“So, Allisa and David are coming over this evening?” Nick verified half looking forward to seeing them, and half not wanting to hear their usual religious discussions. Allisa and David could be pushy with their spirituality, which sometimes made Nick feel awkward.
“Yes they are, and settle down on your debating. I know how you love to debate.” Lisal gave him a smirk, as she flipped back her long dark hair. Nick looked at her and quickly became enamored by her beauty; something he often did. After ten years of marriage, her beautiful brown eyes still caused Nick’s heart to race. Her only flaw was a bump on her nose, but Nick viewed this as a compliment to her beauty. He was still amazed that she chose to be with him since he thought of himself as an average guy with his sandy brown hair now cut short and dull brown eyes. At least he considered them to be dull. In high school when they first started dating, he wore his hair long in back. He was often called REO Speedwagon by his classmates who referred to the singer’s hairdo in the video “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” Lisal had several guys trying to get a date with her, but she was more attracted to the quiet shy men who hid in the background like Nick.
Nick grinned, knowing the truth to Lisal’s statement. When it came to Nick, he seemed shy and quiet until a good debate was placed on the table. He especially would debate anything which had to do with religion. Allisa and David proved to be worthy opponents and had stumped him many times. Nick was a religious man, but he didn’t follow Christianity. At one point, he was an atheist, but as he studied science in college, he became amazed at the complexity of life. There was no way he could believe that everything in the world happened by chance. However, he found himself drawn to Earth-based spirituality. He sometimes referred to himself as an Eclectic Pagan, because he found a degree of truth in different spiritual paths whether it’d be Druidism or Wicca. Allisa, David, and his wife were faithful churchgoers, and Nick viewed Allisa as a “holier than thou” person. His wife went to church once or twice a week, and he didn’t know if he considered it a good thing. Even though he didn’t attend church with her, her love seemed to be growing stronger. She quit flirting with other men, and he hadn’t caught her in a lie in a long time. Yet he felt a degree of separation from her, since he had trouble with some of the beliefs of her church.
He lit a purple candle on the table, which filled the air with the aroma of a lilac bush; appropriate for a peaceful spring night. If there was anything Nick and Lisal had shared a love for, it was candles and most definitely music. Their kitchen wasn’t large, but it was very cozy. Lisal had decided to decorate with an apple theme. This included everything from the wall paper borders right down to the salt and pepper shakers. The kitchen was nicely placed at the front of the house with a window over the kitchen sink peering into the front yard. This made it easy to keep an eye on their two daughters when they were outside playing. Nick currently sat at their rectangular table, which could seat a maximum of six people. Since there wasn’t much seating space, they didn’t hold holiday celebrations at the house very often. One day, when Nick could pull in a larger amount of money, they would buy a larger house and host some celebrations, at least that’s what he hoped for.
After intentionally hesitating for a minute, Nick finally responded in his smart ass tone, “You’re asking an awful lot of me. Sometimes I just have to get my two-cents in, and Allisa is an expert at bringing the debating side out of me.” However, he knew deep down inside that he would debate anything the other couple brought forth.
Although Lisal sighed, he knew she wasn’t really irritated with him. He changed the subject, “Are you and Alissa putting on your Bible study at the church tonight?”
“You bet we are. There’s something going on that doesn’t seem right. One of the deacons has been acting strange.” Lisal paused, as if she was pondering whether or not to give out more information. Then she turned around from what she was doing and looked at him, her face serious. “I have a feeling that he’s hiding something, but I don’t know what. I have to do the church bulletin after the meeting, so I’ll be in the church office and will have an opportunity to look things up.”
“Personally, I think all the people there are a little strange. The one time I went there, there were people passing out, while others were shouting out gibberish. Insanity if you ask me.” Nick gave a little chuckle before saying, “At least it wasn’t as boring as the Catholic church I went to as a kid.”
Nick recalled being a young kid and attending church. The priest’s monotone voice would make it hard for him to stay awake. Sometimes, there were other kids there, and he would play with them and crawl under the pews. This didn’t last long because his dad would hand him a note saying: “Behave, or we are going to the afternoon Mass.” He always looked forward to communion because he knew the horrible tasting bread was a sign that church was almost over. Nick’s parents were faithful Catholics, that is, up until his brother Brent drowned. Nick’s dad didn’t know what to believe in anymore and seemed bitter toward the god he once believed in. Nick’s mother continued to attend church for a time but became discouraged herself. Nick still relives the nightmare of his brother drowning, and continues to blame himself for it.
Nick and Brent decided to grab their fishing poles and go out on their parent’s rowboat. The wind was heavy, but they were desperate to find something to do. At the age of eleven, Nick urged his eight-year-old brother to go out on the boat. “Come on Brent, it will be fun, and we can see who will catch the biggest fish.”
“But, I don’t want to go out. I’m scared!” Was his brother’s reply.
Nick knew it was a dare, but at eleven who doesn’t like to take a little risk? “Oh, there you go being a wuss again. You need to be tough and not so whiney.” Nick teased, knowing this usually was successful in manipulating his brother to do what he wanted.
“Alright.” His brother answered reluctantly. “But do you promise to play some Super Mario Brothers with me when we come back inside?”
They had just bought a new Nintendo system, and his brother sometimes spent several hours a day playing games. “I promise.” Nick said, knowing his brother would hold him to it. Nick enjoyed playing video games too, but not so much during the day. He viewed it more as a nighttime or rainy day activity and held a similar attitude toward movies.
They grabbed their parent’s boat and went out on the river. It was a simple wooden rowboat with two oars. At the time, Nick didn’t know that people had drowned in this river. They set out, hoping to catch some fish. The wind continued to pick up pace, and dark clouds began to cover the sky. His brother got into the rowboat, while Nick placed the fishing poles in there and pushed the boat out into the water. He quickly hopped in, as the current quickly took hold.
Fifteen minutes later, they were rapidly moving down the river. Cold water splashed in the boat, and large rocks jarred them every time they crashed into one. Nick felt his adrenaline pump, as he began to regret coming out. He frantically tried to think of a way to get to safety. They were far off from any houses that were along the river, so there was no chance of yelling out for help.
Both clung on for dear life. However, Brent’s fishing pole was knocked off into the water, and instinctively he stood up to grab for it. Nick tried to reach out to stop him, but Brent was further than an arm’s reach away, and Nick missed. The boat hit a rock and knocked Brent into the water.
“Help!” He cried, but the water cut out his voice. Nick reached out for him, but it was no use because the boat was shifting in every direction. He reached his hand over the edge, but the water splashing into his eyes continued to blind him. With less weight in the boat, it was getting knocked around harder, and Nick was knocked back into the boat.
Nick thought for a second that his only hope would be to leap in, but the rapids only increased his fear, so he stayed on the boat. Eventually, he was pushed onto a rock, and the boat held fast. Nick looked around, trying see if Brent was anywhere near him, but there was no longer any flailing arms or a voice crying out. The last word Nick would remember hearing his brother say, was his last cry for help, as Nick failed to save him. The piercing word continued to haunt him into his adult years. About an hour after his brother fell in, Nick was safely on shore and a search team had arrived. It wasn’t long before they found Brent. Nick’s parents and the police made sure that Nick didn’t see the body of his dead brother. They were afraid he would be further traumatized by the sight.
It had always troubled Nick to think that if he jumped in for Brent, he might have been able to save him. His Uncle Scott had not spoken to him since that day because he blamed the tragedy on Nick. The rest of Nick’s family made several attempts to reassure him. They told him he was better off not jumping in because he might have drowned too. They were glad that both of them didn’t drown. Many were obviously upset because Nick was the one to take his brother out on the river when it was flowing rapidly. Nick sided with his Uncle Scott on the issue and constantly placed the blame on himself.
A few years after Brent’s death, Nick’s father committed suicide. He left behind a letter which said that he could no longer go on. Bill collectors were harassing him everyday, and there was no one to help him. No matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t seem to ever get ahead, and finally came to the conclusion that there was no point of trying anymore. Both Nick and his mom knew it was connected with the death of Brent among the other hardships. It was sad to watch his dad day after day slipping away. Turning to alcohol offered no relief and sometimes only made the struggles harder. A few months before his suicide, he had grown very distance from Nick and his mom. Having two immediate family members die before the age of fourteen was tough on Nick.
Nick’s mother slowly faded into sickness. Some said it was caused by her stress, while others said it was her poor eating habits and lack of exercise. If she had watched her health by eating more vegetables and fruits, she may have managed to pick her health back up. However, she didn’t seem to care. Nick remembered her sitting in her green reclining chair for hours just staring at nothing. She would tremble as if the room was cool when it was actually warm. Nick ended up having to make his own food and basically took care of himself while helping his mom out as much as he could.
It was not an easy life to live, and it wasn’t long before Nick could feel the stings of depression tearing at his mind. He grasped out for spirituality and became involved in a local youth group. He was told that God would heal him, and the blood of Jesus would make him stronger. It never seemed to help. It wasn’t long before he was treated like an outcast due to his lack of faith. He felt alienated; as if God loved the others in youth group more than him. It seemed like they would always boast of some kind of blessing that god bestowed on them, but after desperately praying, Nick only came face to face with greater despair. There was a time he went to a youth camp for a week hoping it would get him away from his home for a while, and get his mind focused on better things. During the chapel services that were held every night of the week, the other youths would fall over when the camp leaders would pray over them, and others would laugh uncontrollably. Some would yell out in tongues, and it made him uncomfortable; pretty much the same way he felt at Lisal’s church. However, at the youth camp, Nick decided to do his best to be a part of it. He wanted to feel the feeling that his peers were getting from this phenomenon referred to as being “slain in the spirit.” The ministers prayed over him, but nothing happen. He left the camp finding only the same emptiness he felt before he arrived. This is when he decided to be an Atheist. The idea of a higher power no longer seemed real to him.
It wasn’t until Nick was seventeen years old, when a light of hope finally came. In school, a new girl named Lisal came during his senior year. She appeared to him as an angel who could save him from the misery he had endured. They were immediately best friends, and after a while, started a romantic relationship. They both came from struggling families, and were viewed as outcasts in school. After graduating high school, they ended up going to college together and were married after graduation. Lisal studied to be a nurse, while he was interested in becoming a chemistry teacher. Even with their degrees they were having a rough time obtaining a career. Lisal was one of the few good things that happened to Nick when growing up. He would never trade her for another.
He glanced over at Lisal, as she prepared for the guests. He couldn’t help to notice the curves of her slender body, wishing she were staying home tonight.
A knock at the door brought Nick out of his thoughts. “Can you get that? I’m still trying to straighten things up.” Lisal called out to Nick.
Nick answered the door, and only Allisa stood there. As usual, her dark eyes held determination which mixed with her bouncy blonde hair, giving the impression that she would kill you with kindness. Her facial features were warm, like a woman who loves to bake cookies just for the sake of giving them away.
“Oh hi,” Nick said, “Where’s Dave? I thought he was supposed to be with you.”
Allisa had her usual smile. She almost always seemed to be in a cheerful mood. When Nick had first met her, he thought she was a fake. If her house burnt down and husband left, she would still seem happy.
“He’s not feeling very well; I think it is from constantly eating fast food. He is always on the go and doesn’t have time to stop and have a decent meal.” Allisa replied. Then she held a slight smile while saying, “You know David; he always has to have breakfast with the boys at Jim’s Diner, and then whatever fast food restaurant he is in the mood for when lunch rolls around.” Nick knew what she meant by having breakfast with the boys. Since David worked for the pavement company, he and his fellow construction workers would gather before work at the Diner and eat in their bright orange shirts.
Like many people, Nick believed fast food was unhealthy for anyone to eat on a constant basis.
Allisa took her usual seat at the end of the table, as Lisal set some iced tea in front of her. Nick guessed it was green tea because ever since Allisa became obsessed with losing weight, she had given up soda for green tea. He thought it was a smart move. There was a noticeable difference; it appeared Allisa had lost about twenty pounds over the past three months. She didn’t have much more to go. Nick guessed she would be at her ideal weight after losing ten more pounds.
“Well Nick,” Allisa said, “when are you coming to church with us? We are all awaiting your company.” The question didn’t take Nick by surprise, since it was not unusual for Allisa to make some kind of attempt to convince him to come to her church.
“Oh, probably when hell freezes over. You know the major reason I have trouble with Christianity is because I don’t see how a loving God can send people to hell for eternity for not believing the ‘right’ thing.”
Alissa went on, “but you have to realize, we all deserve to go to hell. God is a God of love, but he is also a God of justice.”
“Hold on one second. Why do we all deserve to go to hell? I didn’t ask to be born with the supposed original sin connected to me. It also amuses me how when Hitler tortures people for not following him, people correctly call it ‘cruelty,’ but when God is going to send people to hell to be tortured for eternity for not following him, the same people consider it ‘justice.’” When the idea of hell came to his mind, Nick could not help think of his uncle Jack who passed away three years ago. He was a man that was always there to help out. Nick remembered getting stuck on a few occasions in snowstorms, and his uncle being one of the first to be out there to help get him unstuck. He was never a religious man, so why would a god of love send a person such as his uncle to hell? It seemed quite absurd to Nick.
“Nick, you’re impossible, but we at the church will keep you in our prayers.” Allisa smiled to show that there were no hard feelings.
“Thank you, could you pray that Jesus would turn some water into wine? I could really use some now.” At that Alissa just rolled her eyes but seemed slightly amused, while Nick chuckled inside.
Lisal and Allisa did a quick review of the Bible study they were going to put on when they got to the church, while Nick sat in. After a while, Nick grew bored and went into the living room to kick back and enjoy one of his books from the Dragonlance Chronicles* series. It was his first time reading it, and he quickly became engrossed in the writings. He thought the characters were brilliantly put together, especially the curious kender who was immune to fear and constantly ‘borrowed’ things from the people around him. Eventually Lisal and Alissa headed off to the women’s Bible study, and Nick stayed behind. He hoped it wouldn’t last very long; Lisal’s perfume had been seducing him, and he wanted to have some fun when she returned.
* * *
Deacon Boomhower had been getting ready to close up his office at work when his cell phone rang. He had been expecting this call and answered it immediately.
“Plan is in place!” came the muffled voice from the one known as “Clyde.” “She will be at the church, and will remain there well after the Bible study.”
Deacon Boomhower knew exactly whom Clyde was referring to. Lisal had to be taken out of the picture quickly before she dove her nose in too far. He would not kill her, for he would only kill if he had to. That’s what Clyde’s assassin was for. It was a rather bizarre plan. Deacon Boomhower wondered why the assassin didn’t just take her out of the picture. Perhaps Clyde was trying to keep things on the down-low. If they kidnapped her first and took her into the secret underground tunnels, less attention would be drawn.
Clyde continued, “You know your exact orders; am I correct?”
“Yes sir,” was all Deacon Boomhower could say before the line went dead. Clyde was always quick in conversation. The deacon stood up as his heart beat faster. Only a few more hours, and he would meet Lisal at the church.