Thankful for Something

The door to the small, dark cell opened, and a guard threw a tray of food on the floor. “Happy Thanksgiving.” His gruff voice was the first sound from another human I had heard in a long time.

“Is it really Thanksgiving?”

The guard shrugged. “Maybe. What do you care? You’ve got nothing to be thankful for.” Done with me, he slammed the door shut and left.

Once more, the light shrank to whatever filtered through the small, barred window on the door. Still, it was enough to see that the food was the same gruel trying to pass itself off as stew. I ate every bit of it because there would be nothing better. The guard had probably lied about it being Thanksgiving.

Besides, he was right, what did I have to be thankful for? Left in this underground cell to rot, the only light coming from a low-watt bulb in the corridor. The food barely deserved to be called that. No human interaction. I wasn’t even certain I remembered what crime I had committed to be thrown in here. Nobody even bothered to torment me. I was certain I was fed only when someone remembered I existed. That’s how I would die; they’d just forget to feed me, and I would starve.

Still, it was tradition. Surely I could think of something to be thankful for. I was alive. I had a roof over my head. Food in my belly. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t muster any thankfulness for any of it. The food was horrible, and the roof felt more like the lid to a coffin. And frankly, I wasn’t certain I was even alive.

“I think he was lying about Thanksgiving.” The voice seemed to come from the wall behind me.

“Who…?”

“I’m in the cell next to yours, I think.”

There had never been anyone else in here. “Are you real? Or am I imagining you?”

“Good question, but I’m real. Are you?”

How do you know if you’re real? Except for this disembodied voice, and the occasional grunt from a guard, no one had acknowledged my existence for as long as I could remember. Maybe I wasn’t real…

“Hey! You there? You know I can’t hear your thoughts. You gotta talk out loud.”

“Sorry. I think I’m real. Why haven’t I heard you before?”

“Same reason I hadn’t heard you until that guard talked to you. No reason to say anything.”

That made sense, I supposed. “How long have you been here?”

“Six months? Maybe. I was brought here in January, so I don’t think it’s November already. How long have you been here?”

“I don’t know. I’m not even sure when I came here anymore. Pretty sure it’s been longer than six months.”

“Wow.”

Silence came rushing back in, much louder than before. I tried to remember how to have a conversation, to keep the other person talking. I didn’t care about what, and that made it harder to think of something to say. But I needed to hear a human voice, even if it was just my imagination.

“How… Why did you get put in here?” I asked the first question that popped into my head.

“Boring story. You don’t want to hear it.”

“I do. Really. Even if it’s boring.”

A pause before the other spoke again. “Okay, but I warned you. It started with a broken headlight…”

Judgment Day

“So on Judgment Day,” he could hear the preacher pronounce those capital letters, “God will confront you with all of your sins. Only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior will be admitted into Heaven. Everyone else will be condemned to Hell for all of eternity.”

On the way home, he kept thinking about what the preacher had said. Finally he asked his mom about it.

“Mom, am I going to Hell?”

She looked at him in the rearview mirror. “No, honey. You’ve been saved. You’ll go to Heaven. You don’t have to worry.”

“What about you?”

“I’m saved, too. We’ll be together in Heaven.”

“Is Dad saved?”

There was a pause before she answered. “No, honey. He isn’t. But that’s why it’s important to witness to him, so that you might get saved some day.”

“Oh.” He didn’t ask anymore questions after that. But he also didn’t stop thinking about it.

Later that night, he made up his mind. When Judgment Day came, if his dad wasn’t saved, he would insist on going to Hell in his place. It was the best solution his eight-year-old mind could come up with. The only worry he had was that God would allow it, but insist that the person whose place he would take had to be randomly chosen. He would still make the trade, he decided. If his dad wasn’t going to be there, then he didn’t want to be there, either.

Last Night

It snowed last night.

It hadn’t snowed in years. We had been told it wouldn’t snow again, but last night, Mother Nature managed to eke out another inch or two.

The kids went outside to play in it with a sense of wonder. Almost intuitively, they made snowballs to throw at one another. They even attempted to build a snowman like the ones they had seen in story books, but there really wasn’t enough snow to make anything very big. Even though they had to come in after about an hour because their t-shirts and shorts weren’t enough to keep them warm, they had a grand time.

I stayed up all night watching it fall as the whole world slowly turned white. It took me back to my childhood, and I recalled even having school canceled once because of it. But that had been years ago, and those old memories paled next to the visual treat I witnessed last night.

The sun burned away every trace of snow when it rose in the morning. The kids, excited to have been outside the night before, asked if they could go out again. I had to explain that the snow was gone and the sun was back, so it wasn’t safe to go outdoors.

The looks on their faces nearly broke me. It had been cruel, I realized, to be given that taste of how things used to be, only to have it snatched back right away. Still, I hoped it would be a memory they would cherish. And someday, they could tell their children that they had seen real snow.

The Offer

There was a knock on the door just before it opened. A middle-aged man walked into Jacob Lott’s office.

“Hello, Jacob. Good to see you again.” He extended a hand.

Jacob took the man’s hand and shook it before inviting him to sit down. “Have we met? I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

The man chuckled. “You did have a lot to drink last night, so it isn’t surprising that you might forget.”

“Last night…” Jacob vaguely remembered going to a bar, but much of the rest of the night was a blur. “I don’t really…” His memory finally dredged up something. “You… were sitting next to me…”

“Indeed. I listened to you most of the night.”

“… While I complained about the state of the world, the mess it’s in. The way we’ve screwed up the planet, ourselves, and society.”

The man smiled. “For as drunk as you were, you were also very articulate. Until you passed out.”

“Very sorry about that. It’s been a rough week.”

He waved away Jacob’s apology. “I could tell. Happy to lend an ear.”

“So… how did you happen to come by my work?”

He pulled a small white card from his pocket. “You gave me your business card.”

“Oh. So you have work for me?”

“No… Well, not exactly. I have a proposition for you. I can give you the tools you need to make the world a better place.”

“Well that sounds… implausible. You shouldn’t start your sales pitch with such grandiose hyperbole.”

“It’s not a sales pitch. And it’s not hyperbole. I really listened to you last night. You seem to genuinely care about this world. I want to help you set it right.”

“And how would you do that.”

“I can give you power. Resources. Whatever you need.”

“And the price for all of this?”

“None. You just have to try to fix the world. I think that’s price enough.”

Jacob eyed the man sitting across from him. He didn’t trust him, but he couldn’t figure out his angle. What was he after? He just sat there, a mild smile on his lips as he waited for Jacob to respond.

“What’s your name?”

“I’ve had many names. At the moment, I go by Lucas.”

“Lucas? But your original…”

The phone rang.

“You should get that.” Lucas stood to leave. “Think about my offer, Jacob. And I am very sorry about your sister.”

“What about my …?” But Lucas was gone before Jacob could finish his question.

The phone rang again, and he picked it up. “Hello?”

“Jacob. This is mom.” Her voice sounded weak, as though she had been crying. “There’s been an accident.”

“An accident?”

“Yes. Your sister. She’s been…” His mother started sobbing.