Philip’s fist impacted Henry’s diaphragm with such veracity that it lifted his feet off the ground and the chair he was tied to threaten to fall to the floor. At first, Henry struggled for his breath, but then he decided to let the darkness overtake his vision. His mind recalled a time he and Philip had been best friends.
The sun beat down on their lanky teenage bodies as they dragged their boogie boards across the sand to their waiting beach towels. Lewis stood there with his arms crossed waiting on the pair. His angry look told Henry there would be trouble. Lewis was a six-foot bully he and Philip had managed to avoid most of their childhood, but today Lewis had decided it was time to cross paths.
“Hey, Lewis, what’s up?” asked Henry.
Without a word, Lewis kicked sand over the boys’ towels. Philip bent over to pick his towel up and Lewis shoved him head first into the ground. Before he could stop himself, Henry had Lewis in a headlock. He quickly twisted his body and Lewis lost his balance and fell into the sand with Henry on top. Henry squeeze and Lewis gasped, his arms flailed against the sand.
A group of teens seemed to appear out of nowhere to gawk at the drama. Henry regained his senses and let go of Lewis’ neck. “I’m sorry, are you okay?” asked Henry.
Lewis gasped, coughed, and tried to regain his breath. “I was just kidding with you, man.”
Philip’s shadow cast across the two boys as he stood behind Henry. “No, you weren’t. You knocked me down on purpose. We weren’t doing anything, just enjoying some waves. Why can’t you leave people alone?”
Henry stood and offered Lewis his hand, “I’m sorry,” Henry said again.
Lewis slapped away his hand. “Whatever, man. Just stay away from me.”
A chorus of whispers from the crowd passed across the Pacific breeze as Lewis went skulking off.
A wave seemed to appear out of nowhere and envelope the group. Henry coughed and sputtered. The California sun disappeared and the dark, dank interrogation room in the midst of the reeducation camp came rushing back around him. The familiar smell of mold, urine, and decay filled Henry’s nostrils. The acrid smell of an old cigar wafted across the air and Henry could make out Lewis’ shadow in the dark corner.
“You can’t escape me that easily,” said Lewis.
Henry coughed and attempted to pull his arms up, but they were tied tightly to the legs of the chair. He doubled over and spit out as much acrid liquid as he could. A deep breath of foul air filled his lungs and he sat back upright. He looked over to Philip who glared at him and then flung the empty metal bucket used as a chamber pot to the ground.
“What happened to you?” asked Henry. “We used to be best friends.”
The sting of Philips open palm across Henry’s cheek lit the room in a momentary flash of white light. “Shut up, hater. You fooled me for so many years. Claiming to love and forgive. Do you remember that day you beat up Lewis, and for what? He was only joking with us. I bought into your lies, your religion. I believed all your garbage, but it’s all a lie. You marginalize anyone you disagree with. Well, now it’s your turn buddy. I’ll beat you until you admit you were wrong.”
A wave of darkness weighed heavily on Henry’s heart, and he shook his head. “When, when did I ever do any of those things?”
Henry’s scalp lit up with a hundred stings as Philip grabbed Henry’s hair and yanked his head back. The violent connection of Philip’s fist split Henry’s lip, and he felt it fall away from the front of his tooth. A shiver went through Henry’s body as he felt a portion of his lip laying against his chin.
“Liar,” screamed Philip. “If one is guilty, all are guilty. You will pay for your sins.”
Tears began to stream down Henry’s face and he sputtered past his torn lip, “Philip, I still love you, Jesus still loves you. I won’t ever change my mind, but you can give up your hate.”
A familiar cackle came from the dark corner where Lewis stood. “Haven’t you heard, Henry? We hate, hate, and that’s the best kind of hatred. We’re in the right here, give it up tough guy.”
A sharp pain lit up the top of Henry’s head, the room turned white, and then went black.
A strong hand rocked Henry’s shoulder back and forth. Henry wanted to keep his eyes shut. He said a quick prayer for his nightmare would be over.
A stranger’s voice whispered in his ear, “Henry Glendale, you need to wake up.”
Henry slowly rolled on to his back and opened his eyes. The pain that had filled his body for the past week seemed to be gone. His dark, wet cell glowed in a faint white light. Standing above Henry was an intimidating brown-skinned man. His black eyes twinkled, and his hair flowed to his broad shoulders. His biceps and chest appeared to challenge the silky looking black muscle shirt he wore. The stranger’s black slacks stretched around his muscular thighs until the pant’s seams looked as though they might give way. Henry was sure that his death would be long and painful.
“Get up,” said the stranger quietly, “it’s time to leave.”
“Who are you?” Henry whispered.
“I’m Pedro, get up, we must leave now.” Pedro’s voice sounded urgent.
Henry flopped his arm over his eyes, “Just kill me here. I can’t take another verbal and physical beating. Just be done with it.”
Pedro kicked Henry’s legs. Instead of pain, Henry felt nothing more than a nudge. He reached down and then looked. His jeans were no longer covered in blood or torn. The bruises on his arms had disappeared. Henry’s fingertips gently touched his lip, only to find it whole.
Henry looked at Pedro confused, “I don’t understand. What’s going on? Leave where?”
Pedro put his hand down, and Henry grabbed hold of it. Pedro lifted Henry’s body into the air and he gently landed on his feet. Pedro answered, “We’re leaving the prison, now.”
Henry shook his head, “Are you crazy? What sort of trickery are you trying to pull? Is Philip setting me up to shoot me for escaping? We’ll never get out of here.”
Pedro let a muffled chuckle escape his lips, and then put a strong hand on Henry’s shoulder, “Trust me, my friend. I have some experience with walking out of prisons.”
Henry thought for a moment. Shot or beaten, his nightmare would soon be over. To his surprise, every door they approached inside the prison block stood opened, and he and Pedro passed several guards who seemed not to notice them. As they approached the main gate it opened of its own accord. Henry was sure the end was upon him and he waited for the crack of a rifle shot.
He and Pedro passed through the gate. A middle eastern man stepped out of the shadows of the camp’s guard tower. He was no taller than Henry’s five-foot-nine-inch frame. His beard passed just below his neck and his dark hair fell in waves past his shoulders. His black eyes seemed to flicker with flames and his leathered brown skin bathed the trio in bright light.
The stranger’s expression quickly became a broad smile, and before Henry could say a word the man wrapped his arms around Henry. Love, peace, and joy all flowed into his very soul. Henry whispered, “Is it really, you? Are you, Yeshua?”
Yeshua released Henry, “Well done, faithful servant. You have held on to your faith.”
“I’m really, free?” stammered Henry.
“You are freer than you can possibly imagine, but you will understand soon enough. Just give yourself time.” Then Yeshua laughed and was joined by Pedro.
“I don’t understand,” Henry admitted.
Pedro answered, “Time. There is no more time where we are standing. Today is tomorrow, yesterday, and this moment. You are free of time.”
A whistle blew behind them, and sirens blared. Spotlights began to sweep the compound and guards rushed towards the worn brick building he just left. Yeshua spoke, “I believe they are finding what’s left of the old you.”
Henry was embarrassed to ask, but his curiosity was getting the better of him, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but why did I have to suffer like that? I was on my knees every night in my jail cell. I cried out with my heart to you for years before the world became so angry and dark. Why did I need to suffer?”
Yeshua nodded, “It’s a fair question, and you deserve an answer. Watch my son, and listen.”
Two guards dragged out Henry’s old, broken body and dropped it unceremoniously in the dust. Lewis walked over and kicked the husk of broken and bloodied flesh. “I hate you. Your death doesn’t change a thing between us. I will always hate you.” Lewis looked over to Philip, “Take this trash to the crematorium.”
Philip nodded and Lewis stomped away. Philip began to whisper, but Henry could hear every word. “I’m sorry, I am so sorry. I was wrong. Oh God, can I ever been forgiven?” Philip picked up Henry’s limp body in a fireman’s carry and trudged towards the decaying bodies piled up by the crematorium.
Henry turned to the two men. “What happened to Philip?” He jumped at the tap on his shoulder. Henry turned and found Philip standing behind him.
“Not my best moments,” said Philip.
Henry looked back at the camp, and then to Philip, “I don’t understand.”
Yeshua laughed, “Remember what Peter said. You are no longer bound by time. Philip gave his life to me and later died by Lewis’ hand. Lewis went into a fit of rage at the conversion of his most trusted man and wanted to make sure he made an example of him.”
Philip smiled and then put his arm around Henry, “What do you say, bro? Should we go catch some righteous waves for old times sake?”
Henry looked at Yeshua, “Are there beaches in heaven?”
Yeshua laughed, “Epic waves. Come and see what my unmolested creation looks like.”