AMES, IOWA (AP) An Iowa State University student was treated for second-degree burns across her face and neck after a chance encounter at a local Starbucks with a man claiming to be Jesus. Amanda Thomas reported that the unpleasant experience began when she stopped at her favorite coffee shop for a low-fat latte with caramel Tuesday morning. As she read the op-ed page of the New York Times, Amanda noticed that a table of Young Republican women next to her was heckling a scruffy, long haired man sipping a Vente Sumatra decaf and using a small, viscous puddle of blood in the palm of his right hand to obliterate etched faces in his Wall Street Journal.
"Who let the peacenik hippy lib in?" asked one of the girls in a stage whisper, rolling her eyes and using her Kool Menthol to point in the direction of the bearded man.
"Shouldn't he be out campaigning for homeless-fag-lover Kerry?" another girl asked in a voice slightly louder. "He smells like he needs an aromatherapy bath."
"Code blue and STAT," responded her friend in a voice calibrated to be overhead by the disheveled man, whose eyes were growing discernibly moist. "It's so disgusting. I'd hate to have to sit in that $658 Crate & Barrel chair after him. Probably get lice."
"Crabs!" corrected another girl in a smart Takeout cardigan, looking up from her US Weekly.
"Again?" added yet another Young Republican, sending the girls into peels of loud, synchronized laughter.
Witnessing the girls' cruelty, Amanda felt sorry for the oddly dressed man. As she walked over to his brown upholstered chair, she watched the stranger use blood from his hand to completely obliterate Peggy Noonan's pert image with an emphatic sanguine slash across the newspaper. The red liquid instantly evaporated, revealing a toothy skeleton rendered in exquisitely detailed pen and ink, as if it were on legal tender. Without skin, Peggy showed an authoritative posture that Amanda begrudgingly admired. The jaunty bones were wearing a lovely blond wig.
"Forgive them," said Amanda, "they don't know what they are doing."
"Verily, so you know who I am," replied the man looking up from his paper. He smiled as he used a bloody finger to wipe away a tenacious tear. It had teetered on the rim of his eye and was now mixed into a sooty smear of blood and newsprint that marked the contour of his surprisingly pronounced left cheekbone. Amanda thought the effect was both edgy and dramatic.
She suggested that it would be a fabulous touch if he did the same thing to draw out his right cheekbone, which was now looking rather unremarkable. He changed the subject by mentioning that he was the Lord Jesus Christ. Normally, Amanda loathed people who dropped names - especially their own. But there was something utterly disarming about this person's kind smile that she let it slide.
"Normally I get pestered by groupies," he said, "which is why it's nice to come to America. Here, I can potter about completely unrecognized."
He gave her a conspiratorial wink while blowing on his coffee to cool it. With one breath, the steam rising above the cup turned to ice and dropped like thin shards of brittle glass onto the swirled surface of the now hard coffee. The immediate change in temperature caused the glazed mug to crack, leaving the man holding only a ceramic handle as a frozen cylinder of decaf rolled across the store's dirty floor. Amanda lost sight of the wheeling coffee after a woman in expensive shoes kicked it under a couch.
"Not again!" the man muttered, getting up from his chair. Amanda noticed that he was wearing a "The Passion of the Christ: See It Again!" official merchandise t-shirt. He held out his right arm like someone being measured for half of a suit. His hand began to tremble, then oscillate in an increasingly frantic wobble. He looked as if he were the only person in the room affected by a local earthquake. Sparks sputtered and gave the penumbra of his hand the glow of an old neon beer sign that willfully refused to light beyond a few halfhearted blazes of vapor. Amanda imagined canary-yellow lightning springing from his fingertips. Like the chick with green skin who brought the crazy in the Wizard of Oz. Instead, an earthy puck of coffee rose from behind the sofa and started making its way to the man's coffee mug, which Amanda noticed had healed into one seamless piece.
Amanda was surprised by the jerky, fatigued movements of the wandering chunk of coffee-ice as it made its way across the store. She wondered if it might be quicker if she just walked over and got the damn thing and brought it back. After all, she knew where he was going with this - and she had a Milton seminar in twenty minutes. But she didn't want to deflate the delight the stranger was obviously taking in his trick, so she smiled wanly, patiently waiting for the apparently reluctant drink to be repatriated with the mug. Finally, with a shudder, the ice dropped into the mug, melting into steaming liquid.
"Dude, you're not going to drink that, are you?" asked Amanda.
"There are no unclean foods," replied the man.
"If you say so."
"Well, actually, it was Paul. Speaking of, this would be a wonderful opportunity to cut the interloping, delusional middleman and accept me as your Personal Savior," the man said as he took a sip of coffee.
"Too hot," he said with a scowl.
He blew on the mug. Within seconds another frozen clump of coffee was on its way to the floor. To Amanda's impatient relief, this time the man caught it.
"I'm not in the market for a savior, personal or otherwise," replied Amanda, smiling to cushion any sense of slight,
"How often do I have to tell you people?" he glowered. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
"Goodness!" Amanda replied with neither inflection nor interest. She noted that it wasn't just this guy's coffee that bounced between extremes without any intervening points of modulation. "Don't get all up in my face," said added. "It's not personal. I'm Jewish."
"Me-killer!" he bellowed, pointing at the logo on his shirt. Before Amanda had looked up, a cold clump of coffee began making its way towards her. About an eighth of an inch from her nose, the ice dissolved, scalding Amanda's face. "There! Allow that to be a preview of the burning of flesh thou shalt feel when thou livest on a lake of fire!"
"Gross!" It was one of the Young Republicans. "That freak got coffee on my Mui Muis."
"What about those chicks?" Amanda whimpered. She pointed at the table of Young Republicans, most of whom were looking askance at her as they made their way to the door. "They were the ones making fun of you! I was trying to be nice."
"Works will not save you," he explained, brushing off a few errant drops of hot coffee that had splattered his shirt. "Besides, they have a fish decal on the back of their Audi."
After asking (unsuccessfully) for a free refill (this time in a paper cup), the man departed in a cloud of coffee grinds. A hard whack of thunder rattled mugs and sent a display of espresso machines crashing to the painted cement floor. Most of them missed Amanda by almost several inches.