By Alex Busse
The air outside is hot and humid. The sun is a blinding white blot, reminiscent of a blot one may see by standing too quickly. The boy lives in a town in northeast Indiana outside of Fort Wayne. His house is on a short street with a cul-de-sac. This street, like all other streets in the housing addition, is lined with identical looking two story houses. He knows the names of each person that lived on his road, and he thinks its odd that two preachers live along the same street—heavenly-minded folk dwelling near his father. Each house is on a flat plot of land about an acre large. All the yards are well kept, and the boy knows them. All the grass is cut short, and the mulch beds are neatly organized with strategically planted flowers and neatly trimmed bushes. There is no trash on the streets, but there is the occasional Frisbee or basketball on the curb. The air smells moist, making it obvious that it had rained the previous day. The humidity is like a warm, encapsulating blanket—inescapable. The town is quiet and still. Most of the residents are working. The boy isn’t; school is out and he needs no job.
Pulling out of his suburban housing addition, the boy doesn’t have much going through his head other than thoughts that drift in and out about his own boredom. He is sweating, as he didn’t give his car enough time to properly cool. It would help to roll down the windows, but this is something that he isn’t fond of—the breeze is chaotic to him. After taking a right out of the addition and then speedily turning the corner, his car is on State Road 1. The gas station is down the road and to the left. Each of these roads leading to the gas station are rich with history, but not the kind of history one would find in a text book. This history is exclusive to the boy, contained in his memory. He wonders whether or not this history should be known, for he is the only one with access to it. While pulling into the BP, he quickly scans the pumps. There is one open directly in the middle of the lot. He pulls up to the left of it and puts his car in park. Still in the car he pops his gas lid, pushes open the door, and then steps out. He reaches back into the car to grab his phone and slides it into his front pocket. He glances around to see if there is anyone present that he knows, but doesn’t find anybody.
Still sweating, he goes inside to buy a slushy in order to slake his thirst. On his way inside the store, he notices a man staring at him from another pump. This man is staring intently, unashamed. The man is of average height and his belly is protruding slightly. His hair, long and grey, stops right above his shoulders, and the top of his head is balding. He is wearing an old polo with blue jeans. Both the man’s shirt and pants appear to be worn. The shirt looks as if it had been white at some time, but now it is a very light greyish brown. Even though the man is about twenty feet away, it is obvious that he is sweating, his forehead glistening. The man is also wearing glasses that were tinted brown; his eyes are still perfectly visible. Slightly taken off guard by the stranger’s intense stare, the boy proceeds to walk inside to buy his slushy.
After his purchase, he walks back to his car feeling cooled off. The air conditioning in the gas station is refreshing and so is his icy beverage. He takes his wallet out of his back pocket and pushes out his debit card. He swipes his card in the pump and quickly puts it back into his pocket. There is nobody around him, yet he covers the dial pad whiling typing his pin. Once the gas starts flowing into to his tank he leans against his car and surveys the lot. Oddly enough, the stranger from earlier is staring at him once more, though he is now approaching. The boy smiles as the man approaches, trying to look friendly. The man stood four feet from the boy, scratched his head nervously, and stared at the ground.
“Hey there,” exclaims the man in singsong tone. His voice is deep, sounding similar to Johnny Cash, the man in black. “Now… this is really embarrassing, but could you help me out? You see, I’m out of gas and have no money. I only need about five dollars worth. I’m on my way to this little old town called Columbia City that isn’t too far from here.”
“Yeah, I can help you,” the boy replies. He knows that five dollars will not get somebody to Columbia City on an empty tank.
They walk over to the stranger’s car. It is an old Chevy Malibu, probably from the late nineties. It is dented and speckled with rust spots. The boy notices that the back seat is full of clothes and boxes. There is a duffle bag in the backseat as well. On top of a large box of clothes there is a black book with gold lettering on the front that reads The Holy Bible.
“Gosh… you know… I really do appreciate this,” the stranger says. The boy slides his card and covers the keypad with his hand again while typing his pin. The stranger looks away. “Oh well that’s your private business. I got no right looking at it.” He steps away, hands in his pockets, looking at the ground.
The boy starts pumping gas into the old, silver car. It is then that he catches a whiff of the man. He reeks of body odor. The boy steps closer to the gas nozzle, hoping that the smell of gasoline would become strong enough so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the stranger’s pungent stench.
“So ya in school?” the man asks.
“Well I just graduated high school and I’m going to be going to college next month,” says the boy coolly.
“What school are ya going to?”
“Bethel College. It’s near South Bend.”
“Oh, wonderful!” declares the man. “That’s one of them Christian schools, isn’t it?”
“Yeah it is. It’s affiliated with the Missionary Church.” The boy starts to smile. He is feeling more at ease around this stranger, more confident. He likes where this conversation is going and revels in the opportunity to discuss the future, the unknown. It is something that he has planned out well.
The man continues asking questions. “So then, what’re ya planning on studying in school?”
“I’m plan to major in Biblical Studies,” the boy excitedly tells the stranger. He has the intuition that this man is unique. The boy starts to think that this moment might be something he’ll never forget. Perhaps this man truly is a messenger of God, a vagabond roaming about the land and depending on faith alone, the boy muses. The price gage says that fifteen dollars of gas have been pumped so boy releases the handle on the nozzle and puts it back.
“Oh wow! That’s great! I just knew you were a good Christian man,” the stranger states in a singsong manner. “Say, have you ever heard of the Church of True Israel?”
“No, I haven’t. Is that the church you are a part of?”
“Yes it is!” The stranger smiled. “Here let me write down a couple of my favorite articles by some of my favorite scholars. I’ll have to tell you, though, you must keep an open mind.” In a serious manner, the man gazes once more into the boy’s eyes and says, “now you really gotta keep an open mind about all this. If you heard a pastor preach about these topics on Sundays, they’d get fired right away. The congregation would cast stones at him.”
“Of course. I completely understand.” The boy thinks about some of the positions that C.S. Lewis holds that wouldn’t resonate very well with the conservative evangelical church. “Its sad that pastors can’t be honest at times without being judged by people that don’t know any better,” the boy replies.
The stranger reaches into his car and pulls out a dirty sticky note. Still sweating, he starts to write down the website for his church, article names, and names of some of his favorite authors. “Here you go. Now, just remember, you have to keep an open mind.” His breath is awful. It is clear that he hasn’t brushed his teeth in days.
The boy takes the note, looks down at it and smiles. He doesn’t care that the note is dirty; he feels joy. Today he knows that he has met a messenger from God. “Thank you. I’m very excited to go home and read this. Well, I’ve better head out. I wish you safe travels!”
“Oh well, no… I mean, thank you. Ya know, ya didn’t have to fill up the tank this much, but I surely appreciate it. I have some important things to do,” he says cheerily.
They shake hands and depart from each other. The strange old man gets in his beat up Malibu and drives off. Before the stranger’s car fully exits the gas station, the boy waves, but the man’s eyes don’t acknowledge this. The boy gets in his car. He is bewildered, yet eager—anticipating what is to come on this post it note.
The boy drives hurriedly. This is the most exciting thing that has happened to him in a long time. After each time he breaks, he quickly accelerates and makes his turns sharp. As he turns onto his street, he pushes his garage door opener above him and rushes indoors. The boy prays, these articles could be something of great importance to my life. Thank you, God.
Once inside his house, he darts upstairs to find his laptop. He grabs it and runs back downstairs, cracks it open, and starts searching the internet for the Church of True Israel. He clicks on the first link, the church’s official page. The boy is taken off guard by the website’s quality. It looks like a word document with various links. The background of the page is the tannish color of parchment, and the writing is in black font. At the top the fonts are red and blue. It looks like one of those pop up scams. Perhaps the website is intended to be like this. Maybe only a select number of people read the articles from this site. Even while trying to use these thoughts to reassure himself, the boy feels nervous. He opens up the first article titled “Verboten.” The link opens to a table of contents. As soon as he reads some of the chapter titles his stomach turns. His eyes are drawn to a chapter titled, The Bible Tells What a Negro Is. He clicks on it. The sweat on his back from before turns cold and shoulders sag. He takes a deep breath as he scrolls down the article. The chapter is full of Bible verses and at the bottom there is a description that articulates hatred for black and Jewish people. It talks about how black people are the kings of beasts.
The boy clicks off the page. Aghast, yet fascinated by the perverse, he clicks on the other article the stranger had told him to read. This new article repulses the boy more than the previous one. It is about the origin of black people. According to this article, Eve’s original sin wasn’t eating the fruit on the tree (that was ostensibly a lie from the Jews). Her original sin was having sex with the devil, who then impregnated her. This devil spawn turned out to be Cain, the first black man. The white people are the true Israelites—more specifically, the white, Christian, Americans.
The boy stares blankly at his computer. Words from the stranger come to mind. You’ll have to keep an open mind about all this… some preachers would get fired for talking about these things… they’d get fired right away. He remembers his stench. His thoughts trail off. Where the hell is he going with the gas I bought him. What a freak. Lunatic. The boy wonders what he’d do if he ever sees that man again—that stranger, white supremacist. According to the church’s definition, the boy is a member. He is white, American, and a Christian; though, in the moment, he is disgusted by the latter. How could somebody truly base his or her life off of one shitty interpretation of the Bible? That man is wrong, and I know I am right.
His mind goes blank for a little while. He can muster no thoughts. Finally, after a while of staring at his computer screen, the boy starts to think of times when he was wrong. At first he thinks of the various lies his parents told him about the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. He believed them. This leads him to think of other things such as when his parents told him that if he makes too many funny faces, eventually his face would become stuck in one of those positions forever—mouth stretched wide with his tongue out. And then, he thinks about the more serious times he had been wrong, like when he was wrong about God—when he didn’t believe in God. I believe in God now, though. I am a part of a body of people who have found the right answer… well we don’t agree with everything, but at least we agree on the important things. We are Christians, but so was that stranger. No, he just said he was, but he’s completely wrong. We don’t believe in the same God, nor should we be associated with one another.
The boy isn’t acquainted with Nietzsche, but if he were, he would be reminded of him. The struggle of humankind—slaves to culture and prerational past. The stranger’s prerational past is unknown and so is his future. Fifteen dollars of gas can’t take the stranger far, but it can take him far enough. As for the boy, he doesn’t know his trap. He doesn’t know, and it’s difficult to postulate what that trap may be. Perhaps, he is imprisoned by suburban conceptions—blindness to pain and evil. If he’s blind to certain kinds of evil, he can only wonder how many things he’s ignored. Is ignorance a sin? If so, repentance is necessary. But, what if one cannot purge his or herself completely of ignorance? Should one repent, then? These questions the boy won’t have for a while. Rapt in ignorance, the boy feels as if he knows nothing, except for one thing, and it is that he doesn’t want to forget this story.