HOW I FOUND MY WAY HERE • by Stephen V. Ramey

A week ago, two Sunday-suited men came to my door. Jehovah’s Witnesses, I assumed. No nametags, so they weren’t Mormons. At first I was not going to answer, then I thought, Why not?

They both had dark hair, thin frames, identical ties. I disliked them at once.

“You may as well not bother,” I said, taking their pamphlet. Better in my hand than wedged into the screen door handle. “I’m a hardcore atheist, and, yes, I’ve thought about my eternal life.”

I expected a scripted reply from the more senior of them. Instead, they spoke in unison, the voices slightly discordant in my ears.

“Are you a good person?”

That took me aback. “Yeah,” I said, “yes.”

“How do you know?”

“I…”

“Do you do good deeds? Do you aid your neighbors and give succor to the poor? Do you donate to worthy causes?”

“I do my part,” I said.

“Are you willing to die for a cause greater than yourself?”

“What?”

“Do you give your life to God?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then, how can you be a good person?”

“I am,” I said. My hands wrung the pamphlet.

“Have you considered that your goodness may only be judged by others and not yourself?”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will be survived by others. It is the residue you leave in their hearts that will determine whether your mortal life was good or… not.”

I had to admit that made some sense.

“For example, we are quite dubious of your goodness, given that you do not believe in God, that you do not invite us into your home, that you will not accept our message.”

Next I knew we were sitting in the kitchen drinking tea and philosophizing like Facebook friends. When they left, I was by myself, but not alone.

I felt found. I felt free.

I felt like knocking on some doors.

That brings me to my purpose in visiting you today. Do you have time for tea?


Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with his talented wife, Susan Urbanek Linville, and two reformed feral cats. His work has appeared in many places and his collection of (very) short fictions, Glass Animals, is available wherever fine books are e-sold.


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 average 3.1 stars • 38 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • SueAnn Porter

    I liked this story. Good question: how can you be good if you don’t believe in God? Whose measuring stick are you using?
    Four stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Stephen–I feel like I was handed the zip drive version of a story, and all the good stuff is locked inside and can’t be reached…

    I couldn’t get the Elmer Gantry tone of it out of my head but I felt that was wrong for this. Tent-revival fervor doesn’t work so well in people’s living rooms.

    You had so much room here to make something sly and funny, and our MC’s instant conversion just felt cheap and, in a way, really insulting.

    I know you have the gifts to add some sophistication to a story like this, and I’d hoped you were going to be taking the mickey out of all sorts of orthodoxies, but you slammed the door in my face, and I’m really sorry you did. I’m convinced you’re always capable of more than you seem willing to deliver. Three stars.

    • But isn't that instant conversion a sort of commentary too? I do understand your (valid) points, and thank you for reading.
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        There was plenty of room here for the unreliable narrator whose truth is revealed to us, if not, perhaps, to himself. But all the contradictions in this story came from what seemed like editing mistakes. Instead of scripted replies they spoke in unison? The pamphlet better in his hand than wedged into the door? That was a good opening for an unacknowledged hunger that could have been funny and rueful, or wickedly pointed. If someone else's name had been on this, I'd have given a guilt-free two stars. But it's hard not to acknowledge your capacities even when you don't use them.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    I couldn’t get out of my head these two characters giving their spiel in unison – or was that just their opening gambit? Also I found this ‘conversion’ unconvincing and simplistic.

  • I felt like I was reading a story lesson from one of their pamphlets or magazines instead of a piece of fiction.

    *

  • Carl Steiger

    People wanting to get in my door had better not tell me they are dubious of my goodness.
    As for the instant conversion, I understand that vampires can’t enter a human home unless they are invited. Then they convert you with a bite.

    • S Conroy
      "We are quite dubious of your goodness...given that you do not invite us into your home [for a bite to eat]."
    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
      The atmosphere of a nice bright morning or afternoon (never stated but it felt like that, considering their activity) and the three of 'em sitting around drinking tea afterwards kept something like that from even occurring to me...
      • S Conroy
        Good thinking batman.
  • There are moments here that reflect a writer’s talent, but all too soon the building blocks erected a story of lost potential. A different take could have secured a far more interesting take than the goody-goody end.

  • Camille Gooderham Campbell

    So… No one else read this as alien possession?

    • No one expects the alien possession! :-)
    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
      The problem is those missionary types are so utterly alien-like in their everyday personas and demeanor anyway that there's nothing special to catch onto here. They do look and sound like exceptionally polite, well-groomed robots, and they're all around us...
    • Not even a hint of it.
    • S Conroy
      Really?
      • Camille Gooderham Campbell
        Yes, really. That was my first thought on reading it.
        • S Conroy
          I really wasn't sure if you were serious. Rereading and also considering Carl Steiger's vampires I can see better where you're coming from. It's pretty interesting how differently a story can be interpreted.
        • Wow. I never got that at all. Fascinating.
    • Paul A. Freeman
      I was put in mind of an 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' scenario when the guys began talking in unison and with the speed of 'conversion', but there was little else in that vein to grab on to.
      • Camille Gooderham Campbell
        Well, that was enough for me, I suppose, along with the line "I was by myself, but not alone" (somehow that just screamed 'involuntary possession by something weird' to me). But that's the interesting thing about storytelling, isn't it — that the smallest things can trigger different associations in different readers' minds... I'm not saying I'm right necessarily, as only the author can tell us what he actually had in mind.
        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
          That might have been plausible if the story hadn't spoken explicitly about God. A just-converted atheist would naturally feel himself no longer alone in the universe.
        • I read it as he had invited God into his life, thus not alone.
  • Gerald_Warfield

    I think the story would have had more energy if the protagonist hadn’t given in so quickly. In the absence of any points for the non-believer’s side, the story took on an almost proselytizing tone. Seems to me there’s room for a lot more depth here.

  • S Conroy

    Chuckle, chuckle! I badly needed that laugh today.
    My only critique is it could have been longer and gone into more detail on their persuasion tactics.
    But the ending hit me totally unprepared (the laugh too)Thanks!

  • Jeffrey Yorio

    Liked the story and the philosophical question, yet though a good question, it has a bias.

  • Conversion can come from a blinding light on the road to Damascus so the speed of the conversion is not a problem for me. The story left me wanting to know more about the characters and that is a good thing.

  • Jeff (below) put it perfectly for me; I too felt like this was a story right out of one of those pamphlets. Too simple, too forced. No “hard core” atheist would turn that fast. If he did, he wasn’t an atheist to begin with.

    Sadly I didn’t find much in this story. One star.

  • Von

    This one made me laugh for sure. 🙂 I felt some tongue in cheek humor, especially the part about the “residue” left in others’ hearts and philosophizing like FB friends. And the final line was perfect.