Is this Tomorrow Calling?
I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people that call others weird that are weird.
“Well?” Eric asked, he was standing in front of Jack across the table. Eric’s question snapped him out of his reverie. He couldn’t remember taking a seat at the gas station table, but the pool of water that had dripped from his riding gear on to the floor told him he’d been there a while. His phone was discarded in front of him; he must have been scanning through his messages and drifted off to someplace else in his mind. He was always doing that, scanning his messages. It was hopeless he knew, but even after four years of almost total phone silence, he still looked each day in case she had texted him. Fat chance! If he could just shake this stupid feeling she’d be back, he could get on with his life.
Eric slid a steaming hot meat pie and a long black across the table to him. His face was lined with concern. “How are you doing now?” He asked gently.
“Umm,” Jack sighed. He was unsure where to start.
“Look, Jack,” Eric rasped, “I’m sorry I bawled you out like that… But you gave me a heck of a fright, I’m not sure I could watch a rerun.”
Jack shot him a confused look, and the warmth in Eric’s face vanished. “You must know what I’m talking about?? I’ll never forget watching you ride at that truck. I admire your courage, I’ll say that much, you didn’t even flinch, just rode straight at him.”
“There wasn’t any courage involved,” Jack admitted, “I wasn’t even aware I was doing it until the last moment. I was off somewhere in my mind. And I just can’t figure out how I got away with it. They should be scraping me off that grill right now.”
“You cheated death, mate.” Mick said. He was sitting in the next chair and Denny was down at the other end of the table. Mick, always-cheerful Mick. You had to like the guy. Everyone did. Denny too, Jack and Denny had been mates since they were twelve, riding motorbikes since they were fifteen. Denny didn’t have to say a lot, but Jack always knew he was watching out for him.
Mick’s next comment went unspoken, the look said everything he needed. ‘I’m worried about you, mate,’ Jack could read it in his face. Denny shot him a glance that echoed it.
“I guess I did cheat death.” Jack replied, humbled by their concern. Then trying to take some control of the conversation, asked them, “Tell me what you saw.”
“I don’t know if I can,” muttered Eric.
Mick stepped in. “I saw you go wide around that bend but instead of heading back to your side of the road…” He stopped a moment, still shaken by the memory. “I could tell you’d seen the truck, could see you were thinking about riding straight through it and then you did! You rode straight at him like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. He was trying to slow, but you were going at him full throttle. If I hadn’t been so transfixed by the horror of it, I’d have looked away.”
“I did look away!” spluttered Eric. “You were curtains and I couldn’t do anything about it,” he choked, then regained control of himself again and went on. “But when I looked again you were passing him. I can’t figure out how come you didn’t hit him. I’ve been going over and over it all through the miles since.”“Same,” said Jack.
“One moment you were front center and about to hit, the next you were sailing down the side of that truck like nothing had happened”, offered Denny. “It just doesn’t make sense. First your bike went sideways, like you’d put your foot down and gone into a controlled slide. But that’s impossible, at that speed no one can do that, not on a bike that size, and certainly not you, Jack. That sort of stuff’s way past your riding ability.”
“I saw that bit,” Eric butted in, “but couldn’t watch the accident… and yet there wasn’t an accident.” He shook his head and went silent.
“But I didn’t mean… not consciously…” Jack spluttered out, but he stopped again when Eric pulled himself up out of his seat. The conversation was obviously over. “Look guys,” Eric said, “going over the Desert Road is madness in this weather. We’re all wet through and cold, I’m for finding a bed. What do you reckon?”
“You sit here, mate,” Mick smiled at Jack. “We’ll go look for something and text you when we’ve found it.” His three mates picked up their wet gloves and dripping helmets and made for the door. Denny thumped him on the back as he squeezed past the big glass windows.
Jack watched them pull out of the gas station, three tail lights disappearing into the night He dragged the back of his hand over his brow in a vain attempt to wipe away the confusion of the last hour or so.
Disbelief. He’d honestly done it. He’d really and truly ridden at that truck and somehow lived to tell the tale. It had to be some sort of miracle, although neither he nor his friends wanted to admit it. It was too weird to talk about.
“Weird or not, if it hadn’t happened, you’d be dead.”
He sat up straight with a start and looked around, but then realized the voice he’d heard was that Voice. It had been so clear it almost seemed audible, although he knew it wasn’t.
He still wasn’t used to these ‘interruptions from elsewhere’. When they’d first started he tried to pretend they weren’t happening. When that hadn’t worked, he decided they must be just his own internal musings, nothing more. People told him it was the pain of losing her and he figured they were right, except one thing didn’t add up; pretty much everything he heard from The Voice came true! It was unnerving.
When he’d told psychiatrists and psychologists about it they’d had no box to put it in, and the religious people he’d asked weren’t much help either. He’d asked the wrong ones, they were out of their depth. They told him there was no way he could hear the sort of the things he was hearing from Upstairs. Not that clearly! Nobody could. And anyway, he wasn’t a church member. They said he’d have to obey a whole bunch of rules which were printed in their induction booklet and on their website if he ever wanted to hear that Voice. They were too polite to come out and say it, but their meaning had been clear, God didn’t speak to people as bad as Jack. He hadn’t wanted an inquisition, just a bit of advice, but they were right about one thing, he was hardly squeaky clean.
And yet that didn’t seem to change the uncomfortable truth, the things he heard from The Voice came true - business stuff and personal too. Either he was going mad or he had a hotline upstairs, and what he heard seemed to help others, just like they said The Man Upstairs had done when he’d done his stint on earth. Could this be him that he was hearing? The Carpenter? The angry religious types said no, but there were plenty of others who said yes, which only left him more confused.
Jack patted his bulky jacket pockets, then realized it was a wasted gesture, the notebook he was looking for would have been wet through if it was still in his jacket. Standing in his garage before they’d set out, he’d seen they were headed into heavy rain, so he’d buried the notebook deep in his saddle bags, wrapped in a towel with his laptop. He took them everywhere now, the notebook and his laptop. He used them to jot down the things he heard from The Voice and right now he badly needed to hear something.
He needed to make sense of what had happened with the truck, The Voice would have the answers. He’d have to be careful in this gas station though, he didn’t want to be seen by anyone who knew him. There were other riders heading south and this whole back and forth conversation with God thing embarrassed him. He’d rather die than have people think he was a nutcase. Jack Kincaid; the man who dispatched religious kooks with brilliantly cutting comments, now reduced to thinking that he could hear The Voice, The Man Upstairs, God. But as crazy as it sounded, he could hear him. There didn’t seem much point pretending otherwise.
But he heard him in the weirdest of ways, well it seemed weird to him. He heard God clearest when he wrote. He was sure that it wouldn’t happen like that in a movie, there had to be a much cooler way to hear The Voice. But no, writing was how it happened for him. He would write his question and then just start writing the answers, and the answer would come as he wrote, a conversation with God in writing.
He pulled himself up from his wet seat to fetch his notebook and laptop. The gas station attendant came over as he stood. “Mate, could you shift your bike?” Jack realized the thing had been sitting out there on the forecourt, hogging the pump the whole time. “I completely forgot mate, sorry.”
“No worries,” the attendant called back over his shoulder. “We could see you were a bit distracted, but best you shift it now eh, park it in here close to the door.”
Jack did what the guy had asked and then fetched his notebook and laptop. Back inside he sat down again and pried open the slim Apple MacBook and waited for the screen to fire up, hoping it hadn’t gotten wet.
Others he told about this talking with God thing were astonished when they tried it – even the atheists! They heard him just like Jack, not audibly, but rather inside themselves.
And they said the craziest things about it. Marriages got healed, depression went, kids wanted to do what their parents asked, drug habits disappeared, hope returned. Crazy! Lives got back on track. All of which should have made him happy, but it annoyed him – he was the one who’d told them about this but his life remained a mess. Go figure!
Jack opened the file and typed in the day’s date, then he added a bit of detail, ‘Tūrangi, First Night, Brass Monkey Ride’. Then he started to write. He wanted to get his troubles off his chest, kick God in the shins, force him to pay some attention to the mess he was in.
He hammered out his questions, making the keyboard chatter.
“Ok, it’s time to get real! What happened back there, with that truck?”
Then he kept typing, expecting the answer to come as he typed, and just like he expected, it did.
“You gave that driver a heck of a fright.”
“That can’t be you, you do not say heck!”
“Well, pious people I suppose? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure Religion says you don’t.”
“Exactly. Religion. What would he know?”
Jack shook his head amused, incredulous more like. Religion wasn’t a ‘he’, it was an organization, one of the most powerful on earth, and yet God always referred to it as a ‘he’ when they talked. Jack knew that a lot of people associated the two together, Religion and God, but God made it clear that Religion, with all his rules, condemnations and expectations, crushed people. God said Religion was a ‘strong man’ and no friend of his.
What amazed Jack most was that this side of God, the side where he talked so willingly, was exactly like he’d always hoped God would be, the opposite of the hard to please, almost grumpy God that Religion taught about. The God of these conversations was different; he liked humans, no matter what their lives were like! He didn’t have a big list of hoops for people to jump through and he loved to talk, about whatever you wanted to talk about. He was matey, irreligious, and jokey.
He typed out his next question, “Ok, but you haven’t answered my question, did you just say ‘heck’? It doesn’t sound like something you’d say.”
“It sounds like something you’d say. That’s because it’s you interpreting my voice. The interpretation is in your language. When I speak through you I sound like you.”
He wondered for the thousandth time if he was just making this God up, like a kid makes up the voice of their ‘invisible friend’?
“Maybe they don’t make that voice up, have you ever considered that?”
People told Jack he was a God Whisperer, but it made him uncomfortable, made him sound like some kind of freak. So he ignored them and tried to stay cynical. Yet the more he questioned and doubted that this was The Eternal Voice, the surer he became that it was. The only thing he could assume was that somehow, as messed up as he was, he had found a door into where God lived.
When he’d first discovered this, some friends had urged him to write a book. He wasn’t keen; a book full of his private conversations with God - people would think he’d lost his mind! He only went with it because Upstairs seemed to say he should. The book had taken off and now people kept asking him how to do it. That embarrassed him even more, but it was changing their lives, they said.
Which made him wonder why all the really Religious people weren’t doing it. Weren’t they supposed to want to know what God said? He’d asked a few of them but had been shocked to discover it was quite the opposite; they said they didn’t need a conversation with God because they already knew what he wanted. ‘It’s in the bible’ they told Jack angrily.
God Whisperer? It was the last thing he wanted to be. There were plenty of days he wished God would just leave him alone and let him be normal. And yet these conversations were just about the only thing that had kept him sane since Annie had gone.
He realized he’d drifted off and left The Eternal sitting waiting while he daydreamed.
He looked down at God’s comment on his screen. “Exactly. Religion. What would he know?”
He started to type his reply. “How come, when I want to know something deep and important from you, we end up talking about every day stuff, and you making quips about Religion?”
“Because you need to relax, stop taking things so seriously. I’m helping you keep it light.”
“Keep it light? That’s not what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to get really deep, dig out all my problems and put your finger on them, that’s what they say God does.”
“Hmm, ‘supposed to’s’ are so damaging. Who says I’m supposed to be like that?”
“Religion again, I guess.”
“Exactly, so let’s move on. You’ve got important questions about trucks and bikes that you need to ask me right now. Let’s get your questions out of your head and onto the page. Then you’ll be able to write my answers and the healing can begin.”
“Ok then, what happened back there and what would have happened if I’d hit that truck?”
“You’d be looking at me, not just talking with me.”
“You know you’re not supposed to say that right?”
“That I’d be with you. Religion teaches that you send us to hell if we commit suicide.”
“What sort of father do you actually think I am, Jack??”
“What do you mean?”
“You wouldn’t punish your kids for wanting to end their lives! You’d want to gather them up in your arms and sooth their pain, and yet Religion, that cunning monster, has fooled you into thinking that when my children do that, I punish them in flames forever? You must be mad believing his rubbish!”
“See, there you go again. You don’t talk like that.”
“How long before you admit that I do? I always talk like this with you, and when you show others how to hear me, even when they haven’t seen your own conversations, they hear me say the same sorts of things. Admit it, they do.”
“Ok, yes, they do.”
“Good. I’m not disappointed or angry at humanity like Religion’s pretending God is, so stop expecting me to be. Now, let’s get on with this conversation. Big stuff happened to you out there tonight. You need to get your head around it.”
“Ok. So, if I’d hit the truck I’d be seeing you. Surely that would be good?”
“Yes, but, seeing me is even better when the time is right, and the time wasn’t right tonight. I still have a number of things I’d like to give you, things I want you to enjoy. And there are things I’d love to do in partnership with you before you’re done. Lives to change, money to make.”
“Are you sure that’s you talking? Changing lives has always been your gig, I get that, but we both know you’re not into money.”
“Jack, that’s rubbish. Stop worrying about all the lies Religion has taught you, let me teach you now. If your life had finished tonight in the way Darkness wanted, the things I want to give and do with you, couldn’t have happened. So, I intervened.”
“Yes. I called in a few favors. Asked a couple of my friends to act.”
“Called in favors??” Jack asked, “I thought you commanded.”
“Command means something different to me than it does to you. Everyone has the choice to obey, or not; and obey means something completely different to me too.”
“Ok, what does obey mean then?”
“No, you go first, what does it mean to you?”
“Doing what a powerful ruler says?”
“Well, I guess ‘demands’ is more in keeping with the idea of obeying.” Jack replied.
“Hmm. That’s not what it means to me. What I mean by obey is to listen to the things I say to you personally; to think a lot about those things, meditate on them and then, if you see value in them, try and work them into your life. ‘Meditate on your word’, have you ever read that?”
“Yes, but that’s about reading the bible not listening to you?”
“Wrong. If you have a look at the original text, you’ll see the ‘word’ you are encouraged to meditate on is the word spoken by the Spirit into your heart.”
“Well, that’s not what Religion teaches, you’re going to have to explain it a bit more.”
“Everyone knows I said ‘it is better to give than to receive’. But I’m telling you that’s not a command to go around giving all the time and refusing to receive. It’s an observation, an approach to living that will make your life far more enjoyable if you want to embrace it. But only if you want. I don’t want servants, I want friends. The more you think about the things I say the more you’ll find they become part of your reality. That’s what I mean by obedience. Make sense?”
“Kind of, I guess.”
“Good, now back to the truck and your dance with death.”
“I’m feeling pretty stupid.”
“Don’t. You fell for his trick that’s all, and right now you’re trying to figure out what happened and what to do about it, that’s far from stupid. What happened out on that road tonight has been coming for a long time. Darkness saw it coming too.”
“How come you describe them all in the first person, Religion, Darkness, and all the others? You call them all ‘he’. It’s kind of weird.”
“There’s a lot more going on around you than you care to know. A whole host of invisible witnesses, good and bad, some for you and some against.”
“You said Darkness saw tonight coming?”
“Yes, he had his plans lined up to take advantage of the way you were feeling. He saw the moment was perfect and dropped that picture of Annie and the kids into your head. He can read your mind you know…”
“See, God, if this is really you, you’ve got your theology wrong again. Darkness can’t read our minds.”
“Religion has lied to you about that too. Darkness can definitely read your mind! I created him, so I’m quite an authority on what he can and can’t do. You’d be surprised at what he knows. People who teach that he doesn’t know what you’re thinking, misunderstand the idea that it’s only me who knows the heart or mind of a man. That scripture is talking about the way a man will go and the choices he will eventually make, only I know that. But even you know your own thoughts – and your enemy certainly knows them.”
“Ok, fine, but what happened out there on the road with the truck? How could I possibly have let that happen?”
“As I was saying, Darkness had his plans for you lined up. He seduced your already wavering resolve, waited until you were absolutely exhausted emotionally, and physically tired and cold. When he saw his moment he presented you with an easy opportunity to end it all. He whispered that all you had to do was dream a little dream of happier days on the farm with Annie and the kids, shut your eyes to the reality of the truck, and all the pain would go away. Like most of what he suggests, it sounded a wonderful idea and you succumbed. He knew you would and so did I, but I had other plans.”
“So how come I didn’t ride straight into the grill of that monster? I remember looking down on myself at the last moment. I knew I was going to die, but then I didn’t?”
“No. My friends did me the favor I asked and saved your...”
He cut across The Voice. “Surely you weren’t going to say they saved my ass?”
“No, I was going to say they saved your dignity, but that’s true too.”
“Oh, ok. Who are your friends?”
“Use your imagination.”
When God got into the invisible stuff, Jack didn’t want to know. “Too weird, God, sorry. It’s a bit girly. I’m not even sure that stuff is for real.”
“Get sure, Jack. The only reason you’re sitting in that chair is that the invisible world exists. Even an atheist knows that the things you can’t see are often the most powerful.”
His phone vibrated on the table. A text from Denny. The guys were in a motel less than a mile away. Hot fish and chips and a steaming coffee on the table.
“Ok, gotta go, God, but one last thing. Before I tried to ride into that truck, I was thinking about what you promised…”
“Yes, it was right before.”
“Ok, well, I remembered your promise and as usual I thought it was a joke, not a promise at all, just me wanting to believe that you said Annie would come back.”
“It’s a promise. I don’t make them lightly.”
“So, you honestly said she’d be back?”
“Then how come it hasn’t happened? It’s been more than four horrible years, for goodness sake!”
“I didn’t promise I’d do it in your time, I said I’d do it in mine and Annie’s. Just between you and me, the timing will be best for you too. You can’t see that now, but you will.”
Too tired to argue, he shut his laptop and strode out to his bike. He was still wet and dog-tired.