ORIGINAL FICTION:Rebirth, Part II

Charlie W. Starr
Charlie W. Starr's picture

 9

Darkness fell. Mike and Tom sat close to a small fire. A tent, large enough for three, was pitched nearby. Benson stood in the darkness near the obelisk, staring at its shape intently. He could sense so very little about it—just a large block with only one property: it was taking up space. Through his heightened awareness he could feel no heat, no cold, not even density or mass. This was impossible given the one thing he could sense: that space was occupied where the obelisk stood. He focused for several hours in the night, centering all his newfound powers of perception on the obelisk. Then a foreign thought interrupted his own, coming to him just shy of a word: sleep.

“Ben, Mike has been asleep for some time now. I’m tired too. Why don’t you call it a night?”

“You go ahead and sleep, Tom,” answered Benson. “I’ll come in a few more minutes.”

“Alright,” answered Tom. He crawled into the tent and quickly fell asleep.

Benson stood for a few minutes more, trying to gather a glimmer of insight into the obelisk, but nothing happened. The night was passing in silence. Benson broke his concentration on the obelisk and crawled into the tent. Sleep.

 He had perfect control of his dreaming. He was sitting on a boulder, setting the monsters and shadows of a normal subconscious aside. Instead he deliberately reviewed the events of the past few weeks: first the encounter with the rats, and receiving the medallion; second, his compulsion to leave the city and go east; and now, finding an obelisk which looked exactly like its smaller counterpart in the sewer tunnels.

“The medallion,” he thought, “is the key.”

When he had first put the medallion on, his awareness had grown, and he could talk to the rats. And they had just wanted to get the medallion to him. Then the medallion—or something wordlessly communicating through it—compelled Benson to come to this place. The medallion was the link between Benson and whoever wanted him there. But what would happen? For the moment, it seemed the medallion would take him no further. His awareness, though still great, was now useless to him. Some part of the journey was over. All he could do was wait for the next part to begin.

Benson sat up awake. “The next part,” he said aloud. “Step two.”

Something clicked in his mind. He left the tent; the East was hinting at the possibility of dawn—the dream had been short, the sleep long.

“There is something missing,” he said to the rocks about him. “I’ve got to have something else before I can go on. That’s why the medallion won’t take me anywhere else.”

He walked toward the obelisk.

“The first step is over and the medallion has done its job. I need something from this obelisk. When I get it, I can go on.”

He stood a foot from a structure that was and wasn’t there.

“But what is it I need?”

Then he reached out to touch the obelisk and his hand passed right through. He drew back quickly, in surprise, and another thought came to his head: “It cannot be sensed because it is not part of the first step.”

“There must be an inside.”

With that, Benson threw himself at the pillar wall. Any creature rising with the sun and looking toward the obelisk would have seen no one there.

10

Benson stumbled and fell on his stomach. He had expected to be knocked out by a solid wall, only half believing he would pass through. He noticed the floor first—smooth and cold. Then he looked around but could see nothing. He was surrounded by darkness. Cautiously, he stood up and turned in what he thought was the direction from which he had come. He reached out for the wall but could feel nothing. Hands extended, Benson walked a few feet in that direction. His hands did not pass through to the outside. His senses began to work. He thought at first that he would sense nothing. But his awareness was working better on the inside of the obelisk than on the outside (whatever that meant). He began to separate and digest, in his mind, a series of facts about the surrounding area. The air was fresh and cool, containing oxygen, nitrogen, and smaller amounts of other gases. Air pressure was normal: fourteen point seven pounds per square inch. Though the air was fresh, there was no sense of circulation. He could not feel boundaries—neither ceiling nor walls. The darkness stretched to infinity in his mind’s eye, and then fell back on itself.

But there was one more thing: an object standing somewhere in the distance to his left. He could not, however, tell how far away. Either his sense of distance was being distorted, or this darkness existed without a link to space and time.

“Distance,” thought Benson, “doesn’t exist in this place.”

He hoped direction, at least, did, and he took a cautious step toward the object. Then another, and another. Each step he took seemed to bring him twenty steps closer to the thing. Becoming suddenly curious, he hurried his pace; however, as he walked faster, the sense of distance between himself and the object seemed to become greater. For a moment he stopped. Then he took another step. The object drew near again. He began walking slowly. The slower Benson walked, the nearer the object came. The shape of the object became clearer in his mind as he approached it: another pillar. It was shaped like the huge obelisk which he believed himself to be in. But it was only five feet tall. There was light—he could sense it around the obelisk. No place of emission. Just light. Another step and he could see a dot of white in the distance. The pillar had shape, density, and weight. Benson caught this. He could not, however, penetrate the type of material that made up the structure.

“But it’s like the one in the sewer,” he concluded.

Another few steps and he could see the obelisk clearly now, standing white in a cage of light. He would have thought, “fifty feet away,” but that he no longer found space a reliable constant.

Benson took another step and stopped. He was within arms-reach of the pillar. He himself was surrounded by the white light. He looked at the shape before him and noticed an object on top which he had not sensed before. It was a golden quarter circle, a wedge that was shaped exactly like the medallion about his neck. He picked it up. His new super senses could not acknowledge the wedge’s existence, but it was real to his touch and to his sight.

Holding the wedge before him with his left hand, Benson grabbed the medallion at his chest and lifted it next to this new piece for comparison. Only then did he notice the medallion had changed. The eye piece through which the chain around Benson’s neck ran was no longer in the center of the medallion’s curved edge. It had moved to one side of the medallion allowing it to hang lopsided from the chain. Benson thought the hint rather obvious, especially considering how completely un-obvious his journey had been so far. He took the hint, fitting the new wedge to the chain side of the medallion.

There was a burst of light, and Benson released the two shapes, temporarily startled. When he looked at the medallion again, he saw that the two pieces had joined into a half circle. Then the medallion began to emanate a bright blue light. Suddenly he felt something surge through his body and the floor fell out from under his feet. The darkness faded to gray light. Wind blew in all directions. Benson lost all of his new sensing abilities. He was blown around like a feather with no way of controlling his movement.

Images began to flash before him. He saw a boy sitting on a rock, then a huge explosion, then himself standing in the rain. Hundreds of images passed in an instant: flowers reaching toward him like houseplants to window light, caterpillars weaving chrysalis cocoons, the changing shadows of a canyon wall, and the motion of stars around unchanging Polaris. At last, he made out two men walking in the desert and then sunrise. However, this vision didn’t end. He was watching the morning dawn. The sky was pale blue, and pink and orange toward the rising sun. Benson was standing on earth. Yet it seemed to him to be far away. He looked around for the obelisk and for the tent where the others were but could not see them. Then he noticed something on the ground beside him: a small obelisk like the big one in the desert. It was only a few inches tall. He stood staring down at it. Then he looked up at the sun coming over the mountains. Then back at the miniscule pillar. Finally he raised his foot and brought it down on the obelisk. Next, Christopher Benson fell.

11

Tom woke and saw sunlight outside the tent. He sat up and looked down at Mike who was asleep on top of his sleeping bag. Tom crawled out of the tent and stood up, intending to call out for Benson, but he was stopped by what he saw. The obelisk was gone. In its place there was a pile of rubble. It looked as if the obelisk had been crushed. Benson sat on top of the rubble staring out at the mountains. Tom stared as well—at Benson. Tom was baffled and frightened. Something was happening to his friend that he could not understand. Curiosity finally overcame his fear, and he moved toward the rubble heap.

“Ben,” Tom called. “What happened?”

Benson said nothing. He just sat staring out at the mountains. Tom came up to him and looked at him for a long time. Benson had been crying. His eyes were bloodshot and watering.

“What happened, Ben?”

“I’ve got to leave,” Benson answered.  “I’ve got to go now—into the mountains.”
            “Why, Ben? Why must you go? What happened here last night? What’s out there Ben?” Benson looked at Tom for a long time. Staring at each other, they exchanged thoughts with their eyes that left both of them, for the moment, content.

Then at last Tom said, “Will you need your gear?”

“No. Tell Mike all that you can. Follow me if you want to. If you lose me, go back to the city.”

They looked at each other for another moment, and then Benson stood up and walked away.

“I’ll pray for you,” said Tom and he watched his friend walk away. He felt strangely content. This was because Tom had seen something when he peered into Benson’s eyes. He had witnessed what a man looks like who has seen his own destiny—exactly as it is going to take place—and answered it yes. The heaviness of Being was upon Christopher Benson. And it was bearable.

Benson had seen something too, looking into his friend’s eyes. It was a prayer. It had meant something. Perhaps enough to help Christopher Benson through stage three.

12

The sun stood high as Mike Mc Leon and the Reverend Thomas Hope made their way over cactus-covered, orange rock. They had argued for some time about whether they would go back to the city or follow Benson. Mike, upon hearing what Benson had told Tom, was ready to return to his wife. Whatever it was Benson had found, Mike had missed, so he thought. Tom, however, in seeing and talking with Benson, knew that he had only found a part of what he was looking for. Tom wanted to go on. He suggested that Mike should go back without him, but Mike felt that he should stay with Tom and make sure he didn’t get hurt. Mike found this surge of conscience in himself thoroughly annoying. So they went in search of Benson together, climbing over hills that were growing into mountains.

Night came. They had searched and called for Benson but had not seen anything of him. Their only hope now was that Benson would see the light of their fire and try to reach them. Mike sat at the fire cooking a freshly caught rattlesnake while Tom looked on, lost in thought. The moon was full and every feature of the surrounding terrain clearly visible.

“Very visible,” thought Tom—so much so that what he only thought he was seeing at first quickly snapped him out of his reverie. He looked more carefully into the distance and saw red light filling the sky. Wind began to blow, and clouds appeared—not from a single direction in the form of a weather front, but above their heads, out of nowhere.

“What’s going on?” Mike had also noticed the change.

“I don’t know,” replied Tom.

They stood up and stared at the sky. The wind blew harder and lightning began to flash. The moon disappeared in the clouds, and the whole area was immersed in dark crimson brightness. The wind whipped in and out from every direction, now, blowing so hard that they had to struggle to stand up. Then it rained—a deluge pouring upon them all at once. Tom dropped to his knees and began to pray while Mike stood on the verge of panic. Hell had relocated itself to space and time, and Mike and Tom had been caught in the move. The ground began to rumble and a fissure cracked open in front of them, spewing fire and lava. Then from this fissure came a horrible vision appearing all too real.

A mammoth creature rose from the earth, spewing forth fire and dripping saliva which burned the rock beneath it. It had eyes of firelight surrounded by almost liquid skin that arranged and rearranged itself along a man-like skeletal structure.

Mike screamed: “What’s happening!”

The creature was not more than fifty feet away from them. Mike turned to run.

“It’s alright!” Tom answered.

He stood with a smile on his face, as if his prayer had been answered. “Mike, we’re seeing a vision, but you must believe that it’s real.”

“Who cares what it is! Let’s just get out of here!”

“No wait! You must understand that our faith is being tested here! Our faith in God and in the struggle between good and evil!” Tom was calm but had to shout above the roaring wind. “As long as we believe that—that the struggle exists—we don’t have to be afraid!” Tom paused for a moment and then looking up he pointed saying, “See!”

Out of the sky a white light approached. It came closer and began to take form. A great warrior dressed in white came down, brandishing a sword.

The warrior came down, driving his sword through the creature. It had no effect. The creature, the illusion of evil, attacked the great image of good, tackling him to the ground. Mike and Tom stood by watching in fear. The giants wrestled each other, toppling trees and boulders as they rolled across them. The sound of thunder was replaced by the sound of the two gladiators fighting.

“Do you see, Mike?” said Tom, not turning his eyes. “It’s an avatar of a thing more real than our own eyes—a struggle painted outside and taking place inside even now. Invisible made visible—our faith is being tested here.” Tom’s fear was calmed and he understood, saying to himself, “It’s faith versus sight. And the unseen isn’t belief but in-sight. God’s sight.”

“But why?” replied Mike. “Why is it being tested, and who is testing us?”

Before Tom could reply, the shock of a great scream hit them. The creature of evil had driven the sword of the warrior through his heart. The warrior disappeared, and the creature turned immediately toward the mortal witnesses. Mike again turned to run, but Tom grabbed him by the arm.

“There’s no more running, Mike. We’re taking the place of the icon of good.”

“What do you mean? We need to run!”

“We can’t run from it! You asked who is testing us? God is testing us. You asked why? It is because we have reached the end of the journey. Our lives on earth are soon to be lost.”

The creature began walking toward them.

“It can’t be,” Mike whispered fearfully.

“It is,” replied Tom.

“You don’t know that. How can you know?”

“God has told me.”

“There is no God, Tom! Nuclear genocide should have taught you that!”

“There is a devil right in front of your eyes, Mike. What else could palpable evil mean than transcendent Good?”

“I don’t want to die, Tom.” Mike began to cry. “I have a wife.”

“She will be cared for.”

“You don’t know that; I can’t die now, I can’t.”

“Listen to me!” Tom grabbed Mike and shook him. The creature was coming closer. “It has been decided! We must believe that! We must fight for good in hope of what’s to come!”

“But it’s not fair! Why would God do this?”

“The fight between evil and the Good, Mike. The illusion may be before us but the battle is very real inside us. You must believe, and you must fight with me now!”

“We can’t beat this thing!”

“That’s already been done. Fight for new life, Mike. Fight for home!”

“No. No. Noooo!”

The wind swept Mike away, dashing him against the rock.

The creature stood above Tom, staring down at him. Tom prayed for a moment for Mike’s soul. For a moment he wished they hadn’t had to be kept from Benson’s ultimate purpose. But Mike had always longed for eternity and had always known the only road by which anyone could get there. A great power surged through his body as Tom leapt out at the creature, striking it in the leg and forcing it and himself to fall into the fiery abyss. The blow was death dealing. Life giving.

13

Tears mixed with drops of rain on Christopher Benson’s face as he watched the explosion on the mountain below him. His companions were gone. He turned away, looking up toward the higher mountain peaks. There above him, silhouetted in the flashes of lightning, was the shadowed figure of a man. Benson climbed. Questions filled his mind, questions which he could not answer. He could not sense the man’s presence, only his own. His heightened awareness seemed to be working perfectly. Every rock, every raindrop, each bolt of lightning he experienced with fullest detail. But not the man. Benson saw him; otherwise he wasn’t there.

Drawing near, Benson thought he recognized something about the figure before him—something was familiar. When the lightning revealed to him the features of the man’s face, Benson understood what he had recognized. The man in front of him was Christopher Benson. The face, at least, was Benson’s face, the body, the clothes were Benson’s. But still there was something different, and he knew he wasn’t standing before a Carrolline looking glass.

Silently, they examined each other, drenched in the rain, man facing man, image facing Benson, Benson facing himself.

“Who are you?” Benson’s tone was flat. His sorrow and fear were gone—replaced by a sudden desire, a feeling of resolution.

“I am you and that which isn’t you. I am your hatred, and your anger; I am your lust, your pride, your greed. I am all of the sins you have kept locked within the innermost reaches of your heart. And I am your love, your pity, and your faith. I am the joys which you have hidden from yourself to keep your evils away from those who would suffer from what you see as mere proximity—what all others would call relationship. You have lived a life under God, but have lived it without His help. And so you have never risked love. Your heart’s always been your own. Now it’s time to surrender it.”

“How?”

“Grace, Christopher” the simulacrum smiled.

“Grace?”

“Accept the grace that covers imperfections. That’s first.”

“What’s next?”

“Confront the feelings imperfections will engender. Choose to risk.”

At that the man lifted up before Benson a gleaming two-edged sword, the silver blade extending two feet from a golden hilt. He turned the hilt toward Benson and said, “Take it.”

Cautiously, Benson took the sword in hand and raised it above his head, examining its every feature. Images flashed before his eyes: of raped women, and unwed mothers; of thieves, and gang riots; of murder and disaster; of politicians and wars; of rich and starving; and of the destruction of the earth.

“This evil must be fought,” Benson thought.

Then there were more images: of young lovers strolling in the moonlight and laughing together; of the same lovers, later, brokenhearted, filled with anger for each other; of people sitting in church, and then going home to their liquor, their family quarrels, their football parties, their hatred for their fellow man, and their hypocrisy against the Word. Before Benson’s mind were images of the seesaw patterns of emotions which caused righteousness and love on the one hand and false, consuming love and hatred on the other. Benson lowered the sword.

“I can’t,” he said. “I don’t want to become like them.”

“You must accept the vehement passions which you have denied because of fear. You must become a whole being by facing the things you would not allow yourself, confronting evil within yourself, and allowing the change to come.”

  “But how, I don’t know how, what if I fail?” Benson was afraid. He hadn’t feared his circumstances. He had been calm even in the face of this odyssey. But he had fooled himself into thinking he therefore feared so little. All along he had feared himself. The truth of it was a hammer to an anvil of self deception. Something in him cracked.

“It’s time to become a whole person, Christopher, to confront everything inside. If you can’t do it, you’ll always be less than whole; you’ll be eaten up and spit out.”

With those words came a swarm of rats from behind the surrounding rocks. Hundreds of the rodents poured out from nowhere. They sprung upon the man who was and wasn’t Benson, ripping the flesh from his ankles and feet, and forcing him to the ground in seconds.

He spoke is last words: “Sometimes the only faith needed is faith enough to surrender.” Then the rats swarmed over his body, tearing it apart.

Benson watched in terror as the man’s body was transformed into a mass of mutilated flesh, blood—which poured down the mountainside along with the rain—and bone underneath a raging sea of living teeth. Then, once more, a feeling of resolve came over him. He raised his head toward the sky and gave out a cry which blotted out the thunder and echoed in the mountains for miles.

“Alright!” he screamed, and raising the sword, the hilt held high above his head, he drove it into the mass that had once been the man whom he was not…and now was.

Far away in a ruined city of the meadows, an oracle prophesied in her dreams: “I saw Star Wars raw rats was I…I saw star wars raw rats was I…I saw raw rats…I was…I was not…now was…now won.

14

The sun stood high in the desert sky, dotted by buzzards circling at the base of the mountain range; carefully they eyed the prospect for their next meal.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

His body was shattered, almost all of his bones broken. How he had survived the explosion he did not know or care.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

He was sprawled, chest down on the ground, gasping for air, unable to move.

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

He could barely speak, using the only ounce of strength remaining in his body to pray.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Thomas Hope was dying.

“Deliver us from evil.”

A soft breeze responded, cooling the sweat upon his face.

“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever…”

A cloud shielded his eye from the sun.

“…amen.”

“It’s time to go, Tom.”

He thought he was dreaming, but the voice sounded so real.

“Tom.”

He slowly raised his head, and looked at the ground in front of him. His eyes focused on a pair of bare feet sticking out from beneath a white coat. A new strength came to his body, and he was able to push himself up off the ground. He raised his head higher, and looked up into a bronzed face.

“It’s time to go home.”

His voice was gentle and pleasing; His eyes softened Tom’s heart. He reached down and took Tom’s arm and lifted him to his feet. Tom looked at the smiling face and smiled back. The pain was gone.

“Let’s go, son.”

The breeze became a steady wind at their backs as they walked together toward the mountains. The bronze man placed a hand on Tom’s shoulder, the curls of his white-woolen hair tossing lightly in the breeze. They walked with heads held high. A ladder appeared before them and a great wheel descended. The buzzards up on high saw two men in motion; then they saw shadows in the whirlwind. Then even the shadows faded and the men were no more.

15

“How did I get here?”

Benson was high up on a mountain standing on a wide ledge. Part of the mountain there had seemingly been cut away to give the space a circular shape. Flower-withered weeds lined the circle completely, and a stomach-high pillar with a broad, flat top stood in its center. Benson’s awareness activated immediately. Every grain of sand, every bush, each crevice in the rock, and each molecule of air around him found its way into his consciousness. It all seemed normal, except for the medallion.

He sensed an increase in the area and weight of the object hanging at his chest. He looked down and saw that the golden half circle dangling at the chain’s end was now a circle of three quarters.

“You no doubt have questions that need answering, Christopher Benson.”

Benson looked up to see a young man dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt, and tennis shoes, sitting on the obelisk.

“I know you,” said Benson. He recognized the boy immediately.

“Of course, I am Christopher Benson, sixteen years old. I am the you that existed so many years ago until the day you lashed out in a fit of fearful rage at another boy.”

“He was a bully.”

 “He intended to beat you up.”

“He fell.”

“And hit his head on the metal corner of a bicycle rack.”

“It was an accident.”

“So the police said.”

“He hit me first.”

“So the witnesses said.”

“They let me go.”

“But you couldn’t let go. How could any boy?”

“How could I?”

“It changed you forever.”

“Yes, it did.”

“You hid your feelings for the rest of your life.”

“Out of fear I might hurt someone else.”

“But that’s changed now.”

“It has.”

“Now you are whole.”

“I am.”

“How do you feel?”

“Good.”

“You truly do.”

Benson hadn’t realized it till just then: “I feel better now than I have felt in years before. For the first time in my life I feel...well I feel, don’t I?”

“You have completed the third step. You have accepted your faults and your fallenness. Grace be upon you. You are ready for the next step.”

“Yes. But I have questions that need answering.”

“Doubtless you do.”

Benson approached the rock and stood before the boy, gazing into his eyes. They looked so much alike. Benson’s features were sharper, his body larger and rougher, but it was plain to see that, if the young man were to grow to Benson’s age, survive radiation poisoning, and starve his way through a post-apocalyptic world, they would look exactly alike.

“Why did my friends die?”

“They could come no further. The steps you take now, you must take alone.”

“But is that a reason to kill two people? Tom, at least, deserved better than that. He should be here before you, not me.”

“He is not dead. Your friends were given an opportunity to live, not die. The one called Mike did not believe this was so. Your friend Tom, however, was saved. He did not die; he was taken. He is not here in your place because he was far more ready than you are. Yours is a different destiny. You are called, Christopher Benson; you are a one-in-a-billion man. And so your destiny will be very different from that of any other man.”

“I have seen that destiny.”

“Then you know that the next step in the process will be even harder than the one before and that the one before was almost impossible for you.”

“I do. But I’m not afraid anymore. I have my champion, you see. Tom is alive—you said it yourself—and I saw in him the prayer that would see me through.”

“But this time you will have to win a battle in which the victor loses, and the loser wins. You will face an opponent like yourself. Called. One in a billion. The one of you who loses will rest. The other will not enjoy peace until countless years have passed. Do you understand, Christopher Benson? The desire now is to lose.”

“But for the sake of the other, what I must want most is to win.”

“That is why you have been made whole. You are at last able. Now, are you willing?”

“Yes.”

“Your opponent has the same conviction. The battle will be fierce.”

16

He was on a circular ledge, near a stomach-high obelisk, overlooking a flat plain of yellow rock which stretched out as far as the eye could see. But he was not home. The chain of mountains among which he stood extended in an arc toward the horizon where the sky, though blue, was dotted by two suns.

“Another planet,” he thought. “I’m on another planet.”

He sat down, dangling his feet over the cliff edge, and scanned the plain. Memories came to him: of a boy sprawled on a sidewalk, a pool of blood forming around his head; of a lonely young college student who had hidden his heart in fear—too afraid, even, to risk love. “To ask her out on a date,” he said aloud. He remembered the nuclear winter and the surprising nuclear desert which no one had predicted. He remembered rats and the events which led him to this place. Then the memories stopped, and he noticed a lone figure out on the plain.

Benson made his way down the mountainside. He said a silent prayer as he approached his fellow journeyman. His body was tense, his breath short and quick, his adrenaline making his heart pound. For the first time since he was sixteen, he prepared to fight another person. But not a human one.

He looked human—enough to indicate masculine gender to Benson’s eyes. His skin and hair were white. His eyes were sparkling blue, and they literally reflected the sunlight. His face was round and smooth—the barest ridge of a nose and no protruding lips—agreeable, but also unusual enough for Benson to be certain this man wasn’t human at all.

“It seems strange,” said the other in a soft voice, “that for such an important event as this, one of us will be chosen based on a simple battle of physical strength and endurance. It’s ironic.”

“Yes it is,” answered Benson. “But, then again, this whole adventure has been one huge irony.”

“Mmm, yes. I’ve cared so little for adventure in my life time.”

Benson chuckled: “I know exactly what you mean.”

They fell silent and for a long time stood staring at each other.

Then the alien concluded: “I love you.”

“And I love you,” Benson replied and threw himself at his opponent.

They fell to the ground, their hands clenched about each others’ throats. An aura of energy began to dance around their bodies, crackling as they struggled. The energy increased their physical power. Benson rolled up on top of the alien, whose neck was near to being crushed by the enormous new strength surging through Benson’s hands. Then the white-skinned man released his grip on Benson’s neck and swung his fisted hands at Benson’s temples who released his grip in a spasm of pain. At this the alien thrust both his palms into Benson’s chest, hurling him fifty feet through the air.

The smooth-faced man sprang to his feet and leapt after Benson. Seeing this, the man from Earth shot his hands into the hard ground and, tearing out a large chunk of earth, threw it at his opponent before he had landed. The rock brought the alien down with a pounce, and once again Benson threw himself at his foe. In this way, the battle continued into night.

Morning. A hint of the first sun’s dawn outlined the horizon. On the foothill between mountain and desert plain, an ever growing crater had been ripped into existence where the combatants had waged battle for hours. Piles of rubble lay strewn about the hillside and out to the plain. Benson and the alien were exhausted, yet neither was willing to give up the battle; their love was too great. They sat in the crater opposite each other, exhausted and panting heavily. The blue auras that danced about their bodies were almost gone.

“Life,” thought the smooth-faced man, “belongs to him. I must win the battle.” And as he rose to his feet: “God give me the strength.” Then he began to stagger across the crater toward Benson.

Meanwhile, Benson was once again caught up in remembering. He thought of the bully from school walking toward him while he knelt unchaining his ten-speed. As the alien neared he thought what he had been thinking back then: “Be quiet and then quick. He won’t expect you to fight first, let alone fight back.” Benson the boy stood and stepped back from his bike while Benson the man looked at the chaos of rock around him and noticed a long cut of solid stone protruding from the crater a few feet away. “You can do this. You can do this.” The alien was preparing to spring, and the bully said: “Come ‘ere, Benson. I wanna talk to you.” The bully came nearer, and the alien leapt. “Knock him into the bikes, and he’ll fall over and you’ll be on top of him and if you have to use the bike chain….” Benson threw his palms forward with all his might, stepping into the push before his enemy, his friend, knew what happened. The boy fell to the blacktop, his head striking the base of the bike rack. The man fell to the ground—energy and aura exhausted—his head striking the line of protruding rock. It was self defense; the boy had punched Benson once before. It was an accident. The bike chain would not have been. It was selfless defense—as deliberate as any sacrificial love. Benson grabbed a rock fragment and lifted it in both hands.

But when he looked at his opponent, the soft face and sparkling eyes were gone. Instead, lying on the ground before Christopher Benson was the face and body of Thomas Hope. Benson was stunned.

“You wouldn’t hit me, would you Ben?” said Tom with a smile.

Benson fell to his knees, his hands still holding the rock above his head. He looked at the bloodied face of his friend Thomas Hope.

“Tom, what have I done to you?”

“It’s alright, Ben. Help me up, will you?”

Benson began to lower the rock but stopped when he noticed Tom’s eyes—those calm eyes which you could look into and forget the hellish reality of the world—they were not there. And Benson knew that this was not Tom Hope but an illusion created by his opponent.

He raised the rock higher, and screaming the words, “Forgive me!” crushed the skull of the creature whom he loved enough to die for. The battle was lost.

Before he had time for anguish, there was a slight flash of light at Benson’s chest. He looked down at the medallion, still hanging about his neck, and saw that the fourth piece was in place—the golden circle complete. Then he was floating in space, the bright spheres of a billion stars all about him. He could not breathe but felt no pain in his lungs. And the stars began to sing as it happened:

Heat—temperature rising in his body, hotter and hotter. Christopher Benson felt his body expanding while the heat intensified. Expanding—larger than the earth, hotter and hotter. Then he felt molecules changing and energy surging. His body was set ablaze as, from the center of his ever-condensing, expanding mass, he could feel hydrogen merging to form helium, and the awesome power of nuclear fusion was no longer an apocalyptic ending to the world. It was genesis; it was life. He joined in the song.

17

Ty Fergusson stood staring into the eyepiece of his telescope which was aimed skyward at the starlit night. Betty sat on a curb nearby, gazing into a fire they had built near the shelter in the city and wondering where Mike had been all of these weeks. Linda sat nearby looking at a picture of Donny, her dead boyfriend.

“Well, how ‘bout that,” said Ty.

Betty looked up. “How about what?”

“Oh nothin’ much for us, I guess. But for the universe—it’s that star up there, the bright one.”

“What about it, Ty?”

“It’s not supposed to be there. It appeared there a few weeks ago and I’m sure that it’s not a planet, or an old satellite. There’s never been a star there—anyway, not one we could see from earth. If it fades it’s maybe the light of an ancient nova. If not, it’s a different kind of light—come to earth for the first time. I think we’re seein’ the birth of a brand new star in the heavens.”

“I’d rather we saw Mike.” Betty could think of nothing else.

Ty turned to her with a reassuring smile and said, “Don’t worry. They’ll be back soon.”

“I hope so; I pray it.”

With that Ty turned back to his telescope and peered once more at the new star, and raising his head, still smiling, recited Sunday school memory: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord.”

Linda smiled too, even as a tear splashed on the picture. “He made Benson a little lower than the heavens,” she said. “But not anymore. Now he’s a warrior. Now he’s judging angels.”

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