Prologue | Invulnerable pt 2

I was there when he went away. For a long time I thought it was my fault.


Part 2 - A Believer's Visitation


I know reasonable people aren't going to believe me. Doctor Tom doesn't say so, but I can tell he thinks I'm just making the whole thing up. Wish fulfillment, I expect he'd say, or something like that.

It was three months — exactly ninety-nine days — I counted every one — after he disappeared. After the attack.

I went by every day still. Every day. I picked up the withered memorial flowers, straightened up fallen flags and banners, gathered trash that had blown in. Several of us did that. I went every day.

But that day, I was later than usual. Nobody else was there. It was already dark, mostly.

I set down the lily I had brought with me.

I thought about Paul the Man, and what had become of him.

I thought about what had become of us all.

I prayed for his return.

I don't mean I think my prayers had anything to do with it. I prayed the same way every day. Most of us did. It was only… coincidence… that I asked God to bring The Man, our Peacemaker, back to us, at just that moment when our prayers were answered.

The ruins had long since quit smoldering. Nothing had been touched since the fire department left, except for the fence put around the block. Ashes. Soot. Ruin.

I was there when he went away. For a long time I thought it was my fault, and I never began to feel forgiven until I was there when he returned.

It was the same thing. The prickling on my skin, sparks dancing all around the fence like fireworks. Some kind of whistling thunder and a fantastic flash of light, and in the middle of that light, hovering for a moment in mid-air above the rubble, right above the spot where his office had been, surrounded by glory, arrayed in light, our Peacebringer, Paul the Man.

For just a moment, I thought he was going to float over to me, like an angel, but then he fell.

It was only a few feet down, but he fell awkwardly into the burnt timbers and crumbled brick.

I knew how to get through a loose place in the fence. I ran inside, ran to him.

He was unshaven, and his clothes were strange. He was now covered in ash and soot. The term sackcloth and ashes came to my mind.

At first, I didn't understand. What was he doing? It had been such a long time. And he was so… unrecognizable, almost.

All he said was, "Am I back? Is this Earth?"

I fell to my knees.

My Savior had returned from heaven.

I was a true believer in Paul's divinity. When I prayed, I never doubted his return. I just prayed it would be soon. Not all dragged out for generations, like Christ. That's why I went there every day, to express my faith in his imminent return.

And here I was, at his return, for real.

It was the most glorious moment I ever had or ever could have ever. Heaven on Earth.

Paul stood up. I didn't yet understand the truth. I kept kneeling. He looked at me, grabbed my arms (I can touch him!), pulled me to my feet, looked into my face and said, "You look human! Where am I?"

That was when I finally took a good look at him.

He was cut, and bleeding.

That look in his eyes.

He had a kind of wan smile, still, that crazy, beautiful smile.

He looked absolutely terrified.

I could barely comprehend it! How could the Lightbringer, the Master, the Invulnerable One, be afraid?

My feelings for him at that moment were unlike any I'd known for anyone. I felt pity. Overpowering pity.

I managed to say, not Master, or Lord, or anything like what I expected to say.

I just said, "Paul. It's okay. You're safe. You're home."

He just looked bewildered.

Again he asked, "Where am I? What is this place?"

"Oh!" I said, because I realized he didn't know about the attack.

I said, "This was the Center. This here was your room. There was an attack...."

"The gangsters!" he exclaimed, and like all strength vanished from his legs, he crumpled into the debris again.

He hung his head between his knees. His arms folded across him. A soft noise. He was chuckling. Or sobbing.

All I could do was stand there, like an idiot, staring at him.

How do you give the gift of Peace to the Peacebringer?

I think that's why most of my fellow believers in Paul's divine status don't believe me. They don't want to know the truth. In a way, they were afraid of the truth. Paul was just some guy, as a person, whatever The Gift was that he gave us. Now I knew.

And I knew he hadn't been to Heaven.

He'd been to Hell.

As he sat there, laughing, sobbing, whatever he was doing, I saw, in his hands, a tube. He was holding some kind of tube, about a foot and a half long, an inch around, covered with weird marks and bright colors. The images and marks were moving.

As if I was dreaming, I reached to take it from his hand and he let it go.

It wasn't a tube. It unrolled into a plastic-like sheet. One side was actually transparent, so transparent it was like looking at nothing at all.

The other side was like a video screen. Some kind of telepathic video screen. You didn't just look at it. You... You lived in it. You went into it and moved around in it and experienced... while just standing there holding a thin plasticy sheet.

What was recorded was easy to figure out and understand, even though the thing was way-impossible and the markings were alien to me.

I thought — he's been to the future!

Close. But not exactly.

What Paul had been holding was his secret diary.

When I looked into it, I was Paul. It was my diary.

To this day, I can remember every bit of it.

I don't always tell it the same, exactly, because it wasn't written in words. It was written in Paul's memories. That's how it felt to me. So as I tell the story again, it is like my own memory. I will tell you as best I can, but I'm translating into words, and you know what they say, something always gets lost in translation.

When I unrolled the scroll, when I looked into the screen, I was waking up, in almost complete darkness. I felt like I'd just been created.