Her Gospel, Part 1

A Short Story

Photo by DAVIDCOHEN on Unsplash

Originally written for Philosophy 200
Judeo-Christian Studies with Prof. Susan Priest.

No one’s laughing at God in a hospital. — Regina Spektor

It was 4:30 in the afternoon, two weeks to the day after being admitted to the University Medical Center, that she opened her eyes.

She was Jane Doe 136. Somewhere in her late teens, the girl was pale and deathly slim, except for a slight bump that once indicated a child within. Her hair had only been the truly beautiful thing about her, a long, honey-colored mane that was brushed and obviously well cared for.

Now she was just deathly. The girl in the hospital bed was bruised, battered, and broken. She was covered in bandages, plaster, and tubes; and framed with machines that breathed and lived for her. Her hair was gone. As was her child.

She had no identification, had no way to contact her kin. Even the modern advances in fingerprinting and genetics had done nothing to shed light on who she was. Nobody had come looking for her, and nobody had been able to put a name to her. She was simply 136 to most of the nurses in the ICU ward, and that poor, beautiful girl to a couple.

Nobody had noticed that she had woken up. And nobody noticed the man that was sitting in the room with her.

“So you are awake.” His words were serene, with no apparent accent, which contrasted with his exotic features: his dark skin, hair, and eyes; his cheekbones. “I knew that you would be, soon. At least, in spirit.”

“Yeah, I’m awake.” Her voice sounded like gravel, compared to his smoothness. Then she looked down. Though she had been standing, she hadn’t actually been standing? At least, her body was still in the bed, still as reliant on the machines as it had been before. Her eyes bugged.

“There is no reason to worry,” the man said. “That is not you. This is you.” He beckoned her toward the window, the only somewhat reflective surface in the room.

In it, she was able to see herself as some kind of ideal. A girl that she had been, perhaps, years ago. Slender, certainly, but nowhere near as thin as she was now. Her hair reached her shoulder blades, and had a slight curl to them. The bruises on her face and the bags under her eyes were gone. She looked beautiful.

“Not anymore,” her voice came out as a gasp. “That’s not me . . . anymore.”

“Perhaps it’s not,” He allowed. He made a flourish with his hand, and her reflection in the window changed. Her hair fell away, her body and her face shrank, mirroring the body that was in the bed. “Is that what you wanted to see?”

She was defiant. “At least it’s the truth. I’m not going to go and pretend that I’m something that I’m not. And I’m not that girl anymore. It would be stupid to pretend otherwise.”

“Stupid?” He said with a sad smile. “Perhaps to your eyes, but I think not. The truth is fluid. It is malleable, always changing with surges of potential. Nothing is actually fixed. Free will, you must know.” He looked at her diminished form; there was sadness in his eyes.

The girl squinted at him, perhaps recognizing for the first time that it wasn’t usual for a strange man to be speaking with a ghost in her hospital room. “Who did you say you were again?” Her voice was tinged with suspicion.

“You know who I am.” The words were simple and curt. “Perhaps you would like to see some of my truth, as you call it.” The man, too, began to change. His fine clothes began to recede away, into a bloodstained tunic, rent with a multitude of slashes. There were a number of open wounds, some of them showing muscle and bone. His hair had gone from being long and sleek, turning into a wild mess of brambles and tangles, a crown of thorns rammed on top of his head, opening wounds across his brow.”

Her mouth fell open, and, for once, she seemed to not have a retort.

“As I said,” He waved his hands, and both girl and man were restored to their appearances. “The greatest truth is in potential, and not in the flesh.”

“Why are you here?” She had finally regained the use of her mouth.

“Because you need me.”

“I needed you a long time ago,” Her voice wavered. “I needed you before all of this happened.” She waved her hand in the direction of her body. “Where were you then?”

“I am where I always am,” he said.

“Well, that’s a frustratingly oblique answer,” The words were accompanied with a derisive snort. “Yeah, thanks.”

“That is the only answer.” He was perfectly composed in the face of her anger. “I am always here, and I am always listening.” He lifted his hand, and a cacophony of voices filled the room. Running over each other, to such an extent that they were barely audible.

She squeezed her hands over her ears. “Stop it, stop it!”

He obliged, and the room became silent. “I hear them all. I hear them all of the time, and I can pick out each word, from each person. And not only the words that they say, but the intent behind their words. I can see how their dreams and wishes affect the fabric of space and time, how their desires play out in the grand scheme of things. More often than not, I cannot do anything but let the complex interactions of Free Will play out their natural course. But sometimes I am able to intervene.”

“And this is one of those times?” Her voice didn’t hold as much anger anymore. “It seems like it is a little too late for that,” She waved toward her body again. “It seems like I’m in pretty bad shape. How long have I been in here, anyway?” Her stomach rumbled.

“We will talk,” he promised. “But right now, you need to eat.”

“I can eat like . . . this?” She looked down at her hands. “Whatever this is?”

“Come, and you will see.” He said, beckoning out the door.

Zach Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne.” He acts, sings poorly, and writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction.

He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno.