Episode Five: Armageddon Arrives
Life can be so fleeting. Conceived through the ecstasy of emotions, the joys and pains, highs and lows set the pattern in the womb that ebb and flow over a period of time which only the great Creator can determine. Some never have the opportunity to escape the womb. For whatever reasons God chooses, some are too weak to last the gestation, others have their growing process hindered by outside forces that assault their safe chamber with scalpel or chemical. Slowly, painfully, shriekingly they are denied and punished. Few on the other side understand the pain, comprehend the senses of the preborn who have no voice in the court of the finite.
For the vast majority - though that, too, is shrinking annually - who safely exit this temporary chamber of the mother's womb, it is an all-new process. Until we meet our Maker on the other side, we are dependent on others. No one can ever go it alone. Life has no solos. We rely on someone to feed us, to wipe us, to love us, to teach us, to form our consciences so that we can decipher between good and evil. It is in these duties and how well they are carried out in love that weighs heavily in the favor of the giver at the time of judgment. All men will be tried. All men will be found wanting. It is the nature of the burden placed on the finite - the cause of Adam and Eve's act, an effect that Christians believe was greatly reduced by the coming of the Second Adam through the Second Eve. For over two millenniums this had been taught the world over.
However it had not stilled the evil that was allowed to exist, even after the ultimate Sacrifice had been made on Calvary. Man had continued to commit the most egregious and hideous offenses against his fellow man. No era was immune. This especially held true early in the third millennium. The Holy City had been destroyed; the result of bitterness, jealousy, revenge. For what purpose? Northern Ireland had turned into a graveyard for young Catholics and Protestants well before their prime. Their hearts, like a balloon, had been pumped with hate until they had burst in gunfire and blood, falling lifeless to the emerald turf that was no longer green, but tinged in stale red. Their hearts would beat no more. Over the last several decades the same scenario had been played out in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in China, in Africa, in South America. Wherever man breathed the danger lurked.
In the enlightened, liberated climes of the great industrial countries in Europe, Australia and North America no one was safe. The legislation of licentiousness paved the way for that. Headlines of murders of every kind had become passť to the common citizen. Song, or what uneducated scholars called music, shouted obscenity and violence in the lyrics and prompted the id to react through the beat. Film, TV and radio talk shows reinforced this agitation. Politicos and prelates, presidents and professors were slow to counter this seething underbelly of terror. Commerce and collegiality endorsed and enforced anything that would accommodate man's greed, his lust, his envy, his sloth, his gluttony, his avarice, and his anger.
Yes, it was an agitating, even angry time. Little joy could be found. Was it any wonder the beast was about to be unleashed in all his unearthly hideousness? The Creator had tried to warn His children. Beckoning and cajoling with love had not worked. Hurricanes, tsunamis,tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, floods, pestilence and what not had not awakened man of the peril ahead if he persisted. The world was at war; had been for some time.
While man clamored to extend life through any means possible - often through unnatural methods - he did not hesitate to deny others the same benefits. Millions upon millions of aborted fetuses could attest to that fact. Euthanasia was eeking into the fabric of acceptance. Such was the selfish nature of the human beast.
Many of them were about to meet up with a beast not of this earth. It was that time. There were few prepared for such a calamity. Those aids for dealing with such crises had been silenced and shelved for over half a century and more. The key had been buried. The unholy union of Church and State had helped supply the shovels. Corruption knew no limits.
Dateline: Dallas, Texas, November 1, 1:15 a.m.
Pat, Corrie and Benj were the only ones left at The Crooked Spigot. A half-hour earlier Ben had told Juan Pablo he could head home. He had to nudge him for the big Puerto Rican was already in a slumber on the chair by the door. The headset had dropped to the floor, the CD automatically shut off. While Pat put up the chairs and swept up, Corrie had helped Ben take down the decorations and box them up. Ben did not know exactly what he would do with them since there would be no next Halloween at the Spigot. Nonetheless, he could not commit himself to pitch the assortment of dog-eared paraphernalia. Figured some organization or orphanage could use them. Didn't know who, but he'd find someone. That was Ben's nature, always looking out for others.
"You sure the Pope's up next, Benj?" Pat whined, hoping he and Corrie would finally gain Ben's blessings to leave. He knew he could walk out anytime, but unless he had Ben's approval he'd be in Corrie's doghouse. That wasn't a pleasant alternative.
Ben, feigning alertness as his own eyelids were drooping somewhat, assured him, "That's the order your paper printed. If he's not, blame them."
Pat's stocking feet were propped on another stool, as he stretched back over the bar, straining to see how Corrie was doing in completing the packing. "Aren't you gettin' sleepy, cara mia?"
Corrie, on her haunches, whispered so Ben couldn't hear as he tinkered at the other end of the bar, "We'll go the minute the Pope's finished. Promise."
"But..." Pat pleaded.
Corrie's voice became firmer, "You know it's important to Ben. Just a while longer, okay, lover?"
Her tone seemed to promise there would be a reward waiting for him at his place if he stayed the course. After all, she didn't have to work the next morning. He sighed and directed his attention back to the TV set, muttering under his breath, "C'est la vie."
Translated: that's life. Yes, Life can be cursory. The curses that would echo from the Field of Abraham in a few short minutes would confirm that. As the throng of spectators swayed with the melody of "Amazing Grace," many clasped arms in the spirit of the moment. Few realized the this fleeting euphoria would be their last.
Dateline: New Nasiriyah, November 1, 10:22 a.m.
Those who so confidently had pledged their lives to the Legion just six or seven hours earlier were now in a state of panic. They had been instructed to be at least a mile or more away before this song ever began. They had planned on it. The schedule had not called for the Anglican set for another two and a half-hours. What went wrong? The horror registered on their faces, an eerie antithesis to the contentment of those humming along with the St. Andrew's chorus now in the third stanza. Soon dots of spectators were zigzagging in and out of the crowd, some rushing toward the stage, others knocking down people in a desperate attempt to reach the exit. The screams of some in the crowd competed with the amplifiers belting out the fourth stanza.
Grant, surveying all cameras in the truck, was the first to notice the disturbances that were now beginning to have a domino effect. He ordered Briana to be ready as he cut away from the medium shot of the St. Andrew's choristers just beginning the fourth stanza. He zoomed in on a section where several were flailing away, then commanded the chopper to swing around and be ready. Bryce took the cue.
"Ladies and gentlemen, there seems to be a scuffle in the crowd. I'm...I'm not sure exactly what the cause is, but..."
She was looking down at the monitor, and up at a bare-chested maniac running toward her, his barrel-like arms flailing and yelling in Farsi. He was trying to climb the scaffolding that held Briana and several other correspondents at a nine o'clock direction from the main stage and behind the seating area. Security guards were wrestling him to the ground as more came to detain him. His words hit home with several around him and they began running toward the exit, screaming as well.
"Briana, what is happening there? Come in, Briana?" Trevor implored impatiently.
A stunned stutter was all she could emit, "I - I - I don't know. But ther - they're all over! Something's not right, Trevor." The confidence of her professional manner had left her. The suddenness of the situation had reduced her to jello.
"Dammit, Briana, get a hold of yourself," Grant Larson barked from the truck as he went to camera four in the chopper. The shot revealed pandemonium was quickly breaking out.
Trevor seized the moment. "Ladies and gentlemen, there seems to be a disturbance but they have it under control." He tried to sound convincing.
Perhaps, had there been more time, the St. Andrew's Choir might well have stopped their rendition of "Amazing Grace." Perhaps, had the disturbance reached a crescendo just seconds earlier, the choristers would have abandoned their mission until order had been established. Had they followed that procedure, perhaps they would have been warned of the reason for the commotion before resuming. However, in the spirit of the troupers they were, the show must go on.
To offset the growing chaos, these English vocalists sang even louder and with even more verve. Their lungs surged with every breath from their diaphragms as the resounding words of the first verse of the fifth stanza poured out over the giant amplifiers on all sides of the stage, "when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease - - -"
The beast's ascendancy came in a flash.
Thousands of flares triggered a blinding burst of explosions and agonizing screams which retched with a searing heat, a holocaust unimaginable, belching forth an angry swirl of flames and flesh that regurgitated a rumbling on this earth not heard since the beginning of time. Spewing forth all the anger he could muster the beast rocked the asphalt asunder beneath the unknowing inhabitants that day on the Field of Abraham.
Not a soul was spared; so thorough the devastation. In a diameter of a quarter of a mile an enormous mushroom mass of humanity erupted into the Iraqi sky, blotting out the sun above and all life below, erasing the dreams billions around the globe had envisioned as they watched in stunned shock. This was no dream. It was a nightmare this world had never seen.
For a second - which seemed an eternity - the rush of light on the screen and an unearthly sound had ripped at the heart of every viewer the world over. It was as if a surrealistic pallor had settled on the viewer as realization sought to catch up with what they had just seen with their own eyes in the comfort of their own domiciles, away from this horrendous conflagration. Never were so many mesmerized by the static of a blank screen.
Within seconds the network had flashed a logo on the screen, immediately followed by a bewildered Trevor Anders in studio. He was stammering as he looked toward the floor director, "Our satellite communication from Iraq has been knocked out. While we wait for reports to come in, we can only assume that some type of explosion has disrupted communications."
A technician set a sheet of paper on the desk near Trevor. Off camera, one could hear calls of "Read it, Trevor. Now! Dammit."
He glanced down. As he read it he continued to ad-lib to the audience, "We can't exactly tell you what happened, ladies and gentlemen. We do know we have lost all contact with Briana and the rest...we are working on re-establishing communications with..." The floor director was waving frantically at the clueless anchor, dispatching a desk reporter with a second sheet of paper. The young reporter raced to the desk slapping the paper in front of Trevor and then as quickly ducked out of camera view.
An ashen look fell on his face as he read the words on the second paper. He gulped and looked up at the camera, "We have terrible news, ladies and gentlemen, terrible news. Satellite confirmations confirm there has been a tremendous explosion at the Field of Abraham in Iraq." Tears were starting to flow unwillingly from his eyes. "I'm afraid there...ah, please stay tuned to GNN for further..." Trevor Anders couldn't finish, he swiveled in his chair away from camera and, with his back to the camera, he regurgitated the pastrami and rye he had wolfed down a few hours ago.
As he continued to vomit, shouts of "Cut, go to a commercial" echoed in the studio over the set and a Miller Beer spot began to run. Ah, the good life!
"Oh, Pat, this can't be happening?" Corrie was crying uncontrollably.
Ben was as white as the ghosts that had hovered over his bar just a few hours before. Pat was in a state of shock, an unexpected comatose emotion that was being multiplied a billion times globally.
"I don't believe it!" a stunned Pat mumbled helplessly.
Silence followed for a few seconds. It was Ben who interrupted the pall that had settled. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, have mercy on their souls. "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Requiescant in pace. Amen."
It was a layman's last rites, administered to no one soul in particular and to every soul who had perished in an instant on this Field of Abraham that had held such promise just minutes before. It would from henceforth be known as the "Field of Death."
Ben's prayer was a communication of love that transgressed all high tech satellites and fiber optic gismos that the old Irishman never did understand. No channel was faster or more powerful than prayer. The sincerity from Ben's trembling lips went non-stop to Heaven in less than a microsecond. There was no busy signal, no download problems. It went straight to the heart of God. The omniscient One knew. Why He allowed the beast to prey on so many and this day to smash to smithereens the bodies of nearly one million would only be answered in another realm. By then few would remember the utter finite sadness and loss they felt this moment as news spread at breakneck speed across wires.
Within minutes a link to An Nasiriyah was hooked up by rival CNN. One of their correspondents was blithering into the mike. It wasn't important who he was or that he would forever be grateful for allergies to the local mosquito. The fever and reaction to the local meds had made him too weak to attend. Now he had a front row. There was no competition to be found as he described the squalid scene 20 miles on the horizon. All his cohorts were dead. The viewers were told choppers were on the way to get closer shots. A hospital ship in the Gulf had already dispatched 8 medic copters. Their journey would be in vain.
The signal had gone out to all military to be on the alert, stage five. Four squadrons of U.S. fighter jets were launched from the deck of the Ticonderoga in the Gulf and three squadrons scrambled from the Incirlik strategic Air Force base near Ankara, Turkey. Britain was already airborne with two squadrons, as was NATO with three, the Russians with four and the Syrians two. They would find nothing left.
"That was a damn nightmare!" Pat growled at no one in particular.
"No, Pat, that was hell we just saw. An inferno. Christ Almighty!" It was the closest old Ben had come to cursing in forty years.
Pat realized Ben had nailed it. "He's right, Corrie, what we just saw was all hell breaking loose!"
She struggled as if grasping at straws, tears pouring down her face. "What are we going to do, Pat? Who's left?"
It was at that split second that it dawned on him that indeed the world could be in chaos. The life of every major religious leader of the world had been snuffed out in that explosion. Moreover, so had so many world leaders who were there for ceremonial reasons. What was happening? What did it mean?
Who did this? Why?
The reporter in Pat Gallagher resurfaced, "I've got to get to the Mirror right away. I want to be in on this. I have to be?"
Corrie could only wheeze weakly, "Why? Why now?"
"Because," he answered through clenched teeth, "when that Black Fire clears we're gonna see what hell really looks like."
Corrie wrapped her arms around Pat and sobbed, "I'm frightened, Pat, don't leave. Please, don't. I won't lose you. I'm so afraid."
"I know," he assured her, lifting her face, studying it for a few seconds before planting a kiss on her forehead. "I'm afraid, too. But we can't let it petrify us. If we do, it'll win."
Ben interceded, "He's right, lass, I know what burns in his gut. Make sure it's in harmony with your heart, Patrick." Taking Corrie's hand, he motioned Pat with a nod towards the door. "Go with God, my boy. Carry Him with you always."
A squeeze of her hand, a quick all-too-short kiss, a hug for Ben and Pat was gone.
Corrie buried her head in Ben's chest as he patted her back gently, "There, there, dear girl, God be with us. He be with Pat, too, I know in me heart that be," Ben tried to assure her. Even with the strength of this staunch Irish Catholic's faith, doubt crept into his voice.
Corrie didn't really detect that. She was lost in a vacuum of emptiness, sucked in by this sight of that tidal wave of black fire. Would she ever be able to blot it out? She also knew in her heart that part of her was gone. Her soul mate had left. Would she ever see him again? Possibly she never would. She knew him well enough to realize he would not stop until he had found out every detail of this heinous event. She hoped and prayed she'd be strong enough to stand by him through it all, just to stand next to him. A new wave of guilt recycled the tears as her thoughts darted back to how she had taken him for granted so many times. Now even that guilt was suffocated by the overpowering evil of the Black Fire that consumed so many senses on this night in Dallas. It had truly turned out to be the night of the Devil.
Across town in Edwin Blix' Turtle Creek Mansion things were not going well. Blix, a 69-year-old self-made millionaire, was just finishing on the phone. Orange peels littered the floor, broken shards of glass strewn with a reddish juice.
"Y'all better find out what happened and why? Goddammit. Ah pay good money to make sure things go as clockwork. No excuses. Get on it. We need to find out what went wrong! We must recoup what was lost. Now!"
The wiry and gaunt figure slammed his fist down with the force of Thor on the black teak table next to his overstuffed chair, then hit the speed-dial on his cell phone. Three rings made him further agitated, "About time. Blix here. Get Collier's Mirror credentials and high tech clearance so he's at Love Field within the hour. Ah'm sending him to Iraq. Johannsen and Roybal were killed in the blast. Dammit, we've got to have someone there as soon as possible. We're a daily, dammit. Get on it. Now! Ah don't expect you to fail, Vic."
Immediately the obnoxious, short-tempered publisher of the Metroplex Mirror speed-dialed again, "Soto, have the plane fueled and ready to roll by 3 a.m. No, Ah'm not going...not yet, Ah'm sending a reporter to stay on top. Watch him like a hawk. Report back to me on wave-channel 6. See that nothing goes wrong. Have the plane return immediately. Throw two coffins together of anyone you find and we'll claim it's Johannsen and Roybal. Ah'll have Edgar prepare the funeral notices. Got it? Good. Do it!"
He flicked the cellular across the table and screamed out, "Annnsss!!!"
Before he could reload his lungs, Ans Ichariak appeared in the doorway. Ans was his chauffeur, twin brother of Soto Ichariak. Both were of Turkish origin, short, stumpy, bald eunuchs. They had many, many faults, but both had one trait Blix treasured in these pandering servants: loyalty. They were fiercely loyal to Blix. That was enough to keep them on the payroll for few could be counted on to be trusted. The trouble was that lately their spying for him had been bungled more than once. Like everyone in Blix' life they were becoming expendable, but not just yet. They were still useful for awhile. After that he would have no need of them, of anyone.
"Sir, you are in need?" Ans groveled.
Without looking at his pathetic chauffeur, Blix remonstrated the man, "Can you not see Ah have no more oranges, Ans? Do you not realize that's not good? Ah need mah nourishment. What do you suggest we do about it?"
Nodding patronizingly, Ans started toward the doorway to replenish his boss with more blood red Valencia oranges shipped Fed Ex three times a week from Italy's finest groves.
Blix waited until Ans had turned around, then, "Oh, and one other thing, Ans, mah good man."
Ichariak turned meekly, "Yes, sir?"
"Clean up this damn mess!!!" he screamed. Then, turned toward the pieces of orange and glass on the terrazzo floor as the sarcasm dripped off his tongue, "Why do you think Ah pay you?"
Ans hurried to scoop up the flailed pieces when Blix barked, "Annnss!!!!
Bewildered, Ans was miffed. "Ye - yes, sir?"
"You have your priorities askew." Blix' stare could melt lava. "Fresh oranges first." Poor Ans, he couldn't win. No one could with Edwin Blix.
Next: PART I: The Unleashing FIRST CHAPTER, Episode Six: Agony Awakened
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The Daily Catholic who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The Daily Catholic, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001, 2005 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, nineteen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. Each day the fiction of this novel is shockingly becoming fact. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental. We have been retooling and bringing everything up to date since its second release in 2001. Because of the times, we are most interested in publishing this work and are open to any help anyone can provide in seeing this become a reality.