I was just a boy when I sat down
To watch the news on TV
I saw some ordinary slaughter
I saw some routine atrocity
Cold. Dark. Atmosphere dank with vodka and cigarette smoke and the salt from tears. An air conditioner is shouldering the burden of keeping this musk moving.
Eyes shoot open, bloodshot and swollen. Panic sets in. Bewilderment. Who did he hurt? Where is he?
“Get on your feet.”
Like a soldier dying in a trench in some distant land and feeling as foreign, Rob Williams swings his feet from the bed. A firefight erupts in his head. The pain is unlike anything he’s felt before. The cold air burns his lungs as he sucks it in through his raw nostrils. He definitely did cocaine last night.
“And here we are again, Rob. What’s another ninety days? I’m thinking maybe we should actually build that coat of arms from all your chips. Maybe it would save you. But even then, Rob, you would show up.”
Spark, spark, spark
A flint strikes in the corner. Chest high, maybe. Did this hotel room have a chair? A warm, yellow flame dances up out of the lighter, igniting the end of a cigarette.
The zippo slams shut. A single red dot in the corner. The stranger inhales deeply, briefly illuminating his face. Wrinkles like a well worn leather belt. Impeccably trimmed gray beard. A man of Rob’s stature and nature would normally have charged blindly already, but Rob feels… shame? Like a child who has wet themselves without ever telling their parent they had to use the bathroom.
“I’m… I’m sorry. Who are you?”
“You’re not sorry, Rob. You’re a child of God. With the big G. You’re my child. I have many names, but you can call me Father.”
“I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
A trace follows the small ember to an ashtray. It tips up and down, up and down, before returning to the man’s mouth. His face briefly appears again as the man takes another drag.
“Yes, you do. We have covered all of this. We’ve been covering this for as far back as I remember. You have one foot in and one foot out. You do the work, but you aren’t pure of heart. You get on your knees and say that you surrender, but then, you give in to these distractions that water you down. There are so many people waiting for you, Rob, to give them my message. To hold their heads and dip them in the water of redemption. And if they do not come along, hold them in place until they do. Your burden is not here, feeling sorry for yourself in squalor. Your burden is to make them hear my word.”
“There ain’t anything worth saving here. You might as well open the seals because this place is just begging for revelation.”
“This world isn’t worth saving or you aren’t worth saving?”
These words cut worse than any of the barbed wire or thumbtacks Rob has earned his pay from.
“I’m no Don Winters.”
“Who are you to say what you are or aren’t?”
Suddenly the man is face to face with Rob. A volcano erupts deep in Rob, something unfamiliar. He’s ten years old again, his father’s thunderous footsteps coming toward his room. The man puts his hand behind Rob’s head, sliding his fingers into Rob’s hair. Rob tries to pull away but the man is too powerful. His father’s hand is on the door now.
“Open your mouth.”
Wide eyed, shaking, trying to will himself, Rob’s own body betrays him. His tongue slowly creeps from his mouth. Peering down his nose, Rob watches the cigarette advance slowly. The saliva sizzles as the cherry of the cigarette makes contact. White hot pain.
“You are forgiven, my child. Released of your guilt. You are redeemed.”
Tears well up in Rob’s eyes. Eyes that see a new world, shucked like an oyster. The coats of shame and contempt and resentment peel away to lay bare, unadulterated. Rejuvenated.
Suddenly Rob is no longer in the room. He’s floating through a timeless dimension, warmth and light radiating from within his body. Every cell of his being is vibrating. A soft, melodic hum fills his ears.
“Hey, did you see they painted that Big Bad Brosovich with metal or some shit?”
It’s Crash Jackson’s voice. The Northern Light himself. Rob looks all around, infuriated this “bro” has interrupted his burning bush moment. Darkness as far as the eye can see, surrounding and swallowing him like the sea on a moonless night.
“That’s rough stuff, Broey Lawrence.”
“NO DAMN YOU, STOP IT! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”
Father responds to Rob.
“Why do you hate him, Rob?”
“I DON’T! LET ME GO!”
Lightning strikes, illuminating the space. It feels like it comes from within Rob’s head and the pressure is immense and painful. In the brief light Rob sees Jason Jackson’s giant face in front of him smiling that goofy smile.
“Yes you do, Rob. Why do you hate him?”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
“Brobocop” begins repeating like a skipping CD. The lightning becomes more frequent and intense. Rob screams out in agony. Rob is on a boat like an old timey carnival tunnel of love ride. The boat is floating toward Jason Jackson’s giant head and his perfect smile.
“Surrender to it. Why do you hate Jackson, Rob? WHY?!”
Giant Crash’s head leans back and his mouth opens to swallow Rob and the boat whole.
“I… I’M JEALOUS.” Rob drops his head and whispers, “He’s happy. People like him. Look at him, he’s great. And he gets to get high and be successful. I hate him so much it hurts.”
Rob looks up just in time for the mouth to close around him. He has given up fighting it and allows himself to free fall through the darkness.
“I can save you, Rob, I can save all of them.”
Back in the hotel room, drenched in sweat and shaking, but completely at peace.
“I have seen, Father. I am ready to serve.”
The Father rubs Rob’s head in a loving and comforting gesture.
“Crash Jackson is the first step on your path of service, Rob. You must destroy that which blocks you from the sunlight of the spirit. Colossus is to be the inception of your transformation.”
“What if I can’t beat him?”
“Facing him is enough. You have shone light on it yourself: you’re jealous. You hate him deeply because you have constructed an image of him in your mind. Once you face the man and see that he bleeds like you, you will be free of the bondage of self that is holding you back. And then it’s on to bigger and better things. But first, you must face him.”
A warm confidence rolls from Rob’s head down to his toes.
“Yes, Father. I will serve you well against Jackson. I will stand face to face with my own inequities and fear and jealousy and hatred. And I will win, regardless of the outcome against Jackson.”
“Very good. I want blood. I want you to be willing to die in order to overcome this, Rob.”
“I will push both of us to the absolute edge of death. We will both be purified by the trial. If that is just the beginning, what comes next?”
“Hm. Indeed. I know that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30. There are men who wish to draw away my disciples. Savage wolves feeding on the sheep. Someone has to protect them, Rob. Who shall I send? And who will go for us?”
Rob looks up to the Father.
“Here am I. Send me.”
My father said, don’t look away
You got to be strong, you got to be bold, now
He said, that in the end it is beauty
That is going to save the world, now
Over the coming days Rob travels to New Orleans. Along the way he stops many times. He is a man possessed. Searching, tracking a trail, hunting. Hunting the false prophet his Father told him of. He stops at various homeless shelters and mobile churches and encampments. At every stop he is just a step behind the wolf.
But he doesn’t give up.
He tells all who will listen, tells them to watch Colossus, so they may bear witness to the glory and sacrifice of Crash Jackson. He informs them that he has communed with the Father. Tells each ear that opens to him how beautiful it will be when he faces the horror and ugliness within that makes him hate Crash Jackson so much, absolving his soul and making it pure once again so that he too can be beautiful.
“How long do I do this, Father,” Rob asks at night, exhausted from the day’s work.
“Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.”
Rob finds comfort in the thought that he will remain when all else is scorched earth. That he will be the bearer of the truth. And that truth will protect him as the world around him returns to which it came.
He thinks much of Crash Jackson, allowing himself to feel the hatred and vitriol instead of stuffing it. It wakes him up in the morning and it staves off his hunger and pushes him to find more sheep to spread Father’s truth, for he knows facing Crash at Colossus will be the threshold through which he and the world at large enter into a new. And he knows that he is the seed from which the new world, his Father’s world, will grow.