by Roy Hudson
Jim Jameson had enlisted in the Army in 2001, shortly after the terror attacks on September 11th. His decision was directed by pure rage toward the Islamic terrorists. He wanted them to pay for their actions in blood.
By May, 2015, the war in Afghanistan had long since taken its toll on him, but he refused to give up. Even when Osama bin Laden was killed years before, he knew there was still much work to be done.
Never lacking in courage, he had thrown himself onto a live grenade to protect his platoon. Time stopped. He found himself alone on the battlefield. "This is it. I'm dying." But he did not die.
The weak blast had damaged several organs, leaving Jameson alive, but in agony. He was awarded numerous accolades, and sent home to live out his days on disability and spending much time waiting to hear back from the VA about his medical needs. He had lost three good friends to the government's negligence shortly before his own heroic action, and felt certain that he would meet the same fate... unless he went out on his own terms.
He sat on the edge of his bed, placed his handgun against his temple, and squeezed the trigger. Once more, time stopped.
He expected to see his life flash before his eyes... but when he looked up, he saw a figure whose visage chilled Jameson to the bone. It looked like a young boy, but its skin was bright red and a pair of skeletal wings spread from its shoulder blades.
Jameson whispered, "Jesus Christ."
The figure smiled. "Not exactly. You can call me Damien."
Jameson uttered a dry, nervous chuckle. "Of course. A demon named Damien."
Damien's smile slipped as he repeated, "Not exactly. Let me to show you why I'm here."
Jameson saw a replay of an event that had happened two years prior, not long before the incident with the grenade: He and his platoon were inside an Islamic temple that had been seized by the Islamic State. An extremist held a bomb. The only man with a clear shot, Jim Jameson made the kill shot.
Suddenly, another Islamic man placed a hand on Jameson's shoulder, babbling in a language that the soldier did not understand. Another shot was fired and the man fell. Puzzled, Jameson asked, "Who shot him?"
A young private named McGraw said, "I didn't want him to seek revenge for the guy you killed."
The translator, Goldman, said, "You idiot! That was the preacher, blessing Jim for stopping that terrorist from destroying the church. Or... Maybe cursing him for killing in this holy place. His dialect was different than any I'd studied."
Incredulously, Jameson said, "There's a big difference between a blessing and a curse! Which is it?"
Goldman shrugged. "I don't know, sir."
Suddenly, the room changed. Jameson now saw himself on a street, looking at the steeple of an otherwise dark church. A familiar-looking boy tugged on the sleeve of his past self. In the boy's hand was a card reading, "Get out of Hell free."
Shaking his head, Jameson shoved the card into his pocket, said, "Thanks, kid," then trotted up the steps to enter the church.
The dying Jameson watched, and he heard something he hadn't before entering the church before. "You're gonna need it," the kid said.
Jameson then saw the inside of the dark church. His past self sat down on a pew and waited. When a man in a cloak sat beside him, he said, "Father... do you believe in curses?"
The priest nodded. "Life itself can be a curse without direction, my brother."
"Things haven't exactly been going my way since I got back from Afghanistan."
"And you've killed men in combat?"
"Yes. Bless me, Father."
The priest smiled. "It doesn't work that way in this church, but I'll make a sacrifice in your honor if you think it would help you deal with what you think of as a curse."
Jameson looked up and saw an upside-down cross, and a plastic devil above the altar. "Wait a minute... What the hell kind of church is this?"
"You don't know? ...It's the Church of Satan."
Jameson jumped up and bolted out the door, saying a little prayer of forgiveness to Christ under his breath.
The present, dying Jameson noticed that the boy handing out "Get out of Hell free" cards was no longer there. Then it struck him why the boy had looked familiar. With that realization, he was back home.
"That boy was you, wasn't it? You tried to help me. Why?"
Damien smiled. "I know I look scary now, but I'm not a demon. Are you familiar with the story of Icarus?"
"Yes. Did you get a sunburn flying too close to the sun?"
"Yes. And though they weren't made of wax, my wings burned, too."
"So... you're my guardian angel, is that right?"
"Yes. I want you to know that the Islamic priest did not curse you. He was very opposed to what some of your people call ISIS, the Islamic State, and thanked you. Even upon his death, he held you in his heart."
"So... why did my friends die shortly after I killed that preacher?"
"Maybe they didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"God works in mysterious ways. You're a very brave man, but your heart knew only vengeance. You took those terror attacks personally and lashed out. There was more than just anger there. You proved through your suffering that you possess great love, as well."
"But... the Church of Satan?"
"You left. You prayed forgiveness for simply going inside. You have faith, Jim. It just didn't occur to you until that moment."
"But... I just tried to kill myself. Isn't that a mortal sin?"
"It would be... if any of this were real. I'm sure you're familiar with The Last Temptation of Christ?"
"I... was shown these things to tempt me? But you said you're not a demon."
"I'm not. Let's go back to that day you jumped on the grenade to save your platoon."
"That sacrifice... I died, didn't I? Everything that followed was... temptation?"
"In a sense. You passed the test. Would you like to come with me now?"
"I... Yes. Thank you, Damien."
"You're always welcome."
Jameson's eyes stung as he saw an intense white light. And then he was gone.
Back on the battlefield, McGraw turned Jameson's body over with a foot. The hero's stomach and guts had been blasted inside-out. McGraw winced at the sight. "Crazy son of a bitch saved us. And he died. I guess that answers the question as to whether or not that Muslim preacher cursed or blessed him."
Goldman took a deep breath. "I don't know. We're all still alive, right? Maybe his curse was a blessing in disguise."