A few minutes later, the now-familiar buzz down the hall startled both men. The cell door slid open; the same burly guard who had marched Roger to the hole the evening before framed the doorway.
"All right, prisoners, it's time!" He glanced at his watch. "And you have a choice—you will accept the implant and worship His Excellency's statue, or you will die!" He grinned. "It's your choice." He glared at Roger. "If it'd been up to me, you'd have stayed in the hole until this moment."
Neither Jackson answered. Silently, the two followed the guard down the hall. They took the elevator to the first floor and marched out the side entrance into the prison yard. The early-morning sunlight blinded them as the guard shoved them toward the concrete wall, then left.
"I guess they'll call us when it's our turn," Larry muttered, shading his eyes. Roger nodded agreement. Larry smiled wryly.
It sure is sunny, he thought. A perfect day for our executions! The sun's still low in the sky, but it'll be up soon enough. He grimaced. Oh, well, we'll be dead before it gets hot out here. The air feels cool, for now. And by the time the temperature's risen to any great extent, we'll be in Heaven, I reckon. A cool breeze ruffled his hair and caressed his face.
A few minutes later, Larry's eyes finished adjusting. Leaning against the hard, unyielding concrete wall, he gazed at the implant vendor stand, set up in the middle of the prison yard, then at the guillotine towering next to it. A white, gleaming marble statue of Antonio Puccini stood to the right of the vendor stand.
He shook his head. "I came so close to falling for their lies!" he whispered.
Roger smiled wryly, then brushed his hair back. "And too many are following through, as you can see." He pointed at the line of male prisoners slowly passing the vendor stand. Each one either held out his right hand or wiped his hair away from his forehead. Then he or she stood stock-still as the man injected him with the chip via a hypodermic needle. He then added a small tattoo consisting of the prisoner's number. The prefix, Larry knew, would be 666 and a hyphen. The prisoner would then approach the statue and kneel before it for a moment, head bowed, before being led away. Larry shook his head at the sight.
They must plan to chip the female prisoners later, he thought, after they've finished with the men. Too many prisoners, evidently, to bring everyone out here at once.
"Remember when we took American history in school?" Roger broke into his brother's thoughts. Larry nodded, not taking his gaze away from the prisoners condemning themselves to eternal death.
"I was just thinking about Patrick Henry," Roger mulled. "About the speech he made. I memorized that speech as a boy." He chuckled. "Those were stirring words he ended his speech with: 'Give me liberty or give me death!'"
Larry laughed. "Yeah, they were. But why are you thinking about him now?" He looked his brother in the eye as he spoke.
"Because, in a very real sense, Puccini's henchmen have perverted his words." Roger shook his head. "In effect, they're telling us, 'We're giving you a choice. We'll give you the mark or give you death.'"
Larry bit his lower lip. He could see his brother's point. He folded his right leg backward, resting his heel against the wall behind him. The concrete surface pressed his thin cotton shirt against his back. Subdued voices from throughout the prison yard reached his ears. It won't be long now, he thought.
As the two watched the other prisoners milling around, waiting their turns to stand in line, Larry smiled. A peace had descended on his soul after he'd accepted Jesus into his heart, and it had held him steady since. He had never known such peace in his life. It felt so good, to be facing imminent death and to not be afraid of it.
I wish I'd known this peace before, he thought. I wasted so many years, rebelling against God and against society.
He sighed. Roger patted his arm, eyes sympathetic. In the next instant, as Larry gaped at him, Roger stiffened, dropping his arm to his side, eyes wide. "Hey, look!" Roger pointed across the prison yard. "That looks like the man who was rooming with you when Andrew brought me to your cell."
Larry peered at the man kneeling in front of another prisoner. Sure enough, it was Rafael. His shadow stretched out behind him, twice as long as the kneeling figure himself.
"Yeah. He must be trying to encourage that prisoner," he said. Larry sighed. "He was far nicer to me than I was to him. I hated him because he's Hispanic."
He shook his head at his own prejudice, then slid down the wall into a crouching position. Roger did the same, then crossed his legs Indian-style.
"God is here with you, gentlemen." Tess appeared in front of them, followed by Monica. "He loves you, and He will not let you suffer when your moment comes. We will stay right here with you until they call you forward." She moved to the side. Smiling encouragingly down at the Jackson brothers, Monica followed her supervisor.
Roger and Larry exchanged grateful smiles. "Thanks, Tess," Roger said. He raised his hand. "Monica."
For the next half-hour, the two prisoners sat watching the other prisoners and chatting with the two angels. The guards would force a group of prisoners to line up at the vendor stand to accept the implant; those who refused were ordered toward the guillotine instead. The sky turned blue; fluffy clouds drifted overhead. Slowly, the temperature rose; beads of sweat began to form on both men's foreheads. Roger reached up to wipe his face, several times.
Larry averted his eyes every time the heavy blade came crashing down on a prisoner's head. It would not be long, he knew, until his own head would be sliced off by that same blade. It won't be long for Roger, either, he thought.
A startled Larry raised his head to find Rafael standing over him. This time, instead of a prison uniform, he had on a light green shirt and a dark pair of blue jeans. The Hispanic angel knelt in front of Larry.
"God is proud of you, Larry." He smiled. "He wants you to know that." He looked up at Tess and Monica, then turned his gaze back to the two brothers. "You will be with Him very soon. And with your grandmother, too."
Larry and Roger exchanged startled glances. When Larry looked back toward Rafael, he noticed that his former roommate had vanished. Could he be an angel, too? Roger gaped at him, the same question in his own eyes.
"How—how many angels does this prison have?" Larry shook his head, mouth wide open.
"As—as many as it needs, I guess." Roger's voice shook. He turned to Tess and Monica, who stood nearby. "Is—is Rafael an angel, too?"
Monica nodded. "Yes, Roger. He is."
Larry shook his head, open-mouthed. Will miracles never cease?! As a sudden thought struck his brain, he turned to his brother. "You know, Roger—your continued survival is a miracle." He furrowed his eyebrows. "How did you manage to stay alive, with the grocery stores bare and food prices so high, and no way to buy any food without the implant?"
Roger smiled. "A wealthy friend had a lot of food stockpiled in his home. He invited a bunch of us to come to his house every day, to eat. It saved us from starvation, as you can imagine."
Larry shook his head. "Wonder how the food held out," he muttered, "with so many people eating it every day."
"God kept it from running out, Larry." Monica approached him and knelt before him. "God has called a number of people, throughout the nation and all over the world, to stock up on food and bottled water so that they and their neighbors would have a way to eat. He called them to do that, before the Middle East war started, because He knew that a worldwide famine would follow its outbreak."
She glanced toward Roger. "A number of people, like Roger, who would have otherwise starved to death have been kept alive by these people's generosity. God has multiplied their food, to keep it from running out."
She rose to her feet and returned to Tess. Larry shook his head, marveling at God's miraculous works.
"Larry! Roger!" The guard who had brought them outside strode toward them and waved them up with his revolver. "Line up with these others! Your turn!"
Acquiescing, the two men rose to their feet. "We won't be accepting the implant," Roger told the guard. "You may as well take us to the guillotine." Larry nodded agreement.
"You're what?!" The guard's face turned beet-red. "Very well, then! Your choice—your funeral!"
He shoved Larry toward the guillotine. Roger followed. Several other prisoners stood in line, waiting for their executions.
As Larry and Roger took their places in that line, Andrew appeared next to them, Heavenly light pouring off his body. He wore the same light-beige suit he had worn the last time they'd seen him. "Don't worry," he told them. "I'm going to stay right here with you until it's time to take you Home."
The angel of death smiled. "God is waiting for you both with open arms. He's sent several angels of death to this prison, to escort the souls of all the martyred prisoners. You can't see the others, but they're here, and they're standing next to the other prisoners just as I'm standing next to you."
Drawing a gleaming pocket watch out of his pants pocket, Andrew opened it to look at its face. Clicking the lid shut, he slid it back down, then inserted his hand after it. Larry pivoted to look at Tess and Monica, who smiled encouragingly at him. Larry turned back to face the prisoner in front of him.
For the next 10 minutes, Roger and Larry waited their turns. More prisoners lined up behind them to take their own turns dying. Andrew stayed close to the two Jacksons, hands in his pants pockets. When the last prisoner in front of them had been beheaded, Roger touched his brother's shoulder.
"I'll go first," he offered. "That way, I'll be waiting for you when you come."
He strode toward the executioner manning the guillotine. "You can still change your mind," the executioner told him.
Roger shook his head. "No. I'm not. I'm ready to die."
Without a word, he marched toward the guillotine, then waved at Larry. Kneeling, he laid his neck across the half-circle carved into the middle of the front.
"Courage, Larry!" he told his brother. Before Larry had a chance to answer, the blade crashed down on Roger's neck. His head landed in the basket. Andrew disappeared.
Just a few more seconds, Larry thought. Then it's my turn. Just hope Andrew gets back in a hurry!
Andrew reappeared next to him. Larry smiled at him. "Well, Andrew," he said, "I'm ready to meet God."
Andrew patted his arm. "And He's ready to meet you. Your brother and your grandmother are waiting there for you now."
The executioner approached Larry. "Will you take the implant and worship Antonio Puccini's statue?"
Larry shook his head, then wiped his sweaty forehead. "No, I won't, executioner."
"Then you must die!" Grabbing his arm, the executioner dragged him toward the guillotine. Larry knelt to lay his head in it.
"God is with you, Larry," he heard Andrew say.
A second later, as a Heavenly light blinded his eyes, he heard the blade slide down, but he felt no pain when it made impact with his neck. Immediately afterward, he found himself standing near the guillotine, next to Andrew. His bloodied head had landed in the basket in front, he noticed. Twenty more prisoners stood in line, waiting to die.
"Well, Larry." Andrew smiled. "Are you ready to go Home?" A beaming Larry nodded.
The other angels stood watching, joyful smiles spread across their faces. They watched Andrew and Larry disappear. They observed the other angels of death staying close to the remaining condemned prisoners. Gloria appeared next to them.
"I'm so glad!" The nearsighted angel grinned, then pushed her glasses up her nose.
"I am, too." Monica smiled happily. "I'm so glad for Larry and Roger." A shadow creased her forehead. "Unfortunately, there's so many prisoners here who are going to make the wrong choice, Tess." As she turned to her supervisor, Monica's smile curved downward into a frown.
"Yes, there are." Rafael came up to them, a sad expression etched on his youthful-looking face. "That's why the Father has told me to stay here, to talk to them. It should be possible to convince some of them to make the right decision, as Larry finally has."
Tess nodded, folding her arms across her chest. "Then you'd better get back to work, Angel Child, because there are still many prisoners in the yard who haven't had their turns yet."
Nodding acquiescence, Rafael approached a prisoner standing near the wall. The supervisor angel turned to Monica and Gloria. Before Tess had a chance to speak, Gloria frowned. "How many believers have died, so far?"
"Many thousands in the last few months. All over the world." Monica shook her head. "And this is only the beginning. Millions and millions of believers will die as martyrs before it's over."
"Yes, they will. Only a small minority will still be alive when Jesus returns." Tess shook her head. "And many more unbelievers will die spiritually, when they take that mark. Fortunately, many are still undecided, as yet—they're the ones we must reach. Rafael is going to stay, to talk to the undecided ones here in the prison yard. Unfortunately, the judgments in progress are working against us. Many unbelievers and some believers have already died of starvation, disease, and crime, and there will be numerous deaths to follow in the next few years."
Tess sighed. "Well, we'd better get back to work. The Father has another assignment for us. And we'd better complete it quickly, because next month, He's sending us to Petra for Christmas, to visit and assist some old friends."
The three angels disappeared. Overhead, a dove flew, softly cooing.
©2005 by KathyG.
Well, this is it. This is as far as I've gotten in my end-times series, and whether I'll ever finish it remains to be seen. In the meantime, I hope you readers have all enjoyed what I've posted!