Part 1 of 3
The irony of the leg irons and handcuffs was not lost on the two agents escorting the manacled priest, who was wearing a black cassock and roman collar, his feet shackled together, hobbling each half step, as he shuffled down the corridor trying not to stumble, putting one foot in front of the other, the chain metallically rattling on the tile floor. No one spoke.
They came to a door, one of the agents opened it, and they ushered the priest into a gray room. It was cold. They motioned him to a table, attached his leg manacles to a hasp in the floor, put his hands on the table, and inserted a table-top stud through his handcuffs. Then they left.
Father Jerald Christianson, now alone, looked around the room. Two mirror walls, bright lights, concrete floor. He knew why he was here and he knew that whoever had brought him here did not. He heard a door open behind him. A man and a woman walked to the other side of the table and sat down, each placing a laptop on the table. They opened them in unison and pushed the “Power” buttons.
Behind one of the mirrored walls, Agent Willoughby, still watching the priest, asked Agent Thorpe, a man sitting at a monitor next to him, “What do you think?”
All the sensors read “Normal,” all the electrode outputs in the table and response sensors in the restraints read “Norm.” The retinal scanner and inspiration/exhalation monitor had found no anomalies.
Thorpe shook his head. “Can’t read him. Could he have been this well trained? Who is he? Spotless record, ordained Catholic priest, good as gold. You got me. I am clueless on this one. How did he do it? How did he know? Did he do it? Did he know?”
Willoughby stared at Father Christianson through the one-way glass. “We’ve got nothing. He was exiled out there, miles from El Paso-sent to the smallest armpit-of-the-world parish. Don’t understand all that, but he was in the dog house with the head guy. That’s a bishop.”
“What did he do?”
“They said he did things that pissed off this bishop. Report says things like ‘standing facing the altar with the people,’ ‘read Romans One from the pulpit,’ ‘ more than once, mentioned sin in his sermons,’ said ‘people could go to hell forever.’ “Willoughby was truly perplexed. “Didn’t Jesus say the same thing? Anyway, that’s the report we got back. Doesn’t sound like he got it wrong to me. I guess a bishop is a god for these guys. Go figure. Let’s see how it goes.”
The woman, Agent Gwen Steele, began. “Mr. Christianson, do you know why you are here?”
Jerry noticed that she did not call him ‘father.’ “
Agent Robert Tilney, sitting next to Jerry, noticed his reaction. He interrupted agent Steele. “Would you prefer we call you ‘father’?”
Jerry smiled. “Yes, I am, ordained; but I have no problem with however you want to address me.”
“Ordained? Asked Tilney “Just men, right?
“I have received a special sacrament that Jesus first gifted His apostles with and then the men who followed them. It is called ‘Holy Orders’ and it means that I and each man ‘ordained’ a priest stands in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Some say an ‘alter Christus,’ another Christ. And, yes, the ‘only males’ was His command to His Church.”
Tilney continued, “Does that mean you are under orders to do this?
“I think we are talking past each other,” the priest replied.
Tilney and Steele stared at each other. This interrogation was not going as they had planned.
“I don’t know if ‘ordered’ is the correct term. Maybe ‘sent’ or ‘commissioned’ is better.”
Tilney asked another question. “Father Christianson, do you know why you are here?”
Jerry looked at the man and then at the woman. He thought about the answer to one of the first questions of the catechism and its answer. “Why did God make you? God made me to know love and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in heaven.” But he didn’t repeat that.
“I cannot help but think it is about what I said some weeks ago. But as to ‘why’ I am here, that depends on where you are coming from and where you think you are going.”
“Really?” said Steele condescendingly. She typed something on her computer and hit “Enter.” “This is from sixteen days ago.” A video began with Jerry speaking:
“My name is Father Jerry Christianson and I have a message for everyone. Thus says the Lord God:
‘I am your God and you are My people. I have waited, so that none should perish and all would come to repentance; but I will no longer delay My promise. From the moment of your conception and for all your lives you are Mine and you are all precious to Me. The world rulers of this present darkness have led you, My precious ones, from Us, from Me, from My beloved Son, Jesus, and from the Holy Spirit. But you will not be abandoned, not a single one of you. Fourteen days from now the twelve living persons who have forsaken Me and exercised their worldly power to turn the most of My children from Me – they will all return to dust; but first, before I remove them for this earth, I will give each of them a chance to repent and to turn back to Me. In twenty-eight days from these first judgments, another seventy two will die, after being offered My mercy. But My mercy is powerless in the face of their free will. If they freely choose not to repent, they will enter into the everlasting fire My Son told you about. In forty days, the next one thousand such people will be dealt with. In fifty days, the next one hundred thousand. And this will continue until all of the evil wicked rulers of this present darkness and their faithful have chosen My love and mercy, or seen My justice and power. All will see that My wrath is My mercy, and they are both My love.’ ”
Steele stopped the video. “That is you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said the priest.
“Who told you this? Who told you to publish it? Who are you working with? Where do you get your marching orders?”
The priest’s calm complacency unnerved Steele and Tilney. Willoughby and Thorpe were speechless behind the mirrors. “I really don’t think you will believe me, but I am not working with anyone, unless you include God. He told me to do this. He gave me His message. He is the only one I am working with.”
“Oh boy!” said Thorpe. “Has he been duped and used. Gotta get me some of that God KoolAid.”
“Yes,” said Willoughby, “but we have nothing on him. They have scoured his computer, his phone history, his house, his car, his parents, everywhere he went to school since Pre-K through theology studies, every term paper, every thesis, every transcript, every fellow seminarian, his teachers, every sermon anyone remembers, and they have squat. If he is a sleeper or an agent or a spy or an assassin, or anything, it is hidden deep.”
“And,” Thorpe continued, “what if his God did tell him all this? We only have a dozen days to stop the next round.”
“His God? Wonder who that is. When the first twelve were killed, he was in his parish, all day.” Willoughby shook his head.
Steele started a video montage on her computer. Jerry had seen most of it already. It showed the public agony and disintegration of twelve people. One was a film done by a news crew that happened to be at a press conference with a foreign cleric; another video from an interview of an old businessman in Europe; a third of a woman chief executive, in Manhattan, where a man had confronted her and sprinkled holy water on the sidewalk; and recordings from Beijing, Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Moscow, Stuttgart, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Almost all from a variety of angles from multiple cell phone captures, one after the other, of bodies slowly disintegrating from the feet up, faces in anguish, screaming, in excruciating pain, the screams ending as their mouths disappeared, and the eyes wide, bulging then dissolving, as each of them flowed down into a pile of black dust.
Many of the pictures ended with the dark particles being blown away. Some ended with views of a small, black pile surrounded by the shoes of onlookers, and then a gust of wind making the piles vanish. Although some of them were easily recognized well-known persons of power, about half of them were virtually unknown to the general public.
“Were these the first dozen people targeted?” Tilney asked.
“Your question is senseless,” said Jerry. “And I don’t know if I would speak of God ‘targeting’ His people. They are His, their lives are His. He giveth, he taketh away. It appears that He did what He said He would do.”
“So you disavow any hand in this?’ asked Steele. “You say these are acts of God, not assassinations, not killings, not done by organized and very well-funded operatives or terrorists in a concerted effort with careful planning for a long time?”
“Planning? In terms of God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and eternity is not in time, I guess God must have ‘planned’ this since forever. I think we are not only not on the same page, we are not reading from the same book,” said Jerry. “I am simply a messenger and I delivered the message He told me to give.”
This was more true than Jerry knew. His uploaded video now had more than ten thousand times ten thousand the number of views of any uploaded video in history. It had been translated into virtually every language around the globe.
“And that is amazing that indeed you did get it out to the world. Nothing has ever gone pandemic around the world as fast as this did. Now you are here so we can learn the truth from you, Father,” said Tilney, “and we will. But as the next deadline approaches, if you have not cooperated, we will do whatever must be done to have you tell us how to stop this.”
The implication of Tilney’s threat was not lost on Jerry. “You cannot stop this,” he said placidly, without emotion. “No one can stop this. I am sorry you don’t understand God’s power or my role, but you should know that you cannot harm me and that I am simply and only the messenger.”
Steele looked at Tilney, then back at Jerry. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I am protected. You each have a pistol. Either one of you, I am sure, could kill me with your weapon or with your bare hands. I invite you to try to shoot me or hit me. Or just try to punch me. Please.”
Steele stood up and drew her pistol. She walked around the table and raised her arm as if to hit Jerry.
Tilney yelled, “what are you doing?”
Steele brought her arm down hard, but it was stopped inches from Jerry’s face. Again she raised her arm and tried to hit the priest, but it was as if an invisible barrier stopped her.
Behind the mirrors, Thorpe exclaimed, “I’ll be damned.”
Willoughby laughed. “I don’t know if I would go saying things like that anymore.”
Steele stepped back from Jerry in disbelief. Staring first at her hand and then at Jerry. She and Tilney looked at each other, and then at the walls, speechless. They both stared at the walls as if asking Willoughby and Thorpe, “What do we do now?”
Jerry broke the silence. There was no jubilation in his voice, no joy, no irony in his manner. “You asked me if I know why I am here. I know what I have been summoned to do and I also know that I am here to ask you,” he looked up at the mirror walls, “to have Jessica Miriam Clement come here to me. God wants me to speak with Jessica Miriam Clement.”
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