Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Prayers of the dying

Published:Sunday | October 4, 2015 | 10:00 AMKaren Heslop

Larry checked his watch for the 10th time in apparently as many minutes. This was the last place he wanted to be, but his wife had insisted. These people had the bad habit of going on and on about the same point.

"Is there anyone here who wants to come up to the altar?"

Here we go, Larry thought, the usual plea.

"Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready?"

Now where had Larry heard that before? Oh, right. Every church service or crusade someone had dragged him to for as long as he could remember. And he had 46 years' worth of memories to look back on.

The lady on the stage continued: "Are you prepared to meet the Saviour, my brothers and sisters?"

Larry didn't think he was, but he was certainly ready to get to the bar before it closed. He didn't consider himself to be an alcoholic, but he did acknowledge that there were things he preferred to being sober. Like being in a coma or even being dead, depending on the day.

"You going up?"

Larry glanced to his right at the man in the orange polo shirt and black jeans. Where had he come from? Larry hadn't really been paying attention to the people around him, except for his wife, of course, looking for an opportunity to escape from her clutches. But still he was pretty sure he would have noticed if someone had taken a seat beside him.

"No. Not into the whole repent and be baptised thing." Larry smirked, "Maybe later."

Maybe after he had had a couple drinks. Maybe his wife should try taking him to church after he had had something to drink. It might have led to a difference in outcome. At least he wouldn't spend the entire time feeling like he was about to crawl out of his skin.

END TIME

"You ever wonder if things would be different if we knew exactly when the end was gonna come?"

Larry thought about it. If he knew the exact time and date of oblivion, would it make a difference? Would he spend less time in the bottle or more? Would he wait for death or would he take the matter into his own hands?

"I wouldn't want to know."

The stranger nodded.

They both watched some people meander up the church aisle. Some already had tears streaming down their cheeks. Larry wondered what they suddenly knew that brought on the waterworks. Lord knows the only times he felt like crying was when he was too drunk or too sober. Every morning, he woke up with more liquor than blood flowing through his veins, his prayer was the same: "God, kill me or give me another chance to be better."

Death or redemption. A simple request, and thus far, his prayers for the latter had been answered.

The lady decided that the area in front of the altar was as full as it was going to get and started to pray.

"Sure you don't wanna go up?"

Larry turned to the stranger again.

"Why are you so interested? Looking for company?"

The stranger shrugged.

"I just figured, you never know when your prayers had been answered for the last time, you know. As for me, my place is somewhere else."

The stranger handed Larry a card and left.

Larry put the card in his jacket pocket and shook his head. These places were always crawling with weirdos.

His wife's grip loosened on his hand and her eyes looked hopefully at him when he turned to her. He averted her gaze and she knew what was coming.

"See you later, Agnes."

DARKENED SKY

The sky was dark when Larry opened his eyes. He knew better than to try to move, so he brought his watch close to his face.

1:30 p.m.

He checked it twice. How drunk was he exactly? Before he could give it another thought, a ball of fire landed a few feet from him, creating a smoldering crater in the road. Larry was suddenly very awake and sober enough to get off the ground.

He needed to get home. Another fireball came hurtling from the sky and then another. Larry was still too slow to fully escape the third. The fire clambered haphazardly up his leg, leaving a trail of liquefied skin in its wake. Larry screamed and fell to the ground, twisting his ankle in the process.

Pain lit Larry's brain on fire as he crawled through broken glass to get out of harm's way. As he eased himself up against a wall, he reached into his jacket for his cell phone to call Agnes.

He pulled out the stranger's card. It said: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." Matthew 24:29.

Larry realised that neither death nor redemption were an option for him anymore. He started to crawl towards home again.