Mo was a coiled spring hardly touching the rugged post that held his weight.
“No, that’s not the original,” Mo insisted, his voice streaked with indignation like rain cascading down a window.
“We can’t access the original from here,” offered Darren from across the way, nodding, his feet dangling free over the side of his truck bed.
Ray sat slumped between the two on the cold pavement ground, his gaze pinging back and forth above as if to follow a long rally in a tennis match.
Having met both in Bible school many years before, Ray knew he could never hold it against Mo and Darren for erupting into spontaneous preaching and loud debate whenever the three got together.
At least this time they weren’t somewhere crowded.
Optionless, Ray resolved to just keep quiet and listen.
Maybe he could learn something, or see some fresh connection like gleaming gold beneath the rapid river of his old friends’ fervent words.
“We can, like I just did,” pressed Mo, bowing slightly.
“But most people wouldn’t care enough to get that far. Perspicuity of Scripture, et cetera,” countered Darren, smiling, though his eyes seemed somewhat sad and distant.
“No!” Mo almost yelled. “That’s what I’m saying. If it says something, we have to say the same thing.”
Lost, Ray let his mind wander to where he would be now in his old life . . . just about done for the day fielding his secret calls at the office.
He could almost see his own gaze, fixed and resolute, trailing tenderly through penned notes on pesky regulars to pick out that one final, special enquirer whose question itself would make the day worthwhile.
Ray had never failed to finish on a wringer so unique and real that the mere fact of its having been asked could leave him, and the asker, and anyone listening with more than any answer.
A moment passed, and he brought himself back to the confusing crossfire at hand, only to re-conclude he had nothing against his church friends.
Nothing at all.
“We already are,” Darren was saying, his voice even and peaceful, “as much as they can understand.”
“No!” half-shouted Mo, launching himself to a stance apt for battle.
But something was different.
The conversation had begun to echo and fade as if drifting away down a subway tunnel or to a bunker beneath the earth.
“Yes!” and “No!” both spiraled together in a passionate, paling flurry . . . arcing this way and that until the whole dramatic dance wound itself back to begin again and again.
Maybe it had already gone on a thousand times.
A pleasant whoosh like sleep tickled up and down Ray’s spine, and the talking was a soft radio drowned out by softer eternal crashing.
“Once you have some experience teaching,” flickered Darren’s voice like a sagely breath, “I think you’ll get how we have to communicate Truth just one small piece at a time. You will probably get frustrated by that at first, but otherwise they just won’t get it. And they all make assumptions. And…”
“But they will get it,” came Mo’s snarl in hinted pieces. “That is perspicuity of Scripture. That’s what it means. That’s what I’m coming back to.”
“I…” Darren began.
“There was…” interrupted Ray.
But he paused, fascinated.
He then listened intently as he continued: “There was a group who had a symbol.”
Mo and Darren were silent, having been struck perhaps by the unfamiliar pulse of Ray’s quiet voice disrupting their earnest wrangling, breaking their magic momentum spell built from matching one another’s zeal.
“The symbol was called Gred,” said Ray’s voice.
“What are you talking about?” asked Mo.
“What does the symbol mean?” rephrased Darren.
“The symbol was used for a long time,” Ray’s voice replied. “For generations. But then some who left started thinking it was Gree instead of Gred.”
“What?!” smirked Mo.
“When the two groups met up again, y’know, a really long time later, each thought their way to say the symbol was better . . . no . . . that their way was . . . right,” Ray’s voice concluded.
No more radio, there was only the rushing weight of always, more beautiful than…
Somewhere, the sight of a wide cluster of stars made Ray almost sigh.
He was at once transported all the way back to childhood nights spent outdoors on a giant foam mattress at a mountainside campsite, and to endless stories shared with and by someone very special of how those same stars formed the outline of a cosmic doorway exit . . . and mostly of what wonders lay beyond.
But even that beloved, heavens-spanning pattern was now passing ever farther and farther away.
Not knowing if or where he was coming or going to or from, Ray caught a fleeting glimpse of Mo and Darren staring over at him, still speechless.
Their expressions, nearly blank, were spruced by a mild emotion close to bafflement . . . closer to pity.
Of course they feel sorry for me.
They think I’m a lost cause.
They’d never even ask…
It’s just been too long since I was…
But why did I have to say anything?!
Why couldn’t I…?
Such an idiot!
“So, anyway,” Mo piped up again, shifting eagerly back to Darren, “I think I know what I was really trying to say. Remember how hungry you were to know Truth back when you…”
But Ray couldn’t hear the rest.
Neither could he feel the tear that glanced his eyelid’s edge.
He missed the inertia of rising, and first motions of storming away.
Then he found himself suddenly at a full sprint, pumping all four limbs too hard and fast to even breathe, yet knowing he had no destination in mind.
All that seemed to exist was the clapping of his footfalls reflecting off of pavement at every distance like a frantic battle of flat struck drums or guns firing hidden from far and near.
But what was really happening?
Which parts were true?
He saw himself in darkness with his eyes wrenched shut.
Then everything shifted to the Psychologist’s quaint, scattered office, where Ray knew he was ready to answer the most logical next question conceivable with: “Yes, it sounds like silence amplified, or maybe unheard air, or even my own blood flowing somewhere behind my ears.”
And up ahead appeared the Church again, its entire compound set aglow by scores of symmetrical colored lights, all of which came to focus on a single paneled cross at the biggest building’s highest apex.
Why always here?
Of all the…
That old pang at the side of his knee might have caused his leg and hip to stiffen some.
But the throbbing was a fire burning far enough away to be more than just endurable.
Tiny drops of moisture were kisses from angels hidden on high.
And there was something else in that busy air as well.
It was someone Ray could almost feel, a person he just about . . . saw . . . right there at the entrance to the Church’s namesake street.
But not completely there.
And how was it also not a person, or at least not like any person Ray had ever seen?
In fact, how was being not a person one of its clearest qualities?
It seemed funny to track a wash of only mild curiosity, which must have tagged in to relieve more frenzied normal fears.
The conversation with the two friends, maybe minutes ago, was less than a distant memory.
He could be convinced it hadn’t happened.
Now the stranger was at least as present as the massive works of architecture lit up strategically all around.
Ray heard himself giggle at how odd it should feel to think in such terms.
Perhaps old Ray Golel had finally lost it.
Or maybe he had died.
Either way, he considered the pros and cons of endless pure delusion as an aftermath.
But there was something about the not-a-person that made it more beautiful than any buildings, and more appealing than even that old skyward doorway (now long passed through or fled).
Compared with its surroundings, the not-a-person seemed to shine in regal gold as if on purpose to overpower every ho-hum manmade shade and ersatz surface.
As if instantly, the not-a-person felt more like home to Ray than his job, and Church, and friends, and life, and…
And if he really had just witnessed his last lucid moments, he was glad to have watched them go.
Bring on the descent.
Let me plunge even deeper.
Allowing for such reckless thoughts was certainly new.
He watched himself take a very big step toward the not-a-person.
“Hello?” he called.
Did it turn?
He saw no face or features.
It was all the same foreign texture or substance, like a poltergeist or shimmering liquid silhouette.
It was then that Ray first noticed the fog billowing through all the buildings of the Church and out everywhere as far as he could see.
The fog was sparse and thin, but unmistakably there once seen.
He watched as the not-a-person glitched and gestured suddenly toward him, though it did not move any nearer.
Clearly helpless against the fog, its motion was a mix of chaos and futility, like a fish caught in a bucket slamming its body in last mad gasps for water.
Ray looked from left to right, in awe yet unalarmed at the sight of a massive sea of the not-a-persons, all nearly the same as the first, and all fixed in the wispy fog at points scattered throughout the Church and everywhere else.
It was like seeing a population of barnacles on a wall, twitching and quivering yet held fast in place.
Could they see him?
Were they real?
The questions spit like automatic sums collecting out the end of some dusty, archaic calculator from the depths of a long-abandoned closet.
Ray knew he should have been surprised to see himself lunge so fearlessly out into the fog near the entrance to the Church’s main courtyard.
He approached the first not-a-person he had seen, distinguishable from the others only by its alluring golden tint.
But before he could reach it, he was caught by a flash of light so bright it felt like existence itself should never hope to contain the beam’s brilliance within the spindly likes of space and time.
Without having to blink or squint, Ray turned to see that the unworldly light’s source was a torch held aloft by someone he immediately knew to be Faith.
And he saw that Faith’s great light was aimed at another close by, whom Ray recognized right away as Grace.
Grace appeared to be just as trapped in the fog as all the not-a-persons.
And even Faith’s light, brighter than any other, could only pierce the fog in needle beams at a few distinct spots.