25 YEARS LATER
Joshua sipped his hot chocolate and tried not the wince at the taste. He looked back up at the small 10’’ black and white television screen. A TV Evangelist grinned widely and lifted his arms up in the air; cheers erupted from the crowd.
“How can you watch that, Ann?”
She looked down at the television then back up at him, “What do you mean?”
“That man is a joke,” he took another sip of hot chocolate. “Just another self-righteous moron preaching about how the world is going to hell.”
Ann smiled, “Do you wonder if it’s true?”
Joshua looked up at her. The middle-aged woman was dressed in a bland salmon-colored dress covered by a blue work apron. Her brown hair trailed down to her shoulders in slight curls, framing her face. Ann's eyes were always kind, and though wrinkled in the corners, they held a youthful glow.
“Sometimes.” Joshua looked down at his cup and picked at the styrofoam. “Sometimes I feel like I’m already there.”
Ann watched him for a moment. Joshua looked away from her and scanned the store, wanting to end the conversation. Brown stools surrounded the front and side counters, torn from excessive use. The tiles on the floor were cracked all the way from the front door to the bathroom. Even the ceiling had turned an old jaundice yellow; the light from the streetlamps outside did nothing to help the sickened look. The store had been built several decades ago. At the time, Ann had chosen one of the busiest spots in all of Marion county. Now that the area had become run down, Ann was lucky if she served ten people a day. Joshua had no idea how she kept the store up and running but when he asked, she would always smile and say ‘by the grace of God’.
Ann walked back into the kitchen, leaving Joshua with a perfect view of the television.
“...and only by the might of God, the power of the divine, through his son, Christ our Lord, can your soul be saved- saved from hell, from an eternity of burning, forever smoldering and all it takes is a simple prayer. Just a simple prayer to save you...” The well dressed man moved around the stage dramatically.
Joshua rolled his eyes and looked at his watch. It was already past two. Ann emerged from the kitchen with a tray of fresh doughnuts.
“Well Ann, it’s getting late, even for me,” Joshua stood and grabbed his black jacket, making sure his cell phone was in his pocket.
“Here,” she held the tray out to him, “take one for your walk home.”
Joshua smiled and picked up a doughnut, “Thanks, Ann.”
He nodded, "I will. Goodnight."
His walk home took him past Main Street and through Blacklicke Woods to the apartments on the other side of the park. Though he had had no problems before, Joshua was always cautious when walking home. The light from the street lamps faded halfway into the park, just before the stone benches, but he had walked this route so many times, he could easily find his way on the darkest of nights. After clearing the park, his apartment was only about two hundred feet away, surrounded by a wooden privacy fence.
Joshua climbed over the fence, landed softly on the grass on the other side, and walked to apartment. The wooden steps creaked under his weight as he made his way to the second floor. The small security lights casted the stairs in soft orange glow, attracting moths and other insects for the spiders that nestled nearby.
He turned his key in the lock and pushed his door open, groping for the light. He flicked it on and closed the door behind him. The kitchen was to the immediate left, messy but not unclean. On the right, a TV tray sat in front of his tan couch as if awaiting Joshua’s lonely hours in front of the television. He peeled off his black jacket and tossed it onto the kitchen counter as he made his way to his room. A soft humming came from the computer on his desk. He sighed and laid back on his bed, tossing his cell phone onto the nightstand beside him. The green monitor light flickered in the darkness as he drifted off to sleep.