There was a second gate that let them out of the fenced area down closer to the actual scene of the accident. Nathan was reluctant to lead them past the angry young man again, though he added that man and the minister to his prayer list, even if that list was growing rather long. He knew the angel only asked him to pray for the terrorist, the young suicide, and he was tempted not to worry about the others, but he also knew that Mya’s prayer list was very long and that she was praying regularly, if not continually for them all. He could only imagine her asking God to love and help others in a completely kind hearted, loving and selfless way, and he thought that perhaps that was another lesson the grown-up world could learn from the young.
They saw the man as soon as they got through the gate. He was pacing back and forth on the edge of the street. Nathan had no trouble identifying the man as the big, burly fellow who moved up at the last to sit behind him. “What is it, friend?” He asked without hesitation, feeling very gregarious with Mya so close beside him.
The man turned to face them and Mya gasped and buried her face in Nathan’s side. The man was missing the side of his face, down to the bone and including his eye. His right hand was missing almost up to the elbow, and the stump was a bloody mess that looked to be festering. The man recognized them right away, too, though his vision of them seemed a little skewed through that one good eye. “The old man and the little kid. What are you, a hundred and something? And Kid, you must be, what, four or five?”
“I’m eighteen.” Mya picked an age, though she probably was not that old yet. “And he isn’t a day over forty,” though he probably was. She brushed Nathan’s hair again behind his ears and this time he did not mind at all.
The big, burly man stared at them for a moment and Nathan prepared to run and drag Mya after him if necessary. He was a bit surprised that the man did not respond to her teenaged flippancy with anger. Instead he looked up and threw out his good hand. “What is wrong with everybody?” He shouted to the sky. “So tell me this. When is the ambulance going to get here? I could die before they show up.”
Mya and Nathan looked at each other with the most curious expressions. It was Mya who spoke. “But we are already dead.”
The man frowned as far as they could tell from what lips were left. “Don’t be stupid. We can’t already be dead.”
A woman took that moment to come by on the sidewalk. The burly man jumped out in front of her and began screaming. He raised his arms, including his stump and yelled. “Would you get me a fucking ambulance!” Mya and Nathan were repulsed by the man’s anger, but not as shocked as they were by the woman’s response. She screamed which made Mya burry her face again a bit deeper in Nathan’s arm to prevent her own scream. And then the woman shrieked something about a ghost and she hurried off back the way she came. It was the woman’s terror that Nathan and Mya felt most of all, and as strongly as they felt the cruelty in the woman with the puppy. Nathan was suddenly glad that they had not spent much time around many living people since the accident. It reminded him once again that he and Mya had become very sensitive to the disposition of the souls of the living.
“Damn selfish bitch,” the burly man said. “Can’t she see that I need help?”
“Why not?” Mya looked up again, now that the feeling of fear had passed, and she was genuinely confused. “I mean, we are already dead. Why can’t we be dead?”
“Eh?” They had the man’s attention again.
“You said we can’t possibly be dead.” Nathan reminded the man.
“Because missy.” He spoke to Mya. “If we were dead we would no longer exist.”
“Not if there is a God,” Mya said forthrightly.
“Maybe the spirit can survive after death.” Nathan tried to add his own thoughts but stopped when the burly man’s frown deepened and a little piece of lip fell to the ground. This caused Mya to hide her eyes a third time.
“Don’t give me that God crap and all that spiritual mumbo-jumbo. That’s all just so much shit and you know it.”
“No. I know the spirit can live after death.” Nathan was completely certain about that, obviously, and his words reflected his certainty.
“If you believe that, you’re an idiot.” The man walked to the back of a parked car. “Look, I know what is real and what isn’t. It’s like this car is real.” He pounded on the hood, and though in fact he was putting his hand right through the hood, there was no doubt that he thought he was pounding on it. “Science tells me what is real, and that is good enough. If you want to believe in some fairy tale, that’s your business, but I’ll say you are an idiot.”
“But maybe there are some things science doesn’t know,” Nathan suggested.
“I’m sure that is true.” The burly man responded. “But when they figure it out I am also sure it will be as solid and real as this car.” He made to pound on it again and went through it again.
“But please.” Mya could not stand listening to the pain in the man’s voice. “We all died yesterday. The accident was a whole day ago.”
“Yes.” Nathan took up the cause. “If you were bleeding for a whole day, you would be dead by now, except you are already dead.”
“What are you talking about? Did that concussion rattle your brains? That kid only blew up ten, not five minutes ago.” He went to look at his watch, but that part of his arm was missing.
“But.” Mya was not for giving up, but the burly man was not going to listen.
“Look. I don’t want to hear about your God. I don’t want anything to do with a God because there is no such thing. I don’t want some freakin’ fairy tale hanging over my shoulder telling me what I can and cannot do. I am my own man, the captain of my soul and master of my fate or whatever. And even if there is a God, I don’t want anything to do with it. A pox on your moronic God. He should leave me alone forever and I’ll do just fine without him, and when I die, and when you die, I am sure we will all just blend back into the universe and cease to exist.”
Nathan was concerned for the vehemence and seriousness of the man. He thought it best if they did not tempt him any further, but Mya was still not giving up.
“But.” She tried again, but the man’s shout cut her off.
“Screw your God. He can leave me alone, forever!” he said, and suddenly he began to sparkle like the old woman sparkled, except his sparkles were pitch black, of a kind that swallowed all of the light rather than giving light. It started out in small spots, but as it spread, the spots began to join with others and became black blotches all over him. The man screamed. Nathan heard, “Not that. I never knew. Not alone.” Or Nathan thought he heard those words. Mostly he just heard screams. Mya had her face pressed into Nathan’s chest and she was crying her eyes out. Nathan was frightened half out of his mind, but he could not tear his eyes away to save his sanity. Then it was over. The man was gone and only a black wisp like smoke remained.
Then Nathan heard a voice come from the smoke that frightened the other half of his mind. “Would you like to join him?” The voice asked. “It will be very easy. Curse God and die.” Nathan nearly lost his wits completely on hearing that, but Mya dragged him to his knees by then and he wrenched his eyes from the black wisp to see her kneeling and watch her clasp her hands in the classic position of a child at prayer. Her eyes were shut tight, too, and Nathan thought that was a good idea. Nathan squeezed his eyes shut and felt his mind and his heart go out to the God of Gods.
“Please, please.” That was all he could think at first. “Let there be light.” That came to him. “The darkness can’t stand against the light.” And slowly he regained his wits. “God, give that man another chance, just a little more time to see the light, and please send a better messenger than me. Please, please God, please. The man can’t hear me. I tried. I tried.” After another moment he opened his eyes, and he saw that there was an actual light shining over his shoulder. He knew, without looking, that it was the angel, and the wisp of darkness stood no chance at all. When Mya opened her eyes, she saw the man sitting on the curb, gasping for air. With that done, Mya took Nathan’s hand and quickly led him away.
“We have so many to pray for,” Mya remarked. Nathan agreed and he lifted up a prayer then and there for the suicide bomber. He was told to pray for the man but thus far he had not actually prayed at all. He had just said he would like he always did when he was alive. Then he added a prayer for the angry young man, and one for the minister, and another one for the business man and the hungry man from the hospital. Then he started on his daughter and eventually worked his way through everyone he could think of. He did not pay much attention to where he was going, but he trusted Mya implicitly to lead him carefully down the street.