“The devil deals in dyin’/And he travels in a hearse
He’ll treat you like a dog, now/He’d like to treat you worse…”*
Satan, the Great Deceiver, had picked the perfect disguise. As a preacher, he could easily lead whole churches astray. He could twist the truth until it was no longer what it was meant to be. Words meant to save would now damn. Words meant to damn would now sound like salvation.
This, he believed, would be so much easier than Adam and Eve. Hell. It would be so much easier than the Antebellum South’s belief in divinely ordained slavery.Or McCarthyism. Maybe even the attempted genocides of the Spanish Inquisition or those carried out in America under the auspice of Manifest Destiny and the “Indian Wars”.
As a bonus, he could misdirect a few pure souls as an undertaker. He had thought of it all. Everything, that is, except what would happen when his princes carried out his orders. He put his head in his hands. He would have to remember to be more precise next time.
If there was a next time.
“Something wrong, Reverend?” a voice snapped him out of his thoughts. And such a sweet voice too.
“Just praying for an end to this rain, child,” he lied.
He looked up to find the most beautiful woman in his usurped congregation standing before him. Oh how he could lead her into temptation! He struggled to keep an evil grin off his face. He dared not show his true nature.
Betsy had walked into the Reverend Father’s office to find him with his head in his hands. She found him irresistible. At nineteen, she was ready to have a man in her life. She didn’t care who, she just wanted to feel loved. She just wanted to feel needed.
Sara felt as if someone was watching her. The feeling would just not let her be. Suddenly, she knew what Tori felt when she had feelings she couldn’t shake. She shuddered. She continued to struggle to get books stocked on her shelves.
She had moved to New York trying to flee from the family curse, only to find that there really wasn’t anywhere she could hide. So she used it to her benefit, buying this quaint little New Age shop where she could tel fortunes for paying customers. Real fortunes. Real Futures.
She knew by touch. Images of a person’s future, like jolts of billions of volts of electricity, coursed through her upon a touch. Men. Women. Children. All seeking to know. But some futures were best left untold.
So, to spare them sadness or fear, she would refuse those who she knew there was no hope for. She knew that some, if they learned their futures, would either attempt to sped it up or prevent it.Yet, fate was fate, and it was a harsh mistress. And you couldn’t change the course of your destiny, no matter how hard you tried.
But now, the urge to look had grown too great. She could refrain no longer. She had taken the feeling of eyes upon her long enough. turning, she saw a kindly stranger, hand outstretched.
“It is time, child,” he stated, as she took his hand.
“Michael,” a voice whispered, “Michael.”
“Here I am, Lord,” He replied simply.
He had known this day would come. That was why he had left home and entered the seminary. He knew a day was coming when he would be asked to do the hardest task of his life. He knew that he would face his toughest trials.
“I am not the Lord, dear child,” the voice whispered, “but I have come in His name.”
“I will do what the Lord asks of me.”
“Grab your Bible and turn to me.”
Michael did as he was told. Behind him he found an angel waiting. He felt compelled to kneel.
“Don’t worship me, for I am a mere servant. A messenger sent to fetch you. Take my hand. Your family has need of you.”
Without a word, Michael took the angel’s hand…his Bible in hand. He would now fulfill his destiny. The future depended on him.
Another messenger rummaged through Harkiss’ well-preserved cabin. There was something here that would be of use. Where was it? Where was it?
Ah! There it was! He laid his hand upon three thick notebooks. Harkiss’ journals. These would be great weapons against the devil. He vanished, books in hand, leaving without a trace.
Thomas had not died in the war as had been supposed. No, he had shed his identity, losing his tags near one of his comrades whose tags had also been lost or destroyed. Wounded, he had wandered the desert. But his tags hadn’t been all he’d lost. He had also lost his mind and memory.
Half dead, he had been found by an orphaned Iraqi girl. She had nursed him back to health as she blossomed into womanhood. Hidden from the cruel world, they fell in love. As he healed, she helped him remember. And in helping him remember, she helped him regain his sanity.
In secrecy, they bound themselves together as man and wife. In secrecy, they remained alive. And in secrecy, they hunted down the evil that plagued the earth. But what is done in secret is seen by Heaven.
In unison, they turned. No one knew where they lived. No one but those who’d secretly joined them. Had someone betrayed them?
“Peace unto you, good servants. No one has betrayed you.”
Their eyes came to rest upon the heavenly messenger sent to them.
“State your business, Stranger,” Thomas commanded.
“It is time for you to return to the living, Thomas. And your wife must go with you. Your family needs you. Come.”
The messenger stretched out his hands. Aylea took the right, Thomas the left. A young man entered upon the scene and the messenger looked upon him.
“Guard their legacy well. Do not mourn. They will return. But lead in their absence and make them proud.” Then, the trio was gone.
The devil rose from his chair. Taking Betsy by the hand, he smiled at her.
“Child, come.” He took her in his arms.
“This is wrong, Your Eminence,” she began to object.
“But isn’t it what you desired?” He raised her lips and kissed them.
“Yes, But…”he cut her objections short.
“But nothing, my dear. I want your soul…” his murmured answer began.
A sound like a rushing wind interrupted him in mid-sentence.
“Get the hence, Satan,” Michael commanded with such force, as he and his companion appeared. Michael’s hand holding the Bible was thrust before him as an exorcist thrusts forth a crucifix in an attempt to cast out a demon. “She is not your servant!”
The devil screamed in anger and struck out at Michael.
“How dare you!” He screamed.
Banished, the devil fled. Behind him, the entranced Betsy fell into Michael’s arms.There, the devil’s spell was broken. She looked up into her savior’s eyes.
“Who?..” She inquired.
“Father Michael, child,” he answered, once he was sure the devil was completely gone. “Come to do the Lord’s bidding.”
“What just happened?”
“Nothing more than an enchanted kiss, thank God. But nothing more.
She blushed. “And you?”
He smiled, his care for all humanity evident. “just the welfare of your soul, child. Nothing more.”
Sara found herself on the ridge at the other side of the homestead. She could see all the landmarks from here.
“Been here long?” A familiar voice said behind her. God! It had been years since she heard that voice!
“Thomas?” She inquired, turning, “but you–you’re dead!”
“Not quite, sister,” he replied.
“Am I too late to join the reunion?” Michael asked, appearing a small distance away.
“Welcome home, Brother Michael,” Sara replied, “seems our past has called us home.”
“Yes,” Thomas agreed, “but the circle is not complete. Will we be strong enough without Harkiss and David?”
“Perhaps we aren’t going to be without them,” Michael put in. “Perhaps their presence will be here too.”
“That would mean that there are two spots left,” Sara responded, seeing Michael’s point, “Ma’s and Pa’s.”
“I believe,” Aylea began, the realization dawning on her, “that I am here to fill one of those places, which I am not sure.” All three siblings turned to her in surprise at her speaking. She had been silent to that point.
Thomas looked back at his siblings in awe. Why hadn’t he seen it? His wife was right. But they were one person short. Who would be the voice of the final member in the circle?
*“The Devil”, verse 2-a, By Hoyt Axton. Used by permission.