Last Light

 

I.

I have to get all this down before it’s too late, I thought as I sat at the table. The dictation system wouldn’t work, so I fumbled through the drawers until I found a note pad and a pen. I checked the doors to be sure they were securely bolted and the heavy shades were drawn down, shielding me from the noise of breaking windows and gunfire, the flickering light from burning buildings and mounds of rubbish managed to sift into the room through the tiny cracks beneath the curtains. I felt for my weapon, comfortably seated in its shoulder holster and, as an afterthought, I took it out and placed it on the desk next to the note pad. I thought for a moment and started to write.

It was four years ago when the first changes were noticed. There was a letter to the editor in the Annals that caught my eye, first because it was from Dr. Khalil, who had been a year ahead of me in training and because the heading reported on a phenomenon very similar to something I had started to notice.

“Unexpected Rapid Recovery” it said and the letter reported on over thirty patients that had undergone major surgery, the type that usually took 5-7 days to recover from, but these patients had recovered in only two days. Incisions appeared completely healed, normal physiology was restored in a remarkably short time. I found it striking because over the previous three months I had noticed the exact same thing. Major colon resections, big cancer operations, severe traumas, were jumping up out of bed in short order, demanding to eat, pacing the corridors and returning to normal productive lives in one or two days, not the usual seven or ten, or longer. I thought it was due to my superior surgical skills, but now I was beginning to think that there was something else afoot.

That day, the day I read that letter, caused something to gel in my head. I remember talking to Gwen, the head nurse on Post Surgical.

“Did you notice this, Dr. Marcus?” she asked.

I looked up from the chart, first staring at her ample chest and then looking into her eyes.

“Notice what?” I murmured, still thinking about her breasts instead of my patients.

“Mrs. Feinstein in 335, the colon resection you did yesterday, the one that took five hours and had abscesses all over; she’s up walking around, vital signs perfectly normal and normal BUN and creatinine. The last words caught my attention, because Mrs. Feinstein’s baseline BUN and creatinine were 40 and 2.2.  A colon resection, even one that drained a bunch of pus, would never have reversed such a chronic condition.

“Repeat the lab, Miss Hadley and, if there’s no error ask Dr. Surham to take a look at her…thanks”, I remarked. My thoughts started to drift away to recollections of similar stories, but this was certainly the most blatant example. I walked away, still thinking about Gwen and her breasts, but also thinking that these events would allow me to get to know the amply endowed and very attractive Gwen Hadley on a more than professional level.

Of course the repeat lab confirmed the unexplainable improvement and I glibly concluded that her previous condition must have been due to her diverticulitis. In a way I was thankful for Mrs. Feinstein because she gave me an excuse to have dinner with Gwen.

As I was leaving I passed by Meno, who was busy mopping the floor, whistling the latest hip-hop as he rolled along. He stopped his work as I passed by and gave me a big smile, exposing his bright, white teeth.

“Hey, Doc, what’s going on?” he exclaimed loudly enough for everyone in the hall and most of the patients could hear. He held out his hand and I gave it a short slap.

“You’re certainly in a good mood”, I observed. “Even more than usual.”

“I got an “A” on that political science paper I was writing. The prof said it was the most original thing he’d read in years. One more semester and then, with any luck I’ll be off to law school and then watch out. The only floors I’ll be mopping are the courtroom’s with my opponents faces.”

“Well, you’ve certainly got the proper attitude to be a lawyer, that’s for sure. I hope you’ll be on the doctor’s side if the situation ever arises.”

“Don’t worry, Doc. You can always count on me to look out for you.”

I wished him well and went on with the day’s work.

That evening, over the finest Scallops Madeira in town and a vintage red wine, Gwen and I talked about the series of freakish events.

“You must be some kind of fantastic surgeon, besides being kind of cute”, she observed. “I mean, besides Mrs. Feinstein, there’s also that old lady, you know, the ninety year old with the stomach CA. Grover, Eileen Grover. Near total gastrectomy; eating and out of the hospital in three days.”
I smiled at her as I thought about that particular patient and about a dozen others. “I guess I am a fantastic surgeon…”  Conversation turned to other more important items like where she was going to sleep that night and we forgot about medicine for a while.

II.

After I read Dr. Khalil’s letter, a few phone calls confirmed that surgeons everywhere were noticing the same thing. At the time we scratched our collective heads and were outwardly thankful for the good fortune. But, within a few weeks we noticed a new change, actually several changes. First, patients that had been sick for weeks or even months started to recover. Not only make some improvement in a minor parameter. No, these were dramatic changes. Severe, comatose head injury patients, long given up as hopeless, suddenly woke up; patients chronically on ventilators seemed to grow new lungs and were being weaned and discharged. Then, terminal cancer patients saw their disseminated disease melt away. Similar reports came in from all over the globe; all very heartening, but everyone I spoke with had a touch of worry in their voice. Unexplained phenomena have a way of frightening even the most learned of scientists. And, these occurrences went well beyond the unexplained. Supernatural is what some were starting to say.

I began seeing Gwen almost every night. The sudden outbreak of good health gave us much more free time. At that time, I was at a total loss to explain the phenomenon.  We both agreed it was for the best, while not understanding any of it. That night, while lying in bed together, she was talking, to no one in particular, sort of thinking out loud.

“Do you think that it’s God?” she asked. “Is He somehow reaching out of Heaven and touching our sickest patients and healing them, just like Jesus did in the Bible?”

“That’s as good an explanation as any; God, Jesus, or the devil”, I answered. “I’m happy to have a light schedule, for a while. Of course if it keeps up I’ll be looking for a job digging ditches or something. But, don’t worry; whatever I do I’m sure that I’ll need an assistant.” I rolled over and kissed her and we forgot about God and the devil and everything else for awhile.

As all this was occurring I noticed that my usually busy office was nearly empty. There were a few post op patients, all recovering uneventfully, but after another week even they stopped coming. I suppose that I was happy that people weren’t getting sick, but I also started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to make a living. I remember I felt a slight pang of guilt, something I had felt before when I thought about the comfortable lifestyle that I lived, all courtesy of human suffering. But I could always rationalize that what I did served humanity. The mixed feelings I had about this sudden outbreak of good health, which should have been a cause for joy, were making me feel very guilty.
When I went over to the hospital, I realized my feelings were universal. There were plenty of doctors in their clean white coats standing around talking to the nurses, while every few minutes an administrator dressed in a suit passed by, a worried look on their face. The hospital was empty, the surgery schedule was blank and nobody had a clue.
 
Hey Meno, you’ve still got work to do?” I asked, slightly envious of the custodian who still had some meaningful work to do. Sadly, I didn’t know his last name, even though we talked almost daily.

“Well, Dr. M”, he replied, “Even though there aren’t many sick people, all you doctor and nurse types still make quite a mess.”

“How true, how true”, I answered. “But, just you wait. With all these strange goings on, I won’t be surprised if this old world starts cleaning itself. Then you’ll be out of a job.”

“Fine with me, Dr. M. It’ll give me the chance to do what I really want. Finish law school, practice for a while and then get into politics, really help some of the downtrodden in our town. Oh, maybe not save them the way you do, but I think the world needs people in politics that want to do what’s right.”

“Good for you, Meno. You could be a first; a truly honest politician; someone looking out for the oppressed in society, without a thought or care about his own well-being. I’ve heard similar stories before, but politics seems to have a way of smashing even the strongest ideals into a fine powder that blows away with the first wind of temptation.”

“Just you wait, Doc; I’m going to be different, I guarantee that when I’m Mayor, then Governor and, then President I’ll always look out for all the people and do what’s right for everybody.”

I thought about the dramatic changes we’d all seen in the hospital, the strange phenomenon, all of it good, but still unsettling to say the least. Meno’s eager face gave me a touch of hope. His idealistic outlook and spirit seemed to be the best part of humanity and if the world was becoming a better place his ideals would be all the more important.

“Meno, you just keep those thoughts in your head, because I think, before we’re all done, we are going to need as many people like you as we can find. For now, there aren’t any sick people so I will leave you to your work. If I don’t see you again, Good Luck. Unless something changes I don’t think I’ll be needed around here.”

“Hasta luego, Doc. And, don’t worry. When I’m in charge I’ll be sure to look out for you.”
He gave me a big smile and put out his hand. I grasped it in mine and we parted; I still felt a bit envious of him and his lofty goals, contrasting sharply with all the worries that raced around my brain. I walked way admiring the gleaming floors that shined in the wake of Meno’s mop.
I knew that Meno worked until after eleven pm and almost always met two of his friends at Zola’s Pool Hall after he finished. I was at Zola’s one day when the three of them arrived; each loudly ordering a beer, putting their money down and shooting pool, nine ball to be exact.  I joined the three of them that night and learned that they had gone to high school together and got together almost every night to shoot pool, have a few beers and dream about a world where they were the ones in charge. I remember that night as if it was yesterday.

“Watch this shot, Ty”, Meno yelled above the loud music to Tyrone. All three, Meno, Tyrone and Eddie were twenty three years old, single with menial jobs. The only thing they had was each other and dreams of a better world for themselves. Only Meno had any sort of plan. Tyrone worked for the city, maintaining the parks and all the public areas. Eddie hadn’t graduated from high school and worked any odd jobs he could find. He was remarkable with his hands and could fix almost anything and he was the best pool player in town. His reputation brought him plenty of work and frequent challenges in the pool hall; both endeavors helped him maintain a fairly easy and comfortable life. In the end, in a way, they did realize their dreams.

III.

The lack of business gave me a well deserved break and I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up on reading, do a few neglected chores and play some golf, fully expecting that calls would start coming in requesting my services. But, none came. Nancy, my office nurse did call and told me she was working part time a local nursing home. Apparently the elderly and infirm still needed some assistance.

That same day I went for a stroll through the park. It was midday and I expected the usual hundred degree temps and near zero percent humidity that was the norm for June in Tucson. It was a bright, sunny day, but surprisingly comfortable, not too hot and not too dry. As I walked through the park I was struck by the bright green foliage, some trees bearing fruit, mixed in with the expected cactus. Curiouser and curiouser I thought, the scientist in me becoming aroused. I left the park and took the short walk to the university to talk to my squash partner, Allen Summersby. He was one of the world’s most accomplished biochemists. Maybe he had an answer. On the way I picked a peach from a tree that had sprouted up in the park. I remember I examined it very closely, thinking at the time that all these strange happenings were some sort of trick and perhaps were dangerous in some way. I sniffed the fruit and turned it over and over and finally took a bite. It was the best peach I’d ever tasted. I finished it off and picked three more for later.

I finally reached Summerby’s office and knocked on the door. I heard a soft “Come in” and opened the door to find him sitting behind his desk staring at his arm. He looked up at me and then held his arm up.

“You won’t believe this”, he said, pointing to a spot on his arm. “I injected this spot with toxic Strep a week ago and look.”

I studied his arm up and down and didn’t see a spot.”Where did you inject it?” He pointed to the middle of his forearm which looked pristine.

“There’s something very strange afoot and I have no idea why. As a matter of fact nobody does. I’ve talked with biochemists, geneticists, microbiologists and every other biological scientist I could think of and we’re all stumped. Of course, it all seems for the good, but I’ll tell you… we’re all a bit uneasy.”
“I know; you’d think we’d be rejoicing. I mean diseases seem to have become a thing of the past. Maybe the world’s being sterilized by some invading alien. Remember what happened to the Martians in the “War of the Worlds”, I replied.

“Great, that’s all we need; to be turned into a huge delicatessen for some space monster.”
We talked for a bit more, but he didn’t have any more answers than I had. It seems that we were all asking the same questions, but the questions only begat more questions. A few hours after this meeting the big worldwide conference was announced. A forum of political leaders, scientists, representatives of international space agencies and even religious leaders were to meet in New York at the UN the following week to discuss the recent events and formulate policy.

Meanwhile, I was, for all practical purposes, unemployed. I went for daily walks, chatted with anyone and everyone about current events and did my best to keep occupied. Like everyone else I was a bit worried.

I still saw Gwen almost every day, but she seemed to be distracted. Her normally voracious sexual appetite had waned; although we still “did it”, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm on her part.

“You seem far away”, I commented as I stroked her long black hair. She just stared at the ceiling.

“I feel like something huge is about to happen in this world and I really want to be a part of it. I’m sure you don’t know, I mean how could you know, that I’m a preacher’s daughter; grew up believing in Jesus and the Gospel and all that. When I went out into the world it was quite a shock; I learned a lot more in Nursing School than nursing. And, then my mother died of cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia to be exact. She got the flu one day and two weeks later she was gone. I guess it was at that time I stopped believing in God and Jesus and became a ‘fallen woman’ as my Dad would say.”
I wasn’t sure how I should respond to her words and decided it was best to remain silent. She continued.

“I guess I’m distracted, as you describe it, because everything that’s happening has to be the hand of God. Perhaps, Jesus’ return is imminent and, if that’s true, then I guess I feel like I should be preparing; preparing for judgment or salvation. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I need to be good and ask for His forgiveness.”

“I understand”, I lied, disappointed that our encounters would be coming to an end.
I gave her a big kiss, got out of bed, dressed and left her. She seemed more relieved than upset and, surprisingly, all I felt at that moment was indifference.
 
The big summit was, for the most part, a colossal anticlimax. Theories varying from solar flares to impending alien invasion were espoused. Religious leaders mostly said it was the work of the Devil and the world needed to repent of its evil ways. One question was raised suggesting that perhaps it was God intervening, preparing the world for his imminent return; a theory that was immediately rejected as being contrary to the available eschatological scripture. The mention of eschatology was a bit unsettling. I, and many others I’d talked with, was not ready for the end of the world. 

The hospital closed for lack of patients. I ran into Meno as he was leaving his class at City College.
“Still studying law, despite everything that’s happening?” I asked.

“It keeps me busy; I’ve already paid for the classes, so I might as well finish. The way things are going, there won’t be any more school or work; just hanging around waiting for something to happen. I liked it better when it took a little struggling to accomplish something”, he answered. “You still dating that hot Momma, that nurse…Gwen?”

“Naa, she’s waiting for the second coming; repented of her wanton ways, which left me out in the cold, so to speak. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself, but I’m pretty sure something’s about to happen; something big. I just hope it’s something good.”

“Of course it has to be good, Doc. How can any phenomenon that heals the sick be bad. Sounds very Biblical to me; sounds like God or Jesus is coming. Well, I need to get going; see you around , Doc.”

“So long Meno, Good Luck”

The walk home was slow as I stopped and chatted with all the people who were out and about, like me. Most were confused, some seemed very content, many more carried an air of indifference, were enjoying the fine weather and free fruit and veggies that were everywhere. I sensed a lack of purpose among most of the people and fear of the unknown.

IV.

But, it certainly didn’t seem like the end; even as the changes continued. Food seemed to become available at every turn. I remember one day I ate an apple, the last one that I had in my refrigerator. I remember this incident so clearly because after I finished it I really wanted a second one. I searched through every drawer and shelf in the refrigerator and throughout the kitchen and I was sure it was the last one. Well, what do you think; that night when I looked in the fridge there was a bowl full of apples. My first thought was that a friend had brought them by and left them without telling me, but after talking with others and hearing similar stories I suspected that it was something else.
So, in spite of having no work and no income I still lived a comfortable life. Food was no problem, as long as I was satisfied with fresh fruit and vegetables. I managed to keep myself busy, catching up on my reading, meeting with people that I hadn’t seen for years and just enjoying all the new things that were popping up all around. The bizarre occurrences certainly gave us plenty to talk about.

My old mentor, Dr. C, as we called him, was one of those people I visited with all the free time. He was 92 at that time and had been in failing health for several years. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Congestive Heart Failure had kept him in a chair or bed for the last eight years, the product of years of smoking Cuban cigars, I figured. I expected his wife to answer when I rang the bell at his home; but was only mildly surprised when Dr. C himself, looking tan and fit, answered the door.

“Great to see you, my boy”. He exclaimed effusively, grabbing my hand with a surprisingly strong grip. “It’s wonderful, don’t you think?”

“It certainly is Sir”, I responded with my usual respect. Although we had been friends for years and I had even fixed his hernia years before, I always treated the old boss with the greatest esteem and deference.

“I see these strange happenings have been very kind to you, Dr. C. You look thirty years younger”, I added.

“Certainly, certainly, that’s true. Come in, come in; have a seat and we’ll chat about it all; about old times and our current good fortune.”

I followed him to the living room; his wife Phyllis was sitting on the sofa, weak smile on her face. She looked a bit uneasy as she poured me a cup of coffee.

“Fortune seems to have smiled on you, Dr. C. You look like your twenty again”, I observed.

“Feel that way, too, my boy. All those parts that haven’t worked for years are humming along like well oiled machines, if you get my drift. I’ve been out of the house for the first time in years; looked up a few old friends and acquaintances. Phyllis still likes to stay here; some things never change.”

I suddenly realized why Phyllis looked to be upset. Dr. C. getting out of the house and “looking up old friends and acquaintances” meant that his poor wife was out in the cold, so to speak. All those years serving as his nurse seemed to have been forgotten. Her slightly bloodshot eyes told the whole story.

I turned to Phyllis and asked, “Has the boss been behaving himself?”

She looked as if she was about to burst into tears until I added, “Or is he back to smoking those vile cigars?”

She gave a heavy sigh before answering, “Oh, he’s been behaving himself that way. I guess he has learned at least one lesson, but some habits never seem to die.”

Dr. C gave her a sharp glance, but then changed the subject.

“What have you been doing with yourself, son. I suspect that these mysterious events have put you out of a job.”

“That’s for sure”, I answered, “No sick people, not even any trauma. I’m trying to get adjusted. I figure I’ll use the free time to look up some of my old friends; see how they’re getting along. But, I also figure I need to stay prepared, you know, just in case…”

He interrupted, “Just in case everything blows up. I suspect if that happens you’ll have more business than ever; or else…”

“Or else”, I interjected, “We’ll all be gone, nothing left but the rats and cockroaches.”

“Exactly, but, for me, I’m going to use this good fortune to catch up on the things I’ve been missing these last few years.”

He shot a glance at Phyllis, who suddenly stood up and ran out of the room.

“I don’t know what’s bugging her”, Dr. C stated.

“You certainly do”, I replied, my voice rising a notch. “All those years you’ve been wasting away in that chair, while she waited on you and tended to your every need. I know they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you don’t have to stay an old dog. You’ve been given a great gift; we’ve all been given a great gift, whether it lasts for two weeks or two thousand years. Second chances are rare in this world. I hope that you; that we all, use it wisely.”

Dr. C stared at his hands, but didn’t say a word. I couldn’t tell if his well known temper was going to show itself or if he was going to break down and cry. For the longest time he just sat and stared.
Finally, he looked up and said, “I think it’s time to go. Thanks for coming by to see me.”

He stood up and offered me his hand, which I took and he held it in his strong grip for almost a minute, but still remained silent.

“Good-bye, Sir. And, please be kind”, I pleaded as I the door closed behind me.

I never saw them again, but I began to wonder if these strange times were a blessing or a curse. As I walked through the streets towards my home I passed Meno and his two friends. They were with six women and, as always, Meno seemed to be in charge.

“Hey, Doc”, he called. “No more law school, times being what they are. Me and the boys here are starting on politics, if you get my meaning.”

I stopped and stared at what was a growing entourage.

“It looks like you’ll be leading us all before too long”, I answered.

He waved as he walked on and I made my way home, feeling more than a little depressed over what the world was becoming.

V.

No more illness, an abundance of food, lush plants springing up in dry barren desert; it seemed like a return to paradise to me and, for the most part, I sat back and enjoyed it.
As the months went by more and more people found it unnecessary to work. Things seemed to stop breaking; there was no more wear and tear; as a result, clothes and appliances and such didn’t need to be replaced. Large communes sprang up all over, composed of people convinced that it truly was time to drop out and commune with a nature that had become very accommodating. Cries from religious leaders continued, some calling it the hand of God, but many others saying it was Satan tempting us.

With nothing but free time I made it my business to continue catching up on visiting old friends and family. My brother, John, lived only about twenty miles away, but I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. He went through a nasty divorce the previous year and had shut himself off from most of his friends and family afterwards. His work as a software developer allowed him to work from home. I tried to call him as I drove to his home, but his phone went straight to voicemail. His home looked different than I remembered, but at first I wasn’t sure why. Then I noticed bars over all the windows and a tall, thorny hedge around the entire yard. I rang his bell and a disembodied voice answered.
“Who’s there?” I recognized John’s voice, although he seemed a bit distressed.

“It’s your brother, Dan”, I screamed into the air. “Open the door.”

“Put your right eye up to the scanner”, the voice commanded.

I looked around and then I saw a small cup shaped spot just below eye level. I stooped a bit and put my eye up against it and a bright red light scanned me back and forth. A few seconds later I heard a faint whirring noise and then the door seemed to relax and I was greeted by my brother, John, dressed in army fatigues and sporting what I was sure was full body armor beneath his military garb. He quickly grabbed me by the arm and ushered me inside.

“Quickly, we can’t let them in”, he said as he glanced around his yard and then slammed the door. I heard the whirring noise again, which I deduced was a magnetic lock, usually powerful enough to keep out the most determined intruder.

“You certainly look like Dan, but you can never be too sure. Morlocks can be very sneaky, you know. Still, there isn’t a Morlock that ever lived that could stand to have their eye scanned. Just a minute…”
He tore a sheet of paper, with a graph of some sort inscribed on it, from a device next to the door and perused it for a moment. It was the results of my scan, no doubt. After he had looked at it he smiled and then put out his hand.

“Dan, so good of you to come.”

“Well, with all that is hap…”

He didn’t let me finish as he started speaking rapidly.

“I’m glad you’re here, you’ll be safe here and two of us can fight them off; better than one and we can take turns being on guard…”

“On guard for what?” I asked, finally getting a word in.

“For Morlocks, of course. That’s why we can’t sleep. They can only come at night. But they will be coming, but it sure seems too soon. I didn’t think we’d have to worry about them for thousands of years. But look at what’s happening. There’s only one answer; we’re being fattened up, just like cattle. But I’ve got them beaten. They can’t get to me here and I can stay here for years if I have to. Look at everything I’ve stored up.”

He brought me into the next room where I was greeted by row upon row of cans, two different types: small cans of Spam and larger cans of Van Camp’s Baked Beans. At the same time I noticed his eyes, which were deeply blood shot with thick dark circles beneath them. His hair was disheveled and his finger nails were dirty and uncut.

“I’ve read that these two items provide all the nutrition an individual needs; all the vitamins and protein and calories. The only other necessary ingredient is water and I’ve got plenty. Beneath this house there’s a tank that is filled to the brim, over a hundred thousand gallons in an impermeable tank with lead shield, guaranteed to keep water fresh for over five hundred years. With all that and enough weaponry to stop a herd of elephants I think I’m safe.”

I looked into the wild eyes of my brother. His red hair went in every direction and there was a full beard; the product of at least six month’s growth.

“Do you think it could be anything other than Morlocks?” I asked in as non-threatening manner as I could. “I mean some people say it’s God or Satan.”

“Nope, no question, it’s the future come early. I’ve seen that movie hundreds of times. Everything done for us, food, good health, perfect weather. All right out of H.G. Wells. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rod Taylor parked his machine in my front yard. Of course I can’t wait for Weema to make her appearance. Nothing wrong with taking the good with the bad, if you get my drift.”

He threw a hand held rocket launcher over his shoulder as he popped open a can of spam.
“I always eat it straight out of the can. I figure I need to get used to it. It tastes pretty good…try some?”

I waved him off, not ready to give in to Morlocks or paranoia just yet. I walked over to the large, wooden closet set opposite his food stores. Inside was his arsenal: rocket launchers, automatic weapons, gas masks, hand guns, body armor and enough ammunition for a small army.

“How could you afford all this?” I asked. “You’ve got enough to hold off any enemy for years.”
“When all you eat is spam and beans you can save quite a lot.”

All of a sudden I felt the need to get out of there, Morlocks or no Morlocks. I didn’t think that my brother was dangerous, but something made me very nervous.

“I’ve got to go”, I lied. “I’ve got to meet someone, a woman”

“Is she blonde, is it Weema?” he asked, plaintively.

“Oh no, I haven’t seen Weema or any blondes for months. No, it’s my old girl Gwen, a nurse, brunette. She’s coming over to my apartment. But, I can see I don’t have to worry about you. You look more than prepared for anything. I’ll keep in touch.”

As I started to leave, he reached into his closet and pulled out a holster.

“Take this, you know, just in case. You never know what’s coming.”

He handed me a nine millimeter handgun, a box of cartridges and a powerful flashlight.

“If you come across any Morlocks, shine that light at them. They hate the light. They’ll be stunned and then you can shoot. Be careful.”

He gave me a hug as I waited for the door to unlock. I turned to wave back at him as I walked away and saw a look of sadness in his eyes, but only for a brief moment. He quickly slammed the door and I heard the faint whirring of the magnetic lock. I wondered if I was really the crazy one as I slowly walked back to my apartment.

VI.

Most of the people simply continued about their business, some still working, others raising families, thankful that life had become much easier , never questioning why. The initial fears seemed to subside as everyone came to expect something new and wonderful each day.

I do remember reading about the probes of outer space; a majority of scientists were convinced that everything happening had to be the influence of some sort of superior alien; one that was making our Earth suitable for an impending visit. The skies were probed and scanned night and day, from every corner of the globe, but nary a sign was detected, no unusual flicker of light, electromagnetic wave or any sort of energy disturbance.

It was when the light finally appeared that the true meaning of it all became apparent. It started over South America, the Amazonian rain forest to be exact. The few observers said it was like the sun started to expand. Bright light filled the sky and blocked out everything else, no clouds, no sun, no stars or moon at night, just bright, white, warm light, day and night; without a flicker, but steadily expanding.

And, it wasn’t just the fact that there was this bizarre light “down there”. The “light”, wherever it shined, permeated everywhere and everything.  Inside, outside, in a closet, even in the deepest cave, it found you. Slowly, over a few weeks, it circled the globe, carrying its luminescence to every nook and cranny. There was no hiding place, no day or night, just bright, warm, and, surprisingly, comforting light.

It was a true joy to be outside. I walked along streets that were covered with soft grass. Everywhere it was softness and comfort. Hard asphalt was gone replaced by a natural thick, plush carpet of blue green grass. Trees and bushes, laden with fruit grew everywhere. Most of the people seemed happy, content with this new world order. On one of my walks I met Dingo, at least that’s what we’d always called him at the hospital.

Dingo’s real name was Dennis, but he was given the nickname Dingo sometime during his younger days and it stuck. Dingo had Down’s Syndrome, had lived with his parents for years until they both passed away a couple of years before all these changes began. Social Workers brought him to a halfway house where he had a roof over his head and someone to look out for his needs. He always was around the hospital and we gave him lots of simple chores to do, deliveries to make and storage rooms to straighten and such. He really was a tireless worker and compulsive enough about doing a good job to have been a surgeon.

He was sitting in the grass eating an apple when I saw him.

“Hey, Dingo, how’s it going?” I asked, standing over him.

A big smile lit up his face as he patted the ground, an invitation to sit with him I surmised. I picked an apple form the nearby tree and sat down opposite him, staring at his beaming face.

“Don’t you think this is great, Dr. Marcus? God is coming back to us”, he stated as if it were a generally accepted fact.

“You may be right, Dingo. That certainly would be the best explanation for everything.”

“Oh, I know it’s God. It’s just like my Momma would tell me, before she went away. She’d set down next to me and read me some of the Bible and then she’d close it and say, ‘Someday, little Dennis’, she didn’t call me Dingo, ‘someday God is going to remember our little world here. He’ll remember that He made us and this world, just like it says in the book here, and He’ll come back for us and gather us all up to his house in Heaven and there’ll be such a party in Heaven. And, little Dennis, we’ll all be the same, He’ll look at each of us and love us the same. He won’t care if we’re rich or poor, smart or dumb. All He’ll know is that He made us, that we’re His children and the He loves us all. Even though we’ve been bad, he still loves us.’

“That’s what Momma used to tell me and now’s the time. You know, Dr. Marcus, I’m going to sit right here, eat the fruit He’s left for us and wait for Him. Because He’s coming and pretty soon we’ll all be in Heaven.”

I sat and stared into his innocent, believing face and saw hope and trust. No cynicism, no anger, no suspicion. We sat together for a while and then I left him. I envied him; simple faith is something I had never known.

VII.

It was at this point that everything stopped and I mean everything. Nothing worked, every TV, computer, automobile, every mechanical, electronic machine, even wind powered or solar powered simply went dead. As a matter of fact, I looked into the back of my computer and dust wafted out; the circuitry had become a mass of fused metal and silicon, perhaps useful as scrap meal, but totally nonfunctional.

With all this free time I went to visit another old friend, Mickey Simons, a very successful businessman, the inventor of the personal motorcar. “Ace”, as he was called by everyone that had ever met him, had designed the extremely low priced, but very functional, almost disposable vehicles as a way to travel around local areas vey inexpensively. He made a fortune before he sold out to Ford Motors. He lived in a huge mansion on the outside of town; I hadn’t seen him for years, but with nothing but free time I took the walk across town, curious to see hear his opinion about the strange happenings.

I found the green metal gate open when I arrived and the premises a bit unkempt. I knocked loudly on his large, imposing front door. Ace answered after a few minutes.

“Hello, Dr. Dan; good to see you, thanks for coming by”, he exclaimed, grabbing my hand and shaking it vigorously. “Come on in, Come in.”

It seemed like he was expecting me; as if I was an invited guest, rather than a surprise visitor. The huge mansion seemed deserted, except for Ace. I wasn’t sure if he was still married. I vaguely recalled that he had a wife named Judy, but something  about an affair and a nasty divorce stuck in my mind, but then again it may have been someone else.

“Anyone else here with you?” I asked, trying to be nonchalant. It seems like a big place to manage alone.

“No one but me, at the moment. My wife left last year, took the kid with her and my hired help left when all these strange things started to happen. I had a handyman who took care of the grounds and his wife kept house. But, they left to find Jesus or God or something. Times being what they are, I’m managing OK. But, come with me; let me show you something.” His voice rang with enthusiasm.
I followed him to his garage where I saw a funny, strange looking vehicle, sort of part car and part bicycle.

“Meet the future”, he exclaimed proudly. “The autocycle, self propelled, uses the earth’s gravity and rotation along with the pedals to move. Has a solar panel to provide some juice. In the days ahead this baby is going to be humanity’s salvation.”

“Does it really work?” I asked, a bit skeptical that this freakish “autocycle” was anything more than a gimmick designed to put some cash into Ace’s pocket, sort of like the scam artists that sold radiation detectors to people in California after the earthquake and Tsunami of 2011.

“Of course it works”, Ace answered, a bit of irritation in his voice. “Climb aboard; take it for a spin. It’s top speed is about 35 mph.”

I climbed in and headed out and around his long circular driveway. The pedals turned with a minimum of effort and it was very comfortable and easy to use. I eased it back into the garage and stepped out, greeted by Ace, grinning from ear to ear.

“Great, isn’t it?” he asked as he opened the door.

“Looks like you’ve got a winner, Ace. Just one question, though. Why does anyone need to go anywhere? From what I can see, it’s the same here as at the South Pole.”

Ace’s grin grew even wider. “That’s true, for now, you’re right. But, do you really think all this peace and joy and tranquility is going to last? Let me tell you; we were thrown out of the Garden last time. This time we’ll leave of our own accord, probably shaking our fist at the God who has the audacity to think that he knows best. And, when the crash finally comes, I’ll be there with my autocycle; get as much as I can and live out my life in comfort.”

I stared down at the ground, slowly shaking my head. Sadness overcame me as I realized that Ace was right. God would be rejected, again, and all that would be left would be autocycles, hatred, selfishness, envy and death.

“I hope you’re wrong”, I whispered as I turned to leave. “I hope you’re wrong.”

As I walked a way I heard him call out “When the time comes I’ll be waiting; I’ll sell you one at half price.” His voice faded away as I walked quickly home, brushing a tear away as I passed a large group of people gathered on what had been a street corner, when there were actual cars that ran. I saw Meno standing on a bench addressing the crowd. I only caught a few of his words as I passed by, but the crowd was sizable and he seemed to be keeping the throng enthralled.

“Is this what we want? A promise …?”

I wasn’t sure if he was for all these changes or against them. I made a mental note to stop next time I saw him and listen more closely.

VIII.

All everyone could do was stare at the light, or walk among the people staring at the light. There was an abundance of fruit and vegetables to eat, some of it seemed completely new, to me at least, and almost everyone I met seemed to be content, the light had a calming effect, almost like everyone was drugged. As I moved among scores of people, young and old, children, adult I remember thinking that maybe my brother was right; somewhere, at some point Morlocks would come out of the shadows and drag unsuspecting victims underground. But, there were no shadows, just an enormous sense of well being and a great feeling of happiness.

Of course, there was no way to know if this “happiness” was universal; at this point I could only comment on Tucson. Everywhere the people walked among the flowers, picking fruit, no cares or worries. Many shed their clothes, the feeling being that humanity had returned to Eden, their shame of nakedness vanquished. Indeed, it was paradise; wild animals, coyotes, scorpions, even snakes all walked amongst us without fear or animosity.

But, as I talked with different people I heard the same thing over and over.

“It’s good now, enjoy it while it lasts, troubles will surely return, just be ready.”

I walked up to Gwen’s old apartment, fully expecting to find it deserted; my former lover off in pursuit of nobler things. But, I tried anyway and I still had feelings for her, maybe even love. I knocked on her door, but, no surprise, no one answered.

“She’s been gone for weeks”, I heard a woman’s voice behind me. “She dressed herself up in some white robes and took off, looking for God I imagine.”

I turned around and saw a very attractive woman, long black hair, dark brown eyes, perfect figure, dressed in a white tank top and cut off jeans.

“I’m Dr. Marcus, Dan; I dated Gwen for a while, before all this happened. Do you have any idea which way she went?”

“Miriam”, she answered and she held out her hand, which I took and gave a short kiss, feigning lost chivalry.

She continued, “She went that way”, pointing north, “but I don’t know how far she’s gone. It’s been weeks now. I’m sure she’s found the new Jesus by now. She did tell me something as she was walking away. She said, ‘I’m going to find the brightest spot of light and there I’ll find some peace.’ I hope she’s OK. She was a good neighbor.”

“Well, thanks for the scoop, Miriam. I guess you’ve got lots of free time now. Are you all alone?”
“Yup, just me here. Mostly single folks live in these apartments. A lot have left; gone back to nature or something like that I suppose. I’m not complaining, although I do get lonely at times.”

She gave me a short smile and then walked up to me took my hand and gave me a long kiss. We walked hand in hand into her apartment, into her bed and then I never saw her again.

IX.

But, it went on and on. I lost track of time, without day or night, no clocks, not even sundials all anyone could do was wait, be content and wait some more. As I look back now it was this feeling of waiting that was the greatest portent that something was coming. If only we all had accepted what had happened, embraced it and accepted true contentment I wouldn’t be writing this now.
Finally, He came. I had expected His arrival for some time; everyone had been expecting Him. He brought the same message that was brought over two thousand years ago. God loves you and all He asks is for you to have faith; to trust and believe Him. Jesus appeared everywhere, moving like a whirlwind from place to place always bringing the same message of God’s love. The word of His return spread among all the people and most rejoiced.

He even came to Tucson and I heard Him speak. He stood on a hill in the middle of the city and His words echoed those he had uttered more than two thousand years ago.

“God has sent me into the world to bring His word to all the people, all His children. He has made the world pure again and offers freely the gift of His love to every man, woman and child of His creation.”
His words touched my soul and, I think, the heart and soul of everyone that had ears to hear. There was a power in his voice, but also gentleness. He dressed in a simple white robe, but he shined brighter than the light that filled the sky. I was overcome with peace and contentment as I realized that every care that I’d ever had was gone. The words he spoke were a soothing balm to the troubled feelings, the doubts that nagged me from the first moment.

As quickly as he spoke, he seemed to vanish and I heard he had moved on to the next stop, bringing the love of God to all humanity. And, He asked nothing in return. No repentance, no confession of faith; just acceptance of the wonderful gift.

Gwen was in the crowd, sitting right up front, eyes fixed on The Messiah. I saw her from the back and managed to inch my up until I was right behind her. I sat down and listened, but with only half an ear at first. I mostly gazed at the back of Gwen’s head, waiting for an opportunity to speak to her. I thought I was over her; our last encounter had an air of finality about it, but I still worried about her and I told myself I wanted to be sure she would be OK.

As I stared at her head, His words seemed to gather force and I forgot about Gwen, her hair, and everything. His word was powerful and simple. When it was over I thought about Gwen again, but she was gone. I saw her in the front of the crowd that had encircled Jesus. I saw Him gently touch her cheek and then they both disappeared into the throng.

But, there were some who doubted Him; they began to question His every word and His motives. Why now, what do you expect from us, we don’t need God, we didn’t ask for this.
He answered simply, “Why not now? Mankind has suffered so and it is time to return to the God that loves you”. Evil was cast out of many hearts by His kind and gentle words and gradually it seemed that even those who doubted Him began to believe, began to embrace Him and the Light.
But, not all. I don’t think anyone knows when the rebellion started, but like a whisper that builds into a roar, it did start. I think it was somewhere up North, the question was raised.

“Can we have some of our things back?”

Jesus’ answer was simple, “You have all the love of God, what more could anyone want?”

I was alone in my room when He came; I don’t know why He chose me, or, perhaps, He visited many people. He didn’t say and I didn’t think to ask. Up close there certainly was nothing heroic about Him. He wasn’t handsome; He didn’t seem particularly powerful; no, there was nothing special about this man. Well maybe His eyes. He had the sort of eyes that could look right through you as if you weren’t even there or they could look right into your heart and mind. Somehow, I had the impression that even before I ever said a single word He knew everything there was to know about me.

“Why now?” I asked, getting straight to the point I thought.

“Why anytime?” He answered, sounding a bit weary. “The world has fallen farther and farther and now you’ve all been returned to the Garden. You want for nothing. God is here, with you; is there anything more?”

“Is it true what has been written? I mean about you, your birth, your life, your death, your rising?”

“You have read the testimony. My Brother’s words that attest to all that they saw. You know what happened to them and to so many others because of me and still you do not believe. If you had been there with Mary, surgeon; if you had attended to my birth, would that have been sufficient? If you had seen the blind man’s eyes open or the paralyzed man pick up his mat and walk away, would you be asking me now? If you had tended to my scourged back or taken me down from the tree and placed me in the tomb would you now believe? If you had seen me throw off the funeral shroud and rise from the tomb, if I had come to you and shared a meal, if you had seen me ascend on a cloud and were witness to me sitting at the right hand of my Father would that have been sufficient? I see the doubt written on your heart, even now; even after all that has happened. Hope has returned to this world; but hope, I fear, has found the door locked and will be sent away.”

“But, how am I to know you are Him?”

“Here I am. Behold my hands, my side, my back. Use your skills, surgeon, and then tell me.”

He rose and took off his cloak and tunic and raised his arms. There was a short wound in his right chest which looked fresh, as though it had been suffered only hours before. I saw the same thing on his back and hands, wounds so deep that muscle and bone were easily discerned, mangled and torn, with nerves laid open and raw. How could a mere man stand such pain?

“I can see that you have suffered, but to what purpose?”

“You don’t need to ask such a question. Look around you. See what the world has become. You have been given everything that man has asked for, even after your father and mother were cast out. Now, you are back home, with God, in a world that is safe and free from death and disease.”

“Are we better off now?” I continued. “So many people are becoming restless; wandering around without purpose. Is that to be our future?”

“A future walking with God, can there be anything better. Can man create anything that compares with all that is here? Can any camera, digital, SLR or anything compare with the precision and beauty of an eagle’s eye? Can a computer create anything even remotely comparable to the art of Michelangelo or Da Vinci or Picasso, all God’s creatures using God’s gifts to His glory.

“You know”, I answered, “it sounds perfect, a real Shangri-La, but something just doesn’t seem right; it seems like something’s missing. I know it seems crazy, but we’ve learned to live with the struggle. I guess we’re pretty empty if we don’t have anything else.”

“But to live every day in perfect communion with your Creator, to have all the Glory of God descend upon this world for all the people; how could even one person reject such a thing?”

“I think you’ve come at the wrong time. We’re not ready.”

“Would you ever be ready? He asked as a tear formed in his eye. “Such is humanity, such is the power of Satan. There are some who are prepared, those who profess true faith in Me and My Father. Alas, there time here will be cut short, but they will see God in all his Glory before everyone. Even so, it is far too few.”

“What about you? Are you destined to suffer and die for us again?”

“You’ve been reading the Bible; surely you know the answer.”

“John 19:30, ‘It is finished’.”

“Yes, my atonement was sufficient to satisfy My Father’s wrath and free the world from its sins. I have returned now to bring the message of God’s love to this world, to seek repentance and forgive its sins. But, I’m afraid Satan’s grasp may be too strong.”

“Will there be no hope, then? Is there still time to repent? Listen to me, I sound like Ebeneezer Scrooge.”

“Scrooge did repent and found salvation on that Christmas Day, salvation through charity, in a huge turkey and in Me. What God has done cannot be undone and there is still time, even as the days grow short. The tidal wave started by your friend, Meno, will sweep across the world and, in the days to come, there will be much sorrow and people will curse God and themselves. Even then some will repent and find salvation, while for many the sin that is buried in their soul will rise and fill the world with hate and greed and violence.”

I sat silent for a while and He sat with me. I felt His grace as he touched my shoulder. As night fell and the room grew dark I drifted off to sleep and when I awoke He was gone. Nothing had changed except there were drops of blood on the cover of my Bible. They looked fresh, but they could not be wiped away. At that moment I said a prayer of thanksgiving.

X.

It was a short time later that the grumbling really started. Just a few malcontents voicing their displeasure.  We want our games, they said, we want to be able to see and talk with our friends and family far away. We’re tired of fruit, we want meat, we’re tired of the Light. But, before long the numbers grew.

Meno was at the forefront of the movement. Everywhere he went crowds followed. His message was clear. We don’t want religion, We don’t need religion, we don’t need God, we don’t need Jesus. We were happy before; happy to be free; to struggle. In spite of the lack of phones and other communication devices, this new message spread. I was at one of Meno’s rallies and it left me afraid; afraid for humanity which I feared was coming to an end.

Meno stood on a podium, speaking through a makeshift bullhorn, his voice carried through the still air with remarkable clarity.

“We never asked for this light, did we?” he shouted to the crowd, a gathering that stretched as far as I could see.

“No”, the throng replied.

“We were happy before; even those who were poor had more than we have today”, he preached.
“We’re happier now”, responded a lone female voice.

The crowd shouted at her and she was set upon by everyone around her as Meno stood at the front, smiling, doing nothing to stop the wild vicious attack.

“We are not happier now; it’s time we reclaimed our world; it’s time to send this false Messiah home. It’s time to say to this uninvited and unwanted intruder that the world is ours; we will make it a paradise, a paradise of our choosing in our image.”

“MENO, MENO,MENO, lead us to a better world”, the crowd shouted in unison, led by Meno’s lieutenants stationed at strategic spots.

Meno held up his arms to quiet his ardent followers. Silence filled the air.

“It’s time…it’s time to find our enemy, to send him away and rebuild our world, bring back our technology, bring back our food. Send the light away”, and shouting loudly, “SEND THE LIGHT AWAY”.

The crowd started chanting, “Send the light away; send the light away”. The chanting grew louder until it was a thunderous roar:

“SEND THE LIGHT AWAY,SEND THE LIGHT AWAY.”

Meno marched off his podium towards downtown Tucson and all the people followed. At this point I ran to the beaten woman; she was lying motionless on the ground, but I saw that she was still breathing. I ran to her and cradled her head as all the people, some surely her assailants, slowly moved away.

I looked at her face and then sat back suddenly, for there was Gwen, her face bruised and swollen, blood pouring from her mouth and both ears.

“Gwen…oh Gwen, why did you do it? Why didn’t you stay with me?” I cried.

She opened her eyes, “Dr. Marcus, How good of you to care.”

“Let me get you up, let me help you…save you”, I cried.

“Leave me, doctor, I know you have seen Him. And, if you have seen Him, then you know that I am already saved. I was lost; I was dead, but now, even as I breathe my last breath, I am finally made whole, His touch made me whole. Perhaps, now, my daddy will forgive me, because, I know, I am forgiven.”

She closed her eyes and the life went out of her.

“Gwen, Gwen”, I shouted s I lifted her up. “I’m still a surgeon; I can save you.”

They were empty words; I had nothing else to offer.

“She is with my Father now”, a familiar voice said from behind me.

“Can’t you save her? Won’t you save her? If you touch her I know she will be healed”, I cried.
I laid her on the ground and turned to look at Him for the last time. He was shaking His head and then He looked upward, towards Heaven, I presumed.

“She is with my Father; she is at peace, finally. Like the lost sheep, she strayed far away, but her faith was great. There is great rejoicing in Heaven at this moment; a lost daughter has come home.”
I watched Him silently for a few moments. There was a mixture of sadness and joy in His eyes.
“The mob is looking for you”, I informed Him.

“I know; and before long they will find me. They will try to kill me, but just as before I will pass through them unharmed. It is almost time to return to my Father. When the time comes for you, remember Me. If enough people like you and Gwen and many others remember, hope will live on. Then, in time I will return.”

He walked away, leaving me by myself. I felt great loneliness and briefly despaired. I carried Gwen’s lifeless body to an empty field and laid her among the wild flowers, consecrating her to a God I was barely beginning to know.

After Gwen’s death, I wandered through the streets of Tucson aimlessly for a while. I knew that salvation was present in this life, there for the taking, but there was so much anger; anger which fouled the air. Jesus had left our area, but the unrest remained. I saw Meno walking through the streets one day, surrounded by his entourage, dozens, perhaps hundreds of followers. People with fear in their eyes hailed him nevertheless as he surveyed the land. He was carried by his people, elevated as if he were God, offering salvation. Confrontation was inevitable and I knew it would be soon. I tagged along with the crowd; morbid curiosity overcoming fear.

I didn’t have to wait long. Jesus returned and spoke to a crowd just outside the city. Word reached Meno and he went out to meet this adversary.

“I bring you a great gift”, Jesus preached, “Salvation from My Father; return to Paradise, to the perfect world that We created for you. It is here now, all around. But, there is so much more for all of you. When the time is right all the glory of Heaven will come to this place and you will know such peace and happiness; greater than the greatest thing you can imagine.”

“Lies…all lies,” Meno’s voice pierced the air. “It’s always the same thing. It will come, you will find happiness and peace sometime; sometime in the future. But what about now? Now we have nothing but fruit and light. I say to you, false diety, we had so much before you came. It’s true, this world wasn’t perfect, but at least we had dignity and freedom. We aren’t made to serve any false god, we’re made to struggle, to fight for every inch of our being.”

Jesus remained outwardly calm as he turned towards Meno, “Fool, do you know what you are saying? Do you know where your words come from? The Evil One has taken your heart. Do you know what will come?” Tears filled Jesus’ eyes as He spoke. “Do you really believe that you will make a better world for yourselves? Do you so openly reject God?”

“We not only reject god, as you call him, we condemn him and you and we sentence you to death”, Meno answered angrily, hatred filling his voice. “Seize this false god.”

The mob rushed forward, but, just as He had predicted, He passed through them unharmed. The crowd shouted as He walked away. So many stood and watched, myself included.

Shouts of “Be Gone…leave us alone…Go back to your own world” followed Him. As he walked into the distance, I suddenly realized what a stupid idiot I was. I burst away from the throng and went after Him. He was several hundred yards away, but as fast as I ran I could not catch up to Him. I watched as His image faded away. And, when I could no longer see Him, I knelt down and cried.

Soon, everywhere He went He was met by angry shouting, people raising their fists in rage.  Those who were happy with the new order and who spoke out against the protests were beaten, violently subdued and, although their injuries were quickly healed, the voice of God was silenced. As the rebellion spread, Jesus disappeared. A few reported that they saw Him ascend on a cloud, but I doubt this was anything more than wishful hyperbole. After all, there weren’t any clouds. In reality, He just left.

XI.

But the clouds did return, the Light quickly faded and the sun began its daily travels across the sky; although it seemed dimmer than before.

When the light had finally receded completely, when the feelings of contentment and happiness finally disappeared, the trouble really started. The trees and vines withered and with them went the fruit, vegetables and everything else. Shells of buildings remained and, in a few areas, a few good people tried to organize the masses and start rebuilding our nearly forgotten, past civilization. Many gave up hope; after all God had abandoned them and all that remained for them was a life filled with pain, followed by death and oblivion.

I went by the hospital after He left. I thought that I’d soon need to return to my old life. The hospital was still empty; the front entrance padlocked, the windows all closed and locked. But, I had my ways and I still had my keys. Many years before I had convinced a young and naïve hospital administrator that I needed access to the hospital any time and that going through the ER entrance wasn’t always in my best interest. She gave me a key to the door that opened into the kitchen and, as luck would have it, it still worked.

I made my way between the empty appliances, through the cafeteria and up one flight to the OR’s. There were still stretchers in the hallway and the last OR schedule dangled from the bulletin board adjacent to the main desk, held by a single, tenacious thumbtack. There was my name at the top, Dr. Daniel Marcus, Right Inguinal Hernia Repair and so many other names, colleagues I hadn’t seen in years.

“It’s terrible…such a waste”, I murmured to myself.

“That it is”, a voice answered.

I turned and saw Nate Greenwood walking towards me, Dr. Greenwood, an anesthesiologist I had worked with in the past, never a close friend, but we always had a collegial sort of relationship; the sort of mutual respect that can develop after taking care of octogenarians with ruptured bowels at three am.

“I suspect we’ll be busier than ever soon”, he stated. “Now that things will be getting back to normal.”

“Normal”, I cried, “how can anything ever be normal again. Everything we used to have is long gone. Everything that should have kept us content and happy has left us. Nothing will ever be normal again.”

My voice grew louder. “Do you think there is any chance that we can all just return to our old homes, go back to shopping at the supermarket and complaining that the lettuce is wilted, or send our children to school to teach them how to make this world a better place.”

I was shouting now and Dr. Greenwood had a look of fear on his face, fear of me. I didn’t care what he thought as my tirade reached fever pitch.

“We had our chance, Dr. Greenwood, and we blew it. Traded an eternity of peace and contentment, no, an eternity of glorious, ecstatic, perfect joyful happiness; traded it for an empty world, devoid of hope, filled only with flawed humanity, suffering, and, very soon, starvation, disease and death. I hope you don’t consider that normal.”

He looked at me a bit aghast and slowly backed away.

“Have some faith in human ingenuity, Marcus. It will all work out for the best. People will naturally band together and inside of two years we’ll have this old world humming along like nothing ever happened.”

I noticed he continued to back away, but by now I had calmed down.

“I hope you’re right, Dr. Greenwood, I hope you’re right.”

I watched him walk away. I just shook my head as I pondered what we each had said. If he was right it would be better for all, at least in the short run, but, as I thought about all that had happened I was convinced that I was right.

XII.

I returned to my apartment and found an empty shell, windows cracked and broken, the grass brown and withered, littered with dead plants and the interior a wasteland of dead computers, televisions and every other appliance humanity had relied upon to ease the troubles of this world. I tried to turn on some of these electronic devices, without any success. Of course, there wasn’t any electricity, no running water, nothing. One portable computer, battery operated, briefly started up, but died as the power ran out. One thing that did work was the gas stove and I found some packaged food that was still edible.

I went out to find my neighbors and the few that had returned were in a similar situation. We pooled our resources and hoped that the leaders of the day would find a solution. Leaders, I thought, are there any leaders left in the world? They are probably in just as dire straits as everyone. At this moment I felt a tremendous sadness over what we had lost and I was more than a bit worried.

I was in my apartment shortly after my encounter with Dr. Greenwood, savoring the paltry dinner I had scraped together when I had a very unexpected visitor. Any knock on my door caused the hair on my arms and the back of my neck to stand up, but this visitor more than any. I peeked out the door and saw Meno waiting, alone. I pulled the door open a crack and was greeted with the same smile I had always loved.

“Hey, Doc. Can I come in? It’s just me.”

He was holding his side in a funny way as it became obvious why he was there. I opened the door and hustled him in; I glanced down the hallway for his entourage, but he truly was alone.

“What happened to you?” I asked, although it was obvious that he had been in some sort of altercation. I moved his hand away and a blood soaked towel fell to the floor.

“It seems that Tyrone didn’t like the way I was running things; thought I was too meek and not using all my influence as I should. We had a bit of an argument and I guess I lost.”

“No doubt about that”, I answered as I examined the wide gash in his right side. “This goes through the muscle, almost into the peritoneum. Another half  inch and you’d of had a big gash in your colon and probably be dead or close to it. But, I think I can stitch you up. Let me get a few things.”

“Take your time, Doc. I’m not going anywhere. Nice apartment, at least I think it used to be nice. Could use a bit of spiffing up, but, then again, everything needs a bit of spiffing up these days. I guess that’s where me and Tyrone had our disagreement.”

“How’s that?” I rummaged through my closet and found my old emergency kit. I opened the case and found some suture and instruments. The vial of Xylocaine had only a few drops.

“I hope you don’t mind a bit of discomfort. I don’t have any local.”

“I’ll grit my teeth; maybe you got a bullet for me to bite on?”

The wound at least was a clean slash, obviously the product of an extremely sharp blade, the type so popular with the gangs of years past. It was as clean and straight as the sharpest scalpel could make, perpendicular to the skin and straight down through the muscle, stopping just above the transversalis fascia. Meno winced as I washed it out with bottled water and then I began to sew.

“So what happened between you and your buddy?” I asked. I really was curious and I also thought that the conversation might take Meno’s  mind off the pain he surely was feeling.

“Well, Doc, Ow…I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln and his second Inaugural Address, ‘Charity for all, Malice towards none’ sort of thing. I mean look at the world now. All we have are memories of our old advanced society, at least technologically advanced. But, now we have to start to rebuild from scratch. I proposed that my followers set an example, actually to emulate the man we sent away; to be servant leaders and embrace our enemies, Ow.”

“Sorry, I’m being as gentle as I can. I take it Tyrone disagrees with this approach.”

“Tyrone believes it’s time for us to be on top, to take what we want or need. We’re the strong now; the people follow me, at least the people in this area. You know, Doc, I spoke at the old Arizona stadium a few days ago. It was overflowing with people and all I had was a megaphone. There must have been 80 thousand, young, old, men, women, children; all sitting silently, listening to my every word.”

“I guess you’re the new Messiah”, I observed. “I’m done with the deep layers, just the skin to close now.”

“Well, Messiah means ‘Anointed One”, which I certainly am not. If we all do what’s right we can put this world back together in months. If we fight, exploit and lord over the weaker members of society we’ll destroy ourselves once and for all.”

“Sounds like you’ve got the right idea, what’s the problem…Tyrone?”

“Tyrone and his buddies; all those that felt like society owed them something. Eddie also doesn’t seem happy, although he’s not as vocal or as prone to violence as Tyrone; usually he just goes with the flow, but he also likes being on top for once. Me, I guess I never had that feeling of being downtrodden; I was on my way to a better life when all this started. I mean, I always thought I’d be in politics, but not like this.”

“You’re way beyond politics”, I observed. “There, that’s the last stitch.” I covered the wound with a clean dressing as Meno got up.

“Thanks, Doc. Good work. I just don’t know if I have the courage, you know; the courage to stand up to an angry mob. So, what do I do? Give in and hate myself for the rest of my life or stand up for what’s right and commit suicide in the process?”

“Do what’s right”, I answered. “Years ago, one of the younger doctors came to me with what he thought was a big problem. He was a Urologist and he was caring for a patient that needed to be treated with a stent. The patient was in the hospital and didn’t have insurance; didn’t have any resources at all. This doctor was worried that if he placed the stent he wouldn’t be able to remove it at the appropriate time because of her lack of insurance. I advised him to treat the patient in the best way he could, not to compromise the care he provided because of a social problem. Physicians are called upon to care for the sick and injured, not just the well healed sick and injured. Do you see my point?”

“I understand, but it may not be that simple. Maybe, I have a sense of how Jesus felt. He prayed to god to take the cup away; to find another way, apart from the Cross, to bring salvation into the world. But God said no, ‘it’s my way or nothing’. But, I’m not Jesus; I’m not sure I’m ready to go the Cross.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls”, I answered, empty words that offered no solace. “Follow your heart and do what’s right.”

“Maybe, Doc. But it may not be that easy. Thanks for the patch job. See you around and be very careful”, he advised as I closed and locked the door. I soon learned that he was not the man I thought he was.

XIII.

A few relief efforts had barely begun when the violent gangs appeared. The paucity of resources led to hording of food, fuel supplies, clothing, even water. The age old story of haves being attacked by have nots led to this violence and destruction. They were mostly young men drawn together by their shared misery, individuals who found strength and power in the anonymity of the mob. There were also young women within the gangs drawn to or forced into a life of near servitude in order to survive. They were the strong ones at that moment and they mercilessly exploited the old and weak.

Meno was at the front of the largest gang. His was the most powerful; thousands followed him and his every utterance, every command led to more violence. Whispers through neighborhoods spread the news. There wasn’t any radio, television or internet. Those that were considered to have a useful skill, who had the potential to be an asset to the gang were made to join; the weak, disabled, mentally ill or those who just didn’t fit the proper mold were eliminated, cast off, thrown into the fire like garbage. And Meno smiled, and his friends smiled. I knew Meno would come for me one day. After all, I had some skills that were scarce, but also in great demand. All I could do was wait. I thought about his ideals, his desire to do good, those attributes that he had in the past; now buried away, pummeled into oblivion by the temptation that comes with the power to dominate and exploit. What good was he doing now? Abraham Lincoln he was not; Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin maybe.

“A new order has begun”, they said. “Only the strong can survive. There is no more God, no religion, only those of us who have the vision to see a future where we will be stronger than humanity ever dreamed.”

The entire scene reminded me of the old movie, Mad Max and, as I thought about it, the whole depressing scenario truly was a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Violence and death became the way of life. Civility, decorum, manners, whatever one wants to call it became vague memories of a world that was now dead and buried.

The irony has made our whole situation almost comical, but actually supremely depressing. The media always portrayed scenarios such as ours as the consequence of some human created disaster or natural disaster. The aforementioned Mad Max, a Boy and His Dog, The Omega Man and so many other books and movies seemed to share this idea. War or disease could wipe out everything and leave desperate shells of humanity in their wake. The apocalypse brought about by humanity’s failings or by Satan, perhaps, that I could accept. But, how could God, who is supposed to love us and has given so much of himself, how can he turn his back on his people. As I think about it now, I realize that it was not God that brought this upon us. It was our own fallen nature, Satan’s final triumph that is leading to our ultimate demise.

I refuse to put the leader’s name to paper; he had a choice; he could have led the people back to civilization, established order and reason. Instead he chose wanton destruction. I thought he was a friend, but I could never call anyone friend that could carry out such violence. If mine is the only record of these horrific days, let it be written that it was human nature that led to our downfall, not a single man and not God.

It was hard for me to gather the courage to leave my apartment. The streets were now a dangerous place and there was nothing there. Withered, dried up trees and bushes, replaced by the cactus that had flourished before the Light appeared. Eerie silence filled the air. The old sounds were gone; no cars or buses, no bustle of people moving from here to there. Only an occasional dog rummaging through piles of garbage, baking under the desert sun. The daytime was quiet; the heat discouraged even the heartiest soul, the marauders preferred the coolness and cover of the night. I walked along abandoned streets, staring up at a relentless blue sky. This was a different light, one that brought no comfort, only anticipation of violence and death.

I went by my brother’s apartment one day, even started to walk up to his door, but I couldn’t bear to see him again. Perhaps he was the only sane one, safe in his fortress living on Spam and beans.
I walked to Ace’s home, figuring he was living the life of luxury. The grounds were dried up, like everything else. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. The door was open, however and I gingerly pushed it open and called his name.

“Ace, you home?” No reply. His “autocycle” was gone as were a number of other items. The kitchen was a mess of open cabinets and drawers, everything emptied. I saw a pair of feet in the backyard, behind a wooden fence.

“Ace”, I called as I ran towards the lone figure. There I found him, I recognized his shoes; he was propped upright in a lawn chair, his hands folded in his lap; a perfect picture of serenity that lacked only one item: a head for the body. This is no time for entrepreneurs, I thought as I carried the headless body into the yard and buried it in a shady spot behind the garage.

“I guess it’ll be my turn soon”, I said out loud.

I left Ace in peace and wandered through the decaying streets of what had once been a bright, vibrant city. The desert sun scorched my neck and arms, but I was oblivious to the burning; the emptiness in my soul burned far more. Some people were about, foraging for anything little thing that could ease the pain and poverty of this new life “under the sun”.

A crowd approached and I saw my brother at the forefront.

“John, John; it’s Dan”, I cried.

He stopped as I approached and those following him also stopped.

“What’s all this; where are you off to?” I asked, curious, but also a bit fearful of this unknown mob following a man who recently had been holed up with a lifetime’s supply of Spam and beans.
“We’re going to find the Tree of Life”, he said enthusiastically.

“How do you know that it’s here and where to find it?” I inquired, even more curious.

“Listen, I was wrong about the Morlocks, OK. We had a rebirth of the Garden of Eden, didn’t we? And, in the center of that Garden is the Tree of Life and there should also be a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. All we have to do is find the center of the Garden and we’ll be there. We eat from the tree and, bingo, we’re good forever.”

“Where’s the center?” I was almost afraid of his answer.

“Well, if the whole earth was “the Garden”, then it would be at the center point for the planet.”

“You’re going to the earth’s core?” A touch of sarcasm accompanied my question.

“That actually was my first thought, but that doesn’t make sense, I mean Hell would be there. No, after a great deal of thought, and a vote of all the people, we decided that Centerville is the place.”

“Centerville?”

“Centerville, Texas, to be exact. Halfway between Dallas and Houston, the perfect spot.”

I shook my head and then turned to all his followers. I saw a mass of tired, bedraggled people who shared only one thing: a look of hope. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything that might shatter that hope, the only thing left of any value in this world.

I smiled and held out my hand.

“Good Luck, John”, I said as we shook hands, “And good luck to all of you. Don’t forget me when you reach Centerville.”

The followers all wished me well as they left, a few implored me to go with them, but I politely declined. I slowly walked back to my apartment. I wondered about Phyllis and Dr. C and even went by their house, but it was empty, abandoned or worse.

I passed by the spot Dingo had occupied, waiting for his Savior. Dingo was gone, only a pile of rotting apple cores remained. I wondered if he had left with Jesus or had become a victim of the mob. I suppose it didn’t matter. His was a faith that couldn’t be shaken and either way he was now in God’s house, perhaps reunited with his mother who loved the lord in such a strong way.

Finally, I reached my apartment and made my way up the stairs. There needs to be a record made, the truth about these times saved for future generations. I suspected that time was short, at least for me. They would come; he would come and it would be the end. I could never join him; death would be preferable.

Darkness was falling now. Soon they’d be out and no one would be safe. I need to put all this down while I still could.

As I record my thoughts I realize one of the great truisms of the world. “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. I think it’s now too late. It’s only a matter of time before we destroy ourselves. Memories of the abundance we used to have fuel hatred now. But, how could you let this happen, dear God; surely an omniscient God would have looked into the hearts of his creation and seen that all that was inside was hard stone. Love and Charity and goodness had long been replaced by a myriad of games, drugs and every other hedonistic desire imaginable.

As I finished writing there was a loud, crashing noise in the corridor outside and I heard voices outside my door. I put my writing in the desk drawer, in a panel hidden beneath the middle drawer, and I picked up my nine millimeter weapon. They were coming now, he was coming now and I knew that there was no reasoning, nothing I had that could satisfy their lust for death and destruction. Humanity finally unleashed. Joseph Conrad said it best, “The Horror, the Horror.”
And, somewhere, perhaps on a lone mountaintop looking out over the world or in the crowd that followed Meno and urged him on to greater destruction, Satan smiled.

Afterword

The words you’ve just read were recounted to me by my mother, Miriam. Dr. Marcus was my father and before his death he told her his story. His exact words were stored in her remarkable memory and she passed those words and his writing on to me. Almost every night she would sit with me and tell me the tale and I committed every word to memory, just as she did, to be passed on to the next generation. She witnessed the final conflict and was with my father at the end. Here is what happened:

The mob burst into the room as two shots rang out; both came from Dr. Marcus handgun. Two of Meno’s gang fell to the floor before the doctor was subdued. He was carried out into the street and, just as the doctor anticipated, Meno came to him. The grand leader was dressed in a dark suit and he wore dark glasses, even though it was nighttime. In a gesture reminiscent of Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane he approached my father and kissed him on the cheek.

“I considered you a friend”, he said to my father, “a man with special talents; someone who could have joined me to help rebuild this world. But, you have rejected me and this is something that I cannot forgive.”

All this time Dr. Marcus was restrained by two of Meno’s henchman. As Meno spoke to him, my father relaxed, which cause his captor’s to relax. He gestured for Meno to come closer, that he had something to say to the “great” leader.

“You…you could have helped bring light back into the world”, he said in a weak raspy voice. “You could have followed the example set by Him. Instead, you are leading the people to death and destruction. God knows this and in the end you will be judged and you will pay for your sins.”

Meno laughed. “God has forsaken this place. We are all alone and it is I who sits in judgment now. It is I who sentence you… to death And, because you put such great faith in this God who has abandoned us, you will die in a truly biblical way. Take him.”

Meno leaned forward as if to kiss him again. At that moment my father jerked his hand free and his arm shot out with a powerful and carefully measured back hand slash. The retractable scalpel blade found its mark with a surgeon’s precision; blood spattered my father as it sprayed out of Meno’s severed carotid artery and filled the hole that had been sliced into Meno’s trachea. In less than five minutes Meno lay dead on the ground.

The mass of people stared in disbelief at Meno’s lifeless body. Out of the silence, Tyrone jumped forward.

“You will pay dearly for this crime”, he hissed between clenched teeth, but he also had a sly smile on his face.

They took my father and beat him and carried him down the street. They chained him to a fence and, in true Old Testament fashion, they stoned him, mercilessly. My father went calmly, telling his attackers that they should put their faith in God, that He hadn’t abandoned humanity and that He would return. The Bible said so and nothing could be more true. He repeated the words over and over, until there was nothing let of him, only a bloody pulp; left for dead by the raging mob.

As the mass of people moved away, one person stayed behind, my mother, Miriam. She had been looking for him ever since their brief encounter; to tell him she was carrying his child and, perhaps, to fashion some sort of life together, facing the hardships of a world gone mad together. She had followed, shrouded by the safety of the crowd, protected by the anonymity of the mob, led by a sixth sense that told her that somehow Meno and my father were destined to meet.

She freed him from the wire fence and was surprised when she felt him take a breath. He opened his eyes and gave her a faint smile and she smiled back.

She took his mangled, bloody hand and placed it on her rotund belly and whispered, “This is your child that’s growing inside of me. I’ve been looking for you for months and now you know that a part of you will live on.”

I’m sure that in those dying moments he didn’t remember her or truly understand that it was his child that was growing inside her; I suppose it didn’t really matter. It was then that he told her his story and she committed every word to memory. He told her where to find his written record and the Bible that was stained with The Savior’s blood. And, he told that even though the world was chaos and destruction and death seemed to rule the day, there was still hope. The words of Revelation had not yet been fulfilled and Jesus would return again to vanquish evil and bring the new Jerusalem to all those who believed.

That was thirty years ago. Miriam is gone, Tyrone is gone, but the Word made flesh lives on. Now, our numbers grow everyday. The ravages of war are past and humanity is rising from the ashes like the phoenix, rebuilding this earth and carrying God’s word to every corner of the world. The blood on this Bible cannot be washed away. His blood brings hope and salvation to all of us.

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