This task felt a lot like a symbolic representation of a therapy session in the most blunt and cruel way possible. It dredged up Daren’s past and the murals covered by the mold, or rather “the rot” as he had come to think of it now, tended to be the hardest periods of his life. The ones that were completely obscured by the stuff were especially hard, things he’d have rather forgotten about completely. Especially the things that lead up to Casandra’s drug-addled lifestyle and eventual overdose. Really, it might as well have been called a suicide by harmful lifestyle.
The ways it split the family apart, the fights he’d gotten into, his younger brother’s arrest… he had to relive it all.
And so, the therapist was getting a crash therapy by none other than god himself. And, he was helped with all the cleaning by both God and Haraiel who had joined in after she finished with her sweeping. Counter to his expectations, he didn’t have to go through any of it alone. He was certain that even the initial impression he would have to go at it alone and being corrected on that notion was no accident. Haraiel had told him that symbolic rituals were important here after all.
The deeper Daren dug into that line of thought, the more layers he kept uncovering. He even started wondering if God playing just another guy cleaning the temple might have been a false easy to uncover puzzle in order to lower his guard on the true purpose of this task. Maybe there was also some other set of reasons why he was doing all of this aside from “set your life in order before talking to god.” But, no, that wasn’t entirely right either. God had given him a task, but he was already tackling the worst of it before hand while giving Daren the easier part of it. And then, God came to talk to him the moment it was only just beginning to get hard. From that point forward, Daren was helped every single step of the way.
Just how much of that was on purpose to serve some symbolic role? As he came to consider it, another interpretation occurred to Daren. God was giving him what he needed before he could receive what he wanted.
As though this thought was some kind of trigger, the mold suddenly began to wipe off more easily as soon as Daren reached this realization. It still took some elbow grease, but the hours of scrubbing per mural seemed to be cut down to a fourth of what it was before.
All the while, God was playing the role of therapist, talking about each scene as they were cleaning it together. Daren’s body did not seem to be capable of getting tired, but he still needed to rest frequently during this task.
“So,” Daren said during one of his rests. “Haraiel said something about my spirit slowly degrading and me loosing my memories and personality the longer I’m just a spirit. Is that not a concern in here or something?”
“It’s quite the opposite, actually.” Haraiel said. “In this task you are interacting with your past, interacting with the lord, and you are standing in the lord's presence. All of those things help to strengthen your sense of self. If you choose to select one of the options you will be offered in order to attempt gaining angelic status while retaining your current identity, completing this task will aid you greatly. It will empower you and give you a lot more time to pursue any option you might choose. Even if you don’t and you choose to remain here until your consciousness fades, you will be able to enjoy your time here for much longer.”
“Am I allowed to discuss those options before we finish with this?” Daren asked.
This time, it was God who spoke. “You are still stuck inside your past, unfortunately.” He said. “We can discuss how to move forward once you are ready to do so yourself.”
I am ready though, or at least that was what Daren wanted to say. He had to admit, as he looked around this room, he also felt a certain draw toward those murals. As a therapist himself, he knew the value of dealing with these deep seeded things he had bothering him. He could struggle to move forward, but it would be made infinitely more difficult if he did not resolve his past first.
“Ok then.” Daren said, and then looked over to the man he now knew to be God. “I have just been calling you ‘God,’ or a few of the other things we use to refer to you in my mind. It… seems rather awkward to think of you that way now that I’m seeing you face to face though.” It still felt a little weird speaking this personally with the big guy, but after what must have been days of this intensive therapy session Daren had come to feel a lot closer to him and was beginning to loosen up.
“Hmm… fairly impersonal, isn’t it?” The man said. “I have been called by many names, and the local language’s word for ‘God’ is the most common among them. However, there are a few names my original people used that have been more stable over the millennia. My favorite among them is Immanuel. I would prefer you call me that.”
“Immanuel then.” Daren said, feeling a little strange to be saying it. Yes, he had heard that one around. He had heard of God having many names. He knew a few of them, and Immanuel was one of the most frequently used among those. It made him rather glad he had asked which one he should be using. “So, by the words you just said, does that mean you would have accepted me simply abandoning this task and asking for the path forward without completing it?”
“You know as well as I do that is not what would be best for you.” Immanuel said. “If you do wish to transcend humanity, it will require you to change the world. But, before you change the world, you must first change yourself. You cannot be dwelling in your past, and so it is better we deal with it now. It will make what is to come far easier for you.”
That was not an answer to the question Daren had asked. But, it was still an answer, and one that somehow did a far better job of addressing Daren’s concerns as well as any other question he might have had as a follow-up.
All the same, every single word out of this man’s mouth being so perfectly fit for purpose was starting to make Daren feel overwhelmed. It was a constant reminder of the enormity of the being in front of him. But still, change the world? Transcend humanity? Change himself? He couldn’t help feeling that the hand might have slipped a little bit with that one, there were definitely some clues for the task ahead hidden in there.
Daren decided not to probe the subject any farther for now and got back to work in his labor-intensive therapy session.
Daren realized there was something wrong when he reached the third mural from the last. It depicted his last moments alive, sprawled over Tyler with two bullet wounds in his back, and clinging tightly to the leg of a boy who looked far younger than Vincent had. The boy was tormented by several specters that surrounded him, and he looked as though he was violently fighting them off even as Daren was holding him down. Above the image of the three of them, there were several figures sitting at their desks covered in some black stuff that looked so much like the mold that had been everywhere that Daren immediately lifted his cloth to wash it.
“It’s not going to come off, no matter how much you scrub.” Immanuel said. “That rot is not yours, only those individuals can remove it themselves.”
Daren paused in his action and looked at the figures at the desks again. He always knew the administration at the school was bad, but he didn’t realize it was to such an extent that it would be depicted like this up in heaven.
Haraiel stepped forward and looked at them as well. “Individuals such as these, their angel of death will not protect them from the demons that will come.” She said. “Their souls are already corrupted to a point where the demons can take them the very instant they die. They will have no need to tempt them, and even if one of us did lift our spear to intervene we would not reach them in time.”
Daren felt a little bit of a chill at those words. It was never pleasant to consider the death of others. Even less so to think about them being condemned to hell. But, he’d just heard exactly what their fate would be if these men and women did not right their lives before their demise. Suddenly, Daren was a lot more sympathetic to his grandmother constantly trying to get him to go to church. As if finding out God was real wasn’t enough, now he truly understood the concern she must have felt for him as he rejected her attempts to right his life for him.
“No one can change another person’s life for them.” Daren found himself saying. It was a phrase that was cruelly true both for his own situation, for their’s, and especially for the kids Daren was always trying to help. In all cases, the only person who had the power to right their lives was the person themself.
It was a heavy thought, but this is not the problem Daren saw when he looked at this image. No, the problem was the simple fact that it was the third from the last. He had glanced over to the last mural on the wall shortly after he got talked up from his earlier breakdown. It was this one. Two new ones had been added since he had started working.
As Daren looked, the second to last one depicted the boy Daren had been holding down in the previous frame sitting in a room. It looked like a fairly regular room, not a cell, except for the fact that there actually were bars on the windows and the door looked rather heavy.
There was a man sitting in the room with the boy, talking to him. And, the specters around the boy seemed to have lessened in number.
In the next mural after that, there were a number of desks. The same number as there were above the previous one. They showed a number of figures sitting behind the desk. They were not completely free of the rot, but it was significantly less than the ones in Daren’s picture.
There were also the same number of standing figures immediately below each desk, each still overcome by the rot. It took Daren a little while to understand what he was seeing, but then he got it. The figures in the lower frames were all just standing alone. As in, they were not in the desks anymore.
“So, it looks like there really was an investigation, and some terminations.” Daren said. “Well, that’s good. I hope these new administrators start cleaning that school up a little. This begs the question though. Just how long was I here?”
Immanuel chuckled. “Time does not really matter here.” He said.
Daren waited. Was he going to say more? What does he even mean by that? Were they here cleaning those walls for months? Did God change the flow of time to move faster outside the temple? Are these last two murals depicting the future?
All of those seemed equally plausible, but it didn’t look like either of his more divine companions were going to say a single word further on the subject.