Ned let his hand drop that held his iPhone and straightened himself
out on the floor next to the bed, leaning his back up against the bed, his
long legs cramped up towards the wall. Slowly a smile began to emerge on
his face and from deep within him something started. He didn’t really know
what it was, but it was coming and he couldn’t stop it. It was something
totally foreign. And suddenly, Ned Phillips, began to laugh, he laughed
louder and harder than he had ever laughed in his life. But he wasn’t
laughing because anything was funny; the laughter came from a completely
different place within Ned. It was laughter of joy.
He began to rock back and forth upon the floor alternately laughing,
crying tears of joy, and then laughing again. This continued for long
minutes until finally, wearily, he glanced around and noticed that all over
the room, including the floor near him, were pieces of torn and shredded
paper. A feeling of regret sobered him. He began picking up the pieces,
trying to put them back in some semblance of order, but it was a hopeless
cause. This Bible was never going to be read by anyone else. Well, Ned
thought, the message got through anyway. He guessed he owed the Gideon’s a
few Bibles—make that quite a few. He would put it on his to-do list.
Then he looked at his watch and with a smile that Dee would never
have recognized, he realized he had an appointment to keep. He wasn’t
going to be late. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get there, but he
He knew that he’d get there because God would see to it.
God. There was a God. All those years he had denied God, all those
years he had cursed and abused the idea of God, all those years he had used
God’s name only when cursing. What kind of God would keep taking it and
keep on trying to love someone like Ned Phillips?
As Ned reverently picked up all the ripped and tattered pages he saw
the flashing neon sign from across the street. It was now stuck on one
message: BETHLEHEM RESCUE MISSION. That says it all, Ned thought. It was
with regret and shame that he stuffed the pages into the little bathroom
trash can. He withdrew the other half of the Bible from the TV and placed
it in the trash can as well. He could only imagine what the housekeepers
would think when they saw this. He pulled out his wallet and placed a
fifty dollar bill on the little table between the beds.
Then he looked down at his watch. A silly smile crept over his face.
He looked up, grinning.
“Get me to the church on time. For God’s sake, get me to the church
He hoped God had a sense of humor.
Then he stopped and his expression grew sober. He walked over slowly
to the naugahyde chair and picked up the pistol. Carefully he emptied the
gun of all its bullets. First chance he got he would get rid of this. He
thought somberly of what he had come to do, what this evening was supposed
to have ended like if he had gotten his way.
His way. How grateful he was that he hadn’t gotten his way.
He stuffed the gun into his jacket, took one last look around the
room and then opened the door. Outside, the rain was slackening to a light
drizzle. He smiled at the red neon sign repeating over and over the same
message. BETHLEHEM RESCUE MISSION, BETHLEHEM RESCUE MISSION, BETHLEHEM
RESCUE MISSION. He made a mental note to send a hefty contribution to
He closed the door behind him and turned to see a man locking the
door of room 8. He had a trash can with him. He obviously worked here.
He shuffled towards Ned and when he finally came into view Ned saw a short
grizzled old man with thinning hair, an unshaven face and a scowl, wearing
filthy overalls. Even in the heavy rain he could smell something really
“You leavin?” he asked gruffly, pointing to Ned’s room.
“Yeah, checking out early,” Ned replied. Then he remembered his ill
treatment of Gabe and his heart sank.
“Say, where is Gabe? I’d…well, I’d like to talk to him before I
“Gabe who?” said the old man sneering.
“Angel, you know the guy who goes by Gabe?”
“Very funny,” the old man snarled, waving a calloused dirty hand at
Ned, “Go sleep it off somewhere else.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ned in confusion.
“Give it a break!” snapped the man. “It’s Christmas Eve and I just
got done cleaning puke off of the floor. I’m not in the mood for no funny
man.” That explained the bad odor.
“Look,” Ned said firmly, “I’d just like to talk to Gabe, that’s all.”
“There ain’t no Gabe, pal! OK? I’m the only guy who works here.
I’m the owner, the clerk, the fix it man, the…say, I don’t remember
checking you in,” he said suspiciously, eyeing Ned closer now. My wife
Carlotta is already gone to my brother in law’s for dinner, so how’d you
get the key to the room?” he asked coming so close to Ned that he could
smell the old man’s bad breath and pungent remnants of what he had
reportedly cleaned up in room 8.
“Well Gabe checked me in, he brought me the Christmas gift from the
motel,” Ned insisted, a confused look on his face.
The man hacked harshly, something Ned took to be his version of a
“Do we look like we give Christmas presents around here?” he asked
incredulously. “We barely stay in business and you think we’re giving out
Christmas presents like the friggin Hilton! Christmas gifts yet!” he
snorted. “By the way,” he said, taking a step nearer Ned, “I don’t know
how you got in this room, but you owe me $50. Hand it over or I call the
cops!” he demanded, thrusting his hand out.
Ignoring the old man, Ned tried to put the pieces together.
Gabe. Angel. He shook his head slowly. A strange guy named Angel
who calls himself Gabe and…suddenly Ned stiffened, a look of surprise
breaking out on his face. He may not have ever believed the Christmas
story before, but he had certainly heard it enough times. The angel
Gabriel? The one who announced the coming of Christ? Ned shook his head.
He didn’t even want to go there.
He slowly drew out his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill
and put it in the owner’s hands. The owner’s eyebrows shot up. Then Ned
pulled out several more hundred dollar bills and handed them to the
startled old man.
“I broke your TV. An accident, sorry. Buy another one.” Then he
turned and walked to his car. The old man stifled a grin, then stuffed the
money into his pocket and shuffled away mumbling to himself.
Ned pushed the remote control on his BMW and sat down in the front
seat. He had never planned to drive this car again. He had never planned
on leaving the Atlas Motel, not in his car at any rate. He turned the key.
The strains of Beethoven suddenly erupted, soothing his weary, but
Starting the car, he pulled out and drove slowly out of the parking
lot of the Atlas Motel, turned right and glanced left at the Bethlehem
Rescue Mission and its straggly little Christmas display of a manger scene.
A drunk was passed out next to Joseph and Mary and the manger. Ned
noticed a man walking out of the Rescue Mission over to the man, kneeling
down, and shaking him gently awake. He motioned towards the building.
Another Bethlehem Rescue Mission Ned hoped.
Ned drove up to the corner and stopped at the stop sign. Beethoven
played in the background. He had a feeling of peace he had never known
before. Glancing to his right to check oncoming traffic he suddenly saw
it. His shoulders slumped as his mouth fell open. He couldn’t believe his
eyes. There was a God, and He definitely existed. Slowly, from the deep
recesses of his being a rumble began, it built and built until it finally
found release, like steam escaping a geyser. Ned Phillips sat at the stop
sign laughing so hard he had tears coming down his face.
Finally he drove off, glancing in the rear view mirror one last time
just to make sure he wasn’t crazy. Behind him, bent at an awkward angle
was the name of the street that the Atlas Motel and the Bethlehem Rescue
Mission had been on.
Ned Phillips was the miracle on 34th street.
This is the end of the Bethlehem Rescue Mission novelette by Dan Schaeffer