For hours afterwards the images kept coming back to her, so that it was hard to keep her mind on domestic arrangements.
Having thus dismissed the robed man of prayer in the cave entrance, she glanced back anxiously and saw Anna had not stirred where she was last resting. Thank God for that! How the old woman complained with every bump in the road as they raced across the desert, avoiding the patrolled roads, hiding amidst the innumerable sandstone ravines and big rocks in order to get to the defensible and almost inaccessible refuge of ancient Petra.
Once called "Sela of the sons of Esau," Petra, which meant “Rock,” was ringed by rock formations hundreds of feet high, with a miles long crevice access that could be defended by a single squadron. Approached from the east by a narrow gorge called the Sik, or Wadi as-sik, Petra was a marvel of superb natural defense. Only from the air was it in any way vulnerable, yet the enemy wouldn’t attempt to penetrate the mobile missile defenses of the camp—-it would be suicide for them. They also had all the army’s chemical and biological warfare equipment in case the world emperor tried something particularly nasty on them with his own missiles. If the antichrist fired a thousand of his best and smartest missiles, it wouldn’t achieve anything-—for they could run quickly into another ravine of the thousands available that wasn’t contaminated, and so they could hide indefinitely in the environs of Petra.
Certainly, no army could force itself in without tremendous, unsustainable losses-—so they were quite safe for the present time until the Beast’s planners could come up with a way to force the defense system and capture the Free Israeli redoubt proclaimed Earth’s "City of Refuge” by its residents on banned government radio channels just to spite the enemy.
Then, satisfied that the old woman was doing as well as could be expected after hours in a racing jeep and then a helicopter making endless circles and dives, she tried to find some rest for her own bruised body.
It comforted her to think that she still might see her family and also Esther. It had been a traumatic moment when the army separated them, splitting the convoy in order to better elude their pursuers. Would they be coming soon? Probably not until after dark, she thought. Wherever the other half of the survivors of Jerusalem were hidden, it was probably miles and miles away.
As for the Beast, the Antichrist, no doubt he was hatching some way to destroy Petra, maybe contemplating the massive use of hydrogen bomb weapons-—but he might hesitate at first using them, since he wouldn’t want to alarm his remaining Arab allies by throwing such powerful bombs at targets within their own borders. No, he would first try weaker, more conventional means, probably because it was also a well-known UN-protected "cultural preserve" and nukes would contaminate it irretrievably. When various options open to him failed, he would be forced to go after Petra with his full nuclear arsenal-—but only then. This bought them some time before the beast struck. How long they had, she had no idea.
All over the world, the remaining believers in Yeshua mourned, while the 666-marked masses partied in the streets, non-stop!
It was like a world-wide earthquake, then, their glorious, stupendous resurrection from the dead! She was just as overwhelmed as any 666-branded follower of the Antichrist as the Two Witnesses turned from being decomposing, stinking corpses to living men right before the cameras and masses of celebrants. How that dampened their festivities! The people at the scene were so upset and furious they tried to tear the two men to pieces on the spot, but they weren’t given the chance.
The prophets, having prophesied destruction for all Yeshua’s enemies, rose up into the air, then vanished out of sight, leaving the astonished newscasters and reporters speechless at the scene. It was sheer anarchy for quite a while, before troops were sent in and the crowd was dispersed.
Just after the Two Witnesses had been taken up into heaven in a tornado like whirlwind, the unthinkable had happened. An assassin had successfully struck down the Beast himself! Yet, horror of horrors, within a couple days he came back from the dead!
While watching him utter blasphemy after blasphemy, taking the titles of God for his own on the strength of his "resurrection," she had been impelled by the Spirit to go to the Fourth Temple the Antichrist had erected, as if she were one of the Jews holding loyal to him and wanted to go and worship his newly erected image.
Most Jews, however, stayed away, for the image portrayed this "Messiah" as a combination Sun-God, Baal, Christ, and Hindu holy man.
Looking like many others the Anti-Christ had erected across the globe, this was a holographic abomination he had set up in the holy temple precincts despite the protests of the orthodox Hasidim and even quite a large number of the liberal Jews.
Thanks to the meager numbers of Jewish worshipers, which was embarrassing on camera to all those who turned in CSPAN, the guards were anxious not to exclude anyone who could possibly add to the appearance that the Jews were coming out in good numbers. For this reason, the regular security checks were waived that would have screened her out as non-Jew and sent her to a detention center in the Falkland Islands.
It took that kind of miracle to get her in, she knew.
It was such a blasphemous mockery of the resurrected Antichrist that the image was soon deleted by the Temple, while technicians went to work on repairing the damage.
Hurrying back home, Heloise caught a broadcast referring briefly to what had happened at the Temple. The grotesque transmogrification of the image in tune with the Christian, Biblical image of teh Anti-Christ was explained away as a mere failure of the software—-and the world was promised a quick restoration of the holy image of “Michael-Jehovah God” in a few days.
The insurgency was valiant and completely unannounced, taking its government guards by surprise.
Beyond question, it was the most daring maneuver of the century-—and the Antichrist, who thought the will of the Israelis to resist had been completely crushed, was caught completely off-guard by this master-stroke of sheer courage and genius. By the time he had reconfigured his huge, unwieldly forces to deal with it, the tiny, highly mobile rebel Israeli army calling itself the Gideon Task Force (or GTF) had gotten away with thousands of Jerusalemites—-and in the confusion, Evangelical Christians, Arab Christians, Greek Orthodox, were mixed with all shades and types of Jews-—Moroccans, Ethiopians, native Sabras-—and hustled via trucks, jeeps, and armored buses out into the Judaean desert as they made a dash for the Jordanian wilderness.
With missile launchers of all kinds on mobile platforms, escorted by U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters they were well prepared to deal with larger but less coordinated attacking forces.
The evacuation was two-pronged, with two groups diverging in the Edomite desert for opposite destinations to confuse the enemy. Only later would they reunite in the safest place available and board helicopters for the last lap fo their journey in to Petra.
No one would admit to knowing whom it could be, since assassination by infiltrating agents was feared. It was that Seleucid Greek king who proclaimed himself god and set up his own idol in the Temple, so the general's moniker was more apt than the Israelis guessed, she reflected. As for the general, he couldn't be identified by sight either as the commanding officer, since the top command worked as a team and accorded no special recognition to their commander.
What bowl of wrath, what vial of disaster, hadn’t already been poured out by judgment angels upon the earth? Two thirds of Earth’s population had been wiped out, she figured. Two thirds of the Earth had been rendered uninhabitable. The oceans were a stinking, rotting mass of slop that couldn’t support any sea life. They had lost a third of the daylight. Hell's locusts (identified by the spin shamans as "stellar insectivora from planets holding a superior, super-intelligent civilization") appeared to make things worse, if they could be made worse. For a time they ran rampant, with no defense against them, as they tormented and tortured countless millions with not only their physical hideousness but scorpion-like stings that made life unbearable for the victims, though it did not kill them. What a stench they had too! It polluted the ground and air wherever they appeared, lingering for weeks after they had gone off elsewhere for victims.
Heloise was not much better. Fortunately, the two sturdy teen-aged Moroccan boys that came with their parents and sisters hadn’t minded the journey a bit and helped Heloise, joining her in carrying Anna on a stretcher, so that she could be taken up to one of the tomb shelters in the cliff faces. As for the soldiers, they couldn’t be bothered, as they were furiously setting up defense systems and hiding their equipment from view during the few precious hours of light that remained in the abbreviated daytime of the Tribulation.
“What will they do with the rest of the Jews of Jerusalem?” she asked the soldiers when she got her first chance after landing at Petra. She was too afraid to name Esther, for fear of what they might say in Anna's hearing.
“Those that aren’t being executed without trial are being ‘detained and certified’ as Zionist Jews by the UN-World Union forces and then will be sent to concentration camps,” she was told by the soldier who had come to take their names and some other information.
She desperately wanted more information, and Anna too, despite her looking like she was near death, wouldn’t let the soldier leave without telling them what had happened to her daughter Esther and the children. They had been taken out of Hillel but had been parted from Anna and Heloise in separate vehicles.
“Can you tell me please anything about Esther my daughter and my grandchildren?” she interrupted him. “Please! We were separated back there. Check and see! Are they all right? When will they be coming?”
After the soldier had gone, Heloise and the Moroccans tried to set up housekeeping in the tomb without any means to clean it. Some soldiers returned with a few pieces of army camping gear-—cots, army blankets, some army-style utensils for cooking, all which helped, but there was no broom, no vacuum cleaner, and nothing electric. Could they stand to live in the filth of this ancient tomb? Wasn’t an animal better off than they, being accustomed to the dirt?
“It’s all your fault we’ve come to this-—this [Yiddish expletive] place!” Anna shrieked at Heloise, seeing the tomb for the first time for what it was-—fit only for a wild animal or the crumbling bones of some ancient Nabatean Arab trader of ancient Roman times.
“Yes, you Americans are all to blame for this! Now I have only the filthy, stinking rags on my poor, old back, since you wouldn’t let me take anything nice with me from my home! How can you make me live like this! I send you all to hell for this atrocity!”
Having gotten this much off her heaving chest, Anna tried to get up as if she meant to leave for Jerusalem. But she couldn’t manage to stand on her feet, and it took quick action to catch her heavy body before she crashed on the boulders and half-sculptured masonry blocks littering the tomb floor.
The cursing Heloise got for all her concern and trouble she took for Anna (nearly breaking her own back carrying the stretcher!) made her almost want to run as far as she could from this horrible old battle-ax.
“It’s your fault, you ugly, stinking golem from the Gentile sewers!” Anna kept moaning and yelling. “It’s you rich bugger Americans who have done this to us poor Jews and victims of the Nazis, as as for you bung-sucking Christians...!”
Once she reached the ground below, she looked back up, and wondered how she had made it without falling. The rocky slope looked so steep and full of crevices! She couldn’t even make out the path in the dying light.
She hadn’t even got the breath she had come for when, suddenly, the ground began to shudder. Was it an earthquake? She crouched down, as dust and whirling red sand and flying rocks made it impossible to see what was going on.
She didn’t think, she just had to scream the names of her daughters and husband. No one turned toward her. Her heart sank. She ran from her spot and tried to intercept the soldiers and their refugees.
She caught up to one group, and the sergeant turned to her with a surly look. He held his rifle on her as she asked for her family. He shook his head, and using his rifle made her stand back as he led the group away.
Desperate, she tried again. She ran, fell in a hole in a grave dug by some ancient, long-gone grave-robber, got up, her clothes torn and a cut on her cheek, but kept running. She thought of Esther and the children too, and screamed her name at the top of her lungs as she leaped and ran, throwing up her arms to get somebody’s attention.
Heloise nearly fainted as she knew what that meant. “Esther!” she screamed.
The two women, when they met, rushed into each other’s arms. Heloise couldn’t believe her own feelings. She was sobbing on the shoulder of the younger woman who seemed to be bearing up much stronger than her in the situation. But Esther too was crying-—as the tears spurting down her dusty cheeks testified.
“Where is my mother?” she was whispering in a hoarse voice, before pausing to cough.
“ No, wait, where are my girls?” Heloise shrieked in return. “I won’t let you go until you tell me!”
When they could hear each other and had calmed down somewhat, Heloise pointed toward the tomb she had just left. Giving a parting word to a friend, Esther took off running toward the cliff, climbing up without any help of the path that she couldn’t see in the dark.
“But where are my girls? And Aloes? Didn’t they make it here?” Heloise cried, despair almost overwhelming her first joy in finding Esther alive and well.
“Harry, I--” she moaned like someone about to die.
He put his fingers over her lips and as her heart felt like it might stop she almost fell in his grasp before she could steady her nerves and accept what had happened.
The words and touches that then passed between them were like blind people searching the identity of each other.
Myrrha seemed to read her mind. "He's not with us, mother. Don't worry. He'll be coming. I saw him board another helicopter right next to ours."
Almost sick with relief, Heloise felt weak in the knees, but she somehow stayed on her feet. After all, so much, so much was going on. Who could take it all in?
“I found we have secret friends in the old CIA that we thought was hopelessly corrupt,” Harry Turnbull explained to her as soldiers escorted them to the tomb she shared with Anna. “You wouldn’t believe it—there’s a whole underground conspiracy in the states going against the world government, and they look on you as a heroine, a sort of latter-day Joan of Arc, by choosing to share the fate of Israel, just when it was going to be made to pay the ultimate price--extinction--for ‘world peace’.”
“Where are Esther’s children?” Heloise thought to ask.
“All the little kids and the babies are being held back in a special refuge, that’s even safer than this place,” Cassia explained. “If we are killed, at least they will have a chance to survive—-that’s what the soldiers told us. They let us come here because, even if we’re non-Israelis, we’re of age to use weapons if they need us in an attack.”
She asked Harry, who told her, “No, you haven’t heard the news apparently. We’re very small potatoes at the moment. There’s been an earthquake, so violent it broke up all the roads between Petra and the north. Worse, millions of Russians are moving down upon Israel with a coalition of northern mullah-dominated states. At the same time China is moving the world’s biggest army to the Middle East to take the world’s greatest oil reserves for its gigantic economy and war machine. And all the Western nations’ coalition fighting forces that Jayson can muster for the world government are converging on Israel, what is left of Israel, that is. Jayson has got to take full control before he can turn the Russians and their allies, not to mention the Chinese, back in their tracks. Once Jayson has liquidated the remaining Jews, he can feel confident he has the country securely in his bloody, manicured, diamond-smothered hands. But even his death camps must wait—-as the Russians and her northern Arab allies, which are God and Magog, we know, and the Chinese who are out to fight both Jayson and the Russians for control of Middle East oil-—will soon reach the area. Once they converge, they will start going at each other with every nuclear and biological-chemical weapon they can muster from their immense arsenals."
He didn’t answer right away. All they could hear was the yipping of a desert jackal, and the moans of Anna as Esther comforted her over in their corner of the tomb.
“What about the Book of Revelation’s 144,000 newly converted Jews—-can you tell me anything about their world-wide evangelism campaign? We here in Israel can’t get the news of what is really going on with them.”
Heloise turned away. She couldn’t trust herself not to lose all control. But a strong hand reached out and gripped her, pulling her toward the owner
“I really ruined it, I messed up royally with you all,” she blurted out. “You all know what a crook I am—exploiting all my devoted, self-sacrificing ‘faith partners’ just to build up my own selfish empire and glorify myself! I was acting like some kind of vampire, feeding on the sacrificial life blood of all my trusting supporters. How can you want me back! I’ve done nothing to earn it! Nothing! I am really glad you’re all safe and alive, but I can’t go asking to return to—to--”
“I’m so proud of you for—“
He made an ugly face and shrank back away. The next moment he flung away, and was gone from sight.
“What did I say?” she said.
“He’s ashamed, that’s all,” said a voice behind her, and Heloise spun around in surprise.
She saw Cassia. “What do you mean ashamed?”
Heloise searched Cassia’s eyes, then relented, and turned back into the cave as Cassia spoke to her.
“Go back to dad! How can you think you have to do anything! He’s forgiven you unconditionally! We’ve all forgiven you--totally! Can’t you accept? that?“
Heloise pulled back from Cassia, she nearly choked at the thought. What was this-—a television melodrama? In real life, it couldn’t happen this way, could it? How could they forgive her everything? She had preached it for others, but for herself and her crimes--this was dfferent. It did not seem humanly possible. Why, Anna would agree with her there! She never forgot or forgave one blessed thing the Nazis had done to her when she was a girl! And she was determined to go on that way to her grave, God or no God!
Heloise stood there dumbly for a time. Finally, she did go back to the group, but started to tidy up in a ridiculous way, trying to arrange the army cots with blankets, but making a mess she could see even in the dark. Cassia finally intervened. “Stop it, Mom! You’re supposed to know everything, yet you’re acting like a fool! Take it or leave it, we love you! Yes, you! We’re not the same people, you see. Why can’t you just accept that?” Heloise shook her head. What had happened to her daughters, who had hated her with a passion. How could they want her now? What had the jail time and torture done to them back in the states—-an experience they wouldn’t have had except for her! Surely, they couldn’t honestly claim to let bygones be bygones and accept her back into the family.
At last something broke in Heloise. The sea-change in her daughters was undeniable. They had become grown women, and she was still acting like a child! How could she resist what they were offering? She wanted to punish herself--but they were making it too hard--way too hard--so she gave up. She sank down and put her arms around Myrrha. They sat for a time, neither saying anything.
“Harry, I—“ she began lamely, as an old impulse reared its head despite the indescribable happiness she was feeling in his arms. Somehow, somehow she still felt she had to try to pay for it.
“Shut up, stupid,” he said. “Remember sheer grace-—you preached it often enough. Now it’s time to take it-—a completely free gift nobody, but nobody can deserve--if you’ve never really taken it before!”
That made her burst out laughing-—the first laugh in 1,250 days, ever since the Two Witnesses began hurling long-deserved woes and destructions at the God-defying, rebellious world! p> Then something spoke to her, stopping her.
“What is it?” Harry whispered.
She shivered. “I don’t know. I just remembered something about myself-—and us-—having to do with the holy anointing oil.”
“What did the Lord tell you about it?”
“Oh, it was that we are the various ingredients of this oil somehow—and I got the impression that God is going to use us to anoint the Jews and maybe Christians too—-how and when I have no idea—with some kind of ministry for which He’s prepared us, but which I can do nothing to create. Could it have something to do with the coming age, the Millennium, the Reign of Christ? Meaning, something the Lord is planning for the next thousand years of His reign on earth?”
Harry seemed to relax when she finished with admitting her inability. “That is what I thought I heard the Lord saying. The kids also have heard it, so we’re not just imagining things.”
Heloise was startled, though she reminded herself that she shouldn’t be surprised, knowing that God shows no partiality, even with family members. Why should she presume to be the one who had God’s ear? God spoke to anyone who sincerely sought Him. One needn’t be even a washed, baptized, churched Christian to hear from the Lord, she knew.
It was so close, in fact, they could stand outside the tomb and probably hear the first maneuvers of the world’s greatest armies as they began to face off to decide who would rule over Israel and the oil of the Middle East-—how utterly insane it all was!
“Aloes?” she called.
Whoever it was hurried back out the entrance, nearly falling over the crossed altar.
The moonlight was dazzling like technicolor—-to the point of bleaching her vision. It was a poor night to be walking, much less running.
Hurrying, she made her way down the cliff.
She nearly reached the ground below the cliff when her ankle turned and she fell the rest of the way. She groaned weakly where she lay for the pain was like a knife stabbing her.
Getting up, she started limping, and made it the rest of the way to the helicoper.
Refugees got out along with the soldiers and pilot.
Someone came running in the dark to meet her where she stood, incapacitated with pain.
She sank down. A moment later, Aloes came up to her. “All you all right, lady?” he said, then he must have seen her face, for he fell down on his knees and his arms went around her. They hugged for quite some time.
“Yes, I'm all right,” she gasped, despite the shooting flames in her left ankle. She rose up, with Aloes helping her to a big rock to sit on while she grasped her ankle and began to massage it. The pain began to decrease to manageable portions. “It’s just a strain. Maybe I can walk on it if I just rest a little while. If not, can you help me back to the shelter?”
Aloes seemed to want to pull away now that he saw she hadn’t broken any bones.
“Hey, we’ve got to talk!” she said to him.
He turned away, and she could see the shaking of his shoulders, as if he were at war with himself. His voice, when he spoke, sounded like a tormented animal’s breaking in bursts from its throat.
“I signed--my soul away—to-- the devil himself!”
Her heart nearly stopped. She thought only one thing-—666! He had taken the beast's Mark?
“You did what?” she gasped, feeling like she might faint.
“I signed the confession!”
Heloise was bewildered for a moment. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to explain. I’m an old woman now, and you have to take more time to explain things. Please!”
Finally, he let all his breath out, and began speaking in a torrent of words full of self-loathing. “I couldn’t stand the beatings and the other things they did—-the lights and questions and all the rest-—and I signed the document. They wanted me to accuse you of all kinds of crimes I supposedly saw you commit! I was a coward, afraid of what more they would do to me with the bloody torture equipment they showed me, and I gave in! You wouldn’t believe it-—there were pieces of skin and hair all over the equipment-—even somebody’s eyeball! I just lost it completely when I saw that eye staring at me! I would have done anything they asked after that. I was jelly in their filthy hands! Oh, God—-“
She decided it was best to say nothing. Actions spoke louder when words could not. She hobbled over to him, and put her arm around his shoulders. For a moment he let her.
“I can’t forgive myself!” he blurted out after shaking himself free.
Now it was time to say something, she knew. She heard anger in her voice, which startled her, since she didn’t feel any. “But what about me? I can’t forgive myself either! That makes two of us! Now can’t we at least forgive each other. Okay, let me start the process. I forgive you, if you will forgive me? Agreed?”
Aloes’ eyes widened in the brilliant moonlight as he seemed to bend to the hard tone of her voice. “All right,” he said slowly. “If you really mean that—“
He searched her eyes like a child hurt too many times not to suspect another great betrayal, yet coming close despite his fears. The extreme danger she had sensed now seemed to drain from his presence. He was coming back to earth, putting his feet once again on the ground. “Yes, I forgive you. What you did was far less than what I did, but--”
She took a deep breath for strength, then smiled at him and her smile seemed to light up something in his eyes for the first time—something like the old Aloes. Reassured, she reached out her hand to him.
“Can you help me back up to the shelter now? It’s too cold out here to sit on bare ground like this.
Together, they slowly made their ascent to the tomb with the crossed altar at the entrance. But it wasn’t a tomb to them anymore, they sensed the moment they entered it. Truly, it was a place of utterly new beginnings—of being given back, not only to family, but to life itself. It was almost a second “Genesis.” It was more nearly amazing Grace.
He began speaking, dispelling her ignorance in a moment.
"Daughter, the Lord is speaking to you. He says to you, "I will take away now the wall you built inside your heart. to shield you from the world and its pain. What they did against you, the pain they gave you, but not the scars, I will take away now. I am the Balm of Gilead and will heal you. You do not need the wall any longer..."
Heloise could scarcely keep from going ballistic and screaming out. What was he saying to her? A wall inside her heart? Well, yes, maybe so! she thought. She too had a sort of wall built, to shield her feelings, and it was a wall of wailing and tears, just like the one in Jerusalem. But how could it be taken away? It had grown to be a part of her! How could she be separated from it now? It had existed and festered inside her for years and years!"
Her visitor resumed his message.
"My daughter, the Lord says to you, this is you, as I see you. You are among those who are my Bride, glorious in my love. You will no longer weep and wail, and hide your tears and troubles, but now you will begin to reign with Me on the throne. I give this to you, to reign with me everlastingly, as My beloved."
The vision was now in full view. Heloise stared, unable to take it in.
A moment passed, then suddenly it vanished away, leaving her blinking in the darkness, her hands floundering to catch the visitor, who also vanished.
"Come back, you!" she cried aloud. "I want to know--"
But she realized how foolish it was, she clapped a hand over her mouth. For some moments she lay, face down on the cold and gritty tomb floor, trying to gather her thoughts. She was that indescribable, beautiful woman, or somehow a part of that reigning queen called the Bride? How could someone so ugly as herself become so lovely? It was impossible? Yet the angel had clearly identified her with the starry queen in the vision.
Could it be, she wondered, could it really be her?