The first time God talked to Roger was in the detention hall in high school.
Roger had been caught smoking weed. That was worse than cigarettes. He was lucky not to be expelled. In those days, God was quite friendly. He understood that Roger was trying to find a way to stop his restless thoughts from crashing together into jumbled cacophony. Maybe weed would work. It was supposed to make you laid back, his friends said. Instead, it made him distrustful. Were his friends spying on him?
He was sitting in detention staring at his geometry homework, with its incomprehensible “equilateral triangles,” when he heard a voice coming from above, perhaps from one of the vents in the ceiling. At first, he thought it was a teacher on the second floor, calling down to him. But then he realized it was God’s voice, coming from heaven.
You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.
It made Roger think that he might be Jesus. He thought he should tell the others in detention. He stood up, so they would know he had something important to say.
“Everyone. I’m Jesus. Jesus Christ. God told me.”
There were about a dozen bored kids, mostly boys. They perked up. Something was breaking the monotony. The detention teacher, who had been maintaining the silence rule while grading papers, looked up.
“You! Sit down now and be quiet.” She pointed her red pen at Roger. It was probably the one used to write “F” on his quizzes and homework. He did not like that pen. Advancing to the desk, he snatched it and threw it on the floor. There was a satisfying crunch when he stomped on it.
When he told the teacher he might kill her, it resulted in the first of many commitments to the psych ward for evaluation. During the fifteen years since, he had cycled from the psych ward to rehab to jail to the streets. He didn’t mind as long as he had the right to refuse the treatment. If he took the medication, God wouldn’t speak to him. He wouldn’t be Jesus anymore. That was out of the question.
Over the years, God became less friendly. When Roger transgressed by forgetting to praise Him or by touching himself, God would be stern.
Thou shalt obey all the commandments which I command thee this day.
Sometimes, for no reason Roger knew of, God cursed him, calling him “fat” and “useless,” words his father had used. God suggested he jump off the roof of a parking garage. Since it was just a suggestion and not a command, Roger punished himself instead by making cuts on his body with a razor blade. Still, hearing God’s angry voice was better than not hearing it at all. As long as God was present to him, he would know he really existed instead of just imagining he did.
The last time he was let out of jail, he returned to his regular sleeping spot in an ally between a bar and a pizza restaurant. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by a young girl who invaded his space. She could have been an angel. But God told him the girl was a whore, and that he was allowed to take what he wanted from her. He could even rape her. That wasn’t what he wanted right then.
“Hey, kid. You got any money?” He moved toward her.
She had a purse decorated with unicorns. He grabbed it dumped the contents on the ground. A bunch of clothes and a knife with a long blade fell out. He kept the knife, but let her have the rest back. The girl didn’t protest. She must have known it was God’s will. Otherwise he would have been forced to stab her.
After the girl ran off, he hid the knife behind a loose brick in the wall. Later the same night, he was disturbed again when a stranger tried to steal his sleeping spot. An altercation followed, alerting the cops. He must have slugged the guy too hard because he was arrested for battery. That was unfair. The stranger wasn’t even taken to the ER.
At the arraignment, he told the judge he was Jesus Christ.
“I’m only thirty-two. There can’t be a trial until I’m thirty-three.”
When the judge asked him a question, Roger couldn’t concentrate on the answer because of the heat. There was something wrong with the air conditioner in the courtroom. It made a panting noise like his father made before walloping him. The prosecutor and the court-appointed lawyer, named Josh Something-Or-Other, approached the bench. The judge nodded and sent Roger to the psych ward for a “competency evaluation.”
There, the psych techs and nurses recognized him.
“Hi, Roger. Back again?”
They greeted him with cheerful voices. He explained to them that even if he looked like Roger, he wasn’t really Roger. He was Jesus. He turned the other cheek when they kept calling him by the wrong name anyway.
They know not what they do.
The psych ward had two wings. Roger was in was the Medicaid wing. The cement block walls were painted an institutional green. Patients slept in hospital beds. Barred windows overlooked the parking lot. The smoking room was vented but windowless.
The other wing was for patients with insurance. Beds had bedspreads, like in a hotel. It overlooked an area with trees. Patients from both sides collected in the central area, in front of the nurses’ station, separated by a screen.
He had been there several days when he saw Josh Something, the lawyer, on the other side of the screen. It was his fault Roger was stuck in the hospital. It was his fault the judge did not believe Roger. At first, he thought Josh Something was there on lawyer business. But the lawyer was pounding on the locked exit door and yelling about needing to find his daughter. The techs led him away, as if he were just another patient.
Roger knew that Josh Something was there for God’s purpose—to make sure Roger wasn’t sinning. Unless it was the Devil who sent Josh Something to the psych ward to provoke him. Roger’s eyes narrowed. He saw whirling lights, green and red, as thoughts cascaded into his head. Josh Something was an abomination. The daughter he yelled about finding? She was an abomination, too.
But the next week, after the injection, Roger stopped thinking about Josh Something. He attended groups on the Medicaid side about dealing with stress and knowing the signs of a relapse. He stayed away from the screen, spending time his room, sleeping, eating hospital food, staring out the window at nothing in particular.
Several months later, after completing his evaluation and his jail sentence, Roger returned to the streets. He violated parole by not attending therapy, stopping his medication, and drinking. Sooner or later, he would be found and returned to jail. Meanwhile, he reclaimed his sleeping spot in the ally and called himself Jesus again.
Josh Something re-entered his mind. He remembered how the lawyer had whispered lies about him to the judge. The lawyer had yelled insults at him in the psych ward. How he wished to get even. But God reminded him that vengeance was His.
I, the LORD, have drawn My sword out of its sheath. It will not return to its sheath again.
Roger’s mind was in shambles, at first. Slowly, it came to him that God meant that he, Roger who was Jesus, was now the Sword of God. The Sword of God punishes for the sake of the Lord.
Roger had a new name. He told anyone who asked.
“I am the Sword of God.”
He began to feel good. Better than good. Powerful. Mighty. Angry. Very angry. Especially angry at Josh Something. The lawyer who betrayed him, who betrayed Jesus. He had to find the lawyer.
As risky as it was, Roger began to hang around the exterior of the courthouse. Sooner or later, he was bound to spot Josh Something descending the wide steps of the limestone building. The Sword of God was patient. He could wait for as long as it would take.
He lost track of time. He did not know if it was days or weeks before he finally did see the lawyer make his way from the court house to the parking garage. Roger followed him, noting that the lawyer’s car was a newer model Prius. An arrogant kind of car. The license plate was EVA16. That would be easy for Roger to remember.
At the library, he used a computer to do a reverse license plate search. He was able to discover where Josh Something lived. It was in a suburb, far from the center of the town. The bus would take him part way. Then he would have to walk. God would give him the strength. Zaps of energy were preparing his legs for the journey.
First, he retrieved the knife from the ally and sharpened it with a stone. He tested it on his thumb, smiling at the blood bubbling from the slice.
He made a plan. God would keep his mind from the distractions that caused him to forget most plans. His focus was solid. His will was strong. There was a dollar left over from his disability check. He used it for bus fare. At the end of the bus route, he began to walk. He would reach the lawyer’s house at dusk, when the lawyer was sure to be home from work. Roger would ring the doorbell with his left hand. The knife in his right hand would be raised, ready to plunge.
Josh Something might plead for his life and the lives of his family—surely anyone who lived in the suburbs had a family. He did say something about a daughter in the psych ward. As if that would spare them. Roger would make him know that he and his children must pay for his crime to the fourth generation, as it says the bible. If he asked what his crime was, Roger would tell him.
“You are a Jew lawyer. You tried to crucify Jesus.”
The Sword of God would show no mercy.
Carolyn Geduld is a mental health professional in Bloomington, Indiana. Her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Her novel Take Me Out The Back is being published by Black Rose Publishers in 2020.