Knowledge may be power,
but wisdom is survival
It was 8:45. Toni had been at the
gazebo since 8:30; she could not sit around the house any longer. She was sitting
on the bench inside nervously swinging her feet. She probably burned more
calories in those fifteen minutes than in a typical day. Her head was on a
swivel looking every which way. Then she jumped to her feet. Sarah and Russell
came into view. Though they were setting a good pace it appeared to Toni that
they were walking in sand.
When they saw that Toni was already
there they quickened the pace even more.
Sarah spoke in a whisper as though
they were surrounded by spies. The truth was that no one else was even within a
good stone’s throw. “Russell told me all about the clue. That was pretty good
work.” She was all excited. “What time is it? Should we meet him? How far away
Toni looked at her watch. “It’s
8:45. The meeting place is about 10 to 15 minutes from here so we better get
They headed off not paying
attention to the tall, thin figure that was trailing them at a distance.
All along the way both Russell and
Sarah kept trying to figure out the rendezvous point. As they passed certain
streets they would eliminate another possibility. Finally when they were within
a minute of it Sarah blurted out, “Is it that lone picnic table?”
Toni faintly smiled and nodded.
As they turned past the last
rhododendron they saw Thomas sitting at the table. He clearly had not much
sleep but seeing everyone lifted his energy level considerably.
You figured out my clue. I wondered if it was too hard. But I should have known
that this group of geniuses would get it.”
Toni and Russell simultaneously
looked at the ground affecting a rather poorly concealed satisfaction.
Thomas continued, “But tell me—this is important—did you notice if the paper was
off of the chalk mark? If you know what I am talking about.”
Russell answered grimly, “Yes, it
Thomas looked solemn. “Then someone
knows that we are up to something. We had better be careful. Did anyone notice
if you were being followed?”
The other three looked at each
other with “not me” faces.
“Those looks tell me that no one
paid attention. Well, let’s hope for the best.”
Russell shot back, “Considering our
luck so far we’re probably surrounded by the enemy right now.”
Sarah got wide-eyed and looked
around, “Don’t say that!”
They all realized just then that
though this spot was out of the way and that they were unlikely to be spotted
by anyone happenstance, they were also quite enclosed by tall and bushy plants.
Anyone could be just feet away on almost any side and not be noticed.
“Maybe we should move,” offered
Toni was likewise skittish,
“Perhaps Sarah’s right.”
Thomas was still like he was
listening for the slightest indication. “I don’t know where else to go right
now. Everything else is going to potentially have people around. Is anyone’s
“My Mom’s home as usual,” responded
“My Mom took the day off today to
do chores around the house,” answered Toni.
Thomas looked at Sarah.
“Both Mom and Dad should be at work
but it’s the summer and Dad usually comes home for lunch at noon.”
Thomas thought. “I don’t know where
else to go. Maybe we should stay here.”
They all gingerly sat down at the
table but each one had a creepy feeling inside.
“But first,” Toni piped up, “where
were you all night and when you came into the house to write the note why
didn’t you just go upstairs and go to bed?”
“Yea, Toni thought that maybe you
spent the night sleeping in a drainpipe,” Russell added.
Thomas snickered. “Drainpipe? Not with all the bugs. After I left you, Toni,
oh and, by the way, nice work there in the park distracting the gang until I
got away.” Toni blushed. “After I left you, I hung around the back of the shops
along the park and then headed over to the chocolate shop. I sat at the small
table in the back…”
nice move,” Russell interrupted. “Did you have one of the double chocolate
“No, but I did get something to eat
and stayed there until closing. By then it was dark so I thought that I could
head back home, but I was afraid that I’d get caught by well, you know. I wasn’t sure what to do. But then as I cautiously
came out into the main part of the shop I saw a group of your friends, Toni,
starting to leave.”
“Who were they?” Toni asked.
“I honestly can’t remember any of
their names, but you know them from school and some from church. Anyway, they
were heading in the general direction of your house so I joined them. There
were about eight of them so I wormed my way into the middle and we headed out.”
“You sure are good at making
escapes in groups,” Toni remarked.
“And quite diverse ones at that,”
Russell added in.
“I got to within two blocks of your
house when I had to split off. That didn’t seem too bad and I practically ran
the rest of the way.
“As I was opening the door I
glanced behind me and thought that I saw someone large duck into the shadows a
few houses down. Of course, that freaked me out. I didn’t know what to do. I
couldn’t stay at your house that night because I was afraid of putting you in
danger. So I sneaked in, wrote the puzzle, the note, and left all within a
couple of minutes. I left by the back door. I was just too creeped
out to go out to the front again. And from what you’ve told me, apparently I
was being followed.”
“So where did you go after that?”
Thomas looked at everyone. “Where’s
the safest place that you can think of?” There was silence. “Oh come on, this
one is easy.” He sat up straight and then when no one answered slumped back
down. “The church! I remembered that usually the
pastor leaves the side door open in case anyone needs to come in and pray. Sure
enough it was open and I spent the night sleeping under one of the pews. It
really wasn’t that bad. In fact, considering all that went on, I slept rather
peacefully.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Although my
neck’s a bit stiff. And now, here we all are.”
Everyone was impressed and Russell
spoke for all of them. “So there you were with the hordes of darkness hunting
you down and you managed to escape them by imitating a dog and then hiding out
in a chocolate shop before finally going to sleep in a church. That is certainly
a big ‘Wow.’”
Thomas affected his best modest
look. “Well, there certainly weren’t hordes.” Then he got all excited again. “I
think that I’ve figured it out.”
“You did!?” declared Sarah. “I knew
that you could do it.”
“You are the puzzle man,”
Thomas lowered his voice and his
head. “Well, to tell you the truth, I had some help.”
Several pairs of eyebrows came
together. They looked at each other wondering who the accomplice was.
Thomas continued. “I was really
stumped on this one. I had a good handful of clues but couldn’t quite squeeze
them together and get them to stick. Here is what I know. I’m sure that you’ll
recognize your contributions but please withhold your applause at those
“First, I think that we are able to
eliminate any relics or books that are hidden somewhere in town. The answer is
not that simple. If that were the case then all that we would have to do is
find it and destroy it—problem solved—we’ve saved the world.”
“Or at least Jabesh,” Toni
“Or at least Jabesh,” repeated
Thomas. “So here goes. From Sarah we found out that this town was founded by a
cult of wackos who broke every commandment in the
Bible and who built a temple and worshipped Satan. We don’t know exactly what
they did at that temple. I don’t think it involved any human sacrifice or
anything that dramatic, but apparently they did do some otherwise awful things
“Now here’s something that’s
interesting and this is what got them after me yesterday. I went to Mr. Davis
at the library to see if he might know where the temple used to be.” He paused
for effect. “Does anyone have any guesses?” Thomas sat up straight again but
this time it was to savor the moment. He actually hoped that no one would
guess. He watched eyes rolling slowly around but nothing lighting up. Finally
he smiled. “Do you want me to tell you?” Everyone nodded. He leaned on the
table. “The Satanic temple used to be where the liquor factory is now. In fact,
I think that they converted the temple into the liquor factory by expanding
it.” No one really reacted. “Come on! Don’t you get it? That was where the
snake-man was going when we followed him. I think that they are using now for
their headquarters, you know, just like old times.”
The others tried to act like they
realized the significance, but it was still elusive.
Meanwhile, something sinister was
creeping closer to the four. In its soundlessness it did not seem that the
grass even bent under its feet.
“So what else did you learn?” asked
“Well, you might remember right
after I first got here the church celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. I found
out talking to the pastor that Grace
was the first church here.”
“So for 150 years Jabesh didn’t
have any good spiritual presence.” Toni mused.
“Well, there was a spiritual
presence, in fact, a very strong one; it just wasn’t a good one,” Thomas
retorted. “And the second church didn’t even show up until twenty years after
“Now we have seven churches,”
“Right,” acknowledged Thomas. “So
it has only been relatively recently that Jabesh had a majority of people who
would call themselves Christians. So that is the second piece of information.
“The third is something else that
was mentioned at our church’s anniversary celebration at the picnic. Does
anyone remember what it was?”
There was a long pause. After about
ten seconds Thomas finally answered. “The pastor is putting together a rather
ambitious plan involving several initiatives. You remember his sermon that day
on the paralytic that was lowered through the roof where Jesus was teaching?”
Russell looked confounded.
Thomas then said to Russell, “You
were there; I remember you there. Don’t you remember?”
Sarah piped up, “Oh, I bet that he
was sleeping as usual.”
Russell quickly countered, “I don’t
sleep through the sermons. I never have.” Then he slowed down, “I just can’t
seem to remember that one. Maybe I had too many hot dogs.”
“Anyway,” Thomas said, “the pastor
pointed out that there were three areas where the man was hurting. The physical
part of him was paralyzed. The spiritual part of him was unforgiven
and in his soul he was afraid. So what was Jesus’ response?”
“I remember,” blurted out Sarah.
“Go ahead,” coaxed Thomas.
“Jesus said, ‘Do not fear, your
sins are forgiven. Take up your pallid and walk.’”
Russell jumped in, “Oh, now I
remember. See, I wasn’t sleeping.”
“That’s good, Sarah,” encouraged
Thomas. And then looking at Russell he added, “And that’s good too, Russell.”
Then he continued, “So Jesus healed all three areas of the man. In the same way
the pastor wants our church to heal those same three areas of society.
“So for physical healing, he wants
to send four teams to spend one week each in an impoverished part of some city
and help people by bringing them medicine and staying with them and comforting
them. He wants us to bring grace to those who are depressed, dying, or outcast.
If it goes well then he hopes to make this into a permanent ministry.”
“I think that’s a great thing,”
affirmed Toni. The others nodded.
Thomas continued, “For the
spiritually hurting he wants to put together some short-term mission teams to
take the Gospel of forgiveness to some area that does not have a strong
Christian presence. Whether that is in our own country or international is
“Another much commendable goal,”
“And the third thing,” said Thomas,
“is to deal with the soul. Many people out there are lonely and despairing, he
said. He wants us to stand with the oppressed. He wants us to take sides with
the bullied, with the suicidal, and with those who have lost much. He has some
ideas but he said that he hasn’t quite got them solidified yet.”
Toni said, “I remember when he
talked about all of that. I was quite impressed. But I was also rather
overwhelmed. We’re not a huge church and it seems that to get all of this done
it is going to require everyone who attends to participate. That usually never
“But it would be great if it did
happen,” responded Russell. “I know that I’d like to be involved in at least
one of those.”
Sarah added in, “He was rather
persuasive. I think that he will get a lot of people who never do anything to
get involved in at least one of these ministries. I heard a couple of people
talk about using their vacation time for one of these.”
“I think that it’s going to be very
successful,” Toni chimed in.
Suddenly everyone went rigid. After
many seconds Thomas said in a very low whisper, “Did anyone hear something?”
The fact that everyone went rigid at the same time indicated that everyone did
but there needed to be confirmation. Everyone gave a quick nod yes. There was
again a long pause, only eyeballs moved. After hearing nothing new they all
“Maybe it was just a squirrel,”
concluded Russell sounding more hopeful then he really was.
Toni finally spoke albeit quieter
than before. “Well, getting back to Thomas’ facts. So far we have three things.
One, our town was started 200 years ago by some nut case and evil abounded.
Two, the first church didn’t show up until 50 years ago and, three, our church
has an ambitious ministry plan. Is there more? I hope so because that isn’t a
whole lot to go on.”
Thomas pursed his lips. “Well, there
are a few small things. From Toni we learned that the Niss have been here
several times before and that their appearance isn’t random. They are guided
by,” and here he whispered, “Satan”—then reverted back to his normal tone—“and
come for a reason.”
Thomas paused heavily. Then he
continued. “From Toni we learned that seven new people came to town, targeted
seven people, and tempted them back into sins that they had thought that they
“So is there anything else?” asked
Thomas appeared thoughtful. Then he
said, “This whole thing with sticks turning into snakes and milkshakes turning
into blood and the Niss being like a plague, it reminded me of what happened
while Israel was in Egypt with
Pharaoh and that whole deal. But I really didn’t know where to go with it. I
mean, they had ten plagues and we really haven’t had anything even close to that.
But still…it kept nagging at me.”
“Not every piece of a puzzle has to
be big,” Toni reminded everyone. “The little pieces can pull the whole thing
together. At this point we shouldn’t disregard anything. Anything
In utter silence, willowy fingers
slowly pulled a leafy branch aside allowing a single eye to glower through the
opening. They were all in view now. Toni’s back was a mere fifteen feet away.
His breath caused some of the leaves to curl.
Thomas thought for a few seconds
and then said, “I don’t think so. That’s all that I can remember.”
Sarah looked at Thomas and then
jumped in, “Well, there was one more thing.”
Thomas looked puzzled and scrunched
his face as he searched everywhere in his mind for what he forgot.
Sarah waited for Thomas but seeing
that it was not coming to him went on, “It seems that all of those slinky
characters that came into town all picked on someone in our church.”
Thomas brightened up; now he
Sarah asked him, “Do you want to
finish this one up?”
“No, no, you’re the one who
discovered it. I’m sure that you can tell it better than I can anyway. Go on.”
“There have been a lot of attacks
on the church. The most obvious is when…” here she awkwardly stopped and then
finished, “someone tried to burn down the church. Also, all of the pew Bibles were found behind the church in a smoldering
pile. This was just a few days ago. Someone had gathered them up and burned
them. Also, I heard that…” She suddenly stopped and froze. Everyone else did
Russell spoke in a nearly inaudible
whisper, “Did everyone else hear a noise?” There were nods all around. “It
almost sounded like a low growl.” All other senses ceased including breathing
while everyone listened intensely. A drop of sweat fell from Russell’s cheek to
the table. After a minute each one looked at the others but without turning
their heads lest the sound of their necks moving might prove to be too much. No
one acknowledged hearing anything else. Thomas nodded to Sarah to continue. She
appeared almost horrified at the idea of breaking the silence, especially that
it might be her that does it. So Thomas whispered, “Go ahead.”
After taking a few seconds to
fidget and gather herself she continued in a whisper so small that everyone
leaned into the center of the table to hear. “I heard that someone
spray-painted the word ‘LEAVE’ on the hood of the pastor’s car.”
The sinister person narrowed his
gaze and let go of the branch.
“So it seems that our church is
being targeted,” Sarah concluded.
The being lowered himself into a crouch.
Thomas concurred, “That does seem
to be the case. Of course, knowing ‘why’ would be the answer to the puzzle.”
“Which you figured out,” declared
The willow man spread out his
abnormally long arms and leaned slightly forward. The muscles in his legs
A large hand pushed back the
branches of a rhododendron. “Well hello everyone! Are we having a powwow?
What’s going on?” It was Jocum with a big smile. “Mind if I join you?”
The willowy man’s lip curled as he
backed far away.
“Sure… sure,” said Thomas looking
perplexed. “How did you know we were here?”
“Oh, I have my ways,” replied
“Wait a minute,” Toni remarked
suspiciously, “don’t you usually show up only when there is a problem? So what
are you doing here now?”
Jocum smiled coyly, “And what makes
you think that’s not the case now?” Everyone paused and wondered. Then Jocum
spoke again, “So what’s on the agenda?”
“Well, um, we were, um,” Russell
“Let me guess, you are trying to
figure out what has been going on here lately and why.”
Toni looked suspicious, “That’s a
pretty good guess. That’s like me pointing to a word in a book and you guessing
correctly what that word is.”
Jocum tried to look chagrinned but
could not escape from a smile. “Well, I admit, I did hear some things while I
was approaching. I must say, you are all quite the little detectives.” Then he
turned to Thomas. “So, puzzle man, did you eventually put it all together?”
Thomas looked down at the table and
shifted back and forth. “Well, kind of, yes and no, well, some of it.” Everyone
was just staring at him. He was being unusually vague. “OK, I did have some
Russell asked. “Who helped you? Was it Jocum?” He
looked over at the big man.
Thomas still stared down at the
table. “It was your sister. I mostly just handed her the pieces while she put
it all together.”
Russell looked incredulous,
“Danielle? How did she get involved? I didn’t even know that she knew any of
this. She sure kept it from me.” Then he narrowed his eyes and looked at
Thomas. “How long have you been telling her things behind my back? And why did
you involve her anyway? You know how dangerous this has been to all of us!”
Thomas jerked his head up, “No, no,
it’s nothing like that. This only happened yesterday. Remember when I said that
after giving the dodge to the creepy gang I went to the chocolate shop to get
something to eat and sat at that small table at the back? For one I was quite
tired and second, I was really focused on writing down all of the clues on the
back of the place mat. So I wasn’t paying attention when she suddenly plopped
herself down opposite me. Seeing her rather startled me. I didn’t think to hide
the paper. Besides she already saw it so what could I do?
“I figured that I would make small
talk and then leave, but apparently she read the entire paper upside-down
because all of a sudden she blurts out, ‘So what’s all this about snakes in the
woods and willowy men in the library, and some cult group 200 years ago?’ I
must have sat there like a dog with tonight’s family meatloaf dinner in its
mouth. She smiled coyly and then said, ‘Don’t forget about the bloody
Russell remarked, “So that’s where
you heard about it. When you were talking about it earlier I couldn’t remember
ever mentioning it.”
“Yea, that’s when she told me all
about it. Well, anyway, I wound up telling her everything that I just told all
of you. She then spent the better part of an hour moving all of the facts
around into different places. I felt like I was watching someone moving the
pieces on a chess board.”
Russell was visibly pleased.
“She would ask me details about
certain incidences. Some things I knew and some things I wish that I had
thought of. Then maybe I could have given her an answer rather than a stupid ‘I
Just then there was another rustle
of the bushes and Seth came into sight. “Mind if I join the group? It looks
like a fun outing.” He sat down next to Toni as she made room.
“Hello, Seth,” Jocum said rather
Seth pretended to not hear Jocum’s greeting. “Well, keep going. Don’t let me stop you.
Just make believe I’m not here.” Then he looked over at Thomas with a “go
Thomas stumbled around, “OK, so
where was I? Um, yea, so as Danielle kept working all of the facts around. I could
see things crystallizing. Quite honestly, I was impressed.”
Toni was getting anxious. “So what
did she come up with?”
“Yes, what did she come up with?”
Seth asked with great seriousness and with strong emphasis on the word “did.”
Jocum stared at Seth but with little belying his thoughts.
Thomas seemed a bit shaken by
Seth’s question. “I’m not 100% sure that everything is correct, but it seems to
make the best sense. There are two parts to this puzzle.
“The first part is that at one time
this place was quite the playground of sinners and the abode of Satan. I don’t
know this for a fact, but it could have been a good launching point for much of
his other evil activity for hundreds if not thousands of miles around. But as
is often the case when evil abounds, men killed each other off and anarchy
reigned. As other people settled in the area, the non-cult members eventually
outnumbered the Satan worshippers. The air of evil grew thinner and thinner.
Then some Christians came into town and fifty years ago built a church.
Wickedness was dispersed enough that it was no greater or less than most other
“So what all that means is that
this was once one of Satan’s favorite places not just to hang out but to gather
his troops before sending them out to war. So that’s the first part.”
“And the second part is what is
happening right now,” remarked Toni.
“Exactly,” answered Thomas.
“So how does all it tie together to
what is happening now?” asked Sarah.
Thomas rubbed a paint chip off the
table with his finger. Then he said, “Did you ever go to a restaurant and have
the best dinner that you ever had and then a couple of years later you thought
about that meal and yearned to go back? So you went back there and found out
that the place was closed down and you were terribly disappointed; maybe even
Russell remarked, “You’re comparing
almost being killed by some monster to eating lasagna?”
Thomas feigned impatience. “No, let
me finish. Maybe there was a special place that you loved; maybe a large tree
with branches that hung to the ground and once you went through those branches
there was a wide open area under the tree where no one could see you. You could
play all kinds of games and no one would ever know what was going on. It was
your own little world. But then one day you found that spot again and it was
paved over and there was a restaurant there.”
“Was lasagna on the menu?” Russell
just had to ask.
“Stop it. I’m serious.”
“OK, OK,” said Russell, “Go on. I’m
Realizing that he might lose
everyone with his analogies Thomas cut to the quick. “And you were so mad that
you wanted to burn down the restaurant. I think that sort of thing is going on
here. Danielle thought that Satan wants to reclaim this town for his own. That
is why these things have been happening.”
“But why now?” asked Toni.
“That’s another piece that fits in.
Our church has some pretty grand plans, but they aren’t just a lot of glitter.
All of them can really work and they all might make a big difference—a
difference for the good. It’s attracting a lot of attention—good attention—and
a lot of people are looking to get involved in some way. Satan hates stuff like
that. So I thought…” Russell quickly looked up at him. “OK, Danielle
thought…--Russell proudly smiled--“that the Devil wants to put a stop to these
plans and so he has been bringing in some of his people to do two things.”
Toni quickly jumped in, “Let me
guess: one is picking off people in our church one by one. The more people that
he can steal over to his side the less resources we
“Good,” confirmed Thomas.
“And second,” continued Toni, “the
more problems that he can cause the more people will be distracted and the more
they will worry about themselves and not others.”
“Excellent,” Thomas affirmed quite
strongly. “So there you have it. It may not be fool-proof but it seems to fit
together better than anything else.”
“Except for one thing,” Russell
wondered, “why have all of these terrible things been happening to us? I mean,
I don’t hear about anything happening to anyone else.”
“I know the answer to that one,”
Seth butt in. “It’s because you four have been sticking your noses out too far.
Everyone else in town is minding their own business and so that’s why nothing
bad has happened to them.”
Toni shot back, “Except for Floyd
and Terese and Jackie and…”
Seth cut in, “Enough of that. As
you said, they were specific targets. I think that it’s best that you four lay
low for a while. Let someone older and wiser handle this.”
Toni got her dander up, “And who
might that be?”
Seth looked straight at her and
said firmly, “I don’t know, but I’m sure that someone will step forward.”
Sarah stood up. “That someone is