There is a spot along the northern border where the rolling hills and grasslands disintegrate to a rocky shore at the cusp of the wide ocean. The townsfolk nearby say that God himself keeps an eye on that spot and that if you go there and you ask in earnest, your prayers will be answered.
Jamie didn’t think so. Though spirituality had never been his forte, the relationship between man and the higher powers was an internal one. It shouldn’t have anything to do with a location. If it did, then how were people claiming relationships with God from halfway across the world?
“The spot probably isn’t for you, then,” Marie told him. Jamie’s girlfriend had never been one to soft-pedal her distaste, but Jamie could feel the heat in her voice when she said it.
She was disappointed, and she wanted him to know it.
He tried to get out of it. “It’s not like that. I just feel like any religion should go deeper than time, date, location.”
But the mark was already made, though his words didn’t cause their relationship to end in cataclysmic bang, Jamie hesitated ever bringing it up again, even when the years began to strip him of his friends, his life, and his dignity.
His grandparents went first, then his parents, then his siblings. It happened in the space of two years, each soul claimed by age or tragedy, all of them cut like chaff from a wheat field. Marie endured all of it alongside him, and Jamie loved her for it.
“I don’t understand,” Jamie said one day. “What did I do wrong?”
“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” Marie said. “Bad things happened to good people all the time. Maybe this is just your bad thing.”
“Maybe,” Jamie said. “I know how to find out. Take me to the spot.”
Marie fixed him with a hard look. “That’s not what it’s there for. It’s for prayer. For desperation.”
“I am desperate,” Jamie said. “For all I know, God’s going to take you next. If he hears and answers prayers in that spot, then that’s where I need to go.”
He saw tears welling up in her eyes. “You don’t have to go there. I don’t think God will tell you what you want to know.”
But Jamie only shrugged. “I have to try.”
They were in the car an hour later. Marie drove them a half hour north, toward the coast, then another fifteen minutes to a nondescript spot on the side of a hill that looked no different from the rest of the earth around them.
“This is it?” Jamie asked.
He started to get out of the car when Marie grabbed his arm. “Wait. Wait. Just don’t be irreverent, okay? I know people joke about pissing God off, but seriously. Don’t.”
“You know something I don’t?” Jamie asked.
Marie only frowned. “Just be careful. If things get rough, come back to me.”
Out of the car, Jamie stormed up the hillside and stood overlooking the coastline and the ocean beyond. The lapping waves and endless sea stretched out before him, a wisp of clouds hanging low on the horizon.
Jamie stared at the sky for a long moment before he spoke. “God, can you hear me? It’s Jamie.”
He waited. And waited. Then, on the breeze flowing off of the sea, he heard a faint reply.
“Yes, Jamie. I can hear you. What is it you ask of me?”
“My family is dead. Why did you take them from me?”
A tremor came up through the ground, a soft quake that Jamie felt rising up through his knees. “There are certain things we cannot control,” the voice said. “And there are certain things that are long overdue — that must happen at specific time and place. If they fail, the world works to correct itself.
“What do you mean?”
Somewhere in the distance, Jamie though he heard thunder. “You were fated to die years ago,” the voice told him. “Here, in his very spot. A rockslide meant to carry you to the sea, to me, was destined to happen — but you did not come to pay your respects that day.”
Jamie felt bile rising up in his throat. “So . . . you killed off my entire family just to get me here?”
The voice did not reply, and Jamie’s eyes narrowed.
“That’s not something God would do,” he said, recalling the biblical text. The God he knew was benevolent and kind, not filled with cold calculation and unyielding malice.
Thunder again, somewhere distant. The sky itself seemed to laugh. “God,” the sea whispered. “No. Fate. Only fate. Only inevitability.”
Jamie could feel the electricity charging in the air around him. Frantic, he glanced over his shoulder. Marie was waiting for him, back in the car. But if he ran, would he make it?
No. Jamie knew it. This was the end.
With a shout, Jamie hurled himself off the ledge, toward the sea. The rock gave way behind him as lightning crashed into the cliffside. He tried to work himself into some semblance of a dive, but beneath him the earth opened like quicksand.
Jamie found himself sucked under, pulled beneath the sea and the sand as it crushed him to oblivion. As he gasped for air, as his body panicked, a wash of a thought twitched through his mind.
How had he even found out about the spot in the first place?
As if in answer, the seawater whispered in his ear.