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Bethlehem Rescue Mission Chapter 7

Chapter Seven

Ned Phillips stared at the blank screen on his iPhone for several

long moments. What had just happened? He was conflicted, alternately

hopeful and confused. He wasn’t sure which was worse. He didn’t want to

be hopeful anymore, he knew from experience where that led.

What had he just learned from his phone call with Dee? Had he

learned that there was still hope for Dee and him? No, not really, he

realized, she had made it quite clear earlier that she had no intention of

wasting another second of her life with him. All she was admitting to was

that she still struggled with her emotions. Women loved security. That’s

all he was to her. She didn’t love him, she loved the security he brought

into her life, the familiarity of relationships. She loved what he could

give her. That was the rational conclusion. It was logically deductive of

all the information he had been given. So why did he still hurt?

He let the iPhone drop into his lap. Why did life have to be so

confusing? Why did there have to be hope in the world? It wasn’t even a

real tangible thing. It was nothing more than a concept, yet it prodded

him, taunted him, urging him to embrace it. Dee had said she loved him.

Why did she have to say that? Why couldn’t she have just cussed him out

and hung up? It would have been so easy then.

All his carefully laid plans for how this evening was going to be

were slowly being destroyed. His confidence was ebbing, his confusion was

growing, his emotions were bungee cording all over the place. He even

realized with some chagrin that he wasn’t at all sure he was going to kill

himself. Ironically, that thought frightened him the most, and gave him

the most courage. There was too much pain in this life, too much confusion

for a man like him. He needed to end this all.

Then he remembered the sign. …D LOVES YOU. He stiffened in his

chair. This was crazy. Sure he had asked for a sign. It was a normal

human reaction to a strong fear, it didn’t mean anything. But he had asked

for it. And he had gotten what he had asked for.

But what if he hadn’t asked for a sign and had just called Dee on his

own, he reasoned. The results would have been exactly the same. But he

had not had any intention of calling Dee. It was only the dare to God,

that quasi prayer that had prompted him to contact her. He had called her

only in challenge, in protest against the concept of God giving people

signs of his presence. In fact, he had been given a sign even before he

had asked for one. And then when he had asked for a sign, he had received


Screeching tires and the sounds of a car speeding down the street

interrupted his thoughts. The sound slowly faded. The rain beat down

harder now, a gust of wind blowing it hard against the window of room 7.

He should have asked for a different sign. He should have asked for

the sky to part or the rain to suddenly turn to flowers, or something more

dramatic. Of course he doubted any kind of God would be bamboozled so

easily by a request for divine parlor tricks. But really, couldn’t the God

of the universe do something a bit more drastic than controlling a neon

light and engineering a phone call? Then again, he hadn’t asked for

anything more drastic.

The TV hummed back to life. Ned shifted uneasily in his chair as he

gazed down at the dingy, ancient black box. There was something definitely

wrong with that TV. It kept beginning with the Miracle on 34th Street, and

then showing Christmas movies—and nothing but Christmas movies. And, he

thought, there were never any commercials, any channel identifications.

There was no way you could watch as much TV as he had without at least a

dozen commercials per show. But he couldn’t remember even one. OK, that

in itself was semi-miraculous. He tried to comfort himself with the idea

that the commercials might have run when he had been asleep.

And what was up with his dreams, or his…he wasn’t sure what to call

them. He had never in his life entered a movie in his dreams. But tonight

it had happened. At least he thought it had. It wasn’t possible. But

what do you do if the impossible happens? Of course he had never been in a

dingy motel room preparing to end his life either. He took a deep

cleansing breath and tried to rationally put all the pieces together.

After a few moments of concentration he came to the conclusion that he

had simply miscalculated how powerful the survival instinct in the human

species was. Hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary progress had

programmed him to survive, and despite all his clear and rational thinking,

his instincts sought to keep him from ending his life. He wasn’t

struggling against God, he was struggling against evolution. As his ration

and logic returned he felt better, more in control.

The Miracle on 34th Street hummed back to life. Suddenly he felt bad

again, the fleeting feeling of control teetering again on the brink. The

black screen slowly brightened from inky darkness lighter and lighter until

the picture began forming. The familiar music played and the old white

bearded man was walking down the street again with his overcoat and cane.

This was just not right. What was the logical explanation for a possessed

TV? He suddenly felt hot and wiped some sweat from his forehead. His

clothes were only slightly damp now as his body warmth had dried them

almost completely out.

He felt suddenly tired again. But this time he struggled against the

encroaching fatigue. He glanced at his watch. It was 10:47. He summoned

all his will power. The TV was growing louder and, as usual, The Miracle

on 34th Street disappeared and silence reigned. If he could have seen

himself he would have witnessed himself shaking his head back and forth as

he stared at the TV like a hapless creature before the hypnotizing eyes of

a King Cobra. There was fear in his eyes. He would have been very worried

about himself.

What would be next? He didn’t want any more signs. He was almost

completely sure they weren’t signs of divine intervention, but more likely

signs of his mental and emotional strain, but neither option was

attractive. His eyes were growing heavy; he was feeling more comfortable

in the naugahyde chair. Normally sleep was welcome, it delivered you from

your dark thoughts, but what happened when sleep was where your dark

thoughts lived? He could barely keep his eyes open. He was actually

grateful when a picture suddenly popped on the TV, but the feeling of

gratefulness only lasted a second. Then he felt absolutely miserable.

As he watched the TV begin to clear into a picture, he heard a bell

ringing, then he could see it swinging back and forth. It was a large

bell. Then he saw a picture appear on the screen, a painting really. A

snowy winter scene of a horse pulling a wagon filled with children waving.

Behind them was a snow laden mountain with several small homes dotting the

mountainside. It is a cheerful picture, a festive cozy picture. Then,

like a page in a book, the scene was changed and the name of the movie

prominently displayed.

Ned laughed mirthlessly.

“Oh God, this is just cruel.”

Of all the Christmas movies in the world, he hated this one most of


It’s a Wonderful Life.

If there was a God out there, he must enjoy irony. Here Ned was

sitting in the most god forsaken arm pit of a room in the worst area he

could find with a gun ready to end his life and It’s a Wonderful Life comes

on. This was schmaltz, pure unadulterated, high grade mind opium for the

masses. This was what people who couldn’t afford liquor or drugs used to

get high every year. It was an intellectual narcotic. If he had a vote he

would have given this movie an X rating.

A Guardian angel named Clarence who loved reading Mark Twain, the

goodie good George Bailey, who was, in his book, one of the greatest chumps

and suckers that ever drew an ink inspired breath, and of course, the

villain, Mr. Potter, the cruel old wheel chair bound millionaire. That’s

where the danger of this movie was, the propaganda. Most of the masses

would just drink the Kool-Aid without questioning.

Mr. Potter, the bad guy, was painted as evil because of what? He was

the bad guy because he was rich, because he was successful in business.

But that’s what everyone wants to be, they just don’t want to pay the real

price it takes to get there. Ned had learned this lesson long ago. Potter

was the evil guy because everyone else was jealous of him. Potter was the

only smart cookie in the whole movie (a point he had made several times

during the years that he had forced himself to watch the movie with the

family—despite Dee’s remonstrance’s for him to shut up).

The movie was nothing more than a socialistic communistic docudrama

with a splash of quasi religion to make it palatable to Bud and Ethel in

Des Moines who put 50,000 Christmas lights on their house every year,

depleting the environment of valuable and non-renewable energy resources.

For what?

Ned’s jaw tightened. He may have to end his life in this dive of a

room, but he did not have to watch this stupid movie. He traced the TV

cord and saw that it went behind the large heavy dresser that sat beneath

the window. To unplug it he would have to get on his hands and knees on

the carpet, or heft the large dresser out of the way. Normally, he would

have done this immediately, but he was growing more tired by the moment.

He wished he had toothpicks to prop his eyes open with. He couldn’t

remember ever being tired like this before, it was unnatural. He would

just rest for a moment and then turn the TV off. Then he felt a mental


He eyed the TV suspiciously. Something just wasn’t right. Why did

he always get so tired when the movie was beginning to play? It was

unnatural. Everything in him told him he needed to stay awake, but his

body wouldn’t cooperate. All he wanted to do was sleep. He was so

comfortable. He didn’t think he had ever been this comfortable in his

entire life. The movie began playing. Part of his mind told him to turn

away, but his eyes seemed unable to answer.

Ned closed his eyes, trying vainly to resist the assault on his

senses, but he could not close his ears. He heard the sound of prayers,

many different people praying to God. They were young voices, old voices,

the voices of friends, and family. They were all praying. He groggily put

his hands over his ears, but he could still hear. The prayers suddenly

became a potpourri of prayers, rising now in a chorus. On the TV, the

scene left earth and entered space, past planets, stars, until finally it

reached what looked like the Milky Way. Before the scene changed, Ned had

lost. He was asleep, an angry and frustrated look etched on his

unconscious face.

Scenes came slowly into view, starting small, then broadening out in

his mind. Boys sliding down an ice hill on a metal shovel, a line of boys

walking hand in hand down a busy main street in 1930 America, blocking

traffic behind them; this was George Bailey’s early life.

Suddenly Ned found himself trying to talk to his father, but his

father was busy talking to someone else. He tried to get his father’s

attention. Something was wrong, but he didn’t know what. He just knew

that he needed to talk with his father. But his father was talking to Mr.

Potter. The crags of the old man’s face, his wicked looking crooked

fingers, the perpetual scowl all made Ned leery of the old man. The old

man’s voice was dangerous, and he was threatening his father. His father

was trying to reason with Mr. Potter. Ned felt angry, why did this man get

to get away with his evil? The picture slowly faded away. The emotions of

fear and anger gradually left and suddenly Ned felt light at heart. In

fact, he was so lighthearted, he was smiling and laughing.

He was trying to hold his pants up. He didn’t even know what kind of

pants they were, but they were so big he had to grip them tightly with one

hand or risk being embarrassed in front of the beautiful young girl he was

walking with. He was no longer a young boy, but a young man. It was

evening and the moon was bright, illuminating their walk down the

neighborhood sidewalk. He was laughing and joking with her. The young

woman was wearing a white bathrobe for some reason, but her face shone

brighter than the moon to Ned. Her smile was almost intoxicating to him.

Her eyes shone like turquoise.

Dee had always had the most beautiful eyes. It’s what had attracted

him to her. All he wanted in life was for this one moment to last forever.

He was young, strong, hopeful, and in the presence of the most beautiful

woman he had ever met. She was obviously as attracted to him as he was to

her. Everything was perfect. He seemed to remember this feeling from

somewhere long ago. He desperately wanted to take her in his arms. But

before he could, the scene faded out. But the smile on Ned’s sleeping face

didn’t fade, it grew even broader.

It was raining rice and rain. Umbrella’s covered the spectators as

he and Dee walked down the steps into the waiting car. Celebrations and

congratulations filled the air, competing with the falling rain for

attention. They were on their way to their honeymoon. She was finally

his. He had a stack of money in his pocket, confidence in his future, his

beautiful bride next to him and the world was his for the taking. Life

with Dee would be perfect. Then the scene went suddenly black. He was

lost. Dee was gone, his money was gone, his hope was gone. Somehow,

everything he loved had been taken from him.

When the darkness lifted, he was seated in a dark office before a man

in a wheelchair and his private butler behind him. It was Potter and he

was leering at him in great delight. He could tell from the window that it

was dark outside. The room seemed cold. He was in Potter’s office in his

bank. He was desperate, almost in tears. Something was missing from his

life. What was it? He couldn’t find it. He needed help. Only Potter

could help him. Money. If he could get more money his problems would be

solved. He could salvage his life. He could return home to Dee and the

kids. He had worked so hard. But Potter wouldn’t help him. He was

laughing at him.

Then suddenly Ned was scared. He had lost everything. There was only

one thing left to do. He had to run, he had to escape. He ran out of the

office, out of the bank, the sound of Potter’s threats dying behind him.

It was snowing outside, the streets were covered with snow, but he hardly

felt it. He ran like the demons of hell were on his heels, his legs

growing tired, his lungs straining for air, tears turning to ice as he ran.

He had never felt such fear before.

In room 7 of the Atlas Motel, Ned Phillips legs jerked back and forth

in the naugahyde chair. Small sounds of fear and moaning came out of Ned

Phillips mouth, but there was no one to hear them. The rain continued

pouring steadily.

Gradually the scene faded away, the fear lessening. And he had a

queer feeling. Something had happened, but he didn’t know what. He was

tired and just wanted to go home. He wasn’t even sure why he was out

alone. Maybe he had gotten some bad liquor. He started back for home, but

nothing looked the same. Nothing was familiar. Ned was puzzled. Had he

somehow gotten lost?

He walked down streets he thought he knew, but nothing looked

familiar. What had happened? Then he realized that all he wanted was to

find Dee again. Where was she? She would make everything alright. She

had always been the anchor in his life. No matter what, she had always

been there for him. He had always just taken it for granted. But now he

realized how precious she was to him. He needed her.

Then he spied her. She was standing on the steps of an old building.

But she looked old, insecure, frightened. But it didn’t matter, it was

Dee. His heart jumped for joy and he raced to her, and caught her eyes.

But she did not smile in return. He was running to her, but as he did he

saw her eyes grow large with fear. She was afraid of something. She

didn’t seem to recognize him. Then he reached out to her and called her by

name and she screamed and ran away. Why was she running from him? He

chased her, calling her, begging her to remember him. Dee was all there

was for Ned. He yelled for her to remember him, but it was as if he had

never existed.

In room 7 of the Atlas Motel, Ned Phillips unconsciously mouthed out

words which would not come. It was agonizing. Dee was gone. His kids

were gone. His life was gone. The picture faded to black.

When the scene returned, Ned was running. He was running through the

soft snow, past cars, buildings, stores, houses, until finally he ran out

of the town itself. Then he saw the bridge, the river below so cold that

large chunks of ice were floating downstream.

He had lost everything. He knew it now. He had lost his home, Dee,

his reputation, his children, everything. The pain of that was so deep

that he had to stop the pain, at any cost he had to make the pain stop. He

ran to the bridge, walking to the railing. His fingers rested on the

frozen railing, but he didn’t feel the shooting pain anymore. He was numb,

in every possible way.

He wanted—what? What did he want? He was as frozen as the railing

upon which his fingers rested. Snow fell down gently upon him, his ears

practically frozen. The rush of the river was the only noise that could be

heard in the gentle snowfall. Then, from the deepest recesses of his

being, Ned began to cry. All his defenses had finally fallen, his

resistance had broken. A pain so deep that it could only be uttered with

moans came out of his mouth.

What was life all about? Had he been wrong? Finally, one thought

emerged from his soul, one last gasp of hope. And to his surprise, he

realized he didn’t want to jump in the river and end it all. He wanted

life. He wanted back what he once had. The tiniest speck of hope still

remained. Although everything looked lost, he could not help it. Hope

would simply not die. If there was nothing out there, if no one could help

him, yet he would still cry out.

“I want to live again. I want to live again,” he begged. He buried

his head in his cold hands. “I want to live again,” he pleaded. “Please

God, help me live again.” It was an anguished cry, a cry of desperation.

He had no one left to ask.

Ned woke up. He had fallen out of the chair, and was on his knees.

Tears were streaming down his cheeks and he was sobbing.

young man looking pensive


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