This story originally appeared on the Secret Garden website and is archived here at the request of author Doug Rogers.
"Mr. Allen?" the nondescript stranger asked softly.
James Allen heard the voice over the various noises the hospital monitoring
equipment made. He opened his eyes and waited for them to focus on the source of
the intrusion. Finally he made out the figure: medium height, medium build,
medium looks... a completely ordinary looking man in every regard. "Yes," he
heard his own weak voice answer. "I'm Jim Allen. Who are you?"
"My name is Cristo Skylar," the man replied. He gestured to the empty chair
next to the bed. "May I sit and talk with you for a while?"
"Knock yourself out," he replied. "But you'll pardon me if I don't talk too
much." He gestured weakly to his chest. "Third heart attack this morning. Doc
told me last time this'd be the last. Suits me fine." He coughed. "...tired o'
"You've not had a pleasant life?" the stranger asked.
Allen turned to look at this man a bit more clearly. No, he didn't recognize
him at all. "Who th' hell are you?" he asked. "I never saw you before."
"Oh, that's of no matter," Skylar replied. "I spend a lot of time around the
hospital. My work here keeps me rather busy."
"Dear God! A preacher!"
Skylar laughed. "No, not at all. I promise not to try and sell you any bill
of goods along that line."
"Well, then what do you want? I'm dyin'. I ain't buyin' anything."
"Nor am I selling anything, Mr. Allen. I assure you that I'm simply here as a
friend... Someone to sit with you and keep you company during this somewhat
frightening time in your life. Is that all right? I'll leave if you object."
"Suit yourself. But you've got it wrong. I'm not afraid. I'm ready to leave
this shit-hole of a world. There's nothing here that makes a good fart in th'
wind to me."
Skylar nodded. "What would have made things better for you?" he asked
"Well, for one thing, God or whoever runs this crazy place could have made me
straight." He coughed again. "I'm a queer, y' see. One of those damn fags." He
looked at the visitor. "Scare you off yet?"
Skylar chuckled. "Not in the least. You're far from the first gay man I've
met. I have no opinions either way about orientation. It is only something that
"Where the hell were all the preachers like you all my life?"
"As I said, I'm not a preacher. But go ahead. You would have liked to have
been straight. What else?"
Allen managed a faint laugh in spite of himself. "Oh, you know... rich,
popular... all that stuff."
"From what I've seen you made quite a good living," Skylar replied. "And
you've never wanted for friends."
It never occurred to Jim Allen to ask the man how he knew these things. He
had decided that he liked this fellow. He was easy to talk to. "True enough. I
was just tellin' you what I thought you expected t' hear." A deeper cough racked
"I'd like to play a little game with you, Jim," he said almost casually. "I'd
like for you to go as deeply into your mind as you can. I want you to remember
back to your childhood, to the one thing that you wanted the most, but were
never able to have. Can you do that for me?"
"Oh, I don't have to think about that for an instant." He laughed and the
coughing got worse. When it had subsided again, he continued. "When I was a
small boy I went to see a movie called Hercules. Did you ever see
"I believe I remember it. Go on."
"Well, a few minutes after I got in there... just before the house lights
went down... I saw another boy come in. He sat about two rows ahead of me just
across the aisle. I was seated on the right edge of the center section, he was
on the left end of the right section. I probably wouldn't have noticed him at
all except for one thing."
Skylar prompted when a long pause ensued. "And that was?"
Allen cocked his head a bit, as if trying to decide whether or not to
continue. Finally, he made up his mind. "What the hell. I'm about to die, and I
don't know you from Adam. The thing that caught my eye about this boy was, he
was missing most of his left arm!"
Skylar said nothing.
"He looked about my age, and was wearing a knit shirt similar to the one I
had on. The end of his stump just showed out the end of the short shirt sleeve.
I must admit that I didn't see much of that movie; I was watching him. It
fascinated me how he could make that little nubbin of an arm move like he did.
He was like most ten-year-old boys, I think. He really got into the movie and
was punching along with Hercules on the screen. Every time the strong man made a
left punch, I could see him try to do the same."
The dying man had drifted off intro his reverie. He seemed to come to his
senses and turn back to his visitor.
"It was the most amazing experience of my life, Mr. Skylar. It was the first
time I ever got an erection. I watched the boy until the movie was over, then I
followed him out to the lobby. I was right behind him when he dropped the dime
into the pay phone and called for his parents to come pick him up. I saw the
number he dialed. I can still recite it to you until this day."
"And you got to know him?"
Allen started to laugh, the caught himself. "No. I watched him get into a
blue sedan and never saw him again. Still, there has not been a week of my life
from that time until this that I've not thought of him... remembered him. He is
with me always in my mind."
"And you wanted this boy?" Skylar asked with a wry grin.
"Of course not!" Jim coughed more, this time stopping only when his breath
failed him. He took another deep breath and announced: "I wanted to be
him." He looked at his companion to gauge the effect. There appeared to be
"I used to play for hours when I was alone with my left arm pulled inside of
my shirt. I'd stand before a mirror and pull my arm behind my back inside the
shirt and try to do various things with one hand. After a year or so I figured
out a way to fold a pair of socks so that the top of one would hold the folded
inside out ball of the other up in the tee shirt sleeve. It made it more
realistic! I fancied that it looked like I really did have just one arm!"
He paused and smiled at his companion. "So you see, Mr. Skylar, I'm really
quite mad. I wanted to be an amputee. I wanted to grow up as that boy with only
one arm... to confront the challenges that I know must have faced him... to
overcome them." He paused. "Pretty sick, huh?"
He was greeted with a smile. "Not at all. Simply different, like your
"So what is the point of this game?"
"What would you say if I told you that there was a way for wishes such as
yours to come true?" he returned.
"I'd say you were crazy."
"Really. I happen to be dying, Mr. Skylar. There's no time left for
The man smiled again. "As far as that goes, I believe if you check your
pulse, you'll find you're already dead."
"Go ahead, check it."
Allen felt around on both wrists and found nothing. "But.. But the
monitors... the alarms..."
"Let's just say all of this is happening in the split second before they
He sputtered a few more times. "But I'm still here! I'm still
talking to you!"
Jim Allen felt his face drain of color. "But then, that would mean...
What did you say your first name was?"
"Cristo," he replied.
Jim began to weep. "And I never believed."
Skylar laughed. "No, no... Not spelled that way. It's the German word for
"Then you're God?"
Allen began to shake. "Then you must be... oh no!"
"Afraid not. No, I'm neither Jehovah nor Lucifer."
"Then who are you if you're not God or the Devil?"
"Who said there were only the two?" came the reply. "All of the
mistranslations and outright forgeries and forgotten passages that made up the
book that has gotten all of the press and following still contains particles of
the truth. The passage that goes 'let us make man in our own image.'" He paused
and smiled kindly. "No, Jim, those two just have the better press agents. There
are more of us that watch out for... who look over you." He paused again. "Let's
just say I'm to one whose attention your caught."
There was a long pause. Jim felt for his pulse again. "I must be dreaming all
"No, you are quite dead. I'll prove it to you. Get up."
"I can't do that. I've no strength."
"Nonsense. Take my hand. You can get up."
Jim Allen did as the man asked. It was amazing! His body had been a lead
weight a few minutes before; now he felt light as a feather.
"Look back there," Skylar told him.
The ashen body of an old man lay in the bed. Jim turned back to his
companion. "So where do we go? What do we do? Are you here to take me to your
heaven, or what?"
"That all depends on you, Jim," he responded. "Come with me. You can decide
as we walk."
"Where are we going?"
"Yes. There's a mother about to deliver there who is beside herself because
of what the sonograms of her baby have suggested." He smiled broadly. "Somehow I
think it's a birth you won't want to miss."