Elroy Stark shuffled up the steps to the Eternal Flame Christian Spiritualist Church one wet Monday afternoon. He was late again. His manager always managed to persuade him to stay for ‘just a few minutes’ to finish off some important document or other.
He shook his umbrella several times in quick succession when he reached the top step, folded it down and smoothed back his wet, greasy hair into an overly-slick Dracula style before entering the hall.
The meeting, as usual, was already under way and the spirit medium, Frederick Wallas, was sitting perfectly still and upright in a wooden chair at the front. His monotone voice bounced off the stone walls of the former Freemasons’ building.
Elroy’s scuffed leather shoes squeaked on the highly polished floorboards as he approached the back row of seats. He tried to shift his weight to prevent the squeaking, but ended up making it worse. A few heads spun around to look at him as he squelched his way towards them. One woman in her sixties saw it was Elroy, shook her head and turned back to face the medium. A red-headed, pale man sitting in the front row narrowed his eyes and glared at Elroy as if trying to kill him with his thoughts. That was ‘Bonny’ Benny, the Church’s founder.
Elroy sat on a chair right at the end of the back row, next to a lady he’d noticed at the last three meetings but had not spoken to. Her greying auburn hair was wavy and although it was fixed up tightly in a bun, a couple of wild strands frizzed out in a rebellious act totally at odds with her perfect posture. She sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and looked to be in her early forties; at least ten years older than Elroy, but there was something about her lips and her flawless Snow White skin.
He wriggled in his seat, attempting to remove his arms from the sleeves of his sodden raincoat. He should have taken it off before he sat down, but the glaring had been too much. As he managed to extract his left arm, he elbowed Posture Lady, who shot him a sharp sideways look and cleared her throat before returning her attention to the medium.
“Damnit,” he muttered. “Sorry.” The other arm flew out as if controlled by some external force and he shoved the coat in a ball under his chair.
As he settled down to listen to Fred, he made a mental note to catch the earlier bus next week. He’d made that same mental note each week for the past six months, but this time he really meant it.
“The time is approaching when mankind will achieve its full potential.” Fred paused. He always paused for an uncomfortably long time between sentences when he was channelling the Vegans (or whoever it was this week), “When all will be made aware of Spirit,” he continued, his voice wheezy and slightly wrong – almost robotic. “But we are afraid that humanity must first pass through a terrible era of war, starvation and disease.”
Sounds great, Elroy thought. Fred said more or less the same thing each Monday as he channelled messages from the beings of the star Vega, or the planet Saturn or the unicorns from Never Never Land. They never gave specifics or a plan of action, just endless warnings of death and destruction. He could have stayed at home and watched BBC News for that.
But he didn’t stay at home. Something about the place fascinated him. Six months ago, after he’d been overlooked for the third time for promotion to supervisor at his insurance firm, Elroy had plunged head-first into a mid-life crisis. He preferred to think of it as a mid-life crisis and not a nervous breakdown; mid-life crises were more socially acceptable. He was 33 years old, single, stuck in a job he despised with no more opportunities for promotion in the foreseeable future and, worst of all, he suffered from clinical depression. He’d needed a change; something new. Something that would provide some answers.
The Eternal Flame Christian Spiritualist Church in Dagenham hadn’t provided any answers yet, but Elroy returned each week because it gave him a glimmer of hope that there was something more. More than offices and taxes and pensions. More than TV soaps and ironing shirts. Something beyond supermarket promotions and sofa company sales.
Elroy Stark needed to believe that there was more to human life than the concrete buildings and the endless stupidity that surrounded him day in, day out. He was desperately searching for the escape hatch out of his mundane, colourless life.
His parents, if he had still been in contact with them, would have reminded him how he was given every opportunity to make something of his life; to become somebody. They had sent him to one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, but the young Elroy hadn’t been interested. His barrister father was eager for his son to follow in his footsteps, but Elroy had been more interested in girls and art… and girls. When he failed all of his exams after they had spent thousands on his education, his parents practically disowned him.
When the meeting was over twenty minutes later, Elroy thought about introducing himself to the lady next to him, but instead he squeaked back out of the hall and went home to his microwavable lasagne.
That evening Elroy fell asleep on his sofa with a heavy philosophy book splayed open on his chest and an empty plastic microwave carton on the coffee table beside him.
Wake up, Elroy.
Elroy rolled over onto his side, the book thumped to the floor and he sat bolt upright.
Listen to me, Elroy.
Elroy rubbed his eyes hard in an attempt to shake off the dream.
Are you listening, Elroy?
Huh? He looked around the room. The television was switched off, so was the stereo. The voice wasn’t loud, but it was perfectly clear, as if someone else were in the room with him.
It’s okay. Don’t panic. Just listen to me.
“Who’s there?” Elroy jumped up off the sofa and stood on the book which went skidding out from under his foot, sending him flying back onto the sofa.
Just stay sitting down. It’s probably safer.
“Is someone playing a joke on me? Seriously – this isn’t funny now. Who’s here with me?”
“I mean it, I –“
Well if we really must do this the hard way.
Elroy found himself unable to speak. His mouth and tongue were still moving to form words, but no sound came out. He began to panic and then, a few seconds later, he realised that he must still be dreaming which led him to recall a book about lucid dreaming he’d read a few months back and how it was best to try to relax into the dream and learn as much from it as possible. He sat back on the sofa and waited.
That’s much better. I have some important work to do with you. I am going to give you certain abilities that you will go on to use as tools in my greater plan. These abilities will set you apart, make you special. Powerful. Do I have your attention now?
A pause. Oh! You can talk again now.
“What’s your name?” Elroy asked, almost casually.
You can call me God if you like.
“Um, okay… God. What abilities are you going to give me?” He was addressing the light bulb on the ceiling just so he had some kind of point of reference for this disembodied voice.
The ability to see certain events that will occur in the future, the ability to influence other people’s minds and manipulate the four elements. You will also have control over a powerful force called cosmic energy. Stuff like that.
“That all sounds wonderful, God, but how will I know how to use these powers?” Elroy was settling into this dream now, enjoying it a little more.
Just do what feels right and things will work out fine.
“Will I be able to fly?”
No. Don’t be stupid, Elroy.
“Sorry.” Elroy looked at his shoes.
There is a boy called Ethan King. He too has certain abilities and he has the potential to destroy human civilisation as you now know it. Your job will be to prevent that from happening.
Elroy nodded slowly. “Right. But you say he has the potential… you’re God, don’t you already know for sure if he will or not?”
Don’t make me lecture you on the whole Free Will thing. A lot depends on the choices that Ethan makes in his life, which in turn will be influenced by the experiences he has. Let me show you the potential consequences of Ethan King’s actions; what he is capable of.
Instantly a barrage of images flooded Elroy’s mind. He saw a young, slender, fair-haired man standing opposite the Houses of Parliament; his eyes wild and inhuman. He saw a pyramid-shaped artifact with a globe on the top, he saw entire cities and government buildings exploding and disintegrating and finally, he saw the young man once more standing in the centre of a vast area of now barren land that was once London, his arms outstretched, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
The image focused in on the youngster’s left hand. He was holding something – some kind of pendent or talisman. Suddenly, and without trying, Elroy was able to see an enlarged image of the amulet – just like zooming in on a picture on the computer – and could make out that the sphere in the middle contained tiny crystals, amber in colour. They were glowing intensely, radiating some kind of raw, throbbing energy.
“What were those crystal things?” Elroy asked as the vision faded.
It is known as Universal Matter and, in the wrong hands, it has the power to destroy human civilisation.
“But how? What can it do? Where does it come from?”
Only Ethan King has the ability to create this mystical substance. And only he can destroy it. It generates unlimited energy and has the potential to solve all of humanity’s problems.
“That’s a good thing, right?”
Humanity is still too immature to handle such an infinitely powerful tool. It would be used to create weapons, to destroy, to further subdue billions of people.
Ethan King must be prevented from creating the Universal Matter, or at the very least, from sharing it with the world.
“If this is such an important task, if the survival of the human race is at stake, why are you asking me to help?” Elroy shifted on the couch.
Because you have a strong connection with this boy, one that may become clear in the near future. For now, just understand that Ethan King has to be stopped. I will leave it for you to decide how best to do that. Go back to sleep now, Elroy. Things will become clearer over the next few days.
And with that, God left and Elroy found himself going back to sleep. Or was he already asleep? He wasn’t sure and somehow didn’t really care.
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