The monk never looked back, and a moment later, he was gone.
Christ repeated the process with the next brother; a moment later, a slightly taller monk was standing before Christ. After a deep hug of his own, this second monk was led away as well.
After the third and final monk had been led off, the portal in the ceiling disappeared, along with the dozens of spirits.
“That went rather well,” said Jesus Christ, looking up, hands on his hips. He then turned to me and said, “We need to talk, James.”
We sat together in the front pew.
It was still early morning, and the three red-eyed spirits were gone. The place felt oddly empty without them creeping above. Jacob was still off playing somewhere, probably in one of the empty classrooms.
“Indeed,” said Christ. “In fact, he’s sitting in his old classroom now, pretending to be a student, although sometimes he really thinks he is a student, and wonders where the other kids are.”
“How do you know this?” I asked.
Christ smiled patiently at me. “It’s easy to do, James, once you know how.”
“What’s easy to do?”
“Being dead,” he said. “Although, I would argue that you are very much not dead. Anyway, it has its advantages.”
“Death has its advantages?” I asked.
“Well, knowing where others are at all times, for one. Being connected to anyone and everyone you wish to be connected to.”
“I wish to be connected to my daughter,” I said. “But I’m not.”
“You are. You just don’t know it yet.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You have chosen to experience death in this…limited manner,” Christ said.
“What limited manner?”
“As what you call a ‘ghost.’”
I thought about that. “So I can choose another way?”
“You can choose any way you want.”
Morning sunlight crept over the pews. Some of the light found his right leg and revealed clearly his many deep wounds. I looked away. I still hadn’t asked him who the hell he really was, although I seriously doubted he was Christ.
I mean, come on, he was just a statue, wasn’t he?
I looked up at the cross on the wall. At the empty cross.
Yeah, I’m going insane.
“No, you’re not,” said Christ, reading my thoughts. “And don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“But I just watched a statue come to life,” I said. “I just watched you come to life. I think I’m entitled to some crazy talk.”
“Hey, and I’m sitting next to a ghost. Maybe we’re both a little nuts.”
Despite myself, I laughed. He did, too. His laughter was rich and booming, and as he laughed, more blood poured free from his many open wounds.
“You’re bleeding all over the pew,” I said.
He looked down. “So I am.”
I looked at the lash marks covering his legs and torso. “Are you in pain?”
“I’m in whatever I choose to be in,” he said. “And if I choose to be in pain, then, yes, I imagine I would be in considerable pain.”
I needed some real answers or I was seriously going to lose it. “Were you or were you not just a statue?”
“I chose to be something that would get your attention,” he said. “And I think I have succeeded.”
“Are you really Jesus Christ?”
“For the sake of simplicity, I will just say yes.”
“And what’s the complicated answer?” I asked.
“I have been called many things by many people in many languages, throughout time and space, for eons upon eons—”
“Okay, let’s stick with the simple answer.”
He smiled, nodded. As he did so, beads of blood worked free from his damaged scalp and dribbled down into his ear.
“Is there any way we can get you to stop bleeding?” I asked. “I find it very distracting.”
He smiled and nodded again, and by the time he was done nodding, his body had completely healed. Even the blood that had stained the carpet around his feet was gone.
“So you really are Jesus Christ?” I asked. “Please. Just the simple answer.”
“The simple answer—of course, James.”
“The same Jesus Christ I worshipped as a child?”
“The one and only.”
“Are you really the son of God?” I asked.
“We are all children of God,” he said. “Although some of us are, let’s just say, older children of God.”
I think I understood. “And you are an older child. Perhaps the oldest of them all.”
He smiled easily. “Old or young, James, we are all sons and daughters of the Creator.”
The church was quiet, a rarity for this time of day. Perhaps there was some divine intervention going on here. Christ sat motionless next to me, although his chest rose and fell steadily. He was solid, real. Me, not so solid.
“Am I going to hell?” I asked suddenly.
He turned his head slowly, and I could feel the palpable weight of his stare on me. I could feel his love, too. But I also felt something else coming from him.
“I’m sorry, James,” he said gently. “But, yes, you are going straight to hell.”
A door opened somewhere. Probably the morning maintenance crew going about their job. Or Jacob doing a hell of a good job of haunting up the place.
“So that’s it, then,” I said.
“I’m afraid so, yes.”
“Is it as bad as they say?”
“Fuck,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Cuss all you want, my friend. You’ve reached the point where it really doesn’t matter anymore.”
“So I’m beyond help?”
“Yes. Again, I’m sorry.”
“So basically I could sin all I want—”
“Right. And it wouldn’t matter.”
“Yes, that’s the spirit.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
A moment later, after my little tirade, we sat together in silence. Had I been in the flesh, my chest would have been heaving.
Christ said, “Bob didn’t deserve what you did to him.”
“Bob?” I asked distractedly; after all, my thoughts were on flames and torture and eternal damnation.
“Ponytail,” he said.