You cannot save the world unless you yourself are already
The next day everyone was gathered
at different places discussing whom the Niss got and who escaped. Oftentimes
you would hear, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me.”
The biggest discussion was always
about Floyd. Although the stories grew in drama as the day wore on it seems
that he laid on the floor until the next morning. Then
he stirred and moaned and rolled onto his side. Finally he wearily got up and
staggered around. No one else was in the house. Like a drunk, he yelled out a
few times for his wife but there was no answer. He made his way into the
kitchen where with a sweep of his arm he crashed some items from the countertop
onto the floor. After a while he went into the street where the sun hurt his
eyes. While blinking profusely and screening his eyes with one hand he
vigorously told people to get out of his way while haphazardly trying to swat
them away with his other arm. Once he tried to hurl something at a young boy
who was staring at him but then realized that he did not have anything in his
hand. Everyone knew that his fall was great and that his final descent was
going to be quick. The only question was how it was going to happen.
Wherever Russell went people would
slap him on the shoulder and say things like, “If there was anybody who could
survive like that I would have put my money on you” and “We all knew that you
could do it.” At first it made him feel really special but then his shoulders
started to hurt so he went back home. All his mother could do was to wring her
hands and pace the floor while saying, “Where were you? I was worried sick.
Don’t you even care about me? You’re going to send me to an early grave, I tell
you. You were lucky this time, but next time you won’t be so lucky and then
where will I be?” Danielle stayed out of the way for the most part, but when
Russell first came home she gave him a great smile and thumbs up from the top
of the stairs.
and her two children were not at home because she had taken them to Pastor
Goldsmith. She was sobbing in his office telling him how weak she had been all
of these years and how sorry she was. She said that she should have been more
supportive and protective of her children. She apologized to the Pastor, to her
children, to God and to everyone in town if they had only been in his office
The pastor talked about God’s grace
and how He blesses even those who are most undeserving. He talked about the
many people in the Bible who messed up and yet God gave them second, third, and
even more chances.
For most of the time her son just
sat there with his arms crossed silently challenging anyone to deny him. But
eventually his arms softened until they slid into his lap. When the pastor
said, “No sin is greater than God’s forgiveness” her son burst into tears. “I
didn’t want to let them in. I swear it. I… I just opened my eyes a tiny bit and
it was… it was… too late.” His mother and sister wrapped their arms around him.
The pastor got up from behind his desk and came around and knelt down and put
one hand each on Mrs. Fullman and her son’s
shoulders. When they had both finally caught their sobs they wearily looked up
at the pastor. He gave them a reassuring look and said, “Let’s pray.”
When they left his office several
hours later they were all very tired and weak but felt washed inside. Each one
of them finally understood hope.
That same night when it was very
late a featureless shadow crept towards Grace Bible
Church. He hesitated as
he drew near like a buzzard approaching its potential prey making sure that the
corpse was ready for picking. He had a large container in one hand that he
carefully protected. He maneuvered himself to a large tree that was close to
the church. At that hour there were no cars, no people about. And especially
after the attack that day everyone was exhausted and sound asleep. “This is
going to be easy,” he thought. But he knew not to get cocky. One slip and he
would be roped.
He paused and listened intently for
several minutes. There was nothing. Crouching low he slunk up to the side of
the church. It was not made of brick but was one of those old-fashioned
churches made of white clapboard. “It will be gone in minutes.” He grinned not
from joy but from hatred. He unscrewed the top of the container and splashed
its contents against the wooden walls in several places. A
little splashed into his hair. The fumes caused him to step back a few
feet. He rubbed his hair and then smelt his hand. He cursed when he realized
that he got some on himself.
Pastor Goldsmith was stirring
restlessly that night. The Niss and what happened to several of his
congregation laid heavily on his mind. He was very thankful for Mrs. Fullman and her children’s visit but he was concerned about
Floyd’s influence. He also wondered how he should handle the situation with
Jackie and Dan and a few of the others. He did not know if he should wait for
them to come to him or if he should go to them and, if the latter, if he should
give it a few days for things to settle or just go tomorrow.
He also wondered where he might
have gone wrong. Why did he not see problems in those people? As their pastor
he felt responsible for them. Was he becoming too focused on his big plans and
forgetting about the people that he was responsible for?
For several hours he wrestled with
these questions. Finally he felt a strong urge to pray. He tried to pray in bed
but did not feel comfortable. So he got up, put on his night robe and wandered
out into the darkness of the sanctuary. He paced around asking God for guidance
Outside the church the shadow put
the empty can down and crept back to the tree. He pulled out of his pocket a
long tightly wound piece of paper and straightened it out. He gave it a couple
more twists all the while greedily keeping his eyes on the side of the church
by the can.
Pastor Goldsmith felt unusually
constrained in the church. “Maybe I need some fresh air.” He went out the door
at the back of the church and stood on the small concrete slab there. He
breathed deeply and looked in wonder at the stars.
The shadow tucked the paper under
one arm and pulled a matchbook out of his other pocket. He lit a match and when
it was burning fully he held the paper upside down and lit the bottom. His eyes
nearly glazed as he watched the flame burn up the paper. Then as the flame
approached his hand he reached back to throw it against the church.
The sudden brightness of the flames
caught the pastor’s eye. He turned and hesitated as he tried to figure out what
was actually happening. When he saw the person’s arm cocked back he yelled out.
“Hey! What are you doing there?”
The shadow hesitated trying to
decide whether to run or to throw the flaming paper anyway. In that moment of
indecision the pastor sprinted towards him. He dropped the paper and turned to
run. His right side smacked into the tree and pushed him off kilter for a
What are you doing?” the pastor yelled again as he narrowed the distance
between the two of them.
The shadow tried to run but it was
too late. A good tackle took him to the ground and put him on his back.
“Get off of me! Get off of me!
Leave me alone! I wasn’t doing anything!” The dropped paper lay burning in the
The pastor sat on top of him and
pinned his arms to the ground. “What were you doing there?”
The lights in several adjoining
houses went on. The grass around the paper started to smoke. The grass was dry
from a lack of rain for three weeks.
The shadow squirmed and continued
yelling, “Let me go! Get off of me you idiot!”
“What’s going on out there?” several
The grass ignited.
The pastor being 6’2” was not going
to be easily toppled. He knew that the shadow person would eventually exhaust
The fire spread a foot in every
direction. The pastor heard crackling and turned. The fire was moving rapidly.
There was not a moment to waste. He did not want to let the arsonist escape but
he could not let the church burn down either. He pointed at the person and
commanded, “Stay there!” and got up and ran over to the fire. He tried stomping
it out but it was growing faster than he could contain it.
The shadow rolled over, got to his
knees, and ran. He managed to get ten feet before he was tackled once again.
This time it was one of the neighbors who came out to see what was going on.
Within seconds another neighbor also got a hold of him and forced him to the
ground. Seeing that it was hopeless he gave up.
Meanwhile, the fire was within a
few feet of the church. The pastor dashed to the back of the church and
returned with the end of a hose. He frantically turned it on and doused the
fire. He soaked the ground until it was almost a pond.
From behind some wailing sirens
came the flashing lights of a police car. It drove up on the lawn and stopped
near everyone. After a very quick explanation from the pastor the officer
cuffed the arsonist and stood him on his feet. “Let’s bring you over to the
light and see who you are.”
The entire group followed the
officer to the front of the church.
“Carl!” gasped the pastor. “What
were you doing here like this?”
Carl merely scowled at him and
turned his head away.
The officer jerked him around and
marched him to the car. “If what he threw on the church is what I think it is
then he is going to be spending quite a number of days in jail.”
After thanking everyone for their
help Pastor Goldsmith went back into the church. He slumped down in the back
pew and his heart sank. “This is going to kill Viola.”
Every day the next week Floyd
arrived late at work. A dark sloppy pullover hung where the white shirt and tie
used to be. As he passed by his co-worker’s cubicle he would raise one hand and
loudly shout, “Alexander.” Alexander with a self-satisfied smile would intone
Two weeks after the Niss, Jackie
was hovering outside the church doors. Her face was drawn and her hair and
clothes were in competition to see which could appear the most unkempt. She was
staring at the doors but was reluctant to push them open as though they might
burn her hands if she touched them. She stood there quite a while not a few
times almost turning and leaving.
It was at one of these moments that
the pastor’s wife came up behind her and gently said, “Come on, let’s go in”
and opened the door. Jackie looked in as if guard dogs caged behind the altar
were about to be unleashed. “I don’t really want to go in. I don’t believe in
that stuff anymore. I went to your church for most of my life. Religion was
good for a while, but it’s like a shoehorn. Once you get your shoes on you
don’t need the shoehorn anymore. Well, I’ve got my shoes on now.”
The pastor’s wife stepped into the
door, “Come on. I’ll make you some tea.” Jackie hesitated, but then followed
her in. As they walked down the center aisle Jackie was saying, “You know, I
respect what you do; I really do. You’ve given up so many things in order to
help other people. I think that’s quite admirable. More people should do what
you do; the world would be a better place. I just think your reason for doing
it—trying to follow the Bible, doing what you think Jesus would do, and all
that other religious stuff—is where you’re wrong.” Mrs. Goldsmith paid serious
attention to everything that Jackie had to say but said nothing.
Mrs. Goldsmith opened the door to
the kitchen and invited Jackie to sit at a table while she heated up some
water. Jackie continued, “There’s just too much wrong in this world to believe
in God. Too many people are hurt; too many people just don’t care. Don’t get me
wrong, I’m not saying that you and your husband are phonies or anything. I
think that you’re both sincere in your thinking. I just think that you’ve been
deceived by all of this religious stuff.”
Mrs. Goldsmith set two cups of tea
down on the table. They sat silently at the table sipping tea. Jackie put the
cup down and stared at nothing.
“So why were you standing outside
the church?” asked Mrs. Goldsmith.
Jackie started to cry. After a long
minute she said, “I want to be forgiven.”
For the next hour she spilled out
all of the anguish that was inside of her perhaps even more graphically than
need be. But the pastor’s wife listened intently, never interrupting, never
tossing out easy platitudes. When Jackie had finished, Mrs. Goldsmith put her
arm around her. She said, “Do you want to hear about forgiveness?” Jackie
Thirty minutes later when Mrs.
Goldsmith was finished she said, “Do you want to pray.” For
the first time Jackie looked her in the eye and tried a smile. Then she
Jackie went home feeling like a new
Dan stopped going to church and his
obsession with pornography took on even a darker side. His
paranoia of thinking that everyone was onto him spread to include even
strangers. If anyone even looked at him he would give them a look that
would cause them to quickly turn away. He felt dirty on the inside and his
outer appearance reflected that more and more.
Patrick Eggers, who always had a
touch of fault-finding, now delighted so much in
forcefully pointing out other’s mistakes and gossiping that he ultimately was
treated like a leper. Of course to him, the problem was that everyone else was
just jealous of him because he was so clever and they were so weak and corrupt.
took up drinking as if it were a form of nutrition. His work became so sloppy
that after six months he was fired. So having no income he figured that the quickest
way to make up the difference and get rich would be to gamble. That was until
he had absolutely no money left at all. Then he tried stealing jewelry from a
store figuring that he could pawn it for some quick money, but he was caught
and wound up in jail for a month.
began getting into frequent arguments with her family and friends. She spread
harsh rumors about her co-workers and as she became more and more isolated her
level of bitterness deepened. The few times anyone tried to approach her about
her attitude her response would always be “Well, excuse me! Aren’t you just
little Miss Perfect!” Then she sat home alone every
evening and weekend spitting out, “Who needs those
The day after the invasion,
Russell, Sarah, Thomas, and Toni gathered at the chocolate shop. Even though
everyone was talking about the Niss they grabbed the booth in the furthest
corner. They had other things to talk about.
Toni said, “Yesterday was just the
Thomas looked very pale, “You mean
they’re coming back?” He thought about taking tomorrow’s bus back home.
“No,” Toni answered. “The Niss
rarely come back that quickly. They are like a train that blasts into the
station, does what it is supposed to, and then hurries off again. The Niss
usually don’t just come by themselves. Most of the time other strange things
start occurring around that same time.”
“Like what?” Thomas was ready to
jump over Russell and bolt.
“There already have been some
strange things going on,” said Sarah in a low voice. “What about those
strangers that we’ve seen in town these last few weeks and how they’ve been
hanging around people like Floyd and Terese and Dan? I think that they’ve
been a bad influence on them. Granted, they all haven’t exactly been
auditioning for sainthood these last few months but still, their fall came much
faster and harder than anyone would have expected. I even heard that Floyd came
close to being fired.”
Russell chimed in, “I’ve heard
about a few other new people, too, that I’ve been told—well, to put it in a
nicer way—are a bit unsavory.”
Sarah added, “It’s like someone is
trying to drag our town down.”
Toni was looking at Thomas. Finally
she said, “Thomas, you’re looking rather thoughtful. Is something going on in
that puzzle-mind of yours?”
Everyone stopped talking and looked
at Thomas. He looked up but still did not say anything. One eye was shut and
the other eye stared at nothing. A good minute went by. Eventually he spoke.
“Obviously I don’t know anything
more than you. In fact, I probably know less than you since all of you seem to
be quite familiar with things like Niss and Angst-feeders.”
Sarah and Russell jolted upright.
Russell almost yelled the words. He had to put his hand over his mouth. Then he
whispered, “Angst-feeders. Why do you mention them? Are they around, too?” He
leaned back against the back of the booth. “This is not good. This is not good
Sarah watched Russell and then
turned back to Thomas. “Have you heard about the Angst-feeders? Did someone see
Thomas sat there like he was shot.
Toni took it up. “Yes, Thomas saw them twice right after he got here.”
Now Sarah was the one who yelled,
“Twice!” She, too, had to clamp her hand over her mouth. “And you didn’t tell
Russell just sat there with his
head back and mouth open. It was good that there were not many flies in the
Sarah repeated herself but much
more quietly this time. “You saw them twice in just a few days? And you didn’t
say anything?” Realizing that no one was going to answer her question she
continued. “This is just one more bad thing happening
here. It’s like we’re being invaded.”
Russell still did not move.
Sarah asked, “Is there anything
else that you aren’t telling us?” This time she directed the question at Toni.
“Should we grab some knives from the kitchen before heading back home?”
Toni gave a sideways glance at
Thomas who just sat there staring at the table. She leaned over and said very
quietly and deliberately, “There was this incident in the woods a few days
ago.” She then told Sarah—and Russell if he was even listening, it was hard to
tell—all about the snake in the woods and the two large men.
When she was finished Russell
slowly brought his head down close to the table and looked at her. “You’re
kidding? A branch turns into a snake and two large guys rescue you from it? And
you didn’t tell us?” He looked over at Sarah with bewilderment but she did not
Toni looked embarrassed. “Well, we
didn’t say anything because it was just too weird. We didn’t think that you’d
“Listen, girl,” said Russell, “with
what’s been going on around here lately, I’d believe anything.”
Sarah spoke, “Did you tell the
“About the Angst-feeders, the
snake, or the two big guys?” asked Toni.
Sarah hesitated, “Um, well, I can
see why not.”
“Besides,” said Toni, “the two big
guys helped us out. I wouldn’t call the cops on them.” Toni pondered for
several seconds. “Who do you think those guys were anyway? I mean we have a
bunch of instigators stealthily descending on our town, but then we have
another group—well, two that we know of—who are helping us out. Or at least it
Without looking up Thomas spoke,
“I’m sure that all of this is tied together somehow. All of those unsavory
people did not blow into town coincidentally at the same time. The Niss, the
Angst-feeders, killer snakes—it’s like all of this is being coordinated. I
don’t know who it is or what they want but something wicked is in the air.”
Everyone stared at the table. Then
Sarah said what no one wanted to hear. “Maybe we should do something about it.”
The other three slowly lifted their
heads and stared grimly at Sarah.
Sarah shifted in her seat. “Well,
um, it was just a thought.”
“And a good thought at that,”
Thomas likewise nodded his head as
though this was the ultimate puzzle.
Toni was startled. “Let’s think
about it first and reconvene tomorrow here at, say, 11:00.”
“I hate the word ‘convene’,” said
Russell. “Nothing good ever comes when people convene.”