China is getting aggressive toward adversaries in the face of coronavirus criticism
Twelfth in a series of short short fiction. For other stories in this series, visit wng.org/shortstories.
Mike Khan had indeed had a vision on the road to Damascus, as he wrote to Rachel Auerglas (see story No. 10, “Khan unchained,” Dec. 30, 2017). He was driving a rebel truck, chasing retreating ISIS fighters near Raqqa, and hit a mine. The blast blew him out of the truck, and as he fell to the ground a light flashed around him and a voice said, “Mike, Mike, why are you persecuting me?”
Khan, lying in the dirt as he wondered how many of his bones were broken, groaned out a question: “Who are you?” The response came back: “For now, just call me Legion. Heal yourself, and I’ll be back.” Then Khan’s concussion took charge, and when he woke up, he lay in a hospital ward and wondered what was real and what imagined. He spent the next 40 days and nights lying on a pallet in a primitive hospital with inadequate food—but his body healed, and the emaciated frame of the ex-pro wrestler showed he had suffered.
On Day 41 Khan was able to walk 2 miles into the silent Syrian wilderness: ISIS had lost, and he wanted to think about what to do next. A hot, dry wind blew across the arid plateau. Near Mount Bishri he came to a circle of stones that had probably been an ancient altar. From the circle came a voice: “If you are a god, command this first stone to become a loaf of bread.” Khan thought it was his imagination, but he grinned and said, “OK, I’ll play along: Bread.”
From the circle came a voice: ‘If you are a god, command this first stone to become a loaf of bread.’
He blinked, and there it was: not just pita or some other kind of flatbread, but his favorite, sourdough. Suddenly he was on full alert: “Who are you?” The voice replied, “The important question is, ‘Who are you? Are you ready to take power in the kingdoms of the world? Are you man enough for glory?’”
Then silence returned. Khan grabbed the loaf and staggered back to the hospital, wondering if he was going crazy. The head doctor paused from amputating a leg and said, “Where have you been? A reporter from People magazine is waiting for you.”
The next month, when Khan wearily stepped off the plane in New York City, he saw his photo on the cover. He was leaning against a chest-high wall, his arms extended to left and right, with a tall post behind him—almost as if he were being crucified. The story about his self-sacrifice in voluntarily risking his life to beat ISIS couldn’t have been more adulatory. I didn’t lift a finger to get this, he thought: Who’s orchestrating this?
It got better. When his plane arrived in Austin on a warm Saturday, an applauding crowd fronted by several Texas cheerleaders greeted him, and a complimentary room at the Four Seasons awaited him. Mike’s brother, Pastor Mark Kahn, called to say he and his family were on vacation, but they’d get together the following week. Mike was disappointed that neither of his former girlfriends, Rachel Auerglas and Esperanza Ortiz, showed up at the airport (or better yet, the hotel), but that evening Rachel emailed him: Hope to see you at the Church of Adullam tomorrow morning.
Khan had had time in the hospital and on his lengthy trip home to think of his next step occupationally: Church was as good a starting point as any. He purposely arrived early and shook hands with half the congregation. With a People cover star in their midst, excited members of the congregation asked the awestruck assistant pastor if Mike could say a few words during announcements time.
When the invitation came half an hour later, Mike ran up onto the stage. He said, “Over the years, Mark and I haven’t always fired our guns at the same targets, and we even spell our names differently. But now we are together. I fought for human rights in Syria against vicious tyrants. When I was wounded, I came to see that life is spiritual, not just material. I come back thinking that protecting all those created in God’s image is not just something to fight for abroad. We also need to fight for it at home, and I look forward to talking with all Adullam members who want to be social justice warriors alongside me.”