. He surpassed all his rivals in this cause. He could not contemplate the long, dark snaking line of people waiting to be sentenced to an eternity in hell. He had sacrificed his life to spreading the good news that God forgives and loves us so much He sent His one and only son to die for us. His main aim in life was to see people snatched from the eternally damned file to those who have been given a passport to heaven.
Now Graham stood in the incessant line, waiting to be judged. He contemplated how he had laid down his life on earth for this very cause. He questioned himself if it had been detrimental to his family life and decided that it probably had, but he would not have wanted to live this life any other way. The other love of his life, Ruth would have agreed with him. She had stood with him all of their married life. She encouraged him and tended to his wounds when the criticism and hatred penetrated his sensitive heart. When Satan sent his evil commanders the couple stood back to back and fought the onslaught together. When Graham was tired, his loving wife lifted his arms and supported their weight as he stood in the gap between heaven and hell. They were an impermeable team, until he made that unforgivable mistake. Then everything changed.
Graham suddenly became aware of the young girl behind him. He could feel her body trembling, they were forced to stand so close to each other. Her skin was deathly pale and her eyes were devoid of all life. The only things that remained were fear and despair. Graham glanced at the ligature burns around her neck and swiftly realised what she had done to herself.
“It was a mistake!” The young girl tried to speak through her convulsive gasps.
“I was just having a really bad day. I didn’t mean to end my life!” Her eyes were black with smudged mascara which her tears had spread in ever depleting track lines down her face.
Graham reached back and grabbed her hand in an attempt to comfort her. Nobody could have guessed the calling on his life. His clothes did not give a clue to his past or his future. His jeans were fashionably distressed as was his t-shirt. He certainly did not wear old men’s clothes. The only jewellery he wore was his wedding ring. The covenant between two lovers. The never-ending circle of commitment. Ruth wore an identical but diminutive band of gold.
They stepped forward towards the judgment table which was now visible in the distance.
“Try not to worry. I am with you.” His words did not offer much solace. The impending doom was overwhelming.
The line marched forward. Step by step. It would soon be over. The pastor began to pray under his breath. “I am so sorry Lord. Please forgive me.” He bowed his head in shame.
The demons were laughing at his demeanour. How the mighty had fallen!
Graham had spent many hours trying to release his friend Billy from the clutches of death. He had morphed into an unrecognisable alcoholic junkie.
The stunningly beautiful worship leader had gone after Graham with a barbed hook. He felt she was irresistible and was flattered that she obviously found him to be attractive. The dalliance was short lived. Graham came to his senses and begged Ruth for forgiveness. This led to him being unable to sleep, which he tried to combat with drugs generously donated by Billy. He was in a desperate state. Unable to function. He turned his back on God and ran in the opposite direction. As he wrestled the powers and principalities for his friend he got caught in the same trap of deceit and lies. It was like quantum entanglement and he just could not fight his way to freedom on his own. He was too ashamed to ask for help.
The queue moved forward another step.
Graham had given his life to serving God. He could be contacted at every hour of the day and night. His boundless love and energy amazed his friends. He was often called in the middle of the night to pray for somebody or to minister the last rights or just to hold somebody’s hand as they slipped into eternity.
Now here he was in that very sequence of people which he had saved many people from. Waiting to be judged.
He stepped up to the table and spoke out his name and date of birth. The dark, austere guard frowned as he tried to find Graham’s name in the books. Then he inputted the data into the computer, growing increasingly agitated.
“I can’t find this man’s name in the computer!” The guard was incandescent. The other demons started searching for Graham’s name.
At that precise moment, a voice from behind lit up the whole damp, dark atmosphere.
“He is mine!” The voice echoed in the vacuum above the people. The guards who were standing sat down.
“Come with me Graham.” Jesus spoke softly and his words were like soothing ointment on a deep, open wound.
“You are in the wrong place. Your name is in the book of heaven.”