Bill reads Psalm 104
IT WAS TOO realistic for a dream. And I never dream in color. But off in the distance I saw a cobalt blue horizon smeared with growing traces of pink. I seemed to be standing on some sort of bluff. Below, stretched a large, flat plateau; black, except for the pockets of fog. Then there were the smells—cool dampness, the roasted-oat smell of dried grass, and the feted mixture of dirt and animal. But it was the quiet sobs that drew my attention. They came from a boy, I’m guessing around six, silhouetted on a boulder overlooking the plain. The light was too dim to see much detail, except for his wavy, black hair, and the coarse robe he was wearing.
I quietly cleared my throat so I wouldn’t startle him.
He didn’t even flinch, just slowly turned to face me.
“Hi there,” I said. “Are you okay?”
He nodded, rubbing an eye with the heel of his hand. He gave a quiet sniff and asked, “Who are you?”
I stayed where I was so I wouldn’t frighten him. “My name is Will.”
“You’re not one of them,” he said.
He motioned to an empty tree limb not far away, then to a couple boulders. Suitable locations for any imaginary friend.
“Um, no,” I said. “I’m real. Well, sort of.”
He gave his eyes another swipe and giggled.
“Your clothes, they’re funny. You don’t live here.”
I glanced down to see I was still in my pajamas. “Apparently not.”
He grinned and looked back over the plain. The horizon was growing more pink.
“Should you be up here by yourself?” I asked.
He motioned to the empty limb and boulders. “I’ve got them.”
“Right,” I said. “And your parents?”
“Mom’s visiting my aunt and uncle. He’s old. He’s going to die.”
“And your dad?”
Ah, I thought, a blended family. I said nothing more, just sat in the silence broken only by a slight breeze. The boy also remained silent. I thought it odd to see a child sit so patient and still. But as the designated dreamer, I knew it was my responsibility to move things along, so I asked,
“Were you crying?” He shrugged.
“You can tell me. I’ll forget everything by morning.” I eased toward the closest boulder and pretended to address his imaginary friend. “May I?”
The boy giggled again. Permission granted. I turned back to him and was drawn to his eyes. Golden brown with lighter flecks that almost sparkled.
“You sure you’re okay?” I said.
He took a deep breath. “I just wish—I wish I had some friends.”
“Ah,” I said as I sat. “I can relate to that.”
I nodded. “Big time.”
“You’re a bastard, too?”
“What? No. Is that why you don’t have friends?” He looked to the ground.
“What is this, the Dark Ages?”
“Not yet,” he said. Then with another breath, he added, “It wouldn’t be so bad if I could do stuff for people. You know, like healing Ben Hazarah. He lives next door and—”
“Hold it. ‘Healing’?”
He grimaced. “Sorry, I’m not supposed to tell.”
“But doing stuff for people, that’s the best way to stop being lonely, you know.”
“Pretty insightful, for what, a six-year-old?”
He gave a heavy sigh. “Another one of my problems.
But it’s so hard.”
“To see everybody hurting. And knowing you can do something but just having to sit around and wait.”
“Wait?” I said. “For what?”
“I’ve got so much to learn.”
Another sigh. “Feeling what you feel, thinking like you think.” He paused and looked back out over the plain. “Everyone’s so sad and lonely. That hurts the most. How can you stand it? What do you do?”
“I have a dog.”
“And a cat.” He gave me a look.
It was my turn to shrug.
“Maybe if you helped people more,” he said. “That’s why we made you, right?”
He started to answer, then shook his head as if he’d said too much.
“What about you?” I said. “Up here crying all by yourself?”
“I told you. Nobody wants to be with me.”
“Right,” I motioned to the empty tree and boulder.
“Just you and your little buddies.” Another giggle.
“They’re not so little. And they can be real helpful, but . . .”
“They’re not like you. They don’t have our . . .” he paused. “They weren’t made in God’s image.”
I scowled. “Six years old, right?”
He ignored me. “They weren’t made to be his friends.”
“His friends—God has friends.”
“That’s why he made you. To be his friend so you can play with him.”
“God wants to—play with me?” He nodded.
“So that makes me like what, his toy, a little puppy dog?”
“You’re silly.” Before I answered, he continued. “Is that why you have children? Why your mommy and daddy made you?”
“Of course not.”
“So, why would it be different with God?”
“Um, because he’s God.”
“And you’re his boy. And like a good dad, he wants to play with you.”
“And if I don’t want to play with him?”
“It makes him sad.”
“So—without me, God is sad.”
“Without God, you’re alone.”
“How’d talking to some kid turn into a deep, theological discussion?”
He sighed again. “It happens—a lot.”
“No wonder you don’t have friends.”
He nodded. “Tell me about it.”
“You might want to work on those social skills. Oh, and for the record, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t have children.”
He gave what might have been a smile. “Not yet.”
“A teacher and a storyteller, Bill Myers welcomes, disarms, then edifies in this tight and seamless weave of story and truth. It’s innovative, “outside the box,” but that’s why it works so well, bringing the reader profound and practical wisdom, the heart of Jesus, in modern, Everyman terms—and always with the quick-draw Myers wit. Jesus talked to me through this book. I was blessed, and from some of my inner shadows, set free. Follow along. Let it minister.”
—Frank Peretti, New York Times bestselling author of This Present Darkness, The Visitation, and Illusion
“Gritty. Unflinching. In your face. Emotionally wrenching. Rendezvous with God is Bill Myers at the top of his imaginative game. A rip-roaring read you can neither tear yourself away from, nor dare experience without thinking.”
— Jerry Jenkins, New York Times bestseller, novelist, and biographer. Writer of the Left Behind series.
When one of the most creative minds I know gets the best idea he’s ever had and turns it into a novel, it’s fasten-your-seat-belt time. This one will be talked about for a long time.
–Jerry B. Jenkins author of Left Behind
A most fascinating story! Full of heart, suspense and intelligence, The God Hater engagingly illustrates the futility of man made beliefs as well as the world’s desperate need for a God who offers hope, guidance and help.
–Tim LaHaye author of Left Behind
Bill has written another heart wrenching, mind gripping novel that delivers on so many levels. Like the Gospel, The God Hater is more than just a great read. I highly recommend it!
–Doug Fields, Teaching Pastor Saddleback Community Church
Bestselling author of Refuel & Fresh Start
An original masterpiece. ‘The God Hater’ re-opens our eyes to God’s absolute justice and His unfathomable love.
–Dr. Kevin Leman, bestselling author of “Have a New Kid by Friday”
If you enjoy white-knuckle, page-turning suspense, with a brilliant blend of cutting-edge apologetics,The God Haterwill grab you for a long, long time.
–Beverly Lewis, NY Times bestselling author
I’ve never seen a more powerful and timely illustration of the incarnation. Bill Myers has a way of making the Gospel accessible and relevant to readers of all ages. I highly recommend this book.
–Terri Blackstock, NY Times bestselling author
Once again, Myers takes us into imaginative and intriguing depths, making us feel, think and ponder all at the same time. Relevant and entertaining, The God Hater is not to be missed.
— James Scott Bell, bestselling author of Deceived and Try Fear.
“A brilliant novel that feeds the mind and heart, The God Hater belongs at the top of your reading list.”
–Angela Hunt, NY Times bestselling author.
“The God Hater is a rare combination of Christian fiction that is both entertaining and spiritually provocative. It has the ability to challenge your mind as well as move your heart. It has a message of deep spiritual significance that is highly relevant for these times.”
–Paul Cedar, Chairman Mission America Coalition
In this sample section, Nicholas (our atheist curmudgeon) has seen the other philosophies and religions fail within the computer world they’ve created. He now goes against everything he believes and has to speak to the creation from “outside their world” to try and save their community. Alpha 11, who was designed from memories of Nicholas’s dead son, has lost his entire family to a plague carried by rats . . . the direct result of the community’s belief in Eastern mysticism and reincarnation:
Alpha . . .
The voice was as soft as a breeze. Yet so intense it took his breath away. He turned from the heat of his baby’s funeral pyre to see who had spoken. Just six weeks earlier, every burning platform in front of the Grid was in use. Day and night they disposed of the bodies, releasing their spirits in the flames . . . and, for more practical purposes, preventing the rats from eating their remains. But now, with so few left to die, the deaths came less frequently. In fact, he saw only one other person, five or six platforms over. A woman slightly younger than himself, lost in her own grief. She could not possibly be the one who had spoken.
Alpha 11 . . .
Once again he gasped. It came from every direction. Above. Below. Inside.
Taking a moment to summon his courage, he finally spoke. “Who—” His voice caught in his throat. He took another breath and tried again. “Who’s there?” he called.
The woman across the pyres glanced to him, then looked away. She pulled up her shawl and shook off a climbing rat.
Don’t be afraid, Alpha.
The voice was kind, like his own when he spoke to his son. And yet terrifying because it was everywhere.
“Who are you?” he asked.
There was no answer.
He looked up to the sky. “Hello?”
He scanned the grounds, the surrounding hills.
I am your . . . The voice seemed to hesitate. “programmer.”
Alpha’s mind reeled. The answer made no sense. Yet the exhilaration he felt when the voice spoke, the sense of absoluteness that rose up inside him—it was as if everything suddenly had focus . . . meaning.
Seeming to read his thoughts, the voice replied, We programmed your world.
Alpha reached out to steady himself on a branch sticking from the pyre. “What . . .” His mouth was as dry as sand. He was unsure what to say. From someplace far away, he heard himself ask, “What do you want?”
I want you to exercise authority.
Over your world.
“I’m sorry, I don’t . . .”
Look down, Alpha.
He glanced to the ground, to the swarm of gray and brown rats crawling over each other, circling the fire, smelling the flesh of his dead child but unable to approach because of the heat.
Those are what killed your wife. Those are what killed your baby. Exercise your authority over them.
The thought was as astonishing as the voice. “But . . .” he stammered, “they are life, they are sacred.”
No. You are sacred.
You must take charge.
Alpha continued staring at the rodents, his head swimming. Was it possible? Were these creatures the ones responsible for killing his wife? His son? For destroying his community? Yes, they were a nuisance, and yes, they were growing and multiplying by the thousands, but to be responsible for such evil? How could that be? They were a natural part of the world, which was the shadow of a much greater world. Even more shocking, how could he possibly be their superior?
He lifted his gaze to the crackling flames. Maybe he was losing his mind to grief. He’d seen it happen to others.
I am speaking truth, Alpha.
Alpha closed his eyes, trying to comprehend. If this was truth, if he wasn’t going crazy . . . then everything he’d been taught was a lie. Everything the priests had told his wife was wrong. A fabrication that brought about her own death. That killed their own baby. Moisture filled his eyes. He swiped at them and focused on the burning bundle in the center of the flames.
You are a steward of this world.
Could it be? Could he have been so wrong for so long? The moisture continued welling up until it spilled onto his cheeks. They were tears of confusion, tears of grief. And now, as his mind raced through the memories, tears of resentment.
You are sacred because you were programmed to be like us.
He began to tremble. It was slight at first. But it quickly grew.
Emotions roiled inside him, swelled into his chest. He looked down at his foot and saw a rat scampering over it. Defying everything he knew to be holy and true, he angrily kicked it. His foot caught its belly, lifting it into the air, sending it twisting into the flames. It landed, writhing, squealing, then stopped, its body catching fire and burning alongside his child’s. He cringed at the sight, at the pain he’d just inflicted. But instead of rebuke, or threats of retribution, the voice spoke with calm encouragement.
That’s right. Do what I say and take authority. You are the stewards. You are what is sacred.
The tears came faster now. The trembling more violent. How was it possible? To have been so wrong? Another rat approached. He kicked it harder.
Again, no rebuke.
He kicked another. And then another. And another, until he was no longer kicking rats. He was kicking his foolishness. His stupidity. His superstitious ignorance. That’s what killed his family. That’s what destroyed everything he loved.
Across the flames he saw the wavering image of the woman. Her grief no longer allowed her to stand. She had dropped to her knees, sobbing, broken, like so many others he’d seen. And the rats, taking advantage of her position, swarmed around her knees, scampered up her robe, climbing onto her back and shoulders.
Treat one another as though you are sacred. Treat one another as you would treat me.
Now, his entire body shaking, he stepped to his son’s pyre and pulled a burning log from it. Sizing it up in his hands, he looked back to the woman. Then, exploding with a rage he could not contain, he raced toward her, raising the log over his head yelling, roaring.
She looked up, startled, eyes widening in terror. Her mouth opened in a scream, but he could not hear it over his own fury. She barely had time to cover her face before he arrived and began clubbing them. Like a madman, he batted them off her body, hitting one after another, kicking them into the flames, smashing them, crushing their skulls—all the months, all the years of suffering, all the anger focused and unleashed.
He grabbed the woman by the arm, yanking her to her feet, away from the squealing creatures. She screamed. She kicked and clawed and scratched. But she would eventually understand.
If he had not lost his mind, she would understand.
* * * * *
Nicholas reached out and steadied himself against the console. It was one thing to observe the character up on the screen, but to actually communicate with it, to interact with it—that had taken more out of him than he had anticipated.
“That’s it?” Travis asked from beside him. “Do what we say and be stewards? Treat each other like you would treat us? That’s all you’re telling them?”
“It’s enough,” Nicholas replied. “If Alpha is anything like his prototype, he’s a thinker—he’ll expand on the words and adjust them where they’re needed.”
“And that’s all it will take to save their world?” Rebecca asked skeptically.
“If we applied it, it’s all that would be necessary to save our own.”
A moment passed. No one disagreed. He glanced to Annie, who gave him a little nod. Although he knew it was for encouragement, the act irritated him. He didn’t need her approval. He turned back to the screen and watched with the others as the woman collapsed into Alpha, exhausted and sobbing—as Alpha wrapped his protective arms around her, pulling her shawl up over her shoulders.
“It’s okay,” he whispered, “you’ll be all right. You’ll be okay.”
It was a touching scene that no one in the lab dared interrupt.
Finally, Travis cleared his throat and turned to Hugh. “Let’s push it. Let’s fast-forward and see the impact on their future.”
© Copyright, Bill Myers 2010
I can’t wait to read your latest novel. I have really enjoyed your other books and have truly been impacted by them. I am sure Soul Tracker will be no different! Thanks for your gifts.
— CSK Carlsbad, CA
Bill Myers’ novels scratch the itch for readers of adventure stories, then plunge deep into the spiritual questions that mystify all people. He’s in the A League of best-selling authors like Dean Koontz and Clive Cussler. His books puzzle, entertain and inspire–but most importantly, give the reader a warm inner feeling about God and His surprising love for these unruly, unpredictable and flawed creatures known as human beings. Bill just can’t write fast enough to satisfy me, and I am thrilled that his new novel has arrive.
— Tom Dulaney Exton PA
Excellent!! Three weeks ago I underwent a quadruple heart bypass and recovery has been tough but during this time I had a chance to read “Soul Tracker.” What a great story. The characters are alive yet falable. The counter-cultures explored are real. The suspence is the best I’ve read in a long while. And the ending will chill your emotions with fear and faith affirming joy. Just what I needed when I most needed it. What a terrific movie this would make. Do youself a favor, get it, read it; you’ll love it!
— Rick Lambert Baton Rouge, LA.
This is an awesome book! It’s well written and not too complicated. I also like it because it doesn’t end the way you would think. Some books like this seem predictable but this one just blew me away. It kind of reminds me of a Frank E. Peretti book but less confusing. (Don’t get me wrong I love his books too.) I highly recommend this book.
— Brittani Philadelphia, PA
Mr. Myers, I just completed Soul Tracker & I can’t say enough good about it. I wish I were, one, rich enough to buy & put it in the hands of everyone I know; and two, actually make everyone read it!
I am a student of the Bible & and avid reader. There’s only one of your books I’ve not yet read. I must tell you – this is by far the most influential fiction I’ve ever read. Knowing how hard it is to get so many people to read, my first thought was “I wish they’d make a movie out of this”. Next thought was, a movie couldn’t begin to bring the impact like the book.
I found your web site & was so excited to learn that you are involved in films. If I may make a recommendation: Let this book be your first movie.
Thank you for your insight. Thank you for so vividly sharing the Truth. I honestly cannot say enough about this book.
— Barb Frey online review
This is a powerful book, as I think all of Dr. Myers books are. I wish I could get everyone I know, especially my beloved 21-year old son, to read this book and understand. Please thank Dr. Myers and encourage him to continue sharing his gift through more stories that help us out here to understand our Lord. Thank you.
— Judy Harrison online review
I have just completed reading Bill Myer’s wonderful SOUL TRACKER, which is such a powerfully compelling and edifying book that immediately upon finishing that work I went online to purchase copies of his THE FACE OF GOD, BLOOD OF HEAVEN, THRESHOLD and FIRE OF HEAVEN. I shall also now go back online to buy his THE WAGER. Previously his moving work ELI graced me tremendously as well, for which I thank you all for publishing such outstanding books that “bring church” into my otherwise homebound world due to terminal illness.
— Patricia Grace Voss email review
The Light’s power threw Gita to the ground. She covered her face, screaming, but she could not hear herself over the thunderous roar: “HOLY! HOLY! HOLY!”
Like the Light, the words had substance, a reality more real than anything she’d ever experienced.
“HOLY IS THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY!”
Clenching her eyes, she rolled onto her stomach, keeping her face to the floor, covering her head from the awful Light, the terrible booming voices:
“WHO WAS AND IS AND IS TO COME!”
She didn’t know how she got there or how long she could survive. One minute she was in the tunnel, the next she was before this terrifying Light. But it was more than light. And it was more than reality. Every fact, every figure, every certainty she had ever known was only a shadow of this crushing, overpowering Truth.
“HOLY! HOLY! HOLY!”
Power roared from the Light–smashing against her body, sucking air from her lungs. And yet, as terrified as she was . . . she felt an attraction. A compelling. Though it would destroy her, she was drawn to it. Like thirst, like hunger, like needing to breathe. The compulsion spread through her mind, her body, all that she was. This is what she had pursued her entire life. This Perfection. This Absolute.
It had been her passion, her purpose. And if being destroyed by Its power meant her death, then she would be destroyed.
Slowly, she pulled her hands from the top of her head. The Light assaulted her with hurricane force. But it was not wind. It was Truth. A Truth she had to see. Experience.
Shaking, eyes closed, barely able to breathe, she used all of her strength to lift her face from the ground.
The Light pummeled her. But she would not look away. She would open her eyes. She would be overwhelmed, she knew that. But overwhelmed by the only thing she had ever desired. Mustering her will, crying out in terror and exertion, she forced them open.
But the Light was too intense. She could not look into It. She could only look to Its outside edges – around It, below It, above It. High overhead, through the blinding glare, she caught glimpses of giant, multi-winged creatures. A lion, an ox. Another was an eagle, another a man. But instead of skin or hair or feathers, each was covered in eyes. Every part of their bodies, eyes. Always watching, always seeing. These were the creatures who continued shouting:
She’d read of them in the Bible — how they surrounded the throne, how they cried out the same phrase over and over again. Secretly, she had always thought their existence to be boring –flying around shouting the same phrase again and again. But as she watched, she realized how wrong she’d been. These were the most privileged of all creation. Not only did they fly closest to the Light and Its Truth, but the words they shouted were anything but mindless repetition. Instead, each shout, each cry of holiness seemed to come from their amazement, from their utter astonishment. For every time they cried, they saw yet another aspect of the Light, another aspect of Its infinite Truth.
Then, as she continued to stare, a most amazing thing happened. Through the brightness, the form of a Man appeared. Before her eyes, a human being condensed out of the Light and walked toward her. She watched in astonishment.
He continued forward, His eyes blazing with the Light, His feet glowing with Its power. But He was human, definitely human. And it was from that humanness that she felt understanding. More than that, she felt . . . compassion. Truth and power were still very present, but they had reshaped themselves into the form of this Man. And in that reshaping, she no longer felt the terror. Now she felt . . . Love. His Love. It wrapped around her, delighted in her. But it was more than that. It . . . adored her. He adored her, He treasured her . . .
“. . . more than His own life.”
Gita’s head reeled. Though the Light blazed and thundered around her, she was safe. As long as she focused on this Love, on this Man, nothing would harm her.
At last He arrived. But His Love, like the Light, was more than she could endure. Suddenly she was weeping. Deep, gut-wrenching sobs. She didn’t know why – maybe the release of so many emotions, maybe the understanding she no longer had to try, that she was loved regardless — whatever the reason, she could not stop sobbing.
She caught a glimpse of movement. Through her tears she saw the Man kneeling. Kneeling to her! Lowering to join her! The action brought even more tears . . . until she felt His hand brush against her hair and touch her cheek.
She stopped breathing.
He moved his hand to her chin and gently raised her head until their eyes met. To her fear and amazement she saw that His eyes burned with flames of the Light. Of the Light’s Passion. Of It’s intense fervor . . . for her. She could not look away from the flames. They bore into her — penetrating into her thoughts, her emotions — until they reached the very center of who she was, the very soul of Gita Patekar.
Once inside, they began to expose all of her darkness — illuminating every hidden deed, every careless word, every disgusting habit, every act of dishonesty, selfishness, meanness — there seemed no end. And not just her deeds. Thoughts were also exposed–secret hatreds, jealousies, lusts, envy, greed. And, though she was terrified at the revealings, though she cringed in embarrassment . . . she felt no condemnation. Not from the Man. Not from His Love. There was only the complete and total exposure by His all-seeing Light.
Finally He removed His hand from under her chin and stretched it out to her. She hesitated, still trembling in fear, still trying to catch her breath. But He waited. Patiently. For as long as it would take.
At last she placed her hand in His.
Gently, He helped her to her feet. Her knees were weak, her legs wobbly, but with His help she was able to stand. Then, ever so tenderly, He pulled her into an embrace. He wrapped His arms around her and, as He held her, she felt His Light soaking into her, from His heart to hers, filling her body, flooding her mind, returning to those same areas of weakness and failure and embarrassment. But this time, as the Light touched those areas, she felt It dissolving them . . . absorbing them.
Removing them . . .
Suddenly her darkness was replaced with His Light. Where there had been shadow and failure, there was blinding glory. Where there had been shame and embarrassment, there was only His Presence.
At last they separated. Hot tears again streamed down Gita’s face. And, as she looked up into those compassionate eyes of Fire she saw that they, too, were filled with moisture.
He placed an arm around her shoulder and they turned toward the exit. As they started forward, other creatures she had not noticed, some winged, some not, but all glowing with Light, dropped to their knees when they passed. She knew they were kneeling before Him. But because His arm was around her, she somehow suspected they were also kneeling before . . . them.
As they moved for the steps leading to an outside plaza, a question formed in her mind. But before she could even put it into words, she heard His response: We’re going to warn David – to finish answering your prayer.”
Chapter 1: How do I find God’s Will?
How do I find God’s Will?
Howie was going to be a super jock. He had the bod, the brains, and the will. Every day he was at the local batting cage practicing his swing. Every day he’d work on catching flies, fielding grounders, running bases. Finally the first day of tryouts rolled around, and Howie was ready.
Of course, he was a bit surprised when the coach made him put on the helmet and shoulder pads. And a little confused when he was forced to line up facing seven other guys. But that was nothing corn-pared to what he felt when someone in the middle yelled “hike” and a 208-pound mountain of flesh slammed into him, ran up his chest, tap-danced on his head for half an hour, and finally ran down his back to tackle the guy with the ball.
By the time Howie was released from the hospital, the season was practically over. But as I said, the guy was determined. He began practicing his tackling, his passing, his punting. And by the time the next tryout rolled around, Howie was ready.
Of course, he was a little surprised to learn they were holding it in the gym. And he was a little bugged that they made him exchange his pads and cleats for shorts and basketball shoes. But what really ticked Howie off was that the coach threw him out of the game for tackling the guy with the ball. I mean, wasn’t that supposed to be the whole idea?
Needless to say, Howie had a little problem.
It had nothing to do with his strength, his ability, or even his dedication. The problem was that he just didn’t know what game he was playing. He didn’t know the rules.
An absurd story? Of course.
But how many people sign up for this program called “Christianity” without ever really bothering to check out the rules, learn the objectives, or find out what the Coach really wants?
What does God want? Why am I here? What’s the purpose? How can I find God’s will for my life?
Important questions. And in our survey among Christian teens, questions about finding God’s will ranked number one.
So let’s see if we can come up with a few answers.
Why Are We Here?
First of all, we humans were created for one reason: to be friends with God, to have fellowship with Him, to give Him pleasure.
“Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory and
honor and power: for thou hast created all
things, and for thy pleasure they are and were
created.” Revelation 4:11 (KJV, italics added).
We used to give God that pleasure; we used to have that friendship-way back in the beginning, back in the Garden. But it wasn’t too long before we told Him to take a hike, before we made it clear that we wanted to do things our way, not His.
And by doing so we pulled the plug on that special friendship.
And, being the gentleman He is, God stepped aside to let us have our way. It must be tough watching us slowly destroy ourselves with hatred, lust, fear, war.
And it must be unbearable hearing the very ones He created for fellowship use His name only when they’re cussing someone out. But since that’s what we seem to want, God is polite enough to let us have our way.
Still, for those of us who’ve realized that our way may not be the best, for those of us who want to return to that original friendship with God, He has provided a way-Jesus Christ. Jesus acts as a door, a passageway that leads us back into that friendship with God. All we have to do is be willing to walk through. Jesus does the rest. In fact, Jesus himself said,
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me,
he shall be saved.” John 10:9 (NASB).
“I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me.” John 14:6
These are just two of hundreds of verses that make it clear there’s a way to come back to God. Anyone can do it. All you have to do is ask Jesus to take the punishment for your sins and agree to let Him be the boss of your life. It’s that simple.
And for those of us who have made that decision, for those who want to spend life as friends with God (both now and for eternity), the Lord has a very special plan. It’s called,
“Come here, sit on My throne, and rule the universe with Me.”
The Eternal Plan
That’s right. You see, according to the Bible, God’s eternal, long-range plan for His children, for those who’ve chosen to return to Him, is for us to help Him rule the universe. Find that a little hard to swallow? I did. But it’s right there in the Book:
“To him who overcomes, I will give the
right to sit with me on my throne, just as
I overcame and sat down with my Father
on his throne.”
Or how ’bout Romans 8:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit
that we are God’s children. Now if we
are children, then we are heirs-heirs of
God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed
we share in his sufferings in order that we
may also share in his glory.”
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father
has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
“Do you not know that the saints [that’s us]
will judge the world? … Do you not know
that we will judge angels?”
I Corinthians 6:2,3
That’s God’s ultimate plan for us. That’s the object of the game-to share in His glory and to co-rule His universe.
Not with God. You see, that’s the nice thing about having His own universe. He can run it however He wants. He can bless whomever He chooses. And for some reason He has chosen us.
There’s only one snag. We’re not quite ready We need to go through a little renovation, a little repair, a little scrubbing up. The centuries of sin have taken their toll on our bodies, minds, and emotions. Each of us is filled to the brim with fear, guilt, and sin. In short, the bad news is we’re all in one sense or another spiritually sick.
But not for long….
The Lifelong Plan
You see, being a Christian is a lot more than getting to heaven and cashing in on those mansions. God’s love for us is so great that as soon as we say yes to Him, He sets His lifelong plan for us into action.
Which is… ?
“… that you may be mature and complete, not
lacking anything.” James 1:4
God wants to heal us. He wants to clean out and mend all the wounds the world has gouged into us. He wants us free and whole. In short, God wants to make us as complete and fulfilled as we were when He originally made us.
That’s it. That’s all He wants. Despite the rumors, He’s not some ogre with a whip, demanding that we follow a bunch of outdated rules and regulations. He’s not some screaming boot camp sergeant barking out orders to make sure life is unbearable. On the contrary, Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John I0: I0, NASB).
That’s what God wants. He wants us to experience this creation of His, this thing called “life” at its absolute maximum. He wants us to experience the greatest joy, the greatest peace, the greatest love…. He wants us to experience totally complete, totally full, totally ABUNDANT life.
That’s why God hates sin so much. Not because He’s against people having a good time. But because sin steals that life from us. It ties us up. It robs us of enjoying all that we could enjoy, of being all that we could be. Sure, sin may look good on the outside; it may be pleasant to the eye and sweet to the taste. But inside it always has a hook … ALWAYS. And once we swallow that hook it starts to take control. Oh, it’s barely noticeable at first, but gradually it starts to pull and control. And before we know it, sin gets its way-stealing and robbing us of that abundant life God wants us to have.
As we go through the questions in this book, keep in mind that God’s answers are not intended to snuff out our good times. It’s just the opposite. His answers are there to help us enjoy the pleasures of life more deeply He’s on our side. He always wants the best for us. And He loves us so much that He will discipline or even fight us if we try to settle for second rate, for some-thing that will ultimately steal His very best from us.
OK, so God’s eternal plan is for us to share His throne. And His lifelong plan is to make us whole and complete. Fine. But how does that help me decide what 1 should do for a living? Or what classes I should take next semester? Or whether I should go out with sexy Stan with the roving hands?
God’s Immediate Will
Actually, knowing God’s lifelong plan in your life really does help in the making of day-to-day decisions. If you know He wants you 11 mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4), chances are you’ll try to follow that plan.
But if you’re still not I sure, there are six very easy ways to find God’s immediate will in your life-six ways to help you make those day-to-day decisions. And if three or four seem to point in the same direction, chances are that’s the direction you should be heading.
1. READ GOD’S WORD
This is easily the most important way of finding out God’s will. There are several reasons for this importance, but the main one is the incredible power of His Word. Remember, it was with God’s spoken Word that He actually created the universe.
And remember when Jesus and Satan were battling it out during Jesus’ temptation? They didn’t use guns, tanks, or bombs-they didn’t even try to nuke each other. Instead, the Creator of the universe and the most evil force in the universe both knew the most powerful weapon in the universe. They fought with one thing and one thing only: God’s Holy Word, the Bible (Matthew 4: 1 -1 I).
There’s something terribly powerful, something supernatural about God’s Word. First of all, it’s “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Somehow a part of God’s very life is in those words. And since they have His life, as we read and study them, they begin to change us….
Pretty powerful stuff.
As we dwell on God’s Word, we actually find our-selves starting to think more like Him, to act more like Him, and to make the decisions He would have us make.
It’s like hanging around a close friend. We don’t go around consciously trying to imitate each other. But gradually, as we spend more and more time together, we start to think more and more alike. We start saying and doing some of the same things.
That’s the sort of friendship and closeness God is looking for. Not because He’s an egotist and wants a bunch of God-clones walking around. But because He knows that when we think and act like Him, we tend to be much happier.
Unfortunately none of this learning and under-standing happens overnight. There are no pills for instant wisdom, no hot-line numbers for making godly decisions. God does not want mindless puppets. He wants friends. And as we spend time with Him in His Word, that friendship just naturally develops. We begin to naturally think and speak as He does. We begin to naturally develop “the mind of Christ.” And, quite often, we begin to just naturally do what He would have us do.
So if you haven’t started to read God’s Word on a daily basis, do it. If you have, keep it up. It will give you clear guidelines and principles to help you in nearly every area of decision-making.
2. PRAY FOR WISDOM
Another way of finding out God’s will is through prayer:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask
God, who gives generously to all without
finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
That’s quite a promise. And it’s true. Despite what it feels like sometimes, God is not into playing hide-and-seek with His will. Chances are He wants you to know His will even more than you do. So ask.
It’s doubtful you’ll be receiving any “angel-grams” or instructions carved in stone (although both have been known to happen). But somehow, some way, if you’re really serious, He’ll let you know what you should do. It may not be in your timing or in your way-but rest assured, you will know. You have my word on it.
Better yet, you have His.
3. SEEK COUNSEL
As much as you may be convinced that nobody has gone through what you’re going through, chances are you’re wrong. Other people have passed your way- maybe not the exact steps, but close enough. Take advantage of their experiences. Take advantage of their mistakes. That’s one of the reasons God keeps us older Christians puttering around out there-so you can seek our counsel.
If you have a decision to make, talk to your pastor (that’s what he’s there for). Talk to your Sunday school teacher, or youth worker, or some older Christian you respect. In fact (and I know this may sound radical), try talking to your parents. Even they’ve been known to be right from time to time.
4. LISTEN TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
If you are a Christian, remember-you have a bit of God living inside you. Trust His guidance. Trust His nudgings. See if that “still, small voice” inside isn’t encouraging you along a certain path. Sometimes this can be tricky because your “wants” may be so loud they drown out what the Holy Spirit is saying. But if you wait and continue to listen, there’s a good chance you’ll sense what you should do.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he
will guide you into all truth. He will not
speak on his own; he will speak only what
he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to
come.” John 16:13
5. ASK, “DOES IT GLORIFY GOD?”
That’s not a real popular question these days-especially with so many of us human types only looking out for ourselves. But if we were originally created to please God (Revelation 4:1 1), then we’ll only be the happiest when we’re doing just that.
Now, that doesn’t mean we all have to become missionaries or start passing out tracts to every Tom, Dick, or Harriet. But it does mean “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:3 1).
If it’s cutting down trees or cutting out cookies, it’s still possible to do it in a way that will glorify God. Maybe it’s simply your attitude toward God as you’re doing it. Maybe it’s letting Him shine through you to your co-workers. Who knows? But if what you want to do doesn’t glorify God, take a good hard look at it. It may not be what He has in mind.
The last way of determining God’s will is …
6. LOOK AT THE CIRCUMSTANCES
This can be the trickiest of all. Sometimes God
wants us to close our eyes against all the circumstances and just step out blindly in faith. Other times He wants us to look clearly at the facts and make a decision based on them. If I think circumstances are important in making a decision, I’ll write a list of all the pros and cons. Then, only after I’ve put all the other methods to work (studying God’s Word, praying, getting counsel, waiting on the Holy Spirit, and asking if it glorifies God), I’ll make the decision.
These are six easy ways to find out God’s will in day-to-day living. Again, you may not need to use all of them. If three or four seem to point in the same direction, that may be all the confirmation you need.
But whatever you decide, once you’ve waited on the Lord and made your decision, step out and do it. Don’t be so frightened of making a mistake that you do nothing. If you’re wrong, God’s not going to clobber you over the head. He’s on your side, remember?
He may correct, He may change your course, He may even do a little disciplining if necessary. But if you honestly seek His will, you’ll always find it.
If you sincerely seek God’s will in your life, it will be impossible for you to miss it. It’s a promise….
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way
which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with
mine eye.” Psalm 32:8, KJV
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the
LORD.” Psalm 37:23, KJV
“For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.”
COPYRIGHT ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Day 2: Cosmic Connection
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a Loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:41, 42).
Ultimate Word: Read Luke 1:39-80
Mary rushes to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s place, which is about 65 miles away (not exactly an afternoon stroll). When they meet, Elizabeth’s unborn baby leaps for joy as Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and calls Mary the mother of her Lord. Elizabeth tells Mary how fortunate she is, not because she has done anything on her own, but because she has simply taken God completely at His word and trusted Him.
Mary agrees but makes sure the glory goes to the right person. She praises God for choosing her, for His love that encourages the humble, and for the fact that what’s happening isn’t a new plan but the fulfillment of an ancient promise.
A few months later, everyone is pretty excited when Elizabeth gives birth to her son, John. But the neighbors can’t quite swallow the name. A backyard, over-the-fence conversation may have gone something like this:
“What’s with this John stuff? Listen, Zech, don’t you know the firstborn is named after the father? That’s how Jewish people keep the family name going. There’s not a single John in your entire family!”
But Zechariah isn’t about to make the same mistake twice. When the angel Gabriel first told Zechariah that he would be a father, he didn’t believe it so his speech was taken from him. The angel also said to name the son John-which is exactly what Zechariah would do! He writes in no uncertain terms, “His name is John.” And because of this act of faith, he immediately begins to speak and prophesy about coming events.
What an amazing account of God’s faithfulness. Understand that Zechariah could not speak until his actions said, “Yes, I trust You, Lord.” Elizabeth called Mary blessed because Mary said, “Yes, I trust You, Lord.” In contrast, Adam and Eve blew it (and put the world in the mess it’s in) because their actions said, “No, we don’t trust You, Lord.”
How many times a day do we say, “Yes, I trust You, Lord”? God promises us love, peace, and protection: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
But how many times do we fall for Satan’s lies? How many times do we feel that if we don’t fret, fuss, and worry, whatever we want will not work out for the very best? We need to get a clue: These are Satan’s lies!
Don’t let Satan trip you up. Instead, claim the truth
whether you can physically see it at this particular
moment or not. As Jesus says, ‘If you hold to my
teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you
will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Day 3: The King Is Born
“There is born to you this day in the city of David,
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be
the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in
swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11, 12 NKJV
Ultimate Word: Read Luke 2:1-20
It doesn’t seem like a suitable place for the King of kings: the animals, the filth, the smells, the flies, the dusty, scratchy hay-and having a feeding trough, of all things, for a crib! But God, in His infinite love, chooses the hum-blest possible surroundings. No one can accuse Jesus of not knowing hardships and pain.
What’s more, it’s not to the kings, or to the great intellectuals, or even to the celebrities that God sends the ultimate birth announcement. Instead, the Creator of the universe first shares His great joy with simple, humble shepherds. (Apparently high positions don’t impress Him too much.) Suddenly, the sky splits apart with “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” and promising peace on earth to those who please Him (Luke 2:13 NASB).
Meanwhile, Mary remains as obedient as ever, despite the fact that her world has been incredibly shaken. Instead of looking at the stigma of being an unwed mother, she keeps her eyes fixed on God’s faithful love and says, “I am the Lord’s servant.”
Are our eyes fixed on God’s faithful love? Can we see beyond our problems to His love? If you’re having trouble with that, keep in mind that part of His love involved coming all the way down to our level to live in this dirty, sin-infested world in the person of His Son. Let’s move in closer and get a better look at this Son…
No beauty. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
No reputation. The Bible describes Jesus as one who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7).
No sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
the inside out. His eyes radiate with unlimited peace;
His smite speaks of incomprehensible joy. Most of all,
His heart beats with boundless love.
your fears or blab your secrets. Instead, He’ll be
the greatest, most loyal friend you’ll ever have.
become the planet’s most popular guy or gal,
without Christ ifs all pretty empty and pointless.
Through your Bible study, praise times, and
prayers, let Jesus show you the meaning of true
acceptance, true fulfillment, and true hope.
Day 4: Boy Savior
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and
his answers (Luke 2:46,47).
At age 12, a Jewish boy becomes more responsible for his actions. No longer can he get by with saying, “Hey, I’m just a kid” or “I didn’t know any better.” Jesus is 12, nearly 13, when He goes to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem with His parents. Jerusalem is about 65 miles from Nazareth, so after the seven-day festival, Mary and Joseph join a caravan (it’s usually safer to travel in a large group) and head home. As a rule, the women leave earlier in the morning because they walk slower and have children to contend with. Then the men leave, and the two groups meet and camp together in the evening.
During the journey, Mary probably figures Jesus is with Joseph, while Joseph figures He’s with her. It’s quite a shock when they get together in the evening and discover. He isn’t with either of them! Mary and Joseph comb the camp looking for Him, then spend three days searching the streets of Jerusalem. They hit all the festival attractions that should interest a boy of Jesus’ age. The last place they’d expect to find Him is in the temple. But there He is, politely listening and asking questions of the top teachers and amazing all of them with His solid insights and answers.
Mary is naturally upset and asks Jesus why He’s being so inconsiderate.
Jesus’ response? “Why were you searching for me?… Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
These are the earliest words of Jesus quoted in the New Testament. Before this time, no one had ever used the term “My Father” as Jesus had. No one had ever referred to the Creator in such a personal, intimate way. If we reread Jesus’ words, we discover two things about our young Messiah:
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26,27).
John the Baptist is drawing such a crowd that the religious hotshots figure they’d better pay a little visit to check him out. Keep in mind that everyone is waiting for the Messiah to appear. The Savior of Israel has been promised by God for thousands of years, so the crowd is expecting Him to make His debut any minute. It’s little wonder, then, that the first question out of the authorities’ mouths is, “Are you the Christ?”
John’s answer couldn’t be clearer: “No way!”
Next they ask if he is Elijah, the Old Testament prophet who was whisked up to heaven hundreds of years ago (a guy many thought would come back to announce the Christ).
Again John says no.
Next, they ask if he’s the prophet (somebody a lot of folks also thought would be showing up).
In desperation, they throw out the true-or-false quiz and get right to the point: “Who are you?”
He answers by quoting from Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who spent a lot of time writing about the coming Messiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23). In other words, “It’s my job to tell you to straighten out your lives because God’s on His way!”
At this point, the bigwigs are getting a little hot under the collar. They came to grill John, not to be preached at. So they demand to know, “If you’re just a nobody, then who do you think you are baptizing all these people? Who gave you the authority?”
John gives them an answer, but not the one they’re expecting. He says that standing right there among them is somebody they don’t know-somebody whose sandals he’s not even fit to untie.
For what it’s worth, John’s not talking about being a shoe salesperson here. Untying sandals was considered such a low-level job that only slaves were supposed to do it. So John makes it pretty clear that he’s not out there on some ego trip. Instead, he’s there to prepare the people for somebody else-somebody he’s not even fit to be a slave to.
Needless to say, he’s got everyone’s attention.
It had to be a pretty strange sight. John the Baptist was out roasting in the desert, wearing camel-hair clothing, eating locusts and wild honey, and telling people they’d better get their acts together because God was on His way Yet there was something about John the Baptist that people were taking seriously. He struck a universal chord-one that still rings true today. He hit upon an intangible feeling of guilt, a deep-rooted sense that somehow humanity has failed. More importantly, the people of the world needed to find a way to wash themselves from these failures-to be cleansed from these sins.
John the Baptist was pointing to the answer: Jesus Christ.
Give up the performance trap. Following the Letter of the Law and trying to be a good person won’t bring you Life. Only God’s Love and mercy can do that.
Stop reliving old sins. And stop thinking that you just can’t cut it as a Christian. If you’ve confessed
your sins to Jesus and have committed our Life to Him, you are forgiven and free! Not only free
from punishment, but if you Let Him, He can actually free you from sinning! That’s definitely ultimate life!
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending Like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16,17 NKJV).
John the Baptist can’t believe what he’s hearing. His cousin Jesus just asked to be baptized by him. Imagine that!
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John asks.
Jesus isn’t kidding, He means what He says: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus knows He doesn’t need to be cleansed, but He points out that He needs to identify fully with the people to whom He was sent. What’s more, His Father has chosen this occasion to publicly declare that Jesus is the Son of God: “This is my Son, whom I love,” God’s voice booms from heaven, “with him I am well pleased.” It’s a moment that will live forever. Heaven opens, the Father speaks, and the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. It’s the first time since Creation that God publicly reveals His amazing nature: Three persons in one-the Father (the voice), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove); all three forms, yet only one God.
Now for the obvious question: “How can one God be in three forms?” This is a biggie. It’s a question that’s given mankind headaches for centuries (probably because of our limited capacity to comprehend). One good way to understand God is by looking at a man.
A man can be a son to his parents, a father to his children, and a husband to his wife. He’s all three things at once, but he’s still one person. We have one God, but He’s three persons.
Another way of tackling this question is by taking a look at water (H² 0). Even though it can be found in three separate forms-ice, liquid, steam-it will always remain H² 0. The same is true of God. He can take on three forms, but He will always remain one God.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him
and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes
away the sin of the world! This is the one I
meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after
me has surpassed me because he was before me’.”
“Look, the Lamb of God!”
At first, John the Baptist’s description of the Lord seems a bit strange to the ear. After all, he could have said, “Look, the Creator of the universe! It’s God-the one and only. Drop to your knees, folks; it’s supreme ruler time!” But John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses an interesting word picture-a lamb-when he introduces Jesus. John the Baptist knows the Master’s plan, and he doesn’t want anyone to miss it.
If John insists upon comparing Jesus to an animal, why not: “Behold, the Roaring Lion” or “Behold, the Soaring Eagle”? Why some ninth-rated animal like a baby sheep?
First of all, it was lambs that were used in the temple sacrifice. Every day a lamb was killed in the morning, then another in the evening to pay for people’s sins. This sounds pretty cruel, but keep in mind that sin is pretty cruel. In fact, it’s deadly-and somebody has to pay for it. Arid, as unfair as it seems, it’s better that an animal pay with its life than a human.
So, in one sense, John is saying, “Look, this is the Lamb God has supplied. This is the one who will suffer and die in our place for all our sins.”
Another reason the analogy works is that the blood from lambs is what saved the people of Israel just before the exodus, when they were getting ready to leave Egypt. Remember? Despite all the miracles God was performing through Moses, Pharaoh would not let the Israelites leave. So finally, to get His point across, God made plans to wipe out all of the firstborn in the country There was one problem: The Israelites had a few firstborn, too. How could they be protected while God carried out His judgment on the Egyptians?
The solution was simple. To be saved, the Israelites were to kill lambs and smear their blood over their doors. Later that night, when the Angel of Death went from house to house to kill the firstborn, he’d see the blood over the Israelites’ doorways and literally pass over the homes that were covered by the blood.
It’s Jesus’ blood that saves us from eternal death.
Pause for a moment and consider John the Baptist’s
message. In essence he is saying, “Look, here’s
someone who will take all of your sins-every failure,
everything you’ve ever done wrong-and dispose of
them forever. He will take all that guilt, all that
blame upon Himself. He will take the punishment
that should be yours so you can be clean, so you
can be free.”
Do you believe the Master’s plan? Jesus came to take away your sins so you can Live forever. He is the only answer to your sin dilemma. He is the one through whom you can experience grace. Eternal Life is yours for the asking …. But you have to ask.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Somehow we may have gotten the impression that once we became Christians, life would be a piece of cake. No problems, no headaches?-we just sort of sit back and cruise to heaven.
Nice idea, but not exactly what the Lord has in mind. Instead of sitting nice and cozy up in the bleachers, chowing down on hot dogs and popcorn, we suddenly find ourselves down on the track, working out!
Trials come. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little irritations to mega-heartaches. They seem baffling, confusing. You may even find yourself falling into the ol’, “If God really loves me, why is He letting this happen to me?” routine.
And that’s the answer:
God lets all those things happen to you because He loves you.
That’s right. You see, you only own one thing that’s eternal. You’re only taking one thing to heaven: yourself. That’s it. The cars, the grades, the relationships, the jobs?-none of those things count in the long run.
People. You and me. We’re the only things that are important, the only things that are eternal.
So God takes that one important element, you, and begins to give you a workout?-to exercise and to build your muscles, to run you around the track again and again and again some more. And then-? when you’re sure you can’t take another step? -He gives you one more lap. Not because He’s some sort of dictator, but because He loves you.
In the end He wants you to really be happy, to “be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
But James doesn’t let it go at that. He doesn’t just say, “OK, guys, try your best not to complain or mutter when trials come your way.” He actually takes it a step further. His command us to:
“Consider it pure joy.”
He’s got to be kidding!
Nope. You see, there’s some sort of truth here that he’s trying to clue us in on. If, as Christians, we could begin to look on pain as actually being something that’s good for us-?as an athlete does when he’s working out-?if we could begin to understand that tough times are not supposed to flatten us, but that they are suppose to strengthen us and help us become winners, then we could see things from a totally different perspective.
We could actually begin to welcome pain. Or, as the Bible says, “always giving thanks for all things” (Ephesians 5:20, NASB). We could really begin to understand that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB).
Life isn’t always a piece of cake. In fact, sometimes it can be a real pain. The trick is to figure out how the hard times can help you, how they can make you better, how they can make you more like Jesus, “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
–What tough stuff are you going through?
–How could God use it to make you more like Jesus? (The trick is not to ask why something’s happening, but how God can use it).
–Try worshipping Him and thanking Him — not for the hard stuff, but that He’s still in charge and will somehow use that hard stuff “to work together for the good” if you hang in there and love Him.
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 4 (books 10-12)
Ancient Forces Collection
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1998 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Myers
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The eagle soared through the clear blue sky. Sleek and beautiful, it rose higher and higher. Suddenly it dipped and dived, screaming through the air like a jet fighter.
Rebecca Williams watched in delight as the wonderful creature swooped low toward the ground. Then, at the last second, it pulled up and sailed high into the sky in a graceful arc.
And what a sky. Becka’s delight changed to wonder as she saw that the sky had taken on a dark, purplish hue. But what really mesmerized her was the weird geometric pattern covering the sky: lines, triangles, and squares swirled in a concentric pattern that made them impossible to distinguish from one another. And yet the pattern was strong and focused, making an instant imprint on her mind.
The eagle’s harsh cry rang out across the horizon, distracting Becka from the pattern in the sky.
“Becka! Be careful!”
She turned to see Ryan Riordan shouting and running toward her. She looked back at the eagle. Now it was diving toward her. She threw her hands in front of her face and darted to the left. But the eagle did not follow. It swooshed past her, heading directly for Ryan.
She turned and saw Ryan’s mouth open. He lifted his hand to protect his face. He began to scream, but it was too late. The sharp, leathery talons slashed at his neck and —
“Noooo!” Becka woke up with a start. Sweat dampened her face, and her breath came in gasps.
Before she could get her bearings she heard, “Will you stop all that whimpering?”
She spun around to see Scott, her younger brother. She was about to yell at him for being in her room when she realized that she wasn’t in her room at all. In fact, she wasn’t even in her house. She had been napping on a plane.
A plane heading for New Mexico.
“Honey, are you all right?” Mom looked at her from the seat next to Scott’s, her face showing concern.
“I’m okay,” Becka said, wiping the perspiration from her forehead. “I just had . . . It was only a dream.”
“Must have been pretty weird,” Scott said. “You were making all kinds of noise.”
“It was an eagle,” Becka explained. “A huge one. It flew right at me and then wound up attacking Ryan.”
Scott held her gaze a moment. There was no missing the trace of concern in his eyes. This had happened before. Her dreams. Usually they had something to do with an upcoming adventure. Finally, he shrugged. “You’re just worried about the trip.”
She could tell he was trying to reassure her. “Yeah. It’s just . . .”
He glanced back at her. “Just what?”
“This whole assignment.” She hesitated, then continued, “Doesn’t it seem a little stranger than the others?”
Scott gave a half smirk. “Stranger than fighting voodoo in Louisiana?”
Becka said nothing.
“Or tracking down make-believe vampires in Transylvania? Or facing down demons in Los Angeles?”
Becka took a deep breath. Okay, so he had a point. Life had become pretty incredible. Still . . .
“What are you guys talking about?” It was Ryan, Becka’s sort-of boyfriend. He had turned around from the seat ahead of them and was grinning.
Becka felt a wave of relief. She knew she’d been dreaming, but it was still good to see him and know he was all right. Come to think of it, it was always good to see Ryan Riordan. If not because of their special friendship, then because of the gentle warmth she always felt inside when they were together.
“We were talking about this trip,” Scott said. “Becka’s afraid this one is stranger than the others.”
Ryan’s smile faded. “What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Just a feeling, I guess.”
“At least we get to stay in a fancy hotel again,” Scott said. “What’s it called? The Western Ground on the Cliff?” He leaned back, folding his hands behind his head. “Sounds pretty hoitytoity to me. Like one of those expensive, something-on-thesomething hotels in Beverly Hills.”
“I’m just glad to be going this time,” Ryan said. “I went crazy when you guys were in L.A.”
Becka was glad he was with them too.
“Well, Becka’s right about one thing,” Scott admitted. “Something’s definitely up. Z never sends us out on boring assignments, that’s for sure.”
Becka and Ryan both nodded in agreement. Z was their friend from the Internet. He’d sent them to help people all over the world. And yet, to this day, Scott and Becka had no idea who Z really was. Not that they hadn’t tried to find out . . . but somehow, someway, their attempts had always met with failure. Z’s identity remained a mystery.
“Actually,” Ryan said with a grin, “I’m pretty excited to be visiting an Indian tribe. I mean, I’ve always liked reading about Native American culture. I think they’re a noble people who got a raw deal.”
Rebecca nodded. “Taking their land was a wrong that we’ll never fully repay. Kinda like slavery. And you’re right about their culture. They’ve got a real respect for nature.”
“I suppose,” Scott said. “But aren’t some tribes really involved in weird spiritual stuff? You know, like shamanism and séances and visions?”
Ryan nodded slowly. “But some of that is in the Bible.” “So?” Scott asked.
“So they must have some truth to them.”
“There’s some truth in everything,” Scott countered. “That’s the devil’s favorite trick . . . a little truth, a lotta lie.”
Before Ryan could answer, Becka called out, “Wow! Look down at that canyon!”
Mom and Scott crowded in close to her so they could see out the window. There below them lay a beautiful canyon, its cliff walls shimmering red, yellow, and purple in the sunset.
The captain’s voice sounded over the loudspeaker. “Well, folks, we’re beginning our descent into Albuquerque. Please fasten your seat belts. We should be on the ground in just a few minutes.”
On the ground far below the plane, an Indian brave ran through the desert. Above him, the huge canyon walls towered and rose toward the sky. Beside him, a river flowed, its power thundering and cutting into the rock and sandstone.
Swift Arrow ran because he wanted to crest the hill at the far end of the canyon in time to see the sunset. As he neared the top, he could see the bright yellow sun dipping behind the mountain ahead. When he arrived, he raised his hands to the sky and called, “Father, you are the master creator. I praise you for the beauty you have made.”
Far in the distance, a rumble caught his attention. He turned and looked behind him. Dark clouds were beginning to gather. A storm was brewing. Suddenly a great lightning bolt cut through the sky and then another and another. Jagged lines seemed to fill the sky, forming triangles and squares, all arranged in a swirling, concentric pattern . . .
Swift Arrow stared as the light from the bolts faded, his heart beginning to pound in fear. He’d seen that sign in the sky before. He lowered his head and began to pray. “Lord, deliver my people from their bondage. Free them from the snares of a thousand years. Help them to see beyond the old legends, the old fears, the ancient beliefs. Help them see your truth.”
Another burst of light startled him, and he raised his head just in time to see the remainder of its jagged tail slice through the sky.
Swift Arrow grimaced as a mixture of fear and concern swept over him.
— Becka lurched forward in her seat as the Jeep roared across the bumpy desert road. It had been nearly three hours since they’d boarded the vehicle at the Albuquerque airport. And judging by the bruises she was accumulating and the perpetual look of discomfort on Mom’s face in the front seat, it was about two hours and fifty-nine minutes too long.
Of course, Scott and Ryan enjoyed every bone-jarring bounce and buck. They were busy having a great time. Red rock formations rose all around, high into the bright blue sky. To the left of the vehicle, three colossal boulders, each about three stories high, balanced on top of each other. To their right, a fivehundred- foot butte jutted upward, its smooth, flat top a stark contrast to its jagged sides. In the distance rose a vast range of peaks. Their driver pointed to those peaks, saying, “The village is in the middle of that mountain range. I can drive you most of the way up, but you’ll have to go the last few miles on foot. No one can reach Starved Rock by car or truck.”
“You want us to climb those peaks?” Scott asked in alarm.
“Are you kidding?”
The driver laughed. “It’s not that hard, boy. And it won’t take you too long. Come Saturday, I’ll be waiting at the drop-off point to pick you up. Noon sound all right?”
Mom nodded. “That should give us enough time to make our flight, Mr. Doakey.”
The driver grinned. “Just call me Oakie. Everyone else does.”
“Oakie?” Scott asked.
“Sure, when your last name is Doakey, what else would you expect?”
“Oakie Doakey?” Scott laughed. “That’s good.” He threw Ryan a look, but Ryan didn’t seem to notice.
Becka frowned. Ryan had spent most of the ride in silence, his attention focused on the scenery. When he had spoken, it was in a soft and reverent voice — almost as though he were inside a huge church. Granted, he seemed peaceful and relaxed. But he also seemed preoccupied — as if he wasn’t entirely there. Becka wasn’t sure why this made her uncomfortable. Maybe it was just jealousy. After all, she was used to being the focus of much of Ryan’s attention. But deep inside, she knew that wasn’t it. Something else was bothering her . . .
She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she could swear something was happening. Something . . . unnatural. Try as she might, she couldn’t stop the feeling from rising up inside her. Something was wrong.
They’d been in New Mexico for only a few hours, but already she knew something was very wrong.
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 4
“Nothing I’ve seen provides better spiritual equipment for today’s youth to fight and win the spiritual battle raging around them. Every Christian family should have the whole set.” C. Peter Wagner, Fuller Theological Seminary.
“There is a definite need for these books. Bill fills the need with comedy, romance, action, and riveting suspense with clear teaching. It’s a nonstop page-turner.” Robin Jones Gunn, author, Christy Miller series.
Winner of the C.S. Lewis Honor Award/Nearly 400,000 Forbidden Doors books sold.
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 3 (books 7-9)
Deadly Loyalty Collection
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1997 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1997 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1997 by Bill Myers
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
There was an ominous clunk under the Boeing 737. Rebecca Williams stiffened, then glanced nervously at her younger brother, Scott. He sat on her left next to the window. Although he was her “little” brother, he would pass her in height before long. He had a thin frame like Becka’s.
“It’s just the landing gear coming down,” he said, doing his best to sound like an experienced air traveler.
Becka nodded. She took a deep breath and tried to release her sweaty grip on the armrests. It didn’t work. She didn’t like flying. Not at all. Come to think of it, Becka didn’t like the whole purpose of this trip.
Who did Z, the mysterious adviser on the Internet, think she was, anyway? What was he doing sending her and her brother off to Louisiana to help some girl caught up in voodoo? Granted, they’d had lots of experience battling the supernatural lately. First, there was the Ouija board incident at the Ascension Bookshop. Becka could never forget how Scott battled that group of satanists! They wanted revenge after Becka exposed Maxwell Hunter, the reincarnation guru. And let’s not forget the so-called ghost at Hawthorne mansion, the counterfeit angel, and that last encounter with a phony UFO.
But voodoo in Louisiana? Becka didn’t know a thing about voodoo. She barely knew anything about Louisiana.
Fortunately Mom had an aunt who lived in the area, so she’d insisted on coming along with them to visit her. Becka looked forward to seeing her great-aunt once more.
Becka looked to her right, where her mother rested comfortably, her eyes closed. Good ol’ Mom. Maybe the trip would do her some good. Ever since Dad died she’d been fretting and working nonstop. This trip just might give her the rest she needed.
Clunk . . . clunk . . . brang!
Then again . . .
It was the same sound, only louder. Becka looked to Scott, hoping for more reassurance. “What’s that clunking?” she asked.
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know, but it’s the brang that bothers me.”
So much for reassurance.
Suddenly the intercom came on. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. There seems to be a problem with the landing gear . . .”
The collective gasp from the passengers did little to help Becka relax.
“I’ve radioed ahead for emergency measures . . .”
Becka felt her mother’s hand rest on top of hers. She turned to Mom.
“Don’t worry,” Mom said. “We’ll be all right.”
Don’t worry?! Yeah, right.
The pilot’s voice resumed. “The ground crew is going to spray the runway with foam.”
“Foam?” Scott exclaimed. “Does he mean like shaving cream?”
“I’ll advise you as the situation develops,” the pilot continued. “Please try to remain calm.”
The sound had grown steadily louder.
Becka looked past Scott out the window. They were flying low over New Orleans and dropping fast. As the plane suddenly banked to the left, she saw the airport and immediately wished she hadn’t. Several large tankers sprayed foam on the runway. Fire trucks and ambulances were everywhere.
Now it was the head f light attendant’s turn to be on the intercom. “Please make sure your seat belts are fastened securely across your lap. Then bend over as far as you can in the seat, keeping your head down. Hold a pillow to your face with one hand, and wrap your other arm around your knees.”
Becka fought the fear down as she glanced at her mother. Mom had her eyes shut. Becka wondered if she was praying. Not a bad idea.
Another attendant hurried through the aisle, passing out pillows. She tried to appear calm but failed miserably.
The plane banked back to the right. Becka laid her face down on the pillow in her lap and gave her seat belt another tug.
The intercom buzzed once more with the pilot’s voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land on the foam . . . Please hold on.”
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “That’s just the landing gear . . . I’ll keep trying it as we come in.”
Becka remained hunched over with her face on the pillow. She could feel the plane dropping, and still the landing gear was not coming down. They were going to land with no wheels!
She glanced at Scott, who stared back at her from his pillow.
He tried to force an encouraging grin, but there was no missing the look of concern on his face.
She turned to look at Mom. Her eyes were still closed. Becka hoped that she continued to pray.
Becka’s thoughts shot to Ryan Riordan, her boyfriend back home. If she died, how would he handle the news? And what about her friends — Julie, Krissi, and Philip? How would they handle it? She also thought of Dad — of perhaps seeing him soon. Too soon. It was this final thought that jolted her back to the present and caused her to pray. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see Dad again. She just had a few more things to do first.
CLUNK-CLUNK-BRAAANG! CLUNK-CLUNK-BRAAANG!! CLUNK-CLUNK-CLUNK-DAARRRRREEEEEEEE . . .
Something was different!
The plane veered sharply upward. Becka couldn’t resist the temptation to sit up and glance out the window.
The pilot spoke once more. “Ladies and gentlemen, the landing gear has engaged. We are out of danger. I repeat. We are out of danger. We will land on a different runway in just a few moments.”
“Thank you, Lord,” Mom whispered. She sounded relieved as she sat up, then reached over and hugged both of her children. “Thank you . . .”
Becka breathed a sigh of relief as she joined the applause of the other passengers. They were safe. At least for now. But all the same, she couldn’t help wondering if this was some sort of omen — a warning of the dangers that were about to begin. The three o’clock bell at Sorrento High rang. Throngs of kids poured out of the old, weathered building. One fifteen-year-old girl slowed her pace as she headed for the bus. No one talked to her. Her clothes were more ragged than most. They were too shabby to be fashionable and too conservative to be alternative.
Sara Thomas had never fit in. She had never felt like she belonged, no matter where she was. As she approached the school bus and stepped inside, she steeled herself, waiting for the taunts.
None came. Just the usual after-school chatter.
Carefully she took a seat, stealing a glance to the rear of the bus. Ronnie Fitzgerald and John Noey were engrossed in a tattoo magazine.
Maybe they’d forget about her today.
With a swoosh and a thud, the door closed. The bus jerked forward.
Maybe today would be different.
Then again, maybe not. They had traveled less than a mile when it began . . .
“Hey, Rags, you shopping at Goodwill or the Salvation Army these days?”
Sara recognized Ronnie’s shrill, nasal voice. “Hey! I’m talking to you.”
She didn’t turn around. “I heard Goodwill’s got a special on those cruddy, stained sweaters you like so much,” John Noey said snidely.
Before she could catch herself, Sara glanced down at the brown chocolate stain on her yellow sweater.
The boys roared.
“Is that from a candy bar or did your dog do a number on it?” Ronnie shouted.
Most of the others on the bus smirked and snickered. A few laughed out loud.
Sara stared out the window as the taunts continued. As always, she tried to block out the voices. And, as always, she failed. But not for long. Soon, she thought. Soon they’ll pay. They’ll both pay. She reached into her purse and clutched the tiny cloth-andstraw doll. Already she was thinking about her revenge.
And already she was starting to smile.
— Aunt Myrna’s farmhouse was simple but clean. The furniture inside was made mostly of dark wood. The chairs looked like they’d been there a hundred years . . . and could easily last another hundred.
After Becka dropped her bags off in the small attic room that she would be using, she headed down to the kitchen, grabbed an apple out of the fruit basket, and strolled out to the front porch. As the screen door slammed, she vaguely heard Aunt Myrna telling Mom something about a farmhand named John Garrett who was supposed to drop by.
It was hot and humid, which reminded her of her childhood days in South America. Several months had passed since Dad’s death and their move from Brazil back to California. But the humidity and the smells of the rich vegetation here in Louisiana sent her mind drifting back to the Brazilian rain forests.
Unlike California, everything in Louisiana was lush and wild. Plant life seemed to explode all around. And the water. There was water everywhere — lakes, ponds, and marshes. Although most of the area around the bayou was swamp, even the dry land never really felt dry. Still, it was beautiful.
Even surrounded by beauty, Becka felt nervous. Very nervous. Z had given them so little information. Just that a young girl named Sara Thomas lived in the area and that she was in serious trouble — caught up in some kind of voodoo. Z had also stressed that Becka and Scott were not to be afraid.
“Your training is complete,” he had said. “Go in his authority.”
His authority. God’s authority. Becka had certainly seen God work in the past. There was no denying that. But even now as she looked around, she felt a strange sense of — what? Apprehension? Uncertainty?
During the other adventures, she had always been on her home turf. But being in a strange place, helping somebody she didn’t even know . . . it all made her nervous. Very nervous.
The late afternoon sun shimmered on the vast sea of sugarcane before her as she sat on the steps. Wind quietly rippled through the cane, making the stalks appear like great scarecrows with arms beckoning her to come closer. Closer. Closer . . .
Something grabbed her hand.
Becka let out a gasp and turned to see a small goat eight inches from her face. It gobbled the last of her apple.
“Aunt Myrna!” she shrieked. “There’s an animal loose out here!”
“He won’t bother you none.”
Becka turned, startled at hearing a voice come from the field of sugarcane. She tried to locate the source of the voice while keeping one eye on the goat in case he decided to go for a finger or two.
A young African-American man suddenly walked out of the field. Becka guessed that he was about seventeen. He was tall, lean, and handsome, in a rugged sort of way.
He nodded to the goat. “That’s Lukey. He’s more pet than farm animal.” He entered the yard and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Try scratching his nose. He likes that.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Rebecca said quickly. “I’d rather not just now.” Then, rising to her feet, she said, “You must be John Garrett. Aunt Myrna said you’d be coming.”
The young man nodded. “Miss Myrna said I should be showing you and your brother around the place some.”
“So let’s get started,” Scott said, appearing suddenly in the doorway. “Wow. Cool goat. C’mere, boy.” He crossed to the animal. It rubbed its head against his arm. “Hey!” Scott looked up with a broad smile. “He likes me!”
“He likes everybody,” John Garrett said, already turning back toward the field. “We better get started if we’re going. The foreman’s called a meeting of us farmhands. It should be starting pretty soon.”
Scott went to walk beside John. Becka fell in behind.
In seconds the two boys were hitting it off. Becka could only marvel. Her brother got along with everybody. In fact, when they’d moved to California, he fit in like he’d always been there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy for Becka to make friends. She figured that was partly why she felt so uncomfortable about this trip. She didn’t like the idea of barging into a total stranger’s life, even if they were supposed to help her.
But that was only part of the reason. There was something else: a feeling. It felt eerie . . . like something she couldn’t quite explain but couldn’t shake off.
“John,” she called, trying to sound casual, “do you know anything about voodoo?”
He glanced back at her and laughed. “Not much. ‘Cept my grandpa used to speak Gumbo all the time.”
“Gumbo?” she asked.
“It’s kind of a mesh of African dialects. A lot of the people into voodoo speak it. But you really got to be careful who you talk to about voodoo around these parts.”
“Why’s that?” Scott asked.
“Lots of folks believe in it, and if you upset them, they’d just as soon drop a curse on you as look at you.”
Becka felt a tiny shiver run across her back. “A curse? Does stuff like that really happen?”
“Oh yeah. I heard about this woman who lived down the road from my father. She made an old mambo mad, and the mambo put a curse on her.”
“Mambo?” Scott echoed with a snort. “Sounds like some kind of dance step.”
John shot him a knowing look. “They’re like high priestesses. And they’re nothing to mess with.”
“So what happened to this woman?” Scott asked.
“I heard she suddenly died in horrible pain.”
“That’s awful!” Becka shuddered. “Did you ever see her?”
John shook his head. “My father’s cousin said he did, though. Not only that, I also heard about an old man who refused to pay the hungan for helping him get back his wife.” At Scott’s raised eyebrows John explained. “A hungan is like the male version of a mambo — the high priest. The man who wouldn’t pay carried a powerful root with him at all times so the hungan couldn’t work magic on him while he was alive. The root was like a good-luck charm. But when he died and they took him to the morgue, his body started shaking all over the place. And when they cut him open, they found he was full of scorpions!”
“Come on — scorpions?” Scott scoffed.
But Becka was not scoffing. In fact she felt more uneasy by the moment. “How about him?” she asked. “Did you see him?”
John shook his head again. “No, that happened before I was born. I know it sounds crazy, but some of this curse stuff might be true.”
Scott shook his head, his face filled with skepticism. “I don’t know. Sounds pretty fantastic to me. Like something out of a B movie.”
“Maybe so,” John continued. “But one thing I do know, and that’s to never cross Big Sweet. I’ve heard his magic’s powerful.”
“Who’s Big Sweet?” Scott asked.
“You don’t know who Big Sweet is? He’s Miss Myrna’s foreman. He’s head of the harvest crew. Been picking sugarcane all his life. That’s why they call him Big Sweet.”
“Why’s he so dangerous?” Becka asked.
“He’s the local hungan. People say his father was a disciple of Marie Leveau. She’s called the Queen of Conjure. She was a powerful mambo who used to live in the French Quarter of New Orleans.”
“And you’re afraid of him?” Becka asked.
“Everybody’s afraid of Big Sweet.” John turned back to Becka. There was something about his look that caused a cold knot to form deep in her stomach. “Everybody’s afraid . . . and you’d better be too.”
Suddenly a horn bellowed across the fields. John spun toward the sound, looking startled.
“What’s that?” Scott asked.
The other boy started moving away from them toward the sound. Becka and Scott exchanged concerned glances. John was clearly very nervous. “That’s Big Sweet’s horn,” he said. “It’s his conch shell. The meeting’s starting. I gotta go.”
“What about showing us the farm?” Scott called as John moved away.
“I can take you into the swamp tomorrow after chores. But I gotta go now.”
“Yeah, but — ”
“Look, I can’t be late. I gotta go.” With that he disappeared into the cane.
“John!” Scott called. “Hey, John! Hold on a minute!” But there was no answer.
Scott turned to Becka. She knew her expression held the same concern she saw in her brother’s face. The horn continued to bellow. Finally Becka cleared her throat. “I . . . uh . . . I guess we’d better head back.”
“Yeah. I can’t wait to get the lowdown on all this stuff from Z tonight. I’ll bet he knows about this Big Sweet guy.”
“And Sara Thomas,” Becka reminded him.
“Right,” Scott said. “But the more we learn about Big Sweet, the faster we’ll be able to blow him away.”
“Blow him away?” Becka felt herself growing impatient with her brother. “Come on, Scotty. You sound like a Schwarzenegger movie.”
“That’s me!” Scott threw a few mock karate kicks. “Scott Williams, Demon Terminator.”
“Scott, this isn’t a joke.”
“What’s the matter? Afraid Big Sweet may slap a curse on you?”
“Afraid he might hatch a lizard in your ear or give you a monkey face? Hmmm, looks like somebody’s already done that.”
“Come on, Beck — lighten up!” Then, looking across the field, his face lit up with an idea. “Let’s save ourselves a little time and take a shortcut through the cane.”
Becka began to protest, but her brother had already started out. And there was one thing about Scott — when he made up his mind to do something, there was no stopping him. With a heavy sigh, she followed.
The stalks of cane towered over their heads. Becka knew that Scott was right about one thing. By taking this shortcut they’d get back to the house a lot faster. And with all the uneasiness she had been feeling out there, especially now that they were alone . . . well, the sooner they got home, the better.
Unfortunately, “sooner” was way too long, now that Scott was in his teasing mode. He kept jumping around and darting between the stalks of cane like some ghoul.
Brothers. What a pain, Becka thought.
“Oogity-boogity! Me Big Sweet. Me cast a big curse on you.”
“Knock it off!” Becka muttered between clenched teeth. She was going to bean him if he kept it up.
“Big Sweet turn you into little mouse if you’re not careful.” “Scott, you know you’re not supposed to joke around with — ”
“Oogity-boogity!” He leaped even higher into the air.
“Scotty . . .”
“Oogity-boogity! Oogity-boog — OW!”
Suddenly he crumpled to the ground.
Becka’s heart pounded as she raced to his side. “What happened?
Are you okay?”
“I twisted my ankle!” he whined. “Owwww!”
Becka knew it served him right. But since he was clearly in pain, now was not the time to bring it up. Instead, she reached out and carefully touched his ankle.
“Ouch!” he yelped. “That hurts!”
“Sorry. Here . . .” She tried to help him to his feet. “Lean against me and see if you can — ”
“Oww!” he cried even louder. “I can’t. It hurts too much. You’ll have to get somebody to — ”
Suddenly there was a low, distant growl. It sounded part animal and part . . . well, Becka couldn’t tell. It was mixed with another sound — a silent, whooshing noise.
“What’s that?” Scott said, his eyes wide and suddenly alarmed.
Becka wished she had a good answer. She didn’t. “I — I don’t know.” She rose to her feet and searched the field. “I can’t see anything but sugarcane.”
The sound grew louder. Becka felt her pulse kick into high gear. Whatever it was, it was moving. And by the sound of things, it was moving toward them.
Once again, Scott tried to stand, but it was no use. As soon as he put any weight on his ankle, it gave out. He toppled back to the ground.
The noise grew closer.
“Becka . . .” There was no missing the fear in her brother’s voice.
Becka reached for him, fighting off the fear that swept over her. She had no idea what was coming at them, but she knew lying down, unable to move, was no way for her brother to meet it. She tried pulling him forward, but he was too heavy.
The cane several yards in front of them suddenly splintered.
All at once something exploded through the stalks. It was big and red.
It headed directly for them.
“What is it?!” Scott cried.
“I don’t know!”
She reached under his arms, trying to pull him to the side, to get him out of the way.
And still the thing bore down on them, ripping cane just a few yards in front of them and devouring it with giant, red jaws.
“Run!” Scott shouted at her. “Get out of here!”
The afternoon sun caught a sharp, shiny blade coming directly toward them, slicing through cane only a few feet away.
“Get out of here!” Scott yelled at her.
She pulled harder, but it was no use.
“Beck — ”
She finally looked up. The giant blade hovered over her and was coming down fast. She screamed and gave one last tug, moving her brother only a foot before tumbling backward. The blade came down.
“Your leg!” Becka screamed. “Your — ”
Scott tucked and rolled just as the blade chomped down, missing his flesh by inches.
The threshing machine roared past them, leaving a great swath of cut sugarcane in its path.
Becka couldn’t see the driver, but as the machine passed, she could read a name crudely painted on the back. It was in big black letters. Originally, it had read BIG SWEET’S CANE KILLER. But over the years dirt and grime had covered some of the letters. Now it read BIG SWEET CAN KILL.
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 3
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 2 (books 4-6)
Invisible Terror Collection
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1995 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1995 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1995 by Bill Myers
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL 60189 USA. All rights reserved.
1:36 a.m. WEDNESDAY
The cloaked figure stood outside the house. Slowly, reluctantly, she started to climb the porch stairs. At the top she reached for the doorbell, then hesitated.
“No,” she whispered, her voice hoarse and pleading. “It is too late, it is — ”
Suddenly she convulsed, doubling over as though someone had punched her in the gut. She leaned against the wall, gasping. Carefully, almost defiantly, she rose. She was a handsome woman, in her late fifties. Strands of salt-and-pepper hair poked out from under her hood. There was a distinct air of sophistication about her, though her face was filled with pain . . . and fear. Another convulsion hit. Harder, more painful.
She rose again. More slowly, less steadily. This time she would obey.
She stretched her thin, trembling hand toward the doorbell and pressed it. There was no response. She tried again. Nothing. The doorbell didn’t work. Not surprising in this neighborhood.
She opened the screen door, which groaned in protest, then rapped on the door.
Rebecca was the first to hear it. She stirred slightly in bed, thinking it was still part of a dream.
The knocking repeated itself, louder, more urgent. Her eyes opened.
She threw off her covers, then staggered out of bed and into the hallway. Scotty’s door was shut. No surprise there. He was the world’s soundest sleeper (that’s the beauty of not having a care in the world). She glanced toward Mom’s room, then remembered. Her mother was off at a funeral of some third aunt twice removed.
“I’ll only be gone three days,” she’d assured them. “I’ve asked that nice Susan Murdock from church to check in on you. You think you’ll be okay for three days?”
Seventeen-year-old Becka and her fifteen-year-old brother figured they’d be okay for three weeks, let alone three days. They tried their best to convince Mom that they didn’t need some semistranger from church checking up on them. Of course, it hadn’t worked.
“Well, I’ll have her drop by, just in case,” Mom had said.
Becka reached the stairs and started down, hanging on to the banister for support. The cast had only been off her leg a few days, and she was still a little shaky. Then there was Muttly, her pup. His bouncing and leaping around her feet didn’t help.
“Muttly, get down,” she whispered. “Get down.”
Becka reached the bottom of the stairs and crossed to the front door. She snapped on the porch light and looked through the peephole. An older, frail woman stood there. Becka hesitated. The visitor certainly looked harmless enough. And there was something very sad and frightened in her eyes.
Becka unbolted the door and opened it. It stuck slightly, and she had to give it an extra yank. But even then she only opened it a crack.
“I am sorry to bother you at this time of evening, but there is someone . . .” She trailed off, pulling her cloak tighter as if fighting off a chill. “There is someone who needs your help.”
Becka fidgeted, eyeing the woman carefully.
“Please,” the woman insisted. “If I may come in for just a moment? It is most urgent.”
Becka’s mind raced. The woman hardly looked like a robber or a mugger. If worse came to worst, Becka could always scream and bring Scotty running downstairs. Besides, she couldn’t shake the image of those eyes: tired, sad, frightened. It was against her better judgment, but —
Becka opened the door. The woman nodded a grateful thankyou and stepped into the entry hall. “You won’t regret this, I assure you. My name is — ” She broke off at the sound of a harsh little growl.
Becka looked down. Muttly had his hackles up and was doing his best imitation of being ferocious. “Muttly!” she scolded. “Stop that!”
The puppy growled again until Becka reached down and gave him a little thwack on the nose. He looked up at her and whined feebly.
“I’m sorry,” Becka said as she turned back to the woman.
“That’s not like him at all. He’s usually so friendly.”
“It does not surprise me,” the woman answered, keeping a wary eye on the animal. “I am afraid he senses it too.”
“Senses it?” Becka asked. Normally she would have invited the stranger to have a seat, but at 1:30 in the morning the woman had a little more explaining to do. “What exactly does my dog sense?”
The woman pulled back her hood and shook out her hair.
It fell past her shoulders, long and beautiful. She extended her hand. “My name is Priscilla Bantini. We have not met officially, but we have many friends in common. I am the owner of the Ascension Bookshop.”
Becka sucked in her breath. The Ascension Lady! The woman who owned the New Age bookstore, who made the charms for her friends . . . who sponsored the kids in the Society. Becka swallowed hard. She wasn’t sure how to respond.
The woman watched her carefully. “I know what you must think; however, I assure you I had nothing to do with the pranks the children have been playing on you.”
Pranks! Becka thought. I almost get hit by a train, and then I’m kidnapped by satanists. Some pranks!
The woman continued. “Someone desperately needs our help. They have been calling upon me, begging for my assistance, but I have neither the strength nor the power.”
“I’m sorry . . .” Becka shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
“Someone needs help.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“You have the strength and the power they need.”
Becka blinked. “What?”
The woman spoke calmly and evenly. “As a Christian, as a disciple of Christ, you have both the strength and the power to help this . . . person.”
Becka closed her eyes a moment. She’d heard the Ascension Lady was weird — but she didn’t know she was a total fruitcake. “You’re going to have to run that past me again,” she said.
“There is a spirit — the soul of a deceased human — that is trapped in a mansion across town. It desperately wants to be free, to reach its resting place, but it cannot do so on its own. It needs your help.”
Becka scowled. “I’m not sure what you’re — ”
“I know you disapprove of the source of my power, but this poor creature needs to be set free. Together you and I can — ”
“What creature are you talking about?”
“The one inhabiting the Hawthorne mansion across town. It is the spirit of a human, a victim of a tragic murder, that is trapped there by negative energy. It desperately wants to be free.” The woman’s voice grew more urgent, her eyes more pleading. “The anniversary of its death will be here in just three days, and it is begging me, pleading with me to seek your help.”
Becka shook her head. “I still don’t understand. How am I supposed to be able to help?”
“According to my charts, the anniversary of the murder is in conjunction with a unique alignment of planets. This Friday, April twenty-one, is when the spirit can make its escape. This is when we can join forces — bringing it forth in a séance and helping it reach its eternal resting — ”
Suddenly a voice boomed, “What are you doing here?”
Becka and the woman spun around to see Scott, Becka’s younger brother, towering above them on the stairway. Although he was only a ninth grader, his height and position above them gave him a commanding presence.
Priscilla cleared her throat. “You must be Scott Williams. My name is — ”
“I know exactly who you are.” He started down the steps toward her.
Priscilla forced a smile. “Yes, well, I was just telling your sister that — ”
“No one invited you here.”
Becka looked on, shocked at her brother’s manners. “Scott.”
He continued down the stairs toward the woman, and there was no missing his anger. “Haven’t you caused us enough trouble?”
Priscilla backed half a step toward the door. “I am not here to cause trouble. I am here to help. According to my astrological charts — ”
“I don’t give a rip about your astrological charts.” He reached the bottom of the steps, but he didn’t stop. He walked directly, purposefully, toward her.
“Scotty!” Rebecca exclaimed.
He turned toward Becka. “This woman brings in that channeler creep, nearly gets you killed, helps those cruds who snatched you, and you expect me to be polite?” Before Becka could answer, Scott turned back to Priscilla. “Get out of here.”
The Ascension Lady reached behind her, fumbling for the door handle.
“Scotty — ”
The woman pulled the door open and backed outside. “I apologize for the intrusion. I was expecting more Christian love, but I can certainly understand.” She stumbled over the threshold as she backed out onto the porch.
Scott continued toward her. “Get off our property before I throw you off.”
“I did not come for myself.”
Scott reached for the door.
“As I told Becka, the spirit of a deceased human desperately needs our — ”
He slammed the door shut.
Becka stood in the silence, staring at her little brother. She was both shocked and a bit in awe. Then, for the first time, she noticed he was trembling.
He turned to her. “They won’t hurt you again,” he said, his voice quivering. “I promise you, sis. I won’t let them hurt you again.” 2:45 a.m.
An hour later Scott lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling. No way would he be able to get back to sleep. Not after tonight. He was too steamed. How dare the Ascension Lady show up at their door. How dare she ask for a favor. After all her people had done to them? No way!
As for that cheap line she threw in about “Christian love” . . .
give me a break!
Normally Scott was pretty much a happy-go-lucky guy. “Live and let live,” “Be everybody’s bud” — those were his mottoes. And if things ever got too tense, there were always his wisecracks. But there were no jokes tonight. And for good reason.
He turned on his side, his thoughts still broiling. They had moved to this town three months ago, after Dad had died. And for three months, he and Mom and Becka had been constantly hassled by the Society and all their hocus-pocus.
Why? Why did those creeps have to keep bothering them? Weren’t he and Mom and Becka the good guys? Why were they always the ones put on the defensive?
He knew Becka wouldn’t fall for the woman’s line about helping some deceased spirit. Becka’s heart might be soft, but her brain wasn’t. Still, there had to be some way to stop these guys from their constant harassment. Better yet, there had to be some way to get even.
To get even . . . His eyes lit up with interest. Now there was an idea.
But even as he thought it, a still, small voice whispered that he might be stepping out-of-bounds — that getting even wasn’t exactly the right plan of attack.
Scott ignored the voice. Enough was enough, and he and Becka had had enough. Again the thought of evening the score tugged at him. He toyed with contacting Z, his mysterious friend in the computer chat room. Maybe Z would know of some weakness in the Society that Scotty could use against them. But he already knew what Z’s response would be. He’d heard it before. He’d even used it before: “These people are not your enemy; they’re only prisoners of your enemy.”
Yeah, right. Well, prisoners or not, Scott was going to find a way to protect his sister. And it being the middle of Spring Break, he’d have plenty of time to think of something.
11:50 a.m. Becka turned from the front seat of the car to her friends. “You sure this is the right house?”
“Oh yeah.” Julie, one of her best pals — a super jock with perfect clothes and a figure to match — grinned at her. “Everyone in town knows this place, right, guys?”
The others agreed: Ryan, the driver with the killer smile; Krissi, the airhead beauty; and Krissi’s part-time boyfriend and full-time intellectual, Philip.
When Rebecca had called Julie to tell her about the visit from the Ascension Lady and the invitation to participate in a séance, Julie thought it would be fun to grab the rest of the guys and go for a drive. So here they were, driving up a steep hill and slowly approaching the Hawthorne mansion.
Becka looked out her window. For a haunted house, it was a little disappointing. She’d expected something covered in weeds, unpainted, and overflowing with cobwebs and banging shutters. Granted, the place was two-and-a-half stories high and had pitched roofs sloping every which direction, but instead of looking like a home for the Addams Family, it looked more like it belonged to the Brady Bunch.
As if reading her thoughts, Julie explained. “They pay a gardener and housekeeper to keep it spruced up, just in case someone ever wants to buy it.”
“It’s been vacant all these years?” Becka asked.
Philip answered. “My dad’s a real estate agent. They get offers all the time, but they always fall through.”
Krissi giggled, “Right after they spend a few minutes alone in there.”
“You’re going to help, aren’t you?” Julie asked. “You know, take part in that séance?”
“You’re going to a séance?” Krissi asked nervously.
Philip joined in. “Hey, maybe we can all go.”
After all Rebecca had been through, attending a séance was not at the top of her “Things I Gotta Do” list. Ryan, on the other hand, was silent and noncommittal.
“Pull over here,” Philip said, pointing to the curb. “Let Becka get out and take a look.”
Ryan brought his white vintage Mustang to a stop directly across the street from the mansion. Everyone piled out except Krissi.
“Aren’t you coming?” Philip asked.
“I’m not feeling so great. I think I’ll sit this one out.”
“Come on,” Philip insisted. The others joined in until Krissi finally gave in. “All right, all right,” she whined as she crawled out of the car, “but if we die, you’re all going to live to regret it.”
No one was quite sure what she meant, but that was nothing unusual when it came to Krissi.
As they crossed the street, Ryan fell in beside Becka. Although he wasn’t officially her boyfriend, he was definitely a boy and he was definitely a friend — maybe her best. She liked everything about Ryan Riordan. But it wasn’t just his thick, black hair, his sparkling blue eyes, or that heartbreaker smile of his. It was the fact that he was always there for her. And if she needed proof, all she had to do was look at the scar on his forehead — a memento from their last encounter with the Society.
The group had just crossed the street and was standing on the walk in front of the house when Julie came to a stop. “Listen . . . do you hear that?”
Everyone grew quiet. It was faint, but there was no missing the low, quiet whistling — like wind blowing through a screen window, but deeper. It almost sounded like moaning.
“Guys . . .” Krissi sounded uneasy. “I don’t think this is such a — ”
“Shhh!” Philip scowled.
Julie took a step or two closer. “It’s coming from over there.” She pointed at the massive brick chimney that ran the height of the house.
“Maybe it’s just the wind,” Krissi offered feebly. “You know, blowing down the chimney or something.”
Becka looked at the oak trees towering over their heads. There wasn’t a single leaf stirring. She glanced back at the house — and then she saw it. In the second-story window. “Look!”
But by the time they’d turned, it was gone.
“What was it?” Ryan asked.
“A person. At least, I think it was. I only saw her for a second.”
“Probably just the housekeeper,” Julie said, not sounding all that convinced.
“I don’t think so. It looked like — like a child. A little girl with long black hair.”
The group exchanged nervous glances. Becka frowned. “Why? What’s that mean?”
“Guys . . .” It was Krissi again. She was leaning on Philip, slightly stooped. “I don’t feel so good.”
“What’s going on?” Becka repeated. She looked at Ryan, but he gave no answer.
Krissi was clutching her stomach now, breathing deeply. Julie crossed to her. “You going to be okay? Kris, are you — ”
Krissi shook her head and suddenly convulsed, once, twice — until she dropped her head and vomited.
Becka stood, staring.
Krissi caught her breath, then retched again.
“Come on,” Ryan said when Krissi had finally finished. “Let’s get out of here.”
Krissi looked up and nodded in gratitude as Julie handed her a tissue to wipe her mouth. With Philip on one side and Julie on the other, they helped Krissi back to the car. Ryan turned and followed.
“Ryan . . .” Becka tugged at his arm as they walked. “There’s a little girl up there — I’m sure of it. Don’t we want to see if she needs help?” They arrived at the car, and Julie and Philip helped Krissi into the back.
“Ryan?” Becka repeated. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?” He opened the passenger door for her, then finally answered. He was clearly unnerved. “You know the person that was murdered there? The one who’s supposed to be haunting the place?”
“It’s a little girl.”
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 2
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 1 (books 1-3)
Dark Power Collection
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1994 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1994 by Bill Myers
Copyright © 1995 by Bill Myers
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920, www.alivecommunications.com
Rebecca’s lungs burned. They screamed for more air; they begged her to slow down. But she wouldn’t. She pushed herself. She ran for all she was worth. She had to.
There was no sound. She saw a few kids standing along the track, opening their mouths and shouting encouragement. She saw them clapping their hands and cheering her on. But she couldn’t hear them. All she heard was her own gasps for breath . . . the faint crunch of gravel under her track shoes.
Several yards ahead ran Julie Mitchell — the team’s shining hope for all-State. She had a grace and style that made Rebecca feel like, well, like a deranged platypus. Whatever that was.
But that was okay; Becka wasn’t running against Julie. She was running against something else.
“It’s Dad . . .”
For the thousandth time, she saw her mom’s red nose and puffy eyes and heard her voice echoing inside her head. “They found his plane in the jungle. He made it through the crash, but . . .”
Becka bore down harder; she ran faster. Her lungs were going to explode, but she kept going.
“You’ve got . . . to accept it,” her mom’s voice stammered.
“He’s gone, sweetheart. He was either attacked by wild animals or . . . or . . .”
Becka dug her cleats in deeper. She stretched her legs out farther. She knew the “or . . . or . . .” was a tribe of South American Indians in that region. A tribe notorious for its fierceness and for its use of black magic.
The back of Becka’s throat ached. Not because of the running. It was because of the tears. And the rage. Why?! Why had God let this happen? Why had God let him die? He was such a good man, trying to do such good things.
Angrily she swiped at her eyes. Her legs were turning into rubber. Losing feeling. Losing control. And still she pushed herself. She had closed the gap with Julie and was practically beside her now. The finish line waited a dozen meters ahead.
Trying out for the track team hadn’t been Becka’s idea. It was her mom’s. “To help you fit in,” she’d said.
Fit in. What a joke. Rebecca had spent most of her life living in the villages of Brazil with her mom, her little brother, and a father who flew his plane in and out of the jungle for humanitarian and mission groups. And now, suddenly, she was expected to fit in. Here? In Crescent Bay, California? Here, where everybody had perfect skin, perfect bodies, perfect teeth? And let’s not forget all the latest fashions, right out of Vogue or InStyle or whatever it was they read. Fashions that made Becka feel like she bought her clothes right out of Popular Mechanics.
That last thought pushed her over the edge. She tried too hard, stretched too far. Her legs, which had already lost feeling, suddenly had minds of their own. The left one twisted, then gave out all together.
It was like a slow-motion movie that part of Becka watched as she pitched forward. For a second, she almost caught her balance. Almost, but not quite. She stumbled and continued falling toward the track. There was nothing she could do — only put out her hands and raise her head so the crushed red gravel would not scrape her face. Knees and elbows, yes. But not her face.
As if it really mattered.
She hit the track and skidded forward, but she didn’t feel any pain. Not yet. The pain would come a second or two later. Right now, all she felt was shame. And embarrassment. Already the humiliation was sending blood racing to her cheeks and to her ears.
Yes sir, just another day in the life of Rebecca Williams, the new kid moron. As soon as Becka’s little brother, Scott, walked into the bookstore, he knew something was wrong. It wasn’t like he was frightened or nervous or anything. It had nothing to do with what he felt. It had everything to do with the place.
It was wrong.
But why? It certainly was cheery enough. Bright sunlight streaming through the skylights. Aqua blue carpet. Soft white shelves with rows and rows of colorful books. Then there was the background music — flutes and wind chimes.
But still . . .
“You coming or what?” It was Darryl. Scott had met him a couple of days ago at lunch. Darryl wasn’t the tallest or bestlooking kid in school — actually, he was about the shortest and nerdiest. His voice was so high you were never sure if it was him talking or someone opening a squeaky cupboard. Oh, and one other thing. Darryl sniffed. About every thirty seconds. You could set your watch by it. Something about allergies or hay fever or something.
But at least he was friendly. And as the new kid, Scott couldn’t be too picky who he hung with. New kids had to take what new kids could get.
For the past day or so, Darryl had been telling Scott all about the Society — a secret group that met in the back of the Ascension Bookshop after school. Only the coolest and most popular kids could join. (Scott wasn’t sure he bought this “coolest and most popular” bit, since they’d let Darryl be a member. But he didn’t want to hurt the little guy’s feelings, so he let it go.)
“Hey, Priscilla,” Darryl called as they walked past the counter toward the back of the bookshop.
“Hey, yourself,” a handsome, middle-aged woman said. She didn’t bother to look from her magazine until the two boys passed. When she glanced up and saw Scott, a scowl crossed her face. She seemed to dislike him immediately. He hadn’t said a thing; he hadn’t done a thing. But that didn’t matter. There was something about him that troubled her — a lot.
Scott was oblivious to her reaction as he followed Darryl toward the hallway at the back of the store.
So far his first week at Crescent Bay had been pretty good. No fights. No broken noses. A minimal amount of death threats. But that’s the way it was with Scott. Unlike his older sister, Scott always fit in. It probably had something to do with his sense of humor. Scott was a lot like his dad in that department; he had a mischievous grin and a snappy comeback for almost any situation.
Scott was like his dad in another way too. He had a deep faith in God. The whole family did. But it wasn’t some sort of rules or regulations thing. And it definitely wasn’t anything weird. It was just your basic God’s-the-boss-so-go-to-church-and-try-tomake- the-world-a-better-place faith.
But sometimes that faith . . . well, sometimes it allowed Scott to feel things. Deep things.
As he and Darryl entered the hallway, Scott brushed against a large hoop decorated with what looked like eagle feathers. He ducked to the side only to run smack-dab into a set of wooden wind chimes. They clanked and clanged noisily. Lately, Scott hadn’t been the most graceful of persons. It probably had something to do with growing two inches in the last three months. He was still shorter than Becka — a fact she brought up to him on a regular basis — but he was gaining on her by the week.
As they continued down the hall, Scott noticed a number of trinkets and lockets hanging on the wall. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but they looked strangely familiar.
Then he noticed something else. Frowning, he glanced around. Was it his imagination, or was it getting colder? There were no windows, open or otherwise, anywhere close by.
Something inside him began to whisper, “Stop. . . . Turn around. . . . Go back. . . .”
But why? Nothing was wrong. It was just a hallway. Just a bookshop.
“Here we go.” Darryl gave a loud sniff as he slowed in front of the last door. He smiled, pushed up his glasses, and knocked lightly.
“Well, it doesn’t look like anybody’s home,” Scott said, his voice cracking in gratitude. “I guess we’d better — ”
“Don’t be stupid,” Darryl said, reaching for the knob. “They always meet on Fridays.”
Cautiously, he pushed the door open.
It was pitch-black inside. Well, except for the dozen or so candles burning around a table. And the faces illuminated by the candles. Faces Scott had seen at school. They were all staring intently at something on the table. Scott squinted in the darkness, making out some kind of board game with a bunch of letters and symbols on it. Two of the kids had their hands on a little plastic pointer that was moving back and forth across the board.
“What’s that?” Scott whispered.
“What do you think it is?” Darryl whispered back. “It’s a Ouija board.”
“You use it to spell out words. You know, it tells you about the future and stuff.”
Scott looked at him skeptically.
“No kidding,” Darryl squeaked. Scott grimaced. Even when the guy whispered his voice sounded like a rusty hinge. Darryl continued, watching the others. “The pointer moves to those letters on the board, spelling out answers to anything you ask.”
“No way,” Scott scorned. As far as he could tell, the pointer moved on the board because it was pushed by the two kids whose hands were on it: a big, meaty fellow in a tank top and a chubby girl dressed all in black. “Those two, they’re the ones moving it.”
Darryl didn’t answer. He just sniffed and stepped into the room. Scott wasn’t crazy about following, but he walked in after him.
And — just like that — the plastic pointer stopped. One minute the little pointer was scooting around the board, spelling out words. The next, it came to a complete stop.
“Hey,” a pretty girl complained, pushing her long red hair back. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” the meaty guy answered. He turned to his partner, the girl in black. “Are you stopping it?”
“Not me,” she said. And then, slowly turning her head toward the door, she nailed Scott with an icy look. “It’s him.”
Every eye in the room turned to Scott.
He raised his hand. “Hi there,” he croaked, trying to smile. Nobody smiled back.
“Ask it,” the redhead demanded. “Ask it if he’s the reason it’s not answering.”
“Yeah,” the meaty guy agreed.
The girl in black tilted back her head and closed her eyes. Her hair was short and jet black — an obvious dye job. “Please show us,” she said more dramatically than Scott thought necessary. “Show us the reason for your silence.”
Everyone turned to the plastic pointer. Waiting. Watching. Nothing happened.
Scott tried to swallow, but at the moment, there wasn’t much left in his mouth to swallow.
Suddenly the pointer started moving. Faster than before. In fact, both the girl and the meaty guy looked down in surprise as it darted from letter to letter, barely pausing at one before shooting to the next. In a matter of seconds it had spelled out: D-E-A-T-H
Then it stopped. Abruptly.
Everyone waited in silence. Afraid to move. Afraid to break the spell.
The girl in black cleared her throat and spoke again. But this time, a little less confidently. “What do you mean? What death?”
There was no movement. No answer.
Scott shifted slightly. He felt the chill again, but this time it was more real. It had substance. Suddenly he knew that there was something there, in the room . . . something cold and physical had actually brushed against him. He was sure of it.
Again the girl spoke. “What death? Is someone going to die? Whose death?”
No movement. More silence.
And then, just when Scott was about to say something really clever to break the tension and show everyone how silly this was, the plastic pointer zipped across the board and shot off the table.
“Look out!” Darryl cried.
Scott jumped aside, and the pointer hit the floor, barely missing his feet. He threw a look at the girl in black, certain she had flung it across the table at him.
But the expression on her face said she was just as surprised as him.
Or was she?
“You okay?” Julie Mitchell asked as she toweled off her thick blonde hair and approached Rebecca’s gym locker.
“Sure.” Rebecca winced while pulling her jeans up over her skinned knees. “Nothing a brain transplant couldn’t fix.”
It had been nearly an hour since her little crash-and-burn routine on the track. Of course, everyone had gathered around her, making a big deal of the whole thing, and, of course, she wanted to melt into the track and disappear. But that was an hour ago. Yesterday’s news. Now most of the girls had hit the showers and were heading home.
But not Julie. It was like she purposely hung back. Becka glanced at her curiously. There was something friendly about Julie, something caring. Becka had liked her immediately . . . even though Julie was one of the best-looking kids in school.
“The team really needs you,” Julie offered.
“As what? Their mascot?”
Julie grinned. She tossed her hair back and reached over to slip on a top-of-the-line, money’s-no-object, designer T-shirt. “Seriously,” she said, “I’m the only long-distance runner we’ve got. Royal High has three killers that bumped me out of State last year. But if you work and learn to concentrate, the two of us might give them a run for their money. You’ve got the endurance. And I’ve never seen anyone with such a great end sprint.”
“Or such klutziness.”
Julie shrugged. “You’ve got a point there,” she teased.
Becka felt herself smiling back.
“Anybody can learn form and style,” Julie continued. “That’s what coaches are for. And if you add that to your sprint, we just might be able to knock Royal out of State.” She rummaged in her gym basket, then bit her lip and frowned. “Shoot . . . don’t tell me I’ve lost it.”
Becka rubbed a towel through her hair, then sighed. Her hair was mousy brown and would dry three times faster than Julie’s. The reason was simple: Becka’s hair was three times thinner. Yes sir, just another one of life’s little jokes with Becka as the punch line.
Julie’s search through her basket grew more urgent.
“What are you looking for?” Becka asked.
“My pouch . . .” There was definite concern in her voice as she continued pawing through her clothes.
“My good luck charm.”
Becka wasn’t sure what Julie meant, but she gave a quick scan along the bench.
“I just hope nobody stole it,” Julie said.
Becka spotted something under the bench. It was partially covered by towels. She reached for it and picked up a small leather bag with rocks or sand or something inside. A leather string was attached at the top so it could be worn as a necklace.
“Is this it?” Becka asked.
Julie relaxed. “Yeah. Great.” She took it and slipped it around her neck.
Becka watched, fighting back a wave of uneasiness. She tried to sound casual as she asked, “So, what’s in it?”
“I don’t know.” Julie shrugged. “Some turquoise, some powders, herbs — that sort of stuff. The Ascension Lady puts them together for us — you know, for good luck.”
” ‘Ascension Lady’?” Becka asked.
“Yeah,” Julie fingered the little pouch. “‘Course I don’t believe in any of that stuff. But with the district preliminaries coming up, it doesn’t hurt to play the odds, right?”
Becka’s mind raced. She wanted to ask lots more about the pouch and this Ascension Lady, but Julie didn’t give her the chance.
“Listen, we’ll see you Monday,” she said grabbing her backpack. “And don’t be bummed, you did fine. Besides,” she threw a mischievous grin over her shoulder, “we can always use a good mascot.”
Becka forced a smile.
“See ya.” Julie disappeared around the row of lockers and pushed open the big double doors. They slammed shut behind her with a loud click, boooom.
Becka didn’t move. She sat, all alone . . . just her and the dripping showers.
Her smile had already faded. Not because of the pain in her knees or even because of the memories of her fall.
It was because of the pouch. She’d seen pouches like that before. In South America. But they weren’t worn by pretty, rich, athletic teenagers who wanted to go to State track championships.
They were worn by witch doctors who worshiped demons.
Forbidden Doors Series Vol. 1
C H A P T E R 1
Brandon hated it. How many years had they been pulling these stupid pranks? Three? Four? Ever since they were seniors in high school. Sure, it was fun back then, back when they were kids. But now it was getting old. Real old.
But not for Frank. Frank thrived on it.
Brandon stood alone, inside the giant trophy case. With a roll of gray duct tape in hand he carefully worked his way past the cups, plaques, signed bats, tournament balls, pennants, group photos, silver plates, silver bowls, and other awards on display. Bethel Lake Country Club prided itself on its members’ athletic prowess. And if you
couldn’t tell it by their arrogance, you could see it in the new trophy room they were about to dedicate—a room complete with this enormous, dust-proof trophy case that covered nearly the entire front wall.
Frank was right about one thing. Pride and pretension like this couldn’t go unrewarded. They owed it to their people. They owed it to the Townies.
Brandon tossed back his long, dark hair and knelt. He yanked off a sizable strip of duct tape and ran it along the seam, right where the clear Plexiglas wall of the trophy case met the floor. He carefully sealed it so no water would leak through.
Meanwhile, behind the back wall of the case, Del gave the Black and Decker drill the workout of its life as it moaned and groaned in his incapable hands.
“You’re pushing too hard,” Frank’s voice whispered from behind the wall.
“No way,” Del’s voice answered.
Brandon glanced over his shoulder at the back of the case; the thick cherry wood bulged under Del’s pressure. There was more moaning and groaning from the drill until the head of the bit popped through the wood, followed by the rest of the shank.
Then the drill stopped. Then started again. Then stopped. It was jammed.
Another start. Another stop.
Hoping to loosen it, Del began to wiggle the drill back and forth.
“Stop!” Frank’s voice whispered. “You’re going to break it, you’re going to break the—”
Too late. The bit had broken off in the wall.
In the adjacent room, Tom Henderson, a twenty-oneyear- old Aryan dream, complete with blond hair and blue eyes,
listened to a pompous master of ceremonies delivering another pompous speech. Tom stood with the forty or fifty other firm-bodied club members as the emcee continued his jibes at the locals:
“. . . can well remember when we first entered these events seven, eight years back. Why, no one ever gave a thought to Bethel Lake—unless, of course, they found themselves downwind of the hog farms.”
Henderson and the crowd chuckled condescendingly. They always chuckled condescendingly when it came to Bethel Lake—at least the Bethel Lake that existed before they had moved in and started taking over. The old Bethel Lake of corn farmers and hog raisers, along with the usual variety of hicks and poor-as-dirt mobile-home owners who prided themselves on being called Townies.
But now things were changing. Henderson could see it every time he came back home from college. Cornfields were giving way to golf courses; three-quarter-ton pickups with gun racks were being replaced by four-wheeler yuppie mobiles. There was even talk of remodeling the bowling alley and turning it into a megabookstore with espresso bar.
In the past five years, the sleepy, Indiana farm community located just off Highway 30 between Fort Wayne and South Bend had come to life. And now it was growing faster than they could slap up townhouses and condos. Part of this was due to Orion Computech, a new computer manufacturer with a work force of over eleven hundred and counting. Already the Chamber of Commerce was flirting with aspirations of becoming the Midwest’s Silicon Valley. Besides Orion, there was the Diamond Cellular Corporation, Lasher Electronics— and, of course, Moran Research Institute.
Part think tank, part psychic research lab, the only thing more imaginative than the Institute’s research were the rumors about that research. The latest had them housing extraterrestrials and breeding them with humans so we’d sweep the next Olympics. Henderson shook his head in
amusement. The Townies may be ignorant, but you couldn’t fault them for their lack of imagination. The truth was, no one really knew exactly what went on behind the Institute’s lowlying, modernistic architecture, but the Townie rumor mills never lacked for grist.
The emcee continued to drone on as Henderson glanced at his watch. His father, a vice president at Orion, had moved here against Tom’s wishes when the boy was a senior in high school. Now, home for the summer from Ball State, Henderson had to admit that the town was changing almost enough to make living in it bearable.
In the trophy case, Brandon heard Del asking from behind the wall, “What do I do now?”
“Tap it out.” Frank’s voice sighed. “Tap it out and get that hose in. We don’t got much time.”
Brandon heard the sound of something heavy, probably the drill itself, hitting the bit three, four, five times. Finally, it popped out of the hole and fell with a dull thud. He turned to see the bit rolling to a stop just a few feet from his knees.
“Bran,” Frank called quietly, “aren’t you finished yet?”
Brandon didn’t bother answering. He smoothed the last of the tape against the Plexiglas and rose to his feet. As he crossed to the back of the case, he saw a garden hose being shoved through the newly drilled hole.
Things were right on schedule.
He stooped, opened the small door, and stepped out of the rear of the trophy case to join his partners. Frank, the leader of the three-man hit squad, was good-looking, volatile, and athletic enough to be a club member—if it hadn’t been for his genealogy. He was a third-generation Townie. Del, on the other hand, wore Coke-bottle glasses and on a good day could almost stretch himself to a height of five-three.
Brandon turned to the trophy case door and ripped off one last strip of tape to seal it as Frank and Del quickly followed the hose down the hall toward the kitchen faucet.
Twenty more minutes passed before the emcee finally started winding down. Henderson sighed in relief. Earlier, he’d spotted a couple of beauties at the far end of the room, and he was hoping to introduce himself. But if the old duffer rambled on much longer, they might slip away without the pleasure of making his company.
“In short,” the emcee concluded, “I can’t think of a more fitting way to open the new trophy room than with the addition of the Beckman Memorial Tennis Cup.”
He turned to the paneled doors behind him and, with a modest flair, slid them open.
The lights came up, and before the members stood their new trophy room. Dark cherry paneling, rich emerald carpet, paisley print chairs scattered around end tables that supported brass lamps with green china shades. And, at the far wall, stood the focal piece of the room: a massive Plexiglas trophy case—six feet high and eighteen feet long. Inside, near the top and center of the case, was a vacant space waiting to receive the most recent addition—a large silver trophy bowl that sat on the lectern in front of the case.
The emcee approached the lectern as the crowd moved in and settled down. “Peter? Reggie?” he called. “I think it’s only proper that you two do the honors.”
The group broke into polite applause as a couple of jocks, the winners of the trophy, broke from their dates and came forward. Henderson knew the guys. Even liked them. In fact, they’d spent more than one summer night cruising in his Firebird, putting down the brews. The applause increased as they arrived and held the bowl over their heads.
Meanwhile, the emcee turned to open the trophy case doors. At first they seemed stuck. Either his key wasn’t working, or the doors were jammed, or . . .
Henderson was the first to spot it: the trail of tiny air bubbles rising to the surface of the case. For a moment he was confused. What on earth were air bubbles doing . . . ? Then the horror registered. He started to call out, to push his way through the crowd. But he was too late.
With one last tug, the emcee opened the doors.
Water roared out of the case, knocking him to the ground. Club members screamed and scrambled back as the water poured into the room. Some lost their balance, slipping and falling.
Across the room, through the oval window of the kitchen door, Frank and Del watched in delight. They were laughing so hard they could barely catch their breath—until Reggie, one of the fallen, rose to his feet, looked around, sputtering and coughing, and caught a glimpse of them. Frank and Del saw his eyes widen. They saw his trembling finger point. And they saw his mouth open as he cried out a single word: “Townies!”
Frank and Del ducked from the window, but they were too late. The announcement had been made, their location spotted. Now club members slipped and sloshed toward them with a vengeance.
Brandon was standing farther back in the kitchen, checking out the contents of the stainless-steel freezers, when Frank and Del raced past and grabbed him, yelling, “Come on, come on!”
They flung open a hallway door and started down the corridor. When they rounded the first corner, they discovered most of the club members heading directly for them.
They doubled back.
Even now, running as fast as his little legs could carry him, Del couldn’t resist firing off a few jabs. “‘I know this place,’ Frank says. ‘Like the back of my hand,’ he says.”
“Hey,” Frank shot back. “How’d I know they were going to remodel?”
They rounded another corner, then another. At last they spotted an unlikely looking door. “In here!” Frank shouted as he threw it open.
Brandon and Del followed. The door slammed behind them with a foreboding boom. Suddenly they found themselves in total darkness.
“Oh, Frank?” Del’s voice echoed.
“Hold on . . .”
“Relax, there’s gotta be a light here somewh—”
Suddenly the overheads came on and the boys winced at the four brilliant white walls surrounding them.
Del squinted. “A racquetball court? You led us into a racquetball court!”
Before Frank could answer, the door opened and an attractive woman with amber, shoulder-length hair stood in the opening. She was a few years older than they were. But Frank, who made it a policy to recognize any and all of the local beauties, stepped forward. “Hi,” he ventured. “Uh, Sarah, isn’t it?”
She simply looked at him.
He tried to smile.
So did Del.
It was a joint failure.
“Anybody in there?” a man’s voice shouted from down the hall.
The woman stood silent. Still looking. Still deciding.
“Sarah?” the voice repeated.
Finally she turned and called back. “Nobody worth mentioning.”
“Be careful,” another voice warned as the group headed down the other hall.
Sarah didn’t answer and waited for the footsteps to fade. Then, without a word, she opened the door wider and stepped back for them to exit.
Frank and Del exchanged glances, then quickly scurried past.
“Thanks, Sarah,” Frank offered. Then, to further express his gratitude, he continued, “You’re lookin’ real good.”
She ignored him and turned to Brandon.
For the briefest second their eyes locked. And for the briefest second Brandon couldn’t look away. He sensed that she couldn’t, either. There was a moment, a connection. He knew he should say something. Something cool, something witty. But he wasn’t much good at talking to pretty women. Lately, he wasn’t much good at talking to anybody. Instead, he gave a slight nod of thanks, moved past her, and headed down the hall.
The parking lot of Bethel Country Club was cut out of the side of a large hill. There was only one exit: along the bottom of the hill and down the private, tree-lined drive. Already several of the men, including Henderson and his buddies, along with a handful of women, had gathered along that drive. They stood just a few yards past the parking lot, forming a roadblock. Waiting. Watching.
“Just a matter of time,” one of the men said.
“You phone the police?” a lithe blonde asked.
“Yeah, right,” another scoffed. Others in the group voiced similar scorn. They knew the police didn’t encourage these pranks. But they also knew they didn’t discourage them either. Like the kids, most of the police were Townies. Their attitude was simple: If these outsiders wanted to come barging into Bethel Lake uninvited, that was their business. But there were certain customs to be followed, certain dues to be paid—and if that included this type of occasional, low-
grade harassment, then so be it. It was just normal social interaction.
A pair of headlights suddenly appeared as a half-ton pickup slid around the corner of the parking lot.
“There they are!”
It accelerated toward them.
“Hold your ground,” the first man shouted. “They wouldn’t dare try to—look out!”
Some leaped to the side of the road, others scrambled up the dirt embankment as the truck roared past.
Inside the cab of the pickup Frank yelled, “Eee-haaa!” as the last of the human roadblocks hit the bushes. “We did it, boys!” he shouted. “We did it!”
Del’s voice was a little less sure as he glanced back for casualties. “This is insane!”
Brandon, who was driving, gave no response.
Meanwhile, Henderson, Peter, and Reggie scrambled to their feet and raced toward Henderson’s ’97 Firebird. Unfortunately, in his haste, Henderson had forgotten to turn off the alarm, and it began honking incessantly.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Reggie shouted over the noise.
Henderson fumbled with the remote on his keys until he managed to shut off the alarm. They piled into his car, and he brought the 5.7-liter V–8 roaring to life. He dropped it into gear and hit the accelerator. Gravel spit in all directions as the car spun out and began pursuit.
In the pickup, Frank was exultant. “You see the look on their faces?” he cried as he popped a brew. It foamed, but he quickly slurped it up, careful not to let any get away. “I tell you, boys, I can die a happy man.”
Looking over his shoulder, Del muttered, “You might get your chance.”
Brandon glanced up at the mirror and saw the headlights appear behind them. But he was unconcerned. They reached the end of the private drive, and the pickup bounced out onto the main highway.
It’s an amazing book. It doesn’t “pretty” things up, but rather tells us how things really are. This book is for the reader that enjoys suspense and drama.
Brandon Martus is a confused young man struggling to cope with his unresolved grief over his sister’s death and his father’s paralysis. Then Martus meets neurobiologist Sarah Winerraub, who is performing research into parapsychology at the Moran Research In town. Winerraub believes Martus has extrasensory abilities and coerces him into participating in her research. She is at first thrilled when he shows intense psychic abilities. Soon, however, both Martus and Winerraub find themselves in a fight between good and evil. Myers’s (Blood of Heaven, Zondervan, 1996) exciting thriller pits the supernatural against the power of true faith and raises some interesting questions about the power of the unknown. A strong choice.
Sarah, your veil, it’s all – here, let me straighten it. Sarah, tilt your head this way. Sarah!”
Dr. Sarah Weintraub obeyed and leaned forward.
“A little more. Now please, please pay attention.”
She stood just outside the sanctuary doors as the wedding coordinator flitted about making last-minute adjustments to her gown, her veil, or anything else that the poor lady could fixate over. But Sarah didn’t mind. The elaborate wedding had mostly been for Brandon’s mother. Which was okay. It seemed a small
price to pay to comfort a woman who had lost her daughter, her husband, and was now about to lose her only son. Of course they would stay in touch with her, try to meet her needs. But as the clinic continued to grow and word of Brandon’s healing ministry continued to spread, time for any personal life was becoming less and less of a reality.
Some thought the wedding came too quickly. Others were sure it wouldn’t last. It would be hard enough to begin a life amidst the growing famine, the panic sweeping the world over this new virus, and the current financial calamities. But add to that the fact that Brandon was four years her junior, and many were certain that the couple was asking for marital disaster.
Although the other issues were of concern, the age difference was inconsequential. It didn’t bother Brandon and it certainly didn’t bother her. In fact, Sarah found him less self-absorbed and ego-driven than most men twice his age. Not that he didn’t have his moments, but over the past year Brandon Martus had become the most compassionate and sensitive man she had ever met. And, best of all, much of that compassion and sensitivity was directed toward her.
There were other differences, such as their backgrounds and their education. Brandon grew up in this Indiana farm community and was lucky to finish high school. Sarah was West Coast born and bred and held her doctorate in neurobiology. If ever the term “opposites attract” applied, it would have to be to these two.
But there was that prophecy in Revelation . . . and the mound of evidence that indicated they just might be the two end-time prophets who would prepare the world for the return of Jesus Christ much as John the Baptist had prepared it for his first coming. Of course most of that was subject to interpretation, which proved to be a major source of disagreement between the two of them. She never understood why Brandon insisted upon taking every word so literally, while she, although admitting that the two of them might somehow be used, saw the prophecies as more spiritual and symbolic. The truth of the matter was, nobody knew for certain. Not even Gerty. But, at the very least, from what they could tell, the two of them were to work together as a team. And what better way to be a team than to be husband and wife?
Oh, and there was one other detail that carried weight in their decision for matrimony . . .
They loved each other. Fiercely. They were absolutely committed to one another, regardless of the odds.
Sarah peeked through the glass in the sanctuary door. She could see Brandon standing before the altar, incredibly handsome in his tuxedo.
For her, the attraction had been instant, love at first sight. Yes, there was his long black hair and those muscular shoulders. And yes, there were those killer gray eyes which could still make her stomach do little flip-flops. But that was just the wrapping. Because inside, inside was a heart not only full of kindness, but a heart full of her. What had he said the night he’d proposed? “You’re the missing piece I’ve been looking for all of my life . . . you’re what fills my hollowness.” The words had made her cry then and they almost did now. She knew that whatever the future held, despite graying hair, wrinkled skin, or sagging body, he would always be there for her. Always. And she would be there for him.
Of course there were a few other obstacles to overcome . . . like the forces of hell trying to destroy both of their lives. For Brandon it had been a showdown in this very church, a confrontation with what they believed to be a manifestation of Satan himself. For Sarah it had been a violent collision that sent her flying through a pickup’s windshield. If it hadn’t been for Brandon’s intervention at the hospital, one of the first times he’d put his healing powers to use, she would not be standing here today. And, except for a nasty scar running across her forehead and down to her right jaw, she was as good as new.
Actually, better. Because, in the process of praying to heal her body, Brandon had healed her soul. “Get ready, Sarah. The prelude is almost done . . .”
Sarah glanced up at the wedding coordinator who was pulling open the doors in preparation for the wedding party processional. She gathered herself together and threw a look at her father. The poor guy appeared more nervous than she was. She leaned over and whispered, “It’s okay, Dad – everything will be all right.”
He gave what was supposed to be a reassuring smile and patted her arm with his cold, damp hand.
As a little girl she had never seen much of her father. But she did inherit his love for medicine, and even more importantly, she inherited his drive to be the best. If Sarah had learned one thing from her father, it was that success had little to do with brains or beauty and everything to do with ambition and hard work. Although it could be a plus, the ambition had created terrible problems for her in the past, and on more than one occasion it had proven to be her Achilles’ heel. Still, as time passed and her love for God increased, she had learned how to deal with it and for the most part kept it under control.
“I couldn’t put ‘Fire of Heaven’ down. Bill Myers’ writing is crisp, fast-paced, provocative, and laced headily with Scripture. A very compelling story.”
–Francine Rivers, Author, ‘Redeeming Love’
Fire Of Heaven was the best book i have ever read!!!
— Ashley Anahiem C.A
Dear Mr. Myers, Hello, my name’s Hannah and I’m 15. I recently finished your Fire of Heaven Trilogy in a little less than 3 weeks and they were amazing to say the least. Your style of writing, by going back from one character to another, is truly unique. The way that everything ties in with everything is phenomenal. Your writing is smooth and I was never once confused at anything that happened. Your mind is truly amazing in the way it works and I just wanted to say thank you for these books. They’ve changed my life. I’ve dealt with the ‘other’ side before first-hand, and I know how scary it is. Honest, I do. But keeping your head on straight and giving it all up to Christ as Brandon did truly is the key to what fixes everything. You may end up sacrificing something you don’t want to but it is definitely worth it.
— Hannah Pate
Fire of Heaven is the only fiction book I have ever read that has caused me to close the book and pray as I read it. I am not exactly sure what was so different, but it really stirred me. My wife doesn’t read much fiction, but she also read this series and Fire of Heaven had the same effect on her. You have probably heard that a million times by now….but I thought I would mention it just in case you needed to hear it again. May God continue to bless you in His service.
— Kris Parkhurst
I recently read 2 of your books Threshold and Fire of Heaven. I want to thank you immensely or rather God that inspired you to right such works. I just recently bought your books and I was unable to put them down until finished. These books can’t be described as anything but an experience that can’t help but draw one closer to Jesus. I thank you for your God inspired works. Please never cease what God has given you to do — through these, lives are changed and we are encouraged. The faith lessons in these works are amazing. Even though you describe it as Christian fiction it is indeed real, the lessons taught. All glory to the Father His son Jesus and the Holy Spirit and once again thank you for this profoundness. I dont think I’ve ever encountered anything that has impacted my life like this other than the actual words of Christ. Your works have renewed my faith.
— Tonya Online Review
My name is Randy Loewecke and I am an avid reader of your books. I just re-read the Fire of Heaven trilogy for the third or fourth time, and I get something new out of it this time. I trully am starting to act like a “dead man” to the flesh and I am allowing Christ to live through me in a new way. I think it is so neat how Brandon Martus learned that nothing matters in this world when you are dead except to allow Christ to ressurect him and live through him. I have also read both books in the Soul Tracker series, Eli, The Face of God, and The Wager. I trully appreciate not only your style of writing, but also more importantly the message of hope you bring in your books. I trully enjoy how you take characters like Sarah Martus and show the trully human side of them even to the point of her unfaithfulness to Brandon, then her redemption through Jesus and finally the forgiveness from our Lord and Saviour and Brandon. I really also enjoy the supernatural side of your writing and that is why the Soul Tracker series and the Fire of Heaven series are my favorites! I want to trully thank you for writing these books and giving Christians a choice of fiction that surpasses anything the world could produce!! It has also been a witnessing tool for me because I am a 12 year veteran in the United States Marine Corps, and I get asked all the time about what I am reading at work and at places such as the hospital on base. Again, thank you for your writings and most importantly your faithfulness to God through your talents!
— Randall Loewecke
C H A P T E R O N E
Monday was an inconvenient time to die. Come to think of it, Tuesday through Sunday weren’t all that agreeable either. Conrad Davis had too many important things to do. Too many fires to put out. Too many producers to plead with, cajole, and, if necessary, circumvent.
Not interesting? Too cerebral? What were they talking about? Did they honestly think TV audiences were that stupid?
“Give us another multibirth story,” they’d said. “Those McCaughey septuplets, don’t they have a birthday coming up? Or how about another psychic piece—some mother visited by her dead daughter; those always work.”
“Guys . . .” Conrad glanced around the table in the smoke-filled war room. He could already feel the back of his neck beginning to tighten. “We’re talking about a major scientific breakthrough here.”
But the other producers of the prime time news magazine, Up Front, continued without hearing. “Or how ’bout another cripple story,” suggested Peggy Martin, one of the few females on staff. “Some guy in a wheelchair climbing Mount Everest or something.”
“Guys . . .”
“We did that last November.”
“Listen, Connie.” It was Phil Harrison, the show’s exec. He took a drag off his cigarette and motioned to the monitor where they’d just viewed a rough cut of Conrad’s segment. “All we’re saying is that this piece is too cerebral. I mean, ‘Parallel Universes’? Come on, who cares?”
Leo Singer, a rival producer, snickered. “Next time he’ll be doing a piece on quantum physics.”
The rest of the room chuckled. It was supposed to be good-natured, but Conrad knew that nothing in this dogeat- dog world of TV journalism was good-natured. One or two missteps, like producing a worthless segment that no one cared about, could spell disaster—especially with five thousand kids half his age waiting in the wings for his job.
“Is that what you would have said about the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk?” Conrad argued. “Or the moon landing, or the invention of the light bulb—that it’s too cerebral? What we’re talking about is the existence of other realities right here beside our own, worlds identical to ours but with minor, or sometimes major, differences.”
“Worlds we can’t even see,” another producer pointed out.
“How convenient,” Singer sighed.
Peggy Martin added, “And worlds that have no effect upon the lives of our viewers.”
Conrad glanced at the faces around the table. He was going down for the count, and his colleagues, better known as competitors, were doing their best to keep him there. But he’d been in this position a hundred times before, refusing to dish out pabulum for the masses, insisting upon truth and relevancy. That’s how he’d earned the two Emmys and those countless other awards.
“Connie.” It was Harrison again. “This professor that you interviewed . . . what’s his name?”
“All this Professor Endo has is theory, right?”
“Plus support from top world physicists,” Conrad corrected, “not to mention some staggering mathematical formulas.”
“Oh, mathematics, that’ll kick up the ratings,” Singer scoffed. Others around the table agreed. The tension from Conrad’s neck crept into the base of his skull.
Harrison continued. “If there was something tangible, something you could show on tape, then you’d have a story. But this . . .” Harrison shook his head and dropped his cigarette into the half-empty can of Diet Coke. It hissed quietly as he turned to the next producer. “Wolff, how’s that toxic-waste segment coming?”
The meeting had been less than two hours ago, and Conrad was already back on the 101 heading north out of Los Angeles. Professor Endo lived an hour outside the city in the town of Camarillo. If they wanted something tangible, he’d get something tangible. Not because this story was a great passion of his, but because he needed it. Despite his twenty-five years in news, despite past accolades, a setback like this could seriously cripple a career. That’s how the business was. There was no resting on your laurels. You were only as good as your last segment. And if your last segment was a failure . . .
It had started to rain, the first time since early April. Conrad reached over and turned on his wipers. The blades had rotted from last summer’s sun, and their first few passes left dirty smears. How ironic. Here he was driving a $72,000 Jaguar but couldn’t find the time to replace its wiper blades. But that’s how it was with everything in his life—too busy winning the prizes to enjoy them. And he had won them, won them all, everything he’d ever wanted and more: great job, great pay, esteem from his peers, plenty of toys, beautiful wives (although a few more than he’d intended), and the list went on. Yet over the past several years, the list had begun to grow more and more meaningless. And, though he tried his best to ignore it, an empty hollowness had begun gnawing and eating away at him. He’d won the game, all right; the only problem was that neither the victory nor the prizes meant anything.
He pumped the washer fluid a few times and the smearing on the windshield thinned. Glancing at his speedometer, he eased back to 70. Besides the oil that had accumulated on the pavement these many rainless weeks, there was also the recurring amnesia Southern Californians suffer whenever it comes to remembering how to drive on wet roads. He’d been in several fender benders since moving to L.A., many of them thanks to the rain.
He rolled his head, trying to work out the tension in his neck. He pulled a bottle of Motrin from his coat pocket, popped another handful into his mouth, and glanced around for something to wash them down. Nothing. Just a couple empty Taco Bell bags, some wadded up Big Mac wrappers, and a stale bag of corn chips. Ah, the glamorous life of a TV reporter. He held the pills on his tongue until he accumulated enough saliva to swallow one. Then he repeated the process for the next, and the next, and the next—each one going down a little harder than the last.
A sign read 23 Freeway North. Good. Just a couple more miles, then down the steep grade into Camarillo.
He’d already put in a call to his favorite cameraman, Ned Burton, as well as to the lighting and sound guys, to meet him there. And, before that, to Professor Endo, who was only too happy to oblige with another interview.
“Something tangible?” the doctor had asked in his faint Japanese accent.
“Exactly,” Conrad said. “Your theories and formulas, they’re all very interesting, but we need something we can show on tape, something the audience can grasp.”
“Certainly, that will be no problem.”
“Really? Like what? Eyewitnesses? People who have seen these—”
The old man chuckled. “I am afraid that if there are eyewitnesses to such universes, you would find them locked up in insane asylums, or involved in drug rehab programs.”
“Then what?” Conrad asked. “How can you physically prove the existence of parallel universes if no one has seen them?”
“It is an old experiment, really. I am sorry I did not mention it to you before.”
“What do you need to set it up?”
“I have all that is necessary at the lab. Just a board with two small slits cut into it and a low-powered laser.”
“That is all. We shine the laser onto the two slits and record how many slits of light appear on the wall behind it.”
“I don’t understand. Two slits in the board will cast two slits on the wall.”
“Actually, they will cast several more than two.”
“Several? That’s impossible.”
“You will see for yourself. And if we cut two more slits in the board how many will appear on the wall?”
Conrad frowned. “I’d say four, but you’re going to tell me twice as many as whatever the two slits were.”
“Actually, with four slits there will be half as many bands of light as if there were only two slits.”
“Yes, if you are thinking in terms of a single universe. But ask today’s best scientific minds, Stephen Hawking and others, and they will say invisible light beams from other worlds similar to ours that are involved in the very same experiment at the very same time are actually interfering with some of our beams.”
“And you can prove this?”
“I shall be waiting for you in the lab.”
Even as he thought over the conversation, Conrad shook his head. To think that there was another one of him traveling to another Camarillo to meet with another professor at this exact same moment—it was incomprehensible. And not just one of him, but millions, all identical. Well, not exactly identical, because according to Endo, each of his counterparts still had a free will to make different decisions along the way. One Conrad Davis could have waited to ride with his crew. Another could have agreed with his boss to cancel the segment. Or another could have decided to pursue philosophy in college instead of journalism. And on and on it went, the possibilities infinite.
Then there was the matter of time . . .
“It is my personal belief,” Endo had said, “that these various realities may also be traveling at different velocities. For some, an entire lifetime of seventy to eighty years may be lived in just a few of our hours. For others, it may be just the opposite.”
“You’re telling me that there’s someone exactly like me in another reality who’s only living a few hours?”
“A few hours by our standards, yes. But by his, it will be the full eighty years.”
No wonder Harrison and the others thought the story was over everyone’s head. But if this sort of thing could be proven in the lab and actually captured on videotape . . .
The rain came down harder, and he turned the wiper speed to high. Conrad was nearly fifty years old, but the methodic swish-swish, swish-swish of the wiper blades still brought warm memories of his childhood in Washington State, where the sound of windshield wipers was a part of many a car trip.
He crested the ridge and started down the steep grade into Camarillo. Even shrouded by clouds, it was a beautiful sight. The coastal mountains rose on either side, giving one last burst of rock and cliff before dropping suddenly to the flat coastal plain seven hundred feet below. In the distance, the furrowed fields of onions and strawberries stretched all the way to the ocean, or at least as far as the newest housing development that encroached upon them.
Swish-swish, swish-swish . . .
The left lanes of traffic had slowed, so he threw a look over his shoulder and pulled into the far right where there was less congestion. He glanced up through the windshield. It was still there. Up to the left. The jagged rock formation that looked like the profile of a noble Indian surveying the valley. Being the first to spot it was a favorite pastime of Suzanne and little Julia whenever they took their Sunday drives up the coast.
Sunday drives up the coast—one of the few bribes that had actually worked in luring Suzanne away from church. She’d been a good woman. The best he’d had. Committed to her family at any cost. Granted, she may have been a little fanatical in the faith department, but her beliefs in God posed no real threat for them. He gave her her space, and she gave him his. And, truth be told, the older he got, the more wisdom he saw in some of her God talk.
God . . . if all this multi-world business was true, it would be interesting to see how the theologians would try and squeeze him into the picture. And what about the great religious leaders? What about Jesus Christ? If, as Suzanne had always insisted, this world needed to be “saved,” then didn’t all these similar worlds need to be saved as well? Again Conrad shook his head. The implications were staggering.
He could smell the mixture of dust and water that came with the first rain. Under that, the faint aroma of onions wafting up from the valley. He smiled, almost sadly, as he remembered little Julia holding her nose, complaining about the smell. Those had been good times. Some of the best. In fact, if he could pick one season in his life to freeze and forever live in, it would be—
The blast of an air horn jarred Conrad from his thoughts. He glanced up at his mirror and saw a big rig approaching from behind, flashing its high beams. Come on, he thought, no one’s in that big of a hurry. Sure, he’d moved into the truck lane, but he was already exceeding the speed limit. Besides there was traffic directly ahead, so what was the big—
The horn blasted again. Longer, closer.
Conrad looked back into the mirror. The truck was rapidly approaching. In a matter of moments it would be on Conrad’s tail, trying to intimidate him. But Conrad Davis was not so easy to intimidate.
“What’s your problem?” Conrad mouthed the words into the mirror, raising his hands, motioning to the traffic around them. “What do you want me to do?”
And then he saw the driver. A kid. He wasn’t looking at Conrad. Instead, he was fighting something in the cab. Perhaps stomping on foot pedals or wrestling with the gearshift—Conrad couldn’t tell for certain. He didn’t have to. Because when the young driver finally looked up, Conrad saw the terror in the boy’s eyes.
Conrad quickly looked to the left, searching for a way to slip into the adjoining lane and out of the truck’s path. There was none. All three lanes were packed.
The horn continued to blast. The truck was nearly on top of him—so close Conrad could no longer see the boy, only the big rig’s aluminum grill.
Up ahead, about thirty feet, a cement truck lumbered its way down the grade. Conrad pushed back his panic, looking for some way out. He glanced to the right, to the emergency lane. Suddenly, the Jaguar shuddered and lunged forward. The rig had hit him, hard, throwing his head forward, then back. Instantly, the car began picking up speed.
Conrad hit the brakes. They did no good, only threw him into a screaming skid, making it harder to steer.
The cement truck lay twenty-five feet ahead now, rapidly drawing closer.
With this thrilling and ominous tale, Myers continues to shine brightly in speculative fiction based on biblical truths. Highly recommended.
— Library Journal
This book, one day at Barnes and Noble, caught my eye and it sounded really interesting so I bought it! What a good decision on my part! This book has inspired me to look at my life in a different light and to ask myself, what is more important, my life on earth, or my relationship with Jesus? I cried and laughed when I read this book. I recommend it to Christians and non-christians everywhere!
— Kori Dallas, TX
I just got done reading the book and it inspired me to help other people and to find Jesus Christ! I would say that Mr. Myers has a great talent of reaching people old and young to read this book. Because of this book I went out and bought all the other ones and i’m starting to read them.
— Lynette KY
I reread this book every year, because whenever I need to have something in my life worked out I find something new in this book with Christ speaking to me. I highly recommend it to everyone to see a face of Christ that most people never see, the man who could be sitting next to you smiling, if He had come today.
— Drew Bartell Grafton, WI
I heard someone say that this book was great–so I ordered it after I read the amazon.com description on the back of the book. This novel had me going through the bible in seeing where Bill Myers wrote contemporary like events like the biblical ones; for me, the settings for some of those events hit home close for me, and had me paying attention at every turn of the page. But overall…every single word in this book was just amazing. It helped me re-affirm my faith and had me being astounded by the talent of the author. It is a great book.
— Nina Seattle
This is a great book for anyone. For someone with new faith they will get a whole new outlook on the jesus that they just come to love. For those who have been believers for a while it gives you a even more of a love for jesus. it is one of the best work of Bill Myers.
— Anonymous reader
I recently read Eli by Bill Myers. I am incredibly impressed!! I’m 36 years old and have grown up a Christian. I converted from Baptist to Catholic when I was 14. Although I’ve had significant religious teachings, I have to say I never could grasp the concept of how Jesus dying on the cross for our sins could possibly mean we would have eternal life with God in heaven. I never understood what it MEANT – the phrase, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What could that mean? How could that be? Then I read Eli, and it all came into view. I understood it finally! I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful a feeling it is to finally understand that concept!! I feel as though I’ve missed a BIG part of religion, a BIG part of my faith, and now it all comes together.!!! He died and took our punishment for our sins. In return for taking that punishment, we agree to follow Him and lead a life like He wants us to. By doing this, we will be accepted into heaven when we die.!!! Isn’t that great?!?!?! What an incredible impact this book has had on my life!! He did an incredible job bringing Christ into the 21st Century – in our day and time…and as he stated in the preface of the book, it has brought Christ up front and in my face daily. Thank you so much.
— Lynda West Virginia
The phone had barely chirped before I had the receiver to my ear. “How is she?” I asked.
“They said . . .” Jen took an uneven breath and my heart stopped. I searched for the slightest clue in my wife’s voice, in the way she hesitated, in the way she breathed. Atlast, she spoke. “They said it’s going to be close. Her temperature is 106.”
The bottom dropped from my stomach. I sagged against the wall. “106?”
“They’ve attached several IVs and are administering the most potent antibiotics available.” Jen’s voice sounded detached, as if she were reciting dry, clinical facts—another little trick we’d learned to use over the past few months in order to survive. “They said . . .” She hesitated again. This one longer and more torturous than the first. “They said the next few hours will tell.”
I didn’t speak. I may have whispered a silent prayer, I don’t remember. I do remember taking a long, deep breath and trying to quiet my thoughts. So this was it. After all of these months of anguish and struggle . . . it finally came down to the next few hours, to some unknown infection that had crept in almost without our knowing.
“Paul? Are you there?”
My voice came back thick and husky. “Yeah.”<
“What about . . .Have you checked on . . .”
She said nothing. She didn’t have to. I was already standing at our daughter’s window. I’d pulled up the shade several minutes earlier. It was now five in the morning and the predicted storm, the one we’d been fearing, was in full force. Shadows from the streetlight danced crazily across the backyard as the bare branches of the old maple, the one between the house and the detached garage, whipped and slapped at each other. Through sheets of water sliding down the glass, I caught a glimpse of a yellow and blackened leaf. It stood stalwart in the blowing wind, clinging to a large branch that stretched out over the garage roof. It was the last leaf on the tree. And, as it had remained throughout the fall, the winter, and now in the approaching spring, it had become the symbol of our family’s hope . . . and of our fears.
“It’s still there,” I said.
I could practically hear her relief. “How are Sammy and Heather?”
“I got them back into bed and quieted down. They’re probably asleep by now.” I glanced at my watch. “I don’t know what’s taking Jeff so long; he should already be here. Maybe I’ll just pack them up and head on down to join—”
“No.” Jen’s voice was quiet but firm. “You know how Heather freaks in storms. If you’ve got them in bed, let them sleep. Just stay until Jeff shows up.”
“Please, Paul. It’ll only be a few minutes.”
I nodded. She was right. Sam and his little sister had been through enough already. They didn’t need any more panicked trips to the hospital, any more fears of seeing their big sister die. No, Ally’s sickness had robbed them of enough already. It had robbed us all. Besides stealing Ally’s leg, her hope for the future, and her faith in God, it had also destroyed Sammy and Heather’s innocence—their childhood belief that they would always be safe and secure. Practically every night now, six-year-old Heather finds some excuse to pad into our room and join us in bed. And eleven-year-old Sam? Well, his emotions are more hidden, but they are just as tattered.
I glanced back out Ally’s window. “You’ll let me know the slightest change?” I asked.
“And Jen?” I gave a quick swallow. “Let’s not stop praying. Whatever we do, let’s not give up now.”
She gave no response.
“I heard you,” she said. “I’ll do my best.”
“Me too.” I took a breath and quietly repeated. “Me too.”
There was a quiet click as she hung up. I followed suit more slowly.
Now I was alone in my seventeen-year-old’s bedroom. There was only the wind, the scratch of branches against the house, and the drumming rain—the perpetual, drumming rain. I’d called Jeff right after Jenny had left to follow the ambulance to the hospital. As an elder in my church and my closest friend, he and his wife were my first choice to come and stay with the kids. But the storm had obviously slowed them down—that and making those first couple calls to start up the church prayer chain. After all, it’s not every night the pastor’s firstborn has to fight for her life.
I closed my eyes. If only it was that simple. The real problem was she no longer wanted to fight. I dragged my hand across my face. My forehead was wet and cold, my jaw a stubble of two day’s growth.
“My God . . .” The groan surprised me, coming somewhere deep in my gut. When I opened my eyes I saw I was looking across the room at the top of Ally’s dresser. Much of the white pine was dominated by a CD boombox. The rest was cluttered with ceramic knickknacks, makeup, bracelets, a few leftover Beanie Babies from her younger days, a candle or two, a small vase of tiny red dried flowers, and photos of friends and family—even one of me standing with my arms wrapped around her on the beach back when we’d vacationed in Florida.
Above the clutter rose her mirror. The mirror that, a half year ago, had been plastered with cutout magazine photos of models and ballerinas. Models, because my child, like most teenagers, was the victim of gaunt, media role models, who stared at her accusingly for having the slightest trace of body fat or for actually enjoying a normal meal. How many times had I seen her deprive herself, insisting that a handful of carrot sticks actually filled her up, or watched her stew in guilt that she’d given in to temptation and “binged” on a whole side of fries? (What bitter irony this would become when, during the past few months, my Ally would have given anything to stop losing weight and to actually gain it.)
And the pictures of the ballerinas? They’d been on the mirror because, for as long as I can remember, my little girl had wanted to be a dancer.
When the Last Leaf Falls by Bill Myers
Copyright 2001, Zondervan Publishing.
All rights reserved.
This wonderful novella by established Christian writer Myers (Eli) is a sweet and salty story of a pastor struggling to reconcile his faith with the possible loss of his daughter to cancer. The characters are convincing and deftly developed in a series of brief vignettes.
— Publishers Weekly
Pastor Paul Newcombe’s life is a celebration of faith and family until his teenaged daughter Ally is stricken with cancer. As Ally lashes out at God for allowing her to fall ill and at her family because they are healthy, Paul’s faith is tested as it never has been before. Even Ally’s grandpa, Paul’s father, a retired pastor and artist, is unable to shake Ally out of her pessimistic certainty that she’ll die “when the last leaf falls” from the tree outside her window. Myers (Eli) closely follows the plot of O. Henry’s short story, “The Last Leaf,” in a touching tale of love and devotion interspersed with humorous anecdotes of a father watching his little girl grow up.
This book was amazing. It was not only enjoyable to read, it spoke to my heart, as though from God. As a pastor, I was stunned at the insight into the reality of being in a pastor’s family. Most of all, I was touched by the application of a very real God to our very real, though difficult, lives.
— Bob Blackmore Berea, Ohio
“You come in here with some story about the blood of Christ, and you – ”
“No one said we had the blood of – ”
” – expect me to be your guinea pig?”
“Please, Mr. Coleman . . .” Murkoski swallowed. He appeared to be regrouping, trying to start again. He threw a nervous look at O’Brien, who sat beside him in one of the three fiberglass-molded chairs. They had been in the attorney/client room with Coleman for only thirty minutes, and the killer already had Murkoski on the ropes, looking like a fool.
And not just Murkoski. O’Brien had underestimated the man as well. They had carefully researched him, studied his psychological profile, medical workup, X rays, blood chemistry; they had even run covert EKGs, EEGs, PETs, and a CAT scan on him last summer. Clinically, they knew everything they could know about the man. But, like most people, they had erred in assuming that multiple killers were ignorant animals with underdeveloped mental skills. After all, here he sat – ribs taped, nose broken, one eye still swollen shut. How could somebody like this possibly be an intellectual equal? Unfortunately, neither of them had taken into account an inmate’s worst enemy: time. Next to sleeping, the best killers of time were reading, writing, and learning the skills of fellow prisoners. Whether it was the careful, step-by-step procedure for making a bomb, courtesy of Hector Garcia, or the intricate nuances of the Nebraska legal system, garnered from the books in the prison library, years of reading and listening had sharpened Michael Coleman’s intellect to a razor’s edge. Then, of course, there was the psychological gamesmanship he’d acquired in running the Row. All this to say, that in less than half an hour, he had reduced Murkoski, the boy genius, into an agitated knot of frustration.
The kid was flailing; O’Brien decided to step in. “Mr. Coleman. Regarding the identity of the blood. We can only say that it is extremely old, and that – ”
” ‘A couple thousand years,’ you said.”
“Yes, but – ”
“So how were you able to keep it from disintegrating? And don’t tell me you found it inside some mosquito embalmed in tree sap. I saw that movie, too.”
O’Brien took a long breath, but before he could answer, Murkoski jumped back into the fray. The kid never gave up. “The blood was sealed in candle wax. A small section of vine with fragments of bloodstained thorns was encased in the substance. We suspect it was revered as some sort of religious artifact for centuries. Kept on an altar where dripping candles inadvertently covered and sealed a portion of it.”
“And what altar would that be?”
“The southern deserts of Egypt. A monastery. The same one that claims to house St. Mark’s bones.”
“No, it wasn’t convenient. Not at all, Mr. Coleman.” Murkoski’s voice rose, trembling. “A lot of people risked their lives to bring it to us, and if you’re not interested in helping, then we’ll find somebody who is. In case you don’t know, there are three thousand other inmates on death row.”
Coleman opened his hands and closed them quietly. “Three thousand twenty-six. Perhaps you should contact one of them.”
Murkoski blinked. Coleman had just called his bluff. Of all the nerve. Murkoski appeared livid, but O’Brien was more impressed than angry. Coleman had no idea how many months they’d researched him, nor the time constraints they were now working under. And yet he’d uncovered Murkoski’s vulnerable underside, pressed all his buttons, and taken control of the conversation – in record time. The man was far more clever than they had imagined.
O’Brien cleared his throat and tried again. “Mr. Coleman – whoever’s blood it is, and we can’t say for certain, we do know that this individual had a genetic makeup slightly different from the rest of us.” He could feel Coleman’s eyes searching him, looking for a crevice, for a weakness to take hold of. But he held Coleman’s stare and kept his voice even as he went into the details. “Human DNA molecules consist of over six billion base pairs. If strung out in a line, that’s enough to stretch to the moon and back 16,000 times. In the ancient blood sample we have, most of those have not survived. But what portions we do have, those that have remained intact, have proven quite interesting.”
This was the hard part. The part O’Brien rarely shared. But it was Coleman’s body they were asking to experiment on, and it was certainly his right to know. “As far as we’ve been able to tell, the blood contains all the usual maternal genes, but there are some fairly unusual genes we’ve discovered on the male side.”
Coleman raised an eyebrow, waiting for more.
Murkoski moved in. “Certainly a man of your intelligence knows about X and Y chromosomes?” It was a patronizing question, and it was met only by Coleman’s silence. Murkoski continued. “Two X’s together make a female, while an X and Y chromosome determines a male?”
“The X chromosome carries up to five thousand genes, while the lowly Y chromosome, that which makes us men, contains only a little over a dozen. So far science has only determined the function of one of those dozen-plus genes, the one that tells the embryo to develop testes instead of ovaries. The remaining male genes appear totally useless.”
“Until now,” O’Brien corrected. “We don’t know how or why, but for some reason the portion of those Y genes that we were able to recover from the blood have a totally different makeup than any other male gene.”
Murkoski leapt to the punch line. “Whoever’s blood this was could not have had a human father.” Silence settled over the room. O’Brien watched Coleman. Not a muscle moved. Murkoski, on the other hand, leaned back in his chair, obviously assured that the playing field had once again been tilted to his advantage.
The silence continued. O’Brien coughed slightly then resumed. “Most of these new genes still appear useless, but one in particular has stood out. When it is introduced into other organisms – when we replicate it in the blood of say, mice, the creatures’ behavioral patterns shift dramatically.”
Coleman’s voice grew strangely quiet. “You’ve done this with other animals?”
“Yes. Mice first, then more recently primates.”
“The mortality rate has been higher than we’d like, but for those who have survived, the results have been staggering.”
Murkoski continued. “They are no longer concerned with what’s best for themselves. Instead of focusing on their own needs, they act in a manner that’s best for their community.”
Coleman sat motionless. Although he didn’t take his eyes off the men, it was obvious that wheels were silently turning.
Unable to endure any silence for too long, Murkoski continued. “And now we’re ready to take the next step. To introduce this blood into a human being.”
She stomped good and hard just in case he had missed her point. More training from Gary.
Innovative…a compelling story…enjoyable and provacative. I wish I’d thought of it!
— Frank E. Peretti
This book is one of the best books I’ve read. All the different storylines as well as the plot within the plot really got me interested. Anyone who loves to read or is just plan bored should read this. A real page-turner and everyone should own a copy. You won’t regret it! Trust me!
— Tina Florida
This book is one of the greastest books I’ve read in a long time.Once you pick it up you cannot put it down.
— Anonymous USA
Riviting! I read the book in one sitting .The charactors came to life immediately .Michael Coleman was so real that I could almost feel the changes in him. The final chapter gave me hope for our future.
— LaDonna Fulbright Independence , Missouri
One of the best Christian Fictions I have ever read. I couldn’t put it down once I started. Hope he writes many more.
— Anonymous Lebanon, Indiana
This book was fabulous! I couldn’t put it down, which is good and bad because I got nothing done at home until I finished the book. I am looking forward to reading more from Bill Myers.
— Brenda Eckroth Stroudsburg, PA
I liked his inclusion of the genetics’ details into the story as well as his description of the good personality of Coleman, his selflessness, etc. Ingenious…
— Stacy KY
WOW!!! That was the best book I’ve ever read in my life. From it’s ingenious references to DNA info to the way this book reaches into your soul and pulls things out that wouldn’t have been touched otherwise; this book by far is the best i’ve read
— Kathryn Borger, TX
(The Soul Tracker Series #2)
Bestselling Author of Soul Tracker
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Myers
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Myers, Bill, 1953The
presence / Bill Myers.
p. cm.—(Soul tracker series; bk. 2)
ISBN-10: 0-310-24236-3 (softcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-24236-9 (softcover)
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version and Holy Bible: New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.
“How Great Thou Art,” words and music copyright 1953 by S. K. Hine. Assigned to Manna Music, Inc., 35255 Brooten Road, Pacific City, OR 97135. Renewed 1981 by Manna Music, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. (ASCAP)
Interior design by Michelle Espinoza
For Mackenzie . . .
Who makes my heart smile
This is Book 2 in the Soul Tracker series. If you haven’t read the first, don’t worry—I’ve included enough background information so you won’t be lost. Of course, reading this one ahead of the other might ruin a couple surprises in the first (like who manages to survive and who doesn’t), but that’s about the only problem I can see. And, hopefully, when you’re finished, you’ll be intrigued enough to go back and read the first. With this second book there are a few more characters, so I’ll list them for your reference. Don’t be concerned about them now, but if you get sidetracked and come back to the book later, the list should help jump-start your memory. From the first book we have . . .
David Kauffman—Lost his daughter (Emily) as well as a good friend (Gita). Has been asked to disprove the claim that we can contact the dead.
Luke Kauffman—David’s teenage son.
Preacher Man—Street evangelist and friend of David’s.
Nubee—Mentally and physically impaired brother of Gita.
Starr—Young teen living on the streets.
Norman E. Orbolitz—Media tycoon who will do anything to control his fate, even through death.
And the new folks on the block are . . .
Rachel McPherson—A television medium growing in popularity.
Savannah—Ex-model trying to contact her dead husband.
Albert Sinclair—Friend of Savannah’s. A software entrepreneur.
Reverend Wyatt—Savannah’s spiritual advisor.
There you have it. Thanks for beginning or continuing this series. It’s certainly been an interesting journey for me and has caused me to do some thinking along the way. I hope it will do the same for you.
“The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7
Some presence has joined us. Yes, something has definitely decided to visit us from beyond.”
David Kauffman tried not to smirk at the melodrama. Honestly, the medium sounded like she was out of a bad 1950s movie. The only thing missing were some cheesy special effects. Then, sure enough, right on cue, the table candles flickered as if someone had opened a window. But of course no window had been opened. Nor door. Nor anything else in the lodge’s spacious dining room of pine paneling and hardwood floors. Just the fan or whatever it was the medium had obviously switched on by hidden remote.
Still, it had its desired effect. None of the participants moved; they waited in breathless anticipation. This is what they’d been preparing for. What they’d traveled so many miles to experience.
A chill crept across David’s shoulders. Apparently the medium hadn’t turned on a fan but an air conditioner. He could literally feel the temperature of the room dropping. A neat trick that made an instant believer of the woman to his right.
“Is it . . . him?” Her voice was thick and husky, cured from years of tobacco smoke. Savannah (she used no last name) was an ex-supermodel edging out of her prime—with thick blonde hair, complete with fashionable dark streaks, an indigo butterfly tattooed on her left shoulder, silver and turquoise jewelry, pink capris, and a silk camisole sheer enough to show off her lacy black bra. Nearby was the water bottle she took frequent drags from. In further efforts to kick her nicotine habit, she perpetually clicked and rattled sugarless candy inside her mouth.
“Ashton . . . baby?” She gave a sniff and gripped David’s hand tighter, her fingers damp and cold. “Is that you?”
There was no answer—except for the slapping candles against the air and the rattling of sugarless lemon drops.
Directly across from her sat a young man—Albert Sinclair. He’d barely met David before mentioning he’d sold his first software company at twenty-six, for 2.5 mil, and was working on his second. He sported a shaved head with fuzzy stubble, mandatory goatee, and casual khakis. In an effort to hide his nerdliness, he wore a black T-shirt just tight enough to indicate he’d been working out. He nearly succeeded.
“Man,” he sniffed, “it’s getting cold in here.”
David fought off another shiver. The kid was right. It had dropped a good ten degrees.
“It often happens when one contacts those on the other side.”
David shook his head. He’d written better lines than that in junior high. He turned to the medium, Rachel McPherson. She was in her midthirties and had that handsome sophistication that sometimes follows pretty girls when they grow up. Smart, personable, sensitive—the perfect combination for a con artist who bilks the grieving by “contacting” their dearly departed. Now if she could just do something about that corny dialogue. He had studied her bio on the flight up from LA. She had two books out, a syndicated TV show with a growing audience, and a PSI rating by the National Psychic Board of Level Three—a classification held by only a dozen or so in the country. A classification that to David meant she was simply good at not getting caught.
Ever since they’d started the séance some fifteen minutes earlier, he’d been silently evaluating her performance. Her eyes were closed in concentration, her head tilted to the side as if listening, allowing her shimmering copper hair to brush against some very bare and lovely shoulders. It’s true, he’d been taken by her beauty the moment they’d met—which explained his immediate shifting to a cooler, more professional approach, a curtness that bordered on rudeness. He didn’t enjoy it, not in the least, but it seemed to be necessary if he was to do his job.
She had offered her hand at the lodge’s front door when he and his son had been dropped off by the chopper less than an hour earlier. “Good morning, Mr. Kauffman. We were beginning to wonder if you would make it.” It was a good-natured barb, softened by kind eyes and the slightest flirt to her smile.
He nodded, glancing at the hand-carved beaver near the entrance, the beamed cathedral ceiling, the stuffed bobcat crouching on the table—anywhere but to her green, low- swooping, cowl-neck sweater. It was a clumsy defense, one he knew she saw through, but it was the best he could come up with on such short notice. He kept his answer simple and to the point: “Then let’s not waste any more time, shall we.”
“Don’t you want to see your room? Get unpacked and settled?”
He shook his head. “The sooner we get on with this, the better.”
That was it. No pleasantries. No apologies for missing the first day. Just his attempt at trying to be direct and professional.
The woman’s smile remained, but it grew a few degrees cooler. Just as well. He may have been taken in by her looks and winning personality—but he would not be taken in by her scam.
Initially, David had declined the request to fly up to Washington State and take part in the séances. He was an author, for crying out loud—not some psychic ghost buster. But Savannah, widow of the famous rock and roller, Ashton Hawkins, had been very persistent . . . the twenty-five thousand dollars she’d offered hadn’t hurt, either. All she asked was that he attend the gathering with a couple close friends and the acclaimed psychic, Rachel McPherson. Savannah insisted that they had made several contacts with her dead husband over the past few months. And it was during those contacts that his spirit claimed again and again that David had seen him in hell. More importantly, he insisted that David could actually help him escape from it.
Far-fetched to say the least. And David would have written Savannah off as a nutcase—except for the gold pendant. The swirling gold pendant he had seen around the neck of an individual suffering and burning when he had visited the Lake of Fire. The very pendant Savannah had later sent him as proof that he had actually seen her dead husband during those awful minutes he’d spent in hell.
Even then, David had declined. Although a relatively new believer, he’d read the Bible’s warnings against contacting the dead. Besides, according to his research, most were merely hoaxes and con jobs. A good friend of his, Dr. Gita Patekar, had made a career exposing just such frauds . . . until she gave up her life to save him in a very different type of supernatural encounter, one that was anything but fake.
Unfortunately, it was this last argument that the widow turned on him and successfully used in one of her later phone calls. “If you’re so sure it’s not true, then you’d be doing me a favor by coming up here and proving it.”
“I really don’t—”
“You wouldn’t believe the money I’m pouring down the drain on these people.”
“I can appreciate—”
“Not to mention my emotional instability.”
“I’m sure it’s very diffi—”
“I’m a wreck, David—I can call you David, right?”
“I got this cool place all rented up in the Cascades. So deep in the mountains you have to charter a helicopter. You can bring the family. You got family?”
“I have a son.”
“Perfect. Bring him up. Three days is all I’m asking. Make a vacation out of it.”
“I’m afraid you don’t—”
“Just think it over, please? ‘Cause for me it’s a real life or death thing. Not to mention for Ashton.”
“Just think it over.”
It took a few more calls to finally wear him down, though it was the offer to bring his son that had clinched it. Who knew, maybe a little father/son bonding in the wilderness would help heal their ever-widening rift.
The chandelier above their heads, the one made of intertwined deer antlers, started to rattle. All eyes shot up to it.
“Just a little tremor,” Reverend Wyatt assured them. He was the last of the party—an elderly denominational pastor in his seventies. Savannah had brought him along as her “spiritual advisor.” He was not at all the type David figured for someone of her lifestyle. Then again, by the way he constantly scrutinized and corrected her, maybe she felt the man was exactly what she needed. Although he was a definite stuffed shirt, David felt the closest to him. Probably because they shared equal skepticism about the proceedings.
The shaking grew harder, accompanied by a low rumble.
“We are located upon some unstable geological plates,” the Reverend calmly explained. “The same ones that created all that activity with Mount Saint Helens and are currently creating the steam vents you may have witnessed while flying over Mount Baker.”
David threw a look to his son. He was alert but showed little concern. And why not? After all, Luke was California born and bred. A little tremor now and then was only natural.
What was not natural was the icy blast of wind that exploded from the center of the table. It burst out in all directions, striking their faces, blowing their hair, their clothes. David squinted into the wind, searching the table for a vent, for some sort of opening. He saw none. He looked up at the ceiling, around the chandelier. Nothing.
“Rachel?” Savannah cried.
“We’re okay,” the medium shouted. “Everything’s all right.”
But things were not all right. The concern in the woman’s voice made that clear. So did the shaking of her hands. The gold Tiffany bracelet on her right wrist, the one Savannah had ogled earlier, banged loudly on the table.
There was also the matter of the computer geek’s chair. It started to move.
“What—what’s happening?” Albert cried.
David dropped his head to look at the chair’s legs just as it began rising from the floor . . . with the kid in it!
Albert screamed, immediately trying to climb off, but the wind pressed against him with such force that he could barely move. “Make it stop!” he shouted as he continued rising. Soon his ankles were level with the top of the table. “Put me down! Put me down!”
“Jump!” Rachel yelled.
“I can’t!” He struggled, but it was no use. “I can’t move!”
Savannah shrieked and David spun around to see her chair also rising. Eyes bulging in terror, she continued screaming, “Rachel! Rachel!” She tried moving, but like Albert she was pressed into the chair, her hair flying in all directions.
“Noooo!” Rachel cried.
David turned to see her screaming directly into the wind.
“They are innocent! I am the one who disturbed you! I am the one you—”
Her chair also began to rise, her eyes growing as big as Savannah’s. If this was a hoax, it was more elaborate than anything David had ever seen or read about. And Rachel McPherson was a far better actress than he’d given her credit for.
With sudden concern he turned to his son . . . just as the table between them exploded! The air filled with wood. “Luke!”
If the boy answered, David didn’t hear—not over the roar of the wind and the crashing debris. He leaped from his chair and tried lunging into the swirling vortex of wood and splinters. Pieces stung his cheeks, cut his forehead. He threw his arm across his face, squinting into the wind as he stepped forward, but the power and force drove him back.
And then he heard him. “DAD!”
He caught a glimpse of his boy beside the Reverend, peering through the wind.
Another scream. He whirled around to see Savannah’s chair blow apart, throwing her ten, twelve feet across the room. Then Albert’s chair disintegrated, flinging the young man in the opposite direction—just as Rachel’s chair exploded, tossing her hard into the far wall.
He spun back to Luke. The boy had left the Reverend’s side and was stepping into the swirl of wind and wood.
“NO, LUKE, STAY—”
But his son did not listen. He fought through the whirlwind toward his father. David lunged forward, doing likewise. Each struggled toward the other, barely staying on their feet, until they finally arrived and David wrapped his arms around his son to protect him. Only then did he notice the wind decreasing, the roar lessening. Swirling bits of wood began to clatter to the ground around them. Soon there were only sputtering gusts, then uneven wisps. Then, nothing at all.
He turned to see Reverend Wyatt stumbling through the clutter toward the supermodel. She lay crumpled on the floor. There was no blood, and though she was stunned, she was struggling to sit up.
A groan brought David’s attention to Albert on the other side of the room. Like Savannah, he had no blood on him, though he was definitely bruised and battered as he fought to get back to his feet.
Only Rachel McPherson did not rise. Instead, she sat curled in a ball against the far wall. She gripped her knees tightly, her eyes wild and unblinking. And she shivered. So fiercely her entire body shook.
Flashes of light?” Norman E. Orbolitz shouted. He turned to his division head, Dr. Lisa Stanton. She was in her late thirties, a nervous, rail-thin researcher whose wardrobe showed she had no concept of her gender and whose shoes squeaked annoyingly every second or third step. It was difficult moving his head with the heavy goggles on, not to mention the bulky cable that attached his goggles to the control console. “Sixty-five million dollars and you give me flashes of light!”
“Sir, that’s at our lowest setting. We wanted your system to have a moment to adjust. Remember what happened when we exposed—”
“Forget my system, girl. We’re on a deadline! Now crank this baby up and let’s see what she’s got.”
Through his goggles he watched the glowing image of the woman as she turned to her two assistants behind the console. “Increase the power, Charles. On my count.”
She turned back to Orbolitz. “We’re at Level Two. I’ll call off each level as—”
“Just do it! Quit wastin’ my time and do it!” Orbolitz had every right to be angry. He’d been assured the goggles would be up and running by now. In fact, their completion determined the start-up date of the entire project. A project that had cut sizably into the assets of his multibillion-dollar communication empire. But a project that would be worth every penny . . . if it worked.
“Bring us to Level Three, Charles.”
The hum from the headgear increased as Orbolitz continued staring through the goggles. In some ways they reminded him of the night vision gear used by the military, though they required far more power. And instead of green and white images that registered the body’s heat, these images registered something much more substantial.
There was another fleeting smudge of light, off to his left—four, five feet wide, traveling less than a yard before disappearing. Then another, over by the console. Orbolitz sighed impatiently.
“Level Four, please, Charles.”
More lights, wider now, growing brighter, more distracting. “Lisa, this is not what we—”
“Implement the filters, please, and take us to Level Six.”
The room grew several shades darker and the darting lights all but disappeared. Now he could clearly see the glow coming from the doctor and her colleagues. This was the focus of their studies. The light smudges were only a distraction, unwanted interference to what they were really after.
Orbolitz smiled. “Now we’re cookin’.”
“And Seven, please.”
The glow from the doctor grew brighter, radiating two or three inches from her body, except for the glow around her head, which was slightly larger, reminding Orbolitz of the halos in old religious paintings. He knew that the holistic crowd would mistake the glow as some type of aura photography— a technique developed in the 1890s and made popular in the 1970s by Kirlian Photography. But the team had quickly debunked that myth. Instead, what they discovered and what he now witnessed came from hard, scientific research—most of it from his Life After Life division, a department devoted to the study of death—more precisely, how to control one’s life after death. At eighty-seven, controlling his afterlife was just about all Norman E. Orbolitz cared about these days. Forget increasing his empire, forget any philanthropic outreaches—what good would they do him once he was gone? Instead, he invested his sizable wealth into making sure he could maintain control even after he’d left.
“Level Eight, please.”
The glows shimmered, growing brighter. He could see colors now—oranges and reds, swirling and folding into one another—all encased in a thin, much darker, violet-blue shell.
Orbolitz grinned. “Oh, yeah.”
They’d first noticed the glow when visiting the virtual reality lab down on the third floor. By entering the chamber, participants could experience the first few minutes of death recorded from the dying brains of over thirteen hundred volunteers. This data was then processed and assembled into a virtual reality program that allowed the participants to experience heaven, hell, and everything in between. It was a fascinating study, but soon opened the doors to much more important research . . . research that focused upon the glow.
They found it to be the strongest on the other side of the tunnel, in what they called the Garden. Here people, animals, even plants seemed to radiate it. And by isolating the information and studying it, the Life After Life team had been able to develop special and complex opticals to capture glimmers of it in our world. Glimmers that were amplified several thousand times, allowing the wearer of the goggles to see what Orbolitz now saw.
“We’re at Level Nine, sir.”
The faint flashes of light reappeared. He frowned. “I’m gettin’ them light things again.”
“Double the filtering, please.”
The room dimmed again. The interfering lights disappeared and the doctor’s glow increased. He turned to her assistants. The first had a glow similar to the doctor’s, though tinged with a bit more red. And the second? Orbolitz squinted. His shell was much thicker, the purples and violets starting to encroach upon the warmer colors underneath. Orbolitz mused. He’d have to ask for the background on the kid—his psychological profile. Because, as their research continued, Life After Life had discovered a clear pattern between a person’s interior life and their glow. More importantly, the pattern between the person’s glow and their final destination after death . . . which, of course, was the whole purpose of the little quarter-billion-dollar event they were about to stage.
He turned back to Stanton. By now her glow was so vivid it was nearly impossible to see her physical body.
“We’re at maximum power now.”
He nodded, examining each of the three glowing figures. “It’s still not like the implants.”
“No, sir, you’ll never see what our subjects will see, but it should definitely give you the idea. And, as we increase the power, as they experience more and more of the Presence, you’ll be able to see and evaluate their various reactions.”
Again he nodded. If it was the best they could do, it was the best they could do. “Well, then,” he sighed, “let’s get our heinies down to the screening room and see what we got.”
David in trouble. We go see David.” Once again Nubee Patekar grabbed his pillow, rolled his wheelchair backwards to the foot of his bed, and dropped the pillow into the suitcase.
“Nubee . . .” Once again Starr patiently reached into the suitcase and removed it. “David’s up in Washington State with Luke.”
“We go see David—we go see God.”
Starr raked her fingers through her greasy blonde hair. The two of them had been stuck in this rut ever since she’d entered his room at the nursing home twenty minutes ago.
“We go see God. You’ll like God.” He started for the pillow again.
“Yeah,” Starr sighed, “I’m sure he’s a cool dude.”
Nubee giggled as he grabbed the pillow. “Cool dude. God’s cool. Cool God dude.”
She shook her head. “Don’t you ever think of anything but God?”
He turned to her, breaking into that lopsided grin of his. “I think of you.”
She smiled in spite of herself. He could be quite the charmer when he wanted to be. Not that she ever felt any attraction to him or anything. At least not that kind. Honestly, how gross would that be. ‘Sides, he was in his thirties and she was only fifteen. Well, fifteen in a few months. No, Starr began hanging out with Nubee ’cause she liked his sister, Gita Patekar. More specifically, she liked the fame his dead sister had earned by shutting down the Freak Shop—that place where they experimented on street kids near Hollywood Boulevard.
But, gradually, over the months as the fame faded, Starr still found herself coming to visit Nubee. Not that she was crazy about the facilities. The smell of old people and disinfectant still creeped her out. And the rooms were way too similar to McLaren Hall—the juvee center she’d escaped from a couple times. The point is, she liked hanging with Nubee—though she couldn’t exactly figure it out. It’s not like he was a novelty or anything. She’d seen retards before, plenty of them. On the streets, in the parks, tucked up in the crannies of freeway overpasses. No, the best she figured, it was probably ’cause he was safe. He was still a man, an older man, but unlike her stepdad (the reason she hit the Boulevard in the first place), this guy had absolutely no interest in sex. Zero. Nada. That meant she could have the best of both worlds—enjoy the pleasure of hanging with an older guy . . . without having to do any of that other junk to earn it.
Course the bus ride out of the city every Saturday wasn’t bad, either. If you called Encino “out of the city.” That had been Preacher Man’s idea. Again Starr smiled. When it came to haranguing you about the Gospel, the big, black old-timer never let up. It was kind of cute the way he’d lock in on the new kids that came to the shelter. I mean, once he got you on his radar, look out. And when he heard that Nubee liked having the Bible read to him and that she had visited him once or twice, he got it in his head to cough up the $4.85 every week for bus fare to send her out.
“If I can’t get you to church, I’ll leas’ expose you to the cleansin’ power o’ God’s Holy Word.”
She shook her head. Good ol’ Preacher Man. Another piece of work. But another safe port from the storms of the street.
She glanced over to see Nubee sitting in his wheelchair, his pillow resting in his suitcase, patiently waiting. Realizing it was her turn, that it was one of those patterns he loved so much, she reached for the pillow and tossed it back to the head of the bed. But, even then, she sensed this was more than just a game to him. There was something about his insistence. The guy really was serious about leaving.
Once again he rolled to the pillow.
“Hey, Nubes, I got an idea.”
He was too focused upon retrieving the pillow to answer.
“What say I read you some Revelation? We haven’t read Revelation yet.”
Without looking up, he recited, “I like the angels, I like the monsters.”
“I know you do.” She reached for the worn Bible on his nightstand. “Let’s read about them angels and monsters.”
Nubee slowed to a stop, holding the pillow midair. He tilted his head, thinking a moment. Then, tossing the pillow back into the suitcase, he repeated, “We go see David.”
“Nubee . . .”
“We go see God.”
Rachel McPherson caught the badminton birdie on the edge of her racket. It gave a clunk and shot out of bounds near the front steps of the lodge.
“That’s okay, we’re all right!” Albert yelled from her side of the net. “We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em. Their defenses are down; now we’ll go in for the kill!”
Rachel grinned and shook her head. At 0–5, she seriously questioned her teammate’s tactics. She crossed to the shuttle and picked it up with a suppressed groan. Thanks to this morning’s encounter, her body ached in more places than she could count.
“Okay, Savannah,” David called to his own teammate from across the net. “Let’s put them out of their misery.”
Rachel discretely rubbed her back, musing, If he only knew …
“Two points and it’s a skunk game!” Savannah beamed.
The badminton game had been Rachel’s idea. “To help everyone relax,” she had said. “To attune themselves to the forces of nature around them.” And rightfully so. The morning’s events had been frightening. And dangerous. Fortunately, she’d sustained most of the injuries. And that was fine, that’s how it should be. After all, she was the expert, the professional. Professional . . . how she’d begun to hate that word. More and more she found herself longing for those earlier days, back when she donated her services for free. Granted, it had meant macaroni and cheese a couple nights a week, yet wasn’t that why she’d been given her gift in the first place—not to get rich, but to assist others? But now, over the last two years, as her books became best sellers, as her popularity grew, as her TV audience rose, so did her wealth . . . and her overhead. Now she had offices to rent, producers to pay, corporate sponsors to please, and staff members with families to feed. Suddenly she had become Rachel McPherson, acclaimed psychic, national celebrity, woman of the world. And yet, ironically, as each month passed, she thought more and more of their tiny little apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle, of being the wife to Mr. Jerry McPherson, of being a good and loving mother. Sadly though, some things were never meant to be.
After the morning’s attack, she had offered to end the retreat. There were too many variables, too many unknowns. But to her surprise, no one had taken her up on the offer. Whether it was their devotion to Savannah or just morbid curiosity, she didn’t know. Nor did she know if she was particularly pleased with their decision. In all of her years she had never experienced anything close to what had happened this morning. She had read nothing remotely similar in any Book of Shadows—those personal journals she and all Wiccans kept to record spells, incantations, and such. What she’d sensed, the raging hatred and violence, went against everything she’d ever learned. There were no evil entities, no evil gods. At least that’s what her spirit guides had taught her. Ever since childhood.
Spirit guides . . . She’d met her first in fifth grade, back when Sister Elizabeth Thompson taught them to relax on the classroom floor using yoga and meditation techniques.
“Breathe in . . . ,” the nun’s airy voice had encouraged them, “. . . and out. Good, good. And in . . . make believe the floor is sun-warmed sand and let your body melt into it . . . and out. Good. In . . . listen only to your breathing, there is only your breath . . . and out. Push all thoughts from your mind. Melting, melting, becoming one with the earth.”
Always wanting to be the good student, Rachel did her best to obey—lying on her back, smelling the waxed linoleum, melting into the floor … and clearing her mind.
“Good, good. No thoughts of your own. Push them aside. And in . . . become empty vessels . . . and out. One with the earth. No will. No self. In . . . you are totally empty, totally open . . .”
Mr. Sparks was her first guide. Later, she realized his real name was Osiris, but because of the way he glowed and shimmered, Mr. Sparks seemed a better fit. He had appeared to her at the end of the first week—a glimmering, sparkling presence who stood just outside her consciousness, waiting to be invited inside.
“And in … no will … no resistance …”
And with Sister Elizabeth’s careful tutelage, Rachel had made the invitation.
“. . . and out.”
Others followed. Friends of Mr. Sparks. They were distinct personalities whose voices she learned to recognize. Often, they gave her insights that kids her age never had. It was only when she reached puberty that situations occasionally grew unpleasant. That’s when one voice in particular asked her to do things with boys she knew were wrong. When she resisted, it began teasing her, taunting her. But what it wanted was not right and she continued resisting. This led to the name-calling—awful, mean names, some she didn’t even understand. That’s when she finally asked them to leave. All of them. But they argued, promising to control their friend and insisting they had no other place to go. More importantly, they promised they would use their powers to help her do good, to serve others. And, though they occasionally frightened her and made her uneasy, it was that promise, to help and serve others, that finally convinced her to let them stay.
“Hey, Rach, you playing or what?”
“Sorry.” Coming to, Rachel popped the birdie over the net to Savannah, who caught it and prepared to serve.
“Five–zero. Ready or not, here it comes!” Savannah hit the shuttle. It sailed high over the net, heading out of bounds.
“Let it go!” Albert shouted. “Let it go!”
Rachel obeyed, resisting the urge to swing. Unfortunately a light gust pushed the shuttle back, dropping it on the line.
“All right!” Albert shouted. “It’s out, it’s out!”
“No way,” Savannah argued.
“It’s out by a mile!”
“You’re crazy, I can see it from here!”
“Reverend?” Rachel motioned him over.
Reverend Wyatt, who claimed to be too old for the game but agreed to referee, sauntered over to take a look.
“It’s in!” Savannah shouted.
The Reverend carefully studied the shuttle.
“It’s out, right, Reverend?”
He moved, looking at it from another angle.
Rachel watched, amused at his thoroughness. Anybody else would simply call “do-overs,” but not this man. He was a stickler for detail. And after surveying it from yet a third angle, he made the call. “It is in bounds.”
“All right!” Savannah cheered.
Albert swore good-naturedly.
The Reverend scowled briefly at the profanity, then called, “The score is 6–0. It is once again Savannah’s serve.”
“We’ve been robbed!” Albert complained. “Robbed!”
Rachel threw another look over to David, who chuckled quietly at the antics. He still avoided her, doing his best not to look at her, which she found both challenging and endearing . . . not to mention a bit refreshing—particularly given Albert’s full-court leers. The younger computer geek was too smart to make a full-on pass at her, but he’d definitely developed the less-than-subtle art of sneak- a-peek lust.
Even at that, he was less obvious than Savannah. Originally she had appeared decked out in suede knee-high boots, red, pleated miniskirt, and an ultrasnug bustier with lacing up the front—until she caught the Reverend’s frown and shaking head. Taking her cue, she excused herself and returned wearing something a bit more modest. But only a bit. Poor Savannah. Rachel wondered if people like her wore such things intentionally or if they’d been advertising so long they simply weren’t aware of it.
Rachel scooped up the shuttle, trying not to wince in pain. She popped it under the net only to have it hit David’s thigh. “Sorry,” she called.
He nodded without looking, and bent down to toss it to Savannah.
Rachel had to admit she was attracted to the man, despite his initial rudeness. He was modest, smart, with a gentle, self-effacing humor. And then, of course, there was his thoughtfulness. That’s why he was up here in the first place. He had no interest in being her adversary, she knew that. He was simply committed to helping a grieving widow. Commitment. A vanishing trait among the men of her world. At least those she’d met since reentering the singles scene. Not that she entertained thoughts of him. Heaven forbid. Still, he wasn’t hard on the eyes—six foot, dark hair, and just muscular enough to avoid being lanky. She’d heard he was a recent convert to Christianity, which was fine, particularly since he didn’t seem inclined to shove it down people’s throats. After all, one of Wicca’s greatest attributes was its tolerance.
And what did her voices say about him? Just as they remained strangely silent over the morning’s attack, they remained quiet about the man. In fact, Osiris had spoken only two words all morning, back when she’d first greeted David in the entry hall. Only two words, but they were clear and unmistakable.
That was it. And now, to be honest, she wasn’t sure if he’d been referring to David or if he knew what would happen an hour later at the séance.
Be careful. That was all he said.
“Six–zero,” Savannah boasted as she prepared to serve. But underneath her shouting, Rachel heard the sound of something else. Crying. A baby. She glanced at the lodge. There were no babies here. Couldn’t be. They had the entire place to themselves.
The crying grew louder.
“Ready or not, here comes the skunk point.”
It grew more difficult to hear her over the baby. Rachel glanced at the others, but no one else seemed to notice.
Savannah served the shuttle. Once again it flew over the net. Only this time, instead of falling, it continued to rise. And, as it soared higher and higher, the baby’s crying grew louder and more urgent. It finally slowed, reaching its apex, and started down. But as it fell, it changed shape. At first Rachel thought it was a trick of the sun. But this was no trick. The thing was growing wings! The cry became a scream—shrill, deafening. The shuttle had become a bird. No, it was too big for a bird. But those were wings, she even saw the feathers. Yet it wasn’t a bird, it was . . . human! A baby! Falling. Diving straight at her. Screaming, shrieking. A newborn. No, younger than newborn.
Rachel raised her arms to cover her face as it rushed at her, screeching. She closed her eyes and screamed, no longer able to hear her own voice . . . until it brushed past, so close, so powerful, that it knocked her to the ground.
“Rachel!” Savannah yelled.
Others ran toward her. “Rachel, are you all right? Rachel?”
The crying had stopped. Now there were only their voices and her own ragged breathing.
“Rachel . . .”
Cautiously, she pulled back her arms. Only the faces stared down at her. There was no bird, no baby. Just the worried, concerned faces.
It’s on the blink again!”
“Mr. Orbolitz . . .”
“One minute it’s on, the next off!”
“It’s the video link, sir.”
“Look around the room.”
Orbolitz turned from the large projection screen before him to Dr. Lisa Stanton, who sat in the next row. As before she was surrounded in color.
“You see all of the images correctly in here, don’t you?”
He craned his neck past her to see the mixing board where the two associates sat, their colors equally as vivid.
“It’s in the video link, sir. Not the goggles. The images aren’t being picked up by the video feed at the mountain.”
Orbolitz made no attempt to hide his anger. “And that’s s’pose to make me feel better!”
“Well, no, sir, but—”
“The whole purpose of this little endeavor is to see what happens!”
“Yes, I understand—”
“Every one of them folks has been handpicked. No expense spared!” He turned back to the screen to watch the group helping Rachel McPherson up the steps and into the lodge. “And now you’re telling me I won’t be able to see their reactions?”
“No, sir, that’s not what I—”
“Then what are you saying?”
She swallowed and threw a nervous look to her colleagues. “Let me bring in the video team. Let me see if we—”
“If?” Orbolitz was suddenly on his feet, ripping the goggles from his head. “There ain’t no if, missy! I’ve invested a ton on this here thing.”
“Now I don’t care what you do, or how you do it. Bring in a hundred video teams if you got to, but I want this thing up and runnin’!”
“You got till noon tomorrow!”
“That’s nineteen hours!” He threw the goggles at her, crossed to the aisle, and stormed up it. No one spoke. It would have been suicide if they tried. He reached the door and yanked it open, the soundproof seal popping and scraping. Turning back he shouted one last time, “It’s already started, girl! The curtain’s up! Now just make sure I get to see the show!”
Myers’ gift for the bizarre twist flings the reader on a sublimely bruising ride through horror and ecstasy
— Romantic Times Magazine
Readers beware: Picking up this book to read a couple chapters before bed is not a good idea if you hope to actually sleep that night. I was drawn in to this story from the spine-chilling séance on first page and lost all track of time. Even when I put it down, Myers’ brilliant writing branded vivid images in my head that wouldn’t let me sleep. Bill Myers takes the battle between good and evil, as well as the battles that rage within all of us, and weaves them together in this page-turning story. You won’t put it down until you’ve read the last word.
— Focus on Fiction
This has to be the best book I have read in my life! Myers has woven a captivating story that provides an action-packed thrill…and brings you closer in your relationship with Jesus Christ.
— T. Bell
…It’s no wonder Mr. Myers is a best selling author. His writing is tight and quick, and we identify fully with the characters who could be our family members or our friends. Maybe that is why his books touch the soul: we could imagine ourselves or our loved one’s in the same perilous situation as the characters in the book. He gives us a feel of the fire of hell and that sends us searching for the love of heaven. You won’t be disappointed when you read this book; in fact your life might be forever changed.
— Linda Mae Baldwin The Road to Romance
I just finished reading “The Presence”. Wow! Gave me a lot to think about as far as my walk with the Lord is concerned. A summation of the contents of your book would make an absolutely awesome message for Pastors to give their congregations. I mean it, there is a lot of food for thought in this story. I am sure that this story had to be God inspired. I look forward to the next volume of the Soul Tracker series. I know that you will write the story as God inspires you and it will be a success. Thank you.
— Joanne Desy
I just finished reading “The Presence” and it was the most amazing book. The way you are able to write brings the characters so alive you feel like you are right there with them. I was unable to put the book down. The book has also made me stop and think about what my own glow and its color would be like if we could truly see. It has caused me to evaluate myself more closely – to look deep within. However you get your ideas for your books, I feel God is using you in a mighty way to reach so many. So no matter how odd a story line may seem, write it. There is someone out there who needs to read about it – to hear a word from God through it.
— Tammy K. Colvin
Bestselling novelist Bill Myers pens a supernatural, question-raising thriller . . . How would your soul look to earthly eyes? How would someone else’s soul appear? His writing is vivid and daringly descriptive . . . not wordy for the sake of words but words crafted to open your eyes and heart’s imagination. The action is extremely intense at times, and as usual, Bill Myers’ characters are believable and have great depth. The faith-based concept of forgiveness is explored; how unforgiveness affects you more than it does the other person. I’d highly recommend reading “Soul Tracker” first so you understand the story’s foundation before reading “The Presence.” If you have enjoyed any of Bill Myers’ previous books, you will not be disappointed! If you haven’t read him yet, what are you waiting for? Consider this your personal invitation!
— Dale Lewis Hope to Home Publishing
“Jill . . .” She gave him a brief nod, indicating that she’d heard. “Come on,” he urged, “the rest of the group is waiting.”
Her brief nod was followed by a brief smile, indicating that she’d heard but was in no particular rush to do anything about it. “Jill . . .”
Another nod, another smile.
He shook his head, frustrated and amused. After twenty-three years of marriage he knew the futility of trying to hurry his wife when she wasn’t interested in being hurried. He sighed and glanced around the tiny shop, one of a hundred stalls squeezed next to each other inside Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. Every inch of floor space was covered and every shelf was filled with spilling bags and open barrels of nuts, candies, fruit, seeds, pods, stems, leaves—some fresh, some dried; some ground, some whole—more spices and herbs than he’d ever seen or smelled in his life.
The aromas were dizzying, as were the bazaar’s sounds and colors. A menagerie of vendors beckoning the passing crowd to “come, see my jewelry . . . perfume for your lady friend . . . a souvenir for your children . . . beautiful key chain to ward off evil eye . . . finest gold in all Turkey . . . natural pirinc, good for much romance . . . Visa, Mastercard accepted . . . come, just to talk, we have some tea, my friend, just to talk.”
It was that last phrase that did them in yesterday. They’d barely left the hotel lobby before a merchant was escorting them into one of the city’s thousands of oriental rug shops. They’d made it clear they were not buying. The rugs were beautiful but there was no room in their house nor their budget. The owner nodded in sympathetic understanding. But after two hours of chitchat, pictures of a brother who lived in America, and more than one glass of hot tea, they found themselves viewing his wares and feeling obligated to at least purchase something—which they did. Seven hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of something!
But today was another day—he hoped.
“Jill . . .”
She nodded. She smiled. And she continued talking to the leatherfaced shopkeeper. The bartering was good-natured. Jill had purchased a quarter kilo of halvah—a deadly rich concoction of ground sesame seed and honey. She’d already paid for it, but before passing the bag to her, the old-timer tried to persuade her to buy more.
“I’m afraid it will make me even fatter,” she said, pretending to pat an imaginary belly.
“A woman of your beauty, she could eat a hundred kilo and it would make no difference.”
Jill laughed and the man threw Daniel a wink with his good eye, making it clear the flirting was all in fun.
Daniel smiled back. It was obvious the fellow liked Jill. Then again, everyone liked Jill. The reason was simple. Everyone liked Jill because she liked everyone. From the crankiest congregation member to the most obnoxious telemarketer, his wife always found something to like. And it wasn’t a put-on. The sparkle in her eyes and delight in her voice was always genuine. Unlike Daniel, who had to work harder at his smiles and often thought his social skills were clunky, Jill was blessed with a spontaneous joy. And that joy was the light of his life. A day didn’t go by that he didn’t thank God for it—even as high school sweethearts, she a cheerleader, he a tall, gangly second-stringer for the basketball team. He could never figure out what she saw in him, then . . . or now. But he never stopped being grateful that she did.
As the years of marriage deepened their love, she had moved from someone who always touched his heart to someone who had become his heart. In many ways she had become his center, a constant point around which much of his life revolved. He cherished this woman. And though he seldom said it, her heart and love for others was a quiet challenge and model that he never ceased striving to emulate.
Yes, her love for people was a great gift—except when they were on a tight schedule, as they were now, as they always seemed to be. Because no matter how friendly you are, it takes more than a sincere smile to keep a forty-five-hundred-member church afloat.
“Jill . . .” He motioned to his watch, a Rolex. It had been presented to him by the elders for twenty years of faithful service.
Twenty hard-fought years of sweating and building the church out of nothing. Originally he’d hated the watch. Felt it was too flashy for a pastor. But because of the politics involved, he’d forced himself to wear it. You don’t keep a forty-five-hundred-member church afloat without understanding politics.
“This I do for you,” the shopkeeper was saying. His good eye briefly darted to someone or something behind them. “I sell you one-quarter kilo and give you an extra quarter for free.”
“No, no, no . . .” Jill laughed, suspecting another ploy.
“Just one-quarter kilogram, that’s all we need.”
“No.” The man’s voice grew firm. “I have made up my mind.”
“But we only have enough to buy one-quarter.”
“This I have heard.” The shopkeeper spoke faster. He turned his back to them, momentarily blocking their view. “But for you, I give a most special gift.” When he turned to them, he was already wrapping it in the same slick, brown paper he had used before.
“Please,” Jill said, laughing, “you don’t understand.”
Again the man’s eye flickered to somewhere behind them. “I understand everything,” he said, forcing a chuckle. “It is free. I make no joke.” He dropped the item into the bag and handed it to her.
“But I can’t. I mean, that is very generous, but I can’t accept—”
“You must,” he said, smiling. “It is the Turkish way.” He glanced behind them and spoke even faster. “It is an old Islamic custom.”
Jill frowned. “An old Islamic cust—”
He cut her off with growing impatience. “It is good for your soul. It will help you hear the voice of God. Go now.” He waved his hands at her. “Leave my shop now. Go.”
Jill glanced at Daniel, unsure what to do.
He hadn’t a clue.
She turned back to the shopkeeper, making one last attempt. “Listen, I don’t think you understand. We are only paying for—”
“Leave my shop now!” His impatience had turned to anger.
“Do you not hear? Leave! Leave or I shall call the authorities!”
Jill frowned. Had she inadvertently offended him? Had she—
“Leave! Allah Issalmak. God keep you safe!” He turned his back on them and set to work organizing a nearby barrel of pistachios.
Again the couple exchanged glances, when suddenly two uniformed men jostled past them. In one swift move they grabbed the shopkeeper by the arms. He looked up, startled. He shouted at them but they gave no answer. He squirmed to get free but it did no good.
“Excuse me!” Jill reached toward them. “Excuse—”
Daniel grabbed her arm. “No . . .”
She turned to him. “What?”
Although he wanted to help, he shook his head.
“We don’t know him. We don’t know what he’s done.” The shopkeeper shouted louder. He pleaded to the crowd but no one moved to help. The two men dragged him from the stall and out into the cobblestone street, where his shouts turned to panicked screams as he kicked and squirmed, trying desperately to escape.
Again Jill started toward him, and Daniel squeezed her arm more firmly. She came to a stop, not liking it but understanding.
Off to the side someone caught Daniel’s attention. He was a tall man dressed in a dark suit and a brown sweater vest. But it wasn’t the clothing that attracted Daniel’s attention. It was the man’s focus. Instead of watching the shopkeeper, like the rest of the crowd, he was scrutinizing the two of them.
The look unnerved Daniel but he held the gaze—not challenging it but not backing down, either. The man gave a slight nod of greeting. Daniel hesitated, then returned it until his line of sight was broken by more uniformed men rushing in. They shouted at the crowd, forcing the people to step back as they began scouring the premises, rifling through the bags and barrels, tipping them over, spilling them to the ground.
When Daniel glanced back to the man in the suit, he was gone. But Daniel had an uncanny sense that they were still being watched. He leaned toward Jill and half whispered, “We need to go.”
“What are they doing?” she demanded.
“I don’t know but we shouldn’t be here.” He wrapped a protective arm about her shoulder, easing her forward.
“What are they doing?” she repeated. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” He guided her through the crowd.
“Where are they taking him?”
Daniel did not answer. Instead he continued moving them forward. He didn’t look back for the man in the suit. He didn’t have to. He knew he was still there. And he knew he was still watching.
“But, Ibrahim, with the greatest respect, the Qur’an calls for only 2.5 percent of our profit to go to the poor.”
“That is correct. And now I wish for us to double that.”
A palpable silence stole over the Shura, the council of ten men, most of whom were under the age of thirty-five. They came from various countries—Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, and of course right there in Sudan. Each was well trained; many held degrees from universities in the West. Each was responsible for a specific operation within the organization. And now as Ibrahim el-Magd spoke, he knew each was quietly calculating the financial impact his imposed charity would have upon each of their divisions.
Abdullah Muhammad Fadi, in charge of the organization’s European and American businesses, continued speaking as he reached for his laptop computer. “So by doubling it, we are changing it to . . .”
Ibrahim el-Magd already knew the figure. “Five percent of 1.8 billion increases our zakat, our charitable gifts, to ninety million dollars.”
The silence grew heavier. Only the rhythmic beating of the overhead fan could be heard. With quiet resolve Ibrahim surveyed the mujihadeen sitting about the table, his dark, penetrating eyes peering into each of their souls. They were good men, devoted to Allah with all of their hearts and minds. Despite their devotion to family, they had left behind wives and children for this greatest and most holy of wars. They had given up all for this, the most final jihad that Muhammad himself, may his name be praised, spoke of.
Across the table, young Mustafa Muhammad Dahab cleared his throat. “May I ask . . . may I ask why this sudden increase in charity?”
Ibrahim turned to the youngest member of the group. Mustafa was a handsome fellow who had not yet taken a wife and who, according to sources, was still a virgin, Allah be praised. He would make a great father, a great husband. More importantly, he was becoming a mighty man of God. At the moment he was in charge of managing and laundering drug money for the Russian Mafia—a one-billion-dollar operation for which their organization received twelve percent. Ibrahim did not begrudge the boy his question. He knew he merely asked what the others were thinking. For the briefest moment he thought of sharing his vision of the night—the dream that had returned to him on three separate occasions.
The dream of a face. A terrifying, blood-covered face. A face twisted with rage and fury. A face so covered in its opponent’s blood that it was nearly unrecognizable. Nearly, but not quite. Because Ibrahim knew whose face it represented; he sensed it, felt it to the depth of his soul. It represented the face of God—the face of Allah as he poured out his great and final wrath upon all humankind.
Ibrahim stole a glance at Sheikh Salad Habib, his chief holy adviser. Although every man in the room had memorized the Qur’an as a boy, it was Sheikh Habib who helped interpret it in terms of the jihad. Knowing Ibrahim’s thoughts, the old man closed his eyes and shook his head almost imperceptibly. Such truth as the dream was too holy to share; it would be considered blasphemy, at least for now.
Ibrahim understood and quietly raised his hand toward the table. “It is no small honor to be chosen as Allah’s great and final winnowing fork. And for such honor we must all increase our devotion and our commitment. Time and time again the Western infidels have proved how power and money corrupt.” He leaned forward, growing more intense. “This shall not, it must not, happen to us.” He looked about the table. “This small gesture—what is it but merely a reminder that it is Allah and Allah alone whom we serve. Not ourselves. And if necessary, if we need another reminder, I shall raise the percentage again, to ten percent or forty percent or, if Allah wills, to one hundred percent.” He lowered his voice until it was barely above a whisper. “This is the time, my friends, above all other in history. This is the time to purify ourselves. For our families. Our world. This is the time to take charge of every thought and deed, to remove every unclean desire—ensuring that all we say and think and do is of the absolute and highest holiness.”
Ibrahim looked back to Mustafa. The young man nodded slowly in agreement. So did the others. He knew they would understand.
After a suitable pause Yussuf Fazil, his brother-in-law, coughed slightly. Ibrahim turned to him. They had been best friends since childhood. They had grown up together in a tiny village on the Nile. Together they had studied the Qur’an, attended Al-Azhar University in Cairo. And though Yussuf had chosen Ibrahim’s sister for his younger, second wife, it did little to bring them closer—for they were already family, brothers in the deepest sense of the word.
“What about the remaining stones?” Yussuf asked. “What progress is being made?”
Ibrahim was careful to hide his irritation. His insistence that they wait until the stones were retrieved had created a schism within the council, an ever widening impatience lead by Yussuf Fazil himself. Yet despite the group’s frustration, Ibrahim remained adamant. They already had four stones. They would not begin the Day of Wrath until the remaining eight were found and consulted. He turned to the group and gave his answer. “Another has been sighted in Turkey.”
“Only one?” Yussuf asked.
Refusing to be dragged into yet another discussion on the issue, Ibrahim glanced at Sheikh Habib. The old man took his cue. His voice was thin and reedy from lack of use, from his many days of silent study and prayer. “It is our belief—” He cleared his throat. “It is our belief that the remaining stones will surface very, very quickly.”
Ibrahim watched the group. He knew many considered this action superstitious, even silly. And because of Yussuf, he knew that number was increasing. But he also knew the absolute importance of consulting with Allah before unleashing his greatest and most final fury. Still, how long could he hold them off? Plans for the Day of Wrath had been under way for nearly four years. And now as the day finally approached, they were supposed to stop and wait? How long could he hold them at bay? A few weeks? A month? Every aspect of the plan was on schedule. They were nearly ready to begin . . .
Except for the stones.
Sensing the unrest, Sheikh Habib resumed. “There have been several rumored sightings, all of which we are pursuing. Europe, Palestine, here in Africa. It should not be long.”
Mustafa Muhammad Dahab asked respectfully, “And we are certain they will enable us to hear his voice?”
The sheikh nodded. “According to the Holy Scriptures, just as they had for Moses, the twelve stones, with the two, will enable the inquirer to hear and understand Allah’s most holy commands.” “And yet the additional two stones you speak of, are they not—”
The rising wail of an air-raid siren began. Tension swept across the table. Some of the Shura leaped to their feet, collecting papers; others moved less urgently. But all had the same goal—to reach the underground shelter as quickly as possible. The compound, like many others of Ibrahim el-Magd’s, was well protected by armored vehicles, tanks, antiaircraft guns. At this particular base in northern Sudan there were even Stinger missiles. Since the vowed retaliation for the World Trade Center, such precautions were necessary for any organization such as theirs. Ibrahim rose to his feet and gathered his robes. Although he was anxious to join his wife, Sarah, and his little Muhammad in the shelter, he was careful to watch each of the Shura as they exited. He owned a half dozen camps scattered throughout the Middle East. Less than twenty people knew this was the compound where they would be meeting. In fact, to increase security, the location had been changed twenty-four hours earlier. The odds of the enemy choosing this particular time and this particular location to launch a strike were improbably high—unless there was an informant. And by watching each of the men’s behavior, Ibrahim hoped to discover if any was the betrayer.
The first explosion rocked the ground, knocking out power and causing the white plaster ceiling to crack and give way. Pieces fell, shattering onto the table before him.
“Ibrahim!” Yussuf Fazil stood at the doorway, motioning in the darkness. “Hur—”
The second explosion knocked them to the ground. Dust belched and poured into the room.
“Hurry!” Yussuf staggered to his feet, coughing. He raced to Ibrahim, then used his own body as a shield to cover him as they rose. Supporting one another, they picked their way across the cluttered floor. The explosions came more rapidly as they stumbled into the dark hallway, as they joined office personnel racing toward the tunnel with its open steel door ten meters ahead. Ibrahim could see the people’s mouths opening in shouts and screams, but he could not hear them over the thundering explosions.
He arrived at the tunnel and started down the steep concrete steps. The reinforced shelter lay twenty-five meters below—a shelter that security assured him could never be penetrated, even by the West’s powerful Daisy Cutter bomb. The earthshaking explosions grew closer, throwing Ibrahim against one side of the tunnel, then the other. They continued mercilessly, lasting nearly a minute before they finally stopped.
Now there was only silence—and the cries of people down in the shelter. Ibrahim emerged from the stairway and joined them just as the emergency generator kicked on. Nearly forty faces stared at him, their fear and concern illuminated by the flickering blue-green fluorescents. Two tunnels entered the shelter—one from the living quarters, one from the office area. His wife and little boy had no doubt entered through the living quarters.
“Sarah!” he shouted. “Muhammad!”
He scanned the group but did not see them.
Still no answer. People started to stir, looking about.
“They were outside,” a voice coughed.
Ibrahim turned to see a secretary. Her veil had fallen, revealing black hair covered in plaster dust, and a face streaked with tears.
“They were outside playing when the . . .” She swallowed. “They were outside playing.”
Ibrahim shoved past her. He began searching the group, holding his panic in check. “Sarah!” The people parted for him to pass.
Strong writing, edgy violence and a made-for-the-movies sensibility characterize this thriller from CBA veteran author and film director Myers…the story is replete with action; and the book admirably avoids an implausibly neat ending. Myers’s popular reputation and the books link to current events will likely woo CBA readers.
— Publishers Weekly
I could relate so closley sometimes to the people in the book and I couldn’t help but feel guilty for the lack of love I gave to God. So much of MY good intentions, and MY flesh getting in the way. Like I’ve heard the Screwtape Letters do, The Face of God has brought a light on to the enemy. Also after reading Eli, Blood of Heaven and this, I can say without a doubt that Bill Myers is my favorite author.
— Anonymous Honolulu
I have nothing but great things to say about this novel.The characters come alive , and no mater who you are you well relate to at least one of them.A griping story that has you laughing crying and on the edge of your seat all at once. If you read one book this year make sure it’s this one.
— Christopher Halifax N.S
I bought this book friday night and just started reading it this past Sunday. The book consist of 356 pages and I was unable to put it down. It is now Tuesday and I finished the 356 page book. This book was a wonderful, suspensful, and even breathtaking book. You will enjoy it very much. Also it is really convicted and makes you think alot about God and your walk with Him.
— Ryan Richmond
As I read this book and watched the characters struggle with issues in their lives… such as putting religion ahead of relationship, I found myself doing some major soul searching of my own.
— Anonymous Illinois
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It really makes you think, are we serving God or man? Are we too religious for our own good? Do we step on people and judge them because we think we’re “holier than thou”?
— Jenni Perry Turlock, CA
This is one of, if not the best Christian Fiction novels I have read. It was thrilling. I couldn’t put it down. It will challenge you spiritually. It will inform you on other religions. It was very fulfilling novel. There was so much of the word of God in it. I have told all of my friends to read it.
— Heather Hickory, North Carolina
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Myers
This title is also available as a Zondervan audio product.
Visit www.zondervan.com/audiopages for more information.
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Myers, Bill, 1953 –
The seeing / Bill Myers.
p. cm. – (The Soul tracker series ; bk. 3)
Includes bibliographical references.
813′.54 – dc22
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New
International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy,
recording, or any other – except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior
permission of the publisher.
Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard
Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.
Interior design by Michelle Espinoza
Printed in the United States of America
The guy’s BO made Luke’s eyes water. He had long greasy hair, an eleven o’clock shadow, jeans as brown as they were blue, and a crumpled, stain-riddled Hawaiian shirt. “This your first time to Agua Rancheria?” He sniffed loudly, wiping his nose.
Luke gave a nod and looked out the bus window, hoping to end the conversation.
No such luck.
“You’ll like it. The desert, I mean. Nothing but nothing as far as you can see.” He sniffed louder.
Luke stole a glance just in time to see the guy pinching away a drip of hanging mucus with his hand. His gloved hand. In the middle of June. Proof that the man was not only homeless but a mental.
“And those stars at night, I tell you – ” another sniff – “God must have been having a fine day creating those.”
This time Luke didn’t respond.
The man didn’t notice. “‘Course the casino’s kinda messing stuff up. All that bright light and razzle-dazzle. But get away from it and the place is beau-tee-ful.” As discretely as possible, Luke cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. They’d picked the guy up in Palm Springs about thirty minutes ago. If Luke’s geography was any good it meant he’d only have to endure another five or 6 the seeing ten minutes of his company before stepping off the bus and getting some fresh air.
In truth, the man was only a minor nuisance – the last in Luke’s ongoing campaign to get away from home . . . and Dad.
“You’re smothering me again!”
“I just don’t think being gone all summer is a good idea.”
“Six weeks,” Luke argued, “it’ll only be six weeks.”
“That’s nearly two months.”
“You’ll be in New York half that time.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it.”
“You’re always saying I should get a job, save for college.”
“It’s too far away.”
“It’s two hours. I’m fifteen years old, Dad. Fifteen!” And so they continued. For the most part it had been a standoff . . . until Preacher Man had weighed in. Good ol’ Preacher Man . . .
“Come on, David,” he insisted, while working on a bag of potato chips at the kitchen counter. “Let the boy go.” It was an unusual friendship – a middle-class, whitebread family and an old black street preacher. Then again, considering what they’d been through these last couple years . . . his sister’s death, his dad’s visits to heaven and hell, and later where they literally saw each other’s souls and the spirit world . . . well, maybe it wasn’t so unusual after all.
“You already met Pastor Virgil and his wife.” Preacher Man continued munching. “They don’t come any better. And they definitely need help gettin’ that church of theirs fixed up.”
“Probably do the boy good. Get him out in some fresh air, doin’ some real work for a change, ‘stead of always playin’ with that computer.”
“What about his eyes?” Dad argued. “He barely remembers to wear his sunglasses around here. What’s going to happen if he gets out in the bright desert sun and forgets – ”
“I won’t forget!”
“You say that now, but – ”
“I won’t forget.”
And so the war continued. It had taken nearly a month to wear him down. Even at that, Luke had to use every weapon known to adolescence – forced cheerfulness, willingness to do household chores (even when unasked), and listening to the man’s perpetual naggings and repeatings without so much as an eye roll.
It had nearly killed Luke, but somehow he had succeeded. He had won. Now he was heading out to a desert community for six weeks to help some old pastor fix up some old church . . . and to finally enjoy a little independence.
The bus turned off the main road and entered the town. As it did, Casino Rancheria filled Luke’s window. It was a monstrous complex of white limestone, giant waterfalls, and fountains complete with roaring rapids and life-sized bronzed replicas of Native Americans in canoes. Portions of ocher-colored pottery protruded from the walls, where mural after mural of desert wildlife had been painted to look like Indian art. And lining the entrance, a dozen Native American heads, twenty feet tall, gazed toward the desert, their faces creased and weathered by the sun.
It seemed everywhere Luke looked he was reminded of Indian culture. And for good reason. According to Pastor Virgil, that was part of the deal when the casino leased the land from a local tribe.
As the bus passed the red-carpeted entrance, Luke noticed a handful of protestors carrying signs and placards reading:
GAMBLING IS A DISEASE, GOD IS THE CURE KEEP YOUR MONEY, AND YOUR SEX, VIOLENCE, DRUGS, CRIME ILL-GOTTEN GAIN EQUALS ILL-GOTTEN PAIN
A tanned blond guy in his early thirties was leading them. He shouted things Luke couldn’t quite hear while bored security guards stood nearby. Apparently, none of it really mattered, because despite the demonstrators, hordes of people just kept swarming in and swarming out. Luke reached into his nylon windbreaker and pulled out what almost passed for the broken half of a pair of night-vision goggles – complete with various wires cut back. Although he had trimmed them, he didn’t have the heart to completely remove them.
In truth, he hoped to find a way to make the goggles work like they had for Orbolitz – back when the old guy claimed to use them to see into “higher dimensions.” More importantly, he hoped they would earn him the respect he never fully received. Luke had always felt special . . . chosen. And, if he ever got the things to work, they would definitely help prove his point.
Imagine how different folks would treat him if they knew he could see into the spirit world. It was one thing for those TV preachers and everybody to be jabbering about that stuff, but if he could actually see it . . . well, that would sure get them to sit up and take notice. At the very least he wouldn’t be treated like some stupid kid anymore. He raised the broken goggles to his sunglasses and looked at the familiar smears of light and darkness that, for some reason, only he was able to see. Chances are it was because he’d fried his eyes while climbing that microwave tower, or whatever it was, up in Washington. But it made little difference. The point is, despite Dad’s protests, Luke took them wherever he went. And the more he used them, the more he was able to recognize recurring patterns and formations of light.
It wasn’t much. But being able to see the faint traces did set him apart . . . a little.
This time the smears darted about the casino – particularly in and out of its entrance. He turned and focused on the protestors. Although the smears seemed a bit more flighty and agitated than normal, they acted pretty much the same as they did around any other group. He started to remove the goggles when something caught his eye off to the right of the casino – a jagged peak, flattened on one side, part of the mountain range they’d been following for the last hour.
It had no fleeting smudges of lights around it, and Luke wasn’t surprised. The lights usually just hung around people. Instead, what caught his attention was the very top of the peak. It was covered in a shadow. But thicker than shadow. Not as dense as a cloud because he could still see through it. But it was a specific darkness that rippled and quivered. It seemed to pulse ever so slightly . . . almost as if it were breathing.
Almost as if it were alive.
“Misty! Misty, where are you?”
Pilar slammed the front door to their penthouse suite, the largest at the casino, and stormed across the white carpet toward the hallway and her daughter’s bedroom.
She was not happy.
She arrived just as her sixteen-year-old appeared in the doorway. The girl still wore her sleeping sweats and flip-flops. Her hair was unkempt, as thick and black as her mother’s.
“Oh, hi, Mom.” She sounded too casual. “What brings you home?”
“You were in the Surveillance Room again, weren’t you?”
“What do you mean?” She blinked, pushing up the world’s ugliest pair of tortoise-shell glasses. “You told me I could never go in there.”
“I know what I told you, and you were there, weren’t you?”
“What? Why would I – ”
Pilar raised the small electronic box she’d been carrying, complete with dangling cable.
“Security found it attached to the back of their computer.”
Misty took it into her hands. “Hm, I wonder what it’s for?”
Pilar sighed wearily. “You know how the casino frowns upon you hacking into their surveillance system.”
“But, Mom – ”
“No ‘but Moms.’ ”
“Why do you always blame me? You’re always blaming me for everything!” It was the girl’s attempt to go on the offense by playing victim. “It’s like you don’t even trust me.”
Pilar crossed her arms. “Nice try, no sale.” She shifted her weight and noticed Misty doing the same, obviously trying to block her from seeing into the room. “Besides,” Misty quipped, “what do you care? It’s the white man’s casino, and we both know what you think of the – ”
“My personal feelings have nothing to do with it. What you’re doing is wrong, it’s proprietary information, and it makes them nervous. It makes Bianco nervous.” She shifted again and Misty mirrored her action. “What are you doing in there?”
“Misty?” Pilar tried to see past her.
Once again Misty blocked her view. “It’s just video games and stuff.”
“Right, and it’s the ‘stuff’ that’s got me worried.”
“Why are you always so suspic – ” She was interrupted by the howl of a cat. Twirling around, she cried,
She raced into the room, Pilar right behind.
The place was a Radio Shack gone berserk – electronic consoles, gizmos, and gadgets everywhere you looked, except the floor, which was covered in an equal amount of clothes – some clean, some dirty – but all, Pilar knew, would be dumped into the dirty-clothes hamper.
Then there was the cat box. By the pungent odor, she guessed it hadn’t been emptied in a week . . . or two. Stuffed off in the corner was a small twin bed with the mandatory grouping of stuffed animals. But the long table in the center of the room was the obvious focus of activity. A table cluttered with wires, circuit boards, soldering iron, and the innards of a hundred who-knew-whats. Directly behind it, on another table, a dozen different- sized monitors were stacked on top of each other, all glowing.
“Balzac . . . oh, you poor thing!” Misty had scooped the jet-black cat into her arms. “How many times has Mommy told you not to go sniffing around all those mean electrical circuits.”
He definitely looked dazed. And for good reason. As Pilar leaned closer she saw he no longer had whiskers. Well, he did, but they were now melted into little corkscrews. That and the smell of burning hair was a sure sign that the cat had used up a few more of his lives.
“Poor baby,” the girl soothed, stroking him. “Poor Balzac.”
Pilar looked up at the wall of monitors. She moved in closer, not believing what she saw. “Is that what I think it is?”
“I was just – ” “Is that Bianco’s office? Did you bug the manager’s office?”
“Mom, you know something’s going on. I mean, the way he’s got everyone running all over the – ”
“Did you just bug my boss’s office?”
She turned to Misty.
The girl raised her shoulders in a helpless shrug.
Pilar sighed wearily, dropping her head and slowly shaking it. a wave of hot fresh air struck Luke as he stepped off the bus. But he was grateful for it – especially the “fresh” part.
“Praise God, there he is now!”
He looked over to see Pastor Virgil and his wife – he’d forgotten her name – shuffling down the sidewalk toward him. The spunky old-timer wore a Panama straw hat, dolphin- print shirt, leather sandals, and khaki shorts which showed off far too much of his brown saggy knees. Fortunately, his wife was dressed a bit more modestly.
“Good to see you, son.” The pastor arrived, throwing his arms around him.
Surprised, Luke answered, “Thanks, it’s good to – ” he gasped at the old-timer’s strength – “see you . . . too.” They broke apart as Virgil turned to his wife. “Isn’t it good to see him, Fiona?”
“Yes, it is.” She offered her wrinkled, sun-browned hand and Luke shook it.
“Yes, it is,” Virgil repeated, “yes, it is.” Then slapping his little belly, he looked about, beaming. “Welcome to Agua Rancheria. What do you think?”
“It’s . . . nice.”
“Nice? It’s glorious! Now I don’t wanna be spreading rumors, but folks say God Himself has a time-share here.” He flashed another grin, laughing at his joke. By now the driver had opened the luggage compartment under the bus and was pulling out Luke’s bags – all four of them.
“Whoa,” Virgil exclaimed. “These all yours?” Luke nodded, somewhat embarrassed. “Yes, sir.” The old guy whistled. “Didn’t know we were going to have a fashion devo on our hands.”
“Leave the boy alone, Virgil.”
Luke tried to explain. “I wasn’t exactly sure what to wear, I mean out here in the – ”
“It don’t matter, son.” He reached for the luggage.
“No, here,” Luke offered, “let me get that.”
But Virgil was already trying to lift the largest bag.
“That’s way too heavy, let me – ”
“I got it, son, I got it.” With great effort, the little man finally lifted the suitcase. “Fiona,” he gasped, “wanna give the boy a hand with them others?”
“No, please,” Luke protested.
“Nonsense, she’s as strong as a – ”
“Really.” Luke quickly gathered up the other three.
“I’ve got them.”
“Suit yourself.” Virgil turned and staggered up the sidewalk.
“Car’s just a little ways – ”
He was interrupted by another voice. “We’ll catch you later, friend.”
Luke turned to see the man in the Hawaiian shirt stepping off the bus, heading in the opposite direction.
“Uh . . . right.” With hands full, Luke managed a nod.
“One of your Hollyweird buddies?” Virgil teased.
“Uh, no, I just met him on the bus.”
Virgil nodded. “Probably homeless. We get our share of ’em this time of year. Usually aren’t dangerous – long as you don’t get too friendly. We don’t bother them, they don’t bother us.”
The bus gave a belch of black smoke and started pulling away.
Fanning away the fumes, Fiona asked, “So, Luke, how was your trip?”
“That’s wonderful.” Virgil was breathing heavily.
“‘Cause you’re going to need all the strength you got, once we get to working on that church. Twenty hours a day can really tucker a fellow out.”
Luke threw a concerned look to him, then to Fiona.
She smiled. “He’s just playing with you. He calls it – what do you call it, dear? – oh yes, ‘humor.’ ”
Luke smiled. Though he’d only spent a few hours with them when they’d visited Preacher Man in LA, he remembered all too well how the couple communicated.
She continued, “Don’t pay him any mind, Luke. Nobody ever does.”
Ignoring her, puffing harder, Virgil asked, “How’s your dad? And Billy Ray?”
“Preacher Man’s doing great. And Dad, he’s, you know, Dad.”
Virgil flashed a grin over his shoulder. “Still making you crazy, is he?”
“I didn’t know it was that obvious.”
“It’s hard to get much past these old eyes.”
“Right,” Fiona drolly replied.
“It’s true, I see everything.”
“Unless it’s the garbage that needs taking out, or all the repairs that never get done.”
“Selective vision, woman. These eyes see life from a select perspective.”
“Closed and from the recliner.”
“Drip, drip, drip . . . Drip, drip, drip.”
Fiona explained, “That’s his way of reciting the Bible to me.”
Virgil quoted, ” ‘A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.’ Proverbs 19:13.”
Fiona countered, ” ‘If a man is lazy, . . . the house leaks.’ Ecclesiastes 10:18.”
The old-timer frowned, searching for a response. Luke had to smile.
They walked by a large billboard with a picture of the casino he had just passed. Written across its front, diagonally, in big red letters, were the words:
DEAL ME OUT!
“What’s that about?” Luke asked.
“More of Travis Lawton’s handiwork,” Virgil replied.
“Our city’s newest gift from God – least that’s what he thinks. He’s found a loophole in a local ordinance. Thinks we can force a vote and drive out the casino.”
“Why would he want to do that?”
“Lots of reasons,” Fiona answered. “Prostitution, drugs, corruption. Our overall crime rate has gone up 400 percent since the casino moved in.”
“Is that what the protestors are about?” Luke asked. “I saw some folks picketing in front of the casino.”
Virgil nodded. “Pastor Lawton and his congregation – they’re foolish enough to think if they get rid of the casino, they’ll get rid of our troubles.”
“And you don’t think so?”
Virgil shook his head. “The casino is only the symptom. Lawton and his people are fighting shadows. They’re totally clueless about the real sickness.”
“And that is . . .”
“You’ll know soon enough,” the quirky old man answered as they continued down the street. “You’ll know soon enough.”
“look at this putz.” Peter Bianco sat with his meticulously polished black leather Guccis propped atop a large teak desk. Across the office, a row of surveillance monitors displayed various angles of the casino’s front entrance – shots of the demonstration. More importantly, one close-up shot of their leader . . . Pastor Travis Lawton. “Does this guy ever sleep?”
“Apparently not.” The answer came from Joey Popiski, a balding, middle-aged man with far too much cream filling in the center and wearing way too much Old Spice. He forced a phlegm-filled chuckle. “Not when he’s made you the focus of his personal jihad.”
Bianco stared at the screen without comment. Popiski leaned toward the desk, trying to continue the conversation he had begun earlier. “You wouldn’t have to start me off as a headliner. I could be somebody’s warm-up.” Popiski’s claim to fame had been working on Saturday Night Live in the eighties as a comedian/impersonator. Now, with waning popularity, he had enough clout to get into Bianco’s office, but not enough to be taken seriously. “I don’t even need to have my name on the marquee, at least in the beginning.”
Bianco watched the monitors as his gall continued to rise. Finally, swearing under his breath, he sat up in the chair and reached for the intel folder that Security had prepped on Travis Lawton.
“And then in say, six months, once I’ve established myself, we can talk about better billing and better money.” Across the office, two large men in identically tailored suits – Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb, Bianco called them – continued sweeping the room for electronic bugs.
“And from there, who knows. I mean, if I’m bringing them in, anything goes, right?” Running his hand over his gray buzz cut, Bianco continued flipping through the folder. Nothing. They had nothing on this pain-in-the-butt preacher. Nothing, except . . . He reached for his glasses to take a better look. That’s when Tweedle Dee’s surveillance wand began buzzing.
“Got something, boss.”
He looked up, then rose to his feet and crossed the room.
Tweedle Dee pulled out a small camera, no larger than an M-16 shell, from the side of the farthest monitor.
“That’s it?” Bianco asked.
He took it into his hands. It even looked like an M – 16 shell. He turned it over until he spotted what had to be the lens. Then leaning into it he shouted, “Not funny, Misty.
Not funny at all!”
He turned and headed for the bathroom.
As he entered, the motion sensor lights flickered on, revealing the white marble walls and gold fixtures. He raised the toilet lid and dropped the camera into the bowl with a rewarding kerplunk. Reaching for the lever, he flushed it, and watched the camera swirl away – a fitting end to his problem.
He stepped from the bathroom and glanced back at the monitors. If only he could dispose of his other headaches so easily.
As Bianco walked back to his desk, Popiski, not the brightest candle on the cake, started where he left off. “I wouldn’t even have to include my agent, not that he does me any good. It could all be under the table until – ”
The intercom buzzed and the secretary’s throaty voice spoke. “Mr. Bianco, your call has come in.” He moved to the phone. “Good, good, put him through.”
” – on a trial basis, that’s all, I’m – ”
“All right!” He turned to the comedian. “All right, you got the job! On a trial basis! Now go on, get out of here!”
“Thank you, Mr. Bianco, I promise you, you won’t – ” He shot a look to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb. Taking their cue, they moved across the plush carpet, gently gripped Popiski on either arm, and escorted him toward the door.
” – and if there’s anything I can ever do to return the – ”
At last the fat man was out of his office.
“And shut the doors!”
They softly closed.
Bianco paused a moment, looking at the phone. Then taking a breath to clear his head, he reached for the receiver and turned to the tinted wall of windows. “Senor Velasco.”
He sat on his desk, suddenly all confidence and good humor. “So good to hear from you.”
The voice on the other end was cordial but definitely businesslike. “Good afternoon, Mr. Bianco.”
“How are we doing today?”
“They tell me you are incurring some difficulties.”
“People in your community. There are some who do not wish for your presence.”
Bianco rubbed his forehead. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Demonstrators. They are trying to make you leave.”
“Oh, those.” Bianco forced a laugh as he turned back to the monitors. “Just a handful of religious fanatics.”
“Fanatics who are opposed to your presence?”
“It’s the American way. They’re merely exercising their constitutional rights.”
“I trust such rights will not interfere with our plans.”
“What? No, no, of course not. Believe me, they are a minor nuisance.” Once again he stared at the monitor featuring Lawton.
“I sincerely hope you are correct.”
“Believe me, in a day or two this will all blow over. By the time you arrive, no one will even remember them.”
He glanced at the intel folder on his desk and pulled it toward him.
“You see no problem then.”
“And should it persist, the problem. You have adequate means to remedy it?”
“Absolutely. You have my word on it.”
“Good. The stakes are too high for us to have any distractions. I think you would agree.”
“Of course, Senor Velasco, of course.” Once again he opened the folder. “I absolutely, one hundred percent, completely agree.”
Luke rocked in the old porch swing, enjoying the night. The town with its glaring casino lights was far enough behind the house that it didn’t affect his view of the stars. They were so bright it was like looking at a photo taken by one of those space satellites.
And so intense he almost felt he should wear his sunglasses. The desert too. Even without the moon, the desert and mountains glowed in bright, blue-white.
Talk about beautiful . . . and peaceful.
Well, everything except the mountain peak. It was hard to explain, but even now he sensed a strangeness about it. So much that he’d gone back to his room and retrieved the broken piece of goggle to find out what he could see. He’d barely pulled it from his pocket and placed the lens against his eye before he heard the screen door groan and Virgil step out.
“Lord have mercy, can that woman cook.” Luke quickly lowered the lens, discretely removing it from view.
“Makes no difference how they sass ya, you find a woman who can cook – ” Virgil slapped his belly as he approached – “and you’ve found yourself a mighty good thing.”
Luke nodded. “I bet.”
Easing himself down on the swing, Virgil asked, “Still got them goggle things, I see.” Caught, he brought the broken piece into view. “What, this?”
Virgil smiled. “And I’m bettin’ they still make your daddy nervous. You called him, let him know you got here okay?”
“So what’d you see?” He motioned to the goggles.
Luke shrugged. “Nothing. I was just about to check out that mountain over there.”
“That’s its name?”
“Local Indians have some pretty interesting legends ’bout the place.”
Virgil gave a stretch. “They believe there is an evil spirit living on it – ruling that entire range of mountains, and the Coachella Valley down here.”
Luke turned to him.
“Tahquitz, they call him. In the old days they said he used to sneak into the villages at night and kidnap their virgins – dragging them into a canyon up there and having his way with them.”
“Some legend,” Luke mused.
“If that’s all it is.”
“What do you mean?”
Virgil looked at him, then changed the subject. “I noticed you’re still having to wear sunglasses?”
Another shrug. “Yeah.”
“Doctors still aren’t sure what’s wrong?”
“Kinda makes you mysterious, though, don’t it.” Chuckling, Virgil added, “Bet the ladies love it.”
“I, uh, wouldn’t know.”
He laughed and slapped Luke on the leg. “You will, son. Mark my words, you will.”
After a polite moment, Luke returned to the topic. “You think there’s something more than the legend?”
“The mountain, you said, there was more.”
Virgil paused, then answered, “You ever hear of something called spiritual strongholds . . . principalities?”
Virgil smiled. “The Bible talks about it.” Looking at the mountain, he quietly quoted: “‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ Ephesians 6:12.”
“You’re talking about the spirit world?” Luke asked.
“That’s how I read it.”
“Like what Dad and I saw up in Washington – all those angels and demons scattered everywhere.”
“Probably. Though I doubt they were really scattered.”
“There seems to be specific territories that the spirits rule over. Regions that they influence.”
Virgil looked at him, sizing him up another moment, before continuing, “Ever go some place and feel things you can’t explain?”
“Or maybe some great hunger for power? Or greed? Or maybe just the feeling that something ain’t quite right?”
Luke fidgeted, recalling all too well his feelings up in Washington. “Maybe. A little.”
Virgil held his look, then continued, “I remember the first time I went to LA. I was practically bowled over by feelings of lust. And Washington, DC – not only did I feel lust, but a real desire for power, so strong it was palpable.”
Luke frowned. Until now he’d figured he was the only one getting those feelings about places, that it was just his imagination. But ever since Washington State his impressions had been growing stronger. Ever since he’d heard the words “Be still and know.” The very words that, when he’d practiced them, allowed him to guide Dad and the others to safety.
“Ever wonder why certain areas experience the same problems over and over again? New York with its greed and violence. Jerusalem, the center of all that hatred and war. Even Abu Ghraib with its unspeakable brutalities.”
“Remember that prison in Iraq where some of our soldiers were performing all them vile things on folks?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“Doesn’t it surprise you that it was at that exact spot, Babylon, where for centuries some of the worst inhumanities ever were performed?”
“You’re saying . . . these spirits, that they control and rule these areas?”
“Not only rule them, but in some instances, they fight to defend them.”
“Defend them? From who?”
With a groan the old man rose and walked to the porch steps. “I’ve tried for over thirty years to take this valley for God. Oh, we’ve gotten a few converts here and there, but it’s always felt like swimming in molasses.”
“And you’re thinking it’s spirits that are stopping you?” Looking to the mountain, Virgil nodded. “Since the time of the Indians this valley has been a playground for sin and immorality.”
Virgil threw him a glance and headed down the steps to the front yard of rock and sand. Luke rose and followed. Only when he arrived did the old man continue.
“Before you were born, this valley, particularly over at Palm Springs, was famous for its promiscuity. This was the place the big Hollywood stars came to gamble, to drink their liquor, to do their drugs, to have their immoral affairs. Later, it became a mecca for college kids on spring break – the same gambling, same alcohol, same drugs, and sex. Then them killings in 1988.”
“There were killings there?”
“Some teenagers. ‘Fore you were born.”
“Now . . . the casino.”
“Is that why that minister guy’s picketing the place?” Luke asked. “He’s trying to stop it?”
“And that’s why he’ll fail . . . miserably.”
“He’s using the arm of the flesh.”
“The wrong weapons.”
Luke stared, not understanding.
“Come with me tomorrow. You’ll see what I mean. He’s holding a rally, trying to get all the churches fired up to band together. Come with me and I’ll show you how he’ll fail.”
Luke frowned, not answering.
“So – ” Virgil brightened – “tell me what you see with that goggle thing.”
“I . . .”
“Go ahead. Take a gander.”
Luke looked back to the mountain, hesitated, then dug in his pocket. He pulled out the lens and brought it to his eye. As on the bus, he saw the dark, churning shadow. Only in the bright starlight and without the glare of the sun, he could see more detail. He wasn’t sure, but it seemed to be rotating . . . swirling.
“What do you see?”
“There’s like this black cloud.”
He squinted. Although faint, he saw what looked like tiny tributaries stretching out from the blackness. He’d seen something like them before, in his biology book, like a brain cell or something – its long, hair-thin tendrils reaching out, some all the way down to the valley floor.
“There’s these little tentacle things coming down from it.”
“Coming down from it, or going up?”
“I can’t tell. But they’re shooting back and forth all across the ground. Real jerky. Like skinny electrical currents. They’re all ov – ” Suddenly he gasped. “One’s coming at us!”
He pulled the lens away but saw nothing. No current, no tentacle . . . until a black shadow appeared over their heads.
It was a bird. A crow or raven. And it was diving straight toward them!
Luke cried out, raising his arm. But the thing was too close and he was too slow.
It struck the top of his head, claws and flapping wings. It tried pecking at his face, his eyes. He yelled, ducking, trying to swat it away, to pull it off. Virgil shouted and slapped at it . . . until, finally, the thing flew off, cawing in frustration and anger.
“Are you all right?” Virgil yelled.
“What was that?”
“A crow. A crow that- ” Virgil stopped and looked up.
Luke followed his gaze. The thing had circled and was coming in for another attack.
“The house!” Virgil shouted. “Get into the house!”
Luke spun around and ran up the steps, pausing just long enough to turn and help the old man.
The bird swooped under the far end of the porch and came at them.
Luke arrived at the screen door, yanking it open and stepping behind it just in time to block the creature. It hit the wire mesh, flapping and cawing, trying to tear its way through to him.
Luke and Virgil raced inside, stumbling into the front room, slamming the door behind them. The screen rattled and banged as the bird continued its attack, squawking and cawing until it was apparent it could make no more progress.
Finally, it gave up and took off, cawing as it flew away. “A crow?” Luke cried. “That was a crow?”
Virgil nodded, leaning over, trying to catch his breath.
“How weird was that!”
“Weirder – ” Virgil took another gulp of air – “weirder than you think.”
“When’s the last time . . . when’s the last time you ever saw a crow flying at night?”
Bill Myers novel, THE SEEING, compels the reader to burn through the pages. Cliff-hangers abound and the stakes are raised higher and higher as the story progresses. Intense action, shocking twists!
An entertaining novel, Bill Myers THE SEEING is a great reminder of spiritual warfare and the impact of choice and will. Reminiscent of Frank Peretti’s THIS PRESENT DARKNESS.
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Myers
This little adventure is a bit different from my others. I wanted to write something that was as much a Bible study as it was a story. If you try reading this as regular fiction, you’ll probably be disappointed. Instead of spinning a conventional yarn, I’ve tried to explore each of the topics in the Sermon on the Mount (in the order they were given) and develop a story around them. By conventional storytelling standards, that is a suicidal approach. But as a means to study Scripture, I’m hoping it will provide some fresh and provocative insights.
At the back, you’ll find a Bible study asking questions from each chapter that should help explore these insights a bit more deeply.
Many folks consider the Sermon on the Mount to be one of the greatest single teachings of all time. If this little approach brings any of its truths closer to home, then it has succeeded. And, just so you know, we’ve stacked the deck a bit with a handful of folks who are praying that it will touch, encourage, challenge, and minister to you as you read it.
Hope it works. Thanks for taking the journey with me.
Best of blessings,
The Accuser of the Brethren and his Creator are having another debriefing. The CAMERA gently moves in, bringing them into a MEDIUM TWO SHOT.
So, where have you come from?
You’re God. You already know.
“From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
You do that very well.
I’ve had lots of practice.
And what did you find?
Things aren’t so good.
I don’t know. The sport is all gone.
Everything’s too easy. In this postmodern, whatever-they’re-callingit culture, there’s nothing for me to do anymore.
You seem pretty busy with the whole Middle East thing.
Same ol’ same ol’. What I mean is, there’s nothing I can sink my teeth into. Your boys are barely offering resistance.
For now. But keep your eyes open.
What? You’re going to pull that whole darkest before the dawn routine again?
You’re so predictable.
It always seems to fly.
But where are Your saints who struggle with purity? I mean, if nobody’s buying into holiness these days, who’s left for me to accuse and torment for failing?
I’ve still got a few out there.
[sighing in exasperation] It’s not like the good old days. The only time holiness comes up is when I make a joke about it in the sitcoms and movies.
Talk about being predictable.
It always seems to fly. Seriously, do you remember way back when people actually tried to live the Sermon on the Mount?
[smiling in memory] Yes.
Now most treat it like some hyperbole, like an impossible theory that can’t be lived.
Shouldn’t that make you happy?
Like I said, the challenge is gone. Nobody’s even trying to live by those standards. Nobody can.
Actually, that’s not true. Anybody can.
I’ll prove it. Pick anybody you want, anybody at all, and I’ll prove to you that they can live the Sermon.
[rubbing chin with claw]
How ’bout that prostitute you’re tormenting with AIDS on Beeker Street?
Okay. Then the abused orphan you’re starving to death in Kinshasa?
Way too easy.
They’ve got nothing to lose.
All right, then——you pick one.
Let me see. The Academy Awards are coming up in a couple weeks, right?
Isn’t one of Your boys up for Best Actor?
Michael Steel, yes. A good man, though carrying a lot of excess baggage.
[more chin rubbing]
Then I want him.
What? You’re not serious?
Yes, very serious.
I’ll need time to prepare him.
Don’t give me that. You’re omniscient; You’ve known this conversation was going to happen since the beginning of time.
So, what do You say? Do we have a deal?
You sure you want Michael? The poor fellow has so much on his plate right now that——
I want Michael Steel.
Yes, but his sister is soon going to——
You’re getting better at this, you know.
So, do we have a deal?
The usual emissaries?
But not a lot of miracles. I hate it when You——
He’s My son.
I can appreciate that, but——
He’s My son. I’ll be there when He needs Me.
All right, all right. But we have to set a time limit. None of this deathbed repentance stuff.
What do you have in mind?
Before the Academy Awards.
That’s ten days away. Don’t be ridiculous.
You’re also omnipotent, remember.
You are getting better at this.
He’ll have to fulfill all the terms of the Sermon on the Mount before the end of the Academy Awards. So do we have ourselves a bargain?
Yes . . . we have ourselves a bargain.
I awoke, my heart pounding. I rolled onto my back and took a deep breath. Before I could stop myself, I reached over for Tanya, my wife of twenty years. But, of course, she wasn’t there. She hadn’t been there in months . . . years, if you count her emotional departure. But I still reached for her—sometimes when I was half-awake like now, other times in my sleep, waking up with nothing but her pillow in my arms. Wishful thinking? I suppose. Or maybe a type of prayer. It didn’t matter. She was never there. Only the empty spot in our bed where she had once slept . . . and the hollow void in my chest where she had once lived.
I opened my eyes and stared up at the ornately carved walnut ceiling. No need to check the clock. The time didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. Not now. I hadn’t been able to after the first dream, and there was no way I could after this one. It was so vivid, so real.
With another breath, this time for resolve, I pulled back the covers and threw my feet over the edge of the bed. I rose, my left ankle stiff and burning—a reminder of the fencing stunt gone bad nearly a year ago. It also served as a testimony of my increasing age and my reluctant acceptance of the studio’s demand that I now have a standin double, no matter how simple the stunt.
Old age stinks, even at forty-five.
I hobbled into the bathroom and snapped on the lights (enough to illuminate a small city). In the multiple mirrors stood the halfnaked body that last year’s People magazine had named “One of the Ten Sexiest Men in America.”
I snorted in disgust. If they only knew what he was like on the inside.
And outside? The outside was nothing money couldn’t buy . . . as long as you didn’t mind spending three hours a day with a personal trainer, having every scrap of food examined and approved, and, as embarrassing as it is to admit, allowing yourself to be talked into having the excess luggage around your eyes removed.
I turned and leaned closer to one of the mirrors. No amount of money could remove the faint white scars that ran across my shoulders from an overzealous preacher father who looked for every opportunity not to spare the rod. Scars that my shrink insists go much deeper. But those scars are insignificant compared to the ones my sister will forever bear from that monster.
I glanced at the Rolex on the marble counter.
In an hour the studio driver would pick me up and take me to the set of The Devil’s Breath, third in the series of Chad Slayter, NSA pictures. The series was your typical mindless, big-budget carnival ride. But it kept my agent happy by thrusting me into the spotlight and the studios happy by making tons of cash. And me? Of course I liked the fame and money; who wouldn’t? But I was also grateful for the financial opportunity it gave me to sneak off to do little pictures that actually involved more acting than car chases. And it was one of those little pictures that had thrown me into this year’s Oscar hopper.
Did I deserve the nomination? Of course not. Still, it was a nice gesture. Apparently the idea of not forgetting my starving-artist roots and doing a little project had pushed the right political buttons.
But for me the nomination was much more than that.
It was this nomination (along with Tanya’s frequent railings at my hypocrisy) that had driven me to try and be a better Christian. Why? Because I was trying to earn Cosmic Brownie Points to win the Award? Hardly. In fact, it was just the opposite. No matter what anybody says, there’s nothing that challenges a person’s faith like success. What do the Scriptures say? “A man is tested according to the praise given him.” It’s true. The nomination only brought to a head the diseases that had been festering inside my soul for years. Now, more than ever, people were treating me like royalty, offering me all manner of kingly pleasures—every indulgence you can imagine, and some you don’t want to. And, at least for me, at least for someone who claims to be a follower of Christ, things had gotten very dangerous.
So I did what any halfway serious person of faith would do when temptation threatens. I hunkered down and tried to follow God more closely—reading my Bible, praying, going to church, being on my best behavior.
Then, exactly one week ago tonight, I’d had the first dream. Except for one element, it had been nearly identical to tonight’s. Nearly identical and just as unnerving. It had been so clear and vivid that when I awoke I grabbed my Bible, crossed to my leather reading chair near the fireplace, and began studying the Sermon on the Mount. I read it once, twice, and then, just as the Santa Monica mountains began glowing with a sunrise, I closed the book and said a prayer. Right then and there I had made a promise to God Almighty that I would try to live by these exacting standards. After all, if Christ had spoken the words, and if I claimed to be a Christian, the least I could do was live them.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the vow was a lot easier to make than to live. Within hours I was messing up again. And, gradually, as the days passed, I let the promise slip into the well of good intentions. I figured God understood. After all, the Sermon was a worthy principle to strive for, but certainly not something you could live on a daily basis. That was the unspoken understanding I thought we had reached.
Until the dream returned.
I said it was nearly identical to last week’s—just as real, just as unnervingly vivid—except for the addition of one important element. In tonight’s encounter the two had finally reached their conclusion. God and the Devil had finally selected their participant. Tonight, they had both agreed that it would be me.
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and
sat down. His disciples came to him—”
I stared at the radio in disbelief. Not only had I been dreaming about the Sermon on the Mount, but now some preacher was reading and ranting about it over the car radio. How strange. And how sad. Because the more I heard the words, the heavier they weighed on me . . . and the more hopeless I became. That’s why I’d borrowed my producer’s Lexus and was heading east on Hollywood Boulevard to visit my sister. We were filming less than a mile away and had taken a short break. What better time to swing by and see my Annie, a fellow prisoner of the past. My Annie, a tent peg in the fiercest storms.
“And he began to teach them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they-ers is the kingdom of heaven.”
His speech, craggy, breathless with old age, and drawling, betrayed his Southern roots—which accounted for the occasional extra syllable. I’d grown up with these words. Heard them all my life. But, as I had climbed the entertainment ladder, the principles had begun slipping through my fingers like water. How could I be poor in spirit when every move in my business is calculated to scream, “Look at me! Pay attention to me! Come see the movie because of me!” And if I’m not screaming them, then I’m paying big bucks for my publicist or my agent or my manager to scream them.
Of course, I’m not foolish enough to believe my own press. I know Michael T. Steel is simply a commodity, something that has to be sold and marketed like dishwashing soap. Yet no matter how hard I try, some small part of me still buys into what is being sold. Those are the times I want to shower, to try to scrub off the pride that keeps seeping up through my pores. But it doesn’t work. Because, like the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, a little leaven really does leaven the whole loaf.
I approached Mann’s Chinese Theater and turned left onto Sycamore where a handful of dilapidated homes from the twenties and thirties still stood. Halfway up the block I pulled into an empty space. All this as the preacher continued:
“Blessed are those who mou-wern, for they will be comforted.”
I snorted in self-contempt, then slipped on some Elvis sunglasses and a moth-eaten stocking cap, courtesy of the Wardrobe Department. (The last thing I wanted right now was to be recognized.) I threw a glance at the parking meter, grateful for the time still on it, then shook my head with more disgust. What did I care about parking money? With a current deal of twenty million dollars, against fifteen percent of gross, what did I care about the cost of anything? I had more money than I could spend in a lifetime. In two lifetimes. Mourn? What did I have to mourn about?
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
He just kept piling it on, didn’t he? Meek? Anything I knew about meekness was long forgotten—replaced by demands for bigger dressing rooms, more screen time, my name above the title. Meekness? There was no meekness in my life. I closed my eyes and rested my forehead on the leather steering wheel. I had everything and then some. And now I had the audacity to feel terrible about it? Or—let’s be honest here—to feel terrible for not feeling terrible about it? How sick is that?
But that’s why I was here.
I didn’t come often. Schedules and my rise in popularity made that close to impossible. But this afternoon, since we were shooting a second-unit car chase on La Brea, and since Wardrobe let me sneak off with the clothes I’d been assigned—well, here I was . . . once again trying to find some sort of “center.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
I lifted my head from the steering wheel with a rueful smile. I finally got one right. At least I was hungry. Still, I doubted one out of four was exactly the percentage Christ had in mind when He gave the Sermon. I turned off the ignition and climbed out of the car. Pulling the trench coat from the backseat, I slipped it on over my raveling sweater and stained wool pants. I shut the door, beeped the locks, and started forward.
Heat and blinding light reflected off the sidewalk. It was midafternoon and well into the eighties. Thanks to the heavy clothes, I felt every degree.
Up ahead stood a two-story white house with green shutters. “Jeremiah’s Place.” It was a halfway house where the dregs of society stayed until they were strong enough to reenter life . . . or sink back into the dregs. Runaways (boys and girls), pimps, druggies, hookers (boys and girls), street crazies—anyone who had fallen through the cracks or had been swept under society’s rug. These were the people my Annie worked with day in and day out.
I noticed activity on the front porch. Some white chick was cowering behind a big black bald guy while a scrawny white kid with dreadlocks was shouting at her.
“You c’mon, now!” the kid cried. “You can’t hide here forever! C’mon!”
The girl stayed behind the bald guy who silently held his ground.
“C’mon now, Heather. Don’t be makin’ it no worse than it is.”
It could have been any one of a dozen scenarios. My guess was that some drugged-out hooker was trying to go straight, and her wannabe pimp/boyfriend had come after her. However it fell, the big bald guy (no doubt a staff member) was the only thing between her and bodily harm.
“Girl, I’m not tellin’ you again!”
I turned onto the broken sidewalk and headed toward the porch. All three saw me and came to a stop. Big Bald shifted slightly, preparing to hold us both off if he had to.
Now, no matter who you are or how hard you try, there’s a certain arrogance that comes with money and power. Let no one tell you different. It may be disguised, but it’s always there. And when money and power no longer mean anything, then that arrogance can turn into a type of recklessness, even self-destruction. I suppose that’s some of the mode I was operating in now.
“What’s going on?” I called.
“This ain’t your concern, old-timer,” Dreadlocks replied. (I could have done without the handle, but to these youngsters, forty was close to Medicare.)
I started up the stairs slowly, deliberately, taking one step after another.
“Who are you?” Big Bald asked quietly. “What do you want?”
I finished the steps and joined them as Dreadlocks gave another warning. “Be careful, old man.”
I raised my eyes to meet his. I could see they were bloodshot from booze or dope or both. This was either going to be a very brilliant move on my part or a very stupid one. Either way, I wanted to enter the house, and the girl obviously needed help. So . . . slowly, I reached for my sunglasses and removed them. Holding his gaze, I quietly folded them and slipped them into my pocket. A spark of recognition flitted across his watery eyes.
Carefully, and with more than a little drama, I reached up and removed my stocking cap. Never taking my eyes from his, I began folding it.
The spark of recognition flared to a flame. His mouth dropped open. “You’re . . .” His voice caught and he lowered it. “You’re him!”
For a moment I wasn’t sure which him he was referring to. He looked like a bright kid, but there was all that dope and booze running through him, so it was hard to tell. Fortunately, he didn’t keep me in the dark.
“Chad Slayter,” he gasped. “NSA!”
Now I knew which card to play. I gave a slight nod and raised a finger to my lips.
“What are you doing here?” he whispered.
I glanced around.
“You on assignment?”
I looked coolly into the eyes.
Raising his hands, he apologized. “I know, I know, man—if you tell me, you gotta kill me—sorry.”
Not only was he living in the wrong reality, he was quoting some of its worst dialogue. I looked at him and slowly nodded. Then I motioned to the girl. “She’s with me.”
Dreadlocks turned to her, his mouth sagging further.
She stared at me and blinked.
“You mean . . . ,” he swallowed, then continued, hoarsely, “she works with you?”
He looked from her to me and back to her again. Then, breaking into a grin, which broke into a hacking cough he said, “I knew it, girl. I knew there was somethin’ different about you.”
She continued to stare.
“I knew it,” he kept coughing, “I just knew it . . .”
I glanced at Big Bald. His face was street-poker neutral.
“. . . I knew you was different.”
Turning to Dreadlocks, I asked, “Is that a problem?”
“No man, no problem. Heather here, she was just, you know, hanging with me some, and I thought, you know, she was trying to get smart or somethin’, but now I see.”
“That’s right,” I said. “It was all part of her cover.”
“Yeah, man, I see, I see. I get what’s comin’ down.”
“We can be assured of your silence?”
“You bet, man. Anything for my country and Chad Slayter. Anything, just name it.”
“Good. Then, if you don’t mind . . .” I motioned for the girl to join me. She hesitated, until Big Bald nodded permission. I continued. “We have much to do.”
“It’s cool, man, it’s cool. I understand, it’s cool.”
The girl tentatively approached. I placed my hand against the small of her back and directed her toward the door.
“Hey, wait a minute! Wait a minute!”
I felt her tense. I tried not to as I slowly turned back to him.
“Look, if there’s like anything I can do to help, you know. I mean if you need a man on the street, like to watch your back, just say the word. ‘Cause when it comes to the street, I know all and see all, you know what I mean? Just say the word and I’m there.”
I looked him over then gave the slightest nod—part agreement, part dismissal—before turning and heading for the door.
“You take care, Heather,” he called after us. “You keep doin’ us proud, you hear?”
Big Bald stepped ahead of us and opened the door. As we passed, his eyes caught mine and he quietly whispered, “It’s good to see you, Mr. Steel. Your sister’s inside.”
– – –
“I swear, Toad, you are some piece of work.” Annie gave one of those laughs of hers—part mocking, part good-natured ribbing. A laugh that, even as kids hiding in the basement from our father, gave some comfort and assurance of greater wisdom. “Don’t you get it?” she asked.
“You already qualify!”
I frowned as we made our way out of the kitchen, drinking caffeine-free Diet Cokes. We walked through the living room and headed for the stairway. I slowed and waited patiently as she limped up the creaking stairs ahead of me, as she grabbed the banister and pulled herself up one step after another. I’d learned years ago never to offer help.
As we continued, I looked about the house. It hadn’t changed much—same old musty smell, same wooden floors, same donated furniture. Most of the staff and residents were new, but even they held a familiar look of wornness.
An older man, in his sixties, was on his hands and knees beside an electrical outlet. He muttered to himself as he stuffed tightly folded paper into each hole of the receptacle.
“How’s it going, Bill?” Annie asked.
“Just couple more to do, Miss Annie,” he answered without looking up. “Then no more electricity leaking out on the floor.”
“And no more aliens drinking it up at night?” she asked.
“One can only pray, Miss Annie. One can only pray.”
“Amen to that,” she said. We continued up the stairs as he resumed his muttering and folding of paper.
I quietly smiled and thought, as I occasionally did, how the two of us used our pasts (or how they used us) in choosing our professions. Annie, with her firsthand experience of abuse and suffering, was able to reach out to others who suffered . . . while receiving from them the heartfelt love that she so desperately needed. And me? I suppose I had the same need to be loved, I’d just found a different way of earning it.
We reached the top of the stairs, turned right, and headed down the hall to her office—a tiny sweatbox of filing cabinets, sagging shelves, thumbtacked pictures on the wall, overflowing bulletin boards, and a roaring window fan. I’d frequently offered to donate central AC to the ministry’s house (as well as a new house) but Annie always turned me down, insisting that the church and community needed to support them. Something about taking ownership and building relationships. I didn’t fully understand it then or now, but I knew better than to argue. Once Annie made up her mind, trying to change it was a waste of time.
She’d barely kicked off her shoes and plopped behind the old steel desk before I got back on topic. “What do you mean, ‘I qualify’?”
“I mean, the very stuff you’re talking about . . . “poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry for righteousness” . . . the fact that you feel so awful about not having them means that you’re already poor in spirit, and meek, and mourning, and hungry.”
I closed my eyes and tried again. “You don’t understand what I’m saying.”
“I understand perfectly. I understand that you’re going through another one of your little self-analytical actor things.”
“How can you say that?”
“‘Cause it’s true. There’s no one harder on Toad than Toad. And now that you’re a big shot, up for the Oscar in what, two weeks?”
“Ten days—you’re going to be even tougher on yourself.”
“Shouldn’t I be?”
“Of course you should. You of all people.”
“Look.” She ran her hand through the tight curls of her auburn hair. “I got religious supporters coming through here every other day—arms folded in smug piety, confident of their faith, as they busily write checks for us.”
“And you’re not grateful?”
“I’m ecstatic. That’s not the point. The point is, they think they’ve got it all together. They’re not hungry for God anymore. But you, little brother, your arms are reaching out, begging for help.”
“Because I need it.”
“And that’s why you’re blessed: You know you need it. The same goes for those who are poor and meek and mourn and hungry—they know they need God.”
I shook my head, still not entirely buying it.
“Let me ask you. If you were God, whose hands would you fill— someone who’s got them stuffed piously in their pockets? Or someone who’s got them wide open and pleading for help?”
We looked to see a staff member at the door. She was a gaunt bottle-blonde, obviously an alumnus from the street.
“It’s Mrs. Clouda again.”
Annie nodded and blew a tendril of curls out of her eyes. She motioned for me to hold my thought as she reached for the phone. “Hello, Mrs. Clouda.”
She listened patiently then rolled her eyes at me. The woman was obviously giving her an earful. Covering the mouthpiece, she whispered, “She turned eighty-seven last week. Want another Diet Coke?”
I shook my head.
She spoke back to the phone. “I appreciate your frustration, Mrs. Clouda, but—”
“Yes . . . yes . . . but I have to call the paramedics every time you attempt suicide. It’s the law.”
I raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head and hit the mute button, still keeping the receiver to her ear but free to talk. “She calls in a couple times a week. Me and the boys at the fire station are her only social outlet. Now, where were we?”
It took a moment to gather my thoughts. “It’s just—I’ve been having these dreams that God is pretty serious about the Sermon on the Mount and—”
“Of course He is.”
“Right. But how can I—”
She hit the mute button and spoke. “From New Jersey, you say. Do they ever come out and visit you? Uh-huh . . . uh-huh . . . I see . . .” She pressed the mute button and looked at me, waiting for more.
“I don’t know,” I sighed. “Maybe I should just chuck it all and come here to work with you.”
“Right, quit the hard life and find something easy to do.” She gave me her famous lopsided grin.
“You know what I mean,” I insisted.
She pressed the mute button. “So the paramedics are there now?
Yes, Mrs. Clouda, it would be a fine idea if you let them in. Yes, dear, I can wait.” Hitting the mute button she looked back to me. “Listen, Toad, we all have our wars. And changing from one battlefront to another doesn’t make them any easier.”
“Yes, but, at least—”
“Besides, you’d just be coming here for a religious high.”
“The thrill of self-sacrifice. The joys of martyrdom.” She shook her head. “No way, little brother. That stuff never lasts.”
Before I could argue, she was back on the phone. “Hey, Brad, Annie from Jeremiah’s Place. Everything okay?” She paused a moment then nodded. “Great. No, go ahead and put her back on. Catch you later.” She turned to me, waiting.
“You don’t think I could last here?” I asked, using all of my acting skills to avoid sounding defensive.
“Not a week.” Then, shrugging, she added. “Someday, maybe, when you’re ready. But not now, no way.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, ‘When I’m ready’?”
She shook her head. “You’ve got it made in the shade, pal. Movie star, beautiful wife, fancy homes, loved by millions.”
“But it doesn’t mean anything!”
She nailed me with a look that was more than skeptical.
I tried to explain. “Here, I mean at this house, you’re really touching people, you’re really being an influence.”
“And you’re not? The fact that millions of people watch you, that they want to be just like you—you don’t think that’s touching people, being an influence?”
I sighed wearily. “But what kind of influence?”
“I guess that’s up to you.” She returned to the phone. “Right here, Mrs. Clouda. Yes, they are nice boys, but you can’t have me calling them for no reason.” She paused a moment. “Yes, they said you had the gas on full—but they also said you didn’t bother to blow out the flames.” Another pause. “No, I appreciate a woman your age can’t remember everything, but—”
I shook my head, musing at the scene as they shared more chitchat until it finally drew to an end.
“Okay, dear. Thanks for calling. Yes, I think the world of you too. Bye-bye.” She took a deep breath and hung up, blowing more hair from her eyes.
“Two times a week?” I asked.
“Are there others like her out there?”
“Enough.” Then, focusing her attention back on me, she said, “Listen, if you really want to do some guilt relief and get your hands dirty, I’ve got a project you might be interested in.”
She leaned past me and called out the door. “Charlie?”
“Charlie, I know you’re there. Charlie, will you come in here, please?” She lowered her voice. “He’s been sitting in the hallway ever since you came in.” Mouthing the words, she added, “Big fan.”
I nodded as a skinny nine- or ten-year-old appeared in the doorway. He kept his head lowered, eyes riveted to the floor.
“Charlie, this is my brother, Michael Steel. Michael, this is Charlie.”
“Hey, Charlie,” I said, smiling.
He continued staring at his shoes.
Annie explained. “Social Services assigned him to us, until they can locate his parents.” Turning to him, she added, “But at the moment, you’re not giving us any clues, are you, Charlie?”
He gave no response.
“But he sure does love the movies. Fact, I hear someday he plans on being a big star, just like you.”
That brought the slightest of nods.
“He’s especially fond of Chad Slayter, NSA.”
“That so?” I asked.
“In fact, rumor has it that he’s got the lines from both of the movies memorized. Isn’t that right, Charlie?”
A little shrug.
“No kidding,” I said. “That’s quite an accomplishment.”
More shoe staring.
“Did you know we’re filming Part Three?” I asked. “In fact, we’re less than a mile from here.”
His face shot up to mine in excitement. And what I saw made me gasp.
Annie chuckled softly. “Looks familiar, does he?”
I continued to stare. And for good reason. I was looking into a child’s face nearly identical to my own at that age. Same chin, same thick eyebrows, same brown hair spilling over the forehead. And the same liquid dark eyes. But it was more than our physical similarities. There was something else, something deeper. As I looked into those eyes, so full of awe and wonder, I felt an immediate connection. It was like looking back thirty-five years into the soul of another boy. One equally consumed by movies—one equally vulnerable, equally filled with pain and hope.
“You said you were filming nearby?” Annie asked.
I blinked, then swallowed, coming to. “We sure are.” I forced what I hoped to be an engaging smile. “In fact—,” I glanced at my watch. “Shoot! I need to get going! We’ve got a beach scene scheduled at 5:00.” I quickly rose, but barely made it to my feet before an idea formed. “Annie . . .”
“If Charlie here is a big fan of Chad Slayter, and if we’re filming not too far away at the Santa Monica Pier . . . maybe he could . . . I mean, do you think you could fix things so we could . . . .”
She was grinning mischievously. “It’s already done.”
Fredrick Fussle expected to hear the voice of God.
After years of research, the meticulous collection of data, the construction of mathematical models, and the building of a subterranean laboratory, he was sure they would hear something.
But not this.
“What is happening!?” William Mayer, his assistant of six years, cried. The man’s voice shimmered, warbled as if he was yelling through the pounding air of a giant fan.
“It’s not sound!” Fussle shouted. “I feel it inside my head!”
But he did more than feel. As the energy radiated from the control rods encircling the lab, it saturated his brain, his very thoughts. Suddenly memories disappeared — not dissolved, but shattered. Fragments of past recollections flew apart, then came back together again.
Together, but different.
Instead of the priesthood he had been a part of for 54 years, he remembered proposing to Dorthia Cutler over that dinner of veal parmesan and a bottle of Chardonnay ‘72 in Vienna.
But only for a moment.
Now he recalled exchanging vows with Sylvia Horton at a lakeside wedding he never had. Well, never had until then. Instead of the pleasantly plump brunette he’d spent half his life with, he was now married to that saucy blonde he’d nearly left her for . . . but apparently had left her for.
“Shut it down!” he shouted. “William, shut it—“
But it was no longer William standing at the console. Now it was some tall, gangly geek he never saw before, but had seen – for the past eighteen months he and the kid, Gerhardt Muller, had worked side by side on the project.
“Gerhardt, shut it down!”
His assistant didn’t move. He stared at Fussle like a total stranger. He was a total stranger.
But he wasn’t.
The concrete floor pitched violently, throwing Gerhardt to the ground. It rolled like the floor of a carnival funhouse gone berserk. Pitching and rolling. Melting and reshaping.
Then melting again.
Light exploded. Blinding. Piercing. It filled the room with its sound – or was it the sound filling the room with its light? Not only the room, but their minds.
Not only their minds, but their realities.
A swelling wave of concrete lifted Fussle and tossed him to the ground. He tried to shout but he no longer had a voice. At least not his own. The light-sound had absorbed it, overpowered it. His vocal chords vibrated, but with the same light blazing through the room.
He began to crawl on his hands and knees toward the control console. At least where he knew it used to be. But it was impossible to know anything for certain. Just as it was impossible to see because of the light and sound.
The floor was soft and gooey, wet putty. He gripped it and pulled himself forward, lifting one knee from the muck and then the other, until finally his shoulder struck something soft. The console.
Grateful that it was mostly solid, he grabbed it and pulled himself to his feet.
The reset button was on the other side, just to the left – if the console’s reality had not changed.
He staggered around to the front.
Memories of children he never had, filled his head. His heart ached over the recent loss of his oldest to leukemia.
He groped the controls, the pots and switches, pleased they were still as he had designed them – though they now felt like gelatin.
Another pulse of light-sound exploded from the control rods. Fussle cried out as he clung to the console, as the same light-sound roared from his throat.
The wave quickly passed and the memories of his children disappeared. At least those children. Now there were others . . . gentle Kimberly, Samuel with the birth mark on his cheek . . .
Until, at last, he reached the reset button and hit it.
© 2008 Bill Myers
Bill Myers writes a crisp, express train read featuring 3D characters, cinematic settings and action, and, as usual, a premise I wish I’d thought of — and succeeds splendidly! Two thumbs up!
– Frank E. Peretti
“Bill Myers is a genius. Not only is Angel of Wrath full of engaging characters and heartstopping suspense, but underneath it explores thoughts and truths that will keep you pondering long after the book is closed.”
—Lee Stanley, producer, Gridiron Gang
On the heels of his interesting and unique story The Voice, Myers offers a tale that is at times terrifying, yet all too real. Readers will be drawn into the realm of the supernatural and pray that the characters can find a way out. With excellent writing that draws readers into the characters’ lives, this is a must read.
–Romantic Times (April 2009)
ALTHOUGH IT’S NOT NECESSARY TO READ THE FIRST BOOK TO READ ANGEL OF WRATH HERE ARE REVEIWS FOR IT…
“A crisp, express-train read featuring 3D characters, cinematic settings and action, and, as usual, a premise I wish I’d thought of. Succeeds splendidly! Two thumbs up!”
—Frank E. Peretti, author
“Nonstop action and a brilliantly crafted young heroine will keep readers engaged as this adventure spins to its thoughtprovoking conclusion.”
—Kris Wilson, CBA Magazine
“It’s a real ‘what if ?’ book with plenty of thrills . . . that will definitely create questions all the way to its thought-provoking finale. The success of Myers’s stories is a sweet combination of a believable storyline, intense action, and brilliantly crafted, yet flawed characters.”
—Dale Lewis, TitleTrakk.com
I WANTED TO INCLUDE TWO SECTIONS. THIS FIRST CAPTURES THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN THE THIRTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL AND HER UNCLE WHEN HE TRIES TO WAKE HER FOR SCHOOL…
“Why are you always being so mean to me?” Jazmin mumbled from beneath her blankets.
“I’m not being—”
The kid was good. Even though she was deaf and unable to read Charlie’s lips from under the covers, she instinctively knew his response. “Yes, you are! Mean, mean, mean!”
He reached down and shook her leg.
“Don’t touch me.”
“I’m awake! Quit harassing me!”
Charlie took a breath, grateful for the self-control all those years in Delta Force had taught him. If she had been anyone else—a fellow soldier, a new recruit—her insubordination would be met with a bucket of ice water followed by orders shouted into her face to get down and give him fifty or one hundred. (The twenty-mile run would be optional.) But this creature, with so much emotion and so little logic, seemed unable to grasp even the basics of discipline and chain of command.
He shook his niece’s leg again. “Let’s go.”
With a heavy sigh, she threw back the covers, sat up, and glared at him. Well, as much as a single, half-opened eye can glare. “You have to be the rudest human being on the face of the planet.”
“Tell that to your first-period teacher.”
“She’s a Nazi.”
“One more tardy and you get Saturday detention.”
The thirteen-year-old plopped back down on her pillow. “Right, like that’s my fault.” Before he could answer, she changed the playing field. “You blew it with Lisa, didn’t you?”
He hesitated. Ever since Jazmin was exposed to the Voice of God the previous year, she had developed an uncanny ability to sense situations. “To hear deeper things,” she said. “Sometimes I even know what people are thinking.” Of course Charlie was skeptical, but there were those times. . . .
Pushing the strawberry blonde hair from her eyes, she continued. “How many times have I told you, women want what they can’t have.”
Charlie started to reply, but she cut him off. “You just can’t go around throwing yourself at us.”
“Nobody’s throwing themselves at—”
“And telling us whatever’s on your mind.”
“People appreciate honesty.”
“Excuse me? Excuse me? We’re talking women here.”
Charlie shifted topics to something he understood. “Do you want oatmeal or eggs?”
“I want you to leave me alone.” She reached for the covers, but he’d learned a few tricks from their months together. He’d already gripped the blankets, making it impossible for her to pull them back.
“Oatmeal or eggs?”
“I’ll eat at school.”
“Eggs! All right?” Her heavy sigh made it clear she was dealing with a moron.
“Eggs it is.” He dragged the blankets off her. Now she would either lie there and freeze or get up and storm toward the bathroom.
She did neither.
Pulling into a fetal position, she moaned pitifully. When he didn’t respond (another trick he’d learned), she yelled, “I wouldn’t have all those detentions if you’d drive me to school like all the other parents. You can be such a Nazi sometimes.”
Charlie knew he should let it go. He could outthink and outmaneuver any enemy in the field, but win an argument with her? Never. Even when he won, he somehow lost. No, he should just drop it, walk away. But the comeback was so obvious, the life lesson to be imparted so clear. Against his better judgment, he waited until she was looking at him and said, “We live five blocks from the school.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Five blocks. You can walk.”
“Walk? With these blisters?” She raised a foot a couple of sizes too big for her child body.
“You’re the one who wanted to buy those silly thongs.”
“Flip-flops. They’re called flip-flops. Thongs are what you won’t let me buy. Even though everybody wears them.”
“Flip-flops,” she sighed. “The subject is flip-flops.”
It was happening again. Like some prehistoric mammoth, Charlie’s lumbering legs of reason were being wrapped around and around by the rope of her lightning-quick irrationality. Still, this time he could break the cords. The logic was so clear.
“The choice is yours, Jazmin, not mine.”
“Right. I can choose to become some fashion geek, just ’cause you’re too lazy to drive me to school.”
The mammoth staggered. “You can buy whatever clothes you want, as long as you deal with the consequences.”
“Young ladies don’t wear thongs.”
“My point exactly.”
The mammoth dropped to his knees. But he was strong; he could rise. “We’re talking about you being late for school.”
“You’re talking about me being late for school.” The cord wrapped tighter. “And that’s my whole point.”
“No. The point we’re discussing is you being late for—”
“The point is, we’re always ‘discussing’ what you want to discuss. Never what I want to discuss. You, you, you. It’s always about you.”
“Jazmin, if you’re late one more day, you’ll have to make it up in Saturday detention.” There. He couldn’t have made it any clearer.
With sufficient melodrama, she rose to her feet, his army sweatshirt hanging around skinny arms and boney knees. Was it possible? Had he won? Before he could stop himself, he had to add a final word: “Right?”
She rolled her eyes and pushed past him with her own final word:
AND THEN, A FEW HUNDRED PAGES LATER, JAZ IS DEEP IN THE MOUNTAINS WITH SOME OF HER FRIENDS HAVING THIS LITTLE ENOUNTER . . .
Will woke up to singing. It was pretty bad. Actually, it was barely a song. But he recognized the words:
“Praise Him, all creatures here below.”
He rolled his head to the right and saw Jaz. She stood three feet away, her back to him. Directly in front of her was the creature. It seemed a lot mistier than the last time he saw it.
“Praise him something-or-other la, la, la. . . .”
The thing tilted its head quizzically but came no closer.
“Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”
“Will! Get in here!”
He rolled his head to the left and saw his family’s Volvo with the passenger door open. Jason sat behind the wheel motioning to him and shouting, “Get in!” as Jaz continued to sing:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
He struggled to sit up, his head feeling full of cotton. He turned back to Jaz.
“Praise Him, all creatures here below.”
With effort, he struggled to rise, fighting through a wave of dizziness.
“In the back with Heather!”
He obeyed, stumbling toward the car.
“Hurry! She can’t do that forever!”
He opened the back door and fell inside. Only then did he see Heather leaning against the opposite door, unconscious, her shirt ripped and soaked in blood.
“Praise something, something, ’cause God is cool.”
He turned back to Jaz, saw her stealing a look over her shoulder at them.
“Come on!” Jason shouted to her.
She backed away from the creature, inching toward the Volvo.
“Praise Father, Son, and Holy—” She spun around and dashed for the car. “Ghost!”
The creature screamed as Jaz leaped into the front seat. It dove at her and she slammed the door just before the car rocked under its impact.
“Go!” she screamed. “Go, go, go!”
Jason hit the gas and they spun out. He glanced at her and shouted, “What were you doing back there?”
“I don’t know!” She turned to her window, then twirled around and looked out the back.
“You don’t know?!”
The car rocked again, so violently that Jason almost lost control.
“It’s a song!”
“I used to sing it in church—as a little girl!”
Above her shouting and the roaring engine, Will heard the thing give another long, loud shriek.
“Whatever it was,” Jason yelled, “it did the trick!”
Another slam. This time the roof briefly buckled.
“Go!” Jaz yelled. “Faster!”
Jason pushed the accelerator to the floor. Heather moaned and he glanced into the rearview mirror. “Put your hand on her wound!” he shouted at Will. “Stop the bleeding!”
Will gave a dubious look at the girl’s wet shirt. “Do it!”
He leaned toward her, searching for the exact source of blood, when the thing crashed into the back window so hard that the glass spiderwebbed. He ducked, hearing Jaz scream and Jason swear.
Another crash followed.
Will spun around and looked through the crinkled glass to see the thing kneeling on the trunk. It was raising the very branch he had used earlier. Once again, it crashed it into the window. This time the glass shattered, raining hundreds of pellets over them. Will threw himself across Heather, protecting her as the thing reached in, groping at his back. He hunkered lower, but a vaporous, claw found his neck and wrapped around it. The other hand appeared from the opposite side. Then it began to pull.
Will reached up, slipping his fingers underneath the claws, pushing at the vapors. Though mist, they had a substance that gripped so tightly he could barely breathe. He fought like a madman, kicking and thrashing as it yanked him upright. A moment later it dragged him through the opening. Glass broke away, scraping his shoulders and arms, his hips and legs.
Once he was out the window, the arms wrapped around his chest, pulled him off the car and down onto the road. He twisted and squirmed, digging his heels into the gravel, but it did no good. The creature raced forty feet down the road before cutting to the right, crossing the ditch, and dragging him into the forest.
© Copyright Bill Myers 2009
“On the heels of his interesting and unique story The Voice, Myers offers a tale that is at times terrifying, yet all too real. With excellent writing that draws readers into the characters’ lives, this is a must read. ” — Romantic Times, April 2009 Issue
With well-drawn out characters and great action, Myers crafts a story that not only serves as a page-turner but also as a thought-provoker. From pastoral issues, to the nature of forgiveness, to the importance of family, to spiritual warfare, Myers raises questions that will keep your mind turning long after you’ve closed the last page. Angel of Wrath is a triumph of storytelling. The crisp action sequences and murder mystery serve only as a backdrop to further this character-driven drama. — Josh Olds – Fictionaddict.com
CHANCES ARE you hate me. Believer or nonbeliever, if you’ve heard the story, you despise me. And believer or nonbeliever, that makes you a hypocrite. All of you. Believers, because you refuse to embrace the very forgiveness He pleaded for others, even those who tortured Him to death. And nonbelievers, because you pretend to hate the traitor of someone you hate.
“But I don’t hate Him,” you say.
Really? Pretending you don’t hate someone who says all your attempts at being good are worthless? Pretending you don’t hate someone who claims to be the only way to God? Pretending you don’t hate someone who wants to rule your life? Who are you kidding? You’re not fooling anyone, least of all Him.
But hate Him or worship Him, one thing you can say, He’s no hypocrite. He stuck to the truth all the way through His execution. And He still holds to it today. (Old habits die hard.) Truth is His currency… and His Achilles’ heel. That’s why I knew He’d allow me into His presence. If my question was asked in truth, He’d respond in truth.
Now I’m sure there are some who will debate how I had access to Him—those of you who love to argue about gnats while swallowing camels. And why not? After all, debating about dancing angels and pinheads is far easier than breaking a sweat by actually obeying. Or, as the Accuser recently confided in me, “Spending time arguing theology is the perfect way to ensure a burning world continues to burn.”
In any case, my eternal state is not up for discussion. Though I will say I have displayed more remorse and repentance over my sin than most of you ever have over your own. And as to whether I’m actually in hell, I guess that depends upon your definition of the place.
But I digress.
When I came before Him, I was forced to my knees. Not by any cosmic bullying, but by the sheer weight of His glory. Yet when He spoke, His voice was kind and full of compassion.
“Hello, my friend. It’s been a long time.”
My eyes immediately dropped to the ground and my chest swelled with emotion. So much time had passed and He still had that power over me. Angry at His hold, I took a ragged breath and then another before blurting out like a petulant child, “You… never gave me a chance!”
I was answered by silence. He waited until I found the courage, or foolishness, to raise my head. When I did, the love in His eyes burned through me and I had to look back down. Still, He continued to wait.
I took another breath. Finally, angrily swiping at my eyes, I tried again. “If we… if we would have handled Your mission my way”—I swallowed and continued—”the world would not be in the mess it’s in today.”
I nodded, refusing to look up. “You could have ruled the world.”
“I am ruling the world.”
I shook my head. “Not souls. But nations, governments. Every earthly power imaginable could have been Yours.”
“Kingdoms come and go. Souls are eternal.”
“Tell that to the tortured and murdered who scream Your name as an oath every day.” I waited for His wrath to flare up, to consume me. But I felt nothing. I heard no rebuke. Only more silence. He knew I wasn’t finished. I took another breath and continued, “If You would have used Your powers my way, everyone would have followed You.”
I heard Him chuckle softly. “And you would have made Me a star.”
“The likes of which the world had never seen.”
“I did all right.”
“You could have done better.”
He waited again, making sure I had nothing more to say. This time I had the good sense to remain silent.
Finally He spoke. “What do you propose, My friend?”
“Please. Go ahead.”
Still staring at the ground, I answered: “Rumor has it You’re preparing another prophet—though her background is questionable.”
“Moses was a murderer. David an adulterer.” I felt His eyes searching me. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the broken.”
I nodded and took another swipe at my tears.
“What would you like?”
Another breath and I answered: “Let me return to Earth. Let me show You what could have been if You had followed my leading.” I hesitated, then looked up, trying to smile. “Hasn’t that always been Your favorite method of teaching? Letting us have our way until we wind up proving Yours?”
His eyes sparkled at my little joke. I tried to hold His gaze but could not.
After another pause He finally spoke: “When would you like to begin?”
And that’s how it started—how He gave me the opportunity to prove to Him, to you, and to all of creation, what could have been accomplished if He’d proclaimed His truth my way.
I’ll say no more. Neither here nor at the end. Instead, I’ll practice what He, himself, employs. I’ll let the story unfold, allowing truth to speak for itself.
THE FIRST thing Rachel smells is smoke. That’s how it always begins. Not the smoke of wood, but the acrid, chemical smell of burning drapes, melting carpet, smoldering sofa. The air is suffocating. Hot waves press against her face and mouth, making it difficult to breathe. Her mother stands before her in a white flowing gown. Flames engulf the woman’s legs, leaping up and rising toward her waist where she holds little Rebecca. The two of them stare at Rachel, their eyes pleading for help, their faces filled with fear, confusion, and accusation as Rachel stands holding a lit candle in a small glass holder.
Mother and sister waver and dissolve, disappearing into the smoke. Suddenly Rachel is standing in the doorway of an upscale bathroom. The same bathroom she stood inside last night. And the night before. The marble tile is cool to her bare feet. There is no smoke now, only fog. So thick she sees nothing. But she can hear. There is the sound of splashing water. Someone in a tub. The room is filled with the sweet scent of rose bath oil.
A nearby dog yaps, its bark shrill and relentless.
A woman shouts from the tub, “Who’s there?” Her voice is strong and authoritative, masking the fear she must feel.
Rachel tries to answer, but no sound comes from her throat.
“Who are you? How did you get in?” She hears the woman rising, water dripping from her body.
The dog continues to bark.
“Get out of here!” the woman yells. Water splashes. She swears. The sound of a struggle begins. Someone falls, knees thudding into the tub. There is the squeak of flesh against porcelain. Coughing, gagging. A scream that is quickly submerged underwater, muffled and bubbling.
Rachel hears herself gasping and grunting. She feels her own hands around the woman’s throat.
The dog barks crazily.
The last of the burbling screams fades. The struggle ends. There is only the gentle sound of water sloshing back and forth, back and forth.
And the yelping dog.
Rachel rises and turns, fearful of what she knows she will see through the fog. As in the previous dreams, a bathroom mirror floats before her. But this evening there is something different. This evening there are letters scrawled across it in black cherry lipstick. Her scrawling:
In the mirror she sees a tiny red glow dancing across her hand, the hand that holds the burning candle. It’s there every night, like a firefly. But instead of her own frightened face staring back at her, she sees the face of someone else: bald, white, and pale. A swastika tattooed on the side of the neck. Man, woman, she can’t tell. But it is leering. And it is climbing out of the mirror toward her.
She screams and throws the candle at the reflection. The mirror shatters, breaking into a dozen pieces, a dozen images of the face sneering up at her. Until they change. Until they morph into different faces. Froglike. Reptilian. Each climbing out of its broken shard—snarling, reaching for her feet, clutching at her ankles until, mustering all of her strength, she wakes with a stifled scream.
Nineteen-year-old Rachel Delacroix lay in bed, heart pounding, T-shirt soaked and clinging. At first she thought it was from the water of the tub… until she realized it was her own cold sweat.
“Rachel?” Her father appeared in the doorway, his bald black head glistening in the streetlight from the hall window. The same window that held the broken air conditioner they could not afford to replace. “Are you all right?”
“Mmm?” she mumbled, pretending to be asleep.
“Was it—did you have another dream?”
She gave no answer.
“You’re not taking your medicine, are you.”
She remained silent, hoping he’d think she’d gone back to sleep.
More silence. She could hear him standing there nearly half a minute before he turned and wearily shuffled back down the hall to his room. Tomorrow was church and he needed to get his rest. Still, she knew full well he’d not be able to go back to sleep.
Hopefully, neither would she.
She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, then turned to the art posters on the surrounding walls—the Monets, the Van Goghs, the Renoirs. How often they gave her comfort. Even joy. But not tonight. Tonight, as in the past two nights she’d had the dream, they would give her nothing at all.
IT WAS BARELY past nine in the morning and the attic was like an oven. The Santa Anas had been blowing for several days, and Sean Putnam doubted the house had dropped below eighty degrees all night. That’s why he was up here now—to save whatever was left of his paintings. To bring the canvases downstairs where it was cooler and the paint wouldn’t dry out and crack. Over the past months he’d already thrown away dozens, mostly self-portraits; clear signs of what he now considered to have been his self-absorbed youth.
He turned toward the stairs and shouted. As was the case with many Down syndrome children, the multiple ear infections had left his son hard of hearing. “I’ll be there in a second.”
“Well, hurry! We don’t want to be late.”
“I’ll be right there.”
He quietly mused. Tomorrow would be Elliot’s first day in middle school. A scary time for both of them. Yet it was all part of the plan he and Beverly had agreed upon. A plan conceived as the cancer began eating away and taking her. They wanted to make sure Elliot was prepared as much as possible to face the real world. Integrating him into the public school system seemed the best choice. They’d talked about it often during her final days. And it was the last conversation they had before she slipped into unconsciousness.
Now, barely a year later, he was making good on those plans.
Elliot was nervous. He had been all week. That’s why Sean had agreed to this trial run. That’s why, though it was nine-fifteen on a Sunday morning, the two of them would pile into the old Ford Taurus and drive over to Lincoln Middle School. A rehearsal for tomorrow’s big day. An attempt to help Elliot relax by eliminating any surprises.
Too bad Sean couldn’t do the same for himself. Because he wasn’t just anxious about his son. Tomorrow was a big day for him as well. He’d finally graduated from the Los Angeles Police Academy, and tomorrow would be his first day on patrol in a black-and-white. That was the other reason he was up here in the attic. “To put away childish things.” He wasn’t sure where he’d first heard that phrase, probably from his old man. But it made it no less true. The days of being a long-haired art student had come and gone. Now it was time to be a man. To make the necessary sacrifices and take care of what was left of his family.
He quickly flipped through the remaining canvases until one slowed him to a stop. Not because of any artistic skill, but because of the subjects—six-week-old Elliot lying naked on his mother’s tummy, his little fist clenched, nursing at her breast. It still moved him in ways he could not explain. Somehow, some way, he’d been able to capture the truth of that moment… mother and child lost in the act of life, their faces filled with contentment, glowing with an indefinable peace.
He reached down and scooped up the canvas. “I’m on my way.” He tucked the painting under his arm and headed back downstairs, where he would find someplace safe to keep it.
© 2011 Bill Myers
“In the inner wine cellar I drank of my Beloved, And when I traveled this entire valley, I no longer knew anything, and lost the herd I was following.”
St. John of the Cross
Before we get going you should probably know you really can’t trust anything I’m going to say. Nothing. Zip. Sorry. If you haven’t heard, I’m a loon, a nut- case, an entire side of fries short of a kid’s meal. Come to think of it, I’m probably missing the burger, soda, and action figure, too.
Is that clear? I hope so ’cause I sure don’t want you to be expecting too much.
Even though you might have heard the rumors, I have to tell you it was not the tattoo’s fault—at least according to the salt and pepper shakers. And I’m not talking those boring, institutional salt and pepper shakers. No siree. I’m talking about the cool, donkey ones my old roommate bought in Puerto Rico and left behind. The ones whose accents are so thick you can barely understand them—especially when the coffee mugs start going. Those coffee mugs, I tell you, give them two cups of leaded and they get to jabbering all night.
But I digress—something I do a lot of, so please accept my apologies now before we get started. Max, my best friend and roomie, says it’s because my mind is full of such fantastic thoughts, they just keep bubbling over and spilling onto each other. What a guy. You’ll love Max. But we’ll get to him in a few minutes.
The point is, and I’m sure I had one, our little pod of less than a dozen patients (Nelson would know the exact number) had already stood in the med line where Nurse Hardgrove served the hospital’s holy sacraments, each dose carefully measured out according to our unique brand of craziness.
From there we headed to the cafeteria and breakfast, where we grabbed our green food trays, white plastic spoons and white forks (they don’t trust us with knives, not even plastic ones) and moved along the counter, our white tennis shoes squeaking on the freshly waxed linoleum.
You’d like our place, Sisco Heights Mental Health Facility. You may have even seen us on the news. Lots of times the State brings people through to show off what a great place it is. I’ve lived here most of my thirty-five years and love it. You would too, I mean if you were, well, you know.
Anyways, I’d just entered the cafeteria line when I overheard the two-headed dragon that was tattooed on Darcy’s forearm arguing with itself:
“Idiots,” the head with one eye complained. “They got the AC cranked up too high again.” He threw in a little shiver for dramatic effect.
The other head, the one with two eyes said, “It’s the middle of June, fool, what did you expect?”
“I expect I’m going to fire up and add some heat to this place.”
The second head sighed, “Please . . .”
“What you sayin’? We still got a few rights around here.”
I could tell things were getting kind of tense between them so I glanced around to make sure it was safe before trying to calm things down. The two attendants, Biff and Britt (or is it Britt and Biff? I can never keep them straight.) were leaning against opposite walls, doing a pretty good imitation of being awake. The others were scattered around the couple tables and already digging in—except for cute little Chloe. She reminds us all of Peter Pan. I mean if Peter Pan was Asian. And if he was a she. Anyway, Chloe was behind me trying to make up her mind whether to have the overcooked stewed prunes or the undercooked refried beans, which, for the record, looked and tasted about the same.
“I’m a tad curious,” the second dragon head said. “How is it that you do that?”
“Do what?” his partner asked.
“Get your lips flapping so fast your brain just gives up and throws in the towel.”
They kept going at it, getting louder and louder, until I lowered my head to Darcy’s forearm and whispered, “Excuse me? Fellas?”
One-Eye looked up at me and sighed. “What you want, chubby boy?”
“You know what they think about disagreements around here.”
“You tellin’ us you’re a Peace Monitor now?” “No, of course not.”
“Then take your crazy someplace else. How ‘bout that nice little light switch over there? She’s lookin’ kinda lonely.”
Of course I know sarcasm when I hear it, and for the briefest second I thought I should file a Hate Speech Complaint. But Darcy was a friend. Well, sort of.
“Duck!” Chloe shouted.
Of course, Chloe is as nuts as the rest of us, which meant I smiled at her politely before ignoring her completely.
“You remember the last time you fired up?” The second head was practically shouting. “How all them overhead sprinklers came on?”
“They disconnected them. ’Sides, it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t got our big butt in the way. Making me shoot around it totally ruined my sense of perspective.”
“You’re a two-dimensional character. You don’t got perspective.”
Darcy broke in. You can’t miss her voice. It’s smoke cured from years of cigarettes and, I imagine, lots of cigars. “What you doing, freak?”
I looked up to see her frowning down at me with those lovely, lavender-caked eyes, complete with missing eyebrows and bald head.
“Oh, sorry.” I straightened up. “I was just, uh.” I motioned to her arm, which I’ve got to admit, is way more muscular than mine. “Your dragons, what are their names again?”
“Listen, perv, I told you I catch you talking to my arm one more time and I’m doing some serious rearranging of your—”
“I wasn’t talking to your arm,” I blurted. “Honest. Besides, they started it.”
“Let’s go, Bernie.”
I turned to look across a steaming pan of watery oatmeal or watery scrambled eggs, which also look and taste the same, and saw Winona. She’s a volunteer food server from our pod who wears aluminum foil around her neck and wrists. She also has white, Einstein-like hair and an IQ to match.
“Certainly you are cognizant how nervous she becomes around men of the male persuasion?” She motioned to Darcy. “And your intimate discussion with her tattoos . . .” She shook her head. “On my planet, a verbal exchange with tattoos is the final step in consummating a physical relationship.”
Without missing a beat, Darcy answered, “On my planet, it’s the last step before sneaking into a perv’s room and setting him on fire.”
I looked at Darcy and swallowed nervously. She looked at me and stared blankly.
As usual, the tattoos paid no attention. Instead, I heard One-Eye taking a deep, wheezing breath. I looked down and, just as I feared, he was filling up. The other head swore as he ducked under Darcy’s elbow. It was pretty clear he was going to barbecue everything in sight . . . including Darcy, so there was only one thing I could do. I didn’t mean to be fresh, but I reached over and covered Darcy’s arm with both of my hands. Better to fry my hands than set the place on fire.
“Muwaff ma muf are mou moing?” One-Eye shouted.
“Get your perverted hands off me, you perv!” Darcy shouted.
A third voice chimed in. “Hey, Freak!”
It was Jamal. Jamal the Jihadist. Jamal the joy-killer. Jamal the purveyor of pain. He’d shown interest in Darcy the first moment she joined our pod. Not that she gave him the time of day, but that didn’t stop Jamal. As far as he was concerned, she was his property, whether she cared to acknowledge it or not—and he had the broken nose and bruised ribs, courtesy of her martial arts training, to prove it.
She didn’t exactly need his protection, which explained why, as I turned to him, seeing my lame little life pass before my lame little eyes, I felt the pain of Darcy’s food tray smashing into my skull. I should have listened to Chloe. But that didn’t stop Biff and Britt (or was it Britt and Biff?) from leaving the walls they’d been holding up. Even as I collapsed to the floor, slipping into unconsciousness, the two orderlies rushed in, Tasers firing like bug zappers at a bug convention. But not at sweet Darcy. For some reason, the guys weren’t real fond of Jamal. I don’t remember how many shots it took to put him down, or how many kicking boots it took to keep him there. I was too busy drifting into darkness, grateful that once again, I’d managed to save our home.
I pulled my satchel from the passenger seat and crawled out. The tiny employee parking lot was surrounded by woods and covered in cold, drizzly fog. I shut and locked the door, blaming the cramped, micro-hybrid for the ache in my hip and knees. For the thousandth time I dreamed of my sister’s invitation to join her at the retirement village in Arizona with its dry air and sympathetic heat. But it was only a dream. I was too much Alpha male to put my brain out to pasture and watch my body turn to pudding and toothpicks. Though between the early morning chill and yesterday’s reaming out by Division, it almost sounded appealing . . .
“Don’t misunderstand us, Doctor, we all appreciate your sensitivity and we all are on your side.”
Of course there had been no us or we in the glass-walled office of the Public Service building. Just the young man with a spattering of fresh acne across his cheekbones. He was a third my age and wore a suit twice my weekly pay. But I’d never signed up for the money. I had Navy retirement for that. I was here to give back to a country that had given so much to me.
“I’ll grant you your rehabilitation numbers are high, but the Department has taken great care to outline specific responses to specific infractions.”
“I understand,” I said, “but some patients take more time. Some need a more personal approach to—”
“Our rules are not arbitrary, Doctor. They’ve been tested and approved by professionals with far more experience in the field than either you or I.”
I resisted the urge to ask Junior how much field time he’d put in outside the office, not counting the golf games and squash courts. But with age comes wisdom. Instead, I chose to sit silently and count his latest crop of pink and white pustules . . . and call myself a coward the rest of the day and on into the night.
Now, just before dawn, I did my best not to limp as I crossed the parking lot and started up the fifty-six worn concrete steps leading to the equally worn three-story hospital. If there had been a handrail, it was long gone. Old timers said this part of the city was almost as good as before the Uprising.
“Almost as Good.” It had become our mantra. Nearly half a century had passed since we’d quit tearing ourselves apart with the Religious Wars— kicked off by the half dozen dirty nukes simultaneously detonated in major population centers. Of course that was only the beginning. Retaliation led to retaliation, all the way down to the state and com- munity level. Then came the economic collapse, along with a couple pandemics also courtesy of the conflict (think drug resistant smallpox and MARV in the hands of the devout). It had taken a long, long time to return to almost as good. Well, except for the heightened surveillance. For whatever reason, Uncle Sam always had money for that.
As I worked my way up the steps, my mind drifted back to yesterday’s dressing-down. “Besides your own malpractice suit, you are no doubt aware that the victim’s family is suing the Department for reckless endangerment.” I nodded.
“And now that the press has picked it up . . .” He let the phrase hang in the air. I didn’t touch it. “We’re simply left with no alternative than to put you on six-month probation.”
I took a slow, steady breath. “And my patients?”
“Oh, don’t misunderstand us, Doctor. You’ll still make your rounds to the hospitals. But there will be no action or diagnosis on your part that we in the Department will not first review and approve.”
In one sense, I suppose I was lucky. If there had been more psychiatrists with my education, let alone passion, I would have faced suspension. But I had the fancy initials after my name, and no one doubted my commitment to the cause. History would never repeat itself. Not on my watch.
Sometimes, to this day, I wake up in the morning, my heart racing, my sheets damp from memories of them pounding on my father’s door in the middle of the night . . .
“Ibrahim! Ibrahim, come out!” It was Reverend Johnson. Over the months of building tension, he’d handed me several religious tracts. “You’re too handsome a lad to burn in hell,” he would say.
Of course I always gave the pamphlets to Poppa who disposed of them, always with a prayer for Allah’s vengeance to fall upon the infidel’s head.
“Ibrahim!” More pounding. “We know you’re in there.”
“He is not here!” Momma cried. She threw a pleading look to Poppa, begging him to remain silent. But that was not how Poppa lived. Despite her pleas and her clinging, he threw open the door. They stormed in, five or six of them, cursing, shouting, accusing the men from our mosque of the slaughter of several Christian families—men, women, children. And, sadly, they were probably right. Though it could just have easily been in response to an attack the Christians launched, or the Jews, or even the Buddhists, Dharma bless their pacifist hearts. That’s how ugly things had become. Though, in the years to follow, it was merely a prelude.
That night Momma covered my eyes as she screamed, begging for mercy. I remember the sound of scuffling, men yelling, someone shouting praises to Jesus as Poppa pleaded to Allah. I remember them dragging him out the door and Momma following them into the street, still screaming, still crying.
I raced after them onto the porch, unsure what to do, frozen in fear and guilt. I watched as they punched and kicked my father, the scene lit by a burning house across the street. I remember the bursts of gunfire one block over, the distant wail of police sirens. I remember Momma pleading for mercy as they loaded him into a car, until she was struck hard with the butt of a rifle, bloody teeth flying from her mouth like pink pearls.
Yes, I know all about the dangers of religion. And I’ve supported every law that has freed us from its tyranny—the fines and penalties for hate speech, the deportation of militants, the incarceration and re-education of hardliners—until gradually, over the last several decades, the monster had finally been defanged.
That’s the primary purpose of the Department of Religious Affairs—not to outlaw religion. Other countries have tried that and have only succeeded in increasing religious fervor. No, our purpose is to remove the differences, any aspect that leads to separation, or the feelings of inferiority and superiority. And thanks to our dogged determination and brave legislators, we now have a state philosophy whose only goals are peace, reconciliation, and social harmony. That’s what we’ve achieved, and that’s what I’ve dedicated my so-called golden years to maintain.
I arrived at the top of the steps and took a moment to catch my breath. The fog, which had rolled in from the bay, stretched nearly to the tops of the trees. Although the hospital was in the middle of the city, on one of its highest hills, it was surrounded by just over an acre of woods.
I traipsed through the wet grass of a sloppily- manicured terrace to my office. It had its own separate entrance, though the room wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet. I unlocked the door and was greeted by the familiar smell of dust and mildew. I snapped on the light and turned on the little wall heater.
Was there still resistance to the Department’s efforts? Absolutely. But now we had the law on our side. Penalties were swift and substantial. And for those who tried to obey but couldn’t? For the mentally or emotionally unstable? Well, that’s where my division came in. Every major mental health facility in the state has a small ward, or pod, for those who struggle with such disorders. Men like . . . I opened my satchel and pulled out a file labeled: Maxwell Portenelli.
I opened the folder for a quick review. Not that I hadn’t studied it before. But after yesterday’s lecture, I’d leave no room for error. His daughter would be checking him in later this morning. Apparently he was a famous icon in the fashion world. Worth mil- lions. But success did not come easily. According to family members, he was consumed with work, often putting in ninety hours a week, neglecting relationships, sometimes sleeping in his studio, and having no social life outside of business. Eventually the stress and demands took their toll. Two and a half weeks ago, on his fiftieth birthday, he experienced a psychotic break that left him incapacitated for nearly seventy-two hours. During that time he claimed to have been taken to heaven where he had a lengthy conversation with god.
The episode generated an extreme shift in personality with serious consequences—retrograde amnesia, including the inability to recognize any family member, manic behavior, bouts of extreme giddiness, and a complete disregard for the company he’d dedicated his entire life to building. There had been some talk about a private institution, but since his issue was religious in nature, that meant State involvement and his eventual assignment here at Sisco Heights.
And the trigger for such a break? A power lunch with select members of his board at a local Chinese restaurant. Eyewitnesses said it was intense, heated, and demanding—typical of most Portenelli meetings. There was no indication of any problem throughout the course of the two-hour lunch, until he opened his fortune cookie and read the fortune.
Almost immediately he began to tremble. Soon after, he closed his eyes and, despite the calls and shouts of others, he entered a catatonic state.
He was transported to Mercy General where he was tested and kept for observation. Seventy-two hours later, when he regained consciousness and it was established there was no physiological or neurological damage, he was released in the hopes of a full recovery.
At home, although thoughtful and polite with family and household staff, he did not recognize them. Nor did he display the slightest interest in returning to work. Instead, he became fixated upon his experience, wishing only to talk about god.
And what was the fortune that brought about such a dramatic change in character? It simply read:
“You are my favorite child.”
I shook my head. Poor devil. To be at the height of his career and suffer such a breakdown. It was an unusual case, there was no doubt about it. But that’s why we were here. Whether his recovery took weeks or months, I would be at his side to help and serve.
That is my purpose. And, if you will, that is my call.
That Awkward Age
Hi, it’s me again. Bernie? From the last book?
Maybe you know me better from all those newscasts they’ve been showing where I’m part of a criminal gang of mental patients who escaped and burned down the hospital a few nights ago. I don’t want to be argumentative or anything, I mean if it’s on the news it’s got to be true, but we’re really not. Criminals, I mean. Although I do feel kinda bad about the hospital part.
And I feel real bad about Trashman. We all do. Max says it was necessary for him to stay in the building to destroy our records. But it doesn’t make sense to me. Then again, without my medication, what does?
In the good ol’ days, (almost 72 hours ago), I could count on my electric razor or Darcy’s dragon tattoo to help explain stuff. But now nobody’s talking. Well, nobody but people and, of course, all those patterns.
I still see them, the patterns I mean. I can’t paint them like I did back in my room which, like I said, kinda burned down. But I still see them. Everywhere. Like those cars down there on the freeway. See that big semi coming towards us in the left lane? And the two little compacts in the lane beside it, one near its front and the other near its back? And the blue mini-van in the next lane over, between them? See how they make the perfect letter, “D?”
I’ve been wedged under this overpass making up words all morning. Actually, it’s only been one word so far. That’s because it keeps showing up over and over again, which is pretty coincidental which, for me, is pretty normal. Anyways, the view up here is terrific. Saffron and JJ, the homeless couple that took us in, their camp is just on the other side of that giant, cement bulkhead. It’s a great place, out of sight from the freeway traffic which is good since we’re sort of celebrities now, with our faces on the news and everyone trying to arrest us. So we really appreciate them letting us stay.
JJ got real nice about it last night when we were gathered around the little fire on our plastic milk crates and wooden fruit boxes – except for Saffron who rocked back and forth in the rocker she borrowed from a local furniture store who’d left their back door unlocked. She’d really fixed up the place and even had wall-to-wall carpeting here and there from carpet samples some floor store threw away. She also had a knack for landscaping – particularly with that nice, little Christmas tree bush a few yards down from camp. How anything could grow in the cement and packed dirt is beyond me, but there it was, four feet tall and almost as round, with Christmas tree lights that didn’t work and beautiful silver and gold garland. Lots and lots of garland. But I digress, which you may remember from the last book, I do a lot of.
“Ain’t no deal you stayin’ with us,” JJ said. He threw his arm around Max and offered him a drink of his fortified wine. “Hospitalessness, it’s ‘cactly like homelessness . . . ‘cept for a few letters here an’ there.”
Max nodded with that smile of his but politely refused the bottle.
No one’s sure why JJ suddenly got so friendly. Joey thinks it has something to do with his romantic interests in Darcy. Ralphy thinks it’s more to do with the napkins JJ stole from McDonalds. The ones he’s having us autograph so he can sell them on the street. Besides his fortified wine, JJ likes his money.
And Saffron? She doesn’t mind us staying either, just as long as we do our share of dumpster diving for food and keep the camp nice and tidy. And we do, well except for Winona who’s always throwing up. As a health nut she doesn’t do well surrounded by flesh eating bacteria and your everyday infectious diseases. She’s also not fond of the smell of stale urine. Luckily, the exhaust fumes usually cover that up.
So, all in all, we’re doing really good . . . except for being on the run from the police and everyone saying we’re crazy. Of course Max keeps saying we’re not and I wish it was true, but it’s kind of hard believing him when . . .
Ralphy still thinks he’s a superhero (and wears the goggles, shower cap and bath towel cape to prove it).
Winona is still sure she’s an alien visiting from another planet (where they don’t have flesh eating bacteria or stale urine).
Darcy is still afraid of electricity and still threatens to set sleeping people on fire who flirt with her (which explains why JJ sleeps with a fire extinguisher).
Joey is still our resident genius, except for the part of believing the world is flat.
Nelson is still our walking encyclopedia.
Chloe is still shy and super sweet. She still blurts out things that don’t make sense (until later, when no one is paying attention). Well, no one but me. I pay attention to everything she does though, of course, I don’t let on.
So, with all our unique personalities, you can see why it’s hard to believe Max when he says were not nuts. But there is one thing we do believe. . . Each of us is God’s favorite child. After all, that’s what the fortune cookies told us, and why would fortune cookies lie?
Oh, and there are the dreams. I know they’re weird and Dr. Aadil would probably say it’s mass hysteria or something, but everyone of us has had some sort of dream where Trashman breathes on us, or kisses us, or gives us mouth to mouth resuscitation – just like he did with Max and Chloe.
“Hey, Dough Face!”
I turned to see Saffron rounding the cement wall and stalking towards me. For the briefest second I caught a glimpse of her robe, the one covered in diamonds and emeralds that she doesn’t like me to talk about since it’s just my craziness.
“What the (insert expletive here) you doin’, you stupid (insert another expletive).”
Saffron likes her expletives.
I scooted down the steep concrete bank until I could stand. “Good morning, your highness.”
“Stop callin’ me that! What you doin’ here?”
I shrugged. “Freeway Scrabble.”
She shouted something I couldn’t quite make out over a belching truck.
I glanced down at the freeway and quickly pointed. “Look! See the middle lane? See the car being tailgated by the other two, and then the space, and then that little Volkswagen adding the dot? See how it makes the letter ‘i’?”
She started to look then caught herself. “Get the (expletive) out of sight. If you see the (expletive) cars, they can see you!” She turned and without another word, or expletive, headed back toward camp.
I followed. “Sorry,” I said.”
“(Expletive! Expletive!)” she said.
Then, just before we rounded the wall, I glanced down at the freeway one last time. Sure enough, there it was again. A long eighteen wheeler in the left lane with two cars, side by side in the next two lanes at its back, two more cars, side by side, at its middle, and two more at its top. Together, just like they had so many times before, they made the final letter . . . a perfect, capital “E”.