Author’s note: This story originally appeared in the Writing Challenge as a five part serial. I thought I’d change a few things and post it as a complete short story.
The boy runs through the night and the cold rain, looking for somewhere…anywhere. He comes upon an old deserted apartment complex, and chooses a spot underneath one of the outside stairs that lead up to some apartments above. Here the rain cannot get through.
Shivering, he has a seat on the hard concrete and fishes his hand into his coat pocket. Even in this desperate state, his hand is able to distinguish between the hypodermic needle and rubber hose. His fingers rest on both.
The tall man pulls his hat around his head for a firmer fit, and continues through the rain, his long coat providing further protection from the cold and wet. The man doesn’t appear to be in a hurry, and yet, his walk is one of confidence…purpose.
The boy’s jacket is on the concrete beside him and one of his long sleeves from his shirt is rolled up to his shoulder. He shakes fiercely as he takes the rubber hose and begins to tie it around the upper portion of his arm. That done, he stretches his arm out with the palm of his hand open, and begins to repeatedly close and open it.
The tall man turns a corner and is upon the old apartment complex. He begins to whistle as he makes his way to the back of the complex where the two-story apartments still stand. The night reeks of abandonment, loneliness, and the man’s whistling seems out of place.
Hardly able to see, but having done this so many times in the past, the boy finds a strong vein. He stares at the syringe, rotating it over and over in his hand. Finally, turning it long-ways, with the needle facing down, he taps on it three times. Paradise is just a few seconds away.
“Maybe you don’t want to do that. Not here. Not tonight.”
The boy jumps, and almost stabs himself with the tip of the needle. The man in the hat looks down at him. “What’d ya want from me old man? Can’t you see I’m kind of busy?”
“I see that. Matter of fact, it’s why I’m here.”
“You want some of the action, cool. But ya gotta wait a minute, cause I’m in no condition to help you score.” He looks up at the man, and his face changes. “Hey, you don’t look like someone itchin’ a fix. Whatcha doing here?”
“I’m here for you, Timmy.” The man takes off his hat and sits down next to the boy. He lays his hat in his lap.
Timmy wants to leave. Now. But something keeps him there…something about this man.
“Will you give me the needle?”
“Why? Why should I give it to you?”
The man shrugs. “Because you’re tired. Because of all the pain it’s caused you and your family. Because of the tear that it’s caused between you and God.” He pauses. “Because it’s not paradise is it, Timmy? It’s hell.”
Timmy nods and the tears come. Quick. Hard. “And you’re someone who can fix all that?”
“I can help.”
“How? How can you help me?”
“I want to enter into a pact with you, Timmy. I call it a ‘New Covenant’. And this covenant, between you and me, starts tonight. Now.”
“I…I can’t make any promises. It’s…too hard.”
“All you have to do is try. And my promise to you is that I’ll be with you every step of the way. Deal?”
Timmy looks again at this stranger, wondering for a moment if this is all a dream. He prays it’s not, and slowly he hands the needle to this stranger of the night.
The man takes the needle, and then holds out his hand. “My name’s Max.” Max helps Timmy to his feet, and then puts his arm around him. “We’ll get through this, you and me.”
24 hours later, Max and Timmy, together, face the beginnings of hell on earth…
The man in the business suit exits the revolving doors of the office building. The bright sunshine hits him square in the face, and his hand quickly rests on his forehead, shielding his eyes as he walks towards the parking lot for his car. He steps in a puddle, and the water splashes on his dress pants. Shaking his leg, he silently curses last night’s rain. His walk picks up speed.
Max watches the man walk past and then steps in behind him, matching him step for step. He hesitates just before the man steps into the puddle of rainwater. He can’t help but smile as he watches the man’s frustration. Max takes the timeout to straighten his hat, and then continues once the man picks up his walking.
At his car now, the man fumbles for his keys. After a moment he unlocks the car with the button on his key ring. He throws his briefcase into the passenger seat, and begins to climb in.
The man is halfway into his ‘nice car’ when he hears the voice. He straightens and, peering over the roof of the car, looks at the stranger across from him, who’s leaning against a concrete post that separates the parking lot from the towering buildings beyond. Whatever this guys selling, he’s so not in the mood. “What’s it to you?”
Max shrugs. “Nothing really, just an observation.”
“Well, observe somewhere else will you? I’ve got to get home.” He begins his climb into the car again.
“Kind of empty there these days, isn’t it, what with Timmy gone and all?”
The man stands, and then slowly leans on the roof of his car. He looks directly into Max’s eyes, as if that will give him some kind of clue as to what this is all about. “You know my Timmy?” He hesitates, and then, “You’ve seen him? Is he okay?”
“I know him, and right now he’s not okay. He needs your help.” Max gives the man a hard look. “Timmy and I have a made a…pact together, what I call a ‘New Covenant’.” Max can already see the man loosening up, his guard going down. “And I’d like it to include you.”
“I don’t know.” He can’t look at Max. “I haven’t seen my son in a long time.”
Max isn’t giving up that easy. “Why don’t you come with me? Today. Now.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“I suppose you don’t, Joe.”
Joe wonders how this man happens to know his name.
Max walks around the car to where Joe’s standing. “Joe, God’s giving you another chance. You and Timmy have been apart too long. It’s time to rectify. Fix. Mend.” Another hard stare. “It’s time to open up your heart again.”
“How?” The tears are beginning. “What do you want me to do?”
“I can take you to him.”
Max picks up on it. “You have to start trusting at some point.” His eyes look to the heavens as he says it. “You might as well start now.”
Joe climbs into the car, and the passenger side door opens. Max gets in.
Minutes later they pull up to an old abandoned apartment complex. “Turn left around the back, you’ll see some two story buildings. That’s where he’s at.”
Joe looks around in disbelief. “Here?”
Max nods. “Here.”
They get out of the car and make their way up a flight of stairs, the creaking sound of each step all but guaranteeing a collapse of structure. Joe stops halfway up the stairs. “Is it…safe?”
Max nods again. “Trust. Remember?”
Joe continues the climb. At the top is an outside hallway. Old. Dirty. Rotten.
“First door on the left.”
Joe makes it to the door. He starts to turn the knob. It won’t budge.
“Here. Let me give you the key.”
Joe looks skeptically at Max, but takes the key from him. The key fits perfectly, and the door opens.
At the center of the room, up against the back wall, is a bed. In it lays the decaying form of a person. A ghostly body, almost withered away to nothing. The boy slowly, painfully, raises up. “Daddy?”
Joe makes his way to the bed, and the tears begin to flow freely. He takes his son’s frail hand and holds it. “I’m here son. I’m here.”
Looking on at a scene that has been set before him from the beginning of this mission, Max lets his emotions down long enough to let out a tear of his own.
A father sits with his son in an old abandoned apartment, and as minutes turn to hours, and hours to days, the nightmare they have been facing together finally begins to fade into some semblance of normality…and Joe watches his son…become his son again.
All thanks largely in part, to a man named Max…
The door opens and Max walks in. Smiling first at Joe and Timmy, who can only stare, he then sets down two bags of groceries on the kitchen counter. As he begins to put them away, he breaks the silence. “Cold out there.”
Joe looks out the window. “And somehow pleasantly warm in here. I don’t suppose you’d want to tell me how you manage that?”
“Or how it is that the refrigerator works in a building that no doubt hasn’t seen the flow of electricity since the 1980’s?”
Max changes the subject. “How are you today, Timmy?”
“I’m okay.” He sits up in the bed and begins to move his body slowly, cautiously testing every muscle. “I’m pretty sore, and I don’t really remember much about the last few days.” He looks at his father who is sitting in a chair close to the bed. “Just seeing that face every time I’d open my eyes.”
Dad smiles, still amazed at the transformation he has witnessed in his son, then looks at Max again. “I don’t know who you are, or where you come from…but I want to thank you again, for…” his words trial off, until finally, “…giving me my son back.” He pauses, and the tears begin. “For giving me my life back.”
Max walks over to the two, and sits down on the edge of the bed. He offers each a drink.
Joe takes of sip and continues. “I thought I knew what it meant to find fulfillment.” He looks first at Max, and then turns his attention to his son. “I thought if I could provide for you and your mother, give you the things that you needed – a nice home, clothes, education, but then…when…” This time it’s too much to bear, and the tears come again, as Joe buries his head into the palms of his hands.
“It’s not your fault Dad.” Timmy leans forward and puts his arm around his father. “I ran from the situation. I guess I was searching in the wrong place, too.”
Max stands. “I think both of you could use a little fresh air.” He quickly grabs their jackets.
Joe looks up. “Now?”
Timmy smiles. “I haven’t been outside since my last fix. Maybe some fresh air would help.”
“It’s settled then.” Max says.
After a few moments all three head to the door of the second floor apartment. Max opens it. “After you,” he says. Joe and Timmy start to walk outside. Max stops them. “And you two need to know something…”
They both look at him.
“Whatever’s happened in the past…” He gives them both a look of compassion and concern, adding the ‘patent’ Max smile that only he can give. “…it’s never too late to find…the closure that you need. Look to God…look to each other. Trust.”
They smile back, each one grateful for the God who placed this stranger into their lives. The smile still on their faces, they turn and step out of the apartment doorway, and after one step on the outside hallway, they find themselves on soft ground, surrounded by gravesites and tombstones. They both slowly turn back around towards the apartment door.
The door is gone. The apartment is gone.
Joe and Timmy stare at each other in total disbelief…
Where does one find the inner strength to go on when it seems that all hope is lost? When all one has, or at least believes they have to look forward too, is a never-ending struggle to simply survive in a seemingly futile and meaningless existence…
Joe looks around at the all too familiar surroundings. “Whatever trick is being played on us, I’m beginning to grow tired of the whole thing.”
Timmy looks hurt.
“No, no, no. I didn’t mean it that way.” Joe puts his arm around his son. “I’m so thankful for the change in you that I’ve witnessed these last few days. You’re…a miracle. It’s just that,” he looks around again, “why here? Why now?”
Timmy shrugs as he puts one-foot and then another forward. He looks back, waiting. Joe reluctantly follows. “I’ve haven’t been here in a long time.” He turns to his dad. “You?”
“No, once you left my visits became less frequent, until I stopped coming at all. It was too…hard.”
“I’m sorry, Dad.” Timmy stares at the semi-healed marks on the inside of his arms. “I’m sorry for a lot of things.”
Joe catches up with Timmy and they walk side by side in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly Timmy slows his pace, and Joe walks on ahead. He comes upon a grave marker, and, bending over, wipes away the leaves and dirt, until he can read the writing. In one painful and emotional moment, all the memories come flooding back.
Timmy walks up and stands beside his father – his turn to put his arm around him, his turn to console. “Max said something about the past and finding closure.”
Joe whispers. “That we are to look to each other…” His words trail off.
Timmy quietly finishes the sentence for him. “…and we are to look to God.”
It’s too much. “I can’t Tim, I can’t do it.” Joe shakes his head back and forth as he continues to stare at the words on the ground. “How can I look to God for answers when he’s the one who took her from me?”
Timmy doesn’t know how to respond, not having the answers himself. And it was that lack of knowledge that set him on his own course of denial and self-destruction. “I don’t know. But, all of this is happening for a reason, and like Max said, there comes a time when we have to let go. We must learn to trust, instead of doubt. I think Max is on our side, Dad. God sent him to us, and for whatever reason, we have to go through this…together.”
“But…to what end?” A touch of anger and confusion in Joe’s voice now. “What am I supposed to learn from all of this?”
Timmy’s own frustration mounts as he puts himself in his dad’s place. For Timmy, the last few days have been life-changing. But now, to see his dad go through his own personal battle, it kills him inside that he’s not able to help. And what confuses him most of all, is the absence of Max. If he were here now, maybe he could help them understand all of this.
“My life means nothing without her. I live day-to-day, leaving an empty house to go to work, and then back to the empty house again. It’s always the same thing, and I’m tired Timmy. I’m tired.”
“Maybe I could come home with you?”
Joe’s face brightens for a moment. “I’d like that son, I really would.”
Timmy smiles. “Like old times, huh?” His father’s expression changes, and, knowing it’s too late the take the words back, Timmy wishes he’d never said them. He knows as well as anyone, that it will never be like it was. “I’m sorry, Dad. I just meant that…”
“It’s okay, it really is.” But it is too late, and the sorrow and pain become too much for Joe to bear. Looking at the tombstone, his legs buckle and he falls to his knees, crying. “Why God, why did you take her from me? How could you tear my family apart like you did?”
A little further up the path, Max sits quietly on a concrete bench, reverently taking in the whole scene. And just beyond him, almost out of site, but barely visible still…stands an old rugged cross…
Max and Timmy together on the bench.
With his earthly father behind him, and the cross before him, Timmy sits in silence, his head bowed.
It’s Max’s turn to speak…
“I spoke with you about a new covenant.”
Timmy shakes his head. It seems like a lifetime ago, but he remembers, and the heart that dwells in this broken child finds a voice, and it pleads for Max to speak of this new covenant – this promise that can restore and renew.
The heart cry is heard from the reaches of eternity, and finds its way across the bench to Max. “It’s not me who can do this restoring and renewing.” Max removes his hat and turns his face towards the cross in the distance. A light begins ever so faintly to shine out from the foot of the cross. “A long time ago someone who loves you very much paid a price for you.” The beam of light begins to make its way towards Timmy and Max. “This person gave himself for you, Timmy.”
Timmy continues to look down, not noticing the light as it slowly makes its way across the cemetery.
Max continues. “The choice is yours. Are you willing to surrender to this love that is offered you today? Are you willing to trust? To believe.”
And so it happens. Clarity. And with clarity – transformation. And oh, what a wondrous feeling, and then one word, uttered from the depths of this broken heart, now spoken from the lips of this broken child. “Jesus.” Timmy looks up at Max.
The patent smile. “Yes, Timmy. Jesus.”
For the first time Timmy notices the ray of light, and he watches with joy and wonderment as it makes its way to where they both are. Timmy looks again at Max as the light envelopes them both. Max smiles as Timmy takes in the love that can come only from the understanding of one with a need and the realization that there is one who can fill such a need. And oh, please do not let this peace that surpasses anything that Timmy has ever experienced before come to an end.
But suddenly the light stops. It goes no further than the cemetery bench. Instinctively Timmy looks at his father, who is still weeping at his mother’s gravesite. He turns again to Max. “But the light…is for everyone.”
“This is true child, but not everyone knows of the light.”
Timmy jumps up from the bench, and the ray of light ‘jumps’ with him. “Then I will have to tell him. I will tell him of the light – I will tell him of Jesus.”
Max nods. “Yes Timmy, yes. You tell him of the new covenant. For if there is no one to tell, then there is no one to hear.”
For a moment Timmy looks confused. “How is it that I heard?”
Max smiles yet again. “You’ve been given a gift, Timmy. The Master has chosen to show you in a special way.”
“Why not you? We do not question the Master’s plan. Ours is simply to obey.”
Timmy looks again at his father, as sadness and compassion overtakes him. “Will he obey? Will he believe?”
Max pats the empty space next to him and Timmy sits back down. Again, the ray of light follows him. “All you can do is tell him. The Master waits at the door, but it falls on each individual to let him in.”
Timmy bows his head as he speaks. “To let the light in.”
And without another seconds thought, Timmy makes his way towards his father, the light following him every step of the way.
Max looks on as Timmy makes his way to his father and bends down to help him stand. After a few words, they turn and begin their walk out of the cemetery…and out of the darkness.
Max smiles as he watches them go. Once they are out of his sight, he stands up, puts on his hat, and begins to make his way out of the cemetery. Suddenly he stops. He turns around and faces the cross. Removing his hat, he bows down, and the tears begin to flow…
Because of God’s tender mercy, the light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. – Luke 1:78,79 (NLT)
Max is featured in my book, Whispers, now available in paperback:
David, I'm so glad you've put your five-part story together in this way. It's wonderful to see it all together. Now that you have it like this, I would really love to showcase it in FaithWriters' Magazine in the "Heaven Bound" short story section. I would really like to see it given the attention it deserves (which it really didn't get because of the Challenge format). If you would be willing to let us use it in the August Issue, could you let me know please? Just send me a private message, and if you could include a short bio note to go with it, that would be wonderful. Hope to hear from you. With love, Deb (Editor, FaithWriters' Magazine and Challenge Coordinator)