Laughing At Nemesis

A look at the World to come, from the perspective of a slightly unorthodox Fundamentalist.

My Photo
Location: Houston, Texas

We make nothing of our own, even our greatest deeds are only loaned to us for our time. The sounds and glory of even the smallest storm belong to the Creator and to no man. We know only Stolen Thunder.


Chapter Seven: Richard

The group looked at me with surprise, while their leader glared with rage. Two or three seemed about to speak, but their cut them off with a snarl.

“Surrender, foul demon!” he commanded. For few seconds we stood there, as I tried to think of an appropriate response. Arf, for her part, was trying very hard not to break into laughter. But Richard seemed ready for this man.

“Hello, Pretender” announced Richard, and the little man stepped back. Richard seized the moment, stepping forward, his face becoming more severe and his stature seemed to increase.

“And hello, fools!” he continued, and the crowd grew uneasy.

“Yes, fools!” repeated Richard. ”Just look at your condition.

“I don’t know what this little liar has been telling you, but if any of you would take a moment and just look around, you can see how he has led you down.”

At this, the little man started to rise in complaint, but I ordered him silent with a motion. I understood why I had been given this power now, but I couldn’t help but wish I had been able to exercise it when I had been a parent.

Some of the crowd saw what I did, and they became uneasy. Richard continued with his speech, describing in great detail the torments of Hell, and implying in every sentence that the group was here because their leader had blinded them to God and heaven, which was rather close to the truth. I wondered idly what result Richard would lead them to, though I had confidence in his purpose and ability. Then I roused myself, mentally shrugged, and went over to the little leader, who glowered at me in silence.“Come with me” I ordered, and slowly, resisting the force which compelled him to obey, he came to his feet and followed me down the pathway, as the group watched us lead.

After we were far enough away from the others, that we could no longer hear Richard, and so could not ourselves be heard, I released the man from his compulsion. He immediately attacked me with a flurry of blows and insults. He could not hurt me, though, so for a time I let him vent and work his anger out. His selection of verbiage began to become annoying when he started repeating himself, so after I had given him time enough to express himself, I raised my hand and told him “bide”.

He froze, like a statue, and for a moment I considered my next words. I started with the obvious:

“You’re in a lot of trouble, brother.”

He couldn’t move, but his eyes answered in hate.

I continued: “And in case you’re wondering, no, you’re not going back to them.

“They will choose for themselves. For good or ill, this is no longer your group or control.”

I paused, looking deep within the man, and saw what I knew I would see. I took a deep breath, and continued:

“I know who you are, and what you were, and what you have chosen to become.

“I know how you were give love, but killed it.

“I know how you were given great opportunity, but used it to hate and harm.“I know your choice, even though you hid it from everyone around you, until you could reach into every life around you and destroy hope and joy wherever you found it.

“I have brought you to judgment, as it is required.”

I knew he had to speak at this point, so I released him then. The man spat at me and hissed.

“You!” he howled. ”You are not fit to judge me!”

“Of course I am not fit to judge you” I returned.

“But you will be judged, all the same.”

I gestured at the walls, then back to the man.

“You have cast away mercy. So then, receive justice, as the will of God commands!”

The man glared at me, then suddenly spun around, seeing and hearing tormentors no one else could perceive. I knew just enough to feel pity for him, but also enough of his evil to know he had long ago rejected any chance to be brought back. He howled, perhaps to see a woman he had molested while “counseling”, cowered from facing a man whose life’s savings he had “invested” for him. Somehow, this man had long ago chosen his fate. While it was possible that he might yet face his demons and be reconciled, if that was to happen, the road for this one would be long and vary hard. But at least he was removed from his ability to lead others to destruction.I turned to head back to join Richard and the group. I wondered how his message was being received.As I approached, I heard singing and music. Richard looked like a corporate Hari Krishna, banging away on a tambourine he had produced from somewhere.But while most of the group was dancing and singing along with Richard, not everyone was happy. I saw several people not joining in, and I gathered them together to the side.

"OK, one at a time, what’s your beef?” I asked.

The most annoyed of the group shoved his way to the front.

“You chased off our leader, and your friend can’t even sing” he thumbed over at Richard, “And I have no idea what you’re up to, but judging by how you sacked our boss, I figure you plan on taking his place. Sorry, but I’m not real filled with confidence in you.”

I chuckled. “Take a good look around”

As they did, I continued.“Your former leader used his ability to lead you into Hell itself. You have your own choice to make, but at least I can promise I won’t make things worse.

“Besides, as I think Richard will have told you” - they look over at Richard, who now appeared to doing a mamba - “I’m not trying to lead you. My job here was just to get you off that guy’s hook. If you really want to follow that guy, he’s still around” - I nodded in the direction of the screaming - “and you can catch up to him. But at least you can make up your own mind.”

“And hey, you can always ask directions from the enlightened and beautiful talking dog” added Arf. I was surprised, as three of them went off with her, apparently to do just that.

The man did not seem real happy, but he said nothing more, and sat down, apparently waiting to hear from someone else. A woman stepped forward.

“Look, who are you, anyway? No offense, but you look like Mr. Clean meets Evil Knievel, and since you made it clear you don’t like men setting themselves up as idols, so why should we follow you?”

“OK, I understand the confusion” I answered. “It’s not about you following me. After all, I’m just a man, no matter how I’m dressed, or anything else.

“I’m here as a messenger, and on a special mission. In fact, I have to move on with Richard, but Arf can help you with directions to the New Earth.

“I have to warn you; since your leader led you here in defiance of Christ, you will all have to face Judgment. I won’t say it’s gonna be fun for everyone, but you have a choice, basically: Mercy or Justice.”

The woman grimaced. “Do we end up with white jumpsuits, like you?”

“I dunno” I answered, “but I don’t think God is fashion-hostile.”

“OK, but I’m confused” asked another guy. “We followed Reverend Gulk because he seemed so real. I couldn’t buy into Jesus, because He was just some guy from old stories, y’know?

“I mean, after all this, I guess we believe what you’re saying, but how can we know what’s really going on? I mean, it probably sounds crazy to you, but what if it could get worse?”

I tried not to laugh at the irony. “Actually, it could get worse. This is only the Second level of Hell. If you want to see worse, wait until you see the 'Land of the Congressmen and Telemarketers'. "

I got a lot of blank stares.“OK, time for something to change the pace” announced Arf.

“And Dan, if I hear Richard sing another Gospel ditty to the tune of ‘Play That Funky Music’ again, you’ll have to clean up the nausea”

“I heard that” sang out Richard. “Just one more verse...”

After Richard finally finished his stage show, and the pilgrims followed Arf off to the way station to discover their individual courses, I paused to speak with Richard.

“I’m proud of how you handled yourself” I said, and Richard laughed.

“You liked my singing?” he asked.

“You know what I meant, I think” I told him. “It would have been real easy for you to, to tell everyone what they should do. Instead, you let them make up their own minds.”

Richard shrugged. ”Actually, it wasn’t very hard at all” he said.

“When I saw how those people were being fooled, so badly and for so long, that they couldn’t even get free from Hell, well, the last thing I wanted to do was put anyone back into bondage.“

“I know, and I’m very happy with that. I know the Lord is, too.” I told him.

“Well,” grinned Richard, ”I really have a lot to pay back, since I was a pretty lousy Quaker”

We laughed together, as one last fellow from the group walked up to us.

“Hello” he began, ”I was wondering if I could follow you for a time, maybe learn some things”

Richard frowned and shook his head.

“That might not be real wise, son.” He said. ”You just got out from a bad situation, which came because you let someone else give you your answers. I think you need to learn on your own.”

“But I know what to watch for now” insisted the young man. “And I won’t be fooled again”

“What’s your name, son?” I asked the young man, as I heard Richard mutter-sing ”meet the new boss … same as the old boss…”

“John Andrew.” Answered the fellow.“OK, then” I answered. “To start off, I’m Daniel, and please don’t get the idea I have all the answers.

“I was sent here to perform a mission, and some of it is strange even to me. But If you want to come along, that’s fine, but do I presume correctly: You have not yet had your judgment?”

John squirmed nervously. “Yes, that’s right, sir.”

“Don’t call me ‘sir’, I’m not a State Trooper, and I’m not going to judge you” I said.

“But you sent Reverend Gulk running and screaming” said John.

“Actually, Reverend Gulk sent himself running and screaming” I said. “I just made him face the truth, since he was leading so many away from God. I don’t have the same job with you.

“I can’t say it’s not scary” I said, remembering my own session with the King, “but He won’t cheat you or trick you, or look for a reason to banish you from God’s love.”

The man remained nervous. “I’d still like to hang around with you, unless it makes you mad”

I laughed at that. “Believe me, it’s not a problem. But I have to warn you, between my bad jokes and Richard’s bad singing, you may get tired of us pretty quick.

“And of course, we have to spend more time here in Hell, which doesn’t speak well for us having much to be merry about. But when Arf gets back, the social quality will certainly improve.”“I meant to ask you about that” said John Andrew.

“Is the talking dog your familiar?”

I stopped and stared at John, while Richard laughed, and slapped John Andrew on the back.

“No, John” he said, ”that would be the other team’s tactics. Arf is our friend and companion, and a follower of Christ as sure as any human.”

So we proceeded down the trail towards the dank pits of the Inferno.

Richard looked back at the cavern as we walked along the ledge.

“Hey Dan, how will Arf know where to find us?” he asked.

“Not a problem” I answered. “Arf is always able to find her way around.

“And since she’s able to lead pilgrims from Hell to the gates before Heaven, I know she’ll be able to track us down with no difficulty.”

After a little while, we heard screaming and wailing ahead of us, and I stopped to speak to the others.

“Richard, this part will be difficult for you, because you are a pacifist." I told him.

“John Andrew, you need to stay back from this place, because where we’re going next is a place of great danger for you at this time.”

Both Richard and John protested my words.“C’mon, Dan” said Richard, ”I’m a pacifist now, but you know I understand the need for force.”

“And I’m not afraid of getting beat up” protested John. ”I mean, what are they gonna do, I’m already dead!”

I shook my head at John. “It’s not that kind of danger, John” I said “Since you have not had your judgment, you may not yet be reconciled with the Father. If so, you may be putting your soul in peril by trying what I am about to do. Later, you will do as much, and more, should it be required, but here and now, the time is not here yet.”

John lowered his eyes, and I faced Richard.“Richard, I know what you are able to do. But you know what we are about to step into, and rage is very dangerous here, even if it is necessary. Here, we must do exactly what is required; no less, but also no more.

“Join me in prayer, please.”

And we prayed, for courage and strength and success, but first and most for guidance, direction, and to be right with the Father in this work.When we stood, a company of angels were at our back, and I wouldn’t have felt more secure with a company of Marines.I felt my clothing stiffen again into protective armor, and I felt a weapon heavy at my side. I drew my sword as we turned the corner and faced a gathering of beings wrought from the visions of madmen. Perhaps a thousand of them were there, demons as few had ever seen in the face, and I could tell by their haughtiness, none yet had ever defeated them in combat, though their chief was already in the pit. They each held one or two people, by the arm or by the throat, and they had been torturing them in horrible ways, as was their sport.

I pulled a heavy load of chains from a sack at my side, and threw the links onto the ground between us.

“Closing time” I called out. “This dance is over.”

There was a moment of silence, as if the demons did not hear me, then as if they did not believe me. I realized that for the moment, they saw only me and Richard, and thought the fight was between us alone.Then they charged, leaving their tormented victims aside for their new attention, and I braced to meet them. My sack became a shield, and Richard and I kneeled to better take the blow when they arrived.Just before they hit, I said a Word, and as the first row was blown back by its force, I let them see the angels with me. It’s a strange thing to hear something built like a cross between a wrestler and a rhino, shriek in terror.The second wave swept over us, and the battle was on.

If it ever falls to you to do batle with legions of the damned, I recommend staying far away from the media and entertainment while you prepare. Television and the movies have done a terrible job of describing the conditions and appropriate tactics.For one thing, there are no magic weapons which make evil beings poiltely puff into smoke; in fact you cannot kill beings which do not live in the normal sense. Essentially, there are only three ways to do battle effectively with demonic creatures:

* God can banish, contain, or pretty much do whatever He wants to anyone. Not surprisingly, demons tend to avoid the Holy One;
* You can ask God for the means to make them flee the person or place they occupy;
* You can ask God to grant you the means to whip them into submission.

Since I am not God, option 1 was right out. Since we were already in Hell, there really was no other place for them to flee, so we were left with #3. I was about to find out whether my plan constituted a faithful obedience to the Lord’s will, or a painful mistake.Of course,having a hundred angels at your side does wonders for your confidence, and I also found myself thinking back to Sgt. Dietrich in thanks: Years ago, when I was young, dumb, and a Marine, I didn’t know the dangers of volunteering, and agreed to train as a boxer for the regiment’s competition. Sgt. Dietrich had a unique, and very personal method for training his athletes.

In my case, he ordered me to do road runs every morning for 5 miles. Marines do that anyway, so I didn’t see the special advantage, so I complied.

About three klicks into the run, I learned Sgt. Dietrich’s accent on the exercise: A large, angry, actually very angry dog was after me. It took me a long time to lose him and complete the run. Sgt. Dietrich wasn’t impressed with my reason for my poor road time:

“Of course there was a dog after you! Do you think you can win in the ring by running away?”

Sgt. Dietrich made clear to me his expectations: I had to run the same route every morning before my regular PT, and I wouldn’t pass until I completed the 5 miles in 30 minutes or less, and only if I made it without any visible damage from the dog. I later learned that Sgt. Dietrich had arranged for a trainer wearing my clothes to torment the dog, while wearing a mask with a photo of my face. He was also careful with the dog; a fierce mastiff, reluctant to kill but eager to bite. The dog was fast enough that I had to face it, big enough that I couldn’t ignore it without damage from its bites and claws, and mean enough not to quit easily. I finally learned that to pass the test, I had to be ready for an attack at all angles and times, to run quickly enough to limit the number of passes the dog could make and to make my time, but slow enough that I could have energy to turn and face the animal. I also learned to strike the dog hard on its snout - it always stopped the dog and gave me time to choose my next move, whether to run or strike again. I eventually made my run bite-free in 29 minutes, and Sgt. Dietrich found other ways to torment me in my training. But I found myself thinking that the training would also be useful here.

I felt a close rush of air as Richard’s mace swung very close to my head, connecting instead with a wing of a charging demon, a distinct type from many of the others, but I never bothered to study up on the various types and models of demons. The fact that Richard’s mace deflected him from sinking a pike into me was satisfactory.

“You mind saving your happy reveries until after we defeat this horde of mindless, soulless, hateful - say, this really does bring back memories. I feel like I’m watching the ‘68 Democratic Convention!” said Richard.

“Even so,” he continued, ducking another monster and tossing it over his shoulder into the face of another one, “you’re acting like your playing for an audience, and it’s creeping me out.”

“Sorry” I said, as I chopped into the chest of another demon, pivoting him into knocking down two others. “Bad habit, I admit.”

“Whatever” answered Richard, “as long as you don’t make me feel like I’m doing all the work here.”

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Richard, what about our back-up here?” I asked, nodding at the angels surrounding us in the melee.

“Yeah, they’re pretty good -” acknowledged Richard, as an angel karate-chopped one demon, jumped into the air and kicked two others in the neck simultaneously, then as he descended pushed himself off the body of one into another approaching demon, slashing with a dagger he had ready in his sleeve - “but I always feel more comfortable around people I think might live on the same planet I do”

I chuckled as I riposted a demon’s taloned blade with my sword, then flexed him into a cavern wall, which obligingly rumbled, and a few small stones fell free and onto the head of the demon. He snarled at me, and Richard banged him with the mace to teach him some manners.

“You know, Richard, not that I’m playing to them,” I said, “but we do have an audience, you know”, and I shrugged at the demons’ victims who had been dropped at our arrival.

“Don’t remind me” replied Richard, “You think they might want to do more than just stand around?”

“Well, let’s see” I said. “Maybe it’s because none of them are armed, or maybe it’s because none of them knows the right thing to do here, or maybe it’s because they’ve never seen demons or angels in person before, let alone so many.”

“Yeah, maybe” said Richard, “but I still think I would do something in their shoes.”

“Yes, we all have our own demons to wrestle” I replied, “but we usually get to do that one at a time, don’t we?“And” I reminded Richard, “don’t forget that they are the reason we are here just now, and not just to exercise.”

“Whatever” said Richard, as he swung his mace like a nun-chuk behind his head into another infernal face. I wondered if it was a good or a bad thing, to be enjoying myself in this situation.

Now, as a concept, battling evil sounds very cool to a lot of people, and as a result gains much attention in the works of great authors and bad directors. In reality, however, it’s hard, wearing, annoying work, kind of like trying to get rid of cockroaches from your house. Vanquishing a demonic legion in Hell only makes things worse.I had lost all track of time, but despite my protective armor, I was sweating heavily and chafing in all sorts of places. I had aches and pains in a couple dozen places, and every time I looked up, there were more of ‘em coming. But, since I had agreed to the task (once again proving the limit to my wisdom), I had to see it through to the end, and as tiring and unending as the battle proved, I could see the beginnings of the desired reactions from our enemy.They had, after all, never been defeated in combat, across countless eons of existence. On occasion they had been banished by one with faith, or they might fail to tempt or intimidate another one, but never before had they gotten their butts collectively kicked.So, they entered this fight expecting it to be like all the others, waiting for us to lose strength, confidence, and finally hope. Instead, they slowly realized that not only could they not kill us, our instilled-power making evident our invulnerability, and ever so gradually, the demons learned something they had never faced before –They could not win.

I took great enjoyment in seeing that light dawn on each and every horrid face. That funny little twitch in the eyes, when they suddenly realized that not only was I not going down as expected, I would not be going down.From that point, it was simply a matter of how long they wanted to keep it up, knowing that somehow, this time their strength was limited, and mine was not.In a while, I began to see two very welcome emotions on their faces: Fatigue - and fear.Not fear of death, but of defeat in an unthinkable way; losing to a human.

One by one, they dropped their weapons and allowed themselves to be chained. Not that they wanted it, they just finally gave up in exhaustion and anger, some of it at their leader, who was the last to give up, the loudest and most profane throughout the fight.When at last his arms refused to answer his call anymore, and angels from each side chained him down, he roared in futile defiance one last time, and called me all manner of names. I refused to let him know just how worn out I was.

“Hey, do I say things about your mother?” I asked, and the angels led him away for his own judgment.Together, Richard and I now faced the crowd of people the demons had been torturing.As if on cue, they fell on their faces and began to pray to us.Richard rolled his eyes as I called out to the crowd

“Stop that right now! I’m just a man like you!”

“But you are the ones who vanquished the demons!” answered the crowd, and they began to chant.

Richard chuckled.

“And you’re the one who warned me about the possible results of this sort of thing!”

“Ha ha.” I retorted. “C’mon, up with you” I said to the people, as I pulled them up, one at a time.

As I pulled people to their feet, I took a moment to catch my breath and collect my thoughts, as I surveyed the scene before me.The demons were still down, in some cases bound by the remaining angels, and in others a few more aggressive of their victims were exacting various small measures of payback, kicking the demons and yelling various unpleasantries at them.Of the humans, most had fallen to their faces, which was forcing Richard and me to play upsy-daisy. But some were taking their chance to kick and punch at their tormentors, and there were also a number of groups standing around, as if trying to decide their next course. I dealt with the hero-worshippers first.

“Alright” I began, to get their attention. “Take a good look around.

“Whew! Come to think of it, take a deep breath, and smell this place, too.

“Is this where you want to stay? Are you having a great time here, and is this how you always hoped things would work out?”I paused, and was relieved a little bit that no one seemed to want to be here.

“So, how did this happen? It happened, because instead of choosing for yourself, you all let yourselves get led into mistakes and wrong, and you wound up here. Maybe you would have made some mistakes, but c’mon “ – I gestured around the place – “I wouldn’t choose this for my final residence, and I don’t think you would either.”

A man moved to the front. ”Tell us, Master, what would you have us do?” he asked, and as I saw many around him nod, I groaned inside.

“OK, for starters, don’t call me Master.” I said “I have some confidence in things I can do, but I don’t own anybody, and I wouldn’t want to act like I do.”

“I am most sorry for offending you” said the man, and I wanted to scream. Just then, however, another man stood up and confronted him.

“Haven’t you learned anything?” demanded the second man. ”We get sucked into hell by listening to demons disguised as friends and lovers, and now – “ he pointed to me ”you get all weepy, just because another demon disguised like an angel of light kicks out the first group and tries to take over. Well, I’m not buying!” he finished, glaring at me in defiance.

“Bravo!” I said to him, and he looked startled at my smile and cheer.“Yes, I mean it” I assured him and the group. “Look, I don’t blame you for not trusting the first face you see after getting freed, so I’m not getting my feelings hurt because you think I might be just like the guys we just kicked.

“Besides, the main thing is, you need to see and decide some things for yourself, so getting out on your own is just what you need.”

“Oh really?” sneered the man. “Well, what if you want us to go get lost down here? I don’t see you telling us how to find Paradise, or even a decent hotel, do ya? Maybe I’ll just hang around you for awhile, to keep you from leaving us all here to rot!”

The crowd seemed in agreement with him, both the syncophants and the angry ones. Some in the other groups seemed to agree.

“Fine with me” I replied. “By the way, sir, what’s your name?”

“None of your f----ng business” he replied.

“OK, so I’ll just call you ‘Buddy’ for now” I said. “The rest of you, hear me well : I do not have all the answers, and I can’t promise everything will work out the way you want, but if you want to tag along, I’ll at least get you out of Hell, unless that’s where you belong."

Buddy wasn’t satisfied. “Maybe I’ll just make sure you behave. Feel like being my hostage?” he asked, as his arm came around my neck.

A flash of light and a bolt from somewhere hit him just as he touched my collar, and he went down like a sack of rocks.

“OK, while he’s out” I said to Richard, “I’ll go have some words with other people here.”

Richard nodded and the rest of the crowd backed away.I found some of the men beating up on one of the demons. They stopped and looked at me as I approached.

“Hey guys” I said as I approached, “Having fun?”

Two of them shrugged, and the third was still angry.

“He stole so much from us!” he cried, almost screaming.

“I know” I agreed, “but is this making anything better?”

”Well” said the man, ”It feels good, and I haven’t done what I wanted to do, for a long, long time.”

“I know what you mean, I had that problem once myself” I said, hoping I didn’t sound as patronizing as I worried it might. “But while it’s important to fight sometimes, you have to know when it’s time to stop, as well.”

“I guess” admitted the man. “So, what happens now? We get judged for all our bad things and we go get punished forever somewhere?”

“Is that what you want?” I asked. “Maybe something better can be had”

“What kind of angel are you, anyway?” the man asked. “You don’t look like anything I expected, and anyway, I always heard you guys were just supposed to go round up us bad folk for the fiery pit. What do you mean, saying we might have a chance at something better?”

I laughed.

“Sorry, but I’m not an angel” I began. The men gaped at me.“Then what are you?” asked the man.“Maybe, what you can become” I answered. “Come, and we’ll talk on the way.”

And as I turned, the men joined me and we gathered others to join us. Some were reluctant or unwilling, and I assured them that if they waited, the angels would guide them to the proper waystations.

An angry shout from the entry grabbed everyone’s attention.“You had a party and didn’t invite me?” demanded Arf.

Richard chuckled

"I saw that one coming” he remarked.