The ground shook as a barrage of artillery shells thundered into the hard earth. In the distance I saw a building collapse, to my left a man suddenly fell to the ground, a stray bullet taking him through the head. I stared dispassionately at the corpse, his name had been Karl, he had a girl waiting for him back home, everyone had a girl waiting for them back home.
I charged across the street praying as I always did. Please God, don’t let the bullets hit, don’t let me die, keep me safe. I made it to another doorway. Thank you, God, thank you for saving my life again. I returned fire, every bullet a searing note on my conscience.
Thou shall not kill.
Yet what else was I to do? If I didn’t shoot them then they would shoot me. If I didn’t shoot them then my officers would shoot me. I had to shoot them because they were shooting me but they were shooting me because I was shooting them. I remember a time when war used to make some sense. Not any more.
Nothing makes sense any more; it’s all gone, lost under the terror of too many skirmishes, cried away in bitter tears for the dead, shouted away in inane battle cries, why does God let this war go on? Why won’t Hitler just die?
I eye up my next source of cover. There was probably a grand plan but I never bothered to pay attention. When it comes down to it the only things that matter are keeping your gun with you, finding cover and praying. I pray very well now. I think I’ve spent the last four years in near constant prayer. I dive from my doorway, shuffle along the hard ground, bullets hit the road behind me, I crawl behind the remains of a smouldering tank. Taking a deep breath I fire my gun in the general direction of the enemy praying that none of my bullets would hit.
There must be Christians out there facing me – are they racked by the same guilt? Guilt for killing men in the name of duty, guilt for feeling so much hatred against the enemy, guilt for surviving whilst so many others have fallen. I used to pray for my friends, when I had friends left alive to pray for. But they’ve gone to eternity now although I know not which way.
They say that war is hell. Theologically the statement is a bit shaky but I know exactly what they mean. It isn’t just a physical battle it’s a spiritual one as well. Why does my mind wander so much? I focus on the now and see three men charging down the street towards me. I aim and pull back the trigger; my bullets take them all down, another three men now facing judgement because of me.
A man joins me at the tank, shouts something I can’t hear, pulls out a grenade throws it and is thrown back by the force of a bullet taking him in the heart. The grenade explodes in the distance, my ears ring as I watch the man’s body lay there in the dust.
Did he know Christ? I doubt it. Maybe he did. The darkness creeps up on me again. I murmur to myself: I will say of the Lord he is my rock and my fortress; my God in whom I trust. I breathe deeply and roll out from cover, scramble over a crater in the road and make it into the ruins of a shop. Psalm 91 has kept me going, when my strength failed and I thought death was so very near, when my soul cried out in agony, when my body wailed in pain and when I wept tears of grief for those that had gone on. I returned again and again to this one Psalm. I could say it off by heart now, forwards, backwards, any way at all.
From my position of relative safety I watch as four men too cover behind the tank I was just at. Then I blink as with a heavy roar a shell lands on top of them. Gone in an instance. A blink of an eye. I cradled my gun close to my chest. Why was I doing this? Why did this war just drag on and on and on? Was there ever going to be an end?
Although a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Another verse of Psalm 91, my favourite verse of the whole Psalm, I repeat to myself when ever I’m in battle. I would repeat this to myself as man after man would die beside me. Was I under God’s blessing to live so long or under God’s curse? Heaven was infinitely preferably to this; but I did what I was called to do. I made a pact not to seek death but to minister to those around me, spreading the good news even in the bleak realities of war. I had seen so many people die before coming to know Christ. And a few, a glorious few, who died in the full knowledge of the glory of the gospel and that the next life would be one without pain or suffering. Sometimes I feel Heaven so closely yet at other times it seems too good to ever be true.
How often I have wondered why God did not take me instead so that others might have more time in order to be saved. But it is useless to think such thoughts. The war has broken me completely; I have nothing left except Jesus Christ. He is my life, my strength, my all. When I can’t go on I turn to him. I can never go on without him.
The guns fall silent. The artillery stops shelling. There is a moment of peace. I let out a sigh, sunlight plays across the metal of my gun; I can relax for a moment.
“Surrender!” comes the cry in English; it is one of the few words of that language I know. Surrender, that is what I had to do again and again to the Lord. Surrender my fear, my terror, my life to him and his will. Surrendering is hard at first, so very hard but each time it gets easier.
I see men walking down the street with their hands up, I see American soldiers rounding them up, I see officers laying down their weapons. I stand up, no one shoots me, I walk forward, I cast aside my gun, I throw my helmet to the ground and trudge towards the enemy. I did it, I survived, no, God did it, he protected me. As I walk the last few verses of Psalm 91 spring to mind and without a care in the world I shout them to the surprised faces of the American soldiers:
“Er liebt mich, darum will ich ihn erretten; er kennt meinen Namen, darum will ich ihn schützen
Er ruft mich an, darum will ich ihn erhören; ich bin bei ihm in der Not, ich will ihn herausreißen und zu Ehren bringen.
Ich will ihn sättigen mit langem Leben und will ihm zeigen mein Heil.”
My travels took my further and further until at last I came to the Land of Darkness, the veiled land, the shadowed place. It was as I had heard, a grim place, the people there walked in constant darkness neither knowing what direction they were travelling in nor where they were going. It was impossible to move without bumping into someone else. Within a day I had a growing collection of bruises from where I had tripped, fallen or been pushed to the ground.
In my entire time not one person said a kind word either to me or anyone else, it was a bleak land where nothing grew and nothing was good. Laughter was uncommon, happiness unheard of, joy unknown. The darkness itself seemed to be a malignant force that sapped the body and infected the mind. So imagine my surprise when on my second day there I caught a brief flash of light, a tiny flicker that were it not for the intensity of the darkness and the contrast it provided would have scarce been noticeable.
With sudden energy I picked up my slow pace and headed in its direction praying that it would shine again. It did, another flash, I was getting closer. Slowly but surely I got closer, to my shame I admit this involved a lot of shoving and even the odd push.Eventually I reached the source of this tiny light; it was a man, a hunched man who was trying to press something to the ground. I watched and saw the flash of light peek out from under a bowl under the man’s hands. He was hiding his light! He was crouched over it, pressing a bowl over it to stop even the tiniest beam of light escape and everytime a beam of light did escape he jumped and looked around wildly. What was this madness?
“Excuse me sir?” I asked the burning desire to know overcoming my reluctance to speak.
“Me? not me, I’m a nobody,”
“No sir, I am talking to you. Tell me: why are you hiding your light?” I asked my curiosity making me bold.
“Light? What light? I don’t have a light.” said the man, then he squealed as a beam of light lit up his face.
“The light which you are trying to hide! Why do you so good sir? Where did you get the light from?”
“The other people, the one’s without the light, they might laugh. They might hate me because I have the light and they don’t. They might try and hurt me.” I heard the man hunch up even more. This was getting more and more strange.
“I give you my promise as a Gentleman that I will not hurt you or tell any other about your light. Just tell me: how did you acquire this light of yours?”
“You promise to keep it secret?”
“It was given to me. The King of Light came to me and gave me, unworthy, wretched, me the gift of light. He looked at me and in his mercy he gave me the greatest gift he could. He gave his lamp to me.” The man’s voice took on an altogether different quality; it was suddenly strong and had no trace of his previous nervousness.
“And what his command to you when he gave you his light?”
“I was to go forth into this land of darkness and the lamp would shine like the stars! It was to blaze like the sun, I was to…” the man trailed off perhaps realising that he hadn’t obeyed the command given.
“Now tell me, why do you sit here and hide your light?”
“I am afraid.” he said, his voice quiet “I looked around me and saw the darkness of the darkness and I thought my light would not survive. I thought that if I let them see my lamp they would kill me. My arms grew weary, the lamp was so very heavy. So I hid it. But it strains against me, it wants to shine but it can’t. I won’t let it.”
As if in reaction to his words minutes went past without the light flashing. Silence fell between us. Here was a man that was terrified of the darkness and trusted not the light. Here was a man that was crippled by unbelief – for he had no confidence in himself which was admirable but he had no confidence in the lamp giver which was folly.
“Answer me this: was the King of Light afraid of the darkness?”
“No,” replied the man “I noticed that about him, he walked around this land freely, afraid of nothing, blazing with a light greater than any I have known.”
“Then if you have his light; why not ask as well for his strength and courage?”
“But would he answer me?”
“He commanded you to go forth and shine like the stars. Do you not think he would give you the means to do so? Does he not give us the ability to carry out his commands?”
“I suppose so,” said the man, his voice uncertain.
“Then ask and it will be given to you.” I said. Silence fell again, in the brief flashes of light I could see the man’s face creased in worry. Then he bowed his head and I caught a murmured request.
He tossed the bowl away, the lamp underneath flared in the darkness, for the first time in two days I could see. He lifted the lamp up so it’s light spread across the whole land. People looked up from their blind ways, saw the light and were amazed. The lamp shone brighter still, shining like the stars, bringing people from all around towards it. The light of the lamp of the King of Light pushed back the darkness.
And the man called out in a loud voice as the light reached an intensity that was bright enough to hurt my eyes.
“I come bearing the lamp of the light of the King, I come to tell you all to repent and turn to him. For he is the way, the truth and the light and you are all in darkness.”
She was staring at him again. He could feel her eyes on his back. The noise of the pub faded, the faces of his friends blurred, he was aware only of his beating heart and her gaze. His neck burned, his cheeks blushed, he turned around.
There, sitting at a table similar to his, she was pretty, her eyes bright and her face framed by a cascade of golden locks. As he caught her eyes she flushed and looked down a shy smile hovering on her lips. His heart beat that little quicker. All he needed to do was stand up and walk over. Introduce himself, ask a few questions, she would hang on his every word, he would be captured by her every movement. He stood up and took two steps towards her table.
Time stopped, men remained motionless mid sip, a glass hung in the air half way to smashing onto the ground, silence reigned.
“Michael David Peterson, it would seem as if, once again, you have a choice to make.” the words echoed out of a pair of cold mocking lips. A pale faced man lounged on top of a table sipping a cocktail. He was clothed in darkness and his eyes were cold.
“A choice that can only be made once.” A second man stood right behind the girl; clothed in light, his face was kindly and his eyes warm. “A choice that should be no choice at all.”
“Exactly, look at her, pretty isn’t she? A fine catch. And I’m sure she has a ‘great personality’ as well.” said Darkness “Play your cards right and you’ll be a lucky man tonight.”
“Block your ears to his lying words!” interrupted Light “Are you really willing to take advantage of her? You don’t even know her name but your thoughts defile her.” Light placed himself between Michael and the girl.
“Oh step aside fool. Michael isn’t going to use the girl, he isn’t going to do anything wrong, they’re just going to talk, get to know each other better and if one thing leads to another so what?” Darkness drained his cocktail and jumped to the ground. “Look at her Michael, look at the way she is trying to pretend she isn’t watching your every move, look at her, she’s beautiful.”
“Beauty deceives the mind.” intoned Light.
“You ponderous windbag, get with the times, Michael is old enough to do as he pleases. He’s a strapping young lad why shouldn’t he enjoy himself?” Darkness prowled around Michael his cold eyes alive with delight.
“Can you do that Michael?” whispered Light in his ear “Can you forget your Saviour’s will so easily?”
“The Saviour will forgive, he’ll understand, he knows what emotions rage through young men. Now Michael, take a step forward, speak to the girl, tonight’s your night.”
“This is wrong Michael David Peterson; this will lead you down a path you shouldn’t want to tread.”
“How can it be so wrong when it feels so right?”
“How can it be right when it feels so wrong?”
He walked up to her, smiled, asked her name, she smiled back, her eyes searched his, he commented that her name was as pretty as he thought it would be, she couldn’t help but laugh, he opened his mouth to ask her another question.
Time stopped. The girl froze in mid laugh, her mouth open, her eyes wide.
“You’re ruining his game,” complained Darkness this time lying on the table his face staring up into Michael’s. “Let him work his magic in peace. He’s only just getting started.”
“What are you doing Michael?” asked Light, he stood several feet away from the table; his kind face was stern and his eyes hard. “You know where this is going to lead you.”
“What are you talking about? He’s just being friendly, there’s no harm in that. Should he alienate himself from the rest of the world? Should he give all the cold shoulder?”
“Friendship is one thing. This is another.”
“Oh put a sock in it. Michael doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. He listens to me.” Darkness smiled broadly “So go ahead Michael, block up your ears to this goody two shoes, do what you want, do what feels good.”
“Your bond over him is broken.” Light strode up to Darkness and threw him off the table “Your stranglehold over his heart has been destroyed.”
“Silence fool!” shouted Darkness climbing to his feet and squaring up to Light.
“Michael David Peterson is no longer your slave. He has been set free. The blood of his Saviour has redeemed his life.”
“He is mine! I rule in his heart!” Darkness screamed, black clouds rolling off him.
“You do no such thing. Get behind me Darkness. Leave this child alone. May your twisting lips be silent, may your foul words never be heard, you no longer have any power here.” Light commanded blazing brighter than the noonday sun.
Darkness opened his mouth but no sound came out. Silence had been forced on him. He glared at Light, a venomous hate filled glare that Light merely smiled at.
For Light will stand against Darkness and prevail.
His eyes were open, how could he have been so blind? What was he doing? How could he be so stupid? He knew where this was heading; he knew it to be wrong. He stood up; she looked at him a puzzled expression on her face. He glanced at her one more time, his eyes apologetic; he would never be able to explain. With a deep breath he walked out the pub without looking back. As he did so his heart praised his Saviour for preventing his sin.
Once again any criticism welcome. Story not based on personal experience. Story was allegorical but only to a certain degree please don't read too much into it. It is just a story!
It was on the sixty second day of my travels that I came to Arbuthur – The City of the Giant. It was the twenty sixth occasion my breath was completely taken away from me. Few sights in this world of mine are worth seeing more.
Arbuthur! The morning sun sends its powerful light over your mighty walls, your battlements remain forever manned, armies could throw themselves at you and barely make a dent. And behind the walls, each house built with loving care, each road laid with masterful craftsmanship, your towers reach for the stars.
Arbuthur. The most beautiful city in the world, the songs sung about your wonder, the poems that proclaim your glory, the stories told! There is no greater place to live.
My sand skimmer brushed the top of a sand dune and veered towards the huge gates, a bustling horde of humanity wait outside, wait for the gates to open, waiting to enter the city. I stop my sand skimmer at the stables and climb out of its cool shade. The heat hits me, a rolling heat that dries the lips and burns the skin.
A burly man greets me, the stablemaster; I pay the fees and throwing my cloak over my shoulders head towards the gate. As I leave the stables the heat increases all the more, my sense are assaulted by a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. Traders shift through the crowds selling anything and everything, the smell of a thousand foods tease my growling stomach, people from every corner of the world mull around waiting for the gates to open. A hundred languages hang in the air, a few I recognise but most I don’t, to my left a man shouts at his boy, a woman searches for a lost child, I move through the crowd heading for the gate, waiting for it to open.
Imposing doesn’t even begin to cover the gates – huge, almighty creations of metal, their hinges were bigger than me, they towered above everything, ninety feet high, easily, in front of these gates everyone was a dwarf. Engraved into the metal were intricate patterns that appeared so simple yet so fiendishly complex.
Then I felt it, the ground rhythmically shaking, thud, thud, thud, people began to move. The hustling mass of people parted leaving a clear path to the gates. I hurried to the side, pleased to be so close.
“The Giant Cometh!” cried a faint voice from the far end of the crowd. Every head turned, every neck craned, every eye focused in on a dark blur on the horizon. It was getting closer with mindboggling speed. The blur became refined and distinct and revealed a colossus of a man! Eighty feet high, broad shouldered, wearing a simple jerkin, a jaunty cap of his huge head. Thud, thud, thud, the giant strode across the sand eating up the miles with each stride. He carried a bucket in each hand, a bucket large enough to hold the entire seething mass of humanity waiting near the gate, a bucket bigger than a house.
He reached us, an awed silence fell, my neck hurt as I gazed up and up and up, my own height suddenly seemed to laughably insignificant. I felt like a grasshopper before him.
The giant reached the gate; I could only stare at the massive foot resting not ten metres from me. One step out of place and he would crush us. The giant put the buckets on the ground with a thump that threw several people off their feet. With an ear splitting clank he removed the chain from across the doors and with a grunt the giant heaved the gates open.
The crowd began to talk again and surged in behind the giant and into Arbuthur. The gates opened onto a long street that cut straight through the city and to the exact centre. The giant was already half way along it. I waved down a passing carriage.
“To the centre!” I ordered “Quickly.” The cab driver was obviously used to such commands and spurred his horses along the street with all speed. The heart of the city approached. It soon became too busy for the cab to continue so I went on on foot.
I admit, I shoved a little, squeezed myself between people, pushed a few out my path, I had to see one of the seven sights of the world. Eventually I made it to the centre – a reservoir of water, a deep pole of liquid, an oasis of life, how many tons of water rested there I knew not but it was a lot. It was the lifeblood of the city – without it the city would be dust.
The giant stood on the edge of the vast lake and tipped his buckets in. The water thundered into the reservoir topping up this source of life. I felt like applauding – to see such a precious thing so freely given but to my surprise there no cheer, no shout of thanks, indeed as I looked around the crowd I saw that most refused to look up, refused to look at the giant.
As one the crowd surged forward and began to collect water, some went into nearby pipes to be pumped to the richer sections of the city; the poor carried jars and collected their own. If the giant has wanted to he could have made a fortune charging for the water. But as it was it was a gift, free to use, provided out of the giant’s goodness.
I extracted myself from the crowd and picked a street at random my heart beating that little but faster. Anticipation, who knew what the day held? New ideas, new people, new cultures, I would study them all, learning and recording.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, let us not resort to personal insults, let us remember to argue with logic – the only foundation for truth in this universe.” An older man had got to his feet. I was in the Logicus – a debating chamber for the greatest minds in the city, a place where new ideas were heard and judged, a place to sharpen the wit and stoke the intellect. I had heard that the wisdom of the Logicus was unmatched in all the world.
I had heard wrong.
“Logic!” interrupted a young man with passionate eyes and a charming smile “Logic tells us only one thing. Logic provides us with only one fact. Logic saves us with one gem of knowledge.” He paused, the room was silent, it hung on the man’s words. “The giant is dead!” he finished dramatically. There was a loud murmur of agreement. Then the man smiled even wider. “We have killed him!” The Logicus erupted into cheers; men rose to their feet, fists were shaken, scornful laughter echoed around the room.
Had I gone mad? Was I insane? I could see the giant through the clear glass of the Logicus – he was standing over it. Where they really denying his existence?
I do not normally speak out, I observe nothing more but I had to find out the truth. I caught the attention of the man next to me.
“Excuse me, am I understanding this correctly, the giant does not exist?”
“That is correct my good sir,” said the man his warm smile greeting me.
“Then excuse me again for this question: Why then is the city called ‘The City of the Giant’?” I asked. The man frowned then rose to his feet.
“Gentlemen of the Logicus, we have here a distinguished visitor,” said the man in a loud voice, I felt a flush rise up my cheeks, he recognised me, my fame preceded me, how embarrassing. “One who does not know of recent events, one who has yet to hear the truth we have discovered. Gentlemen, it is time to recite our history!”
“For a thousand years we resided in darkness. For a thousand year we knew nothing. For a thousand years we were foolish enough to believe that a giant cared for this city!” There was muffled laughter. “But we have found enlightenment.”
“Dark was our thinking, small were our thoughts, incomprehensible were our actions. Until we freed them! We cast off the shackles, we lifted our minds, we rejected the giant.”
“And behold our thoughts expanded. We began to understand so much more. We invented logic! The only means of deciphering the truth.”
“And logic disproved the giant. His existence was deemed impossible. The very idea – a man built on huge proportions. It is ridiculous. It is illogical.”
“And so you find us here today – unfettered by superstitious nonsense, unchained from the old ways, here we stand – intellectual giants – all of us. This is our history. We have spoken.”
The Logicus feel silent, all eyes turned to me but should I say?
“Gentlemen,” I began, my voice quavering before I regained my confidence, they would be reasonable, they would see their folly. “Gentlemen, I stand in your presence humbled by your intelligence and insight.
“But I have questions, questions that cannot be ignored, questions that demand answers. Tell me, if the giant does not exist where did the idea of a giant come from?”
“The giant is dead!” shouted one voice.
“So you say. But if he never did exist how could you kill him?”
“The giant cannot exist.”
“We have disproved him.” called out an arrogant voice.
“Tell him that!” my anger got the better of me, how could these men be so blind? “Look up, look up, see the giant above us, tell him he does not exist.”
As one the men of the Logicus rose to their feet and shook their puny fists in the air crying “The giant is dead! Long live man! The giant is dead. We have killed him. Man is his own giant!”
“He’s still there,” I shouted over them, taunting them, “Shout louder! Maybe if you shout loud enough he’ll go away!”
They shouted louder and louder until a mighty noise overrode their calls. The giant laughed, the giant laughed at the Logicus, laughed at their folly, at their arrogance, the giant scoffed at their scoffing. Silence fell again.
“Three times a day the giant brings this city water. He provides you with life. He is your only link to life. Without him this city would be nothing. And you refuse to accept his existence.
“You fools, you morons, you imbeciles!”
“You go too far!” shouted the young man “You dare to insult our intellect. The water is borne here on the great south wind. The water is carried in the air. In a special belt of air that prevents it from evaporating. Our logic, our science has proved this, will argue with that? Will you argue with our logic?” He sat down to much agreement.
“And what of this city? Of the mighty walls and towering gates? Or the broad battlements and huge streets? Can you explain that?”
“Natural erosion, aliens, chance, luck, a freak storm, a random fluke of nature. Logic would dictate this. Science supports it.”
“Your logic is flawed; your science is in tatters. You reject the giant first and use logic second. Science has done nothing; your imaginations have done everything. You are like blind men that search for darkness.”
“Will we stand for this?” asked the young man “Men of Logic, will we listen to this infidel? Out of his mouth spills lies, his words pollute the air, he is illogical, shall we put up with this? I say we kill him. Logic must be preserved.”
“Logic must be preserved. Kill him, kill him, kill him!” they shouted, rising to their feet, my heat raced, death was in the air. What could I do against such blindness? What could I do against such single minded hatred?
“Are you animals that you come to kill me?” I asked but to no avail. They shouted all the louder.
“Kill him! Kill the liar!” The young man drew a knife out and approached me from across the room.
“Where is your giant now, friend?” he spat “Where is your giant now?”
With an almighty crash the glass roof was smashed through, a huge hand pummelled through it and scoped me up. As I was lifted into the air I could see the hate filled expression on the face of the young man.
I closed my eyes, I wasn’t good with heights, moments later I felt stone beneath my feet. I opened my eyes and found myself on the top of the tallest tower in the city. The giant’s head was at level with it.
“Thank you,” I gasped. The giant merely smiled and nodded at me. He turned to leave.
“Sorry, may I ask you a question?” I stumbled over my words, I feared this giant more than any man. But the giant smiled and nodded again.
“Why do you let them talk about you like that? Why don’t you do something? They spread their lies, they spread their folly, why not stop them?”
The giant spoke in a voice that rocked the tower, in a voice that shook the city, in a voice that was heard by all.
“They have eyes but do not see. Ears but do not hear. For I am. And all see me.
“They deny my existence. And the day is coming when they shall get their wish. I will depart from them. And they shall be left in this desert with neither food not water nor shelter. They will burn in the sun but know no death. Then they will know that I existed. But still they will curse my name. Still they will reject me.
“But that time is not yet and until that day I give them every opportunity to turn from their folly. Their blindness is their damnation. They will bring it upon themselves.
“For I am here and there is no excuse.”
This fictional work is not a perfect allgrey and should not be taken as such. It can only be taken so far. Feedback needed - if I'm writing rubbish I need to know.