He stands on the edge of the bridge on the wrong side of the railing. Below is a highway. It’s quiet tonight. The weather is bad and most people are at home.
He plants his feet. He doesn’t want to fall. He doesn’t want this to be a mistake or an accident. It has to be deliberate. It has to be his choice. He has to make it right.
Rain pours down. Thunder rumbles in the distance.
He takes a deep breath and lets go of the railing.
When he wakes up, he’s in a warm, soft bed with a warm, soft comforter. He pushes himself up and looks around the unfamiliar room. Frowning, he searches for something, anything to tell him where he is or who he is.
The room is a pale blue with gold trim. It’s not overdone but it’s very ornate.
He tucks his hair behind his ears, then realizes how strange that is. His hair is supposed to be short. He spots a mirror on the opposite side of the room. He stands and goes to it to inspect himself.
He’s wearing a white robe with a purple sash tied at the waist. He has long, light brown hair and a soft, light brown beard. It’s a stark difference from his black hair and thick black beard. He frowns again. The face looking back is definitely him. It moves when he moves, and it looks sort of like him. But his eyes are blue instead of brown and his nose is different. He doesn’t remember much, but he at least remembers his face.
His skin is paler and more pinkish instead of the olive color he knows it should be. He reaches out to the mirror. It’s cold and solid. He remembers what he’s supposed to look like, but he can’t seem to remember anything else.
He blinks and suddenly wind is rushing past him, whipping through his hair. It’s freezing and raining and he can’t scream even though he’s terrified.
Then just as suddenly he’s back in the pale blue room standing in front of the mirror. Something is terribly wrong. He doesn’t belong here. Panic rising in his chest, he blinks again and again is transported to midair, falling through the rain.
He’s going to die.
He stumbles as he comes back to the room. He feels like he’s spinning. Then the pain sets in. He falls to his knees, screaming. It’s overwhelming, hot, stabbing, bone-deep pain. He curls into himself, body shaking. He can’t breathe. He can’t speak. His thoughts come in beats, matching the rhythm of his heart. They’re red. The color behind his eyes is red. He can only think of the color red. Then everything goes black.
When he opens his eyes again, there’s a figure standing over him.
“Help,” he says weakly.
“It’s all right,” says the figure. “You’re safe here.”
As his vision clears, he can make out a person. A woman.
She’s smiling down at him. “Welcome home,” she says.
“Home?” he asks. The pain has subsided, but the memory still lingers. He’s scared it will come back.
“Don’t worry,” she says. Her voice is melodic and soothing. “Everything will become clear in time.”
“The pain,” he says. He needs to know if it will happen again.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “It’s your memory settling in. It will come in waves.”
“Will the pain come back?”
“Yes, but there are ways to make it go away.”
“Prayer,” she answers. “Those memories are of your life on earth. They hurt because the devil is trying to take you back. God wants to keep you safe. Pray to him and he will ease your pain.”
“How do I pray?” he asks.
The woman puts her hands together. “Say whatever is in your heart.”
“I just want the pain to stop.”
“Let me pray with you,” she says. She kneels and bows her head.
He closes his eyes.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” she begins, “please hear us and banish this earthly torment. Help us keep Satan away and make our spirits strong as we fight this battle.”
As she speaks, he feels a warm and powerful sensation wash over him. He breathes.
“This man is your warrior,” continues the woman. “Help him win this war.”
After a moment of silence, he opens his eyes.
The woman is standing and smiling down at him again. “We will be with him shortly,” she says.
“Don’t leave,” he says.
“Have faith,” she says. “Be not afraid.”
She turns and leaves, pulling the door closed behind her.
He rolls onto his side and starts muttering to himself. “Dear Heavenly father, help me. Please help me.” He closes his eyes tight. “Please help me keep the devil away and don’t let the pain come back.”
He repeats the prayer. “Please help me keep the devil away and don’t let the pain come back.” It feels futile but it’s his only hope.
He doesn’t know how long he lays there, praying over and over again, hoping he’ll feel better. After what feels like a very long time, he hears someone come in.
“Hello,” says a voice. “Welcome back.”
He rolls over and sees another woman standing in the room.
He sits up in bed. “I’m scared,” he says.
“I know. Life can be painful, and death can be frightening. But he can save you.”
“Please,” he says weakly, “help me.”
“Submit your soul to him,” says the woman, “and he will heal it.”
“I submit,” he says.
The woman approaches. She reaches out and puts her hands on his head. “Be not afraid. Be at peace.”
He waits for something to happen, but nothing does.
The woman removes her hands. “It is done.”
“That’s it for now. Until we go to him.”
She sits on the edge of the bed. “Do you know where you are?” she asks.
“No,” he answers. “I don’t remember anything.”
“You’ve been through so much,” she says. “But you’re home now. You’re safe with us.”
“What is this place?”
“Heaven,” she answers simply.
She nods. “Yes. You’ve come home.”
“You keep saying that, but I don’t remember Heaven either.”
“There are people here who remember your life and carry your memories with them.”
“They are your friends. That’s why it’s so important to have friends and family. They will take care of you.”
“How do I find them?” he asks. “I don’t remember them.”
“They will find you,” she answers. “In fact, one of them has already has.”
“Me.” Her smile widens, and her eyes are glossy with tears. “My name is Mary. I’m your mother.”
He smiles back at her. “How did you know where to find me?”
“I knew you’d be here. You’re good. You belong here.”
“Yes. You are good. So you came back to God. To me.”
“I don’t think I was good,” he says. Something awful happened. Something he can’t remember. Suddenly he feels a stabbing pain in his chest. He convulses involuntarily as the feeling spreads through his body. Then, just as suddenly, he’s not in the blue room anymore. He’s standing on a bridge in the rain. He’s bad. He’s done something terrible. It’s like he was born bad. He can’t remember being good. Something haunts him.
He gasps. Then lightning strikes and he’s back with the woman in the soft blue room.
She’s sitting beside him, a damp cloth in hand. She touches the cloth to his forehead. “It’s all right,” she says. “You’re safe here.”
He rolls away from her. “I was bad,” he says.
She hushes him. “You can confess your sins to God, and he will wash you clean. You will be reborn as his son.”
“I don’t deserve to be clean.”
“You carry the sins of the world.”
He peeks over his shoulder. “The sins of the world?”
She nods. “These sins are not yours. They are the result of your sacrifice for mankind.”
“I feel like I did something unforgiveable.”
“The sins of humanity have stained your heart. But God will wash those sins away.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he loves you.”
“He loves me?”
“More than anything,” she says.
He turns over to face her and sits up in the bed. “Does he know I was bad?”
“Yes. We’ve all been bad. We were made bad. but we are remade good; remade to be like him.”
He turns those words over in his mind. “Is that why I look different?” he asks. “Because he remade me?”
She nods again. “You have been reborn in his perfect image.”
He blinks and suddenly he’s on that terrible bridge in the freezing rain. His heart is pounding. He takes a step. This is what he deserves. He’s a traitor. He betrayed someone.
Then Mary is shaking him back to himself.
He shivers as he comes around. “The b-bridge,” he stammers. “I keep flashing back to a bridge.”
“That bridge is where you died,” says Mary. “It’s where the devil pushed you.” She frowns and touches his forehead. “Your condition is getting worse. I need to take you to our Holy Father.”
“I’m afraid he won’t heal me,” he says.
“I deserve peace,” he says quietly. It doesn’t feel true.