JAKE DISLIKED SUNDAYS BECAUSE his father never failed to drop him off at Sunday school, even if it was his last day in Los Angeles. He was in the church hall. Philip sat next to him; the only comfort he had in the boring class.
Philip was just as irritated as Jake. His uncle, Father Roberto, also forced him to these lessons. The room had seven other students, mumbling what they did on Friday and Saturday. A sudden silence emerged when the priest faced the classroom with a boy beside him.
"I'd like to introduce a new student," the priest announced.
"Another victim," muttered Philip to Jake.
"This is Wayne King," the priest smiled. "This class is very friendly, Wayne. There's no need to be nervous."
The new boy sat behind Jake and Philip. Philip faced the boy and shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, wanking."
Jake shoved a fist in his mouth to keep from laughing.
Father Roberto looked for certain worksheets at his desk. Jake leaned over to Philip. "Your uncle looks like he's getting older by the minute. Look at that grey hair."
The priest didn't look up. "Jake, grey hair is a glorious crown." He sprang to his feet and informed them he had forgotten the worksheets they needed. He suggested that the class could choose a religious topic to discuss.
Somebody proposed Lucifer's downfall. The priest was unwilling at first, but agreed after much pleading from his students. He couldn't figure out why the children were eager to hear this information but not anxious to listen to mercy and forgiveness. Perhaps they were fascinated by how someone, being so close to the Creator, would turn away with such contempt.
"Lucifer was one of the Archangels in the spirit world," Father Roberto began. "His name means 'light bearer,' but because of the choices he made, he is referred to as Satan, meaning 'man's opponent.'"
"Why did he turn away from God?" Jake asked.
"Many believe that his pride became so great that he could not imagine being a helper for man or serving the Creator. Thus, he turned away, causing a rebellion. When he was thrown out, his dark angels were drawn to the Abyss. Satan fell straight to the earth, destroying all prehistoric creatures."
"Why leave Satan here?" Philip queried. "Not a smart move."
Father Roberto took a step back and removed a packet of lozenges from his drawer. His nose was runny, and his voice was hurting him again; it had been doing so for the past few days; it was like lava was revolving around his throat. He placed a lozenge in his mouth. "Why is it that he and his dark angels could turn into creatures that other angels, who follow the Creator, couldn't?"
The class grew quiet.
"Not many people know this," Father Roberto resumed, "but just as the Creator placed the tree of knowledge on earth for Adam and Eve, he also placed a tree in the spirit world for his angels."
"A tree?" Jake asked.
"The tree of additional power," the priest answered. "This was an unusual tree because the fruit it bore was what the Creator used to make prehistoric creatures. The greater the class of the angel, the greater power given if the fruit was eaten. Whoever ate from the tree of additional power would be punished."
"So what?" Philip scoffed. "You still haven't answered my question." He felt compelled not to be a jokester in this subject.
"I'll get to that," Father Roberto replied. He paused to blow his nose.
Philip was fascinated by his uncle's sickness. He had never been ill but felt little physical pain a few times from the countless sports he played. Philip wasn't complaining, but could not help but feel like an outsider.
"Satan and his angels ate from the forbidden tree and it upgraded their capabilities," Father Roberto croaked. "Especially Satan, since he was of higher grade compared to those who followed him. Because of what the fruit could create, it gave them the ability to change into creatures that look similar to the reptiles of long ago."
The priest cleared his throat. "Their disobedience cost them God's friendship. I'm sure many of you are asking 'why was God so lenient towards humans for their offence but not to his angels?' It is because our ignorance saved us. Satan and his dark angels have a wealth of knowledge about the Creator and the unseeing world. This knowledge they have makes their sin of disobedience unforgivable."
"So what's the answer?" Philip questioned. "Why did God leave Satan here?"
"Can't you see a pattern?" the priest answered. "The two trees and then Satan wandering the earth? Each of these things represents the other choice. And this is important because true freedom only exists when both sides of the choice are available. It's all about free will. This is what the Creator has always intended."
The Sunday school students were bemused, perhaps because of the decisions the angels made or the way God represented the alternate choice. The priest issued a final piece of advice, so they would understand the basics of such a difficult subject.
"No one can ever comprehend divine wisdom," Father Roberto concluded. "And don't ever forget that we always have a choice."
When the lesson ended, Father Roberto hurried to his car in the car park. Philip walked beside him and then stopped. He left in such a hurry that he'd forgotten to say farewell to Jake. His mind had been occupied with his present destination. He looked back and spotted Jake standing still, among walking students.
"We'll see each other again," Philip smiled.
Jake waved with a sad look.
Philip entered Father Roberto's car and wounded down his window. "Make sure you give New York a hard time, Jake!"
Philip and the priest were silent on the way to the hospital. Father Roberto wanted to reach out to his nephew. He wanted some bond with him. The priest had been taking care of Philip for months now; Ever since his mother went in hospital.
Father Roberto parked the car; Philip got out in a flash and stormed to the hospital entrance. The priest sighed and departed from his vehicle. What had he done wrong to deserve this dark attitude? Maybe it was Philip's way of handling the emotional situation. He wanted to find the answer to the troubled youngster.
As the priest walked to Amelia's room, the hospital was embodied with urgency. His ears rang from the PA announcements. He dodged the fast moving Medical staff. Father Roberto crossed paths with Dr. Wyler, who explained Amelia's current condition.
"Are you sure?" Father Roberto asked.
"I told you that Glioblastoma Multiforme kills people in less than a year," the doctor reminded him. "I'm sorry. There's nothing more we can do. As I said, she will pass away today, tomorrow at the latest."
Father Roberto mentioned things about Amelia's condition that confused the doctors. Things that had given him hope. He swallowed before he spoke. "But you said you were unsure about the unique cells around her brain that you found during her CAT scan. You also said that her vision and speech had not suffered as much as those who had died from GBM."
The doctor nodded. "I see what you're getting at, but for all we know her malignant tumour may have caused these weird cells to come about. Her case is strange but that doesn't mean she won't--" Dr. Wyler sighed, looked down at his clipboard, then back at Father Roberto. "Most times, doctors wish they were wrong. If I were you, I'd join Amelia and her son. These are her final hours, Father." The doctor gave a half-hearted smile and walked away.
The priest took in a deep breath and proceeded inside Amelia's room. He looked at his sister-in-law with pity. Wrapped in a white blanket, she lay motionless in bed, staring out the window. He followed her gaze. It was a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky. The sunshine lent the room welcome warmth.
Philip was embracing her, drinking her up with his green eyes. Her face was pale and her cracked lips were parched. "You're going to get better, aren't you?" he sobbed, fighting back tears.
Amelia held her son's face. "No matter what happens," she said softly, "I'll be fine and, in time, so will you." She told Philip to wait outside the room when she noticed Father Roberto standing before her. Amelia explained to her son that she wanted to talk to the priest in private for a moment. Philip obeyed. Amelia instructed her brother-in-law to take her prophecy book from the drawer. "I've just written a prediction," she confirmed.
He obtained the book and read the new prophecy: 'Barak will defeat Satan'. Father Roberto was astounded. "You have written about this character before." He read the prediction she had written years ago: "Great power will be bestowed upon him. He shall be known as Barak." Closing the book, he fixed his eyes on Amelia, unaware of her fragile breathing. "Not that I'm complaining," he said, "but why didn't you write this new prophecy the first time you wrote about him?"
"Because I couldn't see it before," she whispered at last. "I received no vision about this battle between Satan and Barak until now. This gift of prophecy, in a sense, has a mind of its own."
"You told me Barak means 'lightning' in Hebrew. I need to know a lot more than that. Could you tell me who he is?"
"You asked me that question when you first heard about Barak," she told him in a feeble voice. "I told you already. No."
"But can't you see him in the vision?" he persisted. "Can't you at least tell me what he looks like? I want to find him."
She shook her head slowly. "He's moving too fast. I can't tell my vision to pause or to replay the event in slow motion."
The priest strained to hear her.
"I have no doubt that the vision showed Satan was conquered," her eyes closed and she whispered, "by Barak."
Father Roberto heard Philip scream behind him. The boy ran to his deceased mother and hugged her tight so that her shoulder muffled his cries. The priest stretched out his hand, ready to pat the back of his nephew. Before he touched him, Philip straightened. Seconds later, he spun and bolted out of the room.
The priest ran after him, shouting his name. Father Roberto was puffing when, at last, he arrived at his car. Philip was next to the vehicle, his arms folded. Head bowed. The priest was thankful that his nephew was safe and sound.
"Are you all right, Philip?" the priest asked.
Philip didn't answer.
The two entered the car. Philip snapped his seat belt in and stared straight ahead.
Father Roberto drove home. He repeated his question. Still no answer. Maybe he was asking the wrong one. After all, how could he be all right? His mother just died. But then, what was an appropriate question for this situation? Perhaps there shouldn't be questions. Maybe he should comfort him the only way he knew. "In this hard time, consult God, for he knows grief only too well."
Philip clicked his tongue. Did the priest believe he would accept these teachings? His father had died in a car accident, years ago, on his way to work. His mother had helped him come to terms with it, and he had been able to suppress the hatred he felt towards God for allowing it to happen. Now his mother was gone. This was the last straw, the breaking of a wild dam.
Father Roberto pulled his car into the driveway. Philip leaped out of the car. He couldn't stand his uncle's voice anymore, feeding him despicable theology. Philip darted to his room and slammed the door shut. Father Roberto asked if he could get him anything from outside the door. The priest didn't dare go in. His nephew still didn't answer.
The priest heard a loud bang from the room and raced inside. Philip was punching the walls, creating holes with every blow. He was like a wild animal with a frightening rage in his eyes. "I prayed!" he spat out.
Philip turned his fury to the closet next to him. In a flash, he lifted it up and hurled it to the wall across the room. On impact, it shattered into countless pieces with clothes blasting out in all directions. Philip wiped away his tears with shaky hands. He sat on the cold wooden floor and leaned his back on the wall. His hate and anger was replaced by confusion. How was he able to do this? How was it possible that he was not feeling any physical pain from smashing his fists through a brick wall?
Father Roberto looked at his nephew with wide eyes. Amazed. Excited. He believed this incredible strength was a prophecy fulfilment. I have found him! I have found Barak!