Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Victim of Problems Part II

When we last saw the story, our small town pastor was hosting a revival in his small church. One young man was weighing the issues of Christ, while being bombarded by the deacons. We pick up our story with that encounter, back to the conversation between Allan and those deacons….

“I can’t believe it; you are telling me that if I give my heart to Jesus, then I will be given whatever car I want?” Allan was eager to hear their response.

By this point, the deacons were so involved with Allen that they had lost all perspective. They were willingly agreeing with Allen and making a show of meeting all of his physical demands.

Allen had heard enough. He was ready to proceed. “I want to pray that magical prayer that will fix all of my problems.” The deacons were leaning forward with anticipation. “But first, would you do something for me?”

“Anything you want.” Jerry was excited. Now he would be the only true winner at the revival. What must Pastor Kurt think? His fire and brimstone messages were washed up now.

“Well, I hesitate to ask, you have all been so nice…” Allen led them on.

“Go ahead, ask and it shall be given unto you.” Sour Face, inspired by the moment, felt the need to quote scripture.

“Well, since you insist…”

“Oh we do. Ask away.” Jerry was back in charge.

“Sure. Could we make a list of all the things we talked about? I mean, all the things that you said that God could fix?”

“Why do that? It’s not necessary. All you have to do is pray this prayer...”

“Oh, I know, but I want a list to take home to my wife. Maybe she will pray this prayer also, once she sees what God can do for her.”

Suddenly, Allen’s idea was novel. Jerry could have two in one night! Not only two, but an entire family would come to Christ, and it would be to his credit. “Whatever you want, Allen, this is your night. Sam, bring me a sheet of paper.” Sam started digging through his notebook and found a sheet to hand to Jerry. “Now, what do you want it to say?”

“Okay, start at the top and write these words:
We, the undersigned deacons of First Church, Justice, Texas, do hereby affirm by our sworn testimony, as evidenced by our signatures below, that if Allen Gibson will ask Jesus into his heart on this night, that God will fix all of his problems to include, but not limited to the following:
1. Never fight with his wife again.
2. Get a promotion at work
3. Get a job
4. Get a new car
5. Get a new home
6. To always be happy
7. To have children
8. To never have a flat tire again
9. Never have money problems
“Now leave plenty of room at the bottom for you to sign. Now, I want all of your signatures on it, cause I think that will mean a lot to my wife.”

Jerry frowned for a moment and appeared to hesitate. The deacons were growing uncomfortable with the prospect of signing a contract for salvation. Allen noticed their nervousness.

“If you don’t want to sign, I can just forget the whole thing and go home, back to my old life.” He looked rejected.

“Oh, no, don’t do that!” Suddenly, the deacons were back in the game. They passed around the sheet and each of them signed their names at the bottom. Once the procedure was complete, Allen asked them if they wanted a copy, but each shook his head.

“Okay, now what?” Allen asked as he folded the paper and put it in his jacket lining.

“Now, all you have to do is pray this little prayer with me sincerely, and from the bottom of your heart. ‘Dear Jesus, I ask You to come into my heart. I have a lot of problems and I need You to fix them. I can’t do it, but You can. So, come into my heart and forgive my sins. In Jesus name, amen.’”

As soon as Allen said amen, the deal was consummated and the deacons could go to the cafĂ© and drink coffee. They each shook Allen’s hand and affirmed that he made the most important decision in his life. Jerry stood back until they departed.

“Well, Allen, how do you feel?”

“Oh, I feel fine, Jerry, just fine. In fact, there is one more thing that I wanted to ask, if it’s not too late…”

“Ask away.” Jerry smiled. He had his victory, but now his adrenaline was declining and he was experiencing a sinking spell.

“Would you write down that little prayer I prayed? See, there is room between the list and the signatures.” When Jerry seemed to consider his request, Allen added, “It would give me a prayer to show my wife. Then she could pray it also.”

That made sense to Jerry and he wrote verbatim the prayer that Allen prayed. “There you go, Allen. I sure am proud of you. Just remember, you are now a child of God. Nothing can ever change that. You are guaranteed a place in Heaven. Now don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t saved, ‘cause you are.” He held out his hand to Allen. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Allen. I hope to see you on Sunday.”

“Why?”

Jerry was surprised by the question. “Well, you are a Christian now, and Christians go to church on Sundays.”

“Oh, I don’t need to. I have all that I need right here.” He tapped the contract in his pocket.

“What do you mean?”

“I have my contract with the deacons and with God. Now I am going to go home and enjoy my problem free life.” He turned to walk away.

“Uh…what a minute…That’s not exactly how it works.”

“Oh?” Allen walked back to Jerry. “And just how does it work?”

“Uhm, well…”

“Yes?” Allen was taunting him.

“It’s just that…”

“Is something wrong, Jerry? You didn’t lie to me, did you?” Allen seemed deliberately confrontational.

What could Jerry say? He had promised that God would fix Allen’s problems, how did he know that God wouldn’t? “No, I didn’t lie. Everything is fine.”

Allen turned and walked out of the church and left Jerry standing dumbfounded in the middle of the isle.

And so ended the 73rd revival at First Church. Pastor Kurt saw that Jerry was stunned and approached him, but Jerry was in no mood to talk and he walked out, never having told his Pastor that a soul was saved that Friday night.

To be continued....

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Victim of Problems Part I

This story starts off a little preachy, but I think you will understand why later in the tale. This will be a multiple post story, otherwise it would take up too much of my blog to do one huge entry. The story presents a reoccurring character, whom I've grown to appreciate over the years. You'll meet him a little later in the story. As always, I covet your responses to me, and I'm anxious to hear your thoughts. I attack a very popular idea in the church today, and I am reasonably aggressive with my attack, so I'm looking forward to the healthy debate which should follow in the next few days. I now present to you,


The Victim of Problems

A young, shrewd, and enterprising man was sitting in the back of the church on the last day of the week long revival. He sat in the same spot throughout the week, but always managed to leave before any of the pastoral team or counselors could reach him. He listened intently to each sermon and once was seen taking notes. He became a point of curiosity with the church.

After all, Justice, Texas was a small town. In a small town there is no anonymity. Somebody either knows who you are or knows something about you. This was not the case with the young man in the church pew. And now he sat in the back of the church, and he was visibly shaken. He was in discomfort, but seemed to lack the will power to leave; the weight of his seat was holding him in place.

First Church executed their annual revival during the last week of June, just as they had done for almost seventy-three years. Rain or shine, the revival was a fact of life and the entire congregation readily accepted the responsibility they had cast upon themselves. As with any good traditional church, their main focus was saving the lost. The local charismatics had often made fun of them for continually hammering out a “dry campaign,” which was a good-spirited spite against their revival titled, “Thirsty in a Dry Land.” The pastor knew that the charismatics were watching him, almost openly, in fact, but he never let it bother him. For he never saw that particular church hold any revival or launch any efforts to save the lost, which, in his interpretation of Christianity, was the purpose of salvation—to propagate souls for Christ. They claimed to have the fullness of the spirit, but only sat in their comfortable chairs and soaked in the rays of sonshine like a nudist at a beach. As long as First Church had a burden for the lost and actually attempted to reach them, he felt that he was doing God’s will.

This had been a particularly dry campaign. He had preached his heart out for the last few years, but had little to show for it in terms of the lost coming to Jesus. There were the local neighborhood kids who would always walk the isle to make a decision, but he had pulled no adults out of their seats in the last three years. His wife often defended him by saying it wasn’t all his fault, for the church members had failed to bring in a bunch of sinners for him to lambaste. But the issue of the members failing to bring in sinners was always a point of contention with him, for he felt that they should go to the sinners, rather than bring the sinners to them. In his mind, it seemed as though he was a fisherman that was standing in the river and fishing on the bank. He loved to get out into the streets and witness one on one, but that was ineffective in Justice, which is, again, a small town. Small towns highly frown upon people knocking on their doors or stopping them on the street. So, beyond his efforts to sit at the Truck Stop and buy coffee for wayward travelers, his revival was the only means of reaching out to the people of Justice without slamming beams of iron on their toes.

He had never been afraid of preaching the truth. He loved and embraced the testimony of the Bible. His usual sermons on Hell and damnation were effective. He had a turn or burn message that sent chills down the collars of the weak and old. His sulfurous and direct messages often sent sinners to the isle desperate for relief from the wrath of God. They wanted no part of a holy God that was offended by their lifestyle and was reserving judgment upon them. To these broken sinners, the grace of Christ was a glass of cool water in a parched land. They readily accepted the sacrifice of Christ when they realized the death penalty was being reserved for them. To know that a substitute willingly took their place—what a relief! The pastor also had a high success rate with his converts. Seldom did they have to extend a large effort to follow-up ministry. The sinners that converted under his preaching were most willing to become disciples. They knew what they were saved from and would not willingly return to that lifestyle.

He had watched the young man in the back of the church as he squirmed each night. In fact, the man seemed to be angry with Pastor Kurt. A preacher that sends the message of the wrath of God often incurred anger from those around him, as the message is not popular. In fact, he had many arguments with his deacons over the messages he preached. They pointed to the other denominations in town, where they seldom, if ever, preached hellfire and brimstone messages. Rather, they favored the message of,
“God has a wonderful plan for your life. If there is anything wrong in your life, simply come to Christ and He will fix all your problems and your life will be a bed of roses. Just allow Jesus to fill-in that God shaped vacuum in your heart and all will be well with you.”
He went around and round with his deacon board over his “repent or perish” message. They claimed that he was too intolerant and too insensitive. People today wanted to hear happy and positive messages, not about how bad they were. “In fact,” the deacons argued, “if you keep preaching about abortion, adultery, and homosexuality, then we are going to be sued some day.” Pastor Kurt refused to compromise his message.

During the week of the revival, the young man had jumped up and ran out just as he had been finishing his altar calls. The man seemed to wait until the very last minute, and then bolt for the door just ahead of the counselors and ministry team. Pastor Kurt would only watch and grin. He had preached for years and knew that the Holy Spirit was speaking loud and clear to the man’s heart. He was under conviction, but was fighting it. He was uncomfortable in the meetings, but seemed compelled to return. Pastor Kurt was not too concerned over the man bolting from the church just ahead of the altar calls. To him, altar calls were not necessary. Many people got saved without walking to the altar. If the Lord sent a sinner down the front of the church to pray the sinner’s prayer, then the sinner was ready to repent of his lifestyle of sin. If the Lord didn’t send him, then the sinner wasn’t quite ready and there was no need for force something that God was quite capable of handling Himself. The pastor was hesitant to force a decision upon a sinner, because he wanted the decision to be a genuine conversion. In his experience, whenever he talked a man into repeating the sinner’s prayer, in hopes that it would stick, he only converted miserable sinners. They never fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and were constantly backsliding into sin and draining his church of valuable time and resources.

Today was the last day of the revival and, to his surprise, the young man was still sitting in his pew. As no one was walking the isle to the front of the church, he ended the service and walked to the back of the church to greet the members and visitors as they exited the building. He noticed that several of the deacons had surrounded the young man and were shaking their heads at him. As the church emptied out, Pastor Kurt returned to the auditorium and saw that the young man was still sitting and listening as the deacons sandblasted him continually. One of the deacons was waving to Pastor Kurt, eager for him to join the gang and was pointing at the young man.

The pastor was not the type of man who insisted upon having his finger in every pot. The deacons were more than capable of approaching this young man without his help. As he walked within hearing distance, he witnessed the following exchange…

“Son, what is your name?”

“Allen.”

“Allen, I’m Jerry, the Head Deacon here at First Church. We are glad you came.”

“Thank you. I’m new to town.”

“What brought you to First Church?”

“Well,” he hesitated as he glanced around at the deacons who had him surrounded. “Well, I, uh…”

“It’s okay, we won’t bite.” All the deacons laughed.

“Sure.” He shrugged his shoulders and forced a smile. “You see, my wife and I had a fight and I was out driving around. I saw the lights on and all the cars in the parking lot. I was hoping that this would be a party.”

“Well, it is a party.” Said a sour faced man, trying to force enthusiasm. “We’re here to celebrate Jesus.”

Allen shifted in his seat and awkwardly tried to appreciate what Sour Face said. “Oh, that’s great.”

Jerry, being the Head Deacon, felt it was his obligation to cut to the chase. “Allen, have you ever asked Jesus to come into your heart?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Allen seemed to perk up and pay attention.

“Well, do you want to?”

“Want to what?”

“Ask Jesus into your heart,” replied Sour Face.

“Gee, will He fit?”

Allen’s question managed to generate a series of replies ranging from “absolutely” to “no, not physically.” Finally, they settled on Jerry’s reply, “Son, there is nothing that is too big for Jesus to do.” Then he became very sincere. “Jesus will come into your heart right now, if you want.”

“But why would I want that?”

Almost all of the air was sucked out of the auditorium as the deacons gasped at such a question. Sour Face was the first to respond. “Well, you had a fight with your wife, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” Once again, Allen was focused on the conversation.

“Well, God can fix your marriage so that you won’t have any problems.”

“Really? He can do that?”

“Of course! That’s what He does. He fixes our problems.”

“What kind of problem?”

“All problems.” Almost all the deacons spoke in unison.

“Really? I could have all my problems fixed tonight?”

“Every last one of them.” Jerry was reeling in his fish. He would love to be the only person to convert a soul at the revival.

“What about my money problems? I have trouble paying my bills.”

“You bet. God loves fixing money problems.”

“What about my job? Will God give me a promotion at work?”

“Absolutely, but first, you have to pray this little prayer….”

“Are you sure that this will work?”

“I am so convinced that I did it myself, 42 years ago.”

“And it worked? God fixed all your problems?”

“Ever’ last one of them.” Even though they let Jerry take the lead, the deacons were all nodding in unison.

“You never fight with your wife?”

“Oh, not really.” Jerry seemed to hesitate before he answered.

“Wow that’s great!”

“That’s why they call it the Good News, because it is good news.”

Pastor Kurt was squirming in his seat. He desperately wanted to jump in at this point. The Good News had nothing to do with fighting with one’s wife. It was about the Savior taking the place of the sinner on the cross and receiving the wrath of God. However, the deacons were so eager to serve and they had to learn somewhere, so he resigned from the scene and walked over to chat with his Sunday school director.

To Be Continued....

It's Time for a Change

Hello everyone! I decided it's time to create a new look for my blog. Since about all I do is post short stories, I thought you might enjoy a "theater" like environment. I'll post a new story and see if you like it any better.

Besides, who doesn't like black? If it's good enough for Johnny Cash, it's good enough for me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Magnum Opus--An Explanation

Thanks to all for you unique thoughts and insights into Magnum Opus. I certainly appreciate your participation. I debated with myself for several months as to whether or not to post this story. First, I wasn't certain it made sense to anyone but me. Of course, I had the inside track on what I was trying to say. Second, I didn't think it would appeal to my readers. Yet, we were still observing Veteran's Day, so I decided to toss it out there for your scrutiny. Here is my explanation. You can tell me if it carried the message I intended.

First, magnum opus is a masterpiece.

The story is about how a nail might view a hammer. However, once I started writing it, I could see so many parallels with the real world that I decided to wrap it around some historical references. Of course, 1776 could represent the US, but it's bigger than that. It could be more about what the US represents, not the fact of it. But I don’t want to lock in that one view. In total, the story is about being a small cog in the master plan. All too often, we are so close to the forest that we can't see the trees. The nail will never appreciate the hammer, nor will it ever understand that it's playing a critical roll in the larger picture. To it, the hammer is an enemy. Even in the Master's hand the nail fails to appreciate his purpose, possibly to the point of loathing his own existence, and probably fearing the Master. But without the nail, the project would never be realized. The nail never recognizes that without him, the building could not be. We always see and appreciate windows, doors, chimneys, and roofs, but we never look at the small detail of the supports and foundations that prop the exterior.

Conversely, to the hammer, everything is a nail. Every individual and article of creation has a purpose in the Kingdom, whether we appreciate our part or not.

Thanks for your attention, and I’ll post a new story next week.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Magnum Opus

I'm going to step out on a limb and say that this is one of the "odder" stories I've offered you.

Magnum Opus

A cadre of pristine, armor clad soldiers was pressed into a pile within the confines of canvass walls. Each of them was bunched together, with scarcely room to move; they were bursting at the seams.

One of them yelled out, “Is it over?” Terror drowned his voice as his number was drawing closer with each passing second.

The old Captain, warped and bent from a previous battle, turned to face the voice. “Who said that?” he growled with a voice of hatred.

“It was I,” stammered the soldier.

“What is your number?” the Captain demanded.

“Sir, Number 1776, of the 16th Regulars,” the pale, metallic soldier responded.

The Captain made his way to the voice and pressed his hard, flat, armor plated head against the other’s. “Well, Number 1776, why don’t you try to control yourself?”

“I…I’m trying Sir. It’s just that constant pounding outside. I just can’t stand it!”

Bump, tap, clang.

Number 1776 recoiled in fear. “There it is again.” He turned to those surrounding him. “It’s started all over again.” They ignored him.

Bump, tap, clang.
Bump, tap, clang.

“I can’t stand it! I’ve got to get out of here…” His eyes turned to the opening in the canvass. “I’m not going to stay here any longer.”

Bump, tap, clang.

“The Master is killing us! I tell you, he’s killing us.”

Bump, tap, clang.

“One by one he calls for us. The soldier goes beyond these walls, and is never seen from again.” His fear was infectious. More soldiers were looking at him.

The Captain growled at him. “I went out and I returned.”

Number 1776 recoiled. “But look at you. Your body is twisted and bent. You’ll never stand tall again.”

The Captain smiled harshly. “So? I was called upon to serve, and I went to do my duty.”

“But at what cost? Most never return.”

The Captain made himself as tall as he could. “It was an honor to be chosen. The Master chose me to face the enemy, and I did so with great eagerness.”

Number 1776 pressed him. “And what did you see? I can’t see anything from behind these canvass walls—this prison. What did you see when your number was called?”

“I was told to take my position by the Master. Then I faced forward and saw the great enemy. I could see him as his eyes glistened with eagerness. He wanted to pound me, but I stood tall. I knew in an instant that this was my purpose. I was created for the purpose of facing this great evil. I drew strength from knowing I was meeting my destiny, so I steadied myself in preparation. In a flash, the enemy swung at me, but I stood tall. He swung with a downward motion, but I didn’t flinch. I can remember the feel of metal on metal as his weapon grabbed my armor and bent me in half.” His tired old eyes were looking beyond the canvass walls as he retold his story. “There I was, bent over, my armor forever pressed into a metallic mass of debris. I tried to move, but my bent armor resisted my movement, and I lay there while the enemy used his evil claw to rip my footing out from under me, and further grab at my twisted breastplate. With help, I was lifted to my feet while my enemy bore into my eyes with his flat, evil smile. He swung at me again, this time, my neck was wrenched out of place, and I lay there with my armor forever damaged. Before I knew it, the Master was examining me. He murmured under his breath, and then ordered me back to the staging ground. Another soldier took my place and I was returned to you to help you prepare to meet your destiny.”

Bump, tap, clang.
Bump, tap, clang.

The canvass walls parted and a sentry responded, “The Master has called for more soldiers.”

A mumble whispered among the men as they, too, realized their turn was quickly approaching. Number 1776 frantically screamed, “For the love of all that’s good, are you going to simply stand there while we are summoned one and two at a time to face the enemy? Why don’t we all attack at the same time?”

Bump, tap, clang.

“Yes, that’s it,” 1776 continued. “If we all attack at the same time, we have a better chance.”

Bump, tap, clang.

1776 spoke loud enough to be heard over the rumble of open warfare beyond the walls. “Who’s with me?”

Bump, tap, clang.

When no one responded, he yelled again. “Come on! Who will follow me?”

Bump, tap, clang.

“I know I can’t stand to wait any longer. I have to do something. Who will attack with me?”

Bump, tap, clang.

The curtain parted and the sentry announced, “The Master has called for more soldiers.”

The Captain addressed the crowd. “Who will volunteer?”

The faithful soldiers called out, “How many does he require?”

Number 1776 responded, “Don’t be a fool. If we stand together, we can fight. We have a chance if we are united.”

Without regarding him further, the soldiers surrendered to their destiny and submitted to the Master, ready to face the enemy.

“Fools!” 1776 rebuked them. “You are all fools. It’s suicide to face the enemy alone. Won’t you stand with me?”

Bump, tap, clang.
Bump, tap, clang.

“We are running out of numbers. Already there have been so many of us who left and never returned. Don’t allow yourself to die in vain.”

The soldier’s ignored him. Each time the sentry opened the curtain, the brave troops meet the enemy one by one. The enemy’s insatiable hunger continued to harass them until only Number 1776 and the old Captain were left behind. The curtain opened and the sentry announced, “The Master has called for more soldiers.”

The gnarled old Captain replied, “I’ll go again. I faced the enemy and survived. I’ll do it again.”

Number 1776 shook his head. “No, I’m the last of my kind. I’ll do my duty. Who knows, perhaps it really is my destiny. Maybe it’s why I was created. May my sacrifice play a part and make a difference.” He obeyed the sentry and submitted to the Master.

The old man examined him for quality and then placed him in position to face the great, evil, enemy. Only then, once he could see the enemy’s cold, greedy eyes did he realize that his fate was being met. He was fulfilling his destiny. A greater purpose was being met by facing the cold steel of the enemy. His sacrifice would allow his Master’s kingdom to be built, and he was going to play a small part of the master plan.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Insurmountable Hope

It's official. My father has called to say Happy Veteran's Day. I now extend those same greeting to you. Here is a tribute to those who engaged the enemy in Europe during the Second World War.

This is incredible. It's hard to imagine the scope and desperation of that war until you actually see how it played out on a map. If Hitler had the patience to advance to the east in small stages, the Nazis would rule Europe today. However, he just had to take on Russia--which cost him the war.





video



Thanks Veterans! We owe you more than we will ever know.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saved--A Veteran's Day Salute

I'm a creature of habit, at least to a small degree. I love Veteran's Day. My dad calls me on Veteran's Day sometime before noon and thanks me for my service to our country. I do the same for him. My grandfathers each served in WWII. There have been Inmans in military history from the Revolution forward. I even have a very distant ancestor who served in the English Civil War. "Off with their head!" Well, this blog isn't about me, it's about the veterans. I want to share a short story with you that I wrote several years ago. Some of you have seen it before, but I think it's worth repeating.

For those of you who have grown weary of my recycling, I promise you a new story next week. It's a humdinger, from what I've been told.

But for now, please accept my offering of respect for our Veterans...

SAVED

Artillery shells screamed overhead while explosions threw soil and rocks into the air. The ground was pock marked with the craters from spent munitions. Bodies from both armies lay scattered about, awkward and dangling, some still locked in the motions of a lost battle.

“MEDIC! MEDIC!” a terrified voice echoed in the darkness. When no reply came, the call was repeated in earnest, “MEDIC!”

A medic was kneeling, perched over the dying frame of a young soldier gasping greedily at his last breaths while moaning. “Mama” just before expiring. The medic rolled him back onto his stomach and responded to the panicked voice calling him. He found the young man lying in a crater clinging to a dismembered leg.

The young man gratefully acknowledged him. “Man, I thought you were hit, too. I’ve been calling you for five minutes now.” A shell exploded a few feet away, showering them with debris. The constant thumping of the tank mounted .50 caliber was silenced as an anti-tank round lifted the Sherman violently off the ground. It slammed into the rocks and exploded, flinging shrapnel across the battlefield.

The medic involuntarily closed his eyes and ducked his head in response to the explosion. The young man struggled to sit up and see what was happening. “Lie still, Thompson. There is nothing more you can do out there.” At that, Thompson lay back and closed his eyes.

“How bad is it?” He swallowed.

“Bad enough.” The medic was seasoned. Very little surprised him anymore. His uniform bore the blood of two-dozen soldiers who had valiantly paid the highest price for freedom.

“Will I loose the leg?” Thompson still had not opened his eyes.

“You already have.” He spat tobacco on the ground and fumbled with a tourniquet.

Thompson smiled. “Not much on small talk, eh?”

“Too much to do.” He spat again.

“I knew that I already lost it.”

“Then why didja ask?”

“I was just trying to keep some of my sanity. Talking kind of helps.”

“Well, the worst is done; you can relax now.”

“Let me guess. I’ve lost a lot of blood…” His voice was getting weak and he never finished his sentence. The medic repositioned him and retightened his bandages. He then low-crawled to the edge of the crater and peered over the top. The artillery had stopped and somewhere a .30 caliber machine gun fired sporadically. Smoke and fire enveloped the night air. No one was calling for him.

Silently, he stole through the darkness and rechecked every soldier, stopping a moment longer with Lieutenant Chandler. They were all dead. Only he and Thompson remained, and Thompson was fading fast. Another stray explosion belched flame and metal from the burning tank. He was alone. Where was the enemy?

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Thompson awoke an hour later. As his eyes opened, a hand covered his mouth, cutting off his air supply. He began to struggle but was too weak to make a difference. He rolled his eyes and saw that the medic was trying to keep him quiet. When he relaxed, he could hear the sound of wandering feet and clanking metal. The medic had a pistol drawn and was gripping a grenade in his left hand. The pin was dangling in his right index finger. After a few breathless minutes, the footsteps faded into the trees and they were alone again. Slowly the pin was replaced and the grenade was hung on his belt.

“Who was that?” Whispered Thompson.

“Krouts.”

“Was he by himself?”

“Roger. Apparently, they lost as many people as we did. He’s the only one I have seen, and he was wounded.”

“What’s our status? Who’s in charge?”

He spat tobacco. “You and me, kid. We’re all that’s left.”

Thompson swallowed. “Even the… Lieutenant?”

“Roger that.”

“So, he died anyway.” His voice trailed off.

He watched the kid for a moment before acknowledging him. “What you did was brave.”

“How’s that again?”

“You saved his life, pushing him off that mine.”

“But he’s…”

“Dead?”

“Yeah. You said that he didn’t make it.”

“He was shot a few minutes later. Their ambush was effective.” He spat tobacco again and listened in the night for any dangers. “They had us pinned down between the mine field and the river. Those bastards! Yesterday that road was clear, now it’s mined.” He spat. “Man, I hate those Krouts!”

Thompson tried to move but didn’t have the strength. “It’s their job. That’s what they do. They steal freedom, we restore freedom.”

“What makes you so optimistic? You lost your leg to them.”

“Because I have faith.”

“In what? God?” He was sarcastic.

“For starters. But I also have faith in freedom and democracy.”

“Fat lot of good it’s doing you now. You’ll be lucky to live.”

“But I have lived.” He glanced over at him. “We haven’t met.” He held up his hand.

“Davis. I was just assigned to your platoon today.”

“Yeah, we lost our medic a week ago. He bought one at Normandy.”

“I heard.”

Thompson lifted his head. “You got any water?” Davis threw him a canteen. “Man, I hate to loose the Lieutenant.”

“He seemed like a swell fellow.”

“He was the tops, a real good ol boy.”

“He was grateful, by the way.”

“Huh?”

“He said to say thanks for saving his life.”

“Weren’t nothing to it. Just part of the job.”

Davis stared at him unbelieving. “How can you say that? You will probably die saving a dead man.”

“Real pleasant fellow to have around, aren’t you, Davis?”

He spat. “So it seems. No need to hide the fact of death.”

“I agree. I'm not afraid to die.”

“I believe you.”

Thompson tried to sit up then relaxed. “Well why not? I’ve lived my life according to my faith in God. There is no fear in death for me.”

“No one wants to die.” Davis’ gaze stole into the darkness. “I can see it in their eyes. I watched two-dozen boys die tonight. None of them wanted it.”

“Shoot, I don’t want to die.”

“But you just said…”

“I said that I wasn’t scared to die. I have a girl at home and I want to see her again.”

“Where is she from?”

Thompson’s grin lit his face. “She’s from my home town, Justice, Texas, population: none.”

Davis studied that a moment. “It’s too bad you won’t. See her, that is.”

“Maybe someday.” Thompson closed his eyes. Davis was quiet for a while. A faint glow emanated from the left over husk of the tank. All was quiet. Clouds were gathering and a cool breeze was blowing.

“Why would you do that?”

Thompson stirred. “Do what?”

“Throw yourself on a landmine. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Sure I did. It was my responsibility.”

“What?” He was taken aback.

He nodded. “Sure. The Lieutenant has a wife and children at home. I don’t. They needed him to get home to them. Besides, I live my life ready to die. It’s kind of natural for me, sort of.”

“But that’s just it—it’s not natural. You have a life also, and a right to live it.”

“However, the Lieutenant's life was more important than mine. He was trying to find the meaning to life; I had already found it.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m not afraid to die.”

“So you said.”

Thompson’s voice grew faint. “It’s true. I would do the same for you…” He passed out. When he awoke, he was in a shallow trench.

“Just lie still. I tried to move you, but your wounds started to bleed again.”

“You should leave me here and try to save yourself.”

“You really expect me to leave you?”

“You said yourself that I was dying.”

“You are. But you’re not dead yet.”

“You mean that you believe that I could still be saved?” Thompson coughed.

Davis hissed at the sudden noise and peered over the edge of the trench. Once satisfied that they were still alone, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a plug of tobacco, biting off a large chunk before responding. “There is a little hope, but not much.”

“I am not afraid to die, and I believe that you could be saved. Go on and get out of here. It’s the same thing as me throwing myself on a grenade.”

“Negative.”

“Then maybe you do understand why I saved the Lieutenant.”

“It ain't the same. He’s dead now.”

“God knew that he was going to die when I saved him.”

“But it was in vain. He is still dead.”

Thompson swallowed. “Yes, but he died knowing that he mattered to someone.”

“And you won’t.”

“I already knew it.” He was dizzy and started to drift. “Now be saved. Go…”

“Shh, I hear something.” Davis cocked his pistol. A footstep scrapped some gravel behind them and a soldier wearing a German helmet leapt at them. Davis sprang to his feet but the enemy grabbed him and threw him backward and he hit his head. Dazed, Davis lay stunned for a moment trying to get his eyes to focus. The German glanced at Thompson and perceived no threat from him. He pulled out his knife and advanced toward Davis.

Thompson grabbed a stick and miraculously managed to stand on one foot. He leaned forward and fell into the enemy, knocking him to the ground. The enemy was already wounded, but found the strength to roll Thompson off him and thrust his knife into Thompson’s chest.

Three bullets tore holes through the German’s shirt and he fell face first into the dirt. Davis rushed over to Thompson who was gurgling blood as he breathed. “You fool, why did you do that?”

“You…are…worth…saving…”

“Damn you, I’m not, I tell you. I am not worth it.”

“But I won’t…be damned…not me…maybe not…you…either.” Suddenly, a light came into his eyes. “Oh my,” he said in astonishment. “I’m not afraid to die.” Then he died.

Davis, being saved, stumbled out of the trench and started back to safety.