It started with a faint scratching sound, then her senses were flooded. She felt the moist earth packed against her skin and the bile rising in her throat as the smell of decay overwhelmed her. She gasped for breath only to choke on the dirt that surrounded her. Fear seized her as she found she couldn't move, and her body writhed and thrashed in the oppressive soil. A whiff of sweet air brushed past her and she grabbed frantically at it, but it escaped her. Just when she had struggled for one last breath, she felt a hand brush up against her face. The hand quickly shoved the dirt away from her mouth and eyes and she gulped in great lungfuls of clean air. She blinked rapidly in the harsh light, and moved to sit as the hand scooped away the earth that had held her down. A wave of nausea swept over her and bits of soil and waste came spewing out of her stomach. The hand held her hair back from her sweaty, grimy face and wiped her mouth. The girl looked around and saw walls of earth. She turned to get a better look at the hand and followed it up to the face. It was an unremarkable face, and yet to the girl it seemed infinitely familiar, though she could not say where she had seen it before.
"Jesus," he replied, brushing the last of the dirt off of her.
She looked again ant his hands and noticed how dirty they were, caked with mud and brown under the fingernails. "What happened to me?" she asked, still balking at the sunlight.
"You buried yourself."
"Did you dig me out?" she said, searching his eyes.
"I love you," he said simply.
"I don't love me," she whispered, turning her face away.
"But I do," he urged.
He stood, and the girl was mortified at his muddy, vomit-stained clothes. "Jesus, I'm sorry," she said timidly, her cheeks burning.
"It doesn't matter," he replied. "You were worth it." With that, Jesus lifted his hands to press on the outside of the hole and hoisted himself out. "Come on!" he beckoned.
The girl stayed firmly seated. "Where are we going?"
"My father's house," he explained. "Everything's prepared - he's been waiting so long for you to come home."
The girl tried in vain to move. "I can't do it," she finally admitted. "I can't get up."
"That's alright," he assured her, reaching down his hands. "I'll lift you."
The girl looked at Jesus's outstretched hands, then looked at the sides of the hole. She craned her neck, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't see what was outside. "Thanks, Jesus," she said, "but I think I'll just stay here."
"I'll help you," he pleaded. "You don't have to be afraid. It's so much better out here."
The girl shook her head.
"Well, I'm not leaving unless you're with me," Jesus insisted.
"Just go home without me," she offered. "Tell your father I didn't want to come."
A profoundly sad look crossed his eyes and for a sliver of a moment his countenance fell. "It would break his heart," he said quietly. "I will wait a thousand years if I must, but I am not leavin ghere without you."
The girl threw up her hands in exasperation, and leaned her back against the dirt wall. Days passed and nights too. Months, years. The girl lost count. She grew lonely and tired and confused. Maybe she should have gone with Jesus. Surely, he had left by now?
Her voice was hoarse from disuse, and it took a moment for the words to croak out. "Jesus? Are you there?"
For a brief moment, the girl was terrified. He had left her, and she would be stuck in this rancid hole forever! Slowly, though, two dirty hands reached down toward her, and a pair of heavy-lidded eyes peeped over the ledge. "Are you ready now?" he asked, expectant.
"I think so," she said shakily.
He put his strong arms under hers, and lifted her out of the pit. She had been sitting still for so long that the sudden movement sent a rush of pain through her body. She let out a scream and squeezed her eyes shut.
When she opened them, she saw stalks of sweet green grass with yellow dandelions poking their heads up every so often. Jesus helped her to her feet. She leaned heavily on him, her legs shaking. "I hope your father's house isn't far," she said. "I don't think I can walk."
"It is far," Jesus admitted, "but I will carry you."
"Where is it?" she asked.
He pointed toward a distant line of blue-gray mountains, their tips brushing the clouds. "Beyond the horizon."
Her heart dropped. "I'll never make it."
"Do not fear," he said, squeezing her hand. "For I know the way."
And with that, he lifted her in his arms and started sprinting into the purple dusk toward the mountains and his father's house. He lifted his head to the sky and shouted, "We're coming home, Father! We're coming home!"