As the street slept, a dull sunrise crept over the silhouettes of storefronts, massage parlors, liquor stores, and hockshops. Flashing momentarily over the rooftops, it filled the dark city hollows with its brilliance. Dirty windows suddenly radiated, the pavement glistened, and the whole neighborhood waxed in a golden dawn. As the light brimmed the buildings, the normal gilding at daybreak began to fade to tensile and wrought iron sheen. Soon the glare of the steadily rising sun began to highlight the real world, magnifying each grimy inch of glass, each pile of roadside litter, and every filthy pocket not hidden in the shadows, becoming an indictment against the street.
The morning then taunted the night people, gradually awakening them from alcoholic slumber or an evening’s slimy business. It reminded shop owners, tavern keepers, and prostitutes that hours would crawl by before the usual clientele would arrive. For those further down the boulevard on skid row, however, the awareness was even slower in coming. As every hole with walls and alley opening to sunlight slowly became alive with their murmurs, coughs, and curses, those already awake shunned the daybreak. Those huddling in dark alleys remained crouched or lying still. While they ignored the new day, footsteps stirred on the vacant street. And the first shadow emerged from the early morning shade.
For a moment, as Adam Leeds crossed into the boundary of skid row, a vagrant eyed his shadow as it stretched across the mouth of his alley nest, and a down-and-out prostitute peeked down from her window at the stranger below. It seemed evident to them, at first sight, that the pedestrian was either exhausted or disoriented by alcohol or drugs. He shuffled slack-jawed, his arms falling limply to his sides. His gray eyes sat at half-mast as he plodded more deeply into skid row. He wore the dark garment and collar of the clergyman, and yet in many ways he looked like any other drunk on the street. Even the vagrant and prostitute might have felt sorry for him had they seen the expression on his haggard face.
With the exception of a few wary souls, Adam Leeds passed by unnoticed through the environs of skid row. The shock still clung to him. The early morning hours were spent in torment and reflection of what had happened and what might lie ahead. In spite of Satan’s promise of protection, he felt marooned in this filth pocket, and an urge lingered inside him to escape the nasty street. But where could he go? How could he explain his absence during his wife’s murder, if he could not explain it to himself? He could not help wondering if this might not be some kind of monstrous joke? He knew better than most men not to trust the devil’s motives, so he carried the urge to escape Satan as well.
As he contemplated his plight, however, the impulse to escape the street passed, because, like it or not, there was nowhere else to go. The impulse to escape the devil’s clutches likewise faded, since it was, in the final analysis, the last refuge for a murderer such as he. For all his years of pious searching, skid row, the devil’s sanctuary would become a dead-end for him unless it proved to be, as Satan promised, a safe haven for him for a while. Inexplicably, the devil remained silent in his head. Though silent, he could feel its presence in his mind. The murder of his wife had allowed Satan to enter him at last, making everything else, including his calling from God, a lie.
As he continued his odyssey, he tried blotting out the bloody corpse and the irreversible conclusion he faced. He was going nowhere and totally lost in this part of town. In spite of Satan’s confidence, there seemed to be no future in store for him. How could his new career begin down here?
Finally, after another hour had passed, Adam’s cadence was broken by fatigue. Gusts of steam boiled from his mouth in the chilly air. He paused in front of a deserted storefront and pressed his forehead on the pane. In his reverie now, his gray eyes were filled with a lost dream. A question rose in his chest.
A whisper, as soft as a woman’s and yet as commanding as his own father’s, came into his mind now. It was the voice of Satan. The Tempter was in his brain.
“Adam,” it reassured him, “I’m your friend.”
“Then why did you make me a murderer?” he asked.
“You took her life, not I,” it replied.
“And you took my soul,” he countered.
“I didn’t take your soul,” it argued gently. “You gave it to me freely—of your own free will…. Besides Adam, what is a soul? Can you see it? Can you touch it? Can you feel it? Does it even exist?”
“Where have I heard that line before?” He replied, staring into the vacant store. “Man’s not bound by soul but by his own free will…. Satan speaks as a humanist and atheist…. All right, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Dark Force, or whatever your name is, have it your way. But you took my faith! That you can’t deny!”
It sighed. “What’s faith Adam? And what’s a soul? They’re mere words, and such words are the products of dreams.”
“No,” Adam shook his head, “they’ve become nightmares! My whole life is a blot because of last night!”
Recalling the bloody scene again, he shrank to the pavement in despair. While the young man’s mind wallowed in morbid self-recrimination and pity, Satan tried to console him.
“Your wife deserved what you gave her. If you hadn’t of destroyed her, she would’ve destroyed you. She’s given you pain throughout your married life.”
Yet Adam continued to shake his head. “Excuses, excuses. I have plenty of excuses. But I’m now a killer—a cold-blooded murderer, and for that I’m damned!”
“Nonsense,” Satan said irritably, “you’re talking like a fool!”
“It’s true,” Adam insisted. “You might fill my head with lies, but a voice inside me still whispers murderer! murderer! I can hear it now. It’s my soul!”
“Fool!” It spat. “That’s your inner man—the one called conscience. Can’t you tell the difference between a religious experience and a nervous breakdown? You take all this nonsense much too seriously!”
“It’s the voice of God,” he cried. “It’s my soul!”
“It’s nonsense,” Satan insisted. “For many years you’ve called it that and blamed me for your human weakness and petty thoughts. But, before last night, it was your conscience that held you back. Until then you have been praying into an empty void. God’s dead, the dream’s over, and you have no one to answer to but yourself. So let your inner man go: he’s without meaning now, a hindrance to you, and he’ll drive you mad.”
Despite its attempts, Satan’s cold comfort couldn’t warm his spirit. The most important question for Adam hadn’t even been answered, for it was cleverly sidestepped by the Tempter. It hung now as a stubborn shadow in his thoughts, waiting for his lips to move and waiting for his courage to hurl it into motion.
After a moment of deliberation, the words poured out slowly and thickly: “…. Are you going to replace God? Am I to worship you?”
“No,” came a tired response. “Didn’t you hear a word I said?”
“I don’t believe you,” he persisted. “You want something in return for those glories you promised me. You want my soul!”
“Wrong again!” The voice shrilled. “Well you plee-ease forget that supernatural mumbo-jumbo about me! I don’t carry a pitch fork, I don’t spit fire, and I don’t want your blasted soul!”
“If you don’t want my soul,” he replied hoarsely, “and you’re not going to replace God, what do you want?”
“Adam,” it commanded softly now, “look at your reflection in the window, and tell me what you see.”
“I see myself,” he answered flatly.
“That’s your God,” it declared, “and that’s what I want!… Now look through the window, instead of at it, into the room. What do you see beyond yourself?”
“Nothing,” he answered, searching the empty room.
“Precisely,” it said, “… and that’s your life so far: a zero without meaning and without purpose. The window is the essence of your soul: looking into yourself, yet a part of yourself. Your faith has gone from you as a dream escapes a child.”
After staring at himself a moment longer, Adam looked away with disgust. “I’d rather not look at myself any longer, if you don’t mind,” he replied, shutting his eyes.
“Then it’s time at last for a change,” it replied mysteriously. “Close your eyes and face the glass.”
No sooner had he obliged Satan than it commanded: “Now open your eyes and tell me what you see!”
For a moment his face tingled and the ground below him swayed. Then the empty store was filled with a powdery luminescence, and a Christ-like image stared from the glass. Beyond this familiar face, he found something else spiraling in the void—the earth, the implications unmistakable in his mind. This storefront Jesus was none other than himself. A young man about his age with well a trimmed beard, shoulder-length hair and gray eyes, wearing a glowing white garment was now reflected in the window. In spite of the miracles generated on his behalf, however, Adam could not accept what was happening to him or believe what he saw in the glass.
“What is this monstrosity?” He stared at the window in disbelief. “…. You expect me to imitate Christ?”
“Yes,” Satan assured him, “you have the power. You can be anything you want to be. With me by your side, you can even imitate him.”
“You mean become the Antichrist,” Adam whispered, shaking his head. “I’m familiar with the scriptures. What fool fearing God’s wrath would join forces with you?”
“Adam,” replied the Comforter, “listen to reason. There’s much you don’t understand that’s not in the Bible. I’m not going to follow that script. I’m many things, but I’m not a fool. I have my own plan. You’re a cleric, not a politician. You’re going to run my church. Your secular counterpart is going to run my government. He’s been with me from the beginning. You Adam, are being reborn this very moment—in the spirit and in the flesh. While he can act independently of me, we—you and I—are a team. You, my anointed, whom I’ve picked among mortal men, will always need me as a friend, protector, and guide.”
Adam’s mind was thrown into chaos. He was a man of God, who was a murderer, disguised as Jesus Christ, with the devil in control of his mind.
Quick to read his mood, Satan tried dispelling his fears: “Adam, the world isn’t going to end. It’s going to get much better. Pay no heed to those televangelists. Forget that apocalyptic drivel medieval monks spouted to make people behave. The Revelator, I know for a fact, was a drunkard, and the prophet Daniel was insane. We’ll win, because I’m writing the script. Your counterpart will be re-writing scriptures too. When we’re done, those televangelists won’t know which side is up.”
“Think of it,” declared the Comforter, as Adam watched the globe turn slowly inside the room, “there’ll be no more religious and secular differences to divide peoples or cause wars. The world will be so much better when there’s harmony among church and state. Everyone in the government will share the same universal faith!”
To make its case, Satan painted a mental picture of the glory awaiting Adam Leeds. All it would take for this leap of faith, it promised, was a single nod. Once again, as he had experienced during his dreams, Adam saw himself preaching to the multitude, this time in a stadium packed with thousands of supporters cheering his every word. Beyond this point, his mind floated from one grand scene to another, a potpourri of muted sounds and emotions through audiences packed amphitheatres, splendid cathedrals, and, for one brief moment, Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome. Already, Satan’s effort at camouflaging its true intentions had begun to unravel. It seemed clear what it had in mind: Adam would become a messianic leader—a false prophet, antipope, or high priest. Another protest swelled in his throat, as his mental vision brought him into a gilded room and a great ivory throne.
“Get thee behind me Satan,” he quoted as Jesus stared at him from the glass. “For it is written, ‘thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’”
“Behold,” came the mocking refrain, “I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will sup with him, allowing him to sit on my throne.”
“No,” cried Adam in a strangled whisper, “you pervert scripture. Stop tormenting me! Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“Adam,” it moved as a shadow through his mind, “you’re my chosen. You’ll be a shepherd, not a prophet or pope. Now, you’re a fugitive and murderer. With my guidance, you’ll change the religion and philosophy of the world.”
After last night, Adam Leeds had three choices. He could make a run for it, face a murder rap, or receive unlimited wealth and power as the highest prelate on earth. For Satan, it was a no brainer. For Adam, however, though tempting, it would be an agonizing decision. It meant that he would be serving God’s enemy. As much as Satan denied it, it also meant forfeiting his immortal soul. Drawn to the globe swirling in the room, Adam’s face was set in a scowl, his thoughts holding to the belief that he had been taken over by the Prince of Darkness, and that he must, as a Christian, resist and outwit Satan in the end.
“Admit it,” Satan crowed, “you’re tempted. I saw it in your eyes! Half of you I’ve won. The other half reacts to dogma—catchphrases from a discredited book. The Book of Revelation implies a false premise for the End Times. It was written to admonish churchmen of bygone days by a drunken recluse, whose visions I helped inspire. Who knows what that madman Daniel had in mind. Get it through your thick skull. I’m not the stereotyped fiend of antiquity. There’s not going to be an antichrist or period of earthly tribulation. You’re not going to become a false prophet of an apostate church, and the world’s not coming to an end. I see great potential in you, Adam. I want to be your partner and friend—nothing more!”
Adam stifled a sob and shut his eyes. Stopping his ears up with his thumbs, he sank to the sidewalk in despair. Bending into a fetal position, he attempted to block out the world, but couldn’t block out what was in his head. Inside his mind, he could hear Satan saying “All this will I give you, if you serve me,” hauntingly similar to words spoken to Christ. When he failed to nod or give some indication of submittal, Satan made one more attempt at reason then came straight to the point.
“Adam, you’re behaving like a child. I’m not going to turn you into a zombie or an imitation Christ. That’s Trinity Network’s script.” “…. You’re,” it searched for the words, “going through a transition—a mental rebirth, more than a physical change…. You must make the spiritual leap: from Him to me. Give me a simple nod, that’s all. You don’t even have to speak.”
Adam climbed back onto his shaky legs, his forehead dropping to the glass. “You said we’re going to be partners…. You lied…. Those catchwords—rebirth and transition—mean I’m going to be your servant, not your friend. After killing my wife, how could I ever be your friend? You orchestrated this from the beginning. Now, I’m going to be programmed and groomed. The worst change will happen to my mind. Tell me now Satan, if not a false prophet or messiah, who am I suppose to be?”
Satan, an artful dodger, sidestepped the question, this time with another allegory to press the point home.
“Adam,” it replied carefully, “is not a cloud empty until it gathers electricity from the firmament?”
“Yes,” Adam made a face, “empty like me.”
“Is not the wind that moves the cloud invisible?” It persisted, pausing as Adam acknowledged this fact too.
“Yes, invisible,” he closed his eyes. “I would like to be invisible…. like a spirit wandering the earth.”
“Adam,” Satan’s voice rose dramatically, “let me fill you with electricity and move you over the earth, so that when the storm comes it will be you that they see?”
“Yes,” Adam smiled perceptively, “but you that they hear!”
Satan lapsed into silence inside Adam’s head. Implicitly, at first, it seemed to be admitting it was true. The devil, though sighing heavily, failed to reply. A hysterical laugh escaped Adam’s throat. It’s true, he thought light-headedly, I’m going to be groomed and programmed. Unable to think of a specific title for himself, he wondered if, like Satan’s allegory, he should not use a more general apocalyptic word, such as the word used by the street evangelist for him:… beast.
Through Adam’s gray eyes, it studied the storefront Jesus, unable to gauge his mood. Above all, regardless of his misgivings, he resented this intrusion into his mind. Drawing close to the window, Adam stared at himself a moment, his gaze penetrating into the emptiness of the store. Having served its purpose, the globe had disappeared from the room, but the imposing image of Christ continued to look out hauntingly from the glass. Moments ago, when his head was filled with promise, Satan had seen excitement in his gaze, but also fear. His spiritual leap would be a one-way trip. After watching Adam cloud the glass with his breath and trace his name, the Tempter, who had tried unsuccessfully to be a comforter, understood.
The apparent identity crisis was too much for the young man. Though intrigued by his future, he clung to his old self, with its small congregation and modest church. The old doomsday concepts, which resurfaced from his seminary days, Satan would break down. But for now, it must win his trust and friendship and make him understand: he could run, hide, and eventually get caught or he could begin anew, with a fresh identity, on the road to glory into a golden age.
Coming to the point as unequivocally as possible, it declared: “All things have a beginning and an end. Your old ministry—serving God—ended last night, and your new ministry—serving me—begins today. To yesterday, God’s minister is dead; today my servant lives. He is there before you, transfigured at last. Look at him Adam. Do you see him? He waits for your nod!”
Adam responded this time by blowing fresh steam onto his reflection. Thoroughly unnerved, Satan retreated again back into a dark, uneasy silence in his mind. After watching him rub his temples furiously a moment, however, it realized that Adam was simply trying exorcise him from his brain. Among the horrors confronting the young man, he could not cope with the evil spirit inhabiting his mind. The intimidation had worn on his already frayed nerves. He had lost too much sleep, and he had not eaten for many hours. So quietly, without warning, the Tempter gave up its favorite domain, slipping out of Adam’s mind to materialize for him as flesh and blood.