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 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 has 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. 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 passe 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 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, 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. 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 coming 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 euphoria of the moment 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 - - -"
Next issue: Second Chapter - Episode Two
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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!