GIVE YOU THE MARK OR GIVE YOU DEATH
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 #13 of my end-times series, an imprisoned Tribulation believer who faces death for refusing the mark is anxious to get through to a brother who's serving time in the same prison for a crime previously committed. Can the angels help the believer convince his brother to turn his life over to Jesus in time? Or will the brother accept the mark and lose all hope of salvation?
Alas, this is the farthest I've gotten in writing my end-times series. It remains to be seen, at this point, whether it'll ever be finished or not.
"I can't stand it!" The man's voice choked as he bent over, running his fingers against the cool concrete pavement beneath him. "In the morning, we're going to be forced to choose between the implant and death, and my brother is not ready to meet God!"
Wiping beads of sweat off his forehead, Roger Jackson raised his head to gaze across the prison yard at the towering concrete walls surrounding it. He had been transferred from the Los Angeles jail to the state prison in San Quentin the day before—the same prison where his younger brother, Larry, had been incarcerated for the past four years. Roger had been arrested, less than a week before, for refusing to take the mark when some policemen had raided the home of a wealthy friend who had stocked up on food before the war in the Middle East had started.
He, along with the others who had regularly visited that friend so they could be fed, had been condemned to immediate imprisonment without trial. That morning, all the prisoners had been told, during lunch, that in the morning, an implant site and a statue of Antonio Puccini would be set up in the prison yard so that all could receive the chip and worship the statue. Those who did so would be allowed to go free, unless they were serving sentences for crimes committed.
And I know what awaits all who refuse, he thought. A guillotine will also be set up there. Which means I'm going to die tomorrow morning. He sighed. At least, thanks to my friend, I didn't die of starvation. If God hadn't kept his food supply going, we wouldn't have lasted this long—none of us.
The 35-year-old man leaned his medium-height frame against the concrete wall, brushing his brown hair out of his hazel eyes. He then rubbed the cleft in his chin, deep in thought. In a few minutes, he would have to return to the huge room that had been converted into a dormitory for all the prisoners brought in for refusing the implant, as there were not enough cells to hold them all. He meant to enjoy the late-afternoon November sunlight as long as he could. In less than two hours, the sun would set, and the last night of his life would set in.
Roger couldn't stop worrying about his brother, Larry, who was housed in another part of the prison. Larry Jackson had long been a bitter, hardened man with a genuine hostility toward God. He had turned to a life of crime in his late teens, and his latest criminal act had resulted in his current prison sentence. Now the state intended to make both prisoners have the chip implanted in their skin and worship Antonio Puccini's statue. The chip implant, he knew, could be used to make purchases and to sell. No money could be debited from one's bank account without it. Yet, to accept the implant would cost Roger his soul.
He knew that God would give him the grace to refuse the implant and to face death, but Larry didn't have that protection. Unless the younger man turned to God before that moment arrived, his eternal fate would be sealed the next morning.
With a sigh, Roger rested his face in his hands. "Please, God," he prayed, "hear my prayer for Larry! Help my brother, and help me." He took a deep, shuddering breath, as he pressed the toe of his shoe against the hard, unyielding pavement. If only I had my Bible with me! he thought.
Unknown to him, five angels stood in a row near the wall, watching him. "Roger Jackson," the heavy-set black angel said. "He's been a believer since shortly after the Rapture. He and his brother have lived in California their whole lives."
She paused to finger the brooch on her chest sparkling in the sunlight. As she swung her head to look from angel to angel, glittering diamond earrings swung sideways on her earlobes. "Roger has never been in trouble with the law before. He was a good boy, growing up, and an upstanding adult until now. But it took being left behind in the Rapture to get his attention. Now that he's a believer, he's anxious to see his younger brother become one, too."
The supervisor angel's eyes shone with approval, then she shook her head. "His brother's been a prisoner here for four years now. He was convicted of armed robbery, not long before the Rapture, and sent here." Sadness creased her face. "Unfortunately, the prison won't allow any contact between the true criminals and the political prisoners sent here for refusing the mark."
Andrew nodded agreement. "No, they won't. And that really frustrates Roger." Thrusting his hands into his pants pockets, he sighed. "Larry's been in trouble with the law for years. He's been in jail for one crime after another, off and on, since his teen years. His last conviction took place when he was sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin for armed robbery. He's been a prisoner here ever since." He bit his lower lip, sadness creasing his face.
Gloria scanned the prisoners milling around in the yard, chatting. All were political prisoners, she had noticed; not one genuine criminal had been allowed into the yard. It pleased her to see that not one bore the implant in his right hand or forehead.
"I remember this prison." She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "God sent us here to minister to another prisoner, a few years ago."
"And to the warden," Tess agreed. "To Tony and Miguel Sintana, and to their sister, Juanita."
Gloria inclined her head, remembering. Miguel had been a prisoner executed for being a Christian, and his brother, Antonio, had been the prison warden. Their sister, Juanita, had lived in Los Angeles. Andrew had taken Miguel Home when he had died by lethal injection.
Gloria turned to face Tess. "Is Tony Sintana still the warden of this prison?"
Andrew answered for Tess. "No, Gloria. I took him Home a short while ago." He folded his arms across his chest. "The government wanted to make the prison wardens take the implant first—all over the state—but Tony refused."
He paused. "He was executed via the guillotine just two weeks ago. He faced death with grace and courage." He bit his lower lip. "I also took Home his sister, Juanita, a month ago. She was killed by a burglar."
Monica nodded. "I'm so glad Tony's with Miguel and Juanita now. They're in the Father's arms, all of them."
Tess faced the other angels. "That's right, and we can take solace in that. The state has just assigned a new warden to run this prison. Unfortunately, he has already accepted the implant, so we can't help him. But we can help the prisoners who are still undecided."
Monica inclined her head. "Yes, and we only have hours to do our jobs." She glanced at the fluffy wisps of clouds drifting overhead as she spoke. "Because the prisoners will be threatened into taking the implant tomorrow morning, and it's late afternoon now."
"Yes." Pursing her lips at the thought, Tess turned to the Hispanic angel, Rafael, who stood shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Your job will be to help Larry make the right decision. Ours will be to encourage Roger." She nodded toward Monica as she spoke, then turned to Andrew. "You will act as a liaison, Angel Boy."
The angel of death nodded agreement. "Yes. But, uh…" He furrowed his eyebrows.
"Don't you give me any back talk, Mr. Halo!" Tess wagged her finger. "God has sent you to be on standby for this assignment, because you'll be taking Roger Home tomorrow morning. Larry, too, possibly." She gazed into his gentle green eyes, her own softening. "You've been taking Home one person after another, without stopping, for the past several months. You've had practically no respite in all that time, and now it's wearing you down. The Father wants you to take a momentary breather before you take Home your next assignment, so you can be refreshed in your spirit."
Andrew grimaced. "I could certainly use the refreshment, Tess. Ever since the fifth seal was opened a few months ago, every angel of death has been pressed into full-time service, just escorting the souls of martyred believers." He exhaled slowly, sagging his shoulders. "It's wearing us all down. We all need a breather."
Tess patted the angel of death's shoulder. "Well, helping Roger and Larry beforehand will give you that breather." Chuckling, Andrew raised his hands in surrender.
Tess turned to Rafael. Her eyes twinkled as she looked sideways at Andrew. "Angel Boy, have you fitted Rafael for his prisoner's uniform?"
The others laughed. Rafael chuckled ruefully, as he glanced down to find a blue prison uniform adorning his body; his shadow stretched sideways from his body on the pavement. Andrew's tan shirt and blue jeans miraculously changed into a guard's uniform. A revolver dangled at his side.
"Well, Rafael…" The angel of death laughed, exchanging a glance with Tess. "I guess I'll be assigning you to room with Larry."
Rafael shrugged. "Wherever the Father sends me, I will go." He looked Andrew in the eyes. "He has already sent me to this prison repeatedly."
Andrew laughed again. "I know." He patted Rafael's shoulder. "You've done a great job warning prisoners in recent weeks to not take the implant. Many of them have accepted Jesus as a result, and they're ready to die when the time comes. I'd far rather take them all Home tomorrow morning, than watch them go to Hell a short time from now in the judgments that are coming."
Rafael grimaced. "So would I."
Silently, he followed Andrew toward the nearest entrance. With arms folded across their chest, the remaining angels watched them stride through the doorway. A moment later, a whistle echoed throughout the prison yard. The prisoners lined up to re-enter the building, guards standing at intervals to make sure they stayed orderly.
"Rafael's streetwise way may be the key to Larry's heart," Monica commented. "Surely, if anyone can get through to Larry, it's Rafael."
Tess and Gloria did not answer. The heavy iron door clanged shut behind the last angel and the final guard. Silence descended over the prison yard, broken only by the singing of swallows, and the soft cooing of a snow-white dove landing on the window ledge of one of the cells.
END OF PROLOGUE