The day started out as usual. I woke up, did my morning prayers, and began my morning routine. As I went to the kitchen, I saw something moving outside. My attention was immediately caught. I grabbed my handgun and headed into the garage. I opened the door and looked outside.
There were three zombies standing by my car. These weren’t normal zombies at all, they looked like a cross between a zombie and a mime. I stood motionless for several seconds. Then I took aim at one of the zombies with my gun and pulled the trigger. I missed.
The zombified mime raised its arms over its head. Its face became distorted, twisted so far that the skin stretched like rubber. Its mouth opened wide, showing off rows of sharp teeth. Then it started to laugh. It laughed so hard, in fact, that tears began to well up in his eyes. The sound that filled the air was horrific and painful to hear.
The laughter died down after a few seconds and the zombie’s face returned to its normal form. It took a deep breath and looked straight at me. Then it started walking towards me. As it walked, its body moved as though its spine were made out of steel.
I saw two small holes where his ears should be. I watched as his face contorted and became even more grotesque. His tongue protruded from between his lips and he began to speak.
“You’ve come to join me, haven’t you, Mechtild?” the zombie said.
I couldn’t believe this. This was a joke, right? I was still shaking with shock. I tried to convince myself that this was just some sort of prank, but deep inside I knew this was too real. I had to stop him. He was a demon trying to scare me. I mustered up all my strength and prepared to fight.
Suddenly he vanished. I turned around to see him standing behind me. He reached out and grabbed my hand. His fingers felt like hot iron needles piercing me. He spoke to me.
“My Mechtild, I was waiting for you. I knew you would be here”
Then, he disappeared again. I heard a click and turned around to see myself standing there, dressed in black robes and with a strange mask over her face. I could feel a strange sensation running through my body. I reached out and put my hand on my forehead.
What was going on? I didn’t have much time to think about what was happening, because then he was back in front of me. I tried to resist him, but he was too strong and too fast. The next thing I knew, I was in front of a church with the woman who looked like me standing beside me. She started speaking to me.
“This is no dream, but it is a nightmare. You have been chosen. I know you think I’m a demon, but it is I who have been sent to deliver to you a message from God. God has given you one last chance to join him, to save the world. He has sent you here to prove yourself worthy. He has commanded you to take the mark, and he has given you Dark Mechtild to show you the way.”
Dark Mechtild takes off her mask and then she reaches out with her arm and pulls me close. I could hear her voice whispering in my ear.
“All you have to do is accept her mark. Say the words ‘By Satan, I do accept the Mark of the Beast.’ Then you will receive eternal life and you will be saved. The world belongs to us now, so don’t waste this opportunity. Accept her mark now.”
I managed to muster out the words “Lord rebuke you! In Jesus’s name begone demon!”
Dark Mechtild’s face contorted into a demonic mask. She screamed at me.
“You will not escape us. We will find you and we will possess your soul until the end of time. Your soul will join our army, and you will be our weapon against the Church and all those who believe in God.”
She vanished, and I was once again standing alone. I looked up at the clock. It was almost noon. I went home, but I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was being watched. I kept glancing over my shoulder for someone or something behind me, and I kept feeling a presence following me. I decided to take a quick shower, hoping that the hot water would relax me. I stripped down and jumped in, and for the first minute or two I felt great. I closed my eyes and let the warm water cascade over my body.
Suddenly, I could hear a faint noise coming from inside my head. It sounded like it was coming from inside my brain, but I didn’t know what was causing it. I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and prepared myself to fight whatever it was that was trying to get in my mind.
As soon as my eyes were open, I could see Dark Mechtild standing in the room in front of the mirror. As before, she appeared out of thin air and was wearing the same black robe I’d seen before.
Dark Mechtild looked at me and smiled. “I am Dark Mechtild, the embodiment of evil in human form. We have been waiting for you to come back and join us. I know you are scared, but I am here to help. Just say the word and we can make the pain stop. You can’t lose, because Satan will be victorious. I will be waiting for you to make the final choice.”
Dark Mechtild vanished and then reappeared in front of me, blocking my path to the door. She grabbed my arm and pulled me forward. She put her finger up to my mouth.
“Shhh,” she whispered. “I think we both know the answers already. We know what is best for humanity. Now say the word, and you can rest easy. No more pain, no more suffering.”
Suddenly, I felt a surge of energy and power flowing through my body. My heart started pounding, my muscles tensed, my hair stood on end, and the energy I’d experienced back then came rushing back. Dark Mechtild released my arm and I pushed her aside, knocking her to the ground.
Dark Mechtild rose to her feet and stared at me with intense hatred. Her eyes burned with rage and her hands shook violently. “You don’t belong here,” she shouted.
Dark Mechtild charged toward me, but it wasn’t the same as before. She was slower, and I could feel the air around us change. She stopped short of my body. Dark Mechtild’s eyes widened in confusion and her mouth dropped open. I could see her body trembling with fear. She looked like she’d just witnessed a miracle and couldn’t believe it had happened.
She fell to her knees and clutched her head. “Stop. Stop it.”
Dark Mechtild screamed in anger and agony. Then she lifted her body into the air, screaming like a madwoman. The walls began to shake, and she disappeared. I stood alone in the dark, unable to understand what had just happened. Dark Mechtild was gone.
It seemed unbelievable, but what had just happened? Why did I feel this surge of energy and power? Could Dark Mechtild be the devil? Was she Satan’s handpicked representative? I didn’t know what to think, but I knew that I couldn’t let it stand. I needed to find out more.
I put back on my gear and moved into the dark corridor. Then I turned on my built in night vision and headed toward the stairs, thinking that maybe I should go down. This was getting stranger by the minute.
As I reached the stairs, Dark Mechtild returned to the center of the dark hall. This time she had on black armor and I saw her holding a pistol in her right hand. The weapon shook as she pointed it at me. “How dare you reject me! You’ll pay!”
She fires the pistol but I quickly draw my katana and parry the shot.
“Die!” Dark Mechtild says as she continues to fire on me repeatedly.
I block the hits on my blade with little effort, my sword cutting through her bullets and sending them harmlessly flying across the dark hallway. Soon I cut through the pistol and send it clattering to the floor. I raise my sword high above my head. “Holy Sword of Retribution!” The sword radiates white light as I swing down.
Dark Mechtild quickly draws out a dark sword and yells “Dark Blade of Hell!” Her blade is enveloped by purple flames.
The two blades clash and I feel the force of the hit. We continue to struggle, neither one giving ground. Eventually I push her back. But instead of falling backwards, she raises a foot and kicks at me.
Her kick connects and I stumble backwards. She holds out her hand and a growing ball of fire appears in front of it. The fireball is launched at me and in response I hold out my hand and throw out a light miracle. I fall onto my back as the two miracles collide and explode.
Dark Mechtild leaps through the smoke from the explosion and swings her sword down at me. I raise up my sword and block the blow. She stands over me as she pushes on my sword. “You will not stand in my way! The Dark Lord wishes me to destroy you!”
She holds out her left arm, it flips open, and a chainsaw comes out. “And when you die I will be free! I will be stronger than anything else! I will be a goddess of evil!”
She thrusts the chainsaw down at me, but I slide my sword along her blade as I roll out of the way. The chainsaw cuts into the floor where I was. Backflipping back on to my feet I get in a fighting stance as she yanks her chainsaw arm from the floor. She rushes at me with inhuman speed swiping both her blade and chainsaw at the same time. Her blade cuts the edge of my hair as I quickly step out of the way and move behind her.
As I swing down my sword she suddenly bends backward blocking my blade with her chainsaw. With a demented grin on her face she says “Nice try.”
Sparks fly and my sword shakes until finally it is thrown back. I leap away to get some distance from her.
She grins as she says “Now we’re going to play a game. Come find me!”
A sphere of darkness starts forming underneath her. Suddenly a giant hole appears beneath her and she disappears down into it.
“Oh my, this game is much more fun than I thought it would be,” she replies from somewhere below. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
There was only one thing to do. I walked down the hallway to the stairs leading below. Descending down soon I hit the bottom of the staircase.
At the bottom there was another dark hallway. I stepped into the corridor and looked around.
Dark Mechtild was gone. “Where are you? This is not my house. Something strange is going on.” I say as I look around, trying to figure out where she went.
But the darkness was everywhere, no matter what direction I turned in. I was standing in nothingness. I looked up and saw the ceiling of an infinite black space with stars shining down on me. This wasn’t right. It was too creepy to even describe. There were no sounds, and no smells. It was just absolute, pitch black nothing.
Laughter is heard coming from the darkness. “You came down here after me, I knew you would.”
Out of the darkness steps Dark Mechtild saying “You can call me Oz. I’m the man behind the curtain. Or should I say, behind the darkness.”
Oz chuckles “And your first question is going to be what’s the big deal with the darkness? It’s nothing. It’s just a place where people have fun.”
“Fun? What kind of fun?”
A smile appeared on Oz’s face as he said “Have you ever seen the movie the Wizard of Oz, with Judy Garland and the Munchkins? Do you remember how in that movie the wizard hid his true face? That’s exactly how it is. I’m not going to show you my face, either. But that’s okay, because we’ll have lots of fun anyway. Now follow me.”
He started walking, and then vanished into the dark. Reluctantly I follow after him. I walk through an endless black forest at night. The trees all look like black crows circling above me.
“This is not what I expected,” I reply.
The air is filled with laughter.
“Do you know that old story about Dorothy and the Emerald City? It’s a story all about how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You should never judge your journey by your expectations.”
“Why are we here, exactly?”
“We’re in the dark, that’s all you need to know. I’m not going to tell you where we are, or what’s ahead of us, that would be boring. We’re on a journey to find a place where fun is found.”
“I’ve heard that before,” I say. “In the story, Dorothy follows the yellow brick road, right?”
Oz chuckles “Exactly!” He looks at me and smiles. “Now don’t worry, you won’t get lost. It is quite simple. All we have to do is follow the darkness.”
“So, then I guess this place is called… the dark?” I ask as I follow behind him again.
“That is what you call it,” says Oz. “But it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s where people come to have fun, so you can call it whatever you want.”
I continue to walk through the black forest after him until there is suddenly a flash of blue light in front of me. I am standing before a magnificent castle. There are huge doors that lead into a hallway with many stairs. On each side of the room are columns. The ceiling is high above me, and the walls seem to be made entirely of gold.
“Whoa,” I say aloud as I stare at the magnificent structure.
Oz turns around and smiles. “Welcome to Castle Fun,” he says with pride.
I look up and down the hall and there is nobody here. “Where is everybody?”
“It’s just you and me right now,” Oz replies with a wave of his hand. I turn back to him and he continues smiling.
“Why did you bring me here?” I ask.
“I brought you here to show you how things could be so much worse. We live in a time where darkness has taken over. Everything is dark and sad, and it always rains.”
“That’s crazy. I’m sure that’s not true.”
“Of course it is. Why don’t we go inside?”
As we walk further into the castle Oz comments “This isn’t even my home, you know. This is a fantasy world, but it’s also an escape for those who need a break from reality.”
“What’s wrong with reality?” I ask.
“There are people who suffer there,” he replies. “There are those who have lost family or love. There are those who have been abused, or who struggle with addiction. Many of these people have nowhere else to go. So here they come, seeking refuge in the darkness where they can hide from the pain. People come to this imaginary world to find hope, but I have to tell you that there is nothing hopeful about it, nothing beautiful or magical. I have created this place to allow people the freedom to be whoever they want to be without having to deal with the harsh realities of life. I’m sure you understand, it’s like therapy for those who have lost their way.”
“You mean you make people forget about their problems?”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “Forget about their problems? Are you kidding me?”
Oz turns and looks at me. He shakes his head slowly in disappointment and says “You’re too serious. Don’t you get it? I’ve created a place where everything is great. Everybody loves each other, everybody gets along. No one is depressed, no one is sick, and no one dies. Here, there are no real dangers, no hunger pains, no fears of dying alone. There is only the fun and pleasure that you get to experience for as long as you can handle it, and when you can’t handle it anymore, I’ll take care of you.”
I am speechless. “How do you figure that that’s OK?”
“Because you deserve some happiness,” he tells me.
“What about those they leave behind?”
“Well, I guess that’s their problem,” he answers.
He takes a step back from me and looks me in the eyes. “You think the world deserves to see a happier version of our world? You think that’s better for everyone? Well, I’ve got news for you, my friend. The world is full of suffering and misery and pain. It’s not going to change, no matter how happy everyone tries to be. People are going to lose loved ones, people are going to be abused, people are going to die alone, and the world is going to remain exactly the same, except for those who choose to escape it here.”
“This world is not a happy place, Oz. It’s not something that anyone would want to live in.”
“No,” he replies, “but for some people, it’s better than reality.”
We stop at a room with a large mirror in the center “Do you want to see what the world really looks like?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s nothing like the one you were born into. It’s much worse. There is violence and hatred, there is sickness and disease, starvation and death. That’s the world outside these walls. That’s what the world is really like. That’s what everyone else lives in.”
I turn towards the mirror and stare into it.
“But,” I say, “the world also has people who are kind and loving.”
“Not that many,” he tells me. “There are people who have never met anyone who doesn’t treat them like crap.”
He gestures towards the mirror and scenes appear in it. The first one I see is a boy, maybe ten or eleven years old, sitting on a bed. His face is swollen with tears, and he is rocking back and forth and shaking uncontrollably. Behind him I can see a woman who I can only describe as a monster. She stands there and screams at him with hatred in her eyes. The boy looks terrified, but he continues to rock back and forth, sobbing and begging for her to be nice. I watch in horror as she hits him in the face with a closed fist.
In the next scene, I see a young girl, no older than twelve or thirteen, standing on top of a building, screaming and crying to get someone’s attention. She is looking right at me. She’s pleading for help, for someone to come save her, and yet she knows it will never happen. This is how she sees the world. No one cares about her, and no one wants to help her.
The next scene shows a man, naked, in front of a crowd of people. His body is covered in blood from a massive wound, and he is bleeding profusely. He screams out, begging for mercy, but the crowd just laughs and jeers at him. They spit on him and call him names, and he continues to bleed and plead for mercy.
In the next scene, I see a young man, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, standing in a crowd of people, watching as a girl is dragged away by four men who beat her and abuse her until she is near death. They then leave her by the side of the road, and no one even stops to help her.
It goes on like this for a while, but finally, I start to understand. I begin to see that the world is filled with violence and hatred, and that most people just don’t care about others.
“Do you get that?” he says. “That’s not even the worst of it. That’s only the beginning. There are kids being raped and murdered in every corner of the earth. People are starving to death. They’re being held captive, tortured, and abused in every country in the world. Children are forced into prostitution to feed their families. The rich live in luxury while the poor starve and die of neglect and exposure. There are wars going on everywhere, killing thousands of people a day. Everyone hates everyone else and there is no hope. You get that? It’s terrible.”
I nod. I feel like crying. He nods, satisfied that I understand. Then he starts to explain.
“I know this is difficult to take in, but I assure you that the things you’re seeing are the truth. These are the horrible realities of our world. Every single minute of every single day, people are suffering in ways that you can’t imagine. People are dying for no reason and the world does nothing. There are hundreds of millions of people who are starving, homeless, and sick, and yet the world pays no attention to them. They can’t be saved, because their voices aren’t loud enough.”
I look up and stare into Oz’s eyes and say “Then I will speak for them. Somebody has to help them. I’ll change the world!”
Oz smiles and says “You can’t fix the world. You struggle and suffer in vain for people who don’t even care about you. The only way you could change things and free yourself from suffering, would be to destroy this world and create a new one. But you can’t do that. You’re still too innocent and you don’t have the power.”
“So why did you tell me this?” I ask. “Why show me these awful images and make me suffer? Why tell me about this world if it’s impossible to change it?”
Oz sighs, looking down for a moment and says “Because sometimes a dream must be shattered before a dream can truly be born. There can be no new beginning if there is no end to the old. This is the beginning of the end. I have shown you everything that this world has to offer, and this world will never change without a complete destruction. Without the death of billions, mankind could not evolve. And evolution must start somewhere. You must learn to stop hoping, and instead, you must learn to accept that there will always be injustice and suffering, and you must learn that power is the only thing that matters.”
I shake my head and say “You’re wrong. I refuse to believe that. I won’t accept it.” I’m angry now, but I try to remain calm. “How can I kill billions?”
Oz smiles and puts a hand on my shoulder, then looks me straight in the eye. He leans down and whispers so softly that I barely hear. “Be careful what you believe. Your mind has been corrupted by the lies your father told you. He gave you this false sense of optimism in order to keep you safe from his own selfishness. Do not believe it, my friend. The world is a place of darkness and pain, and there is no good. There is nothing beautiful and no hope.”
I push his hand away from me. “I don’t know what you’re trying to prove, but it’s not working.”
He laughs and stands up again. He looks down at me and says “I thought you might say something like that. It’s okay. I know you believe that there is good in this world, but you are wrong.”
I look at him and say “I am right. I’ve seen what you do. You use people for your own selfish needs, and you make them slaves. You are the devil!” I’m almost shouting now. “You’re a liar and a thief! You are the ultimate evil and everyone that believes in you is doomed!”
Oz raises an eyebrow and says “You still have faith in the goodness of people, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It is a testament to the strength of your spirit that you can see through the darkness. If you can see the light even after seeing the dark, then I suppose that the possibility that a world like yours could come about is possible. But that is just a dream.”
“It is possible through Jesus who fills the world with goodness. Through Him, there can be hope for a better world, where the power of love and generosity is stronger than the temptation of power and greed. That is the message of the Bible.”
Oz turns around and walks away. Behind him, the flames of a thousand candles flicker, and the darkness that surrounds us gives way to a soft yellow glow, like the sun coming in from behind a bank of clouds.
He turns around and says “It is time for you to wake up, my friend. I’ll be waiting here if you ever change your mind.” And then he snaps his fingers.
I open my eyes, but everything is blurry. For a moment, I think the world is moving around me and that I’m still dreaming, but then I realize that I’m awake. I rub my eyes and notice that I’m standing in front of my mirror.
“What happened? Was that a dream?” I ask myself.
I close my eyes and try to remember everything that just happened. Then I open my eyes again and stare at my reflection.
“I am awake.” I say out loud.
But my mind is still fuzzy. I don’t really know what to do, so I pick up my copy of the Bible and start reading. I read from Matthew, chapter 6. I’ve read it dozens of times before, and this is the part where Jesus tells the disciples how to pray and not to worry about their needs. After a while, I read the whole chapter, and as I finish, something happens. The fog clears from my mind. I feel like I’m in control of my thoughts again.
“I believe I can do this,” I say, smiling to myself. “I’ll follow God’s guidance. I believe that God is real and that He’s on my side. And I want to believe that there is good in this world. I’ll show the world a better way. I won’t be afraid anymore.”
And with that, I get down on my knees and begin to pray. I thank God for the gift of sight, for my family, for my friends, for the strength to fight off the darkness, for my future, and for the chance to be in this world a while longer.
And with that, I rise from my knees and put on my gear. There are demons to fight and people that need help. I don’t have time to worry about myself. I only have time to help others.
“God will guide me and protect me. I’m going to do my best to become a better person.”
With that, I walk out my front door into the light of day.
(images by Dall-E at OpenAI)
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