Playing Stories — Chapter 2: Spirit in the Sky

Chapter 2: Spirit in the Sky
from the 1969 album “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
posted 10:23, 10 January 2019

Prepare yourself, you know it’s a must
Got to have a friend in Jesus!

As he lay in the car boot, his hands tied behind his back, Raymond thought about the God he’d abandoned.

It’d been a long time since he’d given some thought to the Almighty. It wasn’t that Raymond hated religion or anything, it’d just dropped slowly out of his mind, its relevance drifting away from him as he threw himself into his studies, then work, then making life easier for himself. His girlfriend went to church occasionally, but she didn’t pester him a lot about it, which suited him just fine. Whenever friends from the old days got in touch, he always said that he’d temporarily lost his faith and always promised to claw his way back someday. But he hadn’t really given it much thought until he was in the boot of a car, with a hood stuffed over his head.

When was the last time he’d chatted to Pastor Lawrence? Five… no, six years ago. His friends were falling apart, not even on speaking terms with each other. He himself felt isolated, lonely, unloved in the church. Everyone seemed to have their own little cliques — and he was part of precisely none of them. He thought back to their last conversation.

“Come in, Raymond,” Pastor Lawrence had said, laying back on his easy chair. Raymond had shut the door behind him and sat down on the opposite sofa. “You mentioned that you have some faith problems that you want to talk about?”

“Yes, Pastor…” Raymond paused, unsure of what to say. How did you tell someone that your faith was in danger? He half expected the pastor to pick it up and lead. But no sound came from the man sitting opposite him. To the pastor, Raymond was simply an interesting specimen of the real world that had happened to pass through his door.

“I think I’m becoming distant from God,” he said finally.

“Interesting,” said Pastor Lawrence, adjusting his glasses. “What makes you think that, then?”

Raymond stared at him. “I… I don’t know, Pastor. That’s really why I’ve come in to ask… I just feel myself slipping, and God’s getting farther and farther away from me. I call out to him, but he doesn’t answer… do you think he’s given up on me?”

“Now, now, Raymond. Let’s not jump to conclusions, you know very well that Jesus’ love stays. How about we review what you’ve been doing… have you been reading your Bible lately?”

They had talked for a very long time. To his credit, the pastor had tried his best to answer questions and given him a lot of advice on how he could connect with God. Yet while Pastor Lawrence’s eyes closed in prayer, Raymond’s was wide open, a thousand miles away. It was at that moment that Raymond realised that the problem wasn’t that he was falling behind in his faith — it was that he couldn’t even bother to keep up. Less than two months later, Raymond put God indefinitely on the back burner.

The exhaust of the car was mere inches from his head, and the roar was deafening as the driver tore through streets and highways. Raymond could hear snippets and words, but the engine was always too loud for him to get at what they were talking about. So he went through all the things that could have landed him in this trouble. But try as he might, he couldn’t think of a single item that could have landed him in this shit. The worst thing he’d ever been in was pranking his university hallmate, and as far as he knew Jeremy had no ties to the mafia or anything like that.

Maybe his friends or his girlfriend were involved in something? Unlikely. He had heard a rumour, nothing more, that one of his neighbours was a small-time crook. People in the neighbourhood would take one look and say he liked to smuggle rare animals across the Hukauvian border. But Raymond had always made a point of staying away from him. He always stayed away from people who were a little too dangerous for him; there was something about their manic energy that unsettled. He couldn’t explain it, but he just did.

Raymond was a decent man who always kept out of trouble. So why was he here then?

He felt around frantically, trying to loosen the cords tied around his wrists. A cloth hood was clamped around his head, and in the pitch black of his vision it was difficult to move his hands at all. He’d heard somewhere that kidnappers always forgot to check that the ropes were tight. But now he noticed that there were not one, but two cords around his wrists. And both of them were extraordinarily tight. He felt around for something, anything, that could help him get the cords off, but the car boot was empty. These people knew what they were doing. So, Raymond thought, I’m screwed.

It would take a miracle for him to be saved — but miracles were no longer Raymond’s thing. All the things he’d read in the Bible growing up were no longer convincing for him. Even if they were true — the resurrections, the feedings, the transfigurations, all the fantastic stuff he’d read about — they were all things of the past. They didn’t happen in real life. People believed in them because they were hopeless, because they couldn’t rely on anyone else. Raymond believed in people, not some vague spirit in the sky that would suddenly descend to save them when they messed up.

There had to be some way of cutting himself free. He felt a sudden impulse to simply thrash about, tear at the plastic cords until they split and faded into little tiny pieces. He jerked his wrists, began to tear and force them apart with all his might. But nothing happened. In fact, after a while he felt his wrists losing power and the cords cutting into his skin. His back, bent into a painful arc from all his effort, cracked and he sank back into the foetal position, exhausted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there actually was a god watching over him, he thought. Somebody who could promise that he would live to see tomorrow, and who’d somehow mow down everything in sight — no, focus on surviving, focus on finding things with which he could help himself. It was the only way he was guaranteed to get out alive.

“Yes, but it would be nice if there was a God, wouldn’t it?” said a little voice in his brain. “You might actually come out of it alive.”

“But there’s nobody here,” he whispered. “I’m on my own. And nobody’s gonna save me if I just sit around and do nothing.”

“How would you know? Have you tried?” And here his Biblical past came back to haunt him: “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Raymond hated this line. He hated the idea that problems could be solved just by waiting around, and he hated how it seemed to imply that the only thing stopping him from being saved was trying. It just didn’t work like that in the real world, just wasn’t even fair — why did he need to ask for it? Why was this god so insistent that you needed to ask for his help? But Raymond found himself crying as he stared into the black void that lay in front of him. All options were off the table, and there was nothing. Every way out seemed to have fallen into the darkness, leaving his mind a featureless wilderness that had . And for the first time since the cloth hood had been clamped over his head, he came to realize that he was not going to escape.

He took a deep gasping breath and closed his eyes. “Whoever you are, I hope you’re there. Please. Save me. I’ll give you anything. Just… just get me out of here.” He paused.

Nothing happened. The car speeded on. He squeezed his eyes even tighter, his eyeballs rolling and screaming because of the pressure, and tried to pray again. “Jesus… don’t know… scared… your love… help…” Again, nothing. He sighed, lay back, and started rolling around the boot again. Just then, the car swerved to a stop. As Raymond was thrown against the hood, he heard a crash of noises, people speaking in a foreign language. The car door at the front opened — somebody was getting out of the car. There were footsteps, and then two gunshots. And then silence.

— that’s not a bad start you have there, though I certainly don’t think little girls would remember a dog that much, especially when she’s fainting all the time. Also, that happy ending’s way too sappy… perhaps something a little more realistic.

Sorry this one’s a bit rushed! I barfed it out in one sitting just before sleep, there’s actually quite a bit of traffic these days and I’m working my arse off. Hope the café’s doing okay! — Emily

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