The Mission



The bog smelled worse than I remembered.
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The nauseating sulfuric stench burned my nostrils. It bubbled and popped, splashing onto the bank, and I took a step back. It had touched me before, more often than I liked to remember. But that was long ago. Now I stood on the dry bank, cleansed and whole. Never again.
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A cry sounded from far out in the middle and I turned away. Signs were posted everywhere, but people insisted on diving in anyway. Not my problem. They'd finally learn the signs meant business, but usually it was too late. The acidic murk eventually ate them alive. It ate everything that touched it, clearly illustrated by the severed ropes lying all along the shore.

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Tied to trees, boulders, anything sturdy, the ropes lay in parallel lines right to the bog's edge where they were eaten away, leaving only ragged edges. A long pole lay like a thick finger pointing at the bog, its tip chewed off by the vicious liquid.
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Another cry echoed through the steam rising from the bog and a hand waved frantically before disappearing beneath the thick film.

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I turned to walk away and bumped into someone. He stood like a statue, staring out over the bog. A tear inched down his left cheek.

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My heart melted. It was Him! He'd come to walk with me!

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I smiled and reached for him, but he didn't seem to see me as he stared straight ahead, past me, to the bog.

"They're so desperate," he said and only then did I notice what he was holding. A T-shaped staff, stained dark with some substance. "I want you to go in after them."
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I froze, staring at that face I loved. Surely he didn't mean that.
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He forced his gaze away from the bog and smiled at me, that smile I would do anything to see. He held out his staff.

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I shrank from it and glanced instead down at my clean clothes. "I...I can't. That nasty bog. It'll eat me too. You know that. You're the one who rescued me from it." I swallowed hard and took a step back, something I'd never done before.

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"This will do it," he answered and his eyes swept the bog again where a second ill-fated swimmer shouted for help. "This will protect you. As long as you're holding this, you're safe from the effects of the bog. They will be too, once they clasp on to it. Take it to them. Go after them. For me."
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My head involuntarily shook back and forth. "No...no. I...it can't. Nothing's safe in there. It will pollute me, get all over me...I don't want---What is that anyway?"
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I squinted at the rod he held and now realized what covered it. I looked up at him. "Blood?"
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He nodded and held the staff toward me again. "Yes. It's the secret to the bog. Blood neutralizes the acid. My blood. Hold on to it and you'll be safe. So will they."

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With trembling hands I took the staff. At the first touch, I felt it: the power surging through my hands, up my arms, electrifying my heart. Strength poured into my limbs and I knew I could swim as far out as I had to.

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He touched my cheek with the back of his hand and smiled again. "I knew you would. I'll be waiting right here when you bring them out, and I'll do the rest. You're not going in alone, you know. We're doing this together. You and me."

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I swallowed hard and nodded, scarcely able to see through my tears. "How will I know which ones? There are so many."

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"Go to the ones who are calling out. The others won't grab on. Take my staff to the ones who are ready for it."
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With a single nod, I turned away and faced the bog. More arms waved frantically and voices echoed like owls in the night.
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With a firm grip on the staff--His staff--I stepped into the bog.

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"...as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." John 20:21

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