IN GOD'S HANDS
What would Tess, Monica, Andrew, and Gloria do, if they found themselves during the end-times scenario prophesied in the Bible, prior to Jesus' coming? What kinds of assignments would they receive? How would they handle their assignments? This alternate-universe series is my attempt to answer that question, to surmise how the angels would handle the events of the Rapture and the Tribulation.
The first story in this ongoing series was written by Robin Day and myself. The rest, I am writing on my own.
In story #12 of my end-times series, the fourth seal has been opened, and famine, disease, and crime are killing people in the millions. A starving, vengeful man whose wife has just died of hunger is determined to get even with a wealthy neighbor who refuses to share any of his food. Can the angels stop the one from committing murder and persuade the other to start giving his food to his starving neighbors?
Lila Campbell lay on her back, moaning. Her stomach had settled into a constant dull ache, days ago, combined with a feeling of emptiness. She did not even have the strength to sit up in bed anymore. Even turning her head took effort she didn't care to put forth.
The late-summer sunlight poured through the window, illuminating the pictures on the wall opposite the room and the dust motes floating in the air. Her light-blonde hair lay tousled over the pillow. The air-conditioner emitted its soft hum and its cooling air throughout the bedroom. The soft thick bedspread now lay rumpled over her body. Lila bit her lower lip and sighed.
I'm dying, she thought. It won't be long now. She sighed. I never would have thought that my end would come like this—by starvation! She made a feeble attempt to shrug. Oh, well, at least I'll be in Heaven now. She forced a wan smile on her face. Thanks to Mark.
An unearthly glow off to one side caught her attention. After a minute of effort, she managed to turn her head. To her amazement, a man with sandy-brown hair and a light beige suit stood next to the light-blue wall, hands in pockets.
"Hello, Lila." The man approached her, the glow pouring off his body. "My name is Andrew. I'm an angel sent by God."
Lila made a feeble effort to raise her hand. Andrew took it and squeezed it gently. "What are you—here for?" Lila asked, her voice feeble.
"To take you Home." Andrew smiled. "I'm an angel of death. God wants you to know that He is proud of your new faith, and it will not go unrewarded. But your husband and brother-in-law still face some difficult times."
Lila sighed. "I know. It's going to get—so—much worse—before it—gets better." Andrew nodded agreement, his face somber.
"I—I fear for my husband." Lila swallowed. "He's going to be so—so—angry when he finds me—dead." She shook her head. "He's tried so hard to borrow food from—our neighbor—Lester Larson. We just can't—get any food anymore—so now, we're forced—to beg. But Lester refuses—to give—us any." She sighed. "My husband will—never be able—to forgive him. Please pray—that God—will help—my Richard—and Mark!"
"Don't worry, Lila." Andrew perched on the edge of her bed. The mattress sagged beneath him as he adjusted his position to face Lila. "God has His hand on them even as I speak. And He is going to send other angels to help them."
Lila smiled gratefully. "Thank you," she whispered.
Andrew drew a pocket watch out of his pants pocket. Opening the lid, he glanced down at its face as it shone in the sunlight pouring through the window. Shutting the lid, he slipped his watch back into his pocket. "It's time, Lila."
The next thing Lila knew, she was standing next to her bed beside Andrew. Her lifeless body lay face-up on the bed, her eyes closed. "Please, God, help Richard," she prayed. "This is going to be so terrible for him."
Andrew patted her shoulder. "God has heard your prayer, Lila. He will help Richard. And Mark." Lila smiled her thanks. "Now—shall we go to Heaven? God is waiting to welcome you."
As her smile spread, Lila inclined her head. Andrew led her through the door into a blazing light. An instant later, her husband, Richard, entered her bedroom, his slippers making no sound on the carpeted floor. At age 35, he looked young and handsome. His dark-brown hair had been cut just above his ears. Normally, he looked strong, slender, and muscular, but weeks of hunger had wreaked havoc on his body. His eyes looked too big in his tanned face, and his sunken cheekbones appeared hollow. His clothes hung on his stick-thin limbs.
"Hello, Lila," he said, making an effort to look and sound cheerful. As he paused to gaze down at her, his breath caught. "Lila? Sweetheart?" His voice shook. "No! Can't be!"
Extending a trembling hand, Richard pressed his thumb against her still-warm neck to check her carotid artery. He then cupped his palm over her mouth. No pulse, no breaths.
"She's dead." His voice choked. "My beloved Lila dead—of starvation!" He banged his fist on the mahogany dresser's unyielding surface. "And it needn't have happened! If our stingy neighbor, Lester, had only shared his food with us, my Lila would be alive now!"
Deep, bitter resentment surged in Richard's heart toward Lester Larson. As far as Richard was concerned, it was Lester's fault that his wife had just died. Lester, their neighbor who lived a quarter of a mile down the road, could have given them some of his food; he had stored so much over the past several months. His insistence on hoarding his food instead of sharing it had condemned his Lila to death. And it won't be long until Mark and I die, too, he realized.
"I'll kill you, Lester," he muttered, clenching his fists. "I'll kill you!" He kicked the iron bed frame. "You're a dead man!"
He stalked out the bedroom door, paying no attention to his younger brother, Mark, who flattened his body against the wall to let his brother pass by. "Oh, no," Mark whispered. "He means it—I can tell! I've got to stop him—but how?"
Raising his eyes toward the plaster ceiling, he clasped his hands in front of his chest. "Please, God," he prayed, "my brother's about to make a terrible mistake. Lila has just died, and now he wants to kill Lester for letting it happen." His voice shook. "Please, God—I don't want to see my brother become a murderer. Please—do something!"
He took a deep breath; his voice rose into a desperate plea. "I make this request in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen." Biting his lower lip, he entered the bedroom to sit with his sister-in-law's body. His own blue cotton shirt hung loosely on his emaciated frame. The mattress sagged underneath him as he sank down onto its edge.
Unknown to him, three angels stood in a row along the opposite wall. "His name is Mark Campbell," Tess said, a somber look in her eyes. A ruby necklace hung around her neck. "Richard is his brother—and Lila's husband." She looked from angel to angel. "She died of starvation. Andrew is taking her Home as I speak."
"I just did." Andrew appeared next to her. "The Father is welcoming her now." He thrust his hands into his pants pockets. "Unless God softens the heart of Lester Larson, I'll soon be escorting Richard and Mark, as well."
He paused a moment, thinking, gazing down at Lila's body. Then, folding his arms across his chest, the angel of death shook his head. "Because of the war in the Middle East, there's been a severe scarcity of food for the past few months now. And people are dying by the millions, as a result. Every angel of death has been called into action, just to keep up with all the deaths taking place." He sighed. "The fourth seal was opened just weeks ago, as we all know. Death and Hades are in full gallop, all over the world."
The other angels nodded agreement. "Yes, and we know that one-fourth of the world's population will die as a result," Tess said. "As Lila Campbell just did."
Gloria tilted her head, puzzled. Her glasses gleamed in the sunlight illuminating the bedroom. "Why won't Lester share his food with them?" She shook her head, furrowing her eyebrows. "Surely he must know that it's more blessed to give than to receive."
Tess shook her head. "Lester is not able to see that, baby. He's driven by fear for his own life, not by concern for his neighbors. He has refused all appeals for food, not only from the Campbells but from his other neighbors as well." She shook her head, pursing her lips in disapproval. "Lester is bound and determined to keep all his food for himself. He doesn't care if the neighbors starve, so long as he stays well-fed." She folded her arms across her chest.
Monica agreed. "He's determined to keep it all for himself, because he fears he will starve if he doesn't." She paused. "What he doesn't realize is that God warned him to save food not just for himself, but for others as well." She clasped her hands in front of her waist. Her pearl earrings swung as she turned her head from one angel to another. "Richard Campbell's brother, Mark, has been a believer since shortly after the Rapture. But recent events have shaken his faith considerably, and now he's wondering if God even listens."
"That's right." Andrew nodded agreement. "But Lester is the biggest problem, and now, his greed and his insecurity could cost him not just his own life, but the lives of others." He shook his head, sadness in his expressive green eyes. "And Richard is normally a warmhearted, good man, but his grief and his rage are threatening to transform him into a murderer. He needs God's touch, now, as much as Lester."
Tess inclined her head. "So does Mark, Angel Boy. As Monica said, he's becoming convinced that God has turned a deaf ear to all his prayers, and his faith is growing weak as a result. And Lila's death has just turned Richard into a bitter, angry man, with a heart bent on vengeance and murder."
She nodded toward Mark. "See the way he's rubbing his stomach? He does that when his hunger causes a stomach ache. That's been happening to him frequently in recent weeks."
Gloria nodded, wincing in evident pity. "I see that. Poor Mark." She furrowed her eyebrows in puzzlement. "Why isn't he incapacitated by his condition? Or Richard?"
"He and Richard aren't at that point yet," Andrew explained. "Some people succumb more quickly to starvation than others, depending on their physical condition when it starts. Richard and Mark just happen to be stronger than Lila was, to begin with; therefore, they've been able to last longer. But unless things change, and fast, the day will soon come when they will no longer be able to function. They'll be too weak from hunger."
The four angels turned their attention toward the younger man, sitting slouched next to Lila's body, sighs escaping his mouth. Mark rubbed his right hand on his stomach as he gazed down at his dead sister-in-law. A dove perched in the windowsill, turning its little head this way and that; behind it, trees thickly dotted the southern Tennessee countryside.
Tess looked at the dove and nodded. Cooing softly, the dove spread its wings and flew off.
END OF PROLOGUE