I should be dead. The thought nagged Lucas as he stared at Alec’s perfect face smiling from the cover in the bookstore display. Tempered glass barricaded it from Lucas’s touch. At minimum, I should be cursed with a shit bag tucked under my shirt.
Perfect Prophet; it was a narcissistic title for an autobiography. A New York Times Best Seller. A big deal. Former devil rocking atheist becomes an instrument of God; an evangelical faith healer. An epic journey in faith. And Lucas was nothing. The shop’s lights dimmed. It was closing time, and Lucas turned to face the sidewalk running along a four lane road packed with weekend tourists and local club-goers. He walked, wondering what Alec was doing on that night. It was probably a far better activity than what awaited Lucas.
Alec Lowell had saved Lucas. It didn’t happen in some church or during some nationally televised Christian hawker event. It happened in the woods of Wisconsin on a morning after the season’s first snowfall. Lucas should have been dead. To be honest, God had ample reason to strike him where he stood, right here. Right now.
Or maybe God had forgiven Lucas. After all, he was kind of responsible for the Perfect Prophet’s meteoric rise. A few months had gone by after Alec’s debut at the Life Festival, a Christian sellout event held annually in Orange County, California. The man, the one who had raised Lucas to be the leader of a new generation of classic Satanic thought, had brought Lucas to the festival to kill Alec like the prophecies of the Black Book had foretold; prophecies written by the father of the one who would rise up to either take charge of or destroy the New Church of Satan. It was Lucas’ father. It was Alec’s father, and Alec was the one who rose up from the ashes of death to shatter the fledgling church into pieces.
He had also healed Lucas’ hand, the one that had been intentionally maimed by the prophet Brent Lowell when Lucas was too young to have recollection of a father. Alec did it on that morning in the Wisconsin woods, when the both of them should have been dead. The bullet had blown through Alec, and Lucas had been left with the slug buried in his gut. They had laid beside each other, bleeding out together when Alec had taken hold of Lucas’ withered hand that had been a useless claw for most of his life. Lucas had faded into black oblivion. When he had regained consciousness, Alec was gone and the hand was healed. Useful. He had found strength to stagger to his feet and tend to the wound that oozed blood and juices from his intestines. Then he made his escape before anyone could find him.
It took time to heal from the shot, but Lucas did heal. He shouldn’t have. He had sewn himself up with a fishing hook and line; a primitive butcher job. He wouldn’t have been able to do it with one hand. And that hand, the one that had been surgically severed along its tendons to prove that he wasn’t the destroyer of the classic Satanic faith, was flexible and perfect except for the scar along the wrist.
The hand should have been the wake up call, but it wasn’t. Lucas had sought the aid of Fitzgerald Carver, his mentor within the new Satanic church who had yet to admit the church’s defeat. Alec was meant to die, and it was Lucas’ destiny to kill him. The two had attended the festival hosted by the charismatic televangelist Josiah Light. It was Alec’s debut, and Dr. Carver had tickets and a plan.
The rest became history. Dr. Carver had smuggled a dagger into the event by disguising it as the handle of his cane, and when Alec stepped into the audience to lay healing hands on the faithful, Lucas set out to stab Alec through the heart. Brother kills brother. Carver had cited the story of Cain and Abel as misrepresented propaganda by the Judeo-Christian gatekeepers. Alec’s former band mates from the Great might have called the entire idea of religion propaganda once too.
They would have also cited the fantastical ideas of magic and miracles as fake. But Lucas knew otherwise. He had paralyzed Alec with Satanic magic. As for miracles, Lucas needed only to look at his hand.
The moment came when Alec had descended from the stage, and the audience converged on him. Lucas had been pulled in, and Carver had kept close behind. When Lucas was in range with dagger gripped tight, he turned and plunged it through Carver’s heart instead. Lucas had escaped. It was his gift to disappear in a crowd, and headlines were made.
Lucas had roamed the streets for weeks after, and had gradually made his way from the Christian havens of Orange County to the filthy, sinful heart of Los Angeles. He left the bookstore and wandered into territory densely populated by the homeless, where he found a beacon of hope. A haven.
The gated storefront gave little impression of its claim in the window; MISSION FOR LOST SOULS. A challenge resided there; JESUS SAVES. ASK US HOW. When Lucas knocked on the glass in the dead of night on this street filled with addicts, gang members and the homeless, he didn’t necessarily find an answer to the question the sign proposed. But he did find hope, and she was ten years old.
The girl would have answered the door, but the man with the military vibe held her back. “Can we help you,” he asked through the barricaded door.
“It says Jesus saves.” Lucas pointed out the challenge. “I’m asking how.” The military man took his time to assess Lucas. Once satisfied, he opened up.
“I’m John David,” he said as soon as he unlocked the door, but Lucas took note that he relocked it quickly once they were inside. The girl was Maggie, who went to find something for Lucas to eat. She returned with carrot sticks and water after John David sat Lucas down in a folding chair among several in a row. He turned on a light.
The place was sparse, populated by more chairs and a couple of well worn banquet tables that lined the back wall. A simple cross hung at the front behind a wooden pulpit. A black book sat atop the pulpit. Lucas assumed it was a Bible. An ancient TV was strung up in a corner of the room, adjacent to the hanging cross.
Maggie settled in a distant chair that John David signaled her to sit in, and Lucas posed the question one more time. “How can Jesus save me?”
“Do you want Him to save you?” John David placed a hand on Lucas’ knee. Lucas didn’t like that. When he didn’t answer, John David persisted. “Maybe you feel like you’re not worthy of His forgiveness.” Lucas gave a nod, not as a confession, but because he considered it a fair assessment.
“Jesus forgives everyone.”
John David smiled proudly. Maggie must have been his daughter. “That’s right. He chose to die for the sake of our shortcomings; for the shortcomings of the world. As long as He sees in you the intention to change, your sins will be forgiven.”
“My intention to change,” Lucas said with a snicker. “So, what. I need to confess my sins to you? Or to your priest?”
“Only to God,” John David said.
“But through you. Or your priest.”
John David freed an amused smile. “I take it you had a Catholic upbringing.”
“No.” The answer left disappointment in John David’s face from his inaccurate assessment. Lucas knew much about the Catholics. The New Satanic Church had modeled their perverted rituals after Catholic ways. His oppressively Christian foster parents were Evangelicals, but he had left them at a young enough age to avoid the trappings of their church.
“God is the only one you need to confess to,” John David said. “You know what your sins are. He knows too. There’s no need for an intermediary.”
Lucas found relief in hearing this, for his sins were a direct affront to God. He didn’t offer to share them, and he let John David be frustrated by it.
John David tried a new tact. “Are you on the street? We don’t normally offer shelter. We’re not equipped for it. But we’re having a service in the morning. You can spend the night this one time and find out more of what we offer then. Is that alright with you?”
Lucas gave him a shrug. The streets were cold, not that he couldn’t survive it. He’d survived Wisconsin winters in the woods often enough. But the idea of shelter and a warm blanket was enticing. John David directed Maggie to get just that, and Lucas found a corner near a heating duct for the night.
He was nudged awake early. “Help us set up for service?” John David offered Lucas a donut from a pink cardboard box. Maggie lined up more boxes on the back row of tables before she stacked napkins and cups alongside an insulated jug that Lucas assumed held water.
“John David,” Maggie said. “We need more cups.”
John David told her where to find them, and as Maggie bounced out of the room, Lucas thought that maybe she wasn’t the man’s daughter after all.
He accepted a donut. The first bite reminded him that he hadn’t eaten much over the past couple of days, except from a dumpster dive outside a fast food place. The donut tasted like heaven. He wolfed it down then filled a cup from the oversized jug. It contained juice.
Later, Lucas straightened chairs and distributed fliers to each seat. He noted the organization’s name on the fliers. This Mission for Lost Souls was an outreach program for a church known as the Temple of Adonis, and Lucas wondered why a church that seemed to focus on helping people find Jesus would name itself after a mortal and tragic character from Greek mythology. It didn’t seem well thought out. But he dismissed the thought as people filtered in.
The city streets were slick with rain; probably a factor in filling seats. Lucas recognized some of the crowd, although not by name. They were homeless, in need of physical and mental care, not words. Some were junkies. Some were just old and forgotten. Most were probably hungry. Lucas chose a chair near the back that was close to the array of pastries that John David stood guard over. He sat and he listened, and he was amazed.
Maggie took to the lectern. She spoke about healing. She spoke about Jesus and a paralyzed man at a place called Capharnaum. Jesus had healed the man and told him that his sins were also forgiven, his soul freed from its own paralysis. “The Pharisees called it heresy,” she said without a tremor of public speaking fear. “They believed that his paralysis was a result of his sins. They were wrong… Our body is nothing except a vessel of clay. It contains our soul, and with time it breaks down and returns to dust. But our soul will live on. If we tend to it like a garden, we can find entry into heaven.” Maggie cast her eyes over disinterested listeners until they landed on Lucas. She smiled, and he squirmed. He felt connected to God.
But God was judging Lucas through Maggie’s smiling eyes. The parable reminded him of Alec, and as Lucas flexed his left hand made whole by Alec’s touch, he was reminded that he was incomplete. Unworthy. Ending up here in this hole in the wall that doubled as a church wasn’t random. He supposed that nothing in life ever was.
He cast his gaze away and felt horrified over things that he had done; to Alec, to Alec’s son Jake. Lucas saw himself as a monster, one that, if Jesus had chosen to heal him in a place called Capharnaum, would never have been forgiven for his sins.
Maggie stepped away from the lectern. John David stepped away from the diabetic spread and put a stop to listeners rising out of their seats. “Gentlemen. And ladies. Let’s close with a prayer.” The majority of listeners acquiesced. One or two headed for the food, until Lucas left his seat to stand guard over the table.
“Thank you for your diligence, Brother Lucas.” John David asked the rest to bow their heads. “Repeat after me. Jesus knows me. Jesus loves me. Jesus died to set me free.” Listeners mumbled in reply, and John David concluded with an amen. “Help yourselves to what we have in the back. And come find us if you wish to learn more about the Reverend Adonis and our mission.”
The listeners plunged toward the donuts as Lucas stepped aside. “I’m proud of you,” he heard John David say as he and Maggie made their way toward him. They stepped in to keep order to the handouts.
Lucas didn’t belong here. He wanted to leave, but a fresh downpour delayed his decision. He sat in a chair apart from the activity, and he got lost in the rhythm of the rain.
A homeless moocher who was first in line settled near Lucas. He had several donuts and a cup of the juice that he downed in one gulp. He found the remote to the television and flipped it on to local Sunday morning programming. As fate would have it, they were treated to a sermon by mega church evangelist Josiah Light. “Is this your guy? Your Reverend Adonis?” he shouted.
John David scowled before he pounced on the man. He took away the remote and turned the TV off. “We don’t live extravagantly off the needy and call it God’s way.”
The condemnation continued, but Lucas didn’t hear it. His mind was set on the day when he had decided not to kill Alec. He wondered if Alec hadn’t become like the Reverend Light by feeding off the hope of the hopeless for money. Maybe Lucas had been wrong to kill Dr. Carver.
Death to my son, the misguided one. New life for the unholy spirit. These were the words of the prophecy left by Lucas’ father, the traitor high priest. Lucas had assumed that they had been meant for Alec, an unholy atheist reborn into faith. Maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe they had been meant for Lucas. It overwhelmed him, and he wondered if this was how Alec had felt when he was pressed to choose between nothing and God. But it was different for Lucas. He had always believed in God, he just never believed that God was the right side.
Until he healed me.
Could an atheist profiting off his life giving gift be a truthful messenger? Lucas didn’t know, and instead of reaching out to John David and inviting a discussion from the man who wanted just that, Lucas found himself heading for the exit. He took fast steps toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
It was Maggie, and she was in his way. Lucas wasn’t sure where she had come from. He had been alert to his immediate surroundings for most of his life. But here she was blocking his escape with the most innocent smile he had ever seen. The kids he remembered from grade school and middle school had never seemed so innocent. Neither had Alec’s son Jake when they were friends, although friends was a relative term. Kids, Lucas thought, were not as fragile and innocent as their parents chose to believe. Except maybe for Maggie; she was challenging that notion.
“I—I don’t… I don’t belong here.” He tried to dodge, but she managed to stay in his way.
“Anyone who finds us belongs here.”
“I don’t. I can’t—” and she grabbed his hand; the one that had been healed.
“Seek the Lord, and He shall hear you and deliver you from all your fears.” She refused to let go of his hand. His heart doubled its beat inside his chest.
“Get out of the way—”
The outburst alerted John David. He abandoned the guy who was convinced that the reverend Jonas Adonis was the Reverend Josiah Light, and he corralled Lucas into an embrace that freaked him out more. “Let me go! Don’t—”
“It’s alright. Whatever it is, we´re here.” John David wouldn’t let go. He guided Lucas back to a chair to settle through his ragged attempt to breathe, and the homeless guy found the remote. The TV came back to life.
“Praise Jesus,” Josiah Light proclaimed. “Praise Him. Hallelujah.”
“Happy birthday, Marcus. You sonofabitch.” Bourbon spilled over the rim of the shot glass resting atop Marcus Anthony Eddison’s headstone. Alec took a swig from the bottle knowing full well that this moment was another reason to visit the good people at Alcoholics Anonymous. He didn’t really care. Mark wouldn’t have cared, and this was supposed to be his day. Alec was almost twenty nine. Marcus would have been thirty. Mark had died barely in time to be inducted into the Twenty Seven Club, the one that commemorated the rising stars of rock and roll whose lives were cut short too soon; Cobain, Winehouse, Morrison, Brian Jones, Mia Zapata, all dead before their time should have been due.
Alec took another slug of his sin. His own time should have been due… He found his guilty conscience and poured the rest of the bottle over the grave. “Enjoy it,” he said. “You deserve it.” He finished off the contents of the shot glass and leaned back against the marble. God damn, how did he get here? The former punk atheist finds a bullet, becomes a miracle and finds God, fame and happiness in the wake of tragedy. It was a lie. He was terrified most of the time. He was miserable; just like his born again father.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and shielded the screen from the sun. It was a text from his bodyguard Olsen, the one provided to him by the Reverend Light and his life giving church, and who stood a distance away at the roadside where Alec’s limo driver, also provided by Light, waited. The message read, “2:00.” Alec looked to his right, because he knew that Olsen wasn’t referencing an appointment. He was referencing a location and, oh shit. Fans.
They could have been haters, for since his public admission that he did indeed believe that there might be a God, his loyal fan base from his days as a Satanic rock rebel had become vocal bullies, especially on social media. But the woman approaching had flowers meant for a grave, and the other woman and man with her were hurrying their steps with wide eyes and open mouths. Alec threw a signal to Olsen to stay put and braced himself for the inevitable fan worship.
“Oh my God oh my God ohmyGod!” Alec pasted on a smile, and the woman with the flowers continued. “Can I hug you? You changed my life, ohmyGod!” She wrapped her arms around him before he had the chance to say no, and she let the embrace linger. “Oh my—I’m sorry. You’re paying your respects, and here I am just… I’m sorry.” She laughed in that anxious fan girl way, and she freed him.
“No, not at all,” Alec said. “I’m glad you found… I don’t know, a purpose I guess, because of me.”
The woman beamed. The man thrust his hand out hopeful for a shake. Alec obliged, and the man’s second hand came in to grip Alec tight. “Wow. I can feel it. God works through you.”
Alec nodded and thought about Mark, whom he had healed, now dead in the ground. He thought of Patrick, their band’s drummer the “Mexicali leprechaun,” as Mark would have called him without ever entertaining the idea that the term might have been racist, and whom Alec had also healed, also now dead in the ground. He thought about Jake, his son, his sole reason for changing everything in his life, and how Jake now hated him. Alec pulled back, and the man let go of his hand. “I’m sorry,” Alec said. “I have an appointment to keep. Two O’Clock.” He flashed his phone screen at them as if he needed to prove he wasn’t lying, which he totally was.
The third fan grabbed his arm before he could leave. “Can we have an autograph?”
“I don’t do autographs. Read the book—”
“—A selfie? Please?”
Alec gave in and smiled as three camera phones came out. He was asked when he would be back with Josiah Light, and Alec told them soon. “Yeah, soon. We’re hitting the road, actually. So look for that.” Then he escaped to the limo, where Olsen greeted him with an open door, as the driver settled behind the wheel.
“I’m being paid to protect you, sir,” Olsen said. “I can’t do it from a distance—”
“—I get it, Olsen. Private time isn’t an option anymore.”
“Home, then?” the driver asked. He put the car in gear before Alec answered. The partition between driver and passenger went up, and Alec imagined the two of them having a good laugh at his expense. He was okay with that. He was every bit the insecure self centered celebrity that he supposed they believed he was, and there was nothing he could do but admit it. Alec stared out the tinted window. He wondered what God’s point was. Nothing had changed. Nothing at all.