The thief clutches the sack to his chest as he frantically darts through the alley. Part of him wants to be excited by the fullness of the sack and the form of the thick wads of bills that he can feel pressing against him, but this part is drowned out by a more urgent and even more basic instinct than greed: survival. The job was a success, but he is not in the clear yet. He hasn't gotten very far, and the police may be on his trail.
Soon he will wish that it was merely the police who were chasing him.
His feet continue to pound the ground alternately as he desperately searches for a safe place to hide for a time or, better yet, an obscure route of escape. He makes his way through the corridors of brick created by the labyrinth of buildings all around him, occasionally passing through a clear, open area but using the darkness of night to conceal himself. As he passes between two particular houses, he is almost certain that his mind must be playing tricks on him. Whatever that shadow was that just passed between the two rooftops, it could not have been a person chasing him. He is living in real life, not an action film. The cops are further behind him now. If he keeps going, if he can find a way out, he will be fine. He just needs to find somewhere—
Suddenly, he stops. He knows he is not dreaming, but he wishes he were. Someone has jumped in front of him. Someone has jumped, from the rooftops above, down onto the ground in front of him, and is halting his progress forward. What's more, the mysterious figure in front of him appears to be completely unhurt and unshaken by his jump. Just what is going on here?
The figure is dressed in blue, but that is one of the only similarities between him and the police. He wears a navy sweatshirt, plain blue jeans, black gloves and black boots. A regular leather belt. Tall and lean, but muscular. A black mask covers the upper portion of the face, but reveals brown eyes and a thick head of light brown hair. The emblem of a large, white cross is painted onto the front of his sweatshirt.
Before the thief can even think of how to respond to his fear and confusion, the figure speaks. "The eighth commandment," he says. "Thou shalt not steal. I think I'll take that." The man—or possibly even a teenage boy, judging from the voice and what was visible of the face—reaches out and grabs the sack of bills, much to the thief's dismay. "And now," the masked man says in a resolute voice, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way. I'm going to make sure that you get turned in to the authorities and aren't able to steal again anytime soon."
Prayer Journal Entry, Day 1
Okay, I admit, that wasn't quite exactly how it happened. For one thing, I definitely didn't say that thing about the easy way or the hard way—I wouldn't actually use a line that corny—but it sounded more dramatic and I wanted to write it that way. I did say the thing about the eighth commandment, though, because I want it to be known who and what I'm fighting for. And I was really a lot more nervous and less confident than my description made it sound like, but the rest is pretty much true. I really did stop the robber and turn him in to the police! I still can't believe this is happening. I mean, I'm actually a superhero. The Watchman. Me. Josh Reilly, fairly average high school student. I am a superhero. It's crazy!
But that's not the most important thing I am now. As cool as it is to be a superhero, it's even more important that I'm now a Christian, and not just any casual, half-hearted Christian like I used to be. No, for the first time in my life, I've been serious about you lately, and I intend to stay that way. That's why I wanted to start a prayer journal—people have suggested it to me and I thought it would be a good way to organize my thoughts or feelings or struggles or whatever on my spiritual journey (especially since being a superhero will give me some very unique experiences, I'm sure) and to get my requests and needs in a place where I'll remember them. That way I can go and look back later at a request that you've answered or a situation you've helped me through or something like that. In some ways a journal would sound like a bad idea—I mean, I'd have a lot of explaining to do about the whole secret identity thing if Mom or Dad ever found it—but I felt like it would be good to do anyway. So I am. And right now I'm going to start off by writing all about how I got to where I am now. The stories of how I became the Watchman and how I became a more serious Christian are kind of intertwined with each other, so I'll be talking about both. So where should I start? Well, like I said, until recently, I wasn't really living like a Christian...
Carrying a styrofoam tray topped with substances that the administration of his high school liked to pass off as food, Josh Reilly made his way carefully and precisely through the crowded school cafeteria. He used his eyes along the way to locate the table where his crowd of friends sat and to know when to dodge the masses of other students swirling all around him, but it certainly didn't hurt when he happened to also catch tantalizing glimpses of the various attractive females passing by. Milling through the crowds, with everyone headed to a different part of the spacious cafeteria, one could never help but pick up bits and pieces of everyone else's conversations. Josh tried to ignore them; he had little desire to hear everyone's gossip about their relationships, complaints about the amount of homework they had, or laments about their life at home. Getting to his seat without being bothered by anyone (and making sure to notice the hot girls along the way) was all that mattered right now.
He set his tray down of the long, wooden table and sat next to Ian, who had been one of his best friends since middle school. Josh was of average height and build, a little bit on the big side, and had thick, light brown hair. Ian was smaller, with shortly cropped blond hair, but he was the older of the two and, in most people's opinion, the tougher. Though Josh's reputation wasn't anything special—he wasn't particularly cool or uncool, neither jock nor nerd, nor much of anything else except that quiet-ish guy who sat in the back of class—Ian was an athlete and was fairly popular around the school. He wasn't one of the leading star athletes, but he was cool enough, was more knowledgeable than Josh of the latest styles, and usually managed to make an appearance at most of the parties and other popular events.
"What's up, Josh?" Ian asked casually.
Josh laid his tray gently down on the table, causing his carton of chocolate milk to wobble slightly, and took a seat next to his friend. "What's up," he repeated. It wasn't actually a question, just a customary greeting.
Though they didn't seem to have a whole lot in common, Josh's and Ian's schedules in seventh grade had given them several classes together, and at that time they had taken the opportunity to form a friendship which had shown itself to be long-lasting. Today was the Friday of the first week of their senior year of high school, and over the years they had spent together they had discovered at least a few areas of common ground, most notably an affinity for video games, a general dislike of school, and a hormonal passion for girls, three subjects which they talked about often whenever they hung out. It was almost every weekday that they ate lunch together at a small table in the mundane cafeteria. Sometimes they had a few other acquaintances from this or that class join them—occasionally even a girl who Ian would invite to sit with him—but today the two of them sat alone.
Josh took a generous bite from a processed hamburger patty that was not quite warm enough and washed it down with a swig of chocolate milk that had begun to acquire the taste of the cardboard in which it was contained. "Well," he announced with more than a hint of sarcasm after finishing that sip, "It tastes like another glorious day of high school." He looked over to Ian, but his friend was not paying attention. Or, rather, Ian was not paying attention to Josh. He was paying quite a bit of attention to a slim blonde in a pink tank top sitting a few tables away.
"See that girl over there?" Ian asked, pointing. "I'm thinking of asking her out."
"What's her name?" Josh asked casually.
Ian shrugged. "No idea. I guess I'll find out when I ask her."
Josh glanced at him skeptically. "You don't know her name or anything about her, but you're going to ask her out?"
Ian grinned mischievously. "I know what she looks like," he answered. "That's a good start."
Josh scowled. Though he didn't have a particularly firm hold on his parents' moral and religious convictions, Ian's method of haphazard dating had never quite made sense to Josh. Josh himself, being a fairly shy, reserved guy and governed as he was by the concerns of his parents, had never actually been on a date, though this was by no means to say that he hadn't wanted to or didn't have a strong sense of attraction to the female persuasion. The few past instances in which he may have been remotely close to beginning a romantic relationship had not met his parents' approval, whether because of flaws in his female of choice or in his own motives or both, and as much as he might resent it, Josh knew that, as long as he was under his parents' roof and control, disobeying their wishes in such matters was not in his best interests. Still, despite the limits of his own personal experience, he didn't really see much sense in Ian's sporadic attempts to pick up girls.
Before Josh could make any further comment, Ian was changing the subject already—the unknown girl must not have been that important to him. "So, Josh, you going to the party tomorrow night?" Ian asked him casually, though they both already knew the answer.
Josh had heard about the party in question. One of the head football players was hosting a late night party to commemorate the beginning of the new school year—or, at least, that was the official reason. However, everyone knew that the main reason for this party was for the students to enjoy certain activities which would not exactly be school-sponsored.
"Can't," Josh answered reluctantly. "Gotta finish up that paper for English."
"You have all weekend to do that," Ian pointed out. Then, hoping to drive his point home even further with his friend, he added, "There's another reason you can't go tomorrow."
Josh had heard this from Ian before, and he was getting tired of it. "Look, Ian, you already know that my parents won't let me stay out late on Saturday nights because we always go to church the next morning. And you already know that the kind of party you're talking about would be off-limits any day of the week. You know I can't come, so why do you keep bringing it up?"
"I'm just trying to get you to think clearly for once. Your parents have all these religious rules and they're always making you go to church, which is probably just as boring as school. When are you gonna wake up to the real world and start doing things your own way?"
A sigh of frustration escaped Josh's lips as he finished off his chocolate milk and put the carton back down. "Come on, Ian, there's not much I can do about it," Josh replied. "I'd never get away with taking the car and going to a sketchy party late on a Saturday night. They'd kill me."
"Only if they found out," Ian answered. "Look, I could give you a ride so you wouldn't have to take their car and risk getting noticed. You can pretend to go to bed early and then sneak out the window. How hard could it be?"
"I don't know," Josh said hesitantly, hanging his head slightly and looking away from his friend's convincing eyes. "I just don't know…"
"I'm telling you, Josh, you're missing out," Ian argued once more. Then, without another word, he got up from the table, deposited his empty tray in the trash can, and made his way towards the slim blonde in the pink tank top sitting a few tables away, leaving a frustrated and uncertain Josh Reilly alone at the table.
Approximately two and a half hours later, Josh stepped off the school bus and walked alone down the road that led to his house, the weight of his backpack and conflicting thoughts his only companions.
The conversation from lunchtime, not dissimilar from many he and Ian had had before, still rang in his mind. Not for the first time, Josh tried to decide exactly how he felt about the whole issue of his parents' rules and religion preventing him from having the social life and participating in the activities he would've liked to. He definitely didn't like having to be excluded from such functions as dating and parties, and he wasn't particularly fond of going to church, either. But when Josh let his imagination go and tried to picture himself at the party late at night with a scantily clad girl in each arm, he wasn't quite sure whether he liked what he saw. There certainly were aspects of such a lifestyle that he found quite…well, alluring…but for some reason the idea didn't quite sit right in his mind. After all, he came from a Christian family, and Christians were good people, right? Josh wondered inwardly whether a good person like himself would be truly satisfied doing bad things like that, and he couldn't come to a definite answer.
Despite what Ian seemed to think or tried to convince him of, Josh wasn't totally opposed to being a Christian, he just didn't like going to church and a lot of the rules he was supposed to follow. Of course he still believed in God and the Bible—not that he ever bothered to read it much, but still. Sometimes Josh wished that everyone else would just leave him alone. He wouldn't have to conform to his parents and their religion, or to Ian and his popularity, he could just keep his life the way it was and be his own person without having to listen to anybody else. Yeah, he would be content with that.
But somehow, no matter how many times he said that to himself, Josh got the feeling that he wouldn't be content with that. It was as if a voice—his conscience, maybe?—was telling him that staying in the middle wouldn't accomplish anything, and that one day he would have to pick one side or the other. He didn't quite know what to make of that feeling, but decided to ignore it for now—especially since he had finished the short walk from the bus stop and was now at his house, where the first thing he wanted to do was relax. Josh opened the front door, stepped inside, and was greeted cheerfully by his mother, who was seated peacefully at the kitchen table.
"Hi Josh. How was school?"
"Good," he lied, slipping his backpack off and resting it on the living room floor.
"Anything interesting happen?" she continued.
"Nope," he answered truthfully. Diverting any of his mother's further attempts at conversation, Josh want straight to his room and crashed down on his bed without turning on the lights. He usually took an after-school nap as a means to rest after a long school day, but maybe today it would help him forget all these thoughts about how he was supposed to live his life. One could always hope.
The following night, Josh did not go to the party. His literature book sat on his computer desk, on top of some other old textbooks, the Bible his parents had given him long ago, and various other papers that he hadn't touched in forever, but he did not type one word of his English paper, either. Instead, Josh spent the entire time from the end of dinner until the bedtime that made sure he would be able to get up for church in the morning alone in his room with the light off, playing video games. Pressing plastic buttons to shoot at hostile images on a television screen was a lot easier than trying to face up to his problems.
Danny Caraway knew he had problems, but it was gonna take a lot more than just knowing to actually do something about them. Sure, it'd be great if they all magically went away, but that wasn't gonna happen anytime soon, and so he'd just have to keep dealing with it until he could find some way out and hope in the meantime that it didn't all come back to get him.
He had never planned or wanted to be a bad guy, but he had learned by now that, more often than not, life didn't exactly give you what you want. He was twenty-seven, still fairly young, but he had already made a pretty good mess of his life and, as far as he could tell, shot any chances he may have once had of ever amounting to something legitimate or purposeful. A few years back when he had been unemployed and times were getting harder, he had begun to steal to survive. Over time in the years that followed, he had pulled several robberies, both alone and with partners, and with varying degrees of success; he had been in and out of jail, and because of the reputation he had established as a small-time crook, had had no success in any attempts he had made at cleaning up his act and getting a real job.
Danny hated the life he had made for himself, and he knew it was all his own fault, but he still needed food to eat and a place to sleep just like anyone else, so he stayed in the crime business. In a big town like his, it was hard for a crook to stay independent for long; after his first few robberies, he had met up with some others in a similar 'line of work', and they had cut some deals together. One connection led to another, and now, within just two weeks of his most recent stint in prison, he had been in need of cash and found a job with Will Edness, one of the most connected criminals in the city. Edness wasn't exactly one of those huge crime bosses you always see in the gangster movies, but he was definitely higher up on the chain than Danny, and he knew who to pay off in order to get what he wanted. The man was tough, and working for him was a dangerous business, so Danny worried that one of these days he would find himself in over his head. Unfortunately, now that he had put in with Edness, he didn't have much of an alternative. And since Edness had a job he wanted done tomorrow night, Danny Caraway would be the one to pull that job for him.
He just wondered how much longer his life would be able to go on like this.
"'The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: 'When I bring a sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet and does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.' Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?"' Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?''"
The next morning, while slouching in an uncomfortable chair in the back of a crowded room filled with other high school students, Josh Reilly heard these words coming from the mouth of Dave, the church youth pastor. Had Josh been listening to the lesson, he might have been able to tell you that these words constituted the first eleven verses of the thirty-third chapter of the biblical book of Ezekiel. But Josh never listened too much to lessons he heard on Sunday mornings, or when he did, it was only enough so he could give his parents a brief summary when they asked him about it at lunch after church. For the most part, Josh found the Bible and its stories quite boring, and he could think of more entertaining things to occupy his thoughts at any given moment. For instance, there was the video game he had been playing last night and the tricks and tactics he might employ this afternoon in attempting to get to the next level. There was also a pretty girl a few rows ahead of him who he could always look at and think about (he thought her name was Anne, but he wasn't quite sure, as he never talked to his fellow youth group members very much). Either option would probably be more fun than listening to the words of another long dead prophet of doom.
Dave, a passionate, energetic man in his late twenties, went on to explain the passage to his audience (though it all seemed pretty self-explanatory to Josh). "Evangelism is an essential part of the Christian life", he stated firmly. "The Bible makes this clear—just think of the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, assuring us that He will be with us always." Clearing his throat, he took a moment to look back at his notes, and then resumed. "Here in verse eleven, God shows us how much He loves all people, even sinners. God loves us and wants what's best for us. It doesn't make Him happy to see sinners burning in hell, but it saddens Him to see that happen to those who He created and loves. God is merciful, and instead of punishing us for eternity like we deserve, He wants us to turn to Him and be forgiven of our sins. The Bible tells us in Luke 15 that there is rejoicing in heaven when even one sinner repents. God wants to save us, not send us to hell."
Josh wasn't trying to listen—he may have even been trying not to listen—but his mind was catching bits and pieces of the message. "This is where we, as Christians, come in," Dave continued. "Because God first loved us, we love Him, and we should have a love for others as well—even sinners. Especially sinners, because if they die without placing their faith in Jesus Christ, they will suffer in hell for eternity. Now, if we truly love people as we should and as God does, then we don't want that to happen to anyone. Thankfully, we have the means to stop it! We've been saved, we know how to be forgiven of our sins, so we just need to share that truth with the ones who still need to hear it! Not everyone will accept it, but if we share the gospel with somebody and they reject it, their fate is their own fault. However, if we fail to share the gospel with them, if we fail to tell them about the one who loves them so much to die for their sins, then we're at fault, just like the watchman who sees the invading army coming but doesn't do a thing about it."
Dave usually liked to end his sermons on a personal note, to encourage and motivate the youth who heard it. "Now, I know all of you know somebody who isn't saved. Who is it? Is it a relative? A neighbor? A friend at school? Even an enemy at school? What wre we doing to bring them closer to the kingdom of God? Since we have this salvation and we have God's love inside of us, why don't we evangelize more? Why don't we share the message that has saved us with those who still need to hear it? Is it that we've become carnal and are distracted by the things of the world? Is that we don't love people like we should, or even that we don't love God like we should? Maybe you already have been showing Jesus' love to your lost friends and family, and if so, I exhort you to continue. But I pray that we all realize what a crucial position we're in and and start to take action to save the world from hell."
The lesson ended with a prayer, and within the hour Josh was home and ready to divert his attention to other things, such as hearing about the previous night's party from Ian on the phone.
"How was church?" Ian asked sarcastically.
"Boring as usual," Josh answered routinely. "How was the party?"
"Dude, it was awesome!" Ian exclaimed. For the next several minutes, he went on to describe in vivid detail exactly how awesome the party had been and all the happenings that he said Josh should have been there for.
"Sounds like fun," Josh said, frustrated at hearing what he had missed out on and reluctant to begin another conversation like the one they had had on Friday. Though he didn't fully realize it, after hearing an enthusiastic message like the one Dave had delivered this morning, he was trying even harder to avoid facing up to his problems by ignoring the things he was always being taught and not think about all his parents' rules. Hoping to change the subject and possibly even escape the house for the day, he said, "Hey, want to hang out and play some more video games this afternoon?"
"Sure, that'd be cool," Ian answered. "My mom's not here today, and Dad's hardly ever around anymore, so we'd have the whole place to ourselves if you came over."
"Let me just check with my parents," Josh said, putting the phone down and coming out into the living room.
His dad was reading on the couch and his mom was preparing lunch in the adjacent kitchen. Before Josh could make his request to go to Ian's for the afternoon, his dad had a question of his own. "Hey, Josh, how was youth group this morning?"
"Good," Josh answered, though he hadn't really liked it at all.
"What did you learn?"
"We're studying Ezekiel. Chapter thirty-three, I think."
"And that is about...?"
Josh hesitated. "Um...something about being a watchman...and people going to hell...I forget the rest. Hey, can I go hand out at Ian's today?"
Hearing the conversation, his mother stepped in from the kitchen. "It sounds like you're more concerned about spending time with your friends and playing video games than you are about learning from the Bible."
Josh mentally acknowledged that this was true, though it wouldn't be a good idea to admit to Mom. But to Josh's frustration, Dad was picking up on it as well. "I don't think it's good that you spend so much time at Ian's house when he's not a Christian," his father said sternly. "If you're not influencing him in a positive way, then he's going to influence you in a negative way."
"Don't you have any friends in the youth group who you could spend more time with instead?" his mom asked. Josh didn't want to tell his parents that he thought all the Christians at church were uncool.
"Look, I'll pay more attention next time," Josh argued. "Can I please just go to Ian's house?"
"No," his father pronounced firmly. "I don't want you hanging out with him as much until you can show us that you're really learning something from church and that you care more about God."
"But that's not fair!" Josh protested angrily. "Why can't I—"
"I already told you why," his dad interrupted. "Your spiritual life is a lot more important than your social life, and it doesn't look like it's been getting enough of attention. Why don't you read more of your Bible this afternoon instead of playing so many video games?"
"I don't want to read my Bible," Josh said grumpily, turning away from his parents and storming back to his room. He had already been frustrated about missing the party, but this new incident made him even madder at his parents' standards. He couldn't wait to hear what Ian would say about this. "Hey, Ian," Josh said, picking up the phone again. "I'm not gonna be able to come over today."
"What? Why not?" Ian asked.
"My parents don't like that I'm hanging out with you instead of reading my Bible, or something like that," Josh reported unhappily.
"That's lame," Ian said. "What's wrong with a few video games? I keep telling you that you need to forget them and start living your own life for once."
"Maybe you're right," Josh consented, beginning to see Ian's point. "But how would I do that? Everyone's home right now so I couldn't really get to your house without them noticing."
"Yeah, this afternoon's not gonna work," Ian said. "But how about tonight? After they're all asleep? Like I said, I could come by and pick you up."
"It's a school night—" Josh began.
"I know it's a school night!" Ian exclaimed. "That's why it's gotta be tonight, because they don't want it to be."
Josh began to smile. "Yeah, I could kind of go for some late night video games."
"And forget the video games too!" Ian countered. "You're breaking free. This is your stand of independence. It's gotta be something that they really don't want you to do."
"Um…like what?" Josh asked, slightly afraid of the answer.
"Like…" Ian thought it over for a few moments, then answered. "Like, you know that old chemical plant where my dad works, the one we always see a few blocks away from my house?"
"Haven't we always wanted to see what's inside?"
"Well, yeah, but—"
"Then we'll go," Ian stated matter-of-factly. "Tonight. I'll pick you up at like midnight. Sound good?"
All at once, several conflicting thoughts began pouring into Josh's mind, but Ian was waiting for an answer, and he didn't have much time to sort them out. Of course his parents wouldn't like it if they knew he was sneaking out at night, but they wouldn't be likely to find out. And what was the worst that could happen at the chemical plant? They would probably just walk through quickly and then get out. It would be an adventure, and he could use one of those instead of staying cooped up in his parents' cage all the time. Yeah, it'd be fine.
"Sounds good," Josh answered, still slightly uncertain but trying to sound excited and adventurous. "I'll see you tonight." He hung up the phone and smiled.
It was like Danny had said earlier: Will Edness knew who to pay in order to get what he wanted. And a lot of times, tonight included, what he wanted was drugs. His addictions to several varieties of illegal substance were no secret to his business partners, and usually no concern either. Most people in this business didn't care about their fellow criminals as long as they themselves were kept safe and well-paid, and Will Edness was certainly able to meet at least the latter.
The problem was that Edness didn't want just any old drugs to reach that high he so desperately craved. Danny would've much preferred to just act as a delivery boy between his boss and some dealer on the street, but whatever it was that Edness desired wasn't available on the open market. Danny had never been much for chemistry or for drugs (he had only ever tried the most basic kinds), so he didn't quite know what it was that his boss was on. He just knew that it was his job to break into the chemical plant tonight and get what his Edness wanted, and that he would be rewarded much more handsomely for it than he would have been for a simple delivery job, and so he tried to ignore whatever compunction or fear of danger that he might feel towards his assignment.
With some degree of reluctance, Danny pocketed his gun. He always hoped he wouldn't have to use it, because nobody wanted to face up to a murder rap, but there was always the chance of running into trouble once he got to the plant. It was almost midnight, so hopefully he wouldn't be seen easily by any guards or other passersby. Grabbing the black ski mask that would complement the rest of his all-black attire, he got into his car and began to drive.
While on his way, he passed a small church and snickered to himself. The good and lofty people of the church were quite different from the sort of person who was about to break into a chemical plant and steal some drugs for his boss. Sure, he used to go to church sometimes when he was younger—who hadn't?—but that was a long time ago, and things had changed a whole heck of a lot. He remembered learning about a God who was holy and loving and could save him, but just look at his life now. Certainly a God who was good and holy wouldn't want anything to do with a dirty lowlife like himself. Danny figured that if God still existed, then the only thing for Danny to do was to just enjoy his life as much as he could before he died and went to hell.
He kept driving.
"You know, I really don't think we should be here," Josh announced as he and Ian, crouching stealthily and dressed in all black, walked slowly from Ian's car to the dark and foreboding chemical plant building.
"Well, it's a little too late for that now," Ian said back in a loud whisper, in order to be heard by Josh but not by anyone else who might be within earshot. "We've already come all the way here, so we're not going back now. If you had really wanted to stay locked up in your parents' house and never do anything cool, you should've thought of that before you agreed to come here."
"I don't know what I was thinking," Josh answered honestly. "This could be really dangerous and if we get caught we'll be in huge trouble. Besides, you haven't even thought things through. They've got to lock this place up really tight at night, so how are we going to get in?"
Ian reached casually into his pocket. "My Dad works here, remember?" He outstretched his palm to reveal a small, gold-colored key. "This has the company's name on it, so I know what it goes to. I found it lying around the house yesterday."
"Oh, so that's why you suggested we come to this place," Josh said, putting the pieces together. "Won't your dad notice that it's gone?"
Ian shrugged. "Dad's not around. He's probably out with his drinking buddies or his latest girlfriend, like usual. Now are we gonna stand here talking and wait to get caught, or go inside and have some fun?"
Josh hesitated, but tried to sound confident and reassured. "Yeah, let's go."
For a building as big as the chemical plant was, it took them a few tries to find which door the key went to. Since they wanted to remain unnoticed, the boys were reluctant to try the front entrance, so they started with the ones on the building's left side. Conveniently, the key worked on the third door they tried.
"Well, what do you know? I guess we got lucky," Ian commented, opening the cold, rusty door in what he hoped was the slowest and quietest way it could possibly be opened. The two boys cautiously stepped into the building. Josh's heart was beating faster than he could remember it ever beating before.
Not surprisingly, the whole place contained the pungent odor of various chemicals, causing Josh to crinkle his nose in disgust. Given that everything was closed down for the night, it was almost as dark inside the building as it had been outside, but a few windows amplified the moonlight that shone through. Josh was able to make out the faintly illuminated outlines of several barrels containing unknown substances against the wall, a few scattered tables, and lots of equipment that he knew nothing about and could not begin to imagine a use for.
"I can't believe we're actually here right now," Josh whispered softly, looking all around. "I know, isn't it awesome?" Ian responded.
"Um, sure," Josh answered. "Look, we're here, there's not much to see in this room, so can we go now?"
"No," Ian said.
Josh tried to stifle a groan. "Why the heck not?"
"We've got to go through it," Ian said. "Go through the main area and come out on the other side of the building. If we can manage that without getting caught, then we'll have really done something cool."
"And if we do get caught?"
"Come on." He took a few steps forward, and Josh followed with reluctance and apprehension. As much as he was wishing that he hadn't come in the first place, getting lost in the building without Ian's guidance was an even less desirable option. He followed what he could see of his friend's figure and the occasional whisper of direction through the ominous and unknown labyrinth of darkness. Josh winced every time he heard his own footsteps make more than the slightest amount of noise. He needed to be silent, not only to avoid detection by security guards, but to listen for Ian's guiding footsteps. He could hear their shuffling directly in front of him. Wait, now it sounded like they were coming from the other side of the room, with a different rhythm of movement than the one he had been hearing. That was strange. Okay, now they were in front of him again, like they should be. But he was sure he still heard them from the other side of the room—
Josh stopped momentarily to listen closely. That was definitely Ian's movement in front of him. Then what was making those tiptoeing sounds several yards away? A shiver crawled frightfully over his body.
"Ian," Josh whispered harshly.
"What?" his friend called back.
"There's somebody else here."
"Are you sure?" Ian asked uncertainly. Josh couldn't tell in the dark, but he imagined his friend to be wide-eyed.
"Yes!" Josh said more aggressively, his voice and temper rising because of the potential danger. "There is somebody else in here!"
Danny could've sworn that he was not alone in the building, and the thought of it scared the crud out of him. He had picked the lock on the building's back door fairly easily and then begun making his way to the side of the building, which is where he hoped to find what the boss had hired him to steal. But as he got closer to the side entrance, he had begun to hear footsteps and possibly even faint voices. He wanted to run away, but he knew that the boss would kill him—perhaps figuratively, but perhaps not—if he returned without getting the required chemicals. Besides, he had gotten out of tight spots before. They sure felt bad while they were happening, but if you kept your cool and stayed unnoticed, you could usually get out of them safely—at least, he always had so far. Anxiously, Danny kept sneaking along, but now he kept a firm hand on his gun, just in case.
Yep, he was definitely hearing footsteps other than his own. Judging from what he could make of the whispers, there were at least two people. Did the security guards usually patrol in pairs? Had they noticed the picked lock and come to look for him? He had no way of knowing, but it sounded like the voices were getting a lot closer now. If they found him, he would need to make a fast escape. He brought his gun out and held it in front of him. He didn't want to hurt anybody if he could help it, but a couple of shots for distraction or intimidation could sure come in handy in an escape.
Then the footsteps seemed to stop suddenly, so Danny stopped too—for his own movement to keep making noise while the others were silent and still would be a dead giveaway. He wondered how far off they were and how long he would have to stay still. Suddenly he heard a voice, probably louder than intended, say, "There is somebody else in here!" Acting on instinct and self-preservation, Danny fired two or three shots in the general direction of the voices he had heard. Then he began to run.
Terror like he had never felt before overwhelmed Josh's mind and heart as soon as he heard the first shot fired. Suddenly he wished he had taken the time to develop a stronger relationship with God. Ian let out a yelp of pain, and Josh feared the worst. All hell was breaking loose in the chaos of his mind, but he knew he had to get to safety somehow. Though Josh could hardly see anything around him, he ran recklessly in a direction that seemed opposite from the one the shots had come from.
Josh heard the piercing sound of alarms going off. Somewhere in the room, a door burst open and a security guard, having heard the shots, charged through rapidly. "Everyone freeze where you are!" the man yelled in a commanding voice.
Both the momentum he had accumulated and his overwhelming need to escape prevented Josh from obeying the guard's order. He was still running, even faster now, but with no more knowledge of where he was going. Unable to see in front of himself, Josh's body slammed into what felt like an uneven wall of cold, hostile metal. An image of the stacks of barrels he had seen against the walls sped quickly through his brain. He ricocheted off of the tower of canisters and fell backward to the ground, knocking his head painfully on the concrete floor. Disturbed by his impact, the stacks began to crumble, and within seconds several the large containers were falling next to him or on top of him. Metal cracked against concrete as the canisters broke open, spilling their chemical contents and washing the barely conscious body of Josh Reilly in an unknown mixture of substances. Ian's agonizing screams from a distance and the tingle of the unknown agents against his skin were the last sensations Josh knew before he passed out completely.
To be continued...