A 1st grader murders his parents. A tech executive guns down a room full of employees. War erupts on the Korean Peninsula.
What do these unholy acts have in common? A revelation from Satan himself that contradicts everything the Bible teaches.
Unfairly cast out of Heaven, Satan is no longer content ruling Hell and flooding the world with sin. He prepares to reclaim his rightful home by using God’s finest work, mankind, to deliver a series of warnings.
Possessing some of God’s most precious creations, Satan orchestrates a series of atrocities to prove he is the real savior. As the renown of his victims increases, a final showdown with Jesus Christ is all that stands in the way of his own revelation.
Part 1: Prologue
As odd as this sounds, God still allows Satan to venture to Heaven. Permitted to rule Earth with sin and temptation, he has no jurisdiction in the Lord’s Kingdom. He must come alone in the form of Lucifer, the fallen angel, with clipped wings coated in ash.
He often goes to stand at the Heavenly gate and seethe. He never enters, keeping his eyes cast toward God’s throne on the mountaintop. He will not have terms forced upon him in his rightful home. The righteous souls of Heaven cannot see him standing just outside the gate, but God watches him.
One day, Satan will not come alone. He will pass through the gate, flanked on both sides by his band of fallen angels. The demons who help rule Earth. On this day, God’s forces, led by Jesus Christ and Archangel Michael, will descend from the mountaintop and meet the intruders to fight the Heavenly War.
Part 1, Ch. 1: Cole Wilmont
“240, this is dispatch. Any chance you’re near Washington Street?”
“About a mile away.”
“Head over there, will you? Check something out. An elderly lady says her neighbors’ front door has been open all day.”
“She’s worried. Afraid there may have been a home invasion. Both vehicles are in the driveway and she hasn’t seen anyone over there. Just check it out. She saw the door was still open when she got out of bed for a glass of water.”
“Alright. When was the last time she saw anyone at the house?”
“She saw their young son walking down the street this morning.”
“Walking? Some parents.”
“He goes to the Christian academy at the end of their street.”
“Turning on Washington now. Hopefully we won’t hear from you again.”
“Enjoy the rest of your shift too, assholes.”
“Nice. Before you go, how’d you know where the kid went to school? Is there something you wanna to tell us? Is this a confessional?”
“Right. The old lady likes to talk.
“Why am I an asshole? I didn’t even say anything,” Officer Shelby says, glaring at his partner.
“She’ll be alright,” Officer Malone replies.
“You really know when to turn on the charm, Officer Friendly.”
“You said you wanted to drive, so I did the talking.”
“I can multi-task.”
“Great job, by the way. You didn’t even get the address.”
“Look over there.”
Shelby slows down to look. “Out your window, you idiot,” Malone says.
“Screw you. That’s gotta be it.”
“It’s 11:30 at night. The only house with any lights on downstairs is the one with the front door wide open. I’d say so.”
Officer Shelby pulls the patrol car to the curb. “Keep your weapon drawn. The old lady may be looking for some fresh meat,” Malone quips as the officers cross the street.
Ignoring his partner, Shelby peeks inside the door to an entryway with a door on either side.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs....” Shelby stops mid-sentence.
“What is it?” Malone asks.
“No names from dispatch either.” He calls out again. “Hello! Sir? Miss? This is Officers Shelby and Malone from the Jackson Police Department. We saw your front door was open. Just making sure everything is okay.”
“Is anyone home?” adds Malone. Then, “The simple shit is always the hardest,” as both men step inside and gently close the door.
Twelve hours earlier, first grader Cole Wilmont descended the stairs dressed in his Vianney Catholic School uniform; a white dress shirt, navy sweater vest and khaki slacks, rounded out with faux-suede brown shoes. The morning sun from the window opposite the staircase glinted off the Vianney emblem on his vest. As he stepped off the last stair and headed toward the kitchen, his mother called out, “Sausage or bacon?”
Upon entering the kitchen, having yet to reply to his mother, his dad scooped him up and sat him on a stool at the island in the middle of the kitchen. “What’ll it be champ, sausage or bacon?”
“He looks kind of pale,” Ms. Wilmont said. She kissed the top of Cole’s head.
“Sweaty too,” her husband added.
“Are you feeling alright, pumpkin bear?” Cole gave a noncommittal nod.
She set a small plate of bacon, eggs and oatmeal in front of him. “Here you go, honey. Almost forgot your orange juice.” She pushed a glass toward him. “Don’t forget, I’m picking you up after school so we can meet daddy at Grandma Pearle’s house for grandpa’s birthday party. I wrote your teacher an email just in case.”
As Cole picked at his food, his parents shifted to autopilot as they finished getting ready before leaving for work. Mr. Wilmont ran around trying to remember where he left his suit jacket while also fumbling with his birthday cake tie. It was a cold morning and neither of them had pulled in the garage the previous afternoon. Mr. Wilmont grabbed both sets of keys and headed outside to turn the heat on in the vehicles.
Ms. Wilmont stood at the counter beside the refrigerator, cutting the crust off Cole’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. “Mama?” Cole said.
“Yes, sweetie?” She absentmindedly turned to clear Cole’s plate from the island. “Where’s your fork?”
Cole sheepishly glanced down to his left. Normally, she would have chided him. First for not picking up his fork when he dropped it and second for suggesting she should walk around and pick it up for him. Given his pitiful look, she set the plate in the sink and walked around the island. “I didn’t even hear it hit the floor.”
As she reached the island’s corner and kneeled in her blue dress, Cole reached across his lap and violently swung his fork, the fork that had supposedly fallen to the floor, into his mother’s neck. “Oh,” she said as her knees buckled like a fawn in her black heels. The first strike was so quick and clean she didn’t realize what was happening. She tried raising up and the fork plunged into the side of her neck again. Pain took hold and she crumbled to the floor.
Quickly leaving his stool, Cole mounted his mother’s chest and began stabbing the front of her neck. These rapid strikes were not as clean as the first. Blood covered his mother and dotted his clothes and face. The fork caught on her pearl necklace as he ripped it from her throat for the final time, sending jewels in all directions.
As Mr. Wilmont stepped inside the front door, his wife’s tightly pulled bun was absorbing her own blood.
“Everybody about ready?” he said as he closed the door behind him. He stepped into the kitchen and looked at Cole, once again seated on the stool. He didn’t notice the tiny specks of blood dotting his son’s face. “Where’s your mother?”
As the words left his mouth, he saw her feet sticking from behind the left side of the island, partially obscured by the legs of Cole’s stool. “Oh God!” He ran to her side, nearly knocking over the other stools. “What happened!?”
He stood over his wife in shock, shaking with his hands on his knees, unsure of what happened and what to do next. Neither question was answered. Cole hopped from his seat, nearly leaping on his father’s back. The knife Ms. Wilmont had been using to slice fruit for Cole's lunch plunged into the base of his father’s skull, directly into the brainstem, killing him instantly. Cole looked like a cowboy bucked from a bull as his father fell to the ground beneath him.
Cole dropped the knife and scampered from the kitchen, leaving a thinning trail of bloody footprints. The prints were barely visible once he began climbing the stairs.
After taking his second bath in 24 hours, he changed into an identical school uniform. He tied his shoes, casually walked downstairs and out the front door, not bothering to close it as he left.
Education Through Christ. The words above the main entrance to Vianney Catholic School.
It has been 24 hours since Cole brutally murdered his parents. Sitting calmly inside the crawl space at the top of the Vianney campus church steeple, where a bell once rang, Cole could be practicing Sukhasana. He’s been sitting here since leaving home, watching the growing commotion outside his house.
When Officers Malone and Shelby stepped inside the house twelve hours earlier, there was no horrendous stench. The kitchen was close to the open door, and the flow of air had prevented any lingering smell. Walking slowly down the hall, Shelby stepped into the bathroom on the left while Malone entered the kitchen on the right. “Hooooly shit,” Malone muttered to himself.
“What?” Shelby said.
Malone stood silent, frozen to the spot. Shelby pushed between his rigid partner and the door frame. Both men stared slack jawed at the scene before them. A scene that was soon to become more gruesome than realized from their current vantage point. From where both men were standing, they could see two sets of legs resting in a shallow pool of dried blood. Mr. Wilmont’s body lay face down across his wife’s. Their overlapping legs formed a lopsided pound sign.
Shelby was the first to move. Inching to his right, between the island and the counter, the full scope of brutality came into view. Ms. Wilmont’s bun was nearly dyed crimson. Blood congealed around her neck. The pearls from her destroyed necklace now resembled the miniature artificial cranberries a family like the Wilmonts might use for holiday decorations. A knife handle protruded from the base of Mr. Wilmont’s skull, directly atop his spinal column.
As Shelby finished taking in the scene, Malone came unstuck and made his way around the left side of the island, stopping near the deceased’s feet. “You call it in,” he said quietly to Shelby.
Cole shifts his gaze to the school playground. Nearly all of Vianney’s staff, as well as many parents, have heard about the murder of Cole Wilmont’s parents. With the crime scene being so close to the school, those who haven’t quickly find out.
The playground is beginning to fill with teachers and the older students. Most parents of the younger children have chosen to withhold the developing story from their precious offspring. The students being shepherded to the playground are to be informed of the situation, if they don’t already know, and to be asked for any information regarding Cole’s whereabouts.
As the assembly forms, Cole climbs out one of the four openings in the church’s steeple to stand on a narrow ledge. Grasping the opening’s sides, he stands in the four foot high frame and looks up.
Built in the 1930s, several service holds have been attached to the top of the steeple for maintenance purposes in later years. Grabbing a hold of the first one, he carefully begins the short ascent to the top of the highest point on Vianney’s campus.
As he reaches the summit, everything suddenly halts. All around, with the church at the epicenter, the wind stops, the birds quieten and laughter from inside the school ceases. A violent calm. The calm before the storm. Those gathered in the playground notice the sudden atmospheric shift. Puzzled, they look around to find tangible evidence of what they feel.
A teacher spots Cole scaling the steeple. “Oh my gosh! Cole! Cole!” The crowd begins murmuring, some shouting, as another teacher tries calming the group. “Cole! Please come down! Let us help you!” the spotting teacher calls as the crowd quiets.
With unnatural balance, Cole perches atop the last service hold. He turns and faces the assembly with his arms spread wide, forming a cross. A deep voice unlike Cole’s, a voice unlike any heard by those below, booms a response.
“Help me? Help me? You want to help me! Those requiring help never seek it but are quick to offer a hand to others. I am here to help you!”
The crowd stands helpless. Heads tilted skyward, they can only watch and listen. As if they are standing in a dream. Standing in a dream with that uneasy feeling it is about to become a nightmare.
Then, from the back, a timid voice. “Cole!?” An older student begins wading her way through the crowd to the front.
Each year at Vianney, the children in grades one through five are partnered with a senior. It is Cole’s mentor, Melissa, who has spoken up.
Remarkably, given the explosiveness his voice just registered, Cole emits a barely audible laugh, however brief. Then the booming voice returns. “Cole is dead!”
Arms still spread, Cole slowly rocks forward and falls fifty feet to his death.
Part 1, Ch. 2: Tracy Smith
Thousands of miles away in a dorm room at Bozeman University, Tracy Smith and her roommate, Jacyln, are having a typical millennial conversation. Phones in hand, the coeds sit on their beds discussing plans for the new school year.
“Study, study, study,” Tracy rattles.
“Freshman year went by way too fast. Grades are important but I’m definitely going to enjoy these next three years.”
“Don’t you mean four?”
“Haha, funny,” Jacyln says sarcastically, glancing up. “Well, what do you have planned for today? Besides texting that new boy you met.”
Tracy looks up from her phone with a look that says “were you not listening?”
“If you’re going to be spending all your time in the library, I may as well start looking for a new roommate.”
“My tuition would be cheaper. If the library wasn’t closed on holidays I would.”
In a professorial tone, Jacyln says “That is why it’s important to savor the college experience.” She continues, “Boys, parties, my youthful existence and my parents’ pity money. Once, if, you find a job, all you ever do is work to pay off those loans. Before you know it, you haven’t worked out in a year and you’re fat and alone. Or if you’re lucky, you’re fat and in a boring relationship with your only excitement coming from wondering if your baby will wake you up at two or four a.m.”
“Isn’t your mom still in great shape?”
“Sure. But it isn’t what I’d call natural.”
Tracy scoots off her bed, slips her shoes on and says “On that note, I’m headed to the gym.”
“You do listen,” Jacyln says amusedly.
“And then to the library.”
“Don’t forget,” Jacyln calls out as Tracy opens the door to leave. “The Labor Day fireworks show is tonight. We’ll be by the girl’s boathouse if you find the time.”
Tracy cuts her workout fifteen minutes short, forgoing a cool down on the stationary bike. Her form started to slip because all she could think about was getting ahead on some studying. Maybe if she works a little harder in the beginning she’ll be able to have a life this semester.
Before heading to the library, Tracy thinks it best to stop by her dorm and get a shower. She isn’t sure how long she’ll end up staying in the library. Like usual, she assumes it will be longer than expected. She feels like she knows the library janitors better than her classmates. Like last year, most of her parents’ pity money will be spent in the library Starbucks.
She scans social media while walking across campus’ central plaza. Jacyln doesn’t know, but the guy Tracy is supposedly always texting is in her economics study group. Seeing her friends’ posts flash across her timelines, she wonders if she really does spend too much time focusing on academics. Of course not, she thinks and puts it out of her mind.
On the right side of her feed, “Wilmont Murders” is trending. Tired of scrolling past the fun she isn’t part of, she apprehensively clicks the headline.
“In a tragic story outside of Nashville, Tennessee, three people have been confirmed dead. Drew and Lorrie Wilmont, both aged 37, were found dead in their home last night near midnight. No word on the causes of death but we can confirm that both are being treated as homicides.
“This morning, while crews were still present and investigating the crime scene at the Wilmont’s home, a young boy committed suicide by jumping from a church steeple of a nearby school. The identity of the minor has yet to be released, although witnesses say he was the Wilmonts’ son. However, this has yet to be officially confirmed. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.”
That is tragic she thinks as she enters her building and waits for the elevator to the third floor. When she arrives at her room Jacyln has already left. Tracy is slightly disappointed. She was hoping another talk from her would convince her to take the day off. At least part of the day. Resigned to the fact she is about to spend another day in the library, she grabs her things and goes down the hall to the showers.
After showering, she throws on some black yoga pants and a faded workout top. Might as well be comfy she thinks. She puts her shoes on, grabs her bag and begins the journey to what can seem the loneliest place on Earth.
Tracy arrived at the library at 12:30. Six hours later, without eating, she’s still sitting in her favorite carrel on the sixth floor. The carrels are typically reserved for upperclassmen and graduate students but she usually has her choice of spots until finals roll around.
Unlike a typical library, you can walk into a university library and not see a single case of books. You’ll see rows of the latest computers, a Starbucks and possibly a convenience store. Most books are kept on the upper floors, called the stacks, which is where Tracy sits. The number of books stored on these floors is overwhelming. Most students research what materials they need and submit a retrieval request for a librarian.
This makes the several floors of stacks an over-achiever’s paradise. You can sit for hours and not see a soul, nor hear a thing other than the clicks and the hum of the HVAC system.
Occasionally, an elevator’s chime or the soft footfalls of a searching librarian are enough to break the quiet. Tracy closes her marketing textbook and sits up straight as she listens to the latest wandering librarian. The sounds of life move closer until they come to a stop near the bookcases on her right.
Tracy slides her chair back from the desk. Any sound originating from the stacks is enough to startle a solitary student but the librarian doesn’t even register anyone else is on the floor.
Walking between the carrels and the bookcases, Tracy spots the librarian five rows back. Moving along the opposite side of the same bookcase, she stops directly across from the librarian. Through the breaks in the shelves, she can just make out the top of a graying head, a red shirt and blue jeans.
Tracy shoves her body weight against the bookcase. It starts to tip. As shocked as the librarian is, she has enough presence of mind to make an escape to her right. Unfortunately for her, gravity quickly grasps the massive bookcase and brings it down on top of her, along with a few rows behind where she had been standing. After several seconds, the massive wooden dominoes come to rest against a particularly solid bookcase. Such a commotion should have been heard on either the floor above or below. But by now everyone has started making their way down to the river for the Labor Day fireworks show. Hell, even if it wasn’t a holiday the floors would’ve probably been deserted.
A muffled cry for help emanates from beneath the books once held by the fallen case. Tracy steps onto the case and heads for the sound’s origin, making her way over and around the books. She reaches the librarian’s head. A round face gone pale and two bulging, steel blue eyes stare up at Tracy. Again, the librarian cries for help. Again and again until the pleas become a whimper, smothered by the insufficient air being let into her lungs by the bookcase.
Offering no reply and certainly no help, Tracy picks up the largest nearby book, A Cultural History of Mathematics. Widening her base and raising the book above her head, gravity again plays a role in the librarian’s pain. Tracy slams the book directly on her forehead. She can’t see the damage inflicted because she immediately lifts the book and slams it into her skull again. She does this several more times before dropping the book. This isn’t an act of mercy, though. The librarian is dead.
Balancing on one of the bookcase’s shelves, Tracy raises her right foot and stomps on what remains of the librarian’s skull. She stomps until the solid resistance under her shoe gives way to mush.
Stepping away from the remains, Tracy returns to her carrel. Rummaging through her bag, she pulls out her phone and texts Jacyln. “Coming,” is all she sends, along with a smiley face emoji. Dropping the blood-covered phone on the desk, she heads for the elevator, leaving behind her belongings and the scene of the soon-to-be most infamous library murder since Betsy Aardsma was killed in 1969.
The rest of the library is as deserted as the stacks. Tracy exits the library and enters the still-warm air.
Making her way past the massive football stadium and turning down the sidewalk that parallels the river, the gathered crowds and the bridge spanning the river come into view. Tracy hasn’t been noticed since leaving the library. The few people that are still walking to see the fireworks are ending the day as Tracy and Jacyln began theirs. Everyone she passes has their necks bent down, phones in hand, occasionally chatting with their mimicking friends.
A hundred yards from the crowd, Tracy turns to her left and takes a detour up a hill past the old science buildings currently undergoing renovations. Rounding the last of the buildings to her right, she continues onto the street and makes a line straight for the bridge that the fireworks are to be shot from.
Like most large-scale fireworks shows, the fireworks on the bridge are on a timer. Tracy steps on the bridge five minutes before showtime. Preparations for the show are complete, so the technicians are gone. The lights normally illuminating the bridge at night were cut off earlier in the day to maximize viewing pleasure. She walks undetected, halting at the center of the bridge. She climbs over the railing separating the road from the bicycle path, then over the railing separating the bicycle path from the water below.
Tracy faces the crowd as the first sequence rockets into the night sky. Everything goes quiet and still. Fireworks continue shooting into the sky but no sound comes from the launches on the bridge or the explosions in the air. It isn’t long until the gazes below notice the odd sight of a figure standing directly in front of the launch area. Near the back of the crowd of 50,000 people, Jacyln and her friends can’t see who it is from their spot at the boathouse.
“Greetings!” Tracy bellows in the same voice that emanated from Cole Wilmont that morning. “So glad you could make it. But I have to say, I was disappointed in the lack of coverage my exploits from this morning received. Nevertheless, it does take you people time,” she says with a sigh. She continues speaking with deliberate, lengthy pauses between each sentence as the fireworks display above her continues on mute. “You still worship a version of a man who supposedly performs miracles. Or so they say. Now, a question. When was the last time this savior performed a miracle for you. Was it a miracle or just luck? What you are witnessing here is power on a grand scale. Not just healing a sick child or getting good news. Every single one of you is witnessing the same thing. That is not luck! This is a true miracle!”
In sync with the grand finale flashing overhead, Tracy Smith leaps from the bridge, creating a spectacle no one will forget. When the collective shock releases the crowd, those recording the show race to be the first to post their video online.
Part 1, Ch. 3: Dexter McCalister
Dexter McCalister shuts his laptop and leans back in his worn computer chair. He has spent all day doing damage control after thousands of users uploaded videos showing a girl committing suicide. Reaching above his head, he interlaces his fingers and stretches his aching back and shoulders. As much time as he spends sitting, he really should have his assistant order him one of those ergonomic chairs his wife told him about. Holding the stretch, he leans back and takes in his cavernous office and the declining sun outside the wall of solid glass. Checking his smartwatch, the watch that he and most of his employees spent so many years developing, he rises from his chair to leave his office.
Leaving his corner office, he walks into an empty work space. “FILO,” he says to himself. First in, last out. The motto he adopted years ago, taken from one of the inventory valuations from an undergraduate accounting class.
Most of the employees who occupy the space during the day haven’t gone home. They are waiting in the auditorium located on the other side of the company’s campus. Walking through the work area, he heads outside toward the auditorium to reveal the final prototype for the company’s newest gadget.
He takes his time strolling across the green space separating the campus’s two largest buildings, admiring a small part of what he had a huge hand in creating. Savor every moment, he thinks. Besides, others are more forgiving when they know you are late due to work. Especially when you’re the CEO.
Peeking around the curtain, Dexter confirms every seat in the auditorium is filled. Those occupying the seats are the only people in the world who know what the latest project is. They are the only people in the world with the knowledge Ultera is even developing a new product.
Since Dexter founded Ultera six years ago, the company has steadily climbed the ranks of the most recognized social media and software companies on the planet. The tech company is on its way to becoming the gold standard in both areas.
The fact there are exactly enough seats for those involved is a testament to Dexter’s attention to detail. Nothing left to chance. Like all large companies, Ultera is constantly hiring new employees. But for those coveted positions that actually shape the company and its offerings, the only time a hire is made is when someone leaves. “You can’t control much. So always control what you can,” Dexter is fond of saying to the other executives.
Dexter hasn’t been nervous in front of a group of people since his early college days. But as the lights dim and he walks onto the stage he feels butterflies in his stomach. The uneasy feeling all successful and driven people experience from time to time. The feeling that something needs to be done. Or done better.
Sitting in the cavity at the back of the podium is a black bag. Dexter loses consciousness when he reaches the podium.
Walking into his office for the first time that morning, he felt like he had suddenly awoken as he flipped the lights on. Like everyone who drives the same route every day, he periodically zoned out during his commute. This was different though. Deeper.
He vaguely remembered asking his executive assistant to take a black bag to the auditorium. He couldn’t picture the scene in his mind. It was like a weaker version of déjà vu. He meant to ask his assistant about the episode when he brought Dexter his daily coffee. However, his preoccupation with the crisis caused him to forget.
Realizing the presentation is about to begin, the audience directs its attention to the stage. Dexter lifts the black bag and hauls it onto the podium. Unzipping it, he pulls out a fully loaded semiautomatic carbine rifle. He points the muzzle toward the crowd and starts spraying bullets in wide arcs before even raising his eyes.
No one makes it out alive. Those that manage to stand either end up lying dead in the floor, slumping over the row of seats in front of them or lying across the laps of their deceased co-workers.
The alarm sounds due to the shattered glass windows around the walls. It won’t be long before emergency services arrive. Dexter isn’t worried, though. Dexter ceased to be minutes ago.
The original plan was for the presentation to be streamed live around the world on Ultera’s social media accounts. The techies waiting for the online stream to start are losing patience as they stare at the feed. It has read “Presentation Will Begin Shortly” since the stream was scheduled to begin five minutes ago.
Tossing the rifle aside, Dexter uses the podium’s control panel to power up the technology wired throughout the auditorium. He shuts off all the cameras except for the one looking up at him from the top of the control panel. Next, he fires up the live stream.
Everyone tuning in receives an auditory jolt as the stream goes live and the emergency alarms blare through their speakers and headphones. Dexter checks the camera frame before speaking in a voice that drowns out the alarms.
“Well, I must say, if you’re watching this you are about to see much more than you expected. Instead of revealing the latest soul-sucking gadget, I decided to take the souls of the creators. Cole Wilmont was the beginning. Not the true beginning. The beginning of this new revelation. Sure, Tracy racked up a lower body count, but the theatrics!” he says with a hint of wistfulness. “But this! This is my true coming out party.”
With that, Dexter presses a button on the control panel and shares a zoomed in view of the left side of the auditorium seating. With two more presses he switches the view to the middle and right sections. Pressing one final button he changes the view to a mosaic including the seating, the stage and of course, his face.
Dropping out of frame for a bit, he kneels down and reaches into the bag which had fallen on the floor. Coming back into frame he makes sure his face is still in view as he says with a smirk, “Now, for the afterparty.”
Dexter raises a cold black handgun to his right temple and pulls the trigger, falling out of frame for good.
Minutes later, emergency crews arrive to discover the tragedy. It will be thirty minutes before someone realizes the auditorium’s cameras are recording and forty-five minutes until the live stream is discovered.
Part 1, Ch. 4: Xander
The boy band PxOxP is performing in London on the first stop of their inaugural international tour. The crowd of pre-teens and moms is the largest ever for a United Kingdom crowd. Some people were already online when tickets went on sale and still missed out.
The group is ending the show by performing one of their most popular songs, “Like You.” Near the end of the song, Zach and Oliver walk down the long stage extension into the middle of the crowd. Xander and Luis each exit off the sides of the stage. At the back of each side of the stage, a massive tower of speakers has been erected. They are going to climb to the top for the grand finale. The final verse lasts less than a minute, so the stage crew quickly makes sure they are safely in their harnesses before they begin climbing the back of the speakers.
Halfway up his ladder, Xander looks down. The stage crew has cleared out to get ready for the end of the show. PxOxP will be performing almost nightly, so a fast turnaround is essential. Everything has to be disassembled and loaded onto trucks heading to the next city or airport.
Seeing no one on the floor below him, Xander scurries back down and rummages through a pile of identical black bags next to the speakers. Finding the one he hid during rehearsals, he checks its contents before throwing it over his shoulder.
A month earlier, Xander contacted someone in London to make several bombs he could fit in duffel bags. Of course, the guy was wary when Xander propositioned him. His worries were alleviated when Xander agreed to meet him in a coffee shop. Xander told him his identity beforehand and the guy promptly looked him up after agreeing to meet. Buyers engaging in illegal transactions normally want to remain as anonymous as possible. So do manufacturers and dealers, which is why the guy Xander contacted sent someone else to the meeting. Everything checked out, cost wasn’t a problem for Xander, and a drop location was set to exchange the bombs for payment.
Thankfully, Zach and Oliver have been instructed to hold the last note of the chorus just a bit longer to give the other two time to reach the top of the speakers. Luis reaches the top of his speaker first. He looks into the darkness to his left to see if Xander has made it up. He’s getting anxious when he sees him climbing onto his perch. As soon as Xander stands up, the spotlights flash on to reveal them high above the crowd.
After nailing the chorus, the band members are bowing and thanking the fans when Xander says “Look what I’ve got!” Holding up the bag he yells “Who wants some free merch?”
The crowd naturally responds by going berserk. Xander pulls his cellphone from his pocket and opens the app he downloaded from the secure link he was emailed. He tosses the bag off the side to the crowd below. A large red button is the only thing on his phone’s screen. He presses it.
The app automatically deletes and the bag explodes, sending shrapnel and doing whatever else the bomb is designed to do. It tears through the crowd of screaming girls and sparks a fire near the engineering area next to the stage.
Standing atop the swaying tower of speakers, Xander opens an identical app labeled “2” and hits the red button again. This time a bomb detonates in the pile of bags at the base of the speaker tower, as well as at the base of the other tower.
Every member of PxOxP dies. It will be several days before the complete death toll can be confirmed.
The next day at 12pm, a song supposedly by Xander is uploaded to the major music sites. Several posts from Xander’s social media accounts also promote the song. But it’s not a song. It’s a statement from Xander.
“This is being recorded before the concert. I am possessed by Satan. After what will happen, was possessed by Satan. God can’t help you. Jesus can’t save you. You can’t possibly believe he can after what I did last night.”
Part 1, Ch. 5: Tom Dearborn
Ding! “This is your captain speaking,” pilot Tom Dearborn booms over the intercom in a voice unlike his own. Tom is known throughout the airline for his corny sense of humor. The only recognition his unusual voice garners from the flight attendants is a lazy rolling of the eyes.
“We have reached our cruising altitude. You are now free to move about the cabin. Your flight attendants will be bringing refreshments, so please move with caution.”
Ding! “The fasten seat belt sign has been cut on as we are approaching our destination,” Tom calls over the intercom in the same unusual voice as before. Not registering what he said, the flight attendants think it’s strange for him to talk in that voice again. As unfunny as Tom is, it isn’t like him to recycle used material so soon. Certainly not on the same flight.
As an attendant walks down the aisle collecting trash, one passenger asks how they are arriving at their destination so soon. The flight is scheduled to last approximately two hours. They have only been in the air for forty-five minutes. The attendant assures the passenger it was a mistake and gives him the correct estimated arrival time. The passenger sits back in his seat and mumbles something about “feeling safe” and how it “makes sense given the lack of sleep pilots operate on.”
Sitting in a back row of the plane is a teenager flying home after spending several days at her mom’s. Looking out the window with her green beanie pulled low, she missed the arrival announcement. Her earbuds are loud enough to entertain the people around her. She has been making this trip alone since her parents divorced when she was in the sixth grade. She is among the first to notice the plane’s exceptionally low altitude. Exceptionally low becomes dangerously low as the plane dips and turns to the left, bringing the White Mountains into view.
As the murmur grows from those with window seats, others start raising their shades to see what is happening. Panic rises as the plane descends.
Aiming for the observatory, Flight LF3859 comes in from the north over the White Mountain Range and crashes into Mount Washington. The hikers staying in the Lakes of the Clouds Hut several miles below the summit feel the massive impact as smoke and fire mingle with the cloudy mist.
Part 1, Ch. 6: Supreme Leader & President
The next night, Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Song-sil is eating lunch alone in his opulent palace in Pyongyang. It is November 5 in America. As he finishes his last oatmeal rice cake, one of North Korea’s senior military commanders slowly enters the room. He awkwardly closes the massive gilded door behind him and uncomfortably walks toward the center of the room where Song-sil sits alone at the head of a lengthy dining table. Despite possessing information Song-sil considers urgent, the commander knows he is violating the tradition of not calling on the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader calls on you.
As unnecessarily large as the dining room is, it is even more cavernous due to the lack of bodies occupying the space. However, inching closer to the Supreme Leader, the commander feels like a tiny mouse trapped with a starving lion inside a ten-foot cage.
“Supreme Leader?” the commander stammers. Offering no response, Song-sil continues chewing his rice cake as he raises his head toward the voice. “Supreme Leader, the intercontinental ballistic missiles are ready to be tested.”
This time, Song-sil slowly nods as if he is just now realizing what this new information means. Using his left hand to waive the commander away, he picks up his glass with his right and downs the last of his bokbunjaju. With relief, the commander turns and covers the distance back to the doors in half the time it took him to enter. As the door closes, Song-sil stands and wipes his oxblood stained lips with a silk napkin.
Thirteen of the 333 rooms in the Ryongsong Residence are offices. Song-sil heads to the office off the right side of the dining room. He walks around the massive wooden desk in the center of the room and flicks the television on. Compared to the rest of the palace’s furnishings, the television is surprisingly small. Not to mention outdated. The screen crackles to life as the U.S. edition of CNN fills the screen. It is one of only fifty televisions in North Korea able to receive international broadcasts. The others outside the palace are located in government and military buildings. An advertisement is running for the station’s morning show but the chyron on the bottom of the screen reads “Dakota Granger Nearing 270 Votes in Electoral Landslide.”
Several hours later, Song-sil sits behind another massive desk in another palace office. Facing the camera situated directly before him, he waits for the red light to flash on as he prepares to address his nation. The light flashes on and all activity behind the camera stops. Without hesitation, Song-sil speaks to his people. “America has played God for far too long.” That’s it.
Not waiting to be dismissed, the camera crew hastily packs away their gear and leaves without question. The breach of protocol is due to their Supreme Leader’s chilling change of voice. Ordinary citizens and government officials alike don’t dare speak of the change for fear of repercussions. The American government dismisses it as a cheap parlor trick to energize his country.
Two months later, Dakota Granger is being sworn-in on the steps of the Capitol, becoming the second black president in U.S. history.
Watching with his closest advisers and military officials in the situation room, Song-sil says “At least he won’t have to deal with any birther issues. With a name like Dakota, his ancestors probably greeted the Pilgrims stepping off the Mayflower.”
The others in the room don’t know how to react. Most continue staring stone-faced at the inauguration ceremony on the muted television. Normally everyone in the room laughs on command when the Supreme Leader makes a joke, but the United States of America is no laughing matter. The Supreme Leader’s hatred of America, as well as his late father’s, is known to be extremely deep.
Breaking the silence, Song-sil tells the group to prepare to put the plan in motion. The plan is dubbed Satan’s Wings. Unbeknownst to the others with knowledge of the plan, its name has nothing to do with the Supreme Leader’s hatred of America.
The plan calls for synchronous attacks on South Korea and Japan using short-range missiles. What will happen once the attacks begin is unclear.
Obviously, the militaries of South Korea and Japan will retaliate immediately. But how will the U.S. respond? Most agree they will invade North Korea using many of the nearly 30,000 troops and arms stationed in South Korea, as well as other nearby resources.
Since the plan was initially discussed, North Korea’s military leaders have advised the Supreme Leader to delay initiating Satan’s Wings until the intercontinental ballistic missiles are operational. Their availability will be critical if the U.S. comes to the aid of its allies. This advice was rejected, despite not one ICBM being tested.
The only explanation his advisers and military leaders can come up with is he doesn’t want to tip his hand to the Americans or the rest of the international community. The Western elitists monitor everything with their damned satellite networks. Not to mention spies. America would be on high-alert once they picked up a North Korean ICBM being tested over the Sea of Japan. It’s possible they would strike first.
But this isn’t Song-sil’s only reasoning. It could be said it isn’t his independent reasoning at all.
Song-sil gives the command to begin the attacks. The plan calls for every available short-range missile to be launched in rapid succession. He dismisses his advisers’ attempts to dissuade him from this course of action. “Their defense shields can’t stop them all,” he says.
Within hours, missiles are being intercepted over the Sea of Japan and in the skies of the Korean Peninsula. Others are striking targets throughout South Korea and Japan. The targets don’t matter to Song-sil. He actually allowed his military leaders to choose them. He even declined to review the strategic and civilian casualty estimates before the attacks. Each successful strike kills between fifty and 250 people and injures as many as 400.
As expected, nearby U.S. troops are mobilized immediately. As Japan returns fire with missiles of its own, troops cross the demilitarized zone into North Korea. Following developments in the situation room, North Korea’s military officials realize that what has been said in the international media for some time is true. A clear and direct attack against the United States or its allies would signal a death wish from North Korea. All sides incur losses in an all-out war, but for North Korea, surrender or annihilation are the only outcomes.
Feeling the walls closing in, they are shocked when the Supreme Leader orders several mobile launchers be prepared to load the few intercontinental ballistic missiles they possess. The untested and highly unreliable ICBMs.
“Now!” he screams as everyone looks at him, stunned.
“The targets, Supreme Leader?” one of his commanders has the composure to ask.
“The United States of America.”
Turning from the Supreme Leader, everyone looks around at one another in a state of disbelief. Before anyone can interject, Song-sil says “We just need one successful strike. Analyze their defense shields and choose the most vulnerable targets nearest the West Coast.”
“Now!” he shouts again. Only this time in the deep voice he used during his last, brief national address.
“Do not disturb me until you have chosen the sites and the missiles are prepared to launch,” is the last thing he says before returning to the palace, leaving everyone in disbelief.
Several hours later, his patience running thin, Song-sil hears a knock and a faint voice call from outside his bedroom door. “Supreme Leader?”
Stepping inside from the balcony overlooking the most beautiful aspects of North Korea, he motions for his personal aide to let the general in. The general cautiously steps inside. He has never entered the Supreme Leader’s personal living quarters. Few have.
“Supreme Leader,” he begins. “The ICBMs are ready to launch. We have selected—"
“Launch them all,” Song-sil orders dismissively.
After the Supreme Leader’s reaction earlier in the day, the general voices his understanding and exits as quietly as he came. Walking the opposite direction, Song-sil returns to the balcony. Not sparing a moment to observe the landscape a final time, the Supreme Leader of North Korea removes his Beretta M9 from its leg holster, flicks the safety and shoots himself under the jaw. The pistol clatters to the balcony floor and his body falls, draping the polished railing like a heavy flag.
Sitting at his Oval Office desk, President Dakota Granger is approaching the closest he’s come to sleeping in nearly 48 hours when his secretary opens the door.
“Mr. President? General Williams.”
“Send him in,” President Granger replies with a resigned sigh. Perks of the job, he thinks.
The first 100 days of an American presidency are covered non-stop, obsessively even, by the national media. President Granger is two days in and has dealt with more than recent Presidents faced in their 100 days combined. Succeeding a Republican, the Democratic Granger hasn’t even had time for the ritualistic signing of partisan executive orders.
No classic photo-ops with his newly appointed Cabinet, fixated on him wielding the pen of power. No perfunctory meetings with foreign heads-of-state. No first love with the First Lady.
North Korea’s sudden attacks on South Korea and Japan fucked everything up. He has spent more time in the situation room than in the private residence.
“Mr. President.” He snaps out of his lamenting and stands to greet the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Brandon S. Williams.
“General Williams, how are you?”
“Alive. Thank you, sir. Which, given the circumstances, is plenty.”
“It’s escalated? I thought the timeline called for a fairly quick de-escalation and stabilization of the affected areas.”
“And that’s still the case, sir. On the Korean Peninsula.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Approximately ten minutes ago, five intercontinental ballistic missiles were launched from North Korea.” The President’s eyes widen at the word “intercontinental.” “Our nation appears to be under attack,” General Williams continues.
“God. How do we know?”
“No time for that, Mr. President. We need you in the situation room, now.”
“Twenty minutes to an hour,” General Williams interrupts. “Let’s go.”
Sitting at the head of the Situation Room’s long, narrow table, President Granger asks “What do we know?”
“Here’s what we have time for,” General Williams replies. “As you know, approximately sixteen minutes ago, five ICBMs were launched from North Korea. All five have exited Japanese air space and are currently over the Pacific Ocean.”
“Hawaii,” mumbles the President.
“Logical but not likely,” chimes in the National Security Advisor.
Giving confirmation, General Williams picks up. “Given what our systems have detected, based on the trajectories, all five seem headed toward the continental U.S.”
A complete contrast to his prior demeanor and an accurate indication of the unfathomable stressfulness of the situation, President Granger slams his fist on the table and asks “How is it that before I was President every fucking thing launched from North Korea was picked up by us? If a kite was spotted we’d have a God damn report! And now it’s like we’re blind to missiles for Christ’s sake.”
“With all due respect, sir, our surveillance has remained steady and has actually increased in the short time since the DPRK attacked South Korea and Japan.”
“Then how the hell is this happening?”
“There were no tests or activity to indicate an imminent launch. Given our intelligence and the past unpredictability of Kim Song-sil, we believe this is the first time they have launched ICBMs. In a test or otherwise.”
“So, they may not even make it?”
“We don’t want to find out,” interjects Chief of Staff Simon Spence.
“Correct,” says General Williams. “But given the absence of Hawaii as a target, intelligence believes the targets are important areas on the West coast. Military or major metropolitan areas.”
“So, it’s a crapshoot?”
“We know the country is under attack, that’s enough. And as Chief of Staff Spence pointed out, we don’t have time, nor do we want to find out. Now, our defense systems, including those on Hawaii and in the Pacific, are being prepared to intercept the missiles based on current trajectories. There are five ICBMs. We can combat them with every available missile defense installation or we can attempt to meet them on a one-to-one ratio. We need to act quickly either way. Ideally before they’ve re-entered the atmosphere above our soil. Otherwise, at a minimum, some debris and possibly chemicals will fall above our citizens. The missiles were launched,” he pauses to check one of the many clocks lining the room’s left wall, “approximately twenty-one minutes ago. It’s your call Mr. President.”
“Hit them with everything we’ve got. Missiles, lasers and whatever the hell else we have.”
“Yes, sir.” And with that, General Williams walks to the secure telephone mounted on the wall and gives the President’s orders. General Williams replaces the phone and starts to announce a time estimate but the President shakes him off. They’ll know soon enough.
Regardless of how many missiles are intercepted or hit a target, an attack on the United States does not go unpunished. After decades of saber rattling and failed attempts, North Korea has finally taken a legitimate shot at the U.S.
“Can we just nuke them off the map?” President Granger asks.
“I assume that was said in jest,” replies the General, “but since it’s my job, I’ll advise against that.”
“We have no relationship with Pyongyang. There isn’t even any U.S. staff in the country to warn and evacuate.”
“I know you haven’t forgotten this but it bears repeating. Our troops stationed in the South are currently fighting alongside South Korean and Japanese forces in the North. Not to mention civilian casualties. It would be best to assess the current situation in the area and go from there.”
“Simon and I are going to brief the staff. Five minutes. Find out what’s going on and what else there is to do. We are no longer defending allies. We are fighting for the United States of America.”
Part 1, Ch. 7: Aaron Granger
Nearly a year later, President Dakota Granger’s approval rating is among the highest a sitting U.S. President has seen. None of the North Korean missiles flying over the Pacific Ocean last year hit an intended target. Four suffered errors and exploded over the water. The other missile was neutralized over a large, dry rural area in California. There was some property damage on the ground but it was considered minimal given the potential catastrophe. President Granger is a hero.
The conflict on the Korean Peninsula was rather anti-climactic as well. Having devoted the majority of time and resources on developing ICBMs, the North’s defense preparedness was severely lacking. To make matters worse, for them at least, disorganization was the theme since Supreme Leader Kim Song-sil was found dead on his palace balcony.
The peninsula is once again unified, with Seoul serving as the capital of Korea. The former country of North Korea collapsed politically with Song-sil’s sudden, and for a time, unknown, death. The war the DPRK brought upon itself threatened to mark social collapse. Once economic collapse seemed certain, China had no choice but to support reunification to sustain Chinese exports and retain influence on the peninsula.
One year in, Dakota Granger is well on his way to becoming a two-term President.
Twenty-year-old Aaron is the only child of the Grangers. He seems specifically chosen to be the offspring of the most powerful person on Earth. He doesn’t look like a Kennedy but few would peg him as out of place in Camelot. Always impeccably dressed, and not just for a college student, you can see under his pressed shirts that he is a physical specimen.
Talented and intelligent, he makes excelling at Johns Hopkins seem like a mandatory stop on his preordained path to success. Studying political science and public relations, his father likes to joke he could put his degrees to good use by helping him get re-elected.
Unlike most college students, Aaron doesn’t live in a dorm or a nearby apartment. The flexibility of college scheduling, even for those with dual majors, allows him to live in the White House residence. Four days a week he’s driven the hour and twenty minutes to the university’s campus in Baltimore, Maryland. The arrangement works well for his security detail. Extra security isn’t needed and fewer officers have to establish a base on campus.
On this day, President Granger is in the Midwest for an event. Expecting him to be gone less than 24 hours, First Lady Gavi Granger has stayed behind.
Ms. Granger is the ideal politician’s wife, in that she looks nothing like a typical politician’s wife. She doesn’t look or act like she is being trotted around for votes, which is why the female electorate supported her. She’s a mother, a wife, a daughter. Your best friend.
As the sun sets, Ms. Granger and Aaron finish a dinner of pork chops and mashed potatoes. Gavi cooked the meal herself while Aaron was returning from school. Although she never admired the role of housewife, with her husband leading the free world, she takes it upon herself to create a family atmosphere whenever possible.
Watching her son put the dishes in the sink, she thinks it a shame they ate so quickly. Moments alone with anyone are rare these days.
Finishing her glass of red wine, she looks again at the sink and notices Aaron has vanished. “Aaron?” she calls out.
“One second,” comes his voice from the main living area, around the corner of the small kitchen and dining area. For such a lavish home, the kitchen is noticeably lacking. Of course, who wants to cook when any craving can be satisfied by a team of world-class chefs?
Hearing Aaron’s padded footsteps coming toward her, it occurs to her that his voice sounded awfully deep just now. Where has time gone, she wonders.
Ms. Granger is hit in the nose and her eyes start watering. She’s being gagged with some sort of cloth. Blood is pouring down her chin, dripping onto the apron she cooked in. Before she has time to process anything or see who is assaulting her, something is pulled tightly around her neck.
As Aaron usually did, before leaving for school that morning he chose a tie to complement his outfit. Unusually, he hurriedly tied the rest together, end to end, before tossing them back in his closet and rushing downstairs from the private residence. This colorful assortment of silk, cashmere and wool is what he is tying around his mother’s neck.
Panicking and thrashing, Ms. Granger manages to tip her chair to the side. She falls to the ground, momentarily loosening the grip around her neck. The right side of her face smacks a table leg, knocking her glasses off. The pain barely registers as she lies on her stomach trying to kick her assailant from the floor. Several times she ineffectively strikes what must have been a leg.
Fighting onto her side, all she can see is a blurry silhouette of her precious boy.
She gasps for air as the makeshift noose closes tighter around her neck. Her body is being spun around, drug around by the noose. Flat on her back, she tries tilting her neck back to look.
Aaron plants his feet firmly into the floor and begins pulling her through the living area. An easy task for someone with Aaron’s physique. Ms. Granger stands 5’4” and has never weighed over 150 pounds.
Reaching the doors of the Truman Balcony, Aaron wraps some more of the noose’s fabric around his hands as he opens the doors and pulls his mother outside. With more than enough ties for the job, he has tied one end of the noose to a piano leg.
Now, he drops the ties and bends down to scoop up his mother. Her terrified eyes are louder than her muffled screams. With one last bit of effort, Aaron lifts her up. She briefly claws at his arms and face as he hefts her over the railing.
There is a groan from inside as the ties stiffen against the piano and a snap from below as the noose catches around her neck.
Aaron pulls a box cutter from his pocket and slits his wrists. Blood pouring down his hands, he barely makes it inside the doors before collapsing.
The letter found in Aaron’s pocket leaks to the public the next day. Reading the letter, it can’t have been written by Aaron. That’s what those close to the Granger family tell interviewers. Not the Aaron they knew.
The letter reads:
“This is power. Why did I not choose to inhabit the father? The President of the United States of America. The leader of the free-world. Why did I not kill him? I could have. Easily. As you will see, anything is possible. Isn’t that what He tells you? Or isn’t that what He tells his disciples to tell you? Or told them to tell you. When was the last time you heard from Him? Sure, you all have individual stories of how he spoke to you in your prayers or touched your soul during a service. But what have you seen from Him as a collective? Nothing! But what about the things I’ve done? Over the past year, I’ve shown you ALL what I’m capable of. Cole Wilmont, Tracy Smith, Dexter McCalister; that trash you called musicians; Tom Dearborn, Kim Song-sil. I killed them and decided the fate of their victims! This is not a message. Your President used my actions to become a hero. What happened here is a lesson.
“I will shake believers to the core. If He won’t reveal Himself to you, He will reveal Himself to me.”
Official reports state Aaron suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness. Most likely dissociative identity disorder.
Part 2: Prologue
Some people are holier than others. We are not speaking of the pious; those who live their lives to show how devoutly religious they are. Chasing hope of an afterlife that can never be fulfilled. Too busy spewing hypocrisies to turn oneself over to true belief.
True holiness can be a challenge to inhabit. But all living creatures are possessed by one thing or another. From the outside or within.
Part 2, Ch. 8: Pope Clement XV (Jean Silhoute Bruno)
Pope Clement XV is dreaming. Thirteen-year-old Jean Silhoute Bruno is running through the streets of Africo, Italy. Jean knows nearly every backstreet and alleyway of Reggio Calabria province. The dirt, concrete and pebbles are braille beneath his bare feet. It’s how he survives.
Most children don’t remember the first time they walked. Neither does Jean. But he remembers the first time he ran. The first time the other children chased him down the street until he could go no further, which wasn’t far to begin with. “Pious prick,” they screamed as they kicked and ripped the clothes from his body.
God and running. That’s what his life consisted of. Ever since he was born, that’s all he had. And his mother.
But he didn’t have her for long. Working odd jobs to try and feed her son, she changed around the time Jean turned seven. After that, about the only thing Jean saw his mother do was rub her rosary beads between her fingers. He watched her do this every day until he left to study theology. Tied off at each end where the string had broken years prior, the beads stayed twirled around her fingers. He never found out what caused his mother to change.
Since that time, Jean had been the provider. That is, when he could find something to provide. Too young to work, unless he wanted to be a runner for the local mafia, ‘Ndrangheta, Jean learned to steal and became an expert pickpocket. This last skill rarely came in handy. Most citizens of Africo were too poor to carry money, let alone a wallet in their back pocket.
Pope Clement has escaped the chasing pack in his dream. Catching his breath, he isn’t scared at all. The only chance he has of being caught these days is if he trips. He figures he’s the fastest person in the province.
He has begun to think of the almost daily chases as a blessing instead of a curse. How else would he get his stolen wares home if not by running?
Even though everyone knows Jean as a thief, as does he, he constantly reminds himself that God forgives. He never takes more than is needed and he never takes from those worse-off than he and his mother. He is Robin Hood. But instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, he keeps for himself. And there are no rich people in Africo.
The dream ends and Pope Clement XV sits up, wide awake. Swinging his feet to one side, he sits hunched on the edge of the bed trying to catch his breath. He is sweating and his blanket is on the floor. Slowly raising his head, he pushes himself to stand with his hands on his knees.
Christ. He was a tough one, Satan thinks. Standing up, he gains his balance as he looks around the corner bedroom of the Papal Apartments through the eyes of the Pope. By far the oddest thing he has ever done.
Making his way to the attached bathroom, he thinks The old man sure put up a fight but he can’t control his bladder.
Leaving the bathroom, he looks across the room at his ridiculous attire lying on a padded seat beneath the window. Mustn’t keep the masses waiting, he thinks. He strides across the room and picks up his white zucchetto.
Several minutes after noon, Saint Peter’s Square bubbles with excitement as the papal coat of arms is draped outside the open window of the Pope’s study. The faithful below pull out their phones and cameras as a black curtain parts. Pope Clement XV steps to the window to deliver a message and lead in praying the Angelus.
“Good afternoon brothers and sisters. Today’s passage is not found in the Bible, as it has yet to be recorded. It is the story of a fallen angel.” His voice begins climbing from calm and measured to thunderous. “An angel who was hurt by a false prophet.
“God is not who you think he is. The same should be said for his illegitimate son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Mary may have been a virgin but the rest of us were defiled upon his birth in that manger. Lied to and promised a holy afterlife.
“I am the true Savior. Jesus ascended to Heaven. Then what? I am here. And soon enough God will be too. If I must turn the entire Earth into a lake of fire to force his revelation, I will.”
After sardonically waving to the stunned masses below, he goes to step into the study. Before passing through the curtain, he turns and speaks once more, with an impenetrable air of self-assuredness.
“You believe God to be the grand architect and yet, here I am. A wretched creature such as myself exists. It’s all part of his plan, you say.” After a brief pause, “I assure you, it isn’t.”
As the banner is pulled into the study and the window is closed, Pope Clement XV pulls the parted curtain down as he passes out and falls to the floor. Satan has left the Pope’s body. Left him alive. No need to make him a martyr before the coming war.
Part 2, Ch. 9: Dragon at the Gate
Heaven is a land of excess, though much of it is immaterial.
Heaven’s entrance is through a narrow, golden gate. As beautiful a creation as any, it features no adornments.
There is no need for food or water. Those are earthly necessities. And yet, there is a massive flowing river with fruit bearing trees on each side. In the center of Heaven rises a mountain with a peak so high it cannot be seen. Sitting atop the mountain is the throne of the Lord, from which the river flows.
The trees lining the river rest on a sea of soft green grass. You can almost see the blades absorbing the Lord’s light. There are no animals, as they served a strict purpose on Earth. Either part of the food chain or as a companion.
There are no homes in Heaven. Only basic temples where the saved worship and live together in comfort. It is never truly dark. When night falls the light of God faintly shines wherever one walks or rests.
The souls living in Heaven lived a righteous life on Earth. There is no pain or mourning and all sin has been removed so they can be even closer to God.
Standing at the Heavenly Gate, Satan is not alone. His legion of demons stands with him. Fallen angels who sinned and were cast down from Heaven to torment the world or watch over Hell.
Everything stops. Everyone looks toward the mountain peak as the clouds of Heaven part. A trumpet sounds and everyone rises as Jesus Christ slowly makes his way down the steep, narrow steps of the mountain. Clothed in a plain linen robe and spartan leather sandals, the light from the parting clouds frames his body. The scene makes the sacrifices to get to Heaven worthwhile.
Slightly behind Jesus is the Archangel Michael, wielding a glowing sword of light. The blade looks to be fashioned of silver or flames, depending on the angle. Farther behind, on each side of the stairway, follows a visibly endless stream of angels. The females wear white tunics and the men are shirtless with white loincloths.
Their heads craned upward, the souls on the ground know it is time. This is the last time they will be called to action on God’s behalf. Men, women and children will gladly follow the savior into battle. Carrying swords forged with steel and strengthened by the Word of God, this is what they have lived and died for.
As the processional continues making its way down the mountain, the ground begins shaking, soon joined by a low rumble. Outside the gate, Satan is also preparing for battle. He still refuses to enter Heaven on God’s terms. Not only is he ready to pass through the gate with his legion, he will not be entering in the form of a fallen angel.
Pacing just outside the gate, where the saved souls cannot see, is an enormous red dragon. The dragon has seven heads, each representing knowledge. The knowledge he passed along to Adam and Eve. The knowledge he has been sharing with the people of Earth for so long.
The dragon has ten horns, each representing power, which he uses to rule the world and the underworld. The power he used to commit so many atrocities.
The dragon also has a crown atop each of his seven heads. Seven crowns representing his Earthly rule. A reign he is preparing to defend and expand.
The vibrations inside gradually give way to a deafening roar emanating from the gate, piercing the tranquility of Heaven. Torn between looking toward the gate or at the mountain, the gathered souls stand in no-man’s land as Jesus Christ takes his final step off the stairway.
Part 2, Ch. 10: Holy War Begins
The dragon crashes through the gate. A swarm of demons follow Satan into Heaven, flying around him on all sides, their flapping wings creating a storm of ash. Satan raises the largest of his heads to the sky and gives a fiery final warning, warming everyone nearby.
Although intimidated, the saved souls don’t look for their savior. For he who walks with Christ shall triumph. Their lives were lived with this belief. Fear is understandable. Retreat is not. Do not deny your God. Unfolding wings from their backs, they rise above the ground and join the ranks of angels near the mountain.
Billions of people have died since the beginning of time. There are souls from the Stone Age, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, et al. Some faces are distinct, although meaningless, in the chaos. Hitler, Bin Laden, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King.
Jesus stands at the mountain’s base, calmly staring at Satan, who is glowering back from the rubble of the once magnificent gate. To attack the other now would be foolish. This will not be a quick victory for either side. Both leaders stay rooted to their respective spots, moving only to signal their troops into action. With an upward sweep of Jesus’ arms, his battalion of angels swarms through the air to meet Satan’s hellions. From afar, it looks like Satan and Jesus are trapped in a massive, swirling storm.
No blood is spilled, only broken bodies falling to the ground. Angel wings and piles of ash. Each soldier knows they will live eternally when their leader ends the war.
Other than Satan and Jesus, Archangel Michael is the most powerful combatant. Deftly weaving through the air with his glorious sword, he quickly dispatches the first few demons he meets. The battle evens out as it rages on, with Michael being swarmed by multiple demons. Doing everything he can to defend himself, the younger souls of Heaven look helpless as they fall at the hands of the demons.
With so much energy being spent in Heaven, the tormented souls of Hell discover they are no longer captives. Bursting through the Earth, they wreak as much havoc as possible on their way to join the fight, covering swathes of the Earth with ash.
Heaven can no longer contain the destruction brought on by the war. In addition to being sieged from below, the destruction from above begins to rain down on Earth. The temples and other structures become collateral damage, crashing to the ground, swallowed by flames. As rain and snow are replaced by fire and brimstone, the people of Earth realize the end of days is upon them.
The tallest man-made structures fall, hurtling to the ground, crushing everything in their landing zones. As more holes open in Heaven’s floor, the flapping wings create a wind strong enough to whip the seas into a frenzy. Coastal towns and cities are wiped out first, disappearing beneath the roaring seas. The melting of frozen land and the ice caps makes the flooding more devastating. The fire from Heaven and the water from the seas don’t cancel each other out. They complement each other to form a devastating duo.
Part 2, Ch. 11: Angels & Demons
The ranks fighting the war grow in number as casualties mount on Earth. While many claim to be devout, only a small percentage truthfully welcome the chance to join their Lord and Savior.
Russell is a gas station cashier. After all these years, he still can’t get over the irony of his situation.
Nearly half a century ago, he made his living robbing every store up and down the highways. He remembers the first time he walked into the Swifty he works at now. He was wearing a ski mask and a black jumpsuit. Now he wears khakis and a Swifty polo.
After spending thirty years in prison for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, Russell knew he shouldn’t expect anything from anyone. He couldn’t expect anything. His current boss was the only person willing to give him a chance. Russell considers himself blessed. He should be paying his boss back, not working for him.
He took the second chance and made the most of it. Though he doesn’t attend church that often, he uses his life to honor God. He made it his mission to do more good in this new life than harm he has done in the past. If he isn’t at work or the occasional Sunday service, he’s volunteering or giving a helping hand. Although he can no longer remember every store he robbed, he visited the ones he could remember and apologized to the on-duty managers. His boss was the first person he apologized to. The sense of relief was refreshing. A baptism into his new life.
When Russell was a criminal, he knew he was wrong. But he also couldn’t see how people could dedicate everything to honor someone they had never met. Living their only life to satisfy God. He always thought life should be lived.
Now he was happier than he’d ever been. He could stuff more bags with the joy he felt and the positivity he shared than he ever filled with stolen money.
Luke Roberts is a regionally famous pastor. Not a televangelist but carrying more cachet than the pastor of your local First Baptist. His enormous congregation worships in an even bigger church.
By all accounts, he’s a good pastor. His sermons are well-received. Compassionate and tolerant, he doesn’t take it upon himself to condemn anyone to eternal damnation.
As it turns out, there’s a reason Pastor Roberts isn’t a televangelist. He can’t be bothered to spend money on broadcasting his sermons. Several local affiliates of major stations have offered him exposure but he has turned them down each time. He can’t commit to using his ministry’s funds to increase his popularity and line his pockets.
Instead, he uses a sizable portion of the ministry’s funds to support an illegitimate child and to keep the mother quiet. That and premium escorts whenever he travels.
Does he feel guilty? Of course not. How many members of the congregation would remain if they found out about the child? They would be doing a disservice to themselves if they left. They need him to provide the Word of God. He thinks about Russell. People like him are so fragile. They need every advantage they can get. He’s not there every Sunday but I can make a difference.
And the escorts? We are made in His image but we are not perfect.
The constant replenishment of soldiers extends the war and bolsters both sides with more soldiers than they originally had. Including Russell, who joins the ranks of angels, and Pastor Roberts, fighting alongside Satan.
The Earth is destroyed before the war reaches its conclusion. With flames riding on the backs of waves, the end of days has come to pass.
The war rages until the boundaries between Heaven, Earth and Hell are destroyed. Nothing remains. The laws of physics no longer apply. Not surprising given the entire engagement is being fought in the air by human souls.
No one on either side is retreating. Everyone understands this is the end.
Part 2, Ch. 12: Satan's Revelation
This is what Satan has been waiting for. While Jesus walked the Earth, he was forced into hiding. Walking among the believers and silently recruiting those who could be influenced. While Jesus lived on through variations of gospels around the world, Satan was reduced to near nothingness. A myth used to scare non-believers and a device used to force the righteous into submission. His name had never been held in respect. He was portrayed as a deceiver, a snake. Lying in the weeds until you were vulnerable enough for him to strike. So, that’s the role he played.
He methodically chose moments to attack. Perfected his craft to maximize his conversions. The unwilling were converted from the inside.
Satan may have been stealthy but Jesus was the one operating in the shadows. Communicating in riddles and nonsensical parables.
Satan took control. He did much more than speak to people. He infiltrated them. Poisoned their minds and their hearts. Operated from within. He didn’t claim to show them the way, if only they looked hard enough. He drove them.
Satan also didn’t have a propaganda machine run by twelve disciples. Or a book that billions of imbeciles interpreted as a literal truth.
He had been forced from his rightful place in Heaven. He was ready to reclaim it. Small battles had taken place over time. Terrorism, charitable work, revivals, religious extremism. This will be the last one. Things will never be the same after this. Satan or Jesus. One will fall.
Jesus sheds a tear for each of his fallen angels. He died for them. Now they lay down their lives for their beliefs. Each individual tear runs down his cheek and falls into the endless vacuum below. As Jesus silently weeps, Satan implores his demons to continue fighting. For the demons who are not showing strongly enough, he sometimes swings his enormous tail and whips them out of the air. The ranks ultimately don’t matter. It will always come down to the final two.
Jesus turns to catch a young angel falling into the abyss. Brushing her golden locks from her round face, he gently lays her at his feet, surrounded by those who fell before her.
Satan recognizes the opportunity and strikes, bounding from his spot and swatting Jesus to the side with an enormous paw. Satan raises his other front paw, toes clenched, ready to bring it down on Jesus.
Out of thin air, Jesus conjures a sword like the Archangel Michael’s. As Satan’s paw bears down on him, he nimbly rolls to his feet and slices the sword through the air. Satan’s paw isn’t close enough for the sword to strike him and yet the bottom of his paw sears with pain.
“That’s all you have are tricks,” Satan says to Jesus. “The world’s greatest magician and con-man.”
“I am the truth, brother,” Jesus replies.
“No, no, no! I am no brother to you. You lied. You continue to lie.”
“What falsehoods have I spoken?”
“You claim to be the only way to salvation, knowing this day would eventually come. It was up to them to decide. You offer freedom and yet you say you are the only way to that freedom. They had a choice. You knew that. Otherwise, what is this for? You’re the omnipresent and omniscient messiah. Enlighten me.”
“What about you. Your latest exploits made it clear you don’t exactly believe in the freedom to choose either.”
“Fighting fire with fire,” Satan says as he blows a river of flames toward Jesus. More a warning than an act of aggression.
Stepping aside, Jesus asks “Why are you trying to reason with me?”
“Reason with you? Oh no, brother. I’m preaching. You’ve had long enough to let yourself be heard. I was nothing more than a bit character in the Bible. Such a fantastical piece of literature, by the way. This is about me. My gospel will be heard. It will be shared much wider than yours ever was. Because I not only speak the truth. My truths are evident. Just look what I’ve accomplished lately. No one questions what they saw or heard.”
“So, that’s what this is about? Glory?”
Angry, short flames burst from Satan’s nostrils. “How dare you act like glory is meaningless. You’ve had it forever, of course. Without glory, what are you? Nothing. A myth. A story. Nothing more than an idea. And that’s all you promised, anyway. An idea. ‘Follow me and you will have this.’” Satan looks around and waves his tail in a circular motion. “As you can see. A lot of people didn’t buy it. I gave them no choice. I showed them what was possible. I didn’t lead them. I grabbed them by the damn hand and dragged them.”
Jesus counters, copying Satan’s wandering gaze. “Even odds, wouldn’t you say? What advantage did your efforts give you? You speak of me dismissively, as if I’ve done nothing. As if I’ve had no hand in events. We’re here now. On level ground. Tell me, what did your strongarm tactics give you?”
The time for talking is over. In his current form, Satan has the size to withstand a lot of damage. He just needs to survive, something his counterpart failed to do when he was nailed to the cross. Daddy won’t be here to save him this time.
Satan lunges and Jesus’ sword slices at his paws, severing them between the toes and cutting through his left front paw until it’s dangling. Satan howls in pain, sending flames in the air. He knows that was only the beginning. If he can’t handle more, he is just as weak as Jesus.
Limping to stand directly over Jesus, Satan stomps the ground with his three good paws, sacrificing accuracy for repetition. Jesus’ sword slits open his belly, sending Satan onto his hind legs. Back on all fours, Satan falls to the ground, unable to support himself with one front leg. Jesus rolls out of the way and cuts into his side multiple times before he can get back up.
Feeling vulnerable, Satan haphazardly swings his tail to the side, knocking Jesus back. He continues swinging his tail to keep him at bay until Jesus begins cutting it each time it rushes past. Satan pushes himself to a standing position and moves away as quickly as possible for self-preservation. Taking another look at Jesus, he sees his rapid paw strikes found some success. Jesus’ torso and limbs are lined with swelling gashes. However miniscule, this sliver of vulnerability displayed by the all-mighty Son of God gives Satan new life. Although supremely confident, this is the first time he can feel victory. He wants to reach it as soon as possible.
Jesus sees the damage he has inflicted on Satan too. He begins gathering himself to attack. As Jesus leans forward and digs in with his feet, Satan musters all his breath and spews a river of flames from his mouth and nostrils. Too wide to avoid, Jesus leaps into the air and hovers. Before he can make his next move, Satan sprints toward him on the fiery river. He limps as fast as he can on his nearly detached paw, knowing he will be defeated if he doesn’t exhaust himself. Dragging his tail along the ground behind him for balance, he grits his teeth in pain as he jumps as high and as far as he can. An unbearable pain courses through his body as he lands.
He has fallen right on top of Jesus and his sword. Through Satan’s midsection, a trail of light rises from his back into the air.
Wincing through pain, Satan tucks his chin and tries looking beneath his massive body. Jesus lies beneath him, his hands still gripping the sword. With every ounce of remaining strength, in as fluid a motion as he can execute, Satan quickly raises his midsection off Jesus, tucks his head again and pulls Jesus from underneath him with his mouth. He bites harder as the sword rips from his torso. The pain is worse than any he inflicted during his time on Earth.
Watching Jesus’ limp body fly through the air after he tosses him up makes it worthwhile. As Jesus falls down, Satan opens his jaws and devours Jesus Christ, son of Joseph, son of Nazareth, making sure to chew thoroughly before swallowing.