Amos threw his weight on the bellows one last time, then wiped the sweat from his forehead. He grabbed a poker and shoved it into the fire. One of the logs broke apart into a hundred scintillating embers; the other resisted. He jabbed it harder, and a spark landed on his arm, right where his glove ended. He hissed and dropped the poker. It clanged to the floor.
He rubbed at the tiny burn, then picked the poker up and placed it back on its hook. He returned to the bellows.
The shop was sleeping. No matter how much noise he made, even clanging pokers until they sounded like city bells, it slept. The forge blazed, but quietly. The firelight glinted off the tools hanging from the walls. The shadows were grey. The hammers were still.
The door opened. Early morning sunshine streamed in. Life entered—so did a middle-aged man with hands of rock.
“Good morning, Master.” Amos used the poker again and succeeded in getting a fine bed of coals. He closed the door on the forge and stretched. Two pops sounded from his back, and the man grinned.
“Good morning, Amos. Ready for another day?”
“As long as it doesn’t bring too much work,” he joked. They both knew it would be busy day; it was always busy. And that was a good thing. His master had a wife and four children to feed. Amos had his mother.
The morning stretched on. It grew hot. Even with the door wide open, it was stifling. There was no breeze. Customers came and went, getting everything from plows to pots repaired. It was nearly time to stop for the mid-day meal when a farmer came in with a horse that had thrown a shoe.
Amos greeted the horse and led it into the stall while his master exchanged pleasantries and news with the farmer. The horse was tall, probably seventeen hands, and a strong beast. He tied it to the post and offered it a handful of oats.
The horse’s head swung to the side as noise erupted on the street. Amos could hear the shouts of boys going home for lunch and scowled. The noise quieted as the group passed.
He patted the horse’s shoulder and made his way slowly to its rump, then ran his hand down its leg. The horse responded by lifting its hoof. Amos inspected the exposed bottom. There were still two nails stuck there, so he pulled a pliers from his apron pocket and grasped the first one.
The boys returned, and a dog’s barking mixed with the noise they caused. It sounded like they were chasing it. The horse snorted and shifted. Amos let go of the hoof he was holding to get a better grip. The horse put weight on it before he could raise it again, and it gave a sharp whinny of pain.
The dog ran into the stall then, still barking. The boys halted at the door. Amos opened his mouth to scold them when a blur of movement caught his eye.
The horse’s hoof smashed into his chest.
He flew across the stall and smashed against the doorpost, then crumpled to the floor.
There was no air. His lungs heaved. His mouth worked like a fish out of water. His muscles clenched as he tried to force sense into the spinning world around him, trying desperately to suck in the air that was all around him but as impossible to get as if it were all a million miles away.
He couldn’t die. He needed air. The corners of his vision faded to black. His body convulsed, but all his lungs did was expel what was in them: something warm and wet that ran down his chin and neck.
He was empty.
The world was empty. The pressure was gone; either that, or it was evenly spread out over his whole body. No, he didn’t have a body. He was shapeless. He was emptiness itself. He was just him, with nothing to hold him inside.
The thought crossed his consciousness that he should feel liberated. He was floating. He was weightless.
He was stuck. There were others here, stuck, in this big, empty place. He didn’t know how he knew that; he couldn’t hear, couldn’t see, couldn’t feel. It was like being submerged in the colour grey.
They were waiting, he knew.
But waiting for what?
The answer came to him as naturally as if it had been his own thought. They were waiting for what all sleeping souls wait for. The sunrise must come eventually. It was inevitable.
But right now, it was grey. And they waited.
Somehow, Amos still knew himself; or rather, who he once was. He remembered his mother. He remembered his father—who was here, somewhere, waiting with everyone else.
The words, voiceless and soundless, reverberated deep in his soul somewhere, and he knew something. Something other than grey.
He would not have to wait.
“I say unto thee, arise.”
He heard those words. They fell upon his ears—he had ears!—like summer rain.
Senses flooded him. He had a body. He was lying down. He opened his eyes—eyes!—and saw a blue sky above him, with big white clouds. He took a breath. He could breathe! His chest expanded, painlessly, effortlessly, filling him with life and vigour. He sat up.
There was a crowd around him. The thing he was lying on shook, and he recognized two of his friends in front of him. They stared at him, white, trembling beneath his weight on the bier.
A man stood beside him. It was someone he had never seen before, but there was something in his eyes—something like a flaming sunrise. He smiled and reached out a hand. Amos took it. Based on the callouses, this man was a carpenter.
He helped Amos off the bier, and his friends slowly lowered it, empty, to the dusty road. Amos looked at the man, but he was looking at his mother. Amos looked at her too.
She was pale in her dark tunic. Her eyes were red and her cheeks were wet. She raised shaking hands to him, and he ran to her. He leaned down to his mother and embraced her tight enough that she would know he was real. He was alive.
She laughed, and cried, and laughed again before finally letting him go. Amos turned to the carpenter, but he was gone.
The people said his name was Jesus, and that he was a prophet, but Amos knew more. That man was like the sunrise. He was life. He was inevitable.