“Angels, both good and evil, take part in the spiritual battle for nations…we find clear evidence that angels have regularly participated in influencing world governments and in shaping human history.”
Spiritual Warfare: The Invisible Invasion, Huntington House Publishers, p. 123
Sheri focused on the highway as she followed the familiar landmarks. It was a gorgeous day for a drive. Less than twenty minutes had passed since she departed the Rose City, and the smell of the country was so exuberant that if it had not been for a restless night rehashing Joe’s troubling story, she might have stopped somewhere along the way and picked a bouquet of wildflowers. Things being what they were, she couldn’t wait to get inside the concrete walls of Mt. Hood Evangelical Seminary, where Joe and she were meeting a longtime family friend—Dr. Donald Jones—in hopes he could attach some significance to the image. Unlike Dave with his Mars-Face conspiracies, “Indy,” which they called him after the lead character in the Indiana Jones films, was a Ph.D. in biblical history. He might have an expert opinion about the arcane object.
Flying alongside, Justice and Swift watched as Sheri popped a gummy worm into her mouth and pushed the pedal down harder. She had no idea how grave their danger was, how high the stakes were in this cosmic contest.
In the back of the car beneath a blanket on the floorboard, on pain pills she gave him but undoubtedly still sore from his recent physical exertions, Joe said, “Do we have time to drive through a Dairy Queen or a Taco Bell? I’m starving.”
Sheri tossed a handful of gummy worms over the seat to him. “Absolutely not. You know how Jones is. If we’re not there on time, he won’t wait. Besides…” she added, biting her lip, “I think we’re being followed.”
Back at her apartment, she hadn’t given much thought to the dark car parked across the road from her place. Her neighbors, the Gerlichers, often had visitors from out of town, and though this particular vehicle was not one she remembered seeing before, nothing about the shiny automobile had seemed out of place at the time. Even when she backed from the garage and started down Stark Street, she hadn’t paid attention to the Lincoln pulling out.
“Somebody’s following you? Why didn’t you say so?”
“I don’t know?”
“What does their car look like?”
“Big…and dark…with one of those funny antennas on top. You know, like an unmarked cop’s car.”
Joe pulled the hot blanket from over his head and stared at the headliner. In the ceiling fabric above him someone had written “Sheri Loves Michael” with a marking pen. The pastor’s son, Michael, he thought. What a mischievous PK. The kid just can’t get it through his head that she’s too old for him. “Where are you right now?”
“We just passed the Powell Street Chevy dealership.”
He took a moment to visualize where he was, then said, “Up here a little ways you’ll see the road that goes to Pastor Swanson’s church; take that exit.”
“Go to the church? Why?”
“Just do it and tell me if the car follows.”
A minute later the Colt’s turning signal clicked and the motor’s rpm’s lowered. “Yep,” she said. “They’ve turned their signal on. They’re going with us.”
“Staying about a block behind.”
“But their car’s big, huh…how wide?”
“I don’t know, Joe. It’s a battle ship.”
By now Montero might have sent investigators from the military and the FBI to look for him. That being true, this daytime trip to the seminary was unwarranted. Yet the uncanny feeling that he was on a quest pressed heavily in his heart. Somebody or something was guiding him, not against his will but influencing his decisions to the point that some unknown task was being accomplished. At the moment of his choosing, he could resist the invisible force and do whatsoever he wanted, though it would probably be unwise, especially given that, to this point, this power—God, he believed, hoped—had likely kept him alive. So what was he supposed to do now?
Seeing Joe confused about his next move, Justice said inaudibly through the car’s side window, “What about the old flood control canal where the kids ride their skateboards and go-karts?”
“Hang on a second” Joe said to Sheri, “I’m getting an idea. Do you know where the old flood control canal is where the kids ride their skateboards and go-karts?”
“When you see the county road that leads to the canal, take it.”
“Isn’t that a dead-end road?”
“Not really. Remember the huge culvert at the end of it that cuts underneath the old Damascus highway?”
“You mean the tunnel thingy the kids ride their bikes in?”
“Uh-huh. We’ll drive through it and lose these guys. Their battleship won’t fit.”
Sheri seemed bothered at the thought of it. “Bad idea. That thing’s too small for my car.”
“I don’t think so. Amy Keller drove her Volkswagen Beetle in there during the Fourth of July party, you know.”
“Yeah, but Amy’s crazy. She doesn’t care if she tears her car up. She’s always doing loony stuff like that. Besides, my car’s bigger than her bug, and there ain’t no road on the other side of the tunnel, just a bunch of dune buggy trails.”
“And one of those trails leads to the old Lewis farm. We can take their driveway back to the highway from there.”
“How do you know that?”
“Trust you? What if we get trapped?”
“We won’t,” he said, deciding to let her in on a secret. “Besides, I have a confession to make.”
“I’ve already driven your car through there.”
“You remember that blind date you set me up with? ‘Spacey,’ or whatever her name was?”
“We went on a picnic down there. When we left, I drove out that way.”
“Do you mind telling me why?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“You think, show-off. See if I ever loan you my car again.”
“You know you love me. So how far till we get to the county road?”
“Maybe a mile or two.”
“Good. Here’s what I want you to do. As soon as you see the exit, take it. There’ll be a few seconds when the trees hide us from view. I’ll jump over the seat and take the wheel from there.”
“Where have I heard that before?”
“You just be ready. Let me know when we’re getting close to the exit because we’ll only have a couple seconds to make the change. After you turn, don’t stop, just jump into the rider’s side and keep the steering wheel straight while I climb over. Once I have control, you crouch down. If we’re lucky, these goons won’t even know we’ve made a switch. Got it?”
“Do you or don’t you?”
“Aye, aye, captain.”
Two minutes later, maintaining her speed as she approached the hard right turn, Sheri said, “Okay, the exit’s just ahead, get ready.”
Doesn’t she know to slow down!? “SHERI!”
Joe was too late. As she slammed on the brakes, he was pinned against the front seat while an avalanche of dirty laundry and snowboarding equipment came off the rear dash over the top of him. He yelled again, struggling to dig himself out, “Sheri! What’re you doing!”
“Exactly what you told me to! And you’d better hurry, because they’re coming fast now!”
Clambering awkwardly onto the backseat, somehow he caught his balance. Peeking through the rear window, he could see the dark Lincoln Continental bearing down on them. The pursuers obviously had more experience with vehicle maneuvering than Sheri did. He spun and began pulling himself headfirst onto the front seat, frantically trying to trade places with her while not ripping his wounds apart. His boot whipped against the center seat divider, slamming Sheri’s hand and causing her to scream out in pain. Wrestling his body into the driver’s position, half expecting to take a bullet in the back as he went, he shouted, “Sorry, Sheri, sorry! But hang on…we’re gonna get wild!”
He smashed the gas pedal to the floor and fought to straighten the car in the road. As he turned into the slide, he could hear gravel from the Colt’s spinning tires pinging against the Continental’s expensive grill. They were right on top of him.
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Struggling to clamp her seat belt with her injured, throbbing hand, Sheri sensed the world around her shifting into slow motion. When the safety strap she was wrestling with finally locked in place, she looked across the cab at Joe, who was gripping the steering wheel like a race car driver. She heard the recently tuned-up but aging four-cylinder engine straining to carry them to sixty miles per hour.
When the Colt reached eighty-five miles per hour, it became nearly uncontrollable. The little dips in the road were like jump ramps that lifted the car momentarily before slamming it down with a thud. She could feel her spine crunching against her tailbone every time they bounced, tingling with the vibration of the gravel spraying up from under the floorboard. In her peripheral vision, the roadside trees and foxtails were becoming a blurry mural of greens and yellows zipping by. A high-pitched whistling sound, seeping around the windows, made it feel as if the shrubs were screaming to them to flee the nefarious, looming threat.
Suddenly, a strong male voice boomed from behind them, “This is the police! Pull the car over now!”
Sheri shouted to Joe, her voice vibrating as the compact’s tires riveted along the ruts in the road, “Joe-oe, it’s the po-o-lice! Pull over b-before we get k-killed!”
He stared straight ahead. “It’s n-not the police, Sheri! The po-police d-don’t drive Lincoln Conti…”
Without warning, the rear window exploded with a sputtering sound, followed by a series of small circular holes, which appeared as if by magic, cutting through the cab and breaking open the plastic dash.
“GET D-DOWN!” Joe shouted to her. “GET DOWN N-NOW!”
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Just ahead, Joe could see the end of the gravel road and beyond that the tunnel opening leading into the abandoned culvert. His thoughts were racing. Was Sheri right? Was the space insufficient for her car to pass through at this speed? He too was no longer convinced of the idea.
As the Colt’s tires flew onto the canal’s concrete floor, the incessant roar of the gravel slapping beneath their feet gave way to the somewhat quieter sound of rubber against pavement as Sheri sobbed into the seat cushion, “Jesus, help us! Please, Jesus, help us…”
The automatic weapon’s fire cut from behind them again. This time a bullet clipped the corner of the driver’s headrest, sending fragments of foam and cotton into a particle cloud near Joe’s left ear. He smashed the gas pedal down and aimed at the approaching culvert. He waited until the last possible second, then closed his eyes and braced himself for the real possibility of collapsing metal and physical destruction. As bad as it could be, this seemed to be the best chance they had under the circumstances.
A moment later, when the impact came, it didn’t feel quite right. The tremor jolted his cheeks as the awful screech of fabricated metal slamming against solid concrete was heard, but for some reason the catastrophic force of inertia did not accompany the crash in the way he had expected.
Then it dawned on him. They were still moving. He opened his eyes and threw his foot against the brake pedal. The ’89 Dodge slid in a soft circular motion that ended a moment later near a weeping willow tree.
Looking perplexed, Sheri stammered, “W-what happened?”
“It…it worked…we’re on the other side of the tunnel,” Joe said in disbelief.
It was the Lincoln Continental that had crashed. The little Colt had barreled ahead of the larger car through the concrete opening at nearly ninety miles per hour.
In the distance, smoke and fire billowed from the mouth of the abandoned canal.
Inside the culvert, beyond Joe and Sheri’s view, face down in the crumbled wreckage, the mangled bodies of two men assigned to track Joe down were burning in the rubble. Their mission had been to acquire the mysterious image at any cost. They had failed, and at more than this assignment. They had failed at life too, and now they would pay.
Arround the would-be assassins, through the oak boughs, dark shadows began to accumulate. The demon of death, now calling itself Hecate, a black and powerful heathen goddess who enjoyed such fear in antiquity, led countless gleaming torches toward the confused, trembling souls. Horrible snakes wound about her head as hellish dogs and owl-shaped strigae emerged from the gloom and surrounded the killers. The men’s eyes darted wildly as their fingers grasped frantically for a weapon. Beneath them, cold, bony fingers cracked through the ground, clasping their corrupted souls, jerking them down in a merciless earthen rend. Their senses, suddenly vivid beyond reason, filled with a burning sensation of sulfur as they burst into unquenchable fire. The mother they had so reverently obeyed during life couldn’t and wouldn’t help them now. What authority the demon Gaia possessed was against these two anyway. Like Hecate, whose blood red eyes bulged now with murderous delight, Gaia felt only satisfaction as the doomed spirits screamed their way into the eternal torments of Thanatos and Hell.
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