It was every bit as hard as she had thought it would be. As she stepped over empty soda cans and broken beer bottles, maneuvered around discarded electronics, furniture, and bags of trash, and avoided the holes that seemed to be all over, she realized there was a good reason people warned about crossing this vacant lot. It was not only full of dangerous traps, but it smelled as bad as it looked. The rancid odor of decaying food mixed with the musty odor of rotten wood filled the air. Kayla tried not to breath as, through sheer strength of will, she slowly limped her way through the maze of obstacles. Finally, reaching the halfway point without falling even once, Kayla rewarded herself with a rest stop. Spotting an abandoned armchair, she checked it over for signs of rodents, and seeing none, gratefully lowered herself into it. Exhausted, but proud of her achievement, Kayla sat back and looked at the sky. Gray clouds still swirled, blocking most of the sunlight, but every now and then a tiny sliver of light managed to break through. A longing rose in Kayla’s heart as she focused on those tiny beams of life. She knew, above the clouds, the light in all its fullness was still there, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted to feel the warm sunshine on her face again. She wanted to bask in the light as she had been doing before the phone call. She wanted those clouds that separated her from her beloved light to be gone.
“She’s here somewhere.” The man’s deep voice shattered her thoughts. Kayla froze as she listened. Maybe they weren’t talking about her. The voice had come from her right side, but as from a distance. Maybe they were talking about a stray cat. Please let it be about a stray cat.
“Are you sure it was her?” came another voice. This one sounded familiar. Too familiar. Chills rose along her spine as she realized it belonged to the man in the black hoodie who had glared at her earlier that day. Panic stricken that it might actually be her they were after, she looked around for a place to hide, but the only thing nearby bigger than her was the green armchair she was sitting in. Stuck where she was, hoping her green sweatshirt would blend in with the green of the armchair, she quickly pulled her knees up to her chest and tried to disappear into the chair’s soft, worn out back.
“Yeah, it was her. She had the same limp. Look, here’s a footprint.”
“There’s more. They look like they’re heading for that green chair.”
“Maybe we’ll find more footprints on the other side. Let’s go check it out.”
Kayla closed her eyes as heavy footsteps approached. “I’m invisible. I’m invisible. I’m invisible,” Kayla thought as loud as she could. “Nothing to see here – just a green chair.”
“Hello again.” The voice came from directly in front of her. “So glad we found you.”
Kayla didn’t know what to do. Open her eyes and face what was coming? Or play possum and hope they lost interest and went away? Not ready to face anything, she slowed her breathing as much as she could.
“Is she dead?”
“I don’t think so. I think I saw her arm move. I’m going to try to wake her.”
“No, don’t touch her. She might be sick.”
“But we can’t leave her like this.”
“No, we can’t. I’m going to try something.”
Kayla’s heart raced and she almost lost control of her breathing. What were they going to try? Did it involve hurting her? She remembered the times she had used twigs to poke at insects to check if they were alive. Were they about to do the same with her?
There was the sound of things being moved around, and then a voice. “This should work.” Kayla forced her body to relax, anticipating a jab on her leg. She was not disappointed. The jab came, hard enough to be felt but not hard enough to hurt. Kayla was able to ignore it, as well as several more jabs in other parts of her body.
“Let me try. You’re not doing it hard enough.”
Suddenly a sharp jab to her side caused Kayla to gasp.
“See? I told you.”
“See what? I didn’t see anything. She’s still not moving. We need to call 911.”
Kayla remained still. Why hadn’t she thought about calling 911 herself as soon as she knew she had been spotted? And why on earth would they call 911 on themselves? Something wasn’t making sense.
“Want me to jab her again?”
Not if she could help it. The first hard jab was bad enough; she did not want to experience it a second time. If ignoring them didn’t’ work, maybe acting tough would. She opened her eyes. “Leave me alone,” she told them through gritted teeth.
“We can’t do that.” The taller one answered.
“Yes, you can.” Kayla said. “Just walk away.”
“Naw, can’t do that. Wouldn’t be right,” the second man responded.
Kayla’s heart raced, but she covered it by demanding, “What do you want? I don’t have any money.”
“Don’t want your money.” Larry said. “Buster and I just want to help you, like we tried when we first saw you limping on the sidewalk. This lot is too dange-“
Kayla interrupted, “It didn’t look like you were trying to help, not with those daggers in your eyes.”
“Daggers in my eyes?” Buster asked, sounding confused.
“You do look pretty mean when you get frustrated,” laughed Larry.
“Sorry,” Buster said. “Those ‘daggers’ were not meant for you. I was just frustrated to see that Rory guy grab you. He’s bad news.” Buster said.
“Pastor Rory’s not bad news. He tried to help me.” Kayla declared, crossing her arms.
“He tries to help lots of people – only not for their sake. Rory only does what’s good for Rory,” Buster said.
Larry added, “Many people are fooled by Rory’s false promises. That is no place for you, and neither is this place. If you’ll let us help, we know the safe way through this mess.
Kayla looked at the rest of the vacant lot that she still had to cross. There were even more pitfalls and obstacles on the second half, and with everything placed haphazardly, she couldn’t see a straight path. In fact, she couldn’t see any path. She sighed inwardly at the difficult journey ahead. She had made this far by herself, but she was tired and wasn’t sure if she could make it to the other side. At least not without falling. Turning back to the men, she looked from one. With their faces hidden by their black hoods, they looked every bit as dangerous as the trip across the lot. Maybe they were members of some gang, looking for a target in which to prove themselves. Well, she didn’t want to be a victim. Not if she could help it. She’d rather face the possible injuries of walking by herself than the probable attack by these two, if not their whole gang.
“It’s okay. I can find my own way,” she finally told them.
“Look, we’re not going to hurt you. We just want to give you what we have – our knowledge, experience, and strength – to get you to a safer place,” Larry said. “We really want what’s best for you.”
Buster nodded. “It’s not about us. If you insist, we can go away like you want and let you make your own way. It’s not like we need to help you. We just know what could happen and want to save you from it.”
Kayla wished she could believe them. It would be so nice to have their help. But their black hoodies…
Suddenly Kayla realized if she looked past those hoodies, if she took her eyes off the obvious outerwear and focused on what lay underneath, she could see their eyes which seemed to glow as if reflecting a light. Excited, she looked up at the sky. Had the sun broken through the clouds? No, the clouds still covered the sky so the light wasn’t coming from the sun above. Looking back into their eyes, Kayla felt drawn to the peace that radiated out from them. It was a peace that went beyond anything she had ever experienced before. Evil could not possibly exist in a peace like this. Allowing the peace to seep into her, Kayla sighed as she relaxed. “I could use some help.”
Within minutes, Kayla was once again on her way home, this time supported on each side by strong arms. Navigating around the larger debris, and lifting her over the smaller ones, they made short work of what would have taken Kayla three times longer if she had had to do it herself. When they made it to the sidewalk, they stopped to celebrate. The men high fived each other while Kayla tried to pull out her wallet from her backpack. But they refused any payment, saying they were just happy to help.
“Where do you need to go from here?” Buster asked.
“Oh, just a couple of blocks. I’ll be fine now that I’m out of that hazard trap.”
“Here’s my number,” Buster said, handing her a card. “Call me if you need more help.”
Kayla took it. “I will. Thanks again.”
With a smile on her face, she watched them head back across the not-so-empty lot, amazed at what had just happened. Then she turned and headed towards her home. As she limped along, she thought about how those men were not at all what she had feared. And how the two well-dressed men in the florist shop were not what they appeared either. She sure had misjudged all four of them. And if she had misjudged them, then maybe she had also misjudged Lisa. The only way to tell was to actually get to know her. Kayla made a mental note to call Lisa once her ankle healed. Maybe they could go out to lunch or something.
Suddenly the light broke through the clouds and beamed down on Kayla. She looked up with delight as most of the clouds scattered and disappeared, leaving just a few behind. She took a deep breath, face upturned, and let the warmth of the sun fill her. This was more like it. She wouldn’t have any trouble getting home now that she was strengthened. Not even that pile of dirt was going to stop her.
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Prov 4:14-15)
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Rom 16:17)
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2)
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)