A Short Story by Richard Bleil
Editorial Note: this is meant as an exploration of an idea, but some readers may be offended by it. Please don’t read more into this than what I have written; I intend no hidden messages, no deep meaning, and certainly it is not my intention to be offensive. For anybody who does take offense, I apologize in advance.
When would one say this story began? Did it begin 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang? Or 4.5 billion years ago when the Earth began? Maybe 3.7 billion years ago when the first living creatures were formed, or only 50 million years ago when enough plankton accumulated to be buried and compressed into oil?
In 1859, the first oil well was drilled. Since then, humans have been sinking oil mines and pumping the viscous dense goo to the surface leaving behind enormous caverns once occupied by the oil to support the land above. There could be other reasons, but it seems likely that this is why sinkholes are becoming so common today, like the one that swallowed up Janice.
A simple and unassuming woman, Janice was just minding her own business, out running errands when the earthquake hit. A minor tremor at best, raising the concerns of nobody in particular who experienced it. But suddenly, the ground began to crack and swallow up cars. People in the parking lot focused their cameras to the crack as it rapidly made its way across the parking lot, and the myriad of people jumping out of the way. Janice was among them, but, sadly, wasn’t quite quick enough as a dozen cell phones recorded her tumble into the void. People tried to rush to her aid, but with another shift of the ground and small rumble, when they looked into the abyss where she had fallen in, alas, nobody was to be found.
Not far away, Janice found herself on the opposite side of a small rise on the edge of the parking lot. She managed to hold onto the shifting stone that transported her out of sight of the onlookers who peered intensely into the crack hoping to catch some glimpse of her.
By the time Janice managed to crawl out of the crevice, the screaming, noise and sirens over the hill attracted her attention. It wasn’t far to walk, but she was compelled to make the climb over the rise to see what the commotion was, and to see if she still had a car in the parking lot. When she reached the top of the hill, she saw people intently looking into the crack in the ground, too focused to notice her. She wanted to join them to find out who the poor soul is that they were seeking, but she had to catch her breath. She put her hands on the hips and started an all-too-brief rest, when suddenly, somebody shouted, “THERE SHE IS!”
Her attention drawn by the voice and realized that this individual was pointing at her. Suddenly, a score of cell phones shifted towards her direction, while a few people quickly examined their screens. “It IS her!” somebody shouted and began showing the cell phone to the people nearby. “You can see it, it’s really her!”
She smiled, and wanted to chuckle, but somebody shouted something that sent shivers down her spine. “SHE HAS RISEN!”
The videos went viral. Then the comments started flying. Then one person spoke of the miracle of being cured after witnessing the rising, then others. There were more claims of miracles than people who were actually there, but the arguments started. Was she the new Messiah, but she cannot be, the Messiah cannot be a woman, cannot be a minority, cannot be in this country, cannot be in this time, but she is the Messiah, she was seen Risen, her mere presence gave rise to miracles and the arguments turned bitter, then angry, then threatening. She made a couple of attempts to identify herself to explain that she’s the one in the video and it’s all just a misunderstanding, but the threats against her made her decide that wasn’t the way.
She thought long and hard about these events, and how to handle them. She sought the advice of her friend, who made an interesting observation. There was no way of knowing how long the attention would last, but while it’s growing, maybe it gives her the power to do something good with it. Maybe, just maybe, she can get a positive message out of it. A message of love, of tolerance, of acceptance. A message that, surely, people couldn’t disagree about regardless of whether or not they are a “believer”.
But even the best plans of an unexpected Messiah are subject to unanticipated failure. Driving back to her home, she stops about a mile short of her destination, aghast at the spectacle of throngs of people gathered outside of the doorstep, some chanting, some protesting, all frightening. As she sits there, watching the people, there is a sudden tapping on her car window.
The secret service is intimidating enough but waiting in a secured room for so long after being virtually grabbed out of her car made it so much more difficult. She was surprised that they had the same idea of addressing the people regarding her status that she had, although the message was very different. Rather than a message of love and tolerance, the secret service informed her that her message would be the Christianity is the only true religion, that America was built on Christianity and that the president is the only one who can lead the nation out of its troubles in the next election.
She refused, until they explained the money.
They gave her an account number to a foreign bank and showed her the balance in the tens of millions of dollars. They also showed proof that it has existed for more than a decade. The evidence that linked it to her was newer, but it did show that she had set it up. Obviously, she never had so much money, and never opened a foreign bank account, but the secret service didn’t seem interested in her statement. According to the men interviewing her, the secret service had set up many of these accounts over the years, all waiting to be “discovered” when it best served their purposes.
The situation was explained very carefully to Janice. There were two choices. She can deliver their message, and the money is hers. If she refuses or delivers any other message, she would find herself in the same situation as Al Capone, with the evidence to prove tax evasion, and a never ending prison sentence.
It is probably the most popular talk show of the day, and the introduction was very nice. The host showed the video and explained that Janice is caught up in the controversy of whether or not she is the “messiah” and went on to explain that Janice wants to give a message.
The lights are so bright that Janice cannot see the cameras or audience. As hot as they are, they are not the cause of her perspiration, as her mind races between what she wants to say and the impending prison sentence, and what she’s been told to say and a life of luxury. The moment comes, and she draws her breath to speak.