The Tempter Comes

22) It Comes Together



22   It Comes Together


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 is it?”

Toni looked at her watch. “It’s 8:45. The meeting place is about 10 to 15 minutes from here so we better get going.”

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.

“Ah, great. 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 was.”

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 Sarah.

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 house available?”

“My Mom’s home as usual,” responded Russell.

“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…”

Ooo, nice move,” Russell interrupted. “Did you have one of the double chocolate shakes?”

“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?” Sarah asked.

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,” proclaimed Russell.

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 sections.

“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 remarked.

“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 there.

“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 Russell.

“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 Bible Church 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 that.”

“Now we have seven churches,” declared Russell.

“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 still undetermined.”

“Another much commendable goal,” declared Russell.

“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 happens.”

“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 relaxed.

“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 had beaten.”

“So is there anything else?” asked Toni.

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 else?”

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 remembered.

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 also.

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 Russell.

The willow man spread out his abnormally long arms and leaned slightly forward. The muscles in his legs tightened.

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 Jocum.

“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 stammered.

“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 help.”

“Help?” 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 milkshake.’”

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 don’t know.’”

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 firmly.

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 ahead” expression.

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 towns.

“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 mad.”

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 sorry”

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 have.”

“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 us!”

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: