Sunday, March 10, 2013

I'm not sure if the reason I haven't written anything in ages is because my thoughts are more confident in themselves, and therefore i don't feel the need to write them out to clarify them, or if they are less, and that is why i am uncomfortable writing anything...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Oil Ownage Ownage

Random Shiur Klali I Enjoyed From:

There is no reason to assume that one must own oil in order to use to light a menorah. There is no, "l'chem," commandment, and no reason to assume that it is necessary. However, the gemara discusses how a guest should light while living in another home. It says that he should pay the owner of the house a small sum of money, and in that way he will become a partner in the lighting of the house-owner. The Ran points out that if it were allowed,  it would obviously be simpler for the owner to simply lend his guest a portion of his oil. From this he concludes that this must not be the case, and that one must own the oil he wishes to light with.

Secondly, there are many opinions as to when we use the format of, "li (to)," in our blessings, as opposed to "al (on)." The Ramban suggests that one can only say, "al," on mitzvos that can be performed through a shliach (appointee). However, mitzvos that one must do on his own are formatted, "li." (This is problematic for many reasons, lulav being one of them, but putting those aside,) the blessing we make on lighting Chanuka candles seems to counter this suggestion. For one may ask his wife etc. to light for him, yet the blessing is formatted, "lihadlik ner shel chanuka." The Ramban dismisses this problem by arguing that since you must own the oil in order for it to be used, and one can only appoint his wife or someone of the like (,as opposed to a random broski from the street), the shlichus (appointment) here is different, and the proper format for the blessing is still, "li." The ability to appoint a shliach to perform a mitzvah would generally reveal that the commandment in general is not of the kind that one must actively perform, but rather merely see to it that it gets done. That is not the case here.

Rabbi (Joseph B.) Soloveitchik argues with those who quote the above two sources as proof that one can only light with oil that he owns. He notices that the two cases mentioned above are different from most cases of lighting a menorah. The two situations are both ones in which someone else is being used. It is only in this situation, Rabbi Soloveitchik says, that one must own the oil. The blessing language is proper, but the appointment of the shliach here is not for him to fulfill the commandment for the man who appointed him. The commander must be actively performing the act, albeit through a form of robot, as it were. That is why he must own the oil. However, ordinarily, when one is clearly actively performing the mitzvah, he would not need to own the oil.

Rabbi (Shlomo Zalman) Auerbach makes a similar conclusion, and writes that if someone were to be lighting for woman who does not know how to light on her own candles, he would have to ensure that she is present while he lights and makes the blessing. She needs to show her active participation in the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Based on this, he also permits the use children, deaf-mutes, mentally challenged people, and non-Jews as shluchim, as long as they are being directly commanded by he who they are performing the mitzvah for.

Why, though, is all this necessary? This question is especially true if the main point of lighting the candles is for publicizing the miracle. Why isn't the obligation simply to see to it that candles are lit? The answer is similar to the reason for modim d'rabanan. The rest of the repetition of the amidah is said by the chazzan alone, without the input of the congregation. This is because thanks has to be personal. One cannot tell someone, "tell him I say thank you." The congregation cannot have the chazzan thank God for them. Lighting the menorah is a form of thanking God. It has to be personal. If we are not giving up our time to actively light the candles, we must at least own the oil.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Who cares about Picasso?

It recently came to the attention of a few of my friends that certain kids in our (moderately yeshivish) school, Mesivta Yesodei Yeshurun (Touro College High School For Boys),including some in our grade (12th), did not not know who Pablo Picasso was. Obviously some of us were concerned about the lack of basic cultural knowledge in our fellow students. While I profess subscription to the Torah im Torah im Derech Eretz (that isn't a typo) philosophy of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and believe in the importance of higher education, I did not find their naivete too problematic.

While it's possible that learning about Picasso and his art we may gain information about art, its history, and what role his art takes in its portrayal of whatever it was meant to portray, I highly doubt that I or any of my friends actually know any of that stuff. And if any of my knew-about-Picasso friends ever do learn about his actual significance, it'll presumably be in college. My didn't-know-about-Picasso friends may learn about him there, also. The only difference is that when Picasso is mentioned, my don't-know-about-Picasso will ask who he is, and will be scoffed for their lack of education. They will then be informed about who he is, and learn about his significance along with the rest of the class. That's hardly a significant deterrent from their general religious, moral, and cultural growth into the world.

Secondly, the sources from which I learned about Pablo Picasso were School of Rock and Crocodile Dundee. While those movies may have been entertaining, and, if you want to stretch it, even slightly morally or culturally educational (not that i would have to be; entertainment for entertainment's sake isn't necessarily evil), I would not condemn anyone for not choosing to watch them. In fact, I probably wouldn't actively watch them again.

The only legitimate problem with their naivete in regards to who Pablo Picasso was, is that it is is symbolic of a larger problem with the system I am a part of. And that is the lack of even the most basic form of any art education whatsoever. While it probably would have been considered extremely boring by almost all students in both of my all male schools, it should have at least been offered as an elective. Although, art is often creative, expressive, and inspiring, which, of course, could lead people off the derech (or worse, make them gay).

Earlier that day, one of those students also asked who Steve Jobs was. I exclaimed shock, loudly. My room and class mate was upset. "Why is it bad that he doesn't know who Steve Jobs is?" he asked. The teacher quieted me down before I responded. There are two reasons why I believe that not knowing who Steve Jobs is worse than not knowing who Pablo Picasso is. Firstly, Steve Jobs was much more of a key figure in modern news. Anyone who read a newspaper or magazine in the past five years would know who Steve Jobs was. Knowing current events is essential for cultural, social, moral, and religious reasons. Secondly, Steve Jobs offers inspiration to the future generations for not only his intelligence and innovation, but also his work ethic and persistence.

Anyways, this naivete is only apparent in certain students, and I hope it'll change quickly. I also have to go to night seder.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Savior

Here's a story I wrote for English class. I'm not sure why I'm posting it here.

MOSHE GELBERMAN           THE SAVIOR                                         MR. GLASSER

"Yes, hello? Mr. Azonips? I think you might want to see this.”€
"Gotcha. I'll be there ASAP.”€
Isaac Azonips jumped into his 1999' Volvo and zoomed towards his brother's laboratory. The call from his brother's secretary seemed serious. It had only been a couple of weeks ago when, sitting in his cubicle at the Zombie Research Society Headquarters, he had received an urgent phone call from his brother.
"Hey, Isaac? Yeah, it's Benedict. Yes, everything's great. Listen. Our radar screens over here at the NEIC have picked up some really weird signals. I think you may be able to make something out of them.”€           
Isaac had agreed; the signals were truly quite bizarre, but not meaningless. To the contrary, they were of utmost importance. So Isaac had had a team of his men bring their equipment to his brother's earthquake prevention lab. That was almost a month ago. He had stayed up late many nights in bed worrying about what he had seen. When he did sleep, he dreamt of strawberry shortcake, of course.
"Do they already have a full screening?” Isaac pondered as he pulled into the lab's parking lot and headed towards the main entrance.         "Oh, the wonders of technology,” he thought, this time aloud.
"Indeed,” responded the voice of his brother, who had just come outside to greet him.
"Indeed,” he repeated.  “Now if you'll come with me.” Benedict was apparently in a hurry, zipping through the corridors and flashing ID to random guards faster than they could acknowledge his passing them by.
"Just through here, if you will.”Benedict led Isaac though a final set of steel doors.  The interior was lined with wires swinging from one end of the room to the other, and in the center sat three opposite pairs of advanced looking computers. Isaac immediately recognized the man in the middle with his back facing the entrance as his best employee, Manoel. He was a genius of mathematics and a master of technology. Isaac was still unsure the how the Society was lucky enough to pluck a man like this straight out of undergrad.  On the screen were green, humanesque silhouettes pacing back and forth.
"Explain,” Isaac demanded, as he pulled up the adjacent wooden chair and sat down.
An uneasy grin spread across Manoel's face. "Well,” he began, "I'll start with the good news. You were right. It was Mutation Possibility number 42. The bad news is, as I'm sure you can guess, is that any of the possibilities came true in the first place.  Thank God though, or should I say-”Benedict squinched.
"Ehem. Continue, Manoel.”€
"Anyways,”€ Manoel continued, "The mutation didn't exactly start spreading were you thought it would. It seems to have developed, exactly the way your theory predicted, but in a layer of earth that we have dubbed as, 'The Dead Zombie,' level. These humans, or whatever, are of course, roaming around, or what you might call, living. However they either have no desire for human flesh, or are too deep down to smell any brains worth trying to get to. So we're safe for now.  But, if you look here,” he pressed a button and the image on the screen zoomed out , "you can see,” he pointed to the now visible green veins spreading through layers of underground, " the mutation is spreading fairly quickly. This,” he pointed to a dot on the screen, "is how far its spread a month.” He located another pixel on the same green line, further up the map. "And assuming,” he continued, "that it'll grow at a steady rate, it should be at what we call, 'The Living Zombie,' level within a couple of years.  And a rough estimate about the time it'll take for them to dig to the mainland puts the 'Apocalypse,' as you insist on calling it, at just about May twenty-first, two thousand and-”€
"Hold on,” interrupted Benedict. "Isaac, do you see this? Do you know where this is?!” Isaac watched as he drew a line with his finger straight from the tip of the green vein to ground level. "We know this graveyard! It was where-” Benedict froze. "Look. It's Uncle Manny with his golden hat.” He caught the tear that dripped off his face as he clenched his right fist.
Isaac recognized his uncle's golden hat. In fact, he had already foreseen this predicament.  It was sudden.  It had hit him on an average day of work in his office at the Zombie Research Society. "When the dead live,” he thought darkly, "people will have to fight their ancestors.” While the concept had terrified him at first, he was used to it by now. Explaining it to Benedict would be another thing. Benedict wasn't trained for this kind of stuff; he didn't learn about zombies in earth science class. Isaac tried to speak, but stopped. He forced his mouth open. "Look,” he said, "we all knew this was going to happen. It was inevitable.”€
"Not if you had faith it wouldn't have.”€
"I'm sorry?”€
"If you atheists with your perverted sense of morals hadn't...”€ sputtered Benedict, his thoughts trailing off into the distance.
"Please don't bring religion into this,”€ pleaded Isaac. "I mean, I know you're upset, but-”€
"How can you even suggest murdering Mom and Dad?! How DARE YOU?!” Benedict was crying harder. He pounded his fist against the wall.
"Look, I mean, those parts of their brains don't exist anymore.” Isaac felt water gather in his eyelids.  He tried to force his eyes to swallow them. "I mean, like, I know you believe that the previous generations were spiritually greater than us and all, but now it's just a base desire for food, and in particular, human brain and flesh. The part of them that made them what they were disintegrated. Or maybe their souls went up to heaven! I don't know! Either way, what's left is just a corpse. People will have the courage to fight. Don't worry.”€
"I refuse to accept-” Benedict choked up. "No. Just because you're more advanced scientifically than they were doesn't mean you have the right to kill them!  People won't fight. They won't have to. Don't you remember that sermon from Harry Egbert? My God! It's all coming together now! The Messiah! He's coming on the exact date that Harry said that tradition claimed he would! May twenty-first!”€
"Don't tell me you actually won't fight for yourself because you...”€ Isaac stopped. There was happiness in his brother's eyes that answered the question. For him, life's goal, in fact the entire history of mankind was coming to a climax.
And so the two Azonips brothers parted ways. Isaac, to head the spreading of apocalypse awareness and the training of the militia; Benedict to co-fund the construction of an underground world, deeper than the, "Dead Zombie,” level. A religious society; one of faith in God and his Messiah.  The brothers spoke but once before the day of doom came, on May 21, 2011, and then never again.

"See you, Gabriel!”€
"Good night,” he called back as he turned, waved, and left.
I pulled my jacket tighter as I knocked on the hard wooden door.
"Who is it?” asked a voice that I recognized as Emma's from the other side.
"It's Barak,” I replied, and she immediately threw the door open with a huge smile.
"Hold on,” she said, "I'll go get Ike.” I shivered as I stepped inside, removed my coat, and hung it up in the closet. It was colder than usual today. Exercising was tough, but I trusted my brother and he insisted I needed it.
"You know, "commented my brother's voice as it materialized,” that 'up there,' they have seasons, and like, the weather changes based on the time of year, right?”€
"Really? That's so cool! Why, though?” I inquired.
"Why don't we get you something to warm up with first,” he said, as we sat down at the one legged kitchen table. Emma, my sister-in-law, brought rather bland tea. I looked through the skylight at the granite sky. Behind me, shades were pulled over another window which led to a forest behind the house. "And... “he paused. “You have to tell me about Clara.”€
I was about to not respond, but thankfully, Emma spoke up first.
"I didn't put sugar in yours,” she smirked as she placed a stirring spoon in her husband's mug. He was about to make a snide remark when I burst out, "Sugar?! You know we're not allowed to have that! Splurging delays the Salvation!” Of course they knew the rules; he didn't believe, and she just didn't care.
"According to whom?” my brother cynically remarked.  I wasn't in the mood to argue with him, and the one time I had tasted sugar, I had fallen in love. Screw piety. I drank the whole thing; it truly was delicious.
"So, basically,” my brother started to explain as Emma refilled our cups, "Planet Earth orbits around the sun on a yearly routine.”€
"No it doesn't,”€ I interjected"
"The weather,” he ignored me and continued, "depends on what your position on the surface of the Earth relative to the sun is.”€
"So why is it always cold here?”€
"Compared to inside the houses? Well if they didn't keep the place cold, Earth's core, which we happen to be terrifyingly close to, would melt us in seconds. They're scared of random lava outbursts, so they keep this place frozen just to be safe. Stupid of them, in my opinion. If they made the houses cold too, everyone would get used to it and no one would notice.”  I just sat there and stared at him in amazement. How dare he call them stupid?  Well, he does seem to know a lot...
"And, if you're wondering,” he continued, "where I know all this stuff from, it's from right here.” He pulled out a huge textbook, entitled, "Wikipedia,” with large red letters spelling, "CAUTION: HERESY. READING THIS WILL CAUSE SPIRITUAL DAMGE AND DELAY THE SALVATION,” stamped across the cover. "See, before the outbreak,” he explained, "there was this thing called the interne-"
"I know about the internet!” I exclaimed.
"You do?!” he responded, flabbergasted.
"Yeah. They taught us in school that it was so evil that not only did it delay the Salvation but it even caused the outbreak! And now you're reading it!?”€
"Well, you can't exactly read the internet. This is actually it's a printed copy of-"
I stormed out of the kitchen, tossed on my jacket, and had one foot out the door when Emma caught up to me.
"I'm sorry you didn't get to work out tonight. Just make sure you don't tell your Dad about anything you heard here, or about the sugar, alright?” I nodded, and headed though the empty dirt streets that led to my house. I liked Emma; she at least believed in God, even though she didn't care for the rules. I entered my house, threw my Mom a kiss on the cheek accompanied by a quick, “Hey,” ran upstairs, and collapsed onto my bed. 
Why didn't he believe?  Why do you care so much? Just be a good person, the Salvation will come, and he'll learn his lesson!  Or maybe they'll catch him. Don't tell yourself that! He's an Azonips. They won't search the president's son's house. You don't have to worry. Even you wouldn't want that to happen to him, right? They would probably burn him alive! My eyes started tearing. I was really young the last time they did that to someone, and my parents had forced me to stay and watch. I had cried myself to sleep that night, and had had terrible nightmares. Nightmares with evil and monstrous strawberry shortcake, of course. I don't think burning people brings the Salvation. There are more pious ways to, "atone,” for people's sins. Are you questioning them? Who? You know who! The authority; the keepers of the tradition. The holy Harry Egbert! Fine. Maybe I am, so what?  You know that's blasphemy, and that  thoughts like these - which are your brother's fault, by the way- corrupt you, make you a bad person, and delay the Savior. Well maybe Emma's right! Who needs this Salvation anyways!? The poor people and the mainlanders do, that's for sure. Right? They need Salvation, don't they? Not with a capital S. Well if you weren't so infected by your brother you would realize that there is only possible Salvation. You're not getting anywhere. Go to sleep... I didn't sleep too well that night. I dreamt about strawberry shortcake, of course.

By the next time I went to my brother's house on what had been regular Sunday night exercise sessions, I was already in a different state of mind. My beloved teacher, Paul Arietrom, had been murdered during the previous week. "I'm really sorry for you, Barak. It's just part of life, you know?” my brother explained. "He was a great man, and he did a lot of good things for this community. But everyone's time comes, and they pass their legacy on to the next generation.”€
"You don't give a **** about his legacy,” I muttered, and broke into another spasm of wails.
"First of all, stop swearing. I don't think Paul would want -"
"You don't give -"I paused.”You don't care about what he would want,” I breathed calmly.
"Look. You asked me for an explanation. You know I don't believe in God. So I tried to give you a neutral answer. I don't know why he had to die. Even religion can't fully answer that question.”€
"At school, they told us that the death of a righteous person atones for his generation's sins.”€
"But you didn't like hearing that.”€
"Not at all. Why should he have to die because of people like-” I stopped myself. "Because of other people's sins?”€
"I understand. So you came here, demanding to know why such an evil thing could happen to such a good person. And you came here, to ask me this question, even though you know I don't believe in the Divine Providence you do.”€
"I don't know what to believe anymore, Ike. And I went to, you know, 'religious authority,' but their answers were, well, insulting at best.”€
"And mine?” he inquired.
"Merely hypocritical,” I replied, and grinned a little. "But I don't know what to believe.” €
"It doesn't matter what you believe. Anyways, like I said, it's important not to dwell on the past. Stop caring about why he was killed, and start thinking about what you can do to preserve what he stood for.”€
I sat there, chewing what he had said, and eventually, swallowed it. After a somber silence that lasted too long my brother spoke up. "Wanna come downstairs and see something? It might boost your spirit.”€

I followed him into the pitch black basement. He had covered the slim windows that illuminated most basements. He ran off into the distance, rummaging around in a closet.
"What does this feel like?” he came back and asked, pressing what felt like a square piece of flexible plastic into my hand.
"I don't know. A square piece of flexible plastic?”€
"Feel a little button on the bottom? Slide it to the right.”€
I did, and a second later a blinding flash of light sent me keeling backwards on the floor with my hands over my eyes. "GRBLAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!! WHAT IS THAT?”€ I screamed, my eyes still shut tight.
"Try rolling into a cylinder, "he chuckled.
If my eyes had been opened they would have sent him a look of extreme distrust, but they weren't, so it my closed eyelids instead. Reluctantly, I obeyed. I felt whatever it was lock into place. My distrusting eyes sensed that it was dark again, and so, still distrusting, they opened themselves. It was dark, except for a beam of light emanating from the plastic cylinder I held in my hand.  I turned it towards my brother's face.
"Tell me what this is,” I demanded again.
"It's a flashlight, gosh, and can you please turn it away from my face?”€
"Only if you tell me more,” I responded, and pointed the thing at the ground. I stared at the circle of blue patterned carpet it illuminated.
"Well do you know why it's light outside during the daytime?”€
"Yeah. They taught us in school that they dug tunnels to the surface, and the light there comes from the sun, which is reflecting the spiritual light of heaven.”€
"Wait, if there's a hole from here to the surface how come no zombies have ever fallen down here?”€
I was about to reply that they protected the area around the hole, but didn't. Why would that need protection; wouldn't God be able to do that? Something inside me told me to tell my brother that God was making sure nothing happened across the light tunnel, but, to my own surprise, I told it to be quiet. And wait... If the sun rotates around the Earth, how could it be a reflective prism in a firmament? This second question I voiced to my brother.
"Well, first of all, the Earth rotates around the sun. Secondly, the sun isn't a reflective prism of spiritual light, whatever that's supposed to mean anyway. It generates light, through energy. Which is what the lights that keep the sky and the houses bright do, as does,” he paused to take the flashlight from my hand, “this little toy here,” and shook it. "It's also how they keep this place cold; heck, they use it for tons of stuff. But they are quite the technological masterpieces, so the government - i.e. Dad, by the way - doesn't let anybody know about it. They are hiding so much information, Barak, it's incredible. I've read about tons of really cool things that would make a lot of people's lives easier, if only we had them. That, 'Wikipedia,' book,” he waited to see how I would react, but I was undisturbed and told him to go on. “...has pages and pages of amazingly magical things, Barak. I guess Dad and the other presidents believe that using any of it is too much, 'indulgence,' which of course, prevents the Savior from coming. Of course, his coming will make everybody's live all perfect and bliss; so why meddle with small technological advancements, right? Their bigger problem, though, is that the kind of science that you need to know to make this thing is the same science that denies God's existence. Or, at least, the people who know how to produce it are almost all atheists. So they're dead scared of all of it.”€
I just stood there and thought. Then I realized something. "How did you find that?” 
"I found it under one of the food crates I ship. Ironically, it’s because of religion. You know how I’m supposed to pick up food from the city border and deliver it to the grocery stores? Well, instead, I deliver some of them to the Salvation Army. Anyways, I found underneath one of those crates. See, the guys who plant the food underground have to know about extremely complicated stuff. You technically need real sunlight and whole bunch of other stuff to grow things. But they have ways of doing it down here, and it involves lots of brainy science stuff.  So only Dad’s best cronies are allowed to know about it. One of them must have accidentally dropped it in the crate, and now I have it. He’d probably be burnt alive if they find out. Anyways, like I said, it’s mine now, although you may keep it if you wish.” He unrolled it and handed it back to me. 
I had one last question.  “Why do they preach so strongly against this stuff, if they use it? Why don’t they just pretend it doesn’t exist?” He shrugged his shoulders
I helped him take the shades off the slim windows, and darkness poured in. “It’s really late,” my brother intoned. “You better get back home.” I slipped the now invisible square into my pocket and headed out. I trudged along the dirt road that led to my home. I could see a dim candlelight emanating from our kitchen. Of course they’re waiting for you. Out after curfew??? You’re screwed, Azonips!

I walked up to the front door, hesitantly, inserted my key, and walked in. I knew where I had to go. With my head bowed slightly, I walked into the kitchen. I avoided my parents gaze as I sat down in a chair across from them. Silence.
Thankfully, it was my mother’s calm voice that started the conversation. “You knew we would be worried about you, Barak.”
“I know,” I humbly replied.
“And yet,” she tapped her fingers on the table,” you came home almost an hour after dark.” She let this sink in before adding, “Again.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said, trying to sound guilty.
“Thank you. Please don’t do this again, Barak.”
“I won’t.”
“You said that last time,” she said, sternly. “I want you to promise me that you will never be out after curfew again.”
“I promise.”
More silence. It isn’t over. Does Mom really care, or is she playing Dad’s game?
My Dad’s voice wasn’t as calming. “Barak. Where were you tonight?”
“I… I was at Ike’s house.”
“And did he not tell you to rush home before curfew?”
“He…  We… We were in his basement, and his windows were covered.”
My father looked to my mother, curiously, and she returned with an apprehensive nod.
“Barak,” she said, “why did Ike have the windows covered?”
“I don’t…
He was showing me something.”          
My father leaned forward. “What was he showing you, Barak?”
A flashlight.”
More silence.  This is unbearable. They’re going to burn Ike and I alive. Think of something. I felt my hand reach into my pocket, and, as if against my own will, take the flashlight out and hand it to my father. “I… He… He was warning me about how dangerous it was.” I paused to see their reaction. Their concern had dimmed, but did not fade. “He… He told me to report it to you immediately.”
My Dad’s unibrow split and his forehead smoothened, but he still wanted to know more. “So why didn’t you?”
“Well… I… He… I was about to, but… I asked him to explain what it was.”
“And did he?”
“… Yes.”
My father turned to my mother and whispered, “How do you suppose he knew what it was?”
My mother whispered back, “I always knew he was a smart one.” “Anyways,” she continued, “was that all he told you, Barak?”
“Well, he also told me about the huge lights in the sky.” A dark grimace descended upon both of their faces. I’ve gone too far. Knowing about technology is one thing. Knowing that they use it is another. They know that I know that they know about their hypocrisies.
“Barak,” my father began. “You must understand. Technology leads to sin. However, certain basic things were needed for the continuity of humanity. We alone cannot make such decisions. We must follow the strict guidance of religious authority. I heeded every word of Paul Arietrom’s advice; he was my mentor as well as yours.” There was a long pause.
He continued, in a different tone and expression.  “We wish people would not know about such technology. It can truly lead peoples’ lives to waste. But that doesn’t mean that once you know about such advancements means you are evil. You know the powers of technology, but also its evils. You, one day, can perhaps join the missionaries.”
“The what?”
“Missionaries. They go above ground and try to save the atheists from their immoral and unfaithful ways.  One might actually be leaving tomorrow. What do you think, Barak? Would you join the noble cause?” Barak, this is it. It’s your way out.
“Um… Yeah... I’ll think about it.” And… Strawberry… Shortcake… Get yourself to bed…

“Hello, class,” intoned the new professor, “my name is Mr. Frank Nedne. I am your new teacher. I grieve our loss tremendously. Paul Arietrom was a great man, and a dear friend of mine. However, although we should be saddened by tragedy, we mustn’t become angry. God has his reasons for what he does, and we dare not question or challenge them. The death of a leader is atonement for the evils of his generation. But is also a motivation for the future.  We must enact stricter rulings upon our society. We cannot allow our friends to sin and be lax about it. We must enforce stringencies on ourselves and on our friends.” Mr. Arietrom never said anything of the sort. He said that caring and loving your friend is the highest form of piety.
“With that in mind,” Frank continued, “I’m sure Paul wouldn’t want us to waste time from precious study of our religion. Who would like to read and explain last night’s passage from the text? Mr. Azonips, how about you?”
“Didn’t do it,” I muttered.
“Excuse me? Please speak up, Mr. Azonips.”
“I said I didn’t prepare last night’s assignment.”
“And why is that? Is that because you don’t value your religion? You’re supposed to be a role model for the rest of the class, Mr. Azonips. If you think sleep is more important than service of God, you’ll cause the rest of the class to think similarly. Your actions have caused a great delay of the Salvation. You should be ashamed of yourself. It is even sadder that such an event had to occur right after the passing of a great leader. It is apparent you have not learnt the lesson his death was meant to inspire. I’m sure he is greatly disappointed. Harsh punishment will be enacted. You show great disrespect by not caring about Mr. Arietrom’s desire.”
“He never embarrassed anyone in public.”
“What did you say? You really have to learn how to speak a little louder, Mr. Azonips.”
I stood up and looked Frank in the face. I said you’re a f***ing bastard. Calm yourself, Barak.  “I said if you think that by embarrassing someone in public you are continuing Paul’s legacy, than your full of crap.” Not much better. An eerie silence descended upon the already deadly quiet classroom.
“Mr. Azonips. Your anger and rudeness is inexcusable. Now please, sit down.” I didn’t.
“Mr. Azonips? Are you deaf? I said return to your seat!” I disobeyed further. His scrunched up red face stared into mine. For a moment it looked as if he was going to jump at my throat, but suddenly, I felt myself toppled backwards by two hands as someone screamed, “NOOOOOO!!! GRBLAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” 
When I righted myself, there were two things I noticed immediately. The third hit me moments later. First, I noticed that I was being held back by Clara, so I tried to wriggle myself free. “Lemme go,” I complained and she reluctantly agreed.
The second was Gabriel, fuming and panting, standing in the back of the room. “I’m so sorry,” he breathed heavily. “I didn’t mean to go for you. I was only going for him,” and he pointed to the third thing I noticed.
 It was Mr. Nedne, leaning against the wall, with a chair-desk leg in his chest. I turned back to Gabriel. “It’s okay. You only got him.” Gabriel wasn’t comforted.
“The bastard deserved it!” He yelled.
This surprised me. “May I ask why?” I inquired.
“He… He was my tutor when I was younger. He did some… Not so religious things. Stupid hypocrite.” After some time, he spoke again. “Someone must have heard the smash, Barak. The principal will be here any moment, and they will know it was me. I’m going to be burnt alive,” he added, grimly.
This cannot be happening. “No. No one is going to be burnt alive. No one is going to die. Gabriel, Clara, sit down. This was me. Everything was me. Everyone was sitting down, and I did all this myself.” I bent down and tapped my hands in the pile of blood gathering around Frank’s slumped body. “See? Me. Murder? Me. Rage scream? Me.”
“But Barak,” interrupted Clara as she rose slightly out of her seat. “Even though you’re the president’s son they’re still going to kill you!”
“Not if they can’t find me,” I replied.
“Where are you going?” she demanded. “Because whatever sort of adventure you think you’re going on, I’m coming with you.”
“No, look, Clara, you don’t understand. I’m sick of this place and all its hypocrites. I’m sick of the corruption and the lies. And I’m sick of the suppression of advancement in technology and thought. There is only one place to go. That is up. And that is where I’m going.”
“But,” she persisted, “don’t you remember what Mr. Tzvi Shalom Fredrickson taught us about going up; about the upperworld?!”
“Yes,” I responded calmly. “But it is to where, nonetheless, I must go. It is my journey alone to take. I’m going to miss you.” I turned to face the whole class. “All of you.” I hugged Clara and Gabriel one last time, and ran out of the school as fast as I could.

“Barak?! Why? Wha-? Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”
“I’m sorry, Emma, I don’t have much time. Is Ike here? And do you have a bag?”
“Uh, yeah. Ike probably has one in the closet where he keeps all his garbage downstairs.
“Thanks,” I said, and ran downstairs to rummage around in the closet. I found a large, sturdy blue bag with a slanted shoulder strap on it. There was a wrench in it. I ran back upstairs. “Sorry to be rude and intrusive, but do you have any food I could pack?”
“Uh, yeah,” Emma replied awkwardly. “I guess I could make you Reuben sandwiches.  Be careful, it might be indulging,” she added. “Although, may I ask where you think you’re going?”
“Up. I’ll explain when Ike get’s back. And thanks.”
“No problem. I’m assuming you’re going to want spare clothing?”
“Uh, I don’t know. I mean, I guess yeah, sure.” She went and got some, and I stuffed it in my bag. “Thanks for everything,” I said again.
“You seem nervous.”
“meh. I don’t have that much time. The thing leaves today, which only has a couple hours left to it and I have no clue how to get there.”
“I’m sure Ike will figure something out,” she said. “He usually does.
Ike came home, and was shocked for about three seconds that I was there, before shrugging it off with a grin. Then three of us sat down at the table, and I told them everything that had happened since I left their house the previous night. I also told them about my plan. They listened intently.
“Intense,” Emma commented at the end.
“Yeah,” Ike and I agreed.
“Ike,” I said, hopefully, “Come with me. You and Emma. You guys don’t belong here either. Please. I don’t want to go alone. You guys will be free!” Tears were gathering in my eyes. “Please.”
“Barak… Emma and I are comfortable here. It’s not worth risking everything for freedom. We have enough freedom. We enjoy our lives. This journey is yours alone to take. You must go alone. I cannot join you, but I can tell you how to get to where you need to go.”
“You can?” I asked, amazed.
“I think so. I imagine the only way they go back up is through the tunnel everyone came down in. There’s probably a map in the, ‘Wikipedia,’ book.” With two hands, he took it from underneath the table and shoved it in my face. When I didn’t react, he said, “Oh. You’re not upset by it anymore. That’s cool.” He started flipping through the book. “Ah. Here it is. If we live here,” he pointed to a small dot, “and I pick up food here,” he tapped another, “then I can assume the tunnel is somewhere in that direction.” A couple seconds later, “Should take you about three hours to walk.”
“Three hours!” I exclaimed. “It’ll leave before then!”
Ike thought. “I suppose I can get you a ride.”
“A ride? Like in a cart? That won’t be much faster, and you’ll get too tired.”
“Not exactly. It’s sort of like a cart. I don’t really know what it is. I saw one once while hanging out deep in the forest behind that window.” He pointed to the window behind me, which displayed the middle of some trees. “Whatever it was, it moves fast. I could probably find it in the boo-”
Just then there was three loud knocks on the door. Emma whispered, “Ike, they’re here! Go! Now!”
 Ike opened the window and leaped off. I grabbed my bag and followed in pursuit.
I swung my bag below me to brace for the fall. Thank God for the clothing. Thank Emma. I looked up. Ike had grabbed a branch and pulled himself up. Branch by branch, he lowered himself, and then dropped down by my side. “Let’s go,” he said, and ran off.
“Hey, Ike! Where are we going?”
“Haven’t the foggiest.”
I tried to follow him as closely as I could, but kept tripping over roots. He clearly knew this forest well. It was quite dark, and soon enough, I was only being directed by the sound of his distant footsteps. After around half an hour, he appeared out of nowhere and stuck out his hand to stop me. “We want to avoid him,” he said. He pointed to a tall, slender man wearing a suit and red tie, with no face. He ran off again, and I had little time to contemplate this mystery. Ten minutes later, we were at the edge of a forest. We climbed a tree that had metal steps in it, a few yards into the forest.
“Ike, where are we?”
“Shhhhh,” he quieted me and pointed through a clearing in the leaves. “Do you have anything hard and metal?” he asked, quietly.
“I have a wrench.” He took it. “Ike, what are you doing?”
“Just be quiet and wait,” he replied.

Three minutes later, I heard a low rumbling. “Ike, what is that?”
The rumbling loudened. What approached was a rusted red metal box with a black wheel attached to each corner. Their rotation moved the box closer to us at quite a speed. I could make out the form of a human head behind the indented glass window in the face of the box. When it got close enough, Ike launched the wrench sideways. It spun through the hole in the leaves, shattered the window, and struck the head in the face. The box jerked sideways, and then stopped.
“Ike! Are you crazy? Did you just kill someone!?”
“Don’t worry about it, he’s fine. Now C’mon,” he replied, and jumped down off the tree. Slowly, I climbed down, and then ran to the box. Ike was pulling the man out of box through a door on its side. His bare feet created a small dirt cloud when they hit the ground. Ike gave me back my wrench. He gestured for me to enter, and I did. He followed after me and closed the door.
Chairs inside a box on wheels. Weird.  “It’s good that we have food,” Ike commented and pointed to the boxes of food in the back of the box. “Because we’re stuck here. Should’ve read the book; I have no idea what to do with this thing.” He started pressing random buttons.
“Wonder why he wasn’t wearing shoes,” Ike muttered. “Where are they?”
 “Right there. In front of your chair,” I said. There was a small black square near them. I reached over and pressed it with my hand. The box started moving and wind blew in through the broken window. “Woohoo!” I cheered.
“Barak, you’re going in the wrong direction,” Ike said, and removed my hand from the pedal. “And don’t go Woohoo. Go WHEEEEEOoO0O0o0O0O0OoOo000ooOOOooo0o0O!” he screamed and pressed the square with all his might. The box flew forward and the wind blew in our faces.
After an hour and a sandwich, the box bounced upwards and I banged my head against its roof. “Sorry” apologized Ike. “They didn’t cover the entire underground with dirt. We must be getting close.” We were in a huge dome. In every direction, there was simply more open space. The gray sky spanned into eternally every way I looked.
“Hey, Ike?”
“Where are we going?”
“The Hellevator.”
“The what?” I asked incredulously.
“Elevator to hell,” he replied. “That’s what the upper people call the tunnel.”
“But hell is up there!” I protested. “And what’s an elevator?”
“That,” he said and pointed. However big the sky was, this hole made it seemed small. The hole was huge. Enormously gigantic huge. And it kept spiraling upwards in darkness.
Suddenly our box halted.
“What the hell?” exclaimed Ike.
“Calm down,” said a strangely familiar voice. “Barak, exit the van,” it said. Oh my God. It’s Mom.
I obeyed and exited the box. Mom was nowhere to be seen. Ike’s van lifted itself in the air, rotated, lowered itself, and sped off into the distance. “Bye Ike,” I whispered.
I looked around. Now what? Where’s Mom? I looked towards the gaping hole in the sky. It always seemed so… solid. Suddenly there was a slight whirring noise and my Mom materialized in midair. Is she flying? A few seconds later her vehicle materialized. And you thought the van was cool. It was a floating circular disk decorated with blue and purple flowers. Her hands gripped the handles of a T-shaped pole. Little blue flames were visible from the back of the vehicle. She pressed a button and it lowered itself onto the ground.
“C’mon,” she said sternly. Slowly, I walked onto the craft. She pressed the button again and the machine shot itself upwards. It felt like I should have fallen off, but I was held in place by some mysterious force. Before I had a chance to get a feel for my footing, she tilted the T forward, and we zoomed off towards the Hellevator. And you thought the van was fast. Everything was a blur, and, seconds later, when we arrived at some sort of station, I puked. I looked up. It’s so black. I looked at the station. It was white and cylindrical.
“It’s going to leave soon,” my mother said. It’s not a station. “This is how you’re getting up there. You’re on your own from here, Barak. I managed to block the radar of your van and my hovercraft up until this point. I’m going to get you into one of the emergency spiders. It’s what they use if their rocket fails. It can climb the tunnel manually. Hopefully, they won’t need it. Here, take this,” she said as she pulled out a short black pole with a round hole at the end and stuck it in my bag. “It’s a shotgun. Pull this thing here to shoot it. Aim for the head. Also, this might help.” She handed me a flexible square of plastic. Touch the button, and slide your finger left. Loud noises will play. It’s called dubstep, and it disturbs the zombie tremendously. And Barak,” she said as she looked me in the eye, “no matter what happens, no matter what you do, I love you. Be safe.”
A metal stick ejected itself onto the rocket, and starting rotating itself. It then moved to three other locations, and slowly, a panel fell forward. My mother caught the panel in one hand and the metal stick in the other.
“Go,” she hushed, and I swung my bag around and climbed in. The seat was leaned back, and I was almost lying down backwards. At least it’s cushioned. There was a plastic square which looked much like the one now in my bag, although it was much bigger..  “Don’t touch anything, especially the screen until you feel yourself stop. You won’t have any light, so you’ll have no other way of knowing when you reach the top. Hopefully, they won’t make any other stops.” She started to place the panel back in its place.
“Please take care of Ike. And pray for me.”
Solemnly, she nodded, and shut the panel.
Everything went black. Suddenly, there was tremendous rumbling, and I felt the rocket lift into the air. The screen in front of me illuminated.
“WELCOME,” said a strangely robotic female voice, “TO THE HELLEVATOR.”
The screen lit up.  There was only one button. It was red. “TAP HERE TO ENGAGE MANUAL CLIMB,” it said, in paradoxically friendly bubble letters. After forever, I closed my eyes, fell asleep and dreamt about strawberry shortcake.
I jolted forward, confused. My eyes burst open, panic struck, and I hit the screen. Oh no. The metallic female voice said, “DISENGAGEMENT: ENGAGED,” accompanied by big glowing red letters with the same message on the screen. I felt myself drop slightly and the screen now displayed the rocket shooting upwards, leaving me behind. Thankfully, my free fall was stopped with a thud and a, “SPIDER LOCK: ENGAGED.” 
The screen lowered itself into a desk.
“ENGAGE AUTO- PILOT?” asked the voice. I tapped, “YES,” one the screen.
The screen illuminated. It split into eight. Each section was dimly lit, and they all portrayed different slabs of a similar rock dirt mixture. A number on the bottom left corner was steadily decreasing, portraying my distance underground. I hit a command on the left panel of the screen, and it raised itself above my head again. It dimmed, and the slow bobbing of my chair had me dreaming of strawberry shortcake within seconds.
The screen was flashing red. “GROUND LEVEL REACHED. OPEN HATCH?”
I hit yes, and the panel that my Mom had originally opened slid to the side. A white box with a red plus sign on it descended from the ceiling. I assumed it was important, so I shoved it in my bag, and stepped out onto the ground.

             I was at the edge of a forest. Oh my God. That must be the sun. The real sun. It’s beautiful. Pinkish orange streaked across the dark blue.  It’s so much more pleasant than gray rock. And it’s real, too. Not solid. I watched the sun dip below the ground, and then realized that I couldn’t see much. My spider was gone. Presumably it had lowered itself back to ground level. There was a huge dome covering what I assumed was the Hellevator. It was really dark. I took the flexible square of plastic out of my bag and rolled it up. There. At least you can sort of see.
            In fact, I wished I couldn’t. What I saw was the most vulgar thing I had ever seen. Its body was mostly human, but its face was disgruntled collage of gray green, black, white, and red. It was Limping awkwardly towards me. Aim for the head. Aim. For. The. Head. I reached into my bag. It was awfully close. “Get away from me!” I yelled, ran into the forest.
I tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face, dropping my flashlight. That’s it!  The zombie was nearly on top of me. I unrolled the square and slid the button left.
            I keeled over and covered my ears. The dubstep kept playing. Whatever pain I was in didn’t compare to what the zombie was experiencing. It was having a seizure on the floor. I went over to it and pulled the trigger. Blood splattered everywhere, and after a few seconds, it stopped twitching. There were more of them. The dubstep was slowing them down, but they just kept on coming. My shot was getting better, but the zombie queue was seemingly infinite, in all directions. I spun around helplessly trying to shoot in every direction at once. After the pile of bodies around me was significant high, my gun stopped working. It must be empty. I had taken too long to think about it, and one of the zombies swung at my head. I retrieved the wrench from my bag and smashed him on the head. I felt a pang in the back of my head, and swung the wrench around. However, I was already falling to the ground. I heard a loud alarming blast, and fell into darkness. Darkness with strawberry shortcake.

            “Hey kid,” barked a deep growling voice, “you alright?”
            “Huh?” I failed to open my eyes.
            “What’s your name, son?”
            “Barak. Azonips. Hey, what happened to the zombies? Who are you?” I failed to sit up.
            “Whoa. So you’re Mike’s child.” How does he know who my father is? “You’re lucky I got to you before it actually bit you. You’re just a little scratched up. Anyways, you’re safe from the zombies. For now. I’ve got to go tell someone about you. The name’s Xenif, by the way. Marcus Xenif. I’ll be back soon, kid.”  More strawberry shortcake.
            Marcus told me I had been asleep for four days.  My head was bandaged. It was throbbing slightly. Everyone seemed very excited about me. I wasn’t sure why. I was in a hovering van on its way to my second cousin’s home. I didn’t know I had those. The vehicle stopped. Marcus put his huge hand on my shoulder and led me outside.
            “Welcome,” he said in his unwelcoming manner, “to the Retlam mansion.”
Multiple layers of yellow caution tape encased the entire estate. A twenty foot concrete wall surrounded the forest of looming, sturdy oak trees that was the front yard of the mansion.
“The wall and the ground beneath it have a full stock of mines eagerly anticipating the drills of invaders,” Marcus informed me as he placed his finger on a pad and stuck his head into another. “Of course, they’re nowhere near that smart.” An electric fence clicked open. “And there are automatic turrets too. Everywhere.” We walked through a long windy path through the forest. It was terrifying. A chicken scampered across the road and disappeared into the darkness. We reached the double steel doors of a red brick mansion. Marcus knocked on the door.  After a couple minutes, they opened. A teenage girl dressed in as much armor as Marcus was stood in the doorway. A gun similar to mine was flung around her shoulder.
“Hello, Barak,” she said.
“How do you know-?”
“I’m going to leave you here, Barak. Alright?” interrupted Marcus.
“Yeah, sure,” I replied and he shut the door behind us. “Anyway,” I continued, “how do you know who I am?”
“Well Marcus called and told me you’d be coming. My name’s Rachel, by the way. But you’ll find out more soon. Charlie, my brother, will probably explain it all to you. Want to help me prepare lunch?”
“Sure,” I replied questioningly. She led me into the kitchen.
“Whoa! What are all these things?” I asked, as I looked around at the colorful assortment of fruits on the counter.
“What? You don’t have strawberries in in hell?”
“Hey. Not cool. But yeah, we don’t. Probably because God would kill us if we did. It’s splurging and all.” I popped one into my mouth. “Hey, look at that. I didn’t die! Big surprise.”
“Why do think God would kill you for eating strawberries?” she inquired.
I was shocked. “You mean you believe in God?!”
“… You don’t?”
“No… Well if I did, I wouldn’t be here, would I?”
“Why not?”
“Well, because... you know. If I believed in God I would be hiding and waiting for His Savior, wouldn’t I?” I was getting annoyed
“Who told you that?”
“Um… you know. Religious authority… Tradition and all that stuff, you know?”
“Nope,” she replied easily. “The God I believe in would want us to use our abilities to fight, albeit with faith that He’s in charge of us and stuff.”
Before I had time to sufficiently contemplate this idea, someone who I assumed was Charlie walked in. He was tall and lanky red haired twenty-five year old.  After a short verbal exchange, the rest of the family came in and we sat down around the magnificent dining room table. A crystal chandelier hung from the high ceiling. I figured I’d start the conversation. “How does it make those colors?”
Charlie chuckled. “The light rays are being dispersed through the crystal prisms,” he said.
What? Oh whatever, never mind. Anyways, how do you guys all know me?”
The grandfather, Isaac, spoke up. “I knew your grandfather, Benedict. He was my brother. We disputed over what course of action to take against the zombies. He was always the religious one. He died as the last passenger ship descended into the underground conclave in which your mother, his daughter, raised you. They never told you too much about us, did they?”
“Well,” I began nervously, “I mean… they did tell us that you were a bunch of evil atheists who God’s Savior will exact vengeance from. But apparently, you guys believe in God.”
Isaac looked to his son. “I don’t, personally. But my, son, if I’m not mistaken does.”
 His son, Mr. Retlam nodded affirmatively. “Yes. God created this world, and he wants us to live in it, not escape from it.”
“I see.”
“Do you agree?”
“I mean...” I hadn’t really thought about it. “I haven’t really thought about it. I guess I find it admirable, although I can’t quite accept it for myself. My view of God is one that views him as corrupt, and therefore, paradoxical and nonexistent.”
Mr. Retlam accepted this. “So you ready for training tomorrow?”
“Say what?”
“Training,” answered Charlie. “This isn’t a hotel. If you’re staying in the Retlam mansion, you’re protecting it. We’ll train you in the basement when your healthy and ready.  Rachel will teach you the ropes after lunch. Get some early rack tonight. I want you ready tomorrow.”

            “Here,” Rachel said. “Try the bow. It’s way too simple for actual use, but it’ll be a good first test of your skills.”
            I took the bow nervously. Rachel took my arm. “Pull the arrow back, aim for the dummies head, and shoot.”
            I stared at the arrow and the out of focus cardboard zombie head in its path. I let go of the string. The arrow spun awkwardly sideways, hit the wall feet away from the dummy, and cracked in half. Rachel suppressed a laugh.
 “Here,” she said, handing me another one, “Try another.” My shaking arm took it from her outstretched hand. Slowly, I drew it back. I stared at the zombie. It stared at me. I imagined it coming at me in the middle of a forest. I thought of Frank. I let the arrow fly. It struck the zombie’s left eye with a ping.  “Wow,” I said, in amazement. Rachel a surprise doubled mine.
“So you’re a good shot. That’s good to know. I guess we’ll skip straight to the electric crossbow.” She took one off the rack and handed it to me. “Stand further back this time, and all you have to do is press the trigger.” She handed the bow to me. “And aim for the right eye,” she added with a wink.
I took it, pressed the trigger, and a tiny arrow with blue sparks on the end punctured the zombie’s right eye. The cardboard dummy burst into flames and crumpled to the ground in three seconds. For the rest of the day Rachel continued to teach me about a whole assortment of really cool guns, melee weapons, and other assorted combat gadgets. “I think you’re ready for tomorrow. Hit the showers and get some sleep.”
Charlie woke me early in the morning and brought me downstairs. He had just got back from a mission. Most of them were overnight.
“One… Two… Three…Four… Five… Six... Sev-... urgh,” I panted heavily. “I can’t do anymore, Charlie.”
“Don’t worry about it, man. Six on your first try is really impressive. Especially for someone with no physical training.”
“I mean I’ve benched before, with my brother. But these are a lot heavier.”
“Really? We thought they wouldn’t want you to be able to fight a rat.”
“Well, yeah they don’t. My brother was quite the rebel. He was too comfortable to come up with me, though.”
“Well that’s cool. Either way I’m really surprised by your skills. Let’s see you do some squats.
Two weeks of intense and vigorous workouts later, Charlie decided I was ready. “We’ll send you on easy mission. Just before dawn, we send out a team to collect all the headless zombie bodies and bring them to the lab. Any zombie body that isn’t headless, make it. I have faith in you, Barak.
With the fading vision of strawberry shortcake in my mind, I dressed and, for the first time, put on armor. It felt stronger. I loaded two plasma grenades into my belt. An assault rifle, a shotgun, and my wrench were strapped to parts of my body. Charlie said it was useless and would way me down, but I insisted on keeping it. I met Charlie and Rachel at the front door.
“We usually would be doing more important missions now, but we’d figure we’d accompany you. And guess who else is coming?” Rachel added with a smile. “Marcus.”
“You know I can fight for myself, right? I retorted jokingly.
“Oh. Yeah, sure. That bandage,” she tapped the still bandaged part of my head, “came from nowhere.
“Alright. Enough playing, you two,” Charlie interjected. “Let’s go,” he added, opened the door and led us through the forest and out to Marcus’s waiting ride. It was still dark outside.
“Hey, Barak. How you doing?” greeted Marcus, as Charlie, Rachel, and I boarded the hovervan.  “You recovered from that wound pretty well. And whoa, look at those muscles.” He flexed his own, and I only then realized how strong he must be.
“How much can you bench?” I asked, trying to sound all macho about it.
“Ha-ha. I would tell you, but I don’t to make you feel bad.” He turned to Charlie. “No armor?” he asked.
“Nope,” Charlie replied. “Slows me down too much. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to need it this round.” I looked at the huge plates of metal I was wearing and felt inferior. The van pulled to a stop.
“Hey,” I said as I exited the van. “I know this place. It’s the forest where I was first attacked.”
“Yup,” said Marcus. “Figured you want revenge.”
The gathering was quite uneventful. Only one living zombie hadn’t already left. Charlie dismembered with his fists quite easily. He finished it off by ripping a bone out of its shoulder with his mouth. We left with a pile of smelling zombie bodies in the back of the van. We dropped it off at the lab and headed home. Rachel was imitating the zombie. “Ouch, Charlie, you bit me!” she exclaimed, and the three of them burst into laughter. I didn’t get the reference.
Over the next couple weeks, the difficulties of my missions progressed, my workouts intensified, and I was really starting to enjoy life.



            Where am I? I just got out of the shower and into bed… I can’t be asleep, though. There’s no strawberry shortcake. Unless me thinking about it counts. Weird. Could I be over it? I don’t know. This still doesn’t feel like a dream… Everything is so clear…Clearly white. And I can see it somehow.  Although I don’t have a body. Or, at least, I don’t feel like I have one. And I can’t look down, because, well, there are no directions. Everywhere is white. White walls.
 “Hello, Barak Azonips.”
            Who are you?
            “I am what I am, and I shall be what I shall be.”
 “Others used to call me Morgan Freeman. You, however, no longer believe in my existence.”
Indeed. You deserve punishment for your lack of faith, but I have forgiven you.”
This is crazy. This is a dream. God doesn’t exist.
Ah. I thought you would assume that. However, there is no strawberry shortcake here, is there?
“So this must be real, correct?”
I guess…
“Good. Now, Barak, I have come to you for a reason. I have come to anoint you as The Savior of the people. The Savior of the broken, the beaten, and the damned. You will defeat them, your demons, and all the non-believers, and the plans that they have made.”
That’s awkward. So, I’m The Savior, and I’m supposed to punish everyone above ground, and save the religious fanatics? What about, like, my cousins? They believe in you, right?
“No. They ignored the most basic principle of faith in me, and that is faith in my messengers in the world.  They too shall be destroyed. With Righteousness you will walk and in Purity shall you conquer. Now scurry along.”
I awoke with a jolt, sweating. What the??????????? Bro, chill out, it was just a dream. Um, no it wasn’t, there was no strawberry shortcake. Hey wait a minute. God? Hey! God? You there? Crap. Oh well. Guess it’s time for me to be all messianic.
What do you mean, no? You’re the savior, remember?
I can’t let you do this.
You can’t let them win.
So what do you suppose I do? Just wait here? God is kind of, well, a God. He’ll have His ways of convincing me to leave.
I don’t care about what you saw. You don’t believe in God. You hate Him. Don’t let Him win.
What do you suppose I do about it?
There is only one way.
I was still sweating. A note had been slid under the door.
“Hey, Barak. We tried to wake you up, but you were fast asleep. Left the ground hummer for you if you want to join us. If not, see you in the morning.
– Rachel.”
As if in trance, I walked out of my room and went downstairs. I took the keys to the hummer and headed to the parking lot. I turned on the engine and exited the estate.
You know where they will be.
I could see stray zombies waddling around, but I headed towards where I knew they would be gathered en masse. As I approached the mob, I watched the sea of bodies stretch into infinity. I braced myself and pressed the pedal.
Onward, I drove.

MOSHE GELBERMAN                              THE SAVIOR                               MR. GLASSER