God's Gift

"You know, you can say they drive like drying paint, but think of it this way: these people are helping make it so you don't get a ticket for speeding." Jessie, the girl with the twirl that made Tommy's head swirl, leaned in to her boyfriend as she smiled at his good friend Pactu.

Pactu, fluent in English, as he'd lived amongst the language since he heard his father say, "This is America," way back when he was a child, took a sip from the Nalgene bottle of rum he'd smuggled through the Canadian border and smiled the way he always smiled when he was about to refute yet another argument. "Yes, that may have been the case, except I got pulled over anyway."

"What for?" Jessie said.

"As I was pounding my fists against the dash and cursing this jackass in front of me, I spit my gum out of the window. A policeman saw this action and felt it necessary to hand me a 150 dollar ticket," Pactu said, before jamming another marshmallow on his stick, holding it out as an extension of his crotch-area without realizing it.

"Racial profiling, man. You should take that ticket to court," Tommy said, somewhat sarcastically, though hoping Pactu might actually go through with it to further his interest in this story. "You know they only did that because you're brown. Light-skinned, I'll give you that. Still, that BMW your father bought you: that's the kind of car that gets noticed 'round these parts," he said, then remembering they were in Canada. "Well, maybe not these parts, but, you know, our parts."

"No, no, I should have known better. I'll pay their damned ticket. I'll even smile to the person who takes my check and hands me my receipt," Pactu said.

"That's good, be the bigger man," Jessie said. A few moments of silence later, Jessie requested Pactu's services in fire-heating her a hot dog. Tommy had tried earlier, but it turned out crispy-black on the outside, frozen-pink on the inside, with ash to beat the band. "Come on, you're a much better portable-spit than Tommy." She crackled along with the fire in a fit of giggles as he jabbed jovially at her ribcage.

By the time Tommy succumbed to her tear-streamed cries for release, Pactu had mounted the wiener onto a similar stick to the one he used for the marshmallows, and started its simmering over the fire. Tommy said, "Well, since it's gonna take you about a half hour to finish cooking that one dog; do you have any other stories for us?"

Generally, when it was just the three of them (since Pactu and Tommy were roommates in a two-bedroom apartment, with Jessie sleeping over quite frequently), Pactu became the main source of entertainment for the other two - that is, when they weren't romping it up under the covers. Pactu took great pride in not only recalling all the fabulous stories his father and uncles used to tell during evenings when he was a child, but also coming up with his own intricate plots to unleash upon his friends.

And, really, he never felt as if they were overly taking advantage of him. He would do anything they asked so long as it didn't harm others in the process.

"As a matter of fact, there is one I've been saving for a night like this. This is a story you cannot rush. It may be told in a haphazard manner, but it still needs its time to unfold properly. My uncle Yonbeéc -"

"Ooo, I love his stories!" Jessie said, sitting up, clapping her hands like a five-year-old ready to blow out her candles.

"Yes, my uncle does tell some wonderful tales. This one, however, is slightly more racy than the others you have heard. He told this one to me when I was thirteen years of age, without my father or any of the other children in the room. As you know, he never titles his stories, but I always feel they are appropriate. I have titled this one, 'God's Gift'. Also, to tell the version he told to me would require you to have extensive knowledge of my homeland. I will not bore you with the details, but trust me, you do not want to know about the bestiality laws of my land. So, I have adapted it to fit a modern American mind frame." Pactu took a moment to collect his thoughts as Tommy and Jessie sat, eyes fixed between his face and the hot dog over the fire.

"The man, I'll call him Harris, sat up in his bed one night before going to sleep. He had his pillows propped up behind his back, because of a nasty condition he acquired after a motorcycle fall. The pain, while bearable, often prevented him from getting a proper night's sleep.

"Harris was a religious man. He didn't go overboard with it like some of these people who attend services seven times a week. As a child, Harris suffered through his Sunday School lessons and, as a teenager, decided to stick with the religion, through no great pressure by his parents. The three of them went to church every Sunday, then they returned home to live a normal life. And, while Harris may have not spent his days preaching the gospel or recruiting new sheep to the flock, he still took a few moments to pray every night before sleep. Failing the ability to plant himself on his knees, Harris chose to prop himself up with his pillows and simply sit atop his bed. He believed God would not hold this against him.

"On this particular evening, as with all of the other evenings he prayed to the Lord, Harris did not wish for his back to heal quicker. Instead, he reserved his time with God for more important issues. Blessing his family, his country, wishing for peace around the world, wishing for an end to hunger. Never once did he ever ask for anything for himself. Until this particular evening.

"Like I said, he did not pray for healthy body, nor money, nor power or fame. Instead, Harris made this request; he said, 'I wish for the power to heal the sick.'

"After uttering these words, there appeared in his ceiling a wide hole of light. This bright light came to his attention through his closed eyelids and he opened them cautiously. Still, as this had been the brightest light he had ever seen, brighter than twenty suns, Harris found he did not need to squint or shield his pupils from this onslaught. In this light, he saw the face of God. And then, God spoke.

" 'Harris,' He said. 'You have been a pious, loyal follower. You have never requested anything for yourself; why do you make such a request now?'

"To which Harris replied, 'Lord, I have seen many of society's ills in my lifetime. Your people are in pain. Death and destruction are running rampant. I wish for only the ability to help ease the world's suffering. To give people hope. To cure the sick and dying, and in so doing, showing them the light; showing them the power of the almighty Lord. I wish not for personal gain; I only wish to help spread Your word and bring with it a new utopia.'

"God considered this and knew in His heart that Harris's words were spoken in good faith, with the best of intentions. Yet, He also knew the folly of man. Man, most frequently, always had good intentions, however the end result seemed, more often than not, to be lacking in the Lord's vision. So, He decided to put Harris to the test. God said, 'I shall give you the power of which you desire, with one catch. You will have the ability to cure every man, woman, and child of any ill they may acquire, but to do so, you will be required to engage in the act of copulation with whomever you choose to heal.'

"Harris had to consider this arrangement. The first thought that popped into his head came out of his mouth almost instantly. He said, 'But, Lord, is it not a sin to have intercourse before marriage?'

"God smiled upon his doting follower. 'Yes it is. I hereby acknowledge that, if your reason for copulating is solely for the intent of healing, then it is not a sin for either participant.'

"When God felt that Harris was satisfactorily subdued in his queries, He said, 'Now, the power is yours. Use it wisely. You will not hear from me on this matter again until, if the time comes, you should reach Heaven. Then, and only then, will we have discourse.' Having had His say, God's face exited Harris's ceiling and the light went away; Harris's eyes did not need adjusting to the resumed darkness.

"The following day, Harris could not wait to try out his new gift on someone. As I have said, Harris was a doting Christian. However, he was not above the occasional party or the occasional drink in a social setting. And, as this day happened to fall on a Friday, Harris decided to join his friends at one of their college fraternity parties.

"It was here that Harris knew he could find someone quite easy to test out his powers on. With a little alcohol, any number of females would be at his bedside."

"Hey!" Jessie said, mocking a feminist shock. "I resent that!"

"I speak not of you," Pactu said. "But, you know the type.

"Anyway, Harris went to the party and sought out someone who appeared in ill health. He knew of a few girls who happened to have sexually transmitted diseases, but Harris's faith, while strong in the Lord, was not so strong with his own eyes. He wanted to make absolutely sure that he did, indeed, have the gift God promised him.

"When he noticed one of the girls he shared a class with blowing her nose with a tissue, Harris walked over to her. He could smell and see right off that she had had more alcohol than she could possibly handle. This would make his job that much easier. She greeted him with a smile and a hug. Her name was Jodie, by the way.

"Harris asked her if she was sick and Jodie replied, 'I have allergies, and this place has a cat, so I cannot stop sneezing.' They shared some repartee for the next half hour, with much of that time spent by Harris holding the tipsy Jodie upright.

"Harris said, to the now drunk beyond repair Jodie, 'You know, I believe I may just have the cure for what ails your allergies.' Jodie knew what he was talking about, so she latched hold of his arm and dragged him out of the house and back to hers. In Jodie's bedroom, on her bed, Jodie stripped while sitting atop Harris. While he pulled his shirt over his head, Harris said, 'As soon as we are finished, you will no longer have your allergy to cats. I have been given the gift to heal people.'

"Jodie smiled down at him hungrily, then said in a sarcastic tone, 'You say you can heal people with your penis? I guess there is only one way to find out.'

"Harris and Jodie presumed their quest for coitus, but Harris was unable to ascertain if it had actually worked, as Jodie passed out as soon as they were finished. Indeed, though, the next day, Jodie no longer required tissues for her nose. Likewise, when the two of them returned to the house with the cat, Jodie's allergies did not act up once. She had been cured and she was endlessly amazed. Jodie was so grateful, in fact, that she wished to thank Harris by having sex with him again. Harris could not, though, because that would not be with the intentions to heal her, as she had already been healed. That would be a sin, of which God told him he must not commit.

"As time went by, Harris found two more ladies, both with common colds, to succumb to his testing before he felt assured. Both times, they had been cured. Thus began the word-of-mouth spreading of his abilities. After these three, there were now adventurous women approaching him with the request that he heal them with his ejaculate.

"The real test came when a woman with full blown AIDS approached him with tears of hope in her eyes. She'd been in and out of hospitals for the last decade and by this point she was in her early thirties looking for any last resort she could cling to. With the ease and calm of a dedicated servant of the people, Harris took this woman to bed and after her subsequent testing, doctors found a clean bill of health.

"This brought about with it national attention. No longer was it simple word of mouth from people with crotch sores and the flu. The woman was interviewed, her doctors were interviewed, and it did not take the press long to find out where Harris could be located.

"Harris's celebrity blossomed as, day after day, he healed woman after woman. Many women would invent fake health problems just to be with him and have the story to tell - and they found afterward it was like a shot of energy not unlike a heavy dose of caffeine. However, through getting so much action, Harris began to notice he was lacking in the libido side of things. Harris decided to try out new positions with different inputs, all resulting in the same healing effect on the women.

"This was all well and good for the key word in this equation: women. Still, Harris was supposed to be using a gift from God to heal the people. Going on three months, Harris had helped no one but women. When men started approaching him, some with major, cancerous diseases, Harris had to stop and take time to reflect.

"Never in his life had Harris felt any homosexual tendencies. However, this mission he was on had nothing to do with sexual orientation or desire. On the other hand, homosexuality was, and is, condemned by the Lord. Then again, God did give Harris the power to help the people, so He must have foreseen this.

"Also, by this time, since Harris was so beloved by the people, ego started to become a factor in his decision-making. While his desire must "officially" be placed on the backburner, he found himself, more and more, choosing the better-looking of the women to heal before anyone too grotesque to look at without a bag over her or his head.

"What made all of this that much more troubling was the fact that Harris found his living conditions quite sub par. He was still living in the same squalor that he had inhabited before God spoke to him, and he started to resent this fact. Famous people, rich people, powerful people who were not nearly as beloved as Harris were living like kings while he had to resort to ramen noodle soup and grocery-store brand saltine crackers.

"So, when a man approached him on his brother's behalf - who was in the hospital after the latest round of futile chemotherapy - with a briefcase full of hundreds, Harris decided to take him up on the offer. He had stipulations, though. First off, Harris would need stimulation from a willing female participant directly before the insemination. Secondly, it would have to be submitted orally, as Harris believed the only alternative stood for everything his religion was against - at least, when it related to another man.

"This single act made Harris a wealthy man, and afterward he took male patients on a selective case-by-case basis, and only when it suited him financially. This sort of sexual discrimination did not deter his popularity one bit. Worldwide acclaim followed in the next few months. Magazines dubbed him the most popular man alive and "The New Jesus." Harris never officially accepted these accolades as his own personal moniker, but he did not refute them either. True, the lifestyle started going to his head.

"In fact, there was only a small segment who disliked this new messiah. A group of fervent Christians, led by a man named Herrmann Bernard, took to denouncing this man as a phony, using black magic and voodoo to beguile the public into believing in his false tales as a part of some elaborate master plan to reintroduce Satan into the world. This segment, miniscule as it was, still managed to access a number of television panel discussions on the subject of Harris and his healing abilities. Commentators tried to show this group the statistics and the cold hard facts that Harris was, indeed, somehow healing these people. There was no scientific reason, which left these commentators baffled that such religious experts would refuse to believe in something so miraculous - as these were miracles, in every sense of the word, carried out by a human being.

"As a result of a perceived hypocrisy, this segment, who called themselves Christ's True Followers, was denounced in the media. Nevertheless, this group began to secretly plot against Harris and his quote, 'heathen ways.'

"In the meantime, there were other problems arising for Harris; ones he was actually aware of. Laws of the land made it forbidden to perform his miracles with children. Harris realized this and believed in them wholeheartedly. Besides, it may do harm to his image he was trying to keep in the highest of percentiles. With all the work he was able to do with adults, this left hospitals and doctors with ample ability to focus a larger portion of their talent and skill on those left out - many men and all children.

"This policy, both of the lawmakers and of Harris's own accord, still did not deter some demented parents from bringing their 12-year-old daughters in with profuse promises of silence on their behalf. Demented as the thought was, these parents were desperate, and Harris could understand that, but he still could not bring himself to even attempt the act.

"This did not stop some older-looking 15 and 16 year olds from sneaking in under his radar on occasion. Those who did so, and admitted it to him afterward, promised to keep their silence in the matter and actually kept their words. After a time of deep concern on his own criminal safety in the matter, Harris was compelled to receive proof of age before following through with any other patients.

"But, with most celebrities, especially one of his stature and exposure, there were a few occasions when some teenage girls, along with their parents, would bring lawsuits against Harris. This had to do solely with the fact that he was rich and these people wanted a piece. None of the accusations ever held up in court, though, as these girls were found out to have never been sick in the first place, or they faked being well with false medical documents. After an especially rough summer on him legally, Harris found a renewed enthusiasm for his person with acquittal after acquittal.

"By the turning of the oak-tree leaves, Harris had experienced a lifetime of celebrity, wealth, power, and sexual experience, all in under a year. He had no lacking of new sexual partners at his disposal; the waiting list was a mile long, in 10-point font, single-spaced, Arial narrow. Harris was on top of the world and starting to forget his original intent of simply helping the people. At this time, Harris found he was relishing his duties a little too much. That was when God decided it was time to strike; to put him to the test to see if his faith was still pure.

"In the practice of making another easy million from a rich, middle-aged man, Harris received urgent news that his 62 year old mother was in the hospital. Doctors found terminal cancer all through her body; no amount of medical science would be able to cure her.

"As soon as he heard this, Harris broke down in tears. He found solitude and the only thing he could muster saying to himself was, 'How could I be cursed with a gift that could save every person on the planet . . . except for a member of my own family?!'

"Harris always believed he would do anything for his family, but this news struck as a tragic blow. Obviously, his mother would not force him into anything incestuous to save her own skin; the dilemma was squarely on Harris's back. And Harris weighed every possible option he could think of.

"Thinking about it physiologically, the semen within him was made up of half of his mother's DNA, the other half belonging to his father who had already inseminated her at least once in this lifetime. Nothing terribly wrong there. Harris had to take it another direction: did the act of physically inserting his penis into another person's body actually mean anything? With all of the action he had been seeing over the last nine or so months, Harris began to think not. After all, Harris had received sex orally from a number of men, but that did not mean he felt any sexual orientation towards homosexuality. He was simply providing a service, albeit one no longer solely faith-based, but monetary as well. With these two checks in his favor, at least in his own mind, there was only one hurdle to leap: the act of 'making love.'

"For all of his life, sex had been associated with this term. You find someone, you fall in love with her, you consummate the relationship by showing your love for that person physically. But, love is a relative term. Did he not love his mother? Obviously, not in the same way he would love his wife if he decided to ever marry. Also, is saving someone's life not the ultimate act of making love?

"All the while, he mulled over his thoughts alone, in seclusion in his mansion, with reporters having a field day outside. They waited with baited breath to see if he would emerge with an answer. Polls taken wavered dramatically when people were asked, if in the same situation, they would save their mothers or not. Obviously, the Christ's True Followers people condemned him as a false prophet out for money and nothing else. A full week followed between the time Harris received the news until he finally exited his compound. The reporters, and indeed, the world found out his answer as he was leaving to visit his mother in the hospital on what would surely be one of her final days.

"Harris gave a brief statement, saying simply that he chose to save his mother. He left in a convoy of policemen not unlike a presidential motorcade, but as he arrived at the hospital, he found he was too late.

"In an effort to 'preserve the sanctity' of Harris's mother, Christ's True Followers took it upon themselves to blow up the hospital rather than allow Harris's mother to be exposed to such quote, 'soulless behavior.'

"Herrmann quickly admitted to the act on behalf of his group, but not before he managed to approach Harris, even with security all around him, and shoot him in the head, killing him instantly.

"People around the world mourned Harris's death, reacting as many would react to a beloved political leader being slain while in office. Everyone in the Christ's True Followers group were captured and penalized to the full extent of the law, though the leader, sadly to many, was not gunned down in a similar fashion as, say, Lee Harvey Oswald.

"As for Harris, for only the second time in his soul's existence, he saw the face of God, this time, as promised, in Heaven. The Lord both lauded his efforts in helping as many people as he could and condemned his behavior after reaching iconic status. God said, 'I have allowed you to enter Heaven's graces for the sole reason that you committed far more good in the world than evil. You shall enjoy everything Heaven has to offer; and I hereby allow you to ask me one question.'

"Harris desperately wanted to ask 'What was the meaning of that test; why did my mother have to suffer for you to teach me a lesson?' but instead chose the usual standby question of 'What was the meaning of life?' He hoped he would receive the answer to both questions when God gave his reply."

Pactu brought the hot dog closer to his face to inspect the color and size of it. All through the telling of his story, the hot dog never split. There were no black spots, it was as evenly cooked as he had ever managed. Jessie and Tommy sat there watching him, Jessie far more invested in the story; Tommy just wished he had requested the hot dog before his girlfriend.

"Well! What did God say?" Jessie said, now leaning in, hands on her knees, back stiff.

Pactu said, "Grab your bun, it appears as if your hot dog is ready." He sat there with a glib smile on his face.

At this, Tommy sat up. "Oh no! This isn't gonna be one of those stories with that kind of an ending! Come on, now! If it is, then just make something up; I hate it when people just cut the story off like that and call it an end."

"Tommy, relax, I would not end the story like that; you should know me better. I just wanted Jessie to taste her hot dog before it began to cool," Pactu said, sliding the wiener off and placing it in Jessie's bun.

"Don't worry, babe. Here, you want half?" Jessie said.

"Sure, I'll split it with you," Tommy said, breaking it apart, not quite evenly, and taking the slightly bigger half for himself. Then, he looked over at Pactu, taking a larger than life bite. Once swallowed, he said, "Okay, you! Let's hear it."

"God said, 'A life lived in greed is not a life lived well.' " Pactu looked from the fire, to the sky, and finally directly at Tommy. " 'People without purity in their hearts must pay the consequences.' " Pactu's eyes began to narrow as he noticed discomfort on Tommy's face. Tommy clutched at his throat, gasping for air that refused to invade his lungs. Pactu continued, with Jessie not noticing her boyfriend dying right next to her. She could not stop staring at Pactu until he finished his story. " 'Life, my son, is only the testing ground; to see if your soul is pure enough to come to Heaven. Everything builds to the afterlife, and your time has finally come.' " Pactu closed his eyes as Tommy fell onto his back, poisoned by the same hot dog he had shared with Jessie; though Jessie felt no ill effects. All efforts to revive Tommy were useless; Pactu had made sure of that.