Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fall from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the abyss; he opened it and smoke poured out of the shaft like smoke from an enormous furnace. The sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. Out of the smoke, onto the land, came locusts as powerful as scorpions in their sting. The locusts were commanded to do no harm to the grass in the land or to any plant or tree but only to those men who had not the Seal of God on their foreheads. The locusts were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months; the pain they inflicted was like that of a scorpion’s sting. During that time these men will seek death but will not find it; they will yearn to die but death will escape them.
In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads they wore something like gold crowns; their faces were like men’s faces but they had hair like women’s hair. Their teeth were the teeth of lions, their chests like iron breastplates. Their wings made a sound like the roar of many chariots and horses charging into battle. They had tails with stingers like scorpions; in their tails was enough venom to harm men for five months. Acting as their king was the angel in charge of the abyss.
A Moonlit Stroll
Babylon was like any other small town in America. A town where everyone knew everybody else and the days seemed to blend without much excitement to separate one from another. Everyone did their share, most of the time, and the people didn’t have much to complain about. The children were well behaved, even if the teenagers did sometimes turn their parents’ hair a shade of gray. If you asked the people of Babylon, they’d tell you they were all quite content and enjoyed the peace.
It was a warm evening, like you’d expect after a long, hot summer’s day. Only it wasn’t summer yet, in fact, it was just into April. The unseasonable heat meant most people were spending their days indoors with windows wide, trying to lure the gentle breezes inside. The children spent their time down by the old mill swimming in the river and resting under the shade of the large oak tree.
Each night, as the sun was falling in the sky, the people of Babylon would retreat to their porches and enjoy the cooling air as they sat in their rocking chairs and talked with their families. They didn’t always talk, of course, sometimes they just sat and enjoyed the cool air.
It was in this way that a young boy of fifteen sat on his parents’ porch in the evening. Joseph rocked slowly, enjoying the moment of solitude; his parents would be out to join him soon. He was an average height, maybe a little on the short side, and he had jet-black hair that he never seemed able to control. He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans, as he always wore, despite the heat, and he’d stripped down to his white undershirt.
He stopped rocking when he saw Tawny approaching from the street. She was his best friend, and for as long as he could remember. There had always been Tawny. She was the same age as Joseph and lived on the same block, only a few houses down. Tawny was only an inch or two shorter than he was, and, though he’d never admit it, he was quite glad to be taller than her, finally.
She was dressed in a pair of jean shorts and a pale green button up short sleeve top that really set off her jade green eyes. Tawny had her brown hair in a ponytail tonight, and she was smiling.
Joseph stood up and ran his fingers through his hair before heading down the steps of his porch to meet her.
“What’s up starry eyes?” she giggled. Tawny loved teasing him for his silver eyes. They always shone brightly in the moonlight.
Joseph chuckled, pretending the old joke were still funny. “Just trying to get out of the house for a bit, it’s so hot tonight!”
“I was thinking we’d take a walk?” she asked him with her eyes piercing into him. “It’s such a brilliant night and with the breeze it almost feels cool.”
“I’d love to.”
They set off for the woods at the end of the street. Joseph thought about all the silly stories other kids told him when he was younger. Stories about the woods being haunted and all sorts of evil creatures living inside. He’d stopped believing that sort of rubbish years ago. He knew the older kid’s were just trying to keep him away, but sometimes he wondered. Sometimes he could feel eyes burning into his back or else it was strange noises he couldn’t explain, but he’d always had a vivid imagination, and left it at that.
By now, the sun had fully set and the moon was high in the sky. At night, the woods were usually quite dark, but tonight the moonlight cut through the leaves above them and it was almost like walking in the day. Joseph couldn’t help noticing the way Tawny’s hair caught the light from the moon, and no matter how much she teased him about his own eyes, hers were almost glowing. He’d never really noticed how pretty she was, but in the moonlight —
“It’s quite weird, you know?” Tawny asked.
“Huh? Er… w-what is?”
“No flowers,” she said. “It’s the second week in April, and I’ve not seen a single blossom since winter ended. Not a single one.”
“It has been an unusual spring so far,” he said, relieved she was only talking about the flowers. “I mean, how hot have these last few days been? This summer’s going to be dreadful.”
As if to spite him, a breeze blew up around them and chilled them to the core. Tawny let out a yelp, grabbed his arm, and hugged him tight.
Joseph’s breath tightened. “I… um… err…” he didn’t know what to say. She was looking up into his eyes, and he was looking anywhere but hers. The breeze died down and she let go of his arm. “Wow that got cold really fast! Look at the goose bumps on my arm,” she said.
Joseph tried his best to chuckle casually, “I guess it can still pack a punch… at least when it wants–“
A crack somewhere in the woods interrupted him. “Shh! Did you hear that?” he whispered.
“Hear what?” she asked.
“Sounded like a stick breaking… we might not be alone,” he whispered to her, but his eyes were scanning all around, looking for whoever, whatever, had made the sound.
“Maybe we should head back,” Joseph said, still scanning around for whatever had made the noise.
“I think so too.” Tawny was frightened. She held his arm like a vice, uncharacteristic for the usually brave girl.
“Okay –” Joseph started when a big black figure darted across the path in front of them. Darker than night it wore a hooded cloak and evil seemed to flow forth from it. It was only there an instant, but the effect was immediate. Tawny let out a shriek and gripped Joseph even tighter. Joseph pulled her to the side of the path and down behind a bush. “What was that?” Joseph whispered.
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it, Joseph.” She had a faint quiver in her voice, but Joseph noticed it. She was more frightened than he ever thought he’d see her.
“I think that’s what made the noise,” Joseph whispered. “But we must’ve scared it off. Did you see how fast it was running? It has to be far away by now.”
“Who are you trying to kid?” Tawny eyed him suspiciously.
“Let’s go have a look,” Joseph said as he pulled himself up off the ground. He turned around and gave Tawny a hand up, and then they were tiptoeing down the path to the point where the figure had darted across.
“I don’t know…” Tawny started but she stopped herself, obviously thinking that talking might just bring extra attention to the two.
“What have we here?” Joseph stooped down on the path to look at a weird rock. He put his hand out to pick it up. “OW!” he yelped as he jerked is hand away and put his fingers in his mouth. “That’s hot!” Tawny was kneeling beside him examining the rock. “Why is that rock so hot?”
“It’s not a rock,” Tawny said. Joseph looked at her incredulously. She sighed. “It looks like an amulet.” She grabbed a short stick and pointed at the scratches on the top. “See that? That looks like ancient Runes to me.”
“And how do you know?”
“I watch the Discovery Channel, duh!” she stuck her tongue at him.
“Well, whatever that thing was, I think it dropped this rock, or amulet, whatever it is.” He pointed to the bushes on either side. “You can see where it ran through the bushes here.”
“So let’s get out of here already,” Tawny said as she pulled herself up and dusted her pants.
Joseph pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wrapped up the amulet. “Still a little warm,” he said, “but I think it’ll be fine to carry now.”
“Are you serious? Or have you lost your mind!” Tawny looked upset. “If that thing dropped it, what’s to say it won’t come back looking for it?”
“It can look for it all it wants,” Joseph said, “but I plan to be far away with it before it even notices it lost anything.” He put the cloth wrapped stone in his pocket and started back down the path with Tawny hurrying quickly in his wake.
“Well, I want you to know that I think this is stupid.”
“Noted.” She sighed exasperatedly, but held on to his arm again.
Going to church was always an affair. Waking up early was not something a fifteen-year old boy did easily or naturally, and Joseph was no exception. When he’d finally dragged himself from bed he had to rush to shower and get dressed before being late. His mother and father would yell at him to hurry up, but he was moving as fast as he could, well at least as fast as he could, being as tired as he was.
His father never seemed to be too interested in going to church, but he was strict and proper and always demanded a coat and tie from his son. Joseph’s mother had the faith for both of them and she would never allow Joseph to miss mass on Sunday. He wasn’t sure what he believed at this point in his life. He felt there was a God, however you defined it, but as to his own beliefs, well they were changing all the time. He was questioning everything he’d been taught and thought he knew, and he hadn’t decided what he really believed yet. He figured he might as well go to church to cover his bases until he made a decision.
It was under these circumstances that he went to church every Sunday. He said his prayers, took Communion and he didn’t complain.
For Joseph, the best part of church was seeing Tawny. Her parents were similar to his, except that both seemed fairly religious. She was always dressed nicely and her hair was always done up in some fancy way.
When Joseph’s family arrived at mass, he always looked for Tawny. For several years now, the two had been ditching their families to sit together at mass. They were best friends, always had been, and, as far as they knew, always would be.
“Good morning, milady,” Joseph mockingly bowed to Tawny. She punched his shoulder and giggled. “That’s no way for a lady in her Sunday dress to be acting!” Joseph admonished.
She raised her eyebrow. “Would you like to see how un-ladylike I can be?” she asked.
Joseph raised his hands. “No. No, I don’t think that will be necessary, at all.”
“Good.” She smiled.
“Shall we?” he asked, motioning up the aisle. They headed towards the front and chose their normal pew, three rows back from the front of the chapel.
Joseph was starting to nod off during the readings. Tawny gave him an elbow in his ribs and he jerked his eyes open and his head up. It was with a hard effort and stubbornness that he did not rub his side.
Father Harper was just finishing up his Gospel reading. He was becoming increasingly animate and loud and the church seemed to rattle with his voice:
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons. She is a cage for every unclean spirit, a cage for every filthy and disgusting bird.” He took a breath, but continued on in the same fashion. “For she has made all the nations drink the poisoned wine of her lewdness!”
He took a moment to let the final words sink in before he started his homily.
“Unclean,” he began. “We are an unclean town, and I fear that it may be all too apt that our small town is called Babylon itself.” He was gripping the sides of the pulpit as he spoke and Joseph thought he might leave an impression.
“Sex! Alcohol! Lust!” He ticked them off on his fingers. “These are but a few of the vile things that plague our world, and our town is no different! I see it all around me! Teen couples sneaking off into the woods and returning with their innocence lost!” Joseph and Tawny looked at each other knowing they’d done nothing wrong — they were just friends. However, they noticed some of the other teens in the congregation looking around nervously, and parents looking at their kids with suspicion.
“Empty beer cans in the woods and worse! Perverse magazines lining the newsstands!” His face was red with emotion. “Somebody’s buying them, or else they wouldn’t be there, and I suspect more than one person!”
It seemed like everyone was avoiding eye contact now. Surely, if they’d done something wrong he was going to point it out. Oh, he wouldn’t name names, but the guilty ones knew who they were and they felt shame.
“But not all the blame lies on you,” he continued. “You are but the wayward sheep, led astray by the deceptive one. Yes, I say to you, ‘Satan is surely here in this town.'” Many in the congregation gasped. “He comes into our homes through our television sets! He comes into our homes through our radios and the filth that passes for music! He is all around us and he is the source of all that is vile in the world and this town. We must push him out,” he said while making a pushing movement with his hands. “We must grab him by the black horns on his fiery head and tell him we will have no part of him and we will not fall for his tricks! We must not let him remain in our town or our lives! We must be rid of him!
“One person cannot do this alone! You must all be committed to removing him from our streets and living rooms, away from the impressionable minds of our children!
“I am doing what I can to remove him, but I cannot do it alone. I am doing my part and you all must do yours! See the evilness in this town for what it is! See Satan when he is hiding! Push him out of your lives, and we may yet be free!”
With that, he bowed his head in silent prayer and returned to the altar to finish the rest of the mass. Tawny glanced quickly at Joseph who just shrugged his shoulders.
* * *
After he’d shaken everyone’s hand and they’d all left, the priest started cleaning up after mass, returning everything to its proper spot.
Father John Harper was a young priest. He’d finished his seminary schooling only six years past and was still full of eagerness to change the world. Ultimately, he was an idealist, and believed that the evils of this world could be overcome, if everyone was as dedicated as he was.
He joined the priesthood believing that one man could make a difference and that was how he preached. One could make a difference, one man could inspire a whole community to change their evil ways and push the vileness from their town; and he aimed to be that one man.
John smiled. He’d made a large step in that direction today. He was wiping the cups down and putting them back into the cupboard. He’d finally delivered the sermon he’d wanted to for so long now. He could feel the rage inside him this morning pushing him to it, giving him the courage. He knew the people were ashamed of themselves at his words and that had made it so hard to get up the courage and finally deliver what he wanted to say. It had been hard to start, but then he felt the Holy Spirit burning inside him and once it started, it was hard for him to stop.
“That was a beautiful sermon,” spoke the calmest voice he’d ever heard. John Harper turned around and fell to his knees. Standing, almost floating, beside the rock-lined well holding the church’s holy water was the Angel. He was idly staring at the water and running his finger along the rim of the well.
John buried his face to the floor. “My lord,” he said, “I did not see you there.”
“And why should you see me until I desire it?” The Angel’s voice was even, but almost musical. “Stand and gaze upon me.”
John Harper was up in a flash. The Angel was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He couldn’t tell whether it was male or female, if angels even had sexes, all he knew was that it was beautiful. It towered above him at about six and a half feet and its skin was a pure white that glowed, so that it would be visible in this room even without the candles lit. Its hair was blonde or white, John could never tell, and hung silkily halfway down its back. His robes looked to be woven by the hand of God himself and John couldn’t even begin to describe them, partly because words were never created to describe such beauty and partly because the patterns seemed to shift and change constantly.
“Have you done as I asked?”
“Yes, my Lord,” John answered, unable to avert his eyes from the splendor before him. “Almost all the amulets have been placed…”
John had been fearing this moment. “But… I lost one of them. Last night, in the woods.” He was breathing heavy, afraid of failing and having the angel cast him aside. “I was doing just like you said. I was going around to the houses and burying them so they could ward off the evil, but when I was running through the woods one of them must’ve fallen out of my pocket. I’m sorry–” he began.
The Angel looked to be perturbed for a moment he even seemed to flash anger, but the calm, even composure returned almost immediately. “All is well, find the stone and bury it like the others, then your job will be done, almost.”
“Yes my Lord.” John was relieved, but started to become uneasy again.
“You have something concerning you? Something you would like to ask?” the Angel asked in its same calm, mellifluous voice.
“My mind is an open book to you, my Lord.” Nevertheless, John was still uneasy. “I-I have been feeling hate recently, a lot of it.”
“That is to be expected. You know what these stones do.” The angel continued running its finger along the edge of the well. “They are channeling all that is evil in this town through you, that it may leave you and your people.” The Angel’s countenance remained the same, but Father John felt his suspicion. “Is your resolve wavering?”
“No! My Lord,” John rushed. “I can withstand this… minor discomfort until the town is rid of the evil that now holds it captive.”
“That is a good thing,” the Angel said. “Satan is taking notice in this town; he is already acting.” John gasped and wanted to speak but found no words. “Surely, you’ve noticed the lack of flowers this spring? That is a good sign that he is taking notice of your work.” John was frightened, but more resolute than he’d ever been before to complete this task at all costs. “You must hurry, priest. You must hurry and complete your task. Find the missing stone and burry it as you were told. Then our mission will be complete.” John felt a pride at the angel’s inclusion of him. It wasn’t just his mission or the angel’s mission… it was their mission.
“Yes, my Lord,” John said and bowed his head, his courage bolstered tenfold. When he raised his head, the Angel had gone.
Down by the River
Joseph and Tawny were walking down by the river after church. After Father Harper’s sermon, they were surprised that their parents let them, but Joseph’s father had said he trusted his son and, anyway, he didn’t buy in with most of what Father Harper had said.
Walking by the river was an age-old tradition for Tawny and Joseph. In the summer, they’d stop and swim for a bit, and in the winter, they’d bundle up and try to stay warm and if it was cold enough, they might skate on the frozen sections.
It wasn’t summer yet, but it sure felt like it. As were the days before, it was hot and the sun was beating down on them unrelentingly. Joseph had his coat in his hand while they walked, and he’d unbuttoned the neck of his shirt and loosened his tie before untucking his shirt altogether. He was beginning to feel fairly comfortable. For her own comfort, Tawny had rolled up her sleeves and untucked her blouse from her skirt.
“That was some sermon, eh Tawny?”
Tawny chuckled. “All fire and brimstone I suppose.”
“Yeah, I wonder what got into him,” Joseph mused. “He’s usually so mild… well at least compared to today.”
“I don’t know, but it was almost scary,” Tawny said. “You realize, of course, that every time we head into the woods now our parents are going to give us the third degree?”
Joseph looked annoyed. “Yeah, and we don’t even do anything wrong out here. Where does he get off talking like that?”
“Well,” Tawny started, “did you see some of the other kids? Dave? Sarah? Because they looked worried… so maybe some of them are out here doing evil things!” she said the last in a ghostly moaning voice and wiggled her fingers.
Joseph laughed. “The only evil thing I’ve ever seen in these woods was whatever we saw last night.”
“Shut up,” Tawny said as she pushed him. “I don’t even want to think about that… thing.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Joseph said. “Hey, we’re at the river. Fancy a swim?”
“Hmm,” Tawny mused. “Yes, actually… but we’ll have to run home to get our suits.”
“Or…” Joseph grinned mischievously, “We could go skinny.”
“Joseph!” Tawny was taken aback. “You’re not serious, are you?”
“I-I’m sorry,” Joseph said shaking his head. “I don’t know what came over me. I was thinking it,” he blushed, “and it popped out before I could stop it.”
Tawny giggled and walked closer to him. “You really want to?” she asked with a glint in her eyes Joseph had never seen before.
Joseph swallowed. “I-I g-guess so… y-yeah.”
Tawny grabbed his tie and pulled him close. “You, my friend,” she said sweetly, “need to cool down!” She pushed him into the river, clothes and all.
“Hey!” Joseph exclaimed when his head popped above the surface. “That was a dirty trick!”
“Dirtier than your mind?” Tawny teased and Joseph blushed again. Tawny giggled and jumped in herself.
They swam together and horsed around for a while before they pulled themselves out. They took off their socks and shoes and put them on a rock with Joseph’s coat to dry. Then they found a nice spot in the sun and sat down themselves to dry. They were laying back and watching the clouds pass when Tawny spoke up.
“What’s up?” Joseph asked.
Tawny looked uncomfortable. “When you suggested skinny –“
Joseph rushed in to interrupt her, “I said I was sorry, Tawny. I-I don’t know why I even said it, I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she said. “But, well, we’ve been friends for a long time… and…”
“Tawny, you know I’d never want to ruin our friendship. Please, I said I was sorry.” Joseph felt about ready to beg her to understand.
“I know, Joseph!” Tawny said exasperatedly. She shook her head. “Sometimes you can be so thick,” she muttered
“What was that?” Joseph asked.
“Nothing.” She knew he’d never make a move, so she grabbed his hand on her own. He tensed up, and so did she, but both pretended there was nothing unusual about them holding hands. They continued talking for a while, and watched the clouds passing.
“Ahah!” Father Harper said, as he came upon them. They quickly let go of each other’s hand. “Two little sinners caught in the act!”
Joseph stood up to defend Tawny. “We are not little sinners and you didn’t catch us doing anything!”
“I didn’t?” he asked. “Would you care to explain why you are both wet and all alone in the woods? Why were you laying together?”
“We don’t have to explain anything to you!” Joseph exclaimed. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Don’t trifle with me, boy!” Father Harper scolded. “I know exactly what goes on in the head of a fifteen-year old boy, and that’s enough sinning for the both of you!”
Joseph and Tawny both hung their heads.
“The stone! Hand it to me!”
“Huh?” Joseph asked, bewildered. “What are you talking about?”
“The stone, boy! The one you picked up last night. I know you have it!” He put out his hand. “I want it now!”
“I don’t have any stone,” Joseph lied. He wasn’t sure why, but he was starting to get angry.
“You LIE!” the priest declared with a pointed finger. “I can feel it. It calls to me! You have it, and I want it back.” His face was turning red and Tawny could see a vein on his neck bulging. “You two are sinners and thieves! I want my stone back, and I want it back tonight! Bring it by the church this evening, or else!”
“Fine!” Joseph said with clenched fists. “We’ll bring you your precious little stone. Now leave us alone!”
“You had better!” Father Harper admonished.
Joseph was still steaming after he’d lost sight of the priest, but Tawny brought him back down. “Why did you lie and tell him you didn’t have it, when he asked?”
“I don’t know,” he said, quite truthfully. His anger had subsided. He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief.
“You had it with you?” she asked. “Why didn’t you just give it to him?”
“I don’t know,” Joseph answered. He started to unwrap the stone and thought he felt it pulling him. “It’s burnt,” he said and showed Tawny the stone and handkerchief. Parts of the cloth were black where the stone and singed it.
“What was he doing in the woods that night?” Tawny asked. “You don’t think…”
Joseph nodded. “Yes. I do.”
Church After Sunset
Joseph had never been in the church at night, and it scared him. Everywhere was darkness, shadows loomed in every direction, almost seeming to reach for him and Tawny with every step they took.
They had gone back to their homes, and snuck out after their parents had gone to sleep. “You got the stone?” Tawny asked when they met up.
“Yeah, I’ve got his filthy little stone.”
Tawny looked concerned. “That thing is evil, Joseph. I think it might be making you angrier than normal.”
“I know,” Joseph sighed. “But we’ll be rid of it soon enough.”
“You can’t give it to him.”
“Of course, not.” Joseph chuckled.
When they got to the front doors of the church the only light was from the moon, which cast odd shadows in the trees and bushes. There were no lights inside the church, and that seemed odd, to Joseph. They opened the doors as quietly as they could and the darkness leapt out at them.
Shoring up their courage, they stepped into the lightless void and closed the door behind them. Tawny grabbed his hand, and for the first time, Joseph was immediately aware of her fear and his own. He gave her a reassuring squeeze and they pressed on.
The room just after the door was small, and they felt around for the door they knew would take them into the large hall of the church. When they found it, Joseph and Tawny put their ears to the wood, listening for something on the other side of the door.
“Hear anything?” Tawny whispered.
“Is that good or bad?” Tawny asked. Joseph only shrugged. “Right.”
Joseph slowly pushed the door open, trying to be even quieter than they had been with the front door. The hall was well lit; at least when compared to the room they had just left. There was no light from inside, but moonlight was pouring in through the stain glass windows, and the effect was frightening. This no longer seemed like the peaceful building they came to on Sunday mornings.
Still holding hands, they started walking down the center aisle, looking for any signs of Father Harper.
“Have you got it?” a booming voice resounded. Tawny and Joseph stopped dead and tried to find the source.
A man stepped out from behind the tapestry at the front of the hall, behind the altar. He was dressed in a long, black coat that brushed the floor when he walked. “Well,” said Father John, “Have you got it or not?”
“Yes,” Joseph said, placing himself between Tawny and the priest.
“Excellent!” The priest had a maniacal glint in his eyes and wore a none-too-comforting grin as he started towards them.
“What were you doing in the woods that night?” Joseph asked. He and Tawny took a couple steps back. “Why were you in the woods, and how did you lose it?”
The grin was gone, but the glint was still there. “That is none of your business!” He was baring his teeth now. “Give me the stone! It is MINE!” Spittle was flying from his mouth. “I am doing my part to rid this town of its evil ways! Now GIVE ME THE STONE!”
Tawny squeezed Joseph’s hand and they took more steps back. “What were you doing there?” Joseph demanded. The priest didn’t say anything. He seemed quite incapable of speech; he was dead-set on getting that stone from them.
He started for them, but not with his normal grace. He looked like a marionette as he sped towards them, his arms flailing wildly, eyes wide and bloodshot and drool streaming from his mouth.
He screamed something, but Joseph wasn’t going to stay around to decipher it. Holding tight to her hand, he pulled Tawny behind him and they ran for the side door to the other parts of the church.
“What’s wrong wi–?”
“I don’t know, but we can’t let him get this stone,” Joseph answered.
After running through a couple doors, they couldn’t see John Harper behind them, but they knew he was coming because they could still hear him shouting after them. Joseph spotted a garment closet and pulled Tawny inside with him. He didn’t have to tell her to be quiet.
They heard the door outside the closet open and Tawny buried herself in Joseph’s shoulder. Joseph could see the priest through a small opening in the closet door and he was staring right back at him. He was coming closer to the door, had his hand outstretched to open it. and he froze.
John turned his head away, nodded, then walked away, seemingly intent on something new.
“He’s gone,” Joseph whispered. He didn’t mention how close Father John had been to catching them. “He just turned and left the room.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
“I don’t know, but I think we should follow him.” Tawny didn’t seem so sure, but she came willingly when Joseph left the closet.
They could hear the priest walking down the hallway and followed him cautiously. The heard a heavy door open and then close ahead of them. Tiptoeing, they sped to the huge wooden door and pressed their ears to it.
“I’m trying, my Lord,” the priest was saying. “They are proving difficult.”
“Are you still committed?” sang a mysterious voice the teens had never heard before.
“Of course, my Lord,” the priest hurried, his voice sounding odd. “Just one more stone remains, and our work will be complete, my Lord.”
Joseph dared to open the door a crack, wanting to see whom the priest was talking to. He had never been more careful opening a door in his life, and the door swung smoothly without making a sound. They could see the priest prostrated on the floor beside the cistern that held the church’s Holy Water.
There was nothing that could prepare them for what they would see. He, she, it, Joseph couldn’t quite decide what sex it was, but one fact was irrefutable, it was the most beautiful being he and Tawny had ever seen. It was positively glowing, and the harder they looked, they realized it was glowing!
It seemed so majestic and peaceful, but even so, there was something that struck them funny about it. It was beautiful to the eye, but it sounded angry, like it was losing its composure and getting upset at the priest. Surely, any angelic being would not be angry, or at least not show it so much if it was. And why on earth would a messenger of God rely on amulets? It didn’t quite add up for Joseph, why should something from an angel make the priest so obsessed? Joseph was becoming more and more sure that this was no angel of God. Beside him, Tawny was frowning; maybe she was thinking the same thing.
Just as calmly as ever, the “angel” turned its gaze to the door. “We have visitors,” it sang. The door flew open on its own, spilling Tawny and Joseph into the room.
“The stone!” the priest exclaimed. “My Lord, he has it. That boy!”
The angel examined Joseph for a moment. Then, calm as you will, “Boy, hand the stone to my humbled servant.” For a moment Joseph almost did. The angel was so pretty that Joseph did not want to upset it. But he knew he had to. There was something not right about this angel and his gut instinct was telling him not to relinquish the stone.
“Excuse me?” the angel asked with an eyebrow raised.
“WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION THE WAYS OF THE LORD!?” Father John spat. “GIVE ME THE STONE!”
Joseph and Tawny were standing, and slowly edging for the door. “There’s something not right, Father,” Tawny said.
“This stone. This amulet. It’s evil.” Joseph sighed. “Can’t you see what it’s done to you? It’s made you angry and mean.” Father John seemed to be considering this. Then on a hunch, Joseph asked, “What were you doing that night in the woods?”
Father John kept himself from looking at the angel. “I was. I was burying the other amulets, just as my Lord told me to.”
He looked shaken now, the anger from moments ago was fading, but the priest was caught between right and wrong. He wasn’t sure which was which.
Tawny spoke up, “Why would God have to use amulets, Father?”
“God works in mysterious ways, my lad,” the angel added, but there was something different. Joseph could see it in his eyes first. His face was calm, but his eyes were balls of fire, consumed with rage.
“Yes, He does. But you don’t work for Him. Do you?” Joseph accused.
All pretense of calm beauty were gone. He was calm, but clearly angry. “Hand over the stone,” he demanded in even tones. “Hand it over now.”
The priest was torn. He kept glancing back and forth, not sure whom to side with. Then he made his choice. He leapt into the air and dove straight for Joseph’s throat. He was yelling incomprehensibly and swearing and his mouth was foaming. “Give. Me. The. Stone!” he managed.
“No, Father!” Tawny screamed which is what Joseph would have yelled if he could speak. Tawny tried to jump on him, but she was held fast by some unseen force.
The angel was grinning now. The priest fumbled with Joseph’s pockets and found the stone. He removed it and smiled triumphantly at Joseph, who watched in horror as the stone left his possession. Then the priest did the most unexpected thing.
He winked at Joseph.
Joseph was surprised for a moment, then he started yelling for the stone back. Father John cradled the stone in his arms as he walked towards the angel.
“You must bury it like the others,” the angel advised.
“I shall. I shall do what I should have done long ago.”
The angel smiled. “Yes, my faithful servant. Go. The Lord rewards you for what you do today.”
“What I do today, I do not for hope of salvation, but for the salvation of humanity from the evil of this world.” He sighed. Then faster than anyone could blink he was barreling for the cistern.
“What are you doing?” But before the angel could finish his question, Father John was gone. He dove right into the holy water and vanished beneath the surface.
The water began to boil instantly, and the earth was shaking.
“NOOO!” wailed the angel. He gripped his face and continued the most pained scream Joseph or Tawny had ever heard. Tawny ran for Joseph and he scooped her into his arms and used his body as a shield.
Light had begun to burst from the angel’s body and they could hear a faint humming that grew louder, until it covered the angel’s screams. There was a huge burst that knocked them against the wall, and that was the last thing they remembered.
Joseph woke up some time later. It was pitch black, and at first he thought he might be dead. But there was no reason he would be feeling the pain in his head if he were dead. He started feeling around. Everything felt real enough.
Then he bumped into a lifeless form. “Tawny!” he gasped. He started shaking her. “Tawny! Are you okay?”
She stirred. “Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m fine.” She sat up and started rubbing her head. “What happened?”
“Father John. I think he gave his life for us. It was the holy water. It destroyed the stone, but at the cost of his life.” There was a faint quiver in his voice as he spoke, and Joseph was very glad the darkness hid his eyes.
“Th-that was very brave of him.” Tawny said her own eyes welling up.
Joseph nodded. “Let’s get out of here.”
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her to her feet and they felt for door that would take them out of this room and out of the church.
Outside, the sky was graying.
“Look!” Tawny exclaimed with a gasp. She was pointing at a red rose, on the bush beside the church door.
“The first flower of the season!” Joseph exclaimed. He bent down to pick it for her.
“No, don’t pick it! Leave it for others to see,” she said.
“I was going to pick it for you,” Joseph said.
“That’s sweet of you,” she said. “But please don’t pick it. If you want to give me something.” she trailed off. Before he could react she gave him a quick kiss on the lips.
Stumbling for words all he could say was, “It looks like this is turning out to be a fine day after all.”
“I think so,” Tawny said.
And, in the early morning sun, they walked home hand in hand.