Authors: Frank Peretti
More cries and screams, more flashing lights! Suddenly the forest was filled with them.
The trees ended abruptly where the Amhurst Dairy began. The chase broke into the open.
First out of the forest came a bug, a bat, a black, bulb-eyed thing, its dark wings whirring, its breath pouring out like a long yellow ribbon. It just couldn’t fly fast enough, but clawed the air with its spidery arms, desperate for speed and shrieking in total panic.
Right behind it, so close, so dangerously close, the sun itself exploded out of the forest, a brilliant comet with wings of fire tracing a glimmering trail and a sword of lightning outstretched in burly bronze hands.
The black thing and the comet shot into the sky over Bacon’s Corner, zigzagging, shooting this way and that like wild fireworks.
Then the forest, like a row of cannons, spewed out more hideous creatures, at least twenty, each one fleeing in utter panic with a dazzling, flaming figure tenaciously on its tail, scattering in all directions like a crazy meteor shower in reverse.
The first demon was running out of tricks and maneuvers; he could feel the heat of the warrior’s blade right at his heels.
He spit over his shoulder, “No, turn away, I am going!”
The fiery blade cut an arc through the air. The demon met it with his own and the blow sent him spinning. He corrected with his wings, turned and faced his assailant, shrieking, cursing, parrying blow after blow, looking into the fiery eyes of more power, more glory, more holiness than he’d ever feared before. And he could see it in those eyes—the warrior would never turn away. Never.
The demon withered even before the blade struck its final blow; it slipped from the earth, from the world of mankind, into outer darkness, gone in a tumbling puff of red smoke.
The warrior turned and soared higher, spinning his long sword
above his head, tracing a circle of light. He burned with the heat of battle, the fervor of righteousness.
His fellows were consumed with it, striking demons from the sky like foul insects, vanquishing them with strong swords, relentlessly pursuing them and hearing no pleas.
On the right, a long, slithering spirit took one more swipe at his heavenly assailant before curling tightly in anguish and vanishing.
On the left, a loud-mouthed, boasting imp cursed and taunted his opponent, filling the air with blasphemies. He was quick and confident, and just beginning to think he might prevail. His head went spinning from his body while the proud sneer still twisted the face, and then he was gone.
There was one left. It was spinning, tumbling on one good wing.
“I’ll go, I’ll go,” it pleaded.
“Your name?” ordered the angel.
The warrior swatted the demon away with the flat of his blade, and it fled, gone, yet still able to work evil.
And then it was over. The demons were gone. But not soon enough.
“Is she all right?” asked Nathan the Arabian, sheathing his sword.
Armoth the African had made sure. “She’s alive, if that’s what you mean.”
The mighty Polynesian, Mota, added, “Injured and frightened. She wants to get away. She won’t wait.”
“And now Despair is free to harass her,” said Signa the Oriental.
Armoth replied, “Then it’s begun, and there will be no stopping it.”
SALLY ROE LAY
in the grass, clutching her throat and gasping for air, taking long, deliberate breaths, trying to clear her head, trying to think. A raw welt was rising on her neck; her plaid shirt was reddened from a wound in her shoulder. She kept looking toward the goat pen, but nothing stirred there. There was no life, nothing left to harm her.
I have to get moving, I have to get moving. I can’t stay here—no, not one more minute.
She struggled to her feet and immediately rested against the farmhouse, her world spinning. She was still nauseous, even though she’d
already lost everything twice.
Don’t wait. Go. Get moving.
She staggered up the back porch steps, stumbled once, but kept going. She wouldn’t take much with her. She couldn’t. There wasn’t time.
ED AND MOSE
were quite comfortable, thank you, just sitting there in front of Max’s Barber Shop right on Front Street, which is what they called the Toe Springs–Claytonville Road where it passed through town. Ed was sixty-eight, and Mose wouldn’t tell anyone his age, so nobody asked him anymore. Both their wives were gone now—God bless ’em, both men had pretty good retirements and Social Security, and life for them had slowed to a comfortable crawl.
“Ain’t bitin’, Ed.”
“You shoulda moved downriver, Mose. Downriver. They get cranky swimmin’ clear up to your place. You gotta catch ’em in a good mood.”
Mose listened to the first part, but not the second. He was staring at a green Plymouth hurrying through town with two upset children in the backseat.
“Ed, now don’t we know those kids there?”
“Well, why don’t you look where I’m pointing?”
Ed looked, but all he could see was the back end of the Plymouth and just the tops of two blond heads in the backseat.
“Well,” he said, shading his eyes, “you got me there.”
“Oh, you never look when I tell you. I know who they were. They were that schoolteacher’s kids, that . . . uh . . . what’s his name . . .”
IRENE BLEDSOE SPED
along the Toe Springs–Claytonville Road, wearing a scowl that added at least a decade to her already crinkled face. She kept her fists tightly around the wheel and her foot on the gas pedal, spurring the green Plymouth onward whether Ruth and Josiah Harris liked it or not.
“You two be quiet now!” she yelled over her shoulder. “Believe me, we’re doing this for your own good!”
Bledsoe’s words brought no comfort to Ruth, six, and Josiah, nine.
Ruth kept crying, “I want my Daddy!”
Josiah could only sit there silently, numb with shock and disbelief.
Bledsoe hit the throttle hard. She just wanted to get out of town before there was any more trouble, any more attention.
She was not enjoying this assignment. “The things I do for those people!”
SALLY STEPPED OUT
onto the back porch, still trembling, looking warily about. She’d changed her shirt and donned a blue jacket. She gripped her wadded-up, bloodstained plaid shirt in one hand, and a paper towel dipped in cooking oil in the other.
It was quiet all around, as if nothing had happened. Her old blue pickup was waiting. But there was still one more thing to do.
She looked toward the goat pen, its gate swung wide open and the goats long gone. She took some deep breaths to keep the nausea from coming back. She had to go into that little shed once more. She just had to.
It didn’t take long. With her heart racing, her hands now empty, and her pockets stuffed, she got out of there and ran for the truck, clambering inside. It cranked and groaned and started up, and with a surge of power and a spraying of gravel it rumbled down the long driveway toward the road.
Irene Bledsoe was speeding, but there were no cops around. The speed limits were inappropriate anyway, just really impractical.
She was coming to a four-way stop, another stupid idea clear out here in the middle of nowhere. She eased back on the throttle and figured she could just sneak through.
What! Where did—?
She hit the brakes, the wheels locked, the tires screamed, the car fishtailed. Some idiot in a blue pickup swerved wildly through the intersection trying to avoid her.
Little Ruth wasn’t belted in; she smacked her head and started screaming.
The Plymouth skidded to a stop almost facing the way it had come.
“Be quiet!” Bledsoe shouted at the little girl. “You be quiet now—
you’re all right!”
Now Josiah was crying too, scared to death. He wasn’t belted in either, and had had quite a tumbling back there.
“You two kids shut up!” Bledsoe screamed. “Just shut up now!”
Josiah could see a lady get out of the pickup. She had red hair and a checkered scarf on her head; she looked like she was about to cry, and she was holding her shoulder. Bledsoe stuck her head out the window and screamed a string of profanity at her. The lady didn’t say a thing, but Bledsoe must have scared her. The other driver got back in her truck and drove off without saying a word.
“The idiot!” said Bledsoe. “Didn’t she see me?”
“But you didn’t stop,” said Josiah.
“Don’t you tell me how to drive, young man! And why isn’t your seat belt fastened?”
Ruth was still screaming, holding her head. When she saw blood on her hand, she went hysterical.
When Bledsoe saw that, she said, “Oh, great! Oh, that’s just terrific!”
CECILIA POTTER, FRED’S
wife, was glad that one of those fool goats wore a bell. At least she was able to hear something and run out into the yard before they ate up all her flowers.
The two kids bolted and ran back toward the rental home. As for the doe, she thought she owned anything that grew, and she wasn’t timid about it.