Oblivion’s Reach

                   

The fallen angels descended into a darkness with no bottom. There was no going back. God had been quite specific about that.

                   

Chapter 1

                   

I wonder why they call a lake the Gold Coast? Sonta was perplexed. He had never been to this part of America, wasn’t from here, and never could be called a history buff. The high-rise condos lining Lake Shore Drive along the Chicago skyline were undoubtedly impressive. Hailing a cab at Grand Central Station, he headed to his destination.

                   

Sonta could have flown, but the train was more conducive for his activities while traveling. The accommodations of the compartment on the City of New Orleans allowed him to bring two female companions with him. The duo willingly supplied personal pleasures for his enjoyment.

                   

Sonta was a fallen angel and possessed powers far beyond those of earthlings. In his demonic state, he towered over the tallest mortals. His wings spanned twenty feet tip to tip. Sonta answered only to a few.

                   

When Lucifer and his followers went tumbling out of Heaven’s confines, Sonta was among them. The castoffs had eventually gathered in a place called the Second Heaven from whence they dispersed, bringing their wrath to all civilizations.

                                                

Like his brethren, Sonta was a changeling, cable of altering his appearance. The importance of this capability could not be overstated since there were many races on earth where Christianity flourished. Here, he presented as a tall European gentleman with somewhat aristocratic roots.

                   

Arriving at the address given to him, Sonta and the women waited impatiently for the private elevator to take them to the penthouse. Luxury fairly oozed from the marble floors, the window treatments, and the reception area. The surroundings fit his persona. There was no reason why he should not be enjoying more of these moments, but it had not happened yet.

                   

Boarding the elevator, Sonta day-dreamed about being able to enjoy all the creature comforts available in this world he now temporarily called home. Being one of the fallen angels God cast out of heaven eons ago had resulted in an always fluid algorithm of changing conditions. Assignments with no end, battles with no resolution, had led him to this place in a land called Earth where all was available.

                   

Sonta couldn’t help thinking that his master, Koal, was collecting chits that carried his imprint. I have been as successful in battle as he has, yet here he is, summoning me.

                   

Jeremiah Koal was just a name chosen because its prefix had biblical standing. A Christian name in the mortal community seemed necessary for an Overlord of the demonic kingdom whose direct responsibility was the heartland of America.

                   

Koal was a handsome man in his earthly presence, but an object of fear and loathing in his demonic form. There was no measuring the evil that resided within him since it was without measure. He had blood red eyes sunken beneath a misty haze, foulness oozing from his pores. When thoroughly demonized, he was nearly twenty feet tall, with a 30-foot wingspan and yellow hued complexion. He had fallen slightly behind Lucifer. Koal engendered such fear that his adversaries, with good reason, always wanted to run, but couldn’t, being frozen with fear’s massive adrenaline shooting through their veins.


The elevator stopped one floor below the Penthouse. Sonta and the women stepped out. People scurried everywhere. It was a busy place, a typical American corporate office setting. Computer screens received data and routed it away. Phones rang. Quiet conversations were taking place.

                   

Two security personnel, handguns holstered at their waists, approached Sonta from a rear stairway area that was hidden by beautiful palm trees.

                   

“Are you Alexander Sonta, sir?” one asked.
“Well, yes, I am Sonta,” he replied.
“I don’t know where Alexander came from, but I am Sonta, and I am expected.” It was apparent to Sonta that Master Koal had given him a first name, an earthling

                   

name, entirely without his permission.
“Sir,” said the other guard, “please walk up to the next floor where Gozan will

                   

meet you. We will keep your companions entertained here,” he added, with no hint of emotion.

                   

Sonta didn’t want to leave his girls. Nevertheless, he had to comply.

                   

Gozan was Koal’s chief of staff, his right-hand man, who held down the position that should have been his, a position Sonta had earned on the battlefield.

                           

Perhaps if I was more accommodating, thought Sonta, things would change. He brushed the thought aside. Whatever the role he had played, the lives he had taken certainly merited promotion. One day soon, he would become a member of the High Council presided over by the great master Satan himself.

                   

“Sonta, so good to see you,” said Gozan, forcing a smile. He had never liked Sonta whom he considered too full of himself. Sonta wanted his job, and Gozan knew it. Fat chance of that happening.

                   

“Sure, good to see you, too,” Sonta mumbled as he scanned the surroundings, barely hiding his contempt for a lackey who was most obviously not a warrior.

                   

“What’s up with the names? I was just told I am Alexander.”

                   

“First names only exist when humans are present, we can’t be bothered with them here. How was your trip?”

                   

“Other than having to board the City of New Orleans at 3 a.m., it was just fine. It passed the smell test.”

                   

“I don’t understand those words,” said Gozan.

                   

Sonta looked at at the man with a condescending stare. “The girls never complained, so all’s well that ends well.”

                   

“The girls?” Gozan seemed taken aback.

                   

“Yeah. You know, girls, women, sex, stuff like that,” replied Sonta, almost laughing out loud at what he perceived as embarrassment on Gozan’s face.

                   

“Well, what you do is your business unless it’s mine,” replied Gozan, looking at him evenly with no hint of inferiority.

                                

“Well said,” replied Sonta, thinking that he might need to reassess his situation. This was their new life, not his.

                   

“What is on the agenda?”

                   

“That depends on Master Koal,” said Gozan, “he doesn’t clear his schedule with me.”

                   

“That’s quite an admission, Gozan, coming from his chief of staff. I was summoned, had to leave in the middle of the night to get here, endure an hour and a half cab ride in rush hour, and still have to wait on his supremeness. To top it all off, you don’t know the agenda!”

                   

“I don’t know why I am giving you this heads up Sonta,” Gozan said, “but our master has read your recent report, and I observed some discomfort as he laid it on the conference table.”

                   

“How so?” asked Sonta seeing a smirk on Gozan’s face.

                   

“Not for me to say,” replied Gozan, walking toward a door on the right and motioning for Sonta to follow.

                   

Opening the door, they entered a large suite. There was the usual complement of office equipment scattered neatly around. A large mahogany desk flanked by chairs and a small conference table occupied the center of the room. On the east wall, several large picture windows looked out over Lake Michigan.

                   

Gozan pressed a button and the wall to the west began to fold on itself, exposing as it did an expanded version of the present room. The Chicago skyline was in full view.

                   

“Settle in Sonta,” advised Gozan, “it’s a little after one. I’ll have lunch brought in. Hard to say how long you’ll be here before Master Koal makes himself available.”

                                     

“I doubt it will make any difference,” said Sonta, “but I do have an eight o’clock train reservation.”

                   

“You’re right again,” replied Gozan, leaving the room, “it doesn’t matter.”

                   

Arrogant ass! Thought Sonta, quickly dismissing the speculation knowing full well the powers of Koal, one of which was advanced telepathy. It allowed him to monitor thoughts as a way of controlling the demons around him. He could have been listening to this entire preamble.

                   

Lunch arrived, but Sonta ate fitfully still not knowing why he had been summoned. Eventually, he settled into a comfortable chair and dozed off. Awaking, he checked his watch. It was three-thirty.

                   

Looking around the vacant room, his gaze meandered to the east windows that revealed several sailboats bouncing on the lake’s small waves. The beachfront up and down Lake Shore drive was also in view, which attracted sunbathers and windsurfers. It was a hot day, and through the binoculars lying on an adjacent table, he spotted a topless sunbather roll slowly to her back, providing optimum exposure to the several other men in her proximity.

                   

Sonta breathed hard as he observed the dynamics of the scene, so caught up in the grand design that he completely missed Koal’s entrance.

                   

“If you are that interested in her,” Koal said, snapping Sonta's head around at the sound of his voice, “I can have her brought up later.”

                   

“Master Koal, I didn’t hear you enter,” Sonta sputtered.

                                                

“I’ve reviewed your report on southern Illinois. As is, it appears in alignment with our master plan but looks a little skimpy. Did you leave anything out? Anything that affects our chances of success?”

                   

Sonta felt like he had been caught with his pants down, which is where he was with the girl on the beach below. But Koal was here now, and he needed to pay attention. He noticed the demon’s mortal appearance had changed since their last visit. More aristocratic looking, probably to help push his “Jeremiah” agenda.

                   

“The report is factual, Master Koal,” Sonta replied as he wiped sweat from the binoculars and dabbed his brow with the back of his hand. He hadn’t realized how deeply he’d gotten into his voyeur with the beach girl.

                   

“According to your two-year timetable,” Koal continued, “our takeover will be complete. We will have determined who is faithful and who is not and turned the hearts and minds of the masses to our agenda. The population will be controlled or eliminated. Your confidence rides high, Sonta, does it not? But what about the opposition? In the past, you have not always been effective in that arena. There have been mistakes. What’s your strategy?” Koal’s earth form began to melt at the utterance of these words.

                   

Sonta read the shapeshift as a danger signal. Tensing, he said, “I remind you, earthlings are poorly evolved. They are simple people, and our plan has already yielded results. Our land acquisitions have largely gone unnoticed. Those who became aware of even small portions of our plan have been neutralized. Possible adversaries have been identified. Those who pose a potential problem, well, let’s just say they are on the watch list. People we have aligned with in the past are being brought into the area. Let me assure you.....”

             

The setting sun had suddenly dipped below a roof overhang causing Koal and Sonta to shield their faces as the sun’s rays momentarily blinded them. Koal turned and groped for a panel on his desk. At the press of a button, the blinds lowered, obscuring the panoramic view of the Chicago skyline. Too much sunlight was dangerous.

                   

“Let me assure you,” Sonta continued, “that this plan will be the gold standard for similar takeovers elsewhere.”

                   

“Much depends on it. Much,” Koal said, his eyes framed with fire boring a hole through Sonta. “Let me assure you that your existence depends on it as well.”

                   

Sonta understood. Koal did not make veiled threats.

                   

“As you know, our region is one of four. We are the test quadrant bringing the battle for humankind to the entire nation. Your plan will be a blueprint for the conquest of earth. I have three counterparts, as do you. Our Grand Master Satan has chosen America because of its decadence. In my opinion, we could not have selected a better environment. Our master has one worry that he voices regularly. He fears our takeover will not be complete before the Rapture sends all of us who follow him to the fiery pit, from which there is no escape. This event the Christians call the Rapture means we must be busy fulfilling our mission.”

                   

The message was understood.

                   

“Master Koal, do you remember how early last century you maneuvered the Ottoman Empire to eliminate the Armenians?

                   

“At your direction during World War I, I was able to infiltrate the Turkish leadership and harden their hearts and minds against the Armenians. We convinced the government that the Armenians were a dangerous foreign element. Today history calls it

                        

the Armenian Genocide. You were bloody and ruthless in your elimination of this Christian element. As I recall, this campaign won you your seat on the high council.”

                   

“Yes, I remember the assignment, Sonta. Be careful in your analysis; these are entirely different operations. Here we are seeking to break the faith of those that would go should the Rapture occur. They are our priority. The non-believers are easily taken. There is no shortage of targets. Concern yourself with the righteous. Lord Satan himself has picked this land for us as a test case.” Koal had softened his voice somewhat, which Sonta took as a positive.

                   

“I understand you have a train to catch. Gozan made sure your companions were not used while relaxing in the guestroom. They should be fresh for your return trip. My limousine is waiting for you.”

                                           

Chapter 2

                   

“And you will hear wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” Matthew 24:6

                   

Jones O’Brian stopped reading his Bible and looked across the kitchen table into his wife’s big brown eyes. She still captured his attention after all these years.

                   

“Ominous, isn’t it?” she said, brushing back a wisp of auburn hair while straightening in her chair.

                   

“What?” said Jones.
“All these wars, murders, drugs, evil acts without end.. Everywhere you look. It

                   

can’t be a coincidence. Besides, you don’t believe in coincidences,” she said tauntingly. Her voice trended country, a product of growing up and working on Kazenski Acres, her parents’ farm. Although her given name was Connie, somewhere along the line, Kaz took over.


“Don’t start bringing blowing up the world again, Kaz, not everything is falling apart.,” Jones replied.

“Don’t get started on Washington either,” he added, knowing full well it was her favorite destination.

“Calm down, honey. I’m just saying the political world is wild out there and shows no signs of going away.”


He had walked away after one of her interruptions a few nights ago, and right now, she was trying to atone.


“Well, thanks for the input,” he said with a scowl.
                                

“Anytime,” she had replied.


“What do you have spinning inside that head of yours?” she asked.

                   

“I’m thinking about the men who built the roadmap, especially John. The man was centuries ahead of his time.”

                   

“Explain,” said Kaz.


“He was laying out the path that men would walk in the final days, before the Rapture. His vision was one of wars and rumors of wars, horrible events without end.” Jones’ favorite biblical subject was prophecy. It was easy for him to go there.

          

“Everyone has an opinion, but my feeling is there is too much upheaval for all this conflict to be random. These events are not mere happenstance.

 

“Your observations about our government seem right on though it is hard to make sense of the mess. It does hurt sometimes having to agree with you.”


“You’ll get over the hump,” said Kaz, flashing him a big smile.


“Anyway,” Jones continued, “the government’s confusion and lies represent not just us but our times. We are all God’s creatures, flawed and in need of salvation. Many of us long to see a great leader emerge, but that may not happen until humanity evolves and sheds its penchant for money, power, and territorial control. We have no real say in who we elect; they are chosen for us by the ruling tribes. If our thousands of churches in this land would only vet these candidates and do what Jesus would do, there would be no uncertainty. I am convinced Satan has infiltrated our churches with non-believers posing as Christians whose tasks are to sow discord and doubt among the faithful. It is the hand of The Most Evil come to bear upon us all, and I pray the righteous can and will overcome it through the intervention of our Lord and the power of prayer.”    


“Somedays I feel abandoned in the field,” said Jones, thinking back to his horrific days of combat in Afghanistan. Death, blood, and destruction were all around, and some wanted more.

                   

“Who wants that world, Kaz?” he asked.

                   

“Lucifer and his fallen angels,”she replied, “they help to install the hate, the corruption, the misery that men bring to themselves.

                   

“Over time, the demonic forces take ownership of the bought who further damage the people and society.”

                   

“That’s what I think John envisioned and wrote about Kaz,” said Jones. “I wouldn’t presume to guess at that,” she answered.

                   

“Sure makes me think that the end times are closer than we realize,” said Jones. “It makes me almost glad we can’t have children,” Kaz blurted out.


Reality bit hard as Jones witnessed her pained expression, one that had existed just below the surface for years. The topic had vanished from their conversations despite countless attempts at coming to peace with her barrenness.           

        

Refocusing, Jones said, “It’s all ok Kaz, it’s all ok.”


Kaz looked expressionless, still a prisoner of her thoughts. “Sure, honey, I know.”

                   

No one was convinced.


Jones had spent untold hours studying the Bible, a book he treasured over all others. The words there had convinced him to be vigilant and keep watch for signs of world conflict. He was doing just that.

                             

“The good news Kaz is that the Bible is clear about angels in our midst, present and active in the affairs of men, just as they were with the Israelites in the olden days. How else could we have survived without angels and prayer?”

                   

“True,” said Kaz. “I believe that.”

                   

Jones and Kaz had been down this road before. Both, in their own way, wanted to believe so very badly. Kaz had prayed her heart out for a baby and gotten no for an answer. Jones had not stopped questioning how you could write that off to “God’s Will.”

                   

It was murky water at best; even Jones conceded that. The details of divine intervention had many interpreters and interpretations. How the Heavenly Host interacted with mortals was tough to figure out sometimes. Try as he might, he couldn’t dismiss Raphael, and the other Grand Masters’ images of mighty Joshua led into battle by a flock of dainty, winged cherubs.

                   

“So, Kaz,” he asked hesitantly, “you think the angels have kept the struggle between light and darkness at a stalemate all these years? There is a war going on between God and Satan. I’m just not clear on what part we play in the overall scheme.” He had to get off the kid thing.

                   

“I’m just saying; there’s no reason to think there’s something so special about our time.” She began to cough. “I’ve never felt caught up in a world invaded by monsters.

                   

“Of course, Jesus did say the end would come when we least...” She succumbed to a fit of shivering and hacking.

                   

Dear Lord, not again, Jones thought. Kaz was manifesting a deep-down kind of sickness that was growing within her. The coughing spells had been happening for several months. Jones continually prayed for healing, sending his prayers into the void. The silence was deafening.                   

“Are you okay, Kaz? Should we go to the ER?”


She just shook her head. “Get me some water. I’ll be fine.”


After Kaz took a few sips of water, they finished their study time without further discussion and closed with a prayer. Jones noticed the coughing spell had taken some of the fight out of her. Moving around the table, Jones gently helped Kaz to her feet. Moments later, he tucked her into bed and lumbered back to the kitchen.         

          

Pushing his hand through his short-cropped black hair, he grabbed a chair and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. He had been a pretty good athlete once but those days were long since passed. Still yet, he tried to keep active and in some semblance of shape. Just a few, he reasoned.

                   

Sitting at the table, he tried to go back in time to figure when Kaz’s coughing spells started. The sickness had been infrequent at first, presenting no real effect on her daily routine. But earlier this year, shortly after their thirteenth wedding anniversary, Kaz’s symptoms worsened. Something wasn’t right with her body. The coughing would double her over, grinding any activity to a halt. Some attacks came on so quickly there was no safety net. Everything went boom and shuddered to a stop. Everything.

                   

The shivers came first, causing her body to shake almost uncontrollably. Her fever rose, and nothing stayed down. Sometimes an electric blanket would help, sometimes not. But going to the doctor – no it wasn’t going to happen. He couldn’t convince her, no matter how hard he tried. Kaz insisted her fate was in God’s hands.

                                  

What kind of logic was that, Jones wondered. How could all this be God’s will? He was confused.

                   

While washing down his fifth cookie, the solution came to him. Kaz needed a doctor. God helped those who helped themselves.

                   

Abby Soloman, he reasoned, Kaz’s best friend growing up, should be able to convince her to go to the doctor. At least it was worth a try. Knowing Abby was a deputy sheriff possibly on duty at this hour he dug into Kaz’s tote, found her phone, located the number, and gave her a call.

                   

“It’s getting a little late, isn’t it Kaz?” Abby sounded asleep.


“Abby, it’s Jones. I’ve already put Kaz to bed.”


“Well, I haven’t heard your voice in a while, Jones, although I do hear about you regularly. What’s up?”


“Has Kaz mentioned her health issues lately?”

“No, she hasn’t. What’s she been keeping from me?”

“She’s been having coughing spells for some time, and they are getting worse.   
                

She coughs, shivers, gets fevers, and it’s downhill from there. She has to use an electric blanket to get warm.”

                   

“Not good, Jones. What’s the doctor say?”

                   

“That’s just it, Abby. She won’t go. I don’t think she realizes how bad this may be. Do you think you could get her to go see the doc?”

                   

“Of course I’ll get her to go, Jones. I won’t give her any choice. She’ll probably be upset that you’ve told me.”

                            

“Then don’t tell her,” Jones interjected, violating principles that didn’t seem too important right now.

                   

“Right,” said Abby, “if she does find out she’ll have to get over it. I’ll get right on it, Jones. I’d do anything for you guys.”

                   

A more accurate statement had seldom been voiced. The O’Brian’s, Jones and Kaz, would not exist without Abby. She had realized way back in high school that love was in the air, their air, considerably before they did.

                   

Early the next morning, Abby was on the move. She called and made an appointment for Kaz and then she showed up at the front door with appointment slip in hand. The anger on Kaz’s face was evident when she found out about the collaboration.

                   

The visit didn’t go well. Kaz had a coughing fit in the exam room. All the usual tests took place. Blood work, MRI, and myriad other investigations into Kaz's health began. However, in the end, there was no resolution, no definitive conclusion that pointed to a starting point for treatment.

                   

The small town hospital was not equipped to diagnose her symptoms. Referrals were their only answer, so appointments were made, and eventually, several specialists in the city examined Kaz stem to stern. Videoconferences with other specialists across the U.S. cost thousands while Kaz continued to wither as the hand of man and science yielded no definitive diagnosis.

                   

The life that Jones and Kaz had forged came apart. Their daily routines of times together disappeared. She was too weak for bible study to be a cooperative venture. Her accommodations became the sole priority of the Jones household.

                         

Kaz was the executive director of Hope House, a local home for unwed mothers. Unable to havea child of her own, she dedicated her life to helping others bring new life into the world. Despite her true passion for the services that Hope House provided, she began coming home early almost daily.

                   

Jones’ life changed in sync. He started taking time off from his position as operations manager for Southern Distributing to tend to Kaz, whose condition continued to worsen. Time seemed to be in slow motion as Kaz deteriorated. Several prayer groups in the community prayed daily for her recovery, but there was no change.

                   

Early one Sunday at 2 a.m., when no good is afoot, Jones stepped out of the house. Some lady friends were tending to Kaz as he fired up his truck and headed to Lake Murphysboro, an old out of the way fishing hole with darn near as many cottonmouths as fish. It had been his parking spot with Kaz in high school days. It was quiet there, the right place to ponder the future.

                   

Parking his truck in the empty lot, Jones walked toward the rundown boat dock that occupied the east side of the lake. The water was deeper there, which meant more fish and fewer snakes. As was his habit, he stopped to scoop a handful of flat rocks for skipping across the water.

                   

It was a cloudless, pleasant night; the warm, humid southern Illinois spring was in full bloom. The moon was full, no breeze. As he threw each rock across the water, rings rippled out and finally disappeared in the darkness.

                   

“Kaz,” he whispered into the nothingness, “I’m so sorry.” His confusion mounted.


Was God listening?

                                              

He wanted to believe that God heard his prayers, but why wasn’t he answering? Jones felt helpless. He cried. There was nothing anyone had been able to do to spare her pain. I would gladly take the illness on myself, just spare Kaz, he forwarded to the universe. As he stood there examining by moonlight the smooth rocks in his hand, the wind started to blow gently. The humidity shrank.

                   

Not sure what was happening, Jones felt a great calm come over him. The breeze stopped. Thinking he heard someone calling his name, he turned toward the parking lot to acknowledge the call. No one was there. Instead, all the light in the sky seemed concentrated at the end of the dock.

                   

As he looked, dozens of figures seemed to materialize there. They were huge. “No. No way. Angels?” came from his lips.


There they were. No other explanation. Angels. No little, small cherubs. They

                   

were all over the end of the dock, and they covered the rough terrain that led to the walkway.

                   

They appeared to have a leader, who, although not the largest, had an aura of authority and responsibility that declared, “I am in charge here.”

                   

He was not earthly, of that Jones was certain. What was it about him? His eyes radiated a look of peace. Jones could feel it.

                   

Taking a step toward Jones, he spoke, “Jones, I knew we would meet someday. I do wish the circumstances could be better.”

                   

Jones was overwhelmed in this presence. The voice sounded familiar, but there was no basis for that assumption. They had never met. It was more of a “knowing” deep inside of him. Like something that was just around the corner, invisible but there nonetheless, keeping him protected, making way for him. His voice sounded familiar.

                   

Who...?

                   

The answer came before he could form the question.

                   

“I am Arrow, and yes, I’ve been just around the corner many times for you, and will continue to be.”

                   

Jones processed the greeting. Knowing that angels were often used to bring messages in stories he read in his bible, he stammered, “Kaz isn’t going to make it, is she?”

                   

“The Master is pleased with your Kaz,” Arrow replied.

                   

“She has saved many lives at her home for unwed mothers. Multitudes more will be saved in the years to come because of her stand for righteousness and life. The darkness that has attacked her body has not gone unnoticed. More defenders are coming, even at this moment.

                   

“Now, go be with Kaz, she needs you,” the angel said. There was a stirring in the air, and Jones was alone.

                   

The moon shone brightly as frogs and crickets continued their music. Got to go, he thought, simultaneously running for his truck.

                   

I’ve got to get to Kaz now.

                   

As he drove, Arrow’s words kept ringing in his head, “The Master is pleased with your Kaz.”

                                       

Chapter 3

                   

Entering the front door, Jones saw the Night Owls, church women whose husbands were third shift miners, kneeling on the floor in the living room with their Bibles open, arms lifted toward the heavens. Tears were streaming down their faces.

                   

Closing the door, Jones headed toward the bedroom, thanking them for being there as he went. Pausing for a deep breath, Jones relived the scene at the dock. The conversation with Arrow played through his mind. Kaz had always been adamant about angels and their active role in the affairs of men.

                   

Could she have been prophesying, forth-telling, about his conversation at the lake?

                   

He spoke softly in her direction as he entered the bedroom, “Kaz, I’m here.”

                   

Her eyes opened, and in her old southern drawl, the one he fell in love with from days gone by, said, “How did your boat dock visit go big boy?”

                   

Jones shuddered but said, ‘Good Kaz, and oh yeah, the Master is pleased with you.”

                   

She smiled, just as she had when he asked her out for their first date.


Their eyes met.


Together since birth when they shared a crib as babies at their old church, they

                   

had walked this world for thirty-five years, the last fifteen as man and wife.  Kaz closed her eyes and was gone, but the smile stayed on her face.  An inexplicable illness had consumed her life. It was all too complex for reasoning. What a price to pay.                                                                                                                 

“A future and a hope,” a verse from the book of Jeremiah came to mind.  What is a future without Kaz, and how could there be any hope?
How could a benevolent God allow such loss? Their lives were ahead of them. Not over. Not done.  Stop being so selfish, Jones thought. Kaz is with Jesus. She wouldn’t want to return.


Maybe she was his test. That would be too cruel, but then there was the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, a boy whose father was asked to sacrifice him.


To say Jones’ belief was shaken would be an understatement. Where should he draw the line between faith and fact? Prayers had not saved his beloved, and Jones believed in prayer. His wife had died way before her time in spite of all the prayers. Kaz was a life helper whose founding of Hope House would save multitudes more in the years to come. Why her? Jones was about to start life on a one day at a time basis.

                                          

Chapter 4

                   

In the last days, before the Rapture, all hell descended, trying to turn as many Believers as possible, those who would be gone.

                   

“So, you’re confident the fires are working?” Sonta quizzed his chief underling, Zorah.

                   

Mustering the most assuring voice he could, while concealing his irritation at being asked this question yet again, Zorah replied, “Yes! The fires are causing uncertainty, sewing discontent with the authorities.”

                   

Zorah’s connection in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department was adamant about the distraction and sense of unease the fires that popped up out of nowhere and had no seeming origin were causing throughout the community of humans. The sheriff and his deputies had not been able to solve the unsolvable and were facing a barrage of criticism for their lack of progress. It was, in fact, a regional strategy that, if successful, would have national implications. Their counterparts in the other three quadrants were watching, evaluating.

                   

Zorah’s eyes followed Sonta as he moved across the spacious room, transforming as he went from his demonic persona into a mortal. As with all demonic morphs, there was a smell associated with the changing that had not yet been eliminated or duplicated. It was the stench of death that clung tenaciously to the demon and disappeared as he gained mortal status.

                   

Sonta’s particular signature was intertwined with his extermination of over a million Armenian Christians back in the early 20th century. It had been a bloody slaughter, including untold numbers of dismemberments. Men, women, and children were all murdered and left to rot in town after town as the Ottomans tried to rid themselves of what they had been led to believe was a threat. Master Koal had manipulated the carnage, but Sonta was the front man who carried out the attacks. His demonic personality would always remember with a smile the smell of rotting flesh. It was an exquisite perfume that never failed to recall and celebrate the victory he had led.

                   

“Master, we are bringing in supplies to finish construction of our Wondren headquarters and ready it for the battles to come,” said Zorah.

                   

“Recruiting the non-believers has been less demanding than I ever thought possible. Their counterparts are more tenacious but are showing signs of vulnerability. Your methods have proved legendary.”

                   

Sonta nodded in acceptance of the praise. This coming battle carried his signature, no one else need apply. It was also true that his tactics predated these events by centuries. The hordes had proven that populations drowning in drugs, sex, and violence were ripe fodder for influence. The launch point centered around creating a sense of unease in the community regarding their leaders and their ability to govern. People are Lemmings, thought Sonta, recalling the mass suicides of the little creatures known in children’s fiction for following each other to their deaths. Doubt leads the way in the minds of the mortals; they are famous for it, he thought.

                   

His human form now complete Sonta said, “We create problems that only we can solve, promises none but us can keep. As confusion creeps in, doubt creates a fog in the human thought process. At some point, darkness captures the minds and hearts of the faithful as they become disoriented and unsure of their god. Their small, weak, throbbing little pink hearts are seared and ripe for manipulation. Without knowing, they began to live lives contrary to the moral upbringing of their culture. How good is that?” Sonta said, lifting his arms in celebration.                   

“Your genius elevates this recruiting methodology,” Zorah finished, hoping his flattery would score some points and divert Sonta’s attention elsewhere.

                   

Sonta sat down in a regal, high backed chair. It was his throne for the moment. He raised an eyebrow on hearing the tribute, but only momentarily; realizing he invented the speech for Koal. He would be more attuned in the future.

                   

“I just want to be sure you understand the importance of your assignment in this scheme,” Sonta said, his voice taking a hard edge, his eyes boring into Zorah’s. “When I am successful in taking over control of this quadrant, my next promotion will be assured. Our Supreme Leader will notice the template we are creating for others to follow as we continue to conquer this nation called America. My success will elevate my status. I will have status in the command hierarchy. Others, less capable, will bow.”

                   

“Stay on schedule, Zorah. Koal has been alerted about our plans and may present himself unexpectedly, as he is known to do. Be ready for anything.”

                   

Zorah understood the stakes were high, for everyone.

                   

“Yes, Master,” he replied, “your wish is my command. Rest assured my contact is embedded and close to the sheriff. He’s aware of every nuance. Thanks to his intervention, our shipments of supplies and recruits are moving through the region without interference. We are on schedule.”

                   

Zorah turned to leave Sonta, pleased with his performance. Nothing he could say would stop this delusion. Disguising his contempt, he closed the door behind him, confident that although he could outperform Sonta, there was life to consider, his life. It would be prudent to follow orders regardless of his perceived outcomes.