They say we don’t remember anything really prior to the age of three.
No doubt there are innumerable emotional memories from infancy, but in my case my earliest visual memory was the dedication of my infant sister: I was exactly three. It’s funny how the brain works though. I used to pore over my mother’s photo albums as a child, collecting all the images of those photographs – mental photographs of photographs – and arranging them chronologically in my mind. I can go back in time and enter the room of a home in which my relatives are compiled and see myself as an infant cradled in someone’s arms or sitting on someone’s lap. I can look around at the furniture and the faces and hairdos and fashion, can even hear some of their voices and laughter (which I’ve taken from later memories and projected backward into these ones), and those moments in time are stored with the first person memories that began in the preschool years. But they’re not firsthand memories – they’re only memories of photographs.
The mind’s eye is a fascinating thing. Did the generations before me do the same thing with black and white photos, removing the grays in their mind and filling it all in with color, making that the superimposed memory instead of sepia? And before photography, did they take the stories about their toddler years, told them by relatives, and store them chronologically, as imagined, with their firsthand experiences just as I did with photographs? Probably. Indeed, even the stories my parents and grandparents told me about their own childhoods, teen and adult years, are stored chronologically in my memory as well, as though I really saw and heard those things happen with my own two eyes and two ears. Does everyone do this or is it the writer’s nature in me, the way I build scenes in my mind and freely wander through them exploring? But how accurate are those images? When I see my father as a boy, stooping with surprise to pick up a human skull in the overgrown grass of a field in India, freckle-faced, brown hair slicked to one side, and a button down shirt tucked into his jeans, does that fabricated video reel look anything like the literal experience my father had? Either way, it’s the same story, regardless of the color of his shirt. Could I tell you what species of trees were backdropping the field or where exactly in India it took place? No, I don’t even know what trees grow in India, besides the rubber tree. But I nevertheless see his story like a memory. There are tangled trees and wheat-like grasses, a dry cracked skull in the palm of his hand. No doubt it’s an amalgamation of all the images of fields and skulls I’ve ever seen in my life. But somehow I feel like I was there.
Previously I wrote about ways to experience God’s presence through our senses. Today I’d like to look at another way, inspired by conversations I had recently with my sister regarding blessings and healings. We talked about how all good things come from the original source of good, God (James 1:17), and how many people interpret these good gifts to be answered prayer or blessings. Now, of course they can certainly be both, but I think they are also random in many cases as well. Here’s why:
God does not discriminate: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). What’s more, a blessing to me could be a curse to someone else. e.g. Sunshine on a wedding day is ideal, but maybe someone drowned that same day because the warm sun had them out swimming. It occurs to me that for God to specifically grant my wish for a sunny day, knowing that it would lead to John Doe’s drowning, seems immoral of him. But if the day is sunny just because it’s nature taking its course, then it’s still a blessing to me and I can and should give thanks to God for every good gift, but it has not been given to me at the cost of someone else. The sunshine was given to everyone and sadly, tragedies do occur, rain or shine.
It comes down to the “life is unfair” thing. See, the only way life could be fair is if everyone had identical experiences – rendering free will and individuality impossible.
Another blessing/good gift in life is being healed of physical ailments, especially dangerous ones. And the human body is designed by the Great Physician to regenerate. When the immune system works properly (and we have access to good nutrition, medicine, successful surgery, and the like), we are healed. We rightly give thanks to God for healing us because he is our Creator and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Prayer can play a significant role in healing too, don’t get me wrong, but God also heals people who haven’t prayed for healing. Unbelievers regenerate successfully too, just as the sun and rain are sent without discrimination. (Please note, I am not discrediting miracles. By their very definition, they can only occur once in a while, not regularly.)
This leads me to the question of God’s presence in conjunction with love.
Jesus said that love was not unique to believers. He said even the pagans love each other; of course they do! We all know this. But he also said, I’m holding you to a higher standard when it comes to love – I want you to love your enemies too. So it’s not love that is unique to Christians but rather enemy love. What’s more, and this is important, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love then it follows that he is the original source of love as well. That’s what he is, Love Himself.
In the same way that every experience of good is coming from the original source of good (Good Himself), and healing of the body comes from the original source (the Great Physician), all manifestations of genuine love also come from the original source, Love Himself. So, isn’t it possible that the more goodness, health, and love one has in their life, the more they will feel the presence of God? The obverse is true as well, which is why I wanted to write this blog piece in the first place.
In a rock den, deep within the Amazon basin, three panthera onca cubs were born.
The middle cub’s name was Amias and his little sightless world, though simple and soundless, was happy. For the first few weeks he did nothing but snuggle up against his brother, sister, and mother. She nursed and nurtured them all, nuzzling and licking their fur with great gentleness and care. Soon Amias began to see and hear. He learned that his mother’s name was Genoveva, his older brother was Eduardo, and his little sister, Pabiola.
Their den remained dark at all times, save for the green-tinted sunlight peeking through the cleft opening. Amias could only make out the contours of his siblings and an occasional glint in their eyes. His mother he knew to be sleek and black, however, for sometimes the sun glistened on the fur of her back when she exited the den.
A few months passed by and the cubs had learned to walk around without falling. Each dawn and dusk, while their mother was away hunting, the three siblings stayed put, dreaming about the mysterious outside world as the cacophony of birds and insects continually filled their eardrums. Eduardo was the boldest of the three, being the oldest by merit of birth order, and he often went to the cleft opening to stick his head out and look around, even though their mother had told them it wasn’t safe to do so. Amias contented himself with the information his brother imparted, being too timid to go near the opening himself. One day Pabiola joined Eduardo’s side, which was a great comfort to Amias, for she assured him that what Eduardo saw was what she too saw. Like their mother, they both had gleaming black fur, visible only when they stood in the entrance of the den.
Soon Eduardo and Pabiola wanted to do more than just stick their heads out. So, they stepped fully outside one morning, disappearing from view.
Amias’ heartbeat quickened and he slinked toward the opening, not wanting to be left behind. He summoned all his courage, took a deep breath, and stepped halfway out. His brother and sister weren’t far ahead yet, picking their way through ferns and bromeliads. He let out a yelp and they looked back at him, gasping in tandem when they did. At first he thought they were surprised because he’d been brave enough to try and follow, but their stares were so wide-eyed, he looked down at his paws to see what was the matter. When he did, his own breath caught in his throat.
His fur was tawny, like a muted sunbeam, and evenly coated with spots as black as his sibling’s whole bodies.
Eduardo and Pabiola returned to the cleft in the rock and asked him to move into a patch of sunlight so they could see him better. When he did they confirmed that his whole body was indeed pale and spotted. They wondered if he was sick, or somehow less developed. Yet he could walk with sturdy steps just as surely as they could, and jump and leap too. He didn’t exactly feel ill but his heart fluttered in his chest now; tummy tight.
Mother won’t like that you’re different, they told him. You’d better hide it from her.
But how could he keep it a secret? Soon she would wean them and they would need to go outside together to drink from a stream. They’d all been anticipating the day. The moment she saw him in the sunlight for the first time, she’d know.
We need to find a way to cover you up, Eduardo suggested, to make you look more like us. They all agreed this was the only solution. But they didn’t know how it could be accomplished, since none of them had yet explored the territory. So for the next few days, whenever Genoveva was away hunting, they snuck out together and searched the areas around the den.
It wasn’t long before they found the wallow of a group of musk hogs.
The musk hogs were creatures with dainty hooves, tusked snouts, and bristly fur, and when the three cubs barged into their clearing, a foul-smelling musk filled the air as the hogs ran for cover. In their smelly wake was the mud puddle. Eduardo approached it first, testing the ground around it and dipping his paw into the water. He scooped up some clay from the bottom and coated one of his brother’s forelegs with the muck, letting out a whoop as he did. That’s it, he said, cover your whole body with clay. So Amias did. It wasn’t nearly as black as panther fur though, much more of a brown like the musk hogs, but it would have to do. Better than having these curious spots, he supposed.
Pabiola watched onward with a frown, but didn’t speak.
The mud dried as they made their way back to the cave and his limbs soon felt stiff. Bits of dirt crumbled off but enough remained intact to hide his fur. He was itchy all over by the time they were back inside the safe darkness of the den, as though zigzag beetles crawled up and down his skin. Despite being accustomed to the humidity of the rainforest, his body couldn’t breath under the coating of mud, nor could he lick his fur to cool down. But he tried his best to ignore it, languishing on the rock bed of the den and longing for relief.
The next day he snuck out for a new coating of clay while his mother was away. None of the cubs knew when their mother would finally take them outside with her and Amias didn’t want to risk being unprepared. But the day after that, he got caught in a rainfall on his way home, which washed all the dirt away. This filled him with dread as though he’d swallowed a stone; the clay disguise was not going to be enough. Nevertheless, he waited for the rain to cease, and returned to the wallow for another coat.
Up until now, Mother had been a safe bosom to him. The den being dark didn’t matter—just having her there, or soon to return with food, was all he needed. But now he had to sleep by himself rather than snuggling up to his siblings, for fear that his mother would sense the mud; and when he nursed, he stayed far from her face to avoid being groomed. This isolation and loss of nurture was a new experience for him, and the stone in his stomach grew heavier still. Now the darkness did matter: it pressed inward, threatening to engulf him entirely. He couldn’t even pounce around and play with his siblings anymore to pass the time—it would ruin his clay coating.
Then the much anticipated day finally arrived: Genoveva announced at dusk that it was time for them to learn how to drink from a stream.
His brother and sister left the den first and he reluctantly followed, hoping his costume was still intact. He trailed behind them, keeping within the cloak of fanning ferns and hanging vines. His mother’s round eyes, luminous like wet leaves, narrowed whenever she looked back and met his blinking gaze. His chest soon deflated. After a while, he avoided eye contact altogether.
When they reached the clearing, though shady and grey-cast in the setting sun, he could no longer hide behind his siblings. Genoveva stopped him short with a growl. Then, shoulders rolling, she moved around him with a penetrating gaze.
Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28b)
Anything from a ray of sunlight warming my knees as I sit on the sofa, to the cheep of a chickadee, to a hot cup of tea, a tasty treat, time with loved ones, a good story, the hush of a snowfall, the laughter of a child, a power nap, a shared smile, and even the less obvious: enjoying clean floors after mopping, hanging fresh clothes in the closet, washing the pots and pans that made a meal, and neverending clutter (the evidence of a living family!). The simple (yet profound) act of saying, “Thank you, Lord,” for each and every gift has opened the door to a much deeper and more intimate relationship with God than I was able to have before. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise.” It really is an open-sesame to the presence of God.
Today I welcome guest blogger, Rachel Xu. She wrote and shared this with me this week, and I couldn’t agree more. I asked if I could post it on my blog and she agreed.
Since I’ve written here previously about my own journey through an anxiety disorder, I have kept the phrase in mind “the danger of a single story” as a constant reminder that we all have markedly different life experiences. I never want anyone to feel intimidated by hearing mine. Because that’s all it is: my story. And it is only one story.
Here is another:
As someone who has suffered from severe depression and anxiety for decades, I have spent a lot of time researching the condition and Christian views on the matter. What never fails to confuse me is that it seems the majority of Christian articles seem to claim that depression is the fault of the person afflicted with it. Some of the many causes these Christians seem to attribute to depression are living a sinful life, pride, lack of prayer, not being a real Christian, lacking the faith to be healed, and spiritual weakness for choosing to be depressed over choosing to have a positive outlook. I think this lack of support and understanding is very damaging to the many Christians that suffer from this disorder. Having depression is hard enough without the judgments associated with it.
Would you tell someone with cancer that if only they repented of their sinful life they would be healed?
Would you tell a paraplegic that their pride was keeping them in a wheelchair?
Would you tell a blind person that if they would just pray more they would be able to see again?
Would you tell someone in a car accident that it was because they weren’t a real Christian?
Would you tell an amputee that they would grow a new limb if they had more faith?
Would you tell someone with Down Syndrome to stop choosing to have Down Syndrome?
I would assume the majority of people would respond no to these questions, so why is it acceptable to say such things to someone with a depressive disorder? I think Christians need to remember that actual depression, not just a day of feeling the blues, is a medical disorder caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. That way they can be more sympathetic and less judgmental towards someone suffering from this condition.
The midnight sun hovered over the sea horizon like a glowing pumpkin.
Stian anchored his clinker-built sailboat out of sight from the mainland and jumped onto the rocky shore, scrambling up over the outcrop on all fours and keeping cover behind spruce trees and towering pines. It didn’t take long to reach the sleeping village through the forest: a fenced-in cluster of longhouses surrounded by fields, forest, and highlands. Smoke billowed from holes in the thatched roofs and spitz dogs with pointed ears and curled tails roamed about behind the fence, keeping guard. Stian passed the village and went toward the nearest sheep pen where the night watchman lay fast asleep in his covered bed box. A roaming spitz dog served as a second set of eyes and ears.
Keeping cover, Stian pulled a poisoned chunk of whale meat from his tunic and tossed it near the bed box. It didn’t take long for the dog to sniff it out and eat to his demise; he soon lay in a heap in the grass, the hairs on his stilled shoulders twitching in the breeze.
Stian approached the sheep pen with slow steps, careful to avoid any sounds that might alert the shepherd, and took a little lamb from the group; killing it with a seax dagger. In the green shelter of the woods, he gnawed on the lamb’s body enough to make a mess, and pulled a vial from a pocket in his woolen tunic, filling it with blood. Tossing the carcass out into the open, he went back to the fence surrounding the longhouses, and set the dogs to barking. He then retreated to the forest to wait, inhaling the metallic scent of blood on his chin.
The village came to life as men left their homes and gathered together with the dogs, heading for the fields where they soon found the mutilated lamb. Knowing they would suspect a wolf or a bear rather than a man and would search the woods, Stian scaled the fence and went straight for the longhouse he’d scoped out days before.
He crept up to the door in the dull lighting and rapped the door with restraint, knowing the residents might not open it if he pounded.
It opened a crack and a maiden peered out through the gap. Before she could scream, he reached in, grabbed her by the neck with both hands, and kicked the door inward with his foot as he yanked her outside. She flailed but soon went limp with unconsciousness. He dropped her to the ground, pulled the capacious hood of his cloak up over his head and went inside.
A fire burned in the center of room, benches topped with sheepskin and woolen blankets lining the walls. A young boy was retreating to a far corner, his eyes wide with evident fear.
Without removing his hood, Stian dropped on all fours and lunged at the boy, his clawed nails scattering ashes and dirt on the packed floor as he went. If he didn’t grab the child immediately, the boy would cry out, alerting the men folk to his peril.
In a split second he was upon him, one furry hand covering his mouth, the other gripping the child’s torso at his side as he stood up on his hind legs and carried him from the room.
Outside, the boy’s mother still lay in a heap in the grass though her chest rose and fell with sound breathing. She would soon come to. Shouts and barks sounded from the hillside, indicating the men were on their way back, so with a quick look to and fro, Stian left the village and entered the forest path, sprinkling some of the blood from the vial here and there. When he reached the boat, he held the boy at his side, pulling a scarf and a length of rope from the pocket of his tunic. He lost no time tying the scarf around the child’s mouth and the rope around his wrists. He then removed the boy’s overtunic, replacing it with one of his own from the boat, and again took the vial of blood from his pocket. With quick movements, he shredded the child’s tunic, emptied the remainder of the blood on it, and tossed it up on the outcrop. He then plunked the boy down on a crate in the center of the boat.
After quickly adjusting the square-rigged sail and rudder, he unanchored the boat and sat down on a bench, taking hold of the oars and maneuvering the boat away from the shore. They were soon off, rowing toward the orange globe that hovered just above sea level. The men from the village might attempt to come after them on the sea once they discovered the child was missing, but he hoped the bloodied tunic would at the very least disorient and slow them. They would suspect the child was dead and hopefully waste time searching for his body in the woods; but if not, if they indeed thought him kidnapped, they hadn’t seen the boat, and wouldn’t know which direction Stian had set sail for. That is, so long as he could be out of sight by the time they reached the outcrop.
The boy’s expressive eyes, as dark as walnut, were as wide as when he’d first been captured, his skin chalky. But he made no attempt to speak or move, and sat solemnly beneath the sail. An hour of vigorous rowing later, when the shoreline was far out of sight and they were heading south, Stian let go of the oars and crept around the roped cargo to the center of the boat where the boy sat, about two meters or so away. He removed the scarf and untied his ankles. It no longer mattered if the child screamed—there was nowhere to escape.
“What’s your name?” he growled in Old Norse.
The boy blinked but said nothing.
Stian tramped back to his seat and reached into a nearby crate, pulling out a chunk of whale jerky and a loaf of bread. It was the last of the loaves he’d stolen after his body had been changed. Taking the seax dagger from his boot, he halved the jerky and offered it along with a section of bread to the boy, who caught each piece in his hands, set them down beside him, and made no move to eat. With a harrumph, Stian made short order of his own meal; tearing at the jerky like a savage and chugging from a waterskin as well. Once done, he wiped his hairy chin with a handkerchief and was half startled to see blood all over the handkerchief as he stuffed it back into his pocket—he should be used to that by now. The boy watched him with what seemed both curiosity and alarm, likely trying to discern his features beneath the shrouding of his hood. There was no hiding his grotesque hands.
“What’s your name?” Stian repeated in a low voice.
“It is Josva.”
“Eat,” he said, gesturing at the untouched food with an outstretched claw.
Josva’s eyes widened again but he did not move.
Stian held the child’s gaze for a long time, each surveying one another as water lapped the sides of the wooden boat and a breeze bathed their brows. He looked so tiny in the giant overtunic, not at all like a ten year old. His tawny hair hung straight to his chin.
“Can I see your face?” the child asked after a time, breaking the silence.
Stian hesitated, fingering the edge of his hood with a claw. He felt overheated keeping it on but didn’t want to be gawked at. After all, it was only because of his face that he’d abducted the boy in the first place. He could no longer trade on the coasts; his boat filled with valuable quarry he had no hope of selling.
“Here’s how it’s going to be, boy,” he said, leaving the bulky hood in place. “We’ll go from village to village, and make sales at market until all this is sold.” He made a sweeping gesture at the various crates cluttering the center of the boat. Crates filled with stolen wheat, wool, furs and pelts, honey, armor, and weapons. “After that . . . I’ll take you back to your family.” This was a lie but he needed the boy to cooperate. What he really intended was to eventually train the boy as a shipmate, the start of a new crew. That’s why he’d chosen him. An older boy would have been far too difficult to tame.
He lowered his voice to a growl: “But listen closely. If you dare to cross me, or try to escape, I’ll burn your entire village.”
Josva glanced around, a look of sorrow in his limpid eyes, but he said nothing. They were surrounded on all sides by Nile-green water; the sun darkened to an ember on the edge of the western horizon. Was the threat enough to keep the boy from running or yelling once they reached shore? Stian hoped fear was a sufficient rope for now.
Tears welled in the boy’s eyes and dropped to his lap when he blinked. He seemed so frail then, alabaster and innocent. A child missing his mother. Heat coursed through Stian’s veins, his breathing raspy as it picked up speed. With a roar he lunged at the boy and grabbed him by the shoulders, preparing to shake him for all his worth. “Man up,” he thundered, the hood slipping from his head. Cool air bathed the back of his neck and he let go. Grabbing an empty crate instead, he flung it out across the water with all his strength. It landed with a distant splash and bobbed on the surface.
We live in a physical world of matter, so much so that naturalists believe this is all there is, that there couldn’t possibly be a supernatural realm as well. But what if the two are intertwined? God is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere: all at the same time. Have you ever pondered the infinity of the universe? The scientists say the universe is expanding – yet how is this possible? There is no “space” outside of space, so where does the room come from to expand into, so to speak? Well, think about it this way: if the universe exists within the omnipresent God, who is infinitely big, the universe can expand forever and ever and never come up against a wall. It’s fascinating to think about. But what’s my point? My point is that if you want to experience the presence of God, why not consider the senses as a gateway of sorts?
The omnipresence of God could be why pagans throughout history have been so inclined to worship nature. They sense (feel) the presence of God in his created things, but don’t necessarily look any further. So they worship the flower rather than the One who made it. It was God who created all matter and space – even linear time (the universe had a beginning). As C.S. Lewis said, “He likes matter; he invented it.” Being made of matter is what enables us to have a physical existence in a physical universe. It is also what makes it possible for us to feel the presence of God.
To be close to someone physically, we need to be in their presence.
Think of the infant whose attachment to mom is entirely through the senses. We need to either see the person, hear them, touch them, kiss them, smell them, or feel their spirit, to maintain a connection. The ways to achieve this are obvious with people and animals, but it may not be quite as obvious with God. Or so one might think.
When I was eleven, I developed an anxiety disorder which manifested itself primarily as hypochondria; with depression as its cousin companion.
I was not, however, the stereotypical sort of hypochondriac child that one associates with verbally fretting over every ache and pain, scrape and bruise; analyzing each sniffle and cough; feeling for lumps; or sighing and fainting with weakness. No, I was nothing like Colin in The Secret Garden. At least, not on the face, that is.
Garrin crept forward through wet brush, lying low as he made his way toward the looming factory building where two fifteen year old boys, using smartphones as flashlights, had just disappeared through an entrance door hanging off its hinges. Their crunching footfalls soon faded, swallowed up by the stridulation of crickets. Before entering the same door, Garrin looked over his shoulder first, and peered in through a broken window pane next to the door. The corridor beyond was empty, save for bits and pieces of debris, so he went inside, careful not to kick or scuff any litter, or to step on any loose tile. Though his steps could be loud as thunder if so chosen, tonight they were light as snow.
Many doors flanked the left side of the hall, but muddy footprints made a straight path to the farthest one. Garrin closed the gap with swift strides and stood with his back against the wall next to the door.
In the room beyond, the boys conversed in undertones, laughing at times. He guessed them to be about a hundred feet away.
Before entering, he looked through the door window and scanned the area. It was a large room, the ceiling some three floors above, and two parallel rows of windows on the far wall overlooked a forest crowding up against it; industrious branches growing through the fragmented panes here and there. Silver beams shone through the windows along the left side of the room, suffusing the contours of ancient equipment and myriad trash, along with tables and conveyor belts whose surfaces had collected dirt, dead insects, and chunks of machinery for many years. Moss and rain water filled the cracks in the slanted cement floors; peeling paint hung in strips from the walls.
Garrin ducked down and entered the room without a sound.
The air was dank; bitter with the scent of soil and vegetation. Residual rain water dripped from a window ledge nearby onto a pipeline. Little by little he inched his way closer to the boys, who were in a far corner poking at things and rooting through refuse. When he reached a close proximity, he remained hunched and still beside an overturned table, listening to their conversation.
“Think this place is haunted?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s why we’re here.”
A laugh. “No, but seriously.”
Garrin peered out from the shadows, getting a clearer visual of the teens.
One boy, whom he knew to be Landon, sat on the bottom step of a metal staircase. The other, Hunter, stood close by, examining the screen of his phone. “I was here last week with Justin and we saw something,” he went on. “I swear it. But I dropped my phone and whatever I saw was gone by the time I could look again.” He cussed at the memory. “We waited forever but it didn’t come back.”
Landon draped his bare forearms over his jean-clad knees and leaned forward, suddenly sombre. “Ghosts aren’t real, man.”
Hunter glared down at him in the near darkness, the outlines of their faces made visible only by the light of their phones. “Look, I’ve studied this stuff . . . I mean, there’s so much proof out there, and I wanna see things for myself . . . wanna try an’ get a pic. Came here in the spring too, on that ghost walk—the one your parents wouldn’t let you come on—remember?” His tone lowered to one of disappointment. “But it wasn’t dark enough for anything to happen.”
“But you saw something last week?”
“Yeah, a tall moving shadow along that ramp up there at the top of the stairs. Saw it with my own eyes.”
Landon looked over his shoulder up into the gloom as Hunter held out his phone toward him, gesturing at the screen. “Look, here’s a famous picture of a spectre—called The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.”
Taking the proffered phone, Landon examined the black and white photo on the screen featuring a misty veiled figure moving down a staircase. He laughed. “That’s so obviously fake.”
“It’s not! I’m telling you, ‘double-exposure’ is always the excuse made by those who don’t believe—and I’m not buying it. It’s real.” He looked around, oblivious to Garrin, who was careful to remain in the slant of shadows. “One of these days I’m going to prove it with a photo of my own.”
Handing back the phone, Landon stood up from the stair and moved next to his friend. Together they peered up the barely discernible staircase as Hunter once again used his phone as a flashlight. The beam enabled them to see only a short distance ahead, but the metal stairs looked sturdy and intact enough; at least from this vantage point.
“What’s up there?” Landon asked.
“Offices and stuff. Hey—don’t you Christians believe in angels?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess. Why?”
Hunter let out a loud laugh but said nothing more. Landon rubbed the back of his neck in a self-conscious manner, as though embarrassed by the implication.
Garrin scanned the upper floor where several derelict offices stood hidden in the pitch beyond a palely suffused ramp some thirty feet above ground level. Hunter began mounting the stairs, while Landon switched on his own flashlight app and followed suit with steps much more tentative than his friend’s.
Hunter’s voice dropped to a whisper. “We need to keep quiet from now on if we expect to see anything.”
“But where,”—Landon lowered his voice to a hush—“where are we going?”
“There’s an office up here, I saw it in the daylight and know which one it is. It’s where the spectre is said to dwell.”
“Why would a ghost ‘dwell’ in an office?”
“They say he worked here and died in a freak accident a couple weeks before the factory closed down. Now shut up and keep quiet.”
This end of the factory was so shrouded, the boys looked like floating flashlight beams moving upward. With a sudden instinct, Garrin glanced back toward the distant entry door where moonlit contours were much more visible.
A murky figure moved along the wall toward him like a mist and vanished behind some machinery.
Seconds later it reappeared, moving right past Garrin, who remained crouched and hidden, before it disappeared into the pitch beneath the raised offices.
Taking a risk, Garrin dashed from his hiding place to the stairs and took them two at a time without a single sound, until he was only ten feet behind the boys who were now halfway across the ramp.
Here decades of rain water had severely rusted the metal and the boys were taking careful steps around compromised grating while holding onto the ramp railing for support. The flashlight beams were too weak to reach the office in question, which was still some fifty feet ahead, and they paused at each grimy window and door to determine where they were. From here one could see full across the factory to the other side where the moon was perched high in the sky beyond the rows of windows, going in and out of focus as clouds passed by.
Without warning, the wings of a startled pigeon fluttered past Garrin’s face as it took off for another perch high in the rafters. At the sound of flapping, both boys whipped around just as Garrin sidestepped their flashlight beams.
Their faces illuminated by the phones, Landon’s eyes were wide with evident fright while Hunter’s sparked first with excitement, then annoyance. “Just a bird,” he said with an exhale. “Come on.” They turned around and resumed their course.
A drawn-out creak sounded in the distance, as though a door had opened.
Both boys froze.
Garrin took advantage of their hesitation and visually examined the integrity of the flooring up ahead while also scanning for the murky figure who had vanished on the lower floor. The thing could be anywhere by now, possibly waiting for them in the far office. And what was it doing here anyway? Instinct told him he had to find out fast.
The smell of mildew and bird droppings was especially strong up here; the metal office fronts copper and bronze wherever the blue paint had peeled away. There were no sounds but the occasional coo of a pigeon, the pluck pluck of dripping water, and the murmur of crickets outside. Hunter raised his flashlight beam high, trying to see farther ahead. The nearest door was closed, and the boys moved forward with wary steps and shallow breathing. Garrin remained as close behind them as possible without detection. They passed this office and soon reached the next; its door closed as well.
“We’re almost there,” Hunter whispered. “I bet you anything the door is open.”
The final office came into view as Hunter’s breath caught in his throat with a rasp.
The door was indeed wide open.
He fumbled with his phone, switching to the camera app while Landon’s flashlight beam, positioned on the door, wavered just a fraction.
If only Garrin could get in front of them somehow without being spotted. He had to delay them.
“Let’s get out of here,” Landon murmured. “We’re being idiots.”
“Hush—” Hunter stepped forward, camera raised. “We heard that door open . . . he’s here.”
Garrin examined the rubble beside him and snatched up a crushed soda can. Without even the sound of air moving beneath his arm, he flung the can far out over the railing. It clunked and ricocheted off several protrusions before scraping across the ground and settling into silence.
Hunter let out an expletive and Landon jerked up his phone in a futile attempt to see what had made the noise down below. As they leaned over the railing, Garrin moved behind and around them with no more noise than a leaf sailing on the wind; and entered the office.
Though the room was black as tar, an even darker shadow stood behind the desk.