The Unwelcome Stranger
Knock, knock...knock, knock....
Persistent rapping sounds stirred the Pastor’s sleep. A Christmas Carol slipped off his chest and fell to the floor with a thud. He opened his eyes. Flickering candlelight was dancing on the ceiling of the study.
He looked at the door. Couldn’t be, he thought. No one would come by at this late hour.
Maybe it’s Bert. Of course! That’s who it is. Bert has come back to check up on me!
Confident in his assumption, the Pastor rose to his feet and started walking toward the door. Then he remembered from earlier in the evening: the shadowy figure he saw running toward him.
The Pastor stopped in his tracks, flinching at each knock. He intuitively retreated a step backwards from the door. With a start he realized the rapping sounds were not coming from the door, but from somewhere behind him. He spun around to look, and when he saw, a loud gasp escaped his mouth. There, sitting on the edge of his desk, was a young man with a guitar slung over his back.
Knock, knock. The man rapped his knuckles on the desk top. “I thought you’d never wake up,” said the stranger, smiling.
“Who are you?” asked the Pastor, his voice faltering. “How did you get into my study?—into the church?”
The unwelcome stranger stood up. There was something vaguely familiar about him, but the Pastor could not recall ever meeting him. He guessed the intruder was in his late twenties. He had long sandy hair and wore faded blue jeans and a black T-shirt. The Pastor’s eyes were drawn to the graphics on the T-shirt. There was a macabre montage of skeletal beings. Above them was a white cross and below was printed a blazon admonition: “SURRENDER!”
I’ve met him somewhere, thought the Pastor. “This is the last time I’ll ask you: What are you doing here? What do you want?”
“How ‘bout a cookie?” asked the stranger, nodding toward the saucer on the desk.
“A cookie. You don’t mind sharing, do you?” The man reached over and helped himself to not one, but three.
“This is an outrage!” bellowed the Pastor, assuming his most belligerent and authoritative aire.
The stranger’s smile faded. “It sure is an outrage. That’s why I’m here.”
“I demand to know who you are and why you are here!”
“It’s time you asked yourself the same questions. As for who I am, you can call me Jonathan.”
“What do you want from me? Money? Do you want my money?”
“No, no,” said Jonathan. “I want you to surrender and enter in to God's rest.”
“Surrender? Is that a threat? Are you going to hurt me?”
“No, Pastor. I’m here to help you. Here, take this," he said, handing the Pastor a slip of paper with some writing on it, "keep it in your Bible, and read it often."
"Humph!" the Pastor responded, as he placed the paper in his Bible.
“Maybe if I shed a little light on your darkness you’ll see things more clearly.” He raised his right arm and pointed his finger to the ceiling. Here and there on his arm appeared tiny bolts of spiraling blue lights that emitted a faint, low-pitched hum.
The Pastor watched with fright and fascination.
The lights orbited Jonathan’s arm like the electrons of an atom. Circling ever faster and growing brighter, they merged into a blurred ribbon of light. It spiraled up Jonathan’s arm and concentrated around the tip of his finger, becoming a single point of brilliance. It grew brighter and brighter, then exploded in a flash of lightning and crash of thunder.
It blinded the Pastor for a moment. As the thunder continued rumbling in the distance, his sight returned. But is it thunder? he wondered. It sounded more like...like an organ!—an organ simulating the sounds of thunder. Now, the sound was changing. The rumbling was giving way to cacophonous sounds—eerie and discordant minor bass chords and shrill high tones—faint, at first, then louder.
Then he recognized the sounds. After lunch! Outside the restaurant! The wind, the crying wind!
The Pastor stared wide-eyed around his study, anticipating that he might next see flying banshees, for the wailing cries were other-worldly. But he saw nothing. The music or crying—whatever it was—seemed to be coming from the sanctuary. The Pastor turned his eyes toward the door of his study as if looking in the direction of the sounds would somehow enable him to hear them with better clarity and comprehension.
The Pastor turned to confront the unwelcome stranger. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but—” He never completed the sentence because Jonathan was no longer there. He had simply disappeared. The Pastor swallowed hard. His temples began to throb. The foreboding cries grew louder and, in some strange way, seemed to beckon him to the sanctuary.
“This is a nightmare!” he cried out. “It’s a dream! It’s only a bad dream!”
But he was drawn to the sanctuary. He left the study with the flashlight in hand. He walked slowly, deliberately and warily down the hallway, his eyes and ears keenly alert for anything out of the ordinary. A moment later he stood outside the sanctuary doors. He listened to the macabre sounds, wondering what they might be, and fearing that his pounding heart could not take much more of this. His trembling hand pointed the flashlight’s beam at the huge, double doors. He wiped perspiration from his brow, then slowly and apprehensively reached for a door handle. He hesitated for a moment, fearful of what awful things might be on the other side. He braced himself, opened the door with trembling hands, and, as quietly as possible, tip-toed into the unlit sanctuary.
The sounds were distinctly those of an organ, though unlike any organ he had ever heard. He felt the sounds as much as he heard them. They had a hollow, echoing quality that now vaguely reminded him of an organ he once heard in a Gothic cathedral in France. He squinted his eyes and searched the dark cavern of the sanctuary in the vicinity of the organ. But he could see nothing.
Lightning flashed and was immediately answered by exploding thunder. For a second, the huge, stained glass windows glowed brilliantly from the lightning and filled the sanctuary in a kaleidoscope of colors, the likes of which he had never before beheld. Then all was dark again. Had he imagined it? Or had the sanctuary actually taken on another appearance?
He shined his flashlight at a wall and saw huge blocks of rock. They glistened with dampness and were spotted with brown and ochre moss. The air smelled of mildew. “Where am I? My God! Where am I!” he cried out, echoing in the huge chamber. “Has my church become a dungeon?”
He looked through the darkness in the direction of the organ. But, what...? A faint, ghostly glow of light appeared inches above the organ bench. It grew and grew, until it illuminated both the organ bench and console. Then it began to emit many flashing colors, some more intense than others. When bass chords were dominant the pulsating light took on intensified hues of yellow, orange, and red. And when the higher sounds were louder, green, blue, and white were dominant. I’m seeing sounds!
The Pastor’s eardrums already ached, and the sounds were growing louder and louder. Then the light over the organ bench softened to a blue-white, much like the blue flame of a gas furnace. But it was something else: an animate form of energy. Someone or something was seated at the organ!
The sounds grew so loud that he no longer heard them with his ears, but with his soul. And instead of ear-splitting pain, he felt painful emotions deep within his troubled heart.
The impulse came over him to turn and run, but the beckoning of the organ was irresistible. Drawn to the source of the sounds and the bright blue light at the console, he inched closer.
The music stopped, and its echoes dissipated in the darkness. The Pastor paused. He stared at the glowing blue light. It was changing form again, taking on the proportions of...of a person! An aura! No, it was more like St. Elmo’s Fire, as on the mast of a ship in a storm at sea.
“Come closer, Desmond,” said a deep, authoritative voice. It was louder than a human voice, and it emanated from all directions in the sanctuary. Trance-like, the Pastor obeyed the apparition’s command. He walked a few steps closer. All the while, the blue-white aura continued its transformation, now plainly into the translucent image of a human figure.
The image floated away from the organ bench. It was that of a tall man. As it took on more detail, the Pastor could see that the man had a large frame and was attired in a black, vested suit and string bow tie. He was elderly, bald on top, and had long, gray side hair. His thin, pursed lips and defiant chin were bordered by gray, bushy mutton chop sideburns.
The Pastor gasped. “Grandfather! But, how can this be? The scriptures forbid me to talk with the dead!”
“What you hear and what you see are what you ignored to hear and see in times past, Desmond. This night you will more than hear with your ears and see with your eyes, for within the memories and imagination of your soul are stirring the sights and sounds of days long past, and now you will see them and hear them as never before.”
“I don’t understand, Grandfather.”
“No, of course, you do not.”
“Why are you doing this? What do you want of me?” asked the Pastor. His mouth and throat were dry from fright, causing his voice to croak.
“To warn, you, Desmond, so that you will surrender and enter in.”
“Warn me? Of what? What is it that everyone wants to warn me about? What is all this nonsense? Will someone please explain what....” His voice trailed off and he smiled wryly. “This is only a nightmare, isn’t it? You aren’t real, none of this is real.”
Not ‘real’ as you understand reality, Desmond. But this night, the Spirit implores you to search the depths of your heart for truths and realities which you have refused to hear and see, as one by one the years have slipped by. It is because of this that so much that now is upon you has been decreed to come upon you.”
The Pastor squinted a questioning squint at the image of his grandfather. “Could it be that this is not a nightmare, but a vision? The Hebrew prophets had visions. Paul had visions of heaven—and John received much of the Revelation in visions.
“And didn’t Joel write that in the end-time old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions? Oh, my! A dream! A vision! Am I having a vision? Can it be? How could—”
“Stop that blabbering!” bellowed the image.
The Pastor cowered.
“For many years,” said the image, “you were a faithful servant of God, winning untold numbers of souls to salvation in Christ Jesus. You ventured where no evangelist before you ever trod in preaching the gospel to multitudes here and afar through the wonders of your modern era.”
It is true, thought the Pastor. No one has impacted America with the gospel like I have through radio, television, and the internet.
“I’ve tried hard to be an obedient, faithful, and worthy servant,” he said, hoping his voice sounded convincingly humble. “You, yourself, Grandfather, have always been my role model and inspiration.”
“Silence!” admonished the booming voice.
The Pastor slunk back in fright.
You blind and foolish man! You dared to follow my own poor example and continued to live in self-reliance as I had done. Do you not realize that I was placed before you not as one to emulate but as an example of one not to follow?”
“How can you say that, Grandfather? No one tried as hard as you to be a good Christian!”
“Fool! Fool !” bellowed the image. “You chose to walk after the flesh rather than in the Spirit!” He pointed an accusing finger at the Pastor and glared at him with stern, piercing eyes. “Just as I did, you pride yourself in fulfilling the law, and in so doing rob yourself of God’s grace! Surrender, Desmond! I implore you! Surrender, I say...and enter in!”
The Pastor defiantly stood tall and clinched his fists at his sides. “No one tries harder than I to be a worthy servant of our Lord!”
You miserable fool!” thundered the image. “You believe God places a debt on you for your salvation?”
And at that instant, lightning ripped the night sky and showered the sanctuary in brilliant light.
The Pastor shielded his eyes with an arm. Then came the booming thunder. He lowered his arm and looked around. The image of his grandfather was no where to be seen; only a brilliant blue aura in the shape of his figure remained. Then part of the aura moved. Like the fingers of a hand, it reached out to the organ’s keyboard. It was changing shape again; like a tentacle of light, it crept onto and around the organ.
The aura or St. Elmo’s Fire—whatever it was—sparkled and grew brighter. From here and there it ejected shards of glowing energy—missiles of light that burst forth in every direction. Where the slender bolts of blue energy struck they exploded to form other bursting balls of light, like fireworks on the Fourth of July. And those grew tentacles of blue fire that went out to envelope the chairs on the platform, to the rows of seats—to everything, giving the objects a ghostly, blue glow.
The organ began playing again, and this time the shrieking cries of the disembodied souls increased in decibels, more desperate and urgent, and more frightfully foreboding.
The Pastor’s knees trembled fiercely. Feeling faint, he grasped the back of a seat to keep from falling. Got to get hold of myself, he thought, his breathing rapid and shallow. He could hear the convulsive pounding of his heart.
Enough of this, he thought defiantly. He spun around to flee the sanctuary, only to abruptly bump into someone and scream from the start.
"Hey, man, you didn’t have to yell like that,” said Jonathan. “Scared me half to—”
“Not you again!” moaned the Pastor. “Will this nightmare never end? Please, Jonathan, no more of this. Just leave me to myself. Let me wake up! Let me escape this horrible nightmare. I want to return to my study and lie down. I’m afraid I’m having a nervous breakdown. This could cause me a heart attack, you know.”
“You aren’t having a nervous breakdown, Pastor, and your heart’s as strong as your stubborn self-will. Besides, there isn’t time to rest, ‘cause we’re going calling.”
"Calling? Don’t be ridiculous! Why should I go anywhere with you? I don’t even know who you are—or what you are.”
“I’m a messenger, I told you.”
“Then deliver your message and get out of here!”
“It was just delivered, but you didn’t hear and you didn’t see. So now, we must go on.”
“I don’t have the time or patience or least bit of interest in your outlandish, insulting mind-games,” sneered the Pastor. “I want all of this to stop—and stop now!”
Jonathan smiled a sympathetic smile. “It is not within my authority to stop it. Only you can do that. But you won’t, so we have to go on.”
“Go where? To what? Tell me what I must do to stop all this and I will.”
“I told you, Pastor: You’re missing the message. You’ve got to listen and really hear, open your eyes and really see.” He pointed a finger toward heaven and it began to glow as before. Then he strummed his guitar and began singing a slow, haunting ballad:
His ears could hear,
But deaf was his mind.
His eyes could see,
But his heart was blind.
The Pastor opened his mouth to protest, but before he could utter a word, he felt a mild wobbliness in his legs. But no, it wasn’t his legs. The floor was moving! It buckled up, then fell, twisted and turned.
"It’s an earthquake!” cried the Pastor.
Jonathan shook his head.
“What’s happening? What’s going on?” demanded the Pastor, struggling to keep his balance. Jonathan continued to stare at him with penetrating eyes, singing his ballad, seemingly oblivious to the undulating floor.
A breeze whistled through the sanctuary, fluttering registration slips in the racks on the seat backs. A faint fog crept in with the breeze and swirled about the Pastor.
“What are you doing?” the Pastor demanded to know. “What’s happening?”
Jonathan said nothing.
The swirling fog grew dense and spun faster and faster until it became a howling gale. Everything was a dizzy, carousel blur—the altar, the rows of seats, and the stained glass windows....
Claustrophobia gripped the Pastor. He felt nauseous and his head was about to explode from the deafening roar of the swirling wind. He tightly shut his eyes and pressed his hands against his ears. “Stop it! Stop it!” he shouted, hysterically.
Then everything went black and the Pastor’s mind went blank.
Continue to Chapter 8 >
© Frank Allnutt. All rights reserved.