Chapter Four: Out from Alien TV into real life
Jeff tore off another piece of his shirt to replace the one already stained completely red with blood. He dropped the crimson rag to the ground and put the fresh one on his left shoulder, wincing with the sharp pain but holding it tightly to stop the bleeding, wondering how he could have been so careless. Societal programmed respect for authority, he supposed. If Monica hadn't helped him, he never would have known that they weren't who they claimed to be.
He forced his reluctant feet to walk the final steps to his destination, a dark blue house at the end of Mulberry Street. He was very tired; head spinning, needed to sit down. Darryl had better be home. He rang the doorbell and waited.
It opened to reveal a man with broad shoulders, about three inches shorter than Jeff, dark hair and mustache. "Oh my God!" Darryl shouted, eyes wide with surprise. He immediately led Jeff inside to sit on the couch. "What happened to you?"
"I don't understand it all myself, but it has something to do with the disappearance of all those people."
Darryl ran into the kitchen and came back with a white box. He quickly took out a disinfectant bottle, scissors, and opened a package of gauze pads. "Looks like the bullet went clean through the muscle. All I can do is bandage you up."
Jeff nodded his approval.
"So tell me how it happened," Darryl said.
"I was driving home for the special telecast when a black car forced me over to the side of the road. Two guys in black suits jumped out and flashed badges in my face. Claimed to be FBI agents. They tried to get me into their car but I knew something was up and bolted. They shot me."
Jeff didn't bother to add that a mysterious woman named Monica was in that same car and alerted him to the danger of the situation, or that she used her supernatural powers to help him earlier at the pharmacy. He didn't dare mention that the supposed FBI agents had transformed into some sort of light beings right before his eyes, and attacked him. Darryl would probably think he was crazy, and Jeff wasn't entirely certain he would be far off there. But it had happened!
The last thing he remembered seeing was Monica battling the two supposed FBI agents, who now appeared like alien beings, with something like a sword but it glowed yellow like the sun. Then Monica had just waved her hand and somehow Jeff found himself within several blocks of Darryl's place, a friend who worked for the ambulance service. He had been confused and disoriented, and when he checked his watch, Jeff noticed that time had seemed to jump ahead several hours past the special telecast time. He had no recollection of what might have happened during the missing time, or even if he was missing time. Perhaps Monica's transportation "magic" just produced a side effect of pushing one forward in time.
"I know it sounds crazy," Jeff said, "but this is the second time today I've been attacked for no reason. Why, a customer I've known for years just suddenly turned on me. It just doesn't make any sense!"
"Yes is does, Jeff. The Balazons have explained all that."
"What do you mean?"
"You have to hear it for yourself." Within a few minutes, Darryl had finished bandaging Jeff's shoulder and said, "Come downstairs. I'll show you."
Darryl led the way downstairs, but by the time they reached the last step, Jeff's heart started to pound with the fear of not knowing what to expect next. Darryl sat down but Jeff stood at the last step and didn't move.
The man talking on the TV called himself Khur-ak and claimed to be an alien. He said his kind were the "gods" humans had always worshipped. Every so often, he would pause and invite viewers to ask a Balazon representative to appear. Jeff reluctantly sat down beside Darryl, and despite himself, became engrossed in the words of explanation from Khur-ak. He lost track of time until Darryl jarred him back to reality with a foolish suggestion.
"I'd like to ask one of their representatives to appear. I was about to do it when you rang my doorbell."
"Don't," Jeff said. "They're killers."
"But it wasn't malicious. You'll understand after you hear it for yourself. Here, I'll rewind it for you." Darryl pushed a button on his satellite remote control, and the picture started to reverse rapidly. Darryl had a later model digital video recorder satellite system that automatically taped live broadcasts, but it didn't mark specific start points and had to be manually rewound. "It was about an hour ago, so here should be good." Darryl hit play again. Khur-ak was talking about a Balazon named Xsalma. "Here's where he talks about why people vanished and others were attacked."
Jeff listened intently for the next few minutes.
Of course. It made perfect sense. He had nothing to fear from the Balazons and should be welcoming them with open arms. But he couldn't shake the fear. The fancy explanations the aliens were spinning to justify their immoral behavior brought back memories of the kind of explanations his cult leader had used to rationalize abusing Jeff so many years ago.
Jeff stared questioningly into a distant nothing, rubbing and occasionally clenching his flame--scarred forearm, scarred with the remnants of self-inflicted punishment. The pain his past cultic rituals had caused him reached a depth far greater than his cold appearance portrayed, and he felt his facial muscles tense and harden as he remembered the past.
It had been more than ten years earlier that Jeff had first believed in God. He had read books about God before, thought about Him occasionally, but usually ignored such things. However something, or someone, kept pulling him back, and he would occasionally read a Christian book, the Bible, or watch a gospel TV program.
Some of the preachers on TV seemed so phony to him back then, and many were. "Oh...oh...I feel God talking to me right now!" they would say. "His Holy Spirit is telling me to tell you to call in to the prayer counselors for your healing, whether it be physical, financial, or emotional. God has got a miracle waiting for you!" Usually by this time they would be pounding their fists and screaming into the camera, but they would get very serious when they started to talk again.
"And when you call or write, don't forget to make a $100 gift or more on your favorite credit card. We take checks; however, we will withhold miracles until your money is in our account. If you want any of our tapes or books, send $1000 for each one to our ministry at the address on your screen. We need your help to stay on the air so we can keep begging you for money. After all, I have many expenses such as my mansion and acreage just outside town, my Rolls Royce, Ferrari, and Jaguar, all my household servants, my wife's extravagant clothing bills, my private jet... and remember God loves you, but we don't: we want your money."
Of course they never actually said that, but Jeff was intelligent enough to read between the lines. Even so, before they made their pitch for money, they would usually talk about sin and the necessity of repentance. Some of the things they said would convict Jeff deeply, even though they were obvious phonies. But mostly he ignored any inclinations to believe in God--until the day he read a Christian book.
Jeff didn't remember the author, the title, or even much of the contents, but he did remember one particular analogy. The author explained the limitless intricacies of a car: spark plugs, distributor cap, radiator, pistons, cylinders, carburetor, and the delicate interplay of these parts with the oil, fuel lines, and electrical wires. Then he described the complex intricacies of the human body: heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and the delicate interplay of these organs with the blood vessels, capillaries, and neurons.
The author asked his readers to consider the vast amount of human effort and intelligence that went into the planning and construction of a car. Next the author asked some penetrating questions. How much more awesome and intricate was the technological marvel of the human body? How much greater was the intelligence of the Being who constructed man? Could there be any doubt a Creator existed? There was no longer any doubt in Jeff's mind.
The only question Jeff wanted answered was what kind of Creator He, or She, or it was. He'd read further, understood and accepted Jesus Christ's sacrifice on a cross for his sins, and had started an earnest search for knowledge about his Maker. He read the Bible hungrily in those days. Every word was like food and water for his malnourished soul, and he desired others to eat and drink the same sweet fulfillment he experienced daily. Life had been so much simpler back then. Things had been black or white, right or wrong. One either did things the way Jeff believed God wanted them done or one didn't do anything at all. There could be no compromise.
Jeff's spiritual hunger led him to become involved with a group claiming to have all the answers. They seemed so knowledgeable and wonderful at first, especially the leader, so kind and loving and accepting, an affirming presence Jeff had never had when growing up. Jeff came to think of the leader as the father he had never had. His real dad was an alcoholic, and a cold, angry, and distant man, who used to beat him regularly. He got addicted to the emotional love high from the group and figured they must definitely be the "one true faith". However, eventually, it slowly got to the point where if Jeff disagreed with them--especially their illustrious leader, godlier than the Creator Himself--it was obviously satanic influence and he had to repent or risk the loss of salvation and face eternal damnation. The leader's patience started to wane and Jeff learned it was psychologically safer to acquiesce.
Over time, the leader somehow gradually become his "dad", cold and distant, verbally and emotionally abusive, but by then Jeff was hooked. He had as much difficulty setting boundaries with the leader as he had had with his dad when growing up. In later years, Jeff's counselor helped him understand that the reason he had been susceptible to the cult was that Jeff had come to associate the leader with his father. The same childhood fear Jeff had of abuse and beatings were psychologically transferred to the leader, but now magnified by the deep seated fear that somehow the leader had the power to hurt him with eternal damnation. No wonder he was afraid; he obeyed every command...for a while anyway.
Jeff later learned the definition of their type of organization: cult. In those days, the group brainwashed him to walk, talk, breathe, witness, sleep, and think like the rest of the group. The leader did not allow him to watch TV, to listen to the radio, drink alcohol, take any kind of medication, eat meat, or observe traditional holidays such as Easter and Christmas--the list of strict arbitrary rules and regulations was virtually endless. The only literature he was allowed to read was that which dealt with the teachings of the group. He gave the cult his money, possessions, time, and energy. He gave himself totally over to "God" and completely ignored the small voice in his mind that said, ever so softly, No.
The small voice was Satanic! He would not yield! He would stand steadfastly and resist faithfully! However, the small voice would not stop. The voice said it was the truth and begged to be listened to.
Concerned friends and family tried to help him regain his sense of identity. Jeff had been warned of them. "Satan has blinded the hearts and minds of everyone but us," the leader told him. "Don't let family and friends deceive you!"
Valerie was violently opposed to the cult. To his new-found friends, it was obvious a demon possessed her. He was instructed he would have to leave his family or risk eternal damnation. This edict was too much. He loved his family dearly and couldn't bear to leave them, so refused to do so. The leader had seemed surprised at Jeff's stance, the first time Jeff had really showed some backbone against the man. Then things really got strange.
The leader showed Jeff a secret interpretation of the scriptures that "proved" the only other option was to undergo a painful ritual to ensure his own and his family's salvation. A little physical pain Jeff figured he could endure, but leaving his family was out of the question. So he went along. The ritual was long and grueling, involving physical endurance tests, cutting himself, group sex with several female cult members, and burning his forearm with a torch. The cuts had long since healed but the scarred forearm was Jeff's constant reminder to always think for himself in the future. The leader periodically kept pressuring Jeff to leave his family, and repeated the ritual upon Jeff's refusal, each incident bringing Jeff closer to the now obvious conclusion: the guy was crazy.
Jeff almost had a nervous breakdown but eventually faced his fears. Valerie, also a Christian, was free to live as she pleased, and family and friends were free--but he felt he had to obey his religious leader or suffer eternally in hell. His leader was either right or wrong. He had to know the real truth. In later years, Jeff's counselor helped him realize the leader's rituals were attempts to take back power that Jeff was challenging by his refusal to abandon his family.
The real breakthrough came when Jeff confessed the group sex thing to Valerie. Jeff had felt so guilty confessing, but she was totally forgiving and understanding. She had such compassion for what he was going through, and said she would just be glad if she could have him back. He realized again why he loved her so much, and how she reflected more the character of a loving God than the leader ever could. After some more serious self examination and support from Valerie's church friends, Jeff realized he indeed didn't have to blindly obey some human being and left the group. For awhile, he tried instead to just follow his own heart and understanding of the Bible. Over time though, Jeff came to the conclusion that God was just too mysterious for him to ever figure out. He eventually put all this faith stuff out of his mind.
The previous intricacies in creation that seemed to so strongly convince him that God existed were now simply relegated to mysteries everybody had to learn to live with. God would have to appear to Jeff and say, "Touch me, I'm real." Until such time, Jeff determined not to bother torturing his mind with trying to figure out what "God" wanted.
Not long after, Jeff found himself openly making fun of not only Christians, but all faiths. Anyone who believed in a "God" was fair game, including his wife. Fortunately, his wife's Christianity was easy to live with. She didn't even go to church very often. Only occasionally, when teaching their children morals, would she talk about God. If that was the worst she did, Jeff could live with it.
"Let's ask one to appear," Darryl said, breaking Jeff's train of thought by reiterating his most stupid suggestion.
"I've got to get going," Jeff said and stood up. "Thanks for everything but I'm not staying around if you're going to do that. I don't want to talk to one personally."
As Jeff walked up the stairs, he heard Darryl give the invitation. Even with his back turned, a bright flash consumed his vision and he felt a warmth come over him. He resisted the urge to turn around and hurried up the stairs.
"I am Durzak. How may I assist you?" Jeff heard the alien say in a surprisingly human sounding voice.
Jeff closed the basement door. He had much to think about on the way home.