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A Christian science fiction story about a boy's cryptic encounter with an advocate of God.
The entry door's handle is cold, giving off an almost hostile impression. I realize that I'm being silly. It's a normal chatroom and this is a normal door handle-well, a normal virtual door handle, anyway. I stop and take a moment to inhale deeply. I grip the handle and turn it quickly. I thrust open the door, dart inside and promptly turn back to the door. I take another deep breath, then turn around slowly.
I'm surprised to see the other person already seated at the other end of the room. I can't yet tell what they look like; they're represented only by a shadowy, faceless form sitting rigidly upright. I know that I look exactly the same to him . . . or her. Depending on the course of our ensuing conversation, we may choose to reveal our true faces to each other. We may opt not to. The other person doesn't speak, so I decide to initiate the conversation.
"What's your name?"
The figure lifts its head at the sound of my voice. I wonder if it's someone I've chatted with before and whether they recognize my voice-I haven't disguised it.
"I'd like to remain nameless for the time being, if that's alright."
I'm a bit taken aback. It's customary to at least chat on a first name basis . . . but I decide it's not a totally unreasonable request.
"Sure," I say, "but I don't mind telling you my name. It's Ben."
"I know who you are, Ben Dellner."
My heart stops beating. This stranger knows my name? My last name? I never give my last name out in chatrooms.
"You-you know me?"
"I know you well, Ben." The figure hesitates. "I was about to say that perhaps I know you better than you know yourself, but that may not be such a valid observation. I do know you well, though."
I try desperately to place the voice of the obscured form, but I'm not able to. I decide it's no use-they're almost certainly using voice encryption, which is technically illegal, though chatroom rules are rarely enforced.
It suddenly occurs to me that I don't know whether to be pleasantly surprised or horribly frightened by the fact that this mystery-person knows who I am.
"Doesn't my visual encryption work?" I ask.
"It appears to be working fine."
"Then how do you know who I am?"
"There's more ways to recognize a person than by sight."
Aha, I think, he must recognize my voice.
"How do I know you then?"
"Oh, let's just say we're old acquaintances. Hell, old friends even."
I frown. There's a fundamental flaw in this explanation. "That can't be right. I-I don't really have any friends. I never have." There is no response from the figure-verbal, physical, or otherwise. "Sure," I continue, "I suppose I've had acquaintances. But friends . . . I don't think I've ever known anyone well enough to consider them a friend."
The figure shakes its head in support. "Good friends are hard to come by."
"They're hard to come by period, good or bad alike. At least for me."
The figure remains motionless and silent until I part my lips, about to speak, when it suddenly interrupts me. "Why is that?" it asks.
I raise my eyebrows in interest. "Why can't I make friends?" The figure nods. "Well. . . ." I trail off. Normally I'd be somewhat offended by such a question, but the innocence with which the question has been posed leaves me pondering the matter fervently. I'm surprised to find that I'm not sure why I can't make friends. I've never thought the matter through with any thoroughness. But then I realize that the figure has gotten me way off track. "Who are you?"
"Why so impatient, Ben? I'll tell you eventually."
I frown slightly, but try to hide my annoyance-if my visual encryption really isn't working, it won't matter anyway.
"What qualities do you look for in a friend?" the figure asks me.
I shake my head. "I . . . I don't know."
"Maybe that's your problem."
I find myself growing angry. What's the point of playing mind games with me? It may be fun for him, but I find that it's pissing me off. "What do you want from me?" I yell. The figure chuckles.
"I don't want anything from you, Ben. I only want to help you."
"Help me? How so?"
The figure leans forward and moves its hand beneath its chin, suddenly resembling that famous statue, The Thinker. "I'm trying to help you see the truth."
He chuckles. "Telling you outright will only confuse you, Ben. But I think if you cooperate with me, you'll be rewarded with a delightful epiphany-one that's been sitting dormant in your mind, just waiting for the right mental stimulation to awaken it."
I shrug. What the hell. Yeah, this is a weird conversation, but this person seems oddly genuine. It occurs to me that he could be a hacker-that would explain how he'd gotten my name. But if he really is a hacker, I've been distracted long enough for him to have already gained access to all my computer files. I decide I've nothing to lose by playing along with his little game . . . in fact, I have to admit to myself that I've been playing along this entire time.
"Well," I say, "I don't typically have epiphanies as a result of casual chatroom conversation, but you're more than welcome to try to induce one."
The figure leans back, almost giving the impression of smiling. "Let's get started then, shall we?" I think, haven't we already started? I open my mouth to ask as much when the figure suddenly asks a question.
"Think this through carefully, Ben. What qualities would you look for in a friend? Take your time, now. You will come up with an answer."
Annoyance washes over me. How does he know I'll come up with an answer? But instead of vocalizing that sentiment, I think over the question. What qualities would I look for in a friend?
We sit in silence for a long time as I ponder the matter. "Well," I say after a long while, "I suppose I'd want a friend that I could easily talk to."
The figure nods. "Go on."
I think for a moment. "A friend has to be someone that you can trust."
"But it's hard to find anyone that's completely trustworthy."
"I know. But . . . well, I guess that my ideal friend would be completely trustworthy."
The figure's head nods in agreement. "Very good. A person's best friend should be as trustworthy as possible, right?"
"Yeah, I suppose."
"Don't stop. What else can you think of?"
"That's all I can think of for now."
"Very well." The figure pauses dramatically, as if carefully choosing its words. "What would you say if I told you that there was someone that could meet every criterion for a friend that you could ever think of?"
I raise an eyebrow. "You?" The figure begins to laugh, almost hysterically.
"No, Ben, not me-I'm fallible in a million ways, just as any human being is."
I'm confused by this statement. "But you said-"
"Listen carefully to what I said. Every human being is fallible."
"So . . . what, you're talking about God?" The figure nods. I find my impatience growing. "Well that's ridiculous! How am I going to be friends with God?"
"Many before you have found Him a reliable friend-the most reliable, in fact."
"Look, you're kind of preaching to the wrong choir here-I believe in God."
"But you don't want to be friends with Him."
"I can't be friends with Him."
"Because . . . because He's not a tangible presence! I can't do . . . things with God . . . I can't stroll down the mall with Him by my side, or hang out with him after school . . . or anything like that. You know what I mean?"
"Actually, Ben, you can't do those things without Him."
"Yeah, ok, 'God is always with me,' I know all that crap, but you're not getting what I mean when I talk about friends . . . I need somebody real to be friends with, someone tangible."
"God is not physically tangible, but He's just like any other friend in every other way-only better. You can talk to him through prayer, you can listen to His subtle responses, and you can see Him by looking around you at His creation. In all your self-pitying loneliness, you've failed to look upon the one true friend who's always been there for you whether you were there for Him or not. You may have failed Him in the past, Ben, but He will never fail you.
"When you build that kind of friendly, personal relationship with God, it will help you make friends in the future, Ben. You find it difficult to make friends because you don't possess the characteristics that others expect in a friend, and you find yourself too apathetic to change. But when you become friends with God, He becomes your inspiration. He'll become a part of you, and you'll gain some of the understanding and trustworthiness that others will expect from you as a friend."
I shake my head in amazement. "Look, you sound kind of crazy, but, you make some sense. You put things in a perspective I've never looked from before. Please, will you tell me now who you are?" To my surprise, the figure stands, apparently obeying my request. My stomach feels like it's full of rabid butterflies. Will I know this person?
The dark, milky opaqueness concealing the person's true form begins to dissipate, beginning with its shoes then working its way up. Two black tennis shoes are revealed. Khaki pants, held up by an ancient-looking brown leather belt. A tucked in, blue t-shirt. A strong looking, tanned neck. A face.
I utter a confused sigh in response to the sight of the doppelgÃ¤nger standing before me. There are my subdued blue eyes, my freckled nose, my chapped lips, staring back at me as if I were looking into a mirror. How is this possible?
"Who are you?" I ask. The person-my apparent clone-laughs at my confusion.
"Does it really matter, Ben?"
"Of course it matters! Who the hell are you-are you some kind of impersonator, or . . . or am I actually somehow talking to myself?"
"There's many ways this could have happened, Ben." The clone stares into my eyes with a confidence and wisdom that seem completely alien to my nervous form. "Perhaps a computer glitch occurred, creating an exact replica of your figure that was overtaken by some artificial intelligence. Perhaps you're hallucinating in the midst of a coma, or at the hands of a drug-induced high. Perhaps you're dreaming. Or perhaps, Ben, you've experienced a kind of God-given miracle. But I don't think it matters which of these explanations represents reality, because it's not the means of communication that's important; it's the message that's been communicated to you that you need to focus on. I think you've received your epiphany, Ben-it was fermenting in your brain all along."
"This can't be happening. It can't be real . . . but I have learned something. Something about myself, and . . . and something about God."
"Goodbye, Ben. Take care." My double disappears and I suddenly find myself sitting in my swiveling computer chair, drenched in sweat, myriad cables connecting me to my computer. "What the hell . . . am I going crazy?" I start to disregard the whole event, but as I begin removing the wires from my body, I slowly shake my head back and forth. I'm not going to disregard this. So what if it was real or not? If it was all just a dream, does that make the message invalid? No. Of course not. I should have listened to myself a long time ago. It's time for me to start a new relationship. It's time for me to talk to God.