redemption

Finding the Light

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Mary peered down at the murky, gray-green water, pondering the cities and bodies that had slipped beneath its sallow, rippling surface during the night. All around her, a fetid wind whipped and whistled, mocking whispers in the faltering light.

“You failed,” those sneering voices seemed to say. “Before you even realized anything was wrong, you failed.”

She looked up at the sun, low in the sky, bloated and red. It gave off a pale, sickly illumination that reminded her of congealed blood.

Just yesterday, the water had been a bright, electric blue, the sun a blinding ball of white hot fire. So much had changed, it was staggering to think how the corruption could have swept through the world so fast.

My ancestors defended it for tens of thousands of years, she thought, and I couldn’t even defend it for one.

The wind became dry, rasping laughter, like shriveled snake’s skin rattling across hot, desert sand.

“The world has always been mine,” the wind seemed to say, and it sent its rotten, moldering stench to her nose. “Since the time before time.”

No, Mary couldn’t accept that. Corruption had always been a part of the world—evil was an ever-present danger to be guarded against at all times—but there was also love, and this could not belong to evil any more than darkness could belong to the sun.

“I reject you,” she said, stepping forward toward the water’s edge. “You hold no claim over these lands.”

More laughter.

Mary held her ground.

Dig deep, her father had told her once, his last lesson before taking up his mantle in the second life. In times of distress, dig deep. Cling to what’s right, find the light and let it out into the world.

Dig deep.

Mary closed her eyes.

She reached far into Earth’s heart, into the only place the corruption hadn’t been able to reach. She could see that the light inside had faded, diminished some by the relentless onslaught of the evil that forced it into hiding. But it was pure, strong and true.

The Earth shuddered as Mary let out thick, gnarled roots. They surged through the ground, beneath soil and stone, down into the red hot regions beneath, plunging into the very core.

“What are you doing?” asked the wind, picking up in intensity, transforming into a hurricane-like gale.

With all the force she could muster, Mary pierced the white-hot center, making contact with the life force inside.

A bolt like an electric shock plowed through her, shooting up into the roots. With her as a conduit to lend it strength, it flowered into a radiance and a love so strong no corruption could survive its searing power. It flowed through her, out of her, out into the world.

“No!” cried that fetid wind, burning to cinders in the blinding luminescence. It boiled off like water, dispersing in a cloud like super-heated steam.

When at last she opened her eyes, the world was as she remembered it.

“You’ve done well,” said the light, once more free to sustain the world.

Mary could no longer move, for her roots had run deep and there was no disentangling herself. She was one with Earth now, just as her father had been, just as she would be for as long as the light allowed her to live.

“Take care of this world, so that I might always shine.”

“I will,” she whispered.

Now, she gazed down at water that was a clear, crystal blue, the sun blazing overhead just as it had for thousands of years before. There would always be evil, lurking in the shadows, but as long as there was light, redemption would be close at hand.

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Redemption, Part 5 of 5

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Read Part 4 here. If this is your first time reading, you can find Part 1 here.

He did not see the ceiling of the bedroom, but stars in a moonlit sky. He pushed himself to his knees in a dark alley. There was a stench, foul and sour. It was a smell he’d once grown accustomed to, a smell he’d almost forgotten.

Crumpled against a concrete wall to his left was the slumped figure of a man. He crawled toward it. He lifted one of the man’s sleeves, examined with almost clinical detachment the needle marks on the man’s arm. He searched the chest for signs of breathing and found that it was still. The man was dead.

“You died there,” said a little girl’s voice.

He turned.

“The same night. I watched it happen.”

Yes, he could remember now. Trembling, he’d stumbled into that forgotten pocket of concrete and asphalt, feeling like shit. He’d administered an extra potent dose of heroin. It had been his last high.

The girl, though young, shone with an ageless wisdom that he found difficult to bear. He averted his eyes.

“I’m ready,” he said.

“For what?”

“For Hell. That’s where you’ve come to take me, isn’t it?”

The girl stepped forward — he watched the pink plastic lining of her shoes glisten in the moonlight — and pulled him up by the chin.

“Is that what you want?”

“It’s what I deserve.”

He stared into her eyes. The girl, by way of reply, knelt beside him. He closed his eyes, prepared himself for what would come. He didn’t expect what happened next.

The girl pulled him into her arms and embraced him like a mother. Emotion swelled, a tsunami of sensation that nearly drowned him. He sobbed and wailed and moaned like a lost child, and the whole time the girl held him, cradling his head against her tiny shoulder.

When at last the storm subsided, she pulled away. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and gazed up at her, unable to comprehend such reckless and unconditional love.

“You were desperate. You were a slave to your addiction.”

“There’s no excuse for what I did.”

“No,” the girl agreed, “There isn’t. There is love in you, but it’s tarnished, impure. It must be cleansed. Justice and love demand it.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’ll have to do this again.”

“No,” he said when he realized what she meant. “I can’t.”

“You have to. You must confront your evil and the pain it’s caused, over and over again, until little by little your spirit is broken. It’s your punishment and your redemption. You must be broken before you can be made into something new.”

“How long?”

“As long as it takes. Some go through it only once. Some for much longer. Some never find their way through.” She gave him a warm and reassuring smile. “You’ve been at it for a while. I think you’re almost done.”

He looked up, and when he did he spotted another door, just like the first, standing a few feet away from him in the alley. There was fire and pain beyond the threshold. He could feel it. It would burn him, consume him whole.

“The fire is necessary,” said the girl, as if sensing his thoughts. “It burns away the impurities. Your soul will be smelted and refined until it’s been reduced to love, and when that’s done you’ll find rest.”

He found a different emotion then, one he’d not experienced before. Hope. It overcame him. There would be fire, and it would hurt. But then there would be healing, and he would be made whole. He would atone, and then he would find peace.

He pulled himself to his feet. Gritted his teeth. Walked forward.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” said the girl behind him, “to greet you as a friend on the other side.”

He opened the door. Stepped through.

He was consumed by the light.

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