| I parked in the lot next to the beach and got out of the car. Michael sat in the passenger’s seat rocking gently, hands tucked beneath his thighs. I stood there and watched him for a moment with dread. Sighing, I walked around the front of the car and opened the door. He stopped rocking but didn’t look at me. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he slid out of the car.
We walked down to the beach along the boardwalk, passing through the tall sea oats that rose up from the sand to sway softly in the night breeze. The light from the street lamps followed us down the steps but could not penetrate the darkness resting on the beach. The lights from the nearby hotels were too small to make a dent in the night. We were left with a three-quarters moon and the little pinpricks of stars to light our way along the hard-packed sand at the water’s edge.
Michael followed dutifully, mumbling to himself behind me. His mother had called me in a panic tonight, begging me to go over to his apartment and check on him. She said something was terribly wrong with him, but I hadn’t been prepared for what I had found.
Michael and I had been friends throughout high school and even dated as sophomores. Mostly, we had just been friends. I finished college and moved back to Cocoa Beach to find Michael living just three apartments down from me. We started hanging out together again about a month ago. Michael was the kind of guy you could pick up again and never know there had been any time apart.
When I had walked in to his apartment earlier that night, it was as though a tornado had blown through. All over the walls he had drawn pictures of birds and helicopters and written out passages from Revelations in black paint. His hair looked like it hadn’t seen a brush in days and he was unshaven. In all my years of knowing him, I had never seen Michael with facial hair. Funny, it was that scraggly beard and not the paintings on the wall that had first told me something was wrong with him.
Unable to think of anything else to do, I had brought him out to the beach. Water was supposed to be calming, and Michael could definitely use some of that. I could still hear him mumbling to himself behind me, but my mind refused to define the words coming out of his mouth. I stopped and let him catch up to me, looking out onto the black water, trying to brace myself.
The roar of the ocean always seemed louder at night. I had lived my entire life near the beach and it had always been my closest friend. I knew its quirks and intricacies like a sister: the pull of the riptide in spring, the hours of high tide throughout the seasons and the salty rime it left on your skin and hair.
“I told ya! I told ya!” Michael had caught up with me.
“You told me what, Michael?”
He looked at me, a weird half-smile on his lips, his hands opening and closing rapidly at his sides. “You know…” he whispered.
I shivered. I could see the light of the moon sparkling in his eyes. They were black in the dark of the beach, with yellow glints of light from the heavenly bodies in the night sky. I could hear him breathe out insane little chuckles every few moments and it was the eeriest thing I had ever heard.
The person standing in front of me was a stranger. The Michael I knew had been tall and muscular, with soft, curly blonde hair and happy blue eyes that always danced with laughter. To put it bluntly, he had been smokin’ hot all through high school. Not only that, he was brilliant. I was a year older than he was and we graduated the same year. He got straight A’s while I struggled to maintain B’s.
Now, here he was, standing in front of me looking whacked out. His hair was longer and greasy, as if he hadn’t washed it in a month. He had lost a good thirty pounds of muscle and his skin stretched tautly across his bones. I could see his ribs through his open shirt. No shoes—I hadn’t been able to convince him to put on shoes before we left. He looked like a crazed Messiah ready to bring down brimstone and hellfire from the heavens.
“Michael, what is going on with you?”
The smile faded from his face and he stepped closer, whispering in my ear, “They’re listening, Jenny. They can hear us.”
“Stop it, Michael! What in the hell are you talking about? No one’s here, no one’s listening. Would you just get a grip for one minute?” I was getting frustrated. I ran my hand through my hair, pulling it back away from my face.
“The helicopters, Jenny. The black ones with the guns. They fly over me at night. The white vans…they listen through the electrical cords—that’s how they get inside.”
He walked off ahead of me, arms flapping like wings upon the wind. He was making strange noises as he walked quickly down the beach, half growling, half cawing. I can’t exactly describe it, but it was creepy. I jogged to catch up to him as we passed near the steps of the next boardwalk onto the beach.
Michael stood staring at an old bum sitting in the sand, propped up against the weathered wooden steps. The man was dressed in worn-out jeans, an old ratty Led Zeppelin t-shirt and cheap flip-flops. Three large shopping bags of stuff were arranged neatly behind him. I stopped a few yards away, wary of the look about the bum.
Michael wasn’t afraid of the man. He stood there talking at him, arms flailing wildly as he spoke. The bum looked more afraid of Michael.
“I see. I see,” Michael was saying.
The old man stared at Michael with a trapped look in his eye—sea oats to his back, boardwalk railing to his right, and a crazed young man in front of him. His eyes darted around, looking for escape, landing on me in a moment of hope.
“Miss,” he said, “Do you think you could take your boyfriend here somewhere else? I think he needs help of some kind. There’s a hospital right up the way, if you didn’t know.”
I knew, but convincing Michael to go there was a whole different story. I approached Michael and softly touched his shoulder. He startled and turned toward me in fright, then relaxed again when he recognized me.
“C’mon Michael, let’s leave the guy alone.”
Michael looked at me with a strange mixture of confusion and excitement, but came willingly as I led him away.
“Jenny, did you know he was my father? He told me so. I knew all my life that my dad wasn’t my real father. I always knew. Now, I’ve seen my real father.” He leaned closer to me, excitement on his face. “And Jenny,” he whispered, “he’s God!”
Michael sprang away from me then and began dancing in the moonlight, shouting, “Hallelujah!” and babbling all kinds of strange things I couldn’t comprehend. Then he came skipping back to me, hands in front of him, palms out.
“See?” he said wildly, “I have the scars!” He twisted his hands around and around to show me the scars only he could see. It didn’t sink in, what he was talking about.
“Jenny, don’t you get it? God is my father—my real father. Don’t you understand who I am? I am the son of God!”
The realization of what he was saying finally sank in with a sickening feeling. I wanted to cry. I wanted to sink down on my knees in the sand and just weep. Instead, I pulled myself together, choking back the sobs, and took Michael by the arm.
We walked back to the car as Michael chattered on about all the implications of his newly discovered status on Earth, all the plans he had to bring on the Apocalypse and how he would save as many souls as he could. I listened numbly as I put him back in the car and buckled him in like a child.
I drove the short distance to Cape Canaveral Hospital and escorted Michael into the ER. It only took a few moments for them to realize what was going on, and the intake nurse had a security guard escort Michael into the back. They asked me to stay behind to fill out his paperwork.
I watched Michael shuffle along the corridor with his escort and disappear through the swinging doors, arms straight out from his sides.
“My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
Those were the last words I heard.