A work in progress.
Remember a few months ago when I told you that I was finished with my book? Yeah, well, I lied. What I should have said is that I was finished with the first draft. Now, I'm working my way through Round 2.
Fortunately I'm not alone for this round. I've got my best bud beside me, acting as my red pen this time. With her help I've made the decision to (basically) rewrite the book. I know, sounds exhausting doesn't it? Believe me, I'd avoid it if I could. But I don't want to go forward and try to publish something that's not the best that it can be. This story is too important to mess up. Once it's printed, it's done. No more edits, only wishes. So I'm plugging along. The story is the same, but the order and narration are changing.
If you were with me when I wrote Chapter 1 you'll remember that the book originally started with the Christmas story. From there it progressed, pretty closely flowing parallel with the Gospels. Instead, I've decided to open with the baptism, and the story will be told through rotating perspectives. Beginning and ending with Satan. Today I want to share with you the new and improved first chapter, and I want to know what you think. Do you love it? Do you hate it? Have I completely lost my grip? Why or why not? So, here goes nothing:
Satan stood on the bank of the Hudson River. It wasn’t yet noon, and already he was in a sour mood. It was the sunshine. There was something about a bright, sunny day that always made him irritable. He’d left Hell in good spirits, but it was squashed the second the warm glow met his face. But the sunshine wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was in the water.
His eyes were locked on two men, wading waist deep, as one baptized the other. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he watched, knowing full well what he was witnessing. It was something he’d been anticipating for centuries. This wasn’t another run-of-the-mill baptism, it was the tipping point. As the years and months and weeks had drawn closer, he could think of nothing but this moment. The moment he would come face to face with The Adversary.
A fog of resentment enveloped him as he thought of the way things could have been. If God had only granted his wish, things could have been so different. They could’ve been partners, not foes. It was bad enough when he was thrown out of heaven, and sentenced to The Pit, but then came the cherry on top. He hadn’t even recovered from his fall when he heard the news: God had every intention of sharing his Kingdom, just not with Satan. Evidently he wasn’t good enough to be called “son”. He had shouted at God that day, “If I’m not good enough, no one is! I’m the most beautiful! I’m the most cunning! I’m the most worthy!” But Satan wasn’t given answers. He was left to wait. Alas, his day had come. The “son” was here.
The thought made him seethe. A low growl grumbled out of him as he looked at the Man. The Chosen One. How special could he be if a regular man is all that comes to baptize him? One would think that was the work of angels.
There was a sizeable crowd around Satan, and a few sideways glances were shot his way, but nothing like the usual response he elicited from humans. On any other day every eye would be on him and every head turned toward him. He stood six feet, six inches tall. His hair was platinum blonde and perfectly unkempt, and his eyes were a fierce, bright blue. He had a strong, square jaw and full lips. There was no denying that he stood out from the crowd, but today few seemed to notice. The lack of attention did little to improve his mood.
Today he was being outshined. Not by an angel. Not by a movie star. By a simple man. The man they called Jesus.
“So, this is who the fuss is about?” Satan said beneath his breath. He noticed a little girl standing nearby staring at him, and he stuck his tongue out at her. She scurried to the other side of her mother. His face twisted into a smile as he thought about the way the world imagined him. Perhaps just once he would put on the red suit and tail and prance around for the people. He shrugged off the thought and refocused on the scene in the water.
Suddenly, all eyes looked to the sky, but Satan stayed locked on Jesus. Then he heard it. A familiar voice. One he could never escape, because it rang through his head constantly. Everything in him wanted to cower to the ground and cover his ears, but his pride kept him standing straight and tall, as the voice of God rang out across the water:
“This is my Son. He is precious to Me. My joy is in Him!”
After the echo was absorbed and the voice was gone, Satan regained his confidence, and rolled his eyes dramatically. He wanted to throw up. He watched as Jesus walked toward the shore smiling from ear to ear.
“He thinks he’s so special,” Satan snarled. All this time he’d been pondering what this man would look like, and now this was him. He had expected the Son of God to be a little more impressive. Jesus was nothing more than average. Average height, average build, and average looks. He had messy brown hair, simple clothes, and a face that left much to be desired. He was more confused than ever. “What does he have that I don’t,” Satan asked himself.
That’s when Jesus looked at him. Of all the people in the crowd Jesus somehow picked Satan out automatically. When their eyes locked Satan stumbled backward as if struck by a blow to the face. He wanted to look away but he couldn’t. He stood there locked on those green eyes for several seconds, before Jesus finally looked away, releasing Satan.
There was something about Jesus’s eyes that was familiar to Satan. Something about them was reminiscent of the heavenly home he had once known. These weren’t the eyes of a man.
He shook the thoughts off and walked away. “He’s just a man,” he reminded himself. “Flesh and blood, just like the rest of them. And flesh and blood can be broken.” Cracking his knuckles deviously he left the river. He knew what came next, and he was ready for it.
Satan didn’t have much time. He’d been allotted forty days to work. The pressure was on, but his plan was sure to work. He met up with Jesus in the wilderness near Ossining, New York, and for forty days he watched as the man he’d perceived as weak proved his strength. Day in and day out Jesus went without food. He went without conversation either with other men or with his Father. No angels were around to pat him on the back and give him the occasional, “Atta boy.” He was completely isolated, but he wasn’t alone.
Satan paced up and down the forest floor just waiting for Jesus to crack. The plan he’d been so craftily plotting for the past thousand years was no proving to be a bust. He’d spent years talking trash to his army of devils, telling them exactly what he would do when he finally came toe to toe with God’s precious son. Now he felt the shadow of shame creeping toward his coattails. He was suddenly regretting the speech he’d made the day he set out from Hell to conquer Jesus:
“He’s flesh and bone, just like those worthless creatures of his! If you thought Hitler was easy just wait until I get my hands on this ‘Immanuel’!”
They had all cheered him, thinking no task too great for their almighty. Now, forty days into the job, Satan was starting to fret. Jesus was proving much stronger than he’d expected. He pictured the faces waiting for him in Hell, how the thought of Jesus falling had made them salivate with excitement. He wasn’t ready to give up. He had a few more tricks up his sleeve. It had been forty days, and and he could hear a rumble of weakness come from Jesus’s stomach: he was hungry. With a hot dog in hand Satan sidled over to the starving man and spoke, trying to make his voice sound steady and confident.
“Say, Jesus, you look famished. I would think the ‘Son of God’ could snap his fingers and food would just appear. Why don’t you try it? I’ve seen your Dad do some pretty crazy stuff. I’d love to see what tricks you’ve got up your sleeve. Daddy has given you authority, hasn’t he? Why don’t you make that rock turn into bread?”
Jesus sat on the ground watching a colony of ants rebuild the mound Satan had just stepped through. He slowly raised his head to look at his tempter. He held his head hi, but when Jesus’s eyes met his own Satan couldn’t help but wince. Jesus spoke easily, if he was having to force his calm like Satan was it didn’t show.
“A man needs more than bread to live, Devil. He needs the words of God. We need every word that comes from the mouth of God. Food might get rid of the rumble in a man’s stomach, but it will do nothing for his soul.”
Satan rolled his eyes and walked away. Luckily he was cunning and quick on his feet. A few strides away he had an idea.
“Will you come with me, Jesus? There’s something I want to show you.”
Jesus stood up, and Satan took him to the top of the Empire State Building. They looked out across the city. Satan leaned out over the edge, the wind blowing his hair back. This was his favorite place to come in the city. He could smell the sin that surrounded him, and it was comforting. He looked at Jesus, his eyes wide open with excitement, and shouted:
“If you’re the Son of God, then jump! Throw yourself down, Jesus. Don’t the angels keep tabs on you? Don’t they watch over you? Would they let you get hurt? I bet they wouldn’t let you get so much as a scratch on that handsome face of yours! They’ve protected you before, don’t you think they’ll do it again? Do it then, jump! Jump!”
Without turning his head or raising his voice, Jesus said, “Only a fool tests God.” Through gritted teeth he added: “You’d be wise to back off.” Satan felt the hair on his neck stand up. He turned around and roared with frustration.
“Let’s go!” he snapped at Jesus.
Satan had one shot. He had to try and put a chink in the armor. If he could plant even the tiniest seed of doubt in Jesus’s heart, there would be a chance. Obviously Jesus knew what God had to offer, but he needed to see the other side of the coin. It was Satan’s turn to shine. He took Jesus to the top of Mt. Everest.
From the peak they could see for hundreds of miles. It was undeniably beautiful, and for the first time in weeks Satan saw a smile spread across Jesus’s face. He took it for admiration. “He likes what he sees,” Satan thought, “He’s flesh and blood after all.” Then he saw a tear roll down Jesus’s cheek, and he ran with it.
Turning on the charm Satan said, “Look, I can only imagine the pressure you’re under. I mean, seriously, the Son of God? Sheesh. You know, I’ve known your dad for a long time, and I know how intense he can be. I’m not like that. It’s just not my style. I like to keep things more relaxed. And, I like you. I know you’ve probably heard your whole life that I’m the bad guy, but it’s not true. It’s all misunderstanding. To prove it to you I’m going to offer you something that most of my children spend their entire lives hoping for. I want you to have this.” He pointed out across the vastness around them. “All of this. Every bit of it is yours to enjoy. Yours . . . to command. All you have to do,” he leaned over, whispering in Jesus’s ear, “All you have to do is kneel down and worship me.”
Before Satan could even finish the sentence Jesus spun around with fire in his eyes. The look made Satan throw his arms up protectively and cower to the ground. It wasn’t hatred or anger that he saw on Jesus’s face. He saw those things every day, they didn’t faze him. What Satan saw in Jesus in the moment was pureness. Pureness of heart and mind and spirit. It was something he hadn’t seen in many men. It was something he was defenseless against. Jesus’s voice came out like a lion, and shook the snow from the mountaintops.
“You fool! If you were as smart as you think, you would have stayed away from me! There is one GOD, and I will worship no one else! You are no match for Him! Give up!”
From the corner of his eye Satan saw an old familiar face coming near to them. It was the face of Gabriel, the archangel. The site of him made Satan feel sick. He’d always regarded Gabriel as the “teacher’s pet”. The suck up. The one who wasn’t strong enough to stand up against God. Satan pitied Gabriel for his weakness. There was much he could’ve said to his old pal, but he chose not to stick around and chat. He jumped over the side of the mountain and descended back down into Hell. The test was over.
Okay, here's where you come in, what do you think? Did you like it better before, or is this a good change?