Thunk. Jenny hit something. She was lying there, and Gwenllian’s limp hand was no longer in her fingers. Everything was bathed blackness. “Greg?!”
Her scream echoed several ear-splitting times before a moan somewhere beside her responded.
“Greg?” she repeated in a whisper.
“They’re home,” he sighed.
“Are you sure?”
He didn’t reply immediately, but she felt him nodding in the dark. “I think so.”
“I know so,” he said. “At least, I hope so…”
Jenny groped from his hand across the cold floor. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know…” his voice trailed off. He coughed. “I can’t seem to move.”
“What happened to the monster?” Jenny breathed.
“When I hit the ground, it let go of my neck,” he panted, and all the air in the room seemed to compress and suffocate them. “He might still be here.”
She found his hand and squeezed it, feeling the pounding of his pulse. “We have to get back. We have to get home.”
Greg seemed to be having trouble breathing. She could hear the wheezing spluters he continued to make.
“What do you think heaven is like?” he asked, breaking the brief slience.
“I don’t know…” she replied quietly.
“Well, what does God say that it’ll be like,” he insisted through gritted teeth.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Just tell me, Jen. Please.”
“I guess, He says it’s a good place, a holy place. We’ll be praising Him. The earth will be made new and so will we.”
Silence fell for a moment, and so did Greg’s tears, but he knew Jenny couldn’t see them in the dark. Pushing himself up on his arm, he reached out. “Will you pray, Jen? Right now?”
“Yeah,” she said, barely audible. They held hands. His were unsettlingly wet and sticky.
What should she say? She felt different about praying in front of people; she hadn’t had much practice. Usually, Jenny would sit shyly in the back of the room when Mrs. Hulburt, the ancient Sunday School teacher, asked for someone to open with blessing.
Blessing. Not trying to impress Greg. Just blessing. She had a sinking feeling that she might not see him again.
“Dear God,” she trembled, the words floating from her lips in tremulous whisps. “Dear God, please be with us today…” She bit her lip. “So that we would have…” What? What did they need? “Courage and peace…” she faltered, “to do your will.”
Suddenly the words came quickly. “Please save us from this situation. Please, don’t let us die. Not now, God.” She let out a sob.
Greg’s voice, husky around the edge broke in. “Deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, for ever…and ever.” He waited for her to say it.
“Amen,” she said quietly.
They sat in silence again until Greg addressed her in a new and frantic tone: “Jen? What’s happening to me? What’s happening to my hand?”
She looked in his direction and saw light. Pure, bright sunlight, or gold-tinted rays. That was all that was left of his hand. And then it began to fade like a soft mist. In its light she saw his face.
From his features melted the confusion and pain she had heard in his voice, and all that was left was a calm she had almost never seen before.
Something curled around Jen’s shoe. It felt wet. It squeezed hard and started up her skin.
“Oh my gosh, Greg!” she screamed and lunged for his hand, but it had disappeared. “Don’t leave me, not now!” Half his torso was gone. The monster was cutting off circulation in her leg.
“No, no, no,” she cried, hot tears streaming down her face.
“Jenifer,” he whispered. She could barely see him in the midst of all the light. “God be with you.”
And then he was gone.
The slimy ooze from the creature’s body began to burn into her leg as it dragged itself closer and closer to her face.
If she had screamed, she couldn’t hear it. If she had fainted, she couldn’t remember. But the next thing she saw was the form of a tall, grey-haired, grey-eyed man, draped in a dirty flannel and jeans and emanating a soft glow that enveloped her.
“It’s time to come home,” she heard him say, although his mouth wasn’t moving. It was just one, big, loving smile.
She opened her eyes. She was in a hospital bed. The monitor next to her beeped away, and she was alive.
A week later, she found herself rattling down the road to her grandparent’s farm in that old, beat-up truck. She slammed the door, to make sure it would close. She hugged Finlay as he ran to greet her.
As the sun went down behind the trees, she stepped out on the dirt road, heart beating down through her sneakers. The new ones Gwenllian had used.
A boy was coming up from the creek side of the road. He had wiry, messed up hair and a rumpled t-shirt sporting the phrase “life is good.”
They both broke into a run and as the sunlight sent up its last rays, they linked arms and walked across the cow field.
“Say Jen,” Greg broke the silence. “Can I hitch a ride with you tomorrow?”
“What’s tomorrow?” she yawned, as they climbed the fence and perched themselves on top.
“Sunday.” He smiled. “I know it’s been a while.”
“We’ll pick you up at nine thirty, sharp. And you’d better be wearing something that’s gentlemanly or Gram will have a bone to pick with you the whole way there and back.”
“Alright,” he laughed. “I’ll see you then.” He jumped off the fence, and the golden evening glistened in his hair as he walked down the road, until he was consumed by the light.