~ Third ~
“Hey, Mason!” James called across the yard. “There you are! What’s up?”
Mason broke into a grin and jogged to hug his cousin. James was alive again! He was alive!
“Great to see you, too, man,” James wheezed. “But what on earth is the matter? You okay, weirdo?”
James didn’t remember anything about his deaths. Mason had to keep that in mind. Creeping his cousin out would do no good – and possibly a lot of bad. So he shrugged and laughed. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “Can we talk?”
“Sure,” James said, sitting down on the wide-spreading roots of an old oak. Mason eased himself onto the dirt beside his cousin. “What about?”
“About church and those Christians of yours.”
“Well, what makes you think they’re so special?”
“I mean, do you really believe in all that stuff?”
James stopped and turned to face Mason. He wasn’t angry, but there was a deep firmness and solemnity in his eyes. “Of course I do,” he said steadily.
“Listen, James, I’ve heard it all. I went to church for fifteen years and I’ve heard everything the Bible has to say. All that about original sin and following the Ten Commandments and life after death – it’s all nonsense!” James didn’t answer. Mason sighed, and tried again, “You know it’s all made up, right?”
“No,” James said quietly. “It’s not.”
“Look,” he reasoned. “I know it’s a nice story and all that, but you know it didn’t really happen, right?”
“It did.” James didn’t raise his voice. “It really did.”
Mason tried not to sound as exasperated as he was. “Listen, James, all that Tolkien stuff is great, but you know that Elves and Hobbits and all that don’t really exist. It’s a nice story, but it’s not real. The same with the Bible. It’s all old legends, like Beowulf.”
“No,” James said wearily. “The Bible is true. It’s the inspired word of God. I believe it with all my heart.”
“Are you kidding?” Mason demanded. “God doesn’t exist! Look around you!”
“I have,” James replied steadily. “And all that I see points to an infinite Creator. How else could this world have gotten here?”
“Fine,” Mason muttered grudgingly. “But if God was real and powerful and loving and all that, would he let people die for no reason at all? All that Bible stuff is made up, and He doesn’t care about us! Why can’t you see that?”
“That’s not true,” James returned. “He does care, as He has told us in His word.” He paused, and then said quietly, “But I know that you can’t see that.”
“What do you mean?”
James sighed. “The Holy Spirit has not revealed the truth to you, and, unless He does, it will be foolishness to you.” He looked up, weariness and pain in his eyes, “I pray for you, Mason. Every day.”
Somehow this just made the frustration inside Mason boil up. “I don’t need your prayers!” he exploded, “I don’t see your precious truth in all this because it isn’t there!” He yanked himself up and thumped the tree.
James didn’t answer. He leaned against the trunk and let the breeze caress his untidy blond mop. There was sadness on his face, but there was peace there, too.
Something about his cousin’s sorrowing stillness made Mason’s blood boil. “And are you willing to die for this stupid fantasy?” he demanded. He hadn’t meant to say it.
James looked up at him steadily. “I am.”
Before Mason knew what was happening, he was halfway home, running at top speed.
Mason leaned back in his chair and stared at his black computer screen. He couldn’t abandon James. He might still come around. And, even if he didn’t, he’d die again if he was left alone. He turned over the options in his mind. Bike ride was out. Missionaries were out. How could he protect James on Sunday afternoon? Mason groaned. He knew what he had to do, but he hated it.
Sighing, he pulled his phone out of his pocket.
Hey, he typed, Can I come to church with you Sunday?
At least the coffin wouldn’t be there this time.
After the service on Sunday, Mason found himself standing awkwardly between James’ two little sisters in the general mill of church people. He half-recognized most of them. Across the room, he spotted a familiar, tall, dark-haired figure.
“Hey, Daniel!” he called, making his way over to him. James turned and followed.
“Mason!” Daniel said, a broad grin spreading over his face. “Long time no see!”
“Oh, yeah…” Mason faltered. Daniel didn’t remember the bike ride. It hadn’t happened yet. Or ever. Mason felt a little dizzy. “Well, good to see you.”
“Do you guys want to play wiffle ball?” James asked.
“Sure,” Mason said. “You still allowed to use the field out back?”
“Yep!” Daniel said with a twinkle in his eyes, “And I’ve got bats and balls in the car.”
He turned and called across the room, “Maia!” Daniel’s delicate, raven-haired sister turned from her conversation, one eyebrow raised in a question.
“Round up the gang,” he said. “Wiffle ball out back.” Maia broke into a grin and darted off.
Half an hour later, Mason found himself crouching behind a folded-up sweater, facing Daniel, who was cradling a white plastic ball in his hands. James leaned over the makeshift home-plate, a yellow bat hovering over his shoulder. Maia was grinning from her spot at first base, strands of dark hair plastered on her damp brow. She could play pretty well, despite her long skirt.
Daniel reared back into his windup, and then flung the ball towards home plate. Mason reached forward for it, but James’ bat whipped around with a smack. The ball soared across the field, and the outfielders – and several five-year-olds – bolted for it.
“Get it!” Maia screeched after them, bouncing wildly as James rounded the bases.
“It’s caught in a tree,” a red-haired boy announced, shading his eyes and staring up into the woods.
“Foul?” someone asked hopefully.
“Home run!” James called, jumping on the makeshift home-plate.
“Yeah, whatever,” Maia said, trying to sound grumpy, but grinning. “Now go get it.”
“It’s up there pretty high,” said the red-haired boy, without showing any signs of going after it.
“Just leave it, and get another,” Daniel said with a shrug.
“Litterbug,” Maia teased.
“We can’t. That was the last one,” Mason said, glancing ruefully at the pile of smashed wiffle balls.
“I’ll get it,” James said, jogging toward the tree. “Yikes, that bad boy did get up there pretty far, didn’t he?” he muttered, yanking himself up into the lower branches and working his way up.
“Careful,” Maia warned, pushing a damp strand of hair behind her ear.
Mason suddenly was aware of a hot pulse on the sides of his head. His palms were suddenly sweaty.
“Got it!” James called, tossing the ball down to the red-haired kid.
The tree shuddered. Mason knew. He knew before he saw the branch dip wildly. He knew before he heard Maia’s scream. He knew before he felt the thud.
He knew. And he ran.
Photo Credit – https://savedbyfaithinchrist.com/2012/12/22/living-water/beautiful-tree-and-river/