Charles Perry was basking in the late afternoon sunshine. What a day it had been. The temperature was in the mid 80’s, (perfect in his opinion), azure colored sky and a gentle breeze. He and his wife, Colleen, had just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary with a trip to the Bahamas. Two weeks of swimming in the ocean in the morning, lazing on the beach in the afternoon and having excellent dinners at night. But his favorite part was the walks and talks they took on the beach at sundown. The intimacy they shared on those walks was incredible. He was more in love with her now than he’d ever been. Now he was taking pleasure in the fact that his life, for all intents and purposes, was perfect.
They had two children, Thomas & Mary. Thomas had married his high school sweetheart, Debbie Connors, and the two of them went off to college together. Both had taken up business majors and now at the ages of 35 & 34, respectively, they were on the fast-track to upper management. Debbie was a tiger that went after what she wanted, while Thomas’ charm made up for what he didn’t know in detail. Like his father, Thomas used what he had to his best advantage. Debbie never let having two children slow her down on the race to the top. Charles used to say that, “Nice pick son, and she’s definitely one of us with the drive and desire she has.”
Mary went to medical school and never had much time for relationships. That had changed when she got through interning. At the urging of her friends, Mary, went out clubbing with them one night. She was so taken by the sax player, Boney, (his nickname; turns out he was just out of med school himself), that she introduced herself. Within a year they were married and they had a child a year after that. With Charles’ encouragement, they put their son in child care and went to work on plans to have a practice.
Life couldn’t be better for Charles Perry. He had a great wife, except for that church thing, two kids that he could still influence and a beautiful home. He drew a breath and let out a contented sigh. He had all that he’d ever need.
He rounded the corner of the city block and was on his way to his Brownstone when he heard a whimper from the alley just a few feet in front of him and to his right. He thought about calling 9-1-1 but thought it would be silly if it only turned out to be nothing. So instead he ventured into the darkening alley. He called out, “Are you alright? I can’t make out where you are, could you speak up if you need help.
He heard a gurgling and a raspy voice, just above a whisper, say, “Over here, please help me.”
Charles got out his cell phone and began to press 9-1-1. The man with the raspy voice struggled to get some words out, “Please no police, I just need some help up. I’ll be OK once I get on my feet. Please just help me up.”
Charles put his cell back in his pocket and strained to see the man laying in the darkness. He took a few cautious steps and called out again. “I can’t see you anymore, where are you?”
A chill went down Charles’ spine as the voice, once weak now strong, whispered in his ear, “I’m right behind you.”
The man grabbed his arms and then with a sweeping motion kicked his feet out from under him. Charles’ face planted into the garbage strewn pavement. He smelled the vomit, rotting food, and a whole host of other evil odors. The impact had knocked the wind out of him; he convulsed and gasped for air. When he had regained his senses somewhat he pleaded, “What do you want? My wallet is in my pocket. Take it. I don’t know what you look like so I can’t turn you in. Just take it and don’t hurt me.”
The man cackled, “I don’t want your money.”
“What do you want then?” Charles was sure the man was going to kill him.
“I’ve lived in you, in the recesses of your heart; I’ve come to claim what is rightfully mine - your soul.”
Charles’ mind reeled. The thoughts raced through his head, “what is this guy talking about?’
The man put his knee in Charles’ back and began to beat him about the head. Charles’ face was being rubbed into the concrete and he was sure it was bleeding. He shouted, “Please stop!” His words sloshed with the saliva and blood in his mouth and throat. If this guy didn’t beat him to death he was sure he’d suffocate.
The man cackled again, “Oh no I won’t stop, this is going to take some time. I’m going to enjoy this.” The man grabbed the hair on the back of his head and pulled. He yanked so hard a handful of hair came out and the man threw it under his nose. He smelled the blood and felt it begin to trickle down his neck. Tears welled up in his eyes. “Why, why was this happening?”
Then when Charles was unable to move because of the beating the man stood up and began to kick him. Hard enough to cause severe pain but not enough to break a bone. Charles just laid there. He was losing consciousness and he was sure the end was near. He began to think of all the things he’d done. All the backstabbing, flirting, innuendo, the destruction he’d caused in the name of his quest for ‘The American Dream’. Still the demon’s words rolled over in his mind again and again…this is going to take a long time. How much more could he endure. Then a flash of memory crossed his mind’s eyes. So quick he almost missed it. Colleen on her knees before bed every night – praying.
Charles opened his eyes and through the tears and blood he looked back up the alley and silhouetted in the backlight he saw a large man and his small son. He reached out his hand and barely mouthed the words, “Help me.”
In an instant Charles was sitting a few feet from where he had been laying and his wounds had been healed. He rubbed his eyes, barely believing he had been saved when he saw the demon flailing a whip. He shrunk back and closed his eyes. The whip didn’t hit him. He looked down and he saw that the Son had taken his place and the demon was whipping him with an unmatched fury; screaming obscenities as he beat the Son harder and harder. The Son lay there, all of Charles’ wounds were upon the Son and not only that but his back had been ripped open to where Charles could see the Son’s bones. The son did not murmur or cry he just lay there and took Charles’ beating.
The demon grabbed the Son’s head and turned his head towards Charles. Charles gagged as he fought the urge to throw up – the Son’s face had become so battered it was unrecognizable. Then the Son cast his eyes at Charles. Expecting to see pain, anguish or hate for what he was enduing. He saw none of that. He only saw eyes filled with love.
Charles began to wail, “This is not what I wanted. Please stop hitting Him. Please, please, please….”
Then the last streak of sunlight illuminated shone down the alley on the demon’s face. Charles looked up in horror for the face he saw was….His own.
Charles blacked out.
* * * *
It was Sunday morning and Charles Perry arose with a fright. His body drenched in sweat, he was shaking. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. There was his wife, Colleen, sleeping peacefully. The sun’s rays blasted through the venetian blinds; everything looked normal. He swallowed, got up and went into the bathroom and wiped his face with fresh clean water. He stared at himself in the mirror - unable to shake the dream he’d just had. He felt a touch on his shoulder and his wife asked with concern, “Are you alright honey?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“OK, I know not to press you when you’re like this. I’m just concerned because you were moaning and twisting and turning most of the night. If you need me to do anything just let me know.”
She started back to bed and Charles said, “I saw you in my dream last night. You know all those prayers you’ve prayed for me?”
She stopped in her tracks her body stiffened. She had hoped this wasn’t going to be another argument about God and going to church again. “Yes sweetie, I remember.”
“Thank you. I’ll be coming to church with you today and from now on.”