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Bethlehem Rescue Mission Chapter 6

Chapter Six


Ned’s eyes focused dully on the TV screen. The familiar music

started and The Miracle on 34th Street began again. What was it with this

movie? Some station must have a bad copy, he guessed, and were still

trying to get it to play. When it didn’t work they evidently switched to

another movie. The music played cheerfully and festively, as an old white

bearded man in a long black overcoat with a cane walked down the streets of

New York City. Ned’s eyes began to blur with tears. Then suddenly the TV

cut out, the picture slowly fading away into a small white circle on the

ancient screen.


Ned didn’t think about it, he reacted instinctively, the result of

pent up emotions that had gotten the best of him. This stupid TV had

caused him enough problems. His emotions were on a roller coaster and he

wanted to get off. He kicked the TV violently, and it rocked back on its

stand. He was amazed that he hadn’t put his foot through the screen, but

his blurred vision had caused his aim to be off. He had kicked the set

below the screen, on the knob level. He saw the TV wobble dangerously, and

then slowly right itself. The channel knob was no longer a part of the

set. It had been broken off and was lying somewhere on the carpet.


Now, finally, he thought, he could focus on what he had come to do,

without any further interruptions, real or imagined. Silence reigned in

the room. The rain continued to beat on the roof and puddle up outside.

There was no other noise. Ned tried to clear his mind, to return to his

rational roots, his default setting. But even as he made the attempt he

could sense that the events of the night, the conversations with Dee and

Beth would return, and he was right.


He heard Dee’s voice, Beth’s plaintive plea. The recent events

returned with a vengeance, and he sought to close his mind to them. It was

futile. He wondered at the mind, how no matter what happened, even during

sleep, it could not be turned off. Even when the body was asleep, it was

awake, playing on its own, making its own rules, no longer leashed by its

owner it was freed to go in any direction it desired. He wondered at his

own mind. He remembered the two movies, the two dreams, or whatever they

were. Why had his mind gone there? What did it all mean?


That thought made him mad. It didn’t mean anything. Dreams were just

the mind freed from constraints, nothing more. His mind was reacting to

the stimulus it had received through his ear and eye ports. Without

guidance, the stimulus continued, but without conscious mind control.

There was no deep dark meaning.


He felt so tired. He didn’t think he had ever been as tired as he

felt now. He had thought that taking your own life would be easy. He

wondered if it had been this hard for other people who had taken their

lives. He glanced at his watch. It was 8:41. He sighed in exasperation.



Maybe he should just close his eyes for awhile; take a cat nap and

hopefully have just enough energy to get the job done when he needed to.

He closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the chair,

slumping down out of sheer fatigue. In the background he thought he heard

something, but it sounded far away. Very far away. It was probably from a

nearby room, or a car driving by. Music. There was music, too. His eyes

were getting droopy. He didn’t fight the sleep, he welcomed it. It would

be the only peace he would get for awhile, he knew that.


At his feet the old TV hummed back to life, but Ned didn’t even

realize it as an unnatural drowsiness overtook him. He drifted off into

restless sleep, but his mind continued to play.


Darkness gave way to a picture that slowly took form. Where was he?

The setting looked both familiar and strange to him. He felt as if he’d

been here before somehow—but knew he hadn’t. The picture became clear.


A rough dirt road. A jeep arriving at a camp with a soldier and a

general. It was a war scene. Music was in the background, a familiar

song. Even though he couldn’t remember the words, he knew that he had

always hated that song. Drippy, sloppy, sentimental. What was music and

singing doing in a battle zone? Then the picture faded out.


Another scene slowly faded in and the rugged countryside was exchanged

for a bright attractive night club. His senses were instantly assaulted by

the most vivid color. He found that he was sitting at a table. Two

beautiful blonde women were singing. They wore bright blue dresses and

carried large matching feathered fans. The colors were dazzling. One of

the beautiful women was looking at him. He felt flushed and strangely

happy. He was attracted to her. Was she flirting with him?


Slowly the scene faded out and was replaced with what looked like a

large rehearsal room. There was a stage, a piano, and lots of dancers and

singers standing around talking. He heard singing--lots of singing. He

was seated at the piano. Then he saw the beautiful woman again. But this

time she wasn’t smiling. She was hurt and angry. Ned squirmed

unconsciously in the naugahyde chair.


She was angry at him. He had let her down. What had he done this

time? He saw himself talking with her, but he couldn’t hear what he was

saying. It was obviously not helping, in fact it just seemed to make

everything worse. He looked in her eyes, and could hear her talking, but

for some reason he couldn’t make out any of the words. He desperately

tried listening harder, but it didn’t help. She was frustrated,

disappointed with him. He had failed her. The look in her eyes said it

all. She stormed out of the room, slamming the door loudly behind her. He

was lost. Ned Phillips face was contorted in pain and unconscious agony in

the naugahyde chair in room 7 of the Atlas Motel.


His heart felt like it was drowning. He hated this pain. He wanted

it to go away. He had felt this before. Somewhere. Somewhere he had felt

this before. Why did he have to feel this way? The scene faded slowly

out, but the pain did not. Ned Phillips unconsciously rubbed the ticklish

warm drop of water falling down his cheek away.


Ever so gradually another scene came into focus. He was on a stage

of some kind, in a big drafty room. He suddenly realized it was the same

rehearsal room as before, but now the room was decorated for Christmas and

there was a large audience. Everyone was watching him. He was singing and

dancing. He was good at it. Then he spied her. She was back and was in

the act. He was surprised. Was he forgiven? The glance was too brief to

be decipherable. Then, there was a huge Christmas tree, the most beautiful

Christmas tree he had ever seen. There were large ornaments on it. He was

carrying a large sack full of toys. He suddenly saw her again. She was

radiantly adorned in a lavish brilliant red gown with white trim, possibly

the most beautiful dress he had ever seen. The sheer brilliance of the

color almost took his breath away.


He suddenly had a gift in his hands. It was his, he knew this

instinctively. He felt the need to open it. He slowly removed the

wrapping and withdrew a small statue of a Knight on a white horse. He was

confused and looked around. Then he saw her. In the beautiful red gown,

with her beautiful green eyes, Dee was smiling at him with a look of warmth

and tenderness. She moved closer to him. He could stare into those eyes

forever. He had been forgiven. It didn’t even matter that he didn’t know

what had caused the rift. Things were back the way they had been once

before.


Somewhere a large door opened and the beautiful countryside was

revealed covered with a soft blanket of white snow. Large flakes were

dropping, and a horse drawn sleigh drove by. It was a scene out of a

Currier and Ives picture. But Ned only had eyes for Dee. He looked deep

in her eyes and she looked deeply into his. They didn’t speak, they didn’t

touch. He didn’t want to do anything to make this scene change. He had a

nagging fear that something might steal it away. He needed to hold on to

this moment. He didn’t want it to ever end. He had never been happier

before in his entire life. Life was good. His life was good.


In the background he heard loud voices. That was normal, there were

a lot of people in the room. But these voices somehow seemed out of place.


Slowly, the beautiful colors began to fade. His heart raced. Something

was wrong. The voices were annoying. They didn’t fit in the scene, and

they were slowly destroying his perfect moment. He willed the voices to go

away, but they wouldn’t. His view of Dee began to grow fainter, her face

slowly fading away, her warm eyes reaching out to him. He felt panic and

tried desperately to return to her, but when he reached for her, she wasn’t

real. She was there, but he couldn’t touch her, hold her, or embrace her.

The voices grew steadily louder.


He tried desperately to yell out, to call her back to him, but

nothing came out. Why couldn’t he be heard? Why was he suddenly mute? It

was maddening. The voices grew louder still.


Ned woke to find himself curled up in an almost fetal position. His

hands were outstretched, as if he had been reaching for something. He

suddenly heard loud obnoxious laughter outside his room. A man and woman

were outside his room, and the woman’s obnoxious voice could be heard

laughing and talking loudly. She was drunk. Very drunk. They were

walking very slowly along the outside walkway, and were now directly

outside his room. He could see their silhouettes through the thin blinds.

She was laughing uncontrollably, a high pitched and shrieking kind of

laugh, when suddenly she banged against his door and laughed louder. She

was having a hard time navigating the walkway. Another voice, a male

voice, laughed deeply and he could overhear him talking, but not what she

was saying. She shrieked in laughter again and they both slowly staggered

away from his room, their voices dying in the rain.


Ned rubbed his eyes in disbelief. He straightened himself out on the

chair, attempting to restore some dignity. His eyes glanced to the TV

where he saw the last few moments of White Christmas playing. Another

Christmas movie.


Why hadn’t he brought any liquor with him? If there was ever a time

when he needed a few stiff drinks, this was it. He had wanted to have a

clear mind when he finished his life, so he had decided there would be no

booze. Whoever found him might misunderstand. The sight of a bottle of

scotch and they might have thought he got drunk and in a fit of emotional

despondency, killed himself. They wouldn’t know he had never been drunk in

his life. He was too cautious for that. He wouldn’t allow anything to

muddle his thinking.


He looked suspiciously at the TV that was just now running the

credits for White Christmas. What had the clerk said? They had received

complaints about the set? He bet they had. The machine was possessed. He

felt a hard metal lump under his right leg. He reached down and retrieved

the pistol. If he wasn’t careful he was going to accidentally shoot

himself in the butt. Who knows what he had been doing during his

nightmare?


Nightmare? Is that what he had been experiencing? His heart was

still racing and his breathing was just now returning to normal. His

memory quickly returned to the sight of Dee behind the big beautiful

Christmas tree. He could still see her beautiful face framed by the lavish

red and white gown she was wearing. Then a peculiar expression emerged on

Ned’s face.


Dee had never worn a red and white gown in her entire life. He had

to stop this.


Yet, he couldn’t help it. He was being irresistibly drawn toward her

adoring eyes, eyes that said they wanted him, loved him. His grip on the

pistol tightened so much it hurt his fingers. Just then a red glow began

beaming into his face. Its familiar rhythmic glow seemed to taunt him.

His jaw clenched and he looked up at the schizophrenic neon electrical

annoyance across the street.


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Ned’s face went pale. He closed his eyes tightly. He could feel the

red bright glow on his outer eyelids. He took a deep breath and then

opened his eyes. The light was beaming the message.


D



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Over and over again the words appeared. He felt like he had entered

The Twilight Zone. Whenever he had written a note to Dee he had always

just written “D.” He got goose bumps and involuntarily shuddered. It was

a weird coincidence.


“What if you’re wrong, Daddy?”


Ned’s head was reeling. This was ridiculous. He was a modern man.

He wasn’t superstitious, weak, or susceptible to suggestion. But something

was going on, something strange, something…powerful.


What if I’m wrong about what? thought Ned.


He knew the answer immediately and he rebelled against it.


“Proof!” he heard himself yell impulsively, the sound of his angry

voice dying slowly in the room. “There’s never proof,” he growled angrily.


God didn’t answer prayers because he didn’t exist. You might as well send

a letter to Santa. Things happen or they don’t; anything that looked like

answered prayer was nothing more than coincidence.


So what was the rational explanation for what he was experiencing?

He didn’t have any. But he wasn’t giving up. He hadn’t come to this dung

heap to lose his mind. He had come to have one final, dignified act of

rationality. Fine, he thought. I’ll prove it.


“OK, God,” he heard himself say, and even the words coming out of his

mouth disturbed him. “Every nut case out there believes in you, so let’s

give it a go. I’m not afraid of a little test, are you? If you’re out

there, give me a sign! A real sign, not some stupid generic horoscope kind

of sign either!”


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Ned shielded his eyes from the annoying red glare. He waited for the

sign with a gleefully skeptical look on his face. Nothing. No lightning,

no thunder, no separating of the oceans.


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He couldn’t believe he had been willing to even issue a challenge to

a stupid idea. Next he would be looking for Pixies and putting teeth under

his pillow for the Tooth Fairy. He felt better that he was beginning to

return to some rational thought.


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Suddenly Ned’s heart skipped a beat. His eyes jerked towards the red

neon lights and their idiotic message.


“No way,” he whispered in sudden disturbing realization. He

swallowed hard. “It’s just a stupid broken sign. Nothing more.” His mind

quickly determined that the sign GOD LOVES YOU was just malfunctioning.

The GO was simply not activating when it was supposed to. D LOVES YOU was

nothing more than GOD LOVES YOU with some letters missing. It certainly

wasn’t a…


The red light flickered quickly, and then one last time it flashed.


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Ned’s fingers were clammy and his face grew warm. His mind knew what

was going on, but something else inside of him was reacting violently. He

needed to put this to rest. This was just getting out of hand. He looked

at his watch. It was 10:17. Time was running out. Or maybe, mercifully,

his pain was closer to its end.


He had to stop this. He had to stop it now. He knew how he could

settle it, but the thought of it made his heart race. He cursed himself

silently. He had never been afraid of talking to anyone. Other people had

been afraid to talk to him. But now…


He looked around his seat searching. He finally succeeded in finding

his iPhone where it had fallen between the side and the cushion of the

chair. He took a deep breath, and held down 1. Quickly the speed dial

kicked in and “Dee” appeared suddenly on the screen along with her phone

number. He heard the phone ringing.


This was ridiculous. She wouldn’t answer the phone. She was furious

with him. She couldn’t stand the thought of him. In fact, knowing Dee she

had gone off shopping and forgotten to take the stupid thing with her. She

was always doing that. And, it was Christmas Eve and she had probably made

plans, furthermore—


Suddenly the ringing stopped. Ned’s heart jumped up into his throat.



After a long pause, he heard a voice.


“What?” Dee snapped. He remembered that her phone would tell her

that it was Ned calling.


“Uhhh…” Ned was suddenly speechless. He had convinced himself that

she wouldn’t answer. He had relaxed and put his mind back into neutral.

What should he say? He couldn’t tell her why he was really calling.


“Dee?” he stuttered.


“You know who it is, Ned, now what do you want?” she replied curtly.

“I’ve got things to do.”


“I…uhm…just have a question,” he managed.


“This ought to be good,” she murmured.


That was what he needed. Her sarcasm was telling him everything he

needed to know. He would be able to leave this life with a completely

clear conscience. He just wished his heart would get the message.


“Dee…do…uh…well…did…did you ever love me? Really love me?”


There, he had said it. He suddenly felt as if he had just vomited,

and all the horrible things that were causing him distress had been

expelled. He felt better already.


There was an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line. Ned

glanced at his iPhone to see if it was still connected. It was.


“Yes,” he heard Dee whisper. “Of course I did. Why else would I

have married you?”


“OK,” Ned heard himself say. “I just wanted to know.”


“Why? Why now?” Dee asked suspiciously.


He couldn’t think of a good answer. He had to say something, but he

was coming up empty. Then he half laughed. What did he have to lose that

he hadn’t lost already?


“It was a test,” Ned said.” It’s the only thing he could think of to

say, and frankly, it was the truth.


“Did I pass?” she asked sarcastically.


“Yeah, I guess so,” he said.


“How wonderful for me, do I get a prize?”


Ned was amazed at how bitter Dee had become. The old Dee, the one he

had fallen in love with, was gone forever. He prepared to hang up. He had

nothing more to say. But something stopped him. He had a point to prove.

He wasn’t going to lose this opportunity.


“One more question.”


“What?”


Suddenly the question that moments earlier had seemed so easy to ask

was choking in his throat. Maybe it was because this would make everything

so final. He sucked up his courage. He needed to throw up emotionally one

more time--to cleanse himself.


“Do you still love me?” he asked quietly. He said it clearly, no

emotion, no choking, no tears. He might as well have been asking a waiter

for the check. He felt the gun by his hand and it gave him comfort. He

braced himself. The seconds ticked by so slowly now. Would she even

answer? Apparently the question wasn’t appreciated. He prepared to hang

up.


“Yes,” he heard Dee whisper so lightly he could barely hear it.

“That’s why it’s so painful.” He heard more silence and then the line went

dead.



young man looking pensive

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