Ketchup or you’re brown bread!

Allen was feeling drained from his brainstorming session. His anxiety determined that he role-play every conceivable scenario for his visitation to the Calvinos. His mind had come up with more scenarios than a Game of Thrones plot-line. Thankfully the whiskey glass by his side promised to recover some of the vital energy he needed. Next to the glass sat a small Ruger model handgun. Such a small object and yet it was capable of utter destruction if used for wrongful intentions. What did he have use of this instrument of death for anyhow, he’d never needed to utilise anything like this before, relying on his natural charm and the occasional threat. He’d been shocked by how many gun-loading and general handling lessons he had found on YouTube.

He’d bundled Kat and Ani to a nearby Hotel. Their safety had been the first scenario he envisioned. As he reached the bottom of the driveway to the big house, he prescribed himself a last minute pep talk.

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Many thanks to 65Brenda who placed this beautiful house, Serenade on the Sims Gallery.

When the door was finally answered it was by an old lady of small stature. Allen wondered if he had got the wrong address. Her gravel voice and stern face advised Allen that this was a lady who had not been instructed to wait in the compassion queue. Barking at him she affirmed; “You’re late. Foods cold.”
The dining room was exquisitely designed, luxurious art deco sophistication. Allen noted the various animal heads lining the upper sections of the walls. The head of the family was sat at the table with other members of the family, gesturing Allen to take a seat and quickly.
Taking a big bite of his steak, small pieces of debris were launched from his mouth like escape shuttle-pods from the mothership; “Let’s get down to business. We know your history and we’d like to extend our protection to you. In exchange we will make use of your specialised skill-set. I understand you may be confused about this proposal, you may not be familiar with who we are. I shall give you some time to think about our proposal – two minutes!” His voice had a friendly demeanor with heavy undertones of a menacing threat. As Allen took a closer look in the direction he was being pointed, he observed that it wasn’t just animal heads adorning the walls, the eyes being all-too human.

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Many thanks to VincentG-1999 for the Mafia Italienne family that I have used in these screenshots.

Still being unaccustomed to the receivership end of threats Allen took the opportunity to make his opinions heard; “Interesting choice of decor,” he scuffed. “I’m out of the game though. I’m golden and I’m not interested in upsetting the daisies to plant a few tulips,” giving his trade sarcastic smile he took a sip of the wine.
“Well now, young man I have to tell you that is no way to treat the keen hospitality we’ve shown to you, ain’t that right, Antonio-,” Mr Calvino announced. He reached under the table and a large scraping sound of a heavy object was heard before Allen spotted the shotgun. Cocked and loaded it was pointed toward him; “In fact that’s out rightly rude. I’d like to invite you to reconsider, Zepeda lest you end up in my prize collection.” He nodded toward the collection. He was pointing the shotgun directly at Allen’s forehead. It fired. Allen had expected the next thing he saw to be St. Peter and the pearly gates but instead all he saw was the old man laughing his head off, rocking backwards in his chair.
“Indulge me, why would I need your protection. The only danger I appear to be in is your sick sense of humour,” Allen retorted. He felt brave enough to try and take control of the situation.

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“We are not at liberty to discuss the finer points of our operation with you just yet, Allen. Rest assured that what we can discuss with you is that there gun you’re holstering. Our little gift.” Mr Calvino gestured toward one of the bodyguards who nodded and went downstairs.

After some loud clanging of chains, the bodyguard reappeared with a restrained person. Mr Calvino gave a wry smile that did nothing to settle the atmosphere; “Found this guy sniffing around your lake house. See. Trying to set up a nail bomb, Antonio informs me. Your previous employer supposedly doesn’t consider your previous dealings with him a closed matter, Zepeda.” He gestured lazily, lighting his cigar with a nod indicating that he was acquainted with the details of Allen’s employment history. Continuing his assurance he affirmed; “There is little that happens in my town without my knowledge, or say-so, Allen. Antonio will take care of your little mess for you.”

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Allen was still reviewing his decision making process, having agreed to Calvino’s proposal – perhaps there had been something in the wine.

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As he neared his Audi (a fine specimen from their 8-series range) he failed to notice the van heading straight for it. The driver was holding something out of the window and before Allen had time to dodge, it had fired, twice.
A small red patch was seen in near-enough center of the man’s forehead before the vehicle crashed. Antonio was lurching out of the window with a rifle, impatiently shouting; “That’s two you owe, Zepeda. Remember that.”
Touching his head, Allen was greeted with a significant amount of claret in his hand. Rushing quickly to his car, his dizzying body making it an ambitious directive, he inspected the damage in his wing mirror. He’d seen enough episodes of ER to know the bullet hadn’t lodged there, it was just a graze gunshot wound, had it of been even an inch closer he may have been pushing up the daisies!

After the third glass of whiskey his nerves were familiarising themselves with normality. Kat was her usual supportive self; “I warn you, Allen they is pig dogs. Not know how respect any things. Should take them to laundry shop and take all the monies.” Allen wasn’t able to argue with her on this point. He’d known the family were corrupt but he never seriously entertained the thought that his life could ever be in any danger. Now he potentially had bigger problems as he considered the kind of work that his new employers were going to ask of him.

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Author’s reflections…
Allen has unique gifts and abilities, as we all have, and with that comes our freewill. We can choose to use the gifts and abilities that we have to help others and show love, or we can use them to cause destruction, iniquity or hurt others.
I was recently given some money that I intended to use to buy the laptop I now write on. I have a choice in how I can use, I can either use it to indulge my own selfish passions consistently, troll others on the internet or consume inappropriate media or I could use it to broadcast love through my writing and glorify God. On the desktop I have the verse; “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose].” (1 Corinthians 15:58 – Amplified Bible)
I believe one of the key reasons for why we so often choose to hurt and not love others is we fail to recognise how precious each one of us is to God. We don’t understand the worth that He places on each of us, and so because we don’t see that, we don’t see others or ourselves as valuable. Therefore, we treat both ourselves and others badly, or for wrong purposes. God has revealed in His Word how precious we are; “You are precious in my eyes,” God says, “and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4a). We can imagine the most valuable thing on earth: Diamonds, gold, an extensive collection of anime and it is of no comparison to the worth we have to God. It says He will use things like gold and diamonds for paths in Heaven, but as to us, we are precious enough for Jesus Christ to die for us – each single one of us! That is something that astounds and baffles me every time I reflect on it. My question to you, lovely reader is, do you know who Jesus is? Do you wish for him to come into your life?

The parable of the Geisha (Part I)

My name is Himeko Ikeda. I’m 26, divorced and have two beautiful daughters – of that at least I can be thankful to him for. We live in New Orleans, the city that never lets you sleep, but I was raised in a village outside of Shimbasi with my two younger sisters. This is my story of why you should never offer a hair clip to a Kodama1.

1Japanese folklore spirits that inhabit trees and curse people.

03-04-18_5-51-38 PMThe women in my family have always been Geishas2 since I can remember and I was to be no exception to the family tradition. I was currently undergoing the grueling training as a Maiko3 and awaiting my fifteenth birthday to become Geisha. My Father had promised that after my Eriage ceremony (changing of the collar) I would receive my college fund. It would enable me to study my chosen subject, further honing my abilities of making conversation and entertaining as a Geisha.

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The training I was completing as a Maiko was tiresome; long hours, constant practicing and developing our hostessing skills. With the little free time we had, we used it to mainly catch up on sleep. What was making the training harder was this stupidly long robe I was instructed to wear. It had far longer sleeves than that of the Geisha one and I never understood why it was this way around. It defied logic! Furthermore, I had been struggling with the occasional episode of clumsiness. Recently I had been carrying a tea tray to the Okami4 to practice my hostessing skills; I tripped over my Kimono5 near a naked flame, spilling tea over the precious wood flooring and setting alight my robe!

2A Japanese female hostess. Their skill-sets include music, dance and conversation.
3An apprentice to a Geisha. They wear a longer Kimono and have a differently coloured collar to the Geisha.
4Traditional Japanese robe with wide sleeves and tied with a sash.
5The head of the house where Geisha work/perform. Often female.
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I was counting every minute until the summer holidays. The daydreams about spending time with my friends on various adventures were beginning to occupy a significant amount of time. Kiyoshi had suggested a day reading poetry in the nearby Bijin Bayashi Forest. The season was offering some of the most delightful shades of warm orange and browns, the shade of warm cookie dough and apricots. 03-04-18_6-04-28 PM

Thanks to Pizzagamer860 for this rural Japanese Shrine from the Sims community.

Kiyoshi was more familiar with the mountain trails than myself. He knew about the various Oni6 and other spirits that were plaguing the path, making it dangerous to visit at night. He had suggested cycling there – all three hours of it!
The arduous ride had given me ‘saddle sore’ and as we reached the start of the treacherous path, we stopped to make an offering of wrapped sake at the Hie Jinja shrine to Sanno7, the protector of the mountain. His favour would protect us in our adventures.
Local legend spoke of people not stopping to make an offering. They found that their equipment failed them – both GPS and compass navigation. They would become quickly disorientated, and subsequently lost as the oni set about manipulating their senses. That was when the oni came out to taunt them a second time with their shrill shrieks echoing through the forest. The visitors either were led to their doom, off a cliff edge or an unplanned slide down a deep ravine. That was if the oni didn’t steal your soul first by tricking you into looking directly at them while your mouth was open!

6Supernatural ogre in Japanese folklore able to cause disasters, disease and other unpleasant things.
7Mountain King deity in Japanese culture, also features in Buddhism.

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I had under-estimated how strenuous the journey would be and was feeling like a dried-up fig from dehydration. The Okami’s training had been relentless on my body and as the path got steeper and narrower, I slipped and fell, hitting my head on a rock. I could faintly hear Kiyoshi saying he was going to get help as his phone signal had dropped. No, please, not Kiyoshi leave my friend alone!

When I awoke, I was laying at the foot of a tree. I wasn’t on the path anymore and there was no sign of my friend. I heard a rustling sound of leaves from behind me, and a voice that didn’t sound human; “Pretty girl. Take home.”
I turned to see an oni that appeared to resemble a greenman. It had a delicate pink flower sat atop of it’s head and was making several random sounds bloop swish plop. As these echoing sounds traveled through the forest and I gazed upon its devious grin, suggesting that it was hiding deceptively large fangs, I gasped and froze. This was no Oni, but something far worse – a Kodama! I attempted to ask it where I was but it just kept repeating; “Friend. Home.”
My family had always taught that in any tense situation, it was the responsibility of the Geisha to use her skills as ambassador. I thought quickly and offered the Kodama my precious silver hair clip that had been given to me when I was bonded with my Onesan8. The little greenman figure made a sound of awe-filled wonder as it thew the clip in the air, spinning on its heels several times before swallowing it! It clapped several times before speaking; “Minu ga hana” (Not seeing is a flower). Confused, I asked what it meant and it said; “things will never be as you imagine, so you’re better off not seeing them.”
I awoke with a thumping headache. Kiyoshi was standing over me trying to help me up with the assistance of my Father and his look of disapproval. As I stood up, I heard that same voice saying; “friends now. Visit you tonight.”
I looked to the others for reaffirmation but I was apparently the only one who had heard anything…

8Sister figure in Geisha culture who teaches trade to the Maiko.

Author’s reflections – When I was a young girl I stupidly took part in doing Ouija boards with friends. We adopted spirit guides that we would talk to via Ghost-writing and before I knew it, I was suffering from paranoid delusions, skipping school and acting in very strange ways. It culminated in me believing a whole host of lies about myself, but I didn’t realise until many years later that this had been the catalyst. I got used to telling the lies to be quiet (I don’t think I was schizophrenic), but I never experienced real freedom from the often constant barrage of insults. I still had faith, but I believed I had been created to fail, would never amount to anything and would never be someone good enough. As a result of believing these lies, I lived a life of defeat and misery. I suffered from depression and anxiety until I recently reached the point of believing I was nothing more than a parasite on society and was entertaining thoughts of ending my life. I had no hope left. Thankfully the Lord pulled me out of the pit of despair I’d sunk into.
I’ve recently started a negativity fast which addresses the problem about the lies we believe about ourselves, our situation and Who God is. Although I had been a “Christian” for many years, I had some really mixed-up views about God and as a result, was angry with him and the world. I’d spent too long listening to lies and had not received the truth of who I was as God viewed me.
One of the teachings of this course was to confront the lie; “my past experiences will determine what I do and who I am”. The truth, however is that we are all made in God’s image and our identity is in who God says we are. I absolutely love the verse in Ephesians 2:10 for this; “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” We can receive the promises that God has revealed about us through His Word, but we must both believe and have faith. If you are unsure of your identity in Christ, or you simply wish to know more about this, here is a link from Joyce Meyer: https://www.joycemeyer.org/everydayanswers/ea-teachings/knowing-who-i-am-in-christ

Early Access evangelism….

Vance was ridiculing Alice for her bold suggestion that she might have received divine wisdom for their situation; “Let me guess, something about seeking forgiveness and apologising to the family? Get real Alice. I don’t think they operate their business profits on forgiveness currency!” Alice was undeterred by his provocative remarks as she instructed him to follow her into the study room where Katrya’s PC was set up. Seeing the jar and the memory of her Dad had got her thinking, perhaps it was divine inspiration and perhaps it was her own memory, either way it was their only real option: Alice knew that it was possible to still gain remote access to the family’s accounting system. They may have discovered her but it was unlikely they had updated their Firewall, leaving the back door vulnerable to her hacking methods. She viewed the exact amount of money, that had been siphoned off the accounts, £301,982.76. Saying it aloud gave a heavy weight to the atmosphere around them. “Great job Alice if you were looking to depress us further. I can see exactly how that is going to help us with our current predicament,” scoffed Vance, his disdain for her ‘help’ igniting a further barrage of ridicule.

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Alice was undeterred, deeply focused on her task she was unbothered about Vance’s sarcasm, she’d remembered something that Vance had said to her years ago, when he was busy having one of his ranting-sessions about his latest endurance tests at Christian Summer Camp. She began tapping so furiously on the keys that it appeared she was prospecting for biscuit crumbs and cat hair – the eternal quandary as to how these things end up under the keys! Vance was not interested in what she was doing, he was busy tormenting himself wondering how things could get any worse. Alice commenced taking pictures with her new Samsung S8 phone of the ‘work’ she had been engaged in, she shuffled nervously back in her chair as she ‘hit’ the send button.

“Come on V, we’re going on a road trip, we need to find a safe access point that can’t be traced. I don’t want to risk doing it here,” Vance tried to protest but she pursuaded him of the opportunity for a Starbucks visit. As they descended the stairs she boldly announced; “Us nerds need a supply run”. Before grabbing the shiny black case of awesomeness, named Bogdana.  Alice had found this amusing as she was looking for a name online, she came across the Polish name.  It gave her visions of this burlesque woman, roaming the streets looking to sling cow-poo through the windows of unwitting students!

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“Alice I’ve known you for long enough to know that we aren’t heading out to purely satisfy our caffeine demands. What are evil schemes are you concoicting now?” Vance demanded, expecting to receive some insight into the true nature of this road trip. He had been suffering from a bad headache all day and was in no mood for Alice’s retail therapy.” You need to just trust me V, I’m working on something that will see your Dad safe. All of your family. Except maybe your Mum, she can get her own ‘fixer’, I’m sure,” Alice furrowed her eyebrows, allowing herself a brief moment of doubt before nodding to assure herself. She pulled her knees up to her chest, resting her feet on the dashboard as they drove toward the motorway in search of a coffee establishment.

Vance stretched like a skulking Lion in his seat, having collected his hot beverage that sounded like it had undergone the same preparations as a steam engine. He tried to make shapes with the cappuccino’s froth but it merely ended up looking like something from the Necronomicon rather than the latte art he’d seen online. Alice fired up her laptop, refusing to make eye contact with Vance as she tried to stir her drink into sleepy submission. “So, the thing that I need to tell you,” Alice sniffed, “you need to look at this first so I can explain.” Her laptop was showing some information about a statement of account with a Bitcoin balance that could be traded-in.  What was a Bitcoin? “Those bottles that I mentioned to you, it reminded me of the things I did with my Dad before he died. We’d been arguing about Preppers and a zombie apocalypse, what we would do if it happened. The currency we use now would become redundant, Vance, so we decided to invest some money as a sort of bet. Dad thought you’d potential prosper more with smelted metals but I had found these,” Alice explained, nonchalantly. She turned the laptop to face him, showing the account balance. Vance challenged the cappuccino maker to a ‘steam-off’ with his high-pitched scream; “Alice there’s over three hundred and fifty grand in here. How did you even know the password details from all that time ago?” Alice sighed with an aggrieved look as she explained; “You take the piddle all the time, but I told you I had been given an idea from Jesus, I saw it in one of the bottles, a memory of the login details I always used with my Dad.” Vance merely rolled his eyes backward, not allowing himself to take this epiphany seriously.

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“Look, Vance, if you trade this in, it will be enough to set your Dad, Katrya and Anichka up for a few more years.” She continued typing in a focused manner as tears began to form in her eyes. He didn’t dare question what she was doing, Alice explaining it to him had resulted in a two day headache last time. What he could determine was that she was releasing a virus into the system, corrupting it and the information belonging to the family was starting to fragment. “You aswell, potentially,” Alice continued, “It was the only way V, I’m so sorry but I have to let me do this and you have to let me.” Alice sniffed as the tears cascaded down her face like a rejected X-Factor participant. Vance looked all-shades of confused as he solemnly said; “Fuzzygal what have you done?” Alice positioned herself for a closing statement; “You’ve always been there for me, your family saved me and treated me as one of their own and for that I am so grateful. I’m not scared anymore though Vance, I don’t need protection and I’m not scared of the family, of going to jail, of any of it. I’ll text you the logins, just do me a favour and get me a good lawyer, please. I’m going to need one”.
The coke-can fell to the bottom of the vending machine as Vance processed what she was saying. She’d destroyed the evidence of the family accounts and passed it on to the Police. She was handing herself in. Alice was going to be the scapegoat, she was going to sacrifice herself. He tried to grab her arm, pleading with her to reconsider as she walked away but he knew it was no good, he knew they hadn’t come up with a better plan and were rapidly running out of time. Vance had never before seen this level of valor or self-sacrifice and he made himself angry to fight back tears as he jeered; “You won’t get any anime there, ya’ nerd. I’ll have to send you the manga of Tokyo Ghoul finale instead. You better read it!” Alice nodded, waving herself away from the situation. Vance knew he had to let her go, he knew Katrya, Anichka and his Father’s lives depended on it. This was all for them now. The Police may have been made aware but they were still at risk and needed to disappear, fast.

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As he entered the house once more with tear-stained clothing Vance could barely form the words, and when they did escape from him they seemed to be meek mutterings; “Alice is gone. We need to phone….gather your things. We’re not safe here.” Anichka’s mother was familiar with this expression and had learnt not to question it, she simply obliged gathering a couple of small rucksacks, her daughter and some shopping, attempting to juggle all four things. Allen was not so complacent demanding; “Where is Alice?”….

 

Author’s Note – Alice has done an incredibly nobel, brave and loyal thing here and is perhaps illustrating some of the characteristics of Jesus in her willing sacrifice. She may not realise it but in simply talking about Jesus she is evangelising. She is also sacrificing her own selfish desires for this money in order to help someone else. Luke 16 speaks of the wise use of our money as stewards and how we should view money. It was a rather sober thought for me to realise I don’t treat money as if it belongs to God and I place too much value on it. It is a little thing to God yet it’s such a big thing to us. I used to believe that abundant life meant that God would always provide above and beyond what I needed (a supremely powerful PC) but if I’m honest with myself I know that what I value as a need, God perhaps doesn’t – not in the way I expect anyway. When I spoke with God about this recently I really felt that he was asking me: “If I were to give you 100k right now, how would it affect you? What would you do with it?” I had the maturity to realise that after perhaps buying a nice PC rig for myself and a few games, I’d be lost and the remainder would cause me a lot of stress, worry and anxiety. I recently saw a picture of someone who was really pleased with their new set-up (and it was a thing to behold) but I found myself thinking; that’s great, now how are you planning to use it to further the work of the Kingdom? As believers we should be using our money to invest in the financial success of the gospel. We cannot serve both money and God, one will rule us, there’s no middle-ground.

For those of us who perhaps are yet to believe in Christ Jesus as a personal saviour, it may present an opportunity to consider the finality of money; you can’t take it with you and even if you could, it wouldn’t mean anything. We can perhaps also ask ourselves about the value and worth we place on money. Does it define our identity? In a society that is so consumed with materialism, we must ask ourselves where are worth is to be found as a human-being. Are we just worth a few wads of cash? I used to believe that I had no worth, but that was a lie. I was looking for my worth in the wrong places. I now frequently tell people in a way that resonates with me as a gamer, that God views people as being worth more than all the DLC for every game ever made. I believe we need to understand not just how much Jesus loves us, but for this era, we need to understand our worth. In the online communities in which I operate I see so many youngsters struggling with low self-worth, low self-esteem and completely confused about what they want. And yet we live in times of such prosperity, so what’s going wrong for these youngsters that despite being raised in comfortable environments it seems they’ve never been more desperate in relation to their identities and security? If we choose to believe, we can know that we have been purchased with the blood of God’s own Son. The Bible speaks on the worth we have, the worth of our souls. Matthew 16:26(New International Version (NIV)); “26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

The Gospel according to Vance Zepeda (Part II)…

*Images from The Sims 4Staxel.  Thanks to Simoniona from the Sims Community for the amazing house and to Missesrock for the Jetty in the Summer II.

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Vance’s earlier cutting insult had really annoyed Alice, but then he’d known it would. Alice’s anxiety had begun to steadily get on his nerves and he needed to take action. When they went back indoors, she’d started wearing out the carpet, going up and down it more than DPD delivery vans go up and down the M40! “Sure rich-boy, V, you just tuck yourself neatly under Daddy’s financial gift entitlements, but some of us have to take the world on ourselves”, Alice snapped in retaliation. Vance wasn’t impressed, Alice knew that the family had always treated her as one of their own and would seek to protect her too, although he was starting to have doubts, after what he had learned earlier in the weekend.
Vance was trying to be preoccupied re-visiting his theology on how the universe works; it’d certainly stepped up it’s game of throwing him curve-balls recently. He didn’t dare allow himself to imagine what possible calamity might fall upon him next. He began to question whether he actually knew as much as he thought he did. He couldn’t come to terms with the idea that his Father had managed to keep this terrible secret from him. Furthermore, how exactly were they supposed to find over three hundred thousand pounds? Vance even considered that it wasn’t his problem, he hadn’t had any involvement in this. He immediately chastised himself for being so unloving. He began wondering how these events were going to interrupt his plans in life, blame must be attributed, it wasn’t his fault.

The previous night…

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“You don’t mess around with the ‘Mafia’ Vance, do you realise what they will do if I don’t pay back what they’re owed?” They weren’t the actual Mafia, you only messed with those guys if you were born into it and couldn’t escape, however this family were part of a large organised crime circle. Why and how his Father had become involved in their activities was unbeknownst to Vance, but he decided to not pursue that particular line of questioning. The family had been fairly hospitable in giving Vance’s Dad a solid week to come up with what he owed, with added interest.

Vance had demanded that his Father tell him everything, laying all his cards on the table. What transpired was something that Vance had been unable to comprehend. Vance knew about many things in his life, having spent many an evening surfing YouTube, which resulted on him watching a video about how the pedestrian crossings are designed to help blind people; how to forgive your betraying Father had not appeared on his search listings.

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Allen had been working for the family for years, although he wouldn’t elaborate on why. He’d been put in charge of managing a group of girls that were being illegally trafficked into the country to work as prostitutes. “No, I was not their pimp, my job was specifically to handle their finances and arrange for new workers. Vance, you have to understand that your Mother and I do not have a happy marriage, it is one that is for show to support her in her career. We fell out of love many many years ago”. He could see Vance was struggling to take this on board and so continued in a factual manner; “I met Katrya and she listened, she valued me and not what she could get from me. She was kind, caring and lovin-…look, I’m crazy about her but I’ve got obligations, it’s complicated. You and Ali were both still young and in school. Then Katrya told me she was expecting, but I’ve no regrets.” He moved to hold Katrya’s hand, his affection for her still evident despite the distance they endured. Alice shuffled nervously seeing this, prompting Vance into questioning her involvement in the history, why was she was in danger? Allen looked hesitant before offering; “Ali and I had spent a lot of time together, she’s far more intelligent than you give her credit for, Vance.” He sighed, continuing; “I knew Ali knew about hacking and I shamefully encouraged her, I could see she had talent. Well, she devised a program, it was able to find system weaknesses of the system they used and she was able to dial into it. Together we siphoned off profits from their accounts. I don’t understand it, but Black-hat over there, she’s a genius, Vance”. Alice had helped him traffic Katrya in a new way, taking her under her wing and moving her here in case the family ever realised she didn’t just simply run away. “They must have traced me through the dial-ins I made from your apartment and mine, no system is without fault, Vance, there’s always a backdoor”, Alice stated matter-of-factly and for once, Vance glimpsed a sign of her intelligence.

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Current day..

Their brainstorming session was not going well and Vance’s ideas on how to raise funds were getting more outrageous as the sun began to dip behind the treeline, they’d already wasted one day simply informing everyone what had happened. “So, as stands, current suggestions are as follows: Casinos (except none of us can actually play), rob the casino, sell drugs for a competitive family, set up a hustle and finally, my personal favourite, taking out the head of the family. No family, no debt! It’s not just me who sees how ludicrous these suggestions are, is it?”, Vance stated with a sarcastic tone. “Good then we can all begin to get comfortable with being dead men walking”, Vance’s sarcastic tones taking a large shot of anger.

Vance switched on the TV as a distraction and was greeted by a preacher talking about being joyful when suffering under trials. Vance could barely contain his barrage of choice phrases releasing his anger on the unsuspecting TV, shouting; “What a load of bugcrap, this guy is a total fraud, he’s only interested in leading people astray so he can get rich from their disillusioned belief about ‘sky people’…” He looked down and saw that Anichka was busy doing her Spirograph. With a voice that sounded like sprinkles being dropped on the floor, she chattered; “What’s bugcrap, Uncle Vance?” She giggled as Vance failed to pronounce her name correctly, unable to detect the undertones of the serious atmosphere in the house.

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Alice however, had not failed to notice, her anxiety getting steadily worse. Her thoughts were racing around her head at a hundred miles an hour. The walls felt like they were closing in on her as her heart started hammering in her chest. Clutching her chest, she gave Vance a look he would not forget. When she began to hyperventilate he grabbed the nearest paper bag, the one in Alice’s backpack, unwittingly shoving it at her as he firmly instructed, “Breathe! In this. You’re doing great Alice, keep going”. Vance had failed to notice, the bag had a large quantity of Ketamine in it and as Alice’s eyes started to look as glazed as the doughnuts at Crispy Cremes; she blinked and it was as if the shop lights were being turned off at closing time, Alice flopped helplessly to the floor! It was Allen’s turn to play hero today as he rushed to her, checking her pulse; “She’s just passed out, help me get her over to the sofa”.

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When Alice ‘awoke’ she was in a strange land, everything was so bright and colourful. She felt a sense of peace that she had never before experienced. It was like all through her life she’d been a leaking bucket but she suddenly felt like all the holes had been plugged up. Everything felt really strange, like she was walking on bouncy duvets and there was no weight to her form.

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She approached a lady who was holding a shovel; “Hi, Alice, we’re so pleased to see you. We’ve been longing to meet you. He is waiting for you in there, head over when you’re ready”.

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Alice didn’t feel confused about this lady knowing her name, she wandered confidently over to the Shop she’d been pointed towards and inside was a man, working on something; “Hi Alice. I’m so glad you’re here. I’m just making something for you, it’s almost finished. Give me a moment and take a look around the shop, if there’s anything you want just bring it to me”. His voice was familiar to her but she had no idea how. As she wandered around the shop, it wasn’t what she expected at all. There were bricks, glass panels and other building implements but they were labelled; Joy, Forgiveness, Kindness. As she moved further down the shelving racks, she clutched her hands over her mouth seeing a bottle that shimmered with bright-blue lightning as she looked closer she discerned it was animated. She viewed a scene from when she was a little girl – a very special memory of her Father teaching her how to build a radio transmitter. As she looked down the isles of the shop, she beheld that there were thousands of these bottles. She picked up the bottle, heading back over to the man demanding to know more. He smiled at her, offering her a small wooden signpost and all her anger suddenly got forgotten, what had she been wanting to ask him? “Come, I’ll show you your house. I’ve laid the foundations for you, but you need to finish it yourself but I will help you do that”, the man winked and Alice felt as though he was a familiar friend. She tenaciously asked; “Do, I know you? Your face is familiar but…” as she headed towards the plot for her house. It was the most beautiful sight she had ever witnessed, with the man standing next to her as his silken voice said words that penetrated her entire being, the scene before her fading but the words echoing in her heart as she awoke; “Not yet, Alice, but you will and I can’t wait!”

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Alice came-to sitting bolt upright suddenly and stared at Vance with an intensity that he had never seen in her before as she stuttered the words; “Vance, I-I-I think I’ve just met Jesus”. Vance scoffed at her; “Great just what we need, another deluded person, he didn’t happen to tell you how to get out of this mess we’re in did he?”. Vance’s comment had made him smug with delight as he looked at Alice, knowing she wouldn’t have a retort to offer him but she blinked several times, still half-asleep as she offered; “Well actually….”

 

Author’s Note – I’ve heard people say things such as; “oh, you have faith, that must mean you’re a weak-willed person because you can’t take responsibility for your own life choices, so you need this fictitious character to carry your burdens for you”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am plenty strong willed and I’ve done things in life that I’ve amazed myself at but I’ve also done some out-rightly stupid things and I know I’ve been in utter disobedience to God. I know, like Paul that I battle the flesh and to choose my own way (sin) and my own responsibility (self-righteous behaviour) is to plummet into eternity without a parachute. Thankfully, Jesus is my parachute. I don’t need him because I’m not strong enough, fast enough or secure enough, I need Him because He is the Way, the Truth and the Light. Without Him the consequences of my actions will lead me to death (Romans 6:23).

I read a book recently by Paul M Young entitled, Lies we believe about God and one of the lies it exposed was that we often believe that God loves us but doesn’t like us. This is simply untrue. It is written in scripture that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. We don’t have to wait to be “likeable” before we come to Him. He accepts us just as we are. God is aware of the very worst parts of us and chooses to love us anyway because that is Who He is. He also likes the things we like, when we submit them to him so they are not more important than he is. One of my most happy times recently was a simple prayer of; “Let’s hang out Jesus” I went meme-surfing as I just thought about Him and I experienced such joy. There’s a beautiful song that’s sung at the church I go to and it’s entitled Good Good Father by Housefires II, in it the lyrics state; “You’re a good good father, it’s who you are….I’m loved by you, it’s who I am”. The love we receive through Christ is Who God is and our only job is to receive that love (1 John 4:19) and allow it to transform our lives, and renew our minds (Ephesians 4:23) should we choose to “Consider Christ”.

Is God AFK?

The first view he caught of his Father annoyed him further, a typical gesture of his hands raised, palms outward-facing to indicate ‘stop’. Typical, he thinks I can’t keep it together for five minutes, Vance furies to himself. He strides confidently up to his Father, looking as though he may “bowl” him over. “What happened, I know she was ill but-…where’s the duty nurse I want to speak to her!” His Father tried to placate him, waving his hands toward the floor as if to steady himself; “Vance. You are in control of your emotions, take a few deep-…!” No sooner had he uttered the words before Vance charged past him, down the corridor like a walnut fragment that had been launched out of it’s shell by an over-enthusiastic, walnut-cracking granny! (We’ve all met one!)

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Vance re-embarked upon his collision course with his Father as he demanded information; “Where’s Mum, why isn’t she here?”. His Father made no attempts to soothe his temper, stating calmly; “She’s busy with her campaign, I spoke with her and she’s promised to come home in a couple of days after her meeting”. The laugh echoed down the hallway threatening to disturb other patients as Vance shouted; “Typical! Selfish through and through….I need to get out of here, call me when you have the funeral arranged” hypocrisy was a common trait that he shared with his Mother, although he was oblivious to it.

The nurse’s kind words invaded Vance’s mind as an unwelcome house guest as he made his way down the corridor. What is the matter with people…using religion to justify their own inadequacies because they can’t face the thought of taking responsibility for their own actions. Makes me sick! Vance outraged to himself. He had been packed off to Christian Summer Camp as a child and had had a terrible time resulting in him being sent home early (but this is a story for another time). Reaching the entrance to the hospital, he fumbled around in his coat pocket for his cigarettes and lighter; three times did he have to strike the Zippo upward against his thigh before successfully igniting the cigarette. Drawing the contents deeply into his lungs, he flicked the ash defiantly, announcing his violent intentions at the world. Even the sun seemed to be in dispute with him today and it bore down upon him, making sweat form across his brow line. He severed the phone from his pocket lining of his jacket, bringing shreds of the fabric along with it; “Oh for cheese and rice sake!”

He tapped his finger on the screen several times, moving the phone in front of him. Vance was so vexed, he just didn’t care; “Yeah, it’s me, I need to pick up the kids from school soon”. The voice on the other end of the phone, clearly female in origin was slightly muffled and hesitant; “You promised! Fine…’least let me get their stuff ready. Don’t forget they are bringing the gopher, Henry home from school!” Vance merely confirmed; “Yeah”, the utilization of drug slang being very familiar to the two.

Later on in the evening….

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Alice always knew how to calm him, annoyingly so. Her presence to him was akin to sugar being attached to bacon, it both felt so very wrong and so very right! Why did she have to be a Lesbian, another unfair event that the universal had thrown at him. He enjoyed the challenge, but in his heart he knew he would never be able to “win” Alice, so Vance contented himself with the secret photos of her on his laptop. She really should learn to password her phone! He smiled to himself as he thought on this, the thought flooding his mind like a strong liquor that coats the throat with warmness and fuzzy feelings.

The events of the evening milled their way through his mind in his now calm state as Vance headed for the Monorail. He actually felt pretty good considering the earlier events of the day and entered his flat, depositing his jacket to the nearest surface that wasn’t littered with whiskey glasses and empty pizza boxes. Better check Reddit I bet some Donkeybutt has down-voted me for trying to educate people, Vance ruminated as he entered the room only to find someone collapsed on the floor, from this distance it didn’t look like they were breathing!

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Author’s Note – Vance’s experience of Christianity has not been good. He doesn’t believe and argues that if there is a God, He is distant and unloving, not caring about us and leaving us to our own problems etc. I’ve struggled with similar issues myself in my walk with the Lord, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, God is intimately involved in our lives (Hebrews 13:5)even if we don’t see it or are far away from Him. We shouldn’t be too quick to ‘feel’ as though we are alone and thus, base all our evidence off of merely how we feel (Ephesians 2:8). Our feelings can often lead us astray. God is always with us and we are always benefactors of His love, even if we don’t yet know Him as our personal Savior (1 John 2:2). God doesn’t wander off distractedly having created the earth (Romans 8:19), He hasn’t left us to our own doom, rather He is working all the time (2 Peter 3:9) for the good of those he loves (which is everyone). In short; God is never AFK!

Pain in the meatballs…

“Alice, I don’t have time for your most recent melodrama about what pair of pants you’re buying,” denounced Vance as he clicked the ‘cancel’ button on his phone, pocketing it quickly before it was able to further interrupt the evenings’ arrangements. His breathing was still laboured with the quick, rhythmic beating of his heart pounding in his ears, restricting his capacity for sight and air. He opened the door and immediately was assaulted by his earlier bad positioning of some library books, “Son of a kinder egg!” Vance screamed as his toe intercepted the particularly thick spine of his latest acquisition, Cooking to Impress.
He quickly composed himself, knowing he only had a few minutes before his guest was due to arrive. He had to get the sauce started so he could secrete the Tramadol, it was just too risky to wait. He maneuvered through the kitchen with the grace and poise of an elegant swan, quickly maintaining the illusion that he’d been hard at work for hours. So composed was Vance that when there was a loud bang at the door, he’d completely lost himself in his task and almost knocked over the saucepan in his frightened state.
He ushered Raj in, making sure to focus on the needs of his guest. “Please, make yourself at home, can I fetch you something to drink,” Vance’s well-spoken, silken voice immediately made Raj feel comfortable. He positioned himself at the table, attentive to his host as he offered, “How is your work going?” Waiting for his drink, he slyly tried to take in a good view of Vance’s apartment looking for commonality between the two men.

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The dish was complete and Vance was ready to just start plating-up when the infernal buzzing of his phone initiated, “Alice, I already-…” Vance surreptitiously glanced at his phone and was immediately gripped by a mixture of both panic, nausea and disorientation as his eye’s focused on the caller ‘Dad’. He knew he couldn’t ignore it, gasping for air as he held the receiver to his ear, “What…when…why didn’t you tell me sooner-….of course, I’ll be right there, I’m leaving now-…” His eyes were wild with dismay as he gave a pleading look to Raj, “I’m mightily sorry, Raj, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave, that was my Father and I’m sorry to say I have an emergency to which I must attend….”
They exchanged quick nods as they departed company, Vance bolting for the door faster than a buttered bullet.

What’s the emergency? What would make Vance react so quickly: Readers, I would like to invite you to choose the next part of the story. Comment below with ideas you’d like to see put into the story.

Author’s Note – God will never ask us to do something that’s beyond our ability to cope with. He works and scours the lands looking for those whose hearts will be/are fully committed to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). He knows everything about us and is abundantly patient with us. (2 Peter 3:9). He works to bring about the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11) if we will come to faith through his Son, Jesus (Isiah 30:18).